Music Notes October 2015

October 28, 2015 at 11:01 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s the stuff…

1 V/a – Punk 45: Sick on You

Like most comps, 50% of the tracks are OK, 25 % are unlistenable and 25% are essential. This pre-punk 45s collection is about that. Listen in for Crime’s “Hot Wire My Heart” (later covered by Sonic Youth) and a track by Death among many tasty treats.

2. Adele – “Hello”

Apparently this is getting more hits on You Tube than the Star Wars trailer. Not immediate, but it’s richness sinks in after a few listens. A piano ballad that eventually pulls you in and refuses to let go.

3. Tanita Tikarum – Ancient Heart

Found this at the bottom of a pile of CDs the other day. Sure, the big song is “Twist in my sobriety” (still sounds great almost three decades later), but the rest of the album has a moody beauty that’s hard to ignore.

4. Lana Del Ray – Honeymoon

There’s a sticker on the new Del Ray record which boasts “her catchiest song ever.” I’m not sure Lana Del Ray fans care about catchiness. After all, it’s that doomed film noir sound that’s so attractive about her work. I do like her “sound” though all the songs sound alike, but my guess is that this is the sort of thing which is liked by people who like this sort of thing.

5. Blues Calendar

If you’re out shopping for early Christmas presents you could do a lot worse than picking up a classic blues calendar which not only features cool blues records on the months, but comes with a CD of sounds from the 1920s. Get it at Soundscapes on College Street.

6. The Velvet Underground – Loaded

I’m sure it will be lovely when the anniversary edition is released. But, again , I complain. How many more times are the Velvets (who’s left now?) going to re-release these records adding a new mix or unreleased versions? My copy of “Fully Loaded” mocks me.

7. Ork Records New York New York

Nice set from the label featuring early and rare stuff by Richard Hell, Alex Chilton, the Feelies, Television, Lester Bangs (!), Cheetah Chrome and much more. 49 tracks and a cool package. Sure these is room in your collection for this.

8. Cibo Matto – Viva La Woman

1996 album featuring two Japanese funksters rapping and creating very cool sounds. Sean Lennon is on the record too. Do you know your chicken?

9. Chrissie Hynde – Reckless: My Life as a Pretender

Mentioned this one last time. Finally got a chance to read it. Hmm. Great story. Not so well told. The Guardian suggested she needed a better editor. True enough. Skip over the early years until she gets to London and the story picks up.

10. Elvis Costello – Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink

Got to admit, I’m pretty excited about Costello’s autobiography. Yes, yes, I’ve been disappointed before by artists I love (see item 9), but hope springs eternal.

Gotta run.


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A Few Words about Luna

October 26, 2015 at 1:42 am (Uncategorized)

I was a late convert to the work on Dean Wareham. And to be honest it was a book that won me over. I read his autobiography Black Postcards on the plane on a trip to Florida and decided I needed to know more about him. A week or so back, my wife and I (my wife read the book too and had pretty much the same reaction) went to see the reformed Luna play a show at the Danforth Music Hall.

We missed the opening band Diane Coffee, the side project of Fogygen drummer Shaun Flemming, but it was a trade-off between seeing the band and not having to stand for another ninety minutes. Age won out.

Luna came on around 9:30, and it’s hard to describe the feeling. Like a bunch of old friends reconnecting, except that we weren’t friends to begin with. Low-key, but the sound gradually crept over us, a warm sonic fuzz. Along with Wareham, Brita Phillips, Lee Wall and Sean Eden carried us through a seventy minute set of dream-pop sounds. A great experience. like being a little drunk, but sober enough to understand the world.

Set list


  • Slide
  • California (All the Way)
  • Chinatown
  • Still at Home
  •  Malibu Love Nest
  • Tiger Lily
  • Sideshow by the Seashore 
  • Tracy I Love You
  • Lost in Space
  •  Freakin’ and Peakin’ 
  • Bewitched 
  • Friendly Advice 
  • Everybody’s Talking
  •   Moon Palace
  • 23 Minutes in Brussels

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Canadian Federal Election 2015 – John Oliver’s take

October 19, 2015 at 6:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Yeah, I was going to write a deeply impressive critique of the election circus pointing out that very little will change, then making fun of the various parties and so on. But I ran out of time. John Oliver made me laugh even though it could have been a lot more savage.


