All posts by Dylan


The Wee Hours – June 8th to 13th, 2015

Here’s my thoughts on what I listened to in the car this week:

Monday June 8th: The Lowest of the Low – Hallucigenia. This wasn’t really the album by the band that I intended to share with you at the start of the week, but when I got into the car, I had forgotten that Mum brought the other one upstairs with her, so you get this one. I’ll do the other one tomorrow. This is the second album by the band, and comparatively a sophomore slump album, though I’ll put this one against lots of other excellent albums and still be satisifed with it. If you love the Weakerthans, you will probably love the Lowest of the Low; the former cites the latter as a major influence, and it shows. Standouts are “Gamble“, for some really effective uses of feedback and the bass guitar, “Beer, Graffiti Walls“, for great lyrics and self-aware self-mockery (and the line: “It seems to me that life is like a shit sandwich / ’cause the more bread you got, the less shit you have to eat”). “Penedono’s Hand” continues in the Spanish Civil War era vein opened in the previous album (which I’ll be talking about more over the next couple nights). All in all, it’s a fascinating album, and one worth listening to, but it’s ultimately not where you should start with the Lowest of the Low. Tomorrow, Shakespeare My Butt.

Tuesday June 9th: The Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt. Wikipedia notes, “At the time of its release, the album briefly became the best-selling independent release in Canadian history, although it was eclipsed later the same year by Barenaked Ladies’ The Yellow Tape,” which is probably one of the saddest sentences I’ve read lately (sorry Jess). For me personally, I’ve listened to this album so many times I could probably play the entire thing in my head without the benefit of any actual audio equipment; it’s one of my personal favourites. The album is at its strongest where the music best supports Ron Hawkins’ evocative lyrics. “So Long Bernie (unfortunately it’s really hard to find any of their stuff on youtube),” the second piece on the album, evokes the disconnect inherent in learning your neighbour has been a serial killer, opening with the following:

It's like watching murder through your fingers at the theatre 
 It's like finding out Klaus Barbie was your neighbour... only weirder 
 And when I saw you on the tube... 
 With a six-foot cop on either side of you... 
 That's when I knew

I think Hawkins’ greatest strength as a lyricist is finding particularly interesting metaphors, which, while maybe not the highest form of poetry, evoke very distinct, clear images. “Subversives,” defines a particular feeling of love with the words, “There’s something subversive about you and me / ‘Cause there’s a market-value on love and we’re getting something for free.” There’s a lot of storytelling on the album too. “The Hand Of Magdelena” is a story of star-crossed lovers in the Spanish Civil War (that’s the second time it’s come up with this band, actually). Then there’s “Letter From Bilbao,” which is also about Spain, but I will cover in incredible depth tomorrow.

Wednesday June 10th: The Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt (con’t). In a first for this blog, I am only going to talk about one song today. “Letter From Bilbao” is one of those songs that I love so dearly I will probably oversell it, so you should listen to it first. There’s a lot going on here, and like any other good piece of art, there’s a lot to unpack, a lot of things that need to be inferred because they’re not explicitly stated. “I’m writing you this letter in desperation, I’m afraid,” he starts, which is foreshadowing the direction whole thing is headed, “And I won’t be back to Linsday for the veterans’ parade.” Lindsay is most likely Lindsay Ontario, which is kind of near Petersborough, and there’s an implication that he’s some sort of veteran, I’m guessing of the Spanish Civil War (again), because of the location, Bilbao, where the narrator got “banged up pretty good,” which is a very intentional understatement. Bilbao is in the Basque region of Spain, one of the areas strong in Republican support, where leftists and others from the west lent their support against Franco and the Nationalists. Not bad for two sentences.

Then we get some delightfully descriptive language; the narrator sings, “I am far too young to feel so old, and far too tired to care / that I took down twenty bastards before they left me lying there.” Big fight, more evidence that he’s a veteran, and more evidence that things are worse than he’s outright saying. We get a good instrumental bridge, and then delve into some  motivation, “When I landed here a year ago, I know that I believed / that it was better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees,” which I think further supports the Spanish Civil War thesis, it seems a very “fighting the good fight against the fascists” sentiment, especially knowing as we do now that the Republicans lost the war. This, though, is when the emotional crescendo that’s been building really starts to crest. “It’s not that I care any less for that philosophy,” the narrator continues, “But I would spend one night with you in trade of all that I’ve achieved.” Taking a turn for the personal and emotional, this is not the missive of a person who’s coming home later.

