To understand American history, Jon Lauck says you have to understand the Midwest's role in some critical events.
For the latest installment of Here & Now DJ Sessions, Jeremy Hobson sits down with KCRW DJ Anne Litt, who is going against the grain of Pandora playlists that tick through single songs from an array of artists.
She says some of her favorite new artists are making albums that are worth listening to in their entirety — the way people used to listen.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW.
And it's time now for the HERE AND NOW DJ sessions.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
TOM PETTY: There goes the last DJ.
JAMIE FOXX: DJ won't you play this girl a love song?
NIC CESTER: Dance, little DJ, come on.
RIHANNA: Come, Mr. DJ, (unintelligible)...
HOBSON: Each week we sit down with a DJ to hear what is on their playlist. And today we're joined by Anne Litt, DJ at KCRW in Santa Monica, California. Anne, thanks for joining us.
ANNE LITT, BYLINE: So glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
HOBSON: Well, you've picked some music for us today, and it falls into the category of music that you should listen to on albums from beginning to end, right?
LITT: Yes. I think there are not enough albums these days that are a solid listen from front to back. Most albums seem to have, you know, a hit or two here and there. But all of these are solid in that they are full albums you should listen to and buy in their entirety.
HOBSON: And let's start with one called "Corsicana Lemonade." This is from the Austin band White Denim. First, let's listen to a little bit of their song "At Night in Dreams."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT NIGHT IN DREAMS")
WHITE DENIM: (Singing) At night in dreams a thousand moons and clear blue rain. Sometimes it seems as if we could build a love that free us from pain. I know you think that it's easy to change, but it's a symptom of age. Boy, tread up to in white in a church house made of glass. Play an imaginary part, and they knew it from the start. Now here we are.
HOBSON: Anne Litt, what stuck out to you about this?
LITT: Well, this song in particular, to me, is the Southern rock anthem on the album. But what stuck out to me about the album as a whole is that every place it takes you is really in a different genre. There's jazz. There's a psychedelic overtone to the whole thing. But there's rock. There's blues. There's obviously an homage to their Southern Austin roots. But it's not rooted necessarily in Texas music per se. It's kind of all over the map, which is what I love about it.
HOBSON: You think people have stopped listening to albums from beginning to end?
LITT: I do. I think it's sad. I mean I'm a music fan, and I come from a world of listening to, oh, you know, track two, side two.
LITT: But I think it's different now.
HOBSON: Well, let's stay in Austin and look at another band that you have brought to our attention. This is the Electric Peanut Butter Company. Here is the song "The Rain."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE RAIN")
ELECTRIC PEANUT BUTTER COMPANY: (Singing) Girl, let's do it in the rain. Girl, let's do it in the rain.
HOBSON: A song I'd actually love to just be listening to in the rain.
LITT: I know. And I seem to keep playing it on sunny days in Southern California.
HOBSON: It's hard to miss the sunny days, I guess, in Southern California.
LITT: But it works. You know, this is the project of two guys, Shawn Lee, who's an American but lives in London, and Adrian Quesada, who is one of the founding members of the Grammy-nominated Grupo Fantasma. And they basically mailed tracks to each other.
They're emailing their work back and forth over the ocean, across the pond, as it were, and they put this album together, both inspired by the freaky psychedelic '60s, folk, rock, soul and funk and aptly named "Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol. 2" is the new album from the Electric Peanut Butter Company.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HOBSON: So let's go transatlantic now. Here is the English artist Anna Calvi and her song "Eliza."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELIZA")
ANNA CALVI: (Singing) Eliza. Eliza.
HOBSON: Sort of a haunting sound there.
LITT: Incredibly dark and atmospheric. And what I love about Anna Calvi is her fierceness and her power. But the fragility of what she's talking about in her lyrics and sometimes the way she presents them. It can be the highest high or the lowest low or the most powerful or the quietest. And somehow it all has that same power.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELIZA")
CALVI: (Singing) Eliza. Eliza.
HOBSON: Very dramatic.
LITT: Yes, very dramatic. You know, she played for KCRW at our Christmas show a couple of years ago. And to have that intense, dark combination live and to see it on the stage was actually a revelation for all of us.
HOBSON: Well, let's stay in the U.K. now. There's another artist that you brought to our attention. This is the Welsh singer Cate Le Bon. Here she is, featuring the artist Perfume Genius, and the song is "I Think I Knew."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I THINK I KNEW")
CATE LE BON AND PERFUME GENIUS: (Singing) I think I knew. I think I knew. I think I knew. I think I knew. I think I knew. I think I knew.
HOBSON: Wow, talk about psychedelic and from the '60s, Anne Litt.
LITT: Well, the first time I heard her, obviously, I went immediately to Nico and The Velvet Underground. But what I find interesting about Cate Le Bon - she does sing in both Welsh and English - is that she has these dark American influences and psychedelic influences, and when you mix those with her Welsh background, I think the hybrid is really remarkable.
HOBSON: And why do you feel like that album should be listened to from beginning to end?
LITT: When I think back to the albums that first made me love music, they all were a little twisted and dark, I guess. And she brings that to every song, yet she has a lightness about her that I think is really interesting as well. And her new album is coming out November. It's called "Mug Museum." And actually, her debut album came out a couple of years ago, and I actually had that on my top 10 for the year that year.
HOBSON: When you listen to these album, are you supposed to mute the "The Wizard of Oz" or anything like that and watch it?
LITT: That's not a bad idea, actually. I might have to try that this weekend.
HOBSON: Well, one final group you wanted us to know about is Wooden Shjips. Here is their song "These Shadows."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THESE SHADOWS")
HOBSON: I really like that. There's something about the music that you have picked that is just so chilled out.
LITT: Well, I know. As we're listening to all these songs, I'm really seeing a commonality that I wasn't necessarily intending. But I love a psychedelic sounding record that is a chill out but still has energy and some sexiness to it, quite frankly.
HOBSON: Well, Wooden Shjips is coming out with a new album next month. They are from San Francisco. What else should we know about them?
LITT: Well, they actually left San Francisco. This is something like their fifth album. And by the way, it's to be titled "Back to Land." But they actually left San Francisco, for the first time, recording this album. They went to Oregon, then went and, you know, sat out in the woods as one does in Oregon. And they incorporated new sounds in their music - acoustic guitars - which they hadn't used so much before. And the whole album seems to be slightly grounded in a more earthy way than their past work.
And you also don't have to know their past work to love this. I mean, this was a total and complete surprise to me. When I heard the song, "These Shadows," I actually went back to find their older albums as well. This was the first I knew of them, and I think they're a fantastic and great San Francisco band.
HOBSON: Anne Litt, do you think anybody is going to take your advice and go out and listen to these albums from beginning to end and not just go on Spotify or SoundCloud or Pandora or iTunes and just buy the songs one by one?
LITT: Well, if I have anything to say about it, these are full listens, my friends. Go rush out now to your local record store. The great thing is, we've got some great record stores in Los Angeles, and they actually carry all of these albums. So hopefully you can go out, buy them and set them up in your CD player and have a lovely, a lovely weekend.
HOBSON: If not, you can go to hereandnow.org and find them, and we'll have links to these albums there at hereandnow.org. Anne Litt of KCRW in Santa Monica, thanks so much.
LITT: Thank you for having me. This has been really fun.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Pretty. And Jeremy, I just mentioned to one of our young producers - Wooden Shjips, they must be named after Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And she said, who's Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young?
HOBSON: That was the song from 1969 you're talking about.
HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.