Saturday, May 30, 2009 

The night is perfect, take off your dress

Feel good hits of the 30th of May, 2009:

Elefant - Make Up
Duotang - Slowdown
Animal Collective - Penny Dreadfuls
R.E.M. - New Test Leper
Stone Jack Jones - Smile
The National - Driver, Surprise Me
Paul Simon - Can't Run But
Phoenix - Lizstomania
Seeland - Library
Talk Talk - John Cope


Ladies and gentlemen, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

I try not to post two videos in a row, but holy god do I ever love "Pride of Lions." It's with a guest vocalist, but I finally tracked down the album it comes from (2008's Perfect Future) and it is hitting the spot right now. Classy, jazz-influenced Japanese ska! Who would have guessed?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 

It comes it comes it comes and goes

I have to agree with Thomas Mars; this is Phoenix's best video.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 

Don't go home with your hard-on

(or, a tale of three concerts)

Last week was extremely busy - three fairly major concerts, the (beautiful) wedding of two dear friends, as well as music for that wedding and a bachelor party, and more old friends visited/visiting than I could shake a very fortunate stick at. This is about the concerts, though.

you've got so much inside, let it come right out

Live, Animal Collective were disappointing; this was 60-70% not their fault (I had never been to the Sound Academy in Toronto before, and if I have my way I never will again), but aside from the horrible sightlines and overdriven sound of the venue, I still wasn't impressed. The first twenty minutes or so was good - the extremely cut-up vocals on the verses of "Lion in a Coma" was a brave choice (and, given how clear the refrain was, a deliberate one), I thought, even if it rendered the song incoherent (but thrillingly so!). They opened with "Chocolate Girl," which was awesome.

But then they played "My Girls." This is a song where pretty much the whole fucking point is the bit where he sings "for my girls (whooooo!)" and the beat comes in. The beat never came in. For a show that was otherwise garishly loud (and not lacking in bottom end or percussive sounds), to have this song neutered like that, not to mention stretched out into what felt like an endless, dry-humping eternity (instead actually, you know, getting to the fucking) was kind of insulting. That they then followed it up by what felt like a dense, lengthy chunk of instrumental/abstract stuff, where they kept playing the intros to good songs ("Banshee Beat"! "In the Flowers"!) before segueing into worse/boring tracks instead - I was ready to go. What really sealed the deal was their last song, a full-blooded "Brother Sport" that was even better than those first twenty minutes and made clear that when operating at full power Animal Collective are pretty fucking special live. We didn't stay for the encore, and although we may have missed "Summertime Clothes" or whatever, we also missed the hours-long wait to get out of the parking lot.

To be clear, I have no problem with a band like Animal Collective playing some sort of avant garde/noise/obscure show, but they never committed to it; they kept flirting with things the huge crowd wanted to hear, but reverting to things that we were less into. Also, on the evidence of "Brother Sport" especially, they make a better pop band than an art one.

and here's a man still working for your smile

An Evening With Leonard Cohen, however... in at least one sense it might have been the best concert I've ever seen. 3 1/2 hours with someone I don't hesitate to call a living legend, 25 songs (the list will be in the comments, if you're a curious fan), a crack band, beautifully chosen and deployed backing vocalists (always one of Cohen's strengths), a gracious, generous, and joyful stage presence from Cohen.... the only real complaint you could have is that the crowd was too enthusiastic, frequently being overly loud when Cohen was introducing people or trying to have a Moment. The only spoken word was a spellbinding version of "A Thousand Kisses Deep" (still one of my favourites) and although he (sigh) didn't play anything off of Death of a Ladies' Man or anything but "Famous Blue Raincoat" off of Songs of Love and Hate, he did play pretty much every song you could expect to hear at this sort of show (and a few you might not have, unless you're a bigger fan of "The Partisan" than I am).

Words cannot express how sublime Cohen's voice and present were in person, even at the back of Copps Coliseum (great sightlines too); during his best material, like "The Future" and "Everybody Knows," Cohen seemed to be everlasting and omniscient, God manifest in the grinning flesh, kinder and surer of purpose than we deserved. And given how bloody and cynical those songs are you might think I'm being sarcastic, but no - to hear Cohen put flesh on those bones was among the best concert experiences I have ever heard in my life. Sentimental favourite song: "Take This Waltz," which I wrote about but which more importantly was warm and heartbroken and alive in a way the recorded version just isn't. Along with Neil Young, Leonard Cohen was someone I wanted to make sure I saw while they were still working and still in full command of their powers - now I just pity everyone who hasn't.

what makes you think I'd enjoy being left to the flood?

But the National had something Cohen didn't - the shock of the new. I'd seen them three times before, twice in clubs and once opening for R.E.M., and they'd become one of my favourite live bands. Some of their recent songs (especially "Abel" and "Squalor Victoria," which seems to be when their shows go from good to amazing and don't look back) are so much better live than in their excellent recorded versions that I wish they'd make a live album already.

Last Thursday wasn't any worse than any other show of theirs, but after a six-month live layoff, Toronto was treated to their first show back and (if YouTube can be trusted) the first airing of three new songs. "Vanderlylle Crybaby" was definitely my favourite and one that instantly vaults into my top tier of National songs (I've been playing that video on repeat a lot). "Blood Buzz Ohio," which I can't find a video of, was rockier than the other two and quite good as well, although it's naturally the one I have the dimmest memory of. "Runaway" (aka "Karamazov" aka whatever they settle on), which they also played on CBC's Q, was nearly at the level of "Vanderlylle Crybaby" for me. It was a great show.

But you know what, they seemed a little unhinged. Maybe a bit out of practice, but I've never seen Matt Berninger (great, great vocalist/frontman) lose his shit so completely on "Mr. November" (to the point of basically not singing the chorus because he's busy screaming), and a mic stand was (unintentionally?) flipped into the crowd with nary a backward glance (it broke, and Berninger gave the pieces to people standing there). No-one was seriously hurt and so the whole thing just gave the night a certain frisson, but they do seem like a band that's surprisingly on-edge live, so I hope all is well for them. But that combined with three new songs that make the next National album the most anticipated thing in my next year or so made for a pretty amazing night.

"Start a War" is still an amazing opener, and this is the second time they've pulled out the devastating "About Today" from the Cherry Tree EP in the encore. However, this is the fourth time they've done another particular thing I'm less fond of. There are two songs pretty explicitly about drinking on Alligator: "All the Wine" and "Lit Up." The former is perfectly fine, but the latter is one of my favourite National songs. Four times now, they've played the former and not the latter in Toronto. I know it's partly chance, but come on! It's not like I'm expecting them to play "City Middle" (my secret possibly-favourite National song) or anything.


All the very best of us string ourselves up for love

So I watched the end of the redone Battlestar Galactica. What a show. What an ending! I simply don't understand people who still had questions about Starbuck or head Six/head Baltar, or the Opera House, or pretty much anything else. And yes, parts of the "150,000 years later" bit were lame, but so what? 99% of it was more gripping and emotionally affecting than anything I've seen on TV barring maybe The Wire.

It's rare to see any show tackle so deeply and with such complexity issues of prejudice and rule of law and love and cycles of violence and trust and identity and parenthood and a myriad of other things and still have me caring so much about so many characters. Did the show have problems? Of course, and as time passes I've already had conversations with more than one friend about the holes you can notice or pick in it once you've seen it. But the important part is, those conversations don't actually change how much I like the show.


If you would only love me like you used to do

A little while back (while I was busy with a wedding, a bachelor party, three concerts and many good friends visiting or being visited), the Memories Can't Wait series came to a close with an entry on home. I've mentioned it before, but I'm really quite proud of the work I've done for the series, and this one is no exception.

(and if my dad happens to read it, I'm sure I've got some details wrong, but that's how memories work...)

Sunday, May 24, 2009 

China: It's just like that

Not that this couldn't have happened elsewhere, but really I'm less surprised that it happened there. The key bit:

A passerby pushed a would-be suicide jumper off a bridge in southern China because he was angry at the jumper's "selfish activity," Chinese media reported Saturday.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 


This is an eight page article. Read the whole thing, in one sitting if possible.

Friday, May 15, 2009 

Against Waste

So a while ago, maybe even a year ago at this point, I went to some local show. Who played wasn't really important; they weren't horrible or anything, but I was in a foul mood and something about the three or four incestuous bands that played that night and their overall aesthetic approach (i.e. their music, but not just their music; their clothes, their stage presence, the whole gestalt) made me feel extremely reactionary.

There is something to be said for musical/aesthetic sloppiness, don't get me wrong, but that evening as I walked home I was seething for some reason. The whole idea of dressing like a thrift store hobo, of gurning endlessly as you played because the music was just so full of emotion, man, of making music that mostly draws on classic rock as subsequently homaged by recent Canadian indie rock, of being 'artistes' - the whole thing just seemed so awful, so bankrupt (whereas normally I would have thought the band was middling in the "well, they do it nicely but it's not my thing" sense) that it needed to be destroyed.

I have never played an instrument outside of grade school music class (I was a poor baritone player and a better bass drum one, although I didn't care about music back then), and I have no idea if I have any talents along those lines, but that night I wanted to form a band. I wanted us to wear severe, stark suits, to barely move when playing and to speak little between songs, and to have those songs exhibit a quality I often love in music, a kind of ferocious control that means that even if a song sounds unhinged it also sounds like it's being sung from between clenched teeth. Part of the appeal of all that rigidity and repression, engaged in deliberately for aesthetic reasons, for me is that in my everyday life I often wish I was more reserved, more 'cool,' less high strung and less prone to, plainly, reacting to things. I don't think that sort of thing is the way you ought to live you life every day, of course, and I don't even like it in all of my music, but something about that kind of austerity appeals heavily to me.

So while the feelings of that night didn't last, I did idly toy around with the idea of making a mix along those lines, mostly because as I walked home I had "Closed Groove" by Stiff Little Fingers in my head (perhaps the paradigmatic song in the area that I'm talking about, partly because it uses repression to criticize repression, if that makes sense) and I wondered if I could find a mix of songs like it. I couldn't, not quite, at least in the sense that you might want to argue that some of these are ringers (Free Blood in particular), but I settled on a set of songs that in my mind at least seem to exemplify the kind of control and discipline in either/both of their musical or vocal performances, regardless of the song's subject matter or the band's other work (although in the majority of cases here, the songs 'fit' lyrically as well and the bands have other songs I could have used). But a song didn't make this mix unless I could imagine the band in my head playing it. The result is one of my favourite of my own mixes, and I really hope the person I sent it to (via the IMP) got something out of it.

Ultimately, what I came up with is the CD-R I'd give to someone who wanted to join my imaginary band if I learned to play guitar and started actually assembling it. Some of the songs are more laid-back or more feel-good that my initial furious conception would have allowed for, but ultimately this was about sketching out the limits of a sound or a style or an aesthetic. I don't know what the band would be called, but the phrase that kept popping into my head, and thus the title of the mix, was "against waste."

01. Manicured Noise – Faith (Cassette Version) (3:38)
02. !!! – All My Heroes Are Weirdos (3:04)
03. Free Blood – Quick and Painful (3:39)
04. Talking Heads – Cities (4:10)
05. Life Without Buildings – 14 Days (3:12)
06. The Whitest Boy Alive – Figures (3:57)
07. Ikara Colt – May B 1 Day (4:33)
08. The Wipers – Wait a Minute (3:05)
09. Liquid Liquid – Cavern (5:22)
10. Elvis Costello – (I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea (3:10)
11. The Futureheads – Man Ray (2:20)
12. British Sea Power – Something Wicked (3:12)
13. The Chameleons – Soul in Isolation (7:20)
14. Stiff Little Fingers – Closed Groove (4:21)

Total: 55:03


Kiss your beautiful forehead

Feel good hits of the 14th of May, 2009:

Low - Shots & Ladders
Mojave 3 - Where Is the Love
Spoon - Metal Detektor
Mogwai - Cody
The Tragically Hip - Titanic Terrarium
The Twilight Sad - And She Would Darken the Memory
R.E.M. - Bittersweet Me
Perfume Genius - No Problem
Editors - Munich
Ramblin' Jack Elliott - Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 

Think long

My review of the Mates of State/Black Kids concert I covered for PopMatters is up today.

