Thursday, July 21, 2016

The World Is A Very Scary Place

Listening to The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events from Stephin Merritt (the brains behind The Magnetic Fields) accompanied by Lemony Snicket himself, along with John Woo, while taking my dog to the dog-sitter, thoughts and visions of the Republican Convention and Donald Trump and Mike Spence kept coming to mind. Somehow, these songs took on a whole new resonance and relevance in light of the twisted and vile politics of the GOP.

I mean, when you hear the hatred, bigotry and fear spewing from the mouths of the speakers, you have to understand you are looking into the abyss.

"This abyss, this limitless void
This abyss of world destroyed
This abyss, all deep, all wide
This abyss of being denied..."

And it seems like Merritt had Trump himself in mind when he penned the lyric to Freakshow. That opening verse eerily captures what any sane person must be thinking:

"People gawk at the way you walk,
you're a freakshow.
People squawk 'bout the way you talk,
you're a freakshow.
People stare at your scary hair,
you're a freakshow.
People glare at that hat you wear,
you're a freakshow.

Real people want to know
what it is about your face that irritates them so
Real people stop and ask
why you wear that costume, and why don't you wear a mask."

And perhaps most scary of all, it seems like there's no way to slow this thing down!

Friday, January 1, 2016

The 2015 Shortlist

For some years in the late 70s and early 80s I was a dj and writer of music ‘criticism.’ And yes, I put scare quotes around ‘criticism’ because I saw my role more as a passionate lover and devotee of music and I just wanted to share as much of this love with others. So mostly I wrote about what I loved. I didn’t take much pleasure in trashing what I thought sucked; I just ignored it. Mostly.

So it’s been years since I wrote about music, though I am attempting to keep this blog where I periodically write a bit about something music related.  But recently, I had a lovely dinner with a friend who is an awesome DJ on KXCI, and for the first time in years I found myself sitting on the floor in front of the ole victrola, playing a bunch of stuff for her and feeling that familiar passion of sharing music that moves me. So I decided to post this shortlist review of my favorite cds/records released in 2015. I was going to keep it limited to five, (rather than the more traditional Top Ten) but I had to include the sixth. Just had to!

So, first of all, there is the completely brilliant and jaw-droppingly inspired performance of Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld in their first collaboration: Never Were The Way She Was. If you don’t recognize the names, Neufeld is a violinist for Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, as well as a guest musician on a shit-load of others’ records and Stetson is a virtuoso of the extended technique on various saxophones and bass clarinet, but if you are one of those who saw Bon Iver and Feist a few years back here in town, you saw him playing in both bands!

Stetson eschews looping and overdubbing, so when you understand that everything he is doing on his saxophones is being done live, that’s when your jaw drops! He’s several solo cds and Neufeld released her first solo in 2013 and has a new one coming out in February. Never Were The Way She Was, as I said above, is their first duet collaboration and I hope it won’t be their last. You can see their full performance at the Moers Festival this past May here. If the opening piece doesn’t draw you into their world integrating minimalist phrasing with classical, jazz and rock stylings they may not be your cup of tea, but I think you’ll find there’s no denying their originality and creativity. Passionate, primal, beautiful.

If you’ve not the time for a full performance, you may want to check out these cuts:

Second up is a rousing cd from Avec le Soleil Sortant de sa Bouche entitled Zubberdust. This was one of those serendipitous findings. I was at one of the best cd stores in Montreal, loading up on mostly ConstellationRecords stuff from folks I know, and this crazy, mostly instrumental, giddy, angular, funky, avant, guitar-driven rock was playing on the store’s stereo. I heard bits that reminded me of Nick Cave’s band The Birthday Party, but the wordless vocalizing seemed to alternate between Cave and early David Byrne.

I later found out that Aved le soleil sortant de sa bouche is a bit of a local Montreal “supergroup” made up of members from Montreal’s healthy and robust emperimental rock and post-rock communities such as Panopticon Eyelids, Pas Chic Chic, Red Mass and – also on Constellation – Fly Pan Am.

Zubberdust is comprised of two 20-minute multi-part pieces, the Constellation website nails in its description: “This is (mostly) instrumental rock that exuberantly succeeds in blending a primitivist, hypnotic energy with cerebral pleasures, seeding an addictive trail of sonic brain-candy throughout the mixes. The band wholly embodies and channels its inimitable square grooves, while teasing out the innumerable joys of repetition via micro-deployments of ever-shifting electronic overlays – along with the occasional full-stop and 180 degree turn.”

Just give a listen to these infectious excerpts:

Third on my shortlist is the eponymous debut cd from Ibeyi, (the word comes from the Yoruba language meaning “twins”) probably the best known performers to make my list. Ibeyi is a French-Cuban musical duo consisting of twin sisters born in Paris, but who had lived in Havana for the first two years of their lives. Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz sing in English and Yoruba, the Nigerian language spoken by their ancestors before being brought to Cuba by the Spanish as slaves. Their music integrates elements of Yoruba, French and Afro-Cuban music with jazz, hip-hop beats and samples alongside traditional instruments like the cajon and bata-drums. As an aside, their dad was the great Cuban percussionist, Anga Diaz, who played in both Irakere and the Bueno Vista Social Club.

The first time I saw and heard the video for “River,” I was mesmerized by the imagery as well as the deep, sensuous sonority of their voices. No voices blend as exquisitely as sisters, and when you have twin sisters….

Then “Mama Says” just about tore me up, especially when one of the sisters, around the 3-minute mark seems to truly, spontaneously tear up. Chills!

Finally, I wish to share the video for this beautiful and achingly plaintive cry for love, "Ghosts":

“My ghosts are not gone
They dance in the shade
And kiss the black core of my heart
Making words, making sounds, making songs

Now you can feel my heart spinning
You turn my whole life around
I want to write a new beginning
Let go of the ghosts
Let dreams and hopes fly
And give our love another try
Should we just let it be?

Fourth up is Tucson’s own, Katterwaul. The first time I heard Brittany Katter was at my first Club Crawl after moving to Tucson in 2007 when she was singing in Fell City Shouts. From the first song I knew I was in the presence of raw talent. Since forming her own band – a great play on her last name – that talent has blossomed and it really shines on her latest release, 15 Forever.

Here’s a video for the title cut and a psychedelicized video for “Sound Of My Name.”

Fifth is another Montreal-based musician, MichaelFeuerstack, who has been one of Canada’s most revered songwriters and collaborator, found on the records of many other performers, touring with folks such as the Acorn, Land of Talk and Bry Webb, while also being a member of BellOrchestre, Wooden Stars and The Luyas. Along with releasing some thoroughly wonderful, crookedly wry and beautiful songs under his own name, he’s also released several cds under the alias of Snailhouse.

In 2015, besides recording a new Luyas cd due out sometime in 2016, Feuerstack released The Forgettable Truth. Typical of the mutually supportive Montreal alt-music community, you’ll hear contributions from Pieto Amato (Bell Orchestre, Luyas), Mike Belyea (Jenn Grant), Laurel Sprengelmeyer (aka Little Scream) and Nick Cobham (Olympic Symphonium) among others.

The Globe and Mail listed The Forgettable Truth as among their favorite things from 2015 and me too! Here’s two cuts for you to get some idea as to what to expect: 

And finally, yet again from Montreal (that’s four out of the six!) is the recent release from Surface of Atlantic entitled Fortunate Lives. Funny enough, none of my Montreal friends who are heavily involved in the Montreal music community knew about this band when I told them I had happened upon their cd release in September at La Sala Rosa.

The only website about them is in French, so I still know nothing of them except that their live performance mesmerized me with it’s ambient-chamber-rock. Though all of them have French names and the website is in French and all their between song chatter was in French, their vocals are in English! Make of that what you will. It’s difficult to isolate any single songs here because with Surface of Atlantic, the sum of the parts really is greater than the parts taken individually. So I strongly recommend that you pour yourself your favorite beverage (wine, whiskey or tea) and sit back and let this roll.

If you’re not yet willing or able to do so just yet, then try these out: