Month: July 2011

Don’t forget who’s taking you home, and in whose arms you’re gonna be.

The only versions of this song that deserve to exist are the two sung by Harry (this one, and the more fleshed-out proper album version). No one else ever came close. Anyone who sings it as an uptempo strut misses the point completely and shouldn’t even be allowed to touch the song.

I’m looking at you, Michael Buble…

Even death could not erase the expression of awe on his face.

I’m starting to feel like there should be some relevant video content on as many of the dedicated album pages as possible, whether it’s a live performance, “in studio” footage, or a music video made by skewing public domain films. To that end, here’s something I can now put on the page for CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN — a different take on “Peculiar Love” I decided to record yesterday without bothering to rehearse beforehand, hoping I remembered the words.

There’s one ugly piano note in there, and I mess up a key line at the end. But I kind of like the image of blowing someone a kiss without having the use of your limbs, as opposed to them blowing you a kiss while you hang on their wall. So maybe it works. I dunno. I also like how the feeling of the song changes when it’s played on piano and the rhythm is mostly deflated. Between that and the lack of vocal multi-tracking the words are thrown into sharper relief.

It still stands as one of the least complex things I’ve written from a musical standpoint, built around a dead-simple chord progression. But one of the fun things about the piano is the ability it gives you to mess with chord voicings and inject some subtle movement where there normally wouldn’t be much, if any. Too bad I didn’t notice that mic cord dangling in the middle of the frame until after the fact. I did at least manage to throw in an alternate angle I could cut to a few times by setting up both little video cameras to record at the same time.

Still have no idea what the next album is going to sound like, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. I think the best course of action would be to do what I usually do — record a whole lot of different stuff and figure out what I want to do with it later.

I need to try and force myself to get back into writing more on the piano. I always find myself grabbing a guitar (easy to do when there are so many of them lying around in various places) when the writing happens these days. It’s about time the black and white beast asserted itself again and took center stage, instead of being relegated to more of a textural thing.

This month’s video progress report should show up by the end of the week.

Three things.

1. The blog has been given another facelift. I think I like this incarnation better than either of the previous two. It’s a lot easier on the eyes than the initial “Halloween” design was, and it’s a lot cleaner than what came after that. It’s simple, but it feels right. Funny how I was reluctant to mess with the look of things again, and now I’m wondering why I didn’t switch to this theme earlier. I like the colour scheme (check out how Dressing to Undress changes from white to red when you hover over the header with your mouse), along with the text being a little larger and more spaced-out. Everything feels a little less cluttered and more comfortable.

2. GIFT FOR A SPIDER is at #15 on the CJAM charts this week. That’s five weeks in a row inside the top twenty. I think that must be a new record for me. Who knew such a cynical album would get so much airplay?

3. The box of CDs at Dr. Disc, which is empty at the moment, should be full again by Saturday. I think it’s time to start filling it with a number of different albums again, instead exclusively stocking it with the new one. AN ABSENCE OF SWAY will be “out of print” for a bit while I get more booklets and inserts printed.

Something else that doesn’t get to call itself a thing —  I sold my 1983 Martin D35. Would have preferred not to let it go, but it was one guitar I could see myself not missing too much in the short term, and iId been neglecting it for a while. It was one of those “I’d rather have a bit of money right now so I can send people CDs in the mail” situations.

I liked that guitar a lot. I wrote and recorded some songs with it that might not have been born otherwise, like “Insomnia Kick”, “Everyone You Love Is Dead”, “Ain’t No Friend”, and “Can’t Get But Been Got”. But I think it’s a guitar that won’t be difficult to replace with something comparable somewhere down the road — unlike, say, the 1945 Martin 00-17, which is irreplaceable.

Still, it’s strange selling gear when you’re more used to buying it and then keeping it forever. I don’t think it’s something I’ll be dipping into much in the future. I don’t like letting go of things I have good feelings for.

Just limping along, singing a song, out of key.

I pulled out CREATIVE NIGHTMARES for a listen just the other day for the first time in quite a while.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this album at first. I went into it meaning to do something very strange, inaccessible, and synth-heavy. Instead I ended up with a more eclectic album that felt like some of the more accessible work I’d done at the time. It was the first time I ever decided to go to the trouble of printing the lyrics with the album itself (I later doubled back to reissue CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN and AN ABSENCE OF SWAY so they too could benefit from the lyric booklet treatment). That felt a little strange too.

In the two years that have passed since the album was released, I’ve come to realize I really like printing the lyrics, to the point that I can’t imagine not doing it at any point in the future. And it’s also gradually sunk in for me that this was a pretty important album for me. If CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN shook me out of a funk and got my ass back in gear, this one marked the beginning of a deeper interest in the production side of things.

With almost every album I made before CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, I would rarely spend more than thirty minutes or an hour on the recording and mixing of any given song, just getting down the bare essentials of what I thought the music needed and then moving on to the next thing. Here I began to treat each song as a sonic entity unto itself. Every album since has grown more ambitious in that department and — I think/hope — more interesting on a sonic level.

It’s somewhat atypical of my recent work in that there are only thirteen songs and none of them are “tiny”. That makes for a shorter, less scattershot album by my standards. But there’s still a lot going on.

“Kamikaze Daybreak” all on its own is probably still one of the most ambitious songs I’ve recorded, both sonically and structurally. It begins as a dissonant ambient noise collage piece, which segues into something soft and jazzy. Then comes the body of the song — sort of an alt-folk-ish thing, albeit more layered than anything of its kind I’d done before. After that reaches its climax it becomes a completely different electronic piece before finally dissolving into bluesy reverb-drenched slide guitar.

That all happens in the space of one song.

“Pre-Prom Plastic Surgery” is like some sort of stripped-to-the-bone dub/jazz fusion, “Molly, Go Home” still feels like the simultaneous culmination and explosion of the folky/bluesy sound I was exploring on the previous three albums, and “Anthropomorphism Dance”, still kind of makes me think of early/mid-90s U2 (back when they still had some balls), with its skittering percussion, electric guitar squall, and odd ambient touches. “My Good Deed for the Decade” has always felt like one of the more single-worthy songs of mine — odd, because it doesn’t have anything that even resembles a chorus, and it would never stand a chance of getting any airplay on commercial radio.

This was where I started to move away from the ubiquitous triple-tracked lead vocal approach of the last few albums, allowing my voice to stand on its own more often than not. It’s also pretty dark stuff for a summer album. There are references to being tortured and drowned, the loss of identity/individuality, frozen fish(es) thawing and being revived only to die on dry land in short order, broken relationships, the protagonist failing while the villain prevails, using selective memory to make the past seem sunnier than it really was, broken bones, physical mutilation, and violent inflammatory pyogenic bacterial infections.

“The Danger of All Things Adhesive” is a love song delivered to an urn of ashes, with the narrator unable to let go of the person the ashes used to be. “The Penultimate Kiss” still stands as maybe the most cynical, defeated piano ballad I’ve ever written, concluding that no physical affection is worth the emotional fallout that tends to follow when things go to hell. “Generic Love Song to Play at Your Wedding” stands out as something happy and goofy, but it’s sung to a hypothetical person who doesn’t exist, so it ends up getting skewed as well, with lyrical weirdness like, “Let me stroke your reptilian vanilla spine / Let me drink your saltwater tooth brine.”

At the time I wasn’t sure my words would stand alone on the page all that well. I’m pretty fond of this album’s lyric booklet now. I think there’s some interesting stuff going on in there. “Zombies on Parade” has to be one of the best marriages I’ve ever managed between a really catchy, upbeat tune and lyrics that work against the catchiness every step of the way. “Leaking pus from every orifice / Warping minds like a psychologist,” is one of my favourite couplets I’ve ever written. I’ve yet to do anything else that sounds like “Weird Sex Dream #72”, a mostly weightless, impressionistic electronic ballad with its own weird internal logic that really is kind of dream-like, and the use of vocoder is so strangely effective it makes me wonder why I haven’t messed around with that sound anywhere else outside of this album.

“A Fine Line Between Friendship and Baked Goods” has gone from being just another song to becoming one of my favourite things I’ve written from any period. And if we’re breaking things down into periods, then the three-album stretch from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to IF I HAD A QUARTER would be my “mining the organic folky/bluesy thing for all it’s worth” phase, bending it in different directions and expanding my sound palette while generally working within a fixed template. CREATIVE NIGHTMARES begins a period of throwing all of that out the window, tearing up the most recent rulebook I’d written for myself, and starting again.

Don’t ask me where I’m at now or where I’m going next. I couldn’t even tell you if I tried. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

I guess what I’m saying is, re-evaluating your own work is an interesting thing. I always liked this album, but I’ve grown to like it a whole lot more as I’ve gained a bit of distance from it. When I’m on my deathbed in Brazil years from now being interviewed by a pretentious journalist for a career retrospective, I think CREATIVE NIGHTMARES could sneak into my personal top ten.

The pretentious journalist will obviously be a hallucination brought on by too much morphine, but still…

I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met.

I turned on the TV yesterday and caught this video right at the beginning after not hearing the song for a good dozen years or more. I’d forgotten how much I liked it.

Primitive Radio Gods were very much a one-hit wonder. They continued to make music after this, but has anyone heard any of it? Some of these one-shot things are a lot more interesting than just “catchy songs everyone decided they liked before losing all interest in whoever was responsible for them”, though.

I remember this one standing out quite a bit at the time. There was nothing else like it on the radio in the mid/late 1990s. I also remember buying Rocket, the album this track hails from (I still have it somewhere), trying to like the other songs, and not really being able to make it happen beyond the opening track.

But hey, it wasn’t a total wash, because there was one really good song to keep coming back to. I always liked these lyrics:

And if I die before I learn to speak,
can money pay for all the days
I lived awake but half-asleep?

Something in there haunted me a little.

For some bizarre reason, at the time I somehow got it in my head that Chris O’Connor was the son of famous actor Carol O’Connor and he’d died tragically not long after the song became a hit, lending the whole thing another layer of poignancy. Imagine my embarrassment when I discovered it was just some dude unrelated to Archie Bunker who managed to set the charts on fire for a few minutes before falling off the pop culture radar.

I still like the piano solo during the mid-song instrumental break. It sounds like it’s being played by a child who only has enough understanding of harmony and the instrument to kind of hit random notes in the key of C major — which works out, because the song lives in that key — but there’s a sort of accidental beauty about it. It’s always felt like the only kind of solo that would have made any sense.

If only the video didn’t use the radio edit. It’s about a minute shorter than the album version and fades out before all hell breaks loose. I think the longer fade on the CD is a lot more effective.

What next?

I’m in one of those in-between places right now where it isn’t clear what my next move should be. There’s no shortage of material to tackle. As is often the case, the problem is trying to figure out what to focus on. I would make a list, but most of the things I put on a list tend to find themselves usurped by other things and thrown in a closet somewhere.

I could take all of the songs that were going to make up the projected follow-up to MEDIUM-FI MUSIC and craft an album out of those. I could put some serious effort into finally finishing THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. I could get Liam and Dan in the studio once Dan gets back from Italy and see what the three of us come up with when we’re working without any game plan at all. I could record a whole album of songs I didn’t write myself. And at any point in there, a bunch of new material unrelated to any of those things could come pouring out and carve itself into some other album.

All of these things could happen, or none of them, or some of them, in any order. I’m not sure where to go right now. Part of me is almost tempted to try putting together a shorter album that only has about ten songs on it, just to see what happens (armageddon to feel like that could be my ticket to the big time…get it? Get it? Ha!), but realistically there’s only about a 2% chance of that ever happening again with anything that has my name on it.

I guess it’s healthy to have a little break sometimes. Not that I’ve stopped writing or recording. Both of those things are still happening at a good pace. I’m just limiting the recording to working on songs that already have some clothes on their bones, and taking it a bit slower until I figure out what I want to throw most of my musical brain into next.

Oh yeah — that video up there is another happy marriage between music and public domain film content. More chopped up bits of Carnival of Souls set against music by a guy whose name rhymes with Ronny Rest. Like I said before, the sound quality is really bad, but there are some pretty arresting visuals there. All the more reason to strip the original soundtrack and add my own. In this case it’s one of my favourite songs slated for inclusion on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE, “An Avalanche in Hell”. Maybe more than anything else I’ve ever done, it’s a showcase for the Arp Omni-2 analog synth, right down to the bass, which is also the Arp. It was recorded less than a week after the last song was recorded for CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN in July of 2008, and it’s so far away from anything on that album in every way it still makes me arch an eyebrow. The left one, if you must know.

I kind of wish I waited a few months to record the song until I had a real acoustic piano, but in this case I think the Clavinova acquits pretty rather well. You can also hear a very different solo piano take on the song over HERE (it’s the first song in the first video/set).

I know I’ve set rough deadlines for this album before and it hasn’t been finished, but I’m going to say right now that one of my goals for the year is to get the damn thing done before 2012 shows its ass to me. It’ll be a Christmas present to the three people who might have the stamina to wade through four or five hours of music. If I do end up pulling it off…I don’t even know. Just thinking about the amount of work that’s going to be involved in the post-production process, with copying and printing CDs, scares the crap out of me.

One thing at a time, then.

GIFT FOR A SPIDER has now been hovering within the top five on the CJAM charts for a month solid. It was at #1 for two weeks in a row there, and now it’s at #2. That’s bonkers. As always, huge thanks to everyone who plays my noise.