Warning: This album might make kids want to form a band… or Hinds – Leave Me Alone

hinds leave me alone

It doesn’t hurt to have hi profile friends (Black Keys, Libertines, the Strokes, Black Lips) and to be opening for some very popular bands. Then to get major label distribution (Sony) so that your music gets promoted and is easily available once the word is out is even better. However, the only thing that will really result in lasting appeal are a great bunch of songs. You either write them, have them written for you, or have things crafted so densely under production that singing the dictionary sounds like a hit ready for the mini-pops to cover. The later is usually what you see when youth get major label money and the results are generally fan bases popular amongst the pre-teen kids waiting for the next single by Selena Gomez or Cody Simpson.

It isn’t often that you see the exact opposite play out, but ‘holy crap’ it has and the effort has produced an outstanding record. Riding out of a sunrise with a sound that crosses the lo-fi glory of Sebadoh with the energy of the 5.6.7.8’s and the dreamscape of Best Coast, Hinds have created an LP that can relate as much to early rock ‘n’ roll as it does to modern alternative/indie sounds. All that and they’re still on an indie (with major distribution).

What is most appealing with Leave Me Alone are the moments that have the dual vocals of Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote playing off one another in a playful case of a mutual admiration society. The album opens with “Garden” which has them teaming up with vocals that are not the usual ‘call and answer’ or traded lines found in duets as much as a ‘sing-a-long’ jam with friends just having a great time. Live you often see bands have these moments but capturing it in a studio environment is rare. Which makes it all the more remarkable that they pull it off on a full albums worth of material.

Hinds do have a few tunes that capture the whole ‘dark and brooding’ thing, but their overall enthusiasm seems to jangle right past despair with a good nod and a wink. Thing is, it’s really hard to be in a negative mood listening to Hines… like a good friend they show up when you’re down and say nothing more than “get off your ass and let me buy you a drink” and everything feels better.

Great rock ‘n’ roll records don’t have to be complicated affairs. They don’t need to have producers with a track record, a billion dollar studio, or a video directed by a Hollywood ‘A list-er’. Leave Me Alone is a reminder that great music can come from kids with nothing more than the standard guitar, bass and drum mixed with a few crappy amps and a willingness to let the songs speak for themselves. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a few kids will hear this record and start bands of their own, and that would be about the highest compliment any band can get.

The Volume is a Little Lower: Goodbye Glenn Frey

DSCN8002

Identity and youth is such a strange thing. What one is willing to grasp on to in order to fill a void can seem like a whim but have implications that last a lifetime. For whatever reason, the music of the Eagles was what attached itself to me, and I in return, clung to them for more years than they themselves remained together in their initial run.

I remember hearing them from the crackling transistor AM radios that my older siblings owned and through the fuzz of the car stereo on the trips up north as a child. There was something that made them stick. I wasn’t even 10 when Hotel California was released, but it was the first album that I didn’t just want to buy, but somehow be a part of. More than the Beatles or the Stones, the Eagles were who I identified with. Of course, as a kid it was an oversimplified Scooby Doo type community I craved, but at that age you’re allowed to project those desires into your favourite tunes.

As I became a teen, my notebooks and textbooks would have the lyrics of their songs hand written into the covers. I knew that J.D. Souther was a frequent collaborator and that Jackson Browne had co-written “Take It Easy.” I was familiar with previous bands too; that Randy Meisner had once been in a band called Poco, that Bernie Leadon had been a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, that Joe Walsh had opened for the Who as a part of The James Gang and mostly, that Glenn Frey and Don Henley were members of Linda Ronstadt and ultimately the masterminds behind my favourite band.

This wasn’t in the days of Google and Wikipedia. Every bit of information you got about the artists you loved was from careful study of an LP’s liner notes; gathered from magazine articles you were lucky enough to have picked up; or even books you searched for in the library… which was strange, because I only seemed to be there for this very reason. I learned about these artists from the radio itself. For years, I was tuning into Q107’s Six O’Clock Rock Report to get any little scrap of information about all my favourite bands. Before I even hit high school, I was a huge music fan with a doctorate in The Eagles. I could wax poetic about tons upon tons of rock bands; bore you with details about groups from the Beatles to Barnstorm, but the kings of the Southern California sound were my first love.

To that end, the passing of Glenn Frey hits home and hits hard. No, I never met him, and to be honest, his image as seen through History of The Eagles is that of someone who is wrapped in arrogance… but that doesn’t mean much to me. What mattered was that he helped provide a soundtrack to my life. His music gave me a reason to socialize and interact in a world that I felt desperately alone in during those early formative years. When I later lost interest in their music, it was still that initial connection that drove me to take a further interest in the sounds of other bands. Even as a music journalist, I would hear artists through a lens, that for better or worse was established with the same enthusiasm I had for The Eagles when I was child. As an adult now, I can both sing their praises and slam them in a single breath… but the truth is; every record from their debut to Eagles Live is sitting just a few inches from my turntable. In the basement, where an old stereo with a cassette deck is ready to resume work with a single button push, my old Eagles/Don Henley/Glenn Frey/Joe Walsh and James Gang cassettes wait to roll.

Earlier in the week, as I was discussing the death of David Bowie with an acquaintance, I said to him that “I’m hitting a crappy age.” It’s a time when the heroes, friends and mentors of our childhood start to disappear; a time when we seemingly attend more funerals than celebrations. Glenn Frey will live on through his family and his music… but platitudes seem rather empty at the moment. Today another part of my youth died, and no matter how much I wish for it, life will never sound the same. Still great sounding, but the volume is forever a little lower.

RIP Glenn Frey

Beck… without the Beck? Or Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Soundtrack

spvwco

Writing songs for fake bands can turn out some pretty good tunes. The Monkees and Spinal Tap built careers around that shtick, and let’s not forget the memorable Citizen Dick in Singles and… well, it’s a very long list. One of my favourite is Sex Bob-Omb from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While I admit to being a fan of the movie, it’s the soundtrack that I became pretty obsessive over for a few months back in the day. First it contained that awesome Plumtree song “Scott Pilgrim” that had originally inspired the books. Then you had some top notch Canadian content with Metric and Broken Social Scene stealing their… um, scenes; by appearing as rival band Crash & the Boys. However, it was the Beck songs written for Sex Bob-Omb that had my son and I singing along on the summer road trips.

By writing garage inspired tunes for a fictional act, Beck took a step back towards a more lo-fi sound and created an EP worth of memorable tunes. The energy and enthusiasm expressed in the soundtrack material was similar to what had drawn me to Beck on Mellow Gold. It was playfulness with words mixed with catchy hooks and surrounded by pawn shop guitar sound. (Seriously folks, check out Beck’s live appearances with that wonderful cheap piece of shit 60’s Silvertone. The sound is raunchy, broken and incredibly brilliant. Honestly, I own one myself and love it.)

With the deluxe edition, you get both the Sex Bob-Omb recordings and Beck versions. While the two are quite similar to one another, Beck has a nonchalance in the delivery that allows lines like “Jesus in the rear view / and the highway patrol is up ahead / in my garbage truck…truck” to move past silly and into ‘fun rock-out’ territory. Unfortunately, ‘deluxe’ was digital download only, so the extra three Beck recordings are not on vinyl or CD.

The original vinyl pressing from 2010 was on red translucent wax. Due to demand, there was a 2013 reissue that is identical to the initial release. You can still find copies out and about at record retailers, so don’t go nuts in the reseller market and pay ridiculous prices.

Being a Beck fan, I picked up the LP and just bought the three extra tracks from itunes. It isn’t my usual thing, but when your kids are singing along to your ipod mix on the trip to see the grandparents… well, it feels like money well spent.

Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

DSCN7998

Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

!!!LIGHTBULB!!!!

Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

Barrettbites Top 10 “Super-Awesome” Songs of 2015

beck dreams

Could you make a lasting impression in mere minutes? The kind of connection that lasts a lifetime completed in clicks of a second-hand. That’s what a great song does.

Of course, the best tunes have you forget time even exists until the last moment, when you wish they could go on for much longer… if only to recapture the feeling you just had. Instead we can only replay it; in some desperate attempt to keep that response (whatever it was) going.

 10. The Elwins – “Show Me How To Move”

Coming off like a cross between The Cars, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Motion City Soundtrack “Show Me How To Move” is an infectious little gem about life’s insecurities. It’s catchy enough to stay in your head for weeks without wearing out its welcome.

 9. Terra Lightfoot – “Never Will”

A pure blast of rock ‘n’ roll delivered from just down the QEW in Hamilton. Terra Lightfoot put together a record full of gems with “Never Will” leading the charge.

 8. City & Colour – “Lover Come Back”

The second single from If I Should Go Before You, “Lover Come Back” is an outstanding soul tinged tune harkening back to the days of Stax was the king of Memphis.

 7. Wolf Alice – “Moaning Lisa Smile”

On first listen, “Moaning Lisa Smile” sounds like it may have been dropped into us from 1992, with its nineties alt rock vibe. However, it was just the start to what turned out to be a great record. Can’t wait for more!

 6. Hollerado – “Firefly”

“Firefly” was a 7” single released on record store day as part of the coolest release of the day. Buy the little green vinyl, and get a download card for 111 songs. How many bands can say they released 10 albums worth of material with a 45 RPM.

 5. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats – “S.O.B.”

Conjuring sounds ranging from Van Morrison to Elvis Presley, “S.O.B” was the single that started the ball rolling on a great record and rave reviews from everywhere Rateliff went to play.

 4. Cage The Elephant – “Mess Around”

It’s only been around for a few weeks, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a great song. Full of influences ranging from the UK to San Francisco, it rides a great groove from start to finish.

 3. Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrain At Best”

Talk about a salvo! Barnett’s “Pedestrain At Best” is like a personal mission statement to music. She puts out songs that carry the confessional style of Paul Westerberg (the Replacements), the humour of David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) and energy of the frickin Pixies.

 2. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”

Somewhere between soul, disco and straight up rock ‘n’ roll, “Don’t Wanna Fight” is the kind of tune that hits emotionally and has you singing along. Even my kids try hitting those high notes as we cruise the streets in the minivan.

 1. Beck – “Dreams”

Speaking of my kids, “Dreams” was their favourite of the year, as well as mine. Like the most memorable of Beck’s work, it had elements of hip-hop built into the rhythm, a great ‘wonky’ guitar riff, and lyrics that captured the imagination even when they seemingly made sense only within the context of a dream. Only wish it was supported by a full album.

 

Not Just Messin’ Around… or Cage The Elephant – Tell Me I’m Pretty

cagepic

It’s an interesting time to be Cage The Elephant. They could stick to their tried and true sound that has produced a number of alt-rock staples, or venture out to try something a little different. The risk for every artist is alienating old crowds while searching for new fans and retaining that wonderful feeling of loving what you do.

For inspiration, they have looked to the other side of the Atlantic and picked up influences ranging from the Beatles (“Sweetie Little Jean”) to Super Furry Animals (“Cry Baby”) and the Arctic Monkeys (“Mess Around”). To top that, they’ve got the ear of Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at the controls, giving them sounds that ride sonic rhythms rather than relying on straight up indie-rock guitar. The result is a weird hybrid that welds together various pieces in some metaphoric ‘found object’ art instillation that is both strange yet incredibly accessible.

The old over-the-top swagger is exchanged for one of emphasis in the right places. It used to be that vocalist Matt Shultz would put out little vocal improvisations at a rate that would put James Brown to shame, but it seems Auerbach may have reined him in, allowing whole songs to catch the imagination. “Cold, Cold, Cold” is a perfect example; it’s a tune that has psychedelic flourishes that would be undermined by such displays. Instead, the fuzzed out guitar, classic 60’s style rhythm and haunting organ are allowed to drive home the mood.

Next you get a story of abuse set to a background of early rock ‘n’ roll sounds. “Punchin’ Bag” at its surface is a tale of someone who has ‘had enough’, but its musical tone conjures images created by the Sonics’ 1965 song “Strychnine” and its aggressive sinister sound.

Tell Me I’m Pretty is not content to be ‘just another’ alt-rock record to be quickly digested and tossed aside in a few months when the next ‘flavour’ arrives on shelves. It seeks to be a record that you keep coming back to; new sounds emerging on every subsequent listen; the kind of album that lives on in your consciousness and becomes a favourite.