by carl wilson

July 31, 2005

Small Craft Warnings

Having hyped it up so much, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer some post-game notes for my boys Drumheller after last night's cd launch at the Tranzac:

1. No matter how you mix up the repertoire, it's always a bad idea to open for yourself. Josh Thorpe's material came across nicely - quite a trick to orchestrate the indescribable "off" rhythms of the Shaggs, and I especially loved the reinterpretation of the Runaways' Cherry Bomb - but it meant that we got the same ensemble for Set 2. Change refreshes the ears. Also, for newcomers you got a little case of identity confusion - what kind of band is Drumheller, they wonder? Maybe it would have worked a little better if Drumheller had broken its own material up with a middle section of Thorpe instead.

2. I wish all improv/jazz bands could have a private room somewhere to play the first 15 minutes of their sets so that they could hit the ground running. At first Drumheller didn't so much sound like a band that plays "out-of-jazz" but just a band that plays jazz. Sometimes the avant-garde could stand to pay attention to the tenets of showbiz - good rock bands blast off with a hot number, bringing the audience into their own aesthetic zone dramatically and decisively. Unless there's a sound conceptual reason not to do that, why not establish your voice as distinctively as possible right away? I think of this band as being bound to jazz with a gaudily coloured elastic that they constantly threaten to snap, but never quite do - but last night it took too long for the elastic even to get taut.

3. The next point is related: Nick Fraser, the drummer who also spoke for the band throughout the show, noted that "a gig is like hosting a party." That's true. And the best parties have a real shape, quiet parts, the boisterous dancing parts, perhaps a surprise (ice cream!) at midnight, and are brought to a gentle denouement rather than collapsing in a heap. But a concert (as opposed to a club gig, which has looser rules) is also a piece of theatre, a narrative that you want to shape. So to say, as Nick did at about one in the morning, that the band is just going to keep playing indefinitely because they have a lot of material, and they "won't be offended if people have to go home," is to abdicate from half the task - and worse, to say you don't really care if people go makes it feel as though you don't really care that they came or whether they ever come back. Half the audience left after the piece Nick introduced with that line - including me, and I'm a pretty huge D'heller fan. Two-and-a-half hours is a long time to listen to instrumental music, and one's ears get tired - unless you have some sense how much more there is to come, you bail. I know it was well-meant, just underconsidered, and it's the kind of error anyone could make, but I hope it won't be made again - unless, again, you introduce the open-endedness as a more structural, conceptual component, it comes across as an indifference to your listeners. And indifference is not one of the seven heavenly virtues of experimental music.

4. All complaints aside, much of the show was terrific, especially the second half of the second set, pre-"class dismissed" moment. Rob Clutton's pieces were especially strong. My favourite (whose name now escapes me, sorry) was one that opened with the horns, Doug and Brodie, in duet and then broke into a middle section with the strings playing a lovely drone-fiddle (bowed-guitar) trio with Fraser, and then returned to the horns - it was a piece in which each note just burrowed into the ears, undulating through the mind and down the spine.

5. On non-musical notes - I was happy to hear that Drumheller won the hearts of the Godspeed-lovin' throngs when they opened for the Silver Mt. Zion at the Tranz. earlier in the week. Speaking of hearts, I also found out that Brodie West's upcoming decampment for Amsterdam will be preceded by his marriage to a lovely young woman named Heather, whom I met last night because we happened to sit at the same table. Congratulations and best of luck to you both.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, July 31 at 05:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 30, 2005



No column this week, so just another reminder - that's Drumheller (photomontage above by Kevin "Aperture Enzyme") & Josh Thorpe, tonight at the Tranzac, main hall, 292 Brunswick (just south of Bloor), 10 pm. I don't know the cover charge but I'm sure it ain't steep.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 30 at 02:47 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 29, 2005

But Wait, What About Payola?

Here's what you might wanna read about that. Let's follow the hokey-pokey and meet up back under the streetlight next week. Come alone.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 29 at 01:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)



Eric Chenaux (upper left corner & elsewhere) of Drumheller, and Martin Arnold, not of Drumheller. See below. Photo montage by the always wonderful Aperture Enzyme.

My only contribution to The Globe this week is this review of the just-out-of-the-oven debut by "out-of-jazz" quintet Drumheller, on Rat-drifting, whose launch concert tomorrow night at the Tranzac is the (non-Caribana) gig of the weekend. A couple of notes on the review. First, the paper version is misprinted, changing the very first sentence from "Toronto's creative-improv scene, from free jazz to abstract electronics...." to "Toronto's creative-improv electronics..." This is wrong. Second, to throw back the editing-room door, I originally didn't just call Eric Chenaux "an egregiously overlooked musician" but "perhaps the most egregiously overlooked musician in town."

[tangent]Egregiously, peoples! Why are you sleeping on Eric Chenaux, why why? Sure, his once-upon-a-time art-punk bands Phleg Camp and Life Like Weeds still get some loving memory (scroll down to the final question there), but that is so the past. He's reinvented himself as a post-Derek-Bailey-sidelong-glancing-to-John-Fahey improviser, which I know sounds like a dimestore cage but in this case just isn't, because he's got that spooky ability to make asymmetry symmetrical and dissonance sing under his spider-web fingers. Eric's now-sadly-defunct duo with Michell McAdorey (with whom he played for awhile in Crash Vegas too) yielded two of the most gorgeous recordolas in all Torontopia, last year's Love Don't Change and the way-back Whirl (note: that was a secret passageway). Meanwhile his re-funked newer duo with Martin Arnold is a marvel of mini-maximalist guitar-banjo wobble that amounts to a much more intense interpretation of the whole idea of "psych-folk" than any of the fashionable sets flying that flag, tho they were at it before then and will continue thereafter, hopefully with some overdub-drenched cerebellum-sludge albums to mark their route. And that is not to mention his hundred other projects, including Rat-drifting itself (also with Martin Arnold). Or the fact that he keeps writing these beautiful ballads that I can never believe are new songs and not some traditional classic or legendary lost Gordon Lightfoot song rewritten by Syd Barrett. [/tangent]

Not to underrate the rest of Drumheller, Rob Clutton, Nick Fraser, Doug Tielli and Brodie West, each with their strengths and endearing flaws. (Also: They all compose, and they all improvise, and the band walks the drunken late-night cop-car-pulled-them-over line between the two.) The other part cut from today's review is this final, not entirely happy line:

"Unfortunately, West is moving to Amsterdam this fall, but the band plans to carry on; with luck it will have the chance to grow into an institution you can point out proudly when you’re asked what Toronto improv is all about."

To expand on that, I know the rest of the Drumhellers (formerly known, by the way, as Bourbon Leaves) plan to visit West in Holland and gig there, which is exciting, but I both selfishly and community-mindedly want the band to continue developing as a local entity too, which I think may require a new recruit. My most constructive suggestion is that the stand-in wouldn't have to be a saxophonist - maybe a violinist or cellist? - so that West could stay a member and the band could morph between five- and six-person ensemble strength. This is one of the curses of Toronto - far too often, the brightest little dynamos are too damn eager to go somewhere else. .... But seriously, all the best Zoilus wishes to Brodie as he goes double-Dutch - I'm sure you'll do well there, since you've already got Han Bennink's endorsement.

Again, that's Drumheller, Sat. night at the Tranzac, 10 pm, playing their own compositions along with those of fellow Rat-drifter Josh Thorpe. If you need further convincing, what are you, made of STONE? All right, there are also gung-ho reviews this week in eye and NOW.

McAdorey plays refreshing musical hooky

The Globe and Mail
17 March 2000

The blueprint is there, in the safety-deposit box of Canadian dreams, ready to be rolled out on any dressing-room table and consulted. Reporters keep a copy to check against the latest news from Billboard, talk-show guest lists, Juno and Grammy rosters. It's how you build a pop career here -- whether indie-band, radio-band or dance-band -- and most artists would no more throw it away than they would discard chord charts and catchy melodies.

But Michelle McAdorey and Eric Chenaux burned the blueprints years ago. Not that they are unfamiliar with such charts of progress. McAdorey had a quiet fame with her band Crash Vegas, a major-label concern before its eight-year life span ended in 1996, while Chenaux was a buzzed-about guitar-slasher in punk bands Phleg Camp and Life Like Weeds in the early nineties.

Indeed, McAdorey, a black-haired, Irish-eyed beauty, is someone people have been trying to recruit to stardom ever since Midge Ure produced her teenage group's 1982 dance-pop single in England. She played the 1996 prototype of Lilith Fair, and if she chose, easily could be in the front ranks of today's brigade of northern pop sirens.

But both their heads were turned by sounds from outside, and they left through the hole in the fence. In fact, the aesthetic of playing hooky - as plumbed in McAdorey's "camping, riding freight trains, house-painting," and Chenaux's involvement in experimental improvisation - is integral to the sound of Whirl, the CD they're launching this weekend in Montreal and next Thursday in Toronto.

While the disc is under McAdorey's name, it is a collaboration the two have been developing for the past couple of years - while Chenaux also released More Remote than the Puma, a disc of solo guitar improvisations, and helped organize the ongoing Ulterior improv series at the Victory Cafe in Toronto.

McAdorey's contemplative songs and intense, intimate voice (often compared lately to U.S. cult artist Cat Power) are the project's core. But they're meshed and mixed with Chenaux's "fragile" bowed and plucked guitar, slippery rhythms and discords.

While it's not improvisation, says Chenaux, "There is a certain looseness, and there's a certain place the instruments sit, so they aren't gigantic, the voices don't overpronounce themselves." The style is not so much of singer and accompanist but of an ensemble sketching a song as it's played.

"It was a search while we were recording," says McAdorey. "It's a weaving of texture, so that it isn't delineated - 'here's a solo and here's a bass and a drum' - there was an idea to lose a lot of that. I mean, there's no bass at all. Things just move in and out of each other."

That quest took about a year, at various studios around Toronto. "After a lot of struggle and heartbreak," McAdorey says, "we realized we knew just where to go. And then it became so thrilling."

"I think our next record will take about a day," adds Chenaux, only half-joking. "Any longer is just too damn long."

Instead of a blueprinted solo "comeback," in fact, the project has now become a trio, with composer Martin Arnold joining on hurdy-gurdy, melodica and guitar. "We're just trying to think of a band name," McAdorey says, sounding a bit surprised. Already, the group has leapt beyond the sound of the record.

"Duo music has a certain ambience and focus," says Chenaux, "but with a trio things can get loose and wonky -- and Martin has this unbelievable ability to play the most beautiful wonky material imaginable."

What they don't know is who, beyond their many musical friends, their audience will be. Toronto is not Chicago, where avant-gardists partner with indie-rockers routinely. But Chenaux is hopeful. "There's a new emphasis on playing in this city, and widening the different types of music people are into. It doesn't all become one gloopy mess, but borders are stretching. It makes for an interesting audience, and interesting music."

