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Review: The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker August 28, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content, Lovecraft.
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y648So, another Canadian literary novel. Jacqueline Baker has apparently written literary fiction set in western Canada, but this book is something very different, set very vividly in Providence, Rhode Island, home of a certain American writer.

H.P. Lovecraft may be his own most enduring character. He’s become widely known, even to those who’ve never read his work, as a strange, reclusive writer of horror stories. He’s been used as a character in many horror stories by other writers. The problem is, all too often writers present seriously skewed versions of him. Some horror writers who know his work fairly well present him as someone who believed in the kinds of things he wrote about, something Lovecraft himself would have perhaps been amused by, given his devotion to rationalism, materialism, and science.

Lovecraft had no use for ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and other old horror tropes. He was intrigued by cosmic horror, with its two main sources of horror: the realization of humanity’s utter insignificance in the cosmos, and the idea that that which breaks down our understanding of reality is horrifying. From that perspective, there should be nothing frightening about a story of, say, demonic possession ended by an exorcism, at least not for a Catholic, because demons and the efficacy of exorcism are already part of their understanding of the world. On the other hand, discovering that there are entities of great cosmic power who are utterly indifferent to humanity and could wipe us out as uncaringly as if we sprayed insecticide to kill some pests — that should disturb both the religious and the rational.

And yet, as a character, Lovecraft has all too often been presented as a mystic or a magician or someone vouchsafed true knowledge of cosmic evil. In at least one novel, he was presented as a cackling evil magician straight out of someone’s pulp fiction — but not his.

It’s a relief, then, that The Broken Hours is not one of those books. In fact, it takes some time to realize exactly what kind of book it is, and judging by many reviews online, some readers never actually do realize it. The ending is subtle but there are clues. At least, I think I interpreted the clues correctly, and the last one is far from subtle. Some other reviewers have come to the same conclusion. If you’re thinking of reading this book and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now. Really. It’s worth experiencing with some mystery, even if you figure it out early.

Jacqueline Baker’s book is beautifully written and subtle. She tells the story of Arthor Crandle, who, desperate for work, takes a position as an assistant and secretary to a writer he’s never heard of. And then all the strange things begin to happen. The writer, Lovecraft, won’t see him in person, even though they’re in the same building. Crandle has visions of a young girl in the backyard, feelings of some oppressive horror at certain points in the house. He finds things moved around even in his locked room, and is sure he sees his mysterious employer at times, only to realize no one is there.

A young woman moves into the downstairs apartment, and they slowly develop a friendship. But the strange things keep happening. The story ends with some revelations, but doesn’t spell everything out in detail. So here come the spoilers. Lovecraft’s aunt Annie, who’s been away (part of the reason Crandle was hired as an assistant) returns, the downstairs neighbour Flossie disappears along with all the changes she made to the apartment, Annie recognizes Crandle and calls him Howard… well, evidently there never was any Crandle. He was Lovecraft all along, and Flossie was never there. The stories of insanity in the family, people’s strange reactions to Crandle, the fact that other people at times fail to notice Flossie’s presence, the revelation (not surprising to people who’ve read about Lovecraft’s life) that as a child Lovecraft’s mother grew his hair long and dressed him as a girl, the fact that Crandle never sees himself in a mirror, not to mention that he finds himself playing Lovecraft when he’s with Flossie… what seems to be an effectively creepy ghost story turns out to be a psychological tale instead. There is ultimately nothing supernatural happening. Lovecraft, ill, malnourished, poor, and separated from his wife, is having a breakdown.

It’s ironic — what seems to be the kind of horror story Lovecraft himself would never have written, a subtle, old-fashioned ghost story, turns out not to be supernatural or horror at all. It’s a spooky and ultimately emotionally affecting story.


Review: Boring Girls by Sara Taylor August 27, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content.
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9781770410169_1024x1024Boring Girls starts out as the story of a smart teenage girl who doesn’t quite fit in at school and has a hard time connecting with other kids. Her life changes when, having just been hassled by a bully, she hears some strange but powerful noisy music coming from a passing car and makes a mental note of a bumper sticker that may be a band name. She goes to a record store, finds a CD by the band, and death metal takes over her life, especially the band DED.

Rachel has always been a creative girl, writing in a journal and fascinated by a painting based on an apocryphal biblical tale of two women killing an evil king. Meeting Fern, another girl who’s interested in the same style of music and is starting to play guitar, leads them to start their own metal band.

It’s not giving away spoilers to say that things go terribly wrong eventually, leading to murder, because the book’s told from Rachel’s first person perspective and she’s recounting why she and her friend Fern became murderers.

Rachel is, at first, a quiet girl who does well at school but has difficulty making friends or connecting with people, something that continues through the novel. She has a couple of crushes but pulls away from an opportunity to have a real boyfriend; she grows very close to Fern but that never becomes a romantic relationship, either.

It’s a tale of two parts — first, the misfit girl making a world for herself, then a drastic shift into a girl gets raped, girl gets revenge story. (At the beginning of the story, Rachel’s 15, and it’s not clear how much time passes over the course of the book.) Rachel’s perspective is what keeps the novel so readable. She may be something of an unreliable narrator; at times she seems not very self-aware, seeing herself as a victim even in situations where her own actions are cruel. But that’s not to take away from the fact that she and Fern go through a lot of crap as young women trying to find a place in what is not just a very masculine scene but a downright misogynistic one. Rachel and Fern keep having to prove their place as metal fans, then as metal musicians, to everyone around them.

One of the key elements throughout the book is Artemisia Gentileschi’s paiting of Judith beheading Holofernes. Early on the fact that it’s a painting by a woman of two women killing a man gives Rachel inspiration in her artwork. After she and Fern are beaten and raped, it’s the model for their planned revenge, Rachel deciding she will be Judith, Fern her assistant, and the man who raped Rachel her Holofernes. (The fact that there’s another painting of Judith holding the severed head of Holofernes is not insignificant.)

And this is where I really begin to question Rachel’s reliability as narrator. She’s been cruel, she’s been violent, though she’s presented those moments in ways that mitigate her responsibility or demonstrate some regret. But her unlikely plan is for her band to get popular enough that she can take revenge on the more famous band who assaulted her and Fern, preferably before an audience, and sure enough, their smalltown band rapidly grows more famous. But as they get closer to their planned revenge, Fern and Rachel seem to trade places, Fern becoming the violent one, taking the lead, becoming Judith. Suddenly Rachel isn’t sure she wants to go through with it, once they reach the point where they could actually achieve their unlikely plan, and it’s Fern who starts it, Rachel who follows. We only ever have Rachel’s perspective on events, so maybe she’s telling the truth, but she may also be spinning (consciously or not) the story to put more of the blame on Fern. One of her regrets about murdering her rapist is that she didn’t say something witty first. The closing chapter shows just how far gone Rachel is.

