Archive for the ‘Zsuzsi Gartner’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BAILEN-NonCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen here.

Bailen is a trio made up of siblings Julia, Daniel and David Bailen.  The have an interesting mix of rock and country with folk leanings all serving as a backdrop for their stunning harmony vocals. 

They opened with “Rose Leaves,” which features lead vocals fro Julia and lovely harmonies from David.  Those harmonies continued on “Something Tells Me” in which both of them sang the whole song in perfect synchronicity.

“Going on a Feeling” is a much faster song with, again, dual vocals for the verses and then some cool Fleetwood Mac-esque vocals for the chorus.  There’s some really gorgeous wordless-harmonizing during the middle of the song and the a fairly rocking guitar solo from Julia.  That’s Julia on guitar for all of the songs as well as Daniel on bass and his twin David on drums.  So they’re sort of like the mixed-doubles version of Joseph.  Daniel says they couldn’t find any friends to be in their band, so it’s just family members.

After a jokey “thank you for choosing NonComm over ComicCon,” they play “I Was Wrong.”  The song has been getting a lot of justified airplay on WXPN and I really like it.  I really like the riff and the way it counterpoints with the smooth chorus.  It’s also catchy as anything (and their voices are stunning–even live).

It’s fun to hear a young band play a festival like this and talk about meeting some of the other bands.  I think it’s David who says, “we’re technically opening for Morrissey… with some stairs involved.”

“Your Love is All I Know”  sounds even more Fleetwood Mac the way the guitar and drums open the song.  There’s some country leaning in the sound,  but then another ripping buzzing rock guitar sound rocks the ending.

Their set ended with “Not Gonna Take Me.”  One of the guys sings the main lead vocal.  But when Julia adds harmonies after a few verses, it’;s magical once again.

I can see Bailen getting huge and yet, I can also see them being too hard to market.  Which is a shame because their music is superb.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “The Second Coming of the Plants”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I have enjoyed Gartner’s stories in the past. I liked the premise of this story but felt that, even at its short length, it was too long.  I get that the over the top language is done for effect, but plants can be boring too.

The premise of the story is that plants have taken enough from people and animals and are ready to dominate the earth.

There are three parts to the story, with the first being “Twilight of the Insects.”  This section is very long compared to the other two.  In this one, we hear about the plants kingdom’s rage.  Rage at letting “the insects carry on our fornication for us.”  Especially since “some of us virtually all vulva and vagina, penis and gland.”  They are the true hermaphrodites. The Mighty Hermaphrodites! (more…)

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walrusmarchSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Linwood Movie Theatre, Port Dover, ON (December 4, 1999)

portThis is the final concert on of the 20th century on Rheostatics Live (and I’ll be taking a short break from the Rheos concerts after this one).  Even though the site doesn’t list the venue, in the previous show they say they are playing at the Linwood Movie Theater in Port Dover.  As with every other venue, I can’t find any information about this, so I’ll just accept it as true.

The last few shows were recorded from the soundboard, so this one is a little jarring to hear the audience so loudly.  But the sound is good and clean.

They say during the show that they are going to play songs from all 10 of their albums. And they do a pretty good job.  They miss playing something from Greatest Hits (which is kind of a surprise as everyone was shouting for “Wendell Clarke.”  Unsurprisingly they do not play anything off of Group of 7, and, in what I think of as a huge surprise—nothing off of Introducing Happiness—they almost always play something from that album anyway.

The set is comprised mostly of Harmeldia and Melville songs and it’s quite a good one.
“I Fab Thee” even invites audience participation.

This show also has one of the great dialogues between fans and band.  Someone asks if they have CDs available for sale.  Dave says, yes in the lobby.  She asks if they have them anywhere else and he replies “Is the lobby not convenient enough for you, ma’am?” to much laughter.

It’s a good show to end the millennium on. And I look forward to seeing what 2000 brings in their live shows.

[READ: March 6, 2014] “We Be Naked”

I have really enjoyed Gartner’s stories in the past but this one rubbed me the wrong way from the start.  I do not like stories where language is deliberated misused and not explained.  I am fine with dialect and I am fine with uneducated narrators, but when a narrator appears educated enough yet consistently gets something wrong and there is no explanation, that story has a massive strike against it.

So when the story starts

We be naked, not nude. Something to remember as the memory of us moves into the slipstream. Nude is in the eye of the beholder, naked a true enough fact.

I thought the “we be” part was an affectation of that first line.  The rest of the language is quite beautiful.  But no, the word “be” is used as the verb throughout the story.  In more and more irritating ways: “Or demands be modest.  We not be asking…”  Ugh. So what has caused the slip in the most basic verb use that English speakers have?  Especially when two sentences later we get this beautiful piece of prose:

And lay down your arms and pick up your instruments, music being the only true and beautiful man-made thing in this world.

Well, the story begins in April 2014 (which I liked) after the collapse of the Kyoto Protocol after the Pirate Party Bombings.  For almost two years since then they be chill.  Shudder. (more…)

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fivedials_no26SOUNDTRACK: BOB DYLAN-Christmas in the Heart (2009).

220px-Bob_Dylan_-_Christmas_in_the_HeartI have been a dabbler in Dylan over the years.  I like his hits, I like some of his albums, but I’ve never been a huge huge fan.  So the biggest surprise to me was that Bob Dylan now sounds like Tom Waits.  His voice is so crazily gravelly, it’s almost (almost) unrecognizable as Dylan.

That said, on some of the tracks it works very well–like he’s had too much to drink and is enjoying the revelry of these traditional songs.  I imagine him as a benevolent uncle trying to get the family to sing along.  And sing along they do.  He has a group of backing singers who sound like they are straight out of the forties and fifties (on some songs the women sing incredibly high especially compared to Dylan’s growl).  I’m not always sure it works, but when it does it’s quite something.

The first three songs are a lot of fun. However, when he gets to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it really sounds like he has hurt himself.  He seems to really strain on some of those notes–note the way he pronounces “herald” (heeerald).

The more secular songs fare better with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sounding especially Waitsian and being all the better for it.  Although I feel that perhaps he made up some lyrics–“presents on the tree?”  It’s interesting that in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” he sings the first verse in Latin (I don’t know that I’ve heard any other pop singers do that) and it works quite well.

A less successful song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which the music just seems to be too slow for him.  His verses end early and it seems like the backing singers are just out in the middle of nowhere.  Perhaps the best song is “Must Be Santa.”  I love this arrangement (by Brave Combo) and Dylan has a ton of fun with it (and the video is weirdly wonderful too).

“Christmas Blues” is a bit of a downer (as the title might suggest).  I’d never heard this song before and Dylan is well suited to it.  Dylan’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy” is also very good–he croons gently and his voice sounds really good.  I was surprised to hear him do “Christmas Island,” a song I have come to love this year–his version is quite fun as well, with the backing singer doing Aloha-ays.

Finally, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is pitched a wee bit high for him (and the Waits voice is more scary than avuncular here).

So overall it’s a weird collection (to say nothing of the artwork–both the cover and the inside cover), but I think it’s well suited to the day after the festivities.

[READ: December 15, 2013] Five Dials #26

I was shocked to realize who many Five Dials issued I had put off reading (and that this one came out over a year ago!).  I knew 26 was a large issue, so I put it off.  And then put it off.  And then put it off, until Issue 29 came out.  (I read 29 before this one, which got me to jump back and tackle this large one).

I have to admit I did not enjoy this one as much as previous Five Dials.  The bulk of the issue was taken up with German short stories, and I don’t know if it was the choices of the editors, but (a few) of the stories just didn’t grab me at all.  Having said that, there were one or two that I thought were very good.  But with this being such a large issue, perhaps it deserved to be spaced out a little better–Weltanschauung fatigue, no doubt.

This issue starts with Letters from Our Glorious readers and other sources.
I feel like this is a new feature for Five Dials (although again, it has been a while).  There is applause for the Bears (From Issue #24) and the acknowledgement of Zsuzsi Gartner’s first adoptees of her story ideas (Issue #25 Pt 1).  There’s also the amusing story of a guy who got nailed at work for printing the color issue (something I used to do at my old job as well) and a refraining of answering spam.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Ewen and German
Taylor doesn’t say much in this intro, since the “heavy lifting” is done by Anna Kelly.  He does mention Paul Ewen (and his food writing) and the first Five Dials questionnaire (which I assume it is too late (and too far away) for me to submit for that free HH book).

She explains about wanting to know secrets, and how when she was little, learning Pig Latin was a such a huge boon to her secretive life.  Then her sister started studying German, and Anna herself was hooked.  She says that reading German works in German is like flying.  And she wants to share German language writers with us.  Of course, we won’t be reading them in German, so there will be no flying.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BELLE AND SEBASTIAN-Live at KEXP, April 13, 2006 (2006).

This four song set samples a broad swath of Belle & Sebastian’s career.  It takes place after The Life Pursuit‘s release, but they only play one song from it “To Be Myself Completely” (with Stevie on vocals).

It’s amazing how quiet and shy the band seems i the interviews (or is that bored and petulant) especially after being through the mad swings of success.  Indeed, the interviews are almost embarrassing how unresponsive the band is (but not rude unresponsive, just unresponsive).  Like “where did the soul influence on this album come from?”  “Probably black America.”  “Did the new producer have any influence on the soulfulness?”  “Not really.”

