by carl wilson

October 31, 2006

Wooooooo, Scary Music-Nerdism!! Happy Hallowe'en

Matt's got his aforementioned "hottest bands in Canada" poll up now. It's worth a look. (My list, if you missed it, is here.) Even more worth a look is Del's list of hot Canadian hip-hop and soul, 9/10 of which didn't make Matt's list, and most of which I'll be seeking out immediately.

Negativland were excellent last night, by the way. More blindfolded concerts, please!

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 31 at 4:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

October 30, 2006

Negativland: Always Be Prepared
(Like John Cage's Piano)

You may have run across this story in the past week, presenting the certifiably batshit-crazy fact that in Los Angeles, they are giving Boy Scouts badges for demonstrating how much they love copyright. I assume that this involves ratting out their friends and family members if they download, having their boyish brains scanned for derivative thoughts so that they can pay licensing, etc. What's next, the Only Eat Factory-Farmed Meat badge? The merit badge for Highest Gas Consumption? All of which goes back to the points about corporate monoculture that I was making in the Dollarama entry last week, as well as at events such as the Future of Music Coalition conference and CopyCamp this fall. (See Zoiluses passim, as well as these articles.)

I might never have thought through these ideas about intellectual property and culture nearly so much if it weren't for Negativland, the California screwy-sound-collage collective that's been active now for 27 years (since its principals were in high school). Even before their notorious battle with Island Records and U2 over their single of that name, their cassettes on SST and related zine articles led me into a whole "plagiarism" underground that introduced me to concepts such as "fair use" and "culture jamming" and "media viruses" ... not to mention The Weatherman. Of course, later I found out about their antecedents, from Marcel Duchamp to Toronto's own John Oswald, but for an alt/postpunk/indie/arty-whatever kid in the 1980s, having such a project on the same label that had the Minutemen, Black Flag, Sonic Youth and so forth made an enormous difference to the seductive power of the content.

I got to meet Mark Hosler of the group briefly at CopyCamp, but he's back with the rest of Negativland tonight at Lee's Palace, presenting their "IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD FM show", which is a live demonstration of how they create their 25-year-old Over the Edge radio show, live on stage, for the first time ever, in the framework of "a densely-layered examination of monotheism in all its worldwide forms, as hosted by the venerable Dr. Oslo Norway." Over the Edge is a combination of comic monologues, telephone calls, found sound and sonic chaos unlike much else - a sharp reminder of how formally underdeveloped and unimaginative most radio now is. (And let's not even talk about podcasts...)

Very highly recommended - go not only for the entertainment but as a gesture of tribute and solidarity to some people who've fought the good cultural fight at great personal sacrifice but kept their sense of the absurd intact all the way along - which is a hell of a lot easier said than done.... Scout's honour. If you don't happen to be in Toronto, the tour continues on through Pittsburgh, Newport KY and Champaign-Urbana IL the rest of this week.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 30 at 5:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

When You Come Knockin': 'Hot' Canadiana 2006


Jon Rae & the River, as snapped by Lee Towndrow this summer at the Boat.

For the record, here's the list I submitted on Friday to Matthew I Heart Music's poll on "hottest" 2006 Canadian musical artists. Because I am semi-autistically literal, this list is not exactly what I would have compiled for my list of "best" 2006 Canadian musical artists, which is, I realize, what everyone else will do. Instead it takes into account the impact that each artist made this year, within their circumference, large or small. The order is just short of random. The comments (after the jump) were written in great haste as I was rushing out of the office on Friday afternoon, when I was already late getting it to Matt. But it will do:

1. Destroyer; 2. Final Fantasy; 3. Junior Boys; 4. Cadence Weapon; 5. Nelly Furtado; 6. Laura Barrett; 7. Feuermusik; 8. Malajube; 9. Jon Rae & the River; 10. Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm!

The results of the poll are due to be published tomorrow.

1. Destroyer
Vancouver's Daniel Bejar may get less than his due in end-of-year polls because he made most of his impact very early in 2006. But after nearly a decade as Canada's most distinctive and commanding songwriter, the part-time New Pornographer finally got some of the attention he deserves this year with his latest album Destroyer's Rubies. Touring with his own band for the first time ever, including high-profile appearances at summer festivals in Europe and the U.S., Bejar also showed off the strides he's made as a live performer, long his weakest point. And all without dumbing down his brilliantly allusive and jovially barbed literary style by one iota. Bejar is also a third of the triumvirate behind November's much-anticipated disc by Swan Lake, with his compadres in outsider rock, Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes and Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, whose
Shut Up I Am Dreaming was an unhinged masterstroke in its own right.

2. Final Fantasy
Owen Pallett's clinching of the first-ever Polaris Prize this fall was just a dusting of sugar atop the year that saw him release
He Poos Clouds, an album using metaphors drawn from Dungeons & Dragons and video games to evoke truly courageous emotional themes of sexuality, mortality and the family romance, all folded into string-quartet arrangements closer to Sondheim or Bartok than to any of the collegiate cliches of indie folk-pop (insert mutterings about Sufjan Stevens here). Forget novelty value - what Pallett's making are works of art as sophisticated as what any novelist or visual artist in the country has achieved. And yet, as the Polaris and his live shows prove, he does it all with a disarming charm and subversively potent nerdy self-assurance.

3. Junior Boys
Two years ago, when Hamilton, Ont.'s Junior Boys released
Last Exit, it seemed like the kind of perfect moment that could never be recaptured - a tuneful pop sense meeting an up-to-the-minute awareness of innovative electronic techniques. Stunning, but probably a one-off. Well, right and wrong: This year's So This Is Goodbye wasn't a retread of the formula, but a maturing project (under singer-songwriter Jeremy Greenspan) unafraid to take up unhip notes of nostalgia to stay true to its muse. And unlike Last Exit's mid-Atlantic feel, this one seemed distinctly Canadian. As deliciously sad and sweet as it is in itself, it was even more exciting in its promise of great music for a long time to come.

4. Cadence Weapon
The Calgary Edmonton rapper, producer, critic and blogger's
Breaking Kayfabe turned heads in 2005, but 2006 was when everyone else found out that Canada at last has a forceful black hip-hop artist who doesn't seem like an echo of any American blueprint - whether gangsta or "positive," underground or mainstream - but an inimitable northern hybrid. He won't yield or slow down for anybody, whether it's the music industry or the hip-hop-cred police, and he's just getting started.

5. Nelly Furtado
Breaking out of the tiresome shell of a tastefully exotic songbird, Nelly swooped into pop stardom on the wings of some top producers in 2006 as perhaps this country's boldest contribution to mainstream R&B; ever. Yeah, it was manipulative. Yeah, it wasn't all top-shelf. But it was unCanadianly sassy and sexy and rude and a hell of a lot of fun. If she can drop some of her earlier musicianship back into the mix while keeping the thump and bump, she'll really be on to something.

6. Laura Barrett
Bringing classical-piano chops to the unusual primary instrument of kalimba (African thumb-piano), this diminutive young Toronto singer won over audiences at every turn in 2006, with her self-released EP going into edition after edition and her song
Deception Island Optimists' Club nominated for the Socan Echo Songwriting Prize. Also a member of the boisterous Henri Faberge & the Adorables, Barrett combines all the craft of a conventional pop songwriter with an insatiable curiosity and imagination that transports her music into its own dimensions, in a manner reminiscent of maverick ladies from Kate Bush to Joanna Newsom. A worthy addition to the pantheon of out-songwriting Toronto voices such as Eric Chenaux, Sandro Perri (Polmo Polpo) and Alex Lukashevsky (Deep Dark United). Barely heard at the start of the year, she's now on tour with the Hidden Cameras, which is just phase one of what Toronto observers are starting to call simply "Laura Barrett takes over the world."

7. Feuermusik
It took just a few tricks for this Toronto duo to cross over to an indie-rock audience that seldom embraces free jazz: Yes, they both had backgrounds with indie bands such as Rockets Red Glare. But more important, drummer Gus Weinkauf plays buckets instead of a regular kit, while sax player Jeremy Strachan gives his post-Coltrane compositions minimalist heads (which is jazz for "hooks") that expand in intensity more than complexity - all of which makes them a little punk, without ever plugging in, and nothing hamfisted about it. Their forays into an expanded brass-and-reed lineup (with members of the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto, or AIMT) late in the summer made it all the sadder when they went on hiatus as Strachan went off to study in the Maritimes. But they left
Goodbye Lucille, one of the best Canadian jazz discs of 2006, to remember them by.

8. Malajube
Their surrealist-rock approach is nothing especially new, but the confident joy with which it's played made Malajube that very rare case of a francophone band that anglos outside Quebec have taken to heart, and that demands celebration.

9. Jon Rae & the River
From a raw, raucous, whiskey-addled country-folk shambles to an ecstatic, psychedelic-gospel 2006 answer to The Band - how did Jon-Rae Fletcher and his merry band of brigands get there? The old-school way: Driving and drinking their way from venue to shitty venue across the country and refusing to think any show good enough unless it left them giddy, sweaty, exhausted wrecks. The nation's unlikeliest testimony to the power of the work ethic. And extra points for going after the big subjects - faith, fucking, love and death - without the self-protective coyness that makes most indie musicians seem scared of both their bodies and their feelings.

10. Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm!
Finally, a left-field nomination - a Toronto trio who've bloomed out of the much-misunderstood "Bad Band" scene, which ranks spontaneity, energy, conceptual humour and participatory culture ahead of the boring indie values of self-expression, craftsmanship and cool. Playing clad in motorcycle helmets that allow them to smash toys and instruments over one another's heads while they shout out the lines in theatrical playlets of aggression and abuse, G!V!E! goad audiences into a strange ritual of dancing-turned-playfighting that's unlike any other live experience - some of the most fun I've had with live music in the past year. They've been improving by the month, and their upcoming album should draw many more people into finding themselves in compromising positions with this band in 2007.

Most regretted omissions: If I rewrote this list right now, I likely would drop Malajube and substitute Sandro Perri or Eric Chenaux. Ghislain Poirier deserved a spot and so did DJ Cyber-Rap. I am still waiting to hear the new Tim Hecker album. Pyramid Culture's, Ninja High School's and the Phonemes' new records haven't been released yet. My favourite band of 2007 is probably forming in some basement in Regina next weekend. Such is the nature of these exercises: An expense of spirit in a waste of shame...

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 30 at 12:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

October 29, 2006

Have Faith (or Pandemonium...)

Been derelict, I admit. To compensate a bit, enjoy this recent live Mountain Goats clip in which Accentuate the Positive becomes an exercise in overcoming adversity in more ways than one. And in the same spirit, as of tomorrow we'll try to get this blogging boxcar back on the rails.

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, October 29 at 5:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

October 24, 2006

Props for Propagandhi

Remember back when it was all about the prizes? And remember one of them was the new SOCAN Echo Prize for Songwriting? Well, that particular crackerjack box popped open today, and the five thousand smackers are going to Propagandhi for their song A Speculative Fiction. While it wouldn't have been my first choice, it couldn't happen to a nicer gang of anarcho-syndicalists, so congrats to the punk veterans. They'll be getting the big prop cheque tomorrow (Wed) afternoon at Fressen Restaurant in Toronto - which is a bit of a surprise, since P-Gandhi (as I'll call them now that they're rolling in dough) are so famously sons of Winnipeg. Couldn't SOCAN get a rep out to the prairies?

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 24 at 2:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

October 23, 2006

End-of-Year Exercises Begin!

First, congrats to Frank for hitting his self-imposed mark of 1,001 nights mornings. Now get some rest, son.

Meanwhile, Matthew over at I Heart Music is assembling his second-annual Hottest Canadian Bands of the Year poll, and I am brainstorming about my submission of 10 picks. And then I thought, hell, why not brainstorm with you instead?

Here's the list I've come up with thus far, ignoring the word "bands" and substituting "music projects." They are unranked, though stronger contenders do tend to be earlier in the list (not in any order). But I'm sure there are many I am not thinking of. They have to be Canadian, and they have to have had "a strong 2006" (so I have left off the likes of Frog Eyes or Rozasia or Ninja High School, who didn't quite get their homework done this year).

Readers, who've you seen me touting that I don't mention here? The list is due Wednesday. My geographic bias is predictable, but I'm also thin on some ends of the sonic spectrum. For instance, I can't name Venetian Snares, as I haven't heard his latest stuff, and Tim Hecker hasn't put out anything new, but along those lines...? I'd like to expand it a bit more before I narrow down. (And no, Celine is not in the running.)

Cadence Weapon; Destroyer; Final Fantasy; Junior Boys; Jon Rae & the River; Feuermusik; DJ Cyber-Rap; Laura Barrett; Swan Lake; Eric Chenaux; Ghislain Poirier; Alex Lukashevsky; Sunset Rubdown; Tanya Tagaq Gillis; Malajube; CCMC; Pyramid Culture; Nelly Furtado; Sandro Perri; Henri Faberge & the Adorables; Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm!; Jim Guthrie (just for the Hands in My Pockets song dominating TV ads all year); Lori Freedman; Jesse Stewart; John Millard; They Shoot Horses Don't They; The Doers; The Hidden Cameras; Spiral Beach; Amy Millan; Neil Young ... ?

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 23 at 6:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

October 20, 2006

Bad Bands Revisited, Part 2:
Lawyerama for Dollarama?

dollaramastore.jpg

VS.


dollaramaband2.jpg
Can you tell the difference? Dollarama band shot by A Soundtrack for Everyone.

In other "Bad Band" news, Dollarama reportedly received a cease-and-desist order from the retail chain of the same name this week. As pointed out in that thread, there's no reasonable way that the store would win a suit: There's no plausible danger of a junkshop band being confused with an actual junkshop. (Dollarama-the-store doesn't even sell CDs.) If anything, Dollarama the band actually promotes the chain: "Look, it's also an instrument store!"

I have my own complaints about Dollarama, actually: I wish that they'd practice and develop the texture of their improvisations, which are inconsistent and too-often tedious: The joyously hyperactive heights are always surrounded by flat plains of ho-hum. The group would do well to pay some heed to a few of the found-object-improv precedents (Nihilist Spasm Band, VoiceCrack, even some of the current Rat-drifting bands in Toronto).

But this argument goes beyond this band, which is admirably vowing not to buckle: The chain is flexing its biceps, but case precedent is against them, and artists should do their best to face down this kind of intimidation and lawsuit-chill attacking their ability to refer to the commercial world in their work. (Notice how the music industry has started ignoring mashup artists as too much bother to harass.) If corporations are going to usurp ninety-eight percent of the cultural air space, then artists need the freedom to represent, criticize, lampoon and just plain use those reference points, if art is to be relevant to the general stuff of life.

Warhol's soup cans and Brillo boxes remain the clearest example of where fair-use thinking needs to go, partly because they don't involve the distraction of the "parody exception": His Campbell's soup paintings weren't satire or, arguably, even commentary on Campbell's soup; they were simply portraits of the world as the artist found it, with tonalities open to multiple interpretations. And if Campbell's had been able to cease-and-desist them out of existence, it would have been an atrocity. It seems that they didn't because it wasn't common practice at the time; they were open to the idea that it might be harmless or even good for the company, since hegemonic "branding" thinking hadn't advanced that far by the early 1960s.

Dollarama is still a very young group, and you can't rule out they're going to blossom into brilliance; Warhol was dismissed when he first moved from commercial to "fine" art, too. (And if the Riptorns can improve their game, anybody can.) The crucial fact is that Dollarama's name is by no means extraneous to their conceptual pursuit - it's a strong signpost to the themes raised by their methods, questions about cheapness, the throwaway society, the class questions within music (expensive gear as shortcut to legitimacy, for instance) and the creative recycling of social waste on a broader level. Even if I'd like to see the creativity of their actual recycling practice increase a notch, that's a fertile landfill they're plowing.

(Postscript, Monday: I accidentally deleted a few comments to this entry in my usual spam-comment deletion routine last night. I was alerted and I think they've all been restored now - if any are still missing, let me know. Huge apologies to those affected. It was just a slip of the mouse, not at all intended to censor commentary.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 20 at 6:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

Bad Bands Revisited, Part 1:
Constructive Destruction! Unity Through Idiocy!
(Guest Post)

Zoilus space-friend Chris Randle contributes his latest guest post, this week on the baddest of Bad Bands, The Riptorns. Comments disputing his interpretation of Brechtian "alienation" are invited. Have I told the story here about the director from the Berliner Ensemble whom I met in university, who asked what the English translation of Verfremdungseffekt was and winced painfully on being told it was "alienation"? - CW

When Carl mentioned his desire to explore the social implications of musical issues, I immediately thought of the most antisocial band in Toronto: The Riptorns. Their music is certainly abrasive enough - a cacophony of attempted guitar-playing and yowling - but the band's mindbogglingly atrocious covers of other Toronto groups are practically reverent in comparison to their stage presence. The Riptorns' stage persona is basically "destructive idiots." Their last real show, a showcase put on by torontoindie.com, was mostly made up of the band attacking each other, their equipment and the audience.

They managed to infuriate members of other bands on the bill, the bar staff and the person who unwisely booked them (apparently the trio still hasn't been paid for the show). Performing with scene sweetheart Laura Barrett at the "Voodoo" edition of Matt Collins' resurrected "In Search of ..." series last week, they not only made light of this but also cracked blowjob jokes about her. Their stage presence resembles a punk band on the surface, yet its insularity and obnoxiousness creates a very Brechtian distance - fed-up alienation instead of an urge to participate. Riptorns shows aren't about being lost in the moment; they force you to stand outside of it and look on as it stretches into an irritating eternity. But what I find intriguing about the Riptorns is that this is all an act, a deranged Kabuki mask. As civilians, the two main band members, Jeff Wright (also of We Had Wild Adventures and Bacon of Brunswick) and Ryan McLaren (heavily involved with Wavelength, co-founder of All Caps!) are both pretty much goofy, mild-mannered indie nerds. So what would possess them to try and become the most hated band in Toronto?

I can't claim to know their personal motives, but I think the Riptorns, perhaps inadvertently, are creating at least one positive social effect: they're a lightning rod for loathing. That emotion used to be encouraged (in The Iliad, Homer speaks of "strong Hatred, defender of peoples..."), and while things have obviously changed in the interim, I don't believe human nature is an infinitely malleable creature; hatred, like love, will be with us for the foreseeable future.

This is a bit tricky when it comes to music, especially since enmity towards entire genres ("I like everything except rap and country," kids in my high school would say) has been interrogated and questioned at such length. In a community like Toronto's, I think there's a real danger of that natural spleen turning inwards, becoming corrosive, poisonous rancor. It sometimes seems as though there's unreasonable disdain from some people in the local scene towards bands like Broken Social Scene and Metric (something I can be guilty of), or conversely an amazingly visceral dislike for less traditionalist, more conceptual projects like Bad Bands. Look at the recent K-os silliness, where that black artist accused a black Now critic of being the dupe of his white-indie-nerd bosses (as opposed to the white indie musicians K-os has collaborated with). (Zoilus' note: See Danko Jones' great riposte in this week's Now, in the 6th letter here.) It's divisive and damaging, differences in genre or approach or personality used as fodder for bitter arguments instead of discussion and/or collaboration.

But a band like the Riptorns is the perfect outlet for collective bitching: Their music is terrible, they leave a path of destruction wherever they go and the personae they adopt onstage are intentionally, gleefully reprehensible. The Riptorns aren't just a bad band; they're a little bit evil - our cuddlier, less unsettling equivalent of Mayhem or Skrewdriver. The Grand Theft Auto of music. And I suspect the catharsis may exist as much for the band members, allowing for an overflow of id, as it does for spectators. There's no pressure for them to create constructive, meaningful music: A Riptorn is free to express all the snarky mockery of local musicians that might've been building up within them. They can be satire, spurs (burrs?) or scapegoats; that last one also having the potential to be beneficial in its own strange way. Even Jesus needed a cynical little dick around before he could do the salvation-of-all-mankind thing.

- Chris Randle

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 20 at 4:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

October 19, 2006

All About the Benjamins: Franklin

Franklin Bruno is back on the blogging scene! A quick search produces no explanation of the allusion in his title. Anyone know?

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 19 at 9:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

From the Dept. of Be Careful What You Wish For

Continuing her favourite-young-thing-of-eccentric-old-men trajectory (so far including Bob Dylan, Woody Allen and Bill Murray), Scarlett Johansson announces that she is going to make an album of her own covers of Tom Waits songs. Now, Zoilus is as charmed by Ms. Johansson as all the other old weirdos are, and I can't quibble with the excellence of the decision - better this than Scarlett Raps with Snoop Dogg or Scarlett Johansson and Robert Crumb: Ghost World Blues Revisited or Naked Snack: Scarlett Whispers the Best of Bill Burroughs. On the other hand, below is a clip of the only time I've heard Johansson sing, from Lost in Translation, and unless she was deliberately karaokeizing her singing to add versimilitude, which I wouldn't put past her ... well, let's hope, for Tom's sake, that that's exactly what she was doing.

Incidentally, the way Murray cocks his head and softens his eyes at Johansson as he adds the backup vocal - "special" - in that clip just kills me. It encapsulates the tender, lost hopelessness, the sensitivity and delusion of his infatuation with her in that role so completely. Did I ever recommend Joshua Clover's essay on that flick, Another Green World, to you? Very worthwhile corrective to the misreadings of the film. (Note: that link is a .doc file.)

Speaking of Snoop Dogg, his cameo on Weeds last night, extemporaneously extolling the virtues of Mary Louise Parker's homegrown in a rap titled MILF Weed (which gives her green a perfectly inappropriate brand name), has to have been one of the great cameos in TV history.

Waits's own new collection, a three-cd set of rarities called Orphans, is due out in one month, but reportedly has leaked this week.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 19 at 5:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

October 16, 2006

'Most of My Songs Aren't Autobiographical,
or I'd Be in an Institution':
Randy Newman at Convocation Hall, 10-14-06


Randy Newman live, though not in Toronto and not this weekend.

Eh. Sometimes one feels like a hack, trying to bang something out about that night's show in the middle of the night, following post-show drinks, and wondering, "What's it all about, Alfie?" So here's my Randy Newman review in today's Globe and Mail. Don't expect revelations. The show was fantastic, though. Apparently the last time he was in Toronto was something like 20 years ago - and I came to the city to see him, as a teenager. Mainly I remember fighting with my girlfriend through the opening act (both of us in melodramatic teenaged tears), irritating everyone around us. That opening act? Richard Thompson. D'oh. If I can compare the two shows, I think Newman was less energetic a pianist and singer but actually more charming and funny as a between-song storyteller this time around, a bit more reconciled perhaps to the cultural barrens in which his career wanders. But who knows? That was a lifetime ago.

It struck me that Convocation Hall is kind of the consolation prize for those who can't get booked at Massey Hall - but I liked the pipe organ hanging over the stage and the domed roof with its enormous skylight window, which provides some kind of Renaissance-like diagram of an inverted globe with the solitary performer below, like the Renaissance human standing at the centre of the universe. Which is probably the richest thing about Newman's songwriting - that it does place humanity, as such, at its centre - and even though that humanity is inherently corrupt, greedy, cruel, self-serving and delusional, the music still embraces it with a kind of helpless love.

Set list:
It's Money that I Love ("I like to start all these evenings with a spiritual")
Mama Told Me Not to Come
Living Without You
Short People
("finally something our two disparate nations can agree on")
Birmingham ("I wonder why I'm playing so shitty...")
Marie
The Girls in My Life, Part 1
The World Isn't Fair
I Miss You
Red Bandanna
Losing You
(new song)
A Few Words in Defence of My Country (new song)
Leave Your Hat On ("I wrote this when I was 26, 27, and I thought it was a joke, but as I get older I take it more and more seriously")
I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It) ("you're dead, you're dead" singalong - "you don't have to be so enthusiastic!")
Political Science
-------------------(intermission)-----------------------
The Dream I Had Last Night
Great Nations of Europe
In Germany Before the War
("I never understood why that one wasn't a big hit!")
Baltimore
You've Got a Friend in Me
Bad News from Home
My Life is Good
Dixie Flyer
Real Emotional Girl
Rednecks
Louisiana 1927
Guilty
Shame
(singalong 2: "this is a vulgar song in which you're going to participate")
I Love L.A.
I Think It's Going to Rain Today

-------------------(encore)------------------------
Sail Away
Feels Like Home

Newman on the Colbert report, as I mentioned in the review, but couldn't check when I was writing. Find my three errors!

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 16 at 2:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

October 14, 2006

This American Podcast

Finally, after a great deal of to-and-fro'ing with bootleggers, paid-subscription services, hackers and fans, the best show on North American radio, This American Life from Chicago (with contributors such as David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Jack Hitt, John Hodgkins, Jonathan Goldstein, Chris Ware, Starlee Kine, etc.) is available as a podcast, beginning this Monday. (Each episode will podcast the Monday after the weekend of broadcast.) Now if only the CBC would do the same thing with TAL's Canadian cousin, Jonathan Goldstein's Wiretap.

| Posted by zoilus on Saturday, October 14 at 2:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

October 13, 2006

Bemused, Befuddled, Bewitched, Be-switched

So, that "footnote" on methodology generated a long discussion while the substantive post it was meant to contextualize drew zero response? Confusing.

Enough complaining though. Here are a couple of terrific music-blog projects going on at the moment: Locust Street celebrates its anniversary by delving into history with "100 Years (in Ten Jumps)." Living in Stereo is marking "Chuck Berry Week." On Largehearted Boy, the excellent writer Brian Evenson provides a mixtape tracklist to accompany his new novel, The Open Curtain, a Mormon-themed book described as "Big Love without the love."

And over on Woebot, Matt provides the perfect answer to those Pop Montreal participants (naming no names) with whom I had this conversation: Person X: "My new roommate is majoring in 'electro-acoustic' music. Whatever that means." Persons Y, Z: "Wha' huh?" Me: "Blah blah blah." Person X: "Huh. Well, he's good at fixing computers. We have free wireless and Skype!" Matt's post on Nonesuch electronica should help clear things up.

Meanwhile on Zoilus itself, updates are finally planned this weekend for the Links page and Gig Guide pages. Sorry for the poor maintenance of the past couple of months.

I also wanted to mention that the Red Guitar jazz cafe in Toronto is closing this weekend, another shudder in what's been a very unstable 15 months or so on the local jazz scene. There's a silver lining in this case, at least: The club will continue as a live-music venue under the name The Central, under new ownership. The Central says that "it will continue on Corry [Sobol]'s legacy as a music venue, while integrating a full menu focusing on organic fusion cuisine." What's unclear is what kind of music will go along with the food (organic fusion... hmm, so more jam bands?). The Red Guitar provided a low-budget but admirably diverse bill of fare, from the avant-garde to vocal standards to folk nights. This change doesn't come as a surprise, as Sobol made it clear a couple of months ago that she would have to sell. Thanks to her and sometimes booker Tim Posgate for a lively year-and-a-half.

Shapes of things to come: I'm going to see Randy Newman tomorrow night, so we'll get to revisit this conversation.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 13 at 3:10 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

October 12, 2006

Footnotes in the Floodlights

It might be interesting (or scary!) for Zoilus readers to be aware of some thoughts about the conduct of this website that have come up since attending last week's Future of Music Coalition discussions and CopyCamp. For one, I'm recommitting myself to more lengthy, thematic entries like the one below, despite the Internet's "tl;dr" formal pressure. As someone who has a website mainly for the sake of in-depth discussions difficult to conduct in other forums, I think it's worth resisting that logic, even as most music blogs, and mp3 blogs in particular, have headed the other way. (Being free of ads helps.) And CopyCamp helped convince me that intense talk among fewer people might be more productive, in any case. (I.e., "Screw the ratings!")

Secondly, I'm going to keep more of an eye on social/political implications of musical issues. After watching Ian Ilavsky from Constellation squirm through the FoMC panel on indie labels, trying to say that it made sense to commit yourself to that model "only if you have a social analysis" - in a place where the argument was being made almost exclusively on artistic and financial terms - and everyone staring at him like he had two heads, I was reminded how oddball that perspective has become. I don't share all of Ian's politics, or agree with Constellation's methods, but I do share a lot of his reasons to be where he is. And the "summit" showed me - in a way my slice of the Toronto scene makes it easy to forget - that those reasons are not to be taken for granted any more, if they ever were. I'm not planning to get preachy. Just more conscious of that level.

For some motivation by the way, I highly recommend The Walrus's chilling cover story this month on the interconnections between Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the "theo-cons," the evangelical lobby coalition that rapidly has become organized and influential in Ottawa. I commissioned and edited a related article in The Globe last month (which, er, seemed to make them very happy), but this one expands on that thesis (as a magazine, free of the constraints of a daily, might be better fit to do). I've long thought Christian evangelical millennialism is the only coherent explanation of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Marci McDonald's Walrus piece makes me much more concerned than before that Harper may share the same philosophy deep down, especially where Israel is concerned (a form of Zionism that is not at all pro-Jewish in the long run). Granted, it's still very small in Canada, and nowhere near as welcome in the mainstream here (there's a stronger social-justice Christian left tradition), but the stealth tactics in Harper's agenda are too close for comfort, and as in the U.S., it's possible for such groups to get disproportionate influence if they're allowed to pass unnoticed.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 12 at 4:46 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)

 

October 11, 2006

Quasi-Participatory-Objects: More Matmos, Portland,
Pick 7, CCL1, & the Canada Council


Matmos shaves Jonny Dovercourt's head at the Music Gallery in Toronto on Monday. Photographer unknown, lifted from Stillepost.ca.

First, a note that I didn't note yesterday because I was sniffly in bed with a post-Pop cold: My omnibus Pop Montreal review appeared in The Globe & Mail. Its main value, aside from kvetching about the flaws of the PopMtl program, is its mention of The Nymphets.

Now to the meat: By all reports, Monday night's Matmos show was even more dazzling than the night before, including - as in the picture above - a performance of Germs Burn for Darby Crash in which MC Schmidt gave Music Gallery programmer Jonathan Bunce (aka man-about-Torontopia, Jonny Dovercourt) a Mohawk on stage, while Drew Daniel turned the buzzing clippers and falling hair into music, and another piece (I'm not sure which?) in which a volunteer had his butt flogged, with the spanking similarly sampled and processed. These plans had been hatched the night before over a lovely, way-too-big, late-night Chinese dinner on Spadina - I helped talk Jonny into it! - so I was sorry to miss the outcome. I also wanted to mention that Matmos and So Percussion encored on Sunday night with a new piece composed on tour in the past couple of weeks, consisting of the percussionists playing Aaron Copland excerpts and Schmidt reading excerpts from Hugo Chavez's infamous "Bush is the devil" speech to the United Nations. (I suggested later that it could be titled Appalachian Spring for Hugo Chavez.)

I've been reflecting since Sunday on what makes Matmos's electronic work so special, since when it comes to beats and samples it's not that they're the most sophisticated technologically or any such thing. And it's not even the stunt and satirical value of the use of unconventional sampling materials, though certainly humour is always a welcome element and one too often scant in the testosterone-race to be the most hyper-genre-cool in that field. Rather, I think it's the deeper effect of that technique, which is to return a referentiality to electronic music - to make it, in an oblique way, a representational form. I had a little outburst last week on the blog panel at Pop Montreal about how much I dislike the anti-geographical tendency in cyberspace - the way many websites withold information on what city or region they come from. I always want to know. It's my first question about a band, for instance, much ahead of what genre label is attached. I was surprised by my vehemence about it at the panel. I think the reason is that I value these anchors and hooks back into a grounded physical, historical and, generally, material set of circumstances - while they're by no means determinative of category or quality or content - as a counter to the abstracting leveller of international commerce and capital. Just like the on-stage shaving and spanking, the names of cities and towns (and even of authors and artists) return to a human scale. Perhaps unlike many techno-utopians and transhumanists, I don't wish to escape that scale nearly so much as I fear losing it. It's rather like, in a disaster or war, the difference between casualty statistics ("109 dead in Baghdad today") and reading the names and backgrounds of the fallen. Geography and mortality; objects and names. The problem with digital culture - despite all its positive aspects - is that, like Hollywood or the pop chart, it becomes an enclosed self-referentiality, in which not just individuality and community but subject matter itself threatens to become irrelevant. Matmos's performances, like their new album, mitigate against all that. And they do it while every moment being fun and - crucially, in a manner from which other interactively inclined artists definitely can and should learn - with every aspect also being integrated with a fierce attention to aesthetics. Two great tastes that don't often go together, you know what I mean?

On Tuesday night, I was fortunate enough - along with about 40 other people at Sneaky Dee's in Toronto - to witness another blow struck in that cause, the Which Side Are You On tour by a small crew from the Portland, Ore., scene. It was a fantastic blend of concert and lectures, mostly given by Power Point, on the subject of humanity's relationship to technology, specifically our personal computers. Sounds a little dry, I know, but it ain't so: It was full of built-in little tricks and misdirections, all kind of revolving around the fact that this relationship is loaded with failure, and that this fallibility is the human element that we wish away at our peril. It was sort of a hybrid of a night of Trampoline Hall bleeding into the distinctively mixed-up Portland storytelling-and-song performance style familiar from the work of The Blow and, another layer back, Miranda July. Highlights included Jona from Yacht along with Claire L. Evans ("Universe") singing duets with their suddenly come-to-life laptops, and Aaron Flint Jamison's entire, RPG-meets-metapolitics performance as "the messenger" coming to bring "the particle workers" the good news about the forces of darkness and light - and a tough choice between them, which had real consequences on the spot, including being "banished" from the show - though again in the end things were not quite as they appeared.

Plus they were followed by a Yacht set and then the official reunion, now as a three-piece, of The Barcelona Pavilion, in their first gig under that name since November of 2004. TBP is, for me, the real founding band of Torontopia, with a definite attention to geography ("to see that thing you'll have to leave the building/ all of these things are in different buildings") and real-life subject matter, and that neverendingly fundamental slogan: "How are you people going to have fun/ If none of you people ever participate?!" (They also announced their current plan to release covers of the entire discography of Beat Happening.) Not to mention, one of the best avant-rock dance bands ever. (Although I wish some of the larger boys would recognize the anti-participatory effect of throwing yourself into the pit with maximum force, velocity and violence, especially in groups: There's a fine line between slamdance-playfighting and actually making the pit an impossible place for smaller people, women especially but also the bespectacled and wimpy, to inhabit. I get pissed off when the bigger guys stop respecting that line, even when I know they don't mean to.)

A couple of more peaceable participatory-minded events in the offing include the next, Oct. 14 17th installment of Pick 7, the theatre-meets-music event at Hub 14, which is part-lecture, part-talk-show, and part-concert. The musicians who will perform and converse with each other and the audience this time are Toronto's Sandro Perri, aka Polmo Polpo (whose new Constellation album I mentioned here) and Montreal's Eric Craven, the composer/percussionist whom you might know from Constellation band Hangedup. Highly recommended.

And I wanted to remind you of Thursday's opening (probably tonight, as you read this) of the apartment-based "open-format project and art centre", the Centre for Culture and Leisure 1, right here in Parkdale. This is the new space run by Emily Schultz and Brian Joseph Davis. Whether you can make it or not, you should read their Mike Watt-inspired manifesto, which makes several strong points on community-based culture. And they don't just talk the talk here: First off, you would be welcome to propose a project for the space. Second, their own work displays a similar spirit - for instance, check out Emily's Pledge Me, an exercise in mutual plagiarism in which people are invited to submit writing that will be incorporated into a "curated novel" - which cheekily challenges writers' claims that they don't actually steal their material from friends, lovers, family, etc...

Since this is Canada, one of the issues that these multi-source, crossdisciplinary, etc., projects always face is one of funding. It can be sidestepped, of course, but really if this is a country where one of our collective choices is that we provide funding to culture, the kind of work involved in all the foregoing projects shouldn't just fall through the cracks. Today the Canada Council announced that it was going to make its "Artists and Community Collaboration Fund (ACCF)" permanent. This is welcome news immediately, as the fund supports work such as artists teaching video skills to inner-city kids, or oral history work in aboriginal communities, or parades or dances or plays put on jointly by professional artists and neighbourhoods and towns, etc. But I wonder whether this area of funding will consider more sidelong approaches to collaboration, ones that are less obviously about social amelioration, ones that explore interactivity and open-source techniques without the same kind of altruistic cover story? I know that many of the kind of artists I'm discussing here bypass government funding as too much trouble (or, sometimes, ideologically unwanted), but I hope that they apply to this Fund frequently enough, even if they get turned down at first, to help stretch the funders' definitions of community-based art a bit beyond the easy Worthy Initiatives, to pull them a bit into the Unknown.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 11 at 8:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

October 9, 2006

Thanksgiving is for Matmos!

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After so much music in Montreal, it was a bit overwhelming to come home to a concert that exceeded nearly all of it. I went almost straight from the train to the Music Gallery to see the first show in a two-night stand by Matmos, the San Francisco sounds-and-electronics duo of Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt who've put out one of the greatest albums of 2006, The Rose has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast. Matmos makes music out of every possible sound source, from the wushwush of a liposuction machine to the rattling of teeth, from duck calls to hair clippers to shortwave radio to burning flesh and cries of pain, all processed and remixed into pieces that can be catchy or chaotic or danceable or dark and demonic. They toy with themes of sex and subculture, high art and trash, linguistic theory and snails and lasers. (And on the namedropping tip, they've collaborated and toured with Bjork among many others.) I know Drew a bit from EMP, but I'd never seen them do their thing live before tonight, and it's an extraordinary spectacle - a far cry from the dude-fiddles-with-laptop syndrome of many electronic performances. You see some of the sounds being constructed out of tables full of random junk and warped before your eyes while others are totally mysterious in origin; the confusion is half the fun. There are great video projections for extra stimulus (some of them also remixed live), and Drew and Martin are like a postmodern vaudeville duo in their quickwitted interactions and graceful slapstick: Schmidt has a great poker face even as he's doing completely bizarre things with household objects. They're also joined by the So Percussion ensemble, a four-piece group of virtuoso drummers and percussionists, who open the show playing Steven Reich's Drumming and their own compositions, then join Matmos as an all-purpose rhythm machine. (And for four guys who met as grad students in music at Yale, they're as relaxed and casual on stage as a bar band. Later: Note that one of their pieces is currently under discussion, and downloadable, at Paper Thin Walls.) It all sounded great in the Music Gallery's intimate church setting; it can be a tricky environment for heavier sounds, but they pulled it off deftly.


I can't sum it all up, partly because I don't want to spoil surprises for anyone who'll be in tonight's audience. I'll add some details after that. But if you're in Toronto and can get away from the dinner table in time (So Percussion play at 8 pm, Matmos at 9 pm), do yourself a solid and amble on over there. There should be plenty of tickets at the door. I know the gate is a tad steep (at one point, when they had a very brief technical difficulty, Drew turned to his partner and said in a mock-persnickety voice, "Martin! These people paid 28 Canadian dollars for this show!") - it's more than worth it. And if you're not in town, they don't tour very often, so check out these dates:

10/09 - Toronto, ON - Music Gallery*
10/10 - Montreal, QC - Le National*
10/11 - Philadelphia, PA - International House*
10/12 - Boston, MA - Museum of Fine Arts**
10/13 - New York, NY - Thalia Theater at Symphony Space*
10/14 - New York, NY - Thalia Theater at Symphony Space*
10/17 - Los Angeles, CA - Jensen Rec Center***
10/18 - San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall***
10/20 - Portland, OR - Holocene***
10/21 - Seattle, WA - Triple Door***

* With So Percussion
** With So Percussion, Keith Fullerton Whitman
*** With Walter Kitundu

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 09 at 7:07 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

October 8, 2006

Joanna In (Even More of) Her Own Words

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Here is the transcript of the Joanna Newsom interview that I did this week for Pop Montreal. Wary of journalists (for reasons you'll grok as she talks), she is agreeing only to e-mail interviews, which is a pleasure when the subject is so articulate but also frustrating because it cuts off so many avenues for follow-up and elaboration. I add a lot more detail in my Globe article (later: hey, David Byrne read the piece!) but I figured that fans might like to have the whole exchange, as I could use only bits and bites in the piece. Joanna was just getting over a flu when she answered these, which delayed the article itself by several days. I've retained the dumber parts of my questions for the sake of honesty. But honesty is never a whole truth.

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1) Can you describe to me what the thought-and-intuition process was, even before the recording, that led you to the vision for this album, and for the more expansive approach to songwriting compared to your earlier work?

I don't think I can describe it in much detail. There was a particular set of thoughts weighing very heavy on my mind; there were three or four particular experiences that were staying with me, sharply, in a way that i couldn't shake, and so tried to articulate musically. And these things settled into a real form very quickly; it was immediately apparent to me, for example, that the songs needed to be long, and that it would be a clumsy, vulgar waste of time to even try to make them short. Then I just started working real hard.

2) Was it at all a reaction to the reception of the last album - did you feel that since it was surprisingly widely embraced, you would see how much further you could take it?

No, it was not that. Those things can't stay in the mind for very long, when they have to try to stand up next to actual life. Those sorts of thoughts pale and get washed out, get mushy and drain away. There were more important and pressing agendas (as there always, faithfully are, when you actually sit and try to write music), and these agendas operated independent and unconscious of anything resembling an "audience".

3) Were these songs each written as full pieces or are they, at least in some cases, different fragments incorporated into a larger whole? I ask partly because when I first heard Only Skin it was a four-minute live recording, with you playing piano, which was only what I'd call the verse and chorus parts of the song, which are now only a portion of it.

They were always intended as full pieces. What you heard, the four minute section of the song you mention, played on piano--that was in London. I had blisters on my fingers from my harp strings, and they'd burst and were bleeding, and so I switched to piano. But I wasn't able to play everything i'd written so far in that song on the piano; i'd never practiced it before. So I just played that little bit. It actually drives me crazy when people refer to these songs as, like, 'suites', or use any words suggesting a cobbled-together, modular narrative; because they're completely bound together, in my mind, and they tell the story I wanted to tell very deliberately. I did learn my lesson about playing unfinished songs in a live context.... I thought it was a lovely and interesting thing to do; but it's only lovely and interesting if it's ephemeral. Bootlegs and live recording ruin everything about that idea, everything.

4) Your songs take place mostly in quite pastoral landscapes, very elemental and rustic. Does this reflect what your hometown was like, or is it more an imaginary realm? Do you consciously eschew more urban and contemporary-sounding references, and if so, why?

I don't think it's either a direct reflection of my hometown, or an imaginary realm. And you'll notice that the "nature" represented in these songs is different from the one represented in the first record, and will probably be different from any version I'd invoke in the future. It's a collection of images intended to convey, collectively, certain themes... all sorts of things; I mean, you'll notice there are many, specifically 'contained', tamed, exploited versions of nature in this record; there are a lot of invocations of harvest, fecundity, rot, livestock, domestication, flooding, property lines, etc. And the other nature represented in these songs is a gaping, cosmic one; not close, not familiar, not harmless, not knowable. Like standing in a dark field at night, smelling the fruits on the ground and hearing the sighing animals but not seeing them, and only seeing the big, dark, swallowing sky. These are certain feelings that were integral to the subject matter; because I didn't want to tell a story explicitly; I wanted to tell the shadow-version of it.

5) Does the title reference to the mythology of Ys bear upon the songs as a whole? What is the connection for you?

The title was the last decision to be made. The songs are not about Ys. But there are many connections. And many coincidences, dreams and so forth that necessitated that title

6) It shares this title with the opening song on Alan Stivell's classic Renaissance of the Celtic Harp. Is he an influence, and was that reference significant to the album to you? I've always understood your style to be quite deliberately distinct from the Celtic one.

No, that's not a reference. I didn't know that. That wasn't deliberate. But there are lots of works of art in existence that were outgrowths of various people's experience of that particular myth. So I am not surprised.

I was trained in Celtic harp. My style is pretty different now. But I would not say it is completely devoid of Celtic influence.

7) On the previous album the harp was central, but on this one it frequently recedes into the background, as the voice and the strings take focus. Did arranging the harp for these pieces call for different techniques than the way you played it on your earlier songs? The harp lines seem perhaps a bit sparser and less polyrhythmic, but I'm not certain.

Yes, it's sparser. I knew i was going to fill in a lot of space with other instrumentation, and I knew that Van Dyke's arrangement style often involves figures playing off the beat in somewhat disorienting (albeit gorgeous) ways; I wanted the harp to feel really grounded on this record, more rhythmically straighforward than usual. But there are some particular moments of polyrhythm more complicated than any on the previous record.

8) Do you ever hear from young musicians who're taking the harp up because of hearing you, or harpists who've started songwriting or are emulating your style?

Well, there are young kids in my hometown who've started playing harp because of seeing me play! That's about all I know of.

9) Was there a particular recording or aspect of his work that inspired you to invite Van Dyke Parks to work with you?

Song Cycle. Above anything else.

10) There seems to be a bit of a return to symphonic arrangements in the 'indie' world of late, between your album, the Sufjan Stevens records, and here in Canada we've got Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett, who actually has done a fairly well-loved cover of Peach, Plum, Pear that you might have heard), among others - all very different, I hasten to add, but there does seem to be some confluence, or at least a freshly receptive audience for orchestration...?

I don't know anything about that. The word confluence makes me break out in hives.

11) When I listen to your songs they seem consistently concerned with death, desire, friendship, sex and other adult themes. But many people emphasized the whimsy and "childlikeness" of the writing with the last album, and now this one will probably be received within the framework of fantasy and myth - partly due to the cover art. Do you worry at all that these trappings can create false impressions and prevent people from engaging with the more serious themes?

It bugs me to no end, but I've promised myself that I won't pay attention any more. I've tried engaging the various comments or assumptions made in various interviews, but the thing is, it never makes a difference. I'm tired of feeling like I need to put extra energy into making statements outside of my songs. But it remains startling, deflating, and somewhat funny that people can ignore so much of what I've said and am saying.

12) The obligatory question about the "new folk movement" hype: On one hand, it's brought attention to some of the lesser-known influences some of the people in that boat have in common, such as Vashti Bunyan. On the other, I hear what you're doing as very distinct from what any of the other artists lumped into the category do, even those you've toured and collaborated with. What have been the advantages and demerits for you? Do you think there are any broader social reasons, media trends aside, why this kind of music is getting renewed attention at this time

I'm gonna take the obligatory pass on that one. No offense.

13) Do you feel that these long-form pieces are what you'd like to continue doing indefinitely, or are you still interested in working in pop-song-sized forms? Would you take it further, and perhaps write a full-album suite?

No, I think it was important to do these songs this way, but i think writing longish songs indefinitely could create a bit of laziness. In this case, it was necessary; I don't know if it will be necessary for me again.

14) And finally, aside from this tour and the release of the album, what's in your future (immediate or more distant) that you're excited about?

Well, I just moved into a new house. I'm excited about decorating, gardening, and getting dogs when I'm able.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, October 08 at 5:59 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

Nuit Quatre: My Full Pop Montreal Roster

Is pretty small, what do you think? I feel like a bad journalist, a little, but the journalist's way of navigating this sort of event is counter to my instincts, which are to see what I must, artistically or socially, and go with the drift of a Montreal week otherwise. I would so adore you if you told me what great things I was wrong to miss, especially those I'm wrong to think I could see in Toronto soon... I am sad to be leaving before tomorrow night's fine lineup, especially Sunset Rubdown... But here's who I did see, sometimes very wilfully and sometimes very much by happenstance:

Vashti Bunyan
The World Provider
Under Byen
Joanna Newsom
Black Helicopter
Jewish Legend
The Diableros
Roky Erickson
Gary Wilson
Henri Faberge & the Adorables
Evan Gordon & the Sad Clowns
Habitat
Laura Barrett
Sunday Sinners
Nymphets
The Adam Brown

(most regrettable omission? decidely Dr. Octagon)

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, October 08 at 3:52 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

October 7, 2006

Pop Montreal, Nuit Trois: Festival Brain

The title refers to what I've got, as the days begin to smear into one. Shows seen since last report include Roky Erickson (nostalgic, at least for the gaggle of psychedelia-collectors who thronged the place, but pretty out of context for Pop Montreal and in an undignified, crappy venue, with Roky being Roky, which was more than nice to see, and his band being a bar band that can play good blues solos, mainly, which was not so nice to see or hear), Gary Wilson (hallucinogenic, and a pleasure to me because I love his recluse-dreams-of-disco records, but way more random-gang-of-musicians-does-Sun-Ra-pageantry than I'd have hoped, substituting a huge ladle of schtick for the interior tension of the albums, but it's still worth witnessing any band in which the singer is wrapped in sheets and ductaped to a blowup sex doll and regularly dowsed with baby powder by his hypeman), hometown honeys Henri Faberge and the Adorables (ecstatic, singalong clapalong yellalong slice of what we decided tonight to call Torontosaurus Rex instead of Torontopia, inspired by the rantings of a drunk guy outside the bar, and with songs much better than I realized, plus Constantines and John Lennon covers) and, from Guelph, Evan Gordon and the Sad Clowns (emphatic, denim-clad, fake-gay-brother-incest, mock pub rock heavy on parody and riffs and dramarama). Plus some random band that sounded like the Editors or something, at a semi-afterparty that wasn't worth the trip north of Jean-Talon to attend. I'm sure there's a real, kickin' afterparty going on somewhere at this very moment that I missed out on hearing about, and that's just fine.

