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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #22 Slowdive “Alison”

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My friend Tim was always a bigger fan of Slowdive than I was, and I suspect that his appreciation of the group was influenced greatly by his crush on one of the principal vocalists of the group, Rachel Goswell. He tried to get me into them and I did my best to give them a shot. I tape-recorded a copy of the “Souvlaki” CD he loaned me. Unfortunately, I would never get very far with it, rarely more than a few songs past the opening track (but more on that in a bit).

Much like the rest of the music world, critics and writers who never appreciated Slowdive until they were gone, I didn’t get into the Reading-based five-piece until much later. I’ve already documented* on these pages that it was long after they had lost a couple members, changed musical directions, and rebranded that I caught up with them again, just after they had released their third album as Mojave 3. When I listen to “Souvlaki” now, though, I can’t help but wonder: “What were we all thinking?”

The album is lush and ambient, the sadness and hurt palpable in every wash and echo. More deliberate and difficult than its predecessor, it is a sophomore album multiplied by a hundred, informed equally by the knowledge that anything they produced would be panned and by the internal strife in the band created by the romantic split of Neil Halstead and the aforementioned Goswell. If it weren’t for the rise of Grunge and Britpop, it may have been just as hailed at the time as it is now. Hands down, it was one of the greatest shoegaze albums ever recorded.

“Alison” is the one track that I can honestly say that I’ve always loved from the album. As an opener, it was a hard one to move past and I rarely did. The guitars jangle and waver, a shimmering of light highlighting millions of tiny specks of dust, lifted and disrupted ever so gently by a passing breeze, the same that caused flutters in the gossamer curtains of sound. Drums are far off in the distance and deep down in the mix, like a harrowing memory. The reverb is like a third person in the room, pushing together the lilting voices of Halstead and Goswell, even as it as ripping them apart. “Alison” could be anyone who’s ever broken your heart, a smoker’s cough and an ashtray overflowing with butts, a hangover and a dozen empty merlot bottles.

“Alison, I’m lost
Alison, I’ll drink your wine
And wear your clothes when we’re both high
Alison, I said we’re sinking
But she laughs and tells me it’s just fine
I guess she’s out there somewhere”

Sigh.

*And likely will do so again…

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

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #7 Porcelain Raft “Drifting in and out”

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Wake up all you dream pop fanatics, just long enough to open up your Spotify app, locate the album “Strange weekend” by Porcelain Raft, press play, and drift back into the musical haze of its opening track: “Drifting in and out”.

Yeah, that’s the spot. Right there. An itch you didn’t know you needed scratched. I know because I’ve been there myself. In fact, why don’t you go listen to it again. I’ll wait (or perhaps I’ll give it another go myself).

This beautiful piece and the nine tracks that follow it are the work of the unfortunately-named Porcelain Raft, a “basement” project of Italian-born composer/songwriter, Mauro Remiddi. “Strange weekend” was in fact the debut album under this name but you couldn’t mark Remiddi down as fresh-faced kid with a crazy dream, even at the time. He had already been at the music game for many years in 2012, cutting his teeth working as a musician in projects all around the world and dabbling in musical styles ranging from gypsy Klezmer music to North Korean traditional music.

This particular chapter in his music story was inspired by his move to New York City. Remiddi worked alone on the album, without a lot of external intervention, but it does not feel as detached and self-aggrandizing as these types of projects tend to feel. This could have something to do with how quickly Remiddi reportedly recorded the album, just focusing on the music in the moment, as fleeting as that can be.

“Strange weekend” was released very early in 2012. It made an impression on me from the get-go and though I remember doing my best to discover and listen to as much new music as I could that year, somehow, this one was never very far from my ear phones. So many great mind-expanding and explosive moments for me and I’ve likened it many times over to an alien retelling of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”. And it all starts here, with this track.

If you haven’t heard it already, I’ll just point out the similarity here to Chapterhouse’s “Mesmerise” and now you won’t be able unhear it. The dreamy danceable vibe. The skull latching medicine. The synths that flit about in shards of light and in between wispy clouds. The lasers beaming out from the retro spaceship. The half-remembered saturday night on the town played in reverse and in slow motion. This is blissful dream pop. Yeah, let’s listen to it again.

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

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Albums

Best albums of 2000: Albums #10 through #6

It’s been more than six months since I started one of these Best albums of the year series so I figured it was about time for a new one. This time around, I am taking for focus my favourite albums of the year 2000, the year chosen in a random, not quite random kind of way*.

My relationship with music around this time was what you could term complicated. If you go back and look at the list of my favourite tunes of 2000 that I did a few years back, you’ll note that it’s only a list of fifteen songs, rather than the usual thirty. I had a real hard time finding music that I liked in those days and this can be attributed to many things. It is most of all likely because I was on a low after the wealth of great British music being exported to Canada during the Britpop explosion in the second half of the last decade. So for me, great songs were few and far between but I still managed to identify ten great albums as favourites when taken as a whole. And it is these that I plan to present to you over the coming weeks.

If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. From here, I used to out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the following five Thursdays, one per week, but given how well it went when I stretched out my countdown of albums I did for 1991 back in January, February, and March, I’ve decided to do the same here. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up in the beginning of October.

So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 2000, in the comments section provided with each post.


#10 Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”

Still smarting from the breakup of the Verve a mere two years after the release of the near perfect “Urban hymns” in 1997, I went out to the stores to purchase the first Richard Ashcroft solo album on the day it was released. When I arrived back at my apartment that afternoon, I realized that my roommate and friend, Ryan, had done the same and we both sat down that evening to give it a listen. But I’ll stop right there because this is a story that I already told when the lead single “A song for the lovers” appeared at number five on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I’ll just say that I really wanted all of “Alone with everybody” to be just as great as that first single but in my mind, it was only half successful. Richard Ashcroft is a phenomenal voice and songwriter to be sure, but he definitely needs a sounding board. There is an unfortunate amount of forgettable mediocrity on the album but luckily, those are more than balanced by exuberant moments of pure pop perfection.

Gateway tune: “A song for the lovers”


#9 The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”

It’s always been interesting to me that The New Pornographers were referred to as a supergroup right from the beginning. Sure, each member all had other projects on the go, but I’d hazard that when their debut, “Mass Romantic”, was released, only Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar had anything resembling a following on their own merit, and even those must be taken with a grain of indie salt. Nowadays, though, the title certainly fits and it’s truly amazing to me that such a large collective of artists have enjoyed such successful longevity together. This debut was three years in the making and displays a wealth of power pop worthy of the praise heaped upon it. It wasn’t always a favourite of mine but it has grown steadily in my esteem over the years to exponential heights.

Gateway tune: “Letter from an occupant”


#8 The Cure “Bloodflowers”

Much like the album at number ten, I bought The Cure’s 11th studio album, “Bloodflowers”, on CD pretty much as soon as it was released. I had gotten into the iconic post-punk band led by Robert Smith over a decade earlier and the love affair that followed culminated with my purchase and adoration of their 1992 album “Wish”. I completely missed out on the interim album, 1996’s “Wild mood swings”, and still haven’t ventured into that whirlpool, with the possible exception of the singles. Speaking of which, the lack of any obvious singles on “Bloodflowers” was what struck me right away on first listen. It was definitely a return to their darker sound, but bigger in scope and immersiveness. Indeed, the whole is greater than its parts in this case, a complete album experience.

Gateway tune: “The loudest sound”


#7 The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”

The Weakerthans are a band that I’ve known for many years but never really appreciated until it was too late. I saw them live twice, once in 2001 (one year after this particular album was released) and again 2008, but in both cases, I wasn’t actually at the show to see them. And though I enjoyed them both times, I didn’t actually getting around to diving deeply into their music until well after they went on hiatus in 2014. Indeed, their sophomore album “Left and leaving” still wasn’t even on my radar when I started counting down my favourite tunes from 2000 back when I started this blog in 2017. Nowadays, though, I find myself in awe of this melodic folk-rock band out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the incredible lyrics of its frontman, John K. Samson. Like all four studio albums by the group, “Left and leaving” is chock full of literate narratives that name-check Canadiana, Winnipeg in particular, and speak to each and everyone of us unsure of our place in the human condition.

Gateway tune: “Left and leaving”


#6 The Clientele “Suburban light”

I first got into the reverb-drenched indie pop of London, England’s The Clientele with their sophomore studio album, 2003’s “The violet hour”. Everything I heard off that album smacked loudly of Luna, another band with which I had been obsessed around that time, except that all the production sounded purposefully older and frontman Alasdair Maclean’s vocals were a lot more breathy than those of Dean Wareham. Nonetheless, I was in love and set about ensuring my eyes and ears were alerted to anything the band had previously released and news of anything new. For years, I thought their first proper release, this one, “Suburban light”, was a compilation album and so wouldn’t be eligible to appear here on this list. However, it was a simple misunderstanding on my part that had basis in the fact that at least half of the songs on this album had been released previously. But perhaps I am talking too much and just need to let you click on the link below for a sampling of what’s on offer. If you like sunshine and lemonade light and naps under the shade of trees and a light a breeze, The Clientele, this debut especially, might just be your cup of tea.

Gateway tune: “Rain”

 

*Don’t ask me how I am choosing the years for these flashback/throwback best albums series… I am trying to spread them out and at the same time, trying not to interfere with the Best tunes lists I’ve got on the go. It’s a delicate game, definitely not for the faint of heart…


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.