Categories
Tunes

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.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Various Artists “Caught beneath the landslide”

(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: Various Artists
Album Title: Caught beneath the landslide
Year released: 2021
Details: Limited edition, ‘Indies only’, double LP, clear

The skinny: Not counting film soundtracks, I only have three compilations on my record shelves* and that’s already three more than I ever thought I’d ever have when I first starting collecting vinyl. This particular compilation didn’t jump out at me when I first started seeing it pop up in my mailing lists from the various record vendors I’ve frequented over the years… that is, until I happened upon the track listing. And then, the salivation started in earnest. You see, I’ve always had a soft spot for Britpop and those years in the mid-90s when everything coming out of England was golden (or fool’s golden). “Caught beneath the landslide” was put together as companion piece to a photobook by former NME photographer Kevin Cummins that shared some of his iconic snaps from the era. The tracklist features a who’s who of those artists associated with the Britpop term but instead of the obvious picks by each, it collects together alternate versions, remixes, b-sides, covers, and rarites. I opted for the ‘Indie only’ version in clear vinyl because… clear vinyl. And this particular sucker for Britpop, loves everything about it.

Standout track: “Ciao!” by Lush with Jarvis Cocker

*The other two are the Frightened Rabbit tribute compilation “Tiny changes” and the very excellent, “Warchild – Help album”, another Britpop heavy record.

Categories
Tunes

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.