RIP Gord Downie

I remember hearing The Tragically Hip back in my senior year of college, when Fully Completely came out, just a few days before my 22nd birthday. I was the music director for our AM station, WECB, and I always tried to keep the selection eclectic and interesting. I’d heard of the band, having seen their previous three releases in the music bins (1987’s self-titled EP, 1989’s Up to Here and 1991’s Road Apples), but their third album was definitely their breakthrough, at least in Beantown. I loved that they were a mixture that defied description, other than they sounded really cool. I immediately put “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” in rotation and “Fifty Mission Cap” as an extra play.

A year later, I’m living quite skint in the burbs of Allston and for a brief time my roommate and I have cable, and my then-girlfriend and I start watching Canada’s MuchMusic channel in earnest. It’s where I first hear great Canadian musicians like Moist, Barenaked Ladies, and Sloan in regular rotation instead of just occasionally. I stumble upon The Hip’s classic single “Grace, Too” (from 1995’s Day for Night) when I watch their video, greatly amused and fascinated by its lo-fi genius, using only video feedback, reflection, and a shirtless Gord to play off the boasting lyrics.  It becomes my favorite song of theirs.

A few years later and I’m back home in midwestern Massachusetts, trying to get my life and accounts back in order, and I’m listening to WRSI and WHMP, two Pioneer Valley stations that weren’t afraid to play the same eclectic music that I loved hearing back in my college days. I hear occasional plays of “Ahead by a Century” (from 1996’s Trouble at the Henhouse) but alas, never get around to taping it off the radio.

By 1998 I’ve got a steady job at the record store and expanding my musical tastes with every new and intriguing release that comes in. So much the better if I can get a promo copy for it! The BMG rep hands me a copy of their 1998 album Phantom Power and I immediately fall in love with it, especially the lovely “Bobcaygeon”.

By the end of 2000 I’d be leaving that job, but not before getting another dose of the Hip with that year’s Music@Work album. I find myself amused once more, this time by the fitting title song:

…as well as one if the deeper cuts, “Freak Turbulence.”

In 2002, I’m writing my trilogy down in the basement on a nightly basis, and hitting up Newbury Comics on a weekly basis, and In Violet Light comes out, another excellent Hip album. Oddly enough it’s years before I actually see the hilarious video for my favorite song off it, “The Darkest One”.

I kind of lose track of the band in the mid-2000s due to multiple moves and personal events, but eventually I catch up and pick up the rest of their catalog. I sadly admit that I don’t listen to them nearly as much as I should, and I never got to see them live.

But The Tragically Hip has never really been a band that I wanted to overindulge in. I like the fact that I’ll throw on Live Between Us or Now for Plan A or even Yer Favourites and think…damn, this is one hell of a great band. I like being pleasantly surprised by just how fucking good a band like that can be.

 

Thanks Gord. You were one hell of a great songwriter and humanitarian.

When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time

Listening versus collecting

peanuts several hearings

[This is something I wrote on my Dreamwidth account this weekend but thought I’d revise it and post it here as well.  I don’t repost all that often, but figured this was something worth talking about here at WiS.]

I was thinking recently about the way I’ve been listening to music over the last few years. No big surprise there.

As far as expensive habits go, at least I’m not collecting cars that I won’t drive, or picking up housewares that I’ll never use. And I’ve always been pretty frugal about it, very rarely spending an absurd amount in one go.  I’ve gotten pretty good at finding sweet deals.  The more tunage I can get for my money, the happier I am.

But at the same time, I know I’ve made some purchases over the years where I’d probably have been better off streaming instead of buying, or maybe purchasing an album track or two.  These are albums that I liked but don’t listen to all that often.  Sometimes it’s the sound of the band that fascinates me, but the song or album as a whole doesn’t make an impression.  In the past, these would have been cds that I most likely would have brought to the record store in exchange for credit, but as I’m mostly a downloader these days, that method is impossible.

I was also thinking about some of the radio stations I’ll listen to online. There are some that have an interesting mix that keeps my interest, and there are others that adhere to a set rotation to the point where I get bored easily.  One particular station I’m thinking of was a favorite of mine, but now I rarely listen to them because they’ve been playing the same songs for the past 2-3 years that I’m not really a fan of.  As a former radio person, I understand the idea of set rotation, but it needs to be recycled after a few months otherwise you’ll lose a portion of your audience who really doesn’t want to hear that same damn Lumineers song for the 374,539,453rd time.

I also feel like I’m not quite immersed in the sounds when my listening habits are stretched too thin. Don’t get me wrong, there are some years where a ton of great albums come out and I love them all, but there’s only so many hours in the day where I can listen to the albums. Not to mention that I’m not listening to current albums all the time…sometimes I want to listen to something from a few decades ago, or a different genre altogether. For instance, I’ve been listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM lately because a) c’mon, it’s the Beatles, and b) it was a refreshing change from all the noise I’ve been trying to escape.

Perhaps my collecting habits are getting the best of me. There are moments where I’ll be a little too focused on trying to find a band’s entire discography and not enough on their music. The idea that I’d listen to their full work is there, but it doesn’t always work out…it really does depend on how connected I am to the music. I never really wanted to be a music collector for the sake of owning something — I find that a bit wasteful and pointless. This is precisely why I’ll pass on collectibles if I already own the songs.

Is this partly due to wanting to recapture the excitement of turning to a station and hearing favorite songs? Who knows. It might be part of it. But it’s definitely my collecting habits getting the best of me. I need to rein them in again.  I love buying albums on release days, but I don’t necessarily have to do so.  That’s partly why I signed up for Amazon Prime, so I could stream the albums where I’m on the fence.

This of course doesn’t mean that I’m giving up buying music I love; it’s merely that I need to be smarter about it.

