Archive for September, 2013


PrintI’d never heard of Kevin Devine before (he apparently has 7 solo albums out).  This track is his first single with his new (radio friendly it seems) band called The Goddamn Band.  Interestingly, the album is called “Bubblegum” and it’s that sentiment that sticks out with this song.

Over buzzy guitars and pounding drums, a screamed (but not unpleasant) voice comes piercing through the fuzz.  And once the guitars come in, it’s all bubblegum pop (fuzzy and distorted absolutely, but pure bubblegum chord structures).  The song (including the voice) remind me a lot of Cheap trick–simple, catchy melodies with vocals that are urgent and intense.  Even the quieter spoken word section sounds like Cheap Trick.  The very mellow bridge or chorus or whatever it is mixes things up when it brings in picked strings and a gentle vocal.

It’s catchy as hell and could fit into a lot of playlists of poppy rock.  At only 2 and a half minutes it’s a pop gem.  Too bad no DJ would ever say the band’s name.

You can hear it an NPR.

[READ: September 19, 2013] “The Way Things Are Going”

As the story opens we read the Gwen had insisted that “Ma and I” move to America (from South Africa). Gwen wanted them to move because “sooner or later…it would happen again.”  The narrator says that what had happened was actually her fault.  But really what difference did it make whose fault it was—once they were tying you up.  She only let them in the first place because she was trying to be mannerly.

The story flashes back to what happened. The narrator had been struck across the head with a gun, praying that the men would leave her alone—just take their few valuables and go.  And then she had to worry about her mother, who was upstairs by herself.  It was only the phone call (and the answering machine) which saved them from further damage because a neighbor said she’d be right over. (more…)


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2013-10SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-“In League with Satan” (1998).

venomI wasn’t aware of this tribute to Venom, the much reviled/much beloved black metal band.  It is titled In the name of Satan. Voivod has done some covers of Venom songs throughout their career, so it seems natural that they would do one for an official tribute album.

The music is fine.  As anyone who knows Venom knows their music isn’t terribly complicated.  So it’s nothing for Voivod to do.  I’m actually wondering if Piggy wanted to spruce it up a bit.  But no, he plays it straight, as does everyone else.

But man are the vocals awful. They are a kind of high-pitched growl–very strangely affected and sounding really weird both for Venom and for Voivod.  I’m not sure who is singing on this track (I assume E-Force given the date).  It doesn’t really sound like either E-Force or Snake, but I’m siding with E-Force because there’s none of the odd pronunciations that Snake is prone to do.

I didn’t listen to anything else on the album, but even for a Voivod diehard, this one is not worth owning.

[READ: September 19, 2013] “The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce”

Lisa Moore doesn’t deserve to be associated with Satan or a less than stellar cover song.  So apologies to her for pairing this together, but it worked nicely in my Voivod timeline.

I was really intrigued by the title of this short story and I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  What I got was a very interesting and very interestingly structured story.  The first thing of note is the pronoun choice:  “Everybody had a target on his back.  His or her back.”  This specification continues throughout the story.  But before we learn why exactly, we learn about the devastation at this job (which is never specified).  People are let go in waves, then in clumps, and just when it seems safe, one at a time.  Some people are moved around to fill those empty spots.  In other words, resentment is breeding wildly.  Rumors spread—they wouldn’t fire people if you stand up for yourselves—but no one wanted to stand up.  And just when we think Moore can’t give any more examples of the anonymous firing, we get into specifics.

The Downeys (who both worked there) were fired on the same day.  The had just purchased a new house as well.  Of course, that was before the summer when the dump started to stink.  So we can anticipate how much they will get when they try to sell. (more…)

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2013-10SOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-The Best of Voivod (1992).

bestvoivodMost Best of records promise you a selection of popular songs from a band.  Voivod never really had any popular songs, so this is an interesting choice to start with.  This may also be the only Best of compilation of a band where people who like some of the songs almost assuredly will not like other songs.

As my posts about the band have indicated, Voivod changed drastically over their first six records (which is the  period this collection covers).  And so in twelve tracks and 50 some minutes you get the very diverse history of this very unusual band.  I’m not going to talk about each track (already done that), but I will list the songs

  • Voivod [War and Pain] classic screaming metal.

  • Ripping Headaches [Rrröööaaarrr] brutal, but I must say sounds a ton better than the original CD.  I wonder if this was remastered for the compilation).

  • Korgull the Exterminator [Rrröööaaarrr] hard to believe they used two songs from this album.

  • Tornado [Killing Technology] heavy but quite catchy.

