Best tunes of 2010: #24 OK Go “This too shall pass”

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When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I didn’t have a lot of money to go see shows so I made them count and nothing but death could keep me from them. Things have changed a bit as I’ve aged. Maybe I’m not as hardcore as I was or maybe I’m turning into a bit of a suck but I’ve missed a number shows over the last ten years for which I’ve had tickets because of the weather or because I’ve felt under the weather. I’m thinking that the first of these shows was when OK Go played the Capital Music Hall here in Ottawa back in 2010. My wife and I were supposed to go with my friend Ian and his wife Diana but a few days beforehand, I caught the death of a man cold and really didn’t feel up to it.

Ian later recounted some details of the show for me. Of course, they were great live and had a hell of a lot of energy but he was also quite enthusiastic about their use of multimedia and how they often projected parts of their music videos on the screen behind them for the songs that they were performing. This only poured salt in the raw wound (which I’m sure wasn’t Ian’s intent) but also made a lot of sense in retrospect since the band’s use of the music video is really what made them a household name.

Not since the golden age of MTV and Muchmusic has a group profited more from the creative use of videos for their songs. These guys became YouTube stars: first, with their highly choreographed backyard dance video for “A million ways” and then, to an even greater audience, with their treadmill routine video for “Here it goes again“. With each successive video, OK Go, who had formed 1998 and whose 2002 debut self-titled debut album only saw modest success, upped the creative and intricate ante. In fact, “This too shall pass”, the second single off their third LP, “Of the blue colour of the sky”, and track number twenty four on my best of 2010 list, received two different music videos. The first is a crazy marching band performance of the song, the second features a Rube Goldberg machine, and you can watch both below.

But this LA-based quartet is not all style and no substance. They seem to have gone to the Weezer school of geek rock and added a touch of glam for an A plus average. “This too shall pass” is knee trembling bass, bombastic drums, and a shitload of swagger, giving the impression that OK Go are the coolest kids in the class even though they know they’re not. It is a big song, almost to the point of parody. With no build at all, it is a whole song in climax, even the piano plinking bridge is where the chorus joins in and you get the feeling that everyone and anyone is invited.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #10 Doves “Catch the sun”

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This fine Tuesday morning we take a tentative step into the top ten of my Best of 2000 list with “Catch the sun”, the second single off Doves’ debut album, “Lost souls”.

Doves were a Cheshire-based trio, made up of vocalist/bassist Jimi Goodwin and twin brothers Andy and Jez Williams (drums and guitars, respectively). They were high school friends but didn’t actually form as a band until they ran into each other at the famed Haçienda during the heights of the Madchester scene. They originally operated under the name, Sub Sub and released a handful of dance-infused singles throughout the 90s on Rob Gretton’s record label, Robs Records. After their studio containing all their equipment burnt down in 1996, they decided to regroup with a new sound and a new name. “Lost souls” was released to critical acclaim, only losing out on winning the Mercury Prize to another album on which they performed: Badly Drawn Boy’s “The hour of the bewilderbeast” (“Once around the block” appeared at #15 on this list). Doves would go on to release three more just as incredible albums before going on indefinite hiatus in 2010. Goodwin released a solo record, “Odludek”, in 2014 and the Williams twins formed Black Rivers, releasing a self-titled long player in the very same year.

I fell in love with Doves’ sophomore album, “The last broadcast”, in 2002, a story which I’m sure will come out in a future post, and I immediately went on the research offensive, gobbling up “Lost souls” in short order and picking up each successive album when they were released. As I mentioned in the intro to this list, I had a hard time finding new music that I liked in 2000 and 2001 was only marginally better. I was beginning to worry that “alternative rock” music had died off with BritPop in the late 90s but Doves were one of a handful of the bands that gave me hope. Their deeply-textured and epic brand of atmospheric rock was just the thing that I was searching for and I didn’t even know it.

“Catch the sun” is probably one of the more straightforward songs on “Lost souls”, except perhaps for the fact that there’s no intro. But who needs those? No timidity, no testing of the waters, just jump right in with two feet stomping. “Every day it comes to this, catch the things you might have missed. You say, get back to yesterday. I ain’t ever going back.” Jimi Goodwin just lays it all out there with his matter-of-fact and assured delivery, sounding very much like he comes from a long line of Madchester vocalists, like a meeting over pints with Ian Brown and Tim Burgess but with some bourbon thrown in for depth. And he’s got the guitar and drum muscle to back him up on this song, all driving and gut-wrenching, creating an envelope of sound that you wish you could seal yourself up in for the afternoon. However, it’s not to be as Goodwin and the brothers Williams are urging you forward, to get you out there into the world and experience everything under the sun.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1990: #21 Concrete Blonde “Joey”

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The cassette single, or “cassingle”, was the magnetic cassette tape equivalent to the vinyl 45, the format it was meant to replace back in the mid to late 80s and into the 90s. However, it never did gain the traction that the record companies had hoped it would. And why would it, really? A cassette with a song on each side, or in some cases, both songs repeated on both sides, packaged in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. It was hardly worth shelling out the dough and definitely not worth inserting into your Sony Sports Walkman if you made the miscalculation of purchasing it. Nonetheless, anyone who listened to music back in those days likely remembers having one or two cassingles in their collection and indeed, I’m sure some of you even still have one or two of these relics gathering dust somewheres.

I definitely had one or two at the time and remember exchanging and sharing these two song wonders between friends. I mention this long defunct format today because the first time I ever heard Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” was when a girl I was “seeing” for a very brief time in high school loaned me her copy of the cassette single. And also, the very fact that this song was released in this format illustrates that it enjoyed a modest modicum of commercial success, one the few songs by the band that did.

Concrete Blonde was an American alternative rock band led by the intense vocals of Johnette Napolitano and whose name was suggested to the band by friend and fellow IRS labelmate Michael Stipe. In their early days, the band played to an almost exclusive college radio crowd, right up until the release of “Bloodletting”, which exposed them to wider commercial audience, mostly thanks to this track, “Joey”. The interesting thing is that this is the album that saw the band move away from their more pedestrian, hard rock roots towards a darker, more gothic rock sound.

“Joey” was the final track recorded for the album because the lyrics were emotionally difficult for Napolitano to lay down. She has since confirmed early suspicions that the song is about an alcoholic (a stretch, I know), and specifically, about her relationship with Wall of Voodoo guitarist, Marc Moreland. Even without knowing any of this, you can hear the pain in Napolitano’s voice as it flips between the soothing and sad verses to the rage and the pleading in her chorus.

But if I seem to be confused
I didn’t mean to be with you.
And when you said I scared you
Well, I guess you scared me too.

The song is quite beautiful in its melancholy, and not just in the lyrics and the way she sings them, but also in the solemnity of the simple drum line and fills and the aching guitar solos. This is a song that I’ve played on repeat numerous times in the past and have also done a few times this week. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.