Best tunes of 2012: #22 Family Of The Year “Hero”

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Family of the Year was formed in California in 2009 by brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe, as well as James Buckey, who were all veterans of the Boston alt-rock music scene in the late 90s. California native Christina Schroeter joined the group not long after, solidifying the indie folk band’s roster and adding her female vocals to give the group its trademark harmonies. A debut album called “Our songbook” appeared almost immediately after their formation, suggesting that material had been percolating for a while, and then, their major label debut was launched three years later. “Loma Vista” was actually my introduction to them (and still the only album by them in my collection) and this meeting came a year after its release, in 2013, because they were slated to play the local summer music festival (remember those?) and they piqued my interest.

Family of the Year’s set was quite amazing and the album got a lot more play after I saw them than it did beforehand. I especially fell in love with the single “Hero”, a track that had been released earlier, albeit as a shorter and not nearly as finely realized version. This song was then used for the trailer and as de facto theme song for Richard Linklater film, “Boyhood”, in 2014 and became a hit of sorts for Family of the Year. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the film but it’s a long one, following the protagonist throughout his formative years. What makes this coming of age flick different from the rest, though, is that it was filmed real-time as the actor (and his co-stars) aged through those same formative years, making the pay off at the end all the more worthwhile. The film also imbued the song with more meaning for me, burnishing the protagonist of the song’s reluctance to stand out, and dancing all emotional and heroic in spite of himself.

“So let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else”

“Hero” pulls into you tightly with its jangly arpeggiating plucking on the acoustic guitar, the light brushing on the snares, and the way each eases their way out of the ether. Synth washes are just there, like the flickering shadows just beyond the reach of the campfire, and then, just at the song’s apex, comes a touch of electric guitar, but more as support than overpowering force. The rest of the band joins Joe Keefe here, singing as a crowd, cheerful and uplifting. And then, the song ends as it began, quiet and acoustic, leaving a slight but definite smile on your face as the last note fades.

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

Best tunes of 2012: #24 John K. Samson “Heart of the continent”

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With apologies to my youngest brother Mike*, I didn’t really get into and start appreciating the songwriting of John K. Samson until somewhere between the time of The Weakerthans’ last record and when they went on the extended hiatus that continues to this day.

It’s not like I didn’t have my chances. I actually saw them live twice. The first time was in 2001, when I hadn’t yet heard of them at all. They were the opening act on a card supporting Billy Bragg and The Lowest of the Low in Toronto, the latter of whom I recall Samson claiming were a huge influence on his own songwriting. The second time I saw them was in 2008 and they played in the afternoon on the second day of Toronto Island’s Virgin Fest. I was much better prepared this time, having brushed up on pretty much all of their records, and even finding a few favourite tunes on these. Yet still, though I enjoyed their set quite a bit, I wasn’t quite as into it as was my friend Mark, though truth be told, his enjoyment might have been enhanced by the bit of cannabis he had partaken in just beforehand.

What really did it for me was a couple years after that second show when I happened to be in Winnipeg around the time of their renowned Folk Festival. One of the sets that I managed to catch there was an afternoon songwriting workshop that included members of Jon And Roy, Works Progress Administration, and Swell Season and which was led by a genial fellow that I thought looked familiar right from the beginning. It turned out that it was local legend and the unofficial poet laureate of Winnipeg, John K. Samson, and of course, the theme that afternoon was on writing about home.

This is something Samson does often. His hometown of Winnipeg and other bits of Canadiana often entered the conversational tone of the lyrics of The Weakerthans’ songs. And there is no good reason why he would change his thinking when he released his debut solo album, “Provincial”, in 2012, which is the host of today’s song, “Heart of the continent”. Indeed, the title of today’s song is Winnipeg’s slogan, which is why many consider it like a sequel of sorts to The Weakerthans’ “One great city”, which was, of course, Winnipeg’s old slogan.

“There’s a billboard by the highway
That says welcome to
(Bienvenue à)
But no sign to show you when you go away“

It’s a lovely tune. Samson’s lyrics take the front seat, his now recognizable voice all soft and wistful, while his fingers brush and pluck away at the strings of an acoustic guitar. It’s like he’s busking on his favourite street corner (perhaps on Memorial), complete with his foot stomping on the kick pedal drum. Little by little, the people passing to and fro join him in the chorus, perhaps there’s another guitar and snare that make their way out from the abandoned building in front of which Samson sings, his hat still empty in front of him.

Yep. With this tune and this album, I became a full fledged Samson fan.

*My youngest brother Mike is a pretty big Weakerthans fan and was behind “One great tribute”, a tribute album to the band that was released last year.

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

Vinyl love: Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

(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: Phoebe Bridgers
Album Title: Punisher
Year released: 2020
Details: Limited edition, red and swirly vinyl, gatefold sleeve, included lyric book

The skinny: I pre-ordered this limited edition, red and swirly pressing of Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore solo record, “Punisher”, as soon as I heard tell of it, right off her website. No second guessing. I loved her first album and both of the collaborative project (boygenius, Better Oblivion Community Center) of which she has since been a part. The wait for it was interminable. I’m not talking about the release date but the amount of time it took to get from California to here. I was worried that the sitting and changing hands through the multiple stages through two postal systems, it might have gotten damaged along the way. But not so. And it was definitely worth the wait. The packaging is immaculate and the artwork and lyric booklet is lovingly rendered. And well, the music itself? Let’s just say that you can believe the hype.

Standout track: “Kyoto”