  • Ravenous Medicine [Killing Technology] signs of complexity enter the heaviness.

  • Cockroaches [EP] a strange inclusion, almost a rarity.

  • Tribal Convictions [Dimension Hätross] very complex with some heaviness.

  • Psychic Vacuum  [Dimension Hätross] I’m surprised they didn’t pick other songs though from this album.

  • Astronomy Domine [Nothingface] their hit.

  • The Unknown Knows [Nothingface] very hard to choose just two songs from this masterpiece.

  • Panorama [Angel Rat] Their newest single and quite a departure from everything that has come before.

  • The Prow [Angel Rat] their prettiest number ever.  If you buy this CD for this song you’ll hate the early stuff.

Although Voivod fans (like Dave Grohl)

are diehard, anyone who would buy only a Best of record from the band is sure to be disappointed. There are so many phases of the band and they are so radically different from “Voivod” to “The Prow” that it’s almost not even the same band.  I’m very curious as to what sales for this album were like.  (Even the cover isn’t that inspired)

[READ: September 2013] The Walrus: Tenth Anniversary Issue

It’s hard for me to believe that The Walrus has been around for ten years (even they seem a bit surprised).  I still remember hearing about the magazine on Book TV from some Canadian channel that I just happened upon.

When I heard about it The Walrus seemed interesting–kind of like Harper’s and elements of the New Yorker but all about Canada.  I’ve been a Canuckophile for decades now, so it seemed like an interesting prospect.  And over the ten years of the magazine, while I haven’t written about every issue, I have read every article.  I have written about all of the short stories that they’ve published.

This issue eschews some of my favorite elements (the short articles in the front and the arts section in the back), but they make up for it with an oversized issue (twice as long as usual and the articles are all packed with content) and some fascinating articles.

And while there are none of the short articles from the front, there are “Time Capsules,” one page articles about things that have happened in the last ten years: The iPhone, Sports Concussions, Armed Drones, The Residential School Apology, Justin Bieber, Foodies, Hand Sanitizer and Cyberbullying.  It’s interesting to read about these phenomena from a slightly different perspective.  We know that Canada and the U.S. share many similarities but there are, at heart some core differences.  And it’s these differences that make you rethink a subject.  (more…)

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almostsilentSOUNDTRACK: DELTRON 3030-“The Return” (2013).

Deltron3030-EventII-caa19c164f9e01c2441aab420c0b54356b261e87-s1After thirteen years, alternative rap supergroup Deltron 3030 is back.  If you’ve forgotten, Deltron 3030 is comprised of Dan the Automator, Del the Funky Homosapien and DJ Kid Koala.  Evidently the album is chock full of guest stars (which I usually dislike, but the guest stars are a weirdly unexpected bunch–David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, chef David Chang?–so I’m curious to hear what they are going to add to the sound.

Okay even I admit I don’t really remember what the first Deltron album sounded like, but if memory serves this seems to be picking up in that same spacey vibe that made Deltron so weird and fun.

There’s a story going on here, told in Del’s awesome rapping style–mellow and trippy with big words and convoluted phrasings.  Of course, this is only track 2 on the record so I don’t know exactly what the story is about.  But I know that Deltron 0 is back and I’m pretty excited to hear the whole thing.

You can hear this track on NPR and you can watch the intro track (featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt) here:

[READ: September 20, 2013] Almost Silent

This book collects four of Jason’s previous books “Meow, Baby,” “Tell Me Something,” “You Can’t Get There from Here” and “The Living and the Dead.”

“Meow, Baby” (2006) is a collection of  “short stories” from Jason.  They feature the same (looking) cast of characters as most of the other Jason books I’ve read (anthropomorphic animals), but there’s a few additions: a mummy, a zombie,a  skeleton and a vampire.  None of the pieces are titled and the only way to know when each is done is when you see his signature.  This is just to note that if there is a mummy in two stories, it’s good to know he’s not necessarily the same mummy.

The stories are quite funny with variations on mummy stories (wrapping your head in a bandage after you are hurt, getting an erection(!)), and vampire stories (the same looking guy is always following him with a stake) and some very amusing domestic scenes with skeletons.  I enjoyed the one where the mummy comes out of the sarcophagus, looks at a newspaper and then walks back into the sarcophagus with a look of despair on his face (his face is still covered in bandages—Jason has an amazing way of expression even with people who have no faces). There’s also a whole series of skeletons who climb out of their graves and go about mundane tasks .  There’s even a guy dressed like the Terminator who has some funny moments where he misses the opportunity to say his trademark lines.

The last few pages are three panel strips—like daily cartoons .  Were they ever shown in newspapers?  These show that Jason is also very funny at punchlines, not just dark stories and black humor.  True, all of these three panel comic are black humor (with the same cast of zombies, vampires, mummies and skeletons), but he really makes some funny and unexpected strips here. (more…)

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terrySOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Phobos (1997).

phobosIt’s tempting to say that Phobos is a carbon copy of Negatron, but that’s not true.  While the line up is the same, and the overall tone is very similar—very heavy, aggressive music—there are subtle differences.  The first is that the album sounds vaguely more electronic, as if they were really flirting with industrial after the experiment with Jim Thirwell on the last album.  E-Force’s vocals, while still abrasive and screamed have a lot of processing on them which makes them far more interesting and actually quite a bit more understandable.  There’s also a lot of weird electronic effects that link the album and make it feel more “spacey.”

And while there are different sections of songs and parts that are actually quiet, this i still a difficult album–the vocals especially are exceedingly harsh and will turn off people who like the instrumental sections.  I hate to sound like the band’s declining popular are all down to E-Force, but he is the weakest link in the band at this point.  Whats weird about thee two E-Force era albums is that although they are very very heavy with several weird parts per song, the basic structure of them is very conventional.  So instead of sounding proggy and weird, they sound more like a bludgeoning metal band.  Which didn’t really work for them.  Indeed, the band intended to if not call it quits at least take a hiatus after this album.

Phobos opens with “Catalepsy I” an introductory song—noises and whatnot.  And indeed, these electronic noises link all of the songs of the record, with different sounds in between the tracks (like the way “Bacteria” opens with spacey effects and electronic drum noises for 35 seconds).  But the first proper song “Rise,” has an opening guitar riff that is quite normal—dark, but normal.  It’s true that the heaviness of the chugging section is heavier than most (like earlier Voivod), but it’s still not that strange. Until the verses come in.  And here’s where E-Force’s vocals are a little different—more processed and robotic sounding.  It actually works a lot better.  And in the middle of the song while the heaviness is ongoing, that opening normal guitar riff comes back.  Rather conventionally.

“Mercury” has a more typical Voivod guitar riff although the pounding heavy chords are still quite heavy.  There’s more of the distorted vocals and weird chords for the bridge.  It also begins a series of increasingly longer songs.  This one is nearly 6 minutes.  While “Phobos” is nearly 7.  It also has an interesting echoing staccato guitar riff with E-Force’s vocals very distorted (like Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy).  The bridge is a crazy noisy monstrosity and yet the middle section is very simple:  loud chords  delivered at a slow pace with interesting effects and fiddly guitar solo noises.  “Bacteria” reaches over 8 minutes long.  But it is unlike any of their earlier prog songs.  It has an interesting echoing guitar opening and a bunch of staggered parts.  But once the song’s major chords start up it sounds probably most like the previous album except for the lengthy instrumental/psychedelic section starting at around 5 minutes.

The album slows down somewhat with the 1:48 “Temps Mort” a short instrumental with what sounds alike an accordion. It’s a weird little time out (which is what the title means), and I like it a lot.

“The Tower” has an underwater kind of feel to it amidst the bludgeoning guitars.  The middle and the end have some very cool heavy trippy/spacey metal which is so radically different from the heavy Voivod chords that make up the proper song.  Indeed the very end is a minute of mellow spacey guitars.  “Quantum” is a pretty straight ahead (for Voivod) metal song with echoed vocals that take some of th edge off (until he screams the chorus).  There’s another cool instrumental section. In fact, the whole album has great instrumental sections, it’s kind of a shame the vocals are so offputting (although at the end of this song they are so distorted and computerized that they sound very cool)

“Neutrino” opens with those big loud slow ringing chords of noise before the simple but creepy solo riff comes in.  It’s 6 minutes long and has another interesting guitar line amid the noise.  It takes 3 minutes (of 7) before the vocals come in and the song gets much darker.  “Forlorn” is the closest thing to a hit on the album.  The chorus is really easy to sing along to.  And the verses are actually pretty straightforward.  It’s very very heavy and isn’t going to make the radio anywhere, but it’s still catchy.  The album proper ends with “Catalepsy II,” more swirling noises that sound like the beginning.

There are two bonus tracks on the CD.  “M-Body” was written by Jason Newsted and is the most industrial mechanized/voiced songs on the album.  It’s certainly out of place, although it does hint at what is to come on their next album.  “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a cover of the King Crimson song.  They’d done Pink Floyd and King Crimson fits pretty nicely.  As with the Floyd covers this one is very heavy.  Piggy gets the guitars right.  But as with the rest of the album, E-Force’s vocals just don’t work. Whereas Snake’s weird pronunciations accented the covers in a cool way, E-Force just seems to be forcing his way through the track (the fact that he puts 3 syllables in “century” is pretty unforgivable.  Overall the song is pretty great, although I’m not so sure about the guitar solo which sounds like Piggy doesn’t really know what to do.

And that’s the end of this Voivod lineup.  Two albums and a lot of lost fans.

[READ: September 20, 2013] Terry

I have known about this book for a pretty long time.  I was never really that interested in reading it because, while I don’t know all that much about Terry Fox, I felt like I knew enough about him to not bother with a full bio.

For those who don’t know (basically anyone from the U.S.), Terry Fox was a young man who developed cancer at the age of 19 in 1977. and had his leg amputated.  To draw attention to cancer research he decided to run (yes run) across Canada on the Trans Canada Highway.  He had a prosthetic leg, he practiced running every day (he was already a natural athlete) and he decided that in 1980 he would run from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (he even had a bottle of water from the Atlantic that he wanted to pour into the Pacific).  His plan was to run between 26 miles a day.  Yes, run a marathon every day.  He called it the Marathon of Hope.

When he started out, the media coverage was nothing but as he progressed and his friend (who drove the van alongside him) started making media attention, Terry’s cause became more well known.  And by the time he made it to Ontario, he was a huge personality—making TV appearances, talking to anyone and, most importantly, making a ton of money for cancer research. (more…)

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Two-Pints-Doyle-Roddy-9780224097819 SOUNDTRACK: BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY-LIve on Mountain Stage (April 11, 2013).

bpbI saw Bonnie “Prince” Billy several years ago when he opened for Godspeed You Back Emperor.  His set was really good.  And yet I have never bought any of his music (his back catalog is just too intimidating to want to jump into).  But i still enjoy his music, and this Mountain Stage appearance shows off his songs and his between set humor.

He plays four songs here: “Oh How I Enjoy The Light,” “We Love Our Hole,” “Screaming Issue” and “You Remind Me Of Something (The Glory Goes).”

“We Love Our Hole” is from an Australian movie about surfing (and features some great baking vocals from Emmett Kelly and especially Cheyenne Marie Mize.  And “Screaming Issue” is a Loudon Wainwright song (it seems funny to me that he has so many songs but he chose to do a cover) and he does a great job of it.  “You Remind Me of Something” may be my favorite song of the set.

One of these days I’ll have to dive into his recorded work.  But, oh where to start?

[READ: September 19, 2013] Two Pints

Two Pints is a delightful, short book that shows just how funny Roddy Doyle is.  I’m not sure how easy it is to find in the States, but if you’re a fan of Doyle’s humor, this is worth tracking down.

It is a series of conversations between two mates at the pub.  Each entry is dated starting with 24-5-11 (May 24, 2011 for us Americans) and ending 4-9-12 (September 9, 2012).  At first I thought that they were regular meetings, but they aren’t.  Some come weekly some more frequently.  But in each visit, the two men meet at their local with a pint to discuss the events of the day (often quite reluctantly).

Of course they also talk about their wives and kids and grand kids (the one crazy piece of nonsense is that one man (neither are named) keeps talking about buying wild animals for his kids (polar bears, hyenas and the lot).  It’s so strangely far-fetched for something that is otherwise down to earth, that I’m just not sure if Doyle was making a point or just being goofy.

But otherwise, one man begins talking and the other joins in.

They talk about Gaddafi (one of them thinks he’s the guy at the chipper, the other one is sure he’s spotted him working at the airport—the perfect hiding place).  They talk a lot about the Queen (it’s okay to hate the Brits again, phew) and The Pope (the mean German pope, not the nice new pope).  They talk about politics and voting.  They even talk about Anthony Weiner. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_08_26_13Drooker.inddSOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD-Negatron (1995).

negatronAfter The Outer Limits failed to grab an audience, Voivod’s lead singer Snake departed the band.  With just the two original members left (and no bassist or singer), Piggy and Away decided to start again.  And they went dark and heavy.  For the first 45 second of this album, you think, wow, Voivod has made a really heavy album—with thundering riffs and, yet still, some unusual chords from Piggy (the chord progressions are definitely still weird).  Then new singer (and bassist) E-Force opens his mouth.  And that’s when a good portion of Voivod’s  prog rock fan base started weeping.

E-Force is a screamer.  He’s not unlike Snake on the first couple of albums (although without the French accent).  But there’s very little diversity.  E-Force’s voice isn’t a total failure.  It works pretty well with the heaviness of the music.  But those of us who grew used to Snake’s singing can’t help but be disappointed by E-Force’s very limited range and style.

Opener “Insects” has some very cool parts and the music is kind of interesting—Piggy is always inventive and it’s cool to hear him mix some of his weird chords with such heavy music (the style is kind of like Killing Technology era but heavier and weirder).  And there’s some sequences where the chords are just bizarre and cool.  There is a bridge in “Insects” where E-Force sounds a bit like Snake and it’s like a great heavy Voivod album of old.

Speaking of heavy, Away sounds like he is having a great time banging the hell out of his drums.  I feel somewhat surprised that after the last few albums of mellowing out that both guys could ramp up to play so fast and heavy again.  “Project X” gives E-Force some room to do some different vocal styles (like on the first bridge which is actually kind of catchy), but the song is more pounding than exciting,

“Nanoman” brings some diversity, with a standard, but cool metal riff (and double bass drums). It also has a chorus that you can sing along to (or scream along to at any rate).  “Reality?” is by now standard scream fare, but there is a chorus “upside down reality” in which E-Force shows he can actually sing and that part is quite good.  “Negatron” is over 7 minutes long, and yet there s very little prog at hand.  It does have some astonishingly noisy dissonant chords, though.  “Planet Hell” opens with a bass riff that stands out a bit on this pounding album.  But it quickly begins to sound like much else of the album.  I do like the middle of the song where it breaks down into alternating guitar and drum breaks.

Starting with “Meteor” the album gets a little more interesting.  There’s more high notes in this song, especially in the bridge—it’s still heavy and bludgeoning but there is some diversity here.  I haven’t talked about the lyrics on the albums mostly because I can’t make them out, but on this song you can actually hear the lyrics and you can tell that they’re also not really up to snuff: “I don’t fucking care, I don’t care no more, I don’t give a shit.”

“Cosmic Conspiracy” opens with a simple echoing guitar line.  It introduces a sci-fi element that the album has sorely lacked.  Between that and the heavy drums and the crunchy bass, the song sounds really promising.  Indeed, when E-Force starts singing, it’s muffled in an interesting way.  And mid way through, it breaks into just martial drumming from Away.  This is the diversity we’ve been looking for.  There’s even an impressive (an interestingly effected) drum solo.  Then the guitars that kick in are fairly traditional but actually fun speed metal.  Sadly, E-Force’s voice doesn’t work with this section and kind of ruins it, which is a shame.  There’s some interesting guitar work in the end of the song but it’s kind of drowned out by E-Froce’s screams.  “Bio-TV” has a staccato sound that breaks up the pummeling.  And the middle has a kind of pretty guitar riff (and a simplistic sing along section that sounds great amidst the chaos).

The final track is by far the most interesting and unusual.  It is called “D.N.A” which stands for “Don’t know Anything” (seriously).  But what’s unexpected is that the song is primarily written by and sung by Jim Thriwell (of Foetus).  It’s not entirely clear if Piggy’s guitar is even on it (it is so distorted beyond guitar that it could be anything), although you do hear some chords near the end.  Away’s drums are in the mix somewhere (it may indeed be all machines).  It sounds like a Ministry/Skinny Puppy hybrid, and I would have preferred that electronic direction to the fairly generic death metal sound of the album.  I’m really not sure what to make of this song.  If you like noisy industrial music, this is an unexpectedly interesting track and surely a weird place to look for something like this.

There is a degree of irony that Blacky left to play more electronic music and Voivod recorded “DNA”.  But even more ironic is that Snake left in part to start a much more heavy hardcore band (Union Made) and then the next Voivod album was the heaviest they’d done.  It’s cool that Voivod is ever evolving, but this is a weird sidestep in a career of progression.  It’s not a failure, but it takes a number of listens to find the gems within the noise.

[READ: September 17, 2013] “The Tribal Rite of the Strombergs”

This Simon Rich story is very funny.  It begins (as the picture that accompanies it shows us) with Scrabble.  Jeremy is playing his father.  Jeremy always loses to his father.  And yet, Jeremy reveals that he has been playing Words with Friends (his father doesn’t know what that is).  And through Words with Friends he has learned that words like “qat” are playable (his father doubts the word but doesn’t challenge).

It soon becomes clear (because Jeremy can see the score) that although he is losing, it’s close enough that he might, for the first time, be able to beat his father.

When Jeremy plays Ta (a word they have always used), his father challenges.  But it is useless.  Jeremy’s father has a Z and that should do it. (more…)

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