Archive for November, 2005

Sunday, November 20th, 2005

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 15

The Magic Numbers / The Magic Numbers (EMI)

I like pop music as much as the next guy, and Britain’s Magic Numbers are about as pop as you get – actually, too much. There’s no denying the Magic Numbers have gorgeous, note-perfect harmonies and a keen ear for chirpy, sing-song melodies and jangly guitars that has garnered them no small amount of success both home and now abroad. What they don’t understand quite so well is brevity – their debut record boasts a running time of over an hour, and what starts out as a rather delightful sugary treat turns into a diabetic coma by the end of it all. Musically and lyrically, there’s little variety in their musical recipe and it really does end up being a textbook case of being killed with kindness. It would have all been lot more palatable if it had been trimmed to a pop music-approved 40 minutes. But still, they have some killer infectious numbers including “Forever Lost”, the not-surprisingly ultra-twee video for which I’ve linked below, and they’re on tour in North America right now, the final show of which will be at Lee’s Palace in Toronto on December 1.

Video: The Magic Numbers – “Forver Lost” (.mov)
The Magic Numbers @ MySpace

The Weather Machines / The Sounds Of Pseudoscience (Tigers Against Crime)

The Magic Numbers could learn something about brevity from The Weather Machines. On their debut album The Sound Of Pseudoscience, this South Dakotan outfit crams 12 sharp slices of new wave-y power pop into just over 34 minutes. This album could be filed quite comfortably alongside the earlier works of Elvis Costello and anything by Ted Leo, with its stripped-down sonics, irresistable hooks and brainy lyricism. The intellectualism comes honestly, too – primary Weather Machine Jason Ward sports a masters in electrical engineering and works at a college (and I do have a affection for engineers who want to grow up to be rock stars). Punchy, pogo-ey and recommended.

MP3: The Weather Machines – “Last Stop”
MP3: The Weather Machines – “Modern Text On Love”
Interview: Rapid City Journal

The Cartels / E.P. (independent)

The Cartels are a new 4-piece hailing from the self-admitted “most un rock n roll town in the country” (Ipswich, Suffolk, UK) but are doing what they can to mitigate that title just a little bit. They cite acts like the Stone Roses, Doves and Charlatans as influences (amongst many others) and their “now listening to” section on the website backs up their diverse tastes, but their recorded output sounds to my ears like they’re a little too concerned, whether deliberately or not, with what’s currently fashionable back home – namely snottily-delievered garage rock (or some narrow variant thereof). Despite this, there’s still some definite potential there – they can play and sing, there’s good musical ideas in the mix and there’s an innate melodicism that can’t be denied. They’re offering the whole of their debut EP for free download off their website right now, including artwork (though they should know that the PDF link for the insert is broken), but if they keep growing and developing, they won’t have to be giving their music away for much longer.

MP3: The Cartels – “Mockingbird”
The Cartels @ MySpace

np – Metric / Live It Out

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

Do The Hippogriff

So just what kind of person ends up at the midnight screening of Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire? Excellent question. Let’s just say I’ve only recently been, um, encouraged to read the books and while I was looking forward to seeing the film, being one of the first in Eastern Standard Time to do so wasn’t MY idea. Anyway.

Most reviews will begin or end with something to the effect of, “The best Harry Potter film yet”. Which is both true, but also very relative – the first film wasn’t very good at all, so they really only had one way to go. But beyond that faint praise, Goblet Of Fire is not only the best of the Potter films so far, but it really satisfies in its own right. I was surprised at the selection of Mike Newell as director, after all – success with Four Weddings And A Funeral and Mona Lise Smile doesn’t necessarily guarantee results with a property as beloved and under as much scrutiny as the Potter franchise. But Newell pulls it off, and hats are off to him.

