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Staff Picks: Music

Best of 2015 (So far...)

I think it is never too early to start compiling your “Best of” list. This year is shaping up to be a pretty strong year for music. As we enter summer, here are my favorite five.

No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney– They are back. The original riot girls have released the record that everyone in my family enjoys. (Check out my previous post.)

Beat the Champ by The Mountain Goats – John Darnielle has produced the greatest record about professional wrestler ever. You would not think this would work but as you should expect, Darnielle infuses each track with the emotion that makes him an amazing talent.

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens – By exploring the rocky relationship with his mother, Stevens has crafted a record that is reminiscent of 2005’s Illinoise. Be prepared for some raw emotional stuff.

Kindred by Passion Pit – Michael Angelakos has yet to release a weak record. I’m amazed at his ability to write about topics like his own bi-polar disorder against a strong, driving dance beat. Listeners will be surprised at how such up-tempo record contains so much pain and struggle.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes – Mercy! If you have yet to be blown away by the power of this band, then do yourself a favor and check them out. A combination of southern rock, soul and blues is excellent summer soundtrack.

The rest of the year looks to be just as amazing! Be sure to check out KPL’s stellar music collection or stream many of the above right now on Hoopla.

The Bark of Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog is just a straight up, rock solid group from Philadelphia whose catchy songs are rooted to the 1960’s but that nevertheless embody their time. They’re hardly an adventurous group and critics will point to their refusal to advance their sound but for the casual listener, they have created a respectful discography of sometimes raucous, sometimes tender tunes of soul, Motown and indie pop. One can hear in their tuneful melodies and tight harmonies the echo of The Beatles, Beach Boys, and The Band and that’s ok by me. Check out one of their best albums (Shame Shame) on Hoopla, the library’s streaming service.

Too Much Karaoke

Cover albums that attempt to remake your favorite music rarely produce results that could impress an aficionado/fan like yourself (how could they mess with perfection right?). I was cautiously optimistic when I learned that the music of Elliott Smith was going to be reinterpreted by Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield. I’ve always enjoyed the mixture of beauty and velocity of the Avett Brothers rollicking ballads and so I hoped for the best. Unfortunately, like most tribute albums, Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith suffers from Karaokeitis. The two talented singers mean well but the project would have been better served having chosen to cover the songs of someone less beloved and known. There are a couple of nice reinterpretations of Smith's forlorn repertoire but for the most part, they play it safe, rarely pushing the songs in a different direction than the original. If you had picked up the album never having heard of Elliott Smith, chances are you’d have found a great deal to like about the album. Few singer songwriters possess the indelible, legendary talent of the late troubadour and while it’s nice to see his name circulating again, possibly attracting some new devotees in the process, his singular voice really doesn't require a make-over, even one crafted from good intentions. Still, petty slights aside, this album is still worth checking out given the great singing and playing. 

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


Built to Spill

Tori Amos

Bright Eyes



Cocteau Twins

Sonic Youth


Modest Mouse





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