by carl wilson

Top 2004, 1: Can-Con-Carne


Aaron Wherry kindly requested my participation in PopWherry's first-ever-Canadian-blog-year-end-music-poll, the subject of which is Bestest Canadian Albums of 2004. He requested five, so of course I came up with a dozen. Just to show you what kind of year in music it has been in this country, I will follow that dozen with two baker's dozens more. First in preferential order, then alphabet-style. Three, two, GO!


1. Destroyer - Your Blues
2. Junior Boys - Last Exit
3. Les Mouches - You Mean More to Me Than 1,000 Christians
4. The Hidden Cameras - Mississauga Goddam
5. Frog Eyes - Ego Scriptor (not to slight The Folded Palm)
6. Fred Eaglesmith - Dusty
7. Black Ox Orkestar - Der Tanz
8. Eric Chenaux/Michelle McAdorey - Love Don't Change
9. Veda Hille/Christof Migone - Escape Songs
10. Wax Mannequin - The Price
11. Blocks Recording Club - Toronto Is Great! compilation
12. The Arcade Fire - Funeral

As well as:
Apostle Of Hustle - Folkloric Feel; Edgar Breau - Canadian Primitive; Creeping Nobodies - Stop Movement Stop Loss; Deep Dark United - Ancient; Julie Doiron - Goodnight Nobody; Jake Fairley - Touch Not the Cat; Feist - Feist; Nick Fraser/Justin Haynes - Are Faking It; Fucked Up - Epics in Minutes; Gentleman Reg - Darby & Joan; Good Grooming for Girls compilation; Jim Guthrie - Now More Than Ever; Tim Hecker - Mirages; Hitz Exprezz - Playin Da Harsez; LAL - Warm Belly High Power; Peggy Lee/Dylan van der Schyff/Dave Douglas/Louis Sclavis - Bow River Falls; Harris Newman - Non-Sequiturs ; Royal City - Little Heart's Ease; The Sadies - Favourite Colours; The Silt - Earlier Ways to Wander; Smash & Teeny feat. John Butcher - Gathering; Solvent - Apples and Synthesizers; Stars - Set Yourself On Fire; Tangiers - Never Bring You Pleasure; Chad Vangaalen - Infiniheart; Venetian Snares - Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding. (I could do another dozen, but lines must be drawn.)

Best (as-yet-unfinished) Canadian albums of 2005: Shawn Hewitt;
Final Fantasy; Frog Eyes/Destroyer collaboration.

If I'd been making this list a few hours later, I think one of the items from the bottom double-dozen would have replaced Arcade Fire at No. 12. Below the top 6 everything starts to go soft-focus. The obvious gap is hip-hop, but I wasn't feeling the maple-leaf rap this year; what am I missing?

A couple of the artists on the above list are playing Toronto this weekend: Montreal's Stars are at the Mod Club tomorrow and Sunday, and on Sunday, Calgary's Chad Vangaalen is opening for them. I like Stars as much as the next guy but I love, love, love Chad Vangaalen - he rules so hard, lo-fi style.

Also of major note in Toronto this weekend: The mighty Masia One presents Ladybug Mecca of (the reunited) Digable Planets fame (learn where she's been meanwhile from Ms. Denise Benson in Eye this week) as part of Masia's M1 Academy series - this Saturday it's the "All B-Girls School" edition, also with Tara Chase, Zaki Ibrahim, DJs SiVuPlay and Mel Boogie, artists EGR and Stef Casino, dancers Lady Noyz and Eclipse, all at the El Mocambo, $14.

Masia did an amazing set at the last Tin Tin Tin with avant-pop/improv group Deep Dark United, who happen to be in the long list above, and also happen to be playing Wavelength this Sunday night. For further extraordinary coincidences and eerie tales, check the Zoilus gig guide. [...]

Here's my Junior Boys piece, which you wouldn't otherwise be able to find online:

Junior Boys skyrocket in the blogosphere

By Carl Wilson
The Globe & Mail
Thursday, July 8, 2004

Jeremy Greenspan's past couple of years have been like a dream in slow slide show: Odd things happen, then fade to normal, and then odder ones still.

He just finished a degree in multimedia and comparative literature. And now? "Earlier today I had to record myself saying hello for Spanish radio -- Hola!" laughs the 24-year-old on the phone from Hamilton. "That's pretty high on my weird-o-meter."

Many Canadian musicians catch on internationally, but usually they are heard locally first. Last Exit, the debut album by Greenspan's duo Junior Boys, was released June 7 in England, but until September it remains an import here. Yet last year, Junior Boys tracks already topped lists by some of the world's most influential music critics.

