Love Your Library During a Reading Slump

If you just can’t read a book right now, don’t feel bad! You’re not a worse person because you can’t get yourself to read anything more than a cereal box or social media post. Whether you’re busy with schoolwork, family obligations, or just plain burnt out, you can still love and support your library and be part of our bookish lifestyle without picking up a single book.

Tip #1: Do something cool! Try the TechKnow library (featuring a digital camera, a mobile scanner, Snapchat spectacles, and MUCH more), our collection of board games (from Scrabble to Super Mario Checkers), or a community experience pass to a local museum like the Figge.

Tip #2: Go multimedia! Save some serious money by checking out a new movie (like Till or the new season of You), music CD (maybe Charlie Puth’s latest?), or video game (including PS5 games like Dying Light 2) so you can try before you buy.

Tip #3: Read without reading! Skim a heartwarming graphic novel like Moonstruck, or listen to a book on playaway or CD (pro tip: pick a short one like The Poet X, a 3.5 hour listen) for a quick lit fix. (Disclaimer: these are definitely real books and count as real reading, but since they may be easier than traditional print, I’m including them.)

Tip #4: Just show up! Come exist in our spaces – read magazines and enjoy the view at Eastern, warm up at Fairmount’s fireplace, or schedule a Makerspace tour at Main.

Tip #5: Be social with it! Engage on social media from home — repost our news and events, browse databases and digital resources, and check out challenges in the Beanstack website or app.

However you engage with the library, we appreciate you and we want to hear from you! What’s your favorite way to ride out a reading slump – or your favorite way to love the library?

25+ Years of Tegan and Sara

Like most aging people I’m starting to realize just how long my favorite artists have been around. For example the iconic band Tegan and Sara have been making music since 1995, recording on cassette tapes. If you don’t know them, Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been vitally important to building a more mainstream LGBTQ music scene. Their music has the earworm elements of pop music and an unapologetically sapphic core – and recently they’ve grown more reflective about their public image.

Their early music, starting in about 2002, quickly gained popularity in Canada and with teen listeners, featuring albums The Con and Sainthood. Both albums were generally acclaimed as their sound both matured and experimented. It was the seventh album that was perhaps the most successful, and the one I know best: Heartthrob in 2013, followed by Love You to Death in 2016. This is where their indie pop sound really hit its stride with songs like Boyfriend and Closer, featuring danceable beats mixed with melancholy feelings. Incidentally this is also where I heard I’m Not Your Hero, whose hook will forever live in my head rent-free: “I’m not their hero / but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave”.

This is a band that doesn’t forget its past: in 2017 their big tour and promotion was celebrating 10 years since the release of The Con (including the creation of an album of other artists’ versions called The Con X: Covers) and in 2019 they released Hey I’m Just Like You, which shares recordings of songs they initially wrote as teenagers. The influence of rock and punk bands like Nirvana, Hole, or the Smashing Pumpkins is more apparent here, and the album as a whole reads more pop-punk than their more recent compositions. In the same spirit they made an all-acoustic version of their 2004 album, So Jealous, which was released as Still Jealous in February.

But the big news of recent years was the release of High School, a memoir about their experiences coming-of-age, which was adapted into a TV series on Amazon Freevee. Viewers are offered a glimpse into a teenager’s life in the early 2000s including the pains of exploring your sexuality and deciding who you want to be. This is definitely a band for you if you’re someone into memoir, legacy, and writing your own history. They’re also politically engaged, passionate activists for causes including cancer research and LGBTQ rights.

This year they released the all-new Crybaby with a new record label. Written during the pandemic, this is the album that nearly wasn’t: originally they were recording standalone singles I Can’t Grow Up and All I Wanted, but were inspired to spin the two into a whole album — luckily for all of us that need more T&S in our lives.

If you like indie music, are a longtime fan, or want exposure to more LGBTQ music artists, definitely listen to some Tegan and Sara today.

