Best tunes of 2011: #13 The Rural Alberta Advantage “North star”

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Just after Christmas in December of 2011, I joined my friend Tim on a short road trip out to Cambridge to visit his friends Greg and Wendy. They had recently opened a used records and book store called Millpond and we met up with them there to check it out, just before they closed for the day.

(I browsed their record selection with some interest, though I was still a few months removed from starting my collection in earnest.)

Afterwards, we went out for dinner, where there were plenty of laughs and reminiscences and of course, talk eventually turned to music. The fact that I had recently starting blogging about music was raised and I showed them the home page on my iPhone, which at that moment was deep in the depths of my first ever end of the year, best albums countdown. Wendy exclaimed that she liked the look of one of the album covers and when I looked at the one about which she was talking, it was The Rural Alberta Advantage’s sophomore album, “Departing”. Its cover art is mostly white, what looks like a mostly untraveled two lane highway obscured by whiteout conditions, snow sliding across the asphalt, a set of headlights barely visible in the near distance. Incidentally, it aptly foreshadowed our drive back to Toronto as we were hit by one of those surprise snow storms particular to the areas surrounding Lake Ontario.

Without digging back in the archives of my old blog, “Music Insanity”, I couldn’t tell you what position “Departing” held in my top ten that year but I think if and when I redo it on these pages, this album would still be somewhere in the mix. The Rural Alberta Advantage is an indie rock trio, that despite their moniker are actually based out of Toronto. Their sound is the happy melding of Nils Edenloff’s rough guitar manhandling and raw vocal chords vocals, Amy Cole’s delightful keys and other percussion flourishes and her soft touch backing voice, and of course, Paul Banwatt’s frenzied impression of Animal punishing the drum kit. Every song on the album, nay, on all their albums, is an adventure.

The first half of “North star” is more sparse than the usual RAA tune. Cole’s piano chords are like a punctuation on Banwatt’s drum rhythm, those that just chug along like the sleepers on a night train, above whom the glass ceiling looks over the prairie night sky and the stars are everywhere, a million pin holes in the night. Then, the piano becomes more than an accent and fills all the rest of the empty space with chimes and bass reverberations. Edenloff, meanwhile, is almost restrained, singing forlornly about a love that might never be.

“We’re far apart under the same sky,
You’re diving in the dark I’m in the city’s lights,
Wishing just to see you for another night.”

If you’ve never listened to the RAA before, I suggest you give the song below a go. You’re welcome.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1991: #3 Primal Scream “Loaded”

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“Just what is it that you want to do?”

“Well, we wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time
And that’s what we’re gonna do.”

These are the lines, sampled from the film “The wild angels”, that kickstart a revolution.

Prior to this song and the album on which it appears, Primal Scream were just another holdover from the C86 scene that was quickly losing steam. The only discerning difference being that they were led by the former drummer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Bobby Gillespie and his group approached DJ Andrew Weatherall to remix one of the songs from their self-titled sophomore album, a relatively forgettable track called, “I’m losing more than I’ll ever have”. After two aborted attempts, he came up with what we now know as that hit single and dance floor anthem “Loaded”. Weatherall’s remix essentially remade Primal Scream into a bunch of neo-hippies in the acid house age and set a template for the album that would be “Screamadelica”.

The video for this single would be my introduction to the band. Like so many other songs on this list, I first saw it on CityLimits. But this was one I didn’t record myself but my friend Elliott had caught. We watched it together over and over again, our minds literally blown.

The track is the embodiment of bombast, throwing together sampled horn blares, big bass and drums, gospel choirs and slippery bass lines, piano flourishes and funky guitars and granola crunching bongos, and shaking it all up in a gigantic mixing bowl. Yet somehow it all works as a song for closing your eyes and letting loose, for wiggling and waggling your fingers in front of your eyes and losing yourself in the neon trails, for losing control of all your bodily functions and not caring in the least. A song to replay over and over again as you write incoherent words in a drunken frenzy.

Whoops. Did I just write those words out loud?

No matter. We just wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time.

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

Playlist: Time to get your Goth on

Happy World Goth Day everyone!

Er… To be honest, it’s not a holiday I observe but it did give me occasion to start in on an idea that I’ve kicked around in the past. And that is making and sharing genre-themed playlists on these pages. So, yeah, starting things off with Goth.

Goth is easily the music genre, lifestyle, and subculture that is most misunderstood by mass media and the public in general. I remember the going joke amongst a few of my coworkers, some years ago, which centred around the term ‘practicing Goth’ (as in, ‘Look at all that black, it looks like Jennifer is practicing Goth today’). It’s a term we culled from an article, one of many that had wrongfully attributed the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre as members of the ‘Goth community’.

I’m not sure I even fully understand the idea of being and ‘practicing’ Goth and all of the different offshoots that now exist but I do enjoy some facets of the fashion (the adoption of Victorian dress, for instance). I am also quite a big fan of a lot of the music that inspired the original scene, though I completely missed out on it, being too young at the time.

Some people sneer at the term Goth as a genre of music, calling it gimmicky, and the truth of the matter is that many of the original artists attached to the genre disliked the tag and tried to loosen its hold. I can remember going to a Sisters of Mercy show in Toronto in 1998, seeing all the youngsters in the audience wearing black, leather, S&M gear, etc., and wondering what they thought of lead singer Andrew Eldritch coming out on stage with his hair bleached blonde and cut short, and wearing a loud red Hawaiian shirt.

The idea in creating this playlist was not to define what is and what is not goth but to celebrate those artists that inspired generations to wear black. It is somewhat chronological, starting with those post-punk artists that toiled in darkness (Joy Division, Bauhaus), continuing with those that took up the mantle (The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy), squeezing in some acts that are not technically goth but definitely don’t sound out of place (Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen), and finally, gently transitioning to those that felt honoured to play in the originators’ shadows (She Wants Revenge, The Horrors), many years later.

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Joy Division “She’s lost control”
2. Bauhaus “Bela Lugosi’s dead”
3. Tones On Tail “Christian says”
4. Love and Rockets “Haunted when the minutes drag”
5. The Cure “The hanging garden”
6. Killing Joke “Love like blood”
7. Siouxsie & The Banshees “Cities in dust”
8. Sisters of Mercy “Alice”
9. The Mission “Tower of strength”
10. The Cult “She sells sanctuary”
11. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Red right hand”
12. Concrete Blonde “Bloodletting (The vampire song)”
13. Leonard Cohen “Waiting for the miracle”
14. Dead Can Dance “Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”
15. Cranes “Shining road”
16. Interpol “Obstacle 1”
17. She Wants Revenge “Tear you apart”
18. The Horrors “Do you remember”
19. Esben and the Witch “Marching song”
20. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness “According to plan”

Enjoy.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.