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Best tunes of 2012: #13 The Tallest Man on Earth “1904”

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“There’s no leaving now”, Kristian Mattson’s third solo album as The Tallest Man on Earth, was my introduction to his music and though I fell deeply in love with its gentle beauty, much as I did his following three albums, I still have yet to explore his first two records. Perhaps it’s a needless worry that his songwriting might not stand up to what I’ve heard is a more bare-bones sound – just him and his guitar – that has kept me from them. I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually and when I do, I’m sure that I’ll love them just as I do the rest of his tunes.

How can I not?

Just listen to our song today, “1904”, with its loving strum and cascading guitar flourishes, and let the wistful joy wash over you. Kristian is channelling Dylan and Drake and Guthrie, jamming with friends by candlelight, seated on sofa cushions pulled from their normal spots and transferred to the scuffed up hardwood of a high-ceilinged Victorian home. He is singing about an earth shattering and earth shaking moment, some have pointed to an earthquake that occurred in his part of the world in the year referenced in the song’s title, but you get the feeling as the song pulls you in, that the actual event doesn’t matter. It’s how you allow it to affect you, how you learn from it, and how you carry on afterwards that really matters.

“And the singing is slow and so quiet
Like the sound when you sweep off the floor
And now something with the dirt is just different
Since they shook the earth in 1904”

I remember when I first heard this song and the album on which it appears and could not believe what I was hearing. Perfect folk, out of time and out of place. Much like Swedish compatriots First Aid Kit, home informs his sensibilities, just as much as his love for those that influenced his sound. It is all so obvious and so passionate and so easy to get caught up in and pulled along in its wake. He has said that in writing this album, he wanted a brittle sound, one that gives a “feeling that it might just fall apart” at any moment. And he’s definitely achieved this precariousness, a moment in perfection that we all know can’t last forever.

But luckily for us, we can simply replay the track and live it all over again.

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

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Best tunes of 2011: #21 Peter Bjorn and John “Tomorrow has to wait”

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Much like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s “Hysterical” (whose title track appeared at number twenty-three on this list), Peter Bjorn and John’s “Gimme some” was something of a comeback album for me in 2011, even though neither band had ever really went away.

if you’re unaware of them, Peter Bjorn and John is a Swedish indie pop trio made up of Peter Morén, Björn Yttling, and John Eriksson (see what they did there?). They formed in 1999 but rose to international relevance in 2006 with their third album, “Writer’s block”, an excellent album that I love all the way through. However, many know it simply as the album that hosts the band’s best known song, “Young folks”, a great, great pop tune that if you don’t know, you should most definitely investigate. After their breakthrough, the three members took a bit of time to work on personal projects before coming back together to make a (mostly) instrumental album (“Seaside rock”) in 2008. They followed that up with “Living thing”, a darker experimental album, in 2009. These two albums, while interesting, weren’t my cup of tea. So when “Gimme some” was released a couple of years later, I checked it out without great expectations. Happily for me, though, it was a return to the quirky indie pop sound that caught the world’s ear a few years earlier.

And yes, this trio really does pop well. “Gimme some” opens with this tune, “Tomorrow has to wait”, an invigorating number that was not one of the three singles the band released from the album but it really could’ve been. It pounces on you with the tribal drumming right of the bat. Peter Morén plays the call and response game with his band mates on the verses but this reverts to a shout along fist pump by the chorus. This isn’t a song for watching the dance floor from the sidelines but one for which you could quite easily find yourself right in the middle of the fray, doing the pogo, something you swore you would never do, without knowing quite how you got there.

Yeah. It’s that type of song.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2010: #4 The Radio Dept. “This time around”

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For years and years and years, my good (old) friends and I have gone fall camping in Algonquin Park. We originally picked the fall, rather than the crazed, busy summer, so that it would be quieter, despite the fact that once we got drinking, we were often the loudest in the park. Over the years, it has gotten busier deeper into the season and we’ve had to push our date further, from early October to early November. And yes, we’ve had some really cold nights and often get snow, but we’ve learned a thing or two over the years and as our salaries have increased, we’ve invested in better gear. Our conversations around the usually massive campfire are never very deep. We catch up, relive stories, laugh, and talk movies and, of course, music.

One such trip, many, many, many years ago now, my friend Tim famously brought up an article he had read on The Charlatans (UK, for those of us in North America). Whoever had written the article suggested that though they survived the longest of their contemporaries, they were no one’s favourite band. Our friend Tim, emboldened by multiple beers, brashly went further, suggesting that they might not have had any lasting influence and that a few years after they stopped producing music, they might be forgotten altogether. There were raised voices and indignation, and I was amongst the two or three that disagreed with him. It has become a running joke ever since with Tim facetiously asking “Who?” whenever the band comes up in conversation.

Fast forward to 2010, I don’t know how many years later, and I am on bus, commuting home from work. I am perusing the latest album by this Swedish band I had just came across and something clicks. These guys may not be directly influenced by but they certainly sounded a lot like The Charlatans on their debut album, “Some friendly”!

The Radio Dept. formed in Lund, Sweden in the late 1990s and adopted a dream pop sound with an often danceable edge. “This time around” is track three off their third album, “Clinging to a scheme”. It was never released as a single but easily could’ve been. It is infectious beats, airy, laser show guitars, and lazy vocals, albeit fattened with effects, sounding so much like a young Tim Burgess. The major difference that is most obvious to me is that in the case of The Radio Dept., the lyrics are intelligible, and are often politically charged.

“You feel old like the fight
Learning new ways to be right
And how to cope with disloyalty
It’s not a song
That will prove them wrong
This time around.”

Enjoy! And to all you Charlies fans, let me know if I am crazy or not. You can hear it too, right?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.