by carl wilson

January 31, 2008

The Rest is ... Poise

Did you check Alex Ross on Colbert last night? Some fine representin' for the music-geek massive - I was surprised the conversation worked as well as it did, and it actually ended up being an aesthetic argument: Colbert playing the card that music means nothing to history (ie the autonomy of art) and Alex proving that it does, describing Shostakovich and Stalin's relationship and Reagan's history-blind use of Copland-ripoff music for "Morning in America," eg, though I kinda wish he'd hit the McCarthy theme with Copland, not to mention Eisler and Brecht... Just because it would've tweaked Colbert nicely. ... I do wonder, though, on a not-unrelated theme (music and ideology) how Alex feels about appearing on the show during the writers' strike? That's not a dig, because last week in NYC some friends were urging me to shoot for a Colbert appearance (this being the ilk of fantasies you can indulge in NYC), a conversation I couldn't quite imagine but did feel a little shiver in picturing, but then realized, mid-shiver, "What about the union issue?" (And surely for writers a writers' union issue especially counts.) I found the question painful to answer: It would be so tempting to get the book that level of exposure, and it's not like the interview segments are so scripted even under normal circumstances; but if there's a picket line there, I'd have a hard time crossing it.

Alex's new piece about Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood is excellent and reminds me that I'd wanted to mention that experience here after seeing the movie: Not only is the score quite extraordinary in its own right, as Alex says, but it was the first thing almost ever to turn me around several degrees on Radiohead. I've been so fixated over the years on Thom Yorke's voice and songwriting, neither of which click for me, that I missed a whole other aspect of the band's essence. I happened to listen to In Rainbows for the first time only after seeing the film (shocking Internet music guy omission, whatever) and could hear them anew, listening for how the guitarist's musical intuitions might resemble Ennio Morricone levels of smarts as opposed to how far short of a million post-Kraftwerk artists Yorke falls in portraying man-vs-technology themes (and vocally short of anybody similarly lauded in his tonal range from Jimmy Scott to Klaus Nomi to Antony). So count me at last as a partial convert.

In a footnote, mutual-backrubbing thanks to Alex for the shoutout the other day.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, January 31 at 1:50 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

January 29, 2008

The Comeback Kid with a Last-Minute Motion

... well, in the sense that I came back. To town. And then, slowly, to the blog. I have various things to report (Republic of Safety final show! Marc Ribot and Laurie Anderson in New York! new Mountain Goats! new Destroyer! etcetera!) but for now just wanted to give very last-minute notice to those who stumble upon it or are ace RSS flyers that I am reading tonight in the neighbourhood-positive Free Speech series at Tinto, a cafe-bar on Roncesvalles in Toronto, hosted by Johan Hultqvist, lead singer of Afro-beat band Mr. Something Something.

The other readers tonight are writer-actor Amanda Hiebert and the terrific fictioneer Catherine Bush. There'll be music by Michael Holt (ex-Mommyheads, Mushroom, etc). I believe it's doors at 7 pm, and it's pwyc.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 29 at 4:17 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

January 21, 2008

Did Obama Really Touch My Book?
Ask Me in NYC

obamamini.jpg
'If you truly have vision, you can look to the future and see... the end of taste?'
Obama-Wilson rumour mongering hit Facebook this weekend.

This was too weird and funny not to share: I was informed this weekend by a dubiously reliable source, that my book was leafed through briefly on the campaign bus last week by Barack Obama, who made some joke to the effect that it sounded like I felt about Celine the same way he feels about Hillary. It was the Celine/Hillary connection that prompted him to pick it up in the first place, after a campaign volunteer (the guy who told me the story) left it lying around on the bus.

So there. Obviously I'm the future of America. If this guy isn't bullshitting me. And I have two readings in New York this week:

Tuesday Jan 22, 7:30 pm
Word bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This will probably be the more intimate-ish one. Unless word gets out about the free beer. (I'm not kidding.)

Wed, Jan 23, 8 pm (doors 7 pm)
Happy Ending Music and Reading Series.
Hosted by Amanda Stern. With Trinie Dalton (who comes recommended by Dennis Cooper, Aimee Bender and Ben Marcus) and Charles Bock (whose new novel Beautiful Children is endorsed by A. M. Homes and Jonathan Safran Foer) and me (whose book was maybe, possibly, briefly thumbed by Barack Obama). In addition to reading, each of us have to take some kind of "public risk" - doing something we've never done on stage before. (I've figured mine out. I'm nervous.) With music by Luke Temple. It's at 302 Broome St., between Forsythe and Eldridge, in Manhattan. It's highly recommended that you get there early ... apparently the place fills up fast.

Bloggery will be sparse to non till my return next weekend.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, January 21 at 1:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

January 18, 2008

Mirror, Mirror, on the Blogspot,
Tell Me What Reviews I Got

Yes, there's been lots of action this week, what with the posting of the Eye and Idolator polls, but I've been a bit too crazed to comment. Perhaps over the weekend. For now, just a point of information. I've created a new separate site to keep track of events, reviews, interviews and such around the book (what book? look to your left), so that I don't clutter up Zoilus too much with such things. If you're curious about the adventures of me, or still on the fence about reading (or selling, if you happen to be a bookshop) the book, tom-cruise your way over to This Is What We Talk About (When We Talk About Let's Talk About Love) and click your finger off. I'll probably mention upcoming readings here too (such as the two next week in New York) but that'll be the main info hub.

(Later): Btw, The Globe and Mail had a review this weekend (link up on the blogspot but not here as I feel like the review gives a little too much away for people who haven't read the book yet). And Brian Joseph Davis, who DJ'd the launch offers this free download of a track he created for the event that mashes up Celine with Dutch anarcho-punk masters The Ex. He calls it "Celine as a Montreal crusty punk."

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, January 18 at 5:12 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

January 15, 2008

Book-Launch Memories: The Power of The Power of Love

A video of Final Fantasy's performance of Celine Dion's "The Power of Love" at my book launch last Wednesday surfaced on YouTube over the weekend. (If someone has video of the other performers out there, please let me know.) Too bad about the laughing, but that's entirely predictable of course. (See discussion of the "ironic cover" in my book - though this is by no means one, that's what people are trained to expect.) By the second half, ain't nobody laughing.

And here's a first-person account of the event. One small note: I actually said Louis Armstrong, not Ray Charles, as an example of someone whose ability to transcend taste categories seems unquestionable. I'll avoid reading too much into the switch-up: Ray does fine as an example.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 15 at 5:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)

 

News from Nairobi: Extra Golden Need Your Gold

At the IAJE panel on Friday, there was some discussion of the wisdom-or-lack-thereof involved in mixing opinions on current affairs into music blogging - with the general sense being that unless you bring something unique to the topic, it's unwise. The example that came up was commenting on the unrest in Kenya - no reason why some random music writer should start throwing his two bits into that well, we said. So it's kind of ironic that five days later, I actually find myself having cause to bring up Kenya.

The reason is an appeal for help from Alex Minoff and Ian Eagleson, the American members of Extra Golden, on behalf of Opiyo Bilongo, Onyango Wuod Omari and Onyango Jagwasi, their bandmates who live in Kenya. Bilongo, Omari and Jagwasi make their livings as nightclub musicians in Nairobi, but with the current all-night curfews, they've been unable to work. They've also been forced from their homes, which have been looted. Their families have almost no food and no clean water. Minoff and Eagleson are asking for donations of $5 to service@kanyokanyo.com via Paypal.

Extra Golden's mixture of Kenyan benga music (the Kenyan musicians are from a group called Orchestra Extra Solar Africa) with D.C. rock (Minoff is also a member of Weird War, while Eagleson is an ethnomusicologist) goes down beautifully, with much more richness than the African-rock pastiche efforts of certain fashionable bands. Nothing against pastiche, or even against those bands particularly, but it's heartening to hear a more intimately collaborative approach to third-world musics.

Their current predicament is, like many of the stories out of New Orleans in the past few years, a potent reminder that whenever crisis affects a population broadly, you can be sure that it's affecting the art and culture of those people as well; and that, conversely, it's vital not to reduce any place and people to its problems. As Henning Mankell told me for the profile I wrote last year, "the West knows all about how Africans die but next to nothing about how Africans live," from their daily working lives to the nightclubs and dances they attend - except, that is, when there's a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

On a tangent, recalling the Tinariwen discussion here in November, it was at their concert that I learned about the Festival au Desert, which took place in Timbuktu last weekend. My colleague Stephanie Nolen's report from Mali in The Globe and Mail, which follows the experience of a group of Inuit performers there, is very worthwhile.

Likewise, the promo video below for Extra Golden's latest album, Hera Ma Nono, which came out in October.


General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 15 at 1:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

January 13, 2008

Jazz Bloggers at the IAJE:
There's No Arguing With Darcy James


Darcy James Argue's Secret Society North at the IAJE: Photo shoplifted from WBGO.

My busy week (see below) unfortunately coincided with the big IAJE jazz educators (and musicians and labels and critics and promoters - the name's deceptive) conference in Toronto, so I wasn't able to attend much of the proceedings, which included the likes of Courtney Pine curating a UK jazz night, an appearance by Francois Houle, a big Oscar Peterson tribute show this afternoon, etc. (You can catch up on some of it at Ear of the Mind.) But I was booked for one event, a panel on jazz blogging moderated by Chicago's Neil Tesser (Listen Here) and featuring Brooklyn's (but formerly Canada's) Darcy James Argue (Secret Society), Montreal's David Ryshpan (Settled in Shipping), New York's David Adler (Lerterland) and me. (Jason Crane (The Jazz Session) had to back out as he had been transferred rather suddenly from Rochester, NY, to Saratoga Springs, NY, by the union he works for, and he was moving.)

The tone of the panel was a little bumpy because Neil didn't know much about blogs and presented himself as a sceptic - going so far as to read a scoffing article from The Onion (gosh, The Onion... remember?) - and came at it rather heavily from a "don't blogs suck and does anybody actually read them?" pov. He said that he'd often been asked to start a blog and never understood why. However, this proved somewhat useful, because it seemed a fair guess that Neil's attitude was representative of what most middle-aged jazz guys feel about blogs, and so the rest of us built our case for the usefulness of blogs (and the Internet in general) as venues for the popularization, community-building, reconsideration and renewal of jazz. Jazz blogging now strikes me as very reminiscent of music blogs in general four or five years ago - tightly knit, very well informed, not beset with next-new-thing fever, and highly discursive. That's lovely, but there's tons more knowledgeable people out there who aren't making use of the medium - part of why jazz folks get so frustrated with their lack of press (and lack of quality press especially - see Ken Vandermark's many rants on the subject, for example) is that they are still focused on press, and we all know that's a smaller part of how information and ideas are circulated today. (Though I always say that with mixed feelings, as a lover of and creature of print.)

Darcy made the point that every local jazz scene could use at least one highly active blogger to help track, critique and spread the word about a sadly overlooked sphere. He also responded inspiringly to one audience member's question about how blogs can promote the "appreciation of jazz" - we should start, he said, by getting rid of the whole concept of appreciation, of treating jazz music like a series of monuments that need to be venerated and revered at a distance: "I don't 'appreciate' Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, man, I fucking love them!" And I made the point that it's this personal tone that bloggers are able to strike, and the intimacy of their relationships (and conversations) with readers, that give them some power to make readers find things accessible that they might otherwise keep at a distance. (Of course Destination Out came up as the shining example.) We won Neil over - he said at the end that he was convinced and that he'd think seriously about starting blogging.

Zoilus is by no means a "jazz blog," of course, but jazz and especially local improvised music are a fairly frequent topic here (though a bit less often lately). I was happy to be invited and to point out to the jazz cats that when this music can be discussed in the same forums and in the same tone someone uses to talk about pop and indie music, for instance, there's an opportunity to foster new audiences. I had a great conversation later in the day with Tatsuya Koeda from Now Forward (a promotions company in NYC) about the idea that for musicians and listeners alike, genres are less and less a barrier - not only because of the Internet but because of multiculturalism and much else, everyone's ears are getting bigger (debatably, shallower too, but that's another question).

Our conversation in itself demonstrated the point: With a couple of other people, we began from talking about the shifts in jazz venues in Toronto and a little while later I was being asked whether I ranked Spoon on my Top 10 last year and about Broken Social Scene playing at a NYC swimming pool last summer. Young jazz pianists are covering Bjork and Radiohead (in large numbers) and Black Sabbath (okay, that's only The Bad Plus) and picking up rhythms from hip-hop as Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp do. I know from many personal experiences that plenty of young rock musicians are venerating not only Ornette and Coltrane, as they've long done, but Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich and Tinariwen and Konono No. 1, too. That's not the future. That's the present. Genre will never disappear, as it's a social epiphenomenon and a necessity for interpreting and interrelating musics and a way of keeping shit organized in our heads, but in the 21st century it's not going to be as dominant (and oppressive) as it was in the last.

As it turned out, the concert that night at the Tranzac by Darcy's Secret Society North band (the core of his 17? 18?-piece New York ensemble along with a pack of great Canadian players stepping in as, er, pitch hitters) was one of the most galvanizing illustrations of that development I've witnessed in a long time. While I've read and traded links with Darcy for a long while, I hadn't taken the time to listen to his music. So what I (and a substantial crowd of IAJE attendees and local musicians) got at the Tranzac came as a wonderful surprise. Fluidly and expressively conducting this "steam punk" big band (horns, reeds, drums, electric guitar and bass, Rhodes piano), Darcy rolled out one after another his incredibly smart, complicated, beautiful, firey and funky compositions. (In the lineage of, but distinct from, the writing and arranging of his teacher Bob Brookmeyer - see Ben Ratliff's profile in The New York Times.)

I told people afterwards that it was like hearing Duke Ellington and minimalism and Tortoise and Funkadelic and Elliott Carter and much else besides melding into one floating, shifting, dodging music, often with political themes (one piece was dedicated to Maher Arar), sometimes with Escher-like overlaps and spirals. I didn't take notes so I can't be more specific (though there were standout moments from saxophonists Christine Jensen and Chet Doxas [whose trio opened], trumpeters Ingrid Jensen and my mistake, sorry Jason Logue [who was subbing in for Lina Allemano, who unfortunately fell ill], trombonist Barb Hamilton, guitarist Sebastian Noelle, pianist Dave Restivo Gord Webster and drummer Jon Wikan, among others). But in short, this is music for people who fuckin' love music. This skinny, scruffy young Brooklyn dude's got it and he knows just what to do with it.

You can hear a sample of the band's other IAJE appearance at WBGO.

General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, January 13 at 12:56 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

January 10, 2008

X to The Power of Love


Me with "Celine" (Laura Landauer) and, right, Final Fantasy playing "The Power of Love" last night at the very-Gladstone in Toronto. Photos by Chris Reed and If You Want to Sing Out.

I can't begin to tell you how asskickingly last night's launch for the book went. Kay arr eh zee why!

There was a zillion jillion people there (sorry to everybody who got turned away!);
Laura Landauer took everybody to Celine-imitation college;
Laura Barrett made Celine's dancehall-reggae bumper "Treat Her Like a Lady" into a wistful folkie plea and also covered Weird Al;
Steve Kado aka The Blankket covered the history of anglo-Canadian colonialism and Quebec class structure and the complexity of Celine as cultural object, told us "talking is the new music - go home and post some talking on your blogs," used host Misha Glouberman as an exquisitely baffled foil, and then turned "This Time" (the domestic-abuse number on the new Celine disc Taking Chances) into a Bauhaus-worthy goth dirge, utterly polarizing the audience between those who did and those who didn't know the meaning of "awesome";
Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy quoted Celine to the effect that when you perform you are naked and "when you are naked you suffer" then went on to prove that "The Power of Love" is a quantum-leap more beautiful song than even Celine fans ever realized and to generate more Vegas-sized metal-on-estrogen bombast with just voice and violin than has ever been accomplished in the history of sound;
and finally Mark Kingwell expertly conducted a conversation that made me sound a lot smarter than I really am.
Misha was the definitive host and Brian Joseph Davis (who is trying to cop Misha's steez) was dapper on the digital decks.
We sold a whole lot of books. (I know 'cuz I had to sign them all.) I wore the nicest suit I've ever worn and brand new shoes. And I think aside from the overheating the crowding caused, people had fun. Thanks to the Gladstone, Pages and all who attended.
It made my life.

Could I plead that anybody who made recordings, videos and pictures last night send me copies or links? (I already know there's an MP3 out there of Owen's performance, which I'll post tomorrow.)

By the way, there's an interview with me about the book today in British Columbia's The Tyee.

And tomorrow (Friday), I am actually going to talk about something other than Celine Dion for once, in a panel in the IAJE jazz conference - about jazz and blogging, at 3 pm at the in Room 206 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with a bunch of smart jazz-blog cookies.

PS Clearly the revolution's not yet complete.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, January 10 at 8:03 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

January 8, 2008

Ghosting the Gramophone

The terrific trio who write my favourite mp3 blog, Said the Gramophone, are doing a series this week in response to Let's Talk About Love - they're doing a little bit of personal archaeology, examining the pre-history of their own tastes - taking up the notion of the "taste biography" that I propose early in LTAL. Dan started yesterday with a confession that his tastes began from the urge to explore the forbidden (parental-advisory stickers were his totems); today, by contrast, Sean gives a very honest and self-effacing account of his teenage addiction to sad songs and dismissal of angry ones as shallow and "mean" - while fun songs, songs to dance to, were completely out of the question. Tomorrow, Jordan completes the trilogy. And of course they all give you music to listen to as you read, because that's how StG rolls. I'll respond to their thoughts in more detail later in the week - after my book launch, which happens tomorrow.

Speaking of book events, by the way, I should tell New York-area readers that I'm appearing in the Happy Ending reading series there in two weeks, Wed Jan 23. There will probably be a couple of other events while I'm there.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, January 08 at 3:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

January 7, 2008

2007 Eye Poll Ballot

For the record, because my Idolator ballot was hasty and off, my Eye critics' poll ballot. Most immediately regretted: Spoon ("You Got Yr Cherry Bomb"), Joel Plaskett Emergency (either "Fashionable People" or "Nothing More to Say"), Aly & AJ ("Potential Breakup Song"), LCD Soundsystem ("North American Scum"), UGK & Outkast ("international Players' Anthem"), Burial ("Archangel"), The New Pornographers ("Myriad Harbour" but also "Challengers" and "The Spirit of Giving") and The Weakerthans ("Civil Twilight") would ideally all be in the singles list. And maybe Bettye Lavette (Scene of the Crime) in albums. (Not to mention all the albums I didn't get it together to hear in '07, eg Robert Wyatt's Comicopera or Britney's and UGK's full records, etc.)

BEST ALBUMS
1. Sandro Perri, Tiny Mirrors (Constellation)
2. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter 3 Sessions (mixtape)
3. Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover (Jagjaguwar/Absolutely Kosher)
4. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (DFA)
5. Frog Eyes, Tears of the Valedictorian (Scratch/Absolutely Kosher)
6. Tinariwen, Aman Iman/Water Is Life (Harmonia Mundi)
7. Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (Dead Oceans)
8. Christine Fellows, Nevertheless (Six Shooter Records)
9. Deerhoof, Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars/5RC)
10. Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey)

BEST SINGLES
1. Battles, "Atlas" (Warp)
2. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab" (Island/Universal)
3. Feist, "1 2 3 4" (Arts & Crafts)
4. Rihanna,feat Jay-Z, "Umbrella" (Def Jam/Universal)
5. Yo Majesty, "Club Action" (independent) (came out in 2006 but didn't really get heard, including by me, till sxsw '07)
6. Britney Spears, "Piece of Me" (BMG)
7. Brad Paisley, "Ticks" (BMG)
8. Fucked Up, "Year of the Pig" (What's Your Rupture)
9. MIA, "Bird Flu" (XL)
10. Grinderman, "No Pussy Blues" (Anti)

BEST DOWNLOADS
1. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3
2. The Mountain Goats, "From TG&Y;"
3. DJ Erb, "Ecstasy of Gold (Nas vs. Ennio Morricone)" (close runner-ups, ABX, "I'm a Flirt (Shoreline) (R Kelly vs Broken Social Scene"; "Leave Britney Alone"; Souljah Boy, "Crank That"; the complete Daytrotter Sessions)

REISSUES
1. The Very Best of Ethiopiques (Buda Musique)
2. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth (Domino)
3. Brian Joseph Davis, The Definitive Host (Blocks)

MOST OVERRATED OF 2007 (BY ME)
Celine Dion

DESTINED FOR GREATNESS IN 2008
1. Kardinal
2. Cadence Weapon

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, January 07 at 7:42 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

January 2, 2008

Albums That Deserved More
of Your (and My) Lurve in '07


Elizabeth Cook: "Sometimes it takes balls to be a woman."

As I've mentioned more than once, this is an odd year-end for me, because I essentially checked out of the following-new-releases game in about May and didn't fully check back in until about a week ago. Funny thing is that writing a book that rails here and there against the year-end-list-centrism of music criticism actually had the result of making those year-end lists very useful to me in getting caught up (some more than others) (not that some blog lists aren't great, but the 'sphere is prey to the usual "why is The National number 8 not number 1" nonsense). The whole obligation to "keep up" as a critic, the constant radar sweep, can be wearing, and when I finished the manuscript, I wasn't eager to jump back on the audition-and-evaluate merry-go-round I'd just spent months critiquing. (I still feel deeply ambivalent about the task.) My Idolator poll ballot, as I've mentioned, was the most perfunctory treatment I've ever given that kind of task. My enjoyment of other people's lists and polls and such has reminded me of the fun and usefulness of the process, so I'll be a tad more conscientious with my Eye poll ballot, realizing that the beauty-contest (or cool-contest) aspect is balanced by the utility to listeners who might have had other things on their minds (i.e., their lives) through the year.

However, there were some discs from this year that so far I haven't seen too widely touted - likely because people didn't hear them, for which I must take some blame: all my toils in the fields of meta-criticism not only distracted me from hearing much new music, it prevented me from writing about a lot of what I did hear. There's more than I note in this list (I omit records I've already written about such as Frog Eyes and Christine Fellows; I've barely begun to catch up on country and hip-hop, let alone chart pop - to see what this Ashley Tisdale fever is all about, for instance) but it's a start.

Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash. Like its honoree, a modest but sentimentally potent collection that cares for tradition, home truths and family, but has the guts to kick up its heels too. With Loretta Lynn, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Brad Paisley, Billy Joe Shaver, Patty Loveless and Kris Kristofferson (dueting), Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris in tow, you can forgive the Billy Bob Thornton cameo. The mystery of why Sheryl Crow (singing here with Willie Nelson) is on every tribute record ever made persists, but at least we are spared Bono.

Apostle of Hustle, National Anthem of Nowhere (Arts & Crafts). In general, regular readers know that I'm not a huge fan of the Broken Social Scene scene, but this record is getting neglected because it came out too long ago - February - and to me AoH is more satisfying than anything else that milieu produced, including Kevin Drew's recent overflattered disc. The Brazilian influence serves to discipline the Toronto loosey-gooseyness, and the subject-centric writing (songs for Jimmy Scott, for Victor Jara) and unshyness about pop hooks flatter the players. No masterpiece, but something I'm always glad to hear, especially the New Order-meets-Tropicalia title track.

Baby Elephant, Turn My Teeth Up (Godforsaken Music). A Prince Paul-produced disc, featuring Bernie Worrell and George Clinton and Nona Hendryx and Yellowman, this recalls the whimsy of the Handsome Boy Modeling School rekkids that critics adored a few years ago, but is actually musically more potent and weird. Uneven, of course, but so were the HBMS discs. Could it be the absence of rock crossover nods that kept it in shadow? That it wasn't named after, um, most rock critics? Turn My Teeth Up is among my favourite album titles of the year at the least.

Bishop Allen, The Broken String (Dead Oceans). They're certainly a longtime talked-up blogband, and partake in the literary-tasteful aesthetic there was, oh, a minor tiff over this year, but I found myself immensely impressed with the songwriting and performances on BA's second full-length. I think the reason lies in an exercise they went through that was at once very web2.0 and very old fashioned: In 2006, they put out an EP every month. The songs here are mainly rerecordings of those tunes, and the honing and reworking shows, the way it did when a combo, for instance, made a recording of music they'd been workshopping through months of regular residencies in clubs in the jazz era. It's not just the time invested but the time working it out in public, with the pressure on, that helps turn the raw materials to jewels. Pedantry aside, the songs are tuneful, charming, sceptical but not cynical - mumblecore that's figured out what it has to say.

The Blankket, Be Your Own Boss EP and the rest of the year's output from Blocks Recording Club. The international mini-fame of Final Fantasy doesn't quite seem to have clued the Arcade Fire-distracted hordes into the importance of Owen Pallett's base in this Toronto music collective to his aesthetic. I was surprised to see so many strong releases from Blocks this year go unremarked much beyond local precincts. In particular, Steve Kado's The Blankket (which did tour in Europe this year) hit the nail on the zeitgeist with his Be Your Own Boss Bruce Springsteen electro-sincerity covers project, before all the survey articles about Broooce's influence on the AF, the Hold Steady and the collective unconscious began to appear. BYOB presents Springsteen as both a chronicler of and tragically a creature of the effects of late capitalism on emotional life, with a raw but incredibly charming and funny use of electronics, guitars and extreme dynamic shifts, finding that sweet spot between tribute and satire where music can evoke the feeling of critical thought. (The Blankket's next project is about Theodor Adorno.) Also slept on from Blocks were The Phonemes' lovely, melodious and surreal (and often compulsively singable) tunes on There's Something We've Been Meaning to Do; the uneven but often mesmerizing, mostly instrumental, Afropop-and-Arthur-Russell-inflected loop-a-thons of A Sparrow! A Sparrow! by Nifty (who is the gifted musician Matt Smith, formerly in Les Mouches with Owen Pallett); the mordantly funny doom-folk of Tradition; and the multiple-Internet-meme-spawning, Arthur columnist and pop-culture-mashing author Brian Joseph Davis, whose audio works were collected into a lovely package called The Definitive Host (including 10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played and Greatest Hit - which combines all the songs on greatest-hits albums by the likes of Whitney Houston and the Carpenters into single tracks - and the new Eula, in which Sony's interweb-infamous End User License Agreement is turned into a choral love song). Why wasn't it beblogged everywhere? We know: It's because the internets don't like to think about more than one idea at a time. (Full disclosure here: most of these people are, to one degree or another, friends of mine - but mainly because of how much their work's meant to me, not the other way around.)

David Buchbinder, Odessa/Havana (Tzadik). The leader of Toronto's radical-Jewish-culture pioneers The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band finally gets his moment in the Tzadik sun, with an audacious cross of two local strongholds, Cuban and klezmer music, and the blend is an unfussy joy. It's only radical in its casualness about connecting two red-diaper musics and its utter multicultural confidence. The international jazz crits should be all over this one, but so far, they've been preferring Ned Rothenberg's lovely but more standard-Tzadik-issue Inner Diaspora; this Tzadik party-music record deserves to be bigger news.

Neil Cleary, I Was Thinking of You the Whole Time. (ind.) This isn't as memorable as Cleary's last disc, 2003's Numbers Add Up, one of my favourites of that year, mainly because the theme is more conventional: That record was more about growing up in (and out of) a scene, whereas these are all songs of romance and betrayal, but his ear for a hook, a play on words, a bitter twist, a storyline, remains robust. Fans of Fountains of Wayne and likewise power-pop polish should be cocking an ear (double-entendre intended) at this angle. And it includes one genuine meta-pop masterpiece, "I Once Knew A Girl (Norwegian Fuck)," that tells a story almost anyone can identify with, of an ambivalence stupidly maintained in defense against something genuine, until that truth was lost; part of its method is parodying the glib doubletalk of John Lennon's original. ("I once knew a girl, or should I say/ we used to fuck./ We were pretty good friends, but in the end/ not good enough.") But nearly every song has at least a line that cuts to the quick. A bit like a Gen X Nick Lowe.

Elizabeth Cook, Balls (31 Tigers). Featuring a title track that updates Tammy Wynette with the notion that "Sometimes it takes balls to be a woman," an opening cut that features a jaw harp and slags on Britney Spears, a Velvet Underground cover (okay, granted, it's Sunday Morning), and Cook's saucy-twangy but rich vocals, this Loretta-for-the-21st century merits a share of the enthusiasm that's been afforded Miranda Lambert, Gretchen Wilson and (thank goodness, in a few quarters lately) Kelly Willis.

Deep Dark United, Look At/Look Out (Rat-Drifting). Last year, Alex Lukashevsky's solo disc Connexions would have been a leading contender for this kind of tally; this year it's the Toronto singer-songwriter's latest and best disc (recorded live at the Tranzac) with his longtime half-improvising band DDU, featuring altoist Brodie West, pianist Tania Gill, drummer Nick Fraser and the underwater-wooshy tones of Ryan Driver's synthesizer (also heard on Sandro Perri's Tiny Mirrors, which for the second time in 24 hours I'll mention was my favourite record this year). On Connexions we were plugged directly into the deep-sea strangeness of Lukashevsky's proudly perverse unconscious; it's much the same with DDU, but with funkier, multihued, electric fish constantly swimming by. (David Dacks had a nice appreciation recently.) On a side note - Rat-Drifting pickings were slim this year; just DDU and The Reveries' live album made in Bologna; I hope the latter band gets some of its tribute projects done in 2008 (Sade! Sade!), that Driver gets his solo disc out, among other potential wandering-rodent mind-melters.

Exploding Star Orchestra, We're All From Somewhere Else. (Thrill Jockey) I've just caught up with this one via the jazz lists, but haven't noticed it on more cross-genre surveys. With its science-fiction-big-band concept, PanAmerican/PanAfrican gestures, spoken-word smatterings and a title that recalls the quote "we all came from nowhere here, why can't we go somewhere there?", the quick tag that comes to mind is "Sun Ra for the 21st Century," but convener Rob Mazurek (of the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio, and leading candidate for that city's jazz scene's MVP of the decade, even though he now mostly lives in Rio) says he also had in mind the likes of Robert Ashley, Georgy Ligeti, Luc Ferrari, Stan Brakhage and Stanislaw Lem. More importantly, he has an amazing band, with star turns by flautist Nicole Mitchell (arguably Chicago's most important recent contribution to the music), the Tortoise posse on percussion, horn player Corey Wilkes and many more. The aim is, Mazurek writes, "to project a one-piece unit's sound into the atmosphere while retaining personality within that frame, in order to imagine the possibility of a non-border/non-restrictive world in which we can live full creative lives without the stress and absurdity of war and separation..." Perhaps 2007's most satisfying hunk of sonic utopianism, then.

David Grubbs and Susan Howe, Souls of the Labadie Tract. (Blue Chopsticks). The second collaboration between the Louisville-bred musician and sound artist and the Buffalo-based poet is an eerie, meditative journey into the irretrievability of the past and some of its utopianisms. Having seen Howe read from this new poem on her recent Toronto visit gave me a bit more entree into the recording, on which Grubbs provides backing with electronics and Laotian mouth organs called khaen that sound alternately like a harmonium and a buzzsaw; it's a sparse, word-centric record that requires more concentration than their last duo, Thieft, which was more collage-like, but it rewards it.

Heartbreak Scene, The Szabo Songbook (Fayettenam Records). I want to write about this at greater length, but this tribute to obscure Vancouver songwriterRob Mark Szabo, with the participation of the Heartbreak Scene's Marcy Emery and Mark Kleiner as well as various New Pornographers including Zoilus stalking-object Dan (Destroyer) Bejar, got almost no nods this year except this flicker of interest from Stereogum. Given that a whole record label was inspired by the project, the dead-accurate liner notes ("these twists and angles aren't - to use a word that needs to be purged from the rock-critical lexicon ASAP - quirks, but part of their deep structure, in full interplay with the songs' narrative and emotional heft") are by Franklin Bruno (Nothing Painted Blue, the Human Hearts - whose disc would've been on the 2006 version of this list, and whose singles catalogue is the next project for Fayettenam), and it comes with a John Darnielle endorsement... you would have thought some notice would be paid. But no. Is it because the songs don't live up to the hype? No, it is because the songs are too grown-up, neither settled-down middle-aged nor all-vistas-open youth-angsty, but Cassavetesian-realistic films turned to pop music, and there's not that much room for that much honesty. One of the three or four records this year I'd put on anytime, anywhere. Perhaps that says something about my year.

His Name Is Alive, Sweet Earth Flying. (High Two) I came across this one this week on jazz lists as well, as it's a tribute to the under-known saxophone player Marion Brown. Warren Defever of HNIA has been flirting with jazz for years now but this marks full immersion (much as his R&B; infatuation became full-blown in the early part of the decade). I haven't heard enough to assess it yet, but enough to say it's substantial - reverent, atmospheric, captivating. I was also surprised not to hear more in year-end lists about HNIA's other cd this year, Xmmer (which I've yet to pick up), after the attention paid last year's great Detrola, but perhaps Defever's consistent strength has him taken for granted.

Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul (Numero Group). This did get widely reviewed when it came out and I was looking the other direction, but in case you missed it, too: 17 tracks by other groups of kids doing what the Jackson 5 did (both predecessors and imitators) but who didn't make it big - a genre the compilers describe as "so deep and wide that it might be impossible to exhaust it." Need I say more? Clearly I need to delve further into the beautifully assembled catalogue of the Numero Group.

Bettye Lavette, Scene of the Crime (Anti). I'm not arguing that this is a historically great album, but it's superior to the previous Lavette-comeback albums both in performance (the all-ladies-songs album was better in intention than results) and songwriting, but most of all in the studio support she gets from the Drive-By Truckers, a band that's able to match her own ferocity and suppleness. In a year when "retro-soul" was the big tale, this should have gotten more of a shake.

Joelle Leandre & Kevin Norton, Winter in New York, 2006. (Leo Records) I got a big package of Leo recordings this fall, including several new Anthony Braxton records (which if I'd had time to absorb them at all, would be on this list), but the one that I reached for first was this disc, because French double-bassist Leandre is among my favourite musicians anywhere, seemingly incapable of playing a dull note. She certainly doesn't in this collaboration with percussionist Norton. Knotty, chiming, combative, but also swinging, almost rocking at times.

The Luyas, Faker Death (Pome Records). A critics' favourite in eastern Canada, but not yet adopted by many fans (I was startled how thin the crowd for them was at Pop Montreal), the Luyas are natural-rock-star Jesse Stein (guitar, voice, ex-SS Cardiacs) and Stefan Schneider (percussion) and Pietro Amato (French horn) of Bell Orchestre (Amato is also of Torngat, whose You Could Be album of geometric pop-chambre-jazz deserves mention here). Stein's songs have evolved since SS Cardiacs, where they were somewhat simplified-Spinanes confessionals, into Alice-in-Nightmareland dream monologues that rock out at the parable points, and the way that Amato and Schneider's more abstract colourations tinge and shade her stripped-down folk-rock structures makes the songs twice as mobile and complex (and probably less popular). This record hasn't quite gelled, I'd venture, and if they can stay together for another it promises to be a real killer. (One senses the depressive undertow of the songs pulling the recording apart digit by digit.) Still, I was genuinely surprised the woozy-hooky lead track, Flickering Lights (Will Likely Fail You) didn't become an MP3-blog hit this year.

So-Called, Ghettoblaster (JDub). Why didn't people swarm this vaudevillian accordion-player/hip-hop head's record featuring James Brown sideman Fred Wesley, NYC kool-klezmer figures Frank London and David Krakauer, theatre legend Theodor Bikel, Wu-Tang's Killah Priest, Feist sideman Gonzales, backpacker C-Rayz Walz, and Bagels and Bongos cult object Irving Fields? Well, I suppose that question is its own answer, but if "miscegenation" is the issue, this Montreal-based brat's record is the giddiest leap for it you could ask. Does it all work? Of course not. But every time I put it on, I want to get it on and keep it on. If this list were ranked it would go Top 10, just in discrepancy between potential appeal and realization.

Linda Thompson, Versatile Heart (Rounder). Full of tiny gossipy points for those of us who follow Thompson-Wainwright clan dramas, this is the most relaxed and fluid vocally of her post-comeback albums, and among the prettiest folk records of the year. The woman has a gravitas and flexibility that is hard to equal - it makes one look forward to what Joanne Newsom will sound like when she is 60. It includes the best Anthony (as in & the Johnsons) duet ever, on a song by Rufus Wainwright, who came back into his own in '07 too.

Venetian Snares, My Downfall (Original Soundtrack) (Planet Mu). In which Winnipeg's Mr. Aaron Funk presents a more digestible, less forbidding orchestral sound that's as hard to resist as his many breakcore masterpieces. The downfall in question (there is no film for it to soundtrack) could be romantic, erotic, moral or theological, but it leaves a very pretty mess.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, January 02 at 11:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)

 

Kiss My Lips & Twist My List

... Speaking of year-end, this may or may not be an actual new blog, rather than a randomly deployed blogspot page, but it's a place where you can read what a few T-dot notables were pouring into their earholes in ought-seven, among them the maker of my number-one record of the year, Sandro Perri, along with Wes Allen (Doing It To Death dj), Louis Calabro (Goin' Steady/End of the Internet), David Dacks (Abstract Index radioshow), Minesh Mandoda (Ghostlight), Andrew Zuckerman (Gastric Female Reflex), Craig Dunsmuir, Wolfgang Nessel (Blood Honey), etc.

(Since I haven't posted anything very Torontocentric for a bit...)

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, January 02 at 7:20 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

A New Year Has Come...

... but for me, many things remain the same, namely that I spend odd amounts of time discussing Celine Dion. So it's always nice when YouTube steps in to help. This was patched together by someone (later: er, excuse me, by FourFour, who's read the book) out of the A New Day DVD, the five-hour document of her Las Vegas run, which is selling briskly. (In Canada, it almost instantly became the bestselling music DVD ever.)

Meanwhile, I'll be on WNYC's Soundcheck tomorrow at around 2 pm (EST) to talk about Celine, criticism and taste, as a little bit of post-end-of-year-listmaking hangover cure. (More on all those lists later in the week, by the way.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, January 02 at 6:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson