Best tunes of 2010: #12 Arcade Fire “The suburbs”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

Ah yes, Arcade Fire. I’m sure you figured that they might be on this list somewheres, given that 2010 saw them release what is arguably their biggest and most accomplished album to date.

Arcade Fire was originally formed in 2001 when Win Butler was attending school in Montreal with his friend Josh Deu and they met Régine Chassagne. Their debut album, 2004’s “Funeral”, turned the indie rock realm on its head and spearheaded a group of Canadian talent that tuned the world’s ears to this bleak piece of land north of the U.S. It was so great and so promising that nothing the band produced could have realistically followed it up and so their 2007 sophomore effort, “Neon Bible”, disappointed at first but in hindsight, was quite excellent.

Then came “The suburbs”.

Much like all of their long players, it is a sort of concept album. It is lyrically inspired by Win and his brother, Will’s early years growing up in the ‘burbs, but rather than looking at the subject nostalgically, they throw a futuristic, dystopian curveball at it. Musically, Win Butler has reportedly described it as “a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young”, which kind of reminds me as a joke band my friends and I made up back in high school that called themselves a mix of Eric Clapton and Jesus Jones (more on that another time perhaps). What I am guessing Butler is saying and what I am trying to get across with my comparison is that Arcade Fire is boldly mixing sounds that shouldn’t work together and in so doing, managed to carve out a piece of music that is uniquely theirs.

The title track was one of the few songs I heard as a teaser prior to the full album’s release and also one that they performed the second time I saw them live. It was headlining the main stage during the second week of Ottawa Bluesfest in 2010, almost a month before the album’s release. They were a much bigger deal in terms of popularity than the previous time I had seen them as an opening act a few years prior. There was a massive crowd queued up to see them, rather than those curious few who showed up early for U2 and were treated to a raucous performance. But success hadn’t changed their manic live set any and still hasn’t. I’d say they are probably one of the best live shows you will ever see.

Performed live, “The suburbs” is a boisterous, rollicking affair but on the album, track number one is like a stroll through the singer’s childhood neighbourhood. The drums present a lackadaisical gait and pacing that suggests we need to take everything in. The jaunty, ragtime piano is more upbeat than it should be and the strings and other otherworldly synth effects suggest a sinister, malevolent undertone. But Win Butler’s vocals are matter of fact, telling it like it is, pointing out points of interest, recounting childhood stories, and espousing dreams in a world that appears to be without hope. Doesn’t it just leave you breathless?

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

Vinyl love: Asobi Seksu “Citrus”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Asobi Seksu
Album Title: Citrus
Year released: 2006
Year reissued: 2017
Details: 2 x LP, Black vinyl, 180 gram, gatefold

The skinny: Asobi Seksu was the first of a number of shoegaze/dream pop revival bands that I came across in the early to mid-2000s and was perhaps the best of these. “Citrus” was the group’s sophomore release and was a thing of beauty, calling to mind both Lush and My Bloody Valentine.

Standout track: “Strawberries”

Best tunes of 1990: #4 Spirit of the West “Home for a rest”

<< #5    |    #3 >>

Happy Friday! At spot number four on this list, we’ve got the perfect song to end off the week: “Home for a rest”, easily Spirit of the West’s best known song. And though it missed out by one song to “Political” when I ranked my top 5 songs by the band back in the spring, I’m willing to concede it’s a very, very, very close second.

I’m sure it’s funny to the band now, after its massive popularity growth over the years and the accolades heaped upon it by Canadian music media, that it was never released as a proper single and the producer for “Save this house” even had to convince its writers, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly, to record it for inclusion on the album. Imagine if he had failed? The Vancouver-based, Celtic folk rock band might have never gotten as big as they did. They would have had to find another track to close out all their shows since the early 90s. Canadian Saint Patrick’s day ceremonies across the country over the last three decades would have had a big gaping hole in their evening play lists. I would have had to have found another favourite drinking song, a song to request and dance to at weddings. And just maybe, I might not even be married to my wife Victoria, given that we got together at one of Spirit of the West’s concerts in the late 90s.

“Home for a rest” really is a rollicking good tune, regaling the stories, whether true or not, of the band’s first tour in England and their many visits to pubs across the country. It warns of the perils of too much drink and bemoans being away the comforts of home but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming so well-known as a drinking song. Indeed, the chorus is shouted along with like a badge of honour:

“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a week (month), I’ve been drunk since I left
These so called vacations will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest…”

The band incorporates the melodies of traditional folk reels into the song, fleshing out the vehemently played acoustic guitar with accordion flourishes and head-spinning flute solos. It begs to be jigged to with abandon on any dance floor anywhere and I’ve done so many times. I had gotten so proficient at it that I had proper dancers thinking I had the jig mastered and asking where I’d learnt it. It wasn’t skill, I assured everyone. It was just plain earnestness and plenty of beer.

So raise a glass with me to this iconic Canadian song, the now-defunct band who wrote and performed it so many times over the years, and to John Mann, the lead singer, who is now courageously battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Cheers!

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