Saturday, October 31, 2009

Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, The Wilderness of Manitoba, Slow Down Molasses @ the Garrison -- Oct. 29. 2009



Last night was the first time I'd been to a show in ages. It's one of those things, like going to the gym, you forget how much fun/how good it is for you until you go again. Of course, it helped that all of the bands were excellent.

Band no.1 was Slow Down, Molasses (Saskatoon, SK) who had been touring with the headlining Olenka and the Autumn Lovers (London, On) on their trek through Canada's East Coast which, presumably, took them to the Halifax Pop Explosion. They started slow (hah! pun), maybe it was the time change, maybe was the sound... feedback... ugh, maybe it was that I hadn't had enough to drink yet, or maybe they were just getting warmed up, but by the 30-40 minute mark they seemed to hit their stride and their songs really started coming together.

But the night really belonged to Band no.2, the Wilderness of Manitoba. I mean, this part of T.O. is their hood, I think, so it's fitting and it makes sense, but the minute they set into their first multi-part harmony it felt like the room just stopped... like everyone, collectively, had just been stunned. I've heard their album/EP, Hymns of Love & Spirits (pick of the week #36) and said it was one of my favourites of the year (and it is b-t-w), but somehow, in the age of autotune when things aren't always what they seem, you never really know if artists are actually as good as they sound recorded. They were that good, and then some. In fact, if wouldn't surprise me in the least if they had told me they recorded their entire album in one take. My buddy Don (CD release Dec. 3 @ the Hideout!) said that he thought these guys are on to big things, and I couldn't agree more, the only barrier for them, really, is going to be getting people to see/hear them and if they do, you'll be able to say you heard it here (or somewhere else) first!

Band no.3, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, is a band that I'd been meaning to check out for quite some time, but for whatever reason (mostly my own reluctance to leave my house) I'd never made it out to see them play. I think given the performance that came before them, the fact that the crowd had noticeably thinned, and many people had 'checked out', it would be unfair to judge OatAL on their performance. Not that their performance was bad, in fact, I really enjoyed it, but their songs are not suited for a noisy bar full of patrons who were probably more interested in talking about the WoM's set. I could probably be lumped in with that bunch, though, to my credit, I was attentive -- I didn't talk.

While OatAL set was a marginal disappointment, through no fault of their own (and I really do look forward to seeing them again in a quiter setting) they were responsible for the high light of the night: a rousing rendition of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" feat. members of Slow Down, Molasses. The Eastern European tinge to Olenka's songs really give a different feel to one of the Boss' best songs.

[mp3] The Wilderness of Manitoba - Dreamcatchers (live @ the Garrison)
[mp3] The Wilderness of Manitoba - Manitoba

[mp3] Olenka and the Autumn Lovers - 45 (live @ the Garrison)
[mp3] Olenka and the Autumn Lovers - Flash in the Pan

Slow Down, Molasses




The Wilderness of Manitoba






Olenka and the Autumn Lovers






See some real photos via Chromewaves.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Shut-Ins Guide to the Hottest Canadian Bands '09


(Photo Credit)

Last year when picking my top 10 for Matthew/i(heart)music’s Hottest Canadian Bands poll my metric for hotness was “artists that I like more this year”. Certainly, that will remain part of my (unknowable) formula this year.

The second part of this year’s (unknowable) selection formula measures how, air quotes, successful the band has been this year: Have people been writing about them? Going to their shows? Have they been winning awards real or imaginary? Do they have a twitter account? If so, do they post hilarious stuff for my enjoyment? And so on…

The third part of the (unknowable) formula is how I think the band/artist needs some help, or how much I feel compelled that others should hear the band. In this respect, all other things being equal, the lesser known band will get the nod over the more established.

The forth part of the (increasingly more knowable) formula is that I’m a huge homer, meaning, given the chance to promote a band from close to where I live now (Toronto) or where I used to live (London) I’ll take it.

A couple of picks to land on the master list that you’re not going to see here because I haven’t heard the albums: Fucked Up (polaris winner b/w #5 – 10), The Balconies (#7 – 15), Zeus (#15 – 30), Julie Fader (#15 – 30), Japandroids (#10 – 20). Also, K’Naan (#3 – 14) whose album I have heard, but generally thought it was over produced, a little bit broad compared to his debut, but will have won over a bunch of new fans, since, he is actually quite good....

* * *
Here're my picks, although you might note that only my first 10 picks will count on the i(heart)music master list.

15. Timber Timbre (Toronto, On)
Last album: s/t
[mp3] Timber Timbre – Demon Host
Why he/she/they are here: Because he has steadily grown on me since releasing the harrowing Medicinals [2007] (pick of the week #13). While having a slightly different – yet still seriously creepy – aesthetic he put out another album that should be played on doorsteps for many, many, Halloweens to come. That, and he made a big leap by signing with Arts & Crafts, which is a pretty big deal and presumably means that this won’t be the last year we’ll see him on the master list.

14. Rah Rah (Regina, SK)
Last album: Going Steady
[mp3] Rah Rah – Betrayal pt.1
Why he/she/they are here: mostly because Going Steady (pick of the week #2) was an album that I felt deserves, and continues to deserve, a lot more attention that it is getting. This might be a geography thing, which is unfortunate, but the lyrics behind Going Steady are just so engaging and clever, when combined with the swelling, epic sort of instrumentation make me feel as though I have to sell people on this album every chance that I get. Also, I feel a little guilty because if I had got off my ass to see them this year they probably would’ve been between 7 and 10 spots higher.

