Efrim Manuel Menuck – Pissing Stars

pissingstarsEfrim Manuel Menuck is part of the band “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” (more often referred to as Godspeed) though they have called themselves many other things for more artistic freedom and also cause they’re kinda dicks. This little known Montreal band back in the day released an album called “F A ∞”. A song called East Hastings off the album made it into the film no-shut-up-you’re-obsessive hit zombie cult classic “28 days later”. Anyone who has walked through the forest of heroin addicts on the notorious East Hastings, which the song is named after (located in Vancouver), will instantly recognize why any song named after the place would work well in a zombie flick.

But it was the album “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven” in 2000 that put Godspeed on the map. You see, Canada went from a musical drought (outside of Neil Young, Glenn Gould, and Rush) to the 2000s. During which, some say due to the rise of this thing called “The Internet”, Canada produced an overwhelming boom of artists and musicians like: Women, Peaches, Julie Doiron, Broken Social Scene (with offshoots from this like: Feist, Do Make Say Think, Emily Haines, Amy Millan, Stars, KC Accidental, and Jason Collett), Arcade Fire, Gonzales, The Dears, Great Lake Swimmers, The Hidden Cameras, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Caribou (also called Manitoba and Daphni), Death From Above 1979, Tegan and Sara, The Unicorns and so, so, many more (holy fucking fuck Canucks!) Montreal, seemingly overnight, became the musical centre of the world.

Cut to 18 years later, Godspeed has continued to produce wonderful and experimental soundscape music. Efrim released his first solo album called “Plays ‘High Gospel” in 2011 and now he is onto his second. 

Onto the fucking album already! : This is a drone heavy album. It’s actually dark and menacing drones that wrap most of this album in a bow. True to Efrim’s form, the music is atmospheric and heavy. It’s a theme that seems to run through anything Godspeed related, acting like a dirt in which everything else can grow out of. Lines like, “It’s a big mess that needs cleaning up. People are going to survive, change as necessary” and ‘’Everything in pieces on the floor. The good times aren’t the good times anymore” help support these themes. Yet, in the midst of all this darkness, there’s a bit of light. The song Lamb in the Land of Payday Loans comes on like a fucking battlecry singing, “Put the kids in the car. Oh darlin’, let’s try to run” in a distorted punk harmony overtop of a playful drumbeat all done up in lipstick, leggings, and fucktons of reverb. Then, the rest of the album continues with this optimism, sounding at times like the spiritual moments of Beck and Spiritualized just put through a paper shredder and thrown out of a helicopter. The closing song, Pissing Stars, is one of the most optimistic things I’ve ever heard from anything Godspeed related. The album begins in a very dark and grumpy mood and slowly morphs into a happy and joyous one. What the fuck happened? Where did Efrim take me? Well, shit, this motherfucker just changed my mood and put me through an emotional rollercoaster… and I have to say, it was a blast. 



 

 

Kronos Quartet & Laurie Anderson – Landfall

lauriekronosWarning: This album is an experience. It’s not an album to put on at a party unless you want to make people cry and leave. At times, this album will make you uncomfortable. At other times, more importantly, it will help you understand loss. Best to listen alone or with a friend who knows what they’re in for. Handle with care.

Yippee!!! Doesn’t this sound fun! Let’s dive in!

You know the song “Hide and Seek” from Imogen Heap. If you don’t know the title, you may know the Saturday Night Live skit called “Dear Sister,” which some people (like me) refer to as, “Ooohhh what cha sayy-ayy”. That’s the Imogen Heap song. When I first heard this song, all I could think of was Laurie Anderson. It has the same pitch shift and harmonizing technique on her song, “Oh Superman”. You know the one, it’s everywhere now. It’s the one every-fucking-rapper uses that makes their voice jump up pitch.

Anyway, this doesn’t accurately describe Laurie at all. There’s much more to her than this. 

If you read about Laurie Anderson, the word polymath comes up a lot. This is a lazy way of not listing her accomplishments and just saying she’s smart at a lot of things. This lady invented a violin that uses magnetic tape instead of strings. That’s right, INVENTED motherfucker! She also invented (yes invented, as in white lab coats and shit) another thing called a “talking stick”, which is basically a sampler put into a staff that you control with your touch. It’s nerdcore and fucking cool. Laurie became popular for blending avant-garde art with pop in the ’80s. I would say she’s like the Velvet Underground, but then Laurie dated Lou Reed in ’92, married him in ’08 and was with him until his death, so a comparison doesn’t seem like enough. She’s trained in violin and sculpting, she’s a performance artist and composer, a director and a multimedia artist. If it’s smart and artsy then Laurie has her smell on it. On this album, she works with Kronos Quartet. The badass motherfucker of quartets. 

