Give it a decade-- “where you were you the first time you heard LP1?” will be a standard question for music enthusiasts everywhere. Singer-producer FKA twigs’ first studio release is not just a well-executed debut; in the vein of Black Star who released one sole record (Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star), this is an instant classic that leaves you craving a follow-up.
LP1 stands in stark relief to electronic contemporaries because it emits a haunting, raw energy that is also crisply edited. FKA twigs (26-year-old Brit Tahliah Barnett) pairs her own vocal and production talents with those of industry innovators like Sampha and Dev Hynes to deliver synth-heavy tones that range from dissonant ("Pendulum") to lush ("Kicks"). The first track, "Preface," opens with FKA twigs singing hymnal notes, quickly chased by a simple drum beat, followed by an unintelligible man's voice. Though the pace rarely moves beyond a nonchalant head nod, the album is not lethargic. The first single, “Two Weeks,” is barely mid-tempo but achieves a hypnotic, hair-raising feel. A few tracks veer towards ‘90s R&B production, yet never sound dated. "Give Up" could be a dark follow-up track to Janet Jackson's “Velvet Rope.” FKA twigs neatly contorts her controlled soprano to fit LP1’s sonic range. She never belts, but when paired with gauzy tones and deep bass her voice takes on an ethereal quality. Those vocals are essential to the album’s central theme: tension.
LP1 communicates tension primarily by placing the familiar in unfamiliar spaces, sonically and lyrically. "Closer" sounds like a hymn you might hear at Mass if not for the steady 808s and chirping synthesizer. While “Numbers” is a frustrated missive to a transient former lover, "Two Weeks" confidently declares the singer’s erotic power. These contrasting elements feel like an intentional rejoinder in a music landscape that demands definition. More than just sharing FKA twigs’ distinctive vision, LP1 expresses a multidimensionality inscribed with self-love, doubt, narcissism, insignificance, and invincibility: all emotions rarely discussed in public. Now, check out the album and mark the date on your calendar—it will come in handy.
There’s a lot of music on the newest Ty Segall album Manipulator (17 songs). With that many songs, you shouldn't be surprised to discover that a handful are great, a few are throwaway’s and the rest are well…somewhere closer to meh. Segall keeps his grungy brand of garage rock truckin’ along the lines of his previous albums, mixing together pop melodies with surf-psych and Stoogesesque rock anthems. Quality control aside, Segall's albums always possess just enough hooks to get you to the next album; one that is usually only a few months away.
It’s a good time to be a Bob Dylan fan. At 73, he’s still on the road with his (seemingly) never ending tour… he just finished a well-received series of dates in Australia and returns to the good ol’ U.S. of A. next month for another fall tour here. Aside from the live shows, we seem to get an album of new material every couple of years… his latest being Tempest from 2012, and (thankfully) a steady stream of archival material thanks to “The Bootleg Series.” Dylan and his label, Sony Music, deserve (in my humble opinion) a great deal of credit for allowing these recordings to be heard, rather than keeping them buried and quite possibly lost forever. It’s these otherwise “lost” recordings that allow us to gain true insight into the artist’s work. And of course they make for some fun listening, too.
To that end, I just snagged a nice copy of No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7 at the Friends Bookstore. This double disc from 2005 is a companion (sort of a soundtrack) to the Martin Scorsese film of the same name, gathering 28 mostly unreleased rarities, including one of Bob’s very first recordings from 1959, plus various demos, live tracks and alternate takes – mostly from the mid-sixties. It’s an interesting look back at a pivotal point in Dylan’s career.
Looking ahead, November should be an interesting month. Sony is preparing to release The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (including a 6 disc deluxe edition!), which features for the first time the legendary “Big Pink” recordings “presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967.” Also in November, we’ll get a brand new collection of recordings by Elvis Costello and others (members of Dawes, My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, et al) called Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. These recordings feature new original music that underscores a newly discovered batch of Dylan’s handwritten lyrics from the 1967 Basement Tapes period. Oh, and it’s produced by T Bone Burnette, so you know it should be mighty interesting. As always, thanks Friends and stay tuned.
Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
We're past the mid-way point of 2014 and so here's my ever expanding list of favorite albums of the year. I'm sure a few more releases will make the list by year's end. What about you? What's on your list?
The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Real Estate, Atlas
Dean Wareham, Dean Wareham
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Nikki Lane, All or Nothin’
Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours
Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain
Slow Club, Complete Surrender
Wildest Dreams, Wildest Dreams
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
Aztec Camera, High Land, High Rain (Reissue)
Spoon, They Want My Soul
Bebel Gilberto, Tudo
Ty Segall, Manipulator
The Texas band Spoon’s newest album They Want My Soul (Available to stream through Hoopladigital.com) brings together both something old and something new to their brand of catchy, no thrills indie rock. Their foundation of taut, skeletal minimalism is still very much alive and at the core of these 10 songs. But unlike some of their previous albums (which are also great), their newest feels more amiable, better produced and with a less detached tone. This is sharp, straight forward stuff that still has the hooks to get inside your head.
Every once in a while I come across a musician or an album that makes me stop and really listen. Valerie June is just one of those musicians and her album Pushin’ Against the Stone is just one of those albums. Her music is bluesy and folky, with soul and funk, and her voice is the perfect conduit to blend all those styles together. She’s also a great storyteller, and I find listening to her music evokes a similar atmosphere to many of my favorite southern gothic writers (think Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison). This was love at first listen for me.
You can find a copy of Pushin’ Against the Stone both in our CD collection and on our streaming music service Hoopla
I’ve been streaming the new Jenny Lewis album Voyager through the library’s KPL music/movie/television/audiobook service Hoopla. The compact disc version isn't here yet but if you want to get a taste for this album, check it out via Hoopla. It's very easy. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year with its smart and accessible brand of pop. Her band before setting out as a solo performer was Rilo Kiley, a very popular indie pop group from Los Angeles that put out several strong, catchy albums.
Under the black lights
“We’ve been doing this thing longer than you’ve been alive, propelled by some mysterious drive,” is the first couple lines of “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” the first track from the Old 97’s newest record Most Messed Up. Celebrating their 20th year as a band, the Old 97’s have released one of the best records of 2014. Fans of Americana, punk (Tommy Stinson from The Replacements plays on a few tracks), and alt-country will be happy to discover that the boys from Texas have messed those genre up into a pure raucous ride. Songs like “Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” and “Wasted” are anthems to the hard life of a band strumming hard through two decades of music. “Guadalajara” and “The Ex of All You See” tell the torrid tales of love and loss on the road. After the final song has ended you will have felt like you have listened to a musical biography of a most messed up, but amazing band. In fact, the chorus of the lead track sums the entire record nicely, “Rock and Roll’s been very very good to me, the open road’s the only place I wanna be.”
Most Messed Up
75 classic soul tracks from the vaults of Motown! That's right, 75 classics! Motown-produced music is my go-to, annual soundtrack to Michigan summers. This compilation brings forth the great music from the era's titans (Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Miracles, The Supremes, etc.) but it also includes a few lesser known names like The Downbeats, The Valadiers, Paul Gayten, Lamont Dozier, and Barrett Strong.
Marc Bolan (aka T-Rex) was the man behind the boogie-woogie glam rock that came to define the sound of early 70's British music. Mixing campy looks with big guitar hooks, T-Rex banged out several pop anthems including 20th Century Boy, Telegram Sam, Bang a Gong, and I Love to Boogie.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain and the subsequent dissolution of his band Nirvana. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Nirvana continue to be the band most associated with the rise of alternative music into the mainstream during the 1990's.
Soul of Detroit