My Old, Familiar Friend marks something of a liberation for Brendan Benson. Finally stepping out of the enormous shadow of Jack White, Benson has returned to his solo career, and it’s a return that is most certainly overdue. It’s a shame that it’s taken him four records to finally get any attention, and even more shameful that his rescue from obscurity is largely due to his stint with the forgettable Raconteurs. But considering just how excellent My Old, Familiar Friend is, these facts are easy to ignore. Benson’s talent for creating punchy, infectious pop music has always been obvious, but this album in particular takes it one step further. At once, the record demonstrates raw energy and unabashed joy, and enmeshes every track with a certain heartfelt quality. “I fell in love with you /and out of love with you /and back in love with you /all in the same day,” repeats Benson on album opener “A Whole Lot Better,” a handclap- and hook-driven number that sets up the honest desperation and earworm traits found throughout the rest of the album. “Garbage Day” sounds as if it had been pulled out of any 1970s discotheque, laced with energetic strings and pulsing analog synths, and “Feeling Like Taking You Home” is a cut of new wave-inspired bliss. Benson doesn’t shy away from incorporating a wide variety of musical genres into his sound, which he manages to pull off with a level of style and finesse that makes it seem effortless. It’s never over-the-top, and when it works it works well, casting the record to sound exactly like the ambitions of a talented artist being realized, and makes My Old, Familiar Friend every bit the success that Benson deserves. (ATO Records, www.atorecords.com) Kevan Hannah
Based on this album’s title, it’s clear that the man behind Pedro the Lion wants to make a break from his past. He carved a niche for himself writing thought-provoking songs that tried to come to terms with the pitfalls of the Bush era by turning to theology. With discs like Winners Never Quit and Control, Bazan articulated a rethinking of what it meant to be a person of faith living in America. They were records that provided the listener with hope for a cure. With Curse Your Branches, the cure is the target. Apparently, Bazan has lost his faith, and wants the world to know it. But in writing about this, he comes off as trite and downright unconvincing. Take the lead-off track, “Hard to Be,” where he challenges the story of the garden of Eden (shocker!) and the fall of humanity, asking, “Wait just a minute / you expect me to believe / that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?” Or the closing track, “In Stiches,” where Bazan follows the story of Job to paint a picture of a God completely out of touch with humanity, singing, “You sound defensive like you had not thought it through enough to have the answer / Like you might have bit off more than you could chew.” The problem here is not that he’s lost his faith in God, or his faith in humanity for that matter. Rather, it’s that he apparently has lost his ability to articulate this turn to atheism (if that is what this is) in creative and engaging ways, turning instead to clichés and questions that aren’t really that interesting. It really is disappointing, considering recent examples of artists who have used Christian language in thought-provoking and engaging ways (e.g. the Mountain Goats), that Bazan, as a person of faith, has failed to do the same. (Barsuk, www.barsuk.com) Jeff Friesen
Gambling with God
(Last Gang Records)
Gambling with God is a disc by a Canadian group called Magneta Lane. It’s not very good. The tracks feature that Antichrist of a musical effect called “fuzzy guitar.” The sound is as annoying as a lawn full of grackles or an up-close buzz saw. I don’t know what the songs were about, as the instruments drowned the words out, and the advance album had no insert. I don’t think I was missing much. The group is a trio of women and they come from Toronto. This is their third album. I hope to God there isn’t a fourth.
I haven’t bought the re-released Beatles oeuvre yet, but my 11-year-old granddaughter is into their music, so I contacted my brother in the UK who, in 1968, filmed the Beatles as part of a BBC documentary called Music. He sent me a clip from that movie featuring the recording of “Hey Jude,” with close-ups of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Ringo, along with their eminence grise, George Martin. The session ended with the crew being asked to sing along with the final “Da, da, da dadada da,” so if you play that track, one of the voices on it is my brother Ian’s.
By Rob Vilar
After a brief washroom break, I get back to my refueled Dodge and pay the gas attendant for her service.
“Where you going?” she asks.
“I don’t know. Somewhere,” I answer.
“Getting away from something?”
“Maybe something like that,” I reply as I step into my Dodge Challenger and begin to drive off the lot.
“You come back again,” she says.
I return to the highway and re-adjust my rear view mirror. I notice that the procession of cop cars off in the distance has intensified since the last time I checked. I light a cigarette and turn the radio on. My favorite DJ is back on air.
“Well, after a much-needed break to relieve this old vein of mine, let’s get back to the narrative at hand. Vilar, you’ve done well until now but these are desert plains you’re approaching, my friend…and the heat which I’m sure you’ve noticed, has gotten hotter. Well, to make things a bit bearable, I’ll play you something off the recent Julianna Barwick EP, Florine. A small number titled “Cloudbank.” I hope there is a cloud bank on the horizon for you.” The DJ drops it. Upon hearing the song on the radio, my mind starts to drift to another time and place in the past, somewhere in a Motel 6…
She comes out of the shower and into our room while using up the last of our allotted towels. I lay on the bed, working on a crossword.
“Who’s this we’re listening to?” she asks.
