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Best tunes of 2012: #27 The Dandy Warhols “I am free”

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When The Dandy Warhols last graced these pages, it was September in 2017 and they were hitting up the number two spot on my Best tunes of 2000 list with the very, very excellent, “Bohemian like you”. I wrote in that post how I saw them live before I had properly become familiar with their music but was so enthused by their set that I purchased “Thirteen tales from urban bohemia” on CD a few years later, without first hearing a note. The rest was history, I suppose. I bought “Welcome to the monkey house” when it came out in 2003, watched the 2004 documentary “Dig!”, and went back to explore their 1990s output. It seemed to me that I had found a new favourite band – I’ve had many over the years – but then, the Dandies went through a period where their excesses were allowed to overflow their bubbling cauldron. I couldn’t get into their 2005 album, “Odditorium or warlords of mars”, at all, and ditto for its successor, 2008’s “…Earth to the Dandy Warhols…”. I moved on.

The Portland, Oregon based alternative rock quartet were relatively quiet for the next bunch of years, their only musical releases being an alternate version of “Monkey house” (called “The Dandy Warhols are sound”) that came out in 2009 and ‘best of’ compilation released by their old label just before they parted ways with them in 2010. There were murmurs of a new album in 2011 when frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor joked about potential album titles while on tour. However, when “This machine” was finally launched in the spring of 2012, it came upon me as a surprise. Being the forgiving sort that I am, I gave it a spin and it ended up being featured on my old blog, Music Insanity, as one of my favourite releases of the month.

For this album, The Dandy Warhols opted for a simpler, ‘stripped down’ approach and for me, it felt a lot less excessive and a lot more palatable. “I am free”, for example, contrives to sneak up to some of their early singles and rival them in the ear worm category. The jumping and reverberating guitar line by Peter Holmström deserves a true guitar rock god stance, legs spread wide and axe held aloft. Brent De Boer pounds the drums and Zia McCabe holds the bass line steady and true. Taylor-Taylor, of course, fronts it all with his usual tongue in cheek attitude, his laidback, slacking delivery giving it just the right vibe. And when the horns kick in at the end, it doesn’t even feel like they’re crowding themselves into an already packed room. It feels effortless and easy.

Yeah. “I am free” is easily my favourite song on the album but it is by no means the only good track. To me, it was like a comeback of sorts, a righting of the ship, a beginning of a new course that followed the band through the string of their next bunch of albums.

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #28 Dr. Dog “These days”


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Dr. Dog was formed by Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1999. They’ve had a number of different members come in and out of their midst and have released ten albums and a handful of EPs over the past couple of decades, but have never really managed to crack mass culture consciousness. Indeed, they might have never even managed to catch my own attention had it not been for fellow blogger, John Hubner over at Complex Distractions. I’m 100% certain I first read about these guys when he wrote about Dr. Dog’s sixth, “Be the void”, the album on which this song can be heard, on a previous iteration of Mr. Hubner’s very excellent blog.

The band name was what first caught my attention. (Much like every person I’ve mentioned them to since, my own first words upon reading their name was: “What a great band name”.) But it was Hubner’s description of their psych rock sound that had me searching them out. “Be the void” was on regular rotation for me after that first meeting in 2012 and I recommended them to my good friend Andrew Rodriguez, who also enjoyed their carefree sound. And now, every time their name comes up, which is pretty much every time I see him, Rodriguez tells the story of how he met some guy wearing a Dr. Dog toque at an Oh Sees show. Funny, the stuff that sticks with us.

Track three on “Be the void” is this two and three-quarter minute ditty that shakes with the shakers and whose frenetic guitars match the piano madness and heavy drum pacing. It feels not a little bit like the energy of an early Strokes barnburner, but there’s less anger here and more laissez-faire attitude. Indeed, it’s easy-going psych rock with an über-peppy pop tone, just plain fun all around. And as John Hubner said in his aforementioned post back in 2012: “If you don’t like Dr. Dog, check to make sure you have a pulse.”

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

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Best tunes of 2012: #29 Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra “Want it back”

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Amanda Palmer (or Amanda F*cking Palmer as she sometimes calls herself) is a divisive individual. But an individual she certainly is.

She formed The Dresden Dolls with drummer Brian Viglione in 2000 and the duo gained a rabid cult following with their “Brechtian punk cabaret” music, to which I have never ever listened to this day, but I imagine to be equal parts musicianship and performance art. They went on hiatus in 2008 (though they have reunited several times since then) and Palmer formed another short-lived duo with Jason Webley, called Evelyn Evelyn, before embarking on an even more successful solo career.

In the spring of 2012, Amanda Palmer launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the self-release of a forthcoming album she was working on with her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. Her goal of $100,000 was easily surpassed in a matter of hours, eventually reaching the lofty and record-breaking mark of nearly $1.2 million. It raised a lot of eyebrows and started to change the ideas of what it meant to be a musician and a fan/customer/art patron and the relationship betwixt the two in the digital age. Palmer definitely has her fans but she also has her detractors. And she didn’t do herself any favours in that regard when she asked for the whole helping arm and put the call out for volunteer musicians on each stop on her tour after raising so much coin on Kickstarter. She eventually backtracked on that when the internet was outraged but there it is.

I actually listened to most of the resulting album, “Theatre is evil”, without any of this context, well before reading about her in the news and becoming somewhat put off by some of her opinions and outspokenness and almost unreal persona. Truly, though, the album is quite a fantastic piece of work with a great many highlights. “Want it back” is track five out of fifteen and the second single to be released from it. Synth washes start the proceedings. Then come the driving piano staccatos and snappy drums and plucky guitars. Palmer’s vocals are breathlessly running from one line to the next, seamlessly snarling and yelling and barking and yelping and angelically crooning. It can be an exhausting listen but also a compelling one.

“Once when you’re gone, and I wanna do it backwards
Just like the song, we’re addicted to the L word
Up past your head, down your back
Around your ankles, ready for attack
You’re upstaged
And then you’re strangled”

The video is pretty neat too. Filmed like stop motion animation, the lyrics appear as she sings them, written all over the place, black ink from an ink well – splish, splash, splosh. The version below is the clean one. There’s an NSFW version out there for you to find as well. Because, of course there is.

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