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Best tunes of 2002: #4 The Decemberists “The legionnaire’s lament”

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“I’m a legionnaire, camel in disrepair, hoping for a Frigidaire to come passing by.”

And so begins yet another great track off The Decemberists’ debut album, “Castaways and cutouts”*. I got into this album and the following year’s sophomore album simultaneously, perhaps sometime in 2004, after reading about them in my favourite indie music magazine ‘Under the radar’.

I remember being immediately blown away by the songwriting of Colin Meloy. Being a word geek myself, I loved the wordplay and use of archaic terms and thought it hilarious that I found myself reaching for the dictionary when listening to the lyrics of a pop song, indie or not. But it was not just the choice of words that won me over. It was how Meloy employed them, creating worlds and weaving tales, vivid and imaginative and just so much fun. And then there was the music, indie rock with a folk rock flavour, sampling music from around the world, and not just evoking that of today, but from different points in time throughout history.

The Decemberists have gone on to make eight studio albums in total and a handful of EPs, and successfully navigated the jump from indie to the majors without losing an ounce of what made them great. Every one of their songs is an adventure and you would be hard-pressed to tell me that they are one of those bands whose songs all sound the same.

“The legionnaire’s lament”, despite its title, is an upbeat number. It was the song that first hooked my wife Victoria to the group and is one to which we both love to sing along. And though the words can be esoteric and the specific experience unfamiliar – that of a French Foreign Legion soldier stranded in the desert, his plane shot down in battle in a war over a hundred years ago – the sentiment of missing his love and his home is universal and instantly recognizable.

“If only some rain would fall on the houses and the boulevards and the sidewalk bagatelles (it’s like a dream). With the roar of cars and the lolling of the cafe bars and the sweetly sleeping sweeping of the Seine. Lord I don’t know if I’ll ever be back again.”

Our protagonist is faithfully represented by an angry and forceful strum on the acoustic, the mirage of a jaunty drum beat and playful electric guitar lick, but what really places you in the tune and perfects the feeling of homesickness for Paris is the frolicking accordion. So good.

*”July July” from this same album appeared earlier, at number nineteen, on this list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2012: #15 Metric “Breathing underwater”

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So I’ve mentioned once before in the last month or so that this blog is quickly approaching its fourth anniversary*, and looking back over my posts, I’ve noticed, much to my own surprise, that with the exception of one of my Vinyl Love posts, Canadian indie rockers Metric have yet to have been the focus of a post on any of my lists.

Metric got its start as the duo of James Shaw and Emily Haines back in 1998 in Toronto. Drummer Joules Scott-Key joined on in 2000 and a couple of years later, bassist Joshua Winstead made the group the quartet that we now know and love. As I wrote in that aforementioned Vinyl Love post, I was aware of the group from their early days because of my friend Jez. He saw them a number of times at various intimate clubs when they came to Ottawa in support of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”. After his first time seeing them, Jez tried dragging me along with him and though I was sold on the music of the album he loaned me, I never seemed to have the money to spare.

By the time I finally did see Metric live, it was a number of years and three albums later and their latest, 2009’s “Fantasies”, had garnered them enough success to earn them a spot on Ottawa Bluesfest’s main stage, albeit one at a time slot in the early evening. My wife Victoria was quite a fan of that album and so I was able to convince her to join me on the lawn of the Canadian War Museum (where the festival has been annually held up to last year’s rude COVID-19 interruption) on a warm summer evening in July. Metric’s energy was fun and we both enjoyed singing along with all of our favourites, though Victoria later pointed out that Haines’s dancing was sometimes awkward and her vocals not as strong live as they were on the recordings. My opinion slightly differed than my wife’s – I thoroughly enjoyed finally catching their live experience. I’ve since seen Metric twice more, both times at different festivals, including once in support of their next album, “Synthetica”, from which comes today’s song of focus.

If “Fantasies” broke Metric more into the Canadian mainstream, “Synthetica” finished the job, songs like second single, “Breathing underwater”, gilding the festival stages for the appearances. The intro of synths is like a laser show starting, the whir of exciting machinery, then comes Shaw’s stadium ready, dancing guitar line and the driving drums, regularly punctuated with exciting fills at perfectly opportune moments and Emily Haines can hardly believe that it’s her up on the stage, singing “Is this my life?”. Indeed, the song seems to be a meditation on their good fortunes and success, the achieving of the impossible, and the worry that they are not at all up to the challenge of supporting the weight of being adored by fans around the world. Meanwhile, the video is a collage of clips of their charged live performances and the masses of audiences, including footage from a performance at Lollapalooza the previous year.

Apart from all that, “Breathing underwater” is an incredible and uplifting synth tinged rocker that will have you dancing and singing along every time.

*Now in 11 days to be exact.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2002: #5 Doves “Pounding”

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I almost don’t want to share that this song has already appeared on these pages when I counted down my top five Doves tunes back in January 2019. If you go back to read that post, it might spoil the appearance of another song further up this list. However, it’s true, “Pounding” was definitely part of my list of five favourites when I counted those down. At the time of writing that, we didn’t know for sure what this reunion would bring and whether there was any new material forthcoming. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the reunion shows that were only just announced were a huge success and so were the reissues of their first three records and then, 2020 saw them release their first new album in more than a decade, which wound up atop my favourite albums list for the year.

“The last broadcast” is still likely my favourite album by Doves. I wrote about my discovery of it and the group that performed it when I wrote about “Caught by the River” (which appeared at #17) for this very same series. It was Doves’ second album and landed right at the top of UK’s album charts upon release, was a hit with consumers and critics alike, garnering them their second Mercury prize nomination. It is a gorgeous album, calling to mind the hey day of Manchester acid house, as well as the dream pop movement of the same period. It is textured and danceable stuff, perfect for both zoning out and jumping around like crazed animal in a field of likeminded festival goers.

“Pounding” was the second single to be released from the album and as I’ve said before, it really lives up to its name. Many of Dove’s songs are built, layer upon layer, through the course of their duration and this one is no different, which is quite an accomplishment given that its starting point feels high up in stratosphere. Andy Williams’ drumming is inescapable, hammering down at a torrid pace on his snares and toms and you swear you can feel and hear sparkling confetti exploding from them with each hit. The guitars and bass lines race along with the rhythm and effects are thrown in to emulate the sounds of cars roaring past. This is very effective in making you forget yourself when played on your car stereo and your foot on the gas pedal seems to get heavier and heavier. Then, when you think the song can’t get any more uplifting, Jez Williams takes over at the bridge and just wails away at his guitar strings, a jangly explosion that feels ripped from The Edge’s playbook.

“Pounding” is just an injection of pure joy. It’s a track for picking you up when you’re down. A push in the right direction. A word of encouragement to enjoy your life, not to waste this chance we’ve been given.

“Seize the time
Cause it’s now or never, baby“

Beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.