Reflecting on The Unintended, a wonderful and well-kept secret

After listening to Eric’s Trip for my recent Top 20 Canadian Albums post (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/here-now-whats-your-all-time-top-20-canadian-albums/), then also to Elevator for the more recent – and quite long 🙂 – post about Rick White & Julie Doiron’s music (https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/erics-trip-the-charming-indie-queen-julie-doiron-and-the-legendary-yet-underrated-rick-white/), I naturally ended up listening to one of Canada’s best-kept secrets : The Unintended. And at that point, I was totally ready for this dreamy psychedelic-folk-rock band. Spoiler alert : when I update my Top 20 Canadian Albums list, I’ll most certainly find a place for this little gem.

But let’s go back a bit, back in 1997, when lo-fi garage band Eric’s Trip had disbanded, and its former leader Rick White was working wholeheartedly on his second major project, the wonderfully haunting psych-rock band Elevator.

At an Elevator show, Dallas Good of country-folk-rock group The Sadies came up to White. They talked about their musical influences and quickly became friends. Good played guitar live with Elevator and later contributed to the band’s records starting in 2002 with Darkness – Light. White also provided lyrics for a few songs recorded by The Sadies over the years.

In 2004, a mysterious album that seemed to appear out of the mist was released, an eponym LP by the band The Unintended. This atmospheric album brings together Rick White, Dallas Good and the three other members of The Sadies, as well as Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo. They convened at Keelor’s farm to record the songs in just a few days, in a very natural manner it seems. Rick White writes and sings most if not all of the songs, and the others members (especially Good) bring their musical ear to create the desired sound. White’s wispered vocals and creative influence are all over this album, his personal “demons” are poetically exposed through the lyrics as always (and the music is very Elevator-esque), but The Sadies’ solid contribution brings great strenght to the album (kudos to Mike Belitsky on the drums!). Some songs on this record stood out right away for me (Angel, for example), but like many masterpieces, the overall product grows on you with time, slowly but surely.

Aside from some Gordon Lightfoot cover songs they made together a few years later, this album is their one and only, and it makes this record even more special, like a precious (unintended?) moment in time.

The Unintended members went on to work on their own projects. White kept making interesting albums including a few Elevator records with Good before the band broke up, his three solo records and many collaborations. The Sadies released some great stuff (like the New Seasons album that I had the pleasure of listening to recently), and Greg Keelor kept on making albums with Blue Rodeo and other artists.

And now, should we wait for the next incarnation of The Unintended?

Well, it appears that one of the main inspirations behind The Unintended, White, has voluntarily withdrawn from music (and people, in a way), moved far into the countryside to live a life as little anxiety-inducing as possible.

The first song from The Sadies’ 2016 release Northern Passages, written by Dallas Good, is dedicated to his reclusive old friend. Riverview fog is also, I think, an homage to their collaboration, because many songs from The Unintended CD are referenced here in the lyrics (stay calm, quiet getaway, no curse of time, …). We can definitely feel Good’s caring feelings and his respect for White’s choice of creating art away from it all, yet there’s this unescapable worry and longing for lost days of togetherness and shared creativity. I have myself often reflected on how we litterally force ourselves to live in an alienating stressful environment with crazy and artificial expectations (appropriate for machines perhaps, not humans), and fantasized about dropping it all to live somewhere deep in the woods or on a endless flowery field. I have many friends who struggled with mental illness and had to withdraw, so I can definitely relate to this melancholic song of unconditional friendship. BTW, the rest of the album is also great.

I wish White – and all creative people struggling with our less than healthy lifestyle – rest and inspiration. And thanks in advance, because perhaps that’s how our collective wisdom will be renewed. It’s not doing so great right now.

Monet found great joy in painting his garden following the changing seasons. Even the tempestuous Rousseau found his exile less painful by allowing himself to explore his growing interest in botany (see Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire). Being on vacation right now, I enjoy sitting with my book and glass of wine under the tall tree in my backyard, watching leaves being pushed around gently by the wind and the faint ray of sunlight trying to make its way through. Surely, I’ll get inspired too.

Have a nice peaceful one, everyone!

Here! Now What’s Your All Time Top 20 Album Covers?

One could wonder why make a top twenty list about album covers now that people are buying less and less records, and prefer to listen to an unlimited variety of songs on the Internet. Or, one could stay that, for this exact reason, it is the perfect time to talk about albums.

More often than not, I find myself listening to albums rather than playlists. Albums have overarching themes, a distinct style, and an atmosphere that give direction to the music and tie everything together. The order of the songs is carefully planned so they flow perfectly from one to the other. Listening to an album means getting the whole artistic experience, every vibe, every symbol, every feeling the band wanted to convey. And the cover is the final touch, the icing on the cake. Translating an entire musical experience into an image, a single image, can not be the easy task.

