Best tunes of 2011: #8 Cults “Go outside”

<< #9    |    #7 >>

I have a very distinct memory of listening to this very song one early morning late in 2011, in that burred season between late fall and early winter. I was re-listening to a handful of albums released that year, trying to nail down my inaugural best albums list for my old blog, Music Insanity. Cults’ self-titled debut was one of two debut albums that caught me by surprise and snuck its way into the running for 2011.

As track one slid into track two, I was standing at Bayview station awaiting the arrival of my commuter train to take me into work. It was so early it was still dark so I could clearly see the lightly falling snow glinting from the glow of the fluorescent light posts. I was shuffling my doc martens in the thinnest of coatings on the asphalt waiting platform, causing rivulets of feathered snow to amass around my feet. But then “Go outside” burst through my iPod earbuds in earnest and it was like the sun came out, warming me from outside and in, and it was as if summer had made a glorious return.

Okay. Yes. I am exaggerating but I am sure you are getting the point here.

Cults are a two-piece indie band from New York, made up of Madeline Follin on vocals and Brian Oblivion (sounds like a stage name to me) on vocals and everything else. When I first listened to the album, I thought to myself: “These two make no attempt to hide their love for shimmering, sunny 60s pop”. Madeline’s vocals are so light, almost to the point of child-like, that it’s unbelievably shocking when she drops the F-bomb at the end of one of the album’s tracks. And that’s probably the point. The music that backs her is washed and filled with effects, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the different instruments apart.

“Go outside” is still incidentally my favourite track on the album but it is by no means an aberration. It is a seemingly light and fluffy song about going outside to enjoy life outdoors but if you listen a bit closer, you can discern soundbite samples of cult leader Jim Jones. Adding another layer of sinister is the video’s use of archive news footage from Jonestown. Indeed, the song seems to be employing, much like throughout the rest of the album, a theatrical technique I learned in high school drama class when studying Bertolt Brecht: namely, disguising that dark subject matter behind the cheery veneer of the music. If you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of “Mack the Knife” (by Brecht, not Cults), you know what I mean.

But before I start getting highbrow or anything, I’m going to drop the mic right there and allow the song to speak for itself. Enjoy.

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

Best albums of 1988: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

 

Happy Thursday! And welcome back to my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums series.

I know it’s been a while since the last of these but there’s good reason. If you look back at my sentiments at the time of my last series, you’ll see that I had this crazy idea of whipping through six of these things this year to catch up. Well, halfway through writing for this particular list, I hit a wall. I found the mission way too onerous and ambitious…. So I decided to take a break, take my time writing these posts, and enjoy them again. I’ve decided instead to choose years at random to do throughout future years and maybe even do some theme-based best albums lists. First, though, I wanted to share this particular list with you because I pushed through to finish it and it is a good one with a lot of important albums.

Our destination here is 1988, which is unbelievably just over thirty years ago now. I can’t really say it feels like yesterday because at the time, I was spanning my first and second years of high school. The problems of acne, getting braces, and math homework seem like another world ago. I had yet to hit my growth spurt, hadn’t yet started shaving, and I still hadn’t yet dipped my toes in the theatrical arts, something that would radically change my high school experience from then on out.

This is the second time we are touching down in the 1980s The last time we did so, I mentioned in the introductory post that I was still finding my way in the music world. The pop charts were king. AM radio and music video shows and countdowns, and whatever they played at the high school dances at which I was holding up walls. So yeah, a lot of the albums on this list were not even close to being on my radar back when they were released. In some cases, I came upon them a few years later, some of them took longer to take hold, but all of them are now staples in my collection and revered for their place in my musical education.

Yes, the ten albums in this list are all classics and I am going to kick things off with the first five below. And if you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the top five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. I hope you enjoy this trip back to 1988 with me.


#10 The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”

Nowadays, we have the international sensations Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men but before The Sugarcubes hit the scene, we hadn’t heard much rock music from Iceland. The six-piece alternative outfit were made up of veterans of different music groups from the Reykjavik scene. They released three full-length albums in their four year existence, though none as impactful as their debut, “Life’s too good”. Admittedly, I didn’t first listen to the album until well after their former frontwoman, Björk, had established her solo career with her excellent first two records. However, I have grown to love the quirky, punk-inflected DIY rock of The Sugarcubes’ debut. And it doesn’t at all sound thirty years old.

Gateway tune: Birthday


#9 Erasure “The innocents”

Here is an album that I was definitely listening to in high school, though perhaps not as early as 1988. “The innocents” was Erasure’s third full-length album and first to hit the top 10 in the UK charts, spawning a number of hit singles. The duo of Vince Clark and Andy Bell took 80s synth pop and made a career out of getting people out on the club dance floors. I love many of their singles but this is the only one of their albums that I love all the way through. I am well aware that it could be nostalgia factor here, given that this is the first of theirs that I listened to after my friend John made a copy of it on cassette for me.

Gateway tune: Chains of love


#8 Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”

I got into Billy Bragg with the album after this one, 1991’s “Don’t try this at home”, during my final year of high school and only went back to discover this previous album a few years later, when one of my university housemates Meagan had it in her CD collection. “Don’t try this at home” is considered by many his attempt at pop but in 1988 Bragg was still mixing his prototypical protest songs with songs on love. He usually performs these songs live solo on stage with his electric guitar but on record, he had a full band with him, though the music is typically secondary to his words. “Workers playtime” is his third album and is chock full of classics and fan favourites like “Must I paint you a picture?”, “She’s got a new spell”, and the one below, “Waiting for the great leap forwards”.

Gateway tune: Waiting for the great leap forwards


#7 Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”

Jane’s Addiction is another artist I was listening to by the end of high school, the introduction coming with the album following the one on this list, in this case, 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual”. In 1988, though, the quartet led by founding members Perry Farrell and Eric Avery, and including Dave Navarro and Stephen Perkins, were releasing their second album, their major label debut, “Nothing’s shocking”. Here, the group re-recorded a couple of tracks that appeared on their ‘live’ self-titled debut album and added some explosive new ones that mixed metal, surf, glam, funk, and punk. They were a hard-living group and it shows in the raw angst on so many of the songs here.

Gateway tune: Jane says


#6 Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”

I’m hoping that Canada’s singer/songwriter/poet, Leonard Cohen, needs no introduction to anyone that lands on these pages. His eighth studio album, “I’m your man”, was the first CD I owned by the influential lyricist, after being introduced to him by way of the appearance of “Everybody knows” a couple years later in the film “Pump up the volume”, a favourite of mine at the time. The production and instrumentation on this album definitely sound of its time but Cohen’s rich and deep vocals and excellent lyrics allow you to forgive him. So many great tracks, like the title track, “First we take manhattan”, and the aforementioned, “Everybody knows”. How could I not include this here?

Gateway tune: Everybody knows


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2008: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Now that we’re firmly into 2018, I thought it time to start back in again with these album of the year series. If you remember the scoop from last year, I finished off my list of 2017’s best albums in December and then, in the new year, I travelled back in time, decade by decade, from 2007 and 1997 back to 1987 to deliver my favourite ten albums of each year. And yes, the plan is to do the same over the course of this year.

The year 2008 was very memorable for me musically because it marked the year I went to V fest (at which the above photo was taken) on Toronto island for the first and only time. Believe it or not, this was also the first music festival I ever attended (check my list of concerts here if you are on the not believing side). Of course, this is the flurry that started the avalanche. The following year, I attended two of the days of Ottawa’s Bluesfest and the year after that, I attended a full week of the same festival and also put in an appearance at Winnipeg’s renowned folk festival. I’ve attended some sort of outdoor music festival every year since. There is just something about being out in the elements, in a field or forest with a beer or two in your hands, wandering from stage to stage and soaking in the music.

And yeah, the music. Let’s get back to that.

This year 2008 was also a great one for releases. So many great albums that it was difficult narrowing things down to just the ten. However, I persevered. Below you’ll find albums ten through six of my favourite albums of 2008 and for the next five Thursdays, I’ll be posting the next five albums until I get to my favourite album of the year. Enjoy!


#10 Fleet Foxes “Fleet Foxes”

I remember being at Toronto’s V fest in September of 2008 and this album playing between live sets. I recognized it but didn’t immediately put a name to it. I felt more compelled to do so when my friend Mark asked me about it, noticing that I was tapping my foot. I described Fleet Foxes to him then as the current ‘it’ band, which was accurate, given that praise was being heaped on this self-titled debut from all corners. It is all deserved, of course. Robin Pecknold and his band of merry men seamlessly blend old and new, minstrel music wrought with acoustic picking, big band sounds, and all for one harmonies. This particular blogger feels this album ushered the indie folk genre to the masses.

Gateway tune: White winter hymnal


#9 The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”

I came across this Los Angeles-based indie pop band by way of the soundtrack for “Nick and Norah’s infinite playlist”, which I loved on first watch and listen. They formed in 2006 around the duo of Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti, a married couple who met through a friend but stayed for the music, and are rounded out by Jason Stare and Scott Barber when they perform live. “Honeysuckle weeks” was the album I first listened to by the band, tuned in on the strength of “Xavia” from the aforementioned soundtrack. It is ten songs of shiny happy pop goodness, reflecting the yellow, sunny days of summer, the season in which it was recorded.

Gateway tune: You, me, and the bourgeoisie


#8 School Of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”

I’ve already told the story on these pages of how Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis met twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza of the band On!Air!Library! and they decided to form a band. Well, “Alpinisms” was their debut album and of course, I had to check it out immediately after I learned of it to see what it was that could coax Curtis away from such a promising band. It turned out to be a good choice because this is some great stuff. A little bit more electronic than his former work but no less dreamy and hazy and beautiful and the twin vocals by the Deheza sisters are mesmerizing. The whole package is rife with magic and mysticism and otherworldly sounds.

Gateway tune: My cabal


#7 Glasvegas “Glasvegas”

It’s a bit unfortunate about their name and the fact that their second and third albums lacked the punch of the debut because this self-titled album by Glasvegas was fantastic. It is ten reverb-drenched and fuzzed out tracks that scream for a Phil Spector encore and paired with frontman James Allan’s emotive and passionate delivery in his thick Scottish accent, they become that much more beautiful and vibrant. And other than positing that this album might just suggest enough romance to celebrate today with, that’s all I have to say about that.

Gateway tune: Geraldine


#6 Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”

The two albums that followed Spiritualized’s “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” were slight (and slighter) disappointments around these parts but there were likely doomed, given the lofty expectations heaped upon them. So when Jason Pierce resurfaced after a five year absence and a near death experience in 2005 (that inspired this album’s name and overall theme), the fact that his sixth album as Spiritualized was so good was a bit of a pleasant surprise. It is less rock noise and more orchestral expansion and gospel salvation. And yet at 18 tracks, it is just a hair over three quarters of an hour in duration. The album also gave me one of my first “I’m getting old” moments back in 2008 when I saw Pierce and company performing at V fest: I was standing beside a father and his toddler child, who sang loudly along with every word to the song below.

Gateway tune: Sweet talk


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.