Best tunes of 2020: #24 5 Billion In Diamonds “Weight of the world”

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Back last month, I was standing in a crowd at Ottawa Bluesfest, watching 90s alt-rockers, Garbage, take the stage and smiling in spite of myself. And just as they were kicking into their first track, my friend Josh leaned in towards me and yelled over the ensuing ruckus, “That’s Butch Vig on drums, right? The guy that produced “Nevermind” and a bunch of other classic alternative albums?” I nodded, and yelled back, “That’s him.” Then, still smiling, I eased myself into the nostalgia and sang along with Shirley Manson for the next hour or so.

Vig has always been a busy guy in the music biz. He started off in a parade of bands, local to where he went to university in Madison, Wisconsin. He shifted gears and went into music production full time in the early nineties, working on seminal albums by Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, L7, Crash Vegas, and of course, Nirvana. Then, he decided to get back into making music again, forming the aforementioned Garbage in the mid-90s and with them, released a number of hit singles on three massive records. Between this band* and continuing to produce other artists throughout the new century, you’d think that’d be enough for Vig. But not so.

He formed 5 Billion In Diamonds in 2017 with another producer in Andy Jenks, UK DJ James Grillo, and a host of other friends and collaborators. The idea was to create music as soundtracks to films that didn’t exist. The self-titled debut was a nod to the psych-rock of the 60s and 70s and they returned in 2020 with a sophomore album called “Divine accidents” that mined the indie rock of the 1980s. It doesn’t feel at all like anything Vig has had his fingers in thus far.

“Weight of the world” features The Soundtrack of our Lives’ Ebbot Lundberg on lead vocals. The heavy and pounding synths early on give way to jangly pop and a mid-eighties paisley underground aesthetic and the way Lundberg plays it on the mike, this almost could be a Bernard Sumner led side project. It is vibrations and ripples, concentric circles spreading out into the vastness of the open air and expansive water. It is cool and breezy and feels great all around.

*And another one-off album band back in the early 2010s.

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

Live music galleries

Live music galleries: The New Pornographers [2022]

(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.)

The New Pornographers live at Ottawa Bluesfest 2022

Artist: The New Pornographers
When: July 8th, 2022
Where: River stage, Ottawa Bluesfest, Lebreton Flats Park
Context: The second night of Ottawa Bluesfest 2022 offered me a second opportunity to see Canadian indie rock collective, The New Pornographers. I had previously seen them in October 2017 at the Bronson Music Theatre on their Ottawa stop in support of their seventh album, “Whiteout conditions”. What with the nature of the group and the various members’ busy schedules, you never know which version of the band* you’ll get to see on any given night. As it turned out, the lineup this time was very much similar to the previous show, except of course, with the subtraction of founding member/keyboard player Blaine Thurier, who had departed the band the previous year, and the addition of touring vocalist/percussionist, Nora O’Connor. They started off with “Falling down the stairs of your smile” (below) off their most recent record and roared through the rest of the one-hour set touching all of their eight albums at least once. Crowd pleasing and fun, this group really does do their shows right. I would never hesitate to the see them again given the chance.
Point of reference song: Falling down the stairs of your smile

Cool Kathryn Calder
Joe Seiders on the drums
John Collins, full of smiles
Todd Fancey
Nora O’Connor, current touring member
Carl Newman in the bright lights
Nora O’Connor and Todd Fancey
Carl, Joe, and John in duplicate
Joe Seiders
Carl, John, and Kathryn
Kathryn Calder close up
Carl Newman at the mike

*I still have yet to see a show by them with Neko Case or Dan Bejar performing… maybe someday…


Best tunes of 2012: #5 Divine Fits “Would that not be nice”

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For those who might have missed out on the Divine Fits back in 2012, please take note, especially you fans of Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and Spoon.

The term indie rock supergroup was bandied about quite a bit in reference to the group and their sole album, “A thing called the Divine Fits”. But with all due respect to Sam Brown and Alex Fischel (the other two band members)*, the project really was about Dan Boeckner and Britt Daniel. Indeed, the Divine Fits’ template was an amalgam of the two different (but not so different) sounds that we were already used to hearing in each musician’s previous work. These two principals split lead vocal duties between them and there wasn’t a huge leap between the songs sung (and presumably written) by one or the other. All of this substantiated my feeling that these two friends and musicians were meant to work together from the beginning.

I must have listened to “A thing called the Divine Fits” hundreds of times in 2012. But even on my first go through, I remember thinking that it was going to be one of the most exciting releases of the year, right from the opening notes of “My love is real”. The project was an experiment gone completely right in every sense. The two mad scientists at the helm seamlessly fused guitar rock and synth pop into what felt like a whole new genre. Unfortunately, this one album is all that we’ve heard from this collaboration and as far as I know, there’s been no hint at all (from either Daniel or Boeckner) that there’s more music in the tank from these guys.

“You set the room up with flickering light
And if you did, would that not be nice?”

“Would that not be nice” is my favourite track here and would be my recommendation if you were to choose just one of the album’s eleven to sample. Be warned, though, you may not be able to shut it off and stop yourself from switching on the repeat function. It’s got a great groove, a bass line that won’t give up ghost, a hip shaking rhythm, and of course, Britt Daniel just kills it, rock and roll style.

*Drummer Sam Brown had previously worked with New Bomb Turks and later worked with Boeckner in Operators. Keyboardist Alex Fischel would later go on to join Daniel as a part of Spoon.

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