The next lyrics confirm it, and more than anything else this is the line that always breaks my heart: “I was never much on dreams, and they were never big on me / and I can’t dream my way home from a gravesite by the sea.” Gah. It’s a song I’ve heard so many times it doesn’t quite effect me as it used to, but if I’m caught off-guard by it, I have been known to tear up there. The narrator lurches back to his duty and convictions for a moment (“So I clench my fist, and once more sing the Internationale”), but the last words are personal and direct: “And I’ll say ‘Goodbye, I love you’, because it’s time that I should go.”

I think I love this song because it’s just so dense. There’s so much story and emotion and pathos and everything crammed into about two minutes and five seconds. It’s like a poem that tells you just enough to feel what you need to feel and understand what you need to understand with no extraneous bits at all. Tomorrow, the last part of the album, and then Friday something new.

Thursday June 11th: The Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt (con’t). While I feel that “Letter From Bilbao” is really the climax of the alubm, at least so far as I’m concerned, the denoument has some really good stuff on it too. You’ve got “Under The Carlaw Bridge,” a song about drinking too much and really not having your shit together, only very obviously by somebody from Toronto because he describes only been four blocks from The Only. Then you’ve got “The Taming Of Carolyn,” a slice of life type thing about a woman, which I’m guessing is drawing heavily from people in Hawkins’ life. That gets followed up by a delightfully vicious sort of tirade called, “Gossip Talkin’ Blues,” which eviscerates gossips, and even manages to name-drop the following song with the line, “How do you think that I found out that Henry needs new shoes?” Of course, “Henry Needs A New Pair Of Shoes,” is at its heart about helping those in need directly. After all, “Henry needs new footwear; he doesn’t need a mother.” Overall the entire album is just delightful, even the stuff I didn’t mention by name. It brings me much joy to hear it, and I hope if you listen to it, it brings you joy too.

Friday June 12th: So Young – Try Me. Oh hey, I can’t talk about this now. Stay tuned for a review further down the road.

Saturday June 13th: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs. First, a very happy birthday to my dear mother! Now, last night on facebook I posted this statement:

I listen to a lot of music at night, and I am feeling like none of it quite suits nighttime so perfectly as Tom Waits' "Rain Dogs". Just captures the essence of darkness and nighttime.

There’s a lot to this album, and while I don’t want to stretch this into two nights over two weeks, I’ll probably cover it again at some point in the future. The Wikipedia article for this one, more than any of the ones I’ve done so far, deserves a read. There are some fantastic quotes about working with Tom Waits by the other musicians, but my personal favourite comes from Waits himself, about getting the sounds he wants while eschewing sampling techniques. He said:

If I want a sound, I usually feel better if I've chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it. Most things you can get with a button nowadays. So if I was trying for a certain drum sound, my engineer would say: "Oh, for Christ's sake, why are we wasting our time? Let's just hit this little cup with a stick here, sample something (take a drum sound from another record) and make it bigger in the mix, don't worry about it." I'd say, "No, I would rather go in the bathroom and hit the door with a piece of two-by-four very hard."

This idiosyncratic soundscape infuses the entire album with a sense of realness and presence that’s hard to recreate without hunting and killing the sounds yourself, in Waits’ words. It’s full of off-kilter rhythms, atonal piano, and this sense of a generically exotic location in the trashiest of pulp adventure novels. I resisted that oxymoron for awhile, but really, oxymorons are perhaps the best way describe the album. It’s disjointedly holistic, giving us songs like “Tango ‘Til They’re Sore,” and juxtaposing them with songs like “Hang Down Your Head,” in a way that makes them feel like they both belong.

