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Archive for July, 2009

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

A Pause

I’ve taken a few swings at this and had something ready to go, but circumstances changed and now I’m at a bit of a loss for words. So briefly. My father was diagnosed with cancer not three months ago and though we were warned that things would move quickly, no one anticipated it would as fast as it’s been, and he passed away yesterday around noon, as peacefully as you could hope and with his family at his side.

I had planned to take an open-ended hiatus from the blog, which had been a tremendous and necessary distraction over the last while, to tend to him and family matters as things progressed. But now, it seems, he’s done me the final favour of clarifying the “when” and given me the opportunity to make plans again for the first time in what seems like forever. Thanks, Dad. So I’m still going to be largely absent for the next little while – still much to do – things will be back sooner rather than later. When my RSS reader starts overflowing, it’s not a pretty sight.

So thanks to everyone who’s expressed their sympathies and condolences via phone, email, Facebook, Twitter and whatever since yesterday – they’re all deeply and genuinely appreciated. Take care, see you soon.

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Wilco (The Blog Post Title)

Review of Wilco (The Album)

Photo By Autumn de WildeAutumn de WildeI can’t help think that if you were to drug each member of Wilco with a different and unique blend of psychotropic drugs mixed with a 40 of tequila, blindfolded them, spun them around three times and then handed them instruments they didn’t even know how to play, they’d still ungodly tight and be able to play off each other with the instincts of a sea turtle returning to the beach form which it was spawned. This is what you get when you assemble such prodigious talents and have them tour relentlessly. This is Wilco’s blessing, and also Wilco’s curse.

It was more the latter on their last effort, 2007’s Sky Blue Sky. On that album, the band’s effortless execution combined with the simple, strummy songwriting to create a record that, save for a few jolts of expeditionary guitarwork from Nels Cline, was laid back to the point of being asleep. Their latest, Wilco (The Album), thankfully finds Jeff Tweedy out of his hammock and feeling both musically restless and playful, and the band doing its best to stir things up a bit more. What it doesn’t find, however, is much sense of edge or the band wandering into uncomfortable territory – this isn’t because they’re not adventurous or are sticking to the tried and true, but because they’re just too good. Tracks like “Bull Black Nova” may want to sound unhinged, with its insistent drone and Tweedy’s rasping scream, but there’s never a sense that Wilco are in anything less than complete control. The songwriting on Wilco (The Album) delivers more emotional range than the genial sentiments of Sky Blue Sky and while the musical accompaniment soars and swoops alongside it, even occasionally squalling, it’s too confident to even consider the possibility of crashing. Not that you necessarily want things to fall apart, but that potential for self-destruction is a fundamental part of rock’n’roll.

On the other hand, Wilco have nearly self-destructed enough in their history and there’ll never be a shortage of bands out there that sound on the verge of collapse, either in a good sense or not. Their current stability is well-earned and deserved, and when they use it to deliver records as out and out enjoyable at this, complaining is just pointless. Consider the duet between Tweedy and Leslie Feist on “You And I” – when initially announced, many believed it would be the final step in Wilco’s transformation into MOR balladeers. And while it’s certainly not going to scare anyone away, the final tune is so well-crafted and just outright lovely, that it transcends any sort of cliche. It may seem a bit much to suggest that Wilco can do no wrong – the very fact that they can’t is a sort of flaw unto itself – but it’s certainly no mistake to say that they’re doing a hell of a lot right.

Wilco are spending the remainder of the Summer in Europe, but have just announced a jaunt through the midwest in October that includes an October 14 date at Massey Hall in Toronto. Ticket info is still forthcoming, but you may notice on their website that they’re taking requests. Requests, people. I, for one, would be thrilled to hear anything old done by the current lineup because if it’s anything as good as the Being There suite they pulled out when opening for Neil Young at the ACC last December – “Red Eyed and Blue”, “I Got You” and “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” – well hell, that’s worth your price of admission right there.

Check out their readings of “Red Eyed and Blue” and “I Got You” from their 2008 five-night stand at the Riviera in Chicago with Andrew Bird guesting on whistle.

MP3: Wilco – “Red Eyed and Blue” (live in Chicago, February 2008)
MP3: Wilco – “I Got You” (live in Chicago, February 2008)
MySpace: Wilco

Nashville Scene talks to M Ward.

The Singing Lamb has an interview with Jenn Grant.

Arctic Monkeys have rolled out their first video from album number three, Humbug. It’s out August 25 and they’ve a date at the Kool Haus on September 29.

