Vivian Girls - "When I'm Gone"
In the summertime in Nova Scotia it's rare for us to leave the house without some kind of container to hold whatever berries we might come across. Writing now, in the middle of winter, it's difficult to remember the schedule of their arrival. But I know that after the solstice the berries start coming one at a time, a new variety appearing as the previous one starts to run out.
I only started picking berries a few years ago, so I'm still pretty slow. It took me a while to train my eyes to see them in the bogs and woods. But once I got a taste I became much more attentive to the wild and sweet things growing all around. Small flashes of colour mixed into the green and brown landscape.
Raspberries ripening on the side of the road, blackberry canes covered in spines, wild blueberries in a woodlot dense with mosquitos, cranberries near the beach. Gooseberries, foxberries, huckleberries, wild strawberries, even bakeapple in the bog, a rare treat that tastes like sweet apricot.
Picking is a nice way to pass the time, gathering berries from one patch and then moving along to the next. Some berries have already been pecked by birds while others have yet to ripen, and stay on the vine for whatever animal comes by at the right time. Hours pass quietly, looking down at the ground for brightly-coloured fruit, satisfying the ancient human urge to pay attention and collect. Time passes like this until buckets are filled, or the weather changes for the worse, or the bug bites become intolerable.
The berries grow for a short time and then they're gone, whether you pick them or not.
(photo of foxberry picking by Spike)
José González - "Open Book". Ke'mar's grandfather used to tell him stories about the days before Bollo was a desert. Once, long ago, before even they had been born, Bollo was an island in the midst of a wide sea. Kwii's southern face was like the rest of the summer planet: sapphire water dotted with tiny islets, with darting finbacks and spiderweeds. Back then, Bollo wasn't a desert capital - it was known for its pearl-divers, for its sailboat engineers. And yet, over time, sand accumulates. There is a Bollonese proverb: Sand comes. It appears in the corners of rooms, at the bottoms of cliffs - bit by bit the islet of Bollo became an island, the island became a larger island, and the island became a small, complete continent. A landmass with its own dunes and oases, insects and mammals, scavenging birds. No one living remembered when Bollo was an island but they had all heard stories of it, passed down folktales of flying fish and shipwrecks.
Bollo's sand gave it a special status on Kwii. Most of the planet was suffused with balmy saltwater, tropical groves; desolation was rare, and it attracted a special class of tourist. For two generations, Ke'mar's family had managed a guesthouse for these wilderness-seekers. They provided clean beds, fresh breakfasts, sonic showers to wash the sand from clothes and skin. They played quiet music during the evening meal, as all the visitors sat on carpets and ate. They provided long bouts of silence - their guests almost always preferred silence - as the house filled and emptied with wanderers, dreamers, lonely-hearts. Some mornings, when Ke'mar was toasting the cakebreads, he would stare out into the atrium and wonder if any of these travellers had ever met his sister.
All of this is because of me. This was one of the songs Ke'mar sang with his family, at dinner, as they sat in a circle before the visitors. It was an old song, maybe a prayer, but whenever Ke'mar sang these words he thought of Ki'ax. He imagined her singing this line, back when he was barely old enough to read. Did she hear it as reproach? As regret? Was she singing this line, one day, when she decided to leave Bollo?
She was out there somewhere, in the rainforests of Lama or Su, or off-planet, a trader on the autumn world. She was out there somewhere, miles or light-years from the desert, and she still hid this hot song in her heart. [buy Vestiges & Claws / it's just wonderful]
In case you didn't hear: I have begun writing a weekly music column for the Globe & Mail. Read the first one here (and see if you can find my mortifying typo :( ).
(Image is Robert Frank's Untitled (Children with Sparklers in Provincetown), from 1958. Thank you Alex.)
11:06 AM on Feb 23, 2015
The Mountain Goats - "No Children"
Johnny Cash & June Carter - "Jackson"
Rupert Holmes* - "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)"
Sometimes love is like this. Other times it's like a drunk fistfight with your best friend in a parking lot: locked together, aching and winded and so so so mad about anything. If you don't stop you'll die, but if you stop, you'll die. Some songs are about the eternal flame of your love burning its outline into the night sky; others are like that but it's a tire fire. This is next-level, black belt, white-knuckle being-with-others business, no doe-eyed beginners allowed.
It's hard to write a concise, catchy jam about how someone who once sucked the clouds out of the sky with just their look now seems to you like stripped wire, a loose jumble of stray flaws described by a narrative you can no longer see for its proximity or its distance or its both. It's tough to tell a story in three and a half minutes when that story is that you've worn through this one with your pacing - that you couldn't stop even if you wanted to, if you even knew what you wanted. These three are all kinda shambling, boozy, hilarious, a little anthemic - but with something way harder coiled tight under the surface. Sharp and sure and frantic and sweet and way lost, years past plain loving or angry or sad. The night air's like glass in your lungs, your wallet's long gone, some dude on the corner's squinting at you guys with his cellphone like should I call somebody or? Eventually you'll catch your breath, tomorrow you'll spend picking the gravel out of your elbows with shame and a pair of tweezers, but right now, what else are you going to do? Quitting's for suckers.
[buy Tallahassee / Duets / Partners in Crime]
*Look, I know you think I'm fucking with you, but when is the last time you really listened to it? Do this now, for me, just this once. Please? Look past the shag carpet, the hot tub, the swingy guitars, because all that stuff is masking a vocabulary and a narrative structure that reach near-Albee levels of intricate chaos and tension and self-contained, cracked logic. The world of this thing just drops into your lap, fully formed: Health food? Yoga? At a bar called O'Malley's? If you have half a brain? IN THE DUNES OF THE CAPE? Are you kidding me? This song is insane. The woman is so fed up with her bullshit life, with this flinchy man and their dumpy two-bit town, and meanwhile our narrator may be a perfect lens but he personally possesses zero chill. Like, oh, you know me so well I'm a "worn-out recording" but also you had no idea I enjoy the taste of champagne? Cool. Very cool. If you can't hear a chorus of pathos, of dropped shoulders and bitter cheap cigarette drags in the way Holmes and his beard intone that last "oh, it's you" then I don't know what to tell you, I truly don't.
The Libertines - "The Good Old Days". The hotel bartender handed Lionel his drink and Lionel took a sip and he thought to himself, What is this sour concoction? He had asked for a "fernet lemon" - it was listed on the blackboard cocktail menu - and now he received this tall glass full of minty white fluid. It tasted sour. It tasted like a concoction. Lionel didn't really want to finish it but he kept drinking all the same, because the prime minister was at the other end of the room and he didn't want to do anything conspicuously odd, didn't want to give the bloody PM another reason to shuffle his cabinet rolodex and exile Lionel to the ministry of fisheries, the department of sport. So Lionel finished the concoction and as he took these sour, bitter, thin swallows, an idea came into his head. The idea was: "I should resign." Not just that: "I should resign, quit politics, move to the country." The idea had come straight from the fernet lemon, he was certain of it, but now that it had lifted from his tongue to his upper palate to the vulnerable under-surface of his brain it was lodged there like a squatter. Every changing expression on Lionel's face, every chuckle and glance - the beat beneath was one of resign, resign, resign. The pub was wooden and golden, the company was eminent, power flowed from the men in suits to the chandeliers and through the mirrors on the walls, but Lionel had the ticking sense that his time was up, or ought to be up, and at the other end of a train journey was a refuge and a home. [thanks marco / buy]
11:37 AM on Feb 19, 2015
Jim Sullivan - "UFO"
I went through a lot of phases as a kid. The first was a dinosaur-phase in which I thought every single rock I found at the park was a fossil and brought lots of "fossils" home. After a while my mom made me bring all my precious scientific discoveries back to the park. I was a little upset because I knew that other kids would discover them and then they would be the ones in the newspaper with headlines like "Local boy discovers oldest fossils in the park by the swing. A lot of them!" but I listened to my mom.
After that it was my turtle-phase. I got a little turtle and shortly after my mom read a headline that said something like "Local boy got sick! Really, really sick from the germs of his pet turtle." So she said we should let him go back to his natural habitat. "He would be much happier with his turtle friends and fish friends," she said. I said "I think he seems happier alone. I think he likes being alone. He is an outsider artist turtle or maybe he is a goth turtle." I didn't actually say that but I wish I did. So the time came to let him go. I was sad but it was for the best. We went to the pond near by, which had a lot of turtles already. There were some other kids there fishing with their dads. I didn't want them to catch my turtle so I took a couple of steps back and threw my turtle as hard as I could like an AAA pitcher's last chance to get into the Major League, with his scouts watching, bases loaded at the bottom of the ninth inning, but I was a little kid who had bad pitching form even though I played lots of baseball like all Japanese boys. I threw him and he hit the water like a skipping stone. He skipped three times and disappeared. I hope he is ok.
Last was the UFO-phase, I think I was 11 or so. I was obsessed by UFOs and aliens. I wanted to believe. I slept by my window looking at the stars at night. My home was in a northern outskirt of Osaka, by the mountains, so some days I could see the stars pretty clearly. Once, I saw a shooting star and was convinced that I would be abducted by aliens and they would do surgery on my head to put in implants to monitor me from far away. I was scared so I tucked in my covers like a sleeping bag and held on to my headboard. But then I realized they could just abduct my bed too so I gave up on that. I also knew, from watching UFO documentaries, that they could erase the memory of the abduction itself. I figured maybe I was already abducted. I thought, I need to tell my parents, my brothers, and teacher, but wait, if I tell them, the implant in my brain might trigger an alarm on the UFO that is based behind the moon and they would strike earth with a really thick laser that would kill mankind immediately, all because of me. So, I didn't say anything, to save mankind. It was a mission, and I kept it secret until now. Now I think it is probably ok. It's been over 22 years so the implant's battery is most likely dead. The end.
Propagandhi - ". . . And We Thought That Nation States Were a Bad Idea" [buy]
In 1996 I was at the height of my anti-moshing phase, later abandoned, and so at most shows I usually stood unmoving, wearing a backpack with my arms crossed. Propagandhi were still a pop-punk band on Fat Wreck Chords then. I loved Less Rock, More Talk and listened to it constantly that year. But they had enthusiastic fans who didn't know that the cool way to express their appreciation was by standing totally still. Instead they moshed it up in the pit in the basement of St. Joseph's Church in Sandy Hill when the band came to Ottawa. So when the paramedics showed up I assumed it was due to a pit casualty. Instead, it turned out that someone at the back was standing on a table, trying to get a better view, when they became lightheaded and fell over. Later I heard that they were okay.
Brutal Knights - "Grow Up, Throw Up" [buy]
A summer punk show in a tight Bar St. Laurent 2. Feet in the air, broken ceiling tiles, lots of beer, and a huge grin on everyone's face. Then halfway through a song Brutal Knights stopped abruptly. Nick, the singer, was motionless on the floor after some crowd surfing and shenanigans up on the speaker platform. Then: "Everyone get out NOW!" Because the stage was by the front door we all had to file out past Nick and could see that his arm was going in a direction that it shouldn't. He was lying on a red lighting gel that many of us mistook for a puddle of blood. The show was over, but everyone milled around on the sidewalk until the ambulance came. Then I biked down to Casa to see White Lung play. Nick healed up fine.
High on Fire - "Brother In The Wind" [buy]
The strobe lights used by the opening band Goatwhore were getting to me, but I watched their whole set mainly because the singer was such an indefatigably posi ambassador for heavy metal. "Thank you for coming out to support metal on a Tuesday night Montreal!" My vision went black and I collapsed into Mike just as High on Fire started playing. I only remember a few glimpses of him carrying me out of the crowded room at La Tulipe. I was lucky to have a friend in nursing school who was also into metal. I came to on the sidewalk outside a few minutes before the ambulance arrived. Mike came to the hospital with me. It was still dark when I was discharged. I'm fine.
(photo by Spike)
digitalanalogue - "NO. 99 ('I Love To Go A-Wandering')". To a certain degree, humans are programmable machines. Particular inputs result in particular outputs. Give me bubbles, I will hiccup. Give me bright light, I will blink. Give me joke, I will laugh. The Scottish group digitalanalogue has assembled this song from slow chords and sampled voices. There are echoes of Stars of the Lid, Jon Hopkins and the Happiness Project. There are lanterns raised and lowered. There are no jokes, bubbles or bright light. It makes me feel something - makes me, like it's throwing switches in my chest. I might resist or struggle, I might resent the manipulation, but there is no denying it: this music, deftly crafted, accomplishes an end. It is more end than means, I think; a treatment, or maybe an innoculation. [buy from Song, By Toad Records]
Stromae - "Formidable". As I enter my second year with this song, our relationship has changed. Lately I am even more struck by how stricken it is. I am inured to its beats and dance - yet Stromae's shaky voice, his bitter laugh, it is as they are changing with each repeat. The Belgian singer's heart is sinking. It is not the sadness that becomes more profound - it is the anger. More and more that's acrid in the song; more and more smoke that fills the derelict house. When some relationships end, they gradually fade away, blank to white. Others: what's left, the husk, it rots. Its shadow spreads across the floor. [buy this splendid song / view its splendid video]
11:00 AM on Feb 16, 2015
about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs
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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors
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