by carl wilson

Max Tundra: Music to Pass Out
with Meringue in Your Hair By


This seems to be "quote week" (or should that just be "week") here on Zoilus, but I couldn't resist this uproarious testimony from f.o.z. Owen Pallett to a musician previously all but unknown to me. (Yes, it's a press release.) Followed by Max Tundra testifying for his chosen instrument, an antique that once was the darling of the world. Followed by one of the songs from Tundra's upcoming, third album Parallax Error Beheads You so we can all assess how full of it Owen is, or what it is he is full of.

About Max Tundra by Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy)

Max and I met in Barcelona in 2005 at Primavera Sound. His slot was at 4 a.m. He put on a mask, wrapped himself up in tape, and played forty minutes of music made mostly using Amiga sample tracker software from the late 1980s. There was virtuosic melodica playing, Pointer Sisters-style singing, and an eight-minute version of "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound Of Music. I was wasted and ended up passing out on a beach in my underwear. When the sun rose, I woke up with dried merengue and sand glued to my hair [er, I think Owen means meringue, the eggy topping, and not merengue, the Dominican dance music, but since he was in Spain and in Spanish they're the same, no harm no [sic] - ed.], and in a daze, I realized that I had just witnessed nothing less than the best music performance of my life.

What sets Max Tundra apart from any other band in the world is his attention to detail. This album is impossibly full of ideas, seeking out every imaginable sound in the world and giving each their own curtain call. When you listen to this album, you'd think that it was made by an eccentric millionaire, with every name-brand pop music producer in the world contributing their own two seconds of material. Upon closer inspection, you'd realize that it's been six years since Mastered By Guy At The Exchange, in that time, Max probably hasn't had a single good night's sleep.

I can't compare this record to any record I've ever heard before. Even Max's previous records are a distant echo. It is dance music, it is discourse, it is teen sex comedy, it is a video game, it is a dance troupe, it is a thirteen course meal with Amontillado. It is shock and awe. Listen and be humbled.


About the Commodore Amiga 500 by Max Tundra

There are no modern-day computers on this record. My PC is strictly for emails and Photoshopping the words Max Tundra into Coldplay line-ups. The main technology behind this and all of my albums has been the Commodore Amiga 500 - bestselling home computer at the time - running a $1 public domain software tracker program. The sounds don't emerge from the Amiga itself however; the machine is used to control various synths, samplers and the like. I look at colums of numbers all day on the screen of a black and white television; these digits relate to pitches, durations and tones. A lot of the noises on my record are real; the cello, bass guitar, drums, piano, trumpet and others are all rehearsed and played by me, but sometimes I will use realistic fake versions of these noises. Each song is recorded in a different way; drumkits are recorded on mono cassette recorders twice, then stuck together on the left and right of a mix; string arrangements are planned and then layered up; each note of an electric guitar is sampled so that it can be sequenced in ways too complicated for my fat fingers to play at full speed. And then I have a cup of tea and sing my heart out.

Max Tundra, "Which Song"

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 11 at 11:47 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Wajdi Mouawad to Stephen Harper:
'Do Not Ignore That Reflection on the Opposite Shore'


So there's a Canadian election going on, too (to my personal irritation). The following "open letter" has appeared many places in French and a few in English, but among anglos it might be mainly theatre people who've read it. It is an unusually powerful evocation of the intimacy of art and politics, in a broader spirit than merely that of "protest," though of course it is that too and for good reason. Playwright-director Wajdi Mouawad is one of the more distinct voices in contemporary Canadian writing.

An open letter to Prime Minister Harper

Monsieur le premier ministre,

We are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. You are Prime Minister of the Parliament of Canada and I, across the way, am a writer, theatre director and Artistic Director of the French Theatre at the National Arts Centre (NAC). So, like you, I am an employee of the state, working for the Federal Government; in other words, we are colleagues.

Let me take advantage of this unique position, as one functionary to another, to chat with you about the elimination of some federal grants in the field of culture, something that your government recently undertook. [... continues ...]

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 10 at 4:34 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


Dreaming Out Loud: Zorn at Guelph

I didn't flip the word-producing, note-taking, signifyin' Critic Machine chip on in my head during yesterday's astounding double-feature matinee at the Guelph Jazz Festival featuring John Zorn's The Dreamers and Electric Masada. Sometimes all the humming and whirring of the analytic hard drive is just too much static in the ears. But it was truly one of the finest shows I've seen in years, and I think the finest I've ever seen in Guelph's handsome Riverrun auditorium.

The two ensembles had almost the same personnel - Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (organs), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Kenny Wollenson (percussion) - except that in Electric Masada they were joined by Ikue Mori on electronics, and Wollesen switched over from vibes to drum kit, making it a dual-drummer barrage. And, in Electric Masada, Zorn played his sax more (none of us could recall after if he'd played it at all in The Dreamers) - although he still let it rest much of the time in order to conduct, which he does with great charm and precision. Indeed watching him conduct was one of the great pleasures of the show - slamming down his fists to trigger an improvised-explosive blast of a group sforzando, or tapping the air with his knuckles to bring an abrupt pause, or stretching out a hand and giving a spidery come-on with his fingers to ask a player to give him more of what they were doing (at one point Mori, sitting a few inches from the bandleader, responded by wiggling her own fingers right back along his). But most of all it was just the fluid, unforced power of all these musicians, making this collective music like they were sailing a boat out to sea: As the rhythm section pulled their ropes tight, Ribot's guitar might rise cinemascope-style up into the sun; or when Saft's organ would move from harmonious vamping into a set of anxious amphetamine riffs, Baptista might reach into his seemingly wheelbarrow-sized stock of noisemakers and, say, shake a hula hoop covered in bells and gauze to hint that gentler waves would soon surface over the horizon.

I hadn't heard the recording of The Dreamers that came out this spring, but on the evidence of yesterday's show it's roughly in the mode of Zorn's popular 2001 album The Gift - surf-inflected, Morricone-refracted, post-lounge with beautifully concise head melodies played mostly on the guitar and vibes, never going so far out as to get skronky or violent. But that was what E-Masada was for, of course, and by the end of that second hour-plus, Zorn and his companions had taken us on a musical tour through so many emotional weather regions that it felt thoroughly, classically cathartic, as if we had all vaulted together through a purgative sonic-obstacle course for the soul. The Guelph crowd repaid their efforts with two standing ovations and screams of rapture, and after an encore (a few tunes from the aforementioned Gift), the band seemed to leave the stage feeling very pleased with their day's work, arms slung around one another's shoulders, chatting amiably as they vanished into the wings.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 08 at 5:13 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


Short-Attention-Span Friday

Wasilla, Alaska, band Portugal.The Man are no fans of their neighbour turned governor
turned VP-candidate, Sarah Palin. See final item.

I am on the programming committee for this year's Pop Conference at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Our call for papers went out this week: This year's theme is "Dance Music Sex Romance: Pop and the Body Politic," a deliberate turn to the saucy after last year's perhaps-a-bit-earnest mix of topics. If you want to talk over ideas, feel free to get in touch - I'll be getting in touch with a few of you.

My fellow Pop Conf. committee member Ann Powers picks up on some points from my Silver Jews article to discuss the generational place of politics in today's music on the L.A. Times music blog. My quick answer to the question of "where's today's Rage Against the Machine/Public Enemy/The Clash/Bob Dylan?" by the way, is that the idea that putting messages in music is an effective means of rallying people politically is out of fashion - so the politics in music is now more about subcultural cluster formations and social networks. But since this is short-attention-span Friday, I won't stop to develop the point.

Local queer zine Fab talked to me for a piece in their new issue that asks: Celine Dion - worst gay icon ever?

I should have said earlier in the week, but voting is now on for the ECHO prize for Canadian songwriting. Go the page and you can listen to all five nominated songs; you can vote once a day up till 4:59 pm on Sept 29.

Another reminder: As part of the Toronto International Film Festival, my friend Margaux Williamson's beautiful documentartry Teenager Hamlet 2006 is screening through Sept 13 at the Katherine Mullherin gallery, 1082 Queen Street West. Previously discussed here, and this week's Eye has more.

Meanwhile, with a Canadian election call hanging over us like a dirty spiderweb about to get all up in our hair, the arts community is getting organized to respond to the Harper government's recent round of disses. Get involved in the well-sorted strategy of the unofficial "Department of Culture" here. More comment sure to follow.

