Thursday, October 28, 2004

Yee-haw, I got to field another call from fancy's mom. I've done this every day this week. Tonight's damage survey included old folks' homes, lost dentures, dying children, splitting headaches, bed restraints, burst blood vessel in the eye, earache, and, on the brighter side, shopping, shopping, shopping!

I find myself turning into Sybil Fawlty during these "conversations": "Oh, I know. Oh, I know..."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Derek Sherinian – Mythology (InsideOut)
I always flinch a bit when I encounter albums like these. Guest-star-laden instrumental projects helmed by an “ex-member of…” often cause me to hate all musicians. I remember hearing a Jordan Rudess album of such pallid, over-processed flimsiness that it made me homicidal in under a minute. Mythology is better than most, though. It’s tasteful, diverse, and brief. Joining keyboardist Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Alice Cooper) are a soccer team’s worth of guests, including Zakk Wylde, Steve Stevens (ex-Billy Idol), John Sykes (ex-Whitesnake), Allan Holdsworth (ex-UK), and Jerry Goodman (ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra). They’re let loose on nine tightly composed numbers in various styles, from technical metal (“God of War” and “One Way or the Other”) to flamenco (“El Flamingo Suave”), gospel-cum-Motown (“Goin’ To Church”), and heavy blues (“The River Song”). As you’d expect, these master musicians put on a clinic, with Sherinian proving himself a generous band leader by shifting emphasis away from the keyboards to the guitars—saving the album in the process. When Sherinian does step into the spotlight he usually shares it with one of his guests. A good example would be “Trojan Horse,” a solo-swapping showdown with violinist Jerry Goodman. As I said earlier, the songs are concise and punchy, with hooks and accessible verse/chorus structures—Removal meets Dream Theater, in a sense. The surprising exception is Zakk Wylde’s “The River Song,” the last track on the album and Mythology’s only non-instrumental. It’s a big-bollocked black’n’blues tune, with Mr. Wylde channeling Ozzy or that bloke from Sheavy, that rubs hairy shoulders with Grand Magus and other recent acts that specialize in that sound. Nice one, Derek, for demonstrating that a tasteful, entertaining star-studded, play-your-ass-off solo album isn’t just the stuff of mythology.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Caravan – For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (Decca)
Caravan make the ultimate comfort music. Every album of theirs I have is like a blanket of the perfect weight that I can pull right up to my chin and start, to quote poet George Fetherling (in his new Anvil Press title Singer, An Elegy), “daydreaming with horrible urgency/of nostalgia never imagined or/needed until now.” The thing about Caravan is, for all their progressive accoutrements—the long songs and long hair, the pretty singing, and so on—they don’t come across like the stadium-scale art-rock giants of the ’70s. I can picture myself walking up Main and catching them in full swing, crammed onto the stage at the Cottage Bistro. They’ve got a strong pub-rock streak. For Girls… is the last album of theirs I bought, another of Decca’s spectacular reissue series. This one came out originally in 1973 and it’s their fifth album, I think. They’d endured some lineup changes, and the humble organ tones that lent a lot of charm to their early sound had been replaced by cutting-edge synthesizers and Geoffrey Richardson’s viola—they even bust out with a full orchestra on the final track—but that ordinary bloke appeal is still intact. They try out some new styles here too, like the uncharacteristically sinister “C’thlu Thlu,” a creepy crawly cave dweller that gets as heavy as Van der Graaf Generator at times. Elsewhere they maintain their knack for effortlessly epic medleys like “Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss,” an action-packed stormer that ranks right up there with If I Could Do It All Over Again’s “For Richard.” “Surprise, Surprise” and “The Dog, the Dog, He’s At It Again” are the requisite twee numbers, which is all right because criticizing Caravan for being twee is like faulting Judas Priest for being heavy metal. “Hoedown” lives up to its name as a fast-paced lightweight rocker in 7/8 with gang vocals that make it sound like the theme for a Caravan TV show (“We’ll get you when night-time comes along/We’ll get you, we’ll get you with our song”). The last song, “L’Auberge Du Sanglier/A Hunting We Shall Go/Pengola/Backwards/A Hunting We Shall Go (reprise),” comes on eventful and complex, then takes an orchestral detour through more lush surroundings, sounding like theme music to a movie starring Michael York and Jacqueline Bisset. Decca dug up five bonus tracks, consisting of an alternative mix, three early run-throughs, and the superb 11-minute “Derek’s Long Thing.” Longtime fans must have been beside themselves with these unearthed riches. As a relatively newcomer aboard the Caravan, they're enjoyable, but the album proper is intriguing enough for now.

