Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The tree is upright and decorated, I've seen Mr. Bean with a giant turkey stuck on his head, I've gladly paid $9 for a Terry's Chocolate Orange (the white chocolate variant), and I'm grabbing the g.d. clicker box every time that commercial with John Lennon singing "So this is Christmas" over a montage of starving children comes on. I love this time of year.

The only thing I haven't done is gone shopping with my sister. The tiny doctor is in New Zealand, tumbling down crevasses and setting new lows in personal hygiene while on a mountaineering course. Every year we meet downtown during the peak weekend of consumer insanity to buy things for our parents and finish any other shopping we have left to do. Our secondary mission is to be nice to salespeople—they're the real saints of the season, having to deal with individuals who make themselves miserable over something as inherently frivolous as Christmas shopping.

Oh well, everyone's entitled to a minor Yuletide gripe, as long as they don't take it out on an innocent bystander. Personally, I'm still a little pissed that they shut down the Marks and Spencer on Robson. There was no better place to shop for parents.

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Tangent—The Music that Died Alone (Inside/Out Music)
The liner notes say, “So how would it turn out if four English Nihilists teamed up with three Swedish Aquarians?” Pretty darn well. The Tangent is a project led by Andy Tillison, whom I’ve been aware of since he used to sell cassettes of Peter Hammill cover versions in Pilgrims fanzine. He’s gone on to release several albums with his band, Parallel or 90 Degrees. The Tangent is apparently one of those solo projects that got a little out of hand with the guest musos, so the sheer amount of star power involved (“star” being a relative term) garnered it a release on biggie Inside/Out Music. The Tangent are Tillison, Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt, and—gee whiz—David “Jaxon” Jackson, Van der Graaf Generator’s dark lord of the saxophone. Assorted Po90D personnel and Flower Kingers round out the lineup. This is a very good-humoured, enjoyable album—music about music, more than anything else. For instance, the second track, The Canterbury Sequence, is about the act of listening to music—the narrator digs Caravan and Hatfield and the North—and the sense of nostalgia it can produce, even if, like our narrator, you weren’t there at the time: “Feigned innocence and humour/Through my Walkman on a bike ride in the sun/My bicycle and I/we missed the party back in 1971.” The song is a mini-suite—all jazzy flutes and Hammond—that takes a detour through Hatfield and the North’s “Chaos at the Greasy Spoon” at mid-point. Three of the four songs are what I’d call epics, between 8 and 20 minutes. The exception is “Up-hill From Here,” clocking in at a breezy 7:11. This one gets up a good head of steam, and resolves into a super-catchy chorus/post-chorus/hook sequence that reveals some serious songwriting skills. It’s prog and all, and everybody gets to take a solo, but it’s not just a wank. I wish I could pin down who this song reminds me of. The Wonderstuff maybe? Anyway it stands out like a tuneful little island amidst the meandering subcontinents surrounding it. The last (title) track is a bring-down after the first three songs. It’s a little on the sleepy side, offering what could be an effective cultural commentary if it wasn’t presented in such a laid-back, MOR context: “We pay people to destroy us/in the media every day/So we’ll know our place and keep it/And never want to move away.” I’d prefer that the album didn’t end with a whimper, although I’m happy that it ended there, after 48 minutes. The Tangent don’t overstay their welcome, delivering a good dose of faith for the faithful in the process.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

There was a strike this week. It’s depressing the amount of vitriol that people harbour. The bile in their letters and soundbites implies that everybody’s got it better than them, and nobody deserves anything, especially not people who serve food or do other manual labour. Nobody deserves job and wage protection, they say. Nobody deserves to make enough money to pay for a home and take care of a family, buy some stuff and take the occasional vacation. Nobody deserves time to raise their children. Nobody deserves a voice.

People who gripe about these things don’t have the imagination to visualize anything different for themselves. They only want to bring others—people just like themselves—down to their level, or at least down a peg or two. Everything beyond their immediate control is a source of blind distrust and resentment. They don’t seem to see that one victory might lead to others; that we all could be better off someday. Instead they watch the losses mount, believing it when they’re told that everything’s going to be all right.

The ever-helpful Sun published the hourly wages of every member of a Spirit-class ferry in the paper today, to prove a point, I suppose. Rub salt into wounds. Never mind that it’s none of anyone’s business what people get paid. Looking at the numbers, I don’t make as much money as the lowest paid member of a ferry crew. Then again, I get to sit in a warm office every day, I get to leave for work and come home at the same hour every day, I can wear whatever I want, and I don’t have to deal with members of the public who are angry at me for doing exactly what they would do in the same situation.

My company does the right thing and gives me a few benefits, but it could all disappear tomorrow. I understand this last fact, and I wish it wasn't true. I still think I'm the luckiest bastard on earth.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

There’s a Christmas toy drive on, and I'm watching the box gradually fill up with stuffed animals. God. You’d think needy children are all affection-starved, tactilely challenged, insecure basket cases. I’m all for charity, and I love Christmas, but seeing stuffed animals and other plush goods in a toy drive box makes me want douse the whole works in kerosene, flick a match in and watch the heap of “flame retardant” synthetics and post-consumer-recovered stuffings melt into a bubbling, blue-flaming pool of toxicity. The box would then be empty, ready to receive useful, welcome gifts. If I was dictator, I’d demand that it be filled with Lego, Hot Wheels, Barbies, and books, games, etc. The best place for stuffies is the local rifle range.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Dimmu Borgir/Nevermore/Children of Bodom/Hypocrisy Dec. 1 at the Commodore Ballroom
Nobody I contacted could be my +1 for the gig, so I felt a bit like Billy No-Mates as I joined a queue that stretched around the block. The size of the lineup made me flash back to the last time I tried to Dimmu Borgir—“tried” being the operative word, because I got stuck in the lineup and never got in, due to sketchiness and incompetence by the promoters on down. This time the line moved steadily, and half an hour later, I was inside.

Hypocrisy came on first in a mass of windmilling hair and scurrying bodies. I always thought Hypocrisy was a trio, but there were four of them tonight. The lineup gave them twin lead-guitar capability, which they showcased throughout their half-hour set, notably on a great new song, “Eraser.” The Swedes have always been a workmanlike entity, with mainman Peter Tagtgren most noted for his production work at Abyss Studios. I’ll praise their material for its diversity more than anything else, with songs that either chug mercilessly or speed along at an unreasonable clip. I was disappointed they didn’t tip their hat to Canada by doing their awesome cover of Razor’s “Evil Invaders”, but they did end their set with “Roswell 47,” which aroused fists-in-the-air jubilance from the crowd. To borrow a line from Jeff Wagner, “Roswell 47” is Hypocrisy’s “Rock ’n’ Roll All Nite.”

After a quick 15-minute changeover, Finland’s Children of Bodom came on. The five-piece seem to be a love-’em/hate ’em proposition with metal fans. The Quebecker who sat next to me during Hypocrisy was definitely primed to see them, and so were most of the crowd. I think CoB’s style—Yngwie Malmsteen classical virtuoso metal with keyboards fused onto an extreme black/speed metal framework—irks the manly men purists out there, and truthfully it’s not really my cup of tea either…though it’s a blast in small doses. The whole set was just a blur of wheedling keyboards and guitar, trading lines like Mahavishnu or Mastermind. More than half an hour of this may have betrayed the material’s lack of substance, but as it was, CoB were pretty near the best band of the night.

This was a funny gig for me. I wasn’t really there to see any one band over the others. I have albums by all the acts on the bill except Nevermore, who were on next. I was expecting that their more traditional metal style would sound really immense, but Nevermore were a big disappointment. Vocalist Warrell Dane looks like he’s seen better days and the guitars were just a mass of downtuned 7-string sludge, rendering the riffs miserably undetectable. No fun.

Dimmu Borgir set things right again with great sound and staging. Their keyboard-heavy material came across as pretty slick for Norwegian Black Metal. I could understand how it could appeal to the wee Marilyn Manson goth girls in the crowd. I didn’t know that Dimmu are basically an all-star band now, with Uncle Fester from Cradle of Filth on drums and Galder from Old Man’s Child on guitar. I was really impressed by their bassist, the first proper finger-playing bassist on stage that night. And when he stepped up to the mike to perform the clean singing parts—man, what a voice! He was like one of the three tenors. Really, though, he sounded to me like Simen, the old Borknagar singer…and it turns out that’s who he was! What a superstar. I couldn’t see Fester down on the floor, so I went up to the side seating area to for a better view. Fester was still pretty hidden by all the dry ice fog, but from what I could see, he’s not looking that great these days. He looked like one of these guys. The band were wearing the studded shin guards that feature so prominently in their promo photos…very impressive. They look like the ideal accessories for puncturing Christians (you’d have to pick them off like burrs), or for aerating the lawn.

I had to get up early the next morning to travel down the states for work, so I left before the first encore. No more Death Cult Armageddon for me; I needed some shuteye.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

"I could murder a pint. It'd be a crime of passion."
Jack Duckworth, Coronation Street

Saturday, November 29, 2003

I’m coming up for air again, having polished off the editing for the next Unrestrained! We’re up to issue #23. When did I come on board…was it #6? That’s a lot of metal passing under my nose in a few short years.

The final push consisted of copyediting a 50-page Word file of album reviews. I presume some of them will go in the mag and some will go on the Web site. Every issue I’m simply blown away by the verbiage that our writers crank out. Do they have jobs, do they eat? I get depressed by other people’s productivity. I always go into a new issue intending to submit a paltry half dozen reviews, but I get beaten down by the editing each time. This time I finished two. Two reviews amongst maybe 140 others. That’s pretty lame.

I’ve come across some pretty screwed-up stuff over the past few days.

A) An old drunk at the Jolly Alderman on Thursday night had some interesting ideas to tell our group about using electromagnetism to send convicts to the moon. Apparently the trip would only take seven seconds. At first he seemed like a good guy to humour along, then it became clear that he was a total bore. He made his initial point, then returned to his perch. When he came back for round two, fancy shooed him away.

B) People talking about George Bush like he’s Mother Teresa. My dad’s friend Vaughn from Saltspring left a voicemail the other night in a vacant, entranced timbre, probably quoting soundbites off the news: “I honestly can’t imagine who I’d rather spend Thanksgiving with. That man put his life at risk to come and visit us. He’s my hero. Give him an A-plus.” Heh-heh.

C) Janeane Garofalo. Sweet Jesus, what’s gone wrong there?

D) Butt implants. Saw an item about them on some VH-1 show that MuchMoreMusic imports. Nice idea. The show followed some Hispanic woman who felt let down because her ass didn't match up to J-Lo's. As if that wasn't enough pressure, her husband preferred a bigger butt as well. Great, all the more reason to go under general anesthetic and have two donut-sized gel bags jammed into each buttock. Afterwards, she didn't look any different, but, she said, her sex life had improved. Bully for her and the implanted-butt-lovin' dickhead she rolls around with. I hope those implants don't migrate and slip down her leg. She could end up with a second pair of knees.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Our foray into dance music for medium-sized gatherings was a disaster. We’d begged and borrowed and lost not a little sleep over the task of putting the music together, but by Friday Fancy and I had four discs of rock-solid, people-pleasing tunes that never degenerated into the kind of cheese more appropriate for (as the belter put it) Shannon and Gary's wedding. If people couldn’t dance to this, we said, it wouldn’t be our fault.

The reunion itself was great—nice dinner in posh surroundings with good company. A DiffMusic reader or two “came out” to me, which caught me off guard. (I’ve now upwardly revised my estimated audience numbers by one half). After dessert, I helped clear tables and chairs off the dance floor and asked Maureen, the superb woman who’d organized the event, about the PA.

She led me to a decade-old ghetto blaster that the venue had supplied, one of those largish portable stereos with a 25-CD cartridge and dual cassette deck. The speakers looked up to the job, but the rest of it didn’t. The “play” button was caved in, and that CD tray had me worried. I’ve never trusted the whole consumer-grade CD jukebox concept.

I loaded it with three discs and crossed my fingers. Our first selection, “Nothing But Flowers” by Talking Heads, started playing. The venue staff adjusted the lighting and switched the mirror ball on. Perfect. It was only a matter of time before our meticulously sequenced CDs worked their magic, gradually building towards a dance explosion that would rival Deney Terrio’s Dance Fever, if not Mel’s Rock Pile.

Shortly into the second song (Elastica, “Connection”), we were asked to turn it down.

Halfway through the second song (Elastica, “Connection”) the CD skipped and went back to the middle of the first song.

Thus ended the dance portion of the evening. We formed a troubleshooting huddle around the stereo, immersed in our own private disaster while everyone else in the place had a nice chat. We tried disc two, and the same thing happened—we got halfway through the second song, then it was déjà vu all over again. We tried to skip ahead to songs 3, 4, or 5. No music resulted. A distraught Fancy, fortified by prime rib and gin & tonics, kicked me in the shin.

Half an hour before the event ended, a staffer brought us a much smaller CD player to use, a feeble, tinny sounding unit that played our discs perfectly.

To sum up: The whole mishap was the perfect argument against reproducing music digitally. If I’d filled up a beautiful TDK SA90 with the same tunes, we’d be heroes.

While compiling the music, we rejected dozens of our fave artists for not being danceable enough, including Neil Young. Looking back, however, a double shot of “Piece of Crap” and “F*!#in' Up” would have suited the occasion perfectly.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

While we’re on the subject of puppets… A little while ago Fancy mentioned Nanalan’ [Flash], her new favourite kids' show. I just want to reiterate that is by far the best thing in the CBC Kids lineup, kicking the bejeezus out of the likes of Arthur and Clifford the Big Red Dog. It’s a puppet show about a little girl, Mona, who visits her Nana every day while Mona’s mother is at work. Mona looks like an alien, with a round green head and huge glossy black eyes and speaks a semi-decipherable toddler dialect. She has a dog named Russell (“Ruster!” sez Mona) who larks about with her outside.

The best part of Nanalan’, and it doesn’t happen every episode, is when Mona, Russell, and Nana go next door to Mr. Wooka’s house, where he puts on a puppet show for them in a little puppet theatre he has in his backyard. When this happens, and I’m watching a puppet put on a puppet show for other puppets, my head feels like it’s about to pop clean off.

Monday, November 10, 2003

On last Sunday's Coronation Street, Steve McDonald made a remark I felt I should investigate.
Joe Carter
Joe Carter, Baldwin's puppet

Captain Scarlet
Captain Scarlet, Anderson's puppet

Yep, separated at birth. Nice one, Steve.
I have to compile some music for the dance portion of a reunion dinner/dance. It’s a challenge to come up with stuff. My music collection isn’t exactly rich with tunes to dance to. With fancy’s help we extracted a bunch of things that might please the people, and after she raided Mel and Adam’s shelves we gathered a good two hours’ worth of danceworthy material. Anyone with a Britpop fetish should be well pleased.

I’m determined to make the playlist completely populist. No Sonic Youth even. I initially wanted to include Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” but I ended up rejecting it after I put it on and tried to picture copyeditors and corporate communications specialists moving to it. Poor old Ian wouldn’t have wanted it that way. On the other hand I never thought I'd be so glad to hear “Groove is in the Heart” as when the belter pulled out a Deee-Lite CD and loaded it into the iTunes.

I thought I’d be able to use a lot of the stuff I got during the half-decade I used Spin as my buying guide, but apart from a couple They Might Be Giants songs and maybe some Bjork, I’m not finding much. It’s all Jesus Lizard and no Jesus Jones.

I've got a line on a copy of Abba Gold, and I'll mine that for all it's worth.

If anyone has suggestions for more surefire dance hits, please drop me a note.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Don't rent Laurel Canyon. It's a very bad movie. I can't understand why critics didn't highjack every available entertainment media outlet and proclaim this fact in loud voices or IN UPPER CASE LETTERS — "LAUREL CANYON BLOWS!" Instead most of them claimed it was pretty good, all in all.

But it isn't. It's awful, and the characters never shut up. When the movie reaches its climax and the characters have their big blowout and call each other fucking assholes, I wasn't rooting for our protagonist, and I wasn't hoping that anyone would get their comeuppance. All I could think was, "What a couple of fucking assholes."

Lou Barlow is in it, more or less as an extra, perhaps to lend authenticity to the rock milieu the movie tries to conjure. That's about the only thing I found interesting about it.

One way to amuse yourself while watching Laurel Canyon is to reimagine it as a porno movie. Every illogical/improbable character reaction makes more sense that way. "This is where the lesbian scene would go." "This would be a good time for a solo scene in the bathtub." "I'd say the orgy sequence is coming up in about five minutes."

The trick (if you want to keep your dinner down) is to imagine it as a porno movie NOT starring Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale. Eww.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I let fancylady test some new red earth nail enamel on my thumb last night. I forgot about it until I got to work and sat down at my desk today. Though I admired the polish’s superb coverage and deep colour, I scraped it off right then. That’s not the kind of attention I want at work. I’m sure I’m already viewed with suspicion because I don’t own a car. Amongst my coworkers (to paraphrase Christian Slater in Heathers), if you can’t smoke your tires in third gear you might as well be wearing a dress.

Just as a man with two watches never knows what time it is, a man who can catch two buses to the same destination never knows which one to take. That man would be me. I face the choice every day—99B or 9. The former gets me to the train faster, but it doesn’t come as often. Number 9 buses come in a steady stream all morning, but they stop on nearly every block and are packed by the time I reach Broadway station. I used to be picky and wait for the 99B, but now I just take whichever bus comes first. I’m happy as long as I’m moving.

If that hasn't put you into a coma yet, here’s another scenario to ponder. To get home from my parents’ place I can choose from three buses. It’s great, except that these buses stop on different sides of one intersection. So I’ve basically got to choose one bus stop, then hope that’s the first bus to arrive. It never works out that way.

Last night I chose to wait for bus A. A few seconds later, bus B drove past. I looked down the road and couldn’t see any sign of bus A, so I crossed the street to wait for bus C. Five minutes after that, bus A arrived. I probably could have made it back across the intersection to catch it, but I'd made my choice. C it would be.

Having just hit a new low of banality, why stop there? On the number 9 this morning I sat beside an elderly Asian woman, her works completely gummed up with nicotine, whose constant wheezing sounded like a cross between William S Burroughs and a didgeridoo. It was almost enough to distract me from this Bill Bryson book I just started.

I don’t know what Bryson’s deal is. I don’t know if he’s regarded as a genius, or if he shares space with Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry in the “folksy humour for nincompoops” genre. My parents like him. I've read and reread the article he did on Blackpool for National Geographic. He knows how to turn a phrase. He makes me laugh. A few paragraphs about in-sink garbage disposals got me going on the way up Burnaby Mountain today. All tensed up and grimacing with stifled laughs, I’m probably as tempting a travel companion as a rheumy old woman dying for a fag on the number 9.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Dear Super Robertson,

I enjoyed last night's Roadbed show. No, I don't think there were too many solos, considering the circumstances—new drummer and everything. Sam seemed eager to give it his all. He was like Tony Williams up there. I think the crowd appreciated it. All credit to you and the Shockker for holding the riffs down while he went at it.

It was a different kind of Roadbed show for sure...the usual balance of yer rhythm section was tilted somewhat, but it's early days yet. If you stick with Sam I'm sure you'll find equilibrium after a few more shows.

"Kill the Loudmouth" was really, really, really great.

Keep them mowing blades sharp,

Monday, October 27, 2003

Kindergarten of Rock
Jennifer van Evra in Saturday’s Vancouver Sun reviewing Mike Watt’s trio: “I never knew there was such a thing as a wailing organ solo.” Oh Lord.

The belter brought home a copy of Vice magazine this weekend. It’s so goddamn hip I can barely understand it. It’s written in code designed to exclude nonentities like myself. It has album reviews though. Album of the month is Sleep’s Dopesmoker, a fearsome thing that I’ve been staring down for the past few months, sneaking headphone listens when I can ignore the outside world and lay siege to my brainpan for an hour. I thought it was a brave, sorta out-of-the-blue choice—an original mix of a barely released album by a defunct band. Minor claim to fame: they were on the Gummo soundtrack.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Here’s some recent records I like.

Enslaved Below the Lights (Osmose/The End)
Enslaved are making the kind of music I want to hear. For every stinging whirlwind of blasting black/viking metal (of the highest quality, mind) there’s passages of pounding Hawkwind space ritual rock, twee flute gymnastics, and classic Ride the Lightning HM breaks. Oh, yeah, and some of the sickest time-signature twisting riffage ever. It’s heavy, musical, dark, unpredictable…all things good. There’s some brilliant minds at work underneath those pointy horned helmets. Album of the year?

Colour Haze Los Sounds de Krauts (Elektrohasch)
This German trio sounds like a cross between Kyuss and Santana. I don’t mean they inject latin elements into typical stoner rock. I mean they take Sky Valley-type jams and expand upon them, stretching out over long pieces that need 2 CDs to contain them. They must have great ears to be able to pull this stuff off, to listen to each other and get such subtle dynamics happening. The music flows so easily you don’t notice that 15 minutes has gone by. There’s also a brilliant 3-minute hit single called “2 + 7.” It’s (it was) the feelgood hit of the summer. I want to make a video for it using old footage of slot car racing. The cover art is done with felt pens and is super cool.

The Darkness Permission to Land (Atlantic)
Gotta get on this while I can, because The Darkness aren’t going to get any better than this, their debut album. It’s a great album, though, so it should have staying power well after the band disappears. The Darkness basically channel everything 70s and stadium-rocking into cock rock for the new millennium. I want to compare this album with The Cult’s Electric, but Permission to Land isn’t quite so calculated and monochrome. One minute they sound like Whitesnake, the next they sound like Queen (one of those ignored Queen tracks relegated to the middle of side 2…possibly written by John Deacon); sometimes they remind me of Diamond Head. There’s guitar solos and the vocalist’s falsetto sounds like he’s dipping his tackle in ice water. They may be taking the piss and just playing dressup, but I’ve removed the batteries from my irony detector in this instance. It’s all pretty keen, so much so that I’ll forgive them for blatantly ripping off the riff from Urge Overkill’s “Sister Havana” early in the album. I’ve ripped off that riff a couple times myself.

Do Make Say Think Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead (Constellation)
Lonely guitars, scattered drums, loops and other sound manipulation, all recorded in a barn, hopefully with government money. This is up there with the major players of post-rock like Tortoise and Gastr del Sol. I like that it’s not completely obtuse; it’s very approachable in fact. A lot of gung-ho spirit shines though all the art damage. And there’s the odd moment where the saxophone surges forward and it sounds, god help me, just like Van der Graaf Generator. You’ve got no idea how much I want to make music that sounds like this. I want to package music like this, too. Constellation puts out nice stuff. It blows me away that I can go to Scratch and take home such a beautiful object for just 15 bucks.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Guided by Voices, not at the Commodore, Oct. 22, 2003
We arrived at the Commodore to find signs informing us that the venue had changed to The Drink at 368 Richards St. What the hell’s The Drink? Why not the Commodore? So many questions to ponder as the belter and I walked across town. The Drink, it turns out, is not far from Gastown, and this was its first rock show. Apart from some ID-checking fascism at the door (which we escaped because we’re old), the venue wasn’t bad in terms of access, staffing and sightlines. It had a vibe somewhere between Richard’s on Richards and the Starfish Room, except with a bar crammed into every corner—providing full service to the party crowd on regular nights, I guess. The draft selection was pretty dire, and it ran dry long before the night was over.

We saw most of the opening act. I never caught their name. Their singer played keyboard and they had a violin/cello string section along with the usual bass/gtr/drums. The songs were downtempo and inoffensive. I was going to say “unmemorable,” but one of them just popped into my head.

GBV came on after a long break and proceeded to play about 8,000 songs over the next two and a half hours. Robert Pollard drank his case of Bud, whipped his mic around, and extolled the virtues of rock and roll, being 46 years young, Devo, Dayton OH, and “doing it for the kids.” The rest of the band took their cues from him, getting looser as the set wore on and the collective blood alcohol level rose. They never fell apart, however, mainly due to the steady presence of the quiet man on lead guitar, Doug Gillard. He looks like the guy who anchors the whole operation. He’s handy with that Les Paul, too. As a consumer I abandoned trying to keep up with the relentless Pollard/GBV release schedule long ago, so I didn’t recognize large chunks of the set list. That’s okay; it happens every time I see GBV. They did plug the last couple albums pretty heavily, and played most of the hits from the Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes era. I think my friend Gary K, cutting a fine figure in a Wyckyd Sceptre shirt, was disappointed by the absence of “Tractor Rape Chain,” but I couldn’t complain.

Gary drove us home in his fancy new sports coupe. Today I've got 8,000 +1 songs in my head, and my feet hurt.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Try, try, try to understand
We watched The Virgin Suicides last weekend. I rented it to check on what Sophia Coppola had done prior to Lost in Translation. I also wanted to see how she used music in the movie, because I’d owned the soundtrack album (by mellotron merchants Air) for a couple years.

The movie had its good points, but it wasn’t all that focused. I wasn’t sure who or what it was really about. It did have a lot of different components that were nicely done, including the music.

In addition to the expected Air tunes, a couple old Heart songs—“Magic Man” and “Crazy on You”—popped up at crucial moments to inject some mid-’70s ambience.

I get ribbed about “Crazy on You,” because I once admitted that I think it’s a sexy song. Well, it is. Early Heart carried off the mystic carnality of Led Zep pretty well. Both bands put the cock in cocksure while never shying away from a little soft-focus, dewy meadow wistfulness. Robert Plant was always the priapic love god with a limp wrist, while in the space of one verse in “Crazy on You” Ann Wilson goes from singing about being a willow last night in her dream to sounding like she’s about to bite her lover’s head clean off. It sounds strong and fierce and female, and if I can’t associate those qualities with sexiness, then I’d better sit down and rethink some things.

While we’re at it, the middle section in “Magic Man” where the guitar and mini moog trade licks is also quite boner inducing.

Monday, October 20, 2003

The French Grand Prix used to be held near Reims, on a triangular circuit made up of country roads. The straightaways must have been dauntingly fast, and the hairpins were undoubtedly hard on brakes over the typical GP race distance of that era. Grands Prix were twice as long as they are now—real endurance contests.

After Reims, the French GP was held on a number of different circuits, from the amazing Clermont-Ferrand to the dinky confines of its current home, Magny Cours.

Now, if you find yourself in the right area of France, you might pass the decaying grandstands at Reims and imagine the scene on race day, the front-engined single-seaters tearing down those narrow roads.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The AdBot-generated banners that Blogger puts here are usually good for a laugh. The other day it was advertising "Cheap Rick Wakeman tickets." Those are the best kind, trust me.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I rode a bus this morning that had nothing but Poetry in Transit ads inside. Transit poetry has become almost a genre unto itself, like Oprah Book Club books. Anvil Press never had anything accepted for Poetry in Transit until this year, when the belter took charge and scoured Anvil’s new poetry releases for any transit-friendly passages. Due to the fact that (a) she’d internalized our Print Futures genre studies so deeply, and (b) she’s a genius, Anvil has currently has two Poetry in Transit ads out there. Nice work, fancylady.

I originally typed “I wrote a bus this morning” as the first line.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I finished reading Lemmy’s autobiography White Line Fever (Simon & Schuster) a couple weeks ago. I enjoyed it very much. It’s not great literature by any definition (show don’t tell, Lemmy!), but it delivers the kind of behind-the-scenes dirt that you want from such a book. It’s like listening to the man hold court at the pub for several nights; a kind of booze-soaked lecture series on everything Motorhead-related.

As a fan of British show business, I especially appreciated the book. For a while there, Motorhead must have been a constant presence in the UK media. Lemmy, it seemed, never turned down a single offer to appear somewhere, no matter how ludicrous—kids TV, chat shows, The Young Ones, movies, the lot. (I don’t think he was ever on Coronation Street, although I vaguely remember Les Battersby pissing off all of Weatherfield with “Ace of Spades” once.) He glossed over the time he was on French and Saunders, which is too bad. That was a good one.

Once again I’m amazed at the standard of copyediting and fact-checking at major publishing houses. “Dee Schneider” of Twisted Sister, anyone?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Few things make me more miserable than listening to myself "conduct" an interview with someone. Despite having weeks of lead time to work on a Morbid Angel story for Unrestrained! I've only just started because I couldn't bring myself to listen to the tape. I made it to the end of my session with Steve Tucker tonight. Now I have to brace myself to transcribe my dismal follow-up chat with Trey Azagthoth. I remember sucking really badly on that one. I've never been pleasantly surprised by an interview tape, either. This won't be fun.

I found a couple good things up the street at Neptoon this weekend:
AC/DC Flick of the Switch: Not the most stunning rarity ever, but it's an album I had a sudden need to hear. It's AC/DC at their most elemental, their leanest and meanest. Nothing rocks harder. Martin Popoff called it the "blinding furious peak of the Bryan Johnson era." The title track always cracks me up, with its ladder-climbing riff. What could be more perfect than that? I noticed that Stoke covers "This House is on Fire" sometimes. That Willingdon Black knows his AC/DC, and I always thought that was an interesting choice of cover. As kids I think we logged more hours listening to (and playing) AC/DC than anything else.

Gracious!: The band, the album. This is from 1970. Gracious toured with the Who in 1968 and put out a couple albums on Vertigo, I think. I'd been looking for this for a while, so I was very happy to find this on a nice Jap CD reissue--one of those mini-LP cover jobbies. Check out the picture in the gatefold! (I'd link to an image if I could find one.) The music itself is well out of order. The style is basically heavy early progressive that never sits still for very long. It reminds me of the progressive Italian bands who sprang up a few years later, having absorbed and warped the influence of their British forerunners. Gracious were warped from the start. I wonder if they toured with that harpsichord?

Monday, October 06, 2003

I saw some beautiful movies last week. We rented Spirited Away, which splattered our brains all over the living room. It was that good. I regret missing it on the big screen. Then on Saturday we saw Lost in Translation. We had a slight Japanese theme going, I guess. I had a few moments during LiT, especially when that song (not to spoil the ending) kicked in during the final scene. Nice.

I often feel like I should see more movies. But that guilt disappears every time I go out to one. Sitting through the previews makes me realize I’m not missing anything by avoiding 99.5% of all movies released each year. Bah. Like on Saturday. Okay, maybe Kill Bill will be cool. The other previews were for that worst of all genres, British movies made for American audiences. All the characters are ever so pleasantly eccentric and comically repressed, until they’re tempted by the possibility of doing something ever so slightly naughty and we're expected to laugh at their embarrassment for the duration. I hate it. How about some characters on heroin? I remember when characters in British movies seemed interesting. How about we have Hugh Grant stammering through a scene not because he’s anxious to make it up to Tara Fitzgerald, but because he’s dying for some heroin? Well, maybe not that, but if it still has to be a light romantic comedy, how about Hugh Laurie instead of Hugh Grant? Let’s mix it up.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

I’m comfortable with the fact that I suck. I still don’t think it’s fair that some people get all the talent though. Nothing like going to the Jazz Cellar for giving your ego a good thrashing. In 3’s were playing there Monday night, so Smash and I went down. I wanted to see a clinic and I got one. Alvaro Rojas switched between guitar and Chapman Stick, playing with great taste on both. He was no Greg Howard on the Stick (who is?), but he approached it perfectly in the context of the band—with restraint and awareness of his own abilities, which were considerable, make no mistake. Hey Kristian held court on a keyboard, some kind of little Korg synth and trumpet—not all at once, but usually at least two things at a time. And Shawn Killaly is a monster, the kind of drummer who makes me wonder how I even dared to play in front of people when I was in bands. He didn’t let his simple setup (pretty near the same as Andy Stoke), limit him in any way. When he got bored with the three drums in front of him, he whacked the rims, his high-hat stand, or the kick-drum shell. Also of note was his saw-blade cymbal, the only one I’ve seen outside of Greg Pohl’s drum kit. I’m not normally a fan of the drummer as entertainer/life of the party, but Shawn’s all right. I’ve got to respect that aspect of his playing because he backs it up with total musicianship.

They ran through a good portion of the album as well as some new things, traversing the spectrum from ultra-smooth grooves to Cryptopsy-style craziness. In 3’s carry no passengers.

Smash and I took it in, perversely enjoying the injustice of it all.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

We took a quick detour through the Sally Ann thrift store this morning. There was a clothing rack inside with a sign that read "Helloween costumes." I tried on the Kai Hansen, but it was too narrow across the shoulders. Down in the basement I found a home-dubbed cassette with Tarkus by ELP on one side and Thick as a Brick on the flip. Clearly made by a friend I'll never meet.

Then we hit the Kingsgate to load up on paper products at Shopper's. No excuses for not cleaning up after ourselves now. As fancylady put it, we can spew fluids at will. I sure love that belter.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

The Communication Age
I took the roundabout way home today, via Brentwood and my parents' house (where they have cable and are nice enough to tape Six Feet Under for me). While I was waiting for the bus at Brentwood I saw some graffiti on a telephone pole.

(wavery, quasi-Crispin Glover script in black Sharpie):
"This was once a majestic tree towering high, miles from here. Now it serves in solitude as a conduit for my power so that I can watch nature shows on tv."

(below in thin green marker, smudged with attempt at erasure):
"This is a telephone pole you moron. Buy a dish."

Monday, September 29, 2003

The weather was stupidly hot all weekend. I wasn’t ready for it and I don’t think anyone else was either, judging by the general crankiness I observed outside. Saturday was really bad for crabby couples. Every time I ran an errand I saw some snit flare up or a full-on slanging match underway.

On a side trip to the Brentwood Zellers toy department I came across some Todd McFarlane Metallica figures in the clearance racks. I considered buying the Jasonic Newkid doll so I could paint a Voivod logo on its shirt, but I decided I could find better ways to amuse myself for 8 bucks.

I went to Smash’s place Saturday night for a good party around the stereo with other hi-fi enthusiasts. As always it left me with lots to think about, including the idea that The Inner Mounting Flame might be the greatest album of all time. No other record can be better; only different. I also finally got to see the Trailer Park Boys episode where they kidnap Alex Lifeson after being denied tickets for the Rush concert. Too rich.

With fancylady representing Anvil Press in Calgary, I skipped Corrie on Sunday morning (taped it for later). I farted around for a bit, then went downtown to Word on the Street. There was a big crowd around the Anvil table, and it looked like they were doing good business. I went to the “Everyone’s a Critic” forum moderated by John Burns of the Straight, along with Katherine Monk (who is funnier in person than in print), Colin Thomas, Lorna Jackson and Mary Frances Hill from the West Ender. I visited the Bookmobile in the CBC plaza to gather info for the belter, then dropped by the Print Futures table to talk to some fellow victims.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in Burnaby, where too many eras are ending in my old neighbourhood. I still get to mow the greenest lawn on the block, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Everyone should just shut up about Adrienne Clarkson and her “$1 million” trip to Russia, Finland and Iceland. It’s because she’s promoting culture, isn’t it? If she was out surveying a new oil pipeline, would the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation piss and moan so much?

The new Unrestrained! is out, so I’ll plug away. I’ve got a few things in it, including a review of In Harmonia Universali by Norwegian duo Solefald. They recently got a grant to travel to Iceland too. They took in some Viking re-enactments and wrote some music for their next album during their visit. Great. Can’t wait to hear it.

I know nothing about Norway except what I’ve gleaned through its musicians, who are an exceptionally articulate, creative, passionate and occasionally pyromaniacal lot. Norway must be a fine country to produce all these internationally recognized artists from such a small population. Cultural exports make for great PR.

“Ah-ha,” says the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “It didn’t take a million-dollar boondoggle/junket to make you aware of Norway’s culture. That was the free market’s doing.”

Yes, but wait. From what I understand, a lot of Scandinavian musicians get their start at government funded youth centres, which provide band rooms and instruments for kids who need a hobby. Dozens of bands with international distribution began this way. If a country provides the infrastructure, maybe the rest takes care of itself.

Monday, September 22, 2003

What a weird weekend. Saturday the belter and I went to (hung out on the periphery of) my company picnic at Confederation Park in North Burnaby. After we got off the bus at Hastings and Willingdon we saw this little stray dog, collar-less and obviously lost, wandering in and out of traffic at the intersection. People were stopping their cars, getting out and chasing after it. He/she wouldn’t let anyone near him/her, though. We were just about to call the pound when one woman pursued it down an alleyway, out of harm’s way. I hope she caught up to it. It looked like a cool little dog, but I think it was set for a life on the street.

Never having been to Confederation Park, we walked right past the picnic and then got lost. We did come across a pretty rad miniature railway, though. We found the picnic in time to get in on the last dregs of lunch but too late to score any beverages. The belter ate a burger that soon had her feeling as foul as the water in the executive dunk tank. Maybe a turn in the bouncy castle might have helped? I said hi to a couple people, then everyone gathered around for the raffle. Lotsa prizes on offer. We won a copy of Stitch! the Movie—hope the stinker hasn’t already seen it. It would have been cool to win the DVD player, but lady luck didn’t deal us any consumer electronics that afternoon.

After the raffle we walked up to the McGill library. That whole area has been redeveloped since I was last there. The old library is gone, replaced by a larger metal-and-glass affair. We went in and loaded up on stuff, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which we watched that night. Now I truly understand the genius of SCTV’s Whatever Happened to Baby Ed?

I also found the latest Alan Warner novel, The Man Who Walks. The belter wanted it immediately, but I got dibs on it for bus reading. I felt a bit bad, since finding a new Alan Warner for her is probably the equivalent of me coming across a new Van der Graaf Generator album. I promise to pass it on ASAP, fancylady.

What about Sunday? It started with one of the best Coronation Street omnibuses ever (the game’s up for Richard!) then I headed to Burnaby where I mowed my folks’ lawn and went over to jam with the kings of Patrick. It took a while to get a band together, but I found a stash of Bob Sox’s old Kerrang! magazines from ’81 to ’84 that kept me more than amused in the meantime. So much good stuff—the original review of the epochal Script for a Jester’s Tear, a shot of up-and-comers Metallica (McGovney/Mustaine lineup), with Lars in white spandex, Girlschool, Wendy O Williams, Lee Aaron, the great Rock Goddess (Sox has always had a thing for women in rock), and a very weird photo comic strip depicting a bloody battle for supremacy between Cronos and Jon Miki Thor (who was all over Kerrang! back then) in which our boy trounced the pasty pseudo-satanist and made off with the girl.

Then Smash showed up and we had to jam. Rats.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Berth of Indignation
The belter and I spent almost the entire weekend on the Queen of Nanaimo. First on the midnight run to Saltspring (where we’d go to the fall fair the next day), then an early Sunday morning sailing to Mayne, followed by an afternoon trip back home. This last voyage was by far the sketchiest. Dad dropped us off at the ferry terminal, where we found a handwritten sign saying that the sailing had sold out. The ferry, we assumed, was already full of fairgoers leaving Saltspring, with no room left for us Mayne Island types. We ran back for Dad before he took off in the Volare, then joined the mob by the ticket booth. We considered backtracking to Victoria and sailing home from there, but eventually the crew of the Nanaimo and the unfortunate ferry corp. employees in the ticket booth reached an agreement on the radio and they started selling tickets.

When we got onboard, we had no option but to find some empty space along a wall and flop down on the floor. That’s not to say there weren’t any seats. It’s interesting to note the dynamics of personal space in a ferry seating area. It’s not like a bus where you might move your bag off the seat beside you to make room for another person. It’s not like a crowded movie theatre, where you don’t hesitate to ask if those two seats are taken. The nature of personal space on a ferry is very suburban, with people using their baggage to form buffer zones around them, pulling up empty seats to use as footrests, and similar tactics.

I guess it’s hard, on the trip back to the Mainland, for people to make the transition from the quietude of the islands to the close quarters of city life. The ferry is where that adjustment starts to happen, where we have to face the hell that is other people again. Unfortunately that adjustment doesn't translate into much action during the trip itself, which is why on a crowded, sold-out Queen of Nanaimo, only 1/3 of the seats have actual humans in them.

