Best tunes of 2002: #19 The Decemberists “July! July!”

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Sit right back on that comfy white leather sectional there and let me tell you the tales of all my previous dwellings. Not where we currently sit in the lovely home that was built for us out in the suburbs over twelve years ago, where we saw a community rise up around us, displacing wetland flora and fauna and welcoming the usual suburban wildlife.

No. I’m talking about the litany of apartments, starting with the two bedroom unit on the third floor of a low rise, where the radiator heating never truly worked and our landlords would hand us electrical heaters to supplement. And before that, the low rent, basement apartment in which we could always hear our landlords yelling at each other above us. The beautiful but tiny, tiny, tiny one in Sandy Hill (an area that is a mix of students and embassies) that was our first apartment in Ottawa, where my wife wrote countless papers for her masters degree and I tried not to get in her way.

And prior to that, a one-bedroom in Ronces in Toronto, the only apartment in which I lived alone, well, not alone, truly, because my cat Lucy spent more time there than I did. Then, there was the two-bedroom, railroad style apartment that I lived in for two years at Bathurst and St Clair with two different roommates, Ryan and Chrissy, consecutively, not concurrently. And I’ll stop this list with Armenia, the nickname me and my roommates gave the three-bedroom apartment that we all lived in just off campus to finish off our degrees in at York University. That place that saw more than its fair share of parties, laughter, and heartbreak.

“July! July!” is track three on The Decemberists’ brilliant debut album, “Castaways and cutouts” and it is, reportedly, Colin Meloy doing what I just did there but in song form and only speaking about one of the places in which he lived.

“This is the story of the road that goes to my house
And what ghosts there do remain
And all the troughs that run the length and breadth of my house
And the chickens how they rattle chicken chains“

Colin Meloy has said that the song is about the place he was living in at the time of writing for this first album and that the place was an old slaughterhouse. That he imagined it was haunted by the ghosts of the chickens that had lost their lives there and that he wrote about it could be a nod to Neutral Milk Hotel, a band with whom The Decemberists were certainly oft compared in their early days, and their song, “Ghost”, off “In the aeroplane over the sea”. But Meloy and his Decemberists weren’t ever just about simple mimicry. They have always added their own touch and twist to the legends and the traditions that they mined.

“And we’ll remember this when we are old and ancient
Though the specifics might be vague
And I’ll say your camisole was sprightly light magenta
When in fact it was a nappy blueish grey“

Here, Meloy plays on memories and how we distort them over time. Our lense on the past changes with the winds of time, rosy and cheerful or black and bleak, depending on our mood or character. Meloy is obviously of the former, choosing the ‘sprightly’ remembrance over the ‘nappy’. He and his players accompany the words with only peppy drumming for the first few bars and then the organs kick in for a wild dance. Yeah, for a song about chicken ghosts and gut shot, crooked French Canadians, it’s a chipper track, perhaps the most upbeat track on the album, and all tied up neatly in a bow at just under three minutes.

Enjoy your Saturday all!

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

 

Vinyl love: The Tallest Man on Earth “I love you. It’s a fever dream.”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Tallest Man on Earth
Album Title: I love you. It’s a fever dream.
Year released: 2019
Details: Limited edition, Green translucent, Gatefold

The skinny: Much like Piroshka’s “Brickbat”, an album I posted for this series just over a week ago, The Tallest Man on Earth’s latest didn’t quite make my top ten favourite albums when I finalized my list but it bore mentioning nonetheless and I snuck it in the banner photo at the top of that introductory post. Funny thing about this record, though, is that its purchase was almost by accident. Indeed, I was at one of my local record shops just before this year’s Bluesfest, looking for the latest album by Colter Wall, so that I could properly prepare for his set at the festival, and I saw this copy of “I love you. It’s a fever dream.” sitting on the shelf. I had almost forgotten that the Swedish indie folk singer/songwriter was releasing his fifth album this year but when I saw it, I remembered his own set at Bluesfest from a few years before and knew I had to buy it. It’s plenty more excellently written tunes, sown from much the same plot as his previous two albums, but the sound just never seems to get old. And just check out that colour! It reminds of the old glow-in-the-dark frisbees, so much cool that I had to post an extra photo of it.

Standout track: “What I’ve been kicking around”

New release: One Great Tribute! A Love Letter To The Weakerthans

So here’s something I don’t make a habit of doing very often on these pages: a review (of sorts) of a newly-released album. I figured, given that it’s my younger brother that is behind this pretty extensive tribute album to one of Canada’s musical treasures, that I should give it a listen and share my thoughts.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the know but just in case you’re not… The Weakerthans were an indie rock quartet from Winnipeg, Manitoba that released a handful of excellent albums from the late 1990s and into the late 2000s. Their sound was a melodic blend of folk and punk and the songwriting was pure gold. Frontman John K Samson was a poet laureate of sorts, imparting honest and astute observations on life in Canada and otherwise.

“One great tribute!” is twenty-three tracks long, clocking in at just over an hour, and covers a good portion of The Weakerthans’ four LPs. With the exception of one blip of synths, its entirety dwells in either angsty punk or rootsy folk or a combination of the two. It is bookended by two versions of “Bigfoot!”, both featuring stripped-down piano to the original’s acoustic plucking. However, I think Frank Turner’s opener is the bigger star here to the Bry Webb closer, but more because it feels more aptly upbeat than due to his more well-known name.

The Lowest of the Low’s ska-tinged cover of “Pamphleteer” made smile quite a bit as well, given that the first time I ever heard The Weakerthans was when I saw them open for The Low in 2001. It’s also kind of fun because their current bassist is none other than Greg Smith, though he didn’t play on the original version of the tune.

Del Barber’s choice of song to contribute was pitch perfect. “One great city!”, from which the compilation draws its name, is the love/hate ode to Winnipeg, the hometown Barber shares with The Weakerthans.

Some of the other highlights for me include Skye Wallace’s take on “Without mythologies”, the Have Gun, Will Travel cover of “Psalm for the Elks Lodge last call” and the version of “Sun in an empty room” by Ben Rough with Peachykine.

If I had any complaints to make about this tribute, they would be that it does get a bit long near the end and that despite all the songs, no one managed to take on what is possibly my own favourite Weakerthans tune: “Tournament of hearts”. However, I don’t think this would take anything away from fans of the group enjoying all the love these songs are getting. I personally dug out my copies of all the Weakerthans’ albums to compare notes after giving the compilation a few spins yesterday. I highly recommend you all check it out.

“One great tribute” is available for digital purchase here as of today. If physical formats are more your thing, there are plans to also release the album on CD but a date for that has to be announced.