Saturday, May 31, 2008 

Touched your hand in the blue of the swimming pool

For someone who is often, as John Cunningham has pointed out, "drawn to bleak claustrophobic records in minor keys (Low, Burial, The Knife, Joy Division, etc.)," and who has been surprised at how little rock makes it to the top of my year end lists, this has been an awfully good year for me and upbeat, emotionally available rock. In order not of preference but of (for lack of better word) happiness, we've had Delays, Vampire Weekend, Los Campesinos!, to an extent Foals, the Dodos, Elbow, and so on. Of these, at least Delays, Los Campesinos! and Elbow are pretty certain to hit near the top of 2008 list, and while some of the other stuff you're going to see up there is more minor key in the sense that John means it (The Wedding Present), less rock (Hot Chip) or both (Portishead).

But it's Delays and their new album, Everything's the Rush (not available in North America, god dammit) that I've really been focusing on recently. I love the similarly import-only You See Colours from 2006 pretty fiercely, and in "Valentine" it has a track better than anything here, or on most album really. But Everything's the Rush sees them being more confident about being so technicolour, so florid, so sentimental, and when the candy coated romance of "Love Made Visible" or the self-conscious sweep of "Pieces" kicks in, it now really kicks. They do things that I'd think were maudlin or risible coming from a lesser band, but they make me believe it, utterly; I can intellectually conceive of having a response to "Hooray" or "Love Made Visible" that doesn't involve grinning, but I can't really feel it.

Some of the Stylus guys who introduced me to the band don't like "Love Made Visible" or its counterpart "One More Lie In," which really has to follow the song on the album (the two together make the whole thing practically glow with romance), and I guess I get why; when the former starts up and launches immediately into a chorus of high school love poetry backed by a rhythm section still intent on bringing a little disco to indie rock and not just Greg Gilbert's incredible rough-and-smooth voice but also one of the other guys in the band (who has the temerity to take lead a few times on the album, something I don't mind as long as the songs are good), it's powerful, but that word doesn't necessarily have to be used as a superlative. If this isn't your thing, then Delays must seem like the worst kind of overkill, sort of the way I feel about Muse. But ultimately their hooks and melodies work for me (unlike Nick, I find myself humming this stuff distressingly often) and so rather being drowned in sugar or something it feels like an explosion made out of hugging or something equally asinine but also awesome. Which isn't to denigrate Delays, or my love of them - just to say that it probably looks silly at best and embarrassing at worst. If they ever played Toronto, though, I'd be up front singing along to every line.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 

Thrilling heroics

My inner child is pretty delighted with Iron Man and especially the new Indiana Jones movie, which I saw tonight; my outer adult is even more pleased that I can still enjoy them even as that inner child gee-whizzes its way through the special effects and banter. I saw the latter tonight, and bless Spielberg for launching us into the action right away. Any opening sequence that ends with [SPOILER] Indy hiding himself in a lead lined fridge in a fake town on the Los Alamos testing range to survive the impending nuclear bomb is alright in my book. To say nothing of the vertiginous giddiness I felt watching Tony fuckin' Stark test out his armor, flying above Los Angeles just for the sheer hell of it.

Monday, May 26, 2008 

It's not much, but it's just enough to keep

I'm beginning to think part of my reluctance to investigate In Our Bedroom After the War is because of the packaging (at least as carried by the store) as opposed to anything to do with the music; it's so clunky and ugly. Not the cover art; the big doublewide paper/cardboard case (I admit, with environmental guilt, that I like jewel cases - so clean, so precise, so standardized) that Arts & Crafts also slapped on the Kevin Drew record (as opposed, to say, their Los Campesinos! album and single, which are things of beauty and not just because of content). It feels and looks wrong to me, for utterly irrational reasons, and the idea of bloat of any sort coupled with Stars' music is just off-putting to me. That the reviews suggested such a connection wasn't incidental didn't help, but sitting here listening to "Take Me to the Riot," the latest in a series of songs that make clear that Stars are one of the absolute best Canadian bands of my generation (culturally, not that Torquil Campbell and I are the same age or anything), and maybe the very best at advancing a certain capital-r Romantic notion of the role of the pop/rock band (yes, they're indie, but really...).

