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!

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Amazing Music Videos : Sabotage by Beastie Boys

Sabotage was the first single of the eclectic 1994 release Ill Communication. If I remember correctly, the hilarious video directed by Spike Jones is what propelled that strange hip hop/rock song to the top.

This parody of 1970s style cop shows was nominated for four MTV music video awards, but didn’t win any in the end. That doesn’t matter. It definitely deserves a spot on my amazing music videos list. Sure, the story makes no sense, but it serves its purpose well: providing the opportunity for 70s style dramatic cop & robber chasing, busting stuff open, jumping and sliding over car hoods… Utterly useless moves, but they are quite intense! Can you hear the squeeking tires from here? Are you nauseous from the over-the-shoulder camera action and all the zoom-in/zoom-out shots?

But the characters really are the icing on the cake. A nice little touch. Too bad that just when you’re done reading one’s pointlessly detailed info, he’s already exploded. And the secondary characters with their elaborate costumes and styles are super intriguing, but they get thrown over a bridge even faster.

Now, are our downtown streets well guarded by the intriguing Cochese and his boots, the chief and his axe, Bobby the rookie and his debatable choice of interrogation style, and the low-key Bunny?… Yes, I saw you Bunny, and I am grateful for your 2 second presence, since you seem to be the only not ultra violent fake cop around in this video.

If one of the Beastie Boys’ uncle had an old 1970s blue car that he didn’t mind seeing roughed up, then this video must have cost a ridiculously low amount of money, given that there are always garbage bins and cardboxes laying around. Well, you’d have to pay for the hotel room, a few props, and that guy’s salary for holding up trafic all day. And the person doing the editing of dozens of 3 second shots! But seriously, it always amazes me that so many memorable videos aren’t all about spending lots of money on cool visual effects. It’s all about the concept. The visual effects, or rather stunts, here, are old school to say the least, and it works perfectly well. That’s basically the concept.

So, thanks Beastie Boys, I laughed again, twenty years later, watching your video. And here’s a hint that your video marked a generation : for many years, people came to Halloween partys dressed up as your intricately defined characters. How’s that for an unofficial award!

Highlights : too many, so enjoy the whole thing. 😉

Eric’s Trip, the charming indie queen Julie Doiron, and the legendary yet underrated Rick White

How does one manage to become a legend when one’s albums go so largely unnoticed? Or is that characteristic of indie legends?

This is a story that spans over 25 years. A story about music that, like so many, cannot be told without elaborating a bit on the personalities and dynamics of the interesting group of artists that created it.

It begins with a bunch of kids living and playing music in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the early 1990s. Young couple Julie Doiron and Rick White, along with friends Chris Thompson and Ed Vaughan are playing together in the alternative band Eric’s Trip, a name inspired by a Sonic Youth song. Like many of their peers in Moncton, they’re making a racket in their parents’ basement, recording some tapes, and playing energetically at small local shows, while the entire nation is listening to Michael Bolton and New Kids on the Block. Eventually, however, people started to notice that those lo-fi garage tapes from these unknown alternative bands were actually selling.

Three cassettes later, Vaughan was replaced by Marc Gaudet, a solid drummer used to playing in local punk bands. His fast drumming, Thompson’s melodic guitar, Doiron’s bass playing and soft vocal harmonies with White, the band’s main singer songwriter and undisputable leader, became Eric’s Trip final line-up.

Around that time, american label Subpop had already released Nirvana’s Bleach, the american grunge scene was making its way towards mainstream radio, and Sloan’s early successes were drawing attention to the Canadian east coast independant scene.

Eric’s Trip became the first Canadian band to be signed by Subpop. They refused Subpop’s first offer, afraid that they would lose out in the end, but the label then offered them full creative liberty (and a little more money) and they accepted. The band chose to keep recording at home with a four-track though, even after being signed. It was a good move. This raw sound fits them well, and many people in the public at that time were looking for honesty in music acts.

With people finally ready to listen, T-shirt&blue-jeans-wearing-long-haired Eric’s Trip was ready to take on the world. As you can see and hear from the performance below, their early live shows were pretty cacophonous (feeling nostalgic of the early 90s yet?), but their albums were always accessible.

In the midst of it all, Doiron and White’s relationship was getting rocky. The creative duo, who learned to play, write, and sing together, was a main force behing the band’s music, and their relationship troubles translated into their albums with bold authenticity. It translated most famously in their first album, Love Tara, released in 1993.

Love Tara is a record that is easy to love right away. The music shows impressive continuity and the stories being told are really engaging. Soft whispered love pleas blend in with loud cries of anguish. White was starting to get more into drugs around that time, and Doiron didn’t appear to be as interested in that scene, which threw a big wrench into their relationship. While on a break with Doiron, White started seeing Moncton’s Orange Glass member Tara Landry for a short time, in secret, a betrayal captured in the emotional song A secret for Julie. That would be the defining moment in the end, according to White who said Doiron never forgave him, but at the time, the two of them were not ready to let go yet. And all the while Eric’s Trip was getting more and more attention, and everyone was just trying to surf the wave and to keep afloat.

The Gordon Street Haunting was released a year later. It’s a short album comprising just a few songs that were strongly influenced by Doiron and White’s breakup, after a few months of being “on again off again” (at the end of the album, you can hear part of Doiron’s goodbye message on what seems to be White’s answering machine). Again, that transparency in documenting reality and the overall genuine quality struck a chord with Eric’s Trip young public. That being said, the moments of distress depicted in these songs were certainly mixed in with ordinary moments and days of chilling out and making music together without getting all worked up (otherwise it would be impossible to sing about the other person to the other person’s face and have him/her do the backvocals to boot!). Through it all, Doiron and White remained good musical partners.

Still, around that time, an saddened Doiron had begun writing her own songs under the name “Broken Girl”, and progressively withdrew from her band mates, spending time away with old friends including paintor Jon Claytor, whom she eventually started seeing. White was seeing Tara Landry again by then and had started a side project with her and Gaudet called Elevator. A little while later, Thompson began working on a side project as well, called Moonsocket.

Did Eric’s Trip lose momentum when the original inspirational couple separated? It would seem so, but to the outside world, Eric’s Trip was in full bloom and interest in the band was growing.

One night, Doiron announces to White that she’s pregnant, and it hits him very hard. His painful perspective of the event is immortalized in the song Forever again (among others), which is also, surely not by coincidence, the title of Eric’s Trip’s next album. With Doiron’s pregnancy, White and Doiron’s split now being definitive, and members of the band spending more and more time on their own projects, Eric’s Trip future seemed uncertain.

Forever again is a dramatic record, very introspective and with darker overtones. That album doesn’t have that perfect continuity that Love Tara had and, as I learned just recently, that disconnectednes was intentional. In these songs, just about everything seems to be collapsing, except inspiration! That album doesn’t necessarily have that “love at first sight” quality, but it definitely grew on me. Very much so in fact. It might just be my favorite now.

At this point, everyone’s side projects were evolving nicely, White and Doiron were getting married to their new significant others, Doiron gave birth to her first child, and Eric’s Trip released Purple Blue. However, the band seemed about ready to call it quits. The album cover is kind of eerie and appears to make reference to the growing distance between them. The songs are filled with loneliness, irritation, and sadness. But whatever’s going on doesn’t affect the album’s quality, the band is tighter than ever musically speaking. White’s new psychedelic inspiration is reflected in this album.

In the middle of a successful tour, White, suffering from panic attacks, announces he’s going home… An Exclaim! article quoted White saying that to him, the band was family, but with Doiron distancing herself from him “mentally”, and living in another city like Thompson and his girlfriend, White wanted to focus on Elevator. In 1996, Eric’s Trip is officially over, but not before the band plays a final show in Moncton, with, legend has it, none other than Sloan opening!

After parting ways with the others, White and Gaudet (and Landry) released several Elevator records and toured a lot. Elevator is a great psychedelic folk-rock band, a real enjoyable musical exploration which I am listening to relentlessly these days. And of course those trippy lyrics and sound are closely linked to the band’s heavy drug consumption. Staying true to himself, White changes the name of the band several times (Elevator to Hell, Elevator Through Hell, Elevator Through, Elevator) because it doesn’t seem quite right, even though Subpop people are losing their hair over it. Hooked on acid (notably), White entered a strange and relatively dark period, but he remained as prolific as ever.

Elevator is artistically interesting, like Eric’s Trip, but not playing by the industry’s rules has a price, and the band doesn’t make much money and that, over time, puts a strain on its members.

After a few years apart, former Eric’s Trip members started talking again and eventually got enthousiastic about a potential reunion tour. They tried it out in 2001. That reunion tour ended up being a great way for them to “bond” again as a band and to have fun as friends. White said in interviews that he was really glad to connect again, notably with Doiron whom he had not seen for years.

Since 2001, Eric’s Trip has reunited for several tours, and fans rejoiced. But that would only be the start of their renewed collaboration…

In 2004, White and Landry called it quits after becoming estranged. Elevator also separated, as conflicts emerged between the three members. At a loss, White went back to the roots. He stayed in his parents’ basement for a while and through reflection and art, got back on his feet and produced his first solo album intitled the RickWhiteAlbum. Afterwards, he moved to the countryside and released two more albums, Memoreaper and 137. He also released some demos in 2013.

All of White’s albums are great and got good reviews, but they kind of flew under the radar. The sound changes from album to album but White’s signature remains the same : personal, imagistic and highly symbolic lyrics, strong melodies, and a pleasant voice (a whisper at times) flowing over it all. The music he makes always seems to be closely related to his state of mind.

White is mindblowlingly creative, and capable : his inspiration is endless, he writes, he plays every instrument, he records and produces his own music, so he still doesn’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. Basically, he’s self-sufficient. In the end, the core similarities between Eric’s Trip, Elevator, and Rick White’s solo albums are a testament to White’s genius and dedication. I have no recollection of any former collaborator saying White was too controlling. Somehow, admirative of his talent and intrigued by his atypical nature, they chose to follow his direction (if you have 3D glasses laying around, check out his video below!).

Over the years, Doiron’s had a pretty successful solo career. Her songwriting always remained very personal, and unfiltered. It feels like reading an open book on her melancholic thoughts and her insecurities. On several records, especially the older ones, her voice is accompanied by a simple guitar melody, bringing the focus on the lyrics. She sings open heartedly about loneliness, longterm relationship difficulties, disappointments, feelings of incapacity, … Even so, her albums have a soft and warm quality. Daily life can appear gloomy at times, but here and there, you find hints of hope and joy. Her style is very influenced by the folk tradition and she has the perfect personnality for it : Julie Doiron might just be the most endearing person in music. The fact that she can play around with mellow acoustic sounds and heavier sounds is a real cool added value.

In 2005, Doiron and Claytor divorced as well, but they remained on good terms. With a few other people, they launched, in 2006, the independant music festival Sappyfest, a series of intimate shows which takes place annually in Sackville, NB (and it looks freaking awesome).

In 2006, Julie Doiron and Rick White teamed up again and made a critically acclaimed album “trilogy” together : White produced three of Doiron’s most recent albums (Woke Myself Up in 2007, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day in 2009, and So Many Days in 2012). Gaudet and Thompson collaborated on a few songs as well. It’s nice to see that fruitful connection between Doiron and White play out so well, after longtime friendship and collaboration (and they’re clearly having fun ; a few youtube videos posted by White shows them giggling all the time). Both are much more experienced, and confident I assume, than in the early days. Julie Doiron has certainly evolved a lot since Eric’s Trip and is now much more well-rounded as a performer, musician, and songwriter. She also spends her time promoting the balance of a healthy body and mind through the yoga classes she teaches.

After almost three decades of playing music that has undeniable artistic qualities (I’ve skipped over several other great CDs and collaborations), Julie Doiron and Rick White appear to me as being national treasures in the musical universe. While sunny folksy relatable Doiron has more visibility (she’s currently on tour with The Wrong Guys), behind the scenes miracle worker and psychedelic influenced Rick White remains little known, although I read a few times that he’s becoming somewhat of a legend. White reveals himself in his songs just as much as Doiron, if not more, but the way he expresses himself is less accessible for most people. But at the heart of the forest where he is still happily living, he’s as intrepid as ever when it comes musical creations, as we can see from his youtube channel, bandcamp and other websites. Over the years, White has demonstrated that he has that rare level of sensitivity that allows him to bring out the best in his own performances as well as other people’s (friends’) performances.

So is White and Doiron’s music groundbreaking per se? Maybe not, but their contribution to the music industry is great, and part of this greatness comes for the “purity” of their creative process. stephen1001 recently told me about a quote from Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie : “I played Love Tara by Eric’s Trip on the day that you were born. I had to find the cuteness in the unadorned.” That quote works perfectly for their early years. And as they evolved as artists, their musical integrity was never compromised.

I’ve lost track of Thompson and Gaudet, but I’m sure they’re rocking it out somewhere. In Doiron and White’s case, hopefully, I’ll get to catch them live once, so I can testify that the legends are alive!

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!

Amazing Music Videos : Around the World by Daft Punk

A great music video usually builds on the strenght(s) of the song – powerful lyrics, intense vocal/musical performance, overall atmosphere, … –  to enhance it and convey emotions. That may be why so many successful music video directors are also movie directors. It’s the same idea in film, where directors enhance a script by creatively building on its strenghts.

But one might wonder how a music video director can succeed in enhancing, say, something like “club” music?…  I usually listen to singer/songwriters, so to me, getting inspired by beats and a few repetitive lyrics, however catchy they are, poses somewhat of a challenge… Yet, this Amazing Music Videos list already featured two success stories: Weapon of Choice and Praise you by Fatboy Slim, both directed by Spike Jonze. The video for “Around the World”, by French electronic band Daft Punk, is another great example.

The creative mind of French director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Human Nature, several wonderful Bjork videos) came up with a world where squeletons, mommies, synchronized swimmers, robots, and giant though small-headed athletes dance around together on a vinyl record in a disco-style setting. The idea is quite simple: each group of dancers represent a specific sound/rythm. It’s a visual representation of the song itself. Clever indeed.

With the artistic direction Gondry and his team had taken, the thing they absolutely couldn’t afford to miss was the dancing. And they didn’t, it is very well-executed. The jerky moves fit really well with both the song and the characters portrayed (athough the mommies’ smooth moves at 1:28 is a memorable part of the choreography).

The overall result is a completely hypnotic video, which will make you “see” the song in a new light, so to speak.