by carl wilson

February 28, 2006

Tonight and the Future (Coming at you at 78 RPM!)

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Colonel Tom Parker.

Some splendid local events, including one I meant to mention earlier - because it's right now, more or less. (Sorry!) But if you got there in the next hour or so, I bet it'd still be worthwhile.

Colonel Tom Parker (of the Backstabbers) & Miss Alex Pangman (of Alex Pangman), 78 rpm Record Release Party. Tues. Feb. 28, 7 pm–9 pm, The Cameron House, 408 Queen Street West. Live music, plus DJ Giv’er spins vintage country and jazz 78’s. Proceeds go to New Orleans Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village Project!. (More details on the jump.)

Also tonight, the massive noise jam at the Drake - see "This Week's Top Shows" sidebar.

And much more to come in future about the site-specific music festival Soundaxis, June 1-11, with its ice-cold-cool slogan "architecture, music, acoustics," and smuggled-into-the-name inspiration from Iannis Xenakis.

Finally, Indiepolitik is planning to follow up its smash "Just Ace of Spades" and "Just Bohemian Rhapsody" charity events with a nation-wide (and why stop there?) "Just" Marathon, song(s?) to be announced, on Thursday, April 20.

Press release bumpf

This coming Mardi Gras (Tuesday February 28) there will be a special fundraising event in Toronto as “Colonel” Tom Parker (leader of local roots upstarts The Backstabbers) and Miss Alex Pangman (she of trad jazz combo Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats) team up to release their brand new 78 rpm recording in support of displaced New Orleans musicians.

Yep. A 78 rpm record. The last time these records were commercially available was before either of these singers was born! Pangman performs the A-side and Parker takes the B-side on a song called “The Dead Drunk Blues”. Same song, two very different styles. Pangman’s backing band the Royal Jelly Orchestra starts with a traditional New Orleans funeral march (trumpeted in by New Orleans’ native Kevin Clark) then goes uptempo 1920’s jazz, while Parker’s Swinging Door band plays it old-school country-swing on the flipside.

The inspiration for this song (written by Parker) came from a visit to New Orleans last March by this music-making couple. Smitten with each other and with this great city, the two came up with the idea to record the song and release it on the 78rpm format (they are both avid collectors of 78 country and jazz recordings). The tune was recorded in Toronto, pressed in Nashville, and will now be available as a limited edition single (with special sleeve art by designer Stacey Case), with proceeds going to the New Orleans Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village Project.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 28 at 06:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)

 

MySpace, HisSpace, OurSpace

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Arctic Monkeys.

Parallax view: Music critic David Hajdu makes an argument at The New Republic for How MySpace Is Killing Music (to amp his title up a bit). If you ignore the utterly idiotic sexual-predator tangents in there, his argument is much like those against (1) blogs, and (2) the amateurist/community-oriented approach to the arts scene recently much debated vis a vis the concept formerly known as Torontopia: Lowering the barriers to entry produces a scene that's overly self-regarding and tolerant of mediocrity, which rewards conformity to in-group expectations rather than artistic quality.

Key lines: "All the bands to rise from MySpace so far, including the talented but madly over-praised Arctic Monkeys, are good, but there is not a great one among them. One cannot help but wonder if MySpace is screening out the great ones, or failing those with the capacity for greatness." And: "If many of the site's members are to a significant degree mouthing what they hope will make them seem cool, they are saying only what they are hearing (or typing only what they are reading). Once again, the famously raucous individualism of the Internet results in crass conformism." He also notes the undoubted influence of viral marketing manipulation.

(Ben Rayner has a nice, if unsurprising, chat with the Arctic Monkeys [who play Toronto, Mar 20-21] today in the Toronto Star, despite his earlier call for their death. And Simon Reynolds has made the best case in the Monkeys' favour here.)

Notice that Hajdu's general critical interests heavily favour pre-mid-70s music (folk, jazz and pop), so you can infer a distaste for What Punk Hath Wrought. And the bizarre preoccupation with pedophilism is a symptom of a Fretting-Dad POV. But he's right that MySpace is also a corporate tool (owned by Rupert Murdoch/Fox), and more interestingly not only a detour around the record labels but a way to gain an audience without ever refining your music in the crucible of live performance. Mainly, though, he's well-rebutted by the comments on TNR's site.

But if we can agree that Hajdu is being too reactionary, how does the anti-communitarian faction (if it's fair to call you that) in the local debate substantially differ? Both seem to lack a sense of proportion.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 28 at 05:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

February 27, 2006

She Creates! She Scores!

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Arts awards are a topical subject today, given tonight's East Coast Music Awards, the upcoming Oscars and the Junos - which, it's just been announced, will be hosted by Canada's own plaster-caster manqué, Pamela Anderson. (Er, above.) And then there's the less-bodacious controversy in the comments boxes this weekend, concerning, first, my omitting mention of the upcoming 2006 National Jazz Awards (given that one of my favourite local musicians, bassist Rob Clutton, is nominated, among many other worthy players) - and, subsequently, the issue of whether "the whole notion of best this or that is so incredibly old school" and "not as much about music as it is about sports."

Artistic competition is a tradition going back to the Ancient Greek drama festivals (which were paired with sporting contests) and it's not going to go away, nor should it, for just the reason Tim was suggesting - it raises audience awareness and excitement. Witness American Idol (and its kin), which tricks people into watching a show about singing because someone is going to win (and, more frequently and schadenfreud-satisfyingly, lose). Even more so witness the CBC's National Playlist, which manages to trick a sizable audience into listening to a daily half-hour of music criticism by making it a game, complete with time restrictions, ringing bells and elimination rounds. The game has no real purpose other than to be a game, but the gambit works. Saying "art is not a contest" is stupid - art is in competition with other art and non-art for the public's time, and awards and other competitive spectacles are the Trojan Horses artists use to penetrate the fortress of mass and media attention. Art is also a contest for meaning, and significance, wrapped up in concepts of advancement and evolution and influence that, for all their pernicious deceptions, we have a hard time living without.

People have an apparently innate enjoyment of contests, and if some gladiatorial sparring has the effect of focusing minds upon the arts once in a while, it's a good tactic, as suggested by the inventors of Theatresports and other comedy-improv contests, as well as poetry slams, etc. (Granted, the challenge is to devise ways that the rules of the game can prevent the level of pandering to which these contests can sink. But I'll leave that for now.) It's certainly far preferable to the more common approach of treating art with the language of business, in which box-office stats, TV ratings, album sales and auction prices become the biggest arbiters of value. If only there were an art Olympics, with the same requirement of amateurism and fascination with the process!

Of course that is not art's primary value and purpose. But why is that even worth saying? The "art is not a contest" complaint generally seems to stem from a sappy wish to assert that all art deserves our love (which is not true), which ultimately masks a fear that if art is a contest, the speaker may be losing it. It's the sentiment that says that if there are to be any awards given out in schools, everybody has to get one, and so forth. Go watch The Incredibles: Saying everyone is special is a way of saying that nobody is special, and while that is true in terms of basic human worth, in fact people (including artists) are special in multivalent ways and not equal to one another on every level, and recognition of extraordinary talents and achievements seems to me more democratic in its acknowledgment of that diversity and the qualities that make humanity seem a more viable going proposition, against all the reasons to give up on the whole pitiful mess. You'd think, from the chagrin with which some speak of it, that the penalty for losing the Giller or the Juno were execution, or at least the immediate cessation of your career, when mostly they raise interest in their fields in general, to everyone's benefit.

Not to say that the evaluation and jockeying for position are not constantly getting out of hand: I would prefer a culture of arts appreciation in which the central communal ritual was not the annual, lumped-together 10-best list. I heard an interesting comment on NPR this weekend that the elimination of separate Oscars for musical scores for dramatic films and comedies has resulted in a total shut-out of comedy scores, due to inherent biases in the film academy's judgments, which consider dramas more Important, and overblown John Williamsesque scores therefore more significant than those with a light, agile touch. That is what Best lists tend to do, when they're not separated out into categories each with their own valid criteria.

And of course, the process lends itself to corruption: Check out James F. English's recent book The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value, which documents the myriad ways the ever-growing field of arts prizes acts like a crazed counterfeiting machine that goes on adding ersatz cultural currency to the system until every kind of cultural capital seems always-already-surplus. (In its function as an annex of the celebrity-industrial complex.) But English also notes the way that the prizes all act as pivot points for argument - the purpose of the awards is as much to be wrong as to be right, to be denounced, to leave out the "real winner" and propel a whole cacophanous discourse around value and quality. And even then, they're not taken too seriously, if you compare it to the way people get emotional about athletics, the way Wayne Gretzky is now somehow covered in a shroud of grief because his team didn't win the gold medal. (You don't get headlines reading A Nation in Mourning when Denys Arcand doesn't win a foreign-film Oscar!)

All that said, though, there's a specific reason why I haven't talked about the National Jazz Awards, and it has to do with the creepy process involved. Because they're awarded by a strangely arbitrary online popular vote, the nominees are pushed (by understandable career anxiety) into lobbying mode, rattling around in my email in-box pleading "vote for me!" as if they were running for queen of the jazz prom. The whole thing is uncomfortable and damaging to the dignity of the musicians and of the potential voters they have to glad-hand. I wish it were a juried prize or even an "academy" kind of process (which would at least introduce a degree of formality to the atmosphere, as well as, in both cases, producing enjoyable caricaturable villains, as James English documents). It leaves me unenthused to participate. We may disagree (hell, I may even disagree with myself) about whether art should be more like sports. But surely none of us are yearning for it to be even more like politics.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 27 at 03:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

February 24, 2006

Jazzing the 'topia

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Lori Freedman and Frank Gratkowski. This is tonight (Monday), folks!

Rushing, and there's plenty of chatter for y'all to get caught up upon in the comments sections if that's your poison, but kwickly:

1. Today in the Globe & Mail, I reviewed the new Howe Gelb album, 'Sno Angel Like You, which was recorded with the Voices of Praise gospel choir (!) as well as singer-songwriter Jim Bryson, and Jeremy Gara, the drummer from the Arcade Fire, a year or so ago in Ottawa (Ottawopia!?). Howe and some version of that band, or another band, or no band (it's kind of unclear), are touring in Canada for the next week, including Monday in Montreal and at the Horseshoe in Toronto on Sunday, March 5. (Full tour dates.)

2. The AIMT (Association of Improvising Musicians, Toronto) - one indie-music collective that ought to get a lot more attention for how much cool shit it's doing - hosts Montreal reeds player Lori Freedman on the weekend of March 10-12 as part of its Interface series. But first, Ms. Freedman is making her way here this weekend in the company of heavy German reedist Frank Gratkowski; they're both playing the NOW Lounge (189 Church) on Sunday from 4 pm to 7 pm, along with a bunch of local improvisors, and then a duo show Monday night at the Goethe Institut (163 King W), 8 pm. (More details here.)

3. And that's only the beginning of the jazz/improv action to come around town, including two shows by the mighty NYC post-Cecil piano force Matthew Shipp next weekend (March 4-5) at the Music Gallery and Arrayspace, followed March 10 with an appearance by the great Randy Weston. Also, much later in the year, John Zorn's Acoustic Masada (with Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen and Joey Baron) is playing the Music Hall on June 28. Not to mention the Derek Bailey Memorial BBQ on March 17 with a fistful of local guitarprovisors, Henry Kaiser and Lukas Ligeti playing with CCMC types past and present on March 26, and other wonders yet to reveal their true names to mortal ears - let alone all the snappin' happenin's every week at Arraymusic, the Tranzac, the Rex, the Red Guitar and elsewhere.

So it seems the Senator dies and the Toronto jazz scene comes to life!

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 24 at 08:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (16)

 

February 22, 2006

More Toronto: Now in the NYT

Speaking of which, that long-awaited New York Times Magazine piece about Toronto Toronto indie-rock [sorry for the over-generalization] is coming out this weekend. Here's a preview. I'm quoted, I know, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Kelefa Sanneh also took his kick at the Destroyer can in the Times today, in fine form.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 22 at 10:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (14)

 

Clarifying Utopia

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Graham caps off a righteous rant over at Regulate the Voice about a sloppy, cliquey, in-jokey Sloan "tribute" show last week with this comment: "i'm not swallowing the whole 'Torontopia' or 'uTOpia' stuff because if it was so, one wouldn't need to keep asserting it to be true (see books, documentaries, zoilus at times)."

First off, I don't doubt the Sloan show was weak. Maybe there were some cute moments, but overall, from all reports, too much laziness for an event to which you invite the public. I enjoyed Dollarama, for instance, the first time or two around. I like the concept. But I wish they'd start developing beyond the concept: It's actually possible for improvised noise on jerryrigged instruments to sound good and take the listener someplace, and the members ought to start checking out the precedents. (Start with the Nihilist Spasm Band!)

But Graham is missing the point of both Torontopia and uTOpia: It's not to assert that Toronto already is some kind of utopia. It's to suggest that the people who live here begin to imagine that it could be one, that all the aspects are present, and it only takes a leap of faith and will to create that T'topia for yourself, from day to day, or at least something more like it. My slogan for many years has been: "Maybe you can't change the world - but you can change Toronto." And that attitude has really done wonders for my life here. And "Torontopia" as a collective idea just recognizes that maybe a bunch of people in the city are coming upon this idea mutually.

