by carl wilson

June 30, 2006

A Lot to Bragg About

Congratulations and thanks to Billy Bragg, (see Zoiluses past), who has successfully forced Murdoch-owned MySpace to clarify its agreement on site users' intellectual property. MySpace's earlier language made it seem like they claimed rights to the content - songs, videos, etc. - users might put on their pages. I'm sure the intention all along was to put them in a safe legal position to operate the sites, the way the new language makes clear - but what Billy's done is ensure Murdoch's companies can never abuse those rights. His account of the implications smartly connects the issue to the abusive terms under which record company deals (and other entertainment-industry contracts) are usually signed, which gives what otherwise is a bit of a teapot-scale tempest a lot more resonance.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 30 at 06:36 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Laconic Couth (or: How Many Sonic Youth Headlines
Does The World Have Left To Give?)


Whenever a new Sonic Youth album comes out, there's a gang of reviewers/fans who say, "This time they've finally lost it/sold out/gotten lazy/etc." and another pack who say, "A return to form! Their best since Daydream Nation!" (if it's a long-guitar-solo album) or "Best since Goo!" (if it's a poppier album). The new one, Rather Ripped, is no exception. But if you hear either line, shrug it off - instead, Rather Ripped is just yet another fine SY disc. Of course, with their occasional weakness for cheezy rebel-talk, SY set themselves up to be misinterpreted as a band that's all about destroying and revolutionizing Rock As We Know It. But I always think of them as a much more celebratory band - for them, the purpose of a teenage riot isn't to fuck up The Man, it's just a good reason to get out of bed. They usually display the right mix of creative pique and pleasure that is dignified in someone lucky enough to be a white, middle-class bohemian New Yorker - which by any measure is one of the most fortunate positions in the world. Maybe in the history of the world. They've always seemed like gifted appreciators of the countercultural heritage and overall cultural abundance surrounding them, but enlightened enough to acknowledge - in their lyrical ambiguity, yes, but most of all in harmonic overtones - that this good fortune depends upon structural inequities that are not only wrong but unsustainable. Aside from Kim's specific salvos against patriarchy (which I'll listen to anytime - she puts sexism in its place with more aplomb than pretty much any other white woman in music), and the occasional lapse like Youth Against Fascism, they generally know better than to grope for the language of protest or complaint, which sounds phony in privileged-hipster patois. Instead their critical thinking is folded into the rolling documentary-of-consciousness of the music. Their music is a vehicle of their attention. They love and respect the kind of battering noise assaults of the MC5 or the Sex Pistols or, today, Wolf Eyes, but that's never been what Sonic Youth is about - I've always thought their best manifesto came in the title Confusion is Sex, and that their music is a balancing act to keep both sides of that equation vital, to get dizzy enough to feel new sensations but also keep cool enough to absorb them. People who come to the band expecting something more formulaically radical are always going to be disappointed. (It's only with revisionist hindsight and indie bias that they invest the pre-Geffen albums with that radicality.) And those who come to a new SY album thinking they know what they're getting will always be surprised at how much there is to it - and probably overrate it. As a musical ensemble, Sonic Youth is a group that depends on interplay - its sound is about combinations rather than spotlights. But it's not a conceptual band: It's always more about the parts - about moments, about songs, about exclamations, about dropped beats and scraped strings - than it is about the sum. Processes, not outcomes.

I tried to keep all that in mind when I wrote my review in the Globe today, but then I had to prune it down to fit and the results were a bit of a hash. So if you don't mind, I'll paraphrase what I said:

Having finally realized that Thurston Moore is never going to introduce them to another Nirvana, Geffen Records (now part of Universal) has decided it's paid off that debt (incurred shortly after Geffen shocked the underground by signing SY in 1989) and is letting the band's latest contract expire. As a result, some listeners will snark that Rather Ripped's compact style marks a last grasp for commercial appeal, or betrays a "contractual obligation" toss-off. But it actually fits right in to the band's long pattern of switching between more exploratory albums and tighter, sharper ones. And among the latter it's one of the best, not streamlining or simplifying the harmonic complexities of the music so much as carving away the feedback to reveal the shapely core. There's a summertime sense of summing-up to the album, as if the four were scrawling their names in one another's yearbooks after grad .... from the old-school-punk-flyer cover to the musical winks to the hundreds (thousands?) of bands SY has influenced: Certain moments here sound almost like quotes of Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins and other mid-90s alterna-rock. Kim Gordon's divine gutter-mumble dominates, as it generally should, but Thurston has an SY classic-to-be in Do You Believe In Rapture?, and guitar hero Lee Ranaldo's sole vocal lead Rats goes the furthest toward recalling the era of Sister and Evol. (The most blatant effort to recall Daydream Nation, the extended Pink Steam, falls flat.) And SY's too-often-overlooked drummer, Steve Shelley, also gets a moment in the forefront, not vocalizing but still leading proceedings on the coda, Or - a tune that, with only the barest sardonic touch, even makes room for the voices of the fans, caught in the final verse straining to be casual when they get a chance to interview or chat with their idols: "How long is the tour? What time you guys playin'?/ Which comes first, the music/ Or the words?" But there's one more typical question Rather Ripped leaves unspoken: "What're you up to next?"

(I gave it three-and-a-half stars out of 4.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 30 at 05:08 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 29, 2006

Trampoline Hall Photo-Shoot Edition Update

The Trampoline Hall Magical Ministry of Mystification - whose edicts for the July 10 edition of the show were explained the other day - has a last-minute announcement: If you couldn't manage to get it together or get through on the phone to make an appointment, you still can drop in all casual-like and get your portrait taken by the splendiferous Lee Towndrow, and thus get onto the poster and into the show - so long as you don't mind waiting till there's a slot open between appointments. It shouldn't take long at all. However, tonight (Thurs.) looks like a far, far better time to do so than tomorrow night - if you wait till Friday, the show may be sold out.

The address is Katharine Mulherin’s Bus Gallery (1080 Queen St. West, at Dovercourt). Portrait studio hours are: Thursday June 29, 4 pm to 10 pm; Friday June 30, 4 pm to 10 pm. Don't go there other times (unless of course you just want to look at the art). You will not get your portrait taken except on these two evenings, which means you won't get into the show. Bring 13 dollars that you're prepared to part with. Full details here.

Trampoline Hall: Making things difficult for ourselves and yourselves alike, since December, 2001.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 29 at 04:06 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 28, 2006

Said the Carlophone

Beginning today and twice a week for the next few, I'm honoured to be guestposting on mp3 blog Said the Gramophone while the wonderful Sean Michaels is on vacation. I thank fellow StG posters (um, do we call ourselves "Grammers"? "Grammies"? "Said-o-mites"?) Jordan and Dan for welcoming me to the clan. My first post, up now, offers a track from the upcoming album by Hamilton, Ont.'s wunderkinds, Junior Boys.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 28 at 05:34 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 27, 2006

So Long Sleater, Bye-Bye Kinney


Unconfirmed, but the band has apparently broken up. At least, with last year's The Woods, they went out on a real high, but I'll miss them. Sleater-Kinney's crown as queens of post-riot-grrrl bands now officially passes to The Gossip, right?

