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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Sometimes I want to go home and stay out of sight for a long time."

A picture I took some years ago.

It's no secret I'm a modern-day hermit. The fact I have to drag myself out of my cosy little nest on a daily basis often fills me with disgruntlement, especially in winter.




 




  
Midlake provides the perfect soundtrack for this state of being, especially their 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther. I try not to toss around words like 'ethereal', but sometimes it's hard to avoid - especially when describing this album. It's like a contemporary, woodsy version of Rumours, and you really can't go wrong with Fleetwood Mac comparisons. 





I picture Thoreau listening to this album while tending to his bean fields. There's just something about it that reminds me of living in the woods with little else than your modest home to your name.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prog-rocking out in Italy

In my last year of high school I went on a trip to Europe with a bunch of other kids. My school didn't sanction international trips after September 11th, so this was technically just a large group of students and teachers who happened to be traveling to Europe together at the same time

Picture from TuscanyPictures.com

We took in London, Paris, Florence, and Rome in the span of nine days. It was kind of a goofy way to see a continent, but in a way it was good. I know I'll go back to Europe one day, and now I don't have to go to all the cheesy tourist traps that we rushed through on that trip.

ANYWAY. I was absolutely obsessed with Pinback at the time, after hearing them on this radio station one evening while reading in my room. I listened to Summer in Abaddon on my discman as our tour bus rumbled through Tuscany.

There was something remarkable about listening to contemporary, progressive music while coasting through this beautiful, history-soaked country. But when the acoustic guitar comes in at the end of this song, it all just made sense.

 
Kind of a lame "video", but the song is lovely.

PS: I wouldn't really consider Pinback prog rock, but Wikipedia seems to think so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Don't know anything about flamenco? Neither did I.

I'll admit that going to a flamenco concert has never been a priority for me.

But last week I had the chance to head over to one of my favourite venues in Winnipeg to witness a musician Guitar Player magazine named as one of the top three guitarists in the world. As a fan of music, and one who is constantly trying to expand her musical horizons, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Juan Martin played to a crowd of mostly middle-aged flamenco fans on Nov. 17, 2011 at the West End Cultural Centre. For a cold, snowy Thursday evening in Winnipeg, the theatre was impressively about three quarters full - a testament to the skill and appeal of the 66 year-old Spaniard.

Picture from the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times.
From the moment he took his seat on stage, Martin had the audience in the palm of his hands. He started the show off solo, playing a medley of flamenco styles on the acoustic guitar. With a quiet, commanding stage presence and friendly but minimal banter, Martin proved he could easily carry a show all on his own.

But he chose not to.

Martin soon invited two backing musicians to join him onstage, though the term 'backing musician' doesn't seem fair here. Martin is at ease with his virtuosity, but hardly hogs the spotlight. He seems most comfortable when allowing the woodwind and percussion duo to shine.

Favouring restraint over flashiness, the musicians left the theatrics to dancers Raquel and Miguel. The pair stomped, writhed and pouted their way across the small stage. The hard, percussive nature of their traditional dancing was the perfect complement to the fiery music.

Completing the crew was a singer dressed in a long, black dress. She took her seat beside Martin, and belted out heartrending lyrics in Spanish whenever Martin gave her a musical cue.

Her voice was haunting and eerie, but oddly fascinating.

"It reminds me of a David Lynch film," my companion said. "It's certainly beautiful, but somehow off. It's almost frightening."

After a 15 minute intermission, the crew picked up where they left off.

Instead of stealing the show, Juan Martin chose to sit back and recreate the feel of a warm Andalusian evening where a group of musicians, dancers and artists might spontaneously gather at a small cafe to celebrate the history of a beautiful tradition together.

The audience was obviously on board. After a standing ovation, Martin and company came back for an impromptu encore.

"We look forward to returning to Winnipeg before too long," said Martin with a smile, as he and his band left the stage for the last time.

 

Good music is universal. Though I may not rush to see another flamenco concert anytime soon, the power of live music from skilled, passionate musicians is undeniable. Juan Martin could easily fill a room the next time he comes to Winnipeg.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heartbeats

SHOOT, this is a good song.




A couple years ago I was splitting a pitcher with some friends at Cousins. One moment we were attempting to teach each other French, and the next thing we knew all the tables had been cleared and a full-blown dance party was in force.

Not something you typically see at Cousins.

The barkeeps were blasting everything from Madonna to Michael Jackson to the Knife. It was fantastic.

This song is perfect for riding your bike through empty streets in the middle of the night. Or, going for a walk first thing in the morning, just because. Or blasting on your headphones right after you've just failed a test or blown an interview or otherwise made a fool of yourself in a public setting.

In any case, it will make you feel good.

José González does a pretty lovely acoustic cover of it as well. Some days I think I like his version better, but ultimately, the Knife has my heart. José's version is beautiful, but in a different way.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Take Five

You said it, Schroeder. Picture from JazzCollector.com




After a battle with the omnipresent flu earlier this week, I decided to cheer myself up during a break between classes by heading down to the local music store. Into the Music is the best record shop in the city, and for a poor student like me, its proximity to school is downright dangerous. The above cartoon is pasted to their cash register and it gave me a much needed smile when I walked in.

My plan was to indulge in only one record, maybe two if I was feeling especially nutty, but I walked away with five records for a clean 50 dollars.

Oops.

Still, while spending money usually leaves me racked with guilt and self-loathing, I felt okay. I felt like these records were real investments, as necessary to me as food or rent or all them bills.

And I was lucky enough to have a real expert on hand.

See, I've been trying to broaden my horizons lately and start listening to more than the old stand-bys. I've always had an appreciation for jazz, but am just so clueless about it that I don't even know where to start.

So there I was, flicking aimlessly through stacks of Miles Davis, when a friendly gent asked what I was looking for. He didn't even work there; he was dressed in a nice shirt and tie and told me he worked nearby, but had to "escape the office" to come check out the new releases (or, old new releases, as much of the stock is used).

He told me that jazz was "just a hobby", then proceeded to walk me through the aisles and tell me which albums were worth it and which were self-indulgent nonsense. He had no ulterior motive; he was just a jazz nut eager to pass on his knowledge to someone who wanted to know more.

I'm no expert on music, but I've always prided myself on knowing a few things about it.  I can name some Beatles albums and tell you which famous rock drummers died and from what, yet here was this man who knew something about every jazz record in that store. And it was just a hobby. Holy smokes.

It was humbling.

Anyway, I realise I haven't mentioned a 'song that's saved my life' lately, so...


Dave Brubeck is about the only jazz artist I know. He deserves a post all to itself, and hopefully one day I will.

Just listen to this song, though. Listen to it on a rainy (or snowy) evening, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and feel content.

Thanks for reading. And if anyone out there has some great jazz to recommend, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sad men with guitars

I'm a sucker for a sad man with an acoustic guitar.


Mark Kozelek. Picture from Amoeba.com.

I'm not sure how it happened, but most of my favourite artists fall comfortably into this category; Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Hayden, Bon Iver, Richard Buckner, to name a few.

This begs the question  - am I sad because I listen to depressing music, or do I listen to depressing music because I'm sad?

The answer to which is tricky, because I'm not actually depressed. And I don't think these artists are, either. In fact, I've seen many of them perform live and was surprised at their sheer jollity.

I mention this because one of my favourite sad men is coming to town on Friday. Mark Kozelek, of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, is playing the West End Cultural Centre for a mere $20ish dollars on Friday, November 4th. Unfortunately, the concert conflicts with another major stud who has an event that night, but I've made my choice.

I literally stumbled across Sun Kil Moon when I was at work a few years ago. I was putting some CDs away and found Ghosts of the Great Highway misfiled in the opera section. Instead of putting it away in its proper place, I brought it home and gave it a listen.  It's been a musical staple for me ever since.

Listen, and enjoy.