Slummin’ in the Sled

Words: Jeremy Curry

sled island

It’s only a few weeks away! Sled Island, one of the biggest and most interesting music festivals in western Canada, is coming back at the tail end of June. There are over 200 bands this year, as well as comedians, visual art, and film. This can be a little overwhelming at times, and usually pretty hard to navigate. It’s tough to pick between multiple stellar acts playing in different venues at the same time. Sometimes, the one you want to see will have a massive line-up or be completely sold out. Sure, that’s a bummer, but there are always alternatives, and some of them can surprise you and become your favorite show of the whole damn festival. I have some recommendations, but you don’t have to listen to me! There are so many great acts playing, and this list doesn’t even scrape the surface.



Gold are a fantastic local band that come correct when it’s time to play some hazy, lazy, spaced-out pop gems. They’ll make you feel cozy and warm through all of the dark days. Remember when indie-rock bands were described as “tropical” a few years ago? Gold could have been thrown into that category, but they sound more like hot chocolate/warm blanket tunes to me. These jams are real head-nodders. Nod in approval, or just follow the grooves. You’ll get a decent neck exercise, and feel great afterwards! Positive musical therapy.

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson

Colin Stetson has played sax in some popular bands like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, but that’s far from what he honks out in his solo work. His circular breathing is truly a unique sound. Without any effects or pre-recorded loops, he blows insane grooves, drones and bizarre tones. His beautiful, wild compositions will have you scratching your head wondering how he created those sounds. His recent collaboration with fellow sax master Mats Gustafsson is one of the most brutal, insane, and amazing records of the year.



This is an easy pick because Superchunk is one of this year’s headliners, as well as one of the most popular acts. But if you don’t know about them, they’ve been kicking out the slacker jams for almost 25 years. Singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance even started Merge Records, which is a powerhouse of independent releases including albums by some band called Arcade Fire. The ‘Chunk have some of the catchiest, tightest, indie pop/rock jams around. Their songs will get stuck in your head, and you’ll want to keep them in there for a while.

Jay Arner

Jay Arner

Some friends tipped me off about this cool dude from Vancouver. As soon as I heard a single song, I was hooked. I played that song over and over on my computer until I decided that if I didn’t stop, I’d get sick of it. I turned it off and waited a month to play it again. The Jay Arner addiction is a tough one to beat, but I doubt it has any terrible side effects. This man is a pop-song wizard, and everybody should go and see him cast spells of wicked hooks and fuzzed-out guitar jams. It’ll be worth it.

Pete Swanson

Pete Swanson

Tim Hecker curated some of the acts at this year’s festival, and one of the artists he decided to bring along is Pete Swanson. This is an amazing choice. Swanson makes some of the harshest electronic music in the world. The beats are heavy and industrial, and computer bleeping tones can wobble in and out without any notice. It sounds like the destruction of a factory building Robocops, or a dusty dub album playing at the wrong speed, with a messed up needle skipping over grooves. The tones can get pretty brutal, but that’s all part of the fun.

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx

Shearing Pinx are a spastic, noisy rock and roll trio. They’ve played Calgary numerous times, sometimes at more noise-centric shows. They have more of a punk vibe, and the fact that they’re hard to pin down genre-wise makes them even more interesting. The vocals are reminiscent of a guy yelling at you to get something done, while the guitars are akin to scribbling on the wall of your parents’ freshly painted house. Feedback squeals are not uncommon. I’ve heard the term “face-melter” describe a lot of rock music, but I think this band truly deserves the title.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

Going to see a DJ while a slew of bands with guitars and drums and stuff are playing doesn’t sound that appealing, but Ryan Hemsworth is a different breed. This kid mixes rap and R&B with old Super Nintendo music, and totally gets away with it. He does this Danny Brown x Donkey Kong remix that is better than most of the rap productions I’ve heard this year. He’s created a lot of great mixes for various music sites in the last couple of years, along with a recent free EP that sounds fantastic. This one’s going to make you exhausted from dancing like a complete maniac, so drink a lot of water.

Zachary Fairbrother :: Feedback treatise

Words: Jesse Locke // Photoshop: Peter Locke

Zachary Fairbrother

*This article also appears in the May 2013 issue of Offerings.

Zachary Fairbrother might be best known as the fretboard-shredding frontman of Lantern, but he’s got a whole other set of cards up his jean jacket sleeve. Prior to his time with the scorched proto-punk trio, Fairbrother cut his chops studying composition at Halifax’s Dalhousie University and as artist in residence artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. His multi-amp, multi-instrument pieces such as the “Buddha Box” series stretch the limits of feedback, drone and ambient loops to create a body-rattling behemoth of sound. Before he wakes the spirits with a series of performances at Wyrd IV, we caught up for a tête-à-tête.

JL: There’s another article where you said, and I quote, “When I was a teenager, in between wanks I would pull out my guitar and wank a little more.” How old were you when you first started playing?

