***3 Albums was a semi-regular music series I wrote for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library between July 2016 and January 2018.
All 3 Albums posts can be found in their original published form HERE***
Ah, the idiosyncratic. The charmingly odd. The place just a little left of the usge.
In a word: Quirky.
I’m magnetically drawn to music that doesn’t mind showing off some quirk. In fact, the quirkiest song on any given album will probably be the one that I end up playing a zillion times on an infinite loop. So, I feel like we should take a moment and give a hearty “Hurrah!” for some artists making music in the Key of Quirk. I affectionately call this the ol’ “3 Albums 3 Cheers!”
Because, truth be told, quirky is a tough nut to crack. It takes a special squirrel. Overshoot and you end up in the uninhabitable terrain of the”weird.” Reign in your idiosyncrasies too far and you’re stuck in the wide suburban expanse of the “passably normal.” There’s a slim little sweet spot where the quirk-magic happens and I tip my hat to all the artists that build their home in the sacred space of the lovably different.
So, let’s serve it up hot: 3 quirky albums from 3 quirktastic artists… GO!
Lake Street Dive – Side Pony (2016)
“I got a parrot of hair on my shoulder – It’s apparent it’s there, and it’s bolder.” – “Side Pony.”
OMGoodness ya’ll, it’s been a long dang while since I stumbled upon a new (to me) band that I dig as much as Lake Street Dive. I feel somewhat fashionably late to the party, since these cats have been garnering a growing level of well-deserved attention over the past few years.
A good deal of that acclaim has come in the wake of the super catchy album Side Pony. Yes…the album is named after a (quirky) hairstyle but these good folks also turned the phrase into a mantra for being yourself as well as a new slang term for a lover on the DL (Youths: are we still using “DL” … No? Ok, thanks).
My 3yo daughter is a superfan of the opening track. “Godawful Things” may be it’s official title but she lovingly refers to it as: “Huh!” because it kicks off with a cathartic deep-in-the-gut grunt. That’s thing #1 to love about them: Their bgvox are ON POINT and you’ll find yourself tempted to join in on the action (and you should absolutely submit to this temptation).
Once lead vocalist Rachael Price starts singing it’s a little difficult to focus on anything else. She’s got this unique/smokey/powerful set of pipes that is equal parts stunning and engaging. Feel free to lose yourself listening to her. Just remember to come back and recognize that the other three are doing equally cool stuff around her.
A perfect example of said cool stuff: “Godawful Things” ends with a dramatic tempo-change-slowjam-breakdown that eventually bursts back to the original “Huh!” hook to close things out. This band formed at a jazz conservatory so they’ve all got mad musical chops and they sprinkle these more complex maneuvers into their songs with aplomb.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other quirky things I love about Lake Street Dive:
Bridget Kearney plays an upright bass which is unicorn-level rare for a rock-pop outfit. The subtle but distinct difference adds a metric ton to the band’s unique aesthetic.
The guitarist/trumpeter goes by the handle “McDuck.” Enough said.
Completely unrelated to the music: Drummer Mike Calabrese bears a passing resemblance to Nick Miller from the TV series New Girl (which is also infused with the quirk). Since Nick Miller speaks to the very depths of my soul I can’t help but think that Mike Calabrese is probably awesome. (I fully acknowledge the 100% illogical nature of this line of thinking).
For Halloween they dress up like classic bands and put out videos of cover songs. Here they are as Queen (complete with Freddie ‘stache).
Don’t panic if you haven’t found the Lake Street Dive party yet. Here’s the address: Side Pony. Now, get over here and get your quirk on!
Quirky Faves: “Godawful Things,” “Spectacular Failure,” “Side Pony,” and “Hell Yeah.”
Regina Spektor – Remember Us To Life (2016)
“‘Enjoy your youth’ – Sounds like a threat… But I will anyway.” – “Older and Taller.”
Regina Spektor is a bonâ fide patron saint of the quirk. She’s certainly one of the first artists my head conjures up when tasked to ponder music à la quirk.
She so consistently bends her songs in a million little ways that make her just a smidgen different from everything else out there. Quirk seems to be embedded in her musical DNA and it manifests itself in style arrangements, lyrical choice, and her oft unorthodox vocalizations.
Some songwriters are really great at building worlds with words. Regina is a song world constructor. Each track has its own space and identity but yet they all flow together on the river of her unique Regina-ness.
Here’s some of the worlds you can find on Remember Us to Life:
The teenage outcast’s daily torment as viewed through the lens of someone whose strength has grown out of similar experiences (“Bleeding Heart”).
The perfect getaway spot is not what it appears to be on the surface…since it was built on a tunnel to hell (“Grand Hotel”).
An infinite amount of possibilities await you as you open your eyes to the first rays of sunshine on your pillow (“The Light”).
An imagined topsy-turvey place where “those who don’t have lose and those who got get given more, more, more, more.” (“The Trapper and the Furrier”).
Ok, maybe that last one is a bit more rooted in our real world than Regina’s imagination… but this album is certainly a little more hard-hitting than some of her past offerings. It’s tracks contain an air of wisdom that only comes from someone who is learning with every step of her journey. Regina certainly seems to be doing that and speaking out truth to fellow travelers.
So here’s 11 tracks of her quirky wisdom: Absorb as needed for what ails ya.
Quirky Faves: “Bleeding Heart,” “Older and Taller,” “Small Bill$,” and “The Light.”
Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now (2017)
“You mouth out ‘I love you’ – The way a parent spells out ice cream:
‘I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U,’ like there’s kids in the room.” – “Our First Fight.”
Quirkiness keeps things loose and interesting. It’s an antidote to the typical. So it’s particularly interesting to see a musician inject quirk into ordinary occurrences and use it to expose the extraordinary there within.
That’s the best description I’ve got for Swedish artist Jens Lekman. He can wrangle a song around the smallest passing moment or uttered phrase. Once he’s done wrestling with it… something profound (and surprisingly danceable) remains.
Consider some brief moments that became tracks on this album:
A friend 3D prints a replica of a recently removed tumor to have a concrete reminder of the little thing that caused so much fear (“Evening Prayer”).
A passing whiff of a ex-lover’s scent sets off a samba dance chorus of memories (“What’s That Perfume That You Wear?”).
That beautiful moment when you realize that your relationship might be stronger than a big blow-up (“Our First Fight”).
The genesis of a relationship gets a full-blown cosmic treatment when Jens rewinds the tale all the way to the Big Bang (“How We Met, the Long Version”).
This album feels like a fresh start for Jens Lekman. It’s his first proper album since 2012. In the years in between he wrestled intensely with songwriting and identity. This self-induced cage-match eventually led to a 2015 project/resolution where he wrote, recorded, and released one song each week of the year (Postcards). It would seem this arduous exercise stripped away most of his creative self-doubt because it cleared the way for this truly lovely (and quirky) piece of work.
But… just in case any of that pesky self-doubt still remains:
Jens: I-L-O-V-E-T-H-I-S-A-L-B-U-M. Keep putting your quirky self out there and I’ll keep listening (and encouraging others to do the same).
Quirky Faves: “To Know Your Mission,” “Evening Prayer,” “Hotwire the Ferris Wheel,” and “Wedding in Finistère.”
PS: All right gang, don’t forget to keep it quirky out there. If ya got a favorite band or album full of the quirk that I need to hear please drop it for me in the comments below.