Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On a Beatles ban

Yesterday, in the guise of making excuses for a lack of recent updates, Jordan Timm at Taste Police, made the case for a five-year, global moratorium on music by The Beatles.

Can we have any perspective on this music when we're saturated with it? How can I really appreciate "A Day In The Life" or "Saw Her Standing There" when my brain switches off upon hearing them, because I've been beaten over the head with them so often? I know the words, I know every note by heart, and so I don't listen anymore. My brain absently sketches in the song for me. Greatest rock'n'roll band ever? I don't know! I don't even know how to hear them anymore. Blame a combination of the Boomer cultural hegemony and a society that abhors an aural vacuum.

Jordan follows with an anecdote about a recent viewing of the re-released Help!, where, after nodding off ten minutes into film, he awoke to the opening bars of “Ticket to Ride” and found himself enthralled by the melancholy Lennon classic.

I don't have the technical vocabulary to describe what's happening musically at the start of this song, with that chiming six-note guitar figure and the drumming and the harmonies, but I loved it. For once, it all sounded fresh and beguiling–when I was disoriented, on my way out of a nap. Which sucks. To appreciate this song properly for the first time in about 15 years, I had to sneak up on it.

Jordan’s observation reminded me of the essay on The Beatles’ “Rain” in Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs. In a culture oversaturated by The Beatles, Hornby writes that through this psychedelic B-side, he is able to hear The Beatles in a new and fresh way, giving him a fleeting sense of what it was like to hear them for the first time.

If you can hear Dylan and the Beatles being unmistakably themselves at their peak — but unmistakably themselves in a way we haven’t heard a thousand, a million times before — then suddenly you get a small but thrilling flash of their spirit.

I don’t have the book with me (I found that quote online), but I remember Hornby’s ending, where he expresses certainty that his excitement about “Rain” would soon pass. This struck me as being one of the truest things I'd ever read about the band, and pop music in general.

Whether a half-decade ban of The Beatles music would actually allow me to hear the Fab Four in a new way, I’m not sure. The Beatles were a huge part of my childhood, a big part of teenage years and a medium part of my early twenties. One of my sisters has a wall unit of collected Beatles memorabilia, from magazines to lunch boxes to buttons to terrible live bootlegs. The other sister painted the Yellow Submarine cartoon versions of John, Paul, George and Ringo on her wall. I’ve seen The Beatles Anthology a least a half dozen times and have read countless biographies on the band and its individual members. I’ve played Beatles covers. I’ve listened to the albums sober, drunk, and high, on headphones and on speakers, on the radio and on vinyl and on CD.

I’ve had similar experiences to the ones described by Jordan and Hornby, moments when, suddenly and strangely, a Lennon/McCartney composition fills my brain and my body with the kind of excitement that’s more likely to come from the discovery of a new artist I’ve been longing to listen to all my life than from a dead band I've heard a thousand times before. There’s nothing that’s going for me at the moment, but my ears are always open. And who knows? Maybe this time it will be a Ringo song.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On No Country For Old Men

My thoughts on the film, as told by Anthony Lane of The New Yorker.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On Euro 2008 qualifiers

I've said it before and I'll say it again: England sucks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On J Spaceman

After attending the Spirtualized Acoustic Mainlines show at the Phoenix on Saturday night, I tried to write an essay on Jason Pierce, my musical hero. It wasn’t any good, so all you get is the thesis.

“Acoustic Mainlines has established Jason Pierce as the most important and accomplished psychedelic rocker of his generation—even perhaps, of any generation.”

Bonus! Embedded YouTube clip:

As I wrote in the comments section of this video, "Jason always wanted to be Pop Staples. He's finally living the dream."

Monday, November 12, 2007

A response to 'On social order'

Amber of "Notions from the Bathtub" has written a thoughtful response to my essay, 'On social order.' In her piece, Amber explores areas where democracy has failed in Canada, citing a number of examples, including autocratic behaviour by the Alberta government and union-busting at the Rogers Centre.

I have posted a response to Amber in the comments section of her post.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On fall music

Radiohead–In Rainbows

Phil Selway is amazing. I don’t know of any drummer who combines electronic beats with his own bashing as perfectly and intelligently as Radiohead’s bald guy in the back. “15 Step” is only the most obvious example of his proficiency, but a good one, considering it’s also the best song on this excellent album. Some these songs have been gestating for years but this loosest sounding Radiohead album in over a decade.I haven’t read a review that’s commented on the fact that at least two of these songs (“Weird Fish/Arpeggi” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”) sound a hell of a lot like Broken Social Scene. So I guess I’ll be the first.

Radiohead-15 Step

The Staple Singers–Uncloudy Day

I’m not religious, but listening to this album, released in 1959, almost makes me want to believe. The lo-fi-before-lo-fi-was-cool recording snaps, crackles and pops like a Baptized bowl of Rice Krispies. The songs—Christian, Southern, sad—are mostly just four voices accompanied by a single electric guitar with the reverb cranked to otherworldly proportions. Pop and Mavis trade leads in making pleads to the Lord, while the call-and-response harmonies will make you cry. If someone asked me to define musical “conviction,” I’d play this.

The Staple Singers-This May Be The Last Time

The National–Boxer

According to the iTunes tracker on Carley’s computer, I’ve listened to this album in its entirety 15 times since I downloaded it. “Fake Empire” has been played 37 times. These numbers doesn’t include iPod listens, of which there have been many. Considering how rarely I play entire albums in these mix-and-shuffle days, that’s damn impressive.

The National-Apartment Story

Panda Bear–Person Pitch

Writing about music is tough. It’s even tougher for pop music critics than their jazz or classical peers, since it’s assumed the readership won’t understand technical terms. Because of this, many hack pop writers rely on references to similar-sounding artists to describe what albums and/or songs sound like. Person Pitch by Panda Bear sounds like The Beach Boys and Phil Spector, but better.

Panda Bear-Comfy in Nautica

Monday, November 05, 2007

Farewell to Stylus

Stylus, one of the best online music magazines around, ceased publication last week. Founder, publisher and editor Todd Burns has collected some of the publication's best work here.

Last summer, I sent an application to Todd in the hopes of being allowed to contribute to Stylus. He rejected me. Twice. I don't hold it against him, though. And to prove it, I'll link to this, which to the best of my knowledge, is the first "best of 2007" list published this year. (Not including Sasha-Frere Jones' ongoing list, which I won't link to—I'm still mad at him for ragging on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.)