Archive for the 'indie' Category

20
Sep
10

The Impossibility of Smiths Covers: Hand in Glove Tribute and First CTRR Giveaway

This post has a back story. And a reason for me to come out of the hiatus once again. I was quite surprisingly contacted by 24 Hour Service Station, a Florida-based record label that released a double-disc New Order Tribute Album earlier this year. They were looking for a decent cover of The Smiths’ Hand in Glove by an indie band for an upcoming Smiths tribute album. I would say I have a fair collection of covers by one of my favourite bands of all time (estimated at around 400), but it seems nearly no one covers Morrissey and Marr’s frenetic masterclass in metaphorical defiance of the Good People. The only version that immediately sprung to mind was of course Sandie Shaw’s, but not only was she not an indie band, her version wasn’t all that good. And then there was This Charming Band, which is essentially straightforward tribute band material, and there was a harmonica-inflected, dragging version from Christian Kjellvander and Lise Westsynthius. And another from someone named Gerard, whose version nearly gives me a panic attack. There was also that live version that Saint Etienne did, but that wouldn’t work either.

However, now I wanted to be helpful, and I was quite drawn to the challenge of finding a decent version of Hand in Glove. I found a couple of other very indie bands that had performed it live, but didn’t appear to have a proper recorded version. And they also weren’t terribly good. Just as I was about to despair and admit defeat, I realized that I actually knew a few indie bands, and perhaps one of them might miraculously have a version of Hand in Glove. It was a long shot. But the lovely Vanilla Swingers answered the call.

Though they didn’t have a version on-hand, Miles and Anne figured they could put one together and record it as quickly as possible, leading to a one-day recording session and a lackadaisical, understated gem of a cover version. Though they took the similar duet route as Kjellvander and Westsynthius, theirs was much more melodic and retained an aloof, knowing attitude without boring a massive hole of ennui through your head. And so it came to pass that one of my most-loved bands of the past few years supplied the title track of this upcoming tribute album for another of my favourite bands.

This tribute’s tracklisting runs thusly:

Hand in Glove – Vanilla Swingers
Paint a Vulgar Picture – True Tone
What Difference Does It Make? – Vampire Slayers
The Boy With the Thorn in His Side – Home
Frankly Mr. Shankly – Questionface
Last Night I Dreamt That Someone Loved Me – Pulse
Death of a Disco Dancer – Loomer
This Night Has Opened My Eyes – Underwater
Handsome Devil – I Buried Paul
Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others – Skinnys 21
There is a Light That Never Goes Out – Edison Shine
Girlfriend in a Coma – Thee Chinadoll
Reel Around the Fountain – Q-Burns Abstract Message
I Know It’s Over – Rosewater Elizabeth

I’ll be honest – I hadn’t heard of most of these bands (except for Vanilla Swingers) outside of the context of Smiths covers. Since this was a reissue of sorts, many of these tracks had been previously released (the only one I don’t remember hearing before is from Skinnys 21). And in listening to this album, I was struck by what I would call the impossibility of the Smiths cover. Cover versions are a tricky business at the best of times, but I’m usually most underwhelmed by the scores of recapitulated pleas for getting what you want and too many lights never going out, spluttering away in mediocrity. Sometimes it’s best if the light goes out – come, come nuclear bomb. Rather than bore me with one of my most cherished songs. On the other equally as maimed, glove-bereft hand, the artists try so hard to blaze a new, albeit often misguided, path that they bury or shred the essence of what Smiths songs are: a perfect balance of incisive wit and brilliant guitar melodies.

Is there something inherently difficult in producing a reputable cover version of a Smiths song? Or is it because we Smiths fans tend to be on the foamier side of rabid about the band? Out of all the Smiths covers I have, I like less than ten. And I would say the majority of them part neatly on the side of twee and subtle, coming from mellow artists like Trash Can Sinatras, Stars, and Tom Rosenthal. An exception to that would be the spikier interpretation of Panic from Carter USM. My issue with Smiths covers seems just as difficult to articulate as the covers themselves.

Does this mean that drastic experimentation dilutes what I love about Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce, namely the apex of jangly guitar rock for outsiders with that ever-present Mancunian drizzle, first numbing my social ineptitude and then comfortably warming me with a renewing fortitude to face another day? Perhaps I really am just too close to The Smiths, and as an entity essential to my flawed personality, they just can’t be effectively improved upon in my ears. Maybe it’s the fact that their mythology along with that of fellow Mancunians, Joy Division, is the closest I get to believing in the incredulous. They’re simply too transcendent.

The tracks I tended to favour on this collection weren’t far from the original feel of The Smiths’ creations. Vampire Slayers’ loose, shambolic cover with some jazzy trumpet is a fun romp; the haunting, tremulous version of I Know It’s Over by Rosewater Elizabeth is a delicate, reverent interpretation. Home’s version of The Boy With the Thorn in His Side seems promising with its woozy, off-balance musical backdrop, but somehow the vocals veer just a wee bit too much into incoherent, distracting wonkiness. And while Q-Burns Abstract Message’s instrumental rendering of Reel Around the Fountain is undoubtedly dreamy and beautiful, I wouldn’t necessarily notice that it was the song it purported to be.

Because I feel an attachment to this album and its eponymous track, I have decided to run my first contest/giveaway. 24 Hour Service Station has printed up a limited number of CD versions of Hand in Glove: The Smiths Tribute, and are kind enough to let me run this contest. To enter to win one of three CD copies, please email me with your favourite Smiths cover version by midnight September 27, 2010 – please use subject line “Hand in Glove Giveaway.” Once the contest closes, I will draw three winners and contact them for mailing information.

**UPDATE** The contest deadline has been extended to midnight October 4, 2010. **UPDATE**

If you don’t manage to win a CD copy, you can purchase the digital one at iTunes or Amazon. And of course you can download the excellent Vanilla Swingers track below for free.

Hand in Glove – Vanilla Swingers

To give you a few more Smiths covers that I enjoy…

Handsome Devil – Parenthetical Girls

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – Tom Rosenthal

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side (Live at the 1995 Meltdown Festival) – Jeff Buckley

10
Dec
09

The Non-Interview: Music PR in the Blogosphere

When I was taking my communications diploma in between my BA, we were assigned groups in which we would have to create a concept for a local magazine and see it through from conception to publication. As my luck always runs, I was saddled with an incompetent, uncreative, unproductive group, whose best idea was some very vague Manitoba showcase magazine. At any rate, one of my journalistic contributions was to be an interview with David Steinberg while he was in town for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Slightly daunting to me even now, but pretty tongue-choking intimidating for an nineteen-year-old with zero interviewing experience. To make a very long story short, I showed up to the show he was a part of, but at the end of the show, David Steinberg was whisked away (despite the organizers promising me that interview), and the day culminated in me standing at the Winnipeg Airport, realizing I wasn’t going to get that story at all. In a salvaging attempt, I wrote an entire story/rant for the magazine about my chasing/stalking adventures in pursuit of David Steinberg. Perhaps in the end it was a stronger piece than it would have been with the interview. Perhaps it was all rather Steinbergesque. Okay, a very anemic Curb Your Enthusiasm or a Seinfeld in which even less than nothing happens. So why am I telling you this story? Because I’m about to write a piece about an interview I have been trying to get for nearly 8 months: an email interview with Chris Corner of IAMX.

Back when Kingdom of Welcome Addiction first released, I decided I would go after a long-shot opportunity (this happens in my periods of mania) by contacting the North American PR representative for IAMX in the hopes of being able to send a list of questions for Mr. Corner to reply to. Being a lowly MP3 blogger, I figured this wasn’t likely to happen. In fact, I had already resigned myself to not getting any reply (based on my general pre-emption of hope and/or faith in myself and others). The only glimmer of possibility in all this was the fact IAMX is an adamantly independent enterprise; albeit, one with PR representation run independently from them. To my surprise, I did get a very prompt response from PR, allowing me to listen to the full album before I received my hard copy, and consenting to pass my interview questions on to Chris Corner. And I had dealt pleasantly and briefly with this particular contact in the past after he had found my essay on independent artists, including IAMX. So far so good.

I diligently listened to the promo stream and wrote up my questions, they varied from “In your opinion, what are humanity’s biggest myths?” to “You’ve opened yourself up to dialogue with your fans via your MySpace blog. What have you learned through this experience?” to “Your music tends to find the beauty in the wreckage and often juxtaposes the two. Are things more beautiful when they’re damaged or destroyed – burning the box of beautiful things, so to speak?” I was consciously making an effort to ask questions that hadn’t been asked of him before, especially as I figured it’s always fascinating to ask interesting questions of interesting people. I sent off the questions and hoped for the best. I still wasn’t exactly convinced this would happen. I’m not a “professional” journalist with an affiliation or concrete deadline. In fact, I was in an odd liminal place between journalist and fan, and I’m thinking it was the latter identity that perpetuated the fiasco that then ensued.

When I checked to make sure my questions had actually been received, I was given the following reply: “Chris should be getting the answers back to me over the weekend (he’s touring Europe right now and internet connection is rather dodgy out there). Hold tight.” This is perfectly reasonable. After writing my review of Kingdom of Welcome Addiction, I emailed the link to it as a courtesy, and held tight. At the beginning of June, I emailed to check in (after all more than a weekend had passed by this point). No answer. A few weeks later, I tried again. Crickets. Then I tried in July – at this point, I was still just assuming I got lost in the shuffle of requests for all the bands under the same PR. From the beginning, I had also included the escape clause of “if Chris Corner is too busy, I understand. Just let me know either way.” It was now August, and so I tried again, but only after I sent one more at the end of the month with a high priority flag, did I get a response. I feel as though I was still pretty polite: “It’s been several months, and as I initially understood, you had already passed the questions on to him. I’m just wondering where the delay is occurring – all I really want is an update. If this interview is no longer possible, I would still appreciate a response. I haven’t been receiving any responses for the last three or four emails I’ve sent you regarding this.” Yes, I started sounding a bit sterner (less obsequious anyway). So, as I said, this finally got a response. A very suspicious one.

It stated that this PR guy had been trying to get a hold of me by email over the summer while IAMX did a short tour of the US. He said he had wanted to set up a phone interview with Chris Corner rather than bother with the email questions. He then said that because I didn’t answer him, he figured I was no longer interested. He also insisted, “I ALWAYS reply within 24 hours of emails I receive.” Now, this might have been plausible if I never checked my Junk Folder, or if my inbox wasn’t receiving emails properly over the summer, or if I didn’t always include my email address and blog URL in the signature of each e-missive. But none of that was the case. Consequently, unless my hotmail account suddenly assumed sentience of its own and decided certain emails didn’t need to get through, these emails about phone interviews never occurred.

Nonetheless, I grudgingly gave the PR guy the benefit of the doubt and said I would be fine with him passing my questions on to Chris Corner again. Note: “again.” This was the end of August. I then waited for about a month before trying for some sort of confirmation. I bet you clever otters know what happened next. No reply. I realize that at this point I was probably crossing the line into pretty damn irritating. But then again, what journalist after a story isn’t irritating? Sometimes it’s the only way to keep getting stories at all. I tried high priority flagging again, and roused a response. Firstly, I was told that he had replied the week before (once again, there was no logical reason why only 50% of his emails should reach me). He told me I had to appreciate the difficulty of Chris Corner being in Germany and he being in the US; the distance was making it hard to “turn the heat on” in getting a response from Chris. Additionally, he said he didn’t know why it was taking Chris so long to reply since he’s usually so quick. Hmmmm….

Now I learned PR in my communication diploma as well as journalism and advertising. PR people are notoriously evasive spin doctors for the most part. They’re a bit like Post-Structuralists that way; the Truth is an arbitrary construct to them. Presently, I’m exhausted by the whole situation, which could have ended months before if the PR guy would have just said, “No, I’m sorry, the interview is not possible.” I was now only persisting because of adherence to principle, the principle being that I deserve some sort of resolution even if I am just an MP3 blogger. I’m not naïve enough to think that journalists don’t get screwed over by PR people; they do – I’ve heard the stories. And I learned early on with that David Steinberg incident (although being a college student probably isn’t much better than being a fan). But judging from the IAMX interviews that have shown up in various online publications (not blogs), I don’t think everyone got dragged along for 3/4 of a year.

I don’t blame Chris Corner for this farce. I can’t be certain of how much communication he has with his PR, and last year, when I included IAMX in a couple of posts, I received my IAMX Live in Warsaw album in a package that had a thank-you message hand-written by Chris on the outside. He thanked me specifically for the blogs. That was above and beyond what he could have or should have done.

I suppose I don’t even need a full explanation of why this interview couldn’t have happened; a simple decline would have been sufficient. Sadly, I reckon this kind of predicament just ends up undoing any sort of façade of independence and accessibility projected through the IAMX rhetoric and ethos (ie: dialogue with fans, band and fans as one tribe, etc). Dealing with this PR flak screen is no different than any number of other impersonal celebrity machines. I was naïve to think that it might be different. Which brings me to a more general point about PR and MP3 blogging.

I realize, that as a blogger, I get slapped onto a lot of mailing lists for labels and artists I couldn’t care less about. Those mass mailings are obvious. There’s something honest in their blatancy (even the ones who try to use your name and mention a small fact about your blog to seem authentic). In the end, this all doesn’t matter if I don’t like the music or the artists being marketed, so I go on ignoring and sometimes I even bother to unsubscribe if I’m getting too annoyed by three mailings a week from the same person. However, there has been the odd PR person that I had more than a few emails with, and some have been quite decent to deal with. But recently, aside from the PR for frYars, I haven’t been getting any acknowledgements that my review links have even been received (this is after I was told to send them on), including from people that I had originally been pretty friendly with. This feels slightly deflating even if all of this shouldn’t matter to me (after all, I’m not doing this for a living). However, I’m just not the type to make promises I know I can’t follow through on, and when I commit to something, I feel obligated to finish it (hence, if I say I will review your music, I will). In theory, the relationship between PR and journalism should be symbiotic (one can’t exist without the other), but it nearly always ends up feeling like an abusive relationship, where there’s only one giver. Email has also made it so much easier to ignore people and blame technology; it absolves anyone of any direct responsibility. Somehow the supposed immediacy becomes less than immediate.

Is the problem here really one to do with identity and position? If I were a journalist attached to something more official, would my questions be more important? In the world of music fandom, wouldn’t it be a good thing if music fans influenced other music fans directly rather than through third party journalists, who often don’t have anything invested in what they write about? Yes, perhaps they can be more objective when the situation calls for it, but I would think fans are the ones who might come up with the best questions to ask because they know so much and care so deeply about their favourite artists. But I’m not sure that MP3 blogs, as liberating as they may seem to us fans on the ground, are viewed as legitimate (a problem all sorts of blog genres face). We might be one more prong of a larger marketing strategy (the digital promotion/word-of-mouth contingent), but nothing more. And nothing that anyone owes anything to. Maybe a lot of these MP3 blogs have done it to themselves by “unprofessionally” just posting straight from any press release that comes their way; although, I’m certain that’s also a regular practice among journalists. They copy and paste their way through a lot of blurbs and stories.

I know my blog isn’t terribly lucrative in terms of marketing and publicity for these artists. I’m not a newspaper, magazine, or even an e-zine/blog like Stereogum. At the same time, I might have fewer, but much more loyal fans in my audience, who do actually discover and buy into new artists they find here. I’ve decided that, ultimately, the best practice for my blogging is to deal directly with artists and/or other music fans. There’s never been an issue with them. And maybe I’ve gotten wrapped up too much in the journalist part of my motivations and forgotten about the fan part, which shouldn’t be relying on PR. I might be shooting myself in the foot here. Or maybe not. I have to engage in other people’s email evasion tactics and futile goose chases on a daily basis as part of my regular job, so I really don’t need it here, too.

And if you want to see the production and power of fandom in action in relation to IAMX, go to http://www.iamxforum.com and download your free copy of a fan-made DVD of IAMX’s first live performance in 2004 in Berlin.

My Secret Friend (Omega Man Remix) – IAMX

Tear Garden (Art Deco Version) – IAMX

01
Dec
08

Politely Ornate: The Melting Ice Caps

Luxembourg was an English indie band that lasted from 2001 to early this year, and I wish I had been aware of them before their split. They had the melodrama and vocal warble of Roxy Music paired with witty lyrics worthy of Jarvis Cocker, but after only officially releasing one album and before the second album was completely finished, they disbanded. However, lead singer David Shah went on to create a solo project called The Melting Ice Caps, an equally offbeat, but achingly genuine affair with an operatic, literate flair akin to The Divine Comedy. Thus far, The Melting Ice Caps have released two official singles: the double A-side for Hard to Get and Don’t Say a Word, and Selfish Bachelor with its B-side How to Appear Well-Adjusted. In addition to these, two tracks, namely I Wanted to Be Your Boyfriend and If I Should Ever Lose, are also up to stream from the MySpace page. There’s something theatrical and gentlemanly about these songs – despite their electropop flourishes, it’s as though they would sound perfect from a phonograph that sits on a table by an art deco wrought iron balcony that overlooks a verdant park full of people on pennyfarthings. These songs are quietly stylish. These songs are politely ornate.

Hard to Get is a wonderful bitter ballad that bears throat-catching similarities to Soft Cell’s Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. Don’t Say a Word is a beautifully verbose plea for a lover’s reciprocation, utilizing some of the most evocative words in the English language in the process. Selfish Bachelor begins with listing all the things the narrator doesn’t have, a list which seems to imprison him more than all the freedom he purportedly has. Its music is melancholy but passionately romantic, fitting seamlessly with the brilliant line “I do know love like I know being alone.” How to Appear Well-Adjusted is a plonking, knocking vaudeville track that recalls the wry humour found in several Luxembourg tracks, including advice like “Gentlemen should keep their stubble short/And so should ladies.” Shah muses over how one can show oneself as “normal” and uses a list of what at first seems like an archaic etiquette manual; then he mentions the 21st century faux-pas of posting an angry blog or sending an email without thinking, which feels both delightfully familiar and anachronistic. I Wanted to Be Your Boyfriend is the most synthpoppy of all the songs so far, but it lacks the pumping beat that would push it into dancefloor territory; instead, this song floats along like a spring breeze. In contrast, If I Should Ever Lose is a violin-based track with Shah’s vocals at their most mournful, demonstrating that Shah has several facets yet to explore to their fullest.

I eagerly await further material and hopefully a full album in the near future. The narrators of these songs are lovelorn, but though they may be as doomed and fragile as ice floes in warm seas, they will take out clean handkerchiefs and ask for your pardon over the mess.

The Melting Ice Caps MySpace: www.myspace.com/themeltingicecaps

How to Appear Well-Adjusted – The Melting Ice Caps

Hard to Get – The Melting Ice Caps

We Only Stayed Together For the Kids – Luxembourg

10
Oct
08

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 softcore…you 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

02
Oct
08

Testing My Devotion: Cold War Kids’ Loyalty to Loyalty

I quite liked the Cold War Kids’ debut album Robbers & Cowards, especially the song We Used to Vacation, a shambolic yet soulful story of a hopeless alcoholic father. There was almost something Jeff Buckleyesque in Nathan Willett’s vocals that made my spine shiver a little, and there was something a bit rough and sordid about the narratives in their songs that suited their gritty, bluesy sound. Their sophomore album Loyalty to Loyalty just released on September 23, and while it still maintains some of the soulfulness and bluesiness of the first album, I have to admit that I’m disappointed with it as a whole. There are moments when it just feels like they’re searching for a tune and for an authenticity that just isn’t there. I don’t believe that they believe in what they’re singing this time – it’s like the first album made me think of sepia-toned photographs and this one is still sepia-toned…but manufactured in Photoshop. Willett’s distinctive yelp used to add emotional meaning to the songs, but by the end of this album, it just feels hollow and grating.

Against Privacy begins the album with a smattering of cymbals, a lackadaisical backbeat, and guitars which somehow end up sounding like muted trombones. With its political lyrics and persistent groove, it promises more than the album actually ends up delivering. It is followed by Mexican Dogs, which is also one of the better songs on the album with its tight shuffle and warbling guitars. Every Valley is Not a Lake had already made an appearance on the Hang Me Up to Dry single last year, and it still grooves just as wonderfully as the first time I heard it – I absolutely love that gritty piano line. It’s just unfortunate the only song that really makes an impression on me is one I heard a year ago. After these first three tracks, the album
I’m still trying to puzzle out what I think about Something is Not Right With Me, the lead-off single for the album; it borrows from shouty electro, but with pounding piano instead of synthesizers and electric guitars – it’s like the White Stripes go disco. Perhaps something is just not right with it. It is at this point that the album descends into a nondescript blandness with songs like Welcome to the Occupation, I’ve Seen Enough, and Dreams Old Men Dream. On the track Golden Gate Jumpers, Willett’s voice sounds like Rufus Wainwright against a honky-tonk backdrop, and Willett returns to a Wainwright vocal sound on the track On the Night My Love Broke Through, but it lacks the gentle tenderness and simplicity of a song like Robbers off the debut album. The fact the Buckley vocals have seemingly slipped further towards a Wainwright sound implies a move from fragile soulfulness into vaudeville theatricality.
The nadir of the whole record is Avalanche in B, which is composed of a muffled, drunken-sounding vocal and a beat that is so laden in the back that it drags the song into a rather muddled unpleasantness. Every Man I Fall For is an admirable attempt at telling a story from the opposite gender’s point of view, but the sentiment gets lost in the underwhelming melody. Like Something is Not Right With Me, the penultimate track, Relief, utilizes some buzzing electronic elements, and with Willett’s falsetto, they almost pull it off; somehow these forays into the electronic still don’t seem quite natural. The album ends with Cryptomnesia, a song that showcases Willett’s voice as the piano and brushed drums fade into the background before swelling to meet his yelping crescendo, and while I would think that such a build-up would move me, the song simply fails to.
As with most bands that had great debut albums, I really wanted to like Cold War Kids’ sophomore effort, but I didn’t get any of those spine shivery moments on this album but for the one song that had been released last year. The dirty spirituality has dissipated into a meandering sludge and the honesty behind the lyrics of songs like We Used to Vacation seems to have disappeared as the band oversteps its boundaries of life experience and abilities to imagine. I probably shouldn’t have bothered with this post at all, but I suppose sometimes I’m done in by my own sense of loyalty.
16
Sep
08

I ♥ Mother Mother: Mother Mother’s O My Heart

Oddly enough, the first time I heard of the Vancouver band, Mother Mother, was late last year when one of my professors, who was teaching us media studies, mentioned them (well, actually gushed about them). I didn’t check them out at the time (I hadn’t been in the habit of taking musical recommendations from my professors), and then sort of forgot about them. Then I heard they were playing Winnipeg during the Jazz Festival, and I ignored them again without any real reason for doing so, opting not to see them live. I really had no idea what they sounded like, and so had no basis for any attitude, indifferent or otherwise. Now that their sophomore album, O My Heart, is being released today, I realize the error of my ways, and will attempt to rectify it a bit through this post. In an attempt to put O My Heart into some sort of context, I listened to their first album, Touch Up, and I discovered there’s a sweet schizophrenia to their style, which spins between folk and soul and pop and indie rock like a child full of new ideas, playing make believe outdoors, pairing airy, innocent-sounding male and female voices with lyrics that are archly witty. They’re like a less theatrical Bodies of Water with some slight hints of New Pornographers, Pop Levi and Sarah Slean, and this new album delivers more of their gentle, melodic brand of wryness.

The title track opens the record and falls less on the folk side of the fence, but more on the powerpop side with its driving rhythms and hiccuping melody, utilizing as many metaphors for a heart as they could fit into one song. Burning Pile builds upon an oscillating guitar for a catchy pendulum-like tune, which gallops along to a vaudeville melody in unexpected places. Their voices meld and soar while still maintaining a sort of earthiness and frankness. The album takes yet another turn as Body of Years begins like a more straightforward rock song with synthy elements as vocalist Ryan Guldemond uses his idiosyncratic unhinged style to quirk out lyrical lines into little curliques. Try to Change tones the mood down into a moodier acoustic number with beautfiul brass accompaniment, burnishing the mournfulness into something much warmer and soulful. Wisdom continues this more mellow, muted brass sound, but kicks it up with drums as it seems to revel in the blissful ignorance of youth and the avoidance of advice. Body slides and wiggles all over the strings of violins in a folkier version of Sparks while the tempo fluctuates with a mind of its own, or perhaps with the narrator’s mind which seems prone to change and might be the last piece of his/her body surrendered in the song.
I was so impressed with the song Ghosting that I included it in my autumn weekly mix this week; with its plucked guitars, it definitely evokes a hazy, mellow autumn day for me and had me singing the chorus after only one listen. The mood shifts back to urgent as Hay Loft kicks into a speedy gear with almost a hip hop aesthetic for the verses – rather than gangstas with guns it’s just Papa creeping through the hay loft in his longjohns, toting a gun. Wrecking Ball takes gentle banjo to a Deconstructionist/Dada approach to art while Arms Tonite stomps about in a glam posture, putting a new offbeat spin on the classic “dying in your arms” theme. Miles drifts along to piano and acoustic guitar in a pure dream of escapism, lulling you in a hammock of . The album concludes with Sleep Awake, a subtle song of childlike vocals, which has a lullaby feel at odds with the lyrics which convey the epitome of the expression “sleeping with one eye open.”

So, we’ve all learned a little something from this post. Don’t ignore a band without even having listened to them at all. And professors sometimes actually have decent taste in music.

Body of Years – Mother Mother

Arms Tonite – Mother Mother

11
Jun
08

Please Make Way and Pull to the Side of the Road: The Slow Return of Ambulance Ltd.

Unfortunately, more often than not, opening acts are forgettable for me. They were either very obviously chosen as tourmates because of their affiliation with the main act’s record label without any consideration for compatible music styles, or they lacked the confidence and stage presence to hold their own against the main act to follow. Of course there have been some exceptions where I actually attended the gig for the support act rather than the main act, but in these cases, I obviously already knew and liked the support before going. Having said this, there has only been one time that I went to a show not knowing anything about the opening act and was then convinced by the end of their set that I wanted to buy their album and then actually followed through by buying the album within the week. This opening act was Ambulance Ltd, a shoegaze-indie-rock band out of New York and they were supporting The Killers gig in Winnipeg four years ago.

The gig was at the rather small (and precariously constructed) West End Cultural Centre because this was September 2004, the eye before the Killers media storm that would soon follow, ensuring that The Killers will never play a small stage in Winnipeg again. My friends and I were waiting impatiently for The Killers, not expecting much by way of an opening act. Ambulance Ltd., then came onstage in their unassuming indie attire and proceeded to blow us away. I still remember to this day the sound of Yoga Means Union flooding the small venue, the five-minute instrumental seemingly stretching to infinity in a refreshing wash of guitar arpeggios, that kept building and retreating and building and retreating like a tidal wave. Using an instrumental in an opening set can be dangerous in terms of losing the audience’s attention, but it mesmerized me and I was riveted to the stage. Stay Where You Are was equally as memorable with its gentle riff and soaring melody. I can also clearly recall the catchy hook and sinister sound of Primitive (The Way I Treat You), which tipped the balance, convincing me to purchase Ambulance Ltd.’s debut album LP. Frontman, Marcus Congleton, has a hypnotic quality to his voice akin to Mew or The Radio Dept. with shades of Marc Bolan, and my oldest friend (not oldest as in age, but in how long we’ve been friends), Crista, still claims to this day that Congleton was the most beautiful man she’s ever seen in real life. See my photo from the gig above and decide for yourself.

Needless to say, both Crista and I purchased copies of LP, and then waited for new releases. And waited. And finally lost track of Ambulance Ltd. Aside from a rumor of Congleton in talks with Sophia Coppolla about being in one of her films, I didn’t really pick much up about them. Then, two years after I first purchased LP, Ambulance Ltd. released an EP entitled New English EP, which I found out about a fair time after the actual release. I liked what I heard, but it wasn’t enough. Then I lost track of them again only to find out that everyone but Congleton has now left the band, that others have replaced them, and that their record label is currently in legal trouble, preventing any official new releases. For information about why the record label is in legal trouble read the NME story about it. Thankfully, all of this turmoil hasn’t stopped the fans from being able to hear new material as Ambulance Ltd. continues to post the latest demos on their MySpace. And I’ve become a fan all over again. And once again, I wait.

Apparently, Congleton has worked on eighteen new tracks with the magnificent John Cale, and there are three new demos up on the Ambulance Ltd. MySpace. New demo Ivy reveals a funkier influence, but still mesmerizes me with vestiges of their earlier psychedelic melodies. In many ways, it feels like an interstellar journey in Parliament’s spaceship. Upsetter shambles along to a lazier melody in a country-western vein, but with a an airier delivery, which makes me like it even without really have a predilection for the genre. And two thirds into the song, it also starts to sway and swagger in a funkier way. Ladyfingers slinks along to a subtle horn line and has a greater effect on me than anything Mark Ronson has done so far. Congleton’s vocals slip and slide along in a fantastically soulful way while still preserving their signature dreamy quality.

Ambulance Ltd. Mk II did a short tour earlier this year in April and now have a show set up for the end of July at The Bowery Ballroom in New York. I really hope they get to release a new album soon and that they do a larger tour. Hopefully, they will still be willing to play Winnipeg after all these years. This time as a headliner.

Ambulance Ltd.’s MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/ambulanceltd

Ivy (Demo) – Ambulance Ltd.

Upsetter (Demo) – Ambulance Ltd.

Primitive (The Way I Treat You) – Ambulance Ltd.




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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Photobucket

Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

Photobucket

You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

Photobucket

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

Photobucket

Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

Photobucket

Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Photobucket

And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

Photobucket

Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

Photobucket

We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

Photobucket

Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

Photobucket

LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

Photobucket

Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

Photobucket

You must let her go

She's not crying

Photobucket

Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

Photobucket

So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

Photobucket

Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

Photobucket

No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

Photobucket

All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

Photobucket

Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome