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Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #3 First Aid Kit “Emmylou”

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If you had asked me in my youth if there was a type of music that I disliked, I would have answered without hesitation: Country.

To be fair, it was the music of my parents* and teenagers rarely pick up on the music of the previous generation, at least not right away. Then, the “new” country hit the fan in the 80s and 90s, spraying the music of Shania Twain and Garth Brooks – really more pop than country – all over the radio. Is it any wonder, then, that I wasn’t a fan of the genre? Still, as more time has gone on, I have found myself being drawn in by more bands flying the alt-country banner, music influenced by the country music of old.

Back in 2012, some of the bands that were putting out my favourite music were all rocking this sound, bands like Cuff the Duke, The Wooden Sky and yes, First Aid Kit. This latter act may have considered themselves more of a folk band but if you listen to the twang and slide guitar of today’s song, “Emmylou”, you certainly couldn’t discount their country influences. Then, of course, there’s the lyric content. The song metaphorically references legendary country duos Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris** to bolster the comparison of singing partnerships with entangled lovers.

“Oh the bitter winds are coming in
And I’m already missing the summer
Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather”

And, yes, you read and heard that right.

First Aid Kit’s twin driving forces, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, are both from the northern climes of Sweden. It shouldn’t be that surprising that a band of such quality comes from the Scandinavian country**, but that they sound like this is somewhat unexpected. And it’s their sound that gained them such popularity. They first cracked popular attention with a YouTube video of them performing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger mountain peasant song” and perhaps because of this, many writers had First Aid Kit stealing the helm of brilliance from that same band. All you have to do is listen to the angelic vocal harmonies sung by the sisters to understand why the critics raved.

“Emmylou” was the second single off of First Aid Kit’s second album “The lion’s roar”. I remember liking the album enough when I first heard it but was far too preoccupied with so much new music being released to spend enough time with it. Then, later in the year, the album happened to come up randomly on my iPod while doing some spring cleaning and it suddenly clicked with me. I must have listened to “Emmylou” a half-dozen times on repeat. I was so hooked that I had to share it with my wife, Victoria. Once she got over the initial shock at the country sound, she really enjoyed the song as well. It really is a beautiful tune and captures the yearning and pure pleasure of love.

“No, I’m not asking much of you
Just sing, little darling, sing with me”

*The music of long road trips and hence, forced agony.

**Back in 2015, First Aid Kit performed this song with Emmylou Harris in attendance and the legendary songstress was moved to tears.

***There have been plenty of excellent Swedish bands over last couple of decades.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

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Live music galleries

Live music galleries: Phosphorescent [2013]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)

Phosphorescent at Ottawa Bluesfest, 2013

Artist: Phosphorescent
When: July 13, 2013
Where: River stage, Ottawa Bluesfest, Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Context: Out of all the great performers at Bluesfest back in 2013, Phosphorescent’s (the stage name of singer/songwriter Matthew Houck) was one of the sets to which I was most looking forward. I had fallen in love with “Muchacho”, his psych-folk album from that year, almost at first listen, and then, when I went back to explore his back catalogue, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to discover his work. I consumed it all like it was candy, so obviously, I was good and pumped for Phosphorescent’s early evening set and dragged my friend Jean-Pierre along for the ride. Houck had a five-piece touring band with him, many, if not all, of whom had also helped him record the aforementioned “Muchacho”. It was a pretty impressive ensemble cast, including an organist, as well as a keyboard player, a bongo player, and an incredible drummer, which made for a voluminous sound, a sound to get lost in with the hopes of never returning. The band played a good selection of tracks from Houck’s last three albums. Each song, though also long on the recording, was given the full freakout jam treatment with Houck wailing on his guitar and playing the feedback like it was art. My highlight, of course, was when they played “Song for Zula”, likely my favourite track off “Muchacho”. Nope, Phosphorescent did not disappoint despite high expectations on my part. My only beef was that the set seemed cut short, ending half hour earlier than the schedule stated it would.
Point of reference song: Song for Zula

Matthew Houck and Rustine Bragaw of Phosphorescent
Jo Schornikow of Phosphorescent
Scott Stapleton and David Torch of Phosphorescent
Christopher Marine of Phosphorescent
Matthew Houck
Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #27 José González “Crosses”

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Much like most people, I came across Swedish singer/songwriter, José González’s debut material two years after it was originally recorded and released. This is because it was two years before “Veneer” saw the light of day outside of his home country.

Gonzàlez was in the middle of completing his PhD in biochemistry when, after years of performing in various bands, his solo work caught the ear of Joakim Gävert and he was signed as the first artist to Gävert’s new record label. The PhD was dropped in favour of a focus on music and a 7” single was soon followed by the aforementioned debut long player. He has since released three more solo albums and two albums as part of the indie rock band Junip.

“Crosses” was the second single to be released off of “Veneer” and was my own gateway to Gonzalez’s indie folk sound. I remember first seeing the video late one Friday night on MuchMusic’s The Wedge and finding it perfect for that time and place, went searching it out online. I was happy to find that the song is indicative of the rest of the album’s sound, mellow and intense and austere, just Gonzàlez and his acoustic guitar. But “Crosses” is particularly haunting and harrowing, contrasting the menacing and violent plucking against gentle fingertip brushing styles at different and key points. Meanwhile, González leans into the mike, singing to himself about the crosses we are all carrying, as if reassuring himself that his own sadness will be short-lived and that the sun will return eventually.

In 2006, Gonzàlez was enlisted by English electronica duo, Zero 7, to provide vocals to a number of tracks on their third studio album, “The garden”. One of these is a remake of “Crosses”, a longer and more drawn out piece that builds to a fulfilling climax. It is the high point on that particular release for me but it’s still not quite as beautiful as the original. Sometimes quieter just creates the right mood.

“Disturbing silence darkens your sight
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright
We’ll cast some light and you’ll be alright for now”

And you almost believe him.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.