Or maybe it’s because people are just selfish bastards.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Mongoose played the Pic last night, so I went down to check them out. I missed the first band, Hope Against, which wasn’t a big deal. I’d seen them a couple weeks ago at Snackerz. Lonesome Pine were second on the bill. Their schtick is playing punk rock Stompin’ Tom covers—a solid fuck-band concept, but in execution every song had the same quickstep Ramones powerchord blur. As I predicted, their version of The Hockey Song sounded exactly like the Hanson Brothers’ version. The multilayered meta-music culture cannibalism vibe of the show got even stronger when I noticed that the singer had a Hansons t-shirt on. Was Lonesome Pine a tribute to the Hanson Brothers doing a tribute to the Ramones doing a tribute to Stompin’ Tom? I wasn’t drinking, but I needed to give my head a shake. I salute them for naming their band after Lenny Breau’s dad, though.

Mongoose made a good showing musically—Shockk and Brock and the bass guy were great. Shockk and Brock in particular pushed each other to new levels of intensity as the set progressed. Their singer spent more time flailing around on the empty dance floor than up on stage with the band. I’ve disliked this approach ever since a particularly bad Decline of the English Murder show where JR went walkabout and scarred me for life. I think if you’re in a band, you should be in the band. It’s not experimental theatre, there’s no fourth wall to break through. Stay on stage and support your chums. Anyhow, expect big things from the Mongoose, with their album getting some proper distribution and a possible tour in the future (brace yourself, Edmonton). They got a typically addle-brained review of their CD in this week’s Georgia Straight, too, which is a sure sign that everything’s falling into place.

By the way, did anyone read Steve Newton’s attempt to review Popoff’s Top 500 book in last week’s Straight? No, strike that. The word “attempt” implies that he tried to write a book review. However, he did attempt, successfully, a number of other feats:
-Ignoring the substantive content of Popoff’s book.
-Preferring narcissistic drivel over discussing someone else’s hard work.
-Depicting Black Sabbath riffs onomatopoetically.
-Wasting valuable column inches with same.
-Embarrassing himself and the Straight.
-Abusing his privilege.
-Making me angry for a couple solid hours.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

While I sorted through a punchbuggy-sized heap of clean laundry last night I listened to Secret Treaties by Blue Oyster Cult. I’ve had the album for a long time—JR gave it to me when he was dispersing the collection of a dead friend—but I’ve never given it a proper listen. Reading an intriguing Progressive Ears thread inspired me to pull the annotated sleeve* off the shelf and put the well-worn LP on. Holy crap! This album is amazing. When was it recorded—1974? It has a very garage-y sound, like the band couldn’t afford Marshalls yet, so it’s not all that heavy, but listen to those riffs, those songs! The fact that an American band was producing this noise must have excited a lot of people at the time. The tunes kind of bridge the transatlantic gap between the dark science of Vol 4/Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the streetwalkin’ grittiness of The Stooges and MC5. Kiss also factors in there somehow, but I haven’t figured out where yet.

Never mind my fetish for the dark side of the '70s; if this album had been released yesterday I’d be equally into it. Adventurous in spirit but highly accessible, it’s music for the people that didn’t pander to its audience (insert digression about Max Webster here). I can see why BOC inspired the young Mike Watt and D Boon to pick up instruments back in the day.

*there’s a handwritten note to the album’s previous owner on the back cover: “[name withheld and blacked out], Well, we’ve made it this far… Why not go all the way, huh? I love you babe and always will. Together we can make it through anything. [following words are blacked out] Love always directed twards you, [name withheld]”

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Dogs and Donuts
We went to the PNE last Sunday. I think the last time I went was when the Cult, touring for Electric, played the Coliseum during the fair. I don’t remember doing anything PNE-related before the gig (besides visiting the beer garden), but I remember the mini-riot that erupted at the end of show, which saw my friend JR embracing the anarchy by climbing on stage, then jumping back into the crowd after a split second of glory.

The PNE is pretty much the same as it ever was—crowded, loud, expensive, fragrant and slightly seedy. You have to embrace these qualities.

As soon as we arrived we headed straight to the Coliseum for the Superdogs. I had a dodgy moment when the emcee, a desiccated Bob Barker type, came out. I couldn’t decide if it was his white satin ensemble or the fact that he was gliding around on rollerblades that made me want to flee. Fortunately the arrival of the Superdogs diverted my attention. They ran races, jumped real high, and were just generally doggy and spazzy. The crowd, including fancylady and the stinker, went nuts, and if that wasn’t enough, we all got to go down to the floor afterwards to meet the Superdogs, who stayed surprisingly calm as people mauled them. We said hi to the Rottweiler and the smallest, fastest dog before heading out.

After some food, livestock viewing and an aborted trip to the pig races, we went in search of some kicks at Playland, picking up some mini-donuts along the way. Bob Barker on rollerblades hadn’t scared me enough, so I decided we’d check out the haunted house. The haunted house at the Playland of my childhood was pretty harmless, but the new one is so scary it isn’t even funny, as Count Floyd once said. Not only do you have to negotiate a maze in total darkness, but real people leap out to startle the bejeezus out of you. Jenni got menaced by some guy with a scythe at one point, while I made a hasty exit when a Jason-a-like popped up and revved what sounded like a power drill. Phew.

Cypress went on the Wave Swinger while Jenni and I got our bearings. We were badly outnumbered by kids out for the last fling of summer vacation—girls in sausage-casing jeans for maximum torso extrusion; guys with neck chains, backwards baseball caps and shell-suit pants. Yo. Playland is the epicentre of teenage trashiness. I was never a teenager, so I have no business commenting, but everybody looks like they’re trying way too hard. Whatever. I don’t understand their deal any better now than when I was 12+4.

Playland is also quite a hard rocking place. I heard enough Rob Zombie to last me for quite a while, with “Dragula” blasting out of every other ride.

There’s no loggers’ sports or demolition derby at the PNE anymore, so the Monster Motor Madness show was the next best thing. A monster truck drove around, “crushing” some already well-flattened cars; a fire-breathing tank-dragon thing came out and chewed on a big tire; and some mini-monster trucks raced around some pylons. The show as a whole was pretty boring until they set up a ramp and brought out a couple Extreme Motocross guys to do some aerial tricks. What they pulled off in mid-air was truly insane. I mean, it was bad enough that they were 50 feet in air, never mind that they were letting go of the handlebars and pirouetting around. Madness.

We considered another walk down the main drag to see some cookery demonstration stuff, but by late afternoon the crowds had become really dense. It felt like the right time to head out. We gambled our remaining pocket change on roulette and ring toss on the way to the exit gate, and that was it. Good day.

Monday, September 01, 2003

In the early 70s, Vancouver musician Hans Fenger decided to get a real job. His girlfriend was pregnant, and he couldn’t raise a family on earnings from club gigs and guitar lessons. He got a teaching certificate and a job in the Langley school district. He found some common ground with his students by teaching them what he knew—rock songs. He had no idea what he was doing, but with the encouragement of some colleagues, he soon found himself in charge of multi-school children’s choirs belting out the hits of yesterday and today. Their set list included lots of Beach Boys and McCartney (Beatles and Wings), a bit of Bowie, Neil Diamond, The Eagles and Klaatu, all set to arrangements that Fenger adapted to acoustic guitar, piano, snare drums, cymbals, and bells.

God only knows what the parents in Langley thought of school concerts consisting of “Space Oddity” and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” The choir and their hip repertoire must have become a pretty big deal, because Fenger recorded the choir twice (in 1976 and 1977) by setting up a reel-to-reel and a couple of mikes in an empty gymnasium, without the distractions of expectant families and friends. He used the tapes to press a few hundred records for the kids and their parents.

25 years later Bar None Records compiled and released these singular documents as Innocence and Despair: The Langley Schools Music Project. I read a lot of press on it when the CD was released (what with the local angle and all), but now that I’ve heard it, it’s as wondrous as the hype proclaimed.

It’s a strange experience to hear the songs stripped down to just a vocal line and some faint, disembodied accompaniment (except for the drums, which are loud and occasionally random!). None of the songs suffer for it, they just become…something else.

I only intended to listen to the first couple songs when I first put it on last weekend, but I ended up listening to the whole thing in one go. For the belter, it made the Beach Boys acceptable. For me, it made me realize that Alan Partridge may be right: perhaps Wings were the band the Beatles could have been.

Two solo performances on the CD are worth noting. Joy Jackson sings “The Long and Winding Road”—this kid is totally the best singer in her school, as I was heard to remark when I first heard it. You know how there's always that one kid who's famous schoolwide for her/his one thing? That was Joy and her Beatles song, I bet. A few tracks later, Sheila Behman takes on The Eagles’ “Desperado” in amazingly poised fashion. I can’t stomach most solo kid singing, especially these days when young singers adopt that modulated and nasal faux-R&B style, patterned after the shite that drips out of their TVs. But these kids’ voices are so plain, clean and honest, it’s a minor revelation. They just sing the songs using their own voices. How radical.

I intended to write only a couple paragraphs about this album, and things got out of hand as usual. If you’re in Vancouver/Burnaby you can get this CD at the library, so pick it up and hear it for yourself (I hear they've pressed so many that they're selling them too. If you're feeling adventurous and flush, visit your local CD retailer). You can then formulate your own take on Innocence and Despair and safely disregard all of the above…if you haven’t already.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I’m reading Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould right now. It’s making me seriously readjust the border I’d drawn between art and science. Gould’s story of the reinterpretation of the Burgess fossils is full of instances of craft, imagination, vision, lateral-thinking…things I’d normally associate with art, but here they're applied to science in an attempt to redefine the course of natural history and our existence…big questions. And what's the difference between trying to construct a viable creature from a malformed remnant inside a rock or trying to build a song from a fragment inside your head? Everyone’s after the truth.

I’m also enjoying the attention that Gould pays to the language of science. In his section on the monographs that describe the Burgess creatures, he likes to point out when the writer’s voice pierces the conventional “monographical” rhetoric. Sometimes the paleontologist’s “personal pride and passion come through beneath the stylistic cover-up.” Diana Wegner, our Print Futures guru, might call these instances a genre innovation.

