Archive for September, 2008

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Melody Day

Photo by Frank Yang

I’m immensely relieved that Caribou won this year’s Polaris Music Prize for last year’s Andorra, because if he didn’t then I’d have had to find a new post title. Because so confident I was that this is how things would turn out, I’d already committed to… typing it. And I didn’t want to have to hit that backspace key soooo many times.

So there’s your winner. And though I’m sure that some people figured they knew which way my vote was going to go, despite the fact that I’d not really written about the Caribou record at all, it was my top choice for the prize and I’m very pleased that it came through in the end. I detail the specifics on what I thought of each of the nominated albums, through the filter of what the Polaris criteria was supposed to be, after the jump. And here, I’m not really sure what I can write about. Because though as a member of this year’s Grand Jury, I’ve got a lot I’d like to talk about, I’m not actually allowed to do so. What happens in the jury room, stays in the jury room And since I was sequestered away for most of the gala, I didn’t get to see the show either. So. I guess I’ll just cover what I’m allowed to say about the process.

It started on Sunday night with a dinner with all the Grand Jurists, ostensibly to meet and greet each other and have an informal discussion about the nominated albums. What it turned out to be was a very revealing look at where everyone’s inclinations lay, and which albums would be serious contenders and which would likely be saying, “it was an honour just to be nominated”. It was as essential to the process as the official jury session the night of the gala and I think gave everyone the inclination to revisit at least one of the nominated records that they might have thought their minds made up on

Though the mission statement of the prize, to seek the album of the “highest artistic integrity”, is pretty straightforward (if impossible to actually define), everyone’s criteria for picking a winner was obviously different. While my picks for initial balloting was pretty straightforward – what were my favourite eligible albums and in what order? – for the final round, I took the criteria more seriously. Personal biases would be checked as much as possible, but while I definitely analyzed each album more objectively than I normally might, it still came down to a gut feeling. I wanted something that was more than just a good album – they’re all good albums – and that was for lack of a better, less cheesy word, transcendent. Something that was more than just a good example of its respective style or genre. Something that I’d be comfortable having as a sort of ambassador for Canadian music for the next year.

So going into things on Monday night, I already had the top contenders already sorted out – the middle of the pack could certainly jockey back and forth but they likely wouldn’t end up making much of a difference. My mind was pretty much made up what I was going to pull for and I think most everyone else was as well. The actual jury session result was a very interesting (and civil) discussion about each record, but not so much the knock-down, drag-out argument that you might have expected (or hoped for). Working as I do in mostly isolation, it was a really interesting exercise to actually discuss and debate the merits and flaws of the records, getting different points of view in real time. It was like a book club. And it was amusing to have read some of the more conspiracist theories as to what records we might pick and why, based on agendas that had nothing to do with the albums themselves – Give the finger to the Conservatives! Punish the successful label! They don’t need the money! It’s time for a woman! A rapper! A westerner! Blah blah blah. There was more than enough to talk about in just about the music without getting off-topic.

So when we were finally let out of the jury room and a winner selected (though not revealed to us), I managed to catch the very end of the gala and performances from Shad and Holy Fuck, both so good that I was sorry I missed the rest of the proceedings, even for the privilege of being on the Grand Jury. Holy Fuck were also the only act I got any photos of. But being right up front beside Caribou’s table and seeing the shock and disbelief on Dan Snaith’s face when he was announced as the winner was a real treat. And yes, I was feeling quite good and validated in my opinions.

I’m a bit sad that now having done the Grand Jury thing and having wholly enjoying the experience, I know I won’t get to do it again. It was a real pleasure and honour to have been a part of the process, for something that I think has done a fine job of establishing its credibility as a worthy award and has quickly become an important part of the Canadian music machine. Sure, there are complaints about the records that make the short list (or don’t make the short list) or the Polaris process in general, but now having seen how it all works, I can honestly say that its doing its very best and strives to be as open and fair as possible.

Plenty of coverage on Caribou’s win in the media today, but I found this piece in The Guardian, from a UK perspective, particularly interesting. And as mentioned, I only got a handful of photos of Holy Fuck but there’re some more from the end of the gala at my Flickr.

Photos: Holy Fuck @ The Phoenix – September 29, 2008

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Feed Me With Your Kiss

Photo by Frank Yang

It had never occurred to me, in the decade plus that I’ve been listening to Loveless, that I’d ever experience it live. For starters, My Bloody Valentine were completely defunct for almost all of that time, Kevin Shields’ reclusiveness and eccentricities having become a topic of musical urban legend.

No, like much of the music I’d discovered in the ’90s, I was at least a few years to late to the party to experience it in real time and so I’d have to make do with the recordings. And those songs existed as that single, definitive recording – I’d never heard any live material, any alternate versions, I don’t even know if any exist. Loveless was Loveless, like the statues on Easter Island – unique and monolithic, able to be experienced and wondered at, but not ever fully understood. And I was okay with that.

So when the news came last November that the band were not only back together but planning live shows for this year and releasing new recordings, followed this May by the announcement of a brief North American tour that included a Toronto date, the response was disbelief, excitement, disbelief again, then a general sense of confusion. Would it be good? Would it be awful? Where would they play? Would it sell out? Do people still care? In time, the answers came – reviews of the first London shows were a blend of awestruck and rapturous. The band were still deafening loud but amidst that din, sounded amazing. And when the Toronto show was downgraded last week from the 5000-capacity Ricoh Coliseum to the cozier 2000-capacity Kool Haus, well there was the other answer. But this venue shift made it a near-sell out, with the atmosphere that goes with such events – a feeling that would have been lost in a cavernous arena. Rarely do I cheer about having to go to the Kool Haus to see a show, but this was one of those times.

Though there really wasn’t a need for an opening act, we got one anyways. Two, actually. The first was The Flowers Of Hell, a sprawling instrumental ensemble based half in Toronto and half in the UK that sounded like an orchestral tribute to Spacemen 3 and The Velvet Underground, but without the pop angle. And interesting and ambitious project, they sounded like a series of phrases, beautifully elocuted but lacking any underlying narrative. The second opener was unbilled and thus, missed by me as I was out in the lobby sorting out press access business. And so what I thought was the DJ playing a Gemma Hayes CD – an odd choice for entertaining the masses – was actually Gemma Hayes playing a short solo set. If not for the fact that I was going to see her do her own show the next night, I’d have been absolutely gutted to miss her play. As it was, I was just a bit miffed.

But that was all preamble. A little after 10PM, the band strolled onstage – all looking remarkably well-preserved – and with “I Only Said” from Loveless, the onslaught began. Actually, that’s not true. For all the talk about how unbelievably loud My Bloody Valentine once were and were yet again, my earplugs did a fine job of bringing things down to a manageable level and from the photo pit at least, the mix was actually quite good – vocals were audible, the rhythm section of Deb Googe and Colm O’Coisig much louder and urgent live than they ever were on record and the guitars… By my count, Kevin Shields had something on the order of 700W of guitar amplification run through some 32 12″ speakers (that’s 25 square feet of speaker cone) and an ungodly amount of pedals. That’s a lot of sound-wielding potential.

And what sound. Listening to the band as they drew evenly from both Loveless and Isn’t Anything plus some b-sides from the You Made Me Realise EP, you realize that as legendary as they are and much as they’re used as a reference point for countless bands that followed them, no one has ever managed to sound like them. Many have picked up a Fender Jazzmaster, run it through mountains of fuzz and volume and worked the vibrato bar just so (myself included), but unless you’re Kevin Shields or Belinda Butcher, it just doesn’t sound the same. There is only one My Bloody Valentine, and they were most definitely back. Accompanied by blinding light show and projections, the band were able to give new meaning to the phrase, “sound wave”. I’ve heard that standing in a tall building during an earthquake creates a sensation not unlike surfing, a feeling of undulation while remaining stationary – when My Bloody Valentine played, it felt like surfing (or swimming) in an ocean of sound.

Dwelling on the volume, however, is to only get part of the picture. My Bloody Valentine have also always been about the pop song, the blend of breathy, dream-state vocals with hazy (and deafening) guitars. For all the bludgeoning decibels they generate, at the core their songs are unbelievably delicate, like a butterfly in the eye of a hurricane. Gems like “When You Sleep”, “To Here Knows When” and “Soon” – oh my goodness “Soon” – certainly attest to that.

And yet you cannot discount the loud. If there was one prevalent topic of discussion leading up to the show, it was the anticipated hearing loss amongst attendees. Anyone who didn’t fully understand why people were excited about going to see this band may have wondered why we didn’t just get someone to punch us in the kidneys and save us the $50, so anticipated the impending injuries seemed to be. The thing is, My Bloody Valentine don’t indulge in volume for volume’s sake. Shields has said in interviews that he believes that there’s a a sonic quality, an interaction between musician, instrument, amplifier and listener, that can only be achieved at a certain decibel level. It probably sounds at least a little crazy, but it’s this experience that he’s seeking to create – not simply to deafen. That’s just a pleasant side-effect.

