Monday, June 30, 2008 


The last time I had this strong a reaction walking out of a movie theatre, it was Children of Men, and that was a wholly different kind of reaction. The last time a movie made me feel like the first forty minutes of Wall-E did it was, I shit you not, The Seventh Seal. Movie of the year. Best Pixar movie yet. You should probably go see it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008 

"This doesn't rule out free will, but it does make it implausible."

Study suggests our brains make up our minds for us a good ten seconds earlier than we think we've made a decision. Which kind of suggests that whatever we think our reasons are, they're not the real cause of our actions. Wheeeee!

Thursday, June 26, 2008 

So I walked out alone

Feel good hits of the 26th of June, 2008 (special "songs that I sung to myself during camping" edition):

Sit Still - "Orion's Belt"
Clutch - "Mice and Gods"
Super Furry Animals - "Presidential Suite"
Kings of Leon - "Ragoo"
The Afghan Whigs - "Crazy"
Queens of the Stone Age - "Gonna Leave You"
Kris Kristofferson - "To Beat the Devil"
Aphex Twin - "Alberto Balsam"
Broadcast - "I Found the F"
R.E.M. - "Fall on Me"


Summer Jamz '08 #4: Paul Scott & Ian Mathers

First, to let you know why we're here:

The irony is, we're in the thick of winter here in Australia. It's cold, wet, and, as I type these words, I'm trying to prevent little icicles from forming on the tips of my fingers. Maybe that's why I've always enjoyed the series of annual summer-inspired mixtapes the sadly defunct Stylus Magazine would present at this time of year, starting in 2002 and continuing right until it closed its doors in 2007. These playlists, which would encompass a variety of styles and perspectives on the season never failed to warm my short winter days.

Although Stylus no longer publishes, summer continues to shine, and so this year, as June approached, I called up some of the old Stylus writers and asked them to contribute a mix of songs to soundtrack their summer. Amazingly, they agreed, even the ones who are getting married, hate summer or live in places like Miami and Los Angeles, and, by all rights should be too busy picking up models and partying to be constructing mix tapes.

Screw Rock 'n' Roll, The Passion of the Weiss and What Was It Anyway (along with a few other locations across the Internets) will be posting these Summer-inspired mixes for your listening pleasure. Working or partying, relaxing or vacationing, these are the sounds of our summer. Join us and enjoy.

And while you do so, check out Stylus's archived Summer Jamz:

Stylus Summer Jamz '02
Stylus Summer Jamz '03
Stylus Summer Jamz '04
Stylus Summer Jamz '05
Stylus Summer Jamz '06
Stylus Summer Jamz '07

-- Jonathan Bradley

And now, without further adieu (except to note that previously published installments of this series are at the end of this post), because it's fucking long already, here's what myself and Paul Scott (who never wrote enough for Stylus and whom you should all read) came up with.

Download the Mix Here

For our summer mix, Paul Scott and I decided to have a conversation, or maybe an argument, thanks to one inarguable fact: I hate summer. Paul decided to take a stab at changing my mind, and so we volley competing versions of the hottest summer at each other along with the songs. We also got started a bit late, and after jokingly discussing which one of us would get to including a Los Campesinos! track first, I got the ball rolling by declaring “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” the opener. Events preceded, or degenerated, from there.

01. Los Campesinos! – “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” (4:29)
02. Ola Podrida – “Jordanna” (4:50)


Okay, so, the thing is, I'm a little drunk, but we have to get moving on this; in addition that particular Los Campesinos! track (*key lyric: "When the small picture's the same as the bigger picture, you know that you're fucked" - which is pretty much the way I feel whenever the heat sets in, sadly), I mostly tend to retreat to slow, draggy, oppressive music this time of year. My bedroom doesn't have a window and as a result the heat in here is brutal - something like Ola Podrida's self titled debut suits me best right now because on the one hand it doesn't require any real heat on my part in loving it, and partly because it sounds like it was recorded in an oppressively hot room. So I would kind of like to lead off with “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” and its desperation (that’s me when we get our first intolerable days every year!), and then go from there. Here's "Jordanna", by Ola Podrida – definitely the next track I'd think of putting on the mix. He sounds pretty exhausted, really.