Even more so the point is that it's not specific to Toronto: You can adapt this attitude to whatever place you live. The defeatist, "this town is a shithole" attitude, which is so widespread here (see the comments on Graham's post), the Toronto self-hating thing, is so profoundly uncreative - rather than "love it or leave it", it's either leave it or remake it. (As the Nihilist Spasm Band did with London, Ont., for instance, or the fabulous Ford Plant kids did with the shithole town I came from, Brantford.) Love and hate are both self-fulfilling prophecies. And utopias, after all, are by definition unreal.

So if you find people, like me, or Coach House, or Blocks, seemingly bent on "asserting it to be true" it's because the truth is in the asserting. And the occasional letdown, I'd say, comes with that territory.

(Also, Graham, nice Destroyer post.)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 22 at 05:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (39)

 

Urgent Action Appeal

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To the Destroyer-lovin' masses: They said on the CBC this morning that Painter in Your Pocket is not faring so well in the popular vote on-line for The National Playlist, where I nominated it as a panelist last week. My only ambition is that it last out its first week. So please help me rescue it: Cruise on over to their website and give it a vote - and do it again tomorrow and Friday (you can vote once every 24 hours). And pass the word along!

(In other online destructible amusements, check out Merge Records' Deface Destroyer contest.)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 22 at 12:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

February 21, 2006

I type an I, I type a space, I type a T,
I type a Y, I type a P, I type an E ...

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... to say that in a couple of hours - at 8 pm - I will be attending the Kenneth Goldsmith reading at Lexiconjury, upstairs at Bar Italia on College St. (With Barbara Cole and Darren Wershler Henry.) Besides being a creator of curious wordworks, Kenny G. is a DJ at weirdest-radio-station-in-America WFMU, and the publisher of UbuWeb, which is The Best Thing On The Internet. (And I'll stand on YouTube's coffeetable in my cowboy boots and say that.) If you're in the neighbourhood, why don'tcha come too?

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 21 at 05:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

Ariel Pink's Spoiled Graffiti, Repainted

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Saw the Ariel Pink/Psychic Ills performance at the Boat tonight - interrupted by a cameo appearance by the po-po because of a neighbour's noise complaint. (Hope this isn't the shape of things to come.) The Ills were quite fine, in much the vein I described last week but looser, with less ambient-shoegazery - but I have to say that in relation even to the most well-done neo-psychedelic soundscapery, with an attuned psychic (sorry) link among the players, I end up feeling I'd rather be listening to jazz. The analog synth and guitar interplay was the highlight, along with the low drones from the attractive bass player (the vocals were just murk), but I could only yearn that they would build their phrases from a broader harmonic-expressive lexicon. Most of the crowd seemed to, um, dig it, though.

And those folks and I parted ways partway again with Ariel Pink's set, which was marred from the start by the California boy's petulant, spoiled kvetching about the monitors and the mix, the shenanigans for which he's infamous live: "Everywhere I go, people fuckin' hate me," he bitched, with the echo on his mic providing a (not accidentally, I suspect) comical repetition and fade of his complaint. It drove a good portion of the Psychic Ills admirers out the door, if the delay-by-cop hadn't already done so. But with a sizable segment of the crowd stubbornly unwilling to take "I'm too much of a jerk" for an answer, he gradually got into a great groove, with his K-Tel-Greatest-Hits-Drenched-in-Bleach catchily-distorted tunes eventually rippling out into a vast concentric circle of warped sugarpop till I couldn't stop dancing. It was the back-from-the-brink effect, the "Reality Dub" (see previous explication in this post) that I find even more beguiling than conventionally good showmanship. But in this case the terms were reversed: Rather than Ariel manipulating the audience with a deliberate "throwing" of the show and a recovery, the audience manipulated him, clapping and singing and jiving along with songs that he was delivering only desultorily, until he had to unleash some of the Bowie-esque chameleonic superpowers you hear on his records, and regale us with these extraterrestrially idealized creations that channel the dessicated spirits of the Archies, Captain & Tennille, the Smiths and Depeche Mode, by turns, like a too-many-times-rewashed Magnetic Fields. (The polka-dot blouse helped.) I think my favourite factor was the half-dozen people in the crowd who kept mimicking him every time he used his little tic, his "shhhh" sounds over the backup-tape karaoke-instrumentals. It was Toronto saying, "Calm down, dude, we get conceptual indie-mock here, it's old news to us, just do your show and stop being so defensive." After threatening to walk off three times in the first five minutes, he ended up closing a 40-minute set (probably curtailed by the noise issue more than anything) by saying, "I'm really not used to such a supportive crowd." It made me proud of this open-skulled city, with its slogan, "We fix your damaged artists." Although I still thought, man, you should see Wax Mannequin - he'll show you how to deliver those mangled original-classics with real pizzazz.

Kudos by the way, to the Boat's skipper Trevor Coleman for handling the primadonna with egoless aplomb, which just reinforced the joy.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 21 at 03:09 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

February 20, 2006

Wha'?

For reasons I cannot divine, there was an unprecedented spike in Zoilusian traffic on Mon., Feb. 6: 17,914 unique visitors on that one day, which is a bit more than twice the number who pass through here most days. Was it some glitch in the counting software, that made it count everybody twice, or was there some high-profile linkage that day I didn't know about? Please assuage my curiosity.

As long as I'm housekeeping: Woo, there's sure a sweaty testosterone smell in the comments boxes the past week or two. (Former?) female readers, is it something I said? Or is it that other guy's fault?

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 20 at 06:12 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)

 

Bang a (Filipino) Gong: Press Gang

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Quick but thrilling piece from the Times over the weekend about one of my favourite musicians, improvising percussionist Susie Ibarra and her (be still my heart) "Filipino gong electronica". And I assume y'all also saw the illuminating Daniel Johnston article? And the delightful one about the Wallace Shawn opera? And the scary one about the Johnny Cash "jukebox musical" that I somehow suspect won't be as dark and poetic as its creators think, once it makes Broadway?

