Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for June, 2007

Going to the Source

June 28th, 2007

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SoundProof magazine, a previously unknown-to-me Toronto venture that apparently has big ambitions to expand across the continent, keeps it proudly local in their new feature, “The Top 20 Toronto Albums Ever,” based partly on a very patchy survey of critics & bloggers including myself. Aside from the Barenaked Blegghies and some picks of dubious Torontosity (throwing Neil Young in at no. 2 is only the most obvious instance), I won’t nitpick their choices: Some might quibble with putting both Final Fantasy albums in the list, but predictably not me. But I was most grateful to see that Main Source’s Breaking Atoms was on the roster, because I’d never known about that terrific 1991 disc’s T-dot hookup - I was living in New York when it came out and thought of it as an NYC product, unaware that the two members who weren’t the Large Professor were Torontonians. (Further background here.) And here I’d thought the lovable but not exactly A-list Dream Warriors were Toronto’s only semi-substantial contribution to golden-era hip-hop. Breaking Atoms is a stone classic.

Here, for the record(s), (sorry Michael), is the list I sent them. I ended up choosing not to rank them but to list them off in chronological order, which affected what ended up on my list. You’ll note that the ’90s are a bit of a dry patch - I’m not, for example, the Rheostatics fan that many people are, and Toronto was pretty heavily grungey through much of that period. One big oversight (aside from Main Source): I’m embarrassed to say that I overlooked Fifth Column, though I’m not sure which album I’d choose - and maybe it would be the JD’s Homocore compilation instead. I also lament the lack of jazz, though it would be hard to settle on one or two particular albums there. Some improvisors are represented in other guises.

What would be your picks?

Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations (1955)
Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy, self-titled (1970, re-released 2004)
The Four Horsemen, Canadada (1971)
Gordon Lightfoot, Gord’s Gold (1975)
Bruce Cockburn, Humans (1980)
Jane Siberry, The Walking (1987)
Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America (1988)
Handsome Ned, The Ballad of Handsome Ned (posthumous, 1989)
Bob Wiseman, Sings Wrench Tuttle: In Her Dream (semi-pseudonymous, 1989)
John Oswald, Plunderphonics (samizdat-autonomous, 1989)
Guh, self-titled (1996)
Michelle McAdorey, Whirl (1999)
Royal City, Alone at the Microphone (2001)
The Hidden Cameras, Ecce Homo (2002)
Blocks Toronto Compilation (aka Toronto is Great) (2002)
Barcelona Pavilion, It’s the Barcelona Pavilion EP (2003)
Les Mouches, You’re Worth More to Me than 1,000 Christians (2004)
Bad Bands Revolution compilation (2006)
Final Fantasy, He Poos Clouds (2006)
Eric Chenaux, Dull Lights (2006)

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Feel-Good Music For Fucked-Up People

June 27th, 2007

A reminder that Eugene Chadbourne is doing a solo show tonight at the Tranzac. Here’s a little clip for the uninitiated, but it’s only a portion of what Dr. Eugene gets up to, which include sheer noise on the electric rake and stringed skull, twisted-roots country on the banjo and shreddin’ on the homebuilt electric guitar…

Oh, and here’s a little ’80s Schockabilly for good measure:

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Live, Local and in Lo-Res

June 26th, 2007

The Toronto Sun today has a candid and compelling profile of one of the local music scene’s more colourful characters, impresario Dan Burke, as well as (even better) very nicely filmed video clips of the interview. Topics: Confessions, crack, and Canada’s colonial complex.

As well, YouTube has clips from Tomboyfriend’s performance at Pride festivities on the weekend (and some from earlier shows) on NoMediaKings’ channel.

Notes on Taste:
This Year’s Winner for ‘Most Withering Venn Diagram’

June 25th, 2007

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Someone sent me a link to this t-shirt design on Diesel Sweeties. I laughed in spite of myself.

So Ex-cited

June 24th, 2007

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The guitarist in Vampire Weekend, whoever he is, is really good and has listened very closely to African township jive. I like the violinist too. The rest, the New England Paul Simon-meets-David Byrne vocals, etc.? Not. Sorry, Ryan. But he’s been championing some great stuff lately, as usual - I’m pretty taken with Kickball, and Moviola is known quality.

