The War On Drugs – An Ocean in Between the Waves (2014)

December 14, 2019 – Day 175

The first time I heard The War On Drugs, there was something about the music that reminded me of Bruce Springsteen. Reading interviews I found that Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile (who was an early member of The War Of Drugs but went his own way to form Kurt Vile & The Violators) are both fans of The Boss and both have covered his songs in their sets. Granduciel is far from a Springsteen clone, but in songs like “An Ocean In Between The Waves” you can hear echoes of the boss in the sprawl and scope of the song. He’s learned from The Boss – it’s almost the Steven Spielberg effect of being able to tell the viewer/listener how to feel. As for his vocals, they’re almost closer to Dylan than Bruce. Comparisons aside, The War on Drugs are one of the bands keeping rock and roll alive. “An Ocean Between The Waves” was the fourth single from “Lost in the Dream,” an album of 80s influenced neo-psychedelia which was laboured over for more than a year. “I’m in my finest hour / Can I be more than just a fool?”

Nico – These Days (1967)

December 13, 2019 – Day 174

Nico recorded her album “Chelsea Girl” shortly after the release of “The Velvet Underground and Nico”, and it contains unreleased songs by Lou Reed, John Cale & Bob Dylan. The most elaborate song on the album features elaborate fingerpicking by 19 year old Jackson Browne – who also wrote the track when he was even a few years younger. He was romantically linked to Nico despite her being a decade older. They broke up soon after but “These Days” remains a celebrated song and has been covered by dozens of artists and featured in movie soundtracks. Nico didn’t have control over the production and didn’t like the strings but it is one of the top songs of the 1960s. It’s hard to believe the lyrics came from a teenager. “I’ve stopped my dreaming / I won’t do too much scheming these days”

Sandro Perri – Changes (2011)

December 12, 2019 – Day 173

It is definitely a shout out to David Bowie when Sandro Perri stutters the title in his song “Changes” but this isn’t a cover or even a tribute. It’s a studio born pop symphony that has more in common with The Beach Boys’ SMiLE than it does with Bowie. A lone saxophone part is cut and chopped up at the beginning of the song and it seems to be an introduction to the listener that, yes, this is a production. Primarily a guitar piece for the first half with wonderful melodies – the sound is filled out with synths and a wild bass line. Halfway though the percussion and electronics and synths come forward to build a immersive soundscape that never yields back to the sound of the first half. The song is the first track on Perri’s “Impossible Spaces” LP, which was released to critical acclaim both in his home of Canada and abroad. “Maybe we change / It’s nothing like a wheel going round”

Bob Mould – Heartbreak A Stranger (1989)

December 11, 2019 – Day 172

After Husker Du’s last album and before Sugar’s first, Bob Mould released his debut solo album. It was a risky move for an 80s punk who once put out an album called “Land Speed Record” to debut with “Workbook”, an album of introspective, largely acoustic songs with minimal volume and speed. Some of the later Husker Du albums featured acoustic guitars so it wasn’t totally out of left field and the album was well received. “Heartbreak A Stranger” has cryptic lyrics about a “you” and it feels like a final argument with a former lover. The handclaps, riff and vocally explosive chorus feel triumphant so I think Bob is declaring that he won the argument. “Pretending nothing could ever faze you / Well, some things never change”

Erika Werry – Broken Down On A Halifax Pier (2006)

December 10, 2019 – Day 171

Erika Werry sings “Broken Down On A Halifax Pier” in a shaky voice that is real as the day is long. Slide guitar is a highlight of the song and a great accompanyment to Erika’s voice which delivers a unique melody, staying steady but adding more syllables at the end of some stanza and it gives a perspective that the narrator’s mind is really spinning. “I liked it better When you would hold my gaze through the murky haze of the Cloak and Dagger / But that was yesterday”

Men Without Hats – O Sole Mio (1987)

December 9, 2019 – Day 170

Men Without Hats are a Canadian band who are known for a few big hits but their albums didn’t really land. “O Sole Mio”, like most of the “Pop Goes The World” album is synth driven and has catchy melodies and interesting lyrics. Ivan Doroschuk started Men Without Hats as a punk band but incorporated synths and decided to make good use of his piano lessons: “There wasn’t any real commercial viability to the punk thing and I decided I wanted to make a band that wrote hits.” “O Sole Mio” was released as a single but didn’t chart or get the attention that “Pop Goes The World” did. “Mother mother if you please / Life has got me on my knees / I’m expecting someone’s love to come and hit me blindside”

The Kinks – Have A Cuppa Tea (1971)

December 8, 2019 – Day 169

For some people the answer to “Beatles or Stones?” is “The Kinks.” Ray Davies is one of the great songwriters even if didn’t translate to album sales the way it did for the afforementioned bands. “Muswell Hillibillies” is another of a long string of concept albums that Ray wrote about British life, this one concentrating on the working class people of Muswell Hill in North London where Ray grew up. “Have A Cuppa Tea” is a bit of comic relief. It’s some dry humour about tea: what could be more English than that? “Whatever the situation whatever the race or creed, Tea knows no segregation, no class nor pedigree”

Mott The Hoople – Sweet Jane (1972)

December 7, 2019 – Day 168

David Bowie was a big supporter and fan of The Velvet Underground so it isn’t surprising that when he had a chance to produce a Mott The Hoople album, the lead off track was “Sweet Jane.” The biggest track off of the album goes to the Bowie penned “All The Young Dudes” which was also the name of the album and was a chart hit in the UK. “Sweet Jane” was the third single and was not a hit, but it is a great track – it is glammed up a bit but Ian Hunter’s vocals are perfect for the laid back delivery required for this song. Bowie also produced Lou Reed’s “Transformer” later in the year, followed by “Raw Power” from The Stooges. Oh, he also recorded an album called “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” 1972 was kind of a big deal for Bowie. “But, anyone who has a heart / Wouldn’t want to turn around and break it / And anyone who ever played the part / He wouldn’t want to turn around and fake it”

The Smashing Pumpkins – Hummer (1993)

December 6, 2019 – Day 167

Fuzz, glorious fuzz. Smashing Pumpkins “Siamese Dream” is the land the Big Muff fuzz pedal and “Hummer”, at almost seven minutes long, was too long to be one of the big singles off the album but is one of the best songs nonetheless. It’s a mini-epic, starting with a backwards recorded sitar, leading into dualing fuzz guitar solos. Dreamy vocals and thick power chords twist and turn together before finally the storm is over and undistorted guitars carry the song through the outro. The calm after the storm. “Ask yourself a question / Anyone but me / I ain’t free.”

Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You) – 2014

December 5, 2019 – Day 166

If you type “David Letterman dancing guy” into Google, the first hit will be a performance (“making their network television debut”) of “Seasons (Waiting On You)” by Future Islands. The dancing guy in question is singer Samuel Herring who looks like he could play Frank Sinatra if anyone wants to do a biopic. Letterman raved about the performance, and hyped the band when they came back to play in the month leading up to Letterman’s retirement. The studio version is great as well, but unfortunately you don’t get to see Herring dance. “As it breaks, the summer will wake / But the winter will wash what is left, of the taste”