December 7, 2012

Talking to Babies About Hey Rosetta!


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.


December 9, 2011

Brittney’s Second Annual Not-Entirely-Canadian Ten (of the) Best Songs of the Year


Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

It was astonishingly ubiquitous (okay, overplayed), but every time I hear this I’m still astonished at how good it is. Adele’s voice finds its perfect showcase, hitting pleading high notes and low, dirty growls. “You’re gonna wish you / Never had met me,” the backup singers chirp ominously, as the kick drum pounds a threat. And through it all “Rolling In The Deep” remains ridiculously catchy, inspiring daily earworms and a million ill-advised sing-alongs (most of which were mine).

Bry Webb, “Rivers Of Gold”

Rivers of Gold by Idée Fixe Records

In this love letter to a a carefree moment in time, Webb extols the virtues of living just the way I’d like to: “free of fear and full of love.”

Camp Radio, “The Girl Who Stole My Motorbike”

This fuzzy powerpop charmer is so catchy that it gets stuck in my head every time I so much as see a motorcycle parked on the roadside.

Handsome Furs, “Serve The People”

Though inspired by the oppressive governments of east Asia, this song hits literally and figuratively closer to home since the recent wave of police brutality in response to the Occupy movement. “You kick ‘em in the head and you kick ‘em when they’re down / You don’t serve the people.”

Hawk and Steel, “Telephone Calls”

This beautifully mournful Americana piece swells to a tortured climax with heavy guitars and the rising lament of vocalist Peter Gardner before fading to a last sad whisper: “The telephone’s ringing down the hall / I wonder who you’re with tonight.” “Telephone Calls” finds the pathos at the heart of the traditional country song and presents it without devolving into caricature the way so much modern country does. This is the simple, prosaic sadness of the stranger next to you at the bar, expressed in five minutes of sonic poetry.

Take a listen on their Sound on the Sound introduction.

See the rest of Brittney’s Second Annual Not-Entirely-Canadian Ten (of the) Best Songs of 2011 (more…)

September 19, 2011

Polaris Prize Gala Tonight: Who Should Win?




The 2011 Polaris Prize winner will be announced at the tonight’s Gala in Toronto. Over the past ten weeks, I’ve reviewed every Short List nominee, but haven’t played favorites until now. Here, without commentary, but links to reviews of all 10 albums, is my ranking of the ten contenders.

1. Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges 2. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs 3. The Weeknd, House of Balloons 4. Timber Timbre, Creep On Creepin’ On 5. Austra, Feel It Break 6. Braids, Native Speaker 7. Galaxie, Tigre et diesel 8. Destroyer, Kaputt 9. Hey Rosetta!, Seeds 10. Ron Sexsmith, Long Player Late Bloomer

The Gala will be broadcast live on CBC Radio 3 and Much at 5pm PST

August 17, 2011

North of Northwest: Hey Rosetta! – Seeds





Sometimes the best thing you can say about a record is that it’s fine, and sometimes the worst thing you can say about a record is that it’s fine.

Hey Rosetta!‘s Seeds? It’s fine.

I’ve enjoyed Seeds, but in the way I enjoy Jackie Collins novels or reruns of The Real World: as something of a guilty pleasure. Like these things, Seeds is comfortable, easy, but a little outdated; slightly quaint, a little too “produced.” It’s radio-friendly, and in the way that music writers don’t generally mean as a compliment.

There are a couple of standout tracks. “Yer Spring” is a catchy, triumphant sing-along. The mood rises slowly, but as the song reaches its climax around three minutes in, you’ll be tossing your head back to howl “Woah-oh-oh-oh” alongside vocalist Tim Baker and throwing your fist in the air on the drumbeats.

Seeds also takes the chance to make a last impression, leaving you with the gently haunting ballad “Bandages.” It offers the opposite of “Yer Spring”‘s swagger, but the same confidence lies beneath the delicate acoustics.

Unfortunately, there are vast swathes through the middle of the album that I’ve listened to several dozen times but barely remember. Moments stick in my head – the cadence of the line “you sleepwalk through the rooms where you grew up” in “Young Glass,” the frantic gasps of the Inuit throat singing at the end of “Parson Brown.” For the most part, though, the center is a pleasant but unremarkable blur.

Which brings us back to the business of being “fine.” In this instance, fine is a worst-case scenario. In a competition for the year’s best Canadian album, the year’s least offensive Canadian album should put up no fight. When compared to the groundbreaking creativity and forward-thinking aesthetics of many other Polaris nominees, Seeds offers a little to enjoy, but not a lot to be excited about. ______

Hey Rosetta! plays Nov. 11 at The Crocodile and Nov. 12 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.

July 6, 2011

2011 Polaris Prize Short List





The 2011 Polaris Prize Short List was announced this morning.

Ten albums remain in the hunt for the $30,000 prize:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs Austra – Feel It Break Braids – Native Speaker Destroyer – Kaputt Galaxie – Tigre et Diesel Hey Rosetta! – Seeds Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges Timber Timbre – Creep on Creepin’ On The Weeknd – House of Balloons

You may note that none of my top five made the Short List. This means that I have lots of new music to consider (and old music to reconsider) in the time until the grand prize winner is named. Over the next ten weeks, I’ll be covering each contender in depth and eventually naming my favorite to take home the big check.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts on the Short List in the comments below. ______

The 2011 Polaris Prize winner will be announced September 19 in Toronto.

March 15, 2011

North of Northwest: Hey Rosetta! [Photos]



Hey Rosetta! ::: photo by Brittney Bush Bollay



Last week was all Canada all-the-time for North of Northwest’s Brittney, which meant she was a very happy Canada-o-phile. Here’s a few photos from Hey Rosetta!’s Chop Suey.




Hey Rosetta! ::: photo by Brittney Bush Bollay


Hey Rosetta! ::: photo by Brittney Bush Bollay


Hey Rosetta! ::: photo by Brittney Bush Bollay

March 7, 2011

North of Northwest: A Great Week of Canadian Music



Diamond Rings ::: photo by Brittney Bush Bollay


As they journey to next week’s SxSW, many Canadian musicians are taking the opportunity to get in a West Coast tour, which means that Seattle will be graced with performances by notable Canadian artists every night this week. Here’s a quick guide to the whos, wheres, and whens.

Monday: The Dears

With fifteen years and five albums under their belt, it’s a safe bet that The Dears can live up to their reputation as excellent performers. Their latest record, Degeneration Street, is full of high quality fuzzed-up heavy pop, with an expansive sound that should translate well to a live setting. You can stream it [here]. (Crocodile Cafe)

Tuesday: Crystal Castles

My only memories of Crystal Castles’ show at Neumos a couple of years ago are flashing lights and moving bodies. I consider this a good thing. A good dance can transport you out of your mind and into the simpler joys of your body; Crystal Castles plan to offer this experience to everyone at the Showbox SoDo Tuesday night. (Showbox SoDo)

Wednesday: Hey Rosetta!

Seeds, the latest album from Hey Rosetta!, is populist and likable, full of anthemic, sing-along pop with a pleasant radio timbre. Lead single “Yer Spring” is I’ve had on repeat: “Am I rising up?” vocalist Tim Baker asks on repeat, as the music swells behind him. “I hear the chorus” he sings as, yes, a chorus joins in. “I see the people singing.” The drums pound, his voice rises, it’s a head-thrown-back all-out moment, and it’s great. (Chop Suey)

Thursday: Diamond Rings, PS I Love You

Like something out of an indie rock Disney movie, Diamond Rings and P.S. I Love You couldn’t be more opposite in aesthetic or musical style, but are close friends who tour together regularly, Tweet each other constantly, and even film cooking segments together for MTV. Diamond Rings makes subtly moody, dance-influenced minimalist pop and performs it with a catching exuberance. PS I Love You – doubling Diamond Rings’ strength at two members – hides sharp songwriting behind a blissfully giant wall of fuzz. (Vera Project)

Friday: Dan Mangan

If you haven’t listened to us yet about Dan Mangan, I invite you to start here. (Sunset Tavern)