Category Archives: Music

The Spirit Behind The Spirit Of John Concert

Spirit Of The West's John Mann

Spirit Of The West’s John Mann

In recent years a cast of high-profile Canadian musicians have been rallying around Spirit Of The West singer John Mann in the wake of his diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

This past September these musicians gathered in Toronto for the Spirit Of John benefit concert.

I spoke to organizer/Chalk Circle singer Christ Tait about the event for Samaritanmag.

To read the story click here.

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Paul Simon, Charles Bradley And More

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Below is a collection of stories I wrote for music ‘n’ charity site Samaritanmag in late summer 2017:

Students From Pathways To Education Program To Attend Obama Speech

Fans of the Late Charles Bradley Asked to Donate to All-Stars Project and Music Unites

Beyoncé, Oprah, George Clooney, Many More To Be Part Of Hand In Hand Hurricane Harvey Benefit

Paul Simon and Edie Brickell Donate $1 Million USD To Hurricane Harvey Relief

People to Pets: 5 Ways To Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

Dolly Parton’s First-Ever Children’s Album Will Fund Free Children’s Books

Stars Using Upcoming Tour To Support Native Women’s Shelter Of Montreal

Muscular Dystrophy Association Chair Releases Statement About Death of Jerry Lewis

Loverboy Autographed Bass and Lyric Sheet Auction To End Before Weekend

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready to Perform Star-Spangled Banner at September Seattle Mariners Game for Crohn’s Research

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Lupe Fiasco Gets Martial Arts TV Show

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco

Martial arts and rap connections aren’t just the exclusive property of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Lupe Fiasco also happens to be an avid martial artist and that talent will be on display with his forthcoming series Beat n Path.

Sarah wrote about the show and Lupe’s martial arts background for Asian World Of Martial Arts.

To read the story go here.

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Land Of Talk’s ‘Life After Youth’ Is Aaron’s Top Album Of 2017

Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Another year deep into pursuing my Before They Die concert list meant hunting down another batch of classic artists (Bettye Lavette, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, Nazareth, Neil Diamond) as well as reunited acts I never thought I’d get to see live (Crash Vegas, Front 242, Midnight Oil, Northern Pikes, X).

While this was wonderful for my concert diary, it left me further adrift than ever from the contemporary music critic zeitgeist when it came to 2017 albums. I never heard the Jlin or SZA records, Vince Staples and LCD Soundsystem have done better in the past, The National, The xx and Father John Misty didn’t move me at all, and I’m starting to suspect everyone has been tricked by St. Vincent.

That said, as always, there remained a lot of good music to consume this year.

While rock music, or at least what a lot of mainstream music outlets consider “rock” music is increasingly terrible, the rich underground realm of rawk-to-hard rock remains ripping and vibrant, perhaps moreso because of its underdog status. I gave a lot of time this year to records from Mothership, Bloodclot, Danko Jones, Dead Quiet, Municipal Waste and Ruby The Hatchet. There are a lot of bands out there who still know how to rock. Don’t accept knock-offs.

I has some interesting bubbling under records this year, too. The duet covers record from Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White was pretty compelling and almost made my top ten until I realized I didn’t like any of the White-fronted songs. In somewhat similar circumstances, I realized I really only liked two or three songs from each of the Kendrick Lamar and Kacy & Clayton records, which kept them bubbling under.

In another thematic group, the Charlotte Gainsbourg was a surprising mood piece that had a hold on me for awhile. Her album sonically complimented a pair of dance records from Quebec by Le Couleur and Marie Davidson that absolutely would have made my 2017 list if they hadn’t been released in October 2016, making them just too far out of the ’17 window for me to feel comfortable including them.

While all these albums were great, the ones below I enjoyed even more.

Here’s my official Top 10 album list for 2017:

10) Michael Nau — The Load

To put how I came to appreciate The Load in context one has to first understand how I consume new music. One of the ways is to put new albums on my phone to listen to when I walk to work each day. At one point this fall I had The Load in rotation along with a Pop Goes The ’70s box set full of hit songs from that era. When I punched through these songs on random I could almost not tell the difference between the Nau songs and the deeper cuts from the 70s box. That’s not to say The Load is some anachronistic retro project so much as it’s one that the best moments — “Diamond Anyway,” “Big Wind No Sail” — have a timeless quality that pushes them above something simply in the now.