Video: Arctic Monkeys – “Crying Lightning”

Over at Bombsite, Dean Wareham details his process for creating the score to Andy Warhol’s …13 Most Beautiful films which Dean & Britta have been touring in support of the last while.

Artrocker talks to Amy Turrnidge, aka The Theoretical Girl, whose debut album Divided is due out August 17.

MP3: The Theoretical Girl – “Rivals”

Polarizing sister act CocoRosie will be at Lee’s Palace on September 9.

The first having sold out pretty much immediately, Metric have announced a second date at Massey Hall for October 21. And considering the following night on their calendar is still open, don’t be shocked if they announce a third.

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down have set a date at the El Mocambo for Sunday, November 1, tickets $12.00. This is exciting because it implies that I will be on a trip around then. There is a cosmic rule that I either cannot be in the city or am just leaving or returning from an exhausting trip whenever they visit. It’s true.

MP3: Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – “Beat (Health, Life and Fire)”
MP3: Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – “Swimming Pools”
MP3: Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – “Bag Of Hammers”

Update: From Scott. Oh wow. Manic Street Preachers at The Phoenix, October 4, 2009. Wow.

Hey everyone who’s ever admired or complimented the artwork that graces my masthead, courtesy of illustrator Renee Nault, head on over to Design By Humans and vote for her art to grace a run of t-shirts and get a chance to wear a lovely anthropomorphic ram nattily besuited in waterfolours for your very own.

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

"Human Behavior"

The Decemberists cover Bjork

Image via amazonamazon.comWe’ll file this one under an oldie (in other words, previously posted some years ago) but a goodie. Bjork is one of those artists who is so unique in vision and delivery that putting together a tribute album would seem to be folly – so naturally it’s been tried. 2004’s READ: Interpreting Bjork gathered ten artists from the Pacific Northwest to reinterpret the Icelandic songstress’ catalog, with largely impressive results. By not attempting to mimic the originals – as previously stated, folly – they’ve collectively crafted a record as eclectic as anything Bjork might have herself done, if decidedly more low-key in tone and execution.

The Decemberists took on one of Bjork’s earliest singles, the rollicking “Human Behavior”, and did a pretty good job on it without altering their own signature sound much at all. It’s interesting how easily such a rhythmic, electronically-infused tune translates to a largely acoustic rendition, and as distinctive an instrument as Colin Meloy’s vocals may be, here they also work quite well.

The Decemberists are in town next Monday night, August 3, at the Kool Haus to play their latest The Hazards Of Love – which I finally picked up and am quite enjoying – and recently stopped in at NPR for a World Cafe session. There’s also interviews at FFWD and The Calgary Sun. Bjork released the live multimedia Voltaic set late last month and on the audio side (haven’t watched the DVD portion yet) does a pretty damn good job of reinventing her own material. And for a live record, it sounds utterly pristine – probably to no one’s surprise. She talked to the Wall Street Journal about the project.

MP3: The Decemberists – “Human Behavior”
Video: Bjork – “Human Behavior”
Video: Bjork – “Wanderlust” (from Voltaic)

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

CONTEST – Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur

Photo via Amazonamazon.comSo Blur threw a bucket of cold water on those of us who’d been following along with their triumphant 2009 reunion shows at home, hoping against hope that rumours from earlier this Summer that they were considering extending the love-in across the Atlantic if not this year then next would be true. The Guardian quotes bassist Alex James as telling the BBC that despite the rapturous response to the shows, the band had no plans of “doing anything else whatsoever”. Cold water, indeed.

And so it seems a bit ironic that they’re releasing a new compilation in Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide To Blur, out next week, in that if someone is to just now discover Blur – where can they take that? Certainly not to a show. Perhaps they can take it to the previous Blur compilation, 2000’s The Best Of Blur. Though a decade separates the two, there’s been only one studio album in that span – the Graham Coxon-less Think Tank – which makes the necessity of a second best-of questionable.

“But!”, the pedant might shout out, “this isn’t a best-of!” – and to be fair, Midlife does not claim to be so, but instead an introduction to the band. And in that sense, it actually succeeds quite well. Whereas the “best of” epithet mandated that the 2000 compilation boast the band’s chart-toppers and poppier material, which it did nicely – buying it persuaded me to catch up on all the studio albums while keeping the comp for quick hits and the live bonus disc – being a “beginner’s guide” allows Midlife to shed some of the ear candy for more difficult but perhaps more rewarding deep cuts, emphasizing the band’s artier side and also acknowledging the existence of Think Tank. If this were someone’s first introduction to the band, they would come away with the impression that they were an eclectic art-rock band with the ability to make big-league hooks rather than a radio-ready pop band with a weird streak. Neither of these is wrong, which is one of the things that makes Blur so interesting, with both comps taking different perspectives on the band.

And not that you need both, but if you did, there wouldn’t be that much overlap. Ten songs appear on both, but Midlife boasts 25 across two discs and in all honesty, “Blue Jeans”, “Chemical World” and “Popscene” are more welcome than “On Your Own”, “There’s No Other Way” or “Country House” are missed. If they’d only found a way to include “To The End” and “End Of A Century”, Midlife would be hands-down the one to have if you had room for only one jewel case in your CD collection (humour me and pretend you still have a CD collection), though the Best Of artwork is still far and away tops. But really, the thing to do is go out and buy their entire catalog. Except Think Tank. You probably don’t need that.

To the contest part of this post, courtesy of EMI Records, I have three copies of the Midlife compilation to give away, so if you want, leave a comment below stating which single Blur song you would use to introduce and indoctrinate a newcomer to the band and why. Be sure to include your email address so I get in touch with the winner. This contest will close at midnight, August 1, and is open to residents of North America. You in the UK, you got the live shows – you don’t get the comp. Those of us here have to make do with the recordings of the gigs, like this one that closed out Glastonbury. Le sigh.

MP3: Blur – “The Universal” (live at Glastonbury 2009)

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Say Please

Monsters Of Folk to stage monstrously folky tour

Photo By Jennifer TzarJennifer TzarSo how exactly does a band who’ve not yet even released an album yet get to play arguably the most storied venue in Toronto – Massey Hall – their first time out? The kind that’s made up of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M Ward’s Matt Ward, Conor Oberst’s Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis, also known as the Monsters Of Folk.

As reported earlier this week, the supergroup will release their self-titled debut album on September 22, but it was announced yesterday that they would also be undertaking an extensive tour first across North America and then Europe, with $1 from each North American date ticket sale going to a worthy charity local to that city via philanthropic organization Air Traffic Control . The Toronto date falls on November 2 at Massey Hall and the charity selected to receive the proceeds is Foodshare Toronto. Ticket presale goes July 28, regular onsale July 31 – check back at monstersoffolk.com for more information. Tickets for the Toronto show range from $36.50 to $49.50 plus charges.

And congrats to Lousiville, Kentucky for drawing the Halloween date – I expect everyone who attends that show to dress up as their favourite folk monster. Werewolf Woody Guthries, Zombie Pete Seegers. You know.

MP3: Monsters Of Folk – “Say Please”
MySpace: Monsters Of Folk

Woodpigeon have bid farewell to Michael Jackson by way of a cover. I hadn’t intended to post any MJ covers and yet here’s two, two days in a row. Hrm.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “Say Say Say”

The Singing Lamb has an interview with The Most Serene Republic about their new album …And The Ever Expanding Universe. They’re at the Mod Club on October 15.

MP3: The Most Serene Repbulic – “Heavens To Purgatory”

Matt & Kim are coming back to town for a show at the Reverb on October 1, tickets $13.50.

MP3: Matt & Kim – “Yea Yeah”

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age talk to Friendly Fires, who have released a video for their new single, which will be appended to the deluxe reissue of their self-titled debut, coming September 9. They’re at Lee’s Palace on August 10 and I will bet that as soon as that date passes, the December 2 slot on their Fall itinerary will magically fill up. Just watch.

Video: Friendly Fires – “Kiss Of Life”

BBC talks to Little Boots about her new video for “Remedy”, which they are also premiering. She is at Wrongbar on September 13.

Video: Little Boots – “Remedy”

MPR has a session with Sonic Youth. There’s also an interview at The Georgia Straight and The Stranger nominates some of the best tracks from their career.

Drowned In Sound spends some time with St Vincent. You can do the same next Saturday night, August 8, at the Horseshoe.

Pitchfork has details on a new EP coming from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – look for four new songs packaged as Higher Than The Stars come September 22. The Georgia Straight and LAist have interviews with the band, who’re at the Horseshoe on September 7.

Opening up that POBPAH show are Cymbals Eat GuitarsThe Line Of Best Fit has an interview with the band and Baeble has a live video performance from the Cake Shop in New York. They’re also interviewed by altsounds.

Daytrotter and Noisevox have audio and video sessions with The Thermals, respectively.

Yours Truly has Loney Dear in for a video session. They’re at the Horseshoe on October 13.

PitchforkTV welcomes Andrew Bird to their Cemetery Gates series for a live performance.