Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Paperbacks Make Art

Winnipeg continues to offer up essential artists brought to you by the letter P (see previous post), but this week's band has little in common with the Pumps or Personality Crisis. The Paperbacks have been churning out literate pop for almost a decade now. However, only two full-length albums, An Episode of Sparrows (2003) and An Illusion Against Death (2007) had materialized. Until now. Well, January 12th is the official release date, but more importantly, the bookish ones have unleashed a juggernaut by way of a double album. Yes, that's right, 32 tracks of wordy indie-rock, all available tout-suite. Who releases double albums? Rush? Husker Du? Ryan Adams? Smashing Pumpkins? Although there have probably been a few Manitobans who have accomplished this feat, I can't think of any. In any event, you can buy it from Scratch, Bandcamp, Cdbaby, iTunes, Amazon, Kresge's, Woolworth, The Bay, Syd's Carousel, Long John Silver's, Kelly's, Records on Wheels, Mr. Sound, Impulse, and any online service you can think of and a bunch more you've never thought of and never will.

So what does it sound like? Well, the name of the band should help, as should the above adjectives "literate" and "wordy". Song titles such as Illness as Metaphor, Casually Swearing at the Vacant Coastline, The Asheville Period (In Retrospect), Stars (for Claire Massey), Regrettable Tattoos, may give you further clues as to the sensibilities of these gentlemen. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug McLean was never afraid of using his vocabulary with previous bands Painted Thin or The Bonaduces, but now lyrical poetry flows like fine ale at the King's Head. Reference points may or may not include The Weakerthans or Death Cab For Cutie, but smart, melodic guitar-based rock is never a bad start. Add some good dynamics, a few well-placed guest musicians, and a willingness to be inventive, and you've got a fine recipe. Haven't heard the whole album yet; what do you make of these songs?

The Paperbacks - Make Art (download mp3 here)

The Paperbacks - Slow Learners (download mp3 here)

There wil be an album release party January 23rd at the West End Cultural Centre, be there or be mumbly and artless.

It Will Take Courage, My Love

Lit From Within

Who Will Run the Starfish Hospital

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sons of Freedom and Ratsilo

My recent Sons of York post got me thinkin' about Vancouver's Sons of Freedom. In the late '80s and '90s, I saw the band innummerable times, from the Albert to the Winnipeg Arena and all points in between. Frontman Jim Newton and the three Dons (Harrison, Binns, and Short) had cool painted lab coats, the most powerful rhythms I've ever heard or felt live, and an extraordinary mix of sounds. Post-punk, wiry angular guitar and deserate-yet melodic vocals rode in the middle of bass and drums that sound like Black Sabbath one minute, then Bad Brains the next, but might sound like Bad Company on the next tune. Touring on the back of first self-titled album, Sons of Freedom was hipper than hip, and even aging stars like Robert Plant sung their praises (when he went to see the band at the Spectrum, loads of awestruck rockers came out of the woodwork, following the guy into the washroom...why, I don't know). The band was shoved into the "alternative" category when it was just coming into popular use, but they also threw in an occasional pretty ballad and opened for The Tragically Hip. I interviewed Newton a couple of times, and on both occasions he called me to set up an interview; it was refreshing to deal with the artist as opposed to intermediaries such as record label people, managers, and so on.

But something went sour with their deal with Slash. Subsequently, the first album maybe wasn't promoted or distributed as well as it could have been, but it's also been deleted for a long time. Thankfully, the band, or at least Jim Newton, has made the album available for free download. I wish the album could be remastered and rereleased with a live show, because the band was amazing live; pounding bass, jagged shards of guitar, thundering drums, and passionate vocals.

Sons of Freedom - Super Cool Wagon (download mp3 here)

Sons of Freedom - The Criminal (download mp3 here)

Sons of Freedom- Mona Lisa (download mp3 here)

Sons of Freedom - F**k the System (download mp3 here)

The second album, Gump, came out on Chrysalis. A little more commercial, a little less dark, it looked like the band was destined for great things. The band was playing even bigger venues, the live show was still mesmerizing, and the band was getting some video play. According to Wikipedia, Gump debuted on the Canadian campus radio charts at the number 1 spot; Nirvana's Nevermind debuted the same week at #2, so that should give you an indication of the band's potential at the time.

You're No Good

Call Me

USA Long Distance

But after playing a schwackload of shows and recording enough material for a third album, the band broke up. A few years later, an album called Tex was released, which consisted of previously-recorded tunes. Sons of Freedom did a bit of touring and a little bit of promotion around the album, but the group dissolved again. All of Sons of Freedom's albums are now available on iTunes, even though only Tex is available to purchase and physically touch with your grubby little fingers.

Walkie Talkie

Jim Newton and Donn Binns have a new band now called Rat Silo, which Jim calls "more lighthearted" than SOF. Check out some songs from their two albums here, let me know what you think.

Rat Silo - Getupgotoworkgohomegotobed

Rat Silo | MySpace Music Videos

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock: Free new songs, new website

The most consistently great artist of my lifetime, Robyn Hitchcock, has had his website re-jigged, re-made, and re-modelled. The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock seems to be having a soft opening; there's still areas under construction, but there's two free unreleased songs here if ya wanna hand over some kind of letters/and or numbers that resemble an e-mail address.

When I was still a young pup, I was reading about this unusual character named Robyn Hitchcock in Creem magazine. I'd never heard his music. The writers' descriptions of his songs were confusing, but also intriguing. He writes songs about sex, death, and fish? He plays guitar in a un-rock star-like way, is neither entirely bizarre nor even momentarily mundane, employs what seem to be non-sequiteurs one minute and lyrical genius the next?

But I couldn't find any of his records anywhere in my little burg. After searching aimlessly and receiving blank stares from record shop clerks (remember those?), I somehow stumbled upon a copy of Fegmania! in a place called Kelly's on Portage Avenue. I spent most of my Christmas gift cash on it, and I was hooked ever since. To me, Fegmania! remains the consummate Hitchcock album. Egyptian Cream told a dreamy tale of a woman who grows "hair all over her skin" and "When they told her ,"You're pregnant," she threw up her hands/ And thousands of fingers grew out of the sand". My Wife and My Dead Wife" is a perfect pop tune, with a spooky synth line, requisite chiming and ringing guitars, pretty harmonies, and a wry tale about a man and his live wife and his deceased one: "My dead wife's upstairs, she's still wearing flares." The Man With the Lighbulb Head uses a vaguely Eastern-sounding guitar and rhythm section and features Robyn imitating a squeaky-kid voice - "Daddy, it's the man with the lightbulb head!" Insect Mother utilizes percolating synth and Robyn's trademark cyclical jangly guitar to propel lyrics such as "In velvet and in onions you will soon be mine". The Fly continues the bug theme with a tapping glass pulse, buzzing six-strings, and a surprisingly child-like string of words. Heaven marries an insistent beat with a slightly accordian-sounding, spooky keyboard sound, welded together with beautiful chorus harmonies and joyfully curious vocals telling the listener, "You've got arms, you've got legs, you've got heaven" (Robyn's called it a floating cathedral prairie song in a live setting).

The Man With the Lightbulb Head

My Wife and My Dead Wife


One of my most anticipated releases of the new year is Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3's Propellor Time on Yep Roc (March 10th , to be precise). I haven't been able to afford I Often Dream of Trains in New York (I bought the original twice) or the box sets Luminous Grooves and I Wanna Go Backwards (again, I already own the original albums...), but every proper Hitchcock album is full of unique guitar work, distinctive lyrics and vocal melodies - I can't wait.

Here's a few samples of his greatness. From the fairly-straightforward rock-goes-pop with Hitchcockian whimsy and sublime harmonies of Adventure Rocketship, to the fragile beauty of Glass Hotel, over to he Beatles-meets-Byrds-meets-Velvet Underground groove of I'm Falling, and back to the delicate, melancholy sounds of I Often Dream of Trains.

Hitchcock is also an exceptional visual artist. Some of his work has graced album covers, but others haven't been seen very widely. Here's some samples courtesy of the Museum of Robyn Hitchcock. They reflect his artsistic sensibilities and offbeat sense of humour very neatly.

Hooded One in New York

Black Skier Unsettles Nude Caucasians