Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not Professional, Just Foul

Short version: the teams were sent memos explaining the rules beforehand, but said rules were never previously enforced with any consistency, the international governing body from which the rules are sourced is not unequivocal on the matter, and the local bods are now forcing the issue, i.e., passing the buck.

And the Premier feels the need to comment, thus turning the whole thing (like it wasn't already) into the latest round in Quebec's "reasonable accomodation" debate.

And a little kid from Nepean gets to be the centre of an international media storm.

All in all, a red-letter day for complete fucking idiocy.

Update: TG, as usual, finds the positive bits.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

TTC Not Liable For C.H.U.D. Attacks

This'll be the first time I've ever ridden the subway just for fun.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Frozen Beaches

Bend at the knees there, kid.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Campaign For Racial Equality

As always, Tommy Gavin and the crew show us the way.

Swan Song

What kind of meany kills swans? Beyond bizarre. And in Owen Sound too! Might have to rethink the summer holiday...

DJ Is Dead

Three-time NBA champion and occasional scourge of The (Other) Evil Empire dead at 52.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Records In Review: Bloc Party--A Weekend In The City

Third attempt at writing this. I hate second-album reviews, I do!

In many ways, A Weekend In The City is your typical second album. The instrumentalism is more restrained and contained, the production more polished (the toms don't sound like damp suitcases, and the drums in general aren't wrung through the phaser so much), and the influences worn less on-sleeve. Speaking of influences, the usual suspects are present, albeit with the dubby P.I.L. thang dialled back appreciably, and my ears can detect a smidgen of stadium-era P. Furs on a track or two ("I Still Remember"), which isn't surprising given that Weekend's a record that speaks much more to an arena environment than did its predecessor. More space and sweep, less grunt, scratch and skronk. About half of the record I'd describe as Coldplay for people who have a pulse.

I can't say I'm particularly enamoured of the bigged-up sound. To each his own, perhaps, but one of the things I found most interesting about Silent Alarm was the juxtaposition of the occasional emo/grandiose tendency with an attitude toward arrangement that often surprised you with sonic contrasts between sections (see "Pioneers" below) and between tracks--particularly helpful with a band like BP who aren't really "about" the finer details of songcraft. Here, a lot of that's been ironed out. The emphasis on Weekend is on less detail-driven quiet/loud/louder sectional contrasts, some of which aren't exactly subtle in their execution ("Hunting For Witches," "SRXT"). SA left itself more sonic wiggle room at the micro-level and thus avoided sounding like slush.

If Silent Alarm had a slight emo tendency, its successor has a full-blown melodramatic one that's only barely reined in. The episodic "Uniform" is a case in point and while the individual bits of it are pretty good, the whole is long-winded and not entirely convincing. I never paid much attention to the lyrics on SA, beyond twigging to a few overt political commentaries, but holy crap, Weekend sees singer Kele Okereke morphing into Morrissey v. 2.0 (the upgrade capable of throwing a couple of punches before getting beaten up). A fair amount of languor, and a hell of a lot of insecurity-borne yearning. And I can only ingest so much yearning before my body cries out for a Hives-flavoured palate cleanser. This is stuff that takes itself very seriously indeed. Too seriously.

Objectively, the material's at least as consistent as that of Silent Alarm (which admittedly ran out of gas in the last third). As with the latter, the best stuff is in the middle of the running order. Of the songs in the more reflective and atmospheric vein, "On" and "Kreuzberg" are the best, the former being particularly pretty. "Sunday" is all right but sounds too much like "Kreuzberg," from which it's only separated by one song. "I Still Remember" is currently my favourite track, very simply structured, with a simple but effective vocal melody, and a good fit with the bigger-stage production style without sounding bombastic. "Waiting For The 7.18" is also very good, and probably the most successful example of the aforementioned loud/soft contrast thing. Single "The Prayer" is pretty good and catchy, but certainly is bombastic, sounding as it does like overproduced Killing Joke. You can probably intuit from my language that I don't think there's as much a-list material on offer here as on SA.

