by carl wilson

Echoes from Echo Beach

martha_and_the_muffins.jpg

News from Martha Johnson and Mark Gane, a.k.a. one of my favourite first-generation 1980s Queen West bands, Martha and the Muffins: On Feb. 19, M+M "perform 'reinterpretations' of the MatM songbook as a duo in The Underground at Toronto's Drake Hotel. ... This will mark the first time in 17 years they have performed a full set of MatM songs since the band played its last show in Toronto in 1987 at The Diamond Club.

" 'We'll be doing a mix of songs from various periods, many of which we haven't done in more than twenty years,' says Martha. 'The idea is to eventually record the best versions of the selected old songs as a duo with some new material as well and release that on CD. Doing this show is a great starting point.'

M+M's "third and most sought-after album," This is the Ice Age, produced by Daniel Lanois, is being reissued by EMI this spring.

In other live notes, non-musical dept., Toronto's being visited by the Critical Art Ensemble's Prof. Steven Kurtz, the bio-tech artist whose FBI-persecution nightmare Zoilus reported in June (with the t-shirt slogan: "It's morning in America, your wife is dead and you're under arrest") and has been much discussed. He's here tomorrow (Sat.) to give a talk, 7:30 pm at the Ryerson Centre for Computing and Engineering, 243 Church Street, pwyc (proceeds to his defence fund). Musically, of course, the AIMT series continues; Loveecstasycrime recommends 0=0 and C-64 at tonight's Altered Beats, to supplement everybody's interest in Duran Duran Duran; and there's no excuse tomorrow night to miss Republic of Safety with Jon-Rae and The Silt (read more) at Rancho Relaxo - except not living in Toronto of course, for which you are reluctantly forgiven.

Finally, revisiting Feist: Reading over the comments, I have to wonder, was my post that opaque? The point seems to have been missed, or even reversed: I was saying that on Let It Die there's rather too much Parisian affectation, what my colleague Guy Dixon calls "French by approximation" (though that's certainly Canadian-sounding!) and not enough of a specific Feist. There's instead a carefully placed singer-songwriter "revealing" that operates to conceal. (As opposed to, as I'd say about Smith, concealment that reveals. Or in Martha Wainwright's case, just raw rash revelation.) Feist's stylization of place is I suppose her resistance to nowhere, to homelessness; I'd rather hear that absence amplified. Tab quotes her as saying the record couldn't have been made in Toronto - "too many ghosts". Well, I hope her next album is called Ghosts of Toronto, no matter where it's made. Because right now the avoidance she speaks of is audible to me, and as an avoidance rather than a wholescale escape. Of course she's under no obligation to cater to me. Aaron and Tab hear it differently. (And Michael, with refreshing honesty, says he just likes it because it's a twist on his indie-rock expectations.) But I was asked, and that's what I say.

Here's an old piece featuring The Silt, for the heck of it. It's nearly five years old, so don't assume I still agree with any of it! The literary references feel especially dated...

Silting up a cacophonic comfort zone

SCENE
CARL WILSON
17 August 2000
The Globe and Mail

"We think we know almost exactly what some of our songs sound like," proclaims Ryan Driver, who plays guitar, drums, synthesizers, flute and duck calls with Toronto group the Silt. The trio also features multi-instrumentalists Doug Tielli (a trombone specialist) and Marcus Quin (clarinet).

Having attended four or five Silt shows in recent months, I think I know almost exactly what some of their songs sound like, too. But I'm not sure how to put it into words, to persuade you to go hear them in this Sunday's edition of the weekly Wavelength series at Ted's Wrecking Yard. Driver's statement, with all its double-take syntax and self-sabotaging qualifiers, is probably your best clue. Take it as a mini-manifesto.

The Silt is turning out to be one of Toronto's natural resources, alongside the likes of Hawksley Workman, with whom they share hummability, flamboyance, classicism, and a willingness to be fey and vulnerable that, at its best, makes audiences giddily nervous.

All three members of the Silt, though no strangers to song (Tielli's last band was the semi-popular People From Earth, and if his last name reminds you of the Rheostatics, so be it), are fixtures on the youthful improvised-music scene in Toronto. That means they're used to wielding their axes to clearcut across musical expectations, sever melodic lines and splinter steady beats. They are comfortable with cacophony.

Maybe too comfortable. And that's what gives this group its special frisson: Having learned to play without rules, they have reinstituted them, to render themselves neophytes all over again.

Any given Silt song sounds like it might break down and lapse into improv. But it never happens. Instead, they might pause, suspend a note or a silence in the air, as if considering the potential for chaos . . . and then sing the next verse. They're on probation for breaking the laws of music, and the Silt is their halfway house.

Combine this with the perverted-Beach-Boys falsetto harmonies, delicate repetitive riffs, slow pace, false endings, unlikely instrument pairings, and archly exaggerated poetry (A Song About a Red Whistle is a typical Silt title) and you get something at once rather haunting and beautiful, and absurdly funny.

They achieve that rich and rare thing, sincere sarcasm. "I know this is stupid, and unsophisticated, with all these heartfelt, childish lyrics and old-fashioned tonality," a Silt song tells you, "but I really mean it. I can't help it. I think life is like this."

This is a very difficult effect to get. It's what people such as Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and McSweeney's magazine), David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest), and George Saunders (Civilwarland in Bad Decline) have been trying to do in literature.

It demands not only deft manipulation of materials, but an audience willing to entertain contradictory thoughts and feelings simultaneously. It requires an agreement on both sides that it's just too easy to give in to cynicism and disdain. Sometimes those much-hyped young writers manage it; often they just seem excessively pleased with themselves.

The Silt are so low-key that they avoid that pitfall. What they risk is being misunderstood, looking as if they don't know what they're up to. But they do. It took me a couple of hearings to realize how funny they were, and another couple to decide that the awkward bits were the prettiest parts.

As with Pavement, or Palace, or poet David Berman's Silver Jews, the Silt's humour is bone-dry, the sentiments slippery. They truck in the kind of truth that wriggles out of your hand, only to sliver its way under your skin. Like a tape that plays in your sleep and suggests that when you wake you'll quit smoking, or fighting, or giving up on yourself.

That's what they sound like. Almost exactly. I think.

Read More | Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, January 14 at 2:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

COMMENTS

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Posted by lily on May 19, 2005 2:08 AM

 

 

OMG! Martha and the Muffins playing live!

Posted by travis on January 17, 2005 10:10 AM

 

 

Yup, you lost us there for a bit. But we've found you again. And now we understand. Even if we still don't entirely agree.

Posted by agw on January 14, 2005 11:49 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson