Vinyl love (revisited): Arcade Fire “The suburbs”

(I started my Vinyl Love posts pretty much right after the launch of this blog to share photos of my growing vinyl collection. Over time, the photos have improved and the explanations have grown. And looking back at a handful of the original posts in this series, I found myself wanting to re-do some of them so that the posts are more worthy of those great albums. So that’s what I’m going to start doing… not on the regular, mind you, because there’s plenty of other pieces in my collection still awaiting their due.)

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album Title: The suburbs
Year released: 2010
Details: black vinyl, double LP, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: The original Vinyl Love post for this Grammy-winning third album by Montreal’s now infamous indie rock collective was posted to this blog on May 19, 2017*, almost three and a half years ago. I wrote then that frontman Win Butler called it “neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” Two songs from the concept album then appeared on my Best tunes of 2010 list in the months that followed: first, the title track was slotted in at number twelve and the standout song below came a very close second to the number one for that year. For me, “The suburbs” is one of the best, if not the very best album of 2010** so it was a no brainer for me to pick up this original pressing early on in my collecting days. Ten years following its release, it still sounds as fresh as ever.

Standout track: “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)”

* Don’t go looking for it. As I post these “Revisited” pieces, I intend to rid the internet of the original evidence as soon as I can. This is, of course, the point of these posts.

** I guess we’ll see if I ever get around to counting down my favourite albums for 2010.

Best tunes of 2012: #24 John K. Samson “Heart of the continent”

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With apologies to my youngest brother Mike*, I didn’t really get into and start appreciating the songwriting of John K. Samson until somewhere between the time of The Weakerthans’ last record and when they went on the extended hiatus that continues to this day.

It’s not like I didn’t have my chances. I actually saw them live twice. The first time was in 2001, when I hadn’t yet heard of them at all. They were the opening act on a card supporting Billy Bragg and The Lowest of the Low in Toronto, the latter of whom I recall Samson claiming were a huge influence on his own songwriting. The second time I saw them was in 2008 and they played in the afternoon on the second day of Toronto Island’s Virgin Fest. I was much better prepared this time, having brushed up on pretty much all of their records, and even finding a few favourite tunes on these. Yet still, though I enjoyed their set quite a bit, I wasn’t quite as into it as was my friend Mark, though truth be told, his enjoyment might have been enhanced by the bit of cannabis he had partaken in just beforehand.

What really did it for me was a couple years after that second show when I happened to be in Winnipeg around the time of their renowned Folk Festival. One of the sets that I managed to catch there was an afternoon songwriting workshop that included members of Jon And Roy, Works Progress Administration, and Swell Season and which was led by a genial fellow that I thought looked familiar right from the beginning. It turned out that it was local legend and the unofficial poet laureate of Winnipeg, John K. Samson, and of course, the theme that afternoon was on writing about home.

This is something Samson does often. His hometown of Winnipeg and other bits of Canadiana often entered the conversational tone of the lyrics of The Weakerthans’ songs. And there is no good reason why he would change his thinking when he released his debut solo album, “Provincial”, in 2012, which is the host of today’s song, “Heart of the continent”. Indeed, the title of today’s song is Winnipeg’s slogan, which is why many consider it like a sequel of sorts to The Weakerthans’ “One great city”, which was, of course, Winnipeg’s old slogan.

“There’s a billboard by the highway
That says welcome to
(Bienvenue à)
But no sign to show you when you go away“

It’s a lovely tune. Samson’s lyrics take the front seat, his now recognizable voice all soft and wistful, while his fingers brush and pluck away at the strings of an acoustic guitar. It’s like he’s busking on his favourite street corner (perhaps on Memorial), complete with his foot stomping on the kick pedal drum. Little by little, the people passing to and fro join him in the chorus, perhaps there’s another guitar and snare that make their way out from the abandoned building in front of which Samson sings, his hat still empty in front of him.

Yep. With this tune and this album, I became a full fledged Samson fan.

*My youngest brother Mike is a pretty big Weakerthans fan and was behind “One great tribute”, a tribute album to the band that was released last year.

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

Best tunes of 2002: #12 Hot Hot Heat “Bandages”

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Through several posts in my Best tunes of 2001 series, I mentioned the beginnings of an indie rock renaissance, one that was intrinsically tied to a garage rock and post-punk revival. This will become a common theme that I have and will likely continue to touch on through this series on my favourite tunes of 2002 and onwards through future series for 2003 and 2004. They say that everything is cyclical. Who ‘they’ are is still a mystery but you can almost see how the indie rockers of the early 2000s were raised on a steady diet of Joy Division and Bauhaus, perhaps not directly, but even through older siblings constantly blasting the tunes on their record players in their bedrooms. But it didn’t stop there. The indie rock scene evolved just as it did the first time, slowly through the dark dredge of post-punk into the jittery freneticism of the new wave.

I remember being fascinated as I started to hear new music that was oh so familiar to me, sounding very much like the music of my youth. One of the first of these, borne of reflections of Elvis Costello and Talking Heads through blurred and foggy mirrors, a young Canadian quartet sported this same restlessness and angsty geek rock. This was Hot Hot Heat.

The band formed in 1999 in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. The best known lineup of Steve Bays, Dustin Hawthorne, Paul Hawley, and Dante DeCaro stabilized in 2000, were signed to SubPop in 2001, and their debut, “Make up the breakdown”, appeared a year after that. The first single to be released was, of course, this synth heavy number called “Bandages”. The drumming and bass line kept a simple beat and the guitars angular and staccato, almost ska-like in feel, while Steve Bays yelped and rasped up nonsense.

“These bandages are anonymity
I’ve been shaking from making an awful decision
I’ve been running and running
Feels like my head is spinning round and round, around, around, around, around, around“

“Bandages” clocked in at 3 minutes and a third but felt only a third that long. It was catchy and danceable and despite all the retro feels, was as fresh as a hot shower and a mint pillow. And man does it leave you breathless. I can only imagine what it did to dancefloors around that time.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.