Friday, February 27, 2009

Winter Mix 2009

Okay, so I'll wrap up my obsessive series of music posts with a little Winter Mixed Tape for y'all. A collection of songs I'm loving - some old, some new, all receiving constant play in my world. Enjoy and check these artists out on iTunes.

1) Epilepsy is Dancing – Antony and the Johnsons
2) Went Walking – Bosque Brown
3) Tailor – Julie Doiron
4) Hold Time – M. Ward
5) Mykonos – Fleet Foxes
6) Paddy’s Gone – Antony and the Johnsons
7) Broken Chair – Jim Guthrie
8) He Doesn’t Know Why – Fleet Foxes
9) Another World – Antony and the Johnsons
10) Prescilla – Bat for Lashes
11) Aeon – Antony and the Johnsons
12) You Are Free – Cat Power
13) Streetlights – Kanye West
14) Oh My God – Gentleman Reg
15) Gossip in the Grain – Ray LaMontagne
16) Man Under the Sea – Patrick Watson
17) Oh Lonesome Me – M. Ward
18) Little Tornados – Aimee Mann
19) Call it Off – Tegan and Sara
20) Magpie to the Morning – Neko Case

Download the zip!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Middle Cyclone: Review

My friends and loved ones really like to rip on me about my taste in music. Jeff (whose favourite bands include Coldplay) likes to joke that I have the taste of your average Art House Lesbian. After all these years his prodding still gets me. I get my back up, reeling off the reasons why Rachael Yamagata is fantastic, or why Annie Lennox is a legend or why Neko Case is one in the making. My friend Nick got in a real good one just the other day. While listening to music, my iPod inevitably shuffles to any number of "girly" artists. In his hilarious accidentally-funny way he proclaimed: "Your iPod would make anyone get their period three days sooner." Now, while I resent the sentiment, I appreciate a zinger like nobody's business.

Neko Case releases her much-anticipated follow-up to the bananas-amazing Fox Confessor Brings the Flood on Tuesday and all I can say is: Jesus Christ. A perfect next-step, this album has a similar feel to Confessor, though stands on its own entirely. Case is an exacting musician, her phrasing and diction clean and organized, her tone effortlessly pitch-perfect. Listening on headphones (you must!) you hear every breath and each pause, utter control over every aspect of the record. That said, there's nothing robotic about her. It's simply pure talent and musicianship. And she surrounds herself with the same; guests on the record include M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer, members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, and Calexico.

"This Tornado Loves You" gets the album started in a frantic and mildly-manic state, a runaway song convincing a man she loves him. "I miss the way you sigh yourself to sleep." With a jittering guitar under the whole thing, it races along and gets your feet stomping.

"The Next Time You Say Forever" is just shy of two minutes long. She has a way of writing chorus-less songs that just drive, leaving you wanting so much more. When each set of sounds happens just once, you pine for more. We're so used to a great harmony coming around two and three times, but Neko insists you just listen to the album on repeat if you want that. "I've been away for so long, I've lost my taste for home. And that's a dirty fallow feeling to be the dangling ceiling from when the roof came crashing down." And a wordplay mastermind to boot. Throughout her entire catalogue she dangles great runs or melodies, but sparingly. 1:16 into "Vengeance is Sleeping", a swell of harmonies never heard again makes you want it all the more.

"Polar Nettles" is a great example of something else Neko is skilled at. Sometimes the character she sings about doesn't particularly interest, the story, the setting, something doesn't grab you, but then a little detail in the music does: 1:23-in, a rattling snare drum makes this song. The first time I heard it, it caught me off-guard and I could feel my eyes widen, my smile too. My stomach dropped a little and I scanned back to hear that again. Fantastic. Those dangling moments, so unexpected.

"Did someone make a fool of me, for I can show 'em how it's done." At her best on tracks like this one ("Middle Cyclone") she sings three verses about something other than an old-timey murder, in this case, it seems, her own inability to get close to others, singing "I can't give up acting tough, it's all that I'm made of. Can't scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love." All to a quiet guitar and the twinkling of a little girl's ballerina musicbox. Economical songwriting like this is so rare, so perfectly restrained.

Mp3 Download: "Vengeance is Sleeping"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Findlay Brown: Love Will Find You

Forgive me, I'm in one of those phases; all I can write about is music. There's a ridiculously huge amount of new stuff out right now and I can't consume it fast enough. Like Jessica Simpson at a sweet potato-eating contest, I feel overwhelmed and excited and just beside myself with options!

I love pop music. And not just the Britney Spears kind. I'm talking about stuff like Aimee Mann and anything by Jon Brion and the old-school stuff like Roy Orbison and Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkle. The Beatles, of course, redefined pop music. The Righteous Brothers come to mind. And think back on tracks from Dirty Dancing - Those epic pop ballads that by today's standards are dated and stale, but really are great.

