Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Best Albums of 2009... the first half...

In part because ranking things is fun (particularly things that are un-rankable), and in part because I feel as though its important that I beat you all over the head with the stuff that I really like, I've come up with my 10 favourite albums (so far) of 2009.

There was no real attempt at making this a thorough, scientific, list, or anything other than a snap-shot of what I think is good at the moment. There's approximately a 100% possibility that my year end list will not resemble this list in the slightest, but that's just because I have the attention span (particularly with music) of a puppy with ADD.

A final note of interest before we move ahead... after I put together this list it occurred to me that this list is made almost entirely of Canadian artists. I'm not sure what that says/means. Well, obviously, that I like and have been listening to a lot of Canadian music. But, also, possibly that I need to open my ears a little bit to stuff that's going on around the world; so perhaps you'll see a little bit more of a global flavour to the year end list.



10. Glasvegas Glasvegas
Why I like it: because they sound like U2 would sound like if (blasphemy alert) they wrote anything good these days. Plus, their Scottish accents are super cool.
[mp3] Glasvegas - Geraldine



9. Timber Timbre Timber Timbre
Why I like it: I'm not sure its quite as haunting as TT's debut Medicinals, but I think the song writing has improved. This album is more than just a haunting, debilitating, trip to the salt mines...
[mp3] Timber Timbre - Demon Host


8. Pink Mountaintops Outside Love
Why I like it: one, because I really didn't expect to; and two, because the album channels old school 70s stoner rock with a more new school indie pop vibe with impressive results.... that, and 'Axis the Thrones of Love' is possibly the most compelling opening track of the year...
[mp3] Pink Mountaintops - Axis Thrones of Love


7. Patrick Watson Wooden Arms
Why I like it: because its every bit as good, maybe better, than the Polaris winning Close to Paradise...
[mp3] Patrick Watson - Wooden Arms


6. Hayden The Place Where We Lived
Why I like it: because its Hayden, my favourite singer-songwriter of all time. Sure, its different than his earlier stuff, but he's maintained the kind of (cliche alert) honesty that has made him such a compelling songwriter over the last 15 years. That said, I kind of think its surprising that this album in particular was as solid as it is, given how great a departure it is from his debut, Everything I Long For [1995].
[mp3] Hayden - Let's Break Up



5. Sunparlour Players Wave North
Why I like it: because their follow up to the outstanding Hymns for the Happy is close to as good as their live show (which has got to be one of the best around - the GTA at least). Plus, the song writing, the production, and the story telling have also 'kicked it up a notch'...
[mp3] Sunparlour Players - Battle of '77


4. Various Artists Dark was the Night
Why I like it: Normally I wouldn't included a compilation (because its kind of cheating), but this album is so absolutely stacked and includes at least a few of my favourite songs this year: Arcade Fire "Lenin", Antony w/ Bryce Dessner "I Was Young When I Left Home", and ...
[mp3] The New Pornographers - Hey, Snow White


3. Black Hat Brigade Fathers
Why I like it: because, much like the SPP, the BHB have taken a step forward with their follow up to their extremely awesome self titled debut (#5 of 2008). Their album is broader, more polished, and something you should listen to if... you have ears... but even if you don't, you should watch people listen to it...
[mp3] Black Hat Brigade - Lost Boys


2. Bruce Peninsula A Mountain is a Mouth
Why I like it: because, while this album is definitely not for everyone (BP are not going to be featured on MTV anytime soon), but the band is an absolute force of nature and this album, simply put, is an epic experience...
[mp3] Bruce Peninsula - Steamroller



1. TOR/Sufjan Stevens Illinoize
Why I like it: because as far as mash-ups go, this is probably the best mash-up album I've ever heard. It doesn't hurt that I love Sufjan Stevens and all the hip-hop artists featured, but, I think it goes without saying, that that wouldn't mean anything if the execution wasn't there - thankfully, it is... in spades... and its available for free download here...
[mp3] TOR/Sufjan Stevens - The Tallest Man/I Like It ft. Grand Puba

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mr. G's Song of the Week "100 Days, 100 Nights"


In 1967, the late American soul singer Arthur Conley famously sang: "Do you like good music? That sweet soul music." Throughout the song, aptly titled "Sweet Soul Music," Conley pays homage to the who's who of soul singers from his generation. Spotlight on Lou Rawls, ya'll; Sam & Dave; Wilson Pickett; my personal favourite, Otis Redding; and of course, "the king of them all," James Brown. Which got me to thinking... what would a modern day "Sweet Soul Music" look like? To whom would such a song give "props"?

Perhaps it's my lack of expertise in the modern soul scene, but the names of current soul singers don't pop into my mind the way that countless past legends do. Raphael Saadiq is a young man who's smooth-as-butter vocal talent echoes those of past greats. I might include Mary J. Blige on that list, although I think she would be more accurately lumped into the "R&B/pop" category. But the other night, as I received my first ever taste of what the Toronto Jazz Festival has to offer, I found my modern soul queen at Nathan Phillips Square. Her name is Sharon Jones, and her formidable backing band is known as the Dap-Kings.

Good God! Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings put on a tremendous show. Unfortunately, I arrived late to the ball and only caught the last 4 or 5 songs, but that was more than enough to blow my socks off. Not one person in the tent wasn't dancing their hearts out. The music was so swingin' one really didn't have much of a choice. I received first-hand accounts that things got so raucous earlier in the set that audience members were called onto the stage to shake their groove thing with the 53-year old, booty-bumping Jones herself. If you get the chance, SEE THIS WOMAN! But until then, enjoy the small fraction of her live soul/funk energy that is captured in her studio work. The title track off of her 2007 album, "100 Days, 100 Nights," should whet your appetite.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' next Canadian date is July 16th at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Zunior 5th Anniversary (Dog is Blue, Forest City Lovers, Entire Cities, etc.) @ the Tranzac June 27. 2009

Sadly, I missed out on both the Ohbijou CD Release on Thursday and the Sunparlour Players CD Release on Friday, which was really unfortunate, but a man's gotta eat... but, despite my disappointment at missing both of those shows, the Zunior 5th Anniversary Show/Party/Extravaganza was on at the Tranzac on Saturday night. The show was appealing for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to: it started at a reasonable time (9pm), which meant that I was going to get home at a reasonable time (before the subway stops); the Tranzac is a great sit down venue; and there were at least a few bands that I was pretty keen on seeing.

Aside from the smell (TO garbage strike + heat + crowded house + not enough A/C = big tyme stink), the night was set to go quite well.


(the shadow to the left is Laura and the shadow to the right is Paul)
Dog is Blue, 9:15 Acoustic Room

B/c of the number of bands and the amount of stuff going on Paul Watson and Laura (Dog is Blue) ended up without mics in the acoustic room for their set... c'est la vie... it actually didn't matter so much. In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say as it added a degree of 'authenticity' to the performance.

Their songs, which typically consist of guitars, keyboard, and a variety of music toys, sounded terrific in the tiny room at the front of the Tranzac. For whatever reason, their songs - live - really resonated with me, and I caught myself humming 'Seacaptain' (probably my favourite) on my way home. At this point I'm projecting this as a sleeper for a year end top 10...

[mp3] Dog is Blue - Seacaptain (live @ the Tranzac)


Forest City Lovers, 9:40 Main Room

Had heard a lot of good things about this band, have their 2nd album Haunted Moon Sinking on my computer, but never really listened to it. After their set last night, I daresay it'll be getting a few more (metaphorical) spins. The band has a sound that is relatively similar to Ohbijou - sweet female vocals, strings - but, there is something a little darker about FCLs. At this point I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know they have my attention... and I also know that Liz really liked them... she says they were her favourite.

[mp3] Forest City Lovers - Orphans (live)


Entire Cities, 10:30 Front Room

Those of you who have been around for a while (say, more than a year) may remember (but likely won't) how much I enjoyed Entire Cities' Deep River (#20, 2008). So, it seems logical that I would really enjoy their set, and I did. They were great. They were energetic to say the least - breaking drum sticks and guitar strings - but weren't all go-go and had a really nice balance b/w that unbrideled energy, and a quiet, more intimate side.

I think for them to become a (inter)nationally recognized band they're going to have to polish things up a little bit (if that's what they're into), but they were really fun and I def. look forward to seeing them again/hearing a new album...

[mp3] Entire Cities - Talkers (live @ the Tranzac)
[mp3] Entire Cities - Accountants Dream (live @ the Tranzac)

... and then, some time shortly after that, Liz and I went home...

But, I did catch snippets of Culture Reject and By Divine Right both of which I enjoyed and'll be interested in checking out in the future...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dig this and dig it deep...



I've been spending a lot of time (unfortunately) in the car making my 'johnny-9-to-5' commute to work, and I've needed something to keep me awake, alert, and from having a Marge Simpson-esque freak out on the middle of the highway. My solution has been to dig through some of the old hip-hop mixtapes (actually CDs, I'm not that old) I made at the end of high school/through undergrad (and play them on the drive). I've re-remembered a pile of awesome hip-hop songs, but the Last Emperor's "Secret Wars" has got to be one of my favourites of the bunch. And the best for a variety of different reasons...

For one, the concept (his fav. emcees vs. marvel superheros) is, it goes without saying, I think, very, very, cool. Obviously, the idea on its own isn't enough it needs to be executed, which, of course, he does. He covers a huge range of emcees/superheros going one on one for their team, but its the narration/transitions between the battles, the impressions of the emcees (Common and Busta Rhymes stick out to me) that really brings the whole thing together...

To be honest, I don't know much of anything about Last Emp. outside of this song, but I wonder whether its just best to leave it this way. This song is just so... on point that it hardly seems like that there'd be anyway that he could keep this up for an entire album, maybe he can, but my spider-senses tell me that we (I) would've heard more from him in the interim if that was the case. If I'm wrong, someone - anyone - should feel free to let me know...

A fan made video:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pick of the Week #25: Snailhouse - Lies on the Prize



I'm not sure being on the Polaris long list is going to necessarily vault Mike Feuerstack a.k.a. Snailhouse into super-stardom (I understand to be a super-star now you have to appear on reality TV), but, for what its worth, it gave me another reminder that Lies on the Prize was on my "to check out" list. He appeared on the Hibiscus & Rosehips Charity Album (Pick of the Week #15), and "Who We Are" was def. one of my favourite tracks that appeared on that compilation.

