Marvin Lin (editor-in-chief and co-found of Tiny Mix Tapes and a former Pitchfork editor) starts off his book 331/3 book about Radiohead‘s classic album Kid A saying he’s not going to spend his time writing about how the album was actually made, but rather, about how the album was received in terms of popular culture. Luckily this ends up not being totally true. In the process of trying to write about the effect the album had on the world, he ends up digging a lot into how the album was conceptually created, though he doesn’t spend much time on ‘studio talk’.
As Lin details, Thom Yorke and certain parties in the band were tired of rock music and wanted to explore more electronic, experimental avenues of sonic creation. So the band trades in their guitars for synthesizers. At the same time, Thom Yorke is having a serious case of writers block, so he cuts up his bad lyrics, puts them in a hat, and picks out the words to make up the new song lyrics. At the same time, the band is, as always, apparently, reading voraciously, and the ideas they’re coming across subtly appear to influence the shaping of the album, even if only on a subconscious level. In particular, Naomi Klein‘s book, No Logo, is a big influence, and its title almost became that of the album as well.
This unique confluence of factors led to the band doing a major gear shift and releasing Kid A upon an unsuspecting public embarking on a new and uncertain millennium. Amazingly, despite how incredibly dark and weird the album is, its sheer excellence and all the good will Radiohead have accumulated up until this point result in Kid A being both a huge critical and commercial success.
I was only ten years old when Kid A was released and had probably never even heard of Radiohead, let alone been excited for the release of Kid A, but Lin does a good job of reminding the reader how weird it must have sounded to those in 2000 waiting for the new album from the band that put out The Bends and Ok Computer. As Pitchfork wrote when they named Kid A the best album of the last decade, now all the hallmarks of the album are commonplace: EDM and intelligent (or ‘alternative’) rock go together hand in hand; every other band uses synthesizers and drum machines (though the ondes Martenot isn’t quite as popular). But in 2000 that was far from the case.
Lin also writes, of course, about how the popularity of file sharing and the internet played a big part in the album’s unique release. He also spends a good amount of time talking about the endlessly fascinating Thom Yorke – with a couple pages even just about what other celerities who are not so fond of him have said – and his, Radiohead‘s, and the Kid A‘s politics. (Do 331/3 writers get a little bonus for every time they write “capitalism”?) Basically all the stuff you would hope to read about in a book about Kid A if you’re not a big recording nerd. My biggest complaint would be that reading about the band’s politics was so interesting that I would’ve loved more.
My bros in Toronto’s oddball indie-folk-jazz crew Formalists have a new EP coming out this Saturday called 6 Possible Illusions Prior to Death. On the new release, they’ve tightened up the band, the production, everything, and the end product is pretty charming. They’re doing a release show at Cinecycle saturday that should also be pretty tight.
The Stills made a name for themselves in Canadian indie rock in 2003 with their excellent debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart. Riding the post-punk wave of the time that Interpol more or less kicked off, The Stills were also lucky enough to benefit from all the press that Montreal got around that time, as bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Stars brought the French-Canadian metropolis to international musical attention again years after Godspeed You! Black Emperor put it on the map.
Thinking themselves clever and knowing that interest in post-punk was waning, the band switched horses for their second album, Without Feathers, dropping the dark 80s vibe and instead attempting to write something along the lines of a Canadian indie rock-pop album for the road weary. The critics were not impressed. Nobody was really. This was not The Stills we knew and loved and most didn’t really know what to make of the album.
For album three, Oceans Will Rise, the band tried to come back in a big way, signing to the beloved Arts & Crafts label and apparently hooking up with some very trendy industry stylists, but it was only to put out an album that, though not entirely devoid of charm, lacked the soul and cohesion of their previous albums (despite this, it won the meaningless Juno award for Alternative Album Of The Year). Then The Stills broke up. Without Feathers was where everything went wrong. And it’s a real shame, because it’s actually a pretty solid album.
Without Feathers is not as cool as Logic…, but it does have more heart. With former drummer Dave Hemelin taking lead vocal duty, the album seems to have some kind of conceptual bent to it, with songs with titles like “In The Beginning”, “In The End”, and “Outro” (oddly enough, the last two appear in the middle of the album). I have no idea what the ‘story’ would be, but the album always feels like it’s going somewhere, like there’s some kind of progression that takes place from one song to the next (though most sound pretty similar), until it reaches the melancholic melodica of “The House We Live In”, which leads the album out with the beautiful “Dear Sarah/The house we live in/Is all I know.” And the band always sounds more alive, more real than on Logic, as if this was the sound they decided was really right for them now (before listeners (perhaps in pure knee-jerk fashion) decided it wasn’t) and everyone was really excited to have found it.
Another thing that makes the album special is how Hamelin’s vocal melodies always seem to be moving upwards, euphorically. His voice is maybe a little thinner than once-and-soon-to-be-again lead vocalist Tim Fletcher, but it’s more authentic, and his singing feels more alive.
I don’t think I got around to even listening to Without Feathers until a year or two after its release in 2006. But the first time I did, I immediately loved it and knew it was just a victim of expectations. They say time heals – I think it’s time this album’s reputation was healed as well. Admittedly it sounds a little square in 2014, as indie rock has fractured to a certain extent into the experimental post-Merrweather deep end and more ‘mindie’-minded acts, but if you still have a soft-spot for the sounds of mid-2000s Canadian indie, Without Feathers is an overlooked gem.
I’ve always love love loved crazy, weird, ridonculous movies: midnight movies, grindhouse, VHS trash, exploitation, WTF? movies, etc. Films that appeal to our most basic, boyish desires and have fun doing so. And yet I haven’t really written about them much…until now. This is the first entry in a new film feature on the blog, Shlock Fetish, which will be about cult and obscure films that fit the aforementioned descriptions. And are awesome. If they’re not, I won’t bother writing about them. The first film to receive the honour of this feature is 1989s Moontrap, a really fun, campy sci-fi film from perhaps the golden age of the VHS era.
Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov in the original Star Trek) and Bruce Campbell (!!!) star as Colonel Jason Grant and Ray Tanner, age-conscious astronauts who come across a mysterious, 14,000-year-old dead human body and weird egg-like structure in space. They bring their findings back to NASA, where the egg ‘hatches’ and out of it comes a weird little robot thing that starts assimilating surrounding technological and biological material until it’s a giant robotic killing machine. Of course, NASA wants to know what the deal is with this thing so they send the astronauts to the moon to try and see if they can find anything they missed the first time they were there. Lo and behold, they find an abandoned base with a moon-lady named Mera (Leigh Lombardi) in some kind of cryo-sleep in it. They wake her up and head back to their lander only to find it’s not there anymore. Damn moon-robots! And shooting and robot attacks ensue…
Moontrap is actually a pretty good movie. As cheesy as its subject matter is, the film respects its characters and gives them time to develop. It’s fairly well-paced and the stop-motion animation moon-robots look awesome. Sure, the sex that Grant and Mera have on the moon is pretty preposterous (though I suppose after 14,000 years a person will get kinda horny) and them ending up together is ridiculous, but both are kind of like, ‘yeah, of course that’s gonna happen in a movie like this.’ Other than that though, Moontrap more or less takes itself seriously enough to stand as a competently-made film, but it does so without sacrificing the fun of being a movie about killer moon-robots.
Ken Park is the rare Toronto artist that I haven’t actually heard of until now, when my entire Facebook feed is freaking out over his debut album, You Think About It Too Much, being released by the excellent Daps Records. Now I’m finally getting around to listening to it, and it’s prettttty cool. It’s like sun-baked electro-pop with a wonky, surreal, 80s-on-DMT sensibility similar to that of labelmates Phedre and mate-of-the-label Doldrums. Oddly, it’s a sensibility of sound that seems to exist only in Toronto and Montreal (Grimes and Blue Hawaii would also fit this bill). You wouldn’t think such nice Canadian cities would be the breeding grounds for something so weird, otherworldly and druggy, but as Weird Canada has made clear over the past couple years, us Canadians are a lot weirder and cooler than anyone really thought…
[update: they're having a release party for the album release tonight at the excellent Milk Glass Co.]
I’ve done a lot of travelling over the last couple months. I was on a business trip that took me to Edmonton, Vancouver, LA and New York, and then my two-month road trip that I just got back from, during which I went to a ton of cool places, most notably Asheville, Austin, San Fran and the bay area, Portland, and Olympia. In about two weeks I’ll be back on the road on my way to Sackville, New Brunswick, as discussed in the last post. From there I’ll be heading down the East coast to my soon-to-be-new home, New York City
I’ve always been environmentally-inclined, but lately I’ve been on an extra strong green-trip, probably because I’ve been seeing such beautiful natural sites and visiting so many ‘hippie’ type places with strong local green movements. So to tie in with this, here’s a little compilation of environmental-oriented songs – and if it encourages you to be more environmentally conscious or friendly, that would be good too