I want to do my part and salute artists who care enough to produce beautiful and memorable covers. So what do you say, let’s bring albums back to the forefront, and the front of albums at the forefront of discussions : the album cover, a forgotten piece of art.

Once again, don’t expect the usual top 20 list… although it’s not completely out there either. And don’t hesitate to comment and share your own choices! Mine keep changing anyway.

#20. Frank Zappa, Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch

Now there’s a good combination! This brilliant and hilarious droodle (doodle + riddle) by Roger Price is the perfect cover for Zappa’s 1982 release. Listening to Zappa’s intricate wacky cool song at the same time is just perfect, and completely trippy. Once again, here’s proof that you don’t need big production, just a really clever and fitting concept.

#19. London Howlin’ Wolf Session

Looking at that cover, I feel suddently immersed in the 70s. I’m walking by in my funky elephant pants, and I see these guys hanging out on a sunny day in London. Perhaps Howlin’ Wolf or Clapton starts stroking his guitar, and a nice vibe starts to flow around. Yeah… I really miss the “organic” feel of pencil drawings, now that images are always generated by computers. These “real” drawings feel warmer somehow.

#18. The Ramones, The Ramones

A simple concept that fit this debut album perfectly : The Ramones, in black and white, standing against a brick wall. Four guys in their leather coats and blue jeans, standing around unimpressed. So… what makes it special? It’s all in the attitude.

#17. The Wailers, Burnin’

Burnin’ is the last album by the original Wailers, and on the cover, there’s an illustration of their faces “burned” into wooden planks. All six of them, in a bouquet, like the six sides of the Wailers. The result is splendid, and once again, there’s an “organic” feel here that I appreciate a lot.

#16. Weezer, Pinkerton

What a superb 19th century japanese print by Hiroshige, taken out of the illustrious series Fifty-Three Stations of Tokaido. As pretty as this scenery is, with its nice contrast between the black night and the white snow, it’s still a cold and lonely landscape… Indeed, things don’t turn out too well for the unpleasant Pinkerton, or for the Weezer guys as far as I can tell from the unfortunate encounters depicted in these songs.

#15. Eric’s Trip, Love Tara

A young couple in the corner behind the stage, lost in a heartfelt hug, unrecognizable from their 90’s style long hair mixing together. This lovely black and white cover by indie alternative band Eric’s Trip looks just like the album sounds : genuine, relatable, moving… with lots of distortion! Ah, the energetic and uncompromising feelings of youth…

#14. Led Zeppelin, Four Symbols

This artwork is actually an oil painting, affixed on a degraded wall. I read it’s supposed to reflect the contrast between country and city. So the country is represented by a picturesque landscape, while the city is represented by a wall with peeling paint… But is it really a painting, or is it a window?…

#13. Janis Joplin, 18 Essential Songs

This is one of the best pictures of Janis that I know of, a spectacular image, and a great choice for an “Essentials” compilation. This cover captures both the intensity and authenticity of Janis’ performance, the singular movements of her body, and the nice lighting effect.

#12. U2, War

This is a remarkable cover. A back and white photo of a naked child, hurt, who’s looking straight into the camera, or straight at us the viewers, with an intense, accusing look. War brings pain, resentment, and loss of innocence.

#11. Nirvana, Nevermind

Here’s another memorable image. Do you remember the impact of that cover in the early 90s? The complete picture shows a naked baby in a shark tank. Someone dangles a one dollar bill in front of him as motivation. After the wild flaky money-crazy 80’s period, Nirvana tore the place down with that cover, which launched the “grunge” period.

#10. Radiohead, Hail to the Thief

Ten years later, Radiohead chose to expose another type of societal peril : over advertising, and the use of fear to control people and increase consumption. Advertisements are indeed attractive, colourful, and this image is very beautiful. But one cannot help but feel discomfort when looking at this carefully. That discomfort is accentuated by the fact that the words are taken out of context, and stacked together like floors of city buildings that eventually fade away and disintegrate like darkish smoke.

#9. Nina Simone, Fodder on my Wings

What a beautiful and somewhat unsettling painting by Gabriel Jarnier, meant for a truly unique artist.  The level of detail, the choice of colours, and the elegance of it all, it’s quite impressive. Jazz legend Nina Simone is a tragic queen, but an undeniable queen nevertheless.

#8. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions

This album cover is a piece of art by Efram Wolff, which brilliantly shows Stevie Wonder, who became blind shortly after birth, as someone who can perhaps see better than most people. This is of course in connection with this album’s socially charged lyrics. This artwork has a special warm sunny aura about it too.

#7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung

This famous Burton Silverman painting on the cover of the no less famous (and rather epic) Aqualung album is amazing for several reasons. The realism of the scene, the precise and haunting look in the man’s eyes, his body shape and arm position leaving the spectator to wonder… Silverman and Jethro Tull managed to created a character, a very intriguing character, to illustrate the story being told in the Aqualung song. That’s quite an added value for an album.

#6. The Beatles, Abbey Road

Legend has it that photographer Ian Macmillan had just a few minutes to take this picture, while a cop was stalling trafic… How nice it is to be stars. This image is wicked cool. But it inspired the wildest of theories and drove people completely mad (notably one interpretation that the real MacCartney had died and been replaced by an impostor… What? can’t you see the clues on the cover?). That’s quite an achievement for a cover!

#5.The Clash, London Calling

This photograph is a punk classic. Raw and pure intensity, live from a punk show! The Clash’s bassist is caught right before everything goes flying. Time is standing still, and we hold our breath. Apparently, Simonon smashed his bass because bouncers wouldn’t let people stand up out of their seats. I wouldn’t have expected people to sit still either, but I think I would have kept my bass. 😉

#4. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine

Forceful. Troubling. Unforgettable. This Pulitzer-winning picture of a Vietnamese buddist monk self-immolating to protest oppression can be found on a debut album, Rage Against the Machine’s debut. What a fierce, daring, and loud debut. Yes, Rage’s arrival on the american musical scene was anything but quiet, and the band clearly let us know, with this cover, how it was gonna be with them starting right now.

#3. The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico

This is the classic amongst classics. Andy Warhol’s image of a simple yellow banana, on the cover of the enigmatic and atmospheric Velvet Underground’s debut album, has fascinated fans for generations. “Peel slowly and see”, it said, as people uncovered a skin-coloured banana underneath… Once again, a great fit between the songs and the cover artwork.

#2. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Ziggy Stardust, beamed down from another planet at 3 AM, straight into an american back alley. Standing there over a pile of cardboard boxes, in a dominating pose, debonair, yet ready to show us his monstrous alien power with a powerful powerchord… Utter genius.

#1. Pink Floyd, for their cumulative body of works!

And there’s plenty more where that came from! Thank you, Pink Floyd, for your obvious interest in visual arts, for the time and effort you put in your musical and visual arrangements, and for your complex and sometimes quite disconcerting images!

Here! Now, what’s your all time top 20 Canadian albums?

I decided to start the new year by sharing my own personal top 20 list of the best Canadian albums out there. I thought this would be easy, but I had the hardest time deciding. My usual choices didn’t all make the cut this time around, and I ended up with quite a surprising list (I’m still not entirely sure of the ranks, except for the no.1 spot)!

What matters to me here is the quality of the album, not so much the record sales. However, sales aren’t insignificant, as they bear witness to a record’s appeal at a certain moment in time, in our society. Nevertheless, I prefer to take into consideration the influence the album had (on me? 😉 ) rather than its commercial success per se. I also decided to restrain myself to one album per artist.

This is not a “perfect” list, for it can only be a subjective list :
– One can only review albums that one has listened to… and I have no intention of faking my way through this. I assume the Oscar Petersons of this world should be included in a Canadian all time best list, but I’m just too much of a neophyte (as Socrates said, the only thing I know for certain is that I know nothing) ;
– I completely own the fact that my choices might be influenced by the “nostalgia” factor, or, paradoxically, the wish to discuss fresh new stuff, or other factors, whether I am aware of them or not;
– Finally, choices evolve over time. Any top 20 list is therefore a work in progress.

I look forward to your inputs! The most important thing is that we enjoy, and get inspired by each others’ brilliant ideas.

N.B. I was surprised that so many debut albums made the cut. Then again, is it possible that debut albums are made up of precious songs that were carefully crafted for years and years, instead of songs written in a few months in response to producers’ demands?…

#20. Hayden, Everything I Long For (1995)

When I was about 17, my friend, who was constantly in a meek mood from having no job, no appartment, and no lovelife worthy of that name, who felt he just wasn’t “performing” well in anything he was supposed to, came over my parents’ house one day and gave me this album. Boy, were we the target audience for this! Hayden’s debut album is intense, intimate, and extremely relatable. It efficiently conveys the simple joys of sharing a bunkbed, or of ditching work out of nowhere one day to do nothing but stay squished together with your significant other. Other songs go straight to your gut, as you share Hayden’s suffering of having the person you love tell you that someone at a party confessed to him/her, or of failing to act in a once-in-a-lifetime-moment to catch the interest of that person you’ve been noticing for a year at the neighbourhood coffee place. This CD brings back so many memories, and even if it’s a bit scruffy, it still does the trick.

