Vinyl love: Stars “No one is lost”

(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: Stars
Album Title: No one is lost
Year released: 2014
Details: Gatefold sleeve, signed insert, double LP, pink/black split

The skinny: This Canadian indie pop band’s seventh album was the first record I ever pre-ordered on vinyl directly from the artist for my vinyl collection. If you’ve been following along on the last few “Vinyl love” posts, you might understand why. Stars were a pretty big deal throughout the 2000s and into this current decade in the Canadian indie pop scene. For this record, they went rollerskate paradise retro in pink neon and full of hope in its title, while knowing full well that in reality, we are lost. It’s a good record with some excellent tracks, definitely worth your time if you haven’t yet given it its due.

Standout track: “Trap door”

Best albums of 2008: #1 James “Hey ma”

For those of you who have been following this blog (and its predecessor) for a good amount of time, this pick for the number one spot on this best albums of 2008 list might not come as a huge surprise. You’ll know already that I’m a pretty big James fan and that I continue to follow this band and buy their albums, despite the face that their popularity in North America is pretty much limited to just the one song. However, back in 2008, this pick was a huge surprise, most of all to me.

I had loved James throughout the 1990s and was a little bit crushed when I heard Tim Booth was leaving the band in 2001 to pursue other efforts. They reformed the group six years later when Booth returned to the fold and saw success with their comeback shows. It all went so well that they decided to reconvene for a new album, news I took in with a good deal of reservation. These days, a lot of the bands I loved in my youth are coming back out with brand new albums, many of them quite successfully, but in 2008, the bands that I had previously witnessed trying to recapture the magic of their heyday had not gone as particularly well. As it turned out, though, “Hey ma” was a revelation. It was an album that didn’t try to ride on the band’s back catalogue’s coattails, instead, forging forwards, finding its own feet, and can stand tall with any of their previous work.

This was no more obvious than when my wife and I trekked down to Montreal in September of 2008 to go see the group in a small club. James is a band that my wife loves as well as I and we have both agreed that this show stands as one of our favourites ever. It was a show that both of us sang along to every song in the set and the fact that the setlist included a good deal of “Hey ma” just proved that we loved this album just as much as their previous material.

For those that don’t know the band, James plays big sounding tunes with lot of atmosphere and soul, all anchored by Tim Booth’s expressive vocals and poetic lyrics. Any of the three picks below could stand as a good starting point and if you like these, I recommend voyaging back to check out some of their previous albums as well.


“I wanna go home”: “Kissing is forbidden. Biting leaves marks. Sex is overrated. I need to dance.” The final track of the album is the epitome of slow build into oblivion and ecstasy. It begins with a rumble of bass and the tease of cello, synthesized, of course, and Tim Booth in agony. Then comes the threat of a beat, a tribal one at that, and a whole lot of incidental noise filling in the negative space. These become louder, like shrieking ghosts gaining confidence as the David Baynton-Power asserts himself firmly at the kit. Finally, it is a cacophony of joy and Booth can go home. And dance.

“Waterfall”: Opens with a crushing, thumping beat but not long after, the drums are joined by jangling guitars and Andy Diagram’s horns. At the verses, things let up and Tim Booth goes on about being crushed by the weight of material things. “Watching too much TV I’m an actor in a puppet show. There’s so much stuff in my life no room for me to grow. One day I’m going to break from my life due south down to Mexico. I’m going to burn down my house it’s the only way to let it go.” Then, at the chorus, the rest of James’s players join in, letting loose a waterfall of sound (so to speak), that big sound again. Those of you from Canada might find the track familiar and this is because it was used as the background for a commercial here. But for the life of me, I can’t think of what it was for, nor could I find it with a quick google search. Maybe one of you can help me out here…

“Hey ma”: You might have noticed that the cover of the album is a bit provocative and the band was firm in keeping it as it was (though the gun was removed from the image for the US release). The title track is just as heavy handed, an obvious poke at the quick and just as heavy handed reaction to the 9/11 attacks. “Now the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air. It affected your vision. Couldn’t see yourself clear. From the fall came such choices, even worse than the fall.” And yet, it is also a great pop song, perhaps just as danceable and ear worming as “Laid” was a decade and a half earlier. Listen to it a few times and see if you don’t find yourself singing along to the chorus lines, “Hey ma. the boys in body bags, coming home in pieces.” And that’s the beauty of James: thought-provoking lyrics set to pop hooks wrapped up in a million layers of big sounding music.


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”
4. Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”
3. Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”
2. The High Dials “Moon country”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 1991: #5 The Lowest of the Low “Bleed a little while tonight”

<< #6    |    #4 >>

If and when I get around to counting down my favourite albums of 1991, you know this album’ll definitely be high up on the list. Indeed, “Shakespeare my butt”, The Lowest of the Low’s debut album, is right up there with my favourite albums of all time. Another great track from it appeared just six songs ago at number eleven (“Rosy and grey”) and if this top thirty was a top one hundred instead, I’d say a good deal more of the album would be on here. Already I’m wishing I’d squeezed on one or two more songs from it. It’s criminal that this Toronto indie band never broke it bigger but in a way, it was their own doing.

“Shakespeare my butt” with its folk punk roots, literate and honest lyrics, great guitar hooks, and melodic harmonies won lots of fans and sold lots of copies for an independent release back then. Some of its songs even found their way on to commercial pop radio. Its infamy only grew after they broke up, but mostly in southern Ontario and just across the US border into Buffalo. It’s an album that didn’t reach far but on those it did touch, it left an indelible mark. And if you asked any LOTL fan to name their favourite song, there’s a good chance that they might point to “Bleed a little while tonight”.

Like many of Ron Hawkins’ tunes, it’s a song that ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’ its story and it’s a story that feels very real and one with which most of us can identify. Here, it’s a love (or perhaps lust) that is unreturned. A universal subject for sure but Hawkins comes by it honestly.

“And I’d forget about you if I could dare but
I just want to make love to you in some dark, rainy street somewhere.”

Its five minutes is a mix of acoustic strumming and careening electric guitars and uneven and crashing drums, the mood rough and passionate and messy, reflecting that of the song’s protagonist. It might almost fall apart if it weren’t held tightly together by the call and response vocals by Stephen Stanley and Hawkins that appear at the bridge and return to close out the song, lines any of us fans can sing along with and drum up all sorts of memories.

“Well, my heart is aching
Damn Damn the circumstance
And my room is spinning
Damn, damn the circumstance
It’s grey without you in it”

Yup. That’s the one.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.