13. Pink Mountaintops
Last album: Outside Love
[mp3] Pink Mountaintops - Vampires
Why he/she/they are here: despite my distaste for Black Mountain, Stephen McBean and co. have put together an incredibly memorable psych rock album. Outside Love is an album that I wanted to dislike, but I just couldn’t. Somehow, they are able to melt these heavy, distorted guitars with layered, often angelic harmonies to create a sound that mixes ‘90s grunge rock with the flower power of the ‘60s to create what will be one of the best albums of 2009.

12. Ketch Harbour Wolves
Last album: Dead Calm Horizon
[mp3] Ketch Harbour Wolves - Letters
Why he/she/they are here: basically, cause I completely missed out on including them on this list last year. They haven’t really done anything this year i.e. they haven’t released an album, but I have heard some new songs (live, which are excellent), and I’m pretty excited for a second album which I’m told is coming some time next year (if I’m remembering correctly).

11. TOR
Last album: Illinoize
[mp3] Tor/Sufjan Stevens – The Tallest Man/I Like It ft. Grand Puba
Why he/she/they are here: because this might be the best mash-up album… ever. Not that, off the top of my head, I can think of more than say, ten or so, but Illinoize (pick of the week #12) is wicked awesome. Theoretically, you wouldn’t think having Aesop Rock rapping over a Christmas song would work (“Star of Wonder/None Shall Pass”), but I suppose that’s the beauty of this album – Tor uses Suf’s lush instrumentation to serve as the back drop for some good rap tracks and he makes them great.

10. Ohbijou (2007 - #2)
Last album: Beacons
[mp3] Ohbijou – Black Ice
Why he/she/they are here: because they’ve gradually picked up more and more steam every month since they released Swift Feet for Troubling Times (potw #7)a couple of years ago. They’ve shown up on magazine covers, been playing all kinds of shows, and Beacons (potw #27) is really a heck of a record. I mean, the stretch of four songs from “Eloise and the Bones” to “Make it Gold” is about as good as this type of melodramatic pop music gets.

9. Diamond Rings
Last album: Diamond Rings/PS I Love You Split 7”
[mp3] n/a
Why he/she/they are here: because the video, with those value village NBA jerseys, eye make-up, and moon-walking is highly entertaining. I confess, being familiar with the D’Urbervilles (but not knowing John O personally) I never would’ve predicted he was capable of this kind of sound/video/aesthetic…


8. Olenka and the Autumn Lovers
Last album: Either s/t or the Papillonette EP
[mp3] Olenka and the Autumn Lovers – Flash in the Pan
Why he/she/they are here: in part because I’m a huge homer and they’re from London – they haven’t released anything this year; but, the other part is that the often cryptic, Eastern European influenced Olenka (think a female Beirut) writes some excellent songs. I think if I had these albums in my sweaty mitts last year one, or potentially both, could’ve ended up on my top-10 list.

7. The Wooden Sky
Last album: If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone
[mp3] The Wooden Sky - Something Hiding For Us In The Night
Why he/she/they are here: maybe it’s just me, but I really didn’t see this album coming. I knew the Wooden Sky existed, but they were sort of just another Toronto band whose name I had seen a bunch of times in show listings, on other blogs, and in those really awful mass press release type things that PR companies send out. The Wooden Sky have really demonstrated on If You Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone (potw #30)that they are one of the best bands Canada has to offer right now. Plus, in conjunction with Scott Cudmore, they’ve been putting of the most entertaining live videos I’ve seen in a while, thus making “The Late King Henry” one of my most sung in the shower songs this year. Yeah, I bet the bands feeling really good about that.

6. Dan Mangan
Last album: Nice, Nice, Very Nice
[mp3] Dan Mangan - Robots
Why he/she/they are here: I’m sort of Dan Manganed out, having written about him last week (potw #42), but suffice to say that he has differentiated himself from the zillions of other singer-songwriters out there and released a memorable album that hints at him becoming a staple of Canadian music for years to come.

5. Bruce Peninsula
Last album: A Mountain is a Mouth
[mp3] Bruce Peninsula - Steamroller
Why he/she/they are here: because although some cooler, trendier types were listening to them last year, I wasn’t, and that means I get to include them on my list. Having seen them live didn’t hurt either – since they were an absolute force of nature…

4. Chad VanGaalen (2007 - #7, 2008 #1)
Last album: Soft Airplane – B-sides EP
[mp3] Chad VanGaalen - Corvette
Why he/she/they are here: in part, because I’m still bitter about him losing the Polaris Prize. But, bitterness aside, the Soft Airplane B-Sides EP (potw #39) – once you get past the weirdness – is every bit as good as the original album… and he was the hottest in Canada last year so I may still be feeling some residual hotness from 2008.

3. The Rural Alberta Advantage (2008 - #10)
Last album: Hometowns
[mp3] The Rural Alberta Advantage - Frank, AB
Why he/she/they are here: because they’re really hot. They’ve signed a record deal, they’re playing all over the place (even on ABC, weird), and from the new/unreleased songs that I’ve heard they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

2. Wilderness of Manitoba
Last album: Hymns of Love and Spirits
[mp3] Wilderness of Manitoba - Manitoba
Why he/she/they are here: because, without mincing words, this is a band (and an album) that more people ought to be hearing. Before (Pick of the Week #36) I suggested that they were the best parts of Fleet Foxes (the multi-part choral harmonies) and Bon Iver (the really tangible heartache) and I think that’s still true, but after spending more time with their music, I think they deserve a great deal more than that comparison because regardless of whether they go on to become famous, or release more albums, or whatever, this is a truly, truly, special album. Also, now the reviews are starting to come in and they are very, very, good.

1. Black Hat Brigade (2008 #4)
Last album: Fathers EP
[mp3] Black Hat Brigade - Zombie City Shake
Why he/she/they are here: because they’re my favourite band that doesn’t really have a national following. They’ve release two super-wicked EPs (s/t and Fathers) plus a great (particularly considering the budget) video for “Zombie City Shake”. So, I guess this is my way of hoping that a few more people will check out the BHB if I can bump them a little higher on this year’s list.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pick of the Week #43: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros



Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are a strange, strange, looking group. At times E.S. looks like a longer haired version of Aldous Snow (the rock star character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and at other times he looks like a member of the McPoyle family (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), so, not a group that is going to be appearing any CK ads anytime soon. But, we all know that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and so even if you don't want to invite E.S. and the M.Z.s out with you to the Klubs, you really ought to check out their album Up From Below.

Why? Aren't they like every other hippy, love-in, commune sort of band you ask? Well, in number, appearance, and outlook, yes; but their music is not something that you need to be on your way to a sit-in or some type of protest to enjoy. Like the Sgt. Pepper's Beatles meets the big epic band sound of the Arcade Fire E.S. and the M.Z.s craft hopeful sounding songs with great clappy and snappy sounding choruses...

Short of time and heading out to see Olenka and the Autumn Lovers (London!), the Wilderness of Manitoba, and Slow Down Molasses at the Garrison tonight. Hopefully some thoughts and photos from that later on...

[mp3] Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros - 40 Day Dream (live Daytrotter)

"Home" on Letterman



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 (Swift Feet for Troubling Times)
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
Pick of the Week #25: Snailhouse
Pick of the Week #26: Dog Day
Pick of the Week #27: Ohbijou (Beacons)
Pick of the Week #28: Dog is Blue
Pick of the Week #29: Parkas
Pick of the Week #30: The Wooden Sky
Pick of the Week #31: Bowerbirds
Pick of the Week #32: Miss Maya
Pick of the Week #33: Ben Folds Presents ...
Pick of the Week #34: Mantis
Pick of the Week #35: Diamond Rings
Pick of the Week #36: The Wilderness of Manitoba
Pick of the Week #37: Asher Roth
Pick of the Week #38: Julie Doiron
Pick of the Week #39: Chad VanGaalen
Pick of the Week #40: That's the Spirit
Pick of the Week #41: The Ghost is Dancing
Pick of the Week #42: Dan Mangan

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let's Book Club: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace, part 1



I mentioned when writing about Brief Interviews with Hideous Men how maddening, at times, David Foster Wallace can be to read. He's the kind of guy that doesn't let you rest -- he doesn't waste words, he's always probing, challenging, testing you, and his writing is just so dense, that it can get pretty exhausting after a while. Of course, on the flip side, this is also the best part of his writing -- how he breaks down everyday life things with such detail and nuance, and, consequently, elucidates the quirks and in our personalities/interactions/cultures, etc..

As a side note, if my writing has seemed even more convoluted and difficult to read lately then I would chalk that up to me sub-consciously mimicking DFW.

At any rate, given the challenge of getting through a DFW book, let alone a book of full of 40 - 70 page essays, I thought I'd read about the first half of the book, write about it, pick up another book, and then give the second half a go. But, given that there's no real unifying theme - as far as I can tell (and I'm highly caffeinated at the moment) - I thought I'd write a quick (or possibly long) blurb about each of the first three essays.

1. "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley"

DSiTA is about Foster Wallace's junior tennis experience in rural Illinois. FW explains how he, in Brad Gilbertian fashion, became one of the best players in his area at 14 by learning to play with the wind (consequently, he describe that was the peak of his tennis results). More than anything, I think, this essay validates the piece that DFW wrote about Roger Federer in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago ("Roger Federer as Religious Experience")... the guy knows, at least a little bit, tennis.

Tangent: Also, it kind of made me nostalgic, but in a, I can't believe how serious and specialized sports have become. Given that DFW is (or was, I guess) precisely twenty years my senior, junior tennis, I'm sure, had evolved between his and my time. But, I feel like, post-2000 the rate of change - with junior tennis, as with everything else - has been significantly more rapid. If DSiTA were set in 2009, DFW playing on public courts with friends, would've been left in the dust. The kids he competed against would've been playing tournaments since they were nine, strength and speed training since they were eleven, and even the mediocre players would only be going to school for only a half day to fit in their training... not to mention the two or three best kids in the area would've left to go to an IMG Academy in Chicago or Florida. Ugh.

2. "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction"
This essay illustrates perfectly what I find so interesting and maddening about DFW. The whole premise of the essay, which I confess I don't entirely understand, is that television is a reflection of what we, as a society, want to see -- and possibly, that fiction writers don't understand and/or take that seriously enough. Now, I guess the trouble with the essay, for me at least, is that I think DFW is trying to make a point, but I don't entirely get what he's quote "really trying to say". There's enough interesting sort of sub-points along the way, that it doesn't really matter, I guess, but I feel like this is the sort of essay that makes me feel like I wish I'd taken at least one or two English classes through University.

Also, as an aside, it's interesting how - given the time b/w the writing of this essay (mid-90s) and my reading of it (last week) - many of the points still ring true, although you'd have to replace "VCR" with "DVR" and/or "Cable" with "Satelitte" or "the internet" etc.

3. "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All"
I think the essay that I've got the most out of, so far. The essay is written from DFW's perspective as a Harpers' (not Harper's Bazaar) feature writer going back to rural Illinois to go to the State Fair. Amid discussion and description of Middle America, there's an interesting discussion on community and the difference b/w what the rural do for leisure (get together with people: State Fair) and what city folk do (get away from people).

Of course, the best parts of the essay involve DFW's almost scientific curiosity with everything surrounding the fair: the carnies (small hands), the patrons, the participants in various events, and how he can write about the experience as though it's like he's encountered alien life. This is sort of strange considering he is from rural Illinois, but while he's from there, given his parentage (both, I think, University professors), it's not surprising that he doesn't feel that sense of community with the fair patrons/participants that he describes.

.... expect part two in a month or so... I've just begun reading The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein, and based on how angry it's made me I think it's entirely likely that I'll be finished it by the end of the week...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Invention of Lying



Ricky Gervais is a very funny dude, but, given that he appeared -- possibly even starred in -- a movie called Ghost Town that looked positively putrid, I had pretty low expectations for The Invention of Lying. I mean, the Rom-Com genre tends to castrate the funniest of funny comedians, see: Rock, Chris... look at his filmography, ugh. Why The Invention of Lying you ask? Well, it was on at the right time and a certain someone, let's call her E.Lizardbreath for anonymity's sake, didn't want to go to a late, late, movie b/c she had to work in the morning.

Surprisingly, however, the movie was pretty good for a Rom-Com. A good date movie for sure.

The premise of the film is pretty self explanitory, there's a world where there is no deceit, deception, or evading the truth, and Ricky G. figures out that he can say things that are not true. This, I think, is a pretty interesting concept that was actually discussed on a Bill Simmons Podcast not too long ago: take a lot of the things we take for granted, writing, for example. Imagine the first guy, or conceivably gal, to say maybe I should take this rock and scratch this other rock (or whatever) and make some type of mark so I can remember (some important thing). It's pretty incredible, if you think about it.

At any rate, the film derives some pretty hilarious moments from both the blunt -- "you are short and fat and have a snub nose", and the ridiculous "we need to have sex or the world's going to end", but also the observational humour and the way that we sugar coat or tip toe or rework what we want to say to make people feel better. In that sense it's a really interesting bit of pop-psychology, as is most good comedy, I guess.

So, in conclusion, if you're interested in seeing something easy, light, entertaining, that you'll feel pretty good about at the end The Invention of Lying is a good move.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Exchanging e-mails with... That's the Spirit



Now that I've got a little more time on my hands I think I'm going to start up this "Exchanging e-mails with..." segment again. It's been really interesting getting some insight from different bands/artists and figuring out what their life with music is like: what their goals are, their motivation, what tours are like, etc.. Hopefully it's an interesting read, but, if not, I think it makes me a slightly better (sort of) music blogger...

This time around I bounced some electronic mails back and forth with Ottawa singer-songwriter That's the Spirit (Pick of the Week #40), or, Ben Wilson.

* * *
Ben.

So, I guess the first thing I'm sort of curious about is how you respond to reviews both from blogs and from "real" print media, and how successful you think you've been in getting reviews? I think, at this point, it seems like getting someone to write about you seems like it must be a challenge. I mean, I don't run a big operation here, but I'm getting all kinds of emails from all kinds of people -- and especially PR companies.

BTW - I'm not sure if you saw the Nilsson videos that I linked to when I wrote about your album, but the Ringo narrated version is pretty brutal so I hope you weren't/aren't offended...

Rob

* * *

Not at all. But I was wondering whether you thought I might be on acid, or had a pointy head...

Staying Places was the first time I released an album into the world of blogs and internets, so yeah, at first it was daunting, and a little bit upsetting. I really thought people would like it, but the Pitchforks, the Stereogums and the Brooklynveganses, etc. weren't answering my emails and I never took into account that they're getting hundreds of similar emails a day, from trusted sources. I had no idea what I was doing; I was pretty naive and thought the 'big ones' are the ones that decide whether or not your record is good enough...that my music would speak for itself in this new democratized blog world where 'cool people my age are deciding what gets press'!

It sounds kind of stupid but it's easy to let that stuff get to you, you know? Especially when things are so new. But despite the challenges I think the record's had a good run so far in terms of press and blog reviews. And in the end, nothing's better than having someone see a show or listen to the CD and like it so much they start genuinely forcing people to listen to the songs - when you feel you've really connected somehow, which is worth a thousand articles really. So I just take things in stride.

b

* * *

Ben.

Acid, pointy head, whatever, I'm not one to judge. Although, I'm kind of curious what inspired your whole sound. Is it something that you try and work at to create some sort of affect, or is it just what music sounds like when you play it? I often wonder with albums like yours, or others like any of Beirut's albums, the Sufjan Stevens state albums, Bruce Peninsula, Timber Timbre, etc. etc. etc. how you create a sound that seems to create an entire world or something. I think that's something really unique about Staying Places that I don't see on a lot of other albums. I'm very curious to your response to this one, because the only explanation I can think of is that you watched/read the Phantom Tollbooth repeatedly as a kid.

On the second point, re: being discouraged about stuff on the internet I completely understand because that's essentially what I went through when I tried to figure out how to start a blog. I know almost literally nothing about computers and so when I decided that I wanted to do it -- the third or fourth time -- I started emailing guys that ran the blogs that I read and basically no one answered back. Finally, a couple of people Ack at the Herohill, Matthew at i(heart)music and Allan at AWmusic, Paul at the now basically defunct Wolves, Hawks and Kites (but also of Zunior) all turned out to be very helpful -- in fact, Allan actually hosts all the mp3s here and I write a weekly, sometimes more, post at his site. It's the same things that keeps this site going, getting emails, people leaving comments, that makes you feel good about what you're doing.

Now that I've made this about me... I'm wondering what the best feedback or the best comments you've got on your music are? Best show moment? Place you'd most like to play? What would be the best possible break for you right now?

And lastly, so we don't run out of stuff to talk about, since I'm in the midst of doing my write up for the hottest Canadian Bands Poll, do you have any suggestions?

Rob


* * *

Phantom Tollbooth - nice. Funny you should tie in the children's book theme(s) too. The cover art was made for me the year I was born by my uncle, a children's author named Tim Wynne-Jones. There is something child-like to the record, thematically - the travel theme is something everyone can relate to I think. The endless car trips with the family as a kid, the constant desire to be somewhere else...

My sound just comes out, i really don't try to sound like anything. except that i usually write around a theme, since i don't want to have albums that are just collections of songs. in terms of the creativity question, you can't really create in a vacuum. any music you create, whether you like it or not, has to come at least in part from the neural synapses, sounds you've heard recently. i listen to a lot of classical and orchestral stuff as well as a lot of indie rock, and whatever's lying around. but it's those two worlds, classical and indie-rock-folk-whatev, i feel most comfortable in, that's what i grew up with, and i guess as a result that often comes out as 'bedroom folk music that's maybe just slightly challenging'?!

I think there's a lot of 'hot' bands in Canada, which is great, but I'm a bit jaded and picky about what I think is truly artful. The artists I'm obsessing over at the moment would have to include tune-yards, lightning dust, timber timbre... and snailhouse and yellow jacket avenger will always be on that list. But local is where it's at. Everyone should make a point of spending at least a weekend or two going to see bands from their own town that they've never heard. I'm always surprised to hear what i hear, when i get a chance to go out just because i'm curious to hear stuff...music that's often way before the point band members decide 'it's time to monetize this'! There's the drunken bar bands and the serious metal bands and the singer-songwriters in restaurants fighting to be heard above all the talking...for me it's not as exciting to see folks that have been trying to perfect the same set, or worse, the same banter, for years. There's something real and inspiring about getting out to see a fledgling local band or artist that's just a sort of intangible inspiration because it comes from a real place.

b

* * *

Ben.

Sorry about the delay - things have been... well, I bought both NHL '09 and NCAA Football '09 and I've been watching a lot of TV. So, no real good reason for being slow.

That's really cool about the album art and your uncle... I think that might be where I'm getting that Phantom Tollbooth vibe from.

And I completely agree re: people seeing local music. It's kind of a shame for me that I just started to get into the London (On) scene right before I left, then, it was too late. But Toronto has been awesome - there are so many bands and so much going on that it is basically impossible to keep track of. One extreme to another. What's the scene like where you're at? Ottawa, right?

That said, and I do really like local, small venue sort of stuff -- but aren't there times where you really want to see someone who is really, really, really, good? Typically, I think, that doesn't happen in small venues -- at least for long. I mean, if you're really good (typically) you move on to bigger venues/audiences, more money, endorsements, your own clothing line.... thoughts?

Rob

* * *

I've been meaning to get back to my Wii Zelda myself!! Somday soon....working too hard these days.
The Ottawa music scene is kind of small - Ottawa's really just a village-like capital city. But it depends on how you look at it I guess - like every city there are a tonne of bands doing really different things - it's only small in the number of them that appeal to the indie rock/folk/experimental-type CBC-radio 3 friendly crowd. I love it here. Ottawa's small enough to be recognized easily in the music community and get gigs fairly often, but big enough to carry some weight in Toronto and Montreal where the crowds are. Some amazing artists right now - there's the Kelp Records clan (the Acorn, Hilotrons, etc), a new band called The Gallop that are fantastic, Poorfolk/Winchester Warm and the White Whale gang, anything Paul Granger is doing, and some new favourites like the Balconies...nearly every weekend there's a good local band playing. Ming Wu (local photographer)'s website and natcaprock.blogspot.com are good sources to catch up on all things local rock....the scene is really growing and folks are coming out to more shows, which is great.
But yeah, sometimes I just want to see a touring band that is just insanely tight and talented. Zaphod's is a great spot for that, since it's big enough for a lot of national touring acts but still pretty intimate, and has amazing sound. The thing about Ottawa is we're not always the most adventurous sort here. We're a lot of public servants, I guess, so lots of good restaurants around, but we're not so much the late-night music venue-goers. Which is good in that awesome bands like Said the Whale, Two Hours Traffic or Amy Millan will still play Zaphod's (just 180 capacity I think)...but bad too, in that getting people to come to the local shows is still a challenge. I tend to stay away from the bigger hall- or theatre-type shows unless there's something really amazing in town, which isn't that often.

b

* * *

Ben.

Yeah, I get that - re: the types of show goers. London is, or at least was, the same sort of crowd except replace civil servants with rich university students. From what I can gather, that may have started to turn around a little bit -- now we (they) have the London Live Arts Festival which is free, and they've got some relatively big names in the past few years: Final Fantasy, Grizzly Bear, and, actually, that's where I first came across the Acorn (who are probably one of my top-10 Canadian artists of the last 3/4 years).

I always felt like, with London at least, half the problem was getting a venue that would fit bands like -- I don't know Chad VanGaalen, Great Lake Swimmers, etc. the sort of top-level "indie" bands. The kind of venues like Toronto has in spades: Lee's Palace, the Horseshoe, El Mocambo, and on and on and on. I feel retarded for not going to more shows, but I feel like there must be like 20 of those kind of venues in Toronto. Do you think the scenes are tied to the venues i.e. a "Field of Dreams" sort of thing -- "If you built [the venues] they will come?". Does that make any sense?

If there's anything else you want to say - or plug - please feel free to do so. I think we're starting to reach the point where very few people are actually going to read this (though it's been fun) except possibly my parents (to check that I'm not doing drugs)...

Rob


* * *

Yeah, one of the cool things about Ottawa, though, is that there are lots more tiny venues (like, under 100 capacity) popping up, which is great, since it adds a sense of community where smaller or less-known artists can get together, and not be constantly under pressure to sell beer (i.e. get hundrends of bums in seats) for the clubs which is just impossible sometimes. That said I think we still need a mid- to large-size venue in Ottawa that would appeal to agents for bands like Iron & Wine or Fleet Foxes etc. who always skip over our fair city! Though bands like that do come eventually when they're on the 'sympathy tours' (those tours hitting the towns they didn't hit when their records came out 2 years ago....)
well then I just want to give a shout out to your folks. hey Rob's parents! and anyone else out there!
b


A friendly reminder that you can check out Ben's music on myspace at: http://www.myspace.com/thatsthespirit or you can purchase Staying Places for only $5.55 at Zunior.

[mp3] That's the Spirit - Head for the Hills
[mp3] That's the Spirit - It's Curtains for You

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pick of the Week #42: Dan Mangan



There are a lot of singer-songwriter/guy-with-a-guitar types out there, here's why: 1/ it's a relatively easy genre to get into -- in 00s, to put out an album you need a guitar and a Mac; 2/ there's a relatively low degree of difficulty putting together a s-s album -- it's hard, unless you have zero talent, to sound really bad; 3/ it's a great way to score chicks -- see Mayer, John; and, b/c of reasons 1, 2, and 3 there is a sort of self-perpetuating cycle where, it appears at least, to be an ever increasing number of singer-songwriter/guy-with-a-guitar types out there. And though my evidence is purely anecdotal, I definitely get way more singer-songwriter albums sent my way than anything else.

So, given all this, Dan Mangan and his album Nice, Nice, Very Nice is all the more impressive.

The album starts off with "Road Regrets", which, if you were to just listen to the guitar part, could be virtually any song written by a non-descript white person in the last 30 years (although, thinking about it, that's not uncommon with s/s material). But what makes "Road Regrets", for me at least, is Mangan's heartwarming nice-guy-with-a-beard gruff but somehow sweet vocals. It's the sound of a traveller telling stories, but you're not quite sure how much of any given story is fact and how much is fiction; and he's not doing it maliciously, maybe just to entertain himself, or those listening.

There's the aesthetic and a (seemingly) sensitive side ("The Indie Queens are Waiting", "Fair Verona", etc.), but there's also just enough funny, quirky, sort of lyrics -- like the whole chorus on "Robots": Robots need love too, they want to loved by you/They want to be loved by you; or his self depricating admittal that: I'm ambitious when giving up.

While success, and by success I mean making money, depends on a whole variety of things that have nothing to do with music, Dan Mangan has all the ingredients to become a fixture in Canadian music for years to come. He writes music that's interesting, accessible, but there's a real lot of substance (whatever that means) in his words... in any event, I'm looking forward to the next album... no rush though Dan... whenever you're ready...

[mp3] Dan Mangan - Robots

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 (Swift Feet for Troubling Times)
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
Pick of the Week #25: Snailhouse
Pick of the Week #26: Dog Day
Pick of the Week #27: Ohbijou (Beacons)
Pick of the Week #28: Dog is Blue
Pick of the Week #29: Parkas
Pick of the Week #30: The Wooden Sky
Pick of the Week #31: Bowerbirds
Pick of the Week #32: Miss Maya
Pick of the Week #33: Ben Folds Presents ...
Pick of the Week #34: Mantis
Pick of the Week #35: Diamond Rings
Pick of the Week #36: The Wilderness of Manitoba
Pick of the Week #37: Asher Roth
Pick of the Week #38: Julie Doiron
Pick of the Week #39: Chad VanGaalen
Pick of the Week #40: That's the Spirit
Pick of the Week #41: The Ghost is Dancing

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Well, it's not a disaster (like the Bay of Pigs)...



I suspect a fairly substantial number of (LO)BM's readership is familiar with the work of the New Pornographers (except for my parents). Probably slightly fewer peeps are into or familiar with individual Pornographers: AC Newman, Neko Case, and the subject of today's post, Dan Bejar aka Destroyer.

I've never been a real active fan of Destroyer (which is the reason there isn't a whole lot of Destroyer talk here). There's always been something a little too arty, or this sort of poetic air to his songs that have always just put me off. I mean, really, who wears a scarf inside (photo)... c'mon! Despite my misgivings about Bejar's whole aesthetic, he writes (or sings) my favourite Pornographers songs and Destroyer's Rubies [2006] has somehow - possibly b/c the first 4 songs are truly outstanding - become a real go to album for me, like, I'd give it serious consideration for top-20 of the 00s kind of good.

So, given my distaste for the whole aesthetic but my secret love for his songwriting, I was ready to completely write of the whole Bay of Pigs EP - 13 mins. "Bay of Pigs" + 8 mins "Ravers" - as, well, a Bay of Pigs like disaster (I suspect that probably wasn't what he was trying to do with that title). I'm not sure it's my favourite, it's slow, there's some electronicness in it, and there are geniunely points in the title track where, when you're doing something else and listening you wonder whether the song is actually on, but I suppose that's Bejar.

Even with all that experimentation, there's definitely something there that people who like Bejar in the first place are going to really appreciate -- unless they forgot the album was on and went and did something else. Bay of Pigs, I don't think, will win over any new fans, but it should give Bejarophiles something to sink their teeth into. If you're new to Bejar, personally, I'd start with the song "An Actor's Revenge" and then move your way into Destoyer's Rubies... but that's just me...

[mp3] Destroyer - Bay of Pigs

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros



Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (Liz thinks I should be using is here, and I suspect she's right, but it just doesn't sound as good) are my new favourite band. I've been spending any free time I've had the last couple of days watching Youtube of them perform a pile of different songs... it's pretty awesome stuff. Stuff that I think a lot, maybe all of you are going to enjoy.

I'm not sure this is the kind of group that I'd want to hang out with on a Friday night -- they remind me too much of the McPoyles (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)... just a strange sort of group. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm not interested in seeing them when they swing by Toronto's El Mocambo on November 24th. In fact, quite the opposite. They seem like the type of band, especially given their size (numbers, not weight of the members), where I wouldn't be surprised by just about anything happening during/at their live show.

Kudos to my buddy Elliot for recommending these guys...

... now this is more like it...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pick of the Week #41: The Ghost is Dancing



Often, I think our favourite albums are ones that get you at the right time and place. Hayden's Everything I Long For was the perfect album for me in 9th grade to moap in my room to about how my parents didn't understand, Beirut's Gulag Orkestar was a great album to listen to while I lived in a horrible, moldy, basement apt in Seoul, SK and it turns out, The Ghost is Dancing's Battles On has been a perfect fit when attempting to deal with people who take their recreational activites far, far, far too seriously.

This whole time-place-mood thing probably explains why, although the band was good enough to send me their CD in April, I hadn't written about it. It just never seemed like the time to put on the boy/girl rock/pop album. And much like last week's pick, That's the Spirit, it's an album that has grown on my steadily since the spring. Otherwise, the distinctions between the two albums really couldn't be much different.

While TtS had the whimsical nature of children's adventure stories like The Point and The Phantom Tollbooth, tGiD's Battles On is reminiscent of the sort of epic fights that you get into with significant others when you're in a really unhealthy relationship, or the kind of fights that you get into with your parents during adolescence. The album has that sort of ebb and flow of one of those epic fights: talking firmly using 'I' statements, raising your voice a little bit, yelling, crying, yelling while crying, taking a break to calm down, resume yelling while crying and repeat. These aren't just spats, lovers quirrels, these are the sort of fights that you remember years later -- the make or break sort of fights, you survive, it signals the beginning of the end, or, I guess, it's the end of the end.

And this, to me, is what Battles On really captures, but it makes you feel like whatever happens, whatever you said (or they said about you) you're going to get through it, be okay, and come out even stronger. At any rate, if you're going through some type of battle yourself and you like the poppy-'indie'-rock-boy-girl thing, then this may just be the album for you.

[mp3] The Ghost is Dancing - This Thunder
[mp3] The Ghost is Dancing - Old Children

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 (Swift Feet for Troubling Times)
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
Pick of the Week #25: Snailhouse
Pick of the Week #26: Dog Day
Pick of the Week #27: Ohbijou (Beacons)
Pick of the Week #28: Dog is Blue
Pick of the Week #29: Parkas
Pick of the Week #30: The Wooden Sky
Pick of the Week #31: Bowerbirds
Pick of the Week #32: Miss Maya
Pick of the Week #33: Ben Folds Presents ...
Pick of the Week #34: Mantis
Pick of the Week #35: Diamond Rings
Pick of the Week #36: The Wilderness of Manitoba
Pick of the Week #37: Asher Roth
Pick of the Week #38: Julie Doiron
Pick of the Week #39: Chad VanGaalen
Pick of the Week #40: That's the Spirit

Monday, October 12, 2009

Either the PM is a lot cooler than we thought, or, he continues to be the creepy kitten eater we always knew he was...



When Canada's PM is not frightening (or eating) kittens, or hanging out and jamming with Yo Yo Ma, he likes himself some some good ole fashion "indie" rock... apparently. How do I know? Well, like many others, I subscribe to the Rural Alberta Advantage's twitter feed, where yesterday they tweeted "OMG! RAA on Prime Minister Harper's road trip mixtape (between Chuck Berry and AC/DC) http://tinyurl.com/yz33mkd". Uhhh, yeah.

I guess the first question on everyone's mind has to be, huh? Does anyone really believe that Stephen, or Steve, is listening to the RAA? And, presuming of course that this was the work of a clever staffer trying to score Steve some cool points with the Canadian 'indie' rock/music blog community... really? I'm not sure the Hype Machine crowd is going to go from not voting, or voting like most city dwellers vote (Green/NDP/Lib) over to the Conservatives because of a single trendy music selection. I mean, if we were really going to give Steve Harper (sorry, it's just more fun to call him Steve) an image makeover wouldn't we start with the big-sweep-side-part hair do? Maybe get him in a t-shirt?

Of course, the alternative is that the PM has actually come into contact with the music of the Rural Alberta Advantage, which seems, at the very least, odd. You've got to (or I have been) wonder how the RAA feels about that (presuming of course that we share the same - highly negative - opinion of our PM)?

[mp3] The Rural Alberta Advantage - Don't Haunt this Place
[mp3] The Rural Alberta Advantage - Barnesyard (live @ Daytrotter)

Edit: Hat tip (happy?) Rosie for passing along this discussion of whether or not Steve (continues to be amusing) Harper was lip-syncing or using other performance enhancers when he played with Yo Yo Ma.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Best New TV Show '09 - '10? Modern Family



Generally, network TV - meaning, ABC/NBC/CBS - has been firing out a giant load of crap since sometime around the end of Seinfeld. Or, actually, sometime around after the 7th season of Seinfeld. I mean, with the exception of the Office and Friday Night Lights -- if FNL counts b/c of the DirectTV deal -- there has not been anything there really hasn't been virtually anything watchable (oh, I guess Arrested Development - but it got canceled, and Chuck - almost canceled).

Usually, and I think there's some type of multiplier effect for sit-coms, there are really awful broadly drawn characters spouting catch phrases at each other... with the odd pun thrown in for good measure. And if someone had tried to explain Modern Family it probably would've sounded something like another one of those shows: gay couple with adopted baby, family with a dad trying to be cool getting to know daughter's boyfriend, the wound to tight mother who has to fix everything, hard ass grandfather, etc. and so on.

Somehow though, Modern Family misses the trappings those other sit-coms and comes across -- or has come across through three episodes -- as much sharper. The characters, in particular, the three father figures played by Al Bundy, Ty Burrell "The Cool Dad", and the gay fathers Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet are all a little different, quirky, and their mockumentary style interviews rival some of the best that the Office has to offer.

Now, I'm not sure whether its the mockumentary style that works so well -- quick, name a mockumentary style show/movie that really hasn't worked -- but whether its that, or just that its been a well written show (through three episodes) I think it's going to be the best new show of '09 - '10. Normally that might not be saying much, but, actually, Community isn't half bad either...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pick of the Week #40: That's the Spirit



That's the Spirit's Staying Places has been on my computer since sometime around the end of last year, maybe early this year. Since then, whenever that was, I've put the record on roughly once a month and every time I've said to myself, hmph (or something like that) this is a pretty good record, and then I've gone about the rest of my morning/afternoon/evening. So, when I put it on the other day I figured being a (sort of) music blogger this is probably something I ought to write about.

Ironically, with an album titled Staying Places, Ben Wilson (That's the Spirit) was created that reminds me a lot of Harry Nilsson's The Point. For those of you that had parents did not make them listen to this cassette tape ad nauseum on family car trips (and are unwilling to check the link), The Point is a weird little tale about a boy who doesn't have a point on his head in a land of people who do, and he consequently gets banished from the kingdom, goes on a long strange sort of journey, and then, of course, he returns to his town to find that he does, in fact, have a point on his head.

That might seem like a strange connection, I realize. After all, Staying Places isn't a story or a cohesive narrative, but it feels like Ben Wilson is taking you on a trip of sorts, even it is sort of imagined, which, in my estimation, is more fun anyways. He kind of hints throughout the album at themes of navigation, traveling, meeting people along the way, but the instrumentation (and the cover art, above) on the album all hint that this is taking place in some sort of Point or Phantom Tollboothesque universe.

I guess the point (no pun intended) of all this is that, much like my experience with The Point -- which I now love -- is that it took a while for me to come around on it. Not that I disliked it at the beginning, but more that the more time I spent with it the more I came to really dig that whole universe. I'm having that same sort of relationship now with Staying Places, and the world that Ben Wilson has created, and I suspect if you are a fan of any sort of folk music at all, you'll feel the same way.

Now if you'll excuse me, someone has uploaded the entire 1971 movie version of The Point on youtube (narrated by Ringo Starr!), so, you know...

Update: I watched it last night and turns out Ringo's narration and the animation leave a lot to be desired. It really did not hold up as well as I'd thought. So, if you check it out, please don't hold that against Ben Wilson aka That's the Spirit...

[mp3] That's the Spirit - Orienteering
[mp3] That's the Spirit - Head for the Hills


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 (Swift Feet for Troubling Times)
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
Pick of the Week #25: Snailhouse
Pick of the Week #26: Dog Day
Pick of the Week #27: Ohbijou (Beacons)
Pick of the Week #28: Dog is Blue
Pick of the Week #29: Parkas
Pick of the Week #30: The Wooden Sky
Pick of the Week #31: Bowerbirds
Pick of the Week #32: Miss Maya
Pick of the Week #33: Ben Folds Presents ...
Pick of the Week #34: Mantis
Pick of the Week #35: Diamond Rings
Pick of the Week #36: The Wilderness of Manitoba
Pick of the Week #37: Asher Roth
Pick of the Week #38: Julie Doiron
Pick of the Week #39: Chad VanGaalen