I've dithered over this album much more than I usually do, and frankly, if someone came to me with a substantially dissenting opinion I'm not sure I'd put up much of an argument. Some of it's indeed a matter of taste. All I know is, a year and a half later and I'm still listening to Silent Alarm, and after two weeks I've already grown weary of about half of this one. Recommendation: I report, you decide.

P.S. Good review here, even if I disagree with the conclusions.

mp3: Bloc Party--"Hunting For Witches" (from A Weekend In The City)
mp3: Bloc Party--"Waiting For The 7.18" (from A Weekend In The City)

mp3: Bloc Party--"This Modern Love"(from Silent Alarm)
mp3: Bloc Party--"Pioneers" (from Silent Alarm)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

It's A Decision I'll Make With My Family

Oh, look: Roger Clemens says there's a small chance he'll come back this year. Just like last year. And the year before. And once more for luck. Perhaps we'll be fortunate enough to get another farewell tour, or at least a couple of "last start" standing ovations.

Brett Favre, it seems, is definitely coming back. A decisive fellow--good to see.

If Favre or Clemens issued a press release and nobody published it, would they immediately cease to exist?

For Hall of Fame talent sans Hall of Fame ego, turn to pitcher Greg Maddux.

Maddux after winning his 300th:

Maddux never returned to the field after the final out was made. Fans hollered as he worked his way down the hallway to a postgame interview, and Maddux practically pursed his lips to keep from reacting. It took a near mugging by a bunch of teammates at his locker to finally make him smile.


After the final out, Cubs fans held up a large "W" banner, and a graphic recognizing Maddux's achievement was shown on the center-field scoreboard. But Maddux never came back onto the field. He didn't feel it would be right to hold a huge celebration in somebody else's ballpark...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cold Fingers

Toward Hanlan's Point (more or less), before the big freeze up...

...and on a cloudy day, after the ice and snow...

...and on a sunny day...

...and again.

Birdie oasis.

Are they ticking?

Hanlan's Point ferry.

The W.L. Mackenzie in the snowy haze.

As always, Success and I separated by a chain-link fence.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Worth Every Penny I'm Paying For It

I've been informed that a number of my posted audio file links have been "disappeared." Don't know why. Will look into.

Update (2/18): now the damn things are back up again. I hate technology.

Net Gains

Claudell Washington has a MySpace page.

As does the supposed son of ex-Meatmen mainman Tesco Vee (via).

Connect the dots, people!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jays Sign Bill Caudill

For reasons best left to the imagination, I'll be an occasional contributor here:

Drink-Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For War

Love Day

Hearts 'n' flowers to all y'all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wee Redhead

Daniel Cook hits the big time.

For those who don't pay attention to kids' tv, Cook is quite a remarkable kid, mostly because he's so, well, ordinary. As a junior interviewer, he's not easily fazed, but he's also guileless and unpolished--not a "bred" child star or anything like that. You can almost see the wheels spinning in his head when he's asking or responding to questions.

Twin Redheads

Sports shlub ad that's actually funny.

Monday, February 12, 2007

No Outback Here, Eh

Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots, And Leaves, has an interesting column about the authorial search for authenticity. But she made me cringe when she said this:

...perhaps the main point of interest was that Penney had been suffering agoraphobia while working on the book (set in the 19th Century Canadian outback), so her illness would have prevented her from visiting Canada even if she'd wanted to.

Ms Truss would be well advised to brush up on a little authenticity herself: there ain't no outback here. Call it "up north", the far north, the Arctic, or any number of more colourful terms used to describe the remote parts of Canada, but don't call it the "outback"! Ouch.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Boarded Up

Not that the news comes as a shock or anything, but XTC appear to have ceased trading for all intents and purposes. Damn, blast and bugger.

