Best tunes of 2002: #15 Luna “Renee is crying”

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I first heard Luna in 1995. Their sophomore album, “Bewitched”, was loaned to me by my neighbour in university residence, Josh, who is better known in our circle of friends as Good Josh (as opposed to Bad Josh), but that’s another story. I was flipping through his CD collection one day*, he noted me looking at the album cover with interest, and highly recommended I give it a listen.

Luna has been one of my favourite bands ever since. I continued to listen to them long after I graduated, entered the adult workforce, moved away to Ottawa from Toronto, and gradually began to grow apart from most of my university friends. In fact, the last time I saw many of them, including Good Josh, was one weekend in 2002, when I took a Greyhound bus to Peterborough. A bunch of these friends were living there so the town was chosen as a central point to gather together to meet up with our friend Mark, who was temporarily back from an ESL teaching job in Japan. I distinctly remember bringing a copy of the latest Luna album, “Romantica”, along to listen to on the bus. I also pulled it out at one point on the weekend to share with Good Josh because he mentioned that hadn’t listened to them in a very long time. I don’t exact remember if he thought much of the album but it has become one of my favourites out of all their discography and was one of my first ever purchases for my vinyl collection, way back back on Record Store Day 2012.

Luna was formed by Dean Wareham in 1991 when his first band, the legendary dream pop outfit, Galaxie 500, disbanded. It was considered somewhat of an indie supergroup at the time because he had managed to gather a past member each from The Chills (Justin Harwood) and The Feelies (Stanley Demeski). Seven full-length studio albums, a live album, as well as a handful of EPs were released under the Luna moniker before the group disbanded in 2005, though the lineup was quite different then than when they had formed. Almost a decade later, Luna reunited as the lineup of Wareham, Sean Eden, Lee Wall, and Britta Philips, and they have since released a new album, an EP, and have toured pretty consistently since.

“Renee is crying” is track six on “Romantica”, an album that seems to me a rejuvenation for the band. Much of that can possibly be attributed to it being the first album with new bassist, Britta Philips, who, for you trivia buffs out there, was the singing voice Jem (of the Holograms). She also happened to be newly, romantically involved with our intrepid frontman and songwriter, Dean Wareham. Many of the tracks on the album have a bit more pep in their step, especially when compared to the previous couple of releases. “Renee is crying” isn’t as sad as the title suggests, but is actually quite upbeat and googly-eyed, though still with the band’s patented understated intricacies. For the guitar work, acoustic rhythms mesh with electric meanderings and the jaunty drums will have your toe-tapping all the way along highway seven on the Greyhound, perhaps annoying the passengers around you, who can’t hear the joyous music pumping through your earphones.

* Flipping through the CD collections of friends in university residence was how I discovered the music of a great many bands in the mid-1990s.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

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.

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.