Onto the album: Hurricane Sandy flooded Laurie Anderson’s home in October 2012. This is when a 32.5-foot wave decided to come crash into New York Harbour. Laurie wanted to document this flood and hurricane as a multimedia project. This album is a recording of this multimedia project. If you want, you can go on YouTube and watch some of it. Though, watch it on a day you feel like experiencing a piece of art. Don’t listen to it in the car on the way to work. This is a sit down thing.

Is this a weird fucking album? Of course it’s a weird fucking album! It’s Laurie-fucking-Anderson! If you wanted nice songs, you’d be somewhere else by now. This album is dark and watery. No shit, right? It’s about a fucking flood. But it’s amazing to hear these elements put into strings and electronic media. 

The title of each song tells the story: “CNN Predicts a Monster Storm,” “The Water Rises”, “The Electricity Goes Out and We Move to a Hotel”, “Then It Receded”, “Riding Bicycles Through Muddy Streets”. Laurie does these voice overs every once in a while. Her stories are entertaining, though, at first, you don’t know they’re there.

This is an album about loss. And, holy fucking shit, is it anxious and bleak. I was about to shut if off a couple times. But there are a few things that kept me from doing so. One of them being those little voiceovers I talked about before. The other is that as an art piece, this is well made. It gives you enough of that sweet so it can keep punching you in the face. A good piece of contemporary art is like having an abusive husband named Charlie from the 1930s: He will make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, he will make you hate yourself. But he will reward you just enough so you can handle the fucking weight of his existence and a couple bruises. Unlike Charlie, this art piece has a purpose.

This is a voice over from Laurie in the song, “Everything is Floating”

“And after the storm, I went down to the basement and everything was floating: lots of my old keyboards, dirty projectors, props from old performances, a fibreglass plane, a motorcycle, countless papers and books. And I looked at them floating there in the shiny dark water, dissolving, all the things I’d carefully saved for all my life, becoming nothing but junk. And I thought, ‘how beautiful, how magic, and how catastrophic’.”

Noam Pikelny – Universal Favorite

noamNoam Pikelny ain’t someone to fuck with. 

He plays the banjo like Hawking is good at math and Gandhi was a nice guy. Sure, you’ve got to be a good banjo player to play in the Punch Brothers, or to win the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass in 2010, or to be named banjo player of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association … twice. Oh ya, he also won a Grammy for “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe”. Does that seem like a funny album title? It’s because it is. It’s a banjo player, playing a fiddle player’s interpretation of a mandolin player, also known as a bluegrass swirly-twirl and incestuous threesome of stringed shit, or a B.S.T.I.T.S.S., which most people succinctly call bullshitting titssssss. 

This album starts with the most beautiful banjo roll I’ve ever heard. It’s one of these songs where as soon as you put it on you’re fucking done, completely seduced, a puddle of tears and Americana tradition. More than any other genre, bluegrass has a way of plunging its hand into the chest and ripping your heart out. Noam sings on this album. He’s not a professional singer, which, I think is kinda nice. Sure, I’d love to hear some Alison Krauss, or (oh Jesus lord bless me) a bit of Emmylou, or (sweet little baby Moses all flowing down the river in a shitty handbag) the holy trifecta of the Oh Brother siren song singing bluegrass swirly twirling Gillian Welch, but, some albums aren’t about that. This album is like the cover suggests, Noam on his own island. A picture of a man just doing his thing.

Oh ya, Noam seems to have found a guitar and can magically play it … so fuck that guy. No, sorry, that just popped out of me. It’s just that his talent can be quite frustrating at times.

This album is meant to be a solo album. And like any good solo album, it shows more of who the player is, not just what they can do (Imagining listening to someone do scales really fast for an hour straight? If you can’t, just walk into any guitar shop for roughly 2 seconds). There is something great about hearing someone at the top of their game just relax, sit back, and sing of their favourite songs. Listening to this album feels like I’m hanging out with the guy. It feels personal and comfortable even when, technically, it’s insane. Unlike anyone else I can think of who is an absolute master of their craft, Noam is the most personable. And this is what gives this album that something extra. Plus … a banjo is just an excellent sounding instrument when played well. I’ll be putting this album, alongside his others, in the background whenever I need a reminder that no matter how good someone is at something, it gives them no right to be an asshole.



 

 

Joan as Police Woman – Damned Devotion

joanJoan has fucking killed it with this one. Let’s get weird and honest motherfuckers.

First off, I couldn’t get through this album when I first heard it. I enjoyed the beats and bass. And this production is tighter than a college speedo on an overweight man going through a midlife crisis. But I’m a total douche bag when it comes to anything that sounds like a pop record. There’s too much out there pretending to be new, fresh, and crisp that just isn’t. By the time I hear anything resembling pop, a piece of my brain shuts off. I missed out on this album the first time through because of this.

