Best tunes of 2010: #21 School Of Seven Bells “I L U”

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True story: In 2004, two bands embarked on a US-wide tour as opening acts for Interpol. Three years after the tour, a new band was formed from members of these two bands. Secret Machines would attempt to carry on without their lead guitarist, Benjamin Curtis, releasing one final album in 2008, but On!Air!Library! could not survive without twin vocalists, Claudia and Alejandra Dehaza.

School of Seven Bells was the name of said resulting band, a title they took from a legendary and perhaps fictional training school for pickpockets and thieves in South America. They released two full-length albums, 2008’s “Alpinisms” and 2010’s “Disconnect from desire”, before Claudia quit the band, leaving behind a duo. There was another album released and they were working on a fourth when Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with lymphoma and died suddenly in 2013. Alejandra finished his work and released the final album last year. But that’s a story for another day.

I got into School of Seven Bells because I was rather enamoured with Secret Machines’ first two albums and wanted to see what it was that could drag Benjamin Curtis away from such a good thing. As it turned out, I really liked his second band as well, though they were quite different. Where his first band was all about the big and epic prog-influenced, guitar rock, Curtis’s direction with School of Seven Bells takes his listeners on a dreamy, electronic voyage through mysticism of many different stripes.

“I L U” is, in my mind, the undisputed standout track on “Disconnect from desire”, the band’s second album. It is a song of longing and regret and immobilizing sadness set to an incredible beat and irresistible waves of synths and guitars. The Dehaza sisters’ vocals are there, clear and strong, floating above the ether and threatening to delve deep into your soul. It hints at left of the dial eighties but there is something so very fresh about it at the same time.

And something otherworldly too. Indeed, “I L U” could be a dance floor filler at a dance club for ghosts. Lovely stuff.

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


Best tunes of 2000: #8 The Clientele “Rain”

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The Clientele will always remind me of my friend Jez, who I met while working in a call centre during the first five years after moving to Ottawa. He was a few years younger than I but shared very similar tastes in music and also a similar insatiable appetite for discovering new music. I can’t remember which of us caught wind of The Clientele first but it likely wasn’t long before we were both raving about them to anyone who would listen. And when The Clientele unbelievably made a stop at a tiny club here in Ottawa in 2007 (with Beach House opening!), we didn’t hesitate in picking up tickets. Jez and I don’t get out for drinks nearly as often these days as we used to but when we do, music is always one of the main topics of discussion.

And speaking of music discussion, I believe The Clientele was today’s topic? Right.

So this here is a London-based indie pop outfit that formed in 1997 and has had an organic rotation of personnel that has generally centred around school mates Alasdair MacLean (guitar and vocals) and James Hornsey (bass). Their first long player, 2000’s “Suburban light” (on which “Rain” appears), was in fact a compilation of singles and B-sides recorded in the group’s early years. Jez and I picked up on these guys three or four years later after they released their first proper studio album, “The violet hours”, and fell deeply in love with their dreamy, 60s psychedelic and jangly pop. The group released three more albums before going on hiatus in 2011, a hiatus that has seemingly come to an end with news of a sixth album due out in September. (Cheers all around.)

“Rain” is one of only three tracks of thirteen on “Suburban light” that hadn’t previously seen the light of day on some release or other. It’s definitely a mood piece, sounding very much like a showery dusk in the middle of fall (or pretty much every day this summer in Ottawa). The jangly guitars pittering and pattering against the windows and MacLean’s vocals, breathily fed through a guitar amp, sing about longing, of love and a summer lost.

“And I want you so bad in my heart. And I touch your shadowed fingers in the dark. And the stars have fallen on this night like rain.”

It’s all grey and misty and lovely, like laughing with tears in your eyes. And I just want to listen to it all day long.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1990: #17 Ride “Chelsea girl”

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Ride. Yessss!!!!

I feel like I’ve loved these guys forever, even though I know it’s an impossibility. In the more than twenty years since I first laid ears on them, the music by this Oxford-based, four piece hasn’t strayed very far from my front of consciousness, at least their first two albums haven’t.

They formed in 1988 and caught the attention of Jim Reid (of Jesus and Mary Chain) via a demo tape they had recorded in bassist, Steve Querait’s bedroom, which, in due course, led to interest by Creation Records’ Alan McGee. Ride would go on to record four full-length albums for that label, as well as a mess of EPs and singles. They did really well commercially in their native England but not so much here in North America. Their legacy, however, grew immensely over the years and endures today. They never much liked the shoegaze label with which they were saddled but despite that, they have since become icons of the original wave of said genre from the early nineties and have had a massive influence on the bands of the second wave that started in the 2000s. So much so, that a reunion became inevitable and when it finally happened two years ago, I scored a ticket to their tour’s stop in Toronto. As you might guess, it was a brilliant show…

…But I digress…

“Chelsea girl”, along with “Drive blind”, were songs on that aforementioned demo and were re-recorded for the Ride’s self-titled, debut EP.  On the former (without discussing the latter), the guitars start out semi-clean, albeit heavily treated with effects pedals, and they follow the bouncing ball on an arpeggiating intro. But have no fear: they quickly fall down the rabbit hole, turning messy and heavy, just like molasses, and just as sweet. Hiding in weeds and peeking out at just the right moments are the lackadaisical vocal harmonies of Bell and Gardener, providing yet another sweet melody to the mix. But the real treat here, is the punishing drum onslaught displayed by Loz Colbert. I’ve always thought all four members of the band talented on the piece that they add to the beautiful puzzle but for me, “Chelsea girl” is the beaut that it is because of Colbert.

Turn it up as loud as your speakers can handle and you just might thank me for it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.