by carl wilson

November 29, 2005

Back to the Slappin'

I missed Dave M.'s response earlier, basically because I've been busy writing a book proposal and an article and otherwise takin' care of business. Suffice to say that he makes his case so much more effectively here that I can't respond without going back to the record, and that would require finding it in the piles of things in my house-still-under-repair, and so I probably won't be able to get back into it for now. But I will say that I think that the issue of cultural appopriation is vastly different when you are talking about people "borrowing" from the most successful form of music/entertainment in the entire world than it is when you are talking about people stealing from poor unknown artists who are performing in juke joints. In fact it would be appallingly dumb and boring if artists from other cultures were not swiping from, commenting on, reacting to and subverting elements of hip-hop now. I don't think the historical analogy transfers over at all. That said, Dave's charge that NHS isn't making interesting choices in what to steal (and that there's something chicken about that) is a strong one, and certainly much more subtle than what he said in his review. I will say that the nerdy-insularity of the references is something I like about it - I'll go so far as to say it represents, and in fact if it didn't, there wouldn't be people getting so very pissed off about it. Which is interesting exactly the way that Dave paraphrases Christgau to say it is.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 29 at 11:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


November 26, 2005

Taking 'Slap Dee Barnes'
to (Ninja High) School

Gosh, how could these people possibly claim not to be hip-hop?

Someone pointed out Dave Morris's review of the Ninja High School disc in this week's Eye record guide, which I initially missed, and it has me peeved. Dave quotes Matt Collins out of context saying, "We're not really hip-hop," and proceeds to accuse him of saying so only to evade being judged by hip-hop's lofty standards: "Not wanting to be that white dude who thinks he's black is no excuse for being lazy." I normally think Dave's a very solid critic, but feels to me like he went into this one grinding the wrong axe. As I recall it, Matt specifically says that NHS is "positive-hardcore dance-rap" (hardcore as in punk), which borrows techno and hip-hop stylings - in a very very lo-fi way - to freshen up a style that's otherwise pretty played out. If Dave'd ever been to an NHS show he'd certainly find it's way more like a punk show than a hip-hop one in its energies, that its subject (or, more often, object of attack) is punk/indie cultural values (notice which section of the record guide Eye placed it in), and that rather than "leaving out rap's more culturally loaded signifiers," NHS is using the signifiers that represent who they actually are, a bunch of middle-class artsy white and Asian kids in Toronto - the rapping partly is a signal that they have a sense of humour and awareness of that status that many guitar bands don't. Whereas if they actually used those "more culturally loaded signifiers," I'd call them full of shit, and I bet Dave would too. If Dave wants to say the production could be better, I'm with him. If he wants to say the rapping could be improved (although I do like it), I'm with him. But to say anybody who uses "breakbeats and rhyming spoken-word vocals" is fooling themselves if they say they're not doing hip-hop is, first, to use a terribly reductive definition of hip-hop (is any hip-hop artist who uses instruments and sings then fooling themselves that they're not doing rock? or is genre actually a more complicated thing?), and second, to overlook a lot - is Beck actually hip-hop then? How about William S. Burroughs when he read over a beat? Anyone who goes to Ninja High School looking for a Dipset record is going to be disappointed, but as Owen P. told me the other day, it's like the best Crass record ever.

As long as we're catching up with our reading, and speaking of white guys soaking hip-hop up into other genres, I found Keith Harris's second thoughts on Big & Rich in Seattle Weekly the other day really refreshing. It's the first takedown of B&R; that I've read that wasn't anti-country, anti-hiphop or anti-cornball but still pointed out that B&R; have a tendency to make songs that are little trinkets packaged in a big gaudy box with another big gaudy box around it and so on. Too often, there's no bull to be found amid the bullshit, as colourful as that BS might be. Big and Rich are always evoking a band I'd really love, but it's not the band they are.

Also congrats to Douglas (from oh-so-fashionable Portland!) on Friday's NPR feature on his National Solo Album Month project (aka NaSoAlMo), and to John "Utopian Turtletop" Shaw for getting his Scooter Libby song featured there. John says: "I would have sent word beforehand but I didn't find out until afterwards. Flo said, 'You had your five minutes of fame and they didn't even tell you.' " This idea of whether you can be "famous" if you don't know you're famous tickles my imagination - I guess it's possible if you're in prison, or in the wrong country, or, ah yes, if you're Harry Potter. But it does seem to challenge the category.

Douglas also has a post up reflecting on the comics element of this video-game/"post-expressive" question. (I think he just might top my list of bloggers I'd like to meet in person and never have. I've already met John.)

Also, note that there's a feature, not by me, on Portland-is-the-new-Montreal in today's Globe, which is pretty good aside from its uncritical stance on the unbearable unbearability of "It"-ness. Alex Gill makes nice use of the Decemberists' have-the-audience-play-possum stunt as metaphor for Portland's longstanding reluctance to become the new Seattle. (An acknowledgment that Sleater-Kinney ain't exactly new also would have been nice.) Also note the pretty good sidebar at the end listing It Cities of the past. The sequel, apparently on how being briefly It in this continental game of pin-the-hype-on-the-city affected Montreal's emotions, is promised for Monday. Perhaps we'll talk about it then.

