Sound On The Sound – A Seattle Music Blog

April 30, 2013

Played To the Beat: A Tribute To the Hockey Night In Canada Intro Video

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Tonight begins a very special time of year. At 5pm Pacific Daylight Time, the Chicago Blackhawks will face off against the Minnesota Wild and the LA Kings against the St. Louis Blues as sixteen teams begin to narrow down to two, and then to one, in the race for the Stanley Cup. At nearly two months, playoff hockey season lasts nearly as long as Christmas, and like the other holiday is full of rituals and traditions. My way of observing the season is simple: I watch hockey, and I cry.

The playoffs are full of intensity and high drama, but with the exception of last year’s circus sideshow debacle of a Penguins-Flyers series, it’s not the hockey itself that gets me really worked up. I’m a fairly magnanimous fan, eager to see my team clutch the giant silver prize but quick to forgive those who defeat us as long as they play a good game of hockey. What really opens the floodgates is not the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, but the CBC’s beautifully crafted, emotionally manipulative video montages of it all.

The Hockey Night In Canada intro video has become a treasured part of the season over the past few years, earning the sort of cult following that spawns multi-page discussion threads and sixty-five-video YouTube playlists. The premise is simple: a montage of previous-game highlights, energetic crowd shots, mournful footage of defeated teams, and home-team-local-color-B-roll is set to a vaguely-thematic modern pop hit. It’s not revolutionary stuff, but the team at CBC has made a true art of it.

Some of the best opening videos came out of 2011′s brutal Canucks – Bruins final series. The Bruins, looking to end a thirty-nine-year Stanley Cup drought, and the Canucks, playing for their first Cup, brought a fire and intensity to the ice that made for some rough play – Aaron Rome’s brutal hit on Nathan Horton, Alexandre Burrows’ hearty chomp on Patrice Bergeron’s finger – and some great video. The teeming masses of emotional fans gathered in the streets of Vancouver offered both dramatic, sweeping footage from above and reporter-on-the-scene shaky-cam urgency that made a beautiful supplement to the on-ice action.

One of my favorites from the series was for Game 6, set to oh-so-Canadian band The Tragically Hip. It’s a slow burn, simmering quietly for forty-four seconds, then exploding into the of screams and exultations of the Vancouver crowd with a replay of Maxime LaPierre’s third-period Game 5 goal. The remainder of the video is a montage of chirps, checks, fights, and celebrations battering you at a blistering pace and ruthlessly notching up your adrenaline levels. In the midst of all this are hidden little references and plays on words: a shot of Rachel McAdams, an actual movie star, before a decidedly less glamorous image of Canucks center Ryan Kesler as the line “I ain’t no movie star plays”; a broad crowd shot set to the phrase “for miles around”; a replay of Rome’s hit and a fight clip with the line “throes of passion.” These synchronizations are subtle enough not to be cheesy, but smart enough to let you know they’re deliberate.

But CBC’s all-time best work is found in the video shown before Game 1. Backed by the gut-felt emotion of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” this intro to the final round pulls no punches as it brutally shows the forlorn postures and expressions of eliminated teams against the refrain of “we almost had it all.” The list of deposed teams grows slowly, like a playoff beard, but I lose it early on, with the footage of Canadiens goalie Carey Price slumped sadly in his crease. (Sad goalie shots are the worst.) The editors deploy every weapon in their arsenal, from artful slo-mo to drag out critical moments to the Instagram-esque blue-tinge and heavy vignetting that manages to add the feel of nostalgia to events that happened only the previous month or week.

If I could bring myself to be cynical about all this, I would; the true genius in these videos lies in their usefulness as little bits of marketing. The recap in the finals intro draws viewers back into the game by reconnecting them with the narrative of the playoffs, reminding regular viewers of what came before or catching new viewers up on what they’ve missed. It also offers an emotional reconnection to fans of teams no longer competing, giving them a new reason to care about the games and their outcome. But maybe the genius is demonstrated most clearly by the fact that a hardened cynic like me knows she’s being marketed to, and doesn’t care. I’ll turn on CBC tonight at five to watch them read me the opening chapter in this year’s playoffs book, and to see what they have to sell me.

