Staff Picks: Music
In 2001 the way the world listens to music changed when Apple introduced the iPod. Two years later, the iTunes Store opened for business offering owners of iPods a virtual place to purchase music. Over the past ten years billions of songs have been downloaded to the many Apple iOS devices. Some would argue that iTunes has destroyed the idea of a “traditional” album, but others claim that more people listen to different music because it is easier to access music. No matter how you feel, it is hard to deny that iTunes is the “King of all Media Delivery Systems.”
I was curious to find out what the most played song was in the iTunes libraries of the staff at KPL. The answers not only provided me with insight on the listening habits of staff, but also inspired me to seek out the stuff in the library.
The most played song in my iTunes library is Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting” from his 1991 album, Girlfriend. When I think about why this particular song is on top of the list, I recall the summer when both my daughters requested to listen to it multiple times. They liked to roll down the windows and sing along to infectious tune. My guess is the top tracks from other staff have a similar story.
• “Too Late” by Shoes, Karl Knack, Audio Visual
•“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys, Anne Herrington, Law Library
• “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird, Susan Lindemann, Facilities Management
• “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth, Michael Cockrell, Adult Services
•“Feels Like Home” by Edwina Hayes, Jill Lansky, Teen Services
• “Gobbledigook” by Sigur Ros, Rick Hale, Patron Services
•“Baby Girl” by Sugarland, Andrea Vernola, Youth Services
• “Dirty Little Secret” by All-American Rejects, Wendy Hand, IT
• “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson, Angela Fortin, Oshtemo
• “Myth” by Beach House, Ryan Gage, Audio Visual
Don’t forget that Saturday, April 20, is Record Store Day. Independent record shops (like independent booksellers) could be dying breed; don’t let that happen. Stop by your favorite music store on Saturday and buy a few things; let them know you care. Some stores will have exclusive first releases and limited editions not available anywhere else. Who knows, you might find something you didn’t even know you wanted. (Of course, not all stores will carry all releases and some releases will sell out.) So tell your Facebook friends, tell your analog friends, tell anyone who will listen.
“The official film of Record Store Day 2013”
Here’s a trailer from The Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop, a critically acclaimed documentary directed by Pip Piper, and based on the book by Graham Jones.
Record Store Day
This is an ambitious aural excursion that you really owe it to yourself to experience. But be warned, this isn’t your typical singer-songwriter verse-chorus-verse stuff. Bill Caskey’s Dymaxion Mothership takes the listener on a complex journey across a lush audio landscape that ranges from contemplative voice and piano to full-on multi-instrumental madness. Some parts are complex and challenging, while other bits are… well… as Buddy Guy once put it, “so funky you can smell it.” Tempo changes are around every corner and the production is superb. Bill’s lyrics are chock full of quirky wit and introspective wordsmanship, creatively weaving imaginative tales of love and life; dreams, a small town in the summertime, and dogs chasing dragonflies. The overall result is a carefully crafted musical journey that’s anything but ordinary.
“My doggie like to chase dem dinosaurs
She plays for sport even though she never scores
Barn swallows hunting bugs in the springtime
She jumps up and tries to utilize her hang time
Barn swallows slip and glide
Doggie tongue hangin’ out the side…”
Musical similarities? Sure, some of the obvious influences creep in here and there… “Hey Alligator” has an undeniable Steeler’s Wheel feel about it (remember those guys?), “Biggest Heart” could have been on Wally De Backer’s (Gotye) last album, and echoes of old school Steely Dan linger throughout… but the final outcome is all of these things… and yet none of them actually. Dymaxion Mothership is an intensely rich and remarkably satisfying original musical experience. Climb aboard the Mothership… it’s an outing you don’t want to miss.
In case you didn’t know (shame on you!), The Relations (including Bill Caskey) put on a July concert at Central Library featuring material from Dymaxion Mothership. The concert is now up in its entirety on KPL’s YouTube channel and our Concert Archives page.
It's not uncommon to feel a nostalgia for music of another time and place that may cast today's sounds in a less favorable light, even if the evidence doesn't justify the position. However, fans of '60's pop radio can point to any of the following 45s from the summer of 1966 - listed in no particuar order - to make a very strong case for the excellence of that era:
The Beatles: “Paperback Writer” – before the late-summer stateside furor caused by John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” interview remarks, the Fab Four ruled US airwaves with this dose of proto-psychedelia, cut during the sessions for their landmark Revolver LP. Dig the “Frere Jacques” backing harmonies in the third and fourth verses.
The Rolling Stones: “Paint It, Black” – moving further away from their R’n’B roots with this brooding Middle Eastern-flavored recording from their Aftermath sessions, the Stones released the first rock single to feature the sitar. Keith Richards remains non-plussed by the US record company’s random insertion of the comma in the song’s title.
The Supremes: “You Can’t Hurry Love” – Motown’s biggest act charted their 7th number one smash (after a couple of singles that “only” made the top 10) with this infectious Holland-Dozier-Holland production that, for many, defines the Sound of Young America today. Despite the lyrics’ recommendation for patience, the song’s insistent rhythms (laid down by the legendary Funk Brothers) guarantee body movements by anyone within earshot.
The Lovin’ Spoonful: “Summer in the City” – it’s hard to detect the Greenwich Village quartet’s jug band roots on this driving ode to urban summertime heat, the misery it causes in the minor-key verses countered by the fun it promises in the major-key choruses. This is the first rock single to feature a jackhammer.
The Beach Boys: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – the third single from the Hawthorne, CA quintet’s timeless Pet Sounds LP had such a great flipside – “God Only Knows” – that both sides made the top 40 charts. In the UK, the single sides were flipped, gaining even greater chart success.
Dusty Springfield: “Goin’ Back” – Dusty’s soulful reading of this wistful Goffin-King composition was an international smash everywhere but in the US, where, for whatever reason, Springfield’s record company declined to release the song (which eventually became a minor hit in a version by the Byrds released the following year). The yearning nostalgia of the song’s lyrics is in sharp contrast to the youthfulness of the song’s performer and composers.
Bob Dylan: “I Want You” - the third of four singles from Dylan’s epochal Blonde on Blonde double-LP charted just weeks before the artist’s extended disappearance from the public arena after a mysterious motorcycle accident. The remarkably simple chorus lyrics are quite atypical of the increasingly complex wordsmithing Dylan fans came to expect, but that seems to be the point (driven home by the singer’s repeated, excited pleas of the title) of what’s essentially a simple love (or, more accurately, lust) song.
The Troggs: “Wild Thing” – one of the most covered (to this day) hits of the ‘60’s was a make-it-or-break-it follow-up to a failed debut single by the UK act almost named the Grotty Troggs. Though the track and its performers have a reputation for being “primitive”, few cover bands could pull off the ocarina solo featured in the song’s instrumental break.
The Velvelettes: “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You” – the final ‘60’s 45 release from Kalamazoo’s very own stars of Motown, this modest R’n’B hit – loaded with classic Hitsville touches, from a finger-snappin’ intro to catchy vocal harmonies in support of an arresting lead - should have found wider airplay, but with so much competition on the airwaves in the summer of ’66, it’s no wonder that it became a buried treasure waiting for discovery, along with so many other worthy single sides from this period, by music lovers today… and forever.
Kalamazoo's Arcadia Creek Festival Place has been a summer concert hot spot for many years now, hosting music artists storied for filling stadiums full of fans, now playing more frequently to modest-sized audiences. This summer, bands such as Great White, 38 Special, and Gin Blossoms take the Arcadia stage, adding (or returning) their names to the growing list of the venue's veteran performers.
While most fans will be cheering loudest for the big radio hits, in some cases they'll be getting earfuls of new sounds. Gin Blossoms, for example, released No Chocolate Cake late last year. None of its tracks are dominating the airwaves as their mid-'90's string of power-pop classics had, but some of its cuts will fit nicely alongside the more familiar songs in the band's setlist. Listeners need to be patient, as the disc is front-loaded with generic tracks that don't highlight the group's strengths (Byrdsy guitar lines, wistful lyrics, memorable vocal hooks). Those guilty pleasures make their appearance a few cuts in, with a couple of curveballs in the mix (check out the horn section on "Dead or Alive on the 405") that let you know the combo's not interested in settling for nostalgia-act status.
Even so, more than a few Arcadia concert-goers will be singing along to the songs they know best this summer. Mark those calendars and start getting those voices in shape!
No Chocolate Cake
Kalamazoo’s local music scene these days is diverse and richly vibrant. One look at the Gazette’s Ticket supplement and you’ll find everything from talented local amateurs to nationally known superstars performing in dozens of different venues across the area, even Kalamazoo Public Library!
But has Kalamazoo always had this kind of passion for music? You might be surprised!
If you’re like me, you wonder what popular entertainment sounded like in Kalamazoo a century or even a century-and-a-half ago. What instruments were being played? What music was being played? Who was playing it, and where?
Admittedly, there isn’t a CD called “Early Kalamazoo Music” (yet!), but All About Kalamazoo History, KPL’s aptly titled collection of Local History essays, has a wealth of information on that very topic. Check the newly created Music category, and you’ll find articles about everything from Kalamazoo’s very first band (formed in 1837 shortly after Kalamazoo—then Bronson Village—was established) right through the Ragtime Era at the end of the nineteenth century and into the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. There’s information about Kalamazoo’s leading music organizations, the early dance bands, the musical leaders, and some of the local performers who “made it big.” Learn about the early efforts to establish the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and discover the various local businesses that grew up around the music industry. There’s even an article about “That Gal from Kalamazoo.”
So dig in, you’ll never know what you might find.
Kalamazoo Ragtime Music
I was not terribly impressed with the musical output from 2009, but after compiling my Top Ten CDs from 2010 I discovered a bunch more that were better than most of last year’s list.
Since I could only offer ten selections for the official KPL Top Ten page, I present ten more great CDs from the past twelve months.
11. Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
12. Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2 by Robyn
13. Adrift by The Red Sea Pedestrians
14. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk
15. Of The Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go
16. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson
17. Transference by Spoon
18. I Learned the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
19. Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine by Various
20. Maya by M.I.A.
Be sure to catch the Blue Moon Blues Band in an intimate “unplugged” performance on Wednesday, October 21st, at Central Library, as part of KPL’s ongoing Live Music series.
We have it on very good authority that this should be quite a unique and memorable event, including a rare opportunity to hear some of Mr. Carambula’s smokin’ acoustic(!) guitar work, and some brand new music they’ve never played in public before!
Blue Moon’s library appearance will also be one of the band’s final public performances - after nine years and four CDs, they’re moving on to new and different opportunities, so stay tuned! Don’t you dare miss this chance to see one of the final (and perhaps finest) performances by one of Kalamazoo’s most revered musical institutions.
Here’s Blue Moon, recorded live at Clydes Side Door in Battle Creek on March 21, 2009.
Blue Moon Blues Band
In the early 1970's, three African-American R&B musicians from Detroit transformed their sound after being inspired by local musicians, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and MC5. The trio called themselves Death, which did not sit well with the Columbia Records executive who funded their first recording session in 1974. The unwillingness to change their name was literally the "Death" of the band and their debut record was never released commercially.
Music critics have hailed Death as being "visionaries" in the punk movement. Their sound straddles the line between punk, funk, and arena rock. Death could have been playing to sold out shows at Cobo Hall, but instead ended up being a footnote in the history of Detroit music.
The Drag City label has rescued the never released record For the Whole World to See for fans of the early punk sound. Check out this Motor City band who was way ahead of their time and should be considered a catalyst for punk music in America.
For the Whole World to See
Tonight’s third annual Kalamashoegazer festival, organized by local dreampop icons glowfriends, confirms that a rock style long thought to be out of style is enjoying a healthy afterlife. Anyone unfamiliar with shoegazer music (named after shoegaze guitarists’ tendency to keep their eyes focused on their effects pedals) can initiate themselves with any of the glowfriends’ ethereal CD selections available for loan at KPL.
The uninitiated can also go straight to the groundbreaking 1991 release by shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, to hear what’s generally regarded as the shoegaze masterpiece. Lush vocal harmonies float above a wash of searing guitars, distorted at an incredibly high volume, pitches bending wildly. However strange the mix sounds, the end result is, to my ears, quite beautiful - despite the overwhelming effect of the wall of guitars, melody is not sacrificed.
Live, MBV has been known to play so loudly that some audience members have claimed permanent hearing damage (earplugs are routinely offered for free at their gigs). It’s doubtful any of the bands playing Kalamashoegazer 3 will generate such dangerous volume levels, but it’s likely that the rush of sound will still awe those in attendance, and make shoegaze believers out of newcomers.