Professor Elemental’s New Video: “I’m British!”

I’d like to dedicate this newly-released video — I’m British, by super-genteel hip-hopper Professor Elemental — to my stiff-upper-lipped friends such as Ewan Sinclair, David Underwood, Alice Taylor, Vinney, as well as honourary Brit Hilary Robinson.

It’s perfect for today here in Accordion City: looking out my window at the grey sky, my first thought was “It’s perfectly Grange Hill out there.”


“Said the Gramophone’s” Best Songs of 2011

2011: Photo of a late-60s early-70s home stereo with record player

indie rock peteThe end of the year means the usual deluge of “Best of 2011” lists, most of which are best avoided outright. Of course, such general rules always have exceptions, and one such exception is the “best songs of the year” list that Said The Gramophone, a music blog more indie than Indie Rock Pete (pictured on the right), has been compiling since 2005.

Their 2011 list features 100 songs, which are described as follows:

65 are fronted by men, 35 by women. 47 artists are American, 26 are Canadian, 15 are British, 4 are Swedish, 3 are French, 2 are Australian, and there is one Finn, one Swiss and one Beninese.

This isn’t just a list you read, but one you can listen to as well. Every song on this list is posted for online listening and also downloadable, either individually, or in two big batches: songs 1 through 50 [259MB zip file] and songs 51 through 100 [249MB zip file]. With very few exceptions, you’re not likely to hear these songs on commercial radio, but the Said the Gramophoners have exquisite tastes, and that’s why I check in on their blog regularly. Check out their list, download the music and hear what you might have been missing!


On High Rotation

woman with headphones

Lately, I’ve been cranking up the volume on tunes with female vocals. Here are three that have been getting a fair bit of play on my sound systems…

Dum Dum Girls: There is a Light That Never Goes Out

The final track on side two of The Smiths’ 1986 album The Queen is Dead (yes kids, once upon a time, media had sides, and you had to turn it over) is There is a Light That Never Goes Out. It’s one of the best songs in The Smiths’ ouevre, equally showcasing Morrissey’smarr trademark over-the-top emo-angsty lyrics and voice and Johnny Marr’s instrumental skills, both on guitar and keyboards. The strings in the song are Marr playing an Emulator II sampling keyboard; as the keyboard player, he’s listed in the credits as “The Hated Salford Ensemble”, a reference to the fact that they didn’t want to use a synth but couldn’t afford a real string ensemble. I wore out a couple of cassette recordings of this album, and this song takes me back to the time of big changes: from high school to university, from living at home to living away, from an awkward adolescence to a less-awkward adulthood and a very memorable romance with a hardcore Smiths fan.

The California-based indie pop group Dum Dum Girls sound like a gene-splice of The Ronettes and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and their straight-ahead indie-rock-meets-Phil-Spector cover of There is a Light Never Goes out is catchy. I’ve been enjoying this track for the past couple of weeks. You can find it on their 2011 EP He Gets Me High.

The Bilinda Butchers: Careless Teens

The Bilinda Butchers take their name from Bilinda Jayne Butcher, guitarist and vocalist with the 80s/90s shoegazer band My Bloody Valentine. (In case you’re not familiar with them, but saw Lost In Translation, the My Bloody Valentine single Sometimes is the backing music for the “cab ride home from their first night out” scene.) Like their namesake, they make lush, stare-at-your-feet-and-space-out music that’s perfect for long drives or lazy afternoons or in my case, working away at writing apps.

I’d bought their album Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams for a ten-spot (their Bandcamp page lets you name your price for digital downloads) back in the late summer and promptly forgot all about it until my iPad’s shuffle brought up the Careless Teens track during my recent trip to Chicago. Now it’s part of my current rotation.

Deerhoof: Secret Mobilization

Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich and Greg Saunier are the trio known as Deerhoof, an experimental rock band from San Francisco. Normally, the phrase “experimental rock band from San Francisco” should be considered a warning sign, but I dig the weird little musical biscuits they bake. Their current album, Deerhoof vs. Evilwhich you can download for free, legitimately! – is a joy to listen to, from the Game Theory-esque Behold a Marvel in the Darkness to the folky No One Asked to Dance to Hey I Can, where they almost channel Chromeo. It’s a delightful, oddball album.

The video above is the official video for the track Secret Mobilization, and it’s just as odd as their tunes. Enjoy!


Q: Are We Not Dogs?

Picture of two silhouettes of whippets. Whippet 1 is labelled "Whippet"; Whippet 2 is wearing a Devo-style hat and labelled "Whippet good".