Meanwhile, on Destroyer-watch (read on at your own risk!): Consider the Pitchfork review definitive proof that the horrible trend in Destroyer's Rubies reviews is that they are all about other reviews. Which is fucktarded. Too bad: If he'd started with the third paragraph perhaps someone might become interested in the music. (PS: He makes very good points about the singing.) Also, A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point is currently my favourite song, and Sick Priest just requires a few extra listens to be revealed as the funniest song and a great coda, so everyone is wrong about that, but everyone is right that Priest's Knees should not have made the cut. Anyway, it's getting to the point where all I want to do is argue for the richness of Dan's comedy, but the reviews are making it clear that lots of people don't share this sense of humour, and I honestly do not get how it's possible to enjoy it otherwise, and certainly to feel the sense of tragedy. Which is (?) maybe why folks feel it's all about some preoccupation with intellect?

Have I told you lately that I love you? Did I fail to mention there's a sword hanging above you?

Viewed over the weekend: Match Point, Capote, Brokeback Mountain: No, maybe and yes.

Beware of the great vowel shift!

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 20 at 03:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

February 17, 2006

Avant-Rock the Vote

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All right, the time has come! For the next week you can vote to keep Destroyer's Painter in Your Pocket on CBC's National Playlist, as nominated by me and voted on to the list (unanimously!) by this week's panel. It's currently floating at No. 8. You can vote once a day from any given computer. (Have access to more than one computer? Hint, hint.) Hear the song via Merge's streaming Destroyer's Rubies Jukebox. You can also listen to my out-of-breath pitch for the song on the show's homepage, tho unfortunately only by RealAudio. Alternately, read a rough transcription of said pitch in yesterday's comment box, about halfway down, before it all tangentializes into a (worthwhile!) debate about Lester Bangs. Or you could preview the song via the CBC's slightly unholy alliance with iTunes. Anyway, it's a way to spread the Destroyerality to the unsuspecting citizenry, so your support would be virtuous. (Despite, for instance, today's Globe review by Robert Everett-Green - which isn't that negative, if you bypass the star rating and stop before the final zinger. ... Again, I'm left wondering, why can't "school" be one of the things pop "should" feel like? Studying philosophy, a knife fight, sex, a marathon run, carving soapstone, yelling at your dad, the sight of a Van Gogh, the sour-sweet smell of a baby's blanket, examining dinosaur bones - why should any sensation be alien to it?)

In other news I've also got a piece in today's Globe myself, about the upcoming show at the Boat with the Psychic Ills and Ariel Pink. I was going to write about Pink's touring plan to be backed up by a different local band in every town, but it seems that in Toronto he couldn't get anybody to take up his challenge on such short notice. Toronto! You disappoint us!

I also have a mini-review of the new CD on Rat-drifting records by Saint Dirt Elementary School, called Fall (in love) by April: Toronto! I take it back! You're fantastic! I didn't have space to say much about the musicians on that record besides leader Myk Freedman, but I should note that it includes some terrific keyboard work by Tania Gill and Ryan Driver, who are each in a host of other groups (Deep Dark United, Runcible Spoon, the Reveries, the Silt, etc. etc. etc.). And sax player Rob Mosher particularly shines in his couple of guest appearances. Not quite as zany as the band's first outing, I think it has a much longer potential shelf life, especially to those with a taste for Tiki-room outre hi-fi (gone lo-fi here) as well as country'n'eastern tinged free (or at least cheap!) jazz.

Elsewhere: I highly recommend reading Brian Joseph Davis's Books column in eye every week, but the latest, on a new book on urban neo-bohemias, is essential: The right riposte to all the Richard Florida "creative city" hype (some of which I buy, some of which I don't) as well as the long, long, long awaited followup to C. Carr's classic Village Voice "Bohemian Diaspora" piece, a huge influence on my thinking about culture. Switch off your own would-be-boho defense system and have a think. It all relates to the "what is indie?" questions that came up last week at Wavelength and to which I'm going to return in an imminent post (along with a belated discussion of the Gogol Bordello show on Wednesday night, from which I was a bit too hungover to fashion a coherent report yesterday).

Also in eye, don't miss the (kinda buried) profile of poet/conceptual-artist Kenneth Goldsmith. I find Goldsmith's stuff as fascinating as it is boring, and while I'm skeptical that it satisfies any of the demands of poetry as I intuit them, that's ultimately not as good a question as the ones his books ask, about how language functions and doesn't and how daily life is experienced or isn't. Not to mention what a book is: Can you say a book is good, even great, if the book can't really be read in the conventional sense? Because that's how I feel about Goldsmith's Soliloquy, in particular.

And finally, there's the very impressive Writers' Week over at Moistworks, featuring various artists of prose posting MP3s and waxing variously lyrical or batshit-crazy about their musical fixations. Victim/victimizers include Benjamin Anastas, Emily Barton, Harry Conklin, Geoff Dyer, Ivan Felt, Samantha Gillison, David Knowles, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte & Christopher Sorrentino.... Hmm, where the fuck's Ben Marcus? (Thanks to StG for the tip.)

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 17 at 04:08 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

February 16, 2006

Your Backlash Was Right (Where I Wanted You)

And so it begins. (See second review.) The Torontoist is already trying to turn it into a bunfight, but Miss Spitz is a friend of ours. She's got every right to hear it as she hears it. She just happens to be wrong. "Do you think he does this as a joke?" Actually, yes I do, partly. This shit has always been funny. As for "nothing without heart": You know, frankly, I think that indie rock in general suffers at the moment from a surfeit of heart, too much sensitivity and an overabundance of feelings. In short, too many records by former Belle & Sebastian fanclubbers. There are songs on this album that have plenty of emotion and tenderness, and others that are arrogantly full of slash'n'burn scorn, and I think that's fantastic and invigorating. But the intertextuality is little more than an amusing distraction, and folks shouldn't get too caught up in it, which I think not only Helen's slam but Sarah's praise both do. (You can't introduce anybody to an artist by saying, "Hey, their music is full of allusions!" They need to hear what the intrinsic appeal is first.) For the record, my previewing essay had nothing to do with "annotating lyrics," and everything to do with the "humanity" Spitz thinks has gone missing here. On that level we couldn't disagree more. Anyway, there's more of this on its way - I got a peek at my colleague Robert Everett-Green's review, appearing in the Globe tomorrow. It's impossible to talk something up these days without simultaneously setting it up for a fall, but, foolhardy, we soldier on.

Oh, and PS: "If Destroyer were a book..."? It might be this book.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 16 at 04:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (34)

 

February 14, 2006

Dicto-Victo

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Keiji Haino, solo at Victoriaville in May.

I'm a few days late with this, but the program for the upcoming 23rd annual Victoriaville International Festival of Musique Actuelle (May 18-22) is up on the festival website now. Among the artists that stand out for me are Fieldwork (Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman and Elliot Humberto Kavee), Fennesz, the Tzadik band Charming Hostess, KK Null, Keiji Haino, turntablist Ipecac "industrial hip-hop" group Dälek, Nels Cline/Andrea Parkins/Tom Rainey, Toronto's (and Montreal's) own Barnyard Drama and - perhaps the closing concert? - Borbetomagus and noise kings Hijokaidan. The pick-for-the-kids of the year is obviously Sunn0)))), but otherwise I don't see much new-beard-noise-scene followup from 2005 - though there's perhaps a bit of a running seminar on Where Noise Came From in all the Japanese content. Oh, and there's fashionably Finnish representation from KTU. Plus a bunch of stuff I'm less familiar with. Victo-heads, what do you think? Fewer quebecois artists than usual, but I don't see any prevailing themes beyond the (not-so-unusual at Victo) Japanese one, at first glance.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 14 at 07:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

Biography of a Song

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You might recall some discussion in these parts last fall about books that are about a single song. The subject came up in a piece in the Boston Globe last weekend by James Sullivan (author of a forthcoming cultural history of blue jeans) that was mostly about books about albums (such as the 33 1/3 series). It starts off with the cute thesis that the album as a form may be dying in the music marketplace, but it has new life on bookshelves. But then it takes a turn in the final section:

Recently, a spate of books extolling the virtues, and plumbing the depths, of individual songs have appeared alongside books about albums. The critic Greil Marcus has dissected Bob Dylan's ''Like a Rolling Stone" at book length. Dave Marsh wrote about ''Louie Louie"; David Margolick, ''Strange Fruit." There are books on ''White Christmas" and ''Amazing Grace."

There are, though, substantive differences between books on album and books on songs. The latter tend to follow a song standard as it travels through the culture, crossing regions and generations and reinterpretations by different artists. Journalist Ted Anthony's forthcoming ''Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song" traces the long journey of the traditional lament ''House of the Rising Sun" from its origins in 19th-century folk through the British Invasion of the 1960s (when it became a No. 1 smash hit by the Animals) and into the present day, where he finds it in karaoke bars in Bangkok and Beijing.

More so than books about albums, which, whatever their cultural implications, remain bound by the specific time and place of the recording, books about songs tend to offer a kind of microhistory-an offshoot, as it were, of another of the publishing world's recent infatuations.

The success of Mark Kurlansky's books ''Salt" and ''Cod,"-biographies, essentially, of important commodities-inspired a slew of works in a similar vein-the titles ''Spice," ''Tobacco," ''Zipper," and ''Zero" among them. As with these projects, books about single artworks can provide revelations about the world beyond the thing itself.

Books about traditional songs, such as ''Chasing the Rising Sun" or Cecil Brown's ''Stagolee Shot Billy," are especially good at teasing out deeper meanings, says Marcus. ''You have a song that comes to general notice through a pop hit, and then you find it opens into this cave where there are thousands of burials, people still living in the corners, some people conducting mining operations deep inside. There's infinite complexity."

Anthony canvassed hundreds of versions of ''House of the Rising Sun" in his research, but he doesn't consider himself a musicologist. ''I'm coming more from an American studies perspective," he says. In his introduction, he writes that he might have found his window into American culture in any number of things-a recipe, an advertising icon. ''I like looking at larger issues through the prism of something very small," he says. And songs, as any iPod user knows, take up a lot less space than albums.

While I mainly agree, the potential trouble with using a song as a window into cultural history - just as with using salt or tobacco - is that you risk making more of the song's journey and influence than is really warranted, and as creative as that can be, it can also curdle into crap, of the "the song that changed history" variety. To quote the Artforum review of Dave Marsh's Louie Louie book, for instance: "By the end of his book Marsh is claiming Richard Berry as the forebear of both rapper Ice-T and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, insisting, with typical understatement, 'Louie Louie shaped the modern rock 'n' roller's entire world.' "

All of which leads up to me alerting you to the existence of a single-song blog, a site that details the quest of my friend Rob Walker (you might know him from the "Consumed" column in the New York Times Magazine) into the history and fascinations of the trad.blues St. James Infirmiry, and by tangent, the culture of New Orleans.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 14 at 05:59 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

February 13, 2006

Notes on Schmaltz, One

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The Alessi Brothers, guiding lights of the UK Guilty Pleasures club nights.

Being the first of an ongoing series of posts of thoughts, references and questions for my book-in-progress, Let's Talk About Love (or 2006, A Celine Dionyssee): Let's talk about the success of MOR Club Night Guilty Pleasures in the UK, as discussed in this Guardian story. I'm wary of the air-quote mind that I suspect still governs this supposed celebration of "naffness." It treats schmaltz nihilistically, as "anti-everything," as the story suggests. Now, I do think that pop nihilism has value (unlike John, for one: I appreciate the spirit of his post, but I think he's taking the term "destroy" way too literally - it's a much more oedipal/dialectical thing). But "the good destruction" also belongs to a certain (romantic-modernist) tradition, the one of which rock is a subset. Superimposing it on music that has quite a different array of intensities/effects seems reductive, arrogant, narrowminded. (Read: rockism. Or meta-rockism.) It seems to me that there's another way to enjoy good schmaltz, without either playing the fool or playing it for a fool. But that's not to say that I can articulate - or fully experience - it in that way, so far.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 13 at 03:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

February 11, 2006

'60 Revelations Per Minute/ This is My Regular Speed'

eugene_thumb.jpgEugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello.

I've been confined to bed today as my cold punishes me for sleeping too little this week, so I'm late in mentioning that I had a profile in the paper on Friday of New York "gypsy punk" ensemble Gogol Bordello, one of my favourite bands on Earth, including an interview with an indefatigable verbal volcano, their frontman Eugene Hutz - I'll share some unprinted sections from that interview on Zoilus nearer to their Toronto gig on Wednesday. (Also check out the band's touring music collection, a pretty great source of recommendations.) As well, today my biweekly Thought Bubbles column in the Focus section dealt with more fraudulent memoirists, the deceptions of the French country market, a lucky break for Noam Chomsky and the latest pomo-theory rock star, Giorgio Agamben.

The Wavelength panels went well, thanks for asking, though next time I'd suggest they just be held entirely apart from a night of shows - I think a discussion could draw more people if it weren't going to mean committing yourself to a six-or-seven-hour evening. (Also: Snacks!) But our "shape of things to come" panel must have been at least moderately successful since it's already spawned this take-action thread on Stillepost. Rethinking the indie music community on the model of artist-run centres and artist-run culture feels like an exciting breakthrough to me, for all the participants whose goal is not necessarily "be a famous rock star." (For more on the panels also see the comments box to Thursday's entry, below.)

