Best tunes of 1991: #2 Chapterhouse “Mesmerise”

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“Pearl”, the standout single from Chapterhouse’s excellent debut album, “Whirlpool”, appeared earlier, at number 15 on this list, and now we have what is easily my favourite track by this band at number two.

Yes. “Mesmerise”. Let’s paint that picture.

Circa 1993 or 1994, the heaving dance floor is packed at the Dance Cave, the upstairs floor of one of Toronto’s more infamous concert venues, Lee’s Palace. The cheap $2-a-glass mystery draft has been flowing freely all night long. In the middle of the crowd, a tall, stoop shouldered, and ridiculously skinny young man is dancing to Adorable’s “Homeboy” or perhaps, Catherine Wheel’s “I want to touch you.” He is breaking a sweat under his extra large Wonder Stuff t-shirt and baggy green corduroys, requiring him to periodically remove his bucket hat to gather his shaggy thick brown hair, roughly the same shade as his long sideburns and goatee. His friend Tim, who is just back in town on break from Waterloo university, joins him on the floor, handing him a glass, his portion of the ‘next round’, just as the song ends and a new one begins with an unfamiliar, yet inviting piano melody. The young man hesitates a moment, should he stay or should he go, his friend definitely shows no sign of leaving the dance floor. Indeed, he has already started into his trademark sway, eyes sliding closed. So our protagonist finds the groove and starts moving, slipping easily in with the delicious beat, washes of synths, and hazy vocals. Two minutes in and he is in love. He wakes Tim with a nudge on the shoulder and yells the question in his ear above the din. “Who is this?” Tim responds but he is not sure he heard him quite right so he repeats it. “Chapterhouse?!” To which, Tim nods and continues dancing.

I can’t be certain now but I’m reasonably sure that this is as good an approximation as any as to how it went down. That skinny young man, realizing that “Mesmerise” didn’t appear on either of Chapterhouse’s full length albums thus far, because he had them both on CD, immediately went out on the hunt for the EP of the same name, finding it used at the long closed down Penguin Music. And yeah, I’ve still got it. It’s one of the few CDs I may never get rid of.

As an EP and single, “Mesmerise” bridged the chronological and philosophical gap between their first and only two albums, from the guitar-heavy shoegaze majesty of “Whirlpool” to the synth-driven dreamy dance of “Blood music”. This track shades heavy on both and is just so… damned… beautiful. Yes. “Mesmerise” is beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #13 The Rural Alberta Advantage “North star”

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Just after Christmas in December of 2011, I joined my friend Tim on a short road trip out to Cambridge to visit his friends Greg and Wendy. They had recently opened a used records and book store called Millpond and we met up with them there to check it out, just before they closed for the day.

(I browsed their record selection with some interest, though I was still a few months removed from starting my collection in earnest.)

Afterwards, we went out for dinner, where there were plenty of laughs and reminiscences and of course, talk eventually turned to music. The fact that I had recently starting blogging about music was raised and I showed them the home page on my iPhone, which at that moment was deep in the depths of my first ever end of the year, best albums countdown. Wendy exclaimed that she liked the look of one of the album covers and when I looked at the one about which she was talking, it was The Rural Alberta Advantage’s sophomore album, “Departing”. Its cover art is mostly white, what looks like a mostly untraveled two lane highway obscured by whiteout conditions, snow sliding across the asphalt, a set of headlights barely visible in the near distance. Incidentally, it aptly foreshadowed our drive back to Toronto as we were hit by one of those surprise snow storms particular to the areas surrounding Lake Ontario.

Without digging back in the archives of my old blog, “Music Insanity”, I couldn’t tell you what position “Departing” held in my top ten that year but I think if and when I redo it on these pages, this album would still be somewhere in the mix. The Rural Alberta Advantage is an indie rock trio, that despite their moniker are actually based out of Toronto. Their sound is the happy melding of Nils Edenloff’s rough guitar manhandling and raw vocal chords vocals, Amy Cole’s delightful keys and other percussion flourishes and her soft touch backing voice, and of course, Paul Banwatt’s frenzied impression of Animal punishing the drum kit. Every song on the album, nay, on all their albums, is an adventure.

The first half of “North star” is more sparse than the usual RAA tune. Cole’s piano chords are like a punctuation on Banwatt’s drum rhythm, those that just chug along like the sleepers on a night train, above whom the glass ceiling looks over the prairie night sky and the stars are everywhere, a million pin holes in the night. Then, the piano becomes more than an accent and fills all the rest of the empty space with chimes and bass reverberations. Edenloff, meanwhile, is almost restrained, singing forlornly about a love that might never be.

“We’re far apart under the same sky,
You’re diving in the dark I’m in the city’s lights,
Wishing just to see you for another night.”

If you’ve never listened to the RAA before, I suggest you give the song below a go. You’re welcome.

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

Best tunes of 1991: #3 Primal Scream “Loaded”

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“Just what is it that you want to do?”

“Well, we wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time
And that’s what we’re gonna do.”

These are the lines, sampled from the film “The wild angels”, that kickstart a revolution.

Prior to this song and the album on which it appears, Primal Scream were just another holdover from the C86 scene that was quickly losing steam. The only discerning difference being that they were led by the former drummer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Bobby Gillespie and his group approached DJ Andrew Weatherall to remix one of the songs from their self-titled sophomore album, a relatively forgettable track called, “I’m losing more than I’ll ever have”. After two aborted attempts, he came up with what we now know as that hit single and dance floor anthem “Loaded”. Weatherall’s remix essentially remade Primal Scream into a bunch of neo-hippies in the acid house age and set a template for the album that would be “Screamadelica”.

The video for this single would be my introduction to the band. Like so many other songs on this list, I first saw it on CityLimits. But this was one I didn’t record myself but my friend Elliott had caught. We watched it together over and over again, our minds literally blown.

The track is the embodiment of bombast, throwing together sampled horn blares, big bass and drums, gospel choirs and slippery bass lines, piano flourishes and funky guitars and granola crunching bongos, and shaking it all up in a gigantic mixing bowl. Yet somehow it all works as a song for closing your eyes and letting loose, for wiggling and waggling your fingers in front of your eyes and losing yourself in the neon trails, for losing control of all your bodily functions and not caring in the least. A song to replay over and over again as you write incoherent words in a drunken frenzy.

Whoops. Did I just write those words out loud?

No matter. We just wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.