Music

The Grace and Beauty of Roxy Music's 'Avalon'

It's not often that great bands have the opportunity to end a career on a high note with their swansong song albums, but Roxy Music brilliantly did with Avalon.


Roxy Music

Avalon

Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2007-02-28
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In Sofia Coppola's acclaimed 2003 movie Lost in Translation, there's a scene in which Bill Murray's character, Bob Harris, attempts to sing Roxy Music's “More Than This” at a Tokyo karaoke club, surrounded by his American friend Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson) and other Japanese patrons. Harris' performance of the dreamy song starts off awkwardly, but then somewhat improves a little, to the point where he's almost crooning to Charlotte. In some ways, it recalls a little bit of Murray's overly-confident lounge singer character Nick Winters, who famously sang “Star Wars” on Saturday Night Live.

That moment in the movie captures the sense of yearning of the lead characters, which makes the choice of the song somewhat appropriate. But on another level, the inclusion of “More Than This” introduced Roxy Music to a whole new generation, especially here in America where the influential British rock band's stature was somewhere between cult and mainstream popularity.

“More Than This” originally appeared on Avalon, Roxy Music's eighth and final studio record. First released in May 1982, the album's lush and stately sound marked a gradual but significant stylistic shift from the band's abrasive, cutting-edge rock ten years prior, when Roxy Music emerged as an arty and experimental glam rock group. Avalon -- recorded by the core trio of singer Bryan Ferry, guitarist Phil Manzanera, and saxophonist/oboist Andy Mackay -- was devoid of the camp and irony that partly defined the first five Roxy albums, and instead went for something quite accessible and mature, while still serving as a vehicle for songwriter Ferry's romantic meditations on yearning and heartbreak. It's the sophisticated British New Wave equivalent of a classic American R&B or Quiet Storm record.

Thirty-five years later, Avalon remains Roxy Music's most commercially successful album and a frequent mainstay on critics' best-of lists. In the Spin Alternative Record Guide from 1995, writer Rob Sheffield gave the record a 9 out of 10 rating: “Avalon remains one of the all-time greatest make-out infernos, a synthesized version of Al Green's Call Me, Van Morrison's Moondance, and Joao Gilberto's Amoroso.” In a similar assessment, Stephen Thomas Erlewine for AllMusic wrote: “With its stylish, romantic washes of synthesizers and Bryan Ferry's elegant, seductive croon, Avalon simultaneously functioned as sophisticated make-out music for yuppies and as the maturation of synth pop.”

“I've often thought I should do an album where the songs are all bound together in the style of West Side Story,” Ferry said in a 1982 interview published in NME, “but it's always seemed like too much bother to work that way. So instead, I have these 10 poems, or short stories, that could, with a bit more work, be fashioned into a novel... Avalon is part of the King Arthur legend and is a very romantic thing. When King Arthur dies, the Queens ferry him off to Avalon, which is sort of an enchanted island. It's the ultimate romantic fantasy place.”

Avalon was the last in a trilogy of albums (the others being Manifesto and Flesh + Blood) recorded by Roxy Music when it regrouped in 1979 following a four-year hiatus during which Ferry recorded three solo records. With the departure of Paul Thompson, the group's stalwart drummer, Roxy was reduced to the core trio of Ferry, Manzanera and Mackay by the time of 1980's Flesh + Blood. With additional session musicians, Roxy's sound by this period became more pop-oriented and sophisticated, a far cry from the band's 1972 adventurous self-titled debut record that featured keyboardist Brian Eno. At a time in the early '80s when most of Roxy's peers from were unsettled and vanquished by punk and New Wave, the band was still popular on the charts, thanks to such hits as “Dance Away”, “Angel Eyes”, and a cover of John Lennon's “Jealous Guy". Simultaneously, a crop of British New Wave and New Romantic bands, such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, were copping Roxy's influence in terms of music and style.

“The music was more clearly defined and controlled as opposed to the earlier stuff which was slightly more complex and not so easy on the ear,” Ferry said of Flesh + Blood to the NME, “And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to make a record people can hear and like it instantly.”

Making Avalon

Work on Avalon began in Phil Manzanera's Gallery Studios in Surrey, England, before the band moved on to Compass Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1981. In addition the core members, Roxy was augmented in the studio by a large cast of studio players for the album: drummers Andy Newmark and Rick Marotta; bassists Alan Spenner and Neil Jason; percussionist Jimmy Maelen; guitarist Neil Hubbard; keyboardist Paul Carrack; cellist Kermit Moore; and background singer Fonzi Thornton. In an interview with Rolling Stone from 1989, Manzanera said: "We constructed a lot of tracks out of improvisations. In the studio, you can head off into very strange territories by artificial means. By accident, you can plug something into the wrong place on the desk and something amazing happens that you could never have dreamed of. The combination of writing in the studio while using the studio as an instrument had evolved halfway through Flesh + Blood and on into Avalon. It was this soundscape to which Bryan would then write his sort of dreamy lyrics."

It's a similar idea that the album's co-producer and engineer Rhett Davies later recalled to Sound on Sound in 2003: “We started with a blank sheet; there weren't any songs. Phil might have had some chord sequences or musical ideas, and Andy would have some tunes that he'd written, which he'd present to Bryan, and Bryan would play around with them to see if there was any work he could do. I would then spent time with Bryan alone, writing. It didn't take that long -- we'd go in in the morning and I'd get a groove going to get something happening that Bryan could walk into, and hopefully he'd be inspired by it."

Work on the album proceeded to the Power Station in New York City with engineer Bob Clearmountain; he had previously remixed Roxy's 1979 single “Dance Away” from the Manifesto album. Among his credits include Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Bryan Adams, "This record probably means more to me than anything I've ever done," Clearmountain told Sound on Sound in 2003 about Avalon. "I've had more comments and compliments on this album by far than anything else I've ever done."

In retrospect, what is remarkable about Avalon is how those disparate elements gelled into something near perfect. “We were creating tracks back then,” Davies said in Mix in 2004. “We didn't have the songs. The songs were virtually the last things to go on there. We were very much creating a musical atmosphere that we wanted the musicians to respond to.”

The Music

Whereas the early Roxy albums had moments that bordered on controlled chaos, Avalon is one seamless mood record that flows seamlessly from beginning to end. It gets off to a breathless start with the now-classic “More Than This”, indicative of Ferry's new and mature outlook; the song has since been covered by artists Norah Jones, 10,000 Maniacs, Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, Robyn Hitchcock and others. According to Manzanera, an earlier version of the song was poppier than the final one that ended up on the record: "Halfway through, Bryan rebelled, and it was all scrapped and simplified incredibly," he told Rolling Stone. "I must say, I was concerned that we weren't going to have a hit single from that album. And obviously, wanting to make it in America, we needed to have a single to break us. But in the context of the whole album, Bryan obviously had a broader view in the back of his mind. By the time it was done, it fit in much better with everything."

“More Than This” is followed by the dark disco funk of “The Space Between Us”, where Ferry ruminates on a relationship that's “ain't right”; the melancholy ballad “While My Heart Is Still Beating”, accented by Mackay's swooning sax, conveys the narrator's sense of heartache while questioning it all ("Where's it all leading?" Ferry sings). Andy Newmark's drumming and Jimmy Maelen's percussion propel the hypnotic and tension-filled “The Main Thing”. Manzanera's steady and intricate slow-burn guitar sound recalls Roxy-era Siren in introducing the shimmering “Take a Chance With Me”, while “To Turn You On” is Ferry at his most slyest and sexiest (“I could walk you through the park / If you're feeling blue”).

The atmospheric “True to Life” is a beautiful and lush penultimate track, furthering Ferry's search for either love or life's meaning or both. Avalon is unique in that it features two instrumentals: the cinematic and exotic mood setter “India” and “Tara”, which showcases a very moving sax performance by Mackay against the sounds of the sea, bringing the album (and Roxy's career at that point) to a fitting and majestic end.

Like “More Than This”, the album's delicate and romantic title song, which incorporates subtle elements of reggae, has become a Roxy Music standard and promoted with a stylish video featuring actress Sophie Ward. A kind of love-at-first-sight song, the unquestionable highlight of “Avalon” is the amazing backing vocals of singer Yanick Etienne. Remarkably, she was a last-minute addition while the album was being produced at the Power Station. Davies told Sound on Sound that the album was being mixed, and that the previous version of the “Avalon” song didn't pass muster and was later recut.

“We finished it off the last weekend we were mixing,” he said. “We put some percussion on and some drums on, and then on the Sunday, in the quiet studio time they used to let local bands come in to do demos. Bryan and I popped out for a coffee, and we heard a girl singing in the studio next door. It was a Haitian band that had come in to do some demos, and Bryan and I just looked at each other and went 'What a fantastic voice!' That turned out to be Yanick Etienne, who sang all the high stuff on “Avalon.” She didn't speak a word of English. Her boyfriend, who was the band's manager, came in and translated. And then the next day we mixed it."

Thematically, Ferry's lyrics on Avalon were mature and reflective, downplaying the sense of irony and sarcasm from the past albums, but still evoking the heartache of a romantic. The subdued tone of the album and perspective could possibly be attributed to Ferry dating young British socialite Lucy Helmore, whom he later married in 1982 (The couple had four children together before divorcing in 2003). Helmore was the model wearing the helmet and overlooking the gorgeous seascape on the Avalon album cover. "I think Bryan decided he wanted a more adult type of lyric,” Manzanera later told Rolling Stone. “We were making music that was a bit rockier, but then we decided -- in light of the way Bryan was thinking lyrically -- that we should tone it down, so it ended up having a more constant sort of mood. And although that mood wasn't very up and rocky, it was positive."

Aftermath and Legacy

Upon its release in May 1982, Avalon went to number one on the British album charts. While it only peaked at 53 on the Billboard charts in America, the record eventually became Roxy's most commercially successful one in that territory, eventually going platinum as of 1992. Reviews for the album at the time were receptive. In Rolling Stone, Kurt Loder began his review with: “Roxy Music's Avalon takes a long time to kick in, but it finally does, and it's a good one... Ten years after its debut, Roxy Music has mellowed; the occasional stark piano chords in 'While My Heart Is Still Beating,' for example, recall the stately mood of 'A Song for Europe,' but the sound is softer, dreamier and less determinedly dramatic now.”

In his retrospective review for the Rolling Stone Album Guide edition form 1992, Mark Coleman wrote: "This austere, beautiful set of songs represents a mature peak. The controlled chaotic edge of the early albums is completely gone, and co-founders Manzanera and Mackay provide only skeletal guitar and sax lines. Ferry fills in the details, creating layered synth landscapes around his tragic scenarios and melodic ruminations. Avalon's pervasive influence on the British pop scene of the '80s can't be overstated. Roxy Music's stature is even further enhanced by the absence of a latter-day comeback album. So far, anyway."


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Following a tour to support the album, Roxy Music broke up again. Manzanera hinted of the tensions during the Avalonsessions when he told Rolling Stone: "Roxy Music was a series of complex personalities, and inevitably there would be ups and downs. Any sort of creative force that's worth its while has to exist in a sort of state of conflict. So it's absolutely amazing that we managed to do seven or eight albums."

One could make the argument that Avalon was a Bryan Ferry solo album in all but name; its influence continued on throughout Ferry's solo records -- Boys and Girls, Bete Noire, Taxi, and Mamouna -- all of which bear the hallmarks of Avalon's soulful sound and emphasis on atmosphere and mood along with the top-notch session musicianship and rhythmic grooves. Some of Avalon's songs -- including the title song and “While My Heart Is Still Beating" have been part of Roxy's set list during the group's reunion period from 2001 to 2011, as well as Ferry's solo shows.

Some fans may lament the band's direction from groundbreaking art rock band to pop group, as well as the reduced roles of Manzanera and Mackay, who were so crucial to the early Roxy sound on the latter albums. In his review of 2012 The Complete Roxy Music boxed set for the Guardian, Simon Reynolds opined: "By Avalon and its big single 'More Than This,' the sound is all patina, glistening with professionalism and perfectionism. The words sketch the barest suggestion of mood; the voice, once so blood-curdling and startling, has become a debonair croon, evoking just a faded and jaded gentility...Avalon could be seen as Ferry's own version of ambient music: an 'I can do that too' riposte to Eno's reputation as doyen of the cutting edge. A triumph, in its way, but also a tragic inversion of everything that made Roxy so arresting.”

“I think that certainly those last three albums [Manifesto, Flesh + Blood, and Avalon] were different,” says Andy Mackay in Michael Bracewell's book When Surface Was Depth: Death By Cappuccino and Other Reflections on Music and Culture in the 1990s . “It was also the point when Paul Thompson left, and Bryan, by then, had a very fixed idea of how he wanted things to sound -- some of which was brilliant, and some of which wasn't. There was heavy pressure on us to break America, and somewhere along the way the more experimental material got squeezed out. If young people were to listen to the Roxy canon now, I suspect that they'd be more likely to listen to the early records, because the Seventies are rather fashionable at the moment.”

It's not often that great bands have the opportunity to end a career on a high note with their swansong song albums (i.e., the Byrds, the Velvet Underground, and the Clash are some notable examples). But Roxy Music brilliantly did so with Avalon. True it's a great romantic record and a perfect soundtrack for lovers, but its introspective bittersweet tone simultaneously resonates with those who feel jaded about love and relationships -- altogether woven into a wonderfully produced and mature-sounding album. “Avalon was an appropriate way for Roxy to blow a kiss and wave goodbye in the night,” wrote Rob Sheffield in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004). The irony is that while Roxy delivered a majestic and subdued final studio album, the music of the British New Wave bands of the early '80s echoed Ferry and company's campier and flashier side from the '70s, albeit with more pop polish.

Avalon's importance hasn't been lost on Ferry. While he revealed his love for Roxy Music's second album For Your Pleasure in a 2012 interview in New York City with Spinner, he also said: “I like Avalon too. I always think of New York when I think of Avalon because we mixed it just down the road here at the Power Station. I had lots of memories of making that, and some great players. [It's] more sophisticated musically.”

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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