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Staff Picks: Music

Still Making Duluth Proud

Low, a duo from Duluth, Minnesota makes formally minimalist music that seamlessly moves along the tonal spectrum, sometimes warm and lyrical, other times, grim and somber. They generally keep their use of instrumentation reduced to a lean sound of guitar, bass, drums and the occasional synthesizer. They have been around for over 20 years making rock solid records that have an emotional punch that can sneak up on the listener. A more image-based way of describing their sound is to imagine yourself on a train in late December, riding through the middle part of Iowa, gazing out at the endless, flat fields covered with snow and rusted machinery. There newest release is Ones and Sixes.

My Top Five of 2015

It’s the end of the year so it’s time again to list my personal top five albums of the year. Compared to last year, 2015 was very strong filled with some amazing female performers, a soulful duo, smart lyrics and a poppy Australian band.

5. Tuxedo by Tuxedo – This super soul duo of Michigan’s own Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One produced my favorite funk/soul album of the year. Listening to this one reminded me of roller-skating on a hot summer night in the 1980’s. 

4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – I always approach any artist labeled “the next Dylan” with much trepidation. I am so happy I set my fears aside with this Australian-born singer-songwriter debut record. Barnett’s smart and poetic lyrics shine brightly against a straight up rock sound. 

3. Glitterbug by The Wombats – Released in the spring, this album has consistently stayed with me all year. I will crank up the volume when I hear the band’s distinct poppy electric beats. The best tracks, “Your Body Is A Weapon,” “Greek Tragedy’” and “This Is Not A Party,” are sweet treats that I have been indulging on all year.

2. Poison Season by Destroyer – Dan Bejar of Destroyer has released his masterpiece! In Poison Season, Bejar has taken some of the best aspects of his previous work and used them to craft a record that evokes both British pop, street rock and jazz. The entire record needs to be listened to in one sitting to be to appreciate the majesty of it all. 

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney – This will be the third time I blog about this album in 2015, so how could it not be my choice for the absolute best of the year? Every track is enjoyable. I would not be surprised if it ended up on my All-Time Favorites list someday. 

Please check out the other eight album releases from 2015 that I considered most excellent!

Supersonic Music Options

The library is a great place because the old circulates just as well as the new. Great music is timeless and so our approach to developing our music collection is to provide for both online access in the form of downloads and streaming as well as physical media like compact discs. We know our users enjoy options and choices and so for those looking for a particular album or song, be sure to always check our free-to-use download/streaming services Hoopla and Freegal (Sony Music Catalog). Can't find something there, check out our KPL Catalog to see if we currently stock the compact disc version. 

Since I don't listen to the radio that often (other than NPR), I find that I'm introduced to songs, new and old, via movies and television. Last night, I polished off the new series Last Man on Earth and came across a great Kinks track called Super Sonic Rocketship. Well, we have it here in the library or you can go to Freegal's catalog and download the MP3 file.   

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.