Key Changes: New K-pop

In case you’re not familiar, K-pop is an increasingly popular music industry based in South Korea. It features energetic tracks inspired by styles of music from all around the world, along with tight choreography. K-pop has produced a number of talented bands, including the ones highlighted below. Forming a k-pop group is taken very seriously in South Korea, with aspiring musicians becoming trainees and working hard to be chosen for a group, all while under a great deal of public scrutiny and strict rules for conduct. If this is all new to you, read on to discover your next intercultural music addiction! If you are familiar with this global sensation, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for the below albums, recently added to the library collection. (Side note: k-pop tracks are also highly featured in the Just Dance video games, and make for quite a good workout!)

BTS (or the Bangtan Boys) is a seven-member pop group that first debuted in 2013, really breaking into the global music market in 2017 and quickly becoming one of the most popular Korean groups in the United States. Be is the South Korean boy band’s 5th album in Korean, and their 9th total, including their 4 albums in Japanese. It was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring the band members’ thoughts and feelings during the crisis and the album’s creation. Primarily a pop music sound, the album includes influences from hip-hop, disco, synth-pop, funk, and many others. Lead single on the album is “Life Goes On”, and music critics have praised the album’s authenticity and simplicity. Previous albums available include Love Yourself: Her, Love Yourself: Tear, Love Yourself: Answer, Map of the Soul 7: Journey, and Face Yourself.

Blackpink is a four-member pop group, also based in South Korea, that debuted in 2016 and quickly rose to fame on the international charts, repeatedly setting new records for most-viewed music video within the first 24 hours of release. The Album is the group’s first Korean album (preceded by Blackpink in Your Area, a Japanese album, and their two-track debut album, Square One), their first full-length work, AND the first album by a Korean girl group to sell more than a million copies. The album’s eight tracks include collaborations with Selena Gomez and Cardi B and explore love and the complexities of growing up, highlighting the group’s mature side. Reviews have been mostly positive, complimenting Blackpink’s vocal ability and stylistic variety.

See also: Blackpink: Kpop’s no.1 girl group and BTS: Blood, Sweat, and Tears, two nonfiction works about the groups, as well as some great YA fiction featuring the industry: Shine, Somewhere Only We Know, I’ll Be The One, and K-pop Confidential.

Key Changes: New Classical Music

Some great new classical music has been added to the collection lately! The reigning theme is: fresh takes on tradition. Check out some of the great possibilities below.

Bach Cello Suites vol. 2 (arranged for guitar) by Jeffrey McFadden takes some of the most famous classical cello music ever written and puts a new twist on it – arrangement for guitar. In a new medium, the full harmonic complexity of the composition is on display, making this a worthy addition to the recordings of these pieces. Volume 1 coming soon.

 

The Art of the Mandolin by Avi Avital is definitely not something you see every day – an album comprised entirely of works written for the mandolin! Drawing from famous composers like Vivaldi and Beethoven, as well as contemporary composers including the performer himself, the album celebrates the mandolin in its unique glory.

 

Debussy & Ravel with the London Symphony Orchestra explores mystery, fantasy, and stirring odysseys through the work of two composers: Ravel, who explores his Spanish heritage in the Rapsodie espagnole, and Debussy, who creates mystic, free, and wild worlds in the Prelude de L’apres-midi d’un faune and La mer. Discover the subtleties and nuance of classical compositions.

 

Time by Jess Gillam is the second album by the award-winning saxophonist, following 2019’s Rise. This album strives to emulate and evoke the rising and falling energies over the course of a day, and echoes a wide variety of styles and influences. It promises an immersive sound experience and a time for reflection.

 

Not Our First Goat Rodeo by Stuart Duncan edges into the world of classical crossover, with chamber music melding with country, folk, and blues. This light-hearted ensemble features the cello stylings of Yo-Yo Ma, and promises a boundary-breaking good time. It’s a follow-up to the 2011 album Goat Rodeo Sessions, also available.

 

John Williams in Vienna with the Wiener Philharmonic takes the classic soundtrack music of John Williams, and sets it in the stirring instrumentals of a philharmonic orchestra. Take an emotional and nostalgic journey with this star-studded program! Includes music of Indiana Jones, E.T., Luke Skywalker, and more.

