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Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #25 The Stills “Still in love song”

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“We were lovers
We were kissers
We were holders of hands
We were make believers
Just losing time”

The four original members of Montreal’s The Stills – vocalist and guitarist Tim Fletcher, guitarist Gregory Paquet, bassist Olivier Corbeil, and drummer Dave Hamelin – met when they were all still teenagers. Each performed in various bands prior to forming The Stills in 2000 and perhaps because of these previous experiences, they quickly gained a following based on their heavy duty live show. They finally released their debut album, “Logic will break your heart”, late in 2003 to critical acclaim*, earning favourable comparisons to Echo & the Bunnymen and fellow post-punk revivalists Interpol. They would go on to release two further albums before amicably splitting up in 2011. The band’s members continue to work in the industry, in other bands, and doing session or production work for other great Canadian acts.

It’s unfortunate to me that the quartet didn’t have more success and longevity, given the promise of their outstanding debut. I remember being super excited when I first heard “Logic will break your heart”, right around the time that I heard “Turn on the bright lights”. I admit that I didn’t feel the same way about those latter albums but that original excitement never waned and I often found myself putting on the debut when I felt the urge to be dark and sombre and angsty.

The third single off that debut would forever remain my favourite by the quartet. “Still in love song” can be universally understood by all but those who have never had a love crushed by someone over whom that person chose someone else, a career, or whatever other passion.

“And you said you’d rather live in TV land
Than say that you care
But you don’t
That’s heartless and I will not cry”

Musically, the tune is – purely and simply – post punk revival at its best. Sinister, arpeggiating guitars, menacing bassline that won’t quit, punishing and bass heavy drum rhythms, snarling vocals, and all this captured in stasis in a vacuous and hermetically sealed wind tunnel. It’s a song that begs repeat plays, tailor made for ear phones and closed eyes and all sorts of other mopery.

*Discounting, of course, the lambasting they received from Pitchfork.. and I always will.

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

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #26 Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgeley”

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Black Box Recorder was formed in 1998 when Luke Haines, who had found previous success with his Britpop-era band The Auteurs, formed a duo with former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer John Moore and the two of them approached Sarah Nixey to provide vocals. I myself didn’t get into the synth-based, indie pop trio right away. In fact, it was my friend Tim that suggested I give their 2003 album, “Passionoia”, a go, likening their sound to that of Saint Etienne but with the dark lyrical content of The Auteurs. Tim was dead on and of course, I loved the album right off. Unfortunately, like most of Haines’s projects around that time, the project was short-lived, and “Passionoia” ended up being the group’s third and final album.

Track seven on said album was a fun number called “Andrew Ridgeley”. That’s right. That Andrew Ridgeley.

“I never liked George Michael much
Although they say he was the talented one”

A portrait of the artist as young music fan is turned on its head in Haines’s hands. He writes a fictional version of singer Sarah Nixey’s youth, who dutifully reads her lines in that fabulous sing/speak thing she does. A lovelorn teen who buys her first record because of the lesser known half of Wham!, and then discovers the reason why you should never meet your heroes. Randy Andy tumbles down from the sparkling clouds in her eyes when she spies him many years later and she realizes he is only human.

“I was brought up to the sound of the synthesizer
I learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums
I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes
I love you now and I will til the day that I die”

Musically, “Andrew Ridgeley” is a synth pop suite in three movements: the tentative and twinkling verses, the picked up and thunderous dance floor choruses, and finally, the breathy and joyful puffed up clouds. If only all pop music was this smart.

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

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Albums

Best albums of 2000: #3 Mojave 3 “Excuses for travellers”

It was Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2000, and I was at work, nearing the end of my shift. I called Tim because I had a hankering to go out and was curious to see what my friends were doing. “I know what you’re going to do tonight,” Tim proclaimed, much like Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer might have done in ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’. “You’re coming with me to see Mojave 3 at the Horseshoe tonight!” It was fortuitous for him and for me that he had an extra ticket for the show and was looking for someone to claim it. I had never really listened to Mojave 3 before but I was game.

I don’t really remember many details of the show, given the heroic amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is a short conversation that transpired on the way out of the Legendary Horseshoe after the show that will live on in infamy. Tim was saying something about how Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell had gone all Cowboy Junkies with Mojave 3. And I drunkenly proclaimed, “Tim, you have no concept of genre.” He just looked at me, incredulous, and said, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” The second is that I must’ve really enjoyed the show because I went out the very next day to purchase Mojave 3’s latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”.

If that story sounds vaguely familiar, you must’ve read the post I wrote about the track “Return to sender” when it appeared at #6 on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I reproduced it practically verbatim above because I love the story and it bears repeating, especially given that it recounts my introduction to the group and their third album, the subject of our post today.

Mojave 3 came to be when British shoegaze icons Slowdive were dropped by their label, the equally iconic Creation Records, in 1995 and that band’s principal songwriters, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, along with the drummer at the time, Ian McCutcheon, decided to record music towards a different direction entirely. The trio became a quintet shortly afterwards with the addition of Alan Forrester and Simon Rowe (the latter formerly of Chapterhouse), but the ‘3’ in the name stuck. You might be surprised, knowing how I feel about dream pop and shoegaze, that it took me so long to get into this band but that’s the truth of it.

Mojave 3’s third album, “Excuses for travellers”, is like a happy medium between the group’s first two. It’s not as gauzy and mellow as “Ask me tomorrow” and not as peppy and twee as “Out of tune”. It just is. It is a mood and a feeling. It’s what you put on when you want to feel that “Excuses for travellers” feeling. Those who know, know exactly what I’m talking about. This is an album that doesn’t peak and that doesn’t have any obvious singles. It just has ten amazing tunes, of which of I have picked three of my favourites for you to sample. Hope you’re in the mood.


“Bringin’ me home”: My first pick is the only one on which Neil Halstead doesn’t take the lead vocal duties. Penned and sung by Rachel Goswell, it follows the lead of the other songs with a tempered, upbeat feel. Instead of sunshine, though, Rachel channels a rainy day. “Just a rainy day here in my usual place, where no one hears me.” Just sitting alone with the sound of the raindrops and the echoes of memories, imagining what might’ve been. A surprising, yet subtle synth underpins the tune, adding a layer to the guitar strum and sparse drum beat. And then, as if we weren’t clear on the mood, a harmonica makes an appearance for good measure.

“In love with a view”: “I had a plan that was built on thinking too long. Canadian winters, at home with your sisters, the romance was hard to ignore. You were beautiful. I was happy to fall.” Perhaps this is predictable but I have soft spot for any tune that references home, especially when that tune comes from an artist not from Canada. The opening number perfectly sets the mood. Strumming acoustic, twinkling piano, wailing pedal steel, and a bass line that just feels like a soaked handkerchief. The memory is cold. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, a fixture in the corner of all those Polaroids. Halstead and Goswell sing together at the refrain, both plaintive, both hopeful that the pain won’t be in vain. And when the song explodes into an all out jam at the three and a half minute mark, you can’t help but feel that the band are are working through a whole range of emotions. It’s just so beautiful and passionate.

“Return to sender”: Track four is pure joy. “Return to sender” is a tune that always brings a smile to my face. It makes me want to put my arm around my wife’s shoulder so that we can sway together with our eyes closed and sing along to those Neil Halstead witticisms. “I went looking for a priest, I said, ‘Say something, please I don’t want to live my life all alone.’ He said, “God will take care of those that help themselves. But you look pretty screwed, send a letter.’” My sixth favourite tune from the year 2000 is a boppy number. It’s a feeling that dances along to Halstead’s gentle acoustic strumming and his soft and plaintive vocals. The jaunty drumming, the banjo twang, twinkling keys, and harmonica flourishes only to serve to add to the wistful joy. “If you find us, return to sender.”


I’m obviously still not on a regular schedule around here so I won’t promise when we’ll get to album #2… but, it’s coming. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”
4. Coldplay “Parachutes”

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