This one’s been doing the rounds on the internet today. In case you don’t get the reference, you might want to watch this video.



Teapot with Lionel Richie's face marked "Hello, is it TEA you're looking for?"

I have to admit that the play on Lionel Richie’s lyric made me laugh.


On High Rotation


And now, another report on what’s been playing often on my music-emitting gadgets.

I was twelve in 1980 and twenty-two when 1990 rolled around, and much of that time was spent hanging around on Accordion City’s Queen Street West, where Mike Myers got the inspiration for the Saturday Night Live character “Dieter” and his show, Sprockets (the real-life Dieter was a waiter at The Rivoli, which is still there today). For the early part of that decade, the Toronto radio station now known as “102.1 The Edge” still went by its call letters, CFNY, and was still edgy enough to have an eclectic set of shows, from the alt-rock that made the bulk of its programming to “Masters and Moderns”, featuring classical and contemporary orchestral music, to a show featuring local bands to Christian rock — a lot of stuff you wouldn’t otherwise hear on the radio.

You always come back to the music when you came of age, and sometimes that music comes back to you.

Exploding Head by A Place to Bury Strangers

I spent the first day of my recent trip to Vancouver at my the home of my friends Adam and Nancy, whom I know from way back through the strangest of coincidences. Nancy had come to Toronto in 1994 to study med school at U of T, where she ended up as my sister’s classmate; Adam, her boyfriend, came along and ended up at Mackerel Interactive Multimedia, which was my first job after graduating from Crazy Go Nuts University. Adam and I would leave Mackerel to work together at different places, which includes OpenCola, where much of our time was spent finding different ways to drive co-founder Cory Doctorow crazy.

Adam was already awake when I emerged from the guest room and working away on some photos. Like me, he likes to work in a giant desk rigged for sound. Something sounding vaguely like The Jesus and Mary Chain was playing. I had a deja vu moment: the feeling that I’d been transported to the past, and I was a teenager trying on blazers at Courage My Love, a secondhand store in Kensington Market that’s still in business today.

I thought I was hearing something from the ’80s, but it turned out to be something from only a couple of years ago: the band was A Place to Bury Strangers, a noise-rock back from New York. The video above features Keep Slipping Away, one of the tracks off their most recent album, 2009’s Exploding Head.

As both point of reference and a bonus, here’s one of my favourite Jesus and Mary Chain tracks from later on in their career: Snakedriver, which was featured in the 1994 film The Crow:

Skying by The Horrors

Later that day, Adam took me to Red Cat Records, a record store on Main Street, not far from King Edward. It’s my favourite kind of record store: the small indie kind, packed with gems and begging to be explored.

“Here, buy it,” Adam said, putting a copy of Exploding Head in my hand. At the same time, I saw an album I’d been meaning to get on iTunes or Amazon: Skying by The Horrors. Figuring I’d support the record shop, I bought both. They’ve got a mid-career Cure/late career Joy Division/Bauhaus analog-synths-meet-echo-guitars sound, which takes me back to when there was a lot more black in my wardrobe, I had spiky hair and did a lot of late-evening, fake-ID-assisted dance sessions at the Silver Crown in Toronto or the Thunderdome in Montreal.

About a week after I got back from Vancouver, I joined a bunch of coworkers from Shopify for dinner. My coworker Julie, who used to do vocals in an industrial band, said that she’d love to do a cover of The Spoons’ 1982 synthpop gem, Nova Heart, which I’ve posted below. Note that Gordon Deppe is singing with an English accent that he picked up in his native Burlington, Ontario (you couldn’t be new wave unless you sang in a fake English accent; even early Ministry did).

Within and Without by Washed Out

And finally on our new-bands-sounding-like-old-bands tour, we have Washed Out and their latest album Within and Without. Call it chillwave, glo-fi, electropop or dreampop: it’s mellow, lush and dreamy, suitable for either writing code, flaking out or making out, all of which I like to think I’m pretty good at.


Oh Geez, Was This Twenty Years Ago?

Lollapalooza 91

I caught the Lollapalooza’s first show in Accordion City in August 1991, a month before my triumphant return to Crazy Go Nuts University (I’d been kicked out of Engineering for academic reasons and negotiated my way back into Computer Science on the strength of my programming course marks). It was one of my favourite concerts of all time, and my first chance to see one of my favourite bands, Nine Inch Nails, live.

Someone posted this poster online with the headline “20 Years Ago”, which made me think “Damn, I’m old”.