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Best tunes of 2020: #23 bdrmm “A reason to celebrate”

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From Urban Dictionary:
“Bedroom pop – A genre DIY indie music, bedroom pop is characterized by its lo-fi quality and often contemplative lyrics. Bedroom pop share elements with other indie genres including shoegaze, dream pop, jangle pop, and emo. Guitars and vocals often feature heavy use of reverb or delay.”

From Wikipedia:
“The rise of modern digital audio workstations dissolved a theoretical technological division between professional and non-professional artists. Many of the prominent lo-fi acts of the 1990s adapted their sound to more professional standards and “bedroom” musicians began looking toward vintage equipment as a way to achieve an authentic lo-fi aesthetic, mirroring a similar trend in the 1990s concerning the revival of 1960s space age pop and analog synthesizers.”

Bedroom pop and rock feels almost like a dirty word to me. I can appreciate the DIY-ness of it all and the ability for anyone with a laptop, a guitar, a synthesizer, or maybe just some good software to create something out of nothing and let it loose on the internet. But on the other side of this shiny bitcoin, there’s also a lot of it out there to wade through, kind of the like the explosion of wannabe YouTubers and influencers. Whenever I hear the term “bedroom” to describe the next big thing, I shudder a little bit on the inside. And then, I proceed to give the act in question a chance, because I’ve discovered more than a handful of artists that got their start in this way.

Hull, England five-piece, Bdrmm*, actually started out as a bedroom project for frontman Ryan Smith. Listening their 2020 debut full-length, “Bedroom”, you’d likely never guess it, though both the band name and album title are none too obvious hints. Theirs is a fully realized shoegaze sound, more guitars than keys, and sounding to this old school shoegaze fan’s ears like the brightest points of early Ride and Chapterhouse. Smith put together the group with family members, friends, and musicians he’d worked with before and released an EP that had them catching the eye and signing with the noisy label, Sonic Cathedral. The debut longplayer was released just a few months into the pandemic, when it seemed like everyone would be chained to their bedrooms for the foreseeable future.

“Well, it’s okay
For you to walk away”

The last song recorded for the ten track album was “A reason to celebrate”, which given that these words don’t appear in the song, feels more like a feeling and an exultation. Though it happens to be my favourite of the bunch, it’s not by a long shot. There’s lots of reverb and layers of guitars to stare at your fingers to, crossing your eyes at them and waggling them about. It’s a blast of inspiration to stir your languid and lazy afternoon on a grey day into something worth exploring. It’s bursting forth from the bedroom into that big old world out there, anxiety and fear be damned, and that’s just damned exciting.

I can’t wait to hear what this group comes up with next!

*You can guess how that’s pronounced.

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

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Best tunes of 2020: #24 5 Billion In Diamonds “Weight of the world”

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Back last month, I was standing in a crowd at Ottawa Bluesfest, watching 90s alt-rockers, Garbage, take the stage and smiling in spite of myself. And just as they were kicking into their first track, my friend Josh leaned in towards me and yelled over the ensuing ruckus, “That’s Butch Vig on drums, right? The guy that produced “Nevermind” and a bunch of other classic alternative albums?” I nodded, and yelled back, “That’s him.” Then, still smiling, I eased myself into the nostalgia and sang along with Shirley Manson for the next hour or so.

Vig has always been a busy guy in the music biz. He started off in a parade of bands, local to where he went to university in Madison, Wisconsin. He shifted gears and went into music production full time in the early nineties, working on seminal albums by Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, L7, Crash Vegas, and of course, Nirvana. Then, he decided to get back into making music again, forming the aforementioned Garbage in the mid-90s and with them, released a number of hit singles on three massive records. Between this band* and continuing to produce other artists throughout the new century, you’d think that’d be enough for Vig. But not so.

He formed 5 Billion In Diamonds in 2017 with another producer in Andy Jenks, UK DJ James Grillo, and a host of other friends and collaborators. The idea was to create music as soundtracks to films that didn’t exist. The self-titled debut was a nod to the psych-rock of the 60s and 70s and they returned in 2020 with a sophomore album called “Divine accidents” that mined the indie rock of the 1980s. It doesn’t feel at all like anything Vig has had his fingers in thus far.

“Weight of the world” features The Soundtrack of our Lives’ Ebbot Lundberg on lead vocals. The heavy and pounding synths early on give way to jangly pop and a mid-eighties paisley underground aesthetic and the way Lundberg plays it on the mike, this almost could be a Bernard Sumner led side project. It is vibrations and ripples, concentric circles spreading out into the vastness of the open air and expansive water. It is cool and breezy and feels great all around.

*And another one-off album band back in the early 2010s.

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

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

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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.