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Archive for the ‘Canadian Music’ Category

6616 SOUNDTRACK: PATRICK WATSON-Tiny Desk Concert #221  (May 31, 2012).

pat-watsPatrick Watson is a Montreal-based singer songwriter with whom I was unfamiliar.  But he has received many accolades, including being nominated for the Polaris prize many times (and winning once).  It turns out that Bob Boilen also really likes him a lot. And I can see why.

Watson and his band make sounds that are quite unexpected (but are still melodic and pretty).  The first song “Adventures In Your Own Backyard” itself is amazing the way it unfolds.  The first sounds we hear are the drummer using a violin bow on Boilen’s Emmy statue (which I’m sure Bob was genuinely delighted by).  There’s two acoustic guitars and the violinist’s beautiful ooohs.  About one minute in, there’s a big drum sound as the drummer starts playing snare and bass.  And then the acoustic guitar is is put through some kind of filter to give it a very electric sound.  Once you get used to the acoustic guitar sounding electric and the electric guitar sounding acoustic, the violin comes in (sounding like a violin).  And then there’s backing vocals oohing until Watson comes back with more vocals, but this time through a microphone that is hugely distorted and mechanical-sounding (he and the violinist shared oohing duties and their voices get processed together).  All of this sounds like chaos and yet the melody is catchy and constant (and yes, the song ends with the drummer bowing that Emmy one more time).

Watson explains that for “Words In The Fire” the band was “nine hours north of nowhere” north of Quebec with these kids who invited them to a campfire party.  They had nowhere else to be so they went.   The kids requested a Bob Marley song, but they didn’t know any.  So they wrote this song.  For the start, it’s just Watson singing with the acoustic guitar.  Midway through the song, the percussionist plays a saw, giving it an eerie quality.  Despite the craziness of the first song, this song is delicate and pretty and Watson’s voice is high and sweet as well.

“Into Giants” opens with some lovely guitar intros and lots of harmonies.  This song is especially fun to watch because the five of them are all squeezed in behind the desk and seem more crammed than before.  Watson even has to move out of the way to let the violinist take her solo.  The whole band sings in a big folksy chorus “started as lovers don’t know where it’s gonna end” with appropriately big bass drum sounds.  The song seems like it’s going to end with Watson’s oooohing, but with a minute left, the song picks up again, with Watson playing a cool riff on the keyboard.  He even gets out that distorted mic again to build the song back up.

I love watching a Tiny Desk by someone I don’t know and immediately falling for a band.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Book”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

Matar’s story is quite different from the others.  He says that his earliest memory of books is being read to, not actually reading.  Many of the classics were read to him: One Thousand and One Nights, and the Arabic literary renaissance of the twentieth century.   But there were hardly any books for children in the house.

He says that during his life he has had a passionate affair with books in English and Arabic.  And he makes this wonderfully succinct comment about youthful reading: some books were “undeserving of my youthful fervor, a few … I encountered at the wrong moment, [but there were] plenty of others that still light up rooms inside me.”

But, for him the book that affected him the most if one that he hasn’t read.  He doesn’t even know the title or author. (more…)

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dasha SOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-The Principles of Science [CST007] (1999). 

sackvilleFor Sackville’s only release for Constellation Records, they created a short disc of great folk with a hint of art rock

“Gold Dust” is a catchy uptempo folk song with some nice violin melodies as accents.  It’s a catchy number with Levine’s vocals sounding once again kind of like the guy from Social Distortion singing a mellow folk song.  The chorus has nice backing vocals added.  “Water” is a mellow song with, again, a beautiful guitar and violin melody.  The vocals have a great distinctive melody over the top.

“Blue Lips” has a kind of saloon sounding quality in its piano and a super catchy violin riff that runs through the song (and informs the vocal line).  I really like the lyrics on this one: “If memory serves me well…I may forget your name but not your face…unusual face.”  This song is only 3 minutes and it is over way too quickly.  “Four Alarm Fire” is a slow, evolving song coming in at nearly 7 minutes.  It opens with some quietly played guitar and a bass line that seems to be quiet but soon plays and interesting line that propels the song (albeit slowly).

