Playlist: New tunes from 2021, part two

…And I’m back. Did you miss me?

Don’t worry. If you didn’t even notice that was gone, I won’t be too hurt. I’ve had a great couple of weeks off from work and it was definitely nice to step away from posting to these pages during that same time. Some of my fellow bloggers may have observed that I was still reading and commenting on some of their own pieces so I wasn’t completely absent. And I will admit that I did spend a bit of time stringing together some words on music for this and some future posts.

But now I’m back and I’m ready to go, starting things off with part two of my New tunes of 2021 playlist. I’ve been doing these playlists for a few years now and they’re like a running diary of the new music that has been released during each quarter of the year and that has caught my ear. You can go back and have a listen to part one for this year here.

Months four, five, and six of 2021 have been, without a question, a more positive experience than the previous three were. Sure, we’ve had a third wave of this pandemic to contend with and here in Ontario, Canada, the government upped the ante on the lockdown and issued a stay at home order at the beginning of April. Since then, though, things have looked up. The roll out of the mass vaccination campaign has been going quite well. (Yours truly received his first dose of Pfizer in mid-June and is scheduled for dose number two on Friday.) Of course, the warmer weather has meant more outdoor activities and some semblance of normalcy. My wife and I have been out on walks, out weekly to the farmers markets, and have been getting out on the bikes pretty regularly. We also accidentally found ourselves at the Ottawa tulip festival back in May (see photo above) and we’ve already been out on patios to support some of our favourite local restaurant businesses.

And through all of this, I’ve also been purchasing, streaming, and listening to as much new music as I can. The twenty five songs below are just an example of the many tunes that have been brightening up my spring. Highlights include:

  • “I’m glad that we broke up”, a trashy, glam rock, firebomb of single by Du Blonde in a raucous duet with one of my discoveries from last year, Ezra Furman
  • Ex-Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kip Berman stepped away from the reverb-drenched indie pop of his old band in favour of more stripped-down and rootsy indie folk as The Natvral and the track “New Year’s night” is just brilliant
  • The introspective and honest jangly retro pop of “I hope I never fall in love” is just one of the many great tracks off the new album by one of my favourite new discoveries of the year, The Reds, Pinks and Purples
  • “I don’t believe in anything” served to remind me of the pure joy and energy infused in the music of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a ska-punk band that I just loved back in the 90s
  • I’ve known for quite some time that comedian/actor Matt Berry was also a musician but it took fellow blogger, Steve for the Deaf to turn me on to just how good he is and yeah, “Summer sun” is pure sunshine psychedelic bliss
  • “Paprika”, a happy little ear worm off Japanese Breakfast‘s third album, “Jubilee”
  • And last but definitely not least is “In the rain”, the nearly eight minute lazy sunday folk-rocker by another cool project by Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo), this one called Rose City Band

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it, complete with links to YouTube videos:

1. “Down the river” Ratboys (from the album Happy birthday, Ratboy)

2. “I’m glad that we broke up (feat. Ezra Furman)” Du Blonde (from the album Homecoming)

3. “New year’s night” The Natvral (from the album Tethers)

4. “Price of blue” Flock of Dimes (from the album Head of roses)

5. “Everyone’s a winner” Flyte (from the album This is really going to hurt)

6. “I hope I never fall in love” The Reds, Pinks and Purples (from the album Uncommon weather)

7. “Can’t talk, won’t” Coach Party (from the EP After party)

8. “Desires” Art d’Ecco (from the album In standard definition)

9. “Change your mind” The Coral (from the album Coral island)

10. “The sun won’t shine on me” Teenage Fanclub (from the album Endless arcade)

11. “Shelter song” Iceage (from the album Seek shelter)

12. “Yoru ni” Teke::Teke (from the album Shirushi)

13. “I don’t believe in anything” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (from the album When god was great)

14. “Hologram love” Linn Koch-Emmery (from the album Being the girl)

15. “Summer sun” Matt Berry (from the album The blue elephant)

16. “C’mon be cool” fanclubwallet (from the EP Hurt is boring)

17. “Poor boy a long way from home” The Black Keys (from the album Delta kream)

