Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear, a great band, has yet to release a truly great album. Their debut, Yellow House, created a gorgeous aural landscape and had some fine songs, but it's ultimately too fey and sketch-y to hold up as a true classic. Veckatimest, from 2009, had two perfect tracks ("Two Weeks" and "While You Wait for the Others") and a handful of killer chunes ("Southern Point," "All We Ask," and "Ready Able") but the middle section of the record was packed with obvious filler.

This year’s offering, the forgettably titled Shields, despite featuring the best playing and production of any Grizzly Bear record yet, surely won’t crack the top five of Pitchfork’s year end Best Albums list; I bet it won’t even infiltrate the top ten, despite the taste-making website’s obvious cheerleading of the group. The songs on Shields tend to drag on a minute or two longer than they should (the average song length is 5:04) and the vocal melodies, for the most part, aren't memorable. Shields certainly impresses for its sophistication and meticulousness, with careful, complex arrangements and unusual rock chords and song structures, but-- and there's really no other way to say this--it just doesn`t have enough heart.

http://justinschneider.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/grizzly-bear.jpgI do love these guys, though. We live in an age where we don't even know the names of most of the songs on our iPods, so it's fun to have a band to dig deep into and really care about and this is certainly a band worth caring about. First of all, they are fantastic live. Shields feels a lot like an album written to perform in front of an audience; it's louder, busier, and more dramatic than any of the earlier records, and drummer Chris Bear, the group's not so secret weapon, gets plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his hard-hitting but jazzy prowess. Technical virtuosity is a far greater merit on stage than on record (especially in the still shred-shy world of indie rock) and these guys lack for nothing in that department; the stretched out song lengths are also more forgivable in concert. I've seen them many times, including this year at Massey Hall. With just their dynamics, superior playing, and "holy shit they actually sing that good" harmonies, they do Rock and Roll Communion as well as anyone.

The fan culture around the group seems like a throwback to an older way of appreciating bands; we know the names of every band member, we differentiate between the vocalists and songwriters and fall into either the Ed or the Dan camp, we read the interviews with careful interest and we try to figure out the internal politics based the facial expressions they give each other on stage.

Also, they're ridiculously cute and have amazing band photos.

Still, every time I give Shields another try, I find my mind drifting. It's got some very good moments (opener "Sleeping Ute" is a jazz-rock riffage masterpiece) and works well as background music, but I don't think I'm the only one who thinks we've yet to hear Grizzly Bear's Sgt. Pepper.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Over Easy, Feb. 18


















Poster by Carrly Gooding

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Musical Screenplay: "Secret Meeting" by The National



Instructions: Start the song. Read along.

[Twinkle Guitars/Half Disco 1]

(Low, despondent.)

I think
this place
is full of spies.
I think they’re onto me.
[Voice/Drums 1]
“Didn’t anybody? Didn’t anybody tell you?
Didn’t anybody tell you
how to gracefully disappear
in a room?”
[Twinkle Guitars 2]

I know you put in the hours to keep me
in sunglasses.
I know.
[Voice/Drums 2]

And so and now,
I’m sorry I missed you.
I had a secret meeting
in the basement of my
brain.
[Edge Guitars 1]
(Hint at tears.)

It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
And how,
I’m sorry I missed you.
I had a secret meeting
in the basement of my
brain.
[Twinkle Guitars 3]
(With more feeling.)

I think this place is full of spies.
I think I’m ruined.
[Voice/Drums 3]

“Didn’t anybody? Didn’t anybody tell you?
Didn’t anybody tell you
this river’s full of
lost sharks?”

[Twinkle Guitars 4]
I know you put in the hours to keep me
in sunglasses.
I know.
[Voice/Drums 4]

And so and now,
I’m sorry I missed you.
I had a secret meeting
in the basement of my
brain.
[Edge guitar 2]
[Enter Shouting Chant, Slow Crescendo]
(With more life.)

It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.

(Gaining confidence.)
And how,
I’m sorry I missed you.
I had a secret meeting
in the basement of my
brain.
[Shouting Chant Gets Slightly Wilder]
(With conviction.)

It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.

[Shouting Chant Adds Higher Pitches. Loose and Free.]

It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.
It went the dull and wicked ordinary ways.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Phil Kessel






















The most popular explanation for the general suckiness of the Maple Leafs since the 2004* NHL lockout goes something like this: “Leafs fans are so dedicated to the team—so faithful—that MLSE has no incentive to ice a winner.

“The only way we’re going to win,” the theory implies, “is when the fans stop showing up.” Leave it to Torontonians to turn loyalty, the greatest virtue of sports fandom, into a cause for self-flagellation.

It’s those loyal fans, though, who never hesitate to lash Leaf players and management when things go wrong. This season, the whip has often landed on the back of a 23-year-old Madison, Wisconsin-native by the name of Phil Kessel.

