Archive for August, 2006

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

Dirty City Blues

Hailing from Connecticuit via New York, singer-songwriter Jennifer O’Connor released her third album and first for Matador. Over The Mountain, Across The Valley And Back To The Stars last Tuesday. I haven’t heard the whole record but from what I have sampled, her stuff has a definite, mid-90s college rock vibe to it whether it’s an strummy acoustic folk song or an electrified full-band rocker. Whichever way she goes it’s consistently rather spare and downbeat, though with just cause as this New York Press interview reveals. That sorrow and heartbreak from her personal life definitely informs her work but in more of a “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” way than a morose, “woe is me” sort of way. Both hearbreaking and heartening at the same time.

Daytrotter has an interview and exclusive session available for download and Matador has made a couple tracks from the record available to download. She’s scored some choice opening slots in the past for the likes of The Silver Jews and Jeff Tweedy, but her latest tour takes her on the road with Mason Jennings, including a stop at the Drake Underground on September 12, before heading back out on the road with Portastatic in October. It’s kind of a shame about the timing as I’m already booked for that night, otherwise I’d probably have liked to check this show out, but that’s the Fall calendar for you.

MP3: Jennifer O’Connor – “Today”
MP3: Jennifer O’Connor – “Exeter, Rhode Island”
MySpace: Jennifer O’Connor

Bradley’s Alamanc has an almost complete live Ted Leo show available to download. “Almost” because Brad has courteously excised new material that Ted prefers not to be passed around the internet before he’s ready for them to be.

Everyone’s all agog about Sufjan Stevens’ new moustache, but Pause & Play is listing a new release from him on November 21 – the Songs For Christmas set which has become a holiday staple for the blogger crowd. Will this be a three-disc set as the uploaders generally (and unnecessarily from a space efficiency viewpoint) divvy it up into or a single disc stocking stuffer?

Cat Power tells NOW she loves Tricky. Note that there is no opener for her shows at Lee’s Palace on Monday, so when they say “show at 7:00/10:30”, they mean it. Be punctual.

Gothamist reports that some lowlife ripped off Dinosaur Jr’s gear the other night, including J’s vintage Jazzmasters. That just makes me sick. The Ottawa Sun talked to Lou Barlow about the Dino Jr reunion in happier, better-equipped times.

The Lemonheads “reunion” tour will include a stop at Lee’s Palace on December 12.

TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone tells Chart he was, “sick to my stomach” when an early, incomplete version of Return To Cookie Mountain leaked to the internet while Tunde Adebimpe discusses the album’s political undertones with Harp. MTV has the scoop on what to expect from the band’s first video from the album for “Wolf Like Me” – werewolves and supermodels. The album is out in North America September 12.

Misha4Music has made some very early Galaxie 500 demos available to download, more than half of which do not appear on the Uncollected Galaxie 500 comp. Full Of Wishes also points out that Rhino has some limited edition prints of the Best Of Luna artwork available for sale. I’m not much of a fan of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve stuff, but I do like his album art for the disc. Not $175 US worth of like, though.

Brookville, aka Andy Chase of Ivy, and Tahiti 80, whose records Chase has produced, are on tour together and will stop at the Horseshoe on November 18.

I’ve been trying to make my picks for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which you’d think would be easier considering I’ve only got to choose two films and only have four evenings and one day available to try and see something. The immediate temptation is to want to see the films I’d likely see in regular release, which sort of defeats the purpose of the festival, so reading through the descriptions of the other available films – primarily foreign – is an interesting adventure unto itself. So far the most interesting pick would be Jade Warrior – a Finnish/Chinese kung-fu flick. Kind of cliche, I know, but they might just do something interesting with the genre this time.

And not a TIFF film but one I’m really looking forward to anyways is The Science Of Sleep, the new film from Michel Gondry. It opens in limited release September 22 but until then, you can read this interview with the director at Filter, listen to another at Salon or just watch the trailer.

np – The Mountain Goats / All Hail West Texas

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Eyes On The Prize

M Ward released his new album Post-War yesterday, showing no hesitation in following up a masterpiece like 2005’s Transistor Radio. That record was one of my favourites of 2005 so you can be sure I was anxious to hear what he’d do next.

But for some reason, Post-War hasn’t captivated me the way I’d hoped it would. I can’t quantify why, but it definitely hasn’t worked its way into heavy rotation the way its predecessor did. It’s not the fact that Ward has opted to go largely with full band arrangements on the new disc for a more rollicking and uptempo experience. There’s still a goodly number of solo moments that centre around his otherworldly fingerpicking abilities and even when the band is on, it’s all very tastefully arranged and maintains Ward’s signature, timeless atmosphere. I think mainly, I find that it doesn’t flow as seamlessly as Ward’s past works have. Each song stands alone quite nicely on its own but the whole lacks the cohesiveness of Transistor Radio. But not qiote measuring up to an amazing album is hardly anything to be ashamed of and most likely, with time, I’ll be appreciating Post-War on its own merits. Not quite there yet, though.

Ward talks to Harp about the road from learning to play guitar to creating Post-War and the Merge Blog has a video of Ward’s performance on Letterman the other night. And here’s the usual linkage:

MP3: M Ward – “To Go Home”
Video: M Ward – “Chinese Translation” (YouTube)
Stream: M Ward / Post-War
MySpace: M Ward

Norfolk & Western will be part of Ward’s band on his Fall tour, including the September 11 show at the Mod Club. N&W will also be releasing a new album, The Unsung Colony, on October 24. If it’s anywhere near as good as their A Gilded Age EP from earlier this year, it will be excellent.

Harp converses with another musician who exists in his own unique corner of the musical space-time continuum, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.

Check out the trailer for the film companion to Okonokos, live double-CD from My Morning Jacket due out on September 26. The film will screen in select US cities before seeing release on DVD October 31.

Australia’s FasterLouder talks to Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff about their upcoming Australian tour, for which they’ve released the down under-only Overboard And Down EP. Their Australian label is streaming one of the new songs from it on their MySpace. Urban Pollution also reports that the band recorded a tiny show in Austin last week for the purpose of releasing a live DVD sometime in the future.

Cat Power talks to The Phoenix and The Straight about her new state of sobriety and why we can (probably/hopefully) look forward to a couple of good performances from her at Lee’s Palace next Monday.

The Independent talks to Calexico.

Rolling Stone has excerpted a portion of their cover story on Bob Dylan, whose universally-praised Modern Times was released yesterday. You can stream the whole thing courtesy of AOL.

Stream: Bob Dylan / Modern Times

+/- are at Sneaky Dee’s on November 29. Been a long time since I’ve seen them, I think I should rectify that. Their new album Let’s Build A Fire is out October 24.

Found this link in my referer log the other day. Noted the disclaimer at the top. Became paranoid.

np – Oakley Hall / Gypsum Strings

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Does Your Hometown Care?

This month’s issue of Exclaim! has an interesting feature on something it calls “Torontopia”, or the fiercely grassroots and DIY indie aesthetic that has been a large part of this city’s culture for the past half-decade or so. Citing current and past institutions like Wavelength, Three Gut Records and the Blocks Recording Club, it documents the rise – and alleged fall – of the scene and it got me thinking. I’ve been running this blog for four years now, less a couple days, and like to think I’ve done a reasonable job of writing about music from a native Torontonian’s perspective. So why was it that I couldn’t relate to the piece at all? Or to the bustling, creative community that it documented?

I guess it ties back to the point I’ve raised occasionally in the past about feeling some guilt about not covering more local music. Yeah, I’ve spilled lots of digi-ink on the local bands that have broken out on the (inter)national stage – Broken Social Scene, Hidden Cameras, etc – but what of the acts who haven’t reached that level of profile? Am I guilty of that infamous Canadian inferiority complex that craves validation from abroad before acknowledging homegrown talent? Or is it a simple matter of efficiency? I have x amount of time in a day to spend with music regardless of origin – should I apply some sort of CanCon guidelines to my time and in essence treat domestic acts like special needs children or should I leave the playing field level and if the new Born Ruffians record, for all the love it will get locally, doesn’t affect me the way that Austin’s Okkervil River does, then tough noogies? That’s sort of the approach I’ve been taking, but then things like the Polaris Music Prize come along and the guilt returns.

