Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recently Released Album Obsessions

Here are some newly released albums at the library that are definitely worth listening to:

Vestiges and Claws by Jose Gonzalez
Find it in the catalog!
Regular fans of the Swedish/ Argentinian guitarist Jose Gonzalez will not be disappointed by his latest effort which has been eight years in the making.  The album features his signature distinctive brand of spare, gloomy folk music (a favorite of mine) that he showcased on his two previous albums, Veneer and In Our Nature.  However, this time out he has more complicated musical arrangements (featuring flute and cello) and a slightly more upbeat worldview.
Repeat tracks:  "Forest," "Let It Carry You," and "Open Book."

Kintsugi by Death Cab for Cutie
Find it in the catalog!
This latest release from indie rock band Death Cab is a duel break up album.  Not only is it the first album since lead singer Ben Gibbard's divorce from Zooey Deschanel, it also marks guitarist Chris Walla's departure from the band.  Loss haunts this album, and it's got some pretty great heartbreak tracks on it including "You've Haunted Me All My Life" and "Binary Sea." The music, however, remains relativity upbeat and poppy.  Chris Walla's distinctive guitar style is always a big draw on Death Cab albums, and Kintsugi is no exception.  His presence will be missed in the band (at least by me).
Repeat Tracks:  "Little Wanderer," "Everything's a Ceiling," and "Good Help (Is So Hard to Find)."

Magnolia Electric Co. by Songs: Ohia
Find it in the catalog!
Didn't It Rain by Songs: Ohia.
Find it in the catalog!
These two deluxe edition album reissues represent the finest work of the late musician Jason Molina.  For those unfamiliar with Molina, check out fellow Media blogger Jason's tribute to the singer. Songs: Ohia has sort of an alt-country sound that can achingly haunting at times (especially the back half of Didn't It Rain) or hard rocking (like the first half of Magnolia Electric Co.).  Molina's singing voice is deep and rich, and one of my favorite things elements of these albums is his vocals. If you haven't listened to Molina before, definitely check out both these LPs!  For hardcore fans, there are additional discs with demos and outtakes for each record.
Repeat Tracks:  I love all three of the last songs on Didn't It Rain: "Blue Factory Flame," "Two Blue Lights, and "Blue Chicago Moon."  Off Magnolia Electric Co., my favorites are: "Farewell Transmission," "Almost Good Enough," and "Just Be Simple."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Audio Obsession: The xx

British band, the xx, have two beautiful albums to their name. At the Library we have their debut album, titled the xx. They exemplify indie-rock with an atmospheric, dance beat bent - there are no extraneous notes to be found on the albums. The beauty of the xx is that you can listen to them repeatedly and find different songs to like each time, and you can play them as background music or listen attentively. Basically, they're all-purpose listening.

One quality that sets the xx apart are the vocals. The vocal duties alternate between two members, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim. Sometimes the two alternate on the same track with clever calls and answers. Neither is a perfect singer, but both have a haunting quality to their voice.

The xx are also masters of the electronic crescendo (listen to Reunion, from Coexist). I can't think of another band of the top of my head that is this skillful at creating tension in songs that are so stark (if you can think of another band, let me know in the comments).

I would encourage you to listen to either disc, and eagerly await their next.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spotlight: Lindi Ortega and Other Fierce Women of the Folk Music Industry

Lindi Ortega is a badass, bird loving, Toronto native. She signed with Last Gang Records in 2011 after spending nearly a decade as an independent artist. Ortega has since taken Nashville by storm; her latest record Tin Star broke the status quo. She puts a spin on old-fashioned heartbreak that listeners just can't find on the radio these days. Plus, Ortega recently organized a benefit concert for the World Parrot Refuge where she featured other artists local to Toronto. Pretty cool, right?

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff has become the voice of the millennial generation after hopping a freight train from her home in New York City to New Orleans at the age of 17. Segarra, now 28, formed HFTRR after picking up a banjo and honing her songwriting skills. The band released their first album on a major label, Small Town Heroes, last year. The album itself is a representation of the evolution of folk music. Tracks "Crash on the Highway" and "End of the Line" have familiar names though, and there's a reason for that. According to a 2014 interview Segarra had with NPR, "I try to go about being very obvious about my inspirations. It's kind of a brave move on our part to say, this is obviously taken from an older form of music." HFTRR's music is old school meets new school and sometimes wildly political. "The Body Electric" is perhaps the most in-your-face track on Small Town Heroes which tackles more than a century of murder ballads in folk music.

Emily Saliers and Amy Ray met in elementary school in a suburb of Atlanta and had formed a musical duo by high school. The differences in their songwriting and vocal ranges only serve to compliment one another; the duo is fantastic live. Better known as the Indigo Girls, Saliers and Ray caught music lovers' attention in 1989 with the release of their biggest hit to date "Closer to Fine". Since then, the girls have released 13 studio albums with another due out this June. Saliers and Ray are activists as well as musicians. They started an environmental justice organization together with Winona LaDuke called Honor the Earth, through which they've supported both environmental and social justice campaigns. Both Saliers and Ray identify as gay and their advocacy for the LGBT community is evident in many of their songs.  

Joy Williams began her career in the music industry as a solo artist with Reunion Records before joining the iconic Civil Wars in 2009. She released three contemporary Christian albums between 2001 and 2005, all of which earned her a great deal of success. She only met John Paul White at a songwriting camp in Nashville after deciding that her musical direction had changed since leaving Reunion. Together, Williams and White recorded two full-length, folk-heavy albums. Barton Hollow won two well-deserved Grammys and followup The Civil Wars was highly praised by critics and fans alike. The Civil Wars have since gone their separate ways, but Williams has resumed her career as a solo artist. Her album Venus is due out this summer. You can listen to the first single, “Woman (Oh Mama)” here. Side note: Joy Williams tweeted me one time. It was awesome.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Don't Miss ... Begin Again

Begin Again was a bit of a sleeper last summer. It's not a super-hero or action franchise flick with lots of money behind it, but it did star Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Adam Levin (from Maroon 5 fame) round out the supporting cast.

Knightley plays a songwriter who moves to New York with her rock-star boyfriend (Levine). She isn't interested in the limelight, just the art. He is interested in the limelight and their relationship suffers. One evening she's performing one of her songs at a club and Ruffalo's character, a down-and-out music executive, likes what he hears. They embark on creating an album on their terms as outcasts of the music industry machine. Knightley performs the songs herself - and she does an excellent job. I appreciated that the movie didn't go for the obvious here - I don't want to spoil the film by explaining this further, but let me just say it was refreshing to see a friendship blossom. Begin Again is a light film, but it still has something to say.

It's from the director of Once, John Carney, so if you enjoyed that, you'll probably appreciate this one too. If you're a music fan in general you'll find something to appreciate here as well. There's a scene where Knightley and Ruffalo share an iPod and listen to music together while roaming New York City. Perfection.

Monday, January 26, 2015

And the Academy Award Goes To...

via Pixshark

I like to pretend I'm cultured, so Oscar nominations are a big deal for me. I always make a point to try and see all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the show airs. Here are my predictions for some of the most anticipated categories.

Best Picture                                                  

“American Sniper”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

Boyhood was filmed over a span of twelve years and honestly moved me. If there has ever been a movie that's made me feel nostalgic (and I rarely use that word), then this is it. Ellar Coltrane and
Lorelei Linklater do an outstanding job as siblings navigating childhood and the perils of their mother's [Patricia Arquette] many failed relationships. Boyhood is available for checkout at both the Dundee Library and Randall Oaks Branch.

Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Redmayne pulled off one of the most extraordinary transformations of the year when he appeared as renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The up-and-coming actor spent months studying Hawking's life in order to prepare for the role he was chosen for without even having to audition. To say his hard work paid off would be an understatement. You can catch a free screening of The Theory of Everything at the Dundee Library on March 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm. No registration is required.    

Actress in a Leading Role
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Moore's performance in Still Alice resonates with both heartbreak and humanity. Unfolding in incremental passages, and shot through with piercing detail, it is the sad, beautifully realized story of a victim of early-onset Alzheimer's and how the disease changes a life and the lives of the loved ones and colleagues around her.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

J.K. Simmons is excellent no matter what role he takes on, really. His versatility is what makes him so valuable in Hollywood- starring in films as heartwarming as Juno and as biting as Up in the Air. In Whiplash, he takes on a more villainous role as a teacher at a cut-throat music conservatory. Simmons is best known for his appearances in Farmers Insurance commercials, and now he's the front-runner in the race for best supporting actor. 

Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

Arquette did a simply outstanding job as Mason and Samantha's mother in Boyhood. The movie could just as easily be titled Motherhood.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Linklater spent 12 years of his life filming Boyhood. That in itself is Oscar-worthy.

Animated Feature Film
“Big Hero 6”
“The Boxtrolls”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”
***"The Lego Movie" was not nominated and therefore I refuse to predict a winner***

 Everything is awesome. Enough said.

via Forbes

Friday, December 12, 2014

What to Watch if You're Still Mourning the Loss of "Sex and the City"

Via Collider

If you're anything like me, you spent your early 20s trying to figure out if you were more of a Carrie or a Samantha. Or maybe even a Charlotte. Tragically, it turns out I'm a Miranda (sigh). Those four women taught me everything I know about life, like the universe may not always play fair, but at least its got a hell of a sense of humor. Or that soulmates only exist in the Hallmark aisle of Duane Reade Drugs. When HBO decided to cut ties with the series, thousands of Carrie-wannabes' hearts broke. Luckily, SJP's legacy lives on. 

Girls (HBO)
Wait...haven't we seen this before? Four women, living in New York City, skating through life one mistake at a time? Created by Lena Dunham, Girls is SATC for Millennials. Dunham herself stars as Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer living on her parents' dime. There's also Marnie, an art gallery assistant, Jessa, and Shoshanna. The raw humor of their dynamic provides some big laughs throughout the first three seasons. A fourth season is set to air beginning January 11, 2015 on HBO. 

Broad City (Comedy Central) 
Okay, so these women are nothing like Carrie and co. They are, however, twentysomethings biding their time in NYC until real life catches up to them. When we first meet Ilana and Abbi, we have no way of knowing just how long they’ve been friends. But their dynamic is already so comfortable that they don’t feel the need to spend half the pilot telling us who these characters are. Plus, Broad City is a Web series-turned-cable-comedy so fans of Ilana and Abbi should already have an idea of what they're getting into. Based on their lives in New York, the show delves into the everyday indignities that make being a young, single, broke person in a big city a fascinating, hilarious — but generally humiliating — experience. Broad City was named one of The A.V. Club's Best TV shows of 2014.

The Carries Diaries (The CW) 
If you've ever wondered how Carrie Bradsahw came to be the woman she is, or how her love affair with Manhattan began, then you can rent The Carrie Diaries on DVD. The CW cancelled the prequel after two seasons, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good TV. High school Carrie was every bit as fabulous as grownup Carrie and watching her get to know Samantha Jones was every SATC fan's dream. It's just too bad we didn't get to see how she came to be friends with Miranda and Charlotte. You can, however, read about it here.  

Via Buzzfeed

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas classics on the big screen

It's the most wonderful time of the year, when Christmas classics are shown in movie theaters! And what's better than seeing a classic black and white Christmas movie on the big screen? When that movie screen is inside a historic theater such as the Catlow in Barrington, Tivoli in Downers Grove, or Music Box in Chicago, just to name a few. You can watch stars like Barbara Stanwyck, Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Fred MacMurray, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney, larger than life... I'm in!

Here is a list I compiled of upcoming movie screenings, for the most part at historic movie theaters, in the suburbs and Chicago. I will be attending the TCM double feature of A Christmas Carol and Christmas in Connecticut this weekend and also have tickets to the Annual Music Box Christmas Show. Do you have any plans to catch a Christmas movie in theaters this month?

● Various theaters, including Regal Crystal Lake Showplace Stadium 16 and Century 16 Deer Park

A Christmas Carol (1938) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Sunday, December 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Presented by TCM, with an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz

Cinema 12 - 100 LW Besinger Drive, Carpentersville, IL  
Home Alone
Saturday, December 20 at 10 a.m- Free!
Pictures with Santa before the show

Catlow Theatre - 116 W. Main Street, Barrington, IL

It’s a Wonderful Life
Saturday, December 6 at 11 am

The Polar Express
Saturday, December 13 at 11 am

A Christmas Carol (1951)
Saturday, December 20 at 11 am

Tivoli Theatre - 5021 Highland Ave, Downers Grove, IL
Pre-show sing-a-long accompanied by Wurlitzer Theatre pipe organ

The Miracle of the Bells (1948)
Monday, December 8 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

White Christmas (1954)
Wednesday, December 10 at 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9:30 p.m.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Thursday, December 11 at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m

It's a Wonderful Life - 2014 Christmas Benefit Show
Saturday, December 13 at 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, December 14 at 1:30 p.m.
Proceeds to Sharing Connection Furniture Bank

Music Box Theatre - 3733 N. Southport Ave, Chicago

A Night with Elf
Thursday, December 4 at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Annual Music Box Christmas Show - White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life
Friday, December 12 - Thursday, December 25

Alternative Christmas Double Feature - Home Alone and Die Hard
Wednesday, December 17

Patio Theatre - 6008 W. Irving Park Rd, Chicago

Christmas Cartoons
Saturday, December 13 at 2 p.m. - free!
Showing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Little Drummer Boy

It's a Wonderful Life
Sunday, December 21 at 2 p.m. - free!
Plus, take pictures with Santa before the show.

Glen Art Theatre - 540 Crescent Blvd #1, Glen Ellyn, IL

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Saturday, December 6 at 10:30 am - free!

The Polar Express
Saturday, December 13 at 10:30 am - free!

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Saturday, December 20 at 10:30 am - free!

Woodstock Theatre - 209 Main Street, Woodstock, IL 60098

Arthur Christmas
Saturday, December 13 at 10 a.m.
pictures with Santa

Ogden 6 Theatre - 1227 East Ogden Ave, Naperville

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Saturday, December 6 at 10 a.m. - free!

Check out additional holiday film showings at other theaters at the  Classic Cinemas website.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Country Albums You Can't Miss

 You may not have guessed it from my first post, but I'm a whiskey drinkin', cowboy chasin', hell of a time (that's a Brooks & Dunn reference...I'm not actually that clever). Some of my favorite albums of all time include George Strait's Easy Come, Easy Go and Garth Brooks' Ropin the Wind. While a lot of people tend to believe that country music is only for the beer-drinking or the brokenhearted-mostly true- it's also for the hopeless romantics and the old souls like myself. So, without further ado, here are some country albums you may have missed, coming from a self-proclaimed expert in the genre. 

Brandy Clark: 12 Stories
Released in 2013, Brandy's album is the quintessential country album. A huge relief for true country fans: Brandy's writing tackles topics like drug abuse, murder, and adultery. Most of the songs on this album have just been waiting to be recorded while Brandy has been busy writing chart toppers for superstars like Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, and Keith Urban. Whether you're a fan of contemporary country or a Dolly Parton diehard, 12 Stories is worth checking out. Stand-out tracks: Get High, Hold My Hand, Pray to Jesus

Eric Church: The Outsiders

On his fourth studio album, North Carolina singer-songwriter Eric Church made a record that's weirder, louder and even more badass than any before. Church is a crafty, ambitious songwriter with a sensitive, rueful side. With The Outsiders, Church splits the difference between contemporary country's biggest trends: new-school storytelling (Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe ) and check-cashing bro-country (Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan). And why not? His success raises the bar of possibility in an overcautious industry. Stand-out tracks: Like a Wrecking Ball, That's Damn Rock & Roll, The Joint

Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose

Monroe is classic, Tennessee country. I first discovered her when the Pistol Annies released their debut album in 2011. She can only be described as "sassy" or "spunky" or with some other coded feminine adjectives. Her second solo album Like a Rose brings out the singer's true colors. Similar to Clark in that her writing doesn't shy away from darker themes, the lyrics are as close as you can get to poetry in country music. Stand-out tracks: Used, Monroe Suede, You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neil Young - Storytone

Being a die hard Neil Young fan, I'll admit that when I heard he was releasing an album with a full orchestra, I thought I'd probably give it a single listen and never play it again. Let it be known that my least favorite Neil Young song, "There's a World", completely ruined his most famous album for me, to be sure. It sits right there at track 7 of 10 chalk full of flutes and bells, destroying the folky-flow of the rest of the album. I can honestly say I have never listened to that song all the way through on purpose.

That aside, it's not surprising that Neil would come out with an orchestral album. He's long been known for creating albums that send record labels into all out frenzies (see Trans and Everybody's Rockin'). He has, after all, promised to compose a full length orchestral piece since the release of Harvest in 1972. Really, it seems the older he gets, the less he cares about what his fans think. There is something to be said for that, however.

Some of his most recent albums have been troubling at first listen but over time, I've concluded that many of them are actually some of his finest. Take A Letter Home as an example, the album that was recorded directly to vinyl using a 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth. It wasn't until I actually listened to the vinyl itself that I got the true feeling embedded in it. Whoa.

In any case, I can't say that I like Storytone quite yet. Orchestras aren't really my thing. What saves this album, however, is that he did release a deluxe edition that includes solo versions of all 10 tracks. He even plays the ukulele on one of them.