Thursday, 3 December 2009

Gravity Wave Gambol CD release at Téranga, November 6, 2009

The Gravity Wave always put on a quirky and high-energy show, mainly thanks to the group's core duo, Finlay Braithwaite and Ken Farrell. Their songs are always original, and in performance they revel in the strangeness of the music they're playing. Ken is an engaging singer who unself-consciously throws in a rap or toast as necessary, and Finlay embodies his bass lines in his movement, occasionally interjecting with a hoot or a quip.

They always surprise in some way or another. Like: I think every time I've seen The Gravity Wave play, they've consisted of different members (besides Ken and Finlay). I saw just the two of them rock the Boat a couple of years ago. Then I saw their previous CD release at the Great Hall, and there were seven or eight of them. At Téranga there were four of them, including a DJ scratching along and a drummer. I'm not too fond of the record-scratching-as-instrument thing, but with the already eclectic mix of sounds these guys create, it worked.

The band played mostly new songs, like "Yo-Yo" and "Great One", along with a couple of fan favourites; and everyone had a good time—I could tell because of the jumping, dancing, and yelling—and I don't think it was because Ken was giving away Gravity Wave-branded shopping bags.

Sometimes I'm impressed that people enjoy The Gravity Wave's music. It isn't always easy to digest as pop music; although I consider that far from a bad thing. I'd like to say that it takes a sophisticated ear to get it, but I think the boys in the band have just achieved a balance of pop and avant-garde elements, as well as a healthy measure of dance beats, irony, and nostalgic cultural references. It's a balance that generally works, but stays far away from more mainstream artists whom you might describe similarly. At the same time, I won't deny that their fans seem to fall within a certain age group that can't help but appreciate that sort of thing.

I would say it's clear that their goal—whether explicit or otherwise—is to deconstruct pop. However, I think it's also clear that they're not creating a simple (or complex) pastiche of musics, but rather a new pop music that doesn't recognize the boundaries of the old. I'm going to run with that a bit.

So much of current music—especially the stuff based around sampling and mash-ups, but really anything that displays its influences with excess pride—weakly rehashes the old, what's come before. It's not always bad, and certainly I don't want to denigrate the institution of influence. There is nothing wrong with sampling and mashing up songs in order to create something new. The problem is that the result is rarely actually new. It's usually boring and overly simple. The fact that people like this music confounds me and the music itself sometimes angers me!

The worst offenders in my mind are those producers who just take the music form an older song, add new lyrics, maybe a revised melody, and some additional effects, and call the thing a new song. The best are those who use older songs and samples as though they were themselves instruments or notes, and craft songs like songwriters. I'm sure you can think of some from each group off the top of your head.

My point is that most of the pastiche music of today that might appear innovative on the surface is far from it, and certainly has not escaped the traditional boundaries of pop. But some has looked over the fence and imagined what's on the other side. Maybe some pop musicians and producers have even gone over. I think Ken and Finlay of The Gravity Wave have at least had a glimpse of what lies beyond.

I'm going to make up a coincidence now: I've been reading "Goodbye 20th Century", a biography of Sonic Youth, and seeing The Gravity Wave perform, I immediately thought of the culture of experimentation that informed Sonic Youth's early work, along with the desire to create something that was really new, but which a general audience still might like. Sonic Youth did not start as a pop band, and they never became one, although they did manage to find a few hooks along the way. What Sonic Youth did—whether they wanted to or not—was expand the boundaries of popular music so that they eventually found themselves within the realm of pop. (I'm prepared to agree to disagree on that.)

At the moment, pop music is so bloated and distended (in more ways than one) that it's basically amorphous now, and shows no signs of contracting to a state where anyone could come up with an acceptable definition. I don't think it could be any other way. Some will disagree, but I say the sole criterion of Pop Music is popularity, and if some strange and esoteric band or artist become popular, it's only fair to pull aside the velvet rope and let that artist in. Of course, what happens once you get in to the club might leave you wanting. For one, an artist can hardly be both popular and esoteric.

Anyway, The Gravity Wave aren't there yet. They still seem to me more like an experiment than a long-term ambition. For instance, I prefer to watch a band play instruments rather than listen to prerecorded backing tracks. I'm sure there are many others who don't consider that a hurdle on the path to stardom.

Regardless, it's a pleasure to watch The Gravity Wave, and I look forward to seeing them transform from experimental indie darlings into serious pop stars.

Oh, and by the way, you can grab Gambol on CD from Fuzzy Logic Records (look under "Shop") or as a digital download from
Read on..!

Monday, 30 November 2009

iTunes should not exist

I had a nerdy inspiration one night last week as I was falling asleep. I can't explain why at all, except maybe that I am perpetually looking for a music organizer with certain specifications that I can't find in any existing application. (More on that after.)

The inspiration was this: iTunes, and most other music player/organizers (e.g., WinAmp, doubleTwist, Windows Media Player) add an unnecessary layer to users' daily computing activities. Everything that they do can (or could with little programming or scripting) be done via folder actions in a file manager (i.e., OSX's "Finder" and Windows' "Windows Explorer"). The only difference is that dedicated music players make it all look so pretty. (That's mild sarcasm, by the way.)

Okay, so I'm probably getting ahead of myself. File managers could easily perform all of the basic and most (if not all) of the advanced functions of any given music player. It's just that the developers of these programs would have to integrate some of these advanced functions into the file manager rather than separating them as they are now. One might argue that including these advanced functions is unnecessary since not all people will use them, but this is completely a non-issue. OSX and Windows both come with music players pre-installed, and few people will ever remove them.

Let me clarify. The basic functions of the average music player include:
  • Playing music
  • Organizing music
These actions are of course more diverse than I want to make them appear. The first might mean playing audio from a CD, MP3s or other audio files, podcasts, streaming radio, shuffling, crossfading (or other effects), and so on; and organizing music includes sorting in various ways, searching your collection quickly, creating playlists, updating song information, &c. Also, people use iTunes and the like to fill their portable music players, to buy music, to rip and burn audio discs, to convert audio files to different formats, to look at visual accompaniments (visualizations), and even to share musical recommendations and files.

If you know a moderate amount about today's operating systems, you recognize that the file manager can already do pretty much all of these things without any added software. In fact, you might even have done some of these things yourself via your file manager: if you navigate to a folder containing music in OSX, and select a file, a "preview" window appears in which you can listen to the song and view some file-related information, along with the song's cover art, if available. It's much quicker than opening iTunes, but inefficient for listening to many songs. Still, the functionality is right there in Finder. Searching, too, is built into file managers: switch to your file manager, press Cmd/Ctrl-F, start typing the name of the song, artist, or album you want, and presto, all the songs with your criteria are on display, hopefully including the object of your search.

