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Best tunes of 2020: #25 Gateway Drugs “Wait (medication)”

<< #26    |    #24>>

Back on Cinco de Mayo, 2015, I went to see Swervedriver perform at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I had been excited to see yet another re-formed shoegaze legend, but as much as I enjoyed their set, I found myself quite surprised to leave the show even more impressed by the opening act.

Los Angeles-based four-piece, Gateway Drugs, had only just released their debut album, “Magick spells” the month before, and they had already toured as support for noise rock and shoegaze icons Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They were led by a trio of siblings – Noa (guitars), Liv (guitars), and Gabriel (drums) Niles – each sharing vocal duties, while the fourth member, Blues Williams, simply looked cool and accompanied them on guitars and bass. The quartet were all in black, leather, furs, and sunglasses and were playing a garage rock infused shoegaze that sounded at different points like early Dum Dum Girls, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I left the show with a copy of the aforementioned debut album on CD and duly fell in love with it. Its accomplished sound and the pop sensibility that lies just beneath the surface of all those roaring and screeching guitars could easily be traced back to the music surging through the veins of the Niles siblings (children of The Knack’s Prescott Niles).

I was convinced they were going to be huge.

But then, there was nothing but relative silence from the group for almost five years.

Fast forward to 2020, just a few short days after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be an honest-to-goodness pandemic and things started to shut down in earnest, a new Gateway Drugs single appeared, seemingly plucked out of the ether and there finally came the news of the long-awaited sophomore release. I say this last bit with my tongue firmly planted in cheek because perhaps I was one out of only a small handful whose interest hadn’t waned in the interim. This first single really got me excited and that was only multiplied by fifty or so when I learned that “PSA” was produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Put myself on a leash, I’d stay
Kill myself just to hear you call my name”

Of course, that first single was none other than “Wait (medication)”, our song of focus today. I’ve read that Liv Niles has called it a reflection on excess, madness, addiction, and how “extreme highs give way to extreme lows.” It’s an apt Coles Notes for the jackhammer drum beat, crunchy bass line, clanging and twangy guitar screams, and the dual vocal assault by Liv and her brother Noa. It is a four-minute salacious stroll down the chaotic and messy trail blazed by the JAMC and the BRMC.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2020: #26 Andy Shauf “Try again”

<< #27    |    #25 >>

Andy Shauf is a Canadian indie singer/songwriter that was born and raised in the prairie province of Saskatchewan but later relocated to Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Depending on how you count them, he’s released between four and seven full-length albums and a handful of EPs between 2006 and 2021. I personally only really became aware of him after the release of his breakthrough album, 2016’s “The party”, when I saw him perform on the side stage at Ottawa’s City Folk festival in 2017 and was really impressed by the low key but sweet vibe of his set.

Much has been made of “The party” and the fact that it was a concept album, telling multiple stories surrounding the attendees of a house party. By Shauf’s own admission, the end result was a happy accident but for its follow up, he purposefully set out to create a fully realized narrative when he began work on it. “The neon skyline” is like a thematic sequel, its characters a little older (but perhaps not wiser), graduating from house party to dive bar, and the tone is purposefully lighter, with Shauf realizing that months of touring somber material can actually get you down.

The events of the album take place over the course of an evening at one of Shauf’s favourite local haunts in the Parkdale neighborhood of the ‘Big Smoke’* and the eleven tracks are culled from a purported fifty or so that he wrote during the sessions. Over the course of the album’s thirty-five minute duration, we meet the narrator and his friends and some bar regular passing acquaintances. Through conversational lyrics, we learn about a recent ex named Judy, our narrator’s thoughts on the relationship, and eventually, said ex turns up at “The neon skyline”.

“Try again” is track nine of eleven on the album and describes the awkwardness of meeting and conversing with this recent ex, the Judy that we hear tell of a few times during “The neon skyline”. Interestingly, this is the most upbeat track on the album, yet still lilting and light, a boppy and whimsical thing. Woodwinds and handclaps and plenty of fun, keeping at bay, for as long as possible, the unfortunate ending that we are certain has to come to pass.

“Somewhere between drunkenness and jealousy
I watch her talking to some old friend
What a reunion, he recognized her across the room
How many years could there be to catch up on?
And somewhere between drunkenness and honesty
I make a silent toast to the things that I do and don’t miss”

*Toronto really isn’t smoky. This is really just my tongue-in-cheek nickname for the city, playing upon many people’s vision of it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2020: #27 The Psychedelic Furs “Wrong train”

<< #28    |    #26 >>

The Psychedelic Furs have been around forever. The British post-punk band formed in the late 70s and had a string of hits throughout the 80s. I first picked up on them in the latter part of that decade when I first saw the John Hughes film, “Pretty in pink”, whose title was inspired by one of the band’s early hits and of course, that track was re-recorded for the now iconic soundtrack. When I went through a retro 80s kick in the 90s, I picked up on even more of their tunes and ended up getting a copy of one of their best of compilations on CD but that was as far as I ever delved.

Still, I remember thinking it cool and a little bit funny when my friend Eileen was telling me and my wife a story over beers about how she met up with them at a tiny bar in New York when she was younger. She also laughed because she didn’t know who they were then and still didn’t really know how big they were but clearly remembered their name and that they were a ‘great bunch of kids’.

I also didn’t hesitate to ensure to catch their set when they played my favourite local music festival, Ottawa Bluesfest, a couple of years ago, even though the reformed group hadn’t released any new material since 1991’s “World outside”. I was absolutely rewarded by them playing pretty much all the songs that I knew by them but I was also super impressed by how they really rocked the stage, frontman Richard Butler especially tearing it up with those inimitable lungs of his.

So when I heard a couple of years later that the group had released its first album of new material in nearly thirty years, I was leery and almost gave it a by. As it was, I pressed play on Spotify, fully expecting to skip a few songs and give up the ghost in short order. How wrong I was! “Made of rain” was fresh and raw, full of killer hooks and Butler’s rock and roll vocals.

“I took the wrong train
Ate all the wrong pills
I took a cell phone
To call my voice mail”

Track four on the album is a tune called “Wrong train”, a banger that was actually written by the band way back in 2001, near the beginning of their reunion run. Butler wrote it about his experiences living in the suburbs, a bad time in his life tainted further by his break up with his wife, the domestic life gone awry. It’s the roar and rumble of a commuter train, lost in sleep and dazed in the humdrum of the day, Butler’s voice roaring and soaring above it all, looking down at this daily drudgery like an out of body experience.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.