Saturday, April 02, 2005


And on the Twelfth day . . . T.O.50

Wondering what all this is about? Before you begin, you might want to read days one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven. The List so Far: Round 1: Hockey: Jane Siberry (Mike) Helpless: Neil Young (Keith) I Go Blind: 54-40 (Peter) Nothing at All: Maestro Fresh Wes (Aaron) Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Diodes (Carol) A Case of You: Joni Mitchell (Carl) Round 2: Have Not Been The Same: Slow (Mike) Hallelujah (Live): Leonard Cohen (Keith) Wheat Kings: The Tragically Hip (Pete) Vetoed By Carol Subdivisions: Rush (Carol) Vetoed By Keith Rags and Bones: Nomeansno (Carl) Round 3: One Great City!: The Weakerthans (Mike) Westray: Weeping Tile (Keith) Vetoed By Pete Deeper Than Beauty: Sloan (Pete) Having an Average Weekend: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (Aaron) I've Been Everywhere: Hank Snow (Carol) Illegal Bodies: Simply Saucer (Carl) Round 4: Help Me Rhonda: The Langley Schools Music Project (Mike) Vetoed By Pete Secret Heart: Ron Sexsmith (Aaron) (FC's note: Actually Aaron's Round 2 Catch Up Pick!) Daylight: The Nils (Keith) Barrett's Privateers: Stan Rogers (Pete) Vetoed By Mike War in Peace: Skip Spence(Aaron) Vetoed By Carol Static: Terrible Canyons of Static; Chart #3; World Police and Friendly: Godspeed You Black Emperor! (Carol) Carl's Pick TK Round 5: Blues For Big Scotia: Oscar Peterson (Mike) Sudbury Saturday Night: Stompin' Tom Conners (Keith) Little Girl: Death From Above 1979 (Pete) Love the OTHER 50? HATE the OTHER 50? Do you think Art Bergman is the second coming of Lou Reed? Be sure to leave a comment. In today's group halucination: Aaron Wherry reports in from the Junos in Winnipeg and sees Randy Bachman. The other committee members argue about DFA 1979 (and talk about Randy Bachman) And also: Steve Page, luposlipaphobic youth? And the first ever The OTHER 50 Tracks Mashup. Aaron: Greetings from Winnipeg. Haven't found Neil Young yet. But did see Fred Penner nodding his head, if ever so slightly, to Bowie's Let's Dance, which the DJ was spinning shortly after Randy Bachman walked off stage at tonight's Manitoba Social. Then I went to some bar where this human jukebox with a guitar (and later, saxamaphone) was mixing Sundown, Last Nite, Bohemian Rhapsody and that song that PeeWee Herman used to dance to. You know, the one where everyone yells Tequila. It's not called Tequila though, is it? Anyway. Catching up on the rabble. It floors me that in one breath Skip Spence is tossed off as boring and in the next GYBE are hailed as friggin' artistes of sound. I don't even dislike GYBE. But if I had a choice between listening to GYBE on repeat for an hour and Spence on repeat for an hour, the choice seems obvious. I don't think I'd be stretching the truth too far to say more people "appreciate" GYBE than truly, really, actually love listening to them. (Full disclosure: Though it has no bearing on this matter - GYBE once refused to speak with yours truly because of whom I work for. It was hardly an argument. But on the off chance they, or someone I've told about the exchange, should come across this, I wouldn't want them thinking I hold a grudge.) Keith: It's my understanding that that track is called Tequila. This wasn't the one-man jukebox was it? Do you have a pick? Aaron: I'll spare you the usual preamble and say first that my pick is the live cut of Brian Wilson by Barenaked Ladies. (Listen to Brian Wilson) Booo!! Hisssss! You suck Wherry!!!... yadda yadda yadda... We are, it must be admitted, a nation of geeks. Think about our musical heroes and our national icons - few, if any, were cool in high school. We are not a country rich with warriors and noblemen. We are the meek, quiet, self-deprecating cousins to those descendents of Paul Bunyan down south. Our national animal is a friggin' beaver - surely the nerdiest of all the forest creatures. The consensus coolest Canadian ever, Pierre Trudeau? Huge geek. The giant of Canadianism we're all here in Winnipeg to see, Neil Young? A lifelong member of the AV club if ever there was one. (FC's Note: Turns out Neil Young won't even make it to Winnipeg . . . ) And yet, how quick we have been to cast off the Barenaked Ladies - the late 90s masters of geek pop (your Fountains of Wayne wish they were BNL). All the more so with each platinum record they won in the United States. The live version of Brian Wilson is one of the tracks that first one them favour in the U.S. - finding listeners in markets like Boston and Detroit (I seem to remember 89X in Windsor/Detroit playing it in heavy rotation). It is, of course, their ode to the Beach Boys' zombie legend. It is ridiculous. And sad. But fun. So entirely like Wilson. It's also really geeky. And that's why we so hate the Barenaked Ladies. Because they are a mirror to the Canadian soul - the pencil-necked nerdlinger that lurks within us all. We are horrified to see it writ so large. Embarrassed to see it celebrated by our cooler neighbours. And yet we cannot deny it. Or do so at our own folly. Spare me your gripes. Me thinks you doth protest way too much. (Something else I once said about BNL: "It is the perception that the farts and bad puns have been lost in the quest for American pop stardom that so bothers the long-term fans. And it is that the farts and bad puns remain even while American pop stardom is achieved that so bothers the critics.") Carl: And that's why we so hate the Barenaked Ladies. Because they are a mirror to the Canadian soul - the pencil-necked nerdlinger that lurks within us all. No, we hate the Barenaked Ladies because there are a lot of great, incisive, challenging, witty, *musical* Canadian musicians whose songs don't sound like comedy-troupe outtakes and phone-company jingles, and this is what gets embraced. Yes, in various ways, every human being is simpering, vacillating and unimaginative, Canadians certainly not excepted. But it's not necessary to celebrate it. Aaron's defence is probably the best the BNL will ever get and Brian Wilson is one of their more passable songs. But I can't veto this fast enough. Was that clear? VETO. Keith: Wow! The hammer came down on THAT pretty hard and fast. Carol: Thank you, Carl. BaNaL. are NOWHERE near as great as Fountains of Wayne. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Mike: The reason I shunned BNL (I can't speak for the rest of the country but if I did, I'd outlaw raised door handles on the push side of doors. None of the doors in my office building have a "push" or "pull" sign on them and they all have sleek raised tubular handles. It makes me go batshit crazy that I guess wrong like 90% of the time and yank on a door that I should be pushing on. The push side should have a flat panel handle and the pull-side should have a raised handle. That way we'd never be reefing on a door like that "gifted" child in the infamous Far Side cartoon). Anyways...the main reason I shunned BNL was the production on their cds. To quote a pal of mine, it's so glossy I'm surprised the music can stick to the disc. The fact that you chose the live version over the cd is a case in point. Keith: Funny you'd mention the Far Side, Mike. Doesn't Steve Page kinda look like one of their cartoon kids with glasses? Separated at birth? Carl: It felt good to lose my veto virginity there - and it also helped clarify for me what the veto's all about. In previous rounds, I've wavered: Was Skip Spence not Canadian enough? (In the end I really regret that he got vetoed.) Are Godspeed too insipid to accept on the list, even though I can see the pivotal effect they've had on the scene in the past decade? (By the way, whoever suggested that people respect rather than like them - try telling that to the huge lines of university sophomores and Quebec CEGEP students who line up around the block whenever and wherever they play.) In those cases, I went over and over my qualms to consider if I wanted to drop a V-bomb. But this time there was no hesitation - as soon as I saw Aaron's pick my stomach flipped over. About Godspeed, I can disagree but acquiesce. I can live with it. But I couldn't live with the BNL on the list. Aaron's argument was so good - anticipating exactly my reaction - that it gave me pause, but only for a split-second. "Ech! Sophistry!" I swore, and cocked my hammer back. These decisions should be easier now -- except it turns out I'm still grinding my teeth about DFA 1979. Unlike every other rock critic in the world, I don't think so much of them and suspect nobody will in a few years. I'd regret it if they ended up being the only 2K band on the chart. But do I feel strongly enough to block them? Damn, turns out my clarity is short-lived. Peter: One Great City! Is a 2k track. Carl, I understand your trepidition about DFA. I was hesitant to bring it forth, but I realized that I had past the true moment of truth with the song - that being the point about three months after you get a disc, after about 200 listens, when the novelty of freshness of it wears off and it gradually finds its way to back of the pile. Or it stays atop the pile, which for me is always the sure sign of long-term appeal. I wish I hadn't used that "more cool Canadians" quote in my earlier post, as I realize the Canada-is-cool moment will pass as the foreign music press finds another country to be the celebrant du jour: my lobby for DFA is not based on transitory glory or any media opinion, it's based on my sense that the song really does have something that the great majority of songs don't have. I hear the spirit of rock 'n' roll in that song, an irresistable energy, a burn to make the music for its own sake. Which, of course, is as it should be. Am I convincing you? Carl: I really just don't see what makes this song anything but a stripped down version of 60s rock with a little dash of 70s punk thrown in. It's lots of fun, it belongs on the radio, it's a good performance, but its noise elements (as I always find with DFA79) are nowhere near intense enough to compete with all the stuff the sonic young'uns of the world today are up to - compare it to a duo like Lightning Bolt, for instance. And its songwriting is, well, not as good as Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I think the world can always use more post-Stooges bands, but they don't go on my shortlists of must-hear music without something more. And DFA79's sincere impulses about inhabiting your gender or whatever it is don't qualify as something more. What do the rest of you think? Pete: Well, I'd argue exactly the other side of that coin: there are a lot of young noise-niks out there doing tired stuff that is critically hailed as fresh - And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Deathly Boring Music, for example. To me, DFA79 is a sound stripped to its bare elements, and nowhere moreso than on Little Girl. Lyrically, well, I couldn't recite more than a title or phrase from DFA's words - because for me the words are incidental. It's all about the sound, the momentum. Like you, I'm curious to see what the others think. And I'm trying to figure out if you just praised or poked BTO. Mike: A few thoughts on Pete's Pick... Does anyone else think it sounds remarkably like Le Tigre's Deceptacon? Does anyone else prefer Deceptacon? Does anyone else remember the Inbreds? Another drum and bass combo from Canada. Does anyone else feel really old, WASPy and goofy when they type "drum and bass" or is that just me? Carol: 1) I don't know the Le Tigre song. I like it that way. 2) I don't. 3) I vaguely recall them. 4) I feel really old, WASPy and goofy going to the fucking grocery store these days! Drums and bass are instruments not a genre; that doesn't make me old, just reasonably unhip. I like it that way. Peter: I've listened to that Le Tigre disc many times (Hot Topic was on my top 10 disc that year), and it's never occurred to me there's any resemblance between it and DFA. Nobody over 25 should ever speak the phrase "drum and bass." I won't even use the words in the same sentence, instead preferring to find a clever euphemism when necessary, such as, "I really like the way they play the bass and the bangy thing." Mike: It's a combination of the fuzz guitar and the beat - when I first cued up the DFA1979 track, I immediately started to hum Deceptacon. You can sing Deceptacon along to Little Girl (might make a good mash-up). It's like whenever I hear Jet I think of Iggy. Actually, I think of Iggy suing the bastards, and then I think of Lust for Life. Pete: Someone should sue Jet, or at least beat them soundly. I'd use a board with a nail in it. Carol: I have no opinion on DFA79. I haven't rushed out and bought the record. They're too shiny. Too "critics darling". I'll wait. Right now, they sound novel. Given time, maybe they'll have staying power. Pete: Okay, Keith and Michael, I've listened to Decapaton twice, and Little Girl twice. I sent the data to the lab for testing and it came back with a conclusive result: you guys are frickin nuts. Little Girl sounds no more like Deceptacon than any song with a specific guitar pitch/set-up sounds like any other song with the same guitar pitch/set-up. Is that what