What else? Ripping and burning functions have been part of file managers for years; and only iPod users are forced to use iTunes to load music to their players (although with exceptions)—as far as I know, other music players allow users to drag and drop files from their file manager.

In fact, in some ways, file managers are more versatile than iTunes and the like. For example (and this is my desired specification I alluded to above), file managers commonly allow users to arrange their windows in much more diverse ways. I want to be able to look at my music in two side-by-side windows. Is that too much to ask! (As far as I can tell from this miniscule screenshot, WinAmp includes this feature; but the program isn's available for OSX. If anyone wants to offer step-by-step instructions on installing it with Wine, please let me know!)

Anyway, here's my vision for this infinitesimal fraction of the future:

A file manager "Music" window setting (like the "Filmstrip" folder option in Windows XP) that, when selected, would display the contents of a folder like a music management application. This new setting would be accompanied by a "Music" (or "Media") menu incorporating the features listed above. In other words, I don't want to click and open iTunes to get at my music (time-consuming, inefficient). I just want to open a folder that looks basically like iTunes and that will do all of the same things (quick, efficient).

I suppose there are reasons why this hasn't taken place yet; but I suspect that it's just status quo and marketing thinking. It's far easier to market a distinct application with a name than one that's simply there, doing its thing mostly invisible to the user—even if that program is free, which most music applications are. Also, if Microsoft and Apple maintain separate programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player, they can say they are adding clear value to their operating systems with these programs. Not so easy to say when there's no program to talk about.

Somebody tell me I'm wrong.
Read on..!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

VIVIV/Ken Reaume at Holy Oak, October 29, 2009

Ken Reaume has never disappointed me in the music department, either live or recorded. His immense talent, skill, and passion define his songwriting, although you might not know it from his humble stage presence. Nevertheless, his performances explode with subtle emotion and energy. But he doesn't just write songs, he crafts them, and his work is as fine as any other craftsman I know. Unfortunately, like many craftsmen, Ken has worked in relative obscurity for much of the time since he first put his name out there.

Amid a recent explosion of talent and success in folk and similar music in Toronto, too few have caught on to Ken. And it's a damn shame, because when it comes to the music and the shows, I've rarely seen a performer so poised and with such charisma—who can so easily captivate an audience.

The setting for this show was new to me—and relatively new to the neighbourhood. Holy Oak is a café and bar transformed from a storefront in a diverse and run down section of Bloor St. W., near Lansdowne Ave. I had no idea what to expect going in, just surprise that another entrepreneur has decided to bring another hip space to the area (also new: 3Speed, Starving Artist, and Disgraceland). At first, I find it to be an underwhelming space. Maybe because it's night, the place doesn't seem to know quite what it is. It's all painted white and the lighting is uneven, but the atmosphere didn't appear to bother any of the few patrons. It reminds me of Montréal quite a bit, though, which pleases me a lot. My companions, Danijela, Jen, and Elly, wanted couches, but I think the space is just too small.

And it's quiet. The acoustic ceiling tiles (presumably held over from one of the place's previous lives) seem to absorb most sounds that originate from inside, and some kind of excellent sealing around the windows and doors prevents any noise from entering via the street. Without looking out the window, I hardly felt I was on a busy stretch of Bloor. It wasn't rush hour, but this place was really quiet. Still, they serve a good Americano, and various other refreshments went over well at our table. I can imagine spending a sunny autumn afternoon there, working by the window, or even just people-watching. But that's not why you're reading is it?

I mention the atmosphere because it had a part to play in the show itself: first, as I mentioned, the place was super-quiet, which was great for listening, but made every non-musical (e.g., audience) noise stand out and between-song talking awkward; second, because the place is a coffee house, with few seats, and something about the place made it feel strange as a musical venue—there's definitely no place to go if you want to have a conversation while a performance is happening. (But in fairness to everyone, only about 15 people attended the show, and a bigger crowd would change the dynamic of the place entirely.)

But on to the interesting stuff!

Ken played a shortish set, maybe ten songs, and most of it was new.

"Hiatus" is brooding, with a stomp beat, and a step away from the Leonard Cohen influence that I heard in his recent (but not new) stuff. Despite, the song consisting only of voice, guitar, and foot stomps, I hear a lot of things going on in "Hiatus". The song's repetitive picking creates a hypnotic rhythm that never quite reaches beyond the droning bass beat, and the whole thing feels a bit like shoegazer folk. The live version lacks the harmonies of the recording, but I didn't find it missing in performance.

"Sapling" could hardly be different. It's an uptempo strummed number—a significant departure from his usual arpeggio work. It shows much richer influence and range than anything I've heard from him before. It's so simple, but it evokes a full on rock'n'roll assault with only a Spanish guitar and a voice. The melody (and harmony in the recorded version) is like something Lennon and McCartney could have written, and Ride (along with a hundred others) would have stolen. Truly remarkable and new, and yet fully VIVIV.

In performance, there's no ignoring Ken. Sometimes his shows are well attended and other times not, but at all times, his audiences pay attention and notice. This show was no exception.

He says he'll be releasing a new record early in the new year. When he does, you'll probably be able to get it through his MySpace or Facebook pages. You can get his past releases at

Also, he's playing at Holy Oak again this Saturday, November 21. Don't miss it!
Read on..!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Beautiful songs: Stoned (Out of My Mind)

It seems that there was a time in the early 1970s when "stoned" was an adjective that meant something like "happy" or "blissful". But then maybe it meant "confused" or "trippy". I think I can say honestly that I don't know.

"Stoned Love" is one of my favourite Supremes songs. It's mature and understated pop soul with a subtle hook and a curious theme. Overall, a lovely song, though more of a groover than a dancer. But that's not the song this is about.

This is about a song called "Stoned (Out of My Mind)", and I would understand if you've dismissed it as simply a weird psychedelic soul song in praise of marijuana. But it's not—as far as I can tell. It's one of the smoothest soul love songs I've ever heard, by one of the smoothest soul groups of the era.

I first heard the Chi-Lites (those are two long "i" sounds) courtesy of the Crooklyn soundtrack, which features the familiar song, "Oh Girl". You might also recognize the brilliant funk tune "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)", which Jay-Z sampled for Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love"—thus demonstrating their strength across the soul spectrum. And if I remember correctly, a talented artist named Hammer covered the popular ballad "Have You Seen Her?" back in my early teens.

So, I'm not sure what "Stoned" is supposed to mean, but I know there's more to "Stoned (Out of My Mind)" than a gimmicky title. This is a Heartbreak Song. That's clear from the very beginning. There's barely a hint of a story here, but if there's a real woman behind this song, I don't pity the author. If all Odes to Cheatin' Women were this smooth, they would be worth the heartache.