03. Saint Etienne – “London Belongs to Me” (3:58)


This Ola fellow, he sounds pretty beat. Is this fear of summer a Canadian thing or just a you thing? Over here in England the summer is a weird, unpredictable thing. May was gorgeous but now halfway through June the sky seems to be permanently grey. It's funny you say you have a bedroom with no windows. Mine has, let me count them, four. The next song for the mix is a counterpoint to the heavy, heavy sounds of Ola Podrida. Saint Etienne's "London Belongs to Me" sounds so light that on a couple of occasions it almost floats away. It captures the feeling of getting the tube on a warm summer night and being hit by a blast of cool air rushing its way up from somewhere deep underground. It feels like coming up without touching any kind of chemicals. It feels like someone has opened a window, let the light in, let some cool air in. In its own blissed out way – even as London skies, in their usual way, turn to granite – says "this is gonna be the best summer ever".


04. Spacemen 3 – “So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)” (2:39)


Fear is the wrong word – that implies some level of the unknown. I know what summer here in Guelph is, and I fucking hate it. It is indeed unpredictable – it was cold enough here last night that I needed a hoodie! – but we can look forward to (and have already experienced one of) these periods of just blastingly intense heat and humidity. I forget if you guys use proper temperatures or what, but with humidity it can hit 45 degrees or more here, outside (to say nothing of my room – that's around 115 for the Americans, by the way), and given that we're also used to seeing temperatures dip into the -40s with wind chill in the winter (which works out to around -40, funnily enough), suddenly having that amount of heat trapped between the blue-but-solid sky and the fucking pavement is just ridiculous. It also doesn't help matters that I am, as John Cunningham once told me, a pale, easily burned motherfucker. Standing in the direct sun for even a minute makes me feel like my skin is being cooked off, it's ridiculous. I liked that St. Etienne track, but it's like you say – because it summons up not summer for me but that blast of cool air that means a fan, air conditioning, a cold snap. The other solution, of course, is to go swimming – as Jason Pierce sings in my next pick "I just want a river, just want the ocean." And it's called "So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)," which is thematically appropriate at least. The slow motion crawl of the track makes me think of summer, Pierce sounds pretty oppressed, and while he may be talking about heartbreak, when they sigh out "so hot...." I can easily turn the song into a lament for a Guelph summer, at least in my head.


05. Lindstrom – “Music in My Mind” (4:51)


I think, in a sense, I agree with you. Summer, as an idea, sometimes seems oppressive. The feeling that just because of a metrological shift one should suddenly be happy. I like the Spacemen 3 song, did J Spaceman use that tune again on a Spiritualized album? I certainly know a version of it. Yes, it's track 4 on Pure Phase, that's one hell of an album. Opiated, beautifully sad summer jamz from a parallel universe. Enough of this heartbreak! Let's have some disco. Yet even here, amongst the flashlight and explosions, we can't quite let go. Lindstrom's "Music In My Mind" is certainly a lot more lithe and – let’s be honest – sexier than J Spaceman's blues. But, it's fueled by the same fever. It's there, just under the surface, somewhere between the beat and bass. The vocalist, she sounds cool but listen closer: "your eyes kill me": she seems to be surrendering. There is no cold snap here, no summer breeze: the beat goes on. You can't argue with caprice of metrology. Here, as oppression and exultation entwine - much as it did for J Spaceman - we see, sometimes, summer makes masochists of us all.