But they do let the music speak for them.  And they don’t just do the horn songs or the strings songs.  They play “She’s Losing It” from Tigermilk (with lots of horns–it sounds great), they play “A Century of Fakers” with strings (although the female vocals seem a little too subdued on this track).  They also play a rollicking cover of Badfinger’s “No Matter What.”  It’s a delightfully poppy song which I didn’t know but which Sarah did (and I thought was the Beatles, and the DJ guessed Paul McCartney wrote it–he didn’t).  It’s when discussing this song that the band finally gets animated, perhaps they just don’t want to talk about themselves.

[READ: October 15, 2012] Five Dials #25

The issue is all about the short story.  Five stories from Lydia Davis, a short story contest from Zsuzsi Gardner, and a couple longer stories as well.   But there’s also some poetry and an essay.  And I fear I have to say I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as some of the other ones.  I love short stories, but I didn’t really love these very much.  And, the essay at the end was a lot of fury about very little.  I have to assume Part Two will simply kick ass.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editors: On Orphans and Cork
Taylor name-checks the Cork International Short-Story Festival and mentions how this issue is a sort of tie in to the festival (and just how many writers wanted to be in this Cork issue).  Taylor says that many readers wanted more short stories in the Five Dials issues, and that Noel O’Regan, short story editor says that the short story is always alive–witness the great success of the Cork Festival.  Writers flock to it (and a hefty prize is given).  This issue is only Part I of the fiction issue because they simply had to break it into two parts. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOGOL BORDELLO-Trans-Continental Hustle (2010).

When I first heard Gogol Bordello, they were touring for this album (thanks NPR).  Consequently, I knew this album pretty well when I bought it.  At first I felt that it didn’t have the vibrancy of the live show (how could it?).  But after putting it aside for a few weeks, when I re-listened, I found the album (produced by Rick Rubin) to be everything I expect from Gogol Bordello: loud, frenetic fun, a bit of mayhem, and some great tunes that sound like traditional gypsy songs, but which I assume are not.

While I was listening to the album, I kept thinking of The Pogues.  They don’t really sound anything alike but they have that same feel of punk mixed with traditional music.  For The Pogues, it’s Irish trad, and for GB it’s a gypsy sound–I’m not sure if it is attributable to any specific locale.  But they have a common ground in a kind of Spanish-based trad style.  From the Pogues, you get a song like “Fiesta” which is overtly Spanish.  From GB, you get songs like “My Companjera” or “Uma Menina Uma Cigana.”  Singer/ringleader Eugene Hutz has been living in Brazil, and he has really embraced the culture (and the accent).  He also sings in a kind of drunken tenor (his accent is probably more understandable than MacGowan’s drunken warble, but not always).

I’m led to understand that previous albums were a bit more high-throttle from start to finish.  This disc has a couple of ballads.  At first they seem to not work as well, but in truth they help to pace the album somewhat.

It’s obvious this band will not suit everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for some high energy punk with some ethnic flare, GB is your band (and if you like skinny guys with no shirts and big mustaches, GB is definitely your band.  It is entirely conceivable that Hutz does not know how to work a button).

[READ: June 20, 2011] All the Anxious Girls on Earth

I’ve really enjoyed Zsuzsi’s stories in recent issues of The Walrus.  So much so that I wanted to get a copy of her new book.  It wasn’t available anywhere in the States yet, so I went back and got her first collection of short stories.

This collection felt to me like a younger, less sophisticated version of Zsuzsi’s later works that I liked so much.  This is not to say that I didn’t like them.  I just wasn’t as blown as w.

“How to Survive in the Bush”
I had to read the opening to this story twice for some reason.  The second read made much more sense and I was able to follow what was going on (I think there were a few terms that I didn’t know–a 1941 Tiger Moth, East Kootenays–that were given context after a few pages.  It transpires that this is a story o a woman who has given up her life to move to the boonies with/for her husband.  The whole story is written in second person which while typically inviting, I found alienating.  It made the story harder to read for me, but once I got into the groove of it I found it very rewarding. (more…)

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Surfer Blood is a confusing band.  Their music sounds like a whole bunch of different late-80’s alterna-rock bands that I love.  But their vocalist (and the music of the verses) doesn’t really fit that style–I’m not sure what those sound like) and some of it is drenched in a kind of Beach Boys-reverb that befits the Surfer part of their name.

It’s a fascinating amalgam of styles that works very well and which is chock full of catchy choruses.  “Floating Vibes” opens with a big loud guitar note, that quickly morphs into a catchy verse line.  Conversely, “Swim” opens with a strange shouty kind of introduction and then morphs into a crazily catchy chorus (also shouted).

“Harmonix” opens with a “rock n roll” 50s style riff, then jumps to cool guitar harmonics and then turns into a song that sounds unmistakably late 80s to me (although maybe it sounds like a song my friend Garry wrote back in the late 80s).

“Neighbor Riffs” is a rocking 2 minute instrumental, which is followed by “Twin Peaks,” a song that sounds unmistakably late 80s but I can’t decide why (it’s also great because it’s about, you know, Twin Peaks).  I’m confused by the next pair of songs: “Fast Jabroni” and “Slow Jabroni” as they do not seem related and the Fast song is much better.  In fact the combination of “Slow Jabroni” and the next song, “Anchorage” really drag the disc as those two songs are over 12 minutes in total (whereas most of the songs are in the 3-4 minute range).   Neither of the songs is bad (in fact “Anchorage” is pretty cool), they just both last too long.

As I try to process who this band sounds like, I’m going to let Carrie Brownstein provide the best description of them:

Sometimes an album comes from people who you can tell love some of the same music as you. And when they interpret the bands you both love, when they run it through their own brains and hearts and hands and amps, instead of sounding like a watered-down version of the progenitors, it sounds fresh and heartfelt and energized. That’s Surfer Blood for me.

And me too.

[READ: May 16, 2011] “We Come in Peace”

This is one of my favorite short stories that I’ve read in a long time.  It appeals to me for a number of reasons (I love the conceit of angels tinkering with humans), but it’s also very well written and thoroughly engaging.  I think the only disappointment about it is that it’s a short story and not a novel (although the intro to the story says that this is merely an excerpt from the short story which appears in full length in Gartner’s new collection of short stories, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives).

I feared that the story would be daunting at first because it includes a dramatis personae (which can be intimidating for a short story).  But the dramatis personae just tells us which angels are matched to which humans.  For yes, this is a story about five angels who are sent to earth to learn about the five senses.   Amusingly, this is spurred on because humans have discovered the extra taste sensation known as umami.

So, the five angels are sent to a Canadian suburb to inhabit the bodies of 5 students: Bashaar, an athlete and dancer who is beset by local radical muslims to get him to join; Stephan a good student (ie., dork) who is turned cool by his angel, much to his family’s dismay; Leo, a nice dude; Jason, the school bully, who is inhabited by a happy angel; and Jessica, an anorexic girl who suddenly eats, develops a nice body and becomes romantically involved with 16-year-old Cullen.  Each of the angels subsumes the personality of the kids (whose families are, needless to say, freaked out by the changes). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOUNG RIVAL-“Got What You Need” (2009).

I was only able to hear this song once.  It’s surprisingly on available on the Young Rival playlist on CBC Radio 3).  Young Rival play a kind of fast, noisy punk and yet the melodies underneath the noise are very poppy.

I also played the track “Authentic” which is similar in style.  I found both songs very catchy, but have to admit that even a few minutes later I couldn’t recall them at all.  I’d say it’s perfect  for radio airplay.

[READ: June 14, 2010] “Say the Names”

This, indeed, is the quintessential Canadian story.  Every line in the piece is taken from a Canadian song, book or movie.  (I only learned that from the introduction to all of the stories. There’s nothing in the story to reveal that.  Although given its fractured nature and the very obviousness of some of the titles, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out.]

It’s kind of fun to play “spot the lyrics” or what have you.  I knew some, but far fewer than I would have guessed.

As for the story itself, well, it’s a little disjointed. (more…)

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walrus-99SOUNDTRACK: NEKO CASE-Middle Cyclone (2009).

nekoI first learned of Neko Case through The New Pornographers.  Their song “Letter from an Occupant” blew me away.  But when I’d investigated her solo work, I learned she was more of a country singer than anything else.  Reviewers said that Middle Cyclone broke from that mold a little into more rock territory.

I don’t know her early stuff, but I can attest that these songs are mildly rocking. However, it’s hard to take the country out of the singer.  There’s something about Neko’s voice on this disc that screams country (even as her songs get faster and more furious).  But, much like k.d. lang who won me over when she broke away from her country roots, so did Neko Case.

Rather than explicit country, Neko case seems to be filling in the shoes of the sorely missed Kirsty MacColl, another great singer-songwriter who melded genres like so much fondue.

Case never hits the manic intensity of “Letter from an Occupant” (she admitted on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me that her vocals were sped up for that song), but she proves to be a powerhouse singer.  And once I got over the fact that this album didn’t ROCK, I accepted that it was very good.  I don’t know if I have a favorite track, although I do like her cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.”

I finally managed to listen to the last track, “Marais la Nuit” all the way through on my lunch the other day.  It is, literally, 30 minutes of frogs and bugs chirping away.  It’s quite relaxing, but not really worth listening to all 30 minutes.

[READ: October 8, 2009] “Summer of the Flesh Eater”

The title is not misleading exactly, but it may make you think zombies are afoot.  But they are not.  (I debated about revealing this, but figured it would win more fans of people who don’t like zombies than lose people who do). (more…)

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