ZF: I was 14, and in grade eight. I bought a guitar from my friend but didn’t really know how to play it, so I would pick it up and scrape a penny along the strings because I thought it sounded cool. I also had some issues of Guitar World magazines with tabs, and the one I picked to try out was Fear Factory’s cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” because it looked the easiest. I think they may have used a seven-string, but I didn’t even know what that was at the time. The next Christmas my parents got me some lessons.

When did you decide to get serious and move into composition?

My guitar teacher was probably in his early 20s and studying at Dalhousie, where I ended up going. I came from a small town and didn’t really have any peers who were into the same music, so I thought he was the coolest. I don’t think I was even aware what a composer was, and probably just imagined it was something romantic. When I was done high school I wanted to play music all day, so I decided to study it at a higher level.

How was your experience at Dalhousie?

I didn’t like music school for the first three years. We started off with a foundation year and had to learn classical guitar, which I didn’t really connect with. It’s a steep learning curve and I had to perform with violinists who’d been playing since they were five, so I never felt comfortable. I later took courses in composition and orchestration where I learned to write for various instruments, but at the end of the day, I always came back to electric guitar.

I’ve also heard you talk about Cornelius Cardew’s graphic scores. What do you like about those?

Cardew’s Treatise is an interesting one. I’ve never performed it, but as I understand it there’s very little explanation of what the piece is. You’re literally just supposed to look at these objects that evoke an interpretation. When I’m composing, I’m not really interested in writing something in depth where you start at bar one and go to bar 200. A lot of my pieces come from improvisation so there’s no real need for a score, but I like the idea of adding a visual component after the fact to fit the sounds. It’s another way for the performer to think about it in more abstract concepts.

You first performed your “Buddha Box 2.0” piece at the OBEY Convention in 2010. Is that the same thing you’ll be playing here, or has it evolved?

It’s going to be slightly different. I’m trying to find a happy balance where I can scale it down a bit, and I’m going to change the arrangement plus add a new intro. It’s something I’ve jammed on at home but have never brought out live. I call them remixes, though they’re probably going to be indecipherable. It’s basically taking some of Beethoven’s later string quartets and slowing them down on my four-track with cassettes. They’re beautiful at their normal speed, but a lot more dramatic this way and almost an expressionistic take. Violinists always have crazy vibrato, so when you slow them down it creates these really huge warbles. It’s super dark and ambient, and from there we’ll bring in the drone. The most important thing is that it needs to be loud, because it’s as much of a physical body experience as listening.

Can you explain the Buddha Box concept?

“Buddha Box 1.0” is a solo piano piece that incorporates a Buddha Machine. The piano has speakers inside it, and when you put the pedal down, the ambient loops start to resonate. For the second piece I have Buddha Machines playing into guitar pick-ups. The different performers amplify these loops and then take them away, so they’re able to improvise on top of snippets of voice that cascade and drop out. Both pieces are meditative but also fairly monolithic. The piano piece works itself into a wash, and “Buddha Box 2.0” is supposed to be a bit scary. Buddha is a god, so that evokes awe but also fear.

Zachary Fairbrother performs at Wyrd IV in Montreal on Friday, May 10 (Casa del Popolo) and in Toronto on Saturday, May 11 (the Music Gallery). For more information, visit

Ashes to Ashes :: Dwelling in the uncanny valley of David Bowie

Words: Anthony Hansen

Never Let Me Down

“It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds.
And they had all arrived at the same building
at more or less the same time.
And they were all free. And they were all
asking themselves the same question:
What is behind that curtain?”
– Laurie Anderson

Itʼs been years since Iʼve written really earnestly about music. My recent writing, for the most part, has taken the form of diary entries, scrawled confessionals that help me try to make sense of my busy brain. There was a time when David Bowieʼs music served a similar purpose. In the past, he gave me something to hold on to: his fragmented, sometimes aggressively non-linear lyrical style sang my alienation back to me. There was also something weirdly relatable about an artist who saw music as a form of play-acting, expressing himself through bits of other peopleʼs discarded personas. As someone who could only understand the world when it was explained to me through books, movies, music and television, seeing someone who exuded that same detachment was weirdly comforting. Hell, the more outlandish he got, the more I liked him. Itʼs like someone somewhere had given him the permission to look, sound and act as weird as I felt. Never mind that Bowie and I would have virtually nothing in common if we met. He was famous, he was a grown-up, and he knew what he was talking about. Everything was going to be okay.

Still, as Iʼve been awkwardly stumbling into adulthood, even the music thatʼs given me my most solid foundation has come into question. The past year or two has seen me parting ways with a lot of my formative musical influences – sometimes cordially, sometimes not. I respectfully said goodbye to Frank Zappaʼs monotonous misanthropy while still retaining a friendly relationship with his more charming “throwaway” albums (hereʼs looking at you, Chungaʼs Revenge and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch). I was saved from an abusive relationship with Lou Reedʼs solo career by an extended stay in John Caleʼs Heartbreak Hotel. I realized a lot of punk bands just plain sucked. David Sylvian really is kind of a jerk. And so on.