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 27 at 04:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


Black Stars, Trampoline Hall
and Other Summer Pleasures

It's flying at half-mast.

Please join me in saluting Ghana's heroic World Cup run and mourning their defeat today by Brazil - a cruelty of the schedule, to pit them against the Cup's likely winners so early (and without their biggest asset, Michael Essien). They ought to have made the next round. Where to put my allegiances now? I do generally love Brazil, but that's like cheering for, you know, the Beatles. It's better to have an underdog favourite, too. Maybe Spain, in honour of the country's current quiet-revolution-style renaissance? (4:45 pm: So much for that.)

Some news from Trampoline Hall: The next show in the non-expert lecture series (which I've worked on since its inception) is at Sneaky Dee's on July 10 (a week from Monday) and includes some superb-sounding lectures, including one on Canadian superheroes, another on flea circuses, and a third on "why we draw hearts the way we do," which has to be the best topic of the year. But mainly I'm posting to let T.H. fans know that this month the ticketing procedure has a special wrinkle: You will only be able to attend by first getting your portrait taken by photographer Lee Towndrow in special sittings being held this week, on Thursday and Friday evenings. What's more, you have to call in advance - either today or Thursday - to book your portrait session. The portraits will be put together in a limited-edition poster for that show - so that everyone in the room at that show will be on the poster (of which you'll get a free copy). Details are here. Yes, it's very complicated. That's what makes it art.

Speaking of which, tonight at the Red Guitar as part of the Downtown Jazz Festival, "the Weirdest Band in Town" (as I've called them, proudly reproduced in their publicity info), The Reveries (Eric Chenaux, Ryan Driver and Doug Tielli), plays the songs of Willie Nelson. Previous artists to get the group's unique spittle-drenched-ballad treatment are Sade and Nick Cave, but the red-headed stranger seems even more of a kindred spirit. Two sets, starting at 9:30. An unannounced roster of the group's fellow AIMT members (Association of Improvising Musicians, Toronto) play the earlier, 7 pm set. If you're not seeing Etta James at the Hummingbird or Devotchka at the El Mocambo or ex-Wolf Eyes noisemeister Aaron Dilloway at the Sister Ray noise monthly at the Drake, here's another excellent option. Here's a video of Dilloway's set at the No Fun festival in Brooklyn in March, by the way - with no sound, but it kind of doesn't need it.

Also in the Zoilus gig guide, you'll now find the complete musical listings of Harbourfront's weekend culture festivals for July. There's an extraordinary range, with highlights including this Sunday's free performances by two of Africa's biggest (non-FIFA) success stories of the year, Amadou & Mariam from Mali and The Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone. One of the most-anticipated gigs of the summer is July 8's appearance by Konono No. 1, the already-legendary "Congotronic" amplified-junkyard band. (See past posts.) And there's a nice change of pace with the Winnipeg celebration the last weekend of July, including shows from the needing-no-introduction Weakerthans and underrated 'peg chamber-pop singer Christine Fellows, who will be performing with visual accompaniment from Toronto artist Shary Boyle - who may be familiar to some readers from her past paint-along magic with the likes of Feist, Jens Lekman, Final Fantasy and Finland's ES.

Also, after a rather wonky winter-spring roster, Wavelength has its wheels back on the road, with a strong June rally and now a kickass July, under the curatorial sway of Kevin Parnell aka Aperture Enzyme, including Sunday's appearances by Vancouver's Mother and Montreal's Think About Life (see video below), and with a big climax at the end of the month with Bad Robots Evil Doer, Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! and one of my Polaris prize picks, Jon Rae & the River, on July 30. Great to see WL get its groove back.

Pardon the Torontocentricity of recent posts - reflections on some more general topics to come.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 27 at 02:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


June 26, 2006

More Old Punx


Following up on last week's Deja Voodoo post, on Thursday at the Horseshoe, there's a launch party for a new line of T-shirts honouring Can-punk pioneers of the old school, DV among them. The shirts are made by Stacey Case - better known as a zombie-movie, Mexican-wrestling and Frightenstein devotee, zine editor, filmmaker and member of the Tijuana Bibles, but a silkscreening "Merch Guy" for a living - in cooperation with the I'm With Stupid shirt shop around the corner from my apartment in Parkdale(iamsburg). "Where is the love?" they demand to know. "These bands paved the way for Canadian independent music as we know it, and the kids today have no idea who they are." (Goldarned kids!) So they tracked down bands such as Toronto's Viletones, Diodes, Raving Mojos, Bopcats and B-Girls, Hamilton's Forgotten Rebels and Simply Saucer, London's UIC and Montreal's Deja Voodoo, licensed their dormant merchandising, and created the Radio X line of T-shirts (named after a Niagara On The Lake pirate-radio station of 1985-86), with more bands to be added soon. The shirt release party (how often do you get to say that?) is, again, Thursday at the 'Shoe, with the 1977 vintage price of $3, a set by the Raving Mojos, and house band The Screwed, featuring members of the Viletones, the Sinisters, the Demics and Battered Wives performing covers all night, with guests such as the Rebels' Chris Houston and Mickey DeSadest, the notorious Steven Leckie of the Viletones (who will DJ between sets), plus members of Johnny & the G-Rays, B-Girls, Bopcats, Ugly, ZRO4, The Secrets, The Ugly, Screamin' Sam, Simply Saucer .... Vintage gig posters and flyers will be on display, too.

Torontopians of all ages ought to go indulge their nostalgia, even if (like me) you actually weren't around at the time - it's the prehistory of what was to be, and that's always worth a genuflection or two. Respect yer elders and alla that.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 26 at 04:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 23, 2006

Deja Voodoo All Over Again!

Tony Dewald and Gerard Van Herk -
Deja Voodoo - in Montreal back-in-the-day.

I didn't get ahold of the organizers in time to do a Globe piece on tonight's "Final Voodoo BBQ" at the Silver Dollar in Toronto, as I'd hoped, so let's do it now: The event is sort of a reunion of the OG! Music class of late-eighties Canadian music - with its crucial It Came from Canada compilations - and especially the Montreal scene: The "Deja Voodoo BBQ" was a venerated annual full-day event in the city for years. (See Wikipedia entry for a primer, the band's memorial MySpace page for music and this "where are they now?" feature for an update.) So why has it come back together in Toronto in 2006? The event's moving force, CKLN DJ Daibhid James, host of Moondog's Ballroom (this afternoon at 2:30 local time, and will feature interviews with BBQ participants), did get back to me in time to share some of the event's background, and his thoughts about Deja Voodoo's influence - which arguably, indirectly goes as far as the White Stripes. (And should not be confused with the several jam-band types operating under the same name today.) [... interview on the jump ...]

