by carl wilson

August 31, 2006

Village Voice Debacle Continues

christgau1.jpg

Wow. I mean, we knew it might happen. But wow.

So, who wants to hire Robert Christgau?

Friday add: See New York Times story. Question now: If there's a Pazz & Jop poll this year, does it get boycotted? (And if ILM doesn't come back from the dead, how would we organize that?)

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 31 at 5:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

August 30, 2006

Ys oh Why? (Newsom Pre-Preview)

Guess what the mailman brought today? Y(e)s, what you see above is the cover art for the new Joanna Newsom album, Ys. It's pronounced "ees," they say - ruining my headline pun - and it has a pretty fascinating derivation, and is also the name of a board and video game, for those of you keeping stats on game-cultcha's influence on pop. So do we think this painting, perhaps of Joanna as Dahut the druidic princess, by Benjamin Vierling is good, or so bad it's good, or just plain bad? I think it's hideous, frankly. But there's something charming about the acrobatic lapse of taste involved, quite a contrast to the perfect discretion she exercises in her choice of collaborators. Get this - the harp and vocals were recorded by Steve Albini; the orchestra was arranged and conducted by Van Dyke Parks, who co-produced the album (as I've mentioned in the past); and what came out was mixed by Jim O'Rourke. In any sort of musical version of the Kevin Bacon game, Ys may turn out to be the trump card that connects everything to everything.

(Newsom is quoted in the press release: "Albini mic'd the harp in an insane and never-before-done manner! I'd love to describe it further but I don't want to give away his ideas, in case he wants to do it again sometime." Parks worked from those recordings, feeling that "every nuance of the performance would inform his arrangments," which developed in a series of drafts traded back and forth between the old Yankee Reaper and the young harpist, with the goal of creating the sense that "the orchestra is hanging in a hallucinatory shimmer around the more substantial harp and voice." O'Rourke, in turn, "ediited quite a bit, and tweaked and carved it... with parts rising up and dropping in and out almost weightlessly, disappearing without much notice and reappearing as if they'd been there the whole time.")

As for the results? Well, that'd be telling. It's not out till November, and considering that it consists of five songs that average 11 minutes each, I'm not about to attempt to process them in an afternoon. But I will say, there are days when my ears - so often physically abused in the course of duty - are well pleased with the path we've taken.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 30 at 5:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (17)

 

August 29, 2006

A Utopia By Any Other Name (Except 'In-Joke')

When I first read Michael Barclay's Exclaim piece, "This is Torontopia", I didn't feel much need to say anything about it. It seemed like a useful primer for folks outside the city on what I've been discussing intermittently on Zoilus all year, the pains and frustrations that have arisen as the initial excitement of "the Torontopian moment" a few years ago started to be taken for granted, as some our friends have "become successful" in minor ways and the scene has grown and also come to be seen as an establishment in itself to be taken down, which is some combo of healthy and very silly. I would quibble with Michael's claim that I "called for the ['Torontopia'] term's retirement" - I think I just said we should consider it. But I talked about these issues in my interview with Kat Collins on Indiepolitik (linked here along with discussion) as well in the exhaustive debate with Graham Preston on the term that took place here as well as on Graham's blog.) (Which seemed to lead to this very clear-headed contribution from Victoria, which I'm very grateful to Michael for pointing out, as I'd missed it in the first place.)

However, Frank's post today, which was introspective and vulnerable and also kind of frustrating as a reaction, made me want to put aside planned posts on Junior Boys, the Mountain Goats and CopyCamp (more about all of which in the next few days), and respond.

First, I appreciate the fact that Frank agonizes so conscientiously about what the role of his blog should be in relation to local vs. non-local culture. I do this too, from the opposite pole: I often worry that my enthusiasm for the music community here makes Zoilus inaccessible to readers elsewhere, and regret the possibility that it forecloses dialogue, or causes people to overlook other issues raised here on which I'd really like a broader conversation. Sometimes I look enviously toward Frank's just-the-music-ma'am approach. I also don't begrudge him his own tastes, except in one way I'll get to shortly.

But it's also a bit shocking to me, after all this time, to see Frank refer to "something [Exclaim] calls 'Torontopia'," so much so that I just hope he was joking. Because if not, we've really, really been talking past each other here. Frank affords plenty of attention to the likes of the Hidden Cameras and Final Fantasy, to the (former) Three-Guts bands and others, so he is not at a vast distance from where this activity came from. We run into a barrier when we start talking about the Arts & Crafts bands, but personally I don't exclude the likes of Broken Social Scene when I think of Torontopia, even though their music's not my thing - while they may not be purists of localism and DIY the way most of the Blocks bands are, for instance, their "experiment in intimacy" is very close in spirit, as is the way that they foreground their collective nature. And of course BSS's background is no great distance from Wavelength, etc. Steve Kado and others want to dispute the issues of professionalism and independence and music-industry marketing, and that's a valid argument, but as Jonny Dovercourt implies in the Exclaim article, I think it would be detrimental if the localism that BSS has attempted to express and the Torontopian sense are configured in radical opposition.

At the same time, Frank's right that the predominant advocates of Torontopia are artists who come more out of an avant-garde tradition (there's that amusing oxymoron again!) than a pop one - although many have a foot in both sides. (I think Final Fantasy is in some basic way weirder than any noise band, not despite but because of the music's prettiness, for instance.) To misread this as the nature of the scene and the Torontopian argument, though, seems to be willfully tendentious. First, the music is much more diverse than that, and includes plenty of things likely to be more to Frank's taste - the Adorables, the Bicycles (who started out somewhat outside the Torontopian model and have migrated steadily into it), the aforementioned Hidden Cameras, Laura Barrett, Glissandro 70, and so on. So he seemed to be caricaturing the musical profile.

But more than that, the very participatory ethic and off-centre thinking of a lot of the bands - the Bad Bands, Ninja High School etc. - mean that they're asking you to listen differently, to involve yourself differently with the art, than you do with music that begins from the idea of the recording, which most pop music does today. It is partly conceptual, but it's not just abstract, but intensely embodied. I don't think it's been well-translated to record in most cases. So if you rely entirely on recordings and second-hand gossip to judge it, you won't grasp it. When you hear about similar work at a distance, you might shrug it off, but if it's happening a streetcar ride away, isn't the fact that people you respect - like the Cameras, like Owen Pallett - value it enough reason to be curious and check it out with an open mind?

Not that they're all artistic triumphs, by any means, even live. But dismissing it with the "conceptual art joke for their friends" slag-off is kind of infuriating. How is music that's made from an experimental (and even intellectual) position less valid than visual art or film or literature that's made that way? And how is it that given the long history of such work being dismissed in its own moment - including stuff that's at the root of the further-out rock that Frank and others do appreciate - people still feel confident about pissing on it when it's new and in a venue near you? Frank, to his credit, expressed that doubt: "Am I guilty of that infamous Canadian inferiority complex that craves validation from abroad before acknowledging homegrown talent?" I don't know if that's your issue personally, Frank - I'd say you're pretty open to new music when it seems close in any way to music you know you like, validation or no validation - but it's certainly one of the issues. But it also seems like people mistake the combination of sense of humour, a certain wild-leap-taking courage and the natural giddiness among people who have found "a creative commons" (as the Discorder writer put it) for some kind of cliqueish back-patting orgy. That's probably unavoidable, but given the general permeability and friendliness of this loose community - which everyone who's found their way into it in the past five or so years will attest to - it's disheartening.

That said, I really wish that some Torontopians would be just a bit more self-conscious when they start behaving in ways that reconfirm that misconception. It's just as discouraging to see people jump on Frank by saying, "oh, all you want is some neo-shoegazer music," or attack people who are trying to start projects - maybe naively, but sincerely - with a lot of snide "you don't know shit" commentary as happens too often on Stillepost. If we want to keep boasting of the open-mindedness of Torontopia, then that's something to live up to.

I could go on - there's lots to say about how Torontopia's renewal depends partly on extending it to new audiences and territory, as is beginning to happen with the all-ages shows and other projects, and also about its "whiteness". What the latter actually denotes is not-blackness: There are good numbers of Asians, Filipinos and other demographics represented, but the yawning gap between "Torontopia" and "the T-Dot" is conspicuous and troublesome. But there will be other times and venues for that. Meanwhile, it seems to me there's still plenty of reason to cry, "Long live Torontopia, wherever she may rise." As Michael's article says, "Torontopia is not a place": If you're home now, you could live there.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 29 at 8:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (32)

 

Hello-lo-lo-lo... to the Echo Prize


Laura Barrett at the Music Gallery in March, in a photo by thecjm on Flickr.

If the Polaris Prize shortlist hasn't polarized the nation quite yet, here's another Canadian music contest to bitch about: The Echo Songwriting Prize, to be awarded this year for the first time by Socan (the Canadian songwriters' association). Before the deets, here are the sweets, the nominated shortlist, in alphabetical order by artist:

Laura Barrett, Deception Island Optimists Club (written by Laura Barrett)
Final Fantasy, This Lamb Sells Condos (by Owen Pallett)
Propagandhi, A Speculative Fiction (by Chris Hannah, Todd Kowalski, Jordan Samolesky)
The Stills, Destroyer (by Olivier Corbeil, Timothy Fletcher, David Hamelin and Liam O�Neil)
Wolf Parade, You Are a Runner and I Am My Father�s Son (by Daniel Boeckner, Hadji Bakara and Arlen Thompson)

As with the Polaris, I was among the jurors for this one. Unlike with the Polaris, for which a smaller jury (also including yours zoilusy) convenes to make a final choice at a gala-ish event on Sept. 18, on this one you get to vote. Audio of the nominated songs - one set in English, the other in French - will be up on the Socan site on Thursday (Aug. 31) and remain up till Oct. 31, when the public vote will be tallied.

I'm pleased and surprised to see my Laura Barrett nomination (each of the 8 jurors nominated 3 tracks) made it through - congratulations, Laura. Just another step in the Barrett take-over-the-world scenario that continues with her North American tour this fall with the Hidden Cameras.

I'm also happy, but not surprised, to see most of the rest. I nominated a different Final Fantasy song, but totally can get behind this one. (Guess my third nomination. It's very easy.) The Stills ain't my cup of tea, but I bear them no particular ill will. The focus for the Echo is songs by "emerging" artists rather than just the "best" song - the rules were that the songs had to be released between the start of July 2005 and end of June 2006, that they be original compositions, written by Canadians, and from albums that sold less than 50K copies in Canada (ie., below "gold" status). All genres were supposedly eligible, but you see the results. (A note to organizers: If you truly want all genres to be included, the genre interests of the jurors have to be really well-balanced, or you'll end up leaning rockwards every time. There was no jazz, for instance, but some hip-hop and dance on the long list - but predictably none of it survived the second round.)

Laura's nomination also raises some thoughts in response to Frank Chromewaves's post today on Torontopia and its (or at least his) discontents, but I'll have to save that for later in the day. Meanwhile, again, congrats to all the touched-by-an-Echo songwriters and performers.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 29 at 2:45 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)

 

August 28, 2006

Get Clicky

I almost never do this, but I wasn't happy with last night's Mountain Goats post and removed it - I've got a cold and my thinking seemed more than a little fuzzy. I'll revisit some of my ideas about the new album another time, when I'm less befogged. But I still wanted to share a couple of the links: John Darnielle had a fascinating piece in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend about the creation of Get Lonely and the difficulty he had following up on The Sunset Tree. He's also posted a mix of some of his favourite songs-of-the-year-thus-far on current Last Plane to Jakarta, which will make you run out to buy a bunch of records you've probably never heard of. (One of his picks is Winnipeg's Christine Fellows, who'll be touring with him this fall: "Nobody else is writing at Christine�s level.") And later today the first in a series of YouTube videos, "YouTube Presents: Sessions at Amoeba featuring the Mountain Goats," including an interview between Darnielle and Carl Newman of the New Pornographers, is due to be posted. (I thought it would be up by now.)

And now I'm off to make Neo-Citron.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 28 at 4:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

August 26, 2006

"I waddle out and get a couple of gasps:
'Is that what their hair looks like?' "

jaybeese.jpg

My Junior Boys profile is now up on The Globe and Mail site (let me know if you can't access it, please). Outtakes to come on Monday.

And isn't tonight the craziest night in shows of all crazy nights in Toronto? Gee, would I rather see the Jr Boys, Damo Suzuki, the Hidden Cameras, Jessica Rylan (amazing Boston-area noise-type artist playing free in Trinity-Bellwoods Park at sundown), the Deadly Snakes, Amy Millan or They Shoot Horses Don't They? Or go to Santa Cruz on the Capt. John's Seafood boat in the harbour? Can't do 'em all! Who wants to give up, meet in the alley behind my house, and drink cooking wine instead?

No, I am actually going to see the Jaybeez, 'cuz I've barely seen them live at all. But it really does hurt.

Also: I have a contribution in the first issue of Becky Johnson's new zine, Point Form: A Zine of Lists. It's the zineyest.



Junior Boys bring electro-pop home

Hamilton's Junior Boys want to prove their bleeps and bloops are as Canadian as Tom Cochrane, CARL WILSON writes

The Globe & Mail Review
August 26, 2006

When Jeremy Greenspan walks on stage, some spectators do a double-take.

Not that the singer and songwriter for the Hamilton-based duo Junior Boys is such a bizarre sight. Quite the reverse: Due to his music's introverted moods and synthesized bubbles and whirrs, listeners often expect a dour rake sporting globs of mascara and asymmetrical locks. What they get is a grinning, mildly pot-bellied 26-year-old with owlish eyes and the trimmed brown beard a soulful folkie might wear.

"I waddle out and get a couple of gasps: 'Is that what their hair looks like?' " Greenspan says, laughing.

And it's not just about fashion. Electro-pop, unusually for today's mix-and-match culture, is stereotyped as belonging to one place and time: England in the early 1980s. It's assumed to be the soundtrack for lyrics about boredom, gender ambiguity, dystopias and androids. None of which has much bearing on Junior Boys' second album, So This Is Goodbye.

The record draws an intricate map of losses and reclamations, etched with traces of conversation that could be domestic squabbles or mumblings into a mirror. Though it's plagued with dust and doubles, shadows and moans, those anxieties are woven into witty melodic filigrees, with a youthful, rhythmic swing assured enough to shake the ghosts off at the curves.

It's one of the finest suites of pop music of the year, and most reviewers call it a distinct advance on Last Exit, Junior Boys' already superb 2004 debut. So This Is Goodbye was rated 9.0 this month on the popular Pitchfork website, which reputedly helped to make the careers of bands such as the Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene.

