Tag Archives: our lady peace

Music Mythology: 5 Great Rhythm Section Performances

I’ve always been intrigued with music mythology. Hearing about some band’s ‘legendary bootleg’ from Brighton in ’72 – “man, they were never better than that night” – or “Paul McCartney said this was the best bassline he’d ever written” or that it has been X amount of days since The Grateful Dead played “Dark Star”. All of these are really just ways of expressing fondness for a piece/oeuvre of music, but in such a way that goes a bit beyond “I like this”. It’s the conjuring up of this statements and passing down through the ages that makes them so interesting to me. They all begin with a kernel of simple fondness and then grow as that fondness becomes contextualized within the rest of a band’s work. When delivered to me in those sentences, it just gets me beyond to excited to join up with that experience and join in the magic all those people are already in on.

As my way of propagating this practice, I’ve compiled a small list of songs that I think have outstanding rhythm section performances. And really, it’s one of the things that is easier to mythologize. A great guitar solo is pretty self-evident, as is an outstanding vocal performances. Riffs and basslines will grab you pretty hard and even a great drum performance will not escape keen ears, but the rhythm section? Basically bisecting the band and looking not just at individual instrumental performances, but looking at the core and pulse of a song as the group of lesser-touted instruments make it all work. “This song has a killer rhythm section” is one of those perfect little things to pass on:

1) The Who – The Real Me

Welcome to classic rock’s premier rhythm section. Musically, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon absolutely dominated The Who’s records, with Moon restless bashing and Entwhistle’s high fills. No more so than on “The Real Me”. The first real song to kick off the concept double album, they start fast and heavy and just go up from there. By the end, Keith is basically doing a constant drum solo while John Entwhistle is flying up and down his fretboard. Check out the second verse (starting at 1:30), which is just Moon and Entwhistle underneath Daltrey’s voice, and you get an idea of the sheer power of the duo. Constantly moving, constantly adding dribs and drabs in every conceivable second, you can see how The Who gained the “Maximum R&B” label early on in their career.

2) Radiohead – The National Anthem

And here, we have the exact opposite. Colin Greenwood sticks on that four-note bassline throughout the entire song with aplomb, with the rest of the world fizzing and popping and cracking and melting around it. It’s the one constant for the entire duration – almost mantra-like. Phil Selway meshes into it perfectly with his ride-heavy jazz-tinged drumming that is nevertheless a pretty straight-ahead 4/4 affair. The thrill of this two working with mechanical precision is the couple of times that Selway simply stops for a bar, creating mad hot space, before starting back up again. Pretty much their only trick in the bag for this song, for which they have to keep the sanity somewhat moored while a bass section goes ballistic around them. A bass player and a drummer just playing in the pocket can be a hell of a thing.

3) Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Lipstick Vogue

Starting off with a Pete Thomas beration of his toms and snare, Bruce Thomas (no relation) soon picks up the aggression with his burbling bassline.This is a punk rhythm section that is about as articulate you can get as Pete throws in jazzy little fills into his straight ahead 100-mile-an-hour beat and Bruce’s bassline paces up and down while occasionally rearing up and tossing back its head. The whole aggression of the song rides on the Thomases stepping on gas while Costello spits out his usual vitriol, and does less guitar-playing than usual, mostly stepping back while the rhythm section does all the talking.

4) Austra – Beat and the Pulse

It starts out oddly, with Dorian Wolf imitating a bass synth…with his bass, playing a sweet staccato line that runs through the entire song and gives it its momentum, articulating the chords nicely and letting everything build on top (the actual synths). Maya Postepski comes on top with a snare that cuts through every other sound in the song and a shuffling electronic beat that cuts in and out, providing another option for your ears to catch onto under the backbeat. The strange interpolation of musicians playing their instruments in the manner of instruments that synthesize being played by musicians just gives an indication of how impressive the musicianship actually is and that new ways of driving songs with a rhythm instrument in your hand are being found all the time.

5) Our Lady Peace – Starseed

Jeremy Taggart is probably my favourite drummer of all time. His fills are never egregious, but never unimpressive and his snare patterns would make fantastic riffs on their own. Through Chris Eacrett was replaced on subsequent OLP efforts by Duncan Coutts, they do share one defining similarlity – they like to get low. As such, the bass does a lot of lurking in the depths of this song while Taggart’s snare-and-hi-hat-heavy performance puts him front and center in the mix. Eacrett puts out wave after wave of resonance, where Taggart’s lively performance frames it and shapes it with snare pummelings, working together to create something just as much felt as heard.

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A meme made long.

I’ve been dragging my heels on this meme (conferred on me by the incomparible Alex Gunning), so I thought I’d make up for it by elaborating on it in blog form.

The 12 albums that have stuck with me:

(All images from wikipedia.org)

The Who – Quadrophenia

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A key part in the 1970s wave of double albums with black and white covers, Quadrophenia has been, for quite some time. The recurring musical themes established in the title track and their reprises with key phrases lend that grandiose and classical feeling to the proceedings, yelling the story of the mod named Jimmy. The quartet have never been better technically as they were on here, at a confluence with just the right amount of songwriting prowess and self indulgence in Pete Townshend’s head. They popularized the rock opera with Tommy, but perfected it here.

Tracks to check out: “The Real Me”, “The Punk and the Godfather”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”

They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

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Back in ’88, fewer people were enjoying the indie rock sound, but when they did, they often would turn to two guys named John from Brooklyn to get their fill. Lincoln runs the gamut from power pop on “Ana Ng” to the weird jazzy bellow of “You’ll Miss Me” to the martial beat of “Pencil Rain” and demonstrates TMBG’s knack on only their sophomore effort for writing catchy tunes with bizarre wordplay. Spread across 19 short songs, Lincoln is a lesson in accessible eclecticism and is just loads of fun to listen to.

Tracks to check out: “Ana Ng”, “Cage & Aquarium”, “They’ll Need A Crane”, “Kiss Me, Son of God”

Egg – Egg

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Deep in the mists of prog can be found a short-lived project with only three albums to its name and three members to its roster – Egg. Having seen the infancy of prog begin, they immediaty dove headfirst into baffling time signatures, symphonic aspirations sonic experimentalism with their organ-bass-drum trio and exploded onto the scene with their self-titled debut. Barely organized chaos is the order of the day as bassist Mont Campbell attempts to bring some sort of order with his airy vocals. The album is rough n ready and has a sort of urgency and live feel to it that gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like to see them live and feel as if you were part of something new happening.

Tracks to check out: “Fugue in D Minor”, “The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous”

Genesis – Genesis Live

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I was waffling back and forth on which Genesis album to put on this list, as my interest in early Genesis got me not only into prog, but also a good portion of the music I listen to today. Problem is, I find each of their early albums to have their hits and misses. Except for this one. All killer, no filler, Genesis Live is the only live album released during Peter Gabriel’s tenure with the band and features their best tracks from the previous three albums (save one omission), with the players just on fire on all counts. Gabriel’s stage banter is brief but witty, and these live renditions of the longer songs in their oeuvre have a great deal more energy to them than their studio counterparts – not to mention guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins getting to put their own stamp on the thunderous closer, “The Knife”, which was released before they joined the band.

Tracks to check out: “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, “The Knife”

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model

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Costello’s acerbic wit combined with his snotty snarl and his backing band at the height of their punky game makes his sophomore album one of the best I’ve ever heard. While Punk’s poet laureate offers a treatise on the nature of love and celebrity worship (with lyrical barbs like “You want her broken with her mouth wide open/’cause she’s this year’s girl” and “Sometimes love is just a tumor/You got to cut it out”), the Attractions are busy laying the frenetic groundwork on top of which it all sits (I swear, the rhythm section took out every rest they had on “Lipstick Vogue”), while creating enough earworms to have you bopping long after you’re done listening. To be honest, I stopped for the most part with Costello after this album, because he got it perfect with this one.