06. Scannerfunk – “Cosy Veneer” (6:39)


Well shit, don't let me convert you or anything... and yeah, I forgot Jason recycled that one, but he did. I think I prefer this version, actually, and it does make a surprisingly good segue into the slinky as hell "Music in My Mind." Damn, that tracks burns – but in a way that makes me think of summer nights, which I much prefer to summer days. It's a bit cooler, the sun can't burn you – but some nights it's still sticky and close and you just want to jump out of your skin. Or at least I do. But you can't always manage that, so the night just goes a bit hazy instead, everything slides, indistinct, you wake up the next morning not quite sure where the hours went. That's the kind of night where I pull out the Scannerfunk record, precisely because of tracks like "Cosy Veneer." Fuzzy, shifting, low key - it makes a decent afterparty for the Lindstrom track, but it also takes us deeper into the muggy night, away from all that inconvenient solar radiation. You can still feel that heat, though, and it even sounds a bit mournful in places.


07. Air France – “Collapsing at Your Doorstep” (4:34)


Through the night and out the other side. I've been working night-shifts. The sun starts to rise between four and five: if you're in a negative frame of mind Radiohead's "Lucky" sort of captures it. That guitar part mimicking the first oppressive break of the horizon, the histrionic proclamation of "it's going to be a glorious day", lacquered with bile: it's almost apocalyptic in its portent, a summer morning recast as the rapture. But, I'm younger than that now. Yes, the sun is rising, yes it may be oppressively hot later in the day, but for now it's perfect. It's not too hot yet, the sky is turning from grey to deep blue and the cynics have yet to get out of bed. "Collapsing at Your Doorstep" by Air France captures this feeling exquisitely. "It's all like dream" a little looped voice chirps and it is. It's indistinct yet somehow lucid, there is a certain clarity you just don't get at any other time of day. Then the main theme swoops in, the curtains are flung open, the horizon breaks: "this place is amazing". You can say "it's going to be a glorious day" and mean it. You can go to bed now safe in the knowledge you've seen the best part of the day.


08. Stina Nordenstam – “Crime” (5:41)


Yeah, Air France captures that poignant clarity of the early morning quite well, I'd say - but I tend to see that time of day because of insomnia, not the night shift (you're making it harder and harder for me to play the curmudgeon, but I'll do my best). "Collapsing at Your Doorstep" works perfect for going to sleep that night, but what about when you get woken up an hour later and have to go to work? Strangely, it's the kind of precisely placed minimalism you find in Stina Nordenstam's "Crime" that most sums up how my head feels at those times, waiting for the sun to hit (hmm... some Slowdive later, maybe?). Except for the opening "Whatever made me cold, it's gone now" nothing in "Crime" speaks directly to the summer, but there's this desire, the obverse of Thom Yorke's plea for invisibility in "How to Disappear Completely": "You know it wasn't really me, you know I wasn't really there" – please, just forget that you saw me. Let me stay down here, out of the sun. The necessary, for me, postscript to "this place is amazing," at least when it's muggy out.


09. Christopher Cross – “Sailing” (4:17)


That song is cold. Really cold. There's a motif at the beginning that reminds me, somewhat, of Christopher Cross's "Sailing", albeit with all the blood, all the warmth drained out. So, lets put some colour back in. It's cool but it's not cold. It's a groovy kind of melancholy; this man is, as someone once said, swimming in sadness. He's alone out on that endless ocean with nothing but his memories and the breeze. Where Stina shuts the curtains across and hides from the heat, Christopher – the not-so-rugged-individualist – slips on a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of loafers and sets sail. Perhaps, instead of curling up and hiding from those rays, the trick is to face them head on, curls those fingers into a fist of pure emotion, pour a margarita and man up. In the smoothest possible way, of course.

NB: Please see the following video for more on the creation of this piece of music.