He succeeds where Chris Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron did not by not getting caught up in showing off how wonderful everything looks or leaving his personal stamp on things. He’s ruthlessly efficient in cutting subplots and superfluousness and demonstrates laser-like tunnel vision in telling the central story and letting that alone carry the film. There’s minimal exposition – it’s pretty much assumed that if you haven’t read the books or seen the earlier films, there’s no reason for you to be there – and the pace is breakneck. Unlike Rowling’s text, the film has no interest in documenting the entire Hogwarts school year. All that matters is the tournament (and the Yule ball) and the incidental detail that is excised really isn’t missed. Also, by removing some of the cutesiness that with each book seems increasingly at odds with the darker tones of the story, Goblet gives the series its first actual moments of drama and emotional heft. You could hear people all over the theatre crying…

It also helps that Goblet has by far the best special effects of any of the films, hell, they’re better effects than I’ve seen in almost any film in recent memory. Also, the young cast turn in their most natural performances yet. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call them good actors, but they’ve definitely grown comfortable in and now pretty much define their roles. It helps that they’re also at the age where they’re simply more interesting people, though I think the whole “raging hormones” angle is a little overplayed in the media. Just wait till the next film… Ralph Fiennes is perfectly cast as the resurrected Voldemort – he demonstrates great restraint in a role that could have very easily descended into scenery chewing. Instead, he (and his serpentine snout) comes off every bit as sinister and evil as you’d hope. Gary Oldman, on the other hand, does his best in his only scene as a pile of cinder and though the Wyrd Sisters barely appear, Jarvis Cocker does get a good close-up.

So yes, I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire. I note that the next film, Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix, isn’t due out for two years – will that be before or after the final book? I’ve not really been keeping up. Also, the fifth film will also see yet another directorial change. Some guy named David Yates is currently attached to it. I see nothing on his resume that I can base his ability on, so I just hope that he’ll be able to pick up the baton and we’ll still be saying “this one is the best one yet” in 2007.

One thing about going to the midnight screening was that there were not trailers, which normally would suit me fine but the Superman Returns teaser was supposed to be attached to Harry Potter. Good thing it’s already online here.

The Stranger and Daily News talk to Laura Veirs. Also, check out the video for “Galaxies”.

And in the southern rock section of today’s post, The Pitch runs the standard Z questions by My Morning Jacket bassist Tommy Tu-Tone while Creative Loafing talks to Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, who reveals the working title for their new album as A Blessing And A Curse. Links via Largehearted Boy, a southern rocker himself.

The Guardian wonders aloud if the Arcade Fire have any hope for “success” in the absurdly charts-obsessed UK.

Stylus follows up their favourite b-sides feature by celebrating that format’s cousin, the EP.

iThe much-beloved CBC Radio 3 will be coming back to life in early December as a Sirius radio station, featuring around 85% Canadian content, and not the Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Burton Cummings sort. The website will return early next year as some sort of amalgam of,, and and feature a BLOG. Like the cool kids have.

Arrested Development’s Michael Cera (aka George Michael) tells JAM! he has no idea what’s going on with the show’s future while David Cross is a little more direct in his thoughts on the situation. And Prefix reports that the reduced episode order will be joke fodder in an upcoming episode… again. They took some jabs at that last season as well, when Fox decided to pass on the last four episodes of the season.

Had one hell of a time recovering from my little hacker attack yesterday. I eventually traced the point of ingress to a vulnerability in Nucleus. Not surprising, in hindsight, considering that I hadn’t upgraded the software in, um, three years? But everything is now rebuilt and patched up and that should hopefully be that. I’m still having some email issues though, so if you’ve written me, be patient.

np – My Bloody Valentine / Tremolo

Friday, November 18th, 2005

Sympathy For The Devil

I saw Chan-wook Park’s Old Boy at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and it was easily one of the most unsettling films I’d seen in a long time. I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me then that Old Boy was not only the second part of what was being called “The Vengeance Trilogy”, but that it was also a helluva lot tamer than the first one, Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. Well, now that I’ve seen Mr Vengeance, I’d take it all back and simply nod in dumbfounded agreement.

