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 2011: #9 M83 “Midnight city”

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Two songs ago on this list and over two months ago, I mentioned a weekend in Toronto in 2012 on which I went to concerts two nights in a row. The first night was Spiritualized for the fourth time with Nikki Lane opening at the Phoenix Concert Theatre with a bunch of friends. The second night I ventured out all by myself to The Sound Academy to see M83 with I Break Horses opening. I had an extra ticket but my wife was uninterested and I couldn’t drag any of my friends out after the heavy drinking from the previous evening. So it was a quieter, dryer event for me, being that I had to drive down to a more out of the way venue that I had never been to before. However, it ended up being a great evening as well.

Some might find it interesting that it was actually the opening band on this evening that was the bigger draw for me beforehand. This wasn’t the first time I went to a show to see the opener and it wouldn’t be the last*. On this night, though, as good as I Break Horses were to kick off the evening, M83 renewed my interest in them and made a bigger fan of me. I had gotten into them with their John Hughes-infused 2008 album, “Saturdays = youth”, but was somewhat disappointed with 2011’s followup, “Hurry up, we’re dreaming”. Seeing them live breathed a whole bunch of life into the dreamy double album for me.

M83 started out as the duo of Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau, forming the electronic outfit in Antibes in 2001. However, Fromageau left the project after their second album and Gonzalez has continued on as the driving force since then. He moved to California in 2010, which had a huge impact on the music that would become M83’s sixth studio album, “Hurry album, we’re dreaming”. And of course this is album on which today’s song appears.

“Midnight city” is track two, jumping in to pick up the end of the rope left dangling by the wondrous intro. It is a city that never sleeps and what happens there. It is a jumble of dreams built from synths and fantasies, cinematic and childlike, populated by all manner of beasts and creatures and overworked suits and ties. It roars and screams with electricity before being all wrapped up in a pretty package at the end with a wicked saxophone solo.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

* Writing this last sentence gave rise to the playlist I created last week inspired by all the great opening bands I have seen over the years.