But random MySpace bands are not what we are here to talk about. We are here to talk about last night and The Ex - a band whose name I’ve never realized before this moment could denote “the ex,” as in ex-boyfriend, ex-wife. I just took it as a generalized name of protest. But on the evidence of last night, no way are they my ex-band. Still my greatest love of live music in the world. Even without a bass player - an absence that makes a difference to the physical dynamics on stage but, strikingly, is not at all a problem for tonal balance, as Terrie and Andy just fill in the bottom end of their own sounds and Katrin’s bass drum kicking is remarkably powerful enough to fill in the low end. As for the sound itself, I can hardly describe - at the end of the show, I said, “I wish I could do something in the world as well as they do that.” Their sense of polyrhythm, of dynamics and drama, is simply nonpareil, and GW Sok remains the best white European rapper on Earth - he did a solo rally-speech/poem that sounded like a freestyle flight whose topic just happened to be international power relations. I was gratified to hear a couple of tunes from my favourite Ex-era, the Tom Cora years, with Katrin leading on Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek and Sok on the indelible State of Shock (one of the most linguistically sophisticated songs ever written, with an A-B-C-D-A-B-C-D rhyme scheme, a critique of post-Wall Berlin, and mid-section verses that condense the whole song down to an instant-replay recap by using the end-words of all the preceding verses as text: “Shock-said-blank-down/ Block-bad-tank-town…”). But even better than that was the following song that used a Fela Kuti-style groove on the verses and then broke into a chorus that was kinda straight out of the Clash playbook, then repeated the pattern again. As usual, Sok seemed like the most earnest man in the world, wringing his hands as he danced in a kind of worrywart-OCD ritual motion, and then pulling out the megaphone to shout his exhortations, and Terrie and Andy, while visibly quite a lot older than they looked when I last saw them five or six years ago, still joyfully jump around the stage and lock horns with the heads of their guitars like improvising rhinos. They really make most other bands in the world seem like they don’t get the point.

Afterwards there was a rumour that the band was going to head over to one of Bloor Street’s Ethiopian dance bars, and we tried to follow, but by the time we got there it was 2 a.m. and the doorman was very sternly firm about not allowing anyone else in. The music upstairs sounded like a shower of arcweld sparks. Or maybe we were just still in a heightened state.

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Just Flew in From Facebook…

June 22nd, 2007

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… and boy, are my proprioceptive ego-self boundaries tired. That thing is a mindfuck. As you all know. I am late to the party, which I now realize is kind of like a whole second Internet. So that’s what “2.0″ means. My friend Lauren says Facebook is “a TV show about a town.” Which is true, except that it is a town where all surfaces are wrapped in mirrors, which makes the TV show overwhelming to watch (and watch watching itself). (Btw, Lauren’s three-day art show begins tonight. See the gig guide for details.)

As a result of all the distraction, many things to catch up with:

Fastest case of a Cat & Girl comic coming true in real world ever: Metal-addiction disability claims.

Next record you need to hear: Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators. “The Soul Investigators” is the best backup-band name in neo-soul if not in soul of all time. It reminds me of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, as well as that Woody Allen joke about cheating on his metaphysics exam by looking into the soul of the boy next to him.

Mike Watt interviews Tony Maimone (bassist for Pere Ubu and many other bands over the years).

Devo remain the smartest.

The Diodes reunion is documented on YouTube.

Brooklyn’s Dirty Projectors are doing a Pierre-Menard-writes-Don-Quixote-stylee exercise with Black Flag’s Damaged, under the title Rise Above - that is, to be clear, Dave Longstreth reproduced the album from memory, song by song, without reference to the source. All on acoustic guitar I think. (See comments.) Notable for all Oulipian-inclined rock fans.

Which makes me wonder: Has there ever been a rock/pop Oulipo subsection, official or not? There should be. Along with the DPs, I nominate Pyramid Culture as founding members - their constraints include all members being female and having three names, all stage costumes being primary colours, and, most importantly, all songs being non-fiction. On their upcoming album, titled 100% True, I hear that all songs will appear in alphabetical order. The disc will be launched together with Brian Joseph Davis’s book/CD The Definitive Host in Toronto at Mercer Union on Aug. 3.

This weekend in Toronto, the big musical newses (for those of us for whom Pride is not the big news) are Extermination Night tonight and The Ex tomorrow, but I didn’t want to leave unmentioned the remarkable-sounding tribute to Carole King’s Tapestry that’s taking place at the Boat on Sunday, with a different artist/group covering each song on the 1971 album, whose sheer number of classic tracks is kind of astounding to behold. Anticipated highlights include ZZ Sharrock doing I Feel the Earth Move, Sandro Perri perforing It’s Too Late, Nif-D playing (the Gilmore Girls theme song) Where You Lead and Katie Stelmanis closing up with (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (which was a Goffin-King tune, though Aretha recorded it first). A waaaay better prospect than the actual released 1995 tribute album, although that one did have Aretha herself, and the Bee Gees - it’s really hard to live down the one-two punch of Richard Marx and the Blessid Union of Souls. (Yes, I swear, they spell “Blessed” with an “i”. I believe there’s some law on the books that makes this grounds for being tied to a stake under a full moon and being torn apart by weasels, right?)

