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Staff Picks: Music

Fleet Foxes

One of the most inpired albums to garner wide spread praise in 2008 was produced by the Seattle-based band Fleet Foxes. Combining soaring vocal harmonies with catchy, folk-pop in the vein of My Morning Jacket and Crosby Stills and Nash, this five-piece group put together one of the most infectious records of the year. These songs will stay with you, echoing throughout your head for hours after you've stopped listening.


Fleet Foxes

Amy should go to rehab!

Regardless of her troubled lifestyle Amy Winehouse has an amazing voice. Her voice has power and strength with a bluesy, jazzy quality that comes unexpectedly from her smallish frame. When I hear her sing songs from Back to Black or Frank I relate her personal trials with Billie Holiday's and hope she won’t continue to say no to Rehab. I hope instead she will go.

Back to Black


My Top Ten of 2008, Part 2

I've been collecting "Best of 2008" music lists from various magazines including Rolling StonePaste MagazineSpin, and Entertainment Weekly over the past couple of weeks to see how my list compares. The one CD that has been on most Top Ten lists, but not on mine, is TV on the Radio's Dear Science. So I decided to give it another listen and although the album is beginning to grow on me it still would not make my Top Ten.

7. The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride - John Darnielle is one of the best songwriters in music. He consistently crafts songs about characters struggling with very heavy topics. This CD takes a look at religion. Best Tracks - "Sax Rohmer #1," "San Bernardino," "Lovecraft in Brooklyn"

6. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago - Justin Vernon spent a winter in Wisconsin, holed up in a cabin to record this amazing debut CD. His voice sounds like a blustery wind and his lyrics stir up feelings of a broken world. Best Tracks - "Skinny Love," "Flume," "The Wolves (Act I and II)"

5. Nada Surf, Lucky - For most of the year I was claiming that the newest CD from the NYC trio was my very favorite. At first I didn't think it was anything special, but the more it kept popping up on the iPod, the more I became a believer. Lucky is filled with catchy power pop, perfect for the weekend. Best Tracks - "I Like What You Say," "See These Bones," "Beautiful Beat," "Weightless"



The Green Light for John Legend

I was introduced to the music of John Legend earlier this year in a strange, coincidental manner.  My brother was telling me about him and then just minutes later, he came on a Pandora station I was listening to.  Strange.  But it was definitely a meant-to-be connection because, since then, I've grown to love the music of John Legend.  His newest tune, "Green Light" is featured in a recent televison commerical.  He has performed with such talent as John Mayer and Corinne Bailey-Rae.  It is no wonder that he is the holder of five Grammy Awards.  Check out his albums EvolverOnce Again, and Get Lifted.  They are filled with remnants of the 70s, echoes of rap, and touches of soul. 



My Top Ten of 2008, Part 1

I am a music junkie. This past year I was forced to purchase a 500 GB external hard drive to store the thousands of CDs in my collection. Over the past 12 months, I have listened to over 160 CDs. It was tough, but I have whittled that list down to my Top Ten CDs of 2008.

The year 2008 was a strange year for music. Overall it was much weaker than 2007 but filled with strong debut efforts. Below are three that occupy the bottom of the list.

10. R.E.M., Accelerate - After the three previous less than mediocre CDs, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills came close to reclaiming their title as indie rock Kings. Best Tracks: "Supernatural Superserious," "Mr. Richards," "I'm Going to D.J."

9. Kaiser Chiefs, Off With Their Heads - The third CD from this band from Leeds, England is Brit pop at its finest. Grammy winning producer Mark Ronson (Amy WinehouseLily Allen) has helped the boys craft a winner. Best Tracks: "Never Miss A Beat," "Addicted to Drugs," "Good Days, Bad Days"

8. Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line - What happens when you add a string section to a indie pop band? In the case of Ra Ra Riot you get pretty sweet music filled with intelligent lyrics. Tragically the original drummer of the band died while working on this record. This is the first of five debut CDs in the Top Ten. Best Tracks: "Dying is Fine," "Can You Tell," "Ghost Under Rocks"


The Rhumb Line

Big Voices

Admittedly, I don’t often locate myself in the choral music section of a store. However, after having attended the annual holiday concert hosted by the First Presbyterian Church and performed by WMU’s award-winning University Chorale singers, my appreciation for this deeply calming and ethereal form of music has been greatly expanded. A perfect compliment to emptied, commercial holiday music, take a chance, like I did, and endeavor to explore something new about the variety and wealth of our arts community.


