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Staff Picks: Music

Leon Bridges

If you enjoy the retro sounds of 1960’s soul and rhythm and blues that artists like Alabama Shakes, Raphael Saadiq, Amy Winehouse, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have kept alive and fresh, check out the debut album by the young singer Leon Bridges, a guy that you can bet has listened to a few Motown and Sam Cooke records over the years.

Stream or Download via Freegal

Freegal is your access to free downloaded music from the Sony Music catalog. A streaming option has now been added to their catalog. Download 5 of your favorite songs each week or listen to a full album by streaming (5 hours/week). Visit our Download page on the KPL site for more information and helpful links to our other digital services.

One of the most buzzed about jazz albums of the year is Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975, the Bootleg Series Volume 4. Our compact disc copy will be here soon but if you don't want to wait, stream this extraordinary portrait of one of jazz's most important innovators which includes performances with legendary collaborators John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Julien "Cannonball" Adderley. 

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.

Nighttime Cool

Bryan Ferry’s music, whether it be with Roxy Music or his solo work, has always possessed a kind of suave, sexy, nocturnal moodiness to it that bounces back and forth between established genres and forms. His newest album Avonmore has many of the sort of stylistic characteristics that you would have found on Roxy Music’s classic album Avalon (1982). Working with other amazing musicians like The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr certainly helped to flesh out some very catchy songs that harness Ferry's strength as a sensual, nighttime troubadour for the urbane set. Ferry’s sophisticated blending of new wave, pop, funk, and soul continues with these newest batch of songs.

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


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