Best tunes of 2010: #26 The Drums “Best friend”

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The Drums are an indie pop band out of New York City that were formed by childhood friends Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham. In 2008, Pierce relocated to where Graham was living in Florida to start collaborating on material and they later moved to Brooklyn where they fleshed out the band to a four-piece with Connor Hanwick (drums) and Adam Kessler (guitar). They were tapped as the next big thing by everyone from Pitchfork to the NME, even before they released their debut, self-titled LP (on which this song appears) in 2010. They have since released two more albums but internal friction and disagreements have meant that the band gradually lost members along the way. These days The Drums consists only of Jonathan Pierce and he has album number four coming out on Friday.

“Best friend” will always remind me of a trip my wife and I took out to British Columbia in 2011, over a full year after this single’s release. We spent three days in Vancouver before visiting Victoria and Whistler, and all of this during the Canucks crazy run at the Stanley Cup that year. (As you recall, they didn’t win and there were riots.) On our final full day in Vancouver, we were visiting the shops in Kitsilano after eating a fine vegetarian lunch at The Naam and happened into Zulu Records.

My wife always urges me into record shops in cities that we’re visiting and feigns interest herself while I take my time browsing. This was almost a full year before I started collecting vinyl but that was the section I found myself gravitating towards anyway. At some point, I recognized the song playing in the store but couldn’t place it right away. It sounded retro but I knew it was new and hip and at that moment, was really digging it. I even caught my wife subconsciously swaying to it at the other end of the store. But the band’s name was escaping me. It finally came to me well after we had left Zulu Records and we had made our way to Kitsilano beach.

Was it the beach that reminded me that the song we had heard was “Best friend” by The Drums? Perhaps. The song certainly is summery and bright, and calls to mind friendships of days gone by, that could very well have found their roots in the loose and warm grains of a sandy beach. It is jangle and reverb and peppy drumming, the sun glinting off the rim of a pair of sunglasses worn by a beautiful girl. Perhaps your teenage crush, perhaps the girl that never noticed your affections but instead, she dated the most popular guy in high school and considered you her best friend. Cheers to that!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #11 U2 “Beautiful day”

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I’ve gone back and forth on U2 over the years. I’ve liked certain songs and not others. I’ve bought albums and then, given them away because I never listened to them. It’s likely because for many years their music was inescapable, played on every radio station and their videos on heavy rotation on MuchMusic. And then of course, there’s the larger than life personas of the four band members, especially that of their frontman. I suppose I’ve suffered from U2 exhaustion for a number of years.

So why is “Beautiful day”, the first single off U2’s tenth studio album, “All that you can’t leave behind”, at the number eleven spot on my Best of 2000 list?

I place the blame squarely on my wife, Victoria.

It was because of her that I saw them live in 2005. It was then that Bono famously agreed to bring U2 to Ottawa to play Scotiabank Place at the behest of then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, as a favour between friends. Victoria, who had already seen them live twice, convinced me that I should at the very least see them perform once in my lifetime, so I duly queued up for tickets online and scored some decent seats. As it turned out, I really enjoyed U2’s set. Maybe it was the lack of expected theatrics or maybe I got caught up in the passion of the fans who surrounded me, but it was some magical and I found new respect for the Irish quartet.

It was also because of Victoria that this particular song stuck out for me among the best when I was compiling the list of my favourite tunes of 2000. I think it was because it found a place on many of the mixed CDs I made for her, or for others on behalf of her, over the years that I cultivated a fondness for “Beautiful day”. I say “think” now because she had me doubting myself when I asked her for her thoughts on the song for this post and she replied that it wasn’t one of her favourites. Her very next words were to compare it with the Levellers song of the same name, which to my mind is the only real point of comparison.

I was beginning to consider abandoning ship and taking a different tack but then, I played it for her. And I saw that smile.

“It is driving fast with the windows down, the stereo blaring and the wind in your face. Being in love and not caring about anything else.” (And I’m paraphrasing here because I’m writing this a few days after the conversation but I think and hope I am getting it right.) “It has that intro that makes you want to jump up and dance. But Bono doesn’t give it to you. He’s singing at his own pace, like he’s moving slowly along to a different beat as the world is crashing and racing around him.”

A good description, I thought. But she didn’t really need to say all that because that smile of remembering said enough for me.

So turn it up and enjoy. No matter the weather, it’s Saturday. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #12 Radiohead “Optimistic”

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April 12, 1998. A date I will always remember for two reasons. First, it was the first and last time I ever worked on an Easter Sunday and second, it was the first and only time I ever saw Radiohead perform live. I remember it being a very quiet shift at the tool rental store at which I worked at the time, serving only a few customers, receiving more calls from other, busier store locations than actual customers, which all made for a very long wait before the show. It’s funny now remembering how much I was looking forward to it that day, considering the only reason I was going was that I loved the opening act and my friend Terry had an extra ticket. Björk was originally supposed to co-headline the show with Radiohead at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto but she had to cancel just prior to tickets going on sale and the vacant opening slot was filled by Spiritualized, who already had this job for the other stops along the tour.

It’s a point of fact that I had already seen Spiritualized at a small club called Guvernment the previous fall on their own headline tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, a show that I loved and will always remember for many reasons (but that’s a story for another time). And so, I jumped at the chance at seeing them again; Radiohead, for me, was just a bonus. As it would turn out, Spiritualized were phenomenal, doing an admirable job of filling a half-empty arena with their space rock noise, but Radiohead was the revelation. I don’t know what their live show is like these days but in 1998, it was electric and made me an even bigger fan of their music than I already was.

I mention this concert in connection to “Optimistic”, a track that appears on “Kid A”, an album that would come out two years later, because of a (likely unfounded) theory I later developed that it was this tour with Spiritualized that changed everything for Radiohead. When “Kid A” came out, I think a lot of people didn’t know what to think of it. Prior to this album, Radiohead was an excellent guitar rock band and though “OK computer” really pushed the proverbial envelope, it could be considered almost pedestrian when set beside “Kid A”. To me, it sounded like Thom Yorke had spent a load of time with Spiritualized’s evil genius, Jason Pierce, adopted his love of droning rock, free jazz, and experimental noise and leapt off the high diving board without a life jacket. The funny thing is that though I love Spiritualized and everything they produce, “Kid A” and pretty much every Radiohead album that came afterward have never really done anything for me.

Until recently, that is.

(And before I go further, I just want to say that I am not one of those people that slammed “Kid A”, only to much later proclaim it the album of the year. I’ve never hated Radiohead’s later works. I’ve just always preferred albums two and three.)

This week, while listening to “Kid A” in preparation for writing this post, I feel like I heard something there that I hadn’t heard before. “Optimistic”, in particular, got me going with its thrumming and aggressive guitars and pounding drums. These two forces create a palpable tension while Thom Yorke pleads and wrangles with his listeners come along with him for the ride. I listened to it over and over again, each time turning it up louder, the increasing volume making things even more clear. And while I’m not sure I’m sure I’m quite ready to retroactively crown “Kid A” album of the decade or move “Optimistic” further up this list, I think I might be ready to give post-“OK computer” Radiohead another chance.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.