Best tunes of 2012: #19 Great Lake Swimmers “Easy come easy go”

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If you’ve never heard of Great Lake Swimmers or listened to their poignant indie folk, you’re indeed missing out. In the past, I would often say about them that when listening to them, they were an amazing experience, but would then go long periods without listening to them and forget about them, until a new album was released and I would fall in love with them all over again. But now that I’ve seen myself amass a bunch of their records as a part of my vinyl collection, I can honestly mark them down as one of my favourite bands, not just a standout amongst the indie folk greats.

Great Lake Swimmers have always been the project of singer/songwriter Tony Dekker. He started out using the name back in 2003 and recorded the self-titled debut in an abandoned grain silo in his hometown of Wainfleet, Ontario. Over the years, he has brought in a number of different musicians to augment his quiet and honest musings on life and the world around him. It felt there was a shift, though, with the band’s fifth album, 2012’s “New wild everywhere”. To his long time collaborator in Erik Arnesen (banjo/guitars), Tony Dekker added fiddler/vocalist Miranda Mulholland, upright bass player Bret Higgins, and Greg Millson on (gasp!) drums.

Yes, the drums were a somewhat new fixture and almost automatically picked up the tempo and mood by default. But I really think it was the addition of Miranda Mulholland that breathed new life into Dekker’s compositions with her backing vocal harmonies and her rollicking fiddle work. Just take “Easy come easy go”, my favourite tune on the album, as an example. Of course, it still features Dekker’s literate and hefty words but it’s more upbeat than anything he had produced up to that point.

“Call it chance, call it choice
Words escape on the breath of your voice
Spinning a magic as they arrive
It’s not fail when it’s a shallow dive”

But don’t get the wrong idea. It is still subdued, classy, and understated. You can almost see Tony and his band just nodding and tapping their toes, performing in button up shirts, done all the way up, sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair slicked or tied back, everything prim and perfect and no-nonsense. Meanwhile, the crowd gathered to watch them, in my mind’s eye, in a broken down barn, on a quiet and warm summer’s night, surrounding the band from an appropriate distance, swaying in abandon on top of hay bales, stomping their feet, and swinging and dipping their partners in love.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2012: #20 Trampled By Turtles “Alone”

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Memory is funny thing. And as I get older, it’s only getting funnier. Yeah. These days, it’s damn right hilarious.

I have no idea at all how I ever came across Trampled by Turtles and their very excellent 2012 album, “Stars and satellites”. I’ve thought, at points, that they were one of those many bands that I’ve investigated over the years in anticipation of seeing them live at either Ottawa’s Bluesfest or the CityFolk festival. But that can’t be it because although they have played both of those festivals, each of these appearances occurred prior to and well after this album’s release and unfortunately, I missed both.

Then, I wondered if it was because I had gotten caught up the indie folk wave that had taken hold of pretty much everyone around this time, thanks, of course, goes out here to the success of England’s Mumford and Sons and the United States’ answer, The Lumineers. A very possible theory, this.

But the theory that I feel is most likely, is a simple one: They have one hell of a band name, don’t they?

Trampled by Turtles formed in Duluth, Minnesota back in 2003. As far as I can tell, all six members – Dave Simonett. Tim Saxhaug, Dave Carroll, Erik Berry, Ryan Young, and Eamonn McLain – have been with the band since its inception and through the release of all nine of their albums. Since the beginning, they have maintained a hold on their bluegrass and folk underpinnings and man, are they talented.

One of the biggest standouts of their aforementioned fifth album, “Stars and satellites”, is this very track we are focusing on today: “Alone”. It is fresh and at the same time, old school to the nth degree. The rustic, acoustic guitar plucking is quickly joined by Dave Carroll, twanging and bouncing on the banjo and this not-so-torrid pace is maintained for the first minute or so while the frontman, Dave Simonett, finds his feet and then, locates in the darkness, his backing vocalists. Tim Saxhaug on the bass joins in next, in typical booming fashion, then Ryan Young eases his fiddle into the picture and finally, here, the pace explodes into all out ecstasy.

“The summer breezes blow so tall
And the winter nights are cold and so long
In between the falling leaves ooh“

There is a flitting and frittering sound coming from of all these stringed instruments. It is the falling leaves. It is a lonely wind. It is the sound of voices far off. It is dark here, there are plenty of stars in the sky, and if you follow them, you will find your way home.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Top five tunes: Depeche Mode (21st century edition)

Who? Depeche Mode

Years active: 1980-present

Band members:
Dave Gahan (vocals) 1980-present
Martin Gore (vocals, keyboards, guitars) 1980-present
Andy Fletcher (keyboards, backing vocals) 1980-present
Vince Clarke (keyboards, lead and backing vocals, guitars) 1980–1981
Alan Wilder (keyboards, piano, drums, backing vocals) 1982–1995

Discography (21st century):
Exciter (2001)
Playing the angel (2005)
Sounds of the universe (2009)
Delta machine (2013)
Spirit (2017)

Context: As it stands right now, Depeche Mode will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in just over two weeks. This year’s ceremony was pushed back from the spring, when it is traditionally held, and now, instead of a live event, a special is due to be televised on HBO on November 7th. In any event, we’ve been assured the induction will happen and in their 40th year in existence, Depeche Mode, iconic synthpop and alternative rock band, will be a part of the action.

At the beginning of 2020, I came up with this idea of celebrating Mode’s 40 years by doing a three-part series focusing on some of their best tunes over the years. I usually try to distill a band’s or artist’s best tunes down to a top five but given this band’s longevity, how long I’ve been following them, and how much their music has meant to me over my own bunch of decades, I decided to spread it out over three top five tunes posts, each focusing on a portion of their career. I posted part one on Depeche Mode’s first and most prolific decade together, the 1980s, back at the end of January. I was hoping to have this whole series wrapped up by the end of July but didn’t get around to posting part two on the band’s 1990s catalogue until pretty much the end of August. Here we are now nearing the end of October and I’m finally presenting the third and final chapter, the one where I will count down my favourite five of their tunes from the 21st century. Yeah. I did it.

