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Best tunes of 2011: #19 Handsome Furs “Serve the people”

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Handsome Furs were the duo of Dan Boeckner and then wife and poet Alexei Perry. Formed in Montreal in 2006, it was meant as a side-project for the ever musically active and tireless rocker in Boeckner and for a short time, became his main creative outlet when Wolf Parade went on hiatus in 2011.

Boeckner and Perry released three full-length albums in a six year span under the Handsome Furs name before the duo split musically and otherwise. I remember being super disappointed because they had been slated to the 2012 rendition of Ottawa’s Bluesfest and I noticed one day, on one of the many instances of checking the lineup for new additions, that their name was subtracted without an explanation. It’s a shame, really, that I never got to see them. All three of their albums are quite excellent. This little regret is only slightly tempered given that I’ve since seen another of Boeckner’s projects, Operators, as well as Wolf Parade perform at Bluesfest.

“Sound kapital” is Handsome Fur’s third and final album and Boeckner’s first ever written completely on keyboards, rather than guitars. The album was inspired by Eastern European industrial and electronic music from the 1980s but if you think that will mean an album of austere and frigid numbers, think again. This is Dan Boeckner, the embodiment of Canadian indie rock. There’s plenty of guitars and his raw, Bruce Springsteen-like vocals breathes life into the genre.

“Dogs in the capital howling at dawn
Someone’s driving by with the radio on
Someone making noise from the center of town
You kick em in the head and you kick em when they’re down
and you don’t serve the people”

“Serve the people” starts off with the lines above in a croon, sounding like it’s coming from a different age through broken speakers, and then, it changes with the introduction of synthesizers and an electronic beat. There’s steam and factory sounds and weird washes and wah-wahs and plenty of other noise muddying the stomp of dance floor rhythm. And somehow it all turns into a fist pumping anthem with Boeckner leading the charge, a guerrilla revolutionary with dishevelled hair and a cigarillo dangling from his lips. Yeah, serve the people, Dan.

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

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Best tunes of 2010: #9 The Black Keys “Tighten up”

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I don’t know if you’re superstitious or not. I’m not typically superstitious myself but I certainly believe in The Black Keys curse. Perhaps you’ve had a different experience and if so, please interject. Every time I (or any of my friends) have tried to catch The Black Keys at an outdoor venue, a festival or otherwise, it has rained like a sonofabitch. (And yes, that is the technical term.)

The first time I saw them was at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2011. I had queued up to get as close to the front as I could when the skies opened up. It came so quickly that I was soaked through almost instantly, as was my bag, so it was no use digging out my parka, nor running for cover. This storm was so violent that it, unbeknownst to organizers, likely weakened the integrity of the stage rigging so that when it stormed again the following week during Cheap Trick, the stage came right down. When The Black Keys finally hit the stage that night, it was only to do a shortened set, a fast and furious half hour that included almost no banter with the audience.

The following year, I was at Osheaga in Montreal and they were due to close out the Sunday night. It rained off and on all day but the rain gods were at their most furious during The Shins’ early evening set. It was enough to scare my wife and I and our friends, Jean-Pierre and Shannon, off for the night. Another Black Keys opportunity missed. (Incidentally, my friend Tim was at their show in Toronto the night before and it rained pretty heavily there as well.) I finally got to see a full Black Keys set in 2013, this time, again, at Ottawa Bluesfest. They were energetic and rocking and you guessed it, they were playing to a damp audience, most of whom were wearing rain ponchos or toting umbrellas.

“Tighten up”, or rather the music video for said song, was my first introduction to The Black Keys. I know that they had been slogging it out for years, nine to be exact, before their sixth album, “Brothers” hit the mainstream. The Akron-based duo had built quite the cult following with their raw, blues-infused garage rock but I had been pretty much oblivious to them. I saw the pretty hilarious video one morning on AUX TV, which I’ve mentioned before in these posts on my Best of 2010, and then, the next morning and the next. I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that the catchy number was produced by Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse. Pretty much everything this guy was touching around this time was turning to gold. And “Tighten up” really is pure gold.

Its playful beginning calls to mind a ‘whistle while you work’ type theme but quickly gives way to soul and angst, mostly on the back of Dan Auerbach’s Howlin’ Wolf vocal play. But his raunchy guitars and Patrick Carney’s musclebound drumming certainly don’t hurt matters. You actually wish you had your own drum kit in your living room to bash things out right along with Carney. It definitely sounds like he’s having a blast.

Yes, this is a song worth standing out in the pouring rain for. Enjoy.

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

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Best tunes of 2010: #11 Beach House “Used to be”

<< #12    |    #10 >>

Okay. So I know that Beach House’s “Used to be” was originally released as a single in 2008, something brand new after the Baltimore-based dream pop duo had just spent months on the road touring their last album, and they were aching to get back to the studio. But the album version, placed midway through the track listing of 2010’s incredible “Teen dream”, is the version I heard first and am more familiar with, so I had no issues including it as number eleven on my Best of 2010 list.

I had been loosely following Beach House since the release of their self-titled debut back in 2006 and saw them open for The Clientele the following year. I say ‘loosely’ because while I had both of their first two albums and thought they were pleasant to listen to, I only ever really considered them fodder for background music. The worlds created by Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally were light and airy but also grim and plodding up to that point. It all changed for me with the third album and “Used to be” really anchored the shift. It is all very dreamy still, synth washes abound and Legrand’s breathy delivery is just lovely, but it was like the sun came out and they found something to be cheerful about.

Interesting, then, that the song that spearheaded their move towards upbeat rhythms was written as an examination of the passing of time, of aging, and seeing things change. Beach House shakes a little fairy dust, sings a lullaby, the rhythmic snare counts off the seconds like years, and you’re off to your dream world, seeing things as you remembered them. Even the piano chimes, echoing the vocal melody, are nostalgic, sounding every bit like that toy piano you wanted for Christmas when you were six. It’s a happy place, this song, all innocence and pure joy.

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