18. “Stay in the car” Bachelor (from the album Doomin’ sun)

19. “Paprika” Japanese Breakfast (from the album Jubilee)

20. “Smile” Wolf Alice (from the album Blue weekend)

21. “Beautiful beaches” James (from the album All the colours of you)

22. “Primrose hill at midnight (feat. Flyte)” Dizzy (from the EP Separate places)

23. “Already written” Azure Ray (from the album Remedy)

24. “Hot & heavy” Lucy Dacus (from the album Home video)

25. “In the rain” Rose City Band (from the album Earth trip)

As always, wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe, continue to be well, and well, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.


Best albums of 1991: #2 Teenage Fanclub “Bandwagonesque”

Teenage Fanclub is yet another band that I have MuchMusic’s “CityLimits” to thank for the introduction. And I know I’ve written about this very subject many times but it’s true. The late Friday night alternative music video show on Canada’s music channel was instrumental in my education, especially once I had set my sights on music from the left-hand side of the dial. The Fannies video for “Star sign” was what first caught my eye, the jangly psychedelics in sound and image had me tangled immediately and irrevocably in its hypnotic snare. Other videos followed, a few of which are below, and they found themselves on the video cassette tape nets in which I was collecting as much music as I could catch. So when MuchMusic started using the introduction from “The concept” as part the show’s opening, I smiled knowingly every time.

I learned much later that the band formed in 1989 in Bellshill, Scotland. Founding members Gerard Love, Norman Blake, and Raymond McGinley were all talented guitarists, songwriters, and vocalists in their own rights and each contributed mightily to the band’s finished products, especially as time wore on. But even in the case of today’s focus, the incredible third album, “Bandwagonesque”, each member listed above and even the drummer at the time, Brendan O’Hare, had their own written song(s) on the card that the writer sang on the recording and would take up the mike when performed live. (For you Canadian music fans out there, this might remind you of a certain homegrown band of east coast origins by the name of Sloan.) And not only did each sing their own songs but they also found voices on all of the tunes, harmonizing in a way that some might compare to The Beach Boys but those in the real know might liken to Big Star*.

“Bandwagonesque” was a huge leap for the quartet. Their two previous outings were practically throwaways, in-jokes and shambolic cacophonies. In fact, their sophomore album, “The king”, was hastily recorded and deleted from circulation the day after it was released. And the though the third album was still comical and taking humorous kicks at the music industry (just take a look at the name and album cover**), it shows hints at the maturity, musicianship, and longevity of group that still releases music to this day.

The album actually did just as well in North America as it did in Europe and Britain, a feat they were never able to repeat. Many of its singles hit it big on college radio and some even managed to latch on to the newly established Billboard modern rock chart. Indeed, “Bandwagonesque” placed highly on a great many music magazines’ end of year lists, famous placing number one on Spin Magazine’s list over “Nevermind”, “Out of time”, and “Loveless”. I can’t say I disagree with Spin’s assessment (though I am sure in hindsight their pick would be changed), as wouldn’t a bunch of artists that were influenced by the group, like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, who released a cover of this complete album back in 2017.

My three picks for you from “Bandwagonesque” are all songs with which I fell in love through repeated plays of their videos but really, each of the eleven tracks on the album are pure noise rock perfection. If you’ve seen the cover and heard the name but never taken the plunge, get on it. You won’t be sorry.

”What you do to me”: “What you do to me… I know, I can’t believe. There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.” Those are the lyrics. That’s it. Granted, these are repeated throughout, some of the lines more than others. But these four lines really tell the story and evoke exactly the passion felt by one Norman Blake. The track is just a shade over two minutes with lots of rip roaring and crunchy guitars, hair hanging long over the face, masking the angst there, while the whole band gets involved with harmonies. And then, if listening to the version in the video below (which of course, was my introduction to this song), the band leads right into instrumental track, “Satan”, which is just an explosion and mess of instruments letting loose the passion previously restrained.

”Star sign”: As I mentioned above, Teenage Fanclub were jokesters, not taking themselves, nor anything, really, too seriously. Here, they poke fun at superstitions and good luck charms and astrology. “Hey there’s a horseshoe on my door; big deal. And say there’s a black cat on the floor, big deal.” But bassist Gerard Love does so with such verve and panache, you can’t feel beaten at, even if you might swear by these things. “Star sign” was the first track to be released off the album and was my intro to the group. The video reflected a retro 60s vibe but the sound was of its true time and space, reverb and feedback gives way to thumping drum fills and driving guitars and of course, plenty of harmonies. Powerful vibes throughout, man. Yeah, it stuck.

”The concept”: This very track, the six minute opener of the album, appeared at number seven when I counted down my favourite tunes of 1991 a few years ago. You can go back and re-read that post if you’d like, but I’m going to plagiarize a good part of it here: “[The song] starts off the album with a scream of feedback and that iconic first line: “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo.” Its first two minutes set the stage for the rest of the band’s career, mellow rocker with jangly guitars just this side of fuzz and Blake’s gentle rock star vocals with the three part harmonies the band would become known for at the chorus. Between the verses, the guitars become just that much more raunchy and then, at the three minute mark, the song becomes completely instrumental and the guitars follow the drums into a loose jam, at one point, a violin bow is even brandished to further accentuate their point.”

*That’s a subject for a whole other post maybe…

**The album cover was designed by one Sharon Fitzgerald but once Gene Simmons caught wind of the moneybag motif, a cheque had to be written to acquiesce the Kiss frontman’s trademark.

Check back two Thursdays from today for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”
4. R.E.M. “Out of time”
3. Primal Scream “Screamadelica”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.


100 best covers: #80 Teenage Fanclub “Nothing to be done”

<< #81    |    #79 >>

One quick glance at my best tunes of 1990 and 1991 lists and you’ll likely notice I tended towards British music in that decade. It got worse when Nirvana’s explosion meant that the American (and Canadian, to a slightly lesser extent) music industry looked to grunge for the template to all things ‘Alternative’. So in the world before the internet, of course, it made sense that I would find my way to the British music magazines that managed their way to the shelves across the Atlantic and that I would constantly peruse these pages in search of new bands to explore. My favourite of these magazines was the now-defunct “Select”, champion of all things Britpop.

“Select” was also known for the cassette tape compilations that it would include with certain issues. Personally, I was always surprised when I’d find a copy that had somehow survived the voyage with the cassette still attached so it would invariably join me on my return home. One such cassette that I remember, mostly because it is still in a shoebox along with other preserved cassettes in my basement, was the 1995 compilation titled “Exclusives”. It was so called because the songs or versions thereof were only supposed to be available on this tape. It included tracks by Spiritualized, Boo Radleys, U2, EMF, and this cover by Teenage Fanclub.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know it was a cover. I had never heard of The Pastels, the highly influential Scottish indie rock band who did the original. I just loved the laid back groove of the Teenage Fanclub track that came out just one month before their fourth album, “Grand prix”, the crisp production and jangling acoustic giving a foreshadowing impression of what to expect when the new CD was to hit my carousel. And I couldn’t possibly know that the female vocalist tracing barbs with Francis MacDonald on the recording was Katrina Mitchell, a then member of the band being covered.

The original appeared as the opening track on The Pastel’s sophomore record, 1989’s “Sittin’ pretty”, and is more raw sounding than the Fannies cover, vocals even more lazy and guitars raunchy and keys plunking. It sounds a lot like Teenage Fanclub, themselves, sounded like in their early days, not far-fetched given the two bands’ shared geography. And I don’t know if the bands always knew each other or they met due to the recording of this cover but the collaborations didn’t end here. All of MacDonald, Norman Blake, and Gerard Love would lend a hand on later Pastels records.

Anyway, despite enjoying the original, my preference here is the cover and I think it is not just because I heard it first. The aforementioned vocals in the original were performed by founding Pastels members Stephen McRobbie and Annabel Wright (Katrina Mitchell had not yet joined the band when it was recorded) and though fun, they lack the melody of the cover. The Fannies’ version is also slightly more cheerful and playful.

What about you folks? Pastels fans? What’s it to be – the original or the cover?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.