Read More | On Record | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 29 at 11:55 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 27, 2005

Fearful Rock

After the non-talk talk about "indie music" this week, I've been thinking about what people mean most of the time today when they use the term, converting it from economic category into genre, this new loose genre that encompasses the likes of Arcade Fire, Death Cab, the Shins, Iron & Wine, etc. Often what unites them is a fearfulness, a sense of vulnerability, preciousness, fragility - but also a kind of open, eager curiosity, at their best (and emo suckiness at their worst). And then I suppose there's the escapist indie-kids-dancing complement to that, along with the internal art-noise opposition. It's all very different than the skeptical anger of the last alternative-goes-mainstream crop a decade ago, aka grunge, and I do think you can use these things as cultural mood rings - their shading can indicate something about what the population that's listening to the music (educated white kids) is feeling, what they generally hear as an accurate self portrait. I can't actually think of any time in rock history where fearfulness was so part of the music - paranoia channelled into aggression, sure, but not this shrinking-violet affect, with its isolationist overtones and so on. (For instance there's a claim that the generation coming of age right now is super-confident and assertive, so self-deprecation and a sense of encroaching doom may serve as the usual kind of peer-group dissent/outlet. And of course there's the new-millennial terror/losing-side-of-the-culture-war element.) I'm not eager to praise or condemn it tonight, just chalking its outlines on the board, wondering where it intersects the rest of the diagram.

But man, what a terrible, terrible baseball team the Arcade Fire would be.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 27 at 11:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Proposition Retracted

Nah. You're right, I'm wrong - the list of prime targets does show that hip-hop's not under any special scrutiny here - and Clear Channel is. I think the campaign may have resonance with the current anti-entertainment-industry waves in Washington, but mainly Spitzer seems like an A-1 consumer-advocate type.

It was just the kind of lazy thought that wobbles across the mind in late afternoon.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 27 at 11:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)



Just speculating, here, and I don't know if it will lead anywhere. But given that the famous 50s-60s payola scandal was, as much as anything else, a political attack on rock'n'roll - is it possible that the current one is in some part an attack on hip-hop?

The rhetoric of it doesn't lead me to think so, necessarily, but it seems a question worth raising.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 27 at 06:07 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)



... was it something we said?

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 27 at 04:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Crispin Glover Love


As we ponder what to make of the payola scandal, as in whether payola possibly actually makes radio less boring than it would otherwise be (I will either back this up later or not, if it proves an unsustainable burst of contrarianism; unrelated favourite detail, beyond the trips and laptops and plasma-screen TVs handed out like lollipops for being good little drones: when Sony via Epic Promotions was having staff call in to make fake requests to radio stations, the promoter complained that radio guys were telling him, "[The girls] are not inspired enough to be put on the air. They've got to be excited. They need to be going out, or getting drunk, or going in the hot tub, or going clubbing... You get the idea" - the idea being, HIRE MORE PORN STARS), this exciting bit of non-musical news provides a welcome distraction:

Crispin Glover film and slide show, Bloor Cinema, Aug. 28: "Crispin Glover will conduct a Q&A; following the screening of his film and Big Slide Show ... as an official guest with Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear. ... What Is It? is the first in a trilogy of surreal, inter-connected features directed, edited and financed by the eccentric character actor Crispin Hellion Glover. This August 28th 2005 at 9pm, sees the long-awaited Canadian premiere of the completed film in a blown-up 35mm print. Told almost entirely with a cast of Down's Syndrome actors and including the voice of Faruza Balk. What Is It? is about the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are salt, snails, a pipe, and how to get home, as tormented by an hubristic inner psyche. Crispin Hellion Glover's 'Big Slide Show' is a multimedia presentation/performance Crispin mounts using images from his beautifully bound hardcover art-books, audio sampling from his album The Big Problem and text read aloud. Victorian precedents are recalled with the creepy, sinewy etchings and, expository titles (What It Is and How It Is Done; Concrete Inspection and A Family Story Where a Mother Is Looking for Something & Finds It), but all modified through Crispin's own highly developed aesthetic."

Zoilus has been a nervous admirer of Crispin Glover ever since The River's Edge, ever since the Letterman-show "I - I - I can kick!" extravagonzo, ever since he gave the best silent-film performance of the age in the middle of the Charlie's Angels movie (how did that happen?). Sometimes I suspect he is going too California cutesy-weirdo, but I'll keep the faith and check this out. It's better than a Las Vegas "flyaway" for which you have to pay with your soul, i.e. by playing Celine Dion.

PLUS - nearly forgot - there's a musical appendix: An After-Party with Mr. Glover himself as well as, Jaymz Bee, DJ Shannon, DJ Video Dave and (what an appropriate matchup) Mr. Wax Mannequin, at the Drake that night (again, Aug. 28), 11 pm, 10 bucks.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 27 at 04:13 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 26, 2005

Big Star: For All You Sister Lovers

The reformed Big Star, with Alex Chilton third from left. Photo by Tom Erikson.

That headline ought to generate some disgusting site traffic, but for those of you not seeking sibling-incest porn, it's actually a reference to 1970s power-pop band Big Star, who have just announced the release date for their upcoming reunion album, In Space - Sept. 27. Of course, by "reunion," they actually mean Alex Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and members of the Posies, one of the most Big Star-influenced bands around, since key member Chris Bell is long dead. Still, it's the first Big Star record in 27 years, and in celebration I thought I'd post a piece about the band I wrote a couple of years ago when there was a Big Star tribute night being held in Toronto, recapping their career and the myth in which Chilton's enshrined in the "former child star" flame-out archetype. Eyeball it on the flip.

If you do not groove to the guitar-hooks-and-jangle-jangle, perhaps you would prefer some Veronica Mars news. (Also, the Mountain Goats return to Toronto on October 17!)

Entering the cult of the Big burnt-out Star

20 November 2003
The Globe and Mail

Fittingly, it wasn't a hit. But the very existence of a Hollywood comedy this year called Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star proved the arrival of a new pop-culture archetype.

Reviewers mostly lauded the concept but panned the grating Saturday Night Live leftover David Spade. But what was so great about the concept, really? Somehow in the past decade the fates of ex-Diff'rent Strokes and Brady Bunch personalities have become totemic parables, orgies of schadenfreude in high rotation on the TV-bio hit parade.

What do the bedevilled lives of spotlight-burnt youth have to offer but a wallow in squalor and a cheap punchline?

You can compare it to the "lost genius" phenomenon in pop music. Some fans find nothing more compelling than a gifted artist who due to vice, madness, graft or dumb luck, went unheard and/or wound up in a pool of blood and/or vomit. There seems to be no song, inspiring or insipid, that is not improved by an accompanying fountain of bodily fluids.

In this luckless lottery, Alex Chilton holds a double-or-nothing ticket, as both lost genius and ex-underage star. How much does that bear on the Memphis-born singer's legendary status? What does it have to do with, for instance, the tribute his early-1970s group Big Star is being paid by Toronto bands National Anthem, the Carnations, Galore, Moe Berg, Mike Trebilcock, Precious Little, Gord Cummings and others at the Horseshoe on Queen Street West on Tuesday night?

Chilton is only 16 in 1967 when he suddenly finds himself with an international number-one record, the Box Tops' The Letter. With a voice part Delta bluesman and part teenybopper, gruff beyond his years, he sings "Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane" and becomes a rock star in perhaps the best year ever for rock stars.

A few more minor hits later, Chilton quits in the middle of a 1969 U.K. tour, frustrated at being the pawn of managers and producers. Back in Memphis, he hooks up with a young band led by guitarist Chris Bell called Icewater (now heard for the first time on a new reissue with Bell's earlier band Rock City, both of which stand up fairly well).

They re-dub themselves Big Star and make an album in 1972 called Number One Record. It's a glimmering thing of acoustic and electric guitars, in-the-pocket beats, yelping cries and smooth harmonies, a blend of roots rock with by-then-unfashionable British Invasion polish. But to call band and album ironically named would be an understatement.

Despite rave reviews, record-company troubles mean nobody can find it. Bell quits the band and spirals into depression (until his death in a bloody car crash in 1979). The three remaining members make Radio City, with if anything a finer, more soulful sound and if anything worse distribution. The final Big Star album, the wilder, spacey Third (or Sister Lovers), isn't even released for years. The band is kaput.

Chilton lapses into a decade-long alcoholic haze — cue the vomit — and records erratically. But the extant Big Star platters find their ways into select hands: Cheap Trick admits the influence and in the 1980s, Big Star is extolled by REM, the Cramps (whom Chilton produces), Tom Petty, Robyn Hitchcock, the Bangles (who have a hit with Big Star's most perfect song, September Gurls), the Dream Syndicate . . . and the Replacements, who fill college-radio airwaves with a near-messianic ode called Alex Chilton, in which "children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round" — "the invisible man" with "a visible voice."

Eventually Big Star's spores scatter so far — from Teenage Fanclub to Guided By Voices and Fountains of Wayne — that they become their own subgenre of power pop. The now-sober Chilton accepts paycheques for occasional Box Tops and Big Star reunions, but still repudiates most of that work. In his own shambling performances he prefers to cover R&B; chestnuts and Italian lounge music. Big Star cruising anthem In the Street becomes the That '70s Show theme (an inferior adaptation for which Chilton is meagrely paid). And a bunch of Toronto bands decide to hold a tribute night.

Deservedly so. The Big Star catalogue is a crash course in the craft and emotional range of pop; the grownup (now 51) Chilton is wrong there. But it's not enough to explain why Big Star became a shibboleth, the name most compulsively dropped in guitar-pop reviews today — with the exception of fellow lost genius Brian Wilson, but at least readers are likely to have heard the Beach Boys.

Big Star is mentioned not just on its own merits but also for a more rarefied version of the frisson that surrounds Gary Coleman or ever-more-creepy ex-child-star Michael Jackson. There is human sacrifice in it, a price to be paid because talent is less alienating when it is punished. Chilton began his career in exploitation, and knows it never changed. He's smart not to play along, as I'm afraid we don't want the best for him.

In his lively book It Came from Memphis, critic Robert Gordon gets it right: "In Big Star's history, fans confront the fear of having something important to say that no one will hear." But then he gets too rosy, claiming, "It's taken 20 years, but Big Star has prevailed. The band's cult status helps listeners realize their lives are not in vain."

The cult would be disappointed to hear Big Star had prevailed; it would go looking for something more satisfyingly doomed. What we ask from our spoiled prodigies and debauched Dana Platos is not resolution or vindication. We look for a damnation nobler than earthly reward. Our lives, after all, may very well be in vain. That's why we're consoled when we hear the celestial hum of some big, distant, burnt-out star harmonizing back, Oh, vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 26 at 04:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Indie-Rock Wars (Except that Wars, I'm Told, End)

Sasha's slow pole-dance teasing with an imminent definitive attack on indie-rock is making me both queasy and thirsty. In part because I was allowing myself a midsummer blog slowdown while I do stuff like listen to records, go to shows (like the crazed midnight High Park pond-wharf Ninja High School cluster-scream-macarena orgy on Saturday) and figure out what part of "podcasting" I might give a shit about, but in part because I am wondering what good can come from this. (Apologies in advance to those of you who hate interblog debate; the rest of you come on into the pool, the water is only mildly infested with amoebic bacteriophages.)

Franklin's pre-emptive strikes, besides seeming like evidence that he is unfortunately bored on his France-England trip, are good and very much in the spirit of last week's Intonation-review-brouhaha in Zoilusland. I wish Sasha would clarify what his point was with the opening marshalling of sales statistics, because if Pavement (whose sales were better than I realized) doesn't qualify as 1990s indie rock, then I think the category kinda collapses. Surely they're the exemplar. It's like discussing R&B; while ruling out Beyonce and Usher as "not what I mean by R&B;," isn't it? Using indie's name literally as referring to autonomous-labels has never worked aesthetically because of course people traipse back & forth over that border all the time. (And besides, is Sasha really about to go after Fugazi, or what?) Sasha acknowledges that the confusion between aesthetic, economic and social definitions of the genre exists - I'd actually say it's severe enough that the whole notion of an indie genre is questionable and that attacking "indie" therefore almost automatically finds you setting up housekeeping in a Potemkin village. Especially in the 1990s - "indie" right now (in the O.C. sense) has a bit more to answer for. (As I said here at the top of the year, albeit perhaps a bit more blithely than I ought to have done.) And then there's the stuff that Franklin's saying and that we have previously said that not being populist does not in fact make you automatically elitist or indictable, even if a disproportion of indie-istas have in fact been trust-fund-elitist-idiots. Basically I want to know what generalization SFJ can throw out that is not equally or more-so directable at, say, contemporary poetry. But because Sasha's still inching down his G-string we cannot yet say what's in the package.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 26 at 01:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 23, 2005

The New Protest Music = Faux-test Music


Today in Overtones in The Globe and Mail, two very different approaches to putting consumer-society critique to music, which start from a similar place - doing a little forensic investigation of a commodity to reveal its underbelly - but then go into two types of camouflage. In the case of Kanye West's Diamonds from Sierra Leone, the politics are all offloaded into the accessories, the title and the video and the remix, while the main track stays clear of the political element. And in Matthew Herbert's Plat du Jour themes about the politics of food production/consumption are woven deep into the DNA of the music, using sampling and other techniques (above, a shot of Herbert's percussionist playing a drum kit made of groceries, which reminds me of something), but the music itself is mainly abstract and instrumental. It ain't exactly Fight the Power, but in a time when political sloganeering in song is both commercially frowned upon and aesthetically pretty played-out, these "faux-test" song alternatives are a creative counter-strategy.

It also made me think about the limits of mash-ups and sampling in general, which I touch on here, but might post more about later. [... Read the piece? ...]

Stickin' it to the man with just a song title

Saturday, July 23, 2005
The Globe and Mail

People of a certain age often demand to know where all the protest singers have gone. But why write a political song when you can accomplish as much with just a political title?

Report on Business, the financial section that keeps it real, informed us last week that the diamond industry is choking on rap V.I.P. Kanye West's latest single, Diamonds from Sierra Leone. Its stark black-and-white video depicts African kids mining for diamonds and an American woman whose hand drips blood after her beau slips a diamond ring on her finger.

West's ire is aimed at “conflict” or “blood” diamonds. Such gems are mined in unstable nations, often in Africa by children under coercion, and the profits used by states and paramilitaries to fund brutal wars. West said backstage at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia that since he wears so many diamonds himself, he felt obliged to consider their source.

Gem-trade spin doctors quickly got out their tongue depressors: “While we have not viewed Mr. West's new video,” pouted Carson Glover, of the DeBeers-run Diamond Information Centre, “the lyrics of the song certainly do not reflect the tremendous work the diamond industry has done creating a zero-tolerance environment.”

They certainly don't — mainly because outside its title the song doesn't mention conflict jewels at all. It was initially called Diamonds Are Forever, and built on a sample of the rah-rah-diamonds tune of the same name sung by Shirley Bassey in the old James Bond flick. In the lyrics West genuflects to the diamond logo of his label Roc-a-Fella, and otherwise congratulates himself on a very good year of multiple hits and Grammys. That's what you hear in the video.

The title change seems to have come after West's protégé Lupe Fiasco recorded an answer song to the same beat called Conflict Diamonds, pointing out the bleaker side of bling. Then West not only adopted the Sierra Leone title, but recorded a remix (which most people won't hear) in which he does address the issue, giving some of Fiasco's points added verbal flair.

Even in that version, blood diamonds occupy only one verse before West hands the mike to his patron Jay-Z, for another round of Roc-a-Fella pep talk (“I'm not a businessman / I'm a business, man!”).

Yet West still kicked up a ruckus in the diamond biz — where, by the way, Amnesty International says there remain serious monitoring concerns. And he did it without turning out a leaden, didactic single. The gap between his song and his video turns out to be a functional disjunction: Viewers at once take in the message and get their pleasure centres stimulated by West's lighter braggart's opera.

Most songwriters' “political” tunes are some kind of blunderful — what sizzles on the op-ed page or at a rally often goes soggy when sandwiched into metre and rhyme. West's solution of slapping a topical title and image over an otherwise irrelevant song almost qualifies as a breakthrough: Replace protest song with faux-test song and you can have your cake and interrogate its means of production too.

That sort of dietary analysis is the obsession of a less mainstream new record. Plat du Jour, by English electronic musician Matthew Herbert, is a concept album attacking the global food business, after the fashion of books like No Logo and Fast Food Nation.

But overstuffed Bruce Cockburn-style verses about The Truncated Life of a Modern Industrialized Chicken (as the first track is titled) are not on the menu. This is an instrumental album — that is, if you assume that 24,000 baby chicks, a chicken being plucked, a dozen organic eggs and a Pyrex bowl, for example, are instruments.

Don't answer till you hear it.

Herbert is a great manipulator of sound samples (he's worked with Bjork, among others), but unlike most producers, he makes it a rule never to sample other people's music, only found sound. On this album, he takes that constraint to the “turbo extreme,” stipulating he can use only samples directly related to the topic of a track.

The tune about bottled water is composed of water sounds; White Bread, Brown Bread samples toast and toasters; another tune uses the collective crunch of Herbert's live audiences biting into apples he handed out (over 3,000 in all); and the last track features a real battle tank driving over a recreation of a meal celebrity chef Nigella Lawson once made for Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

What results is moody or lush or febrile, but certainly not preachy.

There are several exciting implications. While musical sampling like West's use of Shirley Bassey has generated countless possibilities, it's also drawn us into a bit of a mirrored hallway full of music about music, at once insular and escapist. Herbert's field recordings instead point back out into the world.

In concert, as at the Mutek festival in Montreal this spring, Herbert has a drummer playing a kit made entirely out of supermarket products, a farmer's market set up in back and a gourmet chef cooking under large fans on stage to disperse odours timed to the sounds.

It's reminiscent of “industrial” bands 15 years ago dragging sheet metal, shopping carts and power tools up on stage. That approach would seem masochistically redundant today. Extreme sampling in pop, though, has just begun. In 2001, Herbert's fellow Bjork associates, the California duo Matmos, put out the amazing A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, making music from the sounds of cosmetic-surgery operations. But Herbert's explicit political rather than formalist agenda is a twist.

Plat du Jour has one sung lyric, about celebrities letting themselves be used to endorse junk food — a dud. Otherwise it's protest music that, uniquely, “shows” rather than tells. It's a kind of non-verbal musical documentary, especially if you listen while investigating the extensive background material on the website.

Bypass all that, though, and it's simply neat ambient electronica. Most of the sounds are too altered to recognize directly by ear — which makes Plat du Jour another kind of incipient faux-test music.

Next time some smug Sixties holdover asks where the political songs have gone, I look forward to saying they're still around — just being made out of pork sausages, sewage pumps, Coke cans and seven different kinds of pickles.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 23 at 02:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 22, 2005

A Lot of Night Music


This weekend a lot of you might already be out to the Hillside Festival in Guelph, with its crazy all-heavyweight-champeen lineup of bands 'n' songwriters. But here in the city you don't have to be stuck in a dank nightclub - the underzone is colonizing the landscape with its noize.

I missed yesterday's visit by the Extra Action Marching Band, who paraded through Kensington Market in the afternoon before playing the Boat at night (they're at Funhaus tonight, Friday, with Saint Dirt Elementary School, if you're not going to Loretta Lynn like me ::yes, that was boasting:: ...) but tomorrow, you can start your day at the Bagel at College and Spadina with the get-together BRUNCH at noon w/ the Adam Brown, Robocopp and other bands plus Kat Gligorijevic-Collins' short film about the scene, including a cameo by Zoilus. But that's just the warmup.

The main events, the outdoor events, begin with the Dim Sum: Sampling Chinese Culture festival at Harbourfront - such as Masia One at 2 pm and Jin (the Asian freestyle rapper who was profiled all over last year) at 8 pm. And then things get more exciting: At 10 pm, Awesome and Castlemusic present the mysteriously titled "In Awe of Sirus" in the pit at Trinity-Bellwoods park, and then at midnight, in High Park, at the wharf on Grenadier Pond, Ninja High School does a boombox-powered release party to launch its new single on Tomcat (and sell just 20 copies, at a deeply discounted 5 bucks). It will be very dark - bring a flashlight.

And finally on Sunday, it's the Music Gallery fundraiser outdoors in the St. George the Martyr Church courtyard, with Pony Da Look, Nathan Lawr, Animalmonster and Bob Wiseman, from 6 to 10 pm. (This being a fundraiser, it's a bit pricier - $20 regular/$10 student + underwaged.)

All these people are wizards and you should kiss the hems of their robes, giddy and yelping. See you there.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 22 at 05:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 21, 2005

Sociological Digression


Non-musical, but: I'm reading Colin McCabe's promising (as of p. 25) biography of Godard and came across this passage:

Rachel [his sister] recalls ... Jean-Luc irritating their father from a very early age, incessantly punning and balancing on chairs. But the most constant irritation was Jean-Luc's peering over his glasses, a gesture which is typical to this day. Rachel remembers her father complaining, 'Don't look over the top of your glasses,' and Jean-Luc regularly replying, 'Who me?' before gazing down at his plate.

Besides being an amusing detail in a portrait of the artist as a precocious brat, this set me off thinking about this peering-over-one's-glasses thing. We all know what it signifies - an arch look of skepticism or I-dare-you challenge, occasionally even anger. But how and why does it do that? Do we all pick it up from movies as something we just know has that effect (and if so what, for instance, silent-film star started it?), or is there some actual interactive dynamic involved: Are you trying to get a better, unmediated view of the victim of your contempt or ire? Or are you moving your glasses away because the person is making you so sick you don't want to see them clearly? Or is it a matter of moving the shield away from your eyes to make your stare more naked and stark (the next step of which would be to take the glasses off and put up your dukes)?

(The alternative meaning - flirting - is clear enough: Lowering the glasses equals lowering your guard, your inhibitions, as possible prelude to removal of glasses followed by removal of clothing.)

I ask because I don't think I use this gesture but there's gotta be some of you among my heavily four-eyed readership (a characteristic I can state confidently without reference to site statistics) who do - so what does it feel like you're doing?

Your data will be used for the forces of good.

