Staff Picks: Music
Many consider music today completely derivative of the past. Artists are not creating anything that is truly unique. I totally disagree. Check out these artists who have produced unique spins on classic styles. All of the CDS are debut efforts and do not require a Flux Capacitor.
Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes– Lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice is packed with the perfect combination of soul and rock that will immediately knock you out of your chair. She is backed by an amazing band and together they are reintroducing new listeners to the unique power of good old fashion rock straight from the southern swamps. Best tracks: Hold On, I Found You, Hang Loose, I Ain’t the Same, Heavy Chevy
My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men– This six-piece band from Iceland formed just to enter a national battle of the bands competition in 2010. The band’s sound is huge and monstrous – lush harmonies, surging guitars and one big horn all come together attack your senses. It is folk-rock that comes at you full on. Best tracks:Little Talks, Dirty Paws, Mountain Sound, Slow and Steady
Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson– Does this guy own a time machine? I have been looking for days at old Rock n’ Roll photos from the 50’s to see if I could find him in the background. McPherson is a former punk rocker turned rockabilly is bopping out music similar to Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He used vintage equipment and microphones on his debut to take you on a trip to the past. Best tracks:North Side Gal, Fire Bug, B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R., Scandalous
Signs & Signifiers
This is an ambitious aural excursion that you really owe it to yourself to experience. But be warned, this isn’t your typical singer-songwriter verse-chorus-verse stuff. Bill Caskey’s Dymaxion Mothership takes the listener on a complex journey across a lush audio landscape that ranges from contemplative voice and piano to full-on multi-instrumental madness. Some parts are complex and challenging, while other bits are… well… as Buddy Guy once put it, “so funky you can smell it.” Tempo changes are around every corner and the production is superb. Bill’s lyrics are chock full of quirky wit and introspective wordsmanship, creatively weaving imaginative tales of love and life; dreams, a small town in the summertime, and dogs chasing dragonflies. The overall result is a carefully crafted musical journey that’s anything but ordinary.
“My doggie like to chase dem dinosaurs
She plays for sport even though she never scores
Barn swallows hunting bugs in the springtime
She jumps up and tries to utilize her hang time
Barn swallows slip and glide
Doggie tongue hangin’ out the side…”
Musical similarities? Sure, some of the obvious influences creep in here and there… “Hey Alligator” has an undeniable Steeler’s Wheel feel about it (remember those guys?), “Biggest Heart” could have been on Wally De Backer’s (Gotye) last album, and echoes of old school Steely Dan linger throughout… but the final outcome is all of these things… and yet none of them actually. Dymaxion Mothership is an intensely rich and remarkably satisfying original musical experience. Climb aboard the Mothership… it’s an outing you don’t want to miss.
In case you didn’t know (shame on you!), The Relations (including Bill Caskey) put on a July concert at Central Library featuring material from Dymaxion Mothership. The concert is now up in its entirety on KPL’s YouTube channel and our Concert Archives page.
If you do one thing this Wednesday night, that thing should be coming to see The Relations play the KPL Concert Series at 7 p.m. at the Central Library. But if by chance to have the ability to split yourself in two and be in two places at once, be aware that the Rave City Place 14 Theater will be one of the select theaters nationwide to screen Shut Up And Play The Hits a documentary and concert film about LCD Soundsystem's final show at Madison Square Garden.
The scenes in the film that show the end of the final show in which members of the audience and band are standing around in a wierd kind of dispair absolutely reek of first world problems to me (see minute 1:50 in the trailer), but I did love LCD Soundsystemand will want to see the film when it comes to the library's collection after it is released on DVD. So come see local live music at KPL from The Relations on Wednesday night...the movie theater would probably be freezing cold anyway, and those seats are not THAT comfortable, and popcorn costs so much...
Sound of Silver
Frankie Valli and the Four (4) Seasons made their mark on the popular music charts in the early 1960’s, combining heavily orchestrated melodies with doo-wop vocal harmonies. With his broad vocal range and unmistakable pipes, Valli helped the group score hit after hit, including such pop standards (aka “oldies”) as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Dawn (Go Away), Ronnie, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, and Working My Way Back To You. Recent interest in the group has come about recently due to the success of the Broadway production of Jersey Boys. Check out Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons: The Definitive Pop Collection for an introduction to their timeless hits.
Frankie Valli and the 4 seasons
Otis Redding wrote it, but Aretha Franklin owned it – “Respect”, one of the biggest radio and jukebox sensations of 1967, topped both Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R’n’B charts mid-year, reigning supreme on the latter for almost two months. The track cemented the Detroit native’s standing as the “Queen of Soul”, proving its potency as both a civil rights anthem and a dance floor phenomenon.
The Big O’s original Stax version, framed simply as a lover’s question, is a classic in its own right. Pleading being one of Redding’s strongest suits as a vocalist, it’s only natural that his request for “respect when I come home” is less demanding than begging, a “need” that he’s “gotta, gotta have”, never sounding sure that he’s going to get satisfaction as the track fades.
Aretha’s having none of that in her updated NYC arrangement, featuring infectious girl-group vocal support from her sisters Carolyn and Erma, as well as a sweet King Curtis sax break. Standing the nature of the lyric on its head, her assertion that “what you want, baby, I got it” is shouted out with absolute confidence. Adding a lyric not found in Redding’s version, Franklin drives the point home by spelling out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, in case it wasn’t clear, adding “find out what it means to me” as an emphatic imperative. The lover’s question has become a statement of purpose, writ large enough to put not just one person on notice, but any and every person within earshot.
"Respect”’s cultural resonance was immediate and lasting. The song’s refrains of “sock it to me” and “TCB” became all-American catch phrases overnight. In addition to earning numerous awards and consistently high rankings on critics’ “greatest songs” lists, it was among the first 25 recordings to be included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2002. A signature song of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and Aretha’s storied career, “Respect” deserves all its accolades, truly getting what it’s after play after play.
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Santigold's music straddles genres--punk, hip-hop, pop, new wave--it's all there. Her influences range from Devo to Nigerian musician Fela Kuti to James Brown. She's collaborated with Kanye West and Lykke Li, the Beastie Boys, and Mark Ronson among others. Her style is hard to define, but she's just so darn cool. After waiting four years since her last album, 2008's Santogold, which I listened to nearly nonstop for months, I'm pleased to finally hear her second album Master of My Make-Believe. Like her first album, Master of my Make-Believe is a genre-blending, layered work of art that you can dance to. My favorite tracks include the single "Disparate Youth" and the first track "Go," a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeah'sKaren O that will make you bob your head. Listen to it at least twice--the more you hear it, the more you'll discover.
Master of My Make-Believe
Do you have a list of songs that simply remind you of summer or that you dust off from their Winter hibernation to crank out on your car stereo or I-pod? I like to have a couple of compact disc mixes in my car that feature some of my go-to tracks as I trek to the lake or head to the backyard cookout. What are your favorite summertime anthems?
Pavement's Cut Your Hair
The Faces' Ooh La La
The Chi-lites' Oh Girl
Michael Jackson's I Wanna Be Where You Are
The Descendents' Silly Girl
Big Star's Thirteen
Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amor
Seals and Croft's Summer Breeze
Wilco's She's a Jar
Best Coast's Our Deal
Neil Young's Out on the Weekend
Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over
Hall and Oates' Kiss on My List
Santo and Johnny's Blue Moon, Teardrop and Sleepwalking
In the spring of 1967, rock and roll’s primary medium was the 45 RPM single. On the first of June, the Beatles changed all that with the highly anticipated release of their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. Though no contemporary single releases were culled from the album, its songs were given heavy AM radio airplay, at a time when FM stations were few, far between, and “underground”. Through the airwaves, those songs – including “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “When I’m Sixty-four”, and “With a Little Help From my Friends” - burrowed their way into the collective memories of all who recall those heady first days of the “summer of love”.
Touted as rock’s first “concept” LP (though I’d give that nod to the Flamingos’ 1959 magnum opus, Flamingo Serenade), the record is presented as a concert program, featuring the imaginary band for which the album’s named. The program encompasses all varieties of music – take in the symphonic grandeur of “She’s Leaving Home”, the loopy circus march of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, and the Indian classicism of “Within You Without You”, among them. The band begins and ends the program with its own theme, leaving the audience with the mind-altering encore that is “A Day in the Life”. The broad stylistic brush with which the Beatles (and producer George Martin) crafted the LP may be the reason it received near-unanimous praise from “serious” music critics who’d previously disdained rock and roll’s perceived juvenilia. This critical success ensured the band even greater listenership, and ushered in the era when “rock and roll” morphed into “rock”.
Even without a 45 release (or due to the lack of one?), the LP sold strongly, placing it at number one on the Billboard 200 LP chart for 15 weeks in a row. The album it knocked out of the top slot - the Monkees' Headquarters – also contained no 45 sides. Though the “Prefab Four”’s third LP was recorded without the benefit of backing tracks crafted by session men - in partial response to charges against the band's phoniness - its intimate construct was no match for the epic studio production ascribed to the Beatles’ alter-egos.
Sgt. Pepper regularly tops “best albums of the ‘60’s” or “best albums of all-time” lists, if not always ranking at the top of Beatles’ fans' LP lists. (My own fave is Revolver.) Peter Blake’s legendary LP cover has inspired homage and parody countless times. Celebrations of (and attacks on) the LP can be found in numerous books, articles, and blog posts. What really counts is the music included. If you haven’t yet discovered Sgt. Pepper for yourself, check it out… it may become the soundtrack to your own “new summer of love”.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
My friend Chad is as fanatical about music as I am, and he and I recently began a tradition where every time we meet, we bring an album from our own collection that we think the other person should give a listen. Then the next time we're together we talk about what we heard, how we felt about it, and exchange a new CD. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you were born in the last decade or so, a "CD" or "compact disc" is something on which old people bought music before the Internet made purchasing tangible objects uncool.] Swapping music allows us to introduce each other to certain artists or albums that might be of interest to the other, and sometimes it offers insight into our own personal experiences. Often it sparks great discussions about particular eras of music, as it did recently when we each began trying to assemble a list of the best albums of the 1990s. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you recently learned what a "compact disc" is, then you'll probably need to know that the "1990s" was a decade that happened a reeeeally long time ago. Just Google "Hammer pants."]
The 90s was a big decade for Chad and I - it's when we "came of age." [EDITOR'S NOTE: "Coming of age" means the period of time during which a person matures from being a child into young adult. Often this involves going off into the woods with your childhood friends to find a dead body and poke it with a stick.] It was the halcyon days of Gen-X, witness to the birth of grunge, and it introduced to the world to the term "alternative" as a genre (which very quickly became a misnomer). Music is a crucial part of both our lives, and while I don't have a completed list to show - I'm still working on it - I thought I'd reveal some of the albums that will be making my list. Perhaps if any of them are ones with which you're not familiar, you could check them out, give 'em a few spins, and let me know what you think.
To start, you can't talk about the 90s without mentioning the highly influential artists who shaped the grunge and alternative scenes. Of course the poster boys for grunge were Nirvana; Nevermind will definitely hold a high spot on my list, and In Utero will probably be on there somewhere as well. Pearl Jam were also alt-rock trailblazers; Ten will likely rank higher than its name and Vs. will probably crack the top twenty. Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream will be highly ranked; Chad's also fond of Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness. Live's Throwing Copper is a classic, as is Stone Temple Pilots' Purple. I have a hard time choosing whether I like Alice in Chains' Facelift or Dirt more.
Other popular rock albums that are likely to make my best-of list are Radiohead's OK Computer, Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill, Blues Traveler's Four, U2's Achtung Baby, Collective Soul's Dosage, and the Indigo Girls' Rites of Passage. Jeff Buckley's Grace blows my mind every time I hear it. On the heavier side, there's Metallica's self-titled "black" album, Megadeth's Rust in Peace, Queensryche's Empire, and Monster Magnet's Powertrip.
Some of my favorite artists had their best albums in the 90s. Tori Amos gave us Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink; Our Lady Peace put out Naveed and Clumsy; Toad the Wet Sprocket had Fear and Dulcinea. Let's not forget the Counting Crows, who had the one-two punch of August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites. I can't even begin to figure out how to rank the Dave Matthews Band's Under the Table and Dreaming, Crash, and Before These Crowded Streets. And, of course, giving them all competition for a top slot is the genius that is Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral.
There are plenty more I haven't mentioned, but if you're not familiar with any of them, I suggest checking them out. They will be a good starting point for either a trip down memory lane or a music history lesson-depending on whether or not you're from the generation that was born attached to a smartphone. [EDITOR'S NOTE: If you don't know what a "smartphone" is, chances are you've wandered away from the home and the nurses are worried sick because you're overdue for your medicine. How on Earth did you figure out how to use this computer?] Meanwhile, please use the comments section below to share some of your favorite albums from the 90s. Chad and I are always looking for exciting music to discuss.
When Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys died of cancer at the age of 47 on May 4, I immediately remembered when I first heard the band’s breakthrough release Licensed to Ill. I was working at a small town record store in a commuter town just outside of Detroit and it was standard practice for record companies to send music for in store promotion. When I unboxed that week’s offerings, I was immediately drawn not only to the iconic image of an airplane, but also the band’s name. Immediately I tore off the shrink wrap and dropped the needle on the vinyl. Until that moment I had no interest in rap or hip-hop, but the Beastie Boys’ rhymes instantly stole away my 15 year-old disdain for this style of music. MCA’s gruff atypical rap style on the record specifically drew me into Licensed to Ill. When he raps “That hypocrite smokes two packs a day…” on “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” MCA was letting me know that he sympathized with the mixed messages adults often dispense. There is really not a weak track on this record and for years the cassette was a constant companion as I traversed the hell that was adolescence. “Paul Revere,” “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Girls” were all played at high volumes that year. After hearing of Yauch’s death I celebrated his contribution to both music and my teen years by driving down Westnedge Ave., “Brass Monkey” blasting from my car.