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.

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.

Sewing Happiness by Sanae Ishida

sewing happinessTwenty simple sewing projects are tied together with a thread of memoir that tells the story of how sewing brought Sanae Ishida profound happiness. Each seasonal project, specially designed to promote health, creativity, relationships and more, provides gentle inspiration to live your best life.

When Ishida was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lost her corporate job, she thought her life was over. But these challenges ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her because they forced her to take stock of her life and focus on the important things, and enabled her to rediscover sewing – her true passion.

Inspired to succeed at just one thing, Ishida vowed to sew all of her daughter’s clothes (and most of her own) for one year. Sewing Happiness includes 20 projects plus variations (including Japanese-inspired home goods and children’s and women’s clothing) organized by season, and stitched together with Ishida’s charming personal story. (description from publisher)

The Truth About Style by Stacy London

The hilarious, beloved cohost of TLC’s What Not to Wear examines the universal obstacles all women–including herself–put in their way With her unique talent for seeing past disastrous wardrobes to the core emotional issues that caused these sartorial crises, style savant Stacy London has transformed not only the looks but also the lives of hundreds of guests who have appeared on What Not to Wear. Now for the first time in print, London turns that expert X-ray insight on herself.

Like the women she’s transformed, London has plenty of emotional baggage. At eleven, she suffered from severe psoriasis that left her with permanent physical and mental scars. During college, she became anorexic on a misguided quest for perfection. By the time she joined the staff at Vogue , London’s weight had doubled from binge eating. Although self-esteem and self-consciousness nearly sabotaged a promising career, London learned the hard way that we wear our insecurities every day. It wasn’t until she found the self-confidence to develop a strong personal style that she finally became comfortable in her skin.

In The Truth About Style , London shares her own often painful history and her philosophy of the healing power of personal style–illustrating it with a series of detailed ‘start-overs’ with eight real women, demonstrating how personal style helps them overcome the emotional obstacles we all face. For anyone who has ever despaired of finding the right clothes, or even taking an objective assessment in a full-length mirror, The Truth About Style will be an inspiring, liberating, and often very funny guide to finding the expression of your truest self. (description from publisher)