Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday Playlist #35

Sunday Playlist #35: Wednesday Week

It's an unusually quiet stretch 'round these parts, so I thought I'd liven things up with some songs.

On a tangentially-related note, close observers of this space will have realized that my postings from concerts past have dried up over the past while — I got swept up in the busy-ness of summer and never really got back into the groove of it. But I have been working in the background, and I think I have enough stuff in the tank that I can start pumping reviews out on a regular-ish schedule again. So I hope you're as excited about June 2011 as I am, because starting next week we'll all be re-living it.

The Radio Dept. - David

New Look - unknown

Hercules & Love Affair - Falling

Diamond Rings - You & Me

Gentleman Reg - Driving the Truth

Gentleman Reg is launching his fab new Leisure Life album with a release party at The Gladstone this Sunday (December 2, 2012) — more info here. Army Girls are opening and it's a night that you shouldn't miss.

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recording: The Highest Order

Artist: The Highest Order

Songs: That's How I Got To Memphis [Tom T. Hall cover] + Mind Odyssey [Spur cover]

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room, November 24, 2012.

The Highest Order - That's How I Got To Memphis

The Highest Order - Mind Odyssey

Full review to follow. If you haven't been heading out to shows lately, you might not have noticed that Simone Schmidt has actually been having a busy year, debuting a whole lot of new songs under a couple different artistic identities. So far, it hasn't added up to a whole lotta released material, just a couple 7" singles like the one being released tonight. 2013 should see that change, with full-lengths slated from both Fiver as well as this unit.

The first set, featuring Stew Crookes on pedal steel, actually didn't sound all that different than full-band Fiver sets, but the second set with some extra guitar from Quest For Fire's Chad Ross gave a bit of a clearer idea of the psychedelic twang envisioned as this unit's core identity. There were several new originals sprinkled throughout both sets (keep an eye out for "Chain Mail" and "200 Pounds") as well a a whole bunch of covers. The pair here, with Cookes and Ross respectively, give a bit of a feel for the different flavours the band was working on and imparting with their interpretive skills. Word is that the full-length is slated for a February release, so I'm sure we'll be having another night with the band 'round then.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Recording: boyBITCH

Artist: boyBITCH

Song: The Bloinks 1 Kate*

Recorded at Holy Oak Café ("Planet SYNCATRON Warp 1"), November 23, 2012.

boyBITCH - The Bloinks 1 Kate

Full review to follow. So far as I can tell, David Vanden Enden, who performs as boyBITCH, seems to be a relatively recent addition to the local scene, but I reckon it won't be long 'til T.O. audiences cotton to his DIY electro-pop. There's hints of Junior Boys in the music, a growing collection of tunes and a desire to put on a show — keep an eye out and expect to be entertained.

* Thanks to David for passing the title of this one along.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recording: MV & EE

Artist: MV & EE

Songs: Environs + Feelin' Fine

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room, November 19, 2012.

MV & EE - Environs + Feelin' Fine

Full review to follow. "See the losers in the best bars / Meet the winners in the dives." — no disrespect to Uncle Neil, who I hear was putting on a pretty good show down the road, but my preferred choice was to get a little more elbow room at a show that promised no few psychedelic pills of its own. Closing out a two-month tour, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder (joined here by T.O. connection Matt "Doc" Dunn) finished off the night with this extended jam. P.S.: that's a banjo at the start that's making those sitar-like noises.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Recording: Isla Craig

Artist: Isla Craig

Songs: Flower + The City

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, November 18, 2012.

Isla Craig - Flower

Isla Craig - The City

Full review to follow. Y'know — I get it. There are people who need to get away from this city to discover out what they're doing. There are some people who find it alienating or just too much — this city will starve you. But this city sustains me. It's shown me a helluva lot of beauty and it's made me who I am — when you're lucky, this city will feed you.

Isla Craig is one of my local music heroes and she knows about the city. An enthusiastic collaborator, it's actually surprising that her new tape (issued by Totally Disconnected) is actually only the second release to bear her own name. It's important that such a team player gets some individual recognition.

That said of course, this is also a collaboration, with four singularly amazing talents — dubbed "Soul Sisters Supreme Redux Version 2.0" — joining Craig, and for most of the night, their combined voices were more than enough to mesmerize and delight. To have any one of these women in our midst would enrich us; to have all five is a truly amazing.

With so many projects on the go, it's no small effort to get them all in a room together, but word on the street is that we can anticipate something really special from this grouping in the new year. More details when that gets confirmed, but in the meantime, grab the tape (or the digital version) and soak in the vibes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recording: Doom Squad

Artist: Doom Squad

Songs: Born from the Marriage of the Moon and a Crocodile + Eternal Return*

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("Exclaim! Magazine Destination Out Showcase"), November 17, 2012.

Doom Squad - Born from the Marriage of the Moon and a Crocodile + Eternal Return

Full review to follow. I came to this Owen Pallet-curated show knowing nothing about the night's final act, but it's safe to say it was rather a change of pace from the quieter bands that came before. Whereas THOMAS feel right at home in a church, there was a feeling that the giant cross above the band should have been turned upside down for this gothrave attack. Taking the stage in cowls and marked with mysterious forehead symbols, Doom Squad turned the quiet recital into a full-on dance party, with surging beats and long trance-inducing songs. It looks like the band will be playing the Silver Dollar on December 7th, by the way.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing the titles to these along.

Recording: THOMAS

Artist: THOMAS

Song: Triumph

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("Exclaim! Magazine Destination Out Showcase"), November 17, 2012.

THOMAS - Triumph

Full review to follow. Once again, a church is the perfect place to hear Thomas Gill's deceptively limpid praise songs, enhanced with skittering drumpad and Gill's own nimble guitar work.

Recording: Alex Lukashevsky

Artist: Alex Lukashevsky

Song: Burger King Jamaica

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("Exclaim! Magazine Destination Out Showcase"), November 17, 2012.

Alex Lukashevsky - Burger King Jamaica

Full review to follow. In the absence of Felicity Williams, Lukashevsky expanded his vocal trio (now available on album!) into a full-fledged avant-skiffle band. There were still vocal trills from Daniela Gesundheit, but with a bouncing rhythm section (and Eric Woolston's diverse percussion) this may have been the most rocking out Lukashevsky has been with his own material since Deep Dark United.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Recording: The Super Friendz

Artist: The Super Friendz

Songs: Come Clean + Rescue Us From Boredom / 10 lbs.

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 16, 2012.

The Super Friendz - Come Clean + Rescue Us From Boredom

The Super Friendz - 10 lbs.

Full review to follow. Picking selections from all three of their albums (but, perhaps pointedly, ignoring the one called "Nostalgia Machine") '90's CanAltRock stalwarts The Super Friendz returned to action for a T.O. show following up on last month's Halifax reunion gig. Sounding no more rough around the edges than the last time I saw 'em circa 1995, this was no doubt a love-in for fans of a certain age. The band mentioned that they were recording the show, so until something official and more pristine emerges, here's a couple field recordings to demonstrate how the night went down. There's a bit of chattering around me at the outset of "Come Clean".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recording: Adam Scime

Artist: Adam Scime

Song: Voice of Eru (for solo double bass and electronics)

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("Emergents I"), November 15, 2012.

Adam Scime - Voice of Eru

Full review to follow. Not sure who Eru is, but my impression is that they are not the bearer of good news in this somewhat apocalyptic composition performed by Scime (pronounced "she may") with bowed double bass to the accompaniment of a backing track of highly manipulated recordings of the same instrument. Although this comes from the art music world, it should be comprehensible to anyone who digs, say, Godspeed You! Black Emperor or music of that ilk.

Scime caught the city's attention earlier this year with his "Rob Ford: An Operatic Life", and here presented a variety of compositions, from electro-acoustic noise to solo chamber piano to an excerpt from a new operatic work.

It was all part of a very successful launch to this year's "Emergents" series at The Music Gallery, which presents the next generation of risk-taking performers in the classical/new music realm. It also rewards risk-taking audiences, offering a very affordable $10 ticket to see a well-chosen night of exciting music (it's an amazingly even cheaper five bucks for MG members!). The next instalment is coming up on December 7th and is recommended to anyone who wants to expand their musical horizons a little.

P.S.: The Music Gallery has just unveiled a very user-friendly online ticketing system, so it's easier than ever to take in a show there.

Recording: Mac DeMarco

Artist: Mac DeMarco

Song: Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans

Recorded at The Drake Underground, November 14, 2012.

Mac DeMarco - Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans

Full review to follow. In between the broken strings and on-stage belching there was some fine pop songcraft and dual-guitar interplay.

Recording: Cousins

Artist: Cousins

Song: Body

Recorded at The Drake Underground, November 14, 2012.

Cousins - Body

Full review to follow. A few minor tweaks since the last time I saw this pair — Aaron Mangle has given up on his kickdrum and played standing up throughout, for starters — and there were a couple new songs in the setlist as well, including this one: "it's the electricity in the air".

Recording: Elsa

Artist: Elsa

Song: In Two

Recorded at The Drake Underground, November 14, 2012.

Elsa - In Two

Full review to follow. A late addition to the night's lineup, I knew nothing about this band before they hit the stage (and after looking up their bandcamp, I don't know much more) but they left the impression that they're onto something interesting. Especially in their mellower moments, there were hints of, say, Real Estate and The Sea and Cake unspooling from the dual guitars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Recording: Elfin Choirs

Artist: Elfin Choirs

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, November 13, 2012.

Elfin Choirs - [excerpt from an improvization]

Full review to follow. Working in his solo improv incarnation, Colin Fisher sat above a semicircle of effects pedals and manipulated them until it sounded utterly unlike he was actually playing a guitar. In places, this was totally not unlike "circuit-bending" synth excursions — there was even a part that sounded like a Pac Man machine being melted down for scrap. That would be sandwiched in between the harsh, industrial factory noises and the icy landscapes near the close.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Recording: Laura Barrett

Artist: Laura Barrett

Songs: The Sharper Side + The Humble Fawn

Recorded in Stuart's Living Room (OOTS House Show #3), November 10, 2012.

Laura Barrett - The Sharper Side

Laura Barrett - The Humble Fawn

Full review to follow. Higher education's gain has been the music scene's loss, and it's been too long since I saw Laura Barrett playing her own material. Hopefully that situation's not going to last forever, and it was exciting to hear a couple new songs being played on the piano. Barrett is joined here by Patti Cake's Kritty Uranowski, adding her pipes — and leading the singalong on "The Humble Fawn" — which also features some guest piano from Chris Cummings. Update: you can now see some footage from this set on OOTS' Vimeo page.

Recording: Marker Starling

Artist: Marker Starling

Song: Author

Recorded in Stuart's Living Room (OOTS House Show #3), November 10, 2012.

Marker Starling - Author

Full review to follow. Things may have been a little quiet on the OOTS front lately, but label honcho Stuart Duncan has been keeping things percolating with a series of stripped-down house shows. You can expect some videos to show up from this night to go along with the ones from the previous instalments, but for now, here's my field recording from the occasion.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Recording: B-17

Artist: B-17

Song: Another Nocturnal Day

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 2), November 9, 2012.

B-17 - Another Nocturnal Day

Full review to follow. A random thought: like many of the bands affiliated with Optical Sounds, these guys are not aiming to be an overnight success. Besides having served their time in other projects, B-17 have been working hard, practicing and honing their sound over the past year. So while they were pretty tasty right out of the gate, by now they're a real rock'n'roll blitzkrieg, capable of laying waste to an audience. Flash-in-the-pans take note: this is how you build a band, a sound, a group of friends and — dare I say it? — a community.

Recording: Revolvers

Artist: Revolvers

Song: Postcards [The Hoa Hoa's cover]

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 2), November 9, 2012.

Revolvers - Postcards

Full review to follow. One band that was missing from the two nights of celebration at the release of the recent Optical Sounds compilation was the much-missed Hoa Hoa's. Revolvers helped remedy that by invoking their memory with this reinterpretation that puts their own spin on an old fave, instead of trying to slavishly copy the original. Beyond this, there was a whole lot of tasty new stuff from the band that we'll be hearing more of soon.

Recording: Volcano Playground

Artist: Volcano Playground

Song: Everything at Once

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 2), November 9, 2012.

Volcano Playground - Everything at Once

Full review to follow. In one sense, VP were a bit of an outlier at Optical Sounds' fest — you didn't see any other bands with a laptop on stage over the two nights. But while the band works in more of a simmer/implode vein than the boil/explode one that was more typical at this show, their shoegaze-y postpunk still fits in in sonic terms — there are many mansions in the OS psych-pop church.

Recording: The BB Guns

Artist: The BB Guns

Song: Queen of the World*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 2), November 9, 2012.

The BB Guns - Queen of the World

Full review to follow. I'd previously heard BB Guns playing over a more jury-rigged sound system, so it was a blast to hear them at full power over the Dollar's PA. "Girl group garage" is a super-snappy tag, but there's more range and depth to this band that that would suggest. In any case, they're bracing fun to see live — no stand-in-place mopers in this lot.

* This is an educated guess at the title — it was listed as "Queen" on the band's setlist. Please leave a comment if you hear anything different!

Recording: Persian Rugs

Artist: Persian Rugs

Song: Cotton Candy*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 2), November 9, 2012.

Persian Rugs - Cotton Candy

Full review to follow. It's been a little while since I've checked out Persian Rugs' dreamy guitar pop, so I was pleased to hear a handful of songs that were new to me, including this one. The band has spent some time in the studio recently, so hopefully we'll be hearing some new recordings soon.

* I've heard that this is the tentative title to this song, but it might be subject to change.

