Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for March, 2006

Eye Spy (or, Lit-Rock Revisited)
(and/or, Thursday Reading Revisited)

March 30th, 2006

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Literaoke: Poet Ken Babstock, red shirt on right, dances while poet Adam Sol, with microphone, belts out a horrible horrible song (unidentified).

I’d begun to fear that our friends at eye weekly were losing the plot, but the new issue is a banger from stem to stern, so I think the recent thinness was just due to a typical late-winter slump. Take a look:

1. The cover story is an interview with poet Ken Babstock, a Zoilus friend and verse hero, by Zoilus pal and kultcha heroine, Damian Rogers. (A poet herself, of Pontiac Quarterly fame, not to mention that she was Green Day Girl in High Fidelity.) Their dialogue brings us back to the “lit-rock” debatin’ days of yore (see links here), with its sidebar of “Babstock Rock Trivia,” noting not only that Ken’s a former Vancouverite housemate of Dan (Destroyer, note: new website!) Bejar, but the use of Babstock poems by the Deadly Snakes, Rheostatics, Ron Hawkins and Jim Bryson. I love what Ken says about all this, which cuts through a lot of the posturing on all sides, especially the sourpuss defensive no-no-don’t-let-those-moron-musicians-touch-the-poetry line (which is really just the mirror image of the don’t-let-the-dickless-poets-touch-the-rawk line):

“One of the happiest things in the last few years, since my first two books came out, is finding out how there is a cross-genre interest. I grew up, like every other young person, loving music - pop music, indie rock and whatnot - and finding out that some of these bands that you’re listening to are reading poetry is fantastic. It’s wonderful because when you start writing poetry, this party line is drummed into you that only other poets, and possibly students, read poetry. And that’s just bull.

“… [With] the whole do-it-yourself, post-punk, indie-rock ethic, maybe they see camaraderie in poetry as something that is just sort of a quiet pursuit with no hope of big dollars at the end.”

(As the article says, Ken reads from his new book, Airstream Land Yacht, on April 5 with Bill Kennedy (who is also Zoilus’s resident Web Roshi), Don McKay and Darren Wershler-Henry, 7:30 pm, $8 at Harbourfront, and at the Anansi Poetry Bash with Lynn Crosbie, Robin Robertson and Sharon Thesen, April 6, 6-9 pm, El Mocambo.)

2. Speaking of Destroyer, and not just to note once more the dawn of the aforesaid new official website!, Michael Barclay offers an alternate perspective on last weekend’s show in Toronto. Obviously he’s wrong, but he makes a case, which really only differs with me in degree not kind.

3. Wow, a full page devoted to Glissandro 70! Which is certain to be one of the Canadian recordings of the year. I’ll write more about it next week, but meanwhile there’s Friday’s record-release show to get warmed up for, so read the piece. (By the way this one is easier to read online than on paper, because of what the hell is up with that layout.)

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4. Torontopia-wise, read the interview with John Lorinc, author of new book The New City, with fresh eyes on the whole Drake-you-whore histrionix on Queen Street West but also a global grasp on urban issues.

5. Denise Benson(oops) Dimitri Nasrallah conducts an intelligent conversation with avant-dumbfuck-sampling priest Jason Forrest aka Donna Summer, at Sneaky Dee’s tonight w/ Ninja High School and Knifehandchop. Among other things, he points out the free mp3s available at his label Cock Rock Disco.

6. And Brian Joseph Davis continues his run of can’t-miss book columns with a timely perusal de a couple pissed-off-French-cranks’ tomes, notably Superhip Jolipunk by Camille de Toledo, the radicalized “reluctant heir” to the Danone yogurt, um, empire? Basically it’s an anti-hipster, return-to-Marx (I think) screed, and I’m sceptical of its “Gallic seriousness cranked to 11″ but can’t helped be tweaked by such claims as that the Situationists “have been transformed into ‘another amusement park for the overeducated,’ who only managed to create ‘a how-to for compromise.’ ” As BJD sez, “Ouch.”

Plus: So as not to play favourites entirely, I will also point you over to Now for Tim Perlich’s nice piece on Khonnor (playing tonight at Supermarket): Most interesting fact? Not so much that Khonnor is 17 but that he is considering composing an electronic piece based on handbell choirs. I love handbell choirs. The best bit of music writing in Now this week is Sarah Liss’s very fine piece on the Flaming Lips, even though it mainly served to confirm that I don’t care much about the Flaming Lips. Now also talks to Jason Forrest, and Sarah talks to Neko Case and offers a psychological thesis about Neko’s overuse of reverb, which seems pretty acute, though I had a much bigger beef with the reverb on Blacklisted than on Fox Confessor. I should also have some more on Neko next week. The Art Brut and Centro-Matic pieces did little for me even though I like both those bands.

(and/or, Thursday Reading Revisited)">16 Comments

Hungry Like the Lynx

March 29th, 2006

Belatedly discovered: An online “punkcast” of the panel last month on postpunk, with Rip It Up & Start Again author Simon Reynolds, Connie ‘China’ Burg (Mars), Steven Daly (Orange Juice), Vivien Goldman, and James Chance (James White & The Blacks). It occurs to me that what I’d like to see is a discussion between Simon and Michael Azerrad, who wrote the other post-punk book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, though I’m not sure if he even uses the term post-punk. Each of them barely touch the material the other does, but they’re two parts of the same old glory, no? One the art-punk and new-pop scene in the UK and east-coast U.S. (from PiL to the Mekons to the Art of Noise), the other the hardcore-and-artcore underground in the U.S. (from Black Flag to Beat Happening). They’re not the only books, but right now they’re the two mains; you’d perhaps have to add Clinton Heylin’s From the Velvets to the Voidoids, which deals with the fact that post-punk actually began pre-punk. (Later: Of related interest: Glenn Branca talks about the no-wave era and other things. He blames Brian Eno for wrecking everything.)

Boldtype praises our dear Ticknor for being “as dense and textured as a truffle … adding an unforgettable new antihero to the Pantheon of the Misbegotten.” Out now from Farrar Straus & Giroux.

David Cantwell, a friend and one of Zoilus’ favourite U.S. music writers, especially on country and soul and their intersections, has a very snazzy lookin’ new blog indeed, flying the banner of Living In Stereo. It’s partially an incubator for thoughts related to David’s upcoming book about the Nashville Sound, but also excurses out into pop, hip-hop and politics of the present day. Warning, he’s, like, a total commie.

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Post-Soviet Auktyon Heroes

March 29th, 2006

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When the Soviet bloc fell apart in the late 80s/early 90s, it seemed briefly as if a cultural bottleneck had been uncorked and the repressed visions only glimpsed in samizdat flashes would soon flood out to the world. But the nasty business of reconstruction and, in places such as Russia itself, mafia-capitalism hasn’t turned out to be the fertilizer for a great flowering. There’s been a smattering of literary and cinematic action, but outside the former East Germany’s electronic and other sounds, how much notable new eastern-bloc pop music has surfaced? (Not counting, uh, tATu, who for all their catchiness seemed as much part of the porn boom as a sonic one.) That’s not the whole story - there are traditional, jazz and new music stars out of many of the republics, especially Tuva, and east-west emissaries Tamizdat are tracking tons of emergent voices yet to make a global impact - but it’s a much more marginal story than you might have expected. There remain some legends of samizdat rock, often with as many prison records as record albums to their names, such as Prague’s Plastic People of the Universe and Uz Jsme Doma. But even the post-Soviet diaspora to the west has just begun to make a mark, with Gogol Bordello and their comrades in New York and a few others - such as Lenin i Shumov, one of my favourite bands in Toronto, led by Byelorussian scoundrel Eugene Slominerov. Tonight at the Mod Club, they’ll be opening for a veteran and venerated group Eugene claims is one of very few great Russian rock bands, St. Petersburg’s Auktyon, founded in the early 1980s.

I’ve never seen Auktyon in the flesh, but I’ve been listening to samples of their music for several weeks, and find their eight-piece, folkloric-new-wave-jazz-ska cocktail at least as combustible as the Czech massives’ molotovs. The jousting voices of leader Leonid Federov and hypeman Oleg Garkusha add up to a lyrical-inflammatory hybrid of Jacques Brel and David Thomas of Pere Ubu, two names I never forecasted combining. Reportedly their carnivalesque stage presence lives up to the aural character, as you might gather from the photo above. Having long ago seduced their homeland and much of the Euro club scene, they’re on their American campaign now (they turned heads at SXSW) - Eugene reports their plans to record with John Zorn this summer.

For further persuasion, peep this Toronto Star piece by Greg Quill from last weekend, and many others from around and about the interweb. You can also listen to this short feature on the BBC’s Global Hit series. As a bonus, you needn’t sweat the lingo barrier, as a lot of their lyrics are neo-futurist sound-poetry tossed salad anyway.

Locals will want to know that tonight’s incarnation of Lenin i Shumov will come flavour-enhanced, sprinkled with new horn, percussion and string arrangements featuring guests such as Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy) on violin and Doug Tielli (of the Silt and other Rat-drifting outfits) on trombone. Doors are at 7 pm, and tix $20. But even if you’re nowhere nearby, Auktyon is the pickaxe to crack the remnant cold-war permafrost on your listening map.

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Death, Be Not Concrete

March 28th, 2006


Ian Hamilton Finlay, Wave / Rock, 1970. From Aspen 7 at UbuWeb.

Is the beginning of Spring always like this? It’s one of those mortality ridden weeks. There’s been the aforementioned passing of Nikki Sudden; that of the heroic Polish-science-fiction dissident novelist Stanislaw Lem (best known for writing the only book ever adapted to film by both Tarkovsky and George Clooney) (and Lem didn’t like either version of Solaris, by the way); and, in country music, those of the great Buck Owens, Merle Haggard’s peer in producing the Bakersfield sound, and songwriter Cindy Walker - Willie Nelson’s new tribute album of her tunes turned out to be all too timely.

Now I hear of the death of Ian Hamilton Finlay, the 80-year-old Scottish artist familiar to me mostly as a 1960s pioneer of concrete poetry (later, visual poetry), a peer of Canada’s bp nichol and the few other true greats of the period. (Am I right to think of Toronto as a centre of ’60s-’70s concrete poetry, by the way?) Until reading his obituaries today, I hadn’t been aware that Finlay went on to combine his poetics with a kind of earthworks sensibility, creating a great number of sculptural and landscape works shaped into or inscribed with words. (Although he used neon too.) Perhaps I’m misusing the word earthworks here, since his creations were far more modest and “civilized” interventions in landscape than the monumental terraforming of Smithson et al. His latter phase was as an “avant gardener,” fighting surprisingly militant battles with local authorities in Scotland over the autonomy of his “Little Sparta” poetic glade as a place of almost secular-pagan worship: “Certain gardens are described as retreats,” he once said, “when they are really attacks.” I also hadn’t known that his neoclassical and “libertarian revolutionary” positions included gestures that led to accusations of some unsavoury sympathies. It seems to me these were misunderstandings, that his use of fascist imagery was in service of critique - an attack rather than a retreat. Though one has to wonder about his contacts with fellow neoclassicist Albert Speer.

In other words, I hadn’t known much, except the great force of his poetic figurations of the ’sixties. It took his death to tell me what a broadly compelling and problematic figure he was.

(Further reading and links at the always stately and elegaic Wood S Lot. There’s also an interesting 2001 interview to be found at Jacket magazine online, especially on concrete poetry, though it does not broach the more troubling topics.)

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Ian Hamilton Finlay with Ian Gardner, They Returned Home Tired, But Happy, 1975-76, via UbuWeb.

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CCMC vs. Kaiser (w/ Lukas Ligeti
as Conscientious Noncombatant)

March 28th, 2006

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From left, John Oswald, Michael Snow (not playing, which is a misrepresentation) and Lukas Ligeti.
Not seen: Henry Kaiser (which is a fairly accurate representation) and Casey Sokol, who sat at his
own piano, out of frame to the left of this shot. (Thus preserving his valued anonymity…)

I’ve got a new camera, and you’re going to have to suffer through it. I took some better pics of Sunday night’s gig at the Music Gallery with Henry Kaiser, Lukas Ligeti and past and present members of Toronto’s CCMC (John Oswald, Michael Snow and Casey Sokol), but my deft handling of data-transfer resulted in their simultaneous deletion from both camera and computer. Pardon the murky image, but the aptitude will improve.

