Music Notes April 2010

April 30, 2010 at 9:53 pm (Uncategorized)

This month’s list of fun things to do with your ears.

1. Jah Wobble – Chinese Dub (30hertz)

Who would have thought the former PIL bassman would have had such an interesting career? Chinese Dub is Wobble’s collaboration with noted Chinese singers and musicians, and what a collaboration it is. I’ll admit I prefer the instrumentals to the ones with vocals, but it’s all breathtakingly beautiful.

2. Loop – The world in Your Eyes

A recently discovery for me. This remastered 1988 release contains a slew of extra tracks including Neil Young, Can and Pop Group covers and demos from the original album. Spacey, trippy music with lots of feedback. Sure, they were accused by some of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the world is a big place and there’s plenty of room.

3. Clean – Original Soundtrack.

I reviewed the movie last week, but I just got the soundtrack. The soundtrack has music from Brian Eno, Tricky, Metric, and Dean and Britta, but most amazing are the tracks by Maggie Cheung. Cheung is featured on four songs, two by Dean Wareham and two by David Roback. All of them have a kind Mazzy Star feel, and Cheung’s vocals have that light, breathy style to them, reminiscent of Hope Sandoval. I’m not saying she’s copying, just that there is a similarity. Lovely anyway.

4. Patti Smith – Just Kids

OK, a book, but music related. Patti Smith is just one of those figures, isn’t she? I can’t remember when I heard her first, but it was probably “Because the night.” A while after, I saw a video of her doing “Gloria.” you know how it goes, ” Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…” Wow.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that this is Patti Smith’s account of her life with artist Robert Maplethorpe. It’s an amazing book. Full of rock nerd trivia and anecdotes, and some truly lovely photographs. Pick it up, and then listen to Horses again.

5. Rolf Harris – Sun Arise

Yes, it’s true. I owned a stylophone, the pocket electronic organ Rolf Harris promoted in the 70s. I wonder where it is. And the hits, I remember them too:  “Tie me kangaroo Down Sport” (with those questionable lyrics), “Jake the Peg”, “Two Little Boys” and more. There was also that Rolf revival prompted by Splogenessabounds in 1981. Still, “Sun Arise”   is a minor classic.

6. The roots of the Cramps

It’s only been a year since Lux Interior passed away, but it seems a lot longer. The Cramps were one of those great bands who were able to take a song and make it their own. This 56 song compilation gathers together lots of songs covered by the Cramps (“Faster Pussycat”), obvious reference points (Link Wray) and songs which were to become Crampified (“Can you Hossie do the dog?).  A marvellous way to recall the Cramps’ glory days. Set your hi-fi on fun.

7.  Sigur Rós

A few weeks back I’d never heard of this band. Then, after one track on the Mojo dream pop comp I fell in love. Icelandic space rock. Hypnotic. I should hate this kind of thing, but there’s something about the lush arrangements, the falsetto vocals and whatever else that makes me love it. I just got a DVD from the library, so that’s my weekend.

8. Roky erickson – True Love Cast Out All Evil

I saw Roky Erickson last year at Lee’s Palace, something I didn’t  think I ever would. Roky played a  greatest hits set, and while it wasn’t transcendental, it was enough. Now comes a new album of recordings. and it’s pretty much the same. Great but not transcendental. Roky’s voice has come a long way from the 13th Floor Elevators, and the songs have too. Not LSD fueled insanity, nor the psychedelic metal of the 70s and 80s; this is a slower rootsy feel, but it’s enough.  

9. Hole – Nobody’s Daughter

You can bet Courtney Love is on a few dead pools, and yet she’s still here. Although in the years since Hole’s heyday, Love has been more famous for her non-musical exploits that her musical ones. This record is the first since  the  disastrous America’s Sweetheart (look for it in the delete bins), and while I might quibble about the name of the band  (rather than a Hole album, it’s Ms. Love’s new band also called Hole), the music is undeniable. All the old Hole trademarks including great hooks and copious amounts of swearing.  Love is still crazy – a rambling paranoid interview in a recent issue of Mojo confirms that, but sometimes madness leads to great art.

10. She and Him

Yah! I missed out on tickets to the Show at the Phoenix in Toronto because I was too slow, but happily (as I suspected they would), the promoter moved the show to a bigger venue – this time the Sound Academy. Snagged two tickets. Winsome catchy country pop. Quite lovely. The second album is every bit as good as the first.

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Clean – A Review

April 26, 2010 at 11:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Lee is a faded rock star with a drug problem. He and his partner Emily have a son Jay who lives with Lee’s parents in Vancouver. Lee and Emily are in Hamilton to see Metric play, but also to arrange a record deal.  (the club appears to be Toronto’s Big Bop though) In this relationship, Emily, played by Maggie Cheung, is Yoko to Lee’s John. After a fight, Emily leaves to shoot up and sleep in her car. When she returns the following morning, she finds the police at the motel, and Lee dead from an overdose. After a struggle with the police, a quantity of heroin is discovered , and as a result Emily receives a six-month sentence.

Thus begins Clean, a 2004 film directed by Oliver Assayas and starring Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte. Clean is the story of Emily’s life after Jay’s death; how she comes to terms with her responsibilities towards her son jay, for her own life, and for her part in Lee’s death.

Emily’s initial response is to deny. After meeting with Lee’s father Albrecht , played in a superb understated style by Nick Nolte, Emily agrees not to see Jay and decides to rerun to Paris. She gets a job in her uncle’s restaurant as a waitress, but bored with the hard work and low pay reconnects with friends who share her drug fueled lifestyle.

But confronted with the utter hopelessness of this path, Emily decides to get clean fo her son. As  she moves away from drugs, she is given new opportunities, both with her son and in a new career path (a demo made in prison is going to be recorded).  A new life, a clean break.  

Clean is quite beautiful. It’s thoughtful, and pulls the viewers in , so that we actually care for a person who has made dreadful choices. We want Emily to make it. The film also features a terrific soundtrack with music from Mazzy Star, Metric, Brian Eno, Tricky and many more. Indeed, several rock stars have cameos in the film including Metric, Tricky, and David Roback formerly of Mazzy Star. (Lee is played by former Gallon Drunk and Bad Seed James Johnson). 

Get clean.

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Sex and Sexuality – a week of weirdness

April 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm (Uncategorized)

What a strange week it’s been.

Ontario’s Liberal government unveiled an updated sex-ed curriculum and then almost as quickly shelved it for a “rethink.”

My first thought was “How am I going to learn it now?” I’ve got two children, so I assume I can pass the practical, but I’m still a little weak on the theory.

But seriously, like most people in Ontario, and assuredly like the loudest critics of the now-shelved document I haven’t read it. However, I did enjoy the soundbites: anal intercourse, vaginal lubrication, masturbation.

It’s a shame though that a lot of the opposition seemed to be religious-based. Charles McVetty of the Canada Family Action Committee accused Premier Dalton McGinty, who seemed just as uncomfortable as anyone else,  of listening to “special interests” such as former education minister Kathleen Wynn (Wynn is gay).  I’d say the gay community is less of special interest that McVetty’s coalition, but maybe that’s just me.

The party line seems to be that subjects such as sex-education is something best discussed by parents with children. I don’t often agree with the Globe’s Margaret Wente, but I think she’s on to something when she noted that most teenagers would rather poke out their eyes that discuss masturbation with their parents.

Of course, McVetty’s line is a smokescreen. When people say parents should discuss something what they really mean is teachers should discuss this, and neither will we (except to say it’s sinful).

The day after this all seemed to settle down, I read about Boobquake.  On April 16,  Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi insisted, ” Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.” Huh?

So now there’s a scheduled, er, protest tomorrow, April 26 where women are asked to wear low cut-tops to  test the theory. I’m going to take the high road and not make any jokes, but you have to wonder what was going through Sedighi’s mind. Well, probably thoughts of women’s breasts.

Last, I read today of accounts of dozens of Afghan schoolgirls taking sick after apparently being poisoned, perhaps because of their outrageous decision to seek an education.  If the first two stories here come across as farce, this must be tragedy.

Sex is one of the most powerful human urges. It’s natural; it’s normal. And yet so many fear this drive, especially in women. Actor Jack Nicholson once said if he cut off a breast in a movie, the film would receive an AA rating; if he kissed it, it would receive an X.

What a strange world it is.

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Heavy Trash in Toronto – A Review

April 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Rock and roll.

At its heart, it’s sweat and sex. And no more so than in a live form.

If that sounds like your idea of a good time, Friday’s Heavy Trash show at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto was time well spent. 

The Horseshoe is one of my favourite venues in Toronto. It’s small  (approximate capacity 250), and there are almost no bad sight lines.  It’s a nice experience when you can actually see the colour of the singer’s eyes.

