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  • Great Albums - Rattlesnakes, by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions

    Abr 8 2008, 20h00

    Great Albums - Rattlesnakes, by Lloyd Cole and The Commotions

    (Originally posted January 6, 2008 on Consolation Champs)

    I’d met Goldie through my friend Colin around 1983, I think. With his thinning hair and permanent scowl, he looked like a perennially pissed off old man. We shared a love for punk, even though he was somehow affiliated with the strange evangelical subculture I’d recently become part of. I remember him bringing us Dead Boys records when Colin and I were in residence at Bible College. We’d play those and Colin’s Zapp funk records as loud as we could, enjoying the vicarious thrill of swearing and talking sexy. I remember Goldie and I commandeering the lounge television one night when Rock ‘n’ Roll High School was on. So we shared a taste in music and a slightly skeptical attitude toward the world around us.

    Around 1984, our tastes were broadening. Goldie was the first one to tip me off to The Style Council, a new direction from The Jam’s Paul Weller. So it was no surprise when he showed up one afternoon with a home-recorded tape that he wanted me to hear. Side A was Eden by Everything But the Girl, well before their dance music days. Though I enjoyed Tracey Thorn’s soulful vocals, I was much more interested in Side B, which Goldie hadn’t even mentioned.

    Lloyd Cole’s anguished voice and whipsmart lyrics drew me in. Here was a guy who seemed impossibly sophisticated and world-weary at the same time. Every song was tinged with regret but filled with literary barbs and wry humour. One of my favourite lines is from Four Flights Up: “Must you tell me all your secrets when it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing?” The songs had a sophistication that screamed Europe but the album title sounded American. And Lloyd seemed worldly enough to know New York, London and Paris equally well. This guy was flat out cool, like an upper class and definitely more hetero Morrissey.

    In the same vicarious way that I listened to Zapp and the Dead Boys, I absorbed the heartbreak and romantic adventures of Lloyd Cole. I didn’t have anywhere near that sort of experience (and still don’t), but when on the final track Lloyd sang “Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?” I wanted to jump up and scream out “Yes!”
  • Compilation Champs SXSW 2006 Mix CD

    Fev 9 2007, 19h41

    Compilation Champs
    [SXSW 06 : nice day for a party, isn't it?]
    Welcome to the sixth edition of the Compilation Champs South by Southwest CD.

    It was great to be with you this year in Austin. Some of you are old friends by now, and some I've just met. But I hope that you enjoy at least some of these songs, all of which have meant something to me in the past year. Canadian content is marked with a maple leaf. Feel free to get in touch with your comments (jamesATconsolationchampsDOTcom).

    Disgusteen (1980, from Frantic City)

    Teenage Head were one of my favourite bands as a teenager growing up in Toronto. They were from Hamilton, a blue-collar steel town about 45 minutes away, and they played a gritty blend of punk and rockabilly. This song features singer Frankie Venom spouting lines from The Exorcist in a silly demon voice. What's not to love?

    If You Say So (1996, from All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed)

    Early Spoon. Now that they've achieved a measure of the fame they deserve, it's fun to look back on what kind of music they were playing ten years ago. Though singer/guitarist Britt Daniel has often disparaged some of his band's early music, it was this stuff that got me into the band in the first place. P.S. I love the handclaps.

    Damaged Goods (1979, from Entertainment!)

    I've gotten into Gang of Four in a huge way this year. With all the post-punk revivalists on the scene (Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Futureheads, etc. etc. etc.), it's nice to go back to the source once in a while.

    At Home He's A Tourist (2005, from Return The Gift)

    Hey, you can't blame the guys from wanting to profit from the resurgence of their type of music. Return The Gift is a rerecording of many of their early songs by a reunited band. It's uncanny how good they sound. The advances in recording technology have only helped. I love this song's jagged-edge guitars. Turn it way way up!!

    Throwing My Baby Out With the Bathwater (1981, from Swords of a Thousand Men)

    I discovered Tenpole Tudor when I saw the name of singer "Eddie Tudorpole" on the soundtrack album for the Sex Pistols film "The Great Rock 'N Roll Swindle," where he sang a great version of Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock". I've always liked rockabilly and this also has the goofiest lyrics and singing. It's like a pub singalong.

    Picture My Face/Top Down (1979, from Teenage Head)

    More from Hamilton's finest. It's amazing to me how fresh this stuff still sounds today, despite the absolutely crappy production. It's certainly aged better than I have!

    Time's Up (1977, from Time's Up)

    Who loves the Buzzcocks? Me! Turn this up and jump around like a spaz.

    Monster Hospital (2005, from Live It Out)

    Though Canada has been on the Metric system since the 1970s, I only recently discovered this awesome Canadian band. Sexy singer, New Wave style and lots of rock attitude. Give these guys 2.54 centimetres, and they'll take 1.6 kilometres!

    Meantime (2005, from The Futureheads)

    And now one from the new boys. I saw these guys live last year and they were just awesome. They've toured relentlessly and seem to really enjoy performing. Plus, they're sort of geeky and from the northern English town of Sunderland, whose soccer team is bottom of the Premier League right now. I've always loved underdogs. And I like the cheeky lyrics, too.

    Frightened (1978, from Live At The Witch Trials)

    The Fall have always fascinated me. One of the most long-lived of the bands that came out around the punk explosion, they're not really punk at all, despite Mark E. Smith's sneering voice. More like art punk, I guess.

    She Cracked (1973, from The Modern Lovers)

    1973? Does this sound like it's from 1973? I don't think so. Jonathan Richman is known now mostly for doing the dorky songs in "There's Something About Mary" but more than thirty years ago, he was a proto-punk. And Jerry Harrison (later of Talking Heads) was in the band, too. Check out his big hair on the album cover!

