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Best tunes of 2013: #30 Arcade Fire “Here comes the night time”

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For all those fellow Canadians out there, I want to wish each and everyone of you a real “Happy Canada day”!

And I mean that truly.

It’s been a tough two-plus years. Not just here, but everywhere, I know, and though Canada day has always been a big celebration here, whether or not we deserve it, this year, I think, we do. My own celebration will involve spending time with the one person in the world that means the most to me but I’d also like to observe it here, in a tiny way, on these pages. And what better way than to start up a new list and to kick it off with a great tune by a great Canadian band.

By 2013, the indie rock collective from Montreal (known as Arcade Fire) had already released three groundbreaking albums, the last actually landing the band a surprise turn at the top of the Grammy podium for best album for 2010’s “The suburbs”, and now, they were due for something new. The question was, what would it sound like and could it possibly top what we’d already heard from a band that everyone seemed to be looking to for innovation.

We finally started to get hints of what might be coming in the summer of 2013, as cryptic street art incorporating the title of the forthcoming album started to appear around the world. The campaign was admittedly a bit much but it was effective and though the band’s wishes that attendees at their ensuing tour stops dress up in costume was widely criticized, you can’t fault the band for trying to rouse their fans from complacency. Arcade Fire has always been earnest and this was possibly their pinnacle, if not their most successful endeavour.

“Reflektor” saw contributions from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, as well Mr. David Bowie, and for all its expectations, it didn’t really suffer too badly at the hands of the critics. It saw the release of five singles, each of them big and epic and completely Arcade Fire (if you can excuse me using their name as an adjective), but for me the best track on an album that was great, yet still seemed to pale in the shadow of the previous three, was the disco and rara-inspired “Here comes the night time”.

This track actually appears as two different versions, each on a separate disc of the double album, but I am definitely more for the first part, which was apparently written and recorded second. It truly encapsulates what the band were aiming for when they were looking to make music that multi-instrumentalist Regjne Chassagne would dance to. Like the rest of the album, the sound was hugely influenced by the band’s visit to Haiti, the country from which her parents originally emigrated to Canada. Indeed, this track in particular was written about that country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, a dangerous city at the best of times but one that becomes lethal at night due to the lack of electricity and the relative safety of unnatural lighting.

“When the sun goes down, you head inside
‘Cause the lights don’t work
Yeah, nothing works, they say you don’t mind”

Six minutes of Caribbean sounds funnelled through machines and synthesizers and other computer gadgetry. It wavers and warbles between frenetic beats and gliding vibes. It marches and dances and cavorts, with feathers and masks and streamers, shades of carnival lights and energy, while its ringmasters, Win and Regine, conduct you safely through the streets of the Haitian capital on an epic journey to bliss and magic.

So go on out and celebrate!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2013 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2003: #23 Sloan “The rest of my life”

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“One thing I know about the rest of my life
I know that I’ll be living it in Canada
I know I said I’ll share the rest of my days
But I was only going through a phase”

In spite of myself, I became a fan of Canadian alt-rockers, Sloan, in the mid-90s, especially with the release of their 1996 album, “One chord to another”. Like many Canadian rock fans, I was seduced by their jangly pop hooks, Beach Boy harmonies, and the brilliance of their three pronged attack of songwriters. Hits like “Coax me”, “People in the sky”, “The good in everyone”, “The lines you amend”, and “Everything you’ve done wrong” were universally acclaimed and loved, and I count myself among the many that still consider these timeless classics.

Shortly after 1997, though, I stopped buying their albums for a while and was really only familiar with their radio singles. I was aware of their continued success and indeed, still adore many of the tracks released around this time. But when I started to wean myself off of commercial radio in the early 2000s, I began to lose track of Toronto-based quartet.

Then, one day, at some point in 2005, my wife Victoria* was humming a song around our apartment and I asked her what it was.

“You don’t recognize it?”

“No,” I laughed. This was a game that played out between us often when she got a song in her head. She rarely knew the name of it or who performed it and I could never unpack her attempt at the melody. This time, though, she actually knew who it was. Or, she thought she did.

“It’s one of your bands. Suede. Or is it Sloan?”

She always got those two mixed up, even though they sound nothing alike. Nevertheless, over we went to my desktop computer and I gamely started cycling through all the Suede and Sloan songs that I knew. However, none of them fit the bill. After a while, I ran out of Suede songs released before their 2003 breakup and I started going through Sloan songs that I’d heard of but with which I wasn’t too familiar. Finally, I landed upon a track called “The rest of my life” and this was it.

The channel call opening, the jaunty drum beat, the early Beatles’ pop simplicity, the singalong and the over-the-head hand-clapping chorus. Penned and led on vocals by Chris Murphy, “The rest of my life” was the first single to be released off of Sloan’s seventh album, “Action pact”, the group’s concerted and last ditch effort to break into the States. It’s a feat they likely never satisfactorily accomplished but they did manage to start reeling this particular music fan back into the fold.

And it’s all because of this song introduced to me by Victoria: “Someone with whom I’ll spend the rest of my days…”

*Back then, though, she was still just my girlfriend, partner, and best friend, marriage was still a few years off.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2012: #4 July Talk “Paper girl”

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I originally came across the video for “Paper girl” quite by accident, while searching for something else, and was so enthralled that I thoroughly forgot what that something was. In the video (and the song), Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, the nucleus of July Talk, play upon multiple levels of dichotomy: rough/smooth vocals, ugly/cute attitudes, old/new sound, male/female gender identities, and well, you get the picture. The video pits the vocalists (and their alter egos) against each other, him loud and brash and her delicate but defiant. It’s fun to watch play out again and again.

July Talk are an alternative rock band based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The story of their formation in the bio that used to appear on their website smacked of the stuff of legend: boy hears girl singing in a smoky bar in the early hours of the morning, decides she’s his muse, tracks her down and they form a band. They rounded out said band and sound with Ian Docherty (guitar), Josh Warburton (bass), and Danny Miles (drums). The group has released three studio albums since forming in 2012, each garnering them more and more fans, but in my opinion, neither of the latter two can touch the excellence and originality of the self titled debut.

Much of “July Talk” mines another era for its blues infused chaotic sound but brings its anachronism into the new millennia. The growling and gnarling Tom Waits interplay with the bedroom confessional popster that holds her own is a story that runs throughout the album but “Paper girl” as track three is the shining example. It takes the Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud structure to extreme, seesawing between dirty and aggressive guitars and drums and angelic keyboards. And just like the duelling vocals in a certain song by The Pogues, the Dreimanis and Fay personas rail and thrash at each other, just before they fall passionately and resignedly into each other’s arms.

“Yeah, it must be hard
To watch your body growing old”

 

“And I’ll be laughing in your head until I want to stop
And if you think it’s your turn to explain yourself, it’s not”

It’s a song for turning up loudly when there’s no one else around and for singing along with to both parts because neither is right and neither is wrong but together they work.

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