Vinyl love: Stars “The north”

(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: Stars
Album Title: The north
Year released: 2012
Details: Gatefold sleeve, blue translucent vinyl

The skinny: Back in 2012, I had just started collecting vinyl, my wife starting things off by finding a couple of fine used picks in Greenwich Village while in New York. After that, I start visiting physical music stores again and rediscovering of the joy of browsing for music, picking up a record here and there, even though I didn’t have a turntable yet. When Stars released a new album, their sixth, in August of that year, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. First of all, I saw that it was blue and secondly, a sticker pronounced that it included a download card, so that even though I couldn’t spin the record yet, at least I could listen to its contents. Luckily for me, it was another great album by the Montreal-based indie pop band.

Standout track: “Hold on when you get love and let go when you give it”

Best albums of 2008: #2 The High Dials “Moon country”

So here’s a band and album that might have many of you ducking out for Google and Wikipedia.

The High Dials are a Montreal-based psych rock band whose driving force is Trevor Anderson. Originally called The Datsons, they got their start in and about 2001 and had to change their name a few times because they learned it was taken by other, more established groups. They landed on The High Dials around 2003 and released their debut album, “A new devotion”, that same year. In 2005, they released “The war of the wakening phantoms”, a psych rock masterpiece that received rave reviews from all corners and really should have made them stars. However, justice was not served and in 2008 they were self-releasing their third album, “Moon country”.

I was really looking forward to this album after become completely infatuated with their previous release and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It is 14 tracks of throwback psych mixed with folk, drone, country, power pop but all with an eye to the future. It was released on CD and in digital formats like MP3 but still marketed itself as two sides, a nod to a vinyl past and future resurgence that had not yet fully taken hold. Like their other albums, the songs are great on their own but taken as a whole, listened to as they were meant to be, they feel an invincible force and you can’t believe that you are one of the few people in the world that have experienced them.

The High Dials are still a going concern despite always operating on the periphery. They’ve released two more albums since “Moon country” and a new EP just last year that I still haven’t gotten around to but intend to do so very soon. In this environment where there is so much music at our fingertips and so little time for new discoveries, I still say this group and especially this album is worth your precious moments. Have a look at my three picks for you below and let me know what you think.

“Clare”: “The future’s no place for me. Watch it sink like a boat in the sea. Tie my past to the mast. It can all go down.” It’s a lazy beat and even lazier vocals. Sounding like floating on the moon or on a cloud of ether, Trevor Anderson’s breathy voice here is fed through echo chambers of reverb. There’s lots of layers for such a simple sounding concept of a song but there you have it. Harps to close things out. Of course.

“Killer of dragons”: Electronic beats set against the strum of an acoustic guitar hint at a blurring of time and space. Eerie synths are added and the acoustic gives way to pedal-mutated electric guitars but the beat remains the same. Meanwhile, Trevor sings a tale reminiscent of Don Quixote. “Bring your bow and arrow and fortified wine. Take a taxi to the caves tonight.” Yeah, “Killer of dragons” inhabits a modern world rife with magic and the fantastical… or is it just the fortified wine? No matter. It’s a great tune to close your eyes to, adjust your noise cancelling ear phones and ride out the waves of dizziness.

“Book of the dead”: This final track, which follows the previous one discussed on the album, track five on ‘side one’, is the one that reminded me the most of the work on their previous album, “War of the wakening phantoms”. It is crazy upbeat and danceable, snakes and ladders guitars, frenetic beats, and plenty of haziness and dreams. It meshes Manchester craze with shoegaze introspection and a handful of psychedelic pink pills, making for a beautiful party in your head. “Secrets I need. Secrets you can read from my book of the dead.” Not sold yet? Listen to it again! You’re obviously not doing it right.

Check back next Thursday for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”
4. Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”
3. Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”

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

100 best covers: #80 Teenage Fanclub “Nothing to be done”

<< #81    |    #79 >>

One quick glance at my best tunes of 1990 and 1991 lists and you’ll likely notice I tended towards British music in that decade. It got worse when Nirvana’s explosion meant that the American (and Canadian, to a slightly lesser extent) music industry looked to grunge for the template to all things ‘Alternative’. So in the world before the internet, of course, it made sense that I would find my way to the British music magazines that managed their way to the shelves across the Atlantic and that I would constantly peruse these pages in search of new bands to explore. My favourite of these magazines was the now-defunct “Select”, champion of all things Britpop.

“Select” was also known for the cassette tape compilations that it would include with certain issues. Personally, I was always surprised when I’d find a copy that had somehow survived the voyage with the cassette still attached so it would invariably join me on my return home. One such cassette that I remember, mostly because it is still in a shoebox along with other preserved cassettes in my basement, was the 1995 compilation titled “Exclusives”. It was so called because the songs or versions thereof were only supposed to be available on this tape. It included tracks by Spiritualized, Boo Radleys, U2, EMF, and this cover by Teenage Fanclub.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a cover. I had never heard of The Pastels, the highly influential Scottish indie rock band who did the original. I just loved the laid back groove of the Teenage Fanclub track that came out just one month before their fourth album, “Grand prix”, the crisp production and jangling acoustic giving a foreshadowing impression of what to expect when the new CD was to hit my carousel. And I couldn’t possibly know that the female vocalist tracing barbs with Francis MacDonald on the recording was Katrina Mitchell, a then member of the band being covered.

The original appeared as the opening track on The Pastel’s sophomore record, 1989’s “Sittin’ pretty”, and is more raw sounding than the Fannies cover, vocals even more lazy and guitars raunchy and keys plunking. It sounds a lot like Teenage Fanclub, themselves, sounded like in their early days, not far-fetched given the two bands’ shared geography. And I don’t know if the bands always knew each other or they met due to the recording of this cover but the collaborations didn’t end here. All of MacDonald, Norman Blake, and Gerard Love would lend a hand on later Pastels records.

Anyway, despite enjoying the original, my preference here is the cover and I think it is not just because I heard it first. The aforementioned vocals in the original were performed by founding Pastels members Stephen McRobbie and Annabel Wright (Katrina Mitchell had not yet joined the band when it was recorded) and though fun, they lack the melody of the cover. The Fannies’ version is also slightly more cheerful and playful.

What about you folks? Pastels fans? What’s it to be – the original or the cover?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.