How did Greenspan become the Lana Turner of the Internet-music age, discovered at the counter of a digital drugstore? He grew up in "the real prime rave era" and found a thriving techno scene in grungy Steeltown. During a year off from high school in Birmingham, England, where he bluffed his way into a studio job, an older roommate initiated him in the mysteries of 1980s synth-pop -- John Foxx, New Order, Japan. Back home in 1999, he and a friend, Johnny Dark, tried blending that music's cool romanticism into stutter-stop dance genres like U.K. garage or 2-step, as well as Timbaland's R&B.;

No labels wanted the Junior Boys demos. So they gave up. Dark left town for the video-game industry. Greenspan made grad-school plans.

But an old English friend had put some JBs tracks up on-line. E-mail began to trickle in, from such prominent e-music journalists as Kodwo Eshun and Simon Reynolds. And then came blogs. These on-line personal nerve centres have sparked a new era in music writing, letting professional critics (me included) and dedicated amateurs share discoveries and debate them in public daily, an exponential intensification from print.

With a boost from Reynolds's Blissblog, JBs rocketed to the upper strata of the blogosphere, as their grimier sonic cousin Dizzee Rascal did the year before, but more impressively since they were, officially, defunct.

Nick Kilroy, then of London's high-profile Warp Records, took notice and contacted Greenspan, who revived the project with engineer Matt Didemus. In October, 2003, Kilroy's new KIN label released Birthday, JBs' instant-classic single.

Critics ardently diagram the band's elongated musical roots, but all that DNA begets a unified sound field that bridges the decade-plus rift twixt groove and song. "Songwriting was a bit taboo at the time I started doing it," Greenspan says. "The philosophy of the dance-music movement was based on mixing records and on DJ shows, and so much of that is about building on loops, a minimal approach to writing music in which you have these songs that are really malleable and don't have to be played from start to finish." But today, "They might be looking for something new."

Alok Sharma, who programmed JBs on Sunday afternoon as part of the first Beats, Breaks and Culture festival at Harbourfront Centre, concurs. "There was a peak where everybody was listening to DJs, clubs were packed with them," he says. "Now I really think people are more into seeing a live performance. It's more of a human bond between audience and performer."

That goes for songs too. "I think there was a naiveté to thinking that songwriting would somehow go away. There's a hunger for it," Greenspan says. "Even a DJ, when you're buying records, what you're really listening for are hooks."

What thrills the blogerati is that unlike the indie-rockers who've raided the territory (Notwist, Postal Service), Greenspan is a techno adept whose beats yield no quarter. They hover, shatter, skitter and scrape, but over, under and around verse and chorus, like the sonic flutter in Birthday, after the line, "And let it go" -- like a string of blue balloons slipping away into the bluer blue beyond -- that has more than once been called one of the great pop gestures of the decade.

"I'm very dedicated," Greenspan says, "to using tools at the time they're available," which is what he admires about 1980s synth-pop. "The machine you choose, even a piano, writes half of the thing for you. Anyone who says it [doesn't] is lying."

Yet unlike the disembodied divas of 1990s house or trip-hop, or most any hit now, Greenspan's singing is highly individuated, naturalistic, not digitally processed. His favourite singers, like Neil Young, are conspicuously imperfect. On Last Exit you hear the sibilants, breath, even nasal congestion, amid his foggy narratives of obsession and loss. "I like the contrast: For the most part we don't use any 'organic' instruments. . . . I wasn't interested in doing this thing where you write songs and put a vocoder on and sing about really inhuman things, being a robot and drinking martinis. I wanted them to have real feeling to them, a really human sense."

This juxtaposition, broken beats, broken heart, is spacious and suggestive. The vocals are hypnagogic, halfway asleep; the music hypnopompic, in the panic-haze of waking; both are prey to hallucinations -- doorbells, crashes, names being called, naked man steering submarine, edge-city lost boys crawling through a rain of glass and chrome.

Still, when a major label came calling, it wanted everything rerecorded, the vocal buffed up to a radio shine. Greenspan refused, and doubts he could cope with celebrity anyway. Inevitably, those more eager for fame will cop his moves, smooth them out and score the radio hits.

Meanwhile, he and Didemus hone their live act for a long autumn tour -- "a bit of a bummer," as he'd rather work on the next record: "I want to get on with it while I can. I know every band has only so many albums before they start to suck. And I fully intend on sucking at some point. You'll know once I start bringing in the Celtic band and the children's choir."

Read More | On Record | Posted by zoilus on Friday, December 17 at 7:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)



By gum, you're right.

Incidentally, Sean, if you click on the link on the word "Final" in this post you'll hear Final Fantasy's cover of Joanna Newsom's Peach, Plum, Pear - which was what led me to discover her.

Posted by Zoilus on December 19, 2004 12:29 AM



You forgot William Shatner.

Posted by Sean on December 18, 2004 10:13 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson