Best tunes of 2002: #25 Interpol “Obstacle 1”

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In a post on the number five song on my Best tunes of 2001 list, The Strokes’ “Last nite”, I wrote about how that band was at the vanguard of an indie rock revival. Then, two songs later with The White Stripes’ “Fell in love with a girl”, I spoke about how this revival was led by two very distinct scenes: one in Detroit and the other in New York City. Many of the bands that came out of the latter scene cut their teeth playing in a now defunct club called The Luna Lounge, much like many a post-punk outfit in the same city did in another long-since-closed club called CBGB. Indeed, Manhattan and the burroughs saw lots of musical action in the years following the turn of the millennium, giving rise to bands like the aforementioned Strokes, Ambulance LTD, Longwave, Stellastarr, Bishop Allen, and of course, Interpol.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when I first heard the post-punk revivalist quartet but I certainly remember when I first decided I liked them. It was definitely not too long after the release of their debut, “Turn on the bright lights”, because we were living in the ‘hood* and we had the use of my mother-in-law’s car. The green cavalier would eventually became ours in an unofficial sense but for a couple years there, we took turns with my brother-in-law in possessing it. During my commutes to work around the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, I had discovered the local university and college radio stations and on one of these afternoon drives home, I realized that one of the aspiring DJs had decided to forego a real playlist and had just set Interpol’s debut to play from beginning to end. And yeah, while driving the heavy traffic up the Vanier parkway, it just clicked.

“Obstacle 1” follows “Untitled” as track two on the album and if the first song serves as an intro, our song today is the exclamation point. It’s all staccato guitars and bass, frontman Paul Banks’ deep and foreboding vocals, clearing up whether those Joy Division comparisons are fair or overwrought. You don’t get much more angular and austere than here, but we’re not just rehashing and reviving a too long dormant genre but breathing in new life and energy. Great tune on an incredible debut.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

* For those unfamiliar with Ottawa, Vanier is a part of the city just on the other side of the Rideau river from downtown. It was at the time a lower income neighbourhood that was constantly under threat of regentrificafion due to its location and wasn’t our first choice of areas to live but the rent was affordable. Truth be told, only sections of it were bad and the one in which we lived wasn’t really one of those so the term ‘hood is one of endearment.

Playlist: Time to get your Goth on

Happy World Goth Day everyone!

Er… To be honest, it’s not a holiday I observe but it did give me occasion to start in on an idea that I’ve kicked around in the past. And that is making and sharing genre-themed playlists on these pages. So, yeah, starting things off with Goth.

Goth is easily the music genre, lifestyle, and subculture that is most misunderstood by mass media and the public in general. I remember the going joke amongst a few of my coworkers, some years ago, which centred around the term ‘practicing Goth’ (as in, ‘Look at all that black, it looks like Jennifer is practicing Goth today’). It’s a term we culled from an article, one of many that had wrongfully attributed the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre as members of the ‘Goth community’.

I’m not sure I even fully understand the idea of being and ‘practicing’ Goth and all of the different offshoots that now exist but I do enjoy some facets of the fashion (the adoption of Victorian dress, for instance). I am also quite a big fan of a lot of the music that inspired the original scene, though I completely missed out on it, being too young at the time.

Some people sneer at the term Goth as a genre of music, calling it gimmicky, and the truth of the matter is that many of the original artists attached to the genre disliked the tag and tried to loosen its hold. I can remember going to a Sisters of Mercy show in Toronto in 1998, seeing all the youngsters in the audience wearing black, leather, S&M gear, etc., and wondering what they thought of lead singer Andrew Eldritch coming out on stage with his hair bleached blonde and cut short, and wearing a loud red Hawaiian shirt.

The idea in creating this playlist was not to define what is and what is not goth but to celebrate those artists that inspired generations to wear black. It is somewhat chronological, starting with those post-punk artists that toiled in darkness (Joy Division, Bauhaus), continuing with those that took up the mantle (The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy), squeezing in some acts that are not technically goth but definitely don’t sound out of place (Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen), and finally, gently transitioning to those that felt honoured to play in the originators’ shadows (She Wants Revenge, The Horrors), many years later.