First up were the Weirdies, a three-piece garage-punk band who’ve been around for a couple of years. They’re about to record their second album, but it’s worth picking up the first one – The Weirdies in 3D. 12 breakneck songs in 24 minutes. I bought a copy at the show and listened to the entire thing on the way home (so now I know just how long it takes to drive to the Horseshoe from my house).   

How to describe the Weirdies? Imagine Betty Boop fronting the Ramones. Throw in a bit of the 5,6,7,8s and you’re close  (and I mean all of that as a compliment). We conditioned not to expect much from opening bands. But half way through the first song, I broke into a grin. This was worth arriving early for. The set was a lot like the record: fast and fun.

 Next up were CatL, and I confess they were the reason I came to the show.  I first heard about them in a profile in Now Magazine .  I listened to the album and was hooked.  CatL have been around for a couple of years and have two records out, ..¿Adónde vas? A ningún lado and the outstanding new one With the Lord For Cowards you will find no place.  (Listen to it on their MySpace page)


(None of the CatL pictures I took turned out – this is the cover for the second album )

 CatL took the stage at about 10:40. No introduction, they just started playing. And they were instantly great. Combining a reverence for R&B and blues with the snottiness and energy of punk.   

CatL played songs from both their records, originals and covers (Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues” and others)  for about an hour, by which time the now-packed Horseshoe was fully awake.  

Heavy Trash took the stage at about 11:50.  “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the legendary Horseshoe Tavern” and they were off. 

 I’ve seen Jon Spencer four times over the years. Twice in Pussy Galore, once with Boss Hog, and finally with the Blues Explosion. Spencer is a consummate showman who clearly loves what he’s doing: Channelling a mutant Las Vegas Elvis, every utterance to the audience seemed to begin “Uh, Ladies and gentlemen…”  At one point spencer interrupted a song to announce he had been overcome by a feeling so strong he couldn’t continue, that he wanted to talk about something very important to him: ROCK N ROLL. We loved it.

Unlike Spencer’s Blues Explosion, Heavy Trash are interested in rockabilly, but not the Stray Cats or the often tame version we are often exposed to. No, the harsher, the rawer sounds. Mix in a punk sensibility and you have Heavy Trash.  Matt Verta-Ray, formerly of Madder Rose and Speedball plays guitar and sings lead on a couple of songs. As good as Midnight Soul Serenade is, it doesn’t compare with the live experience.

Heavy Trash played an hour-long set, and then an encore of almost half an hour. We staggered out of the Horseshoe at 1:30, spent but satisfied.

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The Mix-tape

April 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm (Uncategorized)

I made my first mix-tape in 1981. Sure, I made cassettes  before that, but they were mostly things I taped off of the radio, pop hits then later John Peel sessions.

But in 1981 I moved from England to Canada. Suddenly instead of  indie punk, I was  surrounded by classic rock, and crappy bands like Triumph, Headpins, Toronto, Loverboy and all the rest of the cheese-metal scene. And it was diffiuclt to explain to the guys in my class, the music I liked. Oh sure they knew about punk, but not really. My lab partner Mike would just chant “too drunk to fuck; too drunk to fuck” when I tried to talk to him about music. Yeah, I owned that single by the Dead Kennedys, but punk was much more than that.  So I made a tape with some of my favourites: The Sex Pistols, the Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, Crass, Discharge, the Wall and many others. Needless to say, the kids didn’t like it.  But I did. I kept the tape for years and played it over and over. Who knows, it’s probably gathering dust somewhere in the basement.

When I finished high school and went to university, I worked at the campus radio station. For two hours a week, I hosted my own live mix-tape.  But I continued to make mix-tapes for friends, girls, girlfriends, and family for years. One of the first gifts I gave my wife was a cassette with a Jesus and Mary Chain bootleg on one side and a Butthole Surfers mix on the other (our first date was a Butthole Surfers shows with the flaming Lips opening for them)

Then for Christmas  2003, I gave my sister a tape, and while she thanked me, the expression on her face was, “What is this thing..?” I bought a new computer with a CD burner and switched to make mix-CDs. I still make them; I don’t have enough friends to make playlists for.   I can’t remember who said this first, but the idea is that once technology becomes obsolete it becomes collectable. The only real advantage of the cassette was its portability. The sound quality was lower than vinyl and every time you played a cassette there was the very real possibility the player would eat the tape (always carry a pencil just in case you need an emergency rewind)!

But there was something lovely about the cassette and the mix-tape. Perhaps because it took so long to make, it became a labour of love. Making a sixty or ninety minute mix-tape involved a number of restrictions even before you worked out the track listing. First you had to make sure you had the right length of material for the tape – punk was marvellous for the tape because you could always find a song under two minutes to squeeze in at the end of the side – I hated tapes where the song cut out half-way through! Second, you had to sit and cue up each song, press “play”, then “stop” at the end of the track. Making a tape was as long as the tape.

