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.

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.