Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Railway Club isn't the most relaxing place to be on a Saturday night, but I toughed it out last weekend in order to catch some hard-rocking bands. I went solo, but ran into some of the usual suspects at the club—the alliterative quartet of SR Jones, Sim, Snappy, and Shockk.

Victoria's Crown the Wolf were on first, with a set of solid songs in the Kyuss vein. Hey, who wouldn't want to sound like Kyuss? The singer/guitarist had a great voice for this style. Nice job!

Black Betty is a band I've wanted to see for ages; ever since I came across them at and checked out their tunes at MySpace. Jonas and Ana's pummelling set—mixing the weighty riffs of Sabbath with the good times vibe of, say, Grand Funk—didn't disappoint at all.

The only letdown was that there was no merch to be found; I need their album. I don't do enough local bands for Unrestrained! (Antiquus and SYL/Devin Townsend have been the only Vancouver-area acts I've covered, I think), so I have to get in touch with them at some point.

Mongoose were on next (Sprëad Eagle headlined the night, but I had to hit the Skytrain before they went on). These guys have logged a million kilometres in the van since I last saw them, and their music's progressed way beyond the catchy punk bursts found on White Plastic Deer. Although they've gotten a lot more "rock & roll" and added a lot more diversions and complexity to their material, they still exude an all-ages basement show energy that's a joy to witness. This lineup—stalwarts Shockk, RC, Johnny, and new drummer Radar—is their strongest yet, and I hope they get a chance to record a followup album really soon.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Guapo—Elixirs (Neurot)
Elixirs has some unexpected twists and tangents. The British outfit’s previous two albums, Five Suns (Cuneiform) and Black Oni (Ipecac), which formed the first two chapters of a trilogy (a notion that the band likes to downplay because of its obvious prog-cliché nature), were steeped in aggressive complexity in the tradition of King Crimson and Magma and full of eerie, muscular music. Elixirs eases off to an extent that’s immediately apparent, and incorporates a lot more guitar work, vocals, and varied percussion. Overall, though, they haven’t changed their style all that much; they’ve just tweaked some of the dynamics and shading. A track like the opener “Jeweled Turtle” shows a lot of restraint over its nine minutes of simmering menace. Compared to Five Suns, where every lull led to an explosion, this piece refuses to pander to that expectation. “Arthur, Elsie and Frances” returns to the jagged rhythms and dynamics that abounded on earlier albums, but with a little less aggression than before. “King Lindorm,” the closing epic track, contains some of the most exciting passages on the album, with a compellingly slow buildup over a repetitive but complex piano figure and a satisfyingly weighty release at its climax. A pair of very interesting tracks occupy the middle of the album. “The Heliotrope” and “The Selenotrope” were previously released (as instrumentals) as the Twisted Stems EP and are a kind of yin/yang pairing, one with male vocals (by Alexander Tucker), one with female vocals (from Jarboe, who’s keeping pretty busy these days); one in a minor key, one in a major key. Both are very much in the vein of recent Ulver or old Brian Eno—sparse late-night ballads in no hurry to get anywhere. Elixirs doesn’t end the trilogy with a bang, but not quite a whimper either. If you’re already a fan, you won’t mind at all.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I’m not really into April Fool’s Day, and jokes where you’re made to feel gullible are the most terrible thing on earth to me. I remember Terrorizer magazine’s prank from about 10 years ago when they awarded Album of the Month to a black metal band called Arktyk, unknowns from Alaska who’d just signed with Relapse. The album’s description, something like extreme black metal mixed with Pink Floyd parts, sounded right up my alley—and, alas, they were entirely fictional. For about two hours I was all set to order their album before I realized I’d been reading the April issue. I was crushed. At least these days I can listen to Deathspell Omega, who basically fulfill all my progressive black metal requirements.

I did go out and have a hell of a time on Tuesday anyway. After work I headed to the Railway Club for Jen Currin’s book launch. Her latest collection is Hagiography, and my first impression is that it’s her most accessible work yet. Her poetry can be a little tricky and elusive (for want of a much better word), but I like it because every line is a surprise. When Jen reads, she reveals the amount of care and humour she puts into her work, and it becomes even more impressive. At times during her set I’d get derailed by a particularly brilliant line, like “He’s old enough to be her mother” and have to force myself to quit pondering it and rejoin the poem already in progress. The first poet of the evening, Bill Stobbs from Wisconsin, went over really well too. It’s a shame he sold out of books (he only had four copies on hand) so quickly.

From the Railway I went straight to La Casa Del Artista on Main Street for Stitching and Unstitching, a monthly jazz/improv event that Jeff Younger helps to put on. I don’t think I’ve mentioned Jeff Younger here before, which is a damn shame. He’s a sick guitarist with a twisted mind. Jeezly talented. You’re never quite sure what’s burbling beneath his gleaming pate, but you know it’ll inevitably express itself in some really cool musical way. He’s also a top man, and fighting the good fight in this here town. Last Tuesday’s Stitching and Unstitching featured Jeff doing his Devil Loops project and The Sukha Trio. Devil Loops saw Jeff, his guitar, and various digital confabulators and doohickeys work through a few different pieces that flowed really well, from mellow to skronktastic and back to mellow, building up layers (i.e. these newfangled “loops” alluded to in the project's name) with delay and stripping them down again. Despite what Jeff said between songs, none of it sounded like Santana.

The Sukha Trio consisted of Jared Burrows (guitar), Stan Taylor (drums) and Colin MacDonald (saxophone) and Daniel Hella (flute), Hella also threw in occasional toy accordion, bells, vocals, a noisemaker thing that looked like a Big Gulp cup with a wire hanging out of it. They set themselves up two-by-two on the floor in front of the stage, facing each other across the floor with a video projector between them. The projections showed blurred/abstracted footage of birds and planes, kids playing in water, and pots boiling. I’m a sucker for live music and visuals (slides or video), and The Sukha Trio’s presentation worked out nicely. Sometimes the video segments would finish before the music did, but with their loose-seeming arrangements I can’t say they were really intending to time everything to the exact second. My only real quibble would be they went a little long (I was tired, I admit, full of poetry and beer), but I’d definitely like to see them again, especially if they work up a new set. I feel pretty lucky that La Casa is right down the street from me. I’ve seen some cool things there recently, including a triple bill of punk rock (including moviecore monsters Graf Orlock) where I was undoubtedly the oldest dude in the room.