music

Radiohead Play “Paranoid Android”

Radiohead Paranoid AndroidListen to this track by game-changing rock quintet from Oxford, Radiohead. It’s “Paranoid Android”, their epic-scale and time and tempo shifting song as taken from 1997’s OK Computer.

The band had its work cut out for it after having put out their preceding record, The Bends. That album had them finally finding their voice after a debut that showed promise, if not polish. The trick with following up an identity-solidifying record is that there’s not a lot of room left to go, other than reproducing it for that difficult third album. But instead of playing it safe and making The Bends 2, Radiohead did one better with OK Computer. In addition to sounding as cohesive as its predecessor,  it served as a post-Brit pop statement that stood as something of a challenge to their peers.

And “Paranoid Android” helped to lead the way into a sound that fit with that sound they’d established, and yet showed something of an evolution, too. This is something of an irony when you consider the sources of musical inspiration that helped to shape it. (more…)

Boards of Canada Play “Dayvan Cowboy”

Listen to this track by Scottish downtempo post-rock duo, and National Film Board obsessives Boards of Canada. It’s “Dayvan Cowboy”, a track that appears on their 2005 album The Campfire Headphase as well as the follow-up EP that appeared the next year, Trans-Canada Highway.

Boards of Canada The Campfire Headphase This track was the lead song of the whole record, released a few weeks before to give listeners a taste of what was to be the band’s third release. With their previous releases, they’d become known for heavily treated instrumentation that obscured the original sounds of the instruments used to create the parts.

The result was pure analogue electronic texture that translates into warm atmospheres with a sense of spaciousness, and an ineffable nostalgia for the hazy memories of childhood. That’s their genius.

But, on this track and on many of the others, they changed their tack a bit.
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Sandy Denny Sings “It’ll Take A Long Time”

Sandy Denny Sandy 1972Listen to this track by former Fairport Convention front and paragon of British folk-rock Sandy Denny. It’s “It’ll Take A Long Time”, the opening track to her 1972 album, Sandy, her second solo album.

This record would feature a few of her former bandmates in the Fairports and in Denny’s follow-up band Fotheringay, including her soon-to-be husband Trevor Lucas in the production chair, violinist Dave Swarbrick, and Richard Thompson (who you can hear very prominently on this track) on guitar. All of the mojo that everyone brought to those classic Fairports records of the late 1960s can be found here. Further still, we get Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel, adding mellifluous texture to this song in particular, and Allen Toussaint who served as an horn arranger elsewhere on the album. That’s quite a supporting cast!

But, no one outdoes Sandy Denny herself on this record which is quoted in many places as being her solo masterpiece. This is particularly true on this song, which has always been one of my favourites. Beyond Denny’s undeniable voice that seems to hold an ocean of feeling under each note as she sings it , there is a lot going on thematically in this song that reveals another of her skill sets.
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Interview With Craig Northey of Odds: Someone Who’s Cool

Listen to this track by Vancouverite power-pop poobahs Odds. It’s their arguably best-known hit song among other well-known radio favourites, “Someone Who’s Cool” as it appears on their 1996 album Nest.

That record marked the end of an era for the band, the last of their releases that included guitarist-singer and songwriter Steven Drake. After this, the band went on hiatus for a period, with solo careers, collaborations, and other projects with each other, and with members of other bands .

But always being hard-working and fiercely local in their emphasis, they came together again at the end of the 2000s, sans Drake, but with a seemingly undiminished capacity for  writing and performing hook-laden songs that sound joyous yet are laced with bitter acrimony and black humour.

Odds_0512 (credit-Cole_Northey)

Odds today (image: Cole Northey)

Singer and guitarist Craig Northey takes lead vocals on the lion’s share of the band’s material these days, although this one was always a highlight for his voice, and a great example of his ability to make self-deprecating humour and subtly tragic overtones into something to which everyone can sing along with gusto. It helps that he is part of a band that is still as passionate about live playing as they ever were, giving audiences that very opportunity.

Their love of playing for crowds stretches back to the time when they played hard nearly every night on the local scene to hone their craft and fund their ambitions to continue to record their own original material, which they’d written even before they served as house band under a different name at Vancouver’s The Roxy. And it’s good that they did, considering that many of their songs, including this one, has become such a vital part of the Canadian pop music continuum.

I had the tremendous pleasure to speak to Craig Northey through the magic of email about this song, about their roots as a west coast band, and about karaoke, too. Here’s what he said.

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Queen and David Bowie Play “Under Pressure”

Queen and David Bowie - Under PressureListen to this track by operatic rock band with an R&B slant Queen, alongside musical firestarter and conceptual rock template setter David Bowie. It’s “Under Pressure”, a huge number one single from late 1981, eventually to appear Queen’s 1982 album Hot Space.

The song was the result of a loose studio-bound jam session, working up ideas for a completely different song called “Feel Like”. David Bowie was at the sessions to lay down a backing vocal track for another song that would appear on the album, “Cool Cat”. That backing vocal part wouldn’t appear on the completed album. Instead, this one would; a duet between Bowie and lead singer Freddie Mercury, marked by a bassline that would be something of a third lead voice in the song as conceived and laid down by bassist John Deacon.