Favorite Albums: Synchronicity

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I’ve been hearing a few Police songs on Sirius 1st Wave lately, and it got me thinking: I haven’t listened to their last album Synchronicity in a LONG time. It occurred to me that this was one of the early non-Beatles albums that I connected with from start to finish in the early 80s. [I’d say Rush’s Moving Pictures and Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless are two others from this era…I’d listened to full albums all the time, but very few of them contained a full album’s worth of tracks I completely loved.  That would change within a year or so.]

I remember Synchronicity coming out as there was an amazingly detailed push by the label, A&M, on MTV, including multiple versions of the album cover, as well as a four-minute long teaser that was played on the music channel:

Having become a somewhat passive fan of the band on the previous album (1981’s Ghost in the Machine and the many hits that got airplay on rock radio, I loved what I was hearing. And when it was released in June of 1983, one of my sisters bought it and I damn near wore it out playing it. I’d dubbed a copy of it for my own listening until I finally found a used vinyl copy a year or so later.

Of course everyone knows the lead-off single, “Every Breath You Take”, which still gets an amazing amount of airplay over thirty years later. I was more a fan of its b-side, “Murder By Numbers”, which was treated as a bonus track on the cassette and CD. I was also a fan of the second single, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. It’s not often you hear a song that uses the phrase “trapped between the Scylla and Charibdys”. Nerdy stuff indeed.

But what I found myself really enjoying was the strange mix of album cuts, from the jazzy “Miss Gradenko”…

to the new wave weirdness of “Mother”…

…to the jittery opener “Synchronicity I”.

I was only twelve when it came out, but budding writer in me really liked the idea that the album was all about different kinds of philosophies, both religious and profane, and how often they were linked in one way or another. Sting’s uber-intellectual lyrics were tempered by some brilliant melodies that seemed to transcend anything they’d recorded before.

Of course, it was also their last album together before they broke up (acrimoniously due to clashing egos, of course), so they certainly went out with a bang. Each member went on to vastly different solo careers and though they’ve reconvened a few times for one reason or another, they’ve never released anything new since.

Out of all the Police albums I listen to, Synchronicity gets the most plays by far.  It’s the tightest, the wildest, and the most interesting in my opinion.  The others tend to have weak spots that lose my attention, but this one I’ll still listen to from start to finish.

 

Recent Purchases, September Edition, Part II

More musical goodness from last month for you to enjoy!

Living Colour, Shade, released 8 September. Great to see these guys back, still rocking hard and writing some damn fine songs.

The National, Sleep Well Beast, released 8 September. A somewhat more somber affair for these guys (well, a bit more laid back than they already are!), but still a great album.

Lamb, “Illumina” single, released 13 September. A new track by Lamb? SWEET! A lovely track by one of my favorite electronic bands. Definitely looking forward to more from them.

Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold, released 15 September. A harder, darker album, less catchy but just as great.

Ringo Starr, Give More Love, released 15 September. Ringo’s albums can be hit or miss, but he definitely hit it with this one. Very upbeat and confident on this one.

Prophets of Rage, Prophets of Rage, released 15 September. Music by the guys from Rage Against the Machine and rappers from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. You’d better expect some fucking rage.

Gary Numan, Savage (Songs from a Broken World), released 15 September. I think I may have found another album that I will be listening to during writing sessions for the next Mendaihu Universe story. I’m amazed at how damn good this album is.

Cut Copy, Haiku from Zero, released 22 September. This band manages to create a new variant of their signature electronic sound with every new album, and I’m always fascinated by them. Yet another fine release.

Tricky, ununiform, released 22 September. Another ‘I will buy anything they release’ musician. Tricky’s not as grimy and gritty as he used to be, but he still retains the great triphop chill that defines his sound.

The Horrors, V, released 22 September. I stumbled upon this group a few years ago and I love their mid-80s goth retro sound that kind of reminds me of Comsat Angels. Definitely worth checking out.

Wolf Alice, Visions of a Life, released 29 September. This is such a fun band to listen to! You never quite know where they’re going next with each song, but the ride is a blast.

Coming soon enough: October releases! We have some fine albums for this month as well that I’m looking forward to picking up!

 

Recent Purchases, September Edition, Part I

September has long been the Big Release Month for music.  I remember back in my HMV days, the stock would grow exponentially and the back room would be filled with boxes of product just waiting to be checked in, priced up and put out on the floor.  Q4 always started a month early in that respect.  There was so much that came out this past month that I had to split this up into two posts!

LCD Soundsystem, American Dream, released 1 September. Again…was never a big fan of this group. But somehow this album just clicked with me in a big way, and I love it.

Mogwai, Every Country’s Sun, released 1 September. One of my favorite post-rock bands is back with yet another excellent platter of atmospheric sounds.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Punishment of Luxury, released 1 September. I’m finding this album a lot of fun. Yet another stellar album from the band.

Nothing But Thieves, Broken Machine, released 8 September. I’m really digging this one as well. This is a band that sounds commercially alt-pop, but they write some really lovely melodies.

Sparks, Hippopotamus, released 8 September. You can always expect something wildly creative and a bit off-kilter from the Mael brothers, and this album is one of their best in the last few years.

Tori Amos, Native Invader, released 8 September. Tori’s albums can be very hit or miss…you either love them or you think she’s gone off the deep end. I certainly do love this one.

Death from Above 1979, Outrage! Is Now, released 8 September. Another band I didn’t expect to get into. On the other hand, once again I find myself really liking guitar-and-drum duos!

Mutemath, Play Dead, released 8 September. I’m still trying to get over the fact that their amazing drummer Darren King quit the band just before this album came out, but that hasn’t changed my impression of this album in the least. Paul Meany can still write a hell of a great tune.

….More soon!