Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for February, 2007

Getting With the Program

February 27th, 2007

Hi, all. Sorry I’ve been silent this week - trying to plow some heavy-duty ground on the book, which is a lot more behind schedule than the sight of that page would suggest. It’s at once inspiring and out-freaking. Speaking of which: Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but it seemed like the biggest problem with Celine’s appearance at the Oscars on Sunday wasn’t her singing (save a few smushed vowels), but the rather dull song Morricone wrote for her to do. It was craftsmanlike and classic-sounding, but very scant on the imaginative sonic and genre blends for which he’s so justly celebrated. The notion of “Oscar song” seems to put blinders on everyone. (For Celine, of course, it was part of a trajectory towards association with the critically respectable that I suspect will be in full effect on her next English-language album.) The embarrassment was Clint Eastwood’s ill-prepared introduction; I think Eastwood’s great, but that was just sloppy and disrespectful to Morricone, though it was redeemed by allowing him to give his thanks at length in Italian rather than forcing him to struggle through in weak English (which I assume he could have done). Otherwise, amusing to watch the competitive jostling between Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson on the overlong Dreamgirls medley, and a very fine turn by James Taylor on the Randy Newman song, which helps block the awful Randybashing that ensues whenever he does his kids-movie trifles on award shows.

A couple of substantive posts to come, but meanwhile just wanted to alert interested parties to the fact that the Experience Music Project Pop Conference program for 2007 has now been announced (look to the left for the link to “panels”), including my workshop session on Seeing Scenes: The Music Critic in Place. I’m excited about the discussion, which will involve me comparing some notes on my frankly problematic participant-observer status in “Torontopia” with other critics from other cities, to see how they experience the advocacy-vs-objectivity and local-vs-cosmopolitan “conflicts of interest,” if conflicts they are. (And I’ll also be using a format drawn directly from some other Torontopian culture, namely Darren O’Donnell’s work, but more on that later.) I’m even more excited about the conference as a whole, from Jonathan Lethem’s closely related keynote on participatory music culture, to the culture-vs-politics papers of Sasha Frere-Jones and Joshua Clover, Robert Bennett on jazz diplomacy to Daphne Carr on the retail origins of mall punk, to a paper about one of the church anthems of my youth, to Christgau’s lost 2007 Pazz & Jop essay, to the prehistory of hip-hop, to Woody Guthrie’s (anti)-environmentalism (being discussed by my old friend Carl Zimring, a rockin’ history prof making his EMP debut), to what Joanna Newsom was like in Grade 3 and other puzzles of the new folk music, to the mystery of Sade and a final-day plenary on (scroll down) whether music criticism has a future. And a whole lot of other brain-teasing shit that will make us all wish we could be three places at once. I’ll do my best to report it all here on Zoilus, but if you can be in Seattle from April 19-22, think about it - it’s all free to the public this year, and it’s basically the best music magazine in the world, performed live.


Facts: Some Are Tragic,
Some Tantalizing, Others Trivial

February 21st, 2007

The Sun City Girls in 2003: Charles Gocher, far right. (I think.)

The Sun City Girls’ primary non-Bishop brother, Charles Gocher, died on Monday of cancer at age 54, after a three-year struggle that was apparently kept private by Gocher’s choice. Gocher began playing drums with Richard and Alan Bishop in 1980 and was the most consistent other Sun City Girl since the avant-shamanistic band’s founding in 1981. It’s been reported elsewhere, but respects are due.

Pitchfork reports that Joanna Newsom is going to put out an EP featuring her live band with one new song (probably the song fans have been calling Shreddy or Colleen, of which you can hear about 30 badly recorded seconds here) and one track each from Ys and Milk-Eyed Mender. I’ve never seen the band, which features tambura, accordion, drums, percussion and back-up vocals, but by the accounts and samples I’ve heard, I’m inclined to prefer the Balkan-influenced arrangements over the album’s orchestral versions. It’s a shame that the EP’s only three songs. However, you can’t beat the title: Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band - just another sign of the current Second Coming of Springsteenism on the indie side of the street. (Cf., the new Arcade Fire album, the weird failed Springsteenisms of the Killers, the Blankket album, etc.) I am germinating theories about this, but they will have to wait. Oh, in final Newsom news, apparently there’s an interview between her and Miranda July in the March issue of Interview magazine. Interview pieces are usually pretty brief (I’m not excited the way I would be if the conversation were in Bomb magazine), but the notion of these two minds meeting still makes me dizzily extra-fond of planet Earth. No links yet, though I’m sure someone will have it scanned and online very soon. Meanwhile: Here is Newsom live with an orchestra in Glasgow, and here she is in an amazing performance of her version of a Robbie Burns song.

Not to get in a Pfork-news-biting loop here, but it’s hard not to jawdrop a bit at the idea of Carl Craig remixing southwestern-Ontario’s pride, the Junior Boys. Not to mention Kode9, Marsen Jules and others.

And I am unreasonably excited to discover belatedly that John Krasinski (aka Jim on The Office) is directing his own film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Horrible Hideous Men (oops). Several reasons why: It’s the first film of any DFW book; it’s kind of an unlikely choice (although I suppose it’s quite a bit more filmable than Infinite Jest or Broom of the System, which would require epic-style budgets and complicated visual effects); and it demonstrates that Krasinski probably is as smart as he seems from his acting, quite a distance from the sympathetic but kind of adrift everyman he plays. It’ll be all the more fun to watch The Office (the only American adaptation of a British TV show to outdo or even equal the original since All in the Family) and be able to say to myself, “Hey, that guy’s a David Foster Wallace fan.” I wonder what the soundtrack will be like? In Filter magazine in December, Krasinski chatted with The Shins about their mutual admiration. (Skip over Filter’s mostly pointless, irritating introduction.)

In even-less-important news, there is now a fan forum on the redesigned Mountain Goats website. Useful information gleaned thus far includes the fact that the new Extra Glenns album does exist in embryonic demo form, awaiting a point where Franklin and John will have time to do the recording; that point, however, does not look likely to come in 2007. I’ve mentioned that Franklin’s new album Civics, with/as the Human Hearts, is as good as, oh, eggplant parmigiana, haven’t I? Sample lyric: “You play Revolver, baby/ That’s when I start reaching for my culture.” If you need to know more than that - and the fact that the same song that contains that line quotes both Life During Wartime and Winter Wonderland - I can’t help you.

A less miscellaneous post is soon to come, I promise.

Some Tantalizing, Others Trivial">15 Comments

T-Dot Thrillz: Not Remotely Lazy Sunday
(With Bonus Hidden Theatre Review)

February 17th, 2007

Top row, Josh Reichmann (Jewish Legend), Kids on TV; middle row, Ame Henderson, Eve Egoyan; bottom row, Diplomatic Immunities, Eric Chenaux.

Don’t linger over brunch today! Don’t plan dinner with your mom! There’s just too much happening in Toronto. First, at 1:30 pm (sharp!), the latest instalment of the “Month of Sundays” series at the InterGalactic Arts Co-op in the Darling Building (96 Spadina, # 802) features performances by non-idiomatic choreographer Ame Henderson and non-idiomatic improvisors The Draperies (Eric Chenaux, Ryan Driver and Doug Tielli). Studio series like this one are a lovely opportunity to watch artists doing R&D, exploring ideas in beta stages and testing their boundaries. (It’s pay what you can, with a suggested price of $7.)

If you’d prefer to test a few boundaries of your own, at 2:30 pm is the first pay-what-you-can matinee of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s Diplomatic Immunities: The End, which runs till next Sunday at Buddies in Bad Times. The latest in Darren O’Donnell’s series of “social acupuncture” participatory-art projects is a documentary/live-reality-TV/talk show/performance that blurs the lines between staged entertainment and social encounter in engaging and curious ways. You can read several reviews online (as well as, in an amusingly pre-emptive bit of ju-jitsu, Now critic John Harkness’s reflection on being interviewed by the cast as part of the research for the show), although due to the audience-participation and semi-improvisational nature of it, every performance will be somewhat different. I went on opening night (Valentine’s Day) and had some of the same interestingly mixed feelings that I’ve had since the company started workshopping the format last year. (For those who’ve seen it, I’ll detail those feelings on the jump, here, after this post.) And sometime this week we’ll revisit D.I.’s excellent question: “What song do you want to be listening to at the end of the world?”

Elsewhere this afternoon, as every Sunday, the Now Lounge AIM Toronto improv series continues. I’m especially intrigued by Rob Clutton on bass in a duo with Tena Palmer on voice, but there’s plenty of other treats on the bill. That’s from 4 to 7 pm, and it’s $6. Meanwhile, at 6 pm, the ALL CAPS all-ages series, in its own appropriately youthfully enthusiastic words, “is going to blow the roof off of [the WhipperSnapper gallery] with three amazing high energy local bands: electro rave punk troupe Kids on TV, dance punk quintet Femme Generation and electro king Woodhands.” What could I possibly add to that? Only, “Woooo!”

But I won’t be there to woop in person, because at 7 pm there’s more alternative-talk-show madness in the Pick 7 performance/conversation series, this time (with a bit of a post-Valentine’s spirit) pairing two prominent artist couples - John Oswald and Holly Small, and Eve Egoyan and David Rokeby. No hint as to what the foursome is going to do (every Pick 7 show is different, the format reinvented by the participating artists), but given the amount of creative brainpower in that group, it’s bound to be compelling. That’s at the Hub 14 studio at 14 Markham St., and it’s $7. I’m really looking forward to this one.

And later at the Tranzac, if you hadn’t gotten enough of Eric Chenaux with the Draperies earlier, you’re in luck, because Eric is giving a solo performance in the Tranzac Main Hall at 10:30 pm, pwyc. I have belted out Eric’s praises at the top of my lungs frequently enough that I assume you don’t need a reprise, but here’s the way that tune goes, just in case. Because there can never in fact be enough Eric Chenaux. (Later: Actually, turns out that Eric’s fellow Draperies/Reveries/etceteries Doug Tielli and Ryan Driver are also playing solo sets at this show, which will be dandy too.)

And finally, if it’s Sunday, this must be Wavelength. Its first post-anniversary edition features the fine bill of the telepathically hooky Jewish Legend (Josh Reichmann, formerly of Tangiers, as this nice Toronto Star piece explains), the Waits-ian Basement Arms and the riot-billies of Terror Lake. Which is of course at 10 pm, pwyc, forever and ever, amen.

See you here there and everywhere. Phew.


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Beginning to See the Itty-Bitty Book Light

February 15th, 2007


It looks like the 33 1/3 series is becoming the Velvet Underground of publishing projects: Very few people buy the books, but everybody who reads them starts their own 33 1/3 book. They got 449 proposals in the latest round! Apparently the death of the album is occasioning a very crowded wake. I’m totally baffled by the people who propose writing books about albums that were released about 20 minutes ago (and that few people actually bought). What kind of perspective could anybody really bring at this point to Destroyer’s Rubies? Beck’s Guero? Ys? The fucking Decemberists? Fucking Illinois? Entire books? So cuckoo it’s kind of cute. A couple of people proposed Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, and one person Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance, which were high on my list of alternates back when I was pitching my book. I think the book about Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss might be pretty awesome, and so might the Monkees, Herb Alpert, Mekons, Donna Summer, John Cale, Richard Hell, Hole, Husker Du, PiL, Slayer, Carole King, Scott Walker, Queen, Young Marble Giants and Meatloaf books. The Devo, Kraftwerk, Public Enemy, NWA and Wu-Tang books feel pretty much mandatory. The jazz pitches are great but don’t feel like they belong. (Well, a case could be made for Bitches Brew.) I have a strong feeling I would not want to read anybody’s Metal Machine Music book, even though I like the album (it was pitched by three separate people). Likewise, I hope they don’t actually do a Sex Pistols book - there are three or four great ones already. Most impressively weird proposal: John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together. For selfish reasons, I don’t want them to pick that one - because it would so trump mine as the funniest album on the list.

Whatchoo doin’ tonight? I am at work, which means I am not going to Brampton to see Marc Ribot. Oh, no problem. He’s only one of my favourite fucking guitarists ever. (There’s a lot of swearing in this entry.) Please, somebody report back on how it was. (Ideally, say he had an off night.)

Heart-Shaped Boxes in Your Datebook
(Victo, Ubu and more)

February 14th, 2007

Carla Bozulich appears in May at the Victoriaville festival in Quebec. See second item below.

Like most music-fixated people, I am, deep down, a romantic. But whether I’m in a coupled or uncoupled state, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Overall it doesn’t work out for holidays to be themed around our most crucial emotions - it’s too much of a caricature. Valentine’s Day squeezes rituals of love into awkward shapes that are bound to disappoint, much the same way that Mother’s and Father’s Days feel a bit phony (making one’s love for one’s parents seem, no matter what, like a kind of token gesture) and New Year’s Eve is almost never a good party - “a good party,” to my mind, being high up on the list of universal human themes, if not quite up there with romance. (Consider how important those two subjects are to music - between them they must cover 90 per cent of all songs ever written. Can you correlate the level of musical interest in a subject directly to the level of human interest? I think there are formal qualities that prevent it from being a one-to-one correlation, but it’s still not a bad gauge.) Labour Day is kind of the opposite - it works because it’s a negation of the thing it’s celebrating, a day off work to recognize the value of work, a negation so complete (and convenient to various invested interests) that nobody talks about labour on Labour Day anymore. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is one of my favourite holidays, because gratitude actually is not as far to the forefront of our minds as it perhaps ought to be, so pausing to give thanks is an effective gesture - I wish North America, like some cultures, also had a feast of atonement. But pausing to recognize love/lust isn’t actually pausing at all; it’s doing what we normally, unceasingly, compulsively, irresistibly are driven to do every day - but with the expectation, the pressure that it will somehow be more so on Feb 14, which is a little drop of madness.

So that was my theory of holidays, which may be the bloggiest blog post I ever have blogged.

To compensate, here are a couple of bonbon-boxes of news you can use: The first announcement has been made of the programming for the Victoriaville festival of “musique actuelle,” and it’s a gobsmacking roster: Among others, it includes Anthony Braxton with his baker’s dozen band (aka the “12 (+1) tet”) as well as with his SuperCollider-based “Diamond Curtain Wall Trio,” John Zorn all by himself, “Acid Mothers Gong” (an alliance of Acid Mothers Temple and Gong (!)), the muthafuggin’ Melvins, the Larry Peacock project from Berlin, Carla Bozulich (ex-Geraldine Fibber whose Evangelista was one of the most unjustly overlooked records of 2006, including by me), the Magik Markers, Daniel Menche, a Kevin Blechdom/Eugene Chadbourne duet (!, again), the premiere of the remarkable quartet of UK pianist John Tilbury (who’s very high on my list of musicians to see) and violinist Stevie Wishart with Austrian programmer/turntablist Christof Kurzmann and bassist/percussionist/electronicist Werner Dafeldecker (of Polwechsel), and Keiji Haino with Merzbow! (If you don’t know some of these musicians, Simon Roy’s page has links.) I hadn’t even been planning to go to Victo this year - but I think I’m going to have to change my tune. The full schedule won’t be available till April, but meanwhile follow developments via Victo’s freshly minted official bilingual blog.

And I’m very excited to discover that the long-lost “Fontana years” albums by Pere Ubu are being reissued in March - this means The Tenement Year, Cloudland, Worlds in Collision and Story of My Life, all of them some of the most melodic, poppy music Pere Ubu ever made, and the first two, in particular, include many of my favourite Ubu songs - for testimony to which, see/hear my guest post about We Have the Technology on Said the Gramophone last summer. In fact, the reissue announcement gives me some satisfaction - I doubt my complaint in that post that a properly recorded version of the song seemed not to exist has anything to do with the revelation from Ubu Projex that the original Tenement Year “does not seem to have been mastered” until David Thomas and Paul Hamann finally mastered it last month. But I can pretend. As is Ubu’s way (and always to my slight trepidation), there will be new packaging, track substitutions, remixes and (this part is good) bonus tracks on each of the reissues, along with new liner notes from David Stubbs.

Finally, speaking of true love, I haven’t been able to stop looking at Cat & Girl related material since yesterday (this is a loop I fall into every few months). One of the strip’s web extras is a great flash app that lets you make your own Cat & Girl comic, and I started kicking around the web seeing what other fans had done. Most fall so far short of the original that it’s pathetic, but there were a few successes, including a pretty inspired C&G/Family Circus mashup. Did I make one? No way. I’m all for audience interaction, but I don’t feel fit to wash Ms. Gambrell’s pen nibs (or, I guess, her graphical stylus, but it doesn’t have the same ring). If you want to consider that my crush confession for V-Day, go right ahead.

(Victo, Ubu and more)">12 Comments

‘Well, Wake Up, Rip Van Torn!’

February 13th, 2007


Cat and Girl has a snappy answer to the question, “Why did the indie rocker listen to Justin Timberlake?” and then a snappier answer to its own reply. Oh, how I love Cat and Girl, the strip that in recent days has provided us with Strummer’s Law and the necessary adage, “Indie rock is a dead language,” among much more.

In the exact opposite way, I was pleasantly surprised to find Sasha Frere Jones writing about the Arcade Fire. The first half of that piece is remarkably stilted, as if he’s being forced to do something against his will, and when it loosens up in the second half, we realize what it is: His genuine liking of the band requires him to pass up making mock of indie for once - well, except for that one move, which has become very, very tired, of quoting an overenthusiastic fan from an MP3 blog as if that person were legitimately representative of the foolishness of the listenership of the artists in question. The bogusness of the trick is obvious when you consider how condescending and snotty it would be to do the same in writing about, say, Justin Timberlake - how easy it would be to pull a few grammatically tenuous lines of over-the-top gushing from some teenager on a message board, and how cheap and irrelevant to the music. It is the kind of thing rockist critics do all the time - quoting something idiotic a fan says in line in an attempt to prove the shallowness of celebrity x, y or z. Let the record show that this method is no less wack when it’s applied to the Arcade Fire and the Shins. (The Arcade Fire play Massey Hall May 15 & 16, by the way - tickets go on sale Feb 23, at noon, via Massey Hall box office and Ticketmaster, for about eight minutes.)

In Winnipeg on the weekend at the New Music Network conference, composer and critic Kyle Gann gave a talk about “intellectual climate change” and its effect on the art and business of criticism. I haven’t had time to take it all in yet but may discuss more later.

Finally, I found my colleague Robert Everett-Green’s piece on the Dixie Chicks this morning disappointingly cynical. Robert seems to underestimate what happened to the band as a result of their off-hand comment in London - a virtual blackout of their music on American country radio, record burnings, the works. No, it wasn’t a pointed political remark. But isn’t free speech chilled even more effectively when your casual comments are policed as intensely as your statements of position? The Dixie Chicks were at the time the most popular act in country music, selling millions upon millions of albums, and now for most purposes they are no longer members of the genre, and their sales are about half what they were. Yes, of course they and their management have applied spin and damage control, and they’ve been rehabilitated as a pop act (but no longer a country one), but mainly because GW Bush has fallen from favour. But what happened four years ago was much more than “laughably skimpy.” It was very much in the Patriot Act spirit, which is why someone like Barbara Kopple might think it has a significance that goes beyond the “loveable performing moms.” (As one might know if one watches the movie rather than “a trailer.”) Robert’s piece also underestimates their work’s substance - he notes Goodbye Earl as a semi-political (but “playful”) song but overlooks the fact that at the time of the scandal their hit was a subtle protest song, Travellin’ Soldier. There’s a general dismissiveness (of country, for one thing) in the piece, including the unfavourable comparison to Neil Young. While Young’s protest songs may be more outspoken - and, yes, not so welcome on the Grammys - in most ways they’re an entirely expected and safe thing for the guy who wrote Ohio, for freak’s sake, to do. Whereas the Chicks were breaking expectations. It was sad to read this piece and feel they’re still being punished for it.

(Later: A New York Times’ editorial, surprisingly, gets closer to nailing what was galling about the Grammys’ DixChix celebrations.)


The Songwriting Monster
(AKA, Best Mountain Goats Interview Ever)

February 9th, 2007

Frankenstein & Igor: The original Alpha Couple?

Gratitude to Frank for pointing me to this John Darnielle interview about horror/monster films. It’s all so much smarter and (despite being very much about childhood monster fixations) less puerile than the average rock interview. Reading it, I instantly resolved never to interview musicians about music again. Talk to them about what else matters to them (and of course you need to do a lot of research to figure out what that may be), hook it back into music, and you get revelations. Like this re: Tallahassee:

I think a realistic portrayal of an exploding relationship is more likely to resemble a Hammer Horror film, or a Takashi Miiki dream sequence, than a Robert Altman one.

And especially this one:

I started writing songs for a new album last month, and what should pop up immediately but more monsters in various aspects. I think writing songs is kind of a monstrous activity, really - that when the Frankenstein monster yells at the flames and waves his hands to get them away, he’s actually singing a song about the fire. That is how I think of the whole process of writing, kinda.

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Joyous Occasions

February 8th, 2007


Veda Hille has been using her blog machine to post tracks from the out-of-print Silver cd, as well as a version of one of her best songs with a seriously kickass band, and a demo of a new one from her yet-to-be-recorded next disc. Gather ye rosebuds.

The big doin’s this weekend are of course the Wavelength Seventh Anniversary doin’s. (Though the Vandermark 5 show Friday at the Music Gallery should not go unmentioned, either.) Both Now and Eye mark the occasion and detail the proceedings, which include a shitload of great Torontopic music. I’m very rueful that I cannot make it to tonight’s panel discussion - please let me know if it’s recorded or YouTubed or anything. Meanwhile, happy birthday, WL - the initialism stands for “We Love.”

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Pirate Snit: It’s About the Internet, Stupid

February 8th, 2007


Hollywood lobbyists are apparently gaining ground in their campaign to use trumped-up stories about rampant Canadian DVD piracy to force Canadian copyright reform. The real goal, it seems blatant, is to pressure us to fall into lockstep with the U.S. copy-law regime, despite the evident fact that Canadians collectively have a different set of values around intellectual property, just as we do around health care. Don’t let the flashy sideshow of a couple thousand shitty camcordered DVDs distract you, or your Member of Parliament, from the larger principle.

(And just when another patch of the landscape was improving…)

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Most Hilarious P&J Ballot of 2007

February 7th, 2007

Right here.

Every year Glenn McDonald rates voters by “Critical Alignment,” which indicates how close a given critic is to the final results, ie., how closely they mirror the consensus. (He did this earlier for Jackin’ Pop.) It’s a pretty fun exercise. If you leave out protest votes - which you can spot by their No. 1 votes for Hinder, which is an ILM in-joke - Charles Aaron, who is so old-school I cannot even find an applicable link, is the most typical of all critics, and Tom Ewing, who put Paris Hilton at no. 1, the most atypical. (Toronto’s Phil Dellio actually consensed even less, but that’s because he only votes for singles, so his ballot’s a scratch.) Aaron’s the music editor of Spin and Ewing one of the original music bloggers as well as inventor of ILM - so much for Chris Ott’s claim that the Internet is increasing conformity.


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