Song for Athene

Bluesy Brit

Do not miss the remarkable album 19 by Adele. You'll recognize her influences (Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald) from the first note. She has received awards in the UK and now her song "Chasing Pavements" can be heard regularly on radio and tv in the states.



The Decemberists come to East Lansing!

The best CD of 2006 in my humble opinion was a British-folk, prog-rock inspired album from the Portland based band The Decemberists. The Crane Wife is filled with songs about Japanese folk tales, murderous tales, Romeo and Juliet type romances, and a criminal committing the perfect crime. The band, who often dresses in period clothing will be performing in East Lansing this Wednesday. They were at the top of my "most favorite band, but never seen live" list. 


The Crane Wife

The Times They Are A-Changin'

My first Bob Dylan concert was October 27, 1978 - thirty years ago last week, as a matter of fact (ulp… has it really been that long??!). That was Dylan’s first visit to Kalamazoo and at the time I remember saying, “He’s probably past his prime…” (I was rather fond of the "Hard Rain" period then), “…but who knows when we'll get another chance to see this living legend in our area again?” As it turns out, he was not by any means past his prime and has (quite thankfully) returned several times since... State TheaterVan Andel ArenaFifth Third Ballpark, and elsewhere.

Dylan never ceases to amaze me. Not only for his ability to create a seemingly infinite stream of relevant new material, but along with each live show come unique new interpretations of his own ageless classics and forgotten gems – and perhaps even a unique cover version here and there. Not to mention the profound influence the man continues to have on his contemporaries (Pearl Jam's version of “Masters of War” or Ben Harper’s take on “All Along the Watchtower” immediately come to mind). As a result, I was very happy to see that Kevin has added several new Dylan titles to the collection. There’s some terrific stuff here – old and new. Dig in and enjoy.
So, here we are some three decades later. This weekend, Dylan returns to Wing's Stadium, Kalamazoo's long-time hockey arena and venerable old concert canister. Past his prime? Certainly not. Dylan continues to intrigue and influence several generations of listeners and performers. Worth going to see? You betcha. Reviews of the tour so far indicate there’s much to look forward to. Besides, who knows when we'll get another chance to see this living legend in our area again?


Bob Dylan titles in the KPL catalog

Music for the Amtrak

On a recent trip to the Big Apple, I stumbled upon the two-piece band MGMT via my I-pod while passing the time on the Amtrak. If you are a fan of the Flaming Lips and their infectious way of mashing together psychedelic pop with dance-friendly hooks, then I think you’ll enjoy MGMT and their new album Oracular Spectacular. Give it a listen.


Oracular spectacular

LOL to the ABC's

There are many great songs to help little ones learn the ABC’s, but none will stick with you quite the same as Alphabutt; the title track of Kimya Dawson’s new alternative CD for children.  My children and I laughed all weekend, and I can’t stop humming it now…A is for Apple, B is for Butt!  Each track brings humor to the early parenting stages, that may seem difficult to endure at the time, but humorous in the end.  We all need to pause, sing and laugh about such topics as:  paying off our student loans, wiggling loose teeth, using the potty, being pregnant and waiting anxiously for the baby to move, nursing, and possibly having seven hungry tigers in our underwear drawer.  Give this CD a listen, if for nothing else, than to make yourself giggle!




Soundtrack to a Michigan Fall

I’ve always thought of Neil Young as the Miles Davis of rock and roll because of his prolific career and the way in which he has embraced different musical styles and genres while inventing a few along the way (not always with the best results). The plaintive lyricism and beauty of his work during the early 1970’s is on display with classic albums “After the Gold Rush”, “Harvest” and “On the Beach”. There’s no better example of Young’s hushed and deeply personal laments during this time period then his “Live at Massey Hall” album from 1971. This album is a lovely soundtrack to the emergence of fall weather and color. Unearth that dusty cardigan, grab a cup of coffee and watch the early morning sun rise from behind the auburn and burnt umber landscape of autumnal Michigan.


Live at Massey Hall 1971 [sound recording]

sigur rós

I was one of the luckiest people in the world last night. I witnessed a concert by the Icelandic quartet that moved me and left me quite speechless. The music ranged from quiet, choir-like musings to heart-pounding, floor-shaking numbers. When the four serious, professional, multi-talented musicians gathered around the organ and the lights ebbed and glowed in rhythm with their notes, it was a truly beautiful moment. Everyone should get to witness such a moving event. Check out the music of sigur rós to bring home a piece of that magic.


sigur rós

Making Something Out of Next to Nothing

Contemporary electronic music may not be everyone's cup of tea, and the ever-changing multitude of subgenres can make even the most hardcore music lover's head spin. The offshoot known as minimal techno or microhouse can be particularly difficult to enjoy due to an extremely repetitive, "less is more" philosophy. German musician Axel Willner, aka The Field, creates loop-based songs that manage to break free from the coldness that characterizes much of the rest of the genre. Layering dozens of tiny bits of sound like the skip of a needle in a record's groove or a single syllable of a vocalist from a long-forgotten song, Willner makes meditative, propulsive music with a surprising amount of emotional depth. While on a surface listen the songs may sound static and repetitive, a deeper listen reveals an almost fractal-like range of tiny noises building up to a larger whole. Despite the use of a 4/4 time signature on most of the songs, The Field's music is meditative as it is energetic, and it's this mix of ambience and ceaseless energy that makes From Here We Go Sublime so fascinating.


From Here We Go Sublime

Get Emotional

What distinguishes the Avett Brothers from their alt-folk peers is how seamlessly they weave together various musical genres and traditions without it sounding derisive or lodged within the unforgivable sins of retro-parody. Synthesizing rock, country, folk, and pop together within an economical songwriting framework that neither sounds fixed to the past nor particularly contemporary, situates their beautifully-crafted songs of broken hearts and lost love on the cultural shelves next to other artists (The White Stripes e.g.) who deftly balance both their respect for tradition with their impulse to creatively advance new forms. For beginners, try their album “Emotionalism”.




Weezer once again proves they know what makes good music. Each song on this album has a different feel and each will stay with you (to your delight)! "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)" showcases the melodic talents of the group, while fans of the older tunes will love the rhythms of "Pork and Beans" and "Troublemaker."


The Red Album

Santogold Is Gold

After I joined a gym about a month ago, I decided I needed to find some upbeat music to keep me motivated while exercising.  I lucked out when I discovered Santogold.  Santogold's music is a pop-punk throwback to the best of the 1980s, and perfect if you want something fun to sing along with.



This band absolutely Kills!!

The lo-fi indie rock duo of American Alison "VV" Mosshart and Brit Jamie "Hotel" Hince came together to form the band known as The Kills after striking up a long distance songwriting partnership. Mosshart heard Hince practicing his guitar in the a hotel room and decided to start sending him songs via air mail. Their previous release, No Wow (2005), was recorded in Benton Harbor at the Keyclub Recording Company and a couple of the songs referenced West Michigan in the lyrics.  The band returned to the Keyclub in 2007 to work on their latest CD Midnight Boom, a record filled with a minimalist sound that is both trashy and catchy. You will find yourself bobbing your head and dancing to the contagious beats on this CD. Hince's raw guitar playing is the perfect complement to Mosshart's sassy vocals. The Kills are another great rock duo with ties to Michigan, but one who doesn't only dress in three colors


Midnight Boom

Pocketful of Sunshine

Not ever having been an avid viewer of MTV or other such music video programs, I happened to catch a glimpse of one of them recently while channel surfing during the commercials of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.  While I've always liked artists such as JewelKT TunstallJennifer Paige, and Kelly Clarkson, I had never been really introduced to Natasha Bedingfield other than hearing her on the Top-40 radio stations.  While I wouldn't call her my all-time favorite, I enjoyed the upbeat title track enough to purchase it for my Zune.  Joss StoneChris Brown, and John Legend are newly acquired favorites as well.


