25 January 2007

where do babies come from?


apparently, the answer isn't always what you were led to believe.

behold flora (great name), who is paving the way for a sapphist utopia. and if you have a problem with that, she'll snap you in half like a twig.

22 January 2007

slow company

it seems like once again, quebecers and maritimers have it right.

after all, and i admit that i'm indulging in a little hypocrisy here, what on earth is the benefit to killing yourself week in, week out slaving all your life away at a job? for most of us, myself included, we could drop dead and no one we work with would notice anything except that there was an office available. hell, in the maritimes, you're likely to have a job swept out from under you at a moment's notice, with no extra compensation, so you'd better cultivate either strong outside-of-work relationships or a serious drinking habit if you're going to pull through.

i'm amused to know that 44 hours is considered a "very long" work week, since it's been several years since i've worked less than that on an average week, but i like to think that i've improved since the times when working 44 hours would have been something i considered a vacation week. my point in mentioning that is that i know what of i speak. for all the time that i've invested in any job, no matter how much or how little, i've basically gotten the same thing out of it: a pay cheque (or a direct deposit, but, you know, same difference). i've picked up some skills, but i've discovered that the amount that i learn is inexplicably inversely proportional to the number of hours that i'm putting in. perhaps it's because you tend to learn things when you're new, when there's nothing to keep you in the office for long hours.

fact is, we'd all be better off putting more time and effort into family, friends, intellectual and creative pursuits. the proof of that is that quebecers are the most satisfied with their current work-life balance. only the people who are already working longer hours harbour the jejeune belief that they would be happier if they were able to work and earn more. it doesn't work like that.

that's not to say, of course, that money can't by some remarkable substitutes for happiness and we all need a certain amount to keep us happy, but the people i know who work the longest hours are generally among the most miserable and depressed. all the money in the world doesn't buy back the experiences you miss by shutting yourself off from the world at a job.

so if you're reading this from quebec or the maritimes, sit back and crack open a beer. feel superior. if you're reading this from central or western canada (or from the usa), you'd better close your browser, because we all know you're still at work and big brother is probably monitoring your internet usage.

09 January 2007

hits of the year

ah, it's that time of year, or just after it, when the self-respecting music nerd pauses to reflect on the year that was. when she (or he) reflects on everything they've bought or (increasingly) downloaded while continuing to search for an elusive hard copy that might not even exist.

since i used to do a radio show, this was normally the time when i would do my annual best of and, since old habits apparently die hard, i still do that sort of thing in my head.

of course, the world is a far different place than it was back in olden days (the 90s). the internet, computer software and dirt cheap production costs have brought an undreamt of democracy to music. no longer does an aspiring artist have to wait long years to find a penurious label willing to put their album in the queue of things to be released when next month's unemployment cheque clears. oh no, now everyone who has a computer and a dream can be a musician, distributed internationally, accessibly to all. and this is something to be celebrated, since it means that there is more variety, less censorship and generally fewer barriers. sort of.

the problem is that, with so much music flying around, new acts appearing and disappearing and myriad channels of distribution, it can make it a great deal more challenging to find the good stuff. for me, finding music that i like is generally akin to finding a needle in a haystack. it's just that every year, it seems to be a much larger haystack. democracy is empowering and all, but why does it always seem to breed such mediocrity? i don't want to hear any more artists aping strict genres that outlived their meagre usefulness ten years ago. i don't want to stare at an online distribution catalogue and puzzle over what makes any of the groups different, distinctive, talented. in fact, as i search for music, the description that has intrigued me most often is "i don't now how to describe this".

it seems that, as time goes on and i get old and cranky and impatient, i find it more difficult to locate new artists who appeal to me and who seem to have their own unique sound. it couldn't possibly be that i'm becoming harder to satisfy. it has to be that musicians have gotten less imaginative, less daring, less willing to take risks.

perhaps that's why i found that the best releases i heard this past year were all from artists who have made careers out of sounding like no one else. current 93's the black ships ate the sky, coil's black antlers (technically a reissue), deutsch nepal's erotikon, scott walker's the drift and whitehouse's asceticists are all excellent examples. these are all artists who defy imitation and these are all albums i know i'll be listening to for years to come. but where are the next generation?

it's not like there haven't been artists to arrive on the scene more recently who hold a special place in my heart. venetian snares are an example and hospitality is a beautiful follow-up to rossz csillag... novy svet, probably my favourite band to emerge in the last ten years, had supposedly called it quits, but it appears they are too well-loved for the world to let them go. the years since their final release have, if anything, proven busier for these adorable eccentrics than those previous. although it was released in 2005, i didn't get my hands on a copy of their latest collaboration with o paradis until this year, and it remains a favourite, an exquisite balance between sentimentality and sleaze, with just the right touch of twin peaks ambiance. (i'm happy to report that novy have apparently given up the pretense of retirement and are appearing at a festival this month in leipzig.) germany's galakthorroe label continue to produce early spk-style industrial (there is no other term and there is no one else who deserves it) sludge electronics, most notably a stellar 7" by maska genetik that left me salivating for more, more MORE.

but by the standards of the music world, particularly in the adreanline-hyped, caffeine-freak world of the internet overground (because, let's face it, most of what we're talking about here is over people's heads, not under their feet), venetian snares, novy svet and galakthorroe are pretty much established. they have fans, rabid gangs of them, in fact. while still painfully obscure, they are not waiting to be discovered. so what's next?

this is where the unfettered democracy becomes problematic. as i said, there's a lot of bad music out there. for every niellerade fallibilisthorstar, the are three dozen people who heard a merzbow record and thought that making noise would be easy and so rebellious. there are diamonds there, to be sure, but they are harder to find than ever, especially since so much of it happens outside the purview of any record label, anonymously, independently in the truest sense of the word.

a few artists to catch my ear recently, and i'm sure there are more: the aforementioned niellerade, unidad sasao (former novy svet collaborator), burial, guilty connector, lingua fungi (best band name ever), black mayonnaise (possibly worst band name ever), even the sweetly honest country-folkishness of vetiver or the surprisingly innovative, stilted hiphop of cadence weapon made me sit up and take notice... all fairly new, all artists i hope will build on their strengths for years to come. is there another great among them? possibly, but i suspect not. (feel free to have me eating my words by this time next year.)

i have no doubt that some of the best music of the year passed me by, because i was simply unable, despite my best efforts, to connect with it. (i'm still hunting for more than fleeting clips of neuntoter der plage and burial hex among others and, dammit, i shall succeed.) it's a paradoxically exciting and frustrating situation that i've learned to live with. i'll keep hunting, keep hoping and keep listening. it's the best a music nerd can do in these challenging times.
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