“Julianna Barwick, a singer out of Brooklyn. Found her on some pay per download site,” I answer.
“You didn’t find her on Pitchfork, as with most things?” she counters.
“No, but eventually they jumped all over her. Which is cool I guess. It’s what you want if you’re making music these days. By the way, I don’t find most of my stuff on Pitchfork.”
“I like her. Her material reminds me of Popol Vuh off the Aguirre soundtrack,” she says as she searches for something to wear.
“Yeah, it does, but even better if you ask me,” I respond, slipping in a look above my crossword paper.
“Are you still going to work tonight?” she asks.
“Yup, you know how it is,” I answer.
“One of these days you got to tell me what you do. You can’t keep up this mystery forever…”
Back in my car, I notice I’ve successfully shook off the cops while driving myself deep into the desert’s heart…a place for no man. I stop the vehicle, turn the radio up, and take a sit on its hood. The song “Bode” comes on and I take in my surroundings. I stare out onto the desert plateau and watch the sun murder the skies red as it plunges into the dusk. The sweeping sustained mantra of the song eases the pain of this measured astrological kill. The DJ comes back on.
“I got to hand it to you Vilar, you shook them off good. With my little CB radio here at the station, I can tell you them coppers have no idea where you at. I know you’re hiding somewhere though… but the question now is… how long do you stay out there? We’re pulling for you, just keep a warm blanket close by…”
Back at the Motel 6, I watch her spread the blanket back on the bed. “You know there’s people who get paid to do that sort of thing,” I tell her.
“No matter. Just a frequent habit,” she says. “I’m really digging this Julianna Barwick more and more. What’s this song playing now?”
“It’s called ‘Choose.’”
“You know who else she sounds like? She reminds me of Enya.”
“Yeah—like a hipper version of Enya. Some people may find that comparison repulsing, some maybe not. It’s hard to know nowadays.” I finish off the last of the crossword. A short pause lies between us.
“Do you really have to go?” she asks.
“Yeah, I got to go meet someone. I told you,” I answer.
“When are you gonna let me know?”
“I’ll tell you about my job some time.”
“No. That’s not what I mean,” she says, as she slowly draws the curtains down and turns to face me.
Back in the desert, night has struck and coldness starts to take hold. The opening piano refrain of “Anjos” plays on the radio while I lay down and gaze at the stars for a moment. The DJ returns and chimes in over the song.
“Hey, Vilar, haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you’re keeping those scorpions company. Word has it they don’t offer lifetime subscriptions in the place you at, so you best be getting back into the game now. You can beat the police, you can beat the road, and you can even beat the clock…but you can’t beat the desert.”
“Go to hell,” I respond as I roll off the hood of the Dodge, kick the remaining dirt from my boots, and get back in the driver’s seat. I start the engine and peel it forward to the road. With “Anjos” still playing on the radio, I look for the angel in the sky’s constellations to help find my way back. I start to coast into a vision of last night’s encounter…
I meet my contact Rodrigo by the river’s end.
“Eh, Roberto! Tudo bem?” Rodrigo addresses me.
“Tudo bem. Que pasa?” We exchange our special handshake.
“Well, the boss has got a special job for you,” Rodrigo says as he hands me an unmarked envelope. “Take a look. Looks like someone saw something they shouldn’t have, which can be messy for us. It’s a shit job but you know how it is, right? You got 24 hours.” I stand there, staring into the photograph for a while. Rodrigo says as he snaps me out of it. “Hey man? You OK? You know her?”
“No, it’ s cool.” I slip the photograph into my pocket. “I got it covered. Can I borrow your Dodge?”
The roar of the law enforcement’s helicopter shakes me out of my stupor as I race towards the morning sun. The ranks of the land vehicles have swelled tenfold since my last cigarette pack and I still have a carton to go. The radio is on and my DJ is still with me.
“Yes! Yes! Yes! You go, Big V! You out-race those blue Nazis! You don’t give up and let them catch you! No way, Jose, no way, you go for the prize, man, you go for it! Ha ha ha ha…all right, this is too much fun. I think we got to drop one more for the soul mobile before I go in for a break. So here’s a hymn for you, bro, called ‘Sunlight, Heaven’ by Ms. Barwick. Drive forth and let that camino del sol be your guide. Radio on and godspeed.”
With the song fueling my ride and the police closing in on me, I can see clear as the new day set forth, the path laid ahead. And as sure as I am aware of that incoming road block set up at mile’s end, I am certain now of what words can be said from one to another while under the veil of darkness in a small room near the edge of night. Without hesitation and without doubt. The true speed of will.
By Kent Davies
It’s almost Halloween again! Without a doubt, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Instead of playing that tired K-Mart haunted house soundtrack, why don’t you check out a monster movie music blog that can’t be beat? Dwrayger Dungeon presents: Monster Movie Music and More, a site where hosts Eegah!! and Tabonga! sift through hundreds of old-time sound clips from obscure and classic monster movies. From cold-war inspired giant-monster flicks like THEM! to the biker horror trash like Werewolves on Wheels, the site offers a detailed summary with loads of weird, campy sound clips loaded with hilarious dialogue. While the majority of music featured on the site consists of the suspenseful scores that accompany each film, there are also a few rockin’ numbers from the rockin’ clubs, juke joints and teen beach parties featured in some of the films. The proprietors of Monster Movie Music and More say it’s all in the name of fun and historical education, and “in an effort to keep bad taste alive forever!!!” Help keep bad-taste and weird shit alive and check it out at monstermoviemusic.blogspot.com.
In other blog-related developments: originating from the Jay-Z line “No room service/ just snacks and shit,” Snacks and Shit (www.snacksandshit.com) is a site dedicated to revealing rap and hip hop’s most stupefied, absurd and ridiculous lyrics. Among the 400 great lines highlighting forced metaphors, dumbfounding misogyny and an unnatural obsession with excrement, it was hard to narrow down some favourites. The lines vary from the devastatingly juvenile (such as Arab guesting in Soulja Boy’s track “Yahhhh,” where he fronts, “So get up out my face/ you doo-doo-head dummy”) to typical, topical Chamillionaire with the line “BRRRRRAT BRRRRAT… Twitter ’dat,” in “Internet Thugs Attack.” Then there is the painfully honest Camp Lo coming clean when he says “scored like 10 on my I.Q. test” on “Black Nostaljack.” And you can’t forget Kanye West, who struggles with basic arithmetic when utters the line, “I live by two words/ ‘Fuck you, pay me.’” Not to be outdone, Common lays down the astonishingly grammatically-challenged track “I Poke Her Face,” which includes the line “man, her was gooder than a music.” Rick Ross overdoses on the plural form with “I fucks pianos” (“Pushing Keys”). Some lines are just mystifying. Young Dro goes, “Know a nigga healthy/ ‘cause my Cutlass look like carrot juice” and Kool Keith drops, “I watch your mailbox like Vietnam guerrilla warfare.” Worse still, some lies are just gross: “Diarrhea on you niggas like Niagara Falls” (Gorilla Zoe). Much like the writers of the blog, I’m a fan of some of these rap artists, but the cultural droppings of Snacks and Shit reminds fans and non-fans alike that despite money, success and serious scary gangster shit, sometimes these guys can be as ridiculous and brainless as the rich white suburban kids that try and emulate them. Now only if a blog could do the same for hipster rockstars.
The Warped 45’s debut full-length album is marred by several problems. From the opening title track, there seems to be an issue with the way the album was mixed. The band is loud, and their loudness renders Dave McEathron’s singing incomprehensible. After fiddling with my levels a bit, the problem was not related to the backing band being turned too loud, but with McEathron’s voice himself. He sings with a twang in his voice that segues mainly into his slurring of the lyrics. Instead of sounding like a boozed soaked troubadour singing about the trials of living on the lonely road, he sounds like a parody of a country singer. There are times on the album when his voice clears up, but for the most part, it stays as a slur. If he cleared things up, the band would be a band to look out for. Instead, this album falls flat. Just like Saskatchewan. (Pheromone Recordings, www.pheromonerecordings.com) Charles Lefebvre
This album from the legendary Canadian metal band Voivod is their final album ever. Deciding to call it quits after the 2005 death of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, the band uses this album as a final tribute to an underrated metal guitarist. Continuing the tradition started with 2006’s Katorz, the band takes D’Amour’s last recorded guitar tracks, with no re-amping or overdubs, and adds the rest of the instrument parts around it. What results is a great album, one that cements Voivod and D’Amour’s legacy as one of the best metal bands to ever come out of Canada. D’Amour’s guitar work on songs such as “Global Warming” and “Earthache” gives these songs a special quality, that would be lost if it was a lesser band playing. The rest of the band does their part as well. Denis Belanger’s growl is the best it has ever been, and the bass playing from Jason Newsted manages to complement the rest of the band, rather than getting lost in the noise. The album tends to lean more towards the “groove” subset of metal, with speed metal and a bit of thrash sprinkled in as well. There are no hints of the progressive work that was found in their most notable works, which may upset some fans, but I prefer their focus on groove rather than complexity. If this is indeed the last Voivod album, then the band has gone out with a bang. Any true metal fan should have this album in their collection. (Sonic Unyon, www.sonicunyon.com) Charles Lefebvre
In this reviewer’s opinion, the British metal scene is the best in the world. While everyone fawns over the Scandinavian scene, with their over reliance on orchestration, synthesizers, and dabbling in the occult, the Brits have been making metal music the way it should be made: with balls. Sylosis, out of Reading, make a very good impression with their first full-length album Conclusion of an Age. Sylosis have all the hallmarks of thrash metal, with fast shredding, double bass drumming, and aggressive vocals from Jamie Graham. There is even some influence from melodic death metal and metalcore, though thankfully they don’t overshadow the entire album. The only problem I have with the album is the intro track. Leave that atmospheric stuff to the Swedes! But, I’m grasping at straws here. Fans of in Flames or the early 1980s American thrash scene should give this solid debut a listen. (Nuclear Blast, www.nuclearblastusa.com) Charles Lefebvre