This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #364: Letter From an Occupant by The New Pornographers.
There are numerous trends that one can observe as the History of Modern Music unfolds. For today’s post, we will focus on a trend that sees new musical directions emerging out of old, time-tested paths. For instance, the early days of Rock n’ Roll (Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc.) arose against a backdrop of the staid, button-down music of the 1950s. Punk Rock (Sex Pistols, The Clash) arose as a response to, what they charged, were the bloated, Prog. Rock bands of the 1970s. Grunge Rock (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) displaced the “Hair Metal” bands of the mid-to-late 1980s. The Riot Grrrl Movement (Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill) was a response to the seemingly patriarchal music scene in the 1990s. On and on it goes. Genres of music emerge, grow and plateau and then, are challenged/replaced by fresher faces with newer ways of doing things. Today, we will meet one of the more recent iterations of music and that is Indie Rock and, more specifically, a sub-class within that genre, called a Musical Collective.
In any large urban centre, you will often find a music scene that is, somewhat, unique to the city in which it is found. Vancouver is a good case in point. Bands/musicians like “Matthew Good”, “Marianas Trench”, “54-40”, “Kid Koala”, “Japandroids”, “Odds”, “Stephen Fearing”, “The Zolas” and many more, all called Vancouver home, at one point in time. They, along with scores of local bands, helped to create a vibrant music scene that, coupled with what was going on just a few hours south in Seattle, meant that the whole Northwest coast of North America was a breeding ground for new songs and new musical ideas. But, as with any local music scene, there are certain players who tire of the direction music is going in and seek ways to re-invent themselves and/or the local soundscape. One of those groups was a “supergroup” comprised of various musicians from around Vancouver who came together and called themselves, “The New Pornographers”.
“The New Pornographers” are classified as an “Indie-Rock” band because, when they first came together as a “musical collective”, they had not yet been signed to a major record label and, as such, they only had a small budget to record their albums with, to create music videos and to tour. “The New Pornographers” are referred to as a “musical collective” because all of the musicians came from different, local bands but, none of them gave up playing in those bands. For these musicians, “The New Pornographers” became a side project; one that they came to play in (like an all-star team) before going back to their regular gigs, whenever a “New Pornographers” album/tour was over. The members of “The New Pornographers” came from local Vancouver-based bands like Zumpano and Destroyer and involved a US transplant singer named Neko Case. ***The Toronto equivalent to “The New Pornographers” collective would be “Broken Social Scene” with Kevin Drew producing Gord Downie’s last solo albums and Emily Haines, Amy Millan and Leslie Feist all enjoying solid careers with their own bands.
In any case, in the late 1990s, “the New Pornographers” launched their debut album, “Mass Romantic” and, from that album, came a song called, “Letter From an Occupant”. This song is, essentially, about the thrill of new, vibrant music and a lament for the loss of originality and creativity that is the trademark of Art.
“The tune you’ll be humming forever
All the words are replaced and wrong
With a shower of “yeahs” and “whatevers”
You trade me away, all gone.”
The name for the group is based on a Japanese movie from the 1960s called, “The Pornographers”. In this movie, a man tries to succeed by forming an underground business that goes against the norms of his society. This philosophy of “going against the grain” to create something unique and long-lasting was what inspired “The New Pornographers” to form. This song and the album it came from were hailed by music critics as being among the best of its type when it came out in 1997. “The New Pornographers” have released several albums in the years since their debut; some with the full original roster and others with variations on the group dynamic. But, overall, “The New Pornographers” have continued to be loved and respected in Canada and the US by fans who admire the “musical purity” associated with Indie-Rock bands who, in their opinion, are making music for the sake of Art and not commercial success.
The video for their song, “Letter From an Occupant” is somewhat low-budget but, stick with it because the tune is catchy and will get your toes a-tapping. In addition, I will, also, include a version of this song sung by a youth choir in 2015 that is very well done and may turn out to be your preferred version. Regardless, let’s start our day off with a little bit of excellent Canadian Indie Rock from Vancouver area supergroup, “The New Pornographers. Enjoy!
The link to the video for “Letter From An Occupant” by New Pornographers, can be found here.
The link to the video for “Letter From An Occupant” by The Coastal Sound Youth Choir, can be found here.
The link to the official website for New Pornographers, can be found here.
The link to the official website for KEXP can be found here. Thanks for always being so supportive of Indie music everywhere,