I was going to make a list of picks for the Toronto Jazz Festival, but you can look to the sidebar and the gig guide for that, for now. Also here are my Globe and Mail colleague JD Considine’s choices, and some my friends at Eye.

Otherwise, though, I am pretty out of it. Any major controversies happening I should know?

HRC
(Hillary Rodham Clinton
and/or Her Royal Celine)

June 20th, 2007

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L to R: Denise Rich, Bill & Hillary Clinton; Celine Dion in Air Canada uniform.

No media have called yet to get my author-itative opinion on Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s choice of a Celine Dion tune as her 2008 theme song: I guess it would help if the book had been published (or for that matter, if the manuscript were finished). But meanwhile a few bird’s-eye notes on the story:

- The choice was the result of a faux-American Idol-style contest on Clinton’s website. Which reinforces a single lesson: Celine is the Platonic form of the American Idol contest winner. If you hold an open-slate Idol sort of thing, Celine will always win. This can be confirmed by a survey of Idol-style contests around the world, including Iraq Star (an actual TV program, where the prize is, and I’m not kidding, getting out of Iraq): Along with the matinee idols of their own culture, everyone’s other influence is always Celine. Even when she’s not on the ballot. (Celine was added as a write-in favourite - wonder what fan community coordinated that? Anyone who knows, drop me a line.)

- In any case, the evocation of Idol by a (leading) presidential candidate is pretty entertaining, an arguably risky reminder to the public of a more ideal version of democracy, or at least what democracy could viscerally feel like. And it’s a contest that no one has ever been able to say was fixed by powerful interest groups - even though it’s actually a corporate creation, of course, and has its own narrowly defined scope of permissible ideologies and qualifications, the Idol process still rouses a more participatory, engaged spirit than U.S. politics have managed in quite a while. Although, like American presidencies, it peaked early: Kelly Clarkson is the Abe Lincoln of Idol-spawned pop stars.

- For conspiracy theorists: There’s a shadowy kind of link between Hillary and Celine: Two songs on Celine’s Let’s Talk About Love were written by Denise Rich, the songwriter-socialite who got embroiled along with her ex-husband Marc in just a teensy bit of controversy towards the end of the last term of Bill Clinton, when Denise’s campaign contributions to Hillary apparently helped Marc get a pardon for tax evasion. The web was tangled enough to ensnare Hillary’s brother Tony and the scandal hasn’t entirely died. (For those who nod off unless there are really salacious angles, here’s one.) Clintons-haters might leap to the conclusion that there was a fix in on this contest, but since the chosen song is not actually a Rich production, but a song written for an Air Canada ad campaign, you would be overreaching. (However, this kinda stuff is why the Clintons should think twice about blithely inviting comparisons between themselves and a Mafia family.)

- Insert Lettermanesque “10 Ways that Hillary Clinton is Like Air Canada” list here.

- To be more serious for a moment, the result can be read as a wad of demographic tea leaves at the bottom of Hillary’s teacup: The chosen song was by far the most “soccer mom” of the options, pointedly bypassing the civil-rights-era echoes of the Temptations, the more youth-oriented Smashmouth (purportedly Bill C.’s pick, but in general a weird case of wishful thinking and cool hunting that missed the mark), and the overly politically aware U2.

- For many potential Clinton voters - especially working and middle-class women of all ages, single mothers, new immigrants, exurban families, and many more - the Celine choice is going to be a much more sympathetic and welcomed selection than you would think if you went by the media and the blogophere, which predictably went right into mockery mode. As I argue at length in my book, critics and pundits are, by and large, exactly in the place in the culture least disposed to understanding Celine’s appeal, and have always, as they are this week, stood by and jeered while Celine went on to be embraced by hundreds of millions of fans around the world. At least for once Hillary’s managed a genuinely populist move here, rather than backing away into the neutral zone her handlers seem to prefer. Although maybe that’s because she doesn’t make a very convincing populist, which leads to our next problem.

- The song itself, as usual in Celine’s English oeuvre, extends a cliched metaphor (flying) to improbable lengths over the course of a few verses, but clips its wings to avoid the danger of getting too poetic, high-toned or metaphysical by relentlessly speaking in terms of “You and I” (as the title has it), which the Clinton campaign no doubt hopes strikes a tone of intimacy - it’s between Hillary and the voter, working together - but unfortunately bears with it a kind of individualism and selfishness that is the downside of the Clintons’ image. Once again, the “You and I” can be Bill and Hillary, in their opaque, power-seeking dyad, cased within a marital arrangement that is a mystery to the rest of us: “You and I/ Were meant to fly/ Higher than the clouds/ We’ll sail across the sky.” Way to confirm the perception that you’re incapable of being down-to-earth, HRC.

