Best albums of 2017: #2 Slowdive “Slowdive”

Back in the spring, my wife and I made the trek out to Montreal to see Slowdive play there. We’ve done this sparingly over the years that we have lived in Ottawa, probably too sparingly, but when we do hit up the bigger city for a show, we plan to stay a night or two and make a weekend of it. (We learned the hard way after driving home exhausted in the early hours after a James show in 2008.) I was super excited when I saw that Slowdive had added a show in Montreal to their tour and it actually wasn’t too difficult to convince my wife, even though she had never heard the band, given that we hadn’t had a weekend away in a few months.

I, myself, was relatively new to Slowdive because I didn’t take to them when they were around during shoegaze’s first wave in the early 90s. It took getting into Mojave 3 first (Neil Halstead’s and Rachel Goswell’s second band) for me to really appreciate them. Then, when Slowdive, following successful tours by other shoegaze luminaries, Lush, Swervedriver, and Ride, announced their intention to reunite for some shows, I was super intrigued to see them live. Of course, I had given this new album a few cursory listens beforehand but I didn’t actually buy it until I got a copy on vinyl at the show. I probably don’t need to tell you how great the concert was, even Victoria really enjoyed it, her listening to them with completely fresh ears. What surprised me most, though, was the variety of age groups in the audience. I was expecting it to be mostly 40 year olds, like I saw at the Ride reunion show I caught two years prior. And maybe they were there to see the opening act, Japanese Breakfast, but I’d like to think that the songs on “Slowdive” were getting radio play and appealing to the younger set.

As I good as the other new releases have been by the aforementioned Lush, Swervedriver, and Ride, Slowdive’s new self-titled album is easily the best of the bunch. It shows none of the dust or rust that might have accumulated in the 22 years since their last release. Neither does it feel like they are just revisiting glory days or tarnishing the reverence bestowed upon them by adding subpar material to their catalogue. The eight songs on this album are as good as anything they’ve ever released. And by keeping it to eight songs, it feels like they’ve left no room for filler. Each song is a beautifully ethereal and magnificent composition. They float on a layer just above our heads, the twin vocals of Halstead and Goswell hermetically entwined, alien and angelic.

I’d love to present all eight songs to you for consideration but like the other albums in this top five, I’m going to limit my picks for you to three. Enjoy.


“No longer making time”: This was perhaps the last of the tracks on the album to hook me and yet, hook me it did. The beat and the bass line is slow and unassuming, setting the stage for the first verse where Halstead’s murmuring vocals do a little dance with the reverb drenched but soft lead guitars. All that serenity falls by the wayside at the chorus. The guitars take on some heft and sizzling effects, Goswell joins in with backing vocals, and everything gets loud and just this side of too much… too much… But then, the ecstasy passes.

“Sugar for the pill”:  This track is all about the recurring guitar line that starts the track, climbing creepily and slithering easily back down your spine, and continues to hypnotize, even as the heavy bass joins in. There is so much reverb in this song, you’d think the band had locked you into some new age echo chamber and stood outside taunting, dangling the key gleefully. Not that you’d want to escape if you could. You’d just close your eyes and let yourself melt into the bright coloured mists, ignoring the slowing of your heart beat and deepening of your breaths, and the general feeling of vibration.

“Star roving”:  And lastly, we have the real rocker of the album. The drums jump, waves and walls of guitars thunder and tear, and even Halstead has a bit of edge to his delivery. Of course, that could just be the effects pedal that everything seems to be run through, making everything so damned raw. I could totally see this one filling the dance floor of any alternative club back in the early to mid nineties. Hundreds of sweat soaked kids swaying and tilting to the distortion, alcohol coursing wildly through their bloodstreams. Would this be happening in the clubs today? I’d like to think it is but would be curious to know for sure. It certainly held the lot of us enthralled when I saw them live. Such a lovely beast indeed.


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

Best albums of 2017: [Special honourable mention] Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Who built the moon?”

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for… something completely different.

On the morning of Friday November 24th, I posted the first in a series on the “Best albums of 2017” list I had been working on for the previous couple of weeks. Later that same day, I went to the record store to purchase “Who built the moon?”, the third album by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. It sometimes happens when putting these lists together that an album is released so late in the year, it doesn’t get its due because it hasn’t as much time out in the sun as other releases. Unfortunately, I was suspecting this might be the case with “Who built the moon?” because I’d been quite enamoured with all the advance singles. And on the second spin through on Friday night, I found myself agreeing with my friend, Andrew Rodriguez, that we needed to write something about the album.

So here it is, a special honourable mention. I won’t dare to conjecture where this might have sat on my list had it been released one month earlier and I won’t say much more right now than how fresh and energizing a record it is. Instead, I’ll just let Andrew Rodriguez do the talking. And you’ll notice the format is a bit different than the other posts in my “Best albums of 2017” series and that’s because he doesn’t he doesn’t take instruction well and I refused to cut and hack his words. However, this also means there might be some strong opinions (some of which I may or may not share) and some possibly offensive language. Enjoy.

Well, this is likely one of the most tardy reviews of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds album, “Who Built the Moon?” I am writing this 19 days after the release (in Canada), 17 days after I first started writing this review – and countless days after atrocious, inaccurate, inapplicable, essentially lazy, wrong and just outright horrid reviews have been written elsewhere (I’m talking about the Guardian and NME). Why the tardiness? Well – I am a busy individual and MLIML is a busy place – and one with certain (high flying) standards.

John mentioned to me a couple of months ago that there was a single out – and a HFB album forthcoming. That single was “Holy Mountain”. I was immediately hooked. See, I have nearly from day one, been a fairly unabashed fan of Oasis, and really, all that they ‘stood’ for. Not a Kool-aid drinker, but a fan nonetheless. A fan of the whole package. Of course, Oasis are history now (in several ways). I mentioned being ‘immediately hooked’. The first time I heard “The Death of You and Me” from the debut HFB album – I was just that – hooked. It was so different. I have always had a very clear sense of what I like and what I don’t like. I am open to new things, and open to changing my mind – but on some level, I respond very decisively to new material. “Death of You and Me” hooked me instantly. And the album overall was excellent. The next HFB outing – it took a bit of time for me to warm to it. John and I had many conversations about that. While we live in different cities these days – we always keep in touch. So when John brought “Holy Mountain” to my attention – I watched the video. Over and then over again. I was hooked.

John alluded to how ‘energising’ the record is. And I agree. “Holy Mountain” – first listen.

Not nearly so ‘psych’ as ‘professional music critics’ would so lazily suggest. “Holy Mountain” has a great driving rythm. More uptempo than what fans are accustomed to. And when I am talking about fans – I am talking HFB fans. It has a gloriously Northern Soul-esque feel and tempo, which (having heard only the single not the whole album) I was uncertain of after the first listen – more on that in a moment. Unlike what ‘The Guardian’ had to say – it is not even remotely Slade-esque. I like Slade. NG likes Slade. NG is a shameless ripoff artist. This doesn’t sound a thing like Slade. Youtube comments “I love the flute player – so retro with his hair – like the Beatles”. It wasnt a flute. And the musician looks nothing like a Beatle. If anything – he looks like Clint Boon of the Inspiral Carpets – early 90s. Around when NG was a roadie for that band (which has been mentioned in these pages before should you wish to do some homework).

There are some guests on this album. Paul Weller (the Jam, the Style Council, solo) plays organ on the track. This is not the first time that NG and PW have worked together. Minus a lot of his later solo efforts, I am a lifelong PW fan. I will admit I didnt really pick up the organ sound on “Holy Mountain”. What I DID pick up on – NGs driving vocals, and – the Bass. The basslines in “Holy Mountain” are such that – well if they don’t make you at least tap your feet – then you should be in the emergency room – not reading this.

The next single to come out was “Fort Knox” – many have likened that to Primal Scream (admittedly, I am not overly familiar with them – I like a bit of their material – I thought it sounded a bit more like Stereo MCs).

Ultimately, who the fuck cares what something sounds like??? Other reviewers relish the opportunity to parade their Google driven knowledge of music and rub it in other peoples faces. I do not do that. MLIML doesn’t do that. These are the impressions of Andrew Rodriguez and if you are wise – you will just take them as such. “Fort Knox” starts out with a crescendo – it reminded me of an airshow – just a ‘ROOOOOOOOSH!’ – well after the twangy sort of guitar intro. Then, it keeps the tempo. It sounds like a song that you would really want to listen to on repeat if you are on Ecstasy (which I can’t condone but would not shout down either – you are adults). And in the absence of the chemicals, it – much like old hymns, spirituals and some classical music – CREATES A SENSE OF ECSTATIC EXPECTATION. Now – when i first heard this song I had not heard the album yet. Spoiler alert – “Fort Knox” is the opening track. As such – it is a BRILLIANT choice. HFB really put thought into the track order on the album. And this album has actually been in the works for almost 4 years. I’ve mentioned ‘tempo’ several times. But that is just it. Anyone who has listened to past HFB outings will know that they tend to be almost like movie soundtracks. NG has a very locked in view of what a listening experience should be. I think that is partially why he so openly and freely rips off other music – he is “I like that – I’ll nick that”. Why? Well, he loves music as much as we do. He realises what works and what doesn’t work and has an extremely high level of competency when it comes to assembling a bunch of songs and placing them in an order that essentially creates a cathartic experience. You don’t need the drugs. “Fort Knox” is hypnotising.

