Best tunes of 2010: #18 Phantogram “Mouthful of diamonds”

<< #19    |    #17 >>

Let me know if this has ever happened to you.

You discover a band or solo artist and download or purchase a physical copy of their album. You really enjoy it. You listen to it a few times. And then… you forget about it. A few years later, you’re trawling through the upcoming releases list and notice an album by a name that sounds familiar to you. You check out the advanced single (or two) and like what you hear but damned if they don’t sound like you’ve heard them before. So you go to your massive iTunes playlist and sure enough, there they are. And you go about rediscovering them all over again. And you know that you didn’t lose track of them because they’re a forgettable artist or anything like that. It’s more symptomatic of having too much music available to our collective fingertips, a good problem to be sure, but also one that is a new one in this internet world in which we live.

Phantogram is one such band for me. I got into the Greenwich, New York-based duo with the release of their debut album, “Eyelid movies”, and was completely absorbed with the cinematic and atmospheric worlds they created with their music. I was then reacquainted with them in 2013 with the release of a handful of singles in anticipation of “Voices”, the sophomore full-length that came out the following year. In Phantogram’s case, it definitely wasn’t them – it was me. They were pretty active in the four years between albums, having released a couple of EPs and having collaborated with a bunch of notable artists, like Big Boi and Flaming Lips. Apparently, my listening ears were elsewhere.

“Mouthful of diamonds” is one of the incredible tracks off Phantogram’s debut that completely drew me back into the fold while waiting for “Voices” to be released. It’s the album’s lead off track and explodes with its intense beat and low end layer, while synth screeches flit about with Josh Carter’s jangly guitars and Sarah Barthel’s soft and breathy vocals. It is dark and haunting. It is a dream from which you don’t want to awaken. It is a futuristic dance club in some sci-fi flick yet to be made. It’s all this and everything else your mind can imagine while you close your eyes and sink back into your couch with the song’s beats thumping through your earphones.

And I’ll tell you something else. Two albums and two live sets later, and I definitely haven’t lost track of them again.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.


100 best covers: #95 Aurora “Half the world away”

<< #96    |    #94 >>

I was driving home from work last night, listening to the CD that was in the car’s player, which happened to be a mix I had made at the behest of my lovely wife. And I was thinking of Victoria because she is away in Toronto right now and I was returning home to an empty house. And I definitely smiled when this particular song came over the speakers at about the midway point in my trajectory, not because Toronto is even close to ‘half a world away’, but because I knew, even when making the mix, that despite this cover’s beauty, Victoria would never be a fan.

I’ve mentioned already in previous posts in this series that Victoria is not fond of covers and that, in her humble opinion, there’s definitely bands whose songs should never be touched. Oasis would likely fit nicely into this category. They are among the first bands that I introduced her to back in university and to whom she really took. Victoria could easily listen to anything by them in the era during which their first two albums were recorded and that even includes the B-sides, such as this track: “Half a world away”. Originally included on the “Whatever” single in 1994, Oasis’s version features Noel on vocals, acoustic guitars, and drums (!) with Paul Arthurs backing him on keys. It became pretty popular in the UK due to it being used as theme song to a sitcom there, called “The royle family”, in the late 90s.

However, if you google the words “Half the world away” today, chances are that Aurora’s cover is the first listing you will see. I came across this cover last year when I was first listening to the young Norwegian singer-songwriter’s debut album, “All my demons greeting me as a friend”, and I noticed it among the bonus tracks included on the deluxe edition. The album as a whole is fantastic. I pretty much latched on to her dark and haunting sound right away, likening it to the more Kate Bush-sounding Florence and the Machine songs. Her take on “Half the world away” is simple, yet lovely, her ringing voice skipping along a layered bed of pianos and strings. It’s even more wistful sounding and emotional than Noel’s tough-guy-with-a-tear rendition.

I love both versions pretty much equally, but in the absence of the original on the mixed CD, I was quite content to replay Aurora’s cover for the rest of the drive home. And smiling, of course.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.


Best tunes of 2000: #3 Doves “The man who told everything”

<< #4    |    #2 >>

At the number three spot is another fantastic track by Doves, the only band to make more than one appearance on this Best tunes of 2000 list, the other being at number #10 with “Catch the sun”. Both songs are from the band’s stunning debut album, “Lost souls”‘, an album I didn’t actually hear until two or three years after the fact but one that has since reached the upper echelons in my all-time favourites conversations.

“The man who told everything” is the third single to be released off the album and lyrically, though I can’t be absolutely sure, appears to follow the same sort of themes expounded in single number two, “Catch the sun”.

“Get out of bed, pick up the phone, time to tell the press
Say to myself, I can’t do no one else, there’s a whole world outside
I’m gonna tell it all, I’m gonna sell it all, I’m gonna sell
Get out of bed, come out and sing, blue skies ahead, the man who told everything.”

It’s almost like the band were writing about how they were feeling at the time of making the record. Being that it was a very long process and that they were drastically changing their approach to music, they couldn’t wait to unleash “Lost souls”. It all feels very transformative, like their cocoon had become way too small for all their grand ideas and they were bursting to get it all out into the big blue world and into the sunshine. They didn’t want to hold anything back and in this excitement, seemed to be pushing everyone else to do the same. Live big and bold.

And the music expounds all that.

“The man who told everything” is big, bold, and beautiful. But don’t mistake my words for inferring that this tune is high energy frenzy. Instead, for all the excitement of the words, the music has a more muted pace. The guitar strumming matches the easy drumming at the outset but at each chorus, another layer of guitars and string effects is added that has an arduous quality, at once daunting and stubborn and unforgiving. I don’t how to else to describe it. It’s brilliant though. I like to listen to this one late at night, lights dimmed, earphones on, volume up, eyes closed, a pint not far from hand, and just let the waves of it all crash over me. So much awesome.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.