This song represents something of the zeitgeist from the early ’80s, which was a time of great fear, political pendulum swings, and a slowly thawing Cold War. It certainly performed well on the charts, with a number one showing in Britain and with significant impact in Canada, and the United States. But, on paper, I wouldn’t have bet on it being so successful, personally. And there are several reasons why I think that.  Here they are. (more…)

Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk Play “I Lost Myself”

Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk Over Land And SeaListen to this track by Calgary-based folk-pop songcrafter Lauren Mann and her  associated and moderately eccentric troupe the Fairly Odd Folk. It’s a cut as taken from their first record as a collective Over Land And Sea released in April 2013, and a single too; “I Lost Myself”.

The band recently appeared at CBC Live in Deer Lake Park last month, an event I was lucky enough to attend. They made their appearance in distinguished company along with a sterling line-up of bands including Tegan and Sara, The Arkells, and Spoon. They played their own set, and later Lauren Mann took to the main stage alone, carrying her ukulele and proclaiming “this is the biggest audience I’ve ever played for!”

She was a charming presence on stage, and even more so when she presented this very song as a solo spot that captured everything that’s good about her music; heartfelt lyrics, melodic, and despite the acoustic and folky texture, decidedly pop too, all conveyed by her clear-as-a-bell voice, and deft playing.

So, how did Lauren Mann come to appear on that stage, the largest of her career? Well, it has a lot to do with an important Canadian value; championing our own. And what does this song represent in all of that? (more…)

The Beginning Of The End Play “Funky Nassau – Part 1″

The Beginning Of The EndListen to this track by Bahamian soul-funkateers and pan-cultural stew-stirrers The Beginning Of The End. It’s their big international hit named after their hometown, “Funky Nassau” as taken from the 1971 album of the same name, Funky Nassau. The record came out on  Alston Records, which was a subsidiary of a major label responsible for some of the greatest R&B ever laid down on wax – Atlantic.

The band is made up of the three Munnings brothers; Raphael “Ray” on organ and lead vocals, Roy on guitar, and Frank on drums. The line-up was filled out by Livingston Colebrook on second guitar, and Fred Henfield on bass, and with even more Munnings relatives on horns.

The result was a unit tight enough to reproduce the vital alchemy it takes to pull a tune like this off; a seamless groove with enough muscle to stand up to being taken apart, with each player getting a solo spot. And then, the whole thing comes back together again, as if to prove how durable that groove really is, as if for sheer, joyous, summery bravado.

But, how did Nassau get so funky anyway? (more…)

First Aid Kit Play “Silver Lining”

First Aid Kit Stay GoldListen to this track by Scandinavian country-folk-indie duo and close-harmony sirens First Aid Kit. It’s “Silver Lining”, a lead single as taken from this year’s album Stay Gold, their third.

Drawing from a love of acts ranging from Bright Eyes to the Carter Family, First Aid Kit is made up of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, both of Enskede, a borough of Stockholm. Their sound draws from traditions of early country music that’s pretty far removed from what listeners might expect from a couple of Swedes in their early twenties, having started performing together and even writing songs by the time they were in their early teens. And that’s another unexpected dimension to their music; they work within a tradition that values experience that comes with age, and manage to pull it off despite their tender years.

Basically, everything about this band is unexpected, which besides  their obvious natural talent may be why they’ve been able to get to work with luminaries like Patti Smith, Fleet Foxes, and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. So what does this song illustrate  in keeping with the traditions in which they’re hooking into, and the strengths of the band in general? (more…)

Blue Cheer Play “Come And Get It”

Blue Cheer OutsideinsideListen to this track by San Franciscan psychedelic power trio and heavy metal seed planters Blue Cheer. It’s “Come And Get It”, a cut off of their 1968 LP Outsideinside. The song would help to show off their, um, mettle as a band that specialized in “heavy” music, before many bands explored the range of back to basics loudness in quite this way.

The most obvious comparison for many to what Blue Cheer represented at the time may be the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But, that comparison is mostly cosmetic. Hendrix’s music was about ecstatic excursions that included Dylanesque influences mixed with R&B, and culminating in an outward expansion of rock music as a form. Blue Cheer went the other way; inward, and back.

They went back to the roots of the music itself, their most famous example being their take on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”. With that tune, they boiled the song down to its essentials, and turned up the heat (and the amps). A similar approach can be found on their take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, on which they took the original, hit it over the head with a lead pipe, kicked it while it was down, went through its pockets for loose change. They did all with the best results.

But, what of this song which is an original composition? (more…)

Son Little Sings “Cross My Heart”

Son Little Cross My HeartListen to this track by impressionistic blues and soul proponent for the 21st century, Son Little. It’s “Cross My Heart”, his initial foray into a new musical milieu under this new moniker in November of 2013. His birth name is Aaron Livingston, known for  projects under that name in collaborations with Rjd2 and The Roots.

The evocation of the blues is palpable here on his first single under the Son Little banner, and for more than the standard and purely musical reasons, although this song departs from that template too. For many, the blues is not so much a musical form as it is a spiritual state, and a connection to a shared history that is less joyous than even the best in a musical genre has shown us.

At the root, and established before the branches of rock and soul music were cultivated , the blues has always been about pain and dehumanization, and the raw expression in reaction to those. That’s what Son Little hooks into here.

Yet, somehow this is not about some scholarly recreation of classic blues or soul. There are greater depths to be discovered here.

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