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Albums

Best albums of 2000: #3 Mojave 3 “Excuses for travellers”

It was Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2000, and I was at work, nearing the end of my shift. I called Tim because I had a hankering to go out and was curious to see what my friends were doing. “I know what you’re going to do tonight,” Tim proclaimed, much like Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer might have done in ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’. “You’re coming with me to see Mojave 3 at the Horseshoe tonight!” It was fortuitous for him and for me that he had an extra ticket for the show and was looking for someone to claim it. I had never really listened to Mojave 3 before but I was game.

I don’t really remember many details of the show, given the heroic amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is a short conversation that transpired on the way out of the Legendary Horseshoe after the show that will live on in infamy. Tim was saying something about how Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell had gone all Cowboy Junkies with Mojave 3. And I drunkenly proclaimed, “Tim, you have no concept of genre.” He just looked at me, incredulous, and said, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” The second is that I must’ve really enjoyed the show because I went out the very next day to purchase Mojave 3’s latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”.

If that story sounds vaguely familiar, you must’ve read the post I wrote about the track “Return to sender” when it appeared at #6 on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I reproduced it practically verbatim above because I love the story and it bears repeating, especially given that it recounts my introduction to the group and their third album, the subject of our post today.

Mojave 3 came to be when British shoegaze icons Slowdive were dropped by their label, the equally iconic Creation Records, in 1995 and that band’s principal songwriters, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, along with the drummer at the time, Ian McCutcheon, decided to record music towards a different direction entirely. The trio became a quintet shortly afterwards with the addition of Alan Forrester and Simon Rowe (the latter formerly of Chapterhouse), but the ‘3’ in the name stuck. You might be surprised, knowing how I feel about dream pop and shoegaze, that it took me so long to get into this band but that’s the truth of it.

Mojave 3’s third album, “Excuses for travellers”, is like a happy medium between the group’s first two. It’s not as gauzy and mellow as “Ask me tomorrow” and not as peppy and twee as “Out of tune”. It just is. It is a mood and a feeling. It’s what you put on when you want to feel that “Excuses for travellers” feeling. Those who know, know exactly what I’m talking about. This is an album that doesn’t peak and that doesn’t have any obvious singles. It just has ten amazing tunes, of which of I have picked three of my favourites for you to sample. Hope you’re in the mood.


“Bringin’ me home”: My first pick is the only one on which Neil Halstead doesn’t take the lead vocal duties. Penned and sung by Rachel Goswell, it follows the lead of the other songs with a tempered, upbeat feel. Instead of sunshine, though, Rachel channels a rainy day. “Just a rainy day here in my usual place, where no one hears me.” Just sitting alone with the sound of the raindrops and the echoes of memories, imagining what might’ve been. A surprising, yet subtle synth underpins the tune, adding a layer to the guitar strum and sparse drum beat. And then, as if we weren’t clear on the mood, a harmonica makes an appearance for good measure.

“In love with a view”: “I had a plan that was built on thinking too long. Canadian winters, at home with your sisters, the romance was hard to ignore. You were beautiful. I was happy to fall.” Perhaps this is predictable but I have soft spot for any tune that references home, especially when that tune comes from an artist not from Canada. The opening number perfectly sets the mood. Strumming acoustic, twinkling piano, wailing pedal steel, and a bass line that just feels like a soaked handkerchief. The memory is cold. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, a fixture in the corner of all those Polaroids. Halstead and Goswell sing together at the refrain, both plaintive, both hopeful that the pain won’t be in vain. And when the song explodes into an all out jam at the three and a half minute mark, you can’t help but feel that the band are are working through a whole range of emotions. It’s just so beautiful and passionate.

“Return to sender”: Track four is pure joy. “Return to sender” is a tune that always brings a smile to my face. It makes me want to put my arm around my wife’s shoulder so that we can sway together with our eyes closed and sing along to those Neil Halstead witticisms. “I went looking for a priest, I said, ‘Say something, please I don’t want to live my life all alone.’ He said, “God will take care of those that help themselves. But you look pretty screwed, send a letter.’” My sixth favourite tune from the year 2000 is a boppy number. It’s a feeling that dances along to Halstead’s gentle acoustic strumming and his soft and plaintive vocals. The jaunty drumming, the banjo twang, twinkling keys, and harmonica flourishes only to serve to add to the wistful joy. “If you find us, return to sender.”


I’m obviously still not on a regular schedule around here so I won’t promise when we’ll get to album #2… but, it’s coming. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”
4. Coldplay “Parachutes”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #24 Suede “The drowners”

<< #25    |    #23 >>

Suede is one of the great british rock bands of the 1990s. They formed in 1989 and quickly grew to prominence around the friendship and combined talents of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler. Their self-titled debut had the British press fawning all over them and their sleek and sexy glam rock. The band would later be seen as one of the big three or four groups that spearheaded Britpop, a renaissance era in British rock and culture, and a scene I completely bought into, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, over here in Canada.

However… however, I didn’t get into them right away. I know. Even now, I don’t have a good reason why not.

I was aware of them from the get-go and a lot of my friends were falling all over themselves for Suede. I remember a bunch of people I know wearing T-shirts with the debut cover art on the front, the androgynous figures kissing was definitely an attention grabber in my small hometown. I had a bit of a fling with “We are the pigs”, a single off their sophomore record, but the full on love didn’t come until the Britpop extravagance of their third record, “Coming up”.

Alas, the love for “Suede”, the mighty debut, would come much later for me and yeah, today’s song, even a bit after that. But now, it’s easily my favourite on the record and one of my favourite all-time Suede songs. “The drowners” was originally released in 1992 as a single* but I made the executive decision for it to appear here as the lone representative on this list of 1993 tunes from such an auspicious debut.

“The drowners” is a swanky, four-minute seduction. It’s introduced by machine gun fire drums and rip raunchy guitars. From there it slithers down your spine, like a slick stripteasing dancer, greased up and swinging around on the pole. Brett Anderson teases us snidely, vaguely hinting at drugs or sex or both, a wanton pleasure that can’t be helped, and that might just be fatal. And yet, our protagonist gives in to it. We all give in to it eventually.

“So slow down
Slow down
You’re taking me over
And so we drown”

*Incidentally, one of the b-sides off “The drowners”, an amazing ballad called “My insatiable one” appeared at number ten on my Best Tunes of 1992 list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2000: #4 Coldplay “Parachutes”

Back when I wrote about the song “Yellow” to finish off my Best tunes of 2000 list, I wrote how I still remembered first hearing the track on the radio and the excitement I felt in experiencing it. I also briefly played the game of trying to get us all to remember this same feeling, “Yellow”, before everything that came after with Coldplay. A tough task to be sure, given that Will Champion, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, and Chris Martin make up what is still surely one of the world’s biggest bands and one of the more commercially successful rock acts of the 21st century.

To be honest, I don’t listen to Coldplay all that often any more and don’t think I’ve heard even a note of their last two records. However, I really liked their first three records and perhaps to a lesser extent, their fourth. Indeed, “Parachutes” is still, for me, a classic, the measuring stick by which I’ve always judged their latter work. It is the sound of a young band finding their feet after a few years of slogging it out on the live circuit and striking gold.

The album went to number one on the UK album charts and though it took a bit longer, went platinum many times over in the states. It was long listed for the Mercury prize and has been cited as influential by more than a few newer bands, which is more than we can say for anything by them that came later. Interesting, then, that the boys in Coldplay don’t really like the album all that much.

“Parachutes” nicely filled the British guitar rock void, just recently vacated by Radiohead, when that latter band decided to go experimental and electronic, a fact to which many critics attributed Coldplay’s early success. But for me, the album wasn’t just a rehash or throwaway. It was beautiful stuff. It was long-faced and grieving and claustrophobic production. It was the unexpected discovery of a new voice in Chris Martin, a breath of fresh air before all the pretence set in. It was Coldplay’s most passionate work because it wasn’t planned or expected or foreshadowed. And unfortunately, this kind of perfection can never be replicated.

It’s more than likely that most of you know the ten tracks on this release but I welcome you all to revisit them without delay, starting now with my three picks for you.


“Shiver”: The first single to be released off the album in the band’s native country was the second to come out on this side of the Atlantic. Chris Martin has admitted that he wrote the song with a particular woman in mind but has never given up her identity. “From the moment I wake to the moment I sleep, I’ll be there by your side – just you try and stop me.” Martin has also said that in an attempt to channel Jeff Buckley, the band created their “most blatant ripoff”, and a poor one at that. I’ll have to take his word for it because I’m not all that familiar with Buckley’s work but this track a heartbreaker. A jangling mesh of guitars that starts off in the distance but moves ever closer until it bursts into flames. And then, quiet – an easing, a stepping aside for Martin to shuffle into the light. Finally, it’s all him, pouring it all on, aching with his soul, and he leans on those driving guitars to hold him upright. Else, he might melt into a puddle of yearning.

“Don’t panic”: The opening number on the album was released as a single almost a year after the album’s release. And yet it is one of the band’s earliest known songs, first seeing the light of day as early as 1998. This version, the one I know and love, is perhaps much different than how it originated. And to be honest, I’ve never bothered to try to find out. I love this two minute wonder. It starts with a gentle strum and an even gentler touch on drums, Chris Martin is almost whispering, intimate, an aside to himself and millions of others. “And we live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do, we live in a beautiful world.” The guitars jangle and chime and sing and echo in, shattering a mirror into a million sparkling pieces. The world as microcosm, beauty in infinity, quiet in expansiveness. A young Chris Martin is reassuring himself and us at the same time.

“Yellow”: As I inferred above, this song was and still is my favourite song from the year 2000. It is iconic. It was the beginning of something and the end of something else. It was released as the second song off the album in the UK but first in the US. It was my introduction to the band, as it was to many others. It was in heavy rotation everywhere, ubiquitous for a time, but for me, it never became old, despite the oversaturation. I got sick of the band before I got sick of the song. This is pop perfection. A hammering on the guitars, all violence and passion, a threat to fall apart but yet somehow holding it all together. Chris Martin is right on this same page, singing softly but in a quiet rage, falsettos floating on a cloud of reverb. “I came along, I wrote a song for you, and all the things you do, and it was called Yellow.” It is romance. It is love. And a hopeless romantic like me could never resist it.


To be honest, this particular post is late by a few weeks and now, with my new philosophy for the site, I’m definitely not going to promise when we’ll get to album #3. So in the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.