Cry it Out…Or Don’t: Break-Up Songs to Get Down To

October 22, 2012

Break-Up song playlist from WBER DJ Kelsey…

Breakin’ Up/ Rilo Kiley

If More Adventurous gave the group’s game plan away in its title, so does Under the Blacklight, for if this album is anything, it’s a sleazy crawl through L.A. nightlife, teaming with sex and tattered dreams, all illuminated by a dingy black light. So, it’s a conceptual album — which ain’t the same thing as a concept album, since there is no story here to tie it together — and to signify the sex Jenny Lewis sings about incessantly on this record, Rilo Kiley have decided to ditch most of their indie pretensions and hazy country leanings in favor of layers of ironic new wave disco and spacy flourishes pulled straight out of mid-’80s college rock.-allmusic.com

Foundations/ Kate Nash

On a first listen to Kate Nash’s debut Made of Bricks, it’s easy to hear the similarities to her contemporaries  (Lily Allen, the Streets, Amy Winehouse) and influences (Björk, Robbie Williams). Her most popular songs are both intimate and confrontational, using brief portraits and slang-conversational vocals to illustrate the larger issues going on — the dinner party that exposes a crumbling relationship on “Foundations” or the futility of using “Mouthwash” as a defense against feelings of low self-worth. The music is explosive and sample-driven, but with plenty of ties to contemporary pop, such as the frequent piano runs and occasional chamber brass or woodwinds. Spend time with this album, however, and Nash is revealed as much more than the sum of her parts. She’s an excellent songwriter who illustrates her tales of romantic woe and inadequacies with grace and many subtleties.-allmusic.com

Walk on Me/ Ben Kweller

Enthusiasm is what singer/songwriter Ben Kweller brings to his work. Ramones-like perennial goofy-teenager attitude and lack of antipathy are his golden attributes, and the combination of his keen songwriting sense makes Kweller a pop powerhouse. Following his self-released demo, Freak Out It’s Ben Kweller, and the following EP, Kweller spreads out with more pop songs and sounds on this full-length studio album. Underscoring the songwriting skill he’s been working at since age eight, he plays acoustic, folk-rock, alternative, power pop, and straight-ahead rock of the course of 11 songs. His lyrics are consistently heart-sung, but they aren’t lite — he’s got weight and bite, too. “Walk on Me” and “How It Should Be (Sha Sha),” though power pop through and through, are pure Kweller — bright, witty, fun, sweet diaries of hard-to-grapple-with feelings translated into two-to-three-minute bursts of self-empowered joy.- allmusic.com

Soft Shock/ Yeah Yeahs Yeahs

The album’s first three songs are a blitz of bliss, especially “Zero,” which kicks things off with blatantly fake beats, revved-up synth arpeggios, and O’s command to “get your leather on.” Radiating joy and confidence, she and the rest of the band couldn’t be further from Show Your Bones’ introspection as the song climbs to ecstatic heights. “Heads Will Roll” shows just how ably the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blend their rock firepower with dance surroundings, as Zinner’s prickly guitars get equal time with spooky synth strings and O makes “you are chrome” sound like the coolest compliment ever. Meanwhile, “Soft Shock”‘s dreamy, almost naïve-sounding electronics make O’s vocals — which are much less affected than ever before — feel even more natural and vulnerable. Elsewhere, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and producers David Sitek and Nick Launay find other ways to shake things up, from the disco kiss chase of “Dragon Queen,” which features Sitek’s fellow TV on the Radio member Tunde Adebimpe on backing vocals, to “Shame and Fortune,” which pares down the band’s tough, sexy rock to its most vital essence and provides Chase and  Zinner with a showcase not found anywhere else on the album.- allmusic.com

My man is a mean man/ Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Following up her excellent 2002 debut, Sharon Jones stays true to the formula she laid down on her early releases and Dap Dippin’ by presenting another session of full-force funk that pays homage to the genre’s glory years without coming off as contrived. The deep funk revival continues with Jones belting out commanding vocal performances that are uncompromisingly forceful yet full of rich, soulful emotion. It’s a session worthy of being found in any beat-miner’s record collection and any funk enthusiast’s basket of obscurities and rarities. Her cover of “This Land Is Your Land” is equally as impressive, as she somehow takes the song from being an American folk standard and turns it into a full-on sonic explosion. Fans of her earlier work will no doubt find great joy in this follow-up, and those seeking Jones out for the first time certainly will not be disappointed in what they find.-allmusic.com

