Archive for December, 2007

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Are You Coming Over For Christmas?

Taking a quick break from my, uh, break to bring your attention to this time-limited offer. Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian has taken a break from his calendar-curating and musical-writing and scoring activities to round up the band to record a new holiday tune called “Are You Coming Over For Christmas?”, a jazzy little duet between himself and guest vocalist Celia Garcia.

You can currently stream it from their website and which they’ll be making available to download from their MySpace starting at midnight tonight (GMT, so that’s 7PM EST) until midnight tomorrow (GMT again, so once again 7PM EST – adjust for your own time zone accordingly), thereby guaranteeing this will be a staple of blogger Christmas mixes for years to come. And if you learn the lyrics, you can sing it as a carol. Or not.

And if you’re curious what Murdoch has been doing instead of writing a new B&S record, his film already has a title and website – God Help The Girl – and a MySpace where you can hear some of the songs. And you can buy that Glasgow-lovin’ calendar here.

Thanks to For The Records for drawing my attention to this. Okay, back to vacation time (I have gotten so much sleep this weekend it’s ridiculous. I think I feel well-rested for the first time in a year). Have a good one, everyone.

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Sunday Friday Cleaning – Volume 81: Holiday Edition

I was going to save this one for Sunday as I did last year but the fact is as far as content goes, I got nothing in the hopper, the cupboard is bare, so I may as well clear this out and then take a bit of a proper holiday. Do some reading, watch some movies, listen to some music, whatever. So barring something remarkable happening over the next few days, I’ll probably be back at some point next week. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday. Cheers.

Jenn Grant offered up a trio of seasonal songs via her MySpace. Jenn had a good year with the release of her acclaimed debut Orchestra For The Moon and will close it out with a show at the Drake Lounge on December 28.

MP3: Jenn Grant – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
MP3: Jenn Grant – “O Holy Night”
MP3: Jenn Grant – “Silver Bells”

Richard Hawley likewise released a fabulous album this year in Lady’s Bridge and shows he’s in the giving mood with this lullabye/carol. Imagine a troupe of Christmas carolers singing in this style? They’d get invited in for a lot more than a glass of eggnog, if ya know what I mean.

MP3: Richard Hawley – “Silent Night”

New York’s Daylight’s For The Birds ring in the holidays with a cover of John Lennon’s most famous contribution to the Christmas canon, done all trippy-like. They’re working on a follow-up to last year’s Trouble Everywhere with a sleepy eye towards a Summer 2008 release.

MP3: Daylight’s For The Birds – “Happy Christmas/War Is Over”

Belle & Sebastian recorded a special Christmas party/session for John Peel and the BBC way back in 2002 and the recordings – which have been circulating every since – have become a sort of indie-pop staple of the season. Here’s one track, I’m sure some very light digging will yield you the rest of it somewhere on the internets.

MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”

And finally, Cracker have left a double-shot of festive cheer under the tree, one with slightly sanitized lyrics suitable for soundtracking Christmas dinner and one maybe not quite so much. The song originally appeared on 2001’s Forever.

MP3: Cracker – “Merry Christmas Emily” (clean)
MP3: Cracker – “Merry Christmas Emily” (not so clean)

Update: And head over to the resurrected (and zombiefied?) rbally for a selection of R.E.M. holiday fan club tracks.

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Class Of 2007 – Election

So the polls are closed and my second annual reader’s poll in the book. The results were completely predictable but still entertaining to tabulate. Just to recap, I solicited your top six albums of the year – ranked – and from those submissions, applied a weighted scoring system that’s probably not at all scientific. Six points were awarded to first place albums, five points to second place and so forth. Total votes regardless of ranking for each album were also collected to be used as tiebreakers if necessary.

Not that it was. The top ten shook out as you’d expect with the top album of the year, as voted on by you, taking the title by a wide margin with 28 first place votes (the #2 album got only 6) and appearing on 61 lists out of 124 submissions. I’d call that a landslide. 252 albums in all were nominated and only three of the top ten made my own personal list. Not that that means anything.

Anyways, without further ado, the top ten albums of 2007 as voted on by chromewaves readers. Total points noted beside each entry.

1. The National / Boxer (Beggars Banquet) – 284 pts
2. Radiohead / In Rainbows (independent) – 145 pts
3. Spoon / Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge) – 115 pts
4. Okkervil River / The Stage Names (Jagjaguwar) – 110 pts
5. Arcade Fire / Neon Bible (Merge) – 82 pts
6. LCD Soundsystem / Sound Of Silver (DFA) – 69 pts
7. Feist / The Reminder (Arts & Crafts) – 60 pts
8. Of Montreal / Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (Polyvinyl) – 54 pts
9. Jens Lekman / Night Falls On Kortedala (Secretly Canadian) – 50 pts
10. Wilco / Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) – 48 pts

If you want to see the whole list, you can download the Excel spreadsheet with every single entry, ranked. I can’t imagine why you would, but whatever.