    Reunion (2005, from Set Yourself on Fire)

    This album from Stars was a revelation. As if I needed any more evidence that Montreal was a teeming hive of awesome music these days. I love that it's ok to make pop music that's overflowing with melody and sincerity again.

    The Latest Toughs (2005, from Black Sheep Boy)

    Another revelation. Literate and yet grounded in a kind of folk authenticity. I love the smart way the lyrics leave room for me: "Just pause and add your own intention, right here…"

    Stumble And Fall (2004, from Up All Night)

    My friend Ian bought me this CD before I'd even heard of the band. What I love about this song is the way you can hear the spaces between all the instruments. Does that sound weird? Another neat thing is that they use this song sometimes on one of the soccer highlight shows I watch.

    King Of The Past (1992, from Whale Music)

    Each year, the band plays a series of shows at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and the show I saw this past December was "Whale Music Night". They played the entire album in sequence, and with a generous encore, the show stretched to almost two and a half hours, but I was never less than transfixed by this transcendent music. Each year, I try to include a Rheostatics song on this compilation, hoping that some of you will discover them, and when I heard "King of the Past" this year, I turned to my friend Brent and said, "I've found this year's song." Some of Martin Tielli's guitar work on this song sends chills up my spine.

    Heights (2005, from Live at Stubb's)

    An amazing discovery. Though he sounds like a novelty act ("Hasidic Jew plays reggae!"), he's nothing short of breathtakingly authentic. Not bad rapping chops, either. As an added bonus, there's an Austin connection, since this was recorded at Stubb's, one of our SXSW standbys.

    Rain from the Skies (1969, from Good All Over)

    What a beautiful voice. I'm so glad I discovered Delroy Wilson, though I can't remember how.

    John Wayne Gacy Jr. (2005, from Illinois)

    One of my two favourite songs about serial killers. The other is "Ted...Just Admit It" by Jane's Addiction. The thing I like about both songs is their refusal to demonize these men. The truth is that any of us are capable of horrible things. It's a very thin line sometimes. These guys are not monsters, they're broken human beings, just like us.

    Sail to the Moon (2003, from Hail to the Thief)

    Somehow I think this album was overlooked. Perhaps we all got tired of Radiohead's brilliance. That's a shame. I've been rediscovering Hail to the Thief this year.

    Hoppípolla (2005, from Takk...)

    I saw Sigur Rós live this past year, and the only thing I could day afterward was that it was a tiny bit like seeing God. It's certainly music that makes you feel more connected to the world behind the world.

    Take Care (2003, from Summer Sun)

    A benediction. Thanks for listening, friends, and God bless. Thanks for sharing the week with me and enriching my life. I hope you took away more than you brought and I hope we'll meet again soon. Until then, Take Care.
  • Great Albums - The Pretenders, by The Pretenders

    Jan 7 2006, 21h40

    (Originally posted October 4, 2005 on Consolation Champs)

    I'm beginning a new and hopefully recurring feature on Consolation Champs. It's called Great Albums. Does anyone remember what an album was? Do they still call a music "release" an album anymore? Well, back in 1980, when a band released an album, you bought an album, a piece of vinyl inside a paper sleeve slipped into a cardboard sleeve. I think I might have paid about $8 for this record when it came out in 1980. I was 15 years old. A bit of background may be in order.

    My family came to Canada from Ireland when I was two. I grew up in a series of apartments even though my dad held a white-collar job. Part of the reason for that was that my mum didn't work. She had dropped out of school when she was 13 to go to work to support her grandmother, and when she got married, she figured she didn't want to work anymore. So, our one-income family lived among a lot of two-income blue-collar families. It gave me a unique perspective on things sometimes. Some of my friends didn't finish high school. Most didn't go beyond it.

    Growing up in the 70s in that environment almost guaranteed that I'd be a rocker. In Canada, we'd say I was a bit of a hoser. From 1975 until about 1979, I wore my jeans tucked into unlaced construction boots and a jean jacket and carried my stuff to school in an Adidas gym bag. Hoser couture at the time. So my first musical forays were into stuff like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and Rush. But I was a bit different, too. Among my hoser friends, I was the first (and maybe only) one to get into punk and then new wave. I didn't want to grow my hair long and wear a lumber jacket. By 1980, I'd gotten into the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Gary Numan and Devo. And then The Pretenders came along. Or more immediately, Chrissie Hynde came along.

    Like most 15 year-old boys, I was an awkward and volatile blend of hormones and energy, and Chrissie Hynde grabbed my attention right away. Just look at her on the album cover photo. A red leather jacket! She appealed to my rocker roots. And she sang like both a tough chick and a vulnerable older woman. Plus, the band rocked, but in a very English new-wavey way. Picking this up was a no-brainer, even if I wasn't that keen on the radio's choice of a single, the almost unintelligible "Brass In Pocket".

    The truth is, this is a great album from start to finish. Since it was their debut, it contained all the pent-up energy of a band waiting to explode, and almost every song sounded fresh. In my now 40 year-old opinion, they still do. Chrissie's voice grabs your attention right away in "Precious"; it was the first time (alas, but not the last) I'd hear a woman say "Fuck off" (and "shitting bricks"!). This woman was tough! On "Up The Neck," she just oozes sex, and she coyly plays with the lyrics, drawing out such double entendres as "the veins bulged on his...brow". She continues to talk dirty on "Tattooed Love Boys" and her heavy breathing on "The Wait" still gives me chills.

    But it wasn't just Chrissie Hynde that made this album so great for me. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott was an innovator and his guitar work has remained very influential over the years. I love the way the end of "Space Invader" runs into the galloping opening of "The Wait". I love that they actually have a song called "Space Invader" (the console game was HUGE around this time). The Ray Davies' cover "Stop Your Sobbing" may have been influential in Hynde's later romance with Ray himself. They even had a child together. And "Mystery Achievement" may be the best last track on any album. Truth be told, "Brass in Pocket" may be one of the weaker tracks on the album. But it's the poppiest and least threatening, so you still hear it on the radio now and then.

