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.

Best albums of 2008: #3 Vampire Weekend “Vampire Weekend”

Vampire Weekend formed in 2006 in New York City. The four original band members, Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Tomson, and Chris Baio, met while attending Columbia university and took their name from a short film project that frontman Koenig was working on but never finished.

It is indicative of its time and place that by the time this, the group’s debut, self-titled album was released, two years later, many of its songs were already known or at least familiar to the indie music community. The internet and blogosphere was in full hype machine mode and Vampire Weekend were definite beneficiaries. The debut hit and climbed both the UK album charts and Billboard 200 upon its release. It was met with critical acclaim from most corners but of course, with quick success came backlash, some detractors screaming about theft of world musician thunder by privileged white kids. Interesting, then, and the band did lash back with explanations, that all four members graduated college with student loan debt and that their collective lineages were varied and multicultural.

When I first got a hold of this album, I did so with some excitement. There was so much fun and energy in the songs. The album sounded very DIY, almost like a mixed CD-R, which was likely a result of the self-production and the range of recording locations, including a family member’s basement. And the sound, which many attributed to thievery of afrobeat sounds and compared to Paul Simon’s “Graceland”, I thought more hinted at the world outside of North America rather than outright plagiarism and with its mixture with punk and post-punk sensibilities, was reminded more of music by The Police than Mr. Simon. The lyrics’ subject matter were varied and quirky, name-checking other musicians, grammatical usage, and architectural details, and the music was intelligent, unique, and also just this side of Wes Anderson-ville.

Of course, two albums later (and soon to be a third) and “Vampire Weekend” is considered a classic album by an indie rock world mainstay. It ranked high on many best album lists of its year and decade lists by many music mags, blogs, and websites. And well, looking back, I still love it and can sing along to most of its tracks. Have a sample of my three picks for you and if you haven’t checked out the album as a whole, I highly recommend it.


“M79”: This is one of the first tracks on the album that really caught my attention. And how could it not, really? Bursting forth with harpsichords and orchestral strings, it hops and pogos along with a ska-like rhythm and pace, complete with staccato guitar riffs. But what does it mean? A bit of research confirmed that the M79 is a crosstown bus in New York. So, much like their other tunes, the metaphoric-sounding lyrics by Koenig make a lot more sense to New York habitants and insiders. Words like “No excuse to be so callous. Dress yourself in bleeding madras. Charm your way across the Khyber pass.” are really about dealing with relationships across class and cultural lines in the big apple.

“Oxford comma”:  If the last track was one of the first songs of the album to catch my ear, then this was most definitely the first. Released as the third single off the album, track two sounds so simple, driven forward by the plunk, plunk of organ chords and the sparse rhythm that sounds like it was banged out just using the one drum. Even the guitar that peaks it’s head out of the melody for a solo midway through the song feels free and easy and uncomplicated. And that opening line: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” If designed to catch attention, it certainly does the trick (especially to a grammar geek like me). Vampire Weekend rarely use profanity in their songs so its appearance here says something about the the song’s protagonist’s attitude towards his antagonists’s apparent haughtiness. And yeah, it’s all so damned catchy.

“A-punk”: Talk about energy. Track three is it. Living up to its name, “A-punk” certainly calls to mind the sniper attack of two minutes or less punk, though this tune clocks in just over that time. It’s got skank and slam dance beats, staccato rhythm guitars, and some surprising flute-aping synths give the song some levity. Koenig throws a lot of lyrics at us in such a short span of time, the subject of which are cause for debate. References could be to bands of influence, historical context, more NYC time and place. However, what’s not up for debate, given the “ay, ay, ay” instead of “oi, oi, oi”, is the sensibility. This is a song for dancing to, for letting loose and forgetting it all, a song for Saturday night, a song for partying. Ay, ay, ay!


Check back next Thursday for album #2. 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”

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

Best tunes of 2001: #2 The Charlatans “A man needs to be told”

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Here we are, right near the top of the heap of 2001, and we have an awesome track off the seventh album by The Charlatans, a band considered also-rans of the Madchester era, more than a decade earlier. Yeah, and now they are now considered “survivors”.

Indeed, the group originally formed in 1989 and still continue to tour and release new albums, their latest being album number thirteen, “Different days”, in 2017, though only one member, Martin Blunt, still remains from their very early days. They weren’t from the Manchester area proper and yet they were originally lumped in with the likes of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, more because of their blending of 60s rock sound with that of acid house culture. Their longevity can partly be attributed to their infusing different sounds to each of their albums, not necessarily to always blend in with their environment as some writers have suggested but to keep things fresh.

Released in our year of focus, “Wonderland” was the second album without original keyboard and organ wizard, Rob Collins, who had tragically died a few years earlier in a car crash and who had leant the band their trademark Hammond backbone. His replacement, Tony Rogers, fills in wonderfully but his mark isn’t the most indelible here. Instead, it’s frontman Tim Burgess that shows us a whole new set of colours by spending most of the album in falsetto, brushing the already soul and R&B-tunes with a swathe of Mayfield.

The highlight of the whole album, though, has got to be “A man needs to be told”. In fact, the tune ranks up there with my favourite of their tunes, even though my preference of their sounds is still that of their first couple of albums. It’s so damned laidback and groovy. Yeah, I just used that word. Groovy. Blunt’s funky bass line just booms along, answered in flourishes and tinkling bursts of piano. Jon Brooke’s drumming is spot on, understated but shimmering, right up to the end where the beat picks up substantially. And yeah, that’s none other than Canada’s own, Daniel Lanois adding his pedal steel to the mix, making the whole thing more dreamy. Burgess.

Ready to play it again? Let’s do it.

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