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.”
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.
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!
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!
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not one for ranking “bests,” I prefer favourites, and this time around I’m addressing my favourite “new” releases in order of release date, which is a fair indication of what time of the year I was listening to that record at its peak.
1. Destroyer – “Kaputt” (January 25)
Strange that this one came out in the dead of winter, because it’s a sunny, sparkling pop album full of horns and wry poetry from the band. I enjoyed Destroyer in the past, but each album always sounds the same to me and never really hooks on in my listening habits. For this album, the band pushed itself to do something different, and I believe it paid off. Those live shows for this record were amazing.
2. Cold War Kids – “Mine is Yours” (January 25)
You’ll notice that my list will have a recurring theme.. it’s that while this record was great, it wasn’t as good as their earlier efforts. In some ways, this was Cold War Kids’ “U2″ album, where they go all stadium-rock on their songs… and they do. There’s a couple of jams that sound ragged like 2008′s “Loyalty to Loyalty,” and the polished guitars are upfront and expanding in a way that the band should be exploring at this point in their career.
3. The Dears – “Regeneration Street” (February 14)
Again, not the best Dears record (that would be “No Cities Left”), but the best they’ve done since… the tracks are tight, dense, play more with unique imagery (“Press down, shaken together” is a quote that sticks out at me), and overall rock more. There’s more solos, bigger drums, harpischord and as always, mournful wailing. It’s a shame The Dears are perennially overlooked.
4. Tim Hecker – “Ravedeath, 1972″ (February 14)
A weird, dense record of organ pipes tracked with Ben Frost (!) in Iceland (!), mixed with distortion, guitar and who knows what else. Like my past experiences with Hecker’s music, I always first see it as this tense, impenetrable wall of noise, but more than any other, this one unfolds some very distinct and enjoyable landscapes.
5. Bright Eyes – “The People’s Key” (February 15)
What is very likely the last Bright Eyes record, this one goes out on top. It’s got a pile of great songs and none of the vocals get too annoying, and the production has an almost dub-like quality.
6. Wye Oak – “Civilian” (March 8)
There’s not a whole lot to really say about “Civilian;” it’s a great indie-rock album with crispy guitars and really beautiful vocals. You’d put it on and like it… and that’s about it.
7. Thomas – “Breath” (April 5)
Thomas is a mainstay of our local Toronto music scene… he’s played in almost everybody’s band, and if you’re putting on shows, he’s probably played in one (he was in a band that opened for my own “Silver Speakers” once). His recorded material is hard to track down, but when you do find it, it’s pretty magical. This one combines male and female vocals in a contemporary R ‘n B kind of sound, with echos of guitars and tight drum samples.
8. TV on the Radio – “Nine Types of Light” (April 11)
Not the greatest of “TV on the Radio” records, this one was still pretty good. I liked how it worked in more funky jams, and really layered in the instruments. It’s a standout of the year, as in I’d still put it on and enjoy it, but I’m really hard-pressed to explain exactly why. You either love TV on the Radio at this point or you hate them. I wished they’d do more harder-tinged stuff like on “Return to Cookie Mountian,” but maybe that’s just me.
9. Jonas Reinhardt – “Music for the Tactile Dome” (May 7)
Overall a great zoning-out record of electronic music. The keyboards sound really pretty, and when I look back to my vacation in San Francisco, this record still feels very psychedelic SF.
I’m still conflicted about this record, but it’s hard to deny how good it is. I wished Katie Stelmanis kept up her solo weirdo vibe instead of going full electro diva. I still think this disco thing is a phase, and she’ll go back deeper into her song writing vs. remixing someday, but if in the meantime we have Austra, I’ll take it.
11. Handsome Furs – “Sound Kapital” (June 28)
This is another release that I slept on because it feels like the Handsome Furs release so much material that nothing seems to stand out, so I didn’t even bother with it at first. But when I got around to it, I was nicely surprised that this record is stripped down and leaner, with lots of great synths and beats, and despite what record reviews may say, lots of mean guitar. The songwriting itself is still powerful, and while this collection tends toward sloganeering a bit, you’ll be hard pressed to find many other artists on this list that put together songs that “MEAN SOMETHING.”
12. Lil’ B – “I’m Gay” (June 30)
My introduction to the world of the “BasedGod” wrapped from the Bay… and I didn’t take to it immediately, but after repeated listens and identifying more and more of the strange samples, I finally “got” it. Lil’ B is essentially a motivational speaker, encouraging listeners to free their mind and go for it. He takes his own advice and puts out material at an insane pace, with maybe 6 or so unique records this year alone. It’s also worth noting, that this was an “iTunes” release, whereas he gives most of his music away. He couldn’t break the habit though, and tweeted out a mediafire link for fans to download it the same day it went on sale.
