Monday, December 29

One Track Mind: Pianos From Hell

X-pressions, the 1997 album from X-ecutioners, is what happens when a group of DJs decide that it's time to step out from behind the masters of ceremony and take the limelight. Pianos From Hell is what happens when those same DJs have the composition chops to leave a beat almost entirely alone for three minutes.  The neat thing is that by doing that, they put the turntablism in the listener's mind.  I couldn't help but think of the scratching I'd do over that beat while it played.  You know how pretentious jazz drummers talk about the space between the noise being as important as the noise itself?  yeah, that.

Thursday, December 18

One Track Mind: Frank, AB

I have a dilemma. I want this post to be about a track by the Rural Alberta Advantage, but something gnaws at my conscience.

Fraxas and I started out this project, One Track Mind, to automate our music-recommendation process. And, so far, it's working swimmingly. The tracks that Fraxas highlighted are all awesome, and I've assembled a playlist with all the posts so far. Listening to it is like drinking a tall glass of eclecticism made physical.

My dilemma comes from a long-debated issue that has faced music buffs from the early mists of time:

Single or album?

Fraxas and I are busy guys. We love to talk music. But the day is short, and thanks to certain sources, the pool of good music is deeper than I can ever remember. One track a week is a small commitment, manageable, digestible, and enough to ignite a decent conversation. As much as I appreciate a good album, we confine these blog posts to the subject of a single track at a time.

Critics, performers, and connoisseurs from all across the historical spectrum vary widely on this essential question. Some acts, such as Arcade Fire and Radiohead, insist that the album is a holistic experience, going so far as to prohibit the use of their tracks on compilations or to boycott music videos. On the other hand, to be blunt, most songs by most artists are terrible. By extension, the same is true of most albums.

Industry analysts agree that the true cause of Big Music's demise was its long track-record of releasing albums padded with filler. Given the public's short attention span and appetite for easily digestible singles, the rise of filesharing technology was only the catalyst for an overdue drop in album sales.

Now, I like singles as much as the next guy. I consider an album “good” if about half its songs are re-listenable. I don't take the extreme of deleting the tracks I don't like –-after all, HDD space is cheap-- but I'd consider a lot of my favourite tracks to be a Single experience. This would be true of most of my prior posts.

That's not to say I don't have my favourite albums. Radiohead's OK computer, Firewater's recent album the Golden Hour, and-- I'm not ashamed to admit it-- Achtung Baby by U2 are best experienced from the moment you press play. These are rare accomplishments that tower over even the selfsame band's remaining oeuvre, let alone the wider music world.

So here's my dilemma. Hometowns, the debut album of Toronto band The Rural Alberta Advantage, is one of the best I've ever heard. The whole thing hangs together like the Dude's Room before his carpet was peed on. It's Canadian Rock in all its thematic, heroic, unapologetic, anthemic, melodious glory, complete with lyrics that evoke geography and virtuoso, spare-kit percussion. What am I supposed to do? I can't pick out a single track to write about. It's too difficult. As pretentious as Arcade Fire and Radiohead are for their championship of the Whole Album, I'm afraid that I have to join their ranks in this case. Hometowns is 38 minutes of bliss. That's not a lot is it?

Okay, maybe it is. I will pick a track at random and blog about it in the only way that would be appropriate. Haiku.

Track Title: Frank, AB
Artist: the Rural Alberta Advantage
Album Title: Hometowns

Pizzicato first.
Cymbals rise towards chorus.
Heartbeat speeds, wordless.

Wednesday, December 17

One Track Mind: Stormy High

Yet Another independent rock band from eMusic's top 88 list (they make almost all my music recommendations these days), Black Mountain's a Canadian 70's-metal band.  At least, they are on In The Future, the only point of contact I've had with them.

The opening track of the album is a song entitled Stormy High.  I'm not sure what it's about - the lyrics are pretty vague - but the opening guitar riff is in 7/4, so they won immediate kudos for that. Then they won more kudos by extending the feel of classic metal - I'm thinking Sabbath vol 4, maybe pre-Wall floyd - through the entire track.  Guitar and bass mostly in unison on rising scale patterns, the keyboards acting more like percussion than anything else, drums that just keep on stomping forward, vocals that - despite the mildly cheesy female moan that surfaces in places - fit into the melody rather than wandering around it.

Friday, December 12

One Track Mind: St. Lawrence River

Lee Mellor is on eMusic's list of non-American Country artists (He's Canadian by birth). The cover of his 2007 album, Ghost Town Heart, is a moodily-lit portrait of him looking scruffy and tired and shaggy and all dressed in black, like a city dude's impression of what a country singer should look like. He's got a slightly nasal voice, a strong understanding of the tropes and patterns of alt-country, and enough Canadianness in his lyrics that I feel a connection to him I probably shouldn't.  Case in point: the song St. Lawrence River. It's a catchy ballad about bad choices and redemption that could have been set anywhere with a few minor lyrics changes. I've never seen the St. Lawrence; I can find it on a map, to be sure, and I know what it is and why it's important economically and historically and culturally, but it's not home in any meaningful sense of that word.  And yet, listening to Lee, I feel like nodding. You will too - but whether it's a feeling of shared experience, or just moving in time to a really catchy piece of alt-country, is up to you.

One Track Mind: I Lived on the Moon

Last time, I posted a video that, if briefly, portrayed a father-son relationship touched by fantastical tragedy. Here's another song/video in that series, via a long-ago post from metafilter.

Track Title: I Lived on the Moon
Artist: Kwoon
Album: Tales and Dreams

A high-quality download of the incredible video is here. It's by the animator Yannick.

Watch, listen, react.

Thursday, December 4

One Track Mind: Transdermal Celebration

Track title: Transdermal Celebration
Artist: Ween
Album: Quebec

It is prudent to interpret the hipster-speak phrase "such-and-such are a band's band" as a warning that their music is inaccessible and impossible to appreciate from any rational perspective. Common examples: Radiohead, the Pixies. I love those bands, but let's not "Kid A" ourselves.

Ween is a band's band's band. They hop from one musical genre to another, all the while squirting virtuoso pieces of anti-serious songwriting, seltzer-like, into the clown-face of pop-culture. Once in a while, they record a straight-out pop-song that shows the world how easy it should be.

This video powerfully demonstrates that cartoons can be terrifying and poignant. Watch it when you have three and a half minutes to spare.