The musical maturation of myself and my friends came during a period hailed as the ‘garage rock revival’. It was the early 2000s. There was no war, the American economy was in good shape, and bunch of badass new rock bands like The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, and many more were bringing rock back from the dead. The music wasn’t ‘alt’ or what was then known as ‘modern rock’, but rather, these bands looked towards the great rockers of the past like The Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges, and The MC5, and they made something modern and interesting of their influences. You probably remember it, unless you’re in your teens now or younger.
At the time, all these bands seemed so cool and cutting edge – in retrospect, much of it was a lot more polished and accessible than most of today’s more ‘far out’, experimental indie rock. In any case, they clearly ushered in a new interest in rock music that would then morph into the indie rock of today through the changes brought about with the popularity of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Bon Iver, and, of course, many more.
In the course of indie rock’s relentless forward drive, some bands managed to keep pace, while others either got left behind or just lost in the shuffle. The Ponys were a great band from Chicago that attracted some attention back during the garage rock revival and apparently hit their popular peak as late as 2007 with the release of their third album on Matador before taking an ill-advised two years off. While their sound and the production of their albums sounds very much from that time, they were always a lot more interesting than many of their peers. Their sound had some great distinguishing features, like the booming voice of Jered Gummere and their spiked, almost-shoegazey guitar sound. Unfortunately, they fell into the category of bands that seemingly got lost in the shuffle. Today, I’m not sure how many of my friends and music-oriented acquaintances would even recognize their name. No one ever seems to write or talk about them. And today they no longer exist, with frontman Gummere now leading Bare Mutants, and guitarist Brian Case a member of Dissapears. I don’t know what the other members are up to.
So since nobody’s talking about them anymore, I’m going to talk (or write) about them, because they made some really cool music, most notably their first album, Laced With Romance. While all their albums are pretty good, Laced With Romance, produced by Jim Diamond (best known for his work on The White Stripes‘ first two albums), is the one that packs the most punch (and reverb). On later albums they sound less interesting, less assured, and their songs less urgent, exciting. Laced With Romance burst out the gate with the tongue in cheek “Let’s Kill Ourselves” and kills it all the way through the Phil Spector put-on “Fall Inn”, the red light “Chemical Imbalance”, and the snarky “I Only Love You Because You Look Like Me”. These songs are kind of classics, or at least feel like it.
Admittedly the album doesn’t have that bareness that’s kept their peers’ albums like Get Behind Me Satan and Room On Fire from aging badly. And, if released today, it would sound just not quite right. But it’s still a great album, especially if like me, you look back on that time and place in rock music fondly.
I found this graphic novel, Jobnik!, at a comic book shop in Guelph, of all places, and decided I had to pick it up. For those of you who may be reading this and don’t know me or this blog, I was a volunteer soldier in the Israel Defence Forces (or ‘chayal boded’/lone soldier) for most of the last two years and I actually plan on writing my own account of my experience, so I was interested to read Miriam Libicki‘s when I saw it.
Unlike Libicki, I’m a secular Canadian who joined at the age of 22 (after graduating from University of Toronto) and served for a year and a half in the infantry combat unit Nachal. Libicki is an American girl who grew up in a religious family and joined the IDF in the early 2000s, seemingly at 18, serving as what is known as a ‘jobnik’ – a somewhat derogatory slang term for someone who does a desk job or something of the sort in the IDF. She worked in a medical office on one of the bases.
The graphic novel captures some of the experience of serving in the army, though Libicki’s experience differed from mine a lot in that her service takes place during the second intifada and involves a lot more sex. In fact, these two aspects are the major focuses of the graphic novel, as drawings and news blurbs about the intifada cover a number of pages that are then weaved into the next couple covering Libicki’s sexual experiences – and often frustrations – with guys both in the army and out. The pages regarding the intifada and the “situation” in Israel are formatted in interesting ways that make it seem as though the news is ‘closing in’ on her life – it’s claustrophobic and helps give the sense of being surrounded and consumed by the conflict and the politics of the situation. And that is how life there often feels, especially when one is in the army: every day there’s talk of war, murder, terrorists, etc. It’s exhausting. And yet, really, this is a graphic novel more about a girl’s unlucky love life: she hooks up with this guy, this one’s being an ass to her, she has a crush on this one, and so on and on. The mixture of the two elements actually gives a good overview of what being in the Israeli army is like: you try not to get killed, and otherwise you try as best you can to be a teenager, have a social life. It’s not like in North America where you’re shipped off to Afghanistan or Iraq and it’s ‘so long life’ – in the IDF you go home every two, three weekends (or every day or weekend if you’re a jobnik) and without school or money to worry about, you pretty much just want to do the stuff young adults do…
As for the art, it’s all black and white pencil work that makes everybody look kind of plump and roundish. I’m not an art critic so I can’t say too much about it: I didn’t find it amazing, but I didn’t dislike it either.