#19. Pierre Lapointe, La forêt des mal-aimés (2006)

On his second album, 24 year old singer-songwriter and musician Pierre Lapointe revisits the “chanson française” style, classical piano, pop music, folk guitar, and electronic sounds, and the result is an eclectic and very interesting blend of it all. Lapointe’s beautifully well-crafted, poetic, sometimes provocative lyrics remain one of his strongest assets, as well as his musical ear, and his ability to be somewhat of a trendsetter (if you can manage to follow in this ecclectic footsteps). There was definitely, in this album, a wish for renewal, an ambition to revisit classical and pop culture and do something different. Lapointe is part of a refreshing wave of new artists who reinvented what indie pop music could be, for the better!

#18. Jeszcze Raz, Balagane (2002)

This band originated from a fortuitous meeting of Canadian musicians and a Polish pianist, singer-songwriter Paul Kunigis. The band, and album, are multilingual (with songs in French, Polish, Hebrew, and Arab). Balagane is the band’s second album : it is a festive, yet melancholic album. Difficult subjects are addressed (endless war on a cherished land, human personal and social struggles), but after listening to the record, you somehow feel joyous and hopeful. The great musical prowess of musicians, the charming personality and storytelling of hugely talented Paul Kunigis, and the quality of the product as a whole justify this album’s presence at the #18 spot.

#17. Lhasa de Sela, La Llorona (1997)

Lhasa de Sela is of Mexican and American descent. In the early 90’s, she decided to come to Canada and try to become a singer. Her debut album La Llorona is inspired from the mexican legend of a ghostly woman endlessly crying at night through the streets of the city. This record is entirely in Spanish (her subsequent albums are not) but even without understanding the words, one can easily get drawn into Lhasa’s wonderful mellow musical atmosphere. Lhasa has a distinctive low, warm, husky voice, that beautifully complements the mexican, gypsy, klezmer, and eastern europe musical ambiances of the album.

#16. Jean Leloup, La vallée des réputations (2002)

Throughout his career, Jean Leloup and his unique songwriting brought us along on a crazy journey, starting with the album Menteur (“Liar”), a nice debut by a promising wild youngster. Then, he teamed up with La sale affaire to make his second album L’amour est sans pitié (“Love is merciless”), a fast-paced provocative album about the ups and downs of urban nightlife – sex, drugs, and rock and roll!. After being silent for a while, Leloup seems to have drawn inspiration from his personal struggles to make the wonderful intimate album Le dôme (“The dome”), which could have easily been referenced here instead of La vallée des réputations (“The valley of reputations”). However, I chose the latter because it represents the culmination of his work. Critics would often say “it’s Jean Leloup in his forties”, wacky and excentric Leloup who gained new perspective on things while keeping true to his distinctive musical/lyrical universe. Quoting the brilliant prose at the beginning of La ballade à Toronto : “Time goes by, one day you are old and alone, and nothing remains but the pride of having loved properly, or the torments and shame of having failed to understand”.

#15Godspeed you! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2013)

A band that is as far as commercial as you can get, that gets rave reviews from all over the world, and has a cult following? Could this influential experimental music collective be, in their own way obviously, the Canadian version of Velvet underground? Godspeed you is an intriguing band. Critics often break the record into songs, but I really don’t see the need, and prefer to consider the album as a whole. You absolutely need to sit through the entire 50-minute musical experience to appreciate the genius of this music, the progression of the rythm, the variations, the crescendos, … The end result is more than the sum of its parts! As some people are now going against the tide and finding new appreciation for their old LPs, there might be a renewed infatuation with Godspeed’s music, music that needs to be savoured slowly, until, after 40 minutes, you find the musical climax so magnificient and intense that “you just can’t take it anymore”, to quote a Pitfork critic. I could have chosen several of their albums here, but Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is a good example of Godspeed’s monumental and unique work.

#14. Timber Timbre, Creep on Creeping on (2011)

What a nice (and creepy) find! I heard a critic say once that Timber timbre sounds like a young Leonard Cohen dropped in a David Lynch flick. Now this is something right up my alley, I thought. Personally, I’m hearing Lou Reed in there too. This folk-rock band’s music is meticulous, melodic, trippy, strange… and oh so very good. Creep on Creeping on is the fourth album of this prolific band that was formed in 2005. At least one member of the band studied in cinema, and you can definitely feel a sort of eerie cinematic atmosphere throughout this album. As Timber Timbre gets more and more attention, I wouldn’t be surprised to find them on additional TV and movie soundtracks.

#13. Daniel Bélanger, Les insomniaques s’amusent (1992)

Here’s one debut album that took everyone by surprise in Québec in 1992. Multi-talented Daniel Bélanger plays a variety of instruments, and over time, he became known for his stunning live performances and we discovered that his music is quite ecclectic. But this first album is close to the roots : misty, wistful, and clever lyrics, and beautiful guitar and piano melodies. He writes about human relationships, personal struggles, dependency, joy, and pain. Bélanger’s lyrics seem to go from dream to reality (the title litteraly means “The insomniacs are having fun”). When listening to this album, we follow Bélanger into his intoxicating celestial musical universe, and it’s a great journey. It’s intelligent pop music at its best, and it remains just as good, or even better, 25 years later.

