Musical Delights

There’s a lot of music out there, so much that you can’t keep track of it and invariably miss out on most of it. I wanted to take this space to shout out a few artists who’ve recently released music I’ve found inspiring. Almost all these artists are people I know personally, but I’m not here to blow smoke up my friends’ asses. I just have good taste in music and in friends, that’s all. Maybe this will be a series, I dunno. But I enjoy these and I hope you do too.

Sheenah Ko

Photo: Vivien Gaumand

I’ve said it before, but Sheenah is a ray of sunshine cutting through the grumpy, cynical miasma of the Montreal music scene.
File under: Mellow synth grooves spreading good vibes.

Julien Beillard

Some of you may recall that I wrote a book a few years ago on Ottawa indie rock pioneers Wooden Stars. When I interviewed singer/guitarist Julien Beillard for the book, he professed to being basically done with making music, so I was very pleasantly surprised to hear that he was recording again. And the result—produced by his longtime collaborator Geoffrey Pye (Yellow Jacket Avenger) and even featuring a Mike Feuerstack lap steel cameo for all y’all Wooden Stars completists—doesn’t disappoint.
File under: Heavy-duty songwriting interlaced with some noisy explorations. 

Triples

I’ve known these young sisters since they were little kids, and I’m thrilled to see them making such cool music. I watched the Kurt Cobain documentary the other day (verdict: OK—be sure to take it with a grain of salt, or Buzz Osborne’s review) and I couldn’t help but think, certainly not for the first time, about the horrible influence that Seattle grunge had on mainstream rock. If false grunge is best embodied by Nickelback and its ilk, and its platonic ideal personified in the Melvins, Triples represents its long-neglected sweet side.
File under: Heavy riffs, nice melodies, and introspective lyrics.

feu doux

Stéphane Lafleur is not only a cool musicien (Avec pas d’casque), but one of Quebec’s most interesting filmmakers (Continental, Tu dors Nicole). As an occasional filmmaker myself, I have a special jealousy for people who make music and film (especially when they’re actually good at both). This project is a collaboration with longtime WP friend and collaborator Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux (Organ Mood, Chocolat, Rock Forest) and it’s really great.
File under: Eerie and exciting, ambient soundscapes with meat on the bone.

Enabler – 10th anniversary edition

enabler_cover

Ten years ago this week, my album Enabler was released on Ta-Da Records. I’d self-released The Elements of Style a few years previous, but this was my “official” debut on a label. Though the label has since gone into a coma, I will always be grateful to Patti Schmidt and Jeff Waye for believing in my music and wanting to share it with the world.

To mark the occasion, I’ve put together a digital reissue on the WP Bandcamp page including a few bonus tracks from the vaults: a couple that were on Deep Inside The World Provider, a mini-CD EP that I put out in 2003, a couple of alternate versions of Enabler tunes, and a remix.

Enabler definitely has a special place in my heart, bringing on a nostalgic feeling for a time when I was definitely more innocent about the music business, the vagaries of trends, and so on.

The album was recorded and mixed by Jace Lasek at the old Breakglass Studio in downtown Montreal. The wood panelling and low lighting of the 70s-era studio, which reminded me of my grandparents’ suburban basement, was like a comforting womb. We recorded on and off for over a year, whenever I could scrape together the funds. A bunch of friends and family dropped by to contribute their talents, including my brother Nick Fraser, Bitch Lap Lap (who still prefers to be credited by that name on this particular collaboration) and Michael Feuerstack.

Press pic from the Enabler era.
Press pic from the Enabler era.

I remember agonizing over whether the “rock” tunes would fit with the “lo-fi electro-pop” tunes, and I actually considered splitting the recordings off into two projects. I still occasionally wonder if that would have been better from a marketing standpoint, since putting them together condemned the WP to a grey area between genres.
I grew up in the 80s, and rock songs with synths have always seemed normal to me. But if I’m honest, then as now I was not a prolific writer, and I knew it would take me ages to come up with enough songs for one album per project. Even as is, Enabler clocks in at just under 20 minutes!

I remember that when I sent the mixes around to some friends to get feedback, Mocky suggested that I re-record any vocals that were less than perfect. I dismissed the suggestion out of hand—I couldn’t bear (or probably afford) to go back into the studio yet again—but today, the occasionally off-key and/or mumble-mouthed vocals definitely stand out as a flaw.

But I love the innocent energy of the album, and it has a number of tunes that are still audience faves to this day.

Finally, I know no one cares about CDs anymore, but I must note that the CD version has some pretty amazing artwork by Lee Towndrow and Philippe Blanchard.

Check it out… hope you enjoy.

And forgive me this bit of wallowing in the past. I just got the mixes of the newest WP material and I’m currently scheming up the best way to get it out to the public as soon as possible… so stay tuned.

 

Top Shows of 2013

It was a slow year for the WP—only three shows all year, what with me being caught up with my book and the Lion Farm EP—but as a spectator, it was a pretty good year for live music in my life. Here are a few highlights…

Baked Goods
L’Escogriffe, January 4

IMG_1299

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I organized a benefit for WFMU at the beginning of the year, and this band was recommended by a friend. Through pure luck of the draw they had to play last on the bill, but they totally owned the “headlining” slot. Their recorded music is fun, lo-fi rock n’ roll, but their live show brings it up several notches with the almost Shaggs-like self-taught feel of the all-girl band and frontman Luke Ellington’s latent swagger. Definitely one of my favourite Montreal bands of the moment.

