Archive for April, 2006
April 30th, 2006
My EMP liveblogging plan did not click, as readers have guessed. I didn’t get my paper finished soon enough to recap day 1, and since then there has just been too much action. Which is a bad blog thing but a good life thing. Dull days at the desk are better for this medium.
I will do a thorough recap later - I’ve been taking notes for you, my friends - but a couple of initial randoms: First, in relation to my talk about “guilty displeasures,” someone asked me tonight about current Nashville country, and I said that while I like some of it, my barrier to embracing it has always been (besides some production values) its centralization of an American style of masculinity - which I said that as a Canadian I have always found alienating. This led to a big talk about what I considered the differences between (the typical) American masculinity and (the typical) Canadian masculinity, in a group with only one other Canadian. After the fact, I thought the word I would use about U.S. masculinity is “unapologetic.” While Canadian masculinity is not as deprecatory and miserablist as British masculinity, even the macho version of Canadianness is marked by an ongoing texture of parody and self-undercutting that to a Canadian is noticeably absent in the prototypical American version. I would add that the Canadian machismo is also hard for me to handle, and that Nashville is full of reconsiderations of masculinity as a text, regret and guilt and sentiment being a big part of that, but that it’s not doubtful of the starting line in the same way. I’d really like to hear if I’m just being a crazy alienated adolescent about this, or if I’m articulating something identifiable to other men. (American femininity is different too, but I think maybe the ways in which gender is occupied, ironized and questioned as part of the texture of character in both countries trumps the national aspect, so that the gulf between the men is more conspicuous?)
Second, to jump on the only controversy of the week, I disagree with Jessica about what transpired at the opening panel talk with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. It wasn’t the most dynamic discussion of all time, but it was actually quite good humoured and smart. And for anybody who’s ever interviewed Stephin, as I have, it was glaring how he was receptive and engaged in a way he’s not when he deals with the press. But as for the “racism”? The way I recall it, L.D. Beghtol brought up the fact that Stephin’s said that Zipadeedoodah is the only successful happy song, and that prompted Stephin to say that he likes the music in Song of the South, “which is really hard to see now, for obvious reasons.” I’m paraphrasing, but I certainly wasn’t left with the impression of him celebrating Uncle Remus. And while you could critique the music in that film as being part of the minstrel legacy it uncritically perpetuates, you’d have to take into account the ways that legacy has been reconsidered, at EMP itself last year, as a much more ambiguous and complicated thing in its relationship to black culture, before you could label an appreciation of anything related to it as racist. I’m glad Jessica has agreed to reconsider.
But on the closer-to-home aspect of him talking about Celine Dion as if she were non-white: It was a gaffe, in its way, but a fascinating one in context. Of course, Celine is white, but Stephin was discussing production style and technology, and Celine is in many ways produced and positioned as if she were in the same niche as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey - as if she did R&B - so he was just choosing the most awkward case for his point, which was that in that genre, highly mediated production for “entertainers” is not considered out of place the way it is for rock or white singer-songwriters. (He contrasted it with Belle & Sebastian’s work with Trevor Horne, which I think was a case of them deliberately transgressing that line, but never mind.) And he was using Celine because Drew Daniel had brought her up first as an example of highly compressed, mediated production. But the point was odd because Stephin was saying that it’s a basically racist perception of entertainers versus artists: That artists in non-white genres are just here to entertain us, so their production authenticity doesn’t matter - they aren’t individuals.
To me it was all telling about how Celine exists: First, that she’s a white artist whose niche would not exist without a black precedent. (Is she the Elvis of power-ballads?) Second, that she’s an entertainer rather than an individual. (She is entirely on-board with that role.) And third, that even though people know that she’s French-Canadian (there’s no category of Quebecoise here), her foreignness and, I’d argue, her class renders her ethnically Other in an American context, so “non-white” (did he ever actually say “black”?). Stephin’s blunder was still a blunder, but it was an exemplary one, not a crazy one. If Celine were Lebanese, things might not be wildly different; if she were a pure white anglo American, her career would be nearly unthinkable. (And if she were black, it would also be radically different.) This entry is ultra-parenthesized because these questions are hard to address directly; I’m still unsure of how they will be dealt with in the book. So, sure, she’s “unblack as hell,” but doesn’t that locution indicate it’s impossible to say she is “white as hell”, too?
April 21st, 2006
I’m disappearing to finish my much-mentioned EMP Pop Conference paper, unless something arises about which my piehole absolutely cannot keep shut. Have a fine time (the gig guide is up-to-date, if you’re in Toronto and want ideas). I’ll reappear next Thursday to blog live from the conference, as I did last year. Tah-tah.
April 20th, 2006
The camel wore a nightie…
At the party of special things to do
When the stiff wind blows
The flag don’t wiggle
In the party of special things to do
Big doin’s in the old town tonight, and thereafter: Tonight, you are already late for the Just School’s Out! Marathon, featuring Alice Cooper squealing about teachers and dirty looks over and over again for charity. (See Zoiluses past on the Ace of Spades marathon.) That charity being the Regent Park School of Music, which is one of the city’s best musical causes, even if it did take them weeks to pick up the piano we were donating to them last month, damn near preventing me from moving at all, and they only managed it when I actually arranged the movers myself. Despite all that, they remain a worthy cause!
I met the Ace of Love
She took me to her plantation
For love without separation
In the party of special things to do
It could happen to me
It could happen to you
Then tomorrow night, I recommend you while away your Friday night listening to Japanese noise in the Images Festival’s event with the Ziggyesque title Some Cats from Japan, featuring the above-pictured Atsuhiro Ito playing the Optron, which “outputs amplified noise discharged by fluorescent lights.” You know that uncomfortable feeling you get in unhealthy office buildings? Now you can pay to re-experience it as art! Along with Boredoms cohort Kanta Horio playing electromagnet and paper clips, and Taeji Sawai “with the use of bugs or effects like bugs produced by large amounts of high quality data.” All curated by prominent Japanoise artist Aki Onda. Be there or be me, stuck home working hysterically on a Pop Conference paper.
I met the Ace of Love
She said I want you to go
To a party of special things to do
And when you’re through
I’ll be right here waiting for you
Here take these sparks
So that my distant cousins can get along with you
Watch out for the Mirror Man
And Elixir Sue
I also haven’t had a chance yet to mention the new Brian Joseph Davis project, Yesterduh, ongoing at Mercer Union. Brian’s latest brainstorm is to have his unwitting victims come into a specially constructed recording booth in the gallery, and sing Yesterday from memory - karaoke without the training wheels, as it were. “You will have a headset with a feed of an instrumental version of the song to assist with melody and timing. You will be paid $5 for a take. Please, NO PRACTICING.” (Note: When you think about it, it’s obvious that the feed actually does not assist, it just makes it more difficult by forcing you to keep in tune and in time or else.) It’s a mash-up that happens only between you and the song, a remix created involuntarily by your brain. There’s many a slip between the neuron and the lip. The results are to be compiled onto a CD with both individual and “choral” versions of the most-covered song in popular music history. The CD will be launched May 24 with entertainment curated by Vigilante Justice, the teen hungerforce (featuring members of Ninja High School and other bands) that performs early 90s techno classics a capella, which first assembled to play at my Tin Tin Tin series. Ah, incest, so romantic! I will report more on Yesterduh when I actually have subjected myself to its roboticized whim.
When I got to the party of special things to do it wasn’t hard to find Elixir Sue. I met all the cards, the wild cards, the One-Eye Jills, the Red Queen. She turned her head, you know what I mean, she turned it back and said, “I got a brand new game I want to lay on you…”
Finally, a moment of silence for one of Toronto’s very best bands, Lenin i Shumov, who perform what they claim will be their final show on Saturday, April 29, at Michael’s, 566 Queen West. My horror at this news - especially given that the show takes place during the conference, so I will not even be in town! - is mitigated only by the fact that the chief Leninist, mad mindbomber Eugene Slonimerov, carries on his fever dreams in new “Afro-beat death-metal progressive rock” group Rozasia. You can currently hear a rough mix of their EP on their Myspace site.
I met them all
At the party of special things to do
When I was done
I was far from through
I returned to the Ace of Love
Now wouldn’t you?
April 19th, 2006
More interviews with Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy keep cropping up online, but the must-read this week is the maddening-but-hilarious ILM thread about some people’s seemingly wholly earnest shock and horror at the title He Poos Clouds (in which Owen kind of misguidedly intervenes…). This in an era when there’s a show on TV in which a cartoon lump of shit can be treated as a beloved symbol of Christmas?
April 19th, 2006
News is rapidly breaking that the dismantling of the remaining identity and integrity of New York’s venerable Village Voice - the founding paper of the alternative press, folks, however much bashed-about by changes of ownership over the years - is pretty much complete. Not only have they fired the likes of veteran investigative reporter James Ridgeway, but now music editor and writer Chuck Eddy (one of the more influential critics of the last decade, I’d argue), who helped lead the protest supporting Ridgeway. Reports also seem to indicate that “dean of rock critics” Robert Christgau has lost his editing position, though perhaps not his writing position. News on this remains fuzzy. Eddy is being shitcanned, they say, for being “too academic,” which is amusingly incongruous for anyone who’s read him, and somehow seems to be a way of saying he covered too much country and heavy metal too thoughtfully (?). (See ILM thread ad infinitum.)
While the Voice music section has become a lot more telegraphic and less indepth this decade, it still helped define the territory. And one has to wonder how much more of this is coming - what’s going to happen to the film section? The Voice Literary Supplement? Etc. And that’s aside from the landmark this sets in the process of the chain-syndicating of the once “alternative” press, which is rapidly becoming a cookie-cutter lifestyle publication niche that barely even pretends to being anything more than a shopping guide for downtown hip-white yuppies.
The only comfort being that as it reaches this nadir, a new wave of alternative publications surely will emerge to take its place. Wistfully I hope some of them actually take the physical form of ink on paper.
April 19th, 2006
Yuki: In Japan, they have understood ‘bad bands’ all along.
Bad Bands: An Idea Whose Time Has Come - To Be Mangled Beyond Recognition. It’s all right, though. I think only a couple-dozen people ever got this one. (The dismemberment of Torontopia, an idea hundreds of people understood, has been much more painful.) Double-capital-B Bad Bands should be much less like Bunchoffuckingoofs and much more like White Noise.
Everyone: Stop telling the Internet your good ideas. They’re not safe there.
Coca-Cola: Stop stealing whatever is left. (Although the Jack White Coke ad is very good - perhaps my favourite White Stripes anything since the Gondry Lego video, and even better than the same director’s original take on the idea, which you still ought to watch. Who can tell me more about Yuki?)
April 18th, 2006
I forgot to link on the weekend to my piece from Friday’s Globe and Mail - a contribution to the weekly “Essential Tracks” list, an all-Canadian one this time around with Toronto’s Glissandro 70, John Millard and Alex Lukashevsky (the first solo outing from the leader of Deep Dark United), as well as Vancouver’s Mecca Normal. All four of the albums these come from are standout records, but I want to mention the Lukashevsky disc in particular as one that shouldn’t pass you by. I went for a more representative song, but my favourite track here is the cover of La donna Ë mobile, the famous aria from Rigoletto done as it’s never been done before. Like many covers on otherwise entirely self-penned albums, it can be taken as a sotto voce manifesto, in this case proclaiming both the grandeur and operatic absurdity Lukashevsky seeks via an economy of means, and the way the other songs may connect to the suspicion that “woman is fickle” and that the man who invests too much in romance becomes sad, mad and dangerous to know.
April 17th, 2006
Last week, I asked about the similar retro font use on the new Darren Hayman and last year’s Rodney Graham albums. An answer in the comments led me to Pet Sounds, which led delightfully to this Behind the Music flash-movie parody: Behind the Typeface: Cooper Black. The link bounced around the nerdosphere a fair bit when it came out a couple of years ago, but it’s new to me.
April 17th, 2006
Final Fantasy at The Man Show at the Music Gallery earlier this month.
Photo again shoplifted from Suckingalemon.
Reading about taste, Henry James and Celine Dion over the weekend, with breaks to watch reruns of the cancelled Joan of Arcadia, which was almost quite a good series, put me very much in a Final Fantasy mood: Joan’s theme of attempting to envision what divine intervention in mundane life would really be like is quite parallel to He Poos Clouds‘ use of Dungeons and Dragons as an axis of playful-serious exploration of magical thinking in real life, and out of that the instinct for faith and supernaturalism even in self-conscious moderns who’ve disavowed it. (The taste, Celine and James connections I leave you to draw for yourself.) I generally feel rather free of magical thinking; that is, until I consider my relationships to art, language and romantic love: On Joan, God says of the latter, “Some of my best work.” Which is rather a sinister remark when you consider it. Too bad the series uses Joan Osborne’s One of Us as its title theme, a song I’ve always despised; it lies on so many levels, from sanitizing away the supernaturalism of God to using religious sentimentality as a shortcut to compassion - divinity as a reason to love humanity is a half-assed cover for misanthropy and also a particularly slimy kind of bet-hedging. (Better be nice to that stranger - he might be a “slob,” but what if it’s God? Feh.) The series itself is more sophisticated, in the way it counterposes Joan’s strange divine connection with her father’s police work (which is very much figured as a struggle with evil and corruption) and most of all the unusual emphasis in nearly every episode on science as a kind of ongoing education in the miraculous. It’s just too bad the scene-by-scene writing and acting aren’t better - the God-incarnations are always verging on platitudes, and it hasn’t got the depth of My So-Called Life or the wit of Buffy, so it’s kind of limp as a high-school show, the core level needed to knit everything together.
But returning to Final Fantasy: There are a couple of nice new interviews with FF aka Owen Pallett that have appeared in recent days. There’s also this mini-essay on He Poos Clouds and video-game-inspired art on The Ratio, which considers a dynamic of predestination and indeterminacy worth developing in relation to our earlier conversations about gaming and art.
April 16th, 2006
Frank Kogan: Definitely more interesting than Metacritic.
Aaron’s “Best Band in the World” formula has the simple brilliance of many good inventions: It starts from the premise that the jobs of a good pop-music maker are, “First, making vaguely interesting music. Second, getting people to like them.” It then expresses the combination of these two factors by assigning a value to the highest Billboard chart position the artist’s latest work attains, and that artist’s rating on Metacritic. (Which is certainly the only exciting thing I’ve ever seen anyone do with Metacritic.)
There are a couple of obvious things wrong here, though, even if we ignore the aspect of only rating the random rock bands Aaron’s chosen to put on his list. (Ghostface’s latest album, for instance, would rate higher than any of them, wouldn’t it?) But I’ll accept that he’s just demonstrating the system rather than doing a full-scale study. There’s also the fact that the whole system is stacked in favour of “album artists” as opposed to “singles artists.” Which is a flaw inherited from Metacritic. (Using Pazz & Jop instead, for instance, could remedy that one.)
But much more crucially: Calling what charts measure “popularity” is mostly fine, but what the hell makes a high Metacritic or Pazz & Jop rating a reliable indicator of “interesting” music? It’s equally possible that the music simply conforms to the critical consensus, which arguably is less interesting (even “vaguely”) than what is more divisive. Rather, it seems to be just a measure of another form of popularity. (The fact that Eminem ranks lower on Metacritic than the White Stripes does not seem incidental.) I’d rather choose one great critic - for fun, let’s say Frank Kogan - assign a numerical value to all of his opinions and add those to the chart numbers. Frank’s interest is more interesting than any aggregate interest.
But then the list itself might become too interesting - because it would reveal how little agreement genuinely exists on what “interesting” means.