Key Changes: New Music by Enchanting Voices

First things first: everyone has different opinions on which singers have the most beautiful voices. The two singers I’m highlighting today are just two of my personal favorites — I love the rich, velvety tones of their voices and am looking to share the beauty of it with you! Both these singers are probably known to you in some way, because they’re iconic features of vocal music in popular culture. These, their most recent albums, show their chops and add to their already considerable reputations – in popular music circles, anyway. Classical music critics have mixed feelings.

Believe by Andrea Bocelli is the 16th solo album the pop tenor has released (though he’s collaborated on many more!) and it strikes a very timely tone for 2020. It’s a collection of uplifting songs that Bocelli has loved throughout his life. In his announcement, Bocelli said the album is a celebration of the power of music to soothe the soul, and it features duets with opera singer Cecilia Bartoli and award-winning singer Alison Krauss.

Harmony by Josh Groban strikes a similar note: Groban reportedly developed and fleshed-out this album during the isolation of the global pandemic when he was trying to reach a place of light and hope. The resulting album represents a miracle of cooperation as musicians and producers combined their efforts from a distance to create a unified whole. Moreover, the songs themselves are a mix of classic melodies and original songs which express hope for the future.

Key Changes: New Classical Crossovers

I grew up listening to a lot of classical music because of my parents, and only developed a love for pop music later. This has given me a unique perspective on music, and a love for a genre that’s a bit obscure but super fun if you’re a music nerd like me. It’s usually called Classical Crossovers, and it’s what happens when instruments and groups that typically play classical music play… NOT classical music, whether that’s pop music, rock music, soundtracks, etc. How this works depends on the group and the music they’re covering. I like it because the different instrumentation puts a unique twist on a familiar melody. Here are a few examples of this genre, recently ordered for the library.

Disney Goes Classical by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is an album where a symphony orchestra plays beloved Disney songs, from movies like The Lion King, Moana, Frozen, and more. It also features guest artists who are some of the best classical musicians today, including Matteo Bocelli,  Renee Fleming, and more. If you’re looking to relive your childhood or experience the magic of Disney in a different way, check out this album for a classy journey down memory lane.

10 by the Piano Guys probably needs no introduction; The Piano Guys have been an Internet sensation for a long time with their amazing covers of popular songs and mashups with both popular and classical tracks. In this album, they celebrate 10 years of making music with new covers as well as some of their greatest hits. They always adapt the original song to work perfectly with their instruments (piano and cello) and the songs on this album are no exception.

Alive by David Garrett is the newest album from an acclaimed violinist known for his violin covers of rock and popular songs. In this album, he has created a collection of his favorite soundtrack music, which runs the gamut from Disney songs like Beauty and the Beast and Let it Go to dramatic hits like Shallow, all the while staying true to his roots as a classical musician.

Key Changes: New Quirky Music

I love ordering the music CDs for the library – getting the inside scoop on all the new albums coming out is great fun for me. The only thing I like better is sharing the cool new music with other people! Today I’ve got another two albums, recently ordered for the library, which give us a great opportunity to think about how the artist’s work has changed and matured over the course of their career.

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey is another unique installment in already unusual body of work. Her music is hard to classify in my mind, with old Americana glamour (think 1950s and 1960s) fatalistically described in hypnotic, narcotic vocals. I’ve heard it described as a red rose smoking a cigarette. Another word people use is “sadcore”, which describes a moodier, alternative musical style featuring depressive themes, bleak lyrics, and/or downbeat melodies. It’s perfect music for thinking about doomed love or the flaws in the American dream. She has continually evolved over the course of her career: her first album, Born to Die, was a breakout hit, heavy with American nostalgia but influenced by hip-hop and indie pop. A subsequent album, Ultraviolence, was more guitar-based, sounding like psychedelic or desert rock, and was followed by Honeymoon, which had a thick, crooning sound that felt like a time warp, according to one reviewer. Her next album, Lust for Life, was for her fans, and it was followed by her biggest success, Norman Fucking Rockwell, which delved deep into twisted and sordid American fantasies and was called “massive and majestic” by reviewers. In Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, she has created a spoken word album, putting a series of original poems over musical accompaniment. Another studio album is anticipated in early 2021, titled Chemtrails over the Country Club.

