by carl wilson

February 28, 2008

Canadian Music Peek

Just so you know, complete CMW listings are now up on the Gig Guide, with Zoilusian recommendatinos. (That was a typo but I like it.)

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 28 at 11:34 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


February 27, 2008

Encore un verre, une cigarette...

Jane Birkin played Toronto for the first time ever on Monday night and I reviewed it in today's paper. The headline makes it sound like I dislike Birkin's voice, which isn't true. I actually think it's very pretty, just not very strong.

Plenty of other things to get to soon.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 27 at 4:57 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


February 20, 2008

Sympathy with Queen and Portland

Photo by JL1967 via Torontoist.

It's all been bad news the past couple of days: Zoilus wants to express sympathy and horror for all those affected by the enormous fire last night on Queen St. in Toronto, on the south side block east of Bathurst - including art-and-cult-film haven Suspect Video, music store Cosmos Records (often described as the best used vinyl shop in Toronto), stereo shop National Sound, clothing store Preloved, bike shop Duke's (which dated back to 1914!), and all the other businesses and the tenants who lived above them. Besides the losses of property, it's a blow to the character of Queen St., already pretty much erased further east on the strip by chain stores, etc. Whatever the cause (theories being thrown about range from "meth lab blew up" to "developers torched 'em" to plain old "firetraps will be firetraps"), the result seems inevitable, that the area - and thus, on some level, life in downtown Toronto - will never be the same. Best luck, neighbours.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 20 at 2:26 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


'Blasting open an escape hatch
to flee a culture we despised':
RIP Jim Jones, 1950-2008

February's such a bitch.

As a member of Pere Ubu from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, Jim Jones played the guitar like a magnifying glass: when he bore down on a riff, it seemed to expand and expand as he zeroed in, to grow bigger and hotter - though not necessarily louder - until it climaxed in a burst of flame. Jones's first band in the 70s Cleveland scene was the Mirrors, later the Styrenes, and he also played with ex-Ubu members in the excellent Home & Garden and his own band the Easter Monkeys, as well as serving the music world as a record clerk, Ubu roadie and studio engineer.

He died at home of a heart attack on Monday, after a decade or so of health problems. The Cleveland Scene has a touching remembrance of Jones as a musician and friend, and here is a 1996 interview with Jones by John Eric Smith.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 20 at 2:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


February 19, 2008

When We Talk About ...

Since I haven't mentioned it for awhile, I'll quickly remind you of my other site, which keeps track of reviews, readings, interviews and online talk about my book (see left). Among new items there: I'm reading as part of the Box Salon at the Rivoli in Toronto on Thursday night, and there are new reviews and interviews by Alex Ross, the Chicago Sun-Times's Jim Emerson, Crawdaddy magazine and The Washington Post's "Express" edition. (An interview in the Onion's AV Club should be going up later this week, too.) Links all up on the other blog.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 19 at 7:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Passages: Robbe-Grillet, Val Ross

The music has gradually faded and here and there a word can be heard emerging from a chance phrase, such as: ... "unbelievable" ... "murder" .... "actor" .... "lying" ... "had to" ..."you're not" ... "it was a long time ago"... "tomorrow."
- L'annee derniere a Marienbad

I've been so distracted by the Castro story that I forgot until mid-afternoon about seeing a note on the CNN crawl late last night that Alain Robbe-Grillet had died. Today, Robbe-Grillet is obituarized by a Guardian obituarist who is himself already dead. (Look at the note at the end.) This seems incredibly fitting; it lends an extra layer of distance, a sense of objectivity. Le nouvel roman est mort, vive le nouvel roman. (Later: Ugh, nouveau roman, I shoulda said.)

As well, I want to note the death over the weekend of my colleague at The Globe and Mail, Val Ross, best known as the paper's reporter on literature and publishing in the '80s and '90s, and generally as a culture writer. Val had an extraordinary vitality, sharpness and humour, and a deep commitment to Canadian culture that will be missed at the paper. More personally, I will remember her as the most encouraging and enthusiastic person I met when I arrived at The Globe, someone who never failed to comment on one's latest article, who radiated warm fellow-feeling and an appreciation not only for culture and thought but for plain existence. At 57, she leaves us much too soon, but even my small acquaintance with her assures me those were 57 years fully lived, and that is a lesson to remember.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 19 at 4:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


February 18, 2008

May the Most Uncanny Candidate Win

In the belief that all real political struggles are finally settled in the imaginary, Zoilus's dear friend, Toronto author Sheila Heti, has put up two blogs to gather the subconscious droppings of the current Democratic nomination contest: I Dream of Hillary and I Dream of Barack, where she is posting submitted dreams about the two frontrunners. To my surprise, given which one is running more as the "dream candidate," thus far Hillary is ahead 14 dreams to 11. What does this augur? Perhaps that the Clintons have insinuated themselves further into our collective repressed desires, having had a longer linger, even among those who consciously support the fresher face? Will this mean many compulsive Freudian slips of the lever/pencil/chad/touch-screen in upcoming primaries, as people walk dazedly out of the confessional voting booth thinking, "Wow, I really thought I meant to vote Obama?"

Barack supporters are encouraged to put dream journals by their bedsides and even up the score.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 18 at 9:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


February 17, 2008

Goodnight, Willie P

Now we would all like to close our eyes
And lick the snow as it goes by
Feel it in our faces, hold a hand full of aces
And be the winner when it comes time for us to die

- "Me and Molly," by Willie P Bennett, 1951-2008

I was shocked and saddened to read the news tonight that Willie P. Bennett has passed away at the much too early age of 56. Bennett was a beloved mainstay of the Canadian folk-music circuit - I first saw him in festivals like Hamilton's Festival of Friends when I was a teenager - and a respected songwriter, paid frequent tribute by his peers, notably by the group Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (named for one of the Bennett songs they covered), but many others as well. I most often got to see Bennett play guitar and harmonica as a member of Fred Eaglesmith's band, where he was always a dynamic but (in contrast to the frontman's brash energy) modest presence. Bennett suffered a heart attack last year, and despite many optimistic predictions for his full recovery, it apparently wasn't to be. Those who want to write to his family can find addresses on Bennett's website. My deepest sympathies and best wishes to the people coping with this very sad loss.

General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, February 17 at 11:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


February 11, 2008

Clearly I've fucked up:
Vampire Weekend,

Seems if I wanted to write a book about why people like the music they like and dislike the music they dislike (as my spiel goes), I should have waited a year and written a book about Vampire Weekend. Christgau's take is of course worth reading, though less for its dissection of the sloppiness of writers' Afro-pop references (not to mention the band's own), though that's a point well taken, than for its argument that what V.W. and African music have in common is that they'll be "a hard sell to the young" because the music sounds too happy for young people to take seriously. (For happy, read cheesy and for cheesy read sentimental and for sentimental, read chapter 10 of my book, "Let's Do a Punk Cover of 'My Heart Will Go On,' or, Let's Talk About Our Feelings.") (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Still, I can't help continuing to feel that cheerful songs set at cottages in Cape Cod and cheerful songs set in African shantytowns will have significant divergences of affect however much they intersect. Which raises an envy factor that is perhaps underdiscussed as an aspect of musical reception?

(Meanwhile, "Media Guy" at Advertising Age comes at Vampire Weekend this way: "In certain circles these days, liking or hating is less and less about liking or hating a specific phenomenon (e.g., a band or a movie or a politician) but about whether or not you like or hate the people who like or hate that phenomenon." Again, this is the subject of much of the book, with the caveat that it's much more common than "in certain circles" and has a lot longer legs than "these days.")

Xgau also points to an excellent post by Eric at Marathonpacks, who questions whether what V.W. is referencing is in fact African music at all, but rather western pop that's influenced by Afropop, eg Graceland of course and "Peter Gabriel, too," which for people V.W.'s age and presumed demographic would be music they associate with their parents back when said parents were yuppies. Where I part company with Eric is at his suggestion that the reference is therefore hostile/critical - if V.W. don't realize Graceland is a few floors above them in the tower of song, they're kidding themselves - but I certainly agree that V.W. knows what issues their "appropriations" raises and is doing it on purpose, with all the Louis Vuitton-reggaeton-Bennetton-PeterGabrieltoo verbiage. Whether they're doing it with all that much purpose is a question I'll take more slowly, and would prefer to think about with a more fully baked album than the one they've put out. By which time, if these little omnivores are as smart as they seem to be (but no smarter), V.W. will probably have moved onto something else.

V.W. is playing in Toronto tonight, but as I'll be busy at the door at Trampoline Hall, I can't make it, unfortunately - I'd like to see how they come across.

I was going to write here last week about the "Yes We Can" song/video, which knocked me out when I first listened to it, and its connections with speech-based composition in other genres, notably the work of Steve Reich, but John took care of that. I'd only add that Reich's use of this technique goes back further than Different Trains, to It's Gonna Rain, and give you a little visual aid: This is part of an ITV documentary about Reich. The section about It's Gonna Rain (an obvious influence on work like Byrne & Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [heh, speaking of cultural appropriation...]) begins around 2:20. Btw, I have agonized over how to make use of the stupid portmanteau " Reich" but came up dry so I just put it in the headline. Me not soon join staff of Teh Onionz.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 11 at 5:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (15)


February 10, 2008

Dis-concerted: Live Notes -
Keren Ann, Dean and Britta, Baby Dee

Ever mystified by the capricious ways of the Mod Club, I took the 7 pm door time as a signal that 8 would be an opportune time to arrive to catch the beginning of the music at tonight's Keren Ann/Dean and Britta show; further, I had the impression from publicity that Keren Ann was headlining, as counterintuitive as that seemed. Wrong on both counts, and as a result, I only caught the last 20 minutes or so of Keren Ann's set. I was taken with her first album Not Going Anywhere a few years ago (especially its gossamer title single) but time has thickened the delicate-wisp-strands into more mundanely conventional folk-pop. The bigger surprise was Dean and Britta - I've long responded to Dean Wareham's venerable indie-stitution Luna with a benign neglect, since Damon and Naomi got custody of me in the Galaxie 500 split, but it seems I've been missing out on the straightforward appeal of Wareham's songwriting, an understated channelling of VU-via-Yo La Tengo that results in a lot of catchy, atmospheric, memorable tunes. They're strong on texture, which explains the partisanship of shoegaze/Britpop fans to Luna's stuff - another reason I haven't paid attention, as that's pretty much the last descriptor you could affix to me, but the texture in this case is just ornamentation on solid frames, not gauzey camouflage. It's an uncomplicated pleasure, but the music hit the emotional spot. Britta Phillips is only a passable singer, or at least her voice isn't always flattered by the range in which Wareham's talk-sung verses are pitched, but she's quite a fine bass player, and, well, on stage she has other compensatory charms. So sue me, I'm a fan of watching good-looking married couples sing love songs together. It's sexy. It's romantic. It's better than watching brothers and sisters do the same. (In the ancient iconic struggle between Sonny & Cher and Donny & Marie, I've made my alliance, even though, ok, nothing involving Sonny Bono can be described as "sexy.") In any case, fine set and it seems I have some Luna/D&B; to catch up on - anyone want to send me a mix?

On Wednesday, a much greater revelation hit Toronto, but not many showed up at the Drake Underground to receive it thanks to the avalanche of snow that was falling on the city at the time. I was sceptical of Baby Dee at first - the typical descriptors - "transgender," "performance artist," "cabaret" etc - suggested the '80s-bound "transgressive" cultural location that put me off about her friends Antony and the Johnsons (don't get me wrong, Antony's voice is miraculous, but I only like him when he's singing other people's songs) and the "Cleveland street artist" and "Coney Island freak show" and "produced by Will Oldham" and "with guest Andrew W.K." elements had me wondering if this was a case of "outsider-music" being half-consciously condescended to by its patrons. But praise from some Cleveland-area friends and a listen to the songs at her MySpace made me switch off my cynicism - she has a unique entrancing voice, and it's hard for me to resist a harp player - and by the end of her set at the Drake, I was a convert. The sound mix when she was on piano, as she was for much of the show, combined with her extremely capable band (John Contreras [Current 93] on cello, Alex Neilson on drums, guitarist Emmett Kelly [The Cairo Gang] and Palace brother Paul Oldham on bass), sometimes buried her voice, so my favourite moments were those on harp - she's completely competent but also the only harpist I've ever seen who treats it a bit like a punk rocker playing an acoustic guitar, frequently thumping the lower strings with the palm of her hand for a discordant thunder-rumble. (Which makes sense when you find out that her initial bond for the harp was based on falling in love with the harp-like guts of a smashed-up piano.) Her performance was ecstatic and generously embracing, an enormous affirmation of personality and comfortable eccentricity, middle-aged self-acceptance writ very physically and soulfully large, an utter rebuke to bitterness and reticence. Which would all be very self-helpish if the songs weren't so intelligent, tuneful and surprising, autobiographically daring ( a lot of family-unromance is present in a blunt tone that recalls Xiu Xiu's they-fuck-you-up-your-mom-and-dad gestures) - and anachronistic in a chosen, musically literate way that bespeaks unhesitatingly distinct personal curiosities and taste. And how can one not melt over a merch table where you can buy official Baby Dee bird calls (see picture), little wooden nubs with a steel screw inside that produces chirping out of adversity, and that come with a little capsule of rosin to keep them squeaking true?

General | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, February 10 at 12:33 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


February 5, 2008

4 Quickies for Possible Later Expansion

1. If you are a Wire fan, then this series on the Freakonomics blog ("What Do Real Thugs Think of The Wire?") is amazing reading. It's written by Sudhir Venkatesh, who does a kind of old-fashioned street sociology that is as much journalism as scholarship. The structure: Venkatesh watches each episode with a group of "New York-area gang personnel," and records their reactions, comments and predictions for future plot twists. As someone says in the comments section (which, warning, may include spoilers), these conversations should be included as bonuses on the next The Wire DVD. But they also model a bold new form of reflexive criticism, albeit with its own potential pitfalls to be sure.

2. The new Veda Hille record, This Riot Life, is not only very likely the greatest record she's ever made, it's one of the most wonderful (and I mean that very literally - "awesome" in the Biblical sense would do, too) records you'll hear this year, and there are a lot of wonderful records coming out this year.

3. Why the hell not? Go, Celine, go. (PS: Neil Young is "adult alternative" now? Wha'a?) (PS to confused Canada-philic Americans: The reason the best-int'l-album nomination list, including a Josh Groban Xmas album, looks like it's determined by Soundscan figures is that that's literally how it's determined.)

4. Anyone know what this "Kubilee" thing is all about?

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, February 05 at 6:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)


February 1, 2008

Publicity Season Winds Down: February Gig Guide Up Now

Check out the finally up-to-date gig guide with your February show dates now in action. (Feel free to let me know of missing information, esp in the second half of the month.) A rough March calendar should go up soon too. And who knows, perhaps some of the other fallen-fallow features round here, like the Links page, may soon spring back into rude health.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 01 at 8:10 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Marginalia: And the Award Goes to ...

Okay, I have to break my embargo on public Heretic Pride discussion (see last post) to mention this lyric from my second-favourite song on the album, "Autoclave," with which I am now officially obsessed, having completed a week of fixation on my first-favorite, "San Bernardino." Besides its nice bouncy music and possibly-literally-lethal chorus ("I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam/ And no emotion that's worth having could call my heart its home/ My heart's an autoclave"), it has to be given a special citation for Greatest Ever Appropriation of a Line from a TV Show Theme Song. This is a song that begins with the words, "Hand me your hand, let me look in your eyes/ As my last chance to feel human begins to vaporize," and by the third verse it gets here:

I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls
On a cliff above the ocean, howling wind and shrieking seagulls.
And the dream went on forever, one single static frame ...
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

I always felt that having to spend every day at that bar in Cheers would be sort of a living Hades. Yes, Shelley Long would be there, but she'd just want to be friends. And everyone else in the room would be eternally intolerable, especially good ol' normative Norm - no one you can call "good old x" can really be good. Satan himself is "Good old Nick," no? (Not to be confused with his also-red-clad, anagrammatic xmassin' cousin Nicholas.)

The question is whether anyone is truly as toxic as the character in this song portrays himself - it seems like we all know people whose hearts seem built with the pressure and heat to destroy all viable life, but the first-person point-of-view here supports my suspicion that very often it's due to a reverse paranoia: It's their own suspicion and fear that they are irredeemably corrupt that makes them so poisonous. This song is sung by someone at a crossroads, wavering between fighting that feeling and giving in and embracing a nihilistic identity - letting himself become a regular on the barstools of the damned.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 01 at 4:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


John Darnielle, Master of Reality
and 33 1/3's Publishing-Heretics' Pride

I see that the 33 1/3 posse is following the same template for the upcoming book in the series by John Darnielle (Mr. Mountain Goats, of course) as they did for my book: offering a section as a PDF to anyone who emails, to whet potential readers' appetites. It doesn't seem as necessary - I don't think there's any remaining music-geek stigma against Black Sabbath, and there are surely thousands of fans, like me, who're going to read any book John puts out with a devouring hunger - but I'm happy to see that what I fear will come to be called "the Paulo Coelho strategy", and hope will instead be called "the Cory Doctorow technique" is becoming a 33 1/3 trademark. I won't bother arguing the long-tail, copyright-sceptic, etc., etc., reasons why, but I will mention that I felt a mite nervous when we were doing it and in retrospect feel it inarguably helped prepare the ground for the book's mostly good reception. Authors, be ye not faint of heart.

In the case of John D's Master of Reality, though, the offer should come with a doctor's warning that if you read a couple of chapters and can't keep going, the suspense may actually kill you. I got the chance to read it last week, and it's as marvellous as expected - a two-part novella basically about a teenager who's confined to a mental-health facility (the kind Darnielle worked in as a psychiatric nurse before becoming a full-time musician) and has all his music confiscated. The narrative consists partly of an extended, often profane, sometimes insightful, sometimes goofy-stupid argument the kid makes in letters to his psychiatric nurse, explaining how much more crucial his Black Sabbath tapes are to his sanity than any treatment the adults can offer. What sounds at first like merely a clever framework for a critic to indulge in extended ruminations on Black Sabbath becomes a meditation on the role of music in our lives, why "bad" (angry, crude, ridiculous, hateful) music can be good (healing, comforting, enlightening) for you, institutional disrespect of troubled youth, growing up, and survival. It could easily travel under the same banner as the latest Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, as Darnielle's admiration for his character's individualist defiance - even when it goes too far, even when said defiance actually may be very, very, very much not in his own long-term best interest - shines through the story. (Besides busyness, the reason I haven't written about Heretic Pride here yet is that I've reviewed it for Blender. I'll expand on those brief thoughts after they're published.)

My optimistic suspicion is that Master of Reality is going to become a cult young-adult novel for sensitively bad-ass high-school students, a new S.E. Hinton kinda phenom, if it can get the right kind of circulation. It's due out April 15.

Meanwhile, if you need some more 33 1/3-octaned fuel for your music-book-reading brain: I've just started the Throbbing Gristle book by Drew Daniel (of Matmos), which is as sparkly and spunky so far as anyone who's ever met or read Drew would guess. Further notes on it when I get further in, but so far: "industrial" culture, photos taken of dismembered horses as a form of teenage kicks, and the perverse allure of anti-pleasure.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 01 at 1:38 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson