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Best tunes of 2012: #3 First Aid Kit “Emmylou”

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If you had asked me in my youth if there was a type of music that I disliked, I would have answered without hesitation: Country.

To be fair, it was the music of my parents* and teenagers rarely pick up on the music of the previous generation, at least not right away. Then, the “new” country hit the fan in the 80s and 90s, spraying the music of Shania Twain and Garth Brooks – really more pop than country – all over the radio. Is it any wonder, then, that I wasn’t a fan of the genre? Still, as more time has gone on, I have found myself being drawn in by more bands flying the alt-country banner, music influenced by the country music of old.

Back in 2012, some of the bands that were putting out my favourite music were all rocking this sound, bands like Cuff the Duke, The Wooden Sky and yes, First Aid Kit. This latter act may have considered themselves more of a folk band but if you listen to the twang and slide guitar of today’s song, “Emmylou”, you certainly couldn’t discount their country influences. Then, of course, there’s the lyric content. The song metaphorically references legendary country duos Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris** to bolster the comparison of singing partnerships with entangled lovers.

“Oh the bitter winds are coming in
And I’m already missing the summer
Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather”

And, yes, you read and heard that right.

First Aid Kit’s twin driving forces, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, are both from the northern climes of Sweden. It shouldn’t be that surprising that a band of such quality comes from the Scandinavian country**, but that they sound like this is somewhat unexpected. And it’s their sound that gained them such popularity. They first cracked popular attention with a YouTube video of them performing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger mountain peasant song” and perhaps because of this, many writers had First Aid Kit stealing the helm of brilliance from that same band. All you have to do is listen to the angelic vocal harmonies sung by the sisters to understand why the critics raved.

“Emmylou” was the second single off of First Aid Kit’s second album “The lion’s roar”. I remember liking the album enough when I first heard it but was far too preoccupied with so much new music being released to spend enough time with it. Then, later in the year, the album happened to come up randomly on my iPod while doing some spring cleaning and it suddenly clicked with me. I must have listened to “Emmylou” a half-dozen times on repeat. I was so hooked that I had to share it with my wife, Victoria. Once she got over the initial shock at the country sound, she really enjoyed the song as well. It really is a beautiful tune and captures the yearning and pure pleasure of love.

“No, I’m not asking much of you
Just sing, little darling, sing with me”

*The music of long road trips and hence, forced agony.

**Back in 2015, First Aid Kit performed this song with Emmylou Harris in attendance and the legendary songstress was moved to tears.

***There have been plenty of excellent Swedish bands over last couple of decades.

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #4 July Talk “Paper girl”

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I originally came across the video for “Paper girl” quite by accident, while searching for something else, and was so enthralled that I thoroughly forgot what that something was. In the video (and the song), Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, the nucleus of July Talk, play upon multiple levels of dichotomy: rough/smooth vocals, ugly/cute attitudes, old/new sound, male/female gender identities, and well, you get the picture. The video pits the vocalists (and their alter egos) against each other, him loud and brash and her delicate but defiant. It’s fun to watch play out again and again.

July Talk are an alternative rock band based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The story of their formation in the bio that used to appear on their website smacked of the stuff of legend: boy hears girl singing in a smoky bar in the early hours of the morning, decides she’s his muse, tracks her down and they form a band. They rounded out said band and sound with Ian Docherty (guitar), Josh Warburton (bass), and Danny Miles (drums). The group has released three studio albums since forming in 2012, each garnering them more and more fans, but in my opinion, neither of the latter two can touch the excellence and originality of the self titled debut.

Much of “July Talk” mines another era for its blues infused chaotic sound but brings its anachronism into the new millennia. The growling and gnarling Tom Waits interplay with the bedroom confessional popster that holds her own is a story that runs throughout the album but “Paper girl” as track three is the shining example. It takes the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud structure to extreme, seesawing between dirty and aggressive guitars and drums and angelic keyboards. And just like the duelling vocals in a certain song by The Pogues, the Dreimanis and Fay personas rail and thrash at each other, just before they fall passionately and resignedly into each other’s arms.

“Yeah, it must be hard
To watch your body growing old”

 

“And I’ll be laughing in your head until I want to stop
And if you think it’s your turn to explain yourself, it’s not”

It’s a song for turning up loudly when there’s no one else around and for singing along with to both parts because neither is right and neither is wrong but together they work.

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #5 Divine Fits “Would that not be nice”

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For those who might have missed out on the Divine Fits back in 2012, please take note, especially you fans of Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Spoon.

The term indie rock supergroup was bandied about quite a bit in reference to the group and their sole album, “A thing called the Divine Fits”. But with all due respect to Sam Brown and Alex Fischel (the other two band members)*, the project really was about Dan Boeckner and Britt Daniel. Indeed, the Divine Fits’ template was an amalgam of the two different (but not so different) sounds that we were already used to hearing in each musician’s previous work. These two principals split lead vocal duties between them and there wasn’t a huge leap between the songs sung (and presumably written) by one or the other. All of this substantiated my feeling that these two friends and musicians were meant to work together from the beginning.

I must have listened to “A thing called the Divine Fits” hundreds of times in 2012. But even on my first go through, I remember thinking that it was going to be one of the most exciting releases of the year, right from the opening notes of “My love is real”. The project was an experiment gone completely right in every sense. The two mad scientists at the helm seamlessly fused guitar rock and synth pop into what felt like a whole new genre. Unfortunately, this one album is all that we’ve heard from this collaboration and as far as I know, there’s been no hint at all (from either Daniel or Boeckner) that there’s more music in the tank from these guys.

“You set the room up with flickering light
And if you did, would that not be nice?”

“Would that not be nice” is my favourite track here and would be my recommendation if you were to choose just one of the album’s eleven to sample. Be warned, though, you may not be able to shut it off and stop yourself from switching on the repeat function. It’s got a great groove, a bass line that won’t give up ghost, a hip shaking rhythm, and of course, Britt Daniel just kills it, rock and roll style.

*Drummer Sam Brown had previously worked with New Bomb Turks and later worked with Boeckner in Operators. Keyboardist Alex Fischel would later go on to join Daniel as a part of Spoon.

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