Sunday, February 19, 2006


We've been having beautiful crisp cool sunny days the last few days here in Vancouver.
The kind of days that remind me of my time growing up in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa or Kingston.
The warmth in the sun and low light feels as much like Fall as it does of impending Spring.
And the perfect soundtrack comes in the form of music I would describe as quintessential "Canadiana".
There is a "Canadian" sound and it traverses generations and even genres.

I had just recently put together a playlist of music that matched the day's ambience. Without a programmer's spectre of CanCon regulations, I realized after the fact that I had created a bureaucrats' dream of Canadian nuggets new & old.

What triggered the playlist?

I had my iPod on random while cleaning up the backyard and Kathleen Edwards' The Lone Wolf came on (from her first album, Failer). There is a loping, jangling quality that evokes some Gordon Lightfoot, The Band and The Skydiggers all at once. She has this way of stretching out each line that makes everything grand and cinematic while still feeling very personal. God, what a voice, all smoky and direct.

Some other cuts that found there way on the playlist included two tracks from the new Cash Brothers with The Skydiggers. Of course, those that know the back pages, these two bands are closely intertwined. Andy Maize of the 'Diggers has played in Andrew Cash's band and Peter Cash, he of the deep, resonant voice, used to be a 'Digger. So this new record, simply titled "Skydiggers Cash Brothers" is like a trip home. The opening track, 'I Know You Lie Awake' is part of that Canadian continuum, most definitely. Played with quiet, majestic tension (and jangly guitar picking) it's all about the voices. Peter anchors down the low end of the register while brother Andrew goes up a notch or two. Then, about two-thirds of the way through, Andy Maize comes on board introducing a new melody, much like the Diggers' classic 'I Will Give You Everything' where he introduced a new off-setting vocal melody, also about two thirds of the way through the song. The other track I chose from the "Skydiggers Cash Brother" record was the remake of Andrew Cash's 'Smile Me Down'. Originally on his 1988 'Time & Place' record. A very folky rendition, like the rest of this record, which works well to highlight the great vocalizing at work.

What better way to follow up the Diggers than Gordon Lightfoot's 'Sundown'. The production and performance still crackles. This record could have been first released this year and made sense. The song really does encapsulate the "Canadian" sound, one that combines folk, country, pop. Damn it makes me proud.

More on this playlist soon.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Best of 2005

(in no particular order)

Laughing and Rocking in Equal Measure
Art Brut- Bang Bang Rock’n’Roll
Comparisons have been made to Jonathan Richman and it’s true from the perspective of a healthy mixture of both humour and sincerity. The band also knows how to rock out like the Modern Lovers did but with modern crisp crunchy production. The show at Dick’s in March should be a good one.

Literate and Rocking in Equal Measure
The Decemberists- Picaresque
Songs about sea mariners (and an epic tail of cross-generational revenge) and tunes with titles like “Eli, The Barrow Boy” and “16 Military Wives”, you can almost see the pouffy shirts of the performers. Drawn from the same reservoir as Okkervil River.

A Musical Match Made In Heaven
Iron & Wine/Calexico- In The Reins
Anyone familiar with these 2 bands pretty much knew this was going to be a beautiful pairing and it’s as good as you’d have hoped.

Never Can Get Too Much Iron & Wine in Your Musical Diet
Iron & Wine- Woman King EP

A good year for Iron & Wine, this EP sees I&W building their intensity of performance while still keeping it primarily acoustic.

Beauty Becomes You
Sufjan Stevens- Illinois
Antony & The Johnsons- I’m a Bird Now
Devendra Banhart- Cripple Crow
All 3 of these albums have an essence of beauty at their core. Sufjan is pretty much on everybody’s “Best Of” list and it’s well deserved. Antony came from nowhere and brought us his truly unique vocal stylings. Although he may sound a little like early Bryan Ferry, there is no one with a voice like his. He also really knows how to use the empty spaces in a song to create a captivating mood. Finally, Devendra Banhart came out with a rich and varied release that, upon repeated listenings, was probably my favourite album of the year, end-to-end, with it’s wonderful flow and varied arrangements/instrumentation. Anti-war ballads (Heard Somebody Say, When They Come), Spanish tunes, Buffalo Springfield derivations (Long Haired Child), you name it. The amazing part is how well it all fits together; I feel like I have committed a cardinal sin, music interruptus if you like, if I don’t listen to the whole record at a time. Don’t go cherry picking single downloads here- go for the full meal deal and you won’t be disappointed.

Time for Reinvention
My Morning Jacket- Z
Last year My Morning Jacket lost a guitarist and keyboardist, both founding members. Instead of packing it in they found excellent replacements and put out their most varied and interesting disc.

To Look Forward We Must Look Back
The Clientele- Strange Geometry
The High Dials- War of The Wakening Phantoms
Both of these bands elicit warm feelings of music from a bygone era. The Clientele have such a classic ‘60’s pop sound, complete with a light trippy filter. Montreal’s The High Dials also seem to have one foot in the ‘60’s sound but theirs is more of a power pop feel- like early Who- with thrilling harmonies and jangly guitar bits. If you want to first sample, check out “Our Time Is Coming Soon”, “Sick With The Old Fire” (Stone Roses’ish) and “Your Eyes Are A Door”.

