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Albums

Best albums of 2000: #3 Mojave 3 “Excuses for travellers”

It was Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2000, and I was at work, nearing the end of my shift. I called Tim because I had a hankering to go out and was curious to see what my friends were doing. “I know what you’re going to do tonight,” Tim proclaimed, much like Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer might have done in ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’. “You’re coming with me to see Mojave 3 at the Horseshoe tonight!” It was fortuitous for him and for me that he had an extra ticket for the show and was looking for someone to claim it. I had never really listened to Mojave 3 before but I was game.

I don’t really remember many details of the show, given the heroic amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is a short conversation that transpired on the way out of the Legendary Horseshoe after the show that will live on in infamy. Tim was saying something about how Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell had gone all Cowboy Junkies with Mojave 3. And I drunkenly proclaimed, “Tim, you have no concept of genre.” He just looked at me, incredulous, and said, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” The second is that I must’ve really enjoyed the show because I went out the very next day to purchase Mojave 3’s latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”.

If that story sounds vaguely familiar, you must’ve read the post I wrote about the track “Return to sender” when it appeared at #6 on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I reproduced it practically verbatim above because I love the story and it bears repeating, especially given that it recounts my introduction to the group and their third album, the subject of our post today.

Mojave 3 came to be when British shoegaze icons Slowdive were dropped by their label, the equally iconic Creation Records, in 1995 and that band’s principal songwriters, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, along with the drummer at the time, Ian McCutcheon, decided to record music towards a different direction entirely. The trio became a quintet shortly afterwards with the addition of Alan Forrester and Simon Rowe (the latter formerly of Chapterhouse), but the ‘3’ in the name stuck. You might be surprised, knowing how I feel about dream pop and shoegaze, that it took me so long to get into this band but that’s the truth of it.

Mojave 3’s third album, “Excuses for travellers”, is like a happy medium between the group’s first two. It’s not as gauzy and mellow as “Ask me tomorrow” and not as peppy and twee as “Out of tune”. It just is. It is a mood and a feeling. It’s what you put on when you want to feel that “Excuses for travellers” feeling. Those who know, know exactly what I’m talking about. This is an album that doesn’t peak and that doesn’t have any obvious singles. It just has ten amazing tunes, of which of I have picked three of my favourites for you to sample. Hope you’re in the mood.


“Bringin’ me home”: My first pick is the only one on which Neil Halstead doesn’t take the lead vocal duties. Penned and sung by Rachel Goswell, it follows the lead of the other songs with a tempered, upbeat feel. Instead of sunshine, though, Rachel channels a rainy day. “Just a rainy day here in my usual place, where no one hears me.” Just sitting alone with the sound of the raindrops and the echoes of memories, imagining what might’ve been. A surprising, yet subtle synth underpins the tune, adding a layer to the guitar strum and sparse drum beat. And then, as if we weren’t clear on the mood, a harmonica makes an appearance for good measure.

“In love with a view”: “I had a plan that was built on thinking too long. Canadian winters, at home with your sisters, the romance was hard to ignore. You were beautiful. I was happy to fall.” Perhaps this is predictable but I have soft spot for any tune that references home, especially when that tune comes from an artist not from Canada. The opening number perfectly sets the mood. Strumming acoustic, twinkling piano, wailing pedal steel, and a bass line that just feels like a soaked handkerchief. The memory is cold. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, a fixture in the corner of all those Polaroids. Halstead and Goswell sing together at the refrain, both plaintive, both hopeful that the pain won’t be in vain. And when the song explodes into an all out jam at the three and a half minute mark, you can’t help but feel that the band are are working through a whole range of emotions. It’s just so beautiful and passionate.

“Return to sender”: Track four is pure joy. “Return to sender” is a tune that always brings a smile to my face. It makes me want to put my arm around my wife’s shoulder so that we can sway together with our eyes closed and sing along to those Neil Halstead witticisms. “I went looking for a priest, I said, ‘Say something, please I don’t want to live my life all alone.’ He said, “God will take care of those that help themselves. But you look pretty screwed, send a letter.’” My sixth favourite tune from the year 2000 is a boppy number. It’s a feeling that dances along to Halstead’s gentle acoustic strumming and his soft and plaintive vocals. The jaunty drumming, the banjo twang, twinkling keys, and harmonica flourishes only to serve to add to the wistful joy. “If you find us, return to sender.”


I’m obviously still not on a regular schedule around here so I won’t promise when we’ll get to album #2… but, it’s coming. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”
4. Coldplay “Parachutes”

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

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2021: Part two (#5 to #1)

Wherever you are in the world and in whatever stage of the Omicron variant restrictions/lockdowns you are under, I still hope you managed to spend the last couple of days with some family and/or friends and find some joy and peace. My wife and I typically celebrate Christmas the traditional way with family, gift exchanges, and a big feast, but this year was different in many ways.

It’s over now, though, it’s in the past and it’s time to get back to my Best albums of 2021 countdown. If you want to go back and read words on albums ten through six on this list, you can click on any one of the hyperlinks below.

#10 Middle Kids “Today we’re the greatest”
#9 Iceage “Seek shelter”
#8 Du Blonde “Homecoming”
#7 Julien Baker “Little oblivions”
#6 Linn Koch-Emmery “Being the girl”

As I mentioned in the introduction to part one, this year’s list is full of surprises, albums beating out albums by bands that I expected to be here. And to be honest, it had nothing to do with these anticipated albums not living up to expectations but more to do with me being blown away by so much new music. The results for me were that I have list of honourable mentions that is perhaps triple that of the length of this top ten list. I can’t and won’t list them all here but will certainly share, in no particular order, a sampling of these other albums that are also worth your time:

  • Elbow “Flying dream 1”
  • Postdata “Twin flames”
  • The Coral “Coral island”
  • Islands “Islomania”
  • New Candys “Vyvyd”
  • James “All the colours of you”
  • The Hold steady “Open door policy”

Great. Now that I’ve gotten through the great albums that are not in my top five for the year, let’s focus on the albums that are. Yes. Let’s do just that.


#5 Goat Girl “On all fours”

It used to be that I would hear the term post-punk and naturally gravitate towards the act upon which the writer bestowed the term. There was so much great music in the 2000s that was heavily inspired by the movement that grew out of the original punk scene in the late seventies and early eighties. But as time wore on, the term wore out its welcome, was being bandied about like crazy, and the bands that flew the banner always seemed to subscribe to just the one facet of the scene, that of angular guitars and stoic and dispassionate vocals. More often than not, these days, I give the new post-punk acts a cursory spin and move on. However, I found Goat Girl to be a different animal altogether (and yes, that pun was not intended). And while I’m on the name, I might never have given the album a chance had I not heard some of the songs before I heard the band name and learned that the band members operated under the pseudonyms Clottie Cream, L.E.D., Holly Hole, and Rosy Bones. Nevertheless, I did hear some magic from the start, and though the term post-punk is applied, it feels here like the dots in a connect-the-dot drawing where the dots remain for the most part unconnected. There’s definitely some heavy and foreboding basslines to be found on “On all fours”, the quartet’s sophomore record, but the spikes are worn down to shiny sparkles with frothing and swirling guitars and abracadabra synths. It is at times garish and loud but taken as a whole, it makes total nonsensical sense.

Gateway tune: Sad cowboy


#4 Breeze “Only up”

Back in September, I texted my friend Andrew Rodriguez the Spotify link to the song below and asked him who he thought the song sounded like. Within moments, he texted back the melon emoticon, which is our code for everything Happy Mondays. We both listened to the rest of “Only up” by Breeze in our separate homes and cities and continued to text back and forth to each other our thoughts on the album. By the end, we had hatched this plan to play some tunes off of it for our mutual friend Tim at an upcoming cottage weekend with a view to trying to convince him that Breeze was a group we had grown up listening to in the early 90s but that he had somehow forgotten. We almost had him too and we definitely wouldn’t have blamed him. The album truly is a paean to a specific time and mood of the early 90s, name-checking not only the Mondays but the Madchester baggy scene as a whole, throw in a little Beck, and pretty much anyone else mixing dance beats with rock guitars and basslines and a heavy peppery dose of samples. Toronto producer Josh Korody wrote, recorded, and mixed the album in 8 days with the help of a who’s who of Toronto-based indie artists, including Cadence Weapon, Tess Parks, and members of Orville Peck’s band, Tallies, Zoon, Ducks Ltd., and Broken Social Scene. Perhaps this pick shows my age and my love for the music of that time but I don’t care who knows it: I love this album.

Gateway tune: Come around (feat. Cadence Weapon)


#3 Flyying Colours “Fantasy country”

The first I heard tell of Australian four-piece, Flyying Colours, and their amazing sophomore record, “Fantasy country”, was when one of the many crazy vinyl collectors that I follow, posted about it on Instagram. He is often posting about bands that I also like and when I saw him raving about this as an early favourite of the year, I didn’t hesitate to give it a go on Spotify. Midway through the first track, I decided that his praises weren’t meaningless hyperbole and quickly went on the hunt to purchase a copy of it for my own collection. The group was formed in 2011 by school friends Brodie J Brümmer and Gemma O’Connor, and were rounded out by Melanie Barbaro
and Andy Lloyd-Russell. Their 2016 debut album, “Mindfullness”, was well-received and critically acclaimed but constant touring and then, worldwide pandemic delayed any new material until early this year. The eight tracks on “Fantasy country” are honed and clean and nearly-perfect. Their shoegaze psych-rock feels a lot like the early work of The Besnard Lakes, especially with the hazy, Beach Boy like harmonies, but with a double shot of caffeine and sugar to throttle things up. There’s plenty of drone and atmospherics and layered beauty. It’s great for late nights with red wine.