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Widowspeak in Toronto

October 18, 2015 at 2:39 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s odd to go to a concert on a Sunday night. Odder when that Sunday is the day before (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Still, eighty or so souls made the trek down to the Silver Dollar to see self-described country-grunge artists Widowspeak make their return to Toronto.

Opening band Beams played a mix of folk and pop numbers (including a Kate Bush cover!) and ended their set rocking out. One to see again.

Widowspeak came on stage about 10:30. The two-piece from Brooklyn were expanded into a full band for their stage set. If you’ve listened to the records, the band wears its influences on its sleeve, Mazzy Star, the Cowboy Junkies and dream pop most prominently. Lots of twang and reverb thrown into the mix allowed the band to cast a spell over the club, especially during the guitar driven final song. Hypnotizing.

I’m also going to disagree with Matt Williams’ assessment of the show in Now Magazine. While Williams gave the show a positive review, he argued that the band had to battle a “chatty and drunk” crowd. From where I was sitting, this wasn’t the case. The audience responded to the band, but didn’t seem disinterested. Granted, it was difficult to make out much Molly Hamilton said though.

Cool noise. No encore though.

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The Continuing Appeal of…Sport

October 18, 2015 at 2:23 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ll confess, I don’t quite understand the appeal of sports. Sure, I watch soccer and tennis. I’ve even worn an England World Cup t-shirt secure in the knowledge that following England in any soccer tournament is not a long-term commitment. But the screaming in the streets celebrations? I can’t quite tap into that.

Last time the Blue Jays won the World Series (more on that in a minute), I was coming home on the street car when the game ended. Suddenly, there were thousands of people in the street celebrating. It was as if peace had been declared, or the revolution had come (OK, maybe not). But utter bliss: “We” had won the World Series. Never mind that the people in the streets didn’t know anyone on the team. Never mind that the players weren’t from Toronto (and the following year when they won again, few of the players had remained). Never mind. Never mind.

The following day, I went to work. No change there. No raise. When I travelled, no one bought me a beer because I was from Toronto. Hmm.

Now, the Toronto Blue Jays are in the semi-final (oh, excuse me, the American League championship) in a competition called the World Series in which only American teams save for the sole Canadian team compete. Two down to Kansas City in a best of seven series.  It’s madness. Everywhere “Go Jays Go” and at work, it’s the topic of conversation.  Obviously, I’m missing something. The other thing of interest is that if you live in Toronto, you soon realize the rest of the country hates your city. It’s odd. Still, what’s odder is the re-branding of the Jays as “Canada’s team.” If there really is this fierce loyalty, should Toronto say, “Get your own team” ?

I know Marx said, nothing human is alien to me. But, I think I’m failing this one.

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Grace Lee Boggs: 1915 – 2015

October 12, 2015 at 4:56 pm (Uncategorized)

The passing last week of Grace Lee Boggs brought an era to a close. Boggs was one of the leaders of the Johnson-Forest tendency, but who was neither Johnson (CLR James) nor Forest (Raya Dunaveyska). The fourth member of the unofficial leadership was Martin Glaberman who died in 2001. I met her only once, at Marty’s memorial meeting in 2001.

Boggs was born in Rhode Island and became in politics in Chicago where she joined Max Shachtman’s Workers Party. She met CLR James while in Chicago, but later moved to New York. Boggs was one of the translators of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and also wrote the philosophical essay in the Johnson-Forest pamphlet The American Worker. 

Boggs and her husband James Boggs eventually moved to Detroit where they broke with James in 1962 (Dunayevskaya had split several years earlier). The most common terms applied to her life after this point is to say she became a community activity – a term that narrows considerably her work.  A review I wrote of her book Living for Change can be found here.

When I moved away from Trotskyism two decades ago, it was initially to Socialisme ou Barbarie and Solidarity, Anton Pannekoek, and the Johnson-Forest tendency I turned for a sense of understanding. Despite the fact, she had long moved away from those ideas, Boggs’ early contributions were a part of that important clarification for me.

