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Albums

Best albums of 2021: Part one (#10 to #6)

So here we are, just a couple of days before Christmas, and I’m just getting started on my end of year festivities now.

Normally, I do this huge production that starts mid-November and lasts six weeks, all this in counting down my ten favourite albums of the year. I typically start with an introductory post of albums ten through six and then give each of my top five their own post, wrapping everything up just in time for the new year. However, I didn’t have the energy and drive this year. I had even briefly thought about skipping the whole idea but in the end, opted for a more stripped back affair: a two-part-er, splitting the list of ten between the two posts.

Now before I get down to it, I thought I’d point out a trend I noticed while compiling this list. As opposed to last year, where many of the albums I chose as favourites were those by old reliables of this curmudgeonly blogger and in many cases, the albums were the first by said artists in many years, reunion and comeback albums of sorts, this year’s list, instead, is literally full of surprises. To an album, each on the list for 2021 is by an artist that I either never expected to appear somewhere in one of my top albums lists or of whom I had either never heard or even heard tell. This is not to say that none of my old favourites released new material this year. Indeed, many did and many came close to appearing here and will likely get their due when I pass along some of my honourable mentions in part two of this series. It just so happened that there was so much exciting, creative, and inspiring new music being conceived in these wild times and I was drawn to the freshness of the releases below.

But I’ll stop my blathering there and start into the first five of my ten favourites for 2021. As always, I welcome hearing your thoughts on my picks, as well as your own favourites from the year, and would love if you could leave them the comments section below.

Here we go…


#10 Middle Kids “Today we’re the greatest”

“Lost friends”, the debut album by Sydney, Australia’s Middle Kids, was my fifth favourite album back in 2018, drawing me in with its twelve delicious, hook-laden alt-rockers. In the three years since its release, the trio of Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz, and Harry Day toured like crazy, right up to the point when they couldn’t anymore, what with COVID-19 putting a stop to touring, travel, and live shows. They are now quite popular and successful in their home country and this year, their sophomore record, “Today we’re the greatest”, has won the ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Award) for best rock album over both AC/DC and Midnight Oil, much to the surprise and delight of the band. Although I didn’t hesitate to pre-order the record for my collection, I fully expected to be disappointed given how much I loved the debut. And yet… I wasn’t… not at all. It didn’t necessarily rock as hard but the hooks were still there and so was the honesty and the beauty. If Middle Kids continue in this way and at this pace, they are very soon going to be just as huge world-wide as they are in Australia.

Gateway tune: Stacking chairs


#9 Iceage “Seek shelter”

Iceage is one of the aforementioned bands that I had never listened to before this year, though, “Seek shelter” is not their debut. Instead, it’s the Danish quintet’s fifth album. They first burst forth on to the scene a decade ago, considered by most who heard them to be fully formed and brilliant, yet another saviour of punk and post-punk. Each one of their albums has been lauded by critics, even the notoriously picky Pitchfork writers, and much has been written about their continual ability to redefine what it is to be a punk band. I don’t know how I missed the bus on the group thus far but I heard the opening track (see below) on one of my Spotify release radar playlists and immediately hunted down this brilliant nine-track album. There are elements of psych, classic rock, acid house, and all of this with that sneering edge. Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember’s production touch is definitely felt and with the gospel choir additions, you might actually think it was the other principal songwriter from Spaceman 3 that might’ve been involved. I have no idea if Iceage’s previous four albums would be within my wheelhouse at all but with this album, as good as it is, how can I not check them out.

Gateway tune: Shelter song


#8 Du Blonde “Homecoming”

I’ve been keeping tabs on Beth Jeans Houghton since she released her debut album, “Yours truly, cellophane nose”, back in 2012. Three years later, she rebranded herself as Du Blonde and has since put together three albums as this persona. She has always tried do things her own unique way and the results have been a bit mixed for my tastes, though there’s always been one or two tracks per album that I really loved. For “Homecoming”, she wrote and produced it, did all her own artwork, and released it on her own label, Daemon TV. I don’t know if she’s hit on something special here, or if I’ve just finally caught up to her but I love all ten tracks. The album features contributions by likeminded singer/songwriter Ezra Furman (see below), Garbage’s Shirley Manson, Ride’s Andy Bell, and feminist punk band, The Farting Suffragettes. It is a mere 25 minutes and each song oozes seedy and raunchy sex. Roaring guitars and hammering drums, retro glam rock laser lights glinting off disco balls, snide and snarling duets and fist-pumping anthemic choruses, the album has got so much fun.

Gateway tune: I’m glad that we broke up (feat. Ezra Furman)


#7 Julien Baker “Little oblivions”

Yet another surprise appearance on this list comes care of the young American singer/songwriter Julien Baker. I saw her perform as part of a show headlined by The National back in 2018 and was impressed by her physical and spiritual voice and the way she and her electric guitar commanded the stage, accompanied only sporadically by a violinist. I became a fan and afterwards revisited her two albums. Then, a mere two months later, she, along with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, released an eponymously named EP under the moniker Boygenius, garnering the three of them new audiences all around. “Little oblivions” is Baker’s third album and first since her foray with Boygenius and instead of mining the sparse and frail territory of her earlier work, opted for a full band sound. The results are astounding. The subject matter is no less heartbreaking and personal and her voice always at the forefront, confessing to us all how we are all feeling and absolving us of our sins. The full band sound, though, amplifies it all, pouring more salt in the wounds and wringing out even more sweat and tears. So much beauty here in the hurt.

Gateway tune: Faith healer


#6 Linn Koch-Emmery “Being the girl”

“Being the girl” is the debut album by Swedish singer/songwriter Linn Koch-Emmery. Apparently, she knew she was going to have a career in music from a very young age and was in a band with her twin sister and a handful of friends when they were still in high school. When that ended, her sister started another band and moved to England but Linn stayed in Sweden and decided to go it alone. She’s been releasing singles and EPs since 2016 but this album is the first I’ve heard of her. I remember liking it a lot when I first heard the album back in the spring but was still quite surprised when it landed among my top picks with my usually foolproof method of narrowing down my music lists. Then, listening to it over and over again this month just confirmed it for me. “Being the girl” is an album that doles out ear worms like they’re candy. Far from being dreamy and gentle, Koch-Emmery’s tunes are spiky indie rockers rife with synths and hooks, reminiscent of “Fantasies”-era Metric and early work by Lykke Li (another Swedish indie singer/songwriter). As debuts that sound like they could be third or fourth records go, this a great one and at just shy of 30 minutes in length, begs for multiple listens in one sitting.

Gateway tune: Linn RIP


Part two of this list will follow immediately after the Christmas holidays. Hope yours are full of joy and good cheer!

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #24 Suede “The drowners”

<< #25    |    #23 >>

Suede is one of the great british rock bands of the 1990s. They formed in 1989 and quickly grew to prominence around the friendship and combined talents of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler. Their self-titled debut had the British press fawning all over them and their sleek and sexy glam rock. The band would later be seen as one of the big three or four groups that spearheaded Britpop, a renaissance era in British rock and culture, and a scene I completely bought into, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, over here in Canada.

However… however, I didn’t get into them right away. I know. Even now, I don’t have a good reason why not.

I was aware of them from the get-go and a lot of my friends were falling all over themselves for Suede. I remember a bunch of people I know wearing T-shirts with the debut cover art on the front, the androgynous figures kissing was definitely an attention grabber in my small hometown. I had a bit of a fling with “We are the pigs”, a single off their sophomore record, but the full on love didn’t come until the Britpop extravagance of their third record, “Coming up”.

Alas, the love for “Suede”, the mighty debut, would come much later for me and yeah, today’s song, even a bit after that. But now, it’s easily my favourite on the record and one of my favourite all-time Suede songs. “The drowners” was originally released in 1992 as a single* but I made the executive decision for it to appear here as the lone representative on this list of 1993 tunes from such an auspicious debut.

“The drowners” is a swanky, four-minute seduction. It’s introduced by machine gun fire drums and rip raunchy guitars. From there it slithers down your spine, like a slick stripteasing dancer, greased up and swinging around on the pole. Brett Anderson teases us snidely, vaguely hinting at drugs or sex or both, a wanton pleasure that can’t be helped, and that might just be fatal. And yet, our protagonist gives in to it. We all give in to it eventually.

“So slow down
Slow down
You’re taking me over
And so we drown”

*Incidentally, one of the b-sides off “The drowners”, an amazing ballad called “My insatiable one” appeared at number ten on my Best Tunes of 1992 list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

100 best covers: #59 Placebo “Bigmouth strikes again”

<< #60    |    #58 >>

One Sunday night in January, very shortly after New Year’s day in 1997, I ventured downtown Toronto to meet up with my friend Darrell from my Prose fiction workshop. I’m pretty sure the place was called Lion’s Bar and I am reasonably sure it was on College street somewhere near Kensington market but I now couldn’t tell you for sure. I remember the bar being in a basement and that it was a relatively small space but what I remember the most was that the music was awesome. Of course, that was why we were there.

The DJ that night was a friend of Darrell’s and I knew him, but only as a nodding acquaintance, mostly from a couple years of seeing him and requesting songs while he manned the decks on Saturday nights at one of York University’s college pubs. It was this same DJ that drove both Darrell and me back up to North York afterwards, long after last call, rather than subject us to the joys of the night bus. Once at his car, he handed us both promo copies of Catherine Wheel’s “Like cats and dogs” from his trunk and then played for us an advance copy James’s upcoming album “Whiplash” on his car stereo on the way home. But I am digressing here…

At some point that evening, I was on the dance floor taking a swig from my bottle of Labatt 50 just as whatever song it was that I was dancing to came to an end. It was replaced by a familiar guitar strum intro but one that was slightly edgier. Still, I placed it as “Bigmouth strikes again” and got back into dancing mode. By the time the vocals kicked in and instead of Morrissey’s plaintive warble, a Richard O’Brien-like sinister sneer chimed in, I knew that this was more than a different mix or take of the original Smiths track. And this brought a smile to my face, a smile that only widened and broke into outright laughter when the “hearing aid” lyric was modernized to “Walkman” and “Discman” for a bit of brazen hipness. This version was harder, noisier, and most definitely more glammed up than the original and that extra thirty seconds in length and increased tempo had this particular dancer slightly sweatier by the end. At its closing notes, I hurried over to the DJ to ask after the artist, which I repeated to myself over a number of times and even procured a pen to scrawl it on the inside of my cigarette pack because I no longer trusted my drunken brain to retain it.

Just over a year later, my ears pricked up when I heard the same band announced over the radio with a brand new song called “Pure morning”, which I loved immediately and this song ended up being a big hit for Placebo. I later came across the “Bigmouth strikes again” cover on the bonus disc that came with the deluxe edition of their 2003 album, “Sleeping with ghosts”, and I was immediately transported back to that very fun evening. And I experience the same sort of joy every time I hear this song now.

Is the Placebo cover better than The Smiths’ original? I can’t say that it is. But it’s probably just as fun to dance to.

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.