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Staff Picks: Music

The 90's Are Back!

Inspired by seeing Neutral Milk Hotel, one of the most important underground bands of the late 1990's last night at the State Theater, I thought I would highlight other groups included in our music collection that could reasonably be considered classic alternative/college rock. Here's a sampling:

Elliott Smith

Pavement

Built to Spill

Tori Amos

Bright Eyes

Wilco

Pixes

Cocteau Twins

Sonic Youth

Smog

Modest Mouse

Pulp

Fugazi

Weezer

Radiohead

Guided by Voices

Apples in Stereo

 


Desert Blues

Noura Mint Seymail’s newest album Tzenni is driven by the mesmerizing guitar playing of her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly. His Moorish, psychedelic riffing anchors the compositions to Seymail’s electrifying and indelible voice to create what has been referred to as “desert blues”. She and her husband hail from the musically rich nation of Mauritania. This album is a must have for those who love North African music and its varieties.


Updating the Classics

For those who like pop music of the 1960’s but who may have grown weary of the original version of their favorite songs may want to give the newest She & Him album a try. Simply and aptly named Classics, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel tackle mostly A-side covers of well-worn pop and jazz tunes with the same level of sweetness and whimsy of their previous work. For those who are familiar with the duo’s love of all things twee and vintage, you won’t be surprised that their engagement with standards like Unchained Melody, Time After Time, Stay Awhile and This Girl’s In Love with You is freshly updated yet still rooted to the song’s era and personality. For some, this will be an exercise in pointless recycling but for others, an entertaining tribute.


Terrible, Beautiful Things

After being a fan for over a decade, I finally got to see The Decemberists in concert just a couple of days ago. They are touring in support of their seventh studio album, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World. If you’re not familiar with the indie folk-rock stalwarts, I strongly recommend checking them out. They specialize in both accessible radio-friendly anthems as well as epic narrative ballads laden with historical or literary references. Beautiful/Terrible eschews some of the more grandiose storytelling for which the band is known, but makes up for it by being one of their most emotionally resonant albums to date. To give you the best of both their worlds, I’ll leave two videos below: “Make You Better,” the lead single off their new record; and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a delightfully macabre sea shanty that exemplifies their knack for narrative.


Best New Music Always Available on Hoopla

If you have access to the internet and a Kalamazoo Public Library card, you have instant access to tons of great music through the library’s streaming media service Hoopla.

You can borrow 15 titles per month, including music, movies, and audiobooks. Titles are available for instant streaming, with no holds list and no late fees. You can listen or watch on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s a small sampling of some of the best new music available on Hoopla:

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

THEESatisfaction - EarthEE

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Drake - If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

 


Summertime Pop of Tennis

Denver-based pop duo Tennis fell onto the pop culture radar screen several years ago with their first release Cape Dory, a catchy throwback to 60’s pop that showcased their spry melodies and better than passable singing. Their third full length album Ritual in Repeat certainly shows growth, but overall, they seem to know their sonic strengths and rarely wander too far from them. A very summertime-toned album, serve up some Tennis on the way to the beach.


Wilco - 20 Years On and Still Rockin’

Wilco may not be releasing anything new this year but if you’re a fan or are interested in learning more about one of the best studio and live acts on the planet, you may want to get your ears on two recent additions to the KPL music collection. Having been around for some twenty years now, the obligatory greatest hits album features a very thorough and thoughtful list of some of their best tunes. Most fans will own these selections but the group should be praised for nailing down most of their strongest tracks. Also recently added, a new album of rarities titled Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014. This collection like the greatest hit album, could have been alternately called Wilco: the brilliant evolutionary growth of a great band. Both albums can be streamed at Hoopladigital.com.

 


Father John Misty

Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, is a guy who knows how to balance the irony/earnestness ratio so as not to fall into one trap or the other. Lyrically, he tackles the ways in which relationships, both personal and artistic, rest upon the tenuous foundation of artifice and paradox. Out of such skepticism regarding moral truths and romantic absolutes, we find a thoughtful singer songwriter negotiating his way through his multidimensional self as a once angry son, a man of contradictions, an imperfect but well-meaning husband, an ideological hypocrite, a winking trickster of mockery, and various other protean characters. The likeable songs echo the breezy folk pop of early 70’s music while the scathing observations evoke the work of Randy Newman and Loudon Wainwright III. His newest album, I Love You, Honeybear is a more pop-friendly work than his 2012 album Fear Fun even though they’re both tied together with strong vocals and his knack for mixing the new with the old. Grumpy old cynics will likely bristle at his approach at heavy handed satire but frankly, you can never have too many Father John’s when the platitudes industry produces so much insipidly manufactured music. While we wait for the compact disc to arrive, stream the new record using your KPL account at hoopladigital.com.


L-O-V-E, No Cities to Love

Although never a hardcore fan, I have always appreciated Sleater-Kinney and their importance in regards to females in rock music. I would never skip a song, but I never found myself listening to an entire record in one sitting. The release of No Cities to Love, the band’s first new record in ten years, has totally changed my perception of the one of the original riot grill bands. The first single “Bury Our Friends” is a blistering head bouncing track filled with poetic lyrics, (It is the current most requested song by my daughters). The song “No Cities to Love” highlights Carrie Brownstein’s very underrated guitar skills and the video continues some A-List Sleater-Kinney fans!  Corin Tucker proves that she still can belt out some powerful vocals and drummer, Janet Weiss provides the punk-rock rhythms. No Cities to Love is easily, so far, my most favorite record of the year.


Nighttime Cool

Bryan Ferry’s music, whether it be with Roxy Music or his solo work, has always possessed a kind of suave, sexy, nocturnal moodiness to it that bounces back and forth between established genres and forms. His newest album Avonmore has many of the sort of stylistic characteristics that you would have found on Roxy Music’s classic album Avalon (1982). Working with other amazing musicians like The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr certainly helped to flesh out some very catchy songs that harness Ferry's strength as a sensual, nighttime troubadour for the urbane set. Ferry’s sophisticated blending of new wave, pop, funk, and soul continues with these newest batch of songs.