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Staff Picks: Music

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.

Too Much Karaoke

Cover albums that attempt to remake your favorite music rarely produce results that could impress an aficionado/fan like yourself (how could they mess with perfection right?). I was cautiously optimistic when I learned that the music of Elliott Smith was going to be reinterpreted by Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield. I’ve always enjoyed the mixture of beauty and velocity of the Avett Brothers rollicking ballads and so I hoped for the best. Unfortunately, like most tribute albums, Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith suffers from Karaokeitis. The two talented singers mean well but the project would have been better served having chosen to cover the songs of someone less beloved and known. There are a couple of nice reinterpretations of Smith's forlorn repertoire but for the most part, they play it safe, rarely pushing the songs in a different direction than the original. If you had picked up the album never having heard of Elliott Smith, chances are you’d have found a great deal to like about the album. Few singer songwriters possess the indelible, legendary talent of the late troubadour and while it’s nice to see his name circulating again, possibly attracting some new devotees in the process, his singular voice really doesn't require a make-over, even one crafted from good intentions. Still, petty slights aside, this album is still worth checking out given the great singing and playing.