And Greenspan, a motor-mouthed and articulate theorist of his own work, will argue its bleeps and bloops are just as Canadian as Tom Cochrane belting out Life Is a Highway.

"A lot of the mood I'm trying to capture is a uniquely Canadian thing -- the highway thing, the experience of driving up north," Greenspan says. "If you look from a high place, it seems like the city is carved out of wilderness. Even in America, if you take a highway and drive in some random direction, you'll end up somewhere you recognize. In Canada, it's the middle of nowhere.

"This produces an agoraphobia, a fear of vastness, a fear I sort of get off on . . . [an] opposite of claustrophobia that we have here, that is sort of uniquely ours."

Greenspan says he is "totally obsessed with Canadiana," including the animation of Norman McLaren and the contests of figure-versus-ground in the canvases of Christopher Pratt, "a painter that encapsulated everything I'm trying to say about where I'm from musically."

If his music gets mistaken for an anglophilic period piece, it's partly because it was first vaulted to notice by a London cabal of Internet critics. Greenspan's initial duo with programmer Jonny Dark had already split when demos began circulating among British music bloggers and message-board devotees. Their fervour for the amalgam of underground dance rhythms with crisp pop melodies pricked up the ears of Warp Records's Nik Kilroy, who tracked Greenspan down to invite Junior Boys to be the first artists on his own label, KIN.

Greenspan took up with another Hamiltonian beat-maker, Matthew Didemus, to complete what became Last Exit, and to go on the road. Junior Boys is now signed to Domino Records, best known as the home of recent British indie hit-makers Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys. "I find myself at times getting more ambitious than I thought I would," he comments on the prospect of similar success, "but we're kind of a culty band. . . . I'd love to be a one-hit wonder, though. That'd be great."

One of Greenspan's frustrations is that the Domino rock bands' revisions of 1980s post-punk get called fresh, while Junior Boys is considered retro. "The equipment we use somehow codifies in people's minds this specific historical moment in the way it doesn't if people play classic guitars, drums and bass. There's often all sorts of bands reproducing the equipment specifications of the bands they love in much more 'authentic' ways than we do. We use far more contemporary machines, machines they couldn't have used then."

But they did reach back in their choice for the album's architecture, and for an influence on Greenspan's singing now compared to his reedy fragility on Last Exit -- Frank Sinatra's classic concept albums Point of No Return(1961) and No One Cares (1959). The latter's title song, remade as a half-frozen still life, serves as a centrepiece of So This Is Goodbye.

"What I identify with [in Sinatra] . . . is this sort of sense of distilling objects and moments from their contexts," Greenspan says.

That approach brought to mind the theme of collecting, and Greenspan decided to construct the album around it: "I think everyone knows what's sad about collectors -- many music fans are among them. . . . Collecting things is how you deal with saying goodbye to moments, the inability to actually part with things -- to deal with the fact that the moments are gone."

Of his title, he says, "The reason it's not just This Is Goodbye but So This Is Goodbye is that it's, 'So, this is what goodbye feels like.' I hate overwrought drama in music. Simple little sadnesses are far more powerful to me. . . .

"[It's] about dealing with the kind of goodbyes you say to things all the time that actually don't tear you to pieces. It's not about dealing with the death of someone extremely close to you, but saying goodbye to some part of your life that just drifted away and you didn't even see it happen. The kind of sadness everyone deals with all the time, and it's not dealt with in art all that often because it's seemingly not particularly important."

Greenspan credits the rusty byways of Hamilton, "my muse," with inculcating him with his sensitivity to the periphery. "When you live in a big city, so much of your emotional investment in that place has to do with recognizable iconography, whereas for people like me, the things you see every day are strip malls and highways. They start to have emotional resonance for you. . . . I got into this idea of cataloguing, about people who find and hold onto something beautiful that isn't supposed to be beautiful."

For an artist who emerged from the non-place of the Internet, these "homesick, home-obsessed" themes provide ballast and balance. Yet Greenspan also sees value in the "lack of identity, the lack of historical reference" that often vexes Canadians: "I think we should embrace that. A lot of people are overburdened by their own history. Instead, what people want is to invent and replicate a Canadian culture that's not really true -- like Celtic fiddling. . . . I'd like [my music] to be a challenge to what people think of Canadian."

However, he adds, "It's time for me to deal with something else, and record somewhere new." His sister lives in Shanghai, and after the coming year of touring is done, he might move there. "I figured I'd go as opposite as you can go from Hamilton. . . . And I don't think any Western pop group has ever made a record in China.

"At least I'll get my name in the history books somehow."

Junior Boys play the El Mocambo in Toronto tonight [Aug 26], with further dates across the country in September and October. See their MySpace for details.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, August 26 at 3:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

August 25, 2006

Peek Experiences


Junior Boys.

Today in The Globe, an "Essential Tracks" list from me featuring Feuermusik, No Means No, Cadence Weapon vs. Rick Ross, and CSS vs. Paris Hilton.

More important, tomorrow in The Globe, look for an extensive feature interview with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, with the release of new album So This Is Goodbye and their show at the El Mocambo in Toronto tomorrow night. Unfortunately space limitations kept it from coming out before the Star and the weeklies went at 'em, but my piece has different themes than any of those. Want to know how Junior Boys were influenced by Norman McLaren and Christopher Pratt? Link up here tomorrow morning.

And I'll post some choice outtakes after that. Meanwhile, take a peek at my guest essay on the new Junior Boys song Count Souvenirs, from earlier this summer on Said the Gramophone, if you missed it.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 25 at 12:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

August 24, 2006

Bowie, MF Doom and Proto-Bandonyms?

bowiep318.jpg
David Bowie and his mouthpiece(s).

In a followup to the Randy Newman discussion last week, Peli emailed me today, calling me on my overly dismissive reference to Bowie's use of Brechtian influences compared to Newman's. We got to chatting, and out of that conversation came his post tonight on Bowie, MF Doom and "song ontology." You should read it - it's very preliminary but very smart stuff on the question of what forms of address are available in song other than first-person or fictional-first-person, and what all these options say about song-as-persona. (Right off you'd have to add the third-person storytelling of the ballad, which maybe is "making a speech" and maybe ain't.)

His questions overlap vastly with my EMP paper last year on the "bandonym" - the fracturing of the singular songwriter persona into a fictional "band" via a plural-sounding pseudonym, eg. "The Mountain Goats," and what effect that has on the illusion of a speaking 'subject' in a song. (Unfortunately it no longer appears to be online.) In some ways Peli seems to be arguing that what I claimed was mainly a 1990s development really happened in the 1970s and was accomplished by Bowie: We both discussed Pessoa's heteronyms, for example. I hope to get more into it, but I'm in the middle of other writing at the moment so it will have to wait. Again, read Peli first.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 24 at 12:48 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

August 23, 2006

Goin' Out West (Where They Appreciate... Tea)


Vancouver's The Choir Practice.

Need Coles' Notes ("Cliff Notes," to you yanks) on what's afoot on the Vancouver scene? From Blown Speakers' poll will catch you up in a blink. (Except for the egregious omissions of Veda Hille and Frog Eyes.) My favourite Vangroovy discovery of late is The Choir Practice, which is kind of what happens when the Langley kids grow up. (Thanks to Popsheep for pointing the choir out.)

And at The Ratio, this post is making me very jealous. (The Ratio's seemed more entertaining than before, all summer, in fact.)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 23 at 5:59 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)

 

'I'll try anything once, twice if I like it,
three times to make sure' - Mae West

Last night I went to the second-last performance of The Drag, an environmental-theatre production at Interaccess by the AmmoFactory collective - which just happened to include lead actress Amy Bowles (of Pony Da Look and Permafrown) as well as Alex Wolfson (Domaine d'Or) (directing, I believe), along with a soundscape by Matt Smith (Nifty, Awesome, Wyrd Visions) and Jonathan Adjemian (Jon Rae and the River, Hoover Party), costumes by Vanessa Fischer (No Dynamics, Domaine d'Or) - a passel of Toronto-music-scene folks, in other words. Among the statements in the wall-mounted program was that the group wants to see theatre take its place in the vibrant community action in other arts in the city - and lord knows that except for Mammalian Diving Reflex, it really hasn't. This production, which takes place all over the I/A space, with the audience following the action around the room, is a pretty impressive piece of multimedia, if not an entirely successful exploration of its intended themes around how sexual repression in North America has shifted since Mae West wrote the original The Drag, a groundbreaking exposure of homosexuality on the New York stage. It mixes bits of the original play with scenes from the lives of Wilhelm Reich, Roman Polanski, the son of Charlie Manson, and several others. Whenever Bowles is performing it's arresting, and aside from that the soundscape is terrific, and some of the scenes and video work are quite fine. I'd kind of been hoping for more of a full-scale Wooster Group-style extravaganza, and it didn't get there - it could have used a few more twists and a heap more of West's own sass. But it's a must for Bowles fans and well worthwhile for anyone who'd just like to see another side of the creative team involved - other ways of working than just being in bands and so on. The final performance is tonight (Wed.) at 9 pm.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 23 at 2:40 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

August 22, 2006

Damolition Squad: The Pickup Band Tour

serisuzuki.jpg

In case you didn't notice it down in the "top shows" list in the sidebar, Damo Suzuki (ex-Can) will be playing Toronto this weekend, presenting more of his "instant composing" - unrehearsed sets backed by local musicians, whose participation brings them into the Damo Suzuki Network. He does the same tomorrow (Wed.) evening in Montreal, as the above Seripop poster proclaims, and Thursday in Ottawa and Friday in Hamilton, Ont.

It strikes me that his methodology has been borrowed by Jandek, who will be backed by local improvisors Nick Fraser, Nilan Perrera and Rob Clutton in his upcoming Toronto concert. Ariel Pink also attempted the trick earlier this year, albeit with less success because he was asking the musicians to learn his whole set in advance, rather than to wing it. (Anyone see a show where he pulled it off?) And Shiu-Yeung Hui (sometime member of Maher Shalal Hash Baz) pursues similar techniques in his gig tonight at Graffiti's, to which he invites even the audience members to bring instruments and play along. (If you can't make it tonight he's back next week at the Poor Pilgrim series.)

It's a touring model that's relatively common in jazz, of course - a pianist or singer or trumpet player drops into the city and picks up a rhythm section for the duration. You also find it in bluegrass and other forms where there's a set of standards all professional musicians would know. And improvisors in the usual (jazz-derived) sense likewise can play with anyone, as can noise musicians etc. But a pickup-band-tour also comes with many advantages for the adventurous musician who toils in the towers of song: You may not be trying to bring world unity one band at a time the way Damo is, but the economics and creative dynamics are hard to beat. And by accepting the deviations and warpings that a song - or set of song-fragments, as Suzuki uses - will undergo when entered into the atom smasher of improvisation, you present to the audience the possibility that the boundaries of song need not be so rigid as we assume. In fact you generate a kind of spontaneous folk-culture, not only among the musicians who are participating in a hypercompressed version of the oral tradition, but among the audience, who are receiving material that is in some sense indigenous to that specific time, that specific gathering, in that specific room, temporary though it is. Ephemeral folkways. Mobile mother tongues.

I'd be fascinated to see it become more common. You don't have to go on tour to do it, of course. You could do a pickup-band tour of your own town just by calling in different players at each gig. (We could get off here into a discussion of conducted improv too, but another time.)

On the other hand, you have to try to assert the boundaries between "spontaneous composition" (or "instant songs," as I've heard them called), improvisation and jamming. And the latter should be ruled out unequivocally, in the long campaign to wipe jamming off the face of the earth like polio. (What's that you say? Feh. I contain multitudes, etc etc.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 22 at 6:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

Gabba Gabba? Hey!

If you don't have a small child in your life, then like me you may not have heard there's a U.S. preschoolers' TV show that includes animation by Chad VanGaalen and a "beat of the day" from Biz Markie. Not to mention the Ramones-derivative title. And visually it's like - well, I'll let the eyeball specialists describe it. Here's Biz, yo:


| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 22 at 4:54 PM | Linking Posts

 

August 21, 2006

Dusty, Toxic-Sludgey, Watercoloured Memories


Extermination Music Night 2 in Toronto - left, some decorative cardboard airplanes hung above the crowd's heads; right, the Feuermusik Big Band. Photos by girlchoochoo on Flickr.

Saturday marked the third anniversary of the 2003 blackout in Toronto and much of the northeast. Some bars held 'unplugged' events and the like to recall the strange freedom that many of us felt when the usual sustaining structures of 21st-century society suddenly dropped away. But another part of the community found a different way to escape into the dark Saturday night, going 'off the grid' - not of electricity, though partially that, but more the grid of legal permissions and sanctioned spaces within which cultural events usually take place. Thanks to the hard work of some folks whose names I won't drop here, I found myself joining dozens of other adventurers and slipping through the fence around an abandoned bakery-company factory warehouse to spend the night enjoying live music by torchlight and the buzzing nerves of friends and strangers.

It would be shortsighted not to acknowledge the obvious precedent for such events in the warehouse parties of the dance scene - the organizers knew about this particular space precisely because techno raves had been held in it before. But events like this are testimonies to the growing sophistication in the live-band scene on questions of public space, performer-spectator interaction and the like. On one hand, you have people exploring the exact opposite extreme of openness and accessibility - such as the previous weekend's all-ages ALL CAPS show at Dufferin-Grove Park, or last night's show by The Bicycles for children at the JCC at Spadina and Bloor. I've advocated for awhile that the scene start thinking much more seriously about offering options to underagers and over-agers (by which I mean people with kids, not so much DJ Cyber-Rap, though I'm happy to hear he's found his pothead son) - to alleviate the narrowness of the university and post-grad demographic that's usually associated with this sort of music, but also to reduce the attrition that produces and try to diversify the input the community gets. On the other hand, for those who are able to do the all-night experience, there's no reason to repeat endlessly the rituals of nightclub shows when it's possible to conceive much more altered-state experiences in the very physical setup and logistics of a music event. How interesting can a culture be when its central activity is "hanging around in bars," after all? This weekend was a sharp reminder of that - and with the great success of ALL CAPS last weekend, and Bummer in the Summer the week before, there's been a general August experience of revitalization of ye olde "torontopian" ideals, which had been feeling a bit like they were going stale earlier in the summer.

And the music itself was no sideshow - unlike the first EMN, last summer, in which the roster of performers was so huge that no one band seemed to matter relative to the romance of the environment, and the night dragged on way past the point of even youthful stamina. Feuermusik inaugurated proceedings with brass-and-percussion fanfares, with the main duo enhanced by a trio of horn players from the improv scene. Scott Thomson's trombone in particular at moments practically lifted me out of my body, while Gus Weinkauf's bucket drumming had my hips mobile full time. (At one point the term "Afro-feuer-beat" flashed across my mind.) I had fantasies of people moshing to free jazz, though that never quite emerged. The compositions, which are one part Coltrane, one part Roland Kirk, with maybe a little dash of Kurt Weill (as well as maybe Carla Bley or Misha Mengelberg), go from strength to strength. Sadly this was Feuermusik's last Toronto show in a while, as composer and sax player Jeremy Strachan is moving to Newfoundland to pursue his studies. But I think they've stood out this summer as one of the local acts that many people have been encountering and latching on to for the first time, so let's hope he's not absent too long.

There were comparably strong sets by Rozasia, Castlemusic and even Anagram - a band I haven't cared that much for in the past, who had me revising my opinions. But even more enjoyable for me were the interactive aspects - experimenting with what one could do with just a flashlight and one's own body to alter the rhythms of the space, noticing when the crowd might be trending towards habitual bar-gig-based dynamics and finding playful ways to nudge in other directions, all of that. Add to that the general sense of respect and care for one another (with a couple of minor exceptions there was pretty much zero bad behaviour), the vodka-vicodin cocktails at the improvised bar and the fact that there were no gendarmes, and one could only feel that bliss was it in that pre-dawn to be alive, and well, and living in Toronto. (And covered in an eerily persistent patina of black soil that proved enormously difficult to wash off and is no doubt prone to kill us all.)

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 21 at 4:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

August 18, 2006

What Ho! Buttonwillow!
Newsom as the News

As Chromewaves has mentioned, Zoilusian superfavourite Joanna Newsom is playing the Mod Club in Toronto on Oct. 4 - not an ideal venue, but probably the right size. However, I think that I'll be seeing her at Pop Montreal instead. These are Newsom's first performances in Canada ever. Her new album Ys comes out in November. You can count the number of tracks on the fingers of one hand, but they're all extended suites (I've heard live renditions of several, which sound extraordinary - Only Skin is already one of the best songs of the year - and with Van Dyke Parks arranging they can only get better), so it will be a very different album than The Milk-Eyed Mender. I'm busily trying to arrange an interview for a Globe feature, but the Drag City folks say she's reticent. Cross your hearts and fingers (that's a P5K reference by the way [scroll down for my contribution to that page]). Interestingly, new-folk godmother Vashti Bunyan is playing Harbourfront the night before - I wonder if there will be some collaborative crossover at one show or the other.

Hmm, how to finish this off? Well, here are a couple of live Newsom videos on YouTube; in the first she plays The Book of Right-On on Jools Holland, and in the second Swansea in an unexplained context. There's also a nice concert/interview video.


| Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 18 at 3:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

Come Up & See Me Sometime

xtina2.jpg

Today in The Globe and Mail, I profile Toronto lo-fi-bubblegum quintet The Bicycles, and review the new Xtina Aguilera and Bonnie Prince Billy CDs.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 18 at 10:44 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

Busting a Three Gut

As if completely incoherent moral objections weren't enough, now eBay is stepping in to mess up Tyler Clark Burke's auction plans, saying they won't sell dirty underwear, even if it belongs to Peaches.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 18 at 9:40 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

August 15, 2006

Weapons of Mass Orchestration

One angle that hadn't occurred to me, as I've spent the weekend fuming at the notion that books are now being treated as potential tools of terror - an idea that writers have often romanticized, but not quite in this way - is the effect that the new flight restrictions are having on musicians. Cello players seem to get it the worst, at least after bagpipers (see the comments in that one). The actual effects on economic and cultural commerce will be horrible if they're really going to treat as a threat any traveller who's not naked and bearing a certified X-ray to ensure they haven't got explosive bone marrow, rather than relying on other means of screening and intelligence, not to mention the inevitable risks and even losses involved in having a free and cosmopolitan society. Considering the fundamentalist edicts against music, this is one irony that stings.

(PS: Speaking of bagpipes, I hadn't heard till this afternoon that jazz piper Rufus Harley has died.)

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 15 at 2:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

August 14, 2006

'Ten Celebrities, Four of Whom I Might Assassinate'

No doubt thousands of us internerds (tm sfj) will be linking to the tune Ryan Catbirdseat posted today: I Started a Blog Nobody Read, which I can't help thinking of as the 2000s' sequel to the Bee Gees' I Started a Joke, tho unlike the latter it is tough to read this tune by the Sprites as a Christian allegory.

Meanwhile in the land of The Mountain Goats - whom I should have mentioned in that list earlier today of heirs to Randy Newman, by the way (John Darnielle even has covered one of my favourite Newman songs ever, A Wedding in Cherokee County) - there is widespread shock and confusion that they reportedly performed the song Golden Boy in a concert this weekend in Athens, Georgia. Golden Boy (hear here [scroll down]) is one of the most beloved and requested Goats semi-rarities - originally recorded for a set of music about consumer products for Paul Lukas's legendary Beer Frame zine, later included on the Ghana compilation - but Darnielle has always responded to such requests in the past by saying that he didn't remember how to play it, which was generally taken as a ruse. It was always hard to say whether he found the song too corny and jokey to play, or whether it held some special personal significance, or whether he just thought he could never improve on the recording, which certainly is one of the best Goats performances ever. And now, after years why has he reversed himself and played this absurdist paean to the transcendent, nay, divine powers of a certain brand of Asian peanuts with a "young Chinese farmer" appearing on the label? Fans are abuzz, I tell you, abuzz.

If thine enemy oppresseth you,
You must let him oppress you some more,
So that when you go shopping in Paradise,
You'll find those magnificent peanuts from Singapore. ...

There are no pan-Asian supermarkets down in hell,
So you can't buy Golden Boy peanuts.

It's unclear whether Golden Boy peanuts from Singapore exist or ever have existed. (This Canadian company seems determined to confuse the issue.) However, there is a Thai fish sauce by that name.

The new Mountain Goats video, for Woke Up New, is here. It's directed by the same fella who made that recent "high-school noir" movie, Brick.

It is, in case you haven't noticed, Monday. Raining where I am. Howzabout you?

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 14 at 3:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

A Few Words in Defence of Randy Newman

randynew2.jpg

Every once in a while I get into an argument with someone in which I try to claim that Randy Newman was the most significant songwriter to follow after Bob Dylan. I do mean as a writer, not as a performer, in which regard he pales compared to dozens of others. But still I can never persuade anyone. There are other viable late-sixties and early-seventies candidates - Lou Reed, Captain Beefheart, Curtis Mayfield - but Newman did more than anyone to widen the pallett of techniques in 1970s pop songwriting, with his uses of irony, unreliable and/or actually despicable narrators, and pastiches of classic American pop forms (which was a minor sixties post-folk trend - see Lovin' Spoonful, various "jug bands," etc. - but never done so richly and competently as Newman did it). He arguably introduced serious Brechtian techniques to the pop tradition - a little-noticed influence on Dylan, actually, but one Newman used as more than an affectation, unlike what the glam crowd (including Bowie) tended to do. He's also one of the few people to have combined comedy with rock music and not come off like an idiot or vulgarian, but he's just as effective a tragedian. Besides immediate successors in the L.A. scene, such as Steely Dan and Tom Waits, I would put Elvis Costello at the head of the line of Newman's heirs, along with Morrissey, the Magnetic Fields, and dozens of other pop ironists. You could even add the likes of Kool Keith and Eminem, though I think their play with flipside identities comes out of strategies from the histories of black music, minstrelsy etc. - a legacy that Newman has always been keenly aware of, anticipating all the recent pop scholarship and discussion on the centrality of the minstrel tradition to American pop by decades.

