Bring the noise

It was the whistle that made my parents crazy. That shrill, ear-splitting blast. Part siren, part boiled kettle. High pitched and looped from Bring The Noise all the way to Prophets of Rage.

A Nations of Millions… was my first CD and this week marks its 30 year anniversary. Three decades later there’s still nothing that sounds like it. That unmistakable delivery from Chuck D, Flav’s clock-swinging swagger. Hip hop production back then sounded clean but the Bomb Squad managed to capture something raw.

I think I was a little young to truly get its meaning. (Of course, I do think that anyone from my age group knows every single lyric of Bring the Noise–with or without Anthrax.)

But, Chuck and Public Enemy exposed me to Dr. King and so many other potent civil rights touchstones that I would have otherwise missed as a suburban white kid in the 80s. That has to mean something.

If you listen to it now the message is eerily pertinent today. It’s like a Polaroid that’s come back to life reminding you that the work is not done.

June 2018 Playlist

It’s always the smell of rain rushing over Lake Ontario that I remember. Before the clap of thunder and the crowd scrambling for cover under the band shell. Summer nights at the Harbourfront stage all those years ago were often fraught with bad weather but it never dampened the shows. There were some unforgettable performances: the Greyboy Allstars (we invaded the stage to boogie with the band), The Constantines, Broken Social Scene among so many others tore the roof off summer after summer.  

Memory is a little fuzzy, but I think we were watching The Herbaliser Band when Mother Nature wanted to join in the fun. You really could smell the rain coming. Lightning streaked the sky. We all got pretty wet. A few weeks after the show, friends would tell me they saw me on City TV. The NewMusic filmed it and I somehow found my way onto the clips: there I was, my unruly hippie hair tucked under my cowboy hat, dancing up a storm. I was pretty into it, apparently. My “moves” back then were basically T-Rex arms swinging incomprehensibly, my head shaking wildly and my butt wiggling terribly out of time. I am many things, but graceful is not one of them. To this day I’ve still never seen the footage. 

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend Field Trip at Fort York with some excellent people. It’s such a well-organized event. Food trucks everywhere, beer wagons galore, kid friendly playgrounds, and of course the performances from The Barr Brothers, Bahamas and Metric were outstanding. Usually I’m taking pictures of the band, watching the show through my screen. This time, however, the phone stayed in my pocket. I was surprised by how much more engaged I was. Instead of trying to find the perfect shot I instead melted into the music.  

This isn’t an indictment of those who use their phones, nor is this a soapbox imploring you to put them away. I’m not Jack White. Rather, this is a recognition of mindfulness, of being in the moment and holding on it. I think that’s a rare experience, perhaps one that I didn’t even know I needed. On the other hand, I have a music blog that’s entirely bereft of photos or video from Field Trip. So maybe I need to strike a balance there.  

I fear that Father John Misty has started taking himself too seriously. His last two releases have sucked all the air out of the room. God’s Favorite Customer is pretty grim, he used to lighten things with humour or self-depreciation but now he’s just a downer. 

So, Scarlett Johansson released a record with Pete Yorn. It’s pretty good. “Bad Dreams” is a breezy pop tune that’s sure to get caught in your head. 

Neko Case’s voice is so powerfully emotive, shifting from whimsy to sadness from one note to the next. While Hell On has quite possibly the worst album cover of the year, it boasts exceptional songwriting. “Curse of the I-5 Corridor” shimmers and sways with such force you will need to sit down. 

Snail Mail’s Lush manages to capture distance while feeling wholly in the moment—an impressive feat for a teenage debut. It reminds me of early Smashing Pumpkins as well, which is surprising.  

Two songs I can’t stop listening to: “Health Machine” by Sam Evian and “Tenderness” by Parquet Courts. 

For all those road trip junkies, allow me to recommend Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (yes, that’s a mouthful). It’s easy to picture endless blacktop, the world whizzing by with “Talking Straight” pumping from your radio. 

Yukon Blonde’s Critical Hit makes me want to watch Street Legal or maybe Night Court, it’s all 80s synths and big choruses. To be fair, side B is very diverse, running the gamut from electro to the Beach Boys. The album is eclectic and never boring. 

 

May 2018 Playlist

Eighteen years ago, four of us were huddled together in a stuffy flat in St. James Town. We had just picked our collective jaws off the floor after listening to Kid A for the first time. After the opening bars of “Everything In Its Right Place,” it was clear this was an album that begged to be listened to again. So we did. Well this is different, was my first thought. Where are the guitars? was my next. Much discussion followed, very little of which do I actually remember—there was a lot of weed smoked in that apartment. I wasn’t convinced that I liked this new sound, but I knew I had to.

Fans, critics and casual listeners are a fickle lot. We’re hard to please. And I think artists are the same. We bemoan lazy songwriting and celebrate a hard left—only if it’s done right. Kid A introduced a new direction, but in doing so it torched the past; I’ve always viewed that record as Radiohead’s middle finger to the radio single. Was that their intention? I don’t think they care one way or another, this was simply the record they wanted to make. It’s that kind of confidence that I love and hate about musicians. Because sometimes I just want to hear “My Iron Lung” instead being challenged by flickering vocals and drum loops.

I tell this story because I had a similar experience listening to the new Leon Bridges. “Good Thing” sets fire to his old sound and out of its ashes arises a record that’s much more Prince or The Weeknd than Sam Cooke. Just as Radiohead traded guitars for sequencers, Leon traded 60s soul for club jams. Even his voice is different: falsetto replacing his velvety, smooth croon. I knew I wanted to like it, so I listening to it a lot. I asked myself, what motivated him to change so early in his career? The best response I have is some records feel like they are flag posts, marking the end of an era and leading you to the next.

