Saturday, December 24, 2011

Four really awesome EPs from 2011

I've already listed my "favourite 15 Canadian records of 2011" and my "favorite 22 non-Canadian records of 2011". I may or may not get around to the list of what's not on the lists.
Yeah, I have those albums that other people are going nuts over. The ones by Bon Iver, Cults, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Girls, Real Estate, The Sea and Cake, Wilco. I like all of those. They just didn't make the cut. I even have the new Radiohead record, and it was a massive disappointment for me. There are others that almost made my lists, and I may get around to explaining all of that. But I probably won't.

In a sort of related theme, today's list is about knowing what to leave out. Somebody once said "the great artist knows what to leave out". Cameron Crowe borrowed that quote in his movie Almost Famous, when "Russell Hammond" says "It's not what you put in. It's what you leave out... Yeah. That's rock-n-roll. What you leave out"

Knowing what to leave out. A lot of full length albums contain four or five good songs and five or six mediocre songs. Filler. Sometimes a band will do this because they're contractually obligated to release a full-length album. Sometimes, they just don't know what to leave out. That's where the EP comes in. If you have four or five great songs, why not leave it at that? It may be harder for record companies to market the EP than the full album. Some music buyers are reluctant to spend their money on a record that only has four songs. Those though, aren't good enough reasons not to make an EP instead of a using filler to make a full-length album.

I think the EP is a beautiful thing. Helium's Pirate Prude is one of my favorite recordings of the last 20 years, but I would like it a lot less if there were four more songs just to fill it out as an LP.

In 2011, I bought a handful of EPs, and there are four that stand above the rest. I won't rank them. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Brave Irene -- Brave Irene
Jangly guitars, organ, and riot grrrls in their late 30s/early 40s.
This Vancouver-based band is fronted by Rose Melberg, who was the front of the brilliantly twee girl foursome Tiger Trap in the early 1990s. She went on to play in other cuddle-punk bands The Softies and Go Sailor. The sound of this band is pretty much the sound of those bands.
This EP was released by Slumberland Records in March of 2011. It's warm and gooey and fun. It's like a bag of swedish fish, bought from the store and smuggled into the movies.

Sample a couple of tracks here, then buy it from the Slumberland website
Brave Irene sampler by Slumberland Records

50 Foot Wave -- With Love From the Men's Room
Stacks of amps, plenty of aggression and some people in their mid-40s
Built around Kristin Hersh and her long-time Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges, this is nothing like the Muses or Kristin's folky, mostly acoustic solo stuff. 50 Foot Wave is much harder, faster, louder and angrier.
This is their fourth EP, and Kristin has made everything this band ever released available for free, with the suggestion that you donate to or become one of her "Strange Angels", who finance her creative process via a quarterly "subscription" fee.

This is crunchy and sticky. Like a peanut butter and bacon sandwich.

Download the EP free and legally here, (you have to do it track-by-track) but seriously consider leaving something in the tip jar.
50 Foot Wave -- Grey by dlee71

SPC ECO -- Big Fat World

Father, daughter, and the holy effects pedals.
Pronounced "Space Echo", this shoegazy/dreampop band is built around Dean Garcia from Curve and his daughter. They released an album in 2009, an EP in 2010, then this in the first half of 2011. Later in the year, they released a full-length album with half of the songs from the ep, plus seven other songs. To be honest, I don't have that full-length, so I don't know whether those other songs are filler or legitimate. Still, I don't like the fact that there's previously released stuff on the "new album". It's a little disrespectful to the fans.
I'm reminded, naturally, of Curve. Also of the first Hooverphonic record.

Somehow, I didn't know about these cats until one of the Geeks suggested this EP to me. Viva la Geek!

This is smoky as all get-out, and warm-and-soothing as hell. Like a beef brisket sandwich.

Buy the ep from their bandcamp page, but don't file-share with your friends, as it "fucks (them) over".

If I was doing this kind of thing, I would list this song as one of my favorite songs of the year:

Weekend -- Red

Please don't get confused. I'm not talking about that "mix-tape" girl called The Weeknd. This is an indie rock band from San Francisco who spell their band name in the traditional way.
I missed the boat to their Sports album last year, so it didn't make my list, but if I wrote a "favorites of 2010" list today, it would be close to the top. This EP, released in September, is pretty much blowing me away. With their pedals and their hooks, I find myself putting the EP on infinite repeat and slipping into noise pop heaven.
It's clear that these guys listen to a lot of Joy Division. And a lot of mid-1990s British shoegaze bands. I was actually surprised to learn that they're not from the same town as The Catherine Wheel or Adorable or one of the other great bands of that ilk.

This is thunderous, exciting, familiar and new. Like opening night of hockey season.

Buy the album from Slumberland after sampling the song "Hazel". And then listen again. And again. It's that good.

There you have it. My favorite EPs of 2011. I might not be done with my list-making, so keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our 22 favorite non-Canadian records of 2011

On Tuesday I hurriedly, and with little commentary, compiled and posted my list of my favourite 15 Canadian records of 2011. Now it's time to tackle the bigger project. Last year, I made a list of my 15 favorite non-Canadian records. I'm going to expand it a little bit this year.

I'm not one of these guys who's going to say that 2011 was a weak year for new releases. I think I got more new releases this year (about 150 in all) than I have in a long time. Some of them were pretty mind-blowing.

I struggled making the list last year, and I thought that broadening it a little bit this year would help. I'm not sure that it did, but in any case, I felt like I would be leaving too many on the editing room floor if I didn't expand it a bit.

The criteria for this list are that it has to be a full-length album(generally defined as "more than 30 minutes and/or more than eight songs"), the band has to be other than Canadian in origin, and the record had to have been released in 2011. Anniversary re-issues aren't included in this list. And again, I'm not saying that these are objectively better. I'm just saying that I liked them a lot.

I should add that I couldn't have done any of this without the support of a group of Music Geeks with whom I've been engaged in music email conversations for the last 18 months or so. They've opened my eyes to some new stuff and given me some fresh views and different opinions on some stuff that I already knew. As we like to say, "Viva la Geek!"

So, here we go with the countdown. With some commentary, and a video for each. Feel free to make your voice heard in the comments section

22. Fredrik -- Flora (Sweden)
I know next to nothing about this band. They're Swedish. I never would have known that they exist if not for the suggestion of one of the Music Geeks.

21. Big Troubles -- Romantic Comedy (New Jersey)
One of many great releases from Slumberland Records this year.
This video is, umm... goofy.

20. Zola Jesus -- Conatus
She came in at #5 on last year's list, and it didn't take long for a new record to come out. It's more of the same, but it doesn't get near the top this year.

19. Telekinesis -- 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Seattle)

Telekinesis - Please Ask for Help from Merge Records on Vimeo.

18. Wild Flag -- Wild Flag (Portland)

I wanted to like this more. I should like this more. I had the privilege of seeing them play live about 8 months before the record came out, and it was an amazing show. I always used to say that Sleater-Kinney was more enjoyable as a live band than on record, and the step-sister of that band is no different.

Wild Flag - Romance from Merge Records on Vimeo.

17. Yuck -- Yuck (London, England)

I loved this record passionately for about seven weeks. The romance has fizzled out a bit, but we're still really good friends, and it's definitely worthy of a spot on this list.

This video is NOT SAFE FOR WORK:

Yuck - Rubber from Yuck on Vimeo.

16. Mogwai -- Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Glasgow, Scotland)
This record has way more vocals than I'm accustomed to with this band, but then again, their sound has changed a bit over the years. This is the first Mogwai record I've bought since 1999's Come On, Die Young

Mogwai "How to Be a Werewolf" (in Thirty Century Man) from Sub Pop Records on Vimeo.

15. This Will Destroy You -- Tunnel Blanket (San Marcos, Texas)
Only their second proper album, this took a long time and was highly anticipated. Not exactly a disappointment, but nothing earth-shattering either. With TWDY, the key word for the listener -- especially the first-time listener-- is "patience". Stick with it.

14. M83 -- Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (France)
This double-album is something that front man Anthony Gonzalez has wanted to do for a long time. Every song is a little different, and it's all good. It doesn't chart higher because I see this record as an exercise in decadence. As one of the Music Geeks (Viva la Geek!) brilliantly put it :
(I) can't help thinking that there was an amazing single album hidden amongst the overwrought double
This video, for "Midnight City", is a little unsettling, but really well made:

13. Julianna Barwick -- The Magic Place (Brooklyn)
Not much other than a bunch of wordless vocal loops and some really sparse instrumentation. Very haunting and very good.

12. Jessica Lea Mayfield -- Tell Me (Kent, Ohio)
I got this early in the year, thanks to one of the Geeks and gave it a little bit of play. I had it on a back burner for a long time until she had a fantastic Daytrotter session a couple of weeks ago. I was thankfully reminded of how great this record is

11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart -- Belong (New York City)
Another great release by Slumberland Records. Like the others, it brings to mind the mid-1990s, which was a real good time for indie music, and a real good time for Slumberland Records.

10. Los Campesinos -- Hello, Sadness (Wales)
This one kinda came out of nowhere. I've liked this band in the past, and there have been some standout tracks on some otherwise average albums. They've gotten better as a band (and changed the lineup again), and they've put out a solid record from start to finish.

By Your Hand - Los Campesinos! from Los Campesinos! on Vimeo.

9. Explosions in The Sky -- Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Austin, Texas)
I love this band. However, it's been four years since their last record, and my first response to it wasn't exactly favorable. It took a while to grow on me, but it did. Like most of the records on this list, I don't have a physical copy of the release, but I'm told that the liner notes can be folded out to make a tiny house. I keep telling myself to order one of these.
Here they are performing a short song "Trembling Hands" at a show that I should have gone to:

8. Blouse -- Blouse (Portland)
These guys just dropped their debut record in November, and I don't remember how I first heard about it, but I was taken right away. This also reminds me of some of the dream-pop from the early-mid 1990s. In a lot of ways, this record reminds me of the brilliant (and only) record -- Blow by the band Swallow. Everyone should own a copy of that. Tragically, Blow is out of print, but digital copies are available. Get it.
Anyway, this debut record from Blouse is pretty amazing. Here's an unofficial video for the great song "Into Black":

7. Bird of Youth -- Defender (Brooklyn)
I'm pretty sure that I discovered this band because I follow Kathryn Calder on twitter. At any rate, I'm glad I found them. This is largely the work of Beth Wawerna, but she's got a band, and she's got a lot of important friends. I'm convinced that she's written a song that Colin Meloy of The Decemberists wishes he had written. Here's that song:

6. The Antlers -- Burst Apart (Brooklyn)
I was so excited about this record that it's one of four on this list that I pre-ordered a physical copy of. I don't buy very many physical copies these days, so that's sort of a big deal. I absolutely love it.

5. Low -- C'mon (Duluth, Minnesota)
Another that I pre-ordered. Every time I think that this band can't make another great record, they do. I think, actually, that they keep getting better. I love how they eschew the "slowcore" categorization even when they're the pioneers of the genre.
Here's a fantastic video for "Try to Sleep", featuring John "Uncle Jesse" Stamos and some girl who used to be a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model:

4. Wye Oak -- Civilian (Baltimore)
The Maryland two-piece became indie darlings in 2009 with their towering sophomore record The Knot, and it's been full-steam ahead since then. They've been a touring machine and they put out a well-received EP last year. They've come through here about three times in the last 18 months, but I've somehow missed or been shut out of each show. I won't let that happen again. If they keep doing what they're doing, they won't be playing small clubs very much longer.
This isn't a record that'll leave you slack-jawed and gasping for air. It's much more subtle than that. It will, though, make you want to play it again. And again.
Here's a great video that was probably less fun to make than it looks like. That Coney Island Cyclone is one hell of a bumpy ride, and somewhere along the line Jen got a nasty bump on her forehead. It's all about rock and roll:

Wye Oak - Holy Holy from Merge Records on Vimeo.

3. Veronica Falls -- Veronica Falls (London, England)
A bit like the legendarily twee Heavenly. A bit like nearly everything on Slumberland's roster back in 1995. Dark as hell. Clearly inspired by 1960s rock, or at least those production values. Pop with a bit of noise. And a ultra-minimal drum kit of bass, snare, a floor tom and a tambourine. Veronica Falls and Slumberland Records is a perfect marriage. I hope it lasts for a long time.

2. The Head and The Heart -- The Head and The Heart (Seattle)
This Seattle sextet self-released their album in 2010, then created a bunch of buzz in the Puget Sound area. Enough for Sub Pop records to take notice and give the album a proper release. They released it digitally in January, when it was recommended to me by eMu. I fell in love with it immediately. In April, it was released in physical format on Record Store Day, for which I pre-ordered a copy.
Five smelly dudes and a girl with a violin. Great vocal harmonies. A piano. The best tag for this band is "indie-folk", which is pretty much what described my entire list in 2010. I don't think I would like these kids as people, but I sure do like them as a band.

1. The Dodos -- No Color (San Fransisco)
Ever since I saw them open for The New Pornographers a couple of years ago, I've loved this band, and eagerly anticipated this new record. I pre-ordered a physical copy as soon as I found out that the fabulous Neko Case was doing guest vocals on the record. Sadly, the label messed up my order and sent me vinyl instead of the CD that I ordered, but there was a coupon for the lossless download, so it didn't really matter. I kept the vinyl. Unopened.
I love every song on the album and often play it twice in a row.
These guys are known for playing oddball instruments and using oddball techniques to play them. There's also some really strange time signatures and some drastic change of signature within songs. It's a bit shocking, and it really works well for me.

No video that I like enough to share, so I'll just share this song, which is currently my favorite song on the record.

Hunting Season by The Dodos by Mute-Song

Okay. That's it. Those were my favorite 22 non-Canadian records of the year 2011. I know there are some big names left off that list. It doesn't mean that I didn't like them. It just means that I liked them less than this lot. I'll probably make an "also ran" list at some point. And if I get really squirrely, I might make a composite list of my favorite 25 records of the year, regardless of nationality.

What do you say?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our favourite 15 Canadian records of 2011

It's that time of year again. Time for everyone to post their lists of "best (number) albums of the year". I do things a little differently around here. This is only my second year doing this, but I always make two lists. One comprised entirely of Canadian albums, and the other of "non-Canadian". And I'm careful to say that these are my favourite albums, instead of calling them the best. It's all subjective, and this is simply my view.

The criteria are pretty simple. The band must be at least "mostly" Canadian. In the case of a solo artist, it's pretty obvious. I'm dealing only with full length albums. No singles. No EPs. It must have been released in the year 2011. Simple.

I'm trying to meet a deadline here, and I won't be able to go into depth about each record the way I've done in the past. At some point in the very near future, I may or may not edit this post to include detail.
For now, with a video and minimal commentary for each, my favourite 15 Canadian records of 2011:

  • 15. Dinosaur Bones -- My Divider

    14. Destroyer -- Kaputt

    13. Chad VanGaalen -- Diaper Island

    12. Feist -- Metals
    This video, from the "Later with Jools Holland" show, features the gals from Mountain Man on backing vocals.

    11. Kathryn Calder -- Bright and Vivid

    10. Colin Stetson -- New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
    Listening to this album requires a lot of patience, and it's not the kind of thing I can listen to every day. That's what prevented this from appearing in the top third of this list. One man. One horn. Amazing.

    9. Austra -- Feel it Break
    A little more bloop bleep than I usually care for, and I really dislike this video, but..

    8. Dan Mangan -- Oh Fortune

    7. The Dears -- Degeneration Street

    6. Jenn Grant -- Honeymoon Punch

    5. Braids -- Native Speaker
    Kids. These are freakin' kids.

    4. Lindi Ortega -- Little Red Boots
    Yes. It's a country record. And it's great.

    3. The Luyas -- Too Beautiful to Work
    People say they sound exactly like Broadcast. I can't really argue.

    2. Drawn Ship -- Low Domestic
    A very late addition to the mix. Maybe just a "flavour of the month" for me, but I kinda doubt it. Some songs on this record sound like they should be on Helium's Pirate Prude EP, which I still listen to all the time, 17 years after it was released.
    Oh, and they're a two-piece.
    Sadly, no video. Not anywhere where I could find it, anyway, but here's a song:
    Glass Eye by DRAWN SHIP

    1. The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing
    They didn't disappoint me with their sophomore effort.
    They made a few really creative videos, thanks to Saddle Creek Records. This is pretty great:

    So there you have it. Without much commentary. The "non-Canadian" list is going to be much more difficult to parse, and it should be up soon. I'm supposed to have it done by Friday. We'll see.
  • Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Looking back at last year's lists

    As I prepare to compile this year's lists of my 15 favorite long-players in the "Canadian" and "Non-Canadian" categories, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit last year's lists. To see how they've held up, one year later.

    Here's last year's top 15 Canadian records. I think that some of those records made the list simply because they were fresh on my mind at the end of the year. This is a natural tendency, and it's exactly the reason that some movies are re-introduced just before the voting for the Academy Awards takes place. Anyway, there are a few of those records that I haven't listened to very much at all since then. Still, though, I think the list held up pretty well. On that list, the records that are still in heavy rotation around here are:
    • Hannah Georgas -- This is Good (#11 on the list)
    • Land of Talk -- Cloak and Cipher (#8)
    • Kathryn Calder -- Are You My Mother (#7)
    • Dan Mangan -- Nice, Nice, Very Nice (#5)
    • The New Pornographers -- Together (#3)
    • The Besnard Lakes -- ...Are the Roaring Night (#1)

    The "non-Canadian" list was a bit of a mess right from the drop, and I think I immediately had doubts about how I numbered them. It looks like that list didn't hold up as well as the Canadian list. The records that are still in heavy rotation are:
    • School of Seven Bells -- Disconnect From Desire (#13 on the list)
    • Sharon Van Etten -- Epic (#10)
    • Thrushes -- Night Falls (#9)
    • The National -- High Violet (#4)
    • Kristin Hersh -- Crooked (#3)

    I'm not going to retrospectively re-order those lists, but I would have put that Sharon Van Etten record at #1 if I'd known then what I know now. And The National at #2. And as luck has it, SVE and The National recorded a fantastic song together this year for the movie "Win Win".

    Over the next two weeks, I hope to be working hard on getting my 2011 lists together. This means doing a lot of listening, a lot of video watching, and a little bit of research.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    In which we see the Pixies play "Doolittle"

    There's been a recent spate of indie bands celebrating the umpteenth anniversary of one of their classic records by reuniting and "in support" of that album. They haven't all been good, or even a good idea, but the latest one was fantastic.

    Last summer, Dinosaur Jr mysteriously toured, playing their 1988 album Bug in its entirety. I'm not a huge Dinosaur Jr fan, but I do like them. That record, however, isn't something that I'm in touch with at all. I know some people who are huge fans, and they put that record at the bottom of their canon. I've read that their frontman J Mascis calls it his least favorite of his own records. So when that tour was announces, I thought about it for about half a second. I've never seen Dinosuar Jr, and I've heard that they always put on a great show. However, it was a celebration of an album that I'm not familiar with, the fans don't like, and J himself doesn't like. It was an easy choice to opt out of that one.

    A few months ago, the Lemonheads toured, playing their 1992 album It's a Shame About Ray. I like The Lemonheads quite a bit, and I adore that album. It sounded like something that I simply had to do. They, like Dinosaur Jr, came to Chapel Hill. It was on a Sunday night, the night before my birthday. It sounded like a great idea, until... When they made that record, frontman Evan Dando was inseparable with Juliana Hatfield. She was a pretty important part of that record, playing bass on all tracks, singing backing vocals on almost every track, and practically taking the lead on some of them. It's really hard to imagine that record without her. From the last chorus of the title track (#3) through the rest of the album, she's there. And there's no way to imagine the song "My Drug Buddy" without her. Anyway, I did a tiny bit of research and found out that she wasn't part of the tour. That was an automatic dealbreaker for me. She's such an integral part of that record that even though I like it a lot, it wouldn't be worth it. So I took a pass.

    During the summer, the Pixies announced that they would re-re-reunite and tour, playing their seminal 1989 Doolittle in its entirety. It's the third time they've toured the "twentieth anniversary" of that album. It was a no-brainer. I love that band. I love that album. And they were coming right here to Greensboro. With each of these "twentieth anniversary" tours, they've played exclusively in towns where they've never played before. Obviously they can't play in every town, but they've been hitting the college towns and medium-sized cities where, for some reason, they've never played.

    It was a seated, auditorium show, and that means higher ticket prices. I was fine with that. They announced that there would be a pre-sale that included a tee shirt. $74 for everything. The ticket, the shirt, shipping. No extra ticketmaster fees or taxes. It's a lot to pay for a show, but naturally I thought about it in terms of premium seating and how the tee shirt was included. Or free, even. I've never paid that much to see a show, and I routinely ridicule people who happily shell out $250 for a lousy seat to see somebody like U2 play in a football stadium. Expensive, but worth it. One of my favorite bands. An absolutely brilliant record. It has to be good. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as I was going thought the e-checkout.

    After a few weeks, the shirt arrived, and it's pretty sweet. They didn't sell them on the tour, but it's a tour shirt. Exclusive to us suckers who shelled out the big bucks in the pre-sell. More weeks passed, and the anticipation of the big night grew.

    And then, I got a new job. The new job requires one out of town overnight trip every week. You can probably guess what night of the week my weekly trip fell vis-a-vis the Pixies show.

    When I took the job, I thought about announcing that I wouldn't be available to go out of town that night. But who asks for days off during the job interview? I thought it would be a bridge I would cross when I came to it. As I got closer and closer to that moment, I started to think that I would have to forfeit the ticket. The way this thing works is that the pre-sold tickets were held at will call. Nobody knew exactly where their seat was until the night of the show. Since I didn't have a physical ticket or even a seat location, I couldn't really sell it. And it wouldn't matter anyway, since they were held at will call.

    The scheduling conflict notwithstanding, after about a month into the job, I started to realize that the overnight trip made me hate the job. Not only were those days out-of-town, but they were really long. Like 16 hours long. My salary and the overnight perdiem weren't adding up to make it seem worth the frustration of it all.

    I'm still working that job for a little while longer, but I'm not doing the overnight drive anymore. Starting with the night of the Pixies show. Turns out I wouldn't have to worry about crossing any bridge.

    I'd seen Pixies twice before. Once, in 1992, just after they released Trompe le Monde. I really dislike that album. The band was going through a bit of turmoil back then, and it was obvious on stage that night. It was a mess. I don't remember much about that night except that it was really loud. And that Kim was being treated like a persona non grata. Whereas her part was pretty major on all of the previous albums, her part was minor, at best, on Trompe. Even when they played older stuff, none of those songs were the ones where Kim is near the front. It was almost like they were pushing her out of the band. Like they were telling her to go ahead and be in The Breeders.

    The other time that I saw Pixies was in 1993. Elektra Records reissued the 1988 debut record Surfer Rosa, and they were asked to go on tour with U2 as the opening act on the Achtung Baby tour. In those days, I was still a massive U2 fan, but Achtung didn't sit well with me. I was there as much for Pixies as I was for U2. They didn't have much time, and all they played was stuff from Surfer Rosa. That's actually fine with me, and it was a good, but short, show.

    Two completely different shows. Both nearly 20 years ago. I knew that this would be very different from both of those. Good or bad, it would be different.

    Before the show, I stopped by a watering hole that's pretty close to the War Memorial Auditorium. I figured there might be a few people in there who would be going to the show. As it turns out, I ran into about 10 friends who were all going to the show. We were all in the same boat, having bought tickets through the pre-sale, and not being in any big hurry to see Surfer Blood. I got to the venue just as Surfer Blood was going on. Like a few hundred others, I lingered around in the lobby while they played, and drank a very expensive domestic beer. And I ran into several other friends and acquaintances.

    It was great, I should add, that there weren't many kids there. Almost exclusively 30- and 40- somethings.

    Finally, I went to my seat, which was in the fifth row of the orchestra seating, which was pretty good. I was on the aisle, right center. This has certain advantages, but the main disadvantage is that it makes me and my camera plainly visible to the security, who frowned on the use of cameras all night long. I got a few decent still shots in, but was unable to get more than a 30 second video.

    The bamd came on, and the house erupted. They started with a few b-sides from the Doolittle era. Before each song, Kim announced that "this next one is even more obscure". If I'm honest, I didn't recognize any of them. She said that they had to learn one of them because they'd never performed it before. Any worries that they wouldn't be tight were allayed during the first song. They were great and everybody's head was in the game. And they were all happy to be there.

    Once they started playing the album proper, things got even better.

    I assumed at this show, in those pre-sale seats, that everyone knew the score, but there was a guy behind me who kept shouting out his "requests". We all knew (or most of us did) that they would be playing the album from start to finish, in order. There's no point in calling out requests or even hoping for any variance from the track listing. This clown behind me, though, kept shouting out "Gigantic!". I guess he forgot or didn't know that "Gigantic" isn't on Doolittle. What's more, he was calling it out just three songs into the set. Maybe he really didn't know that it was a Doolittle thing,

    After "Gouge Away", obviously, the album is over. So they left the stage and the crowd went through the ridiculous motions of begging for an encore. They came back out for a few songs, including "Into the White", "Nimrod's Son", "Vamos", and the "Wave Of Mutilation -- UK Surf Mix" (slow). They left and came back again for a few more including "Gigantic" and "Where is My Mind". Unfortunately, they didn't play "Cactus" in the encore, but I took great relief in the fact that they didn't play anything from Trompe le Monde.

    In all, it was a great night, and although the ticket was a bit on the spendy side, I'm really glad that I went.

    Thursday, August 04, 2011

    Some People Just Don't Know How to Quit While They're Ahead.

    It's heartbreaking sometimes to watch someone overstay their welcome. I'm not talking about your in-laws or a friend visiting from out of town. I'm talking about Sofia Coppola.

    When Coppola's newest movie, "Somewhere" was in theatres, I didn't bother. It wasn't because I didn't want to see it. I've liked, to some degree, each of her previous movies, and I wanted to see it, but I just chose to wait for DVD. That's just what I do these days. Last night, I rented "Somewhere" out of the red box and even at $1, I feel ripped off. I hated it for reasons I'll get to later. And I'm done with Sofia Coppola.

    As a child, Coppola appeared in many of her father's films, most notably "The Godfather III", which is universally regarded as mediocre at best. Her role in that film earned her a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting actress. She was also "nominated" for this award in 1999 for her role in "The Phantom Menace"

    Although she stopped acting, Sofia Coppola continued to ride the nepotism train and got into the production and direction side of film making. Her directorial debut was "The Virgin Suicides" in 1999, which was a brilliant success. It's my favorite film of hers, anyway. It was received warmly but not enthusiastically by the press, with every review carefully enumerating her family connections in the industry.

    I thought that she should have been able to silence the critics with a genuinely good film. I've never read the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, but she obviously had some pretty good material to work with. Dark and heavy but fantastic. While it's certainly not a happy story, it's a well told story. And it's very good to look at. I can watch "The Virgin Suicides over and over without getting tired of it.

    The next movie in the Sofia Coppola filmography actually comes third in the timeline. She took a really long time to write her screenplay for "Marie Antoinette", and during a break, she got "Lost in Translation" done from start to finish.

    Like everything she's done since "Virgin Suicides", "Lost in Translation" is an original screenplay and has mostly to do with a well-known person having something of an identity crisis. It worked really well for a number of reasons. Bill Murray was outstanding in his role as the superstar actor in a strange land losing touch with his family. There's a brilliant soundtrack and the whole thing is visually stunning, but the meat of the movie is the slightly awkward but beautiful friendship that Bill Murray's character develops with Scarlett Johansson's character, who is also having a relationship crisis with her husband. To be completely honest, a good deal of the appeal of that movie is that Ms Johansson is hotter than twelve suns. I can also watch this movie any night of the week and not get bored.

    One of the things that I love about "Lost in Translation" is the ambiguity at the end. We're left to decide for ourselves what Bill Murray whispers into Scarlett Johansson's ear. We're left to wonder and decided for ourselves what happens to each of their marriages, which are both in shambles. We're left to wonder if they'll ever see each other again.

    After she finished "Lost in Translation", Coppola resumed her work on "Marie Antoinette". I heard about it well in advance of the release, and I looked forward to it quite a bit. It had a great soundtrack, and it was very nice to look at. The costumes were amazing, and it was filmed on location at The Palace of Versailles. Kristin Dunst is really easy on the eyes, so there's also that. Coppola's screenplay was based on Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. I've never read Fraser's book or any other biography of Marie-Antoinette, but hers is said to be much more sympathetic. This approach carried over to Coppola's film. This, and her use of music from the 1980s and 90s upset a lot of people. I don't care that much about the historical accuracy; I just didn't love it the way I thought I would. Despite the music and despite Kristin Dunst's irresistibly pretty face. Although I didn't hate it, I haven't watched it again since seeing it in the theatre, and I haven't really had the urge.

    I read some bad reviews of "Somewhere", but I still wanted to see it. I didn't learn much about the movie, but I figured that since it's a Sofia Coppola vehicle, it would have great music and it would be visually stunning. The truth of it is, I don't even remember the music. After watching it, I had to look it up on imdb to recall the songs. The very definition of unmemorable. As for the movie, I hated it. There are a lot of painfully long camera shots that linger too long or exist for no reason.

    Right out of the gate, the very first shot in the movie serves no purpose. A stationary camera focused on what we assume to be a car race track or a proving grounds or something. A car comes in and out of frame, going around a turn, then back into frame after 10 seconds or so. This shot lasts about two minutes, ending with the car coming to a stop in screen. Completely superfluous. Throughout the movie, there are a few more times where a scene will end, but the camera shot holds for about three beats longer than it needs to. And not for any stylistic or dramatic purpose. Only to make the running time longer.
    For the first 20 minutes of the movie, there's only about four lines of dialog. There's really not much dialog at all in the whole movie. While that may work for some movies, it doesn't here.

    In the end, I just don't like it one bit. It could have and should have been a short film. 25 minutes. Movie-star dad lives a rock-star life and isn't much of a father to his pre-teen daughter. His estranged wife doesn't want to deal with the kid. Kid ends up on dad's doorstep and they spend some good time together. He questions his identity.

    At the end, Coppola tries to put us in one of those moments like the one in "Lost in Translation". The thing is, when Stephen Dorff walks away from his car at the end, I don't care what's going on in his head. I don't care what's next. She didn't let us get to know the characters well enough to give a damn.

    My whole point here is that Sofia Coppola should have left on a high note. She could have stopped after "Lost in Translation" and been well-remembered. Now she's jut some gal who made two good movies and two bad ones.

    Of course this is just my opinion, but I know that I'm not alone in my dislike of "Somewhere".

    Wednesday, July 06, 2011

    Polaris short list picks

    Regular readers (all two of you) know that I dig the Canadian music. July 6 is the day when the short list for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize is announced. Last month, a 40-title long list was announced after tabulating votes from over 200 jurors. I already wrote about my unofficial ballot, which is limited to five full length Canadian albums released between June 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011. Of my five selections, only three made the long list. Wednesday at 2:00pm eastern time, they'll announce the ten finalists.

    I've made some considerable effort, with great thanks to CBC Radio3, to familiarize myself with every record on the list. As is the case every year, there were some I'd never heard of before the long list. Some are not my style at all. There were some surprise omissions from the long list and some nice new favorites.

    Anyway, I'll share the ten that I hope will make the short list, and the ten that I think will make the list. Each of the ten finalists will get a check for $2k and the grand prize winner will get $30k.

    My picks, in alphabetical order:

    Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs. There's not much I can say about this Montréal band that hasn't been said a million times, and more eloquently. After 2007's Neon Bible, which I hated, I was happy to see this one bounce back.
    If you've been living in a cave, you can listen to full versions of their songs on their CBC3 page. I recommend buying the album from the Merge records website here

    Austra -- Feel It Break. This was one of three "new to me" artists to make my shortlist. This is the debut record from the Toronto trio fronted by self-described "queer" Katie Stelmanis. It's a little new wave, a little goth, a little new age hippie bullshit. No matter what, I like it.
    Check out their CBC3 page. Use this link to buy the album from the Paper Bag Records website. It's probably better if you don't hunt down any videos by this band. Trust me: you'll regret it.

    Braids -- Native Speaker. These are just kids. The Montréal-via-Calgary group started as high school chums and stayed together when they moved east to go to college. I assume they're in their early-20s, and they've made a damn fine debut record. Of course there's a female front. Like the Austra record, it's got quite a bit of sythesized sounds. More than I usually dig, but it really works. There's a huge amount of layered vocals that, at times, are almost reminiscent of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins. Add to that, the album has a dark, brooding feel and you might mistakenly think that this record came out in the early 1980s. Before these kids were even born.
    Here's the CBC3 page, and you can order the record from Flemish Eye Records (Canada only) or Kanine Records (rest of the world).