Now on Freegal: 2023 Grammy Nominees

The Grammy nominations are here and you can experience the contenders today on Freegal with your library card! The full list of nominees was posted on grammy.com November 15, with the 65th annual Grammy Awards scheduled to air February 5. This year new categories have been added: Songwriter of the Year, Best Video Game Soundtrack, Best Alternative Music Performance, Best Americana Performance, Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, and a special merit award for Best Song for Social Change.

Here’s a peek at the playlist on our digital music streaming platform, Freegal, with some artists you’ll probably recognize:

Unfortunately not everything is included as Freegal is a limited catalog, but if you (like me) haven’t managed to hear songs from Beyonce’s Renaissance, DJ Khaled’s God Did, or songs from Camila Cabello’s Familia, the 2023 Grammy Nominees playlist is a great place to start. The list includes all musical genres and offers a great snapshot of what’s hot in music today.

Luckily for you, if you’re looking to hear songs not included on this playlist, you can find most of them in our music CD collection, including Lizzo’s Special (About Damn Time is one of the nominees for Record of the Year), ABBA’s Voyage, Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous, Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days, and more.

Was your favorite artist or song included in this year’s Grammy’s? Let us know below!

Requiem for the Enslaved by Carlos Simon Jr.

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the hope and dream of a slave.” – Maya Angelou

I’m always on the hunt for unique and diverse additions to our music CD collection, especially for less mainstream genres of music. Recently I had the privelege to order Requiem for the Enslaved for our classical music section. Here’s how the creators describe it:

American composer Carlos Simon presents a multi-genre work, Requiem for the Enslaved. This work is a musical tribute to commemorate the stories of 272 enslaved men, women and children sold in 1838 by Georgetown University. Described as a “rap opera,” Carlos infuses his original compositions with African American spirituals and familiar Catholic liturgical melodies. Requiem for the Enslaved explores the sacred and historical, and honors the lives of those bought and sold.

Carlos Simon says: “Since being hired as an Assistant Professor, I have grown to love the Georgetown University community and culture. In learning of the university’s involvement in slavery, I am deeply grateful for the collective efforts taken to understand and attempt to reconcile its tainted past. Now as a member of the Georgetown University community, I wish to join in the journey of expanding the discussion.”

For similar items like this, try Dreams of a new day : songs by black composers with Will Liverman OR Songs of our native daughters with Rhiannon Giddens.

The Women of Def Jam

I love ordering music, partly because of how much I learn from it! For example, I was fascinated by The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap and its pretty comprehensive look at the growth and development of the genre. In a similar vein, recently I was able to order The Women of Def Jam, which “features the female artists that dominated hip-hop and R&B from the ’90s to the present day” (from publisher).

If, like me, you’ve only got a vague sense of what Def Jam is, here’s the breakdown I found from The Guardian’s “25 Years of Def Jam” piece back in 2011: “From humble beginnings in student digs, the record label Def Jam is credited with bringing New York’s street culture and music to the masses – and even helping to elect a president… Although not the only label to export the music and culture of inner-city America to the world, Def Jam is the most significant, artistically and commercially. Key signings have altered the art form, among them LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and Kanye West.” There’s a lot more to Def Jam now than hip-hop and rap, but it retains its reputation as helping to promote the cutting edge of the genre, especially at critical points in recent history.

The Women of Def Jam focuses on a specific part of that legacy which is not as evident in the stories told about Def Jam’s origins: what it owes to women. The album announcement in Variety explains that this album was put together for Women’s History Month, not least because “over half of the Def Jam staff are women, including seven women of color in senior executive positions. Two of the three executive leaders are women. Of ten department heads, eight are women” (Tunji Balogun, CEO). It’s an encouraging sign as in some genres of music, including arguably hip-hop and country music, women have had to fight against cultural conceptions of what their role ought to be to find success.

This album celebrates how far we’ve come in that journey by paying homage to the greats. Even for someone like me for whom hip-hop and R&B are not my top genres, this album is star-studded; both household names and lesser-known gems are represented for a voyage of nostalgia, discovery, or both. Explore this blast from the past today!

