Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2020: #29 Matt Berninger “Distant axis”

<< #30    |    #28 >>

This here is an example of one of those situations where you like a band so much, a band that can do no wrong in your eyes, that has consistently put out great album after great album, but one that you can’t fathom its talented parts making music outside of the near perfect whole. You don’t want to listen to solo material from any of its members, least of all that of its golden-voiced lead singer. You don’t want to like it. You don’t want there to be even more solo material released to take away from the possibility of another great album from the singer’s band.

No?

Okay. Maybe it was just me.

To be honest, I know a lot of diehard fans of The National that couldn’t wait for Matt Berninger’s debut solo album and that ate it up the moment it was released. Perhaps curmudgeonly, I probably waited two or three weeks after its mid-October release date before I gave in and tracked it down on the Spotify. And though it didn’t necessarily push any of my favourite albums of the year out of the top ten that had pretty much been set by that point, I couldn’t bring myself to hate “Serpentine prison”. Scratch that, I couldn’t even bring myself to discount the album as subpar. Nope. It was actually quite lovely.

In spite of myself, I was especially enamoured by track two, pretty much from the first few seconds of impassioned guitar strumming. That intro, mired in smoky washes, smacked nostalgically of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” or James’s “Ring the bells”, but when Berninger’s fine baritone crackled in, those similarities faded right away into the ether. “Distant axis” is like a howling in the night, a call out between lost lovers, a demand for warmth and understanding. It’s a message that Berninger delivers as if out of breath, as if he had just run the length of a cold and cloudy beach in the hopes of catching a fleeting glimpse of hair or a slip of a dress. And he almost seems resigned to his fate.

“There’s a pattern to the way the world is tearin’ up
I think it’s happening to me”

With tracks this heartbreaking, I’d be hard pressed not to hope for more solo material from Matt Berninger.

But not at the expense of a new National record…

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

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2020: #30 Morrissey “Jim Jim Falls”

#29 >>

Well howdy! It’s 2022. A new year, but one that’s feeling much the same as the last two. And what better way to start off the year than with a post kicking off a countdown of my favourite tunes from the year that started this mess. Dark humour? A sucker for punishment? Perhaps. But for me, it’s more about remembering that there was still some good to come out of these dark times.

Take my number thirty for the year, for instance. Morrissey released a new album in 2020 and though this sort of news has once again fallen smack dab into the ho-hum category, I found myself liking quite a bit of “I am not a dog on a chain”.

I first discovered Stephen Patrick Morrissey shortly after he went solo and I loved his first bunch of early 90s albums. I later discovered his work fronting the legendary British rock band, The Smiths, right around the time that was releasing his late 90s work, a period in his solo career to which I remain to this day mostly ambivalent. Then, he released what many (including myself) consider his comeback album, “You are the quarry”, in the early 2000s. He followed that with a string of albums of diminishing returns, to the point where I couldn’t even have been bothered to check out his album of covers, 2019’s “California son”.

Morrissey has always been a polarizing figure, eliciting equal amounts of gag reflex, eye-rolling, cheers, and undying love from all parts of the music-buying public. He actually seems to have become more known for his penchant for cancelling concerts and tours and for his increasingly right wing views than he is for any new music that he manages to record. He has lost a number of fans along the way, been dropped from record labels, and had numerous fellow artists publicly express their disappointment in him. I’ve always tried to separate the artist and their art, which is why I still try to give his albums a listen, just in case there’s a gem or two to pluck from the mire. And in 2020, there were a few on his latest and, in fact, I distinctly remember listening and bopping right along to it on the first spin while working away at my dining room table.

The opening track, “Jim Jim Falls”, starts off not sounding like typical Morrissey at all but then the industrial/electronic percussion and synth crashes give way to his familiar vocal delivery. It’s dark and ominous and harrowing in feel but the tone, biting and no holds barred, rings true. Lyrically, he sets death (particularly suicide) against living life for real, walking the walk and jumping the jump instead of talking the talk. And it rocks and it rolls. Seriously. When else but with Morrissey would you find yourself happily singing along with the lines: “If you’re gonna kill yourself, then for God’s sake, just kill yourself?”

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

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #12 Frankie Rose “Pair of wings”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

I’m pretty near positive that I first came to listen to Frankie Rose’s second solo album, “Interstellar”, because of her impressive resume that included working with bands like Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. I was likely expecting to hear some 60s girls group wall of sound, given this pedigree*, but this is not what I got. Instead, I voyaged off to space with her, a retro outer space, minimalist and analogue synth heavy, reverb drenched and vacuous. Stanley Kubrick would have been proud.

My favourite song on this record wasn’t either of the two singles that were proudly advertised on the hype label. Don’t get me wrong, “Know me” and “Night swim” are also both excellent. However, there is just something about “Pair of wings” that flirts heavily with near perfection.

The liner notes credit the song to a ‘Wu Li Leung’ who originally wrote the song as “Wings to fly” but initial (and lazy, and perhaps slightly drunken) attempts to track this original down while writing these words came up empty. I will trust our musical artist, though, and appreciate her honesty in giving credit where it is due. “Pair of wings” is a delicate and sweet notion, universal and easily comprehensible, repetition into simplicity.

“All that I want is
A pair of wings to fly
Into the blue of
The wide open sky”

These four minutes of magnificence starts and ends with the ticking of an alien clock. From there, the minimalist synth chords change slowly yet assured, washes upon washes, bells ringing into infinity, rocketing percussion, steam and exhaust, layers of everything and eternity. Rose’s vocals are amplified by the vacuum, her ringing vocals bouncing off planets and moons.

This is space rock that is only such because it is dreamy pop rocked by synths and empty space. It envelops you and assimilates you. If you scream in space, does anybody hear it? And with beauty this palpable, does it matter?

*Apparently, her first solo album, recorded under the name Frankie Rose and the Outs, did follow this line of questioning, but I have yet to listen to this one. So I am unable to confirm or deny.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.