Best tunes of 2002: #19 The Decemberists “July! July!”

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Sit right back on that comfy white leather sectional there and let me tell you the tales of all my previous dwellings. Not where we currently sit in the lovely home that was built for us out in the suburbs over twelve years ago, where we saw a community rise up around us, displacing wetland flora and fauna and welcoming the usual suburban wildlife.

No. I’m talking about the litany of apartments, starting with the two bedroom unit on the third floor of a low rise, where the radiator heating never truly worked and our landlords would hand us electrical heaters to supplement. And before that, the low rent, basement apartment in which we could always hear our landlords yelling at each other above us. The beautiful but tiny, tiny, tiny one in Sandy Hill (an area that is a mix of students and embassies) that was our first apartment in Ottawa, where my wife wrote countless papers for her masters degree and I tried not to get in her way.

And prior to that, a one-bedroom in Ronces in Toronto, the only apartment in which I lived alone, well, not alone, truly, because my cat Lucy spent more time there than I did. Then, there was the two-bedroom, railroad style apartment that I lived in for two years at Bathurst and St Clair with two different roommates, Ryan and Chrissy, consecutively, not concurrently. And I’ll stop this list with Armenia, the nickname me and my roommates gave the three-bedroom apartment that we all lived in just off campus to finish off our degrees in at York University. That place that saw more than its fair share of parties, laughter, and heartbreak.

“July! July!” is track three on The Decemberists’ brilliant debut album, “Castaways and cutouts” and it is, reportedly, Colin Meloy doing what I just did there but in song form and only speaking about one of the places in which he lived.

“This is the story of the road that goes to my house
And what ghosts there do remain
And all the troughs that run the length and breadth of my house
And the chickens how they rattle chicken chains“

Colin Meloy has said that the song is about the place he was living in at the time of writing for this first album and that the place was an old slaughterhouse. That he imagined it was haunted by the ghosts of the chickens that had lost their lives there and that he wrote about it could be a nod to Neutral Milk Hotel, a band with whom The Decemberists were certainly oft compared in their early days, and their song, “Ghost”, off “In the aeroplane over the sea”. But Meloy and his Decemberists weren’t ever just about simple mimicry. They have always added their own touch and twist to the legends and the traditions that they mined.

“And we’ll remember this when we are old and ancient
Though the specifics might be vague
And I’ll say your camisole was sprightly light magenta
When in fact it was a nappy blueish grey“

Here, Meloy plays on memories and how we distort them over time. Our lense on the past changes with the winds of time, rosy and cheerful or black and bleak, depending on our mood or character. Meloy is obviously of the former, choosing the ‘sprightly’ remembrance over the ‘nappy’. He and his players accompany the words with only peppy drumming for the first few bars and then the organs kick in for a wild dance. Yeah, for a song about chicken ghosts and gut shot, crooked French Canadians, it’s a chipper track, perhaps the most upbeat track on the album, and all tied up neatly in a bow at just under three minutes.

Enjoy your Saturday all!

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

 

Best tunes of 2002: #20 Suede “Lonely girls”

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In 1992, Suede (known as The London Suede here in North America) was seen as the “best new band in Britain” by many in the music press and this was before they had even released a full-length album. Ten years later, the band would release their fifth album, “A new morning”, so titled to signify that they were looking at it as a new start. The previous four albums had all done very well commercially in Suede’s native country. In fact, they were seen as one of Britpop’s big four, along with Blur, Pulp, and Oasis. However, the band’s frontman, Brett Anderson, had not been clean for much of the decade and described the difficult recording process for this fifth album as the only work that hadn’t been informed by heavy drug use. Unfortunately, for the group, it would go on record as their least successful, commercially and critically, an album they would later regret releasing and perhaps precipitated their dissolution.

Personally, I didn’t think “A new morning” all bad, a bit uneven and forced, perhaps, but it definitely had some good tracks. Never released as a single, “Lonely girls” is still one of my favourite latter day tunes from the band, even counting the ones on the three albums Suede has issued since reuniting in 2010. The lyrics of the song read almost like a response to The Nails’ classic “88 lines about 44 women”, except maybe with not so many lines and not so many women (or girls).

“Stephanie stares at the posters on the wall
Tina sits and waits for a telephone call
Maxine mixes alcohol with polythene and paint”

Brett Anderson is also not listing these women to brag of his sexual exploits or to remember past loves. This is a call out to loneliness and broken dreams and realizing that life is not necessarily what the glamour magazines are trying to sell us. It is all grown up, holding the scuzz and dirt at arms’ length. The rough and epic guitar rock of “Dog man star” seems like ages ago, Bernard Butler just a memory, and what we have left is the hip shaking arpeggios played on acoustic guitar, gentle washes of synths, and Anderson playing at sage adult, sharing wisdom earned in the gutters. The production is crisp and clean and almost too easy to listen to.

But I love it all the same.

Yup. It appeals to the same part of me that has me laughing along to every joke in a Hugh Grant rom com and I’m not afraid who knows it.

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

 

Best tunes of 2002: #21 Departure Lounge “I love you”

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Do you have anything in your digital music library by an artist about whom you almost know nothing? It could be just a song, or better yet, a whole album that you just love but of whom nobody else that you know has ever heard. You’re not even sure where you first heard of them yourself but you’re reasonably sure that they made their way on to your computer by way of Napster or Audiogalaxy or Limewire or perhaps some friend’s zip drive during the height of illegal downloading madness. You don’t have physical copies of the song(s) in question and this may be partly because you’ve never seen their CDs in the shops, new or used. Yet over the years this artist has come up, over and over, and gradually, the songs and/or album has become amongst your favourites. Is this sounding familiar at all or is this phenomenon particular to me?

The artist in question for me is Departure Lounge and what I’ve learned was their final album, “Too late to die young”. I still don’t have a physical copy of the album and I think it highly unlikely that I ever will, given that I’ve all but stopped buying CDs and the album was never pressed to wax. However, I can actually say I know a bit more about the group after listening to the album a few times over the past number of weeks and after making a concerted research on the internets. For instance, I was surprised to learn that the frontman, Tim Keegan, formed the group with Jake Kyle, both former members of Robyn Hitchcock’s Egyptians. And also that both of Departure Lounge’s full-length albums were released on Simon Raymonde’s (Cocteau Twins) record label, Bella Union.

With both Raymonde and Hitchcock making contributions to “Too late to die young”, I shouldn’t be surprised at how much I like the album. My understanding, though, is that it is somewhat different than its predecessor, the guitar rock base given an ambient veneer with production by French electronic musician, Kid Loco. Indeed, the sound checks off a lot of boxes for me. There’s some 60s trad rock, space rock, shoegaze, and even a bit of acid house baggy thrown in at moments.

Track four on the album is this brilliant and shiny and uplifting psychedelic number, “I love you”. It evokes bright colours and lava lamps and drugged up optimism. There’s a lot of haze in the hot box, washes of keys, horn flourishes and sighing harmonies. As Keegan sings, without a hint of irony: “It’s beautiful and true, I love you”.

Yeah.

It is beautiful and true and worthy of just laying back with a pair of earphones to let it all wash over you.

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