Saturday, May 12, 2012

What we're listening to: Blood Pressures by The Kills

Released just over a year ago, Blood Pressures by The Kills is a pretty rockin' record. As a group and overall sound, the Kills remind me of the Ravonettes and the Black Keys (2 person outfit managing to produce some full and heavy sounds). The Kills are comprised of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince.

The disc opens with an excellent, almost tribal-like drum beat, on Future Starts Slow. It's basically a sonic foreshadow of the great beats throughout the record. The third track, Heart is a Beating Drum, features accompaniment by, of all things, a ping pong ball. Track two, Satellite, grabs you right away and doesn't let go. It starts out with a machine-sounding intro and a heavy beat (sense a theme here?) with some prominent, syncopated guitar-- almost ska like. The vocals are slightly sultry and the lyrics clever. It has all the elements for an excellent song; it's my favorite from the record. The barest of the tracks is The Last Goodbye, which features a mournful Mosshart singing about lost love, as you can imagine from the title.

I listened to this disc everyday for six weeks (I renewed it)-- and it never got old.

Blood Pressures by The Kills
Find it in the catalog!

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Music Year: 1988

After considerable deliberation, one stopgap exercise, and an awesome assist from Heather, I'm ready to endorse a music year. How did I settle on 1988? Was it my fond recollection of the molded plastic California Raisins that were so bountiful that year? It was not. My actual music-related memories of 1988 are fairly limited: I remember Fine Young Cannibals on the radio in my dad’s car (“She Drives Me Crazy” and  “Good Thing”), and Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" was getting some serious play from my older sister. Oh, and the treacly "Living Years" by Mike + The Mechanics was an inescapable pop song. Apparently the New Kids on the Block were Hangin' Tough that year, but I don't really recall. (This Billboard compilation offers a fairly concise glimpse of what else people were listening to in '88.)

I was ten years old in 1988, and I was functionally illiterate as far as pop-culture goes. I didn't even have a tape deck. I think my only exposure to rap music had been a surreptitious viewing of the Beastie Boys' video "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)". It would be some time before I had the opportunity to understand the Beasties' oeuvre beyond that one song, but I did appreciate their sense of humor. (Yes, even I knew they were lampooning themselves.) I was so remarkably ignorant of popular music that I thought Simon & Garfunkel were a current group. (I'm not sure how to account for that misnomer, but I would guess it had something to do with PBS re-airing the duo's 1980 reunion concert.) What can I say? I lived in my own head-space, as many young people do, and I was content with my paperback copies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne.

It wasn't until I was thirteen or fourteen that I began developing musical tastes of my own, and once that happened, 1988 proved to be the wellspring of my musical interests. In an odd way, the music of 1988 would influence me considerably from my middle-school years to the present day. And let me tell you, there are few constants in my life that span those years. (I'm not strictly using "constant" in the Desmond Hume sense of the word, but you are encouraged to interpret it that way.)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Time Capsule Album Obsessions: College

Somehow when I had dreamed of going way to college, I didn't imagine that I'd be escaping to Appleton, WI-a city almost more culturally devoid than the tiny, far-north Chicago suburb that I grew up in. I had more exotic locales like Chicago or New York City in mind. But a scholarship, parental pressure, and a campus that reminded me of Rushmore Academy won out in the end and I went to Lawrence University in Appleton.  Lawrence University is one of the premier colleges for music in the United States, which is great if you like classical music or the opera. However, for rock music you pretty much have to drive to Milwaukee (a little over an hour away) or Madison (about an hour and a half away) to see anyone decent live.  Unsurprisingly, I didn't go to a lot of shows during this period.  However, I did discover a bunch of new bands thanks to being surrounded by a bunch of music geeks.  Below are my five most listened to albums from college (check out the whole list here):

Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie (2003).
Find it in the catalog!
This is one of the few early Death Cab albums that I can still listen to without cringing too much at my former, college-aged self.  I related to these songs immensely then, so listening to them is sort of like looking at pictures of yourself with a bad haircut that you thought was awesome at the time.  That's no diss to Death Cab.  I actually like their recent stuff quite a bit (especially Codes and Keys).  And Chris Walla's guitar work has always been superb. But Ben Gibbard's lyrics seem a little too angst ridden and confessional in hindsight.  Maybe I've just grown to hate earnestness.  In spite of this, Transatlanticism still holds up pretty well for me, possibly because Gibbard's lyrics aren't as intensely personally as on some of Death Cab's other albums from the early aughts.  I'm not a huge fan of "Tiny Vessels" or "Death of an Interior Decorator."  But the rest of the album is pretty solid. 

