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July 16th, 2010
An interview with myself and Chris Randle about our new blog (with Margaux Williamson), Back to the World, appears today on Torontoist. Maybe of interest to Zoilus readers who wonder what it’s all about, or have forgotten it existed. I’m pleased with the dialogue - the interviewer is so open about finding everything we’re doing a little puzzling. The blog itself is pleasing me too. After years of flying more-or-less solo over here, the sheer luxury of seeing the site fill up with interesting work I didn’t have to do is delightful. But that’s not all, honest - a lot of what’s up is also awesome.
July 11th, 2010
Monday night brings the annual Scream in High Park, my favourite literary event in Toronto, which takes brilliant advantage of the existence of a stage, lighting and sound system in our underappreciated equivalent of Central Park (it’s all there for the annual Shakespeare production in the park), to bring innovative writing and performance to a broad audience.
This year it’s particularly special to me, because I was asked to help program it with festival director Bill Kennedy and poet-critic Kate Eichorn, and we’re very proud of the group of performers we’ve recruited: Novelist Gil Adamson, Montreal poet Angela Carr, Toronto art-prank-sound-writer Brian Joseph Davis, British Columbia steam-brained poet and essayist Jeff Derksen, Vietnamese-American poetry provocateur Linh Dinh, Toronto vocal-improvisation army The Element Choir, Montreal science-minded poet Michael Lista, the hilarious local performance-comedian Kathleen Phillips, poet-critic Damian Rogers, iconoclastic fiction writer Ken Sparling and Montreal poet/graphic-artist/event-impresario Sherwin Tjia.
It all happens beginning at 7 pm, in three sets, with things getting weirder and wilder as darkness falls. Bring your picnic gear to the park, camp out and drink it all in. I’d love to see you there.
July 6th, 2010
Announced half an hour ago, the candidates to win $20,000 for Canadian album of the year at the gala this September are:
The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
Karkwa, Les Chemins De Verre
Dan Mangan, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Owen Pallett, Heartland
Radio Radio, Belmundo Regal
The Sadies, Darker Circles
Tegan and Sara, Sainthood
A solid list with some surprises. Not thrilling - the voting process mitigates against that - but very worthy.
Most noteworthy, aside from the omission of my #1 vote, Frog Eyes (sigh), is the presence of two francophone acts (Karkwa, Radio Radio), as well as two hip-hop records (Shad, Radio Radio). The only French-language records nominated before have been by one band, Malajube; and while there’ve been double-rap lists before, it was only if one of those albums was by K’naan. Otherwise with, I think, five Ontario acts, regional conspiracy theorists may continue their deliberations. Good that records weren’t shut out by previous-winner stigma (Owen Pallett, Caribou), long-time-veteran status (Sadies) or kinda-uncoolness (Tegan & Sara).
Personally I see only a couple of records on that list I’d be unhappy to have win. Anything could happen.
June 29th, 2010
Zoilus readers, friends and passersby, I’ve been mentioning for a while that there is a new website coming. It’s here. Or, rather, it’s there. Happy blogday to us.
Back to the World is a group blog about arts and culture, written by me along with two of the most talented culture writers I know: Chris Randle, just coming out of university, who’s been helping out on Zoilus for several years and has written frequently for Eye Weekly and other publications on music, comics and other subjects; and Margaux Williamson, a visual artist and filmmaker who ventured out into criticism for the first time earlier this year with her blog Movie Is My Favourite Word (where her Back to the World posts will be cross-posted).
B2tW will differ from Zoilus on a lot of levels: First, obviously, there are two other writers. And music is only one of the things we’ll write about, while on Zoilus non-musical stuff has been an anomaly. As well, though, Zoilus pieces generally have a conversational voice - one writer, me, addressing the reader - and are usually motivated by outside events: A new release, an article I’ve read, a controversy that’s in circulation, a conversation going on in Internet-music circles. B2tW pieces are comparatively “unpegged” - making no effort to be first or even 100th on a subject, paying scant attention to timeliness in general, as a kind of “slow food”-style reaction to the instantaneousness of the Internet, which I’m now happier to participate in as a Facebook and Twitter user. It addresses itself to a particular style of thought (broadly speaking the essayistic) more deliberately than Zoilus has. Unlike this site, too, it’s not particularly tied to its base in Toronto, though the fact that we all live here will no doubt be reflected in its content as it evolves.
This site meanwhile will live on as a place for me to make announcements, link you to published work, mention records and shows I’m excited about, provide more music-criticism-specific commentary and, if the urge strikes, talk about the sorts of subjects and issues this site’s always talked about. But yeah, I think the main action will be over at the group site.
(By the way, it is not a statement of any kind that the show calendar over in the left margin has gone out-of-date - just busy-stressy reasons. Will fix, possibly today.)
June 17th, 2010
The fifth-annual Polaris Prize Long List was announced this afternoon. First, the selfish celebration: Hurray for Frog Eyes, South Rakkas Crew and Owen Pallett, the three of my five votes that found a place among the 40 nominees, all but Owen by no means shoo-ins. And a moment of regret and gnashing of teeth for Mantler and Drumheller, my two also-rans. Later: I should add that I fully expected Sunset Rubdown and Do Make Say Think to make the list without my vote. I bet wrong. And though I wouldn’t have put them on my ballot of five, I thought Thee Silver Mt. Zion had a good chance, with one of the better records ever to come out of the Godspeed You Black Emperor camp (at least without involving Carla Bozulich or Vic Chesnutt). Too bad.
Otherwise, the list is not too surprising, but there are a couple of notable features: First, though I haven’t done the math, it looks like a record showing for francophone artists (the result I think of some behind-the-scenes consensus-building among the Quebec critics on the jury). Second, there’s a shutout for jazz/improv/avant-garde music - the only jazz-based lister is a very song-and-groove-based record by Elizabeth Shepherd. The only instrumental music comes from usual-Polaris-suspects Holy Fuck and Caribou, with the welcome addition of Kid Koala’s project The Slew (which, with South Rakkas, also marks the debut of free-download albums to the Polarisverse).
Also, it’s nice to see age hasn’t counted against Blue Rodeo, and mainstream appeal hasn’t counted against Tegan and Sara. And the gods of volume seem to be revenging themselves against the Prize for picking Fucked Up last year, by excluding the hardcore/metal/noise side of the continuum, too. I’ll resist constructing any grand field theories. Generally, some progress on the dancey side of diversity, not much in any other direction.
Of the long list, I’d guess that shortlist odds smile on The Besnard Lakes, Broken Social Scene, Caribou, Owen Pallett, maybe Radio Radio, Shad, Tegan And Sara and You Say Party! We Say Die!, leaving a couple of mystery slots (one for Frog Eyes, I hope). But really, once jury members focus in and start discussing and listening more intently to the 40, anything could happen. Commence wailing about regional biases now!
May 31st, 2010
Tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Drake, there’ll be a party to celebrate one of the best web projects created in Toronto in the past year, Ryeberg Curated Video, which features essays by local and international authors around online videos. The site is the creation of Erik Rutherford, and the party will feature live video commentary by Russell Smith (Girl Crazy), Sheila Heti (The Middle Stories, Ticknor and the upcoming How Should a Person Be?), Mike Hoolboom (filmmaker, author of The Steve Machine) and Sholem Krishtalka (artist, critic) & Jon Davies (Power Plant curator). Here’s a rare (but appropriate) thing: This party has a video trailer.
May 26th, 2010
It’s been a couple of months now since the site shifted to its more laid-back posting schedule and made some format changes, so I thought I’d check in with you. In particular, I’m wondering whether Toronto readers have feedback, thoughts, complaints about the weekly show highlights over in the left margin - are they giving you information you can use, or do you wish they projected further into the future? Also, sorry I haven’t gotten around to putting content in the new “Recommendation” and “Projects” pages yet. It’ll come.
As well, wanted to let those who’ve been asking know that my new group blog with Chris Randle and Margaux Williamson, called Back to the World, is now scheduled to launch June 15. Much more to come about that.
May 25th, 2010
Will Munro’s “Inside the Solar Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy,” 2010. Photo via No More Potlucks.
I’ve found it hard to know what to say about the death on Friday of the angelic Will Munro - artist, organizer, DJ, impresario and collaborator par excellence - of brain cancer at only 35. Will was easily one of the most significant creators of the cultural mood of the Toronto of the 2000s, to which this site has devoted so much energy and affection. But many other people were closer to him and can pay tribute more richly, as they do in this feature published today on the Eye Weekly site,, this appreciation by Benjamin Boles, and particularly in this post from another queer Toronto iconoclast-icon, Bruce LaBruce, on Torontoist. A celebration of Will’s life - and, I assume, an appropriately bitchin’ dance party - will take place on Wednesday night at the Gladstone. I’ll add only the words that I, along with scores of others, posted to Will’s Facebook wall in tribute:
Will, I was one of the many people in the cultural scene who didn’t know you well, but loved your effect on this city, and treasured your courage, your charisma, your ease, your imagination and above all your example of how to make positive change. Whenever I undertake a project you are one of the people I keep in mind as a model of how to approach it: to make the work at once open and welcoming, and challenging and thought-provoking. Whenever we did meet, you never failed to convey a sense of mutual recognition and common cause. It’s impossible to say how much you already have been missed and how much poorer we are that you will not be here, contributing to our cultural and social lives, in the years to come. We’ll all have to try harder, love stronger, think brighter, in your memory and your honour.
May 19th, 2010
Janelle Monae on Letterman last night, the day of the long-awaited release of The ArchAndroid, leading contender for album of the year. Check the totally James Brown finale and the quick Diddy victory lap at the end.