Best tunes of 2011: #20 Florence and the Machine “Shake it out”

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I’m pretty sure I came to Florence and the Machine’s debut album “Lungs” late. I don’t remember exactly when it was but I feel like it may have been around Christmas time, possibly in 2010, because I was definitely in Toronto visiting my mother-in-law with my wife and up late at night, playing around on YouTube. There were a number of videos already available there and I was completely taken in by frontwoman, Florence Welch, and that incredible voice of hers. I got a copy of the album soon after and became quite enamoured with it as well, picking up the comparisons to Kate Bush and Annie Lennox completely on my own. So when sophomore album “Ceremonials” came out in 2011, I was definitely keen to check it out.

What I didn’t realize then and didn’t quite put together until recently is that Florence and the Machine is an actual band. I always thought Florence Welch was a solo artist and that the moniker was just that, a name. But no, Welch formed the band with her friend, Isabella “Machine” Summers, back in 2007 and it was fleshed out to a five piece with Robert Ackroyd, Tom Monger, and Christopher Lloyd Hayden. There has been a few shuffles in and out over the years, the ranks expanding to nine, most of the original band members remaining. With so many hands, it’s no wonder their sound is so big and dramatic, a perfect vehicle to fly with Welch’s aforementioned angelic vocals.

Not counting the promotional teaser, “What the water gave me”, “Shake it out” was the first single to be released from “Ceremonials”, and it’s awesome. I feel like she’s more Annie Lennox here than Kate Bush. It’s old sounding but not at all delicate. No, decadent would definitely be the better word. More Marie Antoinette than Emily Brontë. It’s thumping and clapping drum rhythms and big wall of noise organs above it. It’s glorious singing, both soft and bold, and Florence Welch dancing all over the stage in a big period piece costume, while coquettish ladies in waiting sing behind fluttering fans. The words, too, are just as invigorating, empowering us all to shake off our demons and dance.

Not bad for a song purportedly written while hung over.

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

Best tunes of 2001: #6 James “Getting away with it (all messed up)”

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For James and their ninth album, “Pleased to meet you”, the story is similar, almost word for word, to that of Pulp’s “We love life”, whose song “The night that Minnie Timperley died” appeared at number eight on this list.

Like Pulp, James was one of my very favourite bands in the latter half of the 1990s. Both bands found great success as part of the Britpop phenomenon after having toiled for many years prior, but in my case, I happened upon them both before I even knew what that there was such a thing. Both bands were coming off an album that, while excellent, did not chart or perform as well commercially as their previous albums, probably resulting from changes in musical direction as well as the waning Britpop movement.

In the case of James, I went out of my way to buy 1999’s “Millionaires”, picking up an ‘import’ copy of the CD at HMV for an exorbitant sum and though I enjoyed it, it took a while for the love to take hold. Of course, that was back when I was still living the bachelor life in Toronto and making a mockery of my financial situation. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my finances were quite different after moving to Ottawa with Victoria in 2001. I didn’t have the money to lavish on CDs, especially on ones that I had never heard before, so I didn’t buy “Pleased to meet you” upon its release. It was years before I finally picked it up used and got to hear the whole album in full, well after the band had called it quits, frontman Tim Booth having announced his intentions to throw his hat into the solo ring. And it might even have been after the band decided to finally get back together for some reunion gigs in 2007, shows that would eventually result in full reactivation of the band. Of course, you all know that James is still slogging it out today, their most recent release being this year’s very fine, “Living in extraordinary times”.

But back in 2001, there was no way of knowing that there would be a reunion so I did my best to hear parts of this ‘final’ album. “Getting away with it (all messed up)” was one of the songs I had no problem locating on the internet, being the only single to be released off the album, and I listened to it quite a bit back then. It starts off all slow and jangling arpeggios against an acoustic strum, Tim Booth whispers and soothes the thrum of the bass and ushers in a temperate beat. The song builds as all good James songs do, layer by layer, energy upon energy, until each of the band’s six members (seven, if you count Brian Eno’s production work) has joined the party. And a party it is, a final (or not quite final) bow, depending on at what point in time from which you were listening.

Lovely James music, gets me everytime.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Best albums of 2018: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Friday, November 23rd everyone! Black Friday, to boot. And happy belated Thanksgiving to our American friends!

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The best of the year lists are going to start pouring in from all over. It was actually around this time last year that I kicked off my Best Albums series with an end of the year list for 2017. I then travelled back in time through the decades, with stops at 2007, 1997, and finally, 1987 (you can find all of these completed lists here). It was a fun exercise and I’ll endeavour to do the same over the next year, starting with this 2018 list.

The drill is this. You’ll get albums ten through six, a sort of honourable mentions collection, today, and then, I’ll run through my top five albums of the year over the next five Fridays. If all goes well, the number one album will be revealed on the final Friday of the year.

For 2018, you’ll likely find that my list won’t resemble many of the lists from the real music sites. In fact, if you’re hoping for spoilers in the photo at the top of this post, you’ll be disappointed. None of those albums will appear in this series. As I get older, I find my tastes don’t line up as often with what is hip and new. I did check out a few of the buzz bands and some of them were quite good (hello, Shame and Starcrawler), just not top ten good in my opinion. And well, the ten albums that will make up this list may not be everyone else’s best. But they’re mine.

As always, I welcome hearing your own favourites and thoughts on my choices in the comments section of each post.

Let’s get started…


#10 David Byrne “American utopia”

To be honest, the only reason this album made this list at all is because I got to see the former Talking Heads frontman this fall at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. I had only given “American utopia” a cursory glance prior to the festival and wasn’t even sure I would stay for his whole set because of a scheduling conflict with another artist but I was glad, in the end, that I did. His was probably one of my favourite sets in recent years and I’ve been listening to this album regularly ever since, it growing in my esteem with each play. Yes, it’s varied in sound but not in theme. For his first solo album in fourteen years, Byrne is as fresh and quirky and intelligent as he ever has been.

Gateway tune: Everybody’s coming to my house


#9 James “Living in extraordinary times”

As some of you may undoubtedly already know, I’ve been a pretty big James fan for a couple of decades now but the appearance of their fifteenth (!!!) studio album here has nothing to do with loyalty. In fact, I wasn’t much of a fan of their last album, 2016’s “Girl at the end of the world”, as a whole, disagreeing with a bunch of people who made it the band’s highest charting album to date. “Living in extraordinary times” is at times as big as the best of James’s hit singles but it also has its quiet moments. At its core, though, it’s an album that has Tim Booth and band trying to find a forward in these crazy times, with more than a few nods and kicks at the current US president.

Gateway tune: Coming home (pt. 2)


#8 The Limiñanas “Shadow people”

Okay. So I had never heard of this band before this year. I don’t even remember how I originally came across their sixth studio album, “Shadow people”, but i know it hooked me from the beginning. It took some doing to figure out what they were about, including reading a Wikipedia entry written in French. My French is improving but far from perfect. Still, I was able to ascertain that they are a duo, Lionel and Marie, indeed from France, that were performing in other groups for many years, before forming The Liminanas in 2009. This latest album checked a lot of my boxes with its droning and driving psychedelia and then mixing it with laid back and cool Serge Gainsbourg sounds. That it includes contributions by Anton Newcombe and Peter Hook is just topping on the cake. I can’t wait to dig into their earlier work.

Gateway tune: Istanbul is sleepy


#7 The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”

For a band that hasn’t worked together in over a decade and an album whose players reside in three different states, The Essex Green and their fourth studio album, “Hardly electronic”, sound pretty slick indeed. I got into this group after seeing them open for Camera Obscura in 2007 and bought their album “Cannibal sea” based on their performance. I have now been salivating while listening to that album and waiting over eleven years for new material. Now that’s in my hands and spinning on my turntable, I am not disappointed in the least. They picked up the 60s and 70s inspired indie pop right where they left it and they quite possibly might have improved on their sound in the intervening years. Hopefully, it’s not another decade before we get album number five.

Gateway tune: The 710


#6 Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”

Who is this Colter Wall? He definitely does not sound of this time and place, singing somber and slow-burning numbers about the plight of the plainsmen in the 1800s and the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. Amazing, then, that this kid is but 23 and hails from Saskatchewan, Canada. It was my brother Mike that alerted me to him when he saw his name on the lineup for Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. His was definitely one of the highlight sets of the festival for me. Not only are his songs well written and of a different sensibility in today’s pop world but Wall has a voice that has been compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, though I for one would say it is even more profound than that. This is his sophomore album and builds upon the fantastic work laid out on last year’s fine debut. I think we’ll be hearing lots from him in the coming years.

Gateway tune: Saskatchewan in 1881


Check back next Friday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.