Category Archives: music

Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “Song to the Siren,” This Mortal Coil, for David Patrick Roscoe (1966-2013)

Now my foolish boat is leaning,
Broken lovelorn on your rocks,
For you sing, ‘Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow ….’
O my heart, my heart shies from the sorrow.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/classifieds/announcements/obituaries/roscoe-david-patrick-of-toronto-formerly-of-halifax-died-on

To one who will sing no more.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Matana Roberts, live in 2011… for the Bow River

by Carl Wilson

The Chicago-rooted, New York-resident, Montreal-affiliated, beautiful-music-making Matana Roberts was in Toronto at the Music Gallery last weekend, playing solo alto saxophone. She chatted with the crowd about a lot of things (“I’m a talker,” she warned early on), but at one point spoke of how her heart was with the people of Calgary, especially after experiencing how devastating a flood can be after last year’s hurricane in NY. Later in the show she repeated, “Sound heals. Sound heals. Sound heals.” So with that in mind, listen to the torrents of incredible tones she generates in this video made in Kensington Gardens in London a couple of years ago, and think about inundation, immersion, and recovery.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Nina Simone, “Feelings”

by Carl Wilson

After a superb show by Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society last night, preceded by a fantastic time-traversing folk-song one-man-machine performance by Martin Arnold, someone in conversation mentioned this Nina Simone performance at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival of the Morris Albert song that was at that point a completely ubiquitous, world-shrouding hit. The original ironic punk cover version? Perhaps, but so much more. Over the course of playing it, Simone attacks the song satirically and aggressively, tries to get the audience to sing along, and yet also turns schmaltz to bouillabaisse. There’s nothing like it.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Carly Simon, “Why” (Paradise Garage Remix)

by Carl Wilson

Back story: This recent piece on The National (which marked my debut as the new Slate music critic) sparked some conversation with friends about the liberating feeling of saying “yes, I suppose it’s good, but I have no use for it.” Which then led to the flipside sentiment: “Yes, I suppose it’s shitty, but I DON’T CARE I LOVE IT.” One conversationalist in tones of great shame brought up Carly Simon (who?). When I hear Carly Simon, I can think only of You’re So Vain” (great!), “Anticipation” (meh) and “Nobody Does It Better” (horrifying crap), so I asked for further evidence to bring to trial. Someone immediately brought up this Chic-era Nile Rodgers (he’s on the new Daft Punk album, guys) production. Then I found the Paradise Garage remix by disco deity Larry Levan, and … if for no other reason, Carly Simon, we think you can stay.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “King Kong” by Daniel Johnston (and cover by Tom Waits)

Hollywood special-effects magician Ray Harryhausen died this week at 93, recalling an era of cinematic creatures that were not just built out of zeroes and ones and were at once cheesier and more captivating because of it. Harryhausen in his turn was inspired by the original King Kong movie, with its stop-motion animation by Willis H. O’Brien.

In the song above, Daniel Johnston retells the tale of Kong, O’Brien and Harryhausen in an a capella recitation vaguely smelling of the blues. In the version below, Tom Waits pays tribute to Johnston but also fulfills the song’s potential by bringing the full blues ape-stank, just as R.H. built upon W.H.O’B.

When I was a kid I thought King Kong was pretty much the saddest movie ever, so I preferred the later Mighty Joe Young, which O’Brien also designed, but which gives the ape a happy ending.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics on Wednesday for May Day: Extreme Noise Terror, “Work For Never”

by Carl Wilson

Often on an occasion such as the traditional international day for workers and against exploitation, I would opt for something reflective and inspiring. But having just returned to the confinement of an office after a couple of great weeks of travel and release, while moving through a part of the world that’s been deeply railroaded by the politics of austerity and precarity, I have resolved instead, after careful consideration of the alternatives, to say FUCK IT.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics (on Monday): “Empire of the Senseless,” The Mekons (1989)

by Carl Wilson

If this week has given us anything so far, it’s that a lot of people have learned about the great British anti-Thatcher songs of the 1980s and 1990s. (Although anyone who thinks, like Slate’s David Wiegel, that “we Americans had nothing like this” really wasn’t paying attention.) Elvis Costello’s Tramp the Dirt Down would be the great anthem specifically looking forward to Thatcher’s death (rivaled by Hefner’s The Day That Thatcher Dies and Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine) but one I haven’t seen mentioned is this song from one of my favourite albums, The Mekons’ 1989 Rock’n’Roll.

