Best albums of 2007: #1 Young Galaxy “Young Galaxy”

On October 13, 2007, I went to see Young Galaxy and The Besnard Lakes (who appeared at number 10 in this list) in a double headliner show at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox. After the incredible first set by Jace Lasek and company and just before being blown away by Young Galaxy, I wandered up to the merch table to get myself a physical copy of this debut, self-titled album. As we exchanged cash for CD, I told vocalist Catherine McCandless, in all honesty, that her band’s was easily my favourite album of the year. And obviously, that hasn’t changed in the decade that has since passed.

The group was formed originally as a duo by ex-Stars touring guitarist Stephen Ramsay and the aforementioned Catherine McCandless. They recorded the debut with friends in Jace Lasek’s studio and filled out the band for touring purposes. If you listen to this one and compare it with the music they release these days, you’d hardly think they were the same band. Their latest material is more electronic with McCandless carrying the bulk of the vocal duties but when they were just starting out, they were still finding their proverbial voice and often McCandless shared the microphone with her partner in crime. “Young Galaxy” plays more with organic sounds but still riffs on the atmospheric, dream pop themes. Think Spiritualized, Luna, Slowdive, or even Pink Floyd, but perhaps more upbeat than all of these, and you’ll realize why I love this album.

I’ve never thought that critics gave this one its due. Sure, you can hear the influences plainly but Young Galaxy comes by it honestly. The music is often quite stunning and the vocals, something that’s not often a focus in dream pop, are quite beautiful throughout. I can’t recommend this album enough to anyone who’s never heard it. Of course, you can start with these, my three picks for you, but anything on the album is worth sampling.

“Come and see”: Some of you Canadian folks might recognize the exuberant chorus as the music used in an Alexander Keiths television commercial in the summer of 2009. “Come and see” is an upbeat number that starts off chugging with a danceable guitar line and urgent rhythm. Ramsay’s soft vocals are just there, just so, a slow dancer to a fast beat, subtle movements marking exclamations. And then, there is an explosion of confetti and stars at the chorus. I would guess it was that celebratory feel that caught the advertisers’ ears but this is a party not meant for this earth. It’s a cacophony that pulls you from your body to dance in the clouds.

“Outside the city”:  One of the few tracks on the album that is solely left to the devices of Catherine McCandless’s vocals, the power hinting at the glory to come on future albums. Her voice here is bold and has muscle, similar to Siouxsie Sioux, and as mentioned before, a quality one might find rare in dream pop. It bears the weight of the song’s frantic beat and rocking guitars well. It is an escape from the humdrum of the Monday to Friday, a call to look beyond the concrete and steel of the city, an invitation to leave work there and find yourself. Let the “city release you” and find yourself “inside-out”. Yes!

“Swing your heartache”:  As much as I love pretty much everything Young Galaxy has produced, this song still remains my absolute favourite of their tunes. Nowhere else will you hear the Spiritualized influence as much as you will here but at the same time, the song is uniquely theirs. It plods along, movement through movement, layers added and removed, an atmosphere created that is at once darkness and light. A lone guitar twists and turns over a plush bed of organ washes. Meanwhile, Ramsay and McCandless’s voices dance a slow romantic dance, each taking turns with the lead and complementing each other with absolute courtesy. They know that this thing called life is not easy but still a gift, and one not to waste. “It’s time for you and I to face the signs and realize that living’s a battle, for all the times we cried and told the lies and realized life’s not a rehearsal.” Pure awesome.

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

Best albums of 2007: #2 The New Pornographers “Challengers”

So The New Pornographers have hit these pages a few times in this blog’s inaugural year. The Canadian indie power pop supergroup is a great band that has defied the odds and last for well over the predicted one or two albums. In fact, “Challengers” is the group’s fourth album and have since come up with three more since 2007.

This album was a bit challenging (pardon the pun) for the group’s long time fans because there was less power in the pop here. All the other elements we have grown to love, the big and interesting instrumentation and arrangements, the turn taking and melodies on vocals by all four principal vocalists, and the way the different elements come together so cohesively are still prominent but just muted. For some, this meant requiring more listens to accept the new record but I had no issues at all.

For me, “Challengers” was love on first listen. Interesting, then, that many critics considered this more the natural sequel to AC Newman’s quiet debut, “The slow wonder”, an album I didn’t much care for, rather than the bombast of The New Pornos’ third record, “Twin cinema”. I thought the toned down approach allowed for the all the pieces room to grow and the results were quite stunning. I don’t know if it’s fair to call this my all time favourite of their albums, given that they are so consistently good, but it just might be.

