Life-melters

My favourite music and moments of 2010

by Kevin Stebner

Top 10 lists are always such an odd thing, and something I generally distrust. It's not because they're so subjective, but rather the opposite — that there is no subjectivity on the lists, so few personal connections made to the recordings. It seems as though one record gets put on a 'best of' list, and then the next person effectively copies and pastes it onto the next. I want to hear the records that caught your attention and melted your life, regardless of timeliness or hipness. Where are those records?

That being said, the records that really drove me crazy came from two camps: post-hardcore and roots-rock. I often joke about how I only listen to hardcore and country, but it seems as if I'm not too far off.

Truth be told, my favourite record of the year was the first La Quiete 7" that I finally managed to track down. But that thing came out four years ago, so I give you the 2010 albums (and shows) that moved me.

Albums

Portraits of Past

1. Portraits of Past - Cypress Dust Witch (Excursions Into The Abyss)

Perhaps with the possible exception of Mission of Burma, no other band in the world has managed to return after a 14 year-or-so hiatus to unleash a recording that rivals (and maybe even outweighs) their previous output. But with Cypress Dust Witch, Portraits of Past may have done it. The dudes are already legends for their LP released on Ebullition in 1996 — THE masterpiece in a sea of masterpieces — but Cypress Dust Witch is the EP that is huge enough to destroy any other record, full-length or not. "Through to an End" is one epic monolith of a song. The guitar line — which consistently gets referred to as sailing — gets stuck in my head with alarming frequency, constantly causing me to drop everything and just let it wash over me. The most powerful hardcore jam of the year. The most powerful jam of the year, period.

One Hundred Dollars

2. One Hundred Dollars - Forest of Tears (Blue Fog)

Though actually released in 2009, but not in LP format until 2010, Forest of Tears was the most listened to album of my entire year, so we'll just include it as such. $100 has a bunch of dudes from Jon Rae & the River, so obviously they're got their chops, but the tracks they pull out are some of the best alt-country ever penned in this country — songs that transition from stompers to quiet acoustic folk to even psych (and not annoyingly so!). The lyrics are so profoundly poetic and the instrumentation is unparalleled, but it's Simone Schmidt's voice that makes your head melt in melancholy and want.

Sinaloa

3.Sinaloa - s/t 12" (Adagio 830)

The most inspiring band still in hardcore? Probably. 2008's masterpiece Oceans of Islands had to be the most impossible album to follow up, and all Sinaloa could do was keeping doing what they do: releasing the most sincere and powerful post-hardcore on the planet. No band sounds like Sinaloa, no other band writes like Sinaloa — no other band even comes close. I pray that Sinaloa continues to be.

End of a Year

4. End of a Year - You Are Beneath Me (Deathwish, Inc.)

Probably no other record hit home quite as hard as the newest End of a Year. Being named after an Embrace song, one would expect highly evocative and personal post-hardcore songs influenced by revolution summer-era Dischord, and (except for the weird anti-marriage tirades that seem to continually plague EoaY releases) that's exactly what gets delivered. This band has one of the most laid back rhythm sections rolling beneath some of the simplest yet perfectly built guitar-lines. With an exorbitant number of 7"s released over the past few years, they honed their sound into the most consistent of full-lengths records penned in a long while.

Frederick Squire

5. Frederick Squire - March 12 (Blue Fog/Self Released)

Sure, if we're talking about the best songs of the year, Daniel, Fred and Julie's "The Gambler and His Bride" would be way, way up there. But as far as a consistent collection of songs, as an album, March 12 takes the cake. It sounds like a bedroom album, complete with the vitality and truth afforded to recordings such as those, except now they've been spruced up somewhat and surrounded by other perfect songs. Cold Canadiana at its finest.