    Tragically, within three years, both Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon were dead of drug overdoses, and although Hynde soldiered on, the punch and guts of the band had gone. But twenty-five years on, this is still a thrilling listen. Go on, geezers, dig it out of your crates of vinyl. And you kids, track it down on your favourite file-sharing service. You'll feel 15 again. Or just 15, I guess.
  • Great Albums - The Cars, by The Cars

    Jan 7 2006, 21h35

    (Originally posted October 13, 2005 at Consolation Champs)

    Another great album from my misspent youth. I hope you'll forgive my detours into autobiography, but most music that resonates with us also connects with what was going on in our lives at the time. This album will forever be associated with a period in my life when I was first discovering beer and girls. Though it came out in the spring of 1978, my memories are probably from the year after that. This was definitely an album that we were playing a year later. It had classic written all over it, even then.

    Every weekend of my 14th year, I was at a house party. Usually hosted by my buddy Ken, they were low-key affairs, mostly involving sitting around listening to music, drinking beer, and if some girls showed up, flirting and hopefully, making out. I'm sure this pattern has been the same for decades, if not centuries, and we were happy not to disturb the universe. For me, the song "Just What I Needed" will always be associated with two girls: one I couldn't have, and one I didn't want.

    Caroline lived in the same apartment building as me, and like me, her parents were Irish. Hers were from Cork, mine from Dublin, though they weren't really friends. She was pretty, taller than me, and smarter and more sophisticated than any of the other girls I knew. She was also going out with my friend Bill, who was tall, good-looking and athletic. This caused me immense pain, and on at least one occasion, after a few jars, I was found passed out in a darkened bedroom moaning Caroline's name over and over. Sigh.

    Strangely enough, I reconnected with Caroline a few years ago. In high school, we lost touch as I dropped the partying and she seemed to sink deeper into it. Happily, she emerged and has become a sought-after fashion photographer who works in both Toronto and London. She recently had a little boy. I'm not sure if she reads my blog, but if so, hello! (You did know about my crush, didn't you?)

    Beth was a kind girl, but plain and bespectacled when I met her. One night, as I sprawled semi-blotto on the couch at Ken's place, she sat down next to me and within minutes we were locked in passionate embrace. An hour or so later, I remember walking her down to the lobby where her dad was picking her up, and I sobered up rapid to realize that she now thought we were in a "relationship." The next weekend, she was due to arrive at the party and I was terrified. Panicking, I locked myself in the bathroom and wrote her a "Dear Beth" letter on the roll of toilet paper. Tearing off the sheets, I left them on the countertop and emerged to face her. "Uh, there's something for you in the bathroom," I mumbled. If I broke her heart, at least she could wipe her tears with the evidence.

    Justice was swift for my stupidity. Beth got contacts and a new hairstyle within a year or so, and became a model and actress. Later, she went on to have a proper relationship with a bona-fide Canadian rock star (Mark Holmes from Platinum Blonde). I can't recall her ever speaking to me again.

    What about The Cars, you're now asking? Well, this was simply a great album. "Just What I Needed" still sounds fresh today, but there were no skippable tracks on this record. "My Best Friend's Girl" was another jab when Caroline and Bill were around, but a good song nonetheless. "Moving In Stereo" was used in a great scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And "Let The Good Times Roll" always felt like a great kickoff to our festivities.

    The Cars were certainly more commercial than bands like The Ramones and Talking Heads, which is probably why I knew about them in 1979. I didn't discover the more "authentic" bands until later. But The Cars were certainly influenced by the same stuff and they had a vaguely European flavour to my young ears. They definitely were indulging in more expensive and exotic drugs than we were (they even name-drop "psilocybin") and their sense of style promised better hair for everyone in the 1980s. Pity that didn't work out, though.
  • Great Albums - Whale Music, by The Rheostatics

    Jan 7 2006, 21h26

    (Originally posted December 15, 2005 at Consolation Champs)

    Last night, my best friend Brent and I revisited a pillar of our more than 15 year-long friendship. Let me begin at the beginning. I met Brent in 1989. At the time, I was a suave and sophisticated 24-year old who'd travelled in Europe and was beginning my second degree. Brent was a gawky and sometimes abrasive 19-year old know-it-all. Of course, we hit it off right away. When one of my roommates moved out, Brent decided to move in, and for the next three years, we struggled to make ends meet on our student loans and part-time jobs. Sometime in 1992, we caved in to the inevitable and both of us made the humiliating decision to move back in with our parents for a while. Luckily, by 1994 we were back on our feet financially, and we found another place closer to downtown. I moved out gradually as Brooke and I got more serious, but we still live only about fifteen minutes walk from each other.

    I tease Brent about not being a "music person" but I am forever grateful to him for introducing me to my favourite Canadian band, the Rheostatics. I don't even know how he'd heard of them, but one day he brought home a luridly-illustrated cassette called "Whale Music" sometime before we gave up our apartment, and we must have worn it out. Shortly after that, we began going to see the Rheos in concert, and last night marked probably the 15th time we've seen them, although I've long ago stopped counting. Each year, the band plays a series of shows at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, and last night was "Whale Music Night". They played the entire album in sequence, and with a generous encore, the show stretched to almost two and a half hours, but I was never less than transfixed by this transcendent music. As an added bonus, author Paul Quarrington was invited onstage at the beginning of the show to read from his hilarious and sad novel Whale Music which was the inspiration for the title of this record. (In a strange twist, the Rheostatics were invited to provide the score for a film made of the book, so there are actually two albums of theirs with the title "Whale Music".)

