Dig The Uneekness

Why do titles need to be misspelled nowadays? Arcade Fire have just released “Reflektor”, the first single from their upcoming album of the same name. The word “Reflektor” is a fairly clean, easily understandable misspelling, much better than Ne-Yo or DIIV or Anfernee Hardaway. But it still begs the question, why a K instead of a C?

Obviously a unique spelling is meant to set the word apart as a title, a proper, capital-letter noun instead of just a plain old noun. A lot of artists look for a way to stand apart and be remembered. I probably couldn’t pick Ne-Yo’s sound out of a lineup, but I know his name. It’s a guy, right?

So when Arcade Fire builds hype around their new album, the word “Reflektor” becomes a unique meme, signifying the band and its music instead of orange and yellow work site vests or bicycle safety gear. Their hype definitely worked. Media outlets have buzzed for a while now and the album doesn’t come out until October 29th.

But does the spelling have any significance beyond being recognizable? When Quentin Tarantino was asked about the awkward spelling of his movie Inglourious Basterds, he said, “I’m never going to explain that…When you do an artistic flourish like that, to describe it, to explain it, would just…invalidate the whole stroke in the first place.”

Tarantino wants us to ponder what it might mean, wants to cultivate some mystery here and get us wondering. But most importantly, he wants us to know that the spelling he chose has some artistic meaning that we may never understand. To misspell something plants the suspicion that there is at least a double meaning at work here.

Even though we might infer some added meaning from the title, the content of a song/movie/band might be completely mundane. Tarantino’s films generally leave little to the imagination. We want to believe that the artists we give our hard-earned money to are observant, with meaningful insight, have something to teach us about life, or at least some unique ability to resonate with us. But the name is not the thing named, and sometimes a title can be much more intriguing than the thing itself.

With so may artists vying for our attention, we have come to expect misspellings for no meaningful reason. Look at all the stores that use this technique when it is completely irrelevant to the content of their business. The one thing I know for sure on this score is that a unique spelling is uniquely Google-able.

Here’s the new video for “Reflektor”. Judge for yourself.

Why Guided By Voices Rocks

I bet if you think back to your high school days you can remember the soundtrack. And I bet that when you hear songs from that era, they often call up old memories. We bond emotionally with the music we hear through puberty and adolescence. As we learn our social roles with a little more sophistication, our tastes form and our identities crystallize to an extent. That soundtrack is likely to remain a familiar comfort through our lives.

Besides the constant rotation of Zeppelin and Sabbath throughout my youth, two bands played incessantly during my high school years. These bands are Pavement and Guided By Voices. Indie rock, lo-fi, and DIY recordings dominated my spare time. When I wasn’t being social, I was in my room listening to one of those two bands. I know every nuance of some of those mid-90s records.

Naturally, I began playing in bands. I felt the need to make music. The standard basement/garage accommodations prevailed, and a lot of my time went into jam sessions, practicing, tinkering, experimenting, and eventually playing shows around Windsor. This just seemed like the right thing to do with my time. Better than homework, anyway. I just wanted to be a part of the fun.

Lots of people get to know rock and roll this way. Like physical maturation, identity as a musician forms during those experimental years. In high school, if you want to play rock and roll, you have to do things yourself. You have to find spare time, people to play with, a jam space, etc. So maybe the amps aren’t crystal clear, there’s bleed from track to track, the vocals are buried and the drummer keeps fucking up. That’s all good because this is the sound of people playing for the sheer love of playing music. If they’re doing it right they aren’t worried about being lucrative or looking cool in those moments; they’re just trying to make something awesome happen.

Guided By Voices typified this ethos back in the day. They had a sturdy reputation as a prolific indie band but they treated music like a hobby and a passion, not like a business. Robert Pollard, the main creative force of the band, seemed unstoppable. He absorbed the British Invasion, classic rock, punk, and the spirit of DIY and subjected it all to a unique, Dayton-Ohio-brand drunken alchemy, rolling out one two-minute gem after another like an assembly line.

Their foray into the commercial industry eventuated in a collapse of the band (this detour arguably started with their album Do The Collapse). But after a headshake and a 2010 reunion tour, the band reclaimed their native sound. Even if they haven’t quite recaptured the magic of the glory days (Under The Bushes, Under The Stars, 1996), Pollard’s output has been downright phenomenal. His most recent solo LP Honey Locust Honky Tonk is a gorgeous, country-infused rock album that proves his total mastery and love of the craft. And he’s not showing signs of slowing down.

As recording and production techniques improve with technology, commercial producers seem to think that in order to deliver the fullest experience of music, each instrument should be recorded maximally for frequency and volume, and they accomplish this by isolating the instruments, generally enriching and rounding out the low frequencies and brightening the highs. This can produce amazing quality productions and songs with such aesthetic impact that you can’t help bob your head. And it all looks good on paper.

But not all music should be recorded this way. To isolate any instrument is to create a sonic vacuum around it, removing it from its environment and stripping it of its natural resonance. Lots of the magic in making music depends on the blending of tones. A musician’s inspiration comes from somewhere mysterious inside, granted, but it also comes from his or her environment, the other people playing, the way the amplifiers reverberate in that weird corner of the room and the resonance the bass picks up through the flue of the fireplace. Even the lighting in the recording space will have an effect on the performer and inevitably, on the recording.

