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Albums

Best albums of 2000: #5 Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”

Belle and Sebastian were never supposed to be anything more than a project, one that recorded and released a bunch of material in a short period and faded away into the night. They definitely weren’t supposed to be a successful indie pop group that amassed a rabid following on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and were still releasing new work more than twenty five years in. They started off along the right track, releasing three albums and four EPs in the span of three years but then something happened that derailed their trajectory. I won’t formulate any theories or hazard any guesses but I will say that the result was the group’s fourth long player and everything that happened afterwards.

“Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant” was my first experience with listening to a new Belle and Sebastian album just after it was released. I had gotten into the Scottish collective after had they released their third album, “The boy with the arab strap”, on suggestion from my university friend Darrell, who said you can’t go wrong with any of their releases, just pick one. I went with the green album cover and worked backwards from there. As it turned out, “Fold your hands child” was also the first of their albums that I didn’t take to right away.*

The fourth album’s title was taken from a piece of graffiti that frontman Stuart Murdoch had found scrawled in a university toilet. The front cover is a photo that he took of Icelandic twins, Gyða and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (both from the band Múm), and the back cover is a deconstructed photo of the view from the window of a laundromat he frequented. The music on the album, though, was not all Stuart. Indeed, it furthered the trend first brokered on “The boy with the arab strap” of more collaboration within the group, shared songwriting and vocal duties. The recording sessions were difficult and took longer than previous ones, which Murdoch attributes to the darker tone and more complex arrangements and song structures. Murdoch has said the album reflects perfectly what the band’s life was like at that point in time and changed everything going forward. It was the last one that featured founding bassist Stuart David and the second last to feature Isobel Campbell.

“Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant” still isn’t my favourite album by the group but that doesn’t make it bad at all. In fact, I have grown to appreciate it and it now holds a very special place in my heart. Each of its eleven songs brings back a flood of memories, especially the three I have picked for you to sample.


”The chalet lines”: Talk about dark. Songs don’t get much more depressing than this one, nor can you find opening lines more attention grabbing than: “He raped me in the chalet lines”. Stuart Murdoch’s voice and the soft way he uses it to say those words and of course, the tentative piano notes in the opening, pretty much set the tone and signal this to be a real feel bad story. It was inspired by the experiences of an acquaintance of Murdoch’s at a type of holiday camp where the “chalets” are laid out in a row, the very same type of which was where he met the Icelandic twin sisters that grace the album’s cover during a music festival party. The protagonist was raped during such a party at the camp where she worked and she struggles with feeling different now than her friends, not being understood, not reporting the offence, and worrying that she had gotten pregnant. The minimalism – voice, piano, and plaintive cello – and the imagery (“Her face was just a smear on the pane”) do plenty to keep the two and a half minute dirge from taking a detour into sentimentality.

”The model”: Track two on the album is a real danceable number, the kind where you close your eyes and flail about with abandon and a lack of grace. In this way, it reminds me of my favourite B&S number, the title track off the previous album, and much like that one, the words are a litany, a stream of consciousness, a story within a story within a story. But here, in amongst the harpsichord backbone and flute and horn flourishes, one may find slightly more complexities and melodies and tighter pop sensibilities. On vocals, Murdoch relinquishes total control, allowing Stevie Jackson to voice four of the forty lines, the sixth line of every stanza. This jogs the head a bit, suggesting a different point or interjection, playing with the reliability of the confession. Perhaps it’s not just a simple pop song, then? With this lot, it never is. “But you wouldn’t laugh at all and I wonder what the boy was thinking. The picture was an old collage of something classical, the model with a tragic air.”

”I fought in a war”: My final pick for you is the opening track on the album, a song, in my opinion, which is the one with the closest resemblance to the work on their earlier albums. And given that it was the first song I heard upon my first go through the album, it was instantly recognizable and in this way, feels like the group’s technique of weening its fans from everything that came before. But even here, the subject matter is darker, the tone heavy, a weight on the breezy melody and the bright horn blares. Beware, though, don’t get taken in by the title and lyrics and fall into the open trap left by Murdoch into thinking this a protest song. He has said that it is in fact inspired by a Salinger story, “For Esmé – with love and squalor”, one that I read ages by sadly, don’t exactly remember so I may have to re-read. I imagine though it might be about a lost love, given the metaphorical imagery of the song. “And I reminded myself of the looks you gave when we were getting on, and I bet you’re making shells back home for a steady man to wear round his neck, well it won’t hurt to think of you as if you’re waiting for this letter to arrive because I’ll be here quite a while.” Lovely stuff.

*And from what I’ve read by the critics and the like, I don’t think I was the only one.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure  “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 2000: Albums #10 through #6

It’s been more than six months since I started one of these Best albums of the year series so I figured it was about time for a new one. This time around, I am taking for focus my favourite albums of the year 2000, the year chosen in a random, not quite random kind of way*.