Also I had a blast recording the coming week's National Playlist radio show with Sarah Slean and Laurie Brown yesterday and I think it's going to make for a lively, intelligent five mornings of discussion about music (yes, they record the whole week's panels the Friday before, even though they pretend it's live day-to-day - that's your little peek behind the curtain - but no, I won't tell you how it turns out). So even if you're sceptical about the show in general, I encourage you to listen this time, Mon-Fri at 11:30 am to noon on CBC Radio 1.

Roma revival

CARL WILSON
The Globe and Mail
Friday, February 10, 2006

When Gogol Bordello first visited Toronto a few years ago, the grotty club they played was dominated by Ukrainian and Russian teens who'd heard the extravagant eight-piece "gypsy punk" band was led by a fellow expat. The few non-Slavs present had heard rumours of a handlebar-mustached, rock-circus ringmaster, whose vodka-fuelled shows mixed (as the band's name suggests) bawdy romps with literary flights in a blender of broken languages, and wound up in Iggy Pop-like ecstatic states of undress.

When the band returns here next Wednesday, the crowd at the swank Drake Hotel may have heard it's led by a movie star. But nothing essential has changed.

Eugene Hutz's part-Roma (Gypsy) family fled Chernobyl's fallout when he was a teen, moving across Europe and finally to the U.S. This fall, the rebel refugee was the toast of the Toronto film festival as the passionately hapless "premium" translator Alex in Everything is Illuminated, the movie based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel.

Critics touted Hutz for a supporting-actor Oscar nomination that didn't materialize. "I wasn't losing my sleep over it," says Hutz. After all, fans already knew his screen persona had just a sliver of the charismatic creativity he brings to the stage. There, he's flanked by parade-drum-beating, war-painted nymphets and guys slashing fiddles and pumping accordions, doing for Gypsy music what the Pogues did for Irish folk tunes.

"Maybe my mom and the whole Ukrainian press was ready for me to take the Oscar. But I know where I belong and what I need to do."

Though he plans to keep acting, he's not about to abdicate his post as a subcultural saint of New York for Los Angeles, or accept any of the "predictable, bad-Eastern-European-guy-spreading-biological-weapons" movies he's been offered lately. As he sings on Gogol Bordello's latest album, Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike, "Them are too greedy to pay my asylum bills/ This is my life and freedom is my profession/ This is my mission throughout all flight duration."

That mission began back in Kiev, where he discovered rock through his musician father, then punk on his own in the black markets. "The Dead Kennedys's Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, I listened to that record 5,000 times," he says. (All Hutz's sentences come garnished with intensifying expletives, so just sprinkle them on in your head.) "It was right when perestroika was about to bust out. . . . Dead Kennedys was very Cold War, and I could tell these people were trying to break through from the other side on a humanitarian level. It spoke to me right away."

Through "exchange students from socialist African countries" he also heard funk bands such as War and Parliament-Funkadelic. "George Clinton said Funkadelic was about wanting to get 'the whole army' on stage. You see the influence of that in Gogol Bordello -- it's just an army of a different kind of characters."

Also key was discovering his Roma background. "We were doing the assimilated thing, but when we left Kiev I met the whole expanded family. I was kinda pissed off at first: 'This is the coolest part of our family!' I'm a Ukrainian-Russian-Lithuanian-Roma mix, and I can identify with any other spirit, but the Roma aspect is important because it brings you straight to the intersection of art and human rights, and all music and art that always interested me had that element of . . . reaching out through borders."

He finally made his way to his dream international city, New York, only to find the underground culture he'd idealized was in a fallow period. So he resolved to invent his own. Starting from a wedding band, he put together Gogol Bordello - with a pair of Russians, two Israelis, one Thai-American, an Ecuadorean, a Chinese-Scot and a drummer from Florida.

They amassed a following performing and DJing in tiny bars in Manhattan's meatpacking district, and then around the world. "We raised [our audience] like a kitten in tour after tour. Those fans aren't going to go anywhere. Now there's even [movie] hype that comes on top of it, but the foundation is already there. The best bands grow into success organically in their sixth or seventh year."

Major labels come calling now - too late, Hutz says - and their cross-cultural party scene has spawned fawning profiles in the New York Times, allies such as Slavic Soul Party! and the Hungry Marching Band, and even a few cheap imitations. "Sometimes I don't want to be Gandhi about it. I want to bust their ass. But everything is going to end up exactly where it belongs."

Hutz has bigger causes, namely the "cultural revolution" he proclaims in his most Clash-like moments in song, against the "strangling element" he's detected all over the world.

"I don't mean Chinese-style, to extinguish your own history. But I've gone through so many mind-warping and stretching experiences, I learned that human beings are very adaptable and powerful. It's all about how you process information. You don't have to give in to these pre-fab ideas fed you by education, or the celebrity cult of values that is force-fed you by media. . . . That is where you revolutionize yourself first."

No, Hutz hasn't gone Hollywood. By all signs, as he sings on Underdog World Strike, he's "undestructable."

Gogol Bodello and Lenin I Shumov appear at the Drake Hotel on Feb. 15. $12 to $15. 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, February 11 at 07:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

February 09, 2006

Shhhh-stroyer

At the risk of exacerbating Destroyer fatigue: Popsheep is currently offering three more gems from the pirate's chest of Bejarian ultra-rarities.

Also a reminder to Toronto readers that I'm speaking tonight in the Wavelength anniversary panels at the Speakeasy on Church near Richmond. Panels start at 7, mine should be on sometime after 8, and later there's music from Feuermusic, Kickers, Republic of Safety and Anagram, though I probably can't stay because my flu-cold is building to Scanners proportions in my head.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 09 at 01:38 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

February 08, 2006

Duelling Cyclones Jacknife

fader.jpg

As the Feb. 21 date for Destroyer's Rubies draws near, the blogosphere gets more het' up on it: First check out the debate over on Popsheep on D's Rs as simulacrum-and-transcendence-of-Greatest-Hits-comp, and then Jenny's comments (she claims to agree completely, but in fact she disagrees?), and finally refer back to the fresh Sixeyes interview with the man himself, on "driving through yellow lights" as artistic method, and band as "mangler."

I'd comment but I'm a little nervous at this rate that D's Rs is going to be rendered into iPop (no, not this kind), except that when the poor writer whose music collection crashed on him gives the Arctic Monkeys as a prime example of "massive internet hype and fuck all real-world impact," while ignoring that little detail about their being the fastest-selling UK debut ever, it's clear that what he means by iPop is "things you downloaded that you personally discover you don't actually like that much." Which is a lot less scary. (The real lesson, as usual, is: Take good care of those you love. Which in this case means "back up your files.")

