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Staff Picks: Music

Bowie, Freegal and Valentine's Day

The late, great David Bowie left us recently but his inimitable output will outlast us all. His swan song, the album Blackstar, can be found on the download/streaming service Freegal. Login and stream the album or download five songs each week. His 2013 album Next Day features a great tune that may not be as romantic and syrupy as you might like for the upcoming holiday but hey, it’s Bowie and it’s brilliant!

New View

The perpetually cool Eleanor Friedberger’s (formerly of the band Fiery Furnaces) newest album New View is soon to be released but check out her two previous albums in the meantime. You won’t be let down if you enjoy punchy, literate, accessible, catchy rock music.


2016 Grammy Nominations

Here are some of the prominent albums and performers from 2015 that have been nominated for a Grammy Award:

Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly

The Weekend's Beauty Behind the Madness

Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color

Little Big Town's Pain Killer

Tame Impala's Currents

Chris Stapleton's The Traveller

Taylor Swift's 1989

Barry Manilow's My Dream Duets

Muse's Drones



Heaven Adores You

Elliott Smith is arguably the most important singer songwriter of the 1990’s. Beloved by both admiring fellow musicians, his devoted fans and praised by critics, Smith sadly passed away at the age of 34 in 2003. He left behind five full length albums (a sixth was posthumously released) of brilliantly crafted songs bursting with sorrowful melodies, emotionally raw lyrics and an unmistakable, almost whispered voice that many of his fans instantly gravitated toward for its sullen, Everyman quality. A new documentary portrait titled Heaven Adores You lovingly captures the unlikely rise and tragic fall of Smith’s life and career.

Joanna Newsom's Divers

Joanna Newsom's music is certainly not for everyone. Her unique vocal delivery will drive many listeners nuts, but then again, she has a cult following of sorts and if you're looking to challenge yourself, check out her newest album Divers, possibly her strongest to date. A multi-instrumentalist, Newsom's star rose about ten years ago because of her peculiar singing style and use of the harp as her music's foundation. Her songs are unconventionally long and full of abstract, metaphor-heavy poetry. This is not the sort of thing you'll hear on the radio. It's a dynamic, ornate, fantastical landscape of images that range from the surreal to the intimately relatable. Give it a shot.

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon’s newest album Savage Hills Ballroom is their best, most consistent effort yet. Full of lush, gorgeous melodies, listeners will likely be divided over whether or not to embrace the high pitched, drone of Trevor Powers’ sometimes angry, sometimes sullen wail. Fans of groups like Tame Impala, MGMT, Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and Beach House will find in the messy, synthetic layers of washed out guitars, horns and drums, a beautiful album.

Albums of the Year--Rolling Stone Magazine

Rolling Stone Magazine's newest issue is their end of year review of the top rock, pop and r&b albums of the year. What was hot in 2015? Well, here you go...

  1. Kendrick Lamar--To Pimp a Butterfly
  2. Adele--25
  3. Drake--If You're Reading This It's Too Late
  4. D'Angelo and the Vanguard--Black Messiah
  5. The Weekend--Beauty Behind the Madness
  6. Courtney Barnett--Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  7. Jason Isbell--Something More Than Free
  8. Various Artists--Hamilton: Original Broadway Case Recording
  9. The Arcs--Yours, Dreamily
  10. Blur--The Magic Whip
  11. Sleater-Kinney--No Cities to Love
  12. Lana Del Rey--Honeymoon
  13. Tame Impala--Currents
  14. Wilco--Star Wars
  15. Father John Misty--I Love You, Honeybear

Favorite Rock Songs of 2015

Here are some tracks over the course of the year that have been some of my favorites.

Beach House--Space Song


Father John Misty--Cahteau Lobby #4(in G for two virgins)

Courtney Barnett--Pedestrian at Best
Vance Joy--Great Summer
Joanna Newsom--Leaving the City
White Reaper--Candy
Destroyer--Time Square

Still Making Duluth Proud

Low, a duo from Duluth, Minnesota makes formally minimalist music that seamlessly moves along the tonal spectrum, sometimes warm and lyrical, other times, grim and somber. They generally keep their use of instrumentation reduced to a lean sound of guitar, bass, drums and the occasional synthesizer. They have been around for over 20 years making rock solid records that have an emotional punch that can sneak up on the listener. A more image-based way of describing their sound is to imagine yourself on a train in late December, riding through the middle part of Iowa, gazing out at the endless, flat fields covered with snow and rusted machinery. There newest release is Ones and Sixes.

My Top Five of 2015

It’s the end of the year so it’s time again to list my personal top five albums of the year. Compared to last year, 2015 was very strong filled with some amazing female performers, a soulful duo, smart lyrics and a poppy Australian band.

5. Tuxedo by Tuxedo – This super soul duo of Michigan’s own Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One produced my favorite funk/soul album of the year. Listening to this one reminded me of roller-skating on a hot summer night in the 1980’s. 

4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – I always approach any artist labeled “the next Dylan” with much trepidation. I am so happy I set my fears aside with this Australian-born singer-songwriter debut record. Barnett’s smart and poetic lyrics shine brightly against a straight up rock sound. 

3. Glitterbug by The Wombats – Released in the spring, this album has consistently stayed with me all year. I will crank up the volume when I hear the band’s distinct poppy electric beats. The best tracks, “Your Body Is A Weapon,” “Greek Tragedy’” and “This Is Not A Party,” are sweet treats that I have been indulging on all year.

2. Poison Season by Destroyer – Dan Bejar of Destroyer has released his masterpiece! In Poison Season, Bejar has taken some of the best aspects of his previous work and used them to craft a record that evokes both British pop, street rock and jazz. The entire record needs to be listened to in one sitting to be to appreciate the majesty of it all. 

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney – This will be the third time I blog about this album in 2015, so how could it not be my choice for the absolute best of the year? Every track is enjoyable. I would not be surprised if it ended up on my All-Time Favorites list someday. 

Please check out the other eight album releases from 2015 that I considered most excellent!