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Best tunes of 2003: #20 South “Loosen your hold”

<< #21    |    #19 >>

This will be a short but sweet post for this happy Friday because South’s “Loosen your hold” is a rare example of a song that I truly loved but never managed to discover much about its creators.

All I really know about South are facts that I’ve gleaned from Wikipedia. That Joel Cadbury, Brett Shaw, and Jamie McDonald formed the group in London back in 1998, each were multi-instrumentalists and that apart from Cadbury’s lead vocals, the group shared the work of creating the other sounds amongst themselves. They’ve released five studio albums in total, the most recent being last year’s “From here on out”, but the only one I’m really familiar with their sophomore record, 2003’s “With the tides”.

I’d heard about the song “Loosen your hold” and heard the group compared to Travis, Coldplay, Doves, and Elbow, all groups that were, at that time, filling the British musical void left by the mighty tumble from grace of 90s Britpop. The song certainly fit the mould for me and persuaded me to check out the rest of the album. Ghostly harmonies hover over a banjo and a harpsichord playing hopscotch, and it’s all glued together with thick and sinewy synths.

“So loosen your hold
Though you might be frightened
Release or be caught
If this be the right thing”

It might not save the world but it’ll likely bring a smile to your face.

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

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Best tunes of 2003: #21 The Weakerthans “One great city!”

<< #22    |    #20 >>

“And up above us all, leaning into sky
A golden business boy will watch the North End die
And sing I love this town
Then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim
I hate Winnipeg”

The last time I was in Winnipeg was in 2010. It was my third visit to the central Canadian town but the first time for pleasure. My wife and I went there to visit friends of ours who we had met in Ottawa but who had moved back home a few years prior. It just so happened that our visit coincided with the annual folk festival held in Birds Hill Provincial Park, just outside of the city, and it didn’t take much to convince our friends to bring us out to experience it.

We attended two afternoon songwriting showcase workshops, one of which was on ‘writing about home’, featured the likes of Jon and Roy and The Swell season, and was led by Winnipeg’s unofficial poet laureate and Weakerthans frontman, John K. Samson. The festival organizers couldn’t have picked a better moderator for such a topic, given The Weakerthans’ penchant and talent for highlighting the best and the worst of life in Canada, especially from their particular section of it.

“One great city!”, track number ten on the group’s third full-length album, “Reconstruction site”, is a prime example. The title is taken from Winnipeg’s former town motto and this, set against the song refrain of “I hate Winnipeg”, belies a certain love/hate relationship that Samson, and likely, most of the city’s residents, have with the place that they live. The instrumentation is simple enough. The sound of two sets of hands plucking away at two acoustic guitars, the pacing even and insistent. They share the space equally with Samson’s vocals, instantly recognizable as Canadian, sounding like a cross between Neil Young and Gord Downey.

But that’s not to say Samson is not his own man. Indeed, it’s his songwriting and lyricism that has won over so many hearts to the Weakerthans’ cause. His three minute portrait is shown through the spotted and smudged glasses of a dollar store clerk and the grimy windshield of a city bus and its driver. It is echoed in the stomping feet of commuters in the underpass. It invokes the storied name of long broken up bands and folded NHL teams (though this latter has since returned) and the wistful and beautiful sadness of historic buildings abandoned and boarded up. It is a rom/com in the absurdist vein of Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman. It is a faded and creased polaroid in the pocket of both Winnipeggers that long for home and those who have never been there but hear in Samson’s words stories of their own hometown.

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

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Best tunes of 2003: #22 The Dears “Lost in the plot”

<< #23    |    #21 >>

…And we’re back.*

“Our love, don’t mess with our love
Our love is so much stronger”

The Dears are a Montreal-based indie rock outfit that formed way back in 1995. Their membership has been in constant shuffle and flux over the years, the only real constants being frontman, Murray Lightburn, and his partner in everything, Natalia Yanchak, though even she came to the party a little late. The group released their debut album, “End of a Hollywood bedtime story” in 2000 but it wasn’t until their sophomore release, 2003’s “No cities left”, that the indie rock world really started to take notice. In fact, this album is now considered one of the great albums of the early 2000s Canadian indie rock renaissance, right up there with “Funeral”, “Set yourself on fire”, “You forgot it in people”, and “Old world underground, where are you?”.

I remember first listening to the album, perhaps a year after its release, picking up on all the Britpop references and glorifications, thinking that it might require a deeper dive, and then, promptly putting it down again for lower hanging fruit. And then, near the end of 2005, I caught wind that Ottawa was getting a new alternative rock radio station** and that their soft launch involved playing great alternative rock without commercials or DJ interruptions. I listened to it as much as I could for the month or so that it lasted. And one day in the car, I remember hearing a familiar song one day, remember thinking that the vocalist sounded a lot like Morrissey but that the music sounded awfully like Radiohead, circa “OK Computer”. Upon later research, I realized that said track was “Lost in the plot” from the aforementioned Dears sophomore record, which then begged immediate and repeat listens. I finally became a fan of The Dears and my attentions have yet to wane through the six albums that followed over the next fifteen years.

“And I promise not to cry anymore
All the reasons beat the crap out of me
Everyday when I wake up they are waiting”

“Lost in the plot” was the second single to be released from “No cities lost”. It is a sonically sinister and intergalactic five minutes of beauty. The guitars jangle like Marr and Lightburn warbles like Morrissey but there’s a ton more layers here and at the bridge, things change tack to a hip-shaking swagger that might make Brett Anderson blush. Yeah, there’s more than a bit of Britpop pastiche going on but it’s also forward, rather than retro thinking. Indeed, it’s an explosion of passion and love and hope and that’s a plot I don’t mind losing myself in on the regular.

*I took an unscheduled blogging holiday over the past couple weeks, in part to rest these old bones from attending five nights of concerts in the span of two weeks and in part to just recharge.

**To fill the void created when XFM went adult contemporary and was rebranded as CISS FM in 2004

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