Indier Than Thou: November 2006

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Baby Rock!

This may cause the single most important transformation in early childhood education since education itself was made mandatory.

Now, you probably led a deprived childhood, er, babyhood. But don't fret, your babies can listen to the music of Bjork, the Pixies, the Beatles, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure, Nirvana, Coldplay etc in remastered soothing sweet lullaby form. Please go here or here and have your rattle ready.

From the site:
"Baby Rock Records transforms timeless rock songs into beautiful instrumental lullabies, sending your little one to a slumberland of sweet dreams. Delicate instruments such as the glockenspiel, vibraphone, mellotron, harp and bells create a soothing atmosphere of sound. These charming recordings are sophisticated enough for everyone to enjoy, yet gentle enough for your little angel. This is cherub rock for a new generation."

I actually like it a lot.

This definitely should have happened sooner.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How much is too much?

The Boy Least Likely To, The Bicycles, Math and Physics Club, what's with all this cute indie rock? Now, don't get me wrong; I love animals and kid-like illustrations and melodic music, but when do we reach the saturation point? As Socrates said, 'Check out the tits on that one" Wait, that was a creepy eighty-year old man from the British consulate in Chongqing. Sometimes I get my stories confused. Anyway, as Socrates said "everything in moderation", so if you can't handle this much indie cute-ness, here's the polar opposite, who today released a 'best of'.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Swan Lake - Beast Moans

If O.J. Simpson can write a book confessing to the murder of his wife, hypothetically, then I can review this album as though it has already been released... hypothetically. Swan Lake is the combined effort of Daniel Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) and Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes). Now you may be wondering why you should care about yet another Canadian indie band supergroup, and if you don't like the music of one or more of the bands mentioned the short answer is that you shouldn't. However, the creature they have created together has something of its own voice.

The good news if you are a fan of Bejar's, Krug's or Mercer's previous work is that this album is exactly what you are looking for. Beast Moans, as their press release states, is "their debut record featuring, among other things, beast moans, starling voices, cobra hi hats and arpeggiating pianos." All of that is well and good, but the problem is that Bejar, Krug and Mercer are such distinctive and recognisable songsmiths that each of the tracks sounds like their respective bands. "The Freedom" sounds like a Destroyer song, "All Fires" a Sunset Rubdown track, "The Parisan But He's Got To Know" a Frog Eyes track, "The Freedom" a Destroyer song, "Bluebird" and "Are You Swimming in Her Pools" a Sunset Rubdown track, etc.

This is not a bad thing. The hooks in Spencer's songs are as good as any he has written for Wolf Parade or Sunset, the lyrics on Bejar's tracks are as thought-provoking and interesting as any Destroyer line ("The freedom to be alone with/ the freedom to be alone" "I put a hex/ on the telephone line/ that brought your voice to me/ disembodied and cheapening everything it used to mean") and Carey's vocals are as frantic as fans of Frog Eyes have come to expect. Taken together, some of the tracks do have a sleepy feel, like the songs you half-hear from across the lake at someone else's summer cottage. The feeling is shattered though with the fragmentary styles refusing to gel, making the album more a poorly put-together mix-tape from a musically savvy friend than the product of three combined artists.

This is a little surprising considering how close Mercer and Krug are. Krug has been an occasional member of Frog Eyes since the release of "The Bloody Hand", and they used to be roommates! They both toured with Bejar, played on "Notorious Lightning and Other Works" and formed Destroyer's band on the European tour of "Your Blues". For all this co-operation, Swan Lake have only a fleetingly coherent sound. If I hadn't been such a fan of their main gigs, I doubt I would have given this record a second spin.

However, perhaps the lack of a consistent and distinct sound is a good sign. Swan Lake could have tried to force some painfully artificial "combined style", like a dilettante DJ making his first mash-up. The choir of exaggerated efforts and compromise to the furious vortex of resigned cooperation is nowhere to be found. Instead you have some neat songs that don't go well together, but sound pretty good. Swan Lake's moans are not so much those of one beast, but more the dissonant cries of three murders headed in different directions. Or, some other, better, metaphor.

All Fires (mp3)
The Freedom (mp3)


Thursday, November 09, 2006


First, I’d like to state for the record that I have great trouble with the labels ‘world music’, ‘alternative’ and ‘indie’. Basically, you shouldn't define genres using relative terms that have nothing to do with the genres themselves.

The necessary alternative to ‘world music’ must be ‘non-world’ music. This doesn’t make any sense. ‘Alternative’ music is a misnomer since it is usually mainstream, and as such, not the alternative. Finally, ‘indie’ music is rarely ‘independent’ in the sense that the producer is the owner. Instead, the producer’s work is owned by record labels, which may not even be that small and whose main difference may simply be an inferior capacity to distribute. Ideally, ‘independent’ labels are different by ensuring that artistic integrity is not compromised by corporate goals in the course of the production process. But I think that too often an artificial dichotomy is drawn between ‘indie music’, ‘alternative music’, ‘world music’ etc and this can serve to obscure rather than clarify. In reality, there is a continuum between the ‘mainstream’ and ‘indie’ music. More importantly, what's 'mainstream' in one place is 'indie' in another.

All of the above is a preamble for the following point. Africa, home to a plethora of cultures, styles, traditions, etc possesses a cornucopia of musical talent. Among that talent, Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, Salif Keita, Rokia Traoré, Cecile Kayirebwa, Orchestra Baobab, Cesaria Evora and Mulatu Astatke, among many others, feature prominently. They make ‘world music’. It is very mainstream amongst connoisseurs of ‘world music’ but it is also very ‘indie’ in the sense that the ‘western mainstream’ does not recognize ‘world music’ as much or as often as it should. I hope that this post goes some way towards correcting that deficit.

On a related note, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) has worked with Malian musicians on Mali Music and with Tony Allen on his new project the Good, the Bad and the Queen and I am pleased to report that, like most things he has done, the results are impressive.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Land of Talk - Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss

There isn't much press available for Montreal's Land of Talk, but what little there is has compared them to both Tokyo Police Club and Cold War Kids. The energy of the former and the interesting melodies and leads of the latter make the references meaningful, but a more revealing comparison is with early Cat Power. On first listen, Elizabeth Powell's vocals are just as startling as Chan Marshall's were and continue to be.

Her self-proclaimed "anti-folk basement rock" sounds like one of those genre titles mercilessly mocked in "indier than thou" parodies, but it does mean something. These are not folk songs, and this is definitely rock. I saw the band open in April for Wintersleep, who they blew out of the water. Unfortunately, virtually no one was there to witness it, and this band is deserving of so much more critical acclaim.

If the Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss EP is any indication, the forthcoming full length record will be very good. For a trio, Land of Talk pack a lot of clever hooks into their music, and mercilessly thrash out choruses when need be. The melody of "Speak to Me Bones" sneaks up on you, lodges itself in your head, and won't stop shaking, while the quick key change is still surprising on repeated listenings. "All My Friends" is the catchiest track, with Powell's almost mournful voice coupled with upbeat lyrics. The quick tempo and muddy guitar lines nicely compliment the cheerful chorus: “fucking around, pretending there's a problem. Figure it out.” The driving beat and rhythms on "Summer Special" and "Breaxxbaxx" are provided courtesy of Bucky Wheaton (drums, back vocals) and Chris McCarron (bass, back vocals), and give the record a solid spine.

The thing I find really strange about reviews of female artists or female fronted bands, from Beth Orton to Liz Phair, is that male and female reviewers alike feel compelled by some unspoken law of criticism to mention how "sexy" the vocals are, how "sexy" the artist is or how it is impossible to pin down what property it is that makes the band so "sexy". With no disrespect to the physical appearance of the band members, this record is not about being sexy, unless I have seriously misunderstood the track "Magnetic Hill" ("I need help with direction.") It's much more about capturing the feeling of loneliness in all its multifarious guises. Then again, I suppose you could find anything, including loneliness, sexy. That would make you a bit of a sexual predator, but maybe you are ok with that.


Happy Yet Sad

I wish there was a word for that. Logic would seem to suggest that there shouldn't be. But if it existed it'd be the most accurate word to convey my feelings about two cool shows going on in Toronto this upcoming week.

On Thursday, November 9 at The Boat you could see The Patients. The patients made an ep in 2003 and then disappeared for three years. I guess they got tired of pretending to not exist so they decided to finally make the full-length "Get Well Soon". Check
them out, they're a lot of fun live.


On Wednesday November 15th at The Drake, you could see Handsome Furs. Handsome Furs is a side-project from Dan Boeckner of Atlas Strategic and Wolf Parade fame. (Check out Wolf Parade's other side-projects Sunset Rubdown, Johnny and the Moon, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, if you haven't already) Anyway, it's just him on guitar and his fiancé Alexei Perri on drum machine and other gizmos. It's pretty minimalist and pretty fucking cool. He's a super nice guy and I have little doubt that this will be really awesome.

....and I'm stuck in fucking Kingston!


Monday, November 06, 2006

Xiu Xiu - The Air Force

There is a lot of pretentious bullshit written about Xiu Xiu:
“Over the last five years, Xiu Xiu has come to make an utterly original mixture of home-studio goth-pop, confessional singer-songwriter outpourings and chamber music.” - THE NEW YORK TIMES

" The Air Force is a wraith, and wraithlike it moves according to genuine, human rhythms; we see frontman Jamie Stewart staring into the void, or into the past, or dipping his hands into the sick pink hues of human grease, into bad love, suicide, rape, sex, stormy friendship, domination, dependency, with husky voiced lyrics that come rising up like steam from some deep and dark and cold dungeon miles below Earth's surface." - KILL ROCK STARS

“It takes a true songwriter like Stewart to make such brutality meaningful…Xiu Xiu are one of the few indie bands that's still challenging their audience” - UNDER THE RADAR

Nevertheless, much of it is true. This is by far and away Xiu Xiu's best record. It is not just more accessible, but the brief patches of catchiness and pattern are destroy with deft timing, like gently caressing your forearm with a razor blade before driving it hard into your skin.

"Bishop, CA" is the track that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The "walla walla walla walla walla walla hey" hook over industrial beats and a thick guitar lead is enough to make even the most skeptical critic take notice. Caralee McElroy's vocals on "Hello From Eau Claire" will make you want to marry her; she ends her list of what she can do with "I can humiliate myself to your face. I can weep through my own midnights." Not since the Magnetic Fields has such a minimalist synth line been so attractive.

The lyrics that are drawning the most critical attention ("Your black hair is like black hair. Mine I promise is a jerk's hair. Your acne is like a pearl. Mine I swear is brimstone.") from Buzz Saw sound the usual Xiu Xiu theme of beauty in imperfections, and in "The Pineapple vs. the Watermelon", his ruminations on his father suicide are as usual disarmingly honest ("The bird I am looking for is not in me. It is you.")

However, it is the unexpected rhythms--the industrial beats out of nowhere, the lush acid crush basslines, the complete dissonace--that emerge half-way through "PJ in the Streets", "Vulture Piano", "The Fox & The Rabbit" or "Save Me Save Me" that really make this record so special. You have to give it time to work its magic on you, but like the proverbial perverted old man who lives under the bridge, it will haunt and touch you if you let it.

The cover art includes an icon of Jesus, and it is surprisingly appropriate. Once I had accepted it, listening to this music become a regilious experience, absorbing me totally, and at the height of an orgasmic crescendo, the whole thing comes crashes down in one giant kick to the face. I cannot mix metaphors fast enough here. The record is fucking brilliant.
- kit


Friday, November 03, 2006

Immediate Attention Required

They speak for themselves:

Finnish indie Cats On Fire (If you like melodies and Finnish people, well then go here)

Gospel indie Thurston Revival (Skinny white guy doing electro-gospel, what?)

Folk indie Johnny and the Moon (another side-project from Canada's best band)

Post-punk-alt-indie Moving Units (inexplicably, unjustifiably and unfairly unknown in Canada at least]

Psychologists may claim that it's better to give many tiny rewards instead of one big one. Fuck them, enjoy!

Vincat - i like their older stuff better

This is the inaugural posting for Indier Than Thou, so I wanted to choose something you probably haven't heard... yet. And that's a shame, not only because this album has a truly awesome name--it not only presupposes a long and storied future for themselves, but one that will be worse. So get onboard now.

Vincat come from Victoria, BC, and describe their sound as an old cherished friendship. I saw them play a short show in London, and immediately fell in love. While their album isn't nearly as good as they are live, it's still lots of fun. I could try and describe their sound, but it's much better if you hear it for yourself here. Intial comparisons to the Hidden Cameras don't do tribute to their lovely horn lines, and I can't say enough good things about their horn lines. Yet it's really the rocking chorus that do it for me with any band, and Vincat delivers. "Into the lightning" satisfys with bar after bar of fulfilling power chords, while "Somebody Stole my apple sauce" has a refrain that you find yourself humming when you most want not to, and will make your Dad phone David Cooper's parents demanding an explanation just as he did twenty years ago, and it was really just embarrassing; I mean, did he really not see that this would be viewed not just as an invitation to steal more fruit-flavoured treats, but also a gang beating? Dad! C'mon! It's a battlefield out there. Why must you cost me some much pain and treats?

Erm... Moving on... "Dying in Frisco" and "Aberdeen" are fine if you like The Whitlams, but never admit this to anyone but an Australian. "Uh Oh" draws the Hidden Cameras comparison, but is far more interesting. But for me, the whimsical "Pirate Love" ends the album perfectly, with enough echo in the vocals to make the Grand Canyon jealous. Mock power ballads never sounded so good.

Ok, so instead of rambling on about the virtues of the record, for which the English language may be insufficient, I will list the top five reasons you should check them out:
  1. The linernotes credit not only a combined chinese/fish and chips place (a brilliant invention in and of itself), but also pharell and the whole N.E.R.D. crew, an all-too-rare tribute.
  2. As you can tell from above, the album art showcases not only a freakin' T-Rex, but a T-Rex on a surfboard, a pink elephant on a banana (Just try to not think of it! You can't!) and a Narwhal!
  3. Tubas, French Horns, need i say more? Only Beyonce loves horns this much.
  4. SUPER TEEN ANTHEMS. If you are like me, and most people aren't, you would die for some more TEEN anthems à la T-Rex, am I right?
  5. There following has a moniker: Vinkittens!