you guys are saying, that the set-up is similar? I can't imagine you're saying the songs are otherwise similar in any tenable way. Carl: I think Peter's right. Deceptacon has a whole different range than Little Girl (which might sound diff. if it were sung by a woman, but that would be a different record) - fuzz guitar plus beatbox is such a huge set of stuff (does Deceptacon also sound like every Deja Voodoo song?) that it seems odd to lump them in. Too big a brush. On the other hand, everybody else is right that Deceptacon is different partly because it's much more exciting and nerve-zapping than Little Girl. Mike: Ok, try this (Listen to Little Deceptacon) My apologies for the rudimentary mash-up skills - just thought it might be fun for you guys to sing along to DFA...Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp who put the ram in the ram a lama ding dong? Or maybe it is just me... Keith: Forbes-lance Hellraiser! Ten seconds is just a TEASE! I'd love to hear what else you can do with that. . . Carl, if no one is going to pull the trigger on vetoing DFA, why don't you make your pick. Carl: At long last, my nomination: "What About Me?" by The Nihilist Spasm Band. (Listen to What About Me?) In some ways, nominating the NSB continues the thread of putting Canada's unrecognized avant-garde on the list, as begun with Simply Saucer. But the NSB is not a case of a band that is just of historical interest, having no influence on anyone else. They may be members of the Brotherhood of the Unknown, but in other ways they're one of Canada's most renowned projects in new-music circles - witness the fact that people such as Sonic Youth and REM have come to London, Ontario, specifically to play with them. The Nihilist Spasm Band is also one of Canada's longest-running musical projects ever - begun in 1965, they are still active today, 40 years later, and never stopped along the way. They have performed, as their slogan proclaims, "Every Monday Night," in London and sometimes elsewhere (New York's Knitting Factory, or in Japan), with rare exceptions, throughout their existence - audience or no audience. To quote a piece I wrote a couple of years ago (for which pardon me, but it's been a long week): "Almost without their knowing it, it has made them living legends, the unholy godfathers of a worldwide underground of 'noise' musicians -- audio artists, rock and jazz players and assorted sonic storm kings -- that stretches from Tokyo to Toronto to that other London, the one with the Queen. The NSB was founded in 1965 by Greg Curnoe, the well-known visual artist, as a kazoo chorus to provide the soundtrack to an experimental film. In a burst of the harrowing kind of enthusiasm that characterizes them to this day, the little band of nonconformists decided to make noise-making an ongoing avocation. And so the regular Monday-night sessions began..." While working around day jobs, their annual nihilist picnics, their visual art and other activities, the NSB also managed to make records that began to circulate among the underground - punk artists in the seventies and eighties, and especially the Japanese scene, where artists like Merzbow, Hijokiden and other key noise musicians acknowledge a huge debt to discs like the NSB's 1968 "No Record," an album that went beyond where free jazz had yet gone into a level of improvisation that would be heard from no one else for decades yet to come. For several years in the nineties and the noughts, the No Music festival in London and New York was organized around the NSB, attracting players from Sonic Youth, the aforementioned Tokyo artists, Reynols from Argentina, and the likes of Jim O'Rourke, Borbetomagus, Black Dice and Wolf Eyes to come share a stage with the NSB. (These festivals were recorded to several big box sets.) As I wrote in the piece, "The NSB sound was inspired in part by the New Orleans 'spasm bands' that made street-corner music on jerrybuilt instruments amid the ferment of early jazz, and by the dadaists and futurists of modernist art (besides Curnoe, drummer-'guitarist' Murray Favro and Boyle himself were all painters). They looked back to 1913, when Stravinsky's Rite of Spring enraged his audience, when Futurist Luigi Russolo published his Art of Noise manifesto in Italy, and Marcel Duchamp composed his first piece of music using games of chance. But more important was the group's collective rejection of Canadian inferiority complexes, a determination to make something original, individual and local, not copycatting any trends abroad. None of the members have any musical training, and they build their own instruments to specifications that render them physically incapable of playing something, like a scale or a chord, that would be dictated from outside." [...] "Curnoe died in a bicycle accident in 1992, and so he, as the band puts it, 'plays less often' now. [Hugh McIntyre, the gentle giant who played hurricanes on his homemade bass, died late last year.] The other members have resisted the pressure of parenthood, day jobs and bouts of ill health to keep their tradition going, Monday after Monday. 'There's an old joke,' says 'violinist' Art Pratten, a former newspaper press technician, 'that you have to do more than die to get out of the Spasm Band.' " The NSB are also part of a vital tradition in Canadian experimental music of crossover between the visual arts and sound. I could also have nominated a recording from the CCMC, the 1970s-to-today Toronto improvising ensemble that includes people like Michael Snow (the famous artist and filmmaker), or one of the Vancouver early punk bands that included members such as Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham. The most difficult challenge was to choose a track - they're at once all unique and all of a piece, and it's especially hard since I don't have most of the ones I'd like to name on CD, and can't find them online, including this one. The most influential and highly prized NSB album is probably No Record, with tracks such as "Destroy the Nations" (amazing track) and "When in London Sleep at the York Hotel," but the recording quality is iffy, and it's only a start. As the band notes, "What About Me, the Nihilist Spasm Band's fifth release, is the album that will help the band get out of its natal London, Ontario. Released by the Japan noise label Alchemy Records, it introduced the band to the young audiences of Merzbow and Solmania. Thanks to adequate recording facilities and exemplary shape, What About Me is also the NSB's most accomplished album." The title track of that record shows off the high-volume, no-visible-logic flurrying fury of this collective, as well as one of its most important qualities, its humour. Vocalist Bill Exley, a high-school teacher with a sardonic baritone that always sounds a bit like it's about to tell you you've got a detention, fires off a series of non-sequiters such as, "They say the CN Tower is the world's tallest freestanding structure - but what about me!? ... So, you think the economy is bad? Well, what about me? ... The sun never sets on the British Empire -- it sets on me!" and ends with the pointedly uncanadian proclamation, "I want to teach the world to sing/My song!/My song!/My song!" Meanwhile the band klaxons and caterwauls around him, splitting the air with a selfless self-assertion that it arguably would take decades for any other Canadian band to be able to find. "I'm A Real Nice Fellow" is an NSB song in a rather similar style. Similarly caustic and musically intense, but not quite as razor-sharp as What About Me. Keith: Carl, I have no words . . . Carl: Uh-oh, is that a good or a bad thing? Keith: Well, it's not good. (FC's Note: At Time Of Writing, The Committee had heard only I'm a Real Nice Fellow and not What About Me) Maybe I get lost when post rock and noise rock turn into purely improvised experimental music, (full disclosure: I only recently started seeing why people liked Sonic Youth) and maybe I'm going to steal the Philistine's crown from Mike, but I find it difficult to see the artistic merit in I'm A Real Nice Fellow. When Mike opted not to veto Case of You, the point he made was that he recognized Joni's influence and stayed his hand even though the tune filled him with, as he so eloquently put it, "the urgent need to press skip. And I mean urgent, like teeth floating in the back of my mouth indescribable bladder pain urgent. Like grabbing a hot pan and immediately feeling the blisters form urgent..." I think I have a similar thing holding me back here, but only barely. I hesitate to veto a track I haven't heard (maybe it's filled with significantly more merit than what I see in the example you provided) particularly because you make a good case about its influence. Carl: Hey Keith (and others) - I realize the