Friday, October 15, 2004

After work Tuesday I took advantage of the fine weather to mow my folks’ lawn. The light wasn’t as cooperative; it was almost completely dark by 7:00, when I finished. I’ll need to rig the mower with headlights if the grass keeps growing into the fall. Perhaps my dad could lay off the fertilizer earlier in the season and prevent the freakish sprouting we’re seeing now…

It’s a little heartbreaking to visit the house now because Electronic Arts, feeling the need to expand, has razed the bush on the other side of the street. They left a row of trees along the edge, but everything 15 feet beyond the curb is gone—chainsawed, bulldozed and fenced off. Some local residents, including Joe Keithley, did their best for years to save it. I guess Burnaby council got sick of listening to them and started thinking about all those lovely taxes. What use is green space when the world needs more video games?

I won’t say anything else about EA because I might need them to give me a job someday.

I guess the bush really has outlived its usefulness, a certain kind of usefulness anyway. The neighbourhood’s population of kids has dwindled since Willingdon Black’s and my fort-building days. We’ve moved on…in my case, alarmingly recently. People starting out raising a family can’t afford to live there. I imagine that the few kids left in the neighbourhood aren’t allowed to play outside without knee and elbow pads, reflective vests, breadbin-sized helmets, pepper spray and surgical masks. Their parents certainly wouldn’t allow them to venture into the trees. No, it’s far safer for kids to stay inside, on the couch, thumbing game controllers till supper time.

I notice a lot more crows flying around the area in recent weeks. Huge flocks of them used to appear out of nowhere. They'd have a crow convention in the bush for an hour, then move on. Now they’re always overhead, like they’re confused at having nowhere to land.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Woods of Ypres — Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth
We Canadians are obsessed by the weather and the transition of seasons. This is what makes Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth a very Canadian album, with its themes of seasonal change and contrast of light and shade (both lyrically and musically). Woods of Ypres (AKA Toronto’s David Gold, who handles all lead vocals and instruments, save some keyboards) play an ornate style of black metal—here dubbed "Summer Black Metal"—bending the genre to his own design with well-blended folk and melodic metal styles. The overall approach reminds me of personal favourites such as Primordial, Green Carnation and Agalloch. Opeth are definitely an influence too.

While black metal bands in the past have depicted imagery of the majesty of the night sky or frostbitten realms of winterdemons, WoY have taken a different tack, focusing not on winter (that most Canadian of seasons) but on its direct counterpart, summer. Winter's darkness is scary, to be sure, but it can also be a secure environment—a safe, secret cocoon to nurture one's regret and other negative musings. This album posits that it’s more terrifying to exhume all that ugliness and examine it out in the open. That’s what summer represents: unforgiving light, quickening heat, bravery in confronting unfrozen truths.

“Going after the pleasures of summer
Betray the comforts of our dark little space
Believe their healing will cure all your trauma
Becoming the person you’ve claim to hate
True colors are shining through
Trading the black for the yellow, green and blue.”

On the subject of lyrics, I was taken aback when I saw the reams of text in the CD booklet. This is a very wordy album, but fortunately the words are thoughtful and well integrated into the often-lengthy songs. Gold is a talented wordsmith, best seen on the album’s opening track, “The Looming of the Dust in the Dark (and the illumination)” which works with the image of sunlight piercing a room’s stagnant air, illuminating both the narrator’s surroundings and his inner turmoil. There’s even room for some humorous wordplay on the album, with lines like “I despise the rising of the upsetting sun,” on the alternately balladic and doomy “Allure of the Earth.”

It’s impressive that Gold basically wrote and performed this album by himself. He’s executed these lengthy, multipart songs with great precision, and the light/heavy, acoustic/electric dynamics must have taken painstaking forethought. The production is clear and hefty, with lots of detail, like the handclaps (love ’em!) and tasteful female vocals on “The Gost of Summers Past.” The album suffers nothing from being a one-man undertaking, though in the future I’d like to hear what results Woods of Ypres could get with the kind of instrumental interplay and distinctive individual performances that additional members could offer.

Aside from the novel concept behind Pursuit of the Sun..., the ultimate strength of this album is its songs, which themselves are bolstered by Gold’s singing and sense of melody. He has a plain but appealing singing voice, and a spot-on death/black rasp, as can be heard on the devastatingly heavy “Dragged Across a Forest Floor.” Following this track is the highlight of the album for me—“Summer’s Envy,” which channels the latter-day Amorphis sound, and is so confident of its catchiness that it starts with the chorus, Beatles style. Superb. I can’t get this song out of my head.

With the glut of nondescript underground metal releases these days, this ambitious, intelligent album is a rare pleasure. That it comes from a fellow Canadian who clearly has many more years of producing excellent music ahead of him is a bonus. I’m looking forward to listening to Pursuit of the Sun… into the dark days of winter and for many more seasons to come.