Graffito of the day (somewhat related): I'm not sure I feel the same way, but it was amusing to see sprayed on the stone of the new Starbucks going up on the corner of Queen and Dovercourt: "This is all your fault, Drake, you ho!" "Drake, you ho, this is all your fault"

Uh, there was no hotlink in the graffito, though.

| Posted by zoilus on Saturday, November 26 at 11:48 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (22)


November 25, 2005

Distillery Jazz Bites the (Temporary?) Dust

A note just arrived from Toronto Distillery Jazz festival director Larry Rossignol that there will not be a fourth spring festival in 2006: "The festival, held since 2003 each May in Toronto's Distillery Historic District, has not been able to secure sufficient corporate sponsorship to continue planning a spring 2006 festival." The cause seems to be that prime sponsor Dynamic Funds pulled out and so far has not been replaced. The festival featured over a hundred shows a year and showcased innovative local jazz musicians in a way no other large Toronto festival has, along with multimedia and other experiments.

"The Distillery Jazz Festival has been a big hit in every way. In 2005 we attracted a record 50,000 patrons and earned significant critical acclaim for our innovative programming. We keep our ticket prices as low as possible and also offer a significant number of free concerts thus making significant corporate sponsorship crucial to financial health."

They say they're aiming for October of 2006 as an alternate date.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 25 at 05:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


November 24, 2005

Drive-By Thursday Reading

Inundated at work at the mo', and not really wanting to put the brakes on the video-game debate (below), but here are some links for your perusing:

Eye's music coverage this week is dominated by its holiday record guide (as Now's was, last week) but there's one must-read in there, in which Denise Benson catches up with Sandro Perri aka Polmo Polpo aka Continuous Dick, who's mostly been singing ballads and improvising lately, but is coming back round to beats via Arthur Russell - as he'll show tomorrow night at the Boat. You can also catch a glimpse of Zoilus posing as an "idealistic intellectual" (and a very short one, at that) in a Snaps feature from last Sunday's fantastico all-day-and-alla-the-night Coach House Books launch for uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto, the new bible of T-dot love-ups. Meanwhile Now stages a showdown between Damian Jr Gong Marley and Lil Kim, who doesn't stand a chance, and interviews Bettye Lavette, who totally should have been the cover. (Oh, and they've also got an interview with Sandro, but it's not nearly as good.)

Elsewhere: My colleague Robert Everett Green does the official Globe review of The Hidden Cameras/TDT show. (His comment on the hetero/homo dance pairs reminds me of a note I made during a show: "A boy-girl pas de deux in modern dance always seems to me to tell the same story: She doesn't realize her boyfriend is gay.") The Star has a pretty appallingly badly written version of same.

Hip-hop censorship skirmishes at home and abroad. In reaction to which, Dave Morris presents the kicking of ass and the taking of names. Later: Oh, I missed this fine essay by Kalefa Sanneh in today's Times about the symbiosis between rap and R&B; (which, like Dave's rant, could feed into the expressive-content debate), as well as the Times' annual box-set roundup.

All About Jazz interviews Bernard Stollman, founder of ESP-Disk, the Albert Ayler/Sun Ra/Fugs/Godz/Pharoah Sanders label. Mark K-Punk offers a Deleuzian reading of Kate Bush's Aerial (which I'm beginning to think is really the record of the year - it's just got more scale than anything else). (Later: More K(ate)-punk.) Douglas on college radio in Slate. Clover on Zizek in the Voice: Jane provides outtakes as a good alter-ego should. Matos reviews the medicine-show-music anthology Buck 65 plugs in Now this week. Elvis Costello plans symphony tour. Xiu Xiu has new album. Greil Marcus plays rock-paper-scissors with Patti Smith's Horses reissue. Stereogum raises problem of "cover vs. translation", but then does not help solve it. Mark E Smith does the sports, a problem that needs no solution. Tom Breihan sums up doings at the Irv Gotti trial. Got something to say? Let Them Sing It For You (via Boing Boing). An ex-black-hat-hacker reflects on the Sony Rootkit scandal and concludes, "It would be good to arrest them." (YES.) Another consideration of jazz treatments of rock songs as "new standards." And Robert Christgau's annual "turkey shoot" takes aim at easy targets. (Leading with Burt Bacharach? C'mon.)

Late late: Hey, no one told me Matt Woebot was blogging again! Plus, the UK version of the 40-bands meme - distinctly more poppist, the top 10 being bookended by Girls Aloud and Rachel Stevens....

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, November 24 at 05:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


November 23, 2005

If Video Games Really Are the New Rock...

King Kong computer games, 'then' and now.

All the chatter about the new Xbox this week has me thinking about how gaming seems to have usurped much of the glamor and the centrality of music to youth culture. Not that young people don't still care about music. But the great mercurial day-in-day-out conversational hype energy of middle-class-teen culture feels like it's more intimately knotted up with the games they play than with the sounds they hear.

What strikes me as odd is that gaming is more analogous to sports than art. The excitement about finding a perspective on life or a point of identification - the personalized gnosis that seems key to the teenage music-listening experience - doesn't transfer to gaming. Not that the medium can't be artful and adventurous, and I'm sure users form attachments and affective communities related to it. But has anyone ever uttered over-earnestly that a game tells the truth about their lives or that they feel as if some gaming designer would really like them if they could just hang out and talk? (And if they do, why do they?)

It seems to represent a kind of shift into a post-expressive cultural mode - one that seems reflected in pop music as well. Listening to early rock and a lot of early rap, it's remarkable how literally (often excessively) they deal with typical moments and feelings in teenage lives; as both forms develop they distance themselves from that agenda in favour of something with more grandeur. But when I look at 50 Cent, the experience of listening to those songs for the vast majority of young listeners seems to be more akin to inhabiting a video-game avatar, one that rather blankly but with great potency executes a series of moves that represent a vicarious acting-out but seldom even metaphorically refer back to an inner life (as even the most grandiose, Zeppelinesque rock usually has - or maybe not?).

