Best tunes of 1992: #19 New Fast Automatic Daffodils “Stockholm”

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Near the very end of 1994, a bunch of my high school friends and I converged upon the city of Waterloo, Ontario, where our friend Tim was attending university. He was renting half of a house with a couple of friends he had met at school and they had planned for a New Year’s Eve party from which seemingly no one would be turned away. Some of my friends arrived for just the one night but I was amongst a handful that made a whole weekend out of it. We arrived a few days in advance and spent a few days warming up the apartment and our livers, visiting local watering hole, Phil’s Grandson’s Place, playing video games, listening to tunes, and having a lot of laughs. The New Year’s Eve party was epic and one from which I took many days to recover. But that’s a tale for another day.

One of Tim’s two roommates at that time was Mark, whom I’ve since met and with whom I’ve become quite good friends over the years. However, I didn’t meet him that weekend. (He didn’t make it back from St. Catharines in time, due to a miscommunication with the other roommate, Terry.) Instead, I met his CD collection and his stereo, with both of whom I immediately became enamoured. The day after arriving at the house, I made sure to find an establishment from which to purchase some blank cassette tapes so that I could bring home some pieces of Mark’s collection.

One of the albums I recorded from the grand selection on Mark’s CD shelves was “Body exit mind”, the second album by Manchester’s New Fast Automatic Daffodils. I had heard the second single from the album, “Stockholm”, many times over on Toronto’s alt-rock radio station, EDGE 102.1, and had recorded the music video to one of my by now multiple video cassettes filled with music videos, but had never seen any of the band’s music out in the shops. The high quality recording I was able to make of the album spent lots of time in my tape deck in the early weeks and months of 1995, with this particular track getting the multiple rewind and re-play treatment.

For a band so short-lived, the New FADs had a sound that was all their own and produced a hell of track here that made an indelible impression upon me. Not quite Madchester baggy and not quite shoegaze or noise rock, “Stockholm” was all of these. That jangly guitar hook does a freaky dance with a bongo drum and frontman Andy Spearpoint produces an iconic introductory lyric in that drawling sing speak he does. “Lately, lately, I find I rush.” And then he belts out, as much as one could call what he does belting: “Can’t piece together the sun in the sky or the spots on my face.” I don’t know what any of it means but the groove and the noise gets to me every time. It just feels so powerful. And when the gritty guitars chime in at the midway point, you just have to turn it up and close your eyes.

I’ve since thanked Mark many times over for the use of his CDs and stereo and he can only shake his head at the memory of missing that legendary bash.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

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 tunes of 1992: #20 R.E.M. “Sweetness follows”

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If you were alive back in 1992, you knew R.E.M.’s  “Automatic for the people”. If not the whole album, at the very least, one of or a handful of its six (!) amazing singles.

I had already become a fan of R.E.M. by the time it was released, having discovered them with 1988’s “Green”, bought a copy of 1991’s “Out of time”, and gone back to explore their back catalogue, I was eagerly awaiting this album’s release. When I originally heard the first single, “Drive”, I knew we were in for it. And we definitely we. Now more than 25 years after its release, it is easily considered their finest hour. It was also a huge commercial success, selling millions upon millions worldwide and obtaining platinum status, in some cases multiple times over, in more than ten countries.

It was the singles that I loved from the beginning and they were definitely great but I’d be hard-pressed to point out a weak song on the album. And nowadays, it’s the less obvious that have stuck with me and become favourites. Case in point is today’s focus, “Sweetness follows”. It was never released as a single and is almost hidden on the album at track six, just behind the lone instrumental tune on the album. But it is there nonetheless. Beautiful.

I think its inclusion on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla sky”, almost a decade later, was what did it for me. The film itself wasn’t wonderful, a Hollywood remake of an excellent Spanish film, and starring Tom Cruise, but the soundtrack was a masterpiece. Glancing at the names, you might be forgiven for calling it eclectic. Listening to it, especially as a backdrop to the film, is a whole different experience and it almost saves the film, giving it its overarching mood and surreal feel. This song’s appearance late in the film was a pleasant surprise but while watching it play out, I realized that I may have not ever listened to it properly before that moment.

The reverberating and distorted cello shares a space with an acoustic strum, a sustained organ wash, and of course, Stipe’s inimitable vocals, forelorn, sad, and lost. It is all about death and loss and darkness and of course, the sun rising after the bleakest of nights, washing away the dread and sadness and the most heart-wrenching of nightmares.

“Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.”

Yep. Beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.