So let's return to the main event, which is that Merge is now streaming a full preview of Destroyer's Rubies. (Thanks Ryan.) And for the truly obsessed there is the new Wiki. But keep away from the ILM thread. It gets ugly in there.

(Postscript: I'm comparing what Simon says about the Arctic Monkeys partway thru this post with what I think about Destroyer - definitely the image of an inbred mutt that turns out improbably to be an attack dog resonates, and Dan's vocals similarly are better if you look at them as similar to rap "flow" rather than singing, but without what Simon would think of us as the crucial regional element; he wouldn't count west-coast Canadian. Also, obvs Destroyer faces the rock-is-obsolete problem more head-on... Added: Simon quotes K-Punk as saying, "What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists.” Which is what Destroyer's quite explicitly about, albeit with built-in scepticism toward the possibility of success, which self-fulfillingly makes it not-Pop.)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 08 at 11:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)

 

Drat
Or, Waiting For R. Kelly

So after all that good conversation and bright ideas in the comments boxes, I'd settled on R. Kelly's Ignition (Remix) as my second National Playlist pick - a bit obvious, I know, but truly one of the great full-system-pleasure singles of the last 10 years - but then the producers informed me I'd overlooked one of their rules: The songs have to have a topical twist, some special "relevance" to "why this song has to be on everybody's playlist right now." Which threw me back out into the void. I toyed with pegging Mingus's Atomic Bomb (thanks, John) to the Iranian nuclear confrontation, but it didn't feel right, and considered going for various Valentine's Day choices (I Feel Love?), but that felt weak. (I'm boycotting V-Day this year anyway.) Eventually I came up with something fun, but it's not quite as "subversive" as we all set out to be yesterday. This has been Lesson 314 in the ongoing series, Why Things Suck -- no, it should still be fun, but not quite as fun as ranting on about the recursive-hall-of-mirrors-as-drunken-party-as-endless-cyclical-time implicit structure of Ignition (Remix), like Usher gone Escher, a song which is about being at a party where they're listening to this song about being at a party where they're listening to this song about being at a party where (etc etc), and about the fact that the "freakin' weekend" will come, it always comes, but then it always ends ... like some R&B; rejoinder to Waiting for Godot:

Kells. After the show it's the after party, and after the party it's the hotel lobby, and round about four you gotta clear the lobby.
Estragon. Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!
Kells. I'm like, so what, I'm drunk.
Estragon. Nothing to be done.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 08 at 05:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

February 07, 2006

Zoilus's Adventures in Publicland
Plus: Make My Pick!

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Midwinter slumbering has come to an end and all the activity-makers are in their busy seasons. A number of them have caught yers truly at the end of their fishin' poles: On Thursday night, I'm one of the panelists in the Wavelength 300 event - the crucial Toronto music series always celebrates its anniversary with a set of concerts, and it toasts its sixth year from Thursday to Sunday with bands such as Republic of Safety, Ninja High School, Anagram, Lenin i Shumov, the Hylozoists, Picastro and many more. But on Thursday before the music program, for the first time they're having discussions - three panels on indie music and community, from 7 to about 9 pm at the Speakeasy (formerly Rockit!) at 120 Church, near Richmond. The panels are free (or pwyc) and based on the preparatory meeting I had last weekend with my co-panelists on "Where Do We Go From Here?" (the final panel), they should be pretty exciting, if you're a community-minded kinda geek. Subjects in our half-hour-plus will include creating sustainable resources (venues? recording co-ops? arts collectives?), what happens when indie kids grow up and have indie babies, whether or not the music community should cross over more with other arts and social causes, etc.

Next week, I'll be a guest on The National Playlist on CBC - yes, the Jian Ghomeshi musical version of Survivor, and yes, I can hear a few of you groaning. The format may be cheesy, but the show can be fairly entertaining as a way to have musical chat depending on the panel, and I'm on with arts journalist Laurie Brown and musician Sarah Slean, both of whom I respect a lot. (I think it's the show's first fully gender balanced panel, counting Ghomeshi, in fact.) I've got something Zoilus readers can probably guess in mind for the "recent Canadian" pick, but am still thinking about the "classic" pick: Should it be something by Timbaland? Ornette Coleman? Laurie Anderson? George Jones? Can? Anthrax? They want something that "revisits an old favourite," but I also want to disrupt the folk-rock-pop hegemony the show tends towards, while not choosing something extreme to be bratty. (So no Merzbow, and even Capt. Beefheart and Pere Ubu have been considered and rejected.) So far the most subversive move there has been to go ultra-pop (there were dust-ups over Michael Jackson and Maestro Fresh Wes), but my favourites were Helen Spitzer's selections of Beatbox by The Art of Noise and Rock el Casbah by Rachid Taha. Smooth moves, Helen. (You can guess how they did in listener voting.) Anyway, your suggestions are more than welcome.

Finally, I did an interview today for an NPR feature on Destroyer by Philadelphia arts broadcaster Joel Rose, which will air sometime in the next couple of weeks: I'll let you know when I know.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 07 at 04:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)

 

February 03, 2006

Feral Children and Infinite Ghosts

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I wrote another version of this post on Friday, but a crash wiped it out, so here's the punchier version: A couple weeks back there was a thread on ILM comparing Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Beth Orton. Orton generally got ranked last, but she's the only one of the three who's ever really compelled my attention, at least before Apple's Extraordinary Machine. Orton's emotionality is lower-key and not nearly so self-dramatizing. But, as I said in my review on Friday of her new, fourth album, The Comfort of Strangers (produced by Jim O'Rourke), I've always been unsure whether I like her songs as much as I like her, or more accurately the persona or emotional tone that registers in her songs. Yet another of those (semi?) extra-musical factors that colour our responses to sound. In any case, if you've ever cottoned on to Orton, I do think this album's her best since her debut.

Also on Friday, I wrote the weekly Essential Tracks column. Usually I prefer to mix such lists up more genre-wise, but it ended up being rather indie-centric. It featured Petra Haden's a capella cover of one of my favourite songs, Brian Wilson's God Only Knows, the even more extreme exercise in a capella that is the Honda Civic "Choir" commercial, a new Sunset Rubdown track, and one from Philadelphia's Man Man, a band I still jerk back and forth about. (No real relevance between that link and Man Man - I've just been dying to mention DisneyDevo here, although I feel like coming up with any coherent response to them would involve several hours of intensive therapy. Maybe Primal Scream therapy.)

And speaking of completely fucked-up weird shit - Destroyer fans, feast your eyes on this.

Renewed, Orton raises the stakes

Carl Wilson
3 February 2006
The Globe and Mail


Comfort of Strangers, Beth Orton (Astralwerks)

★ ★ ★

British singer Beth Orton's career has been blessed and damned by timing: Her 1996 debut Trailer Park offered a novel amalgam of folk music and techno, using fresh techniques to mix acoustic guitars with a more spacious sort of electronica. Her pleasingly gawky, personalized vocal style also answered a growing boredom with the idealization of the anonymous club diva.

Orton was quickly anointed the doyenne of “folktronica” by the press, and the buzz brought her other listeners who fell for the range of feeling in her songs, and the way a hopefulness radiated through all her depictions of emotional burn victims. Fans latched onto it the way people do to Joni Mitchell's Blue; Orton had a similar self-aware vulnerability, if not Mitchell's gift for indelible tunes and lyrical detail.

That it also clicked nicely as dinner-party background seemed like a bonus, but it came with a catch: By the time she made 1999's Central Reservation, with its minor hit Stolen Car, folktronica had become cheapened currency, as many others adopted the template, often with Brazilian or African or French twists. It became the standard Starbucks and hair-salon soundtrack, music by which to check your operating system for the millennium bug. The trend had become a millstone by the time of 2002's Daybreaker. The anxiety to transcend it without abandoning it stuck out all over the album, creating a mess of overdone gestures like a crateful of high-end discard accessories crushing the low-key naturalism of her songs. The project sank.

Soon she'd been dropped by the label that had championed her for more than a decade. In recent interviews she speaks of desperate months in which she had trouble getting out of bed, fearing she was finished. Succour came unexpectedly from a stranger, New York musician Jim O'Rourke. She intended just to hire him as a studio guitarist, but he ended up producing the whole album. Together they adopted a sparse, spontaneous approach that had them finished in a couple of weeks. Most of the tracks are first or second takes.

Those who know O'Rourke as the svengali behind Wilco's experimentally inclined Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, or as a collaborator with cerebral noise-rock band Sonic Youth, may be surprised to find the sounds here nearly all acoustic and harmonious. The digital beats are gone, with jazz drummer Tim Barnes on percussion. A veteran improviser, O'Rourke honed in on the simplest, most immediate textures to highlight Orton's vocals. (Savvy listeners might recognize some of the rolling instrumental patterns of his own 1990s solo pop projects.)

As a folk album, funnily enough, it puts Orton in the middle of the moment once again: Comparable 1970s British troubadours such as Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, are all enjoying a revival among the “free” or “freak” folk movement of acoustic-visionary young songwriters. The 14 songs, fixed on matters of heartbreak and longing, also include her best performances ever. Although her singing is always emotional, it's usually been checked by cool control, an attractive but limiting English reserve. On this more “live” set, she often lets her voice darken with rage, sarcasm, insistence — raising all the stakes.

Her recent troubles seem to have summoned up past ones, including a youth that was harsh by all accounts: There's a song toward the end of the album about “feral children” fighting off “infinite ghosts,” and these glimpses of the wounded animal make the music more human. There's also an intriguing religious sub-theme to many songs, in which the singer struggles with a lover/tormenter's rather righteous belief in God, which helps expand the scene beyond private pain — immediately evoking the secular world's current crisis over the demands of the devout.

Yet Orton's melodies still tend to wander more often than they punch, and for every striking lyric (“The world's not such a friendly place, is it?/ It can go very cold, very fast/ And for a very long time”) there are several poetic platitudes about sun and sky and love and time. While her voice commands attention every moment, only a few of the songs stick in the mind.

Beth Orton is a curious case of an artist who inspires empathy and affection, but leaves you unsure if you like her music quite as much as you like her. Perhaps the nicest thing about her renewed vitality here is the sure sense that there will be plenty more time to work that mystery out.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 03 at 04:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

Hungry Like a Fox

Paula_Fox.gif linda.jpg courtney.jpgfrances-courtney.jpg
Rockin' around the family tree: Clockwise from top, Paula Fox in her youth, Linda Carroll today, Courtney Love and Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love.

My reaction exactly. I was surprised every time I read a review of Courtney Love's mother Linda Carroll's new book that they would mention the revelation that Carroll's own birth mother was the amazing author Paula Fox only in passing. Now, this is a little genetic-determinist of me, but let's indulge for a second: Anyone who's read Fox's memoir of her childhood, Borrowed Finery (and U shd cuz it Roxx), will know that Fox herself was abandoned by her father Paul (a bad screenwriter) and mother Elsie (a society girl), who were glamorous but ne'er-do-well party people with chi-chi connections in Hollywood - and young Paula was shunted around to a series of relatives. But then when she had a child herself she (kind of understandably) resisted becoming a mother and gave Linda Carroll up for adoption. (She later had two sons.) And then you've got Carroll's own fractious relationship with her daughter, and very dubious-man selection, and then you've got Courtney - it's quite a chain of dysfunctional mothering down the line, among women who in other ways cut an impressive figure. In that light you have to say that for all her mistakes, Courtney's stood by her daughter and they haven't had any visible antagonism in their relationship (there must be a fair amount of cement from coping with Kurt's death in that bond). (Although, also, Frances is in the first rich and famous generation, so she probably has had good nannies and so forth.) None of which means much I admit, but it's impossible not to feel a suggestive tingle from the epic Electra chain here. The whole story is laid out nonmelodramatically in this excellent Guardian feature, which notes that Fox, now in her 80s, and her rocker granddaughter do not "get on."

If this inspires anybody to look into Paula Fox: You might have read some of her children's books (irony alert) when you were a kid, such as the controversial The Slave Dancer, but the one to devour is Desperate Characters, a mesmerizing depiction of middle-class political and domestic neurosis in the sixties, but really social anxiety in any context. Get those graduate theses on the relationship between Fox's novels and Courtney's albums (or just your thinly fictionalized novel/verse-play/dance-theatre-film adaptations of the whole family saga) a-churnin'.

Also, the fact that Frances Bean Cobain is 13 just takes the top of my head off. I don't get what she's doing giving interviews, but I'm irrationally glad that she seems happy.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 03 at 02:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

February 02, 2006

Worst Buy

Work-entombed for the moment, but if you missed Frank Chromewaves' post earlier this week on the debate within indie-label circles on how to respond to big-box store interest, specifically with an indie-bandwagon ad campaign by Best Buy - do you seize on it and potentially hurt the indie record stores that are your main support, or do you resist it and potentially hurt your artists? - it's worth catching up.

Other industry rumbles that might rattle your bars include Canadian supermanager Terry McBride of Nettwerk taking up arms against the RIAA anti-downloading lawsuits, and U.S. superproducer Bob Ezrin, among others, backing him. The illusion of consensus collapses. Good God! Topical reflection at Lefsetz Letter.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 02 at 03:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson