Sunday, September 30, 2012

please come to the office

This weekend I made a couple of excursions to King Edward school, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary by becoming a creative hub - an arts incubator.  Friday night I inadvertently sat next to people from my own neighbourhood, whom I had never met, at PechaKucha Night in the old gym, a place that seemed to awaken the ghosts of gym class past in more than one of the evening's speakers.

Today, I headed back to the school to cover the activities of both Doors Open YYC and We Should Know Each Other #100.  The building was abuzz with creativity.

But as I wandered the halls and stairwells of the century old four storey building, I found myself increasingly drawn to the silent corridors, the dark corners.   After snapping photo after photo of increasingly atmospheric spaces, I began to feel more like I was scouting out the school to shoot a horror film than I was covering a celebration of the arts.  To be honest, the more I look at the photos below, the more I want to do exactly that.  

So don't be surprised if you find me at Starbucks in the near future, writing the screenplay for my first horror movie.  I suspect there will be zombies.

Friday, September 28, 2012

culture in the raw

It's Calgary Culture gone crazy this weekend in the yyc!  You would need to set your phasers to replicate and your Clonomatic 6000 on high in order to take in everything.  The best bet is to just not beat yourself up about missing 167,764 awesome events.

My schedule includes:

Friday - PechaKucha Night (theme - seed)
Saturday - Doors Open YYC at National Music Centre
Sunday - Door Open YYC at Simmons Mattress Building AND We Should Know Each Other #100 at King Edward school in Marda Loop

Got to go!  Need to take my vitamins!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

brotherly bonds

I'll Be There Tomorrow 
- the Sumner Brothers

There's no reasonable explanation why I have not heard The Sumner Brothers before, except for the fact that I haven't.  Shame on me.  The Sumner Brothers'  brand of authentically rough and poignant home-made music is exactly what I need some days to feed my soul.  So if you are looking for some gritty and soulful alt-country that will rip out your heart and perhaps knock out a few teeth, I would suggest you give these fellows a good listen.

Hearkening from that bastion of country music - Vancouver - brothers Bob and Brian Sumner tag team on lead vocals on their new album, I'll Be There Tomorrow.  Filled with songs of death and regret, hopefulness and cursing this god-forsaken life, I'll Be There Tomorrow is a satisfying offering of original songs, with a couple of fine covers thrown into the mix.  There's a beautiful cover of Townes Van Zandt's stunning Colorado Girl and a breakneck psychobilly meets the Ramones version of That's Alright.

There's something in the timbre of Bob's voice, the way it catches and breaks, that puts me instantly in mind of Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison.  Minus the Scottish accent of course. It's a voice filled with heartache, beautiful yearning heartache.  This is particularly true on the moving Outside Looking In and the sadly hopeful You Will Find Me.

Brian, on the other hand, possesses an authoritative baritone that conjures up the ghost of Johnny Cash.  Backed by a softly weeping guitar, the tracks on which Brian takes lead vocal ache with all the weariness of  the world.  His commanding snarl on the lead track Toughest Man in Prison Camp will have you believing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is indeed the toughest man in prison camp.  It's an odd song, however, and with its hillbilly hip-hop vibe, it feels a little removed from the rest of the album. 

But if I'll Be There Tomorrow begins with a raucous barn-burner, it ends on a beautifully reflective note, with the thoughtful instrumental I Would Love You in the Kitchen.  You really need to listen to this album.

I'm told by those who have seen the Sumner Brothers perform that they are a stellar live band.  Luckily for us, they are currently on tour across western Canada and will be touring the US west coast in November. 

Check the Sumner Brothers website for details.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

full contact memories

It feels very odd, to be sitting barefoot on the front porch on the first day of fall.  Everything looks normal - the leaves have turned and are starting to drop, the grass is bone dry, the shadows are long and low.  I should be contemplating stews and roasts; instead I am sipping on a glitter gun with extra ice. 

To further confuse our sense of seasons, I interrupted the Spousal Unit while he was watching university football to tell him about ditchball.  I suspects ours was the only university to have the annual ditchball tradition, but I could be wrong.

I played a couple of times, at night when the ditch wasn't being used by the Architecture students, but I don't recall our games being quite this violent.  Rank amateurs, we were.

What odd sporting traditions do you recall from your school days?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

block, meet distraction

Sentences a convoluted jumble of imagery and punctuation, far too long.  Or too short.  Words fighting for a place on the page, determined to assert their dominance over those other lesser words. 

A dozen opening sentences, discarded but not deleted, piled up at the bottom of the page.

Sometimes it's easier to just keep researching, to lose yourself in facts and dates and tell yourself it's progress.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

greek to me

I thought the hardest thing about making dolmades was going to be making dolmades. But finding grape leaves in the first place is proving to be a major stumbling block.  

After trying six stores, three of which were European delis, I gave up on the hope of ever finding grape leaves in this part of town and decided to make salad rolls instead.  

 I'll bet the grumpy old guys from the Greek store that I used to frequent in London's old Convent Gardens market would have grape leaves. 

They were intimidating, with their scowls and their inexplicable green labs coats, but they loved the Offspring.  They would frown at me as we entered the store, but immediately latched onto the Offspring as she toddled over to the counter.  You like olives?  They would scoop a dozen kalamata olives out of a big barrel with a massive slotted spoon and lean over the counter and hold out the spoon to the Offspring.  As she gobbled the olives up, they would straighten up, fold their arms across their chests and nod approvingly.  

Then they would turn and fix me with a baleful stare.  You want cheese?  Salami?   

I'd like about this much feta, please.  I would hold my fingers about an inch and a half apart.

They, in turn, would hold a knife over the giant slab of feta, preparing to cut a piece at least twice that size.  You need more? 

No.  I was intimidated by their grumpiness and their scowly eyebrows.  That's just fine. 

And then, of course, they would make me buy olives too.  

Those old Greek guys in their green lab coats may have been grumpy and pushy, but I bet they would have grape leaves.  Except they would likely make me buy four cans. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

delivering the pop

Come of Age - the Vaccines

The Vaccines' Come of Age should come with a warning sticker.  There are some seriously addictive ohrwurms on U.K. band's second album, that are going to be pinging around inside your noggin for at least a week.  Be prepared to be driven crazy.  

A delicious blend of break-neck Ramones-paced rhythms, surf choruses and sinfully hooky melodies, this is pop music that makes no apologies for being pop music. But make no mistake, despite the mid-century rock n roll esthetics, there are no California Girls on Come of Age. Or if there are, they are being dumped by self-absorbed twenty-somethings.  

Okay, the lyrics on Come of Age are not exactly high-brow, but they do contain a darkness that clashes beautifully with those bright upbeat melodies. It's an appealing juxtaposition that gives a bit of a nod to the Smiths.  Deeper in the album, some of the melodic brightness is replaced with deeper, darker, more jangly guitars.  But the hooks are just as catchy and you'll still want to handclap along.

Over the course of their short career, the Vaccines have received tonnes of kudos (and award hardware) for their infectious sound.  Naturally they've received just as much criticism for the exact same reason.  On Come of Age, the Vaccines deliver top-notch sing-along road trip and party music. And there's not a thing wrong with that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

feis kontrol fail

It's probably a good thing I don't have a regular 9-5 job, because I am too ugly to leave the house right now.  All, apparently, because I don't know the difference between 11 and 11+.

After being talked into having a real grownup facial by my esthetician last week, I diligently applied the trio of magical post-facial elixirs to my face, as instructed.  The eruption of a nasty itchy rash a couple of days later was definitely not what I was expecting.  

Yesterday I visited my esthetician, bag of magical elixirs in tow, for an emergency face intervention:   

Here is problem.  She points to the pot of apres peel hydrating balm.  You need #11

But that is #11, I point out.    

No!  Vigourous head shake.  Is 11+.  Is different.


So I am staying out of the public eye for the foreseeable future and I keep my head down when I am forced to leave the house to run errands.  I'm trying not to fixate on the itch of the angry red welts on my peeling face, as I apply the correct cream and recall her words of reassurance that everything will be fine.

This could just be karma coming back to bite me for flippantly suggesting that the Calgary indie music scene needs to start sporting balaclavas.  Guess I'm just being fashion forward.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

the fruit left lying in the grass

I've had to triple my garlic budget allocation, after rediscovering my brother-in-law's Caesar salad dressing.  People have been known to lick the empty salad bowl to get the last drops of garlic-anchovy nectar on their tongue.

I'm not sure why I used to think it was a finicky recipe, because it's really quite simple.  And because you use so little of it to dress a salad, a batch will last for a couple of weeks, even if you make Caesar salad almost every night, like I have been doing lately. 

After an extended dry spell, I am suddenly listening to a lot of new music again.  Bands, record labels, and friends have been filling my mailbox and inbox with new releases.  All that exposure to new cover art and liner notes has triggered a musical lusting in me, one that lay dormant for a couple of months.  

But in amongst all that new music, it's been especially satisfying to rediscover some older music.  Patti Smith's Horses was a record club discussion topic recently, and that discussion triggered memories of dorm rooms and musical awakenings.  Stumbling upon Jim Bryson's The Falcon Lake Incident - an album which I bought at a show last year but never really listened to properly - brought back memories of long-forgotten Manitoba folklore, but more importantly, opened my ears to what an under-appreciated musical treasure Jim Bryson is.

Just when I thought I knew it all.

What have you rediscovered lately?  

Thursday, September 06, 2012

outside and alright

The Winter Year  
- City Dwelling Nature Seekers

At times swimming in harmony, at other times breaking out into exploratory instrumentation, The Winter Year is an album that defies pigeonholing.  The sophomore album from the Pittsburgh alt-country band is a solid mix of imagery-laden songs and layered instrumentation.  It's an album that feels at once familiar, yet new.

The combination of pleasing lead vocals from principal songwriter Michael McCormick, the lush harmonies, and the highly crafted musicianship from the band collective would not feel out of place on a Big Star album.  Amongst the rootsy 1970's feel, there are other, more contemporary, echoes - something in the vocals that conjures up The Head and The Heart, something in the instrumental breakdown that gives a nod to The Felice Brothers with just a soupcon of Wilco.   

And then there's that pedal steel.  I'm a huge sucker for the cry of a pedal steel, and was smitten with the plaintive tears that its addition gave to many of the tracks.  The two-minute pedal steel outro on I Take Lefts was a particularly nice touch.  Lap steel, dobro, and various strings flesh out the guitar, bass and drums on the remainder of the album, making The Winter Year a surprisingly layered and masterful album.

City Dwelling Nature Seekers are definitely worth seeking out, and The Winter Year certainly bears repeated listens.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

in the arms of all I'm keeping here with me

It felt odd to spend the Labour Day weekend at home, having spent the previous three on the coast, helping the OFKAR move.  Her decision to stay in situ over the summer is now proving to be a strategic move, however, judging by how she has managed to advance her academic career over those four months.

Not to brag or anything, but we are getting all Tiger Mama about our smarty-pants offspring, here at Casa del Zombie.  A few days after nailing the Graduate Record Exam (96th percentile in verbal, 71st percentile in math) needed for acceptance into graduate school next year, she managed to land a Research Assistance position in a cognitive psychology research lab.  Plus she completed a couple of courses over the summer.  

She sure doesn't get it from me.  Come to think of it, she doesn't get it from the Spousal Unit either.  There's a lot to be said for hybrid vigour.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

thirst of a nation: Lawless soundtrack

- Nick Cave/Warren Ellis

With an authenticity that's as raw as Franklin County moonshine, there's a visceral quality that permeates the soundtrack of Lawless.  The Prohibition-era gangster film that centres around a family of Virginia bootleggers was released to theatres last week, but the music could easily have been lifted directly from long-abandoned smoky stills deep in the Blue Ridge foothills. 

Nick Cave and fellow Bad Seed, Warren Ellis, have a reputation for musically capturing the glory and the pathos of a film.  Earlier collaborations on the soundtracks to The Proposition, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and The Road have all resulted in hauntingly unforgettable recordings.  With their intuitive treatment of the recordings on the Lawless soundtrack, their reputation remains intact.

Much of the power of this album lies in the legitimacy of the musicians who lend their voices to the tracks.  Mark Lanegan's leathery raucous baritone, Emmylou Harris' fragile vibrato, and Ralph Stanley's archaic bluegrass vocals (used with such perfection in the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' film Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) were perfect choices.   These songs feel completely genuine, transported from early Americana, although they have decidedly more contemporary roots.

With the notable exceptions of Fire in the Blood, Cosmonaut, and the hauntingly beautiful instrumental End Crawl, which were written for the film by Cave and Ellis, the majority of tracks are covers of Captain Beefheart, Link Wray, Townes Van Zandt, Jason Lytle, and Velvet Underground songs.

Interestingly, many songs appear on the soundtrack twice, each rendered completely unique from the other by vastly divergent interpretations. Of particular interest is the difference between Lanegan's boisterous fiddle-driven take on White Light/White Heat and Stanley's raw and simple acoustic version.  The Emmylou Harris numbers are particularly evocative.  At times her haunting voice functions almost as background instrumental; at other times, such as in the very Gram Parsons-esque Cosmonaut, it bursts forth in a rush of pure naive joy.    

The soundtrack to Lawless will transport you.   Just make sure to bolt the door first against the mobsters and the deputy's men before you settle down to listen.  In the dark.  Jug at your elbow.