    It's difficult to describe the music of the Rheostatics. For this album, there were four different songwriters, and four vocalists, but more than any other of their records, it feels like one piece. I'm a huge fan of guitarist Martin Tielli, and his compositions feel the most orchestral and moody to me, and I think that's what ties the whole thing together. All the band members are insanely gifted musicians, but in addition, Tielli is a talented painter who's created all the band's album covers, and singer/guitarist Dave Bidini is a well-known writer who's written books about hockey, baseball and rock music. I've had the privilege to meet the painfully-shy bassist/singer Tim Vesely on a few occasions, and I've always been impressed by the fact that no one in this band shows even a shred of rock-star ego.

    Whale Music begins with a song called "Self Serve Gas Station" and it sounds vaguely like a country song. I'm surprised that I stuck with it, since my problem with most Canadian music (especially bands like The Tragically Hip) is that I think they sound too "twangy". But I was immediately drawn in by the strange lyrics ("He wanted to bust the glass because I wouldn't give him gas, I said 'You shouldn't even be driving'"). My favourite tracks are the ones by Martin Tielli, and "California Dreamline" might be my favourite song ever ("questionable things like dolphins helping people to swim") and reinforces my feeling that Martin's songs are always somehow related to water.

    I could keep going but I think the best thing would be for you to let this album wash over you personally. There's a line in the stunning end-of-album closer "Dope Fiends and Boozehounds" that references Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", another seminal album for druggy kids of my generation. This album is sort of like that. Listen to it in a darkened room from start to finish and tell me that you don't agree that this is the Greatest Canadian Rock Album Ever.

    One of the great things about living in the 21st-century is that it's now possible for more people to hear this wonderful music. You can download the whole beautiful thing for $8.88 right here. Run, people!
  • My Musical Journey (a work in progress)

    Jan 7 2006, 6h08

    I've always been much more of a music fan than any of my friends. By that I mean that I both consumed more music and was more adventurous in my tastes. The first album I bought on my own (other than K-Tel compilation albums) was Led Zeppelin's first record, with the black and white zeppelin artwork. I bought it at Halliday's TV shop in the Parkway Mall in Scarborough in 1975. My thoughts at the time were that the band were good, but that the singer couldn't sing at all.

    I remember getting really into punk and new wave, and when I began a sort of record-collecting club in the late 70s, I called it Punkrok. I made up membership cards and assigned levels of coolness based on how many records you owned. Already I owned more than any of my friends. I also tried to put together a sort of rock opera, using current songs. Blondie's "Call Me" was in there, that's the only one I can remember.

    My friend Ken's sister was a few years older, and she introduced us to Bowie. She had clippings of him all over her room, and I remember reading the word bisexual in one of them and wondering what that really meant. She was also our best connection for booze and drugs, incidentally (or not so incidentally).

    My own life as a rock star was pretty short and uneventful. In the late 70s, I tried to gather my friends into a band. We didn't have any instruments really. I mean, my friend Chris had an electric guitar, but he didn't know how to play, and I had taken some drumsticks from an acquaintance who was drumming in a real band. We ended up lipsyncing to the Styx song "Babe," which was, I assure you, not my idea at all. I came up with the name The Negatives, and envisioned a black and white look. I painted one drumstick black and one white, and worked on ideas for how we would dress. I even wrote a song, but without real instruments it was hard to play.

    The next band I was in was more fun. We called ourselves The Gitch Band, and we were an evangelical Christian garage band. I was able to borrow a drum kit, and with a pair of y-fronts taped to the bass drum, we were unstoppable. Our forte was satirizing our subculture, and we did almost all original songs. Our best was "Baptist Girls," in which we were able to rhyme "demonic" with "platonic." Enough said. We even played a few times live, and I still have a cruddy cassette with some of our music on it. I'm quite proud of this stuff, still.

    Growing up in Toronto in the 1970s was pretty exciting. We had a couple of radio stations that were pretty hip. Q107 was the more hard rock station, and I remember joining their "Rock Patrol" club and wearing my yellow and black badge on my jean jacket. I signed up at a booth outside Zounds!, which was a great record store that actually wasn't downtown. Rather, it was way out in Scarberia. Eventually, it got bought out by A&A's, a chain, and when they folded, it disappeared. Zounds! was where I bought The Knack's single of "My Sharona." It featured a picture on the cover of a girl wearing a white tank top with her nipples clearly visible. I was with my mom and remember being slightly embarrassed. I'm sure she thought I'd never heard the song before.

    I got into punk much more than my friends. After buying the Sex Pistols album, I cut up the souvenir programs I'd bought in England for the Queen's Silver Jubilee and put safety pins through the Queen's portraits before hanging them in my bedroom.

    I was too young to go to a lot of shows, but I remember the names of the happening places. Larry's Hideaway, The El Mocambo, The Edge. I remember listening to CFNY around 1980 and hearing a lot of the ads for shows. CFNY was the more edgy station, and introduced me to a lot of the new wave bands like The B-52s and later, The Smiths. I heard an ad for a U2 show in 1980 and for an REM show only a couple of years later.

    My first actual rock concert was in 1978. My friend Ken and I got tickets to see Queen. I'll always remember Freddy Mercury prancing around in a leotard. Their album Jazz had just come out and I remember hanging the included poster in my room. It featured dozens of naked women on bicycles. My mother was an incredibly patient and tolerant woman.

    The next big show I went to was The Kinks, in 1980. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider opened for them, and we had seats in the 6th row. I can't remember if we were offered pot, but we smelled it. I think someone shared a wineskin with us.

    I didn't really start going to club shows until about 1985. Once, my friends and I were down on Queen Street, and I wanted to go to a show at The Rivoli, since I'd heard so much about it. We saw that the band that night was "The Palace at 4AM" and we were very confused. My friends were convinced that the band was called "The Palace" and that they weren't playing until 4:00 in the morning. Despite my protests, we went home.

