on my playlist


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Chris Burris recently conducted an email interview with me for a profile in the NASIG Newsletter. One of his questions was, “What’s currently on your playlist?” I listed a bunch of albums, and I thought it might be useful to create a short Spotify playlist of a favorite track from each.

new albums I really dig


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061/365 - music
listening to new tunes

Editor’s note: I drafted this in August 2014. I’m not sure why I didn’t publish it.

One of the things I do in my “free time” is volunteer as music director at WRIR. Basically, I be a librarian for the genres we don’t already have covered by genre directors, namely Rock, AAA (Adult Album Alternative), and RPM (electronic). I receive the physical and digital albums from promoters and labels, keep track of how many times they are played, create weekly charts of the top 30 albums, and make sure that the new & recommended shelves stay fresh.

As you might expect, I get to hear tons of new music. We receive 25-40 new albums a week, depending on the time of year. It’s particularly notable, then, when an album catches my ear more than, “Oh, that’s pretty good. So-and-so will probably play it on their show.”

Land Observations – The Grand Tour (Mute)
This is the second album by James Brooks with the moniker Land Observations. It reminds me very much of Tycho, with whom I am mildly obsessed. Hypnotic patterns and melodies driven by acoustic guitar over electronic soundscapes evoking hazy dusks in late spring when the air is perfect and all seems right with the world. [Spotify] [Amazon]

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager (Warner Bros.)
I’ve been a fan of Rilo Kiley ever since I heard their 2007 album Under the Blacklight. Yeah. A little late to the game. I tried following Lewis after the band split up, but her music didn’t grab me until this album. Tight pop/rock arrangements that remind me of the early 90s in that they don’t have the over-produced sheen of modern rock. She doesn’t shy away from tough subjects in the lyrics, and the voice that drew me in seven years ago is still compelling. [Spotify] [Amazon]

Damien Dempsey – It’s All Good: The Best of Damien Dempsey (IRL)
Dempsey is an Irish singer/songwriter with an impressive catalog, as reflected in this double-disc retrospective. And yet, I hadn’t heard of him before. Well, technically I had, as he’s the subject of Amy Ray’s song “Damo,” but I didn’t know that until I listened to this album. Poignant lyrics paired with acoustic rock arrangements and a rough but steady voice you’ll learn to recognize immediately. [Spotify] [Amazon]

The Glitch Mob – Love Death Immortality (Glass Air)
I was introduced to the band through their last album, Drink the Sea, and played the song “Drive It Like You Stole It” more times than I’m willing to admit (last.fm says 17, but it’s probably more). Needless to say, I was looking forward to the new album, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed. For the most part, the arrangements are driving, glitchy, electronic, and melodic with an aggressive rock vibe. It’s hard to sit still while listening. [Spotify] [Amazon]

Tycho – Awake (Ghostly International)
Scott Hansen’s first album as Tycho (Dive) came out in 2011, and I heard it because I happened to play it on my show at the radio station back when I was doing mostly electronic music. I was instantly captivated by the acoustic guitar and synth hooks over atmospheric soundscapes. Where Land Observations’ The Grand Tour reminds me of late spring dusks, Awake is more like cool summer sunrises. The styles are similar, but Tycho puts a little more drive in his arrangements, which almost lend themselves to lyrics and vocals, but remain instrumental. [Spotify] [Amazon]

on milestones


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singing with the Ellensburg Women’s Chorus in the 2005

Some of you may know that I enjoy singing in choirs/choruses/chorales these days, even doing a solo every now and then, but I’ll bet few of you know that I was too shy to sing in front of most people until my second year of college. Most of my college friends could sing pretty well, and many of them were in the university chorale or the chamber choir. I loved singing, but I was too nervous and shy to audition, as much as I wanted to. Somehow, they convinced me to take a voice class. Not private lessons, but with a small group of students and one teacher, all at once.

This was safe for me to start out in. We sang everything together, until our final, and that was the first time I’d sung for real, alone, in front of anyone. It was terrifying! But it also gave me the courage to go through the audition process the next year, and I was in the chorale for the second half of my college career.

Since then, I’ve sung with Sacred Harp groups, church choirs, community women’s choruses, and a university women’s chorus (I still sing with two groups that fit in the last two categories). It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I sometimes marvel at how a person who was too shy to sing in front of a handfull of friends can now stand on stage and sing in front of hundreds of strangers.

In college, I was obsessed with singing low. I was proud to sing the alto part, and one of my fellow altos and I would frequently try to hide with the basses until our director made us go back to our section. For me, alto meant harmony and something interesting. Soprano seemed, well, boring.

These days, I sing first alto or second soprano, depending on the group and the arrangement. And the strange thing is, I’m finding that the low notes aren’t as much fun anymore, and sometimes are rather uncomfortable to sing. My voice, as women’s voices do, has been changing and maturing over the years. When I moved over to the second soprano section in my community women’s chorus last year, it was the first time I acknowledge that shift to anyone, including myself. It was a bit of an identity crisis at first, but I’ve come to embrace it.

Back in that voice class in college, my instructor called me a “chicken soprano,” and she was right. I could sing higher than I was willing to (or brave enough to) back then. Now I know I can, and I have quite often. The strange thing is, I can feel my voice changing. I started noticing this on octave leaps that would take me up to the C above middle-C, and beyond. They didn’t feel strained anymore — I just thought it, and then sang it with confidence.

My ear is much better. I have a good sense of certain notes and placement and intervals, although I couldn’t tell you what a perfect fourth or a major seventh sounded like to save my life. Those names never stuck with me. But, I can sight read pretty well, if you give me a starting point, and back in the day I had to hear it a few times before I could follow along.

So, I’m moving into my upper range, and it feels fine. But also weird. Sometimes, I can’t trust my sense of place anymore, because what feels like a G may be something else entirely now. My voice breaks are shifting, or maybe I’m just not as aware of them anymore.

This makes me feel less certain. Unbalanced. And it doesn’t help that I’m turning 37 this year.

Back to that voice class and the instructor who told me I was a chicken soprano… she also told us that women’s voices hit their peak maturity around age 37. To my 19-year-old mind, that seemed like a future so distant I couldn’t even imagine it, and now I’m here. Or nearly there.

People talk about how turning 30 wasn’t as big of a deal as turning 31. I get that. For me, as a woman and a singer, I think this 37th birthday is going to be more significant than either of those previous milestones. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that to happen yet. Luckily, I have about six months to figure it out.

pitch perfect hits it out of the park


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Pitch Perfect Original Theatrical Soundtrack CoverI’ve never sung in a collegiate a cappella group, and have no idea what it’s really like. That being said, I do have years of choral group experience to draw on for comparison. But, do you need any of that to enjoy the movie Pitch Perfect? No. Just a good sense of humor and an appreciation for modern pop music.

In case you haven’t heard of it, and I’m not surprised if you haven’t, there’s a new movie out called Pitch Perfect. It’s about college a cappella, the first year college experience, and taking risks.

It’s also fiction, so don’t take it too seriously. The boy gets the girl. The troubled youth defeats her inner demons. The underdog wins. Typical movie with a happy ending.

The real thrills came from the music. It was fun! Simply fun! Like the performances we saw on the three years of NBC’s The Sing-Off, there’s nothing quite like watching/hearing a group of singers using only their mouths and voices to perform creative arrangements of pop songs.

Simply put, I enjoyed Pitch Perfect. It was funny without being gross, and touching without being melodramatic. Go see it. It’ll be worth the ticket price.