Shut your eyes and listen to The Grand Hour, a 10-minute EP from 1992, and tell me if you aren’t transported back in time, to a magical, albeit dingy basement where some drunken buddies are doing their best to blast out some great rock and roll. Hear GBV’s narcoleptic friend snore through Ex-Supermodel, and try to imagine the spontaneous joy that must have been felt during the recording process. They bring you right into their process and let you share in their enthusiasm.

I enjoy everything from Aerial M to Zappa, but there will always be a special place in my heart for home recordings. My favorite psychedelic gurus Bardo Pond record their albums in their home studio the Lemur House. The sound of the room has evolved along with the band, and by now it’s part of the identity of their sound. The day may still come when I pester Michael Gibbons into letting me record there.

Bloemfontein, the post-rock band I played guitar with during university, jammed in a Windsor basement for years. It wasn’t a particularly good room for sound. It was pretty bad, actually, but we were comfortable there and our performances were enhanced by that familiarity. That basement has seen a lot of creativity over the years. When I think that the house is up for sale, and that I will likely never play there again, a little ironic grin breaks out over my face. I’d still love to do one last recording down there in all its sloppy, wood-panel-reverb, amp buzzing glory.

For anyone whose love of music grew up from the basements of high school friends, GBV captures the spirit of rock and roll for rock and roll’s sake. They are a bunch of guys having fun playing music together. If you ask me, the heart of rock and roll is in Dayton.

Determine If You’re A Writer In 1 Easy Step

When people learn that I write, some try to engage me with stories, usually from their own lives, that they feel would make a good story. Some people have told me their life story would make a great movie. Naturally, a person’s subjective highs and lows seem very significant to that person, but I rarely carry the conversation any further. I like hearing stories, of course, but I tend to reserve my critical storytelling skills for other writers.

Because I’ve had my head wrapped up in the nuts and bolts of storytelling for a little while now, I assume that honestly discussing story with people will sound cold and mechanical. I ask, “What is the climax in the movie of your life?” and the person answers, “My kids.” I say, “Did having children resolve some central conflict that stood in the way of your motivations throughout your life? Was your life just a series of occasions, or was it a driven narrative wherein you tried to achieve your goals through a series of mounting conflicts?” By then the person is across the room with a stiff drink. (Even in Children Of Men, a dystopian tale where humanity has become infertile, the birth of a child is not the climax. I can think of one seriously awesome science fiction novel where a birth is the climax, but I can’t spoil it.).

I feel that a story is just a story until it engages the imagination with something meaningful and new, at which point story can become art. Most people don’t have lives that reflect anything remarkably new. Even horrible conflicts and disasters throughout life don’t guarantee that the movie of one’s life will be interesting. And few things make me yawn harder than a story about being hard-done-by.

Many people think they are full of good stories, and surely they do get interesting ideas, but ideas don’t make a person a writer. Plumbers get good ideas just like judges and filmmakers do. So what makes a writer? Fortunately there is an easy, one-step test to determine this.

A writer writes. Get out of the habit of trying to figure out what people and things ARE and focus on what they DO. If you do not write, and make a habit of it, then I hate to break it to you, but you’re not a writer. If you have amazing ideas that seem like they want to come out of you and take on a life of their own, you had better find an outlet for them—be it film, campfire stories, news articles, a useless blog, etc.—and work at it every day. I write every day and still rarely call myself a writer.

A carpenter has the vision for a table and knows the techniques to achieve it. He understands the form and function and can bring his vision into reality. His neighbour says, “You know what would be cool? A three-legged, cubist mosaic table with a hole in the middle.” The carpenter might ask, “Why would that be cool?” If the idea has merit, the carpenter, not the neighbour, will know it. He also will know how it should be put together, where to compromise vision for function, and when you can expect it finished.

Anticipations

Can’t write a post tonight. I’m busy rubbing my hands together over these goodies.

Sleeper by Ty Segall – August 20

SleeperDrag City’s most exciting newcomer just released one of his best albums, and that’s no small feat considering his output. Sleeper is mostly acoustic and mighty touching. Segall draws inspiration from a recent loss and transmutes it into something beautiful and even joyful. Big notes of John Lennon on the palate, whiffs of Neil Young in the nose, and just dripping with Segall’s signature sound that’s just…what’s the word…San Fran-tastic.

 

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon – September 17

Bleeding EdgeThis countdown has been running on in my mind for a while now. Every Pynchon novel excites me, and this brand new Manhattan-set, dot-com-disillusionment tale has received a lot of positive buzz in advance of its release, which I have been trying, nearly successfully, to ignore. Considering how fun and funny his last novel Inherent Vice was, expect Bleeding Edge to deliver one of the hippest, most hilarious narratives of the year, with all the juicy esoteric details you need to feed your paranoia.

 

The Growlers play Toronto – October 1

Surf-rock outfit The Growlers are playing at Lee’s Palace. I’ve been spinning Hung At Heart a good deal lately and I expect this show to be non-stop entertainment. Their show should look something like this, minus Bill Murray.

 

Peace On Venus by Bardo Pond – October 28

Peace On VenusThe essential psychedelic rock experience Bardo Pond release their newest creations in October. These Philadelphian sherpas always reach for the most rarified gnostic noise to push yer head where it needs to be. The recordings out of the Lemur House continue to knit the band closer together while taking the sound farther out. I can’t wait to add this to my already-perversely-large Bardo Pond LP collection. They’ve even given us a little taste of what’s to come.