Archive for December, 2009

10 Best Movies Of The 00s

December 31st, 2009 | Features | 0 Comments

10. Team America: World Police
Anyone who enjoys the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone knows that these guys are kind of brilliant. There’s a lot of people who write them off as filthy, lewd and offensive (and they are), but such people often seem to suggest that that should negate the intellectual value of their work. It doesn’t. And again, that’s the genius of it. By making their work so outrageous, they’re able to say anything and attack pretty much anyone and all anyone who doesn’t like them can do is say, “ah, it’s the South Park guys, that’s just what they do.” Team America, a movie made with marionettes, is a satire on America’s balls-out arrogance, celebrity political involvement and the “War On Terror”. The movie is bursting with memorable lines and scenes, like the sex scene, the ridiculously long puke scene and the ‘dicks, pussies and assholes’ speech which makes a surprisingly strong case. My friend Kevin’s existence is pretty much embodied by this movie and lines like “durka durka mohammed jihad” and “I will never die” make up a large part of his dialogue. Oh, and it’s a musical. Seriously, “America, Fuck Yeah”, “I’m So Ronery” and “Montage Song” are all classics. Hopefully Parker and Stone will find it in themselves to give us another classic in the next decade to stand alongside South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Team America.

9. Donnie Darko

Bet you forgot how much you liked “Under The Milky Way Tonight” and “Mad World” before watching this 80s-centric sci-fi cult classic. That is unless, like me, you were born in the 90s and had never even heard them before this movie. Despite director Richard Kelly’s inability to follow his promising debut with another great movie as of yet, the incredible cast (Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal!), pitch perfect soundtrack and phenomenal, ambiguous metaphysical storyline make this one of the best movies of the decade. Best thing about it is that giant creepy fucking rabbit suit.

8. Judd Apatow Movies (40 Year Old Virgin/Knocked Up/Superbad/Forgetting Sarah Marshall/Funny People)

One day I’ll look back and say that Judd Apatow was the filmmaker of my teenagehood. As lewd and goofy as his movies are, they spoke to me. The greatest thing about them is their portrayal of young, male characters living in the 21st century, which I believe is entirely accurate. Men are portrayed as being goofy, sometimes disgusting, at times off-putting, offensive and misguided, but not without a degree of emotional depth and the potential for maturity. For example, in 40 Year Old Virgin, at the beginning we see all the guys talking about boning chicks and going to a club trying to hook Andy up with drunk girls and such, but later in the movie we see how much they all value emotional connections and their relationships with women and friends in how Paul Rudd mopes over his ex, in how Romany Malco admits that he loves his girlfriend and has been cheating on her because he’s insecure and how Seth Rogan hires a hot girl for Paul Rudd to hook up with and writes a novel in which a son is unable to love due to his fractured relationship with his father.

I also really liked the way in which they never really have villains. Often characters who in lesser movies would typically be ‘bad guys’ (the cops in Superbad, the rival douchebag boyfriend in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, even the overbearing sister in Knocked Up) are treated by Apatow and his crew as good people who have been merely been put in a place of antagonism in relation to the protagonist, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be good people, even friends with eachother.

Funny People was a very brave move for Apatow to make and it kind of fucked him over, but hey, that’s what artists do, they don’t play it safe, they don’t just give the people what they want, they take chances and, if they’re talented enough, the audience will come around, even if it takes some time. Filmmakers as great and bankable as Spielberg, Tarantino and Woody Allen have had rough patches both critically and commercially and bounced back stronger than before. In Funny People, Apatow made a great, if dark and somewhat uneven movie, but one which I believe foreshadows even greater and more successful things to come.

7. Minority Report

Definitely my favorite Spielberg film this decade, Minority Report was a superbly directed adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. Tom Cruise ably plays the police captain whose own system turns on him when it predicts that he will commit a murder, while a then on-the-rise Colin Farrell plays the young cop determined to catch him. Visually stunning, the film depicts an American society in 2050 in which everyone travels around in automated railcars along huge superhighways and eye-scanners identify and advertise to individuals by name. The only part that seems implausible now is that people will still be reading newspapers by then, even if they do have digital videos in place of still shots.

6. Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2

Watching these two films months apart obscures the enormity of Tarantino’s vision. Rent them and watch them one after another and you’ll be amazed at this grand tale of revenge in which Uma Thurman’s The Bride character travels from West to East and back again to wipe out all those who tried to kill her on her wedding day and took her child away from her. Kick ass kung-fu, stellar Tarantino dialogue, stunning visual style, an amazing soundtrack and the hilarious Pie Mai make this what I believe is Tarantino’s definitive tour de force. The late David Carradine’s ‘Superman speech’ at the end is brilliant. A classic. 5. Sideways

Probably anyone who works for wine company Merlot’s least favorite movie, as Paul Giamatti’s hatred of the brand actually did cause sales to fall after the release. However, this was definitely one of my favorite movies of the decade. As bleak as Giamatti’s 40-something divorce(y, I don’t know how to do the accent thing) English teacher who hasn’t gotten laid in two years’ position is, this movie is still hilarious. Thomas Haden Church’s portrayal of a man-whore actor is by turns one of the funniest things about the movie, while also one of the most tragic, as we find out that (unsuprisingly), his sexual appetite is fueled by his own fear and insecurity. Giamatti gives a multileveled performance that really did deserve an Oscar, and which sadly didn’t even garner a nomination. The movie also features the most accurate depiction of a flop attempted kiss I’ve ever seen.

4. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly

Using the book not so much as a story as a launching pad, Julian Shnabel’s magnificent, surreal film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir written after a paralyzing stroke is a wonder reminiscent in some ways of Fellini’s 8 1/2. This gorgeous movie about a playboy who finds himself unable to move anything but his left eye never approaches anything near sentimentality, but rather, it serves to remind us how magnificent and magical life is, and to appreciate it and not take time or people for granted, because in an instant, it can all be taken away.

Even in as despicable a situation as Bauby finds himself in, his sense of humor remains just as sharp as ever, while his imagination provides him with freedom and hope. Mathieu Almaric manages to capture all of this in a sharp, touching performance that deservedly boosted his profile, leading to his large role in the last Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.

3. The Dark Night

Finally somebody realized that a Batman story could make a brilliant philosophical piece. And it did. Not only did it have an able, intelligent director in Chris Nolan, a great script courtesy of Nolan and his brother Jonathan, but it had one of the most mindblowing casts anyone could possibly ask for. Fuck, even Alfred, the fucking butler was played by Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine! And I know there are those of you who can’t handle Maggie Gyllenhaal’s chutzpa, but she was way better (and hotter) than the boring Katie Holmes any day. And obviously Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was absolutely as amazing as everyone said it was, fully deserving of the oscar and admittedly, a magnificent role to be remembered for.

By the way, despite the fact the film dealt with the big issues and ideas of privacy vs. security, nihilism vs. order and self sacrifice vs. homicide, it did not stop people from making it the highest grossing movie of the year, earning more than $1 billion worldwide. Hollywood, how much more proof do you need that smart filmmaking makes money!

2. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

Three films, all pretty much over three hours long. It didn’t matter how many endings Return Of The King had, I still did not want this fantastic story to end. How Peter Jackson pulled it all off is truly beyond me, it seems superhuman but somehow he did it. It was huge, it was long, detailed, beautiful, epic: it was the Star Wars of my generation. And what a cast, whether it was old power players like Ian Mckellan, Chistopher Lee or Hugo Weaving or the stars the movie made like Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood, everyone seemed to rise to the challenge of making these movies some of the most incredible in recent memory. Special shout out to Andy Serkis and the WETA team as well for Golum, who was perhaps the most memorable character from the movie and had the largest impact on pop culture.

1. Charlie Kaufman Movies (Being John Malkovich/Adaptation/Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind/Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind/Synecdoche, New York)

Charlie Kaufman is to North American cinema today what Woody Allen was 30 years ago (and still sometimes occasionally is): intelligent, neurotic, surreal, lovesick, original, classic…Jewish…His ideas and movies are weird, deep and metaphysical, while at the same time wholly accessible, fundamentally human and genuinely funny and entertaining. They are the perfect merger of soulful, intellectual European filmmaking with the qualities that make Hollywood blockbusters: high levels of action, drama, comedy and romance. There are moments so daring and honest in his films that you wonder how they could allow this on film as well as how this could never have been shown before. So daring and honest that I don’t even want to reference them! Whether working as his own director or with other visionaries like Spike Jonze and Michelle Gondry (even George Clooney, who apparently did not honor Kaufman’s vision with Confessions…), what appears on the screen seems to suggest infinite possibilities for the medium of film, and suggest that they might still even be quite profitable.

