Month: January 2011

two little words.

eight letters. two syllables. it takes less than two seconds to say or type them. and yet, getting someone to say those words often seems a bit like trying to remove a crocodile’s teeth with your bare hands, while your fingers are slathered in peanut butter and rats are gnawing at your genitals.

the awe-inspiring elusiveness of a simple “thank you” is something that has only really started to bother me over the past few years. for the longest time, i didn’t really notice it at all. but it all starts to add up. i try to make a point of thanking people when they do something kind or thoughtful for me, even if it’s something very small. it’s always felt like the appropriate response. when you’re the one on the receiving end of the thanks, it’s a nice feeling.

so you’d think it would be pretty simple. but no. a lot of people almost seem to be allergic to saying thank you.

i don’t think this started to register for me until i started to build up a visible audience for my music. suddenly more than a handful of people were interested in what i was doing. more than a few of them didn’t live anywhere near windsor, so i would say, “give me your address, and i’ll send you some music.” some people offered to pay me and were very thankful when i insisted i didn’t want any money. once someone made their way onto my mailing list, they generally stayed there (unless they ended up taking a giant dump on me at some point and no longer seemed worthy of being on the list), and whenever i had new music to share i would write them a letter and send them a copy of whatever the new album was at the time.

i still do this, though not as many people take me up on the offer as you might think.

one day it hit me that i was sending music to quite a few different people, and the process had become a lot more expensive and time-consuming. that doesn’t bother me. i don’t mind spending the money. i don’t mind taking the time to write every single person a handwritten letter, cutting and taping additional bubblewrap to protect the CDs, going to the post office with boxes full of bubble mailers…i enjoy keeping the whole thing on a small enough scale so i can do this and there’s some sort of personal connection with the people i’m sending CDs to.

i don’t think i’ll ever give in and start putting up full albums digitally here or anywhere else, even if it would save a lot of money. there’s nothing personal about that to me. it would defeat the purpose of what i’ve worked toward doing here. an email and a link to some MP3s just doesn’t cut it. we’ve been over this before.

anyway, as i said, the time and costs involved have never been an issue for me. i look at that stuff as the nature of the beast. if you’re going to cut money out of the equation where your audience is concerned, you’re going to have to eat it.

it’s getting a lot more expensive to eat it these days, now that i put more time and effort into the packaging side of things. but i deal with that. i have strong teeth.

what’s started to bother me is just how few people will go to the trouble of saying “thank you”. some people don’t even acknowledge getting mail from me at all. it’s one thing to order a CD online and have it delivered to you in some sort of generic brown cardboard package. there’s nothing personal about that. i put an effort into keeping it personal when it comes to my music. you don’t pay for the album. you don’t pay for shipping. you don’t pay for anything. you don’t even have to do anything. when i have a new album finished, i write you a letter and send the album to you.

for a long time i didn’t think much of it. but does anyone else do anything like this? anywhere? at all? i’ve never heard of such a thing in all my life.

you’d think the least you should get, after doing all of that for someone, is a quick email letting you know the mail got where it was going safe and sound, and maybe after the person has had a chance to absorb the music, they could let you know if they like it or not.

you know how often that actually happens? almost never. maybe one in fifteen people will say thanks or let me know they got the new CD. if i’m really lucky, someone will go to the trouble of typing more than eight words in an email and tell me a little something about what they think, or what songs they especially like.

i don’t think i’m asking for much here, when you weigh it against what i’m doing. you don’t even have to say thanks, though it would be nice to hear once in a while. just letting me know you get my mail is more than enough. you can bet if i liked someone’s music and they were thoughtful enough to send me every new album they released, for the entirety of their life or “career”, completely unsolicited, completely free of charge, with a handwritten letter to go with every new CD, i would sure as hell take two seconds to sit down and let that person know i appreciated it.

and then i would probably have to wash my clothes. because if someone took the time to do something like that for me on anything even approaching a consistent basis, i would probably piss my pants.

