I hate Moist. That’s what I said when I was handed this album back in 1999 and told to write a review. I couldn’t stand songs like “Push,” “Silver” and “Machine Punch Through” that I felt were awful, and made worse by the fact that local radio stations played the crap out of them day in and day out. I didn’t even want to hear Mercedes 5 and Dime, but nobody else wanted to write that review either. Resigning myself to the fact that the job had fallen to me, I figured I would at least get a chance to rant in print about how much I f***ing hated Moist.
Dang it anyway, but I didn’t even get the chance to do that.
At some point when I wasn’t looking, Most turned into a band that put out an amazing album. Mercedes 5 and Dime is still one of the go-tos in my collection. Right from the Hammond organ intro of the opening track “Underground” through “Breathe” (with guitar work that sounds suspiciously like Radiohead’s “Creep” in parts) and the sing-along anthem “Mandolin,” Mercedes 5 and Dime is groovy and melodic, showcasing a band that had reached some level of maturity while still managing to sound fresh even to this day. However much lead singer David Usher paid the vocal coach that elevated him from grunge whiner to rock crooner, it wasn’t enough.
And I so much wanted to hate it…
Even when I’m not reviewing 20-year-old albums, I’m behind the times. Pagans in Vegas is the 2015 release by Metric, and even though the band has been putting out albums since the turn of the century, this is the first Metric record I’ve actually sat down and listened to.
And man, have I been missing out. Since getting my first taste of Pagans in Vegas at a friend’s birthday party, it’s been in fairly regular rotation in my phone’s media player. In another example of how behind the times I truly am, it’s there due in no small part to the fact that it sounds like something born of the 1980s. The intro to “Fortunes” sounds like a modern take on early Depeche Mode; “Cascades” might be a lost Trans-X track; “For Kicks” could have been lifted off a mid-’80s New Order B-side; and yeah, Underworld’s “Born Slippy” came out in the ’90s, but there’s no denying that Metric’s “Celebrate” shares some of that song’s DNA.
Picking stand-out tracks from a solid record like this is tough, but I do have some favourites. The electronic sounds of “The Shade” perfectly cradle Emily Haines’ voice as her melody floats like a falling leaf. The song makes a pretty darn good ringtone, too.
The one that really does it for me on Pagans in Vegas, though is “Other Side.” It’s got that perfect ’80s electronic music sound, bandmate James Shaw’s haunting vocals. Combine that with lyrics like:
Fools may rise – all fall in their time
Burning with the forest fires
And all we want is to feel like all we got
Didn’t cost us everything
Even if we never win
And I’m haunted. If Pagans in Vegas is indicative of the quality of music this band has been putting out for a decade and a half, I definitely need to take some time to plumb the depths of Metric’s back catalogue.
This is one of the forgotten treasures of the mid-1990s Toronto music scene. For me, at a time when the ubiquitous, droning introspection of grunge was starting to degenerate into indistinguishable white noise, Strawman was a bucket of cold hard-rock water in the face.
Rather than go on and on about this album, I’ll let 1995 Me share with you the article I wrote for The Spill Magazine in March of that year…
With hard-driving, tribal drums and guitars that grind with grunge energy and sing with heavy-metal power, why is it that their audiences sit in their seats transfixed like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming Buick? The answer lies in the fact that Strawman is ore than “just” a band; they are the voice of an artists’ collective that incorporates visual artists, videographers, poets and choreographers. It is this combined energy that creates a multimedia show that is nothing less than shocking
Another Strawman surprise is the fact that this band, so new on the local scene, is as tight as a band that has spent a lifetime together. It comes as no surprise at all when you consider how much work has gone into creating the Strawman experience. Al McMullan, one of the band’s key songwriters and the man who plays keyboards on the album (chances are you’ll never see him on stage) explains that the work was necessary because of the nature of the show.
“Think about having an active video show along with the other aspects of the band,” Al says. “If you don’t have a strong band at the crux of it, it just looks like a crutch. It looks like you’re lame and you have that there so people don’t notice you’re lame. That was the last thing in the world we wanted, so we rehearsed this show really hard. We knew in terms of timing with the videos and everything else, we’d have to rehearse dead. We rehearsed dead for a year.”
“There are certain things that I would love to be able to go and see a band do,” adds John Hitzroth, Strawman’s guitarist and second principle songwriter. “Turn that around, and it’s what I should be doing. We thought it would be really cool to see a band that did all these things with A/V and do a killer show that wasn’t boring, a band with some energy happening in the show and in the material itself. It had to be something that would have to grab me if I heard it on a record.
Al talks about the documentary that was made about them last year, quoting the line that the band lives by. “If we’re on the road touring and the truck that carries our video screens goes off the road… too bad. We’ll have to get Canadian Tire to get the truck out, but the band can pull into any town, just do a set, and still blow people away.”
The strategy has worked well for the band so far. When Strawman got some radio airplay on Q107 recently, they had the highest phone-in rate of any indie band in recent memory. College radio has fallen in love with Strawman, and their popularity on the East Coast is better than anyone could have predicted. The key to their acceptance is simple: Strawman is something that’s just a little bit different. Some folks might think that would make things tough finding favour in today’s music market. “The prevailing animal is a low-fi or a punk/pop thing,” says Al. “Not to denigrate that at all. Some of my favourite bands are people practicing that, but that’s not what we are. Some of the trepidation that we had about being accepted hasn’t been a worry.”
There is one worry in the Strawman camp these days. Anyone who has spent any time in the downtown core has seen posters everywhere, promoting their North By Northeast appearance, their HMV in-store performance, the release of the video, whatever. It seems the local authorities have caught up with Strawman, charging them with “abandoning material that could become litter.” Although the band admits that they put posters up, the charge will be fought due to the wording of the by-law.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Al states. “It not only affects us and every indie band out there, but it affects the movie and beer companies, right down to the little girl that puts up a poster for her missing cat.”
Whatever the outcome of Strawman’s day in court, it can’t pull the band’s name out of people’s minds. With or without the benefit of a poster stuck to every mailbox on Queen Street, Strawman cannot be ignored.
For the record, I have no recollection of how Strawman fared against by-law enforcement. But hey, rock ‘n’ roll!
Time to dive into one of my guiltiest guilty pleasures of all time. Hot Show is a dance-pop concept album documenting the journey of two cartoon characters (Simon, a vaguely Dudley Moore-esque Brit, and his could-be-Swedish-maybe blond bruiser buddy, Milo) as they embark on the search for true love.
One of the things that makes this album so much more appealing to me than most of the dance-pop of the ’90s (or just about any other era) is the fact that this album does not take itself too seriously. At all. These are cartoon characters exploring cartoony versions of love and longing. The narcissism and possessiveness that I find permeates the lyrics of many songs in this genre are mercifully absent from Hot Show. What’s left are catchy tunes that make me want to clap and hum along; the textbook fun album.
Man, where do the days go, anyway?
I haven’t listened to this album in years, and I’d forgotten how much I love it. I am constantly amazed at how well the work of this one guy recording on what’s now considered primitive equipment decades before anyone reading this was born holds up.
One of the earliest documented members of The 27 Club, Johnson spent his life unknown, and as a myth whispered by record collectors for many years after his death. It wasn’t until the early 1960s, with the rediscovery and re-release of his 1930s recordings as King of the Delta Blues Singers that Johnson became a cornerstone of modern music.
I don’t even know where to begin with this album. There likely isn’t a guitar man alive who doesn’t owe something to Robert Johnson. The riffs and chord progressions in King of the Delta Blues Singers permeate modern blues, rock, jazz, folk, country, and I don’t know what else. Johnson ain’t the first guy to sing the Delta blues, but this record is what brought America’s (arguably) first indigenous style of music into the public consciousness of several generations.
It’s been a long day, and right now I just want to listen to some music I can relax and chill out to. The Oscar Peterson Trio’s Night Train fits that bill nicely, thank you very much.
Frankly, I know squat about jazz. To me, there are only two kinds: the stuff I like, and the stuff that makes absolutely no sense. And everything I know about Oscar Peterson can be summed up in two words: “Canadian” and “piano.”
That being said, even a neophyte like me can appreciate Peterson’s talent for the piano. I don’t know where 1973 fits into the scope of the man’s career, but the man makes it sound easy. And Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums have no trouble following Peterson wherever his fingers and the keys may take him.
There are two songs on Night Train that I’m familiar with. The title track is most memorable to me as performed by Marvin Berry and the Starlighters at George McFly’s prom. Peterson’s trio take “Night Train” on a different track, to butcher a metaphor.
Their spare, soft version of “Georgia on my Mind,” a song almost synonymous with Ray Charles, was already a hit by the time Night Train was recorded, and the trio pays it due respect while infusing it with their unique style.
And that’s enough of this for tonight. Now it’s time for a little jazz, a glass of wine, and some time away from computer screens. Good night, everyone.
Well, I’m an idiot.
Yesterday, I got an email in my inbox from Skype saying that my password had been changed. I hadn’t changed my password.
Yeah, I know. These emails come in all the time, and the best thing to do is ignore them. That’s my usual MO with these things. Since last year, though, I’ve had some internet asshat emailing me threats, telling me I “stole” the email account I’ve been using for almost a decade from him, and saying he’ll “take me down.”
It was that fear – the thing phishing emails play on – that drove me to click the “reset your password” link in the message. Maybe Asshat did manage to get into one of my accounts. Skype is, after all, about the only service I use that doesn’t have two-factor identification installed.
I did hover over the link before clicking on it, and it looked legit. So did the other links on the message. It wasn’t until after I filled out the password reset form that I had landed on that it occurred to me I should have at least tried logging into my Skype account to see if anything was amiss.
Logged in fine. No problems here. Everything is as I left it.
Like I said… idiot.
Luckily, in the “payment method” field of the counterfeit form, I clicked the “PayPal” option and did not give any credit card information. I’m pretty sure that if I did, I’d be several thousand dollars in debt to some Russian casino or something by now. I changed the passwords on both my Skype and Microsoft accounts just to be safe, printed out some new account recovery codes… basically did everything I could do to protect myself from my own blunder.
Sure enough, this morning I got the “we need more information in order to release your account” email from an address that looks somewhat less legit than the original one. Fool me twice, right? To be certain, I logged into my Skype account again and found everything as it should be.
So remember everyone, if an email concerns you that one of your online accounts might have been hacked, check the account first, don’t click any of the links in the email, and only use customer service forms you access securely through the company’s site itself.
If you do manage to pull a bonehead move like I did, change your passwords to your accounts, including any linked accounts. Also be sure you’re not using the same password for your email address that you use for your bank or Facebook or anything else.
And if, like me, you’re still concerned that someone is trying to mess with your digital life, identity theft insurance is cheap and widely available. You may even be able to get it as an add-on to your homeowner’s policy.
That’s my public service announcement for the day. Have fun, Netizens, and be careful out there.