- In most contexts, the use of this kind of privatized-dream language works for Celine, because it suggests that her music belongs in a domestic context, relating to the daily life and struggles and aspirations of her fans. And because Celine herself never seems to have any real ambition except to submit her voice to the approval of a wider and wider public, to be the conduit for a kind of global exchange of broadbrush empathy - oh, and to buy a lot of shoes - it doesn’t seem so self-important (except from the POV of committed Celine haters). But give that same message to Hillary and the tonality shifts quite a bit: She would have been better off with a song more like Bill’s most memorable campaign anthem, Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop, which works in a kind of direct-address second person, an exhortation followed by a reassurance (”don’t stop/ thinking about tomorrow/ don’t stop/ it’ll soon be here!”), which welcomes in the crowd much more, serves as much more of a rallying point rather than a breathless invocation of destiny.

- But then, that’s the difference between Bill and Hillary, isn’t it? His ambition always seemed to involve reaching out to touch (a few too many) people; her ambition always seems much more self-regarding and insular. (It’s a kind of gender paradox in a way.) The Celine choice might be hoped to “soften” her image more than a rock-and-roll song would, and maybe that would work for a straight-shooting, tough-talking kind of woman, but for Hillary, who always seems just one blurry degree out-of-focus, what bleeds over are some of Celine’s less-attractive qualities - her stiffness and awkwardness and melodrama - but not her common touch.

(Hillary Rodham Clinton
and/or Her Royal Celine)">7 Comments

Handsome Memories

June 12th, 2007

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A guest post from Team Zoilus stalwart Erella Ganon, about a vital figure in Toronto music history who will be honored with a honky-tonk hootenanny this weekend. You can hear some Handsome Ned music at his memorial MySpace page. - C.W.

Many years ago, starting in the early ’80s, I had a regular radio show on Toronto campus-community station CKLN-FM. My dear friend, the musician Handsome Ned, was a frequent guest. We’d play all kinds of things and gossip on about alleged “borrowed” lyrics or melody lines, tracing them from one popular or obscure song to another. Since Ned always wore a cowboy hat and played country and western music at the Cameron House on Queen Street almost every day at the time, people assumed that is where his knowledge began and ended. But Ned was an army kid, who was born in Germany and travelled a lot, picking up excellent useless information en route.

One thing he and I shared was our love of a good story. Venturing into all kinds of unusual musical genres, we’d play Flipper, Violent Femmes, Bay City Rollers or Aka Pygmy singing songs about their love of honey and tell tales of the connections we’d imagine.

At the time, CKLN’s “promise of performance” allowed us to have virtually every kind of music on the air - except country. It seems preposterous now. I cannot remember why it was, but the country station in Hamilton was powerful and unhappy about our audience. Eventually, because of some my carefully worded proposals, we managed to get our friend, David Barnard, the program director to look the other way and grant Ned his own radio show because he was so fond of the undeniably charismatic Ned. However, there was one caveat: He wasn’t to play any country. This became a running joke between us. Ned played honkytonk, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly and everything in between: We weren’t to call it country, so it was anything but.

The defining lines between one genre of music and another were far less flexible then than they are now, but Ned wooed us, seducing us and transforming us into ardent fans of whatever song struck his fancy. He was not someone to argue with (though I frequently tested that). His brother Jimmy, Ed Mowbray, Mark from Pages Bookstore and I had our birthdays in the same week, so we celebrated together. A few days ago, on my birthday, we raised a glass for Ned, as we’ve always done.

Ned was born on his older brother Jimmy’s birthday. His parents said, “Son, for your birthday, you can choose a name for your new baby brother.” Thrilled, Jimmy decided to name him after his hero, someone he thought about daily, someone who had a big impact on his life, motivating him to no end: The baby would be granted the name “Batman.” Oops! Ned’s parents hadn’t considered that one. Telling him they knew too many other children named Batman, they decided to grant the next best thing: The boy would be christened Robin.

Robin “Ned” Masyk died Jan. 10, 1987. He was an important person on Queen Street. Kind of an unofficial ambassador, the peripatetic troubadour sparked an interest in country music that inspired many musicians that came after him. June 4, 2007, would have been Ned’s 50th birthday. To celebrate his life and love of all things musical, his friends are gathering on Saturday night, June 16, at one of his favourite watering holes, the Horseshoe. Expect to see these fabulous former Ned collaborators: Mary Margaret O’Hara, Steve Koch, John Borra, Cleave Anderson, Teddy Fury, Lori Yates, Johnny Macleod, Jim Masyk, Steve Leckie (of the Viletones), Screamin’ Sam, Tony Kenny (of the Razorbacks), Emily Weedon, Heather Morgan, Michael Brennon, Scott B, Joanne Mackell and others performing at the event. It also will feature the re-release of the The Name is Ned CD, as well as a preview of the upcoming Handsome Ned documentary film and a limited-edition line of Ned t-shirts.

Some of the money raised that night will pay for the design and installation of a memorial plaque on the side of the Cameron House. That’s where I was on the night Ned died. Herb Tookey, one of the Cameron’s owners, and I were the only people that knew Ned was dead at the time. A cop heard it on the police radio and came in to tell us unofficially. We had to keep it a secret until Ned’s family was notified. As people asked us if we knew where Ned was, and whether he was going to play later that night or at a speakeasy, we kept our lips still, stealing moments to break into tears and resume composure until word was out at the end of the night. It was a series of impossibly difficult tasks.

- Erella Ganon

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Polaris Express

June 11th, 2007

Today was the deadline for first-round nominations for the 2007 Polaris Prize, the second annual $20,000 award for best Canadian album of the year (released between June 1, 2006 and May 31, 2007). Here were my nominations, which may or may not remain the same as my final vote in the second round:

1. Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye
2. Frog Eyes, Tears of the Valedictorian
3. Eric Chenaux, Dull Lights
4. Feuermusik, Goodbye, Lucille
5. Drumheller, Wives

Regrettably I couldn’t also vote for: Fucked Up, Hidden World; Black Ox Orkestar, Nisht Azoy; Hidden Cameras, Awoo; Jon-Rae & the River, Knows What You Need ; Do Make Say Think, You, You’re a History in Rust; Tim Hecker, Harmony in Ultraviolet; The Silt, Cat’s Peak; Arcade Fire, Neon Bible ; Joel Plaskett Emergency, Ashtray Rock; Tradition, Tradition; Secret Mommy, Plays; Julie Doiron, Woke Myself Up; Swan Lake, Beast Moans; Omnikrom, Trop Banane; Abdominal, Escape from the Pigeon Hole; and a few others I’m forgetting.

Still, not quite as strong a field as last year, methinks.

The Glitchpranos: When the Fat Lady Hiccups

June 11th, 2007

Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen the final Sopranos yet, and care, don’t read this entry. Here’s a picture to shield your delicate eyes.

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Now: Amid all the miffledment about the conclusion of The Sopranos, the shock non-ending feels better and better to me the longer it sets in: Doomed Tony eating with his now-clearly-doomed children (AJ to low-level mob parasitism, Meadow to corporate mob lawyerdom at best, neo-Carmela mob-wife status at worst), and the rest of Tony’s life, be it short or long, to be spent looking over his shoulder in fear that one or another form of justice will find him, and justice may come in the next split-second or it may never come, because that’s how justice is. But the kids not escaping is the real ending - saving them was really the only honourable motivation Tony ever had.

But there’s one point I haven’t heard made: That last little gimmick, when the screen cut to black dead air before going to credits, reminded me of nothing so much as the “glitch” electronic music of the late ’90s, most memorably made by Oval - an entire genre of music whose premise was to make you think that your CD player was malfunctioning, and out of that to consider, as a kind of sonic sculpture, the emotional and aesthetic effects of digital degradation, of the fact that data is always becoming corrupt, to undermine the trust we invest in technology, and so forth.

Chase’s mischievous move was a similar kind of digital techno-prank: Knowing that the worst nightmare for most Sopranos viewers would be to have their cable cut out or their Tivo/DVR timing fail in the last 10 seconds of the eight-year journey of the series that revolutionized television, he simulated exactly that - a weird kind of participatory art in which he got millions of people to yell “fuck! no!” at their televisions in synchrony. But it was also a way of foregrounding the medium in the final second, to deliver a secondary message to the existential one of the actual narrative ending - a reminder to an over-invested public that there is no Tony, there is no Carmela, there is no diner, that this is all artifice, an imaginary community mediated by the corporate and technological mechanisms of television and cable-HBO in particular. If that were the whole point it would be cheap, but along with the more substantial - but also, in its way, classic and narratologically conventional - diminuendo of the actual scene, it’s simply an extra kick, a twist, a fold, a glitch, a skip, a poltergeist in the datapipe. The coda of The Sopranos, scored for you by Journey and Stockhausen and Cage. Rest in flux, T.


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