Anyone been attending the Guelph Jazz Festival this week? I'd be happy to hear reports. I was there on Wednesday afternoon to moderate a panel discussion on "Improvising Digital Community" between DJ Spooky (Paul Miller) and Vijay Iyer, which flew by way too quickly to even summarize, though I think it got hottest when it ran into this zone: the role of creative labour (and corporeal labour) in digital culture, and whether there is still an important distinction between the artist's role as consumer and as producer. Vijay put it out: "We are more than our playlists" - Paul agreed, but ambivalently. I'll be going back to Guelph on Sunday for the double-header John Zorn jawn.

Finally, have you read this scorching anti-Sarah Palin screed from her Alaska hometown's leading rock band? Guitarist/vocalist John Gourley of the oddly punctuated Portugal.The Man writes, after a lengthy and touching personal anecdote: "I see the sport hunter, the censor, choice taker, the revelations reader, and the high school cheerleader. It is endlessly embarrassing to watch people fall all over this idea. This is not my Alaska. The Alaska I know." (Via Rock&Rap; Confidential.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 05 at 1:45 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (56)


David Berman:
From a DMZ at the back of the universe


Here is my email interview with David Berman, of/aka The Silver Jews. He was writing (for the first time, he said) from within a moving van, so his answers are uncharacteristically brief, but there's plenty of detail I didn't get in to the Globe profile.

CW: There aren't that many precedents for your position in popular music: A "serious" poet - not a poetaster, not a light-verse guy, not a Rod McKuen or Jewel - who is (or becomes) a similarly respected songwriter. Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, a few more-obscure figures. I'm curious how you experience and regard the aesthetic divide between those worlds. And why isn't it crossed more often?

DB: It's definitely not a case of dual citizenship, as the gatekeepers of neither poetry nor rock have tried to claim me as one of their own. I live somewhat uneasily, in a little noticed DMZ at the back of the universe.

I wanted poetry's intensity of language poured into a larger vessel than academia can provide. Perhaps I now need to be pouring into an ever bigger vessel, i.e., a screenplay.

Is literary writing something you continue to do or intend to return to?

The labor is thankless, the rewards are small, and frankly there are many great talents in the language arts. I want to be working in a field where the high marks are low enough as to make real-world historical songwriting victories entirely achievable. I don't see painting or fiction or poetry within miles of its masters. I'm working in a field whose commonly acknowledged greatest practitioners - Dylan, Springsteen, etc. - have so little control over their supposed mastery.

[... continues ...]

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 02 at 4:16 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Coming Out of the Black Patch


In celebration of the long-awaited first-ever visit of the Silver Jews to Toronto tonight (and Montreal tomorrow), I have a feature today in The Globe and Mail. The more I listen, the more impressed I am with the Jews' new album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea - with the way it bursts out of the previous dingy-basement-window-view perspective of bandleader David Berman (seen above with wife/bassist/backup-singer Cassie and canine companion). It really reaches out into the world - probably not coincidentally given that it's the first album he's made since going on tour for the first time ever (and when he did it he did it all the way: a world tour - the related short documentary, Silver Jew is more than worth an hour of your time). But the shift is also a reflection of breaking out of the kind of insulated self-regard that was part of the '90s-disaffected-dude attitude that Berman raised to a kind of poetic sublime.

Rather than the droll monologue of a very very smart friend, as a lot of his work seemed in the past, LOM LOC feels more like poetic reportage - wondrous scenes he's witnessed that are over before anyone else gets there - but with the bright hope that someday you, his listener-companion, might arrive just in time to see the "chicken-fried pigeon in a Sonny James sauce," the "vocal martyr in the vegan press," the menacing Mr. Games with "a jeweler's hands and a blurry face" and other Snuffleupaguses (Snuffleupagi?) of the Joosian plane.

Later today I'll post a full transcript of my email interview with Berman.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 02 at 12:40 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Stick a Pitchfork In It, PTW's Done

I'm not sure why, but I could never remember to check Paper Thin Walls, even though I intended to read it every day. I guess I wasn't the only one, as the site is shutting down. Today they provide a retrospective on their two-years-plus of existence that offers a lot of fun reading, such as the "tell us a story" feature (Chad Van Gaalen does Stupid Human Tricks; Dan Deacon, in Hamburglar suit, feeds frat boys rancid ant-infested burgers), some nifty making-the-video stories etc., and PTW's own ridiculous effort to cover a Deerhoof song. They present Part 2 (less gossip more tuneage, I think) on Tuesday, before they fold up their tent. What I liked best about PTW though was actually their reviews, which whiffed of that old-Creem-smell and then would get all adorably bro-on-bro snark-vs-sympathy in the comments threads. They'll be missed.

