Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Performance Enhancing Substance

A-Rod impresses young-lady-not-his-wife by producing stiffy at the Brass Rail.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Another heartfelt Falwell eulogy.

And another.

N.B. One of these is satirical.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Two And A Half

Modest Mouse: We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank--the band's last two albums are among my favorites of the last 10 years so this one's a medium-sized disappointment. I didn't take to it at all at first, but it pays back repeated listening if you let the groove go to work on you.

This is probably the nearest thing to a pop album that Modest Mouse are going to make, and about as far away from the intimacy of The Moon And Antarctica as you can get. The songs are surprisingly direct and accessible (if weird as usual), whether it's the single "Dashboard" or the slow and slightly bombastic "Little Motel" (the first MoMo song suitable for the accompaniment of swaying lighters). In terms of sound it's much more of a "band" record than the orchestrated, all-over-the-place Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and the current lineup features, surprisingly, journeyman ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr as well as original drummer Jeremiah Green--not that I would really have noticed. The guitars sound great and drive most of the songs, usually in combination with a stomping groove a la some variation of "Float On." It's a very groove heavy album in fact. Mainman Isaac Brock's cracker vocal delivery is familiar, as are his long lyric sheets and tendency to write in a wry and generalised way about our hapless state, using specifics to paint big pictures.

Ship has a lot of guts and features a number of really good and addictive tracks, but it's too comfortable with itself. It's very self-referential music and doesn't play around with influences as much as previous albums. A number of tracks, like the opener "March Into The Sea," "Parting Of The Sensory," and "Invisible" tread decidedly old ground. The best stuff, like "Florida," "We've Got Everything" and "Fire It Up" bore into your brain like a brain-eating vole on amphetamines. Like their '90s albums, it's an endurance contest getting through the whole thing in one listen and some of the stuff at the back end like "Spitting Venom" I could have done without.

I give huge props to MM for being able to make chart-topping albums when they're such a weirdo band at heart. I just wished this one showed a little more development and a little more intimacy.

Modest Mouse--"Florida" (from We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank)
Modest Mouse--"Missed The Boat" (from We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank)

Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity--this is the first album I've ever heard by the weirdie Frisco three-piece (the drummer plays keyboards), so thank you very much Pitchfork--you make me feel so young (mid-30s). This is one of the most enjoyable discs I've heard in a good while. My three-year-old daughter likes it as well, and even makes up her own nonsense lyrics instead of accurately singing the, er, nonsense lyrics.

The first couple of tracks on Friend Opportunity might make you think that Deerhoof's sound could be summed up, in one sentence, as Stereolab crossed with an art-punk-garage band. But there's more to them than that. I can hear indications that they've listened to Larks' Tongues In Aspic as well as any number of jazz-rock-prog outfits. And I think it's fair to say that there are very few bands out there who can fit as much into a three-minute song as these guys; I mean, who writes idiotically catchy melodic pop tunes ("Matchbook Seeks Maniac") with a song structure of Ai-Aii-Aiii-chorus-B-C-chorus?

Stylistically, it's all over the place but held together by an incredible vibrancy and fun. It's arty music, but with very little pretense (quasi-naive ESL lyrics and squeaky-voiced Japanese singer Satomi Matzusaki add to the bounce and approachability). Apart from the Stereolab/post-punk inflected pop of "The Perfect Me" and "Believe E.S.P.", there's one track based around close-mic'ed piano that sounds like the gentler side of Peter Hammill ("Whither The Invisible Birds"), another one that leads off with a folky-prog acoustic guitar ("The Galaxist") and yet another that's mostly chopped-up samples over a drumline rhythm ("Kidz Are So Small"). The playing is great, and just loose enough to kick some major backside where necessary.

The one caveat with FO is that it's fairly brief and capped off with a 12-minute more abstract and drawn-out sectional piece (based around John Dieterich's clangy chromatic guitar work), which some people might find jarring after 9 tightly-packed short songs. Otherwise, the album is a highly-recommendable pile 0' fun.

Life is good. For 35 minutes anyway.

Deerhoof--"The Perfect Me" (from Friend Opportunity)
Deerhoof--"Whither The Invisible Birds?" (from Friend Opportunity)
Deerhoof--"Matchbook Seeks Maniac" (from Friend Opportunity)

Menomena: Friend And Foe--very impressive second cd from this Portland, Oregon multi-instrumental three-piece (with two singers). I meant to go see them last month but I don't have the stamina for midnight (scheduled) sets anymore. Damn you, 2am closing time!

Menomena's sound-world is rooted in Tortoise-like post-rock (foregrounded, crunchy cymbals and hi-hat, boomy bass), but they also very good at--heaven forfend--writing actual songs. You can hear a little bit of The Flaming Lips (without the requisite dumbness), too, in the general grandeur and in the singer with the nasal voice. Pacings are slow, rhythms dug-in, and orchestrations, which are very "orchestral," feature the three-piece with sax, piano, organ and synth excellent--a very appealing sounding record in fact. How they do most of this stuff live is beyond me (their first album was apparently written almost entirely on Mr. Computer). Some songs sound churchy, some chunky/funky, and some electronic. You'd think you'd that the deliberate pace of the album would wear after a while but there's so much wit, good songwriting and arrangement that you don't care. Menomena make every note and beat count.

