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by Sean Murphy

12 Oct 2010


Many of porcupine Tree member Steven Wilson’s mostly accurate, but increasingly tedious denunciations of inferior audio can be attributed to genuine motivations. He really does despise digital downloads and looks askance at those who would abuse their ears (and his art) by listening to them. You can usually ascertain if someone’s agenda is disingenuous by the amount of money they stand to make; in Wilson’s case, sniffily censuring consumers for their philistine proclivities is certainly not going to line his pockets. Bully for him—his browbeating-bordering-on-bullishness comes from an uncorrupted heart. Still, fans that are sufficiently removed from the sullied means of production and procurement Wilson whines about might hope he can avoid becoming known more for his crankiness than his musical proficiency. 

It’s not that he’s a snob, these fans could claim; it’s that he really cares about music (his already notable street cred as a proponent of progressive rock was augmented by his recent undertaking to remaster—for the umpteenth time, it might be noted—the (brilliant) back catalog of King Crimson; suffice it to say, this is not a task the merely passionate producer assumes, this is an obsessive labor of love).

So what are we to make of Wilson’s latest jeremiad in Electronic Musician, “In The Mix: Everyone’s A Critic”? A knee-jerk analysis might be that the self-appointed physician who would ameliorate all that ails us might want to turn some of that attention inward. It is by now abundantly clear that Wilson would prefer that more people shared his opinion on how music is made, received, and enjoyed (an exalted regard of his own judgment includes Wilson in an artistic community that is neither exclusive nor in danger of diminishing its numbers). What is striking—and slightly unsettling—about his new piece is the implication that Wilson might prefer that a great many people have no opinions at all.

by Jason Cook

11 Oct 2010


Perhaps the best and most descriptive title on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic, “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is one of the post-exotica songs from which this series derives its name.

Exotica, named after the respectively titled 1957 Martin Denny album, was a musical genre born out of a strange 1950s need for suburbanites to escape the glamor of their picket-fence nuclear era with impressionistic, pseudo-Oceanic lounge music, similar to the “space age pop” also of the era. Les Baxter’s Ritual of the Savage is perhaps the most important work of the genre, offering a true escape for turntable-listeners of that decade’s twenty-something generation by way of stereophonic strings, tribal rhythms of all sort, vibraphones, kotos, gongs, bird calls, and nearly anything “exotic” (or not endemic to white, suburban, narrowly cultured, unable-to-listen-to-real-jazz-but-rather-Sinatra-&-Swingin’-Brass). Is it a good genre? Yes. Did it die with the JFK era? Mostly.

In the same way that the 1990s gave birth to post-rock by reinterpreting standard rock instrumentation in Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Slint’s Spiderland, Ennio Morricone, probably not unbeknownst to himself, borne post-exotica with “Little Afro Flemish Mass”. The piece is culturally-aware; it behaves exactly as its title claims. In the film for which it was written, at the moment it plays we find, by our definition, an exotic setting (Ethiopia); a ritual of sorts (the Afro-mass); and all the chants, trappings, and impressionist garb one might have conversely imagined for Les Baxter’s work. Morricone’s piece is aware of Baxter’s work, and one might take this argument and scold it for the fact that “Little Afro Flemish Mass” isn’t a postmodern interpretation of anything: It is what it is—an imagined mass, a recitation of Catholic circumstance in a weird setting. But that’s false, I say. “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is to Ritual of the Savage on the basis of its outlandishness, its inherent association with a genre known for cultural misappropriation.

by Zachary Houle

8 Oct 2010


The year 1976 was a turning point in the career of Chicago. The group was riding high after releasing Chicago IX in 1975, which was a “greatest hits” album that spanned their first seven records (save for Chicago III, which didn’t have any big Top Ten hits on it, and the live album Chicago IV”. The hits album reached number one on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 72 weeks. However, the follow-up LP, Chicago X, would be the high-water mark as far as commerciality would go–at least, for a little while–and would see the gradual start of dissension in the ranks. The dissension notably came from the control that producer James William Guercio had on the band, who was shaping and determining the band’s fate as it became more and more popular, which some band members were starting to grow uncomfortable with. While Guercio wouldn’t be dismissed until after Chicago XI (1977), the strain was starting to show on Chicago X. “It started happening with the tenth record”, notes Walter Parazaider, the band’s saxophonist. “He didn’t want us to learn any of the production techniques. He’d go to sleep at nine o’clock, and we’d start producing the records ourselves. Or trying to.”

Some of the resentment would be thanks to the inclusion of one slow song on the album, “If You Leave Me Now”, which was such a huge hit that it more or less defined the sound of the band among radio listeners and programmers, despite the fact that earlier albums had their share of ballads. It was Chicago’s first number one single and helped Chicago X sell more than a million copies in three months. The song was so pervasive on radio upon its release that, reportedly, those tuning in in New York could hear the song playing on four different stations, each with varying formats, simultaneously. Long-time guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm were not pleased. It has been said that Kath might have quit the band over the new direction the band would pursue in the wake of “If You Leave Me Now”, had he not accidentally and fatally shot himself in the head in January 1978 in what was a drunken handgun handling mishap.

by Adrien Begrand

8 Oct 2010


Back in 2007 Canadian music writer Bob Mersereau wrote The Top 100 Canadian Singles, a book compiled from submitted top-ten lists by around 600 music writers (including yours truly), musicians, and industry insiders. At the same time thoughtfully written and argument-inciting, it had readers across Canada vehemently debating the book’s inclusions and exclusions, whether it was complaining about its baby boomer-heavy slant or the fact that far too many Tragically Hip albums made the cut. Either way, it had Canadians talking about its musical history more than ever before, and coming from a country that doesn’t usually like to blare its own horn regarding its contributions to popular music as much as its neighbors to the South, that was no small feat.

So considering the success of Mersereau’s book, a sequel was an inevitability, and three years later he’s returned with the aptly titled The Top 100 Canadian Singles. With the list of voters even larger than the previous book (again, yours truly was all too glad to participate), one would hope for a broad selection of songs that spans the past 50 years or so, and it does so, at least to a certain extent.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

7 Oct 2010


Mendelsohn:  I love the way this album starts off with the airy feel of “Sunday Morning” and its ambiguous, non-threatening lyrics. After that it’s all downhill, like picking up a rock and peering into the seedy underbelly of urban America in the 1960s. It’s fantastic. Except the parts where Nico sings. I could do without that.

Klinger: Ah, but Mendelsohn, without Nico there might not be a Velvet Underground as we know it. Allow me to oversimplify: Andy Warhol essentially pulled Lou Reed, John Cale, and Co. from obscurity in order to have a backing band for his newly-discovered “chanteuse”, offering up his brand name and connections in exchange for hearing her Kissinger-esque tones on vinyl. After they got in the studio, actual producer Tom Wilson was so taken with Nico’s Teutonic appeal that he insisted that Reed write a single just for her. Somehow that song became “Sunday Morning”, and Lou ended up singing it anyway (I’m not sure how that happened; I’m assuming a blonde wig and some coquettish flirting were involved).

Mendelsohn: It’s funny; I can’t stand Nico, but without her Warhol wouldn’t have tapped the Velvet Underground and without the Velvet Underground, the whole art house rock/avant/noise/punk thing wouldn’t have spawned a ton of different bands that I (and you) love. Instead, rock would sound very clean and happy—somewhere between the Beatles and the Beach Boys—and that would get old quick.

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