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

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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.

Best tunes of 2012: #18 Stars “Hold on when you get love and let go when you give it”

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Well, hello February!

You might’ve noticed that I spent most of January in the ‘90s – my happy place musically and nostalgia-wise – but if you’re sick of that, I’m here to rescue you with a smattering of 2012. And you couldn’t ask for something better to lift you out of a funk (if the 90s were a funk) than this awesome, high energy number by Montreal-based indie-poppers: Stars.

“There’s been a lot of talk of love
But that don’t amount to nothing
You can evoke the stars above
But that doesn’t make it something”

If I am remembering correctly, Stars’ 2012 album, “The north”, was the seventh (or eighth) LP I bought after starting to collect vinyl again. In fact, it was one of the handful I purchased before I even had a turntable to play them on. This didn’t bother me at the time because pretty much every record I was purchasing around this time included a download card for a digital version of the album. So even though I couldn’t yet play the record, I still had a way of listening to the music I had purchased. And I listened to this album quite a lot after purchasing it. In fact, I remember listening to this album continuously for the whole train ride back from Toronto on my iPod shortly after its release (though I couldn’t tell you now, why I was in Toronto and why my wife wasn’t travelling with me that time) and perhaps this is when I fell in love with this very tune.

“It’s a pretty melody
It might help you through the night time
But it doesn’t make it easy
To leave the party at the right time”

“Hold on when you get love and let go when you give it” was the second single to be released off “The north” and it could very well be at the top of the list of my favourite songs whose title includes more than 10 words.* It became huge for the band, a dance club eruption. And though there are only hints of it in the lyrics, the song became a LGBTQ anthem, in part because of the video (which you can watch below). One of the principal songwriters of Stars, Torquil Campbell has said of the video: “I wanted to make a video that celebrated the following things: 1. being yourself, 2. being someone else, 3. being fucking fabulous, 4. showing up, putting on your heels and staying alive. Drag queens know a couple of things the rest of us choose not to know: you are who you imagine yourself to be, and you can be a star even if — especially if — nobody ever knows who you really are.”

The song, itself, is pure pop brilliance, spreading love wherever it is played, pop in the vein of eighties nostalgia but with 21st century digital production. It is an insistent dance floor beat, reverberating memories, strobe light heart beats, and dance floor crushes. The melodies inspire flashback shots of love and ecstasy and at each chorus, Amy Millan fills our hearts with joy and hope. Love comes in rushes and waves, sneaky kisses and cautious caresses. It’s indeed magical.

“The world wont listen to this song
And the radio wont play it
But if you like it sing along
Sing ’cause you don’t know how to say it”

*Honestly, I don’t currently have such a list but it might be something worth looking at. Surely, though, this song title is the longest amongst my most favourite of songs.

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

Best tunes of 2012: #19 Great Lake Swimmers “Easy come easy go”

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If you’ve never heard of Great Lake Swimmers or listened to their poignant indie folk, you’re indeed missing out. In the past, I would often say about them that when listening to them, they were an amazing experience, but would then go long periods without listening to them and forget about them, until a new album was released and I would fall in love with them all over again. But now that I’ve seen myself amass a bunch of their records as a part of my vinyl collection, I can honestly mark them down as one of my favourite bands, not just a standout amongst the indie folk greats.

Great Lake Swimmers have always been the project of singer/songwriter Tony Dekker. He started out using the name back in 2003 and recorded the self-titled debut in an abandoned grain silo in his hometown of Wainfleet, Ontario. Over the years, he has brought in a number of different musicians to augment his quiet and honest musings on life and the world around him. It felt there was a shift, though, with the band’s fifth album, 2012’s “New wild everywhere”. To his long time collaborator in Erik Arnesen (banjo/guitars), Tony Dekker added fiddler/vocalist Miranda Mulholland, upright bass player Bret Higgins, and Greg Millson on (gasp!) drums.

Yes, the drums were a somewhat new fixture and almost automatically picked up the tempo and mood by default. But I really think it was the addition of Miranda Mulholland that breathed new life into Dekker’s compositions with her backing vocal harmonies and her rollicking fiddle work. Just take “Easy come easy go”, my favourite tune on the album, as an example. Of course, it still features Dekker’s literate and hefty words but it’s more upbeat than anything he had produced up to that point.

“Call it chance, call it choice
Words escape on the breath of your voice
Spinning a magic as they arrive
It’s not fail when it’s a shallow dive”

But don’t get the wrong idea. It is still subdued, classy, and understated. You can almost see Tony and his band just nodding and tapping their toes, performing in button up shirts, done all the way up, sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair slicked or tied back, everything prim and perfect and no-nonsense. Meanwhile, the crowd gathered to watch them, in my mind’s eye, in a broken down barn, on a quiet and warm summer’s night, surrounding the band from an appropriate distance, swaying in abandon on top of hay bales, stomping their feet, and swinging and dipping their partners in love.

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