Listen to this track by former Everything But The Girl vocalist, singer-songwriter, and columnist Tracey Thorn. It’s “Oh! The Divorces”, the lead track off of her 2010 solo record Love And Its Opposite. That record was the second release of the century from Thorn, preceded by 2007’s Out Of The Woods, and representative of a new phase in her career as a singer and songwriter.
By this time, she’d spent a decade raising her kids with her partner Ben Watt, also formerly of EBTG and an active solo artist in his own right. She’d given up touring as a live performer by 2000, a part of her career that she’d never really enjoyed fully, and embraced a new avenue of expression through her regular column Off The Record in The New Statesman and as a writer of books. Yet her pursuits as a singer remained. And what a singer! For an artist known for her appealingly unadorned voice, I think a mistake that’s easily made with Thorn is to link her songwriting to that same approach, to assume that she’s always telling her own literal story when she sings.
This dynamic plays into an area that has forever fascinated and befuddled many a music writer, critic, and casual listener; the difference between what a singer expresses in song, and what that same singer really thinks, feels, and directly experiences in their private lives. With this tune, there are a number of elements to throw us off of the trail between the meaning of the song, and its effects on us as listeners.
After what seemed to be an endless winter this year, Spring is finally here. On the West Coast of Canuckistan, we’re used to bragging about spring flowers in February, posting Facebook pictures to torment our friends and family back east. Goshdarn it, it’s a tradition! Not so this year, though. In fact, it was balmy back east when we were still shoveling sidewalks. Thanks, global climate change!
Still, even if winter didn’t take the hint that it was time to hit the road as fast as I would have liked, what remains is the music. For every thing, said Pete Seeger (or was it the Bible?), there is a season, turn, turn, turn. And so as if to fall in line with that as the buds on the trees are finally making good on their promises, here is a collection of new tunes just for spring 2017.
Lend an ear and drink in the life-giving splendour of each. And as always, tell me all about your favourites in the comments section, Good People.
Listen to this song by precocious Kiwi singer-songwriter Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, better known by pop radio fans as Lorde. It’s “Royals”, her smash single as taken from 2013’s Pure Heroine, her debut full-length record. “Royals” released in the summer of 2013 as the forerunner to the album.
When “Royals” hit the airwaves, it defied the very rigid format of commercial radio on a number of fronts; it was not traditionally arranged to the exact specifications of a hit song in 2013, and it enjoyed radio play on pure pop stations as well as alternative stations. It remains to be a singular musical statement that stands out among the great sea of commercial pop music that continues to play things safe when it comes to the way the music is made, how it’s presented, and even its subject matter.
To that last point, this song reveals itself to be something of a generational anthem that calls the assumptions of pop culture into question directly. But it isn’t as simple as being a song about rejecting the lust for fame and riches. This song is more complex than that and not without its cultural trip hazards, either. Read more
It’s 2017, finally! We’ve kicked 2016 to the curb and good riddance.
Last year, we lost a Dame. We lost a Prince. We lost a Poet Laureate. We lost a myriad of others who we count as heroes. Somewhere in there, the world gained a Drumpf. Last year sucked, basically.
From here, we have quite a job to do to make sure that this year, 2017, doesn’t suck as much. It’s early yet. But I get the feeling it may be a tall order. This is particularly given our political climate as racist organizations re-brand themselves, slither into the mainstream, and drip poison into the ears of the public. We have to fight them. For that, we’ll need fuel for the trip.
Among other sources of spiritual nutrients, music is pretty high up on my personal list. If you’re here, you probably share my point of view on that. With that in mind, here is a selection of new music to kick off your new year. As is the norm, I invite you to take a deep dive, and tell me about your favourite tracks, and maybe even some ways you’re going to make sure that 2017 rocks instead of sucks. So, what are you waiting for? Step into my office …
Fall is a glorious time of year, with late September being an episode of the season when the land casts off the last vestiges of summer, at least in this particular hemisphere. It’s a melancholy and often bittersweet time where we reflect on the boundless joy of summertime memories we’ve made, or at least console ourselves that it will soon be a lot cooler so that we can actually get some sleep! It’s also a time I personally associate with new beginnings, even as things are busy coming to an end. Maybe you do, too. September is like the more pertinent marker for a new year in that respect.
With all that in mind, it’s time once again for a new playlist of new music on this year’s edition of Fall Into Tunes. So, as per tradition at this time of year by now, here is a selection of new music from across the spectrum for your review and enjoyment.
Read about and listen to the songs below, and tell me your favourite tracks in the comments section, Good People. Read more
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter-satirist with a highly developed social conscience matched by a sense of humour, Jill Sobule. It’s “When They Say We Want Our America Back (What The F#%k Do They Mean?)”, a single as taken from her involvement in the recent My Song Is My Weapon project, and its accompanying album Monster Protest Jams, Vol. 1. The album is a compilation of new protest songs that includes the work of artists like Tom Morello, Todd Rundgren, Amanda Palmer, Wayne Kramer, Wendy & Lisa, and many others.
The project, co-founded by Sobule, is based around the idea that the grand tradition of artistic protest in America needs an online forum. Through Pledge Music, we can help make that a reality particularly during a time when it is very difficult to tell satirical headlines from the actual news. More to the point, it’s a time when also-ran politicians and would-be world leaders seem to deal mostly in ambiguity and emotional button pushing instead of real data, specifically around the nebulous concept of the good ol’ days when America Was Great. No one can quite remember this era in exact detail, but many feel as though they need to replicate it in our modern age by electing repressive and out and out dangerous demagogues.
So, what is the role of the protest song in a socio-political environment such as ours? Does is have the same effect as it once did in the idealistic sixties or even in the jaded seventies? In this age of technological networks, maybe the answer is less about the song, and more about the listeners. Read more
Listen to this track by politically minded singer-songwriter with an eye for the ironic Bruce Cockburn. It’s “Call Me Rose”, the second song as taken from his 2011 album Small Source Of Comfort. Being known mainly for a song about reflecting on what would happen to sons of bitches should Cockburn ever procure a rocket launcher, he’s not generally known for writing songs with a sense of levity. Yet, even that is a misconception. This is the guy who covered Eric Idle’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” remember, arguably in reaction to his (unearned) reputation for being a bit too earnest. An opening line like “My name was Richard Nixon, only now I’m a girl” might be a bit jarring for many in any case.
On this song, Cockburn really hasn’t strayed from his main songwriting patch which has been about commenting on socio-economic inequity in the world. On this song though, there is a unique shift in perspective that has Cockburn voicing a character, rather than a usual narrative in his own voice. Instead of tales of Nicaraguan villagers making the best of things during a period of political upheaval, or ones about fleeing Guatemalan refugees at the mercy of machine gunners in helicopters (the sons of bitches referred to earlier), we meet a mother called Rose with two little kids living in the projects. The twist is that in a previous life, she had been the aforementioned former President of the United States. How’s that for socio-economic inequity?
But what is Cockburn trying to say here, other than “karma’s a bitch”? Well, I think it has to do with how we as a culture view the idea of power and how it relates to empathy. Read more
It’s summertime, summertime, and if you will, sum-sum-summertime. Perhaps weatherwise it’s been that for a while for you as it has been here on the (normally) Wet Coast of British Columbia. Around here it’s actually not been very wet at all due to a particularly dry spring. That’s meant that wildfire season has started early. I’m hoping this will not be the new normal that I suspect it is (thanks, climate change). That aside, and during a year that is turning out to be personally challenging on many levels, a reliable balm to life’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is always going to be new music. If you’re here with me on this page today, I can only assume that I am not alone in that conviction.
To effect a change for the better as 2016 rolls on, here is a new list of summer tune-age for your consideration. As always, consider it to be my personal mix-tape to you, which should always be considered as an act of love when rendered by a music fan. Some of these tunes are fit for top-down rolling down the road in the sunshine. Some will offer an interesting contrast to that. Either way, open your ears to the new sounds of summer below with this year’s edition of June Tunes Digest. Please proceed! Read more
Listen to this track by post-rocking, cinematically inclined Oxfordian quintet Radiohead. It’s “Daydreaming”, a single as taken from the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, released digitally a little over one month ago. The new record will be available in CD and in vinyl form by June 17, which is coming up fast. A special edition with two more tracks is to follow in September.
The accompanying video, starring singer Thom Yorke walking through corridors and opening doors that lead into disconnected locations was directed by none other than P.T Anderson, known for films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The director had previously worked with Radiohead orchestral linchpin and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, whose soundtrack work is featured in several of Anderson’s films.
In a similar fashion, the video for this song was approached as a bona fide film project, submitted to selected theatres directly as 35mm prints. I think this song as it is portrayed in the film is very much in line with what Radiohead have explored previously, namely the nature of existence and where we seem to be going as a civilization. Read more
Listen to this track by golden anniversary-celebrating TV and pop music institution The Monkees. It’s “Me and Magdalena”, a cut from their latest album Good Times!. The record was released this past May, and features the work of several top shelf songwriters, some of whom helped the band to create their earliest hits (Goffin & King, Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Harry Nilsson), and some who grew up with The Monkees and became songwriters themselves (Andy Partridge, Rivers Cuomo, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller). Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne produced the album and wrote or co-wrote a couple of tracks of his own. That’s quite a line-up!
This particular tune was written by Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, known for the unique brand of sombre and melancholic Americana on his own records. Where does that fit in with the happy-go-lucky Monkees? Well, that would be the contributions of Michael Nesmith [note: could this song be a sequel to “What Am I Doing Hanging Round?“], who helped to fashion that same moody and rootsy sound from his work with the band to his solo career in the 1970s with the First National Band. Micky Dolenz and Nesmith harmonize on this track in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever heard them do. It is a wonderful surprise just how well they sing together.
That’s the thing with The Monkees. Fifty years later, the band that many people thought weren’t even real had dimension and range to spare all along. That’s why this song works so well, and why it reminds us what this band has always been about since our childhoods. And therein lies the secret ingredient to this song, and to others on the album, too. Read more