My relationship with music around this time was what you could term complicated. If you go back and look at the list of my favourite tunes of 2000 that I did a few years back, you’ll note that it’s only a list of fifteen songs, rather than the usual thirty. I had a real hard time finding music that I liked in those days and this can be attributed to many things. It is most of all likely because I was on a low after the wealth of great British music being exported to Canada during the Britpop explosion in the second half of the last decade. So for me, great songs were few and far between but I still managed to identify ten great albums as favourites when taken as a whole. And it is these that I plan to present to you over the coming weeks.

If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. From here, I used to out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the following five Thursdays, one per week, but given how well it went when I stretched out my countdown of albums I did for 1991 back in January, February, and March, I’ve decided to do the same here. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up in the beginning of October.

So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 2000, in the comments section provided with each post.


#10 Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”

Still smarting from the breakup of the Verve a mere two years after the release of the near perfect “Urban hymns” in 1997, I went out to the stores to purchase the first Richard Ashcroft solo album on the day it was released. When I arrived back at my apartment that afternoon, I realized that my roommate and friend, Ryan, had done the same and we both sat down that evening to give it a listen. But I’ll stop right there because this is a story that I already told when the lead single “A song for the lovers” appeared at number five on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I’ll just say that I really wanted all of “Alone with everybody” to be just as great as that first single but in my mind, it was only half successful. Richard Ashcroft is a phenomenal voice and songwriter to be sure, but he definitely needs a sounding board. There is an unfortunate amount of forgettable mediocrity on the album but luckily, those are more than balanced by exuberant moments of pure pop perfection.

Gateway tune: “A song for the lovers”


#9 The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”

It’s always been interesting to me that The New Pornographers were referred to as a supergroup right from the beginning. Sure, each member all had other projects on the go, but I’d hazard that when their debut, “Mass Romantic”, was released, only Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar had anything resembling a following on their own merit, and even those must be taken with a grain of indie salt. Nowadays, though, the title certainly fits and it’s truly amazing to me that such a large collective of artists have enjoyed such successful longevity together. This debut was three years in the making and displays a wealth of power pop worthy of the praise heaped upon it. It wasn’t always a favourite of mine but it has grown steadily in my esteem over the years to exponential heights.

Gateway tune: “Letter from an occupant”


#8 The Cure “Bloodflowers”

Much like the album at number ten, I bought The Cure’s 11th studio album, “Bloodflowers”, on CD pretty much as soon as it was released. I had gotten into the iconic post-punk band led by Robert Smith over a decade earlier and the love affair that followed culminated with my purchase and adoration of their 1992 album “Wish”. I completely missed out on the interim album, 1996’s “Wild mood swings”, and still haven’t ventured into that whirlpool, with the possible exception of the singles. Speaking of which, the lack of any obvious singles on “Bloodflowers” was what struck me right away on first listen. It was definitely a return to their darker sound, but bigger in scope and immersiveness. Indeed, the whole is greater than its parts in this case, a complete album experience.

Gateway tune: “The loudest sound”


#7 The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”

The Weakerthans are a band that I’ve known for many years but never really appreciated until it was too late. I saw them live twice, once in 2001 (one year after this particular album was released) and again 2008, but in both cases, I wasn’t actually at the show to see them. And though I enjoyed them both times, I didn’t actually getting around to diving deeply into their music until well after they went on hiatus in 2014. Indeed, their sophomore album “Left and leaving” still wasn’t even on my radar when I started counting down my favourite tunes from 2000 back when I started this blog in 2017. Nowadays, though, I find myself in awe of this melodic folk-rock band out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the incredible lyrics of its frontman, John K. Samson. Like all four studio albums by the group, “Left and leaving” is chock full of literate narratives that name-check Canadiana, Winnipeg in particular, and speak to each and everyone of us unsure of our place in the human condition.

Gateway tune: “Left and leaving”


#6 The Clientele “Suburban light”

I first got into the reverb-drenched indie pop of London, England’s The Clientele with their sophomore studio album, 2003’s “The violet hour”. Everything I heard off that album smacked loudly of Luna, another band with which I had been obsessed around that time, except that all the production sounded purposefully older and frontman Alasdair Maclean’s vocals were a lot more breathy than those of Dean Wareham. Nonetheless, I was in love and set about ensuring my eyes and ears were alerted to anything the band had previously released and news of anything new. For years, I thought their first proper release, this one, “Suburban light”, was a compilation album and so wouldn’t be eligible to appear here on this list. However, it was a simple misunderstanding on my part that had basis in the fact that at least half of the songs on this album had been released previously. But perhaps I am talking too much and just need to let you click on the link below for a sampling of what’s on offer. If you like sunshine and lemonade light and naps under the shade of trees and a light a breeze, The Clientele, this debut especially, might just be your cup of tea.

Gateway tune: “Rain”

 

*Don’t ask me how I am choosing the years for these flashback/throwback best albums series… I am trying to spread them out and at the same time, trying not to interfere with the Best tunes lists I’ve got on the go. It’s a delicate game, definitely not for the faint of heart…


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Playlists

Playlist: New tunes from 2021, part two

…And I’m back. Did you miss me?

Don’t worry. If you didn’t even notice that was gone, I won’t be too hurt. I’ve had a great couple of weeks off from work and it was definitely nice to step away from posting to these pages during that same time. Some of my fellow bloggers may have observed that I was still reading and commenting on some of their own pieces so I wasn’t completely absent. And I will admit that I did spend a bit of time stringing together some words on music for this and some future posts.

But now I’m back and I’m ready to go, starting things off with part two of my New tunes of 2021 playlist. I’ve been doing these playlists for a few years now and they’re like a running diary of the new music that has been released during each quarter of the year and that has caught my ear. You can go back and have a listen to part one for this year here.

Months four, five, and six of 2021 have been, without a question, a more positive experience than the previous three were. Sure, we’ve had a third wave of this pandemic to contend with and here in Ontario, Canada, the government upped the ante on the lockdown and issued a stay at home order at the beginning of April. Since then, though, things have looked up. The roll out of the mass vaccination campaign has been going quite well. (Yours truly received his first dose of Pfizer in mid-June and is scheduled for dose number two on Friday.) Of course, the warmer weather has meant more outdoor activities and some semblance of normalcy. My wife and I have been out on walks, out weekly to the farmers markets, and have been getting out on the bikes pretty regularly. We also accidentally found ourselves at the Ottawa tulip festival back in May (see photo above) and we’ve already been out on patios to support some of our favourite local restaurant businesses.

And through all of this, I’ve also been purchasing, streaming, and listening to as much new music as I can. The twenty five songs below are just an example of the many tunes that have been brightening up my spring. Highlights include:

      • “I’m glad that we broke up”, a trashy, glam rock, firebomb of single by Du Blonde in a raucous duet with one of my discoveries from last year, Ezra Furman
      • Ex-Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kip Berman stepped away from the reverb-drenched indie pop of his old band in favour of more stripped-down and rootsy indie folk as The Natvral and the track “New Year’s night” is just brilliant
      • The introspective and honest jangly retro pop of “I hope I never fall in love” is just one of the many great tracks off the new album by one of my favourite new discoveries of the year, The Reds, Pinks and Purples
      • “I don’t believe in anything” served to remind me of the pure joy and energy infused in the music of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a ska-punk band that I just loved back in the 90s
      • I’ve known for quite some time that comedian/actor Matt Berry was also a musician but it took fellow blogger, Steve for the Deaf to turn me on to just how good he is and yeah, “Summer sun” is pure sunshine psychedelic bliss
      • “Paprika”, a happy little ear worm off Japanese Breakfast‘s third album, “Jubilee”
      • And last but definitely not least is “In the rain”, the nearly eight minute lazy sunday folk-rocker by another cool project by Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo), this one called Rose City Band

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it, complete with links to YouTube videos:

1. “Down the river” Ratboys (from the album Happy birthday, Ratboy)

2. “I’m glad that we broke up (feat. Ezra Furman)” Du Blonde (from the album Homecoming)

3. “New year’s night” The Natvral (from the album Tethers)

4. “Price of blue” Flock of Dimes (from the album Head of roses)

5. “Everyone’s a winner” Flyte (from the album This is really going to hurt)

6. “I hope I never fall in love” The Reds, Pinks and Purples (from the album Uncommon weather)

7. “Can’t talk, won’t” Coach Party (from the EP After party)

8. “Desires” Art d’Ecco (from the album In standard definition)

9. “Change your mind” The Coral (from the album Coral island)

10. “The sun won’t shine on me” Teenage Fanclub (from the album Endless arcade)

11. “Shelter song” Iceage (from the album Seek shelter)

12. “Yoru ni” Teke::Teke (from the album Shirushi)

13. “I don’t believe in anything” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (from the album When god was great)

14. “Hologram love” Linn Koch-Emmery (from the album Being the girl)

15. “Summer sun” Matt Berry (from the album The blue elephant)

16. “C’mon be cool” fanclubwallet (from the EP Hurt is boring)

17. “Poor boy a long way from home” The Black Keys (from the album Delta kream)

18. “Stay in the car” Bachelor (from the album Doomin’ sun)

19. “Paprika” Japanese Breakfast (from the album Jubilee)

20. “Smile” Wolf Alice (from the album Blue weekend)

21. “Beautiful beaches” James (from the album All the colours of you)

22. “Primrose hill at midnight (feat. Flyte)” Dizzy (from the EP Separate places)

23. “Already written” Azure Ray (from the album Remedy)

24. “Hot & heavy” Lucy Dacus (from the album Home video)

25. “In the rain” Rose City Band (from the album Earth trip)

As always, wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe, continue to be well, and well, enjoy the tunes.

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.