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Archive for April, 2011

SOUNDTRACK: WEAKERTHANS-World Cafe Live, December 5, 2007 (2007).

I really like the Weakerthans, and they are surprisingly unknown here in the States.  I say surprisingly because they write exceptionally catchy (almost absurdly poppy) songs which would fit on many radio stations’ playlists.  But what sets them apart is John K. Samson’s lyrics which are clever and interesting and about people and loss (maybe that’s why they never made it down here).

This World Cafe set came about shortly after the release of their last studio album, Reunion Tour.  David Dye asks some great questions (I’ve never really seen/heard any interviews with them, so it’s all new to me) and the band plays three songs from the album.

We learn that Reunion Tour was initially inspired by Edward Hopper paintings (and the whole album was going to be devoted to Hopper until Samson grew sensible again).  We also learn the official pronunciation of the recurring cat on the Weakerthans albums is Virtute (Vir-too-tay) which comes from the city of Winnipeg’s crest.

They play “Night Windows,” “Civil Twilight” (and talk about the video, which I watched and it’s very cool), and “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure.”  The interesting things about the Weakerthans is that they don’t sound all that different live than on record.  So, these songs aren’t terribly revelatory.  There are some effects that are changed, and the tempos feel slightly different as well.  But nevertheless, the songs sound great.  The only problem is that the set seems mixed rather loudly, so there’s distortion (unintended, I assume) on some of the tracks.

Nevertheless, this is a great introduction to a relatively unknown band.

[READ: April 19, 2011] Five Dials Number 2

After just one issue, Five Dials has already lied to us.  In Number One, they said that all of the artwork would be black and white, but here is Number 2, and we have a host of beautiful color pictures (perhaps they only meant that Number 1 would be in black and white).   Of course, I’m only teasing them because the color pictures are really nice, and they really bring a new aspect to the magazine.

Number Two is a bit larger than Number 1 (twenty pages).  This issue has a vague sort of theme as well (it’s unclear if the issues will be thematic in the future), but this one has a general theme of adventure/nature/environmentalism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SEONA DANCING-“Bitter Heart” (1983).

I can’t believe it took me all these years to learn that Ricky Gervais was in a synth pop band in the 80s.  The band was called Seona Dancing and they released two singles (four songs in all). This is the first song I heard from them and I really like it.  (I may be biased, but I also went in expecting to mock, I mean look at him!).

In one of the Extras episodes, David Bowie makes a guest appearance.  And you can tell that he’s been influenced by Bowie since the beginning. This song could be a David Bowie B Side (and who knew that the man with that girlie laugh has such a deep baritone singing voice.)  I kept expecting the song to turn cheesy but it never did.  In fact, the riff from verse into chorus is really cool.  The “block” sounds in the middle remind me of Tears for Fears, and really so many other synth bands from the 80s.

There’s two videos on YouTube. The 2 minute one (below) is an actual video. The other clip is 6 minutes long and is some kind of extended version.

I’m fascinated!  Much of everything that you need to know about Seona Dancing is here.

[READ: March 27, 2011] two book rviews

This is the second month in a row that Zadie Smith has done some book reviews for Harper’s.  I’m not sure if this is going to be a long-standing assignment or if she was just especially excited to talk about these books.  But regardless, I’m willing to mention them here.

Even though I was intrigued by last month’s books, I haven’t sought any of them out (The Pale King is coming/out as I write this).  But now here are two more books that I would be interested in looking at (although I probably wouldn’t actually read either one in full). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YUCK-Live at SXSW 2011 (2011).

Yuck has been on my radar for a little while.  I’ve heard very good things about them but hadn’t heard them until this concert.

They play a kind of distortion fueled alt-rock circa late 90s shoegazing style (and everyone laughs about this because the members are all like 20 years old).  Comparisons abound (Dinosaur Jr. My Bloody Valentine) but the one that I hear that no one else seems to is Placebo (for attitude of vocal style more than anything else).  But yes, what the band does with feedback is certainly enjoyable.

This is a great introduction to the band.  They sound fantastic live.  Although I admit that my impression is that this is a band that would sound great on a studio recording (think MBV).  And this show makes me want to go and get their debut album.

They play 8 songs here which vary from fast rockers to ballads to the 8 minute feedback epic “Rubber.”  Perhaps the most interesting thing about the band, though, is the singer’s speaking voice.  He seems so out of his element talking to the huge (and appreciative) Texas crowd, that you have to wonder if they’ve ever played live before (except that his voice sounds great while singing and the band is totally confident).  It’s just funny to hear him awkwardly addressing the crowd (with a meekness that rivals Droopy Dog):  “Our name is Yuck and this song is called “Suck” and those words rhyme with each other”.  Yikes.  But really it comes across as charming more than anything else and since the band sounds great it doesn’t hurt the crowd’s appreciation.

I’m looking forward to hearing their album.  You can listen, watch (!) and download their set from NPR.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Franklin’s Library”

This was the second story in The Walrus’ 2006 Summer Reading Issue.  It was a lengthy and rather complicated story.  There were really two stories, although in the end, she tied them together okay.

The story opens with a look at a young sailor.  The sailor has agreed to join the Erebus on its first expedition to the frozen north.  The title of the story comes from the ship’s library.  The sailor is young and more than a little afraid, but he is comforted by the scope of the ship’s library: leather-bound volumes in the hundreds.  The library looks to be the only place where one can have a little peace and quiet (aside from your bunk which is barely larger than you). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC (2010).

Best Coast made Carrie Brownstein’s best album of the year accolades, but when I listened to the track she selected for the post, I wasn’t all that impressed.

But I have to say that live, Best Coast blew me away.  Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer and guitarist has an amazing stage presence.  She is charming and funny and very silly (and I guess she loves cats).  The band sounded tight and impressive and even though the songs are kind of dopey bubblegum pop, they are drenched in enough noise and rock to make them really wonderful

They seem like they should have come around during the 90s, when all those rocking female bands were all over the map.  And so this is like a wonderful blast from the past.  Best Coast is sort of like The Muffs (except they write love songs) and other bands that play really catchy pop but bury it under a layer of fuzz and rock.  This is a great set available on NPR, and will definitely get me to check out their album a little more.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Seven Love Letters”

Six of the seven letters here were later collected in the book Four Letter Word which I reviewed in September 2009.  When I reviewed the book, I didn’t give very much in the way of detail, I just summarized the letters.  I’m going to copy what I wrote then (since my thoughts didn’t change all that much), and I’m going to include a few more lines about some of the pieces (original stuff is in italics).  I’m also including titles which (for some reason) were not given in the book.

I’m also not sure why Sheila Heti’s story did not appear in the book.  (It’s only 4 paragraphs and is, indeed, a letter so why not include it?)  If you enjoyed the book, think of this story as a Bonus Feature. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Live at SXSW (2010).

I really enjoyed Surfer Blood’s album Astro Coast.  There was something familiar about it, yet it never aped any sound exactly.  It’s a fun collection of upbeat almost-summer music.

This live set is a great representation of the band.  They don’t break from the CD all that much, but the band is lively and generous.  They play 7 songs, all of them fast and fun (they say that one song is going to be slow, but it seems to wind up as fast as the rest-and someone in the crowd shots “Play another slow one”).

There’s some good banter and the audience is very appreciative.  It’s great set and worth checking out even if you don’t know them yet.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Pericles”

This story is set in Greece in 1941.  Bulgarians have occupied the land.  And as the first few paragraphs explain, a thief has come to steal some goats.  The goatherds catch the man (a Bulgarian) and kill him.

When the Bulgarians find out, they take it very seriously.  The army travels to the village and rounds up every single male and all of the young females and intend to shoot them in the center of the city.

The story pulls back to explain that during the occupation all of the men were forced to do labor.  This even includes Pericles, the strongest man in the village.  Before the occupation, he was a helpful giant, able to throw four bundles of hay at a time.  Of course, Pericles was also fearsome, and if he got drunk (which he did from time to time) everyone in the town hid until he sobered up (except for his diminutive wife who could calm him down with a look). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLEIGH BELLS-Live at SXSW (2010).

Sleigh Bells were a very polarizing band last year.  Their album made many year end best of lists, but they were also hated by many music fans as well.  I fell somewhere in the middle.  They reminded me of The Go! Team, but without their quirky aspects.  Nevertheless, I found their songs to be a kind of industrial-lite, maybe a baby Ministry or something.  And that was interesting.

So I was intrigued by their live set which I downloaded from NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Their set is plagued by technical malfunctions.  And although they are the headliners (I guess, I don’t really know how SXSW works) their set barely ekes out to 25 minutes.  But they are very apologetic and seem to be nice enough folks.

They manage to play 6 songs (2 songs are beset with disaster–they restart “A/B Machines” but give up on the second to last song altogether and play a different one).  Their onstage dynamic was interesting (at first I thought they weren’t going to talk to the crowd at all, but once the machines broke, they were quite amiable).  I gather the whole band was Derek Miller playing guitar and all the samples and Alexis Krauss singing (she’s really out of breath when the song malfunctions, so she must be quite an energetic performer).  Their set impressed me enough to want to check out their CD for real (I only listened to one song when it made all those lists).

This is an interesting set, especially if you like to hear a band cope with technical difficulties.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Fictional Houses”

This third piece in The Walrus’ 2005 Summer Reading issue is more of a photo essay than anything.  But the premise behind it is really great (and it is included in the Fiction section of the magazine).

The essay explains that in neighborhoods across Canada, hydro companies created electrical substations to handle power for those communities.  But rather than allow huge electrical monstrosities to reside in these communities, they corporations built full houses around them.  These houses were not simple facades but actual houses with electricity and which really gave the appearance of families living there (even though no one ever would).  That is an amazingly thoughtful thing for a huge corporation to do.

Now, since these stations are no longer needed, the houses are being sold off. Collyer made a point of travelling around to as many as were still extant to take pictures of them.  The pictures themselves don’t speak much because they are simply normal houses that blend in with the community.  But it’s amazing seeing the seven houses and seeing how very different they are.  The two in Toronto are quite lovely two-story houses.  Indeed the one on Spadina Road, with the trees grown in, is quite lovely (see below).  The houses in Scarborough are smaller affairs but are not too shabby either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WORM OUROBOROS-Live at Le Pousson Rouge, March 22, 2011 (2011).

I had never heard of Worm Ouroboros before this concert. They opened up for black metal guys Agalloch.  I was very intrigued by their name, because I love the word ouroboros, and then I learned that their name comes specifically from a novel by Eric Rücker Eddison called The Worm Ouroboros.

Now Agalloch is a heavy, fast, scary kind of band, so I expected that WO would be too, but they are almost exactly the opposite.  A trio (bass, guitar/flute (!)/keyboards, and drums), the band plays very ethereal music.  It has a kind of sinister edge to it, but for the most part it never really has a beat or anything.  The sounds drift and flow over each other.  This is all held together by the gorgeous vocals of bassist Lorraine Rath and the even more gorgeous harmonies of guitarist Jessica Wray.  Their voices are reminiscent of Jarboe from Swans.

The most amazing part of the show comes on the occasional ends of songs when the band seems to come down to earth  and they play a loud and aggressive doom metal stomp. It only last for a minute or two and it doesn’t happen on every song, but it’s amazing and really surprising when it does.

I don’t know what the band sounds like on record, but they make an exquisite noise live.  And you can tell how intense they must be because the rowdy crowd is quiet and respectful for their entire set.  You can get a free download (or listen online) at NPR.

Worm Ouroboros – Winter from (((unartig))) on Vimeo.

This is a video of “Winter” (a song that gets really heavy at the end) from the show.

[READ: March 26, 2011] “Catechism”

Although I have been posting past stories from The Walrus on Saturdays, the July/August 2005 issue was a Summer Reading Issue complete with 5 pieces of fiction.  So, it seemed like a good time (the week after the release of The Pale King, when I will be otherwise occupied) to go through thee five pieces.

This story uses a scene that I think is used an awful lot in fiction–that of the car sitting on a frozen lake with people taking bets as to when it will sink.  It’s not central to the story by any means, but this is I think the third time I’ve read it.  Of course I gather that if you have a  community that is frozen most of the time, it’s a reasonable thing to see there.

Anyhow, this is the tale of an East Coaster moving out to Regina to be writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library. He finds that there isn’t all that much to do (in the year he’s there, two people ask him for help with their novels in progress.  [Frankly, I would love to hear THAT story instead.  A story where the writer in residence helps these misfits with their novels.  It sounds great.  So, I enjoyed that aspect of the story very much].  In fact I enjoyed it more than what would eventually develop as the plot. (more…)

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