Saturday, April 23, 2011


Not, as the title might lead you to believe, a post about failed romances (although in some ways it is), but rather a reminder, out of the blue, of two CDs I lost and that I doubt I will ever be able to find again. As I've said before to numerous people, my only major regret in life involves a deep sea fishing trip in Prince Edward Island c.1998 that I didn't go on, but the loss of these two CDs is definitely high up on my minor regrets list. I will at some point do a post explaining the difference between the two (and believe me, there is a difference).

My first girlfriend (all the way back at the start of high school) gave me a CD that she liked but didn't love. She figured I would like it because I like "weird" music (I think that was her exact phrase), and she was correct. It was a CD called 13Avril by a relatively obscure Canadian band called Zoebliss (I'm not sure they ever played a show outside of the GTA and I doubt they ever had a song on the radio). In the interest of full disclosure: yes, Zoebliss played Lilith Fair at least once.

Now, during the course of our torrid (ha!) relationship, Zoebliss released a second CD, For the Beauty of Ruins, and my then-girlfriend got it for me as a Valentine's Day present. Their second album is a better album as a whole (13Avril kind of loses some steam in the middle), and it features another take on the best song from 13Avril, a pretty harrowing ballad called "I Remember." The second version of "I Remember" was not quite as good as the original (there is a beautiful violin solo in the original that didn't make it into the second version, and where the first is largely a pretty intimate folk song, the second is a bit more rocking), but there are some great songs on For the Beauty of Ruins: "Sleeping in Hollow Trees," "Jar of Nickels," and "Nazca" are the ones that come back to me now. Needless to say it was a pretty awesome present to get from your first girlfriend (especially one that you managed to get despite being in the top three in terms of dorkiness in your grade).

In true high school romance fashion we split up pretty soon after that, and though we remained on mostly friendly terms, we didn't really talk that much for the rest of high school. I spent hours trying to figure out the chorus to "Nazca" and, in the end, I emailed the band to ask. One half of the songwriting team (the male not the female, unfortunately. I, as befit my dorkiness, had a hopeless crush on the female singer based on the music and the two pictures of her in the CD booklets) answered and told me, in addition to the lyrics in the chorus, that the band had split up, too.* I continued to play the two Zoebliss albums a lot and to talk them up to anyone who would listen. Eventually, I lent 13Avril to a friend. He never returned the CD, despite my (increasingly frantic) attempts to get it back from him. The last time I heard the original version of "I Remember" was in 2002.

I still had For the Beauty of Ruins and continued to love that CD up until the end of high school. What happened at the end of high school, you ask? Well, gentle reader, former-first-girlfriend-now-just-kind-of-girl-I-know and I took the same math class. We sat next to each other and ended up working on our final project together. At some point during the semester, she asked me to borrow For the Beauty of Ruins because she'd never ended up hearing it while we were dating. I said yes and, of course, I never saw the CD again. We've spoken once since the end of high school; she went to the same university as my best friend and we ran into her in the mall while Christmas shopping. Our encounter was brief and awkward. I didn't ask for the CD back.

So where does this story leave me? Down a girlfriend and two CDs. There is (not surprisingly) a dearth of information about Zoebliss on the internet. Their CDs are, as far as I can tell as this point, non-existent. None of the band members became famous or anything like that, so there's no call to reissue their CDs. CBC Radio 3 will let you stream For the Beauty of Ruins here, though, so that's something I guess.

*In case you were wondering, it's "Erich von Daniken firmly states / You can only see the markings from outer space." I don't recall what I thought it was at this point, but let's just say I was about a million miles away from "Erich von Daniken."

Friday, April 15, 2011


This is just a quick post. I came across this article that Simon Reynolds wrote for Frieze on music criticism, critical theory, and the relationship between the two (as seen through the lens of British music criticism over the past three or four decades). I have a lot that I'd like to say in response, but for now I'll just highlight my favourite passage from the article:
[T]he appeal of theory is precisely its power to intoxicate.  Far from being born of a cold-blooded drive to dissect and demystify, the attraction of critical theory (especially the French kind) was that it set your brain on fire. . . . There was sheer delight in finding (in my case) a passage of Georges Bataille or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari or Paul Virilio that seemed to uncannily fit the Butthole Surfers or Can or the emerging pirate radio sound of jungle.  Theory seemed to provide genuine illumination into qualities and powers possessed by the music. But beyond that the combination of the ideas and the music had a potentiation effect, to use the pharmacological term for when two drugs synergize to create a fiercer buzz. 
I am in complete agreement with Reynolds here. Beyond the fact that the image of a brain on fire is so astonishingly apt in relation to the act of reading critical theory, I find theory intoxicating for precisely the reasons he mentions: that feeling of having your brain set on fire is like a high, and it can be doubly so in conjunction with discussions about music. I've often thought of the work required to "get into" difficult albums is essentially the same kind of work required to understand a lot of theory. What's more, I've found the rewards to be very similar, if not identical, in the two situations. I'll (hopefully) write more on this later, so for now go read Reynolds' article.

I came across Reynolds' article as I did a search for articles on chillwave/glo-fi/hypnagogic pop. I'm hoping to revisit, revise, and expan a piece on chillwave and politics from my blog's former home sometime this summer, and it'll be helpful to see what others have said about the genre.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I imagine this will have several more parts over the coming four years.

Tonight in class we discussed our proposals for our final papers. The proposals were collated by the professor and sent out in advance of the class so that we had a chance to read and comment on them. I found it quite interesting to read through the ideas, although at first I felt that my proposal didn't quite fit in with the general tone of the rest of the class. I drew on my discussion in this entry in crafting my proposal (this blog just proved itself useful!), and it seemed like I was, for the first time, presenting not just an idea for a paper, but an articulation of my scholarly persona and intellectual project.

The format for class tonight was simple: after some introductory remarks from the professor about several common-to-us-as-a-group critical and rhetorical moves to avoid in our writing, we spent about 15 minutes on each student's proposal, offering feedback and asking questions to help the author develop/clarify/strengthen/support his or her ideas. When it was my turn, I was a little nervous. As I said before, my proposal seemed slightly different in terms of presentation, end goal, and framework, and I was worried that I might not get useful feedback because of those differences. I need not have feared on that count, though, as my classmates (and the professor) were quite helpful and very supportive. What I should have feared (and what I quickly became terrified about as I spoke about my idea for the paper) is the nature of my project. As people asked questions and got me to clarify my goals for the paper, my claim seemed to get bolder and bolder and to take on an increasingly polemical tone. I kept thinking “Trying to get this published would be the end of me before I've ever started!” (I know, I'm counting ridiculous numbers of chickens before they hatch). At the break, though, the professor and I spoke briefly about where I was coming from, and the comments were largely positive and motivational: “As you kept talking and the stakes kept getting higher, I became more and more interested in what you're doing. Maybe there's something to be said for just putting your head down and going forward with this.”

I appreciate the support, but I'm still a bit daunted by what I've set up for myself. I guess it was a different experience articulating just what the stakes of my project are from writing the words on a page. As I made my way home on the bus, I wondered if there might be a smaller, easier way to dip my toe into everything before I dove in the deep end. A classmate's paper, though, dealt with arguably an even more difficult (and potentially explosive and controversial) idea with some grace and elegance. The author didn't shy away from the potential for negative reactions to the argument. She understands her scholarly identity and its potential pitfalls, and she's willing to put her head down and go forward with her work. I'm kind of in awe. Perhaps it's just that she's older than me, but I envy her calm and poise when tackling a thorny issue. I don't necessarily agree with her work (nor would I necessarily read novels in the same way that she does), but I appreciate what she's trying to do and why, and I'm glad I could see the way she handled questions about her project. I hope that as I grow into my scholarly skin (now that I seem to be gaining a sense of what that is) I will become more confident and less terrified, because right now I feel terribly unsure and as if I'm inviting doom upon myself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I should be doing oh-so-many other things right now, but lying in bed listening to some music has been so pleasant that I wanted to write on here about listening. Nick Southall (see his blog here) conducted his Music Diary Project last week. Over 100 people officially took part, blogging each day about everything they listened to (intentional or not). He's collecting surveys from the people who participated and will then release whatever findings come out of those surveys. I did not take part in the Music Diary Project (obviously), and that kills me. I kept telling myself I was too busy, too stressed, not in the mood, etc., etc., but really I could have made the time. I find enough ways to waste an hour here or there that taking some time at the end of the day to reflect on what I listened to throughout the day would not be especially taxing. Why didn't I take part, you ask? Oh, gentle reader, if only I knew the answer to that.

Like Southall, I am in many ways more interested in the things I did not choose to listen to when thinking about the question of “What did I listen to today?” I often complain about Starbucks and their music choices—the Christmas music starting in early November, the faux-Celtic music, the maddening frequency of k.d Lang's “Constant Craving”—but I remember a few months ago Starbucks was blaring “At Last” on their outdoor speakers. Suddenly, I didn't care that this was the place I constantly whine about with regard to its music selection and the volume of said music. “At Last” seems magical any time I hear it, and as I walked past Starbucks on my way to the library, the day grew a little brighter and the weather a little warmer.

I went out with a few friends to a pair of bars this past weekend. Both bars had giant video screens and large speakers. To say the music being played was inescapable is an understatement. There was nothing but the music; it was as much a part of our physical environment as the actual walls of the buildings. I did not choose anything we listened to, and, for the most part, I disliked a great deal of what the bars chose to play. The music in those bars constituted my entire listening experience for last Friday, though. Every piece of music I listened on Friday was a song I do not like.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do not necessarily think that was a bad thing. While it certainly would've been more enjoyable had the music being played been things I like, I can't say that I would have paid attention to the music in that case, beyond maybe commenting that I really liked a particular song. I sometimes worry that all music is becoming ambient music. Now, don't get me wrong, I love ambient music (particularly the early stuff Eno did), but not all the time. I don't want all of my music to act as wallpaper (or wall art), to become a part of the physical spaces in which my day plays out and nothing more. I don't want music to be permanently in the background. Perhaps it's related to what researchers are saying about the loss of our deep attention spans as reflected in our changing reading habits, but it seems to me like we're losing our deep listening habits. I'm as guilty as anyone else in that as long as a place is playing relatively inoffensive (or even good) music, I'm content to let it just exist. I don't need to pay the music any mind.

The music in those bars reminded me that music doesn't work that way. I couldn't stop paying attention to the music there. I wanted to talk about it, dissect it, discuss it, critique it. What I didn't want to do was let it just float into the background and become a part of the space in which I was at that moment. Do we let this move into the background by music happen because it is simply exhausting to always listen and think like this? Are we simply bombarded by so much music (in stores, in restaurants, in elevators, in cars, etc., etc.) that it must be placed in the background for our own sanity? I don't really know for sure, but I imagine that's at least part of it.

If I'd done the Music Diary Project, I wonder how much of what I listed would have been by choice and how much would've been forced upon me. Given that I rarely listen to music while I do work and listen to most of my music on my commute to school each day, I have a sneaking suspicion that music I chose to listen to would make up the minority of my list. What to do with the rest of the music I hear each day? Start paying attention, I guess.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I was re-watching some Futurama last night (for the millionth time, it's my fave), and while listening to the commentary (I really, really love their commentaries), I heard an expression from one of the show's writers: “hang a lantern on it.” Apparently this is a writing term that refers to a specific way to solve a plot problem (particularly one that stems from faulty logic): call attention to that problem in order to suggest it is intentional (like hanging a lantern on a piece of furniture that doesn't go with a room's decor, I guess? I don't know anything about decorating, so I don't quite follow the analogy). Futurama commentaries are great for little bits of trivia like this, and the writers often tell quite interesting anecdotes about how the storyline for a particular episode came to be. For example, David X. Cohen, one of the show's executive producers and the writer of quite a few episodes, mentions during the commentary for an episode that the false ending for that show came about by imagining a storyline that was “just one notch” below the quality of the rest of the series. They were then able to use the “good” storyline to resolve the questions raised by the “bad” storyline.

