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Best tunes of 2000: #14 The New Pornographers “The slow descent into alcoholism”

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Track fourteen, the next stop on this short list of great songs from the year 2000 takes us to a hopping ditty off “Mass romantic”, the debut album by The New Pornographers.

But before I go there, I need to talk a little bit about “Fubar”, a Canadian indie film released in 2002 that has since amassed quite the cult following. It is the debut film by Canadian director Michael Dowse and was shot in mockumentary style on a digital camera and a tiny budget. The film focuses on two lifelong friends, Terry and Dean, metal heads, beer drinkers, and basically, hosers (for want of a better word). “Fubar” is as hilarious as it is sad and if it didn’t popularize the term “Giv’r”, it certainly didn’t hurt its proliferation in popular culture usage.

But why did I have to mention this film in relation to The New Pornographers’ “The slow descent into alcoholism”? First, because it’s a great Canadian film that could use another plug and reminder. Second, because its soundtrack boasted a playlist of classic Canadian rock tracks as covered by contemporary Canadian artists, including The New Pornographers’ rendition of “Your daddy don’t know” by Toronto. And finally, because Terry and Deaner appear in the video that Michael Dowse made for “The slow descent into alcoholism” (see below), doing what they do best: drinking beer and being hosers.

The New Pornographers formed in Vancouver in 1997 under the leadership of Carl Newman. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the band is really a collective and supergroup, and these days, even after seven albums together, all of its members (there are 8 of them!) still have other established projects on the go, some of them as well-known and successful as this one. What is so unique and incredible about The New Pornos is that they have lasted so long and that their sound is so cohesive, despite the different styles of its vocalists and principle songwriters: the aforementioned Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder (who didn’t join until 2005).

In trying to explain “Mass romantic”‘s immediate appeal and hook, critics have been quick to assign different iconic artists as comparison points to each song on the album. Apparently, “The slow descent into alcoholism” is David Bowie. And I suppose I can see a bit of glam rock and a touch of the theatrical in the verses and the way Newman delivers them. It’s a staccato rhythm driving the keys and vocals, all matched up with the ragtime drum beat. However, once Neko Case lovingly layers her soft and punchy backing vocals to Newman’s, all bets are off. Personally, I’ve never seen this band as derivative of any other sound and don’t really see eye-to-eye with those who take the lazy way out and shove them into the power pop pigeonhole. It’s a pop song, sure, and mighty powerful, but this group is one of a kind.

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

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Best tunes of 2000: #15 Badly Drawn Boy “Once around the block”

#14 >>

We start this list off at the number fifteen position with “Once around the block”, the first single released off “The hour of the bewilderbeast”, Badly Drawn Boy’s debut long player.

I first caught on to Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) in 2002, two years after the release of this debut, when I fell hard for the instrumentation that soundtracked the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “About a boy”. If you’ve never read the book or seen the film, it is about a rich and single 30-something living off the royalties of a song his father wrote, who meets a young boy without a father. They become friends of a sort and in trying to help the boy learn to be cool, the man grows up. The man is portrayed by Hugh Grant, a role he was seemingly born to play, perhaps it wasn’t even much of a stretch, and the music Damon Gough provided for the soundtrack perfectly reflected his character. It was slick and cool (though perhaps not as hip as it thought itself) and meandered seemingly without aim and at its own pace, until it went on to the next thing, no song, or snippet of a song, lasting more than a few minutes.

After playing my way through the soundtrack many times, I went back to explore “The hour of bewilderbeast” and discovered it was very much of the same ilk. Laid back and slacker cool, teasing us knowingly with nods to his influences. It even plays like a soundtrack, cinematic in sound with interludes between the proper tracks. If it sounds accomplished for a debut, it’s likely because he cut his teeth releasing a string of EPs beforehand and with this album he continued the trend he started with those EPs by performing most of the instrumentation himself, though he did enlist the help of Doves members on some tracks. Incidentally, Doves was one of the bands he beat out in winning the prestigious Mercury prize for best album with “The hour of the bewilderbeast” in 2000.

But back to “Once around the block”, a song that was, truth be told, originally released in 1999 but I can get away with including here due to its re-release a year later. It’s a track that has for its backbone some wild wah-wah guitars and a wicked jazz shuffle and Gough throws in his vocals almost incidentally, as if the words he starts with could easily be replaced by the scooby-doo-wah-wah scat singing he moves into later in the song. It ambles along cyclically, instruments dropping in and out, showcasing each, with no real climax or peak, kind of like a jazz piece in this way, and structured like a leisurely walk around the block. And then, it all just fades away with the vibes being the last voice to peek back as it turns the corner and out of earshot.

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