Playlist: Be my valentine

Okay. So here’s something that’s never been done before, at least not on this blog, or really, during any of my years of blogging. It’s true. I have never done a post observing this somewhat suspect ‘holiday’, a day that has been over-commercialized and become more about selling chocolates and flowers and overpriced dinners than spending time with the one you love. Still, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I do have a sappy side, a side that gets totally wrapped up in rom-coms and even the odd Hallmark Christmas film. And yeah, my wife and I typically do observe February 14th, usually in our own quiet way, but the odd time we have gone out for a nice dinner and paid exorbitant prices for roses.

It just so happened a few weeks ago that I realized I was due for a new playlist and the idea occurred to me to create one of ‘love songs’. Then, I quelled the idea, remembering the struggle Victoria and I had looking for appropriate songs in my collection that we could dance to on our wedding day. “Do none of your bands write songs about love?” she asked, frustrated and tired at one point during our search. Apparently not, was the answer, at least not in the conventional sense, the sense in which hair bands managed it in the 80s and out of which some R&B singers have made a career. Often the alternative and indie bands to whom I listen wrote beautiful lyrics that touched on love but did so looking at it not as a pure thing but one to be feared and revered, a bringer of both pain and joy. In short, not your typical love songs.

In the end, we found a handful to use, of which a few of them can be found in the playlist below. Of course, I had Victoria in mind while putting this one together, though I know she wouldn’t appreciate many of the tracks, still, there’s a little something for everyone. I’ve got some iconic tunes by influential alt-rock bands like The Cure and The Smiths, lesser known acts from the 90s like The Lowest of the Low and My Drug Hell, and of course, highlights from the indie kids of this new century, like Bloc Party and The Decemberists. I’ve got the whole list below, in case the Spotify doesn’t work for you, and included a lyrical gem from each song, just to give a glimpse of what you can be listening for as you peruse the list.

1. The Cure “Lovesong”
“Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again.”

2. Elbow “An audience with the pope”
“I have an audience with the Pope, and I’m saving the world at eight, but if she says she needs me, she says she needs me, everybody’s gonna have to wait.”

3. Blur “To the end”
“You and I collapsed in love. And it looks like we might have made it.”

4. The Rural Alberta Advantage “In the summertime”
“Once in a while, I know our hearts beat out of time. And once in a while, I know they’ll fall back in line.”

5. Teenage Fanclub “What you do to me”
“There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.”

6. The Cranberries “Dreams”
“Now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don’t hurt me. You’re what I couldn’t find, totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind, you’re everything to me.”

7. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
“I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

8. Coldplay “Yellow”
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.”

9. Depeche Mode “One caress”
“Just one caress from you and I’m blessed.”

10. James “Just like Fred Astaire”
“Meteors may strike the earth. Nations live and die. I’m the boy who got the girl who showed me how to fly.”

11. The Beautiful South “Song for whoever”
“I love you from the bottom of my pencil case. I love you in the songs I write and sing.”

12. Death Cab For Cutie “I will follow you into the dark”
“Love of mine, someday you will die, but I’ll be close behind, and I’ll follow you into the dark. No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.”

13. Oasis “Wonderwall”
“I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.”

14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do you love me?”
“I knew from that moment on that I’d love her till the day that I died.”

15. The Lowest of the Low “Subversives”
“There’s something subversive about you and me, ’cause there’s a market-value on love and we’re getting something for free.”

16. The Smiths “There is a light that never goes out”
“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

17. The Lemonheads “Alison’s starting to happen”
“I never looked at her this way before, but now she’s all I see.”

18. Bloc Party “This modern love”
“Do you want to come over and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”

19. The Verve “Sonnet”
“Yes, there’s love if you want it, don’t sound like no sonnet, my lord.”

20. Chairlift “Bruises”
“I tried to do handstands for you, but every time I fell for you. I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.”

21. The Decemberists “We both go down together”
“And my parents will never consent to this love. But I hold your hand.”

22. Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgley”
“I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes. I love you now and I will ’til the day that I die.”

23. The Stone Roses “Ten storey love song”
“When your heart is black and broken and you need a helping hand. When you’re so much in love, you don’t know just how much you can stand.”

24. First Aid Kit “Emmylou”
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too. No, I’m not asking much of you, just sing little darling, sing with me.”

25. Björk “Violently happy”
“Since I met you, this small town hasn’t got room for my big feelings. Violently happy, ’cause I love you.”

26. Longpigs “On and on”
“All the songs that I’ve sung you, more often than you know. You’re the love that I’ve clung to more often than I’ve let it show.”

27. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros “Home”
“Ah, home, let me come home, home is wherever I’m with you.”

28. My Drug Hell “Girl at the bus stop”
“Girl at the bus stop, I wished for once that the bus would never come. She sat downstairs, I sat behind I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

29. Pulp “Babies”
“Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.”

30. Nine Inch Nails “Closer”
“I want to f*ck you. I want to taste you. I want to feel you.”

Enjoy. Happy (Saint) Valentine’s Day.

And of course, I’d be up for hearing what your own favourite ‘love’ songs are from the alternative and indie rock realms.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Best tunes of 2011: #14 Elbow “With love”

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As a long time fan of British rock, I’ve always known there was a difference between the music scenes of Scotland, Ireland, and England and those here in North America. I had long imagined and romanticized that everyone over there listened to the same music I loved and other stuff I hadn’t yet heard because I knew that my favourite bands that I saw in tiny clubs in Toronto played to much larger crowds in much larger venues all over their native countries. However, my friends Tim and Mark, after spending a few years living and working in London shortly after the BritPop explosion, returned to Canada with news that most of the people they encountered listened to the same pop music consumed in North America. Still, they conceded, the radio played a lot of stuff that wasn’t played here and as we already knew, the press was very much different and more involved in exploring indie music.

I’ve gotten to learn more of these differences and similarities since starting in on this blogging gig almost eight years ago and in conversing with fellow bloggers from out that way. What hadn’t occurred to me but probably should have is that some of the bands I listen to that get little to no air play in Canada are so overplayed and overblown in England and as hated or ridiculed as Nickelback might be in some circles here.

And so it apparently is with Elbow, whom I love and have done since I happened upon them since the early 2000s. They’ve graced these pages a few times in the past couple years and comments have been decidedly mixed but leaning more towards the negative. I’ve had to forewarn a certain blogging colleague (I’m looking at you Vinyl Daft Dad) that another Elbow post was coming. But I think I can safely say this might be their last appearance for the foreseeable future.

“With love” is track three off the English rock band’s fifth album, “Build a rocket, boys!”. The album was less melancholy than its predecessors, mining the happier memories of youth for subject matter, but this one has frontman Guy Garvey pleading his case for a friend to join him on a night out for drinks. “I give my liver to see you, abide and ride shotgun. A Bacchian scandal awaits me, just can’t do it alone. Your sweetheart probably hates me, but I’ll send you home your dome filled up – with love.” To help Garvey in this Herculean effort, he’s got his bandmates chiming in with a heavy beat and bass accompaniment, ringing guitars and twinkling piano flourishes and encouraging handclaps. The devil has even enlisted the Hallé youth choir to add a big oomph at the chorus, an exclamation mark on the love!

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

Best tunes of 2001: #1 Elbow “Any day now”

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As great as 2001 was for indie rock as a whole, especially considering the garage rock explosion and all the bands I discovered as a result, whenever I think of the year, there is one band and one album that always comes to mind. Interesting, then, that I didn’t really come upon Elbow’s debut album, “Asleep in the back”, until the spring of 2002.

As I mentioned a few times over the course of this series, I made the move to Ottawa with Victoria in the summer of 2001. However, we were pretty regular in our trips back to Toronto that first year in the city to visit family and friends. The following spring we managed to coordinate a trip to Toronto with my friends’ annual spring camping trip to Haliburton. I had arranged beforehand to hitch a ride back to Ottawa with James, a friend of ours from high school, who was actually living in the area. It was a great trip as usual but a bit cold still and my ride back to Ottawa decided to ditch the trip early. And so it was that we made the three plus hour trip back in the wee hours of the Sunday morning and I got back to my apartment just before 6am.

Victoria wasn’t due back until much later that day so I had plenty of time to sleep. While getting ready for bed, I slipped into my CD carousel this album I had just gotten by chance and pressed play. In my sleep deprived state, the opening track just enveloped me in warmth and I smiled in spite of myself. I slipped under the covers and replayed the track, set the sleep mode, pressed the repeat button and fell asleep to it. Later, when I awoke, I gave the rest of the album a listen and fell in love with it too. It has since become one of my favourites, not just of the year, but of the whole decade. You might remember that another song off “Asleep in the back”, the first single off it, “Red” appeared at #12 on this list.

Of course, that opening track that serenaded me to sleep in that early morning in the spring of 2002 was “Any day now”, my pick for the best tune of 2001. At just over six minutes in length, it feels epic and immense, a song about yearning, impatience, and the need to break free. There’s something sinister about the organs, lots of sustain and reverb, menacing and teasing. And then, the bass drops in with the drums, heavy and violent but the violence never appears, it’s always a threat, which makes it worse, almost like a Tarantino film in this way. The tension is only raised by the hints of children playing at the playground. The vocals are repetitive and mechanical and mesmerizing, looping over and over again, practice makes perfect makes reality. Guy Garvey finally shows his stride and breaks out at the end, adding a flourish of vocals that foreshadow a whole successful career that this song is hoping for, twisting fate into a pretzel.

Not convinced? Listen to it again, maybe next time it’ll take. It certainly has done me in.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.