Gateway tune: Big mess


#2 Big Red Machine “How long do you think it’s gonna last?”

At best, I thought that the self-titled debut by Big Red Machine was an interesting collaborative effort between Aaron Dessner (of The National) and Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver). It had some good songs but I certainly didn’t think of it as a going concern. Indeed, I’ve never been a huge fan of Bon Iver, but I always had time for new material by The National, despite the fact that they were starting to get noticed for some work they did with uber singer/songwriter/popstar, Taylor Swift. And I think it was her involvement in this latest Big Red Machine that had this particular blogger hemming and hawing, but most definitely had the indie music and pop music world, in general, abuzz with excitement. But you know? “How long do you think it’s gonna last” really is an excellent album. It’s long – 15 tracks spread over 65 minutes – and yet, it feels short. It doesn’t rock hard, just moves at its own pace, self-aware and self-examining, questioning its own health and safety, working hard to keep anxiety at bay, much like we are all doing right now. Of course, all of the collaborations are great – This is the Kit, Sharon Van Etten, Fleet Foxes, La Force, and yes, even Taylor Swift adds to the brilliance – but I think the real credit rests with Dessner, whose complete vision really carries this piece off and when he actually steps from the shadows to take center stage on a few songs, it is the epitome of poignant.

Gateway tune: Magnolia


#1 The Reds, Pinks and Purples “Uncommon weather”

What can I say? I don’t think I’ve fallen for any band or artist as quickly as I have for The Reds, Pinks and Purples in a very, very long time. The songwriting vehicle for San Francisco-based Glenn Donaldson first came to my attention via an email from Slumberland Records, one of my favourite record labels, advertising the release of “Uncommon weather”. I pulled it up on Spotify and bam, I was sold. Indeed, I don’t know where Mr. Donaldson has been all my life. He’s released an album in each of the last three years under The Reds, Pinks and Purples moniker, each of which I’ve since gobbled up like spaghetti, there’s a new album due out early in 2022, and you can bet that I’ll be all over that as well. There’s just something addictive in his short bursts of ear-worm pop. Each of the thirteen songs on “Uncommon weather” sounds immediately familiar and welcoming. There’s loads of reverb and silky smooth synths, peppy drumming and jangly guitars, and above it all, Donaldson channels all of our 80s John Hughes heroes: Robert Smith, Ian McCulloch, and Richard Butler. Yes, I’m well aware that The Reds, Pinks and Purples might not be to every taste but these songs have touched my soul this year and I feel obligated to pass it along. If you listen to one new album this year, please, let this be it.

Gateway tune: The record player & the damage done

 

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2021: Part one (#10 to #6)

So here we are, just a couple of days before Christmas, and I’m just getting started on my end of year festivities now.

Normally, I do this huge production that starts mid-November and lasts six weeks, all this in counting down my ten favourite albums of the year. I typically start with an introductory post of albums ten through six and then give each of my top five their own post, wrapping everything up just in time for the new year. However, I didn’t have the energy and drive this year. I had even briefly thought about skipping the whole idea but in the end, opted for a more stripped back affair: a two-part-er, splitting the list of ten between the two posts.

Now before I get down to it, I thought I’d point out a trend I noticed while compiling this list. As opposed to last year, where many of the albums I chose as favourites were those by old reliables of this curmudgeonly blogger and in many cases, the albums were the first by said artists in many years, reunion and comeback albums of sorts, this year’s list, instead, is literally full of surprises. To an album, each on the list for 2021 is by an artist that I either never expected to appear somewhere in one of my top albums lists or of whom I had either never heard or even heard tell. This is not to say that none of my old favourites released new material this year. Indeed, many did and many came close to appearing here and will likely get their due when I pass along some of my honourable mentions in part two of this series. It just so happened that there was so much exciting, creative, and inspiring new music being conceived in these wild times and I was drawn to the freshness of the releases below.

But I’ll stop my blathering there and start into the first five of my ten favourites for 2021. As always, I welcome hearing your thoughts on my picks, as well as your own favourites from the year, and would love if you could leave them the comments section below.

Here we go…


#10 Middle Kids “Today we’re the greatest”

“Lost friends”, the debut album by Sydney, Australia’s Middle Kids, was my fifth favourite album back in 2018, drawing me in with its twelve delicious, hook-laden alt-rockers. In the three years since its release, the trio of Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz, and Harry Day toured like crazy, right up to the point when they couldn’t anymore, what with COVID-19 putting a stop to touring, travel, and live shows. They are now quite popular and successful in their home country and this year, their sophomore record, “Today we’re the greatest”, has won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Award) for best rock album over both AC/DC and Midnight Oil, much to the surprise and delight of the band. Although I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the record for my collection, I fully expected to be disappointed given how much I loved the debut. And yet… I wasn’t… not at all. It didn’t necessarily rock as hard but the hooks were still there and so was the honesty and the beauty. If Middle Kids continue in this way and at this pace, they are very soon going to be just as huge world-wide as they are in Australia.

Gateway tune: Stacking chairs


#9 Iceage “Seek shelter”

Iceage is one of the aforementioned bands that I had never listened to before this year, though, “Seek shelter” is not their debut. Instead, it’s the Danish quintet’s fifth album. They first burst forth on to the scene a decade ago, considered by most who heard them to be fully formed and brilliant, yet another saviour of punk and post-punk. Each one of their albums has been lauded by critics, even the notoriously picky Pitchfork writers, and much has been written about their continual ability to redefine what it is to be a punk band. I don’t know how I missed the bus on the group thus far but I heard the opening track (see below) on one of my Spotify release radar playlists and immediately hunted down this brilliant nine-track album. There are elements of psych, classic rock, acid house, and all of this with that sneering edge. Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember’s production touch is definitely felt and with the gospel choir additions, you might actually think it was the other principal songwriter from Spaceman 3 that might’ve been involved. I have no idea if Iceage’s previous four albums would be within my wheelhouse at all but with this album, as good as it is, how can I not check them out.

Gateway tune: Shelter song


#8 Du Blonde “Homecoming”

I’ve been keeping tabs on Beth Jeans Houghton since she released her debut album, “Yours truly, cellophane nose”, back in 2012. Three years later, she rebranded herself as Du Blonde and has since put together three albums as this persona. She has always tried do things her own unique way and the results have been a bit mixed for my tastes, though there’s always been one or two tracks per album that I really loved. For “Homecoming”, she wrote and produced it, did all her own artwork, and released it on her own label, Daemon TV. I don’t know if she’s hit on something special here, or if I’ve just finally caught up to her but I love all ten tracks. The album features contributions by likeminded singer/songwriter Ezra Furman (see below), Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Ride’s Andy Bell, and feminist punk band, The Farting Suffragettes. It is a mere 25 minutes and each song oozes seedy and raunchy sex. Roaring guitars and hammering drums, retro glam rock laser lights glinting off disco balls, snide and snarling duets and fist-pumping anthemic choruses, the album has got so much fun.

Gateway tune: I’m glad that we broke up (feat. Ezra Furman)


#7 Julien Baker “Little oblivions”

Yet another surprise appearance on this list comes care of the young American singer/songwriter Julien Baker. I saw her perform as part of a show headlined by The National back in 2018 and was impressed by her physical and spiritual voice and the way she and her electric guitar commanded the stage, accompanied only sporadically by a violinist. I became a fan and afterwards revisited her two albums. Then, a mere two months later, she, along with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, released an eponymously named EP under the moniker Boygenius, garnering the three of them new audiences all around. “Little oblivions” is Baker’s third album and first since her foray with Boygenius and instead of mining the sparse and frail territory of her earlier work, opted for a full band sound. The results are astounding. The subject matter is no less heartbreaking and personal and her voice always at the forefront, confessing to us all how we are all feeling and absolving us of our sins. The full band sound, though, amplifies it all, pouring more salt in the wounds and wringing out even more sweat and tears. So much beauty here in the hurt.

Gateway tune: Faith healer


#6 Linn Koch-Emmery “Being the girl”

“Being the girl” is the debut album by Swedish singer/songwriter Linn Koch-Emmery. Apparently, she knew she was going to have a career in music from a very young age and was in a band with her twin sister and a handful of friends when they were still in high school. When that ended, her sister started another band and moved to England but Linn stayed in Sweden and decided to go it alone. She’s been releasing singles and EPs since 2016 but this album is the first I’ve heard of her. I remember liking it a lot when I first heard the album back in the spring but was still quite surprised when it landed among my top picks with my usually foolproof method of narrowing down my music lists. Then, listening to it over and over again this month just confirmed it for me. “Being the girl” is an album that doles out ear worms like they’re candy. Far from being dreamy and gentle, Koch-Emmery’s tunes are spiky indie rockers rife with synths and hooks, reminiscent of “Fantasies”-era Metric and early work by Lykke Li (another Swedish indie singer/songwriter). As debuts that sound like they could be third or fourth records go, this a great one and at just shy of 30 minutes in length, begs for multiple listens in one sitting.

Gateway tune: Linn RIP


Part two of this list will follow immediately after the Christmas holidays. Hope yours are full of joy and good cheer!