The only people I really talk to are my psychologist, and the girl I share my cell with — but she’s crazy. We don’t have much in common, but we get along okay, I guess. […]

The point was never to ruin anyone’s life or waste anyone’s time. The point was just revenge.

Side points: it’s not clear exactly when or where this novel is set. Sometimes it feels like the pre-web era, but gradually there’s more mention of the Internet and cellphones. Maybe the story covers a longer span of time than seems to be the case. Rachel’s hometown is Keeleford, two hours away from the much larger city of St. Charles. There is a St. Charles in Ontario… with a population of about a thousand people. I assume St. Charles and Keeleford are stand-ins for Toronto and London, Ontario.

As for music… though Rachel is obsessed with death metal, all the bands mentioned in the book, as far as I can tell, are fictional, and at least one reviewer has complained about the somewhat cliched portrayal of the metal scene. On the other hand, others have agreed with Taylor’s portrayal of the misogynistic crap women in rock, not just metal, often have to put up with, and Taylor herself has been in the goth/synthpop/metal band the Birthday Massacre (originally known as Imagica) since 1999. Their early days starting out in London would have overlapped the rise of all-female London nu-metal band Kittie, whose 2000 debut album was a big hit and may have provided some inspiration here.

To sum up, despite some weaknesses, this is a strong and suspenseful story with a compellingly strange narrator.

Review: Salvage by Stephen Maher August 25, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content.
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cover89220-mediumThis was supposed to be a Netgalley review, and I did post it over there, but I was a bit late in getting to this one. I’m not a fan of pdfs for novels. Great for magazines, comics, and illustrated nonfiction, but for novels, give me epubs. And the publisher gave me a pdf.

However… the description of the book intrigued me more than a little. I ended up buying a very reasonably priced epub through Kobo and raced through the book.

Stephen Maher is better known for his political journalism than his novels — this is his second — but after this one, that may change. His first novel, Deadline, was an Ottawa-based, politically-tinged mystery novel, and it was pretty good. But Maher’s roots are down east; he’s lived and worked in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and Salvage is set in small town Nova Scotia.

Maybe it’s partly because I left Nova Scotia 30 years ago (after university in Halifax) and have been in Ottawa since, but Salvage feels fresher and more vibrant than Deadline. The characters feel bigger and broader in some respects, but then a south shore sailor like Philip Scarnum, who’s smart and educated but often plays the hick, is bound to be a different kind of person from the usual Ottawa media, bureaucracy, and politics types. He’s capable of being cold and amoral in the pursuit of survival, though, so maybe not all that different…

The characters sometimes feel a little larger than life. There’s a definite pulpishness around the edges, but it’s the good kind, not the disposable trash kind. Maher gives the impression of knowing his locale and its kind of people, and he knows more about boats and sailing than I do, so I can’t criticize that. He also manages to build up the suspense as he goes. His prose is clean clear, the dialogue generally realistic. It’s the kind of book you want to keep reading.

This is suspense, not mystery; it becomes clear who the bad guys are fairly quickly, and there aren’t too many twists along the way, but Scarnum is weaving his way through a tangled plot involving different factions. That most of the characters have known each other for many years, living in a small town, makes things more difficult. Loyalties are divided, relationships messy. It all culminates in confrontation and violence and a satisfying payoff.

Somewhere, I hope, someone’s thinking of putting together a financing deal to make a film based on this novel, maybe with Allan Hawco as Scarnum. Most of the Canadian movie makers I can think of lean towards the artsier end of cinema, but there must be someone who’d like to bust loose with an east coast smugglers’n’gangsters movie. I’d certainly go see it. I’m also curious what Maher might be thinking of doing in his next novel, assuming he has plans for one.

Review: Congratulations on Everything by Nathan Whitlock August 25, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content.
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congratulations-on-everything.jpg.size.custom.crop.421x650On Canada Day, Kobo had a lot of Canadian novels on sale cheap. I bought half a dozen, and this was one of them.

Nathan Whitlock, apparently, is part of the modern Canadian literary establishment, having published a couple of novels, written for a variety of magazines, and worked at Quill & Quire, the news magazine of the Canadian publishing industry. So this is emphatically not genre fiction. Fortunately, it’s not old school CanLit, either. It’s set in Rob Ford’s Toronto, not some small town. Avoiding one of the usual cliches of literary fiction as genre, the book doesn’t feature a writer or academic as its protagonist, either.

Basically, this is the occasionally funny minor tragedy of a schmo. Jeremy is an unpretentious and not terribly bright guy whose great goal in a life guided by the aphorisms of his favourite self-help writer is to own and run a bar. He’s always worked in the service industry, including a spell in a chain pub, and finally manages to get his own. It should come as no surprise that, eventually, he screws everything up — not least because Whitlock tells you at the end of the first chapter that everything will go to hell for Jeremy.

Whitlock is a good writer, and he creates believably flawed characters. But there’s not really much plot here. It’s the slow motion unraveling of Jeremy’s plans, almost always through his own oblivious cluelessness or drunkenness (or, to be fair, the occasional well-meaning gesture), that gives a little suspense to the book. And even then things really only go to heck, not hell. Jeremy’s still around. Though when everything hits the fan, we don’t really see how it hits him directly. Instead, the story switches perspective to another character for the last few pages. Time’s passed and we get only an outside view of where Jeremy is now.

Still, for the small stakes and scale of the book, I enjoyed it. Some of the supporting characters manage to be surprising once in a while. And while you may wish you could reach into the book and give Jeremy a good shake or a whack upside the head every so often, he’s generally an amiable enough dolt.

If you want to think of this as lit for lads, well, it’s a lot more palatable than a lot of what Nick Hornby’s turned out after High Fidelity. It also reminds me (being more a genre fan than a literary fiction fan, for the most part) of Philip K. Dick’s mainstream novels. He had a series of books no publisher would touch until he died, tales of losers trying to keep their struggling businesses and struggling relationships from going down the tubes. His protagonists were the authors of their own misfortunes as much as Jeremy is here, but they’re frequently less pleasant people. Whitlock’s female characters are a lot more real and likeable, too. The women in the book are capable of making their own share of bad decisions but at least some of them have their heads screwed on tighter than many of the male characters.

Worth the time and money I spent on it, certainly.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: whys and wherefores November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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When I first listened to Less Art, More Pop, I remember being happy and relieved that friends of mine had an actual and for real LP and it was really good. Well, it wasn’t that much of a surprise; Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs/the Malibu Kens might not have had a lot of fans, but they had some pretty good songs on the tapes I used to get.

And then they started touring regularly, part of a great Canadian music scene (go read Have Not Been the Same — no, really, I insist, there’s a few good pages on Jr in there). I saw them do a lot of Ottawa gigs. They were always fun gatherings of old and new friends, great music, some pretty cool band t-shirts, and eventually that big Alberta flag behind them as they played that brought me back to my years out west. Helped get me out of the house. And I think it might have been Jr who told me to come and see Ottawa legend Lucky Ron at the Downstairs Club for the first time.