Pocketful of Sunshine

Rachael Davis Live at KPL on Tuesday!

Do not miss singer Rachael Davis in the Van Deusen at Central, tomorrow at 7:00 pm. Rachael is a critically-acclaimed performer who has opened for such artist as Josh Ritter and Dar Williams. In 2006 Rachael collaborated with the Steppin' In It to produce the CD, Shout Sister Shout, a recording inspired by the jazz of the 1930's and 40's. It will be another amazing acoustic show in our very popular series.

Indigo Girls and Kathleen Edwards in Kalamazoo!

The State Theater has announced that the alt-folk duo the Indigo Girls will be performing with special guest Kathleen Edwards on Saturday October 4th! The Indigo Girls have been making music for over 20 years singing about topics ranging from immigration to the environment. They do not pull punches. Canada's Kathleen Edwards newest release Asking for Flowers is an alt-country smash filled with honest songs about the state of the world.  This should be a great show!


Asking for Flowers

Radiohead Roadtrip

I recently drove to Indiana to see Radiohead in concert. It was a better show than I could hope to see in a lifetime--the weather was great, the crowd was excited and respectful, and Thom and the gang played for more than two hours. The women seated beside me had driven ten hours and wept through some of the songs. If you've not experienced the beauty of their music, you must sample both the old and new: OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000), Amnesiac (2001), and In Rainbows (2008).


In Rainbows

Wildly Inappropriate Lullabies

Since becoming a parent, I've paid a lot more attention to the latest kids' music CDs. There are a lot of choices - and sometimes, it seems as if the CDs are aimed as much at the aging, hipster doofus parents as at their offspring. One way kids' music artists appeal to parents' tastes is to release lullaby versions of songs they know and love. The idea isn't new - I remember seeing "Beatles for Babies" records decades ago - but the trend has grown.

Recently, power-pop cult figure Jason Falkner (ex-JellyfishGrays) released Bedtime with the Beatles Part Two. A gifted vocalist, he offers humming only on "Hey Jude", concentrating instead on instrumental versions of Fab Four faves, awash in his multi-tracked keyboard arrangements which nod to psychedelia while carrying children (and tired parents) off to dreamland.

While I'd sing most of these classics to my wee one, tunes like "Norwegian Wood" and "She's Leaving Home" are best left as instrumentals - I don't need questions about sleeping in the bath or runaways treating mums so thoughtlessly. Still, these are far from the most questionable kids' versions of songs out there - I can't decide which is the bigger head-scratcher, "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" (on Jersey Babys: the Music of Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons for Kids), or the Trent Reznor-penned "Hurt" (on Baby Love Lullaby: Lullaby Versions of Johnny Cash). Seriously - "everyone I know goes away in the end"? Night night, sweetie!


Bedtime with the Beatles

The Sunset Tree

Books (mostly memoirs) about dysfunctional families—where abuse, neglect, alcoholism, abandonment or all of the above abound—are both plentiful and popular these days. The Liar’s Club (Mary Karr), Running with ScissorsA Wolf at the Table (Augusten Burroughs), The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls), to name just a few, have enjoyed commercial success and seem to strike a chord with the reading public.

Recently I’ve been listening to the work of front man for the band, Mountain Goats, songwriter-singer, John Darnielle, who is a master of the “themed CD.” In 2005, he recorded The Sunset Tree. Thirteen songs offer snapshots of his childhood which was dominated by an abusive step-father. Each song tells a story, and together the stories compose a wrenching portrait reminiscent of the memoirs cited above. To convey the horror and offer snippets of hope through song—so vividly, so convincingly, and so succinctly—should elevate this musician to the stature of famed memoirists who write rather than sing about this realm.

In 2006, Paste Magazine put John Darnielle on their best 100 living songwriters' list; makes sense to me.


The Sunset Tree

Maximum Minimalism

My first encounter with the American composer Philip Glass was several years ago and honestly, one of shock and awe. Clearly, at the time, I wasn’t ready for his brand of repetitive music structures strung together with an odd assortment of instrumentation and vocal textures. Now several years later, Glass’ eerily minimalist symphonies, hauntingly beautiful film scores (The Hours, KundunFog of War), Eastern inflected rhythms, and evocative ensemble compositions have become some of my favorite classical tracks to listen to.

John Adams is another wonderful composer whose work I’ve recently embraced. His music is often thrown under the heading “minimalism” along with Glass and notable avant-garde musicians Stephen Reich and Terry Reily. Adams’ music, like Glass’ work, tends to generate its melodic color from alterations or subtle tweaking of a foundational harmony. Both deeply expressive and at times jarringly dark, Adams' music has been both widely honored and praised for its humanist themes and boundary-expanding nature.


The Dharma at Big Sur

The T-Bone Burnett Touch

Does any modern recording producer capture the deep, lush resonance of a plucked double bass any better than T-Bone Burnett? I don't think so. Though the list of artists he's produced is diverse, running the gamut from Cassandra Wilson to Counting Crows to the surprise duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the sound of his productions is singular. While emphasizing acoustic instrumentation rooted in American folk traditions, his productions never sound like museum pieces - they're very much of their time (his influence on the Americana genre can't be overestimated), yet remain ageless.

Burnett can now add John Mellencamp's Life, Death, Love, and Freedom to his growing list of evocative production work. Co-produced with Mellencamp (no slouch as a producer himself), the album, described by JM as a collection of "modern electric folk songs", is the very best record made by a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee in the year in which they were inducted. The meditations on mortality and making ends meet in tough times are classic Mellencamp themes, but the intimacy with which the disc is recorded puts the listener in the middle of the songs - there's little question to which times this new masterpiece speaks. As long as you expect Mellencamp in a deeply ruminative mood, musically and lyrically, you'll find yourself listening to the very best disc he's ever made... so far.


Life, Death, Love, and Freedom

The Story Behind the Album

What goes into the making of a rock and roll masterpiece? Is it the quality of the songwriting or is it the result of a skillful lyricist plumbing the depths of humanity with wordplay, satire, irony, or poetic beauty? Maybe it was the perfect combination of all the various pieces of the band coming together just at the right moment. Could it have been the riffs, the screams, the cow bells, or even the artistic flirtation with expanding the musical envelope?

Classic albums live long after they are completed, resonating within our nostalgia-filled memories of long ago days and past lives. When done right, these classic records often become the soundtrack of a particular time period or evoke images of movements, trends, and other zeitgeist-related minutiae staining the dustbin of history like sonic residue. Continuum Books produces a fun series of album-specific monographs, penned by admirers and hagiographers aptly named Thirty Three and a Third. These pithy little books are pocket-sized and easily accessible for both neophyte and grizzled, music nerd alike.


In the aeroplane over the sea

Kooky Music

As a Kinks fanatic, I was immediately drawn to the Kooks' sophomore release, Konk, upon seeing its cover, showing the band standing in the doorway of the Kinks' recording studio... named Konk, natch (where much of the disc was recorded).

While the UK quartet share a strong sense of melody and pop songcraft with their studio landlords, their tunes don't conjure up the quirky, busker-friendly sing-alongs of Village Green Preservation Society-era Kinks, nor the muscular, stadium-rock sound of One for the Road-era Kinks. Instead, the band's smooth vocal harmonies, moon-in-june lyrics, and Hills soundtrack-ready performance bring to mind contemporaries like Rooney - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. On a breezy summer's day, when you'd rather feel carefree than challenged, Konk might make a good musical companion.




Nothing beats a live performance

We were privileged to host the Pacifica Quartet on July 8, in a concert and lecture made possible by Fontana Chamber Arts. The quartet's virtuosity and exuberant style thrilled the audience, which ranged in age from infants to elders. One patron remarked after: "Nothing beats a live performance." How true, and particularly so for chamber music which has been called the ultimate democracy. There's no conductor in a chamber ensemble, so all members must cooperate and collaborate. Each musician's contribution is unique. Each musician and his complete focus are needed throughout the piece. A live performance lets you appreciate this special relationship and the lively musical conversations that take place among the members.

Our next concert at KPL will be August 12 when we welcome singer songwriter Rachael Davis. Rachael's been singing on stage since the age of two. Among her accomplishments is taking grand prize in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Troubadour Contest.


Pacifica Quartet

How Swede it is to be Jens Lekman!

A few years ago author David Levithan introduced me to the Swedish indie-pop musician Jens Lekman (pronounced "Yens") and since then I have been a BIG fan. Depending heavily on samples and strings, Lekman crafts whimsical and often hilarious lyrics about cab rides, cutting your finger off while slicing avocados, and playing Bingo on a Friday night. The newest CD, Night Falls Over Kortedala, is filled with perfect pop gems. Discover for yourself why he has been called a happier version of Morrissey!


Night Falls Over Kortedala

I salute British Sea Power.

British Sea Power is a quartet from Brighton, England who have been compared to both Joy Division and Arcade Fire. What they have in common with the both bands is a moody and sweeping sound that is best listened to on full volume. Their most recent release Do You Like Rock Music? could be the soundtrack for a rousing invasion of a land in need of some uplifting. Check out these literate indie boys if you are in need of some musical theatrics. 


Do You Like Rick Music?

The Avett Brothers - Alt Country's Finest!

One of the best concerts I attended last year was The Avett Brothers show at The Ark in Ann Arbor. This trio performs a unique blend of country/rock/folk, which some critics have called "cowpunk." Their most recent CD, Emotionalism is a slight departure from their previous efforts and is filled with tracks that tend to move away from the "punk" and more towards the folk. I was blown away at the band's ability to elicit a vast array of emotions from a banjo, guitar and stand-up bass. The crowd at the concert rarely sat down. The Avett Brothers are one of the finest alternative country acts touring today. If you have an opportunity to see a show, do not pass it up.



Mountain Battles

After reading an article about the new Breeders record in Spin magazine, I gave Mountain Battles a listen and was not surprised that I really like it. It sounds like a Breeders record, familiar yet diverse, but still sounds current. Or as one reviewer put it – “Like their three previous records, Mountain Battles is a record to return to again and again, like an old and dear friend who can still somehow surprise you”. The Spin article talked about how Kim Deal, who has always struck me as that really cool Aunt I always wished I had, moved back to Dayton, Ohio and used a bit of her Pixie’s money to purchase a nice ranch house in order to live near and care for her aging parents. That is about the coolest and most real thing I have ever heard a bona fide alt. rock legend admit to, how cool. Mountain Battles offers a great collection of songs all of which Steve Albini, another alt. rock legend, gives a muddy, low-fi production that works perfectly.


Mountain Battles

A Wizard, A True Star

All of us who had the true pleasure of working with Dale Ford knew his passion for music. He and I shared an obsession with Todd Rundgren, though Dale was without doubt the greater fan. Years of our Rundgren-related conversations got me to the point where I couldn’t put a Todd record on without Dale crossing my mind.

The diverse nature of Rundgren’s recordings – not only as a solo performer, but also as a member of various bands (Utopia and Nazz among them) and producer (he helmed Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and XTC’s Skylarking, to name only two elpees’ worth of tunes) – is at turns challenging and rewarding. 1973’s A Wizard, A True Star does a great job of showcasing all of Todd’s musical personalities – art rocker, soul balladeer, experimentalist, spiritual lyricist, guitar hero, jokester.

