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Staff Picks: Music

Best Music of 2014

Catch up on the best music made in 2014 by checking out some of these end of year lists.

NPR's Music Critics

Pitchfork

Rolling Stone

Country Music

AV Club

Metacritic's Debut Albums

Hip Hop Albums


The Voice of Christmas

Bing Crosby's famous rendition of White Christmas may well be the most beloved and well known holiday song. It's a song that every December becomes an ubiquitous element of everyday life, almost inescapable as it leaks into existence from mall speakers, headphones and television sets. A new biographical portrait of Crosby's personal and professional life as well as his pop cultural significance will be featured on the PBS television program American Masters this Tuesday (December 2nd). Interested in more than just his holiday songs, check out more here.


FKA twigs - Lets Hear It for the Girl

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.


I like to mix it up!

I’m not a fan of the Sex and the City series or even the movies, but I have really enjoyed their soundtrack. What I have found with soundtracks is that you get a variety of music and since my taste in music is all over the place, I usually find something I like. This soundtrack stars Alicia Keys, Dido, Cee Lo Green, Ricki-Lee and Erykah Badu. Even Liza Minelli has a couple of cuts on this CD. It’s the same ole Liza, except, even though it may be hard to imagine it, her voice is even raspier.

Sex and the City 2 is a collection of eclectic vibes which turned me on to Natacha Atlas. She is a Middle Eastern singer who has a striking song called Kidda on Sex and the City 2. I was always singing along in my head, which is pretty difficult since I have no idea what she’s saying, but it led me to look her and other Arabic music up. KPL has one of Natacha’s CDs titled Mounqaliba in their collection. On Mounqaliba she has a rendition of Nick Drake’s Riverman that I really enjoy. It’s kind of jazzy or maybe bluesy. Well, anyway….KPL also has a CD called The rough guide to Arabic Lounge, which is a mix of Arab music that includes something from Natacha. If you like to try different kinds of music give Sex and the City 2 a shot. If nothing else maybe you’ll like the men’s choir that’s singing in it.


Valerie June

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


Summer Anthems

It's still summer out there so keep the warm weather tunes playing loud and proud.

The Motels: Suddenly Last Summer

Bananarama: Cruel Summer

The Sundays: Summertime
Seals and Croft: Summer Breeze
Marianne Faithfull: Summer Nights
Pavement: Summer Babe
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood: Summer Wine
The Raveonettes: Summer Moon
 

Music

Raven in the grave

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Unrepentant Geraldines

“I can remember where I come from.”

That line is from a 1992 Tori Amos song entitled “Mother,” a beautiful piano ballad about leaving home, or maybe leaving what you know. It’s really more of a plea than an assertion—a fear about forgetting what makes us who we are. The song, one of my personal favorites, is off her first album, Little Earthquakes, and now—22 years and 13 albums later—Tori brings that idea full circle with her latest LP, Unrepentant Geraldines. In the song “Oysters,” she sings, “I’m working my way back to me again.” Exploring the self or being self-aware is a common thread throughout all of her albums, but it resonates particularly strongly with Geraldines, in part because the album seems to be a return to form for her—that is, it’s more piano-based, simple storytelling/songwriting than some of her recent high-concept albums. I could easily hear a song like “Weatherman” nestled between the songs on 1994’s Under the Pink or “Selkie” sitting alongside the best of her early B-sides. Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t Tori trying to relive past glories; the songs are much fresher than if she were trying to replicate what she’s already done. Unrepentant Geraldines comes from a different place than any of her early work, from a maturity that only comes with time—whether that means writing about aging (“16 Shades of Blue”), being a mother (“Rose Dover” and “Promise”), or corporate greed/religious oppression (“Unrepentant Geraldines”). Her early work will always be my favorite, but I’m happy to have an album like Geraldines that, over 20 years after I first started listening to her, speaks to me.

If you’ve liked any of her previous work, I’d give this album a try. In addition to the CDs we have in our collection, you can find almost every Tori Amos album, including Unrepentant Geraldines, on Hoopla. What isn’t on Hoopla—Scarlet’s Walk, The Beekeeper, and American Doll Posse—is available on Freegal.

 

Music

Unrepentant Geraldines
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Nikki Lane: Now on Hoopla

If you dig the music of The Black Keys, Caitlin Rose, The Ronettes, Wanda Jackson, and She and Him, head on over to our free streaming service called Hoopla and borrow the newest album from Nikki Lane, a new singer from Nashville whose songs strike a nice balance between vintage country and girl group pop. Produced by Dan Auerbach (guitarist from The Black Keys) All or Nothin’ will be here in compact disc format soon but if you can’t wait, stream it from Hoopla now for free.

Music

All or Nothin'
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A Beautiful and Well Organized Mess of an Album

St. Vincent’s (aka Annie Clark) newest, self-titled album is an idiosyncratic mess, a beautiful and infectious tangle of weirdness that comes at you like a curveball with a sensibility that knowingly preserves accessibility while challenging it. Cobbled together from too many genres, styles and sources to adequately summarize here, her fourth album is her most adventurous yet. She confidently pushes her sonic palate in new and colorful ways that exhibits her varied musical interests and how effectively she is at mixing and matching tones and textures. It’s a contemporary sounding mulligan stew of digital beeps and bounces, spacey synthesizers, cheesy guitar riffs, funky rhythms, and gorgeous melodies. In other words, wait for the next track and you’ll hear something you weren’t expecting. It took me a couple of listens for this to sink in and make sense. There’s no doubt that some will be turned off by the cornier stuff, but overall, it’s a strong album that at times, conjures the kind of boundless vision and openness to challenge found in David Bowie’s albums.

Music

St. Vincent
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Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saadiq has been around for quite a while. He came as a surprise to me because his vintage sounds. He seems extremely talented and is well packaged. He initially played with Tony! Toni! Tone! Over the years he has worked behind the scenes as a producer for some top names like, John Legend, Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige and the list goes on to some surprising other great artists.

What I really like about him is that he is very versatile. Raphael Saadiq is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and a record producer. I’ve read that his heroes are Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Little Walter. He says he wants to be a throwback with a futuristic twist. That certainly comes through on his latest CD Stone Rollin. That CD took me back to the 50s and 60s. It also had me reminiscing about Sam Cook. There are many great sounds and it is a great show of talent. It’s definitely R&B at its finest and it had me rolling.

Music

Stone Rollin
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