For best listening, grab a glass of whiskey, wait until about 4:45 in the morning, and let the album finish with the dawn. I’m actually serious, when I was finishing up my route, I was finishing the album, and it was just starting to get bright enough to feel like the day was dawning, and I heard, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” and the sublime serendipity of the timing of this song and the first real light of the day kind of undid me.

Until next week.


The Wee Hours – June 1st to 6th, 2015

My thoughts on what I’ve listened to in the car this week:

Monday June 1st: The Jesus And Mary Chain – Munki. This album is not really what the band is known for, it’s considerably more pop-y than their usual shoegazey wall of sound, but for me it works. It’s pretty long, too; I wasn’t able to listen to the full sixty-nine minutes and change while working tonight, so I guess I’ll definitely be listening tomorrow.  To tackle what I did get through, though, the album opens with “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll“, which is not a cover of Joan Jett’s song of the same title, but is instead a very positive number extolling the positive effects of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Jim Reid’s life.  “Birthday” is another excellent song in a similar vein musically, but the real treasure of the first half of the album is “Moe Tucker,” a shout out to women who rock in general and one of my favourite drummers in particular. Moe Tucker was a fantastic drummer famous for being a significant part of the Velvet Underground, and you should take a quick detour and listen to her song “After Hours” before you head on to my thoughts for tomorrow.

Tuesday June 2nd: The Jesus And Mary Chain – Munki. Key standouts on the second half of the album include, “Cracking Up,” and “I Can’t Find The Time For Times.” True to form for a shoegaze band, there’s a lot that sounds relatively similar, but it’s all really quite good, so I’m not really complaining. “I Can’t Find The Time For Times” in particular has a real negative tone, clearly the crie-de-coeur of somebody who feels they’ve screwed up. If you’re paying careful attention, you might note that the more negative tunes on the album all tend to be by Wiliam Reid, where the more positive ones tend to be by Jim. This album was right before the brothers broke off their band for eight years, and it shows. Mirroring the opening song perfectly is the closing song on the album, “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which reflects William’s frustration and disappointment with the industry up to that point. This one came first; Jim wrote “I Love…” in response to the negativity of this song, but personally, between the two, I prefer “I Hate…”. The energy of it seems more honest, and the music is just a little stronger for it. Wait for the bit where the lyrics reverse, and it becomes, “Rock ‘n’ Roll hates me…”, it’s absolutely the perfect end to an excellent album, my favourite by the band.

Wednesday June 3rd: Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) – Glory Days. There’s no link to the album here because, unless you already have a copy, you can’t get one anymore. After being picked up by Royal Mountain Records, the band is either re-recording the album, or recording a new album with many of the same songs, so the original recording is no longer available. I also intend to review the new album on the podcast when it comes out, so I won’t go too in-depth here now. At its heart, this album is best described as “bro-punk,” even though I feel vaguely like I need a shower just putting those words together. It’s reminiscent of Blink 182, to me: raucus and immature, but still charming in its own way. The whole album is suffused with a very dudebro attitude. Use (and abuse) of alcohol is a theme throughout, best expressed in the song “Road To Victory,” in which the chorus is the repeated phrase: “We’re guys, we don’t cry, we just get drunk.” The language is merciless; in the song “Glory Days,” a generic small town “hero” still living in his highschool glory days is admonished with the words, “If those were your glory days, I’m glad I wasn’t around / If those were your glory days, you must be real shitty now.” It probably doesn’t sound like there’s a lot to recommend this album (unless you’re kind of a dudebro yourself), but the whole thing is tinged with a self-awareness that takes the over-the-top attitude and renders it kind of adorable, rather than irritating.

Thursday June 4th: Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) – Glory Days. I listened to it again, it’s got a fantastic energy to keep a late-night worker going. On the other hand, though, my main disappointment with this album is that, despite its frantic energy, it fails to remotely capture the intensity of the energy that the band has live. Here’s a recording of “Glory Days” again, this time from a live show (and with another number of theirs as well). Even this doesn’t compare to being in that crowd, but it’s a better example of what the band is really like, and I sincerely hope the upcoming release better captures this absolutely insane energy.