I hope it’s a giant-size box of tissues. I’m going to need one.

January 17, 2013

North of Northwest: Ten Favorites from 2012

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I could pretend to be cool, to be hip, to be omnipotent, but the truth is I spent about six months last year vacationing off the face of the earth, and I didn’t hear nearly as much new music as I normally would have. Thus any claim that I could tell you the ten “best” Canadian records from last year would be even more farcical than usual, but I can offer ten that are worth your time and much-competed-for ear.

In no well-thought-out order:

Baby Eagle and the Proud Mothers – Bone Soldiers

Gravelly sing-talk and beautiful noise combine on this richly layered fourth album from Steve Lambke and his band of friends.

Snoqualmie – Snoqualmie

Victoria band Snoqualmie’s debut album seems to contain the very soul of the Pacific Northwest: delicate, beautiful, and ominous.

Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion

This record calls holy holy holy, Al Spx’s earthy voice paradoxically pulling you off the ground and up to heaven on its honey golden threads.

John K Samson – Provincial

Weakerthans frontman Samson goes it alone but maintains his poetic humanism and bittersweet sense of humor.

Hot Panda – Go Outside

A 40-minute sneer you can shake your hips to.

Whitehorse – The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss

Cold wind howl and outlaw swagger on this psych-tinged country rock record from husband-wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland.

Eamon McGrath – Young Canadians

A crackling thunderstorm of an album: rumbling, tarry darkness shot through with static and the uncanny ability to make your hair stand on end.

Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional

On only his second solo record, the devastatingly stylish and eminently likable John O’Reagan already shows near-complete mastery of the pop song.

Hawk and SteelDanger Road

Nuanced alt-country with the reverberating catchiness of garage pop and a touch of big-rock swagger helmed by former Forestry member Peter Gardner.

Bahamas – Barchords

Honey-tongued troubadour Afie Jurvanen delivers the year’s sexiest breakup album.

December 7, 2012

Talking to Babies About Hey Rosetta!

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There was no music during labor. I had made plans and playlists, of course, but in the end everything happened too fast for me to even pause to consider whether I was in a Constantines or a Yeah Yeah Yeahs mood. (Mostly I was in the mood to have this baby, and now please.) And then he was there, and I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of his sweet breathing. We spent thirty-six hours in the hospital and never turned on the TV or listened to the radio. And so, at two days old, my son had heard no music.

Without the accident of birth time or the vagaries of shuffle to determine my son’s first notes, I was left to do the job on my own. Has anything ever seemed more significant? Naming, the child, of course, had weight and import, but it had also been a shared duty (and, in truth, had been quite easy). The music thing, not so. My husband knew better than to question my cult-like obsession with this assumed ritual, and abandoned many years ago any attempt to alleviate my pet neuroses. My sudden desperation to get this exactly right was mine, all mine.

***

During the early days of motherhood, one of my private joys was to steal my son away to my bedroom and play music for him, just the two of us escaping from the loving but noisy hustle and bustle of visiting family. We played everything – Americana, classical, pop, hip-hop – in a grand experiment to find out what he liked. Lying him gently beside me on the gray-striped sheets, I’d ask, “What do you think of this one, Little Critter?” and cue up a classic or interesting or beloved track. If he showed interest, I’d try to chase down his taste through similar songs. I became a human Pandora station, tuned to the Edmund channel.

It was spectacular just watching him listen. The first time he heard Moonlight Sonata, he stopped nursing, slack-jawed, as if he’d literally forgotten how to do it. His eyes fixed ahead at nothingness as he listened with all his being, the way I did in high school, spine pressed against the hard wood floor of my cluttered teenage bedroom. During a discordant, percussive section of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, he suddenly brought his fist to his mouth to suck, self-soothing through the challenging and unfamiliar sounds.

