Readers share newer artists like Mitski and Daniel Romano and older ones like Fatboy Slim and Camille Yarbrough
Readers’ Choice 2021
Part 1

  • Victoria writer Helene Meurer serendipitously traces 1998’s Fatboy Slim hit Praise You to its origins – a slow and touching 1975 beauty of a song by Camille Yarbrough called Take Yo’ Praise.

  • Vancouver writer and communications consultant Chris Wong is close to finishing a book about jazz musicians. He offers six favourite songs of 2021 by artists including Mitski, Pharoah Sanders and Daniel Romano. And don’t miss the Easter Egg buried at the end of his write-up – a bit of a Spotify playlist.
    I’ll say no more.

The 4th Annual Readers’ Choice

Kurated readers share their favourite music of the last year in the annual Readers’ Choice series. Anything musical is welcomed whether its new, an old favourite, something self-composed and more. Thanks to all the contributors!

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Kris Sig Plastic V3
26 December 2021

Helene Meurer
Victoria, BC

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Forty six years ago singer Camille Yarbrough composed and sang Take Yo’ Praise, a slow, touching piece that lay the foundation for Fatboy Slim’s dance hit Praise You more than two decades later. Another nineteen years on, singer Hannah Grace recorded a piano-based cover of the song.

Take Yo’ Praise by Camille Yarbrough, 1975
Praise You by Fatboy Slim, 1998
Praise You by Hannah Grace, 2017

Give Praise

Due to circumstances I’ve spent many of the last 30 years in a musical desert. I didn’t listen to much. One song that somehow made its way through the cracks and into my world was Fatboy Slim’s Praise You from 1998. It’s an irrepressibly upbeat hit with a real nice “kick” for those who like to turn it up and shake their booties. I’ve never tired of it. 

Okay, fast-forward to last week when I let the Spotify algorithm have its way while puttering around the house, only half listening. Halfway through a song that was playing in the other room something gently tugged at my core and I had to lean in… what was this? Something reminiscent of Praise You but not quite the song I knew! I cranked up the volume and restarted the track… I was hearing, Take Yo’ Praise by Camille Yarbrough (from the 1975 album The Iron Pot Cooker) – the original sample upon which Fatboy Slim’s Praise You had been built.  

O.M.G!  Listening to Yarbrough’s original was like discovering the false bottom of an old suitcase that reveals a sweet secret. It was surprising, multi-layered, deep, moving, and such a rewarding treasure to uncover. In contrast to recent versions, Yarbrough’s (complete with clavinet funk) is slow, sexy and soulful. Hers is  the powerful source material for a mixed bag of visceral emotion that’s stirred up – whether listening to the original or Slim’s modern spin – and it’s just so damn satisfying to hear. It brings the listener full circle to complete an experience we didn’t realize was wanting. 

There is much more to be said about the Iron Pot Cooker album, and the poetic, rapping force that is/was Yarbrough, but this is not the time for that. Right now, I just want to share the one song.

About Helene: Helene Meurer lives in Victoria BC. She would rather be dancing.

Chris Wong
Vancouver, BC

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Chris Wong calls Mitski’s single, Working for the Knife, two minutes and 39 seconds of alternative pop bliss.
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Veteran jazz saxophone player Pharoah Sanders was one of three contributors to an album, Promises, five years in the making and released in March, 2021. The artists are Floating Points, Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra.

For the first time in my many years as a nerdy music enthusiast, in 2021 I primarily focused on songs instead of albums. Throughout the year, I found tunes that resonated with me and kept going back to them for insight and joy.

Did I capitulate to the way many artists release music now, which is by releasing a series of singles – on streaming platforms like Spotify – before putting out full albums on those platforms? Maybe, maybe not. While I regularly listen to the “Release Radar” playlist of new songs that Spotify curates for me, I still believe in the value of albums. An artist’s precise sequencing of tracks, the thematic meaning of a collection of songs, and album cover art still count for something.

I’ll blame my song fixation on the protracted pandemic – I need the soothing comfort of great tunes in these uncertain times. With that in mind, here are six songs from 2021 that I’ve played repeatedly:

Mitski: “Working for the Knife” – This is a prime example of a single that came out in 2021, not as part of an album, which made a huge impact on me. Mitski’s singing is on point, her lyrics about being stuck in a dead-end job/life hit home, and the music is wonderfully visceral. Two minutes and 39 seconds of alternative pop bliss.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra: “Movement 2” – It’s not hard to understand why Promises, the album this is on, has ended up on so many best-of-2021 lists. Each movement in the nine-song suite, featuring a combination of electric keyboards, Sanders’ tenor sax, and the orchestra, is incredibly beautiful and affecting.

Arca: “Lunda Llena” – Arca has been astonishingly productive during the pandemic. The Venezuelan experimental artist, who creates electronic/industrial sounds with an unparalleled creativity, released four albums near the end of 2021. It’s overwhelming to absorb 47 tracks, but I found my way to this tune. Arca’s haunting vocals and the electronic textures mesmerize.

Dry Cleaning: “Scratchcard Lanyard” – At first I didn’t know what to make of Dry Cleaning’s unique approach of fusing Florence Shaw’s spoken word with post-punk. Before I knew it, the song was playing again and again because Shaw’s talking style is irresistible and the bracing music brings me back to post-punk’s heyday.

Jose Mauro: A Viagem das Horas” – Recorded in 1970 and included on a 2021 reissue of a forgotten album by the criminally under-recognized Brazilian singer/songwriter Jose Mauro, the song brilliantly brings together MPB (Música popular brasileira) and orchestral music.

Daniel Romano: “The Motions” – I love the country rock vibe on this rollicking tune by Canadian Daniel Romano, featuring Julianna Riolino on vocals.

Check out my genre-agnostic best of 2021 playlist on Spotify.

About Chris: Chris Wong is a Vancouver writer and communications consultant who is close to completing a book on jazz musicians.