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Best tunes of 2012: #15 Metric “Breathing underwater”

<< #16    |    #14 >>

So I’ve mentioned once before in the last month or so that this blog is quickly approaching its fourth anniversary*, and looking back over my posts, I’ve noticed, much to my own surprise, that with the exception of one of my Vinyl Love posts, Canadian indie rockers Metric have yet to have been the focus of a post on any of my lists.

Metric got its start as the duo of James Shaw and Emily Haines back in 1998 in Toronto. Drummer Joules Scott-Key joined on in 2000 and a couple of years later, bassist Joshua Winstead made the group the quartet that we now know and love. As I wrote in that aforementioned Vinyl Love post, I was aware of the group from their early days because of my friend Jez. He saw them a number of times at various intimate clubs when they came to Ottawa in support of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”. After his first time seeing them, Jez tried dragging me along with him and though I was sold on the music of the album he loaned me, I never seemed to have the money to spare.

By the time I finally did see Metric live, it was a number of years and three albums later and their latest, 2009’s “Fantasies”, had garnered them enough success to earn them a spot on Ottawa Bluesfest’s main stage, albeit one at a time slot in the early evening. My wife Victoria was quite a fan of that album and so I was able to convince her to join me on the lawn of the Canadian War Museum (where the festival has been annually held up to last year’s rude COVID-19 interruption) on a warm summer evening in July. Metric’s energy was fun and we both enjoyed singing along with all of our favourites, though Victoria later pointed out that Haines’s dancing was sometimes awkward and her vocals not as strong live as they were on the recordings. My opinion slightly differed than my wife’s – I thoroughly enjoyed finally catching their live experience. I’ve since seen Metric twice more, both times at different festivals, including once in support of their next album, “Synthetica”, from which comes today’s song of focus.

If “Fantasies” broke Metric more into the Canadian mainstream, “Synthetica” finished the job, songs like second single, “Breathing underwater”, gilding the festival stages for the appearances. The intro of synths is like a laser show starting, the whir of exciting machinery, then comes Shaw’s stadium ready, dancing guitar line and the driving drums, regularly punctuated with exciting fills at perfectly opportune moments and Emily Haines can hardly believe that it’s her up on the stage, singing “Is this my life?”. Indeed, the song seems to be a meditation on their good fortunes and success, the achieving of the impossible, and the worry that they are not at all up to the challenge of supporting the weight of being adored by fans around the world. Meanwhile, the video is a collage of clips of their charged live performances and the masses of audiences, including footage from a performance at Lollapalooza the previous year.

Apart from all that, “Breathing underwater” is an incredible and uplifting synth tinged rocker that will have you dancing and singing along every time.

*Now in 11 days to be exact.

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #16 Amos the Transparent “Sure as the weather”

<< #17    |    #15 >>

I first came across local band, Ottawa’s own Amos the Transparent, in 2010, when I saw them perform on an early Sunday evening set in only my second year attending Ottawa Bluesfest. I had only briefly sampled a couple of their tracks in advance but their big band energy had me visiting the merch tent afterwards to pick up a CD copy of their debut album, “Everything I’ve forgotten to forget”. I listened to that album quite a bit in the months that followed and couldn’t help being drawn in by the fine songwriting by band architect, Jonathan Chandler. Just as impressive was such excellent production and ambitious scope for a indie band that I just couldn’t get my head around was local.

Just over a year later in December 2011, I somehow caught wind that Amos the Transparent had recorded a video for a new song off an upcoming new record. I watched the fun, all-in-one-take video that you yourself can watch below and then, I watched it again. And then, the next day, I forced my wife Victoria to watch it with me. The video did its job. I was hooked.

A couple of months later, the group held an album release party for “Goodnight, my dear… I’m falling apart” at the now defunct Ritual night club. It was a great night where I was also introduced to the music of big-voiced Haligonian, Ben Caplan, and that was topped by the seven members of Amos the Transparent squeezing their big presence on to the tiny stage and blowing the roof off the place. I took home a CD copy of the album from that performance too because I was still a couple of months removed from starting my vinyl collection, though I remedied that at another Amos show a few years ago. For those of you too far afield to have heard this group, “Goodnight, my dear…” is an excellent, big, Canadian indie rock record in the vein of “Funeral” or “Set yourself on fire”, but in addition to the orchestral elements those two albums sport, Amos throws in some traditional folk instrumentation for fun.

Take today’s song, “Sure as the weather”, for an example. If you watch the song’s video without sound and note the varied instruments that the band pulls out – pedal steel, banjo, accordion, and cello – you could be forgiven for expecting a rollicking indie folk track. The sound on, you check off the “rollicking” box but also observe how much the tune rocks and how these varied instruments lend their distinctive sounds to the blended whole. Indeed, Amos the Transparent is built around the songwriting of Jonathan Chandler but they really are a collaborative beast, both in the way they build the songs up and tear them down and the way they harmonize and gang up on the listener with their collective voices, and in this case, singing with optimism for better days.

“I don’t want to hear about your bad weekend
And I don’t want to hear about not trusting your friends
And I don’t really care if no one’s left to blame
It’s going to be okay”

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #17 The Raveonettes “Curse the night”

<< #18    |    #16 >>

My friend Tim was raving to me about The Raveonettes for a few years before I finally got around to listening to them. I think it was their appearance on some late night television show in 2007 that was the gentle nudge I needed. I couldn’t tell you now which show it was because it was so long ago and I likely only landed on it by happenstance while flipping through channels. I distinctly remember that they performed “Dead sound” and finding myself swooning over their dichotomy of harsh and soft tones. I immediately went out in search of the album on which the song appears and found it on the band’s third album, “Lust lust lust”. So started the love affair that continues to this day.

Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo originally got things going as a duo back in 2001 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They had formed a band around themselves for their first handful of albums but had given all that up by the time I caught up with them, realizing that theirs was the only input they truly required. Their dreamy noise created by a mesh of guitars, synths, and drum machines pulls heavily from the wall of sound ethos, triggering thoughts of The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and the usual pack of 90s shoegazers.

“Curse the night” is track three on The Raveonettes’ sixth album, “Observator”, which was conceived by Wagner in the wake of a bender in Venice Beach, California. The album is so named because the songs draw inspiration from his observations of the people and way of life that he was exposed to while there. Our song today was never released as a single but it stuck out for me immediately upon first listen and was apparently important enough for the band to warrant a music video being filmed for it. You can watch this for yourself below. It takes for its backdrops the empty streets of the duo’s home city and the filming of it in black and white certainly fits the song’s atmospheric and lonely mood (though the ending of video is quite the twist that I’ve never quite sorted out).

“Curse the night” is driven by a slow but insistent and unavoidable beat, virtual drummer boys leading the march. The guitars and washes form a fog that gathers and follows in close behind. The words are sung almost as a ghostly lullaby, twin sirens wailing at the night, Wagner and Foo blending seamlessly at the chorus, voices as one, making Foo’s solo on the verses sound all the more frail, childlike, and alone, perhaps a lost youth, abandoned and forgotten, ruing the cold and darkness and quiet of the late night in the city.

“I cry back, I feel the streets say
I’m holding on, someone else escaped“

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