CDs made it quicker. Ripping a song took a fraction of the time, as did the burn. Today, the playlist means the entire process can be done in under ten minutes, but  it takes a little of the specialness out of it. But the main thing  about the mix-tape, mix-CD or even playlist is that it often says more about you than the person you give it to. Why did you choose those songs for that person? It reminds me of that line from Bob Dylan’s “Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”; Dylan sings, “your debutante knows what you need, I know what you want.”   And you want these songs, you just don’t know it yet.

There’s a certain amount of rock nerd snobbery about the mix-tape, but there’s also the naive joy of the fan who hears something great and says everyone should hear this too. I’ll admit I’m still crushed when I play something I think is great and the audience isn’t moved. (Most recently I came across a recently unearthed Cornershop remix with MIA doing backing vocals. My wife shrugged.)   What brought on this bout of nostalgia?  I came across Mix Tape – the Art of Cassette Culture, a collection short pieces and track lists about mix-tapes, edited by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.  It’s a great read, and best of all, it gave me lots of ideas for my next mix. Happy taping

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The Continued Commodification of Existence

April 18, 2010 at 8:25 pm (Uncategorized)

Two weeks ago, I’d never even heard the phrase “early adopters, ” although apparently it has been in existence since the early 1960s. In a recent episode of Modern Family,  doofus dad Phil craves an iPad for his birthday, and self-identifies as an early adopter. A lot of people complained the show was essentially an ad for Apple, but the buyers come across as shallow selfish types.

For those of you, unhip like me, an early adopter is that friend of yours who always has to have the new tech as soon as it arrives: first with Windows 7, first with an iPhone, first with an x-box, and now first with an iPad.

Of course, the instant hipness/annoying smugness along with any brief advantage enjoyed by having a toy which few others possess is balanced by the knowledge that within a few short months, a better , cheaper, less buggie version will be available to and enjoyed by the unwashed masses.

An article by Rob Walker in the New York Times last weekend, suggested that we owe a debt of thanks to the early adopters for essentially beta testing in the field. They lay out the cash and wrestle with all the imperfections of the product while the rest of us sit back patiently waiting for the price to drop. In addition, there’s also the possibility the item won’t catch on, and so the coolness factor becomes simply a bad investment. 

I’m not saying I’m above this – I bought London Calling the day it came out, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation to be first in line, in fact anywhere in the line, to buy the latest tech.  So unhip am I that I haven’t quite grasped what the iPad does yet. It looks interesting, and seems to do some cool things, but I don’t know why i need it yet.  The iPod, I get, the laptop I get, but the iPad, not yet.

One review I read quote a satisfied user who noted that the long life battery would allow a user to watch hours of video at the beach. Hmm, the cynic in me thought, who go to the beach to watch videos? Don’t you go to the beach to do, oh I don’t know, beachy things? 

There is a reason of course, and yes, it has to do with the kind of world we live in, and the economic system we live under: Capitalism.

Capitalism is at heart, generalized commodity production: That is, society is concerned with the production of objects intended  for sale. The fundamental law of this society, the law of value, has extended into almost every aspect of human social relations and its expression is capitalism’s tendency to transform everything into a commodity, everything into something for sale.

Choice becomes freedom to choose what to buy, what to consume. Political options are the choice between detergents. As I read the newspaper this morning, my daughter pointed out the packaging on a bottle of body lotion:

Sweet pea forever is a bright blend of colorful petals and lively citrus that expresses the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s.

Whatever I may think of the solutions advanced by sixties radicals, the ideas that racism, the Vietnam war, repression of sexuality and sex were things worth struggling against were worthy. Yet, now apparently those same ideals can be achieved by buying body soap.  

But because soap is not intrinsically exciting, companies and their advertisers feel a need to convince us that our lives will somehow be better, more fulfilled, more complete if we own this product.

I don’t mean to suggest that at its heart capitalism runs on advertising, no that would be essentially Naomi Klein. Nevertheless, it is the continued expansion and encroachment of the law of value into every aspect of our lives that drives this kind of phenomena.

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TV Smith TV Times (no relation)

April 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m still not quite over the fact that TV Smith didn’t make it to Canada last year, but life goes on. And the news the TV Times (no relation), the TV Smith newsletter is being published again is certainly good news. The issue also mentions the exciting news  that an 80s demos CD is about to be released. Good news indeed.  