Meanwhile, you can read my review in today’s Globe and Mail (or by clicking “Read More” below). The headline - “Improv guests have to fight for playing room” - spins the piece much more negatively than it was meant. My point was closer to, “Big-name foreign guests yield to dazzling Torontonian fireworks.” If you look closely, it even includes some jottings towards a formula for the gunpowder. But perhaps I succumbed to that tendency of improv reviews to sound too much like the sports page. Then again, Mike Snow really did give 110%.

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as Conscientious Noncombatant)">5 Comments

Suddenly Saddened

March 27th, 2006

I’m sorry to pass along the news that Nikki Sudden (Nicholas Godfrey), best known for his early work as part of the groundbreaking 1970s UK-DIY band Swell Maps, died yesterday (Sunday) at 49, after playing a show Sat. night at the Knitting Factory. The cause of death hasn’t been made public. Sudden had been putting out very strong solo discs on Secretly Canadian; apparently he’d just finished a new one and was nearly done writing his autobiography, The Last Bandit. Chillingly, Sudden’s younger brother Epic Soundtracks (Kevin Godfrey) also died of unknown causes, in 1997 - Nikki’s partner in Swell Maps, who also went on to a solo career. Some reports said suicide, others that he’d died in his sleep. If Swell Maps, in particular, are unfamiliar to you, take this chance to school yourself: One of the first Rough Trade bands, they began in 1972, became part of the punk/postpunk explosion in 1977, and disbanded in 1980. Genuine individualists, their Can-and-glam-influenced bedroom-tape sound in many ways (along with fellow travellers like the Television Personalities and later Orange Juice) cleared paths for the meandering basement-workshop pop-avant of many artists in the ’90s and ’00s, including Pavement, the Shrimper, Kill Rock Stars and K Recs crowds, and even up to Fiery Furnaces or Animal Collective. Trip to Marineville and the International Rescue compilation make fine starting points. Check out Chapter 2 of Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up and Start Again for more history; I believe Jon Savage also discusses them, either in England’s Dreaming or his Time Travel collection.

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Getting It On With the Hangman’s Daughter

March 26th, 2006

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Destroyer at Lee’s Palace, March 25: Daniel Bejar, left, and Nicholas Bragg, right.
Photo swiped from Suckingalemon with guilt and gratitude, because my camera-phone pictures,
uh, sucked lemons.

In brief on last night’s Destroyer set at Lee’s Palace (opening for Magnolia Electric Co.): If you get a chance to see this tour, go. Dan’s performance with this band - the same that recorded Destroyer’s Rubies and with any luck a grouping that’s going to last - was light-years beyond anything I’ve seen him carry off in a live setting before: Self-assured, musically commanding, so far from his usual (endearing but patience-trying) skittishness as to render those memories obsolete. What you’re getting here is the man you hear on the recordings, and that’s just never been true in any other show I’ve seen. Clearly these are players with whom he’s fully at ease, and the usual vinegar of his live persona was honeyed by a comradely sense of humour that brought out the warmth people tend to miss. I’m sure it would be less of a surprise to audiences in Vancouver, but for anyone who’s been disappointed by previous tour visits (such as the writers at NOW, who said in their shows-of-the-week listings that Magnolia would undoubtedly blow Destroyer off the stage) prepare to have your preconceptions realigned. Where Dan’s tended before either to mumble or to spit out his lines live with little reference to their original melodies, in a style part late-Dylan and part Mark E. Smith, this time around those mannerisms was deployed only where they were the right gauge of ammunition to hit the mark; as a result, words and melodies were all recognizable - which may seem a conservative criterion to use, but it’s simply a matter of not selling short the songs themselves, which deserve to be the star attraction. Fine work from the band all round, especially Ted Bois on the keyboards, picking just the right moments for a tickle or a punch. Unfortunately Nick Bragg’s lead guitar was subordinated to Dan’s in the mix, a mistaken call from the sound engineer, but his parts were audible enough, unlike the occasional background vocals. High spots included a version of Rubies that made its mock-epic narrative fly by like a particoloured parrot with a jet pack; a thunderous retake on Streethawk II; a snowball fight of a romp through Your Blues; and most of all a rendition of Looter’s Follies that showed all the deep indigo and fluttering pink shades of the tune to unforgettable advantage. “Win or lose, what’s the difference?” Sometimes it’s all the difference in the world. (For the Records points to this review of Rubies from the Washington City Paper, one of the more intelligible, least convoluted accounts it’s gotten so far.)

