Tag Archives: The Odds

T.G.I.F. – Oh, Canada!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Sloan blurb, two of my favorite bands are among the most underrated and unknown in rock, at least here in the United States. In their native Canada, of course, they are national treasures and further proof that while America is all too eager to pilfer their artists, sometimes our neighbors to the north know best.

The Pursuit of Happiness had a huge college radio hit with “I’m An Adult Now“, but most people never heard from them again, and even some of their own fans were unaware of the last two albums until after the band broke up. And while I hoped that “Someone Who’s Cool” would finally break The Odds far and wide, it merely buzzed a few radios for a couple of months. Every time either band released an album I would be convinced that radio would finally catch on, and every time I was left sadly disappointed…for them. Selfishly, I’m the beneficiary of their catalogue; a group of great albums I enjoy over and over again.

After saving the 90s for me, both bands sadly folded  but members have gone on to other projects; The Odds recently reformed and made another great record and hopefully will keep going. So get out your maple leaf and rock, here are Ten Oh Canada Tunes to brighten your day…if you don’t already know and love these bands you are in for a real treat.

(01) – The Odds: Someone Who’s Cool

(02) – TPOH: I’m An Adult Now

(03) – The Odds: It Falls Apart

(04) – TPOH: She’s So Young

(05) – The Odds: I Would Be Your Man

(06) – TPOH: Hard To Laugh

(07) – The Odds: Heterosexual Man

(08) – TPOH: Cigarette Dangles

(09) – The Odds: Fingerprints

(10) – TPOH: Young And In Love

Yes, I placed The Odds on the odd numbers on purpose.

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Sloan Celebrates Twenty Years

Oh Canada!

Indie powerpop favorites Sloan are set to release their brand new album The Double Cross in May. The title is a nod and a wink to their twentieth anniversary (XX = double cross), a feat that makes me tip my cap in respect…yet makes me feel old.

Our beloved northern neighbors have always sent us great music; Neil Young and The Guess Who were staples of my youth and consistently entertaining artists (Neil, of course, has a streak Cal Ripken would be proud of). But more recent faves like The Pursuit of Happiness and The Odds have not quite caught fire here despite making some of the most infectious and intelligent pop and rock music of their era – more on that tomorrow. Maybe Arcade Fire walking away with the Grammy is a good luck charm and a signal that musical awareness is hip again?

And Sloan is no different, falling firmly into that “how can they not be huge” category in the States. After album after album of great music – featuring the unusual balance of four solid singer/songwriters happily sharing the spotlight – Canadian fans have rightfully tossed out comparisons to the legends, right up to the holy grail of the Fab Four. Maybe hearing “Canada’s Beatles” has caused enough skepticism to scare people away, but this is one time when you should sidestep the hype and listen.

Get yer Sloan on.

I’m still buzzing over the thirty-track Never Hear The End Of It (these boys do have a sense of humor!), and albums like Twice Removed and One Chord To Another should be staples of anyone’s collection. So count me among the geeked. According to the press release, “the band will be celebrating all year long with special shows, an exclusive one-of-a-kind album artwork series and much more“, so stay tuned for some hopefully special events.

Go to their website and start with a free download of “Follow The Leader“.

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The Posies: Blood/Candy

Another 2010 Bridesmaid…very good, but missed the Top 25…

The Posies have been around so long and have broken up and reformed so often that it’s probably bad form to call Blood/Candy a comeback album. Isn’t that what we were supposed to call Every Kind of Light? But with their solo and Big Star efforts now put aside, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer decided to revisit their oldest muse – each other – and reanimate a collaboration that has served them since they were teenagers. Camping out in the studio to live and breathe the music, the core of Blood/Candy was created in ten days and then tinkered with via various studios, diverse instrumentation and vocal collaborators (Kay Hanley, Hugh Cornwell).

The results, although not quite derivative, are that many of the songs have a familiarity that can’t be avoided when a band’s songwriters have such widespread collaborations. The structure of the fragmented “Licenses To Hide”, oddly enough, sounds like a Billy Joel epic from The Stranger, albeit sung by angels. And while it is not a well-known song, those who know The Odds’ “Love of Minds” will do a spit-take upon hearing the refrain and rhythm of “Cleopatra Street”.

Video: “For The Ashes

“For The Ashes” lets them frame the verses in Crosby/Nash harmonies before morphing into spacey falsettos, just as “Accidental Architecture” uses those same vocal icons to launch a wordy, jazzy melody into an infectious chorus. And staying on Nash point, the boys had to be listening to old Hollies records before penning the album’s best hook in “She’s Coming Down Again”. Likewise, Beach Boys fans will no doubt be struck by the vocal coda of “Enewetak”.

The songwriting is strong, and as one would expect, the vocals and harmonies are exquisite; both Stringfellow and Auer are in top form. There will be those who still point at Dear 23 or Frosting On The Beater as the apex of their career, but slotting this one in close proximity would not be a mistake. Whether or not this is a cohesive effort from a newly focused band or a collection of tracks assembled for the occasional statement, Blood/Candy is – as the title suggests – a showcase for both their delicate fragility and their powerful pop presence.

***

This review was originally printed in Bucketful of Brains.

The Posies on MySpace

Rykodisc

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Under The Radar: Northey Valenzuela

 

Yeah, I go on mental tangents. 

The Olympics are on television, and the games are being held in Vancouver, which is where The Odds hail from. So out come the Odds albums, almost subliminally, and as I play them loud and long, I remember again what a great band they are and how criminal it is that the U.S. market just hasn’t caught up to them yet. 

But if the Odds albums are below their radar, imagine how stealth this 2005 pairing of Craig Northey and Jesse Valenzuela was. Any fan of the Odds and Gin Blossoms didn’t need to hear a note in advance. But even with the success of the Gin Blossoms in the States, radio programmers remained a tough sell for this type of music. 

But as usual, their loss, not ours. Northey is one of the best songwriters around, and Valenzuela is no slouch either. Their collaboration followed the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts;  it played to their strengths and beyond. Meaning that while they brought the best out in each other, they pushed themselves as well. 

Northey Valenzuela is a joyous album chock full of hooks, melodies and charm with strong lyrics and inspired vocals and harmonies. If you haven’t grabbed this little chestnut, I implore you to do so immediately

Here’s my original review from Cosmik Debris

 

Northey, the soul of Canada’s Odds, and Valenzuela, the heart of the Gin Blossoms, combine for a pop platter that meets both players on common ground. Backed by criminally under-known musicians like axeman Colin James, bassist Doug Elliott and drummer Pat Seward (the latter two the formidable rhythm section of those late great Odds), Craig and Jesse make knocking out catchy songs seem effortless. Both musicians endured the demise of strong bands in an unforgiving industry, then spent time collaborating and touring with others before quietly releasing solo projects. Apparently they share a mutual love for Booker T & The MGs and blue eyed soul, for this new project is dripping with aural honey.  

Where Valenzuela’s songs tend to be familiar sounding (“See Through Heart” and “Hurting On The Outside” are both reminiscent of Tom Petty, for example), Northey is more likely to challenge with minor keys and introspective lyrics. “Something Good” (a nicer take than the Colin James version) is beautifully soulful, as is “Let It Go” – major kudos to Simon Kendall’s supportive organ playing on both. But they complement each other well vocally and musically. 

They’re funky – “Halfway To Happy” sounds like a kissing cousin to John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King”. And they can rock, churning up “Slow Goodbye” and exhuming the 70s era Ron Wood on the fiery “Borrowing Trouble”.  And if you are a fellow Odds fan, you’ll have a big smile on your face. “Not A Lot Goin’ On” sounds like the great lost outtake; everything from the intelligent lyrics to the counterpoint background vocals (think “Someone Who’s Cool”) is right on the mark. 

Northey Valenzuela has cut a great record that needs a wider audience. Gee, how about US distribution for starters?  

The Odd Blossoms

There has been plenty of activity since this collaboration came out, of course. The Odds reformed with a new guitarist to replace Steven Drake and released the excellent Cheerleader while Northey has been involved with television projects like Corner Gas and the brand new Kids In The Hall series. Valenzuela and The Gin Blossoms have reformed, released a live album in 2009 and have a new studio album slated for release this year. 

Sometimes opportunity produces magic. Here’s proof.

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Blast From The Past: TPOH

And not necessarily in that order

And not necessarily in that order

Wow…it’s been almost ten years since this greatest hits collection, which gives you an idea how long it’s been since The Pursuit Of Happiness was first climbing the ladder to success. Almost out of the box their classic “I’m An Adult Now” became a smash on college radio (and a cult hit here in the States), and although they never attained that level of commercial appeal again, their body of work is deep and impressive.

Why is it so hard for Canadian bands to impact US radio? (Don’t answer – that’s a rhetorical question). Along with The Odds, TPOH was an intregal part of my musical pleasure in the 90s and their albums are still favorites today. Yet sections of their catalogue remain unreleased here, and as for their name recognition…well, I could have easily made this column an Under The Radar entry.

Video for I’m An Adult Now.

Just below is the review of Sex and Food that I wrote almost a decade ago. Please at least start there, but if you trust this good Doctor, you’ll start picking each original release up one by one. Because I know you don’t want any more crappy teen-oriented music from Fergie or the latest fabricated American Idol…you’re an adult now.

 TPOH band

Not with a bang, but with a whimper…how sad that one of the best bands of the past ten years, and one of the best songwriters of the rock era, period, are hanging it up. There’s no room on Boy Band Radio for intelligently crafted pop songs that deal with unrequited love, blind lust, temporary bliss and just plain bad timing. How ironic, then, that their epitaph may boil down to their one certifiable mark on American airwaves, “I’m An Adult Now”.

That’s not their fault. “She’s So Young”, “Two Girls In One”, “Pressing Lips”, “Young And In Love” and “What You Did To My Girl” should have given them a killer single from each record, to be followed up by another two or three. But the last two records (Where’s The Bone and The Wonderful World Of) didn’t even get released in America. The first three are hard-to-find cut outs. Radio ignored them. Ah, shit…a classic case of woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Moe Berg’s self-depreciating but subtly brilliant lyrics, sung in his inimitable style, were always framed on the chorus by the trademark two-part female harmony vocals that the band picked up during sessions with Todd Rundgren. Kris Abbott’s guitar playing was every bit as good as her stunning looks, and Dave Gilby and Johnny Sinclair supplied a bottom end strong enough to float a battleship upon. They rocked like a metal band but could spin pop chestnuts with anyone. In short, they were too damned good to survive.

This collection leans heavily on the first three records and also includes some treats like a live version of “Food” , a demo (“Wake Up And Smell Kathy”), a B-side (“Let My People Go”), an outtake from Love Junk (“Take You With Me”) and a live version of the concert favorite, “Edmonton Block Heater”. Which means when you eventually get all five records – and you will – there are enough rarities to warrant having this one also.

Lots of bands break up and get back together for the money, but I don’t even think there was money on the table for these guys the first time around. In his funny liner notes, Moe bids a fond farewell to the band, but I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of him. With Moe Berg the artist feeling disrespected, unwanted and the sting of failure, Moe Berg the songwriter is in his natural element.

Incompletely Conspicuous – the amazing TPOH site.

IC’s breakdown on the track list of Sex And Food.

Amazon link to this CD as well as a live DVD

Video for the subtly disturbing Young And In Love.

Even AllMusic barely recognizes them.

TPOH wiki

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Under The Radar: Sloan

Really…it’s ludicrous to consider that a band like Sloan can still be under anybody’s radar, but the complete lack of success here in America is absolutely mind-boggling. Like fellow Canadians The Odds, Sloan features well-constructed songs, lots of hooks, great vocals and a string of albums with songs that jump out of the speakers. But it’s as if we erected a sonic fence along the Canadian border…what little does get through fizzles quickly, at least in the mass media mindset, and it’s not as if Canada wants to get all pushy about it. Maybe they like keeping these bands to themselves, but there are some hardcore fans down here who can’t fly to Winnipeg or Vancouver or Toronto for live shows.

Hey Canada! We took Howie Mandel off your hands, how about a little help down here?  

Parallel, perpendicular, who cares! Just PLAY IT...

Parallel, perpendicular, who cares! Just PLAY IT...

Sloan:  Parallel Play

I’m out of superlatives for these guys – “Canada’s Beatles” should have been sufficient – but here’s yet another stunner from four guys that undeservedly float under the radar here in the United States. Four singers (and more impressively, four songwriters) somehow finding enough space to satisfy their own creative urges. Yet even if working independently, when together to perform the songs live, it’s as if it was a total team effort all along. Guess that’s the best definition of band that I’ve heard in a while.

Song-wise, they’re all over the map, from the chunking Stooges guitar of “Emergency 911” to the Beach Boyshooks of “Witch’s Wand” to the Dylan-esque “Down In The Basement” (oh, those clever Canadians!). With kudos to Patrick Pentland‘s Oasis-sounding “Believe In Me”, I think the overall strength this time around is the pure pop knack of Jay Ferguson. “If I Could Change Your Mind”, “Cheap Champagne” and Witch’s Wand” are the probably three of the four best songs on the album.

Maybe the smorgasbord of Never Hear The End Of It kicked them into a higher gear, because the confidence, energy and assurance that radiates from these songs is something that’s been missing for a while. And maybe, finally, that gets them noticed in The Land Of The Free And The Home Of Bad Radio.

 –> Click here for a live “Witches Wand” video

 

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