Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Life, encapsulated:

Behold, the metaphorical soundtrack to my life as it is lived just now:

My life is even wearing that shirt and perplexing facial expression.

That's to say that I'm very, very busy right now. Though I'm working on a two-part retrospective look at the career of Toronto's late, lamented Deadly Snakes, Canada's greatest rock and roll band, that's going to have to wait a while. Sorry. In the meantime, I encourage you to go out and buy their entire catalogue beginning with their first two garage-stomp records before proceeding to their last two records in which the band grows up, has an existential crisis, and leaves behind it some of the most touching and emotionally raw music I've ever heard.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Less indirect self-promotion:

As of tomorrow evening, I will have a whole bunch of copies of a new zine, this one comprising a new short story and a very long introduction considering the topically resonant events of the first half of this year, during which time my house caught fire, I relived the early 1990s through bad home decor, we got illegally evicted, and general hilarity ensued.

Those in Montréal, or within driving range thereof, should come by Expozine, Canada's largest zine/indie-press fair, this Saturday and Sunday to buy the new issue from me. As I have in previous years, I'll have a table from which I'll be selling copies of my zines. Along with the new one, there will also be copies of back issues: last year's Jigsaw Youth: Two New Stories (shortlisted for Best English Book at the 2006 Expozine awards), 2004's Querencia 8: Our Lady of the Harbour (the excruciatingly personal issue!), and 2001's Querencia 5: Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste (aka "the one John K Samson liked"). Each of these goes for an affordable $3, which guarantees a high ratio of carefully crafted prose to the dollar.

It's happening from 12-6pm on both Saturday and Sunday at 5035 St-Dominique (l'Église Saint-Enfant Jésus, between St-Joseph and Laurier, near Laurier Métro). You can also check out a map here.

Also very exciting: Chris Landry from Ottawa will be up to table his hotly expected new issue of Kiss Off (which I've heard is fantastic), and Jeff "Otaku" Miller will have a new issue of the mighty Ghost Pine. As well, Adam "Tops" Thomlison is coming up from Ottawa to sell goods from his 40-Watt Spotlight Press; Nic Boshart will be selling stuff (including the guaranteed brilliant new Devin Code collection of short stories: buy this!) from Invisible Publishing, of which he's a key player; talented artist Leila Peacock will have... something unidentified, probably art, possibly riddles, likely both; and gifted magic-marker portraitist Arlene Textaqueen will apparently be back from Australia to sell pictures of people I know naked. I'm hoping, too, that Warren Hill will have a new issue of $2.00 Comes With Mix-Tape, which is two dollars and (surprise!) comes with a mix tape that's alone worth about ten times the package price.

That's not to mention the usual onslaught of talented locals and mysterious out-of-towners hocking neat stuff. I strongly advise you all to drop by, if only to buy things from me.

So I'll see you there, then? Awesome.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The mighty do fall, after all, but...

From time to time I get to wondering how Clarence Carter could fall so far from the mighty deep-soul melancholy of "Slip Away" to embarrassing novelty tracks like "Strokin'."

It's true the guy always played dirty novelty songs (and what compilation of listenable Xmas music is complete without "Back Door Santa"?); I'm not saying he shouldn't be allowed to have fun. But when I listen to the pounding, heart-racing chorus of "Slip Away," I find it hard not to imagine that Carter was destined for better things.

The 80s were a hard time for a lot of soul singers-- Aretha sure embarrassed herself, as did Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and a lot of other truly great performers. The influence of cocaine and synthesizers didn't flatter anyone. But still-- it's sad to think how many of those years were wasted on empty pop and digitally reverberating drums when they could have been spent honing artistry with the wisdom of age. It's always a little disappointing to listen to a heart-wrenching song like "Slip Away" and know that was the crest, there was never any more like that. Alas.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Terrible news!

I was listening to Electrelane's excellent No Shouts, No Calls this afternoon and decided to check their web page to see if they'd scheduled a make-up tour for those dates in North America that they canceled this spring when the Arcade Fire took them along as openers. All spring I waited for their scheduled May show and was totally distraught to hear it had been postponed, but an email from drummer Emma Gaze assured me that they'd be back sometime this fall. Since this fall is nearly over, I wanted to see if they were slated to be back soon. Instead, I found this message on the front page:


We have decided that the upcoming gigs will be our last for the foreseeable future. After ten years of much fun and hard work, we have realised that we all need a break and time to do other things. This was a tough decision for us to make, but ultimately a positive one.

A big thank you to everyone who has come to our shows, put on our shows, and bought our records over the years. It means a lot to us. We're really grateful to have had the opportunity to play gigs all over the world and to meet so many lovely people. This last year has been especially enjoyable and we feel happy about moving on with all these good memories to look back on. At the moment we haven’t made any band plans for the future, but we’re going to have a break and see what happens.

Love, Electrelane

Damn. So goes one of the most interesting, exciting, and infinitely listenable bands in present-day music, and barely nine months after releasing the nearly flawless No Shouts, No Calls, easily one of 2007's finest albums. That record that will forever bring me back to this year with every repeated listen, and it's good enough that I can say without doubt that I'll be putting it on again and again, year after year, as I do all of their releases. I suppose one could say it's good they're quitting before they put out a bad album, but that's small comfort, particularly given that I don't believe they're capable of a bad album.

Mid-November's always ugly, but this is just an extra bit of disappointment.

Monday, November 05, 2007

If you find the band The Doors absurd, and find the glorification of Jim Morrison even funnier, you should, by all means, read this magnificent review of Ray Manzarek's toadying memoir. That's right, he didn't just play in the doors and later ruin the production of the album Los Angeles by X with his banal, gurgling organ, but he wrote a book featuring the Doors as the most important thing that ever happened to culture.

Now when I was a pre-teen, I loved the Doors and was nearly obsessive about them, but there comes a time (usually around one's 15th birthday?) at which one must ask what, exactly, makes Jim Morrison a poet, and "An American Poet" (as the poster I had on my wall said) at that? Are we supposed to go easier on him as a poet because he was American, as though he was admittedly not Keats or Larkin, but did the best with his circumstances?

Anyway, read the review, since whoever wrote it expresses my feelings on the issue better than I possibly could.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's a busy season.

As my college rolls through the end of midterm season, picking up speed and mass like an educational snowball, my free time is being swept away in favour of marking, prep, and much more marking. I haven't had time for a decent entry in a while and apologize, but I will tell you what I'm crazy about right now:

Funky Kingston by Toots & the Maytals on the original vinyl

I'm more or less ALWAYS crazy about Funky Kingston, and it's traditionally the strongest challenge to Marquee Moon's title as my all-time favourite record. However, I lost my CD of it this summer (along with 44 other favourites) when I left my CD-booklet on the bus from Montréal to St-Jovite and have been missing it terribly since. How kind of my beloved gal Ang, then, to dig up a copy of the original vinyl to present me on my 30th birthday a week back! And just in time too, since this record has, for years, been my strongest psychic medicine against the descent of the grey misery of late fall. When it's dark at 4:30 and your fingers, toes, and nose all seem as though they're cramping up even when you're inside, you need something warm, and there's no sound warmer than "Pressure Drop," "Pomp & Pride," or the Maytals' cover of "Country Roads, Take Me Home." Nothing else sounds like comfort to me the way that Funky Kingston does.

Spirit of the Century by the Blind Boys of Alabama

I picked this up on Friday and have listened to it maybe 30 times since then. Simple blues-gospel arrangements that go miles on beautiful voices alone, the Blind Boys are unmatched in any recent gospel I've heard, and in spite of their modernizing of the sound, are fit to stand beside Mahalia Jackson, the Soul Stirrers, and the Swan Silvertones. This record is mostly traditionals with a handful of covers of Jesus-themed popular music, and all of it is from the heart and gut both. Worth buying for their cover of the Stones' "Just Want To See His Face" alone, it's a record I find hard to listen to without singing along. And it should be so-- this is gospel music that moves you with its testament to the faith of the voices singing it, and one needn't share the same views to be shaken by the very human joy and conviction celebrated here.

Death to Idealism by the Red Dons

Everything I hoped it would be, this album goes a long way to harnessing the energy of the Red Dons' live show. Well-wrought classic west-coast punk rock along the lines of the Middle Class and the Adolescents that drives forward even as it shakes from side to side, with great melodies and an earnest plead to its lyrics. Highly recommended.

s/t by the Tranzmitors

Vancouver's best band (a Smugglers/New Town Animals supergroup) merges new wave and power pop into a tight, pounding record that's loud and fast and poppy in equal measures. Blasting new-wave organ, sharp juts of guitar with licked-surface leads, and fucking HAND-CLAPS ALL OVER, man, this is a record you need to have if you like fun. It's deeply danceable (I tested this at a party recently and it held up), charmingly arranged (see the late breakdown in "Alma Blackwell"), and sounds better with every notch you turn it up. Which you must and will.

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore: 1927-1948 - Various

An unbelievable collection of early recordings of US music that's not what you'd expect of "early US music," this mixes a mindbending array of sounds stemming from massive 20th century immigration. Thus there's calypso mixed with Asian, Cajun, and Appalachian folk and blues. At a point in my music appreciation where I've gotten used to finding early blues/folk collections predictable and homogeneous, I'm absolutely amazed by this delightful LP which stands up to multiple listening and never tires itself out. Fans of roots music will clearly have to dig this up as soon as they can.

Reunion Tour by the Weakerthans

John K Samson has a well-earned reputation for putting together gently rocking indie-pop, but he deserves to have greater attention paid to his writing as well. The songs here, strangely Canadian for a guy whose musical career began with fervent anti-nationalist hoserpinkos Propagandhi, are musical portraits of people and places: an aging band reuniting in the title track, a tired Northerner ushering yet another group of skeptics to where he saw Bigfoot, a curler dawdling at the club at the end of a bonspiel, and a Winnipeg bus driver watching the descent of December dusk ("Civil Twilight"). This last track is the opener to the record but possibly its finest song, a big, warm-sounding song about cold, a gentle portrait of the routine of driving a bus and the emotions of the driver, and a subtle punch in Burton Cummings' gut (can there ever be enough of those?). Several years ago I interviewed Samson for CKUT-FM and expressed strong agreement with his heretical Winnipeger's statement in "One Great City!" that "The Guess Who sucked." I explained that I hated the Guess Who more than any band in music history and I was glad to find someone who finally understood, but Samson said his reaction wasn't so much to the vacuousness of their lyrics or derivative music as to the exalted place they held among Winnipeg cultural history. "I was listening to that song 'Bus Rider,'" he said, "And I thought, god, the Guess Who really does just suck. Did they have to write a song mocking poor people taking the bus to work? Wasn't there something better to write about?" Samson's response of a portrait-in-song of cold commuters who "bite their mitts off to show me transfers, deposit change" and a vaguely heartsick driver facing dusk and admitting "this part of the day bewilders me" is a humane and witty rejoinder to the Guess Who, one whose release is perfectly timed to give form to the emotions of this coming fall.

By the way, you remembered to turn your clocks back last night, right?