Still, the ultra-smooth production and the mid-tempo rhythm belie the troubled head behind the words; and combined they create a bittersweet moment that makes it easy to sympathize. And it's got terrific soul lyrics like these:
Baby, when I found out you were lyin'—
Playin' around and connivin'—
Undesired tears I was cryin';
'Cause sugar coated lies I was buyin'.
This is one of those songs that grabbed me despite it not being a real dancefloor filler. I mean, it's danceable, but it's not middle-of-the-night, prime time funky. It hasn't got a driving beat, a compelling bassline, a break. Instead, it has terrific horns, solid and subtle rhythm, and stunning, simple, and clear melody and harmonies. In a strange way, it reminds me of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision"—in style, sound, and structure.

Part of what I mean when I say it just grabbed me is that I don't really have a story to go along with it. I didn't grow up with it. I've only known the song for maybe ten years. And while I've included it in playlists and mixes over the years, and turned friends onto it, "Stoned (Out of My Mind)" has never really attached itself to any particular event in my life; although I often think of it and hum or whistle the tune. Off the top of my head, I can't even recall more than two or three lines from the song.
I was just a backseat driver in a car of love—
Goin' wherever you take me.
Okay, I've got it. Here's the story: I can't be sure of when it happened, but I can say that "Stoned" was one of the early songs I downloaded via Napster or whatever else I was using at the time. I'm almost certain that I was living on Huron St. The internet offered me exposed to a whole world of music, most of it in the soul and R&B veins. This also coincides with my early DJing career and probably my most creative music-writing period—the rise and fall of The Sound of Circles! But "Stoned" rarely made it into the club, and it didn't seem to inform my songwriting. It was a private thing—almost a dream—that I wanted to let everyone know about, but I just couldn't figure out how.

"Stoned (Out of My Mind)" remains a staple of my DJing, and when I sat down and listened to the song to finish this review, I had several insights into it that I'd never considered before, so I guess it doesn't matter if it ever fills a dancefloor. And maybe all the title and chorus mean is that the author is so distraught at learning his woman was cheatin' that he's getting stoned out of his mind. Whatever, just listen and feel the bittersweet.

I've hidden some humour in the above. If you find it, please let me know.

Baby, when I found out you were lyin'—
Playin' around and connivin'—
Undesired tears I was cryin';
'Cause sugar coated lies I was buyin'.

I was just a backseat driver in a car of love—
Goin' wherever you take me.
Don't know why I put up with the pain;
'Cause nobody else could make me.

You got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned) Hey, hey (Out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned) Hey, hey (Out of my mind)

When you led me to the water I drank it.
Man, I drank more than I could hold.
When you took my mind and body,
You know you wanna take my soul.

Where can I run?
Where can I hide?
Who can I talk to?
Tell me what, what can I do?

When you got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned) Hey, hey (Out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned) Hey, hey (Out of my mind) got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned) Hey, hey (Out of my mind)
Been around with every guy in town (Stoned out of my mind)
Funny but I just can't put you down (Stoned out of my mind)

You got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
You got me goin' (Stoned out of my mind)
Read on..!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A clean desk is a productive desk

Yesterday, I was inspired to clean my desk in order to finish off my workyear on a high note.

Okay, I was fed up of the cat hair and bumprints all over the place, and my keyboard had reached a critical level of greasiness.

Here are the results.



You might not notice a large difference between the two, but the before picture doesn't come close to portraying the coating of cat fur that my desk had attracted, or the depth of the pile of papers under the indeterminate stuff and wires at the left side.

The main culprit:

Of course, the mess didn't even come close to reaching the proportions here!

As you were. Read on..!

Monday, 2 November 2009

More thoughts on laptop DJing (in response to...)

Recently I wrote a post for BlogCampaigning on my experience transitioning from a vinyl DJ to a laptop DJ, which, from personal comments, appears to have been generally well received. But the only comment anyone actually posted on the blog was quite negative and passively critical. Initially, I wanted to tell the semi-anonymous commenter where to go, but I decided to take the high road, thanking the fellow for his post and offering a very brief apologetic response.

I was wrong. I've thought about it, and I now recognize that that person's comment was uninformed and thoughtless, and I had no reason to apologize. I don't want to insult him, and I hope this response doesn't simply come off as petty. I have a far more appropriate response in mind, and it is basically a brief description of the nature of entertainment media today.

In his passive-aggressive note, the commenter appears to make three points:

1. DJs who use iTunes (or similar software) don't deserve to entertain club or bar crowds.
2. Whatever happened to DJs who can match beats by simply listening to songs (as opposed to using software to digitally and automatically beat-match)?
3. DJs today suck.

Check out the post at Read on..!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Learning to love laptop DJing

Hey, recently I've been trying to get back into DJing around town, and I spent a few nights at a newish bar called the Painted Lady on Ossington. Since the place is small, I don't have a lot of gear, and more of my music is now in digital form than physical, I've taken on the challenge of laptop DJing.

In my angrier moments, you're likely to hear me remark that laptop DJing resembles spinning vinyl in no respect whatsoever, but that's simply untrue—it just poorly resembles spinning vinyl. While using a laptop to DJ resembles spinning vinyl records in the most fundamental ways (selecting and playing songs), it has none of the other pleasurable aspects, such as flipping through records, handling records, placing the needle, actually spinning the record backward and forward, beat-matching, crossfading, mixing, &c. Unfortunately for me and laptops, these activities make up a large part of what I find enjoyable about DJing in the first place, so you can imagine I've had a mixed experience using a laptop to play songs.

Still, I press on, and I know there are ways to improve the experience, for example, by adding quality software, or better, hardware.

I wrote up some thoughts on my first night of laptop DJing at the Painted Lady. Take a peek at

You can also check out some songs I played that night at Parker Mason's music blog, Nineteen Ninety Never. Read on..!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I love autumn

Here are a couple of artworks I made a few years ago to send to a Young People's Foundation show in Los Angeles.

I think I used summer photos, but I also think these pieces convey the feeling of fall pretty well.

The original images are from somewhere in Montréal—probably Parc Lafontaine or the mountain. Read on..!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

NOMO at the El Mocambo, September 18, 2009

Overall, a very good show.

Maybe you've figured this out already, but it only really hit me at this NOMO show that music is invisible, and this fact has implications I can't even imagine. That was actually my first thought when these guys started playing, and I couldn't stop thinking it for the rest of the show.

It is the main difference—well, it's one way of describing the main difference between seeing a band perform music live and listening to a recording of it, regardless of the quality of the recording; because while music itself—the sounds that comprise it—is invisible, and involves mostly hearing, performance is highly sensual, involving each of the major senses. Listening to music on its own—at home, in headphones, at a bar, even at a dance club—lacks so much sensory information about the music that it's almost unfair to place it in the same category as live music.

They must put something in those sound waves, because at a good live show, they penetrate mind, body, and soul; and each sense enhances the others, as the vision of the artist creates a wonderful—in fact, necessary—connection with the sounds they make, and those waves press into your body. Volume helps in many cases; but at any volume the feeling of the music from watching an artist live is usually incomparable to listening to a recording.

I might make an exception for dance clubs, because in those cases, the audience is actually participating in a performance of sorts, and one's senses are reasonably engaged. But in most club situations, volume acts as the major sensory stimulator, almost artificially compelling the body to move, and pushing the non-aural senses to the edges. Even hearing can play a minor role at a dance club, since it's the rhythm that moves the body, and the rhythm that the body feels the most—but a song's rhythm is commonly interchangeable, rarely unique to a particular song. In other words, at a dance party, the songs are less important than the rhythm that animates them. That doesn't mean that individual songs are unimportant, but there's a reason that we prefer to hear some songs at home and others at the club.

I don't mean to denigrate the experience and joy of listening to music recordings. The difference is like that between watching a play and reading a book: one is immediate, the other reflective. With live music and performances, the audience has to remain with the performer, and doesn't have a lot of time to think beyond what is contained in the script or song; with recordings and books, the audience can take its time and look out for things that are less obvious in the work.

Which, I suppose, brings me to the show on Friday. It starts with a happy combination of events that don't quite add up to coincidence.

I had never heard of NOMO before last week. Then my friend Elly started mentioning that some friends of hers from Chicago were coming to Toronto to play a show. That's the first event. (They're actually half from Chicago and half from Ann Arbor.) In fact, the band were to stay at Elly's and Danijela's studio, which has lots of room, but very few beds (that's facetious—it has no beds).

So, when I saw Elly's post about the show on Facebook, I decided to have a listen some NOMO. Usually I don't listen to music while I work, because it prevents me from focussing, but sometimes I can, and recently I have done, mostly because I've discovered Hype Machine (that's the second event), which is a Web 2.0 service that scours music blogs across the internet and adds any songs it finds to its database, aggregating in a user-friendly way for easy finding and listening; but also because I've been working on a project that requires a different kind of focus. It helps if I listen to instrumental music—it's mainly the singing that distracts me.

I liked what I heard. (That's the third event.)

Now, if you read my show reviews, you'll know that I hardly ever see live music, and that's sad because I adore the experience. Not only that, but Danijela and I have been going through a period of almost-unprecedented busyness—improving the house projects, work projects, various trips. (Sorry neglected friends! I'll be free again soon from the shackles of adult responsibility.) So we're like tired, and often cranky, old people right now. But I hate to turn down the opportunity to see a potentially good show (and for free—thanks Elly!). In this case, I had an open evening (recent Fridays I've been busy DJing at The Painted Lady) and some remaining energy from the week and day. Unfortunately, Danijela didn't have the same energy.

Which, I guess really brings me to the show. All of the above is actually relevant to what I experienced at the El Mo. If you listen to some of NOMO's music, I think you'll find it pretty funky in a jazzy and white sort of way. I would say they are obviously fans of Gil Scott-Heron and his style of acid jazz, but initially I heard a lot of Steely Dan (especially from the Rhodes keyboard and sometimes in the guitar) in the mix. The recordings also made me think of experimental artists like Can and !!!, who are often funky, but frequently too avant-garde to be dancefloor funky. Regardless, I liked the songs and definitely heard a lot of potential; and when I saw the seven band members walk on stage, I was ready to be impressed. They surpassed my expectations.

It was immediately clear that NOMO is made up of very competent musicians—this had better be the case in a group with three horn players (trumpet, tenor and baritone sax) and two drummers. They're tight and at the same time they rely pretty heavily on (presumably-)improvised horn solos, which is always a pleasure to hear. I couldn't help thinking of Sharon Jones's backing band, The Dap Kings, or any of the several revival jazz bands I've seen.

But: NOMO are thoroughly modern. Despite wearing their influences on their sleeves, and keeping within the realm of traditional jazz instruments (drums, bass, guitar, horns, keys, &c.), there is little sign of retrospection in their music. Reverence, yes—at one point I was wishing they would play John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme"—but no nostalgia. Maybe it helps that many of their songs feature two drummers and no guitar, and others feature guitar in a purely rhythmic mode, so that the songs remain unique, despite frequent similarities, which I think are inevitable in instrumental music.

More: early in the show—after three or four songs—I started to think that NOMO's songs followed a relatively simple formula: start out with a funky synchronized groove, introducing the melodic theme with the horns, giving way to solos and duos—a little bit chaotic, the unity falling apart—then a rhythmic breakdown followed by a return to unity, with the horns together reintroducing the theme or some modification—rise to crescendo and stop. (In this structural sense, they actually reminded me of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, whose entire catalogue was defined by this formula (with strings in place of horns, and no funk). Well, that's an exaggeration; that was my experience of that band, and it bored me.)

In one sense, this is simply a standard song structure that countless artists use to this day—sort of an instrumental version of the "verse-chorus-verse" form—the really important part is how the band uses the structure. In any case, it quickly turned out otherwise, as NOMO used enough variations on the form to keep their songs from becoming repetitive.

And, for me, watching talented and skillful musicians helps keep a performance interesting. Part of the visual aspect of music is seeing the players play their instruments—especially nice when there are so many players to look at—and communicate with each other, which these guys did a lot.

Finally, at the end of an hour-plus show, each of the band members, beginning with the horn players walked off the side of the stage and into the crowd, playing all the while (the drummers carried their toms, the bassist grabbed some bells). The crowd surrounded them, clapping and dancing along to the music—much reduced in volume, but heightened in presence.

In short—if it's fair for me to say that at this point—NOMO provide a serious sensory experience, better live than on record; but the recordings that I've heard so far are impressive, and totally worth hearing. I bought their new album, Invisible Cities, and I'm sure I'll be introducing a few tracks from it at The Painted Lady in the near future.
Read on..!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Stuff I've read

So, now I'm scanning through my Delicious links to find stuff that's worth sharing directly with the world, and it turns out—not really surprisingly—that many of the links from a couple of years ago are broken. In some cases, the sites themselves no longer exist; in others, it appears that the articles or items have simply been removed, or the content is no longer free or public, which, in the latter case, I think is bad form. But I guess it makes the internet seem more like the real world of empty storefronts and changes of address. What might be more interesting are some of those pages that haven't changed substantially over two years.