Monday, May 11, 2009 

No problem

I am pretty shamelessly stealing this from Los Campesinos!'s blog, but who cares? With a track this gorgeous (I am mostly posting it so I can listen to it over and overandover more easily), spreading it as far and wide as possible is a good thing. And Perfume Genius' other songs are nearly as good, but this one (and this simple, vaguely terrifying, beautiful video) is the best and is simply one of the best things I've heard all year.

Friday, May 08, 2009 

Can you feel

So it turns out I have an incredibly intense fear of being buried alive. I found this out when a dream I had - which did not involve me or anyone else being buried alive, or even the threat of same, just dream-me idly thinking about what it would be like - scared me so badly it woke me up a few hours early. I had to call a friend to stop freaking out.

In other news, I missed it but my review of the new Client album went up a few days ago.

Thursday, May 07, 2009 

Let it fall

I've got a brief piece on Radiohead's great "How I Made My Millions" in the penultimate installment of Memories Can't Wait. This one is about, naturally, sadness.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009 

"I'd like to come back as a giant Flemish rabbit. 15 pounds of pure bunny."

It was just as I finished watching season one of Life tonight that I read that NBC has cancelled the show and there won't be a third season. Admittedly we learned enough during the second season that the end of it isn't a completely horrible place to leave it, but given the kind of crap you find on TV these days, especially in terms of cop/detective shows, it's still a damn shame. Guess I have to find a new favourite network drama. Or, you know, watch less TV.


Lucky bastards

If Stuart Braithwaite's twitter is any indication, I was more right than I suspected in raving about Mogwai's Toronto show; every single set list he's posted looks great, but barring the first night in NYC the Toronto one is easily the greatest. And those guys didn't get "Auto Rock" or "Travel Is Dangerous" or "Cody," but they DID get "Mogwai Fear Satan" and "My Father My King" as well as "Like Herod" and what may still by my favourite Mogwai song, "Helicon 1" (and old obscurity "Ithica 27/9"!). So in other words, pretty much the greatest Mogwai show you're likely to see.

I always forget Mogwai are one of my favourite bands and then I see them live again or randomly play an album and spend about a month being obsessed with them. Had I the money and invincible eardrums, I'd be following their tour around North America right now. Oh, to be a roadie...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009 

All over the place

Okay, so I have a review of the new MONO record up today at PopMatters, but more importantly my friends Justin and Jenny do a hell of a job covering the new Akron/Family disc (which I thought was good but not great; the writing here is great though, whatever you think of the band). Also, in a surreal connection, it turns out if you go to the web site for Scott Pilgrim and look at the brief "so what is this any" section, the link they include to something about the song "Scott Pilgrim" is an old top ten list I did for Stylus. Well, Scott McKeating and I did it, but we each took five and the Plumtree song was the top one on my half. I know there's not much written on Plumtree, but still - cool!



Hey look, someone from Stylus is on TV! Under the auspices of Pitchfork but damn, that's still awesome. And just in case you forgot/didn't know how devastating Ian Cohen can be to a bad album, here's his written review.


Fully armed and operational

'Cause this music can put a human being in a trance like state and deprive it of the sneaking feeling of existing. 'Cause music is bigger than words and wider than pictures. If someone said that Mogwai are the stars I would not object. If the stars had a sound it would sound like this.

They played "Cody" (finally!). They played the best live "Mogwai Fear Satan" I've heard yet. They encored with a perfect "My Father My King."

Mogwai are my favourite guitar band.*

*(not the same thing as my favourite band that uses guitars, mind you)

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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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imathers at gmail dot com

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