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Staff Picks: Music

My Top Five of 2015

It’s the end of the year so it’s time again to list my personal top five albums of the year. Compared to last year, 2015 was very strong filled with some amazing female performers, a soulful duo, smart lyrics and a poppy Australian band.

5. Tuxedo by Tuxedo – This super soul duo of Michigan’s own Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One produced my favorite funk/soul album of the year. Listening to this one reminded me of roller-skating on a hot summer night in the 1980’s. 

4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – I always approach any artist labeled “the next Dylan” with much trepidation. I am so happy I set my fears aside with this Australian-born singer-songwriter debut record. Barnett’s smart and poetic lyrics shine brightly against a straight up rock sound. 

3. Glitterbug by The Wombats – Released in the spring, this album has consistently stayed with me all year. I will crank up the volume when I hear the band’s distinct poppy electric beats. The best tracks, “Your Body Is A Weapon,” “Greek Tragedy’” and “This Is Not A Party,” are sweet treats that I have been indulging on all year.

2. Poison Season by Destroyer – Dan Bejar of Destroyer has released his masterpiece! In Poison Season, Bejar has taken some of the best aspects of his previous work and used them to craft a record that evokes both British pop, street rock and jazz. The entire record needs to be listened to in one sitting to be to appreciate the majesty of it all. 

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney – This will be the third time I blog about this album in 2015, so how could it not be my choice for the absolute best of the year? Every track is enjoyable. I would not be surprised if it ended up on my All-Time Favorites list someday. 

Please check out the other eight album releases from 2015 that I considered most excellent!

A Contender for Best Album of the Year

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly is likely to end up on many critics' best-of lists. Since the album’s release, it has been universally praised for its genre-expanding results and deconstructionist approach, mashing together a wild mixture of R&B-tinged hip hop, Beat poetry, and social protest. It can sound a little busy in parts but when it comes together as in the hit song King Kunta, Lamar has tossed the envelop aside, giving listeners something original rather than simply pushing it forward.

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. 

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


Black Messiah

R&B lovers rejoice! Last month D'Angelo released his first album in nearly fifteen years to widespread critical acclaim. You can download Black Messiah through Freegal, the library's free downloadable music collection.

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


Raven in the grave