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist:

1. Joy Division “She’s lost control”
2. Bauhaus “Bela Lugosi’s dead”
3. Tones On Tail “Christian says”
4. Love and Rockets “Haunted when the minutes drag”
5. The Cure “The hanging garden”
6. Killing Joke “Love like blood”
7. Siouxsie & The Banshees “Cities in dust”
8. Sisters of Mercy “Alice”
9. The Mission “Tower of strength”
10. The Cult “She sells sanctuary”
11. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Red right hand”
12. Concrete Blonde “Bloodletting (The vampire song)”
13. Leonard Cohen “Waiting for the miracle”
14. Dead Can Dance “Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”
15. Cranes “Shining road”
16. Interpol “Obstacle 1”
17. She Wants Revenge “Tear you apart”
18. The Horrors “Do you remember”
19. Esben and the Witch “Marching song”
20. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness “According to plan”


For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best albums of 2007: #4 The National “Boxer”

I’m starting to feel like a broken record now. I’m certainly noticing a trend and thinking that 2007 must’ve been quite the year of musical discovery for me. Because just like “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse” at #10, Okkervil River’s “The stage names” at #9, and Blonde Redhead’s “23” at #5, “The boxer” at #4 was my introduction to The National, a band finding its feet and releasing a touchstone of an album.

I remember listening to it all the time in 2007. I liked it so much that I went through the trouble to run a cord from my laptop to my old stereo in order to make a copy of the MP3 version of the album on my computer to cassette tape. Yes, I know. The idea seems technologically backwards but my old cavalier didn’t have a CD player or an auxiliary input so the cassette player was the only alternative to commercial radio. It’s an album I listened to all the time in the car in this way and got to know every song intimately. Much later on, it was among the first albums I searched out for my vinyl shelves when I started collecting records again, another step backwards technologically but this step in a cooler set of sneakers.

“The boxer” is the fourth album by the Cincinnati-based five piece and their second on Beggars banquet. Like its predecessor “Alligator” and all the albums that followed, it received near unanimous critical acclaim and appeared on countless year end lists. Their sound appealed to me upon first listen, angular rock that was warm and atmospheric but held a constant threat of danger and darkness. All of their tunes are remarkable for the whiskey smooth baritone of frontman Matt Berninger and for his intelligent use of imagery and a stream of consciousness style of lyrics.

So many great tracks on “Boxer”, it was hard to pick just three tunes for you but here is what I got.

“Ada”: Let me start off by saying that I haven’t done any reading up on and really don’t know for sure what the literal meanings are behind any of these songs but the lyrics are written so that there is so much open for interpretation and it’s fun to conjecture. In the case of “Ada”, I imagine her to be a woman struggling with a psychological disorder, the smattering of keys, seemingly plucked at random reflecting her thought process. Berninger sings to her soothingly, wishing to calm her, willing her to come through on the right side of sanity. “Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, I can hear the sound of your laugh through the wall. Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, Ada, I’ve been hoping you know your way ’round.” The strings right at the end are so uplifting, you think that she just might.

“Fake empire”: “Fake empire” is the opening number and starts off calmly enough with a rumbling on the piano but builds and builds to an ecstatic crescendo complete with massive horns. Berninger is talking smack about how we’re all sleep walking through life, making apple pies and drinking spiked lemonade while there is grime and pain creeping in just around the edges of our idyllic photo. But he does none of this angrily or sermon on the mount like, it is all conversational and matter of fact, like he knows we’re all in on it. So optimistic of him.

“Mistaken for strangers”: “Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over, surprise, surprise, they wouldn’t wanna watch another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults.” Pure awesome. Like the song itself, a paean to the anonymity of life in the big mean world. The idea of being “mistaken for strangers by your own friends” reminds me of the incredible urge I get sometimes to turn away or duck into a doorway when I see someone I know in the street. The drumming is aggressive in your face and the heavy bass is not far behind. This is an example of where The National gets its post-punk tag, on songs like this where the instrumentation is as claustrophobic as Berninger lyrics suggest we all feel. This is probably one of my favourite of all their tunes. So, so, so good.

For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.