Best tunes of 2010: #3 The National “Runaway”

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The National is a five-piece indie rock band that formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001. They have since released seven full length studio albums and along the way have gained a serious following and managed substantial cred. They have already been seen in the pages of this young blog a handful of times, featuring in both of the Best Albums lists I have thus far compiled and appearing in this very list at the number 22 spot with “Conversation 16”.

There’s no saving anything
Now we’re swallowing the shine of the sun
There’s no saving anything
How we swallow the sun
But I won’t be no runaway

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the seemingly stream of consciousness lyrics are a massive draw to The National’s sound. They are literate and poetic and sometimes are images that balloon to a dream or a concrete moral epiphany and at other times, are as obtuse as trigonometry. It’s fun to try to unravel meanings in the randomness of Matt Berninger’s compositions, an inside joke in gravity’s rainbow.

“Runaway” is a dirge. Bass drums thumping and laying down life as we know it. Acoustic finger picking, lilting through the dry ice fog and suddenly there’s a hint of horns, a taps for a new generation, sad but uplifting. Berninger’s deep rumble like a calming massage to your temples, breathing life into all corners of your tired consciousness. And by the end of it, you want to run away with the band, willing to go with them, wherever they will take you. It’s all so sweet.

And I think that just about sums it up.

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

Best tunes of 2001: #18 Depeche Mode “Dream on”

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I’d been a pretty ardent follower of Depeche Mode since Violator in 1990, gobbling up the other two albums they unleashed in the 90s, both “Songs of faith of devotion” and “Ultra” being solid albums, the former more than the latter in this blogger’s books. By the time 2001 rolled around and almost four years had past since their last album, the shine of Depeche Mode had worn off a bit for me and they were no longer front of mind. So it took me a while before I got around to listening to their tenth studio offering, “Exciter”.

If you can pardon my obviousness, I actually didn’t find the album all that exciting. In fact, this was the first of their albums that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy all the way through, a trend that has unfortunately continued through to their most recent work. That’s not to say I dislike the band now, nay, each album has given us some very good tracks. I just don’t find Mode as consistently good as they were through the 80s and 90s.

“Dream on” is one of the highlights of “Exciter” for me. You can hear the influence of producer Mark Bell (LFO, Björk) with the EDM beats throughout the record but here, it’s augmented by a bluesy acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit. Dave Gahan’s vocal work is almost soulful and old-timey, clear and front of the palette of the austere production with Martin Gore adding his usual flourishes at opportune moments. Gore’s song subject is an addict hitting rock bottom and you feel that he is a addressing a woman he could love if she would give him the chance. But it’s Gahan that is singing the words and he does so from a place of experience.

“Feel the fever coming
You’re shaking and twitching
You can scratch all over
But that won’t stop you itching”

This is Depeche Mode. And it’s awesome.

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

Best tunes of 1991: #26 Jesus Jones “International bright young thing”

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Surely you all remember “Right here, right now” and some of you might recall “Real, real, real”, but what about “International bright young thing”?

I feel like I might get some mixed responses to this question. In North America, only the first of these received ridiculous amounts of airplay, still getting some smatterings here and there on today’s pop radio and some usage in commercials now and again, so that most might only remember the band for that one song. But I’d be curious to hear from our friends in Europe and England, where “International bright young thing” actually outperformed the other two, ending up the highest charting single from “Doubt”.

To be honest, “Doubt” was the one album I knew (and I imagine the same could be said for most people) but the band has actually released five albums. (And would you believe that a new one, their first in 17 years, is due out in the spring?) I couldn’t tell you if their sound has evolved over the years, though I can’t imagine it hasn’t, but “Doubt” is definitely of its time and place. Alternative dance was all the rage in 1991 and Jesus Jones was right on the front lines. I’ve listened to the album a number of times over the last little while, bringing back tonnes of memories each time, and I’ve decided I still love it, despite it obviously showing its age.

I’ve thought about dragging out and boring you with some of those stories and memories that this band and this particular song dredge up. Like the one about how this album somehow converted my friend Jason, the world’s biggest Poison fan, to alternative music. Or the one about how my friend Elliott ran into Mike Edwards outside the MuchMusic building in Toronto, asked for his autograph, and instead learned what a ‘dick’ the lead singer was. Or I could talk about the night I watched the video for “International bright young thing” over and over on videocassette for well over half an hour one night. But such a high energy dance begs something more exciting.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to invent something because I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever heard a Jesus Jones song played in a dance club. It could be that I never got out to an alternative club until ‘94 or later and by that time, these guys had already run their course. But there must’ve been a Saturday night at the Moon Room or The Crow’s Nest or The Dance Cave or Whiskey Saigon (all clubs I’ve enjoyed in the past) where the DJ knowingly slipped this single on and I can see it as I slip it on myself and close my eyes.

The dance floor is already full from EMF’s “Unbelievable“, the previous song, and that frantic beat comes on. There’s sweat soaked t-shirts everywhere and long hair flailing. The dance floor is littered with crinkled plastic beer cups. My friend Tim is at the bar because it’s last call. He makes a gesture asking if I want another and I brandish a big thumbs up. The guitar loop and the electricity of it all is enough fuel for now. There’s lasers and lights and thumping beats and nothing else and it’s brilliant.

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