The funny thing is how often I've decried "self-expression" as a crap value for music (or art in general) - my distaste for emo, which seems as a genre like a third-law-of-motion reaction to the anti-expressive trend, is well documented. But when I consider the notion of a gaming-dominated culture where the main translation of personal issues into art generally means their representation as an expressionless vicarious competitive struggle, I'm chilled. It seems to connect to a post-industrial economic model of self as brand and information in ways I find difficult to unpack.

I don't intend any "the kids aren't alright" alarmism here - there's more to youth culture than its entertainments, and music-centrism has its own problems (music accents cliqueishness, it encourages a narcissistic self-romanticization that games don't, and so on). But I haven't heard much conversation about the borders between music and gaming cultures (except for bands doing game soundtracks or adopting 8-bit sounds or whatevs), so I offer these initial thoughts as a spur to better ones.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 23 at 04:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (15)


In The Boneyard

The Hidden Cameras.

I knew I'd left someone off yesterday's Canuck-band list: The Hidden Cameras, of course - whose latest collaboration with Toronto Dance Theatre, In the Boneyard, premiered tonight. Last year's first TDT-HCs project, You Are the Same (which I covered in this feature) was extraordinarily successful - the HCs best-loved songs combined with beautiful-silly modern dance, in a studio space that had the dancers and band members not only mixing it up with one another but with the audience, who ended up dancing on stage with the performers by the end.

This year's edition takes place in a fancier proscenium theatre, and it features all-new songs from the Cameras' 2006 album Awoo (recorded but as yet unheard). That shift has many consequences.

This year's show is better designed, nicely lit, has a fun four-level scaffolded set that gives the cast lots of opportunities to climb all over it barefooted and strike different configurations for every song-scene, and more sensuously costumed. Everyone, dancer or Camera, looks gorgeous, together and individually. There's more of Christopher House's vivacious and loose-limbed choreography. Joel Gibb, lead Camera, plays a more central role in this production, serving as more of a master of ceremonies and focal point, and taking more performance risks. We get to hear the band's new songs, which take some interesting turns away from the HCs' familiar dirty-anthem style towards something less archetypical, more directly emotional (with those Talking Heads and Smiths influences pressing up closer to the surface). And the Cameras themselves go much further as amateur dancers - and the dancers as amateur musicians - than in the first production, which is a charming and inspiring spectacle. (The more awkward the better, I say.) At 70 minutes, it feels too short - I wanted to see the whole thing again immediately.

But "spectacle" is the most apt description of In the Boneyard. Just as the Cameras have shifted the emphasis somewhat (though certainly not entirely) away from the collective-communal experience to Joel's specific voice as a songwriter, this show is not the participatory immersive love-in that the first was. The proscenium arch is a formidable barrier, and while that fourth wall does get breached, it never truly collapses. (It might help if the forays into the crowd came sooner in the show.) The more formal space also tends to bring out a more dance-performance crowd, less of an indie-rock one, which tends to raise the audience's reticence level too. They warmed up eventually, but it took much longer. And for the Cameras fan the all-new setlist is quite a lot to swallow at once: Much of the pleasure in 2004 was to see how the songs had been reconceived as dance, but in this case you have to try to catch the gist of the songs in the process, so inevitably you miss bits of each. Which is exciting but, along with the greater audience distance, less of a cathartic joy than the first show.

That said it's still more than worth your time, and in fact I'm thinking of heading back to see it a second time on Friday or Saturday - I'm curious how it will develop over the week, and suspect there's a lot of thematic threads running through it that will reveal themselves on second viewing. (And if anyone reading also saw the show, I'm eager to hear your perspectives, in the comments or by email.) For now, night-night.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 23 at 12:29 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


November 22, 2005

With Glowing Hearts

Matt over at I Heart Music solicited nominees from all the bloggas for "hottest" Canadian bands of 2005, with the interpretation of "hot" left up to the nominator. I sent him a list of 10 but it really should be a list of about 20, with a 16-way tie for fifth, and still leaving a lot out. The ranking criterion is simply how much mental space each of these bands occupied for me in 2005:

1. Final Fantasy
2. Republic of Safety
3. Jon Rae & the River
4. Destroyer + Frog Eyes (Notorious Lightning ep)
5. Drumheller, Ninja High School, Veda Hille, Joel Plaskett, They Shoot Horses Don't They, Venetian Snares, Tim Hecker, No Dynamics, The New Pornographers, Martha Wainwright, Chad Van Gaalen, Arcade Fire, Holy Fuck, The Creeping Nobodies, Hank or SS Cardiacs or maybe the Phonemes, CCMC.

Matt's poll was topped by the Arcade Fire, with Broken Social Scene kicking and screaming in second place. It's probably true, as Aaron's comments suggest, that this is a "cat person" versus "dog person" kind of choice. And, as always, the dog people are Wrong.

I suppose this is a sign that Top 10 list season is about to rain down upon us.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 22 at 01:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (20)


November 19, 2005

Runnin' Up That Thar Hill

Kate Bush: The higher the hair, the closer to a deal with God.

If there's anyone out there trying to come up with a birthday present for me (it's Dec. 23), here's what I want: a country-bluegrass version of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill. Ideally with a female singer, but it could be a man with a nice high lonesome tenor, I suppose. I can almost hear it - the rolling drum-machine pattern taken over by a banjo, the higher synthesizer part played by a fiddle-stringbass duo, the parallel-fifths harmonies - but I can't literally hear it, and I really really want to.

| Posted by zoilus on Saturday, November 19 at 01:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


November 17, 2005

Psst! Pass it on!

Just got this email and figured, what the hell, I'd tell you too:

Special crazy DJ party at The Queenshead tonight. In an hour. Tell your friends. It's gonna be crazy.


$2 COVER (can you handle that?)
Resident DJs Mikey Apples and Jaime Sin
Shack Up is held at The Queenshead,
on the southwest corner of Bathurst & Queen.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, November 17 at 10:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


November 16, 2005

Zoilus the Gramophone

Pleased to advise you that I have a lengthy guest post up today on Said the Gramophone, one of the first and still one of the most gracefully curated and written audioblogs in existence (based in Ottawa & Scotland). The piece is a spotlight on the guitarist-improviser-composer Eric Chenaux (of the Reveries, Drumheller, Chenaux-McAdorey, Tristanos, Guayaveras, Chenaux-Arnold, Draperies, and Rat-drifting Records), one of Toronto's most radiant but under-spotlit artists.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 16 at 01:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


November 15, 2005

What a Piece of Work Is Man/
What Obsolete Skill Is John Cale?

Yesterday someone sent me the only Internet 'quiz' I've ever genuinely liked, What Obsolete Skill Are You? My result was "French," which I interpreted to mean not so much French the language ("Latin" is another one of the possible answers) as being French, a skill that if not obsolete before the past few weeks certainly seems more so now. (I think it's the hedonism/obscurantism dyad that got me there.)

Today I re-took the test trying to answer in the persona of John Cale, based on last night's concert at the Lula Lounge. His answer? "You are Regularly Metric Verse: You appreciate the beautiful things in life --the joy of music, the color of leaves falling, the rhythm of a heartbeat. You see life itself as a series of little poems. The result (or is it the cause?) is that you are pensive and often melancholy...

That's Cale in his general glorious obsolescence, but last night - while still seeming like a man out of time - metric verse put on its leather pants and came out to rock, as befits the throwback grooves of his new blackAcetate record, which is reminiscent (in an older, wiser, better-humoured way) of Cale's hockey-mask-wearing, live-chicken-hatcheting days, with a band of studio aces to give the music an almost comic slickness - comic, that is, with Cale's knowingly twisted, stentorian Welsh drone at its centre, in that "so wrong it's right," smell-of-old-fur sense that lands a blow to a sweet spot in my inner aesthetic baby-skull, in a way Lou Reed solo never really did. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar and keyboards, he kept reminding us that nothing musical is alien to him, and certainly bearing out the impression that the last few years have given the 63-year-old ex-VU magus a second (third, fourth, sixth, eleventh?) wind. I've only seen him play solo piano in the past (which I do adore, Fragments of a Rainy Season being my Cale of choice), so the addition of a band certainly freshened up my perspective, but I think the show was quite objectively high-calibre. No Venus in Furs on this second night of his three-night stand - the most "classic" moment probably came with the encore of Pablo Picasso (a Modern Lovers song Cale produced as well as covered in the 70s, though he seemed, for the first time all night, to be having a bit of trouble with the words...?). The bits of the set I remember, probably only about half: Helen of Troy, Leaving it up to you, Things, Guts, Over her head, Magritte, Hush, new single Perfect (charting in the UK, I hear?!), In a Flood and the most extraordinary reinterpretation of Gun in which the band and Cale's voice alike all sounded as if they were being played backwards on vinyl. That mind-mojo was worth the candle on its own. Rush out to see his final Lula Lounge show tonight or in Hamilton (11/16/05), Waterloo (11/17/05), Montreal (11/20/05), Boston (11/22/05) or San Francisco (11/25-26/05).

(This recent BBC interview with Cale merits your time. And other obsolete skills I know that show up from the quiz, by the way, include "Growing One's Own Food," "Programming in QBasic," "Juggling," and "Gregg Shorthand.")

PS to the poetrynerds aka my homies before you speak up: Of course in no technical sense does Cale have much to do with regular metric verse; much less so than most songwriters in fact. But the image suits his musty bookishness (the man has written songs about John Milton, Macbeth and Helen of Troy!) and his in-control manner of being out-of-step, no?

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 15 at 03:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


November 14, 2005

Music via the Weekend

They're back!

My weekend was a little productive, a little debauched: A Friday-night birthday party at a Veterans' Hall that became a series of parties, stretching into the miniscule hours. The soundtrack at the party proper was the standard rotation of 80s revivalism that plagues my people (the gen formerly known as X), though it perked up a bit when it shaded back to early-60s rock'n'roll, which at least is somebody else's retro. But at my next party, it's all Shakira all the time. ("I'm just a consequence of the great musical momentum and the great changes we are going through in the world," she says, shortly after discussing the Renaissance iconography and psychoanalytic implications of the cover of her new album Oral Fixation Vol. 2. Yow.)

Saturday night brought me to the Tranzac Club, where I hosted the final show in the three-night 416 Festival. My end of things was a little chaotic (organizer Glen Hall was benched by a migraine, leaving the organizational side a bit untucked) but the music was strong, beginning with a wide-ranging CCMC set (very different in flavour than last Tuesday's, with trombonist Scott Thomson more than ably filling his guest chair), followed by by far the strongest set I've ever seen by Ken Aldcroft's Convergence Ensemble - I used to find the composition-based group a bit stilted, but this weekend they were energetic and fluent, a terrific leap ahead. Last came the Fake New Age Music Band, with Ryan Driver, Sandro Perri and Justin Haynes on electronics, thumb reeds (meaning pieces of balloon rubber that Driver plays between his thumbs, which I've never heard sound as good as they do in this setting), guitar, CDs and toys - a mesmerizing sound that actually created the meditative ambience that "real" new-age music drenches in goop and crystal healing hoohah. Hope there's a recording.