Key Changes: Machine Gun Kelly and Mainstream Sellout

As someone who’s had the song Emo Girl (featuring Willow Smith) stuck in their head on and off for weeks, I think this is a perfect time to explore controversial artist Machine Gun Kelly’s professional journey from hip-hop and rap to pop-punk and mainstream success, culminating in 2022’s appropriately-named album Mainstream Sellout.

He rose to fame with a series of rap and hip-hop mixtapes (generally acclaimed) before releasing studio albums, starting with Lace Up in 2012, General Admission in 2015, and Bloom in 2017. Notable features included rapid-fire flow and pride in an unattractive underdog image. Then in 2020 he made a dramatic shift from rap to pop/punk with the release of Tickets to My Downfall – a shocking, impressive, and fluid album still with rap-inspired elements.

Why did he make the move? Without knowing details, it reminds me of Lady Gaga’s professional journey (which is a blog post in itself) in which she made mostly loud statement pieces until she’d captured public attention and then, fame established, moved to a more stripped-down mainstream sound in albums like Joanne. (Lady Gaga, of course, has now moved back to her outlandish roots with the flashier album Chromatica, but I digress.) Sometimes musicians want to try something different and explore their other interests, but don’t have the freedom to do so until they’ve reached a certain level of success.

Whatever the reason he seems satisfied with his new career track, since he continued with pop/punk in 2022’s album, Mainstream Sellout. The reviews have been mixed, but the album has had big commercial success debuting high on the Billboard 200 charts. Emo Girl ft. Willow is particularly good track (though I may be biased in saying that) — it’s a good example of the overall pop punk revival going on in the 2020s, partly because it’s extremely self-aware of how it’s referencing a scene more than participating in it. Rolling Stone called it “gleefully derivative” and on the whole the feeling is of playing a part and having a ton of fun with it.  Willow Smith’s vocals shine, her gen Z energy a good balance to Kelly’s so-called “buzzsaw bubblegum”.

For myself, I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I enjoy Machine Gun Kelly better in pop-punk, which is one of my favorite genres. I know I may be in the minority; what are your thoughts on Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, or the pop-punk revival? Let us know in the comments!

The Latest from Pop Punk Princess Avril Lavigne

Love Sux is Avril Lavigne’s latest album, and if you grew up like I did yelling along with her angsty bops, this is the perfect album for you.

Her first album was smash hit Let Go, containing tracks like Sk8er Boi and Complicated which rocketed her to fame. Next was Under My Skin, a darker grunge-inspired album whose most lasting track was My Happy Ending. The Best Damn Thing was album number three, and had several good tracks including Hot, Keep Holding On, and the yearning When You’re Gone, but most notable was Girlfriend, possibly her most popular song to date. Number four was Goodbye Lullaby, which has some of my personal favorite songs on it, including What The Hell and Smile. After that came self-titled album Avril Lavigne which is bursting with catchy tracks like Sippin’ On Sunshine and Here’s To Never Growing Up, alongside the controversial j-pop inspired Hello Kitty and the ballad Let Me Go with then-husband Chad Kroeger. After her battle with lyme disease she released Head Above Water in 2019, a bit of a departure in style as she processed the pain of her experiences; the main song with her signature rebelliousness is Dumb Blonde with Nicki Minaj, while the rest are slower, ballad-style tracks about helplessness and struggle to break free.

Love Sux is a return to form, with energetic rock-style tracks expressing defiance at every stage of relationships. The energy starts strong with Cannonball and doesn’t let up through a duet with Machine Gun Kelly, two dysfunctional love songs, and the eponymous Love Sux. Things might mellow a little by the end, but the whole effect is vintage Avril – which only fuels the Internet’s speculation that she doesn’t age (or ages very well). I’m always impressed at the way her music naturally matures as she does, while keeping her signature style; Let Go‘s “let’s crash the mall” skater vibe was definitely a teenager’s point of view, but Love Sux listens well from an adult perspective, even though it still probably has youth appeal.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Avril Lavigne or just like rock music with punk vibes and pop appeal, you’ll probably enjoy Love Sux.

