28 March 2006

it's a learning experience

a few things i've learned while visiting mexico:

1. my knowledge of geography is crap. why was i surprised to see mountains?
2. tequila makes a perfectly adequate breakfast food.
3. it is completely possible to have air that shows no trace of humidity, even when you're surrounded by water.
4. the skill of relaxing in the sun is not a difficult one to acquire.

and there are a couple of beliefs that i've had reinforced:

1. there are few things more depressing than trying to swim in the ocean and getting overwhelmed by the smell of petrol from nearby jet skis.
2. very few women should wear bikinis.
3. very few women are aware of point #2.

24 March 2006

south of the border(s)


so i'm spending the next week in mexico. not a bad deal in theory, especially since i'm not paying for it, but lady luck does not smile on me that way. i'm going for work.

i have to spend the next week at a conference, which will involve me doing a lot of speaking i don't want to do to people who don't want to hear me. it doesn't help that the people i'm travelling with, at least the ones i know, would sooner pick up a venereal disease than a book. it also doesn't help that sitting on the beach and unwinding is something i've never acquired a talent for. i give myself three days before i'm climbing the walls.

i know, there are worse places they could send me (and worse places they have sent me), than mexico, but what i desperately need right now is to get away from the people who i'm being forced to spend the next week with. h, it's a maritime thing, i'm a born complainer. i'm hoping i can just cosy up to a magarita and forget about the trials of life.

who knows? maybe the creativity that my job has been sapping from me will return and i can work on something new rather than just editing what i have. stranger things have happened.

20 March 2006

higher primates


music review:: coil:: ape of naples

this is it. this is the last coil album ever. capping off more than twenty years of consistently creative, groundbreaking music is the ape of naples. and what an ending to a glorious career.

the material on this album was drawn from recordings made over an extended period of time (including some dating from the sessions intended for their long-promised, never-delivered international dark skies album for trent reznor’s nothing label), but, as they have done before, coil are able to present a series of unrelated tracks and make something that is stronger than what most artists release as albums. how do they manage this? it’s their own sweet secret.

musically, the album is a fitting memorial to the band, encompassing elements of many of the styles that they have explored, while still remaining strikingly fresh and original. they’ve even stolen some bits from previous releases and dusted them off for a final curtsey. the fragile and lovely sound that graced the two volumes of musick to play in the dark is heard early on. the rawness of their first release, scatology, finds a responsive echo through the years. the debauched cabaret vibe of love’s secret domain is reflected in a track like the tattooed man... whatever a coil fan wants to find, there is something of it here. i would not go so far as to say that this is the finest coil album (i’d have a hard time telling what that was anyway), since i find that there are no tracks that individually have the strength of the whole (part of coil’s genius was always being able to provide brilliant albums populated by tracks that were separately just as brilliant). but it is beautiful.

of course, reviewing this album poses a bit of a conundrum: is it possible to listen to this music without reading into it the life of the artist behind it? there seems to be a pervasive melancholia throughout the music. would it seem less sad if jhonn balance were still alive? quite possibly. balance, a desperate alcoholic while alive, often wrote about death, addiction and depression, but his lyrics unquestionably gain poignancy in the light of his own premature death.

on its own, ape of naples would be remarkable, a subtle and mysterious masterstroke from a group who seemed capable of fathomless creativity. taken in context, it is a remarkable testament to a group who continued to use their creativity, despite the fact that they could easily have rested on laurels garnered early in their career. coil are officially put to rest. the world is a little quieter, a little sadder and a little poorer for it.

available from distributors stateside like soleilmoon or direct from threshold house.

18 March 2006

machineries of joy


music review:: aavikko:: derek

somewhere far away in the universe, there is a magical world that is ruled by the machines. the machines go to work, they have perfectly efficiently functioning little cubicles that they enjoy and perfectly efficiently organised little homes. they have mild-mannered parties where they chatter, mingle and, occasionally, dance. and at these post-modern tiki parties, aavikko’s derek is the soundtrack.

it is one of the great paradoxes of modern music that popular rock, with its origins in the gritty world of delta blues, more often than not sounds like it was churned out from a pattern on a military computer, whereas music made to sound as far removed from anything remotely human as possible should have such feeling. derek is not emotional in the sense that current 93 records are emotional, but it’s carnival-like organs and hip syncopation is so genuinely joyful that i would venture that it is impossible to listen to this album without cracking a silly grin.

what’s doubly strange about this band is that they hail from finland, not exactly a country one would associate with all-around fun and grooviness. listening to this, one can’t picture the frozen tundra, the way one could on releases from, say, aural hypnox. nor can one picture the individuals who actually worked to hammer this stuff out. despite its deceptively human name, derek belongs to the machines and they are apparently immune to the frozen bite of finland’s winter.

it’s always tempting to dismiss music like this as the stuff of novelty, but experience has taught me to be a little more patient. the fact is, much like there is nothing inartistic about comic writing (see earlier post), there is nothing that stops happy music from being good music. the melodies here are catchy as hell and the combination of kraftwerk and cocktail party elements with an edge of noise makes it strikingly original. what could there possibly be to dislike.

the record is almost frustratingly short- pretty much a given when your longest track is 2:54, but, as any great performer knows, it’s always best to leave your audience wanting more. apparently, in their far-away mechanised paradise, the machines have learned this as well.

available from solnze records.

