Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for December, 2008

Wavelength, Our Funny Valentine

December 23rd, 2008

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Jessie Stein of The Luyas, playing Wavelength 450 on Feb. 14.

Wavelength 450: February 12-15, 2009.

It’s always exciting when the lineup for the annual anniversary festival of Toronto’s Wavelength music series is announced, and today turned out to be that day. This year Wavelength turns 9 with some lineups awesome enough to make me imagine I still like rock shows. All hype supplied by Wavelength, not me, but I would vouch for most of the descriptions.

Thursday Feb. 12, doors at 7 pm,
Music Gallery at St. George the Martyr Church, 197 John St.

Timber Timbre (Ontario Gothic murder ballads, cd release show), Ghost Bees (Halifax: telepathic twins’ trip-folk transport), Dorit Chrysler (New York: world-renowned Theremin player and avant-pop vocalist).

Thursday Feb. 12, after-show at 11 pm,
Cameron House, 408 Queen W.

The Diableros (College Street: psych-rock steamrollers), Loitering Heroes (Trinity-Bellwoods: jazz-fueled, jangle-pop poetry).

Friday Feb. 13, doors 9 pm,
Wrongbar, 1279 Queen W.

Slim Twig (Toronto: Concrete rockabilly pop pleasure, T.O.’s Best Pop-Rock Act according to NOW magazine), Bonjay (Toronto: Dancehall electro-pop, check out that TV on the Radio cover!), Child Bite (Detroit, massively heavy no-wave soul quintet), The Magic (Guelph/Toronto: blue-eyed soul brothers and sister), DJ Benjamin Boles

Saturday Feb. 14, doors 8 pm
Polish Combatants Hall, 206 Beverley St.

$100 (Toronto: new urban folk heroes, recently sold out shows at the Silver Dollar & Dakota Tavern), Brides (Guelph/Toronto: noise-addicted no-wave warriors), Hooded Fang (The Annex: arch indie pop with a Can-lit fetish), The Luyas (Montreal: dreamy fireside pop featuring Jessie Stein with members of Bell Orchestre & Torngat), Element Choir (Parkdale: Christine Duncan’s double-digit conducted-improv choir), DJs Greg Ipp & Ian Worang

Sunday Feb 15, doors 9 pm
Sneaky Dee’s, 431 College St.

Foxfire (Toronto: disco-sleaze version of Broken Social Scene), I Am Robot and Proud (Beaconsfield Village: Shaw-Han Liem’s mood-boosting electronic pop, now backed by a live band, big in Japan!), Thank You (Baltimore: Thrill Jockey Records, instrumental art-punk madness), Mi Ami (San Francisco: Quarterstick Records, fuzzed-out space-dub trio, members of Black Eyes), DJ Babylon Telecom.

With your host, Doc Pickles. Projections by General Chaos Visuals. Admission for each night is $10 (or pay what you can), at the door only. More info at the Wavelength website.

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Immodest Proposals: Pop Conf and 33 1/3

December 17th, 2008

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Agenda Item 1: Although it’s officially past the deadline, you can probably still sneak in a bid on giving a presentation at this spring’s 8th annual Pop Conference at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. This year’s model? “Dance Music Sex Romance: Pop & The Body Politic.” So far as a member of the programming committee, the paper I am most excited to have encouraged is one about sex sounds in music and how deeply unsexy that usually is. (Full exemption granted to Jane Birkin c. 1969, because.) Send proposals of up to 250 words and a 50-word bio to Eric Weisbard at EricW@empsfm.org and Eric.Weisbard@gmail.com. Right this minute! You are already late!

Agenda Item 2. You have two more weeks, though, before you are too late to submit proposals for the latest call from the 33 1/3 series of books on albums (which includes my book, see left). I won’t reiterate all the details here - you can read ‘em at that last link - but I encourage my Canadian readers especially to go for the gustibus here. I’ve already caught wind of a Metal Machine Music proposal brewing in the kitchen of a particularly terrific venerable Toronto critic, among others.

But if you are at all stymied for ideas, here are my two nominees for records I would write about if I were ever going to write another 33 1/3 book, which I’m not: 1) local hero John Oswald’s founding manifesto of mashup, Plunderphonics (aka “Girl Talk is 20 years late to the party”) (and btw, I’m sure you’d have Oswald’s full cooperation on that project); or, 2) The classic K-Tel compilation Goofy Greats, a fantastic opportunity to analyze the nature and quiddities of the novelty song, of which Goofy Greats is one of the more formidable and, I would hazard, influential assemblages ever known to man.

You’re welcome!

Cramming It In
(End o’ Week Notes)

December 12th, 2008

I caught Sweden’s Love Is All at the Horseshoe last night and was pleasantly surprised - the tracks I’d heard before seemed kind of smushily produced but live the band was very sharp and catchy: reminiscent at times, thanks to pixie-perfect lead singer Josephine Olausson, of the Sugarcubes in their heyday, but with No Wave saxophone, Ex-ish guitar slashes and maybe just a tad too much ska for my liking. Unfortunately due to an unavoidable proofreading incident, I missed the buzzed-about Crystal Stilts - I’d unfairly dismissed them for awhile because “crystal” was feeling like 2008’s “wolf” (a joke the band themselves made in Eye this week), but when even Tim Perlich (the “Mikey” of Toronto music crits, as in “he hates everything”) gave them sympathetic coverage (and tipped me off to the Vivian Girls connection), I took notice. But alas. Reports from the floor of the ‘Shoe were good though. I’ll try harder next time.

Frank Chromewaves presents the most elegant graphic case for a top-10 list I’ve ever seen: emblazoning all his chosen artists on gorgeous commemorative plates. In general, end-of-year lists and my love-hate of them have been very distracting this week.

Speaking of graphics, the funny-infographic-music-commentary trend has collided and melded with the obsessive annotation of Destroyer lyrics with the release of the Destroyer’s Rubies statistical wallchart poster. It sure seems like something I ought to own (given the evidence against me) but the $87 (incl. shipping and handling) price tag is a true test.

The other most batshit thing I’ve discovered lately: A blog that obsesses on The Hills and free-associates in a way that can’t quite be described as cultural criticism, but can’t quite not, at really incredible length - this week, for instance, discussing the possibilities of a Heidi-and-Spencer spinoff show within the framework of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

And a treat: A new Pere Ubu download, free, from March of Greed, their collaboration with the Brothers Quay, although the latter aren’t really in evidence in this example. (You can see it here.)

I’m sure I had something else to tell you.

(End o’ Week Notes)">6 Comments

Odetta: Another One Done Gone

December 3rd, 2008

The original one-named diva, known as Odetta Holmes when she was born in Birmingham in 1930 and later by her married name as Odetta Gordon but most of her life simply as Odetta, died yesterday of heart failure in New York, after a couple of weeks in hospital and a couple of years of failing health. I missed her last time she came through Toronto, but saw her at Hugh’s Room a couple of years ago, for the first time, and feel fortunate to have breathed the same air as those incredible lungs for a couple of hours as she knocked out her classic covers of Leadbelly and other folk, blues and gospel staples.

But Odetta, truth be told, wasn’t exactly a “folk singer” in the sense people in her heyday usually meant it - although she was among the first, alongside the Weavers and Harry Belafonte, to usher in the folk-revival boom in the mid-1950s (and all the McCarthy-era paranoia and struggle that accompanied it). Though born in Alabama she was raised in Los Angeles and trained in opera singing as a teenager and then entered musical theatre. What she did with folk music was, much like Paul Robeson before her, to blend it with the techniques of art music and thereby make an implied argument for its artistic worthiness in a time when the divide between high and low culture was still intense. With a voice that was quite the opposite of an acquired taste, more like a thunderbolt that rivets you to the earth, and an undeniably fine technical command, Odetta didn’t require you to listen through scratchy transcriptions and gurgly adenoidal hillbilly vocals. Odetta identified herself more as a folk curator and music historian, taking the old songs and putting them in a clarifying frame.

So for a middle-class kid like Robert Zimmerman, who was mainly interested in rock’n'roll at the time, hearing Odetta in a record shop could be a gateway into the entire folk tradition, and he later credited her as being the one who first inspired him to unplug and pick up an acoustic guitar - followed of course by his discovery of Woody Guthrie and everything else that made him Bob Dylan, folk-music god, for a few years, before he decided to plug back in again.

Coincidentally, Odetta was a gateway drug for me too - the gateway, in fact, to Bob Dylan. I was about 11 or 12 and hanging around my grandparents’ house at their farm in Tweed, Ont., and killing some time by going through their musty old records, which consisted mainly of country and Irish music, some Tommy Hunter here, some Irish Rovers there. The falling-apart copy of 1965’s Odetta Sings Dylan must have been left there by one of my mom’s siblings years before, but just the surprise of my grandparents owning any records by black people was enough to intrigue me. I’d heard a little Dylan but was, I think, a bit put off by the voice. But when I heard this woman who sounded like I hadn’t realized any black woman could sound (in my disco-era racially tinged ignorance), making what seemed like epic oratory out of Masters of War, The Times They Are A-Changin’ and even Mr. Tambourine Man (frankly an interpretation that I now find too heavy handed for the song), I was arrested. Suddenly the whole phenomenon of early-sixties protest music seemed fascinating and Dylan as a wordsmith electrifying. When we got back to Brantford, I got some Phil Ochs records and Dylan’s greatest hits out of the library, and soon bought my first Dylan record (I forget if it was Another Side or Bringin’ It All Back Home) - a pretty significant development in a collection till then dominated (with pubescent randomness) by the three B’s: the Beatles, Bach and Billy Joel.

A few years later, my friend Sean reintroduced me to Odetta via a mixtape made from his dad’s Smithsonian Folkways collection - stunning songs steeped in the history of slavery and oppression such as the above (Water Boy), God’s A-Gonna Cut ‘Em Down, John Henry and others from the ballad tradition, including my single favourite cut of hers, the old English song John Riley, a “recognition scene” ballad involving long-lost love. Those tapes are a cherished part of the history of my friendship with Sean - the longest, most consistent in my life - today.

Earlier this year I read at the Happy Ending Reading Series in New York, where the rule is that you not only read but must do something you’ve never done in public. I chose singing a capella, and decided that since I was talking in the book about music that’s meant to make you cry, I should sing a song that often makes me break down - that is, John Riley. For comfort, and to solve the a-capella problem of what to do with your arms while you sing, I asked two members of the audience to come up and hold my hands. It wasn’t exactly singing O Freedom at the 1963 March on Washington, as Odetta once did, but it was a moment that wouldn’t have been the same without her inspiration.

So thank you, Queen Odetta, and rest in peace - the joyful, angry and proud sound of your soul never, I hope, to be forgotten.

Tuesday’s Choice: Hmm, Valentine or Blah Blah?

December 2nd, 2008

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Fred Lonberg-Holm, in a photo borrowed from Peter Gannushkin.

In a case of very inconvenient timing, there are two strong contenders for can’t-miss avant-jazz events in Toronto tonight.

At the Imperial Pub near Yonge-Dundas Square, from Chicago’s fertile improv scene, the Valentine Trio led by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and trombonist Jeb Bishop’s trio, both with Jason Roebke on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums. Anyone familiar with Ken Vandermark’s various groups or with Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet will know Jeb and Fred’s stupendous playing. 8 pm, twelve bucks.

Meanwhile at the Lula Lounge there’s a triple-headed party with some of the city’s very best improvisers to launch the Xmas-season bounty of cd’s from local improv label Barnyard Records, including the debut of Blah Blah 666 (reviewed as “witty and playful” today in the Globe by my colleague Robert Everett-Green), Jean Martin and Justin Haynes’ set of duets on ukelele and drummed-suitcase with tunes by Saint Dirt Elementary School composer Myk Freedman (reviewed by David Dacks as having “an intimacy reminiscent of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto’s collaborations” in last week’s Eye) and Kyle Brenders’ Toronto Duets with Anthony Braxton, about which, well, need I say more than “Anthony Braxton”? (Though he won’t be there tonight.) That’s on Dundas between Lansdowne and Dufferin, at 9 pm, $10 (or $15 with a cd).

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Burning Ears Give You So Much More

December 1st, 2008

Sorry posting’s been so light - I bet you’re all busy this time of year too. I will try to redouble Zoilusian efforts. Just a quick note today of gratitude that my book (see left) was selected this weekend in The Globe and Mail’s “Globe 100″ selection of best books of the year. Because I work at the paper, feel free to be skeptical, but honestly the honour was unexpected - and a very nice boost for the book since most of its reviews and publicity came out at the very beginning of the year.

Postscript: I also just heard that it was listed among the UK Telegraph’s seven choices for Christmas books on pop music, which calls it “the year’s most essential book on music.” And this time I don’t know anybody there.


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