Friday June 5th: Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) – Glory Days. Well, congrats to Pkew, this is officially the first album I’ve got stuck on since I started this. It happens now and then, readers, I wouldn’t worry, I’ll snap out of it. One of the things I noted while driving around this morning was that many of the songs are incredibly simple, and they almost all have sections that lend themselves to singing along, even if you don’t really know the words. I think this is a conscious choice. I know Jess doesn’t tend to like stuff she calls “sing-along-y,” but it works fantastically for Pkew, especially in the live show. It serves to draw people at their shows into their energy, who in turn reinforce and strengthen the energy. I’ve said to a few people that Pkew is unlike any live show I’ve really been to, and I really mean it. If they’re playing near you, and you have even a passing appreciation for heavier music, go see them.

Saturday June 7th: Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) – Glory Days. Total cop-out this time. Just using the energy of this record to sustain me through the last workday of the week. Something new on Monday I promise.


The Wee Hours – May 25th to 30th, 2015

My thoughts on what I’ve listened to in the car this week:

Monday May 25th: The Cure – The Head On The Door. It’s been a long time in coming, but this has finally edged its way into the lead as my favourite Cure album, I think. It’s an interesting album, one that is remarkably more than the sum of its parts. It only had two singles (“In Between Days” and “Close To Me”), neither of which were particularly massive compared to songs like “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Friday I’m In Love,” “Love Song,” and others in that vein. As a complete unit though, it is, to me at least, remarkably successful. It manages to fit beautifully in the space between their earlier, harder-edged work, and their later, more-bombastic work like Disintegration and Wish. More about this tomorrow.

Tuesday May 26th: The Cure – The Head On The Door (con’t). As I implied earlier, this album is definitely worth listening to straight through (ideally on vinyl, in the dark, as my Dad would agree), but I need to get into some specifics. Two songs in particular stand out for me; “Six Different Ways,” and the second single “Close To Me.” Latter first, I actually had to do some careful searching for that link, as there are other versions, but this one is specific to Head On The Door (and in my mind, superior to the others). There’s some fantastic horns in this, and it’s potentially the only time I’ve heard breathy gasps that I liked in place of more traditional vocals. The lyrics are quite simple but not without weight; many of the songs are like the album, that is to say, greater than the sum of their parts.

“Six Different Ways” has some shades of what’s to come on Disintegration and Wish, but the big synth and piano theme gives way to some very simple melodies with some slyly deep lyrics. I know the words by heart but even now I only have the vaguest sense of what they might mean. Fantastically, one commenter online said that the lyrics are about telling different stories to journalists about song meanings over and over… and then the following comments say that it’s actually about multiple personalities, another says it’s about a conversation Robert Smith with Simon Gallup about how many ways there are to skin a cat (“It’s definitely six ways”), that it’s about having a revolver held to your head, with six bullets, “Six different ways,” he said, “I’ll tell them anything at all.” So maybe it is about contradictory stories about the meaning of the lyrics. I don’t even know. Great song.

Wednesday May 27th: Pixies – Trompe Le Monde. This album is certainly one of the.. well I was going to say “weirdest” albums by the Pixies, but I hesitate to quantify the weirdness of any recording by a band deeply associated with the phrase “Wave of Mutilation”. It’s certainly out there, though. Way out there. Extraterrestrial, in fact. The whole album is peppered with themes of extraterrestriality, but it’s probably the clearest in the songs “Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons,” a reference to the largest mountain on Mars for anybody not in the know, and “Motorway To Roswell,” the tale of a poor alien who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, being released in 1991, this album had to compete with Nevermind, Metallica’s black album, and Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten, among other things, and never quite got the love I think it deserves. More thoughts on it tomorrow.

Thursday May 28th: Pixies – Trompe Le Monde (con’t). At 15 tracks and only about 30 minutes, there are a lot of short songs on this album, and listening to it is a bit of a whirlwind of sound. The first song, also called Trompe Le Monde, kind of gives you a sense of what you might be in for. The shorter ones are among my favourites, but I’ve always had an appreciation for a song that knows that brevity has a power all its own (see Stella Ella Ola’s I Think We Should Hang Out All The Time for a masterclass in the power of brevity). I don’t want to post links to the whole album on youtube one song at a time, but I’m also a big fan of “Letter to Memphis”, “Distance Equals Rate Times Time”, and “The Navajo Know.” There’s something about how the first song starts and the last song ends that makes it feel, to me, like I came into something after it started and left before it ended, but that sense of only getting a snipped of the middle really works for me, here. Find this album, give it a listen, maybe let me know what you think.

Friday May 29th: NOFX – The War On Errorism. This album came out in 2003, I would have been fifteen, though I don’t think I got a hold of this album until a couple years later. Not unlike a teenage male, this album sure as hell ain’t subtle, and it’s not particularly mature either. The opening number, “The Separation of Church and Skate,” asks the question: “When did punk rock become so safe?” Unfortunately for them, listening to much of the rest of the album just makes me ask, “When did punk rock become so elitist?” You’ve got “Franco Un-American”, which mocks the politically disengaged, you’ve got “Medio-core,” which mocks what the band sees as weak music, and at its peak-asshole, the album has “The Idiots Are Taking Over.” An excerpt from the lyrics:

Mensa membership conceding
 Tell me why and how are all the stupid people breeding
 Watson, it's really elementary
 The industrial revolution
 Has flipped the bitch on evolution
And I'm starting to feel a lot like Charlton Heston
 Stranded on a primate planet
 Apes and orangutans that ran it to the ground
 With generals and the armies that obeyed them

There’s a lot inspired by Idiocracy in there, of course. I could do the takedown myself, but I prefer to send it over to Randall Munroe and his webcomic XKCD:

This sort of elitism hasn’t been great for punk, or for any previously-unpopular sort of music or subculture. Gaming, comics, and other things considered traditionally nerdy are dealing with similar issues now, policing fandom (as suggested in “Separation…” and “Medio-core”) and ascribing superiority to the “true followers” (as suggested in “The Idiots Are Taking Over” and “Franco Un-American”).

Before any punk gets too hoighty-toighty about the state of punk music today, or in the 90s/early 2000s, I just want to point out that the Ramones did “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend“, and “Rock & Roll Highschool,” so let’s maybe get off our high horses, eh?

The album’s not all bad, though. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the better parts of it.

Saturday May 30th: NOFX – The War On Errorism (con’t). One of the best parts of the album is what happens when the band engages in a little utopia-building without directly putting anybody down. Two songs in particular, “Anarchy Camp,” and “Mattersville” embody this sort of exercise. The more famous of the pair, “Anarchy Camp” describes a summer camp for anarchists, where, “everyone who’s no one will be participating,” and, “random acts of dumbness will be rewarded.” In true anarchist style, “if you see somebody taking charge, you’ll be expected to beat them.” While a little immature in its politics, the whole effect of the song is quite charming, though not half as charming as “Mattersville,” which I think is my favourite song on the album. It describes a gated retirement community for “punks over the hill,” in true anarchist style. “Cops can’t come in”,  and “we can do whatever we want, whenever we please.” My favourite line, though, is the one that awkwardly rhymes, “Duane and Stevie Cab they still skateboard / But most of us lawn bowl and shuffleboard / We may be getting ripe but we ain’t bored.” Yeah, that’s board, rhymed with board, rhymed with bored.

When the album hits its politics right, it really hits them right. The second last song on the album, “Re-Gaining Unconsciousness” opens its first verse with the following lyrics:

First they put away the dealers,
 Keep our kids safe and off the street.
 Then they put away the prostitutes,
 Keep married men cloistered at home.
 Then they shooed away the bums,
 Then they beat and bashed the queers,
 Turned away asylum-seekers,
 Fed us suspicions and fears.
 We didn't raise our voice,
 We didn't make a fuss.
 It's funny there was no one left to notice
 When they came for us.

A clear and obvious reference to Niemöller’s “First They Came…” statement. When I first heard this earlier today, I was ready to write off the song for putting some equivalencies out of whack, but as I got out of the car, and started delivering my last round of papers, I began to consider each of the issues raised by this verse in turn, and I slowly turned around on the song. It’s brash, yes, but not offensive, I think, because I can point to news stories from the past year or two related to all of these issues. Recent Tory attack ads in Canada have gone after Justin Trudeau for being in favour of legalizing marijuana. New laws in Canada have pressed hard on sex workers. More American cities are making it illegal to feed the homeless. Despite advances in parts of the world, many places including Russia still link homosexuality to pedophilia. Australia can’t seem to get their shit together on asylum seekers (and they’re not the only ones). All of these issues are relevant today, and if the language used to broach those issues by NOFX catches our attention, I think that’s a feature and not a bug.

Overall, the album is brash, unsubtle, and immature, but not without points of interest and not without redeeming features. Probably worth a listen, if you’re feeling nostalgic for 2003, but really, I have to wonder.. who is?


The Wee Hours – May 18th to 23rd, 2015

My thoughts on what I’ve listened to in the car this week:

Monday May 18th: No late-night listening at all! Victoria Day holiday meant I didn’t have to work, so I was asleep in the wee hours.

Tuesday May 19th: Blink 182 – Dude Ranch. This album hits a sweet spot for me, both musically and nostalgically. While I didn’t actually get a copy of this album until my early twenties, most of the best songs on it were also my favourite songs on the live album, which I did get for Christmas when I was probably fourteen. This album is immature, no doubt, but it manages to come along after they got a handle on their instruments and before they realized that singing songs about fucking dogs in the ass was what delighted many of their fans. It’s still the work of nerdy punkers, most evident in the song A New Hope, which is half love song to Princess Leia and half anthem for lonely, nerdy teenagers. If you like 90s pop/skater punk, this is probably the Blink 182 album you want to hang your hat on, despite the commercial success of Enema of the State.

Wednesday May 20th: The Clash – London Calling. This is just an utterly fantastic album; I didn’t even choose it tonight, I got in the car and Mum had switched the Blink 182 out for this one, and I was pleased. Wikipedia notes that Rolling Stone listed this #8 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time (put out in 2003, so who knows where it might rank today). If your experience of the Clash is all I Fought The Law, Rock The Casbah, and Should I Stay Or Should I Go, this album will likely surprise you. I remember it catching me off guard, especially because the first couple songs on the album sound more like the punk stuff you might expect. The album then goes sideways into a fantastic track called Jimmy Jazz, probably my personal favourite, and from there it’s a romp through reggae, ska, R&B, and all manner of styles. If you’ve never listened to this album, you really should: It’s one of the ones on my list of “perfect” albums.

Thursday May 21st: Blimp Rock – Sophomore Slump. Hey, how did this get in here? I can’t tell you about this now. Wait for the episode, I’ll have lots to say then.

Friday May 22nd: Violent Femmes – Why Do Birds Sing? Another album I love, this one particularly good for keeping oneself awake while wandering about in the middle of the night. There is nothing that sounds like the Violent Femmes. Wikipedia calls it “Alternative Rock,” but somebody I read once described them as Folk-Punk, which I think is a better look at how unique the music styling is. Brian Ritchie is credited on the album for playing a number of instruments, including, “…bouzouki, banjo, ukulele, Jew’s harp, didgeridoo, glockenspiel…”, and the percussionist Victor DeLorenzo has an ever larger list, which culminates in, “Fire extinguisher.” So there’s that. I’ll probably keep this in another night, so I’ll talk more about it tomorrow.

Saturday May 23rd Violent Femmes – Why Do Birds Sing? So, I kept listening to this one on Saturday too, because there’s a ton of great stuff on it. You’ve got a cover of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” which is in all ways superior to the original. You’ve got More Money Tonight, a great song if you feel like you got the short end of the stick in highschool. You’ve got Flamingo Baby, which is not particularly deep, but musically fascinating. You’ve got my personal favourite, Hey Nonny Nonny, which uses for its lyrics a 17th Century poem by Anthony Munday. There’s nothing that sounds quite like any of this sounds, so if you’ve never listened to this album before, this is definitely the one to listen to.