Category Archives: Music

Mother Mother’s Identity Crisis

Mother Mother

Mother Mother

Vancouver alternative-pop band Mother Mother’s newest album No Culture was the result of some deep soul searching.

As the band explained to me in a feature for SOCAN’s Words & Music, the combination of writer’s block and an identity crisis made making the album difficult.

To read about how they navigated this, click here.

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Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Rush Among Topics On Polaris Podcast EP3

Albums talked about on Polaris Podcast EP3

Albums talked about on Polaris Podcast EP3

The third episode of the Polaris Podcast focused on four albums that won Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize designations in 2016.

They were:

* Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush
* Leonard Cohen’s Songs Of Leonard Cohen
* Rush’s Moving Pictures
* Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s self-titled album

For this episode we interviewed Anna McGarrigle, Young Galaxy and a number of expert jurors.

Please listen, subscribe and validate my employment.

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Gord Downie, By Divine Right, Dolly Parton, More

Gord Downie

Gord Downie

Here’s a batch of stories I did late last year for Samaritanmag:

New Michael Schumacher Non-Profit Encourages People to Keep Fighting

Dolly Parton Raises More Than $9 Million U.S. For Tennessee Fire Victims

Kiehl’s To Support Four Canadian Charities During Holiday Season

New ‘Music ♥’s Everybody’ Clothing Line By SOCAN To Support Unison Benevolent Fund

Chantal Kreviazuk Auctioning Off Intimate Home Concert For War Child

Gord Downie Honoured by Assembly of First Nations in Emotional Ceremony

Toronto Raptors Debut Four Limited Edition Caps for Charity

Amazon’s Priest and Imam Ad Shows a Shared Humanity

By Divine Right’s Last Depeche Mode Cover Performance To Help All Paws

Doug Gilmour Courage Campaign To Raise Money For Gord Downie Cancer Research

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Metallica’s Reputation Vindicated By Their Live Show



LIVE: Metallica
October 26, 2009
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario

It’s been 13 years since the haircuts and the “alternative” Load album, nine years since Lars Ulrich versus Napster and five since the group therapy of the Some Kind Of Monster documentary.

That’s a long time for the biggest and baddest band in the heavy metal world to be lost in the wilderness, but if Monday night’s show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre is any indication, Metallica have once again found their way.

It probably helped that Metallica brought Lamb Of God as openers to keep them honest. The youngsters (at least comparatively) nipping at their heels were a double-kick drum, extreme metal hit for all the under-25 shaved-headed bros in the sold out ACC. To these older school ears, there wasn’t enough “song” to match the band’s relentless metal-ness, but anyone in the frothing circle pit that formed at the one end of the arena floor no doubt thought otherwise.

Metallica started their set in almost complete darkness with a new song from the Death Magnetic album, “That Was Just Your Life,” content to let a slashing laser show cutting across the band’s massive blue line-to-blue line stage setup be the main draw.

“The End Of The Line,” another new song, was next. Singer/guitarist James Hetfield would bound from one corner of the massive stage to the next, making each successive pocket of fans he faced go crazy. However, it wasn’t until the third song, “Ride The Lightning,” when the thrash legends’ return to form truly showed itself in the 36,000 thousand raised fists pumping furiously along.

Ulrich may get maligned as bourgeois whiner who’s lost touch with his common fanbase, but you’d never know it by the brave soul in the front row who held up their handmade “LARS” sign through every mosh or jostle. Or the multi-dozen air drummers that could be seen hammering away in each and every section of the building during any given song.

Likewise, when a mere flick of his hand in their direction would send the crowd roaring, it was pretty certain that nobody cared about guitarist Kirk Hammett’s emo breakdown about there not being enough solos in latter Metallica songs.

For his part, bassist Robert Trujillo, couldn’t do much wrong. He’ll probably always get a free pass from me for being in Suicidal Tendencies, but whenever he crossed paths with Hetfield and the two would fist-bump (known around here as the “swine flu handshake”), or when he stomped across the stage during a pounding “Sad But True,” he gave every impression of utter badassery.

Hetfield still has all the menacing posing down pat, but what was probably most interesting from him were the two separate between-song speeches stressing the importance of the “live” Metallica experience and how if you attend a Metallica show you’ve joined “the family.”

The subtext screamed “we’ve given up on worrying about the internet and album sales,” but when a spontaneous hugfest broke out amongst a 100-or-so pit thrashers at the end of “Master Of Puppets” it would be impossible to deny that at that very second the family tree made up of brothers-from-other-mothers in the ACC was virtually unravelable.

Some of the older material could have been played better: “One” was a touch pandering in its crowd singalong-ness and the ACC crowd weren’t quite able to keep up with a sped up “Enter Sandman.” At least a punky “Fight Fire With Fire” made up for its imperfect delivery with spirit.

