Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-Back to the north

A few weeks back, I detailed the parallel rock universe, just north of our border, infused with diversity and variety. While I like to think of myself as being into newer music, I actually know little about that new world I'm immersing myself in, save for a few bands--The Tragically Hip, Our Lady Peace, Bachmann Turner Overdrive, and a handful of others.

I encourage my brethren in the continental 48, and of course the yonder regions of Alaska, and the tropical paradise of Hawaii to check out CBC Radio 3, and tune into a diverse array of bands that stack of favorably to anything on rock stations stateside.

Joel Plaskett-Gone, Gone, Gone/Three

Who releases triple albums anymore? Shit, who releases music arranged and sequenced, period? Joel Plaskett, Canadian indie rocker extraordinaire, that’s who. The former front man for Halifax-based Thrush Hermit had a career year in 2009, winning a Polaris for Three. The Polaris Music Prize is a fairly new award, established in 2006, and is given to the best full-length Canadian album. It’s based solely on artistic merit, irrespective of genre, and not dependent on sales or record label affiliation. The award comes with a C$20,000 cash prize.

Plaskett is no stranger to an array of Canadian music awards, including songwriter of the year in 2006 and 2007, male artist of the year in 2005, entertainer of the year in 2004, 2006, and 2007, as well as being a recipient of a bunch of other coveted Canadian rock honors. Who knew?

Three is about multiple derivatives of the number three—the album consists of three discs, with each disc comprise of nine songs. Many of the song titles have a title that repeats three times, like “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Plaskett is pictured on the cover holding up three fingers and the numbers of the release date, 3/24/2009, are all divisible by three.

Plaskett’s music has been described by one critic as “aching folk-pop,” which I couldn’t disagree with. When I first listened to Plaskett’s tracks on Last.FM, I heard a bit of the pop-ish qualities of Joe Pernice, an expat American, now living in Canada himself; Toronto, to be exact.

I ordered Three last week, and I’m eagerly anticipating its arrival. I expect the discs will be pulling overtime duty in my CD player at home, and in the car.

The Wheat Pool-This Is It/Hauntario

If you know anything of my musical inclinations, you know they never stray too far from alt-country, and rock firmly planted in the roots-rock vein. Hearing The Wheat Pool the first time recently, I couldn’t help but thing of Uncle Tupelo’s brilliant third album, March 16-20.

This particular track is an folk-rock gem, perfect for late at night listening, when you are sitting alone, beer in hand, reminiscing about happier times, when you were younger and hope was ample and not hedged in by gray hair and the approach of middle age. The song’s chorus has the line, “If our love is but a fire, then our hearts must be made of wood,” which you’ll be singing to yourself for days afterwards.

Another track I particularly liked and couldn’t resist was “Neil Young,” an ode to one of their Canadian rock and roll forefathers (as well as a longtime fave of mine), from The Wheat Pool’s first record, Township.

No less an authority on the entire alt-country genre than No Depression gave Hauntario a solid review, indicating that the new release is a “restless, hurting record full of the kind of cocaine jags and morning after regrets that put a person in a frame of mind to hit the road, fleeing with the last few vestiges of dignity and pride intact. None of the songs come from a healthy, happy place, and if they weren’t so brilliant and evocative, we’d all be much better off avoiding them altogether. But, there’s a kind of train wreck fascination in following the sludgy tangled momentum of each song as the crunching electric and acoustic guitars swirl around each other trying to find their own voice as the skies around them thicken.”

So there you have it. If alt-country is your cup of tea, then The Wheat Pool are your kind of band and Hauntario will probably fit right in next to your UT, Bottle Rockets, and Centro-matic CDs.

Amy Honey-Old Reliable Death/Pioneer Woman

What is it about Nova Scotia that keeps churning out some of Canada’s more talented musicians, like singer-songwriter Amy Honey, the pride of West Chezzetcook? Not too much different than my home state of Maine, with a population slightly less than our 1 million plus, Halifax has long been home to creative types, but West Chezzetcook?

Like it’s evil twin brother, taxes, death never takes a holiday, and always stalking its prey. Maybe because I lost an uncle this week, this song resonated with me and easily made the cut for SPF.

Amelia Curran-Bye, Bye, Montreal/Hunter, Hunter

I’ve been to Montreal many times, particularly when my wife Mary’s aunt lived in the city. I have never been to this international city and not had a great time and left longing to return.

When I heard Curran singing this song, I couldn’t help but think of the time, when Mark was small, and we’d drive north and spend a long weekend, taking in an Expos game at Olympic Stadium, one of the ugliest ballparks ever visited upon fans of America’s favorite pastime.

I need to find an excuse for returning for one more visit, soon.

Tijuana Bibles-Custom Made Man/Custom Made

Surf rock, replete with wrestling masks, wry lyrics, and killer guitar riffs, the T-Bibles were a huge hit in Europe, a continent that tends to “get” bands that don’t quite catch fire on this side of the pond.

From the website,, Tijuana Bibles were pornographic tracts popular in America before the advent of mass-market full-color glossy wank-fodder such as Playboy. A typical bible consisted of eight stapled comic-strip frames portraying characters and celebrities (eg. John Dillinger, Popeye, Disney characters) in wildly sodomistic situations.

The band Tijuana Bibles regularly contributed music to a variety of film projects including Canadian indie rock film Goldirocks, the masked wrestling horror film Zombie Beach Party (directed by old friend and nemesis Stacey Case) as well as two "blue" movies, Johnny Legend's Sex Mex and Toronto's "Dirty Pillows". They've also produced several of their own music videos for several of their own songs, including “Custom Made Man.” When the cult Canadian 70's TV show The Hilarious House of Frighenstein needed supplemental music for re-broadcast in 2006, the Bibles were enlisted for the task.

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