Love Goes by Sam Smith is another artist that I’ve always felt stands apart from the crowd. They first rose to fame in 2012 and 2013 performing on other artists’ tracks, before releasing their first studio album In the Lonely Hour in 2014. This album rocketed to the top of the charts and won them 4 Grammy awards. They continued to release individual tracks, including Writing’s On The Wall, a very atmospheric song for a James Bond film in 2015, Promises with Calvin Harris, and Dancing with a Stranger with Normani. In 2017 they released a second studio album, The Thrill of It All, which was also a big success, especially the lead single Too Good At Goodbyes. This third album features another string of wildly successful singles including How Do You Sleep, To Die For, and I’m Ready with Demi Lovato. The beauty of Smith’s music is that it has grown increasingly personal and intimate over the course of their career; In The Lonely Hour had a crooner, R&B sound that was familiar, though extremely catchy, and the lyrics told age-old stories of love and loss reminiscent of music by Adele. With The Thrill of It All and subsequent singles, Smith became more vulnerable, putting more personal truth into their songs and developing a more meditative, unique sound. This album promises to be the most authentic record yet, featuring tracks that already popular as well as new unknown songs. Early reviews are positive, saying that with this album Smith celebrates freedom and self-expression in a way they haven’t before.

Recently Added: Quarantine Music

I think it’s safe to say the last few months have changed a lot of plans. Countless goals and dreams and ways of thinking have been forced to adapt, be revised, or be put to rest. One way, both beautiful and bittersweet, that these changes are expressed is through the art we create. Taylor Swift is a good example of what can be created in these unusual circumstances, but there are several other cases of creative projects altered by pandemic that are worth looking at. All the albums listed have recently been ordered for the library and will be available soon.

how i’m feeling now by Charli XCX is an album that was created in a truly unique way, unlikely to have arisen except in the context of self-isolation. The artist announced (where else?) on a Zoom call  that she would be making an album in self-isolation and that she would use only the tools at her fingertips to create the music, album art, everything.  Moreover, she worked collaboratively with her fans to get feedback on tracks, album art, and more. The result has been highly acclaimed by critics and fans.

In A Dream by Troye Sivan is the artist’s third album, following 2018’s Bloom. According to Sivan, this album represents an emotional rollercoaster, where emotions and feelings are shockingly fresh. Similar to Taylor Swift’s journey with Folklore, this album was made while Sivan was in lockdown in Melbourne, and it was facilitated by the boredom and isolation of the experience. Songs were created day by day and it was an unexpected realization to find that an entire album had materialized.

Here On Earth by Tim McGraw, in contrast to previous examples, was planned and recorded before the pandemic, but was unmistakably altered by it. The tour originally planned to accompany the release had to be canceled, and according to an interview with Rolling Stone, McGraw had to reexamine the record in light of the pandemic to see how its emotional impact had been changed. Some tracks, including I Called Mama, were found to have unexpected emotional weight.

ALICIA by Alicia Keys was also planned ahead of time, but struck a timely chord with its themes. Critics said the album struck a balance between hope and despair, and Keys herself said the album showed the value of introspection – something we’ve all had more time to do lately, right? The album was scheduled for release in March, but was delayed by the pandemic until September. In the meantime, various virtual performances allowed Keys to debut songs from the album ahead of its release, including the iHeart Living Room Concert for America.

Key Changes: New Pop Music

Many times, the story of a musician’s career is a sad or depressing one. The pressures of fame and the struggle to stay relevant often have devastating consequences, especially when taken in conjunction with adolescence and young adulthood, which are difficult in their own right. For that reason, I’m always happy to see artists’ work reflect a more positive or healing trajectory. There are many musicians or groups whose growth I could talk about, but for now, here are two examples drawn from my own favorites.

Taylor Swift’s Folklore came out as a complete surprise to her fans, both because no one knew it was coming, and because the sound of these songs is so different from her recent tracks. Swift is a fascinating artist for me purely because you can never quite predict what she’ll do next. She refuses to be bound by a particular genre, always seeming to fit her sound to the personal story she wants to tell. She started out using country-inspired sounds on early albums such as Taylor Swift and Fearless, switching to a more mainstream pop sound with Red and 1989. In 2017, her album Reputation took a much darker tone, only to make a complete 180 to 2019’s Lover, which was much more bubblepop inspired. Now, she’s changed course again with Folklore, which features more acoustic, indie pop sounds as well as an imaginative, fantasy vibe.

Compared to Taylor Swift, Adam Lambert is less famous, but his growth as an artist, culminating in 2020 album Velvet, is equally compelling. A powerful vocalist, Lambert got his start on American Idol in 2009 and finished as runner-up. His first album, released later that same year, was titled For Your Entertainment and leaned heavily into a glam rocker vibe, flashy and energetic. In contrast, his next album, Trespassing, struck a much more muted, darker vibe, with less glam and more edge. The movement into darkness continued with The Original High, which featured many tracks with an emptiness theme – Ghost Town, Another Lonely Night, etc. As a fan, I was concerned that this indicated the stereotypical downward spiral of the rock star. However, around that same time, Lambert started touring with iconic album Queen, lending his showstopper voice to the band’s famous repertoire. This move was a big success, and the start of a new chapter for Adam Lambert as an artist. In 2019, he started releasing tracks from a new album, Velvet. In these tracks, the tone is much more hopeful, empowered, and renewed, with tracks like Superpower and New Eyes.

I could go on and on about how interesting it is to compare musicians’ most recent work with how they got their start – and honestly I might, stay tuned – but for now, my main takeaway from these albums is the feeling of hope and imagination. It tells me that things can get better, that we continue to grow and change through difficult times.

Let Us Entertain You

Have some spare time on your hands?  Looking for new diversions?  Look no further than your local library!

We are pleased to announce the addition of two RBdigital entertainment products to our fleet of online resources, IndieFlix and Qello Concerts.

IndieFlix provides access to over 7,000 high-quality shorts, features, documentaries, classic TV shows and Web series from 85 countries.  It includes independent films from major festivals all over the world, including Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, and more.

Qello Concerts allows music lovers to view full-length performances, concert films, and music documentaries.  For example, shows by Queen, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Lady Gaga, Metallica, Eric Clapton, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Bob Marley, Mumford & Sons, etc.

To get started with either product you first create an RBdigital account.  Enter your Davenport library card number, then fill out a form to provide your library, name, email, and create a password.  It’s that simple.

Your account provides you a 7-day license to stream unlimited content.  The next week, login again to check out another license.

Fair warning:  These products are addicting!

Closer Than Together by the Avett Brothers

guest post by Laura V

The Avett Brothers have always had energetic folk rock infused with some banjos and, occasionally, progressive themes. Closer Than Together, released in October 2019, surprised me with some very political songs intermixed with some new sounds as well as the old familiar Avett sound on other songs. It took a few listens to wrap my head around this album.

Here are the tracks:

  1. “Bleeding White”
  2. “Tell the Truth”
  3. “We Americans”
  4. “Long Story Short”
  5. “C Sections and Railway Trestles”
  6. “High Steppin’”
  7. “When You Learn”
  8. “Bang Bang”
  9. “Better Here”
  10. “New Woman’s World”
  11. “Who Will I Hold”
  12. “Locked Up”
  13. “It’s Raining Today”

My first impression was of the musical group The Black Keys to be honest when I heard Bleeding White. After listening a second time I could hear the Avett brand shine through so this song is a keeper on my playlist. I could dig a whole album of this edgier sound. Tell the Truth is more in line with a typical ballad from previous albums but it feels interrupted by the monologue in the middle.

We Americans is more like an essay than a song. It vaguely reminds me of a long political poem I wrote some 20 years ago. I’m not sure I like this one even though I agree 100% with the sentiments. It’s difficult to condense the immense complexity behind the problems in our country into catchy phrases and choruses so it doesn’t. In their mission statement for this album, they say, “We didn’t make a record that was meant to comment on the sociopolitical landscape that we live in. We did, however, make an album that is obviously informed by what is happening now on a grander scale all around us…because we are a part of it and it is a part of us.”

Long Story Short makes use of the literary device of multiple narrators. It’s a glimpse at the inner lives of several people loosely connected and works really well. C Sections and Railway Trestles is a jaunty tune celebrating recent parenthood. High Steppin’ is the icing on the 10th studio album cake that is Closer than Together. It is pure foot-stompin’ Avettness. (Go watch the video on YouTube, I’ll wait.) It is also split in half by a monologue but it sounds right in this song, not jarring.

When You Learn is more reminiscent of typical earlier Avett songs sure to please long-term fans. Bang Bang is a song that probably won’t go over well with the Avett’s gun-toting neighbors. Awkward. I, myself, have had similar musings about our culture’s predilection for violent movies and intense love of guns. I take the opposite opinion of theirs, however, I think people’s desire for violent books and movies is the reason they’re written, not media inciting violence.

Applause for the Late Mac Miller’s Heart-Felt Swimming

Sonically and lyrically, “Come Back To Earth,” perfectly establishes the feel of Swimming and encapsulates all the thematic elements of the album: breakups, vulnerability, addiction,  despair, hope, and painful self-awareness. People connect with Mac Miller because he wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He perfectly sums up what depression feels like when he wrote:  “And don’t you know that sunshine don’t feel right / When you inside all day / I wish it was nice out, but it looked like rain /Grey skies and I’m drifting, not living forever /They told me it only gets better.”

Now, the lyrics “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head” are just haunting.

It wasn’t until after Mac Miller died  from a powerful combination of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol that I heard his most recent album, Swimming, and immediately started listening to his other work, Best Day Ever, and The Divine Feminine, among others.  Like the inimitable artists who preceded him in death – Prince and Tom Petty, most recently – Miller’s reputation as a real-deal artist is not diminished due to his struggle with addiction. In a short lifespan, he managed to eat, breath, and sleep his craft, so much so that he was always writing, creating, performing, and improving. Just 26 years old after dropping his self-produced August 2018 album, Miller made an inspired appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, mere months before his body was found.  His NPR performance immediately struck me as genuine as he bantered with his band and addressed the audience in between songs.  Plus,  Thundercat’s willingness to back you up is evidence of your awesomeness . But moreso: Mac Miller makes me feel  something, and simple though that criteria may appear, it’s an indicator for great artistry. Even though he suffered, he nobly shared his vulnerability, sadness, and hope through his music.

The late Mac Miller

Initially, the song “2009” was one of my fast favorites on the album, probably because of the self-reflective quality that the song conveys, both lyrically and instrumentally. The narrator appears to have looked back on his life having realized some hard-won truths but is ready to embrace a hopeful future. My favorite lyric is when he refers a conversation the narrator had with a woman and he cleverly characterizes her as an angel: “She tell me that I get her high ’cause a angel’s s’posed to fly”. The track has a dreamy wisdom about it that comes through the stripped-down instrumentation. Much of Miller’s music simply makes me feel good. 

Track number three, “What’s the Use” is a funky, laid back, feel-good groove featuring Snoop and that signature Thundercat bassline and  that hits in all the right places and might be my favorite tune on the album because, hello, FIVE STRING BASS in the house

Then you have the trumpet-heavy funk and disco dance tune, “Ladders”, that seems to encapsulate the hope and despair Mac embodied in his music. Such a big, bright song evokes a wild night living large in the city but against the backdrop of a sad truth looming in the near future: that the sun would rise and the fun would be over.  “Somehow we gotta find a way / No matter how many miles it takes / I know it feels so good right now / But it all comes fallin’ down / When the night meet the light /Turn to day.  Where was it Mac wanted to go? Check out his live performance of ladders and the all-star 11-piece band on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Melodically and rhythmically, “Self-Care”(co-written by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange)  is easily one of my favorite tunes on the album (but I’m hard-pressed to find a bad song on the album). Eerily, the music video portrays Miller lying in a coffin and nearly buried alive as he sings: “Somebody save me from myself, yeah /Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere / Self care, we gonna be good /Hell yeah, they lettin’ me go”. Given the trendiness of the concept of “self care” in a society marked by millenial backlash against the backdrop of growing social isolation in spite of vast widespread advancements in technology, Miller wanted to take better care of himself: he was envisioning a better life, but the question would be:  how am I gonna get there?

A review in Pitchfork states so eloquently that the feeling  of a work of art is indeed as valuable as the other more technical components of song crafting:  “As always, Miller remains a step behind the prestige artists he emulates—Chance the Rapper, Anderson.Paak, and, increasingly,Frank Ocean, whose nonchalant songcraft looms large here. Swimming is less virtuosic than those artists’ recent works, but no less heartfelt, and the album’s wistful soul and warm funk fits Miller like his oldest, coziest hoodie. He may be unable to escape his own head, as he laments on the opener “Come Back to Earth,” but he’s decided to make himself as comfortable as possible while he’s trapped there.”

Co-written by Pharell Williams (does he collaborate with everyone?) , “Hurt Feelings” (awesomely described in this article as “weirdly cocksure”)  is another super-catchy tune on the album with a beat that’s perfect for head bobbing, and oddly enough, one of the tunes I crank in the morning to psych myself up for work or life.

Check out “Swimming”  for honest, heart-felt poetry from a young soul who lived the life he rapped about only to die far too young, long before he had a chance to love himself back to life.