When a popular Canadian rock band offers personally written songs for fans that pre-order their next album, what happens when they have more fans than they thought? Hollerado’s 111 Songs was the topic du jour for last week’s episode, and since I was tragically technologically ousted from participating, I’m sharing my thoughts here. So the big question on everyone’s mind is: Who is this for if you aren’t one of the names in brackets?
If you step cautiously closer to this project as not a fan, or yourself an artist, this serves two crowds: people who bought a song and people who go to participatory art installations and bid on owning that solitary Wu-Tang record. Having been built narrowly initially for the 100+ fans who pre-ordered, it was after the conception that the band decided to release it publically as well, a move I think is not only justified, but important to how music is made and shared today.
I am going to assert that if you are a casual music fan, this will not likely be for you. But if you are a creator, a fan of ideas, or enjoy the dissection of innovative process, buy this right now because there is a lot to learn from it.
These are well-executed parodies/homages to some fantastic musical ideas and styles that otherwise wouldn’t render a cohesive full album in the traditional sense. Sometimes its bonkers, sometimes it’s clear and unique, sometimes it’s basic and lovely and expected in the right ways. Running the gamut of gritty, dark, goofy, revelatory, silly, boppy, repetitive, mundane, throwaway, too long, underdeveloped but necessarily so, the list goes on.
A solid half of these are genius (Dylan C-M would assert that maybe 20% could be tailored into two great albums) and half are maybe a product of fatigue and possible exhaustion, or maybe I’m obsessed with what this two year process of writing was like. I suspect many of these gems came from that place where you allow yourself time and space to actively not write, or push yourself to. This is much harder than it sounds, especially if your output and touring schedule is full and you are a band that has built and keeps momentum, it can be hard to leave space where the world can colour what you’re making while you ignore it. It feels antithetical but the creative process is so mystified, and this is a great album for a painter or writer or photographer or model to hear, you’ll hear how the differences and similarities appear and how they take bigger risks because the whole is solid. Trusting in your instinct here gave us some wilder weirder gems while still managing to be clearly Hollerado.
Or perhaps it’s more about building something to the specs of the fan, regardless of how it should be heard. Maybe we aren’t even meant to have heard this record, since a fundamental crux of enjoying music is allowing yourself not to believe who or what a piece is about, that it’s designed to be digestible and enjoyable by a wide range. How does that alter the experience of writing for someone? Did anyone really dislike their own track? Could a critic claim that this album is the equivalent of crowd sourcing your new material? You build for your fans to ingratiate them and then you can use the tunes that stuck with you and let them evolve into more. It’s a process worth exploring probably for any band, or single artist, but its also an insanely ambitious project. I imagine the band at the final mixdown walking back in like Jeremy Renner at the end of The Hurt Locker. It’s a dangerous compulsion.
Because this record was so massive and doesn’t totally make sense to attempt to quantify, here are some thoughts and noteable tunes in no particular order, some of which overlap with what the boys spoke to. Listen to a few of them here.
LA Prison is what we will play our kids as an example of rock from the Adolescence of the Aughts (dibs band name).
One of many radio-serial homages, some slap-dash but fun like Aliens and UFO’s (Lori Douglas Erica Ian)
Sorry You’re Alright (Evan From Grimsby) was as good as that title. If you smirked, you dug it.
Yummy Posion (Alan Poane) is the dopamine drug trip, one of the many Beatles acid phase moments, I imagine this being the time of night when the band is all laying on the floor with classroom instruments thinking they have it in them to write one more and prescribing themselves another shot of whatever’s on hand.
Shawarmas and I Eat Nachos, like many goofy food and drink related tunes, or those simple yet effective ‘this is the one fact we know about you’ tracks that are indulgently silly.
Coffee Shop (Tom Hildebrant) was a little lazy, if not still applicable attack on the hipster jackasses, but then again I’m typing this on a mac in a loft apartment with remaindered furniture and I host this music podcast. The use of instrumentation here at least elevates the lyrical obviousness, which is often the saving grace of this album. When you put a bunch of great musicians to work on something this big, you’re going to get tunes that are half-perfect.
Join Our Cult or Else (Ron Burgundy) kept coming up on random for me, perhaps they harnessed the power of irony in that track and it compelled me to listen…
Hallelujah, What’s it To Ya (Joe Taylor) is one of a few great manic Christmas tracks, as all great rock and metal bands seem to have today. It’s sister song, I’m Beginning to Drink A Lot Like Christmas, is a fun almost Weezer-parody and slouchy fun.
German Bees (Pete Nema) one of the more genre bending, with hip hop and slick as shit lyricism, coupled with a bizarre trancey German verse. Might be too much going on in one track but the combination played like a family guy joke for me, great, lost me a little, then brought me back around. Childish Gambino for sure, Dylan C-M.
What’s Everybody Running For Part 1 (Gabi) is the requisite surf rock inclusion, done just correctly but with not much new to say, which I suppose here is the point. There is no part 2, after all.
Going Extinct (Luke Chabanole) is another one where the Bob Dylan lackadaisicaly punk rock vocals are intensely unapologetic , which is often an issue for me, but this was the one track that I felt it was completely at home. Could have done without them on some of the sweeter ballads and softer jazzy swishy tunes, it seemed like they could have used a few guest vocalists to round out the sounds in those cases.
Taming the Unicorn (Dylan) was intriguing to me, a Cake meets LCD Soundsystem, talk-sing style which always sounds like apathy in that classic sense of allowing your real feelings to come out under the guise that you aren’t vulnerable or concerned with validation.
Cool Letters (Sarah Mennard) was my favourite, and one of the more definitive of the sense of humour the band has with this album. A fun attack on the formation of the alphabet system and how English works, also an at metaphor for this album’s project in that the concept of distilling the entire language to the most used and most needed letters is like making a record with 10 songs when you wrote 26, the inverse at work here when they have maybe 20 or 30 fleshed-out tracks to compile into something that really slays, but they had to toss in the X Y and Z filler.
While Dylan Clark-Moore made a point that it may not be a viable product as targeting the general music listener, to not make it available for purchase could imply that they felt it only made sense for the core fans and inspireds-by even though I guarantee at some point in those two years they realized there could be more here, almost like a deleted scenes and DVD extras. The chore factor is really exclusive to us with our time limit and need to diligently note take, but then again Siskel and Ebert couldn’t always watch a flick for leisure despite being so in love with the medium. I made an effort to listen like I would a small album, in pieces, and re-listened to what struck me, but also to what I felt was telling of their journey in this undertaking. One could argue that this is a tool for musicians or an exercise in patience but it’s also just a fun idea for background tunes at a party where few people know each other, since every third track is a conversation piece.
Not being a previous fan of Hollerado, it still hit me hard that this record needs to be heard, and not just respected for its innovation in interacting with and rewarding fans for their support. As songwriters this is both an excuse to employ those sounds that wouldn’t be canon with your work but also serves as that classic exercise in creation: restriction harvests creativity. And by supporting this kind of insane undertaking as a consumer of music and a fan, you’re proving that it hasn’t all been done yet, you’re fighting the embitterment of a generation. Go you!
Thanks once again to Dylan Clark-Moore, of The Netflakes Podcast, who was a fantastically articulate and insightful guest host, possibly taking the coveted Feedback Loop Snark Award from it’s previous champion, Dylan Z.
Coming up next week is Blimp Rock’s Sophomore Slump (which it is anything but, to steal that line from every other person who’d heard it). Get in the loop!