RIP Gord Downie

I remember hearing The Tragically Hip back in my senior year of college, when Fully Completely came out, just a few days before my 22nd birthday. I was the music director for our AM station, WECB, and I always tried to keep the selection eclectic and interesting. I’d heard of the band, having seen their previous three releases in the music bins (1987’s self-titled EP, 1989’s Up to Here and 1991’s Road Apples), but their third album was definitely their breakthrough, at least in Beantown. I loved that they were a mixture that defied description, other than they sounded really cool. I immediately put “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” in rotation and “Fifty Mission Cap” as an extra play.

A year later, I’m living quite skint in the burbs of Allston and for a brief time my roommate and I have cable, and my then-girlfriend and I start watching Canada’s MuchMusic channel in earnest. It’s where I first hear great Canadian musicians like Moist, Barenaked Ladies, and Sloan in regular rotation instead of just occasionally. I stumble upon The Hip’s classic single “Grace, Too” (from 1995’s Day for Night) when I watch their video, greatly amused and fascinated by its lo-fi genius, using only video feedback, reflection, and a shirtless Gord to play off the boasting lyrics.  It becomes my favorite song of theirs.

A few years later and I’m back home in midwestern Massachusetts, trying to get my life and accounts back in order, and I’m listening to WRSI and WHMP, two Pioneer Valley stations that weren’t afraid to play the same eclectic music that I loved hearing back in my college days. I hear occasional plays of “Ahead by a Century” (from 1996’s Trouble at the Henhouse) but alas, never get around to taping it off the radio.

By 1998 I’ve got a steady job at the record store and expanding my musical tastes with every new and intriguing release that comes in. So much the better if I can get a promo copy for it! The BMG rep hands me a copy of their 1998 album Phantom Power and I immediately fall in love with it, especially the lovely “Bobcaygeon”.

By the end of 2000 I’d be leaving that job, but not before getting another dose of the Hip with that year’s Music@Work album. I find myself amused once more, this time by the fitting title song:

…as well as one if the deeper cuts, “Freak Turbulence.”

In 2002, I’m writing my trilogy down in the basement on a nightly basis, and hitting up Newbury Comics on a weekly basis, and In Violet Light comes out, another excellent Hip album. Oddly enough it’s years before I actually see the hilarious video for my favorite song off it, “The Darkest One”.

I kind of lose track of the band in the mid-2000s due to multiple moves and personal events, but eventually I catch up and pick up the rest of their catalog. I sadly admit that I don’t listen to them nearly as much as I should, and I never got to see them live.

But The Tragically Hip has never really been a band that I wanted to overindulge in. I like the fact that I’ll throw on Live Between Us or Now for Plan A or even Yer Favourites and think…damn, this is one hell of a great band. I like being pleasantly surprised by just how fucking good a band like that can be.

 

Thanks Gord. You were one hell of a great songwriter and humanitarian.

When I left your house this morning,
It was a little after nine
It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations
Reveal themselves, one star at time

Recent Purchases, September Edition, Part I

September has long been the Big Release Month for music.  I remember back in my HMV days, the stock would grow exponentially and the back room would be filled with boxes of product just waiting to be checked in, priced up and put out on the floor.  Q4 always started a month early in that respect.  There was so much that came out this past month that I had to split this up into two posts!

LCD Soundsystem, American Dream, released 1 September. Again…was never a big fan of this group. But somehow this album just clicked with me in a big way, and I love it.

Mogwai, Every Country’s Sun, released 1 September. One of my favorite post-rock bands is back with yet another excellent platter of atmospheric sounds.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Punishment of Luxury, released 1 September. I’m finding this album a lot of fun. Yet another stellar album from the band.

Nothing But Thieves, Broken Machine, released 8 September. I’m really digging this one as well. This is a band that sounds commercially alt-pop, but they write some really lovely melodies.

Sparks, Hippopotamus, released 8 September. You can always expect something wildly creative and a bit off-kilter from the Mael brothers, and this album is one of their best in the last few years.

Tori Amos, Native Invader, released 8 September. Tori’s albums can be very hit or miss…you either love them or you think she’s gone off the deep end. I certainly do love this one.

Death from Above 1979, Outrage! Is Now, released 8 September. Another band I didn’t expect to get into. On the other hand, once again I find myself really liking guitar-and-drum duos!

Mutemath, Play Dead, released 8 September. I’m still trying to get over the fact that their amazing drummer Darren King quit the band just before this album came out, but that hasn’t changed my impression of this album in the least. Paul Meany can still write a hell of a great tune.

….More soon!

Hip Priest

So I’ve been listening to a lot of The Fall lately.  They’re a band that has a VERY long history, an extremely convoluted discography, only one original member (the wonderfully irascible and outspoken Mark E Smith), and one of the weirdest rock styles in all of post-punk.  But I find I love them anyway.


(I taught myself how to play this particular track back in ’88, I love the guitar work on it!)

Recent Music Purchases, March Edition

D’OH!  Forgot to do one of these last month, so here you go.  I’ll have April’s up in a few weeks.

This year is continuing to surprise and delight me with some absolutely solid albums.  A lot of new albums by old favorites, and numerous releases by bands I hadn’t heard of previously.  I’m looking forward to more of this!

Minus the Bear, Voids (released 3 March).  I’ve been hitting this one hard lately…they kind of remind me of Shearwater, with the odd melodies that somehow fit together perfectly.  LOVE this album.

Bush, Black and White Rainbows (released 10 March).  Glad to see them having a second life with a consistent run of excellent new albums.

The Creation, Action Painting (released 17 March).  A fascinating garage band from the UK, this one packages their single 60s album (We Are Paintermen) and the singles from the same era.  They were influential to a hell of a lot of UK musicians, from Jimmy Page to Paul Weller.  [And yes, the UK record label was named after them.]

Spoon, Hot Thoughts (released 17 March).  Probably my favorite Spoon album since Kill the Moonlight back in ’02.  It’s weird, heavy, and there’s a hell of a lot of funk going on as well.

Lloyd Cole, In New York (Collected Recordings 1988-1996) (released 17 March).  A lovely counterpoint to the box set he released for his Commotions work, this contains his first five albums plus an album of demos.  An exellent and underrated songwriter.

Depeche Mode, Spirit (released 17 March).  A return to the darker and more electronic DM.  I’d say this is on par with Ultra, with its heavier, angrier sound.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Damage and Joy (released 24 March).  Wait, this is 2017, not 1987, right?  Seriously, though…it’s a welcome return.  It sounds a lot like their mid-era sound, very similar to Honey’s Dead, but that’s definitely a good thing.

Jamiroquai, Automaton (released 31 March).  Jay Kay still has the funk, and he doesn’t skimp on it here.  I often find myself listening to this in the afternoon as a lift-me-up.

Wire, Silver/Lead (released 31 March).  What can I say?  I will buy anything and everything by this band.  They’ve never let me down once.

Songs from the Eden Cycle, Vol 4

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I love listening to this mix. It was made in September 1998, when I was finishing up the original first draft of The Phoenix Effect.  I was in full-tilt mode on my writing habits by this time: write a few pages during the day, transcribe and revise it at home.  [I believe my comic collecting habit had gone full swing as well — driving halfway across the state on Wednesday afternoons to pick up my weekly list over in Hadley.  Not that that stopped me from working later that night anyway!]

There were a hell of a lot of great albums that came out in 1998, and many of them ended up on heavy rotation during these sessions.  [That’s another post entirely, maybe next week!]  Many of the tracks from those albums ended up on this mix.

Side A

  1. Massive Attack, “Teardrop”
    Every now and again, there’s a song that just blows you away upon first listen, and this is one of them for me.  I bought the import version of Mezzanine because I loved this track so much.  It doesn’t exactly fit in with any scenes or characters in particular, but Liz Fraser’s always-angelic vocals and the band’s sparse-yet-intense music fit the mood of my story perfectly.
  2. VAST, “Touched”
    The WEA rep handed this band’s promo cd to me and stated it would be right in my wheelhouse, and they weren’t wrong.  Not quite goth, not quite darkwave, not quite alternative, but somewhere in between.  Another mood piece I could use when I needed to write a scene full of bite.
  3. Mistle Thrush, “Shine Away”
    [Sorry for the quality…this is the only video of the song I could find.]  In a bit of serendipity, the lead singer of this band was good friends with my then-manager Tom, and he handed me their Silt album to check out.  It’s full of that heavy guitar-laden dreampop I love so much.
  4. Dishwalla, “Until I Wake Up”
    When their second album And You Think You Know What Life’s About dropped in August, I was all over it…it had their excellent songwriting of 1995’s Pet Your Friends but a much louder and heavier sound, and much darker lyrics.  This is my favorite track of theirs, and it fit the mood of frustration a lot of my characters were feeling.
  5. Primal Scream, “Higher Than the Sun”
    Their Screamadelica album remains one of my favorite albums of the 90s (really, you should own it if you don’t already).  I always loved the dreamlike trippiness of this track.  This was another track that influenced my idea of what it felt like for my characters to visit Trisanda: excitement and fascination…but also a little disorienting.
  6. Radiohead, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
    The Bends got a ton of play out of me even during the sessions for True Faith, because it’s that good of an album.  I liked how the track seemed to hint at community but was really more about trying to escape its stifling grip.  In a roundabout way this became another theme in the trilogy: trying to avoid the grip of outside influence.
  7. Hooverphonic, “Eden”
    Their Blue Wonder Power Milk was released the same day as the Dishwalla album and was another big favorite of mine; they’d moved past their synthetic-sounding first album and become more of an organic band here.  This track was one of the inspirations for my wanting to pair Alec and Akaina together; they knew they were different in so many ways, but their spiritual connection transcended that.
  8. Portishead, “Roads”
    I listened to Dummy quite a bit in the summer of 1995 when I was writing True Faith, and this track just stayed in my head for a long time afterwards.  By 1998 I was a big fan of triphop and catching up with all those bands that I’d missed the first time out; it’s a perfect subgenre for setting a mood.
  9. Information Society, “The Ridge”
    This track is a long way from their 1988 “What’s On Your Mind”, that’s for sure.  Essentially a Kurt Harland solo album under the InSoc banner, Don’t Be Afraid is a creepy darkwave affair with a bit of X-Files-ish conspiracy weirdness thrown in.  I used this track as a base for Denni and her trials in trying to balance being a goddess and being a teenage girl.

Side B

  1. Global Communication, “Epsilon Phase”
    I picked up both their 76:13 and Pentamerous Metamorphosis cds at the same time, after being blown away by that Pulusha track (see Vol 3).  Bonus points when I realized the latter was an ambient remix album of a Chapterhouse album!  This is a lovely transcendent track that fits in nicely with the spiritual side of the story.
  2. Portishead, “Half Day Closing”
    A track from 1997’s self-titled second album.  That record was a harder listen, though tracks like this fit in with the trippy headspace stuff I was trying to come up with.
  3. Tin Star, “Raincheck”
    The Thrill Kisser was a surprise favorite of mine (and another album where I grabbed the import before it was issued in the US).  It was a great mix of synth and guitar with quirky lyrics and music.  Another mood choice, this time for those scenes where the characters need to make unfortunate desicions.
  4. theaudience, “I Got the Wherewithal”
    You might know Sophie Ellis-Bextor for her solo dance hits in the UK, but this was her pre-solo band, and I absolutely adored their self-titled album.  It’s perky, snarky, and Very British.  I really wanted them to break in the US, but alas, they surfaced with exactly one American sampler EP before the whole Polygram/Uni shake-up ditched a crapton of good bands.
  5. U2, “Love Is Blindness”
    This was another track that I used for Alec and Akaina.  I hadn’t listened to Achtung Baby for a few years until I found a cheap cd copy at a used record store and it ended up on medium rotation for a year or so.
  6. Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”
    Another single from The Bends.  Put here partly because I like the song, but I think I as also thinking about how what seems shiny and awesome on the surface is quite less so when one looks past all that.  It doesn’t show up so much in TPE or the trilogy, but it shows up in a future Mendaihu Universe story: the enlightenment of the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu may be worth celebrating years after the events in the trilogy…but there’s an ugly undercurrent that never quite went away.
  7. Hooverphonic, “2Wicky”
    I was a latecomer to Hooverphonic’s first album, but I knew this track from hearing it all over the place.  It’s a simple sci-fi sounding track that I thought would fit in with the rest of the mix.  I may have thought about a side story using this song, but I never really got anywhere with it.
  8. Rob Dougan, “Clubbed to Death [Kurayamino Variation]”
    Yes, that song from The Matrix.  I was completely sold on that film, because I’d always been frustrated by Hollywood’s inability to make an SF movie that wasn’t basically a horror or disaster movie with SF elements.  This was a true science fiction film, even if it was filled to the brim with all kinds of action film tropes; it had a story you had to think about and figure out as you were watching it.  It didn’t so much influence my own writing, as much as it confirmed that I was on the right path with my own story.  This, of course, was my favorite track from the film.

…And that concludes the original four-volume Songs from the Eden Cycle mix!  Hope you enjoyed it.  I made a few ‘sequel’ mixes during the trilogy writing years, but I’ll share those at a later time.  These four are the originals, the ones that I’d play on my tape deck in the car during the long commutes, the ones I’d listen to downstairs in the basement when writing.  I’ll still throw them on now and again; sometimes I’ll even have them on my mp3 player that I use when I go to the gym.

More Mendaihu Universe tunage coming soon!