Tracks to check out: “This Year’s Girl”, “Pump It Up”, “Lipstick Vogue”

The Decemberists – Picaresque

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Strangely enough, all of my top favourite Decemberists tracks are on other albums, but none of them are quite as consistent as Picaresque, which shows them in all their jaunty glory. You get bombast on “The Infanta”, an epic sea shanty on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, a quieter lovelorn paean on “The Engine Driver” and some sort-non-specific old-timey stomp on “The Sporting Life”. Every song takes place in its own enjoyable world, rich with little words and sonic details that evoke that particular atmosphere, as well as an undoubtedly catchy melody and a few terms you’ll have to look up after the fact.

Tracks to check out: “The Infanta”, “16 Military Wives”, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

Van der Graaf Generator – Godbluff

Godbluff

2 sides, 4 songs, roughly 10 minutes each. This symmetrical layout provides the framework for my favourite of the many Van der Graaf albums that I love. Though they always employed a somewhat unusual instrumentation, this album features the usual organ-drums-sax trio with the addition of singer Peter Hammill on clavichord, which provides plenty of rich menacing counterpoint. The album documents the horrors of war over top of wailing sax riffs, gnarled organ and the bellowing and caterwauling of Hammill stretching his voice in any direction it will go, each song having plenty of time to establish its own particular haunting narrative, lyrically and sonically.

Track to check out: “Scorched Earth”

Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971

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One man, an acoustic guitar and a piano onstage at Toronto’s Massey Hall is all it took to make this one of my favourite live albums. With no back-up and a single instrument to sing along to, Young’s songwriting is on full display from the word go, as he runs through his early catalogue and (then) new songs that would appear on his blockbuster Heart of Gold. His self-effacing stage banter is effortlessly Canadian and charming, and every performance beautiful in its simplicity and allowance for the melodies to shine through.

Tracks to check out: “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”

Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

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A fine showpiece of modern songcraft. Each song is quintessentially British and has many little studio touches that catapult them from good to fantastic. Guy Garvey’s husky croon touches on love of all kinds on this album: past, present, future, unrequited and platonic; all of this is backed by the appropriate somber piano melody or orchestral bombast that evolves as the song’s story goes on and on. One of the most consistent track-to-track albums I’ve ever heard that tackles as many different moods as this one does.

Tracks to check out: “The Bones of You”, “Grounds For Divorce”, “One Day Like This”

Muse – Absolution

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From the introduction consisting solely of military stomping and incoherent orders being yelled, I knew that I was listened to something that was going to be right in my wheelhouse. A concept album based around the theme of different people’s experiences of the end of the world with some of the craziest and most piercing riffs I’d ever heard in my life, with a falsetto to put Raine Maida’s to shame? Hell yes.

Tracks to check out: “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Hysteria”, “Butterflies & Hurricanes”

Radiohead – Kid A

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This one my first Radiohead album proper, but I actually skirted around Radiohead for sometime, using Thom Yorke’s solo electronic effort, The Eraser to kind of get in through the back door. When I was done with that, I wanted more Yorke and more electronic stuff, so what better way to turn? Radiohead’s cryptic masterpiece is unrivaled in the intense and paranoid atmosphere it creates with some beats, some synths, a studio and virtually no guitars. One of those albums that teleports you completely to another world.

Tracks to check out: “Everything In Its Right Place”, “The National Anthem”, “Idioteque”

Our Lady Peace – Naveed

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Probably the album on this list that’s been with me the longest and still one of my favourite rock albums ever. from the dizzying insanity of “The Birdman” to the intro to “Neon Crossing” which, at 15, was the craziest thing I’d ever heard up ’till that point, Naveed is a wonderful piece of alternative rock that always seems to zig when you think it’s gonna zag. Guitarist Mike Turner’s riffs seem to emanate from a different planet, Raine Maida caterwauls and bemoans the human condition while Jeremy Taggart fills in every conceivable space with unreal drum fills (especially impressive considering he was only 18 at the time).

Tracks to check out: “The Birdman”, “Starseed”, “Denied”

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#24: Raine Maida – We All Get Lighter

(Kingnoise Records, 2013)

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(Image from confrontmagazine.com)

It’s been a long road. Our Lady Peace was one of my favourite bands in high school, and my fondness for their first four albums has never really diminished. It was after Spiritual Machines that the change started (new guitarist, new producer, no falsetto!?), and Healthy in Paranoid Times when I parted company with the band. I would listen to the occasional single and then turn back around, disappointed. Their most recent, Curve, caught my ear and kept me there. It wasn’t a matter of ‘returning’ to an earlier period in the band’s life as was promised quite a few times. Can’t step in the same river twice and all that. It was more as if both they and I were more comfortable with the band that they had become. It only does so good to stamp your foot and say ‘where’s the falsetto?’ and ‘where are the sweet riffs?’ because you’re not going to find them. The band has ten plus years of time put in since then, and they have all, obviously, matured. And, in a way, it got me ready for this album.

I bypassed Maida’s first solo album, The Hunter’s Lullaby, as I was still not ready to accept the fact that the band I loved had changed; hearing their lead singer doing singer-songwriter material was NOT going to help with that. Having enjoyed the approach on Curve, however, and hearing the lead single from the album (the brass-tinger folk of “Montreal”), I decided to make the leap.

The instrumentation is the first thing that struck me, as the first track on the album (the provocatively titled “How to Kill A Man”) begins with a sharp violin tremolo and female backup singers beautifully harmonizing on the chorus; the aforementioned “Montreal” has a jaunty horn line adorning the hook; both “Rising Tide” and “Numbers” employ drum machines, which I never imagined I’d hear paired with Maida’s voice. It’s fun to hear all different kinds of instruments being drawn on to fill out and suit each track (the anarchic, jazzy trumpet on “Rising Tide” is not something I expected to hear! It almost sounds like a brass line from Radiohead’s “The National Anthem) – it makes each song stand out more. This is especially true after being used to mostly hearing him front a guitar-bass-drum trio for so long. The album sounds quite lush as a result. It’s sparse when it needs to be, but the range of frequencies is filled out quite nicely as each track progresses.

Maida has managed to find a second somewhat unique voice after dropping his down post-Spiritual Machines. His assured baritone carries the melodies he’s written quite nicely, though it feels as if its timbre is lending the proceedings a more melancholic air – even the joyous-sounding “Montreal” feels bittersweet because of it. The best example on the album is probably the appropriately sombre “How to Kill A Man.” The melody is ponderous, as I have found they have been on the last couple of OLP releases, but not in the least bit boring (he commits a brief brush with his old falsetto during the verses) – the multiple Maida vocal tracks move smoothly with the backing vocals and manage to hit just the right peaks to create a haunting effect on “bury your heart with this guilt and regret/it’s the surest way there is to kill a man.”

At only eight tracks and 32 minutes, this is one of the shortest modern albums I’ve seen, not that I begrudge Raine Maida for being selective with his track choices – I’d rather have a fantastic short album than a decent longer one. And this one falls somewhere in between. Each track stands on its own quite easily, though the two singles (“Montreal” and “SOS”) are apparent, being the only ones that have notable hooks. The orchestral arrangements are a fantastic compliment to Maida’s voice, and I hope there are more of them in the future. My one complaint would perhaps be that the arrangements are at certain points more interesting than the melodies themselves! Nevertheless, a quite good collection of songs worth hearing, especially if you’re in a calm, introspective mood.

7.5/10

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