Nihilist Spasm Band isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea, but noise music in general - and I don't mean just noise rock, but the real stuff without beats and hooks of any kind, a sort of sound that's been explored by musicians and artists for several decades now - is an acquired taste and one a lot of people have no desire for. But there are a lot of people who do - look at the Alien8 label in Montreal, for instance, one of the continent's most important outlets for this kind of experimentation, and full of stuff just as unpleasant as the NSB, or more so, along with psychedelic rock and the like. That's why I spent so much space putting the band in context - trying to demonstrate their significance to a genre or movement. It's one thing to reject a song as a bad example of a genre, but I think it would be a mistake to reject it because of its genre. I would never have rejected the Barenaked Ladies just because it was guitar-based pop - I rejected it because I thought it was poor guitar-based pop. It might seem funny to you to think that there can be better and worse noise bands, but trust me, there sure are, and the NSB are one of the very best. The defence rests. Or at least naps. Mike: I'm really not sure what to say about this. The closest I can come is comparing it to a school trip I took in grade 5 to see a modern, interpretational dance troupe. My teacher was clearly a fan and greater minds were trying to expose all of us 11 year olds to something they found beautiful and profound. Despite the evidence on-stage, there must have been some sort of choreography to the whole thing, but to me they were a bunch of people in tights randomly jumping about like marionettes being manipulated by someone with tourette's syndrome. I recall trying really hard not to giggle and then just being bored. As for the nearly 14 minute number that was shared with us...well, um, the opening monologue is what you might get if you took my dad to a recording studio, got him really full of scotch, wound him up and let him loose. Add a bunch of kids who were just learning to play string instruments and a really stoned and unrythmic drumming circle and we've just recorded 2 minutes 30 seconds of TNSB. Of course, there'd be a bit more talk about gas barbeques, oldsmobiles and lawn maintenance in my dad's version, but it would be pretty close. The Live Version of BNL's Brian Wilson is available on the Rock Spectacle album. You can learn more about the Nihilist Spasm Band here. EPISODE 13 is just one click away!
I've never heard of The Nihilist Spasm Band until yesterday, reading Carl's post, and then wouldn't you know the CBC played 'em about last night 10 pm-ish (I think it was on the Arts Tonight - something about a 60s exhibition with the NAC or NAG). That's 2 references in the same day! EER-ry.

Another coincidence - Mike O'Neill (from the mentioned Inbreds), had one of his tracks played on CBC's DNTO, this past wknd, too - gosh these Canadian music circles are small. Sook-Yin Lee and crew played "Camera Shy". The title of his solo venture begged the question "What happens Next?": I'm guessing "probably not much"..since that effort is dated back to 2000.

The Barenaked Ladies, though I generally dislike them, used to do something pretty cool in their live show. I don't know if it was part of the schtick or done only once, but I saw some concert footage where they made a nice nod to Rush at the closing at one of their encore songs. Specifically, they kicked into one of the trademark drum/bass riffs for "Tom Sawyer" (instantly recognized, judging by the roar of the crowd), then closed it up with a slam/lights out..'air-drummable' indeed.

The production comment for BNLs rings true with peers of mine who were disappointed with the debut CD since it was so much 'smoother' than the 6-track(?) cassettes that were circulating prior to the CD-release.
I sit in dissent., in London, Ontario and think with wonder on how many fans of the NSB there are all over the place--in every corner of the world...why are they not down in our little bar to watch the spectacle. Oh, they'll be here regardless--and we the staff, and their die-hard fans will follow them down the stairs, but that noone else seems to know is definitely disappointing, so I'm taking tonight to slip this information in every nook i can find.
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