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The Heartless Bastards and Friends – A Brief Review

October 12, 2015 at 4:23 pm (Uncategorized)

Argh. Another review that got away from me. I hope to have that Widowspeak review up tomorrow because there’s a Luna one coming soon too.

The Heartless Bastards played this year’s TURF festival, but in a nice little bonus, the organizers (I assume) also arranged club dates for some of the acts, so we got the chance to see them in a somewhat more intimate setting. And the Horseshoe Tavern is certainly that.

Opening the show were Alberta Cross, a country-rock band from the UK , though now based in Brooklyn. They played a brief rootsy set that owed a debt to Whiskeytown. Nice.

If the truth be told, it wasn’t the Heartless Bastards I cam to see, but the middle act of the night, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. I fell in love with this lot earlier this year and saw the expanded set at a show at Lee’s Palace. The three sibling band was joined on stage by mum and dad who played bass and guitar respectively and Tan Tan on trumpet. The set and even the stage banter were pretty much the same as the Lee’s set, but who cares? The mix of blues, salsa, jazz, rockabilly and more is irresistible. I almost left after their set, thinking that would be the peak.

It was, but that doesn’t mean the Heartless Bastards were a disappointment. They were. I’ve seen the band three times now (once opening for the Decemberists and a headlining set at the Horseshoe). The animated blues rock and Erika Wennestrom’s stage presence make their sets an experience.

It’s not often that you get to see three great bands in a small club. If you were there, you did well; if you weren’t, better luck next time.

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Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla: Which Flavour does the Middle Class like?

October 8, 2015 at 5:16 pm (Uncategorized)

Interesting piece published in Monday’s National Post. The opener being the most interesting, that contrary to received wisdom, there is very little to separate the parties. Of course, with the Conservatives you get a little more overt racism (quite a lot more these days as the Niqab takes centre-stage in the conservatives’ campaign);  with the Liberals and the NDP you get a little sugar, but not a great deal of difference from the Conservatives.


Apart from being the longest federal campaign in living memory, this has to be the most chaotically confused; not because of the great variety of ideologies on offer, but rather the lack of them.

For if you cut past the partisan babble, you will discern a striking unanimity among Conservatives, New Democrats and Liberals — whether it be legal restrictions on smoking pot (all contemplate reform to one degree or another), or climate change (the provinces will lead, no matter the election result), or the federal share of sales tax (which will not budge even if tax-and-spenders storm the castle Oct. 19).

The middle class, all major parties agree, is the holy of holies. The only serious discord, on economic matters, is over which of them can most credibly lay claim to loving “everyday Canadians” best and rewarding them most, through the sundry goodies of tax cuts, spending and benefits.

But the “middle class,” as it turns out, is actually a proxy in a more elemental struggle, not over social inequality, but over power. The class distinction is code: it represents the demographic fulcrum, perhaps no more than 10 per cent of eligible voters who in Canada determine the outcome of elections.

All policy-making in the three main parties now appears aimed at assimilating this cohort, likely numbering fewer than one million swing voters in key ridings. The result has been a transformative populism, which began not with Justin Trudeau or Tom Mulcair, but with Preston Manning’s Reform Party in the early 1990s and got seriously rolling in 2005, before Stephen Harper’s first victory.

When Trudeau emerged from his post-boxing-match triumph in 2012 to gallop to the head of the Liberal party, he did so with rhetoric about the middle class already fully formed.

“The great economic success stories of the recent past are really stories of middle class growth,” he said in his launch speech. “China, India, South Korea and Brazil, to name a few, are growing rapidly because they have added hundreds of millions of people to the global middle class.”

Then more darkly: “The news on that front is not so good at home; I don’t need to tell you that. You, like our fellow Canadians all over the country, live it every day. Canadian families have seen their incomes stagnate, their costs go up, and their debts explode over the past 30 years.”

It was a message repeated in countless of his speeches thereafter; it was soon picked up by Mulcair’s New Democrats. The following year, now Liberal leader, Trudeau recruited journalist Chrystia Freeland, who would become the MP for Toronto-Centre; Freeland was the author of Plutocrats, a best-selling work of popular economics that explored the global phenomenon of rising inequality and income stagnation among the middle class. The NDP found its own inequality specialist, crusading left-wing journalist Linda McQuaig, who published a book with Neil Brooks in 2010 drawing on similar themes, The Trouble With Billionaires.