It Came From The CD Rack

Why can't we all share our pain?

1. Your 2-year-old daughter has banged her head on a table. Do you a) comfort her or b) reach for the ff button?

mp3: They Might Be Giants--"The Guitar" (from Apollo 18)

2. Persist with it, it gets worse:

mp3: Metric--"Handshakes" (from Live It Out)

3. The extra-shouty remix is better:

mp3: Modest Mouse--"Dance Hall" (from Good News For People Who Love Bad News)

4. Chipmunks are not the only sciurids:

mp3: Broken Social Scene--"Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" (from You Forgot It In People)

* * * * * * * *

...and for dessert...


Not a cycle guy meself, but I have to admit this looks awfully cool.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Records In Review: The Shins--Wincing The Night Away

The Shins debuting at #2 on the Billboard charts--the world is unfolding very strangely these days. The Arctic Monkeys must be due to conquer North America any minute now.

The Shins are a very easy band to like, due largely to the songwriting and vocal melodic dexterity of mainman James Mercer. Their first two albums were strikingly different. Number one, Oh, Inverted World was a sparse-sounding blend of the Beach Boys and a kind of wry Americana of the type practiced by erstwhile touring mates Modest Mouse, while the follow up, Chutes Too Narrow was unabashedly pop, a swaggeringly confident head- and guitar-first plunge into a mop-top retro style--think The New Pornographers, only less muscular and swingier. Both albums clock in at under 35 minutes, but Inverted World feels 50% longer. Make of that what you will.

Album no. 3, a long long time a-comin', is a further move toward a mainstream pop sound, although in many ways it has more in common personality-wise with the debut disc than with Chutes; songs have a more measured pace, sounds are more spread out and the watery keyboards are back in a more prominent position. On this one even more than on its predecessors, songs are often built around very simple and relaxed traditional rock ("Turn On Me") or kitsch ("Red Rabbits") motifs, and often, as with said two, to great effect. Mercer's voice too sounds more relaxed, though his attractive slightly strangulated upper-register still gets a regular workout.

Regular listeners won't find much to beef about the songwriting here, even if one occasionally gets the feeling that the talented Mercer could write this stuff in his sleep. The arrangements are another matter. A number of the tracks, including some of the catchier ones like the aforementioned "Turn On Me" and the single "Phantom Limb" feature uncharacteristically pedestrian backing, with forgettable guitar and dull drum (machine) parts. The bottom-heavy and slightly muddy production doesn't help matters much either. You don't listen to The Shins for their instrumentalism, really, but the band interplay, particularly on Chutes, is usually seamless. This is the first time I'd describe the group as sounding stiff and studio-bound.

The songs themselves feature a few interesting new twists on the old formula. Opener "Sleeping Lessons" is a three-chord crescendo/instrumental add-on piece that's built up from an arpeggiated keyboard pattern; this is a good one, and structurally dissimilar to anything the band has done before. "Spilt Needles" features a chunky, off-kilter drum rhythm of the kind that you'd expect from someone like Bloc Party (slowed down), plus some abrupt orchestral samples--also very good. "Australia" and "Girl Sailor" are more traditional retro Shins fare; the former is considerably better. "A Comet Appears," too, is familiar, bearing a strong resemblance to the band's first indie-hit "New Slang." "Phantom Limb" and "Turn On Me," despite my misgiving about the presentation, are both excellent examples of Mercer's seemingly effortless melodic facility. As always, it's the melodies that see the songs through.

I'm grading this one a couple of notches below its predecessors, owing to the orchestration and production deficiencies, and also because I don't sense the band pushing themselves hard enough. Recommendation: more than enough good stuff to keep Shins listeners happy; for everyone else, not the first port of call.

mp3: The Shins--"Sleeping Lessons" (from Wincing The Night Away)
mp3: The Shins--"Turn On Me" (from Wincing The Night Away)

mp3: The Shins--"So Says I" (from Chutes Too Narrow)

mp3: The Shins--"One By One All Day" (from Oh, Inverted World)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

When You've Nothing Else Write About The Weather

Spare a thought for our UK cousins today.

