Watch this clip featuring a track by Calgarian chamber-folk-art-rock practicioners, and one of my favourite Canadian bands Raleigh. It’s “It Will Rise”, the closing track to their 2013 record, Sun Grenades & Grenadine Skies, their second.
The band is comprised of Clea Anaïs on vocals, cello and keyboards, Brock Gieger on guitar and vocals, and Matt Doherty on drums. The music is nearly impossible to pin down in terms of a single genre, incorporating folk, chamber pop, ambient, and jazz. But, their sound is anchored by the intertwined voices of the two vocalists Anaïs and Gieger, and the polyrhythmic approach that Doherty takes behind the kit.
When they released their debut record New Times In Black And White in 2011, I got to talk to Brock and Clea. This was around the time they took to the road to tour Canada. Now, with the release of this album, they’re about to take another tour to Europe. And I got to speak to Brock Geiger again recently via email, about the new record, about the making of this track and video, and about taking to the road across the ocean, too. Here’s what he said.
Listen to this track by art rock doyen and former Genesis frontman turned re-invented solo artist Peter Gabriel. It’s “Humdrum”, a track as taken from his 1977 solo record, and the first to bear the title Peter Gabriel. In addition to appearing on that record, it would soon be a popular live track as well.
And on this first statement as a solo artist, he had the help of some pros. The record was produced by Bob Ezrin in Toronto, and with sessions at Olympic Studios in Barnes that included a number of musicians you’ve heard of, including Robert Fripp on guitar, and bassist/Chapman stick player Tony Levin.
It’s important to note that this record was fairly long-awaited. Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, and it was a highly publicized departure considering that Gabriel had defined the band’s tone, and presentation. So, how does this song reflect both his role in Genesis and as a singular solo artist, too? Read more
Listen to this track by primo-prog pioneers and art rock template setters King Crimson. It’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King”, the title track from their 1969 debut record In The Court of the Crimson King. That record set the standard of approach to expansive musical ambition when it came to making rock records, later to be recognized as one of the primary albums that “built prog rock”.
Indeed, this band established the idea of creating artistic statements in the rock vein while avoiding established American R&B influences, and turning to classical and other European ingredients instead. Rather than coming from the gospel churches of the American south, this music is more aligned with the liturgical grandness of the Church of England. This record is where it all began where prog rock is concerned.
This was the first incarnation of the band; Robert Fripp on guitar, Greg Lake singing and playing bass, Michael Giles on drums and percussion, and Ian McDonald on multiple instruments, including the mellotron. It’s this last texture which is so important on this song, giving it an eerily orchestral, and portentous atmosphere.
I think it serves not only as an aural element that would go on to define a genre. But, it also serves the narrative as written by lyricist Pete Sinfield, which is one that matches the mythical with the political.
In the light of that, who is the Crimson King anyway?
Listen to this track by former mop-top British Invasion spearheads and pop music boundary pushers The Beatles. It’s “A Day In The Life” as taken from the modestly successful little platter Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released at the top of the summer of love in June 1967.
By the time work was undertaken to begin the making of this song, and this record, the rules hadn’t really been written as to what an album could be – like, say, a way to create a band inside of a band, and to have the record itself do the job of touring instead of the people behind it having to do it. No one had ever really applied an artistic filter to a record, or to a band in quite this way.
As such, it was a risky approach. There again, the Beatles records always sold well, and I’m sure the project wasn’t thought of as being risky other than by those who undertook it, and who wanted it to be as great as it was on a musical level. The stories around that album, and this track specifically, are fairly well-traveled. But, there is one common thread running through all of those stories; everything about the project drove everyone involved in making it deep into a place of artistic and technological lateral thinking .
Personally, I think the biggest force behind the record’s success didn’t have anything to do with lofty and unifying artistic concepts or technological innovation. I think it had more to do with an honest expression of where the Beatles were at during that time as it was expressed in the songwriting. “A Day In The Life” was one of the first songs the band tackled, helping to set the tone and expectations surrounding the project as a whole.
As such, it’s always seemed kind of ironic to me that this final track on an album that is otherwise thought of as the most technicolour of all Beatles records is so full of forboding.
Listen to this track by solo Japan founder and pop music envelope pusher David Sylvian. It’s “Let The Happiness In”, a single from his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive. The record scored a top forty showing on the British charts that year.
Sylvian joined on this track by renowned trumpeter Mark Isham who helps to give the song its Miles Davis-style vibe, and by Sylvian’s long-standing musical cohort by this time, Ryuichi Sakamoto who plays synths, and is responsible for the low-brass arrangement that helps set the scene so well.
This is one of those songs that sets a sombre mood, but is ultimately hopeful. A part of the sombreness may be down to Sylvian’s voice, never an instrument completely without shades of grey. Even the scene is somewhat melancholic; a lone figure by the seaside, and on the cusp of deciding what kind of day it’s going to be.