Before the gig there was the first general meeting of AIMT (the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto) which I'm told yielded a lot of useful feedback. And it's already had at least one practical outcome: This new MySpace site.

Sunday, brunch and watching Les Revenants - a very French zombie movie, in which masses of people rising from the dead represents primarily a bureaucratic dilemma. The ending, in which the "returnees" change the terms with a move that includes a burning car or two, deals quite presciently (and pessimistically) with the consequences of treating "integration problems" in said French manner. It's a gas, and genuinely creepy, and follows its conceit just short of too far, which may mean just short of far enough. (I'm still torn about whether its focus on white middle-class zombies was a cop out or a clever subterfuge.)

Finally, went to Mammalian Diving Reflex's Diplomatic Immunities, the second installment of a developing "social acupuncture" project whose mode is the interrogative - the actors asking questions of their subjects, the subjects interviewing the actors, the actors interviewing one another, and the audience, and vice-versa. This workshop was based on a day spent with a Grade 5/6 class in Parkdale (some of whom were in the audience, and eventually on stage). One of the questions they asked the kids: "What song should we sing?" Meaning, in the show. The 10- and 11-year-olds heatedly debated whether it should be 50 Cent's G Unit, with a posse of boys saying YES WAY and the rest of the class standing firm on NO WAY. A favourite quote, one pigtailed black girl saying, "Some of us aren't mature enough to listen to that, and other people just think they're mature enough." A pretty articulate statement, though enjoyably complicated by the fact that she kept wavering along the way over whether the word should be "mature" or "immature," which seemed a poetic slip coming from an 11-year old, who perches exactly on that edge of that distinction. There were votes for several Green Day songs (American Idiot at no. 1) but in the end they chose a song they all knew, which none of the adults, me included, had ever heard: It's called Lonely, based on a Bobby Vinton sample sped up to Chipmunks speed, by Senegal-born rapper Akon. As you can see from the dawg-turned-loverman R&B; lyrics, it manages to balance exactly on that same border: It at once sounds like a kids' song, with its 1950s chord changes, and verges on the inappropriate, but only verges. (Uh, just what it is that he put the girl through?) Those preadolescents, they know what they need. And it was readymade for theatrical singalongs too.

So that was the weekend (from the folks who brought you the minimum wage). And tonight it's John Cale at the Lula Lounge - I'll report back.

Bonus round: Strangest misestimation of the economic value of indie rock of the week.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 14 at 05:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


November 11, 2005

Suddenly I Feel So Inadquate

A robot-translated version of a post about this past Wednesday's Just Ace of Spades metal marathon from a German messageboard (via Stillepost)

Normally we can no Charity meeting be escaped; we climb for pandas on the CN Tower, move for Amyotrophe Lateralsklerose, take us off for the cancer research, run backwards against cancer of the breast or invent which completely different crazy. There are simply otherwise hardly Events, which radiate as much friendliness and public spirit that one can direct the world hate nearly free of charge into new, bizarre, never for courses possible held. Suddenly one hates also obstructed and small nice skin animals, determines any important sociological phenomenon, which is for the advancement of mankind from great importance. But then a new dimension escaped us nevertheless yesterday in the Charity Saga, because in the Boat club in Toronto, in order to collect money for the red cross, long "Ace OF Spades" played six hours of Motoerhead, without break, no Coverversionen, 768mal "Ace OF Spades" in consequence. We assume that one becomes afterwards the embittered Heavy Metal critic, perhaps one finally times the old Black Sabbath plates will backwards play, and "Headless CROSS" for to hold, which it is, i.e. the deeply unchristian, soul-hostile work, but to occupy we cannot do that unfortunately.

That effort is just so superior to mine - "a new dimension escaped us"! Altho they totally copped the "umlaut-a-thon" heading from me.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 11 at 02:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


Recollected in Tranquility
(feat. N/OULIPO)

John Cale: See second half of this entry.

A belated (but expanded) edition of the usual Thursday Reading this week; things have been hectic.

Catching up eagerly on the L.A. n/Oulipo conference, courtesy of Harlequinknights' reports (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Wish I had been able to witness Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr's "FOULIPO" talk, a meditation on the (dis)connections between the Oulipo writers and 1970s feminist body/performance art - which then itself became a piece of semi-Oulipian body/performance art; the written text seems a poor substitute (and not just because of the "nudelipo" aspect). Speaking of 1970s body art, here's the worst display copy in the Toronto press this week: "Vito Acconci really into himself." Insulting and misleading. On the other hand, my colleague Sarah Milroy's interview with Acconci was my most pleasant surprise on paper this week. I was sorry to miss his talk at Harbourfront.

Unlike (it seems?) Franklin, though, I do think Johanna Drucker is on to something about the problem of academic/literary/formalist oppositionalism, though I'm not certain what, at least till I read her new book. It has to do with class and clique, and the impotence of spectacular protest in a spectacular society, in which not only art but most intellectual discourse tends to devolve to a condition of spectacle. That said, one should disavow blaming artists/intellectuals for their own marginalization, as we so often do. Obviously there needs to be a third vantage point found to triangulate these questions (closely related to the ones Jane and friends have been debating). And, as Drucker apparently said, to make such a critique of critical thought is by no means to abandon critical thinking.

(Perhaps my permanent favourite Destroyer verse: For someone so beautifully scarred/ I imagine it must be hard/ To stay away from a life of public relations./ But try! Girl, you've got to try./ You've got to stay critical or die./ Stay critical or die.) (Btw, coming soon: the promised post on Destroyer's Rubies.)