"The Final Voodoo BBQ came about as a result of a tribute night I put together for Ray Condo (another OG! records vet) two years ago. During one of the meetings to discuss putting this night together Gerard [Van Herk, of Deja Voodoo] showed up and we were introduced, I had spoken to him once or twice in passing 15 years or so earlier, and after chatting a bit I asked him if he wanted to get up on stage and do a few songs and he said, 'Um, sure I could do that,' even though he hadn't been on stage in 14 years. I also roped in other OG! Records vets who happened to live in Toronto, such as Gerry Alvarez (of the Gruesomes), Brian Connelly (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet), and some members of UIC who were in the audience but didn't actually play. Gerard hadn't actually spoken to any of these guys in over a decade....

"The night went so well and everyone had such a great time that I floated the idea of doing a Halloween Deja Voodoo BBQ that year which was done quickly and on a small scale, featuring Gerard and Bloodshot Bill filling in on drums as well as The Chickens (ex-UIC) and the Purple Toads (another ex-OG! band). ...

"We wanted to do one more, bigger BBQ one last time before Gerard moves away to Newfoundland in July as a linguistics professor to study outport dialects. So this time I tried to add the Gruesomes, who unfortunately weren't available but guitarist Gerry Alvarez had just finished his first solo CD and was looking to do a release gig and signed on. Also on board are two more Og!/It Came from Canada alumni, the Dundrells and the House of Knives, one of whom agreed to cut short a European vacation to play the gig. Once again none of these bands had played together in over a decade. This time out Gerard will again be playing with Bloodshot Bill on drums, also playing will be Mississippi Grover, another one-man-band from Kingston who worshipped Deja Voodoo, and begged to open the night.

"The response for all of this has been startling, I have gotten emails both to myself and to the Deja Voodoo myspace page (which I set up a couple of months ago) from not only all over Canada but also Europe and New Zealand from folks who remember a band who got no radio or video airplay and whose records have been out of print for 15 years and were never available on CD at all. Deja Voodoo (and the Gruesomes) were probably the Canadian underground bands from the 1980's who generated the most affection from their fans partly through the good-natured silliness of their music and image which could still rock no matter how goofy it was. Their mixture of rockabilly, garage, 'B' horror movies, comic books, cartoons, and junk food was not the first such (the Cramps were already there), but they pursued it with such irreverent vigour in an decade full of sombre, gloomy music or wimpy synth bands. Deja Voodoo also toured heavily all over Canada as well as the USA and Europe (especially Scandinavia), the first Canadian underground band to do so. Their Deja Voodoo BBQs became an institution in Montreal, Toronto, and elsewhere in southern Ontario. They also further encouraged a scene to develop by founding their own lable OG! Records and putting out a series of comps. of similar minded Canuck bands called It Came from Canada, which introduced a number of bands such as the Gruesomes, UIC, Ray Condo, Harold Nix, the Deadcats, the Shadowy Men, the Cowboy Junkies, the Smugglers and more.

"In their groundbreaking two-man, trash-rock attack, they led the way for a number of other one and two man bands such as The House of Knives, Leather Uppers, Fuck Y'all, Bloodshot Bill, Mississippi Grover, Slim Sandy, Duotang, (all Canadian BTW) Flat Duo Jets, and Bob Log 111 to open up garage rock by stripping it down. Now of course we have the mega-successful White Stripes and Death From Above, but Deja Voodoo did it first.

"This BBQ will most likely be the last - Gerard is a linguistics professor and Tony Dewald runs a micro-brewery on B.C. But there is always the possibility of a 'best-of' CD in the future."

Let's hope so.

Gerard Van Herk of Deja Voodoo in his linguistics-prof guise,
as photographed by the Montreal Mirror a couple of years back.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 23 at 12:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (17)


June 22, 2006

Days Late But It's Got Legs

Aaron on the MuchMusic Video Awards is my current nominee for Canadian blog post of the year. Sorry I didn't catch it sooner but dude is so unpredictable in his post schedule nowadays. But not when he blogs any Much event. Then the forecast is always: Drily hilarious, with intermittent squalls of Pepsi-spit-up-on-keyboards.

(Thank you, I'm available for book blurbs and children's parties.)

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 22 at 12:56 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


June 21, 2006

The Smoky Life is Practiced Everywhere

The Times' Stephen Holden on the new Leonard Cohen doc, blandly titled I'm Your Man.

Droll gold from Lenny: "I had the title 'poet,' and maybe I was one for a while," he says. "Also the title 'singer' was kindly accorded me, even though I could barely carry a tune." And: "My reputation as a ladies' man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly, the 10,000 nights I spent alone."

Then again, Cohen is 72. Let's imagine he first had sex only after Elvis invented it, in 1956, when Cohen was 21 - which seems unlikely given that his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, came out later that year and included lines such as, On certain incredible nights,/ When your flesh is drenched with moon/ And the windows are wide open:/ Your breasts are sculptured/ From the soft inside of darkness.... Even then, it would imply approximately 8,615 nights not spent alone. A ratio that - while empathizing with the agonies of the other 10,000 - many of us would be willing to live with.

The doc features Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, Nick Cave, Antony (whom I'd love to hear sing Cohen's songs, despite my distaste for his own), plus Bono and The Edge.

Later, when you can, and better than this gamesmanship, you should download the conversation he has this week on KCRW's Bookworm.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 21 at 03:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 20, 2006

Whoa, Mama's a Maneater


I've been wanting to post some followup to last week's discussion about indie repression/retreat (from sex and beyond) but time has been unkind. Soon. Meanwhile, let's celebrate the (too-late-for-Polaris) release of Nelly Furtado's Loose today by pointing to my colleague Brad Wheeler's interview with Nelly in today's Globe. (Man, you go out of town and you miss all the plum assignments!) In it, Furtado offers a most unexpected sketch of her steamy new album as the fruits of her labour - childbirth, that is. She says her daughter and single parenthood have given her the assurance to go this direction, to get Loose, as the title says. (It was the lack of looseness that I always disliked about her earlier records.) -

"I'd wake up and play with my daughter in the ocean and by the pool all day, building sand castles. When you have a child, it focuses you to get down on the ground, to taste life again. And then at nighttime, it was a very different environment, a sort of clandestine recording affair. I think that's why there's a vivaciousness to the album, a sensuality and aliveness."

Between Nelly's disc and last year's Ariel from Kate Bush, today's pop is going a long way to redeem the stigmatized category of the post-parenting album, usually thought of as the sentimentalized jump-the-shark moment in many a singer's career.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 20 at 02:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (18)


June 16, 2006

The Show Me State

The rudiments of the July gig guide are now added to the remainder of June. We have more listings left to post, but meanwhile, your corrections, additions and rude remarks are welcome.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 16 at 06:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (14)


Like Marbles Thrown Against a Mirror

We seem to have a cover and some details about the new Mountain Goats album, Get Lonely, due Aug. 22. One of the tracks, Woke Up New, is available for free download on a new emusic sampler for the Pitchfork festival, along with songs by Matmos, Nels Cline, Chicago Underground Duo, Art Brut, Mr. Lif, Destroyer and more. The tone of this tune has a nice muted-old-school boombox-era Mtn Goatsishness to it (albeit band-enhanced) - though it's not really John Darnielle's most crackling set of lyrics, I've heard some other likely inclusions that will balance that out.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 16 at 11:35 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 15, 2006

'Oh, These Days It's a Maze Ablaze'


After months of rumours, news has broken that Jandek is indeed playing Toronto on Sept. 17. Location, time, ticket price remain as mysterious as the representative from Corwood Industries himself.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 15 at 05:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 14, 2006

Teaching the Indie Kids to Fuck Again

Kids on TV, from the band's MySpace.

The second annual Kids on TV Bath House Show approaches tomorrow night. Basic rundown: The band plays and Will Munro, the stylingest boy in town, DJs in a co-ed space created in a gay bathhouse here in Toronto. Upstairs, there are separate male-only and female-only spaces for queernoodling. (There was no female-only space last year, if i recall, so this is a breakthrough. More breakthroughs to come, in relation to bathhouse culture, which is part of KoTV's polymorphously-perverse point with the project.) Towel comes with admission. Equals fun. The event has occasioned some provocative talk on Stillepost, particularly this: "This is actually a really remarkably anti-sex community. I'm consistently astonished by the prudishness." I was struck by Kate's comment.

While I am thrilled that the indie-music world is much more musically diverse than it was when I was in school - much more disco, much more classical influence, much more electronics, even in the rock bands, than the Guitar World back in the day - I do squint confusedly at the pervasive glorification of pre-pubescent reference points and the awkward relationship to sexuality. I suppose the past era I'm thinking of was heavily influenced by AIDS activism and the pro-sex, safe-sex message directed at the time to queers and not-so-queers alike. In fact, it was a time when even opposite-sexers in such subcultures aspired to a cultural queerness. Now there's this a more stuck-in-high-school aspect to indie culture - I like Fake Prom, but it's symptomatic - all seeming to show a discomfort with adulthood and sexuality. Of course people are having sex, and joke about it and such, but it seems heavily deemphasized both socially and artistically - relative to sexuality's normally prominent place in any music scene. No doubt Toronto the Good has more of this prudishness than other places, by nature - I can't imagine Montreal has had the same slide - but I pick up on it in indie-rockish music from all over North America. (Though of course there are contrary bands such as KoTV, the Hidden Cameras, Spank Rock, Xiu Xiu, etc.)

What's your impression, wherever you are? If I'm right, what do you think is the cause? And is there a way in which this is a good thing? Arguably perhaps it's a subcultural counterpoint to mainstream "raunch culture" - perhaps indie kids are snubbing sex because it's gotten too popular?

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 14 at 04:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (39)


June 13, 2006

What I Did on My June Vacation

Dirtbombs at Twangfest last Thursday: Photo by my friend Maggie.

Long time no see. I just flew back from Twangfest X, and boy is my twanger tired. However, I gots one things to say: HolyShitDirtbombs!!!! Best live show I've seen in ages. I know some of you already knew this. Me, I did not. For those like me: Avant-retro-punk-hop-soul-garage. Three genres happening at any given moment. Two basses, two drummers (who, if my memory's not deceiving me and it might be, closed the show by climbing atop their drumkits and plunging off them in a synchronized swandive), and one terrifically charismatic singer-guitarist whose solos could sound like anything from flying saucers to crabbing turntablists. Music that's at once visceral and intellectual - smart but never brain-in-jar cerebral. I was still hungover from the opening-night afterparty when the Dirtbombs hit the stage at the Duck Room in St. Louis and within 20 minutes I had been restored to full health.

I'd gone to the festival looking forward to seeing friends - Twangfest grew out of the Postcard2 mailing list (the ILM of alt-country), of which I was a member for many years - and kind of dreading listening to all the bands (a total of about 17 in four days). Instead I got my faith in the miracle power of rock'n'roll totally freaking restored. (Uh-oh, Celine.) Other highlights, though they didn't really touch the Dirtbombs, were Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, the Sovines reunion-and-re-breakup set (a band nobody outside Columbus, Ohio, ever really heard, but should have), the Bottle Rockets' extended encore (though not particularly their new songs, sorry), Dolly Varden's stirring outdoor show (husband-and-wife bands always get to me, but Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen are also fine and elusive songwriters, masters of deferred catharsis who nevertheless pay you off with all that old-fashioned epiphany stuff) and BR5-49's surprisingly ass-kicking, hardly-museum-piece-retro-at-all-any-more festival-closing set, which included the memorable discovery of multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs - grandson of banjo legend Earl Scruggs, and son of Nashville heavy Gail Davies, although the two parts of the family are estranged. Everybody kept comparing Chris's on-stage affect to John Hodgman. (Who apparently is in a Mac commercial now? Geezus.) Even better than all of those, though, was Grand Champeen's afterhours set, a three-hour jukebox of everything from the Stones to Superchunk to Billy Joel to the Only Ones that closed out Twangfest X - the tenth and maybe final edition of the event - with such giddy abandon that I'm still glowing inside days later. Unless that's just liver failure. Standout moment in the Champeen set: The guy who played Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch, Robbie Rist, who'd been hanging out at Tfest all weekend, guesting on vocals on Radio, Radio. Cousin Oliver sings Elvis Costello? Now I've heard it all.

On the other hand if a band called Lucero is ever playing near you, avoid. Talk about a whole-hog buy-in to rock authenticity myths serving as a substitute for even the slightest musical or lyrical interest: Songs that consist only of grunt-yelling (like the grunt-yelled parts of early Steve Earle and Uncle Tupelo songs, with all the other parts removed) about (a) getting drunk, (b) being rebels, mainly on the basis of (a), and (c) how some chick is trying to put them down. Yeesh. Plus they've got rabid fans who seem somewhere between frat-boy and biker-bar and left smashed beer bottles all over the washrooms. Like the assholes who went to Pogues shows just to see Shane get hammered, as if he were a sideshow freak, you know? It was creepy. The phrase that came to mind: "Date-rape band."