Other days I listened for myself, navigating my own new territory of needs and emotions. “Parenting,” my husband said, “is taking your heart out of your own body and putting it in someone else’s.” My chest had been cracked open and sewn unevenly back together. Sometimes I needed a salve. I became obsessed with the goes-down-smooth sing-alongs and religious imagery of Cataldo’s Prison Boxing. “In some not small part of me I’m struck by a feeling of grace.” I sang to my baby, I sang in the shower, I listened and hit repeat and listened again, singing from the heart and from the diaphragm.

Sometimes I needed a salve, and sometimes I needed sandpaper. It was late one sunny afternoon that I pressed play on Hey Rosetta!’s “Welcome,” a song which had made me cry in public at Sasquatch when vocalist Tim Baker had prefaced it with, “This song is about having a baby.” (At six months pregnant, that’s all it took.) But if in May it had brought tears, at the end of August I was so raw it made me bleed. “You’ll be a bright light / coming out of the dark.” Hope and pure, elemental joy coursed burning through my veins. Sometimes you have to go all the way through a feeling and come out the other side. I let it bleed. “Sorry this is it / It’s cold and hard and badly lit / And there’s no backing out of it.” I clutched my baby, sobbing through and past the point of being able to form the words, torn to pieces and put back again, shattered by how much I loved this tiny creature. “I’ll say it again / I’ll say it again / I’ll say it / You’re the most incredible thing.” He’s the most incredible thing.

***

In the end the first record was Bry Webb’s Provider. I realized that it had to be: the album my favorite musician had written for his own infant son, the album I had rarely taken off the player during pregnancy. I danced my own son in my arms around the kitchen the afternoon of our arrival home, watching him listen with seeming intent to the certainly-familiar songs that had carried me through the joys and anxieties of the previous nine months. And then it was done. The barrier broken, the days of music begun. I smiled. We danced. I look forward to so many more.

 

June 12, 2012

North of Northwest: Japandroids – Celebration Rock

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When Japandroids burst noisily forth into the cultural consciousness with their 2009 album Post-Nothing, it was the bittersweet ode to self-annihlation “Young Hearts Spark Fire” that best exemplified their appeal. Raucous and heartfelt, “Fire” is about celebrating your youth, but even more about clutching at it desperately as you feel the beginnings of its inevitable retreat: “We used to dream / Now we worry about dying.” For thousands of rock n roll kids perched awkwardly on the edge of thirty, Japandroids articulated the secret fears their hearts hadn’t even admitted to, and spoke of them in the familiar staccato language of fist pumps and bass drum.

Post-Nothing was followed by No Singles, a collection of earlier but somehow more mature recordings. The tracks on Singles are heavy with noise and portent, painting world-weary visions of a dystopian Vancouver that only seems to exist under William Gibson dead-TV skies. “Tell her / That I can see the future / Tell her / That the future is bleak,” vocalist Brian King summarizes on opening track “Darkness on the Edge of Gastown.” “The future used to be so bright / We used to only sleep at night” King and drummer David Prowse sing/shout between fire-alarm choruses of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” in “Coma Complacency.”

After the darkness and emotional complexity of these two albums, listening to Celebration Rock raises one repeated and unfortunate question: have Japandroids regressed?

Somewhere between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock, Prowse and King seem to have flung introspection and regret out the window of their tour van and simply welcomed hedonism with a wholehearted, drunken embrace. Japandroids have simplified their lives. And it doesn’t suit them.

If, as they declared in “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” Japandroids “just wanna worry about sunshine girls,” they seem to have succeeded. Celebration Rock‘s eight breezy tracks mostly address the timeless jock rock topics of partying and fucking; unfortunately, they have little interesting to say about either one. In fact, some of King’s lyrics descend into the downright embarrassing: “So come and find me in this moment / And expose a passionate man for what he is,” he requests in “Evil’s Sway.” The chorus of “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” – “We all want to know what nobody knows / What the nights of wine and roses hold / For the wine and roses of our souls” – is undeniably catchy, but unfortunately insipid.

The one fleeting moment of old-Japandroids glory comes on “Younger Us,” a song already familiar from its release as a 7″ last summer. “Remember saying things like we’ll sleep when we’re dead / And thinking this feeling was never going to end… Give me younger us.” It’s the bittersweet nostalgia that the band does best, for three and a half minutes caught perfectly in a song instead of unfortunately pursued as a life philosophy.

Celebration Rock retains most of the musical elements that have always made Japandroids so viscerally appealing: the powerful drumbeats, the “Woah-oh-oh-oh” scream-along choruses. But what’s missing is what lies beneath: the pounding, still-sweating [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JA3OKJW1aY] heart. The edges are blunted, the corners rounded.

Japandroids used to offer the unusual experience of consciously cathartic mindlessness, escapism that was constantly aware of what it was escaping from. Now they seem on track to become simply an oversimplified parody version of themselves, a so-so Japandroids tribute band that doesn’t really get it. We’ll all still raise our plastic beer cups and, echoing Celebration Rock‘s closing lines, sing out loud “Yeah yeah yeah” like continuous thunder. But underneath the floorboards where that telltale heart used to lie, it sounds a little hollow.

___

Celebration Rock is out now on Polyvinyl Records.

May 25, 2012

North of Northwest: Eamon McGrath – Young Canadians

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It’s only once in a while that you get that ache when you listen to an album, that feeling where you want to cry because it’s so good, to run out into the street tears streaming, bearing it above your head and proclaiming its name. I know, I know — high praise. But great music brings us to that place where jubilation dances on the border of hyperbole, and Eamon McGrath’s Young Canadians has been selflessly bearing me there on its shoulders every day for weeks.

Young Canadians is bleeding heart blue collar rock in the tradition of Springsteen or the Constantines, distinguished by surprising but effective nods to grunge (“Pain of Love,” “Saskatoon, SK”) and country (the deliberately off-balance alcoholic ballad “Johnny Brought The Bottles Back”). Ghosts of the Replacements haunt melancholic numbers “Johnny” and “Auditorium.” But the album’s standout is its driving, fist-pumping title track.

Angry and dystopian, “Young Canadians” betrays the 23-year-old McGrath’s youth, often hidden by a voice that sounds like it must have been put out to weather years before he was born. “Refineries cover up the whole world / On your feet, soldiers on the street / The flood will rise up when we meet.” Ripping through in two minutes forty-eight, it has the breathtaking intensity of a Constantines track (and in fact is reminiscent of “Young Lions”) and the brevity of the punk rock songs it owes its ancestry to.

“Signals” addresses a similar subject with a slightly different tone, describing the timelessness of youth in a mid tempo growl. “Me and her on the bed / Looking like our parents did / Listening to the radio / Where do all those signals go?” It’s John Cougar Mellencamp for a snowbound Canada, a northern Jack and Diane. “In my voice you’d think I’m dead / But on the radio I bleed.”

McGrath occasionally interjects the stuff you viscerally get, you understand, with a line so beautiful and intriguing you want to hunt him down and beg him to tell you what it means. “I’ve got pictures on my wall / Of women that exist only in me,” he sings in “Rabid Dog.” “Great Lakes” is less song than noisy haunt poem: “I hope the open road and poets know to score the sores black with cocaine / Until you see the faded travelers’ mouths that ignite the sky with fear and propane.”

McGrath has created an album with a heady mix of instant accessibility and obsessive replay value, details and layers of meaning to keep a dedicated listener absorbed for years. Young Canadians is easy to listen to but impossible to pin down, a never-boring companion and definite contender for this year’s best release. ___

Young Canadians is out now on White Whale records. You can also stream the album here. ___

May 10, 2012

North of Northwest: Snoqualmie – Snoqualmie

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Snoqualmie‘s self-titled debut is twenty-six minutes long, but it’s a line only a minute five in that’s constantly looping through my head: “River’s arms will gladly pull you down / God knows there’s a million ways to drown.” Delivered in Blake Enemark’s gentle tenor, this line from “clarissa” sounds almost upbeat, and therefore positively sinister. Suddenly the true mundanity of our day-to-day devastations is revealed to casually stupefying horror. God knows there are a million ways to drown, and most of them come silently, free of proclamations and invisible to strangers.

Snoqualmie is at its best in moments like these, navigating the rocky course of our emotional seascapes with honesty (but not always so much brutality). There’s a porcelain fragility to the mysterious “distance.” The opening speaks of cold white rooms and tragedy: “Laura, there are things that outweigh here and now / Vomit on the floor / The fear of letting go.” But the last lines, a scant minute later – it’s a wisp of a track at 2:11 total – are startlingly gentle: “Wonder is a posture that’s held in low esteem / The brownness of your curls will take over the world.” Wedding song “matt & elaina” is bookended by closer “haultain,” a textured and elegiac song made especially memorable by the imagery of the line”When our marriage did end / One million silverfish crawled into my head / And breathed forgiveness back into my breath.”

Enemark, who is formerly of Forestry, also brings in some of their moody and textured instrumentation to set the scene. “midnight playwright” looms like a Northwest gray sky and rumbles like the thunder that always seems to threaten but never comes, while the opening guitar on “distance” has the ephemeral sparkle of a rogue sunbeam on the bay. The gentle, rambling first notes of “clarissa” are the lamb to “haultain’s” roaring lion of a close, the guitar positively wailing and the drums echoing and tumbling like an avalanche.

To make Snoqualmie, Enemark recruited bassist Colin Nealis, pianist Simon Haisell, and drummer Danny Costello and gathered them on B.C.’s Mayne Island in January to record this debut. Harnessing the mood of their surroundings and Enemark’s Twin Peaks preoccupation, they created an album that is richly Pacific Northwestern, wallpapered in fir trees and laced with driftwood like a rain-lashed beach, moody but welcoming in its sometimes terrible beauty. Like the region that is now my home, Snoqualmie has surprised and delighted me by crawling into my heart and staying there, with all its darkness somehow bringing light. ___

Snoqualmie is available now at their bandcamp. ___

May 8, 2012

Brittney’s Occasional Choice: Wintersleep – “Nothing Is Anything (Without You)”

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Seattle’s summer might still be two months away, but the summer music season has certainly begun, as evidenced by this jangly head-bopper of a love song from Halifax’s Wintersleep.

 

 

True, there are undertones of creepy – “I took my bike, I broke the lock on your door / I wanna stay if it’s alright” – but you can ignore them if that’s what you’re into and just let the simplicity of the chorus catch you. “I can’t live my life without you babe / Nothing is anything without you babe / Nothing is anything without you babe.” Summer lovin’, happens at last.

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Wintersleep plays the next Sound on the Sound Presents show at Columbia City Theater on June 1. Their fifth album, Hello Hum, comes out June 12 on Capitol/EMI.

April 27, 2012

North of Northwest: Canadian Summer Festival Outlook

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One of the Venues for Dawson City Music Fest

 

Looking for an alternative to Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, or the so-last-week (and the week before) Coachella? Maybe something a little smaller, cheaper, more obscure, or just further away? Here are a few recommendations from this year’s crop of Canadian summer music festivals.

Hillside Festival

Guelph, Ontario July 27-29

The Gist: A highly Canadian-centric festival in Ontario college town / musical hotbed Guelph.

The Bands: Bry Webb, Elliott Brood, The Wooden Sky, Joe Pug, Joel Plaskett, Bahamas, Chic Gamine

The Price: $40-$115

 

Osheaga

Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, August 3-5

The Gist: Named after an old European settlers’ word for Montreal, Osheaga celebrates its seventh year in Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Île Sainte-Hélène in Montreal. Osheaga consistently attracts big-name headliners, and this year is no exception.

Sigur Ros, The Black Keys, Metric, The Weeknd, Plants and Animals, Dan Mangan, Wintersleep, Keys N Krates

$85-$318

 

Sled Island

June 20-23, Calgary

The Gist: Not an actual island, but more of a conceptual one created in downtown Calgary every summer, Sled Island aims to bring people to the streets to experience both music they know they love and boundary-pushing artists they might not encounter in their day to day lives.

The Bands: Feist, Cannon Bros, Rococode, The Antlers, Bonjay, The Hold Steady, Duchess Says

The Price: $50-$349

 

Dawson City Music Fest

Dawson City, Yukon Territory, July 20-22

The Gist: An adventurous festival in the remote Yukon, Dawson City’s long bright summer nights have a reputation for breeding surprising performances and spontaneous collaborations.

The Bands: Partial lineup includes Hooded Fang, Born Ruffians, The Weather Station

The Price: $126

 

Keloha

Kelowna, BC, July 6-8

The Gist: A brand new festival on Okanagan Lake in BC’s toasty interior.

The Bands: Joy Formidable, Dan Mangan, Cold War Kids, Said The Whale, The Pack AD, Devon Coyote

$49.50 – $175

 

MoSoFest

Saskatoon, June 14-16

The Gist: Canada’s second annual MoSo (Mobile and Social Media) conference has added to its appeal this year with the first MoSoFest. With the partial lineup already looking quite promising, this thirty-nine (!!) dollar festival might be the best bargain of the summer.

The Bands: Damien Jurado, Bry Webb, Shotgun Jimmie, Jessica Jalbert

The Price: $39

 

April 25, 2012

Brittney’s Occasional Choice: In The Car With Dan Mangan

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Things Dan Mangan and I have in common: a Will and Kate coffee mug, righteous mustaches, having written bad songs in high school. Luckily for us all, I stopped, and he got better. In this ten-minute mini-documentary Mangan discusses the past, present, and future of his music while journeying by car and ferry through some of British Columbia’s loveliest scenery. “If I can send any message with Oh Fortune, it’s that even though, you know, things are difficult, existing is weird, but you have to feel the undercurrent of joy.”

Bonus material: “Post-War Blues” official music video.

April 3, 2012

North of Northwest: Cannon Bros – Firecracker / Cloudglow

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Let’s talk about Cannon Bros.

I like talking about Cannon Bros. They’re my new favorite thing, shiny and happy-making, and they’re on my mind (and my stereo) a lot. I have some friends who dig them too, and sometimes we sit around and say things like, “Man, Cannon Bros, they’re so good!” “I know, right?” “SO. GOOD.” And this is basically what goes through my brain fifty percent of the time when I listen (obsessively, over and over) to Firecracker / Cloudglow, because I’m not as sophisticated as I like to pretend. But there is more to say about them, there are some great little details I’d like to share, and so let’s talk.

First, the big picture: Cannon Bros is a Winnipeg duo featuring Cole Woods and Alannah Walker – who are neither brothers nor bros – switching duties on guitar and drums. They make catchy, garage-tinged power pop with just a hint of that Pavement sloppiness, all three minute songs and hook-filled refrains, cranked up drums and jangle. They sound a little like the Replacements and a little like R.E.M. and sometimes a lot like Pavement, but as the last chord fades you’ll mostly think, “That sounded like Cannon Bros and I WANT TO HEAR MORE.”

So let’s talk about the best parts, the ones that get you right in the gut. Let’s talk about the curious beauty of “String Lights’” almost-downtempo power pop. Let’s talk about those 25 seconds of unexpected fury in the middle of “Plan Rock.” Let’s talk about the way that the bridge to “Out of Here” can be sung in a perfect round. Let’s discuss the way all the little details of Cannon Bros add up to one giant megalith of awesome.

Let’s hang out and listen to a band that’s delightful enough that it necessitates hyperbole, that releases the kind of biological, cellular-level joy that makes it harder to communicate about with words than with fist pumps and smiles. Let’s listen to Cannon Bros.

____

Firecracker / Cloudglow is out now on Disintegration Records. You can also stream or buy it here.

Let’s write letters to Cannon Bros and tell them to tour to Seattle.