To go back to music (but really gossip): Sure, everybody's talking about the Broken Social Scene pot bust, but WHAT ABOUT the Jon-Rae and the River West Coast Grand-Theft-Cheese arrest?

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 21 at 05:21 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


July 19, 2005

When Anti-Rockism Becomes Rockism, Part 127

Ever wonder what Kelefa Sanneh looks like? I got curious. This is him on the right, with photographer Rahav Segev at a VP Records (dancehall label) party last fall. Despite what I say below, in general he's an excellent critic.

Kelefa Sanneh's review of Pitchfork Media's Intonation festival in Chicago last weekend is incredibly entertaining, from his full disclosure that the P'fork website once called him "a dog that may need to be put down," to his playful use of the site's notorious 0.0-to-10.0 rating system throughout, and even his provocative contention that the Go! Team is a "British indie-pop version of the Black-Eyed Peas." He's certainly correct, too, that the bill was not "filled with bands that seemed destined to blast into the stratosphere, or even the troposphere. Instead, the stages were filled with bands that are already about as popular as they will ever be." (He's talking about acts such as the Wrens, Four Tet, Deerhoof, the Decemberists and, yes, sorry Toronto, Broken Social Scene.) I was also glad he was there to confirm my suspicions about the tokenism of the attempt to integrate non-white, non-rock music into Intonation - that is, that the DJ tents weren't exactly a big success.

So far, so justified, although I was already feeling like, man, it's one thing for us all to put down indie-centric blinderedness on our web sites and chat groups, to champion pop pleasure and puncture the fake heroism of the so-called "indie yuppies" etc. But, uh, isn't this The New York Times? You wonder how many of their readers really have mindsets that need adjusting on this subject. (On the other hand, who knows, maybe more than I think.)

But that was just a twinge. Then I got to the end of the review, and Sanneh simply took things too far: By weekend's end, it was clear that Intonation had succeeded on its own terms. But it was hard not to think about what was missing, namely the swagger and ambition and hunger of musicians ready to take over the world, or at least the country. Many of these acts seemed happy to stay right where they were, making music for fans who accept them as they are. Any park where Deerhoof is a crowd favorite can't possibly be a bad place. Still, two days is a long time to spend there, let alone a whole career.

There's a need to counter indie righteousness by saying that a pop star's desire to get rich and famous can often be a creative and dramatic force, that most of the best music in pop history was made by people with that drive. But when you take that argument to an extreme, and start condemning musicians just because they're not so interested in "taking over the world" - especially when you're making that statement from, ahem, the most powerful newspaper in the world's only superpower, a country that arguably has a bit of a take-over-the-world problem, including in terms of culture - it stops being populism and starts to sound like anti-art-for-art's-sake showbiz blather. I think Sanneh wants to say these bands are musically unambitious, or culturally disengaged, or socially insular, and that the closed-circuit nature of the indie scene encourages that, all of which are fair cops. But to condemn them for being content to leave a smaller footprint, for not being rapacious and "swaggering," is to propose that there is only one route to great art. At that point you shouldn't be surprised that your dogmatism in turn provokes rebels who want to destroy that values system, and indie's vision of itself as having greater artistic and social integrity than the rest starts to sound halfway reasonable. This is where indie came from, and while I'm not so down with where it's ended up myself, the point is to get off the merry-go-round, not to take it for another, accelerated, reactionary spin.

It's a classic case of an argument going wrong by taking the terms of the opponent and inverting them, thereby staying within the same myth - if indie rockers say careerism, arrogance and overweening ambition are ipso-facto bad, Sanneh feels compelled to suggest that careerism, arrogance and overweening ambition are not only super-great but compulsory, rather than (e.g.) suggesting that it depends what your ambition - or lack of it - lead you to. It seems to me that if Broken Social Scene, for instance, became any more fame-hungry, they would mutate into Rush in a heartbeat - their community-mindedness leads them to certain musical values that are not the most obvious outcome of their basic style. On the other hand, if Deerhoof decided they wanted to become the biggest band in the world, the results could be mind-bending. There are more songs than this to sing.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 19 at 12:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (18)


July 18, 2005

Rhapsody in Hamilton

I'm working when I'd rather just be reading Harry Potter, but for why would you care about my summer bummer? You don't. You may, however, care for this Junior Boys news that I haven't spotted making the rounds very much in blogsville (which goes to show how blogsville has changed) but did spot, belatedly, in Billboard. News from Jeremy Greenspan: 1. New album, early '06. 2. "We're trying to strip things down a bit. I'm trying to shed any part of our sound that is too highly edited, as I think that approach will become dated quickly." 3. "The pervasive influence of classic Tin Pan Alley/Gershwin-esque songwriting." See previous Zoilage on the JBs.

News | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 18 at 07:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 16, 2005

Kells' Closet (1800's Literary Remix Edition)

A couple of things I had to cut from the "precedents" part of today's column, for yer exclusive Zoil'istic edjimification:

Soul veterans like the Isley Brothers released two-part R&B; songs as far back as the sixties, but that was more for extended-dance-mix and double-yer-profit pleasures than for, like, crazed-soap-operetta suspense.

In fact, Kelly has often duetted in cheater-cheatee scenarios with Ronald Isley himself, who played the cuckold character of Mr. Biggs. Thanks to their work with Kells, the Isleys became the only pop act to put out hits in six consecutive decades. (Or so sources claim, though I wondered about Louis Armstrong.) Many listeners were broken-hearted Mr. Biggs didn’t pop up in Closet chapter 5.

And Drew Daniel - UC Berkeley PhD. student when he's not half of Matmos or all of The Soft Pink Truth - pointed out on ILM the similarity of the Closet suite to the 19th-century craze for verse plays meant to be read (silently or aloud) rather than acted out - which were called, believe it or not, “closet” dramas. So if you're ever asked what Milton, Goethe and R. Kelly have in common, you now have an answer.

It also occurred to me today, opening up my care package from the Internet book store, that Trapped in the Closet is kinda the adult-entertainment version of Harry Potter, with its serial cliffhangers. ... It's R. Kelly's every-flavour beans.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 16 at 03:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


Kells's Closet Case Cracked

This R. Kelly mannequin has been all over blogville, but till I went hunting myself I'd never seen this bizarre full-figure shot, which kinda foreshadows the conclusion of today's column.

In today's Overtones column in The Globe & Mail, I go down the pee-yellow-brick road with the Pied Piper (eww) of R&B;, into the formica-countered Emerald Ghetto of the most stupendously cuckoo pop phenomenon of the century, R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet series, the force ('cuz it ain't the feeble single Players Only) that propelled his new album to the top of the charts this week. For once, a celeb accused of dirty deeds actually tries to save his ass not with legalese and smear campaigns but with — can it be? — his art. [... Read it here. ...]

The greatest summer single of ever

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, July 16, 2005

In 2005, pop music is about anything but pop music. It's about tsunami aid and African debt, celebrity trials and sexual misconduct. Most of all it's about technology, the iPod as ubiquitous cultural feeding tube, the mobile-phone ring tone as 11-second chart wonder.

Or rather, it was, until R&B; singer R. Kelly — in his second decade of multimillion-selling fame, and short weeks before his own imminent sex trial — made pop all about the songs again, thanks to the most off-the-hook summer-single ploy ever.

Coincidence? Not. But if a star has been accused of having issues with drugs, guns, Scientology or — for the most-unfortunately nicknamed "Pied Piper of R&B;" — degrading videotaped sex with very underage girls, I don't want him making talk-show testaments, sham marriages or hurried dashes with umbrella-toting bodyguards to unmarked limos.

No, I want him to court public sympathy by dreaming up entertainment so baroquely fantastic that people will demand clemency just so he can make more, aware it's wrong but unable to help themselves.

In case of emergency, break creative glass ceiling.

So: What about a five-part musical saga involving two married couples, several adulteries, a cop, a gay pastor named Rufus and his secret lover Chuck, a handgun, multiple cellphones, a closet and a condom, set to a water-torture suspenseful score, with each chapter ending abruptly in a cliffhanger with a reverberating string-and-kettle-drum crescendo?

That is the marvel that is R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 1 to 5. The epic appears in its full perverse glory on his new, instant-No.-1 album, TP.3 Reloaded. But first segments were released one by one to radio from April to now, to succour the medium in its grimmest, iPod-menaced hour. Kelly aimed to revive the golden-age radio serial. R&B; stations happily played along, making it a hit and, for many of us, an obsession.

(Don't read further if you don't want to know what happens.) (I've never ever felt the need to issue a spoiler warning about a song before now.)

There's also a video, whose TV premiere last week was the top-rated show in BET history. Shot with the cheap back-lighting and dun sets of a daytime soap, Kelly and a group of actors enact exactly the scenarios in the song — like the moment in Chapter 1 when Kelly, hiding from a jealous husband in a bedroom closet the day after a tryst, fumbles with his phone "to quickly put it on vi-i-i-bra-a-a-te!"

The actors mouth the lines as if speaking, but Kelly croons the actual dialogue, and more. It's like a reverse tone-deafness in which all human speech and thought are replaced by the buttery vocalese of R. Kelly.

In Chapter 2, the jealous husband, who is also gay pastor Rufus, uses his own cell to get Chuck to come announce "the shocking truth," their own plan to marry. When he hangs up, Kelly off-handedly sings, "Click!"

And, reader, that's what the whole piece is like! Later, Kelly sings the siren of a police car pulling him over! Don't even ask about the part where Kelly sings to his wife to hurry up and orgasm because he has a leg cramp! And she still tells him what a great lover he is! Let's just say it ends badly! And circuitously!

In the manner of an Andy Warhol movie, it's too knowing to be inadvertent, too earnest to be satire and too bat-guano nuts to make sense. But Kelly, who happens to have the voice of a 21st-century Sam Cooke, bulldozes any and all attempts to maintain an ironic distance with his overcharged delivery. It's not so bad it's good; it's so unabashedly itself that it's beyond bad and good — it's so R., it's Kelly.

One (or five) of a kind though it is, Closet has precedents. The cheater-cheated theme is a staple of Kelly's back catalogue, and the storytelling is like a cannabis-fried version of country-blues ballad Frankie & Johnny or the Persuaders' Thin Line Between Love and Hate, flipping back and forth to Jerry Springer and Desperate Housewives.

It's also an amoral take on the revival-tent-style morality plays that draw throngs of black Americans on today's urban-gospel theatre circuit, the source of last year's minor hit movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman. And this being R. Kelly, there's also a whiff of Boogie Nights-era pornography, all pile carpet and faux-wood panelling.

But the key is radio and TV daytime soap operas — which, like Closet, are domestic, talk-heavy and full of flawed but sympathetic characters, and unfold in revelations and cliffhangers that never resolve the story. Closet has no chorus because it's a soap — a chorus would be a climax, which in a soap opera must be deferred indefinitely. Call it tantric plotting.

In fact, Kelly has already announced that there will be at least five more chapters to Closet, probably more. (Which explains why Chapter 5 makes such a lousy ending — it isn't one.) Embarking on a potentially infinite project is one way to assert your belief you won't go to jail.

Feminist scholars also suggest soap opera's open, interconnected narrative structures mirror feminine social identity. And that's just what Kelly needs. Not only to curry favour with female fans, who love the goofy, homely realism of his erotic imagination (that leg cramp, or the chopped tomatoes in Sex in the Kitchen) and the humility with which he'll sometimes interrupt his horndogging to pay obeisance to family and God; but to dismantle his other face, the hysterically hypermasculine sex predator, and make amends.

Unlike Cooke or Marvin Gaye, Kelly still seems locked deep in his own closet. Closet grazes against cultural taboos — tolerating homosexuality, acknowledging the playa-ho double standard — but as always, Kelly drops it and lets himself off scot free.

So, while the first five (well, four) parts remain the greatest summer single of ever, if Kelly wants his artistic clemency, the next five instalments of Trapped in the Closet better look something like this: Ch. 6. Kelly and traffic cop fall in love; Ch. 7. Now-ex-wife and ex-girlfriend beat down Kelly with own video camera; Ch. 8. Kelly and cop take spa day with Jay-Z, followed by volunteering at women's shelter; Ch. 9. Kelly begins taking hormone therapy; Ch. 10. Kelly adjusts to life as male-to-female transsexual: And I look in the closet! That's my bra in the closet! My bra in the claaaaw-sit! (. . . sit, sit, sit, sit . . .)

Then maybe we'll talk.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 16 at 03:12 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


Toronto Unsyncopated

Branford Marsalis plays Top o' the Senator last year. Photo by Bill King.

In today's Globe and Mail, I offer an obituary for the city's former leading jazz club, Top o' the Senator, and a survey of what's next for jazz venues in the city. I often criticized the Senator for its conservatism, but it was a terrific listening room - and you will not believe the bizarre Vegas-revue kind of plans the new owners have for music there in the fall. There's other good news for Toronto jazz, though - details in the piece. [... Read it here. ...]

Out of syncopation

Top o' the Senator, that finely chilled jazz joint, is gone. The venue replacing it, writes CARL WILSON, has a very different set list in mind

The Globe & Mail
Toronto Section
Saturday, July 16, 2005

Since 1990, Top o' the Senator has been the impeccably dry martini of Toronto entertainment, a place where the finest jazz musicians would take up residency for a week at a time, and waiters would mete out a discreet shushing if you chattered too loud during a set.

Now it's gone, joining the Bermuda Onion, the Colonial, George's Spaghetti House and other ghosts of Toronto jazz past, and leaving the city's jazz aficionados to wonder where the future lies. The walk-up at 253 Victoria St., tucked behind the Pantages Theatre, closed July 4 to the sound of Sheila Jordan singing, "For all we know/ we may never meet again."

"The Senator was unique in that it opened as a dedicated music room," says guitarist Michael Occhipinti, who played there with his progressive big band NOJO. "Most clubs are just bars that at some point decided to have music."

Business had been shaky for five years. The low Canadian dollar put big-name American acts out of reach, neighbouring theatres weren't thriving, SARS cast its shadow and the whole Yonge-Dundas area was going through upheaval.

So, late last year, owner Bob Sniderman sold the club and the main-floor Torch Bistro to an investor group headed by sommelier Michael Sullivan. They're now renovating, to "open up" the room. When it reappears this fall as the Savoy, jazz will be a small part of its repertoire.

Mr. Sullivan wants the club to get younger, more accessible and eclectic to reflect Toronto. But his approach is surprising. While he initially spoke vaguely of world music, rhythm and blues, even a burlesque show, now the plan is for the Savoy to present musical revues of its own creation -- "with a theatrical element" -- from Thursday to Saturday. Each show will highlight a genre, such as funk or classic rock, and run weekly for as long as two months.

The events will be supervised by Craig Martin, the producer of Classic Albums Live, a series of renditions of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley records. Regular concerts, including jazz, are confined mainly to Sundays.

The scheme seems as fiscally dodgy as jazz was, Mr. Sullivan admits. "But we suspect it will work." He'll find out, starting Sept. 23.

In theory, jazz in Toronto should be thriving. It has music students coming through Humber College, York and U of T, a strong summer festival season and the rare resource of a 24-hour jazz FM radio station. Mr. Occhipinti says the situation compares decently with American cities of similar size.

Yet the only remaining club on the Senator model is the Montreal Bistro on Sherbourne Street, which has hosted the likes of Oliver Jones and Diana Krall since 1983. Rumours have swept through town that the Bistro too would close next year, but owner Lothar Lang assures he's simply renegotiating his lease. He has had a difficult couple of years, but he's not giving up.

Jazz everywhere is at an awkward stage. Pop-crossover singers such as Ms. Krall dominate over more boundary-pushing instrumentalists, and hip-hop and electronic music often seem more vibrant to young explorers. "I'm catering to grandparents now," Mr. Lang says.

But the scene is different at the Rex Hotel on Queen Street West, where passing foot traffic and a casual atmosphere supply musicians with full houses of bar-hoppers. If the Senator was a martini, the Rex is a keg.

"It's not a place to play ballads. But it is a fun place to get kind of raucous," Mr. Occhipinti says. "At the Bistro and the Senator, you would lose a little of that energy."

There are other optimistic notes. Last fall, 22-year-old entrepreneur Mark Finkelstein saw a gap in the school-year jazz market and put on the Toronto Progressive Jazz series, which brought heavy hitters Branford Marsalis and Dave Holland as well as the funkier Medeski Martin and Wood to venues in town.

This winter saw the formation of the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto, a collective of experimental young players who can be found most nights playing inventive sets at the Tranzac on Brunswick Avenue. And this week an intimate new club opened in a warm old Edwardian on Markham Street in Mirvish Village.

The Red Guitar Art Café is a labour of love for jazz singer Corry Sobol. With 43 seats, it's only a third the capacity of the Senator. Here, Ms. Sobol hopes "to represent the entire jazz tradition, from early jazz to the most avant-garde contemporary music," with a "non-elitist, friendly space that encourages people to stretch out a little."

Her emphasis is on local musicians, which seems to be the trend. It's cheaper and, where 20 years ago Torontonians disdained Canadian players, now they draw reasonable crowds. Still, a shortage of foreign visitors deprives listeners and musicians of a valuable source of stimulation.

And the passing of the Senator hasn't altered the basically homeless status of progressive contemporary jazz, in a city where 1950s and 1960s-style bebop and post-bop remain the default.

"When someone like John Scofield or Bill Frisell comes to town," Mr. Occhipinti says, "I look at the audience and wonder, 'Who are these people? I don't see them in the clubs.' But those players get crowds out, and they also win critics' polls. That's something still untapped. If I had money to burn, I'd be opening it myself."

* * *

ZOILUS NOTES: Inevitably, dealing with a subject this broad, you can't include everything, and in this piece the editors cut my mention of smaller but satisfying clubs such as the Trane on Bathurst and Mezzetta on St. Clair, as well as the fact that the Music Gallery - although currently in a dire deficit position and not even presenting much improv and jazz of any kind due to funding problems - has grand ambitions of eventually relocating from its current shared space in a downtown church to be the leading force behind a big new cultural centre, which would not only accommodate their new-music agenda, the fresh avant-pop series, and possibly the Wavelength series too, but also creative jazz and improv. And finally I should add that former Music Gallery jazz programmer Ron Gaskin's unit Rough Idea is still bringing European and American improvisors to Toronto semi-regularly, often at the New Works Studio walk-up on Spadina.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 16 at 02:33 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)


July 15, 2005

One Liners


I have a brief review of the excellent recent box set on early country-music pioneer Charlie Poole in today's Globe and Mail. (See below.)

Daphne settles the fiction-writer-as-critic debate (sparked by this) quite handily and with a fairly unique lack of snottiness, while managing to send chills through me about the low ceiling on a critic's prospects.

The Dears are having a baby, or specifically Natalia and Murray are, and are thus taking a touring break.

Meanwhile some-ones in der Broken Social Scene seem to have been busted for pot purchasing in New York - Aaron is tracking developments so I don't have to.

Goodbye Joe we gotta go me-oh-my-oh.

CD of the WEEK

The original country music star

15 July 2005
The Globe and Mail

You Ain't Talkin' to Me:
Charlie Poole & the Roots of Country Music
Box Set, Sony/Legacy

★ ★ ★ ★

Perhaps no instrument has a history so muddled in pride and spite as the banjo, appropriated from African-American slaves as a minstrel-show instrument, then damned as the musical weapon of choice for white rural rednecks, and later sanctified as an emblem of folk-revivalist idealism.

A chapter in that chronicle has to go to 1920s singer and banjoist Charlie Poole, a truly proud and spiteful character. He pioneered the three-finger-roll picking that became Earl Scruggs's classic bluegrass style, but out of necessity rather than choice — having broken and bent his fingers catching a baseball bare-handed on a drunken bet. Poole also had his front teeth knocked out one night by a half-dodged bullet and died at age 39 after a two-week alcoholic binge.

Brawler and wastrel that he was, though, he was the first country-music star. If it hadn't been for the 100,000-plus sales of his 1925 record Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues, a record exec like Roy Acuff might never have gone hunting for hayseed hit-makers such as the Carter Family.

Some say Poole is to country what Robert Johnson is to the blues, but despite his mill-worker roots, Poole was a more cosmopolitan figure. He blended old-timey fiddle music, Victorian parlour songs, white gospel, minstrel “coon songs” and the pop ballads of the day, buttoning them all into a suit and tie (usually with his North Carolina Ramblers string trio) and seeding a half-dozen subgenres of the future.

This three-CD set creatively matches Poole's best recordings with tracks from his influences and imitators. Housed in an ersatz battered cigar box with a sharp Poole portrait by cartoonist (and old-time 78 collector) Robert Crumb, and accompanied by an award-worthy 50-page booklet, it's the most rollicking graduate course in early musical Americana you could demand.

Caution: The 80-year-old recordings are lovingly restored, but inevitably there's a little scratchiness. Don't let it cheat you out of such a lively listen.

Read More | News | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 15 at 04:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


'A web of sewer, pipe, and wire connects each house to the others'

David Berman aka the Silver Jews, as photographed by John Vanderslice.

He set out to take 300 orange Xanax, ten at a time, between house chores. He brushed his teeth, took ten pills. He made the bed, took ten pills. He showered. He walked Miles. He got the mail. Then he stopped remembering. What must've happened in the next few minutes or hours was that Berman grew incredibly romantic. Like the most honest but self-consciously histrionic moments of his writing, he stumbled to his closet and put on his wedding suit. He tried to scribble some final words. "Cassie I'm sorry. I can't take it anymore. I love you." Then he called his crack dealer.

