Best tunes of 2012: #16 Amos the Transparent “Sure as the weather”

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I first came across local band, Ottawa’s own Amos the Transparent, in 2010, when I saw them perform on an early Sunday evening set in only my second year attending Ottawa Bluesfest. I had only briefly sampled a couple of their tracks in advance but their big band energy had me visiting the merch tent afterwards to pick up a CD copy of their debut album, “Everything I’ve forgotten to forget”. I listened to that album quite a bit in the months that followed and couldn’t help being drawn in by the fine songwriting by band architect, Jonathan Chandler. Just as impressive was such excellent production and ambitious scope for a indie band that I just couldn’t get my head around was local.

Just over a year later in December 2011, I somehow caught wind that Amos the Transparent had recorded a video for a new song off an upcoming new record. I watched the fun, all-in-one-take video that you yourself can watch below and then, I watched it again. And then, the next day, I forced my wife Victoria to watch it with me. The video did its job. I was hooked.

A couple of months later, the group held an album release party for “Goodnight, my dear… I’m falling apart” at the now defunct Ritual night club. It was a great night where I was also introduced to the music of big-voiced Haligonian, Ben Caplan, and that was topped by the seven members of Amos the Transparent squeezing their big presence on to the tiny stage and blowing the roof off the place. I took home a CD copy of the album from that performance too because I was still a couple of months removed from starting my vinyl collection, though I remedied that at another Amos show a few years ago. For those of you too far afield to have heard this group, “Goodnight, my dear…” is an excellent, big, Canadian indie rock record in the vein of “Funeral” or “Set yourself on fire”, but in addition to the orchestral elements those two albums sport, Amos throws in some traditional folk instrumentation for fun.

Take today’s song, “Sure as the weather”, for an example. If you watch the song’s video without sound and note the varied instruments that the band pulls out – pedal steel, banjo, accordion, and cello – you could be forgiven for expecting a rollicking indie folk track. The sound on, you check off the “rollicking” box but also observe how much the tune rocks and how these varied instruments lend their distinctive sounds to the blended whole. Indeed, Amos the Transparent is built around the songwriting of Jonathan Chandler but they really are a collaborative beast, both in the way they build the songs up and tear them down and the way they harmonize and gang up on the listener with their collective voices, and in this case, singing with optimism for better days.

“I don’t want to hear about your bad weekend
And I don’t want to hear about not trusting your friends
And I don’t really care if no one’s left to blame
It’s going to be okay”

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

Vinyl love: Doves “The universal want”

(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: Doves
Album Title: The universal want
Year released: 2020
Details: red vinyl

The skinny: A couple of days ago, I wrapped up my end of the year countdown with this, Doves’ “The universal want”, coming in at number one on my list. So yeah, I finished off 2020 with this album and am starting off 2021 the same way.* I jumped on the pre-order for this record the moment it was announced, directly from Doves’ official website, because I wanted a copy of it in the limited edition red vinyl. It was initially delayed and when it finally shipped, took a few weeks to get to me in Canada, all the way from England, but I exercised patience and restraint and refrained from listening to the album until I was able to slip this beauty on to my platter. Of course, it was well worth the wait, both the 11 years between albums and the extra few weeks of travel time. The trio of Jimi Goodwin and brothers Andy and Jez Williams are still one of my favourite bands for the gorgeous, atmospheric rock that they make together. And yes, Geoff, lovely, red vinyl makes it all worthwhile.

Standout track: “Cathedrals of the mind”

*And with this post, I intend to take a few days off to recharge, see you folks next weekend.

Best albums of 2020: #1 Doves “The universal want”

Happy New Year’s Eve everybody!

Yes. We’ve finally made it to the end of the year and on this last day of 2020, I’m wrapping things up on my favourite albums list with my number one for the year. And now that I’ve gotten here, I can look back and see a definite recurring theme to the albums on this list.

Apparently, for me, 2020 was the year of long overdue comebacks. Of the ten albums, seven of these were the first for their respective creators in at least five years and two of those had seen more than a decade pass between releases! This album at number one, “The universal want”, Doves’ fifth record but first in 11 years is one of these (the other was Secret Machines’ “Awake in the brain chamber” at number five). The thing about comeback albums, though, is that they can go either way. There is always the fear of disappointment but luckily for me, there wasn’t a lot of that this year… at least, when it came to these new releases. The fact that this Doves album didn’t disappoint is something of a miracle and is testament to the magic this Manchester trio conjures when they are working together.

