Archive for the ‘The Weakerthans’ Category


I don’t know who Jim Bryson is (he’s a Canadian folk singer, duh), but I do know The Weakerthans.  And since this CD is always listed in The Weakerthans’ discography, I thought it was worth investigating.

All of the songs have a Weakerthans feel, there is no question (I mean, they play all the music).  And while I like the album quite a lot, I feel like without John K. Samson’s voice, the disc is missing something.  Nevertheless, the album is a wonderful folky album, a great mix of upbeat and slow tracks.

“Metal Girls” is a wonderful upbeat folk rocker.  It’s incredibly catchy.  “Fell Off the Dock” is a much slower, sadder song with the final repeated line, “everybody loved it here, but you.”  “Wild Folk” ups the tempo again.  “Constellation” is another slow song, this one with beautiful harmonies.

“Freeways in the Frontyard” has even better harmonies, from Jill Barber–a kind of minor key harmony that works very well.  “Up All Night” is another more uptempo track that could easily be an adult alternative hit.  “Kissing Cousins” is a slight track that seems like it should be funny but isn’t really.  “Decidedly” is one of my favorite tracks on the disc.  It’s boppy with a fun chorus: “Why would you ever grow leaves just to watch ’em fall off again.”

The first and last tracks feel more like filler or intro/outro than real songs.  But that’s okay.  It’s a tidy little album of very pretty songs.  And the tempo changes keep everything interesting for half an hour or so.  You can’t complain about that.

And in case you were wondering, the Falcon Lake Incident is a reported UFO encounter near Falcon Lake, Manitoba, Canada claimed to have occurred on May 20, 1967 (thanks Wikipedia).

[READ: January 19, 2012] “Happy New Year”

Of course, I wish I had read this article earlier in the month, but then I only found out about it a couple of days ago.

This is an article (I assume from the editor of The Lotus Magazine) which bemoans the loss of the New Year’s Day tradition of going to (pretty much) anyone’s house for meals and snacks and drinks and good times.

The article states that it may have been about 35 years ago (circa the 1880s) that the Dutch custom was abandoned.  Before then, people in New York City would throw open their doors and it was:

a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed and family differences amicably settled.  A hearty welcome was extended even to strangers of presentable appearance.

Indeed, it seems that certain houses were known for:

particular forms of entertainment.  At one was eggnog; at another, rum punch; at this one, pickled oysters; at that, boned turkey, or marvelous chocolate, or perfect Mocha coffee, or, for the connoisseur a drop of old madeira, as soft as rainwater and as delicate in flavor as the texture of the glass from which it was sipped. (more…)

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According to their website, “Art of Time Ensemble is one of Canada’s most innovative and artistically accomplished music ensembles. Their mandate is to give classical music the contemporary relevance and context it needs to maintain a broader audience to survive.”

So what you get is a modern orchestra playing contemporary music.  It’s not a unique idea, but in this case, it works very effectively.  And what you also get is Steven Page, former singer of the Barenaked Ladies as the vocalist.  Page has an awesome voice.  I’ve often said I could listen to him sing anything.  And here’s a good example of him singing anything.

The great thing is that the song choices are unusual and wonderful–not immediate pop hits or classic standards–it’s a cool menagerie of songs with great lyrics and equally great compositions.  This is no heavy metal with strings, this is majestic songs with orchestral scoring.  The orchestra includes: piano, sax/clarinet, cello, violin, guitar and bass.

And the song choices are fascinating.  And with Page’s amazing theatrical voice, the songs sound quite different, mostly because the original singers don’t have powerful voices.  They all have interesting and distinctive voices, but not operatic ones.  So this brings a new aspect to these songs (I knew about half of them before hand).

This is a very dramatic reading of this dramatic song.  It pushes the boundaries of the original song.

I had never heard this Costello song.  With Costello you never know what the original will sound like–punk pop, orchestral, honky tonk?  It’s a fascinating song, though and Page hits some really striking and I would say uncomfortable notes.

I don’t know Rufus’ work very well, although I immediately recognized this as one of his songs.  Page plays with Wainwright’s wonderful theatrics and makes this song his own.

Covering one of his own songs, this is fascinating change.  The original is a fast, almost punky song, and it seems very upbeat.  This string version brings out the angst that the lyrics really talk about (Page is definitely a drama queen).

This is one of the great self-pitying songs and the lyrics are tremendous.  Page takes Cohen’s usual gruff delivery and fills it with theater. It’s a great version.

Coming from her early album The Speckless Sky, this is a wonderfully angsty song with the premise that is summarized: “it’s a long, long, lonely ride to find the perfect lover for your lover.”  Page hits one of the highest notes I’ve heard from him here.  Very dramatic.

This is one of my favorite Divine Comedy songs.  Of course it is already string filled, so this version isn’t very different.  But its wonderful to hear it in another context.

THE WEAKERTHANS-Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
I love this song.  This is a guitar filled pop punk song, so the strings add a new edge to it.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS-For We Are the King of the Boudoir
I know the Magnetic Fields but not this song.  It’s quite clever and funny (as the Fields tend to be) and Page makes some very dramatic moments.

RADIOHEAD-Paranoid Android
I recently reviewed a covers album of OK Computer, wondering how someone could cover the record.  The same applies to this song.  A string orchestra is a good choice for it, as there is so much swirling and crescendo.  And while nothing could compare to the original (and they don’t try to duplicate it), this is an interetsing choice.  As is Page’s voice.  He has a much better voice than Thom Yorke, but that actually hinders the song somewhat when he gets a little too operatic in parts.  Nevertheless, it is an interetsing and enjoyable cover.

The whole record is full of over the top drama.   It’s perfectly suited for Page and it’s a side of him that has peeked out on various releases but which he really gets to show off here.  As an album, the compositions all work very well–they are, after all, trying to make classical pieces out of them–not just covering them.  And the choices of songs are really inspired.  Dramatic and interesting and when the music slows down, the lyrics lend to a wonderfully over the top performance.

If you like Page or orchestral rock, this is worth tracking down.

[READ: November 28, 2011] “Leaving Maverly”

For some reason I was under the impression that Alice Munro was no longer writing.  I’m glad that’s not true, and really, what else would she do with herself–she has so many more stories to tell.

I think of Munro’s stories as being straightforward, but this one was slightly convoluted and actually had two things going on at once.  It opens by discussing the old town of Maverly.  Like many towns it once had a movie theatre.  The protectionist and owner was a grumpy man who didn’t deal well with the public, and that’s why he hired a young girl to take the tickets and be the face of the theatre.  When she got in the family way, he was annoyed, but immediately set out to hire someone else.  Which he did.  The new girl, Leah, came from a very religious family.  She was permitted to work there under the stipulation that she never see or hear a movie or even know anything about them.  And that she get a ride home.  The owner balked at this second idea–he surely wasn’t going to drive her home.  So instead, he asked the local policeman Ray, to walk her home.  Which he agreed to do.

The next section of the story looks at Ray.  And although the story is ostensibly about Leah, we get a lot more history of Ray.   He was a night policeman only because his wife, Isabel, needed help at home during the day.  We learn about the scandalous way he met his wife and how they managed through the years until she became ill.

Ray talks with Leah on their walks home, something he found terribly awkward because of how cloistered she was.  Then he would get home and talk with Isabel about Leah. This young girl who meant nothing to him was suddenly a significant part of his life.

And then one day the theater owner came to report that Leah was missing.  They went to see her father at the mill, but she wasn’t there.  And there was really no other place where Leah went, so they were at a loss.  It was winter and they feared the worst. (more…)

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Thanks to your vigorous write-in campaign and your massive texting, I have been accepted as a Featured Blogger on the very cool site Indie Posit.  What is Indie Posit, you may ask.   Well, I’ll let the site speak for itself:

This site is dedicated to creating a community of like-minded, original thinkers who deserve to have an audience, and to creating a hub that will allow others to find us. The intention is not to profit, but simply to express our ideas and creativity.

You can see my entry into Featured-hood here.

I’m genuinely flattered that the folks at Indie Posit felt that I was worthy of joining their ranks.  The site is a wonderful aggregator of cool blogs of all stripes.

I’m already very fond of That’s What She Said, a wonderful pop culture blog and Costa K’s Misc Things which has the subtitle “comics procrastination coffee.  And The Droid You’re Looking For is another great pop culture fest (anyone who loves Lebowski is okay with me).

Doodlemax is a blog similar to my own Daily Doodle (and man is he good).

But I think my favorite of the bunch is Acoustic! Kitty! In her first few posts, she raves on The Weakerthans and Superchunk and gives holy hell to The Tea Party.  Huzzah!

And of course there is Indie Posit’s own blog One Good Minute which on its front page dishes on Dick and Jane and Vampires and Anthrax as a great cover band (very very true).

There are many other interesting blogs there as well, some of which I haven’t had a chance to explore fully yet, but it’s a nice place to visit.

This Featured Blogger thing comes at a slightly awkward time for me.  I was planning on posting shortly that after some two years of posting every day (because of a very lax job), I am now gainfully and productively employed at a new job.  I like the new job tons better, but I also don’t have the luxury of 2 hours of downtime a day (at one point I was 28 posts ahead of myself!).  I am now struggling to get posts up on the day they are due!

But the Indie Posit nudge is all I need to keep going, so, despite our upcoming vacation, I will do my best to leave no days open.

Thanks, Mike, and thanks everyone else for reading.  (Looks like I need to update that blogroll),


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Girl Talk is the product of Gregg Gillis.  Gillis doesn’t play any instruments.  All he does is mash-up different songs into a killer DJ mix.  There is absolutely nothing legal about what he does (in terms of copyright), and for that reason alone, I love it.  But beyond that,  he does a great job of mashing two (and more) songs together.

Mostly this is a fun way to play “spot the song” [Hey: “In Your Arms,” Hey “War Pigs”].  And when you give up you can check out the samples list (which has 37 entries under the name D alone). [Hey, Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”]

I knew a lot of the songs that he sampled, but he also put in a lot of rap which I didn’t know.  The rap works well over the original music (what sampling would be like for real if it was legal).  [Hey, Portishead!]

Mostly you get a minute or maybe a little more of each song, [Radiohead’s “Creep”] sometimes the clips are sped up or slowed down to merge perfectly with the other.  And it’s a whole lot of fun.  [The Toadies!] As someone described it, it’s like listening to a whole bunch of radio stations at once [“Cecelia”].  And, if you don’t like the song that’s on [two seconds of the Grateful Dead?], just wait a couple seconds. [INXS].

Gillis doesn’t (really) sell his music.  Indeed, you can download all of All Day for free fromIllegal Art.  [Hey, the middle of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”].

I’m not sure if it’s art, per se, but it’s clearly a lot of work, and it takes a lot of skill to make it so seamless [White Zombie!].  It probably works very well at a party too.

[READ: June 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 13

Five Dials 13 is more or less the music issue.  It is specifically dedicated to festivals and their overindulgence of everything.  And so it is long (63 pages), it is full of rather diverse points of view, it even has clouds!  Thankfully it’s not full of overflowing portapotties.  It also has lots of artwork from Raymond Pettibon, which is pretty fantastic in and of itself.

CRAIG TAYLOR-Letter from the Editor: On Festivals and George Thoroughgood
The letter opens with some comments on Festivals–two paragraphs of complainants about festivals with a final admission that the interlocuter is going to Glastonbury.  The end of the letter is devoted to a story from George Thoroughgood.  Usually I agree with the Five Dials‘ tastes without question, but I have a serious complaint about their love of Thoroughgood, about whom it would be charitable to say that he has written one song seventy-five times.  And I have absolute incredulity at this quote from George:

The promoters had gone to another festival where we played on Thursday before Roskilde, and they were so knocked out by the power of the performance they called me the next day and asked if we would mind if they changed our show time to close the festival.

Are you seriously telling me that they would change the headlining act a weekend before the festival?  How pissed would you be if your headliner was bumped for 90 minutes of ‘Bad to the Bone’?  Good grief. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEAKERTHANS-Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre (2010).

I’ve enjoyed The Weakerthans for a few years now, so I was pretty excited to see they had a live album out.

This live album works like a greatest hits.  All of the songs are great catchy pop songs–why aren’t The Weakerthans huge?  Maybe because their songs are literate and clever (and have weird titles (like “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)”).  In fact that song is one of only two songs that I know of that mention Jacques Derrida (the second being Scritti Politti’s “Jacques Derrida”).

Admittedly, The Weakerthan’s songs are simple and catchy and these live versions aren’t radically different from the originals.  There’s no extended jams or maniacal freak outs or anything.  But the album is very charming (John Samson is unfailingly polite) and the one big surprise is quite a surprise!

On the track “Wellington’s Wednesdays” Samson introduces a guy: “This is Ernesto.  He’s from Mexico.  He’s going to play a guitar solo.”  While listening to the disc I couldn’t imagine this peculiar introduction for a band member.  My version of the disc comes with a concert DVD of the show.  I didn’t get to watch the DVD until recently and… mystery solved:  Ernesto is a fan in the front row.  Samson talks to him mid-song, pulls him up on stage, introduces him and gives him his guitar to play the solo!  Then Samson jumps into the front row to watch.   How cool is that?

The video doesn’t deviate from the audio, except for leaving in a few moments of patter from Samson. In fact, I found the video to be somewhat choppily edited.  When Samson plays “One Great City!” (solo…which wasn’t obvious from the audio.  I mean, you can tell he’s solo, but it’s much more dramatic in the video) at the finish of the song, it immediately cuts to the next full band song, rather diminishing the return of the band.  (Although I do like the jump cuts to the audience which reveal what appears to be a room full of teenagers–it’s adorable!)

The other confusing thing is that the recording notes say that it was recorded over two days, and yet the video appears to be one night’s show. And the audio matches it, so who knows.

But those are little quibbles.  The music is great, the sound quality is fantastic and the song choices are great.  There are some cool surprises on the disc (like the horns and violin), but mostly what you get is an enjoyable evening at a small hometown concert with fans who love to sing along to the chorus of “One Great City:” “I hate Winnipeg!”

[READ: December 18, 2010] Stephen Leacock

What I’ve really been enjoying about this series of Extraordinary Canadians is how the writers of the books (at least the three I’ve read so far) are writing in such very different styles.  Obviously Coupland did his own thing.  Vissanji is a novelist, and he wrote his in a more novelistic way (its not like a novel at all, but it’s constructed in a kind of narrative style).  Macmillian is a historian, and I suppose for that reason, this biography feels more like a history (of Leacock, but also of economics) than a simple biography.

The strangest thing about this book is that although MacMillan obviously likes and respects Leacock, a surprising amount of the book is taken up with her talking about things he either said or did wrong or about his books that really aren’t that funny.  This is surprising because Leacock is a noted humorist. (In 1947, the Stephen Leacock Award was created to recognize the best in Canadian literary humour).

This biography looks at his life, but mostly it focuses on his academic and humorous works.  Leacock was an economist although he seems to generally disapprove of economists.  He had begun by teaching high school but found it incredibly stifling.  Eventually he found his niche at McGill University where he was well-respected and highly regarded by students and faculty alike. (more…)

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3000030,000 views may not be a milestone for many blogs. But, for a blog like this which was intended mostly as a record of what I’ve read, the fact that I’ve had 30,000 views is pretty exciting. And it seems appropriate to let you, the readers know what you the other readers have been reading here. So, here is the top ten most read posts on I Just Read About That… with a director’s commentary tacked on.

1. 819 views
Gordon Korman–Son of the Mob (2002)
I’m pretty much 100% certain that Gordon Lightfoot is NOT the attraction that made this post my highest one. Son of the Mob is usually a summer reading book. However, I get hits on this throughout the year.  I’m guessing it’s just a popular book.


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