    The first club show I can actually remember was a band called "A Neon Rome." My friend Tony came with me and when the singer sang "Did Jesus do heroin, or did heroin do Jesus?" we got up and left.

    I tended to go to a lot of club shows by myself during the 80s, and I really enjoyed seeing an incredibly manic bunch of guys called The Dundrells.

    I saw a lot of bands when they came to my school. In Grade 9 or 10, a local band called Zon came to our school. I wish I knew what happened to them. Goddo was a big hit. And Platinum Blonde. But when Teenage Head came to my school, I made a special point of getting very very drunk. I got so drunk that I got separated from my friends, peed my pants, and ran home, missing most of the show.

    I should insert my Platinum Blonde story here. Once, at a party, I ended up drunkenly making out with a sweet but plain girl named Beth. By the next morning, I'd sobered up and had to face her. I wrote her a "Dear Beth" letter on a roll of toilet paper and referred her to the john when she arrived. I was a jerk. Within a year or two, she'd replaced her glasses with contacts and become a model. It was soon after that she started dating Mark Holmes, Platinum Blonde's singer. I wasn't just a jerk. I was an idiot. (Recently, I looked her up on Google and found out she became an actress. She's listed on a site that lists celebrity nudity. If I rent the cheesy b-movie she made in the mid-1980s, I could actually see her breasts!)

    Teenage Head were a favourite of my friends and I. We were there at Ontario Place when thousands of fans were turned away and rioted. Inside, during an encore, fans rushed the stage and the band had to retreat. It was wild.

    Other Ontario Place Forum shows that we enjoyed: Men Without Hats, Prism (during which I almost got busted by a lady cop for smoking dope), Jane Siberry, and The Spoons.

    Hanging around Queen Street West in the 80s was fun. We'd haunt all the used clothing stores, like Strange (By The Grange) and Courage My Love. They always played great music, and I still remember one of the stores playing a Vital Sines cassette. I wish I knew what happened to that band. At $4 a record, Driftwood Music and Vortex introduced me to a lot of new music.

    The local (and not so local) music that permeated those years: Martha and the Muffins, Blue Peter, B.B. Gabor, The Diodes, The Parachute Club, The Spoons, The Demics, Rational Youth, Chalk Circle, The Box, Men Without Hats, Jane Siberry.
  • Bands I've Seen Live

    Jan 7 2006, 5h20

    Rheostatics (maybe 15 times since 1993 or so)
    Spoon (every show they've ever played in Toronto, starting in 1998)
    Queen (my first concert, in 1978. I was 13)
    The Rolling Stones (2000, I think)
    U2 (1985 and 1997)
    The Kinks (1980, my second rock concert)
    Pixies (1990, in a club)
    Sigur Rós (2005, "like seeing God")
    Cranberries (1999, with my girlfriend/now-wife)
    Chris DeBurgh (1999, ditto - what did you think?!)
    Teenage Head (1980-1981)
    Lone Justice (1985, opening for U2)
    Calexico (2005, with Iron and Wine)
    Pernice Brothers (2005)
    Iron And Wine (2005, with Calexico)
    Apples in Stereo (2002-2003?)
    Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (2003?)
    Sleater-Kinney (2000)
    The Starlight Mints (2003, with The Polyphonic Spree)
    The Shins (2000-2001, opening for Modest Mouse)
    Modest Mouse (2000-2001?)
    764-HERO (2000-2001, opening for Modest Mouse)
    Max Webster (1981)
    Triumph (1981)
    Barenaked Ladies (1992 in a club, 2001 in California)
    Red Rider (Tom Cochrane's first band, 1980, opening for The Kinks)
    Mike Scott (Waterboys frontman, 1995)
    Maria McKee (Lone Justice frontwoman, 1996)
    Jane Siberry (c.1983-1985)
    The Spoons (c. 1983-1985)
    Billy Bragg (1988)
    Michelle Shocked (1988, opening for Billy Bragg)
    Bob Dylan (1988)
    Green Day (1994?)
    Violent Femmes (1991)
    Sarah Harmer (2001, opening for Barenaked Ladies)
    The Proclaimers (2001, opening for Barenaked Ladies)
    Hot Hot Heat (2005, with Louis XIV and The Futureheads)
    The Futureheads (2005, with Hot Hot Heat and Louis XIV)
    Gavin Friday (1996, in Toronto and Detroit)
    Hothouse Flowers (1993)
    Louis XIV (2005, with Hot Hot Heat and The Futureheads)
    The Wedding Present (3 or 4 times from 1992-1994)
    The Beautiful South (1991 and 1992)
    Cake (2001, with Spoon)
    Guided by Voices (2001, with Spoon)
    Mary Timony (2005, with Spoon)
    PJ Harvey (2004)
    Pedro the Lion (2004)
    The Polyphonic Spree (2003, with Starlight Mints)
    The Cure (c. 1992-1993, hugely disappointing)
    Rem (2001)
    Blue Rodeo (early 1990s in a club)
    Men Without Hats (c. 1983-1985)
    Prism (c.1980-1981, got busted for smoking pot by a lady cop, who eventually let me go)
    Elliott Smith (2000)
  • Compilation Champs SXSW 2005 Mix CD

    Jan 5 2006, 3h55

    Britt Daniel - Let The Distance Keep Us Together (2002, from HOME: Volume IV, split EP with Bright Eyes)

    "It's so easy to say you don't care, it's so easy to say you don't need it"

    I love the way Britt Daniel's songs are getting warmer and warmer. Spoon's early stuff is kind of angular and distant, but as he gets older, he seems to be embracing his audience in a new way. Spoon have a new album coming in May and I can't wait. Maybe they'll actually come back to my town.

    Toots and The Maytals - Funky Kingston (1973, from Funky Kingston)

    "All across America people keep on asking me for Funky Kingston, but I ain't got none"

    Toots and his Maytals were part of the first wave of Jamaican ska music that broke in the 1960s. The amazing thing is that they are still touring as a band all these years later. This is just music that makes you want to dance.

