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Thursday, Oct 18, 2012
Neither of the statements in the headline is true, not really. But both have the air of truth about them, which, in rock ’n’ roll, is often enough.

It’s time to talk about METZ. This Toronto-based noise-rock band has spent the past five years playing semi-legendary 30-minute ear-breaking shows around their hometown, building up a considerable fanbase but, apparently, refusing to record anything substantial. They’ve teased everyone who asked them (fans, press) with hints (lies, really) that their debut record was just around the corner, coming soon, for years. A couple 7”-ers were released, but nothing that adequately sated a growing audience that was now fairly loudly proclaiming METZ to be Toronto’s best band you’ve never heard. Perhaps themselves aware of just how good they were and of the potential their record might have to blow up, the trio held back and let the anticipation grow while they woodshedded. But, now, all of that waiting is over. Late last week we finally got to hear their debut (released on stalwart indie label Sub Pop, no less). And there was much rejoicing.


The result is what is already being hailed (by the astute Pitchfork critic Stuart Berman, among others) as one of the albums of the year. I had a chance to catch their record release show last Friday at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, a revelatory, quite extraordinary concert that fairly ravaged the sold out room. I stayed far from the tumult at the front—holding up the bar at the back with some industry heavyweights and fellow critics, all of us too timid or too old (it was my 35th birthday, let’s face it) to move up front for the melee—but I did manage an amazing view as all those bodies were tossed around, fists were pumped, and that hot, white noise washed over it all. A hell of a thing, a hell of a band.


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Thursday, Oct 11, 2012
Here be a few brief bits and pieces that, when you add them up, don’t really amount to much. Sorry, but whaddayagonnado?

Alright, let’s get bloggy.


First of all, the extraordinary, audacious, and deeply intense Godspeed You! Black Emperor are back after a lengthy hiatus. And they sound amazing. Does the new record—comprised of four tracks, two of which clock in at about 20 minutes—improve on the post-rock formula that animated the now-classic Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000)? Maybe. It is usually the case with such grand, sweeping cinematic music (short on melody, long on atmosphere) that one’s first impressions are shallow. And yet, my first impressions (on my second spin through the record now) suggest that GY!BE have reformed to release upon a mostly unsuspecting public what might amount to their best work yet. Like some harrowing fun house ride through a dark, slippery tunnel, toward a darkness that looms ever larger, Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is a strange and unsettling journey. But it is a mesmerizing, thrilling, unforgettable journey nonetheless. Stream the album here.


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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012
Some will see Feist's win as a “safe” pick, a way for the Polaris Prize grand jury to “settle” on an agreeable winner. But her winning record is anything but “safe”.

It’s hard to call Leslie Feist an underdog. A world-famous, borderline household name after the mega-success of 2007’s The Reminder and its juggernaut of a lead single “1 2 3 4”, Feist was (along with rapper Drake) one of the only A-listers on the short list for the $30,000 Polaris Prize for best Canadian album of the year. And yet, when her name was announced on Monday night at the gala award ceremony, a wide ripple of surprise pulled through the room. Most flabbergasted of all seemed to be the artist herself. Within seconds of the announcement, Feist was hiding under her table, a gesture at once winningly honest and thrillingly theatrical. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good way to describe Feist’s intimate, artful music. Especially on her slippery, haunted (and now Polaris-winning) Metals, hers is an approach to songwriting and performance that blurs lines, that oscillates between tender quietude and grand symphonic bursts.


“This is my worst nightmare”, she exclaimed, standing beside host Grant Lawrence as he struggled to hold up an oversized novelty cheque. “You’d think after a lifetime of terrible speeches that at one point I’d think to write something down. But I never do because it seems presumptuous.”


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Thursday, Sep 6, 2012
Greenbelt Harvest Picnic is the festival for people who don’t like festivals.

Who doesn’t love a music festival? Well, me, actually. I’ve never been the energetic type, the “let’s bounce from one stage to another amid the swirling masses for like three days” type. I wish that I were, of course. You miss a lot of great stuff when you’re lazy. But even if I could get over my basic preference for standing relatively still during a performance, then there’s the whole “swirling masses” thing. Lolapolooza, Bonnaroo, Osheaga, and Coachella all attract me with their offerings but cause me to feel the gurgling jellies of anxiety every time I imagine finding myself in a sea of people, unable to escape, stretch out, find a place to take a breath. I like bars with clearly-marked exits, is what I’m saying.


But I’ve always wanted to change this, and have been looking for the right festival to ease myself into the whole thing. And, then I heard about the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic.


Small (fewer than 10,000 people, by my estimate), sponsored and supported by local non-profits and smallish businesses, and featuring a decidedly stellar lineup fronted by Feist, Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, Gord Downie & the Sadies, Mix Master Mike, and Sarah Harmer, this seemed like a worthy place to test the waters.


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Thursday, Aug 9, 2012
Don’t Miss the CBC Radio Documentary Funk Getting Ready to Roll, airing Sunday August 12.

Well, this CBC radio documentary sure hits the nail on the head. Both a fascinating story about the creative process behind Funkadelic’s wild 1972 double album America Eats Its Young and a terrific study of Toronto’s role in fostering this creativity, Canadian journalist David Dacks’ lovingly-compiled documentary makes for some great listening.


By 1971, Toronto had emerged as a standard destination for recording artists, big and small, as they toured the northeast. With its budding population (it would soon overtake Montreal as the largest city in Canada) and recent history as a kind of Haight-Ashbury North—the Yorkville and Yonge Street hip music scenes had produced a raft of ‘60s-era talent, including such megastars as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Steppenwolf, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Band—Toronto had a certain allure. There was a ripping party scene, too; but more importantly there was a large and committed audience of music lovers with ears to the ground.


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