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Staff Picks: Music

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.


Ty Segall

There’s a lot of music on the newest Ty Segall album Manipulator (17 songs). With that many songs, you shouldn't be surprised to discover that a handful are great, a few are throwaway’s and the rest are well…somewhere closer to meh. Segall keeps his grungy brand of garage rock truckin’ along the lines of his previous albums, mixing together pop melodies with surf-psych and Stoogesesque rock anthems. Quality control aside, Segall's albums always possess just enough hooks to get you to the next album; one that is usually only a few months away.


Stand-Up Comedy

I find driving to be a stressful experience a lot of the time, especially when I notice the number of people sending text messages or while listening to the news. To take my mind off those stresses, I’ve started listening to stand-up comedy albums in the car. It’s difficult to be worried when you’re laughing hysterically. Here are some albums that I’ve enjoyed recently:

Aziz Ansari - Dangerously Delicious

Maria Bamford - Ask Me About My New God!

W. Kamau Bell - Face Full of Flour

Hannibal Buress - Animal Furnace

Cameron Esposito - Grab Them Aghast

Kumail Nanjiani - Beta Male

Wyatt Cenac - Comedy Person


Sounds from Twin Peaks

I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks, one of my favorite television shows, and along with watching it, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack. Twin Peaks is an odd, otherworldly show that gains its distinct character in part due to the atmospheric music. The songs are repeated through the series, so if you’ve seen an episode, you’ll recognize the songs. If you’ve watched the whole series, you’ll be intimately familiar with the music. Composer Angelo Badalamente, known for a number of classic television and movie scores, somehow managed to capture David Lynch’s weird, melodramatic vision in sonic form. So grab a cup of coffee and a piece of cherry pie, and have a listen.


Dave Brubeck

I have a pretty wide taste spectrum for the various jazz styles and movements that have unfolded over the past 50 years or so. One of those musicians that I enjoy listening to as summer turns to fall is the pianist Dave Brubeck. Along with Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton, Chet Baker, Wes Montgomery, and Paul Desmond, Brubeck was considered one of the most popular players associated with the "cool jazz" of the West Coast scene (his visage was famously featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954). Brubeck w as an adventurous innovator whose style could be characterized by unconventional time signatures as well as his warm tones and lyrical flourishes.His most famous album and composition (a commercial hit of its time) is the standard Take Five, which was written along side of the great alto saxophonist Paul Desmond who was a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


Bargains in the Basement: No Direction Home

It’s a good time to be a Bob Dylan fan. At 73, he’s still on the road with his (seemingly) never ending tour… he just finished a well-received series of dates in Australia and returns to the good ol’ U.S. of A. next month for another fall tour here. Aside from the live shows, we seem to get an album of new material every couple of years… his latest being Tempest from 2012, and (thankfully) a steady stream of archival material thanks to “The Bootleg Series.” Dylan and his label, Sony Music, deserve (in my humble opinion) a great deal of credit for allowing these recordings to be heard, rather than keeping them buried and quite possibly lost forever. It’s these otherwise “lost” recordings that allow us to gain true insight into the artist’s work. And of course they make for some fun listening, too.

To that end, I just snagged a nice copy of No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7 at the Friends Bookstore. This double disc from 2005 is a companion (sort of a soundtrack) to the Martin Scorsese film of the same name, gathering 28 mostly unreleased rarities, including one of Bob’s very first recordings from 1959, plus various demos, live tracks and alternate takes – mostly from the mid-sixties. It’s an interesting look back at a pivotal point in Dylan’s career.

Looking ahead, November should be an interesting month. Sony is preparing to release The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (including a 6 disc deluxe edition!), which features for the first time the legendary “Big Pink” recordings “presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967.” Also in November, we’ll get a brand new collection of recordings by Elvis Costello and others (members of Dawes, My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, et al) called Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. These recordings feature new original music that underscores a newly discovered batch of Dylan’s handwritten lyrics from the 1967 Basement Tapes period. Oh, and it’s produced by T Bone Burnette, so you know it should be mighty interesting. As always, thanks Friends and stay tuned.


Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items 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 help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!


My Favorite Albums So Far

We're past the mid-way point of 2014 and so here's my ever expanding list of favorite albums of the year. I'm sure a few more releases will make the list by year's end. What about you? What's on your list?

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
Real Estate, Atlas
Dean Wareham, Dean Wareham
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Nikki Lane, All or Nothin’
Hamilton Leithauser, Black Hours
Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain
Slow Club, Complete Surrender
Wildest Dreams, Wildest Dreams
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
Aztec Camera, High Land, High Rain (Reissue)
Spoon, They Want My Soul
Bebel Gilberto, Tudo
Ty Segall, Manipulator


A Spoonful of Good Tunes

The Texas band Spoon’s newest album They Want My Soul (Available to stream through Hoopladigital.com) brings together both something old and something new to their brand of catchy, no thrills indie rock. Their foundation of taut, skeletal minimalism is still very much alive and at the core of these 10 songs. But unlike some of their previous albums (which are also great), their newest feels more amiable, better produced and with a less detached tone. This is sharp, straight forward stuff that still has the hooks to get inside your head.


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