Red Cabin

February 5th, 2016 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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This Long Island-based power pop dude Red Cabin made another album recently called Camp Fire. It has some catchy tunes.

Primitive Ricky

January 30th, 2016 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Lexington, Kentucky’s Primitive Ricky released his great Cave Horse cassette about five months ago, so this post is a bit on the late side. But better late than never.

I was in LA in November for my cousin’s 40th bday and thanksgiving. And whenever I’m in the city of lost angels I like to stop into my favourite LA record store, Silverlake’s Vacation Vinyl. They have a great cassette section with rare, weird and experimental stuff, and the guys working in the store are really nice. Whenever I go there and start picking through tapes, asking them, ‘what does this sound like?’ they find a track online to play for me.

A label called River Girls had a couple cassettes there, and they all sounded pretty cool. Primitive Ricky‘s was my favourite. though. The store’s little sticker comparing it to a cross between John Fahey and Ashra was a good call. Most of the songs are acoustic fingerpicking complemented by drones and weird spacey synths.

Anomalisa

January 15th, 2016 | Film | 0 Comments

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Charlie Kaufman‘s films are not happy movies. Neither is Anomalisa. The “most human film of the year” blurb and uplifting trailer music are deceiving. This is a depressing movie. It might be Kaufman’s most depressing movie.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a depressed, middle-aged family man in an unhappy marriage. He lives in LA with his wife and son. He flies to Cleveland to deliver a speech about customer service, as he is something of a celebrity in the industry for writing a popular book on the subject. At the hotel where he stays for the night, he meets two women (presumably in their early-mid 30s) who drove from their small midwestern city to see him speak, and are very excited to meet him. Stone ends up taking a liking to one named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He especially likes her voice and face, as they are unique, whereas everyone else looks and sounds the same [all the other voices in the film are provided by Tom Noonan]. He invites her back to his room for the night and she accepts. The next morning though, the magic begins to wear off…

Unlike Kaufman’s other directorial effort – the epic, complex Synecdoche, New York - Anomalisa is small and simple. Like a good essay, it’s concise and makes a strong point. But like the prim and proper top of the class, Anomalisa is a little boring and predictable. Perhaps that’s the idea, though: this is, after all, a movie about boring people.

While characters in Kaufman’s other films are usually eccentric artistic types, Anomalisa‘s characters are boring customer service people. Stone’s perception of the monotony and homogeny of the world reflect his jaded reality, but it may also reflect his own inner boringness. He is not an intellectual. He is not an artist. He does not have anything really interesting to say. He is a prisoner of corporate philosophy and middle-of-the-road living. He’s full of frustration but can find no way to channel it into anything productive. Even when he starts cracking at the end, all he can do is lash out at the world in the most predictable of ways (“America is going down the tubes”). And Lisa, for all her fascination with being an ‘anomaly’, is also boring, timid, self-pitying, passive, and typical.

To his credit, Kaufman treats these characters with compassion and understanding, rather than derision and superiority. One of the most beautiful moments of the film is when Lisa sings Cyndi Lauper‘s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. Surprisingly, the lyric’s of the 80s radio staple, sung acapella, are quite poignant. Rather than the carefree anthem suggested by the chorus, the verses reveal a bittersweet, yearning reflection on the American female experience. Lisa’s connection to the song’s lyrics reveal a hidden depth and soulfulness to her character; the tragedy is that she has been so limited by her midwestern, working class circumstances that this aspect of her character seeps out only on rare occasion. And now fate is about to deal her another cruel little knock in the form of Stone.

Compassionate, however, is the best the intellectual Kaufman can be for “normal” characters like Stone and Lisa. Clearly unfamiliar with these worlds – suburban LA and corporate Ohio – Kaufman only presents a passenger window view of them. He lacks the familiarity or true interest to explore the humanity of these worlds in detail (for example, compare Kaufman’s depiction of the midwest in Anomalisa to something like Mark Kozelek‘s depiction of it on the Sun Kil Moon album Benji). As such, Anomalisa is an interesting, even efficient experiment that matches a Kaufman script with Duke Johnson‘s eerie stop motion animation. But not much more.

Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story

January 5th, 2016 | Print | 0 Comments

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Every time I visit my hometown of Toronto, there are a couple shops I make sure to visit. One of those is The Beguiling, a now-legendary comics shop located near Bathurst and Bloor, perhaps most famous for being the one-time working location of Scott Pilgrim author Bryan Lee O’Malley. I stopped by last week to see if any of the really independent stuff on the first floor (second floor is more mainstream stuff e.g. Marvel, D.C., Manga, etc.), might catch my eye. Alison McCreesh‘s Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story immediately caught my attention.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow last year I became really interested in the arctic. I read Robert McGhee‘s beautiful book on arctic history The Last Imaginary Place. I watched stuff on YouTube about the arctic. I began dreaming of a road trip visit to Dawson City in the Yukon Territories. An old high school friend of mine lives there now. She posts about it on Facebook a lot. A book about life in Yellowknife sounded great. I knew basically nothing about the capital city of the Northwest Territories.

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McCreesh writes about how she and her boyfriend Pat finished university and, after some road trips and random jobs around Canada, decided on a lark to move up to Yellowknife for a while. Once there, living out of their van, they struggled to adapt to the unique circumstances arctic life, including limited water and ‘unorthodox’ methods of dealing with human waste. They made friends with normal people, artists, bohemian types, etc. And learned about the history of the city.

McCreesh details all this beautifully in the graphic novel. She also takes time to explain the history of city and its current the social, cultural details, in order to provide everything with the proper context. As a result, Ramshackle is a wonderful, adorable, and educational little graphic novel. It made me miss the adventure of the open road, and the kind of life on the edge that led McCreesh and Pat to make Yellowknife their permanent home.

Top 10 Albums of 2015: #5-1

December 25th, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

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5. Mount Eerie – Sauna

I used to think that Phil Elvrum had some ‘meh’ albums. Actually, almost all his albums are incredible, mystical and entrancing. Sauna is as well.

Pitchfork noted that Sauna feels like it completes a trilogy with Clear Moon and Ocean Roar. But I’d say that if anything, those albums were two sides of one coin. Sauna is an entirely new coin, made in the same line. It feels more encapsulated, whole, than the aforementioned albums. Elvrum’s trademark innovatively homespun production is, as always, magnificent in its earthiness.

4. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Fading Frontier would be Deerhunter‘s sellout album except that it is not in any way. The band’s writing is perhaps stronger than ever, and though the songs are a bit cleaner, less punk and/or shoegaze than on previous albums, that actually ends up making them sound more classically Deerhunter than anything else. Six (or seven, if you count Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. as two) great albums in and Deerhunter sound like they’re just hitting their stride.

3. Fred Thomas – All Are Saved

All Are Saved is a minor masterpiece. It’s not minor because it’s not good enough to be a full-on masterpiece, but minor because its a small, intimate album. Its a report from the frontline of indie rock. A ‘caution’ label for those ready to sign their souls away for a maybe-maybe-not satisfying career as a somewhat appreciated indie rocker, forever destined to remain the critics darling and the rest of the world’s “who?”

The fact that nobody really cared about any of the other (seven) albums Thomas put out before this one only makes All Are Saved that much more special. Like he was the dude sitting on the couch playing guitar at a party while nobody listened or paid attention. Knowing all the while that he was onto something good, and eventually, even if it took years and years, some peeps would figure it out. All Are Saved is the album where some of us figured it out.

2. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

2015 was a rough year for anyone on the wrong side of political correctness. If you’ve been living in a cave since December 2014, just watch the last season of South Park and you’ll get a bit of the idea. But what if you just wanted an edgy band name to match the sound of your edgy music?

I’ll admit the name was insensitive – I don’t agree that it’s racist. But it would be a lot easier for me to get on the castigation bandwagon if the band did not make such a phenomenal album that, by a band with any other name, would sound just as astounding. It’s even better on vinyl, where you can pick apart the layers of noise creating a sediment-like soundscape through which spacey synths and harmonic guitars shine like flashlights in a dark cavern.

And really, the album itself has its priorities in order. It stares (without blinking) at how chaotic our ‘organized’ societies are when one dares lift the seal. I also liked hearing a couple guys from Calgary sing the line “fingertips in the fountain fondle liquid gold”.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Carrie & Lowell, as an album, was such a revelation that it made everyone like Age of Adz and Illinois - perhaps two of the greatest albums of the last ten years – a little bit less. At the time of their release, the aforementioned albums’ elaborate arrangements and compositional backflips made “Sufjan is a genius!” more or less a statement of fact rather than exultation. But by comparison with Carrie & Lowell, both seem overproduced and disingenuous. Carrie & Lowell feels so effortlessly beautiful. So honest in its minimalism. Why would anyone want to hear Sufjan play anything other than an acoustic guitar and quiet synth in his DUMBO apartment?

I’m not sure how Sufjan can top this one. But people probably said the same thing about Illinois.