Best tunes of 2002: #11 Levellers “Wake the world”

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Levellers have already appeared on these pages, care of a post a year and a half ago, in support of their appearance on my Best Tunes of 1991 list at the number nine spot with “One way”. I wrote in that post how I discovered the band and fell in love with their sophomore album, “Levelling the land”, on which appears the aforementioned track. The next album, their self-titled third, was just as a great and I purchased a ticket for their local stop on the ensuing tour but for some reason, their North American leg was cancelled.

Things were not so rosy with me and the five piece from Brighton, England after that. I continued to buy their albums but found them not quite as solid and I considered packing it in after their 2000 release, “Hello pig”, which to this day, is my least favourite by the group. Nonetheless, I was still enthused enough by their back catalogue to drag Victoria to see them play an acoustic set at Lee’s Palace when they finally managed another North American tour in 2001. Of course, it was excellent and when they announced a new studio album in 2002, I couldn’t help but check it out.

“Green blade rising” didn’t return the band to its former status as biggest indie band in Britain but it was still seen as a return to form. Indeed, the album’s title was taken from an earlier song the band had written but renamed. It breathed new life into their folk and granola crunching infused pop/punk rock, raising the fist and calling to arms, and preaching to their already converted choirs.

“Wake the world” wasn’t released as a single from the album but it closed it off perfectly. It’s a quieter number. A humming bass rumble lurks throughout its three and a half minute duration, haunting and sustained piano chords keep time and move it along, and of course, Jonathan Sevink’s plaintive violin pops in to say hello and add to the mood. On top of all that, frontman Mark Chadwick is wistfully railing against indifference and ambivalence to the world’s woes while sitting safely in our own lives.

“Been sitting in silence safe inside four walls
Trying to remember the moment when we changed the rules
Do you take to your bed or do you take the cure
Been getting out of my head lately that’s for sure

So tell me when are we gonna wake the world”

Indeed, Mark, indeed.

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

Best tunes of 2002: #12 Hot Hot Heat “Bandages”

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Through several posts in my Best tunes of 2001 series, I mentioned the beginnings of an indie rock renaissance, one that was intrinsically tied to a garage rock and post-punk revival. This will become a common theme that I have and will likely continue to touch on through this series on my favourite tunes of 2002 and onwards through future series for 2003 and 2004. They say that everything is cyclical. Who ‘they’ are is still a mystery but you can almost see how the indie rockers of the early 2000s were raised on a steady diet of Joy Division and Bauhaus, perhaps not directly, but even through older siblings constantly blasting the tunes on their record players in their bedrooms. But it didn’t stop there. The indie rock scene evolved just as it did the first time, slowly through the dark dredge of post-punk into the jittery freneticism of the new wave.

I remember being fascinated as I started to hear new music that was oh so familiar to me, sounding very much like the music of my youth. One of the first of these, borne of reflections of Elvis Costello and Talking Heads through blurred and foggy mirrors, a young Canadian quartet sported this same restlessness and angsty geek rock. This was Hot Hot Heat.

The band formed in 1999 in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. The best known lineup of Steve Bays, Dustin Hawthorne, Paul Hawley, and Dante DeCaro stabilized in 2000, were signed to SubPop in 2001, and their debut, “Make up the breakdown”, appeared a year after that. The first single to be released was, of course, this synth heavy number called “Bandages”. The drumming and bass line kept a simple beat and the guitars angular and staccato, almost ska-like in feel, while Steve Bays yelped and rasped up nonsense.

“These bandages are anonymity
I’ve been shaking from making an awful decision
I’ve been running and running
Feels like my head is spinning round and round, around, around, around, around, around“

“Bandages” clocked in at 3 minutes and a third but felt only a third that long. It was catchy and danceable and despite all the retro feels, was as fresh as a hot shower and a mint pillow. And man does it leave you breathless. I can only imagine what it did to dancefloors around that time.

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

Best tunes of 2002: #13 Badly Drawn Boy “Something to talk about”

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In the early spring of 2000, I met up with my old roommate and university friend, Ryan, and we went to see a new John Cusack flick at the Bloor and Yonge cinemas in Toronto. We both came out of the theatre talking excitedly, both us having immensely enjoyed “High fidelity”. Over beers afterwards on some patio or other along Bloor street near the Annex, Ryan told me that he liked it just as much as the book by Nick Hornby, upon which it was based. I hadn’t known about the book and so shortly after that evening, I went out and bought it in trade paperback, promptly devoured it, and put it away on my shelf.

Fast forward about two and a half years, I was then living with my future wife Victoria in a basement apartment in the Vanier neighbourhood of Ottawa, something I never would have fathomed that evening over beers with Ryan. But there I was and given my meagre call centre salary and Victoria’s part-time hours while finishing up her Master’s degree, we were living a frugal existence to say the least. They say that necessity breeds ingenuity. I guess this is how I discovered that the Ottawa public library loaned out DVDs for free and how I managed to watch a lot of films I might not have otherwise seen (like “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, for example).

On one of my many trips to the main branch downtown (where they had the best selection), I picked up a Hugh Grant rom-com called “About a boy”. I’ve always loved Hugh Grant in pretty much everything he’s done, despite the fact that there’s some truth to the critique that he’s always playing the same character with only slight variations. However, his role of Will in “About a boy” seemed to me then (and still does) the role Hugh Grant was born to play and the film was so much more than your normal rom-com fare. I remember sitting afterwards while the credits rolled and absently humming along with the music, not really knowing what hit me, and I noticed that it was based on a book by Nick Hornby. The name seemed vaguely familiar so I crossed the living room to my desktop computer, booted it up, and did a Google search. The connection was made, I ordered the Nick Hornby book from the library, finished it, and ordered another and another, until I had gotten through everything he had thus far written. Hornby has since become one of my favourite authors to read (though for some reason, I still can never remember his name).

The film “About a boy” (properly) introduced me to Nick Hornby but it also introduced me to English singer/songwriter, Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy). On the back of his wildly successful debut released two years beforehand*, the filmmakers asked Gough to score the film and his soundtrack is a mix soundbite-like jingles and fully-formed songs, all with the same laidback groove and hipster cool feel. “Something to talk about” is one of these latter and the second proper single released from the album. It’s got the strut and flow and attitude of the film’s main character. Indeed, you could easily imagine Gough walking down the street behind Will, performing this as his personal theme music, all decked out in knitted hat, shaggy hair, beard, and sunglasses. Subtle and hip and effortless. That is all.

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

*I spoke a bit about that debut when “Once around the block”, one of its singles, appeared on my Best tunes of 2000 list.