Eamon McGrath

6. Eamon McGrath - 13 Songs of Whiskey and Light (White Whale)

Again, yet another one technically released in 2009, but one that simply out-does this year's release. 2010's Peacemaker does have an abundance of solid tracks, but feels a little too slick, its Springsteen aping all too apparent. Meanwhile, 13 Songs, a collection of songs from past recordings, presents a sampling that any songwriter would die to showcase. Much like how Prince did for Purple Rain, 13 Songs takes the best of McGrath's hundreds of tunes and funnels them into one nearly perfect record (perhaps something Peacemaker did not do). Yes, there is tape-hiss abundant, imperfect playing and drums recorded with a single mic, but none of that really matters. What does matter is the quality of these songs, songs that feel urgent and true, songs that kept demanding repeated plays.

Shows

1. North of America house show (Calgary)

[video: Megan Jorgensen-Nelson]

Irony of ironies: the best show to happen during Sled Island technically wasn't even a part of it. I was told Norts were supposed to play Sled, and I was told on April Fools, so I thought surely I was being hoaxed. I called up one of the members to confirm. Joy of joys: it was truth. Norts were coming to Calgary once again! No time was wasted in getting this show together. Even before any other Sled show was confirmed, Norts were playing a house with us.

They played the fest two other times during the week, both of which could easily have been on this list, but perhaps due to the nature of house shows, or the fact that the band was literally surrounded by 100 super-fans, every one of which shouted every single word to every single song, this show was the one greatest thing to happen to our lives.

2. Ghost Throats (Edmonton)

Ghost Throats

Fuck the Tundra [photo: Rico Moran]

I feel like I keep having to say it: Ghost Throats is not only proof that Alberta has the best post-hardcore scene in the world (no hyperbole), but that it's also the most fun. The two-day festival brings all the best post-hardcore bands from across Western Canada and gets them all in one room for two days, complete with everything from soccer to vegan barbecue, amazing distros to conga lines — not to mention the gnarliest bands. I can't even pick a single moment from the fest, because every band killed. Surrounding Damages playing while everyone was watching out for hot lava? Holy!

2009's Ghost Throats reignited my love of hardcore in a very real sense and showed me why it was important to me in the first place. It's run by the realest people in the world, and it made me get off my butt and start a band, start a label. This year's event only made me want to work harder.

3. La Maladresse last show ever (Quebec City)

[video: Kevin Stebner]

Stalwart Sons had the luxury of playing with some of the most incredible bands while touring across Canada this summer. This was the one thing that made our tour truly worthwhile, but the biggest blessing of all was being able to catch La Maladresse. All I could do was stand back and admire this duo, ripping through one fierce and joy-filled set. It seemed as if every friend they had ever had was in the crowd, and the atmosphere was something akin to holiness. Such is the nature of bands, but it was a true privilege to have been able to see them despite the bittersweet finality of it all.

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Sunshine Policy

by Kevin Stebner

On top of being a Texture contributor (and more importantly, a great friend), Kevin Stebner is a constant source of inspiration. I've written about his cassette and vinyl label, chiptune project, and most recently, post-hardcore band. That's not even counting the numerous Bart Records reviews I've excitedly penned for Weird Canada. Tireless and multi-talented as always, Kevin's latest endeavor is Sunshine Policy, a kick-ass book of poetry published by The Straw. Conjuring images of places and people in an unpretentious prose that's both optimistic and wistful, he focuses most attention on experiences teaching English in Korea. We've scanned and uploaded some choice excerpts below. - Jesse Locke

Kevin Stebner Kevin Stebner Kevin Stebner Kevin Stebner Kevin Stebner Kevin Stebner
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On the deeper meaning of cereal

A meditation on the true nature
of the contents of your breakfast bowl

by Kevin Stebner

Kevin Stebner holding Apple Jacks in Korea.

Fruit Loops

An adulation of hedonism. Of all the ways in which a cereal could encourage, Fruit Loops promote one to “Just follow your nose.” In essence, they are encouraging you merely to follow the basest animal instincts ingrained within you. Not only do Fruit Loops discourage following of logic or reason (follow your head), but they also demand you should not attempt to follow your dreams (follow your heart). Fruit Loops desire de-evolution.

Mini-Wheats

Essentially the cereal for the weekend warrior. All the pragmatism of the plain old wheat side coupled with the “fun-loving” frosted side: the Mini-Wheat attempts to have its cake and eat it. While it may appear that Mini-Wheats embody a duality within us all, a sort of ying and yang, the truth is the frosting is merely a sugar coating (a pun, yes, but true) over the otherwise thick and bland cube of wheat. Dig even slightly beyond the frosting and you realize the frosting is merely skin deep, it is not a true half, but a mere show. Mini-Wheats are the cereal equivalent of all those fleece-wearing business tycoons who seem to believe that working 9-5 hasn’t broken them, that they haven’t sold out. They may party on the weekend, but they still have to get up early on Monday.

Apple Jacks

The most Zen of cereals. Early on, Apple Jacks was marketed as an apple flavoured cereal, but of course, upon eating them, one realises that they simply do not taste anything even resembling apples. Yet, Apple Jacks accepted its fate — one does not need to taste of apples to be an Apple Jack — and simply became what it is. When the ’90s slacker kids are asked why they like Apple Jacks, since they do not taste like apples, the kids respond with “We just do” echoing the Zen mantra of “Just be.” Thus aligning itself with such sentiment, Apple Jacks not only gives legitimacy to slacker culture, but also steps outside the need to explain its very existence. Apple Jacks simply are.

Corn Pops

Representing the mythos and complications between the two nations of Canada and the United States, wherein the Corn Pop of the United States take on the more pragmatic form of the corn kernel, whereas the Corn Pop of Canada assumes the more idealist shape of the bubble or “pop.” The Corn Pop of Canada strives for the ideal, eschewing more seemingly ‘real’ representation, almost a more utopic and peaceful, though also the more fragile nature of the pop itself. In striving for the Pops — as the slogan goes: “Just gotta have my Pops” — one exemplifies a very determined and focused mindset, and a very TCB-like attitude of getting things done. In doing so, one just may attain the unattainable. Corn Pops encourage this determination and stick-to-it-iveness of the Canadian dream.

Frosted Flakes

The cereal for jocks, wherein the tiger is often represented playing street hockey or competing in any manner of ‘extreme’ activities. Much like Ali claimed he was “the greatest,” so too do Frosted Flakes. Is the greatness of Frosted Flakes without question, or is it simply that it is attempting to will itself so? The slogan is a far cry from the quiet confidence of other cereals. In the statement “They’re grrrreat!” the cereal refers to itself in the third person — almost always a sure sign of douchebagery. Underneath all the talk, these are merely Corn Flakes. The self-aggrandizing over-compensates for itself; it is merely a cover-up, much like the frost upon its very flakes.

Lucky Charms

Indicative of the influx of New Age thinking into modern culture. Almost as if the collection of blue moons or clovers could actually stave off bad luck, so too will the marshmallow ‘charms’ of this cereal fail to deliver and therefore leave one feeling dejected and misguided. The mythic creature of the leprechaun offers little assurance as his very existence is unlikely to be believed. The actual substance of the marshmallow is indicative of belief in actual charms. There is little nourishment here.

Life

An affirmation of the fleetingness of life itself. Even in mention of ‘life,’ the other side of the coin, ‘death’, is not far behind. When one cracks open a box, the time the cereal lasts is but a short while. One may soon come to the end of the cereal in the box — a literal end to ‘Life.’ Thus, it eschews a “Carpe Diem” philosophy. Life is aware of its short shelf life in one’s pantry, and knows how every spoonful of life, both literally and figuratively, must be savoured. Gather ye box-tops while ye may.

Break

10 haiku based on E.T

Words: Kevin Stebner // Illustrations: Jack Bride

Jack Bride - E.T. 1 Jack Bride - E.T. 2 Jack Bride - E.T. 3 Break

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