Back to School Playlist

September 17, 2012

It’s always easier to do your homework while listening to some tunes, right? Here are a few suggestions….

Campus/ Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend started generating buzz in 2006 — not long after they formed — but their self-titled debut album didn’t arrive until early 2008. Vampire Weekend also has just a handful of songs that haven’t been floating around the ‘Net, which may disappoint the kind of people who like to post “First!” on message boards. This doesn’t make those songs any less charming, however — in fact, the band has spent the last year and a half making them even more charming, perfecting the culture collision of indie-, chamber-, and Afro-pop they call “Upper West Side Soweto” by making that unique hybrid of sounds feel completely effortless. “Campus” is another standout, with lines like “I see you walking across the campus…how am I supposed to pretend I never want to see you again?” throwing listeners into college life no matter what their age.- All Music Guide

Rock ‘N Roll High School/ Ramones

Considering that the Ramones did desire mainstream success and that they had a deep love for early-’60s pop/rock, it’s not surprising that they decided to shake loose the constrictions of their style by making an unabashed pop album, yet it was odd that Phil Spector produced End of the Century, because his painstaking working methods seemingly clashed with the Ramones’ instinctual approach. However, the Ramones were always more clever than they appeared, so the matching actually worked better than it could have. Spector’s detailed production helped bring “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” and “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” to life, yet it also kept some of the punkier numbers in check. Even so, End of the Century is more enjoyable than its predecessor, since the record has stronger material, and in retrospect, it’s one of their better records of the ’80s.

We’re going to be friends/ White Stripes

The White Stripes turn down the volume, allowing a brief respite from the stomping roots rock that dominates much of the duo’s outstanding third album, White Blood Cells, with the sweet acoustic ballad “We’re Going to Be Friends.” Armed only with an acoustic guitar, picking out a lilting chord progression and accompanied only by a soft time-keeping tape, Jack White takes a nostalgic look back at the innocence of school days with a surprisingly sensitive vocal as he expertly paints impressions of days past with deft economy, “Fall is here, hear the yell/Back to school, ring the bell/Brand new shoes, walking blues/Climb the fence, books and pens/I can tell we’re gonna be friends.” White beautifully captures the gentle excitement of making a new friend and of sharing the simple joys of discovery that are the essence of growing and ultimately become memories that make a lasting impression. The last verse expresses the feeling perfectly, as he softly quips, “Tonight I’ll dream while I’m in bed/When silly thoughts go through my head/About the bugs and alphabet/And when I wake tomorrow I’ll bet/That you and I will walk together again/’Cause I can tell we are gonna to be friends/Yeah, I can tell we’re are gonna be friends.”-All Music Guide

Kids/ Childish Gambino

In the time before this wonderful album named Camp existed, the “actors who rap” proposition would have been all red flags. Brian Austin Green, Mr. T., Joaquin Phoenix, and many others are on the “cons” list, while the “pros” would have been Drake (barely counts, unless Degrassi: The Next Generation was your thing) and maybe AVN award-winner Dirt Nasty. These were the horrible odds Community star and comedy writer Donald Glover was up against when he took the Internet’s Wu-Tang Name Generator to heart and became rapper Childish Gambino, but anyone who right-clicked on one of his 2010/2011 mixtapes can tell you, he beat those odds, and with Camp, indie rap fans won the Lotto.- All Music Guide

We rule the school/ Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian’s first album, Tigermilk, was initially pressed in a quantity of 1,000 on their own label, Electric Honey Recordings. The record was intended to be the end result of Stuart Murdoch’s music business school course, but it became an unexpected word-of-mouth sensation in England, and the LP quickly disappeared from shops. As a result, once the group’s second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, became a hit, there were no copies of Tigermilk available for newly converted fans and it remained unheard by the majority of the group’s audience. Those who have heard it say it is quite similar stylistically to If You’re Feeling Sinister and the songs match that record’s high standard. Tigermilk was re-released in 1999 to the delight of the often cultish fans of Belle & Sebastian.

I love college/ Asher Roth

Sold as hip-hop’s Great White Dope, rapper Asher Roth (“The King of the Blumpkin”) came on the scene with the great “I Love College,” an infectious slacker anthem as simple as “I love college, I love drinkin’, I love women” and with a “Chug! Chug! Chug!” chant in the middle. A hilarious 18-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood’s radio show made him all the more lovable, but Asleep in the Bread Isle is an everyday suburban rap album, if there is such a thing. The promising “Fallin'” pulls the rudder up at the last moment, making one believe the rapper could have made a knockout debut if the meteoric rise of “I Love College” hadn’t hurried things along. -All Music Guide

Alphabet Lost and Found/ They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants have always had a flair for educational songs. More than a decade after its release, the refrain of “Why Does the Sun Shine” (“The sun is a mass of incandescent gas/A gigantic nuclear furnace”) still has a pesky way of lodging itself in the brain. And, as the band’s wonderful first children’s album, No!, demonstrated, They Might Be Giants’ music speaks to kids in a way that few other bands’ work can; they never sound like they’re talking (or singing) down to their smaller fans. Here Come the ABCs makes the most of the band’s ability to teach and reach children, and more than delivers on its promise to “learn ABCs the fun way!” This is still a They Might Be Giants album, though, and the band’s catchy melodies and smart wordplay haven’t been dumbed down. “Flying V,” with its charming, Vince Guaraldi-like pianos and images of migrating geese and electric guitars, is another of John Linnell’s seemingly effortless but brilliant songs, and “C Is for Conifers” offers an extra-credit lesson in botany as well as the alphabet.-All Music Guide

Be true to your school/ Beach Boys

The Beach Boys had two minor single hits — “California Dreamin'” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll To The Rescue” — back on Capitol Records in 1986, and to mark their 25th anniversary, the label assembled this two-record set, adding the new songs to yet another selection of old songs.-All Music Guide

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Rap Playlist

June 15, 2012

Here are some songs from rap artists that the library has acquired recently.

