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On The Horizon

August 27, 2014

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“I’m a dark star, I burn unseen.” – M. Manning, 1986.

Something is about to happen here.

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Goober and the Peas

January 11, 2014

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Twenty or so years ago I spent part of an evening with a Detroit cowpunk band called Goober and the Peas. They were playing a gig in my town’s mining union hall, a big old space that smelled like old workboots and cheap draft beer, so they were right in their element. In their official photo, they’re kind of cowboyed up, with those hats and rhinestoned shirts, but when I was with them they were in road mode, sweats and sneakers and jean jackets.

So we did our thing for an hour or so, talking about the history of the band, their sound (I believe I called it “urbanized rurality,” or maybe the other way around, because I was young and kind of flashy like that). I remember the young drummer didn’t say much, just slouched there strumming an acoustic guitar as Goober or whatever his name was carried on with the interview. Just another day on a rock critic’s beat.

I still have thousands of old black-and-white 8x10s of bands from the 80s and 90s, all from press kits sent to me by labels and publicists. These days, I usually just get a .jpg and a link to a Soundcloud file, so I still enjoy sorting through my old photos. Especially when the bands were either funny-looking or really, really full of themselves.

So I came across this Goober and the Peas shot a while ago, and something twigged with me. Putting two and two together using decades of writerly knowledge and also Wikipedia, I realized that the kid on drums way back then was John Gillis, better known today as Jack White of the White Stripes, he of Blunderbuss, one of the best rock albums I’ve heard this century. You can see him in the photo; he’s second from left, grinning like a dork in true Peas fashion.

Nothing beats a secret celebrity encounter.

We all know what Jack White did with his musical career after leaving the Peas. The other guys still get together from time to time, and they’re worth seeing live if you get the chance.

I’ll keep rooting around in my photo files for other neato shots. There may be a new Turds of Misery in there …

And here’s some Goober and the Peas to wrap things up.

 

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The Cult: Choice of Weapon

May 22, 2012

 

I am young again. I am skinny and long-haired and tight-jeaned and cowboy-booted.

This is because in my head, and on my iPod, and in my car stereo, I have Choice of Weapon, the first Cult album since 1989’s Sonic Temple that didn’t make me say “Sure, they’re my favourite band, and it’s good to have a new record, but …”

There are two kinds of Cult albums: Billy music and Ian music. When Astbury has his way, the music is trippy, atmospheric, cinematic. When Duffy forces his hand, the tracks are bigger, louder and more ferocious, all about the riff, with everything else secondary.

Choice of Weapon is the first Cult record in decades that manages to capture both mens’ passions. Not since Love, in 1985, has Astbury’s esoteric snarl meshed so perfectly with Duffy’s Gretsch-grinding guitar work.

The songs on Choice of Weapon remind me most of Love, largely because of the way they insinuate themselves. There are few huge hooks here, but a lot of great little moments, whether vocal or guitar, hidden usually in the bridges of the album’s tracks.

Bombast? Yeah. Lots. The Wolf, Pale Horse, Honey from a Knife, Lucifer and first single For The Animals are raw, raunchy rock, and listening to them offers a glimpse of what 2007’s rushed Born Into This might have been able to achieve.

Turning away from the rough-from-the-floor sound of Born Into This (and, by extension, 1987’s Electric), The Cult has wrapped its tattooed arms around the studio tricks and effects layering that made Love and 1989’s Sonic Temple work so well. There are little reminders, too, like the jukey piano lick in For The Animals, a direct lift from Sonic Temple’s New York City, and little desert-rock tributes to Duffy’s skeleton spider guitar on Dreamtime, the 1984 album that launched the band while also managing to sound like it was made by a totally different crew of dudes.

The desert sound is honest this time around, as the band worked with Chris Goss, frontman of Masters of Reality, a band I like almost as much as The Cult. Goss, who produced Astbury’s slick solo CD (you really should seek it out) is the mastermind behind the Palm Desert scene (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, etc.) and he brings that esthetic to Choice of Weapon in a big way.

This involves envoking big, wide skies, heat, crashing waters and passion, both through Astbury’s lyrics and Duffy’s playing. Astbury is better here than he’s been since the 80s; rougher, angrier, his trademark yelping toned down to something solemn and dark. There are no “Baby baby baby” chants here. “I came to you with love in my heart,” from For The Animals, carries a weary weight that Astbury has always seemed to be trying for. The man has been through a lot, and he finally sounds like the bluesman he’s always wanted to be.

