Best albums of 2008: #5 Elbow “The seldom seen kid”

I’d like to say that I’ve been a fan of Elbow since the beginning but that wouldn’t be technically accurate. The band has been around since 1990 or 1991, albeit under a different name up to 1997 when they adopted their current moniker. I can say, however, that I caught on to their debut album, “Asleep in the back”, shortly after its release in 2001. (Yes, it took them that long to finally get a record out but that’s another story.) The album quickly became a favourite, spent months in my CD carousel, and I would name-drop them as often as possible when talking music with friends. It got so that it was a running joke. But I couldn’t help it. I just couldn’t get enough of this band’s dense atmospheric sound, all anchored by Guy Garvey’s unique, emotive vocals. They were like nothing else out there at the time. I once tried finding a comparison point and the best I could do was put Peter Gabriel in charge of a more-orchestral oriented Coldplay or Gene but even that seemed like I was trying to force it too much. My crush on Elbow only grew over time, as with each consecutive album their sound grew lusher and more complex, and they veered further and further away from those tropes that defined the traditional rock and roll band.

Elbow’s “The seldom seen kid” is the band’s fourth studio album and first on the Fiction records imprint. The album won the 2008 Mercury prize, an honour that the debut was nominated for but did not win. It certainly was up there with the debut as one of my own favourite of Elbow’s albums up to that point, setting a high water mark that its successor, 2011’s “Build a rocket boys!” couldn’t possibly reach.

‘Beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ are terms that are often inaccurately ascribed to music and are terms that shouldn’t be used lightly. But in Elbow’s case, ‘beauty’ is the most apt term I can think of and it could easily be the name of their particular style of music. “The seldom seen kid”, like Elbow’s other albums, doesn’t just create at an atmospheric sound, but whole worlds for you to inhabit, to live and laugh and cry in, as one song bleeds into the next. Each song is painstakingly arranged, the opulent instrumentation acting like a protective carriage to its soul: Garvey’s voice.

If you’ve never listened to Elbow before, “The seldom seen kid” would be a wonderful place to start. Don’t know where to begin? I’d say at the beginning but failing that, here are my three picks for you to sample.


”The fix”: “The fix is in. The odds that I got were delicious. The fix is in. The jockey is cocky and vicious.” This track has the added bonus of being touched by the hand of another talented musician with immediately recognizable vocals: Richard Hawley. His rich baritone vocals jive perfectly with Garvey’s, either while trading coyly or while in pleasant harmony. It is a slinky piece, obviously influenced by Hawley’s mere presence and his penchant for gleefully old-school sounds, tempered with his golden work on guitars.

”Grounds for divorce”: “There’s a hole in my neighbourhood, down which of late I cannot help but fall.” With a song title like this, it’s fitting that the song plays like one a chain gang might sing. From the marching drum beat to the call and response vocals in the intro to the dirty, southern bass line throughout, Garvey us leads through a rousing romp that is guaranteed to get you stomping.

”One day like this”: “So throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right.” With six and a half minutes of string flourishes, peppy beats, and uplifting vocal twists and turns, this song makes an ambitious bid for the title of my favourite Elbow track. It’s just one of those songs for which the volume can never be turned up quite enough. While listening to it, you want its blissful ecstasy to fill every crevice of your hearing, to blot the sounds of your humdrum day. You want to join in on the singalong refrain that carries on through the last half of the song with the thought that maybe tomorrow will be that day. Yup. Beautiful.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Live music galleries: David Byrne [2018]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Like my ‘Vinyl love’ series, these posts will be more photos than words but that doesn’t mean I won’t welcome your thoughts and comments. And of course, until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts of page.)

David Byrne and brain, live on atage, September 2018

Artist: David Byrne
When: September 13th, 2018
Where: City stage, CityFolk Festival, Ottawa
Context: So I wrapped up my best albums of the year series a few days (and it already feels like years) ago so I thought I’d squeeze in one last post before the end of the year. And what better to focus on but my favourite live set of the year. Yes, David Byrne. I’ve already mentioned on these pages how surprised I was by his performance when I posted about how he managed to squeeze his way into my top ten albums for the year. I’ve been a fairweather Talking Heads fan over the years, loving some songs obsessively but never to the point of investing in more than their greatest hits compilation and certainly not enough to check out much of Byrne’s solo material. So when he was added to Ottawa’s CityFolk, I was curious but I only decided that I would see him for sure in the handful of days leading up to his set. I had no idea what to expect but it definitely wasn’t what I witnessed that night. It was a complete performance. Art and pop joined as one. Minimalist stage set but one that changed the idea of concert, a new idea of space. He had an incredible 11 piece band backing him but even they bucked against the standard ideas for what concert performers should be, equal parts marching band and stage actors. All dressed in matching grey outfits, all movements choreographed, and none tied down by elaborate drum kits or cords of any kind. Byrne was both ringmaster and lead player, running through a catalogue that pulled from his Talking Heads days, solo work and collaborations, with, of course, special focus on his latest album, “American utopia”.
Point of reference song: I dance like this

David Byrne and Chris Giarmo
The killer percussion section
David Byrne, of course
Bobby Wooten, David Byrne, and Angie Swan
David Byrne and the band
Daniel Freedman, Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira, Gustavo Di Dalva, Angie Swan, and Karl Mansfield
Chris Giarmo, Tendayi Kuumba, Angie Swan, and David Byrne
Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira, Daniel Freedman, and others
David Byrne and Bobby Wooten
David Byrne close up

Happy new year everyone!

100 best covers: #82 Travis “Baby one more time”

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So here’s one that you can place firmly in the fun column.

I came across this particular cover during a brief period in 2001 where I was a bit obsessed with Scottish alt-pop band Travis and I was on the hunt for everything they’d recorded. Appearing as a B-side to the 1999 single “Turn”, it was recorded live and you can actually hear the laughter from the audience as they start to recognize the song. The band themselves can be heard snickering at the beginning, especially at the forced falsetto moments, but by the end, they are indeed performing it in earnest.

I also didn’t recognize the tune at first during my first sampling of it. It’s slowed some, performed stripped down to only an acoustic guitar with Fran Healy being joined, gang style, by the rest of the band on vocals. When it clicked, I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing and that’s what I think is so wonderful about it. It’s the surprise factor. A teen pop song performed by a pop band of a different sort and it works. I think so anyways.

As for the original, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to work too hard to jog your memory about it. Which is good because I can’t say I know much about Ms. Spears. However, I certainly have been overexposed to a bunch of her songs over the years and this one was particularly ubiquitous at the end of the nineties. I remember watching the video for the first time in disbelief. It was so obviously a ploy, a riff on the catholic school girl fantasy, but it worked. The song was huge, making her over from a former Mouseketeer to a pop star in the blink of an eye. Still, she likely got too big, too fast, given her tabloid ready lifestyle, and has had to forge more than one comeback over her career.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now which version I prefer. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a hate on for the Britney, nor her version of the song. It’s well written and has a great hook. Her style and sound is just not to my taste.

Do you have an opinion on the matter? I’d love to hear it.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.