I was sad, on the Future of Music Summit front, to have slept too late to catch the second bloggish panel, this morning, on "The New Deciders: Metafilters, etc." - I'm sure you all were brilliant, Patti Brave New Waves and Mac Merge/Portastatic and Ryan Pitchfork and Grant CBC3 and Frank Chromewaves and Tim RealNetworks (formerly Tim TooMuchJoy).... but I was comatose, having ended up awake and blogging (and then breakfasting with my gracious host) till past dawn. I hope those who were in the panel, or in the audience, do report back.

But I was really really glad to have caught the panel on "DIY Online Distribution Models," which may sound dry but actually included a group of people more inspiring than any other at the Future of Music event - people who are actually using new media to do great things for artists, rather than fretting about "monetizing" something they don't really get: Dick Huey, Toolshed; Nate Krenkel from Team Love (who's also Bright Eyes' manager); Bryna Gootkind, Black Sheep Management; Lindsay Lynch, MapleMusic.com; Brian Camelio, ArtistShare; and the best-spoken cookie among these smart cookies, Shannon Coulter, Magnatune.com, an online new-form label whose slogan is, "We are not evil," who license all their music with Creative Commons (to allow for remixes by anyone who pleases), and who have a function on their site that allows you to license music for a film or TV with a few quick clicks (and whatever payment their formula determines is fair) - if you know anything about the licensing morass, that last in itself is a little revolution.

They all had a palpable passion for the music in question, and a very deep concern with ethics and service to artists and fans, with everything else - mainly, their own pocketbooks - a distant, distant second. Looking for the future of music, as a business? These folks are it. This conference would have been better if all the industry-suit panels were abolished and it was just a three-day confab where these people told those people what's what. (Okay, plus maybe some bloggers...) I can't summarize everything they said, but if you are a musician or otherwise involved in the making-a-living side of music as an activity, you should investigate all of those links.

I spoke up during the question period, but I was tired and full of thoughts and reactions and ended up stammering something that sounded way more confrontational than what I meant. What I was frustrated with was the prevalence, I think due to the conference atmosphere, of an individualist mindset in the conversation, in which musicians were being spoken of primarily as isolated creators trying to reach a distant audience. One of the underlying themes of the panel was, "Are record labels still necessary?" And the way the exchange went, the implication was yes - for the sake of exposure and publicity, unless you are willing to tour like crazy, for example, or are a formerly signed artist who's already gotten that exposure and can now deal with an established fan base. So I wanted to ask, "What about community, what about cooperation between musicians, what about a scene as an alternative to a label as a support structure?" I brought up the obvious case of Blocks Recording Club in Toronto, the un-label, actually an incorporated workers' co-op, run entirely by the bands sharing work and profits, including Final Fantasy, Ninja High School, The Creeping Nobodies, Bob Wiseman, and many more. This is a non-individualist approach, a non-buzzword version of "social networking" that really counts.

But what I meant was to ask the panelists to address this scene/community role - Team Love, for one, clearly comes out of it - rather than to suggest that they were ignorant of it, and since my tone was off, that wasn't clear, and Shannon rightly rebuked me for it, and it didn't go where I'd hoped. My apologies. But I do think that the music-industry context mitigates against thinking in those terms - it really is solitary-artist-versus-public, with labels presenting themselves as the benign intermediates that they're mostly not, unlike the panel members today. (On the other hand the community model is not realistically available to everyone, either, depending as it does on having other kinds of social capital, not to mention physical proximity and other factors, and that's something I think scene-oriented artists often are too blase about.)

But that's a digression. My main point: Out of all that I saw, this was the only point at which this summit caught fire for me, and really addressed what the name promises. I'm looking forward tomorrow to seeing founder Jenny Toomey (ex-Tsunami and Simple Machines) - a hero of anyone who knows where indie music's been and cares where it's going.

I did promise to talk more about our panel from Thursday, but it might be easier for someone who wasn't on stage to talk about it, or for you to watch for the podcast version on the Pop Montreal site. Here are some rough outlines: We started out talking about waves 1, 2 and 3 of musicblogging, and primarily bemoaning the commercialization/vulgarization of pop/indie music blogs, which I think I summarized as moving from a critical community to a baseball-card-trading community. Then we realized that was too insiderish and it got very wide open. Helen smartly asked the audience what they wanted from music blogs, and while there were many answers, the first that came up was great criticism (yeah, Lester Bangs got mentioned), which was heartening. Then others said quick links, such as Largehearted Boy, which is totally understandable. But the best was someone who asked whether blogs also talked about recontextualizing the past - a deeper level of critical work, I'd say - which led to a discussion of old-soul/funk blogs, among others (I should have mentioned the French sixties pop blogs, jazz and classical blogs and many more). Which led to a great "what is the future of blogging?" conversation, in both utopian and dystopian (it becomes a secondary, similarly conformist version of the music press now, but with even fewer ethics and writing standards).

We mentioned Marathonpacks, but I was also searching my mind for the name of Moistworks, which I think is the very best example of an MP3 blog that also provides superb and diverse critical writing in an audio-essay format, which can and should be more common. (Wayne&Wax; is maybe the best single-author instance.) That's certainly the primary other direction I think about for Zoilus, if I ever wanted it to be more than my metacritical jottings.

My two favourite aspects of our panel: One, that Dan from Said the Gramophone basically played a conscientious objector to the conversation by saying early on, "I don't read any other music blogs." And two, that the most passionate respondent afterwards was a guy from Muzak, who was thrilled to think that there were whole other programming streams that could come out of this music-blog thing. Next time you're shopping and the soundtrack is Tapes'n'Tapes and CYHSY, blame us. And yet he was also incredibly sincere in his respect for what we are doing, for its "from the heart" quality: "I don't even know what you're doing, but whatever it is, keep it up," he told Helen and me outside, where I was smoking. And the music lover in him was just as earnest about that as the businessman in him was about finding ways to exploit whatever it is we're doing. It was a terrific lesson in just how and why good-hearted people at labels seduce people into situations they should never sign onto, for a non-musician. I mean, I was like, "Muzak, wooo!" for 20 minutes there.

Watch these places for other Pop Montreal/FoMC coverage: Cleverlazy, BlogTO, Diabetic Candy, Fluxblog, Chromewaves, Prefix, Indyish and more. Oh yeah, and Chartattack, if you look. Anyone have any idea who the "buzz bands" or whatever of this festival are? My experience, perhaps from slackness, is that this is an indecipherable random thing that bears no relationship to reality, at least at this fest. Am I wrong?

| Posted by zoilus on Saturday, October 07 at 3:23 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

October 6, 2006

Hey, England? This is Fucked

By which, I mean this.

What Beck's doing, and being penalized for, is exactly what album artists should be thinking about now: Is there a way to make the album experience as interesting as the Internet experience? The remixable cover art is a pretty good response. In fact, it's a rather more conversative version of what McSweeney's did with Sheila Heti's The Middle Stories, in which most of the cover run of the paperback was individualized art work created by audiences on her (and Trampoline Hall's) book tour, where we had the audience deface Polaroids with Sharpies and other implements of destruction, which were then affixed to the blank covers of the books that went out to bookstores across the U.S.

The sad thing, really, is that this is by far the best thing about The Information (more on that in my upcoming review in Blender).

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 06 at 4:18 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

Pop Montreal, Nuit Deux: Oh, oh, oh, oh, Desire

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Joanna Newsom in Toronto the night before last, as portrayed beautifully by Frank Chromewaves.

I wanted to let you know earlier that my Joanna Newsom/Pop Montreal piece appeared today (a day delayed) in The Globe & Mail. You can read it here. Also, in a day or two I will, I promise, post the interview transcript, which includes many nice moments that didn't make it into the article.

It's nearly 4 a.m., and I've just come from eating a very filling smoked-meat special at the Main with Helen Spitzer and Michael Barclay, so I'm not going to be up long enough to run down today in full for you - a day that included not only Joanna's concert but a lot of noteworthy moments at the Future of Music Coalition Summit: I'll recap some of the "Mini-Me-Dia" panel that Spitz and I were on, as well as such weirdnesses as David Byrne's surprisingly useless talk (he was so much better in this interview, f'r'instance,, tomorrow - mainly, I want to say that this meeting, which has never been held outside DC before, and could be so great, needs to turn into an Unconference immediately. More meaningful as always were the personal encounters - with fellow panelists such as Matt from Fluxblog, and Dan from Said the Gramophone, Montreal blogger MC, our convenor Andrew Rose, conferencegoers such as Frank from Chromewaves (first time in-the-flesh!) (btw Frank's speaking this morning on the doomed-to-be-dominated-by-Pitchfork-talk panel), and many others. (Okay, the one that geeked me out was, thanks to Spitz, finally meeting Mac McCaughan, which happened so unexpectedly that I couldn't even choke out, "Uh, sir, I just want you to know that in 1994, I kinda would have given my life for Superchunk." Mac, if you see this - I should have said. And if your show hadn't been counterprogrammed with Joanna Newsom's, I'd never have missed it.)

And then, yeah, there was Joanna's concert, which mainly felt like 90 minutes in which she drew us up close and whispered the stories of love, loss and mystery that are Ys into our ears. The old songs were extraordinary to hear for the first time live - especially Peach, Plum, Pear which, as Barclay said, having heard Owen (Final Fantasy) cover it so many times, sort of felt like hearing a cover-in-reverse of "our" (Canada's) Joanna Newsom song. But never has it been so clear how much stronger and deeper her writing and singing have become from one album to the other. And meanwhile her fingers whirligigged around the harp like a superior alien intelligence - her couple of missed notes (and one case of forgetting the lyrics in the encore, Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie, where a crowd member stepped in and shouted out, "dedicated dourly!") were welcome, if only to ground the phenomenon in fallible reality. It's otherwise an impossible show to review, because, as I gleaned from post-show conversation, my thoughts like many others' were on terribly personal, emotional matters all the way through. I didn't actually burst into tears, as some did, I think because I knew well beforehand that it would be so, but seldom have I reflected on and felt so much during a show while at once feeling that my attention was riveted every moment. However, since I have a bit of a cold, whenever I did feel like weeping, I started sneezing instead - sorry, if you were sitting near me. (Does this happen to you? It's so annoying!)

The single most powerful new songwriter and performer of the decade? Tonight, I and hundreds of other people in the never-before-used, beautiful venue of the Ukrainian Federation on Hutchison in Montreal said yes, at a roar, rising from our seats. Each individual song practically got a standing ovation. There could be more words for it, but Joanna had already used them: "We could stand for a century, starin', with our heads cocked, in the broad daylight/ at this thing, joy, landlocked, in bodies that don't keep."

Set list, as I remember it, corrections welcome:
Bridges and Balloons
Emily
The Book of Right-On
Sawdust and Diamonds
Sadie
Only Skin
Peach, Plum, Pear
Cosmia

----
encore ("I'm getting serious blisters, so I can only play one more song"): Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

Later: It always feels redundant to link to Pitchfork, but these photos by Ryan Schreiber really do a lovely job of capturing the visual impression. (I met Ryan briefly - who was either faking it or does read this site now and then - and he was very nice, but we didn't get into anything substantial. Which is just as well, as I have no more desire to argue about Pfork than to argue about the weather. My opinion on balance is like the Hitchhikers' Guide entry on Earth.)

Tugging at the harp strings
Joanna Newsom's complex, charismatic work has shot her to the indie-music stratosphere, CARL WILSON writes

The Globe and Mail
Review section
05/10/06

How much scope and challenge is there to California songwriter and harpist Joanna Newsom's coming second album, Ys? Well, the chorus of the first, 12-minute-long song - to the extent that there are any choruses here - provides a lesson in cosmic terminology.

"The meteorite is the source of the light, and the meteor's just what we see," she sings in a high, passionate lilt, proffering a mnemonic for science students everywhere. "And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee."

Newsom, who plays at the Pop Montreal festival tonight, can empathize with such issues of perception and mismeasurement.

She burst into the skies of the indie-music planet with her acclaimed 2004 debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender. Ever since, she has seen her own intentions confused with the constellated guesswork that fans and detractors alike project onto the charismatic figure of this "elfin" 24-year-old blonde with a very-non-rock axe wedged between her knees.

She has been mistaken for "childlike" because of the heady naturalism of her singing style, when on closer inspection her songs leap routinely from personal lyric to themes of sex and death and environmental disaster. She has been labelled an antiquarian nerd for her allusions to mythology and the pastoral - and the occasional "thee" - when in fact the delicate stateliness of her harp line is consistently juddered away by a verbal and vocal tone as urgent as an ambulance siren. (Though the Renaissance-pastiche portrait on the cover of her new album does her no favours in that area.)

"It bugs me to no end," she said in a rare interview with The Globe and Mail this week, which she would conduct only by e-mail. "I'm tired of feeling like I need to put extra energy into making statements outside of my songs. But it remains startling, deflating, and somewhat funny that people can ignore so much of what I've said and am saying."

Then again, to extend the astronomical analogy, that's what happens to a star. Which is what Newsom is rapidly becoming.

She grew up in the exotic atmosphere of Nevada City, Calif., a former prospecting town taken over by artists, academics and post-hippie intellectual families like her own, which may account for some of her distance from her popular reception. Minimalist composer Terry Riley was a neighbour. She nursed a fascination with the harp as a toddler and began studying it as soon as she could hold one, but quickly spurned the instrument's stereotypical, decorative glissando pastels, learning Celtic styles and then catching on to both Appalachian traditions and African polyrhythmic harp idioms as a teenager at folk-music summer camp.

In university, she started as a composition major but, finding her inclinations out of fashion with academic currents, switched to creative writing.

Her first album (which followed a pair of homemade EPs) shot to the upper stratosphere of best-of-the-year lists from music blogs to magazines to The New York Times. It was an unpredictable fate for a collection of idiosyncratic pop-folk tunes played mainly on solo harp, and one that led to concerts before adoring fans around the world - wherever a quality instrument could be borrowed - including opening a show for an admiring Neil Young.

The status she has garnered among musicians is further evident in the personnel list for her second album, due next month. It is co-produced by Van Dyke Parks, the veteran eccentric best known as Brian Wilson's collaborator on the Beach Boys' legendary lost-and-found master stroke, Smile. Parks built his elaborate symphonic arrangements around voice-and-harp bed tracks engineered by Steve Albini, whose most famous work among hundreds of seminal underground recordings was with Nirvana. And the record was mixed by composer-guitarist Jim O'Rourke, a former member of both Sonic Youth and Wilco.

What, were George Martin and Brian Eno tied up? One has the feeling they wouldn't have said no.

Yet, rather than merely consolidating her position, Ys is an intensely personal album that will test the capacities of acolytes and new listeners alike. It has only five songs, but together they last nearly an hour, with Parks's orchestra, as she put it, "playing off the beat in somewhat disorienting (albeit gorgeous) ways."

The twirling verbal mobiles that Newsom pasted together in miniature on her first record (rhyming "dirigibles" and "irritable," or coining hybrid synecdoches such as "you were knocking me down with the palm of your eye") now become a 4,000-word torrent of images, metaphors, ontology, epistemology, anecdote, punning and rhetoric that seldom repeats itself.

It's a vast thing to absorb. And yet Ys (pronounced "Ees," after an ancient Welsh and Breton myth about an idealized, inundated city, reminiscent of events a year ago in New Orleans) also feels like one of the richest, most moving works anyone has made in pop music this decade.

Despite the flood of information that passes through a listener from song to song, each one has passages that raise goose bumps. In that opener, Emily, she sings of how "tugboats shear the water from the water, flanked by furrows, curling back, like a match held up to a newspaper."

The process, beginning from a stubbornly nagging set of personal experiences, took over a year, but the conception was ever intact. "It actually drives me crazy when people refer to these songs as, like, 'suites,' or use any words suggesting a cobbled-together, modular narrative; because they're completely bound together, in my mind, and they tell the story I wanted to tell very deliberately."

The central, 17-minute saga, Only Skin, in particular, juxtaposes the erotic, artistic and ethical realms so vividly that it feels like a vast summation of Western existence in 2006. "You'll notice there are many, specifically 'contained,' tamed, exploited versions of nature in this record," Newsom said. "There are a lot of invocations of harvest, fecundity, rot, livestock, domestication, flooding, property lines, etc. And the other nature represented in these songs is a gaping, cosmic one; not close, not familiar, not harmless, not knowable. . . . I didn't want to tell a story explicitly; I wanted to tell the shadow-version of it."

But fans of The Milk-Eyed Mender need not worry that Newsom is giving up permanently on compression.

"I think it was important to do these songs this way, but I think writing longish songs indefinitely could create a bit of laziness. In this case, it was necessary; I don't know if it will be necessary for me again."

So Ys is just one more comet streaking across the infinite space of a restless young mind. It seems very likely that there are decades more yet of indelible radiance to emanate from Joanna Newsom, if we make it there - more light from a source that won't be mapped to any foreseeable orbit.

Joanna Newsom plays tonight in Pop Montreal at the Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchinson.

*****

Pop Montreal

Joanna Newsom's appearance is just one of many coups the Pop Montreal festival can claim in its fifth-anniversary year. Founded by a handful of local promoters, it has grown more and more ambitious by the year, now including nearly 30 local venues, with parallel programs for film, art and small publishing. And as its hometown deserves, it has a reputation for the best after-parties of any music fest on the continent.

Among the more official highlights this year are concerts by several long-lost legends of the 1960s and 1970s, including Bob Dylan's rival Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Newsom's personal hero, British folk singer Vashti Bunyan, Texas psychedelic pioneer Roky Erickson and New York new-wave-era maverick Gary Wilson. Also not to miss are Calypso icon The Mighty Sparrow, young Eastern European emigre Regina Spektor, legendary hip-hop absurdist Doctor Octagon, and bands such as Denmark's Under Byen, Victoria's Daddy's Hands (a decisive influence on such current indie favourites such as Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown - who play the festival on Sunday - and Frog Eyes), and Montreal's own electronic innovators Akufen and Tim Hecker, among many others.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 06 at 2:40 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

October 5, 2006

Pop Montreal, Nuit 1: Diamond Day after Day

There wasn't that much going on tonight - and I skipped out on the Gary Lucas-Gonzales gala, as well as the Ramblin' Jack Elliott show, in order to hang with one of my best friends, who is putting me up and baking vegetables for me and letting me drink his whiskey up - but I got more than I could have hoped for from the two shows I did catch: Vashti Bunyan was a muted revelation. She both was and wasn't the delicate flower you hear on Just Another Diamond Day - and, somehow I'd not quite registered this, she certainly wasn't anyone born "Vashti," but as English as they come. But much more so, she was a mom, who had moving songs about her children and her memories of her own youth to sing about in that impossibly pure, high voice. Every song was framed with a story, the two dominant themes being her major heartbreak in the mid-1960s and then, a couple of years later, her two-year trek from London to Scotland with a literal horse-and-wagon and her boyfriend of the time, in search of a dream of hippie back-to-the-land utopianism (an artists' colony Donovan attempted to start, though he was gone by the time they got there) off the coast of Skye. The latter story is sort of well-known now, but to hear her talk about it in person was quite another experience, a reflection on what seems madly naive in retrospect but is really not a form of idealization (and, I'd argue, false nostalgia) that's dead. The city and suburb kids who've driven her career revival and made a cult out of her obviously identify with it because they share that vision. I'm pretty dismissive of that end. And yet it's also relevant to the rethinking of food and agriculture and land use that's going on in more serious, grounded ways today. But even more compelling is what befell her after the period she mythologized in those songs, the time that she felt the music world had rejected her: She raised children in a very traditional way, as a lot of hippie girls did. The most moving song to me was the one about, as she said, "how much I hated housework and yet spent a lot of my life doing it, and dreaming of the road." The lyrics of Wayward speak of wanting to "be the one who ... came home with dust on my boots." But instead she was the one who was found waiting at home at the end of the day.The final, twice repeated line in the song is, "All I ever wanted was a world without end." And thinking of that not as a hippy on-the-road fantasy but as the fantasy of a housewife who has a world strictly delimited by the walls of a home, lends a great depth: She was just a few years too old to know that the much bigger and more serious revolution of feminism was what she was looking for, but since it hadn't come yet, she was tagging along with dreamy guys on their quixotic, wanna-be gypsy quests. And she got the worst of the deal in every way.

The weird thing, hearing these songs she wrote in the mid-1960s, was that Joni Mitchell's early work is no better. They were confessional and dreamy in a similar way, poetic to the same degree, both melodic and unique. Sadly it seems from interviews that what Bunyan thinks she lacked was "a strong visual image," which is hard to believe looking at her now: For a woman with three kids in her late fifties, she is quite beautiful, and she must have been stunning three decades ago. What she didn't have was the fierceness, I'm sure, the competitive bulldozing power that Mitchell did (and which, out of that underrated quality of competitiveness, kept her progressing beyond that style into her greatest work, and then, with equal confidence, into making crap). I'm led back to questions about family dynamics and other central issues of character, much more than talent, in asking why one made a huge impact and the other was ignored. And these are dark questions, because they're not at all about merit, not about community (which Bunyan seemed to have), but about an intrinsic fortitude, the ability to bite through the dogfight. But it also makes the end of her story about Wayward all the more affecting: "This year, I've found that open road again, and I've loved every moment of it." She truly seemed amazed that the young ensemble of musicians on stage with her - piano, flute, guitars, cello and violin, from various places in Scotland and the U.S. - were there, "playing this music I thought up when I was so young," and overwhelmed by the moment, on the last night of their tour.

That set of thoughts made the trek way up to Zoobizarre (which the festival's map made look way nearer by) worthwhile, to catch The World Provider. Malcolm Fraser and his all-girl band are no strangers to me - he's the brother of Toronto improv-jazz drummer Nick Fraser, for one thing, but also a regular and long-beloved visitor to Torontopia - but seeing him in this weird club with its subway-tunnel-style curved-rock roof long after the rest of Pop Montreal had gone to sleep was like the perfect before-bed apertif. (Uh, don't you all have before-bed apertifs?) And it was also the perfect commentary on Vashti's set - what TWP does is so free of outside judgment, so punk-without-punk, assertively goofy and yet unpresuming of any other standards of cool, rock and yet anti-rock, with super riffs and melodies and yet no polish whatsoever, a willfully stupid parody of rock frontmanship that is also great rock frontmanship. You could debate whether they're a great (or even good) band, but you can't debate that they are affirming in all the ways that Vashti Bunyan's story is not: TWP's performance is all about the fact that you don't have to pass any tests to be valuable, to be loved, to be human. Whereas her story is all about someone who was subjected to tests that were all wrong, and only got a second lease on life after people said, wait, those tests were stacked, and ignorant, and fucked, and we think we have something to learn from the loser.

Still, the dialectic between the two concerts makes me think, "What are we missing out on now because of our prejudices, our misplaced ideals, our brutality?" I can't believe the human race really changes; so there's another Vashti Bunyan out there playing in your town tonight, who is going to be discovered by another generation, who will not understand how we could have overlooked her or his spirit, and who will stand as an indictment of us. I can't really imagine a more important thing for music critics to do than to keep that question in mind every day, and yet I also can't imagine that we will ever get that answer right.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, October 05 at 1:37 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)

 

October 4, 2006

Salut de Pop Montreal

It's a dark and stormy day here on the island of Montreal, but children are dancing and puppies cavorting in the ditches, because it's the opening day of Pop Montreal. There's a shitload of great music on the schedule (my personal shortlist includes Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Vashti Bunyan, Under Byen, Joanna Newsom, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Gary Wilson, Roky Erickson & The Explosives, Beirut and Dr. Octagon, but that's just scratching the surface). I'm more looking forward to just wandering into shows of bands I don't know at all and seeing what the programmers have discovered for us. And then I'll report back to you.

At the same time, the Future of Music Coalition is holding its annual Summit in Montreal this week, too, the first time the group (headed by Jenny Toomey, ex-Tsunami, ex-Simple Machines) has held this event outside of D.C. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be on a panel at the summit, called "Meet the Mini-Me-Dia," about this site and other instances of micromedia music journalism and how they might affect and be affected by criticism and music-making in our age. I'm in great company on this panel, including Matt Fluxblog, Dan from Said the Gramophone, Andrew Rose from Pop Montreal, our Guelph compadre Helen Spitzer, and Montreal blogger Marie-Chantale Turgeon. If you're in town, come chat with us about things. Thursday, October 5, 4:30-5:45 pm, A 832 Faculty Lounge, New Music Building, Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, North America, Western Hemisphere/Northern Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 04 at 3:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

October 2, 2006

However Wildly They Dream:
Chenaux and Perri Ride their Ranges

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Eric Chenaux and Sandro Perri (aka Polmo Polpo).

Annoyingly, I'll be out of town on Saturday night when two of the best albums out of Toronto or anywhere else this year will be launched. Sandro Perri's Sandro Perri Plays Polmo Polpo and Eric Chenaux's Dull Lights, both on Constellation, are luminous (and not at all dull!) collections of songs played in the improvisational spirit, in the genre that I like to call "Elliott Carter Family," part country-folk and part "new music." (I stole the joke from the Tin Hat Trio.) I'll have more to say about both albums in the coming weeks, but the launch is on Sat., Oct. 7, 9 pm, Clinton's Tavern in Toronto, $5. Sandro is playing with Ryan Driver, John Jowett and Marcus Quin. Eric is playing with Nick Fraser and Aimee Dawn Robinson. The two songwriters, who've often collaborated in the past, are likely to tour together sometime in the next few months.

Meanwhile you could read the piece I wrote about Eric for Said the Gramophone last year.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 02 at 11:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

October 1, 2006

Tales from Nuit Blanche

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How was your Nuit Blanche? The first edition of Toronto's all-night arts extravaganza (an adaptation of an idea that's been used in Paris and other cities for years, of course) seemed like a pretty huge success to me. I couldn't believe how many people there were, way into the night (it got smaller but never small), wandering the streets in pleasant confusion, eyes and ears peeled. I was disappointed with the weakness of many of the individual pieces (not to mention the lumpy architecture of the website and the spotty documentation in the program, which was way too scant on details about times and specific programming within larger projects) - but even the question of the quality of the art seems minor compared to the overall civic adventure of it.

And for the record: I got home at about quarter after seven, I think, feeling like a hardcore. How'd you do? On my walk home I spotted a mother coming out of the Trinity-Bellwoods nightswimming with a kid who must have been about 7 or 8 - I think he wins.

Among the pieces that succeeded for me was Adrian Blackwell and AIMT's Model for a Public Space (Speaker) in Grange Park near the Music Gallery - which makes sense, since Blackwell has been working on variations on this portable-spiral-amphitheatre structure for years, and it's ideally suited to Nuit Blanche (unlike a lot of the other work, which seemed either slapped together or hastily adapted). I wish I had hung out there more - especially after getting two emails today from musicians who had stories to tell about their experiences playing in the structure last night, one showing the bright side of interactive space and the other the less positive.

First, here's a grim story from keyboardist John Kameel Farah: In the middle of my set [with Rick Hyslop on violin and effects], which was sounding wonderful, and enjoyed by a full audience at 3:15 a.m., some person stormed into the centre of Blackwell's contraption-stand, and, screaming that he couldn't sleep for hours on end, ripped my equipment off the stands, tearing out my cable and sending my toiled-for Nord Lead 3 synth into a pool of mud, breaking parts as well and causing enormous amount of noise & feedback. I was so angry, all i could do was hold out my hands and say to the audience "Nuit Blanche!" They obviously had no idea what I meant, but it was my almost speechless way of saying, "See what happens when you try to create something beautiful? Someone destroys it." It was, admittedly, very negative in that moment. I was totally stunned, but somehow maintained my composure and we plugged back in after a few minutes, and kept playing, and the audience was filled to capacity, and loved it and were somehow even more on our side. But I am still really stunned. The guy was chased away by security - I don't think they caught him, though... Totally messed up, eh?

And now a more redemptive tale from guitarist/electronics player Nilan Perera: I left my home this morning at 5:30 AM, feeling some small sadness in my heart, to play a closing performance at an installation in Toronto. The event was an all-night culture fest that involved hundreds of performers over a wide area of downtown Toronto.

My collaborator had bailed because of health and I was looking at a solo performance for an hour. When I got there I found a small spiral amphiteatre and a friendly but energetic debate between an organiser and a local person. I started setting up and was promptly engaged by this guy, who was pretty strongly advocating his and others right to perform as well. After a small exchange involving a bit of confrontation (him saying, "well, why can't i rap?' and me saying, 'if you can sound like birds and frogs, no problem, dude'), I started playing 'wet land' which is a composition of mine which emulates a swamp.

He stayed quiet for a while, but then started speaking. It was amazing.

He was your archetypal macho, stylin', clubgoing guy from Scarberia and spoke with that slightly hoodlum braggadocio that we sometimes shudder to hear and he was on something other than alcohol. I had told him that he could join in but he had to 'feel it, dude'. He was respectful and listening and phrasing very well. But the heaviest thing was his monologue. He was speaking about loneliness, disconnect and frustration that sometimes drifted into macho pronouncements, but it was his vulnerability that stunned me. And since I was somewhat there already I went with him and it was great!

When security tried to eject him and he was starting to play the game, I told them to back off and when I said "darren, man: guitar solo" over a faux tabla section I set up on a sampler, he totally went silent and came back in when i segued out of my solo. He eventually left during another piece.He said goodbye and I addressed him as 'my brother', which he truly became.

That kind of experience is priceless to me. The power of music/sound and compassion from all, including organisers, security, audience, him and me revealed itself beautifully. And also the intrinsic performance ability he had put to shame some seasoned musicians I have played with who had somewhat less humility in their approach. I played one of the best sets of my life, some guy from the audience walked up, thanked me and dropped a $20 at my feet and the rest of the audience was enthusiastic and happy. I wasn't going to let it end there so i jumped in my car and burned it to the east end where I stood for an hour on the rocks by Lake Ontario, watching the sunrise and clouds on the lake, feeling the power and song of some of the biggest breakers I have seen in Toronto and studiously counted my blessings. I wasn't sad anymore.

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, October 01 at 9:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson