Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2020: #25 Gateway Drugs “Wait (medication)”

<< #26    |    #24>>

Back on Cinco de Mayo, 2015, I went to see Swervedriver perform at the now defunct Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I had been excited to see yet another re-formed shoegaze legend, but as much as I enjoyed their set, I found myself quite surprised to leave the show even more impressed by the opening act.

Los Angeles-based four-piece, Gateway Drugs, had only just released their debut album, “Magick spells” the month before, and they had already toured as support for noise rock and shoegaze icons Ride and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They were led by a trio of siblings – Noa (guitars), Liv (guitars), and Gabriel (drums) Niles – each sharing vocal duties, while the fourth member, Blues Williams, simply looked cool and accompanied them on guitars and bass. The quartet were all in black, leather, furs, and sunglasses and were playing a garage rock infused shoegaze that sounded at different points like early Dum Dum Girls, Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I left the show with a copy of the aforementioned debut album on CD and duly fell in love with it. Its accomplished sound and the pop sensibility that lies just beneath the surface of all those roaring and screeching guitars could easily be traced back to the music surging through the veins of the Niles siblings (children of The Knack’s Prescott Niles).

I was convinced they were going to be huge.

But then, there was nothing but relative silence from the group for almost five years.

Fast forward to 2020, just a few short days after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be an honest-to-goodness pandemic and things started to shut down in earnest, a new Gateway Drugs single appeared, seemingly plucked out of the ether and there finally came the news of the long-awaited sophomore release. I say this last bit with my tongue firmly planted in cheek because perhaps I was one out of only a small handful whose interest hadn’t waned in the interim. This first single really got me excited and that was only multiplied by fifty or so when I learned that “PSA” was produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Put myself on a leash, I’d stay
Kill myself just to hear you call my name”

Of course, that first single was none other than “Wait (medication)”, our song of focus today. I’ve read that Liv Niles has called it a reflection on excess, madness, addiction, and how “extreme highs give way to extreme lows.” It’s an apt Coles Notes for the jackhammer drum beat, crunchy bass line, clanging and twangy guitar screams, and the dual vocal assault by Liv and her brother Noa. It is a four-minute salacious stroll down the chaotic and messy trail blazed by the JAMC and the BRMC.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #17 The Verve “Slide away”

<< #18    |    #16 >>

Verve was an alternative rock band that was formed in Wigan, England in 1990 by Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones, Nick McCabe, and Richard Ashcroft. They started to amass a following early on with their engaging live shows that were explosions of psychedelic and shoegaze guitar miasma and boasted an unpredictable but golden-voiced frontman. They were forced to add the ‘The’ to the front of their name shortly after the release of their debut album, “A storm in heaven”, when they received notice from a certain American jazz label who had already been using the name for years.

It didn’t hurt the band’s burgeoning success any, though, and after the release of a second album, “A northern soul”, they were regularly hitting the UK singles charts. They broke up for the first time in 1995, only to re-form the following year and resurface with the album that would give them notoriety the world over. It was the single, “Bittersweet symphony”, that did it for them. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the band a cent at the time, given the oft-reported story of an ex-manager for The Rolling Stones claiming all royalties for the sample used as its backbone, a story that only found closure in 2019 when the songwriting credits were finally signed over in full to Richard Ashcroft. Sadly, this event likely contributed to the first (1999) of two more breakups by the band, the second (2008) of which has held fast up to now.

Oh, you’ve heard of this band? I’m not surprised.

Like many, I became a fan of The Verve with “Urban hymns” and that ubiquitous lead single. But I remember at the time thinking the band name familiar and was pretty certain I had an idea where from. So I went back and reviewed my cache of VHS tapes loaded with music videos recorded off the various shows on MuchMusic in the early 90s. And sure enough, it was there: “Slide away”.

“So take your time
I wonder if you’re here just to use my mind
Don’t take it slow
You know I’ve got a place to go”

In the video, the band is featured, very young looking, long-haired hippie freaks, tripping and freaking out in the desert and as intense as ‘Mad’ Richard looks, some brave soul picks up the motley hitchhikers and then, brings them to a town where they inexplicably have a gig booked in a brothel. As crazy as all this sounds and looks, it seems to make perfect sense to the band members in such obvious ecstatic states. Not the video you would expect for a single and yet, though the song didn’t garner them a lot of attention in the UK, it made a massive splash on the US indie rock charts.

That muscular bassline, those swirling guitars, and of course, the hazy and lazy vocals had such a great groove and won me over every time I watched that video. And when I rediscovered the group a few years later, I fell in love with song all over again.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #22 Slowdive “Alison”

<< #23    |    #21 >>

My friend Tim was always a bigger fan of Slowdive than I was, and I suspect that his appreciation of the group was influenced greatly by his crush on one of the principal vocalists of the group, Rachel Goswell. He tried to get me into them and I did my best to give them a shot. I tape-recorded a copy of the “Souvlaki” CD he loaned me. Unfortunately, I would never get very far with it, rarely more than a few songs past the opening track (but more on that in a bit).

Much like the rest of the music world, critics and writers who never appreciated Slowdive until they were gone, I didn’t get into the Reading-based five-piece until much later. I’ve already documented* on these pages that it was long after they had lost a couple members, changed musical directions, and rebranded that I caught up with them again, just after they had released their third album as Mojave 3. When I listen to “Souvlaki” now, though, I can’t help but wonder: “What were we all thinking?”

The album is lush and ambient, the sadness and hurt palpable in every wash and echo. More deliberate and difficult than its predecessor, it is a sophomore album multiplied by a hundred, informed equally by the knowledge that anything they produced would be panned and by the internal strife in the band created by the romantic split of Neil Halstead and the aforementioned Goswell. If it weren’t for the rise of Grunge and Britpop, it may have been just as hailed at the time as it is now. Hands down, it was one of the greatest shoegaze albums ever recorded.

“Alison” is the one track that I can honestly say that I’ve always loved from the album. As an opener, it was a hard one to move past and I rarely did. The guitars jangle and waver, a shimmering of light highlighting millions of tiny specks of dust, lifted and disrupted ever so gently by a passing breeze, the same that caused flutters in the gossamer curtains of sound. Drums are far off in the distance and deep down in the mix, like a harrowing memory. The reverb is like a third person in the room, pushing together the lilting voices of Halstead and Goswell, even as it as ripping them apart. “Alison” could be anyone who’s ever broken your heart, a smoker’s cough and an ashtray overflowing with butts, a hangover and a dozen empty merlot bottles.

“Alison, I’m lost
Alison, I’ll drink your wine
And wear your clothes when we’re both high
Alison, I said we’re sinking
But she laughs and tells me it’s just fine
I guess she’s out there somewhere”

Sigh.

*And likely will do so again…

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.