Saturday, October 20, 2007

Here are the Top 100 Canadian Albums, as voted by our nation's critics and documented in Bob Mersereau's new book. No list is perfect, and lengthy lists drawn up by critics are especially suspect, but this one avoids total blandness with some worthy and surprising choices. Here are some notes on the ones that I own.

1. Harvest, Neil Young (1972)
Strange that this would prevail on a critics' list, even if it is his most popular album. I thought the rock-crit junta preferred scragglier Young albums, like Tonight's the Night. As Sam Inglis writes in his book on Harvest (part of the 33 1/3 series), " would be fair to say that Harvest was a hit despite the press, rather than because of them; and it's not only rock critics who have expressed distaste for Young's most successful album. Ask serious Neil Young fans to name their favourite album of his and you'll hear votes for any one of ten or so, but Harvest is unlikely to be among them. If you love Young for the searing rock 'n' roll of Rust Never Sleeps or the raw emotion of Tonight's the Night, Harvest is too safe, too bland, too popular."

I think Harvest is a fantastic album, and a very worthy #1.

2. Blue, Joni Mitchell (1970)
Truth is, I bought this used from Neptoon's bargain bin because I wanted the original version of "This Flight Tonight." It gets a fair bit of early morning play here.

3. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (1970)
After Harvest, this is probably Young's most hit-filled album. It's hard to beat that initial stretch of songs on side one.

9. Moving Pictures, Rush (1981)
Again, what a killer first side! An easy selection for the top Rush album here; Moving Pictures had a huge impact on a generation of basement-bar and backs-of-car dwellers across the country (sorry, I'm referencing the wrong album there). "Tom Sawyer" is pure jean-jacket poetry, while I'll always have time for "The Camera Eye"'s 10 minutes of elegance on side two.

16. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
"Cinnamon Girl," "Down by the River," and "Cowgirl in the Sand" probably use up over half the running time on this album, the first Neil Young release to showcase the shambling, jamming side of his musical personality.

17. 2112, Rush (1976)
The album that pulled them out of the dumper...jeez, it's all about side one again. It always bugs me when it's called a concept album, or even when "2112" is called a side-long epic. No, it's seven little songs that tell a story that can only be properly discerned when you read the 'tween-song "narration" between the lyrics in the gatefold. Duh, you guys.

19. Whale Music, Rheostatics (1992)
I'd place Melville first in the Rheostatics discography myself (see more below). Whale Music has "Self Serve Gas Station," though, which is a whole movie's worth of depressing, soul-destroying, suicidal drama in five minutes.

22. Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1979)
This album is badass, though I don't think it has the depth of the previous NY albums on this list. I do think "Powderfinger" is one of his best-ever songs, and I have a soft spot for "Welfare Mothers."

30. Tonight's the Night, Neil Young (1975)
I got this after reading all the critical hoopla in one of those special Rolling Stone issues ("Best 8 Million Albums of the Mid-70s" or something), but I've never really gotten into it.

31. Decade, Neil Young (1977)
A greatest hits package makes the list? I have this, and I like to open the triple gatefold up and look at it. I rarely put it on.

38. Melville, Rheostatics (1991)
This is my favourite Rheostatics album. They were ON for this one, just brimming over with piss 'n' vinegar. "Record Body Count," "Aliens (Christmas 1988)," and "Horses" can reduce me to bubbling goo. Capped off with "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," it's a Canadian classic.

39. Love Tara, Eric's Trip (1993)
Great to see this underrated band make the list. This was their first album for SubPop, and the follow-up, Forever Again, was even better, IMO.

40. On the Beach, Neil Young (1974)
I really really liked this album when I first got it, but looking at the song titles, I'm hard pressed to remember most of it. I reviewed it briefly here back in 2004: "It’s Neil down in the dumps in 1974, dressing down Lynyrd Skynyrd (or perhaps Crosby, Stills and Nash) one more time ('Walk On') then embarking on a series of more stripped-down numbers, some of which are quite beautiful. 'See the Sky About to Rain' and the title track are two of my favourites right now." Some penetrating analysis there.

47. Harvest Moon, Neil Young (1992)
Having attained iconic status after Freedom and Ragged Glory, it was time for a sequel to Harvest. Like most sequels, Harvest Moon doesn't quite recapture the magic of the original. The subsequent Unplugged album was great though, and remember that video with Dale Crover as young Neil?

51. High Class in Borrowed Shoes, Max Webster (1977)
"a foot in the kitchen/a foot in the door/but the foot in your mouth/is so u don't get bored." Yeah, Pye Dubois is the people's poet, fuckin' A, and this is Max Webster's most rockin' album. Thanks to Martin Popoff's books for pointing me towards their catalogue beyond the s/t debut—five records and about 10 bucks got me endless hours of enjoyment.

56. Si on avait besoin d'une cinquieme saison, Harmonium (1974)
I remember our French teacher playing us Harmonium songs so we could read along with the lyrics. Little did I know at the time that there was such a thing as Quebec folk-prog, and that I would be buying Harmonium albums 20 years later when there was no other progressive rock left to buy.

62. The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies (1988)
I think I liked the idea of this record more than the record itself. They were well ahead of the mope-rock curve, as evidenced by those MOJO tribute albums where cutting-edge artists of today turn ebullient works like Revolver into dirge-fests.

64. Nothingface, Voivod (1989)
See, this is where this whole Top 100 exercise justifies itself. Voivod! Nothingface! Cyber-metal masterpiece at #64 with a bullet(belt)! I guess that "Astronome Domine" video really burned a few impressionable brain cells back then.

70. Love Junk, The Pursuit of Happiness (1988)
Moe Berg was clearly a young man relishing the prospect of a mid-life crisis when this CanCon power pop classic was released. While nobody needs to hear "I'm an Adult Now" ever again, there's a bunch of other songs here to pick up the slack. "Hard to Laugh" kicks pretty hard, as does "Killed by Love" (Berg's reply to Motörhead's "Killed by Death"?) and the immortal "Looking for Girls."

86. Smeared, Sloan (1992)
There were other Sloan albums further up on the list, but this is the only one I own. "Underwhelmed" (their own "I'm an Adult Now") is on here in its speedy incarnation, which I think I like a bit better than the lumbering EP version. I have to say the thrill of those days—when that DGC logo accompanied epochal releases by Sonic Youth and Nirvana, and our own Maritimes lads got in on it too—is long gone for me.

100. A Farewell to Kings, Rush (1977)
I remember getting this album from Woodward's and having it melt my face even when played on my folks' old faux-Victorian woodclad all-in-one phonograph/radio hi-fi (or mid-fi) unit. Only "Madrigal" flounders here, like "Tears" on 2112, and it doesn't matter anyway because "Cygnus X-1" tears apart every nerve afterwards, obliterating its feeble predecessor like so much space dust.

What about these, eh?
It would have been cool to see these albums make the list:
Sons of Freedom—s/t
SNFU—And No One Else Wanted to Play

Friday, October 19, 2007

"I was trapped into being alive." The Guardian profiles Robert Wyatt and his partner Alfie. As someone who has tried to sing in the past, I enjoyed this passage:
"Wyatt is brutally modest about his voice. Described by Ryuichi Sakamoto as 'the saddest sound in the world', it is limber and beautiful - yet Wyatt once likened it to Jimmy Somerville on valium. 'There's no deliberate or conscious input into the way I sing,' he says. 'It's more like damage limitation.'"

I saw his new album Comicopera in a store a couple weeks ago, and I stupidly didn't buy it right then and there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm having problems managing my time and being productive these days. I start every day with the best intentions—get some work done in the morning, get out of the house before the hordes of SFU students swarm my transit route(s)—only to fritter away the time here at this machine.

This morning the time wastage was worth it, though. Check out this Metafilter thread about my second or third or fourth favourite band. It boasts a healthy 88 comments so far too, most of them witty and fond, e.g. "I enjoy annoying my sister, a huge Rush fan, with random outbursts of 'SALESMAN!'"

Now I must get dressed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Roland Kirk with Jack McDuff—Kirk’s Work (Prestige)
Reading the liner notes to this Rudy Van Gelder remaster, I learned that Roland Kirk had a bit of “novelty act” stigma. I guess the sight of a big blind guy blowing on any number of wind and brass instruments out of any number of orifices was difficult for people to take seriously back in 1961. All I know is Roland Kirk rocked really hard. His flash, showmanship, and pioneering spirit definitely appealed to certain players on the adventurous fringes of rock in the late ’60s. I’m thinking of Ian Anderson, who borrowed Kirk’s vocalizing flute style and adapted a couple of his signature tunes, as well as the Kirk-style twin-sax attack of Van der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson. Rock music and Kirk’s brand of jazz also shared a blues foundation. It doesn’t get any more down and dirty than “Doing the Sixty-Eight” or “Funk Underneath” off Kirk’s Work. “Funk Underneath” is an especially interesting track, with its shifting moods. Kirk leads off on flute, tentative and coy. When Jack McDuff takes over on organ, working overtop the marauding bass line, the tune toughens up and turns into something that I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. McDuff shares billing with Kirk, and his Hammond lends a pervasive sense of menace laced with ’60s cool. (I’ve discovered recently that jazz organ is one of my favourite things on earth. Larry Young, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff—they’re all killer. I’m up for more recommendations.) The double shot off the top of the album features my favourite tracks. “Three for Dizzy” sounds like the theme to a spy flick, all dramatic sax stabs and slinky melodies. In contrast, the version of “Makin’ Whoopee”that follows defines the word “peppy” and I’ll throw in the term “shit hot” while I’m at it. It’s the kind of live-off-the-floor mayhem that makes you want to throw down your chosen instrument forever, knowing you’ll never rock that hard. At a little over half an hour, Kirk’s Work is like the Reign in Blood of jazz albums, making for the best jazz fix I’ve had in a while.