Perhaps with the upcoming release of a Newman tribute album, which strangely seems to feature mainly country-rockers such as Steve Earle and Allison Moorer, more people will come around to my opinion. I'm also thrilled to learn that next year will bring the first album of new Newman songs since 1999's excellent Bad Love, which will include a contrarian, seemingly pro-American song - notable since Newman has mostly been a fierce critic of U.S. policy and culture throughout his career - titled A Few Words in Defence of My Country. (Which might end up being a backhanded critique, on the other hand - to say "we're not the worst country in the history of the world" might just be another way to say "we are pretty horrible," which is the kind of signature Newman move that he made on the last album's brilliant rumination on the death of Communism, The World Isn't Fair). In the above-linked interview he suggests that the new album might be called Fat and Angry.

(PS: I forgot to mention: Newman is scheduled to play a rare live date at Convocation Hall in Toronto on Oct. 14.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 14 at 12:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)

 

August 10, 2006

Matmosmorphoses

matmos.jpg
Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt of Matmos.

The Music Gallery, as if it weren't doing enough by bringing us Tony Conrad and (in partnership with AIMToronto) Joe McPhee this fall, announces a two-night stand by Matmos, Oct. 8 and 9 (supported by the So Percussion quartet). The San Francisco sound-bricolage duo, best known as collaborators with Bjork, most recently released The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast, which is very high on my list of favourite record this year.

(And while I've never met his partner MC Schmidt, Matmos's Drew Daniel is also high on the list of my favourite people ever: Go-go-dancing-boy, ex-punk, Renaissance scholar, musician, critic, nerd, dandy and wit. We gotsta throw them an after-gala, right, Toronto? Or two!)

Check out the Brainwashed page on The Rose Has Teeth... for enriching notes on the subjects and methodology of the album - such as the tale of the author of (among much else) the Ripley books repeatedly smuggling her pets, live snails, into France, by tucking them under her breasts. Thus the track Snail and Lasers for Patricia Highsmith. Which actually was recorded with snails. And lasers. No joke. (Well, joke too, of course.)

Speaking of conceptual-art electronic-beats projects, please also read the pieces today in Now and in Eye about Ultra-red from L.A., their sound project happening at the AGO on Monday as part of the current AIDS conference, and the associated compilation A Silence Broken, which includes a contribution from Drew in his Soft Pink Truth guise as well as Toronto's Andrew Zealley (as "PSBeuys") and Montreal's Lesbians on Ecstasy, which will be toasted in an event tomorrow night at the Beaver on Queen W. (See the gig guide.)

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 10 at 3:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

Cyber-Rap: The Plot, Like the Waistline, Thickens

The latest exhibit in the DJ Cyber-Rap whodunnit, as introduced into evidence by the esteemed Laura B. in this morning's comments section:

(FYI, DJ Cyber-Rap's Guess Who's Back will be featured tomorrow in my "Essential Tracks" column in der Globe.)

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 10 at 2:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

For Those Who Think (Sonic) Young


Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore at Kool Haus in Toronto on Tuesday, photo via Globochem on Flickr.

Today in The Globe and Mail, a review from me of the Sonic Youth/Go! Team show at the (goddam mutherfrakin') Kool Haus on Tuesday night, in the form of a guide to aging rockers to avoid that unsightly "dinosaur" look: The Sonic Youth self-help book.

Consider it in part a rebuttal to Aaron's post a few weeks ago claiming that it's impossible for over-35 rock stars to avoid "becoming something of a joke." As Alan Licht has written in the past, that axiom may apply to Aaron's Brit-pop idols, but much of the post-punk generation has dodged it: "The real punk-rock dream was not that the world would be a better place if punk was popular; it was for your heroes to not suck ten to fifteen years down the line, like the Sixties rock aristocracy did. As far as I�m concerned, these guys have fulfilled that dream." (He was speaking of Mike Watt, Fugazi, Calvin Johnson and Shellac, for instance.) Of course, the real trick may be never to become really famous. Cf., the Sex Pistols.

Then again any artist of any age might seem ridiculous from time to time - it's really part of the job descrip. And Sonic Youth also demonstrate that, all sarcastic remarks notwithstanding, that's no reason to go changing your name, like, uh, Issa. Let me sum up that debate in one word: Starship.

Memo to Kool Haus and/or SY crew: If you spend the entire time between the main set and the encores with several guys on stage checking and setting up equipment for the next encore, it destroys the ritual, and makes us feel like maroons clapping and cheering for a foregone conclusion. Leave the stage empty. They can tune their guitars when they get back.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 10 at 2:14 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)

 

Remedial for Radikals

No doubt many of you already know, but everyone else should go subscribe now to the podcast of Dublab, which has already featured sessions by, among others, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, the Books, Thomas Fehlmann, Greg Davis & Sebastian Roux, Colleen, Terry Callier, Dntel, Nobukazu Takemura, Patrick Wolf, Animal Collective, Erik Friedlander, and Matmos jamming out with Keith Fullerton Whitman. Holy shit. No one tells me anything.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, August 10 at 1:47 AM | Linking Posts

 

August 9, 2006

The Tragically Hip Replacements?

Latest, greatest theory on who is really behind the DJ Cyber-Rap record: It's Gord Downie.

So, last weekend I finally undraped to my ears the full monty of Funeral, the album purportedly by 59-year-old Ronald Marie MacDougall, the widowed father of runaway pothead son Brendan - with guest stars Pyramid Culture, Laura Barrett, DJ Wes Allen, Matt Collins of Ninja High School and other notables of Toronto's indie/'bad bands' scene. Any issue of authenticity is laid to rest by the transparently put-upon voice in which it's rapped; obviously the thing is a novelty record, but what a novelty record! (If we must follow this up with a debate on the legitimacy of novelty records, so be it. You will lose.) While it goes on a bit long, the music and satire here are surprisingly sustainedly engaging and pleasurable, with a rapidly layered brickwork of reference points (from TV to high art to indie cultcha) to rival MF Doom or Nice 'n' Smooth, but from the previously unexampled position of interrogating generation gaps. This works best in the songs where Cyber-Rap bounces his monologues off his guests - in Don't Call It a Comeback, he jaws about his life and electro-pop science choir Pyramid Culture sings about the coelacanth, implicitly comparing the two kinds of longevity; on another, he raps about his youth in the swinging 60s while Matt Collins waxes maybe-equally-faux-nostalgic on his high-school days of grunge. The Hey Ya cover is a level of meta-jokiness I really could do without (although it is the kind of thing a pushin'-60 would-be hipster might mistake for cool), but the duet with Laura Barrett on Ace of Base's The Sign almost measures up to The Mountain Goats' version that likely inspired it.

Calling Funeral anything like "the year's best [Canadian/Toronto/whatever] hip-hop album" is ridiculous - it's not a hip-hop album. But to react to it with hip-hop purism is even dumber - like jazz snots hating on Spike Jones in the 1940s, or knee-jerk reactions against early Frank Zappa, it's a case of denial that a subcultural style has become a mainstream lingua franca, at which point anyone and everyone can and should play shell games with its signifiers. Not that this strips away the sociocultural subtext. But just as with Ninja High School, it's important to note that the target of the playful critique is not in fact rap or hip-hop but the indie youth-culture community itself. The jokes are not about bling and video hotties but about Joanna Newsom and the Arcade Fire and hipster fashion and the corresponding fears of normalcy, aging and "lameness" that permeate that ambience. Reading it as an insult to hip-hop would just be a willful posture to set oneself up as the champion of same. If anything, Funeral is a flamboyant flip of the bird to white youth culture precisely in its ethnic and ageist insularity.

