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

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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.

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Best tunes of 2020: #28 Elephant Stone “Hollow world”

<< #29    |    #27 >>

Elephant Stone is a Montreal-based psych-rock quartet that was formed by bassist and sitar player Rishi Dhir back in 2008. I got into them pretty much right from the start because I loved Dhir’s work with The High Dials* and was more than a little sad when I heard he had left that group.

Elephant Stone’s 2009 debut album, “The seven seas”, had me sold immediately and had me trying to convince all of my other friends to give the band a go as well. I got to see them live at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox here in Ottawa back in 2010 and then, three years later, I saw Dhir perform live onstage with Beck at Montreal’s Osheaga festival. Indeed, Dhir’s sitar work is well known and sought after in the psych rock circles and he’s collaborated, either live or in studio, with the likes of The Horrors, The Black Angels, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and the aforementioned Beck. He even created a psych-rock supergroup of sorts called MIEN and released one self-titled album in 2018, that included the work of The Black Angels’ Alex Maas, The Horrors’ Tom Furse, and The Earlies’ John-Mark Lapham.

But I’ve strayed off course a bit here. Rishi Dhir is the driving force behind Elephant Stone but he’s also always had a great team behind him. Each of the group’s five albums have been critically acclaimed, and each has told a different story. On their 2020 album, “Hollow”, Dhir and his band are reaching out to a dystopian world of disconnected and unhappy souls, one that was inspired by the impacts on our society by social media.

“We long to feel less empty inside our hollow world
These hollow days bring so much hurt”

These are words from the opening track, “Hollow world”, but if you weren’t paying attention, you could be forgiven for thinking the message more uplifting than that. The song is a dreamy and technicolour piece of paradise, one that refracts blinding shards of light in all directions. Much like the best of Elephant Stone, this smacks of what The Beatles might’ve been had George Harrison had more sway at the height of his Indian classical music fascination. It is bright pop and sounds young, joyful and hopeful, especially when Rishi brings out his daughter Meera Skye Dhir to join him on vocals to close things out. Genius.

*Another excellent Canadian indie rock outfit out of Montreal with a psych rock influenced sound.

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

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Best tunes of 2020: #29 Matt Berninger “Distant axis”

<< #30    |    #28 >>

This here is an example of one of those situations where you like a band so much, a band that can do no wrong in your eyes, that has consistently put out great album after great album, but one that you can’t fathom its talented parts making music outside of the near perfect whole. You don’t want to listen to solo material from any of its members, least of all that of its golden-voiced lead singer. You don’t want to like it. You don’t want there to be even more solo material released to take away from the possibility of another great album from the singer’s band.

No?

Okay. Maybe it was just me.

To be honest, I know a lot of diehard fans of The National that couldn’t wait for Matt Berninger’s debut solo album and that ate it up the moment it was released. Perhaps curmudgeonly, I probably waited two or three weeks after its mid-October release date before I gave in and tracked it down on the Spotify. And though it didn’t necessarily push any of my favourite albums of the year out of the top ten that had pretty much been set by that point, I couldn’t bring myself to hate “Serpentine prison”. Scratch that, I couldn’t even bring myself to discount the album as subpar. Nope. It was actually quite lovely.

In spite of myself, I was especially enamoured by track two, pretty much from the first few seconds of impassioned guitar strumming. That intro, mired in smoky washes, smacked nostalgically of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” or James’s “Ring the bells”, but when Berninger’s fine baritone crackled in, those similarities faded right away into the ether. “Distant axis” is like a howling in the night, a call out between lost lovers, a demand for warmth and understanding. It’s a message that Berninger delivers as if out of breath, as if he had just run the length of a cold and cloudy beach in the hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse of hair or a slip of a dress. And he almost seems resigned to his fate.

“There’s a pattern to the way the world is tearin’ up
I think it’s happening to me”

With tracks this heartbreaking, I’d be hard pressed not to hope for more solo material from Matt Berninger.

But not at the expense of a new National record…

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