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Best tunes of 2003: #27 José González “Crosses”

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Much like most people, I came across Swedish singer/songwriter, José González’s debut material two years after it was originally recorded and released. This is because it was two years before “Veneer” saw the light of day outside of his home country.

Gonzàlez was in the middle of completing his PhD in biochemistry when, after years of performing in various bands, his solo work caught the ear of Joakim Gävert and he was signed as the first artist to Gävert’s new record label. The PhD was dropped in favour of a focus on music and a 7” single was soon followed by the aforementioned debut long player. He has since released three more solo albums and two albums as part of the indie rock band Junip.

“Crosses” was the second single to be released off of “Veneer” and was my own gateway to Gonzalez’s indie folk sound. I remember first seeing the video late one Friday night on MuchMusic’s The Wedge and finding it perfect for that time and place, went searching it out online. I was happy to find that the song is indicative of the rest of the album’s sound, mellow and intense and austere, just Gonzàlez and his acoustic guitar. But “Crosses” is particularly haunting and harrowing, contrasting the menacing and violent plucking against gentle fingertip brushing styles at different and key points. Meanwhile, González leans into the mike, singing to himself about the crosses we are all carrying, as if reassuring himself that his own sadness will be short-lived and that the sun will return eventually.

In 2006, Gonzàlez was enlisted by English electronica duo, Zero 7, to provide vocals to a number of tracks on their third studio album, “The garden”. One of these is a remake of “Crosses”, a longer and more drawn out piece that builds to a fulfilling climax. It is the high point on that particular release for me but it’s still not quite as beautiful as the original. Sometimes quieter just creates the right mood.

“Disturbing silence darkens your sight
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright for now”

And you almost believe him.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2003: #28 The Concretes “You can’t hurry love”

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The Concretes were originally formed in Stockholm, Sweden, way back in 1995. They started out as just a trio – Victoria Bergsman (vocalist), Maria Ericsson (guitars), and Lisa Milberg (drums) – but within three more years, their ranks had blossomed to eight full-time members. They released a handful of EPs in their early years, and released a compilation that collected the first two of these for easier consumption, but their full-length debut didn’t come about until eight years into their existence on the scene.

“The Concretes”, however, wasn’t my introduction to this Swedish indie pop collective. I didn’t actually hear their music until they released their sophomore album, “In colour”, in North America in 2006 and by that time, Bergsman, the group’s principal lyricist, was already on her way out. I loved the album and for me, her frail and precious delivery and how it felt just this side out of step with the band’s technicolour sound, was what really sold me on the group. So I didn’t really pay that much attention when they resurfaced the following year with a new album with Milberg stepping out from behind the drum kit to take up the mic. I did, however, go back and pick up the debut and found much to love there as well.

The first single to be released off the debut record was “You can’t hurry love”, a two minute wonder that is definitely not a Supremes cover. Instead, it calls to mind the girl groups from the Phil Spector school: JAMC guitars, horns, handclaps, shuffling drums, and woo woo woo woo backing vocals. It’s a party turned up to eleven, a howling at the sun, a whole fireworks show set off at once, and a running of the bulls at rush hour. And at the head of it all, Bergsman is ‘racing’ to the finish line at her own pace.

“Boy
Do you hear me say
Do you hear me say now
Love
Ain’t far
Well I didn’t mind
I didn’t mind
I didn’t mind
You can’t hurry love
You can’t hurry love”

Those are the words, repeated twice through, and the refrain comes again, just in case you didn’t get it the first time. Pop perfection.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2003: #29 Sam Roberts “Where have all the good people gone?”

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The sun is at its brightest just as it’s getting ready to dip behind the horizon line. There is a yellow film over everything and it is still damn hot and humid. Clothes are sticking to bodies and bodies are writhing and jumping and dancing chaotically, all tribal and ecstatic. This is how it is on the final day of a ten day music festival. You’d think the crowd tired but great performers know how to breathe life into the weary and of course, adrenaline does the rest.

It is Sunday, July 13, 2014, and there is a large crowd at the second largest stage at the Ottawa Blues festival. All age groups are well-represented. Men and women and all, and all from a myriad of different backgrounds. And everyone is into it. Of course, they are. The singer/songwriter on stage with his recently minted, full-fledged band are a good, hard-working group, truly representative of his Canadian identity and he has a cross-genre appeal.

Sam Roberts is six songs deep into his set, decked out in black denim jeans and a black denim jacket, under which you can just catch a glimpse of the black Clash t-shirt. He is sinewy and muscular, a short man with a powerful exuberance, his short brown hair and rough and tumble beard are soaked in sweat. His face is red and he is giving it his all.

“Oh the Milky Way has gone a little sour
The leaves dried and the flower fell away
I’ve been sitting, I’ve been waiting for a sign
Inhuman beings taking up all of my time”

The song is “Where have all the good people gone”. It was originally recorded for his now legendary debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and then, re-recorded for his debut album, 2003’s “We were born in a flame”. It was a huge hit for the Montreal-born musician, the 12th most played song on Canadian rock radio between the mid-90s and the mid-10s. So everyone here knows the song and yes, they are singing along, nay, yelling and screaming along with Sam, especially every time he gets to the lines: “Montreal to Hong Kong – Where have all the good people gone?”

The crowd is one, no matter the differences between us, we are united with Sam against the “not” good people. And I’m right there with them, jumping up and down, screaming together with a bunch of quebecois that I had never met before and will likely never see again. The funky bass and drums, the dirty and groovy guitars, and Sam encouraging us all to join in the chants. And the crowd responds, deafening in its approval and belonging.

And for just a brief moment, I stop, look around in amazement, and think that good old Sam might have just joined The Tragically Hip as one of Canada’s favourite live acts. Then, I take another gulp of draft beer from my plastic cup and dive back into moment.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.