I didn’t make it to Edmonton for the first few reunion shows, but Anthony Fulmes, Sue Porter, and I made it to Toronto for a storming and utterly convincing showcase set at the Horseshoe Tavern. There was some nostalgia, sure, we all saw Jr plenty of times back in the day, but this was not some old guys coasting on memories, they kicked ass. Earlier this year I flew out to Edmonton to see the Dead Venues documentary and a full, longer Jr set, which showed the Toronto set was no fluke. I got to hang out with some familiar faces, too.

Anyway, the Dead Venues guys are working on a Jr documentary, as I mentioned before, you can help fund it, and I just want to see this happen, along with more new music, more shows, and maybe a new t-shirt. The old ones got kind of worn out. So maybe someone will stumble across this and follow some links and help make things come together. And that’s why I spent the evening reviving old memories and new.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the expanded universe November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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I had a page on the website linking to concise entries on non-Jr recordings that featured members of Jr and the Mike McDonald Band. This probably wasn’t even a complete list in 1995. Too bad there was nothing like discogs (wow, does that need a lot of work) or wikipedia back then. Wasn’t easy to track some of these down, either — no mp3s or iTunes yet. Hell, some of these are actually cassettes or LPs. From before vinyl needed a comeback.

Various artists: Edmonton Rocks Volume One
Various artists: It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation
Various artists: Live From the Great Western Ballroom Volume One
Santa by Agent Bumbo
Strange Feelings by the Alien Rebels
Galvanism by Capt. Nemo
Hooked on Mnemonics by Capt. Nemo
Snapperhead by Dead Beat Back Bone
The Black Spot by D.O.A.
Demo Dog by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog/Oh… Those Poor Dogs cassette by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog CD by Greyhound Tragedy
As We Walk on Thin Ice by Jane Hawley
Letters to Myself by Jane Hawley
Spine by Veda Hille
Oh Hut… by Hookahman
Hookahman by Hookahman
Looking Back by Jerusalem Ridge
Road Gore: The Band That Drank Too Much by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Battle Hymn of the Apartment by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Be My Barbie by the Malibu Kens
Theresa’s World by the Modern Minds
Meconium by Ford Pier
Fully Loaded by Rustbucket
Let’s Have a Talk With the Dead by the Show Business Giants
Con Troupo Comedius by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie
Wing Night by the Vinaigrettes
Gross Negligee by the Vinaigrettes
Redeemer by the Wheat Chiefs

Last updated February 5, 1998.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the music November 11, 2015

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Here are the comments for the Jr releases from the website.

Less Art, More Pop is a classic mid-’80s album. Its guitars-and- harmonies approach clearly owes a great debt to such bands of the 1960s as the Byrds, but also reflects a lot of what was happening in the independent music scene of the time. REM and the Smiths had inspired innumerable jangly guitar bands, and other bands like the Dream Syndicate, Rainy Day, and the Long Ryders drew from the ’60s for inspiration.

This album fits well in that company, incorporating touches of folk, country, and punk into its pop aesthetic. There’s variety, but also the clear beginning of a unique sound and attitude. A few songs are lighthearted and goofy, like the fiddle-driven country stomp of Martha Quinn and the Carl Sagan- inspired pogopop of Cosmos. Others, like Fine Scotch, take a darker look at life, though not a hopeless one. Mike’s voice helps distinguish the band, whether he’s doing lead or backing vocals. The band starts to forge an identity that remains through the coming years of drastic lineup changes.

Folk You: The Guido Sessions is an assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs. The music ranges farther afield than before, due in part to the departure of Dave Lawson and the arrival of new guitarist Steve Loree. Although a number of songs from this album have since been rerecorded for later albums, this tape is well worth having and hearing, especially for songs like Steve Loree’s strong opener One Gun Town, the upbeat Dumb in the Summer, the old crowd pleaser What’s Going On, and Dove’s goofy contribution, Six Pack (no relation to the Black Flag song).

Too Dumb to Quit is the first really professional release from the band, produced by Bill Henderson of ’70s rock band Chilliwack and released by a label that also features albums by Ian Tyson and Steve Earle. Four of the songs from Folk You are reprised here, and though the sound quality is obviously superior to that of the cassette, there are similar forays into hard rock (the slow grind of The Bachelor Suite, tempered by steel guitar, and the urgent, propulsive sound of Akit’s Hill), lighthearted pop (The Cliché Song), and slow, soft country folk (Poet’s Highway and Sleep With a Stranger). This is a damn good album by any standard.

(Pull the Goalie doesn’t seem to have a review. I don’t remember why, because it may be my most frequently played Jr album. There’s some of their countriest music here, and absolutely classic tunes like Just the Other Day. There are some different names in the songwriting mix this time, with Steve Loree and Ed Dobek, who each contributed songs to some previous albums, no longer in the band. But Dove contributes again and so does this album’s new guitarist Chris Smith.)

Live at the Hyperbole got a bit of background:

It’s August, 1995, and I’m in Edmonton for the first time in ten years. Anthony Fulmes (a.k.a. Guido, of Guido Sessions fame) is getting married to Tamara Sapach. But that’s still a few days away. Everybody’s gathering at the Rose Bowl, the pizza joint and lounge immortalized in various Jr. Gone Wild videos and publicity photos. The Bowl has a great CD jukebox. As you flip through it, you see CD covers; you can pick any song from any of dozens of CDs. Pretty good selection, too. Some familiar Jr. CD covers go by, along with other local faves like Jane Hawley. And then I see a Jr. CD I’ve never seen before, never even fucking heard of. Jr. and Three Dead Trolls. I knew I must own it, but there was no chance to go somewhere and buy it that night. Dove told me to relax, that the band had plenty of copies. So before I left Edmonton I bought a copy, at Sound Connection or maybe the West Edmonton Mall. It was a damn good investment.

There are probably a lot of Jr. Gone Wild fans, and Three Dead Trolls fans, who don’t know the CD exists. Well, now you do. You have no excuse. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors.

What is it, you ask?

This is a live recording of a musical comedy revue by the band Jr. Gone Wild and the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. There are humorous songs, sketches, a good live version of Just the Other Day, and the ultimate Irish drinking song, A Dublin Lullaby. And for all the bitter and broken-hearted, the song She Thinks You’re Ugly explains a lot. Umm… or so I’ve been told by bitter and broken-hearted people. As entertaining as the CD is, it’s clear that attending the live show, in person, would be even more enjoyable.

