Staff Picks: Music
Every year Young Adult author, David Levithan (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) asks his friends to list their favorite music (CDs and songs) of the previous year. I truly enjoy the list because someone always mentions something I missed. The winner in 2008 was the debut by Vampire Weekend. The Top Ten also included Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, and Portishead. Since it is the 10th Anniversary of the "David Music Poll" he asked each of us to also list our Top Ten in the past ten years. Check out all the selections at the David Music Poll Blog. Scroll to the bottom to find my selections.
When a CD title asks you to “meet” an artist you’ve known for three or four decades (unless it's a reissue or a tribute to Meet the Beatles), you can guess the artist is getting an artistic makeover, upping their “hip" quotient, attracting new listeners and allowing old fans to hear the performer with fresh ears.
In a sense, that’s what’s happening on Meet Glen Campbell, the latest release by the veteran country/pop star and ace guitarist (as a session musician in the early ‘60’s, he was reportedly earning up to 10 grand a week). Scanning the track listing – here’s a Lou Reed Velvets cover, there’s a Foo Fighters hit – one might think the recording is a stripped-down affair, akin to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, revealing the raw essence of an artist thought to be past their prime.
It’s the songs, though, that get the makeovers. Awash in orchestral arrangements, the new productions recall the Jimmy Webb-penned evergreens (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”) that made Campbell a star in the late '60's. Being mostly ballads, the songs aren’t being stretched beyond recognition (in some cases, as with the cover of U2’s “All I Want is You”, the string settings are familiar), but once you hear Campbell’s voice, unravaged by time, delivering those songs in the florid baroque pop style that held its own against the psychedelic rock revolution (what sounds more dated now?), you may forget the originals exist, or weren’t written with Campbell in mind.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Billie Joe Armstrong or Paul Westerberg – if you’ve been a fan of Glen Campbell, this is the return to form you’ve been waiting for (or never expected). If you really don’t know Glen Campbell… well, this is as good a chance to meet him as any.
Meet Glen Campbell
I apologize for taking so long to post the final four of my Top Ten CDs of 2008. Since my last installment I was thrilled to discover that two of my colleagues blogged about two other fabulous CDs from 2008 that did not crack my list, Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio. Other CDs worth checking out from 2008 include efforts from She & Him, Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst, Cut Copy, Girl Talk and The Hold Steady.
4. Blitzen Trapper, Furr – The best “campfire” CD of the year. This Portland, Oregon band spins yarns of men turning into wolves and serial killers with music reminiscent of Neil Young recording with the guys from Elephant Six. This is music that could quite possibly define the sound of the early 21st century. Best Tracks – “Sleepytime in the Western World,” “Gold for Bread,” “Furr,” “Black River Killer,” “War on Machines”
3. Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords – How could you not love a duo that calls themselves the, "4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" in New Zealand? Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement are not only hilarious but also very talented musicians and songwriters. On their debut CD they pay homage to Marvin Gaye, Pet Shop Boys, Radiohead, and David Bowie without becoming carbon copies. Best Tracks – “Inner City Pressure,” “Think About It,” “Robots,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” “Business Time”
2. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend – Early in 2008, the debut full-length CD from this preppy band from New York City was on the verge of being over-hyped. I jumped on the wagon early and never found a reason to jump off. This CD has the feel of early Police with a flavor of Paul Simon’s Graceland which many of the critics called “Afro-pop.” The lyrics are smart and the tunes are filled with exuberant hooks that will keep you bouncing in your seat for days. A CD destined to become a classic. Best Tracks – “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “M79,” “Campus,” “One (Blake’s Got a New Face),” “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”
1. Los Campesinos! – Hold on Now, Youngster… - My personal favorite CD of 2008 is ironically a CD that I totally missed ordering for the collection (don’t worry it is now on order). The band’s moniker is Spanish for “the farmers” or “the peasants” but they possess a sound that is more fitting for a spastic indie-punk party than a simple, backwoods music circle. It is tough to pinpoint their sound, but I have tried by saying that if you put The New Pornographers, Art Brut, The Decemberists and Architecture in Helsinki in a blender you would get a sound similar to this seven piece band from Wales. It is almost cliché to say that a band is “hyper-literate” but it is a description, along with hilarious, energetic, and talented, that best fits Los Campesinos! Check them out for yourself on February 10th in Grand Rapids. Best Tracks – “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats,” “Death to Los Campesinos!,” “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s),” “You! Me! Dancing!,” “..And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison”
I look forward to the music coming in 2009 and your comments about my list!
Hold on Now, Youngster...
Not surprisingly, in the time I've worked at the library, I've become a much more regular library patron than I used to be, particularly for print materials. Only recently however, have I begun to take more frequent advantage of KPL's growing music collection. My own taste in music has always been somewhat electic and I love being able to check out a CD by an artist I haven't heard before to decide if it's something I would be interested in purchasing. I've also enjoyed reading on this blog about what my colleagues are listening to and I look forward to checking out some of their recommendations. In fact, I was happy to see that one or two of my own favorites have already been the subject of previous posts on this blog. Right now, my own playlist includes: The Weepies, Shelby Lynne, Fall Out Boy, Darius Rucker, Alison Krauss, Fleet Foxes, Jason Mraz, Neil Diamond (it's a blast from my past listening to him again!), Regina Spektor, and an occasional Broadway soundtrack.
Another good way to learn about new music is by subscribing to NPR's Song of the Day.
Say I Am You
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.
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]
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”.
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.
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