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SOUNDTRACK: SINGLE MOTHERS-“Marbles” (2014).

Single Mothers has been together in one way or another for years.  In fact their blurb says

Single Mothers broke up in 2009 and have been playing shows ever since.

I had not heard of this London, Ontario band until reading this story from Evan Redsky, so I wanted to find a song that he played on.  Their lineup was everchanging and as far as I can tell this album, Negative Qualities, is the only one he played bass on.

Negative Qualities has a classic punk sound with a twenty-first century production quality.  The songs are short and fast (most are around two minutes).

One of the more important things for a band like this is how the vocalist comes across.  Drew Thompson screams melodically and, more importantly, clearly enough that you can hear most of the words.

I picked this song, the second on the album because it opens with a great rumbling wall from bass from Redsky and this fantastic lyrical verse, bridge and chorus

She’s like
Blah, blah, blah, blah
Something ’bout McSweeney’s
Something ’bout her thesis
Something ’bout it’s meaning
Something ’bout whatever
Something like
“Why do you gotta be so mean?”

‘Cause I don’t care about your first editions
And I don’t care about your typewriter ribbons
I don’t care about your punctuation
Puncture wounds
That you’re trying to inflict me with

‘Cause I’m a hypocrite
And I’m okay with it
And I’m so self-aware
That it’s crippling
At least I don’t pretend my whole life’s held together by bookends

The whole album is really good.  While exploring their bandcamp site, I found their first EP (with longer songs and a slightly different sound) to also be excellent.

[READ: December 2019] “Smack Dab in the Metal”

The December 2019 issue of the West End Phoenix focused on Indigenous People.  Most of the writers were Indigenous and the news stories shone a light on Indigenous issues.  Much of the presence of Indigenous peoples is seen through their art–whether through beads, paint or sculpture, the images are often quite striking.  The issue even included a “colour me” page with a striking image from Taylor Cameron, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist from Saugeen First Nation (I can’t find an image online).

To a Polish person, the name Evan Redsky sounds Polish or Russian, but I can clearly see that it is not.

Redsky is a musician.  He has released some solo material, but he is perhaps best known as the bassist for Single Mothers.  That’s how this piece opens anyway.

He says in his later teens and early twenties he traveled the globe with this punk band (that I hadn’t heard of).

There’s nothing too unusual about a teenage boy being in a punk band.  But the fact that Redsky is Ojibway from Mississaugi First Nation in Northern Ontario is pretty unusual–especially in the punk/metal scene. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL RIEFLIN (September 29, 1960 – March 24, 2020).

Bill Rieflin is a musician that I’ve known of for as long as I can remember.

He played with the Revolting Cocks and then, how I knew him best, as the drummer for Ministry.  I feel like his name appeared in dozens of places on the industrial scene.  He helped to create Pigface and even played with KMFDM (as a drummer and keyboardist).  He also played on the Lard albums and drummed with Nine Inch Nails and Swans.

With all of that industrial background it came as something of a surprise to hear that he was going to replace Bill Berry (as a hired drummer, not a band member) in R.E.M. (in live shows and on their last couple of albums).

He even played drums on Taylor Swift’s album Red (which is amusing given his later King Crimson connection).

He had been friendly with Robert Fripp since at least 1999.  Fripp played on Rieflin’s solo album Birth of a Giant and had worked with him in various projects through the years.  I didn’t know about that Fripp connection, so when I found out that he was going to be one of the three drummers in the 2014 King Crimson tour, I was really surprised.

I was also really impressed at his drumming and am now really happy to have seen him play.  When Crimson toured again in July of 2017, Rieflin had taken a sabbatical but was now back.  But since they had replaced him while he was away, he was now playing keyboards (which meant that Crimson now had eight members on stage).  When I saw them again in November 2017, Rieflin was once again on sabbatical.

I assumed it was for health reasons (why else do musicians take sabbaticals), but his cancer was kept under wraps. (He’d evidently been fighting it since 2013).

So at least I was fortunate enough to see him play twice before he died.

Here’s the second drummer that I know of to die of cancer in 2020.  Even while Coronavirus is getting the front page, cancer still does its dirty work.

[READ: December 2019] “Who We Are”

The December 2019 issue of the West End Phoenix focused on Indigenous People.  Most of the writers were Indigenous and the news stories shone a light on Indigenous issues.  Much of the presence of Indigenous peoples is seen through their art–whether through beads, paint or sculpture, the images are often quite striking.  The issue even included a “colour me” page with a striking image from Taylor Cameron, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist from Saugeen First Nation (I can’t find an image online).

The issue also featured two full page graphic short stories.

The first features very clean illustrations from Scott B. Henderson.  The lines are very crisp and yet the art is quite minimal, achieving a lot with very little.

The story is a true story. (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: SPANGLISH FLY-Tiny Desk Concert #927 (December 31, 2019.

Spanglish Fly is a pretty funny name for a band

Spanglish Fly [is] one of the true pioneers of the boogaloo revival scene happening on the East Coast. For about sixteen minutes, our little corner of the building was the hottest Latin dance club in D.C..

The band (eleven members at the Tiny Desk) combine two styles of music to create a great deal of dancing fun in these three songs.

There is something absolutely infectious about combining the deep groove of an Afro Cuban tumbao bass line with a conga marcha, while the horns answer a call-and-response with the vocalists, all in a confined space.

The first song “Bugalú Pa Mi Abuela” opens with some clapping and that familiar conga style of piano from Kenny Bruno.  It’s cool how the music jumps between this style and the grooving bass (including some cool bass slides) from Rich Robles.  This song gets you moving right away and has a trombone solo from Ric Becker.

The second song slows things down and is a bit more serious.  “Los Niños En La Frontera” has a slow burn of social consciousness.  It means “children at the border.”  And although the song is more somber, the musical is style rich and vibrant.  It opens with shakers from Paula Winter and cymbals and timbales from Arei Sekiguchi.  Then the piano jumps in with a call and response from the horns.  In addition to a lead baritone saxophone line from Stefan Zeniuk, there’s also Matt Thomas on tenor saxophone and Jonathan Goldman on trumpet.

I haven’t mentioned the vocals yet because it’s in this song that both singers really demonstrate their power.  Jessenia Cuesta sings lead first but in the end Mariella Price takes over and sings a different, faster more intense style.  Their voices work together really well.  And as the song ends, Jessenia holds an impressively long note.

The final song is “a song about shoes.”

The horn ensemble work that drives “Boogaloo Shoes” is worthy of the song’s title, a name taken from the classic dance form that drove East Coast teens crazy in the 1960s. The percussion immediately causes hips to sway.

This song is sung in English and features some more of that great piano and even some yips and yells from the singers.  The chorus has a couple of really fun moments when Dylan Blanchard on the congas and Arei do fast drum fills.  Matt Thomas takes a pretty lengthy solo on tenor sax and the end features a spoken word in which Mariella tells us that they are putting the “you” in zapata boogaloo.  Jessenia Cuesta ends the song with one more great vocal turn.

It’s a really fun set and if your body is not moving during it, you must be dead.

[READ: January 6, 2020] “The Strangeness of Grief”

Recently, Michael Chabon wrote an essay about his somewhat ambivalent feelings about the death of his father.  Now it is V.S Naipaul’s turn to discuss this as well.

Naipaul’s father was forty-five or forty-six when he had a heart attack.  He was working for the Trinidad Guardian while V.S. was at school in Oxford.

Although his father was to receive half pay, he seemed unconcerned about the state of the family finances.  Indeed, the episode seemed to leave him with a lightness of spirit.  So he began writing comic short stories.  They were quite successful.  The BBC even asked V.S to read one of the stories in the “Caribbean Voices” program.  The amount they were going to pay him would be the amount it would cost for him to get to London from Oxford.  But when he told his father about the expense, his father decided to buy him a gift to show his appreciation. (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 #914 (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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