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Archive for December, 2007

Monday, December 31st, 2007

To Fix The Gash In Your Head

To close out 2007, wrap-ups of my Friday and Saturday nights, aka the final shows of the year for me. We’ll start with Saturday.

Night four of the Drake Hotel’s “What’s In The Box?” year-end series of shows could have been subtitled: “Loud, With Guitars”. And that further subdivided into two – “As Improvisational Tool” and “As Blunt Instrument”.

Kicking off the first portion was Love, Anna, a local five-piece whom I couldn’t figure out if they actually had pre-written songs or were making it up as they went. If the former, they only had the barest skeletons of songs because watching them onstage, it was obvious there was a heavy ad-libbed component to what they were doing, with each player coming in one by one and lots of exchanged looks, nods and occasional “this is the chord I’m playing” guitar neck waves. But however prepared they were, they did produce some interesting tunes that maintained a rough pop structure and never straying into aimless jam territory and for that, they should be commended.

And if Love, Anna were the model of discipline, then Dundas were the polar opposite of that. Nominally a two-piece with drums and guitar, they played this show with a fellow named Koushik on Moog and from the get-go, they were a mess. Out of key and out of time, they either couldn’t hear each other or simply weren’t bothering to listen because every “song” – and I use the term loosely – was just a lurching mess of a Frankenstein’s monster. Really one of the more painful sets I’ve ever sat through.

That was the end of the “we don’t need songs” portion of the evening, with The Two Koreas happily stepping up to force things back into sharp focus. A fixture on the Toronto scene for a while now, they specialize in loud, forceful, punk-in-spirit rock music in the style of The Fall, complete with verbose, shouty lyrics from frontman (and local music scribe) Stuart Berman who put lie to the old saying, “those who can do, those who can’t write” with an energetic, engaging and effective stage presence. I couldn’t rightly tell one song from the next but they were just the thing to get my attention back from the video screens on either side of the room showing scenes from the Wonder Woman TV show and Breakin’.

It’d been some time since I’d seen Fjord Rowboat live, at least not since they released their debut album Saved The Compliments For Morning earlier this year. And it seems that since then, they’ve decided that the dreampop vein they’d been mining wasn’t quite as loud or as psychedelic as they’d wanted because they seemed considerably louder and more psychedelic than I remembered. They’ve also amped up the energy of their live show, with singer Craig Gloster knocking over his keyboard several times in the course of the set between doing jumping jacks and otherwise beating the tar out of his tambourine. With their heavy, swirling sound and matching visuals thanks to the video now being projected onto the band (and the screen behind), Fjord set the stage quite nicely for the final act of the night.

New York City’s A Place To Bury Strangers played Toronto once before earlier in the Summer – also with Fjord Rowboat – in a show that was lightly attended but spoken of reverentially by those who were there as a spectacle of smoke, strobes and bludgeoning volume. Since then, the word’s gotten out some about the alleged “loudest band in New York” and the room was fairly packed as the trio took the stage (though I can only guess that their smoke machines weren’t working properly as there was hardly any fog in the room). While their self-titled debut is a cyborg sort of record with drum machines and industrially-effected guitars giving it a mechanical quality, live they’re a straight power trio and that makes the ruthless precision of their attack that much more impressive.

Though the vocals were largely lost in their My Bloody Ministry-ish din, the strength of their songs still came across through it all. And while they were definitely loud, it wasn’t as much about the sheer volume of their attack as the fact that it was the just the right frequency range that was turned up to inflict maximum aural damage. My sympathies to anyone in attendance without proper hearing protection. And just when you thought it was intense as it could get, they hit the strobe lights and things just went stupid. What had been something of a surgical attack turned into brute sonic bludgeoning that could have lasted five minutes as easily as it could have been an hour. Between the noise and the strobes, that was two of five senses rendered ineffective and that tends to distort one’s ability to track time.

It was just nuts.

Photos: A Place To Bury Strangers, Fjord Rowboat, The Two Koreas, Dundas, Love, Anna @ The Drake Underground – December 29, 2007
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “To Fix The Gash In Your Head”
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “I Know I’ll See You”
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “My Weakness”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MP3: Fjord Rowboat – “Paragon”
Video: A Place To Bury Strangers – “I Know I’ll See You”
Video: Fjord Rowboat – “Carried Away”
MySpace: A Place To Bury Strangers
MySpace: Fjord Rowboat

The night previous was also spent at the Drake, though not in the Underground where Morlocks such as I usually dwell, but in the main floor Lounge. Jenn Grant had been booked into the space and since I’d missed all opportunities to see her perform this year, catching her in (almost) the place I first saw her last year was an appealing idea. Unfortunately, as it turns out the Drake Lounge is maybe the worst place you could possibly see someone perform as it’s really less a lounge than a restaurant and as such, the patrons were largely diners first, concertgoers second (if at all). As a result, Grant had to perform overtop lots of talking and general dinner noise (dishes, glasses, etc) as well as dodge waiters carrying drink and meals and whatnot.

And while I was more than frustrated enough by the setting for her, Grant handled it with grace and aplomb. Commenting that she felt like the lounge singer in Lost In Translation (though without the hooking up with Bill Murray part), she rolled out songs from her lovely debut Orchestra For The Moon as well as a few choice covers – both Wham! and Patsy Cline were represented – and some new material, accompanied on a couple by Justin Rutledge. I look forward to hearing her play again in a setting a little more sympathetic to the performer though I’d like to think that at least one person that night went in planning on just having a martini but left with a CD. And a martini.

Oh, and I forgot my camera battery so no pics. Alas.

MP3: Jenn Grant – “Dreamer”
Video: Jenn Grant – “Dreamer” (YouTube)
MySpace: Jenn Grant

And that’s 2007, kids. Thanks for visiting, have a safe New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you in the ’08.

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 82

Over the holidays, I’ve watched a lot of movies. Here are some (cyanide) capsule reviews.

Alien Vs Predator (Paul W.S. Anderson)

First off, I only watched this because it was on TV and I was sitting in front of the TV and was fairly comfortable. I remember thinking when it came out in the theatres that there was no way this could be good – and as it turns out, I was right. Now I loved the original Aliens films (first couple, anyway) and liked the Predators as well, but this had train wreck written all over it. Thin – no, transparent – characters, awful acting, not nearly enough Aliens fighting Predators, far too much people being stupid and not dying fast enough. And at the end, it turns into a buddy-cop flick. Really, a travesty on all levels. So of course they made a sequel. Of course they did.

Trailer: Alien Vs Predator

The Simpsons Movie (David Silverman)

This one was pretty much what you’d expect, like three decent late-era episodes run back to back and with higher quality animation (more detailed environments, more panning, camera angles, etc). Laugh out loud funny at a few points and a steady level of chuckling through most of the rest. Not a film anyone was necessarily asking for but welcome nonetheless. And the fact that it exists (hopefully) means that the live-action one that’s been muttered about for years never, ever will.

Trailer: The Simpsons Movie

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (Ten Shimoyama)

This was a loaner from a guy at work which sat on my shelf for many many months before getting played. A Japanese period piece about two lovers from rival villages of mystical warriors who are pitted against each other by the emperor, it’s a cross between Romeo & Juliet and Mortal Kombat that plays out far more like the video game than the play. Some great cinematography and decent fight scenes are offset by wooden acting, a negligible script and some clunky CGI resulting in a net viewing experience of total indifference.

Trailer: Shinobi: Heart Under Blade

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End (Gore Verbinski)

I’m perfectly willing to admit that I had no idea what was going on this movie – and yes, I’d seen the first two – but it was still so much fun to watch that I didn’t really care. I suspect that the plot doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny so why bother? Last I remember, Barbossa was back from the dead and they were going to save Jack Sparrow, who had been eaten by the Kraken. Okay. So they have to go to Singapore to do so? Sure. Sail over the edge of the world? Why not. Fight vengeful sea goddesses? Of course. Alls I know is that swashes are buckled, things blow up good and I still don’t like Orlando Bloom.

Trailer: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End

Knocked Up (Judd Apatow)

So everyone loved this movie. I expected to love this movie. I did not love this movie. I mean, it was mostly alright with some really funny bits but those were mostly the little ad libby bits that had nothing to do with the film itself. But my main problem was that I was not, for one minute, convinced that Katherine Heigl would want anything to do with Seth Rogen. Not before they hooked up and certainly not after. There’s just nothing especially redeeming or appealing about him. But, of course, this is Judd Apatow-land where no matter how clueless or crude, the dork gets the girl – not something I have any issue with, I’d emigrate if I could – but this time out it rang just a little too false for me.

Trailer: Knocked Up

Friday, December 28th, 2007

You Want The Candy

When Denmark’s Raveonettes paid us a visit this past October, they were a band with a new album but without a North American label to put it out, not that any of that stopped them from packing Lee’s Palace. Some speculated that this dictated the more stripped down than usual configuration – just Sune Rose Wagner, Sharin Foo and a drummer with a two-piece kit.

So now that they’re signed to Vice Records and will release Lust Lust Lust on February 19, maybe they’ll bring along a few more players when they play the Opera House on March 21 and fill things out a bit – tickets for that show are $16.50 and go on sale January 3. As I mentioned when I reviewed the show, my first exposure to the Raveonettes, I wasn’t especially overwhelmed but I’m finding I’m enjoying listening to the record more than I did watching them play. Perhaps not standing directly in front of Wagner’s Twin Reverb is allowing me to better appreciate the nuances of their songwriting. It sounds more pop and less “kkkkksccccccchhhhhhh”.

AFP and Billboard talked to the band about their new record and they performed “Dead Sound”, one of the standout tracks from the new record, for a Black Cab session. You can sample a bit more of the record and see the first video from it below.

MP3: The Raveonettes – “Dead Sound”
MP3: The Raveonettes – “Aly, Walk With Me”
Video: The Raveonettes – “Dead Sound”
MySpace: The Raveonettes

Nina Nastasia, who put out a much-lauded record this year with The Dirty Three’s Jim White in You Follow Me, will be stopping in at the El Mocambo on February 14. Tickets for that are $8.50, on sale next Thursday.

MP3: Nina Nastasia with Jim White – “Jim’s Room”

If you don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve, consider staying in and watching Radiohead perform In Rainbows in its entirety via webcast at current.com, starting at midnight EST on Monday and repeating three more times through the day. Yes, it’s pre-taped – the band surely has better things to do New Year’s Eve than hang out in a studio entertaining your ethernet-tethered ass. In Rainbows is officially on sale January 1, though most of the record stores around town already seem to be selling it in physical form if you just gotta have it. More details on the webcast at Billboard.

Okkervil River stop in for a session and interview at NPR before heading off to Europe for some shows in February followed by a jaunt down under.

And speaking of jaunts to Europe, I’m contemplating vacation plans for next year and am thinking about the following – eight or nine days, third week of May, half in London and half in Dublin. I’ve never been to either (barring a couple hour layover in Heathrow a few years ago) and, well, that’s about as far as my planning has gotten. Thoughts? Suggestions? If I had more time off, I’d do Glasgow as well but I don’t think that’s in the cards this time around.

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Next Year's Model

One of the best things about the end of 2007 is that now we can turn our microscopic attention spans to the class of 2008, the acts that whose creative blood will grease the gears of music reportage. Not surprisingly, the UK press has already begun setting the stage for their new musical heroes of ’08, with The Guardian soliciting predictions of who’ll be the next big thing from label folks, media folks and artists who’ve already worn that particular sash. AllMediaScotland limits their survey to a representative from HMV who offers up a lengthy list of acts, both domestic and imported, that they expect to make waves of some sort over the next twelve months.

One of which was already put on my radar by a friend over a game of Facebook Scrabulous (challenges always welcome), and that’s Glasgow’s GlasVegas. Already garnering no small amount of praise from the likes of Alan McGee who, in a quote you’re likely to see a lot if they do indeed deliver, called them the “best Scottish band of the last 20 years”. McGee is no stranger to hyperbole but in GlasVegas’ case, there could be something to it. The four-piece deliver Spector-sound doo-wop with leather and pompadour, tough-guy angst, leaning against a Jesus And Mary Chain wall of sound. Obviously all the superlatives need to be taken with some salt but based on the samples on their MySpace – only a single has officially been released and an album isn’t expected till next Summer – there’s definitely something there.

The Guardian speaks highly of them, The Scotsman has not one but two recent interviews with frontman James Allan, as does The Daily Record. And A Certain Romance has got four home demos from the band still available to download from a post made almost a year ago proclaiming the band’s greatness.

Video: GlasVegas – “Daddy’s Gone”
MySpace: GlasVegas

Meanwhile, eye forecasts the year that will be on a more local level, including a release date for the new album from Forest City Lovers – March 11. They’re playing as part of a massive New Year’s Eve bash at the Tranzac which, if you’re still looking for something to do, is certainly your best entertainment value (tickets $10 in advance).

As for what I’m personally looking forward to in ’08, obviously out of already known quantities, I can say that the new British Sea Power album Do You Like Rock Music?, out February 12, is a scorcher and a half. Also really looking forward to hearing the new Radio Dept, already overdue as far as the last status update is concerned, and new works from Doves, American Music Club (The Golden Age, out February 19) and DeVotchKa‘s A Mad And Faithful Telling, out March 18, will also be welcomed with open arms. And that’s just a very random sampling. Stereogum has been trying to keep a running list of forthcoming releases worth watching. But, like every year, it’s the stuff that I have no idea whatsoever about presently that will be most exciting. Just watch.

The Sydney Morning Herald discusses the life and times of Sufjan Stevens.

Take-Away Shows rolls tape with Jens Lekman.

Will Sheff of Okkervil River discusses sandwiches, groupies and porn with Nerve. Of course.

Gibson Guitars solicits thoughts on acoustic guitar tone woods from Mountain Goat John Darnielle. Why they got him to pose with a Les Paul for those photos, I’ve no idea but I’d love to see him break it out onstage sometime. Foot on the monitor, John. You know you want to. Heretic Pride is out February 19.

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

For You

Everyone have a nice break? Yeah? Good. Me too. Back to work tomorrow, though. Anyways.

I mentioned in this week’s MP3 of the week writeup that the Six By Seven compilation Any Colour So Long As It’s Black, long-discussed but never realized, was finally out. Six By Seven’s discography and history is long and convoluted, numbering countless members, at least one maybe two complete breakups, six studio albums, two odds and sods collections and a slew of b-sides and yet it’s all condensed down to eleven album tracks, one EP track and five remixes.

I only have a couple of the remixes but considering the studio tracks, they’ve actually done quite a decent job of encapsulating the breadth of the band’s work as well as eliciting that age-old question, “why weren’t they bigger?”. Their first four records were terrifically energizing slabs of rock, saturated with vitriol and just the right amount of tunefulness. The last couple, including this year’s official “comeback” record If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Doctor, had moments but didn’t have the same kick as the earlier work, even with the return of most of the original lineup including guitarist Sam Hempton, who left after 2000’s monolithic The Closer You Get.

It’s a compact package that certainly gives a taste for what the band was/is about and will ideally encourage a new listener to seek out the full records – but it’s certainly not a replacement for owning the complete discography. Which you should. At least part of, at least. As for those of us who already have all the material, there’s the DVD component (almost certainly in region 2/PAL, for North Americans thinking of picking it up) which collects all the band’s videos – most of which are tragically absent from YouTube though there are now a number of decent-quality live videos – as well as some live performances and a short film about the band. It’s also worth noting that there’s plans for a second collection with more album tracks, which may render the first line of this paragraph irrelevant, and recordings from their John Peel sessions which will make that one much more essential for those already fans of the band. Which should be everyone.

MP3: Six By Seven – “Bochum (You Light Up My Life)”
MP3: Six By Seven – “IOU Love”
Video: Six By Seven – “Ready For You Now” (YouTube)”
Video: Six By Seven – “Nowhere To Go But Home” (YouTube)”
MySpace: Six By Seven

Australia’s Devastations are set to release their new album Yes, U, which is out over here on February 5. Check out the first MP3 from it down below. They still owe us a show after their cancelled show last November so hopefully that’ll be in the offing soon. The Age talked to the band about their new album.

MP3: Devastations – “Mistakes”

Coincidentally, the band that I went to see in lieu of Devastations that night, Beach House, are also coming back with a new record and local date. Devotion is out February 26 and they will play dozy songs from it at the El Mocambo on March 28. Have a taste.

MP3: Beach House – “Gila”

Also coming to town – Bob Mould is back at the Mod Club on March 10 playing songs from Husker Du, Sugar and his new one District Line, out February 5.

Blonde Redhead play a session for Spinner’s Interface.

Billboard has the long list of nominees this year’s Shortlist Of Music prize, a grab bag far too long to be meaningful. The top ten, which though not necessarily more meaningful will at least be easier to be indignant about, will be announced early next year and the winner chosen shortly thereafter.