Art, science and linguistic boners proliferate. I’m onto a winner here.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Rock Bottom
I've seen some unfortunate things in my time, but this one dwarfs them all.
No ideas besides a…
Top 10
1. Daniel Nester – God Save My Queen
2. Enslaved – Below the Lights
3. Cat Power – You Are Free
4. Terrorizer back on the newsstand
5. Alice Cooper – Killer
6. Colour Haze – Los Sounds de Krauts
7. Opeth – Damnation
8. Cuneiform Records sampler
9. Old School (Will Ferrell sings Kansas, Killdozer sings Bad Company)
10. Sleep – Dopesmoker

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Jenn is my co-pilot part 4
I’ve got to credit the Golden town planners for putting the Chevron and the McDonald’s next door to each other. It made our morning extra convenient as we got ready to hit the road in earnest on Thursday. After we gassed up and ate we drove to the first destination on our final day of exploration—Rogers Pass.

Rogers Pass is dead historic. We walked into the visitors’ centre only to find out that you needed a park pass to gain access to the exhibits. I was about to fork out when the belter remembered she had our pass from Banff the day before. In we went.

Lots of taxidermy throughout (all animals, the signs stressed, died of natural causes or in road accidents) depicted the region’s wildlife, and some elaborate dioramas laid out miniature landscapes and key historic events—avalanches, mostly. The 12-year-old model builder in me was pretty riveted by it all.

We found that the best story in the visitors’ centre was the story of Glacier House, a grand hotel that serviced the old railway line (which ran close to the present-day highway) around the turn of the century. When the Connaught Tunnel was built to reduce the grade of the track, the trains bypassed the hotel. Glacier House quickly went out of business and was demolished. Burned to the ground, in fact.

All the visitors’ centre had were some old photographs and a glass case containing a hotel restaurant place setting—some silverware, a cup and goblet reconstructed from shattered fragments, and a menu (main entrees for 65–70 cents!). The belter and I were a little creeped out by the derelict elegance of it.

After a couple gift shops and some photos of the local wildlife (SQUIRREL!) we drove over to the official Trans-Canada highway monument with the twin arches bridging a grand mosaic of our nation. Just to the side of the parking lot we found a trail that followed the 1890 railway line that went past Glacier House. Not wanting to miss out on a cool abandoned thing, we walked along it for a bit, thrilling at the indentations in the ground left behind by the old railway ties. I climbed up the bank that paralleled the trail and found another abandoned roadbed on the other side.

Having been completely spooked by Roger’s Pass, we drove to Kamloops, where we stayed on Highway 1 to Cache Creek. It was hotter than a docker’s armpit in the car and the poor belter suffered from my stinginess with the AC (it made the Altima gutless on the uphills). We stopped somewhere in the desert for peaches and suspiciously Kool-Aid-like cherry cider, then started the long and winding road alongside the Fraser Canyon, surrounded by hell-bent-for-leather semi-trailers. I felt a bit like Dennis Weaver in Duel.

Since there we couldn’t find any rest areas along the highway, we stopped at Hell’s Gate Airtram to use the facilities, only to find (predictably) that they were on the other side of the river—an admission price and a gondola ride away. The nice lady at the gift shop told us that the next rest stop was just down the highway near Alexandra Bridge, and that while we were there we should take the short hike down to the river and see the old bridge. Good advice, it turned out.

We checked out the gondola ride from the parking lot. Somewhere down on the other side of those rapids were the restrooms we wanted. I had to laugh at what else was there for the tourists when they disembarked…a Fudge Factory. Perhaps this housed the toilets. My heart swelled with provincial pride and the sense of history come alive. Simon Fraser himself, upon passing through these diabolical narrows, must have written in his journal: “Never before have I traversed so hostile a passage, and never before have I so desired some fudge. Och.” He evidently had a real sweet tooth, old Simon.

Flustered and fudgeless, we carried on to Alexandra Bridge. There the belter enjoyed the fullest outhouse in BC while I found the trail down to the old bridge. Even though I felt like getting back in the car and pushing for home, we kept walking until we came to an old road, part of the old canyon “highway” from 1926. The road was about 10 feet wide, overgrown, and surfaced with pale, brittle asphalt. You know me and abandoned roads. This was good. We kept walking down to the river. The road turned left and we came out into the sunshine to face…the bridge!

I thought we’d seen some spooky things that day, but the bridge surpassed them all. It was a slim little suspension bridge, almost like a scale model, with crumbling abutments and a rusty metal roadbed. We walked out on it, but we were too freaked out to go all the way across. I especially didn’t like looking down and seeing the river underneath me. The belter made it halfway across, then we retreated to solid ground. While we spent a couple minutes daring each other to go all the way across, a party of older folks arrived and began strolling across the bridge. Emboldened (ahem) by their casual approach, we followed them. As long as I didn’t look down, I was fine.

It was too bad I hadn’t been expecting much and left my camera in the car. Oh well, I’ll just stir the experience into the bouillabaisse of my memories (or whatever fancylady said) and be happy with that.

That side trip gave me a second wind for the drive home. We continued in good spirits, disappointed only with missing the Hope Slide and with the standard of Vancouver drivers during our final hours in the car. I saw more assholery in the last 20 kilometres to our place than I’d seen in the previous 2,000.

Thanks to the belter for giving me fig newtons and juice while driving, to Nissan for the fine Altima, to Clive and Sally for the use of the fine Nissan Altima, to Mel and Adam for minding the place back home, to Elise and Rob in Calgary, and the entire Pohl-Deneka family in Edmonton. Yay for summer holidays.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Jenn is my co-pilot part 3
So, while I was in Edmonton, fancylady was in Calgary with Elise, seeing many fine sights that she’ll tell you about whenever she gets the time to update. (How about now?) On Tuesday afternoon she got a ride up to the City of Champions, and I left the Pohl compound for the first time in nearly three days to go pick her up across town. Thanks to Adam for driving the pace car and leading me there. Phew, it was sure good to see the belter again.

She was sad about leaving Elise, so I tried to cheer her up with a chorus of “Are You Ready For the Country?” as we approached Greg’s place. Where my Nearly Neil Young didn’t quite cut it, a bite to eat at Greg’s place certainly did, and she quickly returned to top belting form.

On Wednesday morning I called ahead to Golden to reserve a room for the night. We packed up and said goodbye to Greg, Barb, Amelia and Colin and hit the road about 11. I promptly got lost trying to find the highway, but it didn’t take long to get pointed in the right direction again.

We headed down highway #2 to Red Deer, stopped for gas and food, and took highway #11 west to Sylvan Lake (waterslides!) and Rocky Mountain House. The driving was fast but dull until after Rocky Mountain House, where the highway began winding gently through a slightly scrubby, stunted forest. From the road, it didn’t look like much went on in those parts, but the ATV trails along the highway and the number of logging trucks on the road indicated that the forest was a relatively busy place.

Lots of busy road crews, too, repaving big sections of the highway. They didn’t delay us for long, and we cruised into Banff National Park and onto the Icefields Parkway. The Parkway was an incredible drive, with new sights around nearly every corner, and all that olive-brown and yellow bilingual signage that gives the belter and I massive patriotic boners. National Parks are the best. We stopped for a bit at the Crowfoot Glacier, then headed to Lake Louise to mingle with the other tourists taking in the smoke-obscured vista from the shore. The effects of the forest fires were still evident.

From Lake Louise we drove to Field for a stop at the visitors’ centre and the Burgess Shale display, as recommended by Adam. I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt. The display was small but information-packed, with some representative fossils of trilobites, Hallucigenia, and the majestic Marrella (which has a DCR song named after it, I think). It’s interesting to consider these lowly creatures swimming around in Middle Cambrian waters only to be uncovered as fossils on a Canadian mountaintop half a billion years later.

We timed the Field visitors’ centre well, because it started raining pretty hard while we were inside. It was still wet for the drive to the Golden Rim Motor Inn. By the time we checked in the sky had cleared up and we had a nice view across a valley from the walkway outside our room. The Golden Rim was a bit sketchy (though very clean and comfortable) and its name suggested an unhygienic sexual practice, but the view was as good as advertised.

We went into town for dinner, and despite Elise’s warning that Golden is the place where bad things happen to good food (or bad food happens to good people), we ate really well. Then it was back to the Golden Rim for cable TV and some rest for the next day’s drive.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Woodfrog Studio Report
Greg’s drum set is so much fun to play. It’s like a baby version of Nick’s giant drum set from Freaks and Geeks. It’s assembled from pieces of at least three other kits, with their different colours and finishes and mounting methods. It’s an eight-piece kit (when I set it up anyway), with a single kick drum and six toms—very Peter Criss.

Because I had the car this year I packed my cymbals and stands in addition to the usual collection of mikes and cords. If Greg’s kit needs anything, it’s cymbal stands. His current ones have been fashioned from mike stands, pipes, and assorted nuts and bolts. Nothing wrong with the cymbals themselves, though. He’s got a great old Paiste 20-inch crash/ride that instantly turns any drummer into Keith Moon. I should have used it this year, but I brought my own cymbals for familiarity’s sake.

Sunday night I got a bit carried away and orchestrated the creation of an epic “Saucerful of Secrets” thing with an outro that tried to out-doom the end of VdGG’s “White Hammer.” By the end of my stay I’d played drums, bass, Moog, theremin, and guitar on it. I think Greg understood, though I’m sure Adam thought I was nuts.

On Monday night I added some fairly sketchy vocals to a rock song I’d recorded last summer with Adam, Greg, and Greg’s brother Wes on drums. On Tuesday afternoon, in the last stretch of studio time before I had to go pick up the belter across town, I recorded another tune, a sub-“Ticket to Ride” thing that Adam might have some vocal ideas for in the future.

So, taking those pieces and adding all the other songs we overdubbed or recorded afresh, it was another productive supersession. Considering my musical output over the last couple years, DCR is probably my main band now. Being immersed in music for a few consecutive days each year does my soul a lot of good, with the personal bonus of feeling useful and appreciated.

Greg gave me another new DCR release to take home with me, a collection of odds and ends entitled Total Bogus that I’ll review in the near future. He also has custody of tapes containing at least two albums’ worth of material—a concept album about the Burgess Shale (more on the shale later), and a collection of unrelated songs. Can’t wait to hear them. Next summer won’t come soon enough.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Jenn is My Co-Pilot part 2
I couldn’t stay long in Calgary because I had to make the final push north to Edmonton—three long hours of cruise-control numbness. I said a sad goodbye to the belter and left about quarter to five. The trip sapped my will to live. With the weekend traffic on Highway #2, I couldn’t even use the cruise control that much. I fueled up at an Esso station in the middle of nowhere, popped in my Max Webster tape, and drove.

A note on Esso’s pay-at-the-pump Spanish inquisition: When I inserted my credit card, the display screen on the pump asked “Insert Esso card?” Well, no, I don’t have an Esso card. I wanna use my credit card. I press the “no” button. Next question: “Car wash?” No, thanks, I wanna get out of here and see my friends in Edmonton. So many questions. What next? “Briefs or boxers?” “Fries with that?” It finally relented and let me begin filling my tank.

I turned off Highway #2 just before the Edmonton airport and headed east, following Greg’s letter-perfect directions along freshly oiled and graveled rural roads to his and Barb’s place in Sherwood Park. When I arrived, they (and DCR bassist Adam) greeted me, put a beer in my hand and propped me up on the couch to unwind for a bit. I needed that.

As darkness set in, we went out to their back forty and started a bonfire. With Kamloops still fresh in my mind, I wondered if having a fire in a secluded woodland was such a good idea, but they assured me that they’d been having regular thunderstorms and that our surroundings were quite moist. Okay then. The bonfire was a fine thing. Kept the mosquitoes away too.

Sunday we got down to serious DCR business in Wood Frog Studio, miking everything up, soundchecking, and plotting stuff to record. I warmed up by adding real drums to some nearly finished songs, replacing the drum machine tracks they’d used until then. This is always fun. Greg and Adam always seem pleased with the results, and I feel this alone justifies my trips to Edmonton. The new material we generate is kind of a bonus.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Jenn is My Co-Pilot part 1
I worked half a day Friday, then drove back home to pick up the belter. I phoned ahead to the Travelodge in Salmon Arm (where we’d be staying) to make sure that it hadn’t gone up in flames yet. It hadn’t. We left about 1:30.

I had to wonder about the fires, though, because driving up the Coquilhalla we could see this huge plume of smoke over the mountains. It wasn’t wispy smoke either. It was solid, like a column of volcanic ash. I wondered if we’d have to dodge burning embers, and crash, thrill-show style, through curtains of flame when we reached Kamloops. We didn’t. The fires were really close, though. We saw one or two hillsides burning beyond the city.

The smoke followed us all the way out of the city towards Sorrento, blocking out the sun nuclear winter-style. Although it was only late afternoon, the sky got very dark and the landscape took on a red hue. You could stare directly at the sun. I made the belter take some pictures.

The sky cleared during the drive to Salmon Arm. We checked into the Travelodge around 7:00 then headed into town for dinner. The belter wanted somewhere dark, and the HPB (“Something Pub/Bistro”) was the place. They had Keno, pull tabs, 800 TVs (Speedvision was within eyeshot) and a wicked satellite radio station, on which I heard “Matte Kudasai” by King Crimson, followed by “Dust in the Wind.” The belter rolled her eyes as I considered moving to the Arm.

After dinner we picked up tomorrow’s breakfast at Tim Horton’s, then went back to the Travelodge where the belter had a swim while I explored the 50-channel universe in our room.

We left Salmon Arm at 8:30 on Saturday morning. Our destination was Calgary, where I’d drop the belter off at Elise and Rob’s place, and I’d continue to Edmonton. We did what sightseeing we could from the car, and I made some notes on where to stop on the way back. Jenn saw some bighorn sheep on the descent out of Golden. I only made out one sheep bum in the rearview mirror. That’s a piece of road you have to devote your whole attention to. We stopped at the Spiral Tunnels after Rogers Pass and waited to see if a train would come through. No luck. When a tour bus pulled up and started unloading, we retreated back to the car.

After the turnoff to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, the forest fire smoke got really bad again, bad enough that we had to roll up the windows and turn off the fan.

We got to Rob and Elise’s about quarter to 4. They weren’t home, but they turned up soon enough, back from dragon boat races at the reservoir. We hung out for a bit and checked out their new house. Ah, Albertan friends and their exotic home-owning ways.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

My good man Shockk called on the weekend to invite me and the belter out to a solo show he was putting on at the Starry Dynamo. I feel badly that we couldn’t make it due to various factors, because I’ve never seen Shockk solo. The few times I’ve gone to see him, he’s always cancelled and been replaced by the Motorcycle Man. In such situations I usually manage to salvage the evening, and maybe even score a free LP or two during MM’s usual set of audience abuse and ironic irony metal.

So, as a tribute to the Shockker, I wanna talk about a CD he put out recently: White Plastic Deer by Mongoose. On the CD, Mongoose consists of Shockk and RC, and I gather they’ve recruited a couple more players for live shows. I don’t know much about Mr. C except that he’s part of the Roadbed circle of friends that I can never keep track of. If I wanted to keep tabs on them all I’d never find time to feed myself.

Mongoose recorded the album at ye olde Shockk Center by sticking to a “one song per session” work ethic, which I admire and endorse. That doesn’t mean the album sounds like a hastily executed compilation of unformed ideas. It’s a very polished piece of work, in fact. The rapid recording process only energized the songs in a way that a more leisurely approach wouldn’t have.

The 14 songs that Mongoose laid down are short and tight, mostly of the melodic pop/punk variety, says the budding music reviewer. None of them break three minutes, and the album races by in less than 25. You’d never know this was recorded on cassette—it sounds enormous. It’s a tribute to Shockk’s mixing abilities, as well as the ace mastering of JLS.

The straight-edge anthem “Last Party” starts the album and from there on in you’d better pay attention because there are plenty of golden moments to be enjoyed. “Ego Feed” sounds like Superchunk. Shockk’s voice (especially as heard on “Get On”) has always reminded me of Mac’s from that band. “Heet of the Moment” has a very commercial, Fox-rockin’ feel—too much for personal comfort. There’s some all-out speedpunk on “Redtailed Hawk,” which takes some interesting turns during its comparatively epic two and a half minutes. Trumping them all is “Let’s All Go to the Restaurant,” a song so catchy that I laughed out loud the first time I heard it.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that most of the songs are drum-machined, because Shockk is an excellent programmer. His real drumming is spot on as always. He and RC must have had a blast recording this album. I know that whenever I’ve been involved in a project that jelled quickly and produced something over a short period, I’ve always looked back on it as a special time in my life. I hope the Mongoose boys feel the same way, and that they’re proud of what they‘ve done.

Another amazing artifact from another amazing friend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

In Flames, Chimaira, and Soilwork, Commodore Ballroom, July 21
It was nice to see a big turnout last night. Smash and I mulled over the fact that 10 years ago a show like this might have filled up the Starfish Room, but here we were wading through the crowd in the Commodore, which is three times the size. It seems that Starfish audience is still around, along with a newer, equally well-informed, wave of fans. Quality metal tours that make it up here are as rare as ever, so the local metalheads showed up in force.

Soilwork came on first, for some unknown reason—maybe the opening acts swapped positions from gig to gig. Soilwork are extremely popular, no doubt about it. The floor filled up, and the band had people’s attention all the way to the back. Dressed in matching In Flames tour shirts (3/4-sleeved baseball tees in Swedish national colours), they charged into “The Flameout” from Natural Born Chaos (I believe), battled through some sound problems, and delivered a really strong set culled mainly from their last two albums. New drummer Richard Evensand had a great relaxed style. Some drummers are able to assert absolute authority over their kit without being dicks about it, and this guy was one of them. The bassist was trying too hard to be the life of the party, but at least his playing was bang-on. Big bald singer Speed worked the crowd well—as I said, people were well into it right to the back. Soilwork’s main songwriting strength—catchy, cleanly sung choruses—suffered a bit in concert. It came off well half the time and got lost in the muddy opening-act sound on other occasions.

Chimaira were up next. They were ten shades heavier than Soilwork, they tuned about ten steps lower, and they were ten times worse. Take Fear Factory and Sepultura, remove all personality and songcraft, and you’ve got Chimaira—an utterly unnecessary band. I couldn’t pick out a single worthwhile fragment of music—just heavy, heavy, heavy, boring, boring, boring. Lots of junting on “E” (or was it “B”?), and guitar solos that made Kerry King sound like Jeff Beck. I took to watching my plastic beer cup vibrate across the table. I’ll admit that some of their slow bits sounded promising, and I appreciated the fact that their frontman talked to the crowd like a human being, but otherwise…that’s 45 minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

Did I hear Radiohead on the P.A. between sets? Smash and I agreed that it’s wise to play music from outside the genre between sets at metal shows. It’s so much better for priming the senses. And as Smash says, what’s the point of playing, say, Sabbath over the P.A.? It’s not like the band that’s about to come on is going to deliver anything better than that.

In Flames were very pro, with their own light show and huge Swedish flag backdrop. They delivered a similar product to Soilwork—melodic Swedish speed metal—but with tons of harmony guitar lines and some mysteriously deployed technology to augment the sound. I wondered if the drummer was playing to a click track because sequenced synth sounds and canned background vocals popped up during various songs. Soilwork could have used some of that trickery to bolster their vocal parts, too. In Flames also had the best sound of the night— headliner privileges again. They played a good cross-section of material from 10 years’ worth of albums (where does the time go?), and didn’t seem to favour the new stuff too heavily. Singer Anders Fridén, sporting some HM dreads, thanked the opening bands, thanked the crew, thanked us for being the best crowd of the entire tour (hmm, yeah) and threw the horns a lot, and everyone answered with gestures in kind. I’ve personally stopped throwing the horns because of this. There was no encore, which I didn’t mind. I was pretty metalled out by the end of the set. It was also the last show of the tour, so maybe the band was anxious to get back on the bus and head home.

Monday, July 21, 2003

I got an invitation from Super Robertson last Thursday to go into the studio and add some background vocals to an ex-Jackass Has Haybreath song. Willingdon Black was there too. He got pressed into service first, singing the entire tune four or five times before Super and I went into the booth to perform some hasty disharmony vocals in the Haybreath spirit. Two Sticks manned the console and the Protools, piling up more tracks than is reasonable for a 1:45 four-chorder. I’m pretty sure my contribution will be dragged and dropped into the Trash, so that should simplify the mixdown for him.

Super complimented me on my full jeansuit as we wrapped things up. Hey, it was a Roadbed recording session and I wasn’t going to deliver anything less. Sometimes you gotta Cliff ’Em All.

I dropped into the Three Als on the weekend to get my hair cut. It was getting out of hand, and there’s no way I can pull off the ironic afro. I took a hint from Ken Logan, who asked me last week if I was thinking about joining Boston. Things are pretty dire when I start getting style advice from someone who mostly wears sweatpants.

Post-haircut, the belter and the stinker and I went by my parents’ house, where my sister is holed up while Clive and Sally are away. I did the dad thing—cut the lawn, fired up the barbeque...just generally created manly amounts of smoke and noise all evening.

My dad’s really outdone himself with the lawn this year. It’s even more perfectly green and carpet-like than usual. His new automatic underground watering system seems to be working a treat.

However, now more than ever, the lawn is there to be admired rather than enjoyed. We were in the backyard, polishing off dinner and shooting the shit—couldn’t ask for a more pleasant ambience—when sprinkler nozzles shot up from under the grass and started spritzing us down. Party over.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

“I am a C, I am an H…”
I found the first May Blitz album at Neptoon last weekend, but they wanted $30 for it, which was a little rich for my blood. Thirty bucks is just the wrong side of expensive for a fairly beat-up copy of an album I’ve never heard before.

When I was a kid I’d need to hear an album half a dozen times at somebody else’s place before I’d commit to buying it. But after a few years of music consumption I discovered the allure of the unknown, bolstered by the self-formulated fanboy logic that if the Queen album that depicted the band being killed by a gigantic robot was cool, then the Queen album that pictured them all dead of (sheer) heart attacks must be cool also. And the logic was sound.

With Neptoon having priced May Blitz into oblivion, my attention has turned instead another local band from the seventies: The New Creation. I read an article about them in the Sun on Monday that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It had all the components of a compelling story: family dynamics and drama, salvation through music, steadfast creative determination, struggles against indifference and disdain, a random rise from obscurity and a possible creative renaissance. And it all began in a wood-paneled basement in Coquitlam.

If you’re curious, you can find out more here.

I guess the immediate appeal for this sort of thing is “ha-ha, they’re so bad they’re good.” The same appeal that the Shaggs have, although the New Creation were nowhere near as otherworldly and shocking as the Wiggins sisters were.

There’s also the earnest flipside, as we wonder at the beauty of their naivete and guilelessness. I favour this point of view, but I think it’s good to make an effort to appreciate the hard evidence. From what I can tell, the songs are witty. The New Creation aren’t stuck up their own pious arseholes; they’re trying hard to entertain. And the playing is firmly in accidental Velvet Underground mode—not bad at all. If you think the singing needs a little work, well, I’d like to see you try to record your first album in six hours. Black Sabbath did it, but they had Satan on their side.

They also had the stripped-down guitar/drums configuration that’s mandatory for hip bands nowadays.

The New Creation's chosen means of expressing their spirituality predates Pedro the Lion, Moby, Living Sacrifice, and Stryper... And from a local standpoint, Thee Crusaders, Carl Newman’s somewhat creepy genre exercise from a while back, have met their match. Can a split EP be in the works?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Jeff Littrell from the JPT Scare Band was kind enough to get in touch with me after I wrote a short review of his band’s Sleeping Sickness retrospective on Monster Records. What’s more, he sent along a couple new releases, Past is Prologue (another retrospective, but with more recent material), and their new single, “Wino,” which, in true Scare Band fashion, is nine minutes long.

Past is Prologue
Opener “Burn In Hell” is a 2001 recording of an old Scare Band song from 1974. The sound is much more polished than the home-fi sonics of the Sleeping Sickness material, with lots of studio reverb applied to everything. But this excellent number (it’s becoming one of my Jeff/Paul/Terry favourites) goes to show how good they are when stripped of all that mystique-enhancing scuzz. The song itself is an early Rush or Budgie-styled slow-burning number, with a lengthy solo from guitarist Terry Swope. The guy is just all over the place as always. Although the Scare Band is definitely his vehicle, I don’t think the solo work would be half as majestic without the fuzzed-out Rickenbacker support of bassist Paul Grigsby. And when the solo ends, there’s some great tom-tom work from Mr. Littrell to usher the last verse in.

“I’ve Been Waiting” is next, another deliberate head-nodder of a track, and another example of solid songwriting from a band that seems to have made the free-form jam its claim to notoriety. The band describes this song as a tribute to Ozzy and Black Sabbath, and I can see it to an extent, especially in the vocal delivery. The song itself isn’t pastiche at all, though. It’s very much in the JPT vein. After a while, the guitar drops out and Grigsby gets a chance to solo, and holy jeez, is it ever cool. And despite the fact this song was recorded eight years before “Burn In Hell,” he’s got the same monster tone happening. Even when the guitar solo takes off, my ears are still riveted to the bass line. Again, the sound is much cleaner than on Sleeping Sickness (which contains a much rougher version of this same tune, with a bonus flute solo!), but it only proves what good musicians these guys are…something that wasn’t as blindingly obvious beneath the murk on the other album.

The single “Wino” follows, recorded at the same session as “I’ve Been Waiting,” I think. This is a cover of a folk song by Bob Frank. “This arrangement is slightly heavier than the original,” says the band. No doubt! This one reminds me of “Parents” by Budgie. The first guitar solo is incredibly tasteful and elegant, with clean Mark Knopfler tones. Sure, the solos are this band’s selling point, but check out that singing. Some soulful stuff going on here. For the second solo, Swope unleashes some wah-wah, the rhythm section picks up and everyone drives the number home.

The album then heads back in time to the Stone House on Crooked Road for 14 minutes of “Sleeping Sickness” in 1976. This is a killer song—really reminds me of Robin Trower. My favourite moment on this is right before the first solo, where the guitar volume rises, and the amplifier hum gets more intense—even before Swope hits the first note he creates a lifetime of excitement in that one brief second. It’s sort of the musical equivalent of Dr. Bruce Banner’s seams bursting as he transforms into the Hulk. You just know you’d be wise to take a step back. What Swope proceeds to do during the next 10 minutes is pretty much indescribable, tearing into his instrument like the fate of the world depends on it. After one amazingly intense passage he stops completely, letting the bass and drums power along for a bit. I can only imagine he had to step back and fan away the smoke spewing from his amp, guitar neck and fingertips. With that done, he comes back for another brief solo flurry before the last verse. “Sleeping Sickness” may be the definitive Scare Band song and recording, and one I’d play to anyone interested in hearing what the band is all about.

“Time To Cry” is another refugee from Sleeping Sickness. This one’s pretty freeform, and it doesn’t take long to get going before Swope starts giving his guitar a good thrashing and the rhythm section hangs on for dear life, summoning all their enthusiasm and tenacity to get them through these 13 noisy minutes. Actually, everybody locks in pretty quickly. To be able to jam this well, you’ve got to listen to each other carefully…and it’s clear that the Scare Band figured this out back in the early days. With about 6 minutes to go, there’s another bass solo, followed by off-the-cuff vocals that herald some more crazed soloing. Yeah, that one’s a keeper.

Next up is “Titan’s Sirens” from February 1975, which is the title track to an LP that Monster Records put out. Like “Time To Cry,” it’s another freeform one. More of a sustained peak than the flowing and ebbing “Time to Cry.” It’s over relatively quickly and works as a nice bridge into…

“Jerry’s Blues,” recorded a year later. The band really swings on this song. “Jerry” is one Jerry Wood, a legendary Wichita musician whom the Scare Band used to back up. It’s great to hear them work within this format. If they had a set of tunes like this, they could come to town and play the Yale. Not a bad idea to contemplate. There’s a great moment with about four minutes left where the band smoothly changes gears and moves from a shuffle to a four-on-the-floor feel and it sounds like they’re gonna go into Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” But no, it just sets the stage for some more nutty Scare Band action.

The last track is a bit of a teaser. “It’s Too Late” is one of their best songs, and the hit single from Sleeping Sickness in my opinion. Here it is again—backwards!

I’m really glad to have crossed paths with this band, and with Past is Prologue. It’s given me another perspective on the Scare Band and their music over the years. They’ve achieved a lot, and I think they’re going to accomplish much more. It just goes to show what I’ve always believed—you don’t need huge recording budgets or marketing campaigns or cutting-edge technology or an “image.” None of those things can replace imagination and a love for what you’re doing. There’s nothing more radical than people playing music in a room together. Nothing better either.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The more I read of Sound of the Beast, the more I’m impressed by it. It’s almost desperate in its thoroughness, as if Ian Christe is scrambling to document an era that’s finished and destined to be forgotten. Perhaps the metal years are over and done with, and if this is the case, then Christe’s labours assume an air of nobility that other rock books can’t approach. It’s much more entertaining than the sociological studies of metal (by Donna Gaines, etc.) I’ve read, but it’s just as carefully documented.

Writing this book almost seems like an altruistic act, something for future generations to puzzle over and maybe learn from. That's a pretty naive thought on my part, though. Never mind the future—I wonder who the audience for this book is in the present day. I read books like this for the same reasons I enjoy hanging out and talking music with friends—to hear what someone else is into, and how they got into it and why, get recommendations, eyewitness accounts of gigs, etc. I often think these books preach to the converted or about-to-be-converted. I have difficulty imagining someone just casually picking it off the shelf and getting into it like I have.

Ultimately I don't care. He’s written the book for posterity, and that’s an admirable thing. I got it from the VPL, but I’ll probably buy a copy for my own library.

My only frustration is with the book’s American POV. The chapter on MTV don’t mean shit to me. Sure, I saw all those videos on MuchMusic, but that our video channel wasn’t nearly as omnipotent and censorious. There wasn’t as much of an “us vs. them” thing happening between the metal underground and mainstream music TV in Canada. I think the book could be improved with an addendum about the Power Hour and the cultural ripple effect of Celtic Frost’s “Circle of the Tyrants” video.