There’s something refreshing about listening to a song from an artist that isn’t trying too hard. “City Looks Pretty” by Courtney Barnett is a no-nonsense, toe-tapping number that’s catchy as hell.

It’s a good day when Chromatics releases new music. “Black Walls” hits all the right notes: breathy vocals, just enough 80s synth and a driving tempo you can’t deny.

Band Name of Year: Low Cut Connie. Trashy music from a trashy band. I feel hungover just typing their name here.

Beach House is one those bands that can do no wrong. “7” is everything you’d expect from them, but nothing more.

I’ll admit it: I never got into Pavement. But the new Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks is excellent. “Middle American” is a perfect summer song with a chorus that burns slow and lazy like long shadows on the park grass.

Thanks for reading and happy listening.

April 2018 Playlist

I think it is time to come clean. Vinyl is my new addiction. And for those who know me, when I get into something, I really get into it. As music has become completely disposable, floating out there in the ether like so many other 1s and 0s, my urge to collect it has gone through many shifts. First, I stole everything (thank you Napster), then I started buying the occasional indie MP3 (you’re welcome iTunes, but it was mostly out of shame), then finally I starting paying to rent it from the sky (Spotify has dug its claws very deep). 

And in the end, I don’t have a physical collection anymore. Hence my $400 a month vinyl habit. It’s a daunting task, trying to rebuild a collection that spans a couple decades. And vinyl isn’t cheap. I’ll find myself in the record store holding OK Computer, The Traveling Wilburys and Marvin Gaye. My wallet can only afford one, but my heart wants them all. Helplessly, I just end up walking out with all three, Visa bill be damned. 

Just today I searched my neighbourhood for the new Durand Jones & The Indications. Endorphins rushed through my brain at the thought of adding it to my tiny collection. Old school soul like that would sound great on vinyl, Geoff, I promised myself. Three stores later I ended up with the new Leon Bridges instead as I had to special order Durand Jones.  

There’s lots of soul and rhythm & blues this month. 

The James Hunter Six album cover is a picture of the singer puffing on a cigarette and its really lazy to describe his voice as smoky, but unfortunately, it’s a fact.  

Ben Harper put out a proper blues record and it is excellent. 

It’s hard to disassociate Lord Huron from Thirteen Reasons Why; Netflix did a lot of good for his profile. Vide Noir is a lot of high gloss and sheen, but beneath it all, there’s still good songwriting. 

Song of the month: Black Moon Rising by Black Pumas. Just listen. 

I haven’t the faintest where she’s from or what she’s saying but Serol Serol is lovely, dreamy late-night music.  

Oh Maynard where are thou and why did you lend your voice to that steaming pile of trash that is the new A Perfect Circle. 

Thanks for reading and happy listening. 

 

Twice Removed and Other Diversions

Oakville Place in a mid-90s typified the suburban nightmare. No windows but somehow clinically bright. Cotton Ginny. The It Store. It was a free babysitting service for parents. Drop off the mall rats, clad in Club Monaco and Treetorn, for a few hours to gorge on Manchu Wok and NY Fries. Yet the mall had one redeeming feature: A&A Records.  

I clearly remember buying Appetite For Destruction, License to Ill and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back there, among countless cassettes and CDs. Full disclosure: Glass Tiger and Moist were purchases too. While Records on Wheels on Kerr Street was the mecca for independent music—it was the place for tape trading, bootlegs and concert tickets—I lived much closer to the mall.  

Oakville had a pretty impressive indie scene 25 years ago. I asked a friend to remind me of some the bands from that era, many of which had hilarious names. Pineconesexface. Neon God. Sister Sloth. 10grade2s. Gorp. Porch Climber. Most weekends someone was putting on show somewhere, it progressed to the point where bigger bands were playing locally. hHead (Brendon Canning of BBS fame), The Inbreds and Treble Charger graced the stages of Masonic Temple or the Waterfront bandshell. 

But back to A&A. I remember meeting Rosie from Treble Charger there and thinking that was coolest thing ever. He gave my friend Jenn and I a flyer to a show at a wedding hall. Dusty memories of a dark DIY venue full of cigarette smoke, flannel and Dock Martins floats in my brain. Those were heady days. All this gooey nostalgia has led me to ask: who’s left? Who has survived intact and still produces music? Outside of cash grab reunions from Our Lady Peace and artists of that ilk, the only band that I can think of is Sloan. 

They released 12 in early April, and after some quick math, it marks a 27-year career. They never broke up or lost a drummer. No one overdosed. Sloan may just be the most PG Canrock band ever—even the Barenaked Ladies have a drug scandal.  

Sloan can still write a great pop song. Their harmonies are as crisp as ever on “Right To Roam” and “Gone For Good.” I found myself listening to 12 a lot more than I expected, perhaps subliminally out of respect to their career. Give it a listen. 

Of course for good measure, take a trip down memory lane.

Counting Stars, revisited

Music can take you to unexpected places. I curated this playlist as a best-of for 2016. Listening to it again I’m instantly transported back to our trip to Costa Rica. It was our soundtrack.

I remember our little apartment in downtown San Jose fondly. We stayed there a few times, it was a jumping point for adventures in Limon and Drake Bay.

When we first arrived we traded a cheesy maple syrup fridge magnet with our Airbnb host for a fistful of local beer. Somehow we didn’t drink it all before shipping off to the turtle sanctuary in Tortuguero. So I decided to stash the cans in a cupboard. Maybe they’d still be there!

Three days later we’re back in apartment and Jody catches me rummaging through the cupboards. “What are you doing?!” I reach up and pull down a can of beer, triumphantly. It was warm but at least it was ours.

Of all the memories of that country and that spectacular trip: beaches, turtles, monkeys, bullfighting, the list goes on… and the one story this playlist conjures for me is about warm beer.