Got a better hypothesis than Downie on DJ Cyber-Rap's secret identity, by the way? (Aside from producer Tom Lahey?) Theories more than welcome.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 09 at 2:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)

 

August 7, 2006

Just Put Your Lips Together And�

207298171_bb40e73a5d.jpg
The Blow, not at Sneaky Dee's on Sat. but in Brantford at the Ford Plant the night before - but showing off the same true, non-patriate love: The sign keeps unfolding, to read "Canadancia." Photo by bramptonboi via Flicker.

Zoilus aide de camp Chris Randle contributes a review of Saturday night's show at Sneaky Dee's by The Blow from Portland, Ore. I'll be back with some remarks on other weekend happenings, today or tomorrow.

The Blow (a.k.a. Khaela Maricich, without collaborator Jona Bechtolt for the evening*) blew into Toronto from Portland Saturday night, and I�m still quite captivated with her. This despite going to the show almost blind, someone whose knowledge of the project amounted to "girl singing over beats." But she had us as soon as she went onstage. No lazy, patronizing "Canada is awesome!" platitudes here, only Maricich weaving an elaborate storybook fantasy out of her tour�s winding way into our country, complete with mad twinkle-eyed truckers, serendipitous rabbits and a marriage to a city, Toronto, culminating in a regretful decision that they must separate. This might easily be a bright red flag when you consider the source (cute woman singing breathily with bouncy skipping-rope beats), but it didn�t come off as cloying, forced or self-consciously quirky. Maricich � I feel like I should call her Khaela, it was that kind of relationship - has a strange mix of vulnerable charm and adult sexuality, both being vitally important to her music. One can connect this to earlier discussion on Zoilus of indie-kid prudery: The Blow didn�t infantilize multisexual trysts with this language or this attitude, but rather disarmed me of my settled assumptions, made me think about the ways I conceive of them. And, you know, coyness can be hot. How Naked Are We Going To Get? was a great example of speaking sex in unconventional terms, busting out Maricich�s enthralling vulnerability describe fucking in the words of a child�s fable: "Will you remember the route from her heart to her thighs?" Later she asked the audience, "If I dive, will you catch me?" and then leapt into the crowd. The moment was perfect. She won us completely, whether singing about Candygrams in the ceiling or a magic Canada that could be ("Canadancia") or a boy who never called; a whisper from someone nibbling on your ear. [- CR]

* This isn't 100% sure, but Zoilus has heard from a fairly reliable source that Bechtolt is leaving The Blow to concentrate on his Y.A.C.H.T. project. If so, Maricich kept this quiet on her visit. He's also apparently quitting his job as Devendra Banhart's drummer, for which he can only be congratulated.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 07 at 1:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

August 4, 2006

The Autumn Weather Turns the Leaves to Flame

74_ArthurLee_L1104061.jpg

First draft of the September concert calendar is up in the gig guide. (See link to your left.) There's going to be a ridiculous amount going on - the X-Avant festival at the Music Gallery with among others Tony Conrad, an AIMT Interface with free-jazz sax titan Joe McPhee, live Jandek (backed by local AIMT improvimentalists Nick Fraser, Nilan Perrera and Rob Clutton, by the way), Mountain Goats, Richard Buckner, and the overnight Nuit Blanches art festival at the end of the month, for starters. As always, your corrections, additions, comments and questions are invited.

RIP to Love's Arthur Lee. He was 61. Like the late Syd Barrett, his productive time was all too brief, although Lee never disappeared from the scene quite so completely, but his music remains remarkably fullblooded and fresh.

And to annoy the Final Fantasy averse - The Anchor Centre has put up the best live video of Owen I've ever seen, which should really convey the alchemy of his performances for those who've not been able to see a show.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 04 at 9:06 PM | Linking Posts

 

Hot Town, Bummer in the City

I have a piece in The Globe and Mail today about two festivals going on this weekend - the Bummer in the Summer, mainly at the Tranzac, which features nearly 50 bands/artists all weekend on the psych/improv/folk/noise spectrum, and Electric Eclectics in Meaford, Ont., which features another couple dozen sound-art types - including Tony Conrad and Alexander Hacke (of Einsturzende Neubauten) among many others, though sadly no longer the previously-Zoilus-trumpeted Gary Wilson (who cancelled for health reasons, apparently). Both make hard left turns from the usual pallet of summer music festivals - folkworldjazzrockbluesmellowfeelgood - but with plenty of leisurely August ludic spirit. Last night/this morning I attended the 2 a.m., pre-Bummer opening rites in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, with Singing Saw Shadow Show playing an especially evocative set, torch-lit behind a jerryrigged curtain, high keening melodies (often like slow old-timey mountainous versions of Joy Division) and spiralling silhouettes. Wyrd Visions offered a gentle, rolling-in-the-grass, drone-meets-Tim-Buckley-meets-Third-Ear-Band diversion, amusingly disrupted by a late-night dogwalker. Brujo, who played what the Art Ensemble of Chicago called "little instruments" (percussion, jaw harp, etc) in a bold uniform of white loincloths and nothing else, and stomped about jingling the bells around their ankles, set off some faux-primitivism alarms for me, but I felt like I was being judgmental, so never mind me. I generally never know what to do with these neo-hippie manifestations; it makes me feel that I am defending outdated battle lines when I dislike them. No matter. Gathering in the park in the middle of the night for guerrilla musical meetings with a few dozen likemindeds is always a magical experience, summer's spell brewing its most redolent aroma.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, August 04 at 3:30 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

August 2, 2006

'I've Already Got 400 Songs That Punch You in the Face'

dearraindrop2.jpg
Rhode Island's Dearraindrop performing at Deitch Projects in NYC in 2003.

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats explains why he no longer wants to sing in that high strident a-pirate's-life-for-me voice in an engaging interview on Status Ain't Hood.

The track list and cover art (by Toronto's Shary Boyle) for Beast Moans by Swan Lake (aka Dan "Destroyer" Bejar, Spencer "Sunset Rubdown/Wolf Parade" Krug and Carey "Frog Eyes" Mercer) have been unveiled by Jagjaguwar, but no samples of the music as yet. I'm pretty fond of the title A Venue Called Rubella already. (Oh, and it's out Nov. 21.)

Mark has discovered a YouTube video of Yoko Ono performing Cut Piece, in which viewers come up and cut pieces off her clothing (you get the pun), at Carnegie Hall in 1965. It's a really eerie work, with its passivity, its aura of violation, and yet the deadpan comedy/sex-provocateurness of it. And seeing everybody dressed in modish mid-sixties fashions just makes it odder. Originally found on Bedazzled. So then I started searching for other YouTube Fluxus material (of which there's a fair bit) and somehow ended up at this completely puzzling Joseph Beuys video featuring Beuys and a bunch of fresh-faced kids singing a pop song about (I think) Ronald Reagan.

Providence, RI, "fluorescent futurist" collective Dearraindrop are coming to Toronto for a week or two, beginning Aug. 16, to do an art show at the Katherine Mullherin gallery and the Drake. Musically, they cite Suicide, Faust, Forcefield, Boredoms, Shaggs, Funkadelic and the Stooges as influences, and play "do it yourself folk music" on homemade electronic instruments. They play the Drake on Aug. 22 and participate (nonmusically, I think) in Paul Butler's Collage Party BBQ with at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art on Aug. 22 from 11 am to 6 pm.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, August 02 at 2:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)

 

August 1, 2006

Stop This Crap Now

oscar_peterson3.jpg

If Oscar Peterson really leaves the country at 80 years of age because of the racist abuse he's getting from local yahoos, it will be one ugly stain on Canada. One would hope Mr. Peterson knows how much the country as a whole honours him and he wouldn't let a few suburban assholes change that. But if not, we have to let him know again. Public officials, take a break from your holidays and speak the hell up.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 01 at 5:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (13)

 

Republic of Safety-For-Whom?

This is interesting enough that I'm just gonna post the press release. The format feels more compelling than the framing of the questions, which I suspect may be too broad for productive results. But it's certainly a step in the right direction with all this participatory/relational, talk-as-art stuff that's been going on in town and elsewhere (the subject of an upcoming essay by me in the sequel to Coach House's uTOpias book). Republic of Safety (to whom I mean nothing unkind by tweaking their name for this entry's headline) are playing this event, their final show till December. Also see the related blog.

Entangled Territories
A Toronto School of Creativity & Inquiry event with/in Adrian Blackwell�s carpool + Republic of Safety, Sunday, August 6, 4-9 pm. Location TBC: Idomo east parking lot, 1100 Sheppard Ave. W., Near the Downsview Subway station. (Note: See poster in PDF format.)

The gentrification of Toronto�s downtown [... keep reading ...]

has displaced low-income residents. New immigrants, often precariously employed, are warehoused in high-density structures within low-density suburbs. City land is rezoned for optimum profit extraction rather than for livability. The costs of using public transit are rising as new programs of surveillance carefully monitor the smog-saturated city. ... This neoliberal agenda remains contested by urban social movements committed to the building of a new commons: street protests, squats, community gardens, housing co-ops, public-space interventions, regularization campaigns...

Toronto�s territory is entangled in divergent forces of neoliberal enclosure and public commons. Animating this play of forces is a triad of actors: capitalists, governments, and multitudes. (Ed. note: I'm not so charmed by the Hardt/Negri Empire jargon, but it will do.) At stake in their balance of power is access to affordable places to live, sources of healthy food, a secure income, mobility, pleasurable forms of life...

* How is capital capturing urban territories? Which spaces are currently under threat of enclosure?
* What possibilities exist for the state to protect existing public spaces or initiate new ones, when its role has increasingly become the policing of space?
* What capacities do we have for escaping existing enclosures, in the name of constructing new urban commons?

Join us for a conversation in and about the city�s entangled territories. We�ll move ourselves through a series of small-group discussions, and then end off the event with a collective conversation. The event will be held in a parking lot near Downsview Park. This space is entangled, at the end of a subway line, yet in the middle of the city: in the inner suburbs, next to an army base, big boxes, and warehouses, at the confluence of highways, subways and an airport. Our site is an abstract space of pause within this non-place of circulation.

Guests
Yvonne Bambrick (Streets are for People) + Sue Bunce (Planning Action) + John Clarke (OCAP) + Heather Haynes (Toronto Free Gallery) + Joe Hermer (UT) + Luis Jacob (artist) + Peter Nyers (McMaster) + Darren O�Donnell (artist) + Jay Pitter + SYN- + Leah Sandals (Spacing) + Jeff Shantz (York) + Jeff Thomas (artist) + Kika Thorne (artist) + Rinaldo Walcott (OISE) + Others

About TSCI
Collaborating with a network of activists, artists, and theorists, Toronto School of Creativity & Inquiry initiates events that inquire into the new enclosures and creative pathways beyond them.

About carpool
carpool (apparatus of capture) is a tent that connects four cars to form a larger
composition. The cars are caught in fabric, creating a structure as they move apart from one another, temporarily immobilizing them and opening their private interiors to public use.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 01 at 3:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

It's Ridiculous! But We Love It!

thomaspjs.jpg
Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! at Sneaky Dee's on Sunday, photo by Suckingalemon.

Still recovering from Sunday night's sweat-drenched, fluffy-animal-dismembering Wavelength show. It had one of my absolute favourite local groups, Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm!, doing my favourite set ever - more dynamic volume contrasts! funnier props! adorably ill-fitting pyjamas topped with motorcycle helmets! I meant it when I hit you and I hit you when I meant to!/ It's ridiculous! But we love it. Sexy, playful, boundary-poking (if not quite pushing) and in a mode that is neither indie-introspective nor swishy-la-la we're-a-dance-band. Bands that invent their own genres: Playfight rock! Respect that. And then, after not having seen them for a year or so, I was shocked to find the highly road-tempered Jon Rae & the River "suddenly" having transformed into a 2K-indie million-watt version of The Band (country-gospel-rock through the prism of a Canadian, mildly ironic distance - the equation adds up). I used to think of them as the Canadian country-gospel version of the Pogues (the kind of band that instead of bringing its own soundperson, should bring its own bartender), but now you have to add in Levon Helm and maybe Janis Joplin to grok the whole sound. Besides alcohol, the songs dwell primarily on two, maybe three subjects: Jesus, death and fucking. But with no smarmy psuedo-punk sarcasm. No regressive indie childishness. Youthful but adult, shy people wanting not to reify their shyness but to escape it with loud drumming, choral singing and Popcorn-style analog-synth solos. What to say but, "Swoon!"

The club stretched the limits of their capacity to justify our love, and current Wavelength booker Kevin Parnell has to be showered in flowers for an evening that pretty much put to rest any worries I had that the local scene was, perhaps, flagging a bit in its convictions and vitality. Kevin, who is also known as Aperture Enzyme, also advises that he has new-old Les Mouches and Final Fantasy videos up on his site, including never-released Les Mouches songs. Sweet. Bitter. Sweet.

And now I am conflicted about whether to devote the upcoming long-weekend to the Murder City Music Festival in my belovedly dilapidated hometown - The Blow! Hidden Cameras! The Bicycles! Jon-Rae (see above)! - or to stick to the T-dot for the more exotic sounds of the Bummer in the Summer fest, with an absurdly plentiful banquet of noise and improv and avant-whatsit, by seemingly dozens of ensembles through the weekend at the Tranzac. (See the gig guide.) Whichever I do, though, I'm going to try to attend the depths-of-night sacramental gathering in the park on Thursday night, which rings in the festivities. Check the constructivist flyer:

Bshow.gif

Meanwhile, want Joel Gibb of the Hidden Cameras to go on a picnic with you? Want Gonzales to brainwash you and fix your life? Want Darren O'Donnell to direct you in an art video? Want used underwear from Peaches? Want K-Os to DJ your house party? Want Sook-Yin Lee to purge your home of evil spirits? Want Margaux Williamson to infest the evil spirits back again, by painting a mural on your property? Then you must check out the beautiful and completely insane Tyler Clark Burke's latest get-rich-quick - or rather get-rich-very-slowly-or-not-at-all-with-convoluted-projects-that-help-others-more-than-herself - scheme, the Santa Cruz semi-celebrity/ semi-art/ semi-charity auction.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, August 01 at 1:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson