Over the course of the last weekend, I did a quick little session of recording to turn out a couple songs that I wrote earlier in the week. I’ve been experimenting with some ideas for the next music project, so this was a nice break from “big ideas” and just tossing something together, using some classic chord changes and lines of inspirational poetry that I’ve always had a kinship with. Hope you enjoy!
I thought I’d get back into the swing of writing about music a little more, highlighting some of the music or bands that I’m really digging these days. Perhaps you’ll find something new you’d like. Share any suggestions you have in the comments!
So for the first instalment, I’m sharing my current new favourite band; Chain and the Gang. Their latest record, “In Cool Blood” is a fun dose of attitude, garage-gone-groovy sound… all in mono. It’s minimal and dank, with every song featuring some kind of fun hook that will bring you back. The first songs that really got me were “Certain Kinds of Trash,” “Nuff Said,” “I’m Not Interested,” IIf I Only Had a Brain” and “Surprise Party.”
This is the third record by “Chain and the Gang,” and I’m still picking out some of my favourites from their older records. I really like “Music’s Not For Everyone,” particularly the monolog on the title track, and the searing two-part jam of “Detroit Music.”
It was the dream vacation of a lifetime… two stops in Sweden and Denmark, visiting some of the most serene, beautiful cities on earth. I can’t wait to go back. Check out some highlights here, with descriptions of a few of the sights I saw.
A selection for 2012 Canada Reads by CBC Radio One, I picked “On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock” by Dave Bidini to read because it seemed like the obvious choice for myself; I play music and have entertained dreams of being a rock star, and I’m fascinated by Canadian history and those who lived it.
I also picked it partially because I never was a Rheostatics fan… growing up in Belleville, Ontario, I had no choice but to have mainstream tastes, and I never hung with any crowd that anyone would deem very “cool.” Then by the time I began to broaden my musical horizons in university, I was looking at the obscure indie rock of the 80s and 90s south of the border. The Rheostatics passed me by as the band with the weird videos occasionally on MuchMusic, but I recognize they’re important… which ultimately intrigued me enough to pick up this book.
“On a Cold Road” is more or less Bidini’s tour diary of his band’s trip across Canada opening up for the Tragically Hip, while also functions as an oral history of Canada’s early days of rock and roll. The history presented is from the side of the musicians, who talk about life on the road and the gritty details on being in a band, which gives an “on the ground” feeling to their stories.
So because I was unfamiliar with the Rheostatics, and unfamiliar with some of the early acts Bidini talks to members of, I put together this overview/soundtrack of his book, which I think functions nicely as an audio accompaniment. Maybe you don’t need to hear “New Orleans is Sinking” again, but in the context of the Rheostatic’s history in the book, alongside the greater Canadian rock music history, it may provide you with fresh ears.
Hope you enjoy listening, and you can learn more about “Canada Reads” here on CBC.ca.
A+ = Don’t Miss It, Life-Changing, Classic
A = Very Solid Recommendation, Very Well Made
B+ = Solid Recommendation
B = Recommended
B- = Alright, still worth a watch
C = Watch at your own risk
D = Avoid
F = Waste of Film, Time and Money
Previously, this list was pretty accurate, but now with Netflix I watch so many movies I’m losing track of these things. I’ve tried to build this out to be as accurate as possible, which accounts for the extreme dip in total movies seen compared to previous years. Also, lots of TV this year.
Like I mentioned in the full list of movies I saw in 2011 post, with Netflix I saw the # of movies (at least in part) skyrocket, and though I did my best to keep track of it. But in 2011 I saw less films in other years… due to overall more TV consumption (I caught up on a lot of CBC programming this sumer), and frankly, not interesting or good looking movies in the theatre. I’d say 2011 had way more better “entertaining” movies than most years (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was spectacular), and maybe less “great” films (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” was haunting and shocking and beautiful, “Bellflower” was a tour de force of no-budget auteur filmmaking and “Drive” was downright awesome and reminded me of all the awesome parts of “To Live and Die in LA“).
As an aside, I saw Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” last night — which turned out to be the perfect movie to see at the close of 2011 — and I nearly put it as my favourite film of the year. Go see it as soon as you can, without knowing any more about it than you already do. It’s going to be all over the place once Oscar season gets into full swing, and by knowing about what the movie is “really” about might take away some of the magic I know I experienced going into it cold.
With that said, it was really easy to pick my favourite film of 2011: “The Tree of Life.” It’s a really tough film by Terrence Malick, who wrote and directed the film about a small family in Texas, going through the regular trials that life throws in their way. A father struggles in his career, he struggles to raise his boys, yet finds solace in music, playing the piano at home and at the organ in church. Up against their father’s strictness, the mother brings beauty and gentleness into her children’s lives, loving them more than anything else on earth. Finally, there’s the boys. One is a gentle soul who connects with his father on a musical level, but is tragically taken away from the family. One is a boy that goes through what many boys do in adolescence; discovering the potential for destruction and violence in their own nature, sexual desire in blossoming girls, and fitting in less and less beside his father at the family dinner table.
That may sound as a pretty straight-forward setup for a drama — one that reflects Malick’s own childhood transparently enough that anyone could place themselves in his shoes (especially someone like myself, who only had brothers, and grew up in a small town). But then the story is framed around one of the brothers in “present day,” as a successful businessman who works downtown in a skyscraper, and slowly mourns his brother.
And yet that may sound like a standard framing narrative for a drama too — but here’s where it gets a little nuts. In the middle of all of this, Malick incorporates a massive deviation from the family storyline that explores the origin of life on earth, from the big bang to dinosaurs. Yes… there are dinosaurs in “Tree of Life.” The amazing galaxy creation images come from a variety of sources, one major source being Douglas Trumbull, who Malick asked to make visuals for “Tree of Life.” Trumbull hasn’t made visual effects since “Blade Runner,” and is best known for “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Together Malick and Trumbull used paints and milks and chemicals and all sorts of techniques to build the galaxy-building sequences, and they are truly unlike any other seen on screen. But they weren’t just guys playing with colours; in preparation for the film, Malick met with evolutionary scientists from Harvard to get the most information possible.
Because of the “emergence of life” scenes, viewers of “Tree of Life” need to challenge themselves to see the family’s story in a bigger way… and I think Malick wants his audience to see this as a very theistic story, that blends science and religion and everything into a big question: How much of what we are simply “is,” and how much of it do we choose to be? This movie is about majesty, the majesty of creation, the majesty of love, and the majesty of pain. The following quote comes from the first line spoken in the film, and also comes from a paraphrased verse from the book of Job, where God is speaking to the man who has lost everything.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation… while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
This came together relatively quickly; I’ve been a huge R. Kelly fan for a long time, and exploring Aaliyah’s music is an extension of that… he was an influential person in her life, and though these covers come from her “One in a Million” record, I really hear his influence in the way she sings. So, as “One in a Million” climbed around in my brain and took hold, I decided the only way to answer that was to get inside the songs themselves, see how they tick, and see how they sound stripped of their electronic-ness, their vocal gymnastics and pop moves. Listen for yourself, but I’m pleasantly surprised that despite these “best” songs from “One in a Million” only have 2 chords or so, Timbaland and Missy Elliot (the songwriters of “Four,” “Three,” and “One”) really knew what they were doing on the melodic side of things — not just on those insanely future-looking beats. Enjoy!
So if I’ve been cryptic about some of my “projects” lately, I’m excited to finally spill the beans! Before I couldn’t show too much because they were being given out as gifts, but now that they’ve all been unwrapped, let me tell you all about it.
Where the idea came from exactly to try my hand at doing some leather crafts, I’m not totally sure, but once it came to me, it made a lot of sense. I don’t really have the desire to do a lot of textiles work, such as sewing or knitting, nor is anything of a bigger scale really feasible inside my apartment (see the amp re-covering project from a few years ago). However, it turns out that working with leather was just right: it’s not too messy, it doesn’t require a lot of room and it feels good working with the materials in your hands.
So for this project, I began by looking for raw materials; considering I have absolutely no skill in working with leather at this point, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge into spending hundreds of dollars on brand new, unworked leather. Instead I turned to Value Village, where I found a very heavy leather jacket for less than 30 dollars. When I got it home, I cut out all the lining and ripped out most of the stitching (in retrospect, I did a little too much cleaning: next time I’d just cut the pieces out than tear all the seams). Then I scrubbed the leather pieces that I decided to work with with soap and a sponge in the sink, rinsed them off and hung them to dry on top of some towels to give them a nice flat surface.
While I could have just ventured somewhere nearby or in the GTA, I went to Tundra Leather in Hamilton to get the lowdown on leather crafts, and there they showed me all the proper tools I’d need for my first leather project, techniques on how to sew, and offered to give me some advice on my projects if I brought them into the shop! There were lots of amazing things related to leather work in there, but I only left with the essentials.. maybe a swath of hide will be a future purchase.
So with my tools and material ready, I got to cutting. With the leather from the jacket, I got really lucky with the wear and the age on the jacket, and some of the seams I ripped out gave some excellent bands of black and brown. The downside though, was that in the spots where I ripped out the seams, the holes remained, and when trying to punch new holes, it started to get messy.
The other problems I had with this recycled jacket leather, is that despite seeming to be rather heavy, by the time it was stripped and cleaned, it was actually fairly light, which meant that there was lots of stretching of the leather when it came to cutting and poking holes in the hide. For example, unless I made a really big hole with the awl in the leather, a smaller hole would seemingly disappear in the leather. Also, when I was marking my holes, no matter how hard I pressed down, the markings would also disappear from the treated side of the leather. So I still need to find a good solution to making my stitches straighter, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the method so far. I think the best “cheat” I may have discovered (and yet to use) is using rubber cement to hold all the parts of the leather together before marking, awling or stitching, so that there’s not a whole lot of movement. That’s a tip for set #2! I also didn’t have anything to properly “finish” the edges where I cut, which is something else I hope to in the next round of projects.
I also have to point to a few awesome leather experts which I felt inspired by; most of the time when you think of working with leather, you imagine some really cheesy western motif styled things, but these awesome sites show that leather crafts can be really cool.
Wood & Faulkhave some really amazing products and tutorials projects
This year’s theme around our place for the holidays was “crafty” — one element of which I can’t share until after the 25th, but the other was these ornaments we made for our tiny plastic Christmas tree (this is his sixth Christmas!). I saw an “inspiration” post here while looking up things for another project, and we decided to go for it! Overall, the project was pretty easy… it took a couple of coats of paint to get the colour right (we only had white on hand), but the sharpie kind of dried out pretty quickly on the cardboard/painted surface. Here’s a shot of the first one, which due to the markers later drying out, was the best.
And I also put together a little table display when we had some guests over for Christmas movie night, which included a couple of rocks I picked up from the Lake Huron shore of the Bruce Peninsula, the “Nordic House” vase from Iceland, and our Iittala lantern which was a Christmas gift I found at Mjolk in Toronto (it was the same vase on our table at Dill from our previous trip to Iceland). Personally, I really love the look of the lantern any time of year… as you can see in this photo, it really does amazing things with the light from a simple tea light. Happy Holidays!!!
A Christmas Carol Poem
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1799)
The shepherds went their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable-shed
Where the Virgin-Mother lay:
And now they checked their eager tread,
For to the Babe, that at her bosom clung,
A Mother’s song the Virgin-Mother sung.
They told her how a glorious light,
Streaming from a heavenly throng.
Around them shone, suspending night!
While sweeter than a mother’s song,
Blest Angels heralded the Savior’s birth,
Glory to God on high! and Peace on Earth.
She listened to the tale divine,
And closer still the Babe she pressed:
And while she cried, the Babe is mine!
The milk rushed faster to her breast:
Joy rose within her, like a summer’s morn;
Peace, Peace on Earth! the Prince of Peace is born.
Thou Mother of the Prince of Peace,
Poor, simple, and of low estate!
That strife should vanish, battle cease,
O why should this thy soul elate?
Sweet Music’s loudest note, the Poet’s story,
Didst thou ne’er love to hear of fame and glory?
And is not War a youthful king,
A stately Hero clad in mail?
Beneath his footsteps laurels spring;
Him Earth’s majestic monarchs hail
Their friends, their playmate! and his bold bright eye
Compels the maiden’s love-confessing sigh.
Tell this in some more courtly scene,
To maids and youths in robes of state!
I am a woman poor and mean,
And wherefore is my soul elate.
War is a ruffian, all with guilt defiled,
That from the aged father’s tears his child!
A murderous fiend, by fiends adored,
He kills the sire and starves the son;
The husband kills, and from her board
Steals all his widow’s toil had won;
Plunders God’s world of beauty; rends away
All safety from the night, all comfort from the day.
Then wisely is my soul elate,
That strife should vanish, battle cease:
I’m poor and of low estate,
The Mother of the Prince of Peace.
Joy rises in me, like a summer’s morn:
Peace, Peace on Earth! The Prince of Peace is born!