10. Steely Dan – “Time Out of Mind” (4:13)


Using Christopher friggin' Cross to chide me in terms of 'manning up' is a bold move indeed, and if "Sailing" wasn't so smooth I might even take offense. Of course, as the supplementary material shows, even that song isn't all sunshine and puppies. It did make me think of Michael McDonald, though, and Michael McDonald and summer make me think of one thing: Steely Dan. Especially Gaucho, their most "summery" album (because it's their LA album, and I've never been there so in my mind it's always summer down there). McDonald only provided backing vocals on one track there, the heroin ode "Time Out of Mind," but what backing vocals! Becker and Fagen's evident relish at making the smoothest possible backing for what are fetid, misanthropic tales of human folly and suffering is kinda funny - at least if you're still drawing those curtains, like I am. Perfect for air conditioned night clubs where everyone disappears to the bathroom twice an hour.


11. Billy Bragg – “Lovers Town Revisited” (1:18)


It's getting so smooth here, it's almost decadent. I never suggested "Sailing" was "all sunshine and puppies", it's about dealing with the pains of summer not denying them. Now, another coping strategy. We're still in the club, or perhaps outside, but we're a hell of a long way from L.A. Billy Bragg's "Lovers Town Revisited" crackles with a parched, nervous energy. The shards of solo electric guitar sound like the tense heat of a summer Saturday night in some provincial British town centre. This is not the Dan's world of coke and hipcats, it's ale and skinheads. And, there in the centre of it all, the young William Bragg. He's weighing up his chances, just before he makes the great leap. He really is looking for a new England, but the savagery of a Summer night – "boys outside preaching genocide" indeed – is almost enough to make him just forget it, just turn and run away from it all. It's the antithesis of The Smiths "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others", yeh it's the same shitty provincial Britain but Bragg wants, though he knows it is perhaps impossible, to "save the world". Unlike moz though, he is unwilling to just give up, but at this moment he could just give in. It's a sublime moment of faith in doubt. These things, Ian, are sent to try us.


12. Jason Molina – “Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go” (6:40)


Really? Christopher Cross is sailing into some sort of yacht rock fantasyland, not sure how he's dealing with the pains of summer! Bragg definitely is, though. Such a sublime depth of effort and pain packed into less than 90 seconds. But if I think of a man and an electric guitar, standing outside of a bar after a fruitless night with a stifling, moist heat in the air, I'm more likely to turn to Jason Molina and his claustrophobic solo album Let Me Go Let Me Go Let Me Go. It was recorded by dint of the man hiding himself away in a small studio for three days, and you can tell; the subtly cataclysmic title track alone makes it feel like it's at least thirty degrees in the room. It's actually a little less sparse than the rest of the album, what with the muted drum machine in the background. For about a week here, between the punishing heat and the way rapidly rising gas prices made our broke asses unable to travel anywhere (oh, for a mass transit system like the UK's!), this summer felt like the end of our comfortable way of life, in a small, overly dramatic way. Which is exactly what this song feels like.


13. The Jazz Butcher – “Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)” (4:58)
14. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – “Casino Royale Theme (Main Title)” (2:38)
15. Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – “Casino Royale Theme (Vocal)” (2:21)


Maybe C. Cross isn't really coping, but he's dealing with it. Perhaps, it's only denial. The Molina track is making the walls close in just listening to it. Heavy, heavy vibes. The skies over London have gone grey and I'm blaming you. If there's one thing that typifies the reality of the English summertime it's afternoons like this, wasted holidays spent indoor looking out as the rain drizzles down. That's probably why our beaches fill on days the average Australian or Californian would describe as "a bit on the chilly side". It's like our national football team (soccer to you guys?); we don't win very often – sometimes we even fail to qualify – so even the smallest victory becomes a momentous triumph. It's that same spirit that fuels The Jazz Butcher's "Southern Mark Smith (Big Return)", sure he has no truck with the Hollywood ideal of summer ("Oh, look- in California, everyone's got a swimming pool in their backyard / Well-Me and Max and Davey Jones- we think you ought to get out there and stop it") but he's still hoping, still reaching for something. It's the archetypical eighties indie tune: jangly guitar, proto-shoegaze swirly guitar, organ, bouncy momentum and most of all a lyric that speaks of a desire to connect. It comes from the same place as The Smiths' "Ask". Sure, Mozza may have been "spending warm summer days indoors" but he was still "writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl Luxembourg". In their own wayward ways the OG indie kids were after pretty much the same things as everyone else in the universe: it was just that the thoughtless "fuck you" hedonism of the yuppies and thatcherites was giving contentment a bad name. It's a song about getting out there, a song that put its faith in the theory that thousands of people have got to be O.K. He's thwarted by distance, by reality - but he's putting the words out there, 'cos well someone might just listen. It may be using 7 inches of plastic, fanzines and the letters page of the NME - no internet in those desperate, desperate times- it doesn't matter, it's all communication, just different ways of getting out there. Meeting people can be easy! And hell, if not having to put on three layers makes it easier to get out there, then all the better!