There’s only so much of the plot I can get into without giving stuff away, so I’ll just give the basic premise – a deaf dumb factory worker is laid off while trying to secure a new kidney for his gravely ill sister. Out of desperation, he gets involved with an organ smuggling ring which leads to a botched kidnapping which leads to what is plainly stated an incredibly crafted film that’s almost unbearable to watch. I don’t even know what the proper word to describe the experience is – sufficed to say that it makes Old Boy feel like a Disney cartoon. That film was intense, but it was wrapped in an action movie/comic book-ish fury that made the shocking moments somehow easier to stomach.

Mr Vengeance, on the other hand, is so slow and the setting so mundane that when the grimness begins creeping in at the edges, it’s that much more disturbing, and unrelentingly so. I initially thought he was including unnecessarily graphic details of various plot points simply for style, but it turns out he was just priming me for what was to come. By the end of it all, I had witnessed more dispassionately executed violence than I ever would have knowingly signed up for. Compounding the discomfort is the fact that there are no real heroes or villains in the film. Everyone’s motivation is understandable – sympathetic even – but their actions are no less reprehensible. There is one to root for or against, just tragedy after tragedy. And considering the English title of the film, that’s probably exactly the unsettling balance that Park was going for.

The final installment in the trilogy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, was released in Korea this year but hasn’t made an appearance on these shores. If Park wants to go out with a bang, I really don’t know if I can handle seeing it. Part of me wants to, but that’s the part of me that thinks sticking my tongue in a live electrical outlet sounds like a good idea. I’m learning not to listen to that part of me.

After a full two days of nail-biting suspense, Belle & Sebastian have revealed what their “mystery” album will be – their live performance of If You’re Feeling Sinister in it’s entirety at the Barbican in London, taken from this past September’s “Don’t Look Back” series of concerts. It’ll be available as an iTunes exclusive on December 6 and all proceeds donated to charity. Not quite as exciting as the Aphex Twin remix album I’d hoped for, but it’ll be cool nonetheless. Thanks to Gary for the info.

eye chats briefly with Will Sargent of Echo & The Bunnymen, who are at the Carlu on November 23.

Unfinished chat with Zach of Rogue Wave, who are at the Horseshoe on Sunday, November 27.

Joey Burns of Calexico talks to PopMatters about the art of collaboration. After hearing some live recordings from Calexico/Iron & Wine shows, I am very excited about their December 9 show in Toronto, Docks or no Docks.

Econoculture has an interview with ex-Low bass slinger Zak Sally about his comics work and leaving Low. His former bandmates are at Lee’s Palace January 31.

Scottish singer KT Tunstall has been added to the bill for Jason Collett’s show at Lee’s Palace on December 10. Paso Mino and Al Tuck will also be playing.

Paste gets master album artist Storm Thorgerson to offer comments on some of his well-known sleeve designs.

Billboard talks to Elbow about the wide release of Leaders Of The Free World State-side next February 7.

Ted Leo talks “I’m Looking Through You” and Rubber Soul in the context of the This Bird Has Flown tribute album. It’s a video clip (WMV) and whoever cut that video needs to be shot. Repeatedly. Stretching like two minutes of interview footage out over five plus minutes? Gads. Via Prefix.

Update: Sorry about the server issues this morning. Hopefully they’re all sorted out now.

Update 2: What a day. I got hacked by Los Brazilian Boys, but have got backups going and am slowly coming back. Should be back to normal by later this afternoon. Bear with me.

np – Crooked Fingers / Dignity & Shame

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

Season Of Lists

If there’s one thing the end of the year means, it’s lists. Lists lists lists. Everyone loves em, hates em, loves to hate em. They’ll be coming fast and furious for the next couple of months to be sure, and while most will be of the “albums of the year” variety, there’ll be some interesting exceptions. Information Leafblower has, for the third year, polled a range of music bloggers for their nominations for the Top 40 Bands in America, 2005. I interpreted this criteria as simply what American bands have I enjoyed the most in 2005? This isn’t an all-time thing, just a past 300 days or so thing. My list was as follows (and knocked off very quickly since I completely forgot about the deadline till the last minute), and their overall rank in the ILB poll in brackets:

1. The National (2)

2. Okkervil River (24)

3. Wilco (36)

4. Crooked Fingers (20)

5. The Mountain Goats (11)

6. My Morning Jacket (12)

7. Sufjan Stevens (1)

8. The Decemberists (9)

9. Explosions In The Sky (40)

10. Spoon (10)

There shouldn’t be any surprises there. The final tally over at ILB does raise some eyebrows (if you’re the eyebrow raising type). I didn’t expect Sufjan to be ranked so high, I figured that there’d been plenty of time for the media saturation backlash to kick in and maybe take him down a few notches. And Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin at 29? Been stuffing the ballot box, Ryan? Naturally, there’s some good-natured debate in the comments section about the “long-term importance” versus “what have you done lately?” angle, but I favour the latter (which, incidentally, is what Kyle asked for in the first place) because it makes for a more varied and interesting list. And if you open it up to career achievements, then you can argue where is Nirvana? Or CCR? Or The Monkees? No, I think keeping it to the here and now not only gives some newer artists a shot at some exposure, but it’s also in keeping with the capricious and ADD-addled nature of most music bloggers… Ooh, shiny new buzz band! Gimme! The comments are also amusing for demonstrating that some people simply have no concept of geography, and what is and is not part of America. If you like a good old fashioned bitch session, check out the respective sites of each of the contributers, whom Leafblower has graciously linked in the post. Most have blogged their nominations (as I have), and their own follow-up comments are just as entertaining.

One Billboard scribe ponders the pressures of the music writer’s year-end list. I empathize. My own process is as follows, I keep a running list of everything I get for a calendar year, and every few months when I’m bored, I’ll take a look at the list and identify what have been my favourite records of the year to that point, knowing full well that in a couple months I could totally be burned out on it. And so by this point in the year, when most of the albums I plan on get this year have been released, it’s usually pretty obvious what my top records are. I’ve avoided ranking records in the past because that seems like a silly thing to try and quantify, but I’m thinking about it if just to properly highlight my absolute favourites – after the first three or four, however, it becomes pretty much an even playing field. I’m aiming to have it all done and wrapped up by mid-December, though you don’t have to be a MENSA member to look at my list above and figure what my album list is going to look like.

And speaking of year-end kudos, Billboard reports that this year’s Shortlist Of Music prize will not be awarded, but a Shortlist-alike prize called the New Pantheon based on similar criteria will be happening sometime soon. Pitchfork has details on the new award for bands that don’t sell many records.

NME directs us this Coca-Cola promotional site to hear a new Flaming Lips from their upcoming album At War With The Mystics. It’s not really the whole song, just an exerpt that’s used to soundtrack some cool animation of a robot party. But everyone likes a robot party.

EachNoteSecure has the b-sides from Spoon’s Sister Jack single – every time I see “John McEntire remix”, I think “John McEnroe remix”. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t want to hear that. Also, the West Coast gives spoon some media love – The East Bay Express and San Diego City Beat both have features.

Supergrass’ North American Road To Rouen tour starts off right here in Toronto on February 6 at the Kool Haus, tickets $23.50. Full dates and thoughts from Gaz at Billboard.

Panda Canoe has the video for “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)”, the first video from Broken Social Scene’s new album. Kevin Drew in tighty-whities was not something I *ever* needed to see. And now that innocence is gone. Alas. Also, JAM! talks to Brendan Canning.

Torontoist week in shows – featuring The Hidden Cameras!

np – Interpol / Turn On The Bright Lights

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

Decline And Fall

Last night, Sneaky Dee’s played host to the Loveless Music Group travelling road show. As the name tips off, Loveless is a New York-based co-operative dedicated to creating and promoting shoegaze-a-like music. One of the founders of the community is the Autumn Thieves, whom I reviewed this past Sunday. A quick look at the playlist on the Loveless MySpace page reveals a nice blend of styles that’s pretty much up my alley (and I am reminded that 2/3 of the defunct On!Air!Library! are carrying on in Daylight For The Birds, and sound great).

