Album Recommendations by Library People You Trust
Kesha’s newest album is as vibrant as any Rainbow! And it is all about combing a much-needed healing and retaliatory empowerment. On this album, Kesha’s evolving the thing that’s been her signature aesthetic since her breakout in 2009, and that’s an untamable, ferocious, self-dependence, and a fusing of the graceful and the gritty. Pop might not be your thing, but Kesha spices things up with the punch of rock-n-roll’s caution to the wind with tracks like “Let ‘Em Talk,” (featuring the Eagles of Death Metal), and the brass-blasted funk ballad “Woman” (featuring The Dap Kings). This isn’t as conceptual, eclectic or maybe as elegant as Beyonce’s Lemonade, but it undoubtedly has comparable swells of emotion and adrenaline-raising production.
I feel like, to some degree, Rainbow is going to have to be in the same sentence, or in the same paragraph, of previous album-sized manifestos of feminist empowerment; in fact, one of the pioneering women artists of the 20th century, Dolly Parton, has a recorded feature on “Old Flames.” This is pop, sure, but it’s a purifying experience. There are actual hymns on this album, designed to restore the soul. Even if you don’t feel it fully, it’s inspiring to see Kesha, who weathered a year of legal battles throughout 2015, coming back radiant and resolute.
Music From Our Soul
Jazz bassist/composer Charnett Moffett is the hub for an impressive collaboration of performers captured on his newest album, Music From Our Soul, including Pharoah Sanders, Cyrus Chestnut, and more. This is the perfect entry-album for any music fans who always consider trying to add more jazz to their listening regimens. Melody and groove are emphasized above all else, a harmony synced together across tasteful solos and a more measuredly-contained improvisatory flair. Moffett is often credited for his sensibilities in arranging “straight-ahead jazz,” which might sound, at points, reminiscent of what you’d typically (but erroneously) categorize as “smooth jazz…” But pop and rock fans who are otherwise aural emigrants to these worlds of jazz, will respond to what is a verifiable smoothness in the performance, but no doubt be enticed by the subtle fieriness that frenetically roils into the playing of tracks like “Sound World Suite.” And man, hold onto your hats for “For Those Who Know!”
Music From Our Soul is one of six superb new jazz albums that we’ve added to the collection this week, including a new Atlantic Records Collection of the immortal John Coltrane. We think this is your week to start exploring more jazz albums, and we just want you to know that we’ve got you covered.
Alt-J have proven to be an acquired taste for some… They’ll be headlining this year’s MoPop Festival in Detroit on Sunday July 30, and we added their latest album, RELAXER, to our circulating collection last month. It’s just that the thing about this British trio is that they’re often too experimental for the pop crowd, and too poppy for the experimental crowd. Their atmospheric and sometimes haunting soundscapes come layered in intricate tones from guitars and keyboards, with reverb-wrapped vocal harmonies that flutter lightly and then crash down heavily. It sounds like pinaobar blues from Pluto. But they never stray too far one way or the other; a grating surge of fuzzy organs, a sudden burst of brass, or other more adventurous variations that might pull away the downbeat or extend a bridge – that might be pleasing to the fans of a more underground/noise-dabbling sound. But at their heart, this is a pop/rock band built for anthemic songs and catchy melodies, so you often hear the two sides crashing together. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You be the judge.
I hear this young trio following in the footsteps of late 90’s spaced-out Brits like The Beta Band, Super Furry Animals, or maybe Spiritualized. It just seems that, from some reviews I’ve read, this album was seen as a chance to choose a side… The heady drifts of cinematic swells or the twangy, riffy, earworm choruses of a more mainstream-friendly exultation.
Find out about Alt-J, and some of the great local bands (like Stef Chura) at this year’s MoPop Festival, here.
Broken Social Scene
Hug of Thunder
This has been quite a year for big returns! Slowdive, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Lorde… So many bands releasing new albums that are each equally “long-awaited” or “greatly anticipated.” For me, I think Broken Social Scene’s Hug of Thunder was at the very top of my list of albums I was looking forward to this year, and the Toronto-born indie-rock orchestra did not disappoint.
All 15 original members are featured on this recording, which was produced by Joe Chiccarelli (who’s worked with Beck & the Strokes). The soundscape swells, spilling from your speakers or enveloping you into a dreamy haze if you’re taking it in over headphones. Ambient swoons intricately fill each nook and corner of each composition, with just the right amount of reverb and fuzzy distortion layered onto the vocals and guitars. A prime example of a track that can just carry you away is, fittingly titled, “Please Take Me With You.” Meanwhile, “Halfway Home” is my vote for song of the summer, with its urgent explosive launch into what feels like a roller-coaster of rhythm and gleeful screams of guitars, with anthemic vocals and a tempo that tempts you into an irrepressible sprint into some fresh, free, unwritten future!
I think that this album especially demonstrates how percussion is so central to the wild charms of Broken Social Scene. They’re indie-rock, they’re orchestral, they have full harmonies and lush tones and acoustic guitars and synthesizers and just a whole cornucopia of sounds sutured into their craft – but at the heart of it, sometimes buried, sometimes bursting to the top, is the hit, the chug, the push, the heartbeat, of those drums. That’s the thunder. And it’s embracing you.
Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner & James McAlister
The latest from indie-folk phenom Sufjan Stevens isn’t a record you can just put on ‘whenever…’ It’s a bit of an insistent symphony of orchestral odes interwoven (densely at points) with cinematic swells of piano, strings, and synthesizers, each instrument emphasizing its melodic phrasings into a harmony of emotion with the singers’ achey incantations. I guess grandiosity is all but demanded when you’re making an album inspired by the Solar System!
I know Sufjan fans can be somewhat divided between loving his softhearted, swoony folk side and his more experimental/adventurous/noisier side. This isn’t folk as much as it’s spacey-jazz, or cosmic baroque-pop. And, yes, it’s moody, but in a more celestial/abstract kind of way. In fact, it’s a bit of a conceptual opera – requiring a bit of a calm, ponderous kind of headspace. I feel like it’d be an excellent album for a long drive, be it by day, or, optimally: by night.
We’ve got this on our NEW shelf under “Stevens, Sufjan,” but the arrangements are compliments of composer Nico Muhly, with contributions from Bryce Dessner and James McAlister. Even if you don’t love the whole album, it’s worth it to swim through 70 minutes of brassy/synthesized wormholes to get to “Mercury,” which might be one of the prettiest-sounding songs of 2017, so far!
Phoenix may have already given us the “song of the summer,” even just two days into the season. “J-Boy” conjures the kinetic, carefree effervescence and propulsive disco-rhythms of the French quartet’s breakout hits (“1901/Lisztomania”). I hate to discount the sophistication and musical smarts of these savvy pop veterans, but what Ti Amo gives us is something as simple and instantaneous as the expression itself: “I love you.” That’s it, that’s all you need; that’s an uncomplicated and instantly charming thing for anyone to have said to them. And this album is an uncomplicated and instantly charming detoxifier of all the dread and dilemmas that have been otherwise putting serious dents into our daily moods through cascades of horrible headlines on social media.
More than ever, we need a fun, carefree album; and these synth-pop/electro-rock/future-funk stylists have masterfully given us something that can ease your mind, with a subtle bit of surreal substance sutured into the lyrics. Can we be escapist and yet still feel a bit enlightened–? Yeah, I think so… If nothing else, Phoenix loves you! And you just gotta love ‘em back. Cuz this is musical medicine; only we’re not gonna say you have to limit your dosage. Happy summer.
SZA’s long-awaited (and now critically acclaimed) Ctrl is a diverse blend of genres, from neo-soul to alternative R&B. Solána Imani Rowe, (aka SZA), broke out on the national scene in 2012 with See SZA Run, steadily demonstrating a sensibility for fusing a breathtaking singing voice with samples and collages of jazz, trip-hop, and ambient electronica. Her influences were as distinct and disparate, stylistically, as Billie Holiday to Bjork, or John Coltrane to the Wu-Tang Clan. Ctrl culminated SZA collaborating with unique producers, including Frank Dukes (whose credits include Drake, Kanye West, and more!)
We’ve got to sound some sirens for fans of contemporary hip-hop and experimental R&B—cuz SZA’s new one is going to be one of those game-changing kind of listening experiences for you that redefines what’s possible within the realms of electronic-soul, on par to the same kind of head-turning dynamism of the breakout moments of M.I.A., or Frank Ocean. Guess spots on here include Travis Scott, Isaiah Rashad, James Fauntlery, and the inimitable Kendrick Lamar! Our favorite tracks are “Prom,” “Anything,” and “Normal Girl.” Her performance on each track spans a range of emotions and auras, as confrontational as any hip-hop emcee, but as endearingly heart-on-the-sleeve as the most impassioned soul balladeer.