So how was your week? NxNE? Read any good books? Did you see that Destroyer interview on Pitchfork? Someone else finally figured out the trick: Interview Dan only by email.

The gig guide and other site features will be updated asap, btw, fwiw.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 13 at 02:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


June 06, 2006

World in Motion:
And Did Those Feet...? (Part 2)


This is the continuation of Zoilus assistant Chris Randle's guest post on soccer and music. Part 1 appeared yesterday. Carl is in St. Louis, MO, at Twangfest, and probably out of Internet range most of the time. He returns on Monday.

Even spectators at games have a similar outlet. I remember visiting my dad’s side of the family of England, going to my first game in person, and marveling at how inventive and elaborate some of the chants were. Some are just simple war chants – “you’re going home in a fucking ambulance!” for example. Or venerable silly jingles like “who ate all the pies?”, addressed towards any hefty members of the crowd.

But others are much more complicated, pop songs with the lyrics slyly altered or spontaneous original creations, coming together on the run. In the 1990s Manchester United were loved/hated for their star Eric Cantona, who altered his uniform for purposes of fashion, talked about arcane philosophy in media appearances and bicycle-kicked a fan spouting xenophobic abuse at him during the game. The team’s fans, who loved him, began singing a chant that exulted in his effete/crazy Frenchness and verve: “ooh aah Cantona, say ooh aah Cantona…”

Some will balk at calling this music, because it’s too simple or too crude or whatever, but to me those aspects are integral: this is the oldest form of music there is, innate and primeval, the descendant of campfire songs and tribal chants that predated civilization.

Fans will sometimes adopt existing songs in their entirety too, the most famous example probably being Liverpool, who took the old Rodgers & Hammerstein standard You’ll Never Walk Alone as their own after local band Gerry and the Pacemakers covered it in the 60s. That song became unexpectedly poignant following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when almost 100 Liverpool fans were crushed to death due to inept crowd control, fenced-in security that treated them like animals in the fear that they were hooligans; the song was defiantly sung in chapels and on stadium terraces for weeks. That event also spurred widespread reform of the game in England, due to a government inquiry that recommended all-seated stadiums instead of the cheaper but more dangerous standing-room terraces. Hooliganism also began to get stamped out, and suddenly the game was much more family-friendly and many, many times more lucrative: essentially, gentrification.

Some of the old fan culture remained. Interestingly, English soccer has been greatly influenced by zines in the past couple decades, much like music; seemingly every club has at least a regular makeshift pamphlet someone sells at games. There were also nationwide zines, the most important of those being When Saturday Comes, which pioneered an absurd, irreverent approach to the league (articles about bald players, for example, or endearingly woeful players who’d become cult heroes, or a curious ongoing obsession with Pat Nevin, sometimes called “an intellectual footballer” because, uh, he wrote on politics and was into The Fall and Joy Division?) and provided the sole wide-ranging platform for fans to express their views directly.

This attitude towards soccer – playful and nostalgic – was adopted by more and more people alongside the gentrification of the game in the '90s, dovetailing perfectly with that era’s wave of British bands. As a cultural moment it was a perfect match: irony and nostalgia for apolitical touchstones of Old England (albeit from an everything-is-shiny-new millenarian perspective) were encoded in Britpop’s DNA.

One of Super Furry Animals’ first singles, The Man Don’t Give A Fuck, was inspired by a relatively obscure former Cardiff City player named Robin Friday, who played during the 60s and 70s when players began to resemble the same era’s musicians: shaggy, mercurial hedonists. He astonished all observers with his genius for the game but, well, didn’t much care, sleeping around and consuming truly heroic amounts of booze and drugs; Friday smuggled heroin along for his honeymoon and once pretended to be an undercover cop in Trafalgar Square so he could swipe a guy’s acid. His life was the rockstar myth to the hilt, burning out firefly-quick before he was 40. SFA saw the convergence, and used a famous photo of Friday flicking the V-sign at a keeper he’d just humiliated as their cover.

Like New Order before them, another band – the Lightning Seeds – were asked to contribute an official song for the ’96 European Championship, which was being hosted by England and sending the nation into a frenzy. Working with a pair of comedians, they came up with Three Lions, a huge #1 hit. It perfectly summoned up the emotions of wistful longing and shy hope that are ultimately fundamental to almost all soccer songs in England, official or otherwise, which come from both the nation’s unsure post-imperial purpose and the agonizing failures of its team after the sole triumph in the ’66 Cup: “Three Lions on a shirt/Jules Rimet [the World Cup trophy] still gleaming/Thirty years of hurt/Never stopped me dreaming”. True to form, that year’s tournament saw England reach the semi-finals before suffering yet another tragic/heroic “oh-so-near” on penalties to old rival Germany.

Blur’s bassist Alex James, Damien Hirst and comedian Keith Allen (father of Lily) created a similarly popular unofficial anthem for the ’98 World Cup with their group Fat Les: Vindaloo, a celebration of mundane, lighthearted fans’ customs, like drinking lager, eating curries and going on exotic summer holidays only to end up watching England games at the bar (eventually followed by Who Invented Fish n’ Chips?, a wonderfully inane list of all the pointless things Englishmen allegedly invented).

Those songs represent modern Britain well enough but it’s their second release Jerusalem, a recording of the famous hymn based on Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time,” that really evokes the World Cup for me, and, pretension be damned, perhaps the state of the world in general. It’s a poem, a song that’s complex to the point of contradiction, so amorphous it’s been adopted by practically every position on the political spectrum, about a person vowing to build a finer world with all their will – albeit with the inconvenient caveat that taking the first verses literally leads one to think the guy’s crazy (“uh, no, I don’t think Jesus hung out in England a couple millennia ago”). The narrator is clearly concentrating on his/her own homeland – the mythical folk-England of emerald hills and rolling pastures, that fabled golden prize the nations’ best, despite their struggles, have never quite recaptured. Yet at the same time, he or she aims to create a new Jerusalem, an example for the entire world to follow towards paradise.

Nationalist and internationalist, radical and conservative, willful and deluded, cherishing both nature and modernity, staring like Janus backwards and forwards through history: This is the fitting anthem for our world and its Cup, both unsure of what they want to be yet intent that it will make everything better. Hope, excited anxiety and that mystical attachment one has to incongruous things, inexplicable people - that’s music, and that’s soccer.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 06 at 07:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


World In Motion:
And Did Those Feet....? (Part 1)


Since Chris Randle, Erella Ganon and Sebastian Cook began helping me out with the Zoilus gig guide, this site has been so much more of a pleasure to run (and the listings have improved immensely). I hope to have the members of this little collective contribute to the rest of the site occasionally, and first up is young Chris Randle, who offers his thoughts on music and soccer to get us in the mood for the opening of the World Cup this weekend. (And also to help me out, since I'm going to be out of the country and not in easy proximity to the Internet until Sunday. Chris's essay runs in two parts, today and tomorrow. Please welcome him.

