Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #27 José González “Crosses”

<< #28    |    #26 >>

Much like most people, I came across Swedish singer/songwriter, José González’s debut material two years after it was originally recorded and released. This is because it was two years before “Veneer” saw the light of day outside of his home country.

Gonzàlez was in the middle of completing his PhD in biochemistry when, after years of performing in various bands, his solo work caught the ear of Joakim Gävert and he was signed as the first artist to Gävert’s new record label. The PhD was dropped in favour of a focus on music and a 7” single was soon followed by the aforementioned debut long player. He has since released three more solo albums and two albums as part of the indie rock band Junip.

“Crosses” was the second single to be released off of “Veneer” and was my own gateway to Gonzalez’s indie folk sound. I remember first seeing the video late one Friday night on MuchMusic’s The Wedge and finding it perfect for that time and place, went searching it out online. I was happy to find that the song is indicative of the rest of the album’s sound, mellow and intense and austere, just Gonzàlez and his acoustic guitar. But “Crosses” is particularly haunting and harrowing, contrasting the menacing and violent plucking against gentle fingertip brushing styles at different and key points. Meanwhile, González leans into the mike, singing to himself about the crosses we are all carrying, as if reassuring himself that his own sadness will be short-lived and that the sun will return eventually.

In 2006, Gonzàlez was enlisted by English electronica duo, Zero 7, to provide vocals to a number of tracks on their third studio album, “The garden”. One of these is a remake of “Crosses”, a longer and more drawn out piece that builds to a fulfilling climax. It is the high point on that particular release for me but it’s still not quite as beautiful as the original. Sometimes quieter just creates the right mood.

“Disturbing silence darkens your sight
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright for now”

And you almost believe him.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #6 Allo Darlin’ “Tallulah”

<< #7    |    #5 >>

Rather than my typical blathering about the band and song in question, I thought I’d instead present some sections of a short story I wrote close to a decade ago, words that were inspired by this particular song.* It’s a road trip story for a road trip song.

We’re on highway seventeen scarcely passed Wawa and its gigantic steel goose when Tallulah makes her third appearance that day. She’s a stark contrast to the blazing guns from the last song, which pushed the needle on the speedometer to a comfortable hum, hovering just over the 100 mark, and propelling the ten-year-old, borrowed PT Cruiser headlong into a horizon all streaked with reds and oranges.

The sun is low and yet the wind whipping through the cranked windows is hot and sticky, the humidity just aching to break. Still, humidity drenched wind is better than the useless AC. We have the stereo volume knob tuned to towering heights just to be able hear it and yet, neither the wind nor the music has disturbed the sleep of my friend Simon in the passenger seat. There’s been barely a stir since he conked out a few hours ago.

I turn the volume knob clockwise even more to try to bring out the majesty of the whispery ukulele strumming and the rough innocence of the soft female vocals. It’s not your typical driving tune and an odd choice for a mix created for a road trip. Indeed, it is the quietest tune on the CDR, the rest comprising of a mix of classic alt rock and hip new indie numbers, many of which I’ve never heard of. If I didn’t know Simon better, I would’ve assumed he was showing off the knowledge he’s amassed over the years and has him as the most popular radio DJ on Indie 88. But really, that’s not his style.

Simon had explained (when putting the disc on after we lost reception to “his station” a half hour outside of Toronto) that this was the song that inspired the idea of this road trip in the first place.

I had listened to the first innocuous strums and nodded. “Who is it?”
Simon’s face made an almost imperceptibly wistful expression as he watched the traffic on the highway ahead of him, an expression he had almost hidden but I had caught it. “Allo Darlin’.”

“It’s a sh*t name.”

“You were always more concerned with band names than I was, Rob, but I admit it’s not the best choice I’ve heard.” He paused, expecting more protests from my side of the car but getting none, he continued. “They’re pretty great though. They’re this English twee-pop influenced band with a folk edge, built around the song writing of the singer. I think her name is Elizabeth Morris.”

“You think?” This was sarcasm.

“The talk I originally heard was that the song title was a nod to influential C86 band Talulah Gosh but other sources have since cited the album ‘Tallulah’ by Australian alt-rock band, The Go-betweens. I prefer the former but think the latter more likely, given that the singer also hails from Australia.” He continued on in this vein, unloading all the trivial bits of information related to the band, the song, the album, and other music of similar sound, but I had begun to tune him out, getting lost in the spaces between the twinkling strums of the ukulele. The sound of this instrument always reminded me of grade six music class, when our eccentric teacher sprang ukuleles on the class, rather than the usual session on learning the recorder. It wasn’t long before some smartass in the class figured out the melody to the theme from Peter Gunn and had the whole class playing it.

I take off my now unnecessary sunglasses because I want to hear the song lyrics better. Lord knows, the volume knob won’t help anymore. The words are drenched in contemplative nostalgia and sung with a bright sadness and a time worn edge, telling a tale of a road trip, much like the one we’re on, except we are driving in rural, northern Ontario, not the east coast of Australia.

And this – the car, the tunes, the dog days of summer, the company, the kilometres behind us and the ones left ahead – suddenly makes sense, much more than anything did two weeks ago, when I had received that seemingly random email from Simon French.

***

But wait, there it was again. That line, or rather two, that had punctured something in me the first time I heard it this morning: “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something. And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something.”

*Obviously, any song that inspires me to write is a great one in my books.

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

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #22 Slowdive “Alison”

<< #23    |    #21 >>

My friend Tim was always a bigger fan of Slowdive than I was, and I suspect that his appreciation of the group was influenced greatly by his crush on one of the principal vocalists of the group, Rachel Goswell. He tried to get me into them and I did my best to give them a shot. I tape-recorded a copy of the “Souvlaki” CD he loaned me. Unfortunately, I would never get very far with it, rarely more than a few songs past the opening track (but more on that in a bit).

Much like the rest of the music world, critics and writers who never appreciated Slowdive until they were gone, I didn’t get into the Reading-based five-piece until much later. I’ve already documented* on these pages that it was long after they had lost a couple members, changed musical directions, and rebranded that I caught up with them again, just after they had released their third album as Mojave 3. When I listen to “Souvlaki” now, though, I can’t help but wonder: “What were we all thinking?”

The album is lush and ambient, the sadness and hurt palpable in every wash and echo. More deliberate and difficult than its predecessor, it is a sophomore album multiplied by a hundred, informed equally by the knowledge that anything they produced would be panned and by the internal strife in the band created by the romantic split of Neil Halstead and the aforementioned Goswell. If it weren’t for the rise of Grunge and Britpop, it may have been just as hailed at the time as it is now. Hands down, it was one of the greatest shoegaze albums ever recorded.

“Alison” is the one track that I can honestly say that I’ve always loved from the album. As an opener, it was a hard one to move past and I rarely did. The guitars jangle and waver, a shimmering of light highlighting millions of tiny specks of dust, lifted and disrupted ever so gently by a passing breeze, the same that caused flutters in the gossamer curtains of sound. Drums are far off in the distance and deep down in the mix, like a harrowing memory. The reverb is like a third person in the room, pushing together the lilting voices of Halstead and Goswell, even as it as ripping them apart. “Alison” could be anyone who’s ever broken your heart, a smoker’s cough and an ashtray overflowing with butts, a hangover and a dozen empty merlot bottles.

“Alison, I’m lost
Alison, I’ll drink your wine
And wear your clothes when we’re both high
Alison, I said we’re sinking
But she laughs and tells me it’s just fine
I guess she’s out there somewhere”

Sigh.

*And likely will do so again…

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