Best Band Playing the Role of Crazy Horse
Magnolia Electric Co- Trials & Errors
Last year’s “What Comes After The Blues”, MEC’s first CD, showed a band with strong songwriting skills and an enjoyable if unspectacular solid folk/rock recording. This year’s live disc, “Trials & Errors”, reveals a blistering live act that borrows heavily on the ragged glory of Crazy Horse. There is no better compliment of a live recording than to say that after my first listen I knew I must see this band live.

Welcome Back My Friends- My You’re Sounding Marvelous
Echo & The Bunnymen- Siberia
Consistently strong songwriting, pop hooks and some edgy guitar work from Will Sergeant. Just how we like it.

Gang of Four- Return The Gift
G04 always complained about the muddy production applied to their early recordings, particularly their first record, the classic ‘Entertainment’! Given that it was/is a classic (5 stars on All Music), most of us dismissed this as a pointless perspective. Then I heard this record. Not just a remix of the early recordings (most are from Entertainment, but they draw from throughout their catalogue), these songs have been re-recorded and the energy in the performances, and outstanding production, makes it pretty much impossible to listen to the originals, even as they are swaddled in nostalgia. When I have my iPod on shuffle, and any of the tracks from this record are served up, I grind my teeth and I feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck (editors note- this is a good thing).

The Back-Handed Compliment (or “I’m reluctant to call this a great release of 2005 but I certainly play it a lot”)
New Order- Waiting For The Siren’s Call
New Order have such a history to them, and with that, baggage for the listener. From Joy Division to disco mavens (Blue Monday), I have fallen in and out of love with these guys more often than….well, let’s just leave that comparison alone, shall we. While this disc doesn’t compare to the power and excitement of 2001’s “Get Ready” this record has classic New Order pop tunes, including my faves “Hey Now What You Doing”, “Morning Night And Day”, “Turn” and the title track. Also winner of the “May Cause Cavities” award, I do warn you, up front, don’t listen to the lyrics, even as you sing them. They’re very lame. Just shake your ass.

Go-Betweens- Oceans Apart
Okkervil River- Black Sheep Boy
The Posies- Every Kind of Light
Marianne Faithfull- Before the Poison
And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead- Worlds Apart
Martha Wainwright- Martha Wainwright
Bettye Lavette- I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise
Ryan Adams & The Catholics- Cold Roses
Black Mountain- s/t
Josh Rouse- Nashville

A Little Editorial- Hurray for The Indies
The indies are where most of the decent music comes from- All but My Morning Jacket, Gang of Four and New Order from my essentials list above (and over half the honourable mentions) can be found on the indie-only eMusic site (more below). Not just interesting tunes that show promise but fully developed works of staggering brilliance. Witness Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists and the hysterical and thrilling rockers Art Brut. Even old favourites Echo & The Bunnymen, now on an indie label, have released their best record in ages.

This year, the great enabler for feeding my music appetite has come from downloading from eMusic- Strictly indies, and still well shy of a decent recommendation engine, they nonetheless allowed me to purchase lots of fresh new tunes and at a reasonable price. Their subscription model, with tracks in MP3 format without DRM, gives me, the listener, an opportunity to move my music wherever I want without interoperability issues between MP3 players or desktop applications. I can just focus on the music, not on the technology. What a concept.


Disc 1- Mostly Adrenaline
Art Brut- Formed A Band
The Wedding Present- Interstate 5 (Extended Version)
Josh Rouse- Winter In The Hamptons
Brendan Benson- Cold Hands (Warm Heart)
The High Dials- Our Time Is Coming Soon
The High Dials- Sick With The Old Fire
My Morning Jacket- Anytime
Magnolia Electric Co- Don't This Look Like The Dark
The Go-Betweens- Here Comes A City
Art Brut- Emily Kane
The Decemberists- We Both Go Down Together
Calla- It Dawned On Me
Sufjan Stevens- The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
The Posies- I Guess You're Right
Echo and the Bunnymen- Sideways Eight
New Order- Turn
Living Things- Bombs Below

Disc 2- Mostly Languid
Iron & Wine Woman King
Devendra Banhart Heard Somebody Say
Devendra Banhart When They Come
Martha Wainwright- Factory
Sufjan Stevens- John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Antony and the Johnsons- My Lady Story
Iron And Wine / Calexico- He Lays In The Reins
Iron And Wine / Calexico- Burn That Broken Bed
Bettye Lavette- Down to Zero
The Clientele- My Own Face Inside The Trees
Black Mountain- Set Us Free
The High Dials- Your Eyes Are A Door
Sun Kil Moon- Neverending Math Equation
Marianne Faithfull- The Mystery Of Love
The Posies- Sweethearts Of Rodeo Drive
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals- Let It Ride