100 best covers: #65 Asobi Seksu “Then he kissed me”

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Asobi Seksu. The name may not ring any bells for you, which is a big shame. In a perfect world, it would have done. However, it was not to be.

Asobi Seksu was a New York-based band that had a rather fluid membership over the years, the only constants being the glue that held everything together: vocalist Yuki Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna. For me, this band was among the best and brightest that started the new shoegaze revival in the early 2000s, a revival that feels like it has gone on much longer than the original scene. I got into these guys back in 2006 with their wonderful sophomore release “Citrus”, falling in love with their Lush and MBV vibes, and voraciously consumed everything they produced thereafter. Unfortunately, they announced an indefinite hiatus back in 2013, a word they’ve kept, except for a one-off appearance opening for Slowdive in Boston in 2014 at that iconic band’s request. But who could say no to Slowdive, really?

Asobi Seksu released this apt cover of The Crystals’ 1963 hit song as a B-side for their non-album single “Stay awake” in 2007. Given my relatively limited exposure to the original, I think the cover is at least faithful to the spirit of Phil Spector’s production, albeit with perhaps thicker and fuzzier walls of sound and of course, Chikudate’s chiming vocals replacing the original R&B harmonies.

At a mere two minutes, though, this cover is like that oft-elusive and all-too-brief first kiss. Strange, timid, and awkward, but fully imbued with passion and sexual energy, and yes, questions of love. You’ve all been there. You know what I mean. The taste is more-ish, fleeting, just whetting the appetite for a bigger feast.

I’m not even going to ask the question because I don’t care about the answer. I’m going with the cover here. Repeat after me: Asobi Seksu. You’re welcome.

Cover:

The original:

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

Best tunes of 2011: #5 Dum Dum Girls “Bedroom eyes”

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Lots has changed for Kristin Gundred since 2011, when she released “Only in dreams”, her second full-length as leader of the group, Dum Dum Girls. At that time, she was performing under the name “Dee Dee” (not “Dee Dee Penny”, as many have erroneously reported, including myself) and she had just released an album with a full band that many critics were seeing as the start of something. However, we would unfortunately only see one other LP* released under the Dum Dum Girls name, 2014’s “Too true”, on which Gundred returned to recording by herself and moved ever so slightly away from the noisy, wall-of-sound washes and 60s girl group melodies. Afterwards, she dispensed with the idea of Dum Dum Girls completely and rebranded herself Kristin Kontrol, going all synths and glam. Somewhere amidst all this, she also divorced with her husband and sometimes collaborator, Crocodiles frontman Brandon Welchez.

“Only in dreams” was my introduction to Gundred and her beautiful voice, an asset that was only just starting to showcase on this particular album. It happened to also be my gateway to a few other likeminded bands that had somehow escaped my notice to this point, bands like Best Coast and Vivian Girls that riffed on the 60s girl group but upped griminess factor on the wall of sound. I had, on the other hand, already been exposed to the similar ethos of The Raveonettes, a band with whom I compared this album when trying to get others as hooked on them as I was. It didn’t surprise me, then, when I read in the album’s liner notes that it was co-produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Bedroom eyes” was the second single released from “Only in dreams” and also appears second in order of play. It has all that noise and peppy beat that you’d expect and Gundred imbues her vocals with longing, singing about missing her now ex-husband while they were both away on separate tours. It transports you back to a simpler time but doesn’t leave the current age so far behind that you forget how that so-called simpler time wasn’t so simple. Beneath the glorious jangle and shine and chiming backing harmonies is a toughness. Just watch the video that plays on all the videos that might have been made at the time. Kristin and her band members are all decked out in black, sexy and sneering, not at all like the delicate flowers the influencing groups back in the day would’ve been portrayed.

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

* And an EP

Best tunes of 2011: #8 Cults “Go outside”

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I have a very distinct memory of listening to this very song one early morning late in 2011, in that burred season between late fall and early winter. I was re-listening to a handful of albums released that year, trying to nail down my inaugural best albums list for my old blog, Music Insanity. Cults’ self-titled debut was one of two debut albums that caught me by surprise and snuck its way into the running for 2011.

As track one slid into track two, I was standing at Bayview station awaiting the arrival of my commuter train to take me into work. It was so early it was still dark so I could clearly see the lightly falling snow glinting from the glow of the fluorescent light posts. I was shuffling my doc martens in the thinnest of coatings on the asphalt waiting platform, causing rivulets of feathered snow to amass around my feet. But then “Go outside” burst through my iPod earbuds in earnest and it was like the sun came out, warming me from outside and in, and it was as if summer had made a glorious return.

Okay. Yes. I am exaggerating but I am sure you are getting the point here.

Cults are a two-piece indie band from New York, made up of Madeline Follin on vocals and Brian Oblivion (sounds like a stage name to me) on vocals and everything else. When I first listened to the album, I thought to myself: “These two make no attempt to hide their love for shimmering, sunny 60s pop”. Madeline’s vocals are so light, almost to the point of child-like, that it’s unbelievably shocking when she drops the F-bomb at the end of one of the album’s tracks. And that’s probably the point. The music that backs her is washed and filled with effects, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the different instruments apart.

“Go outside” is still incidentally my favourite track on the album but it is by no means an aberration. It is a seemingly light and fluffy song about going outside to enjoy life outdoors but if you listen a bit closer, you can discern soundbite samples of cult leader Jim Jones. Adding another layer of sinister is the video’s use of archive news footage from Jonestown. Indeed, the song seems to be employing, much like throughout the rest of the album, a theatrical technique I learned in high school drama class when studying Bertolt Brecht: namely, disguising that dark subject matter behind the cheery veneer of the music. If you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of “Mack the Knife” (by Brecht, not Cults), you know what I mean.

But before I start getting highbrow or anything, I’m going to drop the mic right there and allow the song to speak for itself. Enjoy.

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