Anyway, the point is that the phrase “hang a lantern on it” caught my ear—I do like the sound of it—and I did a little poking around on the internet to find out more. This site goes into great detail about the practice and its motivations, but it doesn't mention the part I'm interested in: where did the phrase come from? I'm assuming, of course, that all phrases like this have a literal first embodiment, but hey, it's true about “It was a dark and stormy night,” so why not for this one? I have a particular interest/fascination with this idea of the literal origin of phrases like “hang a lantern on it” after I was told that idea of a “cliché” comes from typesetting, where it referred to commonly used phrases cast as blocks of words rather than as individual letters in order to save time. So, where did “hang a lantern on it” come from? Anyone? Bueller?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Atlas Sound - "Quarantined"

I'm a big fan of Deerhunter (though I've largely been left cold by their past two major releases, Rainwater Cassette Exchange and Halcyon Digest) and of Bradford Cox's Atlas Sound project. Perhaps I should amend that clause to say “In theory, I'm a big fan. . .”. I really do love Deerhunter's Microcastle and their Fluorescent Grey EP (their finest release, in my mind). I like Cryptograms a great deal. Atlas Sound's second album, Logos, is pretty good. The conceptual ideas behind Bradford Cox's music, both in Deerhunter and as Atlas Sound, are even more intriguing to me than the music he's so far produced, though. I can't say that I particularly enjoy listening to Let The Blind Lead Those Who See But Cannot Feel, Atlas Sound's first album, nor can I say that I think Deerhunter is moving in an interesting direction aesthetically. “Quarantined” is, in my opinion, the best song Bradford Cox has ever written, and it points to everything I want both Deerhunter and Atlas Sound to be, at the same time that both projects seem to be abandoning (or at least massively downplaying) the style that brought me to them in the first place.

Like most of Bradford Cox's songs, there's not much in the way of lyrics to “Quarantined.” The same few lines are repeated over and over again with various changes to the phrasing. It's those changes, though, and the way that Cox uses them to tease out over the course of an entire song all the different emotional shadings in the relatively simple lines “Quarantined and kept so far away from my friends” and “I'm waiting to be changed” that I find so enthralling. The music surrounding him is both delicate (layers of bells, mbira, and pillowy synth pads) and propulsive (a driving bassline, upfront and muscular drums), and the balance between the two adds emotional weight, even as Cox's voice turns to weightless sighs and heads skyward. Where much of Atlas Sound and Deerhunter tends to fall into either the delicate or the propulsive end of the spectrum, Cox's pitch-perfect ability to balance the two on “Quarantined” is what started my interest in his music.

That nothing else he's done is quite able to match up to this song shouldn't be surprising (“Walkabout” on Logos feels to me like a self-conscious attempt to repeat the successes of “Quarantined,” but its forced air of whimsy buries it. Noah Lennox of Animal Collective guests on the song, and I have the same problem with the majority of his band's music). On an album that disappears inside of its own dreamy reflections far too often, Cox turns one of its most personal lyrics into a plea for connection and metamorphosis that nails the really painful and ambiguous feelings of growing up. A lot of Cox's music traffics in nostalgia—indeed, it's easy to understood the mutual admiration flowing between Cox and Animal Collective—and when it succeeds, I think it's not so much because it inspires nostalgia in the listener (how many people are really nostalgic for the pain and confusion of growing up?), but because it uses nostalgia as a window through which Cox can talk about connection, hope, and love.

The sound of “Quarantined” has always made me think of crystals, and I think it's an apt image: the song captures a moment of crystallization, a point at which the need for connection and the desire to seek that connection with others comes into being. In this way, “Quarantined” strikes me as the inverse of my first Seconds entry about Bark Psychosis' “The Black Meat.” Where that song always seems to dissolve, “Quarantined” wills itself into tangibility. It forces you to hope and believe in the possibility of connection because of the fierceness of its desire for connection. In a catalogue full of songs in which people fail to communicate or connect, “Quarantined” serves as a beacon of light and hope.