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Archive for the ‘Canadian Content’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THUNDERCAT-“Black Squalls” (2020).

I really liked Thundercat’s album “Drunk.”  At first I wasn’t sure about it because it tends into some smooth R&B which I don’t really like.  But his musicianship and lyrics were just too good, that he won me over.  And when he gets his bass fingers moving, it’s a marvel.

Thundercat is touring around here soon and I’m thinking about getting a ticket.  I didn’t realize he’d be releasing a new album.  This song “Black Squalls” comes from it.

“Black Squalls” marries the two parts of Thundercat’s work with a great opening funky fat bass line and Thundercat’s falsetto vocals.

A wavery synth line introduces the catchy chorus

‘Cause there’s no more livin’ in fear
No more livin’ in fear
If we don’t talk about it on the web

I love Thundercat’s falsetto backing vocals while Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington sing the post-chorus.

The juxtaposition of smooth and thumping bass is fantastic.  This is the single edit of the song.  The album version will have a contribution from Childish Gambino.  Now THAT should be cool.

[READ: January 15, 2020] “Saturday Project”

I really enjoyed this story and its divergent plot lines.

I also enjoyed the somewhat confusing way it started.  Geoff and his wife Laura had discussed “cutting the cord” and I couldn’t quite picture what that meant.

Then the UPS man brought some boxes which made the reality come home.

Soon enough it becomes clear that they are cutting the cable cord and switching to a satellite dish.  Laura is concerned, can they still watch local news? He assured her it was a good idea.  And yet those boxes stayed unopened in his workroom for months. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TORRES-“Dressing America” (2020).

I’ve really enjoyed Torres’ music over the years.  I have seen her in concert twice and her live set is riveting.

Her earlier music was very intense and it seems as though her newer music is a bit more poppy.  This new song has a wonderfully catchy melody and her voice sounds fantastic.

Over a gentle guitar, she sings quietly in her lower register.  The song slowly builds up with keyboard swells and a quiet drum.

As the song heads into the chorus, she hits a lovely falsetto “to you” before the sweet chorus

I tend to sleep with my boots on
should I need to gallop over dark waters
to you
on short notice

The chorus has a fantastic delay between the falsetto “to you” (like in the bridge) and the “on short notice” that adds some nice drama.

It’s remarkably catchy (and the video is really sweet too).  I’m looking forward to the album and to seeing her live this Spring.

[READ: January 15, 2019] “The Sail and the Scupper”

This story begins with an epigram from The Canadian Press:

Massive numbers of dead starfish, clams, lobsters, and mussels have washed up on a western Nova Scotia beach, compounding the mysterious deaths of tens of thousands of herring in the area.

Ohm takes this idea and makes an unexpected story out of it.

The story is set in a bar.  A lobster named Homer enters and the bartender (a clam named Lewis) tells him he missed happy hour.

This sounds like the set up to a joke, but it is not.  Lewis looks around his empty bar that only last summer was brimming with herring–slapping fins, endlessly chattering.  The herring were always hanging around the newspaper reporters (like Homer) who were always stationed in this bar.  They were always trying to get scraps of information about what was happening to the water.

Soon enough they were itching for Direct Action. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-Tiny Desk Concert #929 (December 18, 2019).

One of my favoirte Christmas songs is “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” so I’m always pleased to hear someone play it (it’s not overplayed yet).  I didn’t realize that this Tiny Desk Concert was a Christmas themed one, so when Los Lobos opened with this song, I knew it had to go on Christmas Day.

The band called up tunes from the Latin holiday song book, straight from their recently released, first-ever Christmas album, Llegó Navidad, a bilingual collection of songs from across Latin America and the U.S.

Imagine my surprise to read this about my favorite Christmas song:

They kicked it off with an obscure novelty hit that was once popular in Latino households in the Southwest, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” It was originally a lushly orchestrated affair that is now a “lowrider oldie.”

The percussion is in full effect on this song with Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez on drums, Marcos Reyes on congas and Louie Perez on a washboard type scratcher.  The song features a cool baritone sax solo from keyboardist Steve Berlin and a little acoustic guitar solo from singer Cesar Rosas.

David Hidalogo on 12 string electric guitar takes lead vocals on the new album’s title cut, “Llegó Navidad.” The song

is actually a classic from the Fania Records catalog originally performed by the Puerto Rican composer and singer Ismael Rivera. Los Lobos retains its pan-Latin callout to holiday celebrations across Latin America, set to a slow burning montuno groove.

There’s some cool low notes from the baritone sax and Hidalo’s gentle voice over the top.

For the third song, “Christmas and You” Louie Perez plays a jarana and Hidalgo sings lead.  It’s interesting to me that I am more familiar with Rosas as the lead singer.  I wonder how many songs he actually sings.

The band adds a David Hidalgo and Louie Perez original to the Latin holiday songbook with “Christmas and You,” a plaintive ballad about desperate loss that we would easily call a carte vena (vein cutter). The great Mexican essayist Alma Guillermoprieto once wrote that it’s not a real Mexican party “until someone cries,” and this song does the trick.

A brief keyboard/bells solo from Berlin keeps the holiday spirit in the song.

For the final song “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” Hidalgo picks up the accordion and the bouncy bass from Conrad Lozano makes this a fun polka style holiday song.

The party ends by sending everyone home, dancing with “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” a song by the great Tex- Mex troubadour, Freddy Fender. It’s a Los Lobos scorcher, complete with accordion and good times that would get even abuelita dancing.

The Tiny Desk holiday shows are always fun, I wish there were more.

[READ: December 25, 2019] “A Hint for Next Christmas”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

Yes, this is the creator of Winnie the Pooh.  I didn’t know he wrote essays, but I definitely want to read more after this.  This essay appeared in Milne’s 1920 collection If I May and it rings true almost 100 years later in nearly every way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LETTERS TO CLEO-Ok Christmas (2019).

After a lengthy hiatus and a comeback EP, Letters to Cleo have returned with a Christmas EP.

It’s four songs and the title is a pretty funny indicator that the songs here are not full of great cheer–things are okay.

It’s a bit of a surprise for such a happy-sounding band.

The first song is a fun rocking version of The Kink’s “Father Christmas.”  This song always seems happy until you listen to the lyrics.  This version is a bit more pop punk than the original, but not by much.  However, Kay Hanley has updated the lyrics from

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids on the street

to

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
And can you melt down all the machine guns
so the kids are safe on the street

“Miss You This Christmas” is an original that sounds like classic Letter to Cleo and could easily have been written and recorded back in the 90s.  Its a song of longing (obviously) with a positive twist at the end–coming home to kiss me New Year’s Eve.

“If I Get Home on Christmas Day” was sung by Elvis.  It’s a poppy little number that sounds upbeat and has a lovely lap steel guitar. But it has a lot of questioning about being together for the holidays.

The final song “X Mas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It”) I heard recently by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  I assumed it was their song–it suited their sound very well (and its about Boston).  But it turns out it was originally by The Dogmatics (which makes sense because it’s a bit too dark for the Bosstones).

It’s the twentieth of December
Rain is coming down
Kenmore squares deserted, now
The college kids have left town

This version is a little less dark than the Bosstones’ since Kay Hanley’s voice is so much prettier than Dicky Barrett’s but it’s still not a very happy ending.

I understand what the band was doing with this OK Christmas, but I do wish it ended a bit more happily. Because that album cover (a great design by Daykamp Creative) is just fabulous.

[READ: December 24, 2019] “Vigil”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is a memory of Christmas Eve,  It also includes a bunch of Polish words.

On the Holy Night vigil, Wigilia (which means “to watch” in Polish), the young narrator and his family sat around while his father read “The Night Before Christmas.” They were ready for bed when there was a knock on the door. It was the grizzled, kooky old taxidermist from downstairs.

The man presented them with a large unwieldy package.  They invited him in, but he wouldn’t stay.  They wished him Wesolych Swiat and closed the door.

The present proved to be a very large carp wrapped in newspaper with a pinkish bronze tail and a gray thick-lipped snout with its white mustachios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Little Saint Nick” (2019).

It was only a few years ago that I realized that this song is about a car.  For years you can sing words to a song and not realize what you’re actually saying.

The song is a fun upbeat Christmas song that I rather like.

Best Coast is a rock duo: Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno.  They sing California indie pop with a rocking edge.

This version of “Little Saint Nick” is not radically different from the original.  The biggest musical difference is how fuzzy and distorted the main guitar is.  But her deliver of the lyrics is pretty clean (with some very nice backing vocals).

I appreciate this version because it finally taught me what the deep-voiced part is in the song “he don’t miss no one.”  I could never tell form the Beach Boys version.

This is a delightful poppy version that with just enough edge to get you moving for the holiday.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “The Adventists”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

Ian Williams has my favorite answer to one of the Q&A questions:

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

IW: I wrote “The Adventists” because Michael Hingston asked me for a story for the Short Story Advent Calendar project. I pretty much already had a title from the invitation. He said that the story didn’t have to be religious or about Christmas, so, good lawkeeper that I am, I wrote a story that was religious and about Christmas.

Indeed, this story is about Adventists.  Seventh-Day Adventists.  The narrator is the father of a family of Adventists and his daughter has just come back from college in Leeds for Christmas.

The story begins, “Our daughter is trying to persuade us that the world is more  than 6,000 years old.” She’s also got quite the posh British accent (after being away for a semester).

She doesn’t dismiss the Bible out of hand–it gives comfort to many people.  But not you? her father wonders.  She says you can’t deny science.  He retorts, “You’re going to trust some rocks above the Word of God?”

Soon enough, his daughter took out her phone and started “texting or tweeting or whatever she does when she has no retort for the real world.”

The Monday before Christmas [that’s today!] they went to Walmart.

I love this aside:

For a significant period our family refused to celebrate Christmas in protest against its pagan origins.  Made no dent on the economy.  Now we were back, somewhat grudgingly to being standard Protestants.

(more…)

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