March 31, 2009

And then there was one...

...Smashing Pumpkin, that is.

It may sound a bit harsh, but at this point in his career, every blow against Billy Corgan and his current band of nobodies is a small boost for the Smashing Pumpkins proper. Every shitty album Billy tries to sell under his old band name further discredits this post-Pumpkins mid-life crisis thing and further removes him and whatever he's currently doing from remarkably decent albums like Gish and Siamese Dream. James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky were right to leave when they did. If it wasn't lucid before, it's certainly crystal-clear now.

Now Jimmy Chamberlin, everyone's favourite drumstick-wielding gorilla, is out for good, but is anyone surprised that Billy has resolved to continue? Apparently the Billy the Egomaniac still plans to record the follow-up to Zeitgeist this summer. Give him credit for his resolve. He simply cannot be phased! In a sharp contrast to Chamberlin’s other departure from the Pumpkins (In 1996, Corgan exercised his authority and booted Chamberlin out for overdosing on heroin with touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin who failed to recover). Billy’s bosom buddy explained the situation on his blog: “I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don’t fully possess. I won’t pretend I’m into something I’m not,” he wrote early last week. Did Chamberlin just recently discover that he was being sidelined? Now that Chamberlin’s gone, we’ll see how quickly Corgan’s project collapses in on itself. That is, depending on how the drummer auditions go this week. Billy has received more attention with his desperate attempts (post-Zwan) to regain his fleeting relevance than with any of his music from the last 6 years. In the midst of all this embarrassment let's cling to happier days, days when we could trust our larger-than-life rock stars to listen to smart producers (like Flood, Butch Vig and Alan Moulder) and be completely oblivious to fashion trends and American politics.

March 25, 2009

How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
Stol'n on his wing my three and twentieth year!
My hasting days fly on with full career,
But my late spring no bud or blossom show'th.

Perhaps my semblance might deceive the truth,
That I to manhood am arriv'd so near,
And inward ripeness doth much less appear,
That some more timely-happy spirits endu'th.

Yet be it less or more, or soon or slow,
It shall be still in strictest measure ev'n
To that same lot, however mean or high,
Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n;
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great task-Master's eye.
~ John Milton, 1632

March 22, 2009

Tonight, after a 2-hour set, I talked with Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and without warning, he turned the questions on me. Being interviewed is discomforting enough already. The fact that it's one of the most important American folk-singers of the last 15 years or so only makes it that much weirder. For some reason, I mentioned that I was a Mennonite and he asked me what that meant in my life. Hmmm. Pacifism, adult baptism, the Ban, umm...a pragmatic ecclesiology...simple living...beards? I tried to qualify it a bit - historically, that is. I thought he might recognize the Amish, which led me right into an explanation of the emergence of Anabaptism and the Protestant Reformation. Enough, I thought. But then my friend Adam mentioned Mennofolk and I was praying for a way out.

He was with a full band tonight and, to be honest, it was a little much at times. The set was incredibly long and ended with a three-song encore. Still, the man doesn't come around very often. He was just making up for lost time.

March 20, 2009

Black Hearted Love

Judging by the first single/video, A Woman a Man Walked By is going to be full of testosterone, distortion and sexual innuendo. Though I enjoyed the chilling piano ballads that defined White Chalk, I'm quite pleased that Polly Jean has returned to her grungier roots. See for yourself.

The new album comes via Island on March 30 (less than 10 days). Easily my most anticipated of 2009 thus far.

March 9, 2009

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Bryan Webb of the Constantines. As his music would suggest, he was quite gracious and amicable on the phone. The March/April issue of Stylus will (hopefully) feature our conversation in full.

There's a lot of hopeful sentiment running through Kensington Heights and it's quite striking to compare that to some of your earlier stuff, like your self-titled album.

Bryan Webb: We all grew up in that hardcore punk network in the nineties and that's how we met one another. Those were our formative years as musicians and learning to be a band. And that's how we learned t
o write songs, being in that world and receiving that style of play. For me, I didn't quite get that songs have to come from a frustrated energy. For a while I wrote from that punk-rock energy of being restless and fed-up or not being able to identify with most of what you face from day to day. So I learned to write songs in that mode and gradually I started to realize that the songs, anything I said from that perspective tended to be really short-lived. The energy that came from anger was productive, but the tension that came from that was more temporary. Whereas anything I said that was in celebration of something was more lasting. I felt like I could revisit it and be happy that I'd written it...something beyond myself. With Shine a Light, I wanted to start writing more loving songs. Songs that celebrated people that were living in a way that was inspiring or interesting. People that we actually knew who were surviving in interesting ways. And there are some songs that we just don't go back to, that were so much in that frame of mind that we can't go back to or identify with. Like some of the songs from the first record or Shine a Light don't speak to me or I don't feel like I can get back into that frame of mind. The songs that we do [play], like "Young Offenders," which we've been playing for nine years or more - there's a kind of good spirit in them that I want to preserve and keep putting out there. That's why they keep being part of the set. That said, we still play "Hyacinth Blues," and that's a pretty angry song, but it's specific enough but continues in popular culture and it's still worth talking about.

One thing that's always puzzled me about the Constantines, is that you guys often use a lot of pretty loaded references, sometimes theological references. You're name for example is kind of ambiguous.

BW: The original reference wasn't anything historical. It was the name of a guy who did ghost recordings of static and it was just [called] the Constantine experiments. His name was Constantine and it was kind of a cool idea. Ultimately I just like the idea of it being a family name, like the Ramones or something. But that name resonates through history in weird ways. The emperor Constantine was the guy who brought Christianity to the Western world. That was a turning point for the West to become what it was to become.

I've always wondered whether that was a sort of ironic move. Is there an ironic intention behind having that name because I think some people see it that way.
BW: It's just that to me that moment in history is an interesting reference, or that character in history is an interesting point. I don't feel like we [the Constantines] identify with him in an ironic way necessarily or an unironic way. It was just a key moment in human civilization. But we're not a specifically religious band.

There are some interesting moments on your new album, like the song "New King," which you wrote as a tribute to your friends the Kings, who had a new baby girl. But when I first heard that song, I thought it had a very messianic quality to it.
BW: Right. I love ambiguity in that way. I like putting out seemingly incongruous ideas, from one perspective suggests something but in actuality suggests something different. I mean, I think that those connections are ambiguous ones, but that ambiguity says a lot. It speaks volumes about how we receive information.

I have a friend who once said to me that you guys sound more Christian than the kind of bands that use it as a selling point. Don't take that the wrong way, but to me that says something about where your hearts are in your music.
BW: Yeah, I like devotional music. I'll say that. I love sacred harp singing and spiritual music like Eastern Orthodox kind of stuff, and like the Staple Singers. And I'm really moved by that, but it's not because I identify with the specific references. I find the devotion to it moving, or the purity of intention [behind] it. As many ambiguous kinds of things as I try to put into songs, I don't ever want to be insincere. The Constantines as a band are about trying to bring a certain amount of humility to rock and roll, you know, which isn't usually that kind of a medium.

March 7, 2009

March 5, 2009

This weekend, Women are playing at Winnipeg's Lo Pub, with Library Voices and Old Folks Home. The headliner's self-titled debut, produced by fellow Albertan Chad VanGaalen, was one of my favourite albums from 2008. Since it came out, Women have been everywhere, filling out venues in across Europe and NA. And yet, this is their (correct me if I'm wrong) third show in Winnipeg in less than 12 months. I'm glad they like us. There's no presale, so you better hurry on over because I'm positive this is going to sell out. 8:00pm. Damn, that's early. How did these guys become so popular practically overnight? Oh yeah - that's right. That link right there leads to one of the most crystal-clear pop songs from last year: brief and saccharine. And one of them's a Reimer!


Currently enjoying...

I first saw Julie Doiron perform when she opened for Feist as part of Winnipeg's 2005 Juno celebrations. It was great show. Two solo sets from two of my favourite female songwriters. I was smitten. The only problem lay with a bunch of idiots who wouldn't shut up during Doiron's introspective set. She was quite irritable actually and obviously thrown off by their disregard for her performance. A couple years later she'd release 2007's brilliant Woke Myself Up, which marked a turning point of sorts for her. Just prior to Doiron's work on the album, she began to reconnect with her old band, Eric's Trip (required listening for Canadian indie kids), and started to revisit a heavier sound. The reunion led to a handful of tours and a new studio relationship with former bandmate Rick White, who has returned for I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day. In the past, I've made the common mistake of confusing Julie Doiron with Cat Power's Chan Marshall. “Blue” and “Lovers of the World” from I Can Wonder... are perfect examples of their similarities. Both songs feature a lazy, graceful vocal approach that wanders over fractured guitar chords and sparse percussion. These days, however, Doiron's work isn't only superior, it moves well beyond those comparisons. Her vocals will forever possess that frail, almost defeated, spirit – which, often as not, is exactly what makes her more upbeat songs work so well. It's that kind of bittersweet sentiment that fills out Doiron's latest effort. Her penchant for introspective ruminations on the most ignorable parts of everyday life is still very much alive. She's still just as endearing as ever (I also recently discovered that "endearing" just happens to be the name of her label) and the grungier sound of a song like "Spill Yer Lungs" suits her quite well. Blending past and present, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day isn't only one of Doiron's strongest albums to date, it's further proof that she's currently among Canada's best songwriters. Recommended listening, indeed.

In other exciting Canadian music news, I'm going to be interview Bryan Webb of the Constantines for Stylus Magazine this Saturday. Judging from the interviews I've seen him do, I've got to ask the right kind of questions or there are gonna be a lot of awkward pauses.