17 March 2006

urine nation

there is no gentle way to express this: someone peed in the elevator in my building.

i know there's a guy here who owns a dog (they're officially verboten), there may even be two. i like animals (in a non-sexual way) a lot and i really don't want the owners of these dogs to get in trouble, since they seem like nice enough people. so my first instinct, other than retching, was that i hoped it wasn't the dog, so there wouldn't be any problems for them.

then i clued in to exactly how ridiculous that sentiment was. because if it wasn't the dog, it means that i am living in the same building as someone who doesn't have the social graces to realise that there is a fundamental difference between the floor of the elevator and a public toilet. how far has society sunk when it becomes socially acceptable to pee on the floor? if these people can't control themselves in the elevator, how long before peeing on the floors of their apartment becomes part of their day? and what if they live in the apartment upstairs from me? will the ceiling eventually soak through and collapse? i don't want to go out of this life crushed by a chunk of pee-soaked plaster.

to be fair, the elevator in my building is one of the slowest in the world, so maybe someone just couldn't hold it in any more, but if they are so busy that they have to hold their urine in for hours until they literally burst, maybe they need to clear some time in their schedule.

since the floor of the elevator is carpeted, that scent isn't going anywhere. and apparently, whoever the urinator is, they aren't going to make an effort to be decent and at least clean up the mess that they left. so i'm avoiding the elevator at all costs until further notice. on the bright side, maybe taking the stairs more often will give me a bit of a workout.

15 March 2006

how about a big kiss?


i wish i'd been aware of this on valentine's day, but, i guess, it's the thought that counts... only question is: what is the thought behind these?

14 March 2006

hail to the (other) king


this really is going to be the year i overdose on nostalgia. i've seen bauhaus, front 242 and, most recently, the sisters of mercy. i got the chance to see one of my old-time punk heroes, , henry rollins and now the other great pillar of american punkdom, jello biafra. he's doing a spoken word gig at the convocation hall of the univertsity of toronto on april 15th.

where rollins is all piss and vinegar and righteous anger, biafra is more like the shakespearean court jester, making profound points often through the most absurd means.

there's very little i can tell you about this guy that you can't find out through his label. much like henry rollins, someone i really admire and who, mercifully, hasn't mellowed with age. (although i'd be surprised if he attempted one of his signature stage dives.)

general admission tickets are available through ticketmaster.

clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

i've never been a fan of "political correctness". in fact, when i was more actively involved in social causes, i used to get a bit of a cheap thrill by baiting the sort of people who insisted that all evils in the world could be eliminated if we simply imposed restrictions on acceptable language and shamed anyone who didn't share our views.

i worked in an atmosphere that had a lot of that element to it and was routinely put down, sadly by other women, as a "bad feminist" because of the fact that i wore dresses and make-up and didn't apologise for it (feminist don't wear fishnets...), ignoring a lot of the more meaningful parts of my life and personality in favour of what they could see on the surface. so i know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a politically correct diatribe and i don't have a lot of patience for it.

that said, now that i'm out in the "real" world (as opposed to an overly academic, self-reflecting dream-world), i am starting to notice a lot of the things that got these people so riled up to begin with. i was speaking to a couple of co-workers today and both of them, one of them a pretty senior person, were going on at some length about how they only wanted to have men as bosses, not women. i was pretty clear that i thought it was stupid to make assumptions based on gender either way (i've had bad bosses of both sexes), which immediately gets me branded as some political correct language cop cracking down on them for expressing opinions (it's amazing how many people equate challenging an opinion with challenging their right to hold that opinion).

how did i end up on the wrong end of both sides of this debate? i don't care what anyone says, it is asinine in this day and age to talk about women and men as somehow homogeneous groups (whether you're judging them from the left or the right). although this is common sense to me, it's apparently heresy to most individuals, who are afraid to disturb the convenient little compartments into which they place everybody. (i will also add that i think this is especially an issue with gender. i don't believe that it would have been considered acceptable for a co-worker to say she didn't want to work for anyone who was black, for instance, although i'm sure there are people who do say such things.)

although this has been in my mind today, it's something i've noticed a lot and on an ongoing basis. on the one hand, i detest it when anyone cries out that they're a victim every time someone says something that hurts their feelings. on the other hand, i hear enough stupid statements about others based on broad stereotypes, mostly from people who should know better, that i also understand the urge to yell.

and here i am, arguing with both sides and wondering why people are so hung up on maintaining their preconceived notions, even in the face of evidence that those notions have lost whatever marginal usefulness they might have had. i believe it was shaw who said that common sense was the least common of all senses. it's a statement that unfortunately seems to gain currency over time.

10 March 2006

bad joke

after hiking fares just a short time ago, the toronto transit commission has seemingly shrugged off the idea that they should now be conecntrating on showing the public that they can use their money wisely.

instead of directing their efforts towards the multiplicity of problems facing the city's public transportation system, the ttc has decided to redirect some cash to its lawyers and has shut down the hilarious anagram remix of their subway map, on the pretext that it violates their copyright.

what a load of crap.

is this seriously the best thing they can think of to do with their time? please join me in contacting them to tell them to quit with the idiocy and start working on the parts of their job that actually make things better for their customers.

09 March 2006

exactly as i planned it...


because of a work obligation, i have been out of town, arriving fairly late last night in a zombified condition. too tired to go and see whitehouse (in fact, i think i was tired enough that i would have fallen asleep, even with the racket).

it would have driven me right off the deep end thinking that they were playing and i was missing them, so, for me, it's pretty convenient that they were denied entry into canada (although pretty stupid), because it means i will never say that i missed a whitehouse show because i was too tired.

yay me.

of course, for the second time, i missed a wolf eyes show, but i have a feeling they'll be easier to track down.

05 March 2006

deep, blue


music review:: mushroom’s patience:: water

there probably aren’t a lot of die hard mushroom’s patience fans in the world, but they’re one of those groups who, like novy svet (whose members have been part of novy svet since 2001), once heard, become endeared. it’s hard not to love a group of people who are so effortlessly eccentric, so original.

while intensely likeable, i have always found that their albums are inconsistent, mixing stunning atmospheric tracks with pieces that sound too much like studio outtakes. water, however, is a substantial step forward. the killer bits are present in force and the filler is all but banished. finally, this band seems to have brought an entire release up to the quality of their best tracks.

water is an appropriate name for this album. the sound in it undulates and flows, and seems strangely distorted at times, like sounds heard through an ocean. there is a suppleness and fluidity to the sound that captivates the listener immediately. at the same time, the music here is not natural, nor entirely serene. the music is undeniably human, in many ways. the vocals are emotive and often touching (a remarkable feat for a band singing in a language that is not native to them).

the music itself is largely constructed on repetitive loops, accented with changing elements, so that it emulates the undulations of waves on the shore. the effect is hypnotic, with the vocals often seeming to come out of nowhere. almost every track will seductively winnow its way into your consciousness and, most likely, into the soundtrack of your dreams- the one atmosphere where i believe it would seem totally at home.

water is, in fact, a bugger to review, because it is almsot entirely self-referential. novy svet with more of a jazz influence? the mediterranean progeny of music to play in the dark-era coil? this is a release that defies easy description.

which just makes it that much more enchanting.

available through many distributors in north america, including soleilmoon, strange furtune and, of course, malignant. released on hau ruck!, but, due to the fact that mp are now “gone away from hau ruck” (their terminology), unmentioned on the hau ruck site.

04 March 2006

seeing red


i think someone needs to put the red cross on suicide watch.

first, they decided that they were going to invest some of their money in suing video game makers who used their logo within their games. because, of course, having their logo show up in a video game hurts the red cross immeasurably.

now, it's the story that they may have used some of the money raised for hurricane katrina relief to recruit stars to help bolster their image.

those in canada will probably be aware that the red cross was given the boot from collecting blood in canada after it turned out that they were passing on blood that was contaminated with aids and hepatitis due to improper screening.

guys, these are not good ways to resuscitate your image. whoever your p.r. person is, kick them to the curb. take the money you've been paying them and use it for the kind of work you should be doing. right now, your actions are kind of resembling a classic cry for help.

if you can read this, you're not in pakistan


the trend of governments repressing free speech is nothing new, but the great white hope was that somehow, the internet, with its quick-response, many-to-many format, would find a way around the roadblocks of censorship and allow speech of all kinds to flourish... ok, it's a bit of a pipe dream and we could debate the merits of giving everyone equal access to a universe of pop-up ads and low-fi porn forever, but it's important that the dream continue. the internet does still offer a great opportunity for unfiltered communication. we just need to be vigilant about removing the filters.

this week, isps in pakistan chose to block all websites hosted under blogspot.com, because some sites under that domain feature images of the now infamous danish cartoons that have so enraged many in the muslim world. however, instead of just blocking the offending sites, the isps have cut off access to the whole domain, which includes numerous sites from pakistanis who deserve to have their points of view represented.

check out help-pakistan for more information. (they also do excellent relief work for victims of the october earthquake.)
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