Playlist: New tunes from 2020, part two

Back at the end of April, I posted the first part of this series, sharing with you all a playlist containing twenty-five tracks that I enjoyed during the first quarter of 2020. At that time, we were just five weeks or so into COVID-19 lockdown and had no idea what was going to happen or how long things were going to go on the way they were going. And well, we’re now nearing the end of July and we still don’t really have the answer to any of these questions. Restrictions have been relaxed in different parts of the world and we’ve had second outbreaks happen in others. We’ve been very tentative here in Canada. Slowly, slowly, slowly, we’ve seen some return to normalcy, albeit with some changes. Drive-in movie theatres appear to be making a comeback and leapfrogging from that, drive-in concerts. Masks are now prevalent and being made mandatory in all indoor public places. And of course, many of us are still working from home and really, seeing very little of other people outside of our own little bubbles.

Luckily for us, new music is still being released. Something to keep us occupied while we all stuck at home. I’ve (more than once) found myself wondering, though, if it, at some point, the music would stop coming. But no, at least not yet. Indeed, I would imagine that many of the tracks on this playlist were finished up during this crazy time and maybe even some of it recorded while in isolation. And when I get to posting the third playlist in this series, sometime in October, I feel like most of those songs will be influenced in some way by this new reality, whatever that will look like by then.

But before I get to much ahead of myself, let’s have a look at some of the highlights of this season’s playlist:

      • It all opens up with “Breathe”, the frenetic second track off Canadian indie popsters Born Ruffian‘s latest album, “Juice”
      • “The adults are talking” is a tune that I just can’t resist, the first in many years by The Strokes that has grabbed me right from the beginning and has yet to let go
      • One of my favourite Netflix series of late has been this British comedy, “Sex education”, and the soundtrack by Ezra Furman is just phenomenal and it finally saw a release this year, on which “Every feeling” is a standout track
      • I purchased I Break Horses‘s new album, “Warnings“, for my vinyl collection in May and it is quickly becoming one of my favourites of the year – just have a taste of “I’ll be the death of you” to see why
      • I saw and fell for Gateway Drugs when they opened for Swervedriver in 2015 and have been waiting for new material ever since, soooo… yes, “Wait (medication)” off this year’s “PSA” is very welcome and its production by Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner definitely doesn’t hurt
      • It’s been 30 years since Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s last solo album but the founding member of Spaceman 3 creates quite the groove on “Just imagine” and the rest of “All things being equal” is quite lovely as well
      • A lot is being made of Phoebe Bridgers‘ sophomore record “Punisher” by the critics and I cannot fault them at all – “Kyoto” is a fine example of her mature and intelligent songwriting

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it:

    1. “Breathe” Born Ruffians (from the album Juice)
    2. “Pringle creek” Ellis (from the album Born again)
    3. “Petty drone” Mystery Jets (from the album A billion heartbeats)
    4. “Alexandra” Laura Marling (from the album Song for our daughter)
    5. “The adults are talking” The Strokes (from the album The new abnormal)
    6. “Every feeling” Ezra Furman (from the album Sex Education soundtrack)
    7. “Decade” Harkin (from the album Harkin)
    8. “Nites out” Other Lives (from the album For their love)
    9. “Wake UP!” Hazel English (from the album Wake UP!)
    10. “Anywayz” Austra (from the album HiRUDiN)
    11. “Vegetable” Happyness (from the album Floatr)
    12. “I’ll be the death of you” I Break Horses (from the album Warnings)
    13. “Wait (medication)” Gateway Drugs (from the album PSA)
    14. “Temple” Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (from the album Temple)
    15. “Instant nightmare!” The Dears (from the album Lovers rock)
    16. “Hollywood Park” The Airborne Toxic Event (from the album Hollywood Park)
    17. “Is this a dream” Badly Drawn Boy (from the album Banana Skin Shoes)
    18. “(Don’t break my) devotion” Jade Hairpins (from the album Harmony Avenue)
    19. “Just imagine” Sonic Boom (from the album All things being equal)
    20. “Cameo” Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from the album Sideways to New Italy)
    21. “Red western sky” Muzz (from the album Muzz)
    22. “Riding solo” Hinds (from the album The prettiest curse)
    23. “Kyoto” Phoebe Bridgers (from the album Punisher)
    24. “Real long gong” Rose City Band (from the album Summerlong)
    25. “Hot heater” Pottery (from the album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel)

And just as I said back in April: Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe and continue to be well. Until next time, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Best tunes of 2011: #4 Austra “Lose it”

<< #5    |    #3 >>

Have you ever listened to and enjoyed an album up to a point but then, after seeing the band perform its songs live, it’s suddenly your favourite (at that moment) album? Well, it’s happened to me… a number of times. And one of these was with Austra’s debut album, “Feel it break”, after seeing their incendiary performance at Ritual Nightclub on December 3rd, 2011.

If you’ve not heard of them before, Austra is a three-piece band from Toronto, Canada, whose moniker was taken from the middle name of the petite lead singer and front woman, Katie Stelmanis. The other two members of the band are drummer Maya Postepski (also of TR/ST) and Dorian Wolf on bass. When I saw them live, they were joined onstage by a keyboard player and the Lightman twins (from Tasseomancy) singing backup. However and with apologies to her bandmates, this project is really about Stelmanis, a classically trained singer who found a love for electronic music, which explains the seemingly boundless vocal range.

While listening, if you can tear yourself away from just the vocals for a moment and realize there is backing music, you might hear a strong resemblance to the sounds Depeche Mode was making during their darker periods in the late 80s and early 90s (see albums “Music for the masses” and “Violator”). And it’s not just her use of synthesizers that make me say this but also her use of the minor key. Kate Stelmanis has admitted a love for writing music in minor keys, which is something of which Depeche Mode’s principal songwriter, Martin Gore, was also fond.

“Lose it” is easily my favourite track of many fantastic songs on “Feel it break” and most probably the catchiest of the lot. Starting off with a cool robotic sound that mixes European industrial with that aforementioned early Depeche Mode, the song jumps up a notch when Katie Austra Stelmanis adds her lush vocals and you’re just thinking how amazing she is and then she blows that away again with the chorus.

So if you’re up for some new-wave inspired electronic tunes, I highly recommend giving “Lose it” a listen. It’s especially excellent for enjoying through earphones.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Playlist: Synth-Pop is for Saturday Nights

The first ‘synthesizers’ were invented early on in the 20th century but didn’t truly find their way into popular music until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, a handful of punk followers took the ethos further and started making music with these ‘synthesizers’, all but completely dispensing with the tried and true rock music instruments. A lot of terms were and still are thrown about to describe the style of music that grew out of these first pioneers’ efforts and it’s often hard to differentiate between and or even define them.

‘Synth-Pop’, the genre that is the subject of today’s playlist, might be the easiest to define, being the most apt description for these acts that put ‘synthesizers’ and drum machines at the forefront of their sound. It was, in fact, a sub-genre of ‘New Wave’, as was the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Both of these are terms that are more difficult for this particular blogger to define, though I may make an attempt with a future playlist, more likely with the former than the latter. The term ‘New Wave’ especially, was misused, even more so where it was seen as a synonym for ‘Synth-Pop’ and ascribed to popular artists that came after the original explosion.

This twenty song playlist is a tale in two halves. The first ten tracks span the years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, from the years where ‘Synth-Pop’ first appeared to the years that saw intense backlash and we saw the return of guitar rock prominence. The last ten tracks start things off with The Postal Service’s single from 2003, “Such great heights”, and flows on from there, through a sampling of the side of the 21st century indie explosion that was enthused with reviving the ‘Synth-Pop’ sounds.

Besides the just mentioned collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, other highlights include:

  • “Cars”, Gary Numan’s debut single released under his own name, save for the bass, drums, and a tambourine, it’s all synths
  • “Don’t you want me”, the best known single by The Human League, originally released as an afterthought off 1981’s “Dare”
  • A trio of tracks written or co-written by Vince Clarke: Depeche Mode’s “Just can’t get enough”, Yazoo’s “Don’t go”, and Erasure’s “A little respect”
  • “Seventeen”, the first single off Ladytron’s sophomore album, 2002’s “Light & magic”
  • “Lose it”, my favourite track off Canadian synth-pop act Austra’s 2011 debut “Feel it break”, an album written mostly in minor key, just like the best of Depeche Mode
  • “New balance point”, the brand new single off Lust for Youth’s self-titled fifth album

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Gary Numan “Cars”
2. The Buggles “Video killed the radio star”
3. The Human League “Don’t you want me”
4. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark “Enola gay”
5. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
6. Depeche Mode “Just can’t get enough”
7. Men Without Hats “Safety dance”
8. Yazoo “Don’t go”
9. Pet Shop Boys “West end girls”
10. Erasure “A little respect”
11. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
12. Ladytron “Seventeen”
13. The Bravery “An honest mistake”
14. Chairlift “Evident utensil”
15. M83 “Kim & Jessie”
16. Cut Copy “Feel the love”
17. MGMT “Kids”
18. Austra “Lose it”
19. Purity Ring “Fineshrine”
20. Lust For Youth “New balance point”

But why is Synth-Pop made for Saturday nights? Eh, I guess it can work just as well on Fridays, or even Sundays, when indeed all Retro 80s nights seem to be scheduled at the clubs. I went with Saturday for the alliteration effect, really, and for the party vibe that many of these tracks elicit. So get out there on your dancefloor, wherever you might be.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.