Friday, October 31, 2008

Dressed in Borrowed Time and Finery: Luxury Stranger's Desolation

Several months ago I found out about a Nottingham-based band called Luxury Stranger via MySpace. Oddly enough, I had already met the bass player, Chris Ruscoe, who happened to be at the two IAMX shows I attended a year ago, but who wasn't in Luxury Stranger yet. The rest of the band is composed of drummer, Owen Walton, and vocalist/guitarist, Simon York, who used to be signed to Roadrunner Records with former band Delirium (and who incidentally is related to William of Orange). They are about to release their debut album, Desolation, which reminds me of my favourite post-punk/new wave bands like The Chameleons, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Pornography/Faith/Seventeen Seconds era of The Cure (in fact, perhaps I would still be enjoying The Cure if Luxury Stranger wrote their melodies for them), but as much as York's vocals veer into Robert Smith agonized cadences and tones and the occasional Ian McCulloch quaver, they also remind me of the gravelly, masculine posture of grunge and the full bass tonality of someone like Eddie Vedder. Luxury Stranger has also cultivated a rather enigmatic profile via guerrilla marketing; for example, if you were lucky enough to find a Luxury Stranger card lying around, you became an honourary member of the Luxury Stranger elite. After listening to Desolation, it seems the world this elite occupies is one of industrial decadence, like a limousine pulling up to the curb in the Lace Market, offering you a few sordid moments above your station. There is both a sense of dangerous urgency and a doomed despondency, a naked bipolarity that seems too tenuous and tense to last without tearing the narrator in two.

Opening track, Dirt, is indeed dirty in its gritty guitar sounds and self-loathing lyrics. York's delivery of "I'm dirt" ranges from petulant declaration to raspy scream, demanding attention like a dark dare to all the "clean girls." Substance is more punky and angular than Dirt and features verses that are actually reminiscent of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me Cure and then a poppy, infectious chorus. Inner Eye slouches along like a shambolic shadow in lockstep to ticking, precise drums as though the narrator's wrought desire cannot be unshackled nor diluted in shady alleys. Falling on the punkier side of post-punk like Substance, Marlene has an incredible hook as it conjures up images of a femme fatale worthy of The Blue Angel. Slowing down to a more contemplative tone, Paradise Untouched builds layer upon layer of dramatic sound as escapist promises escalate, dressed in borrowed time and finery. Grounded is one of the most memorable tracks for me on the album with its propulsive guitars and "wrap you up in plastic" refrain; in this song there's an unabashed, transparent revelry in the way human relationships become power struggles of puppetry.

The album then takes a slower, more atmospheric turn. With its echoing drums and gentle washes of guitars, Dreaming Our Lives Away is a moody ballad of romantic intentions that reiterates some of the escapist tendencies of Paradise Untouched, emphasizing a yearning for preserving ephemera, which wouldn't be so precious if it weren't so transient. Item continues the atmosphere of sombre brooding with an insistent lower register that swells like a dirge against the backsliding backbeat as the narrator drags his directionless feet away from the wreckage of his heart that he can now only view as a detached, abstract item. NMQP picks the pace back up again with the plea of "no more questions please" and breezier guitars. The record's coda is Don't Go, a track that begins with a skeleton of acoustic guitar, but which continues to round out its sound and culminates in more wounded self-absorption reaching for the last vestiges of love, or for what would pass for love for any navel-gazing romantic. The naked last breaths that plead "don't go" belie a true vulnerability behind the gothic bravado of the earlier tracks.

In addition to the tracks from the album, I was also able to listen to two bonus tracks (which are currently streaming at Luxury Stranger's MySpace): Completion and Precious For Evermore. The former is a driving melody with a vindictive, vicious vocal performance from a possessive lover - a Phantom of the Rock Opera; the latter is a bass-driven ode to masochistic voyeurism and more need for preservation and possession of an idealized lover. Hopefully, both are to see some sort of official release whether as part of a sophomore effort or as bonus tracks for this debut.

Overall, if you're a fan of the darker, brooding side of post-punk and also into fist-pumping forceful rock, I would definitely recommend Luxury Stranger. Considering I'm in Canada and that there's a low likelihood of my returning to the Nottingham area any time soon, I asked whether I would be able to get some cards of my own to spread throughout Canada. Though the cards were ostensibly sent to me twice, I never did end up receiving those cards, which leads me to believe that I am neither luxurious nor strange enough to be a part of the Luxury Stranger elite. Or perhaps our postal worker is indeed more luxurious and a bit stranger than I thought.

Luxury Stranger's MySpace:

Grounded - Luxury Stranger

Item - Luxury Stranger

Completion - Luxury Stranger

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sound the Last Post, Then Unite and Take Over

I, like many MP3 bloggers, am deeply disturbed by the information gathered on a post over at The Vinyl Villain. JC has collected links to the following posts that all address the current censorship and bullying that is taking place in the MP3 blogosphere:

To Die By Your Side Post
Song, By Toad Post
Teenage Kicks Post
17 Seconds Post

I encourage you to read them all because each of them provides a slightly different insight into the rash of MP3 blog post removals, specifically by Google's Blogger. I would also like to add a couple of my own links to relevant stories, including this story about Metallica and the Muxtape story. Now, as many of you know, I've been studying MP3 blogging with a fair amount of depth this past year, and as far as I could tell, most MP3 bloggers appeared safe from legal action because of the ephemeral nature of most download links, because of their disclaimers about asking for removal of MP3s, and because of the fact that as long as they posted only a few MP3s, and not full albums, they were operating under the following "fair use" clause of the Copyright Law:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

As evident through the above bloggers' stories, this safety net has been torn from under us. Now there are talks of blogs disappearing and/or going underground (ie: email subscription services), but what I fail to understand is what record labels hope to gain by attacking MP3 blogs. Have they heard of torrents? Is it because it's easier to target a bunch of relatively small static entities rather than massive networks whirling around the globe? To treat MP3 blogs and their offshoots as though they're the same as the P2P filesharing frenzy started by Napster in the late 90s, is utterly ridiculous. There are so many flaws in these actions on the part of both major record labels and Google, but I would like to point out a few pertinent ones.

Firstly, how can archaic copyright laws be applied to drastically new developments in technology? How can you steal something whilst leaving it with the person you "stole" it from? This process is one of cloning, not of physical products leaving one spatial location to be in another. And after being in academia so long, I know the copyright law well enough - of course you can't photocopy a whole book, but you can definitely copy portions that you need for your studies. The reason why this analogy doesn't quite work is because photocopying a book would be a lot more time-consuming than downloading and burning an album or several. But I would like to point out the fact that research and epistemological processes have been built upon the foundation of citation. You cannot write an academic piece of literature without references, citations and examples from previous works to bolster your argument. Well, MP3s are bolstering our arguments. We are not plagiarizing entire books, we are providing our examples. Consider our MP3 links to be inside quotation marks.

Ideas and art do not spring from a vacuum. This is the civilized world that literacy ushered in. Once thoughts and information could be recorded for reference, they could be easily used to continue building on, generating a sense of progress. Science and technology themselves couldn't have gone anywhere without the free flow and dissemination of information. Knowledge generates knowledge, and by preventing access to ideas and cultural artifacts, big businesses are only killing civilization as we know it. However, when you take a look at the history of communication, we are merely repeating it. When the printing press became more widespread, copyright laws were created by those that feared losing power, and restrictions were placed on who could produce printed news and books, but eventually, progress broke the elitist hold and the presses were opened again. This is not to say that censorship isn't alive and well and that "free" societies are actually completely free and democratic.

In the current state of the world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that information is the new power, not military. Wars shall be fought with information and gathered intelligence - knowledge is indeed power. Chomsky and Herman's Propaganda Model makes the point that journalism is greatly shaped and filtered by restricting means of production and communication to only those who have the financial means to do so. These filters are firmly entrenched in the world of journalism, so much so that they tend to be invisible to most people. I suggest you read Manufacturing Consent to illuminate this fraudulent concept of freedom of speech. My worry is how these filters will eventually find their way from the world of "official" journalism to the world of "unofficial" journalism. In some ways, they already have. For those without the money for a computer or high-speed Internet, MP3 blogging wouldn't be an option in the first place. But soon the privileged, but non-elite people who maintain MP3 blogs could be silenced, too. If more of the financial elite get control over the Internet and its applications, the supposed freedom of online communcation and creation will completely disappear. My only hope is that there will continually be innovative people one step ahead, using their individual brains and sources of knowledge.

The issue here is primarily MP3s - I highly doubt blogs that merely discuss music without free downloads are being targeted in the same way. In many ways, MP3s are art, but they are also literally encoded information, so by stopping bloggers from using a few samples, music labels are obstructing the flow of information and attempting to curtail individuals thinking for themselves. Music fans are gaining power through being able to sample before buying, so record labels need only fear if their artists aren't good enough to convince people to purchase their product. It's hard to believe that the people in charge of the music industry have any business acumen at all with the absurd strategies they're using. These strategies include the hidden Copyrighting Board Private Copying Tariff on the prices of blank audio cassettes and blank CDRs.

Secondly, it seems mad that record labels haven't learned from their first go-round in which they fought the very technology that affected the future of their industry/commodity. Now, they're fighting the future of music publicity. It's like reaching for the bail bucket on the Titanic. The removal of MP3 blog posts is a pyrrhic victory for the music industry and a classic case of the music industry gnawing on the hand that feeds it. To attack people who have provided disclaimers and expired links, is an exercise in futility and ends up infringing on the property of others. And these others are the "real" music fans -the ones who actually buy music and go to live shows as opposed to the casual music fans who don't care whether they get all their music from torrents and who will likely never be the target market for excessive music buying.

It appears that Coxon of To Die By Your Side could have been targeted because he wrote a critical review of Cold War Kids' latest album. Well, I did, too - here. And perhaps one of the reasons I haven't had my post removed yet is because I'm still flying under the radar and not generating huge traffic. I, like most other bloggers, have had plenty of positive feedback from the artists themselves, who are happy that their art is being exposed to the public by people who are just as passionate about it as they are. Unlike the music industry, and to an increasingly greater extent, the music journalism industry, many MP3 bloggers view music as art, not as strictly a commodity. If the music industry is so in tune with the laws of capitalism, they should recognize the moment when a business has to adapt or die - that moment has already come and gone, but the industry has found no viable solution for itself; thus, industry people busy themselves by bullying those that can't feasibly fight back so that they can feel proactive rather than the lumbering retroactive people they are.

Fear generates fear. The obsolete middlemen in the music industry are fearing for their livelihoods, and are thus using fear tactics upon both blog hosts like Google and MP3 bloggers. I refuse to be fearful. If and when it comes to sounding my last post, I, along with other music fans, will find a new way of communicating because the process that literacy set in motion cannot be stopped. If we are to be viewed as shoplifters, then all I have to say is: Shoplifters of the world unite and take over.

Shoplifters Of the World Unite - The Smiths

Can the Haves Use Their Brains - McCarthy

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #40

It's the most wonderful time of the year...Halloween. Well, technically not until this Friday, but I had to post this mix in time for it, especially since you'll be needing it whether you're throwing a party, carving a pumpkin or four, handing out candy, or decking the halls with blood. Halloween is one of those fantastic times when people can speak truths about themselves through the masks and costumes they wear and when people who celebrate the spirit of Halloween year-long are accepted heartily by the masses. As one who loves the darker side of life, it's a very fun holiday.

Admittedly, I'm not really one for horror films - as a child, I never watched them, and as an adult, I wasn't really drawn to them as a genre. However, I have always been drawn to a Tim Burtonesque style of darkness - when I was a child, I loved Beetlejuice (both film and animated series) and Nightmare Before Christmas. As I grew, I fell in love with Edward Scissorhands, too. In addition to Tim Burton, I loved the first The Addams Family film as a nine-year-old. So, perhaps I love the dark and creepy reality of suburbia instead of hack and slash gore. I suppose I also rather enjoy the campier, wacky darkness like that of The Rocky Horror Show (I've only had the opportunity to see it performed live once, but I went all out to dress up for it). And finally, I also love the wry witty sort of darkeness like that of Edward Gorey, where small children are masticated by bears and strange men in long fur coats lurk in dim Edwardian corridors.

I stopped Trick or Treating when I was 12 or 13, but I have some fond, and some rather cold, memories of going door-to-door with my little bag. The rather irritating thing about having Halloween in a cold climate is the fact that you usually never get to wear the same costume you wore to the Halloween school party when you go out at night - you may risk hypothermia. So, while I was Pippi Longstocking at school (probably the best costume I ever had), I could very well end up as a Mexican man in a sombrero and heavy wool poncho at night. I was a variety of rather unconventional choices, including Merlin, Robin Hood, and on the last night I ever went Trick or Treating (to take a smaller child around with my friend who babysat her), the sadistic girl from The Clockwork Orange-like gang in the relatively obscure film Class of 1984. The last time I dressed up at all for Halloween was for work a couple of years ago where I donned enormous black angel wings, a black wig, and my friends's ginormous platform boots with spikes - it was the most impractical costume in the world, especially when you have to navigate escalators and bookshelves all day, but I think it was one of my better ones as well. I haven't quite thought what I'll do this year as I help to hand out candy, but considering the fact several people call me Wednesday Addams and Emily the Strange on a regular basis, I could just do either of those. We'll see.

Because I love Halloween so much and because I happened either to have and/or find a lot of appropriate music, this mix is pretty massive. Hopefully there's something for every ghoul - there's classic, there's downright silly, there's campy, there's typical, and even some not so typical (I hope there are a few less predictable ones anyway). We've got some soundtrack songs (Nightmare Before Christmas, Ghostbusters, Tales From the Crypt theme, Do the Hippogriff, The Addams Family Theme, The Time Warp, Magic Dance, Nanageddon), some classic oldies (Monster Mash, Purple People Eater, Clap For the Wolfman, Don't Fear The Reaper), some gothy masterpieces (Bela Lugosi's Dead, Release the Bats, Halloween, Every Day is Halloween), some danceable tunes (Thriller, My Vampire, Vampire, Ghosts), and some newer novelties (Hip Deep Family, If I Only Were a Goth). Since this mix is a three-hour one, I'm only posting half of them for individual download and then the entire mix in a zip file. The mix is called Anglopunk's Bloody Good Halloween Mix. Enjoy your treat bag.

This is Halloween - Danny Elfman

Ramalama (Bang Bang) - Roisin Murphy

Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers

Purple People Eater - Sheb Wooley

Clap For the Wolfman - The Guess Who

Abracadabra - Steve Miller Band

The Time Warp - The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Halloween - Siouxsie and the Banshees

Bela Lugosi's Dead - Bauhaus

Release the Bats - The Birthday Party

I Put a Spell On You - Arthur Brown

Halloween - Sonic Youth

Don't Fear the Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult

I Was a Teenage Werewolf - The Cramps

Transylvanian Concubine - Rasputina

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) - David Bowie

Date With a Vampyre - The Screaming Tribesmen

Do the Hippogriff - The Weird Sisters

Vampire Racecourse - The Sleepy Jackson

Waiting For the Wolves - Daisy Chainsaw

Faces & Masks - The Cherubs

Vampire Love - Ash

Frankenstein - New York Dolls

Tales From the Crypt Theme

Nanageddon - The Mighty Boosh

Magic Dance - David Bowie

I Want Candy - Bow Wow Wow

My Vampire - Soho Dolls

Vampire - Paul St. Paul and the Apostles

For Halloween - No Kids

Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.

Ghosts - Comateens

Thriller - Michael Jackson

Every Day is Halloween - Ministry

The Addams Family Theme

All Cats Are Grey - The Cure

Skeletons - The Sound

Lycanthropy - Patrick Wolf

Please Mr. Gravedigger - David Bowie

Graveyard - Public Image Ltd.

Theme For a Witch - David R. Prangely and The Witches

Waking the Witch - Kate Bush

Bat's Mouth - Bat For Lashes

Hip Deep Family - The Tiger Lillies

If I Only Were a Goth - Thoushaltnot

Weekly Mix #40 (Megaupload)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Touched By the Hand of God: New Order Reissues

New Order is one of my all-time favourite bands (as most of you would already know); in fact, I was a fan of them long before I knew about Joy Division. And now on November 11, Rhino is going to reissue 2-disc collector's editions of their first five albums: Movement, Power, Corruption and Lies, Low-Life, Brotherhood, and Technique. As much as we can all get jaded about special editions and re-releases of old material, I always get excited about the bands I really care about, and admittedly, I usually purchase the special editions in the hope of getting some previously unreleased material. There has always been something particularly magical about New Order for me - it's like they managed to craft songs that connected with me on some perfect, heavenly level of aural bliss. I couldn't have asked for more than songs like Ceremony, Blue Monday, Temptation, Age of Consent, True Faith and Bizarre Love Triangle.

While Movement definitely still contains vestiges of the Joy Division sound and attempts at preserving Ian Curtis's vocal style, on Power, Corruption and Lies, New Order found a new place to stand, creating the record to break all records, Blue Monday, in the process. All of these double disc editions of New Order's decade of brilliance are remastered and feature non-album singles, b-sides and remixes. The exact tracklistings are as follows:

Disc One
1. Dreams Never End
2. Truth
3. Senses
4. Chosen Time
5. I.C.B.
6. The Him
7. Doubts Even Here
8. Denial

Disc Two
1. Ceremony - 12" Version
2. Temptation - 12" Version
3. In A Lonely Place - 7" Version
4. Everything's Gone Green - 12" Version
5. Procession - 7" Version
6. Cries and Whispers
7. Hurt - 12" Version
8. Mesh- 12" Version
9. Ceremony - Alternate Version
10. Temptation - Alternate 12" Version

Disc One
1. Age Of Consent
2. We All Stand
3. The Village
4. 5 8 6
5. Your Silent Face
6. Ultraviolence
7. Ecstacy
8. Leave Me Alone

Disc Two
1. Blue Monday - 12" Version
2. The Beach - 12" Version
3. Confusion - 12" Version
4. Thieves Like Us - 12" Version
5. Lonesome Tonight - 12" Version
6. Murder - 12" Version
7. Thieves Like Us - Instrumental
8. Confusion - Instrumental

Disc One
1. Love Vigilantes
2. The Perfect Kiss
3. This Time Of Night
4. Sunrise
5. Elegia
6. Sooner Than You Think
7. Sub-Culture
8. Face Up

Disc Two
1. The Perfect Kiss - 12" Version
2. Sub-Culture - 12" Version
3. Shellshock - John Robie Remix, 12" Version
4. Shame Of The Nation
5. Elegia
6. Lets Go (From Salvation)
7. Salvation Theme
8. Dub Vulture

Disc One
1. Paradise
2. Weirdo
3. As It Was When It Was
4. Broken Promise
5. Way Of Life
6. Bizarre Love Triangle
7. All Day Long
8. Angel Dust
9. Every Little Counts"
10. State Of The Nation

Disc Two
1. Bizarre Love Triangle - 12" Version
2. 1963 - 12" Version
3. True Faith - Shep Pettibone Remix, 12" Version
4. Touched By The HandOf God - 12" Version
5. Blue Monday '88
6. Evil Dust
7. True Faith - True Dub
8. Beach Buggy

Disc One
1. Fine Time
2. All The Way
3. Love Less
4. Round & Round
5. Guilty Partner
6. Run
7. Mr. Disco
8. Vanishing Point
9. Dream Attack

Disc Two
1. Don't Do It - 12" Version
2. Fine Line - 12" Version
3. Round and Round - 12" Version
4. Best & Marsh - 12" Version
5. Run 2 - 12" Version
6. MTO
7. Fine Time - Silk Mix
8. Vanishing Point - Instrumental, 12" Version
9. World In Motion -Cabinieri Mix, 12" Version

For those of use who weren't lucky enough to be around or old enough at the time of these albums' first release and didn't have the opportunity to collect the 12" versions, these reissues are a worthy investment. They tell a story of a band finding a new voice that ended up being equal to, but different from their original voice. I've always regarded their achievement as pretty amazing, especially considering the fact that most bands can never repeat the legendary status they once had - even more so once their lead singer is gone. They've rightly taken on mythical status alongside their former label, Factory. And they're also one of the only bands to survive being included on a John Hughes' film soundtrack.

In honour of the reissues, Rhino is running a contest where you can win a bass signed by Peter Hook. A pretty remarkable prize - a perfect reminder of the signifcance of Hooky's bass throughout New Order's career. The pioneers of post-punk moved on to become pioneers of electro-dancefloor anthems, always retaining an original sound and going on to influence droves of bands. Be prepared to get reacquainted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Life Trajectory of a Pendulum: stanleylucasrevolution's Evolutionary Sunset Call

It begins with some feedback and vocal samples and loops intermingled with a rollicking Old West beat like some psychotic, schizophonic Ennio Morricone. The track is called Wasteful Youth and it builds the faithless foundation for the rest of the LP. This fantastically experimental, existential album is the sophomore effort from yet another musical project shrouded in mystery: stanleylucasrevolution (SLR) from California. Released on Stroboscopic, the record is titled Evolutionary Sunset Call (which keeps reminding me linguistically of Sister Feelings Call) and these songs are ostensibly created by a terminally ill, fictional character called Stanley Lucas. Both the enigmatic set-up and the dark material refract from the heart of this album to create a 21st century world completely bent out of shape, but in doing so, it finds redemption and safety in the darkness. Mixing fuzzed out beats, glam rock, warped psychedelia, country-blues, and electronic effects, Evolutionary Sunset Call is like a pendulum, heavy with self-doubt and fear, being driven by inevitable laws of perpetual motion and futilely knocking its battered essence against other identical pendulums, all the while hypnotizing you with its incessant tell-tale heart.

After the opening track, the first song with proper lyrics included in the liner notes, Brand New Way, swaggers in with a bit of old-time glam fashion and brash piano. As the narrator sings "I'll find a way to a brand new way," you get the feeling that it's a lot like what an alcoholic person would tell him/herself when he/she is drunk. The following song, We Still Love Them, is the song most explicitly about the state of today's world: "a new suit, desk, shave and a handshake/you give your money to the company/we stand divided and the nation's hollow/everyone knows that dying's free." To accompany the articulation of the barrel rolls of emotion, blues bass and electric organ push the pendulum back and forth in its suspended rut. The first of many musical interludes, Le Batteur is a propulsive font to refresh you for further grit and disturbed mental states that come with New Stone 40. When the narrator sings "won't you change my life?," there's a fantastic slide into a minor tone that connotes a resigned desperation, and the chorus swings along as the voice reminds you of both Ziggy Stardust and Bon Jovi's cowboy wanted dead or alive. Consultation Valley Ruse begins with fantastic electronic beats and the vocals take on a rich deepness over a disco falsetto backing, which end up sounding more eerie than funky. Conversely, interlude (Intro in C) sneaks in sideways with squeaks and hesitant rhythms before giving way to Insatiable and its tanoy-inflected vocals addressing a female character with further expression of forward motion that goes nowhere: "maybe will you finally change your life?/and come out at night/doing all those things though they don't even amuse you."

With its tribal rhythms and swirling, spinning pinwheels of sound, I'm Trusted in the Sea (Outro) takes you over the rickety bridge to Two Ways, which repeats the vocal sample "What's the matter with you, thought you were asleep" as though someone left the TV on late at night while an old film was on and the picture is rolling through infinite static, slowly driving you mad in some wakeful nightmare. The track continues in a subdued manner that smooths the frayed nerves created by the sample. The music takes a more upbeat, vindictive tone with Sacred Sons and the strong anthemic tones break through and smother the chattering feedback for a moment of triumph and peace. The narrator declares, "I need to hold the flames, I love to see the light/the darkness comes berating the sunset turning it back to night...I want to touch the skin of everyone whose failing inside/I'd love to be the one there that comforts you in the middle of the night," becoming a messiah to the nighttime underworld. But the pendulum swings back with the quiet bluesy guitar in Mourning Star (Outro). With the coming of morning, the manic self-importance withers under the sun's glare as the narrator recognizes his reality anew, taking you into the next track called Downhearted. The wobbly, muffled vocal effects in Downhearted makes it sound like the narrator is drowning in his own sorrow and self-pity, but at the same time he's fighting with the breath he has left, leaving his own Rock 'n Roll Suicide note. The album concludes with the instrumental Happy Sun Day, which uses violin-like sounds to rouse you from the mire of the previous breakdown, only you don't know if it's to wake you or to serve as a wake.

As a whole concept, Evolutionary Sunset Call, tells the story of hiding in a darkness that you come to despise, where you wait out life changes and wish you could be brave enough to live after the sun rises. You can and should buy Evolutionary Sunset Call at Cd Baby. This one-man revolution is perfect for those who have ever regarded one of those perpetual motion toys in someone's office and felt an infinite sadness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #39

It's that time again - cover versions. This will be the fourth weekly mix featuring covers, so I estimate there will only be one more covers mix for the year. Since creating these collections of covers I realized something that I probably should have figured out by now: that I gravitate towards covers of artists I already like, meaning I have multiple covers of David Bowie, The Smiths and New Order songs above and beyond covers of other artists. It only makes sense, mind - why would you enjoy and/or notice covers of artists you don't particularly like or recognize? And the likelihood is that the artists you already love are inspired by other artists you love. Of course there are also just some artists that were so prolific and memorable that they get covered more than others on a regular basis. At any rate, with this mix, there are four covers of David Bowie, two covers of New Order and one of The Smiths. I'm a creature of unshakable habits and predilections.

Particular highlights of this compilation include Nico's surprisingly upbeat cover of Heroes, Charlotte Martin's delicate version of Bizarre Love Triangle, the haunting JJ72 interpretation of It's a Sin, and one of the best songs that OK Go could have covered with Damian Kulash's voice...The Lovecats. This mix is called Old Habits (And Artists) Die Hard. Stay tuned for next week's Halloween megamix.

When Doves Cry - The Amplid (Original: Prince)

I'm So Excited - Le Tigre (Original: The Pointer Sisters)

Suffragette City - Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Original: David Bowie)

Fame - Duran Duran (Original: David Bowie)

Heroes - Nico (Original: David Bowie)

Stand and Deliver - The Young Knives (Original: Adam and the Ants)

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others - Supergrass (Original: The Smiths)

Telegram Sam - Bauhaus (Original: T.Rex)

Dropout Boogie - The Kills (Original: Captain Beefheart)

Sound and Vision - The Sea and Cake (Original: David Bowie)

The Lovecats - OK Go (Original: The Cure)

Be My Baby - We Are Scientists (Original: The Ronettes)

Just - Nickel Creek (Original: Radiohead)

It's a Sin - JJ72 (Original: Pet Shop Boys)

Windmills of Your Mind - Colourfield (Original: Noel Harrison on The Thomas Crown Affair film score)

When You Sleep - The Antlers (Original: My Bloody Valentine)

Teenage Lust - Oliver North Choir (Original: The Jesus and Mary Chain)

My Girl - The Jesus and Mary Chain (Original: The Temptations)

Bizarre Love Triangle - Charlotte Martin (Original: New Order)

Blue Monday - The Cloud Room (Original: New Order) / (Alternate Megaupload Download Link)

Sweet Dreams - Bat For Lashes (Original: Eurythmics)

Run to Your Grave - Slow Club (Original: Mae Shi)

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Dark Stuff: Why Do We Love It So Much?

On February 1, 1995, Richey Edwards checked out of the London hotel he was staying at with James Dean Bradfield and effectively disappeared. Two weeks later, Edwards' Vauxhall Cavalier was found abandoned at the Severn View service station, but his body has never been discovered. It's a story that's taken on mythological status, not only among Manics fans, but among music fans in general. Is it because he just vanished? Or because of his self-conscious genius and brilliant creation of the Manics' ethos? Or because he's yet another tale of tragic self-destruction? I think it's a potent combination of all three that elevates him into such a rock star status. Apparently, rock 'n roll is, at its core, a risky lifestyle of testing limits both physically and mentally while pushing creative boundaries at the same time. At least that's the conclusion I come to after reading The Dark Stuff, a book that collects several of Nick Kent's pieces on specific musicians, who are generally considered self-destructive geniuses.

Kent's subjects include Brian Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Syd Barrett, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Iggy Pop, Roy Orbison, Prince, and many others. In fact, not all are geniuses, but more in the iconic camp (ie: Sid Vicious). (However, all are male, which may speak to the historical male-domination of rock music or to Kent's own biases - I'm not sure.) Of course Kent's style is a mixture of elevated, verbose descriptions, which evoke both the magical and real, and the down-to-earth criticism you would be capable of if you had lived with these "rock stars" for their daily lives. In his introduction, Kent states that this book should serve as a "warts-and-all celebration of the driving essence that is rock 'n roll," and that it explores the "triumvirate of ego, drug abuse, and self-absorption that preys so relentlessly on the creative mind." And he's right about these three factors and geniuses of any type. What made me start thinking was how interested music fans are in people like this. I know I'm interested because I set aside all other books while reading this one cover to cover in a few nights.

I once read that the reason Sylvia Plath's work was so signifcant, and why the works of other manic-depressives were also significant, was the fact she was able to experience the absolute extremes of human emotion and then describe them aptly. The average person has a much smaller range of human experience - sometimes they're sad and sometimes they're happy, but neither of these poles take hold of them and alter their mental state so totally. Perhaps the reason I (and others) am fascinated with music idols like Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett and even Brian Jones is because I feel like they all might have been mad in one way or another, and madness is one of those anomalies in society that can be taken as either threatening and undesirable or as special and superhuman. The ideas of what madness means has changed over time from rather non-threatening to an abominable deviation to problems with brain chemistry, thus the ways of dealing with madness have shifted from allowing mad people to roam free to incarceration to now some more politically correct incarceration. I'm of the belief that, like Nietzsche's madman, crazy people sometimes have the ability to see beyond what everyone else sees, and that makes them valuable to society. It's no secret that many of the best musicians or songwriters are a little nuts, but at the same time, there are several who are iconic without being particularly talented.

Sid Vicious and Brian Jones come to mind when I think of music icons with no hugely discernible musical talent. In fact, their deaths had no effect whatsoever on their respective bands and came as no surprise to their bandmates or the world. It's like they were the epitome of living fast and dying young, and their personalities and images were so oversized that they became rock martyrs, and subsequently, the subjects of many books and films. This mythology, as Kent notes, can often be linked to the Narcissus myth - these beautiful and charming rock stars know that others admire them, and eventually they can't stop believing in their own singularity and myth nor can they stop destroying their own beauty by their tunnel vision. Being singled out as superhuman or otherworldy can play havoc with self-esteem, whether you deserve the accolades or not. Probably even more so if you don't deserve them.

What I've come to understand through Kent's book and my own observations is that artistic genius seems to go hand-in-hand with some conflicted self-image issues, meaning vanity and ego mixed with insecurity and self-doubt. This superiority/inferiority complex creates a neverending cycle of self-love and self-hate that ultimately causes a seemingly incomprehensible self-destruction: "normal" people can't understand why people who have it all - beauty, talent, success - would want to keep harming themselves and testing their limitations, often perishing in the process. Yet we all watch it like a trainwreck and pore over their life stories like scholars of the doomed. We want to put all of our hopes and insecurities onto one magical person that acts like some totem for the extremities of the human condition - someone who is more than we could ever be, someone who has the ability to tap into something beyond us. We, as humans, love myths and can't stop creating them, and so we continue to do so in the 20th and 21st centuries - these rock stars become our Greek gods and goddesses, Robin Hoods, and Gilgameshes. Their stories become both legend and parable.

Unlike the subjects of Nick Kent's book, no one knows what happened to Richey Edwards - he didn't overdose and die, he didn't blow his face off with a shotgun, he didn't take too much acid and end up languishing in his mother's house, he didn't live through trial after trial to a ripe old age of self-reflection and redemption, nor did he continue on making art, mediocre and sometimes brilliant, until a natural death. He just went missing. In many ways, he trumps them all because his genius even manifests itself in his exit. Without a body, Richey Edwards becomes both immortal and incorruptible. And like King Arthur and so many other messianic figures, he always has that potential of returning when his followers need him most.

Self-disgust is self-obsession, honey, and I do as I please. - Faster, Manic Street Preachers

Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse. - 4st 7lb, Manic Street Preachers

Paint It Black - The Rolling Stones

Archives of Pain - Manic Street Preachers

Let Me Entertain You (And Myself)

I just read Rol's Music Meme post over at Sunset Over Slawit, and felt compelled to participate. I've done one of these in the past, and the results were pretty funny and occasionally depressing in their accuracy. The rules are as follows:

1. Put your music player on shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must put down the song name no matter what.

So, I took a deep breath and hit play:

1. What would best describe your personality?

Love For Granted by Phoenix

2. What do you like in a guy/girl?

Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me by The Pipettes

Apparently, nothing. Especially physical contact.

3. How do you feel today?

We Are All Bourgeois Now by the Manic Street Preachers

This is what I feel like every day, let alone today.

4. What is your life's purpose?

Seductress of Bums by The Raveonettes

I don’t like physical contact, but I do like the homeless. A lot.

5. What is your motto?

Voir un ami pleurer by Jacques Brel

I do love schadenfreude, but this is going a bit too far.

6. What do your friends think of you?

Killing by The Rapture

7. What do you think of your parents?

The Well and the Lighthouse by The Arcade Fire

Based purely on height, my mom is the well and my dad’s the lighthouse.

8. What do you think about very often?

On Some Faraway Beach by Brian Eno

I’m not exactly a beach person, but I can understand wanting to escape from people.

9. What do you think of your best friend?

Remains by Stroszek

All of my friends are still alive. I swear. Although considering what my friends supposedly think of me in answer #6...

10. What do you think of your crush?

The Token Man by Modern English

Ha, ha, very funny.

11. What is your life story?

If You Leave by OMD


12. What do you want to be when you grow up?

The Artisans by Orange Juice

Pretty decent answer, but completely impractical (as I’ve discovered).

13. What do you think when you see your crush?

The Mighty Boosh Theme Song

Come with me now on a journey through time and space...

14. What do your parents think of you?

Do the Strand by Roxy Music

I am a new sensation and a fabulous creation, if I do say so myself.

15. What do strangers think of you?

Bedroom Scene by The Delays

Could be either creepy or dead right depending on how you take it.

16. How's your love life?

Subway by Peter Murphy

Well, if I'm going to seduce bums, where else would I go?

17. What will they play at your funeral?

Dark Times by Mary Goes Round


18. What will you dance to at your wedding?

Melancholy Soldiers by The Skids

I think it’s perfectly appropriate considering my love life is conducted in a subway with bums.

19. What is your hobby/interest?

Boys in the Band by The Libertines

No comment.

20. What's your biggest secret?

Bizarre Love Triangle by Devine and Statton

Yes, my office chair and filing cabinet have most definitely been cheating on me together behind my back.

21. What do you think of your friends?

Don’t You Want Me by The Human League

They were nothing until I found them in a cocktail bar and made them famous.

22. What song do you listen to when you are sad?

Mutiny I Promise You by The New Pornographers

23. In love?

Morning Dreams by Ladyhawke

24. What song do you air guitar to?

See No Evil by Television

I'm ambitious.

25. What should be your signature karaoke song?

Leaving Out Vowels is So 2000 by TNT Jackson
Perfect...I'm so 2000 as well.

26. What is your greatest desire?

Fields of Fire by Big Country

Did I mention I was also a pyromaniac in addition to being a mass murderer?

27. What does next year have in store for you?

Think About It by Flight of the Conchords

I have thought about it – for goodness sakes, I was hoping for a clearer answer than this. Of course turning to the shuffle function on your iTunes is hardly a way to plan a future career.

28. What's your outlook on life?

Oxygen by JJ72

My needs are pretty basic.

29. How will you die?

Wig Wam Bam by Gavin Friday

It sounds like I would be going out with a bang, so to speak.

30. Do people secretly lust after you?

Seeing Other People by Belle & Sebastian

I guess not.

31. The best advice you will ever get?

Feel the Silence by Elegant Machinery

I completely agree.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #38

In light of the fact my posting of MSTRKRFT's remix of Wolfmother's Woman seemed to attain a spot on the Popular Tracks list on The Hype Machine (a rather strange occurrence), and because I was feeling in a dancey mood, I decided that this week would be a sequel to Weekly Mix #11, meaning songs you can dance to. So, rather than do the predictable thing like a Thanksgiving Day post, I opted for these fun tunes that we can all be thankful for. I've included a couple of delightful mash-ups, including the funky Sexy Kiss Machine by 2 Many DJs (Soulwax's other guise) and the moodier blend of Placebo, Kate Bush and Pet Shop Boys; I've also put in a few remixes and/or extended mixes, including the Shred version of Nine Inch Nails' Down In It and featuring possibly my favourite extended dance mix ever - the one for Bizarre Love Triangle. Half of it has a rather laidback groove and the other half has a more hyperactive electro feel. I'm going to call this mix Versus. In the words of the glamourous Paul St. Paul and the Apostles, have a great time, and if you live in Canada, feel free to dance around the turkey. But please be careful.

Send Him Back (Pilooski Edit) - The Pointer Sisters

Sexy Kiss Machine - 2 Many DJs

Electric Feel - MGMT

Great Time - Paul St. Paul and the Apostles

Aerodynamic - Daft Punk

Love Comes Running Up That Hill Quickly - Placebo vs. Pet Shop Boys vs. Kate Bush

Digital Versicolor - Glass Candy

White Knight Two - Surkin

Steamulation - Justice vs. Gambit

Harshy Tasty Beats - Coin-Operated Boy

Something New vs. I Feel Space - The Black Ghosts vs. Lindstrom

Down In It (Shred) - Nine Inch Nails

Bizarre Love Triangle (Extended Dance Mix) - New Order

I Want Your Love - Chromatics

Don't Go (12" version) - Yazoo

Back of the Van - Ladyhawke

Charlotte - Booka Shade

Roar - Hercules & Love Affair

Sunrise - Yeasayer

Bloodsport - Sneaker Pimps

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Not a Woman, I'm Not a Man, I'm Something You'll Never Understand: Of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping

I'll admit that I hadn't really given Of Montreal much thought up until a couple of years ago when I first heard songs off Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer. I had somehow dismissed them in my mind as being like The Shins or any other number of American indie bands, but as I often am, I was very wrong. And I absolutely adored the last album with its unhinged blend of David Bowie and Prince theatrics and glam-funk experimentalism - and when I found out how much the band loved Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, I just loved them more. Not only was the music fantastic, but it was fantastically performed, whether at live shows (which I unfortunately have only been privy to via YouTube) or on television (I recorded their performance of Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse on Conan O'Brien in which there were so many people and props involved that they had to be classified as a theatre performance act rather than just a band, and I watched it several times over in complete awe of the ambitious, slightly insane, costume changes - I believe there was a lot of Kevin Barnes stepping in and out of his guitar, and wearing a lobster claw for awhile before rather nonchalantly ending up in a miniskirt and one garter).

Of course I wasn't the only one who took notice of Hissing Fauna - this glam-experimental documentation of a mental breakdown ended up being quite a success around the world. When I heard a few months back that Of Montreal would be releasing a new album called Skeletal Lamping this fall, it was one of the few that I really anticipated. And now having actually sat down and listened to the record, I'm impressed with its scope which builds on the fusion of glam and avant-garde indie that appeared on the previous album. This LP becomes an epic one of sorts with its restless shifts between styles and tempos; somehow they all still fit together in a memorable hustle down an interstellar highway. Apparently, this album utilizes Barnes's Ziggy Stardust-like alter ego, Georgie Fruit, to fuller effect than on the previous album, and along with him, comes a Prince-like funky obsession with sex and its myriad permutations.

The album kicks off with Nonpareil of Favor, which features those overdubbed Barnes's vocals that end up creating a rather distinctive choir to back Barnes's Bowiesque yips and squeals. Like most of the tracks on the album, style and tempo is in constant flux, ending with a pounding rhythm, reverbing guitars and vocals sounds that mimic fingers spinning around the rims of wineglasses and creating a perverse music of the spheres. It melds into Wicked Wisdom, which brings in a funky bassline, and Georgie Fruit takes centre-stage as a "black she-male" while borrowing lines out of Queen's songbook. The album continues into a psychedelic disco number called For Our Elegant Caste, in which Barnes's falsetto coos "we can do it should know I take it both ways" - it feels a bit like a transsexual Syd Barrett doing the hustle. This track, in turn, blends into the broad piano chording and brief moment of sober self-reflection ("Why am I so damaged? Why am I so troubled?") in Touched Something's Hollow before exploding into the trumpet-led symphony of An Eluardian Instance that carries hints of A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger. However, four minutes into this song, it decides it wants to be an entirely different song before abruptly entering into Gallery Piece, which reminds me of some of the sentiments in Prince's If I Was Your Girlfriend; the pumping rhythm backs the plethora of conflicting desires involving his/her lover (scratch your cheeks, tell you lies, write you books, crash your car, paint your nails, braid your hair, make you paranoid, etc.) as though the narrator's id has taken over and is calling the shots as they emerge.

Women's Studies Victims alternates between a heartbeat vibrating through walls of muscle and circuit board, ghostly voices that sound like they're drifting through a grey haze of cerebral matter, and Barnes's rapping over galactic organ. St. Exquisite's Confessions is an urban-weary ballad that uses brilliant, unexpected lyrics like "sky pregnant with maggots" and "we give each other sobriquets" over a slow jam with harp-like strums of guitar. Triphallus, To Punctuate! features more of Barnes's lyrical talents as he uses lines like "the greek chorus of my skull is choking on their dulcet tones" and "filling your womb with black butterflies" while bemoaning a lover's newly-found fame and success. This then leads into And I've Seen a Bloody Shadow where obstacles appear and there is "bad weather in my temporary head" as sonic walls of paranoia seem to close in. The transition between this track and the following Plastis Wafers is even more abrupt and sounds like someone tuning in an entirely different channel of the narrator's brain in mid-thought. This track is one of the more overt odes to sex as the narrator muses over what it feels like to be inside his/her lover and the kinkiness of role play extending to roles in Oedipus Rex. The Greek myth leitmotif stitches the song together as the narrator takes on yet another role as Orpheus and the music shifts into an echo-drenched, cavernous netherworld as though he/she could have finally entered fully inside his lover and curled up inside the darkness of another. The song ends with a tribal dance of demonic voices that feel like they're circling, dilating and contracting like discoball reflections on the ceiling and walls of this dark place.

Death is Not a Parallel Move takes a more clinical and mechanical electro sound as Barnes's detached vocals herald a final separation of the mortal and immortal pieces of the body and the second half of the song is delivered in a gentler, coaxing manner as self-destruction looms, inevitable. Beginning with scrambled distortion, Beware Our Nubile Miscreants uses a strutting glam to act as a warning to the anti-hero of this story not to fall for a particular male, who will "leave you in the k-hole to go play Halo in the other room." Mingusings warps you into a funhouse mirror kaleidoscope, where the music swirls like a dreamscape and the id struggles back against an impending re-imprisonment in a bottle. Id Engager, the first single to hit the Internet quite awhile ago, ends the record, "screaming from the depths of a phallocentric tyranny" and wildly grooving through an unbridled disco party where gender and sexuality is irrelevant.

While Hissing Fauna took us on a journey of sorts through Barnes's stuggle with depression and a possible nervous breakdown, Skeletal Lamping lays bare a different dimension of his psyche, especially an id preoccupied with sex and human relations. As schizophrenic as the album seems, it still has a cohesion that demonstrates a stream of consciousness that is repeatedly dammed and diverted in order to explore all dimensions of this psychological landscape. Through it all, it feels like the id is at the hedonistic party depicted on an updated version of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights on the album's cover art, proclaiming itself in human form, a messiah for pleasure, independent of rules and classification. Georgie Fruit becomes as symbolic and controversially uncontainable as those that preceded him/her, born from a fevered, genius brain. Skeletal Lamping is truly a spectacular achievement and deserves to be remembered as one of the classic albums of the decade. Perhaps the surest way to accomplish something bigger than ourselves is to leap into bigger, alien shoes without looking. We can never fully understand all of our desires without becoming something our minds tell us we're not. I think Kevin Barnes has proven it with this brilliant record.

Nonpareil of Favor - Of Montreal

Plastis Wafers - Of Montreal

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Steeped in History and Preserved in Smoke: Euros Childs' Cheer Gone

I'm quite a fan of now defunct band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci (unfortunately, I only really got into them right before they broke up) - they've been criminally underrated and overshadowed by fellow Welsh bands with experimental, yet pastoral/psychedelic, tendencies like Super Furry Animals. Their gentle blend of folk, psychedelia, and wonky experimentalism has always given me a sunny feeling of endless fields of flowers in summer. A fair part of the appeal had always been lead singer, Euros Childs' distinctive vocals that sound like he's singing in Welsh even during the times when he actually isn't - there's something very lyrical and foreign to his sound and there's a little bit of Bryan Ferry's warble in there sometimes as well. So, when he went solo, I took interest, and I've actually been finding it rather difficult to keep up with the man; it seems every time I turn around, he's released another album. In 2006, he released his debut album, Chops, which was an impressive beginning with more bouncy, gentle songs that veered between folk, country, and 50s rock and could have been on a GZM album, and then a year later, he released both Bore Da and The Miracle Inn; the former being a completely Welsh language record with rockier leanings, and the latter being more of a return to plonky piano-based tunes and English lyrics, including the rather epic title track. You get the impression that Childs just does as he pleases independent of its viability - it's like he can't help but be creative at all times, thus his output is constant and generally faster than most other artists out there. Now he released his fourth album, Cheer Gone, this past month, and Childs has continued to do what he does best: offbeat folk blended with multiple older styles. This time, mind, he has opted to dwell in a darker place lit by sputtering candles of happier memories.

The song, Autumn Leaves, begins the record with a lazy, sauntering twang that belies the fact this album was recorded in Nashville and sounds precisely like the lyrics say: "we're just walking through autumn leaves." I could picture it being on the GZM album Sleep/Holiday, and I wish I had been aware of it for my autumn mix a few weeks back. Continuing with a seasonal theme, the second track, Summer Days, is also laidback and Childs' voice lulls me like a comfortable hammock in warm sun. Injecting some livelier energy, Her Ways is a rippling number with a folksy backbeat, recalling a simpler, pastoral time that likely never really existed in the first place. And speaking of older times, the following song, Nineteen Fifties, speaks to the utopian conception of an older, ostensibly happier, decade while it shuffles back and forth like teenagers on their first date at a sock-hop. As Childs beseeches the stars to answer why "she's still in my mind," he could be asking the universal question "why do teenagers fall in love?". Conjuring up a darker mood, My Love is Gone sounds like an old Celtic lament mixed with banjos from the American deep south. Serving as a perfect interlude between two dark songs, Always Thinking of Her uses a lovely piano melody to temper a raw sadness. Farm Hand Murder returns to the dark currents of My Love is Gone as it spins the story of a doomed maiden from the perspective of the murderer as Childs' vocals cling and then slip from black precipices of minor chords - it is the most haunting song I've ever heard from him.

Saving Up to Get Married once again falls into an older, picturesque time when love was a constant and you dream of marrying and living in "a cottage in the country with roses outside the door." O Ein Dear is the only Welsh track on this particular record, and though, I can't understand the lyrics, the gloomy, almost medieval, feel of the music conveys further reasons why the cheer may be gone. Medicine Head is a solemn hymn of heartbreak and memory with organ and harmonica complementing each other to brilliant effect. The album concludes rather surprisingly with the briefer Sing Song Song, a banjo-inflected and fiddle-strewn squaredance sort of number, which I suppose I can either interpret as a complete anomaly, an antidote for the wistful sadness permeating the rest of the album, or as a rather ironic twist where the narrator must "sing a little song" to comfort himself for an apparent loss and memories that won't leave.

There is definitely something of an old soul about Euros Childs - he spans several genres while his voice and lyrics speak to some ancient way of life that is both as old and as magical as the mysterious precambrian rocks in Wales. In an odd way, his music feels like how an old wood-cut image would sound, steeped in history and preserved in smoke. This record, as its title suggests, is in a more melancholic vein than previous albums, but it is no less beautiful than Childs' earlier humour-filled, upbeat tracks. I have a feeling that Euros Childs has been just as underrated as his former band, and that's a shame when he can produce such a broad spectrum of emotions from unbridled celebration to dusky brooding, from bright green hills to vales shot through with rain. Please check this album out before he releases another one - he could be doing it as I write this.

Farm Hand Murder - Euros Childs

O Ein Dear - Euros Childs

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Apple and Ritz: Meet the New A&R

We get bombarded with advertisements every day of our lives - directly and indirectly. It's one of the reasons I don't usually watch too much television, nor do I listen to much radio. As someone who took a communications diploma and majored in advertising, I have a particular disdain for what advertising creatives do. Sure, there are those really creative ads that make you sit up and see them as art, but I quickly learned that those are few and far between, and that whatever a client says (even when completely assinine) goes. When I got into advertising, I had pie-in-the-sky dreams of coming up with truly creative ways of presenting products - what I didn't account for was the fact I'd always be selling something. And I couldn't live with selling things I didn't believe in. And I couldn't fight for new ways of marketing things in a world with so much advertising noise pollution - even guerrilla marketing can only go so far. However, I will say I was ambushed by some relatively recent marketing by Apple and Ritz. And the fascinating part was the fact I didn't feel inclined to purchase a colourful nano iPod nor Ritz crackers, but the music being featured.

Now, music in adverts isn't a new concept, but most of the time they used to be jingles specifically written for the product or service. Some can be pretty catchy ("save big money at Menards," anyone?), but they're usually terrible pieces of music otherwise. And, of course, celebrity endorsement has been present for just as long, including musicians. My favourite advert is the iconic one featuring Peter Murphy for Maxell, but Pepsi has used pop artists to fairly large effect since the 80s and McDonalds matched up their slogan with a song by Justin Timberlake in a new bid for a jingle. I still remember those GAP ads from my high school years, which featured that guy from Phantom Planet with other people singing songs like Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough, Donovan's Mellow Yellow, and Madonna's Dress You Up in My Love, and I believe there were some winter GAP ads that featured Badly Drawn Boy. The difference in the noughties seems to be the fact that adverts for other products besides music are now breaking new bands in more and more conscious and deliberate ways. Rather than use songs that are already well-established, thus beneficial by their celebrity endorsement, these advertisers are using relatively obscure artists that the average audience wouldn't know existed.

Because the music industry and market has become so fragmented and frail in terms of marketing power, especially to the "hip" kids, planting new (respectable) songs in commercials for other things is a way to reach people. In the process, the product actually being featured hopes to be positively associated with the "cool" musical act. In the world of advertising, credibility = truth, therefore, the more credible the celebrity endorsing the product is, the more credible the product itself is. It's all about modality and control really - big advertisers have the money to control the advertised portion of reality, thus modality, that we see on a regular basis. At the same time, we, the audience, have become so jaded and cynical towards ads that advertisers realize that their power and control is becoming more limited. And, so, they hook up with labels and artists with much less financial power, thus less visibility, but with more credibility power, and a marketing symbiosis of power-sharing takes place.

The small bits of TV I was still watching in the past month featured both the ad for the colourful nanos and Ritz crackers several times, and every time I saw them, I thought to myself again, "I need to find out who sings those songs." I finally bothered to this week, but as I suspected, many others had already beaten me to it. The song for the fourth generation nano iPods is by a Brooklyn synthpop band called Chairlift, who I had already heard about awhile ago, but not bothered to check them out, thus never made the connection between them and the advertisement. And the song featured in that incredibly short ad for Ritz (the above clip is an extended one that I've never seen aired - usually only the last 10 seconds is aired) is by Sheffield folk duo, Slow Club. What I find so fascinating about all this is how attached I became to 30 seconds or less of a song. It's not often anymore that I fall for a song based on such a small sample. In each case, I always wanted the song to go on longer as I stared at the television set with anticipation and then regret. They're both such beautifully twee songs in their own ways and with creative narratives built into them that I couldn't help but take note.

Interestingly enough, when you go to purchase When I Go on iTunes, it actually has Ritz Commercial in parentheses next to it. There was an obvious assumption that people would search for this otherwise rather obscure song via the commercial it was associated with. However, it seems that this tactic can backfire. Companies like Apple, especially with their iPod and iTunes adverts, have tried to be as ahead of the curve as they could be, but in the case of whoever sang that Jerk It Out song, the hype seemed to die down pretty quick, making a one hit wonder situation. Like many A&R people, Apple is sometimes wrong, too.

Obviously not all ads attempting this cross-promotion affect me, but these two did. And I wonder whether I should feel dirty about the whole thing as I imagine all these coolhunters trawling the Internet for the next big thing in music just to sell one more box of crackers. Should it matter that I got some musical tips from advertisers? Am I being corrupted after all this time that I've avoided the solicitations from the music industry? I don't think so. I'm starting to think that a song/band is either good or not, and no matter how they gain my attention, I should just do what I've always done: evaluate based on artistic merit alone. If the song happens to be part of a marketing tactic, that's fine because I'm already fully aware it is. From what I can tell, both Chairlift and Slow Club are decent bands with several other great songs, so it doesn't really matter where I first heard them. I suppose I can also comfort myself with the fact I never buy Ritz crackers or fourth generation nanos. Then again, I already own a second generation iPod nano.

Bruises - Chairlift

When I Go - Slow Club

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #37

As I'm sure I mentioned in previous posts, I was an English major for my Honours BA, and as much as I found math and science relatively easy and comforting in their right/wrong answers, I've always found the arts more inspiring and generally more interesting for my understanding of the world. And oddly enough, taking English as a major forces you to contend with several other areas in the process, whether it be 18th century medicine or Aristotelian philosophy. By reading one novel, you can end up with knowledge of humanity, history, morality, economics and society. As much as I often bitch about picking apart a book until I no longer like the book at all, I have learned and formed a worldview that I would say is largely dependent on the books I've read.

I started reading on my own (no one can remember teaching me) when I was around three years old, and it just seemed completely natural. As soon as I could talk, I had already been inventing stories from the pictures I found in books, which gave the impression that I was reading to passersby in bookstores, but once I had discovered how to make sense of the words already there, I found a whole new world. My Grade One teacher named me The Library Lady and had me read to the rest of the class on a regular basis, showing me the power of literacy. I never had a shortage of books growing up, and thus, I never had a shortage of places I could visit. I read classics alongside modern novels, and I read guides to plants, animals, and minerals. I pretended that I was living in a little house on the prairies, or in a boxcar, or on my side of the mountain. I conversed with moles and toads, griffins and mock turtles, Indians in the cupboard and mice on motorcycles, and even moomins. I believed that I could be a writer like Emily of New Moon, or a spy like Harriet, or run away from camp like Rudy Miller. I went back to times of derring-do with Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and much later, I found my way through medieval romances, gothic horrors and Enlightenment treatises, Situationist texts and Chomsky.

Over the past summer, I read books on topics ranging from the history of the Tower of Pisa to the gin craze of the 18th century to the history of the Basque people, and that was the light reading to distract me from the heavier stuff I was dealing with while writing my MA thesis. Books have not only transported me other places and times, but they have also given me the foundation and context for the places I've experienced firsthand. So, Shakespeare's Richard III was probably Tudor propaganda, but that in itself matters, and it also made me feel the meaning of Bosworth Battlefield beneath my feet four years ago, much more salient than if some tour guide had told me about it. I also firmly believe that my sense of humour and comedic timing came just as much from Gordon Korman as it did from Bugs Bunny.

I was just reminded of how fantastic books are last night as our power had to be cut off from 11:30 pm til the next morning (one of the reasons this post is late). In the absence of all else, I could entertain myself for hours just by reading by candlelight - simple and wonderful. And so books have always been alive for me. They have been loyal companions and made just about everything seem possible. And libraries and bookstores continue to be places of refuge for me, where I can meander and browse, deliberately seeking out those more obscure books spined in amongst the "popular" books that receive a facing. When I worked at a bookstore, I made a point of facing books that never usually get to be because of their initial low quantities (my problem with bookselling practices can be dealt with at a later date). Just because upper management decided that Breakfast on Pluto wasn't an important read, and thus not a good seller, it doesn't mean it shouldn't get a fair shot against the pathetic likes of Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts - I wanted to give a chance to the decent books that actually say something.

Because of my love for language and the written word, I've also always gravitated towards those musical artists with strong lyrical content or some evidence that they, too, read books. I will also freely admit that I learned nearly as much from listening to the Manics (via the books they directed me to) as I have from some university courses. More and more educators are also beginning to realize the value in popular music and its interpretations of literature, making popular music a viable teaching tool, especially for youth. So, this week's mix is all about literature, featuring songs that either reinterpret a piece of literature, reference literature or reference an author. While researching a bit for this mix, I learned about several references I hadn't noticed before, which was definitely time well-spent. (Random tangent: I keep hearing part of ABC's The Look of Love near the end of Patrick Wolf's Tristan, and I often wonder if I'm the only one.) A good song is just as brilliant as a good book, and when they truly tell a brilliant story, whether original or borrowed, they demonstrate why a music collection can be referred to as a library. This mix is called Sight Reading.

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music. - Vladimir Nabokov

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Gravity's Rainbow - Klaxons (Reference: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow)

Wild Boys - Duran Duran (Reference: William S. Burroughs' The Wild Boys)

Love and Destroy - Franz Ferdinand (Reference: Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita)

1984 - David Bowie (Reference: George Orwell's 1984)

Song For Clay (Disappear Here) - Bloc Party (Reference: Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero)

Tristan - Patrick Wolf (Reference: The Tristan Legend Cycle)

Atrocity Exhibition - Joy Division (Reference: JG Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition)

Venus in Furs - The Velvet Underground (Reference: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs)

Killing an Arab - The Cure (Reference: Albert Camus's The Stranger)

Albert Camus - Titus Andronicus

Day of the Triffids - Ash (Reference: John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids)

Lolita - Elefant (Reference: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita)

My Iron Lung - Radiohead (Reference: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49)

R.P. McMurphy - Manic Street Preachers (Reference: Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

Rattlesnakes - Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (Reference: Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays)

Something Wicked - British Sea Power (Reference: William Shakespeare's Macbeth)

Cemetry Gates - The Smiths

Macbeth - John Cale (Reference: William Shakespeare's Macbeth)

A Picture of Dorian Gray - Television Personalities (Reference: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Golden Hair - Syd Barrett (Reference: James Joyce's "Poem V")

Billy Liar - The Decemberists (Reference: Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar)

Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush (Reference: Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights)

November Rain - Guns 'n Roses (Reference: Del James's "Without You")

A Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety - Elvis Costello (Reference: William Butler Yeats's "A Drunken Man's Praise of Sobriety"

Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams

Last Night Electro Saved My Sanity: MSTRKRFT in WNNPG

The first time MSTRKRFT came through Winnipeg I didn't bother going and then I regretted it. When you realize that the only artists from Modular that you will ever get a chance to see come to your city are Wolfmother and MSTRKRFT, you start to panic when you miss the better of the two. Of course I had seen one half of MSTRKRFT a couple of years back when he opened for Nine Inch Nails in Death From Above 1979, and I loved it. When Jesse F. Keeler hooked up with Al-P to become MSTRKRFT, I fell in love with their brand of electro beats that sit well next to the likes of Justice, Daft Punk and Simian Mobile Disco. Not to mention their stunning remixing abilities. So, needless to say, I decided that I just had to go to the Exchange Event Centre last night for MSTRKRFT without a second thought. Oddly enough, it only hit me much (much) later that night that a show like this was a different beast from the ones I normally attend. Throughout the night I discovered the difference between a traditional live gig and a DJ gig, and in some ways, the similarities, too. And for some reason, I can't say I had ever given much thought to it before.

The time advertised for the gig was 9pm, but thankfully, my friend, Lisa, and I didn't really show up til 10 because, as we soon discovered, that still meant we had another two hours to go before the opener Felix Cartal came on. As we ventured further into the club, I started thinking the idiotic pseudo-bouncer needn't have scrutinized my ID so keenly. All he had to do was clock the level of my awkwardness and displacement in a place like this. The reasons why I never was a clubber came flooding back to me as drunken couples groped each other and girls tottered around in high heels and short shorts. The music preceding the actual show, while infinitely better than the stuff played at Top 40 bars, wasn't particularly inspiring nor distinguishable (aside from snatches of Hot Chip and Justice), and Lisa and I found ourselves seated at the back of the club, yawning from the stressful day's work we had already put in at her office. And probably from rapidly encroaching old age as well. So, as any good curmudgeon would do, we sat there mocking the younger people around us.

There were the girls in matching gold shoes, holding hands like they were part of some nightclub buddy system. There was a b-boy wannabe with a hockey mask permanently perched atop his head (and baseball cap), which led us to the conclusion that the sole purpose of the mask was to keep his hat in place. There was the guy who appeared to be leading an invisible conga line up and down the club, chugging away like the little engine that had no dance partners. There was a guy in neon green sunglasses - a Corey Hart of the long-lost rave scene. One of our personal favourites was Mr. Tall and Awkward, who seemed to be roaming aimlessly alone and waiting for MSTRKRFT - we felt that he was a kindred spirit. Nearly every girl looked like she was trying too hard while nearly every boy looked like he didn't care one iota for trying at all. And many seemed very tied up with mediating and commemorating their own experience whether by digital photo or mobile text. But like pretty much most gigs I've been to, I got the distinct feeling that it was more of an opportunity to be seen rather than to hear a particular artist's music. It was all very interesting from an anthropological standpoint, but the night was beginning to wear on us. At midnight, Felix Cartal came on, but honestly, I didn't get much out of him - there were some fairly dissonant and jarring mixes happening, and his set just ended up feeling too repetitive and not enough to get me anywhere near the sweaty, flying limbs on the dancefloor. It's not like I couldn't stand it, but it's more like I wasn't affected by it.

However, when MSTRKRFT took the stage, I began my stealth journey to the centre of the dancefloor. That pulsing, persistent 4/4 rock beat that makes MSTRKRFT one of my favourite electro acts soothed my otherwise stressed out body and propelled me further and further into the inner core of gyrating bodies. Aside from the sweat raining down on me from the shirtless, grinding idiot atop the platform and the rather fierce knee to the back of my head from another dancer on the aforementioned platform, I had a pretty euphoric time. I literally lost myself in the music, usually shutting my eyes and moving like a de-programmed robot (no sexy dance from me). I was whipping my head around so fast that I became completely disoriented and detached from the people moving around me. Between the unsure footing rolling on top of discarded glow sticks and the green lights spidering across the ceiling and walls, I seemed to effectively separate my mind from my body. While I caught glimpses of MSTRKRFT on the stage from time to time, rather than focusing on the artist, I focused on the music in a new way. But at the same time, I couldn't tell you exactly what was being played or remixed at every moment, and that was okay. It was pure feeling without concentration - perhaps it was the bliss of a brief numbness to the outside world. Like that moment in the film I Heart Huckabees when Mark Wahlberg and Jason Schwartzman smack themselves in the head with a big plastic ball to achieve a state of non-thought for a fleeting moment. But this was for an hour and a half. And it included a complete abandoning of kinesthetic sense. As I made my way back up the stairs from my drowning on the dancefloor, I felt like I had sea legs.

One of the memorable highlights for me was the remix that featured bits of Hot Chip and then pieces of Happy Mondays' Hallelujah. I also recognized their remix of fellow labelmate Wolfmother's Woman, Justice's D.A.N.C.E. (apparently a hot track for the night considering it was played in some form three different times) and Kylie Minogue's Wow along with the odd track off of debut LP, The Looks and, of course, latest single Bounce/Vuvuvu. The set ended with a rather jubilant remix of Daft Punk's One More Time, which allowed for audience participation akin to the live shows I'm accustomed to as MSTRKRFT dampened the vocals and everyone joined in for the "Don't stop the dancin'" refrain. By the end of the night (or early morning), I felt just as exhausted and vindicated as I do leaving any good show, yet knowing that it was the show itself and not the environment that I had fallen for. I could do without most of the people and without the preamble of parading poseurs, but there is always life-preservation in good music. In this case, it was postmodern pastiche as remedy for the postmodern condition.

This tour is continuing on into the US, so if you live in any of the cities they're hitting, get tickets and let MSTRKRFT's beats give you that pummeling gift of oblivion for one night. Fist of God, indeed.