But through it all, Bowie remained untouchable. Yeah, his last few albums bored me a bit if I were to be totally honest, but heʼd still left behind an impressive body of work. I defended a good chunk of his ’90s output, listened indulgently to his ’80s misfires when no one was looking, danced around my room to Ziggy Stardust, and marveled at his output from 1976 to 1980, easily my favorite string of albums by any single artist.

Point is, I havenʼt enjoyed his music so much as lived in it. So it frustrates me to say that walking into The Next Day, his first album of new material in ten years, feels less like coming home than camping out in a museum decked out to look like a bedroom. So much effort has been put into making this place look comfortable and familiar that all I can notice is how creepily unnatural it is. The Next Day dwells in the uncanny valley of being so much like what one would expect a Bowie album to sound like that all I notice is the nagging sense that somethingʼs missing. All I hear are catchy choruses, calculated craftsmanship, politely perverse rock and roll. The acceptable face of subversion.

And yet, something keeps pulling me back into The Next Dayʼs undertow. If I were to guess, Iʼd say itʼs because, for the first time since before I was even born, Bowieʼs become mysterious again. The all-too-human missteps that defined his fall from grace in the ’80s and subsequent journey to artistic rehabilitation are now just a small part of the broader Bowie mythos, meaning that as long he keeps this no-contact-with-the-press routine going he can go back to being a total enigma. Itʼs a marked contrast with the “David Bowie, somewhat normal guy” persona heʼd adopted with his last few albums. At no point on this album does he give you anything to empathize with. Thereʼs no way in. Itʼs just a catalogue of obsessions. This is an album calculated to be intriguing, and you know what? On that level, it works. The only other Bowie album that has simultaneously fascinated and frustrated me this much is Tin Machine.

Iʼd like to think that – from the flippant cover on down – The Next Day is a reckoning, an exorcism, a final, definitive break with and deconstruction of the very concept of being “David Bowie”. If this proves to be true, the albumʼs last two tracks may be clues pointing the way forward. “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” is a puddle of spiteful invective disguised as a feel-good singalong, a nasty piece of character assassination that ends with the drumbeat that opened Ziggy Stardustʼs opening salvo, “Five Years”. I love how it plays out like a sick joke at the expense of everything he once stood for or, perhaps, the idea that he ever stood for anything at all.

Cue the Scott Walker-aping closer, “Heat”, with its refrains of “And I tell myself I donʼt know who I am” and “I am a seer and I am a liar”. Thereʼs a weirdly self-destructive tone to all of it, like David Bowie (the person) has gotten sick of being “David Bowie” (the icon). In fact, itʼs almost like those years of “David Bowie is dead” rumors roused the man into action. Oh no you donʼt, world. David Bowie isnʼt dead until David Bowie fucking says so. On this album, he doesnʼt just die, heʼs brutally murdered, his body “left to rot in a hollow tree” (to quote the driving title track, the albumʼs other major highlight). Itʼs not quite John Lennon singing “the dream is over”, but I guess itʼll have to do.

More than any other Bowie album, it reminds me of Never Let Me Down (Bowieʼs least favorite and probably yours too), an album of very dark, unsettling songs all but ruined by their overstuffed, Sports-Mascot-chipper arrangements. The difference for me is: 1) I heard Never Let Me Down when I was in grade school and 2) I had taken the time to read and be thoroughly creeped out by the lyrics before I even heard a single note of it. The fact that the album itself wasnʼt any good was irrelevant – at that time in my life and under those circumstances, it didnʼt have to be. I can still listen to that album today and hear it not for what it is but what I always wanted it to be. A tiny, embarrassing part of Bowieʼs history that I co-opted for my own purposes, it now exists in my psyche as a weird little lie I still tell myself to feel better about the way my handle on the world and on myself has changed.

This isnʼt a phenomenon exclusive to David Bowie, of course. There are plenty of objectively shitty albums Iʼve embraced because they happened to be just what I needed at the time. Granting yourself the right to occasionally have incredibly shitty taste in music is a small but weirdly satisfying victory, like looking at yourself naked in the mirror and successfully stifling the urge to flinch. But I digress. Sometimes life presents us with things that we recognize to be completely true, but more often than not weʼre just making shit up as we go along. Just as many have chosen to believe that this is the Bowie album theyʼve all been waiting for, I have to believe that the cold, empty feeling it leaves me with is deliberate, not only because thatʼs consistent with how I think of Bowieʼs role as an artist, but also because itʼs the only way I can finally make sense of this thing and move on with my life.

So here it is, The Next Day, Bowieʼs own “Glass Onion”, a monument to our misguided nostalgia, a comeback that exists only to shut us up once and for all. You either see it as the album you want, the album you need, or the album you deserve. Everybody wins.

Somewhere in the museum wing on my way out, I see a small note at my feet in what looks suspiciously like the artistʼs handwriting. Thinking it may provide some context for all Iʼve seen, I pick it up and, sure enough, there it is: “You Canʼt Go Home Again”.

“Or in other words, shy from the sky. No answer lies there. It cannot care, especially for what it no longer knows. Treat that place as a thing unto itself, independent of all else, and confront it on those terms. You alone must find the way. No one else can help you. Every way is different. And if you do lose yourself at least take solace in the absolute certainty that you will perish.”
– Mark Z. Danielewski

Life Melters 2012

Words: Kevin Stebner

Yeah, I’m late this year. But let’s be honest, all these year-end lists get churned out so fast, leaving no time for perspective, they basically miss all of December in their compiling. I needed the time to let it stew. Normally, these features have the same boring 40 records that are on every other list, leading one to believe that only 50 albums got made last year or the impression that the underground has ceased to exist. So, let’s be clear, top lists are boring — they rehash the same records, never ever focus on individual songs, and COMPLETELY ignores singles. I want to avoid that and illuminate some things you may have missed. I can’t say too many “albums” per se really struck me, but there were a ton of individual songs that wrecked me.

So, here are the 12 best songs I heard in 2012; 6 hardcore, 6 otherwise, that made my life melt and really rewarded all the time I spent digging and listening. Enjoy!

Jason Molina – “No Hand Was at the Wheel”
From: Autumn Bird Songs (Graveface)

How was this recording not big news? Three years since the last Magnolia Electric Co. recordings, on hiatus for a number of reasons. Many of the new songs come off as no more than demos, but Molina has always shone in that form. Just put his voice up front and it’s already perfect. Molina is the master of being sad-sack, yet never melodramatic, and “No Hand” is just that: almost genre-free in his sombre and naked songs.

Gold – “Losing Your Hair”
From: Losing Your Hair EP (self-released)


I just know that when Gold gets spoken about it’s going to be for the Women connection or to focus on the front-women’s looks, but put that away, because it’s the music that makes them worth your time and love. I’m rarely a fan of dreamy pop music, but Gold bore to the kernel of strong writing, luminescent grooves, and slight vocals. “Lose Your Hair” has such a wonderful interweave with the ladies’ voices and guitars.

Cousins – “Thunder”
From: The Palm at the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl)


Easily the jam of the summer. Just slow, plodding and beautiful. The most simple of riffs, repetitive love song sentiments — the soundtrack to backyard fires or driving into sunsets in slow motion. Three-chord perfection.

Mac DeMarco – “Ode to Viceroy”
From: 2 (Captured Tracks)

Mac is too fun. How is it possible that this hokey and jokey lounge music is so enjoyable? I just can’t deny it; Mac makes me feel like I’m in on it. The sweet groove and tape warble of “Viceroy” is the crown jewel of 2, hilarious yet soothing. A love song to cigarettes? Sure, why not, Mac – you can sell it to me.

Eamon McGrath – “Great Lakes”
From: Young Canadians (White Whale)

Eamon McGrath

Canadiana at its finest. In an age where people would rather sing about dancing or shoes than their world around them, Eamon may well be the torch-bearer for Rock’n Roll in this country. “Great Lakes” begins as a quiet acoustic song and crescendos with a pulsing stomp and noisy guitars into gruff sublimity. I’d submit this track as the new national anthem.

Fiver – “Calm & Collected”
From: Two Songs 7″ (Indoor Shoes)


Simone Schmidt’s voice, once again, conquers. Ever-powerful in storyteller mode, “Calm & Collected” weaves yet another sombre tale of quiet fear. Put away all your hang-ups you may have regarding country, because this track carries more emotional weight in a single song than all of 2012 pop music combined. The pulsing wash of the trem, the haunting voices, the whole MOOD is just miles above any “alt-country” act in the world.

Catlin Elm – “Make This Your Life”
From: Catlin Elm/Coma Regalia split 7″ (Middle Man)

Catlin Elm

Without a doubt, THE emo jam of the year. I suggest bands listen to what Catlin Elm are doing here. See, it’s not technicality or heaviness that a good hardcore band makes, but the TENSION they’re able to weave. Catlin Elm do this so deftly, it’s truly a marvel to have been captured on wax. The hand claps harken back to Hawkes, and that vocal is still as perfectly haggard as ever. Moving.

Fell to Low – “Sartoris”
From: Sensible Sounds of Men 7″ (React)

Fell to Low

Wow. Fell to Low could be the best new hardcore band in the states right now. Really sharp guitars, hard rhythms. Somewhere in between Chicago noise-rock and Damages, with enough D.C. to keep it smart. “Sartoris” arcs like a movement, starts with a math-heavy riff, marching steadily to its hard-hitting conclusion. I wish this were the direction hardcore was heading, but I’m glad at least glad Fell to Low are able to least hammer it out for us.

Ten Thousand Leagues – “Guillotine Pipe”
From: 2012 demo (self released)

Ten Thousand Leagues

No one does chaos anymore, or when they do, it’s calculated to the point where chaos is merely a pretense. “Guillotine Pipe” is an utter mess, the guitars are completely out of tune, and 10K Leagues actually sound scary and dangerous. In this world of Touche’s, it’s a blessing to be hit with this cacophony.

Facel Vega – “Gertrude”
From: The Body (Art for Blind)

Facel Vega

I’ve championed this record before, and were I to pick a favourite album of the year (even though it’s technically a 2011 release, but no matter), The Body might be it. “Gertrude” is probably my jam on this record. Rollicking and almost off the rails. Not to beat the Rites of Spring comparison into the ground, but Facel Vega take that revolution summer thing and crash it to the ground.

Baader Brains – “New Era Hope Colony”
From: New Era Hope Colony (Clean Plate)

New Era Hope Colony is a searing bread basket of assortments; it’s got that revolutionary Nation of Ulysses-like swagger, it’s political, and perhaps polemical, but undeniably blazing and fun. Incredible use of jazz, soul and political speech samples, absolutely tearing riffs. Sarah/Mike Kirsch has been mining this style of post-hardcore for decades, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. RIP Sarah Kirsch!

Veneers – “Gold Nails”
From: Similar Stories (Anteduvia)


Easily one of the most unique and interesting post-hardcore statements made in this country this year. “Gold Nails” is packed full: guitar tones I’ve never heard, phone-recorded vocals, curious drum patterns. It’s not easy listening, in a genre that’s already not easy listening… thankfully so.

Good things 2012

Words: Jeremy Curry

Since I usually regret something on my “Best Of” list, I would rather just mention that these were some good things I enjoyed at the time. I am sure they aren’t the best, as I know I will find something better that was released this year, many years down the road.

Jim O’Rourke, Oren Ambarchi and Keiji Haino – Live at SuperDeluxe Tokyo

These guys are regulars on my lists, only because I consider them masters of their craft. I usually end up enjoying everything they churn out. Seeing them live was not only a highlight of my year, but of my life. It was very loud, intense, and a quite a surreal experience. Being able to see three of my favourite musicians playing together on a single stage was pretty amazing. It was also my last day in Tokyo, which made for a great goodbye party for myself. They were loud, abrasive, screeching, wailing, flailing and squonking to my heart’s delight. I don’t know if I will ever see a show quite like that again.

Blur – 21 Box Set

Blur - 21 Box Set

Blur have been one of my favourite bands since I was in junior high. These guys were always pushing the envelope of what they could make, and would scrap everything they became famous for to start fresh. I liked that. “Song 2” was popular everywhere when it was released, and became a beer ad / jock anthem. After that, they released the album 13, which was mostly sad ballads. They have never stuck to one sound, and always strayed from getting pigeonholed into one specific genre. This box set is a really great hunk of every full-length release they have ever put out, as well as b-sides, rarities and live tracks. It’s a nice trip down memory lane, and the chance to listen to all of these unreleased tracks was a nice addition.

Patrice and Friends

A couple of his albums were released last year, but in 2012, Patrice and Friends (a.k.a. Grime producer Slackk) dropped another banger into my lap called Cherry Sorbet. It’s a nice mix of footwork, boogie, soul, R&B and funk jams moving at such a fast pace that you’re sure to be tuckered out on the dancefloor pretty quick. All of his albums are a lot of fun, but I would suggest starting with Cashmere Sheets. So many great beats pumping at you on that one.

Lone – Galaxy Garden

This might be my favorite electronic album of the year. It starts off with some wild jungle jams and keeps flowing from there. It’s a very playful but busy and intelligent album, which also contains some of my favorite tracks to bust out at the club, such as “Spirals” which samples Anneka’s vocals into what sounds like a classic Orbital track. I haven’t heard another release like it this year, and that is refreshing.

R. Stevie Moore

R. Stevie Moore

I found out about this man through The Wire and discovered his exhaustingly massive output of releases. I’ve heard a bunch of them, but haven’t even scratched the surface. His album with Ariel Pink is completely bonkers, but is also a match made in space. Those guys were meant to record together. There is a documentary about R. Stevie Moore on YouTube, and although it’s kind of boring, watching his recording process is fascinating and would also drive me completely insane. He is a master of pop music, and producing massive quantities of it.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth

I found out about Ryan Hemsworth through FACT Magazine, where he contributed one of the year’s best mixes. Playfully mixing up rap artists like Danny Brown with the Donkey Kong and Chrono Trigger soundtracks is a genius move. The beats get pretty hazy, but the drum samples push forward and keep you moving. I have a bunch of his mixes on heavy rotation at my house, as he compiled them online and gave them all away for free. I think he would be a great guy to see live, if you want to get some exercise by dancing your heart out.

Other notable albums of 2012:

O’Rourke / Ambarchi /Haino – Imikuzushi
Sir Richard Bishop – Intermezzo
Six Organs of Admittance – Ascent
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
Mark Fell – Sentielle Objectif Actualite
Anenon – Inner Hue
Jason Lescalleet – Songs About Nothing
Josephine Foster – Blood Rushing
Raglani – Real Colors of the Physical World
Stephen O’Malley & Steve Noble – St. Francis Duo
Chris Reimer – The Chad Tape
Fenn O’Berg – In Hell
Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
El-P – Cancer 4 Cure
Rangda – Formerly Extinct

Pure Pleasure :: Six releases, old and new, that punched my ticket this year

Words: Christopher Laramee

White Hills – The new lords of space rock

Carlton Melton
Photos of Photos
Agitated Records

This San Franciscan three piece came out of nowhere (for me) and blew my head clean off. Spaced synthscapes and burnt riffs for days, these guys up the ante and stand out in a BIG way in a scene crowded with delay-soaked longhairs. Check out their back catalogue for more sublime raunch. John McBain (Monster Magnet) plays, and also mixed and mastered the thing. DO NOT IGNORE THIS ONE!

Pharoah Sanders

This one’s been in my racks for a couple of years and I never gave it a proper listen. My mistake. The true post-Coltrane godhead of reed-destroying madness, Karma surprises with some quiet, interstellar passages, and Leon Thomas’ scat/spoken narrative guiding you through the storm of rattled percussion and hot tongues. Pure pleasure, from start to finish.

The Chinese Restaurants
River of Shit 7″
S.S. Records

Wow. That was my first response. Props to my man Ben for the tip on this one (and Carlton Melton). Along with the Soggy 2LP reissue, this is one of the best PURE rock releases in quite some time. Lo-fi? Yup. Noisy as all fuck? Sorted. Obama samples? Check. Now, do we got a song which is a straight version of THEM’s “Gloria” with new lyrics called “Queen of the Skanks”? Absolutely, my friend! What are you still doing reading this?

Curtis Mayfield
There’s No Place Like America Today
Curtom Records

Can’t quit this one. An under-appreciated classic if there ever was one. A reflection of mid ’70s urban decay and collapse that only lets in some light occasionally, this album should be as revered as Marv’s What’s Going On. Stark as daylight drums rise from the floorboards and try to pull you down with them. Down where, you ask? Down to hell, bro. And guess what? It’s just a few blocks down the road. As topical today as it was then.

The Men

Just got this one a few weeks ago. I sure dig the two records that came after, but this one pulls my goalie in a real wicked way. Hmmm, let’s see what comes to mind. Black Flag circa My War, uh, Boston’s lost heroes The Swirlies, some KARP, and uh, well let’s just say there’s a bit of amplifier abuse happening here. The second song “Problems/Burning Up” kills the lights and goes for the lapels with a LOT of subway swagger. Worth checking for that one alone.

White Hills
Frying on this Rock
Thrill Jockey

The new lords of space rock come correct yet again. I find it disgustingly strange that this band has yet to break the whole fuckin’ scene wide open and be hailed as the King and Queen they rightly should be. I guess being one of the top live acts in the world and putting out ROCK MASTERWORKS with alarming regularity doesn’t count for shit these days. Mark my words, when that douchebag from KINGS OF LEON (I dunno, you pick which one…) is drooling in his own barf behind a Denny’s dumpster a few years from now, these fine folks will be in their crystal palace recording concept albums about Rasputin rising from the dead or something like that. That’s the world I want to live in.

Tunes from the Crypt :: Neue Deutsche Welle

Words: Jesse Locke

Abwärts – sinister surf-rock.

Amongst other YouTube vortexes I’ve been sucked into as of late like the BBC’s Brittania series or the generous selection of Peel Sessions from the saint known as Vibracobra23, my most recent obsession is Neue Deutsche Welle. This overtly German strain of New Wave / post-punk from the late 1970s and ’80s runs the stylistic gamut from the sinister surf-rock of Abwärts to Die Radierer’s computer bloops, Der Plan’s wonky New Romanticism and shivery chanteuse Silvia (recently namechecked by Montreal’s giallo disco sex god Femminielli). Andreas Dorau and Die Marinas may have caught the ear of Daniel Miller for a Mute reissue in ’82, but the majority of these artists never gained the crossover ubiquity of their cheeseball overground counterparts Trio, Falco and Nena. To an open-eared public, any of these tunes could have been hits, except of course the rough mutts in the litter, Die tödliche Doris. Here’s a small collection of clips, but further exploration is highly recommended. Enjoy!

Tunes from the Crypt is a semi-regular feature on Texture with a rotating cast of writers. Its aim is to unearth overlooked, forgotten or little-known musical artifacts, found in the dusty discount or used bins of record shops, your cool uncle’s attic, church bazaars, garage sales, so-called ‘alternative channels’ or simply hiding in plain view on the Internet.

Tunes from the Crypt :: Earth – Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions

Words: Christopher Laramee

Earth – Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions (Sub Pop) – 1995

This album contains eight songs spread across two 12”s, clocks in at 55:04 and was released in 1995 (as stated above). Now that we got the technical shit out of the way, let’s get on with it. Dylan Carlson, for all intents and purposes the leader/sole constant member since Earth’s inception in 1989, has never quite slotted easily into any movement or genre construct, preferring to light out for distant territories when the mood strikes him. Not to say that his path is that of a willful polymath, veering wildly from genre to genre, but he has been known to confuse those listeners who have stuck it out for the long haul (myself included).

Yes, Dylan has been excavating a very clear path throughout all the albums and EPs released under the Earth banner these past 23 years: a very American and maverick path encompassing basic riff-rock, mind-bending drone, cosmic country / British folk-based excursions and an always straight ahead, clear-eyed vision of where he and his band are going, all other considerations be damned. In other words, he is a visionary and an all too rare example of a recording artist and performer whose career, to me, seems like an extension of one long thought or idea, bending into the horizon before settling again back at the beginning, always lucid, always entrancing.

So let’s dispense with the backdrop surrounding the creation of this album, most notably his friend Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Dylan is admittedly the one who bought the shotgun used in Kurt’s final act, with a debilitating heroin addiction of his own that he eventually kicked, the physical effects of which still mar him to this day. Yet throughout the drama of his personal life, the music was always there, heavy as a sun-baked desert floor and simultaneously ascending to stratospheric heights rarely heard, as best experienced on this album.

Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions, along with the previous Earth 2, have been largely held up as the starting points of Drone Metal, a sketchy classification at best. Turgid Sabbath-inspired riffs gliding on repetitive overtones that aim to obliterate the listener in an ecstatic glory. True. Sleep’s Holy Mountain and the mythic Jerusalem being another tandem of recordings which also unintentionally sparked DM, all gaggles of stoned young men with Orange amplifiers bigger than a house trying to bum rush Heaven. Righteous! (Really!)

Earth’s genius on this album involves the marriage of that truly invigorating thrill of blown-out amplified teenage riffage melting into raw, untempered snarling drone. It feels a lot closer to La Monte Young, another pioneer in durational music and overtone and an admitted influence on Carlson. On the song “Tibetan Quaaludes”, the swell and richness of the sustained notes have an orchestral feel of Debussy arranging the finale of a particularly violent Stooges gig, all heat and flash. No center left, sound exploding all at once. It strikes me as exceptional that this album took its shape and form by the simple removal of drums from the equation. And on certain parts, such as the sidelong “Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert…”, it sounds like a recording of surf ran through a dirty phaser pedal, and the 12:28 running time seems to stretch much longer than that. This is unrelenting, speaker-ripping noise signalling that we have left the main road and WE ARE ON OUR OWN. Stellar and wicked.

That Earth have not been approached to score a film is an injustice that needs to be rectified ASAP. An obvious thing to point out, I know. As one of the most “cinematic” (cringe!) groups operating right now, it should be a no-brainer. Especially with a back catalogue of amazing tunes to plunder, the line-up should be down the block. Your loss, filmmakers. My number one song on this record, “Thrones And Dominions”, paints the most beautiful scene of faded grandeur, an epic evocation of rusted, abandoned factories bowing down into polluted stank rivers. Overgrowth swallowing ambition. The rustling of an unquiet night fallen once more. You get the picture. Shit’s heavy, but gorgeous to boot.

Thanks Dylan! This album just gets better as I get older. And that’s all you can really ask for, eh?

Tunes from the Crypt is a semi-regular feature on Texture with a rotating cast of writers. Its aim is to unearth overlooked, forgotten or little-known musical artifacts, found in the dusty discount or used bins of record shops, your cool uncle’s attic, church bazaars, garage sales, so-called ‘alternative channels’ or simply hiding in plain view on the Internet.

Lowlife is the feel-bad hit of 2012

Words: Jesse Locke

A shorter version of this article originally appeared on Noisey, and it is also included in the November issue of Offerings, which can be found in selected shops and spaces on the streets of Toronto.

Something strange is lurking in the wilds of Nova Scotia. For their feature film debut, Dog Day frontman Seth Smith and Divorce Records / Obey Convention head honcho Darcy Spidle put their primary projects on the backburner to conjure the spine-chilling visions of Lowlife. Like a Maritime twist on The Blair Witch, the black and white horror follows a drug-addled musician haunted by a ‘Mudman’, psychotropic starfish and other creepy creatures.

“There seems to be a particular kind of alienation that comes from living in the sticks that, for better or worst, forces a person inward,” Spidle explains. “I suppose Lowlife exploits this idea. On a more aesthetic level, I think using the forest and ocean in early spring gave our film a rugged look and feel. The actors and crew were always hurting, wet, and cold. It was often a brutal experience, and I hope it shows on the screen.”

With a perfectly spooky shooting location in the weathered forests outside their front door, Lowlife began as a man vs. wild adventure. Yet in Smith’s words, their original intentions to create a survivalist story spun off into far more surrealist territory as the project took on a life of its own.

“The fantasy/drug concept was a way to allow us some experimentation in filming and not have to commit to a realistic, linear narrative,” he says. “As for the black and white look, I thought it would go nicely with the movie’s dark tone, and it seemed like an interesting take on a psychedelic drug flick. The name Lowlife came from a prop we had on set. I had made up a bunch of fake book spines for a bookshelf shot, and over time, seeing it in the scene, it just sort of summed it all up… and maybe reflected how we were feeling making it.”

For the pair of musicians turned filmmakers, it’s a no-brainer that the soundtrack would also play a primary role. On top of fittingly freaky cuts from artists like black metal vet Burzum, Italian experimentalists My Cat Is An Alien (recently released on Divorce) and Chad VanGaalen’s electronic alter-ego Black Mold, Lowlife also features Seth’s first attempts at the tuba with some low-pitched drones guaranteed to rumble your bowels.

“Seth learned to play tuba with the record button on,” says Spidle. “Of course, the playing is manipulated and touched by the spirit as well. He came up with some murky stuff, and it works. The movie is all about dirt, parasites, mud, and discomfort, so we wanted the soundtrack to match. We used a lot of experimental or outer sound type music. With the exception of one ‘70s track by some hippy monks, there aren’t any typical songs. It’s all squelch and screech from a bunch of our favourite experimenters.”

One final flourish is the Lychian voiceover throughout the film. No, it’s not a backwards-talking dwarf in a snazzy red suit, but Smith’s father-in-law, Ogi. Here’s the story:

“We wanted something different for the narrative parts that had some sort of tie to the region,” says Smith. “Also, since the role of the narrator was played by an animal, it seemed like it shouldn’t be in English. We were initially looking for someone who spoke Gaelic, and Ogi was always in the back of my mind. He’s a real old world guy with a fairly unique German/Newfoundland accent. We were having a couple Scotches one night and he was telling me a sadistic story about how he used to shoot his friend between the eyes with a slingshot to teach them a lesson. I took him downstairs and recorded the lines right after and it fit the part perfectly.”

“It was a really last minute idea,” adds Spidle. “I was basically writing the poems and emailing them to Seth minutes before Ogi would read them. It’s funny, I guess he got quite emotional. We ended up having to subtitle his narration to make sense of what he was saying.”

Bypassing the casting couch or awkward Craigslist interactions, Smith reached out to recognizable faces from the Halifax music community such as members of Catbag, Bad Vibrations and lead actress Kate Hartigan, who had previously appeared in a Dog Day music video. Yet based on a history of unhinged methodology, there were no doubts in his mind who would be the star.

“Darcy has always been a captivating performance artist, usually under the name of Chik White,” says Smith. “I remember seeing him once at a show, slicing his guitar and hands with a butcher knife and screaming at the audience of 10 people. He definitely brought that mentality to the film, somehow ending up as a weird GG Allin / De Niro cross with some Chaplin slapstick. A real stellar performance for an impossible role. I had to talk him out of living in a coyote’s den for a week before the shoot.”

Lowlife screens in 20 cities across Canada on the weekend of November 16-18. Weird Canada presents the Toronto premiere on Friday, November 16 at Double Double Land. More info here and here!

Tunes from the Crypt :: Flipper – Blow’n Chunks

Words: Christopher Laramee

Flipper – Blow’n Chunks (ROIR) 1984 / Reissue: 2001

Despite being consistently labeled a “hardcore” band by dint of association of the scene they grew out of and the bands they played with around the San Francisco area in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Flipper were one of those one-off anomalies the universe likes to throw up every once in awhile.

When I first encountered the band years ago on a Henry Rollins compiled retrospective on his short lived Infinite Zero imprint, my first reaction was balls out laughter. “They can’t be serious,” I giggled to myself as I scanned through the CD. Zig-zagging atonal guitar lines smashing head long into a wildly careening rhythm section, topped off with a particularly vicious vocal spew concerning liquor, drugs, bubble gum sex, the status quo, more drugs and nihilism, nihilism, nihilism. Fun, eh? I filed the disc away, only occasionally pulling it out to hear my favorite Flipper jam, “Sacrifice”, a song I always gravitated towards for its unholy dirge tempo, akin to a collapsing galaxy, the whipping-a-slave Bruce Lose vocal decrying war as society’s validation of itself, an animalistic self hatred turned outwards. If I had to offer a starting point for the Flipper experience, this would be it.

But anyways, flash forward a few years later, I spy a used copy of this disc and seeing that it had a live version of “Sacrifice” on it, decided to pick it up. And, hey, it was only five bucks to boot. And now I get it. Big time. Like the donkey laughter of a drunken idiot god raining down on a stupefied, dumbed down world, Flipper honestly reflect everything: the pathos, love, stupidity, humour, hopelessness, hope of this insignificant little spinning acorn we call home.

Yeah, tall words, I know, but the coat fits in this case. Check the track “If I Can’t Be Drunk” for confirmation. This sort of retard roar is surely some kind of bastard genius, naysayers be damned. Any groop that can pull off a Wagnerian swoop of molasses stomp like this deserves a lifetime achievement forever award. “Falling apart” doesn’t do justice to what goes down here. This is Bukowski at his drunkest jammin’ with The Who on downers. Someone randomly firing a rifle into nothing, nothing shoots back, nobody wins. One could posit this song as a endgame of sorts for ROCK in general, if one were willing. I’m not.

So I could go on and on, such is my love for this warm beast. Just check it out. Oh, and there’s also a whole lotta love going on with Flipper. They have love, laughter, ice-cold beer and so much more.

Tunes from the Crypt is a semi-regular feature from the previous incarnation of Texture with a rotating cast of writers. Its aim is to unearth overlooked, forgotten or little-known musical artifacts, found in the dusty discount or used bins of record shops, your cool uncle’s attic, church bazaars, garage sales, so-called ‘alternative channels’ or simply hiding in plain view on the Internet.