Talking to Myself/ Chiddy Bang

Electro-loving, hip-hop crew Chiddy Bang are skipping the intro and celebrating success, busting out clever, almost-Outkast party numbers like “Ray Charles” or bleeping chip-tunes style on the very Atari “Baby Roulette.” These playful diversions seem like second album stuff, plus “Mind Your Manners” isn’t that “Opposite of Adults”-type calling card single that made their 2010 Preview EP so necessary, but the second-line tunes and deep tracks have grown in strength with the wistful soul-searcher “Talking to Myself” becoming a surprise key highlight. – All Music Guide

Black Crowns/ Tyga

Cool ruler Tygasurprises with the slow and royal “Black Crowns,” a majestically soaring number that lasts over five minutes, one of which is given to a heartfelt answering machine message from mom. Growth since his previous effort is obvious, both for the good (writing skills) and an arguable definition of bad (Penthouse Forum might even balk at some of the aggressive sex talk here), meaning Careless World is a case of happening label meeting able artist, so just let the expensive tape roll and leave it to the audience to sort out. In this case, it’s well worth it.- All Music Guide

Drown/ Ja Rule

“Drown” feels like misplaced sober talk, even with great lines like “Please help me/I tested positive for being a sh*t.” Strange to gravitate toward the party and crossover numbers on an album that aims to be honest over all else, but with a little effort from the listener, PIL2can be rearranged into something much more sensible, maximizing the impact of the dark numbers. Of course, anyone who’s had a regretful relative, friend, or associate hauled away by the cops knows that unfinished feeling, and that PIL2  is much more than Ja Rule rushing to state his case before the doors slam is way above admirable.- All Music Guide

Tom Edison/ Diggy

“Tom Edison” presents the thrilling, not chilling, sound of a riot going on in advanced science class, and if “The Reign” is the usual starry-eyed, half-tempo closer these teen-aimed, pop-rap albums offer, Diggy’s hard push to make it sound distinctive is more attractive than your crinkled nose and jaded opinion. Kid-tested and parent-approved, this well-done debut makes hating on Diggy as ridiculous as it sounds.-All Music Guide

Roman Holiday/ Nicki Minaj

Vaudeville-hop opener “Roman Holiday” where the rapper/singer adds performance artist to the list by doing a British constable impression over knotty electro. A handful of equally inspired numbers that come from this angle of gangsta-girl-in- a-post-wonky-pop-world add to the excitement, and with RedOne and a batch of other innovative producers providing a kaleidoscope of beats, the first half of the album is an amusement park for production lovers. – All Music Guide

5 Star/ Yo Gotti

Gotti’s membership in the gangster elite is validated as Rick Ross shows up on the grinding “Harder,” and when “Cases” delivers the back-in-court blues with a slowed-down 2 Unlimited sample, this recently crowned Don proves he’s clever enough to deserve it. Tack his two-year-old single “5 Star” to the end in its remix version and the album is scatter-shot to its last breath, but the thrill of watching this hood star threaten to supernova is a real high, one that comes with no life-ruining side effects or any chance of Sosa’s men storming your mansion.- All Music Guide

Going No Where/ Obie Trice

Be it busting the Gucci heads for their lightweight threads (“Petty”) or declaring his comeback over an Eminem beat (“Going No Where”), rapper Obie Trice never falters on Bottoms Up, his first release since leaving Em’s major-label imprint, Shady. If it weren’t for all the respectful “thanks to my Shady family” talk during the Dr. Dre-produced intro, you’d never know he was off the label, as this long-delayed effort retains the polish and punch of a major-label release, and with Eminem also offering a verse on the great stuttering and stopping reggae-hop track “Richard,” it’s like 2003 all over again.- All Music Guide

Fire Fly/ Childish Gambino

Nerdy wonders and insightful laughs are the reasons you want to visit Camp Gambino, but you’ll stay for the lush, surprisingly large production from Donald Glover and Ludwig Göransson, along with the thrill of untangling it all for hours on end, separating the incredibly cool moments from the touching ones and figuring out how this “actor who raps” packaged it all sensibly in a concept album about summer camp that doubles as his showcase debut. Try it and be stunned or submit to it and be satiated; Camp is like the Drake, Cudi,and Kweli camps all offered their best, but it’s really just Gloverand his overwhelming bundle of talent, taking indie hip-hop to new levels after spending the day working alongside Chevy Chase. Remarkable. – All Music Guide

Gold/ Common

The best moments are bathed in a warm radiance that fosters a comforting, uplifting mood — intensified by hooks from James Fauntleroy II and samples of the Impressions, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Graham Central Station, and gospel Kenny Loggins — that recalls 2005’s Be. “Gold” is particularly vivid, where he crams a post-birth visit from “three wise men,” trips to France and Sybaris (rhymed with syphilis), and references to Hot Tub Time Machine and “Stan.” However, the content isn’t exclusively cerebral, uplifting, and/or surreal. – All Music Guide

Say It With Me/ Chris Brown

By the time F.A.M.E. was released in March 2011, the album’s variety of styles was already known. A total of five songs, including the slinking pop-R&B of “Deuces,” had hit various singles charts. On the earnest ballad “Up to You,” the Michael Jackson/SWV- sampling “She Ain’t You,” and the remorseful “All Back” (written and produced by Timothy Brown, one to watch), Brown plays to his strength as a boyish, romantic pop-R&B singer, while “Say It with Me” shows that he can handle harder grooves that are more R&B than pop. This all makes F.A.M.E. the equal of Forever, if not slightly better, and it hints that Brown’sbest is yet to come. – All Music Guide