On a Torontocentric tip, the bit about Christian Bök on the same panel was, and I say this with a great deal of respect and affection, hilarious. ("I saw nothing gendered about my presentation," he said in response to an audience criticism of the square-jawed guydom of his stuff. "I was simply reading a straight academic paper in accord with the traditions of the discipline.") C-Bök is in exile in Calgary these days. We miss you, Sister Christian, won't you please come home? Find an audio excerpt from Christian's work-in-progress The Cyborg Opera - an attempt, as I understand it, to breed techno music and poetry - here.

Returning to the usual suspects, the main fare in Toronto music pages this week is John Cale features, all detailing how his groove-laden new album Black Acetate was inspired by Drop It Like It's Hot, though none of them spend much energy contextualizing it with the electro of previous album Hobosapiens. The best, unusually, is Tim Perlich's interview in NOW: ""There's another song that Pharrell did where he uses a spray can as a rhythmic device. That was the first one that pinned my ears back. As I listened to it, I thought, 'This is more than just a single, it's a comment on the whole millieu, a cultural statement as well.' " But eye's Mike Doherty (scroll down) and The Star's Greg Quill also cover the Cale-dogg beat. (See also Exclaim's Cale chronology.) (Cale begins a three-night stand at the Lula Lounge in Toronto on Sunday.)

Elsewhere in the weeklies, Dave Morris gets off a well-earned herpes joke over the Sony "rootkit" scandal. (Coming soon to a California courtroom.) Eye also does the Arcade Fire chamber squad Bell Orchestre (two sets tonight at the Music Gallery) while NOW fills its violindie quota with Andrew Bird in a fine piece by Sarah Liss. (I especially like the bits about the purity of whistling and his suggestively "strange ambidextrous tongue" ... though Miz Liss deflated any Twin Peaks fantasies.)

Pet peeve: Terms of critical theory getting misappropriated to arts journalism in literal readings that shred their specific referents. The classic case is "deconstruction," which has become so pervasive that I'm sure I've used it colloquially myself, but there's a prime example in Eye's film section this week, in Adam Nayman's review of Bee Season, which he calls "hopelessly de-centered." Does Nayman mean that Bee Season has (apparently in despair) dethroned the Cartesian unified ego-subject and now conceputalizes itself as composed of contradictory fragmented identities, a historically produced contingent self dependent on its discursive positioning? Or does he mean that the movie lacks focus? That it's uncentred, perhaps?

The Globe today covers the wonderful Meredith Monk, who's in Vancouver this weekend, with excessive attention to her newfound friendship with Bjork, at the expense of exploring Monk's own long career (subhed, nearly as bad as the Acconci one: "Me and my pal Bjork," sigh); as well as Bell Orchestre.

Down south, Sasha is sharp as usual on Houston hip-hop in the unlikely precincts of The New Yorker; and Jody and Jane tear David Brooks yet another pair of assholes [edit: oh, and an extra-wide from Jace Clayton] for his fuckwad take on the gangsta face of the French riots. (On which subject, btw, I recommend to you Doug Saunders' column in the Focus section of tomorrow's Globe. Also tomorrow, I begin a biweekly column that will be a roundup of news and amuse-gueules from academia and related parts; it's a little anchoring feature on the Focus "Ideas" page, which I edit. I hope it will be entertaining, but it will also be a clip-job from academic journals and blogs, etc. I probably won't post about it here very often, but thought I'd let you know.)

Hmm, am I crazy enough to go to Austin for the Veronica Marsathon?

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 11 at 11:41 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)


November 09, 2005

Oops, They Did It Again: NNCK, CCMC, 416, JFK, Doris Day...

One of the few pics of CCMC on the internets. Why for?

NNCK was middling last night - it felt like a couple of members of the ensemble had their synapses juiced but others fell too predictably into modern-primitivist rote patterns whose power got depleted long ago. There were a few stretches that tranced me out, but others that had me shifting impatiently in my Music Gallery pew. The band had a surprise guest in tow, UK folk guitarist Michael Chapman who was apparently a satellite of the Steeleye Span cosmos in the early 1970s; it was a bit confusing at first what he was doing there, as he came on stage unannounced and opened with a merely pleasant open-tuned pastoral piece, but his second (and final) instrumental built to a torrent of extended technique, slappings and string bendings and raga-influenced riffs. Local openers Disguises were promisingly dynamic but a little too much in the minimalist-influenced post-rock pocket for my tastes.

But, frankly, Music Gallery founding group CCMC blew them all away with the best set I've seen from them in years. Which felt like a triumph of the sexagenarians' steadfast giving-all-for-art, in-the-moment, radically serious playfulness over what sometimes felt like too much slack-cool from the younger bands. Not every member of the younger bands, but the overall vibe. Sound poet/vocal improvisor Paul Dutton launched into CCMC's set with the most vitality, jumping between comic monologue, clicks, squelchy kisses and Tuvan-style overtone singing. And since CCMC's secret motor is the fierce competitive spirit of its members, John Oswald and especially Michael Snow were soon matching and then outstripping him. The set ended with a piano solo by Snow, a perpetually underrated musician - his eminence as an artist always misleads people to think he's just dabbling (in fact he's been a musician as long as he's been doing anything), but if they heard him on nights such as last night, that misconception would keel over. It was as intense a performance as you'd hear from any free-jazz keyboardist short of Cecil.

To hear more of CCMC, you could (blatant plug warning) come to the Tranzac on Saturday night, where I'll be hosting the final evening of the 416 Creative Improvisors festival, with a set by CCMC with new-generation trombonist Scott Thompson (who plays in the Joust duo with Oswald - and played with him in one of the most exciting jazz sets I've seen all year, the group with Marshall Allen from the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Guelph Jazz Fest). Also on the bill: Nick Fraser and Justin Haynes ("Are Faking It"), Ken Aldcroft's Convergence Ensemble and Ryan Driver's Fake New Age Music Band.