#12. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely (1992)

I have to admit that I didn’t listen to “The Hip” that much in the 90’s… don’t throw anything at me! I always recognized the quality of the overall product and the band’s honesty and professionalism, but I didn’t particularly like the sometimes very intense tremolo in Downie’s voice… yet I didn’t completely hate it either… it’s just… well, there were so many good bands around at that time! But a friend of mine, who eventually became my roommate, was a huge fan, so Fully Completely would often be playing in the background of the get-togethers we held. Days for Night was a regular as well. As I listen to Fully Completely today, I agree that this is a great Canadian classic, and that The Tragically Hip lives up to its reputation. I hope to find the time to discover their other albums in the near future.

#11. Malajube, Trompe-L’Oeil (2006)

Malajube is an energetic indie rock band. Trompe-L’Oeil (“Sham”) is their second album and the one that got them out of the shadows, as it received rave reviews left and right in Canada, in the US, and in Europe. Although, one could argue that this band thrives in the shadows as well, as these charismatic guys seem very comfortable in undergroud music scenes. Trompe-L’Oeil is a great atmospheric album, with truly inventive arrangments. There’s a nice and creative flow of various rythms in each song. Their subsequent album La caverne (“The cavern”) appears to be just as good as this one, but I haven’t listened to it more than once, so I’m sticking with Trompe-L’Oeil for now!

#10. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)

Let’s meditate for a second on whether or not all indie bands were initially inspired by Bowie and the Pixies… Wolf Parade’s debut album Apologies to the Queen Mary was acclaimed as one of the most influential indie rock albums of the decade. Something clearly happened at the beginning of the 21st century : many people were fed up from being flooded with millionaire gangsta rappers, artificial boy/girl bands backed by an ogre of a music industry, and incessant club music… Several interesting Canadian indie bands emerged from their secret meeting places (were had they been all this time??) in the early 2000s and I, for one, was as happy camper. Apologies to the Queen Mary sounds really great. Wolf Parade manages to successfully blend things that don’t seem compatible at first, and the result feels completely balanced. The vocal harmonies and arrangements are creative, and there’s an energy deriving from those songs that’s intoxicating.

#9. The Band, Music From the Big Pink (1968)

This debut album was a follow-up to The Band appearing as a first act in a Bob Dylan tour (under a different name) in 65 and 66, and time spent afterwards together jamming and chilling in a basement in 67, as shown in Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. Incidentally, the album cover is a painting by Dylan. Music From the Big Pink by country-rock group The Band does seem to have been greatly influenced by friendly group jamming sessions, in basements or elsewhere (there’s a real 60’s feel to it)! The classic country-folk vibe is complemented by a nice bluesy vibe on this album. The sound here is smoother than the sound on their famous brown album, which moves towards a “rock-ier” sound. I like the fact that this group seems like a collective : The Band – what a concept for a name! Musically, they do feel like a band rather than a one man show supported by musicians, which works really well. Rock on, The Band!

#8. Richard Desjardins, Tu m’aimes-tu (1990)

Singer-songwriter and musican Richard Desjardins was in his forties when this masterpiece was released and obtained critical success. He once told a story of playing live in a summer festival around 1989, then going backstage barely able to crawl up to the sofa thinking “I’m way too old for this”, only to have a crew member running inside to get him because thousands of people were screaming for an encore from him. This album is very personal, the lyrics are poetic, open-hearted, intimate. The songs are hilarious at times (like the clever Le bon gars – “The Good Guy”), and other are highly emotional. The song J’ai couché dans mon char (“I slept in my car”) details in a very genuine manner the story of a tough and proud man (himself?) who goes on a journey after a painful breakup, then comes back after (metaphorically) going through hell, to find that the woman he still loves despite his best efforts is now with his best friend. There’s a brilliant one-second pause in the song, which feels like forever and makes us feel the pain from this blow, while we wait for him to respond. And his response is suave, yet heartbreaking (“It went in like a nail, right in the gut. But, the fabric held up. Well, let’s drink to that.”) There is genius in these little things that convey what needs to be conveyed through a song.

#7. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot it in People (2002)

To continue on the subject of awesome musical collectives, Broken Social Scene gets the no.7 spot thanks to their second album You Forgot it in People. The impressive number of musicians that compose this collective and the diversity of musical intruments they bring to the table surely imply strong potential, musically speaking. However, making an album could be quite the chaotic task, with everyone trying to highlight the benefits of their specific sound or project. So Broken Social Scene must be quite the disciplined bunch : this album is ambitious, and eclectic, sometimes furiously energetic, sometimes mellow, but it stays focused and never loses sight of where it’s going (and how to bring people along). The first half of this album is especially strong, but I wonder if I won’t find new appreciation for the ending as well over time. All in all, this album is another prime example of the immense contribution Canadian bands have made to the indie scene!