i’m not saying what i’m doing here is amazing or groundbreaking. i’m just tired of not even getting the slightest acknowledgment from the people for whom i go above and beyond the call of duty. maybe some people assume i know they’re thankful, because they thanked me once two years ago or something, so of course it still holds true and carries over to every new album. i don’t know that. i don’t even know if half of the people i send CDs to bother to listen to them.

of course, there are people who are exceptions to the rule, some of whom have reciprocated in ways i never expected. they know who they are. those people remind me how rewarding it can be when you’re able to form a genuine connection with someone, and how nice it is to have someone else go to the trouble of doing something for you.

as for everyone else, well…i just put up a little message on facebook. i couldn’t say everything i wanted to, because facebook is pathetic and only allows you to use 420 characters in a status message. the gist of it was, “if you would like to continue to receive new music from me in the future, i’d appreciate it if you’d let me know that you actually listen to the music i send you. otherwise, i think i’m going to stop writing all these letters and drastically shorten my mailing list. it’s expensive and time-consuming to do this all out-of-pocket, and if people can’t take two seconds to say ‘thank you’ or even just let me know they got my mail, i don’t really see the point in putting the effort in anymore.”

i was going to add, “at least when i talk to myself, my self talks back sometimes,” but like i said, facebook is stupid and would only let me say so much.

i think maybe two people have responded, and they not only live close enough that i’m able to give them CDs personally, but they’re people who already acknowledge me pretty regularly and aren’t one of those “ghosts” i’ve been talking about. i take this to mean one of three things:

1. my hypothesis that the majority of people don’t bother acknowledging getting the music i send them because they don’t listen to it and really don’t give a shit…is correct.

2. no one really reads or responds to what anyone else says on facebook unless it involves a quiz with sexy pictures, an embarrassing celebrity mishap, a wedding, a baby being born, or a birthday (because none of those discussions require any real thought at all, and all you need to do is come up with some empty platitudes in order to contribute an appropriate comment).

3. i’m wasting my time.

or maybe all of the above.

well, i gave people the opportunity to prove me wrong. they didn’t do much of anything, for the most part. so, when i have another new album to share (which will probably happen a few months from now), there will be far fewer packages going out in the mail. i alluded to this in a previous blog post, but now i aim to at least cut my mailing list in half, and i’ll probably shave it down even more than that.

it’s not about “punishing” anyone for not being appreciative enough, and it doesn’t come from a place of bitterness. i don’t have an over-inflated sense of entitlement, and i’m not digging for praise. i simply don’t have the time or the energy to keep doing this for people who don’t care either way.

if you’re a friend and you acknowledge me from time to time, you can consider yourself exempt from this and expect to keep receiving mail from me until i die. hell, some of the most thoughtful and appreciative people i’ve ever known live very far away, lead busy lives, and have never once met me in the flesh, while some of the people who don’t seem to care live mere blocks away from me, and some of them probably wouldn’t even say two words to thank me for all the music i’ve shared with them if they heard i was dying of testicular cancer and had only days to live.

what does that tell you?

it kind of goes back to the whole reason i stopped sending CDs to record labels years ago, and why i won’t ever waste my time with that again. the more things change, the more they stay the same. the more you taunt the substitute teacher, the more she needs to shave her mane.

noodles make the world go ’round.

today i thought, “i should film myself recording something. i haven’t really done that in a while. better yet, i should film a song being recorded from the very beginning, to the very end when it’s being mixed, and capture the whole process.”

then i thought, “nah. too much hassle. having to repeatedly check and make sure the framing is alright takes me away from the music too much. i should just film some random noodling instead.”

so i did.

this is not anything that’s trying to be a song, or even anything close to my best playing. i just felt like messing around and improvising a little. dig how a little bit of the piano line from travis’ song “beggars” worms its way in there briefly. also, i need to remember to cut my fingernails/talons…you can hear ’em clicking away on the piano keys.

the cache of cds at phog is now healthy again, too; the ones i dropped off on saturday went absurdly fast.

a different kind of typo.

i really thought i had managed to ferret out all the typos in the booklet for this cd. i know how to spell — you won’t find any misspelled words in any of the handwritten letters i’ve sent to people in the mail — but i type pretty quickly (90 wpm on a slow day, faster than that most other days) and occasionally my fingers get a little ahead of my brain. it doesn’t matter how many times i proofread; something always seems to sneak past me, and i don’t finally notice it until the album has been out there long enough for at least a handful of people to get typo-tarnished copies. this stuff drives me nuts, even though it’s very small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. i once ran around town taking back every copy i had circulated of LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS because it made my skin crawl knowing people would see two or three words in the lyric booklet that didn’t quite look right.

this time i was even more diligent in my proofreading than usual, and it seemed like i might have caught any and all typos there ever were…until today, when i noticed that on the very last page of the booklet, where there’s a brief list of thanks, i accidentally spelled jay’s last name wrong. i guess it’s better than “bliss” coming out as “bilss” in the lyrics, but still. sorry about that jay. i’ll fix it as soon as i do the next run of booklets and inserts, which will probably be this week, because i’ve only got about 20 copies of the album left right now. these cds go a hell of a lot faster than they used to…

more mail is going out on monday as well.

my baby, she wrote me a letter.

i sent a few cds out in the mail today:

most of them are going to various places in canada and the US, along with a few more exotic locales (like france). there’s still more to do, but at least i put a good dent in my mailing list. every one of those envelopes has a handwritten letter in it. that’s a lot of wrist action right there. as of tomorrow, the new album will also be available at phog. i always find it funny how, while i’ve had some serious problems with most courier services at one point or another, canada post has never once failed to get my cds where they’re supposed to go. for all the flack they get from some people, they’re the only ones who have never let me down when it comes to sending mail. go figure.

elsewhere, my friend ron leary has started a blog. ron has been places and seen things most independent artists only dream about, and i know he’s got some good stories to share, so his blog is definitely something worth keeping up with. it’s brand new, but growing fast. you can check it out over HERE.

she wants revenge.

you know what i said earlier today about the album being available by the weekend? i was wrong. it’s available today, because some things i thought would take until the end of the week were ready sooner than expected. so here’s something else early — this month’s video progress report. there’s lots of talk of the new album in the video, lots of ridiculous public domain film content, and chester the walrus returns! everybody dance.

the little “music video” introduction is completely bonkers (mostly down to the juxtaposition of the music and the video content), and i’m kind of proud of my editing job there. i shaved about 8 minutes of pointlessly drawn-out montage crap down to 2 without really losing anything important, and i don’t think it seems jerky or unnatural at all. how far we’ve come from the choppy editing and wild volume fluctuations of the first few progress reports.

i can’t, however, take credit for that hilariously bad car crash edit that makes it look like the dude just jumps out of his car like he was never in it to begin with. that’s exactly what you see in the movie. it’s really something.

if for whatever reason you’re unable to watch the video (slow internet connections can make it difficult), here’s the gist: the new album is finished and now available at dr. disc. soon it will be available at phog as well (the video says it is already, though it isn’t quite yet; i figured it would be by the time most people watched it). i’m pretty happy with how it turned out. then again, every album i’ve made since CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN feels to me like some of my best work, so i’m either on a long-running hot streak and i keep getting better at whatever it is that i do, or i’m deluded.

i also anticipate this being one of the least popular albums i’ve made. when i’ve had that kind of feeling before, it pretty much always turns out to be wrong, but this time i think it’s a bit of a different story. i’ll be very surprised if this album doesn’t leave at least a few people cold. it’s pretty sprawling and schizoid, even by my usual standards. you can read more about it if you’re so inclined over HERE, though i think the video is a pretty good primer all on its own.