That's the money-shot paragraph from the recent Fader magazine story about David Berman, the voice of the on-and-off-and-now-we-realize-why indie band the Silver Jews, and also the writer of Actual Air, a terrific book of poetry published in 1999. It's a strange story, of Berman's deliberate overdose two years ago and his recovery and rehabilitation, his deepening relationship to Judaism. It's not so much the events described, although the notion of Berman as a crack addict is a shocking displacement of one's image of him (which just goes to show how much at-a-distance images of artists are worth). It's the tone in which the article is written, which seems to affect an inappropriate level of intimacy, trying so hard to be "inside Berman's head" that it actually casts doubt on the truth of what it's saying, making one wonder if the whole story is some kind of hoax the writer and Berman have concocted. But that seems even more out of sync with what (we think) we know about Berman's character, so I think it is the Stockholm Syndromatic writing style that is really to blame - not so much in the above paragraph as in ones like this: "There is a fine line between selfishness and solipsism, the latter more pathological than malicious. And Berman is solipsistic to the bone - someone who cannot comprehend a world outside of the self. This may be the real reason he doesn't tour." It's overreaching.

The story does end well - Berman seems to be cleaned up, happily married and making an inspiring effort at "trying to be a better person and not being such a fucking nightmare for everyone." His upcoming album, Tanglewood Numbers, logically enough is reported to be a shift in direction (and you can find out for yourself on Soulseek), more direct, more confident, and snarling rather than whimpering. Berman always had one of the most melodious whimpers in songwriting - I often think of lines like, "Day after day on the beautiful stage/ We are playing tambourine for minimum wage/ But we are real," on the American Water album - but it did seem like an eternal adolescent voice at times. I'm eager to hear what a grownup Silver Jews record will be like. I'm sure it will simply channel the sensibility through newly opened channels - the sensibility itself seems to be sewn into his skin, as evidenced by the fact that before going to the hospital with his overdose, Berman checked himself into the same Florida hotel room where Al Gore holed up waiting for the 2000 election results to come through, saying, "I want to die where the presidency died!" That could so easily be a line from one of his songs or poems. (Also: For you Pavement addicts out there, yes, the new album does feature guitar throughout by Steve Malkmus, and they may tour together.)

It's uncomfortable to be told such secrets about someone so private that, before he started trying to be more cooperative, he seldom performed or gave interviews, and on some level I wish I didn't know, and wouldn't end up filtering my interpretations of the new songs through this story, as I will. Berman always seemed like an abstainer from celebrity culture, and here he is starring in that towering celebrity trope, the rehab story. Yet it's a lesson - what your demons want is exactly to turn you into a cliche. (What could be more "done" than dying?) And the insight into his life is at least an experience of what he was describing in the first line of his poem The Moon, which I have taken for the title of this post.

The other bittersweet moment in Fader was a short piece on Margaret Kilgallen, a visual artist I wish I'd known of before now - she died in 2001 of breast cancer at age 31. There's a retrospective of her work at the Redcat gallery in Los Angeles this summer, if you're in the vicinity. Something of the piquant humour and vulnerability in her art reminds me of Berman's writing and singing - the anti-nostalgic nostalgia of her use of circus-style typefaces blown up to monumental size parallelling his affectionate appropriation of country music gestures, and the tender vandalism of painting friendly new characters into lonely old photographs mirroring the way he pulls cliches inside-out and delights in non-sequitur juxtapositions of lines and phrases. But here is a difference: It's unfortunately a shock when a gifted artist's youthful death wasn't due to self-destruction, and Kilgallen's loss, retrospectively, only throws into relief just how fucked-up it would have been had Berman's suicide attempt succeeded.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 15 at 03:57 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 13, 2005

Chromewaves' Cal Ripken Streak

Today in The Globe and Mail, my colleague, music critic Robert Everett-Green, provides a (necessarily limited) intro and guided tour of the audio-blog universe, which namechecks Chromewaves, Gramophone, Tofu Hut, Fluxblog, Music for Robots, No. 1 Songs in Heaven, Pitchfork (as blog manque) and, by way of contrast, me and Alex Ross.

First off, what? No URLs in a feature wholly about blogs? (I know I didn't link the above, but I'm not getting paid here. Also, see links page for 99% of 'em.) The Globe site should at least have linked them in the online version. That aside - the glam angle of record labels calling you up and trying to cram CDs down your blowhole is emphasized, naturally enough, though the headline took it too far ("A record company's best friend" has insulting, you-are-puppy-dogs subtext directly contradicted in the text - copy editors please try harder). But I was more interested in the B-plot, which we might call What Kind of Writing Is This Anyway? To wit:

Jordan of Said the Gramophone (whose R. Kelly post this week was great Pathetic Art, only accentuated by the pathetic cover-with-giggling he posted when there are new actual R. Kelly songs you can hear instead!): "[An audio blog] allows for a different kind of music writing, because you can engage with the song on a moment-by-moment basis ... Without the audience being able to listen while they read, it would be too obscure."

Wait - so you're saying that for decades people have been reading record reviews without hearing any music and they've been totally confused by that? Maybe it's true. I'm not sure what Jordan means by "moment to moment" - like a running colour commentary timed to run concurrent with the song? Show me the button and I'll push it! Where are these complicatedly scientifically timed music blogs? I don't think I'm the only one who reads first and downloads, if I'm intrigued by the writeup, second. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. But it seems to me the engagement is more that instant gratification (in a good way), not a traffic jam of music and words. I wouldn't be able to "engage" both of them very fully if I did that. Am I alone here?

On a similar note Robert makes audio blogs sound pretty unappealing when he says, "Reading a blog entry about a song by Spoon while hearing the music on your computer speakers is like listening to a friend's excited analysis of the sounds pouring from his dorm-room stereo." To which my reaction is (read in Napoleon Dynamite voice for best effect): "Dude, shut up, I'm trying to listen to Spoon here. We'll talk about it after I've heard it."

The corollary to which is that audio blogs with no commentary at all are like your friend sitting there, putting a song on, taking it off and staring at you blankly, and make me say, "Dude, what is wrong? What do you hate, this song or me? What are these records you've got? Where did they come from? Which one do you like the most? ... Well, screw it, I gotta go."

But my favourite bit in the piece comes from Chromewaves: "One of the worst things I ever did was to get into the habit of publishing daily," said Web engineer Frank Yang, who writes Chromewaves, a text-heavy Toronto blog that features one mp3 per week. "I've got this Cal Ripken streak going on, where I haven't missed a day in 16 months." Besides the hilarity of "Cal Ripken streak," this image of blog-slave Frank makes the rest of us feel better about our comparative total lassitude. Tune in, Frank! Turn on! Blog out!

Elsewhere: Better late than never I stumble on this precious pearl by Ben Ratliff from July 4's Times, covering the Sounds of the Underground tour in Sayreville, NJ: "Even more wrenching in their segues were Norma Jean and Every Time I Die, two excellent emo-metal bands who go off like booby traps and play basically from breakdown to breakdown, several mini-songs compressed into one. Their lyrics are nonlinear, and don't organize into refrains; they're like John Ashbery to Opeth's German Romantics. (In Bayonetwork, Norma Jean's singer, Cory Brandan, sang a typical line: 'This isn't at all unpleasant/ I'm enchanted by the lavish ballet,/ and I'll whistle the tune all the way to the gallows/ that I heard at the cabaret.')" I must get me some of this Ashbercore RIGHT AWAY!

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 13 at 04:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


July 12, 2005

Slack MoFo, or 'Semiotic Lumberjack'?


I know I look like I've been slacking, but in fact I just figured that early-mid-July is a fine time to get right with the links page. The whole thing is very, very updated, phew. A few tidbits that I've been hording meanwhile:

Yes, we have bananas, total binoculars bananas, in the form of this massive Getting Up hip-hop festival with Ludacris, Kanye, Nas, Lil Jon, Ciara, Mos Def etc etc on Aug 13-14. Yes, it's all corporate promotion, what did you expect, but if the T-dot was ever feeling a little off the hip-hop map, we can stop now. Also note that Aug. 5, the Bump'n'Hustle team is bringing Caron Wheeler to the Sunnyside Pavilion - yeah, the Soul II Soul, Keep on Movin' Caron Wheeler, first time ever in Toronto. We're having an amazing summer for that kind of visit, what with Ari Up and ESG having preceded her. Hooray for the show putter-onners.

Well, most of them. There's a controversy going on over allegations of wrongdoing by the owner of one of the city's best new-ish venues [Edit] going on over at the virtual hangout. [edit]. I'm glad it's getting such (mostly) mature and open discussion. My take is that while what happened is crappy and reprehensible, it's also endemic to bar culture, and the bookers sound like they've been exceptionally responsible (it's unfortunate that it's so exceptional, but it certainly is) in acting upon it. Unless it gets repeated, boycott talk seems out of place. Better to stay, fight and help scour out the crap - that's how things change.

Tune in to Guelph's CFRU tomorrow (Wed) morning at about 8 a.m. for what promises to be an excellent Final Fantasy interview.

And finally J Niimi, on Perfect Sound Forever, takes us on a nostalgia-for-a-couple-months-ago trip with a retrospective on this spring's EMP Conference that sympathetically sums up Zoilus' paper, with reasonable misgivings that motivate me to do a better revision of it, as is typical of his sober, not-for-eggheads-only p.o.v. on the proceedings. He describes the quivering-fault-line tensions of the final Sunday-morning session especially well, including the jolt caused by Erik Davis' attempt to summon a demon. Back on his own site, J. also has photos, with a caption describing me as an, uh, "semiotic lumberjack"! (But an "admirable" one!)

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 12 at 07:45 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


July 09, 2005

"Electricity Made Music Louder and More Often"


Today's Overtones column in The Globe and Mail covers some ground I've trod on Zoilus before and some new territory: "Phonograph effects," technological nostalgia, CBC's shit-hot The Wire radio series, video-game cover bands, Congo's Konono No. 1, and why it was once thought scandalous to listen to records at breakfast. With special shoutouts to Alex Ross and Brian Joseph Davis. [... Read it?... ]

Pining for that old familiar, synthesized four-minute remix

Saturday, July 9, 2005
The Globe and Mail

The sound whirls and wavers, with the thock of skins and wood, the ping and buzz of tin, and shouts of joy at once easygoing and madly driven. It's Konono No. 1, a Congolese ensemble who've made one of the year's most alluring recordings, Congotronics.

Its story goes back 25 years, to when war and scarcity drove masses of people out of the bush on the Angolan border, and into the capital, Kinshasa, including musicians who discovered their traditional songs couldn't be heard in the urban din. So they turned mechanization against itself, dismantling car parts for magnets and batteries, wiring their metal-rod thumb pianos to colonial Belgian loudspeakers, singing into megaphones, blowing whistles and beating hubcaps. The rest is glorious, street-party noise, sounding like nothing, but hinting at everything from reggae to ambient techno.

Had it come out sooner, Congotronics would have been great fodder for the eight-part CBC Radio Two series The Wire: The Impact of Electricity On Music, hosted by Jowi Taylor. Neglected on-air this winter, the series rebroadcasts this summer on Sunday afternoons. It's superior radio.

On subjects such as microphones, tape recording, electric guitars, synthesizers and the Internet, The Wire not only interviews giants such as Bob Moog, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Les Paul; it also splices, loops and enhances the content so that it's matched with form. Each show ends with a remix of itself, by a guest electronic artist -- the sort of conceptual move the CBC's Dull It Up committees usually squelch.

The Wire is one of many current attempts to reassess 20th-century musical technology just as it's being killed off. Capturing Sound by American musicologist Mark Katz is a book focused on "phonograph effects" -- how recording reshaped listening, performance and composition.

Phonograph effects may help explain why 20th-century violinists adopted constant vibrato (it registers better on recording equipment, and suggests a more physical presence); how jazz styles evolved (long solos became prominent with the long-playing record in the 1940s); or where Philip Glass/Steve Reich-style minimalism came from (tape-loop experiments were translated into written compositions).

Alex Ross, writing about Katz's and related books in The New Yorker, comments on the theory that recording helped codify and homogenize classical-music performance standards: "Records cannot be entirely to blame . . . otherwise, similar patterns would surface in popular music, which, whatever its problems, has never lacked for spontaneity."

Perhaps, but where classical music still seems sore over the switch, pop is wholly a child of recording, from its three-to-four-minute song formula (a holdover from the playing time of 78s) to its neurotic drive for novelty, a cyclic reaction to hearing hits replayed one time too many. (As composer John Oswald says on The Wire, "Electricity made music louder and more often.")

Now, when we're nostalgic for a more "organic" or "real" music, it's usually about a previous stage of technical artificiality. For some, it's electric guitars; I've been known to get soppy over the passing of the cassette tape. Meanwhile, many twentysomethings are reviving the theme music of old Nintendo and Sega video games with live cover bands with names like Game Over, the Ice Climbers, the Advantage, MegaDriver and Select Start. In technology capitals such as Japan and California, orchestras have played video-game music.

The original game-console sound is emulated in a newish genre known as 8-bit, after the memory capacity of 1980s computer processors. When Beck, known for omnivorously regurgitating subcultures, had an 8-bit remix done of his recent song Hell Yes, a sharp Internet music writer named Mike Barthel joked that Beck was "finally" appropriating Barthel's own culture, and took mock umbrage: "... You didn't grow up with this, man! You're not down! That's not what 8-bit's about."

By Katz's criteria, MP3s are quite unlike records -- disembodied, intangible, even disposable. But no doubt soon, people will be saying, "Remember MP3s? That's when file-sharing really had a funky, organic feel."

Recorded music has always used every studio illusion to try to sound both live and perfect -- as likely as being at once naked and dapperly dressed. Soon audiences began to expect live shows to sound like recordings. And so, especially on stadium scale, many concerts came to include secret prerecorded parts (remember Ashlee Simpson?) . . . which might be bootlegged, uploaded, downloaded and, by some in the audience, remixed again.

Toronto writer-artist Brian Joseph Davis recently layered together every song on greatest-hits albums by the likes of Whitney Houston, Metallica and the Carpenters, compiling them into one monster track per artist. He then put them on a limited-edition (and kind of illegal) CD called Greatest Hit.

That this is now a non-musician's idea of fun helps refute what early critics of recording, such as U.S. composer John Philip Sousa, feared -- that it would destroy amateur, participatory music.

True, there are fewer singalongs led by Ma and Pa nowadays. Yet it's also become commonplace to hear there's "too much music" being made as people, inspired by the records they love, produce their own cheap CDs, MP3s and mash-ups. So has music become too slick and professional, or too accessible and unschooled?

I can hardly imagine a society in which you could listen to music only in groups, at the theatre or in parlours. Katz says it once was considered louche for a man to listen to his gramophone by himself, or in the morning -- like pouring Scotch on your breakfast cereal. And symphonies had to be broken down into four-minute chunks and flipped over and over again.

A future generation may find it equally unfathomable that music ever came in formats limited to a measly hour, which you bought at shops and had to stow on shelves. Like, why bother?

Whenever you dig down to find the roots, the soil from which a cultural practice has grown, what you find is only more layers of culture, and all the tools embedded in them, as any archaeologist might tell you. So -- unless I'm just brainwashed by my robot masters -- creativity has proven pretty resilient against technology. It erodes in some ways, expands in others. The trick is to recognize the new permutations.

From a distance, the Congo sound of Konono No. 1 seems like a folkway brilliantly adapting and thriving in adverse circumstances. And yet, I bet their parents think they're nuts.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 09 at 03:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


July 07, 2005

An Agenda to Write In Your Agenda

Right now Margaux Williamson's new painting exhibition, with the Sleater-Kinneyesque title of In the Woods, is opening at the Katherine Mulherin gallery. Just look at the picture. This is something you want to see. Eye magazine has a very accurate review today; I wrote about Margaux last year. Today can use all the compensatory beauty it can get. And come to think of it, "compensatory beauty" is a good description of Margaux's work.

Also tonight, not far away, at the corner of Portland and Richmond, the Singing Saw Shadow Show play a "secret" outdoor concert at about 8 or 8:30 pm.

Elsewhere: International Festival of Blog: "Over to our left, we have the Dance Tent, hosted by the MP3 bloggers. What 'phat tunes' are they 'dropping' in there, I wonder? Let's ask the slightly grumpy looking man in the corner, busily stroking his goatee.

"Well! Who knew that minimalist Patagonian electroclash was so popular? Good work there, MP3 bloggers! Put the needle on the record, and pump up the jam!"

(For obvious reasons, I've been on British sites all day.)

On Tuesday as part of Mercer Union's Toronto Troll project, which is pretty damn intriguing, there's a free show at the Drake called "Saturday Night Beaver" which presents the French AWP ensemble in concert, "joined by their long time collaborator Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground, Stereolab, Tortoise, Calexico, etc) and a rotating group of Toronto musicians and artists (Martin Arnold, Eric Chenaux, Ryan Driver, etc) for a multi-media extravaganza. Sounds and images collected during night-time odysseys are processed and mixed with acoustic and electronic sounds to form an experimental free-jazz soundtrack for the night."

The Music Gallery's deficit position is turning out to be even worse than they thought last year. (See my column on the subject.) Therefore, a fundraiser on July 24: "COURTLY LOVE: A MIDSUMMER MUSIC GALLERY FUNDRAISER featuring special guests PONY DA LOOK, NATHAN LAWR, ANIMALMONSTER and BOB WISEMAN in the Courtyard of St. George the Martyr Church, 6pm to 10pm, $20 regular/$10 student + underwaged." Quoth Jonny Dovercourt: "The Music Gallery’s Project Re:New will launch on July 24, 2005 with a fundraising concert that will take advantage of an underused component of its current venue home: the beautiful outdoor courtyard of St. George the Martyr Church. This will be an atmospheric evening of independent music in this magical, mystical environment. ... The Music Gallery is Toronto’s ONLY consistent venue for avant-garde music, and has been for the last 29 years. Without it, this city’s cultural landscape would be considerably more barren. Please help spread the word about this important fundraising event." True 'dat.

And tomorrow (Friday night) of course there's Sheila Heti/Mrs. Zoilus, another institution without whom barenness would set in, doing a marathon Ticknor reading with Rob Clutton on bass at Grano in the Scream. Tickets exist still.

Thursday Reads: Eye covers a new documentary about Femi Kuti and his commune-club the Shrine (Afrofest in Toronto this weekend!); Dave Morris cocks an eye at the wisdom/propriety of a young white hip DJ calling a mixtape "Real Niggery"; NOW meets (joins?) the Go! Team; and Frank Black and his nudist kids.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 07 at 06:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


From One Atrocity to Another


Ugly-assed summer festival poster of the year goes to Pattonsburg, Missouri's Big Creek Festival. The funny-creepy porn picture would be enough without the unreadable and incongruous retro-psych font... If you've got a summer-festival poster that can top it, drop a line - this seems to me like an unexplored gallery of design horrors.

Thought everybody could use some comic relief on this grim day. Greetings to readers and blog-friends in London. Hope you and yours and theirs are all right.

One of the most upsetting things about this event is the way it takes basically all pressure off the G8 leaders on Africa this week. Yeah, you're for the oppressed peoples, you fucking religious fanatics. [Clarification: By this I mean al-Qaeda etc., not the G8, who are mostly money fanatics instead.] Not to minimize what took place this morning, but the death and injury toll there is still just a normal mortality rate of a day in the death of impoverished African kids. Snap... Snap.... Snap.

News | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 07 at 01:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


July 06, 2005

Housekeeping. So Emo

Updating the links page is a slow, sticky process (due to idiosyncracies of our web interface). It is made sadder by discovering in the process that a linkee has made confusingly pissy remarks about Zoilus, but at least it was just one. For the record - there is no reason why you and I should have the same "agendas," though we think really words such as "tastes," "interests" and "friends" would be clearer stand-ins for a noun that makes me sound like I am Power Corp. or maybe the Fraser Institute.

Anyway the point is that there are great new things in the Toronto links section now, like Pop Sheep and Nate Dorward. There are not-so-great new things too because Zoilus tries to be thorough about its Toronto links, tho some may slowly be deleted or need reclassifying (Sherwin does not write about music and he doesn't live here anymore, but we love him - that's our agenda). If you look and you think, I belong in those lists, holla. Also: Other sections yet to be updated. And: Sorry for the ugglies - the density prevents the page from getting to be methuselah-beardishly long.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 06 at 10:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 05, 2005

I've Been Good For Nothing


Summer laziness and rashes of busyness are taking turns fighting for our attention but there are a few things to share:

* A new Freakwater album is coming out, their first in six years. Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin once more seek to divide the roots-rock weirdos from the alt-country goons with Carter Family harmonies gone through the cosmic scrambler and homespun lyrics gone god-defying and devil-womany. It is entitled Thinking of You and is due Sept. 13. Califone plays backup unit throughout.

* John Darnielle recently made an in-studio Mountain Goats appearance at Seattle's KEXP. The results are now up on their archive page - click the "Interview" link to hear the whole thing, the others for individual live songs Deinara Crush (from Sweden), the new album's You or Your Memory, Song for Dennis Brown (which Darnielle explains as an adolescent suicide fantasy in the interview, though somehow that seems only half the story of how it fits in) and Dilaudid, as well as The Mummy's Hand, a song Darnielle says he wrote the morning of the interview, and obviously part of the "monster" series he's mentioned here and there lately.

* There are many developments you should be watching in the Zoilus July gig guide, including a three-night stand by A Silver Mt. Zion at the Tranzac with many special guests, a visit from San Francisco's exciting-sounding Extra Action Marching Band and lots else. I also continue to remind you of Sheila Heti's marathon Ticknor reading on Friday with bass by Rob Clutton and more.

* If you haven't seen the funniest I Love Music board thread ever, in which various famous albums are photoshopped to promote corporations (Ray Charles promoting Ray-Bans, the Velvet Underground "banana" cover with a Chiquita logo, and many more that are much less obvious), do it now.

* Likewise if you have never seen the animated video for (no kidding) Don Ho covering Shock the Monkey.

* If I had to lay odds on which would be more effective - the Live8 concerts' noisy attempts to sway the G8 nations' foreign policies, or this anti-Walmart CD which is part of a campaign to persuade the city council of Guelph not to let the big-box retailer build at the corner of two graveyards and a Jesuit retreat/organic farm... my bet's with Guelph. (Sadly enough.) But even their chances seem slim, as Guelph council has turned to the reactionary side. The Guelph effort, led by a fine fellow named Sam Turton, has a benefit concert on July 14. It is too folkie for Zoilus's tastes (where are the Barmitzvah Brothers?) but not, most likely, for the crunchy country people of Guelph. Somehow I think the current council might have been more responsive to an Yngwie Malmsteem-style shredder. Or some other kind of shredder. (Cough, cough.)

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 05 at 08:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 04, 2005

Indubitable Pleasures


I'm stoked to announce that Zoilus' favourite Toronto bassist-improviser Rob Clutton is going to accompany Zoilus' favourite everything, Sheila Heti (aka Mrs. Zoilus), this Friday night in Toronto for a cover-to-cover reading of her novel, Ticknor, as part of the Scream Literary Festival. Sounds daunting? First, the book's only a little over 100 pages long. And it kicks ass - in a 19th-century Boston mopey neurotic Samuel-Beckett-plus-Henry-James-plus-Chris-Ware kinda way. It ain't your garden-variety CanLit. (The book is published in Canada by Anansi and comes out next April in the U.S. from Farrar Straus & Giroux.) Second, the reading takes place during a three-course meal (plus hors d'oeuvres) at one of the city's finer restaurants, Grano. Third, Rob Clutton is one of the city's overlooked marvels, a subtle, prolific and versatile improviser with a deadpan sense of humour that perfectly suits Ticknor, a sadly comical figure who can't get past his corrosive envy of the man he loves and admires most, not even enough to bring himself to attend a simple dinner party. Rob's recent solo bass CD (on Rat-drifting) is titled Dubious Pleasures, which would be an apt subtitle for Ticknor. Fourth, Sheila's a damn entertaining reader, I say as objectively as I can. And finally, there may be other surprises. And what better setting than a dinner party to hear a novel about a reluctance to go to dinner parties? This is actually something the Scream has been doing for a few years now - in past years Christian Bok read the whole of Eunoia and Dionne Brand read one of her books. It'll be a unique experience.

Under the title "In the Rain with a Pie... Sheila Heti Reads Ticknor," the event takes place Friday (July 8) at 7:30 at Grano, 2035 Yonge Street. Tickets with the full meal are $60 (the menu's on the Scream website), but if you want to grab cheaper eats beforehand, and come only for the words and music, it's just $10, and I really encourage people to do so. Tickets are available online here and, unless it sells out, at the door.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 04 at 12:40 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 01, 2005

A Hawt July in Toronto Unlimited

Loretta Lynn, July 22; Out Hud, July 9

Loretta Lynn is just the high mountain peak of a month that kicks off with Ari-Up of the Slits in a two-night stand at Sneaky Dee's (reportedly premiering new material from the upcoming Slits semi-reunion album - is there no old punk or post-punk band that can't be reunited? Ah yes, the Clash... ), overlapping with this Saturday's visit from Vancouver's seven-piece circus-punk-gospel band They Shoot Horses Don't They?, whom I hear from my west-coast correspondents are remarkable (and joined by the surefire Creeping Nobodies), and Neko Case on Thursday, the Pixies, the Pernices, Common, Afrofest 2005 w/ Oliver Mtukudzi, Teenage Fanclub, the Laconnor Interface series at Arraymusic, the last few days of the jazz festival, T-dot-improv supergroup Drumheller on the 30th, and most of all the non-stop skull-top-exploding action at Harbourfront, whose weekend free festivals provide every reason to be glad you're not one of those cottage-bound highway monkeys but have your bike wheels spinning on the burning asphalt of T-topia. It's all in this month's Zoilus Toronto gig guide, updated weekly throughout the month. Please send additions, corrections and kvetches this-a-way. [...]

Corrections & additions welcome. Zoilus-approved shows are marked with a *star. Special picks are **double-starred. If it's not starred, it may mean I don't find it especially thrilling, or just that I don't know or am not sure enough to recommend it. Listings will be updated weekly. All info subject to change - this is a casual effort, please do call the venues. Sources include the Toronto board, Eye, Now, Greg Clow,,, Soundlist, The Whole Note, Toronto Life and ye olde email.

** TEENAGE FANCLUB => Mod Club, $22.50
** Matt Ninja High School presents TRS-80, FASHION FLESH (Chicago "techno freaks"), ANIMALMONSTER => Silver Dollar, $6
* THE COUNTRYPOLITANS => Cameron House, 6-8 pm, free (every Sun.)
PEPPER => Opera House, 7 pm, $16.50
LAURA HUBERT => Grossman’s
KEVIN QUAIN => Graffiti’s

* Curiopilot Vol. 3 w/ WAX MANNEQUIN, STOOPY, PRINCE BROTHERS => Drake, 9 pm, $6 (after 11 pm, $8)
* COMMON, DL INCOGNITO => Kool Haus, $34.50
* COMPOSERS WORKSHOP => Gladstone ballroom, $5
Ambient Ping w/ PLANET OF THE LOOPS => Hacienda Lounge, 9 pm, pwyc
CUFF THE DUKE => In-store at Soundscapes, 6:30 pm, free
FRUIT (Australia) => Lula Lounge, $18
HUBERT SUMLIN => Silver Dollar, 8 pm, $18

** Sugar Water Festival w/ ERYKAH BADU, JILL SCOTT, QUEEN LATIFAH => Air Canada Centre, $49.50-$89.50
** A SILVER MT. ZION, THE PHONEMES => Tranzac, 10 pm, $10
* BARNYARD DRAMA => The Red Guitar (603 Markham), 9 pm, $10
* High Lonesome Wednesday w/ CRAZY STRINGS => Silver Dollar (every Wed.)
* GHOSTLIGHT (adam rosen; brodie west; dave rodger; james anderson; greg chambers; marco landini; minesh mandoda; scott cameron), DOGFUCKER => Neutral, @ sw corner of College & Augusta
BLUE MARTINI => Yonge-Dundas Sq.,12:30 pm
THE DAN BAND => Opera House, $20
HEATHER DALE => Hugh's Room, $14
VANDERPARK => Holy Joe’s
JEWEL, JOE FIRSTMAN => Roy Thomson Hall, $49.50-$69.50

** A SILVER MT. ZION, DRUMHELLER (Eric Chenaux, Nick Fraser, Doug Tielli, Rob Clutton, Brodie West) => Tranzac Main Hall, 10 pm, $10
** SINGING SAW SHADOW SHOW => time & location tba (outdoors, Thursdays all summer at diff. locations)
* SAINT DIRT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL => Tranzac front room, 10 pm
STEVE KOVEN TRIO W/ROB CLUTTON, ANTHONY MICHELLI => The Red Guitar (603 Markham), 9 pm, $10
RAT TRAPS, JEFFREY NOVAK ONE-MAN BAND, NO-NO ZERO (ex-Exploders/Starkweather), UGLY STICK (members of Bush League and Boyfriend Material) => Rancho Relaxo, 10 pm, $5
COMPOSERS WORKSHOP => Gibsone Jessop Gallery, Distillery District, 55 Mill, $15
Summer Music in the Garden w/ DAVID MOTT => Toronto Music Garden, 475 Queens Quay W., 7 pm
JUSTIN RUTLEDGE, D. RANGERS, ROMI MAYES => Rivoli, 9:30 p.m., $10
RAY LAMONTAGNE => Soundscapes, 6 pm
RAY LAMONTAGNE => Mod Club, $16.50
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 => Horseshoe, $15
Bruckbeat Sessions w/ DJ VISION, DJs DIALECT & MURR => Embassy Bar, 223 Augusta Ave., free
BURY YOUR DEAD => El Mocambo
Pitter Patter w/ KEY CONCEPTS, FOR THE MATHEMATICS, TWO BEARS => The Poor Alex, $5

** A SILVER MT. ZION, SANDRO PERRI (aka POLMO POLPO, singing backed by members of The Silt, GUH and Eric Chenaux) => Tranzac, 10 pm, $10
** DEEP DARK UNITED => Tranzac front room, 10 pm, pwyc
** AIMEE MANN => Phoenix, $30
Friday Funk w/ SOULAR => Yonge-Dundas Square, 6 pm, free
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 => Horseshoe, $15
GRAVY TRAIN at Club V => Lee's Palace
THE McBRIDES, TRIPMINER => Drake, 9 pm, $5
RITA DI GHENT TRIO => The Red Guitar (603 Markham), 9 pm, $10

** JOSH THORPE, DRUMHELLER => Tranzac Main Hall, 10 pm
* Irie Music Festival w/ THE SATTALITES, THIRD WORLD, MORGAN HERITAGE, BRINSLEY FORDE, DAVID RUDDER, NEU JENARASHUN, more => Ontario Place, $20-$60 (July 29-Aug 1)
* Acoustic Potluck 3 w/ JON-RAE FLETCHER, HENRI FABERGE, ANNE & ELISHA, surprise guests => Music Garden (on Queens Quay btw Bathurst & Spadina), 3 pm-?, free but bring potlucky things
NINJA BEATS Dance party w/ karate battle, anime visuals and DJs DJs CHRISTIAN SKJODT, DJ:TK & BABY JOEL SMYE => Footwork, 25 Adelaide St. W., 10 pm, $10
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 (all ages, 3 pm, and 19+, 10 pm) => Horseshoe, $15
LADY SHELLY => Hugh's Room
KIRK MACDONALD QUARTET => The Red Guitar (603 Markham), 9 pm, $10
Irie Music Festival w/ SATTALITES, THIRD WORLD, MORGAN HERITAGE => Nathan Phillips Square and Ontario Place, $38-$68 (July 29-Aug 1)
THE RIZDALES => Cadillac Lounge, 3-6 pm
Toronto Island Summer Jazz Series w/ HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (3 pm), NICK "BROWNMAN" ALI QUARTET (7 pm) => Island Paradise Club, Olympic Island, $5-$10
Hot & Spicy Food Festival w/CANEFIRE => Harbourfront, 8 pm, free
THE TONY FURTADO BAND => Silver Dollar, $15

* GUS GUS => Mod Club, 9 pm, $16.50
* Wavelength 274 w/ VULCAN DUB SQUAD, KAT BURNS, DJ TV School => Sneaky Dee's, pwyc
* Irie Music Festival w/ THE SATTALITES, THIRD WORLD, MORGAN HERITAGE, BRINSLEY FORDE, DAVID RUDDER, NEU JENARASHUN, more => Ontario Place, $20-$60 (July 29-Aug 1)
* THE COUNTRYPOLITANS => Cameron House, 6-8 pm, free (every Sun.)
"Solo Piano Sunday" w/ BOB FENTON 9 pm, DAVID BRAID 10:30 pm => The Red Guitar (603 Markham), $10
DAVID GRAY => The Carlu, $35-$40
The Strange Days Festival w/ DOORS OF THE 21ST CENTURY, VANILLA FUDGE, PAT TRAVERS => The Docks, $57.91
Hot & Spicy Food Festival w/ CHARANGA CAKEWALK => Harbourfront, 9:30 pm, free

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 01 at 01:32 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson