Best tunes of 2010: #24 OK Go “This too shall pass”

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When I was in my twenties and early thirties, I didn’t have a lot of money to go see shows so I made them count and nothing but death could keep me from them. Things have changed a bit as I’ve aged. Maybe I’m not as hardcore as I was or maybe I’m turning into a bit of a suck but I’ve missed a number shows over the last ten years for which I’ve had tickets because of the weather or because I’ve felt under the weather. I’m thinking that the first of these shows was when OK Go played the Capital Music Hall here in Ottawa back in 2010. My wife and I were supposed to go with my friend Ian and his wife Diana but a few days beforehand, I caught the death of a man cold and really didn’t feel up to it.

Ian later recounted some of the details of the show for me. Of course, they were great live and had a hell of a lot of energy but he was also quite enthusiastic about their use of multimedia and how they often projected parts of their music videos on the screen behind them for the songs that they were performing. This only poured salt in the raw wound (which I’m sure wasn’t Ian’s intent) but it also made a lot of sense in retrospect since the band’s use of the music video is really what made them a household name.

Not since the golden age of MTV and Muchmusic has a group profited more from the creative use of videos for their songs. These guys became YouTube stars: first, with their highly choreographed backyard dance video for “A million ways” and then, to an even greater audience, with their treadmill routine video for “Here it goes again“. With each successive video, OK Go, who had formed in 1998 and whose 2002 debut self-titled debut album only saw modest success, upped the creative and intricate ante. In fact, “This too shall pass”, the second single off their third LP, “Of the blue colour of the sky”, and track number twenty four on my best of 2010 list, received two different music videos. The first is a crazy marching band performance of the song, the second features a Rube Goldberg machine, and you can watch both below.

But this LA-based quartet is not all style and no substance. They seem to have gone to the Weezer school of geek rock and added a touch of glam for an A plus average. “This too shall pass” is knee trembling bass, bombastic drums, and a shitload of swagger, giving the impression that OK Go are the coolest kids in the class even though they know they’re not. It is a big song, almost to the point of parody. With no build at all, it is a whole song in climax, even at the piano plinking bridge where the chorus joins in, you get the feeling that everyone and anyone is invited.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2010: #25 Library Voices “Drinking games”

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Like P.S. I Love You, who started this particular list off at the number thirty spot, I discovered Library Voices through seeing them live at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2011. But unlike the former, I didn’t listen to any of Library Voices recordings in advance and so my first real introduction to their music was their live set.

They made quite the first impression as all eight of them filed on to the stage and the way they performed, all passionate and chaotic, trading instruments and jumping into the admittedly sparse crowd at different points, led me to describe them to a friend later as a poor man’s Arcade Fire. It’s a description I immediately regretted saying out loud but the similarities in their live show sensibilities were too obvious to ignore. And when I later purchased and listened to their debut full-length, “Denim on denim”, I was able to add another Canadian indie rock band as a comparison point: The New Pornographers. If you like either of these two bands, Library Voices might just be worth a look for you.

Library Voices banging the drum in the middle of the crowd (Bluesfest 2011)

They were formed in 2008 in Regina, Saskatchewan by a group of musician friends and there were ten of them at the beginning! They have since released a couple of EPs and three LPs in total, the latest of which, last year’s “Lovish”, saw the band drop all the madness, pare down their personnel, and focus more on the power pop. It’s a good sound for them but I still hold a soft spot for their early tunes, the big sound, the blue eyed innocence, and the pure joy, though I must say the one constant in all their material are the smart and literary lyrics.

“Drinking games” starts off “Denim on denim”, an album of party ready numbers, with a tune about a party girl, who’s “not one for love but sure loves the chase”. The singer is quite aware of who she is and what she’s like but despite his claim that he’s “too old for these drinking games”, you can tell that he’s fallen for her just the same. It starts of with a capella harmonies that sound funnelled through an AM radio. After two go rounds of the chorus, the bass line and handclaps join the house party. Eventually, the whole crew joins in, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, sometimes banging loudly on the tambourine. They are digging through crates of records, spilling red wine on the new couches, vomiting in the kitchen sink, and pretty much drinking every last beer in the fridge. Library Voices are definitely not the quietest friends at your party.

But often these are good friends to have.

(And oh yeah, if I haven’t sold you yet and you haven’t pressed play on the above video, there’s a lovely little nod tossed in near the end of the tune for all of you Cure fans. Cheers!)

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.


100 best covers: #99 The Rural Alberta Advantage “Eye of the tiger”

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I’d be rather surprised if any one of you was to tell me they’d never heard the original version of “Eye of the tiger” by Survivor. It was the theme song for the third installment of the “Rocky” series (the one in which Stallone does battle with Mr. T!) and was released as a single the day after the film hit theatres. It is the American hard rock band’s biggest hit, attaining certified double platinum status and sitting atop the Billboard 100 charts for six weeks in 1982.

To say that this cover by Toronto-based indie rock trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, is a bit less well-known is tongue-in-cheek hyperbole on my part. I first heard this performed live on a Spring evening back in 2011. I dragged my wife out to the now-defunct Ritual nightclub in downtown Ottawa to see this band I discovered at Bluesfest the previous summer. We were treated to a highly energetic and entertaining set, during which frontman Nils Edenloff was left alone on stage a couple times to perform a pair of covers, all acoustic like. The first of these was “Maybe tomorrow”, the “Littlest hobo” theme song (for Canadian fans of this classic TV show, you can check that one out here), and the other was this awesome cover of Survivor’s massive hit.

I think Victoria recognized it as “Eye of the tiger” before I did during the show but she definitely wasn’t as impressed as I was by the cover. She’s not really a fan of covers and she’s of the opinion that certain songs should just be left alone, this song being one of them. You see, she’s actually quite the fan of Survivor’s original version of “Eye of the tiger”. She describes it as one of those songs that always makes her want to move and has been a favourite of hers to put on mixes designed for working out. I can’t really argue with any of that but I think this cover is also special, mostly because it completely changes the mood of the original. Edenloff slows down the pace a tad and replaces the uppercut and left right hook combination on the muscular hard rock guitars with a quiet and lonely pluck on the acoustic. His voice is pained, almost wistful and tired, where the original Survivor vocalist, Dave Bickler, was triumphant and full of adrenaline.

I’m not saying The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Eye of the tiger” is better than the original but it feels to me like it actually has a bit more edge, kind of like it’s after the fight and the reality of all those rounds have set in. Have a spin of both and let me know what you think.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.