When it came to the actual contest, England’s World Cup team in 1990 was nothing out of the ordinary for them – a few games of invigorating promise followed by tearful, blaze-of-glory heartbreak. More interesting to wonder what they were listening to in the dressing room. These players, after all, included: John Barnes, featured on a #1 UK single *; Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, an early and fanatical punk devotee who eventually had a label named after him by the Stranglers; and Terry “no nickname required” Butcher, who memorably announced his refusal to listen to U2 with the criticism that they were traitorous "Fenian music."

The medium and the sport are united by this dynamism: Just as a song can be interpreted in wildly different ways, have radically divergent meaning, to (say) an American kid and an elderly Argentine, so does the game. Soccer lacks the staccato bursts of action and pause that exist in most American sports; it’s free-flowing, rarely stopping, more relaxed and graceful. It also relies far less on preprogrammed tactics and formations, the result being that each player has more freedom to use their skills as they will. I love the emphasis on personal expression and beauty here – almost feminine (for lack of a better word) in comparison to the macho army exercises of this continent’s sports, or at least a place with fewer jocks. That’s some of the shared blood, I guess, between these secret cousins, but there’s other parallels between soccer and music I find equally interesting, most of all with the Cup about to get underway; like a smart song gazing outwards, it always has observations about the state of our world.

Back to that dressing room. When the Jamaican-born Barnes rapped haltingly but gamely over New Order’s beats, he embodied both the Cup’s almost naive ideal of cross-cultural understanding and the infusion of “foreign” artists and their music into predominantly white genres, white charts, white mainstreams. The black players, immigrants’ children, who began entering England’s top league in significant numbers in the 1980s were pelted not just with racist bile but actual bananas. Now, though, England’s very national team is cosmopolitan and diverse, and the once-rare foreigners playing in the Premiership are common, a couple teams even having fielded squads made up of them entirely. Knowingly or not, Barnes anticipated the multiculturalism of today’s England, his primitive flow simply an embryo in the course of its evolution.

Of course, the sport can divide at least as well as it unites – just ask the aforementioned Butcher, or even better the legions of England supporters in the 1980s who were fond of chanting, “No surrender to the IRA!" There are many examples of xenophobia and “derby” matches (intense rivalries between teams that are usually in the same city or two very close to each other, invested with all the urgency and insecurity you can imagine) in the sport, but my favourite is the enmity some fans have for innocent styles of play.

In soccer, certain theories of the game have deep ties to specific countries; the Italians were widely known (and disliked) for an ultra-defensive formation called catanaccio, and the Dutch pioneered a theory known as “total football” that stressed maximum fluidity and adaptability, with players taking up and dropping different roles with the flow of the game. This too has improved over the bad old days: until a few decades ago England’s Football Association was basically a bunch of unreconstructed class snobs, who didn’t deign to send their team to the first few World Cups, reasoning that their boys were naturally better than everyone else; they were English, weren’t they? No need to sully their reputations by associating with such a competition (amusing conclusion: when the FA finally relented and entered the 1950 World Cup, England was beaten by the lowly U.S.A., 500-1 to win the Cup, thanks to a fluke goal by a Haitian dishwasher).

Even now, though, there are echoes of the bad old days, like how fans of every nationality unite in declaring that players from various other cultures are diving cheats, not genuine sportsmen of the game; some Englishmen still claim that their nation “invented” soccer, so they’ll always be the one true greatest, nyah. To my ears, this sounds a lot like the anti-pop bias or rockist impulse in music - accusations that one’s targets aren’t “real” in some mystical way coupled with chauvinistic dismissal of other styles. So who cares if Brazil are so skillful it makes one jealous, if they move like a great pop song on the field? Those girly poseurs don’t even play their own instruments!

Optimists will prefer to note the situation surrounding, say, Ivory Coast’s national team, whose first-ever qualification for the Cup seems to have genuinely brought people together in harmony, at least for now, in a country notoriously overflowing with ethnic and political tensions (interesting, but too complicated to go into here, is the uncomfortable fact that most of Ivory Coast’s players live and work in Europe, for European teams, poached in return for sums that would stupefy their average countryman). In all the media coverage this phenomenon has gotten, however, there’s one thing that caught my eye. Ivorians have created a new dance, called the Drogba, based on their star player’s signature jukes and moves; this seems like a very "music" thing to do.

Music and soccer are entwined in many developing countries, two mediums that anyone can express themselves in, no matter how poor. You can make music with only your own body, and you can play soccer with a ball made of rags and goalposts scavenged from a junkyard – and in slums across the world millions of children do. It’s the same spirit behind a group like Konono no. 1, or even some of Toronto’s more conceptual bands: no barriers to participation.

Tomorrow: Part 2: You're Going Home in a Fucking Ambulance.

* That being
New Order’s commentator-sampling World in Motion, undoubtedly the best soccer-related track ever. The beat and chorus are great, the players involved don’t actually embarrass themselves, and the lyrics are mostly so vague and broad that it could be a normal boys-and-girls song by…Madonna, say (they do exhort us to “express yourself!”). Plus: veiled drug reference! “E for England…”

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 06 at 06:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


June 05, 2006

Next-Door Neighbour to an In-Law of a Thought

Hastily: Nate Petrin Patrin talks turkey to the anti-openmindedness brigade (aka Simon R.). And John helps out. Happy Birthday John! The Ambient Ping series is now online radio station too. Randall Roberts' paper from EMP overturns the Rosetta Stone of rockism, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, now online and complete with pie charts! The New York Times reviews recent books on music, from Charlie Parker to 50 Cent to a meditation on reverb. Go listen to Ryan Catbirdseat's June mix. Then go listen to the CBC's new Destroyer session (but don't trust their track listings!). (Thanks, Ryan, for both of those.) And last but far from least, Josh Ostroff rocks a feature on the political subtext of Battlestar Galactica into the pages of der Globe today. Tomorrow: The return of substance! Maybe!

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 05 at 04:46 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


June 02, 2006

The Sound of Joy Goes HA HA HA HA!


Funny that I would have this tussle with Simon (see below) on a day when I have written a piece in The Globe in praise of a very old-skool-style post-punk band, Toronto's own The Creeping Nobodies, and their new album Sound of Joy, launching at the Horseshoe tonight with Jon-Rae's Ryvyr, Wyrd Visions and the five-guitar Wharton Tiers Ensemble. (Tiers, best-known as a frequent producer for Sonic Youth, produced most of the Creeps' new disc.) (See also Kevin Hainey's five-star review of Sound of Joy in Eye.) Tickets for the show were issued on microfiche, which include lyrics, art and notes to the album - inaccessible to most people who don't happen to have a microfiche reader, which is pretty funny, though there are rumours that there will actually be a reader at the show tonight. (Luckily, I work in a place that does have a microfiche reader. Hah!)