Favorite Songs: Sound of Settling, Transatlanticism, Passenger Seat

Alligator by the National. 
Find it in the catalog!
The National were a band I had been hearing good things about for a while, but could never track down one of their records.  When  I saw Alligator on the shelves at Borders (in McHenry, of all places), I picked it up and fell in love with it instantly.  The National were different from a lot of the bands I had been listening to at the time.  The music was dark and well-crafted, and singer Matt Berninger had a deep, world-weary voice.  The National is still one of my favorite bands and I've loved both of their subsequent albums, but Alligator still probably has the most songs on it that I love (Boxer is my favorite overall).  Out of the albums that I loved in college, this is definitely the one that I revisit the most often. 

Favorite Songs: All the Wine, Geese of Beverly Road, Daughters of the Soho Riots, Mr. November

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot- Wilco (2002)
Find it in the catalog!
When I was in high school, "country" even of the alt variety, sounded like something that I just couldn't get into.  So it took me a really long time to listen to Wilco.  So long, in fact, that I did not check out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot until a year after it was released, in spite of its universal acclaim.  However, once I finally did get around to checking it out, I pretty much listened to it on repeat for about two years (it is part of my subconscious now). This is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

Favorite Songs:  I'm Trying to Break Your Heart, Ashes of American Flags, Jesus, Etc., Poor Places

Something Else- Kinks
Find it in the catalog!

The Kinks were probably my favorite band in college. Yet I don't remember how I started listening to them, I just remember suddenly being into the Kinks.  But it's pretty safe to blame the movie Blow-up, which made me want to check out anything that British and from the 60s.  The Kinks definitely had a gritter sound than other music from the 60s that I was used to (i.e. The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel), which made their music sound more modern to me.  Also, Ray Davies is probably one of my favorite songwriters ever.  His lyrics are funny, biting and have great social commentary.  Something Else was my introduction to the Kinks.  While I'd eventually love The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-go-round more, Something Else remained in heavy rotation until grad school, largely thanks to "Waterloo Sunset."

Favorite Songs:  Waterloo Sunset, Afternoon Tea, and Tin Solider Man

69 Love Songs- Magnetic Fields
Find it in the catalog!

I first got into the Magnetic Fields with the album The Charm of the Highway.  I liked how poppy and yet bleak Stephin Merritt's songs were, as well as how clever some of the lyrics were.  Pretty much all of the Magnetic Fields albums were played in heavy rotation in my dorm room, but 69 Love Songs is probably Merritt's masterpiece.  Also, the three disc set was the perfect length to drive home for breaks.

Favorite songs: I Don't Want to Get Over You, I Don't Believe in the Sun, No One Will Ever Love You,  The Sun Goes Down and The World Goes Dancing, Busby Berkeley Dream, I Can't Touch You Anymore

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Ghostface Killah!

Break out your biggest gold chain necklace and start blasting Supreme Clientele, because it's Dennis Coles aka. Ghostface Killah aka. Ghostdini aka. Ironman aka. Tony Starks aka. my spirit Wu-Tang Clan member's 42nd Birthday!  Check out an album by Wu-Tang Clan or by Ghostface to celebrate!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Wu-Tang: An Infodiscography

An enterprising designer named Jess Bachman has assembled an "infodiscography" of the legendary hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan. These visually striking graphics offer an insightful overview of the myriad Wu-affiliated releases, and are particularly useful for exploring the members' solo projects. The three-part series sets out to highlight the rise, fragmentation, and decline of the group. I would argue that the enduring artistic influence of the Wu-Tang Clan precludes anything like a decline, but it's a well executed project that can be especially useful to beginner or intermediate Wu aficionados. If you'd like to know which of these solo projects are available through the library, you can take a look at the list I've compiled in bibliocommons.

The "infodiscography" graphics themselves are quite large. Check out part one after the jump.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time Capsule Album Obsessions: High School

My high school years aren’t really a period I’m nostalgic about.  Like a lot of people from a small town, I spent much of  high school looking forward to leaving home and going to college.  I was more of an honor students than a rebel, but I did experiment with punk rock and light subversion.  After spending my freshman and sophomore years listening to emo (Bright Eyes, mostly) and glam rock (thanks to Ewan McGregor) I discovered the Cure and 80s post punk (which would dominate my playlists until grad school).  Below are five albums that I listened to way too much during high school:  
The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead.
Find it in the catalog!  
The Smiths are basically required listening for every angst-ridden high school student.  At the time, I could certainly relate to Morrissey’s sizable amount of self-pity on songs like “I Know It’s Over” and “Never Had No One Ever.”  But it was more than just adolescent woefulness that drew me to the Smiths.  Morrissey has one of best voices in rock, and he can be pretty funny at times.  Also, Johnny Marr’s excellent guitar work makes the music still sound fresh today.  
Favorite tracks: The Boy with the Thorn In His Side, There is a Light (That Never Goes Out), Some Girls are Bigger Than Others

Joy Division- Closer
I think I definitely enjoy this album more now than I did in high school. Back then, I thought liking Joy Division made me dark and edgy, so I pretended to enjoy it more than I did.  And I liked the cryptic but bleak lyrics.  It wasn’t until college, when a lot of bands started to emulate Joy Division’s sound that I began to appreciate how spare and yet awesomely rocking they were.  Still, I listened to this album a lot in high school for only sort of liking it.  Perhaps, I just wanted to scare my parents.
Favorite tracks:  Isolation, Heart and Soul, The Eternal.  

  Joni Mitchell-Blue
My sophomore year of high school, I bought a turntable.  I had a cheap box record player before this, but the turntable was a definite step up.  To build up my record collection, I'd buy pretty much anything from the 60s and 70s that was reasonably cool or had a spiffy cover. This was one of those records.  I bought it for it's pretty blue cover, but played it over and over again for its mellow vibe and romantic angst.  At 15, I hadn't really lived enough to understand the complex emotions on the album.  But I was naive enough to think that I did.

Favorite Tracks: California, River, A Case of You.

Simon and Garfunkel- Bridge Over Troubled Water
I went to high school about 30 years after it was cool to like this album.  Thankfully, none of my classmates knew who S and G were and therefore were clueless as to how much of a geek I was.  I started listening to S and G after hearing that Paul Simon was a big influence on my then rock-God, Connor Oberst of Bright Eyes.  My dad didn’t have Graceland, but I permanently borrowed his copies of Bookends and BOTW.  Paul Simon’s witty, literate, and offbeat lyrics really appealed to me.  I also liked the band’s quirky folk rock sound.  BOTW is an ambitious but fun album.  S and G played around with a bunch of sounds, including gospel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water,”) straight rock ‘n’ roll (“Baby Driver”) and even Bossa Nova (“So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright”- not my favorite).  There are lots of classic songs on the this album, including the title track, “The Boxer” and “Cecilia,” but my all-time favorite song is the haunting “Only Living Boy in New York.”
Favorite Tracks:  Cecilia, Keep the Customer Satisfied, Baby Driver, Only Living Boy in New York, and Song for the Asking. 

Belle and Sebastian- If You're Feeling Sinister
I discovered this band from one of my friends who was much hipper than me.  From their cool, retro red cover to their jangly, 60s inspired folk pop, Belle and Sebastian were pretty much perfect in my book.  Stuart Murdoch's lyrics were smart and funny, but a little wistful.  Belle and Sebastian were more or less the sonic equivalent of watching a Wes Anderson movie.   What more could a pretentious, old soul 17 year old want in a band?  Even with their post-Juno popularity and accusations of tweeness, If You're Feeling Sinister and Tigermilk are still favorites of mine. 

Favorite Tracks: The Fox in the Snow; Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying; If You're Feeling Sinister

Check out my whole list of high school album obsessions