There isn't a great deal of fat on the album--it's maybe one song longer than it needed to be--and even the less inventive tracks like "Evil Bee" veer off in interesting directions and/or have interesting things to listen to. It's hard to pick favorites as many of the songs are complementary and there's a lot of ebb and flow. "The Pelican," which sounds like raging stoners playing post-rock, is pretty cool, as are the bass grooves of "Muscle 'n' Flo" and "Air Aid." I hear the Flaming Lips influence most in songs like "Wet And Rusting" and one of my faves, the sombre organ-drone "My My."

Oh, just listen to the samples. Writing about music is like sculpting about ballet after all.

Menomena--"Muscle 'n' Flo" (from Friend And Foe)
Menomena--"My My" (from Friend And Foe)

Sunday Supper Chez Nous

To Our American Readers

All of your Lands' End and L.L. Bean mail-order merchandise are belong to us.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Career Development

I seriously need to come up with an internet shtick, while there's still time.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Day Late And (AU) Dollar Short

I'm a little late, but I've been meaning to write something about Brisbane's Go-Betweens on the anniversary of Grant McLennan's far too early passing.

I was a latecomer to the Go-Bs, but they've rapidly become one of my very favorite bands. Hard to put into words why; suffice it to say that I hear art, craft and the pursuit of something beautiful in just about everything they did, from their early '80s jerky and sparse post-punk/folk to the brainy jingle-jangle of 16 Lovers Lane. Their second incarnation in the new century wasn't half bad either, and, while I'm not keen on the overuse of the word "tragic," McLennan was one of those artists who clearly had a lot more to give.

The songwriting partnership of McLennan and Robert Forster, formed during their university days, is among the most productive and interesting in the annals of pop music. They've been referred to as the Aussie Lennon & McCartney, which was both a touch of flattery and accurate in that there was a certain yin-yang quality to the musical relationship--the tall, lean Forster as the literate one and McLennan as Mr. Solid and Dependable. Unlike L&M, though, they habitually worked and wrote co-operatively. And, if you care to peruse Forster's lovely and heartfelt tribute to his friend and collaborator, you'll see that their musical personae stood in many ways in stark contrast to their personalities.

McLennan's the one who seems to get the majority of the critical kudos (his solo stuff during the '90s Go-Betweens hiatus was certainly better received than Forster's), but I don't have a preference in terms of songwriting. Relative quality varies from album to album. I usually prefer Forster's lyrics, which are more observational and acerbic; McLellan deals more with basic elements and when he hits the mark, it's stark and poignant, but when he doesn't it can be a tad banal. Neither of them are great natural singers--which is obvious from live recordings--but they learned how to use their voices better and better with each successive album.

For an appreciation of the band's studio albums, you could do worse than flip through allmusic. I'm in general agreement with their assessments, with the exception of their being way too hard on Tallulah and slightly too easy on The Friends Of Rachel Worth. But anyway, here's my quick run-down:

Send Me A Lullaby (1981)--would be better considered if it were by a lesser band. Not a lot of great songs but a lot of interesting impressions poking their heads above the battlements. The execution isn't quite there yet--the vocals (majority by Forster on this one) are thin, the arrangements a little insecure ("Midnight To Neon"), and there's too much weird for the sake of weird [hey, this is an early-'80s Oz band, fergawdsake!--ed]. But for all of the stop-start jerkiness of songs like "Arrow In A Bow" and the abbreviated rhythms and 4-bar phrases ("The Girls Have Moved"), there's a counterbalancing gentleness ("One Thing Can Hold Us"). I think a lot of this is down to the guitars, which burst all bright and jangly-like to the surface during the middle-eights and breaks. "Your Turn, My Turn" sounds like a mellow version of The Birthday Party. "Eight Pictures" is a poorly-realized hamfest, lyrically and musically.

"One Thing Can Hold Us" (from Send Me A Lullaby)
"People Know" (from Send Me A Lullaby)

Before Hollywood (1983)--the great leap forward and the best of the early-period albums. Manages to sound both tougher and more lyrical than its predecessor, not to mention more concise and more melodic. McLellan's contribution shines through; his vocals are much more relaxed, and he delivers the goods big time with standout tunes "Two Steps Step Out" and the much lauded "Cattle And Cane," among others. Forster provides the spiky Tom Verlaine-like counterpart with the title track and "Ask." A few of the songs ("By Chance") tread similar ground to Lullaby but are better realized. The band vibe is wonderful, with drummer Lindy Morrison in particular sounding much more comfortable. Not an inch of fat on this one.