In related news, I've got a guest post coming up over at Said the Gramophone about Eric Chenaux, who'll be playing with The Draperies in Thursday's opening night of the 416. I'm honoured to contribute to StG, the granddaddy of Canadian MP3 blogs, offering not just ace tracks but fine reflective prose, day after day. I'll holler at you when it's up. (For more on Mr. Chenaux also see the interview by Jonny Dovercourt in the current issue of Musicworks.)

Pardon the self-promo there. It's been a busy day, and I did want to let you know about those things. Less self-centric bloggery tomorrow, um, soon. Meanwhile, enjoy this counterfeit cover of Louis Armstrong doing Oops, I Did It Again. I disagree with Matos (who pointed me there) that it's as good as Richard Thompson's version (hear it here); the ersatz-Armstrong performance is too ersatz, so stilted compared to the real thing, though the trumpet sound's pretty good. While my reaction to the Thompson cover has always been, "That's a fantastic Richard Thompson song." Still, Supermasterpiece makes an implicit (or perhaps inadvertent) point about the century-long continuity of pop music that snobs need to hear and folks like Jody and John (a big yeah to the Mills Bros.!) should richly appreciate.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 09 at 08:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


November 08, 2005

So How Do You Like
the New Upholstery?

I'm back. You might notice we've spruced the place up. (We being me and code sherpa Bill Kennedy, not some smarmy blogger's 'we'.) Besides the warm pumpkiny colours, there are a couple of functional changes that I think should improve your Zoilusian experience. Look to your left, and you'll see that the confusing categorical headings in the sidebar have vanished, replaced by links to the different pages in the site, a changing list of favourite sites (above and beyond the big links page), some current reading and listening (on line and off), the archives, and - of local interest - some picks of the week in Toronto shows.

For those who don't use RSS feeds, there's a fancy new Notify List where you can sign up to be emailed when the site is updated. And we've moved the Toronto Gig Guide to its own designated page for easier use and navigation.

Speaking of which if you're in town and reading this before 8 pm on Tuesday, I urge you to take the plunge on tonight's No Neck Blues Band show. New York free-freak-improv collective NNCK (as they nickname themselves) has its strengths and weaknesses, but within the enchanted walls of the Music Gallery, I suspect they'll be at their most inspired. For a taste of what to expect, check out this video. Hope to see you there.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 08 at 05:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)


November 04, 2005

Umlautathon dot UK!
Käte Büsh vs. Motörhead


I often gripe that a lot of British music doesn't stir me, but today in The Globe & Mail, I celebrate not one but two exceptions: First, a review of Kate Bush's new Aerial, which comes out Tuesday and is like a satisfying plunge into a forest pond you knew from childhood but thought you'd never find again. Only sober second thought kept me from rating it 4 out of 4 stars. Read on to find out why. And next, a piece on the Just Ace of Spades marathon benefit for the Red Cross next Wed. in Toronto, in which the Motörhead anthem will be played some 128 times in six hours by eight different DJs at full volume while participants tick off boxes in their pledge forms. Finally, indie kids invent a charity endurance contest of their own that doesn't require them to rise at dawn with a hangover or strain the lung capacity they've so assisiduously ruined with joints and cigarettes. Read the piece for more astonishing Ace of Spades rockathon statistics and rationales. (For more on umlauts, on the other hand, see the standard reference page on "Röck Döts.")

CD of the Week
This woman's work, old style

Aerial by Kate Bush (EMI)
Reviewed by Carl Wilson
The Globe and Mail Review
Friday, November 4, 2005

★★★ ½

In pop music, absenting yourself for a dozen years is like a novelist or painter vanishing for 60, the field changes so much. After British legend Kate Bush released her worn-out-sounding 1993 album The Red Shoes, she retreated to her island home on the Thames to have a child and generally depressurize from a storied career. It began with her discovery by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour at 16, took off with a stunning 1978 hit based on Emily Brontë's gothic romance Wuthering Heights, and peaked in 1986 with the album Hounds of Love, which finally gained her recognition in America.

During her hiatus, rap conquered the world. Alt-rock and techno, among others, came and went. A generation of female singers emboldened by Bush's fearless experimenting and brainy eroticism emerged, such as Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Bjork, although they weren't alone - hip-hop innovators OutKast also called her an inspiration, the Futureheads had a hit covering Hounds of Love's title track, and Mercury Prize-winner Antony credited her impact.

Now Kate Bush is 47, looking less like the modern-dance nymphet she once was than like a kindly English aunt. Her return album, Aerial, is finally being released after years of rumour. And seldom has "released" seemed such an apt term, since EMI kept it as tightly locked up as an ex-royal consort in the Tower of London.

But suddenly very little of that back-story matters, for KateBushLand turns out to be barely changed. She seems relaxed and renewed on Aerial, but it's full of the touches that enraptured her fans and made the prigs label her barmy. There's the song in which the value of Pi is sung to more than 100 decimal places, and there's the one about the washing machine. That's actually one of the album's finest, movingly tracing mortality and loss through the domestic poetics of laundry. Sure, the passage where she sings "slooshy slooshy slooshy slooshy" can bring giggles. But Bush knows when she's being funny.

She remains preoccupied with English landscape in its mystic and sensual aspects, and now as a familial setting too. The second disc of Aerial is a cycle titled A Sky of Honey, a dappled portrait of a summer day from dawn to nightfall to dawn again, with particular lingering on birds and sea. With arrangements by the late Michael Kamen at Abbey Road Studios, it shifts from Joni Mitchell-ish jazz to hard rock to Gypsy Kings to histrionic chorales in a genre known only as Kate Bush, and back. But ultimately it does, as she sings, "become panoramic," immersing the listener in colour and more than earning its grandeur.

As it has many songwriters, however, parenthood seems to have lured Bush toward less distinctive subject matter. The Elizabethan-madrigal-style paean to her son Bertie cloys as much as it charms, and other lyrics skirt platitudes that would have been unthinkable when she was a quizzical, precocious youth. But the steeped richness of her voice and inventive melodies mostly prevent banality.

The greater misgiving is that Bush, famously an early adopter of new samplers and synths in the 1980s, has added so little to her palette here. Aside from the first single, King of the Mountain (a winking ode to Elvis, Citizen Kane and, ahem, other famous recluses), Aerial sounds almost like it would have a dozen years ago.

On some tracks, such as the otherwise vivid How to Be Invisible (the recipe: "Eye of Braille/ Hem of anorak/ Stem of wallflower/ Hair of doormat"), dull classic-rock production obscures the virtues. It's a relief when the collection returns to just Kate and her piano, on her sumptuously forlorn tribute to her mother, A Coral Sea. Yet how much more thrilling it would be to hear her explore some new technology.

But that could take another dozen years. What we've got is this flawed but ecstatic experience, Aerial. And once again, nearing 50, Kate Bush is making it sound like most other singers just don't know the secret of life. Listen close.

Going Out: Music
Motörhead madness-athon

The Globe & Mail Review
Friday, November 4, 2005

Some people run to help cure heart disease and others walk for breast cancer. Our charitable impulses have given rise to bikeathons, walkathons, swimathons and danceathons. Noble efforts all, but they share one drawback - they're much too healthy and wholesome to be compatible with a more night-crawling kind of lifestyle.

So what about a rockathon?

Next Wednesday, hundreds of people will assemble at the Boat nightclub in Kensington Market in Toronto to hear DJs spin music for six hours. Many will bring pledge forms in which sponsors promise donations to the Red Cross hurricane-relief fund - depending how long the listener lasts.

What's so stamina-testing about six hours of music in a bar? On this particular night, the DJs will play only one song: As the event title promises, it's Just Ace of Spades.

Yes, that's Ace of Spades, the 1980 anthem by British metal band Motörhead, led by lumbering icon Lemmy Kilmister.

And only the original recording will be permitted - no live or cover versions.

In the words of Trevor Coleman, the promoter who recently converted the Boat from karaoke dive to indie-rock clubhouse: "It's like the CN Tower stair climb, except that we're all nerds with atrophied muscles, so instead of enduring physical pain we endure extreme irony."

In six hours, the two-minute-49-second classic can be played nearly 128 times. And it's already a pretty repetitive song: The words "Ace of Spades" themselves will be heard 768 times, and the central rhythm-guitar riff (played 36 times on the record) will be heard 4,608 times over in all its three-chord majesty.

Which makes Just Ace of Spades sound less like a night out and more like some "psychic driving" session out of the 1960s CIA brainwashing experiments at the Allen Memorial Institute in Montreal. Participants risk emerging convinced that they are "born to lose, and gambling's for fools," or with a pathological phobia that they may "forget the Joker."

From what mental Hades does this devilish act of altruism hail?

"I have to admit," organizer Matt Blair says, "it started as a dare." A friend challenged Blair to get himself fired from a DJ job by playing Ace of Spades over and over and over. That conversation crossed another one about putting on a benefit concert for hurricane relief. When a third friend came up with the notion of pledge forms, Blair says, "it suddenly seemed plausible."

The event is part of a larger project called Indiepolitik, which is trying to harness the energy of the indie-rock scene to more socially conscious causes, beyond token benefit shows. The trick, Blair says, is to incorporate a sense of humour.

"There's a perception of activism that it all has to be doom and gloom. We're trying to counter that. It doesn't mean we're making light of the issues. But if you can approach it from a novel point of view, it brings extra attention."

And why Ace of Spades? "Love Motörhead or hate them, I think if you're looking for a song that is bigger and more powerful than you, Ace of Spades is it. After a few hours, even the biggest fan is going to want to step back."

Indeed, you could call Ace of Spades a Category 5 storm of rock'n'roll.

Reaction to this umlaut-a-thon has been so enthused that Indiepolitik may extend the model to other songs and causes in the future.

Besides the cover charge and pledges, the Boat is donating 20 per cent of bar sales. Blair feels a little sorry for the employees, a captive audience: "The indie scene is a very big fan of novelty in general. But that may not extend to the bar staff. We're encouraging widespread tipping."

The volume, after all, won't be gentle. Lemmy wouldn't approve of that. "It's not the kind of thing you want to do halfway. It might be a cliché to say we're gonna turn it up to 11 - but I imagine we'll start loud and just get louder."

Just Ace of Spades, Nov. 9, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Boat, 158 Augusta Ave., $5 cover or minimum pledge. For information and pledge forms, visit Indiepolitik.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 04 at 02:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


November 01, 2005

'To Find a Form that Accommodates the Mess...' (Sam B.)


Just a note to let you know that posting is likely to be light the rest of this week, while the Code Sherpa and I finish up the reupholstering of ye olde site. Funky fall colours and more will greet you early next week. If I have anything urgent to say in the interim, I'll pop in, and the Toronto Gig Guide will be kept up to date. Meanwhile the rest of the internet will be happy to serve you. I hear there's a special on Britney baby photos in Aisle 3.

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 01 at 10:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


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