Also memorable: In July of ought-seven, Ryan Catbird depicts PTW's place in online music journalism and somehow the platonic form of said field's soul or lack thereof, in diagram form:


General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 29 at 1:33 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Tin Pan Idol:
Echo's Songs Rock and SOCAN You

Vedahille2.jpg sandro.jpg

I've got an idea for a reality show: Tin Pan Idol. It would be like the cultural-work-honouring Project Runway but with songwriting instead of fashion design - show us how the material is chosen, how it is cut to fit the frame, when someone is just chasing a trend or when they are just bucking it and when they are doing something beyond either. Tell the contestants that they need a bridge. Tell 'em they've got too many bridges. Show us what it's like to craft an arrangement and make a demo. At each stage narrow down the field, until at the end some bright spark of a compulsive hook-throwing tunesmith emerges glistening into the light of a publishing contract and a handful o' guesting real-life stars agree to cut a few of his or her songs. (I'm making that an idea an exception from the Creative Commons license at the foot of this site: All rights reserved!)

weakerthans2.jpg wintersleep2.jpg

Until then the closest thing we've got is the SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) Echo Songwriting Prize, which annually since 2006 offers $5,000 to the writer(s) of a song released in the past year as voted on by the point-and-click public, "to identify what's next and what's best in current Canadian independent music." (Eligibility is determined by being below gold-record status, which in Canada is 50,000 copies sold.)

For the third year running, I've been part of the 10-person panel that selects the nominees - last year the winner was Toronto rapper Abdominal for his urban-cyclist anthem "Pedal Pusher"; in year one, it was Winnipeg's Propagandhi ("the soundtrack for the voluntary human extinction movement") for their song "A Speculative Fiction."

This year it's an extremely strong field, if a little lacking in cultural diversity (except for the final pick, a Jewish-cowboy-hip-hop blend) but robust in geographical diversity. In the order of artists pictured (left to right and top to bottom) in this post:

"Lucklucky", written and performed by Veda Hille (Vancouver)

"Double Suicide", written and performed by Sandro Perri (Toronto)

"Night Windows", written by Stephen Carroll, John Samson, Greg Smith & Jason Tait, performed by The Weakerthans (Winnipeg)

"Weighty Ghost", written by Loel Campbell, Tim D'eon, Paul Murphy and Jud Haynes, performed by Wintersleep (Halifax)

"You Are Never Alone", written by Josh Dolgin, Doris Glaspie, Katie Moore and Waleed Shabazz, performed by Socalled (Montreal)


You'll be able to vote here (one vote per ISP address daily) starting on Sept. 1 and through Sept. 29 to determine who emerges as the Echo Songwriting Idol. Get your clicking finger warmed up.

I will make no secret of it here and now that I'm'a'gonna do my part to see that this is Veda Hille's year: After her recent masterfuckingpiece album This Riot Life was woefully neglected in the Polaris Prize nominations, this is the least we can do. That said, I'd be nearly as pleased to see Sandro Perri or Socalled take the prize (two more should-have-been Polaris nominees), and not at all sad to see the Weakerthans or Wintersleep have a few grand rained down upon their nappy heads.

I'll make a fuller case for the merits of "Lucklucky" next week when voting is open. There'll also be a video online for "Lucklucky" soon, I hear. Meanwhile, here is a charming live, lo-fi rendition of a track from This Riot that's just as deserving. "Ace of the Nazarene" on the record flirts with heavy metal, but in the version shown below, shot by Playgrrround in a courtyard in Vienna, it's more like a cultish campfire ritual. (VH sez on her site: "i love how we finish the song and all sit up straight like we are in kindergarten.")


Quick full-disclosure: Over the years, as often occurs between writer and their subjects, Veda and I have developed some personal connections; but it's the kind of relationship in which I had no trouble airing my misgivings about her last disc, Return of the Kildeer, and I'm confident I'd feel just as blown away by This Riot Life without ever having shared a sip of bourbon with Ms. Hille. (Go back)

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 28 at 4:26 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


Horsetail Feathers!
Final Fantasy meets Alex Lukashevsky
(and Nico Muhly and many others)


At the request of longtime Zoilus favourite Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett), I'm very happy to offer you this preview of the opening track from Owen's new EP, Final Fantasy Plays to Please, which is a set of covers of songs by Alex Lukashevsky, a fellow Torontonian singer-songwriter and also of course leader of Deep Dark United, played with as many as 35 other musicians, dubbed the St. Kitts Orchestra (an expansion, then, on the St. Kitts String Quartet, who played on the last FF album He Poos Clouds), featuring members of the Hidden Cameras, Drumheller, Andrew Bird and others. The results are a jangling candybox of sound spilling from Pallett to aural palette, presenting Alex's songs in more accessible surrounds than usual, and perhaps introducing him to a host of other musicians who might begin to draw on his rich catalogue. Here then is a taste: Horsetail Feathers.

(This is the first time Zoilus has hosted an MP3 file, and it required a lot of tricky tech I've never used before, so if there's any trouble downloading the file, please drop me a note. Update: I think the problems people had should be fixed now.)

The EP is one of a pair being released at tomorrow's show at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto (the CD gods willing), the other being Spectrum, which features the members of Beirut and is the first installment of Owen's long-threatened imaginary-world conceptual suite, which will continue on the upcoming album, Heartland. (Exclaim! explains in detail.) A song from Spectrum and another from P2P were posted on Stereogum this morning.

Owen's show tomorrow is together with NYC compositional prodigy Nico Muhly, who in his mid-20s has collaborated with the likes of Bjork and Philip Glass and Bonnie Prince Billy but more importantly, as documented in this well-circulated New Yorker profile by Rebecca Mead, has a sensibility all his own, a classical version of the mashup and YouTube mind, and also a fresh-feeling kind of amodernism - neither post- nor anti-modernist, he seems unusually capable of bypassing not only the old 20th-C debates but also the conventional bypasses of said 20th-C debates. His new album Mothertongue blends the babble of digital information overload with the brouhaha of history, via his love of 16th-century English church music. (He's also a ridiculously entertaining blogger. If he weren't so charming I might want to kill him.)

Besides some evident sonic sympathies (the violin music, the use of looping figures, the unabashed embrace of prettiness, the knife-edge-thin layer of camp), Muhly shares with Owen a concern for communication and affinity and collectivity: Just as Owen has been stalwart to his compatriots in the Blocks Recording Club of Toronto, Muhly has made common cause with labelmates in a project called Bedroom Community, an Iceland-based label (not so local-aurist, then) that gathers "like-minded, yet diverse individuals from different corners of the globe who all creatively orbit around an inconspicuous building and its inhabitants on the outskirts of Reykjavik Iceland- Greenhouse Studios where the music is mostly created." (Another Bedroom Communitarian is Sam Avidon, a frequent Muhly cohort [/boyfriend?] who also appears in Toronto on Wednesday.)

I'd been planning to say more about Muhly but as the technical challenges of this post (yes, I'm a digi-wimp) have taken up too much time, I'll reserve further thoughts till after tomorrow's show. Meanwhile as a warmup, here's a video of Muhly's "It Goes Without Saying," from his previous album:

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 26 at 6:26 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (14)


Teenager Hamlet 2006-2008:
Something Un-Rotten in the State of Toronto

I'm giddily happy and/or terribly frightened to tell you that the long-awaited movie Teenager Hamlet 2006 - created by Zoilusian friend and occasional collaborator Margaux Williamson and including deeply humiliating cameo appearances by, um, me - will be making its premiere next week in the Toronto International Film Festival, and screening daily throughout the week at the Katherine Mullherin gallery.

Musically, the soundtrack of the film was supervised by Steve Kado (aka The Blankket, former head of the Blocks Recording Club and member of the Barcelona Pavilion, Ninja High School, etc.) and it includes music by Kado as well as Toronto artists such as Tomboyfriend, Traditionm, Nifty (Matt Smith), Permafrown, Pony Da Look and Republic of Safety, plus some Diamanda Galas, Lesbians on Ecstasy, Beethoven and Shostakovich.

Above is the trailer, if you're the sort who likes to get sneak peeks, or (blatant solicitation) the sort who might program movies for exhibition in other cities or countries. Zoilus-skin-flick aspect aside, the film is truly beautiful and unassumingly smart. As it says in the synopsis: "A startling hybrid of make-believe and documentary, art and politics, Teenager Hamlet 2006 is an insightful and off-beat look at what it means to live and make art in the 21st century."

Don't miss out: Put it on your calendar if you're coming to the festival.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 26 at 5:22 PM | Permanent Link | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson