and for that we should all be thankful

shred your linen, if you please. we’ll sing you wordless harmonies.

on-the-porch-from-a-distance

hey, guess what? that O-L west album is done. I CAN STILL FINISH THINGS SOMETIMES.

all that’s left now is the packaging, with all the copying and printing of CDs and the folding of inserts and the putting-together of jewel cases that implies. i handed in the art files yesterday, so there should be a proof pretty soon. if all goes according to plan, we’ll be able to start spreading copies around by the end of next week.

for now, here’s a little tune that didn’t make the cut. we both liked it a lot. just couldn’t find a place for it on the album (which is well over an hour long as it is).

afterthought no. 1 (a seed breaking through concrete)

staff paper.

sometimes i write string parts for songs that aren’t my own, that are being recorded somewhere other than here, by someone other than me. or maybe i just did it this one time.

TO LIVING string arrangement

the top line for the second cello section is missing (printer snafu, i think), so i used the second line as the top, since it turned into that by default in the top line’s absence. not that it really matters, because that part was rewritten as something a violinist could play instead.

VIOLIN

i’m sure some of the note values are wrong. probably should have written eighth notes or sixteenth notes at the end there. keeping track of that stuff and knowing how to represent it on paper is beyond me. but the notes themselves are right. there’s a recording with a synthesized placeholder version of the string part so the player can hear what’s meant to happen.

that i’ve even reached a point where i can scratch something like this out in a way that might make some amount of sense to someone who can sight read is a little hilarious.

supper’s ready.

finished stew

so, this thing is finally done. its official release date — though i wasn’t able to get copies to more than one or two people because everything closed early for the holidays — was christmas eve, which has never happened before and will probably never happen again.

it looks pretty spiffy, i think. most of that has to do with greg’s artwork and background textures. i kept the rest of the layout very minimal, because i didn’t want anything to detract from the cover, and because i like keeping things pared-down visually. i did dust off the old “treating the CD a little bit like a mini vinyl record and putting all the song titles on it” trick for the first time since CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, though. gotta mix it up.

for once i was able to avoid any soul-destroying typos in the initial run of booklets. there is one line that doesn’t match what’s actually sung in the song, but that’s intentional. the last line of “fly’s hive” before the long instrumental midsection is, “through the blinds of your best window watch the city crumble, and tremble as you see all that you loved learn how to crawl.” i had a momentary brain fart when we were recording the vocals and sang “…as you see all that you loved turn into dust”, instead of what was on the page. i liked the way it sounded, even if it was a weaker line than what was written, so it got to stay.

i’ve always presented the lyrics “as written” — meaning what you see in the booklet doesn’t usually take into account mid-song improvisations where words are sometimes altered or replaced on the fly. i think it’s more interesting that way. it’s a way of honouring the reality that all of this stuff is in a constant state of flux every step of the way.

at the same time, every word in “remorse code” was improvised, and those lyrics are transcribed in the booklet. normally i would leave a thing like that out and let people work out for themselves what they thought i was singing. there is no “as written” when something was never written at all. but gord asked if i could include those words, and i couldn’t think of any good reason not to.

this is the shortest papa ghostface album there’s ever been if you don’t count LIVE AT SILVERS (and you shouldn’t, because that one kind of stinks). but it still feels pretty hefty. it’s just got some actual rhythm and flow to it for a change, instead of being a case of saying, “let’s vomit a whole bunch of stuff onto a CD and see if we can make it fit within the time constraints of the media.” if it’s going to be the first PG album most people have ever heard, that’s kind of fitting, because it feels like something of a new beginning for us.

people who did things:

gord played acoustic, electric, and acoustic archtop guitars, bass, djembe, tenor banjo, pitch-shifted triangle, recorder, bucket and spatula (the simulated river sounds on “movin’ on loon”), tambourine, clapped his hands, and sang a little. that’s also him playing the dramatic cymbal swells on “in the name of the impostor” before the proper drums kick in.

i played acoustic, electric, and classical guitars, piano, lap steel, bass, drums, shaker, african drums, six-string banjo, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele, backwards glockenspiel, casio SK-1 (samples and mangling), acetone combo organ, a little bit of alesis micron and korg monotron delay, clapped my hands, and sang a lot.

greg maxwell made the cover art.

theodore hogan played alto sax.

stu kennedy played violin.

i realize the logical thing here would have been to hold off for another week and make this album a 2016 release, coming straight out of the gate in the new year. but i am not bearded spock. i kind of like the way the thing has automatically been disqualified from being eligible for any best-of lists for 2015 or 2016. take that, lists!

besides, i had the inserts printed with 2015 on them before that mega cold knocked me out for a while and delayed what likely would have been a november release. i didn’t feel like paying a second time to change that one thing if i could get everything ready to go before the end of the year. and i’ve never liked sitting on things. when they’re done, they’re done. this one’s done.

this is the first album to feel the full impact of the “no more free public distribution” thing. so we’ll see how that goes. it’s still free, but the plan is to share it with friends and CJAM allies, a handful of people who are on the kinda-sorta-mailing list, and leave it at that, pretty much. i’m glad to send copies to people i don’t know, but i first need to know there’s some interest there. not really feeling the appeal anymore of throwing several hundred copies of a thing out there blindly and not knowing where most of them end up.

if i have your current address and you acknowledge that i exist once in a purple moon, you can probably consider yourself taken care of. if i don’t know you but you’d like a copy, get in touch with me or gord and we’ll do our best to get one to you.

here’s a little instrumental tune that didn’t make the cut.

pictures of me

i knew you were trouble when you walked in.

i’m not a huge taylor swift fan, though i still say if she wrote an album full of songs like “safe and sound” (her contribution to the hunger games soundtrack), i would run out to buy it in a second. and that one dream i had in which she appeared as my girlfriend…that wasn’t so bad, either.

this, however, may be her best work yet. there’s an edge there…a kind of raw energy i’ve always felt was missing in most of the rest of her material. give it a listen and you’ll see what i mean.

(note: because the music industry is full of capitalist whores lacking any semblance of a sense of humour, every version of this video keeps getting removed from youtube. each time the video here goes dead, i’ll find another functioning one, until the end of time.)

we take these gifts when the world shifts.

TAR DIVING (2013)

my friend adam just released an album, and he’s giving physical copies away for free at dr. disc and ah some records. if you like isn’t anything-era my bloody valentine, bleach-era nirvana, and/or “dirty, slippery, visceral, palpable intensity weathered by destruction and delirious lust”, you should check it out. i dig it. you can borrow my shovel and dig it too, if you’d like. but you have to bring it back before april. i’m gonna need that shovel when the spring rain starts to fall.

this is one of my favourite songs on the album. it makes me think of what might have happened if mark sandman decided he wanted to write a melodic grunge song.

and hey, my name is in the album credits as a mastering engineer. mastering music i didn’t record myself isn’t something i’ve ever done before, and not something i consider myself all that adept at…but it was a fun challenge to use the gear i had to try and beef things up and bring up the volume while keeping it musical. adam was happy, so i must have done okay! bandcamp makes it sound a little more compressed than it really is, but ain’t no big thing.

wordpress, you sneaky little monkey.

even with the space upgrades i’ve purchased, the music and video content i put up here on the blog has been adding up. a few months ago i sifted through the archives and got rid of some files that weren’t in use to create a bit of breathing room, but i was only able to do so much. after the most recent video progress report was uploaded, i only had a few hundred megabytes left to work with, which meant it would soon be time to pay for another space upgrade, or else i’d find myself unable to post any more video progress reports here — unless i went to the trouble of hosting them elsewhere. and i don’t really feel like doing that. using videopress and having the videos live here on the blog works just fine for me.

in the first few days of the new year, i noticed something odd. on the media-related pages where wordpress tells you how much space you’ve used and how much you have left, instead of a few hundred megabytes and something like 2.3% of my server space remaining, it said i had more than 15 GB available. i thought it must be a glitch, or a joke, and didn’t put much stock in it until just now, when i got an email from wordpress telling me they’ve doubled the amount of server space i have as a way to ring in 2012, free of charge.

thanks for the surprise, wordpress. i never saw that one coming. now i probably won’t need to buy any extra space for at least another year or two. handshakes and half-eaten cookies for everyone!

the dog wags the tail of the man who is pale.

i have a friend named kevin who lives in pennsylvania. he’s one of those people i send mail to who actually sends mail back to me. i guess you call that a penpal. though we’ve never met, i consider him to be a good friend and one of the most fiercely original, creative people i’ve ever been lucky enough to come in contact with. when CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN was new, he made me an insanely intricate collage book that was sort of a review and a response to the album, as well as an exploration of the themes it opened up, all rolled into one. i talked a bit about it in a progress report video some months back.

kevin will usually write his impressions when i send him a new album, and it’s always fascinating to read what he has to say. the guy has a way of writing that just makes your brain split open in wonderment. today i was surprised to find i had mail, and it was from kevin. it was his “review” of the latest album, as a two-sided piece of collage art.

on the front is the main event:

and a cool homage to LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS is on the back:

a transcription of what’s on the front, in case you can’t figure out how to follow the text from the scan (i suggest clicking on the picture to make it bigger):

there is music you play when you need to see. sounds that define vision. johnny west’s new record, “medium fi music for mentally unstable lovers”, is a magic periscope into the brilliance of the present. this is music of the now, peeled back like an orange, full of flavor, succulence, and dripping excess. it is clay in the fingers, a melody running across the electric strings and sprightly piano, imprinting itself into the required form, particles colliding and forming something new.

perfect love casts out fear as we make ourselves willing to love someone for who they are. yet, this by far is the hardest thing anyone has tried to do. it requires communication, the ability to speak the same language and connect through collision and reform, allowing evolution to smooth out a finish over time. this is the soundtrack. these are stories told to drips of water. tales of woe, of heartbreak stolen. these are pictures, smells embracing the one who comes home. a door open. a sun appearing. a night not as long as expected. this is music for the hopeful.

i turn music on in an attempt to understand who i am and what i have to give to someone else. i hear my own narration in these songs, as if i am under my breath contemplating the next step. what is next? it doesn’t really matter as long as i possess vision, motivation, inspiration, and experience. a sound which accompanies the effort is the hidden treasure.

that is so fucking perfect for my life right now, i can’t even put it into words. thanks for that, my friend.

also, on a completely random note, i don’t know if anyone who reads this is at all familiar with male adult film star randy spears…but it occurred to me that he would be the perfect guy to take on the role of charlie sheen, if they ever made a porn film parody of his current bizarre career flame-out.

i can see it so clearly…i think it’s the part randy was born to play, and the legacy charlie wants to leave behind for us all.

a lifetime serving one machine is ten times worse than prison.

joe strummer

i think of joe strummer, on some level, not unlike the way i think of john lennon — as a bundle of contradictions who found himself the “spokesman for a generation” and grew from an angry, confused kid, into an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful artist. he was flawed, he was human, and he didn’t try to pretend he was anything more or less than that. but he did try to use his influence to better the world in some way, and he made some great music while he was at it.

my first clash album was combat rock. maybe not the best place to start (almost everyone would tell you to grab london calling first, and i’d say just as strong a case could be made for the sprawling madness of sandinista!), but it did the job as well as any gateway drug and made me a fan when i was about 13.

i’m not about to try and write some ambitious piece about joe’s life and the music he made with and without the clash. there’s a lot of information on the internet for anyone who’s interested. there are a handful of well-made documentaries out there. there was one moment in one of those films that really resonated with me, though, and it still does.

i was watching westway to the world on TV ten years ago, when it was shown on muchmoremusic — back when they would play roxy music videos at 2:00 am and had a bit more credibility than muchmusic. a lot of people have been critical of the film, because it doesn’t fill in all the blanks and assumes the audience knows a bit about the band and the time in which they existed. i enjoyed it. i liked that there was a lot of great music/vintage footage, and i liked that the band members were on-screen telling the story themselves.

the bit that got to me was right at the end. joe, who was animated and charismatic through the whole film, had the last word. his body language changed and his tone shifted to something more resigned. “whatever a group is,” he said, “it was the chemical mixture of those four people that made the group work. that’s a lesson everyone should learn — don’t mess with it! if it works, just let it. do whatever you have to do to bring it forward, but don’t mess with it. and we learned that…bitterly.”

they’re simple words, but i felt them in my gut. and a few years later, after i had a band with its own peculiar kind of magic and it all fell apart, i understood what he meant. when you have a band, or an artistic collective of any kind, and it works, that’s something special. something to cherish. the stars don’t align like that too often. it only takes one rift, or one person to turn into a bag of douche or leave the group, and the whole axis shifts.

we’ve seen this happen countless times, with bands where the original singer leaves, or the drummer dies, and the band either keeps going or reforms later on with an ill-fitting replacement. i can’t think of a single case where it’s worked out well. a lot of money was made, sure. but the magic was gone, and the music that came out of it was either embarrassing or underwhelming.

there’s a point behind bringing up joe.

tomorrow is something CJAM has dubbed “joe strummer day”, tying strummer’s life and work in with reports on homelessness and poverty in the windsor/detroit area. i was asked to contribute something. i wasn’t sure i’d be able to come up with anything, but after throwing away the idea of a cover of “straight to hell” (not exactly an obscure choice, is it?), it came to me out of the blue. i knew what i should do. shooby-dooby-do.

back when i was watching westway to the world in 2000 as a short-haired, clean-shaven johnny, i liked the song “bankrobber” a lot — maybe more than anything else i heard in the film. because of the lack of exposition, i was left to assume the song was on sandinista!, so i went out and bought the album. but “bankrobber” wasn’t there.

turns out it’s not on any studio album. it only shows up on a few compilations, none of which were readily available at the time. now, of course, you can find just about any piece of music in crummy compressed form on youtube, as long as sony music or some other soulless entity hasn’t taken it down so they can keep dancing the corporate bullshit dance.

today you can find “bankrobber” on youtube in a few different forms. the strange thing is, when i first heard it there was something weary and beautiful in it that grabbed me. now i find i don’t like it half as much as i used to. it’s still a cool song, but it’s not something that would get me to run out and buy the album i think it might be on anymore. i’m not sure what happened there.

in most cases i’m not a big fan of artists transposing cover songs into another key when they sing them. my feeling is, if you can’t sing the song in the key in which it was written, you have no business singing it at all, UNLESS you’re going to do something really drastic with the arrangement and really make the song your own. then i think it can be justified.

i’m not one to cover other people’s songs much anyway. but when i do, i try to put my own spin on the song without transposing it at all. this time i thought i would do something different. if you tune in tomorrow, maybe you’ll hear it on CJAM at some point, if someone plays it. if not, you can hear it right here.

Bankrobber

if it reminds you a little of a song of mine off of AN ABSENCE OF SWAY called “will work for food”, that’s not quite an accident. i was toying around with a different take on that song, playing with the rhythm, shifting it around a bit, and playing it on the martin 00-17 half a step lower than i did the first time around, just for fun. then i started singing the words to “bankrobber”, and…well…you hear what happened.

i recorded it this afternoon. while i could have done a better mixing job, i don’t have the patience or the space on the mixer to take another crack at it (i’ve been recording so much stuff, i’ve maxed out everything and need to mix a bunch of things and get them off of there to free up some space). so this is as good as it’s going to get for now. i think it’s good enough. i like the song in its original key and could have kept it there, but i also kind of like what i did with it here, rendering it almost unrecognizable.

what’s really interesting to me is this: when you get rid of the reggae rhythm and the dub effects, and really concentrate on the lyrics, it becomes clear just what a good folk song is hiding in there. the words are even kind of relevant to the whole poverty/homelessness theme, though it wasn’t planned that way. just a happy accident.

incidentally, this is probably the closest thing i’ve done to a CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN-sounding song in a long time, aside from the absence of vocal multi-tracking. i kind of went out of my way to do that, just for fun — right down to the skeletal kick drum/tambourine rhythm, which isn’t the kind of drum part i seem to play much anymore.

also, the end-of-the-month video progress report will be along shortly. there’s a good chance it’ll show up on christmas day. and that’s just funny.