This is a musicblog. Every weekday we post a couple of mp3s and write about them. Songs are only kept online for a short time. This is a page from our archives and thus the mp3s linked to may not longer be available. Visit our front page for new songs and words.

December 28, 2004

New Coat For A New Coast

Sufjan Stevens - "You Are The Rake"

A guitar chord is plucked and allowed to decay almost fully before another takes its place. The simplicity of the guitar playing is matched by Stevens? direct declarative lyrical approach. At 1:12 banjo begins to emanate from the sparsely timed chords, rolling outwards, pushing Stevens to sing a denser, louder part, fleshed out by backing vocals.

Though the the song?s title would suggest a connection with autumn, ?You Are a Rake? sounds more like a clear winter?s day (guitar and vocals perspicuous like ice) with a light midday snowfall (the delicately placed banjo notes).


A.C. Newman - "Miracle Drug"

One of a good number of power pop gems from A.C. Newman?s solo debut, The Slow Wonder, one gets the sense from ?Miracle Drug? that Newman is a careful pop auteur with tremendous control of his craft. No synth bleep or clean guitar crunch, rousing snare/bass-drum combo or vocal flourish is out of place.

(This is my first two sentence review, I think. Three sentences now. Hmm, an infinity problem? Feels right.)

Posted by Jordan at 6:54 AM | Comments (9)

December 24, 2004

Frozen Puddles

The Glass - "Tell Me It's Snowing"

The slow emotive jangle that starts ?Tell Me It?s Snowing? is, I suppose, the antecedent to my editor, Max Maki?s claim that The Glass sound like The Byrds. This is a totally bogus comparison, but she is equally dissatisfied with my assertion that they share something in mood or tone with The Tragically Hip.

The main difference between our positions: mine is valid but hers is not.

The song is structurally dubious and not entirely cohesive, but the brave tremolo vocals and sparse guitar counterpoint make it a worthwhile listen. [Buy]

(Thank you Cody for sending this track my way.)


Kepler - "The National Epithet"

Do you know what?s special about this evening? That?s right, it?s Christmas Eve. I bet a lot of you already knew that. Am I right in assuming that many of you will be receiving presents in the near future? Not so in my case, I?m afraid. As a non-practicing Jew, I am robbed of everything that is good and holy (gifts). If you feel bad (and I think you should), please consider sending me a cheque (multiples of $18 are marginally preferred).

This song is kind of like that about which I know least: unwrapping a present. Not wanting to be rude, you patiently pull off the tape, carefully unfold the paper (should you keep it?), but all the while you are greedily anticipating the bounty within (it?s your nature, though I personally am above it). The bounty being, in the case of this song, the choruses from 1:36 to 1:49 and 2:24 to 2:53. [Info]

Please accept this problematic analogy as my holiday gift to you. Merry Christmas!

Posted by Jordan at 7:25 AM | Comments (2)

December 22, 2004

The Opposite of 'To Favour'

Peggy Lee - "Is That All There Is?"

My parents tell me that after I got home from my first day at school, I cried. I don?t remember this, but they tell me that I said I had expected the school to be covered in lights, I?d expected a spectacle. Both my parents had been enthusiastic teachers and my sister a committed student who probably tried to convince me of how great it was going to be (my brother would have known better). But the cloakroom, the plasticine, my classmates, Mrs. Kestler - they had all been terrible disappointments. I am also told that I was either slow at understanding or slow to respond when it was play time and that as a result I usually ended up playing with the disfavoured toys (old baby dolls, paper, etc.). But regardless of whether or not this humiliation/emasculation contributed to my chagrin, that day marked the first in a long line of disillusionments. Was that all there was? ?Let?s break out the booze and have a ball,? I should have suggested. Alas, I was an innocent who, frankly, did not have the vocabulary or a taste for hard liquor.

Notice that dancing, drinking and general bacchanalian reveling are the only things in life (or death) that don?t disappoint poor Peggy Lee.


Mississippi John Hurt - "First Shot Missed Him"

1. The shooter?s first shot was way off. The last one was right on. What happened in between we do not know. The quality of the shooter?s marksmanship is still in question. The life-status of the victim is not.

2. The intricate guitar playing tells the story along with Hurt?s genial voice. Uncharacteristically soft for a blues, it?s a small song that tugs hard on a little piece of your heart.

Posted by Jordan at 7:05 AM | Comments (3)

December 21, 2004

The Cold

Masha Qrella - "I Want You To Know"

A cut-up acoustic guitar strums a rhythm so disconcerting that you will be shocked (to death) when you discover that it?s in 4/4 time. Though the music has been electronically manipulated, it loses none of its natural warmth - it still sounds like fingers on strings, socks on pedals, vibrating vocal chords, and depressed ivory. And even though Qrella sings tentative afterthoughts, sings like she?s surprised by the clipped rhythm, she never seems shaken, she always seems confident and knowing (like your mom).


Yahowa 13 - "Making A Dollar"

A few important facts about Father Yod and The Yahowa 13:

1. Father Yod was the head of a cult.

2. The cult spawned a variety of bands, mostly fronted by Yod himself.

3. Yahowa 13 was one of these bands. (Though this song does not feature the Father, rather the precocious Aquarian Brothers (Sunflower, Djin, Rhythm and Octavious)).

4. On the back cover of Savage Sons of Yahowa (the album from which this song is taken) Father Yod appears to be sitting naked atop an upside down pyramid banging out bolts of lightning with a hammer.

5. Yod died hand gliding in Hawaii. About this incident, his friend Sky Sunlight Saxon (of The Seeds) said, ?I feel that he took a kite that wasn?t quite, you know, right for his body. He was a big man. He needed a kite much heavier than that, but we probably didn?t have one.?

6. Though the entire record is over-saturated with flange, the impassioned, yearning, voices-breaking chorus of ?Making A Dollar? more than makes up for that shortcoming.

7. If you are so inclined, the entire Father Yod discography is available in the thirteen cd box set simply entitled God and Hair, The Yahowa Collection. It is not recommended.

Posted by Jordan at 2:41 AM | Comments (7)

December 16, 2004


Songs: Ohia - "Just Be Simple"

A weeping lap steel lament, ?Just Be Simple? is what it preaches. Its simplicity is such that it strikes a resounding chord of familiarity on first listening, like you have heard it on the car radio a thousand times before.

In Songs: Ohia?s latest work, Jason Molina calls to mind a struggling but dignified idealized America (as it only exists in song). He moves away from Will Oldham, and while maintaining a similarity in feeling to some of Neil Young?s work, adds to it the working class Americana of The Band or Bob Seeger.


Joan Armatrading - "Love and Affection"

A folk singer from St. Kitts, Joan Armatrading was joined by members of Fairport Convention and The Faces for her self-titled third album. She abandoned the solo acoustic folk that characterized her first two records for a full band and heavily produced pop/rock.

?Love and Affection? isn?t a perfect song. Its production is dated and there?s a sax solo at 2:51 that leaves something to be desired (i.e. its absence). Yet Armatrading?s voice and songwriting shine through and it doesn?t take long to get past the shortcomings. Her voice is always precise, but varies wildly in tone, sometimes angelic and gossamer (as in the opening bars), sometimes yearning and passionate (as when she sings ?really dance/really move/really love?), and then at other times wide open and soulful (?with friends I still feel so insecure?). Sometimes she engages in a fiery gospel as when she calls for her interlocutor to ?sing it, sing it? just before the unfortunate sax solo.

Posted by Jordan at 9:26 PM | Comments (8)

Now Try To Stay Still and Quiet

Clarence Carter - "Patches"

At a certain point Clarence Carter decided that he would only sing about the extent of his skill in love making (c.f. the subtly titled ?Strokin?,? ?I Like To Screw,? ?Sixty Minute Man,? ?I?m Not Just Good, I?m The Best,? and (my favourite) ?Who?s Making Love To Your Old Lady?? (I assume the answer is you, Clarence)). Luckily, before he made that choice, he recorded his hit single, ?Patches:? a southern soul classic whose subject matter could not be further from that of his later, hornier work.

?Patches? is the story of a thirteen year old boy who is forced to take responsibility for his family when his father passes away early in the song. He manages to till the fields, tend the chickens and attend school every day. I?m not going to lie to you, readers: things were not always easy for Patches.

It seems that if this song is at all autobiographical, Carter earned the salacious lifestyle he was so fond of bragging about in his later work.


My Morning Jacket - "Lowdown"

If Jim James (My Morning Jacket?s singer) didn?t have such a wussy voice, I could imagine the protagonist of this song being played by Tom Berenger or Sam Elliot. A real cowboy with dirt on his face and plaid on his back, seeing a girl and awkwardly professing his feelings for her.

?Hurtin, Beatin, ain?t no need for repeatin... you never gotta bleed for me/ chance, glance, sho? nuff mood for romancin... you only gotta dance with me.?

It?s sort of not the most romantic thing I?ve ever heard. And also, it?s kind of the most romantic thing I?ve ever heard.

Between verse and chorus, James sings like the long tones of a trumpet, blending seamlessly with the tightly interwoven guitars, the dumb grin of the drums. Everything?s soaked in reverb; a half-forgotten memory made hazier by the intense heat (from the sunny melody) and dryness (from the sandy bass (like an unplugged electric)).

(Consider that metaphor mixed).

Posted by Jordan at 3:48 AM | Comments (8)

December 14, 2004

At What Time Should We Start?

Robert Fripp with David Byrne - "Under Heavy Manners"

?Under Heavy Manners? starts off dated: a reggae disco whose bass sound betrays its age. However, we are compelled to listen on by the familiar clipped vocals of David Byrne, singing the names of as many isms as he can think of in the nerdiest voice he can muster (not to be scoffed at, as Byrne?s nerdiest is analogous to Aristotle?s driest, Woody Allen?s most anxious or Dave Kingman?s highest (home run)). And we?re glad we stick with it, because the bass fades away from the focal point and is replaced by increasingly dense layers of Fripp?s signature guitar playing (unrecognizable as guitar, like panes of slightly different coloured glass being superimposed onto one another).

And then when the bells come in, Byrne is released from his word game:

?Bells, I can hear bells.?

No one plays guitar like Robert Fripp or sings like David Byrne, and so it is not surprising that as a team they were able to produce something unlike anything else.


Six Organs of Admittance - "Khidr and the Fountain.mp3"

My friend Darren has been spending some time learning to play the solo acoustic guitar songs of John Fahey. In doing so, he told me the other night, he?s grown sick of listening to Fahey?s music. All the mystery has been taken out of it. He is too well acquainted with the songs to enjoy them, at least for now. So, he?s been looking for music to fill the void left by the absence of Fahey, and has as of yet been unable to find anything suitable.

Which of course brought to mind the classic question: if you are someone whose favourite artist is John Fahey and you are going to a desert island but can?t bring any of Fahey?s music, what music do you bring in order to satisfy your appetite for Fahey?

I guess you bring the early recordings of Six Organs of Admittance. SOoA, like Fahey, is a guitar virtuoso with a fondness for the solo performance without overdubs. Also like Fahey, he plays sad, dense multi-rhythmic songs deeply rooted in the tradition of early American blues and folk, as well as Indian classical music. Which is not to say that he is merely a follower of Fahey. It would not be possible to confuse the two guitarists. Whereas Fahey plays a dead slow aching swing, SOoA plays a faster, more straight ahead wall of notes; steadily alternating bass note patterns and simultaneous blazing treble solos.

?Khidr and the Fountain? tells the story in song of the Islamic prophet Khwaja Khadir who is supposed to be the only immortal man, a position he got himself into by drinking from the Fountain of Life.

Though there is something of Middle Eastern immortality in this song, there are also equal portions of cowboy face-off and Spanish folk tragedy.

Posted by Jordan at 6:18 AM | Comments (9)

December 11, 2004

Keeping Warm

Tommy James and the Shondells - "Crimson and Clover"

You've probably heard it before, but it's worth another listen.

Tommy James and the Shondells were mostly a schlocky bubblegum-pop band, but their one foray into the then popular world of psych proved most fruitful. Just as James and his Shondells had brought the mindlessness of pop to new levels with the meaningless "Mony Mony," in "Crimson and Clover" they leave no crevice or nook of song untouched by the wavy, multicoloured hand of psych. The incredible drama achieved by the major chord progression, click and jangle percussion, backup "ah's" and the proto-emo avowal vocals, makes this the perfect psych-pop track for the dance you're planning (save a spot on your dance card for me, please. I like the slow ones).

As the song unfolds, each instrument becomes increasingly drenched by tremolo, until it becomes almost unbearably shaky (just give us one whole signal). Then, just when we think it's too much, that it can't get any heavier, when all the tremolo solos have played out over their tremolo backgrounds, at 4:22 the tremolo cuts out, leaving us a crisp two-note guitar riff and then (oh, there it is) deeply tremolo affected vocals, repeating what is perhaps one of the most inane refrains in the history of song: "Crimson and clover, over and over." The song builds itself back up around James, the two notes repeat faster and faster, a wave of tom drums propel forward.

Even the notoriously picky Hubert Humphrey endorsed this song. And perhaps if he had chosen it as his 1968 presidential campaign running-mate instead of that dreadful bore, Edmund Muskie, Nixon would never have been President and we would be living in a very different world right now. A world with an America that used to have "Crimson and Clover" as its Vice President. A better world.


Mirah - "Murphy Bed"

Alternating between deep warm tremolo ascending arpeggios and shimmering treble strums, Mirah monologues to her boyfriend or girlfriend (let's call him/her The Corporal) about the merits of an open-relationship. She hopes that The Corporal's getting some action while The Corporal's out on the road. She wonders whether or not she should tell The Corporal about what she's been up to. She explains that when The Corporal comes home, The Corporal can tie her to the bed ("let's do all the things you said").

Being a man of the cloth, all this means to me is sin. However, I fully embrace this song on the basis of its brief and dense wall-of-noise crackling coda.

Posted by Jordan at 5:49 AM | Comments (13)

December 10, 2004

Now You See It My Way

Hayden - "Home By Saturday"

It turns out that Hayden?s latest is actually really good. This will be a vindicating admission for certain parties who have been met only with ridicule during their repeated attempts to convince me and my trusty editor of just that.

On this track Hayden intones in his usual half-distracted, lying on a flannel-covered couch at his cottage kind of way. He sings about giving up the music biz for a girl with whom he doesn?t want to screw things up. I ignore the lyrics.

What should not be ignored is the guitar triumvirate consisting of an acoustic (reminds me of wheat or corn or golden crop of some kind), pedal-steel (a friend with interests in sliding and bending) and their leader, the distorted electric (confidently clears a path, which the pedal-steel follows like the tide coming in, tentatively moving forward two steps, then back one).


International Airport - "Cyclonic Lanes"

There are two singers on "Cyclonic Lanes", neither of whom is particularly competent. The fumbling of the male singer who starts the song off is not quite as cute as it is cringe-worthy. However, at 1:07 the female singer takes over. She has a lisp which she exploits to its full potential; making the word ?sun? softer than it already is over and over again. This in combination with the distorted found sounds, drum machines, Rhodes organ and out of tune flute, causes ?Cyclonic Lanes? to be not just your standard clumsy indie-pop song, but something kind of elegant and intensely sleepy. The latter quality being an important one at this late hour.

Posted by Jordan at 4:56 AM | Comments (4)

December 8, 2004

Let's Try Something...

Castanets - "Cathedral 4 (The Unbreaking Branch Song)"

Starting out as an amorphous and toneless sermon on spirituality, the soul and God (set to down-strummed acoustic guitar), "Cathedral 4" turns at 1:12 into an amorphous and toneless dance sermon on being and the good life (set to down-strummed electric guitar, jaunty and oddly detached organ, occasional glassy guitar and a borderline silly drum beat). Good. Because that's what I require of a song.


Great Lake Swimmers - "I Will Never See The Sun"

Some name/thing confusion that is likely to arise when listening to "I Will Never See The Sun":

1. This song is similar to The Saddest Music In The World, but not to the saddest music in the world.

2. The Great Lake Swimmers are the Great Lake Swimmers, but are not (to my knowledge) Great Lake swimmers.


Some identity confusion that is likely to arise when listening to "I Will Never See The Sun":

1. This song is the Bluenose sailing in 3/4 time, and, of course, is not that.

2. That triumphant bass part is four round raindrops (the volume of a full big bathtub each) falling to the ground and coming satisfyingly undone on impact. Also, that is not what it is.


An ambiguously constructed sentence pertaining to the aptness of the band's name:

Rarely has the name of a band been so powerfully evocative of its aesthetic.


This is a very beautiful song.

Posted by Jordan at 5:08 AM | Comments (6)

December 7, 2004

Compare and Contrast

Macha Loved Bedhead - "Believe"

There is real artistic vision at work when a musician hears Cher's "Believe" and thinks to himself rightly "I could do a great cover of that." Macha and Bedhead had the thought and executed the cover almost perfectly (maybe it could have been half the length).

The original is something like what would result if an automated phone service and a soulless record producer met at a seedy downtown bar, drank four old fashioned's each, made out and procreated.

The cover keeps the phone/electronics focus of the original but slows it way down, moves it from the gross oversaturated green night club scene, to a creaky sunbright bedroom. The vocoder is kept, but instead of sounding like a computer it sounds like an ancient quarter-inch tape recording left out in the rain and then played on a reel-to-reel with a precarious power supply.

Go here to make your own cover. I can't stop.


Smog - "Hit The Ground Running"

So, this is a weird one. Here's how it starts:

Pizzicato strings and a child staring straight at you singing exactly what's being plucked, "bum, bum, bum." There's something vaguely psychopathic about it. Then another kid steps out from behind the first. And a third kid from behind him. Hey, it's a grade three class unfolding from a single-file line, all singing the "bum, bums." Where's it going? You don't know. You don't even know how you got here in the first place. Then Bill Calahan (aka Smog) starts in. What does the bizarre man behind this circus have to say? "I had to leave the country, though there was some a nice folk there."

Mostly it's a straightforward 4/4 rock song, but sometimes it has a string section and sometimes a choir of children.

Don't be upset when he sings "I was born in a pit of snakes/Blink your eyes/I was raised on cake." There's no reason to be upset by what is good.

Posted by Jordan at 5:12 AM | Comments (9)

December 3, 2004

That's Bogus

If you sense something different about today's post, perhaps a residue of some kind, then you are a particularly astute reader and have picked up on the fact that my editor, Max Maki, has laid her greasy palms all over this stuff (these posts were, she will claim (she's hungry for credit (albeit, where it's due)) co-written).


The Silt - "A Song About A Red Whistle"

I once had a red fox forty. So I know something about whistles. Excited to sit down and put my knowledge to use, I was disappointed to discover that "A Song About A Red Whistle" is actually a song about a song about a red whistle. Knowing nothing about songs, I wept.

"A Song About a Red Whislte" is a shanty stomp from the mines to the mess hall. Hat brim-skewed, fingers blackened, stomach shrunken, body so tired your mind can?t remember what you had for breakfast (beans? was it beans again?), let alone a song you wrote a full year ago. This latter lacuna of memory is the central crisis of this song which would otherwise be called A Red Whistle. A much catchier title.


Jim Guthrie - "Sexy Drummer"

Every time I?ve seen Jim Guthrie play I?ve been impressed by his guitar playing. Unfortunately, his arrangements tend to be distractingly misguided (electric cellos? Sony playstation composition games!.?) and his songwriting questionable. This song avoids the Guthrie pitfalls through its simplicity. The warm drive of the drum beat (unassuming, but mesmerizing, soothing but, yes, sexy) carries the guitar and cheap organ over the bass? melodic framework. Plain and nice.

Guthrie?s use of the word ?score? hints at the two most salient features of the drummer?s existence: counting bars and notches on bedposts.

Posted by Jordan at 1:52 AM | Comments (6)

December 2, 2004

Don't Let Him Talk

Still swamped with papers, so only one song today.

This post marks the first featuring a song submitted by a stranger to make the site. Moral: send your songs.


Tom Thumb - "Wine and Cigarettes"

"Wine and Cigarettes" moves quickly from an aimless whiny (and cigaretty?) twee jangle to a confident amble (electrics and acoustics dialoguing seamlessly). The drumming is a horse's trot on wet soft dirt, made more forceful and driving by a plethora of supporting percussion (hand-claps, bongos, shakers, maybe a cowbell).

Tom Thumb sings like he's dancing. Shaking his head more vigorously as the shakers come in, the electric guitar breaks its stride, takes more liberties. At 1:47 he looks into a mirror and is spurned on by his own enthusiasm, his voice bouncing off itself, his guitars running circles around each other.

It took me a few listens to get it, but this is an unexpected treat. [Buy]

Posted by Jordan at 7:35 AM | Comments (0)