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Best tunes of 2010: #26 The Drums “Best friend”

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The Drums are an indie pop band out of New York City that were formed by childhood friends Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham. In 2008, Pierce relocated to where Graham was living in Florida to start collaborating on material and they later moved to Brooklyn where they fleshed out the band to a four-piece with Connor Hanwick (drums) and Adam Kessler (guitar). They were tapped as the next big thing by everyone from Pitchfork to the NME, even before they released their debut, self-titled LP (on which this song appears) in 2010. They have since released two more albums but internal friction and disagreements have meant that the band gradually lost members along the way. These days The Drums consists only of Jonathan Pierce and he has album number four coming out on Friday.

“Best friend” will always remind me of a trip my wife and I took out to British Columbia in 2011, over a full year after this single’s release. We spent three days in Vancouver before visiting Victoria and Whistler, and all of this during the Canucks’ crazy run at the Stanley Cup that year. (As you recall, they didn’t win and there were riots.) On our final full day in Vancouver, we were visiting the shops in Kitsilano after eating a fine vegetarian lunch at The Naam and happened into Zulu Records.

My wife always urges me into record shops in cities that we’re visiting and feigns interest herself while I take my time browsing. This was almost a full year before I started collecting vinyl but that was the section I found myself gravitating towards anyway. At some point, I recognized the song playing in the store but couldn’t place it right away. It sounded retro but I knew it was new and hip and at that moment, was really digging it. I even caught my wife subconsciously swaying to it at the other end of the store. But the band’s name was escaping me. It finally came to me well after we had left Zulu Records and we had made our way to Kitsilano beach.

Was it the beach that reminded me that the song we had heard was “Best friend” by The Drums? Perhaps. The song certainly is summery and bright, and calls to mind friendships of days gone by, that could very well have found their roots in the loose and warm grains of a sandy beach. It is jangle and reverb and peppy drumming, the sun glinting off the rim of a pair of sunglasses worn by a beautiful girl. Perhaps your teenage crush, perhaps the girl that never noticed your affections but instead, she dated the most popular guy in high school and considered you her best friend. Cheers to that!

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

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Best tunes of 2010: #27 Karen Elson “The ghost who walks”

<< #28    |    #26 >>

The next stop on this Best tunes of 2010 list is the title track off Karen Elson’s debut solo album, “The ghost who walks”. This title, apparently, is a nod to one of the nicer nicknames bestowed upon her in school for “being tall, pale and a little bit haunted”.

Karen Elson was born and grew up in Manchester, England, where she was “discovered” at the age of 16 and began working as a model. She met Jack White in 2005 while filming the video for The White Stripes’ “Blue orchid” and they married shortly afterwards. They had two children together and divorced after eight years in 2013. She continues to model but claims that music is her first love, having released two solo albums now, having co-founded and performed with the New York-based cabaret troupe, The Citizens band, and having collaborated with a number of prominent musicians over the years.

A more cynical writer than I might point to her connection with Jack White as the reason this debut album was ever released. He did produce it and release it on his own label, Third Man Records. However, they have both maintained that she had written the majority of the album in secret, keeping it from him until she thought it almost ready to start recording. Still, his musical touch is pressed firmly on the album’s sound and sensibility and one only has to listen to and compare it with Elson’s sophomore solo release, “Double roses” (released last month), for confirmation.

I’ll be honest. I first came across this album because of the Jack White connection. (I was quite enamoured with The White Stripes for a number of years but more on that another time, I’m sure). I stuck with it after the first listen, though, and this on the strength of the songwriting and of course, for Karen Elson’s vocals.

“The ghost who walks” as an album is quite lovely, if not dark and perhaps macabre, and its title track is emblematic of the entire work. It feels like a cabaret number. Listening to the song (not the video, that’s a whole other story), one can almost picture the waif-like redhead in a black cocktail dress and in a murky spotlight, surrounded by cigar and cigarette smoke. She herself sports a lit cigarette in a holder, clasped in a slender, gloved hand, while her other hand rests on cocked hip, standing and singing alone. Her backing band are in the shadows, neckties loosened, hair dishevelled, crashing cymbals and guitars and keys, each climbing and falling, vying for supremacy. For all this, it’s a mellow and morbid number. A song for well after last call, when the last of the rookie party animals have gone home and only the diehards remain.

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

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Best tunes of 2010: #28 The New Pornographers “Sweet talk, sweet talk”

<< #29    |    #27 >>

It feels like I just finished writing about The New Pornographers. However, that post is so two weeks ago now and is for a list of tracks from a completely different decade. And I can say with certainty this will not be the last time this Vancouver-based indie rock collective will be mentioned within these pages so let’s get talking about “Sweet talk, sweet talk”, song number twenty-eight in my Best tunes of 2010 list.

“Together”, the band’s fifth long player, was released at the beginning of May but The New Pornographers didn’t get around to releasing a video for “Sweet talk, sweet talk” until the following December. It was produced in conjunction with Oxfam America in support of efforts to raise funds for the cleanup in the wake of the BP oil spill. All three principal vocalists in the song, Carl Newman, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder appear at the beginning of the video, saying a few words about the impacts this catastrophe had on the people of Louisiana, still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years earlier, and trying to keep a seven month old issue (that seemed to have been dropped by the fickle media) in the public’s consciousness. The video shows footage from the devastated coastline, the affected wildlife and the real people whose livelihoods were laid to waste by the tragedy. It is interesting going back to watch it seven years removed from the incident and being reminded of something that seemed so front and centre, something we watched day in and day out in the news and that today, some of us might have forgotten had ever happened.

The track itself is brilliant number, staccato rhythm, vocals, and melodies that call to mind the interminable ticking of a clock and of course, the passing of time. Then, the handclaps kick in to add effervescence to an already upbeat feeling and the harmonizing and trading vocals of the three principals show how beautiful synergy can be. This and the big sound and irresistible hooks are the hallmarks of The New Pornographers’ music. “Sweet talk, sweet talk” truly is a sweet tune, no more talk necessary.

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