    Modest Mouse - Bury Me With It (2004, from Good News For People Who Love Bad News)

    "Life handed us a paycheck, we said 'We worked harder than this!'"

    One of my favourite CDs of 2004. This band manages to ruminate on many deep things while rocking out. Singer Isaac Brock's lisp always makes the lyrics particularly moving to me, for some twisted reason.

    Jilted John - Jilted John (1979, from True Love Stories

    "Gordon is a moron"

    This is a great silly song. John has been dumped and his girlfriend his run off with the better-looking Gordon. Lots of us have been there.

    Wire - Start To Move (1977, from Pink Flag)

    "No bush but trees thicken, which now, rooster or chicken"

    Wire are one of the most influential bands of the punk or post-punk era, and when I say influential, I mean that hardly anyone actually listens to their music, which is too bad. Pink Flag is full of short bursts like this song. Wire seemed like a band with more ideas than actual songs, but this one seems to work.

    Rheostatics - Row (1995, from Introducing Happiness)

    "All the clouds get together and cry"

    Tim Vesely plays bass and has a knack for writing the only Rheostatics songs that ever get airplay. He wrote their almost-hit "Claire" from this CD and also this pretty song. His voice is not as sure as Martin Tielli's, and that fragility adds something to this one. The yodelling helps, too!

    The Magnetic Fields - I Don't Want To Get Over You (2000, from 69 Love Songs, Volume 1)

    "I guess I should take Prozac, right, and just smile all night at somebody new"

    Stephen Merritt is pretty amazing. He took on this project to write 69 love songs and most of them are actually pretty good. This is one of my favourites. I also love his gravelly voice.

    Max Webster - Oh War! (1977, from High Class In Borrowed Shoes)

    "Oh, war, history says you're in it, your sister's boyfriend's in it"

    I loved Max Webster in the late '70s. They were a thoroughly Canadian art-rock outfit, with crazy clothes and weird lyrics. This song was the first time I'd ever heard the word "fuck" in a song, and I liked the world-weary cynicism.

    Martin Tielli - My Sweet Relief (2001, from We didn't even suspect that he was the poppy salesman)

    "I'm happy being here all alone, while everybody's going dancing"

    Martin Tielli is the guitarist and one of the songwriters and vocalists from the Rheostatics. He has the most amazingly expressive voice and his playing always knocks me out, too. He's one of those performers who lets the music take him somewhere else and he often looks quite goofy, scrunching up his face or doing rockstar kicks. Whatever. He doesn't seem to care.

    Hot Hot Heat - Bandages (2002, from Make Up The Breakdown)

    "Bandages have advantages, too"

    All the current New Wave revivalists (The Futureheads, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, et al) make me slightly nostalgic for the days of assymetrical haircuts and skinny ties. Here are some guys from the rock n' roll mecca of Victoria, British Columbia.

    Belle and Sebastian - Wrapped Up In Books (2003, from Dear Catastrophe Waitress)

    "Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books, Our inclinations, are hidden in looks"

    Soft rock assassins of wit.

    Teenage Fanclub - Neil Jung (1995, from Grand Prix)

    "You were changing, didn't want to stay the same, re-arranging, dropped a letter from your name"

    I bought Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque (on cassette, no less!) back in 1992 and after a few listens, dismissed them. Luckily, I grew up and rediscovered this amazing band a few years ago. Norman Blake's ability to write catchy and smart songs is even more amazing over the course of eight albums in a dozen years. Calling them "power pop revivalists" as many critics do is a disservice. Pick up their career-spanning Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub and get the full impact.

    Ugly Casanova - Barnacles (2002, from Sharpen Your Teeth)

    "I don't know me and you don't know you, so we fit so good together cuz I knew you like I knew myself. We clung on like barnacles on a boat, even though the ship sinks you know you can't let go"

    Ugly Casanova was a side project/one-off from Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock and a few friends. Apparently, a rabid and slightly crazed Modest Mouse fan kept sending lyrics to the band, and this album is the result. The story might be a myth, but the music is good, though. But I wonder why they didn't just release this as a Modest Mouse record.

    Larry Norman - Six Sixty Six (1976, from In Another Land)

    "With the face of an angel and the heart of a beast…"

    The grand old man of Jesus Music, Larry Norman was a born-again hippie who proceeded to turn "Christian music" on its ear. In the tradition of folk singers like Bob Dylan, Norman has stubbornly followed his own direction and at last notice, was still making music. Frank Black covered this song on his 1998 CD, Frank Black and the Catholics. The song is a chilling reference to the "last days" when "the Beast" will deceive many people into following him. It's chilling because the lyrics could describe just about any time and any place in human history. We're pretty stupid.

    Rheostatics - Fish Tailin' (1995, from Introducing Happiness)

    "you didn't know it wasn't loaded, but the joke died when you exploded"

    Another helping of Canadian content from Etobicoke's own Rheostatics. This is another Martin Tielli contribution. What other rock band uses the word "ossified" in their lyrics?

    The New Pornographers - The Laws Have Changed (2003, from Electric Version)

    "It was crime at the time but the laws have changed, yeah"

    I was late to the party with this band. I mean, who knew what a band called The New Pornographers were going to sound like. What they do sound like is very good indeed. Great pop hooks and Neko Case's interesting voice make a strangely compelling mixture.

    The Dears - Lost In The Plot (2003, from No Cities Left)

    "I promise not to cry anymore"

    I was delighted to discover the Morrissey-loving Dears one day while browsing in Soundscapes, a great independent music store here in Toronto. Though the band are from Montreal, one of the members, Natalia Yanchak, was someone I knew briefly about ten years ago. At that time, she was an awkward teenager and we met through a BBS for "writers". We only met in person once, at a book launch, but afterwards she sent me copies of all her zines and some tapes of music she was working on. I'm so happy to see that she's found some success pursuing her creative gifts. She must be very successful indeed; she hasn't answered any of my emails.

    The Constantines - On To You (2003, from Shine A Light)

    "Come let me under your veil, they might say love is only trouble, we're both too drunk to steer it, we may never be angels, but we're lousy with the spirit."

    This band has been described as "Springsteen fronting Fugazi". Bryan Webb's gravelly voice and the sincerity of his lyrics certainly draw comparisons to The Boss, but on this track, the music is poppy enough to provoke singing along.

    The New Pornographers - Letter From An Occupant (2000, from Mass Romantic)

    "I cried five rivers on the way here, which one will you skate away on?"

    More new porn from this Vancouver based band.

    The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?? (2002, from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots)

    "Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?…"

    Hold on tight to your friends, my friends! And on that note, God bless and hope to see you next year!
  • Compilation Champs SXSW 2004 Mix CD

    Jan 5 2006, 3h49

    Children from Dublin's Inner City - Give Up Yer Aul Sins (c. 1962, from Give Up Yer Aul Sins): I discovered this wonderful part of my heritage a couple of years ago when an animated short film of the same title was nominated for an Academy Award. Recordings had been made many years ago of Dublin schoolchildren telling stories from the Bible. The only bad thing about this version (which is from a recent CD release) is the incredibly chirpy and annoying narrator.

    Iggy Pop - I Got A Right (1973, from the sessions for Raw Power): A poor quality demo but somehow it works. I like the muddy sound and there's just nothing like Iggy's attitude married to the crunchy guitar of James Williamson.

    Motorhead - Dirty Love (1979, from Golden Years): I have always liked Lemmy Kilminster and Motorhead. It's not that I'm a huge fan of "metal" but I could never buy this kind of music when it's sung by a falsetto-voiced preening shirtless poster boy. So many so-called "metal" bands were just about the hairstyles and their records were overproduced and slick. Even though this is most certainly a demo (witness the laugh at the beginning and the cough!), I love the stripped-down "dirty" sound. The drumming is almost punk in its simplicity.

    Max Webster - Here Among The Cats (1976, from Max Webster: More of my art-rock youth showing. I think this is about being in prison, but they make it sound kind of cool.

    Wesley Willis - The Frogs (1999, from Greatest Hits, Volume 2): Wesley Willis died recently. Until his death, he was one of the strangest examples of "outsider art" in history. Wesley was a 350-pound black homeless schizophrenic who somehow got hold of a keyboard and began writing hundreds of songs. Although most of the songs sound exactly the same, they're strangely compelling. Wesley's songs fell into several categories. The funniest were the ones where he exhorted the listener to Lick/Suck/Taste a Camel's/Donkey's/Snow Leopard's/Caribou's/Llama's/Gorilla's Ass. Included here though is one of a group of songs Wesley wrote about bands. Describing a concert (or "jam session") that he apparently enjoyed, he's joined here by a full band that makes the song much catchier than his usual fare.

    The dB's - Black and White (1981, from Stands for Decibels): For years I'd been meaning to check out this band. 1981 is right in the middle of my own "golden era" of music (I was 16), but I'd never heard The dB's. They're power pop with a vaguely jangly flavour.

    My Bloody Valentine - (When You Wake) You're Still in a Dream (1988, from Isn't Anything): Though Loveless (1991) is considered the masterpiece, I like this album more for being more of a collection of songs. The drumming is more poppy and frantic, too, which is always a key part of my enjoyment.

    XTC - River of Orchids (1998, from Apple Venus, Volume 1): Orchestral Beatlesque pantheist hymn to nature reclaiming the highways. It sounds like it could be a plea for the carmakers to finally get working on those hydrogen-powered cars.

    The Smiths - The Boy with the Thorn in His Side (1986, from The Queen is Dead): I still think that the Smiths are criminally undervalued by the mainstream. Incredible songwriting. A killer partnership of words and music. One day they'll write songs about The Smiths.

    Pedro the Lion - Suspect Fled The Scene (2001, from It's Hard to Find a Friend): A recent discovery. I'm falling hard for Pedro. Moody intelligent lyrics from a Christian perspective. (Oh how that word has become debased. Pedro is helping, though, and I hope to!).

    The Spoons - Nova Heart (1982, from Arias and Symphonies): The Spoons were a new wave act from Burlington, a suburban hamlet about 45 minutes west of Toronto. They had the coolest clothes and hairdos imaginable, and their female bass player was a total babe. Since there's no Spoon this time, I had to give you Spoons!

    The Pets - Vika (2000, from Love and War): I really don't know much at all about this band, except that they're from the unlikely jangle pop capital of Steinbach, Manitoba and that they only released the one album. Alas.

    Wesley Willis - I'm Sorry That I Got Fat (1995, from Greatest Hits): More Wesley goodness. Though he promises to "slim down," Wesley never did. I'm not sure if Burger King, McDonald's and White Castle contributed to his death, but it's sad to hear him apologizing for his weight.

    Half Japanese - Best of the Best (2001, from Hello): This band should be called "Half Crap" since the ratio of poppy gems to unlistenable dreck is about 1:1. This, if you haven't guessed already, is a poppy gem.

    The Diodes - Shape of Things To Come (1977, from The Diodes): This song is actually a cover of a song from a very strange film entitled Wild In The Streets which I talked about on my weblog.

    Devo - Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy (1978, from Q:Are We Not Men? A:We Are Devo): If I had a band (still a remote danger, I'm afraid), we'd cover this song. I've always loved the way this song builds into a some sort of frenzied geek hoedown. Wes Anderson (who looks like the president of the Devo fan club) has said that for one of his films he wants to use only Devo songs on the soundtrack. I sure hope he uses this.

    Rheostatics - A Midwinter Night's Dream (1996, from The Blue Hysteria): My favourite Rheostatics songs are usually written and sung by Martin Tielli. His guitar playing and his voice (despite what I've said elsewhere about falsettos) always somehow evoke water for me; like being underwater, or on ice. My copy of this song has an unfortunate scratch or something so I apologize for the strange "ticking" that sometimes mars this track.

    Sigur Rós - Untitled 1 (2002, from ()): I know they're not the New New Thing™ anymore. I think that's why I like this song now.
  • Compilation Champs SXSW 2003 Mix CD

    Jan 5 2006, 3h45

    Max Webster - The Party (1978, from Mutiny Up My Sleeve)/Toronto Tontos (1976, from Max Webster): This Toronto band flourished from the mid-70s to the early 80s, playing a sort of arty prog-rock that was always amusing lyrically. Frontman Kim Mitchell went on to a fairly successful solo career, at least in Canada. After cutting my teeth on this eccentric Canadian rock, it was easy to become a Rheostatics fan a decade later.

    Robert Gordon - Rock Billy Boogie (1979, from Rock Billy Boogie): I just love the stiffness of his delivery, and Robert Gordon was definitely in the forefront of the rockabilly revival that caught me up in the late 70s along with punk and ska.

    Built to Spill - You Were Right (1997, from Keep It Like A Secret): Here's a band I've grown to love over the past year. I think it's brilliant the way he quotes so many classic song lyrics, and still manages to break your heart in a fresh way.

    Spoon - Jonathon Fisk (2002, from Kill The Moonlight: It wouldn't be right not to include something from a band who might be Austin's greatest export, and maybe my favourite band of the past five years. This is a song about a bully, and I love the line "religion don't mean a thing, it's just another way to be right-wing." Reminds me of another bully from Texas right about now.

    Jim O'Rourke - All Downhill From Here (2001, from Insignificance): I discovered Jim O'Rourke through the work he did for the soundtrack of the film Love Liza. It turns out, though, that he's been around for years, making all kinds of music, from folk to experimental.

    PJ Harvey - O Stella (1992, from Dry): In 1992, Polly Jean Harvey was angry. And boy was she sexy. I haven't enjoyed anything she's done after 1994, when she put down her guitar and put on a dress, nearly as much.

    Buzzcocks - Breakdown (1977, from Spiral Scratch EP)/What Do I Get? (1979, from Singles Going Steady): This Manchester band were probably the best songwriters of the punk era, even after original frontman Howard Devoto left to form his band Magazine (another favourite of mine) in 1977. Pete Shelley took on the vocal duties and the songs remained funny, fast, and smart. Here's one from each of them.

    Magazine - A Song From Under The Floorboards (1980, from The Correct Use Of Soap): This is the band that forced critics to coin the term "post-punk." There's something about the combination of the hypnotic bassline and Howard Devoto's singing "I know the meaning of life, it doesn't help me a bit" that gets me right here. Magazine were a great great band and more people should listen to them. Ok?

    XTC - When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty (1979, from Drums And Wires): I have to admit that I love this song partially because I love hearing Andy Partridge fitting all the words in. This is a great album, and I wanted to include something other than the obvious "Making Plans For Nigel". This isn't a "retro 80s" CD, you know!

    of Montreal - Don't Ask Me To Explain (1997, from Cherry Peel): Another recent discovery. This song just makes me smile with its relentlessly chirpy vocals and jangly guitars. And a refreshing lack of cynicism. This is a band that would probably be a lot of fun to hang out with.

    Mike Scott - Bring 'Em All In (1995, from Bring 'Em All In): Mike Scott was/is the driving force behind The Waterboys, a perennial favourite of mine. This song, from his first solo album, typifies the sort of spiritual themes he's always explored. Seeing him perform in 1995 was probably one of the most intimate shows I've ever experienced, and I was delighted soon after to receive a response to an email I'd sent him via his website. He actually bought me a card (with some characters from Alice In Wonderland on the front) and wrote me a lengthy and intelligent response to some of my questions.

    Hothouse Flowers - Be Good (1993, from Songs From The Rain): More woolly Celtic spiritual folk, and yet another memory of an intimate and strangely affecting performance, this time at, of all places, an "in-store" free show. Most bands play two or three songs in a perfunctory sort of way. These guys played their hearts out for an hour. I've never forgotten the eye contact the band members kept making with their audience. Only connect!

    Cat Stevens - If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out (1972, from the Harold and Maude soundtrack): Call me a woolly sentimental mamby-pamby if you want, but I've always loved Cat Stevens. And never more than here. This movie was also an astonishing discovery for me this year. After meaning to see it for years, I finally did. An obviously huge influence on Wes Anderson's work, since it combines quirky, off-centre yet lovable characters with an amazing soundtrack. And octogenarian Ruth Gordon even sings this song in the film!

    Squeeze - Pulling Mussels (1980, from Argybargy): Squeeze were perhaps the greatest pop songwriters of the 1980s. This song is just as insanely catchy as it was more than twenty years ago.

    Pulp - Babies (1994, from His 'N' Hers): I've always preferred the sort of effete intelligence of bands like The Smiths, Suede, and Pulp to the more macho "laddishness" of Blur and Oasis. In this song, Jarvis Cocker sings about discovering sex by spying on his friend's older sister. Songs of Innocence and Experience, indeed.

    Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross (1973, from The Harder They Come): This oft-covered classic is just a great gospel-tinged song of struggle. Yes, life is hard.

    Rheostatics - Lying's Wrong (1991, from Melville): You didn't think I'd let you go without giving you another opportunity to discover Canada's greatest band, did you?

    Daft Punk - Voyager (2001, from Discovery): This is just a classic chillout song. It's like a warm blanket and a cuddle from someone you love.