“Nothing Else Matters,” meanwhile, may have turned into something of a signature song — at least for Hetfield. He started the track perched on a stool and by the end of it was on his knees rolling around the stage. It’s not like he’s a passionless performer, but there was a certain newfound vulnerability in the delivery that made it something greater.

Metallica took a short pause before launching into their encore set with the Queen cover “Stone Cold Crazy.” Hetfield’s voice isn’t well suited to cribbing Freddie Mercury’s, so it made for an awkward couple minutes. Far better were the blistering renditions of Kill ‘Em All classics “Whiplash” and an all-in, house lights-up burn through “Seek & Destroy” that featured dozens of black beach balls released from the rafters.

The new songs occasionally failed (“Cyanide,” “All Nightmare Long”) and turning their bigger hits into pop singalongs was vaguely annoying, but when it came down to it, Metallica delivered a solidly heavy show, which is the only thing metal fans have wanted from them in the first place. Now that they’re delivering, we can all be a happy Metallica family once again.

Here’s Metallica’s set list:

“That Was Just Your Life”
“The End Of The Line”
“Ride The Lightning”
“The Memory Remains”
“Fade To Black”
“Broken, Beat And Scarred”
“Sad But True”
“All Nightmare Long”
“The Day That Never Comes”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Enter Sandman”

“Stone Cold Crazy” (Queen cover)
“Seek & Destroy”

This review was originally published October 27, 2009 via Chart Communications.

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Ditch TV: Kanye Wisdom, Thirst Traps, Parkour Fails

Parkour Fail

Parkour Fail

It’s a shame Ditch TV is RIP because this one batch of videos I curated for them was on fire.

Check them:

What is a Thirst Trap?

15 Rap Illuminati Conspiracy Theories

Intro to Patti Smith

Jack Black Chews Some Scenery

The Wisdom of Kanye West

Mickey Avalon: Hustler Hall of Fame

Amoeba: What’s in These Stars’ Bags?

15 of the Greatest Fails Ever

The B-52’s Rock Your Lobster

11 Wicked Parkour Fails

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Daniel Romano’s ‘Mosey’ Is Aaron’s Top Album For 2016

Daniel Romano's Mosey

Daniel Romano’s Mosey

For a certain demo of music fans (mine) 2016 was a year defined by a number of the all-time greats dying — David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Glenn Frey, etc — which provided strong motivation to make sure I saw concerts from a number of elder musical statespeople like John Fogerty, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Robert Plant, Arthur Brown, Pagliaro and Bruce Springsteen.

It might be a by-product of pursuing this Before They Die list, but I definitely felt out of step with the music critic hegemony this year when it came to what the best records were. The kids these days all like the pop music and as much as I respect a more politicized Beyonce, this immaculately manufactured and marketed mega-pop world holds little sonic intrigue to me.

There were a number of bubbling under acts who did make music I found intriguing, though. Monomyth, American Lips, Elephant Stone, Fresh Snow, Doomsquad, LAL, EONS and U.S. Girls were just some of the Canucks who made fabulous albums. International acts James Hunter Six, The Avalanches, The Last Shadow Puppets and, surprisingly, The Rolling Stones, all made music of intrigue as well. There were also a couple wildly different compilations that really captured me, the Polyvinyl Plays Polyvinyl label tribute and Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959, an utterly fascinating curated collection of Moroccan street musicians recorded in 1959, were both exciting listens.

That said, there were other records that moved me more than these. Which I will explain further below.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2016:

10) Jim James — Eternally Even

On My Morning Jacket lead singer Jim James’ second solo album he goes all psych soul with a number of keyboard-y space outs that sound mighty good when you listen to them on headphones.

Watch “Here In Spirit”

9) Duotang — New Occupation

This album was quite a creeper hit for me. There’s a not-so-subtle theme to this record that revolves around aging and having to give up your rock ‘n’ roll dreams because you never made it. I’m not unaware of how such a theme can work its way into the subconscious of a modestly employed freelance writer of a certain age. The thing is, in making a record about having to give up and get a real job because the dream is dead, they’ve actually shown that the dream isn’t dead. Because they’re still making music. That’s a good lesson to take into 2017.

Watch “Karma Needs To Come Around”

8) Preoccupations — Preoccupations

It hasn’t been lost on me that Preoccupations, the band formerly known as Viet Cong, haven’t exactly been appearing on a lot of year-end best-of lists. I’ve noticed in part because I like Preoccupations‘ heavy post-rock a tad more than I liked the last Viet Cong record. And I suspect Preoccupations are getting punished politically for their bumbling navigation of the controversy around their old band name. Empirically, though, this is a really good record and anyone whose sartorial philosophy is “only wears black t-shirts” will find much to appreciate here.

Watch “Memory”

7) Vince Staples — Prima Donna

Chance The Rapper is wack. The best rap record this year was this half-record by Vince Staples.

Watch “Prima Donna”

6) Michael Kiwanuka — Love & Hate

I’ve got this thing about retro sounds and revivalists: basically, if you’re a half-decent imitator of a musical form I like, I’ll probably like your act. For example, if you’re a competent Black Sabbath surrogate or a Jesus And Mary Chain knock-off I’m all-in. But just because I’m all-in that doesn’t mean I think you’re actually good. It just means you’re a good copycat.

What I need from revivalists is something more. Michael Kiwanuka’s old school soul record Love & Hate is full of “more.” It’s a big symphonic throwback to the grandest moments of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield, but the focus and concerns in songs like “Black Man In A White World” and its title track are entirely now.

Watch “Love & Hate”

5) Charlotte Day Wilson — CDW

Charlotte Day Wilson was another one of my deep headphone trips this year. In her case it was all about her smoldering voice. It’s a truly wondrous instrument and her song “Work” is the perfect venue for it.

Watch “Work”

4) Drive-By Truckers — American Band

Before American Band I didn’t really understand the hype about Drive-By Truckers. My tolerance for roots rock is pretty low and even though I didn’t dislike DBT, they’d done very little that moved me. Then this album happened. A heavy narrative exploration of America’s ugliest features, American Band tackles topics like race and class with the same righteous zeal of a Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar or Tom Petty. That’s lofty company, but those are the people they match on this album.

Watch “Surrender Under Protest”

3) Casket Girls — The Night Machines

One of the most exciting, confounding, mysterious and wonderful albums I heard all year was Casket Girls’ The Night Machines. To the best I can figure they’re two sisters from Savannah, Georgia who play the sort of gloomy keyboard rock that Emily Strange would make if she bailed out of art college in her third year “because it’s all bullshit.” Whether it’s wistful (“Sixteen Forever”), surreal (“Mermaid College”) or bristling (“Tears Of A Clown”), The Night Machines makes for a deeply magical trip.

Watch “Tears Of A Clown”

2) Black Mountain — IV

Whenever I read one of those “rock is dead” thinkpieces one of the first things I always wonder about is “what rock music is this writer actually listening to?” Because if you’re judging “rock” based on, I dunno, the last Disturbed album, then sure, you probably have an argument. But if Disturbed are what you consider to be proper rock music in 2016, well, um, there’s some cognitive dissonance going on.

There was amazing rock music in 2016 and the best of it was Black Mountain’s IV album. When I first heard IV back in April I called it “a hurtling, mind-warping journey” that “investigates some of classic rock music’s most thrilling tropes, all with controls aimed straight towards the cosmos.” I stand by those words still. Let there be rock.

Watch “Mothers Of The Sun”

1) Daniel Romano — Mosey

In all my years of listening to and reviewing albums I’ve given out maybe a dozen perfect ratings for albums so beautiful, so unique and so unimpeachable that I know in my heart that in five, 10 or 20 years from now I’ll still feel the exact same way about them.

I don’t grade any reviews I write on Risky Fuel, but if I did Mosey would be one of those albums. Bob Dylan, Lee Hazlewood, Leonard Cohen… these are impossibly high benchmarks to match, and yet here we are. Daniel Romano’s Mosey was my favourite album of 2016.

Watch “Valerie Leon”

Other album lists…

2016 Top Ten — Daniel Romano‘s Mosey is #1
2015 Top Ten — SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart SUUNS + Jerusalem In My Heart is #1
2014 Top Ten — Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is #1
2013 Top Ten — M.I.A.’s Matangi is #1
2012 Top Ten — Dirty Ghosts’ Metal Moon is #1
2011 Top Ten — Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin’ On is #1
2010 Top Ten — The Black Angels’ Phosphene Dream is #1
2009 Top Ten — Gallows’ Grey Britain is #1
2008 Top Ten — Portishead’s Third is #1
2007 Top Ten — Joel Plaskett Emergency’s Ashtray Rock is #1
2006 Top Ten — My Brightest Diamond’s Bring Me The Workhorse is #1
2005 Top Ten — Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl is #1
2004 Top Ten — Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is #1
2003 Top Ten — The Dears’ No Cities Left is #1
2002 Top Ten — Archive’s You All Look The Same To Me is #1
2001 Top Ten — Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow is #1
2000 Top Ten — Songs: Ohia’s The Lioness is #1
1999 Top Ten — The Boo Radleys’ Kingsize is #1
1998 Top Ten — Baxter’s Baxter is #1
1996 Top Ten — Tricky’s Maxinquaye is #1

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Strombo’s Tribute To Tragically Hip Airs New Year’s Day

The Strombo Show

The Strombo Show

While 2016 was a pretty shitty year in a number of ways, 2017 is going to kick off spectacularly when The Strombo Show airs its four-hour tribute special to Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip on New Year’s Day via CBC Radio 2.

The special will feature some of my favourite Canadian bands, people like The Dears, D-Sisive, The Sadies, Daniel Romano and Etiquette, almost 50 acts in total, covering songs by The Hip.

I spoke to host George Stroumboulopoulos about the special for an AUX TV feature story.

To read about it click here.

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