Myxomatosis #10 – Summer Road Trip

I’m pretty attached to the platonic ideal of the summer road trip.  My dad has never been a big fan of air travel, so when I was a child our family summer vacations were often spent, at least partially, in the car on the way to a destination.  We took in much of Canada this way; I’ve seen the East and West coasts of Canada as part of summer car trips that stretched up to four weeks in length.  My family, however, are not big music fans, so this time spent in the car, gazing at mile after mile of highway, was also used to listen to a lot of audiobooks and children’s tapes (does anyone else have fondest memories of the Classical Kids series?  My favourites were the Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi stories!).  Nowadays a road trip for me is not complete without a pile of CDs, an FM transmitter to connect my iPod to the car’s stereo, or even just the radio, but the way I listen while driving hasn’t really changed.  Music still seems to sound more transcendent on the road, so much so that I have been know to occasionally drive the car (I don’t own one, but I sometimes borrow them from family) around parts of town I’m unfamiliar with, especially if there’s an exciting electrical storm happening, as a soothing way to spend part of a summer evening.

In my mind, summer songs, too, are slightly different from other songs.  The ones I’ve chosen for this week’s mixtape are sweetly happy, nostalgic, loose and casual, or even just best enjoyed during some time outdoors with friends and drinks.  I picked these songs because they sound to me like the hopefulness of spring dissolving into summer, the promise of more time spent in the company of friends, more moments shared, fewer stresses, and feeling things more intensely.  While I actually am emphatically not a fan of the heat or sun, there’s still something about this season that smacks of freedom and well-being, especially after coming off an infamous Winnipeg winter.  Please enjoy, and maybe under a dusky sky while driving.


Download Myxomatosis #10

Evans the Death – I’m So Unclean

Cloud Nothings – Fall In

Pavement – Summer Babe

Jonathan Richman – I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar

Spearmint – Isn’t It Great To Be Alive

Boxed Wine – Feral

Japandroids – Younger Us

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Toots & The Maytals – Pressure Drop

Liechtenstein – Passion For Water

Cheap Girls – Ft. Lauderdale

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile

Ween – Ocean Man

The Zombies – Time of the Season

Metric – Stadium Love

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Shimmer

Those Dancing Days – Fuckarias

Yeasayer – 2080

The Pastels – Worlds of Possibility

Young Galaxy – We Have Everything


Righteous Anger: Future of the Left’s The Plot Against Common Sense Reviewed

The Future of the Left that released their third album The Plot Against Common Sense last month is a rather different beast than the one that surfaced with their last full-length album, Travels With Myself and Another, in 2009.  Founding member and guitarist Kelson Mathias announced his departure from the band in 2010, and after some temporary members came and went FOTL emerged late in 2010 as a quartet, with Million Dead alumnus Julia Ruzicka on bass and keys and Jimmy Watkins, also of Strange News From Another Star, on guitar.  What hasn’t changed, of course, is Andy “Falco” Falkous’s skill as a lyricist and frontman.  The person who penned such mclusky classics as “Collagen Rock”, “Alan is a Cowboy Killer” and “Without MSG I Am Nothing” has matured after more than 10 years into…well, still a really angry dude.  This is true, but he has become more articulate and adept at incorporating the things that infuriate him into songs with a dark sense of humour instead of into vaguely angry and outright ridiculous songs.  Not that I don’t adore mclusky, but FOTL is a different matter entirely, as it should be.

Practically foaming at the mouth with twisted, snarled anger right out of the gate, “Sheena Is a T-Shirt Salesman” sees FOTL pass judgement on multinational chain stores like H&M that co-opt and appropriate the logos and imagery of punk bands in order to sell t-shirts.  They also take a stab at the hyper-sexualized adverts used to move those t-shirts with lines like “But Sheena is a clever girl/She paid for our equipment with her tits/She tore off her t-shirt/Dumb is the new black.”  The assumed artistic and philosophical purity of The Ramones and others of their ilk is contrasted starkly with the now-commonplace landscape of corporate greed, and the effect is jarring.  This contrast is brought home by the music – a driving bassline anchors a squall of noise, topped off by Falco’s signature scream and sneer.  There’s a little bridge squeezed into this roar that repeats “Autistic autistic autistic radio/Artistic license” while the synths are given a little breathing room, but on the whole it’s a war cry of an opener and an excellent window into what Future of the Left have done and continue to do.

“Failed Olympic Bid” kicks off with those industrial synthesizers and a syncopated guitar rhythm, lending a very post-punk vibe.  Falco spends the whole song on a single note, hammering away at words while guitars and shrill electronic pulses fight for prominence.  Here, the guitars add depth and fury while the electronics suggest monotony and repetition; the day-to-day life in England’s poorer towns, their citizens watching as money is poured into the 2012 Games, making London the star and lesser cities the economic and social victims.  “Cosmo’s Ladder” is slightly milder in sound but not sentiment: a comment on celebrity culture and its associated self-absorbed fixation on personal beauty, it contains lines like “Promise you’ll be there when age plucks out my hair/And pins it to my chest, please don’t get too depressed” and “I have seen into the future/Everyone is slightly older.”  It still contains dissonant electronic touches and a menacing bassline, and the song as a whole has more than a passing similarity to Dead Kennedys’ classic “Holiday in Cambodia.”  There’s the same sarcasm, a similar tongue-in-cheek and simultaneously vicious vocal delivery, and a strong resemblance in the reference to foreign holiday destinations popular with Americans.  Instead of annoying me though, I think the references are obvious enough to serve as a tip-of-the-hat to Dead Kennedys’ song, and “Cosmo’s Ladder” is definitely original enough not to be seen as derivative or unoriginal.  The song’s a success to me both before and after I noticed these similarities, so I think that’s another win for FOTL.

“City of Exploded Children” is actually a lot more mellow, and has a circular structure that suits its themes of war and the casualties of it.  Just after the halfway point bagpipes and snare drums are added to the simple guitar line, building slowly and poignantly until the last line “Fall in lines on the common sheep/He is one, he is two, he is nothing to our thousands.”  “Camp Cappucino” gets back to the jutting angularity similar to “Failed Olympic Bid” and offers plenty of sharp digs at the middle class and some classic Falco nonsequiturs to boot.  And “Robocop 4 (Fuck Off Robocop)”?  Well, it’s got a fabulous title.  While the music here leaves a lot to be desired, this comment on the seemingly unending sequel machine that is Hollywood is apt and clever.  And it ends with the brilliant line “(the first director died)”.

“Polymers Are Forever” lands squarely in the middle of the album and is another of its more interesting tracks.  It has a synthetic sheen to it that underlines its title.  Again, there’s not a lot of musical variation, but its repetition serves to compound Falco’s vitriolic attacks on the myriad subjects in his crosshairs.  “Sorry Dad, I was Late for the Riots” takes aim at the media and the appropriation of activist, leftist symbols by hipsters who don’t care about or understand the deep social iniquities that cause riots and protests.  The accompanying music leans in a bit more of a pop direction than do other songs on this collection, and there’s a catchiness that’s boosted by a synth line that’s more synthpop than industrial in tone.

“A Guide to Men” is both completely ridiculous and deadly serious, questioning the direction that civilisation has taken since its very beginning.  That dichotomy is put particularly well in the phrase “Were they holy emperors?  Or were they horny actors?/Holy emperors? Holy actors?/Holy? Horny? Emperor penguins?/This is a song about total war.”  How much of what we know about our history and origins is influenced by movies?  If history is written by the winners, how much don’t we know about?  Are we curious enough to find out?  There’s some electronic processing added on the vocal lines above, and it’s quirky and haunting at the same time.  How do we call ourselves civilised at all, with the catastrophes we’re collectively in?

Closing number “Notes on Achieving Orbit” is a kind of amalgamation of all the subjects covered thus far on The Plot Against Common Sense and over its 6 and a half minutes, builds to an overwhelming intensity.  Invoking the kind of memories indelibly caused by the announcement of catastrophic world events and traumatizing personal information, “Notes on Achieving Orbit” turns those moments on their heads, posing questions that would instead be prompted by a complete takeover of gossip and celebrity/entertainment media.  Of course, this future doesn’t seem remote at all anymore, giving it more power to scare and intimidate as opposed to simply being laughed off.  Again, for all its ridiculousness, it’s a very grave song and an appropriate end to this album of anger and concern.

As a capsule of and commentary on our damned and damning times, The Plot Against Common Sense is wholly a success.  Personally, I’ve preferred some of FOTL’s previous musical directions, but a quibble like this is really just redundant hair-splitting.  The fact that this kind of indignation is a product of its writers’ being well-informed and highly articulate is a delight to me.  The album is more than solid: the music captures and carries the meaning of its words farther than they can reach, and the oblique, thoroughly contemporary way FOTL has of sculpting their words and questions into uncompromising and yet funny songs is excellent to see on each successive album they make.  Future of the Left, please consider this a handshake and definitely a job well done.

Future of the Left – Cosmo’s Ladder

Future of the Left – Polymers Are Forever

Future of the Left – Notes on Achieving Orbit


Myxomatosis #9 – Like a Monkey With a Miniature Cymbal

Last summer I presented a paper called “MP3 as Contentious Message: When Infinite Repetition Fuses with the Acoustic Sphere” as part of a symposium on repetition, series, and narrative for young people. Yes, I scratched my head about how my paper fit in with narrative, too. However, I was thankful to be invited to participate, and it prompted me to put together some thoughts I had been mulling over for the past four years or so since my thesis on MP3 blogs. And now the hope is that it will be published as part of an essay collection, which is why I’ve been working for a couple of months on the second revision.

My argument uses Marshall McLuhan’s theories about typographic/mechanical media and aural/electronic media to explore the problem of monetary value for MP3s (and other lossy compression audio files for that matter). I contend that the possibility of infinite, exact repetition of MP3s is a hyperextension of the mechanical medium, which McLuhan associates with industrial, linear logic and with abstraction. At the same time, the MP3 is an aural/electronic medium that functions in a non-linear, simultaneous way. This hybridization makes it an object of the postindustrial, postmodern moment of late capitalism, where the increase of immaterial, affective labour challenges a system based on private property. To attempt to assign monetary value to the MP3 often means fetishization of analogue technology and its materials, the replacement of material commodities with access and social experience, and the insertion of human agency, including fans and artists, as content of the medium. In the case of material fetishization, MP3s can precipitate further repetition in the form of parody and nostalgia in their analogue, material counterparts. I specifically look at the examples of Pledge Music, Corporate Records, and Spotify. Along the way, there are references to Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Attali, Frederic Jameson, Jonathan Sterne, Mark Poster, Marcus Boon, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri. The essay also features of Montreal, Radiohead, Gang of Four, The Indelicates, Nine Inch Nails, Imogen Heap, Einstürzende Neubauten, Momus, Amanda Palmer, and perhaps the most eccentric rockstar of them all, McLuhan himself.

What better way to take a step back from all of this theory and repetition fatigue than to make a mix about repetition?

Download Myxomatosis #9 here.

Repeat – Manic Street Preachers

Dot Dash – Wire

Don’t Copy Me – Robots in Disguise

Repetition – The Fall

Infinity Guitars – Sleigh Bells

Repeater Beater – Mew

Repetition – David Bowie

Repetition – TV on the Radio

Nothing New Under the Sun – Thomas Dolby

Repetition Kills You – The Black Ghosts

I’m in Love With My Clone – Hyperbubble

Strange Nostalgia For the Future – Cut Copy

Over and Over – Hot Chip

On Repeat – LCD Soundsystem

On ‘n On – Justice

Repetition – The Soft Moon

Repeater (How Does It Feel?) (live) – Spacemen 3

Replicas – Tubeway Army

Repetition – Information Society

Joy in Repetition – Prince

1 Comment

Impossible Space and Suspension: The Rest’s Seesaw Reviewed

The Rest - Seesaw

I first encountered the brilliance of Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell when I wrote a review of their album, Surreal Auteur, created in their incarnation as Allegories. That record made it to number twelve in my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Then I received the album Everyone All at Once, created by their more recent band The Rest, by accident. I wrote a review of it. It went on to occupy the number three position in my Top 40 Albums of 2009. I took a blog hiatus, and The Rest produced a weirdly wondrous EP, including a cover of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat,” called The Cried Wolf, which came with a book: a twisted retelling of the cautionary tale of lupine lies, naming the tale’s eponymous boy Hans Horatio Stickypants, and casting him as a con artist who inhabits places such as Souplandia and Dragon City. After three years in the making and unmaking, including the untimely death of their friend and producer, The Rest have now released their second LP Seesaw; they unveiled a track each week leading up to the album release date on June 19. When a song was introduced, it was available to download for free until the next song was posted. They still often sound like a Canadian version of the Scottish band Meursault, Bentley’s vocals also sometimes careening into tones similar to Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls. Seesaw evokes perpetual movement, a coordinated flow that feels effortless and dreamy. Bentley’s golden-throated vocals ululate with panoramic abandon and punctuate lines with ecstatic sobs that are uplifting rather than mawkish. Whereas Everyone All at Once seemed slightly more shambolic and more minimal in arrangement, Seesaw is urgent, ambitious, and playful, and Bentley’s voice becomes more abstract as lyrics become less distinct in an atmospheric turn back to the language-defying Allegories.

Opening track “Who Knows” is the perfect example of the exhilarating end of The Rest’s sound spectrum. It begins as a distant oscillation that blossoms into an easy, but exciting conversation. The melodic lines tilt back and forth around a humming fulcrum, sometimes stretching to arc and crisscross their crescendos like well-timed fireworks or a beautifully constructed fountain. Bentley’s reedy fragility gently nudges rhetorical questions along before gliding beyond them into the stratosphere. For “Hey! For Horses,” the rhythm picks up and bolts in syncopated jubilance. There are small crests repeated over a ticking, light percussion, turning an idiom about politeness into a rollicking high-speed chase. Then the ballad “Always On My Mind” elevates shoegaze beyond the dense cloud of distorted guitar into lighter territory as Bentley tenderly sings of “incredible mercies” and the simplicity of human touch.

In the carnivalesque “Laughing Yearning,” guitars mimic steel drums, and Bentley belts his way through the months like the flag-bearer of a celebratory procession. The song hints at Vampire Weekend, which of course means a debt to Paul Simon; however, The Rest casts the style in more ethereal terms. Making the cinematic quality of their music even more pertinent, their track “John Huston” continues the theme of yearning as Bentley addresses the director with passionate pleas, and this sweeping sound continues in the slower “Could Be Sleeping,” which also features the epic expanse of Bentley’s high register. The most subtle of the songs on this album is “The Lodger,” which reverberates with hymn-like serenity. Of course even this lover’s lullaby eventually pushes itself into elegant peaks, quivering and hanging amidst feedback. Returning to an appropriately youthful tempo and flourishes of organ, “Young and Innocent” flirts with childish and adolescent exuberance by playfully using the introduction of The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” and satirizing “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. Its bracing, almost puppyish, pace and controlled cacophony reminds me a bit of early Los Campesinos, too.

Despite the fact “The Last Day” begins like an angelic solo, the song unfolds into a rushing bittersweetness propelled by an insistent kick drum, shimmers of cymbals, and entwining guitar figures that seem to build arborescent patterns in the air. Though Bentley begins the track with the lines “Glory days/And I know it’s the end, but I’m tired/On top of the hill/the town below is on fire,” the song is anything but fatigued and flagging. Energy continues to fizz and pop until the music drops out behind the faded echoes of vocals. The final track, “Slumber,” casts back to the first half of the twentieth century with its lazy ride cymbal and strains of violins. Like a boyish crooner, Bentley sings the starry-eyed refrain of “how am I supposed to slumber?” Just as songs like “Young and Innocent” and “Hey! For Horses” appear gleefully to mock youth while imitating its most exciting bits, “Slumber” shuffles its feet in an almost lugubrious salute to awkward school dances and the obsession of teenage dreams and tear-stained pillows.

Seesaw is available in several formats on their Bandcamp page, including a limited edition on clear 180gram vinyl (it comes with a one-of-a-kind handwritten note about the songs and/or recording experience by individual members of The Rest). This latest record from The Rest is anything but static and at rest. Sleep and the act of reclining figure often in the lyrics, but Seesaw is definitely more about the fight against slumber and reverie and the rebound into breathless wakefulness. They seize every dimension through their sound, teetering acrobatically out on limbs. The balancing act of these musical and lyrical dynamics works as a series of cantilevers, crafting seemingly impossible space and suspension throughout the record. Seesaw is a frontrunner for my 2012 list. Welcome back.

Hey! For Horses – The Rest

The Lodger – The Rest

1 Comment