Best tunes of 2010: #20 Stars “Fixed”

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We’ve now reached the number twenty spot on this list of my favourite tunes of 2010 and it’s “Fixed”, the first single released off Stars’ fifth album, “The five ghosts”.

This particular album is one of the last albums that I was so hotly anticipating that I immediately rushed out to buy it on compact disc (another being one which will remain nameless because it might have a song or two later in this list). And I distinctly remember taking the car out after work, the day it was released, hitting a few stores and not finding it. I definitely remember thinking that the lack of real music stores still standing was quite sad and their selections and stock levels sadder still, the available shelf space having been replaced by DVDs, graphic novels, games, and other pop culture bric-a-brac. I was starting to get really desperate when I finally found a single copy at the second Best Buy that I tried. Crisis averted, I unwrapped it on the way out to the car and threw the disc in the player for the drive back home. I was zero percent disappointed, even despite the senseless, drawn-out search.

Stars are a five-piece indie pop band based out of Montreal that formed in New York in 2000 but whose members all grew up in Toronto. They make beautiful and grandiose pop music that you can often dance to and that usually has a social conscience. My favourite of their long players is 2004’s “Set yourself on fire” with “The five ghosts” likely taking second place but all of their albums boast some incredible tracks that dig themselves deep under your skin and become part of your being.

Their vocals are a responsibility shared between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, often trading verses on the same song, but this one is all Millan, her light touch juxtaposed against the rousing instrumentation. Campbell only comes in periodically as backing support, their voices layering beauty as per usual. Yet with Millan sporting similar vocal styles here as her close friend and ex-roommate, Emily Haines, “Fixed” almost feels like Metric tune. The drumming is peppy and the synths keep pace, urging any and all listeners to get up and dance, no matter where they are, the bus, a crowded sidewalk, or with a broom in the kitchen, and forget everything but the beat. It’s bliss, it’s love, it’s fun.

“We all end floating away.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1990: #16 Soup Dragons “I’m free”

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This may come as a shock to some of you out there but I must admit that I heard this cover by The Soup Dragons well before I heard the original. In fact, I’m not certain that I’ve even heard The Rolling Stones’ version to this day. I briefly thought about logging on to Spotify this week to confirm but decided it wasn’t really necessary. Listening to The Soup Dragons’ version is enough to discern that this is a song that well matches the Jagger swagger and embodies the Stones’ sound. I can well imagine that the original didn’t include the sampling effects nor the vocal flourishes of reggae singer, Junior Reid, and I could go either way as to whether a gospel choir graced the Stones’ version, though given it was a B-side (to “Get off my cloud”), I’d wager no.

This cover of “I’m free” was one of biggest hits for the Scottish alternative rock band (the other being “Divine thing”) and the song for which they are best known. It is definitely the first track by them that I ever heard. It fit in quite nicely with a lot of the other music that I was listening to at the time so I took note of their name. Of course, I didn’t know then that The Soup Dragons were Scottish and that they came out of the same scene as another of my favourite bands of the era, Teenage Fanclub. I just assumed that they were from Manchester like all the other bands that were considered “baggy”, espousing that magical blend of soul, psychedelia, and acid house beats.

In fact, the sound of this track and the rest of “Lovegod” was the result of experiments with sampling and drum machine beats, due to the lack of a physical drummer when they were bound for the studio. A happy accident, I’d say. They would go on to release two more albums, further evolving this sound, including the aforementioned, popular single “Divine thing”, before splitting in 1995.

This version of “I’m free” is the perfect tune to kickstart August and set it off on the right track. Upbeat and uplifting and with an irrepressible groove, it is almost guaranteed to bring the sunshine. Cheers!

 

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #6 Mojave 3 “Return to sender”

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It was Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2000, and I was at work, nearing the end of my shift. I called Tim because I had a hankering to go out and was curious to see what my friends were doing. “I know what you’re going to do tonight,” Tim proclaimed, much like Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer might have done in ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’. “You’re coming with me to see Mojave 3 at the Horseshoe tonight!” It was fortuitous for him and for me that he had an extra ticket for the show and was looking for someone to claim it. I had never really listened to Mojave 3 before but I was game.

I don’t really remember many details of the show, given the amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is that I must’ve really enjoyed it because I went out the very next day to purchase their latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”. The second is a short conversation that transpired on the way out the Legendary Horseshoe after the show that will live on in infamy. Tim was saying something about how Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell had gone all Cowboy Junkies with Mojave 3. And I drunkenly proclaimed, “Tim, you have no concept of genre.” He just looked at me, incredulous, and said, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

I don’t want to put more words in his mouth than necessary but Tim was probably referring Halstead’s and Goswell’s pointed shift in musical direction after they disbanded their original band, Slowdive, and formed Mojave 3 with another Slowdive member, Ian McCutcheon. By 2000, they had added Alan Forrester and Chapterhouse’s Simon Rowe to their roster but they never did change the three in their name to a five. They were also on album number three by this time and had firmly defined their sound, as atmospheric as anything their first band would’ve been proud of but with a country and folk tinge, which is likely where Tim dug up his Cowboy Junkies reference.

“Return to sender” is a boppy number that dances along to Halstead’s gentle acoustic strumming and his soft and plaintive vocals. The jaunty drumming, the banjo twang, twinkling keys, and harmonica flourishes only to serve to add to the wistful joy. And all that’s great but for me, this song is elevated above others of its type by the lyrics.

I went looking for a priest
I said say something please
I don’t want to live my life all alone
He said god will take care
Of those that help themselves
But you look pretty screwed
Send a letter

So all this to say, after years of listening to this song and catching up on the rest of Mojave 3’s back catalogue, I may be willing to concede that Tim may have had something with the Cowboy Junkies comparison. (But I still stand by my statement about his lack of genre sensibilities.)

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.