    The Dears -- Degeneration Street. The Montréal six-piece is back with their fifth and arguably second-best record. Although I liked their previous stuff, I hated their fourth album and didn't give this new one a single thought until the long list came out. Turns out, I like it a lot. With the album title, you might think that this band is heavily influenced by The Cure, and that's not too far off, but you'd be wrong to say they "sound like" The Cure. Like The Cure, though, they have shuffled band members about a jillion times. The only constant members are frontman Murray Lightburn and his wife -- keyboard player Natalia Yanchak. They're hevily influenced by The Smiths, and earlier in their career, Lightburn was often described as a blacker, Canadian-er Morrissey. He's got his own style now. Despite the starkness of the cover art and the song titles, this isn't a particularly "dark" album. Pitchfork totally hated this album, giving it a score of 2.4 out of 10, but they hate a lot of things that I love and vice versa. This video of a live performance of the first song from the new album is worth a view:

    Here's the CBC3 page, and you should order the album from Dangerbird Records site.

    Jenn Grant -- Honeymoon Punch This folky singer-songwriter from Halifax, Nova Scotia released her third album this year. I'd never even heard of her until the long list came out, and I was taken immediately by the first song on the record. I don't quite know how to describe her music other than "fucking good". She sites her influences as Sigur Ros, Phoenix, Camera Obscura among others. I can't hear any Sigur Ros or Phoenix in her work, and I can sort of hear the Camera Obscura influence. I hear something more like Forest City Lovers(who didn't make the long list, but should have). Although it's terribly cliched, I'm surprised that she doesn't site Leslie Feist. Whoever directed her video for "Getcha Good" was crazily influenced by Patrick Daughters, who directed many of Feist's videos including "1,2,3,4" and "Mushaboom". Daughters also directed the crazily awesome video for Depeche Mode's "Wrong". This isn't about Patrick Daughters, though. This is about Jenn Grant. I'll admit that I'm a bit influenced by her looks. I'm quite partial to gingers, and she's very much ginger. That aside, I think she's made a damn fine record. Anyway, here's that video I was talking about:

    Here's the CBC3 page and you should buy her record from Six Shooter Records.

    Land of Talk -- Cloak and CipherReleased in August of 2010, the second full-length record from the Montréal three-piece was my seventh favorite Canadian record of 2010. The album features guest work by a who's who of Canadian indie-rock, but it's still all about Liz Powell. It's just pop music with an edge. She sites PJ Harvey as an influence, and I suppose I can hear a little of that. I don't know what else to say about this band that I didn't already say here. Listen to their music at the CBC3 page and buy the record from their Saddle Creek Records site.

    The Luyas --Too Beautiful to Work. This is the second album by the Montréal quartet. Like the other Montréal bands on this list, they're English-speaking. They're the third of the three "new to me since the long list came out" bands. All I know about them is that the singer Jessie Stein is also in Miracle Fortress (who is also on the long list). She's been accused of sounding exactly like Broadcast singer Trish Keenan, who died in January. In fact, this album reminds me A LOT of the Broadcast album Haha Sound. Not just because of the singing, but also because of the music. It's a bit uncanny. The CBC3 page is here, and I'll recommend the song "Tiny Head". You should buy the record from Dead Oceans Records.

    The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing. The second record from the Toronto three-piece. Yes, they're originally Albertans, but they moved east a long time ago. It's easy to say "think Neutral Milk Hotel" when describing this band, although more so on the first record than on this one. On this record (but not so much the first one) it's also fair to compare them to Canadian singer/songwriter extraordinaire Hayden. If you get a chance to see this band live, do it. The drummer is incredible. They don't have the best stage presence in the world, but it's still a really good show. On my ballot of five records, I got this one, the Arcade Fire and the Braids records right on the long list. I expect all three to advance to the short list. Listen to them on their CBC3 page and buy the record from the Paper Bag Records site

    Stars -- The Five Ghosts. This is the Montréal five-piece's fourth proper album. It's pretty lush and pretty "big", but it's thematically pretty dark. A lot of death imagery. By far their darkest, most musically mature, and most well-produced record. It's a strange juxtaposition that everything from the production to the videos to their live shows is crazily bright while it should be darker, muddier to match the theme. Somehow, it works. I made them an "honorary mention" on my unofficial ballot of five bands. I also listed this as my fourth favorite Canadian album of 2010. Listen to their stuff at their CBC3 page. Buy the record directly from the band's website

    Colin Stetson -- New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. By far the most unique record on my list and probably the whole long list. Stetson, from (you guessed it) Montréal is a wizard on the bass saxophone and has now released two solo records of soundscapes made entirely by the saxophone. Although it sounds like there's a lot of studio production stuff going on, it's all recorded live. He's mastered the circular breathing technique which allows him to play prolonged sustained notes and to play whilst inhaling. He makes lots of percussion noises with the keys of the sax and he makes it sound like there's even more than one horn going, but it's just one dude, one horn and a lot of strategically placed microphones. And a little bit of weird spoken word stuff from Laurie Anderson. It really is an incredible record. Very bizarre, but breathtaking in its complexity. It's pretty creepy and sinister sounding. Hard to turn away from. His CBC3 page is here, and you can buy the album from Constellation Records.

    Those are my sentimental picks. I think I might be off the mark with some of them. What I think the list actually will be is (in alphabetical order):
    Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs
    Braids -- Native Speaker
    Destroyer -- Kaputt
    Diamond Rings -- Special Affections
    Dirty Beaches -- Badlands
    Eternia & MoSS -- At Last
    Malajube -- La Caverne
    P.S. I Love You -- Meet Me at the Muster Station
    The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing
    The Weeknd -- House of Balloons

    The list will be announced throughout the day on Wednesday, starting at 2:00 pm.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    My unofficial 2011 Polaris Prize ballot

    I'm not Canadian, but I play one on teevee. And I sure do love the Canadian indie rock. Everyone knows that. This week will be a fun one for lovers of independent Canadian music because the long list for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize will be announced.

    The Polaris Prize, named for the North Star, is an award given annually (since 2006) for the best full-length Canadian album, based "solely on artistic merit, without regard to genre, sales history or label affiliation". For an album to be eligible, it must have been released (digitally or otherwise) between June 1 of the previous year and May 31 of the award year.

    The grand prize this year is $30,000 cash. That's a bump from the previous grand prize of $20,000. In addition, the "short list" finalists will each get $2,000 cash.

    This year's jury consists of 227 music fans who regularly review Canadian music. They're mostly bloggers and independent music journalists, with a few mainstream music journalists in there for good measure. They each nominate five records. From that, there's a compiled "long list" of 40 finalists. That list will be released on Thursday June 16. The same jury will cull that list down to 10, and that "short list" will be released on Wednesday July 6. There's a big gala on Monday September 19, at which all of the shortlisted bands will perform. At the end of it all, the winner gets a giant check for $30k.

    I'll get to what my ballot would look like in a bit, but first, a little more about the jury. Here's the list of jurors this year. You can see that there's a wide range of accreditation, ranging from bloggers to MTV-types, commercial radio stations of varying format, and jurors from every province. By rule, these jurors cannot have any direct relation with a band or label on their ballot, but I've learned that at least one juror has nominated his own band.

    I like that the list of jurors isn't kept secret. I also like that they're not prohibited from publishing their ballots to the public. Some of them have done just that.

    Reading some of these official ballots and some "unofficial" ballots from other bloggers has been fun. I've been exposed to some stuff that I otherwise wouldn't have known. At least one went from "I've never heard of them" to "that's on my Polaris ballot if I'm a juror" with the blink of an eye.

    Without further ado, and in no particular order, my five picks:

    • Kathryn Calder -- Are You My Mother?. (released digitally on June 29, 2010 and physically in August). The New Pornographer from Victoria, BC took time off from her two bands Immaculate Machine and the Pornos to work on this record, and she did well with it. I rated it my seventh favourite Canadian record of the calendar year 2010, and in retrospect, I was selling it short. Unlike some of the records on that 2010 retrospective, it took a while for me to get into that record. I said then, and I'll say the same thing now, that I like it more and more each time I listen to it. These songs are really well-crafted, honest songs by a woman who's too young to have already had such a prolific career. These days, I'm partial to the song "If You Only Knew", which could easily pass for one of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs.
      I think this has a very good chance of making the long list, a slim chance of making the short list, and virtually no chance of winning the grand prize.

