Best tunes of 2011: #10 Dan Mangan “Post-war blues”

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Maybe you folks outside of Canada can help me out here. I’m not sure at all how well-known West Coast singer/songwriter Dan Mangan is outside of his (and my) country but around these parts, he definitely does quite well. In 2011, he released, “Oh, fortune”, his third full length and second on indie super-label Arts & Crafts. It was his second album to be long-listed for a Polaris prize (Canada’s equivalent to the Mercury) and the following year garnered the man a couple of Junos (our version of the Grammy).

As an album, the lush instrumentation that filled out his gorgeous songwriting and baritone vocals was a stark contrast against the relative austerity of his acoustic-laden previous effort, 2009’s “Nice, nice, very nice”. The subject matter was still quite dark, even in its humorous moments, but it all felt cleaner and more accomplished. “Post-war blues” was the obvious single on the album, a rousing number that starts with a drum roll and leaps into Arcade Fire territory, circa “Funeral”, complete with chugging beats, screaming guitars and a string backbone. And in that kindly voice of his, he sings words that seem oddly reminiscent of their hope in youth and cynicism with the aged.

“Let’s start a war for the kids
A purpose for which to unite
Make them some words they can mince
What they don’t know, They won’t mind”

And yes, for those Kubrick fans out there, you really need to watch the hilarious, Strangelove-inspired video. The pair, video and song, are just so great together and if you do manage a chance to see Dan Mangan perform live, definitely take it. He definitely made a bigger fan of me.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #11 I Break Horses “Winter beats”

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Shoegaze was a subgenre I loved way back in the day (though I likely joined the train just as it was coming to a skidding and screaming stop) so when I started to hear bands incorporating that sound into their music in the mid- to late-2000s, I got pretty excited. And though I never thought much of the term ‘nugaze’, I definitely latched on to a lot these revivalists, of which I Break Horses is but one fine example.

From what I’ve read, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck named themselves after a Bill Callahan/Smog song. Other than that piece of trivia, there’s little else to be found about them, other than the obvious: the names of their two albums, they haven’t released new material in quite a few years, etc. However, I can say that the debut album “Hearts” is a thing of real beauty and around the time it came out, I couldn’t say enough about it. Yeah, I did my damnedest to spread the word. When I got the chance to see them the year following its release, during their tour as support to M83, I jumped at it and tried to convince all of my friends to join me. Unfortunately, this was an uphill task since the majority of my concert-going buddies were going to the same Spiritualized show as I was on the day prior. It was their loss because my second concert in as many nights was just as good as the first.

“Winter beats”, the opening track on “Hearts”, is a thrilling piece of music. It takes the roar and rage of My Bloody Valentine and ups the synth quotient, looping washes and frenetic drum machine crashes, and effects morphed vocals. Oh my. Yes. It is a roaring animal of a thing, flashing strobes, smoke machines, and lasers all over the place, while two silhouettes are up on stage, perhaps one is male and the other female, but you are unsure. Indeed, they are only just barely visible through the smoke and mirrors. You could almost swear the song was conjured up from the ephemera by a machine. Or a ghost. Or an alien.

You could almost swear it might very nearly swallow you up whole. But there are worse fates, I’d wager.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #12 Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “The death of you and me”

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One of the earliest posts on my old blog, Music Insanity, was some initial thoughts on this tune, “The death of you and me.” It was the first single off Noel Gallagher’s first album of recorded material that wasn’t released under the Oasis name. And I was pretty excited because, as I wrote at the time, my first thought after hearing that he was leaving Oasis was: “God, I hope he releases some solo material!”

As great a frontman as his younger brother Liam was and is, I was always certain that Noel was the more talented of the Gallagher siblings. He was definitely the more gifted as a songwriter and I would argue that he has a better voice. It’s not for no reason that of all Oasis’s songs, I always preferred the ones on which Noel took the microphone for himself (“The masterpiece”, “Don’t look back in anger”). Don’t get me wrong. Liam has a great voice and he certainly had the stance and the swagger down but Noel didn’t need any of that.

A few months before the release of “The death of you and me”, the leftovers of Oasis had released their own first collection of new material without Noel under the moniker, Beady Eye. And although there were some good songs on “Different gear, still speeding” (e.g., “The roller” and “The beat goes on”), I will admit that I was a bit disappointed with their album. As my friend Andrew Rodriguez so eloquently put it, at the album’s best parts “they simply sound like Oasis”. It was as if they changed their name just to signify a break from their Oasis past but in reality, were still so deeply mired in it. Beady Eye would go on to release another album (and another disappointment) before calling it quits in 2014.

Liam finally hit the mark with a solo album, “As you were”, in 2017 but Noel Gallagher, on the other hand, hasn’t ever really looked back, just continued doing his thing with his new band The High Flying Birds. I remember seeing Noel and the band perform live in 2016, the set a mixture of his solo work off the group’s first two records and some of the songs he wrote in the Oasis days, having the whole crowd in his hands, and me thinking to myself, “It doesn’t at all look like he needs an Oasis reunion”.

And well, “The death of you and me” is the single that started it off. There’s no mistaking that it’s Noel but it doesn’t sound like an Oasis re-hash. Yes, some of the Oasis hallmarks are there (the violin backing and the anthemic chorus) but he has infused a carnival/sideshow theme into the song (also reflected in the video) that would have never appeared on an Oasis album. The song is also instantly likeable, something lacking in many of the songs on the Beady Eye albums and also on much of Oasis’s later material. I guess what I’m saying is that if I were to compare: I’d say it sounds more “What’s the story” than “Dig out your soul”. As a lead off single, “The death of you and me” definitely did its job. After hearing it, I was looking forward to the rest of the self-titled album and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.