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Best tunes of 2003: #22 The Dears “Lost in the plot”

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…And we’re back.*

“Our love, don’t mess with our love
Our love is so much stronger”

The Dears are a Montreal-based indie rock outfit that formed way back in 1995. Their membership has been in constant shuffle and flux over the years, the only real constants being frontman, Murray Lightburn, and his partner in everything, Natalia Yanchak, though even she came to the party a little late. The group released their debut album, “End of a Hollywood bedtime story” in 2000 but it wasn’t until their sophomore release, 2003’s “No cities left”, that the indie rock world really started to take notice. In fact, this album is now considered one of the great albums of the early 2000s Canadian indie rock renaissance, right up there with “Funeral”, “Set yourself on fire”, “You forgot it in people”, and “Old world underground, where are you?”.

I remember first listening to the album, perhaps a year after its release, picking up on all the Britpop references and glorifications, thinking that it might require a deeper dive, and then, promptly putting it down again for lower hanging fruit. And then, near the end of 2005, I caught wind that Ottawa was getting a new alternative rock radio station** and that their soft launch involved playing great alternative rock without commercials or DJ interruptions. I listened to it as much as I could for the month or so that it lasted. And one day in the car, I remember hearing a familiar song one day, remember thinking that the vocalist sounded a lot like Morrissey but that the music sounded awfully like Radiohead, circa “OK Computer”. Upon later research, I realized that said track was “Lost in the plot” from the aforementioned Dears sophomore record, which then begged immediate and repeat listens. I finally became a fan of The Dears and my attentions have yet to wane through the six albums that followed over the next fifteen years.

“And I promise not to cry anymore
All the reasons beat the crap out of me
Everyday when I wake up they are waiting”

“Lost in the plot” was the second single to be released from “No cities lost”. It is a sonically sinister and intergalactic five minutes of beauty. The guitars jangle like Marr and Lightburn warbles like Morrissey but there’s a ton more layers here and at the bridge, things change tack to a hip-shaking swagger that might make Brett Anderson blush. Yeah, there’s more than a bit of Britpop pastiche going on but it’s also forward, rather than retro thinking. Indeed, it’s an explosion of passion and love and hope and that’s a plot I don’t mind losing myself in on the regular.

*I took an unscheduled blogging holiday over the past couple weeks, in part to rest these old bones from attending five nights of concerts in the span of two weeks and in part to just recharge.

**To fill the void created when XFM went adult contemporary and was rebranded as CISS FM in 2004

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #16 The Wonder Stuff “On the ropes”

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If you asked me today who is my favourite musical artist, I’d be hard-pressed to even narrow it down to a top 50. However, if you had asked me this same question back in high school and right up to my first couple years of university, I wouldn’t have even hesitated in responding that it was Stourbridge, England’s The Wonder Stuff.

I have written about them a number of times already on these pages, hitting lists on my favourite covers and favourites tunes of 1990 and 1991, and of course, their first three albums all placed in my top ten lists for 1988, 1989, and 1991. By the time their fourth long player hit the shelves in the fall of 1993, I was a full-on fanboy and was eagerly awaiting its release. I had already seen the Samuel Bayer* directed video for the advance single, “On the ropes”, and was thrilled by the rock energy and crisp production. It had seemed Miles Hunt and the boys were loosing themselves from the technicolour folk rock of their previous release and embracing a more rocking sound. Martin ‘Fiddly’ Bell still had his fingers all over the sound, of course, as is evidenced in this early single, in which his fiddles screamed and bounced and generally, kept the Stuffies just slightly apart from the American alt-rock that they appeared to be courting.

I was all in on The Wonder Stuff, though, and the changed sound on “Construction for the modern idiot” didn’t deter me in the least. I loved it from the first and I immediately studied it with the same fervency that I did their earlier work. Of course, a new album meant that the band might tour and going to concerts was a new favourite pastime for this young lad. When they were announced to play the tiny club RPM in Toronto in February 1994 for a mere $10, I jumped all over it.

Incidentally, one of the most memorable moments of the concert for me occurred just as the group was leaping into this very song. A few bars into the intro, the noise arrested and Miles roared into the microphone, “Gouge the ****-ers eyes out!” He was referring to a young fan that had leapt on to the front of the stage just long enough to leap off it again and into the outstretched hands of the audience. The whole band weren’t really fans of the act of stage diving. The frontman took the opportunity to take a swig from his magnum of red wind before continuing his tirade against the offender that had disappeared into the crowd. “The next person that tries that will have the rest of the crowd to deal with when we walk off the stage. They paid to see us, not your ass!” The band then started right back up and with no less energy, blowing the doors off the place.

There wasn’t one other attempt to dive off the stage that night and the band duly played a super long set, complete with three encores. I left the show a very happy fan and with a concert T-shirt much like the one Hunt sports in this video, a shirt that I wore for nearly a decade and only retired it when it was no longer wearable. I was proud idiot.

Good times.

*Famous for directing the iconic video for a certain Seattle grunge act’s breakthrough hit.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2020: #25 Gateway Drugs “Wait (medication)”

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Back on Cinco de Mayo, 2015, I went to see Swervedriver perform at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I had been excited to see yet another re-formed shoegaze legend, but as much as I enjoyed their set, I found myself quite surprised to leave the show even more impressed by the opening act.

Los Angeles-based four-piece, Gateway Drugs, had only just released their debut album, “Magick spells” the month before, and they had already toured as support for noise rock and shoegaze icons Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They were led by a trio of siblings – Noa (guitars), Liv (guitars), and Gabriel (drums) Niles – each sharing vocal duties, while the fourth member, Blues Williams, simply looked cool and accompanied them on guitars and bass. The quartet were all in black, leather, furs, and sunglasses and were playing a garage rock infused shoegaze that sounded at different points like early Dum Dum Girls, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I left the show with a copy of the aforementioned debut album on CD and duly fell in love with it. Its accomplished sound and the pop sensibility that lies just beneath the surface of all those roaring and screeching guitars could easily be traced back to the music surging through the veins of the Niles siblings (children of The Knack’s Prescott Niles).

I was convinced they were going to be huge.

But then, there was nothing but relative silence from the group for almost five years.

Fast forward to 2020, just a few short days after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be an honest-to-goodness pandemic and things started to shut down in earnest, a new Gateway Drugs single appeared, seemingly plucked out of the ether and there finally came the news of the long-awaited sophomore release. I say this last bit with my tongue firmly planted in cheek because perhaps I was one out of only a small handful whose interest hadn’t waned in the interim. This first single really got me excited and that was only multiplied by fifty or so when I learned that “PSA” was produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Put myself on a leash, I’d stay
Kill myself just to hear you call my name”

Of course, that first single was none other than “Wait (medication)”, our song of focus today. I’ve read that Liv Niles has called it a reflection on excess, madness, addiction, and how “extreme highs give way to extreme lows.” It’s an apt Coles Notes for the jackhammer drum beat, crunchy bass line, clanging and twangy guitar screams, and the dual vocal assault by Liv and her brother Noa. It is a four-minute salacious stroll down the chaotic and messy trail blazed by the JAMC and the BRMC.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.