Simple Little Wish garnered considerable positive press, from the Edmonton Journal to the Globe and Mail, much of it dealing with the fact that Mike quit drinking prior to this album, the subject of the first song. The critics weren’t interested only in Mike’s private life, though; they praised the songwriting and the music.

As usual, there’s a lineup change, and this time there are appearances from some old familiar names, notably Ford Pier and Jane Hawley. There’s also a song by Steve Loree, although he doesn’t play on the album. This is also the first Jr. album to include a bonus track after a long period of silence (on the CD, at least).

Jr Gone Wild revisited continued November 11, 2015

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I knew Mike McDonald and Ed Dobek from a precursor of Jr Gone Wild when we were all in high school, so I was there for the very beginning of the whole thing. And then my family promptly got transferred a few thousand km across Canada. But a bunch of us stayed in touch by mail, and I got records and tapes in the mail occasionally, so I survived. (This is 1980 and shortly afterwards. Travel across the country is a big deal. Long distance phone calls are horribly expensive. Next to nobody has a computer or a way to communicate with other computers.)

Anyway, I wrote this in 1995:

The Jr. Gone Wild story is a long one, but with a few constants over the years. Mike McDonald, for instance. He’s the only original member of a band that has, according to rumor, at least thirty former members. His core influences have also been constant for the last fifteen years: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, punk rock, folk, and country music.

The Jr. Gone Wild story begins a few years before the band came into existence. It’s hard to pin down the real beginning, because there were several. Here’s one beginning moment that stands out.

It’s a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1980. A teacher and a dozen or so students walk a few blocks east of Archbishop O’Leary High School in north Edmonton, Alberta to the home of Ed Dobek, one of the students. On arriving, they head en masse for the basement, where four of the students gather around some musical instruments. The others sit on an old couch or lean against a foosball machine. The teacher, a “show me” expression on his face, stands and watches.

Ed Dobek sits behind his older brother’s drum kit. Dennis Lenarduzzi straps on a bass guitar, as Scott Juskiw readies his electric guitar. And Mike McDonald stands in front of the microphone.

The band, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs, starts pounding out a primitive punk rock racket. Ed is, arguably, the only one who knows what he’s doing, but to the friends gathered there, it doesn’t matter. It’s close enough for rock and roll. The teacher can see enthusiasm in the band, and in their friends. He doesn’t quite get what’s going on, it’s obviously not his kind of music. But the small audience is clearly enjoying the racket, some nodding heads, some pogoing. So the teacher, Sam Posteraro, teacher liaison with the school’s Student Union, makes the announcement: Joey Did can do one of the lunchtime concerts during the school’s upcoming Rock Week.

There were other beginnings, too. The band was formed out of a group of students who were working on an underground magazine to be called the S.T. Their first sonic endeavor occurred weeks earlier, when someone brought a tape recorder to 266 1/2, their school storeroom hangout. 266 1/2 had an old piano, empty pop bottles, a typewriter, metal cupboard doors, and maybe a dozen teenagers inspired by the DIY message of punk rock and the Flying Lizards’ cacophonous version of the old song, “Money.” Everything was in place for a horrendous and joyful racket to be made, “songs” of banging, pounding, clinking, typing, bits of melody from the piano, and occasional screams of “The peasants are revolting!”

Another beginning: three or four S.T. students killing time in 266 1/2 making up fake band names, inspired by the likes of New York City’s Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the supposedly real Sid Snot and the Greenies. One suggestion: Joey Dead and the Necrophiliacs. Later, when the band formed, the name was changed, to make it a bit less of a joke.

And yet another beginning: Rock Week at O’Leary. Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs are on the stage of the O’Leary gym. A friend of the band stands before the mic and yells, “Ladies and gentlemen, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs! 1, 2, 3, 4!” And the band kicks in. Maybe a hundred of the school’s 1800 students are there for the spectacle, but the number dwindles steadily through the lunch hour.

Over the course of the year, the band plays in public a few times, breaks up at least once (Mike briefly starts a new band called the Tory Dinks), reforms, and in December changes its name to the Malibu Kens. Late in 1981, they release a single, Be My Barbie, on an independent Edmonton label. There are two songs: “Crude City” and “Wednesday Morning…” Trivia: the band’s co-producer for the single is Kim Upright of local faves the Modern Minds; also in that band was Moe Berg, best known for his band The Pursuit of Happiness. There’s a poster/lyric sheet by Edmonton punk poster genius Kenny Chinn, soon to go on to greater notoriety with his hardcore band SNFU.

The months following the release of the single see a change in musical direction for the band. Improved musical skill and the influence of bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Go-Gos, among others, result in a pop sound. After they’ve been doing that for some time, in 1982 the band records a limited edition cassette under their old name, a cleanly recorded and well-played selection of their old punk tunes and some odd musical departures.

By 1983 there had been frequent disagreements within the band, personality conflicts, occasional breakups, and at least one change of lineup, as Dennis Lenarduzzi left to start his own band. There were also money-making headlining gigs and occasional press coverage in the city’s major newspapers. A demo cassette recorded that year demonstrated the band’s musical growth, ranging from slow acoustic songs to fast rockers to forays into weird pop. There’s also a song that has an early folk/ country influence, Mike’s “High Plains Drifter.” But despite the progress, the end is near.

The Malibu Kens were one of the bands featured on an album called It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation. There’s a booklet with the record with bios of the bands, and the Malibu Kens’ bio pretty well indicates that the band is history. The bio, written by guitarist and frequent songwriter Scott Juskiw, doesn’t mention Mike by name; he’s missing from the band photo. But Scott writes, “The Malibu Kens are 3 conniving money-grubbing tunesmiths and 1 grade A, card-carrying, government inspected hog.” The first page of the booklet, written by the album’s compiler, simply mentions in passing that “Mike Sinatra [McDonald] sings lead vocals on ‘Party’s Over’ and ‘421-1111’.”

The Malibu Kens were history. For Mike McDonald, it was time for a new beginning.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: first, an introduction November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Their reunion’s been going for a year or two now, there’s new music, there’s a documentary in the works. This is all good news. Shame I got rid of my Well account because now you have to go to the Internet Archive to see my JGW website from 20 years ago. So, for the hell of it, I’m going to post one or two items from that old site. I don’t even remember writing this one, but apparently I did.

Jr. Gone Wild, 1983 – 1995

They’ve been called “the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams.” Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones. The opening minutes of the new album, Simple Little Wish, make that more obvious than ever: a sample of the marching sound from the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” fades into the definitely country-sounding “The Guy Who Came in From the Cold,” Mike’s song about the joy of not drinking, and the pleasure of knowing he’ll still be alive five years from now.

The band’s history begins in 1983. In 1993, the Edmonton Journal interviewed Mike on the eve of a tenth anniversary concert/party. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“My very first band practice with Jr. Gone Wild was on my 20th birthday – June 26, 1983,” McDonald said in an interview this week at his “office” at Rose Bowl Pizza on 117th St.”That’s how come I know I’ve been in the band for 10 years, because I’m going to be 30 next month.”

The band’s first incarnation included St. Albert musicians Graham Brown, Kim Upright and Mark Brostrom.

McDonald said he and Brown went into the group heavily under the influence of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Byrds.

“But what happened was for the first year or so we ended up sounding like a drunk Buffalo Springfield.”

The American alternative music magazine Option named Jr. Gone Wild a promising new band eight years ago, and the promise has been fulfilled for several years. Nationally the band is not as high-profile as, for example, the Barenaked Ladies, but their albums, live shows, and tenacity have earned them a growing core audience.

In Edmonton the band seems to be popular enough: they played the national anthem at an Edmonton Eskimos football game. They’ve been mentioned in the Edmonton Journal dozens of times, often profiled in depth. When Simple Little Wish was released, the paper devoted most of the front page of the entertainment section to the band. And last May Jr. Gone Wild won an ARIA award (an Alberta music award) for “best rock/heavy metal artists on record.” (Apparently there’s no cowpunk award.)

And their fame is steadily increasing outside of Edmonton. Canada’s “national newspaper,” the Globe and Mail, has glowingly reviewed their last two albums. As if that’s not enough, reviewer Chris Dafoe criticized alternative rock gods Pavement by saying “Pavement’s perversity wears thin. In the words of Jr. Gone Wild, Less Art, More Pop please.” And the Globe‘s Arts Ink column reported a recent band mishap. As columnist James Adams says, “While walking to Toronto’s MuchMusic to promote the band’s fifth recording, Simple Little Wish, bassist Dove (a.k.a. Dave Baker) slipped on the ice in the Much parking lot and broke his left hand. As a result, Jr. Gone Wild has had to postpone its national tour and Mr. Dove is sporting a T-shirt that reads ‘I Got My Big Break at MuchMusic.'” (For the record… Dove’s last name is Brown, not Baker, and he says the t-shirt is apocryphal.

Jr. Gone Wild is very much Mike McDonald’s band. In fact, he’s the only original member still in the band. Bass player Dove joined before the first album. Guitarist Lance Loree and drummer Larry Shelast have been around for a few years. (Of course, by the time of the last Jr. tour, Lance was gone, and Anne Loree was in.)

A number of musicians must be getting used to being described as former members of Jr. Gone Wild, including Chris Smith, Lance Loree’s predecessor as guitarist, who has a new album out. Country singer/fiddler Jane Hawley, who toured with the band a few years ago, also finds the Jr. connection popping up when she gets some press coverage.

But it isn’t only former members of the band who have a burgeoning musical careers. Mike himself keeps busy in a variety of contexts. Just as he served his muses in different ways in the early ’80s by playing in a punk band and doing Neil Young songs as a busker, he continues to explore new modes of expression.

In February, the Edmonton Journal‘s David Howell reported on a band called Hookahman, a band that plays ‘”post-industrial folk- fusion acoustic-nebulous trouser rock.’ […] Hookahman’s lineup,” Howell continues, “includes Joe Bird and Wes Borg of the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie plus Jr. Gone Wild members Larry Shelast and Mike McDonald. Other members are Page, Jason Kodie, Frank Bessai and Joel Finnestad. Rootsy songwriter/guitarist Bill Bourne is Hookahman’s musical guru and frequent sit-in guest.”

This band, which has released an album, doesn’t represent the only Jr. Gone Wild/Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie crossover. The band has done music for several shows by the comics, including one last Christmas called Messiah. The Journal headline read, “Un- immaculate Messiah radiates daffy good nature; Musical’s rock band at least as funny as comedy troupe.”

Mike also often does solo acoustic gigs, like the Saturday afternoons at the Black Dog pub. Not living in Edmonton, I don’t know whether he’s still playing there, but I’ve heard that it’s not too difficult to catch a Jr. show or a solo Mike show in Edmonton. (Well, a Jr. show would be pretty difficult to catch now.)

And of course there’s the Rose Bowl Pizza, a Mike hangout for a good fifteen years now, and the place where Mike anchors a Sunday night acoustic session, but the Bowl deserves its own page. It’s appeared in Jr. videos, and it was where Mike was interviewed five years or so ago by CBC Midday.

And now to close with some words from Mike. On Saturday, November 5, 1994, the Edmonton Journal asked a number of local luminaries the question, “What is the most important thing you’ve ever learned?” Answers came from Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Company’s Coming cookbook author Jean Pare, convicted murderer Colin Thatcher, millionnaire philanthropist Francis Winspear, University of Alberta Hospital director of dermatology Kowichi Jimbow, and Mike McDonald.

Mike’s response:

– “The most important thing that I learned is to analyse information that you receive, be it things you see or what people tell you… any input, before responding to it, just make sure you know what you’re talking about.”

“I learned this through many, many, many horribly embarrassing situations I would like to go back and fix.”


Review: The Doctors Are In by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? August 24, 2015

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Another Netgalley review.

Burk and Smith are longtime Who fans who’ve become prolific writers on the show. Both used to write for Canadian Doctor Who fanzine Enlightenment, and now they produce books.

There’s certainly no shortage of nonfiction books about Doctor Who. What was once a long-cancelled cult British TV series has become a worldwide phenomenon with millions of new fans who don’t know all the show’s history… and plenty of longtime fans who enjoy arguing obscure points of lore and debating which Doctor was best. So, obviously, there’s an audience for books like this.

As to this particular book– the emphasis is on the Doctors as characters. It’s not another episode guide — they’ve already done that sort of thing. Instead, each chapter puts a Doctor in context, with a few paragraphs on the production and writing of the show in that era, background on the actor who played the Doctor, information on the Doctor’s companions and a pick for top companion (and classic foe), a long look at the Doctor’s personality, some great and not so great moments, and then separate opinion pieces on the Doctor and his era from the two writers, and finally separate and definitely opinionated reviews of a handful of key episodes.

While the structure of the book means it’ll be helpful to newer fans, it’s the battles of opinions between Burk and Smith that’ll draw in the more knowledgeable fans. We’re suckers for opinionated takes on the show and its stories; there are several whole series of books dedicated to arguing the merits of different Doctors, eras, and episodes. Unlike some I could mention, this one delivers in relatively breezy, casual takes; not a lot of long drawn out critiques of colonialism here.

Overall, a good read for a broad audience of Who fans, suitable as an introduction or a source of arguments. I may have to look at their other DW books now.

(Incidentally, the ECW books I’ve bought in print form recently include an option to get the ebook at no extra charge. Not sure if they still do it, but it’s a nice incentive.)

Review: Sorrow Lake by Michael J. McCann August 24, 2015

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The original Netgalley review:

Cool to see a mystery novel set not too far from where I live. This one starts promisingly, then slips into a lot of expository lumps about Ontario Provincial Police procedure, then finally starts to increase the action and suspense. By the end I was glad I stuck with it, but it was a bit of a slog at times earlier on. With luck, the next book won’t need to establish quite so much of the procedural side of things or the introduction of a whole cast of characters. I’ll be willing to give it a shot.

That was a pretty short review, wasn’t it? Well, looking back, I think I liked it more than the above would suggest. I can still remember how I visualized some of the scenes and settings of the book, which is a good sign. Bring on the next one.

Subhumans: Same Thoughts Different Day (2010) September 25, 2010

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Same Thoughts Different Day

Subhumans: Same Thoughts Different Day

Back in early 1982 I bought the album Incorrect Thoughts by the Subhumans, the punk band from Vancouver who’d formed a few years earlier (before the UK band with the same name). It was, by turns, savage and funny, a powerhouse of an album that was pure punk but undeniably rock as well. I’d heard of them a couple of years earlier; they were part of the same scene as Canadian punk rock legends D.O.A. I managed to find the Subhumans’ Death Was Too Kind EP in the next year or so, and several years later found a bootleg reissue of a single of theirs, and that was it for a long time. I never saw them live, though singer Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble joined D.O.A. for a while, and he was with them the first time I saw them.

Anyway, unlike D.O.A., whose leader Joe Keithley (a.k.a. Joey Shithead) has soldiered on through countless lineups, the Subhumans seemed to disappear from view for a long time. And so did that first album of theirs. I occasionally looked for a digital version of it but all I found were mp3s of an unusually wrong version of the record: different tracklisting, extra songs, different mixes of the familiar songs. It just wasn’t right. Turns out an unscrupulous American label put out a version of the album, and despite its dubious legality, the band hasn’t had the money to take the label to court. (Other bands have been screwed over by the same label.)

So, when the Subhumans returned from their lengthy hiatus a few years ago, with a strong new album solidly in their classic style, interest in Incorrect Thoughts was revived. And the band decided to do what a few other artists have done: they rerecorded the songs, added a few previously unreleased/unrecorded songs, and gave it the title Same Thoughts Different Day. So how does it compare? Well, I won’t lie — I still love the original LP. But given a choice between the unauthorized release and this new version, it isn’t just fannish loyalty that makes me put the new CD out in front. It’s well recorded and well played, with as much passion and energy as ever. It kicks ass and it sounds great. Not bad for a band with three out of four members of the classic lineup, thirty years later.

And lo, it came to pass a week ago that I finally got to see the band play live. And damn, it was fun. There were a few of us old farts in our late 40s or above, and a lot of young punks in their 20s, maybe a few in between, and we all enjoyed it. It was a small club, should have been a bigger crowd, but the beer was good and the music was loud. Got some stuff by one of the local opening bands, too. Now to see who I can get to go see D.O.A. at the same club in a week or two…

Liz Worth: Treat Me Like Dirt (2010) March 7, 2010

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Liz Worth: Treat Me Like DirtThe subtitle tells you most of what you need to know about this book: An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond 1977-1981.

If names like the Diodes, the Viletones, and Teenage Head mean anything to you you’re probably intrigued. If they don’t, but you’re interested in Canadian music or punk rock, you should be intrigued. This book is nearly 400 pages of memories (and occasional contemporary reports) from dozens of people who were there at the time, including many — maybe most — of the surviving members of the bands discussed. There are a lot of photos, too.

(Note: you probably won’t find this one in your local bookstore, as only a few hundred copies have been printed. Order from Bongo Beat, the publisher, here.)

In addition to the key Toronto bands, including the aforementioned Viletones and Diodes and The Ugly, the Curse, and the B-Girls, Hamilton’s Teenage Head, Simply Saucer, and Forgotten Rebels and London (Ontario)’s Demics all get a look in as well. The rise and fall of the Crash ‘n’ Burn club, the rivalry between some of the bands, the Last Pogo, the realization of a scene coming into existence at the same time as the London (England) and New York scenes, the frustration of not having supportive media, record companies, and venues (unlike those other cities)… it’s all there.

Those not necessarily interested in the scene might find the book an interesting read anyway; there’s definitely an arc to the story, from the initial burst of creativity to the gradually increasing ugliness of it all and a lot of unhappy endings. The largely fake and harmless early violence of the scene is supplanted by real and ugly violence — from career criminals continuing to do break-and-enter robberies as their bands get popular, to street gangs hanging out at clubs starting vicious fights. And then heroin enters the scene and ruins a number of careers and lives.

Often, when reading books like this about scenes like this one, I wish I could have been there at the time. Not so much this time around. Maybe it’s the nature of the oral history, the story being told by its participants possibly leading to settling of scores, but a lot of the people in the book seem to be assholes or thugs.

Still, it’s a necessary chronicle of a historically significant moment — not just for Canadian music, but, many of the participants argue, for the development of Canada’s largest city. One of the problems with this scene is how poorly documented the music is. A decade ago, companies started releasing CDs compiling what was available from the Viletones, the Ugly, the Curse, and the B-Girls, and the first two Diodes albums were reissued, among others. But that’s maybe a dozen CDs from a scene with a lot of bands over several years. At least you can get a sense of what some of it was like from the DVD of The Last Pogo, discussed here a few posts back.

Personally, the only band in the book that I ever saw live was Teenage Head when they played in Halifax in 1981 — I had their classic Frantic City album and was excited that they were playing at my university, and I remember having a very good time. But a show on a university campus had to be a very different experience from many of the shows chronicled in the book, in seedy and dangerous places.

I’d love to see a similar book on the Vancouver scene — yeah, we have D.O.A.’s Joe Keithley’s book I, Shithead and Guilty of Everything by John Armstrong, a.k.a. the Modernettes’ Buck Cherry, but Treat Me Like Dirt is a monster of a book. The stories here could spark a dozen movies. More books like this on other scenes would be very welcome.

October eMusic downloads November 14, 2009

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Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life

Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life, Year of the Rat, Hidden World. They’re Canadian, they won a big award, and they’re an atypical hardcore band, so I was curious. I like the first one, haven’t listened to the others much yet. They’re definitely neither the kind of hardcore I listened to many years ago nor the annoying stuff the genre evolved into over the years. They’re doing something different.

Various artists: 5: Five Years of Hyperdub disc 1. I have pretty much everything on disc 2, which is a sampling of past releases on Hyperdub; disc 1 is all new material, showing the future of one of the most consistently interesting dubstep and post-dubstep labels. And the future looks bright, not constrained by the cliches that some dubstep has fallen prey to.

Close Lobsters: Forever Until Victory. Singles collection from the jangly late ’80s band who recorded the great Foxheads Stalk This Land, a missing link between the Soft Boys, the House of Love, and other great pre-shoegazer guitar bands.

Raveonettes: In and Out of Control. Latest from the Jesus and Mary Chain-influenced retro fuzzpop band, more melodic, less noisy this time around.

Kevin Drumm: Imperial Horizon, Imperial Distortion. Austerely minimalist ambient/drone.

Bad Lieutenant: Never Cry Another Tear. The full album by New Order minus Peter Hook, it’s another okay outing with some pretty good songs but nothing that’ll change your life.

2562: Unbalance. Second album of techno-fied dubstep. I think this one has a little more character than the first.


Annie: Don’t Stop

Annie: Don’t Stop. More retro dance pop. Catchy and fun, with the occasional touch of melancholy.

Nurse With Wound: Salt Marie Celeste. Experimental ambient/drone/noise.

Robin Guthrie: Songs to Help My Children Sleep EP. More of the usual instrumental guitar bliss, quieter and more ambient than some of his other material.

Anuj Rastogi: Dark Matter EP. A Canadian mix of dubstep and Indian music, going deeper than some UK dubstep producers who just drop in random Indian samples.

Andrew Liles: The Dead Submariner. More dark ambience. Where its predecessor, The Dying Submariner, used processed piano sounds, this one uses guitar.

Plus the usual dubstep and electronic singles, this time around from Broken Note, Various Production, A Made Up Sound, Darkstar, Ital Tek, Sp:Mc, and Sully.

Howard Shore: Crash Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1996) October 18, 2009

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Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore’s soundtrack for Crash, the David Cronenberg movie based on the J.G. Ballard novel, is of my favourite movie soundtracks ever, and one of very few that wouldn’t sound out of place played between albums by, say, Robert Fripp and Robin Guthrie.

The main instrument is electric guitar, but it’s not rock music at all. In many of the tracks, reverbed guitar is the only noticeable instrument. The fourth track begins with a woodwind, creating a more contemplative tone; the fifth features some strings and prepared piano as the music becomes more discordant. The ninth features ominous noise and percussion, sounding like isolationist ambient music, and the tenth primarily features strings, with the album expanding its musical palette beyond guitars as it progresses, but never leaving them behind. And, thanks in no small part to the opening titles theme, the guitars are what come to mind when I think of this soundtrack. It’s textured and experimental enough to suggest avant garde music or postrock, but it still has melodic motifs. It’s not aural wallpaper. And not only does it work in the context of the film and on CD, it worked wonderfully as a live performance, too.

In 1998, the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa held its second “Generations XYZ New Music Festival.” The first event was Crash: The Music of Howard Shore. Shore conducted a group of musicians in a newly arranged version of the music composed for the film. Following that, there was a discussion on scoring for movies, featuring both Shore and David Cronenberg, which lasted maybe 40 minutes. And then a showing of Crash.

The musicians included six electric guitar players, three harpists, and flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, and keyboard. Quoting from Robert Markow’s notes in the program:

The concert suite… brings together approximately fifteen musical sequences from the film arranged in chronological order lasting about three-quarters of an hour. The ensemble consists of essentially three timbral groups: guitars and harps, percussion, and woodwinds. ‘The piece is about harps,’ says Shore, and the three harps do indeed constitute the focus of the score. The guitar writing is derived from the harp music, and in a sense the three harps function as a single unit, with the harps acting at times like bass guitars. (The two episodes in the film employing a fifty-piece string orchestra have been arranged for guitars for tonight’s performance.) The percussion consists of metal sculpture, tuned gongs, prepared piano, and miscellaneous everyday metal objects. Woodwinds… are used as solo voices.

The harps may be the focus, but in the music as played the guitars dominated. They were loud, but clear and precise. Quite enjoyable.

The Shore/Cronenberg discussion had some good moments, but the moderator asked a few too many silly questions, and eventually the discussion was derailed by an audience member who wanted to get into a discussion about Cronenberg’s philosophy.

The concert was supposed to be recorded for CBC Radio’s Two New Hours program, but it never aired. It’s a shame; I was hoping to tape it. I would have loved to supplement the soundtrack CD with this alternate version.

Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett (2005) October 12, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett

Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett

When it looked, briefly, like drum ‘n’ bass was going to be the next big thing in dance and electronic music to hit the mainstream, I didn’t get into it. (Instead, it just became the soundtrack for many years of car commercials.) The hyperactive skittery drums seemed to get slathered onto a variety of musical styles, making it seem like more like a fad than a style. If you have a soul/R&B tune on top of that percussion, and something contructed out of jazz loops on top of that percussion, and ominous dark ambient synth sounds on top of that percussion, are those all part of the same genre just because they’re constructed on top of looped breakbeats? Well, I still don’t know. I still haven’t listened to a lot of drum’n’bass or jungle, though I make occasional efforts.

But somehow this album caught my attention, and I downloaded it when it popped up on eMusic. It’s not one of my neglected or forgotten downloads, though; I’ve played it fairly often. It just takes a certain mood to appreciate it. On this album, Venetian Snares works with the aggressive drill’n’bass style of dnb percussion — or maybe breakcore; depends whose review you’re reading, and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this part of the musical continuum; but the music is primarily sampled from classical albums (aside from one track, built on samples from Billie Holiday’s take on legendary suicide song “Gloomy Sunday”). Some tracks are devoid of percussion, like the sinister “Felbomlasztott Mentökocsi.” On others, the orchestral samples are given time to create a mood and sense of direction before the percussion comes in. “Hajnal” starts with some speedy string playing and, eventually piano, before changing gears into something much jazzier, with light jazz-style drumming instead of dnb percussion, before returning to the ominous strings, which are soon joined by an assault of dnb percussion and synth noises.

If there’s a near-mainstream comparison I can make, it would be with some of the tracks on Bjork’s Homogenic album, which also used strings and drum’n’bass percussion tracks. But this is almost entirely instrumental, and for that matter much more mental. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh at the stuff Aaron Funk, the guy behind Venetian Snares, pulls off here; there’s a sheer sense of delight and exuberance about the possibilities of mashing things up that don’t conventionally go together, and an energy that makes this a blast to listen to (preferably at high volume). It’s beautiful and noisy and glorious. I haven’t heard any other Venetian Snares stuff, because I gather that this is something of an anomaly. Still, it’s hard not to be curious… in a world where Canadian music brings to mind people like Nickelback, Celine Dion, and the Barenaked Ladies, this is a welcome alternative.

July’s eMusic downloads August 5, 2009

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Riechmann: Wunderbar

Riechmann: Wunderbar

Still no sign that eMusic Canada is going to be getting Sony and the price changes and all that crap in the near future, so I’m still a happy eMusic user. And here’s what I’ve downloaded lately…

Conrad Schnitzler: 00_346+00_380 _ Mixes 1 and 00_346+00_380 _ Mixes 2; Klaus Schulze: Cyborg, Irrlicht, and Mirage. This was inspired by a Simon Reynolds article from 2007, just reposted on his ReynoldsRetro blog, called THE FINAL FRONTIER: The Analogue Synth Gods of the 1970s. The article makes two points: first, that there’s a whole school of electronic music that’s almost forgotten now or at the very least considered dubious and uncool; second, that some of it is actually worth hearing. It’s a look at the spacy, cosmic electronic music by the likes of early Tangerine Dream and others, and Schnitzler and Schulze were both mentioned in the article. So, because I do consider myself an electronic music fan and I did miss out on a lot of that stuff (seeing some of it as dull and pretentious at the time), I’m doing some homework.

Riechmann: Wunderbar. I’d never heard of the artist or the album, but the eMusic blog 17 Dots did a feature on it that intrigued me. I was sold by the comparisons in the first paragraph: “the B-Side of David Bowie’s Low or moodier Kraftwerk or any of Brian Eno’s ambient/electronic works.” It’s a 1978 album by someone who’d worked in the past with members of Neu! and Kraftwerk, a bit influenced by New Wave. One track sounds a lot like Neu! spinoff La Düsseldorf, who sounded at times like an inspiration for Ultravox. So, yeah, this is up my alley.

Subhumans: Death Was Too Kind. Not the UK band, the Vancouver band. For some reason, their music hasn’t been well represented on CD. I’d love to just get a CD with the Death Was Too Kind EP and the Canadian Incorrect Thoughts LP, both of which I have on vinyl, but instead I have a compilation album called Pissed Off… With Good Reason!, which has a few of those songs, and crap mp3s from a long out of print US CD version of Incorrect Thoughts, with a different selection of songs. I downloaded several tracks from this compilation to fill in some gaps, so at least I have the digital equivalent of the EP, but I still need a proper release of the album.

Various artists: Ragga Jungle Dubs. Continuing my slow but steady exploration of post-reggae music, this is a collection of ragga jungle, the reggae-influenced, pre-drum & bass sound that was briefly popular in the UK. I’m still not crazy about ragga vocals, but the “dubs” part of the title means that there aren’t as many vocals as there might normally be.

Beat Pharmacy: Wikkid Times Remixes. I really liked the dub techno/reggae crossover sound of the original Wikkid Times album, and I like these remixes, many from well-known dubstep producers, too.

2562: Love in Outer Space/Third Wave. New dubstep/techno crossover single.


Sonic Youth: The Eternal

Michael Rother: Flammende Herzen. Rother was one of the two key members of Neu!, and this is an early solo album of his. This is like a prettier, more accessible Neu!, and may prove to be a better listen, longterm, than Klaus Dinger’s post-Neu! project La Düsseldorf.

Joe Gibbs and the Professionals: African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3. I like dub reggae but don’t actually have all that much. This is supposed to be classic stuff, and certainly sounds good enough on first listen.

Higuma: Haze Valley. Sort of psychedelic/drone/ambient, though the epic first track gets pretty loud.

Nadja/Black Boned Angel: Nadja/Black Boned Angel. Speaking of loud, this Canada/New Zealand collaboration starts out as layers of ambient drone before somewhat more recognizably metal influences pound their way in, not that a lot of metal fans would necessarily recognize it as such.

Metric: Fantasies. More good new wavy indie rock from Toronto, not a major departure at all from their past albums.

Various artists: Kill Rock Stars Sampler 2009. Forgot I downloaded this. It’s a free sampler of random tracks released over the years on the Kill Rock Stars label, including songs by Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith, the Decemberists, and others.

Sonic Youth: The Eternal. New Sonic Youth albums don’t always get the amount of play around here that they should get, because there are so many great old ones. But there’s good stuff on this album; I just have to make a point of remembering to listen to it.

June’s eMusic downloads July 2, 2009

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Nosaj Thing: Drift

Nosaj Thing: Drift

More dubstep/wonky/whatever singles: King Midas Sound (Dub Heavy – Hearts and Ghosts EP), Cooly G (Narst/Love Dub), Joker & Rustie (Play Doe), Joker (Hollybrook Park, Do It/Psychedelic Runway), Joker & Ginz (Purple City/Re-Up), D1 (D1:V2, D1:V3, Degrees).

Peter Broderick: Music for Falling From Trees. More of that home listening/modern classical/ambient style piano and strings.

Mos Def: The Ecstatic. His debut album, Black on Both Sides, was a  great hiphop album, but his last couple of albums were reportedly weak and uninspired. Reviews said this was his best album since Black on Both Sides, so I figured it’d be worth a shot. Not bad so far.

Nosaj Thing: Drift. Instrumental, beat-oriented, electronic music. Not dubstep, though. It’s getting labelled as instrumental hiphop. But it keeps your attention, and it’s one of the two great finds of the month.

Dubterror: Dubterror. Dub, reggae, dub techno, and dubstep.

A Storm of Light and Nadja: Primitive North. A couple of experimental metal bands, one of which (Nadja, from Canada) I’ve been listening to for some time. I think each band does a song or two and then remixes a song by the other, rather than any more direct collaboration. This isn’t really going to make me want to go find any more music by A Storm of Light; there are some interesting moments, but also some dull ordinary metal moments.

Loden: Valeen Hope. This is the other catch of the month, a really good example of the kind of melodic techno/shoegazer crossover that Ulrich Schnauss and M83 do.

Pulshar: Babylon Fall Collection. Minimal dub techno with occasional vocals.

Canada Day listening July 2, 2009

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mapleleafSo, yesterday was Canada Day. And, as usual, I listened to some Canadian music. This time around:

Vancougar: Canadian Tuxedo

Metric: Live It Out

Cadence Weapon: Breaking Kayfabe

Nadja: When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV

Caribou: Andorra

One of the first times I thought about music in terms of where it was from was probably when we got the K-Tel compilation album Canadian Mint back in the early ’70s. There were some big hits and a few names that, looking at the track listing now, bring back no memories at all, from that album or anywhere else.

It kind of became important when I got into punk and new wave. It was cool and exciting that bands like D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks were not only Canadian bands making vital new music, they were doing it on small Canadian labels. Hell, some of my friends in high school did the same thing (the Malibu Kens, some of whom went on to become Jr Gone Wild).

And in my show-going days, I preferred going to clubs to see bands, which often meant local or Canadian indie bands, though I saw a few on campus at university, too. Bands I’ve seen that other Canadian indie fans might recognize would include Teenage Head, Blue Peter, Skinny Puppy, Grapes of Wrath, Moev, the 39 Steps, Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, D.O.A., the Asexuals, SNFU, Lava Hay, Rose Chronicles, Sarah McLachlan, Jale, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, the Real McKenzies, etc.

And I still love Canadian music. The albums mentioned above are all recent. Canadian content controversies aside, in a country of 30 million people, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of worthwhile musicians and bands.