Best tunes of 2002: #24 Neil Halstead “See you on rooftops”

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On a post that appeared a couple of years ago on these pages, I wrote about how I was introduced to Mojave 3 by my friend Tim when he convinced me to claim an extra ticket he had for their show at the Legendary Horseshoe. Just over a year and a half after that night, I was living in Ottawa, after having moved there from Toronto the previous fall, and reading the local entertainment weekly, Ottawa Xpress (sadly defunct), when I came across an article on Neil Halstead. I’m not sure why I started reading the piece because I didn’t yet readily connect the name with the lead vocalist of Mojave 3 (and Slowdive, for that matter). Perhaps the paper was thin that week and I still had some bus ride to go. Needless to say, the article made that particular connection clear for me within sentences and I read on to learn he was playing in Ottawa later that very week.

The fact that it had been months since I had seen any live music probably fed my sudden urge to see the show. One of the reasons I hadn’t seen one in so long, however, was our lack of funds so I needed to somehow convince Victoria, whose move to Ottawa precipitated mine, that the show was a ‘necessity’. In the end, we went, though don’t ask me what argument I used. I pre-purchased tickets at a local record shop (also now defunct) and we walked down to the Byward market on a Saturday night. We had never been to the Mercury Lounge before and haven’t been since (that one is still there) but it was a nice intimate space for an acoustic show, which is exactly what Halstead (and his opener, Sid Hillman) presented us with. All of the material during his set was new to both Victoria and me but I remember really enjoying it. We didn’t spring for any drinks that night but certainly bought the CD copy of Halstead’s solo debut, “Sleeping on roads”, on the way out the door.

“See you on rooftops” is track three on this very album and somewhat stands out from the rest. It takes the ball of string that was rolled up tightly with Halstead’s dreamy folk rock in Mojave 3 and launches it off into space. While out there amongst the constellations, the string unravels a bit, the loose beat, string synth line, and Atari sounds and lasers get the space boots tapping. Halstead picks out the stars and sings softly to each of them, childlike and hopeful, wooing any sort of life out there to come to take him away. The song ends in a blissed out cacophony that would make any of his counterparts from the original shoegaze movement green with envy. And all you need to do is lay back to bask in its glory.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2002: #25 Interpol “Obstacle 1”

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In a post on the number five song on my Best tunes of 2001 list, The Strokes’ “Last nite”, I wrote about how that band was at the vanguard of an indie rock revival. Then, two songs later with The White Stripes’ “Fell in love with a girl”, I spoke about how this revival was led by two very distinct scenes: one in Detroit and the other in New York City. Many of the bands that came out of the latter scene cut their teeth playing in a now defunct club called The Luna Lounge, much like many a post-punk outfit in the same city did in another long-since-closed club called CBGB. Indeed, Manhattan and the burroughs saw lots of musical action in the years following the turn of the millennium, giving rise to bands like the aforementioned Strokes, Ambulance LTD, Longwave, Stellastarr, Bishop Allen, and of course, Interpol.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when I first heard the post-punk revivalist quartet but I certainly remember when I first decided I liked them. It was definitely not too long after the release of their debut, “Turn on the bright lights”, because we were living in the ‘hood* and we had the use of my mother-in-law’s car. The green cavalier would eventually became ours in an unofficial sense but for a couple years there, we took turns with my brother-in-law in possessing it. During my commutes to work around the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, I had discovered the local university and college radio stations and on one of these afternoon drives home, I realized that one of the aspiring DJs had decided to forego a real playlist and had just set Interpol’s debut to play from beginning to end. And yeah, while driving the heavy traffic up the Vanier parkway, it just clicked.

“Obstacle 1” follows “Untitled” as track two on the album and if the first song serves as an intro, our song today is the exclamation point. It’s all staccato guitars and bass, frontman Paul Banks’ deep and foreboding vocals, clearing up whether those Joy Division comparisons are fair or overwrought. You don’t get much more angular and austere than here, but we’re not just rehashing and reviving a too long dormant genre but breathing in new life and energy. Great tune on an incredible debut.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

* For those unfamiliar with Ottawa, Vanier is a part of the city just on the other side of the Rideau river from downtown. It was at the time a lower income neighbourhood that was constantly under threat of regentrificafion due to its location and wasn’t our first choice of areas to live but the rent was affordable. Truth be told, only sections of it were bad and the one in which we lived wasn’t really one of those so the term ‘hood is one of endearment.

Best tunes of 2002: #26 Iron And Wine “Lion’s mane”

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Iron And Wine is the stage name for Sam Beam, an American singer/writer who sported a big bushy beard before it became a thing again. I somehow came across him shortly after he released his debut album, “The creek drank the cradle”, in 2002, though I don’t think I became a huge fan until I heard his collaboration with Calexico a few years later: 2005’s “In the reins” EP. I found it interesting, then, when I recently learned that the songs on his debut were meant to be filled in by members of Calexico but instead, the demo versions he recorded in his home studio were released as the version of “The creek that drank the cradle” we know and love.

“Lion’s mane” is the opening track and if you’re not familiar with the album, it is representative of the old school folk you’re going to hear with the rest, simple but compelling, and reminiscent of Nick and Paul and all those kids. The song is lo-fi and sparse and intimate and immediate, the simplicity never becoming tired. The acoustic guitar and banjo take turns being lovingly plucked, while Beam softly whispers the vocals without sounding affected. There’s just no need to be loud with such idyllic, woodsy, rustic sounds. You can almost smell the pine, wood smoke, sounds of crickets, and the wind the rustling through the leaves. No, there’s no cell phone signal here or wi-fi or television. Just wood stove coffee and pipe tobacco and periodically walking down to the lake to catch the cool off the water. Lovely stuff.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.