Best tunes of 2011: #27 Noah And The Whale “Life is life”

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It’s Sunday and I’m on a mini-holiday. So I’m not going to go into an all out rail against Pitchfork, that taste-making, music-reviewing website that sometimes feels like its trying too hard to keep its taste-making credentials intact. But I will say this: if I didn’t listen to all the albums for which they have given rotten reviews, I might be missing out on some of my favourite albums.

Noah and the Whale’s debut, “Peaceful, the world lays me down”, for instance, was given a lowly 2.6 rating out of 10, the reviewer calling it “twee pop you might order in a kit”. For my own part, I guess I must have a soft spot for generic, derivative schlock, because I actually quite enjoyed the album.

Thankfully for me and scores of others, the indie pop band out of Twickenham either has thick skin or never did read the article. I say thankfully because they continued on, releasing three more albums before finally calling it quits seven years later. By 2011, though, Laura Marling and Doug Fink, brother of frontman Charlie Fink, had both left the band and Noah and the Whale’s sound had changed quite a bit. They had dispensed with the ukuleles, banjos, and glockenspiels, and really, the folk pop sound that was so prominent on the debut and then, added synths and crisp production on their third album, “Last night on earth”.

“Life is life” is the opening track and third single released off this third album. The mechanized sounding beats that open the song are definitely no longer twee, nor are the synthesizers. However, the handclaps and crowd vocals still signal that this is Noah and the Whale. A rousing number, it’s a third person observation on the act of scrapping everything to start anew. “Left his house at midnight, resolute and young, in search of something greater than the person he’d become.” Perhaps it’s a little heavy-handed and obvious but it’s got a great beat and energy to spare. And of course, it’s cheerful, like a lot of their work, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

Almost like a Sunday morning, on a mini-holiday. Cheers.

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

Best tunes of 1991: #28 EMF “Unbelievable”

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What do you call it again when an artist or band writes a song that becomes the biggest thing they ever do, overshadows their entire body of work, and becomes the only song they are remembered for? Oh yeah…

Well, in the case of EMF’s “Unbelievable”, it just happened to be the first single that the Gloucestershire dance group ever released. It was actually released in the UK in 1990 but didn’t hit North American shores until 1991, which is when I would have first heard it (hence it being in this 1991 list rather than for 1990). It found itself at or near the top of the charts in most countries and hit gold status in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States. All that means nothing though. You really know you’ve made it when ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic takes notice of you. That prince of parody fit the song’s chorus lines, “The things you say, your purple prose just gives you away”, into his polka medley, “Polka your eyes out”, on his 1992 album, “Off the deep end”.

Yeah. That’s right.

Though “Unbelievable” sounds a bit dated today, it hit all the right notes in 1991. It took the acid house beats and psychedelic sounds of the baggy Manchester deeper into dance floor territory. I definitely heard it a few times at high school dances and mouthed along with the chorus lines while shuffling along in my own corner of the auditorium or gymnasium floor (whichever it was at the time). It is an unbelievable danceable groove, peppy drumming set against a slick bass line and plenty of fun samples, mostly notably, the Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay trademark “Ohhhh!!!!!” leading into every chorus.

Okay. So this song isn’t going to save the world but at least it might make us forget our troubles for three and a half minutes, while we’re sweating out the alcohol molecules underneath the disco ball.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2001: #23 Matthew Jay “Please don’t send me away”

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I couldn’t tell you exactly when for sure but it was some time shortly after moving to Ottawa in the late summer of 2001 that I caught a special episode of “The New Music” on MuchMusic (remember that show?). I recall making a point of watching that particular episode because it was being advertised as a special edition focusing on the new wave of British Music and if you’re not aware yet, most of the music I had been listening to throughout the 90s was from Britain. And around that time, I was feeling in the middle of a dry spell for music and I was aching for something new. I don’t remember what other artists appeared on the show (I think Coldplay might’ve been there somewheres) but it finished with this solo artist named Matthew Jay.

I don’t even know what it was about him that caught my attention initially. He wasn’t particularly well-spoken during his interviews, his youth showed as I recall, and his slightly shaggy but mostly well put together look wasn’t something that stood out to me. The music, though, when they played the video for this song, “Please don’t send me away”, was quite lovely. And almost immediately I was out at the music stores hunting out his debut full-length CD, “Draw”, something I didn’t do very often in those days because I was lacking disposable income.

As a song, “Please don’t send me away” is a simple one, really. A lone acoustic guitar with plenty of effects to change its shape and tone, a basic drum machine beat, and Matthew Jay’s soft voice sitting like a feather above it all. And despite the crisp production quality, it sounds very intimate, like it was recorded late at night in his bedroom. It’s almost too honest and too innocent but I’ve always been ready to forgive this for the lovely sound of it all.

“Draw” is full of songs like this. It got a lot of attention obviously, or I wouldn’t have caught wind of it all the way over here in Canada, and Matthew Jay drew comparisons to other singer/songwriters, like the legendary Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley. Unfortunately, we would never get to see how this young talent would develop because while working on the follow up album, he died under mysterious circumstances. And as is frequently the case, the fact that how he fell out of that apartment window was inconclusive, only added to his mystique.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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