That’s It, I quit, I’m movin’ on/ Sam Cooke

This set is near essential to fans of Sam Cooke, despite the fact that it contains none of his gospel recordings for Specialty Records or any of the work from the final year of his career (owned by ABKCO Records). Scattered every few minutes across this four-disc collection are reminders of just how far ahead of all existing musical forms Cooke was, creating sounds that stretched the definitions of song genres as they were understood and created completely new categories. Indeed, he was so successful that it’s easy to underestimate the impact and importance of many of his early triumphs. “You Send Me,” which opens this set, may seem today like the safest, tamest pop music, but in 1957 it was a genre-bending single, a new kind of R&B/pop music hybrid and one that quietly shook the foundations of the music business when it hit number one.-allmusic.com

There’s no home for you here/ The White Stripes

Chip-on-the-shoulder anthems like the breathtaking opener, “Seven Nation Army,” which is driven by Meg White’s explosively minimal drumming, and “The Hardest Button to Button,” in which Jack White snarls “Now we’re a family!” — one of the best oblique threats since Black Francis sneered “It’s educational!” all those years ago — deliver some of the fiercest blues-punk of the White Stripes’ career. “There’s No Home for You Here” sets a girl’s walking papers to a melody reminiscent of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” (though the result is more sequel than rehash), driving the point home with a wall of layered, Queen-ly harmonies and piercing guitars, while the inspired version of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” goes from plaintive to angry in just over a minute, though the charging guitars at the end sound perversely triumphant. At its bruised heart, Elephant portrays love as a power struggle, with chivalry and innocence usually losing out to the power of seduction.-allmusic.com

In the way/ Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco has earned her rep as the most independent of artists. She records for her own label, and as a result says and does pretty much as she pleases. Di Franco has also shown a willingness to experiment, mixing genres and styles, and Evolve is clearly an important link in her continued evolution. Piano, horns, and guitar mix and merge on “Promised Land,” offering a bluesy blend of progressive folk, while a heavy backbeat informs the funky “In My Way.” The arrangements are much busier than the “girl with an acoustic guitar” sound of her earliest efforts, but they’re never crowded. In fact, DiFranco’s such a dynamic singer, at turns soulful and, when angry, in the listener’s face, that the heavier arrangements serve her well. The arrangements and solid production, however, aren’t enough to save the material. As with 2001’s Revelling: Reckoning, Evolve lacks consistency and finally seems meandering. “Icarus”‘ foreboding melody line drags at a dawdling pace, stopping and starting again, and finally, going nowhere. The worst excess is “Serpentine.” It takes three minutes for the vocal to start, and seven more for Di Franco to catalog everything that isn’t right in the Promised Land. -allmusic.com

Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache/ Cake

There are virtually no liner notes nor any indication of what year the songs were recorded, or in the case of the B-sides, what the A-side was, which is an unforgivable omission for a historical overview of this type. Everything screams quickie, from the haphazard track sequencing, to the lack of information in the pamphlet and the lackluster graphics. If this is indeed made for die-hard Cake fans, and who else would even pick it up? It’s a shoddy, short set that doesn’t show respect for the group’s dedicated followers, of whom there are many. A full ten minutes of the album’s already meager running time is dedicated to two versions of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the opening one a studio recording, and the unlisted final cut a live performance. While both are interesting angles on a song that appears to be outside even Cake’s eclectic scope, they are similar enough that the repetition only pads the disc’s slim contents. -allmusic.com

Winter Winds/ Mumford & Sons

English folk outfit Mumford & Sons’ full-length debut owes more than a cursory nod to bands like the Waterboys, the Pogues, and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The group’s heady blend of biblical imagery, pastoral introspection, and raucous, pub-soaked heartache may be earnest to a fault, but when the wildly imperfect Sigh No More is firing on all cylinders, as is the case with stand-out cuts like “The Cave,” “Winter Winds,” and “Little Lion Man,” it’s hard not to get swept up in the rapture. Like their London underground folk scene contemporaries Noah & the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons’ take on British folk is far from traditional. There’s a deep vein of 21st century Americana that runs through the album, suggesting a healthy diet of Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Blitzen Trapper and Marah.-allmusic.com

Breakin’ the chains of love/ Fitz & the Tantrums

Pickin’ Up the Pieces finds this L.A.-based sextet breaking out big time within the soul revival underground, though for a band that plays heavily on their D.I.Y. cred — as their press materials frequently note, this album was primarily recorded in lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick’s  living room — these songs find them playing to the polished and poppier end of the R&B spectrum. Principle songwriter Fitzpatrick and Tantrums’ arranger James King (who also plays sax) lean to the more refined sounds of classic-era Motown. This is soul from the upscale night spot rather than the juke joint, but it’s a club that’s well worth the cover charge; Fitzpatrick is a significantly better than the average blue-eyed soul crooner, his vocal partner Noelle Scaggs is good enough that one wishes she got more space in the spotlight, and under King’s direction, the band cuts an impressive groove without cluttering up the arrangements or depending too strongly on their influences to convincingly conjure the sound of the classic era of soul.-allmusic.com

The Bad in each other/ Feist

With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s  The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack.-allmusic.com

Tymps (the sick in the head song)/ Fiona Apple

Extraordinary Machine sounds like a brighter, streamlined version of When the Pawn, lacking the idiosyncratic arrangement and instrumentation of that record, yet retaining the artiness of the songs themselves. Like her second record, this album is not immediate; it takes time for the songs to sink in, to let the melodies unfold, and decode her laborious words (she still has the unfortunate tendency to overwrite: “A voice once stentorian is now again/Meek and muffled”). Unlike theBrion-produced sessions, peeling away the layers on Extraordinary Machine is not hard work, since it not only has a welcoming veneer, but there are plenty of things that capture the imagination upon first listen — the pulsating piano on “Get Him Back,” the moodiness of “O’ Sailor,” the coiled bluesy “Better Version of Me,” the quiet intensity of the breakup saga “Window,” the insistent chorus on “Please Please Please” — which gives listeners a reason to return and invest time in the album. -allmusic.com

The Right Type/ Chromeo

Business Casual has the typically synth-suave electro-funk jams, like “Hot Mess” and “Night by Night,” featuring Gemayel’s talkbox mastery over strobe-lit four-on-the-floor beats that are right in step with “Tenderoni” and “Needy Girl.” As the album progresses, though, Macklovitch and Gemayel dig deeper into crates for cheesy inspiration, and you can hear glimmers of Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Oran Juice, and even The Kids from Fame TV series. “The Right Type” seems custom-made for a montage, and the snappy “Grow Up” could be the theme from a sitcom. Elsewhere, Solange Knowles does her best Whitney/ Mariah impression for “When the Night Falls,” and “J’ai Claqué la Porte,” with its Casio fills and fingerpicked acoustic, is sung entirely in French and features Dave One at his most smirkingly romantic. [The Deluxe Edition of  Business Casual features several remixes of “Night by Night” and “Don’t Turn the Lights On.”-allmusic.com

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Library Patron Playlist Request 10.02.12

October 6, 2012

Hi Colleen,

Thank you for requesting a personalized playlist! Based on your musical preferences, here is a selection of titles you might enjoy. All of the albums listed are available for checkout from the library’s collection.

I and love and you/ Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers have expanded their reach since 2000, adding elements of pop and hillbilly country-rock to a bluegrass foundation, and they carry on that tradition with I and Love and You, whose songs introduce a new emphasis on piano and nuanced arrangements. Working with a major label’s budget allows the group to add small flourishes — a cello line here, a keyboard crescendo there — but the resulting music is hardly grand, focusing on textures rather than volume. Scott and Seth Avett share vocals throughout the album, delivering their lyrics in a speak-sing cadence that, at its best, sounds both tuneful and conversational. Given the opportunities presented here — the ability to add strings, organs, and harmonium to the mix — the two devote more time to slower songs, which display those sonic details better. The result is an intimate, poignant album, laced with rich production that often takes as much spotlight as the songwriting itself.- allmusic.com

Vaporize/ Broken Bells

James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) want their project Broken Bells to be seen, and heard, as an honest-to-goodness band, not a side-project dalliance. It’s a little tricky to do that when first listening to their self-titled debut album, since they’re such well-known and distinctive talents: Mercer crafted singularly bittersweet indie pop with the Shins, while Burton brought the Beatles and Jay-Z together on The Grey Album and went on to shape sounds for equally omnivorous artists like Beck and Gorillaz. Mercer’s songwriting skills and Danger Mouse’s production mastery sound like a potent combo, and they are, when the pair balances its ambitions and respective strengths. They work hard — maybe too hard — at avoiding their previous sounds. Mercer’s vocals and melodies will almost certainly evoke the Shins to some degree or another, but he and Burton steer clear of the bright pop that countered that band’s gloomier moments in favor of winding melodies and mellow atmospheres.-allmusic.com

Fixin’ to die/ G. Love

Fixin’ to Die isn’t the first G. Love album billed without Special Sauce, but this one really stands apart from the rest of his discography.  With lots of high lonesome backing vocals and prominent banjo, this actually feels like a country album most of the time. It’s almost entirely acoustic, too. We don’t even hear an electric guitar until track eight, where Luther Dickenson offers up some tasty George Harrison-esque slide. It’s this track and “Walk On” that most resemble Special Sauce, and they almost feel out of place here. Most of the album is far more intimate and introspective, and it’s easy to see that most of these tunes wouldn’t fit into the standard party/feel-good ethos of most Special Sauce tunes, but the production and playing of the Avett Bothers really make it work. After 15 years or so, it’s pretty interesting to hear G. Love in such a different context.-allmusic.com

There’s no secrets this year/ Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups had a bit of a breakthrough with 2009’s Swoon. Moody and fuzzed-out singles like “Substitution” and “Panic Switch” drew new listeners to the band’s particular brand of melodic and rhythmically infectious guitar-based rock. They even garnered a Best New Artist nod at the Grammy Awards despite having already developed a cult following after debuting with their 2005 EP, Pikul. -allmusic.com

Both Hands/ Ani DiFranco

Canon is a document to be sure, a “best of,” but it’s also a testament to something else: that through the biz and media trends, from riot grrrl to the rise of the ’90s and 2000s troops of female singer/songwriters who come and go, DiFranco is always here, has been present, and has not paying attention to the machinations of such things. She’s on a path, and the music here offers that it’s a wildly divergent one sometimes, but it is unquestionably hers, and she doesn’t let go of anything she collects — until she’s ready to, that is, and even then you can see the traces of her own scratch marks all over that thing: fascination, Eros, agape, heartbreak, betrayal, love, violence, celebration, and anger both righteous and petty (she discovers these things herself, it’s not a critical judgment). Or maybe, she simply weaves them all into her own quilt, thread by thread, to be identified and grabbed when needed most. Her street smarts remain intact after nearly two decades of being in the public eye and she has created a place for herself without owing a debt to anyone. Forget the stories and interviews: it’s all in the music on Canon.-allmusic.com

Autorock/ Mogwai

Possibly the most accessible yet sophisticated album Mogwai has released, Mr. Beast strips away most of the electronic embellishment of their recent work in favor of a back-to-basics sound that returns to and expands on the approach they pioneered on Young Team. Mr. Beast is also a surprisingly spontaneous-sounding album — in the best possible sense, its freshness makes it feel like a recorded practice session and also helps give relatively delicate pieces like “Team Handed” the same amount of impact that heavy, searing tracks like the closer, “We’re No Here,” have. Interestingly, more of Mr. Beast tends toward the former kind of song than the latter; “Friend of the Night,” “Emergency Trap,” and the glorious, slow-burning album opener, “Auto-Rock,” give the album an unusually refined, even elegant feel that is underscored by the prominent use of piano and lap steel in the arrangements. -allmusic.com

This tornado love you/ Neko Case

There are few voices as haunting as Case’s alto, and she flaunts her vocal chops over a number of semi-ballads, from the cinematic “Prison Girls” (a country-noir love letter to someone with “long shadows and gunpowder eyes”) to the sparse title track. She does a surprise duet with chirping birds during “Polar Nettles” — a result of the pastoral recording sessions, which took place in a barn — before tackling a cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” whose title very well may be the album’s mission statement. There’s still room to tackle love from the perspective of different characters — a man in “Vengeance Is Sleeping,” a disbeliever in “The Next Time You Say Forever,” a smitten wind vortex in “This Tornado Loves You” — but nature remains at the forefront of Middle Cyclone, whose 14 songs conclude with a half-hour field recording of noisy crickets and frogs. Moody and engaging throughout, Cyclone is another tour de force from Neko case.-allmusic.com

Postcard from 1952/ Explosions in the sky

Like their home state of Texas, Explosions in the Sky are all about wide-open spaces, preferring to leave the landscape as it is rather than trying to fill every last bit of empty space just for the sake of doing so. It’s this aesthetic that sets the band apart from the busier bands in post-rock and, really, rock in general. More so than some of their earlier albums, Take care, take care, take care can’t be skimmed or rushed, but instead requires the listener to let it unfold on its own terms, giving it time to flower and bloom when it’s ready. While this may not make it the most immediately exciting album of Explosions in the Sky’s career, it easily stands to be one of their most rewarding.-allmusic.com

Ain’t no rest for the wicked/ Cage the Elephant

The more things change in rock, the more they inevitably stay the same — and in the case of Cage the Elephant, that’s a good thing. Actually, it’s a very good thing. Cage the Elephant didn’t exist until 2005, but as this self-titled album demonstrates, their ability to be influenced by alternative rock and classic rock simultaneously is a definite plus. Drawing on influences from different eras, this Kentucky-based band has an appealing sound that combines a strong appreciation of the Rolling Stones with elements of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, hip-hop, and punk. This isn’t full-fledged R&B, but it is certainly funky by rock standards — and that funkiness serves Cage the Elephant well on bluesy, gritty, infectious offerings like “Free Love,” “Back Stabbin’ Betty,” and the single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”- allmusic.com

Gold Guns Girls/ Metric

Metric’s third full-length album, Fantasies, is a glossy, slick, and so-clean-you-could-eat-off-it slice of modern rock that may scare off some of the band’s early fans due to the unrepentant commercial nature of the album. Anyone who isn’t repelled by the band’s professionalism and ambition to sound perfect will find it to be quite enjoyable. That Metric title a song “Stadium Love” gives you a clue to the ambition of the band. There’s nothing small or careful about Fantasies — it’s a full-on bid for pop glory and it’s a smashing success.- allmusic.com