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

     David Bowie   The Man Who Sold The World (1970)  REVIEW 
     David Bowie is a man that has quite carefully made himself a difficult man to describe. On this album he makes no attempt to stray away from the poetic powers he possesses as he crafts a variety of narrators and angles of a world that he himself creates. The album, while utilizing the anonymity of the outlandish simultaneously conveys a world view defined by paranoia and fear of the unknown. It is almost unspeakably brilliant (but I’m going to speak about it anyway.)
I would describe to you the unit that is this band, comprised of: Mick Ronson (guitar, and vocals), Mick Woodmansey (drums, and percussion), Tony Visconti (electric bass, piano, and guitar), Ralph Mace (moog synthesiser) and David Bowie (vocals, guitar, and stylophone) if the power of my measly words could somehow provide any depth of what they were capable of together. Instead I ask that you find a keen description (albeit the polar opposite of concise) of their musicianship in each of the track’s descriptions.
The album opens with “The Width of a Circle:” a sombre and jazzy twang song that jolts awake the listener who is yet unsuspecting of the power of this album: the rebirth that occurs on each song without fail. The song offers raw vocals with heart-felt plummeting vowels that combat the “simple black bird” the narrator mentions, immune to the complexities of its surroundings “happy as can be.” Bowie’s lyrics initiate a taunting vibe that resurfaces throughout the record: he recites inside jokes that refuse to remain merely passive poetry. Bowie succeeds in establishing a surreal sorrow that is only the ominous beginning to an album chock full of desperately communicative tragedy and crooked humour. One could consider the drums punctuation to the undulation of the narrator’s mania – stirred about by the guitar and instrumental composition. The narrator claims that “God took his logic for a ride” but the listener knows for a fact that Bowie is already exercising his immeasurable instrumental genius. The lyrics are delightfully wicked, tainting with a devilish finger the inanimate in an atmosphere purgatorial and pierced with a cryptic pain.
“All The Madmen” is a quintessential track in the history of David Bowie. It bravely complements the dry works on mental illness such as schizophrenia. The song strives to slow down the chaos of the illness Bowie’s brother had suffered with. Each line managing to be a resounding poetry that attempts to cure his aching soul rather than to broadly confront a topic often presented through facts rather than the emotions of the afflicted. The music belongs in a tragic circus: as metal crashes against metal, it becomes a mess of musical crudeness that bolsters the lyrical complexity that lingers fearlessly. The speaker is strangely aware of his circumstances in a stinging contentedness (“all the madmen are all as sane as me.”) The song is impossibility: a construction of nonsense assembled to help the listener learn of a situation which muddles the definition of saneness. It is empathetic with harsh backing music that conveys the horror and foreboding of a suspenseful and suffocating world faced by those who are trapped in the confines of mental illness.
“Black Country Rock” is a significant lift in the record. The guitar and steady jangly drums play along with Bowie’s lyrics discussing a “crazy view.” It is memorable for its energetic musical spurts and rather static visual imagery. The song is a lesson in vagueness, in the “less is more” philosophy that Bowie uses to trigger intrigue into his lyrics and a willing purchase from listeners into his reliably catchy tunes with the bluesy twang he wields so well.
“After All” introduces itself with a romantic but resistant Latin-guitar rhythm. It teases the listener with spare descriptions of figures who blur into a misshapen mass: locked together by their basic humanity and separated by a difference in ability or age. With a use of brass instruments as a respectfully sad tone it provides a view of being disowned that lulls the listener into a submissive acceptance of a negative force. The predominant voice belongs (very cleverly) to the backing vocalists who personify the oppressed (I viewed it as a rally song for the people who suffer from forces such as a dictator in a fictional world filled with pain.) At first listen, one might think the song is about a vision quest: “we’re painting our faces and dressing our thoughts from the skies” brings to mind flighty, almost forgettable flits of joy. But the song makes itself so much more. The narrator describes the little influence he has in the grand scheme of the world, and his non-belonging: “we’re nobody’s children at all.” Bowie butts heads with the narrator by creating lyrics that stick to your ribs (that hold a lot of weight): mainly the surprisingly sad “oh by jingo.” The song is an unresolved resolution, a foreboding. It turns a tragic sphere sideways as it tapers off before an unsuspicious calmness can be enveloped by the zealous gloom of the song’s entirety. It keeps you on your toes, as it discusses a march to apocalypse.
“Running Gun Blues” is an immediately spooky track that clasps thundering tambourine (mimicking a frantic pulse) as Bowie sings in a child’s voice about death. The narrator “promotes oblivion” as he unabashedly tackles the topic of brutal warfare. He describes an addiction to a shameless, power-inducing feeling that comes with taking the lives of others, of taking your future into one’s own hands. Bowie’s feelings on war are irrelevant as the songs delves deep into the fire and passion that belongs with the narrator and the sense of belonging missing in “After All” and a sense of sadness that pervades the record.
“Saviour Machine” places a conspiratorial lens on a grand scale operation and plan devised by a cruel and manipulative government. It drops ideas of plagues and bombs on the unsuspecting masses that live in the song (and in the face of oblivion) and on the other side of the stereo which blares Bowie’s glorious words of a world submerged in a catastrophic inter-dimensional depression. The song is a fantasy that stretches reality while punching it into a mould of tangibility to set off urgency in the listener. It is dooming: the guitar rails on relentlessly with unyielding drums to shape the prophecy of paranoia. Bowie has now revealed himself as startlingly able to create an entire world (which at first mention is innocuously bizarre, and later revealed to be on the precipice of destruction) in the span of a concise four minutes. Not only are the crimes he croons about alarming, the talent behind his tales is unflinchingly present.
“She Shook Me Cold” brings to mind visions of the merciless yet undeniably womanly Lady Macbeth. The music is bass-fueled as it glides under Bowie’s words effortlessly, bringing to life a stark vision of a woman constructed entirely of impossibility: of awareness, and realistic perception (that Bowie, the effortless artist, ironically exaggerates.)It is a smart, multi-dimensional character profile that refuses the listener any subtlety or ignorance of the mysterious woman’s abilities.
“The Man Who Sold The World” is a musically hypnotic relief to the album. It is interesting to hear it amongst the caliber of the album’s other tracks rather than out on its own in a world of briefly described singles. The listener recognizes that it belongs in the atmosphere Bowie has provided on the album. It is lyrically calm and contemplative compared to the other heart-stopping tracks on the album but is nonetheless unsettling. The song provides what some of the others refuse: the feeling of unflinching and imminent doom is slowly released with the intricacies and beauty the song radiates. The song reveals Bowie as human because it proves that he can ask questions in addition to stirring up a plethora of unanswerable ones in the other tracks. It discusses a mysterious man, a mysterious fate but answers a question in humanity and dysfunctional reality (the only kind that can be found in the warping and perception-shifting album.) The song is enigmatic and far from dull but it is (for me, at least) a reminder of the world that the listener has lost touch with in the seven songs before this one. The album in its equally avant-garde surroundings becomes a jagged puzzle piece rammed so as to complete not coherent puzzles, but a non-linear psyche. This psyche has been artistically perturbed to an excessively brilliant degree by a songwriter and a band with intense insight and musical prowess. 
   “The Supermen” opens with echoes that bounce off cave walls with backing vocals that follow suit. It describes the horrid fates of a mysterious group of men. It beautifully concludes the fleeting fantasy Bowie has described so completely and yet so sparingly. One which intertwines humanity with the alien: insensitive celebrations, the death of gods and the innocent, the march of the apocalypse, the evil and the madness of men. It puts a face on the suffering Bowie has predicted, has prescribed and described so uniquely in each track before it. It personifies a pain that was at first voiced cold, with roots in psychological analysis character work, the narrators of which had mercy that was simply invisible. The song mentions the “Supermen’s” “solemn, perverse serenity” and I am unable to come up with a better description for the album itself.
I’m sure if you were to ask David Bowie himself, the remarkable complexities that he has exorcised within the confines of this album would continue to surprise him – there are a number of subconscious surprises in addition to a variety of staining messages at the forefront. The album is laced generously with the enigma of witchcraft (a worldly fascination) and the hallucinogenic qualities that inhabit the freakiest of fantasies, but as this album shows, emanate from somewhere much more real – from the depths of confused souls, from a hurt heart, from a studious scholar’s brain. I know this album has sparked many a fan’s fandom, and many a songwriter’s creeping envy. For good reason.

  -K. MacFarlane