Barrettbites Top 10 “Super-Awesome” Songs of 2015

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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.

 

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Wolf Alice: From Glastonbury To Adelaide Hall, The Bus Keeps Rolling

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(Hey folks, here is the link to my interview with Wolf Alice in its proper published form, with all the cool pictures from Sugar Beach & Adelaide Hall. I’m also leaving the text here on the blog, but it looks much better at edge.ca. Hope You enjoy!)

In the atrium of the Corus Entertainment building at Sugar Beach in Toronto, there is a three story slide that Wolf Alice guitarist Joff Oddie and bassist Theo Ellis have decided to try and climb… together. It’s an odd take on the myth of Sisyphus, where in place of the rock, they shove each other up the hill. Upon failure, they both tumble out of the slide atop each other. Oddie springs up and exclaims “and that is how babies are made.”

It really isn’t surprising to see them blowing off steam in a spectacle of childish glee. After all, they’ve just disembarked for a quick visit to 102.1 The Edge after a twelve hour bus ride from New York. Following their Toronto show at Adelaide Hall, they will undertake a fourteen hour haul to Minneapolis for another gig.

Wolf Alice has been moving at a dizzying pace for months now, without a day off. A show at The Drake in Toronto this March, an album release and an epic performance at Glastonbury this past June, strung between many other appearances, keeps the bus rolling. The need for a good laugh seems paramount.

The interview itself begins with Ellis mockingly suggesting “He doesn’t want to talk to me. I’m the bass player. He wants to talk to Ellie… or Alice!” It’s a moment with a pure facetious tone as he explains how some people still seem to think that the “Alice” in the band name is a person on stage. Of course, there is no “Alice” just like there is no “Pink” in Pink Floyd. “Kid calls me Alice and I just want to…” It’s a throwaway line filled with deadpan dark humour from a guy who has glitter under his eyes where heavy bags should be.

The contrast fits well with the band that, less than two weeks before Adelaide Hall’s 500 capacity venue, they were playing Brixton Academy to 5000. Ellis admits “It has been weird. Just before Pawtucket (Rhode Island), the last show was our headline London (UK) show. There is definitely a difference… It wasn’t a million people, but… it’s quite cool, quite exciting, to do it (large and small venues) like that.” As he finishes the sentence, Ellie Roswell (vocals/guitar) and Joel Amey (drums/vocals) enter the room.

For the uninitiated, Wolf Alice released their debut My Love Is Cool at the beginning of summer. They have had critics comparing them to bands ranging from ‘grunge’ to ‘shoegaze’ and all points in between. Yet stylistically, the comparisons don’t cover it. Roswell comments, “When we went into the recording studio, we didn’t have a list of bands we wanted to replicate. But we do listen to Queens of The Stone Age, whatever Jack White does, Radiohead… who we always forget to mention. And they’re a big influence.”

My Love Is Cool tends to cover themes from dark desperation to depression, which the band also brings out when doing covers at some of their shows. Roswell grins at the observation. “I think it’s fun to play something as far from you as possible and sometimes it’s a “cheer people up” song. It’s quite cool to see how dark you can make it. Like the One Direction song (“Steal My Girl”). It’s obviously about his girlfriend but when you make it dark, the lyrics come out as possessive and nasty.” Drummer/vocalist Joel Amey elaborates “It is a cool thing to explore. Like with Sting’s (The Police) “Every Breath You Take.” Everybody thinks it’s a love song about a guy and his girl… but it’s twisted… it’s about a guy watching (obsessing about) her. That subversiveness is fun to play with.”

Still, I’m looking at the band and I can’t help wondering what the hell they do to break the monotony of being on the road. They offer quips to the question. There is an awkward exchange involving fully clothed, separate bed, band bonding over episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Another about the movie Saw not enhancing song writing and then a nod to touring mates Drenge as the “weirdest and nicest guys in the world.” But, never having been in a touring rock band, I leave the interview confused as to how Wolf Alice can bring their “A Game” for every show. That thought stays with me as I arrive at Adelaide Hall later that evening.

It takes all of thirty seconds for those questions about monotony and energy levels on the road to be answered. The venue might be small, but the audience is loud, and from the opening chords of “Your Love’s Whore”, band and patrons alike show their enthusiasm for one another. With just a few instruments, a sound system and lights, Wolf Alice emerges with full rock star swagger. The show they put on is electric.

Joff Oddie’s fingers are up and down the neck of his Fender Jaguar, only interrupted on the occasions he flips over to a keyboard and then back to guitar. Joel Amey puts down the steady beat even when he takes the lead vocals on “Swallowtail.” Theo Ellis is all over the stage with the bass, whipping fans into frenzy as he leaps atop the kick drum in full ‘rock out’ pose. Ellie Roswell balances between the ethereal vocal moments of “Silk” and the explosiveness of “You’re A Germ.” While I hadn’t noticed the Radiohead influence on My Love Is Cool, hearing it performed live makes it all become clear. Nuances are flushed out and the show as a whole is proof that this band has surpassed the tag of “next big thing” and has become “the band to see.”

As the final encore ends with “Smiling Mona Lisa”, there is a mutual admiration thing going on with the band thanking the audience, and the crowd wanting more. A promise to return soon is given, and people disperse with wide grins. Driving home, I realize that to Wolf Alice, being on the road in a bus is a small price to pay for the opportunity to have a great night playing their music to appreciative fans.

 

Five Great Albums From 2015 (so far!)

So the mid way part of the year has passed and with a bit of time to reflect, here are my top 5 of 2015 so far. It is hard to rank, as so many great records have been spinning their way into my psyche. So I reserve the right to change my mind later.

5) Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

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Built around strong guitar work and soaring vocals, Wolf Alice bridges the gap between the 90’s alt-rock revival and the more modern Brit-Rock led by the Arctic Monkeys and their recent disciples Royal Blood. It would have been fun to play Guitar Hero to their tunes.

4) Best Coast – California Nights

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Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. California Nights has a way of sinking under your skin and making you want to play them over and over again.

3) Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home. In essence, Bridges is the ‘new old soul.’

2) Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

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Sarcastic and playful in the most observational of ways, Courtney Barnett makes stinging shots sound like a musical sit-com. Characters inhabit a ‘Seinfeld-esqe’ place where nothing seems larger than life and decisions don’t necessarily lead to conclusions. However, the journey is one hell of an adventure.

1) Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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If Alabama Shakes debut Boys & Girls was a first shot across the bow against musical mediocrity, then Sound & Color is a full on declaration of war. Not content to merely ride the wave of being the best rock ‘n’ soul or Southern rock band to currently grace the planet, they expand and grow. It’s the kind of growth and experimentation one got from Radiohead when they leapt from The Bends to OK Computer; or in other words – WOW!

“Rock Star” not “Pop Star” or Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

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Outside of Courtney Barnett, no one has received the tremendous pre-release expectations that Wolf Alice has with the lead up to My Love Is Cool. Dropping new singles every few weeks has helped to build momentum and gather fan support for the album. The result is that Wolf Alice is seeing print in almost every music mag and newspaper for today’s release… but does it hold up?

Well actually, it doesn’t disappoint.

Built around strong guitar work and soaring vocals, Wolf Alice bridges the gap between the 90’s alt-rock revival and the more modern Brit-Rock led by the Arctic Monkeys and their recent disciples Royal Blood. Subtle whispers turn to moments of shoegaze before exploding into an all out “throw your hair around and play air guitar” press as “Giant Peach” blasts out.

“Bros” starts with a Juliana Hatfield Three rhythm before going all “1979” Smashing Pumpkins as if Tanya Donnelly (Belly) was singing. The thing is, Wolf Alice isn’t playing at nostalgia but instead inhabits a space that fits in well with the narrative of ‘rock star’ rather than the dreaded ‘pop star’. When “You’re A Germ” lets the slow verse flare into the heavy chorus of screams and thundering guitar, the impression is that these guys play music that makes them want to ‘rock out’ along with their listeners. Just when you think you’ve pegged their sound, “Your Love’s Whore” throws in a groove that flies into Soundgarden mixed with a Dandy Warhols’ feel. Then you get “The Wonderwhy” which drones on with a buzz that is simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizing.

My Love Is Cool on first listen might sound very 1994, but with each subsequent spin you discover new reasons to forget the past and enjoy the moment. For Wolf Alice, that moment is now and be prepared, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from them.

My Love Is Cool is released on June 23.