Best tunes of 2011: #10 Dan Mangan “Post-war blues”

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Maybe you folks outside of Canada can help me out here. I’m not sure at all how well-known West Coast singer/songwriter Dan Mangan is outside of his (and my) country but around these parts, he definitely does quite well. In 2011, he released, “Oh, fortune”, his third full length and second on indie super-label Arts & Crafts. It was his second album to be long-listed for a Polaris prize (Canada’s equivalent to the Mercury) and the following year garnered the man a couple of Junos (our version of the Grammy).

As an album, the lush instrumentation that filled out his gorgeous songwriting and baritone vocals was a stark contrast against the relative austerity of his acoustic-laden previous effort, 2009’s “Nice, nice, very nice”. The subject matter was still quite dark, even in its humorous moments, but it all felt cleaner and more accomplished. “Post-war blues” was the obvious single on the album, a rousing number that starts with a drum roll and leaps into Arcade Fire territory, circa “Funeral”, complete with chugging beats, screaming guitars and a string backbone. And in that kindly voice of his, he sings words that seem oddly reminiscent of their hope in youth and cynicism with the aged.

“Let’s start a war for the kids
A purpose for which to unite
Make them some words they can mince
What they don’t know, They won’t mind”

And yes, for those Kubrick fans out there, you really need to watch the hilarious, Strangelove-inspired video. The pair, video and song, are just so great together and if you do manage a chance to see Dan Mangan perform live, definitely take it. He definitely made a bigger fan of me.

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

Vinyl love: Oasis “Definitely maybe”

(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: Oasis
Album Title: Definitely maybe
Year released: 1994
Details: Gatefold, double LP, original pressing

The skinny: A few weeks ago I posted about how purchasing Oasis’s b-sides compilation, “The masterplan”, completed* the Oasis section of my vinyl collection. So I thought I might spin and take pics of the rest of said section over the next few weeks. (Don’t worry, I don’t have everything they ever released, just the important pieces.) And as mentioned in the preamble to my record collection list, Oasis’s debut album, “Definitely maybe”, was one of two albums purchased by wife at a Greenwich Village street sale, effectively kick-starting my obsession with vinyl. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the only two used records in my collection. As your can see by the pics, the album’s sleeve is not perfect, yet in pretty good shape considering its age. However, the sound that comes from the discs’ grooves is immaculate. Victoria once told me that she wouldn’t be offended if I wanted to dump this record in favour of a new reissue but the thought has never crossed my mind. It already has that built-in sentiment because it came from her. And oh yeah, the album? In my opinion, it’s up there amongst the best debut albums ever.

Standout track: “Live forever”

* I say ‘completed’ but I might be tempted if I ever found certain EPs or singles on vinyl out there in the wild.

Best albums of 1988: #3 The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”

In a previous post on these pages, I told the story of how I worked in the tool rental industry in the years immediately following graduation and during this time, met a guy named Chris, whose last name may now forever escape me, and with whom I shared musical tastes. Often while working together, we would talk music and share concert stories and recommendations and often with him, The Waterboys would be mentioned. I think the first time the name came up was after I told him about how much of a Wonder Stuff fan I was. After that, he would ask me, “Did you listen to them yet?” (‘them’ being The Waterboys), to which I would ashamedly shake my head in the negative. After a few weeks of this, I finally gave a listen to the title track off “Fisherman’s blues”, one of three albums he listed as recommended (“you’ll love any one of them”). I did enjoy the song but then, later the same evening, I heard it again during the opening credits of “Waking Ned Devine”, a film I had randomly picked to go see at my local rep theatre. It then seemed to me fated that I should fall in love with the song. I went out to buy the album shortly afterwards on CD and fell in love with the whole darned thing too.

The Waterboys are mainly the musical vehicle for creative force and frontman Mike Scott. He formed the group in 1983 and, save for a few years where he released work under his own name, the band has been a going concern with a rotating cast of characters. The only other long standing member that is with the group to this day is Irish fiddler Steve Wickham, who helped along the first change in sound after joining the force in 1985. Prior to the fourth album, which is the album of our discussion today, The Waterboys’ music was post-punk based with only hints of folk. “Fisherman’s blues” came out of lengthy recording sessions in Ireland and was heavily influenced by the traditional folk music of that country. It divided listeners at the time between those fans that wanted more of the ‘big music’ and those that loved the new sound. Nowadays, though, it is widely considered the band’s masterpiece.

The mass amounts of recordings that resulted from the year long sessions were such that, more than a decade later, Scott was able to put out a whole other excellent album, a sequel of sorts, from the pieces that didn’t make the original cut. That also means to me that “Fisherman’s blues” is a complete album, devoid of filler, and almost impossible to distill down to three picks for you. Still, I have managed a close approximation. Have a listen.

”Strange boat”: Track number three is a mellow number on the album. Acoustic strum, lazy beat and bass just plod along as a Mike Scott throws out a number of metaphors for this bizarre journey we call life. “We’re living in a strange time, working for a strange goal. We’re turning flesh and body into soul.” But if that sentiment’s not beautiful enough for you, Steve Wickham takes the song out of pedestrian territory with his heaven-meandering fiddles.

”And a band on the ear”: Track seven is nine minutes on the album and was released as the second single in a six and half minute version. It’s a lively, boppy jam that gives guest musician, Máirtín O’Connor, lots of room to prowl with his accordion and of course, Wickham to flail us again with his fiddles. It just begs for you to get up and dance. Meanwhile, Mike Scott regales us in each verse of tales of past loves, saving the best (and current) one for last. “So my woman of the hearthfire, harbour of my soul. I watch you lightly sleeping and sense the dream that does unfold (like gold). You to me are treasure, you to me are dear so I’ll give you my love with a bang on the ear.” And if you’re wondering, “bang on the ear” is not threatening violence but an expression of Celtic origin that refers to an affectionate kiss.

”Fisherman’s blues”: Though as mentioned above, the title track and first single off “Fisherman’s blues” was my introduction to the band, this is not the only reason it’s still my all time favourite Waterboys track. The other reason is more obvious than that, it’s just pure awesome. Here, Wickham’s fiddles are paired with Anthony Thistlethwaite’s mandolin. The two together create a raucous kitchen party all by themselves and the bass and drums can’t help but follow their jaunty lead and Scott yelps enthusiastic “Woo!”s in spite of himself. The lyrics describe Scott’s yearning for a simpler and freer life, like that of a fisherman or train engine driver, at the same time knowing that such a life is not without pitfalls. However… “Well I know I will be loosened from bonds that hold me fast, that the chains all hung around me, will fall away at last. And on that fine and fateful day, I will take me in my hands. I will ride on the train. I will be the fisherman.” It does sound very romantic in his words and music, doesn’t it? Woooo!!!

Check back next Thursday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.