you know the drill — the CD is free. it’s tangible. you spin it and it sings to you. grab it if you want it. if you want to know what i’m singing about or you just like reading the lyrics while listening, they’re there for you in the booklet (except for the bits i improvised, which are mostly absent once again). the cover art was a happy accident, and i think it’s another one of the cooler-looking albums i’ve made. it’s also only the second album i’ve ever made with a song on it i didn’t actually write myself, and another case of the cover song fitting in so well, it’s kind of absurd.

if you don’t live in windsor, but i have your address — and if you occasionally acknowledge that i exist — you should be getting a copy in the mail pretty soon. if, on the other hand, i send you mail but you never acknowledge receiving any of it, you won’t be getting any more mail from me. to be blunt, i’d rather spend my time giving myself a sore hand and a lighter bankroll for people i know at least go to the trouble of listening to the music i send them. it isn’t cheap sending a bunch of CDs all over canada and the US on my own dime, and it’s going to hurt a bit more this time after having to spend $800 before any of my usual expenses just to get this CD in releasable form when two essential pieces of equipment died on me at the last minute. so i really don’t feel like wasting my resources on people who don’t give a shit.

realistically, it only means a slight reduction in the length of my regular mailing list. but it feels healthy to lighten the load. my right hand is definitely going to appreciate it. after being frustrated for a while by people who can’t even take the time to say “thank you” or “you sent me stuff and i got it”, i figure this is a good way to eradicate that frustration in one fell swoop. those people probably won’t care anyway, because for all i know they’ve never bothered to listen to a thing i’ve sent them, so everybody wins. huzzah!

back to the video. i think this could be the best one yet. if i say that every time (and i think i do), it’s only because i feel like each progress report video is better-put-together than the one before it. this is the longest one so far, clocking in at almost 45 minutes, and it could have been twice that long if i’d talked about some more of my favourite songs and how they ended up that way. i didn’t want to let things drag on for too long. the idea was to talk a bit about the album and give you a taste of it without giving too much away.

i think i was successful in accomplishing that, even if i start counting on the wrong measure when i isolate the drum part for “shrink is loss” and somehow get peta wilson’s name wrong (i always thought it was “petra”, and i’m not sure how i ever got that idea, but once it was in my brain, it stuck). though it’s a bit early for an end-of-the-month progress report to show up, with more than a week left before january is gone, i didn’t feel like holding off on it when the album and my thoughts about it are fresh and lemon-scented right now. my impatience is your gain. it is if you watch these things, anyway. and even if you don’t, i have fun making them.

the chopped-up public domain content mixes live footage and animation once again. most of the meat this time comes from the cult classic the brain that wouldn’t die. one thing that struck me while watching this film was how similar it is to georges franju’s les yeux sans visage in some superficial ways, and how different it is in some less superficial ways.

the plot outlines aren’t so different on the surface:

in one film, a doctor who caused a car accident that horribly disfigured his daughter’s face lures women to his house, drugs them, and attempts to graft the skin from their faces onto his daughter’s so she can look like herself again. he’s assisted by one of his previous test subjects.

in the other film, a doctor who caused a car accident that led to the decapitation of his girlfriend lures a woman to his house, drugs her, and attempts to fuse her body with the head of his girlfriend. he’s assisted by one of his former test subjects.

in both films, the doctors are consumed by their work, and the women who are supposed to benefit from the experiments and operations are driven mad as a result of their suffering. one film is a work of art. the other is a giant hunk of cheese — supremely entertaining cheese, but cheese nonetheless.

i think it’s a fascinating illustration of how a similar story can be transformed by two different treatments. in les yeux sans visage, the doctor is driven by guilt. what he does is despicable, but in a twisted way he does it out of love for his daughter, in an effort to make things right. while his actions are monstrous, he isn’t a monster, which makes what he does all the more disturbing. edith scobb, who plays the daughter, spends most of the film with her face obscured by an eerie, lifelike-but-expressionless mask, wanting more than anything to have her life back, taunted by the possibility of reuniting with her fiancé (who thinks she died in the car accident), only to have it ripped away from her when her body rejects the attempted facial transplants.