Just look at that snow in London..

And the cold!

Severe overnight weather warnings have been issued for Wales, the Midlands and southern England.

Temperatures could fall as low as -4C (25F) in Wales and the Midlands. Elsewhere, in south east England and western Scotland, it will be -3C (26F).

S'like being in the 'Peg.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Photo Phollies

They say Toronto is New York run by the Swiss.

Yesterday, it was run by Ms. Johnson's Grade 2 class.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Bloody Fools

Vlad: off sick when the class studied Leviticus

Jehovah's Witnesses are back in the news again, for the only reason that they ever seem to be in the news.

The Manitoba Appeals Court--a fine body of persons:

The Appeal Court judges acknowledged the transfusions infringe on the teen's right to religious freedom, but are justified because of the sanctity of life and duty to protect children.

Translation: believe in whatever nonsense you want, just don't expect it to be put into practice viz your kids when it counts.

* * * * * * * *

In the higher profile B.C. sextuplet case, the experts weigh in on the really important issues. Professor Michael Duggan of St. Mary's University College in Calgary on the scriptural interpretation:

Duggan said the blood passages in the Hebrew Bible - Old Testament - often cited by Jehovah's Witnesses as their reasons to refuse blood transfusions are safe cooking instructions that date back to the 5th Century.

"That needs to be said," Duggan said. "The way the Jehovah's Witnesses read the biblical text is simply wrong."

The texts in the Hebrew Bible are mainly taken from Genesis 9:4-6 and from the book of Leviticus 17, he said.

"They speak about the life being in the blood, but the blood they are talking about is the blood of animals," Duggan said.

University of Calgary's Dr. Juliet Guichon on the social stigma:

But the blood battle has the potential to end happily for the parents and their babies, she said.
Ironically, it all depends on how hard they fight the government.

"(It) could be seen as liberating because it takes the parents out of an impossible social situation," said Guichon.

The parents, who risk being shunned for life by the church because their children received the transfusions, can now plead they abided by the blood ban, but couldn't stop the government, she said.

"They can hold their head up among the Jehovah's Witness community and say, 'We protested, we went to court.'"

Monday, February 5, 2007

Innocent Bystanders

Serie A: wholesome family fun

In the wake of recent deadly nonsense, the Italian Football brass get serious about hooliganism of all stripes:

In an interview with La Repubblica newspaper on Monday, Antonio Matarrese, the president of Italy's Professional Football League Clubs association, said matches should be allowed to start again.

"Deaths unfortunately form part of this huge movement which is football and which the forces of order are not always able to control," Mr Matarrese was quoted as saying.

"Football should never be stopped. It's the number one rule: football is the industry... do you think there's an industry that would close its factories and not know when they're going to reopen?"

Friday, February 2, 2007

Be Happy

mp3: Andy Partridge/XTC--"Goosey Goosey" (from Fuzzy Warbles, vol. 1)

I Was A Teenaged Carrot

Actual time-lapse photos

19-year-old Newcastle resident Hayley Davison has been eating nothing but carrots for the past 30 days, so naturally, she's on MySpace.

From her on-line diary, Day 2:

I also was extremely tired today and going to go to bed very early... could this be to do with the carrots?

Her boyfriend pictured here.


Towers Of London

Since she asked, take:

Mix thoroughly. Final product should be ludicrous but not entirely lacking in charm.

Secular Ontario

The scourge of Ontario municipal councils (see posts zit, zat and zot) finally has a (lame) website up.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Records In Review: The Decemberists--The Crane Wife

Sell-out alert! Condition Red!

The Crane Wife is the major-label debut and fourth album from Colin Meloy and his band of eccentric and anglophilic folksters, and mucho changes are afoot [See here for my enthusiastic review of album number three (the best of the bunch)]. The biggest: The Decemberists have become--cue scare music--a rock band.

