Archive for July, 2009

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #6

July 30, 2009

1369 bldg

Day 6 of the road trip: Toronto, ON to Cambridge, MA!

Okay, so now it’s your turn. What songs remind you of Boston? I wrote about several when I was in town last December, but I’m sure that, if you’re reading this, you have some great suggestions to make. Please respond in the comments!

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #5

July 29, 2009

Day 5: Sault Ste Marie, ON to Toronto, ON

Okay, after the fourteen-hour  Kenora-Sault Ste Marie drive, I’m a bit too braindead to say anything clever about my hometown of Toronto. The video is for “Songtario,” by Henry & Clare (thanks, @kimblem!). And Broken Social Scene is a pretty good representation of the Toronto indie music scene, since the collective contains practically everyone anyway, and I imagine my choice of BSS song is pretty self-explanatory.

MP3: Broken Social Scene – Canada vs. America [buy]

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #4

July 28, 2009

Lake of the Woods

Day 4 of the road trip: Kenora, ON to Sault Ste Marie, ON

Going even further afield than is usual for z=z for a brief lesson in physical geography, try this: Go to Google Maps and centre the map around the eastern half of Canada (Hudson Bay should be in the middle). Notice that Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, the northern half of Saskatchewan and Nunavut are all liberally laced with blue? Now switch to ‘terrain’ view – see how all of this is a darker green than the south? This is the Canadian Shield, created during the Pleistocene when glaciation scraped it down to the 4.5 billion year old bedrock. Pockets in the newly-exposed granite filled up with rainwater to create hundreds of thousands of lakes; so many that when you fly over it, you can’t tell whether you are looking at lakes or islands. Today’s drive, along the north shore of Lake Superior, is in the heart of this geological region.

All of this is really by way of preamble to introduce Montreal’s Besnard Lakes, which is named after one of these glacial bodies of water.

MP3: The Besnard Lakes – Devastation [buy]

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #3

July 27, 2009

the hip

Day 3 of the road trip: Swift Current, SK to Kenora, ON

…which means crossing the Hundredth Meridian and heading through Winnipeg, the hometown of z=z fave The Weakerthans, who played a great set at Neumos in Seattle last Saturday night. The MP3 below is their backhanded paean to that city, from 2003′s Reconstruction Site. The picture above is of The Tragically Hip; if you click through it, you’ll get to the video of their classic track “At the Hundredth Meridian.”

MP3:The Weakerthans – One Great City! [buy]

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Read: Goodbye 20th Century, David Browne

July 27, 2009

I learned two important things from David Browne‘s excellent biography of Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century.

The first  is exactly how much ass Kim Gordon kicks. Seriously. What an incredible trailblazer, and by all accounts, she still radiates cool. Not bad for someone who has five years on Madonna.

The second thing I learned is a little less obvious. The first half of the book is a detailed exploration of the early years of Sonic Youth, and by extension the whole 1980s New York art/music scene. It’s clear that Browne put an enormous amount of research into creating this portrait. But I thought that one of  the most striking aspects of the Sonic Youth story was the unremarked-upon juxtaposition of two threads. One is that Sonic Youth collaborated with everyone. They reached out to all the artists they knew (of whatever medium) for artwork, videos, and more, and the book is liberally salted with now-familiar names. For example, for their 1990 album Goo, has a Raymond Pettibon illustration for the cover, and official and unofficial videos were made by or with photographer Richard Kern, artist Tony Oursler, actor Sofia Coppola and director Todd Haynes. The second thread is  how, in several places, Browne comments on ‘unlikely coincidences,’ usually in the context of the band having a useful personal connection through friends or collaborators. It seems highly likely that these two threads are related. An enormous amount has changed in the music world in the three decades since Sonic Youth got their start. But in a world where all music and art is only a click away, I suspect that the importance of developing relationships by contributing to your community has, if anything, only increased.

You can read some reviews of the book here and here. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in music or other creative endeavours, even if you don’t consider yourself a committed Sonic Youth fan (I’m not, and I really enjoyed the book). Goodbye 20th Century is at Amazon, and I also have one free copy of the trade paperback to give away. Just e-mail or message me before 12 noon Eastern on Wednesday, July 29th if you’re interested, and I’ll pick someone at random from the responses and put the book in the post for you.

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #2

July 26, 2009

Day 2 of the road trip: Revelstoke, BC to Swift Current, SK

Today’s Canadian indie song is “Your Rocky Spine” by Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers, featuring the quintessentially Canadian metaphor of geography, from their 2007 album Ongiara. It’s my song du jour as I cross over the Canadian Rockies and enter the Prairies. Great Lake Swimmers have a Polaris-Prize-nominated new album out, Lost Channels, and the video above is for the new single, “Pulling on a Line.”

MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine [buy]

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Off-topic: Cross-Canada road trip #1

July 25, 2009

Day 1 of the road trip: Seattle, WA to Revelstoke, BC

Despite heading inland and therefore bypassing Vancouver, I thought I would share this track from Lotusland’s The Awkward Stage. Frontman Shane Nelken is part of the extended New Pornographers collective, having played piano on AC Newman’s The Slow Wonder and collaborated on Dan Bejar and Blaine Thurier side project. The Awkward Stage has a brand-new album out, Slimming Mirrors, Flattering Lights, but this is the title (and my favourite) track from their 2006 debut. But the video above is for a new track, “Mini Skirt of Xmas Lights.”

MP3: The Awkward Stage – Heaven Is For Easy Girls [buy]

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….aaaand, we’re back! (kind of)

July 24, 2009

Apologies to our loyal readerszed equals zee‘s crack blogging team got kind of hammered by work responsibilities (and I am now increasingly in awe of Michael Epstein of The Motion Sick).

We won’t be back to our full schedule until August, but we will be posting over the coming week as z=z headquarters relocate back to Boston – if you’re a longtime reader, you may recall our move out west. As we’ll be doing it as an epic cross-Canada trek, stay tuned for a special week focusing on independent Canadian music. Finally, I’ve been sitting on this great bio of Sonic Youth and I have a copy of it to give away, so keep an eye out for that (and I’ll do my best to mail it from some hamlet in the middle of the Great White North).

Finally, we’re planning another  zed equals zee happy hour in August, and we look forward to seeing you there!

Not enough z=z for you? You can  follow debcha on Twitter for tidbits of music news, as well as snapshots from across Canada and assorted nerdiness.

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Watch: Holy Fuck on City Sonic

July 17, 2009

The most recent entry in the City Sonic video project feature Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck on Toronto, and specifically about Sneaky Dee’s, the divey Mexican restaurant and indie music venue that is probably (or about to be) most famous to non-Torontonians as the backdrop to climactic scenes in the comic book Scott Pilgrim.

More Holy Fuck on z=z.

MP3: Holy Fuck – Super Inuit

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New Mission of Burma single, whoo!

July 13, 2009

MoB SSL

Matador Records just posted a single from the upcoming album by Boston musical heroes Mission of Burma. The Sound the Speed the Light, is scheduled for release on October 6th. If this single, “1, 2, 3, Partyy!!” is any indication, it’ll be a worthy successor to The Obliterati (which came out in 2006). Check it out yourself.

In case you missed it, Mission of Burma blogged the making of this album in March 2009 and you can read the posts at their site.

More info and album preorder.

MoB at z=z.

MP3: Mission of Burma – 1, 2, 3, Partyy!

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Coverage: Amanda Palmer, “Billie Jean”

July 6, 2009

Guest blogger Scott writes:

It’s always a little weird when famous people die. The level of emotional outpouring from people who have attached a piece of themselves to this person they’ve never met is somewhat foreign to me. But it’s different when I can see the specific ways in which someone benefited from the celebrity’s existence. Just as the death of a president hits me, even when I didn’t follow their politics or particularly like them, musicians have responded to the death of Michael Jackson in a way that I can understand, if not relate to. I’ve heard a lot of stirring tribute songs (in the truest sense of the term) over the past few days, including several from singers who had performed with Jackson, but the one I’ve liked best is this Amanda Palmer cover of Billie Jean, as much for the monologue that precedes it as for the song itself. It’s the raw form of what music means to people who music means something to.

[Scott also mentioned that he was really hoping for an Amanda Palmer cover of "Thriller," with Neil Gaiman doing the Vincent Price monologue, and I'll happily second that. And he also warns that there is a girl 'hooting enthusiastically' in the MP3; you may wish to watch the video, above, instead.]

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)

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Listen local: The Franklin Kite

July 4, 2009

FK Batt Expl

Cambridge, MA’s The Franklin Kite (whose principal, Ryan Hickox, is a charter member of the z=z Overeducated Musicians Club) have finally, finally released a new EP, Explosions and Batteries. To celebrate, they’ll be throwing a release party at the Middle East Upstairs on July 6th (yes, it’s a Monday, but you should be well-rested from the long weekend). Go check out their electronica-tinged indie rock goodness. They’ll be sharing their night with Brooklyn electropop darlings Red Wire Black Wire.

MP3: Franklin Kite – Antoinette [buy]

MP3: Red Wire Black Wire – Compass [buy]

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Read: Fans, Friends and Followers

July 2, 2009

FFF cover

Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age is a new e-book by Cambridge-based Scott Kirsner. He’s been writing, speaking, and connecting people involved in the uptake and spread of innovations for many years, including a column in the Boston Globe (together with its  companion blog), and he also writes regularly on music and technology for Variety.

Fans, Friends and Followers focuses on creators and artists that are thriving in the age of digital distribution, and what can be learned from them. While there are framing chapters which pull out some of the important themes, the heart of the book is a series of creator interviews, which are fascinating reads, showcasing as they do the wide variety of stories, approaches and goals of the artists. These case studies span a wide range of fields, including documentary filmmaker Curt Ellis, comedian and writer Eugene Mirman, and zed equals zee fave Jonathan Coulton.

Scott Kirsner was kind enough to answer some questions about the book for zed equals zee:

So, one of the themes that I took from the book is the ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach – that there is a diversity of ways to use the Internet to share your creative efforts. Anything that you think is an absolute necessity? Anything that you would recommend against?

One thing that’s a necessity: carving out the time and the energy to spend cultivating your fan base, and communicating with fans. There should definitely be a dedicated person in any band who’s responsible for audience-building (that’s a term I like better than “marketing”), or maybe someone you know who isn’t in the band but really understands the Web and social media well. I think in the 20th century, your label took care of all that stuff. In the 21st century, it’s your responsibility. One thing I recommend against is building a super-fancy, expensive, Flash-heavy Web site that no one can update except for the original designer. I can’t tell you how many bands do that — and the result is that fans visit your Web site once or twice, but never come back because it never changes. (And people assume that because your last gig listed is in 2007 that you must have broken up!) Even if you have a bare-bones MySpace page or blog, it’s better to have something you can continually add content to than something better-looking that stays static.

Another of the themes is what I call ‘hookers and taxicabs, not limos and supermodels,‘ after the scene in the movie Hard Core Logo – that the age of the gigantic arena-filling star may be over. What do you think the biggest a native-to-the-Internet artist can get? Do you think that the definition of success has changed, and if so, how?

I do think we’ll eventually see Internet-driven artists playing arenas and stadiums. Today, there are lots who are playing pretty big clubs or opening in bigger venues. To me, the definition of success is making a living without having to work a day job, and more importantly, making the kind of music you want to make — contributing something unique to the world — rather than compromising your vision. All of the artists I interview in Fans, Friends & Followers are doing that. Few are jillionaires (yet), but most have more creative freedom than artists who are signed to labels, which is really important.

On a related note…while I’m happy about seeing entertainment dollars go to more artists, do you think that the pie can be sliced too thin? Do you think it’s harder or easier for an individual artist to make a living?

I think it’s getting easier for individual artists to make a living, and perhaps harder for artists to wind up on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people. But to me, there’s a cultural and societal benefit to having more people (rather than fewer) earning a living making music or movies, writing books, or engaging in any kind of artistic endeavor.  [debcha's note: Sing it, brother!]

What was the most unlikely or counterintuitive story in your book or from your research?

One of the bands I use as a case study is OK Go. I love the fact that their homemade videos for “Here It Goes Again” (featuring them dancing on treadmills) and “A Million Ways” (featuring them dancing in someone’s backyard) have probably been seen by more people on YouTube than any videos their label made for them. And those videos basically had no budget at all — just the cost of a videotape. Damian Kulash, OK Go’s lead singer, told me that their online success really has built their reputation globally much more than anything their label has done. When they went to Taiwan, a country where their record hadn’t been released, they were headliners. In Korea, where they opened for the Chemical Brothers, thousands of people knew the words to all of their songs. What made the videos successful, Kulash says in the book, were that “they didn’t bear the stamps of this kind of top-down marketing push. They were very clearly homemade.” (Though eventually they were shown on MTV.)

There are a number of visual artists interviewed in Fans, Friends and Followers. Unlike music and video, which are considered to be low culture, success in art has been more about critical approbation (inclusion in curated shows or collections) rather than about popular appeal. Do you think that the art world is changing in response to the rise of the Internet? If so, how?

I think there are two groups of artists today (and maybe there have always been.) Those who want acceptance by the art establishment probably are finding that the Internet doesn’t really help them much. But those who want to make a living — whether you are a fine artist, graphic designer, cartoonist, or illustrator — can be hugely helped by understanding digital tools and strategies. I do believe the Web will help launch the next Keith Haring or Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I think the art establishment is going to have to pay attention to that.

Any final thoughts?

I think there’s a pendulum shift happening that everyone has to acknowledge, whether you’re a writer or indie filmmaker or musician. In the old world, you could spend 90 percent of your time on your creative work, and just 10 percent promoting it. In the new world, I think the split is going to be more like 70/30, or even 60/40. Rather than gritting your teeth or complaining about the time it takes to cultivate a fan base, I think the best approach is to figure out how to make the marketing and promotion part of your art — don’t feel like you’re selling out somehow — and enjoy it. Artists like Andy Warhol and Frank Zappa and David Bowie and Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway were (and are) all great self-promoters, too.

Check out a 35-page preview of Fans, Friends and Followers here, or buy the full book here. Also, check out (or contribute to) this wiki, which collects all the online tools listed in the book and more.

MP3: OK Go – Letterbox (They Might Be Giants cover) [buy]

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