I first got into Doves way back in 2002 with their remarkable and magnificent sophomore release, “The last broadcast”. I was pretty much enamoured with their atmospheric and danceable indie rock right from the start. It was completely in line with my tastes up to that point and gave me hope for new music in the early 2000s. Every album they released was pure bliss to my ears and so when they announced a hiatus in 2010 after just four studio LPs, I took the news poorly. The break was never made official but the years passed anyway. A Jimi Goodwin solo album appeared in 2014 and then, the Williams brothers released an album of their own under the moniker Black Rivers. Both releases were good but they weren’t Doves records.

Then, at the end of 2018, just as I was giving up hope that I would ever see one of my favourite bands live, there was word that Doves were going to be doing a handful of live shows. The success of those bred some more. They never did make it to North America for any of these shows but as long as they were still playing shows, there was hope. And of course, the reissue of their first three records on coloured vinyl last year made me very happy. The cherry on the cake, though, was the announcement that work had begun on material for a new album, news that was received with equal excitement and trepidation.

“The universal want” was released as a birthday present to me this year but I didn’t listen to it right away. I waited until I received the record I had preordered so that my first exposure to it could be in the most optimum of circumstances. When the needle hit the wax, it was like home. No matter what else was going on at that moment, “The universal want” was a comfort. And every time I have played it since, the experience has been the same, which is a big part of why the album is my favourite of the year.

All ten tracks are near perfect and you could do worse than choose any of them for your introduction or sampling but these three are my picks for you. I could think of worse ways to spend a few months on this last day of the year.

“Cathedrals of the mind“: My first pick from this excellent album is track number five, a number the band has said was inspired by the loss of David Bowie. “Everyday I see your face. Everywhere I see those eyes. But you’re not there.” Frontman Jimi Goodwin has also called it a ‘prayer to the sonics’, a very spiritual soundscape then. Frittering synth strings over top gentle piano chords, warbling a kaleidoscope, hints of saxophones and harpsichords, everything distorted and adjusted to just beyond recognition. The idea of a Black panther speech sample sounds a bit different for this trio but it feels right in the context of the song, ripped out of time but perfectly of this time. And like all good Doves tracks, it has an expansive sound, voices and beats echoing throughout the cavernous halls. It’s like being looked down upon from the heavens, thought outside of thought.

“Prisoners”: “Just prisoners, we’re just prisoners of this life, though it won’t be for long. We’re just prisoners.” Listening to those lyrics, the second single to be released in advance of this new record feels very much in line with everything going on right now. But it wasn’t this lockdown and this pandemic that Doves were necessarily thinking about when they wrote the words. It’s more about that normal yearning for better times, times that will surely come. Goodwin has said about it: “Just over the horizon, there’s always something better. Sometimes we get trapped by our own behaviour. You can be a prisoner of your own thoughts.” It all begins with a light strumming on the guitar and a sprinkling of sunlight and wisps of haze and then that driving drum beat kicks in and the bopping bassline falls in step not far behind. There’s plenty alien and new, but it’s not strange at all. It’s familiar and comforting and fluid and when the guitar starts a-wailing amidst all the glow, you just have to soak it all in, bask in the glory of it all. And when it ends all so abruptly, the emptiness can easily be refilled by pressing replay or by dropping that needle again, just so.

“Carousels”: The opening track on the album was my first taste of the first new Doves in 11 years and it is probably still my favourite tune on the album. It’s a killer groove altogether, one that’s built around and expands upon a sampled drum beat by Fela Kuti legend Tony Allen. And it’s that rhythm that propels the song’s momentum, ramping up the childhood memory into fast forward and speeding up the merry-go-round to dizzying rotations. Yeah, the opening washes are just a tease, the voices that are just discernible through the haze are like a countdown to lift off. The piano tries to keep things just this side of even keel but everything else is just an explosion of pure joy. The roaring bass and wall scaling guitars just nod happily in agreement. It all plays to the nostalgia that is truly universal. As drummer Andy Williams says: “It’s a reminiscence of the times that we’d go to places like North Wales on holiday as kids. Places where you had your first experience of sound systems and music being played really loud.” It’s definitely a tune that ranks up there with all those great songs that beg to be played loud. If you can, wherever you are right now, turn it up to eleven, press play, and enjoy.

In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”
4. No Joy “Motherhood”
3 Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”
2. I Break Horses “Warnings”

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