Best tunes of 2013: #26 Guards “Ready to go”

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Back in 2013, I was into my second year of furiously writing about music on my old blog Music Insanity and I found myself, because of this new hobby, discovering all sorts of new music. Seriously, it was coming from all over the place, from unsolicited emails to reading other blogs, and just plain old-fashioned research. I became even more voracious in my musical appetites*. I felt like I was listening to new bands every other day, some of them stuck, some didn’t, and some were exciting at the time but quickly got lost in the excitement of the next big thing.

Guards and their debut album “In Guards we trust” is a prime example of this last.

I checked out the album when I first heard about it because I’d recognized the name of Guards’ frontman, Richie James Follin, and with a bit of digging, confirmed him as sibling to Madeline, who was one half of Cults. Of course, I had been a big fan of that band’s self-titled debut two years earlier, especially the wall of noise single “Go outside”, and that was enough of a link for me. I was rewarded with a twelve track, forty-seven-minute barrage of stadium ready anthems masquerading as indie pop. And I listened to it again and again and again. It became one of my favourite albums of the year and theirs were one of the sets I was really looking forward to catching at that year’s Osheaga. Perhaps the fact that I missed it due to a conflict might have foreshadowed their fading from the top of my music playlist pile, especially since I can’t recall at all now who it was I saw instead of them.

I had to actually go back and listen to the New York-based trio’s debut album** and its single “Ready to go” when I was putting together this list to make sure it belonged and then, again this week when I was writing this post. Each time I did, the answer was a resounding ,“Yes”! I instantly remembered how great it is, a bundle of revved up energy, retro pop hooks, and fun boy-girl vocal melodies. It’s psychedelic and fuzzy and positively joyous.

“We’re often ready to go
We’re often ready to go
We’re often ready to go
We’re often ready to go”

And now I’m ready to go listen to it again.

*And this would eventually become too much and too stressful keeping up with it all… but that’s another story.

**One of these days, I’ll also check out the sophomore album called “Modern hymns” they released in 2019.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2013 list, click here.


Best albums of 2010: Albums #10 through #6

So it feels like just yesterday that I wrapped up one of these series counting down my favourite albums of a select year, long past. In reality, it was only about a month ago but that one that I did for the year 2000 took almost two years to complete! Given this, you might think I would be reticent to start up another of these series, at least not right away, but not so. It’s almost like it feels like there’s something missing without one of these Best Albums series on the go.

This time around I am jumping ahead a decade to revisit 2010, a year that was actually quite amazing musically. I counted down my thirty favourite tunes of the year on these pages just over five years ago and I already did a similar countdown of my favourite albums for the year on my old music blog a bunch of years before that. Thus, it’s familiar territory we’re treading here (but not too familiar), many of the albums that will grace this list have a place in my vinyl collection, and those that aren’t there already are definitely on my wish list.

If you’ve followed me through one of these series before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. From here, I used to out my five favourite albums for the year on a weekly basis and then, I tried stretching that to a bi-weekly basis. For this series, I make no promises but I am aiming to wrap this up in three to four months so maybe we’ll see a post every two to three weeks?

But before we go further, I’d like do a bit of a spoiler and a bit of indulgence and share a handful of albums (in no particular order) that didn’t quite make the list but are still worth your while:

  • Steve Mason “Boys outside” – the solo debut by the ex-Beta Band frontman is all kinds of psychedelic groove
  • Delphic “Acolyte” – another debut, this one the first of only two albums from the enigmatic, alternative dance group from Manchester
  • The Like “Release me” – the all-female quartet led by Z Berg went from alt rock to retro girl group, beach blanket bingo on their sophomore record
  • Frightened Rabbit “The winter of mixed drinks” – with their third record, the Scottish indie rock sextet continued a string of amazing albums that didn’t end until frontman Scott Hutchison’s death in 2018
  • Beach House “Teen dream” – the Baltimore-based dream pop duo found their footing with their third record and never looked back

With those out of the way, let’s delve into my top ten for reals. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 2010, in the comments section provided with each post.

#10 Diamond Rings “Special affections”

John O’Regan made two records under the moniker Diamond Rings back in the early part of the previous decade. I remember seeing the album cover of the first of these, “Special affections”, for the first time and thinking that the image portrayed by Diamond Rings on it was an amalgam of Morrissey, David Bowie, and David Gahan of Depeche Mode. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a definite 80s edge to the record. Its ten tracks ran the gamut, creating an expansive play school for O’Regan’s inner frontman to let loose in and laid down a solid base for his astonishing voice. The most obvious comparison point for his vocal work might’ve been Ian Curtis with his deep hued baritone timbre but there was more swagger here, invoking the glam of, say, Jarvis Cocker, Brett Anderson, and yes, David Bowie. For me, “Special affections” was a blast of pure oxygen the first time I listened to it, energizing my every fibre. Oh… and it sounded great on the dance floor.

Gateway tune: Wait & see

#9 Bedouin Soundclash “Light the horizon”

Kingston, Ontario-based Bedouin Soundclash’s fourth record, “Light the horizon”, was easily my favourite of the ska/reggae band’s albums. It is a solid ten tracks that leave it all on the floor, as opposed to the previous two albums that had as many forgettable moments as they did memorable ones. From the opening number, “Mountain top”, you can hear a subtle difference in their sound. I had always tended to attribute it to the addition of the incredibly talented Sekou Lumumba on drums here but perhaps it is more than that. There really is plenty of exuberance to go around, in not just with the drumbeats but also in Eon Sinclair’s bass lines, which you can feel dancing up and down your spine. Frontman Jay Malinowski, too, riffs along as if newly inspired and his pseudo edgy vocals keeping things real.

Gateway tune: Brutal hearts (feat. Coeur de Pirate)

#8 LCD Soundsystem “This is happening”

There was very little dispute that LCD Soundsystem’s third album, “This is happening”, belonged on the multiple end of year lists that it appeared on for 2010, given its pretty much universal acclaim and the belief at the time that it would be James Murphy’s final album under that moniker. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, we now know that the group reunited a few years after that “final” 2011 show at Madison Square Garden, released a studio album and another live album and continue to tour these days, but we won’t hold that against “This is happening”. The dance punk album is only nine tracks long but it clocks in at well over an hour, every song save for one is longer than five minutes. It’s like Murphy enjoyed playing with these songs so much that he couldn’t let go of them or perhaps decided that the remixes were much more fun than the original recordings. I, for one, trust his judgement on this point. The songs on “This is happening” end exactly when they should, like perfect guests at the wildest of house parties, they never overstay their welcome.

Gateway tune: I can change

#7 The Drums “The Drums”

The Drums’ self-titled, debut album and their last as a proper four-piece was like an extended ode to all music that is considered retro. If I were to reduce my thoughts on “The Drums” to three words, they would have to be “energy”, “energy”, and “energy”. Each song is bursting with (and pardon the oxymoron here) fresh sounding retro vitality. Channelling and blending the sounds of their influences in the post-punk of the eighties and the free and easy pop of the sixties, The Drums take peppy doowop rhythms, speed them up to double time and blast it all with synthesizer melodies that climb and slide down all kinds of staccato scales. I’ve heard them compared to The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure and I’d have to say: “yes, yes, and yes”. So if you’re a fan of these bands, as I am, the chances are good that you might enjoy more than a couple of the twelve tracks on the album.

Gateway tune: Best friend

#6 The New Pornographers “Together”

The fifth album by the supergroup/indie rock collective based out of Vancouver, British Columbia is complex and simple, quiet and bombastic, raw and fey, earthy and alien. And I’m not purposely being contradictory here. A lot of people have bemoaned the fact that The New Pornographers have gotten away from the punchy edge that coursed through their first two or three records but that has never bothered me. Even though I also enjoy their early work, right up until this year’s release, “Challengers” and “Together” were my two favourite New Porno albums. It is here that their sound has grown, either Newman had given in a bit to Bejar’s bizarre ideas or he himself had lost some of his marbles. The band has never sounded typical but on “Together” they felt like they were exploring the periphery of their own boundaries and the results are slightly darker (if that’s possible) and more cohesive but not. I know. Contradictory.

Gateway tune: Crash years

Stay tuned for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.


Best tunes of 1993: #11 The Breeders “Cannonball”

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The Breeders were formed in 1989 as a side project for Kim Deal (Pixies) and Tanya Donnelly (Throwing Muses). In the spaces between working with their primary groups, they released an album and an EP before Donnelly decided to part ways with both Throwing Muses and The Breeders to focus on a third project called Belly. Deal brought her twin sister Kelley into the fold in 1992 and when the Pixies disbanded the following year, The Breeders became her main creative outlet.

I still have never really explored The Breeders’ early work, nor am I super familiar with the work that came after their reunion* in 1996. However, I am very familiar with their huge second album, “The last splash”. You would have had to live under a rock to have avoided it back in ‘93. It was a huge commercial and critical success, making Deal a bigger name perhaps than her ex-Pixies band mate Frank Black. And a huge part of the album’s success was due to the ubiquity of this track here: “Cannonball”

“Spitting in a wishing well
Blown to hell, crash
I’m the last splash”

Just like how the album takes its name from “Cannnonball”’s lyrics, the tune really sets the tone and represents the havoc that Deal and company create with the album. Its nonsensical lyrics are merely fun to sing/scream along with and Deal does both, taking turns cooing into and trying to exceed the sound limits of the microphone, also employing the use of a harmonica mike at points to create that distorted effect during the intro and throughout the piece. Jim McPherson’s drumming starts off the song with a tickety-tack drum line before devolving into an Animal-like crash and bash course. The gurgling bass line is accompanied by a guitar lick that slithers and slides up and down your spine. The 3 minutes and 36 seconds of the tune’s duration is a seemingly random tennis match between groove and noisy chaos and when you throw in that false ending two-thirds of the way through, that crashing return has you more pumped than ever to jump into that packed crowd on the dance floor or mosh pit and freak right out.

“Cannonball” was all over the radio and its video graced television screens care of MTV and MuchMusic all the time after its release as a single but it was just one of those songs of which you could not get sick. I remember seeing them perform the album live at Osheaga 10 years ago in celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary and everyone onstage and in the crowd just lit up with the song’s energy. And you just watch the Deal sisters having a blast in the video below and you can’t help but join them in being more than a little crazy.

*The group took a hiatus shortly after the release of “The last splash” due to Kelley Deal’s drug and legal problems.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.