Anytime Kaufman makes a movie, it’s something to get excited for because it’s something new, something exciting and personal. It lets me know what’s going on in Kaufman’s mind, in Kaufman’s world, and that’s what I believe art should be: a means of connection people, emotion and ideas in ways that transcend language and make us realize that perhaps we’re not so different after all on some level. Thank you, Charlie Kaufman. For that. Now please go make more movies.

Awesome Album Covers!

December 30th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Apparently the album title is referring to what a website must be having when they list a Greenday album as the 5th best of 2009 (cough! cough! Rolling Stone! cough!)

Top Ten Albums Of ’09: 5-1

December 29th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments


5. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Whoever predicted that the disorganized At War With The Mystics foreshadowed the demise of The Flaming Lips’ musical consistency was dead wrong. Instead, the band bounced back with Embryonic, a radical departure from their previous work which still didn’t really come as much of a surprise. Really, a departure like Embryonic was just the thing a band like The Flaming Lips would, and thankfully did do.
What’s most amazing about Embryonic isn’t even it’s sprawling set of experimental jam freak-outs, but rather its production. Whereas the last couple Lips albums were increasingly squeaky clean and polished in all their euphoric wonder, this time around, the Lips sounded like they set up a bunch mics in the basement and just recorded live-off the floor whatever the fuck went down. Again, a brilliant choice. It doesn’t really sound lo-fi – it’s too clear and organized – but it sounds rougher, dirtier, very in line with the sound a lot of indie bands are going for in the late 00s. The density and semi-chaotic nature of this makes Embryonic a bit tough to get into at first, but once you’re in, you’re in for a seriously kick-ass trip.
4. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Its Blitz!
For cultural and economic reasons, moving towards dance rock (or danceable rock music) is a smart move for any band to make. Dance rock is probably the most crossover ready indie music, as the success of bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers and more recently MGMT attests to (even though the later two are not indie bands per say). Rock clubs bring in a sizable draw these days and its a great place for your average or semi-hip shmuck or shmuckess to realize that they might really enjoy LCD Soundsystem, Peter, Bjorn and John, Arcade Fire or, ironically, The Smiths (“Kill the DJ, kill the dj, kill the dj,” anyone?), who are (strangely) often spun.
Add The Yeah Yeahs Yeahs to that list now. For all the kids who could care less about songs even as great as “Gold Lion” and “Rich”, the band definitely hooked a lot of them in with “Heads Will Roll” and “Zero”, two clear and easy big dance tracks, and two of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ best songs ever. The rest of It’s Blitz! stayed in line with the dance rock tendencies of the first two tracks though songs like “Skeletons” and “Runaway” still showcased the intimacy and vulnerable that distinguishes Karen O’s writing.
3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
It shouldn’t have taken this long for everyone to fall in love with Phoenix but better late than never. Wolgang… wasn’t really that different from anything they’d done before nor was it more ambitious – it was just really, really good. More so than any other band, Phoenix can bust out those gorgeous post-Strokes hooks like clockwork; I swear they’ve got it down to a science or something. This time around things sounded a little bit bigger, a little bit dancier, and its two huge singles, “1901″ and “Lisztomania” actually got heard, whether in clubs, on blogs, over the P.A. at shows or just on your friend’s playlist. Like I said – its about time everyone realized these guys are amazing.
2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion
Back when I was writing for the Dalhousie Gazette, one writer said this album was the new Sgt. Peppers. At the time I thought this was outrageous and hyberpolic, but in the last little while, watching the effect the album has had on the entire world of indie rock, I’m not so sure. In terms of quality I still disagree, even as great as “My Girls” is, it’s not “A Day In The Life”, and the consistency of MPP falls far short of Sgt. Peppers, but in terms of its effect on the musical landscape, perhaps no album released this decade since Kid A or Is This It? has had so profound and apparent an influence on the direction in which indie music is heading. However, unlike even those aforementioned albums which took influences and styles already in existence and applied them in new, exciting ways, MPP is strikingly original and lacking of precedent. Of course, it’s not as though the album was some kind of immaculate conception, as one can point to the influences of dub and dance music apparent in the music, but its application of them is so radical and inspired that this is almost a mute point.
Putting aside the influence and accomplishment of MPP, the music happens to be incredible, and most amazingly, more accessible than anything AC has done before. I remember giving Feels to a friend of mine back in grade 11 or something and him later telling me ( not surprisingly) that he needed to give it some time before he could really get into it. The same holds true with some of MPP, but a song like “My Girls” hits you instantly, as smack in the face as a classic hit single, which is what it will be regarded as in years to come. When people look back on the music of 2009, whether reminiscing about it or
making fun of it in some future Spinal Tap or Walk Hard-like movie, MPP and the samplegaze music it popularized will be an easy touchstone.
1. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
Bitte Orca has not and will not affect the musical landscape in the way that MPP will, but rather, it is more along the lines of a brilliant culmination of ideas and sounds taken from a million different and differing places and genres. The reason it narrowly beats out MPP is because it is the stronger album: shorter, tighter, more eclectic, dense, obscure and rewarding. Each song is its own adventure and suggests infinite possibilities for music. Longstreth shows us there’s no reason we can’t learn from afrobeat, Rn’B, riff rock, pop, psychedelia, electro, folk and classical, and there’s no reason we can’t throw it all together and make something so good that anyone anywhere can enjoy it. And yet, it seems the greatest and most admirable thing about Longstreth is that he seemed unafraid to make music that, just as easily nobody would like, with that weird voice of his and his jittery, frantic guitar playing that could be confused for something amateur and goofy, when really its just weird sounding, though technically strong. But as the group’s newfound popularity proves, with talent and strong enough a vision, regardless of how out there the music you’re making is, people just might get it eventually.