Full text of my email interview with the band, full of thoughtful notes on practice and perplex, will follow over the weekend.

How to build a better album

By Carl Wilson
The Globe and Mail
Fri., June 2, 2006

On first hearing Toronto band the Creeping Nobodies, you may feel the urge to take cover. But the hammering, sawing, slashing and grinding of their guitars, drums and keyboards are just the racket of a construction crew at work: They're building an exposition hall to house the grandeurs and, mostly, follies of civilizations past and present -- with annexes for activist seminars, dioramas of poisoned landscapes and inner chambers for more intimate congress.

Architects have joined and left the team, delaying the unveiling. But the torque and contour of the Nobodies' project are clearer on their third full-length album, Sound of Joy, brought to you this week via Toronto's art-rock symposium, the Blocks Recording Club.

A chorus has been rising to demand why, after five years, the Nobodies haven't shared in the breakout success of Canadian indie rock - especially after their arresting 2004 disc Stop Movement Stop Loss. But it's no mystery: Other Canadian collectives have specialized in flamboyant, celebratory displays of feeling. The Nobodies are less apt to march around banging parade drums. Instead they beaver diligently away at their paradoxical pavilion, with exteriors that may look like abattoirs but, inside, vast fields to roam.

Observers also have been misled by the band's beginnings, formed to play a tribute to the Fall, the recondite British outfit Mark E. Smith has led for nearly three decades. Add obvious influences from the likes of Wire and Sonic Youth, and the Nobodies are tagged as a wing of the indie world's revivalism of New York and London post-punk sounds.

Yet as bassist Matthew McDonough points out, immersion in the Toronto scene has been just as formative - whether it's the music of compatriots Anagram or the late Les Mouches, or the hands-on experience of helping organize the early years of the Wavelength weekly music series.

Then there's the ever-shuffling band roster. McDonough and lead vocalist Derek Westerholm are the only original Nobodies in a group that now includes keyboardist Sarah Richardson, guitarist Valerie Uher and drummer Dennis Amos, along with guest James Anderson banging away at found objects.

"The music is entirely based on the dynamics of the band members," says McDonough. "In fact, to a large degree, with each membership change, we have left [behind] all songs written with that group and just wrote new music. That way, you always have the energy of each individual."

Songs are written together during the group's two or three weekly rehearsals - often even the lyrics. Multiple singers are heard in single songs, creating content in counterpoint, much the same way Westerholm's clipped, strangled outbursts contrast with the female members' more mellifluous tones.

As Uher says, "Frequently I'll add lyrics that I feel in some way complement or question words which Derek writes. . . . We usually don't attempt to create a linear narrative or song. It's more of a conversation with tangents and addendums."

The themes of these exchanges are always elusive, but on Sound of Joy they have grown more explicitly political. Westerholm says the images of dark plotting and surveillance partly grow out of the band's recent frequent forays into the United States.

"One tour coincided with the final days of the 2004 presidential election campaign. Another tour was done in the wake of hurricane Katrina, where we were pretty much following FEMA trucks and military convoys on the highways," he says.

"And on yet another U.S. visit, I found myself adding, 'The government loves you,' to the lyrical content of Concrete. That song is based around the idea that concentration camps were actually constructed piece by piece, just like any other building. The general population worked on them, saw them going up. . . . Looking out the window on tour in North America, these questions come up again and again through my mind: How did this all get built? What are all these buildings? What's being manufactured? For what purpose?"

A far less sinister American experience has been connecting with New York's Wharton Tiers, who produced part of Stop Movement and most of Sound of Joy. Tiers's roots are in the 1970s downtown art scene; he went on to record Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Helmet, among others. He brings his own five-guitar Wharton Tiers Ensemble to Toronto and Montreal for the first time this weekend to support the Nobodies' CD launches. "Working with Wharton has been a huge eye-opener for us," McDonough says.

And Sound of Joy is an unusually pellucid indie-rock disc as a result. It opens with the words, "Shadowy shapes call to us/ Lean back, lie down, regress" -- a suspect invitation, but as voices hover luminously over guitars and bass that coil and, yes, creep, a fatally seductive one.

Here's hoping it's enough to lure the world inside the Creeping Nobodies' hacienda. But once within, beware - watch for falling revelations.

The Creeping Nobodies play tonight at 9:30 p.m., $10, at the Horseshoe, 370 Queen St. W., 416-598-4753.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 02 at 04:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Mao Now, Brown Cow?

Simon uses me as a test case in his passionate argument for a Nietzschean "strength" (as opposed to pussyish Last Man hall-of-mirrors historicism), saying my Celine Dion project is a doomed exercise in "fretful self-cancellation" and that "at the end of his investigation Carl might find himself back where he started: repelled by Dion's music and, despite his better intentions, thinking less of her fans." Celine's crappiness, he says, is "an assumption worth leaving unexamined." To examine it is to send yourself to the aesthetic equivalent of a Maoist reeducation camp.

John kindly comes to my (and his own) defence. (And, later, Dave goes at it too.) I can only say that Simon isn't finding the flaw in my experiment, but precisely its theme. It cannot "fail" because I am at least as attracted to the outcome that Celine Dion's music is irredeemable shit as to the outcome that it's not. (What's oppressive about Maoist re-education and auto-critique is that there is only one acceptable answer.) However, I am unhappy about the gulf between those aesthetic reflexes and the opposite reflexes of millions of other people to whom I don't consider myself superior (many cultural cues to the contrary), and who never, despite the most articulate persuasions I might muster, will agree with me. And yet there is the axiom: "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." Aesthetically I'm not so bothered by the idea of "falling for" (falling in love with) just about anything. However, I have grave concerns about the prospect that, "If you'll fall for anything, you can't stand for something."

There are many things I love beyond life in the realm of art, and am compelled to champion. There is very little that I have ever loved artistically that I do not still love, with the exception of some adolescent-boy clever-clever stuff that turned out to be rather hollow. But I have had the experience again and again of realizing that when I disliked things it was because I just didn't get them. And then realizing how rich and wonderful they were. Country and disco being my two signal examples. I have had the experience of my aesthetic instincts being wrong over and over again. So how do I know when they are right? The answer is probably that I can't, so for a period of time I want to immerse myself in that not-knowing with some concentration. My hypothesis is that whatever the outcome this immersion will be like tuning an instrument, like playing scales for hours a day, like sitting meditation. But I am not afraid, when the exercise is over, of returning to a provisional, pragmatic practice of going with my instincts and my beliefs, of loving what I feel compelled to love and objecting to (but, sorry, not hating) what I don't. But I don't see any honorable or authentic course other than to follow the line of critical thought where it leads, and this radical uncertainty is where it's landed me. I find no heroism in choosing the unexamined life, no value in blindered white-light-white-heat. (This is a poem called Why I Am Not A Punk.)

But I call bullshit on this complaint: "anti-rockism is the attempt to remove an aesthetico-moral framework from music discussion." Only literally true: It's an attempt to remove one aesthetico-moral framework, entirely on aesthetico-moral grounds: It posits that rockism has boring aesthetics and inhabits a social fantasy that is in fact morally dangerous, in which visionary Supermen are meant to lead the masses, who are distracted by their corrupt bodies (bodies that are too young, too old, too female, too gay, too repressed, too sexual, etc.) from true engagement with the pure rebel mind - with the help of the Superman they may be shown the way to enlightenment. It precisely is modernist vanguardism. The 20th century has provided us with all the experiments we need to know what is morally wrong with modernist vanguardism, despite its notable aesthetic triumphs. (And its even more frequent, misguided, pathetic aesthetic messes, which litter every bohemian scene.) Though I share the thrilled shiver that comes from hearing it, I am no longer "on the side" of the rhetoric of hanging Peter Frampton from a lamppost, even symbolically - partly because killing a symptom is no kind of a cure, partly because humanity has proved rather adept at literalizing its most vulgar symbologies.

Unfortunately this critique doesn't offer a positive program, a set of critical yardsticks to substitute for the old warped one. This is a problem which it has in common with the left, more broadly; politically, the only plausible responses that have emerged have been those that employ a range of analytic tools in a contextualized dialectic to aim at best guesses at what will produce the most desirable outcomes, or "good enough" outcomes, to use the psychoanalytic catchphrase. The abandonment of any all-purpose formulae. And we all agree there's something unsatisfying about this. In the pro-pop traffic with populism, in its retreat into subjectivism, and so on. It may simply be that a broadly workable aesthetico-moral framework is yet to come. But to take a stance for the sake of taking a stance - that is, to take up an aesthetico-moral framework because it makes you feel better to take it up - is wanking off, with a very weak relationship to critical or political responsibility.

I share Simon's worry that it is difficult to write well without such a grounding. But in myself I recognize it as a status fear - that I will lose critical power (status and success and money and all that shit) if I'm not aggressive and sarcastic and definitive and annihilating. Luckily, there's a wealth of good writing in philosophy and criticism and most of all in literature (let's start with Kafka) that tells me you can write from uncertainty. You don't have to posture on some fictional knowingness in order to write beautifully and justly and wisely. And beauty, justice and wisdom, much more than power - these are the qualities that fucking move me.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 02 at 02:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (15)


June 01, 2006

Cooler Than Mercury


After years of chatter about the notion - I've been party to at least three serious on-the-verge-of-taking-action talks among Canadian critics - someone has finally stepped up and done it: Created an alternative to the Junos, a hoser equivalent of the Mercury Prize. It's called the Polaris Music Prize, helmed by veteran A&R; type Steve Jordan (most recently, I think, of True North Records), and Eye critic Liisa Ladouceur is a "board member and returning officer." The purse is $20,000 (!) for Album of the Year (insert anti-rockist critique here!), "selected solely on artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history or label affiliation." This has been an open secret for awhile, but the prize will be launched all official-like on Tuesday in the Drake Sky Yard from 3 to 6 pm. (The Hylozoists will perform their "music of mostly instruments.") As the bumpf says:

"The Polaris Music Prize will focus on one category - ­ Best Canadian Album. Choosing a winner is the clear objective - an initial Shortlist will be published, then ultimately a winner will be chosen,­ but the raison d’être of the Polaris Music Prize is to celebrate, stimulate interest in, and provide publicity for all sorts of exceptional Canadian music."

I'm honoured to have been asked to be among the judges, whom I gather will be a collection of critics and broadcasters (and possibly musicians?). I'm assured "no one with a direct affiliation with artists (i.e. managers, agents, record labels, publicists, etc.) will be asked to be on this jury," which makes it a far cry from the money-incest game of the Junos.

You may ask - especially if, like some Zoilus readers, you are philosophically opposed to awards - why this is necessary. And it's not, ultimately. But given the sales-driven soul of the Junos, this prize offers a chance to generate talk and make a bow to the deep-rooted parts of the Canadian music community that do not and never will sell gazillions of records. Nothing wrong with selling records, but not all forms of music are cut out for it. It seems like a way to help solidify the world's growing awareness that Canadian music is not just one big opportunity for Bryan Adams jokes. Think back to the late 80s/early 90s when Adams was racking up all the Juno wins - it would have been nice for there to be some vehicle for that era's best 'alternative' bands and budding hip-hop scene (Halifax, raise your hand on both counts) to get recognition as a counterbalance. And while it is too bad there can only be one annual winner, I'm hopeful that the shortlist will draw a fair share of attention as well.

Now, back to that anti-rockist critique: I'd bet that the winner this year (the term of eligibility goes from last June to the end of May, i.e., yesterday) will be an indie-rock or singer-songwriter/folk-rock album. I wish that the nominations were for artist of the year instead, so that performers in singles-oriented genres would get equal time. But, well, welcome to Canada - rockism is a bit of a national religion, unfortunately.

Still, that one bitch-slap aside, I'm pleased to see this finally happening, managed by people of good faith. If it turns out that it sucks - the way the Mercury Prize kind of does, after all - we can all turn coat and rip it to shreds later. (Again, welcome to Canada.) But for now I'm happy to go on the (long-playing) record as a booster. Thanks, Steve, and congrats to all of us. Now fire that starter's pistol - who would be your nominees?

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 01 at 08:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)


Nobody Can Lift the Damn Thing


In the spirit of Dave Morris's admonition not to quit while we're ahead, I'm going to continue to link to worthy contributions to the taste/race debate. (I prefer not to call it "Merrittgate," catchy as that is, because it perpetuates the inappropriate ad-hominem element.) Living in Stereo's summation of how angry rejections of the possibility of interrogating taste are classic performances of white privilege is typically fierce, humane and precise. (And I'm humbly flattered that he chooses to quote me within it.) And David points me to a blog I've never read before but will now, Shot of Rhythm, where EMP participant Charles Hughes discusses some other aspects of Merritt's keynote speech that may be more worthy of unpacking than his quite brief mention of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (which was originally brought up by another panelist, LD Begthol, just as an example of a "happy" song Merritt likes) - specifically, his confusing remarks about gospel and catharsis, and his claim that people who have "sincere" responses to his own music (and say that he helped them come out of the closet, for example) make him want to puke. I respond to Charles in the comments to that entry. And finally, how the race-taste nexus plays out among voters for American Idol.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 01 at 04:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson