Sunday, 8 January 2017

All The Colours of The Rainbow Blood My Face: Beat The Champ (2015) and Beautiful Violence
"Some things you will remember 
some things stay sweet forever"
-"Animal Mask"
If you know anything about the Mountain Goats, you know how unconventional their perspective on life is. The painful humour, paired with precision-oriented sound. I discovered the Mountain Goats through a friend introducing me via mix CD (with the unforgettable track "No Children".) He, and his friends and their persistent love for the Mountain Goats have encouraged my following of them as well. 

Beat The Champ is something really special. A story album that makes glamorous the act of professional wrestling. An album that manages to capture the rollicking violence, as well as a sordid sadness that peers into the mind of the wrestlers the band discusses. 

"The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" is an instantly memorable tune, one that includes funny and inspirational lines such as: "I hated all of Chavo's enemies / I would pray nightly for their death", and "I need justice in my life / here it comes." This song manages to infuse a sort of childish energy into the act of wrestling (something I have never been a devout fan of.) And there is an inevitable beauty to a song like this because, much like David Bowie's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, the Mountain Goats assume their listeners are an avid fan-base already. It's a lot of fake it until you make it. Bowie pretended to be a star until he became one, while the Goats pretend to be wrestlers (and to assume that their audience will be engaged with such a narrative.) Thus, I personally feel as though I am a pseudo-wrestling fan for the purposes of this art. The art compels you to care about something you didn't know you wanted to care about. 

Beyond being funny, and musically catchy, Beat The Champ is so elegantly put together. From the eerie shriek of strings, to the bullet-fast drum rolls, the Goats show they are masters of atmosphere.   

These songs have grown to take up more and more of my time, as I think of lines like "everybody's got their limits / nobody's found mine" ("Choked Out"), and "I came to you / hands wrapped in adhesive tape" ("Animal Mask"). The lines stick in you like a "foreign object," as John Darnielle sings about repeatedly in "Foreign Object."

John Darnielle has said that some of the songs are "really more about death and difficult-to-navigate interior spaces than wrestling." ( Thus, Darnielle gives the listener a permission to interpret more beyond songs about wrestling - to immerse their own messy lives in this splendid shower (or perhaps blood bath is more accurate) of musical genius, in order to reconcile with their own particular feelings. 

The album manages to be so much simultaneously, while it appears a jazzy, emotional ballad such as in "Fire Editorial", it is also a riveting excitement-infused experience, such as in "Choked Out" (which makes a great pump-up song, if you like to imagine your responsibilities as enemies waiting to be taken down. 

"Werewolf Gimmick" is perhaps the happy/sombre medium between the jingly depression, and the jangly violence the album evokes, opening with the line "I was not there for rehearsal / I don't need it anymore." This song reflects a sort of over-saturated attitude toward the speaker's career. A laissez-faire approach to a sport that requires invigoration, and palpable sparking energy. Here, one can understand Darnielle's discussion of death, and non-wrestling subject matter, as he navigates his metaphor aptly, and seamlessly to reflect a dark, and enveloping gloom. 

The first half of the album is a relatively gleeful (albeit maniacal) look into professional wrestling - or life issues disguised as such, while the last half of the album is contemplative, delving into the menacing factors we as listeners were all too willing to adopt with Darnielle's persona before. This album turns the idea of grief on its head, as Darnielle sings of "colours of the rainbow" blooding his face - a sort of prism effect is available here, where grief is on one end, and the permutations of this exploration take form in wrestling comparisons, and swaying jazz ballads. This album is successful in creating an energetic confusion, that leaves the listener wanting to solve it as though it were a Rubik's cube. To decode the emotions is to psychoanalyze the entire human psyche - it's simply impossible. I encourage anyone to listen to Beat The Champ, and subsequently find themselves in an adventurous realm that dives deep into loss, such as in the line "I don't wanna die in here" ("Heel Turn 2"), and more meaty, and scary issues where Darnielle sings "If you can't beat 'em / Make 'em bleed like pigs" ("Foreign Object"). 

There's nothing quite like this album, just like there's no band quite like the Mountain Goats. And while the Goats are influenced by bands such as Mission of Burma, on this album, they are ultimately guided by a foreign weirdness that lies in wait for us to understand, and indulge in (as if they were some bizarre import liquor). I encourage you to drink the strange brew that is the Mountain Goats, and I hope you find their approach to life both strangely charming, and persistently memorable, and meaningful. 
- K. MacFarlane


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

I Always Cry At Endings: 2016 and Belle & Sebastian 

"I could kill you sure but I could only make you cry with these words" - "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" 

"Write about love
It could be in any tense 
But it must make sense"
- "Write About Love"

Belle & Sebastian have experienced a truly beautiful, and poetic career. Their music is like the lace on a party dress. The dress is beautiful but it is the lace we notice - the poetry that encases what we had previously assumed to be mundane. This Scottish band embellishes the form that our individual worlds take, and punctuate with songs about love, religion, apathy, and some of the most beautiful irreverence imaginable. 

During University semesters, I come to rely and submerge myself in the music of Belle & Sebastian. I come to imagine myself as a delicate bird floating between the harsh notes sent my way by my ill brain, or via school stress. 

In lieu of a record review, I would much rather have provided this emotional piece. To dissect these albums would be to strip a certain life and refuge from them (not to mention I have about twenty Belle & Sebastian albums to catch up on.) 

All I know is that it is important to write what you feel. Passion is important. It's the dress behind the lace. Getting out of practice with your passion (as I have done with both writing, and music) leads to a sort of disconnection between your mind, and what you really want to do. 

My point then, is to find your Belle & Sebastian (I highly recommend them). Find those voices that can travel with your dives, and your stunning revivals. Find words that echo your own - filling a chamber with divinity, and art.  

I remember a truly wonderful walk that involved only me, Belle & Sebastian, and some friendly neighborhood cats. This is a world I strive to create, and recreate. Proactively for my mental health, and retroactively if I simply forget in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

I truly believe that music is one of many forms that can capture humanity - creating snapshots of who we are at one time, in one era, influence by all the messy media of life. In reveling in the anecdotes of the clever, and musically-talented, we may learn about their struggles, and their triumphs. Their art becoming a mirror for their life (as Oscar Wilde would prompt). Belle & Sebastian have captured a somber genius with wit that radiates like the sun's rays on the cat-filled walks of our lives, and though I cannot articulate extensively the joy their albums bring to my heart, I can take a bit of time out of my day to write a short little piece on their meaning. 

We make meaning. Whether it's short or album-sized. We can wrap the world in our lace, being dresses in residence. We have lost so many beautiful artistic souls this past year, that we cannot let their legacy contain a vacuum. You can create new worlds. You can write about love, space, sex, movies, heart-ache, laments, illnesses, plagues. We can come together, and listen to those voices that urge us on - that bring us to tears with their vitality, and brilliance - and we can become the voices we always needed. 

- K. MacFarlane

Monday, 18 July 2016

I Need An Umbrella: Kristin Hersh & Bipolar Disorder
Kyra MacFarlane
She sways back and forth with hypnotizing eyes, singing of snakes and moving like one. Entranced by her own mysticism, influenced by her overwhelming brain sways. Kristin Hersh is a force I cannot ignore. Her lyrics are obscure poems that form her own dialect, shape her own sound in alternative/college rock. Her guitar winding melodies around my mind, around my heart. Perverse dives, and abrasive strums that make me aware she is more than alive. She plays the way mania feels. Drums that pitter-patter and make her songs careen like the controlled car crash she crafts. 

Rat Girl is Hersh's memoir, and a champion in describing many of my mental leanings. Recently, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar, and reading about bipolar (before I knew I had it)  in such descriptive, and beautiful terms was a way of introducing myself to the capabilities I posses because of my disorder. While dealing with my disorder is immensely trying, and Hersh's is no doubt more so, Hersh's writing style is inspiring to writers, those who have bipolar, and musicians (I happen to fall in all three categories.) I know the person she tries to impress the most is herself, and this is both a harrowing, and admirable position. I have found that in striving for self-betterment for myself, I have felt more joy than when I was trying to play mental chess (guessing what others will think, two turns in advance - this is part of my anxiety, which is an intrinsic issue I would argue) with any artistic endeavor, or any small task. In my opinion, Hersh's success is largely due to her owning her perceptions, and sharing them unabashedly. She is creating worlds, and if you don't want to live in them, that's your choice. 

Hersh's written language is wielded so carefully, so artfully, her musicianship described as such an abstract force, and a powerful one at that. Her poignant lines have been etched in my brain - she describes "losing her music" after being in a car crash, stopping her medication when she became pregnant, and watching herself perform (she was repulsed and unfamiliar with her movements.) In Hersh's discussion of feeling alienated due to her illness, she creates a path for those who have it and who read her words - she is someone to connect to. Though, she is far, she is close to my conscious being. I feel comforted knowing that her understanding of the world is poetic, and tragic, and memorable, and that I have the capability to use my understanding for similar outcomes. 
Her musical contributions are so vast. She has played in Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave, and even has her own solo project (she is touring the U.K. this year actually!) I look forward to hearing her for many years - once I move past dancing to my already beloved favorites. 

Instead of an album review, I will discuss a few topical songs from multiple albums. 

"Fish," Throwing Muses (Throwing Muses, 1986). 
Even at an early age, Hersh was able to separate sounds to create conversely memorable musical tracks, defined by punctuation between colliding drum beats, and guitar parts. "Fish" is a prime example of Hersh's handle on complicated noises, and her ability to create a harmony (by using harmonies, in fact.) The beginning of Rat Girl finds a young Hersh staring at a Jesus sculpture on the wall - she notices it looks like a fish. This peculiarity, and the many peculiarities she can identify with her keen eye and fascinated mind help to shape her lyrics. "Fish" is a haunting song, with vocals that trail, and tremble to a steady cavalry-reminiscent drum beat. The song features counting, an interesting template within a song, a way of measuring and keeping track of a feeling so all-encompassing, it attempts to break the boundaries of the song. This building feeling provided by the counting, creates an eerie suspense that is broken with Hersh's chant "Don't worry/ dance in the road/ and it explodes..." Hersh attempts to create a solace within an unforgiving landscape, a noise (Hersh has commented that "mania is a very noisy thing"), and the woman who seeks to define that noise rather than be defined by it.  

"Mania," Throwing Muses (Hunkpapa, 1989). 
"Mania" is an easily distinguishable tune from Throwing Muses' repertoire. It's jarring, relentless sound moves fast like one's mind during a manic phase.The song is almost reminiscent of Syd Barrett's lyrics on Opel - psychedelic, frightening, vigorous.  Hersh's lyrics are cryptic, symbolic and surprisingly catchy. It moves like a train coming right towards you. Starkly contrasted from the polished sounds on University, and the soothing melodic songs with her cousin Tanya Donnelly, "Mania" is an unforgiving song, a song that conveys utter peril: a distress Hersh is able to relate through music rather than suffer with in silence. Perhaps, the most sharp lyric is the repeated line "I need an umbrella..." which is finished with "if I'm going to go insane" and later "if I'm going to slit my wrists." The song sounds like a Southern anthem on cocaine. Drum beats like bullets, guitars like wires around the perimeter of the song - a claustrophobic exploration of a sickening, and intense pseudo-reality. The song is urgent like Hersh's pleading eyes.

"Counting Backwards," Throwing Muses (The Real Ramona, 1991). 
Throwing Muses' sound is radio friendly on this track, subdued, but the lyrical presence in between the polished sounds is still mysterious, hypnotic, and unorthodox. The Muses' presentation became very well known, but the chaos, and the inexperience that principled their music is often ignored behind the winding, and rewinding harmonies that have characterized their cacophonous sounds: sometimes ironed, other times jagged and stained with the dirtiness of life - with unapologetic tragic confessions. Hersh's fascination with counting is another motif that leaves the listener to count along, to trace her thoughts and planned movements, alongside guitars, and drums woven so carefully to create a roller coaster of dips and rises that portray an instability I feel all too familiar with. 

"Snakeface," Throwing Muses (University, 1995). 
Hersh's lyrics, and the music work in tandem to create a slow, seductive song laced with sin and sway. Hersh's fascination with snakes comes into play to create a mellow tune that is memorable, staggered with pain-stakingly placed drum beats, with an escalating bass part that creates ripples, much like Hersh's side-to-side stage sway. Hersh describes a figure embodying a snake, creating a song about sex, and seduction with a hesitation conveyed elegantly, and deliberately as if she were a snake charmer. 

"Bright Yellow Gun," Throwing Muses (University, 1995). 
"Bright Yellow Gun" is a Muses 101 track. That's no coincidence. The song has all the unique liquid lyric Hersh is composed of, in a beautiful package. The song is addictive, a throbbing puzzle that Hersh invites you to complete: 
  I have nothing to offer
  But a circus in my head
  In the middle of the bed
  In the middle of the night
With tight drum beats, and guitar that cuts in and out to bring a complicated focus: a guitar solo that features an unforgettable rhythm as Hersh's chant "Bright Yellow Gun" is repeated reliably, fading but never really leaving.  

Just as "Bright Yellow Gun" fades out, a racket still droning, waiting to be silenced by Hersh and a record producer, Hersh is still waiting to be silenced. She is a river flowing, a cascading noise that echoes in fields surrounding it. A dam can only push the ideas closer: make the ideas more present in her mind. Hersh may feel out of control because of her disorder, but she is in control of her powerful sound - she is a brave, and important figure whose legacy is underrated, but whose essence will always remain in the hearts and heads of those who need her most.  

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Shame-Based Man (1995)
Bruce McCulloch

Bruce McCulloch has marked himself in my mind as one of the most successful Canadian comedians of my childhood, and this album is no exception to this reputation. The album did, however, come to challenge my perception of his mental state. His cynical, candid depression is something I have grown increasingly familiar with as I have grown up. And despite his biting sarcasm, and his wicked energy - the listener realizes he is an utterly real human who is willing to strip himself bare to laugh at his pain. 

His songs simultaneously praise, and question his devotion the things he loves (see: "Doors", "Eraserhead"), and the people he has loved (see: "Grade 8", "Our Love.") His album is a composition of the invisible, and substance-related problems he fights. Interspersed with snippets of McCulloch impersonating both radio guests and the radio host. He mocks that which is closest to him, and that which has obviously wounded him in some way. 

With unsettling tracks like "Stalking," and "He Said She Said" he delves into some serious relationship red flags. A layer of a fostered machismo invading the album. Juxtaposed to these off-kilter songs is "40 Housewives" about a sort of Feminist revolution. McCulloch, while talking about substance usage ("Grade 8", "Acid Radio", "Eraserhead", etc.), also manages to talk about gender divisions, and their role in relationships. 

But, as I mentioned before, his most powerful statements are about depression, the outstanding example of this being "Not Happy", a surprisingly jovial tune about feeling less than happy, an etymology lesson ensues: 
If you look up "happiness" in Webster's Dictionary, you would find that it is defined as "lucky; fortunate; contented with one's lot; glad or pleased." If you were to look up "unhappy" in Webster's Dictionary, you would find that it is defined as "not happy; miserable; causing misfortune; unsuccessful; disasterous." I say if it's 4 AM and you're looking up either of these words, you're in a little bit of trouble either way, my friend.

McCulloch repeatedly in “Not Happy” that he`s “not happy but I`ve got TV.” This is an idea he re-iterates hilariously in “Eraserhead,” one of the albums most startling and brilliant tracks about celebrating one of the most obscure, horror films ever made in a truly petrifying, yet ultimately understandable way. I will spoil neither the movie, nor the song here. Just trust McCulloch in his hysterical rendering of his devotion to the film.  Ideas of inferiority and depression are discussed once more in “When You`re Fat”: a clownishly upbeat song about very specific short-comings that McCulloch satirically employs on other people, instead of himself.

McCulloch even touches on the death of Kurt Cobain in ``Vigil``, interrogating what a vigil actually means, and what factors lead to Cobain`s wide audience, and to the large ceremonies that ensued after his death.

He also includes the classic “Daves I Know,” (a nice little inclusion for all the die-hard Kids In The Hall fans who gave the album a listen, myself included). A song called “That`s America,” also featured on the Canadian sketch show shines some light on McCullloch`s feelings about Canada`s neighbour: a scathing, yet hilarious track.

With other notable tracks like “Daddy`s on the Drink Again,” McCulloch constructs a vision of his home life and family, much the same way he reflects on his personal life, and friends in “Al Miller.”

It is truly difficult to capture McCulloch`s humour in this brief overview. This album has helped me immensely to understanding myself, and McCulloch - a man defined by his attempts to articulate his abstract obscurity, via sharp wit. The album is a culmination of passive-aggression, grief, obsession (in a fandom sense, and in a troubling “romantic” sense) all through the use of simultaneously catchy, and humorous lyrics. I recommend it to Kids in the Hall fans and anyone needing a good, uncomfortable laugh.     

- K. MacFarlane

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Canadian Singles Feature - SINGLES MANIA!

D.O.A. Prisoner/Thirteen (1978)
D.O.A. is the much revered (and rightfully so) rotating puzzle of a band that has gone on to influence anyone from muscly American hardcore fanatics to scrawny Saskatchewan punk kids like me. This single cements the band's reliably sludgy, always smartly structured political punk anthems.

"The Prisoner" protrudes the subconscious with its sawing guitar, and out of breath vocals - continually permeated by gnarly backing vocals from the incomparable Mr. Joey "Shithead" Keithley (the only fixed feature in the D.O.A. dining set). The drum beats are in my mind 'lively,' the resuscitation breaths to the (anti)-artfully provided vocals. The song ends with the question: "is everybody around here really a bunch of wimps?" A question we can all ponder, as we measure our bravery against the fearless career and discography Keithley and co. have set forth into the world.
"Thirteen" is a track that shows evidence of John Lydon/Rotten's impact on Canadian punks during the '70s. It features a bouncy, repetitive guitar riff (one that would fit nicely under a 'hardcore' umbrella - a genre which D.O.A. helped to define). It is a song devoid of excess, strictly pacing along drums and stinging lyrics ("I'm one big zero"). It is a minimalist masterpiece with romantic lyrics that devolve into those of self-loathing. An emotional stain on the minds of disillusioned, and burgeoning punk youth.

Red Tide and D.O.A. Ken Jensen Memorial Single (1966-1995) 
This compilation is a look back at the life of Ken Jensen (a roadie turned punk drummer) involved in the Vancouver punk scene - mingling with the likes of D.O.A., The Hanson Brothers, and Loosenut (a Black Flag cover band). The album's booklet mentions Jensen's tragic death in a house fire, and that without his loss, this record would not have been made. It is a beautiful retrospective that looks at Jensen's best moments, and allows us to hear some of his most memorable songs. Jensen is best described by Craig Sean Bougie in the write-up as a man who "...just sat back and drank beer, smoked, and fell in love on a nightly basis, just like the rest of us."

"R.E.D." is a haunting song, featuring rewinding riffs. It features non-descript riffs that evolve into soulful solos where Ken's stomach screams become pronounced and ever-lasting. The violently loud, and pronounced drum beats help to emphasize the punk vibes beneath the seemingly "power rock" guitar make-up.
"Masks" is a magnetic song that leaves hypnotic vocals to linger in our cochleas. The vocals, and lyrics contrast the swinging symmetric music that pulsates behind. Drum rolls help to emphasize the idea of starting/restarting that the sound plays around with. The song belongs in a hardcore anthology, as an honorable mention as a venture away from formulaic convention. The song has an energetic pulse that drops you as quickly as it picks you up. Leaving you to think in silence about the controlled chaos that has just seeped into your jealous ears.
"Knots" is a sinister song about feeling like a beast. Ken sings lead vocals, allowing his inner demons to show as he sings about feeling like a monster who needs restraining ("tie me down"). The screams in the background perfectly punctuate the frantic beats, and power chords utilized skillfully. The song has memorable verses that wind carefully to the climactic conclusion: a cymbal settle-down, as the guitar quiets - ultimately resolving in the resolution "Masks" promised but never provided.
"Overtime" is the quintessentially Canadian hockey tune - although it features some ska vibes. It has a jaunty optimism stirred both musically and with Ken's lead vocals. The song is very reminiscent of the Hanson Brother's tunes about hockey. The song is thematic, joyous, and wreckless: a great ending to the this telling of Jensen's story.

NoMeansNo Oh Canaduh 
NoMeansNo is a vitally important part of Canadian (and world) punk history. Providing the punk scene with some "old" underdogs who could really play. This single is a nod to their contemporaries, and influences, creating a historical artifact for young(er) ears to hear and understand.

"Oh Canaduh" opens with a rendition of the Canadian national anthem on guitar - piquing the interest of questioning ears. It features a satisfying guitar riff, that leaps like a snake coiling and recoiling. It features tinny, relentless drums and united backing vocals that make ignorance of the song's content impossible. The song was originally written and performed by the Subhumans (another Vancouver band) who were known for their activist-turned-violent songs and actions. The guitar solos are measured and not excessive - utilizing a minimalist punk vibe that NoMeansNo went on to echo in their career. The song interrogates strictly positive notions of Canada, revealing a dark underbelly: "can't find a job/can't pay your rent.../Oh Canada, what's wrong with you?" Although, the Subhumans would later do some... not commendable things in regard to activism (be sure to look that up, it's pretty frightening), this song is a snapshot of their more effective, more innocuous activist agenda.
"New Age" is a perfect punk anthem. Which can only be expected, since it is a D.O.A. cover. This is a combination everyone obsessed with the Vancouver punk scene (me!) would dream of. The song features claustrophobic drums, and damn good Keithley impression. The guitar spirals around the piercing noises that emanate wrecklessly like punk shrapnel. The lyrics are as poignant as one can come to expect from the punk philosophers: "it's a new age/... one that I can't use!"

Porksword Boxcar/Hutterite Rock
"Boxcar" is easily of the best songs that came to influence my musical persuasion and obsession. It is a bouncy memorable tune about reputation that helped to establish the reputation of this Saskatoon band. A careless explosion of resounding, and refreshed riffs, guided by a simple but staple drum track. The song was recorded New Year's Day, 1998 at Audio Art, Saskatoon. I thought the song was revolutionary before I found out it was from Saskatoon - after I found out they were local, my head almost exploded with excitement! Here is a band, playing some of the most important music, that would go on to sculpt the now-flourishing punk scene we enjoy. This song is one I find myself singing almost daily: "everybody said she was a boxcar bitch but me." It's a story about a mysterious, yet infamous girl with a lingering reputation and, it's one I simply cannot get out of my head (in the best possible way).
"Hutterite Rock" is a heavier song on the single. It was recorded December 27, 1997 at Amigo's in Saskatoon. The drum beats are reminiscent of a heart arrhythmia: a paradoxical spontaneity in beat-keeping. This song is the essential Satanic anthem for those perhaps most closely viewed by God. My question is, as the song asks repeatedly: "how many Hutterites do you want?" And my the amount of times I've replayed this song, I'd say I want a significant amount of Hutterites: "hutterite/hutterite/hutterite/hutterite."  
Summary: these singles are only fragments of a heavily unified music scene that we Canadians can be proud to share. These bands have guided my musical development, my ethical (well, maybe not the Subhumans)/punk ethos, and have emanated from my bedroom time and time again. Keeping these legacies alive isn't hard if we listen to, and adopt the revolution our punk forefathers started rolling for us. PUNK ISN'T DEAD. VIVA VANCOUVER! VIVA SASKATOON!
- K. MacFarlane

Monday, 9 November 2015

Mac DeMarco at O'Brians Event Centre, Saskatoon. November 4, 2015. 
Mac DeMarco is often compared to the Beatles. This comparison is apt, although negates mention of his religiously unpretentious persona (for one, he hasn't compared himself to a messiah... yet) - somehow a poor fit for a "big time" venue like O'Brians. Apparently, last year DeMarco filled up Amigo's, so there's pretty good evidence DeMarco's nonchalantly brilliant aesthetic is one this city craves. 

Admittedly, I was not a big DeMarco listener before the show (I tried to cram his entire discography into my cranium in about two days - a feat that is quite possible if I wasn't so lazy, though I managed to get through a decent amount.) Personally, I believe this to be a good approach: to be surprised at the artist's unknown, and perhaps unmentioned talents from uneducated ears. To have their live renditions of pre-conceived songs be the versions that etch themselves irrevocably on your brain. 

DeMarco's live presence was unkempt, yet still cohesive: chaotically poetic. I enjoyed each bleach-y tune, singing along even though I may have only correctly interpreted a few words. In my mind, this is DeMarco's success: breathing a casual indie lifeblood into a cavernous centre with cameras and security. His bandmates had perfect timing, and a difficult-to-explain vigor behind each controlled, or chaotic drum beat or guitar strum. They played well as a unit: a memorable wash of smartly-sculpted, though messy "Edmonton sound" (as if that is a thing.) 

Overall, I am hooked on DeMarco's memorable surfy jams, his gap-toothed smile, and his sloppily-sung, though carefully crafted, lyrics - crafting an intricate lace-like beauty to a twangy guitar motifs. Most notably, DeMarco should be recognized as accessible (although maybe not financially, tickets were $35, drinks $6 each), through his clever utilization of music staples, his unique image - banishing beauty from the realm of musical success, and his sheer talent - artfully playing jaunty tunes with soothing lyrics, or mingling chaotic beats with  soulful, romantic impressions. 

P.S. It has been awhile since I've heard of an Indie artist starting up fashion trend as well (aside from Bethany Cosentino's fashion line.) I heard several utterances of "nice denim jacket" throughout the night. 

Although DeMarco was fantastic, he is perhaps shadowed by his opening act, the Courtneys. The band is a happy, seldom sappy, surf-rock "girl band" that sing about love at a frantic pace. Their drummer, Courtney (all of their names are Courtney - an obvious Ramones nod, much like the Donnas) is also the lead singer. 

The band got everyone on the right track with their engaging, energetic beats: definitely a band to watch out for (Bonus: the drummer looks a bit like Patti Smith, and a member of Sloan, as my friend pointed out, so maybe it's genetic?) Be sure to check them out: I can't seem to find the words for their chirpy 60s sound that initiated my joy (along with alcoholic encouragement).

As well, we were witness to the blurry performance by Alex Calder (DeMarco's keyboardist). His music, though atmospheric, was basically a less intelligible version of DeMarco's music: with some obviously catchy riffs. Likely a little look-up before seeing him would have cleared me up on his aesthetic and musical prowess, but I was pleasantly surprised regardless. If you like DeMarco, he is also worth a listen.    
- K. MacFarlane

Sunday, 8 November 2015

                 Crass   Penis Envy (1981)     REVIEW
Crass’ Penis Envy defies the stereotypical lethargic depression that can infect the odd punk album. Optimism evades the staunchly confronted subject matter in a provocative way (like a car crash you simply cannot turn away.) It reaches its inky tendrils out to anyone willing to drown in thickly cryptic verses which make the topics of murder and misogyny into divine and quintessential punk poetry.
Libertine (lead vocalist) is not alone is her eerie escapades – her lyrical genius is bolstered by backing vocalist Joy DeVivre (whose memorable ultra-feminine voice creates the perfect backdrop for a brutal discussion of innumerable perspectives on just a few broad topics – keenly narrowed down to make Libertine appear to be a slapdash journalist, scrawling down a notebook’s worth of criticisms brilliantly worded and possessing the serrated unspeakable phrases of the often shunned rough draft.)
 The guitar rhythms conversely collide with Libertine’s demeanor and vocal anguish to create a perverse image of the boldness of their music and the horrors of the content they simultaneously cover. Penny Rimbaud’s off-kilter approach to drumming with stunning rolls that punctuate and pierce through the thoroughly ironed – and somehow still raw – lyrics is mesmerizing as we hear an apology spill from his mouth near the end of one of the tightly-controlled and chaotic tracks that drifts into unplanned territory nearing the end (how punk is that?)
One could consider the guitar (lead guitarist, Phil Free, rhythm guitarist B.A. Nana) to be the life blood of the album that strictly paces it along in a cavalcade of much-needed noise to force us to confront the conflicting yet all-too-powerful imagery the band manages to describe. If the guitar is the acidic, normalized and necessary tool to help set Libertine’s anti-melodies alight then the bass guitar is the paralyzing feature.
As I listened to the album I couldn’t help but feel a measurable amount of control and restraint spit forth by player Pete Wright – it’s completely dooming presence matches Libertine’s desperate pleas for some sort of sanity in a self-destructive society while the guitar is at war not with the ideals discussed but with the way in which the content is presented.
 “Bata Motel,” the disarmingly catchy opening song offers us an insight into the media’s role in the oppression of women via metaphoric discussion of high heels (the terrain she covers in the span of a speedy punk anthem leaves the listener reeling.)
She describes similar alienation in “Berkertex Bribe” which deals more primarily with the topic of purity. It is at the precise moment of Libertine’s introduction in “Bata” that the listener becomes eternally grateful for the lyric book in front of them, as her shot-gun speed voice describes the entire devastating life story of a theoretical woman trapped in the bondage of societal constraints that in third-wave feminist jargon could easily be believed to sum up ‘the perpetuation of ‘rape culture’ and the confines that women are finding incredibly difficult to escape from. The song utilizes a sort of sarcastic melodrama that is itself its own opposite, in a stunningly intellectual burst of energy and nihilism-approaching noise.
The album fearlessly discusses fear: of total destruction from unyielding warfare, of the ‘shit condition’ both women and men (in a cleverly feminist and unflinchingly analytical way) have to face in our society – these include partially self-inflicted sickeningly cyclical constraints as described at length in “Systematic Death” and the searing albeit controversial discussion of the potential banishment of monogamous love as normality and the depths this will raise the status of women from (in fact Libertine sees a direct parallel with female oppression to marriage as she croons unyieldingly in “Smother Love:” “love don’t make the world go round, it holds us right in place/ keeps us thinking love’s too pure to see another’s face.”)
 Libertine and her band-mates are evidently studious scholars as they take down a number of either highly respected or highly known figures (mostly for infamous reasons) in “Where Next Columbus?” The song is a memorable liquid nitrogen feeling flash because it discusses the different meanings of one body of work, or one person’s mark on the masses (“another’s left, another’s right/another’s peace, another’s fight…”) while tackling the effect of these figures approaching omnipresence, she describes the morbidly ironic subsequent effect which turns the observers (and I do mean observers, the idling fandoms are merely a philosophical detriment in morale and principle that eventually lead to more) into conformists (‘who’s your leader? Which is your flock/ who do you watch?”)
 By the end of Side A, the listeners are aware that there are two main focuses to the band’s madness: sexism and war. “Poison in a Pretty Pill” an ironically pacifist song (I say this because the noise and friction stimulated by this band are enough to constitute a war – albeit one combatting harmful ideals, but a violent attack nonetheless) delivers one of the most lasting and poignant lines Libertine dead-pan musters: “at least the blood red poppy was of nature’s will.”
 “Poison” is the counterpart to the irresistible “What the Fuck?” which forces the listener to face graphic imagery of war’s victims “Dry, the bodies/incandescent in the heat” and in a sadistic/compassionate (goddamn, a psychologist would have a field day with the content of the album, the source of which Libertine’s talented mind which balances the drive for peace and truth with an intensely insightful view of the human condition) way she reveals the motives and complexes that may be held in the world’s greatest crime perpetuators.
Libertine wields the sword of sharp music while unearthing the double-edged katana on each deeply perturbing track she modestly presents (production-wise the album certainly didn’t break the bank, but this is much appreciated and rooted in the much discussed punk ethos.)
Perhaps the outliers of the album are strategically shuffled to the end: “Health Surface,” a song that discusses the sterility in feeling and staphylococcus in reality of medical institutions and the part and parcel care-givers is one that exposes a dark view from Libertine about their effect on a human body (a hopeless down-spiral if I’ve ever heard of one.) 
“Dry Weather” tapers the album off effectively by asking any lingering questions – fueled by much desired rage one would seek in a punk record – Libertine best summarizes her attitude and view of the world with the ending line that leaves a lot to be digested “I don’t want these games.”
 Crass then fulfills every promise they have made to the listener for more uneasiness (prompted by discontentment with their surroundings – thank god it’s not the meaningless ‘fuck the status quo’ shtick again) by letting our record player’s needle trace more mockery of monogamy as DeVivre commands our attention: “never look at anyone/ anyone but me… I’d never be untrue my love/ don’t be untrue to me…”
The album is a stunning look into a band’s multi-faceted approach to ‘current events’ and more accurately the human condition and the capabilities possessed by the mad and powerful. It is quite possibly the most underrated punk album I’ve ever come across and deserves an incredible amount of recognition in order to match the work and time that helped the belaboured album (recorded to sound as though no effort was put in at all – apathy rules! – but we know better) flower into the “beautiful bonsai/erotically rotting” that it is.     
-K. MacFarlane