none of the characters are entirely good or bad, and the film is both frightening and moving, because you can only truly be unsettled if you care about the characters and what happens to them. the doctor’s assistant was the beneficiary of a facial graft experiment that was successful, so he has hope that he’ll eventually be able to give his daughter her face back…even if he has to destroy the faces of a number of innocent people to make it happen. the way the story plays out is pretty realistic, there’s no goofy supernatural stuff going on, and no one really gets a happy ending. while there’s very little gore, that just makes it more effective and unsettling when it does show up.

in the brain that wouldn’t die, the doctor is an egotistical prick who cares more about a scientific breakthrough and manufacturing the “perfect” woman than he does about saving the life of his bride-to-be. he leaves her body to burn in his car, almost as an afterthought, convinced he doesn’t need it and will easily find a suitable replacement in the form of an unwitting donor. there’s nothing the least bit sympathetic about him, and his assistant is the victim of an unsuccessful series of operations that were supposed to replace his amputated arm and have left him feeling less than human. he sticks around hoping someday the doctor will get it right and give him an arm that works.

virginia leith is a lot more effective and charismatic as a dismembered head than she is during her brief screentime as a full-bodied person, which i find kind of amusing (not that the material allows her anything close to the pathos edith scobb was able to generate in les yeux sans visage). the way the story develops is absurd — the chemicals the doctor uses to keep his girlfriend’s decapitated head alive imbue her with some sort of psychic power, which she uses to command a hideous creature made of animated spare body parts. it’s captivating in its badness. the jazzy music that plays whenever doctor prick is on the prowl for a sexy female cadaver is pretty catchy, too.

having said all that, my favourite moment of context-warping in the whole video is probably the bit from the animated film a corny concerto — another sort-of parody of fantasia, with elmer fudd as master of ceremonies — that i threw in when i was talking about giving up on ever reconnecting with the girl i was friends with in the second grade. what could have been a pretty defeated, downcast moment is instead twisted into something absurd and self-mocking. it cracks me up. that’s all i’m going to say about it, lest i give the surprise away.

elliott even gets a brand new jingle/introductory montage, and shares an oddly melancholy tender moment. what can i say? he’s a born star, that little purple guy.

no more the moon shines on the discpainter.

well, when it rains bullshit, it doesn’t drizzle. hot on the heels of my most important cd burner dying, my cd printer decided to kick the bucket too. the first one at least lasted a good two years…this one made it five months at most. needless to say, i won’t be endorsing dymo products again anytime soon. as much as i liked the discpainter, it now seems like it was defective by design, and it’s a small miracle my first one lasted as long as it did.

happily, things were back up and running sooner than expected. thanks to persistence and sock-based crotch padding, i didn’t really lose much time at all, and i am now the owner of a canon pixma MG5220 printer/scanner/copier/all-in-one beast.

though it was a bit of a pain setting the thing up, and there were a few initial hiccups, before too long i was able to print cds again. and man…this thing makes the discpainter look like a slug. it prints about five cds in the time it took the discpainter to spit out one, and the quality is at least as good, if not better. the only inconvenience i can think of is how bulky this printer is. that’s a small price to pay for having a printer that stands a good chance of lasting much longer than five months and is protected by a 3-year warranty just in case something does stop working at some point.

with all of the ridiculous post-production issues that have been cropping up at the last minute, it almost seems like someone really doesn’t want this cd to see the light of day. nuts to that. it’ll be out there by the weekend.

dude…i’m burning.

i somehow managed to reach my goal of delivering the art files for the new CD this week, and should have a proof to look at over the weekend. it’s a small miracle things are still moving along as planned, and i’ll tell you why.

as of sunday night, the album was essentially finished. all of the raw material was there. every song was CD-ready. i only needed to tweak a few mixes and create a rough assembly to test out my projected track list. i was about an hour away from having everything taken care of, when the external CD burner for my mixer died.

holy crap, that’s a long thumb. i didn’t really realize it until i took a good look at the picture. and that’s my fretting thumb there.

anyway. with almost every album i’ve made over the past five or six years, there’s always been some sort of problem that pops up at the last possible second to throw a wrench in the works. problems with a media broker botching CDs. a computer dying. a CD printer dying. getting a cold that lasts for two weeks when i’m 80% finished. there’s always been a happy ending (i went back to duplicating the CDs myself and started designing/printing them myself as well, i got a new laptop that was vastly superior to the old one, my CD printer was replaced, and eventually i would stop coughing and sneezing), but it’s a little frustrating when something small and stupid prevents you from having an album release-ready quite as soon as you would like it to be.

i shouldn’t complain too much. i don’t think my post-production time has ever extended beyond two weeks with any album i’ve made over the past few years, regardless of whatever problems have threatened to derail things. that means no more than two weeks will pass between the moment i finish recording/mixing the final song, and the moment the boxes at dr. disc and phog are full of copies of the CD for whoever wants them. so when i have a new album out, it’s difficult to overstate just how new it is.

it seems most people prefer to sit on an album for at least a few months, if not longer, before releasing it. you have more time to mull it over that way, to make sure you’re still happy with everything after it’s had some time to settle, and to make sure things like the packaging are just the way you want them to be. you can build up some buzz and promote a big CD release show, or make a music video, or dance with sedated tigers.

as for me, if i sit on anything for longer than that two week period, i start to get restless. i want to get it out there right away and be done with it. my brain is already working on the next album.

where were we? the VS 1680’s CD burner was toast. 11 and-a-half years without an issue, and then lights out. it was a good run, really, for an old CD burner, but the timing couldn’t have been any worse. the problem was compounded by the fact that not just any CD burner will work with this mixer. you either need one of the three different burners that were made specifically to be compatible with the roland VS-series mixers, or you need a special after-market burner.

the trouble is, the after-market CD burners are a bit of a crap-shoot, with no guarantee they’ll work. and the original roland burners haven’t been made for years, so they’re not very easy to come by.

this is a much more serious roadblock than anything i’ve come up against with any other album i’ve made. without a compatible, working CD burner, my mixer is a bit like a dismembered head with no mouth. the brain is fully-functional, but without the ability to speak, there’s no way to communicate any of the information inside, and without a torso, sign-language isn’t an option. all the music i have on the mixer is trapped there. i can listen to it, i can add to it, i can record more of it, but i can’t transfer it anywhere else, i can’t dump it onto CD, i can’t back up anything for safekeeping, and i can’t take anything i’ve backed up in the past and dump it back onto the mixer.

it looked like i was going to be stuck in limbo for a good few weeks.

there just happened to be a guy on eBay who was selling two different CD burners made to work with a mixer like mine. he made the unusual move of posting his phone number, which gave me hope that maybe we could work something out that didn’t involve paypal (which i don’t have and will never go near after the horror stories i’ve heard) or shipping that would take weeks (which drives me batty). he went beyond the call of duty, and even went to the trouble of sending me a .zip drive with a disk in it that would update my mixer’s operating system, to make sure it would recognize the new CD burners. the stuff shipped overnight from california.

instead of losing weeks, i lost one day, and then i was back up and running again. this means my plan to have the album release-ready by the weekend isn’t quite going to happen, but i think that’s for the best, because now i’ll have the whole weekend to make sure i catch any typos that may be hiding in the booklet, and i’ll have time to build up a good supply of CDs so i’ll be prepared when everything is ready to go.

obviously i don’t play CD release shows, or even set exact release dates. but you should expect the album to be available in the usual places by next friday or saturday. while i’m happy with the way it’s turned out, i anticipate it being one of the less popular albums i’ve made. if you weren’t really feeling the second disc of MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART, you’re probably not going to like this one. i don’t think i’ve made an album this schizoid in a decade. if, on the other hand, you have the musical equivalent of attention deficit disorder, it could very well be your favourite johnny west album ever.

