(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)
Artist: Elephant Stone When: November 28th, 2012 Where: Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa Context: I got to see Elephant Stone for a second time in late 2012 at the legendary, but sadly now defunct, Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa’s Byward Market. The four-piece psychedelic indie rock band out of Montreal, led by bass/sitar player, Rishi Dhir, took to the stage in a blaze of swirling, psychedelic guitars. It was as if the doors to Zaphod’s were thrown open and instead of crisp wintry cold, wafts of fresh and warm summer air breezed through the room. Even though they started off their set with a couple of newer tracks, there was still a familiarity that pervaded their sweet sixties-influenced sound and I couldn’t help but allow a smile to creep on to my face. From the Polaris prize-nominated debut album, “The seven seas”, Dhir and company breathed fresh life into personal faves, “How long?”, the title track, and the elegantly epic, “Don’t you know”. They also introduced the crowd to eagerly anticipated new material from their sophomore album, that was due out the following February, including the latest single “Heavy moon” (the namesake for that particular tour), which only whet my appetite for more. Point of reference song: “Love the sinner, hate the sin”
In 2018, Jason Pierce released his eighth studio album as Spiritualized, “And nothing hurt”. I remember hearing in advance of its release of how great it was, how it was a return to the sound and scope of their masterpiece, 1997’s “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, and how it might very well be his last album. I was so excited I jumped on it right away, downloading the digital version that was granted me with the pre-order of it on vinyl. Of course, I fell in love with it and it ended up landing at number four on my end of year list for that year, but what struck me the most was how different the album sounded when I dropped the needle to the disc on my turntable.
When “Everything was beautiful” was announced, I was first of all relieved that the fear of Pierce packing it in was unwarranted and secondly, I was determined to wait for my pre-ordered physical copy to arrive before giving any of it a listen. And so I held off on release day, even as I heard once again that this album was the man’s best work since that aforementioned masterpiece, and I was duly rewarded to brilliance and beauty when I gave it a spin the very night the record arrived. It was like a perfect synergy between my ears and my earphones, music and emotion and (forgive me here) spirituality.
Billed by Pierce as a companion album to its predecessor, the two titles taken together form a quote from the Kurt Vonnegut novel, “Slaughterhouse five”, apt considering the songs from both albums were all written and demoed around the same time. This second album, however, has had more time to steep and has the experience of many other lifetimes, these felt even more deeply with all that we have collectively been through in the interim. As great as “And nothing hurts” was and as much as was put into it*, “Everything was beautiful” feels just more complete, more a sum of all of Pierce’s ideas and work, like you can hear pieces of all his career on this album. But this is more a revisit than a rehash, retracing his footsteps in a different set of shoes.
At surface, one might surmise that this album was a throwaway, given that it’s only seven tracks in length. However, it uses every millimeter of space on the record, filling out the forty-five minutes and colouring in the skies in a mass of sound, his sound, space rock. If you’ve never heard Spiritualized’s particular brew of psychedelic noise, gospel, and free jazz, “Everything was beautiful” is just as great a starting point as any of his works. And yes, I would say this is definitely the best Spiritualized record in more than two decades.
The best way to listen to “Everything was beautiful” is end-to-end, all the way through on vinyl but I’m willing here to offer up three picks to lead you by the nose to the prize.
“The mainline song“: When I first saw the title of this track, I immediately thought back to Spiritualized’s second record, “Pure phase”, and the instrumental track that picked up on a theme that coursed through that whole album. This one is different though, more about trains than heroin, and though about half of the track’s six minutes is purely instrumental, we do get into some words. “Sweet heart, sweet light. Oh babe, it’s a beautiful night, and I wanted to know if you wanted to go tell the city tonight.” It’s a track inspired by lockdowns and protests about lockdowns and about finally getting things right. Setting things right.
“Let it bleed (For Iggy)”: “Laboured over these words too long / And nothing to behold / Wanted it to be special for you / But it’s just a song.” Pierce’s ode to his hero Iggy Pop certainly starts off mellow and ventures into delicate balladry, but in his hands, a song is never just a song. The choirs sing and horns call and guitars vibrate. It is about putting everything into it and having faith, perhaps blind fatih, that the efforts will be appreciated. This is about Jason Pierce as much as it is Iggy Pop.
“Always together with you”: Echoes of the title track of “Ladies and gentlemen”, the first track of the album opens with a female breathing the title of the album over space echoes but this time the voice is provided by his daughter, Poppy, instead of his ex-lover, Kate Radley. The similarities don’t end there, indeed, this feels like a sequel, a revisit, but the object is the future and not the past. It is just as epic and beautiful and heartrending. It is six and a half minutes of hope and love, strings and choirs and horns and angels. “If you want a silver moon, I would be a silver moon for you. If you want a unicorn, I would be a unicorn for you. If you want a satellite, I would be a satellite for you. If you want a universe, I would be a universe for you.” The universe would be pleased.
*I remember writing about it at the time that it sounded to me like Pierce was putting his all into it.
In case you missed the previous five posts, here is the rest of the list:
This year will mark the sixth time I’ve done one of these end of the year, best album countdowns. Last year, even lacking the energy and the real will to pull it off, I still managed to do a more toned-down, two-part series. This year I wanted to try and do my usual six part effort, even if the word counts for each post don’t get as lofty as usual*. My goal is to share my favourites out of all the great music released this year.
On any other year, this particular post wouldn’t even exist but for some reason, this year, I couldn’t get my list down to just ten albums, no matter how hard I tried. I just had to shout out a handful more. These five are not ranked but instead, listed in alphabetical order by artist name. (Don’t worry, I’ll get back to properly ranking with the next post.)
So you can consider this a taste of things to come and if you haven’t yet given these five albums a spin, hopefully my brief words and the sample Youtube link provided will get you on the right path. Cheers!
The Afghan Whigs “How do you burn”: I’d heard the name but never listened to the alternative band from Cincinnati, even in their first go-round in the 90s. If their intense ninth studio album (third since reuniting in 2011) is any indication, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Check out: “A line of shots”
Andy Bell “Flicker”: For his second solo album, the founding member of Ride and former Oasis guitarist went full on double LP and it is full of swirling, ethereal, droning, and [continue to insert dream pop and psych rock adjectives here] beauty. Check out:“Something like love”
King Hannah “I’m not sorry, I was just being me”: The debut album by this duo hailing from Liverpool, England is moody and atmospheric and cinematic, earning them favourable comparisons to Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and maybe even Portishead. Check out: “All being fine”
Dan Mangan “Being somewhere”: The Canadian indie folk troubadour has increased the atmospherics and production trickery on his seventh studio album but hasn’t dispensed with any of quiet but loud passion in the process. Check out: “In your corner (for Scott Hutchison”
Sharon Van Etten “We’ve been going about this all wrong”: In my books, SVE has been one of the most consistent singer/songwriters on the indie scene in terms of producing excellent work on every outing and her sixth full-length studio might be favourite of the bunch to date. Check out: “Mistakes”
*And even if I don’t manage to get all the posts in before the end of the year…
I’ll be back very soon with albums #10 through #6 for my Best albums of 2022 list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.