Next Single was “Its a Beautiful World”.

Now this one – I will admit – I was not as hooked on the first listen. John loved it. I have since come around. A little more pensive. Slightly slower tempo. But still purposeful. Sort of like the antidote to “The Ballad of the Mighty I”. The video may cause seizures in some viewers so be forewarned. The change in Noel’s pitch during the chorus – I find beautiful. Noel can hit high notes – and I remember years back thinking that they sound ‘strained’ – but if you listen closely – he doesn’t waver. Noel hits the high notes. Now if I was writing for NME that would have been my final line. But it isn’t. And fuck them. Their review was a bad as the Guardian’s was.

But those were the singles – released before the album. Now, some minor biographical info – John and I have known each other for close to 30 years. We are frequently in contact. Once John had told me the date of the release for the Album – I was so excited! As I mentioned above – I was already hooked. Thus, started my text countdowns. Every morning – I would text John with the countdown. When the album finally came out, I listened to it early on the Friday. I was instantly taken with it. Grabbed by the orgiastic introduction of “Fort Knox”, yes – okay I can listen to this song again. Oh – ‘HI!’ second track is “Holy Mountain”. Sure I can listen to this again. Next up – never heard this before – “Keep On Reaching”. FULL STOP. My first thought after hearing track 3 – was ‘cue it up again’. THIS was Undiscovered Country – although – in hindsight – not unsurprising country. Now recall I mentioned Northern Soul earlier – well – yeah. Now it all began to make sense. “Keep On Reaching” is easily my favourite track on the album. It has a heavy late 60s Motown feel. Noels voice is CREDIBLY soulful – tempo is just right. And the basswork (Jason Falkner) combined with the horns and the drums – it is a masterpiece. I cannot rave about it enough. Listen to it yourselves oh dear reader. If you get it – you will GET it. And if you don’t? HA.

But again – just when you think that you ‘get it’…you DON’T. Why? Well because we are dealing with Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds. And they are anything but predictable on this album. Further in the vibe subtly changes. You end up with “Be Careful What You Wish For”. Borderline litigation territory (not the NG is a stranger to that). ‘Come Together’ much? Regardless. A brilliant tune, and a cathartic change of pace from the opening few tracks. And then – for me – the real show stopper – “Interlude”. No band could believably include a track like “Interlude” on the same album as the first three songs. How a moody soundtracky sounding acoustic dreamy melody could fit in? Well, again – you need to listen to it. This is another track that caught me. And I repeated it several times before moving on. Just a beautiful and moving progression of sounds and notes. And case in point that a song does not need to be uptempo and driving to hit your soul straight on. Last highlight for me was the (sort of) title track. “Man Who Built The Moon” brings the entire album full circle. The first time I heard it – I just thought “Next James Bond Film theme”. And it should be. It melds the soul of the earlier tracks with the moodiness of “Interlude” – throws all of the seemingly disparate ingredients together in one big sonic pot and lets it reach the boiling point. You cool off with the second “Interlude” – and then get prepped to listen to the album again.


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

Blog Dylan: “I’m not there” soundtrack

Okay. So I’m departing from this blog’s usual format in order to participate in this cross blog, group collaboration on Bob Dylan (you can check out the work on the other fine blogs here). The album noted in this post’s subtitle doesn’t fit neatly into any of the lists or series I’ve got going right now (at least not yet). And I suppose it’s not the most obvious album or topic to be written about in connection with Bob Dylan but you see, I could never pretend to be the biggest fan, nor the most knowledgeable proponent of Robert Zimmerman. Sure, I went through a phase where I listened to his stuff incessantly a decade or two ago and I still have one of his many ‘best of’ compilations in my iTunes library, but that phase was short-lived and that compilation rarely sees play these days. Still, he’s a great lyricist and songwriter and I really do enjoy a bunch of his tunes. I just happen to find myself inexplicably more receptive to his compositions when they are covered by other people.

And he has been covered a lot. Other folk artists started covering him immediately, as I understand it, well before anyone else really knew who he was. The Byrds made a career out of covering his songs and doing it well. And if you google “Bob Dylan covers”, you’ll see that countless artists, many themselves influential, have covered him over the years. (There’s even a Wikipedia page listing all the cover versions and it goes on for days.) So we can all agree, he writes great songs and he’s influenced everyone who’s anyone but what else do we really know about him, other than he sings quite oddly and incoherently these days and that he won the Nobel prize for literature last year.

This is sort of what Todd Hayne’s tackles in his 2007 film, “I’m not there”, which I rewatched last week in preparation for writing this post, partially to get into the mood for writing it and partially because I couldn’t really remember the film. It is a sort of pastiche, and in a sense, a collection of covers in film version. Rather than present a straight ahead biopic, Haynes portrays and explores the different personas, myths, and musical eras of Dylan as six different characters (none of whom are named Bob Dylan), played by six different actors. Each of these were compelling in their own right but special kudos must be doled out to Cate Blanchett, who really rocked her gender-blurring part and made you forget any image you had of her previously.

To go along with these actors and their characters, there are six different stories that play out within the span of the film, seemingly at random, seemingly in different times, seemingly in different worlds, and what we get is not so much an explanation, but rather, an idea. Bob Dylan was a poet, a prophet, an outlaw, a fake, a “rock and roll martyr”, and a “star of electricity”. And at the same time, he was none of these. When asked about the film later, Dylan was apparently typically vague: “Yeah, I thought it was all right. Do you think that the director was worried that people would understand it or not? I don’t think he cared one bit. I just think he wanted to make a good movie. I thought it looked good, and those actors were incredible.”

The film’s soundtrack is a double album (2 CD, 4 LP) and just as the film never really references Dylan by name and he only appears briefly through archival footage at its end, Bob Dylan, himself, only literally appears once on the soundtrack, the very last track, in fact, the previously unreleased song from which the film and album take their names. (The rest are covers, so you can see why I like it.) The artists are as varied as the styles and sounds of music applied to the songs, doing a good job representing Dylan’s ability to dabble across the genre landscape with ease. We’ve got blues, Eddie Vedder, bluegrass, The Black Keys, folk, Jeff Tweedy, country, Sonic Youth, rock, and Sufjan Stevens, and through all of this, there still remains a coherence throughout. Another fascinating factoid is that only a portion of about half of the songs on the soundtrack actually appeared in the film. The originals featured more prominently there and I suppose that is how it should’ve been.

Here is a sampling of some of my favourite tunes on the soundtrack and a piece of brilliant Dylan lyric from each:

“Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again” by Cat Power: “Stuck inside of mobile” is one of my favourite Bob Dylan tunes, appearing as it did on the “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas” soundtrack, one of my favourite films. Cat Power does an expanded, almost seven minute version of the song and gives it the big band treatment, replete with plenty of horns and some swirling organ work. Her lovely vocal touch is adjusted slightly to adapt to Dylan’s laidback mood of the original.

Fave lyric: “Now the preacher looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed with twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest.”

“You ain’t going’ nowhere” by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová: This cover by the principal actors of “Once”, another film with a great soundtrack, doesn’t stray terribly far from the 60s Bob Dylan template, which fits right in with the busking persona that Hansard cultivated in “Once”. There’s heavy handed harmonica and the use of acoustic guitar as rhythm and melody. Hansard is raw and Irglová is the sweet backup sound.

Fave lyric: “Genghis Khan, he could not keep all his kings supplied with sleep. We’ll climb that hill no matter how steep”

“Goin’ to Acapulco” by Jim James & Calexico: I’ve never heard the original version of this tune but this cover by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and the soundtrack’s house band, Calexico, is quite phenomenal. It also plays quite prominently in an important and super memorable moment in the film, all glorious with imagery and magic, featuring the actual performers of the song, while Richard Gere’s outlaw, Billy the Kid prepares to face his long-time nemesis in Pat Garrett. So much soul, so regal, so beautiful.

Fave lyric: “I’m going down to Rose Marie’s. She never does me wrong. She puts it to me plain as day and gives it to me for a song.”

P.S. As much as I like the soundtrack, I’d be curious as to what the real Dylan fans out there (perhaps some of my blogging compatriots included) think of it.

P.P.S. After all this research, by that I mean watching the film and listening to the soundtrack, I feel like it may be time delve once again in to Mr. Dylan’s catalogue. I’ll let you all know how that goes…