"Elevator Love Letter," "Look Up," "Heart," "Ageless Beauty," "Reunion," "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," and at least this one from the new album... I'm not 100% convinced that they've made the album they deserve to yet (Heart comes close at worst, and although it took me a long time to decide to get Set Yourself on Fire, the gap between the best and the worst there kind of rules it out for me), but the eventual greatest hits is going to be a monster, and hopefully will prompt, decades from now, the kind of popular and critical reconsideration/adoption they really do warrant. Some of those songs have already got a kind of universal recognition as modern classics among the young Canadians of my social class, and I can't see them fading away - if only they had some full-bore, non-conflicted love songs, I think you'd see a small but significant number of young couples playing Stars at their weddings. It'd fit, if even the most romantic ones weren't about, say, breakup sex ("One More Night") or fighting desperately to preserve some sort of love over the long term ("Romantic Comedy").

It helps that they have two pretty amazing frontpeople in Campbell and Amy Millan, or at least a great dynamic between the two of them, and that they write about love in ways that are surprisingly youthful and adult at times, something that's hard to pull off. The titular sentiment of "Take Me to the Riot" isn't really political, as the video makes clear, but it's something that most people can feel deep in their bones (I don't know, maybe if you grew up in Toronto you wouldn't - people from small towns know what I'm talking about, though). For Stars the political is always messily personal, which is why something like "He Lied About Death" is inchoate rage instead of reasoned discourse, but that means that, even better, most of the time it's merely implicit. I can only image Stars' best songs will get even more bittersweet as I get inexorably older, and further away (except in memory) from the kid longing for a riot, from girls wishing for ageless beauty in a way elective plastic surgery patients could never understand, from someone who can't yet identify directly with the crushing weight of personal history in a song like "Heart."

Of course, it'd be nice if they did make that classic now and they didn't have to wait so long, but either quality control isn't their strong suit or, more generously, they have more diverse and divergent ideas about what they want from Stars than we, the listeners, do. I'm just glad they keep doing it - at their best, they're white-hot transcendent in a way few are - anyone who has danced in a packed room to "Ageless Beauty" knows whereof I speak.

Sunday, May 25, 2008 

And I hate cough syrup, don't you?

It's been a very busy weekend, mostly because I went to see Los Campesinos! in Toronto on Friday, which was AWESOME, despite the drunk guys behind us (Gareth saved Julia and I from being "beaten up" afterwards, although given that I just discovered that an old buddy is now head of security at Lee's, and also that I was sober, I wasn't really worried about that), and only slightly because Tom Campesinos! was so appreciative of my PopMatters review of the album. This was the first time I got to hear the new album tracks live and they completely killed them - among other things, this concert boasted probably the best "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks" out of the four times I've seen them. Such a great band.

But between that, some other activities and working through the weekend, I missed some stuff online, such as my What Was It Anyway? post on Butthole Surfers' fantastic but maligned Electriclarryland album going up on Friday. You can find it here, and you can probably find Electriclarryland in a discount bin near you. Give it a chance.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 

Something's gone wrong

My review of Robert Forster's new album The Evangelist is up today at PopMatters. It's good, but for various reasons not an album I particularly want in my life very much right now, which is hopefully explained in the review.

Sunday, May 18, 2008 

Crosseyed and painless

So, just got back a few hours ago from Niagara Falls, where Ben and Julia and Lisa and I went Friday to hang out with Orbax and Sweet Pepper Klopek and others, to see the Klopeks' 14th anniversary show and the opening of the Twisted Ts shop, where Orbax's Deformatorium is now open for business. In practice this involved drinking a lot, eating a lot of greasy, unhealthy, delicious food, and walking around the strip getting on ferris wheels and playing mini golf (while still severely intoxicated). This couple I hadn't met before the weekend nearly got married, but we couldn't find a chapel open at 12:30 am. I started a couple of mornings with gin and tonics. My brother was carrying around a water bottle filled with with that Fireball stuff one night, at least. I think there may still be fake blood on one of my t-shirts. None of us were sick, despite consuming beer, mixed drinks, shots (sometimes with Red Bull added) liberally and indiscriminately.

It was a pretty great weekend, and the first real vacation (no phones! No email!) I've had in too long. Thank god I have tomorrow off to relax before I have to go back to work.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 

Your je ne sais quoi

My review of the new For Against is up at PopMatters today; you can find it here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 


Marvel finally got one right. Assuming they have the same people working on it, I can't wait for the next Iron Man movie.

Also, this provides hours of amusement.

