Archive for the 'Music' Category

Praising Jesus to Make Music to Praise Jesus To

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

[I wrote this a while ago, but never posted it. I’m not sure why, I was just never happy with how it turned out. However, I thought I would continue my tradition of ending a blog sabbatical with a Danielson post, so here it is. — S.]

I’ve been meaning to write a review of the Danielson documentary for a few months now. Danielson has been my number one favorite band for the past year, and so I was quite excited to watch the film and see a little bit of what band leader Daniel Smith, who I really think is a musical and artistic genius, is all about. It documents the band’s history up to the release of 2006’s breakthrough album Ships. The band is unique and the personalities fascinating enough that I believe it’s a good movie even for people who aren’t as familiar or abjectly fawningly in love with Danielson’s music as I am, and it raises a lot of worthwhile issues about art and religion and what it means to be successful.

In one of the interviews, Daniel Smith is asked what irritates him about critics reviewing Danielson records, and his answer is that the writer always feels the need to spend the first half of the review on disclaimers about religion: “I’m not a Christian, but…”, like a mantra to justify their objectivity with respect to the music. He correctly points out that critics review reggae records without prefacing it with “I’m not Rasta, but…”. I’m not an alcoholic, but I listen to country. I’m not a complete douche, but I listen to Coldplay. Ha ha just kidding! I don’t listen to Coldplay. But I do share this desire to add exculpatory disclaimers when I say things like “I’m really into this Christian rock band…”.It’s a problem because “Christian rock” is such an apt description, but has a lot of amply justified prejudice to live down. So it’s kind of his own fault that he inherits a lot of the indie scene’s general suspicion of Christian™ music, which is so much horrible pablum. The mainstream evangelist labels that are hostile to Danielson are essentially factories for mass-producing kitsch according to very precise specifications, who have no context at all for perfect, psychedelic pop tunes. His message may be Jesus, but his medium is pure John Lennon.

It’s clear that Daniel’s father, a folk musician himself, is irked by the reaction of the Christian music community, and it really is a massive indictment of their collective aesthetic taste. But then, this is the same community that chows down on Left Behind like it was palatable, so, you know, not exactly news I guess.

Daniel Smith is eager to share with interviewers the religious inspiration for the music; when asked about his creative process, he always responds that he doesn’t take credit for his art, he just “points to the creator.” Several times throughout the film, Smith repeats some variation on “It all comes from the Creator of music, the Creator of all everything. We just let Him speak and try not to get in the way.” He compares his relationship to his creative output to that of a young child helping his father fix a car — he’s not really helping, he’s just there, having fun, feeling useful, more in the way than anything else. It’s a little difficult for an atheist to engage with Smith about his process. Fortunately for me, we’re living in the postmodern era and I have no trouble sidelining any authorial privilege over interpretation, so I have no compunction about offering an alternate explanation: that Smith is a genius and, therefore, also a little crazy. Much like another crazy songwriting prodigy, Daniel Johnston, who was the subject of his own doc, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, who’s craziness also tends toward religious fervor. Though in his case well beyond Smith’s wholesome eccentricity, tending rather more towards dangerous psychotic breakdowns. Also unlike Smith, Johnston’s story is a tragic one, though not only for his failure to achieve mainstream success, but for his failure to develop as an artist. At the end of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, he’s still playing the same songs and drawing the same child-like cartoons of Jesus and Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I found the interactions between the two Daniels one of the more interesting scenes, because it was the one time that Smith seemed uncomfortable. Both are preternaturally gifted songwriters and “outsider” artists who struggle for mainstream acceptance. The focus in the latter half of Make a Joyful Noise Here is on Smith’s attempt to push forward and redefine himself with his music and art, without the Famile. Towards the end, director J.L. Aronson is able to get a little deeper into Smith’s actual writing process, which Smith understandably has difficulty articulating. One thing he said really struck me as a very true expression of the creative process: that mostly what he does is wait for different ideas and images to “start pointing to each other.” This is a frustrating and mysterious process that nobody really understands or controls, and that seems to me like pretty much everything that can be intelligently said about it.

Sufjan has his own little chapter in the movie, and we see him hesitantly learning to play the cowbell, taking brother Andrew’s place on their European festival show, and opening for Brother Danielson at tiny clubs in front of eight people. However, I felt like the Sufjan portions were sort of beside the point for the film as a whole, and would have been better left as DVD extras, keeping the film a bit more focussed on the perspective of the family. The film is separated into chapters narrated by each of the family/band members, which gave a very personal and intimate touch to the production; Sufjan’s section is a departure from this. I mean, it’s clear why they chose to focus on him, he’s a huge star now. I just felt like it wandered a little too far from the focus and theme of the rest of the film.

The doc ends on a triumphant note, first with the recording of the amazing Brother Danielson record, and then the critically-acclaimed Ships, which brought together everyone who has ever contributed to a Danielson Famile recording, and provides a bookend to Smith’s long-term three-part vision of Danielson Famile/Brother Danielson/Danielsonship. I really can’t wait to see where he goes from here.

Vague Undertakings, Nihilism, Man Man

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Friday night was the Vague Undertakings opening at the Chapel, featuring music from The Clips, Bend Sinister and Panurge, and art from various artists, including: Gabe Deerman, Adam Dodd, Wendy Dyk, Neal Everett Nolan, Chloe Gammon, Sally Hutcheon, Robert Mearns, Melissa Pavlovic, Evan Shandler, Ed Spence, Terra Varey, and Contexture Design Workshop.

The Chapel was a funeral home now converted into an artist-run space, and it’s an absolutely incredible venue. The main chapel room acoustics are wonderful, with a good sized space for dancing, and there are plenty of other hallways and rooms for mingling and looking at art, and even a pool table upstairs. I arrived late and missed the Clips, which was a little disappointing, since of the three bands playing I enjoyed their myspace tracks the most, but Bend Sinister and Panurge both brought solid, energetic sets that really got the hipsters moving.

The art is up at the Chapel (on Dunlevy near Hastings, around the corner from Pat’s Pub) until April 15th; do yourself a solid and go take a look. I’m really looking forward to seeing more events there.

Saturday night I had a dream that I was in a classroom writing an exam. It was in a large lecture hall, and I was supposed to write an essay about nihilism. I wasn’t worried at first, confident that I knew quite a bit about the subject, but then I realized that I hadn’t been to class all term and didn’t have the text books that everyone else was referring to (it was an open book exam I guess). Also, I had to write it on blue construction paper with a white crayon. I started to get angry and frustrated — why didn’t I study or go to class? I tried asking the prof for clarification about the topic, but he was mumbling and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I ended up just drawing a big white circle on my paper and handing it in in a fit of pique.

And then Sunday was the much-anticipated Man Man at Richards on Richards. I had high expectations for this show, all of which were surpassed. The sheer quantity of gear on the stage was staggering, with all manner of objects to crash and smash and shake in a seamless frenzy. Unfortunately the opening band, Victoria Victoria, was boring boring. The best thing about them was the drummer’s mustache, but it could not make up for shitty lyrics and weak melodies. They were fine at the Lamplighter a few weeks ago, opening for other local bar bands, but they had absolutely no place opening for Man Man.

I saw another one just the other day, a special new band

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Well, it’s spring again. The time when the cherry blossoms bloom, the snow begins to climb back up the peaks, and a young man’s fancy turns to all the awesome shows that are coming up!

Man Man – April 1

What can I say? It’s Man Man, it’ll rule.

The Neins Circa w/ Abernethy and Fanshaw – April 6

I just discovered The Neins Circa recently, and really dig their melodic, poppy, retro sound. They’re also playing this Saturday (March 24) at the Lamplighter, but if you’re reading this blog then chances are you’re going to see This Week in History at the Pic that night!

Cocorosie w/ Busdriver – May 5

Busdriver is my favorite indie hiphop guy, but I was a little disappointed with his new album, Roadkillovercoat, when I first heard it; the opening track is killer, but as a whole I found it weaker than Fear of a Black Tangent or Temporary Forever, less varied in subject matter and styles than the latter, less consistent than former, and in general more serious and political. After a few more listens I’m coming around to it, now that the lyrics have resolved for me. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I listen to a new album, it takes about five or six times through before the words really pop out. With Busdrive, it’s always worth the time.

Cocorosie aren’t that great, but who cares.

Girl Talk w/ Circlesquare – June 9

I saw Girl Talk at the New Forms Festival a few years ago and he put on the most incredible show ever. For one dude with a laptop, that’s not bad. Running around dancing like a lunatic, stripping his clothes off, pouring drinks all over himself, and closing with a massive, unstoppable cover of Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice”. He’s so dreamy. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

This show cannot be described adequately in words. His show was like freebasing the pure white essence of the most rocking parties of the last decade. It was the audio equivalent of doing speedballs with David Lee Roth and Puff Daddy, and then trashing a hotel room while making highly inappropriate sexual advances on the staff. His cover of Scentless Apprentice was very possibly the highlight of my life. A++++++ WOULD SEE AGAIN

The Only Party

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Hey are you doing anything Saturday night? You should come to the Only Magazine website launch party and benefit at the Emergency Room in Strathcona. I’ve been a big fan of Only since their first issue. Great coverage of local events, music, and art helps me pretend that I’m hip, with-it, or otherwise in-the-know; reliably funny and interesting essays by Amil Niazi, Chuck Ansbacher, Alan Hindle and others reliably keep my condescending hipster smirk firmly in place. It’s seriously the only (hurhur) free mag I’d go out of my way to find, and my only (teehee) complaint is not enough columns by Rhek.

So, who wants to be a rapper? Too many people. There’s far too many rappers today. We need more rap fans and less kids who freestyle at me. More White kids need to start playing guitar again – that’s a real skill to have. You can entertain at campfires and you can grow your hair long and your mom can say “… and no guitar for a week!” when you get grounded. Being able to go, “I’m flipping the shit and ripping the shit and dipping the shit and taking a shit – straight off the dome, yo!” while imitating a rapper you saw on a SMACK DVD is not a real practical skill. Seriously. And anyway, if you wanna be a real rapper now you gotta pay your dues as a crack dealer. Crack dealers are the new rap superstars.
Crack and rap go together like tiny old Chinese ladys who’s language you can’t understand and empty beer cans worth a nickel. And if you 13 and you live with your two Dads who still take you to soccer camp, then technically you’re not a “hustler” yet.

Oh, and they launched their new website and it’s marvelous.
Anyways, come out on Saturday and see some bands I’ve never heard of.

Not sure if there’s actually a secret band, or if it’s a band called “A Secret Band.”.

Alice Donut Liver Henry Moore

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I posted the mp3 of Alice Donut‘s new single, the seven-minute epic “Madonna’s Bombing Sarajevo,” on the WoJ post a couple days ago, but I recently saw the video and thought I’d share that too, because it’s pretty cool. (Unfortunately the quality is kind of shit, I think there’s a higher res version on their myspace.)

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Alice Donut was my favorite band in the whole world, and pretty much the only band I listened to, from age 16 to about 18. And I still think they hold up as one of the great 90’s post-punk bands that was always sort of on the cusp of breaking really huge, but never did. They have a fiercely loyal cult following, but I think they were just a little bit too out there to break through to a more mainstream audience. Their lyrics were a bit too intelligent, and Tom’s vocals are a bit too strange. When they broke up in 1996 I was devastated, but luckily I was able to see them on their final tour, the very first rock show I ever saw, with seminal Vancouver punksters NoMeansNo and the Japanese noise-core group Ultra Bidé.

They reunited in 2004 and released a semi-disappointing comeback album, Three Sisters. Their latest record, Fuzz, is pretty awesome though. It’s nothing super new or groundbreaking, it’s no Pure Acid Park or Untidy Suicides Of Your Degenerate Children, but it is a good, solid rock album.

Fun fact: the band name was conceived on the way to their first gig, at CBGBs. They didn’t have a name yet, and drove past a donut shop and came up with the horrible/brilliant pun on the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The promoter at CBGBs shortened it to Alice Donut to fit on the posters.

What If Your Blood Were Not You

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Subtle “The Mercury Craze”

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“What would you give in order to get your hands on the utmost in luxury blood?” I love Dose One’s lyrics and I love this album.

Man Man “Banana Ghost”

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From another one of my favorite albums this year, Man Man’s Six Demon Bag.

Cornelius “Gum”

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The new Cornelius LP, Sensual, isn’t really grabbing me the way Point did. Sensual sounds a lot more minimal and cerebral, more experimental, while Point had a more accessible lush pop energy to it. Still good though, and “Gum” is my favorite song on it at the moment.

The War on Christmas Seems To Start Earlier Every Year

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

I get a lot of comment spam here, usually five to ten a day that get through the filters and whatnot. Not a hideous amount, but still a pain in the ass. Normally it’s the usual suspects (and for fear of triggering keywords I won’t describe them here), but today I got a great piece on last year’s post The War Against Christmas: Is It A Quagmire?, that I thought was worth sharing for everyone to mock. Here’s the text:

Thanks for keeping the spirit of Christmas alive. I’ve been fighting on the Best Buy front on the war on Christmas with an original song that seems to be generating lots of interest.

As you may know, Best Buy banned the use of “Merry Christmas” in their ads this year. It caused me to wonder what kind of an Inn Best Buy would be if it were an Inn, and not a department store, back in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

That’s pretty wacky as is, since you could hardly accuse this blog of keeping the spirit of anything alive. We’re more in the spirit-crushing business around here. Anyways, the best part is the linked mp3 protest song, which I just know is going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the night. Check it.


Holy mamma! This guy’s songs are awesome!

More here. I don’t want to reward spammers, but wow. I can’t pick a favorite! Every song is crazier (and hence awesomer) that the last.

Podcast it at the setting sail

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

My friend Ben has a podcast/blog thing, you should all “subscribe” to it, or whatever you do with podcasts. I never really got into the whole podcasting phenomenon. I much prefer putting my words in text, and including an mp3 track as a sort of garnish. Do any of my readers subscribe to podcasts? Which ones? Let me know in the comments.

I used to listen to the cbcradio3 podcast, which is pretty good but a pale shadow of it’s former glory, which you can see by clicking the Magazine Archive link at the bottom of that page.

A Fruitless Weekend

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

Finding a date is harder than it really ought to be. I had plans to Body Worlds on Friday, which is the exhibit of plasticized human bodies and organs. It’s sort of a hybrid anatomy lesson and art exhibit created by Guther von Hagens, I’ve been wanting to see it for a while, and have had plans several times with a certain female to go check it out, but events have conspired to make that an impossibility.

On Saturday night I went to the Califone show, again dateless. I even went so far as to post a M4W ad on craigslist, which garnered precisely zero (0) responses. Maybe all the cute, available women were at the Yo La Tengo show, or the Ladytron show, or the Sufjan Stevens show, or maybe my desperation is palpable. I also somehow managed to lose weight during my convalescence with my ankle injury, down to 120lbs from an all-time high of around 130, so I’m not feeling particularly menschlich lately. How one manages to lose weight while being immobilized is beyond me. But anyways, I’m pretty sure that somehow I’ll make lots of money someday, so even though I don’t have a car or a rugged jawline or any discernible ambition, I think I’m a pretty good catch. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor, ladies!

On the bright side, when I was at Scratch buying tix for the show I found the last Danielson CD I was missing: the live Danielson Famile/Soul Junk tour support disc from 1998. Oh consumer goods, at least you still love me!


Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

I’m listening to the new Califone album, Roots and Crowns. I keep turning it up a little bit louder and a little bit louder, I can’t help myself. Try to imagine a whole album of The Notwist’s “Neon Golden”; in other words: imagine perfection, only lots of it. The songs all shimmer and breathe like living things.

And they’re playing at the Media Club on Saturday! Good timing! This will more than make up for missing TV On The Radio last week.

Ankle Injuries

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

It’s a drag being on crutches. Aside from the hassle of not being able to carry anything, I don’t like being seen walking around on them; it makes me feel like sort of a pathetic specimen. It’s intensely frustrating to need people to buy my groceries and bring me stew and jam and movies; it’s nearly as bad as being poor. But it’s also great to discover that I can count on my friends, and that I haven’t yet succeeded in alienating all humans.

So when I was at the Emergency Room getting my ankle checked out, there were two other people waiting there, both also with injuries to their left ankle. The guy to my left, in his twenties and heavyset, with short dark hair and a goatee, twisted his ankle running at UBC; on my right was a blonde athlete, tall and good-looking, who had hurt his falling down the stairs wasted at a party. Several of his frat brothers were with him, keeping him company and reminiscing. (My injury was from tennis.)

The really weird coincidence was that I’d downloaded a new album onto my mp3 player before I went to the hospital, because I’m smart like that. It was Fujiya & Miyagi’s Transparent Things; good album, reminded me a lot of The Notwist, but a little bit more upbeat and loopy. I checked the track list a few days later, and the first track on the album is called “Ankle Injuries”. Weird, huh? It’s hard to know what to make of coincidences like that, simultaneously remarkable and vacant. They don’t really mean anything, obviously, so in a sense the observation is worthless. But it also seems in some weird way like a confirmation. Of what, I have no idea. The realness of reality, maybe. I guess all you can do is shrug and say “Weird, huh?”

PS I took some pictures of my ankle, because I was fascinated by how gruesome it turned for such a nothing little stumble. And now you can be too!

Danielson forever!

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Did I Step On Your Trumpet?
That video makes me feel warm and squishy inside. There’s no such thing as too much Danielson. I think I have all their albums now, and I’ve fallen in love with every single one of them. My daily listening has yet to make me any more Christian, however. Am I doing it wrong? Should I try playing them backwards?