The title song picks up the pace with a pretty guitar and piano melody.  The catchiness of the chorus “this light will disappear like breath on a mirror” is a great ending to this quiet disc.

Their final album of odds and ends, Natural Life, is available to stream on bandcamp.

[READ: June 20, 2016] A Year Without Mom

This book is a graphic novel (mostly) about a year without mom.  This is actually a memoir from Tolstikova about the year in her life when her mother left Moscow to study in America.  Dasha was 12 years old in 1983 and her mom was an advertiser in Russia.  But she didn’t like the kind of advertising she did.  She had applied to a Masters program in America and was accepted.  And soon enough she packed up and shipped out.

Dasha was to stay in Moscow with her grandparents.

In August she and her grandparents went to the country for a writers retreat.  Other kids would be there, too.  Her grandparents encouraged her to play with them but Petya, the leader is an anchor on a children’s TV show and his mother is a famous actress herself–it’s an intimidating scene. (more…)

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coralSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-These Last Songs (1997).

lastsiongs Sackville released two full length albums.  This was the first. They’d added a second guitar which gave their songs a bit more texture.  But they still had a kind of gritty folk music sound.  I saw the term “urban country” used to describe them, which is strangely apt.

“Sydney Mines” is a slow folk song with a quiet slow guitar motif.  I love the descriptive lyrics: “In the dead of winter in Sydney Mines they take their cars out on the ice.” The song is accented by a slow, scratchy violin that comes in after the first verse.  But the chorus gets rocking and kind of fun/sloppy with the drums really taking over.  The vocals don’t really change the laconic style but they do get noticeably louder.  “Clothesline” retains that slowness although the verses have a bit more sing-song quality.  And once again the chorus bursts into life with a raw violin and loud drums.

The excellent guitar riff that opens “Good Citizen” is quite a change—the song picks up speed (and the vocals sound very different–clipped and quick).  It’s a great alt folk song.  The chorus is lurching and interesting as well.  “Upstate” has an early 1990s guitar line and pounding chords at the end of each verse.  The juxtaposition of his voice with this electric song works nicely.  “Tie Back Yr Hair” returns to the slow style of the earlier songs although this melody is mostly led by the violin.  “Lines and Barriers” is a slow ballad, mostly guitar—it reminds me of Syd Barrett.

“The Frame-Up’ has more loud drums and quiet creaking violins.  Nearly four minutes in, the violin takes over with a staccato refrain that gets the song sounding more intense.  “Bender” adds a pleasant surprise with guest vocalist Genevieve Heistek taking lead vocals.  The music is much the same but her voice changes the overall style of the music quite a bit.  The addition of fuzzy static at the end adds an alt-rock touch.  “Invisible Ink” has the prettiest violin melody yet, an unscratchy ascending melody that complements the slow guitars.  And just as it seems to be another slow ballad, the 3rd minute ramps up the electric guitar and the song soars for about 20 seconds before returning to that main melody.

“Her Ghost Will One Day Rise Again” has the most country feel of the album—the violin is much more fiddle than violin and the simple melody is very catchy, but in a drunken hillbilly kind of way rather than a country song proper (which means a I like it better).  On “Border Towns” he sounds the most like the lead singer from Social Distortion.  This is a lurching kinda punk y song, although it’s the chorus that really has that Social D feel—a slow catchy chorus in which his delivery is uncanny.  “Pioneers” ends the disc with a downbeat song with really catchy lyrics: “It’s hard to be a pioneer” in the keening voice of the 12-year-old protagonist.

Given the popularity of alt-country, Sackville was sadly ignored.

[READ: June 10, 2016] Coral Reefs

Wicks created the Human Body Theater graphic novel (also from First Second), which I absolutely loved.  This book is part of First Second’s new Science Comics series, in which they take a good hard look at scientific things and present a ton of information in a fun cartoony format–easily digestible chunks with awesome pictures that convey a lot of information.

I loved the dinosaurs one for just how much new information I’d learned from it.

This book has a really inspirational forward about scuba diving which I thought was by wicks (and I wondered how she was so scholarly AND an artist), but it was actually by Randi Rotjan from the New England Aquarium (and is still inspirational).

I didn’t know a ton about coral reefs going into this book and man, is it full of information about them: how they grow and form (yes, they are animals), who lives among them and what we can do to protect them. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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landSOUNDTRACK: SONG OF THE SILENT LAND [CST2 COMP] (2004).

silentlandThis is a great compilation of Constellation artists from 2004 and earlier.  What makes it so good is that 13 of the 14 songs are released here for the first time.  So it works not only as a sampler of the labels artists, it also works as a great rarities collection.

ELIZABETH ANKA VAJAGIC-“The Sky Lay Still” [stripped down version of album song].  This song starts with slow echoing guitars and Elizabeth’s voice which sounds a bit like Carla Bozulich (but cleaner).  Two minutes in, it shifts tones to an awesomely catchy section with great vocals.

DO MAKE SAY THINK-“Winter Hymn Winter Hymn Winter Hymn”   This is the entire Winter Hymn … album remixed into a 5 minute track.  I’ve often complained that I dislike remixes but this one is great.  It includes some big guitar chords, some quiet drums, some notes and maybe gives you a feel of the album, but maybe not.  The end of the track plays some very fast heavy chords and then gets sped up out of existence.

EXHAUST-“Wool Fever Dub” [from their self-released cassette]  This song has a big thumping beat and some cool echoed harmonics on the guitar. This basic song structure runs through a 3 minute instrumental with a different “chorus” and some intense drumming at the end.

HANGEDUP-“(Re)View From The Ground (remix)”  This is a very catchy, fun remix.  Noisy clattering drums and all kinds of feedback squalls keep this propulsive track moving—this is my kind of dance remix.

BLACK OX ORKESTAR-“Toyte Goyes In Shineln”  This track comes from their album Ver Tanzt? And is one of my favorite of their songs from this disc.  An Acoustic guitar and bass play a simple melody over what I assume is quiet Hebrew singing.

SACKVILLE-“This Machine”  This is an unreleased track from the band.  It is a simple downbeat folk song with a really catchy chorus.  I like Sackville a lot but haven’t mentioned their full length yet–coming soon.

SILVER MT. ZION-“Iron Bridge To Thunder Bay” This is an unreleased track from the Rusted Satellites session, it begins with squealing feedback that slowly changes pitch until the thudding drums and bass come in.  They play a rumbling rhythm underneath the otherwise noisy sounds.  After 6 minutes, the song ends in squalls of feedback until the last minute just echoes until the end.

SOFA-“String Of Lights” [from the self released cassette].  I really like Sofa and wish they’d released more music.  This song actually sounds a bit like the Black Ox Orkestar song above-a- slow broody acoustic piece, but I love the way the chorus brightens the song.

POLMO POLPO-“Dreaming (…Again)”  This track is described as “constructed of materials from the Like Hearts Swelling sessions”  It’s a pretty, upbeat song with some slide guitars and a groovy rhythm.

RE: “Slippage” [unreleased track from the Mnant sessions]  This song has clanging percussion and oscillating keyboards which make this soundscape interesting and compelling.

FLY PAN AM-“Tres Tres ‘Avant'” is an improvisation with Tim Hecker and Christof Migone.  There’s a funky bass and drums with some groovy keyboards.

1-SPEED BIKE-“Fair Warning” [ remix of “New Blue Monday” from their album].  The track starts with a person saying “Okay we’ll call this one Fair Warning.”  You can hear the music (primarily the guitar echoed) and the riff from New Order’s “Blue Monday” and then he starts reciting passages in a great Canadian accent: “heroin crop in Afghanistan is 3 times higher this year than last year because the Taliban got taken out and replaced with the Americans.”  “We don’t want funerals because people like to party too much, Capice?”  The second half of the song is a lot of swirling statics and noise with repeated notes.

FRANKIE SPARO-“See My Film” [working mix of an unreleased song].  This song has a sprinkling of guitar notes and Sparo’s mellow but rough voice singing a cool melody.  The addition of a violin melody really elevates the song.  The end is even better as he adds another vocal line and some da das making it even catchier.

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR-“Outro” This is a live performance of a concert finale recorded in France on 14 May 2003.  This slow song opens with glockenspiel and strings–a slow, pretty melody that evolves over 7 minutes to add a bigger string section.  The last 2 minutes include a very nice violin solo that plays over the top of the rest of the band.  GYBE has never officially released a live album, so this is a good opportunity to hear what they can do live.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Land

This is a book about Anthony Gormley’s five statues on Landmark Trust Property.

The five statues in this book are life-sized cast iron sculptures installed in five Landmark Trust sites across the British Isles from May 2015 to May 2016.  Saddell Bay, Mull of Kintyre; South West Point, Lundy; Clavell Tower, Kimmeridge Bay; Martello Tower, Aldeburgh, and Lengthsman’s Cottage, Lowsonford.

The sculptures are by Antony Gormley, the photos of the sculptures are by Clare Richardson and the text is by Jeanette Winterson.  Winterson is the only person I’d heard of in this book but as soon as I flipped through the pages, I was instantly struck by the sculptures.

Gormley works with the human form in very heavy sculptural designs.  There’s another book about his work called Human that shows even more of his sculptures. (more…)

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sempleSOUNDTRACK: SISKIYOU-Nervous [CST109] (2015).

cst109covera_258x242This album begins with “Deserter,” in which a choir of children singing over a kind of spooky tone.  And then a loud rumbling bass and scratching on a guitar.  It’s quite different from the previous Siskiyou releases and outpaces the others by several steps.

Once Colin Huebert’s voice kicks in, that familiar Siskiyou sound returns—acoustic guitar and Huebert’s voice which is a mix between a whisper and Win Butler from Arcade Fire.  But “Deserter” features backing vocals and, perhaps most surprisingly, a wild baritone sax solo by Colin Stetson.  But it stays grounded with that cool rumbling bass line.

The second song “Bank Accounts and Dollar Bills (Give Peace a Chance)” opens with an echoed guitar likes some classic 1990s shoegaze music.  The vocals are a cool, intense whisper.  The verses are great and then the chorus adds a piano and his vocals rise into an impassioned wail.  The third song “Wasted Genius” adds a kind of steel drum sound that includes a great melody to the simple and slightly ominous verses.   The middle of the song switches to pummeling drums and a buzzy guitar solo before returning to the mellow verse.

“Violent Motion Pictures” has another cool whispered vocals and quiet guitars that get accented with a low bass and percussion.  There’s a neat section of falsetto vocals that remind me of Pink Floyd over a bouncy melody–before it returns to the verses.  It’s a wonderfully catchy, if brief, segment.  “Jesus in the 70s” has slow guitar lines and atmospheric keys.  “Oval Window” is a bouncy folk song (with a slightly creepy vocal over the top), but its even got a folksy kind of guitar line on it.

“Nervous” is a slow ballad.  “Imbecile Thoughts” is a fun song with stomping drums.  It has a cool ending that leads to the slow building, strings-included nearly 7 minute “Babylonian Proclivities.”  The disc ends with the 1 minute “Falling Down the Stairs.”

This album is really fantastic–an overlooked gem from 2015.

[READ: November 8, 2016] Today Will Be Different

I’ve really enjoyed Maria Semple’s books.  And this one was no exception.

She really conveys the hectic, overstimulated, over scheduled life of middle age parenting.  It helps that her stories are typically set around Seattle and that there’s a lot of excitement, tech and pop culture to throw around, too.

This is the story of a day in the life of Eleanor Flood.  Sarah pointed out, as I didn’t quite realize it, that the story takes place in one day (hence the title) although there are flashbacks that flesh out the story too.

Eleanor is, or perhaps “was” is the better verb, an artist.  She was lead animator (or something–it’s a little confusing) on the successful show Looper Wash.  When the show ended she received an advance to write a book/memoir.  That was eight years ago.

Things have been sprialling out of control for Eleanor for a while, but she vows that today will be different.  She will make a difference. (more…)

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varmintsSOUNDTRACK: HANGEDUP & TONY CONRAD-Transit of Venus [091] (2016).

conradHangedUp & Tony Conrad have the third of three discs released as part of Constellation’s Musique Fragile 02 set. From the Constellation site: Transit Of Venus documents this fertile collaboration and includes some enormous slabs of drone rock alongside more decomposed pieces and gorgeously gritty string duos.  [[The performers] recently plunged back into the archives and started shaping an album from the various 2-track and live-mixed [improvisations and] multi-track source material.

“Flying Fast n Furious” has clattering percussion and squeaky violins.  There’s some fast drumming and violin playing in the middle with a great wobbly low bass around.   About 4 minutes in the sounds are almost otherworldly/underwatery.  “Transit Of Venus” has the return of that low wobbly bass—big round fat bass notes that just seem to linger as the drums clatter away.  The sawing violin is a little less interesting than I’d like, however.  “Principles” features a buzzy violin that scratches over the interesting drum pattern.  After a minute or so some strange sounds percolate under the drone.  The sounds are mechanical, organic, (balloons?) digital—unclear.  It’s 8 minutes long and there’s a few moments when the big bass notes come in that are very cool.  In the last minute or so a new violin solo comes out of the din but it doesn’t alter the tone of the song all that much

“Bright Arc Of Light” is 4 minutes of slow bowed and plucked violins.  It’s quite minimal.  “Gentil The Unlucky Astronomer ” is 11 minutes long and it starts with multi layered violins.  It sounds a bit like The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” and after 2 minute the slow drums come in.  Once the drums enter, the song stays mostly the same—sawing violins and a steady drums with some other occasional percussion.  It’s very droney.  Around 6 minutes things change slightly and the song becomes more insistent.  It continues like this for most of the rest of the song and then ends with some solo violins.  The final track is “Panorama From Maxwell Montes” which opens with some dissonant scratchy violins.  The drums come in and start playing an intersection complex rhythm making this a good album closer.

fragileMusique Fragile Volume 02 is the second in our series of limited-edition, artwork-intensive box sets featuring three full-length albums by three different artists, available on heavyweight vinyl and as a digital bundle. The vinyl set will be limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, lovingly designed and hand-assembled.

[READ: November 1, 2016] Varmints

I really enjoyed the drawing style in this book.  The main characters were cute and cartoony and yet the backgrounds were reasonably realistic looking.  It really conveyed the setting (the old west, I guess) effectively.

However, I had a huge problem with the story.  The book felt like it was part 2, but to the best of my knowledge it isn’t.  There just seemed to be huge gaps in the story that were never filled in.  Not to mention, this is supposed to be a children’s story, but we find out (very late in the story) that the childrens’ mother was killed in cold blood–more or less on a whim.  It’s a shocking piece of violence which I suppose little kids can handle but, woah, what the hell, dude?

The story begins with Opie and Ned in a saloon.  They are young kids, Opie is Ned’s older sister–a joke is made about Opie being a weird name for a girl, but sadly, nothing more comes of that.  Opie is holding her own in a game of cards but Ned is bored and keeps interrupting the game as annoying little brother will do.

Ned says he wants a hat, and since no one will give him one, he climbs a mountain of a man (he’s so tall we can’t see his face and he is wearing a full-sized bear as a cloak of some sort) and takes the hat off of him.  Chaos ensues, the hat flies off (and gets two holes in it) and the kids wind up stealing the giant man’s horse and taking off. (more…)

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