Best tunes of 2011: #11 I Break Horses “Winter beats”

<< #12    |    #10 >>

Shoegaze was a subgenre I loved way back in the day (though I likely joined the train just as it was coming to a skidding and screaming stop) so when I started to hear bands incorporating that sound into their music in the mid- to late-2000s, I got pretty excited. And though I never thought much of the term ‘nugaze’, I definitely latched on to a lot these revivalists, of which I Break Horses is but one fine example.

From what I’ve read, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck named themselves after a Bill Callahan/Smog song. Other than that piece of trivia, there’s little else to be found about them, other than the obvious: the names of their two albums, they haven’t released new material in quite a few years, etc. However, I can say that the debut album “Hearts” is a thing of real beauty and around the time it came out, I couldn’t say enough about it. Yeah, I did my damnedest to spread the word. When I got the chance to see them the year following its release, during their tour as support to M83, I jumped at it and tried to convince all of my friends to join me. Unfortunately, this was an uphill task since the majority of my concert-going buddies were going to the same Spiritualized show as I was on the day prior. It was their loss because my second concert in as many nights was just as good as the first.

“Winter beats”, the opening track on “Hearts”, is a thrilling piece of music. It takes the roar and rage of My Bloody Valentine and ups the synth quotient, looping washes and frenetic drum machine crashes, and effects morphed vocals. Oh my. Yes. It is a roaring animal of a thing, flashing strobes, smoke machines, and lasers all over the place, while two silhouettes are up on stage, perhaps one is male and the other female, but you are unsure. Indeed, they are only just barely visible through the smoke and mirrors. You could almost swear the song was conjured up from the ephemera by a machine. Or a ghost. Or an alien.

You could almost swear it might very nearly swallow you up whole. But there are worse fates, I’d wager.

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

Best tunes of 2011: #24 Lykke Li “Love out of lust”

<< #25    |    #23 >>

Lykke Li is the stage name (one based on a derivative of her birth name) of Swedish singer/songwriter Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson. She released her critically acclaimed debut album, “Youth novels”, at 22 years of age, and followed it up with “Wounded rhymes” three years later, an album most have agreed was an improvement on the debut. I really liked both of her first two albums, loving both the quirky and the macabre feel of the tunes, music that traverses a taut tightrope, just this side of pop. With each successive album afterwards, however, it sounds to me like she has fallen victim to the lure of the mighty pop dollar and I’ve liked each of them less to a greater degree.

Her sophomore release, though, was a delight. She went to California to record it, admitting, herself, that she wanted to escape the dreariness of Stockholm winters and find some sunshine. Also, there were journeys to the desert in search of the ghostly channels of her heroes in Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell. It’s not at all Haight Ashbury or Laurel Canyon, though, still very much keeping to the blueprint of the debut, a percussive and atmospheric canvas for her to paint her childlike, haunting vocals upon.

“Love out of lust” was actually not one of the three singles released off the album but I cannot understand for the life of me why it wasn’t. It’s so freaking beautiful and it’s damned catchy. Lykke Li is pleading her case for love while the world shimmers around her, tribal drummers beating upon large bass toms and gigantic brass gongs and pixies whisper and flit, posing as synthesizers and samples. It is a song for slow dancing in the ephemera.

“We will live longer than I will
We will be better than I was
We can cross rivers with our will
We can do better than I can
So dance while you can
Dance ’cause you must.”

Indeed. Dance because you must.

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

Best tunes of 2010: #29 Shout Out Louds “1999”

<< #30    |    #28 >>

Next up for this best of 2010 list is “1999”, a track off Shout Out Louds’ third album, “Work”.

Formed in 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden, Shout Out Louds are a five-piece indie pop band centred around childhood friends Adam Olenius, Ted Malmros, and Carl Von Arbin. They have released four albums to date, the first two to critical and commercial acclaim and the latter two getting a bit of a cold shoulder by the critics. Much of this aversion was due to their eschewing the doom and gloom on 2007’s “Our ill wills” for a return to a more light and sunshiny pop on “Work”. Personally, I’ve been a fan of both sounds and don’t mind at all the lighter fare, especially since I find that Shout Out Louds, like many of their countrymen, do it so well.

These guys will forever remind me of an ex-coworker who introduced me to their music perhaps a year or so before “Work” was released. I haven’t seen him or talked him in a few years but I think if we ever met in the street, we’d fall into an easy conversation, like no time had passed. We were about the same age, had similar tastes in music, and we even shared given names. He was a super nice guy but I always felt a bit bad for him because he was the administrative assistant in our work section, a job he never really got the hang of and I think it stressed him out quite a bit. Every morning he would come in with an extra-large Tim Horton’s quadruple-quadruple. For those of you reading this from outside of Canada and unfamiliar with our staple coffee shop’s lingo, that was a gigantic coffee with four creams and four sugars in it. Needless to say, he was pretty jittery for the whole day.

But hey, back to our song: “1999.” It’s the opening number on “Work” and gets things rolling with pep and a jump in its step (kind of like an XL quadruple-quadruple might). Wonky piano tinkling underpins a driving drum beat and leads to some dancing chords and some otherworldly guitar effects just off in the distance. And through it all, vocalist Adam Olenius rolls out the spirited lyrics with plenty of backing supports that feel pulled from the golden 50s. Indeed, its all very nostalgic in sound and tone. Interesting, though, that Olenius here is singing wistfully about a time that was only a year removed from 2000.

“I do remember, like a punch in the face. I never felt so alive since 1999.”

It’s a great summer song and could easily be adapted to apply to a sunny and warm spring day also… and it looks like we’re about due for a few of those so turn it up.

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