Best tunes of 2002: #18 Billy Bragg and the Blokes “Some days I see the point”

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To be honest, Billy Bragg’s eighth album, “England, half English”, is not my favourite out of all of his work.

In fact, it was downright disappointing given that it was his first new album of new material in five years, this after spending some time resurrecting otherwise lost Woody Guthrie material with American alt-rockers Wilco, and gaining a brand new sector of fans in the US. The album’s promise was also predicated on the news that he was working with a full band again and that said band was to include members of the Faces, The Mekons, and Shriekback. I really wanted to like it… but I didn’t. At least, not all of it. There were a few gems in the heap, though, right? Else I wouldn’t be writing this particular post right now.

Songs like “Take down the Union Jack”, “Distant shore”, and this one, “Some days I see the point”, with more understated instrumentation, just seemed to work better with Bragg’s songwriting style. Where the songs get more playful in arrangements elsewhere, he almost sounds silly. (A case in point for me was that when I heard a more stripped-down, acoustic version of the overwrought “NPWA” and I found it almost palatable.) Maybe I am set in my ways but I feel like Bragg should always sound like it’s him busking on the street corner on his soapbox, rather than jamming as just one of the ‘blokes’ and trying to fit his message in.

Indeed, “Some days I see the point” sees Bragg actually questioning his message. With the slow plodding bass backbone, the tapping drums like wet bare feet amidst the lapping of waves on coastal rocks, the breezy sustained organs, and the gentle plucks at the guitar, Billy is escaping to nature to keep it real. It’s like, even with all the fun and noise on the rest of the record, he’s feeling the weight of the all cynicism and apathy, and questioning his existence.

“Gonna follow the path that climbs up through the trees
Walk along the cliff top and gaze out to sea
I feel free when I come up here
And if it’s clear some days I see the point”

It’s human and it’s sad and I can totally identify.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

 

Best tunes of 2011: #1 Frank Turner “I still believe”

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“Hear ye, hear ye, friends and Romans, countrymen.
Hear ye, hear ye, punks and skins and journeymen
Hear ye, hear ye, my sisters and my brethren.
The time is coming near.”

Well, I did it. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, just over a week ago, I had been quietly planning over the last couple months to wrap this list up before the end of this year so that I could start with a 2012 list early in the new year. This one has been an awesome list and it’s great to finish it up with such a great song, with a message so near to my heart, so close to the start of a new year and a new decade.

I fully realize my number one tune, “I still believe” by Frank Turner, was released as a single in 2010 but it appeared on the British singer/songwriter’s fourth album, “England keep my bones”, the following year, the year of our focus. Again, my list, my rules. I also didn’t even hear this song until 2013, around the time that Turner released his next long player, so I definitely wouldn’t have had “I still believe” at the top of the list for either year at the time. For me now though, this tune is timeless. A classic.

It was my younger brother Michael that turned me on to Frank Turner. He throws me names every once in a while of artists he thinks I might appreciate and more often than not, he’s right. It just so happened that I decided to give Turner a listen on my road trip to my old hometown of Bowmanville in June 2013, a quick trip down to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I arrived the day before his burial, just in time to go the viewing, and spent the night at my Aunt Joan’s place, the house I grew up in. I was pretty exhausted so I retired pretty early. I lay down on a single bed in a room I slept in as a teenager, put on my ear phones, and queued up Frank Turner on my iPhone.

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the saints.
Yeah, in Jerry Lee and in Johnny and all the greats.
And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound,
That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down.”

Frank Turner got his start in a post-hardcore band called Million Dead but went solo as folk and punk type bard in the mid-2000s. That night, listening to the first couple tracks of “England keep my bones”, I immediately likened him to Billy Bragg, but perhaps leaning more towards the punk than the folk. Nonetheless, I could hear in every note, the sincerity and optimism and passion. And of course, like Billy, Turner doesn’t hide his rough-hewn working class accent, nor does he shy from letting us know what he really thinks. And when I got to track three, I just fell in love.

Here’s a song that knows that as bad as things get, whether you’re tired, sick, lonely, or just trying to sort out how you feel about losing your grandfather, there’s always music. Rock and roll and rockabilly and punk. A guitar, drums, perhaps some piano, and a rollicking chorus. Music from way back and off into the future. Frank Turner set fire to the tune that I replayed over and over and over that night, and took away the numbness, and I‘ve been singing along with it ever since.

“Now who’d have thought that after all,
Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all.
And who’d have thought that after all, it was rock ‘n’ roll.”

Amen.

 

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

Playlist: New tunes from 2019, part three

Now that we’re just about halfway through December and nearing the top three albums of my favourites of the year, I thought I’d share part three of my series of playlists of tunes that got me through 2019. If you missed them, you can browse, and perhaps even enjoy, parts one and two here and here.

