Photo by CleftClips, used under Creative Commons license

Best songs of the year so far

To date, in no particular order:

  1. Alabama Shakes . “Hold On”
  2. Jack White . “Love Interruption”
  3. Sharon Van Etten . “All I Can”
  4. Shearwater . “Dread Sovereign”
  5. Ceremony . “Hysteria”
  6. Spiritualized . “Hey Jane”
  7. Japandroids . “Nights Of Wine & Roses”
  8. Heartless Bastards . “Simple Feeling”
  9. Allo Darlin’ . “Europe”
  10. Low . “Nothing But Heart”
  11. Perfume Genius . “Normal Song”
  12. The Walkmen . “Song For Leigh”


Photo by CleftClips, used under Creative Commons license

Large single-book-bound collection of stamps, anyone?

A few weeks ago my wife was watching an episode of Community and one of the characters said something that kind of made me feel old, but mostly made me realize that technology has created a gap in my vocabulary. Here’s the line:

Jeff: How old is he again?
Annie: 30-something I guess. He has a land-line and uses the word album.

So, in addition to the fact that we still have a land line — though we probably wouldn’t if our building’s intercom didn’t require one — I noticed they categorized the use of the word ‘album’ as something 30-somethings say because they haven’t adapted to the iPod generation yet and still think of music as LPs. Which I found odd. Maybe some people do that, but that’s not why I say it.

Yes, I say album.

Assuming that the writers assumed It’s not that I grew up using records. My dad did, and my brother had a few, but I started with tapes, then went to CDs, then ditched CDs for MP3s. Probably earlier than most people, actually. But I did always refer to collections of music by the media in which they were distributed…a new Van Halen tape or a new Soundgarden CD.

Yes, I listened to Van Halen.

Anyway, I stopped equating collections of music to the distribution medium once I stopped buying CDs six years ago. Without a physical medium to refer to when a band released a new collection of music, I couldn’t think of a better alternative than to call them albums. What else was I supposed to call them?

And it’s not as if the concept of releasing/purchasing music in batches went away…music is still released to physical and online stores in named collections, awards are still given for ‘best album’, and so on.

So, I’ll continue to refer to new musical releases as albums, until the day when record labels (yeah, uh…why do we still call them that?) let bands release songs one at a time as they feel like it, and the whole silly setup starts to make sense, and the anachronism dies. Like photo albums.

And yes, I used to have photo albums.

The band everybody (especially Canadians) should be listening to

Since the demise of The Rheostatics, the door has been open for the title of most quintessentially Canadian band. I was tempted to say The Constantines but they don’t have the same quirk to their lyrics that made the Rheos part of Canadian culture, and which once made The Tragically Hip interesting. So here’s my vote for the new flagbearer.

I’ve been listening to The Rural Alberta Advantage for a while now, and the more I listen to their finally-released-this-year full-length Hometowns, and the more I really absorb the lyrics, the more they sound like Canada. They sing about perfectly Canadian things, like leaving their homes to drive to Ontario for their careers, or getting out of towns like Lethbridge, or the Frank Slide. And, most importantly, their music is awesome. Super, super awesome and catchy as balls.

Check out their site or their MySpace. If you’re in Toronto they’re playing Lee’s Palace on Nov 20; check out their site for other tour dates.

The 50 best songs ever

Gus Van Sant said in this month’s Esquire, “I think that when you are 16 and 17 years old, you’re making the most important connections with the world that you will probably ever make in your life. If you ask a 70-year-old what his favorite song is, it’ll be a song he heard when he was 16.” That statement made me wonder, and it led to this post.

This list I’ve made isn’t what I think are the 50 greatest or most important songs of all time. There’s certainly no scientific explanation behind any of them. They’re simply the 50 songs I love the most. The music snob in me cringes a bit when I look at it, because there are songs on here I know I love only for nostalgic reasons, for situations recent or distant the song brings to mind, but the list is what the list is.

Back to Mr. Van Sant: before setting out to do this list I had assumed a disproportionate number of these songs would come from the early 90s, when I (cliche alert) had my musical awakening at the hands of Nirvana. I was 16 the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and not much older when I heard Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, who formed the triumvirate of bands who catapulted me into a whole new musical world. I could absolutely feel myself making those connections with the world to which Mr. Van Sant refers. Surprisingly enough, the latter two bands did not make this list, and I now feel like I’ve outgrown them.

The other songs on this list feel like I have not outgrown them, and never will. I like the idea of holding on to the few nostalgic connections of that early 90s era — Smashing Pumpkins, The Screaming Trees, Jane’s Addiction, and so on — while still appreciating the purpose that the afore-mentioned bands served at the time. Most important to me is that I still find new music that moves me as much as does the 70-year-old Robert Johnson song on my list. Maybe that puts the lie to Mr. Van Sant’s assumption, or maybe it just explains why I’m more passionate about music than most people I know.

Without (much) further ado, here’s the list. It is displayed alphabetically; I did manage to narrow down what I considered by ten favourites of all time, but you’ll just have to guess at those.

  1. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead . “Mark David Chapman”
  2. Arcade Fire . “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  3. Beastie Boys . “Sabotage”
  4. Big Sugar . “Wild Ox Moan”
  5. Blind Melon . “Drive”
  6. Bob Dylan . “House Carpenter”
  7. Bob Mould . “Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace”
  8. Clairvoyants . “To Harm”
  9. Dandy Warhols . “Hard On For Jesus”
  10. Doors . “Break On Through”
  11. Explosions In The Sky . “Memorial”
  12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Storm”
  13. Hidden Cameras . “Mississauga Goddam”
  14. Interpol . “NYC”
  15. Jane’s Addiction . “Three Days”
  16. Jeff Buckley . “Hallelujah”
  17. Led Zeppelin . “When the Levee Breaks”
  18. Mark Lanegan . “Borracho”
  19. Massive Attack . “Angel”
  20. Mates Of State . “So Many Ways”
  21. Medicine . “Time Baby III”
  22. Mogwai . “My Father My King”
  23. National . “Fake Empire”
  24. New Pornographers . “Letter from an Occupant”
  25. Nirvana . “Lounge Act”
  26. Norman Greenbaum . “Spirit In The Sky”
  27. Pink Floyd . “Wish You Were Here”
  28. Pixies . “Where Is My Mind?”
  29. Pulp . “Common People”
  30. Radiohead . “Everything in Its Right Place”
  31. Rheostatics . “Shaved Head”
  32. Robert Johnson . “Come on in My Kitchen”
  33. Rolling Stones . “Sympathy for the Devil”
  34. Screaming Trees . “Julie Paradise”
  35. Sigur Ros . “Svefn-g-englar”
  36. Sleater Kinney . “Turn It On”
  37. Smashing Pumpkins . “Drown”
  38. Smashing Pumpkins . “Rocket”
  39. Sonic Youth . “Theresa’s Sound World”
  40. Spiritualized . “Lord Can You Hear Me?”
  41. Spoon . “Jonathon Fisk”
  42. Sugar . “And You Tell Me (tv mix)”
  43. Thermals . “Here’s Your Future”
  44. Tindersticks . “4:48 Psychosis”
  45. Tragically Hip . “Fifty-Mission Cap”
  46. U2 . “Jesus Christ”
  47. Walkmen . “The Rat”
  48. White Stripes . “Ball And A Biscuit”
  49. Yeah Yeah Yeahs . “Modern Romance”
  50. Yume Bitsu . “The Frigid, Frigid, Frigid Body of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg”

Things I find interesting about this list, now that I look at it:

  • Only one band — Smashing Pumpkins — appeared twice, unless you count the Mark Lanegan/Screaming Trees combo. I actually wonder now if I subconsciously self-censored, trying to limit myself to one song per artist for the most part.
  • There are some very long songs on there, notably Jane’s Addiction (10:48), Yume Bitsu (18:29), Mogwai (20:12) and GY!BE (22:32). I like me some long songs, and there were several more in the 171-song ‘short’ list which fed this one.
  • There are two covers on there: the U2 cover of a Woody Guthrie song and Jeff Buckley‘s version of a Leonard Cohen song. Obviously I consider both superior to the original, or to subsequent covers. Bob Dylan‘s “House Carpenter” is an interpretation of an old tune, but so is most folk, so I didn’t consider it a cover.
  • Creating this list was fun, but kind of felt like work too. But fun work.

UPDATE: upon further reflection, I made some changes to the list. In are Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s “Storm”, Bob Dylan‘s “House Carpenter”, Beastie Boys‘ “Sabotage” and Spiritualized‘s “Lord Can You Hear Me”. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan‘s “Desolation Row”, The Constantines‘ “Hyacinth”, Fiery Furnaces‘ “We Got Back the Plague” and Radiohead‘s “The National Anthem” are out. All great songs, obviously, but probably shouldn’t have made the final list in retrospect.

FURTHER UPDATE: it is unconscionable that “Ball And A Biscuit” by The White Stripes was not on this list. It has replaced “Save Me” be Tea Party.