It doesn’t call out Maggie by name (though it does mention “the hard lady”); in fact the only political figure name-dropped is an American, Oliver North (“Boring Ollie North down in the subway dealing drugs and guns/ turning little liars into heroes, it’s what they’ve always done” – and this was decades before North became a Fox News pundit). Instead it’s about a whole suite of Thatcherite policies, in the “culture wars” ambience of censorship and intolerance of the ’80s.

What I like best is its demonstration of the particular, peculiar sense of humour you develop when you spend a decade being near-continuously pissed off.

The now-odd-sounding lines, “This song promotes homosexuality/ It’s in a pretended family relationship/ with the others on this record/ And on the charts and on the jukebox/ And on the radio” refer to Thatcher’s family-values legislation Section 28, while the earlier, “These lines are all individuals/ And there’s no such thing as a song” parodies Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.” (Man, she was a piece of work.) “Even the silent are now guilty” refers to legislation her government passed saying that while accused people would retain the right to remain silent, judges and juries would be free to interpret their silence as an admission of guilt. The line “turning journalists into heroes takes some doing” is a joke about the popularity of Charter 88, a petition protesting Thatcher’s restrictions on press freedom. And finally, the closing lines take off from Thatcher’s notorious line on immigration that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be swamped” – turned around to say “people are really rather afraid of being swamped by selfishness and greed.”

I’m sure there are other references I’m missing. The title is of course borrowed from Kathy Acker’s then-new, excoriating novel, which in turn I guess was playing on the title of Nagisa Oshima’s classic Japanese S&M art film, which in France was called L’Empire des sens, “empire of the senses,” itself a play on Roland Barthes’s book about Japan, The Empire of Signs …

“All unacceptable gropings have been removed from the screen. Only eyes full of unspeakable thoughts remain.”

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Memories of Memories: Nine Cultural Favourites from 2012

by Chris Randle

As Carl noted last week month, we like our year-end lists untimely here. We also like them extremely long – scrolling backwards now, to the tune of thousands and thousands of words. I don’t mean to abandon that tradition, only to get a little pointillist, and focus on isolated textures, moods, moments. Why the conceit? It was a pleasantly messy 2012. There is no order.

Future, “Same Damn Time”

Motivational rapper and outer space enthusiast Future had such a surfeit of material last year that he was able to release an actually good bonus album, but my favourite song was this ode to multitasking, recorded in an idiosyncratic tone of frustrated triumph. And what’s more integral to hip-hop than polysemy? “I am fluid, mercurial.”

The Clock, by Christian Marclay (2010)

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I saw less than half of Christian Marclay’s celluloid stopwatch during its run at a local gallery, but completism would be missing the point. Spliced together from thousands of film clips that display or mention or unwittingly pun on the moment in time when you see them, The Clock is a mesmerizing totality, grandly incidental. There are countdowns from action movies – the kind of plot hinges that Barthes called a narrative’s “cardinal functions” – and clocks ticking away in the background, details captured accidentally, like fossils. There are ornate towers and eerie chimes and blearily regarded alarms. Marclay’s piece moves in overlapping polyrhythms: amidst the march towards some climactic stroke, one notices little repetitions, hourly patterns, images connected with a nimble cut. People get most excited about noon and midnight, because who doesn’t love a good reckoning?

I didn’t witness either. On Nuit Blanche, I lined up for The Clock well before 12:00 but only got in long minutes after that. In retrospect, though, I think missing the big culmination gave me a greater appreciation of what followed it. Beyond midnight, the film drifts ever further into unreality. Diners and bars grow desolate. Ominous things happen at parties. If people managed to fall asleep at all, they’re woken up by unpromising phone calls. The sex becomes increasingly desperate, and sometimes hotter. Vincent Price puts in multiple appearances. Around 3 or 4 am, harmonizing with its exhausted audience, The Clock turns luridly hallucinatory – I still remember a sequence of impalement via levitating ornamental pyramid. As dawn broke, I jerked my head up from the flicker-lit sofa and saw Margaux crossing the room to relax in front. I left soon afterwards, almost felt like I needed to, to complete the moment. It was as if Marclay’s meticulous, monumental reworking had begun to synchronize the very universe.

Jacob Lusk & The R. Kelly All-Stars at Pop Montreal

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I saw R. Kelly himself last year as well, and while if it was a screening rather than a performance, he did lead the audience in an a capella rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly,” after which we triumphantly ascended into paradise. Several months before that, however, Jacob Lusk left a more lingering mark on me by rescuing Kells from irony. Some subset of the fans who made Trapped in the Closet a mid-2000s Internet phenomenon gave the unsettling impression that they were laughing at its creator, as if a black R&B singer couldn’t possibly tell jokes he was in on. Eschewing that material for earlier cuts such as “Bump N’ Grind,” his pants evoking gaudy temple walls, Lusk paid Chicago’s horniest a giggly respect. The former American Idol contestant even got a very white, very Montreal crowd to two-step. It was fitting that he and his backing band (local indie types) dwelled on their inspiration’s gospel leanings, because the covers set was equally buoyant and reverent.

I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus (published 1997)

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So far I’ve told “our” story twice, late last night, as fully as I could, to Fred Dewey and Sabrina Ott. It’s the story of 250 letters, my “debasement”, jumping headlong off a cliff. Why does everybody think that women are debasing themselves when we expose the conditions of our own debasement? Why do women always have to come clean? The magnificence of Genet’s last great work, The Prisoner of Love, lies in his willingness to be wrong: a seedy old white guy jerking off on the rippling muscles of the Arabs and Black Panthers. Isn’t the greatest freedom in the world the freedom to be wrong? What hooks me on our story is our different readings of it. You think it’s personal and private; my neurosis. “The greatest secret in the world is, THERE IS NO SECRET.” Claire Parnet and Gilles Deleuze. I think our story is performative philosophy.

Not the world’s greatest, but a secret nonetheless: this book is, among other things, really fucking funny.

Shoshanna, woman of Girls

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I think my appreciation of Lena Dunham’s one-woman WPA for cultural writers is more complicated than Carl’s or Margaux’s, but the pinkish anxiety cluster played by Zosia Mamet is one part I do love without ambivalence. Over the course of 2013’s second season, she developed from an innocent-naif caricature into this emphatically self-possessed neurotic, a comic persona that felt entirely new. You could see it in embryo last year, though, when Mamet’s timing was briskest or her awkwardness extra-expressive. I always think of the early scene where she’s watching some shitty reality series called Baggage, and Dunham cheerfully asks what her baggage would be (for that is the conceit of the show), and Shosh replies: “That I’m a virgin…obviously…” So much nervy restiveness in a single adverb.

The Capsule, a film by Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2012

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For its high-fashion fantasy, its juxtaposition of Gothic cruelty and sudden dance sequences, but perhaps most of all for its pompadoured goats. (Hoofed animals are a B2TW year-end-list favourite.)

James Adomian at the Comedy Bar, Toronto

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The list of male standup comedians I can watch talking about gender/sexuality/etc without cringing every few minutes is a lot shorter than the number who’ve made me chuckle at some point, so it was nice to expand the former last year. That’s partly because James Adomian is gay, I’m sure – he has a hilarious bit about homophobic beer ads co-opting straight women for their watery purposes – but not as much as every single profile of the guy suggests. His focus on impressions seems integral, in that he considers famous or  memorable people not only as challenges of mechanical imitation but as cultural signifiers too. Mimicking Sam Elliott, Adomian captured both his laconic rumble and the pantomime of American masculinity it represents. (“He sounds like a dad who ate another dad.”) By the time he reached a virtuosic climax, channeling all the caricatured gay villains he loves – Kaa the python as reptilian Truman Capote, Vincent Price introducing his “curious associate” Raoul – I was laughing so often that it wasn’t really laughter at all, just an open-mouthed ache.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss

The thing about getting involved with somebody from the Internet, as I did more than once last year, is that the situation foregrounds its own absurdities. (I don’t mean Internet dating, which is weird in its own way, just more standardized.) The thing about Carly Rae Jepsen’s album is, not to diminish indelible #1 2012 single “Call Me Maybe” or those sprinting strings, but it has nine other songs that are almost as good. The thing about those tracks was how their liminal relationships and uptempo uncertainty and omens of kisses all matched the cartoon emotions of romance filtered through social media, with its constant yet selective flow. And the thing about “This Kiss” is that it sounds like a marginally less horny “Little Red Corvette.” Before you came into my life I missed you so bad.

Building Stories, by Chris Ware

I mean, look at it:

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A graphic novel is of course much more than its physical dimensions – and less, too, because Building Stories collects a decade of comics into 14 different segments of varying formats and possible configurations. Whatever narrative you form with them, it follows the lives of residents in the titular Chicago edifice, the structure itself, and one neurotic, sexually bipolar boy-bee. The central character is vivid enough to make her wistfulness infectious: a failed artist but fulfilled mother, only occasionally delusional, whose dark humour dwells on her imperfect body. The story she ends up writing is her own, a memoir pieced together from haltingly remembered moments, and I found it so moving that I tried to produce a minor tribute. You’ve just finished reading it.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: “Zmirneikos Balos” and others by Marika Papagika (1928)

by Carl Wilson

I was fortunate enough this weekend to be present at the revival of Double Double Land in Toronto’s “Talking Songs” series, in which people play recordings for other people and talk about them, featuring a special guest – the independent intellectual, anthologist, vintage 78s collector and “Fonotopia” DJ/podcaster, Ian Nagoski, who regaled us with the sounds and stories of Indian classical singers with disreputable pasts, Lemko-American bands, Carpathian “hillbillies” and the parallels between bluegrass and polka (both urban adaptations of mountain stringband music), the Okeh laughing record (though he didn’t mention the great Tex Avery cartoon that uses it as soundtrack to its second half), canary breeding as a form of musical composition, and much more.

Much beyond collecting for collecting’s sake, Nagoski’s fascination with non-English-language (aka “ethnic” at the time) records made in the U.S. before the Second World War serves him as a lens on ignored or suppressed histories of America, non-canonical views of musical development (in which it doesn’t all culminate in rock) and the confidence games of the American dream.

On that last theme, one person he didn’t play but alluded to is Marika Papagika, a great singer of many styles, including what we today would refer to as rebetika (or often “rembetika” in English). She was a Greek immigrant to New York who, with her husband Costas, made many successful recordings and opened up a nightclub nearby where the Port Authority is today – until they lost it all in the stock-market crash of 1929, just a year after the song above was shellacked. The emotional detail of her singing is spellbinding.

Nagoski has played an important role in reintroducing her to modern (and non-Greek) audiences, by including her music on his compilations Black Mirror: Reflections in Global Musics (1918-1954) and To What Strange Place:The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora (1916-1929) and finally a collection entirely of Papagika songs, The Further the Flame the Worse It Burns MeThe one he’s rhapsodized over the most is below, the even-more-plaintive Smyrneïko Minore, which the Kronos Quartet heard on Black Mirror and arranged and performed it in concert.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Michelle McAdorey, “Line Across My Heart” (2013)

by Carl Wilson

Michelle McAdorey was one of the first Toronto artists I ever wrote about, after moving here; I’m very pleased that she has new music out (and reportedly more to come) and that she’s performing again, beginning with a Wavelength show this Thursday (with Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurðsson and Toronto’s Prince Nifty). This song is so pretty it’s almost hard to listen to. You start holding your breath, knowing something is going to break.

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