I think too that this song is ultimately speaking to an important aspect of the human condition, too. Read more
Listen to this track by Calgarian art-rock quartet Boreal Sons. It’s “Spin”, the opening track to a thematically connected EP Bedtime Briar, their 2012 follow up to 2010’s Whom Thunder Hath Made Greater EP. This song, and the others on this new EP explores the ideas of inner life, outer appearances, and the nature of identity that are culminated in both. These are big themes indeed. But, the starting point of all of that comes from a simple and single image that forms the central concept of the release; that of a sleeping golden retriever, he being the titular Briar.
“Spin” is rife with changes in tonal direction, lots of momentum built up and then gently wound down again, and sonic spaciousness that gives it all a sense of depth. This makes it a great backdrop to the idea of delving into the mind, and ultimately into the root nature of a sleeping figure whose true identity is hidden from view.
That this figure is a golden retriever, a fact not mentioned directly in the song, or in other tracks, brings out the dimensions of the material. After all, if the dreams of animals can reveal a full-colour sense of spirituality, then how much more complex is the universe itself than how we understand it as human beings? Read more
Listen to this track by musical fusion-cuisine gourmand and art rock avatar Peter Gabriel. It’s “San Jacinto” as taken from 1982’s Peter Gabriel, the fourth album he’d put out under that title, and known in North America as Security.
That record moved Gabriel even closer to the top 40 than he’d been previously on the third Peter Gabriel album. Yet, Security wasn’t more accessible, nor were any of the songs on it in any way in line with anything that was on the radio at the time including “Shock The Monkey”, which scored him an enduring hit single. As for “San Jacinto”, this song would be as far off the beaten track as any song he’d ever written and recorded.
The song, and the rest of the album, was the result of a number of factors in which Gabriel was more directly involved than ever before. One was a more hands-on role in the production chair. Another was his interest in mixing early sampling technology with spare percussion-driven arrangements, which certainly affected the production aspects. And then there is the subject matter of the song, which was in part the result of a personal encounter that would prove to be instrumental in how the song came out. Read more
Listen to this track by quirky Canadian art-pop maven Jane Siberry. It’s “Mimi On The Beach”, a breakthrough Canadian hit from her 1984 record No Borders Here. The song took off on college and alternative radio that year, bolstered by the heavy rotation of the video, made by Siberry with the help of friends.
The record yielded a couple of other hits in “Symmetry (The Way Things Have To Be)” and “I Muse Aloud”. But, for me it’s “Mimi” that made its mark, paving the way for those others.
At a point in pop history when Canadian music was beginning to find solid footing away from token Can-Con tracks on commercial radio, this song was a breath of fresh air. Siberry hit on stylistic notes from across the pop spectrum, most notably Joni Mitchell’s strong sense of narrative, with a dash of Kate Bush’s otherworldly charm.
In this song, there seems to be a cinematic quality to be found, given a striking image of a girl on a pink surf board, with accompanying parasol and picnic lunch. But, there’s a sense of dread, too.
Who is Mimi? And what was Jane Siberry trying to say about the world through her? Read more
Listen to this track by Winnipeg-based art rock duo Querkus. It’s “Half-Acid Lee”, a cinematic John Barry-meets-prog-meets-pop song as taken from the band’s 2011 debut album Spaces Between the Leaves Make Room For the Stars. The song is a part of a richly-textured record that pulls in all kinds of influences which range from that 60s film music sound that also fueled acts like Portishead and early Goldfrapp, to the progressive rock complexity of King Crimson, with splashes of PJ Harvey and Kate Bush in there for good measure.
The band is comprised of two creative minds in vocalist/keyboardist Karen Asmundson and guitarist/vocalist Edgar Ozolins. Both are interested in amalgamating disparate styles and sounds together into an ambitious whole. This song is a shining example of the results of their efforts; a large-scale, and decidedly menacing track that is marked by the contrast of Asmundson’s voice against the abrasiveness of Ozolins’ guitar.
After featuring this track on my recent Winter Indie Round-Up post, I got in contact with the song’s writer Karen Asmundson. She and I talked a bit about the making of this song, about how the Querkus sound is interpreted in a live setting, about the pressures of making a debut record, and about visions of some very angry trees …
Oh, and I thought it might be fun to give away some copies of the record to you guys here. Details at the end of the interview!
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Listen to this track by left-of-center art pop constructionists The Flaming Lips. It’s the second-to-last song on their epic 2002 masterpiece Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, and what a stunning concoction of electronica, progressive rock, and pop it is, too. This song, as light and airy as it is, hides depths that belie its gentle and welcoming surface. This is a song about the fragile thread of life, a theme explored on the album as a whole.
The group had its beginning in the early ’80s, although it took until the ’90s for them to make a wider commercial impact. By the time they recorded Yoshimi …, they’d put out at least one hit single (“She Don’t Use Jelly”), and one universally acclaimed album (The Soft Bulletin) behind them. Yet it was here that the band, under the leadership of Wayne Coyne, made their greatest impact on the mainstream. And this is my favourite song off of the record, which stands as one of the most fully realized and cohesive records of the decade. Read more