To acquire the speedy right-wing sniper from Boston, Leafs GM Brian Burke traded two first round draft picks, a much-maligned move amongst the talk radio and message board chattering classes, who always seem to favour a “slow rebuild,” until the team actually hits the ice, where boo birds chirp at every lacklustre period. (I realize this "Monolithic Fan" is a straw man , let me spear him anyway, OK?) Kessel despite his undeniable technical and physical skills, is streaky, a deficiency magnified greatly in a city where Leafs post-game analysis gets more media space than the Jays, Raptors and Argos combined.

A winning franchise needs a franchise player; basically, a guy who makes the all-star game every year. Kessel has to be that player for the Leafs. Dougie Gilmour** knows he has the the talent. He skates swiftly and rips it in into the top corner. He hasn't had linemates*** all season yet still netted 19 goals.



He displayed his class to me very early this season at the ACC: With the home team up 2-1 late in the third period, the Florida Panthers pinned an exhausted Leafs first line in their own zone; and, just as a tying goal seemed inevitable, Kessel stripped the puck from a Panthers forward, sprinted past his former Bruins teammate Dennis Wideman, and whipped the puck into the top corner with his trademark quick-release wrist shot. It was an all-star play from an all-star player. And in a hockey-obsessed town that hasn’t seen the playoffs in half a decade, Kessel can’t afford to be anything less.



*Some of you will think, “Haven’t the Leafs sucked much longer than this? Like, since 1967?” This isn’t true. The Leafs before the lockout were strong--they finished fourth overall. And I how could you ever, EVER say the Gilmour-era Leafs sucked? If it not for Wayne Gretzky’s NHL Mafia, we totally woulda won the Cup that year.

**I apologize for using the Lord's name in vain.

***Come on, Joey Crabb!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Roger Daltrey

I think Pete said it best:
"As soon as Keith joined the band, we became four people vying for the audience's attention, and I think in the end, Keith and I won over Roger and John. Well, actually, John never bothered to join the fight and Roger just lost, really."

Monday, December 20, 2010

On music

I play it
usually with drums
sometimes with other people
sometimes for money.
I sing and bang piano, too,
but no one’s offered to pay me
for that.

I listen to it
through headphones
through my computer speakers
and sometimes
when people in the room with me are playing it
through a P.A.
I prefer headphones, but the big ones make my ears hot and the buds
give me wax.

I read about it, daily
and my favourite critics right now
are Sasha Frere-Jones, Mark Richardson, and Carles
from Hipster Runoff.

I think about it
with my brain
probably too much.
Lately, though, I mostly think
about math.

I write about it.
Then I dance about architecture.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

On John Entwistle

John Entwistle, bassist for The Who, will be remembered by rock historians for four things: his superior playing skills, his skeleton suit, his cocaine-and-hooker induced death at 57, and his statue-like performance style, the final piece of The Who’s much-imitated, impossibly awesome on-stage aesthetic.

When we were kids, my sisters and I would often play Band. Our role-plays involved costumes (such as head bands and leather vests), make-up (for mascara beards and mustaches), and props (tennis racket guitars, chair drumsets, desk keyboards etc.) I have two sisters, leaving us one member short of the full Who line-up, so when we played The Who, an ironing board would stand in for Mr. Entwistle. After viewing a particularly blistering performance, my mother, in her review, described the board’s performance as “spot on.”

I first became aware of Entwistle’s still style while watching the epically awful film version of Tommy. He first appears, wearing a religious robe, as a musician in the entourage of Eric Clapton, who plays the part of the head preacher at a church where Marilyn Monroe is idolized as a god (as I said, the movie is epically awful). As he’s walking down the aisle behind Clapton to kick off mass, Entwistle, with impeccable posture, keeps in perfect step while ripping some absolutely deadly bass licks during a bluesy version of "The Hawker." I found this approach really, really funny. I still do.

What made the whole minimal motion schtick work, of course, was Entwistle's ridiculously, hilariously mad bass skillz. Where the rest of his body barely inched, Entwistle`s fingers raced up and down the strings like a pack of wild rhinos. And where Pete, Keith and Roger appeared more than willing to bleed for rock and roll, with their windmills, orgasm faces, and swinging microphones, Entwistle never broke a sweat, though he did occasionally crack a grin. He was the quintessence of effortless cool playing in the hottest live band of the 60s and 70s. May Marilyn bless his soul.



Isolated bass from "Won't Get Fooled Again" in 1978. The little breaths he takes before the big runs are hilarious.



Entwistle's piece de resistance, "The Real Me," from The Who's 2000 comeback show at The Royal Albert Hall. Don't love the bass tone, but wow could the dude wail on that instrument.

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