In a pensive mood, I prefer the soulful second half of the collection – feeling more adventurous, the synthesized psychedelia that opens the collection suits the mood. The second half pays tribute to Rundgren’s R’n’B influences, while the first half itself is influential, its sonic textures prefiguring disco, new wave, and even hip-hop. The wide variety of sounds on this disc (especially enjoyable on headphones) should send impressed listeners on a search for more of Rundgren’s work. Dale wouldn’t have hesitated to point the way.


A Wizard, A True Star


Steppin' In It at KPL!

Last night, 96 fans of old old-time country swing and blues were lucky enough to catch a free concert from the Lansing-based band Steppin' In It. The band performed many songs from the newest CD Simple Tunes for Troubled Times to a very energetic crowd seated in a circle around the stage. Between tunes the band discussed their instruments, the stories behind the songs and answered questions. The Van Deusen Room was swinging especially when the guys brought out the trumpet and trombone!

By kind permission of the band, here are a few clips from the show... "Break of Day," Give My Regards to Miss Moline," and "Gold and Silver."

The show was the first in a series of concerts each month this summer. Don't miss the Pacifica Quartet on July 8th and Rachael Davis on August 12th.

Colorfreaks and Tigertails

Ann Arbor rock group Kiln has been making instumental music for a decade, longer if you count the work they've done as other bands. Starting out as purveyors of a clanky, textural drone, the Kiln sound has been refined with each passing album into a cool fusion of heavily processed guitar sounds and sputtering electronics. Picking up where 2004's Sunbox EP left off, Dusker features a sound both frenetic and hypnotic that swirls around through wide stereo effects, warm buzzing tones and and choppy clicks and clacks. However, where Sunbox was somewhat mellower and dub-influenced, Dusker is more straight-ahead rock with a stronger emphasis on the guitars and a more propulsive beat on many tracks. They still bring back a dub sound on songs like "Flycatcher", and there's still soft touches of electric piano and melodica here and there, it's just that there's a sharper overlay of distorted guitar rounding things out.

The best thing about Dusker is the warmth infusing each track. Where many other producers of ambient and glitch electronics often isolate the listener with an overly artificial sound, Kiln instead provides that rare electronic release that inspires feelings of happiness and joy. As a friend remarked when I played some of the songs on Dusker, "Listening to Kiln is totally like being tickled." I couldn't agree more.



Lucky by Nada Surf

At first the new CD by the New York City based, Nada Surf did not thrill me. Tracks from their fifth studio release Lucky kept playing when the iPod was on shuffle and I finally realized what I was missing, an awesome effort. The alt-trio best known for the MTV hit "Popular" in 1996 have released a power pop CD celebrating their ability to keep making music in today's industry. I dare any of you to play this at your next summer outing and not smile.

Will history prove that Nada Surf will be more than a one hit wonder or will new listeners find themselves "Lucky" enough to see beyond that "Popular" track?  Check out Lucky and judge for yourself.



Flight of the Conchords

The Flight of the Conchords are "New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo", but in the U.S.A. they currently sit on the top perch of music novelty acts. Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement were college flatmates in Australia studying film that decided to give it all up to play digi-folk. 

Their debut CD is a collection of some of their favorites from their act and HBO series.  The duo parodies every type of sound - from electronicasoul, and hip-hop.  Bret and Jermaine are hilarious!  Looking for a great laugh and good music?  Take flight with the Conchords.


Flight of the Conchords

For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver

There are many different ways of making a great album. Justin Vernon decided to do it by recording for over three months in a remote cabin in northern Wisconsin. The result is a haunting debut album released under the name Bon Iver, which is a misspelling of the French for "good winter."

While listening to this amazing CD, one cannot help but feel like you are quietly approaching a distraught minstrel alone in the middle of a vast forest. Vernon's voice pushes and pulls through stories of love, loneliness, and isolation against a wintery backdrop.

Fans of Iron & Wine will definitely get caught up in the sound.


For Emma, Forever Ago