Don’t worry, you can still listen to this album without trying to understand the lyrics. The instrumentation is great on this bitch. But the real beauty of this album is in the lyrics. This shit has teeth. It’s a less airy version of Feist with a pair of jagged cojones. It has honesty. It’s not just pretending to be honest. So many pop albums have the mentality of a stoned teddy bear, “I know we can all mess up sometimes, but, let’s just cuddle!” This isn’t Joan … by fuck’s luck … this isn’t her at all. 

In this album, she talks about how stupid she can feel by still falling in love. How, in the end, she always ends up alone, feeling walked on, and pathetic. Then, there are raw, raunchy fucking sex songs like “Steed (for jean genet)” which references, you guessed it, Jean Genet, or more particularly his book, “Our Lady of the Flowers”. She makes an allusion to Leonard Cohen’s line, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. She expresses her sincere thanks to her father in the song, “What was it like?” But most of all, she pours out her fucking heart about the times she convinced herself to fall in love with some asshole, convinced herself they are way better than they are, and then try to face the world again knowing that everyone else talked shit about how dumb you were the entire time.

If you are not like Joan, you know someone like Joan. Those people that sell themselves short for a dream of something, or someone, new. A person who always wears rose coloured glasses so they never see the red flags. The person who sacrifices everything for the relationship, and in the end, they can’t even recognize who the fuck they are anymore. This is Joan on this album. She’s raw, real, and relatable. After listening to the lyrics and understanding what they say, the real amazing part is that these songs can sound so upbeat. The last line on the album says, “through the snowfall, I am listening, and hope you’re listening too”. To imagine that I heard this album once and didn’t give the lyrics another thought. When this last line came on I was like, “hold on, I think I just missed some essential shit”. 

Take time with this one, it requires more than one listen. 



 

 

Fire! – The Hands

Fire!It’s night. You’re in a biker bar and it’s barely lit. To the left of you are lines of fridge-sized men sitting side-by-side hunched over a bar that occasionally take drags off their hand-rolled cigarettes. Wafts of smoke rise into the air like incense burnt for some forgotten demonic god. You shoulder your way through the densely packed room, catching an occasional glare and grimace. Two men arm-wrestle on top of a wooden table near the back. One of them bleeds onto the floor but pays the injury no mind. Their arms are as thick as most people’s legs. Three men walk up onto a stage: a drummer, a bassist, and a saxophonist? It’s a fucking jazz trio. What the hell are these guys doing here? Get the fuck out! But, as they begin, the men stand and watch. They’ve come to see the band.

Have you ever wanted to prove to someone jazz can be anything? This is one of these albums. I know. I know. Those of you who don’t listen to jazz want to completely ignore what I’m saying. But don’t. This is not your typical jazz band. In fact, it might be wrong to call it jazz. This is not that snappy happy-go-lucky jazz. You don’t snap it on your fingers, you stomp it through wet mud. This shit is closer to Sabbath than Miles. This is the type of jazz that plays inside an old dirty truck driving down a dark highway. This is the music cued up when the bad guy enters the scene. It’s the jazz played over a two-player game of Russian Roulette. This is not pussy jazz (I’d like to remind any sensitive reader that when I say pussy it’s short for pusillanimous, meaning timid). Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, and Andreas Werliin are the band. And they don’t give a shit. They will play what they want to play.

Throughout the recording there are snippets of whispered voices, as if trying to warn you of what lies ahead. It helps create the mood of this album. The album ends on a slightly more optimistic note. It turns into that type of dark roomed jazz where you could hear a rough baritone say something like, “I never used to be like this. In fact, I was like you once.”

This is a dark jazz record. Don’t play this if you’re trying to cheer yourself up. But it is the perfect music to play if you were a detective in a Raymond Chandler movie, trying to solve a lonely murder of some woman in a biker bar. 


 

 

The Caretaker – Everywhere at the End of Time

thecaretaker“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.” Friedrich Nietzsche

The Caretaker is an artistic persona of James Leyland Kirby. And the persona, not Kirby, has early onset dementia. What the fuck? I know. I know! But, hold up. Stay with me here and let me finish. Kirby has already released the first 3 stages of his 6-stage project. The last three are planned to be released April 5, 2018, September 2018, and March 2019. 

Stage one (A+B) was released in 2016 and in Kirby’s own words, “Here we experience the first signs of memory loss. This stage is most like a beautiful daydream. The glory of old age and recollection. The last of the great days.”