Perhaps I have convinced you summer ain't so bad, perhaps not. Hell, the amount of sunny days I've spent indoors. Doesn't really bear thinking about y'know. Not that you have to go outside to have fun. I mean wasting Bank Holidays watching Bond films you've seen a few hundred times before isn't the worst way to spend time. And, with that rather ungainly bit of shore-horning out of the way, my final song: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass performing Burt Bacharach's "Casino Royale Main Theme". A piece of music that very possibly drove some hepcat to invent the words "groovy" and "swinging" simply to describe the riotous collision of easy listening kitsch and blockbuster bombast. I've included both the instrumental version and the none-more-ridiculous vocal version performed by Mike Redway. After all that heat, angst and indie moping it's only fitting to end with a track that manages to be at once sublime and not in the least bit serious.



James Bond films! Herb Alpert! Herb Alpert doing the theme to a comedy James Bond film! I've tried hard to be the negative one here, but I can't say no to that. Well, your music and the relatively cool weather we've had here recently. I give up, it's not so bad - I'm going to go listen to "Don't Falter" by Mint Royale ("when you're with me, it's always summer") and pet my cat. We should try this again in the winter... assuming you don't like the cold. It'd be nice to be rooting for the season next time.


PS. Is the rest of the Air France album as good as that track? I'm a little in love.

Total running time: 59:53


More summer:

Summer Jamz '08 #3: Dear Summer... by Jonathan Bradley
"My mix is for the times everything is still and quiet and perfect ... I haven't included any yacht rock or Eagles tunes, but that's all I can guarantee."

Summer Jamz '08 #2: State of the Union, Jack by Mike Orme and Nick Southall
"Two former Stylus Magazine compatriots ... celebrate the summer by splitting halves of a mix CD, each trying to fill their side with songs the other writer would put on a summer mix."

Summer Jamz '08 #1: Compiled by Alfred Soto and Dan Weiss
"In the context of summer, vastness suggests the abrogation of responsibility: school and relationships, mostly..."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 


It's small, and it may only be online for all I know, and Ben Rayner may or may not have picked it himself, or cared much about it when he did; but still, I have been quoted in the Toronto Star. That's an awfully nice thing to find in your inbox when you get home from camping (thanks to my Mom for somehow spotting it).

Monday, June 23, 2008 

Them yellow jackets keep a tired man from slackin'

Feel good hits of the 23rd of June, 2008 (special "going camping" edition):

Clutch - "The Incomparable Mr. Flannery"
The Delgados - "Keep on Breathing"
The Kinks - "Autumn Almanac"
The Electric Prunes - "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)"
The Artesians - "Trick Bag"
Religious Knives - "96 Tears (Live)"
Delays - "Keep It Simple"
Raising the Fawn - "The News"
Maximo Park - "Nosebleed"
Aphex Twin - "Next Heap With"

Thursday, June 19, 2008 

Hell yes

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 

Jumping the gun

I'm up so early on a day I don't work only because I had another leg cramp (although they are short and fierce enough that I am tempted to call them seizures instead; worryingly enough, this time I have to deal with the novelty of aftershocks trembling up and down my calf), the first in a while but tremendously painful for all that. I'll be limping for a few days (it's honestly bad enough that I may not be able to dance tomorrow night, we'll see). But since I'm up, I dropped by PopMatters, where I see the first installment of the long-awaited for by me article series on used book stores is up. My essay isn't up yet, and I'm not sure which Wednesday will see it (although I will of course mark the occasion here as I tend to), but the introduction is great, and I look forward to reading all of the other essays. Kudos to PopMatters for putting this together very nicely.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 

And you're real life

My review of the new Joan as Police Woman album is up today at PopMatters. It's good, but I need to get my hands on a copy of their first album.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 

Baby, justify the reason behind your style

I kind of grew up on Teenage Fanclub, and I haven't listened to them very much recently. But god, does "Radio" still send a thrill through me. A great band that I am eager to reinvestigate in the next little while.

Friday, June 13, 2008 

A sides win

I'd been following the Troy Augusto case with interest - you know, the one where record labels finally tried to enforce their ridiculous, completely unrealistic and pointless claim that when they send you a promo copy, they still own it. It's nice to see that so far at least, the courts in the US have done the right thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 

I forgot to title this one

There's a pretty interesting (and very lengthy) interview with Cory Doctorow up at the Onion AV Club here today, and the whole thing is worth reading, but working in a used record store and getting promos (and yes, downloading shit) as I do, this part seemed kind of relevant:

I think the most compelling, intuitively true study that I've seen on online distribution… Rufus Pollack from Cambridge University, who's a Ph.D. candidate in economics there, conducted it. What he concluded was, for the bottom 75 percent of music, piracy represents a small-to-midsize increase in sales, so it generates more sales than it displaces. For the next 20 percent or so, in the 75 to 98 percent range, it's a wash. You lose some copies, you get some free publicity, you more or less break even. And then for the tiny minority that would be at the top, that 2 percent, it represents a small loss. And those are the people who can kind of afford it. If Stephen King loses a couple hundred bucks to piracy on his latest book, it's not going to break his bank. Tim O'Reilly says piracy is progressive taxation—the people who can afford it most are the people who suffer it most. And the people who need it the most are the ones who benefit the most. That was a pretty intuitively true study, and it seems like it's holding true. I'm still in the bottom 75 percentile of art, of published works, and I think I'm getting a lift from Creative Commons, and I think I'm going to hit a point where it'll make just as much as it loses, just because I'll be well-known enough. And then I might level up to the point where I'm making tons and tons of money just from royalties, and I might lose a couple hundred bucks here and there just because of infringement from piracy. But at that point, piracy will have gotten me to the place where I can afford to lose some, so I'm not going to cry down my shirt.

That doesn't mean I have no issues with downloading and so on and so forth, but like Doctorow, I find that study kind of intuitively compelling.



My first essay for PopMatters new feature series Life Savers, on Spinoza's Ethica, went up today.

Monday, June 09, 2008 

Haven't done one of these in a while

From Dan:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they're listening to."

I'll take care of the last bit first; At first I thought others had nominated most of the people I wanted to see do this, but when I pulled up the old blog roll I had no problem finding seven that, as far as I know, are untagged. I'd love to see Erik, Andrew, Todd, John, Ben (when he gets back), and Will do this. Assuming they read this blog. I'd also especially love to see glenn give it a shot, but I can picture him maybe not wanting to, and in that case I can't really blame him. Anyway, onwards...

Kirsty MacColl - "Big Boy on a Saturday Night"
Now take the spotlight / And pause for your applause...
From her underrated and overlooked album Titanic Days, which I was exposed to when I reviewed it for Stylus. A truly great album, and one I've been spending a lot of time with recently. This is one of the most immediately striking songs from there, a raucous kiss-off to either an ex, or eventually maybe just ignorant British men in general (1993 was close enough to the days of the National Front for "a clapped out Nazi with a blunderbuss" to be a painfully apt description, yeah?). It's one of the few tracks on the album that outright rocks, albeit in a rollicking rather than brutal manner, and I've had it in my head a lot recently apropos of nothing. Great, character-filled performance from MacColl, a painfully underrated singer, as well.

New Order - "Regret"
I would not complain of my wounded heart
Whatever else you want to say about this song, the album it comes from, the band who made it or the people who make up that band, the bass tone in the intro of "Regret" registers to me as 'home' on a powerful, irrational level. I love Republic more than a lot of people (it came out the same year as Titanic Days, funnily enough) but even I'll admit that "Regret," much more of a throwback to their classic sound than the rest of the album, is easily the best track on it. Aside from that sound, which I've heard so often that it really is as comforting as Mom's cooking (or Dad's, for that matter), and which isn't reducible to Peter Hook (Stephen Morris gets plenty of credit, and Gillian Gilbert is at least noticed, but why isn't Bernard Sumner's guitar playing more lauded?), I love "Regret" for reasons both personal and not; I first got into Republic during second year, when I was living away from home but not in residence for the first time, and the eternally pure and hopeless wish of the chorus for rebirth and distance spoke pretty powerfully to me in my dingy townhouse with three housemates (not all of whom were working out); but what I've grown to appreciate is the tension between that part of the chorus ("I would like a place I can call my own / Have a conversation on the telephone / Wake up every day, it would be a start") and the not-going-anywhere realisation of the later part: "I was upset you see / Almost all the time / You used to be a stranger / Now you are mine." The chorus still resonates with me, strongly, but more and more the song seems to me to be about the tradeoffs we make that prevent that kind of running away, for better and for worse. (one of their last great videos, too - nothing really special, but in a mid-90s video aesthetic I still kind of love)

R.E.M. - "Hollow Man"
Believe in me, believe in nothing
So I saw R.E.M. last night, and while we were too far back for it to be as awesome as I kind of wished it was (next time, I am paying the $100), but finally seeing my childhood's favourite band live was very worth it. They played "Let Me In"! And "Orange Crush"! And "So Fast, So Numb"! And "Fall on Me" with Johnny Marr! And (of course) "Losing My Religion"! They also played a surprising percentage of the small group of R.E.M. songs I don't like ("Bad Day" and "Animal" and "Final Straw," guys?), but what the hell. And Michael Stipe and Mike Mills are both still very lovable. They played a good chunk of Accelerate, and I've been slowly coming around to that album recently anyway, but it was great. The full rave-ups like "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" (which really should be called "Sit and Spin") and "Horse to Water" went over well, and they did a lovely "Until the Day Is Done," but the highlight of the new stuff was definitely "Hollow Man." R.E.M. don't do the quiet/loud thing that often, and this was a nice change, and also whenever they launched into the chorus it was just this Moment, if you know what I mean. But I've loved R.E.M. fairly uncritically for as long as I've been old enough to generate coherent memories.

R.E.M. - "Imitation of Life"
Trying to look like you don't try
But they didn't play this one! Or "Daysleeper" (or anything else off of Up)! Those are the two songs I really wanted to hear that I figured I might have, since they were singles, and "Imitation of Life" especially I was hoping they'd dust off. One of my favourite R.E.M. songs ever, even if the album it was from was kind of a shit sandwich. Not only does it shoehorn in a line that reminds me how much I love Michael Stipe writing about adolescence, the sound of his voice during the middle eight as he sings "This lightning storm, this tidal wave / This avalanche, I'm not afraid / C'mon, c'mon no one can see me cry" kind of chokes me up. They're saying something important in "Imitation of Life," although I'm not sure I could write out what it is. The video is gorgeous too, one of my favourites by anyone, although I am a sucker for music videos that don't make sense until, suddenly, they do.

The National - "Driver, Surprise Me"
Put the pervert in a suit, take him out and light him up
As good as R.E.M. were, the National were easily my favourite live act of the night (Modest Mouse were okay). I think they won over a lot of fans in the half empty arena, too. Great, stripped down set with an eight piece band (the five guys, Padma and two horns), mostly from Boxer, plus "Baby, We'll Be Fine" and "Mr. November." I had worried how they'd do as far as projecting to a bigger room but they were more than fine. They're also at the point where their random spare tracks (this one from the special edition of Alligator) are so good you have to wonder how long they can keep going at this rate before the bubble bursts. In my heart of hearts I kind of craved maybe hearing this one (and "Lucky You" and "Murder Me Rachael" and a few others they're less likely to play - why have I never heard "Lit Up" live, for fuck's sake), but I didn't expect it. This is mostly, I admit, because those songs are newer to me than the well-trod ground of the last two albums, but I picked up their first two records and the Cherry Tree EP so I should have new obsessions soon. If I wanted to take enough time and space to do some close reading "Driver, Surprise" me is a pretty endlessly quotable (well, not quite, but what you do call songs where ten different lines wind up lodged in your head) account of some of the same stuff Matt Berninger usually sings about: drinking, regret, girls, adulthood, working. But this is getting long already.

The Wedding Present - "The Trouble With Men"
Instead of loving my wife and getting on with my life
David Gedge is married, he's happy, but he's also realistic: You are beautiful, if you're nice to him, he's going to wind up wishing he was dating you instead, even though right now while his brain is still around he knows that's stupid and pointless. If this was out ten years ago, it would have perfectly soundtracked John Cusack asking himself "what am I doing?" as he tries to think of a mix for the cute young reporter he met. And I may not be married, or even attached, but I've been there - we've all been there. What I especially love about Gedge's take on it is that, first of all, he's not being melodramatic: He doesn't want to avoid this because it'd ruin his marriage or cause his wife to cry or anything, because nothing is going to happen. It would, however, be a stressful but minor waste of time and energy, and he sounds just as much tired as distressed on the chorus. And also because it's nice to hear "Don't say hello, you're far too gorgeous for me" in any sensible context other than an emo one.

Emmylou Harris - "Wrecking Ball"
Though I can't take that chance, if you've got time for one dance...
I was talking to a friend about this after she mentioned Gillian Welch's song of the same name. The album this comes from is probably the best job Daniel Lanois has ever done. It's also what, say, Neil Young's Harvest Moon should have been, especially with Young writing this one and providing backing vocals.


Up on the wall

So I know I posted when I successfully defended, but now it's official, degree conferred and framed and put above my BA - I have my Master of Arts. I'm the first person in my family to have one (although my Dad could have if he hadn't lit out for law school) - in your face, ancestors!

Thursday, June 05, 2008 

Don't say hello; you're far too gorgeous for me

David Gedge just keeps on doin' what he does, and this time I'm the one reviewing it. I like this one a lot better than Take Fountain - it may stealth its way onto my year end list yet. It's certainly in contention.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008 

On and on, they're gaining ground

Another short take at PopMatters, this time on a 65daysofstatic EP.


Not a jetpack dept.

When I was younger, I read a lot of music criticism. Okay, I read a lot of music criticism now, but back then I read almost entirely about albums I had not heard and could not obtain. Recently I remembered one of those albums, which a positive review somewhere and the album art on had lured me into thinking I should look for it the next time I went to Toronto. I never found it, haven't thought about it in years. Tonight for some reason the artist's name popped into my head; fifteen minutes later, I'm listening to it. You have no idea how surreal that feels.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008 

Too soon

The chorus guitar in "Bo Diddley" still sounds phantasmagorical to me. He wuz robbed, over and over again (the number of people over the years who needed to get right, John Darnielle style, is kind of staggering). RIP.

Monday, June 02, 2008 

(Echospace Reshape)

I've got a capsule review of the gorgeous new Deepchord release, Vantage Isle Sessions, up at PopMatters here.

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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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