Listen to “Big Wind, No Sail”

9) The Dears — Times Infinity Volume Two

Sometimes I over-correct for my loyalties. The Dears are probably the band I’ve seen perform most live, they probably officially qualify as “friends” (in 20+ years of doing this I only have about a dozen proper musician friends), and in general I consider them musically above reproach. The result of this often means I’m particularly tough on The Dears when it comes to exercises like year-end lists and such. After all, if they’re friends, that’s a strong bias against rational analysis. But fuck all that. Times Infinity Volume Two is a quality record. Sure it’s a little less turbulent and dramatic than those early Dears albums everyone loves, but “Guns Or Knives,” “All The Hail Marys” and “Taking It To The Grave” ably match anything the band has done in the past.

Listen to “Guns Or Knives”

8) Doom Side Of The Moon — Doom Side Of The Moon

The best part about Doom Side Of The Moon’s stoner rock reimagining of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon isn’t the actual recording (which is a fine, slightly beefed up, and very faithful series of covers), it’s the perspective it brought. I abandoned Dark Side Of The Moon long ago, a casualty of classic rock radio overplaying and relentless anniversary edition reissues making me reflexively turn elsewhere. What these things did was cause me to ignore the actual thematic and conceptual quality of Dark Side‘s songs. “Money,” “Time,” “Us And Them,” those are all deep, brilliant songs, and it took someone else doing them for me to truly realize this. Propelled in part by this record I ended up going on a bit of a Pink Floyd jag this year. I checked out the righteous Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and I spent a whole lot of time with The Early Years 1965-1972 box set. A lot of that journey can be attributed to a dude from The Sword and his buddies deciding they needed to record a heavier version of “Brain Damage.”

Watch “Time”

7) RF Shannon — Jaguar Palace

When I initially tweaked to Jaguar Palace it was because I thought it sounded like an early album from The Verve mixed in with some On The Beach-era Neil Young and maybe some Calexico. None of that has changed and it remains a wicked, dry desert heat of a trip.

Watch “Hotevilla”

6) The Black Angels — Death Song

The Black Angels are probably to 2017 what Jane’s Addiction were to 1990 what with the band’s festival/community building in the psych rock scene being comparable to the coming together of tribes Perry Farrell created in the alt era. That’s all noble stuff, but sometimes it means we take for granted the most important attribute of The Black Angels — the music. Death Song refines the band’s sound somewhat. There are a few less trance rock rumbles made for highway driving and less time travel indignations about the Vietnam War and Nixon and whatever, but the core of what makes The Black Angels great, the shimmering textures and dark menace of songs like “Estimate” and “Comanche Moon” remains.

Watch “Half Believing”

5) Run The Jewels — RTJ3

I know Run The Jewels appeal to me because of an age thing. Run The Jewels are old (like me). And they still rap (remember that?). With rhymes and lyrics and insightful observations and such. How they’ve managed to trick the kids into liking them in genre that, with a few exceptions, has been reduced to grunting, dumb catchphrases and Soundcloud beats that make no sense, is beyond me. But I’m there for ’em.

Watch “Legend Has It”

4) Tennis — Yours Conditionally

The last thing I expected from 2017 was to be thoroughly enamoured by Tennis’ Yours Conditionally. And yet, here we are. Yours Conditionally wonderfully navigates Fleetwood Mac-ian pop and girl group soul with a savvy and groove that’s hard to turn away from. Highlights: “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar,” “Modern Woman,” “Baby Don’t Believe.”

Watch “Modern Woman”

3) The Horrors — V

The Horrors continue their inscrutable ways on V. Are they goth? Electro? Brit pop? Psych? New wave? I don’t know. But what I do know is that whatever it is it’s mighty compelling. “Press Enter To Exit,” “Point Of No Reply” and the oddly buoyant “Something To Remember Me By” rise above the moodier moments on the rest of the album.

Watch “Something To Remember Me By”

2) King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard — Flying Microtonal Banana

2017 was the year my deep name-based bias against King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was broken and it was all because of Flying Microtonal Banana. Sure, the band released something like 18 other concept albums/sonic exercises this year, but it was this album that struck me the hardest. Feature track “Rattlesnake” has the best groove of any rock song this year, “Billabong Valley” is an exotic adventure, and “Open Water,” a rather dark jam about drowning, could be the perfect theme song for speed boat racing if nobody paid close attention to the lyrics.

Watch “Rattlesnake”

1) Land Of Talk — Life After Youth

Life After Youth was the only album I kept on my phone for the entire year, a rare feat considering how quickly I churn through records when listening that way. One of the great joys I took from LOT leader Elizabeth Powell’s new album was in not knowing what the record was about. I didn’t read any interviews or liner notes or lyric sheets, but just dove in. I knew it was a bit of a comeback album, seven years on from her last record. And I knew that “life,” with all its chaotic speed bumps, was the reason why it took so long to become a reality. But beyond that it was a blank slate. What I found were layers of intrigue. In not knowing exactly what the songs were about, I was able to form my own narratives, contemplate my own plots behind these songs and the whole listening experience felt like a throwback to a simpler time.

Oddly, there’s no single song or couple of songs I can point to and go this makes the album. “Heartcore” is certainly compelling indie romance rock, “What Was I Thinking” has a universal life lesson quality, and iTunes says I listened to “This Time” 26 times. These could all represent highlight moments, but it’s really more about the whole. What Powell has created is a musical meditation on life which reveals something new each and every listen.

Watch “This Time”

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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100 Letterkenny-Inspired Band Names

F.A.K.U. (Freaks Acting Krazy United)

F.A.K.U. (Freaks Acting Krazy United)

There are a lot of stupid band names.

That’s why when I watched season three of the hilarious show Letterkenny awhile back I realized much of the dialogue could be converted into rippin’ band names.

So I made a list of the best of these potential band names for A.Side.

To read the whole list click here.

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David Bowie & Doctor Who: Proof That The Thin White Duke Is A Time Lord

David Bowie and David Tennant

David Bowie and David Tennant

David Bowie likes to flash back into relevance once a decade. Like a passing TARDIS, he enters deep space to cobble together fresh art before swinging by earth once again, delivering shiny new singles.

“Where Are We Now,” the singer’s first release in 10 years is quite a curious tune. It represents a softer phase for a man who has put down the saxophones and the sex, and begun looking back.

Which is odd because there is no past for David Bowie. That is because he lives forever… or at least until his alien organs give out. You see, the Thin White Duke is a Time Lord.

What’s a Time Lord you ask? Well, it’s a humanoid creature from the planet Gallifrey made popular on the BBC show Doctor Who. We’re pretty sure Bowie has been trying to tell us this for about four decades now, so we went ahead and put together some striking evidence. There’s also some SPOILERS below, so if you haven’t seen the most recent season, don’t read this.

Let’s Dematerialize!

The Sound of Time Travel

“Then the loud sound did seem to fade/Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase/That weren’t no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive,” Bowie sings on 1972’s “Starman,” pretty much describing the very whooshing noise of the TARDIS.

Watch “Starman”

“This ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. This is genocide!”

The Doctor hates nothing more than when an entire race of aliens are blown to smithereens or killed by superior beings. He wouldn’t even wish total annihilation on his mortal enemies, the Daleks. Bowie’s intro to Diamond Dogs called “Future Legend” speaks of a distant dystopia, filled with “fleas the size of rats [sucking] on rats the size of cats.” He didn’t make it up. Bowie’s been there, and it’s called New New York.

Cosmic Connection to Billie Piper

Billie Piper

Billie Piper

The greatest — and most tragic — love story in the Doctor Who canon is undoubtedly between “Number Ten” (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler, better known as pop singer and star of the lurid show Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Billie Piper. Thing is, 10 wasn’t the only one with a connection to Piper. Piper and Bowie share a heat as intense as a thousand Cybermen x-ray lasers.

Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey

Changes & Regenerations

If ever there was a song that thinly disguised the existential angst of a Time Lord it would be “Changes” from David Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory. Bowie’s chameleon-like shifts in appearance and personality are all summed up in four simple lines:

Ch-ch-Changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

Indeed, you can’t trace time. In fact, another Time Lord confirmed that (see above video).

David Bowie in a scarf

David Bowie in a scarf

Love of Scarves

If “Fourth Doctor” Tom Baker proved anything during his time in the TARDIS between 1974-81 it’s that Time Lords love scarves. The fourth Doctor had a signature extra long number that would drag on the ground and need constant adjusting. Not coincidentally, David Bowie loves scarves, too. He’s been photographed wearing an assortment of neck-cessories with a higher-than-normal frequency over the years.

“Still Not Ginger!”

David Bowie

David Bowie

Ginger-Obsessive

Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era saw the spacey singer as a fiery redhead, a regeneration trait that many a Doctor has sought after, especially “Number Eleven.”

Back in Time With Bowie

The John Simm Connection

John Simm, the actor who played the Doctor’s arch nemesis the Master, also starred as Sam Tyler in BBC’s Life on Mars, a crime drama featuring a policeman who travels back in time. Bowie has a song called “Life on Mars.” And a sequel to the television series was called “Ashes to Ashes.” There’s a cosmic connection here that’s no accident.

This story was originally published January 9, 2013 on AOL Spinner and was co-written with Cameron Matthews.

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Neil Young Cuts Through Le Noise At Massey Hall

Neil Young at Massey. (Copped this pic from Toronto Star.)

Neil Young at Massey. (Copped this pic from Toronto Star.)

LIVE: Neil Young
May 10, 2011
Massey Hall
Toronto, Ontario

Neil Young’s sold out Tuesday night show at Toronto’s Massey Hall was billed as a solo performance, but there was another pair of invisible guiding hands at work as well — those of Ancaster-born, U2 king-maker/super-producer Daniel Lanois.

While Young fell short of recreating the dizzy loops, echoes and fades that make his Lanois-produced latest album Le Noise such intoxicating headphone fodder, there was a barely sublimated sonic adventurousness — a hint of musical mischief and menace — that elevated the evening’s set into something more than just Neil. On a stool. At Massey.

Young’s experiencing a bit of a next-gen renaissance thanks to Le Noise, so it wasn’t particularly surprising the 65-year-old grunge godfather leaned heavily on the new album. Six of the 17 songs Young played were from the new record, but it was just as often what he did to his “classic” songs that revealed what his goal for the set was.

House-warmers “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue),” “Tell Me Why” and “Helpless” were played reasonably straight. The crowd — more sport-jacket and recently trimmed hair than hippie burnout (no doubt the result of a more evolved ability to navigate the minefield that is modern ticket purchasing) — was particularly moved by “Helpless,” going so far as to sing along to the chorus with about the same volume and self-consciousness as Leafs fans doing the first verse of “O Canada” at the ACC.

Rapt silence was the more appropriate response for Le Noise track “Peaceful Valley Boulevard.” A gauzy, sprawling number on record, it was equally haunting live and could fairly match melancholy Young masterpieces like “On The Beach” and “Expecting To Fly.”

The next two songs — Le Noise‘s confessional “Love And War,” and all-timer “Down By The River” — started to reveal the outline of the Lanois impact on Young’s performance. It wasn’t so much about Young copping signature Lanois sounds as it was about watching Young wandering across the stage, coaxing bits of feedback from his amps, or impishly turning the chorus of “Down By The River” into a five-second primer on My Bloody Valentine.

It was this casual tinkering while strolling about the various guitars, pianos and organs which was what making Le Noise must have looked like. Except instead of Young, guitar slung over his shoulder, all poking around Lanois’ house for an audience of one, here he was doing so in front of 2,800 people.

Young’s re-imagining of “Cortez The Killer” was a particularly good example. Its intro disguised by a brief squalling shock, Young eventually emerged from his soundcloud to lay down a version you just knew was exactly like one Lanois might have coaxed him to play while the two were defining the identity of the latest album.

That’s when it became clear what Young was doing. He wasn’t just rote recreating the sounds of Le Noise for the audience last night, he was trying to recreate “the vibe,” as he experienced it, of his own adventure in le noise.

And when he closed the show with the single encore “Walk With Me” and its opened-armed plea “I’m on this journey/I don’t want to walk alone,” he managed to bring a lot of people with him.

Neil Young setlist for May 10, 2011:

“My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)”
“Tell Me Why”
“Helpless”
“You Never Call”
“Peaceful Valley Boulevard”
“Love And War”
“Down By The River”
“Hitchhiker”
“Ohio”
“Sign Of Love”
“Leia”
“After The Goldrush”
“I Believe In You”
“Rumblin’”
“Cortez The Killer”
“Cinnamon Girl”

encore:
“Walk With Me”

This live review originally appeared in The Grid (RIP) in May 2011.

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