I have seen Moon King play three times now and after each time, quickly searched around the internet hoping to relive their unsettling harmonies and exciting drum lines through a recording. Finally that’s happened for me - this is “Only Child” from their upcoming EP. Sounds exactly like I remember it live!
This has been on my mind since it went live this morning: FFWD in Calgary made the bold claim that Canadian music is boring, and is placing the blame on CanCon regulations, the tendency to celebrate familiar collective-based music and music journalists being far too polite. Especially the last is something that I publicly struggled with about a month ago, but the general thesis of the article is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while now. While I find myself disagreeing with a lot of this article, it’s providing me with some clever counter arguments to everything I thought I believed about music and music criticism, and it’s certainly a discussion worth having.
Obviously I don’t think that all Canadian music is boring (and the authors of this article certainly don’t either) – there is a wide variety of boundary-pushing, exciting stuff, and some of the most celebrated and innovative acts today are coming out of our country (the article itself mentions Purity Ring and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan as two of these such acts, and there is definitely a much longer list of more). But you can’t argue with the fact that there is a general “Canadian indie” sound, and it is supported and propped up by institutions like the Polaris and the CBC. I’m trying to be cautious here – I believe that both are important in terms of supporting our country’s arts scene, and I recognize that obviously neither can be a perfect representation of good music for every person. Yet it is important to acknowledge that there is an “internal star system” created by these institutions (no matter what the question on a CBC 3 poll, if artists like Joel Plaskett, Dan Mangan or Arcade Fire are present, they will always shoot to the top of the list, and artists like Patrick Watson, Feist or even Fucked Up seem to be Polaris-nominated, no matter what they put out. The Polaris actually acknowledged this though, at a Polaris salon last month).
A lot of the discussion around this article is focussing on the small paragraph comparing popular Canadian bands. Zooming in on this is defeating the purpose of the article, though – they are being sensationalistic in comparing bands based on name and not sound, no one really thinks that Hey Ocean and Hey Rosetta are sonically identical. Forget that paragraph and look at the whole theme of the article – we are running the risk of stagnating by highlighting the same types of sounds. Personal confession: after years of patronage, I have stopped listening to CBC Radio 3 as a way to discover new music. I still love the site as a strong music-based community, and they certainly have some music in rotation that I love to death, but I find that wading through the hours of singer-songwriter or straight-forward plodding rock is not doing enough for me to make getting to the gems worth it (especially since I can often discover them through other venues). Surely this has a lot to do with my taste evolving and I’ve chalked it up to that for a long time, but this article hit a bit of a chord with me, in that I’m perhaps not the only one a bit bored with Canadian indie’s status quo.
Where this article challenges me the most, though, is when they turn to talking about music critics. The point is that if “everything is good, everything basically sucks”. As someone who unabashedly believes in positive music journalism, this is a bit hard to swallow, but I can definitely see where they are coming from. I can definitely get on board with the idea that praising every single album you come across is damaging to the quality of music in general. Why I can’t fully agree though, is that there is no reason to cover mediocre bands at all. The example in the article is Metric, a band who I am admittedly only mildly interested in. The complaint is that everyone is covering them, but no one is stepping up to criticise. But wouldn’t it be more valuable for a publication to feature a band that was creating something amazing instead? The way I see it, every column spent discussing why something is bad could instead be spent sharing something great, and that is a much better use of time for everyone involved. Everyone knows who Metric is and probably has an opinion on them already, but maybe they haven’t heard of Sexy Merlin, and might never do so if a publication doesn’t share what they love.
This is an important discussion to have, and I am glad that someone has so publicly started it. Hopefully Canadian music fans can read past the insults to their music taste (I admit that I love Joel Plaskett, perhaps just as much as the FFWD-approved Sean Nicholas Savage) and see the very thought-provoking insights and questions presented here. We don’t all have to agree, but it is worth talking about.
My music listening patterns are often really based on repetition. Once I find an album/artist that clicks with me, I gobble it up and listen to it many, many times. This weekend I’ve been curling up with Sean Nicholas Savage’s discography. There’s a lot of it, and it’s all wonderfully strange. Go for it.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? There are definitely a lot of concerts and musical events happening in Toronto over the summer - so much so that I find myself with four concerts I want to go to tonight. How to choose?? My attempt at a cost/benefit analysis: consider how many times I’ve seen the bands before (having seen an AMAZING set by a band makes me likely to want to witness it again, but then again what if a band I’ve never seen is even more amazing?), proximity of the venue to my apartment (laziness reigns sometimes), cost of the show, how likely they are to play here again soon, how currently obsessed with listening to their record I am?
This will probably be a game time decision (if anyone cares, the options are Young Magic at the Garrison, the Wavelength/Open Roof Festival presentation of The Magic, T H O M A S at the Tranzac and Bad Passion at Holy Oak… all events I would LOVE to witness were they not simultaneous!). What’s a music fan to do?
You’ll have to forgive my shaky camera skills at the beginning, but I think the spontaneity and charm of this performance by The Elwins shines through anyway. This was at an intersection during the day as part of NXNE. As you can see, quite a few people walked by and didn’t stop to watch (shocking to me!). Still, loads of fun. The unofficial day events are the best (yes, I might still be full of quite a bit of NXNE nostalgia).
Album: “Death and Desire” - Digits (Toronto)
The opening line of the titular track muses “death and desire – an unlikely pair”, yet this mixtape from moody electronic artist Digits manages to combine strange bedfellows of earnest longing and uneasy melancholy. The songs are built on simple beats and percussion tracks, layered over with his soft voice. The result is introspective, atmospheric and emotional.
A few songs are actually billed as Bad Passion, his other musical endeavor. These tracks are slower, involve two vocalists and, especially on mid-album “Liquid Fire”, are extremely beautiful. As a body of work, Death and Desire is extremely cohesive, setting a perfectly brooding atmosphere. With an EP coming out in the next few weeks, Digits is certainly someone to pay attention to.
You can get Death and Desire for free on the Digits website.
This is Tupper Ware Remix Party. I spoke about them in my NXNE Friday night review, but a quick summary: they are beings from the future. They make epic scifi dance music. They were stationed at the corner of College & Bathurst in the midst of NXNE, stirring up laughter and devotion in the crowds of people passing by. This might be the strangest spontaneous musical experience I have ever had, but it was also one of the most fun.
This has been out for a couple of months, but has recently re-entered my mind after seeing Kuhrye-oo/Calvin McElroy dj at Double Double Land in Toronto last Saturday. It was an after party for Cadence Weapon’s set opening for Japandroids that night, and despite not going to the show, I knew I couldn’t miss this. He has released some amazing mixes and edits over the past while, culminating in the release of his debut EP. Watching him manipulate songs was pretty incredible.
Album Review: “Rare Pleasures” - Ghibli (Edmonton)
The description on this album’s bandcamp page states that it “straddles the line between art and club influences, which will probably mean no one will like it.” Well, I guess that I’m no one. Ghibli’s latest album is a constantly shifting work combining European house music and classical influences, all pasted together in a collage-like fashion. Seriously, all of the samples are taken from youtube videos. He disregards copyright laws much in the same way that he tosses aside genre boundaries and a stereotypical formulaic approach to dance music.
The girl on the album’s cover has her head thrown back in delight, and that pretty much sums up my reaction to this record. It is a surprising and varied listen; Ghibli injects an experimental approach to soundtracking your bedroom dance party by drawing on more traditional influences, and the result is a hazy, hypnotizing sonic journey. My favourite moment is the unexpected clarinet solo after two minutes of grooving to the disco-influenced opening on “Babyface”, a moment that sums up the record for me: it’s thrilling, perplexing and certainly danceable.
Some reflections on Tuesday night’s Polaris Prize Record Salon:
- It feels a bit strange to be part of an extremely small demographic of music fans (it was pointed out repeatedly that there was maybe seven people in the room who weren’t jurors, me included).
- I always knew I had an immense amount of respect for Aaron Levin, but if anything, that has been multiplied. He was extremely articulate, talking about the reliance a lot of people have on external validation for their musical choices, and the importance of an artist’s vision when it comes to choosing an album for the Polaris.
- I love the Cadence Weapon record. Yet it was pointed out that those in the hip hop community are not exactly thrilled with its inclusion in the long list and are not behind it, something that kind of surprised me. Do I only like it because I am outside of that genre as a listener?
- Multiple nominees seem to be a thing (Patrick Watson, Dan Mangan, Joel Plaskett, et. al.). The question was raised as to whether the Polaris has created an internal star system in which certain artists will be nominated no matter what they put out. I hesitate to get behind this, but I really can’t imagine a Dan Mangan record not making the long list, so…
- The track above, by Tenderness, was mentioned by Levin as part of one of the stand-out albums of the past year. I couldn’t agree more! He described it as a “R&B weirdo” record, which sounds about right (emphasis on the weirdo). I hope that people check it out, despite it being missed by the long list.