Archive for November, 2007

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Sidelines Of The City

I lived in Oshawa, Ontario once, about a decade ago, for four months. Just a Summer, whilst on a co-op work term. In that short time, my car – a harmless, innocuous 1985 Dodge Aries – was subject to all manner of indignities by the locals, including having the neutral safety switch disabled (someone climbed underneath in the middle of the night and unplugged it) and on another occasion, stealing my license plates (which were later recovered after said “local yokel” – the police officer’s term – put them on his own car and proceeded to run a red light). Now I didn’t have terrifically high opinion of the ‘Shwa before I lived there but these incidents certainly didn’t help.

That said, I’d like to think I’m a bigger person than to hold the actions of a few locals against the population of an entire city… but then that leaves me without an excuse for steadfastly ignoring Oshawans Cuff The Duke for so long. It’s not like they were off my radar – I saw them live some four years ago and was impressed, their first two records got good press and caught frontman Wayne Petti solo twice this year – yet their new one, Sidelines Of The City, is the first time I’ve ever sat down and actually listened to one. And no, it wasn’t a Damascene moment or anything, but it is a very good and tuneful record that deserves a mention.

Cuff The Duke have always been lumped in as an “alt-country” band, having started out in an era where that term could be used without wrapping it in quotes, but by album three it doesn’t seem like a wholly appropriate label. Their roots definitely still show but the musical affectations that one would normally associate with the style – steel guitar, whiskey-damaged vocals, sweaty blue-collar aesthetic – are either largely absent or used in moderation.

Instead, the Dukes offer earnest, lightly decorated folk-rock reminiscent of another Petti or Petty (as in Tom) with a dash of Big Star jangle. In other words, good stuff that’s as compact as it needs to be but capable of stretching way out – a balance that’s best exemplified by early on as the epic “Failure To Some” leads into the pop-perfect “Remember The Good Times”. But unlike his homonymic counterpart, Petti’s voice won’t drive anyone away – his high, clear voice perfectly compliments his direct, heartfelt songwriting, be it in a stomping rock number or bit of acoustic balladry. Those seeking riddles wrapped in enigmas in the lyrics booklet should look elsewhere – Petti’s pen deals in from-the-heart directness and detailed slice-of-life observationals with a good dose of wit though never clever for clever’s sake. Maybe the ‘Shwa isn’t so bad after all, though you’ll forgive me if my foot gets a little heavy on the gas whenever I pass Simcoe St on the 401…

Cuff The Duke are at the Mod Club tonight for an early show (doors at 6:30) with Land Of Talk and will be at Massey Hall opening for Blue Rodeo on February 28 and 29 of next year. They grace the cover of this week’s eye and are also the subject of features from Chart, BeatRoute and The band have also been keeping a tour blog at The National Post. The MP3s below come from Cuff The Duke’s first two records – to hear stuff from the new one, hit up their MySpace.

MP3: Cuff The Duke – “Take My Money And Run”
MP3: Cuff The Duke – “Ballad Of A Lonely Construction Worker”
MySpace: Cuff The Duke

Thick Specs invites the crew from Soundscapes to list off their top five local (meaning Toronto) albums of the year.

Dave’s Live Music Blog has some recordings from The Acorn’s show at the Horseshoe last weekend – including both support acts – that sound pretty terrific.

JAM! converses with Plants & Animals. They’re at the Mod Club December 14 opening for Patrick Watson.

Exclaim! and The Boston Globe talk to Richard Hawley, who makes his Toronto debut – with full band, if you were wondering – at the Horseshoe next Wednesday night. You cannot miss this show but if you don’t hurry up and get a ticket, you will.

Scotland’s Zephyrs have a new album (almost) in the can – Are You Fish People? – and are looking at a 2008 release. You can stream a couple tracks on their MySpace.

NME reports that the Manic Street Preachers will be giving away a Christmas track free to their newsletter subscribers starting tomorrow. Because nothing says Christmas like aging socialist revolutionary glam-punk rockers.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with Spoon.

The AV Club offers a primer on the brilliance that is the Coen Brothers.

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

CONTEST – I'm Not There Movie Passes

So, yes – I already ran a contest not too long ago for the Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There where I gave away a couple copies of the soundtrack (winners – your prizes went out this week, sorry for the delay) but, as it happens, I’ve got more stuff to dole out.

The film opens in Canada this Friday and courtesy of Sony BMG Canada, I’ve got a prize pack consisting of a copy of the soundtrack and a pair of passes to see the film at any Cineplex or Alliance Atlantis theatre in Canada for the length of its run (from Mondays to Thursdays, not good on weekends. I know, I know). Mind you, considering the dismal box office it did when it opened in limited release in the US last weekend, that run might not be very long… I don’t take this to be a reflection on the film itself – reviews are quite decent – just the difficulty in selling a film of this ilk to the great unwashed general populace.

But hey, if you think you’ll be abe to suspend disbelief long enough to not get up in the middle of the film and point out that Bob Dylan was not, and never has been, a little black boy or a skinny white woman, then come on and enter. Just email me at contests AT with “I want to see I’m Not There” in the subject line and your full mailing address in the body. And make sure that you have a theatre in your town that’s actually showing the film, please. I’ll want to get these in the mail on Saturday so that whoever wins will (hopefully) get them in time to use them next week or the week after, assuming the film hangs around that long, so contest closes tomorrow (Friday) at midnight. Update: Contest closed, congrats to Sasha who won the CD and passes.

So enter and in the meantime, read up with some interviews with director Todd Haynes, courtesy of The Telegraph, Exclaim!, The Toronto Star and eye.

Trailer: I’m Not There (trailer 1)
Trailer: I’m Not There (trailer 2)
MySpace: I’m Not There

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Know Who You Are

By rights, it should not have been nearly this difficult to write up something to describe Halifax’s Dog Day. I mean, as nebulous a descriptor as “indie rock” is, it absolutely fits as the shortest distance between two points for their latest record Night Group. With janglesome guitars, co-ed vocals, classic pop sensibilities and a stripped-down, no note wasted aesthetic they fall perfectly in line with their Maritime forebears like Sloan, Eric’s Trip, jale and Hardship Post.

And while that’s all well and good and accurate, but I hate to leave it at that because it sells Night Group far short. I’ve spun the album a lot in the last while trying to gather my thoughts and each time, something new or different jumps out at me – like rolling a 20-sided die (RPG geeks unite!) and having a different result each time. But what I find most fascinating is the way they try to balance their innate pop instincts, which recall the likes of The Go-Betweens and mid-era Wedding Present, with their obvious affection for heavier, noisier and decidedly minor-key styles in the vein of Sonic Youth. As a result, more than a few songs start out ominously before exploding in a hail of razor-sharp hooks, yet still delivered with a straight face. I’m not sure if this recipe is deliberate or incidental but either way, the tension it creates is delicious.

I was going to finish that last paragraph off with something like “…and it sets this Dog apart from the pack” but didn’t. You’re welcome. JAM! and The Toronto Star get to know Dog Day, who are into the home stretch of a three-month North American tour and stop in at the Drake Underground in Toronto on Saturday, December 1.

MP3: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life”
MP3: Dog Day – “Use Your Powers”
Video: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life” (Blip)
Video: Dog Day – “Lydia” (YouTube)
MySpace: Dog Day

The Airfields have finally finished work on their debut full-length, or at least intend to very soon as they’ve got a CD release show scheduled at Sneaky Dee’s for February 2 of next year. Happy Groundhog Day indeed.

JAM! talks to Pete Carmichael of The Diableros.

Joel Gibb briefs Exclaim! about what 2008 has in store for The Hidden Cameras and mentions that the band will be playing the Hart House at U of T on December 13 for an AIDS benefit.

Chart brings holiday tidings from The New Pornographers in the form of a digital-only Christmas EP out on Tuesday in the US and on December 11 in Canada.

Here’s a show announcement that’s a little odd, a little unexpected and a lot welcome – February 9 at the Mod Club, Keren Ann and Dean & Britta. Will Keren Ann rock it up a bit or will Dean & Britta mellow out some? We’ll have to wait and see. Full tour dates are available here and head over to A Head Full Of Wishes for details on Dean and Britta’s limited-edition (500 pieces) Christmas 7″ single, available to pre-order now.