And Duffy … this man can do no wrong on guitar, if you ask me. He sounds amazing even when playing on pure bona fide Cult garbage like Gone (from the band’s self-titled 1994 disc) or Sweet Salvation (from Ceremony, a song I listen to only because my cousin Donny Gerrard sings backup on it, and even then, it’s a challenge). Duffy knows that space can say more than noise, and he knows how to keep it simple, so we get big riffy songs like The Wolf and Pale Rider that have as much air as riffage, and they work.

Rhythm section: This is the first time the Astbury/Duffy team has produced two consecutive albums with the same bassist and drummer. Chris Wyse and John Tempesta know enough to hang back and do what has to be done without getting in the way, and they sound solid here.

Goss didn’t wrap production on Choice of Weapon; the band took the work they’d done with him and paid a visit to old crony Bob Rock, the Canadian pop star, super-producer and all-around cool cat. And it’s that combination, that rare mix of Goss, Rock, Astbury, Duffy, Wyse, Tempesta and, of course, my stuck-in-the-past musical tastes, that makes Choice of Weapon my album of the year. And it’s only May.

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How I See The World

May 9, 2012

I like this new Android app, Cartoon Camera, which lets me share with you, via my phone, how I see the world, because I tend to think I’m in a comic book most of the time.

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As Lucky Will Have It

April 30, 2012

This is one of my favourite album covers of all time. And to think – I’ll be seeing this guy play live in a couple of weeks.

Of course, he’s taller now.

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There’s Lightning

April 16, 2012

Here’s a new album from a talented Toronto singer-songwriter who was once hit in the face by a moving train, which has caused him to grow the greatest Magnum face foliage of all time. Give it a listen. Download the tunes. It’s good music for a grey, thoughtful day.

There’s Lightning

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Sliders

April 15, 2012

How do you know the weird low-budget sci-fi show you’re watching was made in Canada in the ’90s? Here, let an expert help you figure it out. And by expert, I mean me. You know it’s true.

  • 1. Everyone’s hair is strangely shaped and oddly sculpted, yet still looks a little wet, because the show was probably shot in Vancouver, where it rains 379 days a year, and there’s sleet on the other three.
  • 2. Everyone’s jeans are baggy and seem to be belted around their bellies, and they’re wearing several suspicious layers of flannel while not appearing to be actual lumberjacks.
  • 3. You recognize that actor from a commercial for coffee, or maybe margarine, or diapers.
  • 4. You recognize that actress from a late-night Call Me, I Want To Chat With You commercial.
  • 5. The special effects look like someone whipped them up on an Amiga in the back of a station wagon parked beside the set.
  • 6. You saw that same set on a totally different show last week, and come to think of it, isn’t that your cousin Kevin’s apartment building in the background on that strange alien parallel world? Kevin calls those late-night Call Me numbers, by the way.
  • 7. The “high-tech weapons” look like Motorola flip phones with calculators glued to them.
  • 8. The opening titles look suspiciously like the ones your local weatherman uses when he tells you it’s going to rain like crazy before the sleet. And then snow.
  • 9. Special Guest Star: Al Waxman.
  • 10. One of the actors is also listed in the credits as key grip and “wig assistant to Mr. Waxman.”

This all occurred to me during a recent sleepless night when I fired up Netflix on the Wii and found old episodes of Sliders, which I remembered as a cool show, and soon learned my memory isn’t as great as it thought I was.

And then I remembered all those sleepless ’90s nights, when the news would end, and Canadian TV would offer us great stuff like Earth:Final Conflict and that show with Hercules in a starship, all shot in Canada on the cheap, like X-Files, only with effects that make The Starlost look high-tech.

I watched every episodes of Earth: Final Conflict, and I still couldn’t tell you what the hell was going on.

But Sliders? Sure, it was cheesy-looking and cheap. But the conceit of it all — exploring alternate histories with a boy genius, a computer geek girl, a pompous professor and, for some reason, a faded Motown star — made it work for the first couple of years, before it remembered it was Canadian and suddenly got complicated and ridiculous.

I was going to watch the whole first season, but then I saw Earth 2 is also available, and since I saw only the pilot of that and nothing else, I want to see how it all ends.

UPDATE: These guys talk about the iffy 80s and nutty 90s every week on this new cool podcast I like.

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