Best tunes of 2010: #7 Stars “Dead hearts”

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In my post on “Fixed” (Stars other appearance on this particular list at #20), I wrote about my mad search to find a physical CD copy of the band’s fifth album, “The five ghosts”, on the day of its release. If you’ve already that piece and forgot what I wrote, I’ll save you the trip back and let you know that I finally found a copy. “Dead hearts” was the first song I heard when I put the disc in my car’s player for the trip back home afterwards. I fell in love with it immediately, which set the tone for the rest of the album for me. It is also why it is ranked so high on this list, despite never being released as a single.

Quite a lovely track, albeit a haunting one. The gentle jingling guitars, the lonely tinkling piano, the string explosion, and Torquil Campbell’s and Amy Milan’s boy/girl, push/pull harmonies all call to mind a fantastical world of a creative child’s imagination. I’m thinking Never-Never land territory here, a dimension where logic and reality hold no truck. The idea of ‘dead hearts’ for me is an extension of the lyric in Arcade Fire’s “Wake up” that talks about children’s hearts getting torn up as they get older and bigger, which in turn seems to be a reference to Ally Sheedy’s line in “The Breakfast Club”: “When you grow up, your heart dies.”

So through all the mists and softness of the song, I see a group of children huddled around an impossibly massive bonfire while fireflies flit about in the sky around them. The curiosity of the younger ones full to bursting, breathlessly asking questions of their leader, the elder child that has been out and has experienced the bad old world. “Tell me everything that happened.” “Tell me everything you saw.” His news isn’t good. But maybe it’s a warning with a side of hope. .

Yeah. The lines “Dead hearts are everywhere” and “They were kids that I once knew” sound to me like Stars are hedging towards hope. And that sounds beautiful to me.

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

Best albums of 2007: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Back at the end of 2017, I counted down my favourite albums of the year in a weekly series that culminated with me posting words about my #1 favourite album on the final Friday of the year. In the initial post for that series, I hinted that I might continue to intersperse my favourite tune posts with a few more of these ‘best album’ series over the course of this year. I figured that the first day of February was as good a day as any to start off the first of what I hope will become many such series.

For starters, I’ve travelled back a decade to 2007, a pretty incredible year for indie rock, particular for those bands hailing from Canada. I’d been pretty proud of the music coming out of my home country for the previous couple of years already. My favourite magazine in those days, Under the Radar, had done a special issue focusing on Canadian indie rock in 2005. The Polaris Prize, the Canadian equivalent to Britain’s Mercury Prize, was established in 2006, the inaugural prize won by Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy). And pretty much every Canadian indie band, whether from Montreal, Toronto, or the Vancouver area, was exploding on the scene. So you shouldn’t be too surprised to see that this list will feature a sampling of these talented Canadians.

To sum up, starting from today and continuing over the next five weeks, I will honour the Throwback Thursday theme/meme (#tbt) with a series on my favourite albums from 2007. Enjoy.

#10 The Besnard Lakes “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse”

I feel like it was the resurrected MuchMusic alternative show, “The Wedge”, that introduced me to The Besnard Lakes in 2007 with the video for “Agent 13” off this, their second record. “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse” is eight beautiful and dreamily atmospheric arrangements that meander at their own pace and might dissipate into the ether altogether it weren’t all held together with those Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. This was the album that really put the Montreal-based sextet, led by husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, on the map.

Gateway tune: Devastation

#9 Okkervil River “The stage names”

Like many other people (in my head, anyways), “The stage names” was my introduction to the Austin, Texas-based indie rock band led by Will Sheff. What initially drew me to the album and keeps me coming back is that it has all the traditional Americana elements and instruments but plays with song structure and lyrics in a very different way. Will Sheff sings with a voice that belongs more in the post-punk era (think Gordon Gano or David Byrne), telling intricate stories in a very literate way, overtop a cacophony of Hammond organs, xylophones, pedal steels, woodblocks, and mandolins.

Gateway tune: Our life is not a movie or maybe

#8 Handsome Furs “Plague park”

Handsome Furs was Dan Boeckner’s (also of Wolf Parade, Divine Fits, and Operators) side project that he formed in 2005 with his then wife, Canadian poet Alexei Perry. Named after a park built overtop a mass grave for plague victims in Finland in the 1700s, “Plague Park” was the first of three albums the Montreal-based duo would release before dissolving (and separating) in 2012. Of the three, it is the most guitar heavy but it is characteristic for the heavy bass, raucous synths, and of course, Boeckner’s raw Springsteen-like vocals.

Gateway tune: Dumb animals

#7 Cuff The Duke “Sidelines of the city”

For their third record, Oshawa, Ontario’s Cuff The Duke rotated their lineup some and expanded their sound from their alternative country roots to include a bit of blues and psych rock. Wayne Petti, the band’s driving force doesn’t eschew everything that worked for the band in the past, however, staying with Paul Aucoin for the album’s production and writing some quality, quality lyrics. I’m especially fond of Oshawa love letter, “Rossland square”, because the city is incidentally the town where I was also born. But that’s not the only reason I’m fond of the album. Listen to the track below for more firepower.

Gateway tune: If I live or if I die

#6 Arcade Fire “Neon bible”

To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed with this album when I first heard it. But how could I not with the insane expectations I found myself heaping upon it after the brilliance of the Montreal-based indie rock collective’s debut album, “Funeral”. Nonetheless, “Neon bible” grew on me over the years. For the sophomore album, the group added Ottawa’s Jeremy Gara on drums and included violinist Sara Neufeld as a full time member. Frontman Win Butler has stated that he had wanted a stripped down sound for the album but the big themes of televangelism and religion begged for equally big instrumentation so the layers and the final sound ended up being immense.

Gateway tune: No cars go

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

Best tunes of 1991: #30 The Real People “Open up your mind (Let me in)”

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We start off this best tunes of 1991 list with a bit of an obscure number: “Open up your mind (Let me in)” by The Real People.

I first heard this song while VCR recording music videos off City Limits, the old late night alternative music show on MuchMusic. This was a regular past time for me and my friend/foster brother Elliott. Every Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning, we would be in the basement at the TV, each of us with a video tape at the ready, vying to see who would record the next video for later viewing and reviewing. I can’t remember which of us got this particular video, probably Elliott, but we both loved the song, it fitting in with a lot of the music we were getting into at the time. I never really explored much of their other material until years later, when I found a copy of their self-titled debut in a used CD shop on Queen street in Toronto, but Elliott would get a copy much sooner. I distinctly remember seeing it on his racks within a year or two at most, on a fateful day, later named Tremolo day in infamy (definitely a story for another post), when I stopped by his apartment with Andrew Rodriguez, who had left some stuff there the night before.

The Real People were formed in Liverpool in 1988 by brothers, Chris and Tony Griffiths, and were signed to Columbia a year later. Unfortunately, that aforementioned debut album was their only released long player for the label. They had recorded a sophomore album, from which a couple of singles were released, but the actual album, “Marshmallow lane”, didn’t see the light for over two decades. The brothers continued to be active, however, releasing music independently in the latter 90s and early 00s, and cultivating a healthy cult following in the process. They were also quite instrumental in Oasis’s early years (yes, THAT oasis), helping record and performing on a number of their demos, songs that eventually found their way on a certain “Definitely maybe”.

“Open up your mind (Let me in)” was The Real People’s fourth ever single and second released off their debut. It’s a bit dated now, definitely being of its place and time, but being the nostalgic sort that I am, I still love it to pieces. The drums are baggy acid house and the reverb guitar effects hint at shoegaze. The vocals range from sounding like Bono to The Beatles to Peter Gabriel. It’s a fun and bouncy track and there isn’t anything wrong with that at all. Cheers!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.