Top Ten Albums Of ’09: 10-6

December 25th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

10. Memory Tapes – Seek Magic
Glo-fi was one of my favorite things about 2009 and Seek Magic was one of the best albums of this years glo-fi wave and a great album by any standard. Its surreal, dark childhood vibe sounds like it came from some strange place in the subconscious that most of us kind of keep away from. Songs like “Bicycle” and “Graphics” showcased a strong sense of composition and arrangement that took notes from dance music, as well as techno, pop and maybe even classical; “Plain Material” turned the album’s formula around, dancifying pop rather than poppifying dance. But whichever way he does it, main man Dayve Hawk makes it work beautifully.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EgbtNMcdwM]
9. Bear In Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
When I interviewed Bear In Heaven frontman Jon Philpot a couple weeks ago for PopWreckoning.com, he told me, “Strangely, the older I get the more I really like pop music and rock. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll still listen to some “out” electronic shit and I think that that’s kind of where my heart will always be.” This statement pretty much explains Beast Rest Forth Mouth. It’s a collection of great pop songs constructed out of experimental elements (tribal percussion, strange synths, excessive repetition) you might not be surprised to hear on albums by Steve Reich or some other crazy peoples. But even though they are technically pop songs with hooks, choruses, etc., they still feel abstracted, unfamiliar, while at the same time totally accessible, even upon first listen. Then again, in a world where Animal Collective is a festival headlining band, ‘experimental’ is hardly as scary a word as it used to be.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGS7vNLhxNA]
8. Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms
Like I said, I was really feeling glo-fi this year. Psychic Chasms was an amazing album, reveling in the innocence of childhood, taking its cues from cartoon and video game music and vibes. Even so, it never seemed childish, but rather, it just seemed impossibly hip and cool, yet completely inviting. Like it’s cover, it was a multicolored affair that used simple elements in a kind of scrappy, old school way to produce something beautiful and new.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rza1GBTx0ts]
7. Pink Mountaintops – Outside Love
I just wrote a long thing about why this was one of the best Canadian albums of the decade so this will be the abridged version. Outside Love is a minor masterpiece written about the glory and tragedy that is this crazy little thing called love. The messy mid-fi production work is brilliant, with a kind of noisy pink shoegazy haze that envelopes everything, giving the songs this kind of dreamy sheen. Key songs are the languid “While You Were Dreaming”, the floating ethereal title track and the closer “Closer To Heaven”, a simple full-out classic about the preciousness of young love. Teach it to your children, please.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yXzrvX-C1o]
6. Passion Pit – Manners
Passion Pit exploded this year. And I wasn’t surprised. They may have come out of nowhere and without any hype, really, but their insanely catchy songs and great little origin story set them up to conquer the hearts of critics and audiences everywhere. Though I’m a little more partial to the Chunk Of Change EP, Manners was a kick-ass full-length debut, packed from start to finish with bounding rhythms, snaky basslines and more neon synths than you can shake a stick at. To try and write about the highlights of this album you’d have to just go through and write about pretty much every track so fuck it. Listen to the damn thing, if you haven’t already.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zherMkcXdo]

Top 50 Canadian Albums Of The Decade, 4-1

December 24th, 2009 | Features | 16 Comments

4. Arcade Fire – Funeral

An obvious game-changer album, Arcade Fire‘s 2004 debut blew up the Montreal music scene, made orchestral rock the music of the moment for…a moment, reintroduced social awareness to indie rock (…ignoring Radiohead, that is…) and was just really, really awesome. On a side-note, it definitely gave Owen Pallett‘s profile a bit of a boost once everyone found out he was playing with the group live and helping out with those insane arrangements. But all that only serves to distract from what a great album Funeral is. It’s an album that many had a hard time getting into (see: me) but once they did, they found something amazing. Win and Regine Butler were writing these amazingly simple and at the same time intricately detailed songs about love, fear, age, politics and technology that could appeal to hard-edged hipsters just as easily as they could to some hipper parents. And it was so big and bright, one would think it would be harder to ignore than to love. Maybe us latecomers just weren’t ready for it, though the rest of the musical world sure was.
3. Wolf Parade – Apologies To Queen Mary

Wolf Parade‘s success was kind of tied to the Arcade Fire‘s back in the day since they were both from Montreal, had shared members in the past, played shows together and were both socially conscious bands. Difference was Wolf Parade was weirder, more paranoid, druggier, definitely less accessible and a lot rougher. And for my money, they made the better album. Apologies... captures perfectly the feeling of the Bush era, of being overwhelmed by a world being increasingly dominated by technology and at a rapid rate; technology that could change our lives for better just as easily as infinitely worse, especially living under something like The Patriot Act. (Shudders). And yet the hope Wolf Parade offered, though meager, was made all the more precious by the apparent futility of everything, as presented in songs like “Shine A Light” and Spencer Krug‘s masterpiece, “I’ll Believe In Anything”. These days, socially conscious music seems to be something of a rarity – maybe everyone’s just happy that Obama’s in office, but go back to this album and just remember that the world isn’t quite all peaches and cream even if the Bush-era is technically over.
2. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse

One of my favorite albums of all time, The Besnard Lakes are... is, I believe, the modern day Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s an album that requires time, but when given, its eight tracks reward endlessly. This album got it all so right. It’s got orchestration, synths, shoegaze, ambiance, pop, explosive guitar solos, experimentation – everything you could want…except for a hit single. It’s just too grandiose, too big and ambient – but sit back and blast “Devastation” and it will devastate your eardrums with awesomeness; and who the fuck else writes music as gentle, haunting and unpredictable as songs like “Because Tonight” or “For Agent 13″. Nobody. That’s who. And it’s got “And You Lied To Me”, which is just an orgasmic slow-burner. The Besnard Lakes are… is so tight and diverse that it just feels like a classic album.
1. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene

What happens when you take a community of some of the best musicians in Canada and get them to all make an album together under the benevolent leadership of Kevin Drew? You get the best album to come out of Canada in the last ten years. Maybe ever. I don’t know how people could not like this or prefer You Forgot It In People; BSS perfectly straddles the line between experimental freak-out and pop song perfectionism. And it has everything. All kinds of instruments, sounds, styles, voices, ideas: everything. But especially heart. A whole lot of heart. You can’t build songs as majestic as “Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (A Better Day)”, “It’s All Gonna Break” or “Superconnected” without a lot of heart. And though I’m tempted to give a lot of credit for all that heart to Kevin Drew, it’s obvious that this is the sound of an entire scene of songwriters and artists each lending the album something. Whether it’s some gorgeous vocal parts via Feist, Amy Milan and Emily Haines, some kick-ass guitar work from Andrew Whitman, an amazing tour-de-force production job by David Newfeld or just some solid rhythm work from Brendan Canning and Justin Peroff, everyone brought something special to the table to deliver a very special album. This is the sound of an entire social scene, one made up of incredibly talented individuals all working together. The result speaks for itself.

Awesome Album Covers!

December 23rd, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

…I know there’s some kind of weird fish and chicken fetish thing going on here but…is it wrong if I still think it’s kind of hot…?

Top 50 Canadian Albums Of The Decade, 9-5

December 22nd, 2009 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

9. A.C. Newman – The Slow Wonder
A.C. Newman, the de-facto leader of The New Pornographers, did not make his best album with the band, but on his own. The Slow Wonder is a meticulously composed work that benefits from a singular vision from Newman. The songs feel only somewhat smaller than Newman’s band work, but their arrangements are still intricate and detailed. The songs seem in a way more heartfelt, though Newman does appear to still be writing based on word sounds, it’d be hard to argue that there’s no emotion whatsoever powering the knockout hook extravangaza that is “On The Table” or the lethargic “Come Crash”.
8. Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew – Spirit If…
I don’t know if anyone realizes it yet, but Spirit If… is kind of a messy masterpiece. It’s a large, long, varied work that bridges a number of styles and genres and yet seems held together by the romanticism manifest in the person of Kevin Drew. It’s got pop songs (“Safety Bricks”), rock songs (“Backed Out On The…”), anthems (“Lucky Ones”), electro experiments (“Frightening Lives”, “Big Love”), lo-fi folk (“When It Begins”) and all kinds of other styles are explored or touched on as well. Not to mention Kevin Drew has his whole crew of BSSers backing him up throughout. If the next decade becomes some kind of musical golden age, it will be populated with albums like this – diverse, unbound works of authentic emotion characterized by a big big love of human expression.
7. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
When Neon Bible came out, everyone seemed to be saying the same thing about it: “yeah, it’s good, but not as good as Funeral.” A couple months later, a lot of people were heard saying something like, “you know what, it’s kind of growing on me, now I’m not so sure.” Well, it seems most of us still prefer Funeral just a bit more, but I think we can all agree that Neon Bible is no slouch. Actually, I’m kind of more into the dark vibe they’ve got going on here. Songs like “Keep The Car Running” and its version of “No Cars Go” are stunning anthems, and “The Well And The Lighthouse” and “Intervention” are terrifying reflections of a world in a devastating turmoil that perhaps it will never escape. Still, even in the darkest times, Arcade Fire, like Barack Obama, have the audacity to hope for better things.
6. Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
Absolutely brilliant, and even more so because Owen Pallett could often reproduce it onstage with simply a loop pedal and a violin. The well deserving recipient of the first Polaris Prize, He Poos Clouds is a brilliantly arranged, gorgeously orchestrated and superbly written work of indie-pop. Truly it shouldn’t fit that designation but even with all its classical and experimental leanings, the songs were still catchy as hell and strangely accessible. A huge accomplishment by nearly any standard, it also includes songs about video games and “The Lamb Sells Condos” has that great line, “And his massive genitals refused to cooperate.”

5. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Somebody must have been slipping Spencer Krug acid while he was writing this album. Oh wait – change that to ‘more acid than usual’. No wait – change that to ‘more acid than is lethal to the human mind’. Random Spirit Lover was that insane. Unlike previous Sunset Rubdown albums, this time they were a legit band. And what a band! They tear it up like they’re desperately playing for every breath of air, and still they sound like they’re having the time of their lives. Songs like “The Mending Of The Gown” and “Winged/Wicked Things” mixed weirdness, madness and beauty into a single proggy entity. Listening to this album is a trip in itself. Are you experienced? If not, then you might want to get on that.

Will The 20-Teens Spell The Death Of Synths And Drum Machines…Again?

December 21st, 2009 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I just went out and paid like $560 for a synth and for the past year I’ve been recording extensively with Garage Band, working out drum machines and sequencing and what not. And guess what? So is everyone else. Bands with synths and drum machines are pretty much standard in 2009. In mainstream music too – nothing special. But 10, 15 years ago, it would’ve been seriously weird (or just downright impossible) for an indie-rock band (or “indie” – in terms of vibe or genre – rock band) like MGMT to have a hit single with heavy reliance on synths and dance music drum machines.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmZexg8sxyk]
But not 20, 25 years ago…
Okay, big deal, music goes in cycles, nothing new. In the 80s everyone was nuts about synths and drum machines too. So…Does that mean that in the decade we’re going to get rid of them again? Did I just waste a whole lot of time and money?

For some reason, (Nirvana?) the mid-to-late 90s effectively made the use of synthesizers and drum machines in rock a serious no-go. The music of the 80s then (and still to a large extent, now) seemed goofy, often shamelessly commercial and misguided – at least at first glance. Of course, it was also host to all kinds of great music from the likes of Sonic Youth to Prince to Michael Jackson to Jesus and Mary Chain to The Smiths to The Cure to Black Flag and on. But then there was “Don’t You Forget About Me”, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and, uchhhh, this. And unfortunately the sour taste left by the aforementioned – especially in terms of their cheesy, lazy and generally stupid and exploitative use new technology like synthesizers and drum machines – generally provoked a contempt towards all those things for the better part of the 90s.

I guess by 2000 we were ready to bring them back again, and Kid A was definitely a strong (and commercially successful) beginning to that movement, which later gained momentum with the popularity of indie bands and artists coming out of Brooklyn, Toronto and Montreal like TV On The Radio, Broken Social Scene and Wolf Parade. The fusion of dance music and indie rock kickstarted by James Murphy and his DFA label was a major movement as well.
So why would we get rid of them again? What sense would that make?
Well – look at Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Their songs have dance drum machines and synth and glam rock and new wave influences – just like MGMT, TVOR, LCD Soundsystem etc. Just compare “Hot’n'Cold” with “All My Friends” or something, it’s the same aesthetics, just tweaked a little differently. “Hot’n'Cold” is more conventional in structure, it’s got the quieter verse, the big blasted hooks in the chorus, the easy narrative. “All My Friends” is longer, the composition is experimental, the lyrics less organized and far more complicated in their sentiment. Even so, it’s the same colors just painting different pictures.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MjVWNFz1vc]
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Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are mainstream artists who are taking cues from what began in indie rock and in the ‘legitimate’ art spheres and commodifying it. This is what always happens. Pitchfork kind of got it right in their recent article “The Decade In Indie” in which Nitsuh Abebe wrote about how music in the 80s was very polarized and then in the 90s, after the success of Nirvana, all the indie rockers got scooped up by major labels and indie culture sort of blended in more with mainstream culture. It starts with crossovers like Nirvana then Dinosaur Jr. and Husker Du, but pretty soon they’re tweaking this and people want that…and eventually you get to Nickelback. And then the cycle begins again.
So what does that mean for us indie rockers and/or hipsters?
It means that we might get sick of all these synths and drum machines pretty soon. And that sucks for me and everyone else who spent money on wacky technology the past couple years. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are just the beginning. In the next couple years it’s likely going to spread like a virus and pretty soon dance or indie rock could become just as cheesy and defiled as modern punk (that is excepting Jay Reatard) or grunge. We’re likely to all (re)develop a gag reflex whenever we hear synths or drum machines because it’ll remind us of all the shitty music that just tossed them on as if to say, “Look how like everyone else we sound! This is what you guys like – right?”
Fuck.
Alternative? Who knows. It’s not like we’re sick of electric guitars just because Ashley Simpson’s band plays them. Maybe it won’t have anything to do with the technology this time around but merely the application of it.
Let’s hope so.

Top 50 Canadian Albums Of The Decade, 14-10

December 21st, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

14. The New Pornographers – Electric Version
Ok, so Challengers may be my favorite, but Electric Version is probably actually the band’s most consistent long player and it was the Pornos album that made me a fan. I’m not even sure how I heard about the band but I remember the first time I heard songs like “From Blown Speakers” and “Chump Change” it was like a sugar rush for my ears or something, I was totally blown away. Even listening to it now, six years on, those songs are just as amazing and pop-perfect.
13. Jason Collett – Here’s To Being Here
Way, way, way better than the albums that came before it, Here’s To Being Here was a brilliant tribute to the folk-rock of the 70s but it also happened to find Collett at his most characteristic, sounding supremely confident and in-the-moment as he lead his band through his tightest set of songs ever. “Out Of Time” goes from a easy groove into full on a dance-y bounce and back again. And that little synth solo is brilliant, somehow perfectly fitting. “Papercut Hearts” is strangely a lot of fun and though it’s kind of hard to take “Henry’s Song” too seriously, that doesn’t get in the way of it being an incredible and at times moving song. Whoever that Soundproof writer was who got that guestlist for Collett’s Dakota Tavern show before I could snag it is so lame.
12. Stars – Set Yourself On Fire
I remember when this came out it was a knockout. And it’s still a knockout. The orchestral arrangements, those perfectly composed touched-by-twee songs, the almost cartoonishly perfect vocals by Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan – you wouldn’t know a cool teenage girl who wasn’t in love with this album. It’s just so brilliantly constructed, revisit it if you haven’t listened to it in a while, you’ve probably forgotten how good it is. There are few moments on this entire album that aren’t genuinely moving and gorgeous in their nostalgic teenage romanticism.
11. The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
Is it clear that I really like The New Pornographers yet? Ok, so it might not be my favorite or their most consistent, but Twin Cinema is the most New Pornographers-y of all their albums. The power is more powerful and the pop is…pretty much as good as ever. Actually, in songs like the simple but meticulous “Use It”, the awesome (is there any other way to describe it?) “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” and the whirlwind “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, it’s better. Also, here the Pornos manage to combine the crayon colored pop of their previous albums with a large measure of the grandeur that would dominate their next.
10. Feist – The Reminder
Somewhere along the way, somebody must have had the crazy notion that Feist could become some kind of global superstar, transcending her indie beginnings and outselling just about everyone she’s ever known. Somebody somewhere must have thought this possible…right? The fact is, she obviously had the talent to all along, but these days talent is only worth so much. The Reminder was the kind of ambitious project that could have gone either way for Feist and luckily, it ended up becoming more successful than perhaps anyone could have imagined. Feist stepped up and took a big role in the writing of the songs and unsurprisingly there were all kinds of messy emotions and tangled ideas behind that charming facade. Big kudos also needs to go out to producer Gonzales, who masterfully brought Feist’s songs to life with a wide pallet of friendly sounds that, at the same time, were unusual and interesting. For instance, the left handed piano that guides “My Moon My Man” isn’t something you’ll be hearing in a Taylor Swift song any time soon, and the lush orchestration that envelopes “Limit To Your Love” that draws from Motown and classic movie scores is used so soulfully that with most other artists it would just seem parodic. Even those little details, like the fact that they recorded in an empty mansion and made sure to get bird sounds on the record, all contribute to the masterpiece that the album is. This is one for the time capsule.

Memory Tapes

December 20th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

This week’s artist of the week is another glo-fier. So it’s not Neon Indian. That leaves Washed Out, Teengirl Fantasy and…

MEMORY TAPES!!!
The lo-fi, electro-pop project of Davye Hawk, Memory Tapes (also known as Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes at times) got hot off the blogosphere before Pitchfork’s Best New Music really solidified his success with the project. I know, this story is getting repetitive. Welcome to indie-rock in 2009. This is how we do it.
Perhaps a little more dramatic than Neon Indian and a little less dreamy than Washed Up, Memory Tapes still sounds surreal and in some weird way like an acid flashback from a childhood spent in the 80s, but Hawk’s music is less childish, more Freudian or something. There’s a darkness on the edge of marshmellow town is what I’m saying.
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Shit, I must be getting lazy. Or it’s just kind of late. Memory Tapes is great. And if you’re not cool with that, then you’re just plain not cool. You dig, Mr. Anonymous?