Sunday, May 11, 2008 

That'll learn me

I should note, in fairness, that after my gloomy predictions, the past two days at work have been the best weekend shifts I've had in quite some time (the contrast with the last couple of Saturdays makes me want to say 'ever,' but I think that's a bit much). Purchasing was light, without us having to turn anyone away (which is stressful and time consuming), the calls were done, we went from a week behind on stock to 11 DVDs away from being 100% caught up, and there weren't massive piles of CDs and DVDs to be unloaded on the counter.

Having some of the old staff back helps a lot, but what these two days really reinforced is the extent to which our collective job performance/satisfaction is really dependent on our clientele. Witness the last half hour today, when every asshole possible crawled out of the woodwork (NB. if you walk into a store ten minutes from when they close and start browsing, I don't care what rationalization you have in mind, you're a bad person). But other than that, it was lovely. And productive.

Part of me says I should complain about my job more often, but as Howlin' Wolf says, I ain't superstitious.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 

"The dead are dead."

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is an odd little movie; topped off with a punishingly intense performance from Clive Owen, who spends half the movie not speaking when any other character would, his stillness leaves it oddly centreless. The other major actors - McDowell, Rhys Meyers, Rampling - barely appear at all, it feels like, and aside from a queasily unformed obsession with male rape the whole thing nearly slides right past. Queasy because the movie at best shows the hypocrisy and homophobia that tend to go along with perceptions of male rape blankly in order to elicit our unease, and at worst maybe wants us to share those feelings unreflectingly; I tend to think matters are closer to the former, if only for the devastating little scene where one of Owen's old cronies tells Rampling that she couldn't possibly imagine what getting raped might have been like for Rhys Meyers. She doesn't say anything in response but her face speaks volumes.

Once Will Graham, Owen's character, gets back to London and finds out about his brother, the movie actually begins, and when it does it boasts an oddly precise sense of place, a late night London where literally the only people on the street are criminals; the almost too-dark atmosphere and the camera's focus on cars tracking pedestrians, windows as the blinds are pulled closed and people from a distance make the film feel hemmed in. There's virtually no violence in the film, many of the characters' actions stem from unsaid motives (although thankfully little happens that is illogical), and most of the confrontations the film sets you up to expect are ducked entirely. Thankfully for a modern revenge movie, the issue of whether revenge is worse for the revenger than those he kills is left aside; Graham was a monster long before the film began.

Absent Owen, this might add up to a trifle; but his inexorability and the genuine wildness in his eyes (the kind everyone else makes reference to, which normally in a movie would make it one of those Informed Attributes like being a great singer which we never really believe in; Owen makes us believe) sells Will Graham as less human being than revenge tragedy avatar. All he needs to do is widen his eyes a little when he's asked "what does it matter? He's dead" and you expect blood. Near the end of the movie he shaves off his beard and swaps his living rough clothes for a suit, and his impact is the less for it; but for an actor whose strength is the eventual explosion, it's terrifically tense to see him end the film more compressed than before. If the film has a message, it can be expressed in that immortal Kenny Rogers song: Nobody in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead knows when to hold fast or when to walk away, but some of them might be learning. It helps that the end of the movie has a bit of the quality of Portishead's "Silence."



So I'm standing in my workplace, ready to start the day (we open in 10 minutes). Saturdays are always horrible; today in particular, we have way too much stock to go out, given the flood of people likely (almost certain, really) to come in looking to sell stuff. Saturday is our busiest day; in a normal retail job, that'd be great (I'd rather keep busy, thanks), but here that means all the stuff coming in prevents us from doing the rest of our job, putting stuff out/selling stuff, and also because the same thing happened two weeks ago we also have much more to put out. The only way I can not buy stuff is to not have money on hand.

We have plenty of money on hand.

My only hope for a day that isn't going to make me want to kill someone is that we don't have a flood of people looking to sell stuff. Unlike the past few months, recently we've had a few days like that. But it's Saturday. I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 08, 2008 

I think we're alone now

There's an interesting article here on why not finding signs of life on Mars et al may in fact be a very good sign, at least for us humans.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008 


My review of the new Matmos is up today at PopMatters. It's my first lead review yet, which is kind of nice, and the latest one I've written despite two more on tap to come out (I'm, err, getting used to the schedule at PM).

I'd also forgotten how fucked up my sleep schedule gets when there's nothing to curb it. I slept around 5 hours each the last two night, you'd think I could get to bed before 4 am...

Saturday, May 03, 2008 

"I demand things to be AWESOME"

Michael Bay has finally created something I can unambiguously enjoy.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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