Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Cheer

I'll be DJing a special New Year's party on Thursday in Montreal, QC along with Fabien and Alexandre from over at Almost As Cool As Fighting, along with mind-blowing visuals by Emmanuel Paquet. It's cheap, bring your own alcohol (or buy there), and sure to be a fun time. Space is limited, so e-mail me at jaywatts [at] gmail [dot] com if you want an invite!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Musical Zakuski: UnClub Selections

Your author, on the right, in pajamas...

I've pretty much abandoned the album as a medium for my enjoyment of music - not because I'm staking out a principled stand against concept albums (carry on, Alan Wakeman), but mostly out of convenience... I listen to most of my music either at work or when I'm DJing - songs are the. You could argue I'm living on a diet of hors d'oeuvres and by-the-glass wine (like tapas or zakuski), but I like to think it keeps me spry, light on my feet. Because of that, I'm not really qualified to give a list of my top albums for 2010. And all the better, too, because I'm sure you're sick of reading about them and the albums I did pay attention to (Junior Boys, Royksopp, Sebastien Tellier, Beach House, Phoenix, a smattering of others) are accounted for on many, many other people's lists. One much-loved album that by all accounts I should have been slobbering over, given how much I love(d) The Knife, was the Fever Ray album, but truthfully, it bored me so much that I can barely recall what it sounds like, other than a bit dour and a line about walking a dog home from school or something. Oh well.

If you've paid any attention to this blog at all, my method of discovering music tends to be about as haphazard, scatter-brained and ADD as my tastes have become. So that's a lengthy pre-amble to some songs from 2009 that I like and have at hand. Some of them I've already posted about, the ones at the top are new, and most of them sound like Cass McCombs.

Studio Alchemy

Andy Kim, the pride of Montreal's Little Lebanon*, co-wrote the Archies' Sugar Sugar, cementing his legacy in the annals of pop music. Not content to bask in the glory of a pitch-perfect pop music concoction, he shot to number one on the charts with 1974's Rock Me Gently, a Neil Diamond-ish pop ditty that I've got a soft spot for.

Tommy Sparks, a Swedish song-writer, is familiar to anybody with a TV, as being responsible for the song She's Got Me Dancing, currently featured in an Apple iPhone television spot. The song's actually a two-headed monster - one, the guitar line cribbed from The Ohio Player's Love Rollercoaster, and the other the bastardized over-produced post-punk shimmy and shake of Franz Ferdinand. But, like Chairlift, don't hold that against him.

Let's leave Tommy's paycheque alone, and discuss a better song - Miracle. Being Swedish, Tommy Sparks is well-versed in studio alchemy - the myriad of tricks and techniques from which pure pop gold is made. In this case, it's the strummed acoustic guitar over-top a traditional rock band set-up. (Could this explain a weakness for OMC's How Bizarre?) The Embassy, also Swedish, are perfect masters of this trick, but I also think it was employed quite handily (and best) by Tony Visconti in his production work in the 70's with David Bowie and T. Rex.

* There's no Little Lebanon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mariah Carey's New Song Will Be Awesome

I had a bizarre dream the other night: Mariah Carey was showing me a new song she had just recorded, despairing that the chorus had a similar melody to some (at one time) popular New Jack Swing song. I pointed out that it also sounded similar to a Hall & Oates song, as well as to a Latino Freestyle (maybe Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam) song from the mid-80's, and then we had a lengthy discussion about influence and inspiration that was set to a hologram mix of various songs that appeared in the air in front of us. After that, I think it got erotic.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Karaoke Suggestion

Thanks to Land of the Lost, we're now living in the post-Will Ferrel Era, and our karaoke choices should reflect this new reality, which means purging Journey from the set-list. Don't fret it too much, there's still a whole number of songs out there yet used by Mr. Ferrel & his music supervisor, and so I present you with a parent-approved, nostalgia-inducing and crowd-pleasing sleeper karoake hit, Bread's Everything I Own.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Earlier last week, within the space of twenty minutes, I'd heard two separate versions of Johnny Mercer's Fools Rush In in two different places. Kismet, y'know? Obviously Fate had something dastardly in store for me if I kept up the same breakneck pace I am known for, so I resolved to live life to the SLOWEST. To embrace the relaxing philosophy of Bobby McFerrin, and thus achieve true inner peace. I stopped running for lights, and if I was walking through an intersection and the light changed? So much the worse for the hot-headed taxi driver. I went Christmas shopping and considered every purchase from as many angles as I could. At work, I made sure to double-check and triple-check every thing that left my desk or outbox. In the mornings, I rose like the . No point in rushing.