And, of course, the reason most of you entered was the promo swag giveaway – so congratulations go out to Aubrey, Kevin, Eva, dB, John and Phil who will be getting something (hopefully) interesting in the mail over the next few weeks. The rest of you, thanks for playing and contributing to yet another meaningless year-end list.

Elsewhere, David Byrne interviews Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for Wired. Topics of discussion include the In Rainbows experiment (duh), the future of the album and music industry in general, the size of their carbon footprint and tea cozies. Okay, not tea cozies.

Shearwater offers up a slideshow of scenes from the recording of the follow-up to last year – and this year’s – lovely Palo Santo I see strings! And woodwinds! And a harp! And Thor cutting down tree branches! Sweet. Matthew Barnhart, engineer on the record, has also been keeping a recording diary of the sessions. The new album is entitled Rook and it will hopefully be out sometime in the Spring.

PopMatters talks to Tim Bracey about the end of The Mendoza Line.

JAM! Q&As The Weakerthans. They’re playing Nathan Phillips Square on February 2.

Chart congratulates Feist on being declared their artist of the year while Billboard finds out what she’s doing with her downtime whilst on the road. Recording. There, I ruined the piece for you. But her mention of the Red Hot + Indie compilation being curated by the brothers Dessner from The National has my interest.

Richard Hawley has released another video from the lovely Lady’s Bridge.

Video: Richard Hawley – “Valentine”

The Long Blondes’ sophomore album will be entitled Couples and is out in the UK on April 7.

Couple more show announcements as the year winds down… Plants & Animals return to Toronto for a show at the Drake on February 21, a month before their Avenue Parc hits stores five days before the Canadian release of their debut full-length Parc Avenue, and The Most Serene Republic trundles into the Mod Club on March 1.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Lost Together

This past year has been a kind of crazy musical wayback machine for me, what with seeing live so many of the bands that were crucial to developing my tastes back in my salad days. What with shows from Sloan and the reunited Buffalo Tom earlier this year and just this past month, an epic Neil Young show and the final Lowest Of The Low gig. If nothing else, it’s confirmed that I had some pretty kick-ass taste for a 17-year old.

Capping it all off was Monday night’s super-intimate show from Toronto roots-rock stalwarts Blue Rodeo at the Horseshoe as part of the bar’s 60th anniversary. To give you a sense of scale, the ‘Shoe holds around 350 and Blue Rodeo have two nights booked at the 2750-capacity Massey Hall for next February. That’s how big this band and small the club is. So yeah, it was pretty packed.

But before I get into the gig review, the obligatory personal content paragraph. I was actually surprised to find I’d covered some of this over four years ago but I’ll recap the key points – they were my first big rock show and the setting for the formation of my first band in high school (to the roar of them covering Neil’s “Like A Hurricane”, I might add) and we covered a number of Blue Rodeo songs during our short run and were probably our best tunes. In short, they were huge for me for a good long while though I gradually lost touch with them around the turn of the century. They seemed to have settled into a musical comfort zone and didn’t seem to be offering much on their new records that I couldn’t get from the eight or so already in my collection.

But considering I hadn’t seen them live since that pivotal June evening back in 1993 and a gig at the ‘Shoe was far more my speed than their usual amphitheatre-scale venues, there was more than a little anticipation on my part for this show. The format for the evening was to be no opener and three sets from the band – a marathon by anyone’s standards. They were also calling it an “’80s Throwback” show, in reference to the days when Blue Rodeo were the kings of Queen St and spent many a night plying their trade on the Horseshoe stage and which boded well for me since I don’t know hardly any of their more recent material.

And sure enough, after opening with a track from their latest album Small Miracles (which is pretty much Blue Rodeo by numbers which is good or bad depending on your POV) , they went right into “Diamond Mine” and yeah – I knew I was going to enjoy this. All the albums I knew by heart – Outskirts, Diamond Mine, Casino, Lost Together and Five Days In July – were well represented and they even drew on one of my personal faves though less highly regarded records, Nowhere To Here. 1997’s Tremolo seemed to be completely overlooked, though, which is a shame since it’s the last of their albums I spent any real time with and I’ve always been fond of it.

I don’t know how far they delve into their back catalog when playing regular shows, but from the reaction of the crowd to some of the older material I’d guess it’s not nearly as deeply as they did on Monday. In fact, it seemed the band – which had a couple of relatively new members in steel guitarist Bob Egan (ex-Wilco) and keyboardist Bob Packwood and when the band agreed to play “Rebel” from Outskirts – a request that came with a $1000 donation to the local food bank to which all proceeds on the night, over $10,000 total, were going – it was fun to watch original members Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and Bazil Donovan show the new guys the chord changes. Special guests were also on hand for the occasion. Dallas and Travis Good from The Sadies – without their suits, no less – and local singer-songwriters Luke Doucet and Justin Rutledge all sat in for a few numbers, playing both their own songs and Blue Rodeo’s all coming onstage at the finale for “Lost Together”.

You’d expect a band that’s been at it as long as they have to have their act together and Blue Rodeo delivered the goods with gusto and polish. Cuddy and Keelor’s voices sound as smooth and gravelly, respectively, as they did over 20 years ago – maybe moreso – and still go together in perfect harmony. Similarly, the songwriting recipe of weepers from Cuddy, rockers from Keelor and country-pop gems from both is as effective as ever. If there was a complaint, it’s that the band was too polished. On more than a few instances, songs were dragged into jam band territory with solos that were unnecessary at best, unpleasant at worst. Keyboardist Bob Packwood was the worst offender with his excess of notes and keyboard face (like guitar face but worse) but even bassist Bazil Donovan, who used to be the very epitome of the solid, non-flashy player, took a few solos that only served to remind why there is never a need for a bass solo. The band, whomever has been in it, has never had a shortage of musical prowess on tap but it’s always been about the songs. Maybe when you’ve been playing the same songs for so many years, this is how you keep things interesting but I for one found it unnecessary.

But that’s one negative against an evening full of positives. It was great to get to see my one-time musical heroes live for the first time in thirteen years and still be as swept up in the music as I was way back when. All told – three sets (with predetermined setlists which were pretty much ignored wholesale) and an encore – the band played for over three hours and there’s something to be said for staggering out into the cold December night all sweaty-like and warm with nostalgia.

CityTV has a quick video interview with Jim Cuddy and some video footage from the show and The Globe & Mail reveals why Stompin’ Tom wasn’t one of the guests.

Photos: Blue Rodeo @ The Horseshoe – December 17, 2007
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Five Days In May”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Lost Together”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Til I Am Myself Again”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Diamond Mine”
Video: Blue Rodeo – “Trust Yourself”
MySpace: Blue Rodeo

Of course, if this year had really been about me reliving my high school days, I’d have found the opportunity to see R.E.M.… though I don’t feel especially bad that I didn’t. Hmm. Spinner reports that Stipey announced their new album as coming out on April 1. Yeah. It’s a Tuesday. Could be legit.

Spinner Interfaces with Film School.

Wireless Bollinger talks to Juanita Stein of Howling Bells. She also gives Gridskipper a list of a half-dozen things she hates about Sydney, Australia. It’s okay, she’s from there. She’s allowed to complain.

FilterTV offers up a video interview with Nicole Atkins and talk Hallowe’en, hot dogs and The Lost Boys. She’s at Lee’s Palace on February 17.

Shows – Au Revoir Simone say bonjour Lee’s Palace on January 16, Sia is at the Mod Club on March 2 and on April 16, the Horseshoe plays host to Kelley Stoltz and The Dirtbombs.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Class Of 2007 – Field Trips

Oh god, the clips episode!

Yeah, copping out on the post today and taking a (brief) look back at my year in live music. It’s funny that a couple years ago, I think I was looking back at a year where I hit around 60 shows and thought, “that’s crazy. I have got to scale back”. And now, with 2007 almost in the books, I’m looking at having gone to almost 100 shows PLUS all the festivals. As I write this, the Flickr set that provides the images in the above slideshow – which is more interesting/goes by faster if you move the delay slider to, like, two seconds – indicates that I’ve seen 319 live acts this year (I only missed shooting three of them). That’s… a lot. A co-worker recently remarked he’d never seen me not tired. Probably true.

And with so much to choose from, you can understand why it’s near impossible to pick out which I’d consider the “best” of the year – I saw a lot of great stuff. Of course, if you regularly read my reviews you might be under the impression I only saw great stuff – I’m quite aware that many of my writeups dwell on the well-buffed side of shiny but you understand that I rarely go see anything I’m not already favourably inclined towards. I have much better things to do than see shows I’m not really interested in let alone review.

But if I had to pick out some top shows of the year, I’d have to go with…

Patrick Wolf @ The El Mocambo – May 11, 2007
Wilco @ Massey Hall – June 30, 2007
Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ The Berkeley Church – September 7, 2007
Okkervil River @ Lee’s Palace – September 21, 2007
The National @ The Phoenix – October 8, 2007
Neil Young @ Massey Hall – November 26, 2007

…and that doesn’t even come close to all the highlights. It was a good year. It was a very good year.

But before I sign off, a few noteworthy concert announcements for 2008… Cat Power brings her Jukebox (out January 22) to the Kool Haus on February 9, tickets $30 on sale Thursday, full tour dates at Tripwire. All of you who avoided the Phoenix shows because the venue was too big… what, you thought they were going to get smaller? Or cheaper? Nah.

Also official – Nicole Atkins & The Sea’s first headlining show in Toronto… once again on a Sunday night – February 17 – and once again at Lee’s Palace. Tickets $10.50 in advance. I believe The Cloud Room are supporting this tour but don’t know for sure. Either way. Attendance is mandatory.

And The Drive-By Truckers are rolling back into town with a date at the Opera House on March 19, tickets $18.50. A bit of a smaller venue than last time but that just means more concentrated rock. Their new one, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, is out January 22. Update: First MP3 from the album is also now available, more to stream on their MySpace.

MP3: Drive-By Truckers – “Zip City”

And finally, Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of the year. You know you were waiting for it. And the AV Club’s Worst Films of the year? You probably weren’t waiting for it but you know you want it.