Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for August, 2006

Village Voice Debacle Continues

August 31st, 2006


Wow. I mean, we knew it might happen. But wow.

So, who wants to hire Robert Christgau?

Friday add: See New York Times story. Question now: If there’s a Pazz & Jop poll this year, does it get boycotted? (And if ILM doesn’t come back from the dead, how would we organize that?)


Ys oh Why? (Newsom Pre-Preview)

August 30th, 2006

Guess what the mailman brought today? Y(e)s, what you see above is the cover art for the new Joanna Newsom album, Ys. It’s pronounced “ees,” they say - ruining my headline pun - and it has a pretty fascinating derivation, and is also the name of a board and video game, for those of you keeping stats on game-cultcha’s influence on pop. So do we think this painting, perhaps of Joanna as Dahut the druidic princess, by Benjamin Vierling is good, or so bad it’s good, or just plain bad? I think it’s hideous, frankly. But there’s something charming about the acrobatic lapse of taste involved, quite a contrast to the perfect discretion she exercises in her choice of collaborators. Get this - the harp and vocals were recorded by Steve Albini; the orchestra was arranged and conducted by Van Dyke Parks, who co-produced the album (as I’ve mentioned in the past); and what came out was mixed by Jim O’Rourke. In any sort of musical version of the Kevin Bacon game, Ys may turn out to be the trump card that connects everything to everything.

(Newsom is quoted in the press release: “Albini mic’d the harp in an insane and never-before-done manner! I’d love to describe it further but I don’t want to give away his ideas, in case he wants to do it again sometime.” Parks worked from those recordings, feeling that “every nuance of the performance would inform his arrangments,” which developed in a series of drafts traded back and forth between the old Yankee Reaper and the young harpist, with the goal of creating the sense that “the orchestra is hanging in a hallucinatory shimmer around the more substantial harp and voice.” O’Rourke, in turn, “ediited quite a bit, and tweaked and carved it… with parts rising up and dropping in and out almost weightlessly, disappearing without much notice and reappearing as if they’d been there the whole time.”)

As for the results? Well, that’d be telling. It’s not out till November, and considering that it consists of five songs that average 11 minutes each, I’m not about to attempt to process them in an afternoon. But I will say, there are days when my ears - so often physically abused in the course of duty - are well pleased with the path we’ve taken.


A Utopia By Any Other Name (Except ‘In-Joke’)

August 29th, 2006

When I first read Michael Barclay’s Exclaim piece, “This is Torontopia”, I didn’t feel much need to say anything about it. It seemed like a useful primer for folks outside the city on what I’ve been discussing intermittently on Zoilus all year, the pains and frustrations that have arisen as the initial excitement of “the Torontopian moment” a few years ago started to be taken for granted, as some our friends have “become successful” in minor ways and the scene has grown and also come to be seen as an establishment in itself to be taken down, which is some combo of healthy and very silly. I would quibble with Michael’s claim that I “called for the ['Torontopia'] term’s retirement” - I think I just said we should consider it. But I talked about these issues in my interview with Kat Collins on Indiepolitik (linked here along with discussion) as well in the exhaustive debate with Graham Preston on the term that took place here as well as on Graham’s blog.) (Which seemed to lead to this very clear-headed contribution from Victoria, which I’m very grateful to Michael for pointing out, as I’d missed it in the first place.)

However, Frank’s post today, which was introspective and vulnerable and also kind of frustrating as a reaction, made me want to put aside planned posts on Junior Boys, the Mountain Goats and CopyCamp (more about all of which in the next few days), and respond.

First, I appreciate the fact that Frank agonizes so conscientiously about what the role of his blog should be in relation to local vs. non-local culture. I do this too, from the opposite pole: I often worry that my enthusiasm for the music community here makes Zoilus inaccessible to readers elsewhere, and regret the possibility that it forecloses dialogue, or causes people to overlook other issues raised here on which I’d really like a broader conversation. Sometimes I look enviously toward Frank’s just-the-music-ma’am approach. I also don’t begrudge him his own tastes, except in one way I’ll get to shortly.

But it’s also a bit shocking to me, after all this time, to see Frank refer to “something [Exclaim] calls ‘Torontopia’,” so much so that I just hope he was joking. Because if not, we’ve really, really been talking past each other here. Frank affords plenty of attention to the likes of the Hidden Cameras and Final Fantasy, to the (former) Three-Guts bands and others, so he is not at a vast distance from where this activity came from. We run into a barrier when we start talking about the Arts & Crafts bands, but personally I don’t exclude the likes of Broken Social Scene when I think of Torontopia, even though their music’s not my thing - while they may not be purists of localism and DIY the way most of the Blocks bands are, for instance, their “experiment in intimacy” is very close in spirit, as is the way that they foreground their collective nature. And of course BSS’s background is no great distance from Wavelength, etc. Steve Kado and others want to dispute the issues of professionalism and independence and music-industry marketing, and that’s a valid argument, but as Jonny Dovercourt implies in the Exclaim article, I think it would be detrimental if the localism that BSS has attempted to express and the Torontopian sense are configured in radical opposition.

At the same time, Frank’s right that the predominant advocates of Torontopia are artists who come more out of an avant-garde tradition (there’s that amusing oxymoron again!) than a pop one - although many have a foot in both sides. (I think Final Fantasy is in some basic way weirder than any noise band, not despite but because of the music’s prettiness, for instance.) To misread this as the nature of the scene and the Torontopian argument, though, seems to be willfully tendentious. First, the music is much more diverse than that, and includes plenty of things likely to be more to Frank’s taste - the Adorables, the Bicycles (who started out somewhat outside the Torontopian model and have migrated steadily into it), the aforementioned Hidden Cameras, Laura Barrett, Glissandro 70, and so on. So he seemed to be caricaturing the musical profile.

But more than that, the very participatory ethic and off-centre thinking of a lot of the bands - the Bad Bands, Ninja High School etc. - mean that they’re asking you to listen differently, to involve yourself differently with the art, than you do with music that begins from the idea of the recording, which most pop music does today. It is partly conceptual, but it’s not just abstract, but intensely embodied. I don’t think it’s been well-translated to record in most cases. So if you rely entirely on recordings and second-hand gossip to judge it, you won’t grasp it. When you hear about similar work at a distance, you might shrug it off, but if it’s happening a streetcar ride away, isn’t the fact that people you respect - like the Cameras, like Owen Pallett - value it enough reason to be curious and check it out with an open mind?

Not that they’re all artistic triumphs, by any means, even live. But dismissing it with the “conceptual art joke for their friends” slag-off is kind of infuriating. How is music that’s made from an experimental (and even intellectual) position less valid than visual art or film or literature that’s made that way? And how is it that given the long history of such work being dismissed in its own moment - including stuff that’s at the root of the further-out rock that Frank and others do appreciate - people still feel confident about pissing on it when it’s new and in a venue near you? Frank, to his credit, expressed that doubt: “Am I guilty of that infamous Canadian inferiority complex that craves validation from abroad before acknowledging homegrown talent?” I don’t know if that’s your issue personally, Frank - I’d say you’re pretty open to new music when it seems close in any way to music you know you like, validation or no validation - but it’s certainly one of the issues. But it also seems like people mistake the combination of sense of humour, a certain wild-leap-taking courage and the natural giddiness among people who have found “a creative commons” (as the Discorder writer put it) for some kind of cliqueish back-patting orgy. That’s probably unavoidable, but given the general permeability and friendliness of this loose community - which everyone who’s found their way into it in the past five or so years will attest to - it’s disheartening.

That said, I really wish that some Torontopians would be just a bit more self-conscious when they start behaving in ways that reconfirm that misconception. It’s just as discouraging to see people jump on Frank by saying, “oh, all you want is some neo-shoegazer music,” or attack people who are trying to start projects - maybe naively, but sincerely - with a lot of snide “you don’t know shit” commentary as happens too often on Stillepost. If we want to keep boasting of the open-mindedness of Torontopia, then that’s something to live up to.

I could go on - there’s lots to say about how Torontopia’s renewal depends partly on extending it to new audiences and territory, as is beginning to happen with the all-ages shows and other projects, and also about its “whiteness”. What the latter actually denotes is not-blackness: There are good numbers of Asians, Filipinos and other demographics represented, but the yawning gap between “Torontopia” and “the T-Dot” is conspicuous and troublesome. But there will be other times and venues for that. Meanwhile, it seems to me there’s still plenty of reason to cry, “Long live Torontopia, wherever she may rise.” As Michael’s article says, “Torontopia is not a place”: If you’re home now, you could live there.


Hello-lo-lo-lo… to the Echo Prize

August 29th, 2006

Laura Barrett at the Music Gallery in March, in a photo by thecjm on Flickr.

If the Polaris Prize shortlist hasn’t polarized the nation quite yet, here’s another Canadian music contest to bitch about: The Echo Songwriting Prize, to be awarded this year for the first time by Socan (the Canadian songwriters’ association). Before the deets, here are the sweets, the nominated shortlist, in alphabetical order by artist:

Laura Barrett, Deception Island Optimists Club (written by Laura Barrett)
Final Fantasy, This Lamb Sells Condos (by Owen Pallett)
Propagandhi, A Speculative Fiction (by Chris Hannah, Todd Kowalski, Jordan Samolesky)
The Stills, Destroyer (by Olivier Corbeil, Timothy Fletcher, David Hamelin and Liam OÔøΩNeil)
Wolf Parade, You Are a Runner and I Am My FatherÔøΩs Son (by Daniel Boeckner, Hadji Bakara and Arlen Thompson)

As with the Polaris, I was among the jurors for this one. Unlike with the Polaris, for which a smaller jury (also including yours zoilusy) convenes to make a final choice at a gala-ish event on Sept. 18, on this one you get to vote. Audio of the nominated songs - one set in English, the other in French - will be up on the Socan site on Thursday (Aug. 31) and remain up till Oct. 31, when the public vote will be tallied.

I’m pleased and surprised to see my Laura Barrett nomination (each of the 8 jurors nominated 3 tracks) made it through - congratulations, Laura. Just another step in the Barrett take-over-the-world scenario that continues with her North American tour this fall with the Hidden Cameras.

I’m also happy, but not surprised, to see most of the rest. I nominated a different Final Fantasy song, but totally can get behind this one. (Guess my third nomination. It’s very easy.) The Stills ain’t my cup of tea, but I bear them no particular ill will. The focus for the Echo is songs by “emerging” artists rather than just the “best” song - the rules were that the songs had to be released between the start of July 2005 and end of June 2006, that they be original compositions, written by Canadians, and from albums that sold less than 50K copies in Canada (ie., below “gold” status). All genres were supposedly eligible, but you see the results. (A note to organizers: If you truly want all genres to be included, the genre interests of the jurors have to be really well-balanced, or you’ll end up leaning rockwards every time. There was no jazz, for instance, but some hip-hop and dance on the long list - but predictably none of it survived the second round.)

Laura’s nomination also raises some thoughts in response to Frank Chromewaves’s post today on Torontopia and its (or at least his) discontents, but I’ll have to save that for later in the day. Meanwhile, again, congrats to all the touched-by-an-Echo songwriters and performers.


Get Clicky

August 28th, 2006


I almost never do this, but I wasn’t happy with last night’s Mountain Goats post and removed it - I’ve got a cold and my thinking seemed more than a little fuzzy. I’ll revisit some of my ideas about the new album another time, when I’m less befogged. But I still wanted to share a couple of the links: John Darnielle had a fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend about the creation of Get Lonely and the difficulty he had following up on The Sunset Tree. He’s also posted a mix of some of his favourite songs-of-the-year-thus-far on current Last Plane to Jakarta, which will make you run out to buy a bunch of records you’ve probably never heard of. (One of his picks is Winnipeg’s Christine Fellows, who’ll be touring with him this fall: “Nobody else is writing at Christineís level.”) And later today the first in a series of YouTube videos, “YouTube Presents: Sessions at Amoeba featuring the Mountain Goats,” including an interview between Darnielle and Carl Newman of the New Pornographers, is due to be posted. (I thought it would be up by now.)

And now I’m off to make Neo-Citron.


“I waddle out and get a couple of gasps:
‘Is that what their hair looks like?’ “

August 26th, 2006


My Junior Boys profile is now up on The Globe and Mail site (let me know if you can’t access it, please). Outtakes to come on Monday.

And isn’t tonight the craziest night in shows of all crazy nights in Toronto? Gee, would I rather see the Jr Boys, Damo Suzuki, the Hidden Cameras, Jessica Rylan (amazing Boston-area noise-type artist playing free in Trinity-Bellwoods Park at sundown), the Deadly Snakes, Amy Millan or They Shoot Horses Don’t They? Or go to Santa Cruz on the Capt. John’s Seafood boat in the harbour? Can’t do ‘em all! Who wants to give up, meet in the alley behind my house, and drink cooking wine instead?

No, I am actually going to see the Jaybeez, ‘cuz I’ve barely seen them live at all. But it really does hurt.

Also: I have a contribution in the first issue of Becky Johnson’s new zine, Point Form: A Zine of Lists. It’s the zineyest.


‘Is that what their hair looks like?’ “">5 Comments

Peek Experiences

August 25th, 2006

Junior Boys.

Today in The Globe, an “Essential Tracks” list from me featuring Feuermusik, No Means No, Cadence Weapon vs. Rick Ross, and CSS vs. Paris Hilton.

More important, tomorrow in The Globe, look for an extensive feature interview with Junior Boys‘ Jeremy Greenspan, with the release of new album So This Is Goodbye and their show at the El Mocambo in Toronto tomorrow night. Unfortunately space limitations kept it from coming out before the Star and the weeklies went at ‘em, but my piece has different themes than any of those. Want to know how Junior Boys were influenced by Norman McLaren and Christopher Pratt? Link up here tomorrow morning.

And I’ll post some choice outtakes after that. Meanwhile, take a peek at my guest essay on the new Junior Boys song Count Souvenirs, from earlier this summer on Said the Gramophone, if you missed it.

Bowie, MF Doom and Proto-Bandonyms?

August 24th, 2006

David Bowie and his mouthpiece(s).

In a followup to the Randy Newman discussion last week, Peli emailed me today, calling me on my overly dismissive reference to Bowie’s use of Brechtian influences compared to Newman’s. We got to chatting, and out of that conversation came his post tonight on Bowie, MF Doom and “song ontology.” You should read it - it’s very preliminary but very smart stuff on the question of what forms of address are available in song other than first-person or fictional-first-person, and what all these options say about song-as-persona. (Right off you’d have to add the third-person storytelling of the ballad, which maybe is “making a speech” and maybe ain’t.)

His questions overlap vastly with my EMP paper last year on the “bandonym” - the fracturing of the singular songwriter persona into a fictional “band” via a plural-sounding pseudonym, eg. “The Mountain Goats,” and what effect that has on the illusion of a speaking ’subject’ in a song. (Unfortunately it no longer appears to be online.) In some ways Peli seems to be arguing that what I claimed was mainly a 1990s development really happened in the 1970s and was accomplished by Bowie: We both discussed Pessoa’s heteronyms, for example. I hope to get more into it, but I’m in the middle of other writing at the moment so it will have to wait. Again, read Peli first.


Goin’ Out West (Where They Appreciate… Tea)

August 23rd, 2006

Vancouver’s The Choir Practice.

Need Coles’ Notes (”Cliff Notes,” to you yanks) on what’s afoot on the Vancouver scene? From Blown Speakers’ poll will catch you up in a blink. (Except for the egregious omissions of Veda Hille and Frog Eyes.) My favourite Vangroovy discovery of late is The Choir Practice, which is kind of what happens when the Langley kids grow up. (Thanks to Popsheep for pointing the choir out.)

And at The Ratio, this post is making me very jealous. (The Ratio’s seemed more entertaining than before, all summer, in fact.)


‘I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it,
three times to make sure’ - Mae West

August 23rd, 2006

Last night I went to the second-last performance of The Drag, an environmental-theatre production at Interaccess by the AmmoFactory collective - which just happened to include lead actress Amy Bowles (of Pony Da Look and Permafrown) as well as Alex Wolfson (Domaine d’Or) (directing, I believe), along with a soundscape by Matt Smith (Nifty, Awesome, Wyrd Visions) and Jonathan Adjemian (Jon Rae and the River, Hoover Party), costumes by Vanessa Fischer (No Dynamics, Domaine d’Or) - a passel of Toronto-music-scene folks, in other words. Among the statements in the wall-mounted program was that the group wants to see theatre take its place in the vibrant community action in other arts in the city - and lord knows that except for Mammalian Diving Reflex, it really hasn’t. This production, which takes place all over the I/A space, with the audience following the action around the room, is a pretty impressive piece of multimedia, if not an entirely successful exploration of its intended themes around how sexual repression in North America has shifted since Mae West wrote the original The Drag, a groundbreaking exposure of homosexuality on the New York stage. It mixes bits of the original play with scenes from the lives of Wilhelm Reich, Roman Polanski, the son of Charlie Manson, and several others. Whenever Bowles is performing it’s arresting, and aside from that the soundscape is terrific, and some of the scenes and video work are quite fine. I’d kind of been hoping for more of a full-scale Wooster Group-style extravaganza, and it didn’t get there - it could have used a few more twists and a heap more of West’s own sass. But it’s a must for Bowles fans and well worthwhile for anyone who’d just like to see another side of the creative team involved - other ways of working than just being in bands and so on. The final performance is tonight (Wed.) at 9 pm.

three times to make sure’ - Mae West">1 Comment

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