For an album called Lies on the Prize, Feuerstack doesn't mess around, with your time at least. The collection of 13 songs are all relatively short with the album clocking in at just under 40 mins with most of the songs hovering around the 3 minute mark (3 x 13 = 39, makes sense...). So, while the album isn't exactly epic, it does have enough time to bounce around and traverse some interesting territory.

The opener, "Dollar Signs", has a fairly bare bones opening - lone acoustic guitar - then moves into acoustic guitar with tribal drumming, a la The Acorn. The following track, "(Not)Superstitious" is a much more standard soft rock/pop affair, while a tracks like "Tone Deaf Birds" and "They Won't Believe You" are surrounded by SOOF-esque horns. Then, toward the latter half of the album Lies becomes a decidedly more countrified affair with Feuerstack sounding a good deal like Tom Petty as his voice strains high on "Fire Alarm". That said, its not as though the album is jumpy, or lacks continuity, more that it contains interesting variations around a similar theme.

Lies on the Prize isn't going to end up on my 'Best of 2009' list (mostly b/c its a 2008 album), but, it has proven to me that at least a couple of the MTL bands that were nominated for the Polaris were deserving...

[mp3] Snailhouse - Who We Are
[mp3] Snailhouse - Dollar Signs

Pick of the Week #1: Ketch Harbour Wolves
Pick of the Week #2: Rah Rah
Pick of the Week #3: Glasvegas/Animal Collective
Pick of the Week #4: Bruce Peninsula
Pick of the Week #5: The Antlers
Pick of the Week #6: The Darcys
Pick of the Week #7: Ohbijou
Pick of the Week #8:
Gentlemen Husbands
Pick of the Week #9: Chris Whitley
Pick of the Week #10: Alela Diane
Pick of the Week #11: K'naan
Pick of the Week #12: TOR/Sufjan Stevens
Pick of the Week #13: Timber Timbre
Pick of the Week #14: Justis
Pick of the Week #15: Hibiscus & Rosehips Compilation
Pick of the Week #16: Patrick Watson
Pick of the Week #17: Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
Pick of the Week #18: The Liptonians
Pick of the Week #19: Sunparlour Players
Pick of the Week #20: Black Hat Brigade
Pick of the Week #21: Howie Beck
Pick of the Week #22: Pink Mountaintops
Pick of the Week#23: Still Life Still
Pick of the Week #24: Hayden

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mr. G's Song of the Week "The Thief & The Heartbreaker"























What ever happened to good, old-fashioned, straight-ahead rock & roll? No really, what happened? It seems like the vast majority of new bands out there today feel like they have to do something weird, innovative and different in order to set themselves apart from the cajillions of others like them. Otherwise, how are the "bloggers" going to pick who to write about and transform into the next musical internet sensation? So I suppose it's necessary, to a certain degree, for upstart musicians to take an unconventional route in their songwriting and production.

In many instances, the weirdness works wonderfully. One of my newest favourites, Alberta-based Chad VanGaalen (thanks to the R.O.B. for turning me on to this Canadian treasure) is uber-weird. And I absolutely love it!!! Perhaps the most popular band in the world, Radiohead, oozes weirdness into the ears of its listeners to their praise and unquestioning adulation. The list goes on and on. But today, in this blog post, I'm choosing to write about a band, and a song in particular, that demonstrates the qualities of good old-fashioned rock and roll.

"Hey, hey, my, my. Rock and roll will never die." Maybe it was bands like Alberta Cross that Neil Young was singing about in 1979, banking on future generations of musicians to continue the rock and roll tradition that he and many others carried on from the '50s and cemented in the '60s. If that was indeed Neil's call, then Alberta Cross has answered. This 5-piece band out of Brooklyn, New York produces soulful, musically delicious rock songs that, interestingly enough, are often compared to those of the aforementioned Mr. Young. This installment of Song of the Week features the rollicking first track off of, and shares its name with, the band's debut album, "The Thief & The Heartbreaker." As the electronic revolution continues to change today's musical landscape, and as more and more bands try to create a unique identity through strange sounds and over-artsiness, it's almost as if rock bands like Alberta Cross are the ones experimenting in weirdness.

"Let there be rock."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Let's Book Club! The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac



The guys at Free Darko, which features some of the most poetic basketball writing around, have this book The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, which is essentially a coffee table book about some of the more interesting personalities in pro basketball. On the face of it this is exactly the kind of book that I should probably dislike. Basically, I like winners... guys who are do the little things, are good teammates, work hard, are humble, etc.; and the book's authors value entertainment over substance, personality over performance, and so forth.

But, I think what made the book a great read for me, given that I don't see the world of sports the same way they do, is that they are able to find redeeming value in the un-redeemable (see: Carter, Vince; McGrady, Tracy). They are able to look at characters like Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, and Amare Stoudemire, examine their flaws without dwelling on them, and explore what makes each of the players that they discuss compelling to watch. Normally, watching someone like, say, Gilbert Arenas ("The Court is a Carnival" exerpt here) would make me want to tear my hair out. He's a hilarious guy, sure, but I definitely wouldn't be banking on an NBA title parade down Yonge St. if he landed in TO, and, I've always thought that that's the way you play sports: to win.

That said, I think that the Free Darko collective make me think that its possible to look at sports more like music (which, I suppose is appropriate given that this is a music blog, mostly)... it can be fun to watch Ron-Ron jack off balanced 3s, Kobe pretend to like his teammates, and Amare do his best imitation of a pylon on defence... but it doesn't mean that I want them on my team...

And it doesn't hurt that the pictures in the book are super-cool...

Friday, June 19, 2009

What do I do this for, have got to get out some more...


Yes, it is Hayden week here... and yes, I should be figuring out what I'm going to say when I emcee my sister's wedding tomorrow...

I'm not sure whether or not Hayden is Canadian icon, for the CBC Radio 3 set, sure, for the public at large, I doubt it. And its a shame, really, since you'd be hard pressed to find a songwriter who has been more productive/consistent over the past 15(!) years. Honestly, I can't think of another Canadian artist/band that has put out 3, 4, 5, albums that are worth listening to let alone 8 (nevermind the fact that he's batting 1.000, not having a stinker in his entire discography).

Maybe the fact that he hasn't become a widely recognized figure has relieved any sort of pressure for Hayden to create a certain type of music, or kept him from feeling as though he had a fan base to please. Given the type of music he creates, his on stage persona, and everything else that I know about the man, its hard to imagine that he'd want things any other way. He's always seemed - through the few times I've seen him live - that's he's uncomfortable with the lime light, and that, given the choice, he'd be pretty comfortable living out the rest of his days within a block radius of his house.

Regardless of how many records he ends up selling, and how many people he ends up reaching with his music, its pretty safe to say he's one of the great Canadian treasures whether most people know it or not...

from Trees Lounge (the 1996 Steve Buscemi movie)



and "Bad As They Seem" from Everything I Long For [1995]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pick of the Week #24: Hayden - The Place Where We Lived


When I first listened to Hayden's newest album, The Place Where We Lived, I tried really hard to figure out whether I liked it more or less than his previous 7 records. I agonized over it a fair bit... it definitely didn't mean as much to me personally as Everything I Long For [1995], which was the perfect record for a young teen rebelling against his parental-units; it wasn't nearly as cool and serene as Skyscraper National Park [2001]; it didn't capture his live show and showcase his deadpan humour like Live at Convocation Hall [2002], nor did it have the hilarious and horrifying story telling that appeared on Elk Lake Serenade [2004]...

But The Place Where We Lived (presumably) paints a pretty accurate picture of where Hayden Dresser is in life after approximately 15 years as a singer/songwriter/record executive/Canadian Indie-Music Icon. He's not so angry - no bear-mauling, no tying people to cars and sending them into a lake, or searching for bodies frozen in river - he's got some friends (Howie Beck, the album's producer), and he seems more at ease with the ups and downs in life.

Sure, its a break-up album, which might explain the smaller gap between releases, and, as such, the content of the album centres around said break-up, but Hayden approaches the subject in a much more 'adult' sort of way. He isn't whining about it (like Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver), or giving the middle finger to his ex (like Lily Allen), but kind of debriefing a good friend that he hasn't seen in a while about the whole thing. He doesn't get into the gory details, or want your sympathy, but he's not going to sugar-coat the thing and make you think that it was "no big deal".

In the end, I'm not sure it matters where The Place Where We Lived ranks in Hayden's catalogue, since, each album, while retaining parts of previous efforts, is a unique beast. Certainly its a worthy addition to his impressive discography, and worth the $8.88 via the Zunior website...

[mp3] Hayden - Let's Break Up

Pick of the Week #1: Ketch Harbour Wolves
Pick of the Week #2: Rah Rah
Pick of the Week #3: Glasvegas/Animal Collective
Pick of the Week #4: Bruce Peninsula
Pick of the Week #5: The Antlers
Pick of the Week #6: The Darcys
Pick of the Week #7: Ohbijou
Pick of the Week #8:
Gentlemen Husbands
Pick of the Week #9: Chris Whitley
Pick of the Week #10: Alela Diane
Pick of the Week #11: K'naan
Pick of the Week #12: TOR/Sufjan Stevens
Pick of the Week #13: Timber Timbre
Pick of the Week #14: Justis
Pick of the Week #15: Hibiscus & Rosehips Compilation
Pick of the Week #16: Patrick Watson
Pick of the Week #17: Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
Pick of the Week #18: The Liptonians
Pick of the Week #19: Sunparlour Players
Pick of the Week #20: Black Hat Brigade
Pick of the Week #21: Howie Beck
Pick of the Week #22: Pink Mountaintops
Pick of the Week#23: Still Life Still

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sexy Singles! Pseudonymns Edition: That's the Spirit, Kalle Mattson, Dog is Blue


Ben Wilson a.k.a. That's the Spirit - contributor to my Best ____ of '08 project - was recently featured on NPR's "All Songs Considered", and, well, if its good enough for them... actually, it just made me re-listen to his myspace tracks, which led to me giving his latest album Staying Places a few serious spins. I like what I'm hearing, and its decidedly more substantial than I was expecting (i.e. its much more than just the terrific single "Orienteering").
[mp3] That's the Spirit - Orienteering



I expected when I got the friend request from Kalle Mattson that I'd be listening to a Nordic songstress not unlike Lykke Li, rather than a quartet from Sault Ste. Marie, but the world is a weird and wonderful place sometimes, isn't it? Kalle's album Whisper Bee is a quaint, pleasant, conversational album from what seems like a really nice group of kids(?)... so, if you ever find yourself in the SUE with nothing to do, I'd look them up; or, if for one reason or another Northern Ontario isn't in your travel plans, you might consider catching them this summer when they swing down to SW Ontario...
[mp3] Kalle Mattson - Whisper Bee


Paul Watson's alter-ego Dog is Blue is in process of putting together a covers EP as a follow up to his debut album ...Makes Ghost Noises. Currently, I think Paul has got some covers of some of his favourite Torontonians, including the one featured below of Jenny Omnichord's "Blankets and Bones". That said, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping he might throw in a some type of hip-hop cover... I'm going to suggest the new Sean Kingston single "Fire Burning" or the Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow", but I'm not an actual musician, nor will I have to ever perform it, so I suppose I can't be too upset if that doesn't happen...
[mp3] Dog is Blue - Blankets and Bones

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mr. G's Song of the Week "Hold Your Head High"























In a rare Song of the Week moment, I have a band from whom I know I would like to select a song, I have the album from which said song will be picked, but I'm having a great deal of difficulty honing in on one particular track that I think stands above the others. Such is the dilemma one faces when confronted with a consistently good album from start to finish. And such is the description I will bestow upon "The Mountain," the third album from Cincinnati garage rock band, Heartless Bastards.

Aside from their awesome band name, this trio of talented musicians deliver a sound that is gritty in its reverb-soaked, blues rock moments, with an impressive ability to shift gears and slow things down. In fact, I think the selection for song of the week should be one that showcases both of these aspects of the band's musical personality. I've been listening intently to the album while writing this post and song number 5 strikes me as the best overall representation of the band's vibe. So it's decided; the song of the week is "Hold Your Head High," not to be confused with the 1972 classic rock beauty "Hold Your Head Up" by the English band, Argent.

As musically tight as Heartless Bastards are, the band is truly carried by the unique vocal stylings of front-woman, Erika Wennerstrom. In my estimation, she is like the female version of Nathan Willett, lead singer of California indie rockers, Cold War Kids. For those not familiar with the CWK, let me at least attempt a vocal description. Erika sings in a deep-ish warble that has a certain "je ne sais quoi," commanding attention and entrancing the listener. Vague description, I know. But it's a presence that takes the music to the next level, to the top of "The Mountain," if you will. And with "The Mountain" in mind, I humbly suggest that if you dig this installment of Song of the Week, check out the album in its entirety.

[mp3] Heartless Bastards - Hold Your Head High

Monday, June 15, 2009

Continued Commentary on the Polaris Process...



Some of you may have already noticed that the Polaris Committee has selected the Lost List of the best 40 albums in Canadian music over the last 12 months. You may also know that the Captain/President/CEO Justin Beach of the NxEW Music Blog is doing something of a Polaris Shadow Competition, which anyone can participate in (see the differences b/w the real Polaris and the NxEW version here). And, you may also know that I pretended that I was a juror (in the real competition) and made my picks last Monday (I did actually participate in the NxEW one).

A couple of things that struck me about the long list:
  • The sheer number of bands from Montreal (17), particularly the number of bands from Montreal that I had never, ever, ever, heard of.... C'mon! I can't believe that there were 17 bands from Montreal that made better albums than the the Black Hat Brigade and the Sunparlour Players. Note to those who select the jurors... you could use a little diversity...
  • Also, the number of bands NOT from big cities (2)... shitty...
  • The number of "Big" Indie releases that weren't great, but were selected on their name: Metric, Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade, K-Os, K'naan.
  • Albums that I hope do well: Bruce Peninsula, Chad VanGaalen, Timber Timbre, Woodpigeon.
  • I'll be completely shocked if Pink Mountaintops, Metric, K-Os or K'naan for musical diversity purposes, Bruce Peninsula, and Chad VanGaalen don't make the short list (I don't think Patrick Watson is a lock since he won two years ago).
  • I'll be even more shocked if CVG isn't crowned the overall winner - he's due, he's produced a lot of really good music (see, in particular: Infiniheart and, to a certain extent, Skelliconnection), plus he's unique/weird enough to be "artistic"... remember the last 3 winners have all been quirky artists (Patrick Watson, Final Fantasy, and Caribou)...
[mp3] Bruce Peninsula - Steamroller
[mp3] Chad VanGaalen - Willow Tree
[mp3]
Timber Timbre - Demon Host
[mp3]
Woodpigeon - Oberkampf

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Let's Book Club: Strokes of Genius by L. Jon Wertheim



I'm not entirely sure what to say about Strokes of Genius by Jon Wertheim. He's easily my favourite tennis writer, I don't think there is anything better than his weekly(ish) Tennis Mailbag, but there's definitely something missing from making this a top-shelf sports book.

Certainly, part of what's missing has to do with the degree of difficulty of trying to describe the greatest tennis match ever played... there was a reason that the commentators (rightfully) said very little in the latter half of the match. For me, the best parts of the book were the backstories of R-Fed, Nadal, and the creation of the rivalry, which made me think why isn't the book about the rivalry? There are some obvious reasons why that didn't happen, lack of access - for one, and the fact that Federer and Nadal have many more (I'd say 3 years worth, barring injuries) matches in them.

For tennis fans, its a book definitely worth picking up, particularly if you are a parent of a tennis player looking at how to raise a tennis player. R-Fed and Rafa are two prime examples of not just how to play tennis, but how to live.

Grade: B

Up next:
I'm about 30 pages into the 600 page Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, which I'm thinking may be a warm-up for The Infinite Jest...

1. The Inner Game of Tennis | Timothy Gallwey (134 pages) | A
2. The Last Shot | Darcy Frey (240 pages) | A+
3. The Road | Cormac McCarthy (287 pages) | A+
4. Outliers | Malcolm Gladwell (299 pages) | C+
5. The Last Season | Phil Jackson (304 pages) | B-
6.
The Sunset Limited | Cormac McCarthy (160 pages)| B-
7. The Education of a Coach | David Halberstam (288 pages)| B+
8. Downtown Owl | Chuck Klosterman | (288 pages)| B

9. Can I Keep My Jersey?| Paul Shirley| (336 pages)|C-
10. Then We Came to The End| Joshua Ferris| (416 pages)|B+
11. Friday Night Lights| H.G. Bissinger|(400 pages)|A++
12. Strokes of Genius| L. Jon Wertheim|(208 pages)|B

Friday, June 12, 2009

And its another prank call, in the middle of the night....


I think you're going to hear a lot more chatter about CVG (Chad VanGaalen) after the Polaris long list comes out on Monday. His 2008 album, Soft Airplane, was regarded by a lot of people - including me - as the best of 2008, but its not like Soft Airplane came out of nowhere.

CVG (otherwise known (by me) as the Tim Burton of singer-songwriter music)'s first major release was Infiniheart (2004), which I'd argue is every bit as good as Soft Airplane - if a little bit longer and more drawn out. And while there wasn't a real lot of recognition for the 2004 release, it certainly put him on the map, got him signed with Subpop Records (and arguably got him a Polaris nomination for the not-nearly-as-good Skelliconnection (2006))... I guess my point here being, if you're going to looking back into CVG's back catalogue start with Infiniheart.

So, while the following videos are super, super, weird (which, it should be noted, are actually pretty fitting given the content of the songs) Chad VanGaalen is still very awesome, but I suspect this is not news to many of you...

"Clinically Dead" from Infiniheart [2004]


"Red Hot Drops" from Skelliconnection [2006]


"Molten Light" from Soft Airplane [2008]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pick of the Week #23 - Still Life Still



If you had told me that the three songs from Still Life Still's Pastel EP were B-sides from Broken Social Scene's s/t album I definitely would've believed you. I mean, its missing that female element, but from the minute the single guitar starts on "Pastel" it just wreaks of BSS. Part of that stench, or more appropriately 'sweet smell', is their connection to BSS through the Arts & Crafts label, and, of course the other part is that Kevin Drew produced their EP.

That said, it'd be unfair - only 3 songs into what promises to be an excellent career - to label them as some type of BSS knock-off. The band and the label seem to have a better handle on things than to allow them to cast in that kind of light, as flattering as it might be, at least initially.

Their lineage, in conjunction with their reputation for being a wild group on stage, certainly boads well for the band (and the label, I suppose). Luckily for everyone, at least in Southern Ontario, you're going to get a chance to see SLS before they "expose themselves" to the rest of the world. Upcoming dates include a few shows in Toronto, in-and-around NxNE, including a June 18th show with The Most Serene Republic, Timber Timbre, and Zeus, as well as stops in London, Brantford, and St. Catherines... and the Pastel EP is going to officially be released June 16th, although you may be interested to learn that you can stream the EP via their myspace.

[mp3] Still Life Still - Pastel

Pick of the Week #1: Ketch Harbour Wolves
Pick of the Week #2: Rah Rah
Pick of the Week #3: Glasvegas/Animal Collective
Pick of the Week #4: Bruce Peninsula
Pick of the Week #5: The Antlers
Pick of the Week #6: The Darcys
Pick of the Week #7: Ohbijou
Pick of the Week #8:
Gentlemen Husbands
Pick of the Week #9: Chris Whitley
Pick of the Week #10: Alela Diane
Pick of the Week #11: K'naan
Pick of the Week #12: TOR/Sufjan Stevens
Pick of the Week #13: Timber Timbre
Pick of the Week #14: Justis
Pick of the Week #15: Hibiscus & Rosehips Compilation
Pick of the Week #16: Patrick Watson
Pick of the Week #17: Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
Pick of the Week #18: The Liptonians
Pick of the Week #19: Sunparlour Players
Pick of the Week #20: Black Hat Brigade
Pick of the Week #21: Howie Beck
Pick of the Week #22: Pink Mountaintops

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sexy Singles! Hayden, Jay Brannan, Passion Pit

A new title... I'm thinking this is going to be a good way to go after a different demographic of music listeners...



Hayden is my favourite singer-songwriter hands down, and he has been since 8th grade when I first saw the video for "Bad As They Seem" on MuchMusic. Without discussing the new record The Place Where We Lived, we'll save that for next week, the first single "Let's Break Up" should give you a sense of where Hayden is at these days...
[mp3] Hayden - Let's Break Up


I love a good cover, especially one that flips the original right on its head (i.e. its not much fun to hear Nickelback cover 3 Doors Down). Jay Brannan does exactly that with his cover of the Cranberries (yeah, remember them?) with his slow, smooth version of "Zombie". I'm not sure what the rest of his covers album In Living Cover is going to be like, since, I thought the cover of Jan Arden's "Good Mother" sounded a little too close to the original... it'll be interesting to see what the tracklist is like. That small criticism aside, a tip of the hat to Jay for his awesome myspace profile pic = him in a snuggie... gawd that looks comfortable...
[mp3] Jay Brannan - Zombie (Cranberries cover)



From what I understand this Passion Pit band is quite popular. I haven't heard their Chunk of Change EP or the full length Manners in their entirety and, I suspect if I do, I probably won't enjoy them. I find their particular brand of falsetto to be a little shrill, but I'll be damned if "Sleepyhead" isn't the catchiest song I've heard this year. The freaked-up chipmunk vocals, the chorus over top, and the 80s synth sound is dynamite for the single, but I'm not sure I can handle an entire album of it...
[mp3] Passion Pit - Sleepyhead

Let's Book Club!: Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger



There's FNL the movie (staring CBC favourite Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines), the excellent TV show, which is probably the best sports show this side of Hang Time, but FNL the book by H.G. Bissinger about the 1988 Permian Panthers is certainly the best of the bunch.

The Permian Panthers, who reside in the football-mad West Texas town of Odessa, are determined to "go to State in '88", and are a group who's lives (and the lives of everyone else in the town) revolve around high school football. While the book revolves around the '88 season, it is as much a book on the history of West Texas, a sociology book on race relations, a psychology book on high school athletes, as it is a book on a high school football team.

Like The Last Shot, FNL captures the dysfunction of high school athletics, but shows affection towards the personalities of the team. Bissinger doesn't hide his discomfort with the backwards gender relations or the educational priorities in Odessa, but finds something likable about the community and the togetherness that the Panthers bring to Odessa.

My synopsis: Its basically a longer, more detailed, better written version of The Last Shot, which, is a huge compliment since tLS was the most compelling/heart wrenching story I've read in... maybe ever...

Thanks to Kyle for letting me borrow his copy of the book...

Excuses:
Yeah, I haven't been reading so much lately. I tried to get through Grown Up Digital (on how the NetGen and technology have developed different expectations of work and different work habits -- the Introductory Chapter, at least, is a must read for anyone in business/management), but, alas, after a week the library wanted it back. And, really, I've been watching a lot of TV - Breaking Bad, Party Down, the Bachelorette! - and driving to work (boo! driving) which has precluded me from reading for safety reasons.

Grade: A++

Up next: I went to visit my Mom and she bought me a copy of Strokes of Genius by Jon Wertheim on the epic Nadal v. Federer 2008 Wimbledon final, so, I'm going to try and give that a spin (no pun intended).

1. The Inner Game of Tennis | Timothy Gallwey (134 pages) | A
2. The Last Shot | Darcy Frey (240 pages) | A+
3. The Road | Cormac McCarthy (287 pages) | A+
4. Outliers | Malcolm Gladwell (299 pages) | C+
5. The Last Season | Phil Jackson (304 pages) | B-
6.
The Sunset Limited | Cormac McCarthy (160 pages)| B-
7. The Education of a Coach | David Halberstam (288 pages)| B+
8. Downtown Owl | Chuck Klosterman | (288 pages)| B

9. Can I Keep My Jersey?| Paul Shirley| (336 pages)|C-
10. Then We Came to The End| Joshua Ferris| (416 pages)|B+
11. Friday Night Lights| H.G. Bissinger|(400 pages)|A++

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mr. G's Song of the Week "The Ark"


There comes a time in a man's life when he needs to shamelessly plug his favourite band to any and all who are willing to listen. This is something I have been doing - quite shamelessly indeed - since I discovered Dr. Dog as a shy, unassuming undergraduate student in early 2007. It was a time in my life when my musical horizons were expanding at rates I never thought imaginable. I was soaking up new music at such a rapid pace that I rarely found myself giving a record more than a couple of spins before moving on to the next.

The way I remember it, it was while prepping for my second of three consecutive Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival pilgrimages, that I discovered a musical act with an unusual name. I promptly dismissed them, assuming Dr. Dog was just a DJ or rapper with a crappy, unimaginative moniker. But at the suggestion of a friend, I took a second look and a first listen. What I discovered was a band (5-piece) that both wreaked of 1960s psychedelic pop-rock (which is good in my books) but also possessed a modern edge and grittiness to their music (also good in my books). It was music quite unlike any I had ever heard and seemingly tailor made to my tastes. What resulted was not only a second and third spin of Dr. Dog's first full-length studio album, "Easy Beat", but hundreds more including their follow-up albums "We All Belong" and "Fate". The latter is that from which I have plucked this Song of the Week.

"The Ark" is an incredible expression of the search for meaning in life that has plagued humanity throughout its long history. From times biblical, up to the modern day, it is a question with which every person struggles. I would have never guessed that such vexing philosophical quandaries could be paired with deep bass grooves, growling vocals, and spine-bending guitar riffs, but in this case of this song, it is a match made in music heaven. Dr. Dog's signature, soulful harmonies add the icing to this already ear-pleasing cake. Enjoy!

[mp3] Dr. Dog - The Ark

Monday, June 8, 2009

Polaris Picks, or, If I Were More Important...



Not familiar with the Polaris Prize? They're like the Grammy's, except Canadian, and the jury is made up of people who like and care about music, and there's only one category, and the winner gets a cash prize. So, in another far more accurate way, they're the opposite of the Grammy's....

Despite being the editor/owner/president of this here prestigious blog I was not selected to the Polaris Jury. I know, I'm shocked too. But, luckily, you all still get to hear my thoughts on the Polaris process through my contribution to the NxEW "shadow polaris prize", which is an idea so good I wish I had thought of it myself and here...

If I were a juror I'd vote for...
Sunparlour Players - Wave North
Why? Because, despite the fact that this isn't the best album, the SPP are easily the best live act in the GTA and they deserve much more recognition than they get...
[mp3] Sunparlour Players - Battle of '77

Bruce Peninsula - A Mountain is a Mouth
Why? Because they are, for lack of a better description, an absolute force of nature, a serious Polaris contender, and the front-runners for album of the year (on the prestigious BM blog)...
[mp3] Bruce Peninsula - Steamroller

Black Hat Brigade - Fathers
Why? I dunno, because I really like it.... you can hear almost all of it (I think) streaming on their myspace...
[mp3] Black Hat Brigade - Zombie City Shake

Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane
Why? Because I'm a front runner, and this has got to be the odds-on favourite for the big prize. Also, its a tremendous, creepy, and terribly haunting singer-songwriter album, which, if selected, will force CVG to leave his basement and play some songs...
[mp3] Chad VanGaalen - Willow Tree

Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love
Why? Because, even though I was determined to not like this album, the love-in that is Outside Love is like a hazy weekend that you can't remember, but you know you had a good time...
[mp3] Pink Mountaintops - Axis Thrones of Love

Excellent Albums that Deserve Recognition
Pick of the Week #2: Rah Rah Going Steady
Pick of the Week #21: Howie Beck How to Fall Down in Public
Pick of the Week #13: Timber Timbre Timber Timbre

Albums that I haven't listened to enough, are definitely 'Long-List Worthy' and are definitely going to suffer b/c their release date is too close to the end of the Polaris Period.

Ohbijou - Beacons
Hayden - The Place Where We Lived

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hey, We All Gotta Keep Warm...


I went out with my iPod the other day, and I usually don't since, after 3 plus years the old girl just doesn't last like she used to, picked an untitled playlist and went about doing my thing (errands). What it made me realize is that, while trying to keep up with stuff that gets sent to me, stuff that I'm reading on many of the other excellent Canadian music blogs, along with the blog-O-sphere in general, I haven't been taking enough time to enjoy music.

So, I'm thinking - though, as usual, you can expect that the probability that I'm going to follow through on this is pretty low - that I'm going to do a Friday pick from the iPod/record collection/youtube video kind of post.

I'm not sure I need to say anything about the AF, except, if you're a movie producer and you've got a trailer to put together, I'd keep looking through their back catalogue... things have worked out pretty well with the Benjamin Button and the Where the Wild Things Are (1.3 million views) trailers...

Here's to hoping they get around to putting together another album sometime soon...
The Arcade Fire "Vampire/Forest Fire"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pick of the Week #22: Pink Mountaintops



I have never cared much for the work of Stephen McBean. More studious readers may recall my comparison of Black Mountain to Gilbert Arenas (readers who are not basketball fans should note that this was not a particularly flattering comparison, at least when I made it).

So, obviously, when I read Matthew's review suggesting that the album was not a typical McBean album, it occurred to me that it might be worth listening to. And it really is. Not that I spent any great deal of time with any of Black Mountain's albums, but this seems really, really, different to me. Certainly the grungy power chords(?) linger in the background, but the album is driven by a different sort of motif...

The album kind of feels like McBean and Co. got a wheelbarrow full of marijuana, a bunch of take-out menus, some old records, and hunkered down to write an album. I picture McBean, followed by an enormous cloud of smoke, walking out of this house, handing the record to some executive and walking back in the house and going back to bed (note: I actually have no idea of what McBean's drug use habits are).

The bottom line is that Outside Love is a terrific, terrific, album that should appeal to stoners (like, the guy who showed up my Tuesday night dodgeball game wreaking of weed) and the clean shaven, straight laced members of society, a-like.

[mp3] Pink Mountaintops - Vampire
[mp3] Pink Mountaintops - Axis Thrones of Love


"Vampire" w/ footage from the movie Let the Right One In, which is supposed to be excellent according to Kyle.

Pick of the Week #1: Ketch Harbour Wolves
Pick of the Week #2: Rah Rah
Pick of the Week #3: Glasvegas/Animal Collective
Pick of the Week #4: Bruce Peninsula
Pick of the Week #5: The Antlers
Pick of the Week #6: The Darcys
Pick of the Week #7: Ohbijou
Pick of the Week #8:
Gentlemen Husbands
Pick of the Week #9: Chris Whitley
Pick of the Week #10: Alela Diane
Pick of the Week #11: K'naan
Pick of the Week #12: TOR/Sufjan Stevens
Pick of the Week #13: Timber Timbre
Pick of the Week #14: Justis
Pick of the Week #15: Hibiscus & Rosehips Compilation
Pick of the Week #16: Patrick Watson
Pick of the Week #17: Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
Pick of the Week #18: The Liptonians
Pick of the Week #19: Sunparlour Players
Pick of the Week #20: Black Hat Brigade
Pick of the Week #21: Howie Beck