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Staff Picks: Music

Graffiti on my Heart

In high school all my friends listened to Led Zeppelin. I did not. My response to the repeated plays of “Black Dog” or “Stairway to Heaven” was at best a semi-polite head bang or two. I truly had no objection to the iconic rockers, but I was not going to actively listen them on my own Walkman.

Flash-forward 25 years later to discover that my 14-year-old daughter has become a HUGE fan of Led Zeppelin. Over the past year, the soundtrack to our ride to soccer practice has been filled with many tracks from Physical Graffiti, the recently re-released album (Available on Hoopla) that was remastered by Jimmy Page. Considered by many to be the greatest Led Zeppelin record of all time, Physical Graffiti contains my three favorite songs from the band that all reside on Side Two - “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot” and “Kashmir.” Songs which my daughter also loves (but considers “Kashmir” overplayed) and considers some of her favorites (her list is much longer than mine).

As I reflect upon not only this album, but also the band, it makes me happy to think that a band I had never found a way into, has become one of the important markers in my life. I will always be able to recollect the times my friends and I were driving all over the back country roads of my hometown listening to Robert Plant’s distinctive wail at high volumes. Now added to the list is the memory of hearing my daughter intelligently discuss the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page while transporting her through the events that are shaping her young life.

There was a time in my music-loving life that I would not have even thought of mentioning Led Zeppelin as a favorite band. After listening to the entire Physical Graffiti, I will now admit that the beauty, artistry, and sound of this masterpiece deserves a place in my permanent collection. The memories it will evoke have certainly have collected a permanent space in my heart.

Depression Cherry

While it doesn’t exceed the overall excellence of their previous album Bloom, Baltimore duo Beach House’s newest release Depression Cherry keeps their string of well-crafted, fuzzy, dream-pop albums going strong. Fans of groups like My Bloody Valentine, The Cocteau Twins, Washed Out, and Wye Oak will definitely be interested. The album is also available to stream at

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. 

Favorite Albums of 2015 So Far

My co-worker Kevin posted his favorite music of the year several weeks back and now I'm following up with my own. I know of a certain band called Beach House whose newest release will likely end up on my list come 2016 but for now, here goes:

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
Bryan Ferry, Avonmore
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear
The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird Is Home
Leon Bridges, Coming Home
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Miles Davis, Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Tame Impala, Currents
Jessica Pratt, On Your Own, Love Again
Ariel Pink, Pom Pom
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2

A Touching Tribute

I’ve never really gravitated toward the wispy folk pop of musician Sufjan Stevens. His previous ‘concept’ albums seemed a bit too precious, a little too cloying. But his newest album, Carrie & Lowell is a powerful work of melancholy that proves you can link creative expression with grief and not have it come off as an exercise in showy, self-absorption. Stevens has always made albums that are arranged around a particular narrative theme and his newest is no different. This time around, it’s personal, very personal and that's why it's the rawest, best work of his career. This is a heartfelt tribute to his mother who recently passed away from cancer. Beautiful, touching, lyrical, poignant are all words that will be used to describe this album that explores Stevens’ sometimes troubled relationship with his mother who suffered from mental illness.  One of the best of 2015.

Tallest Man On Earth

Honestly, I’m a bit exhausted with the saturated landscape of sensitive singer songwriters who wear their earnest blues and sorrows on their cowboy shirt sleeve. Most are decent if not completely unspectacular at crafting sometimes catchy tunes but whom nevertheless fail to breathe any kind of new life into the tired folk singer formula. But then comes along an album like Tallest Man on Earth’s Dark Bird Is Home and I’m humming along to a first world angst channeled by an earthy sneer that probably originated somewhere in the Delta about 80 years ago but now is sung by this Swedish lad and pretty much every other bourgeois troubadour obsessed with Bob Dylan. There’s nothing new here, nothing of a particularly terrible nature either. That’s both a problem and not really one at all I suppose.

Rainy Day Music from Ireland

Soak is the moniker used by the precocious talent Bridie Monds-Watson, a sensitive, singer songwriter from Derry, Ireland. Only a teenager, her debut album Before We Forgot How to Dream is a collection of moody folk/pop that can feel like a perfect soundtrack to a rainy day. The production of the album is crisp and polished with her thick Irish accent submerged within boundless reverb. As far as first albums go, Soak's gloomy portraits of teenage anxiety exhibits promise for this emerging artist.

Giving Dawes a Second Chance

Sometimes re-engaging the work of an artist, musician, or filmmaker that you had previously disliked can be a great exercise in reassessment. The first time I heard the Los Angeles area band Dawes, I was pretty bored with their brand of easy going, laid back folk rock that echoed the Laurel Canyon tradition that they seemed to be mining without much concern for originality. I also found the singer’s voice a wee bit unremarkable, diluted if you will. If you didn’t know otherwise, you might hear a Dawes album and think to yourself, how did I become transported back to a 1984 Jackson Browne concert? They make no apologies for their love of Mr. Browne’s middlebrow but thoughtful soft rock—in fact they embrace it in full.

Having said that, there’s just something about their very un-hip, back-to-basics sound that is comforting these days, especially now so as their music often comes at you like a late night soundtrack, windows down, driving into the dark toward the big lake. They’re not going to blow you away with the sophistication of their tunes but if you’re looking for some sensitive, sometimes catchy summertime rock and roll with decent lyrics, give them a shot. They’re newest album All Your Favorite Bands is available to stream through Hoopla but will also be here in compact disc format soon.

Best of 2015 (So far...)

I think it is never too early to start compiling your “Best of” list. This year is shaping up to be a pretty strong year for music. As we enter summer, here are my favorite five.

No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney– They are back. The original riot girls have released the record that everyone in my family enjoys. (Check out my previous post.)

Beat the Champ by The Mountain Goats – John Darnielle has produced the greatest record about professional wrestler ever. You would not think this would work but as you should expect, Darnielle infuses each track with the emotion that makes him an amazing talent.

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens – By exploring the rocky relationship with his mother, Stevens has crafted a record that is reminiscent of 2005’s Illinoise. Be prepared for some raw emotional stuff.

Kindred by Passion Pit – Michael Angelakos has yet to release a weak record. I’m amazed at his ability to write about topics like his own bi-polar disorder against a strong, driving dance beat. Listeners will be surprised at how such up-tempo record contains so much pain and struggle.

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes – Mercy! If you have yet to be blown away by the power of this band, then do yourself a favor and check them out. A combination of southern rock, soul and blues is excellent summer soundtrack.

The rest of the year looks to be just as amazing! Be sure to check out KPL’s stellar music collection or stream many of the above right now on Hoopla.

The Bark of Dr. Dog

Dr. Dog is just a straight up, rock solid group from Philadelphia whose catchy songs are rooted to the 1960’s but that nevertheless embody their time. They’re hardly an adventurous group and critics will point to their refusal to advance their sound but for the casual listener, they have created a respectful discography of sometimes raucous, sometimes tender tunes of soul, Motown and indie pop. One can hear in their tuneful melodies and tight harmonies the echo of The Beatles, Beach Boys, and The Band and that’s ok by me. Check out one of their best albums (Shame Shame) on Hoopla, the library’s streaming service.