After that it was a quick cab over to the Oasis to see The Magik Markers in a surprisingly packed, and sweltering, back room. I was sorry to miss the several other noisemakers on the bill, GHQ, Flynns and Gastric Female Reflex, and heard mixed reports. The Markers themselves didn’t seem to be having their best night - whenever frontwoman Elisa Ambrogio was delivering her rants to go with the noise, there was a firewater magic to the madness that suggested worlds of possibility, but she didn’t keep that up. Much of the rest of the set was improvisation in search of a resonant response from the audience to fuel the bonfire up - and it didn’t quite come together. There was a hilarious rolling-on-the-floor moshpit going on down front that took the scene partway there, but it wasn’t enough. Intriguingly the Markers are more reminiscent of Toronto’s local “bad band” sensibility than of the free-improv, Japanese-sonics or even new-American-noise-rock modes, but it seemed to me they didn’t have the provocateur part down - like some of this city’s “bad bands,” they were a little too slack about creating the sense of tension and event it takes to make that barrierless Happening happen. The most memorable moment was a confrontation between Elisa and an audience member that had a bite of threat, but because the man involved was twice her size it was a bit too much threat to accept as a unit within the performance rather than something that needed to be stopped. (Reportedly it was Alan Bloor of Knurl, though I thought this guy looked younger.) Instead it was Leah Quimby who actually held the stage most impressively, flailing away at sporadic bass notes and chords but making each blurt count, while Elisa and drummer Pete Nolan were busier but less incisive. Still, I’d definitely see Magik Markers again, ideally in a space with more character, which might offer some of the boost in focus they needed.

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Showgirls!

March 25th, 2006

Pardon my vanishing act. I have been consorting with showgirls in Vegas…. if by consorting, one means walking past them in casinos. I didn’t mean to be absent so long, but the Internet connection in my bargoon hotel room was - what’s that word? oh yes - fucked. Regular programming will resume this weekend, a weekend that features such events as the Destroyer show at Lee’s Palace, the Magik Markers show at the Oasis (ah, the Oasis, that brings me back - Frankie, Sammy, Dean…), both Saturday, and the Henry Kaiser/Lukas Ligeti/CCMC concert at the Music Gallery on Sunday. See youse theres?

Oh, by the way: Vegas? Awfullest place I’ve ever been. (Sheltered, obviously.) The Celine show seemed positively benign by comparison. Now I must go download Veronica Mars.

19 Comments

Brother Love’s Epistolary Trampoline Travellin’ Show
(And An Invitation for New Yorkers)

March 20th, 2006

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The Trampoline Hall Love Show: Photo by Lee Towndrow. To see more letters to and from Lauren Bride about real and imaginary love and heartbreak, click this link. (Or read on.)

I may not be around much this week: I’m off to gamble my aesthetics away on a (kind of) close encounter with Celine Dion in Las Vegas. I’ll try to drop in. For now I have other things to tell you.

Last week’s edition of Trampoline Hall was one of the loveliest ever, or at least the most love-obsessed. For those who don’t know, the show features three people giving lectures on subjects in which they are not expert, followed by questions from the audience, and I am the doorman. This time it was curated by my partner-in-ticket-taking Lauren Bride, and featured three radically contrasting talks on eros and its errors.

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(And An Invitation for New Yorkers)">6 Comments

In Which I Get All Up in Your Grill

March 18th, 2006

You can find parts of me that got stuck to magnetic tape and sliced into strips in a couple of places this weekend. For one, there’s this piece on NPR, which is a very nicely done bit of radio about Destroyer: Interviews with me, Carl Newman of the New Pornographers and Dan Bejar himself are artfully interspersed with Dan’s music in a way I think is quite worth a listen.

And then there’s this show about music critics on BookTV tomorrow (Sunday) at 9 pm and on Bravo on Thursday at 5. Apparently I put on swimming trunks, grease myself up with lard and go four rounds with Chuck Klosterman in a hen house. Watch at your own risk.

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