Communications — The internet causes people to think of and do things that are entirely unnecessary, but highly functional. This is Google re-imagined, with all of its features on one page. I have no idea what 90 percent of it means or does. Not so simple now, is it? Simply Google

People — Here is a man named Neil Freeman's collection of semi-random stuff. It's not really random because it's all stuff that he's created. It's worth a peek. His photos on Flickr are also good—maybe better. Fake is the New Real

Entertainment — "Elite" was an amazing, and I think revolutionary, video game from the early 1980s, originally programmed for the Acorn BBC Microcomputer. I first played it on a later Acorn—no idea which one. If you've played this game, you know that it's monochrome polygons lit up your imagination. (Colour did come along, eventually.) This site is maintained by the original game designer, who apparently has no concern for contemporary web design. The Elite Home Page

Environment — Here you can find out all about the rivers that run or ran under our feet in Toronto, along with all sorts of urban ephemera. Toronto Lost River Walks

Arts — Zoomquilt is a sort of three-dimensional semi-immersive exquisite corpse—and it's way more than the sum of its parts. Given it's relative simplicity (the idea, not the artwork), this sort of thing could be really great or really poor. I'm sure this might have been executed better, but it's beyond my skills, so I'll just chill the rock out. Zoomquilt I
Read on..!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Randoms from my phone

The view from the 500s

VIDEO 1 Abstract in tanktop
For rent no vacancy Stairway to heaven probably
Can't say Glorious chandelier
Read on..!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The dangers of internet arrogance

So recently, my sister Jane performed one of the internet's cardinal sins and forwarded me an Unsubstantiated Public Service Announcement E-mail on the dangers of microwaving food in plastic containers. Naturally, being the good netizen that I try to be, I turned to Snopes to find the real story. I read the Snopes article, thought to myself: "Well, that little internet tidbit is clearly false", replied to my sister with the link, and smiled the smug smile of self-satisfaction one can only experience after lazily denouncing someone's valid attempt at discourse.

"Jane should know better than that", I thought, upon receiving the message. And maybe she should have. But I had fallen into a now-common trap that can blind even the very reasonable internet visitors among us, and certainly those more prone to tell people when they've done something "wrong" or stepped beyond the ephemeral bounds of netiquette (and there is no shortage of those—in fact, there are websites dedicated exclusively to telling people they're wrong; also, the comments on places like Digg are full of examples of people telling each other they're wrong in really awful ways).

My point is that Jane's chain e-mail activated my critical reflex, but I allowed Snopes to shut the reflex down, because I accept that site as a Reputable Depot for Information on Scams and Frauds and Unsubstantiated or Far-Fetched News Stories. It's not that I don't actually trust Snopes; even in this case, it's clear that the message itself is a fraud. But I had a reality check when I watched an episode of CBC's Doczone called "The Disappearing Male" that was about how certain chemicals which are widely used in plastics and other consumer products appear to be causing damage to the reproductive organs of male fetuses and eventually fertility problems in babies, boys, and men. The documentary presents strong evidence from numerous independent studies that this is in fact the case, and these chemicals—bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates—are extraordinarily dangerous, but at the same time points out that the United States Food and Drug Administration and other public bodies—guardians of the public health all—have preferred to rely on industry-sponsored studies for their judgments and recommendations about these chemicals (remember the tobacco debates?). The point being that Snopes defers to the FDA on the matter, and, usually, I would be suspicious of the government in any matter like this.

The Snopes article then goes on to quote a presumably reputable doctor advising: use plastics "specifically meant for cooking" if you must, because "whenever you heat something you increase the likelihood of pulling chemicals out", but it's best to cook with glass, ceramics, or stainless steel (obviously not the latter in the microwave, no matter how curious you might be). In other words, if not quite refuting, then certainly diluting the claim that plastics are safe for microwave (or general) use. This particular Snopes article is strange actually, because it tries to present a balanced view by debunking the form of the message (the fraud disguised as a PSA), but offering another side of the content of the message (the grain of truth in the fraud)—which is fine—but it seems to me that the researchers were maybe more interested in shooting down another bit of presumed internet nonsense rather than providing a public service. I think Snopes too fell prey to the same internet arrogance that prevented me from taking that next critical step.

Anyway, I recommend you watch "The Disappearing Male" and take a look at where these chemicals are around you. Canada recently banned the use of bisphenol-A in baby bottles, where it was very common, but they remain in all sorts of products and in the environment at large. From the Doczone page: "Found in everything from shampoo, sunglasses, meat and dairy products, carpet, cosmetics and baby bottles, they are called 'hormone mimicking' or 'endocrine disrupting' chemicals and they may be starting to damage the most basic building blocks of human development."

So, sorry Jane! I still don't like chain e-mails, but I'll pay better attention next time, and not be so quick to judge.
Read on..!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The second stew was good, but not as good as the first

In the likelihood you don't know what that strange code means, look here. Read on..!

Beautiful songs: Strangers

My good friend Josh Raskin recently sent me this song, after a long discussion of amazing stuff we're enjoying at the moment. I said the Junior Boys' latest album Begone Dull Care, which I find a really beautiful and excellent collection of songs. Josh mentioned the cable television series Peep Show and a couple of songs: a cover of Prince's "1999" by a band called Dump, led by Yo La Tengo's bass player, and "Strangers" by The Kinks (written by Dave Davies, to be precise). I haven't heard yet what Josh thinks of my recommendation, but I have at long last been converted to The Kinks. I am ready to listen!

I've always appreciated The Kinks on a superficial level—well, I guess since I was properly introduced to them, probably in my teens. Who doesn't like "You Really Got Me", "Till the End of the Day", and "All Day and All of the Night"? But, while these songs helped fill in the gaps in The Beatles' grand music- and world-changing scheme, I'm not sure they ever properly represented what the band was about. They sang more political and satirical songs, like "Well Respected Man" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", and I was never quite sold on this other, more thoughtful, side of The Kinks, probably because I didn't consider those songs sufficiently danceable. (That was a prime concern of mine from about 18 on.) I guess I liked this "other" stuff just fine, but being stubborn I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to it. I'm sure that once in a while I even scoffed at "Dedicated Follower..." or other "non-dancey" Kinks songs at clubs. (Before you call me crazy, let me say that I was wrong on the danceable factor, too, since many of what I call the "other" songs are perfect for the dancefloor!)

But most of the music fans among my friends—the ones who know the bands, their albums and songs—said that The Kinks were great. For my part, I just couldn't quite place them in the Pantheon of the British Invasion: where did they fit among The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Zombies? (The latter, they were my type of group, the one I really loved. But, heck, much of what I say about The Kinks I could also say about the Who.)

Anyway, eventually I discovered "Victoria", which became a great favourite and opened my mind some, and then The Village Green Preservation Society, an album that clearly showed The Kinks were doing their own very worthy thing, and they didn't much care what anybody else said about it. I'm not sure that prepared me for the assault of genius I experienced when I heard "Strangers" though.

I can't tell if I have some real memory of this song from before or not because it is so clearly reminiscent of others and so generally nostalgic. I feel like Wes Anderson must have used it in one of his quirky nostalgic films—he used The Kinks' lovely "Nothing In this World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'bout that Girl" in Rushmore, what feels like ages ago—but I can't place "Strangers" among his soundtracks. ... Well, now some accidental research tells me that in fact it was in The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson's most recent film, along with a couple of other Kinks tracks. (It seems he's become far less creative in his musical research as time goes by: all three are from the same album.) The song makes sense in that film, with its searching and cynical quasi-spiritual theme: "Where are you going? I don't mind. I've killed my world and I've killed my time." Of course, since I've seen the movie, now I can't tell whether my feelings are as genuine as I initially thought. No matter; the song will certainly outlast the film, and I can hardly fault Mr. Anderson that his work sowed a seed so deeply that I would think its flower came straight from my soul.

Regardless, I found "Strangers" instantly recognizable—uncanny—the way incredible works often are upon first (or subsequent) experiences. It felt right and good, like it just gets right to the heart of things—of me and you. Mostly it reminds me of "The Weight" by the Canadian-American rock group, The Band (and which, surely not coincidentally, was released and became a hit in the United Kingdom in 1968, just a year or so before "Strangers" was written and recorded). The two songs share many similar elements, from the slow but forceful bass drum beat and acoustic strum to the rolling piano flourishes and organ. But as beautiful as that song is, I find "Strangers" the more affecting, possibly because it's more intimate, and captures the feelings of love, alienation, and the lost promise of the spiritual/love revolution that had occurred in the mid- to late-1960s (and which feeds our current cultural condition); while "The Weight" seems less personal and more narrative—more neutral. It might also have something to do with the fact that I've just heard "The Weight" so many darn times; for example, at the Sports: the Band show at the Tranzac club last winter, I heard a group of ageing hippies jam to it—poorly. I don't know.

To me, "Strangers" synthesizes the roots rock of the time in the United States and the balladeering of the later Beatles; and it seems to predict David Bowie's "Soul Love" and "Five Years" from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and some Pink Floyd yet five years away. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that The Kinks were covering this American rootsy rock ground (the sound is evident elsewhere on the album Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One). Certainly others—notably, both The Beatles and The Stones had gone there—and The Kinks' already eclectic and influential late-60s output justifies any diversion.

There is another aspect to hearing this song besides its uncanniness: a sort of surprise. And I think that comes from the lovely lyrics: at turns passionate and cynical, wise and powerless, patient or lazy. These are real troubled, if not especially heavy, thoughts: "So where do I go what do I see? I see many people coming after me. ... So I will follow you wherever you go, If your offered hand is still open to me." They are thoughts that could easily come off as too simple or too sincere, and the surprise is that something that teeters on the edge of trite can maintain balance so well throughout.

In fact—and if you know the song, I'm sure you understand—at the chorus, the feeling reaches a new level, and grows into a sort of awe. "Strangers on this road we are on; We are not two we are one." It's so obvious, but the performance gives the words life and allows them to tell a thousand stories that, alone, the words are incapable of expressing. Now don't get me wrong; I find the lyrics quite nice on their own, but I don't think they're poetry. Many many musical artists had trod the same ground before, some with far greater flair. And now I can't tell whether the repetition of the word "on" is clever or unnecessary. But it's genius for all these reasons and just because I say so. I tend to find awe in simple things, because I think it's the simplest things that are best able to describe to us our world and our place in it. And music seems to hold a special ability to tell a near-infinite number of individual stories, in a very-finite package of two to seven minutes.

At last, "Strangers" maintains the uncanniness and surprise throughout. I find I become entranced, and I want to climb inside of the song, to see and feel its inner workings, to sing it aloud, to grab my guitar and play it, as it appears that many others have done before me. Or I can just sit and listen and enjoy, which I look forward to doing many more times.

Thanks Josh!

Where are you going? I don't mind.
I've killed my world and I've killed my time.
So where do I go what do I see?
I see many people coming after me.
So where are you going to? I don't mind.
If I live too long I'm afraid I'll die.
So I will follow you wherever you go,
If your offered hand is still open to me.

Strangers on this road we are on;
We are not two we are one.

So you've been where I've just come:
From the land that brings losers on.
So we will share this road we walk
And mind our mouths and beware our talk,
Till peace we find, tell you what I'll do
All the things I own I will share with you.
If I feel tomorrow like I feel today,
We'll take what we want and give the rest away.

Strangers on this road we are on;
We are not two we are one.

Holy man and holy priest,
This love of life makes me weak at my knees.
And when we get there make your play,
'Cos soon I feel you're gonna carry us away.
In a promised lie you made us believe,
For many men there is so much grief;
And my mind is proud but it aches with rage,
And if I live too long I'm afraid I'll die,

Strangers on this road we are on;
We are not two we are one.
Strangers on this road we are on;
We are not two we are one.
Read on..!

Thursday, 30 April 2009


Hey, I've been really into cooking stews with leftovers lately. Don't knock it till you've tried it; it's a blast! The first one was really delicious, partially thanks to Danijela's Mum who cooked the lamb. The second I'm just waiting to eat now, so I'll have to let you know. I've tasted it quickly, and I just don't want to judge it until it's in my bowl.

Well, I thought I'd share these two wonders with you, so take a look.

Here is the recipe for a stew I made today. It's called, What's left over in the fridge after making a stew with most of what's left in the fridge.

First, in order of their appearance in my memory, the ingredients:

1/2 small tin month-old tomato paste
15 medium-sized collard leaves sliced
4 old grape tomatoes sliced
1 tsp Italian herb blend of unknown provenance (packet two)
1 tsp paprika
2 cups organic wheat macaroni
1 medium eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium Slovenian sausage
4 pieces artichoke hearts in oil sliced
sun-dried tomatoes in oil
romano cheese
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp freshly ground pink rock salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
2+ cups direct-from-tap water
1 small brown onion finely chopped
3 small cloves garlic pulverized
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes

And their order of appearance in the large iron pan:

Oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, water, eggplant, herbs, hot pepper, collards, water, sausage, paprika, artichoke, grape tomatoes, pepper, salt, peas, water, three-quarters-cooked macaroni, water. Cook until pasta is ready. Sprinkle cheese after dishing into pasta bowls. Place sun-dried tomatoes at side of bowl.

Here is what I remember from a stew I made a few days ago. It's called Leftover lamb stew

Ingredients, in order blah blah blah:

300 g chunk leftover roasted lamb (courtesy of Mara Pruginic)
3 cups tap water
10+ medium large leaves collards (with most of stems)
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp Italian herb mix of unknown provenance
2 small bay leaves crushed
540 mL tin chick peas rinsed
2 medium brown onions
2 very vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 Slovenian sausage
freshly ground salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cube organic chicken stock
6 good stems once-fresh parsley
Corn meal as much as you like!
1/2 tsp sage

Same pot, different day. Oil, onion, cumin, tomatoes, sausage, collards, lamb, herbs, sage, salt and pepper, bay leaves, parsley, chick peas, stock. Cook until done. Serve with pollenta in bowl.

I hope the one from today is as good as the previous one. I'll let you know.
Read on..!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Stuff I've read

In an effort to: a) keep my online presence reasonably up to date; b) justify all of my general interest reading; and c) possibly offer something of value to my friends' lives; I present my first collection of random tit-bits from the World Wide Web.

Communications — First, more news that big business is conspiring to keep consumers in the dark about something that in theory could ruin their profits. It's misinformation and omissions, though; sorry, no uncovered conspiracy (yet). Better still, it's from that paragon of meaningful reporting, London's Daily Mail. The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money?

Arts — This tit-bit is just cool. Art for a Dollar

Science — This is the story of an archivist at NASA who almost single-handedly saved the thousands of images taken by the earliest lunar orbiters, basically against the institutional wishes of her employer, and at some significant sacrifice to herself. I find the story almost as extraordinary as the pictures. NASA's early lunar images, in a new light

Environment — This is just obvious, but sometimes it's okay to beat people over the head just a little bit. Bottled Water Carries Hidden Cost to Earth

Arts — I originally had another link to this, but it didn't show all of the images, so I chose the source instead. Aren't you lucky? Yes. International Garden Photographer of the Year Finalists
Read on..!

Creative days past

Here are a couple of base images from a painting I made several years ago as part of a Young People's Foundation show in Montréal. I don't remember the title of the final piece. I'm pretty sure it's sitting in my basement somewhere—I hope so! If I remember correctly, this painting was shown at the Coachella festival on a boat in L.A. I don't remember the details though.

The view is of a then-unfinished UQAM building on the southwest corner of rues Sherbrooke and St-Urbain, with the downtown skyline in the background. I was fascinated by construction cranes at the time, as they had appeared in Montréal and Toronto like tall pisse-en-lits, and the winds seemed to carry their fluffy seeds all over. Read on..!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Beautiful songs: A New England

The name Billy Bragg didn't mean a thing to me until one early morning about 10 years ago, in the dingy upstairs of the pre-renovation El Mocambo. The name still only holds limited meaning for me, event though the man has made a comeback in the years since I first noticed his music. But that meaning is strong, and rests on the power of his first release, the EP Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy—in particular, the song "A New England". I have in my mind some negligible recollection of the song's name from before that fateful day, but it is most probably false, and it doesn't matter anyway.

It was that morning, probably around four o'clock, when Billy Bragg, alone with his electric guitar, roared into my life with the perfect anti-political slogan: "I'm not looking for a new England; I'm just looking for another girl".

I don't think I considered the politics or simply the meaning behind the words too closely at the time—really they're quite direct and don't need a lot of interpretation—but I clearly remember connecting with them intuitively (i.e., without bothering to think about them), as representative of my state of mind at the time. I was anti-political, and I was looking for another girl, although it sounds simple, and it could probably have been said of the great majority of my friends.
I was 21 years when I wrote this song;
I'm 22 now, but I won't be for long.
People ask me "when will you grow up to be a man?"
But all the girls I loved at school
Are already pushing prams.
So this song was the perfect way to end a long night of dancing, drinking and desperate socializing: with some poetry from another time—when most of us were babies or children—that tidily summed up our lives. This was at Blow Up of course, in case you hadn't guessed. And many songs that one could hear there summed up quite succinctly us mods' and britpoppers' attitudes towards life: the intense focus on style, fashion and cool; the cynicism, apathy and condescension; the need to belong, evinced through excessive drinking and drugs. Pulp, Blur, the Divine Comedy—they all made the life clear: "Modern Life is Rubbish", so let all us "Common People" grab "Something for the Weekend", and so on.

But Billy Bragg wasn't the frontman of some English bourgeois neo-glam art-school band with six members all wearing suits, dresses or jumpers. He was an activist punk and poet with a guitar and a middling voice. And at 3:30 in the morning you could even dance to him in a solo Britpop fist-pumping kind of way. The sound in the El Mo echoed with a few last souls on the floor—this was the "real" end of the night after all—and the touch of distortion screamed and shivered through the place. And then you'd go home—or to someone's home anyway—more or less satisfied that you played your part; your life was justified by some words written as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, as though that time were simpler—oh sad nostalgia.

So anyway, "A New England" finished my Saturday nights for many months. I couldn't say for how long—probably over a year; maybe even two! This was somewhat before I became a DJ at Blow Up, so I wasn't quite "in" yet. I don't remember whom I asked about the song. It might have been head honcho Davy love—it was he who played it every weekend—or it might have been my excellent dancing partner James S.; or I may have harnessed the power of the World Wide Web way back when, and searched for the easily understood lyrics. Either way, I know I bought that record as soon as I saw it at one of my local second-hand record stores. I had remarkable luck finding records I wanted. I played it over and over at home, taking in each of the stunning songs. I hadn't heard anything like it—so powerful, sincere and sparse—and I'm not sure I have since. But nothing else—no other Billy Bragg work that I've listened to—has given me even remotely similar feelings. Clearly the time played a great part.

I wish I had recorded in some way (you know, like in memory) what other groups or albums I got into around the same time, to do some sort of comparative study on what was influencing me. I think I prayed through music then, and throughout my long adolescence. By listening and singing along and dancing to certain songs, repeatedly, I reinforced the themes, ideals and wants they contained. I came to understand the world in terms of middle-class British (anti-)romance and vices and (anti-)politics—a sort of ethic of non-engagement, disdaining authority, but not bothering or willing to dispute or subvert the prevailing order. This is what I brought into my life, and how I lived my life at the time, it's fair to say. I guess it's not an uncommon theme for youth generally.

Recently I gave up the delusion that I might digitize the album from my vinyl copy, and I downloaded Life's a Riot. I hadn't listened to "A New England" for several years. Although I've since and finally left my adolescence behind (as far as I imagine I ever will), along with my apathy and several other traits that are acceptable—even charming—in youth, but distasteful in adults, the song still resonates deeply with me.

And now I'm free to consider the wider circumstances of the song: it is the product of a certain time and condition in the United Kingdom—which I won't pretend to know anything about—and it's certainly not anti-political, despite the appearance of its disarming lyrics. The chorus makes it clear that there is call for a new England, just that the subject of the song won't have anything to do with it. Instead, he is focussed on the issues—or the one main issue—facing young people anywhere in the world at any time: the passage into adulthood, the acceptance into society, the original political act. It did presage this passage in me. Within a couple of years, I moved out of my parents' house, began working regularly, engaged in political discourse, and eventually went to university—and left behind Blow Up, with some sadness. I guess it shouldn't be surprising then, that I stopped pulling Billy Bragg off my record shelf about that time, too.

Now I can listen to it at leisure, and I have. I almost feel guilty listening to it, like I'm indulging in some deep nostalgia. But would I ever feel indulgent listening to The Beatles or New Order? But enough of that! "A New England" is almost overpowering in its simplicity. I was certainly more indulgent the first time around! I hold it in Awe, like a Spring of Pure Beauty filtering through the Fabric of the Universe. I recommend a listen—to the album version first. Some live versions are very good, but none of them match the original recording, to my ears.

I hope you've enjoyed my little story; I promise to have something more for you soon.

I was 21 years when I wrote this song;
I'm 22 now, but I won't be for long.
People ask me "when will you grow up to be a man?"
But all the girls I loved at school
are already pushing prams.

I loved you then as I love you still;
Though I put you on a pedestal,
They put you on the pill.
I don't feel bad about letting you go;
I just feel sad about letting you know.

I don't want to change the world;
I'm not looking for a new England;
I'm just looking for another girl.
I don't want to change the world;
I'm not looking for a new England;
I'm just looking for another girl.

I loved the words you wrote to me,
But that was bloody yesterday.
I can't survive on what you send
Every time you need a friend.

I saw two shooting stars last night;
I wished on them, but they were only satellites.
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

I don't want to change the world;
I'm not looking for a new England;
I'm just looking for another girl.
Looking for another girl
Looking for another girl
Looking for another girl
Read on..!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Updating things

Hey, I'm just changing things around here--that's partly why I haven't been updating at all. I've also been extremely busy, and have just come down with a cold. (I thought I was home free for this winter!)

Anyhoo, I hope to be done in a couple of weeks and then I'll try to return to my previous erratic schedule of updates.

Until then, you can see what I'm doing on Facebook, also

Peace and love! Read on..!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Dot—Chapter 1


creations. Read on..!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Sports: the Band, with Hexes and Ohs, Green Go, and others at the Tranzac, January 10, 2009

A Saturday afternoon in winter is a surprisingly fun time to see a show. And it feels pretty good to support local scenesters, such as the good folks behind The Singing Lamb, a new music blog based in Toronto—er, a new Toronto-based blog about music. And the show was five dollars, what!

It was thanks to Facebook that I heard about Hexes & Ohs playing at the Tranzac; even better, they were playing with Sports: The Band, which features friends Shayne "Extra Large" Cox and Nathan "Home" Rekker, as well as Michael Small of The Meligrove Band and Robin Hatch (both of whom I'm sure are equally deserving of meaningless but clever nicknames, but I'm not sure that's appropriate for people I only know through others).

According to their Facebook page, and their preview in the Eye Weekly (I think), Sports is a vehicle for Nathan's songwriting. I'd never heard any of his songs, but I know that Shayne has great taste, and is a great performer himself, so I was anxious to see them. Luckily I know how rock'n'roll shows work, and I got there just in time for their delayed 1:30 start.

So, once again I've been amazed at a friend's band, particularly one that I've waited ages to see and hear. I'd made half-hearted attempts to see them in the previous few months, but it just hadn't happened—not surprising, knowing me. Anyway, I saw them this time; that's what counts.

It's a great sign when a band makes me smile, because that usually means they're doing something I haven't heard before—in some way, the songwriting or performance stands out. That happened pretty much throughout Sports' set.

For someone of my age and taste, I think it should be hard not to hear a certain mid-1990s North American indie aesthetic in their sound, but I would have a hard time pinning it down to specific bands. mostly it was the simple, but slyly innovative song structures, the clever lyrics, and the confident and nonchalant performance. But now that I've forever painted them with my 90s brush, I have to make it clear it would be a real shame to say that Sports are some sort of 90s revivalist band—frankly, the idea of such a thing sounds awful! It's just interesting to see some uncommon influences displayed—unlike, for example, with the next band at the show.

All of that said, Sports are clearly a product of now; they just don't bother with all of the new-new wave post-post punk electro nonsense, like so many others. As a musician, I'm always watching and listening for the little things—changes, motions, chords—that make a band or individual band member stand out. With Sports it was all about ease. They just write and perform excellent pop-rock songs, with little fanfare, good energy, big smiles, and a healthy dose of noise. I like that—a lot.

Green Go performed next, and if I had no idea what to expect from this young group, I learned quickly enough. The five-piece band immediately pounced into a set of driving dance pop, and the crowd responded, doing their best to make 2:30 in the afternoon seem like 11:30 at night.

These folks didn't show me anything that I haven't heard before from the Rapture, controller.controller, Hot Chip, the Arcade Fire, or others, but that doesn't mean they weren't good. They didn't exactly sound like those bands, I just didn't achieve the same amount of smiles as with Sports—in fact, none, until near the end of the show.

The thing is, this is new music today, and Green Go are not afraid to say it. Anyway, this band is young. With luck—and these guys (and girl) seem plenty talented and energetic—they will move beyond the simple self-referentiality of the present, to the hyper-self-referentiality of the near future, and create something new from within themselves. I hope they do, because despite the lack of sly smiles, I enjoyed their show very much.

The only thing that bothered me was the instrument-switching that they did too frequently. It's a time-consuming, distracting, and almost certainly totally unnecessary gimmick that takes away from the energy of the show. Still, the show consisted of pretty much all live instrumentation, which is better than I can say for Hot Chip when I saw them a couple of years ago.

As for Hexes & Ohs, I've heard the hype over the past couple of years, and I tried to find some of their music early on—without actually, you know, going to a record shop—to no avail. So I went to the show knowing only what I'd read, which wasn't much more than a piece in the Star a couple of days before: basically, they're a two-piece electronic pop band from Montréal who are also a couple. And they have a cute name.

But for all the hype, I was expecting better than I got. Their songs were fine—some of them even verging on good—but their performance was weak. I simply find it uninteresting to watch two people play over canned beats and music. That might fly at a dance party, but not at a rock show; and certainly not in the afternoon. Also, maybe they were off that day, but it seemed that neither of them could sing very well: the lead whined, and the harmonies were flat. I'll probably just sound bitter if I mention that they had some technical problems, and, like Green Go, they switched instruments too often.

Somehow, remarkably, these negatives didn't add up to an awful show, which they probably should have; so I must give them credit for that, whatever it means. I did enjoy the show overall, but it wasn't good. I'll have to reserve judgment on Hexes & Ohs until I hear some recordings, but I won't be looking out for them to return to Toronto.

Also at the show were Maylee Todd and Winter Gloves, but I didn't watch them, so I'm not about to review them, am I?
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The New Dilettantes by Adam Gorley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.