By James Sandham
So the big news in indie music this week was that Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GY!BE) won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize. Although there was some controversy around GY!BE’s response to winning, it all ended well: a great Canadian band was awarded for its art and, thanks to the band’s donation of their winnings, some prisoners will have access to musical instruments. Leaving controversy behind for a second and focusing back on great music, here’s a little retrospective of GY!BE’s work over the years.
The song below comes from GY!BE’s first album, F♯ A♯ ∞ (pronounced “F-sharp, A-sharp, Infinity”), which was released back in 1997 on Constellation Records and then again in 1998 on Kranky as an expanded edition. The song is typical of this release: devoid of traditional lyrics, mainly instrumental and incorporating a wide variety of sampled, ambient sounds. It’s almost cinematic in its scope – due, perhaps, to the opening words, which come from an unfinished screenplay by guitarist/keyboardist Efrim Menuck.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “The Dead Flag Blues”
Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada is a two-track EP that was released by the band in 1999. It contains the songs “Moya,” which is a reference to band member Mike Moya, and “BBF3,” which refers to Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, an interviewee on the once-popular American radio show “Vox Pop,” whose ramblings comprise the core of the song.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada”
The selection below comes from the band’s second release, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (also known as Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! and Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven), which was released in 2000. The release was a double album and “Sleep” is the first movement from the second disc. It includes the three songs “Murray Ostril: ‘… They Don’t Sleep Anymore on the Beach…’,” “Monheim” and “Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III.” Q Magazine named it one of the “50 Heaviest Albums of All Time.”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Sleep”
“Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls” is the third of five tracks that comprised GY!BE’s third studio release, 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O. It was their first album recorded outside of Canada – in Chicago, to be precise, at Electrical Audio – and it took a turn from their usual interwoven field recordings and specifically named movements for a sound the band described as “just raw, angry, dissonant, epic instrumental rock.” It was shortly after the release of this album that the band announced an indefinite hiatus to pursue their individual musical interests. The album’s name means Yankee (in Spanish “Yanqui”) Unexploded Ordinance (“U.X.O.”).
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls”
After a decade of silence, GY!BE returned with ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, which was released in 2012. At the time it was heralded as a comeback for the collective and it ultimately went on to win them the 2013 Polaris Music Prize. The 20-minute track below is the oeuvre’s opening number. So sit back and enjoy.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Mladic”
By Adam Bunch
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GLENN GOULD
It was on Sunday, September 25, 1932, that Glenn Gould was born in his parents’ house in Toronto. The young genius grew up in the Beaches, just a few blocks from the shore of Lake Ontario, and even as an infant he showed musical promise.
It was no coincidence: his parents were both musicians who made a concerted effort to expose their son to music as early as possible, even in the womb. They say that, as an infant, Gould wouldn’t cry – he would hum. He would also waggle his fingers as if he was playing the piano. He had perfect pitch and could read music before he could read writing. By the time Gould was six years old, he was playing one of his own compositions at the local Presbyterian church. By the time he was 10, he was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music. By the time he was 12, he had graduated with the highest marks of any candidate and reached “professional standing as a pianist.”
It was, of course, only the beginning. The Canadian phenom would become one of the most famous and celebrated classical musicians of the 20th century. His interpretations of Bach were particularly acclaimed, including his famous Goldberg Variations. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1983, a year after he passed away. If he were still alive today, Glenn Gould would be celebrating his 81st birthday.
THE VERY FIRST POP MONTREAL
During this week in 2002, 80 bands were playing in 40 different venues around Montreal. It was the first-ever POP Montreal International Music Festival. Right off the bat the organizers pulled together an impressive lineup. Broken Social Scene, Stars, The Dears, Constantines, Blonde Redhead, Julie Doiron and Martha Wainwright were all among the acts to play that inaugural edition. Since then, the festival has attracted some of the biggest names in Canadian music – Arcade Fire, Holy Fuck, Grimes – along with international giants like Beck, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. They’ve even been known to feature a Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee or two: Buffy Sainte-Marie was one of the highlights in 2009.
This year, POP Montreal is being held from September 25 to 29. More than 600 bands will play to more than 50,000 people. Big names on offer include Kid Koala, Plants and Animals, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning. But if you’re looking for a new discovery, the festival lineup is also full of lesser known hidden gems and up-and-coming Canadian talent. Weaves, Pow Wows, Mozart’s Sister and Les Soeurs Boulay all promise to deliver some of the most exciting sets at this year’s fest.
By James Sandham
It’s been a busy week-and-a-half here in Toronto as the Toronto International Film Festival opened and the whole circus that accompanies it rolled into town. Between the film stars, the rabid fans and the hundreds of film screenings that just wrapped up this past Sunday, it’s been hard to think of anything but movies (sorry, “films”) lately.
Amid all of the celebrity and glamour though, there does seem to be one element of the medium that often gets overlooked – I’m talking, of course, about the soundtracks. Sometimes they can be just as important as the actors and films themselves, so this week I thought we’d take a look at some of the best music in movies.
When it comes to music in movies, Tim Burton’s 1988 comedy-horror classic Beetlejuice not only stands the test of time, but it also completely obliterates much of the competition. This is due, primarily, to the incredible sounds of Harry Belafonte. What makes the music in this movie unique – the film features Belafonte’s songs “Jump in the Line,” “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” and, of course, “Day-O” (below) – is the integral role it plays with the action – often to iconic effect.
Harry Belafonte – “Day-O”
Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo, an adaptation of Michael Turner’s novel of the same name, was released in 1996 and is generally regarded as one of the greatest movies to have come out of Canada.
Featuring Headstones vocalist Hugh Dillon as Joe Dick, a fictional punk band’s frontman, the mockumentary focuses on the self-destruction of punk rock. As such, punk music plays a huge role in the film and, even though the band is fake, the music they play is amazing.
Hard Core Logo – “Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?”
Sometimes the music in a movie is more than just the soundtrack, it’s the movie itself. As far as the concert movie genre goes, The Last Waltz has to be one of the best. This film features the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1989 inductees, The Band, playing their last show (or at least their last show with the original members – Robbie Robertson left to pursue a solo career after this) at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Band is accompanied by such musical luminaries as Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and others. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and is regarded as a classic.
The Band – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
Once is an Irish film that was released in 2007, starring musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It tells the story of a Dublin busker (Hansard) and his struggles while performing on the street. With the love of an unnamed Czech flower seller (Irglova) who he meets while busking, his music is given the strength to shine. The song below won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song. If you’d like to hear more, a live musical version of the movie is set to be staged at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre beginning in November of this year.
Once – “Falling Slowly”
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult hit novel, had such a good soundtrack that it came out twice: the first album was released in July 1996, just after the movie’s debut, and then another album came out in October of the following year. Featuring a veritable who’s who in excellent music – including Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Primal Scream, New Order, Lou Reed and Pulp (below) among others – it’s no wonder they needed two releases to cover it. Awesome tunes for an awesome movie. And now… fade to black.
Pulp – “Mile End”
By Adam Bunch
THE BIRTH OF LEONARD COHEN
During this week in 1934, Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal. The Great Depression was in full swing, but the brand new baby boy, the son of a wealthy Jewish family in the affluent anglophone neighbourhood of Westmount, was chauffeured home from the hospital in a limousine. By the time Cohen was a young man in his 20s, the 1960s had arrived and he was writing the poetry that would make him a familiar face in the city’s countercultural scene. He spent his time in late-night bars and delis, or reading his work in clubs along the Boulevard Saint-Laurent.
It wasn’t until the late ’60s that he finally turned to songwriting. His 1967 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen, featured some of the tracks that make him a household name even today, including “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.” The record would hit the Billboard charts and be certified gold, launching Cohen’s musical career.
Nearly 50 years later, Cohen has released nearly a dozen more albums and established himself as one of the most influential songwriters of all time. He has been inducted not only into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, but also into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he is a companion of the Order of Canada. On Saturday, he turns 79.
THE VERY FIRST POLARIS MUSIC PRIZE
It was on September 18, 2006, that the first-ever Polaris Music Prize gala was held. The winner of the award for the best full-length Canadian album of the year was announced that night on stage at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in downtown Toronto. The short list of the 10 final nominees was packed with some of the biggest names in Canadian music, including Broken Social Scene, Metric, K’naan, The New Pornographers, Sarah Harmer, Wolf Parade and Cadence Weapon. As the Grand Jury retired to deliberate, there was plenty of fodder for speculation.
Almost no one guessed the prize would go to Final Fantasy. Owen Pallett was already well known in indie music circles (he arranged the strings for Arcade Fire, co-founded the Blocks Recording Club co-op label and was involved in many other projects), but his sophomore album He Poos Clouds was an unlikely contender. It’s a strange orchestral record loosely based on the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and filled with references to The Legend of Zelda, The Chronicles of Narnia and local Toronto condo developer Brad J. Lamb. It’s dark too. Pallett has described it as “a reflection on how atheists confront death.”
At the end of the night, though, it was Pallett who took home the $20,000 prize. And he would put it to good use: the funds were donated to up-and-coming Canadian bands in need of financial assistance.
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, a few weeks ago I started a playlist to ring in the Labour Day long weekend, and since then I’ve been keeping up the search, scouring the web for more tunes to fit the ambience of this particular season.
There’s something melancholy and just a little wistful about fall – which I love. It’s like you can feel the frenetic energy of summer gradually draining away and though that’s a little sad, it’s sort of a relief, too. Things are slowing down. Routines start up again. There’s this dual feeling that things are both beginning and ending at the same time. It’s a transitory season, a quiet time, so here are a few more tunes to capture that mood.
Nick Drake – “Place to Be”
Ah, Nick Drake. The master of melancholy. The king of quiet. Nothing suits autumn more than this man’s music and this song in particular. It comes from his final LP, 1972’s Pink Moon, which is pretty much a masterpiece and a terribly beautiful gift to have given this world before leaving it himself, all too soon, unfortunately.
Kings of Convenience – “24-25”
If you’ve read this blog before, you may be aware that I am a huge Kings of Convenience fan. Hailing from Bergen, Norway, the duo builds on the soft, folk-inspired tradition epitomized by artists like Nick Drake. Like Drake’s work, much of KOC’s catalogue is comprised of gentle, guitar-driven melodies. It’s beautiful stuff. This song, from their 2009 album Declaration of Dependence, is one of my favourites.
Belle and Sebastian – “The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner”
Another band that has built on the Nick Drake tradition is the Glaswegian indie outfit Belle and Sebastian. Formed in 1996, the group quickly gained critical acclaim through their first two releases, Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister. This song comes from a little later in their career, from a single, “Jonathan David,” that they released in 2001 – but as you can hear, they’ve still got the magic.
Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band – “Stoner Hill”
Of a different genre, but still true to the mood, is this phenomenal track from jazz percussionist Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band. I just happened to hear this on Jazz.FM91 the other week and it completely blew me away. There’s something about it that is deeply and emotionally resonant. It’s just an all-around beautiful piece of music. It was recorded live in March of this year at the Chicago Music Exchange.
Leonard Cohen – “In My Secret Life”
Finally, what better way to round things off than with a multiple JUNO Award–winner and the 1991 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, the ineffable Leonard Cohen? This delectably moody track comes from his 2001 release, Ten New Songs, and was co-written with longtime collaborator and backing vocalist Sharon Robinson. As is par for the course with Cohen’s work, it’s the lyrics that really make it – so give it a listen as you ease into autumn.
By Adam Bunch
CANADA HELPS BREAK UP THE BEATLES
During this week in 1969 ticket sales for the Toronto Rock ’N’ Roll Revival show were not going well. The bill for the daylong music festival featured many of rock’s earliest pioneers, including Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Bo Diddley and Junior Walker & The All Stars. However, those acts had fallen out of fashion with the new, psychedelic generation. The few younger faces on the bill – like The Doors and Alice Cooper – weren’t going to draw a big enough crowd on their own. As the big day approached, the festival was headed for financial disaster.
And then, at the very last minute, a minor miracle occurred: John Lennon agreed to show up.
Suddenly, the concert was a sellout. But the organizers weren’t out of the woods yet. On the morning of the show, Lennon was still 6,000 kilometres away, at home in England. They’d only asked him about it a couple of days earlier. He didn’t even have a band at that point. The Beatles were on the rocks, but they had just finished recording Abbey Road and hadn’t broken up yet. Lennon had released his first solo track, “Give Peace a Chance,” under the name Plastic Ono Band, but Plastic Ono Band didn’t really exist. Lennon was left scrambling to find musicians who were willing to make the trip to Canada. He did OK, rounding up Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Alan White. They even made it to the airport on time.
But Lennon didn’t. It had been three years since he’d last played on stage in front of a crowd and his stage fright was kicking in. It took a phone call from an annoyed Clapton before Lennon finally agreed to show up. Plastic Ono Band had their first makeshift acoustic rehearsal on the plane as it soared above the Atlantic.
That was very good news for the show’s organizers. There was more than just money at stake. They’d promised the Vanguards Motorcycle Club that they’d be allowed to form an honour guard for the Beatle. The bikers weren’t going to be pleased if he cancelled. When Lennon arrived at Pearson Airport, 80 bikes surrounded his limousine and escorted him down the highway into the heart of the city. He was sure to lock the door.
Meanwhile at Varsity Stadium the show had already begun. And it was incredible. You can still watch the footage today: the documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker was there (the same guy who filmed the Monterey Pop Festival and the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back). Rock ’n’ roll’s earliest stars delivered one unbelievable, blistering set after another. You can see the hippies in the crowd waking up to a whole generation of music they’d never truly appreciated before. After this show and Woodstock, the careers of early rock ’n’ roll stars would have a whole new lease on life: touring to young crowds like this one. Some would even start charting again.
The new faces didn’t disappoint either. In fact, it was at this show that Alice Cooper threw a live chicken into the audience, where it was quickly torn apart. That disturbing moment would become the stuff of rock ’n’ roll legend: “The Chicken Incident.” By morning, the rumour mill was claiming that Cooper had bitten the bird’s head off. Many people consider the incident to have been the birth of shock rock.
Finally, near the end of the night, it was time for Plastic Ono Band. Lennon was so nervous he’d spent much of the evening throwing up backstage. (Although that may also have had something to do with all of the cocaine he was snorting.) The master of ceremonies – legendary Los Angeles DJ Kim Fowley – asked everyone in the crowd to light their matches and hold them aloft as a way of creating a calming atmosphere for the nervous Beatle.
“It was fantastic,” Lennon later remembered. “I’d never seen it anywhere else – I think it was the first time it happened.”
The set started with “Blue Suede Shoes” followed by many of the other old jukebox tunes that had made Lennon want to play rock music in the first place – the kind of music played by the legends who had performed earlier in the day. Backstage, Gene Vincent had tears streaming down his cheeks, remembering his days in Hamburg when he’d first met the young Beatles.
Before long, Ono had climbed into a white bag. She shrieked and moaned along to the set. For some in the audience, it was a bit too much, but Lennon only heard the cheers. “I can’t remember when I had such a good time,” he’d say.
The show would go down in history. The live album hit the Billboard Top 10 and eventually went gold. Rolling Stone would later declare the Toronto Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival to be “the second most important event in rock history.”
Before September 13, 1969, John Lennon wasn’t entirely sure what his plans were or what the next step in his career was going to be. But by the end of the night he remembered how much fun it could be, how great it was to play live again, how much he loved those early rocks songs.
A week later he told the rest of The Beatles he was leaving the group. The greatest band in the history of the world was over. And Canada had helped to end it.
ARCADE FIRE ARRIVES
Exactly 35 years and one day after the Toronto Rock ’N’ Roll Revival there was another landmark in Canadian music history. This time, it came from Montreal. It was on September 14, 2004, that Arcade Fire dropped their debut full-length album. Funeral would launch them into the stratosphere of indie-rock stardom. Radiohead’s Kid A was the only record that made more best-of-the-decade lists. Rolling Stone has listed Funeral among the greatest albums of all time. And that was only the beginning. Arcade Fire has released two more records since then. Their latest, The Suburbs, won the 2011 Juno Award for Album of the Year, the 2011 Polaris Music Prize, the 2011 Brit Award for International Album of the Year and the 2010 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The band’s next record is due to be released next month.
By James Sandham
For a lot of people September means back to school. But for you, fortunate reader, it means back to awesome. As in back-to-back awesome concerts all across the country. Who’s got time to waste? Not me, so let’s cut right to the chase.
It was just last week that we featured The Tragically Hip as part of our long weekend playlist. If that wasn’t enough of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2005 inductees for you, you can always up your dosage by seeing them live at The Orpheum, where they’ll be playing for three straight nights. And in a nod to environmental consciousness, all three shows will be run on green power. You can even enter to win a pair of tickets here. So, come on. You’ve got nothing to lose.
The Tragically Hip – “Little Bones”
We mentioned that September is, for many, still synonymous with going back to school. So what could be more appropriate than a show at a campus pub? Calgarians can start the school year off right with Vancouver rockers Young Galaxy. The JUNO Award–nominated group plays the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Gateway bar – or “the Gate,” as it’s called by those in the know. You can expect to hear tracks like the one below, off their latest disc, Ultramarine, which came out earlier this year.
Young Galaxy – “Pretty Boy”
Speaking of Calgarians, how could we overlook C-Town art rockers Braids (currently based in Montreal) and their show at Winnipeg’s Union Sound Hall? The track below comes from their latest LP, Flourish//Perish, the duo’s second studio album, which is still hot off the press, having been released just last month. If you’re looking for some dream-like ambient beats, then look no further.
Braids – “In Kind”
For the past, oh, nearly 10 years, Torontonians have had the pleasure of listening to Ohbijou as they spread their infectiously melodic brand of spritely pop-rock into the earholes of their fellow city-men and women. Well, no longer. In July the hard-working septet announced they were calling it quits. Or at least going on indefinite hiatus. But not before one last goodbye show, which promises to be great, and can experienced by you, in person, on September 7 at Toronto’s Great Hall. Ohbijou, you will be missed.
Ohbijou – “New Years”
Last of all we have good ol’ Montreal, a beautiful city with some beautiful music on offer. To wit: Lightning Dust. The Vancouver goth-poppers will be rocking Il Motore mid-month and it should be a pretty good show. Their latest album, Fantasy, just came out this summer, and if the track below from it is any indication, these guys are something I could seriously get into. The band is a side project of Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, who are both members of Black Mountain. Unlike their usual hard-rock output, this stuff is markedly minimalist.
Lightning Dust – “Diamond”
By Adam Bunch
NEIL YOUNG’S BANNED SONG WINS AN MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARD
In 1988, MTV banned a Neil Young song. It was called “This Note’s For You” and was the title track from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee’s 17th album. The record was dedicated to criticizing the commercialization of rock ’n’ roll, and the song’s lyrics made Young’s views pretty clear: “They sing for Pepsi, they sing for Coke, I sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke.” The music video for the song drove the point home. It was a spoof of 1980s television commercials, including a series of lookalikes: Spuds MacKenzie, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. At one point, the MJ lookalike even bursts into flame.
Mr. Jackson was not amused. His lawyers threatened to sue MTV if they aired the video – and it worked. MTV banned “This Note’s For You.”
But up here in Canada we had our own music video station and MuchMusic was more than willing to air the spoof. In fact, it was one of their most popular videos; it found itself in heavy rotation.
As they watched the video take off in Canada, the folks at MTV started to rethink their decision. Finally, they overturned it. The song ended up in heavy rotation on both sides of the border and on this week in 1989 MTV made their total reversal complete: they gave “This Note’s For You” the award for Best Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
THE BIRTH OF THE NAZI-DEFYING ORGANIST FRANÇOISE AUBUT
The Conservatoire de Paris is one of the most respected art schools in the world. It can trace its roots all the way back to the 1600s to a school founded by King Louis XIV. Some of the greatest musicians and composers in the history of France have studied there: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Caravelli, Erik Satie and even Brigitte Bardot. In 1938, a teenager arrived at the conservatoire from Quebec. Her name was Françoise Aubut and she was there to study organ under some of the world’s most famous organists.
It wouldn’t be easy – and not just because the school was hard. Not long after Aubut arrived in France the Second World War broke out. She had only just begun her studies when Paris fell to Hitler. As a Canadian, the young organist attracted special attention from the Gestapo. She spent months in a Nazi internment camp. When she finally did return to the conservatoire, the city still wasn’t safe. And as the French Resistance battled the Nazis in the final days of the occupation Aubut risked her own life, rushing from cover to aid the wounded.
When it was all over, she hadn’t just survived the war, she’d graduated at the top of her class: she scored the highest marks for three straight years and became the first-ever North American to win the school’s prestigious Grand Premier Prix. She even got to play for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, during a special recital at the Palace of Versailles.
Aubut returned back home to Canada after that, where she would spend her career as one of our country’s most popular classical musicians. She was a frequent guest on the CBC and she performed at Expo 67 in Montreal and at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. She also passed her knowledge down to the next generation, teaching at several schools, including the University of Montreal. She died in that city during the autumn of 1984. But if she were still alive today, this would be the week of Françoise Aubut’s 91st birthday.