    • Rah Rah -- Breaking Hearts (released June 1, 2010) I have to admit that I had never heard of this band until I started to sniff around, looking for mentions of Polaris ballots. A few official and unofficial ballots mentioned them, so I thought I would check it out. More often than not, this sort of endeavor ends up bearing no palatable fruit, but I liked what I found in this case. This is the second record from the Regina, SK group which has at least six and possibly as many as eight members. They switch up their instruments a lot, which seems to be en vogue again, like it was in 1995. Because of this, and because they share the vocals, their songs don't all sound the same. On several tracks, particularly "Arrow" and "Ghosts", they remind me of a young Broken Social Scene. Remember what BSS was like when they still remembered that making records is fun? On "Henry", I'm reminded of Funeral-era Arcade Fire. That's probably just because of the backing vocals. On some other tracks, they remind me of The Rosebuds. On others, particularly "Parkade", they remind me of some cross between Sharon Van Etten and Wye Oak. These are just things that my unsophisticated ears hear. Other listeners might get different things entirely. No matter what, I've discovered that this band has fun. In this video for "Henry", the band members are on stage and they're also featured as patrons of the bar/piñata party.

      It might be the case that this is just a flavor o' the week, but right now I'm really digging it, so it's making the cut.

      It should make the long list with a great chance of making the short list. I don't see it as a serious contender for the grand prize.

    • Speaking of Arcade Fire, the Montréal band and their record, The Suburbs need no synopsis. It's really good, and it was released on August 2, 2010. It's already won the 2011 Juno Award, the 2011 Grammy for best album and a couple of other awards. This might make them "too big" for most jurors to comfortably vote for them; it's generally understood that the Polaris Prize is for the "little guys". Despite winning those big prizes, they're still "little guys". They're still on an independent record label. Although they are a headlining act on a bunch of festival shows, it's not like they're filling soccer stadiums on their own.
      I think some voters will have trepidation about voting for them, but I still think it's a lock for the short list and I think it has a very good chance of winning the grand prize.

    • The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing (released on March 1, 2011) This three-piece has been one of my favorite new bands of the past three years, ever since their debut record Hometowns put me on my ass in 2009. Originally from small towns in Alberta, they're presently situated in an artsy neighborhood of Toronto. They've earned comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel, primarily because Nils Edenloff sings like Jeff Mangum. The core of the band is drummer Paul Banwatt, who plays busy, heavy, energetic, almost jazz/big band-like beats. I've heard somebody compare him to Gene Krupa, but I think that might be taking it too far. Anyway, it's a great record, and they put on a really good live show.
      This video for the song "Stamp" is a really good example of Banwatt's skill, but I'll also recommend the official video for the same song

      The Rural Alberta Advantage - Stamp from Saddle Creek on Vimeo.

      I'll be surprised if this album doesn't end up on the short list, and I'll only give it a small chance of winning the grand prize.

    • Braids -- Native Speaker (released on January 18,2011). This four-piece from Montréal originated from Calgary, where they were high school buds. There, they were called The Neighbourhood Council and they released an ep called Set Pieces. They achieved great success with that, then moved to T-dot so three of them could go to McGill University. This is a phenomenal record whose best classification might be "synth-dream-pop". When it first came out, I was instantly blown away, and I was quick to compare it to the Stridulum II album by Zola Jesus, which was one of my favorites from 2010. There's a lot of layering and looping and stuff like that, so there's going to be comparisons to Animal Collective. Either way, I like it a lot. Here they are, playing "Lemonade", one of my favorite songs on the seven-song record:

      Braids Live at Sonic Boom Records from NOW Magazine on Vimeo.

      I think this should easily make the short list, and has a realistic chance of winning the grand prize.
    I'll give honourable mention to Carriage by Forest City Lovers (released June 22/29, 2010). I love this Toronto band, but it just didn't make the top five. Also, The Five Ghosts by Montréal's Stars (released June 21, 2010). Same thing. I love this album. Both it and Carriage made the cut on an earlier version of my unofficial ballot, but after much shuffling and hair-pulling, I had to leave them out. I won't be surprised to see them both on the long list, but I will be surprised (personal feelings aside) if either ends up on the short list.

    If you've got an unofficial (or even an official) Polaris ballot of your own, I'd like to see it. Leave it in the comments or leave a link to your blog.

    Sunday, June 05, 2011

    In which Bono becomes "the huggable hitchhiking dick" (as told by Dr Seuss)

    I know some wickedly hilarious people, and this week they really showed their stuff.  I'm a part of an email music discussion group.  Mostly we write about the stuff that's playing in heavy rotation at our houses and why everyone else should be listening to our favorite records.  It's been really great.  I've learned about dozens of new bands that I would have never known about, but which I've grown to love.  Sometimes we write about other media, but it's mostly brand new music.  This story isn't about new music at all.  And like a lot of my recent posts, it requires a bit of backstory that you'll have to swim through.  Trust me.  The payoff is worth it. 

    This email group is comprised of roughly 30 people, only four of whom I know in real life.  I've learned, though, that some of these people are pretty funny.

    A few months ago, somebody started a thread titled "Bono is a dick".  That thread was inspired by a video over at the Onion's AV Club page, in which a panel of guys talk about Rockumentaries that make their subjects look like dicks.  Of course, they discuss Phil Joanou's "Rattle and Hum", which documented U2 during their tour in support of the The Joshua Tree album.  Indeed, the whole band come off like jackasses in the movie, and none more so than Bono.  Although our discussion went into other documentaries and rock-star dicks, it focused almost entirely on Bono.  At some point, the founder of our email club chimed in:

    I still like the band just fine. But, yes, Bono is a dick. Such a lovable dick, though! I just want to hug him sometimes.

    This was the genesis of the zinger : "Go hug a dick!", used whenever someone is being an asshole.  Also, since then, Bono been re-named "the Huggable Dick"

    Just a couple of days ago, a strange story came out of Vancouver.   U2 were in Western Canada, and after a show in Winnipeg, they went on to Edmonton.  For some reason, they decided to set up camp in Vancouver.  It doesn't make any sense, but that's how the story goes.  Bono and his "assistant" went out for a walk and it started to rain.  The next part requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief...  Having no other option, Bono decided to hitchhike.  He didn't call The Edge.  He didn't call one of the thousands of tour workers.  He didn't seek shelter.  He decided to hitchhike.  According to the story, he was picked up by Edmonton Oilers star Gilbert Brule, who was driving to a park to take a walk with his dog and his girlfriend.  It was evidently raining too hard for Bono to take a walk, but not hard enough for Brule to cancel his.  Anyway, if you suspend the multiple layers of disbelief and accept the fact that Brule gave Bono a ride, we can move on.  I, myself, think the story is a little fishy.  That's a different story altogether, though.

    Warm and dry inside Brule's truck, Bono pretended to know the first thing about hockey, pretended to love the city of Vancouver, and offered Brule and his gal tickets and backstage passes to the show in Edmonton.
    We don't have pictures of Brule and Bono together, but there's a Youtube clip of Bono retelling the story to the Edmonton crowd.  He says that he's Brule,  Larry Mullin Jr is Mark Messier, Adam Clayton is Grant Fuhr and The Edge is Wayne Gretzky.  It's a little painful, as Bono very nearly goes into full-on Bono mode, but here's one of many videos of him talking about it on stage:

    This made the rounds in my music discussion email group, and before too long, we started to riff on how the incident could be made into three different made-for-basic-cable movies, and then, for some bizarre reason, a porn-on-demand movie.  Some of these were hysterical:

    Oxygen network version:
    Bono and Gilbert are at first polite, but taciturn.  As the ride wears on, they both begin to open up, and they find deep communion (and a good cry) as they discuss their relationships with their fathers.

    Lifetime network version:
    Bono and Gilbert are at first polite, but taciturn.  As the ride wears on, they both begin to open up, and they realize that Gilbert is Bono's long-lost son!

    Spike network version:
    Bono and Gilbert call each other dickheads, but say little else.  As the ride wears on, a team of buxom assassins in tight t-shirts driving various souped-up cars roll onto the highway behind them, thus beginning a frenetically-edited chase and gun battle, interrupted by the assassins stopping to wash their cars in their tight t-shirts.  As the chase wears on, both Gilbert and Bono begin to open up, and they call each other dickheads, but with a catch in their throat.  They've achieved a kind of communion.

    Hung Studs On-demand version:
    Bono and Gilbert are at first polite, but their hands wander.  As the ride wears on, hot bareback positions of every conceivable, and a few inconceivable, nature are engaged.  They've achieved a kind of fluid-drenched communion.

    Before too long, we started to invent Hollywood versions of the story.  As directed by David Lynch:

    Brule and his girlfriend pick up Bono and his assistant on the side of the road.  They drive for hours talking about the smell of rain, oddities of local cuisine and Vishnu.  Much to their shock (and ours) when Brule and his girlfriend pull up to Bono’s hotel and turn around to say goodbye to their passengers they discover they were driving around talking to a potted geranium and shop vac the whole time.
    Or were they?

    I wrote a pretty long synopsis of how the story would be told by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Too long for this post (but I'll post it if anyone is dying to read it).  I thought it was pretty great.  Until Pat Angello (my one-time collaborator on a panel of hockey bloggers during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs ) brought the thunder with a Dr Seuss version.  This is well worth the price of admission, so grab your spouse and kids, gather around the warm glow of your computer screen and enjoy:

    "It's a beautiful day!" The great Bono exclaimed.
    "On a stroll I will go before it does rain."

    So along with his tidy assistant in tow
    The huggable dick donned his shades and said, "GO!"

    They walked and they walked, for minutes that day,
    Until they were far from the ol' Horseshoe Bay.

    The clouds turned gray, the thunder then CrAcKeD!
    Bono's lip quivered, "we can't make it back!

    "The rain will come soon," he cried in a tizzy.
    "And moisture will make my sweet locks go all frizzy!"

    The assistant so wanted to calm the dick down
    But hopeless and stranded, he only could frown.

    Then off in the distance, a set of lights - they did come.
    The great Bono thought fast, and he stuck out his thumb!

    As the car halted, the dick, he did pray.
    Then a voice from the car shouted, "need a lift, eh?"

    The assistant and Bono jumped in the back seat
    And were welcomed by a furry young pooch at their feet.

    The driver asked, "Where ya headed to, guys?"
    Then peered in the mirror deep in Bono's eyes.

    "My stars, you are Bono - the huggable dick!
    I'll take you wherever! Wherever, and quick!"

    Bono said, "Thank you for saving my life.
    And my hair, my hair thanks you. Thank you and your wife*!

    "It's back to Horseshoe Bay we must go.
    For tonight, I will perform a most glorious show!

    "Tonight. Tonight. Will you come see me play?
    You will, I say, you WILL see me play! TODAY!"

    The driver said, "Sure, we can come without pup.
    For I no longer chase the great Lord Stanley's Cup."

    "My God," shouted Bono. "Pro hockey you play?"
    "Why, yes. For the Oilers. I'm Gilbert Brule."

    Both men were starstruck, as the bromance did brew.
    Then Bono exclaimed, "I know what I'll do!

    "I'll get you back stage. Back stage at my show.
    There you can hang with me and my bro's.

    "We'll talk about music and hockey and life.
    And rain forests, slaughtered seals, whales cut open by knife.

    "The starving Cambodians with their cute little pot bellies.
    Then defiantly gorge on peanut butter and jellies!"

    Brule was excited to go to the show.
    "You bet we can go. We will go, dontchaknow."

    The huggable dick was very pleased they accepted.
    He doesn't do well whenever rejected.

    Later that night, Bono interrupted the show.
    To tell the great story, of his savior and bro.

    Up on the stage, with a teary eyed swallow.
    The band then broke into their hit, "I Will Follow."

    The whole stadium danced and sang all the day.
    As the huggable dick fought off thoughts that he's gay.

    Feel free to read this to your kids tonight.

    *"girlfriend" didn't rhyme or flow.

    I wish I could take credit for that, but I can't. I only hope that people outside of that email circle enjoy the joke as much as I do.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    In which I drive 750 miles to see Throwing Muses

    Anyone who has known me for any length of time and has talked music with me knows that I'm a big big fan of Throwing Muses and everything that was born of them.  Kristin Hersh solo, 50 Foot Wave, Belly, Tanya Donelly solo.

    I've seen the Muses a number of times, and this is about the most memorable of those experiences.  Saturday May 6, 2000  -- "The Gut Pageant".  This post is something I've been talking about for several weeks, and here it finally is.  Like most of these related posts, this isn't very much about the actual concert.  This is about the experience of getting there.  But just to make it interesting, here's somebody's video recording of "Counting Backwards" from that show:

    After the release of their seventh record, Limbo In 1996, the Muses pretty much stopped touring.  Tanya had left the band a few albums ago, Kristin was busy with her solo career, and it looked like it was the end of the road for Throwing Muses.

    At some point after the Muses split, I became friends with a guy named Kevin because of Throwing Muses.  Like me, he used to go to every show when they came through North Carolina.  Like me, he would be there early, would be at the front of the stage, and would linger around like a drooling sycophant after the show.  At some point in 1999, Kevin spotted me at a Mojave 3 show and had recognized me from all the Muses shows.  He sent a female friend of his to find out who I was, which made me think that the girl was into me.  Not quite.  As it turned out, Kevin and I lived about two miles away from each other and were into the exact same music, but we didn't know each other at all in Greensboro.   Over the next several years, we went to a lot of shows together, did a lot of stupid stuff together and it was like we were childhood friends.   I got to know his friend Neil, who like the two of us, was a big dork for the Muses.  The three of us didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but when it came to musical taste, we three were practically identical.

    Kevin came to me with some earth-shattering news in the late winter of 2000.  The Muses were getting back together for one night only!  All the original members, all the people who were only in the band for one record.  Everybody.  One night in Cambridge Massachusetts.  May 6.  A Saturday.  We knew that we had to go, no matter what.  We bought five tickets (one for Neil's girlfriend and one for her friend, who incidentally was the one who was sent to investigate me) and planned our trip.  The girls flew up there and booked a really weird hotel room in Boston.  We boys were going to do it the right way: drive.

    The show was early.   Something like 6pm on Saturday, which didn't seem like it would require any special planning, but it almost screwed us.

    We had planned on leaving Greensboro at 9 in the morning, driving most of, if not all of the way to Boston, booking a hotel somewhere, and taking all of Saturday to be leisurely before going to the show.  Right out of the gates, though, there were problems.  Kevin had to loan some money to one of my neighbors (who I dated for about five weeks), but she wasn't where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be.  Neil decided to take a half day instead of the whole day off.  We had to wait for him to meet us before we could get on the road, and it ended up being something like 3 pm before we left.

    Still, though, there wasn't going to be a problem.  We would drive through the night until we couldn't drive any more.  We would be in NYC or somewhere close to that, we'd sleep for a few hours and our Saturday would still be as easy as pie.

    Because we are idiots when the three of us get together, we decided to make the trip interesting by attempting to go the entire trip without saying a word to each other.  We took Kevin's car and he did most of the driving, so Neil and I could write notes to each other.  Kevin had to use some hand gestures or whatever to get his points across.  We did perfectly fine for the first hour because we were listening to music.  When our first cd ended, we made a group decision to listen to The Hot Rock by Sleater-Kinney.  Neil was doing a lot of pantomiming while Kevin and I nodded in agreement.  I'm not sure why I remember that detail.  That got us out of North Carolina, and soon enough we needed to stop for food.  If you're heading north on interstate 85, there aren't any chances to get food or gas between South Hill/Broadnax, Virginia (just north of the NC border and home to the legendary Red Barn) and Petersburg, an hour later.  Although it was a bit early for dinner, we decided to stop anyway, knowing that there wouldn't be another chance for a while.  We all had done an amazing job with our little game.  Nobody had said a word yet.  When we went into the Bojangles, Kevin and I each approached the counter and signaled with fingers that we wanted the #2 combo.  Neil ruined it by speaking aloud that he wanted the #2 combo.   We decided that since Neil broke the  silence, we may as well end the game.

    We got back on the road, and we were still planning to go as far as New York before calling it a night.  Up 85 we went, up 95 we went.  Nothing particularly exciting happened in the car during this leg of the trip, but  a few hours later after we had gotten above DC, we were all getting ready for a break.  It was about 9 o'clock or a little after when we approached the exits for Baltimore.  We agreed to take a break there, find a place to grab a beer, stretch our legs a little, and get back on the road.   So we took one of the first downtown exits, which led directly to a parking garage.

    Again, because we are idiots, we hatched a ridiculous plan before we got out of the car.  We decided that we would pretend to be English exchange students studying ornithology at NC State.  We would talk in fake British accents just to try to attract girls.  Even though none of us knows much about birds, we guessed correctly that nobody would question us about that if it came up.  After contemplating fake names like Nigel, Jeremy and Morris, we decided that our real names were just as good.  We elaborately decided that we didn't know each other in Britain but had become fast friends in America.  We were all from different towns, which we decided upon.  We were all supporters of different "football" teams, which we decided upon.  None of us knows anything about soccer, but we knew the names of some of the premier league teams, and we each picked one that wasn't Manchester United.  Kevin was for Arsenal, I was for Leeds and Neil was for West Ham.  There was a problem, though.  Kevin has a really good fake British accent.  I do not.  However, I have the vocabulary to make up for it.  Neil has a good fake accent, but not as good as Kevin's.

    As we walked out of the garage, we were immediately in a sea of people in the streets.  They were all walking around with huge plastic cups of beer.  We had no idea what was going on for a couple of minutes, until one of us spotted a sign at one of the bars announcing that it was Cinco de Mayo.  It hadn't occurred to us.  At all.

    Our plan to have "one beer" went by the wayside pretty quickly.  We had a few of the really ridiculously big beers, and we approached every woman we were attracted to.  It's not the style of any of us to do that, but we weren't Neil from Raleigh and Kevin and David from Greensboro.  We were Neil, Kevin and David from the UK.  The first time we came upon a group of girls, Kevin and I stuck to the script, but Neil got scared at the last second.  He told them that he was a geologist.  And in real life, he is a geologist.  Every girl we talked to said she was studying law at the University of Maryland.  Who knows how many of them actually were studying law and how many were playing a game with us, just as we were with them.

    Eventually, we found a group of people who we ended up spending a few hours with.  A few girls and a few guys as well.  It was our dumb luck that the girls weren't really into us, but the dudes freaking loved us.  We went on and on about our "football" teams, and, in character, we started really bickering with each other.  Never mind that none of us could name a single player on the team that we allegedly supported.  We made stuff up, and it didn't matter.  These guys gobbled it up hook line and sinker.  While Kevin used his perfect fake accent, I used every opportunity to throw in some of the lingo.  It wasn't a soccer field.  It was "the pitch".  It wasn't raining heavily.  It was "a massive rain storm".  I found a way to talk about how I disliked aubergine (eggplant).  I told one of the guys that I "fancied" his little friend and couldn't remember her name.  I kept saying things like "Are you taking the piss, mate?" (are you kidding me?).  I wondered if they had "packets of crisps" (potato chips) behind the bar because I had only had a snack at "half six" (5:30) and was feeling peckish.   That kind of thing.  And it was working because as the night wore on, these kids loved us even more.  And one of the girls started taking a serious shine to Kevin.

    At some point, we were tired of being in character and needed a break.  We told the girls that we'd been in the states long enough to have developed pretty good "fake American accents".  They asked us to show them off, and we talked in our real voices for a few minutes.  They said that they didn't buy our "fake American accents" because they were over-the-top.  Also, at some point, one of the girls challenged Neil.  It was fine that Kevin and I were ornithologists, but they didn't believe him.  Fortunately, as I said, he really is a geologist, so he was able to answer every question with more detail than she wanted.

    As I said, one of the girls really took a shine to Kevin, and it was way beyond the point of continuing our road trip.  We were too drunk and too tired to drive anymore.  Despite a lot of objection, Kevin booked two hotel rooms at a swanky hotel.  One for himself and the girl.  One for me and Neil.  This is where our bickering went into top gear.  "Kevin, we're going to miss the fu'ing show"  "No, we're not going to miss the show".  And that went back and forth a bunch of times.  Anyway, Neil and I went to our room, where we were able to get out of character, but Kevin took the girl and had to stay in character.  All night long.

    In the morning, Neil and I were ready to go and we went to get Kevin from his room.  We didn't even bother getting back into character when he answered the door.  "We need to leave now".  That was basically the end of that.  Later on in the trip, Kevin called the girl and confessed that none of us was English but that it was nice to meet her and all that.

    The three of us were all hung over, we were all tired, we were all cranky.  This led to a near-brawl when we stopped to get breakfast on the road.  Cooler heads prevailed, and we can laugh about it now, but it wasn't much fun in the moment.

    A few hours later, we realized that we were really pressed for time.  I don't remember if we had bothered to take showers in the morning, but we were all feeling pretty nasty.  I remember this because we had made some plan to stop somewhere to "freshen up" and brush our teeth and things like that.  We found out, though, that the gas stations (at least the ones we stopped at) didn't have public restrooms.  This kinda sucked, and it resulted in one of us using an empty gatorade bottle as a toilet while the car was in motion.  The piss bottle became a source of much comedy for the rest of the drive.  We got to Cambridge with about 45 minutes to spare.  We found a place to eat, and they had a public toilet, but no sink.   We couldn't brush our teeth and we couldn't wash our hands or faces.

    And then I remembered the wet-naps.  It was a glorious revelation.  I had enough of them for the three of us to have two each.  We "washed" our hands and our faces.  We went back to the car and brushed our teeth without water.   I still can't remember why it was such a big deal, but like I said, I think we all went without showers and bathroom in the morning.

    We rushed to the Middle East Club, found our way to the downstairs part and got in just a few minutes before the show started.  They had booked the show as a special engagement, and the opening act was a "secret special guest".  It turned out to be Bob Mould.  Kevin and Neil didn't care so much about that, but I was really excited.  I was a big fan of Sugar and the Bob Mould solo stuff.  Not so much Husker Du, to be honest.  He was great, but really, nobody was there to see Bob.

    It was awesome to see the old band back together.  It had been almost ten years since Kristin and Tanya played publicly together, and it was like they had never been apart.  I didn't realize it at first, but Tanya was pregnant.  In fact, I remember commenting to Kevin, "Tanya doesn't look so great.  She's gotten chunky".  Then, she mentioned her pregnancy during the show, and it made much more sense.  As an aside, that baby's fetal heartbeat can be heart on the first track, "Life is But a Dream", on Tanya's second solo record -- beautysleep (2002).

    The show was fantastic.  We were all in some part of heaven.  Since it was an early show, and we didn't know about the before and after festivities, we thought we'd try to go out in Cambridge or Boston.  Even though it wasn't even 10:00, none of the bars would let us in.  Really exclusive bars, I guess.  So we went to hang out with the girls at their hotel for a little bit, then we hit the road.

    At some point, in that hotel, Neil made a hilarious joke about a fireman coming to the rescue of a burning elevator car, but it won't tell well in this format.

    We boys got back on the road for a few hours, slept in one room of a cheap motel, then hit the road in the morning.  Nothing overly eventful on the drive home.  There were a lot of really offensive jokes of racist, sexist, ageist and religious nature.

    We had to make an emergency stop on the shoulder of the Jersey Turnpike because one of us (me) thought he had sharted.  It was, for the record, a false alarm.

    It was a really great trip.  Like the trip to see the Sundays, this was much more about the road trip than the concert.  That's not to take anything away from the concert itself.  It's just that the concert was only a few hours whereas the roadtrip was 28 hours round trip.  Lots of laughs.  Lots of tears.  Lots of foul odors.  And it's something that Kevin and I still talk about.

    A couple of years later, there was another Gut Pageant, and Kevin went to that, but I couldn't go.  It was in San Francisco, and I didn't have the means to book airfare and take the necessary four days off.

    Kristin is still super active.  She's got her solo stuff going full steam.  She's got 50 Foot Wave going full steam.  She's working on a new Muses record.  The first one in eight years.  It's just Kristin, Dave and Bernard these days, but that's been the core group ever since Tanya left anyway.   I would imagine that they'll tour, and I would imagine that I'll be going to see them.  I would count on it, in fact, if they come anywhere close by.