I actually thought after posting the last part in this series that the steam I managed to gather would carry on and I’d just bang this one out right away. I honestly didn’t know how much I’d have to write about them after all I’ve done so far. The 80s and 90s were my favourite Depeche Mode years by far. Still, they’ve managed to stay very relevant this century, releasing a new album every four years since 2001. And though I haven’t been as excited about a new release since 1997’s “Ultra”, I’ve stopped and paid attention to each of the five albums the band released when they came out. And on each, there’s been at least one or two excellent tracks worthy of this iconic group and their storied discography.

So yeah, the 21st century, Depeche Mode worked with Mark Bell, Ben Hillier, Flood, and James Flood. They flirted with techno and all of its derivatives, all styles of music upon which Depeche Mode was one of the greatest influences, and though the results were decidedly mixed, it showed that the band was continuing to forward think. Indeed, Depeche Mode have never been a band to rest on their laurels and bank on past successes and the five tunes below will highlight some new classic tunes that are just as timeless as anything they’ve produced in the past. If they continue the trend that they start back in 2001, we should be seeing new music from the trio in 2021 but until then, have a gander here at their recent past and of course, sit back to enjoy the music.

The top five:

#5: Peace (from “Sounds of the universe”, 2009)

We start this top five with the second single released off Mode’s 12th (!) studio album, 2009’s “Sounds of the universe”. Martin Gore, the band’s principal songwriter, has called it one of his favourite songs he has ever written, this on account of its ’spiritual’ feel. David Gahan, the main voice of the group has said that for him, “it represents the joy and ecstasy of everything looking better, tasting better, sounding better.” The song starts off all heavy percussive low end synths with high end electronic beats, flittering and frittering digital party streamers, and then, more synth washes give way to breakbeats and other flourishes, Gahan gets all exultant, even breaking out the falsetto just before that breathtaking chorus, yeah, an unusually optimistic note, the repetition of the refrain: “Peace will come to me”. Gore joins in and it all sounds like we should be hearing this from the highest peak, monks and other spiritualists and the like.


#4: A pain that I’m used to (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

From uplifting and optimistic, we move directly into more familiar Depeche Mode territory: sleek, dark, and sexy. The opening track off 2005’s “Playing the angel” was released as its second single. It is like the older and wiser and infinitely more lecherous cousin to “Master and servant”. “There’s a hole in your soul like an animal with no conscience, repentance unknown. Close your eyes, pay the price for your paradise. Devils feed on the seeds that are sown.” It feels kind of like industrial light, some bass heavy drumming, half human and half computer, alarming tidal wave synths wash and crush, left and right. Gore breaks out some guitar chops, dusting off the rock and roll stance. Everyone wears sunglasses here. Purgatory and pain. Angelic voices with broken wings. Atonement does not come easy.


#3: Where’s the revolution (from “Spirit”, 2017)

The first single from 2017’s “Spirit”, Depeche Mode’s last album to date, was a real eye-opener and call to arms. This isn’t the sound of a decades old band cashing in old cheques. No. This is Mode getting political, something they did on occasion, but haven’t for decades. “Where’s the revolution? Come on, people. You’re letting me down.” Tentative vibrations are answered by a twitchy and anxious beat, more of that industrial aesthetic, factory thumps and whistling steam exhaust, feet stomping like a military parade in a dystopian, fascist state. Fist pumps and salutes. Gahan is older but his voice has aged like fine whiskey and rather than grow stoic, he’s let the fire spread to conflagration. Fletch and Gore are right behind him, the muscle with arms crossed and sunglasses reflecting rage and moral superiority. These are big brothers but they’re not just watching, they’re calling you out to action.


#2: Dream on (from “Exciter”, 2001)

The runner up track on this particular list was the first single to be released by Depeche Mode in the 21st century. I’ve already written some pretty decent words on this very track when it made an appearance at number 18 on my Best tunes of 2001 list. So excuse me, while I plagiarize myself a little bit here. “You can hear the influence of producer Mark Bell (LFO, Björk) with the EDM beats throughout the record but here, it’s augmented by a bluesy acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit. Dave Gahan’s vocal work is almost soulful and old-timey, clear and front of the palette of the austere production with Martin Gore adding his usual flourishes at opportune moments. Gore’s song subject is an addict hitting rock bottom and you feel that he is a addressing a woman he could love if she would give him the chance. But it’s Gahan that is singing the words and he does so from a place of experience.”


#1: Precious (from “Playing the angel”, 2005)

There’s a very good reason that there’s two songs on this list from 2005’s “Playing the angel” and that’s because, in this blogger’s humble opinion, that album is Depeche Mode’s best album since the 1990s. And this particular track, “Precious”, is the group’s best in a very, very long time. It’s got all of the hallmarks of Depeche Mode at their peak. A driven beat, dark and insular tones, an atmosphere of its own, nay, a world of its own, a wicked hook, and a draw to the dance floor. Not just any dance floor though. I’m thinking of your local vampire bar, dry ice and lasers, leather and PVC everywhere, dyed black hair and tattoos and piercings, and yeah, perhaps some sharp fangs. Martin Gore was at the top of his game when composing this wonder and David Gahan invoked some deep romance in his vocals. “If God has a master plan, that only He understands, I hope it’s your eyes He’s seeing through.” It’s precious and beautiful and pure Depeche Mode. Let’s hope we hear more of this very soon.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.