Said the Gramophone - image by Ella Plevin
by Dan

Thee Oh Sees - "Penetrating Eye"

And this is stranger sex. Edmund walks into an apartment where the ceiling looks like a tent sagging in the rain, and the only decorations are nail holes and a thin flag. If "alone and awake at 4am drunk" had an apartment, this would be it. Something that smells like wet toast. Something that feels like a begging ritual. Something that sounds like tenderizing meat. And then waking up without having slept. "What are you doing here?" "I could ask you the same question." This was life without May. This was life with a May-shaped hole, gaping and yawning and black and endless. Outside, he wondered when the soonest appropriate time would be to get a beer.



Tomorrow is Record Store Day. There will be many amazing releases, from Sam Cooke to Devo and from Chvrches to Haim. But among my favourite will be a vinyl release of
Scharpling & Wurster's Rock, Rot, and Rule
, the very first Best Show bit. Support your local record stores, and enjoy the treasures.

by Sean
Photo by Guy Sargent

White Hinterland - "Baby". Anyone who has watched the sea for long enough knows that it is unsentimental. Forget the lapping surf and the perfect sunsets - this is an expanse of churn and thrash, ungoverned violence. It could drown you or carry you, lift or fall away; it could rise like a wall or seem to vanish, mirrored, in the afternoon light. Don't fuck with it, this grey, blue, green, silver, indigo force; nor, "Baby" suggests, with Casey Dienel's grey, blue, green, gold, pink, clear heart. On Baby, White Hinterland's music is crashing and unkind R&B; I've long loved Dienel's vocal trills, her undersung hooks, but here she pants like a tide and groans like a pipe-organ. She's noisy cacophony, retching love. She's club-drunk and bedroom-hungry, choirgirl and part-harpy. This album is a hardship, in a way; it's heavy as hell, unabating. It demands to be reckoned with. But you listen to the hoarse closing seconds of this title track, Dienel's bare broken breath, and you are reminded of what's at stake with these gestures - this monstrousness is music, this hardship's a singing, these currents of voice and beats, eros and fury, are an artist's bare work. Forget the question of whether the sea is beautiful or ugly; remember only that it is coming for what it wants, and always will be. [buy / White Hinterland plays Montreal on Friday, April 18]

(photo by Guy Sargent)

by Dan

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - "I Hear Voices"

Edmund in a basement apartment. Unable to return to his place with May, he took the first thing he could find, just so he wouldn't have to go anywhere else. A house with six other people. "We share expenses here, we live communally." He wondered how long he would last in the face of mandatory dinners and the shared smells of bodies and a decaying house. He was in his mid-forties, and this was supposed to be some kind of badge of honour, the feather in his cap that was actually nailed to his head. He imagined Frank, his 11-year-old, coming here. He could see the boy's normally scared face downright petrified of the sheer height of these people, their confidence, their beaded everything. He lay on his mattress on the floor of the basement, the power out, and headlights cutting along the ceiling in jagged scrapes. He seemed to sink like a chemical burn into the ground.

[28 days left on the auction]

by Sean
Frozen lighthouses

Will Stratton - "Gray Lodge Wisdom (ft the Weather Station)". A long gleam interrupted by shorter gleams; a morse code of gleams; a smouldering coal and twenty lightning-bolts. At brunch on Saturday we looked at the plate of cream-filled éclairs and remembered that éclair also means lightning bolt. "Gray Lodge Wisdom" is a languorous song fettered by quick fiddles and some kinda dulcimer, and by Tamara Worden's slow coal voice, and by a thousand éclairs - comforts and lightning-bolts - come to the door as parcels, wrapped in brown paper. It gestures toward wisdom like a skater skating toward a distant point, knowing he could fall. Stratton owns a pair of mittens but here his hands are bare.

[buy / Gray Lodge Wisdom will be celebrated at a New York record release show, April 16 at Brooklyn's Union Hall]

(photo source)

by Dan


Angel Olsen - "Lights Out"
K's Choice - "Not an Addict"

Edmund walked out on May. He walked out on May and into the slanted streets at two in the morning. The late March ice was collecting in slanted flat puddles, like the whole world was tilted on its side and frozen that way. It seemed like there was nothing in his chest, no heart, no lungs, no ribs. Nothing but an electrical buzz. A buzz that seemed to be propelling him forward into the night and away from his fourth marriage. Carolyn, Alison, Jen, and now May. And the women in between, of course. And the women during. He grimaced into a donut and let it surge through him like his blood was sewage. There is no such thing as a normal mental state. There is no word that exists that isn't constantly being contorted into letters. There is no such thing as nature. There is only the buzz. The clicking, insatiable buzz.

[Buy Burn Your Fire for No Witness]
[Buy Paradise in Me]


by Sean
Us Conductors, Canadian cover

Today my first novel, Us Conductors, is published all across Canada. I won't be bothering you like this again until it is published in the United States in June. But I wanted to make sure you heard, you out there, old friends and kindred spirits and trespassers who strayed onto this blog looking for "girl legs" or "shi poem". Us Conductors is published by Random House of Canada, and you can order it via its website, or buy it in shops, or on iBooks or in kindletown, or you can come into my front garden and when spring comes I will sit out there with you and try to persuade you to buy it.

Us Conductors is a kind of love story about Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin, and Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. It's a novel about invention, memory, debt, airships, orchestras, Soviet spies, American ballerinas, Siberian taiga, electric singing, killer kung-fu, blue speakeasies, and responsibility. It's full of lie-seeming truths and true-feeling lies.

I started writing this book in 2009. Its working title was IN WHICH I WIN THE LOVE OF CLARA ROCKMORE, MY ONE TRUE LOVE, FINEST THEREMIN PLAYER THE WORLD WILL EVER KNOW. The book begins with an epigraph by Tennessee Wiliams: "In memory, everything seems to happen to music." There are chapters about the 1929 Crash and the the day Lenin played the theremin. The chapter titles are taken from songs by artists like Kate Bush, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Mark Hollis. There are a few gramophones, but they don't say anything.

Besides tracks by Tim Hecker and the Cocteau Twins, the piece of music that most impacted this book was Clara Rockmore's 1977 performance of Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" (accompanied by her sister, Nadia). It was recorded when Rockmore was in her sixties, well after the events fictionalized in Us Conductors.

Listen to it here: Clara Rockmore - "The Swan (Saint-Saëns)".

I am so tired after a busy few days and so for now all that I will say is: I hope you will buy this book, and maybe come to see me if I visit the place where you live. To learn of book tour dates, subscribe to my newsletter or up-up my Facebook whozit or Twitter whatsit, or just keep reading this site.

Over the next month I will be visiting the Ottawa Writers Fest, talking with Socalled as part of Blue Metropolis, and also hosting a very special Montreal book launch on April 24. But now and foremost, if you dwell in Toronto: please come tonight, Tuesday, April 8, as I launch Us Conductors at your Monarch Tavern. I have the honour of sharing this celebration with Carl Wilson, who launches an expanded version of Let's Talk About Love, one of my favourite books. And we will be joined by wonderful, generous friends: Said the Gramophone's own Daniel Beirne, rapp-battlezin' versus Roger Bainbridge; the thereminist Jeff Bird, playing solo and accompanying the band Snowblink; the writer Liisa Ladouceur; and our splendid DJ, the one and only Sandro Perri. I hope you can join us.

by Sean

Man on a street corner

Nap Eyes - "No Fear of Hellfire".
Nap Eyes - "The Night of the First Show".

Nap Eyes' Whine of the Mystic is a ragged splendour, one of the best things in ages. A band from Halifax with a sound like young caterpillar and old silk, like the Velvet Underground and Electrelane and Destroyer and Guided by Voices. Like liking a drink you know isn't good for you; that's good for you, that's good for you, that you know isn't good for you.

Or a man that's (not) good for you, or a place. Music as simple as Nap Eyes' seems adaptable to many metaphors. Like a towel, like a gun, like a US treasury bond - you could use this in lots of different ways. They are a rock band just so faintly tripping. They are priests of Shaolin and the Holy See, with electric guitars in their hands, with an un-fancy drum-kit. When I finally saw them live they didn't look like they much; but I noticed the white and silver highlights on their instruments, the white and silver highlights of their lightly shearing songs.

"No Fear of Hellfire" is a meditation, "The Night of the First Show" is a shaggy recollection. Two flavours of spring ice. (Ice as in British ices: popsicles, creamsicles; not April's cold streaks.) The first song canters, the second rollicks. One tells a story, one tells much less of a story. One is lemon-sour and one is cherry-sweet; I'll let you choose which is which. Nap Eyes' songs are mazey and riddled, but ambivalent about their mazes, ambivalent about their riddles; in this way they remind me of good smoke, holy incense smoke, always true to its incantation.



  • A reminder that I'm all over Toronto this coming week, promoting Us Conductors. On Saturday, join me at Spur Festival's Literary Cabaret, where I'll talk about Siberia as part of an evening featuring dark & hilarious MCs Miguel and Freddie Rivas, writers Cecil Foster and Hillary Rexe, thereminist Clara Venice, etc; on Sunday, a more in-depth Books & Brunch event, where I'll read from and discuss my novel; finally on Tuesday night, Carl Wilson and I are staging a dual book launch at the Monarch Tavern. We've just added DJ Sandro Perri to the bill, but more on that next week.

  • I wrote about Us Conductors' beginnings - discovering the theremin, researching the novel - for Quill & Quire.

  • And for the 49th Shelf I wrote an essay about some of New York's extraordinary (real-life) nightclubs of the 1920s and 1930s - barbecue, pirates and snowball-fights.

  • Us Conductors was chosen by Apple iBooks as one of April's 10 best fiction books. It's available in Canada as of April 8.
  • (photo source unknown)