Best tunes of 2012: #20 Trampled By Turtles “Alone”

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Memory is funny thing. And as I get older, it’s only getting funnier. Yeah. These days, it’s damn right hilarious.

I have no idea at all how I ever came across Trampled by Turtles and their very excellent 2012 album, “Stars and satellites”. I’ve thought, at points, that they were one of those many bands that I’ve investigated over the years in anticipation of seeing them live at either Ottawa’s Bluesfest or the CityFolk festival. But that can’t be it because although they have played both of those festivals, each of these appearances occurred prior to and well after this album’s release and unfortunately, I missed both.

Then, I wondered if it was because I had gotten caught up the indie folk wave that had taken hold of pretty much everyone around this time, thanks, of course, goes out here to the success of England’s Mumford and Sons and the United States’ answer, The Lumineers. A very possible theory, this.

But the theory that I feel is most likely, is a simple one: They have one hell of a band name, don’t they?

Trampled by Turtles formed in Duluth, Minnesota back in 2003. As far as I can tell, all six members – Dave Simonett. Tim Saxhaug, Dave Carroll, Erik Berry, Ryan Young, and Eamonn McLain – have been with the band since its inception and through the release of all nine of their albums. Since the beginning, they have maintained a hold on their bluegrass and folk underpinnings and man, are they talented.

One of the biggest standouts of their aforementioned fifth album, “Stars and satellites”, is this very track we are focusing on today: “Alone”. It is fresh and at the same time, old school to the nth degree. The rustic, acoustic guitar plucking is quickly joined by Dave Carroll, twanging and bouncing on the banjo and this not-so-torrid pace is maintained for the first minute or so while the frontman, Dave Simonett, finds his feet and then, locates in the darkness, his backing vocalists. Tim Saxhaug on the bass joins in next, in typical booming fashion, then Ryan Young eases his fiddle into the picture and finally, here, the pace explodes into all out ecstasy.

“The summer breezes blow so tall
And the winter nights are cold and so long
In between the falling leaves ooh“

There is a flitting and frittering sound coming from of all these stringed instruments. It is the falling leaves. It is a lonely wind. It is the sound of voices far off. It is dark here, there are plenty of stars in the sky, and if you follow them, you will find your way home.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2012: #22 Family Of The Year “Hero”

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Family of the Year was formed in California in 2009 by brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe, as well as James Buckey, who were all veterans of the Boston alt-rock music scene in the late 90s. California native Christina Schroeter joined the group not long after, solidifying the indie folk band’s roster and adding her female vocals to give the group its trademark harmonies. A debut album called “Our songbook” appeared almost immediately after their formation, suggesting that material had been percolating for a while, and then, their major label debut was launched three years later. “Loma Vista” was actually my introduction to them (and still the only album by them in my collection) and this meeting came a year after its release, in 2013, because they were slated to play the local summer music festival (remember those?) and they piqued my interest.

Family of the Year’s set was quite amazing and the album got a lot more play after I saw them than it did beforehand. I especially fell in love with the single “Hero”, a track that had been released earlier, albeit as a shorter and not nearly as finely realized version. This song was then used for the trailer and as de facto theme song for Richard Linklater film, “Boyhood”, in 2014 and became a hit of sorts for Family of the Year. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the film but it’s a long one, following the protagonist throughout his formative years. What makes this coming of age flick different from the rest, though, is that it was filmed real-time as the actor (and his co-stars) aged through those same formative years, making the pay off at the end all the more worthwhile. The film also imbued the song with more meaning for me, burnishing the protagonist of the song’s reluctance to stand out, and dancing all emotional and heroic in spite of himself.

“So let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else”

“Hero” pulls into you tightly with its jangly arpeggiating plucking on the acoustic guitar, the light brushing on the snares, and the way each eases their way out of the ether. Synth washes are just there, like the flickering shadows just beyond the reach of the campfire, and then, just at the song’s apex, comes a touch of electric guitar, but more as support than overpowering force. The rest of the band joins Joe Keefe here, singing as a crowd, cheerful and uplifting. And then, the song ends as it began, quiet and acoustic, leaving a slight but definite smile on your face as the last note fades.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 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.