Crawdaddy looks at how everything old is new again, talking to The Hold Steady, The Pipettes and Jack Penate as research.

The Cleveland Free Times and The Georgia Straight talk to Jose Gonzalez, in town next Friday for an in-store at Sonic Boom and a proper show at the Mod Club.

The Tripwire reports that a release date has finally been set for the new Portishead record – they say record number three will be out in the UK on March 31 and speculate that means April 1 for North America. Of course, we all know what April 1 is, right? That’s right. TUESDAY.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

…And The Ravages Of Time

Nothing but randomness today so starting things off with the first stills from the new Indiana Jones film, via Goldenfiddle, is as good a way to go as any. I can only hope that the scene pictured ends with Harrison pushing Shia LaBeouf into a bottomless pit. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is out May 22 of next year.

And keeping on topic with old-timers seeing if there’s gas left in the tank, Billboard is your one-stop shop for shoegazer reunion news. Firstly, they report that My Bloody Valentine’s comeback album will be released in digital download form whenever it arrives with a possibility of a vinyl edition later on, though Wired came along shortly thereafter and debunked that. This much is known for sure – when the new My Bloody Valentine record is released, it will be done so in at least one, possibly multiple, formats of some description. A wet blanket has also been thrown on rumours that the band will appear at Coachella 2007 with their management saying that the UK reunion gigs will be their first live appearances.

Secondly, they get an update from the brothers Reid about progress on the new Jesus & Mary Chain record, possibly out in late Spring or early Summer of 2008.

CMJ, for their part, confirm that there will indeed be a new Verve release before Christmas… just not of new material. The This Is Music: The Singles 92-98 compilation from 2004 will be re-released to cash in on excitement surrounding the band’s reunion though this time it will come with a companion DVD with all the band’s videos collection on one handy shiny platter. The perfect gift for the Verve fan in your life who, paradoxically, doesn’t own any of their material.

And thanks to Bradley’s Almanac for pointing out this slightly old blog entry at The Guardian from House Of Love frontman Guy Chadwick in advance of their Don’t Look Back show in September where they played live the entirety of their first self-titled album.

The AllMusic blog isn’t quite done going over the Brit Box but this time they’ve got laurels instead of darts, thanks to the set’s inclusion of Superstar. Then they have more darts for the set’s omission of the C-86 scene.

The Riverfront Times is rather more productive, offering up two discs worth of bands (and corresponding MP3s) who were left out of the set and rather shouldn’t have been.

And a reminder to everyone that my Brit Box contest still has a few days to run and I’ve just been told that my restricting it to only North Americans is not necessary – in other words, it’s open to anyone and everyone wherever you may roam. So any Brits out there who want what would probably just be called Box over there, feel free to chime in and enter.

Wireless Bollinger talks to Nick Peill about the past and future of Fields. Speaking of whom, if anyone has an MP3 of their cover of MBV’s “When You Sleep” kicking around…

Spin offers up a bite-sized taste of new Clientele, taken from Big Top, a new film made by and starring absolutely no one of note (is Devon Reed someone? Illuminate me). But featuring a a pretty impressive soundtrack.

MP3: The Clientele – “Your Song”

PopMatters talks to PJ Harvey.

Editors return to North America early next year to delight Anglophiles and aggravate critics. Their Toronto date is January 22 at the Kool Haus and support will be Hot Hot Heat and Louis XIV.

Chart reports that progress is being made on Mogwai’s next album. With a working title of The Hawk Is Circling, the band aims to have it ready for a Fall ’08 release.

Aversion talks to Film School.

Illinoise noisemakers (but not Illinoisemakers) Headlights will release their sophomore effort Some Racing, Some Stopping on February 19. Maybe THIS record will see them touring north of the border.

Sigur Ros stickman Orri Pall Dyrason discusses their current releases – the Hvarf/Heim CDs and the Heima film – with Chart.

Paste declares The National’s Boxer their album of the year and backs it up with an extensive feature article though it’s probably not as insightful as this interview between The Exile and Matt Berninger. Sample question – “If a Russian oligarch wanted you to play his tween daughter’s b-day party for $1 million, but you had to lipsynch the whole show and wear sparkly outfits, would you do it?” Stereogum has their reprinted Paste’s full top 100 for 2007 and a peanut gallery’s worth of comments while Paste has also posted their staff picks for the best of the year.

The Times meets St Vincent.

Finally coming to town for a properly-sized venue and presumably full band tour, Josh Ritter will be at the Phoenix on March 4 with Emm Gryner supporting.

I don’t think anyone’s ever asked to see Saturday Looks Good To Me frontman Fred Thomas dance… and yet in the first video from Fill Up The Room, dance he does. Dance dance dance.

Video: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “Money In The Afterlife” (Vimeo)

Aimee Mann discusses the (lack of) concept behind her new album Smilers, due out Spring of next year, with Billboard. The (meaning Billboard) also gets some info on Kathleen Edwards’ new album Asking For Flowers, set for a March 4 release. And also coming in March is the new one from DeVocthKa.

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Like A Hurricane

Neil Young. Massey Hall.

Those four words right there should be all you need to know to understand how amazing last night’s show, the first of a three-night stand, was. Touring Chrome Dreams II, Young returned to play the legendary Toronto venue for the first time in almost 37 years for what was certain to be a special night. For me, this was only my second time seeing Neil, the last time some 11 years ago at Molson Park on a bill that was the very definition of eclectic – Neil with Crazy Horse, Oasis, Jewel, Gin Blossoms, Spiritualized and Screaming Trees. And since that was in a field with a throng of 30,000 others, I don’t think I actually SAW Neil though I certainly saw (and felt) him. But however you slice it, this show – with me in the front row of the gallery – was going to be infinitely more intimate.

After an opening set of well-played if rather innocuous country tunes by the missus, Pegi Young, Neil strode onstage to a standing ovation, settled into his chair ringed by acoustic guitars and started up with “From Hank To Hendrix” and from there, went into “Ambulance Blues” – one of my favourite songs from my favourite album (On The Beach) and if you ended the show right there, I’d have been satisfied. But of course, it’s easy to say that when he played acoustically for a good hour, dusting off one classic after another including “Harvest”, “Journey Through The Past” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. And perhaps touched by the warm hometown reception, he uncharacteristically engaged the audience in a little banter and storytelling.

There was no time for chit chat after the 20-minute intermission, however, as he returned to the stage with a band comprised of long-time collaborators Ben Keith (Stray Gators), Rick Rosas and Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse). Electricity was the word for the second half of the show, both in the sense of the electric guitars that were now setting the tone and the energy in the sold out room. The crowd went nuts when he opened with “The Loner”, and nuts again when he followed it with “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and nuts yet again when he stopped after a few bars to get some feedback taken care of and started again. And so it went. Personal highlights were hearing “Winterlong” and watching as “No Hidden Path”, from Chrome Dreams II, was transformed into a classic of the Neil Young canon in front of my eyes, Neil and company jamming the hell out of it and simply blowing the roof off the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street. Simply staggering.

And they still weren’t done. If “No Hidden Path” took the roof off, then the encore of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like A Hurricane” shook the walls down to the foundations with intense, face-melting guitar fury. Massey Hall’s wonderful acoustics are usually put to use preserving the detail of quieter, more delicate material but when faced with Old Black cranked through that ancient tweed Fender Deluxe, they allowed every squeal, snarl and roar to be heard with amazing clarity. More than a few times over the course of the night I broke into a shit-eating grin as I realized that I was seeing one of my all-time musical heroes in a setting that I’d never in a million years have thought I’d get the chance to and this is a night whose memory I’ll cherish a good long time.

There’s an inclination to think of this tour, coinciding as it does with the slow release of the Archives, as Neil shifting into greatest hits/nostalgia mode. And while yeah, he’s definitely revisiting his past in a way that he’s never done before, anyone who interprets that as him slowing down is sadly, sadly mistaken. There’s still an ungodly amount of fire in the man and if anything, what he’s taking from the past is more fuel for the future. Long may you run, Neil. Long may you run.

The Toronto Sun, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, eye and The Canadian Press have reviews of the show while The Post-Bulletin lists Neil’s top five musical left turns.

Photos: Neil Young, Pegi Young @ Massey Hall – November 26, 2007
MP3: Neil Young – “Ordinary People”
MySpace: Neil Young