Saturday, December 20, 2008

Warpig—Warpig (Relapse)
My wife told me today that a local record store has an original pressing of this album that can be yours for just $800. Fortunately, Relapse reissued it a couple years ago, making it a little more affordable to fans of musty old hard rock like myself. Warpig came charging out of Woodstock, Ontario in the early '70s, obviously inspired by overseas bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Warpig’s own interpretation of this nascent sound is pretty bang-on the money (maybe a little too accurate in the case of “Speed King” doppelganger “Rock Star”), while approaching the style with a certain Canadian deliberation compared to the balls-out boundary pushing of their more regal British counterparts. While Dana Snitch is no Jon Lord (his somewhat prissy Clavinet sound can’t compete with Lord’s roaring Hammond) and Terry Hook is no Ian Paice, the band as a whole can certainly play—Rick Donmoyer in particular is a first-class guitarist, and as a singer can hit high notes to rival Heep’s David Byron (even, at times, King Diamond!). The songs are impressive in their riffcentricness and speedy pace, as well as their eccentricity. Warpig obviously recognized that the pop song form had by then become an infinitely malleable entity, filling their songs with strange twists and turns to augment basic verse/chorus structures. A song like “Melody with Balls” manages to fit some early metal riffing, slide guitar solos, freeform descents into noise, and a lot of pace changes into six minutes. Or “Advance Am,” an downright barmy instrumental led by Snitch’s harpsichord-like riffs. The opening of “U.X.I.B.” features a similar keyboard sound before diving into a blues-by-way-of-Black-Sabbath groove. I’m happy Relapse unearthed this one; it slots in nicely along with their two Pentagram compilations in putting the spotlight on North America’s neglected proto-metal heroes. If there’s someone out there who wants to drop $800 on an original copy, more power to them, but $20 for this lovingly packaged and annotated version is an excellent value.

Monday, December 15, 2008

21 Tandem Repeats—No Junk Mail Please (Canada Lynx)
I must tread carefully here because our man Super Robertson has taken an occasional drubbing with this here album, and I feel some pressure to weigh in and save the day by bestowing album of the year honours upon No Junk Mail Please. It's difficult to review friends' work. I mean, if I didn't know these people and this crossed my desk, would I really give it a chance? If I did throw it on, I'm sure I'd quickly appreciate its spirit and lack of pandering 'n' posturing and clichéd boy/girl angst bullshit. And I'd dig the marauding, smoke-laced vibe of "Heidi Stopover." Yeah, lots to like in these 36 minutes.

However, I'm not some distant pair of impartial ears. I've seen 21 Tandem Repeats play, on average, every month for the last three years. I know what they're capable of on stage. Based on that, and based on what I hear on No Junk Mail Please, maybe it's time to don my picky pants and administer some tough love. I've often thought that past Robertson releases had production that was a little too polite for the music at hand. While this sometimes suited the jazzier, busier moments of his former band Roadbed, it stamps down the dynamics of 21 TR's more direct, groove-based sound. This isn't much of a problem at the album's outset—the first four numbers whiz by enjoyably—but the trio of songs in the middle takes the album down a sleepy little path. "The Key of 5," with its skittish rhythm section and wandering lead guitar, feels like it was still being worked up in the studio. (Although I don't advocate the band redoing old tracks, I'd like to hear them take another crack at this one—the song has a solid hook that needs to be exploited.) "Mr. Greenie," the last of this trio, should have been the song to take the album to a new peak. I've seen the band rip this number up live many times, but here it merely grooves along amiably, in a situation where the stomping of distortion pedals is required—which Robertson’s old foil Shockk could have supplied if this was a Roadbed track. A new, twangified recording of SUPERSIMIAN's "On Frozen Pond" helps put the band back on track, but the odd choice to follow it up with a cover song featuring a guest vocalist only reveals another pothole to negotiate. While I have nothing against the song (Roger Dean Young is godhead in my book) or Rebecca Till's voice, the sudden shift of style and tone makes it feel like the band have left the building.

So, I think this album features a few missteps from our heroes. That’s how it goes sometimes. Knowing how hard Robertson works to keep music in his life, he’s to be saluted, not belittled, and if you drop by the Supper Show and like the band, then you should pick this up. But now I want to hear the “rage hero” in Robertson's music. I know he’s got it in him. I hear a hint of it in the tense edge to his voice on “Disappear.” And if he wants to balance that sort of crankiness with jubilant expressions of hope along the lines of “Robertson’s Dream Orchard” (track 2), that would suit me just fine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ah, Jex Thoth. You are moss-smothered and messed up, conjuring proto-doom hymns by the light of a dying candle. You are not made for these times. You are overheated tubes and saturated tape, muddied signals on frayed cables. You are held in high regard by The Energizer and myself, and slated to appear in the next issue of Unrestrained! You are Julian Cope's Album of the Month. You are, in his words, "currently Sat In The Lap of the Motherfucker!" Yep.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My friend Adrian 'The Energizer' Bromley passed away suddenly on Sunday morning. I've been absolutely gutted for the last couple days with shock and heartbreak. For the last nine years, Adrian was a presence I could feel vibrating all the way across the country, an embodiment of enthusiasm and humour and love of life.

The Energizer was, of course, a co-founder of Unrestrained! magazine, the publication I've been copyediting (and occasionally writing for) since issue #8. The magazine was Adrian's chief passion, and it's been a thrill watching it grow and improve over the years. My first issue was the first with a colour cover; the issue after that had all glossy pages, and then colour gradually spread across the magazine until it reached the full-colour thing of beauty it is today. Adrian spearheaded each little improvement. He was justifiably proud of it.

He approached each issue with the same excitement. It usually started with a phone call. "Are you at your computer? Hold on, I'm going to send you something." An email with a mocked-up cover attached would arrive. He'd want my opinion right then and there. That cover's first appearance, to me, was the kick-off to the next few weeks of work—a flurry of interviews and emails and phone calls and editing and proofing, followed by a two-week pause for breath before the finished issue arrived. Adrian immediately wanted to know what I thought of it. He was always looking for ways to make it better.

I've been reading a lot of tributes to Adrian lately—dozens and dozens, hundreds probably. Everyone has Energizer stories, even people who never met him in person. They all marvel at the positive outlook he had, his generosity, and his energy. It's clear that he treated everyone the same way, and he gave everyone his best.

Nothing got Adrian down...for very long, at least. I remember he was between music-industry jobs a long time ago, and he'd taken a job with a debt-collection agency. When he told me where he was working, I think I audibly blanched at the idea of dealing with angry people on the phone all day long. Adrian jumped in and reassured me that he was having some really good conversations with a lot interesting people. It was all good. I'm sure he was a kick-ass debt collector. And when he had to leave his job doing PR at The End Records in New York and had to come back to Canada and start over again, he set up his own PR business, Ixmati Media, and was soon doing better than ever.

He was unfailingly kind and generous with his time. Whenever I was in Toronto he'd take me out for lunch on the U! tab (i.e. the bank of Adrian) and take me around to all the worthy record stores to haul some vinyl. He played a big part in helping Toronto become one of my favourite cities. And I remember when I flew to Montreal for Voivod's Katorz listening party/press day, after I arrived at the hotel he made sure I got something to eat and found my bearings before he had to attend to Jason Newsted's arrival. (That was the only time I've seen Adrian nervous. "Rock stars" of Newsted's stature didn't usually enter the underground metal realm Adrian was so ultra-comfortable in. Newsted was way cool, though, and he and Adrian hit it off right away, of course.)

And his nickname wasn't 'The Energizer' for nothing. As so many others have noted, the guy could do a dozen things at once—he'd be firing off IMs and emails while on the phone, writing press releases, reviews, articles, interviews. He loved to be connected to people—truly a man for these high-speed wireless times. He was raving about Facebook the last few times I talked to him and was a constant presence on the Brave Board, a place where so many people are mourning his loss right now.

He could write 18 articles for Unrestrained! in a single day. The first email with, say, eight Word documents attached would arrive on a Saturday morning. The subject line: "I'm on a roll!!"

Everyone mentions The Energizer's phone calls. They were quite something—one-sided affairs during which you'd be lucky to squeeze a syllable betwixt the Energizer's conversational bursts. After you'd hung up you could only shake your head and chuckle.

Then there were the extra-excited calls after he'd heard something amazing.

"Dude. The new Witchcraft album is amazing!"

Or the extra-extra excited calls when simply telling you wouldn't suffice; he would have to play it to you over the phone. I remember a few minutes from Agalloch's The Mantle, the resurrected Voivod, and the second album from some band called Woods of Ypres echoing, barely discernible, down the line. But they were all amazing!! (especially when I got to hear them properly!)

He loved vinyl, Cheap Trick, John Candy, Amy Sedaris, stoner rock, PJ Harvey, his cat, and his fiancée Renee. He was the genuine article, a true one-off, and we're all going to miss him terribly.