There's an English guy by the name of Findlay Brown. He gained acclaim with his debut album in 2007 and is about to release his follow-up, Love Will Find You. On songs like "Nobody Cared", he might remind you of any of those listed above. As I get older there's something very comforting in listening to stuff that sounds a little like the stuff my parents used to bust out on a Sunday afternoon. While some of the lyrics are a bit much, the aesthetic is warm and vintagey and somehow similar to a cup of coffee and padding around the house on a lonely weekday morning. I like that. Download "I Had a Dream", if you please.

I know you're probably sick of reading about music, but entries re. Neko Case and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are hot on the heels of this one. We're experiencing a major renaissance in music, so get on or get out. Good music is back, people.

A Real Gentleman

You must hear this song.

Gentleman Reg is extremely local, though with connections to The Hidden Cameras, Broken Social Scene, The Constantines, and Royal City, he is firmly a member of Canadian Music Royalty. His new album Jet Black was released this week and is, simply put, fine fine work.

The song "Oh my God", in particular, gets me going. Download! And iTunes the shit out of his new album. It's dynamic and moody and, at times, downright dancey. So great.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In Concert: Antony and the Johnsons

On Tuesday I finally witnessed Antony and the Johnsons live. My expectations were running rampant. I'd seen them several times on Letterman and other late night shows, but had yet to see how the music would translate into a full set.

We have several fantastic venues in Toronto: Massey Hall, the Danforth Music Hall, the Mod Club. We also have several that are terrible: The Molson Amphitheatre, Kool Haus, the ACC. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre at the CNE grounds was new to all of us. Recently renovated and reopened, this mid-sized venue is cavernous and a bit convention-centre-y. Not quite intimate enough, I wasn't sure what to think. And then things got going and the sound was bad. Buzzy and blown-out at the top end (poor, beautiful clarinet) - This was a set-back, but I was able to ignore it and get consumed.

Antony and his six-piece band (including one decidedly attractive silver fox on violin) played all my most-favourite songs ("Aeon", "For Today I am a Boy", "Everglades", and Beyonce's "Crazy in Love") and, much to my surprise, he mixed in funny little stories and sidebars throughout. You can hear one story, captured on YouTube, about the origin of the song "Cripple and the Starfish". He's funny and sassy and surprisingly well-timed, comically-speaking. These moments of levity took what could have been a very heavy and sad (though gorgeous) experience and fleshed it out into one of emotional highs and lows.

I'm having trouble putting the whole thing into words. For me, it's one of those concerts best left to memory. I couldn't even take my eyes off the show long enough to snap a single photo, though the one above looks exactly like the performance we saw. All I can say is, if you have the chance, see them live. Incredible.

(Photo above from Antony and the Johnsons)

Neko Case: Sneak Peak Amazingness

I got my hands on the title track of Neko Case's upcoming Middle Cyclone. Let these lyrics whet your whistle and snag the download.

It was so clear to me that it was almost invisible. I lie across the path waiting, just for a chance to be a spiderweb trapped in your lashes. For that, I would trade you my empire for ashes. But I choke it back, how much I need love . . .

Mp3 Download: Middle Cyclone

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hold Time

I've been an M. Ward fan since hearing his lovely little ditty "Fool Says" while working at Starbucks. His recent foray with Zooey Deschanel earned him some serious mainstream media attention, and deservedly so. Apparently Volume II is in the works, so Soccer Moms and Hipsters alike can wait with baited breath for that 2010 release.

His newest album, Hold Time, is receiving major accolades. Spanning from country to the beach-blanket variety seen on Volume I, the album features some major players; the astounding Lucinda Williams had me with her epically mournful West and is a welcome dash of whiskey-soaked sadness on "Oh Lonesome Me". Ms. Deschanel makes a brief appearance too, on the bouncy single "Never Had Nobody Like You."

Matt Ward's albums always have the same sort of disembodied mystery to them - Vocals set back and spooky, his voice a little raspy, a vague air of disenchantment with lots of songs about writing songs, lost love, etc. The same goes here. His music requires little of the casual listener (it can easily play as background music) while also satisfying people like me, the kind who read lyrics like short stories. And with just about the prettiest album art I've seen lately, this one will be on repeat at my house through the coldest days this month.

Enjoy a download of "Oh Lonesome Me" and grab the album when it hits iTunes on Tuesday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another Valentine's Day

The blogosphere is bubbling over with entries about Valentine's Day. It's strange to have had this blog for more than a year: I've written about it already. What more is there to say? I hope you all have a loved and loving week. Here's the dreamboat of my life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Beginner's Guide to the All-Inclusive Vacation

We recently returned from a one-week all-inclusive vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We chose this location for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, I covet all things Lauren Conrad.

We had a fantastic time, cold nights notwithstanding. It fell to like 15°C after the sun went down!! That's crazy! The climate is a bit strange. If we'd known, we would have brought much more in the way of warm clothes. So we didn't spend much time out-and-about at night - When you're on vacation, you wanna feel sexy, but these plummeting temperatures made me, instead, want to curl up for a second helping of Jodie Foster and her 2002 hit Panic Room. All things considered, early nights made for early mornings, which meant we enjoyed the sun all day long. Muy bien.

Cabo San Lucas is a small suburb of Los Cabos, right on the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, the Sea of Cortez to the east and the Pacific to the west. It's as gorgeous as Google Images says it is. Unlike other vacation-destinations, the centre of town is very close to the hotel strip. A five minute cab ride will take you there in a snap. We went into town several times, shopped at dingy little flea markets, ate at fantastic restaurants. If ever you find yourself in Cabo, you must check out The Office on the beach. The margaritas are potent, the service is remarkable and the food is second to none. The grub on the resort was awful and the booze was watered-down swill, so a great meal was especially appreciated. Also noteworthy, a divey little bar located in a parkette called the Blue Jungle and a harbourside restaurant perfect for people-watching called Alexander's.

All-inclusive vacations are interesting - They allow you to shut down your brain and relax in one step. There's very little to think about if you're looking for a lounge chair, a drink, and a buffet. Like slutty girls on Halloween, you can wear anything, like short-shorts and outrageous sunglasses. It's a freeing experience. We've gone on five of these trips, each one extremely different. Cuba will always be special because it was our first trip together. It's a magical place, trapped in time. These entries chronicle our trip and all the reasons it's so wonderful. Jamaica, on the other hand, was strange and aggressive and altogether not so memorable. Our third trip was to the Dominican Republic, also not so good. Four stars didn't really translate. We went to Mexico last year and had a great time at the Barcelo Maya. Highly recommended. This year was a strange mix of total satisfaction and utter disappointment. I think we're done with the All-Inclusive. We've learned the ropes and next time we'll go it alone; no more hand-holding, no more all-you-can-eat buffets and sloppy frat boys. We want a small boutique hotel in a seaside nook. We want real restaurants and some semblance of culture.

But sometimes all you really need is a break from work and a super-shot of Vitamin D, so below is a step-by-step guide to booking your first all-inclusive trip.

1) Research. Check out sites like to see what's out there. Compare prices, get to know trends in costs. See when things drop dramatically and time out your booking. And check to see what actual guests have to say.

2) Use a travel agent. We always go through Flight Centre. Their service has been top-notch and ultra-simple. Let them know what you're looking for, give specific examples of locations and hotels, and show them packages you've seen - They'll take this info and find you a great deal. Using a company like this will also ensure you have a reputable contact at home should anything go awry while you're away.

3) Arrange private transport. Normally with these packages you're directed from the airplane to a series of buses which transport you and 48 greasy touristas to a series of hotels along the highway. This time we arranged for private transport. A small van took us personally from the airport to our hotel - No waiting for others to get through customs, none of your luggage getting tossed into the bottom of a bus. It's inexpensive and a much nicer way to spend as much as an hour driving through the countryside of a new and exciting place.

3) Be assertive. Get what you want. Request ocean-view rooms (or buffet-adjacent, if that's your bag) a king-sized bed and a late check out - lay it all out with your travel agent. The biggest mistake people make when traveling is feeling like a jerk - Often, upon arriving in places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic we feel like high-falutin' Imperialists and that pesky Tourist Guilt sets-in immediately. Skip it, get what you want and quell the guilt with a little high-impact tipping. Trust me - Lupita the maid wants you to feel like a 50s-era racist. But don't let her fool you: That's what she's selling. The illiterate and charmingly sheepish lady thing is an act. If you want more pillows, ask. If your room is not satisfactory, make it so. Say your holas, leave some bucks on the bed and get on with it.

4) Get off the resort. Whether it's a zip line excursion or free-balling it around the slummiest neighbourhood in a nearby town, you must get away from the pool! Don't be intimidated. If you shop, barter!! Vendors will always inflate their prices because tourists are stupid. Jeff and I rarely pay more than half the price someone is asking for any given item. The little wooden box below was going for $45 USD - Ridiculous! The vendor will ask what you want to pay - Like any strong negotiation return with a lowball offer. I recommend a laugh, a scoff, and $15. We finally settled on $22. Stay strong, you'll get your price. Again, Pablo wants you to feel like you're taking food out of his childrens' mouths, but that wouldn't explain the oft-heard carny-bark "I can rip you off better than he can!" In these parts $22 is a solid day at the office. Save your principles for that trip to the Sudan you're planning.

(We collect boxes. I love this one so much.)

5) Definitely negotiate cab fares, water taxis, and drug deals. Don't haggle at restaurants, stores owned by rock music legends, or at the Duty Free.

6) SPF 1000. If you're pink like me, I also recommend a brief period of pre-vacation tanning at your local salon. This sets the scene for an equatorial sun bath like your skin has never known.

7) Lock up everything. We forgot, for almost no time at all, and someone (Lupita!) took us for $180 USD. Very disappointing. Put everything in the safe - Your iPods, wallets, definitely passports, and all your money.

8) Reuse your towels. This helps with the aforementioned guilt.

Get a few of these under your belt and, like us, you'll be ready to book a hotel and hit the sand running. Start shopping for short-shorts now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Post-Holiday Haze

I'm a bit out of it these days. Vacations have a way of f-ing you up. I'll write soon, but in the meantime wanted to share a few photos from the photographer who shot Nick and Natasha's wedding. They are super fun!

(image courtesy of mimmo+naz)