"Two Steps Step Out" (from Before Hollywood)

"Ask" (from Before Hollywood)

Spring Hill Fair (1984)--a transitional album in many ways. A number of excellent tunes but somewhat all over the place in terms of style and production. The addition of the more traditional bass player Robert Vickers and GM's move to guitar full-time (and the use of more acoustic guitar in general) changes the rhythm section balance and makes for a much warmer band sound, shown particularly in standouts like "Five Words." A few of McLellan's songs ("Bachelor Kisses," "Slow Slow Music") date themselves with the constrained "eighties" production and drum machines, and are an uncomfortable fit with Forster's bluesy-pop contributions (the very good "Draining The Pool" and "You've Never Lived"). McLellan's spoken-word "River Of Money" doesn't really fly, but "Unkind And Unwise" is a particularly sweet offering. I've never taken to Forster's melodramatic "Man O' Sand To Girl O' Sea," try as I might.

"Five Words" (from Spring Hill Fair)
"The Old Way Out" (from Spring Hill Fair)

Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express (1986)--the first "middle-period" record and the first with "that" Go-Betweens sound. Simpler music, with a much gentler and janglier sound, fleshed out effectively with strings on tracks like "The Wrong Road." It's not all high art by any means ("In The Core Of A Flame"), but the material hangs together extremely well and the production is never obtrusive. The abbreviated three-time "The Ghost And The Black Hat" is my favorite of the McLellan-sung tracks, and Forster's "To Reach Me" and the dreamy "Bow Down" are particular good ones. "Twin Layers Of Lightning" is a bit of a throwback but the arrangement with mallet percussion is very nice.

"The Wrong Road" (from Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express)
"Bow Down" (from Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express)

Tallulah (1987)--a particular favorite of mine and I think their most underappreciated album. Its pleasingly muscular sound is very much an anomaly, sandwiched as this one is between Liberty Belle and 16 Lovers Lane. The production is a common complaint with Tallulah, and although I'm not as bothered by so-called '80s "big drum" production as some, parts of the album, like the single "Right Here," could have used a remix to mitigate the worst effects of the jack-hammer drum machine. On the songwriting front, though, this is as strong a showing from both GM and RS as there is in the Go-Betweens catalogue. Forster's "You Tell Me" and "The Clarke Sisters" are unimpeachable, and all these years later you're left wondering how in the hell McLellan's "Right Here," "Cut It Out" and the brilliant "Bye Bye Pride" weren't huge hits. "Someone Else's Wife" is the one track that sounds out of place, with GM seemingly channelling Hunters & Collectors.

"You Tell Me" (from Tallulah)
"Bye Bye Pride" (from Tallulah)

16 Lovers Lane (1988)--you can't really argue agin this one as the Go-Betweens' best. A friend of mine once said that this was one of the easiest albums to like that you could ever come across and I know exactly what he meant; music, lyric, arrangement and sound mesh together seamlessly. I suppose a cynic might complain that it doesn't demand enough from the listener, but 16 Lovers Lane certainly isn't slick; it's just lush and lovely. Listen to the lovely string arrangements on the opening tracks "Love Goes On!" and "Quiet Heart" and you'll see what I mean. "Love Is A Sign" and "Clouds" are two of my favorite Forster songs and lyrics, the latter being great for drunken sing-alongs. "Streets Of Your Town" is another lovely McLellan hit-that-should-have-been. An album of its time but not imprisoned by it.

"Clouds" (from 16 Lovers Lane)
"Quiet Heart" (from 16 Lovers Lane)

more to follow...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Knuckle Sandwich

Currently second in AL E.R.A.

A top young prospect.

And a book.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Grant McLennan

GM died far too young just over a year ago today.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Oh Giorgio!

Fancy a quality hummer? Take the 10pm ferry to Centre Island.

Make sure you don't dilly-dally though--last one back to the mainland is at 11:45.

Die Hippie Die

Aerial spraying works best I find.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Technically, They're "Humps", But Be That As It May

A leetle Ward 32 humour:

Maybe Sandra Bussin can take some of the tar from those speed bumps she so likes spending our tax money on and fill some of the pot holes on Willow Avenue.

John Zimnoch

King For Several Hundred Days

Rocket Roger takes self-deprecation into uncharted territory:

The seventh-inning stretch was ending when the low, familiar voice of public-address announcer Bob Sheppard told fans at Yankee Stadium to direct their attention to the owner's box behind home plate.

Standing there, microphone in hand, was Roger Clemens to personally announce his return to New York.


He agreed to a one-year contract for US$28,000,022 - the last two digits matching his uniform number...

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Fab Gear

The Toronto Transit Commission is blingin' the thing:

Ashwin Joshi, associate professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business, thinks it's time the TTC got moving, so to speak. "I think the TTC has brand equity it hasn't capitalized on," Joshi said, calling the system's quiet cachet "an under-utilized asset."

It's time the transit system got away from marketing its function and developed an image of itself that's more about bringing people together, with an underlying theme of its democratic value, Joshi said.

I concur wholeheartedly.