this month’s video progress report will probably appear a bit sooner than usual, since i’d like to tie it in with the new album. so expect that to show up in the next week or so as well.

midnight to neon.

the go-betweens were one of those bands you call a “critics’ darling”. the broad outline of their career trajectory was not unlike that of big star; the critics loved them, but they didn’t sell a whole lot of albums, eventually they disbanded because they were broke and disheartened, and years later they reformed and started to get some of the attention that eluded them the first time around, without ever quite becoming a household name. grant mclennan’s sudden death of a heart attack in 2006 cut the resurgence short, though robert forster continues to make music (he also wrote a moving and eloquent tribute to his absent friend and musical other half).

my first go-betweens album was send me a lullaby — incidentally, it was the first one they properly released, in 1982. robert forster himself has instructed fans new to the group to get at least three of their other albums first (claiming lullaby “wont make any sense otherwise”), but i was a bit early to catch that bit of advice. i think it was early 2000 when i first heard about the band, which meant the reunion hadn’t happened yet, and the liner notes containing that bit of guidance had yet to be written. i read some gushing praise for the band’s music when i was neck-deep in my self-imposed musical re-education, and grabbed send me a lullaby because it seemed like as good a starting point as any. it was also one of the few go-betweens albums that happened to be in-stock locally.

i liked it, but some songs didn’t do a whole lot for me. i would generally listen to “careless” and “it could be anyone”, and skip most of the rest. i have a vivid memory of listening to the latter track while sitting in the car, trying to stifle a persistent nosebleed, in the summer of 2000. i was wearing a blue bandana and an aqua-blue sleeveless t-shirt i lost track of some years back.

see? i’m not kidding when i say strange details hang around in my brain.

maybe things would have worked out differently if i had chosen a different album as my introduction to the band, but i’ve yet to really dig into any of the other albums. part of it is not knowing where to start. another part of it is that the albums from the later 1980s that are routinely called their best are a lot more glossy and polished, and in some cases the production sounds kind of dated — which is not a huge stumbling block for me, but it’s still a bit of a shock coming after the sound of the first album.

i was similarly surprised when i finally heard some music by the triffids — another critically celebrated but somewhat obscure australian band. i read all about how dark and weird their music was (“looked like your neighbours; sounded like psychotics” mojo magazine told me, and i was sold), only to find that whatever darkness was there in the lyrics was mostly subsumed beneath some pretty shiny, commercial (over)production that buffered all the raw power away. no surprise, then, that my favourite album of theirs is in the pines — the least-produced, and most-neglected.

send me a lullaby, on the other hand, is so stripped-down and free of studio trickery, it will probably always sound contemporary. it’s grown on me a lot over the years, to the point that there isn’t a song on it i don’t like anymore, and when i pulled it out about a week ago for my first listen in years, i found myself laughing at the absurdity of ever ignoring anything. some of my favourite songs are now the ones i used to skip.

i find it kind of amusing that my favourite go-betweens album by far is the one that most other fans don’t like at all. you’d be hard pressed to find a positive review from anyone on the internet. i guess some people don’t like what happens to music when you strip away the candy coating. me, i live for that stuff.

there are no string parts here, very few arrangements that are even remotely layered or ambitious, and practically no guitar solos at all. nothing superfluous. the bass is more of a lead instrument than the guitar, and i miss that interplay on later albums when the band expanded and grant switched from bass to guitar. it’s also a robert forster-dominated affair; seven of the twelve songs are his, and he sings lead for almost the whole album — even on some of the songs he didn’t write himself.

personally, i’ve always slightly preferred forster to mclennan. he kind of struck me as being the lennon to mclennan’s mccartney, for lack of a more original comparison. maybe his songs weren’t as melodic, but they were often more interesting to me (listen to liberty belle and the black diamond express and tell me “twin layers of lightning” doesn’t stand out by a proverbial mile). don’t get me wrong; grant was a great songwriter, and i think “cattle and cane” is one of the best go-betweens songs from any period. by and large, i just prefer robert’s specific songwriting voice, and it was never more audible than on their first album.


obvious reference points are early talking heads and television, and in places forster sounds a bit like the offspring of a tryst between a more refined tom verlaine and a less histrionic robert smith. but the music is very much its own thing. grant mclennan would later call it “metallic folk” and joke about how it sounded like the document of a band breaking up, when it was actually their debut and they would go on to record five more albums before parting ways for a while. it’s wonderfully angular, jagged, and unpredictable.

lindy morrison’s drumming is a huge part of that; i think she’s one of the most woefully unappreciated drummers to come out of that whole “post-punk” movement, playing off-kilter time signatures with ease while hammering out fills that are somehow aggressive and melodic at the same time. i’ve always loved the bit in the middle of “eight pictures” when she suddenly goes completely apeshit out of nowhere, just bashing the hell out of the drums like she isn’t even in the same room with grant and robert, expressing all of the latent aggression that’s been coiled just beneath the surface. and her work on “one thing can hold us” drives the whole song.

i think the production is pretty great as well — nothing fancy or overly slick, but just what the songs need. on “eight pictures” and a few other tracks, the drums sound gigantic, but not very 80s-like at all, almost as if they were recorded by steve albini. i’d be willing to bet both steve and certain members of the pixies were fans of the album, or they would have been if they’d heard it.

the group didn’t completely shrug off this sound right away. they remained a trio for at least one more album. but there was a gradual shift away from the austerity and weirdness of send me a lullaby, and by the time of 1987’s tallulah it was gone altogether in favour of a much more radio-friendly sheen. it’s a shame more people haven’t dug into the first few albums (and this one in particular), because for my money they’re a lot edgier and more interesting than some of the more celebrated things that came later on. i still need to get into those albums, though, because i know there’s good stuff there as well.

the guild, she is gone.

in the last video progress report, i talked a bit about a guild guitar i had, and how i ended up trading it in toward a 1951 gibson LG-2. it was kind of surreal getting rid of a guitar in the first place, and then seeing it for sale on the website for the store where roughly 80% of the guitars i own have come from at this point. not surreal in a bad way .it was kind of cool, really. just not a feeling i’ve had before, because i don’t tend to get rid of instruments, or anything music-related.

today i saw the guitar’s status on the folkway site had changed to “sold”, which means someone bought the thing. i didn’t expect it would be gone so quickly. i hope they have fun with it, whoever they are. i considered writing a little note and sticking it inside the case (something along the lines of, “this guitar served me well, but i have too many guitars to justify keeping it around, and i hope it serves you well too”), but thought that might seem a bit strange to whoever ended up buying it.

i can’t say i’m sad to see that axe go…i have other guitars that do more or less the same thing it does with more personality, and for my ears and fingers the gibson LG-2 blows it away on every level. still, the parting is a little bittersweet. we did have some good times together, as sporadic as they were.

“mismatched socks” on CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN probably never would have been written without that guitar, and i like that song. there are several other things i wrote and recorded with the guild as well, most of which will probably be showing up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE whenever i get around to finishing that magnum grope-us.

here’s one that’s always been a favourite of mine. it was literally the first thing written on the guild, the day i took it home. it was also the first song i’d written with a proper chorus in a good four or five years. i made a solemn vow to end my life if i ever returned to the land of conventional song forms, but in this case the song really wanted to have a “refrain”, and it didn’t feel right any other way.

though it was written and recorded during the crack house duplex adventure of 2007, in some ways this was a significant step in the direction of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, and i seriously considered throwing it on that album right up until the very last minute, regardless of the fact that it was recorded more than a year before the rest of the songs, in a very different setting.

Row Ashore