Best tunes of 1992: #23 L7 “Pretend we’re dead”

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Try as you might, you can’t really pigeonhole L7. Sure, they came out of the punk rock and alternative aesthetic. They came to prominence in the age of grunge and their fashion choices, or lack thereof, certainly had them placed amongst the boys club of those bands. Others will lump them in with the Riot Grrl movement, especially because of their outspokenness and their avid work in support of pro choice. However, the group predated all of these. And there was no conforming or pretension with L7. Nor were they strangers to controversy. They were true originals.

Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner formed L7 in 1985. The quartet was completed in their most prominent years by Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas. By 1992, the group was releasing their third album, “Bricks are heavy”, on Slash records. Produced by Butch Vig (of “Nevermind” fame), the album did very well with the alternative rock set by upping the noise, grime, and by being generally unapologetic. There were three well received singles released from the album, the first of which was “Pretend we’re dead”, the subject of our post today and my introduction to the band. I remember it being played on the regular on CFNY, Toronto’s alt-rock station, which came in pretty clear in my small hometown, east of that city. However, I’m reasonably sure that before I heard it there, it appeared on a mixed tape made by my friend Tim.

“Pretend we’re dead” is loud and pure angsty rock and roll. In fact, it almost feels to me like a song Joan Jett would’ve come up with if the 90s were her era. The guitars are dirty and dripping with sludge and yet they race along, amped with jet fuel. The drums crash and the vocals sing words that seem meaningless, but beg for fist pumping and head banging. Yes!

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

Best tunes of 2002: #20 Suede “Lonely girls”

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In 1992, Suede (known as The London Suede here in North America) was seen as the “best new band in Britain” by many in the music press and this was before they had even released a full-length album. Ten years later, the band would release their fifth album, “A new morning”, so titled to signify that they were looking at it as a new start. The previous four albums had all done very well commercially in Suede’s native country. In fact, they were seen as one of Britpop’s big four, along with Blur, Pulp, and Oasis. However, the band’s frontman, Brett Anderson, had not been clean for much of the decade and described the difficult recording process for this fifth album as the only work that hadn’t been informed by heavy drug use. Unfortunately, for the group, it would go on record as their least successful, commercially and critically, an album they would later regret releasing and perhaps precipitated their dissolution.

Personally, I didn’t think “A new morning” all bad, a bit uneven and forced, perhaps, but it definitely had some good tracks. Never released as a single, “Lonely girls” is still one of my favourite latter day tunes from the band, even counting the ones on the three albums Suede has issued since reuniting in 2010. The lyrics of the song read almost like a response to The Nails’ classic “88 lines about 44 women”, except maybe with not so many lines and not so many women (or girls).

“Stephanie stares at the posters on the wall
Tina sits and waits for a telephone call
Maxine mixes alcohol with polythene and paint”

Brett Anderson is also not listing these women to brag of his sexual exploits or to remember past loves. This is a call out to loneliness and broken dreams and realizing that life is not necessarily what the glamour magazines are trying to sell us. It is all grown up, holding the scuzz and dirt at arms’ length. The rough and epic guitar rock of “Dog man star” seems like ages ago, Bernard Butler just a memory, and what we have left is the hip shaking arpeggios played on acoustic guitar, gentle washes of synths, and Anderson playing at sage adult, sharing wisdom earned in the gutters. The production is crisp and clean and almost too easy to listen to.

But I love it all the same.

Yup. It appeals to the same part of me that has me laughing along to every joke in a Hugh Grant rom com and I’m not afraid who knows it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

 

Best tunes of 2011: #5 Dum Dum Girls “Bedroom eyes”

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Lots has changed for Kristin Gundred since 2011, when she released “Only in dreams”, her second full-length as leader of the group, Dum Dum Girls. At that time, she was performing under the name “Dee Dee” (not “Dee Dee Penny”, as many have erroneously reported, including myself) and she had just released an album with a full band that many critics were seeing as the start of something. However, we would unfortunately only see one other LP* released under the Dum Dum Girls name, 2014’s “Too true”, on which Gundred returned to recording by herself and moved ever so slightly away from the noisy, wall-of-sound washes and 60s girl group melodies. Afterwards, she dispensed with the idea of Dum Dum Girls completely and rebranded herself Kristin Kontrol, going all synths and glam. Somewhere amidst all this, she also divorced with her husband and sometimes collaborator, Crocodiles frontman Brandon Welchez.

“Only in dreams” was my introduction to Gundred and her beautiful voice, an asset that was only just starting to showcase on this particular album. It happened to also be my gateway to a few other likeminded bands that had somehow escaped my notice to this point, bands like Best Coast and Vivian Girls that riffed on the 60s girl group but upped griminess factor on the wall of sound. I had, on the other hand, already been exposed to the similar ethos of The Raveonettes, a band with whom I compared this album when trying to get others as hooked on them as I was. It didn’t surprise me, then, when I read in the album’s liner notes that it was co-produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Bedroom eyes” was the second single released from “Only in dreams” and also appears second in order of play. It has all that noise and peppy beat that you’d expect and Gundred imbues her vocals with longing, singing about missing her now ex-husband while they were both away on separate tours. It transports you back to a simpler time but doesn’t leave the current age so far behind that you forget how that so-called simpler time wasn’t so simple. Beneath the glorious jangle and shine and chiming backing harmonies is a toughness. Just watch the video that plays on all the videos that might have been made at the time. Kristin and her band members are all decked out in black, sexy and sneering, not at all like the delicate flowers the influencing groups back in the day would’ve been portrayed.

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

* And an EP