13. Elite Gymnastics – “RUIN 1/RUIN 2″ (July 8)
If I was going to pick out one of twenty that was my absolute favourite record of the year, it would be this pair of EPs from the Minneapolis duo Elite Gymnastics. Originally released as a free download in the middle of the summer, the band since went legit, pulled the free versions and put out a 12 inch with a remastered copy of each EP on each side. I’m still fond of the original versions, as people are likely to do if they listen to the original recordings of things, but that’s life. If you’ve never heard of them, their sound is maddingly enjoyable; there’s distorted, crazy, jungle-ish drums, Joy Division-like bass lines and sad, reverb-y vocals that show off a sophisticated lyrical sensibility. I felt like they were writing songs to me, for me, and nobody else. I wished more people would follow their creative muses like these guys do and churn out some original, compelling and unique jams more often.
14. The Barr Brothers – “The Barr Brothers” (September 27)
Ah yes, the Barr Brothers, a “we moved to Montreal because it was cool band”, that have a hard-to-describe sound of folk, blues and all-around “indie-nesss” that is categorically Americans-trying-to-be-Canadians. But for the band’s flaws, the best part about them is their incorporation of harp, which makes their sound something better and more important. Without it, they’d just be guitar nerds trying to be sensitive, but instead they actually incorporate diverse elements to create something unique. Kind of like modern-day Canada.
15. Feist – “Metals” (Oct. 3)
While I know most fans of Feist passed on this record for being too dark and lacking handclaps and syncopation, their reasons for passing are my own reasons for loving it. I never bought her overtly sunny stuff, but for some reason this record sounds like she’s finally getting real with her music… and I suppose at the same time, also tried to make a National/Bruce Peninsula record in the process, which is also here or there I suppose.
16. Bruce Peninsula – “Open Flames” (October 4)
Speaking of Bruce Peninsula, their long-awaited new record hit all the right notes for me, with the band continuing with their heavy rustic folk music sound. It’s not “A Mountain is a Mouth,” one of my favourite records of all time, but this one only came out in October, so I have to give it some more time.
17. Siskiyou – “Keep Away the Dead” (Oct. 4)
Like the BP record, I still need to give this one more time, but I like this album by Siskiyou… it sounds like their first “real” record, with an actual band playing these songs, compared to their original self-titled album, which seemed to be a compilation of rough recordings by various people. This album also includes a great cover of “Revolution Blues.”
Again, I still don’t think I’ve absorbed this one enough yet, but I also can’t deny how great it is. I haven’t really enjoyed her other records as much, but this one really works for me, with it’s sparse and strange instrumentation with a little bit of electronic chaos for good measure. And of course, her insanely amazing voice. I never tried out the apps, but I’ve heard good things.
Another recurring theme: A Canadian act following up one of my favourite records of all time. In this case, it’s Sandro Perri, whose “Tiny Mirrors” I consider a perfect album. I waited a long time for his latest, and I’ve heard some of these tracks live a few times now (ie “Wolfman”), so I’m pretty pickled to have the record in my hands. This one finds him doing his singer-songwriter with a nylon string guitar thing less, with a wider range of instruments as well as more experimental structures and electronic additions. Again, this one still needs more time to sink in, but I can’t recommend it enough.
20. Schomberg Fair – “Mercy EP” (November 8)
I know there’s another EP coming down the pipe from Schomberg Fair before their next proper album, but damn if I don’t love this. The strongest tracks are the opening and closing numbers, “Oh Mercy” and “I’d Raise my Hand,” which has the band including some backup blues singers. The rest of the EP the band pushes outwards on it’s speed gospel thing by incorporating some more prog changes and tempos, and well as getting louder and bombastic. There’s also less “bass voice” taking the lead, which depending on your view of the band, could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you want to see them “get big,” that’s a good thing. Also, I really, really, really hope Kurt Sutter can hear these guys and have them soundtrack an entire season of “Sons of Anarchy.” Is there any more perfect intro to a song as “I’d Raise My Hand” that doesn’t already sound ready-made for a biker show? I’d think not.
While working on the new “Silver Speakers” record, I took a break to record these covers from the latest Handsome Furs record, “Sound Kapital.” The songs are “Memories of the Future,” which I think really compliments and resonates with the themes I’m exploring on the new Silver Speakers record, “Never Was,” and “Cheap Music,” which I think is an anthem for New Music as we know it/create it today.
Let me know what you think, the “sound” is similar to what I’m approaching for “Never Was” as well, kind of like a low-key acoustic take, instead of the dusty/smokey atmosphere of last year’s “Iceland.”
In continuing with the run of music posts lately, I wanted to share the following track, “Oh Yes My Lord” by the Voices of Conquest. First of all, how great of a group name is that? Secondly, you have to listen to this: it’s simply a vocal group doing their thing with a really banging percussionist. It’s on the album “Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal,” which is loaded with amazing, funky, experimental gospel. If I had any talent for vocal arrangement, I would put together an EP of worship music like this. Mind-blowing.
Inspirado, thy has struck again, and your name be JIMMY HOTZ. This is exactly why I love the internet, the obscurities of the past are the treasures of today, unrestrained by physical copy… just the desire to have ideas live on. As you can see, I’m already getting overtly influenced by Jimmy Hotz and his singular epic, “Beyond the Crystal Sea,” a psychedelic opus of early “Christian Rock” that is more King Crimson than Stephen Curtis Chapman, if you know what I mean. I can’t even begin to describe how awesome this is… just do yourself a favour, and grab this from iTunes or wherever.