Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for May, 2006

Foster Grants and Genre Goggles

May 31st, 2006

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Just found out about one of the more underpublicized gigs of the month, Josephine Foster’s appearance at the Silver Dollar on Thursday night. (Along with the ever-beloved Pony da Look.) I was unsure for awhile about Foster’s warbly channelling of such spirits as Hazel Dickens, Joan Baez and Karen Dalton, but her latest, which hitches up those folky influences with Schubert lieder, shivers its timbres down the spine right into the lumbar, creating a magnetic pull I can’t help but follow. Pied-Piper effects predicted for a live show. Hear some samples via this page and read up a bit over at the Gramophone, which has been loaded with great finds this week. (Later: Purty pictures.)

Unlike Zoilus, I realize. Sorry - I spent yesterday morning up at a conference of music librarians at York, trying to talk with them about how they ought to bring some “avant-folk” like Foster or doom metal or “alt-this-and-that” into their collections (the organizers’ agenda) while also trying to hint that the new weird America to be found in the pop charts has just as substantial a claim on their attention (my agenda). So I slapped together a 20-minute talk on the social, ideological, musicological and creative aspects of genre, and then we auditioned a lot of hard-to-classify music and tried to play guess-that-genre with it. And since then I’ve been working on a profile of The Creeping Nobodies for the Globe on Friday (when they have the launch of their absorbing new disc, Sound of Joy at the Horseshoe with the Wharton Tiers Ensemble). All of which has kept me away from the keyboard.

Meanwhile go read Frank’s site for news and views on events such as the upcoming Broken Social Scene/Dinosaur Jr. collaboration (for charity) and links to charming interviews with Rachel from Visqueen and so on. Go elsewhere for news of the due-in-August Mountain Goats full-length, Get Lonely. (Shades of Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!?) Read Dave saying “why’s everybody quitting just when it gets interesting?” (good point! my bet: intimidation). And while we’re link-happy, how-the-hell did I miss Mike Powell’s Stylus review of Destroyer’s Rubies way back when? Honestly one of the best pieces on Destroyer ever, I’d say, and a very sympathetic guide for the perplexed: Destroyerís Dan Bejar practically shits where he eats; heís a parasite. Which Powell is then able to turn around into praise. Terrif.

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Outtakes from the Auto Da Fe

May 29th, 2006

A few worthwhile entries in the annals of the Merritt/rockism/critics-suck/no-you-suck kerfuffle that I missed earlier can be found at Jeff Chang’s and Jason Gross’s and Mike Powell’s places. They’re mostly a week or two old now, but they all share a frustration with how much these conversations alienate non-music-geeks, including the non-geek parts of ourselves. Partly terminology is to blame: I’ve come to realize I feel pretty much humiliated any time someone says the word “rockism” out loud to me - like on the CBC last week - the word serves more as a barrier than a doorway to an idea that would be more coherently expressed as “anti-pop bias,” for example. (Which avoids those awkward explanations of how rap fans or jazz fans or classical fans can be “rockist.”) These phenomena are worth noting, but I’d maintain that if you and your friends enjoy talking about something, then it’s worth talking about - just don’t expect anyone to get it if you start going on about the same thing at dinner at your auntie’s. But then there’s the other part, where a critical interrogation of our own tastes messes with our ability to be passionate fans, unequivocal proclaimers, etc. We could say, sure, it’s uncomfortable to realize your own embeddedness in ideology and social dysfunction, but suck it up. But in fact that question of where, once your gut reactions are shown to be trained reflexes, you find any grounding to argue for what you love - that is the one that keeps me up at night. Jeff and Josh say you should follow a taste and a critical practice that vibrate with making a better world, but that smacks of “it’s good because it’s good for you,” a confounding of moral good and aesthetic good that would just make us the lefty equivalent of the PMRC. Mike and Jason sense that and back away hard, but into what corner? (Later: And of course I missed Simon going at exactly that question ten days ago, too. Battle fatigue, friends.) To be perpetually continued.

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Here Comes the Sunn0))), Again

May 29th, 2006

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There were many bright spots in this weekend’s Sunday Times Magazine piece about art-metal by John Wray, despite its predictably narrow focus on Sunn0))) and, peripherally, other Southern Lord bands, and despite the even more predictable angle of “look! metal isn’t just by dumb people,” which is annoying since, as I said in my own Sunn0))) piece a couple of weeks ago, metal has always been one of music’s most intensely autodidactically intellectual genres, as its preoccupation with mythology and arcana gives blatantly away. It would be more accurate to say that Sunn0))) and kin mark a level of self-consciousness at which metal becomes not just intellectual on its own terms but able to translate it into conventional art-world-intellectual terms, less of an outsider form - a dynamic you can hear the musicians negotiating in their interviews. But it still had much to offer: First, everything about Boris, a band I don’t know very well, thrilled me, with its upper-case (rawk) and lower-case (experimental) identities - it’s great when double-neck-guitarist Takeshi enthusiastically suggests that Metallica ought to try the same thing. Then there’s all of Sunn0)))’s dancing around how much they are kidding with the robes and fog and Satanism - they get how funny metal is but also think it can be seriously valuable, which is just the right blend aka philosophy of life. It’s very endearing when O’Malley can’t quite bring himself to say that “Southern Lord” is a metal term for the devil, or when Anderson says that the robes function as not only costumes but a kind of performative isolation booth - they help shut out the audience, i.e., the embarrassments of being on-stage, while also giving the audience pleasure by heightening that same silliness of the proceedings - and when he takes umbrage at the idea that he’s not into melody (an understandable assumption to take from the band’s drone-based sound) and says how much he loves Stevie Wonder. (It’s less endearing when the writer feigns - I think it’s feigned - surprise at their interest in formal minimalism, as if that weren’t obvious in the music. It’s pandering to the very reader prejudice the article is purporting to upset. Several times in the piece I wondered how much the magazine editors influenced such moments.)

But most intriguing of all is the way O’Malley taxonomizes the audience. This passage is worth quoting in full:

“Three basic types of people come to see us play,” O’Malley told me. “First, the people who are really into experimental music or metal ó the passionate music lovers; then you’ve got the spectacle crowd, who come for the robes and the smoke machines; last, you have a group of people who are more interested in the physical aspect of it. Those are the people who are just like, I’m going to stand at the front of the stage for an hour and a half ó can I take it? Will I wet my pants? Will I puke? I’m going to be at the very front, in front of these amps for 75 minutes, and then when it’s done I’ll feel liberated, or I’ll feel like I’ve beaten the band or whatever, no matter how tortuous it is.” I pointed out that it’s fairly uncommon for a band to divide its fan base into the aural, the visual and the tactile: I’d expected him to make a distinction between metal and experimental-music fans. O’Malley nodded politely, then did his best to bring me up to date. “In the past three or four years, since the point when the Internet started becoming the primary source for discovering music, the lines between different styles have really begun to blur.” He spread his arms as he said this, looking at me almost slyly, as if he were about to perform a magic trick. “There’s so much access to so many different types of music now, it’s no wonder that people aren’t categorizing themselves so sharply. It’s pretty awesome, really.”

These are the sorts of insights you can only get directly from musicians themselves - not the Internet stuff, which I think we’re all realizing but was articulated particularly well there, but the notion of looking at audiences less in genre-sociological categories and more in functional terms of their relationship to the music. Because I happened to watch Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury tonight, which includes a great piece of archival footage of Shane McGowan and a girlfriend as punk fans singing Anarchy in the UK, it occurs to me to think of the old Pogues audience this way: Not just as a mixture between Irish-folk fans and punk fans, the way the music explicitly suggests, but as divided between the people who came for the drunken party and those who came for McGowan’s poetry and the musicianship; this captures more about the experience of being at those gigs, and the clashes between factions of the audience, than the genre reading does. It’s a kind of reception analysis reminiscent of the way cultural-studies sociologists like Simon Frith, or someone like Christopher Small, have looked at musical events: A 360-degree view of how the trappings around the (small-m) music actually form the social category of what we mean by Music. (Small calls it “musicking.”) It’s a question I plan to ask more musicians in interviews in the future - what do you observe about your fans, when you are on the road, that might be different than critics’ armchair speculation? I’m often relatively uninterested in doing interviews, because I’m not very into writing personality-profile journalism, but that sort of data seems extremely critically fertile, and unavailable unless you’re able to go to many of a band’s shows in person.

PS: This was also one of the occasions when you wonder how much the Times the newspaper and the Times the magazine communicate, as Jon Caraminica did an extensive, strong piece on art-metal in Arts & Leisure (picked up in the Herald Tribune) last year. I’m not complaining - each had different strengths, and I guess you can’t expect that readers will have read the prior piece - but it reinforces the suspicion of disconnect.

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If You’re Gonna Do It Once, Then Do It Now

May 26th, 2006

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The song Vacation by Republic of Safety has long been my unofficial Torontopian anthem - on the one hand it’s got the tried-and-true exhortations to DIY that go back at least 30 years in punk-boho ideologibberish but still are the part that stand up: “You don’t need a dime and you don’t need a plan/ Just write your book and start your band.” Class this in the category of Shit That Needs Saying on the Regular. But the particular slogan of “don’t wait for vacation” stitches across time into space - the idea of it’s not something that happens elsewhere, at a better time, in some romantic place - the utopian gesture is yours to make and inhabit here and now. Now the song is the centrepiece of a four-track EP by the new lineup of RoS, which has lost its double-lady-bassist-rhythm-section mojo but definitely improved its studio chops since the last EP, Passport. (Which, however, includes the band’s very best song, I Like to Work.) The new disc is produced by Don Pyle. I still wish, especially on the second half, that they’d thrown more fire (known in the trade as “compression,” perhaps) on Maggie’s voice - the stylish scorch of her live stage presence still isn’t in these tracks, though the insouciant curl of her lip is. Still the sound in general impressively incubates the erotics of the instrumental interplay. (And whispery background vox is always a pleasure multiplier.) Whaddya want, a RIYL? Okay: Republic of Safety is for fans of Sleater-Kinney, Mission of Burma, the Gossip, Khia, Kelis, Valerie Solanas, Abba and the Archies, as well as democratic socialism and assymetrical federalism. You can mainline it tonight in Montreal at Club Lambi and tomorrow (Sat.) in Toronto at Sneaky Dee’s. I give it eighteen pineapples with dynamite inside out of twenty.

Meanwhile maybe tonight I’ll see you on the Santa Cruz? What are you wearing? See the gig guide for further options, comme d’habitude.

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Axis of Essential

May 26th, 2006


Iannis Xenakis with DJ Spooky.

Today in The Globe and Mail, I have a very straightahead little piece about the SoundaXis festival, with its themes of music, acoustics, architecture and Iannis Xenakis, which runs June 1-11. As well, I fly the friendly skies of Essential Tracks again, this week featuring Ray Lamontagne’s cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy (apres lui, le deluge), Nelly Furtado feat. Timbaland on Promiscuous, Beirut’s Postcards from Italy and Twentieth Century, a track from the new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamental.

But more interesting in today’s Globe are all these efforts by my colleagues: Robert Everett-Green gives three-and-a-half stars (out of four) to Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds (”he’s both a tease and a truth-teller, and as usual that’s an unbeatable combination”), and also explains the pooka; Jennie Punter profiles American composer Elliott Carter, the nonagenerian master who makes a Toronto visit this weekend at the Music Gallery and the Glenn Gould Studio; and Guy Dixon profiles Amy Millan, the Stars/Broken Social Scene singer whose solo album Honey from the Tombs comes out this week. I had a strong identificatory reaction to what she says at the end of Guy’s piece, about her musical cohort: “We’re all in our thirties, and we didn’t think we were going to make it. We didn’t think anybody would ever give us any money or care. We had nothing to lose because we already lost.” Something in there about why the new-emerging generation of “indie” musicians may be different than the last - it is coming from a different realm, not necessarily of aspiration but of expectation; not worse or better, but unlike. They haven’t had this experience of outliving their idea of themselves.

(more…)

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Now I Long For:
Yesterduh, and Hydromel

May 25th, 2006

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Aki Onda sings Yesterduh.

Last night’s Yesterduh closing party at Mercer Union was a real hootenanny, preceded by a Test reading (organized by Mark Truscott) featuring Stephen Cain and Lisa Robertson. Since music is our business around here, we’ll take Yesterduh first for 100. As I’ve mentioned, this is the latest audio-art outing by Zoilus stock character Brian Joseph Davis. The conceit was to bring random gallerygoers into a recording booth and have them sing Yesterday, the most-recorded pop song ever, from memory to a backing track. The results are now available for your online listening pleasure (?), including a few solos (one of them by Aki Onda, another by Darren O’Donnell) and a big edited-together choral version; more audio will be added in future, I hear. I don’t need to tell you how enjoyable it all is - just go enjoy it. And then there was beer, and dancing, and everyone feeling they should be going home and getting some work done but nobody going, and more beer and great standing-out-on-the-sidewalk conversation, and Jonny Dovercourt’s Jesus-year birthday, and Vigilante Justice the a capella techno band doing Dee-Lite and C+C Music Factory, and more beer.

Now backing up to the reading: Steve Cain’s stuff was yer quality gaz, auto-club map shreds out of the gas bar en route to the collapse of the oil economy - i’ve enjoyed his sneaky way with northern politics for a while - but what we were all perty near aflutter about was that this was Vancouver poet Lisa Robertson’s first reading in Toronto in something like five years, and also the launch of her new book The Men, which smelt like a Memorable Occasion, like this is a book we will be reading for a long time, and while all Robertson’s books deserve such designation (Debbie: An Epic, XEcologue, The Weather and, most of all for me till last night, Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, which by the way may be reissued in the not-too-distant future), listening to The Men felt somewhere in the neighbourhood if not right up in the driveway of one of those storied readings of Old where something lasting first trotted forward to take a bow. (I’m not sure it’s possible to open the door of that building anymore so the driveway will have to do.) The secret is someplace in the collision-and-merge Robertson alludes to in her ministatement between “all the ambivalence, doubt, and tenderness of the human,” and “I remain angered.” It’s quite something to take on the brief “to defamiliarize both who, and what men are” but something else actually to have done it. People are going to be jealous. No wonder she kept it in cool storage for five years before publishing. Me, I felt a funny-sickly hesitation at the end to clap too loudly lest I give myself away. The Q&A afterwards was anticlimax although I admire Mark’s will to do it; it began promisingly thanks to his first question, with both poets talking about where the categories of “Language poet” and “Canadian poet” might scrape, crack, massage or miss each other (and Robertson further about how the old Objectivist -> Tish -> Kootenay story of west-coast Canadian lines might be its own kind of crock), but then devolved into typical “do you write with a pen or a computer” reading questions with which the poets coped nobly. And what nobody asked was the thing we all wanted to know - what is hydromel? The word appears several times in The Men, serves as some kind of sacrament or corrosive, and it was promised that there would be some served (so it is something you serve?) at the full-book reading Robertson is apparently doing at the Scream lit fest in July. But nobody yers truly included had the gumption to ask.

Answer: Just as the name suggests, hydromel is “a mixture of water and honey”; when it ferments, it becomes mead aka honey wine. Now you knows. The Men is published by BookThug and there is a sample here.

Yesterduh, and Hydromel">2 Comments

Grrrrrumble

May 23rd, 2006

Post crashed. I hate it when this happens. I’ll muster up the will to recreate it later, perhaps, but meanwhile: Victoriaville reports, anyone? Here are a couple to get you started. Wish I had gone: I flaked out on some off-Victo events this weekend, too. Simple explanation: It’s actually May that is the cruellest month around here; you have to correct for climate. I did go to the Charlie McAlister show Friday night as promised; some elementary organizing errors saw him being thrown off the stage by the management of the club 15 minutes into his set, because it was 2:30 in the morning, by which point nearly all of the audience had also departed, and McAlister himself didn’t seem very “on.” It was worth the whole night to witness the return of Matt Smith’s Nifty - just ridiculously, casually virtuosic in a ready-to-hand way, not that far in fact from what Matt’s fellow ex-Mouche, Owen Pallett, achieves in Final Fantasy, but with a different sensibility. (And a similarly ungoogleable handle.) You?

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Zoiluscast

May 19th, 2006

No, I’m not becoming a pod person, but will be coming at you via the old fashioned means of The People’s Radio on Monday (Victoria Day) on The Arts Tonight. I’m on a panel hosted by Nora Young with Toby Black (ex-Maow guitarist now living in the T-dot) and Colin McKenzie (ex-Murderecords, ex-Cinnamon Toast, ex(?)-Perimeter Records, filmmaker and mensch in Montreal), talking about summer music and genre discrimination/guilty pleasures/rockism, and playing toonz. It’s on at 10 pm (est) and lasts 35 minutes. Yeah, you’ll be watching fireworks and getting schnockered. But now at least my mom knows.

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Local and Immediate News

May 19th, 2006

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Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown are off the bill for the show tonight at the Opera House. Islands, Cadence Weapon and Busdriver are still playing, but this makes much less of a megashow. The reason is bizarrely fucked: These two Canadian bands are somehow not being readmitted to Canada after their dates south of the border. They are being detained by the U.S. government for causes yet unknown. Is that actually legal?

If you want a refund you are advised to return to “your point of purchase.” I am mostly heartbroken that the kids who come out for all the buzzy bands are missing their opportunity to be converted to the church of my beloved Frog Eyes. But I am still going out of professional obligation (personally I’d rather be seeing Charlie McAlister). (Update: Nah, I’m not going. I will go see Charlie McAlister.) For other options see the gig guide - and also tonight you could check out Backalley Jukebox, the queer indie-music video smorgasbord.

Also note Dave Morris’s piece on former Coltrane sideman Rashied Ali (playing tomorrow afternoon), which is online at the eye site but wasn’t in the weekly’s print version.

One more thing: Aaron points us to MuchMusic’s newest VJ, Hannah Simone, whose background is surprisingly pointy-headed, which is okay by them because she is a babe (see above). But beyond all the UN posts and Lloyd Axworthy-book-research, the thing I’m most struck by is that she comes to Much via campus-community radio (CKLN in Toronto). When was the last time that happened? Ever? Also - her bio tells us her sign, her ethnicity (Indian-German-Italian-Greek-Cypriot!), her preferred music (no surprise to see M.I.A. in there), her globe-hopping path (London-Calgary-Saudia Arabia-Cyprus-India-Vancouver!), her fave-rave social issues, but I wonder where her family sits culturally. Has Much ever had a Muslim VJ? Anyway, the betting pool on how long it takes her to be snapped up by Newsworld is now officially open.

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Ubuthentic

May 19th, 2006

I missed Richard’s post earlier in the month reflecting on Pere Ubu’s David Thomas and his take (at EMP and in interviews, etc.) on rock and authenticity. But since we’ve been talking Ubu in some of the comments down below, let me recommend it as a good read, albeit one with which I mostly disagree. I posted a long comment on Thomas there, which seemed better than doing so here.


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