Anyways, calling it a travelling roadshow is actually inaccurate since Autumn Thieves were the only act on the bill that had actually travelled from anywhere. Bleep and Fjord Rowboat are both local acts (a fourth act, Dictioncanary, was also on the bill but I couldn’t stick around that late). If nothing else, the evening was an interesting exercise in non-traditional band configurations.

Bleep are a three-piece who create almost completely synthetic yet very emotional-sounding music. Most of this is thanks to the remarkable vocals of Robyn Sellman, whose voice reminds very much of Kate Bush or Liz Fraser, and when grafted on top of glitchy IDM sequencer tracks, electronic drums and heavily processed and occasionally abused guitar, it makes for something quite compelling and unique-sounding. It’s a shame not many people arrived early enough to see them play (when they started, I constituted half of the audience) because they were worth hearing.

Fjord Rowboat were the most conventional band in the lineup, both in setup and sound. Boasting zero sequencers or laptops and one drummer (on an acoustic kit!), Fjord Rowboat served up some decidedly Anglophilic rock with overt space-rock overtones. There were moments where the band just clicked and it sounded terrific, but at other points something just seemed off. “Paragon”, the one recorded song they have available to download didn’t come off particularly well which is a shame, because it’s an excellent tune. I’ll certainly give them another chance to make a first impression should I see them again, which seems likely.

As I mentioned in my quick review of Autumn Thieves on Sunday, I felt there was definitely the potential for something cool from this outfit, but it hasn’t been realized yet. Now having seen them live, this opinion is simply reinforced even more. On the plus side, their pre-recorded sequenced tracks were more sophisticated and even had changes and dynamics – very nice. While I still think a live drummer would suit them better, the use of the backing tracks to form a sort of continuous soundscape between songs was fairly effective. On the negative side, however, they were far too loud onstage for a band with no drummer to be heard over nor a huge crowd to reach. All it really accomplished was obscuring Courtney Hutcheson’s vocals, which is unfortunate because they’re really the band’s main strength. Also unfortunate was the band’s almost complete lack of onstage charisma and chemistry – Hutcheson looked petrified onstage and often seemed to be looking to bassist Andy Zuercher for guidance, and all the while guitarist Mike Swanson seemed oblivious to his bandmates and was off in some riff-happy arena rock world. I don’t know, it just didn’t click for me. I still think they could get it together and are on the right path and are fighting the good fight. The more I listen to the tracks on their MySpace page, the more the strengths outshine the weaknesses, but there’s still a ways to go.

All the bands have MySpace pages with tunes to check out – you should do so (Bleep @ MySpace, Fjord Rowboat @ MySpace, Autumn Thives @ MySpace). And there are photos.

Some updated release dates – Trespassers William’s Having will be out Feberuary 28 and Josh Rouse’s Subtotu Lo (I’m pretty sure there’re supposed to be accents in there somewhere) is out March 21. And excitingly, the new Golden Smog disc, still untitled, has been given a March 28 release date. Also, Sarah Harmer’s new one I’m A Mountain gets a US release February 7.

And no, I don’t know anything this little tidbit in a recent mailing from Belle & Sebastian that has kids all in a tizzy:

Cryptic last bit: There will actually be another B&S album (of sorts) released before The Life Pursuit. In three weeks in fact. But we can’t say what it is for a couple of days.

But hopefully details will come to light as January 16 (the date in question) draws near. However, consider this:

The album will be preceded by a single, “Funny Little Frog”, on January 16th. Will it be released in a multitude of bizarre formats? Who knows

Perhaps “Funny Little Frog” will come with a slew of b-sides to make it a mini album? I do not know. Grok the album tracklisting here.

Shows – Stars have added a fourth show to their residency at Lee’s Palace (technically, a fifth if you count both Saturday shows). This one’s on the Sunday, December 19 18. Also, Nada Surf are at Lee’s Palace on March 11.

np – British Sea Power / The Decline Of British Sea Power