Super Monster by Claud

Support a non-binary artist and discover some catchy new music on Super Monster by Claud.  How to describe their style? Well, here’s what they say on their website: “claud mintz (they/them) makes the kind of pop that goes well with a late night snack.”

If that doesn’t clear it up for you, here’s my take: this is a pop sound similar to twin icons Tegan and Sara, and the California band Muna, but also with shades of Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. With simple hooks and honest lyrics, Claud combines soft, musing ballads with more fast-paced, playful tracks for a mix that is overall optimistic, affectionate, vulnerable, and proudly queer. Listeners will be drawn in by bright, quirky album art and intriguing song titles including “Cuff Your Jeans” and “That’s Mr. Bitch to You”.

Incidentally, “That’s Mr. Bitch To You” is probably my favorite track for its light-hearted energy in response to hate (definitely my new personal anthem) – but most tracks are relaxing and enjoyable to listen to. I also recommend “Overnight” and “Falling with the Rain” for more romantic vibes, and “Ana” for a lost-love story.  Most tracks will leave you humming for the rest of the day, and the lack of cynicism will keep you coming back for more.

In Defense of My Own Happiness by Joy Oladokun

Raw emotions and deep insights are combined with catchy, hopeful melodies to make truly captivating music in Joy Oladakun’s (oh-LA-da-koon) most recent album, In Defense of My Own Happiness.

24 unique tracks are packed into the album, each with its own viewpoint delving into love, society, struggle, beauty, or some combination thereof. What all the songs have in common is Oladakun’s signature singer-songwriter style. She’s described on her website as “a new kind of american troubadour” and her music reflects that – while your toes are tapping, head bobbing along to the beat, your mind and heart are absorbing deeply intentional lyrics. Particularly powerful is the specific perspective she brings on the world.

“i feel like it’s not an accident i’m a queer black woman writing and making music,” says the Nigerian-American singer. Her singles criticizing religion and systemic racism, among other topics, have been widely acclaimed. However, as the album’s title suggests, the music at its core is about hope and happiness wherever and however it can be found. “when you listen to me, i want you to feel like you’ve taken an emotional shower. that’s what i’m trying to accomplish for myself. to me, music is a vehicle of catharsis. i write a lot of sad songs, but i always push for a sliver of a silver lining or glimmer of hope it could be better. that’s why i’m writing in the first place. i want you to be changed when you hear me, and not because i’m special, but because i make music with the intention to change myself.”

I was surprised, touched, and fascinated by this album; I kept expecting to find a track that didn’t hook me, something that I didn’t like, that I’d skip past, but I never did. Every song was gentle on the ear but persistently catchy, with lyrics that kept you waiting to hear what came next. There was nothing superficial or frivolous going on, and everything felt like an authentic, intentional celebration of life – the good and the bad. Whether you’re into the singer-songwriter style of folk music or not, I definitely recommend you give a listen to this powerhouse album.

Lojo Russo: Discover Local Music!

Lojo Russo recently, generously, donated copies of her most recent CD Fresh Oil – Loose Gravel to the library for circulation! If you’re not familiar, Russo is a local musician who has lived in California and Minnesota, but currently calls the Quad Cities home. She’s influenced by folk, funk, jazz, jam, Irish and indie music, creating a unique folk rock sound. Learn more about her here.

Here are some other QC musicians whose CDs are in our collection:

The Candymakers

Centaur NoirLet’s Start A War

Three Years Hollow Ascension

Meth and GoatsLeisure Time

Lewis KnudsenJoy, Pain, Love, Songs

Broken Social SceneHug of Thunder

MetrolitesIn Spy-Fi

Pro Tip: you can also search the term “local music” in our online catalog to get a list of all the local musicians’ CDs available at all the Rivershare libraries. Don’t forget to use the filters along the left side of the results page – if you check the box for “Music CD” you’ll narrow your results down to just the music.

Can’t play CDs? Then make sure to check out QC Beats, our online streaming audio collection including the original music of Quad Cities musicians and artists. If you’re a musician, submissions are open once a year to add  your music to the collection, so please share!