And it’s in set-closer “You Made Me Realise”, and in particular the infamous portion of the song dubbed “the holocaust” that this is most clear. Starting earlier in the song than I’d anticipated, it began as a slowly but steadily growing wall of sound – not in the metaphorical Phil Spector sense, but in a very literal and tangible one. You were actually feeling the air in the room move past you, reflect back off the walls and ceiling and basically envelop you, all from the band. Again, thanks to my earplugs I was able to contemplate this experience without doubling over in pain or needing to flee, as many of the concert-goers around me were doing. And after a while, the wall began to shift, to expand, to modulate. It was like a magic eye picture of a space shuttle engine at take-off, but for the ears. It was a 24-minute look into the mind of Kevin Shields, and while some found it unbearable, I found it fascinating. I also couldn’t feel my teeth and had the inexplicable desire to adopt a chinchilla.

Despite the enormous weight of expectation on this show and the very real possibility that the band today would be unable to live up to the myth that’s grown around them in the past fifteen years, the reality of it was, in a word, amazing. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and unless I get the opportunity to see them play again, probably unlike anything I’ll ever experience again.

The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, eye and Exclaim! have rave reviews of the show. Chart opts to play fifth dentist. Guitar Player Gear Guide has an expansive analysis of the tools of My Bloody Valentine’s trade, complete with photos and updated for the current touring setup (warning: heavy guitar geek content) and Audio Pro International has an interview with the band’s live sound engineer that covers just how they manage to keep “Realise” constantly building and shifting for the length of an episode of Seinfeld.

Photos: My Bloody Valentine @ The Kool Haus – September 25, 2008
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Soon”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “To Here Knows When”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Swallow”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “You Made Me Realise”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Feed Me With Your Kiss”
MySpace: My Bloody Valentine
MySpace: Flowers Of Hell

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

CONTEST – Halifax Pop Explosion 2008

Photo via Wikipedia

While Pop Montreal kicks off this week, it doesn’t mark the end of the Canadian music festival calendar – that privilege goes to the Halifax Pop Explosion, set for October 21 through 25 in – you guessed it – Halifax. I’ve always looked for an excuse to go visit the Maritimes and Halifax in particular, and while that won’t be happening this year – booked my flight to New York City for that week last night – I’m sure it will eventually. Though I suspect that the Atlantic coast isn’t necessarily the warmest place to be in late October.

Commandeering seven venues in Halifax for five nights, this year’s Pop Explosion features a lineup of the cream of the crop of up and coming Canadian talent with the likes of Holy Fuck, Basia Bulat, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Amos The Transparent, as well as a smattering of import acts such as Jay Reatard, Monotonix and GZA. Actually, now that I look over the lineup, I’m thinking maybe this should be my Autumn trip for next year…

But first this year. Courtesy of Pigeon Row, I’ve got a pair of festival passes to give away that will get you access to all Pop Explosion shows. If you’re from out east, going to be out east or are looking for an excuse to go out east, I am your hook up. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to explode with pop in Halifax” in the subject line and your personal info in the body. Passes will be picked up at the festival offices so you’ll have to get out to Halifax to collect. And attend. Though that part’s probably a no-brainer. Contest closes at midnight, October 5.

MySpace: Halifax Pop Explosion

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Bright Lights

So it’s finally here – Polaris Music Prize Weekend! As the city, nay – the COUNTRY – gears up for what’s surely the biggest event in the Canadian cultural calendar with the always popular Polaris Parade, the Polaris Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Polaris Dirigible Race, the Polaris Ultimate Fighting Championship… there’s just too much to do!

Okay, that’s not really true at all. The ceremony is Monday night, and as a member of the grand jury I’m personally starting to get a little excited/antsy, but there’s really not much to do except show up and see what happens. I’ve been spending the last few months getting acquainted and re-acquainted with the ten nominated albums, and while I bet you think you know where my inclinations like, I can tell you you might be wrong. Or right. Or neither. Records that I previously liked have not fared as well under the critical assessment that this responsibility demands, and other records that I’d dismissed have revealed new facets of themselves that have definitely given me pause. And others are exactly what I thought they were in the first place. If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve said absolutely nothing of value in the past paragraph.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to get in my head – it’s a scary and boring place – but to offer up some interesting linkage to those who are playing Polaris-spotter on Monday night. Radio Free Canuckistan has spent the past week doing a fine job of analyzing and handicapping all the nominated albums, two per day. Check out his thoughts on Black Mountain and Basia Bulat, Caribou and Kathleen Edwards, Holy Fuck and Plants & Animals, Shad and Stars and Two Hours Traffic and The Weakerthans. He also offers up some worthy records that he thinks should have made the short list.

Chart rounded up half the nominees – Holy Fuck, Shad, The Weakerthans, Two Hours Traffic and Caribou – to ask them what it’s like to be nominated and what they’d do with the $20,000 prize. NOW covers a lot of the same ground. The London Free Press – and fellow Grand Jurist James Reaney – talks to hometown noms Basia Bulat and Shad, The Globe & Mail’s Robert Everett-Green (a member of last year’s Grand Jury) looks at how the process of picking a winner works (or is supposed to work), while Zoilus (2006 Grand Jurist) responds. And more 2006 Grand Jurists comment at the National Post and Edmonton Journal. Chart is trying to guess the winner. BrooklynVegan commentates.

If you’re interested to follow along with the ceremony in real time Monday night and listen to the performances from the nominees – and thus enjoy more of the show than I will, since I’ll be sequestered away in a little room – it’s being webcast on CBC Radio 3 starting at 7PM Eastern time. And if you’re curious about the little bits of art that make up today’s image, they come from the lovely posters that were created to honour each of the nominated records – you can see the full pieces at the Polaris website.

And, if you’ve forgotten, here’s the ten nominees.

Black Mountain / In The Future / MP3: “Tyrants”
Basia Bulat / Oh My Darling / MP3: “In The Night”
Caribou / Andorra / MP3: “Melody Day”
Kathleen Edwards / Asking For Flowers
Holy Fuck / LP / MP3: “Lovely Allen”
Plants & Animals / Parc Avenue
Shad / The Old Prince / MP3: “I Don’t Like To”
Stars / In Our Bedroom After The War / MP3: “The Night Starts Here”
Two Hours Traffic / Little Jabs / MP3: “Stuck For The Summer”
The Weakerthans / Reunion Tour / MP3: “Sun In An Empty Room”

So who’s your pick to win and why? If I like your reasoning, maybe I’ll just use that instead of my own.

Friday, September 26th, 2008

A Children's Crusade On Acid

Photo via MySpace

I have a feeling October 7 is going to be a good day to visit your local record store.

Margot & The Nuclear So And Sos have released a first sample of their two upcoming albums, Animal! and Not Animal, both due out on October 7. What’s the difference? Besides the former only being available on vinyl and the latter on CD (in addition to digitally for both), the band’s MySpace blog diplomatically describes the differences thusly: “Animal! is our second album, while Not Animal is a label compiled collection of songs”. Well, it certainly sounds like this major-label relationship is going well, doesn’t it?

There is some overlap between the albums. I don’t have a tracklisting for the vinyl but both these tracks appear on the Epic-approved, band-disavowed album. For more audio, head over to My Old Kentucky Blog for some live tracks and demos and, of course, there’s the Daytrotter session from this Summer.

MP3: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s – “As Tall As Cliffs”
MP3: Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s – “A Children’s Crusade On Acid”

Also hitting on October 7 – Life Like from The Rosebuds. Check out the title track.

MP3: The Rosebuds – “Life Like”

Though he cancelled his Summer tour a while back, El Guincho is playing make-up in November. Look for him on November 27 at the El Mocambo. Alegranza! is out October 7.

MP3: El Guincho – “Palmitos Park”
Video: El Guincho – “Palmitos Park”

In preparation for the release of Bob Dylan’s latest Bootleg SeriesTell-Tale Signs, also out October 7, you can get a free MP3 of the track “Mississippi” at and there’s also a new video.

Video: Bob Dylan – “Dreamin’ Of You”

The Montreal Gazette talks to Will Sheff of Okkervil River, at the Phoenix on October 12, Daytrotter has some video of Sheff playing a Randy Newman cover (with simian companion) and Paste gets his thoughts on the topic of murder ballads.

That’s a topic Nick Cave knows a thing or two about – Six Billion Stories talks to him about the making of his Murder Ballads record, while Crawdaddy, The Chicago Tribune, SF Weekly and The Chicago Tribune have interviews with the head of the Bad Seeds, who are at the Kool Haus next Wednesday, and you bet your sweet bippy I’m excited about it.

Helpful information from the UK! Simon Jones of The Verve gives Filter a guided tour of Manchester while Mogwai’s Barry Burns offers some cautionary advice to The Quietus for anyone considering a career in grade school teaching.

AM NY talks to Steve Earle about being a New Yorker.

Nicole Atkins reflects on her whirlwind year for The Shreveport Times.

Spin interviews Ra Ra Riot, gets them to play track and field, shoots video. Tuscon Weekly and San Diego City Beat also have interviews but no AV or phys ed components.

Matablog has details on the next edition in the Pavement fancy-pants reissue series. Brighten The Corners: Nicene Creedence Ed. is out November 18.

Drowned In Sound interviews David Berman of the Silver Jews.

Daytrotter has an extra-long session with Centro-Matic.

The Quietus and Paste interview TV On The Radio.