Stage two was released in April 2017 (C+D), and it’s “the self-realization and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that. More effort is made to remember so memories can be more long form with a little more deterioration in quality. The overall personal mood is generally lower than the first stage and at a point before confusion starts setting in.”

Stage three was released in September 2017 (E+F) and here “we are presented with some of the last coherent memories before confusion fully rolls in and the grey mists form and fade away. Finest moments have been remembered, the musical flow in places is more confused and tangled. As we progress some singular memories become more disturbed, isolated, broken and distant. These are the last embers of awareness before we enter the post awareness stages.”

So, what does this sound like practically? Kirby takes some old ass songs, slow dancing big band stuff, and puts them through a process so the sound is all fucked up. At first I listened and thought that this guy was just a lazy piece of shit. “Take some old fucking songs and make them sound all fucky?” I thought, “That’s not music. That’s not art.” But, as these things do, I listened at first with anger. Then, as time passed, I craved more and kept listening. And, eventually, it unfolded itself in front of me. And here’s what I found.

Making a series of albums based entirely upon entropy is fucking interesting. Dedicating a series of albums to some of the least understood people in the world is fucking noble. Studying dementia through sound, being able to feel what it may be like for someone experiencing this terrible thing, well shit, that’s what art is for. 

Listening to these albums fucked my shit up. I stayed quiet as I listened to these songs and meditated on what they were about. It was both a beautiful and sad experience. The passing of time began to feel rude, mean, precious, and delicate all at once. And when it finally finished, I wanted to go out and cherish each living moment with the clear memory and faculties I have. Somehow, by taking these old big band songs and making them all fucky, Kirby opened my eyes a little to what was happening in the lives of people I don’t know, and helped me understand how lucky I am. 

I feel like everyone has gone through the experience of watching someone they care for go through dementia. It’s an odd experience because it’s impossible to fully understand. All moments in their life seem to happen at once. They are at the same time a child, an adult, and a senior. People who passed away years ago are suddenly there but you just can’t find them anymore. At moments it seems like some sort of bliss and in the next an absolute torture. This album goes through all of this in its own way.

In the end, this art is effective because it’s simple. And I can’t get mad at that. Look at abstract expressionism, the roots of rock and roll, punk music, and so many other arts that work the same way. Sometimes, it’s through simplicity of art that the most dramatic effects can take place. 

 

 

Alela Diane – Cusp

cuspMy sister introduced me to Alela Diane with the album, “Pirate’s Gospel”. It was alright. At the time it was fun and fresh with its fanciful wistful lyrics. It was cute, young, and most of all, naive. It had this view on Americana that said, “Hey look! I can do it too!” One song called, “Oh! My Mama” stood apart from the rest of the album. It seemed more personal than the rest. It wasn’t the lyrics as much, it just had this honest feel. It felt like the one real folk song on the record. I thought it was a one-off. But, as this album proves, I was completely wrong. 

This album is her best by far. It’s been a long time since “Pirate’s Gospel”. And, if you want to know what changed it’s really simple. Alela found her muse. No, it’s not a man. If you want that album go listen to “About Farewell” which is all about her divorce. This album is all about motherhood. “Fuck!”, you might think, “ladies ain’t supposed to sing about that.” And, unfortunately, you would be right. There’s an instinct by most listeners to pass over any album dedicated to motherhood. We’ve been taught to think it will be sappy and gaudy with over-sentiment. Single songs? Sure. There’s a small collection of suitable mother songs, but none of them really want to be too specific about the songs being about a baby. These have been the rules when it comes to women and songwriting. You can just picture that short little man who came up with these rules sitting behind a large oak desk in his studio, his face hiding behind a short cigar hanging out the corner of his mouth, and wearing his short little black suit as he says, “Sorry toots, ya jus’ can’t hack it. First off, half the audience won’t relate and, what about after all this hullabaloo when that tummy gets tucked back in?” The goal of motherhood in the public eye, for the past while, has been how fast you can pop back into that sexy figure you had before having the kid. This album stands over that little man and his desk and secretes a fat placenta all over his face and then convinces him it’s beautiful. 

“So Tired” is about how tiring labour is. “Never Easy” is how Alela finds a new appreciation for her own mother. “Yellow Gold” is about parenthood. “Wild Ceaseless Song,” directly addresses her own daughter. “Émigré” is about a mother in the refugee crisis. “Moves Us Blind” and “Threshold” are about how crazy fast time moves. This album is all about motherhood and it’s fucking beautiful. 

I do hope more hidden subjects come to light over time. And I really hope that they are done as well as this. Folk is based upon a naked and fearless honesty executed with simple elegance. This album is all of that and then some. 

“I know now what every mother knows, of what it is to watch your heart escape your chest.” Alela Diane in “Wild Ceaseless Song”