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Tunes

Best tunes of 2020: #25 Gateway Drugs “Wait (medication)”

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Back on Cinco de Mayo, 2015, I went to see Swervedriver perform at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I had been excited to see yet another re-formed shoegaze legend, but as much as I enjoyed their set, I found myself quite surprised to leave the show even more impressed by the opening act.

Los Angeles-based four-piece, Gateway Drugs, had only just released their debut album, “Magick spells” the month before, and they had already toured as support for noise rock and shoegaze icons Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They were led by a trio of siblings – Noa (guitars), Liv (guitars), and Gabriel (drums) Niles – each sharing vocal duties, while the fourth member, Blues Williams, simply looked cool and accompanied them on guitars and bass. The quartet were all in black, leather, furs, and sunglasses and were playing a garage rock infused shoegaze that sounded at different points like early Dum Dum Girls, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I left the show with a copy of the aforementioned debut album on CD and duly fell in love with it. Its accomplished sound and the pop sensibility that lies just beneath the surface of all those roaring and screeching guitars could easily be traced back to the music surging through the veins of the Niles siblings (children of The Knack’s Prescott Niles).

I was convinced they were going to be huge.

But then, there was nothing but relative silence from the group for almost five years.

Fast forward to 2020, just a few short days after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be an honest-to-goodness pandemic and things started to shut down in earnest, a new Gateway Drugs single appeared, seemingly plucked out of the ether and there finally came the news of the long-awaited sophomore release. I say this last bit with my tongue firmly planted in cheek because perhaps I was one out of only a small handful whose interest hadn’t waned in the interim. This first single really got me excited and that was only multiplied by fifty or so when I learned that “PSA” was produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Put myself on a leash, I’d stay
Kill myself just to hear you call my name”

Of course, that first single was none other than “Wait (medication)”, our song of focus today. I’ve read that Liv Niles has called it a reflection on excess, madness, addiction, and how “extreme highs give way to extreme lows.” It’s an apt Coles Notes for the jackhammer drum beat, crunchy bass line, clanging and twangy guitar screams, and the dual vocal assault by Liv and her brother Noa. It is a four-minute salacious stroll down the chaotic and messy trail blazed by the JAMC and the BRMC.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2013: #30 Arcade Fire “Here comes the night time”

#29 >>

For all those fellow Canadians out there, I want to wish each and everyone of you a real “Happy Canada day”!

And I mean that truly.

It’s been a tough two-plus years. Not just here, but everywhere, I know, and though Canada day has always been a big celebration here, whether or not we deserve it, this year, I think, we do. My own celebration will involve spending time with the one person in the world that means the most to me but I’d also like to observe it here, in a tiny way, on these pages. And what better way than to start up a new list and to kick it off with a great tune by a great Canadian band.

By 2013, the indie rock collective from Montreal (known as Arcade Fire) had already released three groundbreaking albums, the last actually landing the band a surprise turn at the top of the Grammy podium for best album for 2010’s “The suburbs”, and now, they were due for something new. The question was, what would it sound like and could it possibly top what we’d already heard from a band that everyone seemed to be looking to for innovation.

We finally started to get hints of what might be coming in the summer of 2013, as cryptic street art incorporating the title of the forthcoming album started to appear around the world. The campaign was admittedly a bit much but it was effective and though the band’s wishes that attendees at their ensuing tour stops dress up in costume was widely criticized, you can’t fault the band for trying to rouse their fans from complacency. Arcade Fire has always been earnest and this was possibly their pinnacle, if not their most successful endeavour.

“Reflektor” saw contributions from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, as well Mr. David Bowie, and for all its expectations, it didn’t really suffer too badly at the hands of the critics. It saw the release of five singles, each of them big and epic and completely Arcade Fire (if you can excuse me using their name as an adjective), but for me the best track on an album that was great, yet still seemed to pale in the shadow of the previous three, was the disco and rara-inspired “Here comes the night time”.

This track actually appears as two different versions, each on a separate disc of the double album, but I am definitely more for the first part, which was apparently written and recorded second. It truly encapsulates what the band were aiming for when they were looking to make music that multi-instrumentalist Regjne Chassagne would dance to. Like the rest of the album, the sound was hugely influenced by the band’s visit to Haiti, the country from which her parents originally emigrated to Canada. Indeed, this track in particular was written about that country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, a dangerous city at the best of times but one that becomes lethal at night due to the lack of electricity and the relative safety of unnatural lighting.

“When the sun goes down, you head inside
‘Cause the lights don’t work
Yeah, nothing works, they say you don’t mind”

Six minutes of Caribbean sounds funnelled through machines and synthesizers and other computer gadgetry. It wavers and warbles between frenetic beats and gliding vibes. It marches and dances and cavorts, with feathers and masks and streamers, shades of carnival lights and energy, while its ringmasters, Win and Regine, conduct you safely through the streets of the Haitian capital on an epic journey to bliss and magic.

So go on out and celebrate!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2013 list, click here.

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Live music galleries

Live music galleries: Nap Eyes [2016]

(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.)

Nap Eyes at Ottawa Dragon Boat festival, 2016

Artist: Nap Eyes
When: June 25th, 2016
Where: Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, Ottawa
Context: Tomorrow marks the beginning of this year’s edition of Ottawa’s Dragon Boat Festival and if the weather gods are kind, it will mark the return of live music to my life after a two and a half year absence. Of course, the festival itself is mostly about the dragon boat racing and raising money for charity but it also includes free, all-ages concerts that typically showcase the finest in Canadian talent. I’ve seen some excellent shows there over the years, a few from which I’ve shared photos on these pages. Back in 2016, I caught Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Nap Eyes just after they released their critically acclaimed sophomore album, “Thought rock fish scale.” I was truly excited to see them because I had just discovered them and had been talking them up to friends and colleagues, describing them as The Velvet Underground, if all their songs meandered just so, like “Sunday Morning”. Live, they were completely as I suspected, all jangly and crashing guitars, and jaunty, consistent drumming. All four band members were playing in their own world, eyes closed and heads down, as if the audience weren’t there most of the time. Frontman Nigel Chapman’s vocals were uneven and unassured but in my opinion, that’s what gives the songs their edge, like early Belle & Sebastian or New Order: tentative but charming. It was an amazing show, nonetheless, and one during which I found myself lost in the music throughout most of the hour.
Point of reference song: Click clack

Seamus Dalton and Nigel Chapman of Nap Eyes
Josh Salter of Nap Eyes
Brad Loughead of Nap Eyes
Seamus Dalton
Nigel Chapman