Best tunes of 2002: #24 Neil Halstead “See you on rooftops”

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On a post that appeared a couple of years ago on these pages, I wrote about how I was introduced to Mojave 3 by my friend Tim when he convinced me to claim an extra ticket he had for their show at the Legendary Horseshoe. Just over a year and a half after that night, I was living in Ottawa, after having moved there from Toronto the previous fall, and reading the local entertainment weekly, Ottawa Xpress (sadly defunct), when I came across an article on Neil Halstead. I’m not sure why I started reading the piece because I didn’t yet readily connect the name with the lead vocalist of Mojave 3 (and Slowdive, for that matter). Perhaps the paper was thin that week and I still had some bus ride to go. Needless to say, the article made that particular connection clear for me within sentences and I read on to learn he was playing in Ottawa later that very week.

The fact that it had been months since I had seen any live music probably fed my sudden urge to see the show. One of the reasons I hadn’t seen one in so long, however, was our lack of funds so I needed to somehow convince Victoria, whose move to Ottawa precipitated mine, that the show was a ‘necessity’. In the end, we went, though don’t ask me what argument I used. I pre-purchased tickets at a local record shop (also now defunct) and we walked down to the Byward market on a Saturday night. We had never been to the Mercury Lounge before and haven’t been since (that one is still there) but it was a nice intimate space for an acoustic show, which is exactly what Halstead (and his opener, Sid Hillman) presented us with. All of the material during his set was new to both Victoria and me but I remember really enjoying it. We didn’t spring for any drinks that night but certainly bought the CD copy of Halstead’s solo debut, “Sleeping on roads”, on the way out the door.

“See you on rooftops” is track three on this very album and somewhat stands out from the rest. It takes the ball of string that was rolled up tightly with Halstead’s dreamy folk rock in Mojave 3 and launches it off into space. While out there amongst the constellations, the string unravels a bit, the loose beat, string synth line, and Atari sounds and lasers get the space boots tapping. Halstead picks out the stars and sings softly to each of them, childlike and hopeful, wooing any sort of life out there to come to take him away. The song ends in a blissed out cacophony that would make any of his counterparts from the original shoegaze movement green with envy. And all you need to do is lay back to bask in its glory.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1992: #27 Moose “Little bird (Are you happy in your cage?)”

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There are multiple stories and legends behind the coining of the term “shoegaze” and they are all generally variations on a theme. The word is that while reviewing a show he or she had witnessed, a certain music writer was referring to the fact that the singer was reading lyrics taped to the stage or that the lead guitarist was desperately trying to keep track of all his pedals. By some accounts, that show was an early one by the band Moose, the singer in question was Russell Yates, and the guitarist was K.J. ‘Moose’ McKillop, whose nickname gave the band their name.

Interesting, then, that Moose would actually dispense with the noisy and hazy sound that many would come identify with the shoegaze genre shortly after the recording of their first two EPs. This is likely why the group is almost never mentioned in connection with the term, especially one so often bandied about these days, and instead, we hear about Ride, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Lush. But another reason is that they are quite unfortunately forgotten, mostly because they were largely ignored by the buying public during their short existence. And yet somehow they managed to release three full-length albums after those first two initial EPs and some pretty catchy, rocking tunes.

How did I ever manage to hear the jingle jangle of “Little bird (are you happy in your cage)”? Two words. Mixed tape.

Mixed tapes were magical ways to discover and share new music in the age before the internet. A friend I made in the early days of university, perhaps a few years after this song’s release, recorded me a copy of Weezer’s self-titled debut album and filled side two of the tape with a bunch of other random songs to which she was listening at the time. Moose’s “Little bird” was just one of the great tunes she put together on the side that I ended up listening to way more than I did the Weezer album that I requested. It is a boppy jangly tune that captured me immediately in its rays of sun, the guitars and synths lilting all over the place like thrown petals of a flower, while the drums bounced along with the words, lyrics sung like a Psychedelic Furs song, but without any hint of cynicism.

It’s a great tune by a band by whom I would never hear another song for years but one that I would pay forward by including on many a mixed tape that I created for other friends.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2002: #25 Interpol “Obstacle 1”

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In a post on the number five song on my Best tunes of 2001 list, The Strokes’ “Last nite”, I wrote about how that band was at the vanguard of an indie rock revival. Then, two songs later with The White Stripes’ “Fell in love with a girl”, I spoke about how this revival was led by two very distinct scenes: one in Detroit and the other in New York City. Many of the bands that came out of the latter scene cut their teeth playing in a now defunct club called The Luna Lounge, much like many a post-punk outfit in the same city did in another long-since-closed club called CBGB. Indeed, Manhattan and the burroughs saw lots of musical action in the years following the turn of the millennium, giving rise to bands like the aforementioned Strokes, Ambulance LTD, Longwave, Stellastarr, Bishop Allen, and of course, Interpol.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when I first heard the post-punk revivalist quartet but I certainly remember when I first decided I liked them. It was definitely not too long after the release of their debut, “Turn on the bright lights”, because we were living in the ‘hood* and we had the use of my mother-in-law’s car. The green cavalier would eventually became ours in an unofficial sense but for a couple years there, we took turns with my brother-in-law in possessing it. During my commutes to work around the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, I had discovered the local university and college radio stations and on one of these afternoon drives home, I realized that one of the aspiring DJs had decided to forego a real playlist and had just set Interpol’s debut to play from beginning to end. And yeah, while driving the heavy traffic up the Vanier parkway, it just clicked.

“Obstacle 1” follows “Untitled” as track two on the album and if the first song serves as an intro, our song today is the exclamation point. It’s all staccato guitars and bass, frontman Paul Banks’ deep and foreboding vocals, clearing up whether those Joy Division comparisons are fair or overwrought. You don’t get much more angular and austere than here, but we’re not just rehashing and reviving a too long dormant genre but breathing in new life and energy. Great tune on an incredible debut.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

* For those unfamiliar with Ottawa, Vanier is a part of the city just on the other side of the Rideau river from downtown. It was at the time a lower income neighbourhood that was constantly under threat of regentrificafion due to its location and wasn’t our first choice of areas to live but the rent was affordable. Truth be told, only sections of it were bad and the one in which we lived wasn’t really one of those so the term ‘hood is one of endearment.