Staff Picks: Music
Two of today’s best musical young guns that have delivered strong albums this year are Jake Bugg and Caitlin Rose. They don’t shy away from their influences but they don’t let those who paved the musical highway for them subsume their individual voices either. Gritty and fashionable enough for the with-it crowd and accessible enough for those who have an Oasis or Taylor Swift album in their collection, these two will hopefully be in it for the long haul. Bugg has been compared to Dylan (who hasn’t?) but his brand of neo-folk has as many roots in Brit Pop. Sure, he evokes both Dylan and Donovan from time to time but he makes it work because of his lyrical earnestness and the sheer catchiness of the tunes. Rose also wrote the album that Swift only can dream that she had created. These are confidently written songs sung by a fresh voice who no doubt has listened to a few Jayhawks albums over the years. Check them both out!
Fans of his band the New Pornographers will find much to like when listening to A.C. Newman’s newest solo album Shut Down the Streets. Newman is one of power pops most prolific and talented stewards and yet while there are plenty of energetic, signature anthems to chant to this summer while headed to the beach, his newest batch of songs takes a more personal and introspective turn.
Several years ago, the band Vampire Weekend were notable for successfully bringing to the ears of listeners of indie rock an Afro Pop sensibility to their catchy, pop songs. The Florida band Surfer Blood also weaves together a variety pack of genres including surf rock (Dick Dale, The Ventures), fuzzy power pop (Weezer, Waaves,The Shins) and subtle hints of Afro Pop rhythms that never sound out of place or gratuitous. Their 2010 album Astro Coast perfectly captures much of how today’s best indie rock groups are concerned with writing catchy, dance-friendly tunes, but doing so with the kitchen sink of instrumentation and influence at their disposal.
One of the best albums of 2013 is Youth Lagoon’sWonderous Bughouse. This band knows how to bug out with effortlessly, rolling psych-pop that will get inside your brain, pitch a tent and remain there for hours afterward. Fans of The Flaming Lips, Beach House, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, MGMT and Sparklehorse will find much to like about this sonic flood of colorful melodies and low-end production.
A friend from Seattle turned me on to the music of Damien Jurado a couple of years ago so I was excited to stumble on a new cd of his, Maraqopa, as I browsed the KPL new music section. Now I can't stop listening to this mixture of what Larry Fitzmaurice at Pitchfork calls, "soft-psych freak-outs, rainy folk, haunted 1960's pop, and slow-burning oddball sparseness." I googled Jurado and found out I'm a Johnny-come-lately to his music as he has been around since the mid 90's, releasing albums with Sub Pop Records and now with a label based in Indiana called Secretly Canadian. If you like Neil Young and the Fleet Foxes give Jurado a try or come and browse our music section and see what you discover.
Last week, I wrote about the passing of Alvin Lee, arguably one of the world’s great guitarists. They always say these things happen in threes.
Just a few weeks beforehand, February 18 to be exact, we lost Kevin Ayers. Ayers was a key player in Britain’s Canterbury scene during the late 1960s. He was a founding member of the band Soft Machine, and an active solo artist. Ayers’ list of early collaborators reads like a Who’s Who of influential artists; from Brian Eno, Nico and John Cale (June 1, 1974), to Floydian madman Syd Barrett, Elton John, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, and others. His first solo album, Joy of a Toy, was released on EMI’s new Harvest label in 1969, right beside early (now classic) releases by Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. His sixteenth and last studio album, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 to much acclaim. Ayers was 68.
This week, one more member of “British Rock Royalty” joined his departed contemporaries. Peter Banks was a founding member and the original guitarist in the prog band Yes. He was featured on the band’s first two recordings, Yes and Time and a Word, before being replaced by Steve Howe in 1970. He achieved a certain degree of success with the UK band Flash during the mid-1970s. An occasional series of solo albums followed during the 1990s. Banks passed away in London on March 8 at the age of 65.
Some great early footage of Yes with Peter Banks (and later with Steve Howe) follows...
The Unfairground by Kevin Ayers
The music world bid farewell to another guitar great on Wednesday with the passing of Alvin Lee. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the British born Lee fronted the band Ten Years After, and set the world on fire at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 with “I’m Going Home.” Lee was known for his lightning fast guitar work and sensitive interpretations of blues standards and his own compositions. Lee recorded nearly 30 studio and live albums during his career—to this day, Ten Years After Recorded Live remains one of my own “desert island” selections… most notably for its incendiary cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” His latest album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released last year. Lee was 68.
One of the best alt-country CDs of 2012 was Rhett Miller’s, The Dreamer. Miller, the longtime front man of the Old 97’s, has once again proven that he is one of the best songwriters in music. What I love best about Miller’s solo material is that he is not afraid to dabble in many different music styles, like power pop and folk. The Dreamer is pure alt-country and closer to a new Old 97’s record than his previous releases.
The first track “Lost Without You” starts slow then picks up with a twangy edge that mixes perfectly with Miller’s voice. The song “Out of Love” blends aspects of power pop with the unmistakable instrumentation of bluegrass. “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” a duet with the great Rosanne Cash, is as close as you can get to a perfect alt-country love song. Miller is an underrated talent that deserves more accolades for his contributions.
After listening to The Dreamer you will realize that at its core, Miller has crafted a letter to the idea of love in all its forms. Check it out and treat yourself to a late Valentine.
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer
“If you go out searching for jewels and treasures elsewhere, you're liable to miss the acres of riches that lie beneath your feet.”—Bryan Cohen
Today’s buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore is a tasty musical offering by David Sylvian, Dead Bees on a Cake, released in 1999. If you’re not already familiar with Sylvian’s work, give his material a listen. Who to compare him to? His voice draws an obvious similarity to Bryan Ferry, but musically, Sylvian is more muted and much more diverse; closer say to a Peter Gabriel or a Daniel Lanois—dark, mysterious at times, but rich and deeply moving.
Sylvian is an excellent songwriter who typically surrounds himself with contemporary musical heavyweights. Bees, however, follows a series of more upbeat “prog-ish” collaborations with Robert Fripp, so a musical departure seems somewhat inevitable. Bees has a slightly more jazzy, worldbeat feel than its predecessors—very much in the same vein as the later period recordings by Talk Talk. Guest musicians, though few this time, include jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a brief appearance by Steve Tibbetts. Sylvian’s discography calls this release “openly celebratory in nature… documenting an eventful and transformative period in his life.”
Thanks once again, Friends – a good find, indeed!
Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian
Well, well, My Bloody Valentine has finally emerged from their twenty-plus year hiatus to release the much anticipated and discussed new album mbv. Until we can obtain the new long player for the library’s music collection, you’ll just have to find out what all of the hype is about by listening to their beloved 90's classic Loveless.
The Minneapolis band Night Moves are difficult to categorize but their debut album should be on everyone’s iPod. They draw from an array of rock and roll influences, stitching their lyrical elements together to form a solid sound of catchy tunes born of fuzzed out, alt-country mixed with glam-rock grooves. Standout songs include Horses, Country Queen and Headlights.