Other Canadian sites have done bang-up jobs of covering smaller Canadian bands – I Heart Music and From Blown Speakers, for example, have their ears pressed far closer to the ground than I. But it’s not entirely for lack of trying – I’ve gone out and caught lots of local bands, some intentionally, some incidentally, but the fact is that statistically speaking, I don’t like many of them. Lots of bands beloved by the Stille Post crowd leave me scratching my head or worse, plugging my ears. I find that part of what could be considered the “Torontopia aesthetic”, or that of its descendents, is an over-intellectualization of music and art. That’s sort of evident from the Exclaim! piece. It’s like people don’t start bands, they start cerebral art projects based on creating a new hyper-hyphenated ironic genre for the amusement of themselves or their friends, and not necessarily for the purpose of just getting together and creating good (by my definitions) music. Not that the two goals have to be mutually exclusive, but to my ears the more important of the two – the music – ends up taking a back seat.

Maybe I’m just as guilty of over-intellectualizing this whole thing – maybe I just don’t like Nintendo cover bands or looped Slavic poetry accompanied by fuzz-pedal sleigh bells. I could simply, at the heart of it all, be a meat-and-potatos rock and roll guy, not an avant-garde-ist, and what the community creates isn’t up my alley. There’s no shame in that. And I could also be projecting outsider baggage from high school, bitter at not being in the know, in the cool kid clique. Probably both. But as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to expose myself to more Canadian music, to try and use this soapbox to get the word out on new acts that I can honestly and wholeheartedly champion. I do think I’ve gotten better at it, but it can be tough to balance that out with judging the music strictly on its merits and not its postal code, with trying simply to cover music I like wherever it originates. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.

I recommend reading this conversation with Carl Wilson of Zoilus at Indiepolitik as a very interesting and informative companion piece to the Exclaim article. But Carl, a superb local scene booster, has a very soothing tone to his writing. Like Morgan Freeman doing books on tape. Except without the talking. But rationalize it however you want, and maybe this wraps up this whole train of thought in a nutshell, but I still cannot listen to Ninja High School.

And apologies to the artist, whom you may remember from this, for cropping her illustration to fit my specifications. Please check out the whole piece in all its widescreen glory here.

The Guardian has an extended profile on Broken Social Scene, the extended family and their deep ties to their hometown while Wired holds the band up as an example of the tastemaking power of Pitchfork. The Globe & Mail talks to Brendan Canning about the score to the film Half Nelson, which the band didn’t actually score. And Captain’s Dead has a live acoustic radio session available to download. Via Claude Pate.

Harp talks to Emily Haines about her forthcoming solo record Knives Don’t Have Your Back. She’s streaming a song from it on her MySpace and another here. Also note that a third late show has been added to her two sold-out gigs at the Gladstone on September 12, the same day the album is released (it’s out a fortnight later in the US).

Harp also has a piece on another BSS lady gone solo, Ms Amy Millan.

PopMatters and Harp talk to the Good Brothers about The Sadies’ In Concert Volume 1.

Expanding our scope geographically, Exclaim! talks to Chad Van Gaalen about his new album Skelliconnection, which isn’t getting a whole lot of love from critics. And Stylus takes the wayback machine to mid-90s Can-Rock radio for their list of “Top Ten Canadian Rock Not-Quite-Smashes”. You know, I really liked Slowburn back in the day. “Whatever” was a great song.

And to anyone who feels cheated from the post title that there’s not actually any Superchunk content – accept this mea culpa of a couple live tracks circa 2001, recorded right here in Toronto (meme victory!). Much more free ‘Chunk audio here.

MP3: Superchunk – “Seed Toss” (live in Toronto)
MP3: Superchunk – “What Do You Look Forward To?” (live in Toronto)

One to file under self-promotion – the New Music segment on yours truly that was shot last month will be airing next week – it’ll be on MuchMusic on September 4 at 9:30PM and 1:30AM ET and repeat a week later on September 11 at 12:30PM ET. For those of you, like me, who don’t get MuchMusic, it’ll also air on CityTV on September 9 at 1:30PM ET and repeat on September 12 at 11:30AM ET. Naturally, I am not going to be around for, oh, ANY of these airings so I’ll be relying on the old VCR to capture what will amount to 20% of my 15 minutes of fame. It’ll be available online in the near future as well.

HAve you seen the new Flickr mapping functionality? It’s beyond awesome. Thanks to Duarte for pointing it out to me – alas their foreign maps are far less detailed than I’d like, but I am able to place my Toronto pics down to the intersection. Which is what I spent much of last night doing (but not done yet).

And finally, “Toronto Is Great” may have been a Torontopia slogan, but The Toronto Star says that Travel + Leisure magazine disagrees. They think we’re just good.

np – The Diableros / You Can’t Break The Strings In Our Olympic Hearts

Monday, August 28th, 2006


So this past weekend was the big Indie Unlimited to-do at Harbourfront, an excellent festival with a bad name. It seemed Mother Nature is more a classic rock kinda broad because the weather was far from co-operative for the Summer send-off, raining Friday, threatening all day Saturday and a mix of the two Sunday. Granted, the main Harbourfront stage is well-protected from the elements but grey skies don’t really encourage trips to the waterfront. I made the trek down Saturday expecting to stick around through the whole afternoon and evening but ended up making it two separate trips and that turned out to be a logical thing to do as the contrast between the daytime performers and the evening ones was, if you’ll pardon the pun, day and night.

Starting things off were Great Lake Swimmers, who got some blog love last week and are currently a featured Torontoist interview. There’s something quintessentially Canadian about Tony Dekker and his band, and they were a perfect way to start the afternoon. Perfectly accompanied on backing vocals and harmonica by Serena Ryder, especially on an a capella version of Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose”, Dekker and his crew were spellbinding for 45 minutes and even managed to lure the sun out for a short while with their delicate, graceful folk songs. Simply lovely.

Star gone solo Amy Millan was up next and given that I hadn’t heard Honey From The Tombs yet, nor seen her perform solo since that album was released, this was my first real opportunity to consider her country holiday. Amy’s voice has a light, natural twang that works great in Stars but is a bit too breezy for country – similarly, I found her material to be pleasant but slight. Her strengths are in pop music and those strengths don’t necessarily translate to creating real country music where hurt and heartache are essential to providing real gravitas. But still, for soundtracking a gentle afternoon on the water, she and her band sounded fine. Her set was very well-received from the Arts & Crafts fan contingent who cheered everything she did, in particular the single Stars tune in the set, “Look Up”, which also stood out as the best song of her afternoon.

The matinee portion of the day was very traditional and pretty, a miniature Canada Day of sorts. Adding to this was the presence of the Six String Nation guitar, a beautiful acoustic crafted from over 60 culturally important pieces of Canadiana (Pierre Trudeau’s canoe paddle. Paul Henderson’s hockey stick from 1972). Both Tony and Amy played a song on the guitar, joining a long line of Canadian artists who’ve done so. It was very cool. But if the daytime was Canada Day, then the evening was the Pride Parade.

Fritz Helder & The Phantoms? Complete unknown to me before Saturday night, though I had been advised last week that they were worth showing up early for. And man, were they ever. Sporting black baseball caps studded with their stage names and pantomime whiteface, they started as trenchcoat-clad robots and quickly stripped down to sweaty sexpots over the course of four or five songs. Coming across like Prince fronting an electro-funky Kraftwerk, Fritz Helder and his Phantoms put on an audacious, sexy and pelvic-thrusting show that was one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in ages. It also made me feel good to know that they were doing so at a venue funded by my tax dollars. Awesomeness.

I found it interesting that an act like Fritz Helder was on before The Hidden Cameras, considering that the latter built their reputation on similarly over the top and memorable live performances. How would the Cameras follow up? Somewhat surprisingly, with a polished, mature and PG-rated – almost wholesome – show. Equally excellent but extremely different. Flanked on one side by a string section and an arsenal of keyboards and glockenspiels on the other, Joel Gibb and his band of merry Cameras – a core band of around 11 players but exanding to 18 or so at points – celebrated the release of their new album AWOO this past Tuesday by playing the whole thing to the smallish (for a free Harbourfront show) but tremendously enthused hometown crowd. I thought they started out somewhat restrained but certainly grew increasingly lively as the night progressed, culminating in the rousing encore-closer of “Golden Streams”. What better place than the waterfront for some watersports?

But for the most part the band seems to have shed the “gay church folk music” descriptor that followed them around for most of their existance – it’s no longer so easy to describe them in four words. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the themes on the new record are much broader and universal than perhaps they once were. But what hasn’t changed is the sheer joy and exuberance of the Cameras live. While there was no go-go dancer this time (an audience heckler was invited onstage to fill the wrestling mask and diaper – he declined), there was a designated dancer who happily pranced around stage most of the night in just his boxers. No, it wasn’t the same but probably less confusing for the passers-by.

Cheers to the Indie Unlimited organizers for assembling a top-notch, eclectic bill. I was only there for one day, and not even the whole day, and was wholly impressed with what I saw. From what I heard, the performers were consistently good over all three days. This town needs more free shows of this scale and stature, so keep it coming next year. Just do something about that name…

Lots and lots of photos from the show. Even though the lighting was erratic for the Cameras set and I had to shoot most of it from the audience, I still got some choice ones. All the others I got to spend the duration of the set in the pit. Be sure to check out the Fritz Helder pics, they communicate the experience far better than words do. The photo sets are split into two, one for the day and one for the night. Makes more sense thematically and keeps them (more) manageable.

Photos: Amy Millan, Great Lake Swimmers @ Harbourfront Centre – August 26, 2006
Photos: The Hidden Cameras, Fritz Helder & The Phantoms @ Harbourfront Centre – August 26, 2006
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Bodies And Minds”
MP3: Amy Millan – “Skinny Boy” (ZIP)
MP3: The Hidden Cameras – “AWOO”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “To Leave It Behind”
Video: Amy Millan – “Baby I” (MOV)
Video: The Hidden Cameras – “Awoo” (MOV)
MySpace: Great Lake Swimmers
MySpace: Amy Millan
MySpace: Fritz Helder & The Phantoms
MySpace: The Hidden Cameras

More Toronto/Can-rock love tomorrow. But for now, I leave you with an important dispatch from the Department of Michael Bay Is Awful: Michael Bay’s Megatron.

np – Steve Earle / Transcendental Blues

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 46

Broadcast / Future Crayon (Warp)

Released last week, this b-sides and rarities comp covers the “full-band” era of Broadcast’s career, before they were whittled down to a duo for last year’s Tender Buttons. And as much as Trish Keenan and James Cargill should be commended for keeping it together and productive, this disc is a reminder of how much fulller and to my ears, enjoyable the larger band was. The hazy, detached, ’60s Kraut-lite lounge vibe is very strong and with the extended mixes and instrumental passages, it’s a fine soundtrack to your next hazy, detached, ’60s Kraut-lite lounge party.

Stream: Broadcast – “Unchanging Window” (SWF)
Stream: Broadcast – “Still Feels Like Tears” (SWF)
MySpace: Broadcast

Page France / Hello, Dear Wind (Suicide Squeeze)

Baltimore’s Page France were one of the smaller buzz bands at SxSW this year. I generally enjoyed the brief set I saw, their winsome indie-folk is definitely charming, but over the course of an album something about their earnest peppiness begins to grate. I think it’s Michael Nau’s voice – a kind of nasal, adolescent rasp that when backed by Whitney McGraw’s little girl voice, the strummy acoustic arrangements and the liberal sprinklings of religious imagery throughout the lyrics, sounds like Sunday School coming out of my speakers to give me a big hug. This is not someting I necessarily want from my music. Page France makes me want to go out and get in a fight. Hello, Dear Wind is being reissued by Suicide Squeeze on September 12.

MP3: Page France – “Junkyard”
MP3: Page France – “Bush”
MySpace: Page France

Colour Revolt / Colour Revolt (Esperanza Plantation)

The bio for Mississippi’s Colour Revolt describes their sound as “post-grunge”, which intrigued me since I lived through (survived?) grunge the first time and am curious as to what logically comes after. Based on their debut, self-titled EP (originally released in December 2005 and now re-released by Interscope subsidiary Tiny Evil), it means 90s angst informed by 00’s indie rock. Jeesse Coppenbarger’s howl is more than a little Cobain-esque but with a healty dose of Oberst/Brock-ian inflection. They also eschew the quiet/loud/quiet dynamic that became so cliched and formulaic in favour of a slower, post-rockish build from the quiet bit to the (inevitable) loud bit. They’ve also got a pretty strong melodic sense and the blues harp that appears here and there feels natural and fits well. I’m pleased to know that if this ends up being a real genre, post-grunge is more than just a rehash of the 90s and it’s also somehow comforting to know that a whole new generation of kids hate themseves and want to die.

MP3: Colour Revolt – “Mattress Underwater”
MySpace: Colour Revolt

np – Pet Sounds 40th Anniversary Edition