Well, sort of. If you just listened to the first couple of tracks, you might think that you'd stumbled upon a long-lost J. Tull or Gentle Giant album, but in fact, production aside, TCW as a whole is a mix of the old, the new and points in-between, and a pretty successful one too.

About said production: gone is the bright, underproduced mutant-folksy sound, replaced by an old-school rock aesthetic that pumps up the (electric) bass and drums big time. I think that the material must have dictated this, given that Death Cab For Cutie guy Christopher Walla remains in the (co-)producer's chair. The driving bottom-end makes the album sound more electrified than it actually is; yes, there's a prominent role given to the (Hammond) organ, but there's still a lot of acoustic guitar, stringed things and accordian/hurdy-gurdy. The sound holds together quite well given the range of material and mood on offer, and is actually very detailed, which you might not notice at first listen because of the (by comparison) thunderous rhythm section. Meloy's voice is pushed back in the mix, and he's reined in some of his particular idiosyncrasies and sounds fuller and better than ever.

The beefier production goes hand-in-hand with a new-found reliance upon the groove (the catchy "The Perfect Crime #2" is a prime example) as well as a confident simplicity, coupled with a preference for internal consistency over showy displays of generic savvy. A comparison of the deliberate three-chord opening track "The Crane Wife 3" with its flamboyant Picaresque counterpart "The Infanta" or the sprawling "Shanty For The Arethusa" from Her Majesty illustrates the latter two characteristics clearly. It's an approach that shifts the balance in favour of the sweep and away from the individual dramatic moments. The biggest beneficiary of this is probably the spacious two-part "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," one of the album highlights and new ground broken for the group.

It isn't all clear sailing, though, for which reason I rate The Crane Wife a notch lower than its immediate predecessor. The long, multi-part suite "The Island," from whence came my Tull reference, is a big surprise with it's '70s lockstep electric piano and bass, as well as wild organ lines, but isn't entirely convincing. It highlights the one principal complaint I have about the record, which is that the playing isn't loose enough for the style at hand or to counterbalance the sonic heaviness. New(?) drummer John Moen and bassist Nate Query both have a tendency to worship the groove too much and aren't given to a lot of interjections or interesting interplay. That said, part II of the suite, "The Landlord's Daughter" kicks ass in a way that the band has never done previously. "Summersong" is another otherwise pleasant one that's a little too stiff and lacking in dynamic contrast for its own good.

His-'n'-her duet "Yankee Bayonet" and infectious single "O Valencia" are both top notch even treading as they do more familiar Decemberists territory. Both have their roots in Picaresque, with the former reminiscent of the folksy "We Both Go Down Together" both in terms of sound and love-beyond-this-life lyrical conceit, and the latter bringing back the loser Morrisey-esque narrator from "This Sporting Life" (with more drama-queen bile) in a driving pop song. Also familiar is "Shankhill Butchers," the one purely folky arrangement here, which is okay but doesn't compare favourably to the gothic "From My Own True Love" from Picaresque. "When The War Came" is decidedly unfamiliar, a ponderous hard-rocker with bagpipe guitar to boot; good, but again a little stiffly executed. The sing- and clap-along folk raga "Sons And Daughters" is basically one big crescendo and rounds off the album nicely.

I realize this review is kind of all over the place...but, this is The Decemberists, after all. Don't blame me.

The Crane Wife is a brave, weighty and surprising record that's lacking just that wee bit of fun and bounce that we've come to expect from the band. Very much recommended, even with its faults.

mp3: The Decemberists--"The Perfect Crime #2" (from The Crane Wife)
mp3: The Decemberists--"The Crane Wife 1 & 2" (from The Crane Wife)

mp3: The Decemberists--"The Infanta" (from Picaresque)
mp3: The Decemberists--"From My Own True Love" (from Picaresque)