Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #3 First Aid Kit “Emmylou”

<< #4   |    #2 >>

If you had asked me in my youth if there was a type of music that I disliked, I would have answered without hesitation: Country.

To be fair, it was the music of my parents* and teenagers rarely pick up on the music of the previous generation, at least not right away. Then, the “new” country hit the fan in the 80s and 90s, spraying the music of Shania Twain and Garth Brooks – really more pop than country – all over the radio. Is it any wonder, then, that I wasn’t a fan of the genre? Still, as more time has gone on, I have found myself being drawn in by more bands flying the alt-country banner, music influenced by the country music of old.

Back in 2012, some of the bands that were putting out my favourite music were all rocking this sound, bands like Cuff the Duke, The Wooden Sky and yes, First Aid Kit. This latter act may have considered themselves more of a folk band but if you listen to the twang and slide guitar of today’s song, “Emmylou”, you certainly couldn’t discount their country influences. Then, of course, there’s the lyric content. The song metaphorically references legendary country duos Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris** to bolster the comparison of singing partnerships with entangled lovers.

“Oh the bitter winds are coming in
And I’m already missing the summer
Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather”

And, yes, you read and heard that right.

First Aid Kit’s twin driving forces, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, are both from the northern climes of Sweden. It shouldn’t be that surprising that a band of such quality comes from the Scandinavian country**, but that they sound like this is somewhat unexpected. And it’s their sound that gained them such popularity. They first cracked popular attention with a YouTube video of them performing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger mountain peasant song” and perhaps because of this, many writers had First Aid Kit stealing the helm of brilliance from that same band. All you have to do is listen to the angelic vocal harmonies sung by the sisters to understand why the critics raved.

“Emmylou” was the second single off of First Aid Kit’s second album “The lion’s roar”. I remember liking the album enough when I first heard it but was far too preoccupied with so much new music being released to spend enough time with it. Then, later in the year, the album happened to come up randomly on my iPod while doing some spring cleaning and it suddenly clicked with me. I must have listened to “Emmylou” a half-dozen times on repeat. I was so hooked that I had to share it with my wife, Victoria. Once she got over the initial shock at the country sound, she really enjoyed the song as well. It really is a beautiful tune and captures the yearning and pure pleasure of love.

“No, I’m not asking much of you
Just sing, little darling, sing with me”

*The music of long road trips and hence, forced agony.

**Back in 2015, First Aid Kit performed this song with Emmylou Harris in attendance and the legendary songstress was moved to tears.

***There have been plenty of excellent Swedish bands over last couple of decades.

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

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2011: #8 Cults “Go outside”

<< #9    |    #7 >>

I have a very distinct memory of listening to this very song one early morning late in 2011, in that burred season between late fall and early winter. I was re-listening to a handful of albums released that year, trying to nail down my inaugural best albums list for my old blog, Music Insanity. Cults’ self-titled debut was one of two debut albums that caught me by surprise and snuck its way into the running for 2011.

As track one slid into track two, I was standing at Bayview station awaiting the arrival of my commuter train to take me into work. It was so early it was still dark so I could clearly see the lightly falling snow glinting from the glow of the fluorescent light posts. I was shuffling my doc martens in the thinnest of coatings on the asphalt waiting platform, causing rivulets of feathered snow to amass around my feet. But then “Go outside” burst through my iPod earbuds in earnest and it was like the sun came out, warming me from outside and in, and it was as if summer had made a glorious return.

Okay. Yes. I am exaggerating but I am sure you are getting the point here.

Cults are a two-piece indie band from New York, made up of Madeline Follin on vocals and Brian Oblivion (sounds like a stage name to me) on vocals and everything else. When I first listened to the album, I thought to myself: “These two make no attempt to hide their love for shimmering, sunny 60s pop”. Madeline’s vocals are so light, almost to the point of child-like, that it’s unbelievably shocking when she drops the F-bomb at the end of one of the album’s tracks. And that’s probably the point. The music that backs her is washed and filled with effects, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the different instruments apart.

“Go outside” is still incidentally my favourite track on the album but it is by no means an aberration. It is a seemingly light and fluffy song about going outside to enjoy life outdoors but if you listen a bit closer, you can discern soundbite samples of cult leader Jim Jones. Adding another layer of sinister is the video’s use of archive news footage from Jonestown. Indeed, the song seems to be employing, much like throughout the rest of the album, a theatrical technique I learned in high school drama class when studying Bertolt Brecht: namely, disguising that dark subject matter behind the cheery veneer of the music. If you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of “Mack the Knife” (by Brecht, not Cults), you know what I mean.

But before I start getting highbrow or anything, I’m going to drop the mic right there and allow the song to speak for itself. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2011: #11 I Break Horses “Winter beats”

<< #12    |    #10 >>

Shoegaze was a subgenre I loved way back in the day (though I likely joined the train just as it was coming to a skidding and screaming stop) so when I started to hear bands incorporating that sound into their music in the mid- to late-2000s, I got pretty excited. And though I never thought much of the term ‘nugaze’, I definitely latched on to a lot these revivalists, of which I Break Horses is but one fine example.

From what I’ve read, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck named themselves after a Bill Callahan/Smog song. Other than that piece of trivia, there’s little else to be found about them, other than the obvious: the names of their two albums, they haven’t released new material in quite a few years, etc. However, I can say that the debut album “Hearts” is a thing of real beauty and around the time it came out, I couldn’t say enough about it. Yeah, I did my damnedest to spread the word. When I got the chance to see them the year following its release, during their tour as support to M83, I jumped at it and tried to convince all of my friends to join me. Unfortunately, this was an uphill task since the majority of my concert-going buddies were going to the same Spiritualized show as I was on the day prior. It was their loss because my second concert in as many nights was just as good as the first.

“Winter beats”, the opening track on “Hearts”, is a thrilling piece of music. It takes the roar and rage of My Bloody Valentine and ups the synth quotient, looping washes and frenetic drum machine crashes, and effects morphed vocals. Oh my. Yes. It is a roaring animal of a thing, flashing strobes, smoke machines, and lasers all over the place, while two silhouettes are up on stage, perhaps one is male and the other female, but you are unsure. Indeed, they are only just barely visible through the smoke and mirrors. You could almost swear the song was conjured up from the ephemera by a machine. Or a ghost. Or an alien.

You could almost swear it might very nearly swallow you up whole. But there are worse fates, I’d wager.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.