Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for June, 2006

A Lot to Bragg About

June 30th, 2006

Congratulations and thanks to Billy Bragg, (see Zoiluses past), who has successfully forced Murdoch-owned MySpace to clarify its agreement on site users’ intellectual property. MySpace’s earlier language made it seem like they claimed rights to the content - songs, videos, etc. - users might put on their pages. I’m sure the intention all along was to put them in a safe legal position to operate the sites, the way the new language makes clear - but what Billy’s done is ensure Murdoch’s companies can never abuse those rights. His account of the implications smartly connects the issue to the abusive terms under which record company deals (and other entertainment-industry contracts) are usually signed, which gives what otherwise is a bit of a teapot-scale tempest a lot more resonance.

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Laconic Couth (or: How Many Sonic Youth Headlines
Does The World Have Left To Give?)

June 30th, 2006

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Whenever a new Sonic Youth album comes out, there’s a gang of reviewers/fans who say, “This time they’ve finally lost it/sold out/gotten lazy/etc.” and another pack who say, “A return to form! Their best since Daydream Nation!” (if it’s a long-guitar-solo album) or “Best since Goo!” (if it’s a poppier album). The new one, Rather Ripped, is no exception. But if you hear either line, shrug it off - instead, Rather Ripped is just yet another fine SY disc. Of course, with their occasional weakness for cheezy rebel-talk, SY set themselves up to be misinterpreted as a band that’s all about destroying and revolutionizing Rock As We Know It. But I always think of them as a much more celebratory band - for them, the purpose of a teenage riot isn’t to fuck up The Man, it’s just a good reason to get out of bed. They usually display the right mix of creative pique and pleasure that is dignified in someone lucky enough to be a white, middle-class bohemian New Yorker - which by any measure is one of the most fortunate positions in the world. Maybe in the history of the world. They’ve always seemed like gifted appreciators of the countercultural heritage and overall cultural abundance surrounding them, but enlightened enough to acknowledge - in their lyrical ambiguity, yes, but most of all in harmonic overtones - that this good fortune depends upon structural inequities that are not only wrong but unsustainable. Aside from Kim’s specific salvos against patriarchy (which I’ll listen to anytime - she puts sexism in its place with more aplomb than pretty much any other white woman in music), and the occasional lapse like Youth Against Fascism, they generally know better than to grope for the language of protest or complaint, which sounds phony in privileged-hipster patois. Instead their critical thinking is folded into the rolling documentary-of-consciousness of the music. Their music is a vehicle of their attention. They love and respect the kind of battering noise assaults of the MC5 or the Sex Pistols or, today, Wolf Eyes, but that’s never been what Sonic Youth is about - I’ve always thought their best manifesto came in the title Confusion is Sex, and that their music is a balancing act to keep both sides of that equation vital, to get dizzy enough to feel new sensations but also keep cool enough to absorb them. People who come to the band expecting something more formulaically radical are always going to be disappointed. (It’s only with revisionist hindsight and indie bias that they invest the pre-Geffen albums with that radicality.) And those who come to a new SY album thinking they know what they’re getting will always be surprised at how much there is to it - and probably overrate it. As a musical ensemble, Sonic Youth is a group that depends on interplay - its sound is about combinations rather than spotlights. But it’s not a conceptual band: It’s always more about the parts - about moments, about songs, about exclamations, about dropped beats and scraped strings - than it is about the sum. Processes, not outcomes.

I tried to keep all that in mind when I wrote my review in the Globe today, but then I had to prune it down to fit and the results were a bit of a hash. So if you don’t mind, I’ll paraphrase what I said:

Having finally realized that Thurston Moore is never going to introduce them to another Nirvana, Geffen Records (now part of Universal) has decided it’s paid off that debt (incurred shortly after Geffen shocked the underground by signing SY in 1989) and is letting the band’s latest contract expire. As a result, some listeners will snark that Rather Ripped’s compact style marks a last grasp for commercial appeal, or betrays a “contractual obligation” toss-off. But it actually fits right in to the band’s long pattern of switching between more exploratory albums and tighter, sharper ones. And among the latter it’s one of the best, not streamlining or simplifying the harmonic complexities of the music so much as carving away the feedback to reveal the shapely core. There’s a summertime sense of summing-up to the album, as if the four were scrawling their names in one another’s yearbooks after grad …. from the old-school-punk-flyer cover to the musical winks to the hundreds (thousands?) of bands SY has influenced: Certain moments here sound almost like quotes of Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins and other mid-90s alterna-rock. Kim Gordon’s divine gutter-mumble dominates, as it generally should, but Thurston has an SY classic-to-be in Do You Believe In Rapture?, and guitar hero Lee Ranaldo’s sole vocal lead Rats goes the furthest toward recalling the era of Sister and Evol. (The most blatant effort to recall Daydream Nation, the extended Pink Steam, falls flat.) And SY’s too-often-overlooked drummer, Steve Shelley, also gets a moment in the forefront, not vocalizing but still leading proceedings on the coda, Or - a tune that, with only the barest sardonic touch, even makes room for the voices of the fans, caught in the final verse straining to be casual when they get a chance to interview or chat with their idols: “How long is the tour? What time you guys playin’?/ Which comes first, the music/ Or the words?” But there’s one more typical question Rather Ripped leaves unspoken: “What’re you up to next?”

(I gave it three-and-a-half stars out of 4.)

Does The World Have Left To Give?)">2 Comments

Trampoline Hall Photo-Shoot Edition Update

June 29th, 2006

The Trampoline Hall Magical Ministry of Mystification - whose edicts for the July 10 edition of the show were explained the other day - has a last-minute announcement: If you couldn’t manage to get it together or get through on the phone to make an appointment, you still can drop in all casual-like and get your portrait taken by the splendiferous Lee Towndrow, and thus get onto the poster and into the show - so long as you don’t mind waiting till there’s a slot open between appointments. It shouldn’t take long at all. However, tonight (Thurs.) looks like a far, far better time to do so than tomorrow night - if you wait till Friday, the show may be sold out.

The address is Katharine Mulherinís Bus Gallery (1080 Queen St. West, at Dovercourt). Portrait studio hours are: Thursday June 29, 4 pm to 10 pm; Friday June 30, 4 pm to 10 pm. Don’t go there other times (unless of course you just want to look at the art). You will not get your portrait taken except on these two evenings, which means you won’t get into the show. Bring 13 dollars that you’re prepared to part with. Full details here.

Trampoline Hall: Making things difficult for ourselves and yourselves alike, since December, 2001.

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Said the Carlophone

June 28th, 2006

Beginning today and twice a week for the next few, I’m honoured to be guestposting on mp3 blog Said the Gramophone while the wonderful Sean Michaels is on vacation. I thank fellow StG posters (um, do we call ourselves “Grammers”? “Grammies”? “Said-o-mites”?) Jordan and Dan for welcoming me to the clan. My first post, up now, offers a track from the upcoming album by Hamilton, Ont.’s wunderkinds, Junior Boys.

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So Long Sleater, Bye-Bye Kinney

June 27th, 2006

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Unconfirmed, but the band has apparently broken up. At least, with last year’s The Woods, they went out on a real high, but I’ll miss them. Sleater-Kinney’s crown as queens of post-riot-grrrl bands now officially passes to The Gossip, right?

Black Stars, Trampoline Hall
and Other Summer Pleasures

June 27th, 2006

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It’s flying at half-mast.

Please join me in saluting Ghana’s heroic World Cup run and mourning their defeat today by Brazil - a cruelty of the schedule, to pit them against the Cup’s likely winners so early (and without their biggest asset, Michael Essien). They ought to have made the next round. Where to put my allegiances now? I do generally love Brazil, but that’s like cheering for, you know, the Beatles. It’s better to have an underdog favourite, too. Maybe Spain, in honour of the country’s current quiet-revolution-style renaissance? (4:45 pm: So much for that.)

Some news from Trampoline Hall: The next show in the non-expert lecture series (which I’ve worked on since its inception) is at Sneaky Dee’s on July 10 (a week from Monday) and includes some superb-sounding lectures, including one on Canadian superheroes, another on flea circuses, and a third on “why we draw hearts the way we do,” which has to be the best topic of the year. But mainly I’m posting to let T.H. fans know that this month the ticketing procedure has a special wrinkle: You will only be able to attend by first getting your portrait taken by photographer Lee Towndrow in special sittings being held this week, on Thursday and Friday evenings. What’s more, you have to call in advance - either today or Thursday - to book your portrait session. The portraits will be put together in a limited-edition poster for that show - so that everyone in the room at that show will be on the poster (of which you’ll get a free copy). Details are here. Yes, it’s very complicated. That’s what makes it art.

Speaking of which, tonight at the Red Guitar as part of the Downtown Jazz Festival, “the Weirdest Band in Town” (as I’ve called them, proudly reproduced in their publicity info), The Reveries (Eric Chenaux, Ryan Driver and Doug Tielli), plays the songs of Willie Nelson. Previous artists to get the group’s unique spittle-drenched-ballad treatment are Sade and Nick Cave, but the red-headed stranger seems even more of a kindred spirit. Two sets, starting at 9:30. An unannounced roster of the group’s fellow AIMT members (Association of Improvising Musicians, Toronto) play the earlier, 7 pm set. If you’re not seeing Etta James at the Hummingbird or Devotchka at the El Mocambo or ex-Wolf Eyes noisemeister Aaron Dilloway at the Sister Ray noise monthly at the Drake, here’s another excellent option. Here’s a video of Dilloway’s set at the No Fun festival in Brooklyn in March, by the way - with no sound, but it kind of doesn’t need it.

Also in the Zoilus gig guide, you’ll now find the complete musical listings of Harbourfront’s weekend culture festivals for July. There’s an extraordinary range, with highlights including this Sunday’s free performances by two of Africa’s biggest (non-FIFA) success stories of the year, Amadou & Mariam from Mali and The Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone. One of the most-anticipated gigs of the summer is July 8’s appearance by Konono No. 1, the already-legendary “Congotronic” amplified-junkyard band. (See past posts.) And there’s a nice change of pace with the Winnipeg celebration the last weekend of July, including shows from the needing-no-introduction Weakerthans and underrated ‘peg chamber-pop singer Christine Fellows, who will be performing with visual accompaniment from Toronto artist Shary Boyle - who may be familiar to some readers from her past paint-along magic with the likes of Feist, Jens Lekman, Final Fantasy and Finland’s ES.

Also, after a rather wonky winter-spring roster, Wavelength has its wheels back on the road, with a strong June rally and now a kickass July, under the curatorial sway of Kevin Parnell aka Aperture Enzyme, including Sunday’s appearances by Vancouver’s Mother and Montreal’s Think About Life (see video below), and with a big climax at the end of the month with Bad Robots Evil Doer, Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! and one of my Polaris prize picks, Jon Rae & the River, on July 30. Great to see WL get its groove back.

Pardon the Torontocentricity of recent posts - reflections on some more general topics to come.

and Other Summer Pleasures">9 Comments

More Old Punx

June 26th, 2006

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Following up on last week’s Deja Voodoo post, on Thursday at the Horseshoe, there’s a launch party for a new line of T-shirts honouring Can-punk pioneers of the old school, DV among them. The shirts are made by Stacey Case - better known as a zombie-movie, Mexican-wrestling and Frightenstein devotee, zine editor, filmmaker and member of the Tijuana Bibles, but a silkscreening “Merch Guy” for a living - in cooperation with the I’m With Stupid shirt shop around the corner from my apartment in Parkdale(iamsburg). “Where is the love?” they demand to know. “These bands paved the way for Canadian independent music as we know it, and the kids today have no idea who they are.” (Goldarned kids!) So they tracked down bands such as Toronto’s Viletones, Diodes, Raving Mojos, Bopcats and B-Girls, Hamilton’s Forgotten Rebels and Simply Saucer, London’s UIC and Montreal’s Deja Voodoo, licensed their dormant merchandising, and created the Radio X line of T-shirts (named after a Niagara On The Lake pirate-radio station of 1985-86), with more bands to be added soon. The shirt release party (how often do you get to say that?) is, again, Thursday at the ‘Shoe, with the 1977 vintage price of $3, a set by the Raving Mojos, and house band The Screwed, featuring members of the Viletones, the Sinisters, the Demics and Battered Wives performing covers all night, with guests such as the Rebels’ Chris Houston and Mickey DeSadest, the notorious Steven Leckie of the Viletones (who will DJ between sets), plus members of Johnny & the G-Rays, B-Girls, Bopcats, Ugly, ZRO4, The Secrets, The Ugly, Screamin’ Sam, Simply Saucer …. Vintage gig posters and flyers will be on display, too.

Torontopians of all ages ought to go indulge their nostalgia, even if (like me) you actually weren’t around at the time - it’s the prehistory of what was to be, and that’s always worth a genuflection or two. Respect yer elders and alla that.

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Deja Voodoo All Over Again!

June 23rd, 2006

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Tony Dewald and Gerard Van Herk -
Deja Voodoo - in Montreal back-in-the-day.

I didn’t get ahold of the organizers in time to do a Globe piece on tonight’s “Final Voodoo BBQ” at the Silver Dollar in Toronto, as I’d hoped, so let’s do it now: The event is sort of a reunion of the OG! Music class of late-eighties Canadian music - with its crucial It Came from Canada compilations - and especially the Montreal scene: The “Deja Voodoo BBQ” was a venerated annual full-day event in the city for years. (See Wikipedia entry for a primer, the band’s memorial MySpace page for music and this “where are they now?” feature for an update.) So why has it come back together in Toronto in 2006? The event’s moving force, CKLN DJ Daibhid James, host of Moondog’s Ballroom (this afternoon at 2:30 local time, and will feature interviews with BBQ participants), did get back to me in time to share some of the event’s background, and his thoughts about Deja Voodoo’s influence - which arguably, indirectly goes as far as the White Stripes. (And should not be confused with the several jam-band types operating under the same name today.) [... interview on the jump ...]

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Days Late But It’s Got Legs

June 22nd, 2006

Aaron on the MuchMusic Video Awards is my current nominee for Canadian blog post of the year. Sorry I didn’t catch it sooner but dude is so unpredictable in his post schedule nowadays. But not when he blogs any Much event. Then the forecast is always: Drily hilarious, with intermittent squalls of Pepsi-spit-up-on-keyboards.

(Thank you, I’m available for book blurbs and children’s parties.)

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The Smoky Life is Practiced Everywhere

June 21st, 2006

The Times’ Stephen Holden on the new Leonard Cohen doc, blandly titled I’m Your Man.

Droll gold from Lenny: “I had the title ‘poet,’ and maybe I was one for a while,” he says. “Also the title ’singer’ was kindly accorded me, even though I could barely carry a tune.” And: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly, the 10,000 nights I spent alone.”

Then again, Cohen is 72. Let’s imagine he first had sex only after Elvis invented it, in 1956, when Cohen was 21 - which seems unlikely given that his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, came out later that year and included lines such as, On certain incredible nights,/ When your flesh is drenched with moon/ And the windows are wide open:/ Your breasts are sculptured/ From the soft inside of darkness…. Even then, it would imply approximately 8,615 nights not spent alone. A ratio that - while empathizing with the agonies of the other 10,000 - many of us would be willing to live with.

The doc features Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Nick Cave, Antony (whom I’d love to hear sing Cohen’s songs, despite my distaste for his own), plus Bono and The Edge.

Later, when you can, and better than this gamesmanship, you should download the conversation he has this week on KCRW’s Bookworm.

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