Once the temperature dropped to -15 (and worse), I became keenly and quickly aware of just how fool-hardy this approach was. There's a reason why the slow and languid pace does not come easy to the lands who experience a season called winter. Frost-bite comes quick and hard. Crops wither and die soon after the first frost falls. If the fable of the ant & the grasshopper were set in more tropical climes, we could see the grasshopper's play-all-day philosophy as sensible - why bother working the fields? Look at all these mango trees! But no, in that fable, there's winter, and when the grasshopper's bohemian scarf is all that stands between him and its cruel, unforgiving grip, he has to begrudgingly admit the ant was right.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Faze Action & The Intergalactic Dancefloor

Robin Lee and Simon Lee are two UK brothers who previously produced the sort of boutique hotel lobby music that was so ubiquitious in the first half of this decade. (Think Sounds from the Verve Hi-Fi Remixed.) If you can imagine the sort of music that's playing at a Celebration Brasilia! cocktail at some multimedia festival in the lounge while a quick-cut film of Pele playing football and people dancing on beaches is projected on to various surfaces around the bar, well, yeah, that'd be what they specialize in. In the last couple of years, that music has trickled down to the soundalike studios of television score composers, and the Italo revival and disco redux has gained speed, compelling once mighty titans of to look deep within their souls, fire their Brazilian percussionist, and create something a little more of the moment. Thank God.

Which is what has happened in the last couple of years, with 2009's Stratus Energy, Faze Action has entered a more appealing place - a 4/4 soundscape full of jet-propulsion beats, multi-layered strings, octave-jumping basslines, breathy anonymous divas, and sophisticated studio wizardry that was once only the domain of mustachioed giants like Cerrone and Moroder. These men may not be working on the same scale, but it's an interesting coda, nonetheless.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Enjoy the weekend!

Van She, Holy Ghost, Phreek Plus One, Anoraak

Suzy Parker at rest.
Click through the link above to download the Holy Ghost remix of the Van She's cover of Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper - you'll recall I posted about the Van She cover and got all indignant about Canadian geography last week. The high-quality MP3 comes straight from the generous duo themselves. And a couple of extra bonus tracks for your listening pleasure.

Even though I only spent six months living in the city, I still managed to kinda make it on to the Top 50 Best Vancouver Bands of the Decade as determined by the staff of Discorder Magazine twice - as a member of Three Inches of Blood and joke-manager of TAS 1000. Flash in a pain! Once I get a copy, this is definitely going in the scrapbook along with the issue of Nightlife Magazine where I placed #83 as one of the 100 people who've changed Montreal nightlife in the past ten years. (As Chris Clark pointed out, #1 on the list was "You, the reader," so, actually, I really placed something like #3583.)

Anyone reading this is familiar with the Jehovah's Witnesses, either because you've answered your door one day to find a pair on your doorstep, or because you're a talented African American musician and have a long and deep entanglement with the religion. Unfortunately, I've never been one of the lucky few to have been personally witnessed to by Prince or Larry Graham from Sly & The Family Stone or George Benson, and somehow whatever music they've dedicated to the Big Guy Upstairs has also snuck under my radar, but I have been exposed to countless stunning paintings of idyllic scenes in a world beyond this courtesy of the Watchtower: lions and lambs lying down together, cherub-cheeked and pint-sized representatives of all of the races of the earth smiling and laughing together, all wearing their national costume. There's no sartorial globalization in heaven, I guess. Who paints these? Is it done by committee and how do they insert the appropriate amount of Biblical references? Is there one aging Norman Rockwell who slaves day in and day out to supply the Watchtower and Awake magazines with these stunning scenes?

The artists of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in the oil paintings in the Book of Mormon and various other publications, tended to prefer a style that more in-tune with the Renaissance, although with an corpeal distortion (or distinction, depending on your stance on the Prophet Moroni & Joseph Smith): Small Heads, Big Bodies - referred to as SHBBs since my high school years. I think it's an artistic conceit meant to indicate to the viewer that these pre-Columbian lost-tribe types were truly giants among men, but I can't be sure. Any lapsed Mormons want to clear that up?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Question of Teen Violens

I'm a bit late on this, but in case you haven't come across it, or aren't familiar with them, New York's Violens have a free winter mix up for download on their website that includes a number of their own tracks, as well as some edit/cover-fuckery with artists like My Bloody Valentine, The Byrds, Xasthur, Wire, Chairlift, MGMT, and Saint Etienne. It's a nice introductory to the group's influences and their Anglophilic sonic palette. The urgent bouncy power-pop reminds me of long-time-ago SXSW darlings Voxtrot or The Smiths, and also newer paisley pop & psych-influenced groups: the sorta guys who wear turtlenecks and boots with Cuban heels. Elephant Stone!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Golden Camera

Colder Downtown
The Disco Biscuits You and I (The Juan Maclean Remix)

What is the sound of one hand-clapping? Okay, good! Now... What is the sound of The Juan MacLean phoning it in? Hmm, close, but no... Give up? See above.

I Know Karate: The Songs of Chaz Jankel

I don't write about it all that much on this blog, but one of my deepest and abiding musical pleasures is post-disco and early 80's R&B, particularly when experienced performers and producers, looking for a sound beyond dead-as-nails disco, forged a new sound marrying the dance-insistent beats of disco to the synthesizer sounds found in funk and pFunk. Some of my favourite stuff from that period is produced by Luther Vandross - who should be remembered for being more than an overweight, closeted crooner of schmaltz appearing frequently on Detroit cable stations... For example, Aretha Franklin's 1982 album Jump To It (and titular single) is so perfectly executed that I can only marvel that it hasn't stuck around in the popular mind as much as Diana Ross' Chic-produced albums.

Earlier this year I was taking the expensive and long time-ride to my ladyfriend's place in one of the more eastern boroughs of Montreal (just how east? Well, enough that the graffiti is equally divided between swastikas and dicks), and, being a bit tipsy, forced my driver to put on Aretha Franklin's Jump To It. We listened to the song twice in a row, pumping it, and doing our best car-dancing, and by the end, the guy was the proud owner of that CD. I felt I'd done my evangalical duty, both to Ms. Franklin and Mr. Vandross.

Chaz Jankel, a white British keyboardist and one-time member of Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick) might seem an unlikely source of some seriously awesome R&B, but this is the guy wrote Ai No Corrida, which would go on to be a defining (and chart-friendly) song for Quincy Jones. Mr. Jankel has quiet the talent - even though this well-produced and ear candy, there's a rhythmic leanness to the production and song-writing that avoids the excesses of string-laden disco or snooze-worthy house. Check it out above.

Throat Deep in Sake, Crooning...

I really like Sebastien Tellier, quite a bit, actually. but I have to say, had I never heard of the guy, and somebody played this song for me, I'd think it was a straight off the board recording of some salary-man throat-deep in sake crooning in a karaoke bar in Shibuya ward.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't Fear The Reaper

photo by Madrid-based photog, more info ici...

At the beginning of this decade, I was living in Victoria, BC and playing in a band called Ghosts that (at times) picked handily from various sources, mostly if my hand was involved. Things That Will Never Be, one song that popped into my head shortly after waking up, I initially attributed to a dream, but looking back, was more than likely the result of falling asleep with Hot Snakes' Automatic Midnight in my Discman...

During a semi-disastrous tour of Canada, we stopped at one of the numerous truck-stop gas-stations that, along with grain silos, amount to the Prairie's only contribution to Canadian architecture. Whereas in Ontario, the truck-stops mimic the stately pleasure domes of their southern counterparts in the United States, with showers, full-service diners & entertainment lounges, their Prairie counterparts prefer a shabby, one-level take on the rancher-style house. Such was the case with one in Saskatchewan where I, plopping down $10, bought Blue Oyster Cult's Greatest Hits. The long drive in the moonlight from then until Wawa was made all the better thanks to that, I think. And the hood-rat skate kids hanging out in Wawa's donut store parking lot who told us how rad the Warped Tour was gonna be.

It should be noted that Wawa is one of those very Canadian places - it's frustrating (the gas station closes at 11pm, so you have to stay at one of the over-priced motels), it's boring, and there's some sort of absurd giant thing, in this case a 28-foot statue of a Canadian Goose, that constitutes its only claim to distinction.

Okay, so I'm obviously bitter about Canada as a nation to drive across. I'd never make it as the Governor-General: I'd make sure that every official visit to some crappy rural town to dub their their cultural privation 'quintessentially Canadian' was thwarted. Young Canadians, if any of you are reading this, heed my warning: when some chipper young kid you went to school with, with more enthusiasm than wit, more studiousness than sarcasm, encourages you to drive across Canada before you hit up your first year of university, tell him to get lost. If you want adventure and excitement, the vast spaces and wasteland of Canada are not the place to find it. If, on the other hand, you are inspired by the Group of Seven painters: go with God.

Ghosts finally broke up this year, after an 8 year run, and, uh, one Canadian tour. It's a stupid, stupid country, my friends.

Bo Diddley. A Gunslinger.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

It's A Trap!

I was initially going to write about GoGoGo Airheart, one of those "the best band that no longer is" kind of posts and wax all nostalgic, but in short order, I got to thinking about the Pop Group and then, naturally, of course about Gang Gang Dance, a group who I always associated with the Pop Group and who I had lost track of, so I grabbed their most recent album Saint Dymphna (2008) and... And woah! I remember them being great on God's Money, but the track above is spectacular. And then I found out that guitarist Ben White of GoGoGo Airheart is now in Softboiled Eggies, and I started thinking about Y Records, so, yeah, Shriekback and 23 Skidoo popped up and Soul Jazz signees post-dance, rock kosmichists Subway. Eventually I realized I'd just put up all these songs and leave it up to some young Alejandro Jodorowsky out there to make a movie and license these songs for the soundtrack. A little too much caffeine during this season's first snow-storm and it's like first year art school.

Exzess und Bestrafung

There are some days when I want to listen to music that sounds like re-imaginings of the score to the film To Live & Die in LA or Michael Mann's Heat, a film which (somehow) is experiencing a real zeitgeist moment amongst friends, acquaintances and peers - in conversations, with musicians (CFCF, in particular), and weird books. Art Linson's What Just Happened? Bitter Tales From The Front Line, for example, I picked up a couple of days ago because I needed something trashy to read and I figured the presence of some David Mamet stories would make it interesting...

And then there are times when tasteful waves of pop washing over an ambient soundscape with a polished studio sheen is so incredibly off-putting that instead of evoking the emotional ennui of two of the American acting profession's greatest talents locked in a moral and mortal battle against each other and their own ennui, etc., I just think of the heavy-handed intros to Don Henley songs from the 80's or commercials for Scandinavian airlines. In other words, the emotional manipulation and trickery that this particular type of music depends on becomes so evident that I think, fuck it, Eno is just some asshole in a turtleneck and linen-pants, (like a new step-father who's also really, really into Eastern mysticism and jazz fusion) and I wish he'd been able to turn up that god-damn harp music and never burdened us with Discreet Music and 30+ years of the horrors it hath wrought.

This weekend, I happened upon Montreal's premier indie-craft fair, Puces Pop, which, already, I mean, right there, in that sentence, there's an intolerable level of genre cues, of a rough-around-the-edges but soft-in-the-centre aesthetic that in small levels is endearing, like a girlfriend in first year at art school, but as you become older evolves into this sexless aesthetic, this way of avoiding engagement with the world. In earlier times involved putting together a K Records-style band that performed in socks and sang about cats. Nowadays, it's selling crafts on Etsy and making clocks out of vintage cameras and fashioning necklaces and earrings with feathers. Anne Geddes for the college-educated! (On the extreme side of that, it's Ariel Pink side-projects and bad facial hair and dream-catchers and Arthur magazine and Fecal Face.) So, yeah, that was distressing.

In moments of distress such as this, I'm not one of those people that goes the other way completely, opting to put on Slayer to clear the air, so I take refuge in what any self-respecting white asshole does when he becomes disturbed at the inauthentic blah-blah in his paltry subculture or suffers some artistic crises, I listen to race music. (Don't like music? Check out The Wire.)

And because New Orleans has recently suffered and continues to suffer, that's gotta be where the soul is, right? So, above, after the obligatory charcoal-grey fluorescent-lit pop snooze-a-thon, you'll find some classic New Orleans songs to assuage during times of crisis and clear the air. If you're looking for something similarly sinister to supplement your recent viewing of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans I'd recommend the 1987 film Angel Heart, which gives you creepiness and soulfulness in equal measure, Charlotte Rampling, Robert DeNiro as a hard-boiled egg eating manifestation of Satan, Mickey Rourke, and Lisa Bonet of The Cosby Show topless.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Sade Song & Album Soldier of Love

From Hour columnist Brendan Murphy, check out the latest titular single from the upcoming Sade album Soldier of Love, her first since 2000's Lover's Rock. I was really hoping for a Cat Power duet with Ms. Sade Adu to pop up. Still holding out, I guess. This is, um, well, it's weird and sounds like Massive Attack produced it.

The release date is set for February 28, 2010, on RCA, with longtime band-mates like Stuart Matthewman (Cottonbelly) still along for the ride. Rumour has it that the video will be directed by photographer David Lachapelle in Los Angeles.

Mao Tse Tung famously said that it takes a single spark to ignite a prairie fire. The 21st century equivalent appears to be that it takes only a single Lil' Wayne reference to re-ignite a career.

New Sade song 2009, New Sade Album 2010

Friday, December 04, 2009

Parent Rock

The Musics You Sure Do Fall Down A Lot
Foxy Lucky Me
Chicago Saturday in the Park

I'm not normally into shiny-faced Love Boat disco, such as this Foxy song, but the piano sounds like Chicago's Saturday in the Park, and there are sex sounds, so, it's alright.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Six Years.

I got my first DMCA complaint yesterday in 6 years! Also, I went for a run yesterday. Fine, no problem there. But the mistake was, afterwards, going for a lengthy walk downtown and back to Outremont wearing a pair of brogues with one heel slightly more worn down than the other, and now my left leg hurts and I have a self-inflicted limp. Damn. Oh, and that's Natalie Wood again.