Friday, September 28, 2007

Good Reads: Rock-critically correct

I spend most of my days thinking, talking, reading, and writing about magazines, so I'm always pleased to find good stories or features related to the medium. Today, I came across rock-critically correct, a regular feature on the Idolator blog, where an anonymous music journalist critiques the latest issues of the big American music mags. The reviews are lively and meaty, and the writer seems to recognize that magazines are both an art form and a business.

Friday, September 21, 2007

On manners, part three

Grizzly Bear, a four-piece art-rock group from Brooklyn, New York, are one of the most interesting and best live acts performing today. I’ve seen them twice: once in Seattle, once—last night—in Toronto.

One of the most appealing aspects of Grizzly Bear’s music, especially in a live setting, is dynamics—in the space of one song, they’ll shift from a single voice accompanied by guitar to lush, four-way harmonies to a throbbing, bass-heavy groove with enormous drum fills. Then they’ll bring it back down to a single voice.

Last night, certain people in The Mod Club decided it was acceptable to talk through the band's otherwise flawless performance. As you would expect, this, to a certain extent, spoiled the quiet parts. Why people feel it's OK to talk at a rock concert is something that has always puzzled me. The only answer I can come up with is that because audience members at a rock club are standing and drinking, they feel like they're at some kind of party and the need to socialize overwhelms them. Either that, or they don't give a shit about music and are just there to be seen.

People who talk at movies are policed by fellow moviegoers, who will inevitably tell them to shut their useless traps. At plays and symphonies, the policing is even tighter—you talk and you'll be dealing with THE USHER. At a rock concert, there's no policing. You could argue this has something to do with the anarchic spirit of rock and roll, but then you'd be making excuses for people who obviously care very little about rock and roll. It’s supposed to be about the music, man.

There was a poignant moment last night, when Ed Droste spoke candidly, but coyly, about the talking. One day we're going to play a seated venue in Toronto, he said, somewhere where there's no long bar, and no booze buzz. Then, not wanting to harsh anyone's buzz, he added: "But I like booze."

So here’s my advice to those who feel the need to yak when they go to see live music: shut your yap. I don’t want you to go elsewhere—I want you to listen. You might find yourself swept up in something special.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe this guy.

Grizzly Bear - Little Brother (Daytrotter Session)

On manners, part two

That there is serious decline in manners in modern society should be plain to anyone who has traveled on the Toronto subway during rush hour. The simple courtesy of waiting until others have exited the train before entering is apparently far too onerous for some people. Maybe they are trying to get a seat. Maybe their feet are aching. Maybe they are just jerks. Whatever the motivation, the act is rude and disruptive.

Not nearly as rude or disruptive, however, as those passengers who play their music over loudspeakers. In general, this is an act reserved for teenaged males, who for some reason feel the need to share their inevitably dreadful hip-hop with the rest of us. The lack of respect for other people’s space shown in these situations is astounding.

There’s also the far more prevalent problem of passengers playing music so loudly through their headphones that they may as well be using loudspeakers. This act has no age or gender barriers. Whether they are unaware that they are polluting the train with noise or just don’t give a damn, I don’t know. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Ignorance and insolence cause the same damages.

What troubles me equally is the passivity of others—including myself. Here we see Canadian politeness (read: meekness) at its worst—no one wants to say anything, either because we’re afraid of being perceived as rude, or (more often) because we don’t want the hassle.

The decline in manners will continue unless we do something about it. The only solution is through social enforcement. This kind of rude behaviour needs to be admonished and corrected by those of us who know better, and by those of us who care about the quality of our public spaces and social interactions.

On manners, part one

When someone says "thank you," the proper response is "you're welcome." "Yup" is not acceptable.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Bob Dylan

Through my classic rock high school years and through most of my indie rock university years, I generally ignored Bob Dylan. I purchased Highway 61 Revisted, Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks, but never paid them much attention. Bob Dylan generally doesn’t write pop songs—he generally writes blues, folk and country songs. For a long time, I found blues, folk and country songs boring. Dylan almost never bothers with bridges and this annoyed me to no end. I also didn’t like that Dylan was lyrics-based songwriter. I didn’t consider myself a “lyrics guy.”

In my final year of university, I spent about four months listening to Dylan’s entire discography up to Slow Train Coming, his first Christian record, which I like. I also read a Dylan biography and watched Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home. I did this out of respect for other people’s taste—if so many people, people who generally share similar musical taste with me, love and respect this guy, who was I to reject him before giving a fair listen. This decision marked a major shift in musical consciousness for me—I became more interested in liking things than hating them. And I really liked Dylan.

It’s true that the meaning for most Dylan tunes lies in the words—the backing tracks are mere accompaniment. Because of this, Dylan demands close attention—leave him on in the background and all you get is monotonous, whiny noise. But the attention is worthwhile. The man turns a phrase like no one else in the business. That said, if Dylan were just a poet, I wouldn’t have bothered. I still don’t consider myself a “lyrics guy.”

The key to Dylan, for me, lies in his delivery—when he’s trying, there’s no better singer in the world: the subtle inflections, the ability to shape and fit rhymes into tricky meters, the sheer number of words he crams into the simple melodies, those aching, creaking high notes on songs like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Of course, one thing anyone listening closely to Dylan will discover is that there are a number of occasions when he just doesn’t try. That’s the case for pretty much all of Another Side of Bob Dylan, by far the weakest Dylan record of the golden, pre-motorcycle accident era (1962-1966). Then there’s the ridiculously put on “soul” voice he uses on the mediocre New Morning and Planet Waves. Sometimes it feels like he's making crap on purpose.

Still, the fact that there are weak records in Dylan’s expansive catalogue is part what’s so appealing about him. Dylan, like very few others, is a pop musician whose career should be examined from all angles—musical, biographical, historical, personal. He made a point of presenting his work as art and so it should be treated as such. With artists, you take the good with the bad, and give equal attention to both. Watching how Dylan changed, grew, and struggled as an artist is what makes the listening experience fascinating from the audience perspective. It took me a long time to figure this out. But when I did, I was greatly rewarded.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The New Yorker, The Style Issue
Modern Drummer, The Prog Rock Issue
The Rebel Sell (Second reading)

Arrested Development, Season Three
Battlestar Gallactica, Season 2.5 (Second viewing)

Grizzly Bear at the Mod Club
The Hives at The Phoenix
Black Moutain at The Horseshoe Tavern
The Besnard Lakes at The Horseshoe Tavern
The National at The Phoenix
Spoon at The Kool Haus

Listening to:
The National discography
Caribou Andorra
The New Pornographers Challengers
Elvis Presley The 1969 Memphis Anthology (Second obsession)
Ryan Adams Heartbreaker
Songs from Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 songs of all-time I've never heard before
Homemade "History of Psychedelic Music" mixes