100 best covers: #96 Barenaked Ladies “Lovers in a dangerous time”

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Pay no mind to the above photo. Barenaked Ladies were cool in 1991… Well, okay, we thought they were at the time anyway.

The duo of Ed Robertson and Steven Page formed In 1988, adding band camp friends, brothers Andy and Jim McCreegan, two years later. Tyler Stewart joined the same year to temporarily fill Andy’s spot while the drummer went to Europe and then, stayed on upon his return. The band made a name for themselves with their hilarious, energetic, and often improvisational live shows, a fame that only grew with their DIY videos that they made using a video booth in downtown Toronto called “Speaker’s corner”, and that became a notoriety when they were banned from playing the city’s live New Year’s Eve show because of their “provocative” name. Then, their self-produced and self-released five song demo tape, the now famous “Yellow tape”, became the first ever indie release to reach platinum level sales in Canada. Needless to say, that attracted all the right attention. They released their debut album, “Gordon” in 1992, another classic. Six years later, BNL hit it big in the US with the single, “One week” and the rest is history.

But just as they were getting started, even before “Gordon”, they recorded this cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a dangerous time” for a tribute called “Kick at the darkness”, from a line taken from this very song. Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian icon, a prolific singer/songwriter, whose lyrics are part poetry, part social activism. Inspired by watching teenagers kissing and the thoughts that invoked, “Lovers in a dangerous time” is one of his more popular songs and one of the few I would recognize as his if you played it for me.

Going back to listen to Cockburn’s original before writing this post, I realized how dated it sounds. It is still a great song and the way Cockburn sings it is just right but it really does sound so 1980s. I almost think I like Barenaked Ladies’ cover more than the original, blasphemous though that statement might be. It’s no surprise they chose to cover one of his more popular songs, a bigger one being that they played it straight, something rare for them in those days. The cover is really quite lovely with Robertson’s and Page’s now familiar vocal harmonies, the acoustic guitars, and Creegan’s cello providing the backbone.

Make sure you check the video below of band playing in the back of a pickup, touring the streets of their hometown of Scarborough. It smacks a little of the Monkees but with a Canadian touch.

The cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2010: #20 Stars “Fixed”

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We’ve now reached the number twenty spot on this list of my favourite tunes of 2010 and it’s “Fixed”, the first single released off Stars’ fifth album, “The five ghosts”.

This particular album is one of the last albums that I was so hotly anticipating that I immediately rushed out to buy it on compact disc (another being one which will remain nameless because it might have a song or two later in this list). And I distinctly remember taking the car out after work, the day it was released, hitting a few stores and not finding it. I definitely remember thinking that the lack of real music stores still standing was quite sad and their selections and stock levels sadder still, the available shelf space having been replaced by DVDs, graphic novels, games, and other pop culture bric-a-brac. I was starting to get really desperate when I finally found a single copy at the second Best Buy that I tried. Crisis averted, I unwrapped it on the way out to the car and threw the disc in the player for the drive back home. I was zero percent disappointed, even despite the senseless, drawn-out search.

Stars are a five-piece indie pop band based out of Montreal that formed in New York in 2000 but whose members all grew up in Toronto. They make beautiful and grandiose pop music that you can often dance to and that usually has a social conscience. My favourite of their long players is 2004’s “Set yourself on fire” with “The five ghosts” likely taking second place but all of their albums boast some incredible tracks that dig themselves deep under your skin and become part of your being.

Their vocals are a responsibility shared between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, often trading verses on the same song, but this one is all Millan, her light touch juxtaposed against the rousing instrumentation. Campbell only comes in periodically as backing support, their voices layering beauty as per usual. Yet with Millan sporting similar vocal styles here as her close friend and ex-roommate, Emily Haines, “Fixed” almost feels like Metric tune. The drumming is peppy and the synths keep pace, urging any and all listeners to get up and dance, no matter where they are, the bus, a crowded sidewalk, or with a broom in the kitchen, and forget everything but the beat. It’s bliss, it’s love, it’s fun.

“We all end floating away.”

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

Best tunes of 2010: #21 School Of Seven Bells “I L U”

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True story: In 2004, two bands embarked on a US-wide tour as opening acts for Interpol. Three years after the tour, a new band was formed from members of these two bands. Secret Machines would attempt to carry on without their lead guitarist, Benjamin Curtis, releasing one final album in 2008 but On!Air!Library! could not survive without twin vocalists, Claudia and Alejandra Dehaza.

School of Seven Bells was the name of said resulting band, a title they took from a legendary and perhaps fictional training school for pickpockets and thieves in a South America. They released two full-length albums, 2008’s “Alpinisms” and 2010’s “Disconnect from desire”, before Claudia quit the band, leaving behind a duo. There was another album released and they were working on a fourth when Benjamin Curtis was diagnosed with lymphoma and died suddenly in 2013. Alejandra finished his work and released the final album last year. But that’s a story for another day.

I got into School of Seven Bells because I was rather enamoured with Secret Machines’ first two albums and wanted to see what it was that could drag Benjamin Curtis away from such a good thing. As it turned out, I really liked his second band as well, though they were quite different. Where his first band was all about the big and epic prog-influenced, guitar rock, Curtis’s direction with School of Seven Bells takes his listeners on a dreamy, electronic voyage through mysticism of many different stripes.

“I L U” is, in my mind, the undisputed standout track on “Disconnect from desire”, the band’s second album. It a song of longing and regret and immobilizing sadness set to an incredible beat and irresistible waves of synths and guitars. The Dehaza sisters’ vocals are there, clear and strong, floating above the ether and threatening to delve deep into your soul. It hints at left of the dial eighties but there is something so very fresh about it at the same time.

And something otherworldly too. Indeed, “I L U” could be a dance floor filler at a dance club for ghosts. Lovely stuff.

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