Best tunes of 2010: #8 Future Islands “Walking through that door”

About a month or so ago, I had a discussion with fellow blogger Danica Piche over at Living a Beautiful Life about Bob Dylan in the comment sections of one our posts and she asked me which bands I had gained a better appreciation for after seeing them live. At the time, I mentioned Cake as the first band that came to mind (Don’t laugh. They put on a great show.) but said there were certainly many others. After further reflection, Baltimore-based synthpop trio, Future Islands would be an even better example.

I came upon their work rather haphazardly with their 2010 sophomore album, “in evening air”, finding it a rather fascinating sound. I remember describing it to friends as ‘Tom Waits gone synth pop’. Then, I paid them only mild attention through the release of another album (2011’s “On the water”) before they released their critically acclaimed fourth album, “Singles”, in 2014. But it wasn’t until I saw them perform live a year later at Ottawa Bluesfest that I really ‘got’ them. Frontman, Samuel T Herring really puts everything he has into his performance. It’s all passion and raw energy, as if each show he performed was the one he wanted to be remembered for. And that night, the skies unleashed a torrent of rain during their set but the band refused to concede to it, as long as the crowd was willing to dance. I went home afterwards and immediately put on their album, even before peeling off my soaked clothing, and you can bet it sounded different to me.

“Walking through that door” is one of my first run ins with the band, being the first track off their 2010 album. It was one of the few tracks that has stuck with me from the beginning and was a revelation performed live. The heavy bass drum machine that provides the song’s backbone becomes fireworks at the hands of the touring drummer. The squealing organ synths dances through your soul, never minding any such door. And Herring, whose growl in the recording can be heard just treading water above the synths, is a force when live, the man kneeling and pleading, banging his fists on his chest, urging the listener to stay with him, through sunshine and rain, through happiness and pain. The frontman leaves the stage every night soaked in sweat, voice raw, and exhausted, giving us his all. And if you listen to this song closely enough, I’m sure as hell that you can hear it.

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

Vinyl love: James “Gold mother”

(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: Gold mother
Year released: 1990, 1991
Year reissued: 2017
Details: Double LP, Black vinyl, 180 gram

The skinny: Manchester’s James finally made a name for themselves with this, their third album. Originally released in 1990, it was reissued the following year with a slightly different track listing (and renamed as a self-titled album for the US). This new pressing is a combination of the two versions, featuring all the great and now iconic tunes, such as the one below, “How was it for you?”, “Top of the world”, and both versions of “Come home”.

Standout track: “Sit down”

Best tunes of 1991: [Special honourable mention] Nirvana “Smells like teen spirit”

Ok. So I before I get started into my Best tunes of 1991 list, I wanted to clear something up right away: Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” is NOT the number one song. Nay, it didn’t even make my top 30.

I’ll explain.

In the fall of 1991, I was entering into my fifth year of high school. Back then, it was called O.A.C. (don’t ask me what it stood for) but it was also known as grade 13. I had been getting into ‘alternative’ music over the previous few years and was in pretty deep by then. I remember first hearing “Smells like teen spirit” and watching the video for the first time and being pretty invigorated by it all. And I remember shortly afterwards, a bunch of us driving around in my friend Tim’s car, late on the night of the year’s first snowfall, and going to the local mall parking lot to do donuts, while this song played on the car’s tape deck. I also remember ‘moshing’* about to the song at a high school dance shortly after that.

But then, I started to get turned off by it – the constant airplay, how commercial it got, and how all these young kids were talking about Nirvana, ‘alternative’ music, and how the first had invented the second. It got so that each successive single from “Nevermind” (and “In utero” afterwards) turned me off a little bit more.

I got (and I still get) the song’s importance and its influence on alternative rock. The problem was that with “Smells like teen spirit” and Nirvana’s emergence, suddenly every ‘alternative’ band was supposed to sound like that and the other bands from Seattle’s ‘grunge’ scene, effectively narrowing the scope of American (and with it, Canadian) music for a number of years. It’s no wonder then that I turned my ears to England’s music through most of the 90s.

Many years have since passed, however, and my angst towards the band has faded. I can now listen to their songs without the animosity I had garnered towards it in my youth and actually enjoy some of them. I even have their self-titled, ‘best of’ compilation in my iTunes library. And though I still don’t think “Smells like teen spirit” was as original as everyone saw it (Kurt Cobain, himself, admitted he was trying to emulate the Pixies when he wrote it), I look at it as a good song that was at the right place, at the right time. I can really appreciate the raw energy that Krist Novoselic, a pre-Foo Dave Grohl, and of course, Cobain poured into the song. The now famous intro guitar line that carries its way through the chorus and the juxtaposition of its rage against the relative calm of the verses. It is loud and raucous and now iconic. And though I’m sure it’s still getting overplayed on alternative radio stations everywhere, I no longer listen to them with any regularity so that when I do chance upon “Teen Spirit”, it reminds me of the first time all over again. I tap my foot and nod my head ever so slightly, re-enacting an adult version of my teenaged ‘moshing’.

All that being said, don’t look for this song (or any by Nirvana) when I start posting my favourite songs from 1991 in the next week or two. It won’t be there. But that doesn’t mean I won’t understand those of you who will disagree with it not being included. To those, I salute you and recommend you press play below and bang your head along with Kurt. Happy Friday!

* I put the word ‘moshing’ in quotes throughout this post because I wasn’t really… just flailing about in a similar approximation thereof.