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Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #21 The Weakerthans “One great city!”

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“And up above us all, leaning into sky
A golden business boy will watch the North End die
And sing I love this town
Then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim
I hate Winnipeg”

The last time I was in Winnipeg was in 2010. It was my third visit to the central Canadian town but the first time for pleasure. My wife and I went there to visit friends of ours who we had met in Ottawa but who had moved back home a few years prior. It just so happened that our visit coincided with the annual folk festival held in Birds Hill Provincial Park, just outside of the city, and it didn’t take much to convince our friends to bring us out to experience it.

We attended two afternoon songwriting showcase workshops, one of which was on ‘writing about home’, featured the likes of Jon and Roy and The Swell season, and was led by Winnipeg’s unofficial poet laureate and Weakerthans frontman, John K. Samson. The festival organizers couldn’t have picked a better moderator for such a topic, given The Weakerthans’ penchant and talent for highlighting the best and the worst of life in Canada, especially from their particular section of it.

“One great city!”, track number ten on the group’s third full-length album, “Reconstruction site”, is a prime example. The title is taken from Winnipeg’s former town motto and this, set against the song refrain of “I hate Winnipeg”, belies a certain love/hate relationship that Samson, and likely, most of the city’s residents, have with the place that they live. The instrumentation is simple enough. The sound of two sets of hands plucking away at two acoustic guitars, the pacing even and insistent. They share the space equally with Samson’s vocals, instantly recognizable as Canadian, sounding like a cross between Neil Young and Gord Downey.

But that’s not to say Samson is not his own man. Indeed, it’s his songwriting and lyricism that has won over so many hearts to the Weakerthans’ cause. His three minute portrait is shown through the spotted and smudged glasses of a dollar store clerk and the grimy windshield of a city bus and its driver. It is echoed in the stomping feet of commuters in the underpass. It invokes the storied name of long broken up bands and folded NHL teams (though this latter has since returned) and the wistful and beautiful sadness of historic buildings abandoned and boarded up. It is a rom/com in the absurdist vein of Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman. It is a faded and creased polaroid in the pocket of both Winnipeggers that long for home and those who have never been there but hear in Samson’s words stories of their own hometown.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: R.E.M. “Automatic for the people”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: R.E.M.
Album Title: Automatic for the people
Year released: 1992
Year reissued: 2017
Details: 25th anniversary, 180 gram vinyl

The skinny: Unlike the focus of last week’s ‘Vinyl love’ post in this mini R.E.M. series, there was no hesitation in pulling the pre-order trigger when the 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of the band’s eighth studio album was announced. Much like the other two we’ve seen thus far, it was pressed to 180 gram vinyl and remastered, this time from the original analog masters, and man, does it sound great. “Automatic for the people” was recorded by the band while its predecessor was still climbing the pop charts and further making the band a household name. This one also did very well critically and commercially but it’s noticeably darker and in my mind, more cohesive. “Automatic” is, without comparison, my favourite R.E.M. album. Each side is perfectly balanced. I love every tune. There are no weak links. I have spun it countless times since I received it in the post almost five years ago and I imagine it will forever remain the record by this band that will hit my turntable the most.

Standout track: “Nightswimming”

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2013: #29 Low “Just make it stop”

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In 2013, Duluth, Minnesota-based indie rock act, Low, celebrated their twentieth anniversary as a group by releasing their 10th studio album, “The invisible way”. The trio of Alan Sparhawk (guitars/vocals), Mimi Parker (drums/vocals), and Steve Garrington (bass) enlisted the production help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for this outing. Apparently, though, the album didn’t stray too far from the group’s normal template of gentle, minimalist, beautiful tones. I say “apparently” because this is the album for which I first took notice of the group and embraced them. I gave “The invisible way” a thorough run through, ensuring they were thus on my radar for future releases but not going so far as to travel too far down their back catalogue road.

According to Sparhawk, the creative leader of the group, the only glaring differences between this album and the ones that came before was the addition of a lot more piano work and the fact that his partner in crime, Mimi Parker, shifts from her usual support role to take over lead vocals on five of the album’s tracks. Today’s tune, “Just make it stop”, is an example of one of these tracks.

“If I could just make it stop
Breaking my heart
Get out of the way
If I could just make it stop”

The second tune to be teased in advance of the album’s release is mostly driven by Parker’s delicate voice and her just as gentle brushing on the drums but about halfway through, we do get the addition of those aforementioned keys and a bit of bass muscle. Indeed, the song almost creeps into upbeat territory. But let’s stress the word “almost” here. Let’s not get too crazy because this is Low we are talking about, the band that quite possible inspired the term ‘slowcore’. I won’t belabour this, though. Just press play on the video below and let Parker haunt you too.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2013 list, click here.