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.

Best albums of 1988: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

 

Happy Thursday! And welcome back to my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums series.

I know it’s been a while since the last of these but there’s good reason. If you look back at my sentiments at the time of my last series, you’ll see that I had this crazy idea of whipping through six of these things this year to catch up. Well, halfway through writing for this particular list, I hit a wall. I found the mission way too onerous and ambitious…. So I decided to take a break, take my time writing these posts, and enjoy them again. I’ve decided instead to choose years at random to do throughout future years and maybe even do some theme-based best albums lists. First, though, I wanted to share this particular list with you because I pushed through to finish it and it is a good one with a lot of important albums.

Our destination here is 1988, which is unbelievably just over thirty years ago now. I can’t really say it feels like yesterday because at the time, I was spanning my first and second years of high school. The problems of acne, getting braces, and math homework seem like another world ago. I had yet to hit my growth spurt, hadn’t yet started shaving, and I still hadn’t yet dipped my toes in the theatrical arts, something that would radically change my high school experience from then on out.

This is the second time we are touching down in the 1980s The last time we did so, I mentioned in the introductory post that I was still finding my way in the music world. The pop charts were king. AM radio and music video shows and countdowns, and whatever they played at the high school dances at which I was holding up walls. So yeah, a lot of the albums on this list were not even close to being on my radar back when they were released. In some cases, I came upon them a few years later, some of them took longer to take hold, but all of them are now staples in my collection and revered for their place in my musical education.

Yes, the ten albums in this list are all classics and I am going to kick things off with the first five below. And if you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the top five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. I hope you enjoy this trip back to 1988 with me.


#10 The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”

Nowadays, we have the international sensations Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men but before The Sugarcubes hit the scene, we hadn’t heard much rock music from Iceland. The six-piece alternative outfit were made up of veterans of different music groups from the Reykjavik scene. They released three full-length albums in their four year existence, though none as impactful as their debut, “Life’s too good”. Admittedly, I didn’t first listen to the album until well after their former frontwoman, Björk, had established her solo career with her excellent first two records. However, I have grown to love the quirky, punk-inflected DIY rock of The Sugarcubes’ debut. And it doesn’t at all sound thirty years old.

Gateway tune: Birthday


#9 Erasure “The innocents”

Here is an album that I was definitely listening to in high school, though perhaps not as early as 1988. “The innocents” was Erasure’s third full-length album and first to hit the top 10 in the UK charts, spawning a number of hit singles. The duo of Vince Clark and Andy Bell took 80s synth pop and made a career out of getting people out on the club dance floors. I love many of their singles but this is the only one of their albums that I love all the way through. I am well aware that it could be nostalgia factor here, given that this is the first of theirs that I listened to after my friend John made a copy of it on cassette for me.

Gateway tune: Chains of love


#8 Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”

I got into Billy Bragg with the album after this one, 1991’s “Don’t try this at home”, during my final year of high school and only went back to discover this previous album a few years later, when one of my university housemates Meagan had it in her CD collection. “Don’t try this at home” is considered by many his attempt at pop but in 1988 Bragg was still mixing his prototypical protest songs with songs on love. He usually performs these songs live solo on stage with his electric guitar but on record, he had a full band with him, though the music is typically secondary to his words. “Workers playtime” is his third album and is chock full of classics and fan favourites like “Must I paint you a picture?”, “She’s got a new spell”, and the one below, “Waiting for the great leap forwards”.

Gateway tune: Waiting for the great leap forwards


#7 Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”

Jane’s Addiction is another artist I was listening to by the end of high school, the introduction coming with the album following the one on this list, in this case, 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual”. In 1988, though, the quartet led by founding members Perry Farrell and Eric Avery, and including Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins, were releasing their second album, their major label debut, “Nothing’s shocking”. Here, the group re-recorded a couple of tracks that appeared on their ‘live’ self-titled debut album and added some explosive new ones that mixed metal, surf, glam, funk, and punk. They were a hard-living group and it shows in the raw angst on so many of the songs here.

Gateway tune: Jane says


#6 Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”

I’m hoping that Canada’s singer/songwriter/poet, Leonard Cohen, needs no introduction to anyone that lands on these pages. His eighth studio album, “I’m your man”, was the first CD I owned by the influential lyricist, after being introduced to him by way of the appearance of “Everybody knows” a couple years later in the film “Pump up the volume”, a favourite of mine at the time. The production and instrumentation on this album definitely sound of its time but Cohen’s rich and deep vocals and excellent lyrics allow you to forgive him. So many great tracks, like the title track, “First we take manhattan”, and the aforementioned, “Everybody knows”. How could I not include this here?

Gateway tune: Everybody knows


Check back next Thursday 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.

Live music galleries: Ottawa Bluesfest 2019, day one – Marie-clo, Abigail Lapell, Chvrches, U.S. girls, Alt-J

(Since I’ll be too busy attending Ottawa Bluesfest over the next week or so to continue with this blog’s regularly scheduled programming, I thought I would do a special ‘live galleries’ series this week to share some pics from some of the sets I am enjoying.)

May of Bluesfest 2019 grounds

Artists: Marie-clo, Abigail Lapell, Chvrches, U.S. girls, Alt-J
When: July 4th, 2019
Where: Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Some words: By my count, it’s been four years since I last bought a full festival pass to Ottawa’s Bluesfest, mostly due to increasing difficulties in finding enough in the lineup to be excited about. This year, there were two (perhaps three) bands that I was really, really jived for (and multiple others that generated a good enough amount of interest) and one of them was scheduled to play last night. Unfortunately for me (and likely many others), they were forced to cancel all of their summer shows. This removed a horrible time slot conflict with the main stage headliners for a lot of people. But for me, I would have rather seen First Aid Kit and crossed them off the bucket list. Next time, I guess.

I stopped off for dinner and a couple beers at a local brewery before heading down to the festival, factoring in plenty of time to navigate the long lines that are usual on opening night as organizers figure out their processes. Imagine my surprise to find nary a line, which made walking the labyrinth of temporary barriers superfluous. Once past the gates, I refilled my water bottle and headed in to the museum where the festival always has an intimate stage set up inside the Barney Danson theatre. Yeah, I’m very thankful that with last night’s heat, my first two shows were scheduled inside. Sweet air conditioning.

Right at 6 o’oclock was a local-ish, indie pop bilingual vocalist that went by the stage name of Marie-clo and was backed by another local band, Mal/aimé. After that, things got a bit dicey with conflicts and time slot overlaps. I caught the first half of Toronto singer/songwriter Abigail Lapell’s excellent and intimate folkie set. Then, I slipped into the middle of Scottish indie dance pop trio, Chvrches’ well-attended and high energy set on the main stage. At some point around 8pm, I hightailed it to the Videotron stage to catch the end of my happiest surprises of the night: the insanity of Meghan Remy’s art pop laboratory, U.S. Girls. I finished the night back at the City stage where the crowds had amassed even more for Alt-J. And it was brilliant.

Marie-clo and Mal:aimé
Marie-clo
Abigail Lapell
Lauren Mayberry and Jonny Scott of Chvrches
Martin Doherty of Chvrches
Iain Cook of Chvrches
Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches
U.S. Girls
Meghan Remy aka U.S. girls
Alt-J
Thom Sonny Green of Alt-J
Gus Unger-Hamilton of Alt-J
Joe Newman of Alt-J