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Best tunes of 2012: #6 Allo Darlin’ “Tallulah”

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Rather than my typical blathering about the band and song in question, I thought I’d instead present some sections of a short story I wrote close to a decade ago, words that were inspired by this particular song.* It’s a road trip story for a road trip song.

We’re on highway seventeen scarcely passed Wawa and its gigantic steel goose when Tallulah makes her third appearance that day. She’s a stark contrast to the blazing guns from the last song, which pushed the needle on the speedometer to a comfortable hum, hovering just over the 100 mark, and propelling the ten-year-old, borrowed PT Cruiser headlong into a horizon all streaked with reds and oranges.

The sun is low and yet the wind whipping through the cranked windows is hot and sticky, the humidity just aching to break. Still, humidity drenched wind is better than the useless AC. We have the stereo volume knob tuned to towering heights just to be able hear it and yet, neither the wind nor the music has disturbed the sleep of my friend Simon in the passenger seat. There’s been barely a stir since he conked out a few hours ago.

I turn the volume knob clockwise even more to try to bring out the majesty of the whispery ukulele strumming and the rough innocence of the soft female vocals. It’s not your typical driving tune and an odd choice for a mix created for a road trip. Indeed, it is the quietest tune on the CDR, the rest comprising of a mix of classic alt rock and hip new indie numbers, many of which I’ve never heard of. If I didn’t know Simon better, I would’ve assumed he was showing off the knowledge he’s amassed over the years and has him as the most popular radio DJ on Indie 88. But really, that’s not his style.

Simon had explained (when putting the disc on after we lost reception to “his station” a half hour outside of Toronto) that this was the song that inspired the idea of this road trip in the first place.

I had listened to the first innocuous strums and nodded. “Who is it?”
Simon’s face made an almost imperceptibly wistful expression as he watched the traffic on the highway ahead of him, an expression he had almost hidden but I had caught it. “Allo Darlin’.”

“It’s a sh*t name.”

“You were always more concerned with band names than I was, Rob, but I admit it’s not the best choice I’ve heard.” He paused, expecting more protests from my side of the car but getting none, he continued. “They’re pretty great though. They’re this English twee-pop influenced band with a folk edge, built around the song writing of the singer. I think her name is Elizabeth Morris.”

“You think?” This was sarcasm.

“The talk I originally heard was that the song title was a nod to influential C86 band Talulah Gosh but other sources have since cited the album ‘Tallulah’ by Australian alt-rock band, The Go-betweens. I prefer the former but think the latter more likely, given that the singer also hails from Australia.” He continued on in this vein, unloading all the trivial bits of information related to the band, the song, the album, and other music of similar sound, but I had begun to tune him out, getting lost in the spaces between the twinkling strums of the ukulele. The sound of this instrument always reminded me of grade six music class, when our eccentric teacher sprang ukuleles on the class, rather than the usual session on learning the recorder. It wasn’t long before some smartass in the class figured out the melody to the theme from Peter Gunn and had the whole class playing it.

I take off my now unnecessary sunglasses because I want to hear the song lyrics better. Lord knows, the volume knob won’t help anymore. The words are drenched in contemplative nostalgia and sung with a bright sadness and a time worn edge, telling a tale of a road trip, much like the one we’re on, except we are driving in rural, northern Ontario, not the east coast of Australia.

And this – the car, the tunes, the dog days of summer, the company, the kilometres behind us and the ones left ahead – suddenly makes sense, much more than anything did two weeks ago, when I had received that seemingly random email from Simon French.

***

But wait, there it was again. That line, or rather two, that had punctured something in me the first time I heard it this morning: “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something. And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something.”

*Obviously, any song that inspires me to write is a great one in my books.

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

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #7 Porcelain Raft “Drifting in and out”

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Wake up all you dream pop fanatics, just long enough to open up your Spotify app, locate the album “Strange weekend” by Porcelain Raft, press play, and drift back into the musical haze of its opening track: “Drifting in and out”.

Yeah, that’s the spot. Right there. An itch you didn’t know you needed scratched. I know because I’ve been there myself. In fact, why don’t you go listen to it again. I’ll wait (or perhaps I’ll give it another go myself).

This beautiful piece and the nine tracks that follow it are the work of the unfortunately-named Porcelain Raft, a “basement” project of Italian-born composer/songwriter, Mauro Remiddi. “Strange weekend” was in fact the debut album under this name but you couldn’t mark Remiddi down as fresh-faced kid with a crazy dream, even at the time. He had already been at the music game for many years in 2012, cutting his teeth working as a musician in projects all around the world and dabbling in musical styles ranging from gypsy Klezmer music to North Korean traditional music.

This particular chapter in his music story was inspired by his move to New York City. Remiddi worked alone on the album, without a lot of external intervention, but it does not feel as detached and self-aggrandizing as these types of projects tend to feel. This could have something to do with how quickly Remiddi reportedly recorded the album, just focusing on the music in the moment, as fleeting as that can be.

“Strange weekend” was released very early in 2012. It made an impression on me from the get-go and though I remember doing my best to discover and listen to as much new music as I could that year, somehow, this one was never very far from my ear phones. So many great mind-expanding and explosive moments for me and I’ve likened it many times over to an alien retelling of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”. And it all starts here, with this track.

If you haven’t heard it already, I’ll just point out the similarity here to Chapterhouse’s “Mesmerise” and now you won’t be able unhear it. The dreamy danceable vibe. The skull latching medicine. The synths that flit about in shards of light and in between wispy clouds. The lasers beaming out from the retro spaceship. The half-remembered saturday night on the town played in reverse and in slow motion. This is blissful dream pop. Yeah, let’s listen to it again.

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

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #8 The Shins “Simple song”

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It has now long since rebranded and changed formats but around the beginning of the 2010s, back when I still had a cable television package with Rogers*, I discovered a channel that played music videos for a good portion of its programming. Yes, I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s been a couple of minutes (okay, perhaps more than a year) since I’ve referenced this relatively short fling of mine with AUX TV.  And the story bears repetition given the amount of songs and artists it availed me. Much like Miike Snow’s “The wave”, which came in at number twenty three on this list, it was the music video that caught my eye first, but it didn’t take long for the love of the tune to follow.

The video starts with a dead parent addressing his three adult children in one of those message from beyond the grave type video recordings and knowing that each “hated his guts”, he tells them that he didn’t bequeath the familial home to any of them. Instead, he tells them, the deed is hidden within the home and whoever finds it, gets everything. A chaotic, rough and tumble, and often hilarious treasure hunt ensues, interspersed with VHS home video type clips showing a dysfunctional family history. When the “deed” is finally found and after a bit of hair pulling and choking, it is read and discovered to be a joke, that the house is instead scheduled for demolition that very afternoon. A charming video is made more so by the fact that the principal characters in the video are played by members of The Shins, including a titular performance by frontman James Mercer as the dead father.

I didn’t know anything of this last fact the first time I saw the video, of course, and save for recognizing Mercer and his inimitable vocals, I might not have placed this song as by the same band that played the song that “will change your life”, featured on the “Garden State” film soundtrack. And this is because for the most part, it wasn’t. The Shins hadn’t released any new material for five years up to this point and when Mercer
resurfaced with “Port of morrow”, it was with a completely new band.

“Simple song” was the first single released off this new album and it was anything but a simple song. Starting with haunting organs and ghostly guitars wavering in the attic cobwebs and banging around in the walls, it quickly becomes jubilant and upbeat and hopeful. Mercer wrote it in the comforts of his home, shortly after his marriage and birth of this first child and he was reflecting on everything to come.

“Well this will be a simple song
To say what you’ve done
I told you about all those years
And away they did run
You sure must be strong
And you feel like an ocean
Being warmed by the sun”

“Simple song” dances and frolics in pure happiness and I swear if you don’t have a smile on your own face by the end, one might surmise that you don’t have a soul.

*Remember cable television?

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