If you’re not familiar with this stellar group or just this album (or even if you are), have a peek at my three picks for you below and let me know what you think.

“Mutiny, I promise you”: I’m not sure I know what this song’s all about but I just love the idea of promising a mutiny, usurping the captain on the high seas like a pirate. And not just warning in advance but promising it. The song is one of the more upbeat and energetic of the bunch on “Challengers”. It’s like all the instruments are turned up to eleven and their players are at them like crazy. The vocals, too, gang-like, are almost an all out shout, except they’re so beautifully harmonized between Newman and Kathryn Calder. And when they briefly pause their playing to sing “And here is the mutiny I promised you” at the bridge, it’s oh so sweet.

“Myriad Harbour”: This is easily my favourite Dan Bejar penned and sung track. He is so weird but on this track, it works. His almost whiny voice is singing conversationally, for some reason, reminding me of Lou Reed, and he’s glorifying Manhattan too, which is perfect. “Stranded at Bleeker and Broadway, looking for something to do.” The way the guitar climbs up and down, Bejar rejoins and the rest of the band responds, the harmonica flourishes, it all just makes me smile, over and over again.

“All the old showstoppers”: That Carl Newman, he’s quite the lyricist. His songs are rife with wordplay that twist and turn our normal ideas and always leave things open to interpretation. I’ve tried to untangle this one, the meaning seemingly just there beyond reach, but I’ve decided to give it up and just enjoy the tune. And “All the old showstoppers” is a fun one. A verse melody that feels very mechanical while Newman sings a call and answer with Neko Case and Calder. It all comes together joyously for the chorus though, instruments and voices in one sweet harmony.

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

Best albums of 2007: #3 The Clientele “God save The Clientele”

Some might remember The Clientele as the purveyors of the surprise #1 album in my Best albums of 2017 back in December. Well, I’ve been loving on this London-based indie pop band for quite some time.

My first encounter with them was their second album, 2003’s “The violet hour”, a reverb-drenched, 60s psych influenced album. They expanded their sound some with string arrangements on “Strange geometry“ in 2005 and following a tour in 2006, added violinist/keyboard player, Mel Draisey to the fold, ensuring more lovely strings for future recordings. “God save The Clientele” does not disappoint in this regard, also including the use of pedal steel and slide guitar to really take their already beautifully full sound even further.

Recorded in the States, where they oddly seem to be more popular than they are in their home country, “God Save The Clientele” is notable among all their albums up to this point for having some honest to goodness and obviously upbeat pop numbers. It initially took me aback, hearing something breathily sung by frontman Alasdair MacLean that I might be able to dance to. Incidentally, it was while The Clientele were on support for this album in the spring of 2007 that I got to see them live for the first time with my good friend Jez, another big fan of the group. And though we didn’t dance, there was plenty to enjoy about the set.

For those that enjoy delicate and lilting psychedelic pop, “God Save The Clientele” might just be your thing. I highly recommend giving them a shot and you could do worse than to start with one of my three picks for you below.

“Winter on Victoria Street”: As I mentioned above, there were some obvious pop numbers on this album and though they were a bit of a surprise, I would count them among my favourites on the album, and this one is included. The bopping piano meander provides the song its structure and both a rhythm and a melody for MacLean to “da da da” along to. Then, he loops his own vocals back so that he is singing in round with himself, a fun effect that reflects the “haunting” theme in the lyrics, a malevolence outside the house where he is trying to “get off” with a girl. Whoops.

“Here comes the phantom”:  Speaking of boppy numbers, the opening tune on the album almost has a “Sweet Caroline” feel, guitars and peppy drums marching in line. And in between such synchronized rhythms are string flourishes that flit and flutter like singing birds. It all feels idyllic and full of sunshine, not at all resembling the crime fighting superhero stories hinted at in the title. Indeed, the lyrics are all wind in the leaves and summer sun and picking flowers. Lovely stuff.

“Bookshop casanova”: Ah yes. Here’s the song. One of the best song titles ever and very likely my favourite out of all The Clientele’s tunes. It’s that ticky-tack tapping on the cymbal and the driving guitar that really does it, and yes, I just said driving guitar in relation to Alasdair MacLean and company. Then, there’s the lovely touch by Mel Draisey’s violin and a wonderful song becomes perfection. And really at its core, the song is about one bookshop clerk attempting seduce another, love in the quietest and most unassuming of places. “Now see that dying summer moon, it’s shining just for me and you.” What a nice thought.

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.