Best tunes of 2001: #20 New Order “Crystal”

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Happy Monday. A dubious day to announce a comeback but we’ll do one nonetheless because it feels like my best songs lists have taken a back seat of late. And of course, comebacks don’t get any better than this song.

“Crystal” was the iconic New Wave band’s first single since the standalone, “Video 5 8 6”, in 1997. But more significantly, it was also the first single released off “Get ready”, New Order’s first studio album in eight years and the last to feature all of its original members. Shortly afterwards, keyboard player Gillian Gilbert would go on a second hiatus to take care of her and drummer Stephen Morris’s kids. And then, there was the famously acrimonious departure of standout bassist Peter Hook in 2007.

But in 2001, all the pistons were firing and New Order was welcomed back to the music world with open arms by fans and critics alike. “Crystal” (as well as the rest of the album) was some of the fastest, upbeat, jubilant, and guitar-driven material we had heard from a band that cut its teeth filling dance floors in the eighties with its synth heavy tunes. The keys and effects and danceable beats are still here but this feels like rock. And of course, when I first heard it, I recognized it as New Order but felt its differences deep within my soul. I loved it and immediately clamoured to hear the rest of the album. A good quality for a first single for sure.

As an aside, the video for the song is notable for inspiring the name of what is arguably one of the biggest bands in rock in the new millennia. Just have a look at the bass drum of the fictional band performing the song in the video and you’ll have a chuckle I’m sure. That is, if you’re not already smiling along with the song. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Vinyl love: James “Wah wah”

(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: James
Album Title: Wah wah
Year released: 1994
Year reissued: 2015
Details: Double LP, Black vinyl, 180 gram, Remastered

The skinny: This is the companion album to “Laid“. When James went into the studio to record that album, producer Brian Eno saw the way the band came up with its material in such an organic way and suggested they release two albums. The one album proper, which became “Laid”, and the second, “Wah wah”, were the jams by the band that Eno recorded. For the most part, the album is snippets with a few proper songs (the below being an example of these) but it’s some seriously beautiful stuff.

Standout track: “Honest Joe”

Best albums of 2007: #1 Young Galaxy “Young Galaxy”

On October 13, 2007, I went to see Young Galaxy and The Besnard Lakes (who appeared at number 10 in this list) in a double headliner show at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox. After the incredible first set by Jace Lasek and company and just before being blown away by Young Galaxy, I wandered up to the merch table to get myself a physical copy of this debut, self-titled album. As we exchanged cash for CD, I told vocalist Catherine McCandless, in all honesty, that her band’s was easily my favourite album of the year. And obviously, that hasn’t changed in the decade that has since passed.

The group was formed originally as a duo by ex-Stars touring guitarist Stephen Ramsay and the aforementioned Catherine McCandless. They recorded the debut with friends in Jace Lasek’s studio and filled out the band for touring purposes. If you listen to this one and compare it with the music they release these days, you’d hardly think they were the same band. Their latest material is more electronic with McCandless carrying the bulk of the vocal duties but when they were just starting out, they were still finding their proverbial voice and often McCandless shared the microphone with her partner in crime. “Young Galaxy” plays more with organic sounds but still riffs on the atmospheric, dream pop themes. Think Spiritualized, Luna, Slowdive, or even Pink Floyd, but perhaps more upbeat than all of these, and you’ll realize why I love this album.

I’ve never thought that critics gave this one its due. Sure, you can hear the influences plainly but Young Galaxy comes by it honestly. The music is often quite stunning and the vocals, something that’s not often a focus in dream pop, are quite beautiful throughout. I can’t recommend this album enough to anyone who’s never heard it. Of course, you can start with these, my three picks for you, but anything on the album is worth sampling.

“Come and see”: Some of you Canadian folks might recognize the exuberant chorus as the music used in an Alexander Keiths television commercial in the summer of 2009. “Come and see” is an upbeat number that starts off chugging with a danceable guitar line and urgent rhythm. Ramsay’s soft vocals are just there, just so, a slow dancer to a fast beat, subtle movements marking exclamations. And then, there is an explosion of confetti and stars at the chorus. I would guess it was that celebratory feel that caught the advertisers’ ears but this is a party not meant for this earth. It’s a cacophony that pulls you from your body to dance in the clouds.

“Outside the city”:  One of the few tracks on the album that is solely left to the devices of Catherine McCandless’s vocals, the power hinting at the glory to come on future albums. Her voice here is bold and has muscle, similar to Siouxsie Sioux, and as mentioned before, a quality one might find rare in dream pop. It bears the weight of the song’s frantic beat and rocking guitars well. It is an escape from the humdrum of the Monday to Friday, a call to look beyond the concrete and steel of the city, an invitation to leave work there and find yourself. Let the “city release you” and find yourself “inside-out”. Yes!

“Swing your heartache”:  As much as I love pretty much everything Young Galaxy has produced, this song still remains my absolute favourite of their tunes. Nowhere else will you hear the Spiritualized influence as much as you will here but at the same time, the song is uniquely theirs. It plods along, movement through movement, layers added and removed, an atmosphere created that is at once darkness and light. A lone guitar twists and turns over a plush bed of organ washes. Meanwhile, Ramsay and McCandless’s voices dance a slow romantic dance, each taking turns with the lead and complementing each other with absolute courtesy. They know that this thing called life is not easy but still a gift, and one not to waste. “It’s time for you and I to face the signs and realize that living’s a battle, for all the times we cried and told the lies and realized life’s not a rehearsal.” Pure awesome.

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.