Best tunes of 2011: #3 Sloan “Unkind”

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Last summer after seeing Canadian alt-rock icons, Sloan, in concert for the first time ever, I shared some pics and a few words, for which if you missed the post, you can find here. I had mused, then, about how the group played pretty much every song, save one, that I would’ve wanted to hear. This is a quite a feat when you consider that I’d been listening to them for almost twenty-five years, a period during which they had released eleven full-length albums. In the comments section afterwards, I had a bit of jive with Geoff from 1001albumsin10years, comparing notes on our favourite songs written by each band member, and I admitted that the one song they didn’t play was perhaps my favourite of theirs of all time. And yeah, that song was “Unkind”.

In 2011, Sloan were celebrating twenty years together as a band so when they released their tenth album that year, they called it “The double cross” as a play on the Roman numeral representation for the number twenty. It was their shortest album to date at just under 35 minutes but it was typical in that each band member contributed their own songs to the finished product and that the album rocked in totality.

“Unkind”, a Patrick Pentland penned tune, was the only single to be released from the album but it was enough to get me to pick it up. It is the second longest track on an album of short quick hits but I personally wouldn’t mind it being even longer. It’s got this raunchy but ripping, guitar riff that was built for ‘raising the goblet of rock’. The drums are all over the place and yet definitely organized enough for you to nod you head and tap all your hands and feet, as if you’re frantically playing the air drums. The patented Sloan harmonies are here too, of course, all members jumping in to perfect the chorus.

This song brings me so much joy. It is an almost flawless rock song. And so close to hitting the number one spot in this list. Stay tuned to see what beat it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #4 Austra “Lose it”

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Have you ever listened to and enjoyed an album up to a point but then, after seeing the band perform its songs live, it’s suddenly your favourite (at that moment) album? Well, it’s happened to me… a number of times. And one of these was with Austra’s debut album, “Feel it break”, after seeing their incendiary performance at Ritual Nightclub on December 3rd, 2011.

If you’ve not heard of them before, Austra is a three-piece band from Toronto, Canada, whose moniker was taken from the middle name of the petite lead singer and front woman, Katie Stelmanis. The other two members of the band are drummer Maya Postepski (also of TR/ST) and Dorian Wolf on bass. When I saw them live, they were joined onstage by a keyboard player and the Lightman twins (from Tasseomancy) singing backup. However and with apologies to her bandmates, this project is really about Stelmanis, a classically trained singer who found a love for electronic music, which explains the seemingly boundless vocal range.

While listening, if you can tear yourself away from just the vocals for a moment and realize there is backing music, you might hear a strong resemblance to the sounds Depeche Mode was making during their darker periods in the late 80s and early 90s (see albums “Music for the masses” and “Violator”). And it’s not just her use of synthesizers that make me say this but also her use of the minor key. Kate Stelmanis has admitted a love for writing music in minor keys, which is something of which Depeche Mode’s principal songwriter, Martin Gore, was also fond.

“Lose it” is easily my favourite track of many fantastic songs on “Feel it break” and most probably the catchiest of the lot. Starting off with a cool robotic sound that mixes European industrial with that aforementioned early Depeche Mode, the song jumps up a notch when Katie Austra Stelmanis adds her lush vocals and you’re just thinking how amazing she is and then she blows that away again with the chorus.

So if you’re up for some new-wave inspired electronic tunes, I highly recommend giving “Lose it” a listen. It’s especially excellent for enjoying through earphones.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

100 best covers: #73 (a tie!) The Wonder Stuff / Morrissey “That’s entertainment”

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What’s this? A tie?

This is not something you’ll see too often in my lists because it feels like a bit of a cheat. If you’re going to rank things, do so with conviction is what I say. However, in the case of these two covers, they will be forever inextricably linked and it would be near impossible for me to place one over the other.

I’ve already mentioned somewhere in these pages that I was pretty heavily into The Wonder Stuff in the early 1990s, especially in grade 13 (or OAC, as we called it at the time in Ontario, Canada). In January 1992, the Stuffies released the single, “Welcome to the cheap seats”, as a double EP and I duly purchased it on cassette. One of the eight tracks was their cover of The Jam classic, “That’s entertainment”. I wasn’t super familiar with the original but I loved the tune, along with the rest of the cassette, so I decided to share it with my friend Andrew Rodriguez, whom I knew was a fan of The Jam*. I offered him my Walkman on the bus ride home from school one afternoon and I watched his face as he listened but I couldn’t tell by the rapidly changing dramatic expressions whether he liked it or not. At the end, he took off the earphones, pressed stopped, and handed it back to me with: “It’s quite good actually. Quite faithful to the original. Definitely better than Morrissey’s cover.”

Then, Rodriguez went off about the original, waxing poetical about how Paul Weller wrote the song in about 10 minutes, probably drunk, probably on a bar napkin, but my mind was way behind him, still processing his last comment. Morrissey also covered this track? Why yes, JP, he did. In fact, it was done just the year prior and released as a B side to the single, “Sing your life”. It took some time for me to track this one down, I think. Things weren’t so easy before the Internet, you see. It was probably my friend John who had a CD copy of the aforementioned single and from whom I recorded a copy of this second cover to blank cassette.

Upon listening to both these covers, it is obvious that my friend Andrew was right about the fact that The Wonder Stuff cover was definitely closer in spirit to the original but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than Morrissey’s version. Say what you will about him these days, there was always something about Moz’s delivery. His version is slowed down, which lengthens the song by a whole minute, allowing us time to thoroughly process Paul Weller’s words and reflections on the crazy world happening all around him. The Wonder Stuff take the song on as it is, adding their own folk-punk-influenced pop sound and Miles Hunt’s easy snarl.

Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays
That’s entertainment

Are either of these better than the original? Probably not. But I love them anyway.

Cover #1:

Cover #2:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

* I’ve since realized that Andrew Rodriguez is quite possibly the world’s biggest Paul Weller fan (or maybe just Canada’s biggest). He’s been promising a Top Five Tunes post about The Jam for a couple of years now. Maybe next year…