 

Michael Feuerstack
Le Cagibi, March 14

I spent the year writing a book about Mike’s old band the Wooden Stars, which filled me with bittersweet nostalgia, so it was inspiring to see him making music that’s better than ever. At this show he played a bunch of new songs from Tambourine Death Bed, an album that’s been in heavy rotation chez nous this year. I don’t have much to say about the show except that Mike is an amazing songwriter, singer and guitarist, and he had the Cagibi audience spellbound.


Isaiah Ceccarelli

Église St-John the Redeemer, April 13

I knew Isaiah through some friends, and he had played drums for Gordon Thomas at one of the shows we set up in Montreal. So I knew he was a great jazz drummer, I but wasn’t as familiar with his work as a composer. Upon showing up at the Red Roof Church to see him and an ensemble play his piece Toute clarté m’est obscure, I read the composer’s statement in the program and immediately braced myself for an evening of difficult, alienating music. Isaiah’s love of obscure words and flowery French phrases made the text overwhelming, and his rant about how contemporary audiences want superficial entertainment instead of complex art was a bit much (it’s not that I even disagree necessarily, I just find the debate a bit tired). I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

Then when the music began, I was totally swept up. It was a beautifully minimal and subtle piece using drones, drawn-out notes and silence (the church was so quiet that even shifting in my seat caused an uncomfortably loud interruption). I was blown away, and the rest of the audience was too. It’s very rare for “contemporary” music to hit me on a gut level in this way, so it was even more of a pleasant surprise.


Drumheller

Resonance Café, June 25

IMG_1612Yes, it’s true that this band features my brother Nick Fraser. But that’s not why I’m including them on this list. My brother is one of the best musicians I’ve ever heard, if not the best, but he mostly plays free jazz. And a lot of free jazz, for me, is like your parents having sex—it’s great that it happens, but you don’t want to see or hear it.

Anyway, Drumheller is my favourite project of his, and this show, their first in Montreal for a good while, was killer. The venue, sweet new space Résonance Café, has a piano, and the songs where Doug Tielli played it were just beautifuli. Eric Chenaux’s guitar solo on the very last tune had my jaw grazing the floor.

(I would also include my brother’s CD release show at Casa on September 7 with his quartet featuring Tony Malaby… it was amazing too, but there’s only so many fraternal shout-outs I can make on one list.)


Pere Ubu

Cabaret Mile End, September 17

Before this show, I’d seen Pere Ubu three times. In 1992, I saw them in Ottawa opening for the Pixies (and absolutely blowing the headliners off the stage). In ’94, I saw them in Toronto, where David Thomas threw a huge diva fit onstage about not having a straight mic stand (a position I can now identify with)—he responded, counterintuitively, by duct-taping a chair to his mic stand all while singing a song. And a few years back, I caught them at Pop Montreal, where Thomas somewhat alarmingly got wasted onstage with Robert Pollard-like abandon, swigging from a bottle of cognac he kept in the pocket of his Bogart-esque trenchcoat.

This time, I walked into Cabaret Mile End to an audience of less than 100 people. I couldn’t believe such a legendary band would get such a poor turnout. And I was distressed to see that the no-name opener I’d arrived in time to skip was Thomas himself doing a solo electronic performance, which was just wrapping up as I arrived. He looked his age, and none too pleased about the miserable attendance.

When the band hit the stage a little later, with a few more audience members having trickled in, Thomas started the show with a several-minutes-long monologue about how the band is so huge that they play stadiums all over the world but, like the Stones, every once in a while have to return to their roots by playing small club shows. It cut right through the tension and let us all relax a bit.

Then the band tore into a great set spanning their whole career. Thomas sat in a chair the whole time, but was animated and sang passionately. Biting the hand that feeds him, he mocked the audience’s composition of mostly old guys. But a few young kids were in the front. I kept wondering what they thought of this spectacle. Did it just seem like a bunch of old weirdos onstage? Or did they worry, as I sometimes do, that their own best song might not be as good as Pere Ubu’s worst?


Sparks

Le National, November 1

IMG_1798This was another show that demonstrated the turning tide of audience taste. When I showed up at Le National, the room was barely half full for these underground legends, who hadn’t played Montreal since the early 80s. By the time the Mael brothers hit the stage, the room had filled up to a half-decent level. But the crowd quickly showed itself to be one of quality, if not quantity. The Maels’ genuine delight at the crowd’s enthusiasm was one of the best parts of the show.

The show itself was bold: though the light show was arena-worthy, the performance was just the two brothers, keyboard and vocals; no backing tracks, even on the electro-disco bangers from the Number One in Heaven era, which they performed in the encore. Russel Mael’s voice was still in top form, while Ron had the crowd pulling out their phones as if witnessing a miracle when he took the mic during one of their newer numbers, an excerpt from their opera about Ingmar Bergman. That rare sight was followed by a bit of intriguing news: that the Maels will be collaborating with Canadian film weirdo Guy Maddin on a film adaptation of a Bergman opera.

All that aside, it was inspiring to see a band still staying totally original four decades on. How they pull it off financially, I have no idea (I can only imagine that they must be independently wealthy), but it was inspirational all the same.

Other great shows: The Lonesome Organist and Laura Barrett renewing my musical faith at the One Man Band Festival; Nicole Lizée’s Sask Power at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival; Ben Reimer and co., also playing the music of Nicky Lizée, at Sala Rossa; punk nerds Pissed Jeans tearing up Il Motore, Corpusse utterly destroying Brasserie Beaubien with Les momies de Palerme’s Xarah Dion in the Lorenz Peter role, and one of my guiltiest pop pleasures, Sloan, doing their Twice Removed show at the Phoenix in Toronto.