The last time I posted one of these, I was bemoaning the length of time it took for my city to shake the dregs of winter from its cockles and here we are, almost winter again. In fact, we’ve already had snow here and though it has melted away now, have had plenty of the icky white stuff on and off since the beginning of November.

I had planned on doing one of these lists for each quarter of the year, at twenty-five songs a-piece, to have a total of 100 songs across the playlists. However, I was only successful at staying on target for half of the year and lost my the thread somewhere this summer. I upped the ante and managed to fit forty tracks in this particular playlist, bringing the total up to 90 songs for the year, a number with which I have to be contented.

Still, the size of the playlist is not meant to deter you, there has been some amazing music released in the last half of the year, particularly in September and October. And I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to like within.

Highlights include:

    • “Shine a little light”, the opening track off the first new album in five years by Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys
    • “All my happiness is gone”, a song that along with the rest of the eponymously-named album, may have foreshadowed the suicide of Purple Mountains’ frontman David Berman
    • A bright spot (for me, anyways) off Lana Del Rey’s latest album was “Mariners apartment complex”, an album I found a tad long to be worthy of all the universal acclaim
    • “Lord Randall’s bastard son”, the lead off track off the self-titled debut by The Walker Roaders, a new project led by James Fearnley (accordionist of The Pogues), Ted Hutt (founding member of Flogging Molly), and Marc Orrell (founding member of Dropkick Murphys) – you pretty much know what you’re getting here
    • “Sunshine” by Blushing, one of the many standouts off the self-titled debut by this shoegaze revivalist group, whose sound owes quite a bit of debt to Lush
    • “Heavenly” is Cigarettes After Sex doing what they are doing on their excellent, late night, slow-burning sophomore album, “Cry”
    • Leonard Cohen’s son Adam finished off a bunch of songs started during the sessions for “You want it darker” and released a posthumous album last month, of which “Happens to the heart” is just one of the great tracks

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

    1. “Shine a little light” The Black Keys (from the album “Let’s rock”)
    2. “Bulletproof” The Soft Calvary (from the album The Soft Calvary)
    3. “Hard to kill” Bleached (from the album Don’t you think you’ve had enough?)
    4. “All my happiness is gone” Purple Mountains (from the album Purple Mountains)
    5. “Alewife” Clairo (from the album Immunity)
    6. “Leona” Strange Ranger (from the album Remembering the rockets)
    7. “the one” Marika Hackman (from the album Any human friend)
    8. “Sister Rosetta” Frank Turner (from the album No man’s land)
    9. “Don’t cling to life” The Murder Capital (from the album When I have fears)
    10. “A golden year” Lillie Mae (from the album Other girls)
    11. “Clouds of Saint Marie” Ride (from the album This is not a safe place)
    12. “Entitlement crew” The Hold Steady (from the album Thrashing thru the passion)
    13. “Mariners apartment complex” Lana Del Rey (from the album Norman Fucking Rockwell)
    14. “At the party” Black Belt Eagle Scout (from the album At the party with my brown friends)
    15. “Desert man” Bat For Lashes (from the album Lost girls)
    16. “Highwomen” The Highwomen (from the album The Highwomen)
    17. “This is my fate” Pixies (from the album Beneath the eyrie)
    18. “Dream reader” Frankiie (from the album Forget your head)
    19. “The mother road” Chelsea Wolfe (from the album Birth of violence)
    20. “Most of all” Vivian Girls (from the album Memory)
    21. “Work of fiction” The High Dials (from the EP Primitive feelings, part 2)
    22. “Lord Randall’s bastard son” The Walker Roaders (from the album The Walker Roaders)
    23. “Terms of surrender” Hiss Golden Messenger (from the album Terms of surrender)
    24. “Shockwave” Liam Gallagher (from the album Why me? Why not.)
    25. “Stars are the light” Moon Duo (from the album Stars are the light)
    26. “Sunshine” Blushing (from the album Blushing)
    27. “Colossus of Rhodes” The New Pornographers (from the album In the morse code of brake lights)
    28. “The sound of silence” Chromatics (from the album Closer to grey)
    29. “Devoted to” Lightning Dust (from the album Spectre)
    30. “Skin game” DIIV (from the album Deceiver)
    31. “All mirrors” Angel Olsen (from the album All mirrors)
    32. “Never understand” The Building (from the album PETRA)
    33. “Dexter & Sinister” Elbow (from the album Giants of all sizes)
    34. “Hollywood ending” Starcrawler (from the album Devour you)
    35. “Forgotten eyes” Big Thief (from the album Two hands)
    36. “Digger” Great Grandpa (from the album Four of arrows)
    37. “Shelter” Mikal Cronin (from the album Seeker)
    38. “Heavenly” Cigarettes After Sex (from the album Cry)
    39. “In the air tonight” Lucy Dacus (from the EP 2019)
    40. “Happens to the heart” Leonard Cohen (from the album Thanks for the dance)

Cheers.

Finally, 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.