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Best tunes of 2010: #20 Stars “Fixed”

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We’ve now reached the number twenty spot on this list of my favourite tunes of 2010 and it’s “Fixed”, the first single released off Stars’ fifth album, “The five ghosts”.

This particular album is one of the last albums that I was so hotly anticipating that I immediately rushed out to buy it on compact disc (another being one which will remain nameless because it might have a song or two later in this list). And I distinctly remember taking the car out after work, the day it was released, hitting a few stores and not finding it. I definitely remember thinking that the lack of real music stores still standing was quite sad and their selections and stock levels sadder still, the available shelf space having been replaced by DVDs, graphic novels, games, and other pop culture bric-a-brac. I was starting to get really desperate when I finally found a single copy at the second Best Buy that I tried. Crisis averted, I unwrapped it on the way out to the car and threw the disc in the player for the drive back home. I was zero percent disappointed, even despite the senseless, drawn-out search.

Stars are a five-piece indie pop band based out of Montreal that formed in New York in 2000 but whose members all grew up in Toronto. They make beautiful and grandiose pop music that you can often dance to and that usually has a social conscience. My favourite of their long players is 2004’s “Set yourself on fire” with “The five ghosts” likely taking second place but all of their albums boast some incredible tracks that dig themselves deep under your skin and become part of your being.

Their vocals are a responsibility shared between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, often trading verses on the same song, but this one is all Millan, her light touch juxtaposed against the rousing instrumentation. Campbell only comes in periodically as backing support, their voices layering beauty as per usual. Yet with Millan sporting similar vocal styles here as her close friend and ex-roommate, Emily Haines, “Fixed” almost feels like Metric tune. The drumming is peppy and the synths keep pace, urging any and all listeners to get up and dance, no matter where they are, the bus, a crowded sidewalk, or with a broom in the kitchen, and forget everything but the beat. It’s bliss, it’s love, it’s fun.

“We all end floating away.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2010: #23 Jon And Roy “Any day now”

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In July 2010, my wife Victoria and I flew out to Winnipeg to spend a few days with our friends, Sarah and Jorge, and their children. I had been to the ‘Peg a couple of times before with work but this time, it was for pure pleasure and during the summer, rather than in winter when I had previously been there. And our friends were gracious hosts, putting us up in their spare bedroom and playing tourist with us with kids in tow. It was great seeing them and parts of the city I had not seen before but another real bonus for me was getting out to catch a part of the “world famous” Winnipeg folk festival.

Held annually at Birds Hill Provincial Park, it is an extremely well-run festival, right down to loosing the dragonflies the night before it begins to take care of the rampant mosquito problem. One of the features that I found really neat was the daytime “workshops” they held that collected different performers on the same stage to share ideas and songs and perhaps, even collaborate. I caught parts of a couple of these workshops and a full one that was thoroughly entertaining. This last was centred around the theme of hometowns, was led by Winnipeg native, John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans), and also included Works Progress Administration, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (of the film “Once”), and of course, Jon And Roy.

So this sunny Saturday afternoon workshop while lazing around in the grass in a Manitoba Provincial Park, all relaxed and civilized like, was my first introduction to Jon And Roy. And yes, “Any day now” was the song that made me sit up and take notice about halfway through the workshop.

Jon Middleton (acoustic guitar) and Roy Vizer (bongo drum) were seated on the stools between John K. Samson and Hansard and Irglová, the two acts I was really there to see. On their third go round (I think it was), Jon And Roy jumped into this head-bopping number that teased both folk and reggae and was so laid back and grooving, it felt perfect in the sun as the dragonflies danced around catching mosquitos above our heads. And man, was it catchy as well. So much so that when they finished, Glen Hansard, upon taking the mike, started right back into that ear worm chorus of “Any day now, any day now, any day now, any day now, any day” and then, dedicated his next song to that one.

And yes, this British Columbia-based group is still a going concern, having released four more albums since 2010’s “Homes”, but don’t let the name fool you, the group is also more than just the duo inferred in their name. Still, acoustic guitar led, laid back folk reggae is their hallmark, and if that’s your thing, you might just want to give them a listen. “Any day now” is a great place to start. And it’s also a perfect song to lead you into the weekend. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2010: #25 Library Voices “Drinking games”

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Like P.S. I Love You, who started this particular list off at the number thirty spot, I discovered Library Voices through seeing them live at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2011. But unlike the former, I didn’t listen to any of Library Voices recordings in advance and so my first real introduction to their music was their live set.

They made quite the first impression as all eight of them filed on to the stage and the way they performed, all passionate and chaotic, trading instruments and jumping into the admittedly sparse crowd at different points, led me to describe them to a friend later as a poor man’s Arcade Fire. It’s a description I immediately regretted saying out loud but the similarities in their live show sensibilities were too obvious to ignore. And when I later purchased and listened to their debut full-length, “Denim on denim”, I was able to add another Canadian indie rock band as a comparison point: The New Pornographers. If you like either of these two bands, Library Voices might just be worth a look for you.

Library Voices banging the drum in the middle of the crowd (Bluesfest 2011)

They were formed in 2008 in Regina, Saskatchewan by a group of musician friends and there were ten of them at the beginning! They have since released a couple of EPs and three LPs in total, the latest of which, last year’s “Lovish”, saw the band drop all the madness, pare down their personnel, and focus more on the power pop. It’s a good sound for them but I still hold a soft spot for their early tunes, the big sound, the blue eyed innocence, and the pure joy, though I must say the one constant in all their material are the smart and literary lyrics.

“Drinking games” starts off “Denim on denim”, an album of party ready numbers, with a tune about a party girl, who’s “not one for love but sure loves the chase”. The singer is quite aware of who she is and what she’s like but despite his claim that he’s “too old for these drinking games”, you can tell that he’s fallen for her just the same. It starts of with a capella harmonies that sound funnelled through an AM radio. After two go rounds of the chorus, the bass line and handclaps join the house party. Eventually, the whole crew joins in, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting, sometimes banging loudly on the tambourine. They are digging through crates of records, spilling red wine on the new couches, vomiting in the kitchen sink, and pretty much drinking every last beer in the fridge. Library Voices are definitely not the quietest friends at your party.

But often these are good friends to have.

(And oh yeah, if I haven’t sold you yet and you haven’t pressed play on the above video, there’s a lovely little nod tossed in near the end of the tune for all of you Cure fans. Cheers!)

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.