Libicki’s story doesn’t really go anywhere in particular but that’s ok, not everything has to have a tidy conclusion and ‘moral of the story’. She does a decent enough job of just kind of giving the reader a peak into what her life then was like.
First premiered in 2011 – sorry that this review is so after the fact - Turn Me On, Dammit is a Norwegian film directed by Jannicke Systad Jaconsen, based on Olaug Nillson‘s novel of the same name. On one hand, the title of this movie is great. On the other, while flipping through options on Netflicks, it might give you the wrong impression. I definitely thought ‘ah, this is some dumb sex movie’ until I was in Eyesore Cinema and saw it on the wall with a little note about how good it was. Eyesore Cinema is a pretty legit (Toronto video rental) place so I figured ‘alright, let’s check it out.’ And I’m so happy I did because this is a great little movie.
The film follows fifteen-year old Alma, a desperately horny girl living in a boring little town in Norway. When we first meet her, she’s masturbating while on the phone with a sex hotline. She also dreams of a boy named Artur climbing into her window at night to have sex with her. Actually, she has a lot of sexual fantasies.
One night at a dance at the local youth center, she’s standing alone outside when Artur comes over to her and less-than-romantically pulls out his dick and pokes her with it. Then he puts it back in his pants and leaves. Sounds like a quality guy, right? Alma goes and tells her friend Ingrid who doesn’t believe her. Ingrid also likes Artur and wants to get with him, so she tells everyone that Alma is crazy and made up this story. Alma then becomes a social outcast in her entire community with the flattering nickname ‘Dick-Alma’. And as if her life weren’t shitty enough with this, her mom finds her phone sex bills and thinks she’s a nymphomaniac or something and can barely look at her. Her only friend is the practical-to-a-fault Sara – Ingrid’s dark-haired sister – who writes letters to a death row inmate in Texas and dreams of moving to America to work to abolish capital punishment.
While the film is fairly erotic, what makes it great is that it’s incredibly sweet and innocent, rather than lewd and/or dirty. It is in a number of ways fairly conventional – small town teen is anxious to be initiated into sexual adulthood and struggles with obstacles that arise because of this – but Jacobsen’s deft direction keeps everything subtle, and the idiosyncrasies of the film and its characters make it feel oddly realistic and always interesting. Like its subject matter, Turn Me On, Dammit is great not because of its sensuality, but because of its tenderness that is endlessly endearing.
By now, the music makers of Toronto’s Teen Tits Wild Wives are veterans of the local scene. For years they’ve been playing in various bands under various names, making their own brand of arty-noise without regard for anything other than the pure joy of arty-noise. Every now and then they release a little something. A kaleidoscopic postcard from the beer-strewn basements and stages of the sweet spots of the city. On Friday they’ll do a release show for their new Street Hawkz EP. But for those around the world who can’t make it to the Milk Glass Co. art gallery, the EP can serve as a quick peak at the realest of Toronto’s real-as-fuck local underground scene.
Saturday was the most action-packed day of the festival, so let’s get right in.
After waking up groggily, eating some bread & hummus and doing a quick workout, I made my way over to the Kazoo! Print Expo for the last hour (it ended at 3:00 pm). It was a pretty standard print expo type deal, with a lot of great artists and zinesters with their prints, zines, comics, silkscreens, etc. Koyama Press and Liz Worth (Treat Me Like Dirt, PostApoc) were notably there with their works. I ended up getting two issues of a short comic called Dumb by Georgia Webber. The ‘series’ is about her ‘prolongued voice loss, and the slow crawl of recovery’. There’s not a ton of story in the two short issues, but the art style is cool and minimal and it is kind of interesting to see how voice loss affects her whole life. She has to quite her job and go on welfare and it’s just not a great situation. Hope she recovers soon and her life can get back to normal – in the meantime, I hope she writes longer comics or combines more issues into one kind of graphic novel, because my biggest complaint is that the issues are too short.
There’s a dude inside this.
After the print expo I was off to a cool little space called Silence to see the Nihilist Spasm Band, perhaps the longest running noise band in the world. Originating in London, Ontario, the band has been together since 1965. They looked like the coolest, craziest grandparents in the world playing for a bunch of twenty-something/thirty-something hipsters. Admittedly, noise bands aren’t really my thing, so while I totally respected their ability to pull it off so stylishly (there is an art to noise-making – some are better at it than others), I didn’t need to hear that much before I was ready to leave.
Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t quite capture the storm of sound they were making. Try the clip below from their younger days.
Next stop: My Own Shortcomings ‘mixed media exhibition by Hugh Mater‘. There wasn’t really that much mixing of media other than a dude playing old singles played at the wrong speed (slow, which actually made them sound pretty interesting), but there was some cool art. I’m not an art critic, but I liked it. Here are some pictures.
After a breather and a curry wrap, it was time for EONS at the Red Brick Cafe. The solo project of Bruce Peninsula‘s Matt Cully, EONS‘ music is very traditional folk. Helping him out with pitch-perfect harmonies (and impressively snappy jibes) was another Bruce Peninsula member, Misha Bower. While EONS was maybe too traditionally folk for my tastes, their songs were well-crafted, tuneful, lyrically sound, and their performance was likewise faultless.
After another break for food, I was off to Cornerstone for Guelph’s Shopkeeper, a band I can describe most succinctly as being very ‘Canadian indie-rock’-sounding. Which is a good thing. It’s comforting, homey, Canadian.
And finally, the act of the night that I’d been waiting for, Mike Feuerstack: an artist who’d be a millionaire if critical praise could be converted into cash. I’ve written a lot about Feuerstack over the years, having loved his work with The Wooden Stars (Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars is a classic), his work under the Snailhouse pseudonym, and most recently his work under his own name. When I was in the IDF, I remember listening to him obsessively while stationed on the Syrian border, as his work also sounds very ‘Canadian indie’ and it reminded me of home sweet snowy home.
I’ve seen him play twice before. This time he was playing solo with an electric guitar and a beautiful sounding tube amp. Far moreso than Bry Webb and Destroyer – the other bigger names who played solo for the fest – Feuerstack’s songs lose the least when performed sans backing. Sure, on his records there’s a lot of beautiful padding, but most of his songs only require a guitar and vocals to sound full and perfect. And despite him charmingly forgetting lyrics and chords a couple times, Feuerstack effortless kills it every performance. With his sensitive cooing voice, and song after song full of pretty hooks and chord changes, he doesn’t need to try to perform well at this point in his career, he just does.
At this point, after two nights out till the wee small hours and couch-crashing, I was pretty beat. I soldiered on to Jimmy Jazz to check out explosive punk instrumentalists Bleet – who were phenomenal – but a couple songs in I decided to call it a night.
The next morning there was a pancake breakfast show co-presented by Weird Canada. This was a brilliant way to end the fest, as all the artists and volunteers and frequent faces of the fest congregated together – many with their little kids – and just chilled, talked, ate pancakes (including vegan ones!). I caught experimental acts Eden Segal-Grossman and Isla Craig (pictured above), but their music – solid as it was – was more a background for good vibes and great food. Every festival should end like this.
And so the time came for me to trudge on over to the GO bus station and grab the bus back to Toronto. It had been an incredible weekend. Though Kazoo! Fest was perhaps a festival with a limited budget – all of the biggest acts played without their backing bands – it made up in heart and quality what it lacked in cash. Guelph is small but charming, with lots of friendly, interesting, intelligent people, and a ratio of women:men that puts the perennial sausage-fest that is Toronto’s downtown scene to shame. Every show was well-attended and people came out ready and willing to make friends and become fans. Though by this time next year I’ll be living in New York, maybe I’ll even make the trek up to the great white North to see what happens for next Kazoo! Fest.
The third day of the festival was most notable for featuring the two biggest acts of the festival: Bry Webb (of Constantines) and Destroyer. Both played acoustic sets in the Dublin St. United Church – indeed, a pretty nice setting for acoustic stuff.
The kick-off event of the night, the show began at eight with Bry Webb‘s set. Accompanied by Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, Webb played a set of songs that one could reasonably presume were off his first solo album Provider and the upcoming Free Will (I haven’t heard anything off either). While the songs were fairly solid folk-ish tunes – admittedly lacking in hooks and a particularly strong flavour (though the more fleshed out recordings sound far more rustic) – Webb’s wonderfully full and mature voice – still one of the best voices in contemporary indie rock – was clearly the biggest asset on display. As phenomenal as he is tearing up his vocal chords in front of the powerhouse that is Constantines onstage (and in-studio), he sounds nearly as good on his own, and it doesn’t hurt that his lyrics are particularly inspired regardless of backing, setting, whatever.
I’ve seen Destroyer play two or three times now, both solo acoustic and with a full band. While he’s charming on his own, the fact is he is incomparably better accompanied by his backing band. Some of the earlier material - anything pre-Your Blues - sounds more or less fine acoustic, but anything after – especially everything off 2011′s incredible Kaputt – lacks all the nuances and melodies that his band provides and simply sound skeletal and lacking. I’ve yet to see Dan Bejar give a bad performance, but the fact is that an acoustic Destroyer set is a compromise in place of the ‘real thing’.
After a peak into the packed eBar to catch a couple minutes of the jazzy Manatee, I made my way over to Jimmy Jazz to catch some of Watershed Hour‘s set. The Whitby all-girl duo featured one 90′s haired chick storming the drum kit in true 90′s alt-rock fashion while another alternated between bass and guitar while valiantly attempting to manage her pedals with her toes. It was pretty chaotic and sounded like crazy kids going nuts with their ‘rock and roll musics’ in the garage, but their conviction was admirable and ultimately made for a good show. Unfortunately, their poorly-produced online recordings capture almost nothing of this.
Back over at eBar, Petra Glynt took the stage to deliver her whole weird solo sample-core shtick. This was the second time I’ve seen her and while I respect her experimentalism, I’m still not really enjoying it. That could change at some point in the future, though. I like her ideas and general vision – and I didn’t totally come around to the not-entirely-dissimilar Grimes until she put out her game-changing Visions in 2012.
Toronto’s DIANA closed the night with one of the best performances of the festival. I’ve been a fan of lead-singer Carmen Elle for years and it was great to see her new band live for the first time after enjoying their album Perpetual Surrender for the last couple months. They got on pretty late and eBar wasn’t quite as packed as it had been earlier, but DIANA brought no shortage of energy and character to a faultless set of songs. Kieran Adams‘ live electronic percussion was especially amazing.
Unfortunately I missed the first day of Guelph’s charming Kazoo! Fest, but I got in yesterday (Thursday) to begin my coverage of the five-day-long (sort of) fest and so far it’s been fun.
The first event was a showcase for some video works, including one with a live score.
Taking place inside of the quaint St. Andrew’s Church, the showcase began with The Impermanence Of The Ordinary, a short film about photographer Patrick Cummins‘ work photographing Toronto’s houses and storefronts as they change over time. Cummins was present to introduce the film, which was an interesting look at, indeed, a very ordinary subject that, upon closer inspection, inspires some interesting thoughts about what the architecture of a city says about its history, culture and architecture as it changes over time. You can actually watch it in its entirety on Vimeo.
The second film of the night, and my favourite, was This Is Now Here, Toronto-based photographer and music video director Colin Medley‘s short film about the Sackville, New Brunswick music scene and its annual Stereophonic Festival. Feist once spoke in an interview about how one can only truly appreciate Canada if one sees the great empty spaces and small towns between the big cities. These words were already echoing in my head as I rode the bus from Toronto to Guelph, and this film fit in well with the idea. Indeed, there is something beautiful and romantic in the glimpses someone from the city gets of small town (or small city) life in the relatively empty spaces of the great white North. Medley’s film portrays Sackville as this tiny, snowy little town in the lonesome Maritime where a bunch of University kids get together and make really cool music in small, intimate spaces. Huddled together in badly lit rooms, toques and scarves still on, the kids in the video appeared to truly have a secret but wonderful little scene of interesting and inspired noisemakers. Visually touching, with a perfectly restrained ambient score by Mike Smith, Medley’s film is a snow-covered gem of beautiful Canadiana. Luckily, it’s also streaming in its entirety on Vimeo.
The last work of the event was called Foster and was an experimental video soundtracked by a live band. Admittedly, the video itself was not all that impressive, as it largely consisted of random stuttering footage of ordinary thing (walls, basements, people), a hick-ish seeming Canadian, and kaleidoscopic effects. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of Gummo-esque look at a small town Canadian guy – I’m not really sure. The live band, however, was excellent, ably providing a phenomenal post-rock score with different sections and shifting rhythms (pounded out by two drummers) to compliment the segments of the video.
Next stop was eBar, where a couple bands provided the rest of the night’s festival entertainment. I’m sorry to say I was kind of bored by the theatrics of The Medicine Hat and The Furys, who simply didn’t provide the strong songs to justify their powerful stages presences. Long-running, long-beloved Halifax indie-garage drums-guitar duo Cousins closed the night with a lot less people onstage, but a lot more hooks, power, and mosh-age.