Best tunes of 2012: #22 Family Of The Year “Hero”

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Family of the Year was formed in California in 2009 by brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe, as well as James Buckey, who were all veterans of the Boston alt-rock music scene in the late 90s. California native Christina Schroeter joined the group not long after, solidifying the indie folk band’s roster and adding her female vocals to give the group its trademark harmonies. A debut album called “Our songbook” appeared almost immediately after their formation, suggesting that material had been percolating for a while, and then, their major label debut was launched three years later. “Loma Vista” was actually my introduction to them (and still the only album by them in my collection) and this meeting came a year after its release, in 2013, because they were slated to play the local summer music festival (remember those?) and they piqued my interest.

Family of the Year’s set was quite amazing and the album got a lot more play after I saw them than it did beforehand. I especially fell in love with the single “Hero”, a track that had been released earlier, albeit as a shorter and not nearly as finely realized version. This song was then used for the trailer and as de facto theme song for Richard Linklater film, “Boyhood”, in 2014 and became a hit of sorts for Family of the Year. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the film but it’s a long one, following the protagonist throughout his formative years. What makes this coming of age flick different from the rest, though, is that it was filmed real-time as the actor (and his co-stars) aged through those same formative years, making the pay off at the end all the more worthwhile. The film also imbued the song with more meaning for me, burnishing the protagonist of the song’s reluctance to stand out, and dancing all emotional and heroic in spite of himself.

“So let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else”

“Hero” pulls into you tightly with its jangly arpeggiating plucking on the acoustic guitar, the light brushing on the snares, and the way each eases their way out of the ether. Synth washes are just there, like the flickering shadows just beyond the reach of the campfire, and then, just at the song’s apex, comes a touch of electric guitar, but more as support than overpowering force. The rest of the band joins Joe Keefe here, singing as a crowd, cheerful and uplifting. And then, the song ends as it began, quiet and acoustic, leaving a slight but definite smile on your face as the last note fades.

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

Best tunes of 1992: #7 Leonard Cohen “Closing time”

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Believe it or not, “Closing time” was the song that first turned me on to Mr. Cohen: the poet, novelist, singer, songwriter, and Canadian Icon. I loved his voice right from the start and his easy sing-speak delivery and his cool demeanour. Shortly afterwards, I connected Cohen to that awesome song that Christian Slater’s character used to open his pirate radio show in the film, “Pump up the volume” and well, a lifelong love affair was born. I didn’t know this then but “Closing time” was one of two singles released off what would be the last album he recorded before entering a Buddhist monastery, touching off a prolonged break. “The future” is now considered a classic album in his catalogue but it was a struggle to create for the man from beginning to end.

“Ah we’re drinking and we’re dancing
and the band is really happening
and the Johnny Walker wisdom running high”

Around the time that “Closing time” was making the rounds on MuchMusic, I was taking a driver’s training class with Young Drivers of Canada. I was getting my license later than many of my friends, mostly to beat the implementation of graduated licensing (yes, I’m that old), and yeah, so many of those in the class were a few years younger than I was. I remember there being a teen girl in the class who wore a Leonard Cohen concert T-shirt to class one day and we all ribbed her to no end. Leonard wasn’t a “cool” choice amongst all the alt-rock kids but a few of us in the know, came to her defence after things got carried away. No one should have to pay for being a fan of Cohen. I’m sure all those kids know that now as adults.

“All the women tear their blouses off
and the men they dance on the polka-dots
and it’s partner found, it’s partner lost
and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops”

It was also around that time that my older brother Andrew came back to live at home for a while. After years of living in the States, he had been indoctrinated into listening to Country music, yes, he wore cowboy boots and the whole bit. Interestingly, “Closing time” got its hooks into him, perhaps it was the fiddle, which was part of what got its hooks into me. Unfortunately, though, that meant that the cassette tape I had this on was always in the player and he would replay it to the point where I was almost sick of it. Then, he would drag me out with him to country bars to pick up women, none of whose companions I was ever remotely interested in, and then, drunkenly sing the few lines he knew of “Closing time” over and over again as we were staggering home in the early hours of the morning.

“Yeah we’re drinking and we’re dancing
but there’s nothing really happening
and the place is dead as Heaven on a Saturday night
And my very close companion
gets me fumbling gets me laughing
she’s a hundred but she’s wearing
something tight”

I only recently learned that “Closing time” is Leonard Cohen’s love poem to Toronto’s famous dive/after hours bar, The Matador, sadly now defunct (though I hear plans to resurrect it are in the works). I have only ever been to the Matador once in my life and that was on my friend Tim’s birthday, probably more than a decade ago now. We were all rather drunk already, which made a surreal experience all the more surreal. Nobody seem to know its precise address but the mere mention of the name to the cab driver got us all there without incident. Once there, we stood in line for an unknown amount of time but I distinctly remember our friend Mark saying to me, “If they ask you if you’re a cop, just say ‘no’.” There are plenty more stories that I could tell of that evening inside The Matador but I’ll leave those for another evening over beers. Let’s just say that when closing time actually rolled around, we stumbled out blinking in the morning sun and into waiting cabs bound for our beds.

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

Best tunes of 2002: #10 David Bowie “Everyone says ‘hi'”

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Wow. It took almost three and half years for this blog to see its first proper post to feature David Bowie. Fittingly, it was his 2002 album, “Heathen”, that really set me on the course to fandom. Of course, I’d heard him before, knew many of the hits, heard a few of his compilations, but I feel sure that this was the first of his albums to which I listened in full and took an immediate liking.

Seen by many at the time as a comeback of sorts, David Bowie’s 22nd album was his highest charting album since the early 80s and was generally as well-received by the critics as it was the buying public. It saw him easing back from the electronic sound he focused on in the 90s, consecutively dabbling in soul/jazz, industrial, and electronica/rave sounds, and instead, playing with a more fulsome and organic palette. The cover art of “Heathen” felt like a play or self-parody, an older Bowie looking clean cut and almost too normal, except for those eyes, those eyes felt alien. Yeah, alien.

Right neat the end of album, at track ten, sits this tune, “Everyone says ‘hi’”, the album’s second single. You might think by its title that it’s a happy and light number and listening to it superficially might find you in the same place. But this big sounding tune that mixes solid acoustic strumming and plenty of chameleonic synths, is really a song about loss and missing someone so terribly that you can’t accept it and instead, choose to imagine them having gone temporarily, vacation-like.

“Said you took a big trip
They said you moved away
Happened oh, so quietly
They say”

This song is magic and the more you listen to the words, the deeper they cut. And suddenly, the cheerful tune becomes haunting, the saxophone rings in nostalgia, recalling his youth, the strings gather you all in. “Everyone says ‘hi’.” Everyone misses you, Bowie is saying, the pain is so great that everyone feels it, like pathetic fallacy. Just amazing.

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