Get your copy of the magazine  here

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anarchy in toronto 2010

April 12, 2010 at 1:23 am (Uncategorized)

I posted a couple of times earlier this week about the Toronto anarchist assembly which was held this weekend.

The bookfair part was on Saturday and Sunday at the Steelworkers Hall downtown, but I only went for Saturday.

I arrived early and helped set-up – it never hurts to help out, especially when table locations haven’t been assigned yet. My six-year old was along for the ride, and he was as good as gold, although he did keep asking when we could go. (When his mother asked him which part he liked best he said, with all the brutal honesty of a child, “Leaving.”)

In the early noughties (naughties?) Toronto had three anarchist bookfairs: In 2002, 2003 and 2004. There was supposed to be another, but somehow it fell apart. Last year, they tried again. I was supposed to go, but for some reason didn’t.

By all accounts, this years was larger. Several hundred people wandered through to look at tables by PM Press, the IWW, Common Cause, and many more.    The note on my table just said my name and “ultra left.” It should have said “Notes from Underground”, but that’s OK.

It’s an odd thing how the anarchists have become the group which does bookfairs. Prehaps because anarchism is such a broad church, it allows for people to get together. The Leninist left just doesn’t seem to be able to play nicely, and so its events are solo affairs.

I sold copies of Internationalist Perspective and Aufheben, distributed leaflets nad pamphlets and had some interesting conversations. Anarchist clearly means different things to different people as some of the decidedly non-anarchist t-shirts testified, but all in all worth doing.

Montreal next month, then Hamilton in June.

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Passenger Side

April 11, 2010 at 10:06 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a movie premiere, but last week I went to see Passenger Side the new film from Matthew Bissonnette.

It’s the story of two brothers on a road trip within the Los Angeles area. It’s Michael’s birthday and his younger brother Toby calls him and asks Michael to drive him around because his own car is in the shop. Michael reluctantly agrees to drive his bother around on his errands.

However, the nature of the errands become stranger and stranger, and Toby finally confesses that he is looking for his ex-girlfriend with whom he   trying to reconnect. Throw in a few plot twists, some general weirdness and a great soundtrack, and you have the recipe for a great movie.

Or not…

The film isn’t terrible or anything, but it had a certain forced quality about it that made it difficult to enjoy.  Much of the dialogue has a sit-comish quality about it that goes beyond witty banter: everyone has clever one liners and comebacks.

In addition, many of the characters they meet on their trip seem merely thrown in with little reason to be there. Early in the movie while Michael is waiting, a woman gets into his car and begins jerking off. Later on, they drop by a house where a porn film is being shot. the two women in the scene sit and talk about a dream one of them had. So, why is this important in the narrative?

I admit though, the movie is partially redeemed by the clever ending, which I won’t reveal.

At the premier, the director and Mac from Superchunk were on hand to answer questions, and after Mac and Jim did an acoustic set of Superchunk and Portastatic songs. Amazing, especially since the second song was Cool, my all-time favourite Superchunk song.

I hope it’s not uncharitable to speak ill of a film I didn’t pay to see, but there you go.

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Malcolm McLaren RIP

April 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Rock and roll death is a funny thing:  Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse (Knock on any Door); It’s better to burn out than to fade away (Rust Never Sleeps).

The clichés litter the landscape.  We usually aren’t surprised to learn of those in rock ‘n’ roll expiring early; it’s less surprising when other things take them. I started listening to music in a serious way over 30 years ago, and now I’m starting to see music contemporaries pass from less ‘romantic’ causes.  

Even so, it was a bit of a surprise to read of Malcolm McLaren’s death from cancer on Thursday at the age of 64.  

McLaren of course was the art school student on the fringes of the British Situationist milieu who invented punk rock. At least that’s the way he told it.

A scheming Machiavellian manipulator. That’s the way others told it.

A brilliant conceptionalist who seized opportunities without always seeing the consequences for others. Maybe.

Whatever the real ‘truth’ McLaren left his mark. As manager of the New York Dolls in their final days (and the architect of the Red Patent Leather communist iconography), as clothing entrepreneur of Let it Rock and Sex, as manager of the Sex Pistols, Adam and the Ants, and Bow Wow Wow, and even as a solo artist. McLaren, love him or hate him, he had a vision and a style.

Perhaps the final word should go to John Lydon, McLaren’s one-time nemesis who posted this on his web site the day of McLaren’s death: 

“For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you”

Johnny Rotten

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