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Archive for the ‘Canadian Music’ Category

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: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-“It’s Christmastime (Let’s Just Survive)” (2019).

I really like Kathleen Edwards and I was so delighted to hear that she was coming out of … semi-retirement?… this summer.  In the last few years, she has opened up her own coffee shop, in Stittsville, Ontario called Quitters Coffee [road trip?].

I couldn’t believe that she played XPN Fest on the year that we had tickets to the Newport Folk Festival.  I had hoped she’s play Newport as well, but sadly no.  She played two new songs and a few older ones and her voice sounds great (thanks YouTube).  In the spirit of coming back, she has released this wryly amusing Christmas song. Like many of her songs, there is a nice mix of humor and bite in this song–set to a very catchy melody.

With a slow lap steel guitar starting the song, she begins

It’s a wonderful time where we all descend to my parent’s house in the West End.  [Hope they subscribe to the West End Phoenix].

Then the song gets to the point:

Uncle Dave and Susan bring their feral cat / and homemade wine that tastes like crap.

There’s a few more examples of amusingly bad Christmas happenings.  One of my favorites is

Someone let the dog lick the gravy boat / and now the air in here unbearable

I also enjoyed this line, because it hits home:

You have a meltdown when we play scrabble / Its not my fault you’re only left with vowels.

Musically, the song is quite lovely.  There’s a pretty bridge where she sings lyrics that sound sweet until you listen closely, “tell me a story we’ve heard before and drag it out even more.”

And just when you think the song is only dark and cynical, the instrumental break adds a refrain of Kathleen quietly singing “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow.”

I truly hope that this song gets played a lot during this and future holidays.  It may not make it to #1 like “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but it’s a lot more honest–and really catchy.

I’m so excited that Kathleen is back that I’m posting the video for the song right here!

I have also just learned that this song comes from a new Christmas album called A Dualtone Christmas. (although I don’t really like much else on it).

[READ: December 19, 2019] “Letter from San Francisco”

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 indeed a letter from San Francisco.

There are a few things redacted from it–the sender and the recipient’s names and two lines in the middle which are the details of their huge fight. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARLY RAE JEPSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #918 (November 25, 2019).

It has been eight years (!) since Carly Rae’s ubiquitous “Call Me Maybe” took over the airways.  In those eight years I have grown to like the song and think of it fondly.

I also basically didn’t realize that Carly Rae was still making music.  Of course, she’s not all that prolific either–she has put out two albums since the album that featured “Call Me Maybe.”

I don’t know if she still has the same pull as she did back then.  I don’t know if this pop sensation is as big a draw as Taylor Swift was (I expect not).  Although evidently she is still beloved.

In 2012, Jepsen’s No. 1 hit “Call Me Maybe” was inescapable, and her 2015 album, E-MO-TION, made her a critical darling. An extremely high proportion of NPR employees also happen to be fans of the pop star; despite the nonstop impeachment hearing coverage happening just down the hall, Jepsen commanded a considerable and captivated crowd at the Tiny Desk.

The three songs she plays at this Tiny Desk are nowhere near the earworm that “CMM” was.  But there is something very sweet about how happy she is singing these certainly catchy songs..

From the moment Carly Rae Jepsen arrived at NPR HQ for her Tiny Desk concert, she brought an obvious sense of joy. Take, for example, her sound check: Working with her band of longtime collaborators, she seemed downright delighted, beaming at the musicians as she gave notes after each meticulous run-through. It’s that attention to detail that has helped build her a devoted fan base ready to make memes of her every move.

All three songs are from this year’s Dedicated album.

“Now That I Found You” is certainly the catchiest of the three.  There’s a cool, slightly funky guitar riff (from Tavish Crowe).  The whole song has more of a disco vibe (in the bass from Adam Siska) and there is something delightful about her breathy whispered vocals.  She doesn’t do the trills and vocal acrobatics that pop singers are prone to.  Midway through the song, everything drops out except for the piano (from Jared Manierka) and some lovely backing vocals (from Sophi Bairley) then the end takes off as a big dancefloor banger.

Introducing “Want You in My Room” she says, “This is the most direct, to the point song that we’ve ever been a part of performing and I’ve been a part of making.”  I was impressed to learn that her band was made of “longtime collaborators.”  But I also got a kick out of the way she seemed a bit shy describing the song as “a real come hither song.  You’ll see what I mean.”

It’s amusing that she says this is the most direct song that she has written.  It is kind of explicit, and yet compared to the rest of the pop world, it comes across as endearing.  Indeed, even if she does exhibit “Smiling swagger” I’m won over by her apparent innocence.

The song has a fun snare drum opening (from Nik Pešut) and a big “Hey” in the opening.  The chorus sounds a lot like something else but I can’t place it, but it is fun to hear her sing (and get into)

On the bed, on the floor
(I want you in my room)
I don’t care anymore
I wanna do bad things to you
Slide on through my window
(I want you in my room)
Baby don’t you want me too?

The pretty yellow plaid jacket comes off for the final song “The Sound,” a pretty song that starts as a ballad and gets bigger by the end.  This song didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  Perhaps since they were “modulating the album’s sparkling pop-disco vibe to fit our sun-filled office,” the hooks went away on that track.

Amazingly, her set is only 10 minutes long (one of the shortest ones I can think of).  And she doesn’t even do “Call me Maybe”!

It’s also frustrating that with such a short set they don’t even show they little joke at the end that you can hear everyone laugh at.

But I came away from this concert with more respect for her.  I might just have to listen to her critically acclaimed album after all.

[READ: October 21, 2019] Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans

When you look up books by Douglas Coupland, you will find all manner of tiny books.  Most of them have content published in similar form elsewhere.  But its not always obvious how edited the pieces are.  And frankly, the things he writes about are often so similar that it’s not always easy to know if this is an essay you’ve read before.

This book, published by V2 in Rotterdam is 37 pages in very large font.

The cover image as well as the texts on pages 13 and 19 come from “Slogans for the 21st Century”

The three are:

  • Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans
  • I’m Binge Watching My Data Stream
  • My Data Stream Doesn’t Judge Me

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS-Live at Massey Hall (October 1, 2017).

I’ve been a fan of the The New Pornographers for years.  Their first single, “Letter from an Occupant” was one of my favorite songs of 2000.  For nearly twenty years, they’ve been releasing super catchy fun poppy alt rock.

I was really excited to see them last week.  And then almost equally excited to see that they had a show on Live at Massey Hall.

This show did not have Neko Case singing and while she is not the crux of the band, I’m glad she was at my show, because her voice is great and having three women singing was more fun than having just two.

Before the set, singer and songwriter AC Newman says, “I’m nervous because I realize this is what I do … people paid to come see you.”  His niece, keyboardist Kathryn Calder is with him.  She says she loves having the momentum of 7 people on stage.  It’s a very in the moment feeling shared by all of them.

The show starts with an older song “The Jenny Numbers.”  There’s a wild ripping guitar solo from Todd Fancey in the middle of this otherwise poppy song.  Calder and violinist Simi Stone sound great with their backing vocals–so full and complete.  And excellent compliment to the songs.

Up next is “Whiteout Conditions” which starts with a ripping violin melody from Stone.  I happen to know their newer songs a lot better than their middle period songs and I really like this song a lot.

The full setlist for this show is available online.  They played 22 songs at he show, so it’s a shame to truncate it to 35 minutes.  How did they decide what to cut?  They cut “Dancehall Domine.”

Up next is one of the great songs from the Together album, “Moves.”  The opening riff and persistent use of violin is perfect.

Between songs, Newman says to the audience, “you’ve got to promise not to sit down because it’ll be like a dagger in my heart.”

In the interview clip he says he always love the compartmentalized songs of Pixies.  They influenced the way he wrote music.  So did The Beach Boys for harmonies.  He says it’s hard to know what seeps through, but there’s a ton of it.  Sometimes I’ll hear an old song I used to love and realize I totally stole a part from that song and I didn’t know it.

The show skips “Colosseums” and moves on to “The Laws Have Changed.”  I loved seeing this live because of the amazing high notes that AC Newman hits in the end of the song.  This is also a chance for Kathryn to shine a bit.  “High Ticket Attractions” comes next in the show and here.  It’s such an insanely catchy song.  From the call and response vocals to the overall melody.  It’s one of my favorites of theirs.

The show skips three songs, “Champions of Red Wine,” “Adventures in Solitude,” and “All the Old Showstoppers.”  So up next is “This is the World of the Theater.”  I’m glad they chose this because Kathryn Calder sings lead vocals and she sounds fantastic.  The middle section of the song also includes some hocketing where Newman, Calder, Stone and maybe some others sing individual notes alternately to create a lovely melody.

I noticed that drummer Joe Seiders sings quite a bit as well.  And a shout out to bassist John Collins because he gets some great sounds out of that instrument.

Newman tells the audience that Massey Hall is an intimidating venue, but one you get here it feel welcoming and warm.  The crowd applauds and he says, “soooo, I’m not sweating it.”

Up next comes the poppy and wonderful “Sing Me Spanish Techno.”  It has a constant simple harmonica part played by Blaine Thurier who also plays keyboards.   It’s such a wonderfully fun song.

They skip pretty much the rest of the show to play the big encore song, “Brill Bruisers.”  [Skipped: “Backstairs,” “Play Money,” “Testament to Youth in Verse,” “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Avalanche Alley,” “Use It,” “Mass Romantic” )that’s a surprise!) and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”].

“Brill Bruisers” is from the then-new album.  The first time I heard it I was blown away.  Those “boh bah boh bah bah bohs” in the beginning are so arresting.  The harmonies that run through the song are sensational and the “ooh” part in the verses just knocks me out.  Its a great great song.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” closed the show and it is played over the closing credits.

This is a terrific example of how good this band is live, but nothing compares to actually seeing them.

[READ: August 1, 2019] Bit Rot

A few years ago I had caught up with Douglas Coupland’s publications.  I guess it’s no surprise to see that he has published more since then.  But I am always surprised when I don’t hear about a book at all.  I just happened to stumble upon this collection of essays.

Coupland’s general outlook hasn’t changed much over the years.  He is still fascinated by “the future,” but he looks at technology and future ideas in a somewhat different way.  He tends to mourn the loss of some things while often embracing what has replaced it.

As my son is now a teenager, I wondered what his take on some of these essays would be–if he would think that Coupland is an old fuddy duddy, or if he was right on.  Or, more likely, that he had never looked at some of these ideas that way at all.  Coupland is quite cognizant that young people are growing up in a very different world than ours.  And that they don’t have any problem with that.  They don’t “miss cursive” because it never meant anything to them in the first place.  They can’t imagine not having Google and hence all of the world’s information at their fingertips.  Of course they assume that technology will continue to get smaller and faster. We older folks may not be prepared for that (or maybe we are), but that’s what younger people expect and can’t wait for

This was a very long, rather thick book that was just full of interesting, funny, thoughtful essays and short stories. I really enjoyed it from start to finish, even if I’d read some of the pieces before. (more…)

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shoppingSOUNDTRACK: MATT MAYS-Live at Massey Hall (May 4, 2018).

I had never heard of Matt Mays.  He was once a part of the Canadian country band The Guthries (who I also don’t know).  Perhaps the most surprising (and disappointing) thing to me about this show is when I saw an ad for this concert and saw that Kathleen Edwards was opening for him (!).  And that so far they haven’t released the Kathleen Edwards show.

Before the show he says he wants all feelings present–happy, sad–he praises the expression “all the feels” because that’s what he wants to happen tonight.  He wants the night to be “like a Nova Scotia kitchen party.”  You laugh you cry you dance and you fight all in one kitchen.

He starts with “Indio.”  Like most of these songs, it is a rocking guitar song with a definite country-rock feel.  It’s also interesting that a Nova Scotia guy is singing about “old fashioned California sin.”  There’s a ton of lead guitar work from Adam Baldwin.  Mays also plays guitar and there’s an acoustic guitar as well from Aaron Goldstein  The song breaks midway through to a piano melody from Leith Fleming-Smith.  Mays asks “You feel like singing Toronto? It’s real easy.”  And it is: “Run run run you are free now.  run run run you are free.”

For “Station Out of Range,” he invites his dear friend Kate Dyke from St Johns, Newfoundland.  She sings backing vocals.  It opens with some big crushing drums from Loel Campbell.  It has a slower tempo, but it grows really big with some really massive drum fills.

“Building a Boat” opens with a repeating keyboard pattern before a real rocking riff kicks in.  Ryan Stanley also plays guitars.  The song rocks on with a lot of little guitar solos.  Mays takes one and then Baldwin follows.  They jam this pretty long.

“Take It on Faith” starts with a simple piano before the guitars come roaring in with two searing solos.  The melody is really catchy, too.

“Terminal Romance” is a slower number.  Mays puts his guitar down and its mostly piano and bass
(Serge Samson).  Eventually a guitar with a slide is added.  It builds as more guitars come in.  They jam this song for about 8 minutes.

He ends the show with “Cocaine Cowgirl,” an oldie that still means a lot to him.   He says he’s been playing Toronto since he was 19 years-old in font of tow people.  He’s thrilled to be at Massey Hall.  His band is his best buds from Nova Scotia.   It’s an absolutely wailing set ender with Mays throwing in some wicked solos.  The song seems like its over but Mays plays some really fast guitar chords and aftee a few bars everyone joins in and rips the place part with intensity.  It runs to nearly ten minutes and it’s a  really satisfying ending.

[READ: August 3, 2019] “Shopping in Jail”

When an author releases a lot of books and essays in various formats, it’s pretty inevitable that you’ll wind up re-reading one or two.  Especially if some of those essays are reprinted in other books.

So it turns out that I read this small book five years ago (it’s understandable that I didn’t remember that after five years).  Here’s what I said about it five years ago:

Just when I thought I had caught up with everything that Douglas Coupland had published, I came across this book, a collection of his recent essays.  I enjoy the very unartistic cover that Sternberg Press has put on this.  It looks extremely slapdash–look at the size of the print and that the contents are on the inside front cover.  But the essays contained within are pure Coupland and are really enjoyable.

I have read a number of his older essays in recent years.  And here’s the thing: reading old Coupland essays just makes you think, ho hum, he knew some things.  But you don’t really think that he was on the forefront of whatever he was thinking.  So to read these essays almost concurrently is really fascinating.

His thoughts are science fiction, but just on the cusp of being very possible, even probable.  He also looks at things in ways that the average person does not–he notices that on 9/11 people didn’t have picture phones–imagine how more highly documented it would have been.  These essays are largely about technology, but they’re also about the maturation and development of people and how they relate to things.  Coupland can often seem very ponderous, and yet with these essays he seems prescient without actually trying to predict anything.  I enjoyed this collection very much.

I’m going to include what I said last time (in italics), but I felt the need to add some five-years later thoughts on each essay. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 15, 2019] Preoccupations

I saw Preoccupations open for Protomartyr about a year ago.  At the time I wrote:

Preoccupations is a band from Calgary Alberta Canada.  They were originally called Viet Cong. They put out a stunning album called Viet Cong and then met all kinds of grief for the name (shows cancelled, etc), so they changed it to Preoccupations.  It’s amazing that a band as minor and indie as them would get so much grief, but whatever.

I thought their show was fantastic.  I loved the sound of their music and the energy that the band brought.

This show was similarly good–although perhaps the smaller venue of the Foundry made the band seem more dynamic.

I see that the setlist was largely the same for both shows (they haven’t put out new material since New Material in 2018).  I find it fascinating that much of the setlist comes from their first album Viet Cong.  I wonder why that is.

I also feel like for this show the band was considerably quieter than last time.  I realize that at the last show I was in front of speakers, and this one I was a little further back and therefore muffled.  But it seems like the overall wall of sound was somewhat lessened. (more…)

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