Archive for December, 2008

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Party Hard

In praise of Pulp

Photo via WikipediaWikipediaThis whole year has been marked with a strong resurgence in my musical Anglophilia, but for no particular reason I can articulate, the closing weeks in particular have been marked with a heavy, heavy dose of Pulp.

Britpop debates usually start with the old Blur versus Oasis arguments, but for me, Pulp rise above them both by a considerable distance. Yes, I’ve got a big ‘ol man-crush on Jarvis Cocker and don’t care who knows it. There’s not many artists out there that I’m still desperate to see live, but he’s definitely one – in fact, if the opportunity arises to see him anywhere, I’ll be checking flights (note to Jarv – please play somewhere interesting that I can plan a vacation around). Considering he shunned us on at least a couple of tours this year, waiting for him to come to Toronto would seem to be an exercise in futility.

Seeing as how I’ve been playing to death all the albums I’ve got (reaching back as far as His’N’Hers as well as the John Peel Sessions set I got in London back in May), my main musical purchases on Boxing Day were copies of the deluxe editions of This Is Hardcore and Different Class, released a couple of years ago. His’N’Hers was also fancied up at that time, but isn’t on the shopping list yet, mainly because I’ve read that the bonus material on the second disc isn’t really essential. And while you could argue that the demos and b-sides collected on the other two also aren’t absolutely crucial, but to my ears there’s enough a-side-worthy stuff amongst those odds and sods to warrant a place in my collection and, dammit, I just needed some new material, even if it’s old. The remastering (and in the case of Hardcore – which I’m more convinced is an absolute classic with every listen – slightly different mix) of the albums proper is also nice, as are the liner notes from Cocker.

And since this post has actually even more pointless than usual, I’ll toss up a massive YouTube mix of all their videos dating back to His’N’Hers, most of which I’ve surprisingly never seen. And seeing as how the Pulp: Hits video anthology isn’t available in region 1 or NTSC, this is probably as good as it’s going to get.

Video: Pulp – “Bad Cover Version”
Video: Pulp – “The Trees”
Video: Pulp – “Party Hard”
Video: Pulp – “A Little Soul”
Video: Pulp – “Like A Friend”
Video: Pulp – “This Is Hardcore”
Video: Pulp – “Help The Aged”
Video: Pulp – “Something Changed”
Video: Pulp – “Disco 2000”
Video: Pulp – “Sorted For E’s And Wizz”
Video: Pulp – “Mis-Shapes”
Video: Pulp – “Common People”
Video: Pulp – “Babies”
Video: Pulp – “Do You Remember The First Time?”
Video: Pulp – “Lipgloss”
Video: Pulp – “Razzmatazz”

Dig For Fire has video of former Pulp sideman and all-around awesome guy Richard Hawley last December.

Blurt talks to Stuart Staples about the reconstituted Tindersticks, playing the Opera House on March 10.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with The Cure.

Incendiary has an interview with Brett Anderson.

Magnet breaks new ground in wondering who was better, The Beatles or The Stones.

The Line Of Best Fit interviews Kieron Gillen, author of the excellent comic series Phonogram, the second series of which appears to be more focused on contemporary indie rather than the Britpop retro-ness of the first, Rue Britannia. It’s still shaping up to be excellent, though, and I’m not the only one to think though – the first printing sold out almost immediately.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Moving Slow

An introduction to Gramercy Arms

Photo By Stefano GiovanniniStefano GiovanniniDepending on how familiar you are with early-’90s American college rock, Gramercy Arms’ resume will either read impressively or anonymously. Led by former Dambuilders honcho Dave Derby, the New York-based outfit also boasts drummer Kevin March (also Dambuilders and the final lineup of Guided By Voices), guitarist Sean Eden (of the late, loved Luna), guitarist Hilken Mancini (Boston power-poppers Fuzzy) and bassist Rainy Orteca (also of Joan As Policewoman, who aren’t circa ’90s but whose Joan Wasser was also in the Dambuilders). So to say there’s many lifetimes of playing dingy clubs wound into their collective DNA would be an understatement, and that doesn’t even begin to include the number of guest stars who appear on their recordings.

But save for Derby and Manicini, none were ever frontpersons or even main songwriters for their respective bands so to expect Gramercy Arms to sound like any sort of amalgam of their histories would be unfair. And it’s just as well, because they really don’t. Their self-titled debut – released this past Summer in the UK and set for a March 3, 2009 domestic release – is like an east coast interpretation of west coast pop. The mood is light and breezy, but whether by design or circumstance doesn’t sound as sun-kissed as one might expect, nor as eccentric.

Those who come to the band from an affection for the participants’ past works may be somewhat disappointed at how conventional the power pop on offer is. For myself, if I wasn’t told that Sean Eden was on this record I probably wouldn’t have known from casual listening. His idiosyncratic guitar genius is mostly kept restrained, and was put to far better use with Elk City. But as stated above, it’s unfair to come to Gramercy Arms with such weight of expectation and taken for what they do, there’s still much to like for aficionados of guitar pop. But really, would one more ripping Eden solo have been too much to ask?

The Guardian made Gramercy Arms their band of the day back in June. And the band made a Christmas tune featuring Mascott’s Kendall Jane Meade on vocals. Grab it before it’s just so out of season that it’s awkward to listen to.

MP3: Gramercy Arms – “Automatic”
MP3: Gramercy Arms – “Looking At The Sun”
MP3: Gramercy Arms with Kendall Jane Meade – “This Christmastime”
MySpace: Gramercy Arms

The Acorn have put together a little holiday gift for their fans in the form of Ear Worms, a collection of 12 songs 30 seconds in length each, and Little Elms, a short 4-song EP. Both are available for free download at their website right now.

ZIP: The Acorn / Ear Worms
ZIP: The Acorn / Little Elms

Arcade Fire are offering a free download of an unreleased track in exchange for your email address.

Magnet reports that Bob Mould will be releasing a new solo album, still untitled, on April 7, and are going so far as to call it his best record since Sugar’s File Under: Easy Listening. That there’s some high praise – be interesting to see if its warranted.

New Jersey Springsteen/punk acolytes who’ve been popping up on no shortage of year-end lists, The Gaslight Anthem will be a the Opera House on March 20, tickets $15.50.

AOL Sessions is currently featuring an in-studio performance from Ryan Adams.

Spin asks tough questions of The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. He also gives Exclaim! a list of reasons why Christmas is great, be it on Mars or wherever. And head over here to see some fun behind the scenes footage of the Lips’ recording of the NBC promo theme/jingle-thing. You know, the three notes thing. Whatever that’s called.

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Double Impact

Review of JCVD

Photo via Rotten TomatosRotten TomatoesI’ve spent a goodly amount of time this holiday break watching movies, and expect to continue to do so before heading back to work (shudder) next week. Most have been from a backlog of DVDs and DIVXs but it was off to the theatre last night for JCVD, which I’ve been anxious to see since its debut at TIFF in September.

Not that I’m especially a Jean-Claude fan, though I’ve always thought that he was better than the material he was given, but the pitch – Van Damme plays himself as a washed up actor who gets caught in a hostage situation – was too enticing to miss. But as promising as that premise was, it’d also have been very easy for it to fall victim to a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, ultra-meta self-aware “aren’t we clever”-ness. Thankfully, it does not. It actually plays things very straight, and Van Damme is excellent – no qualifiers.

He is worn and haggard and genuinely believable as, well, himself. The weight of the past decade – drug addiction, failed marriages, child custody battles, the fact that he hasn’t made anything resembling a major film in over a decade (Double Team with Dennis Rodman (!) was the last one in his filmography that I recognized) – are all etched into his face and used as fuel for the performance, and it’s riveting. It’s hard to imagine that JCVD will revitalize his career in any major way – he admits he’s getting too old to continue making action hero flicks and it’s unlikely this will offer a new career path in serious drama – but it should grant him something he’s never been given before, and that’s respect.

Though will it be enough to wipe away the memory of his career to that point? Probably not. Unreality has assembled a half-dozen classic moments in Jean-Claude, and that Kick Boxer scene will be burned into my brain for eternity.

Trailer: JCVD

Also recently watched: Son Of Rambow, which was really much sweeter and enjoyable than I’d expected, Ghost Town, which was also much better than its rather cliched premise about a man who discovers he can talk to ghosts, and Hamlet 2, which was one of the absolute worst pieces of dreck I’ve ever had the misfortune of sitting through. Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener should be ashamed of themselves. In fact, the entire cast listing should read “Alan Smithee” top to bottom.

Trailer: Son Of Rambow
Trailer: Ghost Town
Trailer: Hamlet 2

Back with music stuffs tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Sunday Cleaning - Volume 102

Portishead, The Last Shadow Puppets, Chairlift

I’m going to close out 2008’s Sunday Cleaning series with quick reviews of three albums that have already received dollops of ink pretty much everywhere else. But I feel like writing about them, just a bit.

Portishead / Third (Island)

I believe that there is a crucial decibel level at which the first Portishead record in eleven years moves from subtle, inscrutable and sinister to all-out terrifying. For most of this year, whenever I put Third on, I apparently kept the volume knob in the former range and as such, didn’t get much out of it rather than a general sense of unease and the impression that they’d managed somehow to become even more downcast and averse to music conventions in their decade away. But after putting it on loud, as I did for the first time a couple weeks ago, “subtle” is pretty much the last word I would ever use to describe it. It’s like an aural death grip, skeletal, insistent and unrelenting, Beth Gibbons whispering seductive nightmares in your ears – terrible but still beautiful. It took me a while, but I get it now.

Video: Portishead – “The Rip”
Video: Portishead – “Machine Gun”
Video: Portishead – “Magic Doors”
MySpace: Portishead

The Last Shadow Puppets / The Age Of The Understatement (Domino)

Being no particular fan of the Arctic Monkeys and not knowing who The Rascals are, the default sales pitch for The Last Shadow Puppets wouldn’t have worked too well on me. But even without the backstory, the absurdly lush retrorchestral (my word!) pop they delivered would have gotten my attention. At first, I was a bit suspicious that the opulence of the dressings were meant to distract from the lightweightness of the songwriting – it sounded great but perhaps there wasn’t any substance there. But with time and repeated listens – it kept drawing me back – I found that that was either simply not the case, or I just didn’t care anymore.

Video: The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement”
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets – “My Mistakes Were Made For You”
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets – “Standing Next To Me”
MySpace: The Last Shadow Puppets

Chairlift / Does You Inspire You (Kanine)

The debut album from the latest iPod commercial lottery winner is sleek and slinky, though probably too playful and innocent to qualify as seductive. Built mainly on a blueprint of hazy, ’80s-drenched synth-pop, it occasionally forays into country or soul terrain but is kept centered by the remarkable vocals of Caroline Polachek, which are never sound out of place no matter what musical accouterments surround them. Inspire is consistently listenable throughout, but the high points – the Nano-shilling “Bruises” and the additively nonsensical “Evident Utensil” – do stand considerably above the rest.

Clash has a feature on Chairlift.

MP3: Chairlift – “Evident Utensil”
Video: Chairlift – “Planet Health”
MySpace: Chairlift

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

CONTEST – Amos The Transparent @ Rancho Relaxo – January 2, 2009

Photo By Frank YangFrank Yang2009 is almost upon us, and Ottawa’s Amos The Transparent has big plans. In a MySpace blog post, they promise “new tracks, and new ep, new blogs, new webisodes, a new myspace page”, but first they’ll be a-rolling down the 401 for a show in Toronto.

They’ll be kicking off the 2009 series of Two-Way Monologues in style, ably supported by Whale Tooth and Bellewoods, and I’ve got a super-deluxe prize pack to give away for the show, consisting of a pair of passes and a CD from each act. It’s like Christmas has come, um, late.

To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see (through) Amos The Transparent” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Contest will close at midnight, December 30 and even if you don’t win, come out for what’s likely to be your best post-New Year’s hangover option. Cover is $7 at the door. And in the meantime, grok the show poster and enjoy a Christmas carol from the band. Again, no longer timely but that’s my fault, not theirs.

MP3: Amos The Transparent – “Title Track”
MP3: Amos The Transparent – “White Christmas”
MySpace: Amos The Transparent