#6. Sloan, Twice Removed (1994)

That one brings back memories! Twice Removed is Sloan’s second album. Musically, it’s a very solid album, which distinguishes itself from many grunge albums that were popular at the time. Sloan’s lyrics have dark undertones, but they’re cleverly satirical, and the melodies are undeniably catchy (how catchy is Coax me?!!) As I mentioned in a previous post, these Canadian Beatles of the 90’s have evolved nicely throughout each album (they have a cool Pixies/Sonic Youth touch in their early works, that are not as well known). But Twice Removed is the classic among them with great songs like I Hate my Generation, Bells on, People of the Sky, Penpals, and Coax me. Again, unlike several albums from 90’s alternative bands, this album has aged very well.

#5. Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)

I kept seeing that album on top Canadian albums lists, but I only heard it myself recently. It is indeed a great folk album by singer-songwriter and musician Joni Mitchell. The way Mitchell’s wide-ranging voice and personal lyrics flow over the piano and guitar melodies (and the appalachian dulcimer) is pleasant to the ear. The 70’s never cease to amaze me. I assume that this artist was also very influential, as there weren’t many female singer-songwriters receiving that much critical and commercial acclaim. She is mostly praised for her sonwriting, but some, like Chrissie Hyde, praise her in a different manner (“she’s a f*cking great guitar player”). Thanks for underlining that, Crissie, it needed to be said! I was pondering which spot this album should be given – this record might, after all, belong to a certain era, while others on this list seem timeless, but I decided to wait a little longer, to see if newer albums withstand the test of time, since Joni Mitchell’s remains a masterpiece 40 years later.

#4. Eric’s trip, Love Tara (1993)

Love Tara is indie band Eric’s trip’s official debut. Eric’s Trip can be as loud, with energetic drums and guitar riffs played with intensity and lots of distortion, as it can be soft, with open-hearted and sensitive lyrics whispered by Rick White and Julie Doiron in gentle harmonies. This album was recorded in White’s parents’ basement, which would normally lower sound quality, but in this case, it accentuates the intimacy and atmosphere surrounding the album’s very personal storytelling, and brings additional credibility. Members of the band were just teenagers and/or very young adults at the time, and they wrote an entire album about the pains of love and heartbreak. White and Doiron’s relationship was getting rocky around that time. They sing about what tears lovers apart (thoughts of infidelity, drug use, resentment and anger), but they also sing about wanting to hold on to something good that’s slipping away. This is immortalized on the beautiful album cover, which shows what appears to be White and Doiron in a heartfelt hug, with the title Love Tara (their mutual friend whom White had started seeing…). How painful were your first heartbreaks? You felt that people were so egocentric and cruel and that your heart would explode? This album is a masterpiece, because it feels so real. The songs have those melancholic and catchy guitar and vocal melodies that tug at the heart strings. Eric’s Trip recorded a genuine, magical moment in that basement, with the uncompromising energy and feelings of youth, which really hit home for many.

#3. The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)

When this album won best album at the 2011 Grammys (against Eminem among others), many thought they’d heard wrong. I was hoping that this Montréal based band would win best alternative album, but I never dreamed that they’d win the biggest prize, because I thought the band wasn’t all that famous in America. And it wasn’t. However, the album had already made its way to several american critics’ 2010 top ten list. The Suburbs is The Arcade Fire’s third album and their most accomplished work (note: I have not heard their latest record The Reflector). Mind you, I always loved their debut album Funeral with its catchy and haunting melodies, which is totally like a drug, but it feels somewhat experimental – an insanely successful experiment, praised notably by David Bowie. In comparison, The Suburbs feels like a more mature and complete work. There is a story being told, beginning with friends being torn apart by “suburban life and wars”, to them all wondering if they can ever get away from the sprawl. Family, friend and neighbourhood dynamics are recurring themes for this atypical bunch of talented musicians, who made an enchanting series of songs, and an album that grows on you with time.

#2. Neil Young, Harvest (1972)

This is the first Neil Young album to be released after Crosby, Still, Nash and Young decided to call it quits. This wonderful country folk album flows smoothly, from one great song to the other. It starts up with the melancholic harmonica melody of Out on the Weekend. Somewhere in the middle of the album, we follow a man’s through his endless search for a Heart of Gold. Then, there are also the wonderful songs Old Man, Alabama, The Needle and The Damage Done, and Words (Between the Lines of Age)… Neil Young’s at the top of his game here, both in terms of melodies and lyrics. I find the songs to be very touching, and they stir up emotions for me. Conveying emotions through a record (in comparison to a live performance) is hard to achieve for a recording artist, so kudos Neil. This is a great timless classic that I enjoy listening to over and over again, especially on soft automn days.

#1. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

This is the debut album of all debut albums (and other albums as well, obviously). It comprises an incredible series of songs, written by musician/poet/folk singer-songwriter extraordinaire Leonard Cohen, with his distinctive warm and deep tone (although his voice got much much deeper with time). The haunting vocals and melodies are upfront and center, and you will find on this album many amazing classics, such as Suzanne, Master and Slave, Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye, Sisters of Mercy, and So Long Marianne. You will also find on there my two personal favorites of his : Teachers (soooo underestimated), and The Stranger Song. Leonard Cohen’s music accompanies you throughout your whole life, and his words can be interpreted differently, as one grows older and gains experience. I remember feeling lost when I listened to it the first time around. So much symbolism (a unique mix of sacred and profane), so much cynism and disenchantement about life, love and our cruel human struggles… I thought, this is too good for ordinary me, I’ll never be able to connect with these songs. It turns out that I was just too much in a hurry. When you’re young, you’re always in a hurry. This is the kind of timeless album that has to be appreciated slowly, and on a whole different level than other albums. Just like one cannot hope to understand the meaning of life at 15 ; perhaps, if not a white head, it takes a gray-ish head, at least.

Iron and wine, Dustin Tebbutt : thanks for reminding me that I’m “indie folk” above all else

It’s been about two years since I posted here! Time sure flies by fast. So how can I mark this glorious comeback? Maybe by going back to the roots.

I’ve been a music lover ever since I can remember. When I was ten, my parents bought me a radio-cassette player and it completely changed my life. I’d hear a song that I liked playing on the kitchen radio while my parents were making dinner, and I’d run upstairs to my room like a mad person to press the record button. The sound quality was awefull and I could hear the DJ’s voice over the first or last 10 seconds of the song… but it was soooo worth it. I made countless mixed tapes since then, which remain, in my view, the best compilations ever and I still listen to them, once in a while. As a teenager and young adult, I worked (if you can call it work 🙂 ) at the school’s, then the university’s radio station where I had access to local demo tapes (very bad audio, once again, but these local bands were intense, so it doesn’t matter, right?). I listened to so many songs, so many styles… “as long as it’s good” is what I used to say to people asking me what type of music I liked. Songs accompanied me always, through good times and bad times (especially bad times).

Ah, the good old days.

After having kids, while still listening to music, I slowed down and lowered the sound a little, to be able to hear their shy and cute baby voices. Work and everything else got more intense and I’d basically just crawl up to bed every night dead tired. That, coupled with the fact that I am utterly useless with technology (I concluded that IT hates me) so even the easiest thing nano Ipod or whatnot would die out on me after a while. And yet, lately, it’s been irritating me. It’s been getting under my skin. I want to listen to something new, something good. Something that will really catch my interest, like back then.

Now, thanks to those youtubers who post really great music compilations, out of the blue, I found a few wonderful indie bands that I had never heard of before.

Dustin Tebbutt is an australian singer-songwriter, who’s debut EP “The Breach” has met critically acclaim, and for good reason. The eponym song is haunting, in a good way. It flows smoothly… and endlessly, since I listen to it on repeat. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to something on repeat.

Iron and Wine is an american singer-songwriter who already released several albums, and some of them were extremely well-received by critics, notably the wonderful “Our endless numbered days”. This talented and charismatic bearded fellow has apparently lived though a difficult time in the bible belt where he was raised, but came out of it with a very open and mature philosophy, as quoted in the Telegraph : “That was a confusing time for me, but I don’t miss being misled. I’m not an atheist. There’s an undeniable unseen world that some people call God and think they know more about than other people. I try not to get hung up on the names.” Well said, my friend. In these days of uncertainty and fear, your openness is welcome. So is your music!

I’m adding these two to my list, and if I can make it through my mourning period following the death of Leonard Cohen, I’ll expand my musical research and listen to their other, more recent CDs, and share the results.

Greatings and salutations to all WordPress bloggers!

Fleetwood Mac: From Then Till Now

I have been listening a lot to Fleetwood Mac these days… perhaps because Christine McVie finally came back for their new tour, perhaps because Stevie Nicks released a new album, perhaps because for some reason I finally saw their 1997 live show “The dance” and I got totally into it and became a bit nostalgic… But perhaps, it’s mainly because I went back, way back, to their early years, back when this band was composed of only british people playing some pretty nice blues-rock tunes. Peter Green sounds SO great (both vocally and musically, on the guitar). Really, what a bluesman.

And then, many talented musicians came and went, and two fiery americans ended up completing this band, which then created history with their music, their intriguing and charismatic personas, and their bizarre (dare I say disfunctional?) yet very productive group dynamics.

So they are all in their sixties/seventies now, and they seem to be enjoying themselves and each other a lot more now that they’re older, wiser, sober, and that some of that famous heavy emotional bagage has disapeared or at least toned down. Indeed, the intensity and pain in Lindsey Buckingham’s 77 live performance of “Go your own way” is palpable.

And if you watch interviews and documentaries like “Destiny rules” about the recording of their 2003 “Say you will” album, you can see that the lasting “tension”, especially between Stevie Nicks and Buckingham, is not just a gimmick for the fans. While it is obvious that the band and/or their managers like to exploit the Nicks/Buckingham so-called neverending soap opera, I personally don’t mind it because I think there is a genuine connection there that allows for some wonderful emotional performances, such as the ones on “The dance” live album/DVD, the band’s first live show in ten years (aside from the presidential campain of course). Buckingham once said that, as they wrote much of their songs about each other but never really reunited after their break up, Nicks and himself get to “live out their love affair on stage”. That’s the feeling I get while listening to “Silver springs” live : the ending is so intense on Nicks’ part, it’s almost scary. Scary, but great!

Lindsey Buckingham is underrated, he is a great musician (plus he gets points in my book for playing the old fashion way – no guitar pick!).

As good as “The dance” is (their vocal harmonies are better than ever), to me, the 70’s performances remain the greatest. They feature long versions of the songs we love, played and sung with fury and raw emotion, which pulls at the heartstrings.

That being said, I’m very glad I discovered the oldies too as I’m a big blues-rock fan, and I encourage you to check them out as well.

More Fleetwood Mac videos (“The Chain” and “Rihannon”) in this previous post: https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-few-70s-songs-by-fleetwood-mac/

Welcome the new year with La bottine souriante!

So long 2014! While preparing to welcome in 2015, I thought I’d share some wonderful festive music which we particularly enjoy here in Québec to ring in the new year.

“La bottine souriante” was created in 1976 and is mostly known for its wonderful rendition of Québec traditional music. Songs from the first few decades featured vocal harmonies, accordeons, guitars, pianos, harmonicas, mandolins, and crazy foot works! Indeed, in addition to Yves Lambert’s distinctive voice and accordeon playing, “La bottine souriante” included insane foot rythms by Michel Bordeleau, a great addition to this upbeat music which will have you dancing in no time.

Québec folk music is influenced among other things by old French songs and celtic music. In more recent years, the band explored some new sounds, widened their brass section and added some jazz elements and world beats. “La bottine souriante” is a hit here in the province, but the band also played in France and around the world. The group won several prizes including a BBC Folk Award in 1999.

I saw them live about 10 years ago and it was one of the best shows I had ever seen (and I have seen a few). It took perhaps two or three songs to get the crowd fired up to the point that there wasn’t anyone left sitting on their seat. Below is a live show from 1998, so dance the night away!

Happy new year to all!

Amazing Music Videos: Hurt by Johnny Cash

Let me apologize for waiting this long to post about this incredible work of art! A strong candidate for the number one spot in my Amazing Music Video series.

The adventure began with yet another incredible idea to come out of the brain of famous bearded genius Rick Rubin, a prolific and very influential producer who is responsible for several of the most important albums of the last few decades. Johnny Cash, now in his 60’s-70’s, had been working with Rubin on the American Recordings series: the AR albums comprise new versions of famous songs by american songwriters. On the fourth american recordings record, intitled “The Man Comes Around”, Johnny Cash performs a stunning and unforgettable version of alternative rock band Nine Inch Nails’s iconic song “Hurt”. Using the same strong lyrics (aside from the removal of one little word), he made the song his own and took it in a different direction, as an old man emotionally looking back on his life. While many I’m sure dismissed the raw alternative NIN song right off the bat were then surprised and blown away by it, once they let Johnny Cash do the storytelling (which, incidentally, is also relatively common with Rick Rubin’s albums – he breaks the frontiers of genres and brings out a performance that can be understood by a wide audience).

Directed by Mark Romanek, this video has nothing to do with “blingbling” or what not. It’s not about escaping reality by daydreaming about obscene wealth and fame and nonstop lapdancing (sigh…). It is a naked portrait of a legendary figure in music, now in his 70’s and in fragile health, looking back on his life and career as the “hell-raiser man in black”.  It’s an incredibly moving video, which won best cinematography at the MTV awards; Romanek really should have taken home the best video awards but he lost to Missy Elliot… at least he didn’t lose to 50 cents’s In da club! That was the year of the famous Britney-Madonna kiss too… but let’s rejoice that somehow out of this could rise a wonderful work of art which will stand the test of time (unlike others who shall remain nameless).

I heard someone say once that this video is like a baroque painting. What do you think? Here goes:

PS. If you haven’t seen my “Hurt – original vs cover song battle” between Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash, I invite you to take a look and make your choice (if you can, it’s a heartbreaking choice!) : https://songsuneedtohear.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hurt-vs-hurt-nin-vs-johnny-cash/