Though McQuaig and Freeland reached quite different conclusions, both books beat the drum about the spectre of a new “gilded age.” Soon, Liberal and New Democrat MPs could be seen hurrying around Parliament Hill with one book or the other under their arms; papers by the leading researchers in this field — Miles Corak at the University of Ottawa, Mike Veall at McMaster, Kevin Milligan at UBC, Mike Moffat at Western, Stephen Gordon at Laval, David Autor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — became required reading for Canadian politicos.

The data revealed, in a nutshell, that inequality has, indeed, been in a long-term rising trend, since the early 1980s. In examining tax filings going back to the 1920s, Veall found the top one per cent of earners’ share of total income spiked above 15 per cent just before the Great Depression and just before the Second World War, after which it dropped steadily for the next 40 years, reaching a nadir of about eight per cent in the early 1980s, Then, it began to steadily rise, helped by a neo-liberal policy wave across the Western world.

Canadian after-tax household incomes, critics of the middle-class mantra have often pointed out, have risen steadily over the past 30 years and have never been higher than they are today — but this is only because of a prolonged upward spike in the numbers of women working outside the home and a corresponding increase in women’s wages. Median full-year earnings among men, adjusted for inflation, are flat or down since 1980.

 This, then, provided the emotional nub of the case for a downtrodden middle class: Your family may be taking home more than it ever has before, but you’re working twice as hard. Moreover, the entry of women into the workforce is mainly done, now. From where will growth come in future? The key forces underlying polarization, which essentially is the hollowing out of traditional middle-class work, are automation and globalization, neither of which is reversible.

It’s a legitimate long-term policy concern. And it might make a compelling case for a sea change in federal tax policy, were it not for this: according to all the data, Canada has been bucking the long-term trend for the past 10 years — since the Conservatives took office. Veall’s data show the sharpest upward spike in inequality of modern times occurred in the 1990s under the Liberals, and topped out in 2005, with about 14 per cent of income in the hands of the top one per cent. That share has since declined to about 12 per cent.

Lest anyone think this is purely coincidental, along came the Parliamentary Budget Officer in May 2014, with a 57-page analysis of the combined effect of federal tax policy changes in 2005-13: “Cumulative tax changes since 2005 have been progressive overall and most greatly impact low-middle income earners … effectively resulting in a four per cent increase in after-tax income.”

Then there’s this: by global measures, Canada’s middle class is doing fine. In April 2014, The New York Times published a study, based on the Luxembourg Income Study database, showing median incomes in Canada had moved ahead of those in the United States and other leading economies. The federal Conservatives, predictably, did cartwheels. The loonie’s recent slump has made us poorer once again, relative to our American cousins. But Canada remains among the world’s wealthiest countries and also among the most equal. Redistributive taxation, implemented by nominal conservatives, is one main cause.

 So the question becomes, why? Why would these Conservatives be as solicitous of the middle and working class as they’ve been, given they’re supposed to be the party of fat cats? And why would the Liberals and New Democrats stage a five-alarm rescue for a cohort that’s already being rescued, to a quite considerable degree?

The answer lies in the groundbreaking work of a former Conservative strategist, Patrick Muttart, and the two smart political operatives who’ve adopted his data-driven methods — Brad Lavigne of the NDP and Gerald Butts of the Liberals. It is no surprise, given the three major parties’ strategies are built around market information gathered from the same populace, that their platforms now look similar. What’s remarkable is that there remain any variances at all.

Readers of Susan Delacourt’s superb 2013 book, Shopping for Votes, will be familiar with Muttart’s story. In the lead-up to the 2005-06 campaign, he determined the Tories could make inroads by micro-segmenting their appeal to the “Tim Hortons” crowd, shorthand for middle-and working-class voters. He  further discovered that elections often turn on the decisions of a relatively small cohort of swing voters who are apolitical, not interested in process and liable to vote their family’s economic interest first.

Delacourt refers to an article by Henry Olsen, written for the American Enterprise Institute in January 2011, in which Muttart is cited as “perhaps the leading authority on working-class voters in the English-speaking world.”

 John Howard in Australia and Margaret Thatcher in Britain relied on working-class voters to build their coalitions. Muttart’s singular achievement was to persuade Harper to do the same.

In Political Marketing in Canada (UBS Press 2012, edited by Alex Marland, Thierry Giasson and Jennifer Lees-Marshment), contributor André Turcotte writes: “The party’s polling program was designed to first understand the composition of the political marketplace and then to identify the values and policy positions of certain segments of the electorate that would maximize their electoral market share.”

After a disappointing result in 2008, as the NDP’s Lavigne recounts in his 2013 book, Building the Orange Wave, the party also embarked on micro-segmented analysis of target voters, resulting in its first concerted move to the centre under Jack Layton and laying the foundation for its breakout in 2011.

The humiliation of that experience for Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals, in turn, caused a fundamental re-assessment of that party’s policy-making, led primarily by Butts. The Liberals’ signature economic platform, which lowers the marginal tax rate for earnings of $44,701-$89,401 and boosts child benefits for middle-income families, is classic Muttartian thinking. It’s a wonder the Tories didn’t propose it themselves, or the NDP for that matter. Each seeks to capture the same voter, after all.

Some will lament this as the end of leadership; others will celebrate it as a great democratizing trend. Either way, it means Canadians will not only get the government they deserve, but also the policies they want — regardless of who wins, by and large. The Oct. 19 vote is not primarily about setting a direction for the nation. It’s about picking a leader. In 2015, that’s the only big decision left.

National Post


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The Cribs in Toronto ( A Brief Review)

October 4, 2015 at 10:41 pm (Uncategorized)

This one is a true note from underground, but more on that in a minute.

Third time’s the charm for this band. I missed the Cribs once because of a ticket mix-up. I want to see another act the same week, delayed getting a ticket and missed my chance. Last time I got a migraine a few hours before the show, and missed that too. But this time…

The Adelaide Hall is near Adelaide and McCall, but the entrance is round the back in an alley, and then you go downstairs (see?). Once I got inside it was a pleasant surprise. The club might hold 250 at a squeeze and the sight lines were really good. I came in just as the opening band were finishing up, so I had no real sense of them, but judging by the applause, they did the job. .

The Cribs are three brothers, lads from Yorkshire who play an exhilarating, intelligent, knock about punk rock. They played a soaring 70 minute set with old tunes “Hey Scenesters” and “Man’s World” along with tracks from their newly released For All My Sisters. The show was a sweaty moment that seemed to draw from the audience to feed the band’s energy. I’m sorry I missed their two previous appearances, but better late than never, even with no encore.

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More Notes on the Power of Dog (Because That’s What People Really Want)

October 4, 2015 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized)

With another mass shooting in a school, I almost started another post about the decadence of capitalism, its cannibalistic and self-destructive tendencies and all that usual, familiar stuff. But nobody really seems to care. The headline in The Onion best summed it up: “No Way To Prevent This” says only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

As WYNC noted, lines pulled from the article are of course familiar:

  • ...citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded… that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place.
  • “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said _______ resident ________, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations.
  • At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

Pretty much Jeb Bush’s response. “”Stuff happens” may be the most callous  fuck you uttered in a while. Perhaps, a Trumpian, “Hey, I like people who didn’t get killed.”

So instead, I thought I’d reprint something else from the Onion. A little lighter. A few more laughs.


Bringing a dog into the family can be as difficult as it is rewarding, and pet owners must set rules and boundaries for the newest members of their household. Here are The Onion’s tips for training your dog:

  • Start with simple commands like “sit” before working your way up to the more complicated ones like “fill the gaping void in my life.”
  • Remember that consistently good behavior will take time. You’re letting a fucking animal loose in your house.
  • Set a good example for your dog by never chasing after squirrels, no matter how badly you want to.
  • It’s important to establish dominance. Show your dog who’s boss by cleaning up its waste and paying for all its food.
  • Consistency is key. Remember to use the same expletive every time your dog chews up your shoes.
  • Dogs crave clear direction, so be sure to schedule yours for quarterly performance reviews.
  • Remain patient during training sessions with your dog, as English is not its first language.
  • Rather than simply saying “no” to your pet, engage it in a constructive dialogue about the moralistic implications of the undesired behavior.

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