Recording: Kontravoid

Artist: Kontravoid

Song: Killed In Action

Recorded at Toronto Public Library (Bloor/Gladstone branch – "Make Some Noise" program), November 9, 2012.

Kontravoid - Killed In Action

Full review to follow. Cam Findlay's Kontravoid might be best experienced in, say, an unlit basement chamber with mysterious chains on the wall. Bringing it out into the gorgeous and spacious Bloor/Gladstone library branch gave it a slightly different cast, but no amount of light would be able to dispel the darkness at the music's core. At any rate, the vaulted ceiling and temple-like arches were a worthy setting for Findlay's goth-y synthpunk. The large space ate up his vocals a bit, but here's a hint of what it sounded like.

As always, huge props to the folks behind the "Make Some Noise" program at TPL, who do an admirable job of reflecting our local culture back to us before it gets magnified worldwide. Several alumni of the program are now playing huge venues, touring in Europe and conquering the late-night talkshow circuit — but you can see 'em here first and close-up.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Recording: The Disraelis

Artist: The Disraelis

Song: Strange Request

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 1), November 8, 2012.

The Disraelis - Strange Request

Full review to follow. The Disraelis 2.0 are rounding into a sonic force to be reckoned with, closing out the night with Cameron Jingles' aggressively-slurred lyrics given force by Richie Gibson's guitar heroics.

Recording: The Auras

Artist: The Auras

Song: The Peacock*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Psych-Pop Toronto Release Party – Night 1), November 8, 2012.

The Auras - The Peacock

Full review to follow. The task of leading off the first of two nights in celebration of Optical Sounds' excellent new compilation fell to the youngest of the OS-affiliated bands. Although six-wide on stage, the band are showing a talent for not overstuffing their arrangements — admirable restraint employed in the service of their psychedelic excursions.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing along the title to this one.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reel Asian 2012: Reviews #3

Reviews of screenings from the The 2012 Reel Asian International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Cold Steel (Dir: David Wu Tai-Wai. China/Hong Kong, 2011. 101 mins.)

Screens: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 10:45 p.m. @ The Royal

As an established sub-sub-genre of action films, the "sniper movie" is generally thought to be more sedate and deliberately-paced than most — like its protagonists patiently waiting for that right moment to pull the trigger. This hyper-kinetic WWII flick upends all such expectations, barrelling ahead through its action sequences with blink-and-you'll-miss-it velocity. It tends to pause, however, for counterpoints of languid melodrama, both modes laid on with the same heavy-handedness you might find in a Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Dim-witted farmboy Lianfeng is a crack shot while out hunting, and his skills are enhanced with lessons from a rescued American pilot. That's enough to get him impressed into an elite sniper unit, and soon enough he's fighting against the Japanese occupation and becoming a hero to his townspeople. He's also interested in romancing tearoom owner Yan, a widow coming to terms with the love that she's lost.

There's not much subtlety in either the action or romance scenes, and the thin characterizations are sketched out with a sort of all-platitude approach to dialogue, exacerbated by Lianfeng's penchant for parroting back any perceived words of wisdom he's managed to remember from previous conversations. There's also some interesting kinks in the movie's historicism that seem designed to please contemporary political tastes, including both a thorough demonizing of the imperialistic Japanese as well as a problem-solving Communist cadre that manages to pop up whenever a deus ex machina is required.

The movie reaches for some weighty themes, most centrally the need for soldiers to become emotionally-repressing "cold steel", and how that affects them outside battle, but really doesn't get too far with them. For all that, however, the relentless drive does make this a compellingly-watchable actioner, so it's worth seeing for anyone willing to check expectations of subtlety at the door.

The Woodsman and the Rain (Dir: Shuichi Okita, Japan, 2011, 129 mins.)

Screens: Saturday, November 17, 2012, 4:00 p.m., Richmond Hill Centre For The Performing Arts

When aiming for "heartwarming", it's very easy for a film to miss the mark and get stuck on "cloying" — but that never happens in this modest charmer of a film. Lumberjack Katsu lives a fairly uneventful widower's life: avoiding sweets after lunch, trying to motivate his unambitious son and working in the forest that he's strongly attuned to. When a small film crew shows up to make a zombie movie, he's rather indifferent at first. But when he slowly gets roped into their orbit — from politely helping with a stalled car to acting as an informal location scout — it isn't long before he's shemped-up in makeup and staggering along as an undead extra.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Koichi, a young man amongst the filmmakers that at first seems to be a sullen spare part, is the movie's somewhat reluctant scriptwriter and director. Circumstances soon push him and Katsu into an unexpected friendship. Well, no big surprise: the woodsman helps Koichi find his spirit and strength, which in turn gives Katsu a chance to re-evaluate his broken relationship with his son.

All of this unfolds according to a heartwarming formula as rigourous as the internal logic of, say, a zombie flick, but that doesn't subtract from this film's genuine low-key charms. Foremost among them is actor Koji Yakusho, who animates the stoic Katsu with subtle gestures that speak volumes. As he comes to life — and increasingly drafts his fellow townspeople to help with the production of the film — we see him emerge from the zombie-ish routine he'd been stuck in since losing his wife and start living again.

In the end, this film is as humble and workmanlike — and as likable — as its protagonist.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reel Asian 2012: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the The 2012 Reel Asian International Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Tatsumi (Dir: Eric Khoo, Singapore, 2011, 98 mins.)

Screens: Friday, November 9, 2012, 11:00 p.m. @ The Royal

This animated biopic recounts the life and times of Japan's Yoshihiro Tatsumi, who was at the forefront of transforming manga from simple kid-centric comics to an artform with both a cinematic visual sweep and a psychological depth to appeal to adult readers. Tatsumi has recalled the story of what he prefers to be labelled "gekiga" in his sprawling autobiography A Drifting Life, which gets bogged down in places with minutiae surrounding Japan's comic-book publishing industry in the 50's and 60's. Although a little unfocused at first (the film launches with Tatsumi's homage to his mentor, manga legend Osamu Tezuka without providing any context), this does an admirable job of winnowing out the extraneous material to get to the heart of the story.

Ultimately, the film's aim to is weave together three mutually-supportive strands: some contextual history about life in postwar Japan, Tatsumi's biography and a selection of his stories. It's that final element that really elevates the film, bringing Tatsumi's clean lines to life in a way that respects his visual style while reflecting and amplifying the historical and biographical themes — and expressing the melancholic despair that underlies them all. Thus "Hell" gives a sense of some of the broader post-Hiroshima political feelings while "Occupied" tells the tale of a struggling manga artist. And toward the end, "Good Bye"'s tale of a superannuated office worker nearing retirement reflects on Tatsumi's own feelings of mortality.

It seems that this will most likely appeal to those that already know Tatsumi's work, and perhaps seem like a niche offering for the manga crowd. But Tatsumi is a master storyteller whose appeal transcends such narrow limits, so this might give a push to some new readers. If this does sound intriguing, you should definitely check out the collections issued in North America by Drawn & Quarterly, such as The Push Man & Other Stories and Abandon The Old In Tokyo.

Addendum, January '13: It looks like this will be getting a theatrical run at TIFF at the end of the month (details here) so be sure to head out for your chance to see this on the big screen.

Wolf Children (Dir: Mamoru Hosoda, Japan, 2012, 117 mins.)

Screens: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 8:15 p.m. @ The Royal

Fans of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films will not want to miss this new feature that feels indebted to his work. In fact, with its rural setting and reverence for nature, it feels like Totoro could be just a mountain away. It also features fiercely strong female characters in a villain-free tale that is more of an unusual domestic story than any sort of battle between good and evil.

In voiceover, Yuki recounts the story of her parents' romance, wherein her mother Hana soon discovers that the lone wolf in her university classes has another side to himself. That's not enough to stop the path of true love, but does lead to sadness and confusion after his death when Hana is left in the care of two children who have inherited his shapeshifting werewolf abilities.

Taking the children to the remote mountains not only keeps them away from prying eyes, but gives them a chance to explore both sides of their nature. As they grow older, Yuki is attracted to the human world and new friends at school while younger brother Ame, initially shy and withdrawn, is pulled toward his animal nature after the discovery of his sensei, the last wild wolf who rules over the deepest forests.

All of this is a metaphor for the way that any child has to negotiate their family background to find their own path in life, making this a relatable story about growing up. Despite some hard times (and a few harrowing adventures), it's presented with a general tone of sweetness. But the relationships help to keep things grounded, and except for some overly-contrived drama in the final act, the film feels satisfyingly tethered to real life.

Hosoda's visuals, meanwhile, are generally quite spectacular. Often preferring wide, expansive shots, this should look quite excellent on the big screen (especially in being presented on 35mm). Not a masterpiece, but very much worth seeing for anyone with a working knowledge of Miyazaki looking to expand their reach.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Festival Preview/Advance Reviews #1: Reel Asian 2012

The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival 2012

November 6–11, 2012 (Toronto) + November 16–17, 2012 (Richmond Hill)

I had a good time last year at Reel Asian, partially because its mandate has room for a lot of variety. Taking in a not just a wide range of cultures and languages, there's also a big sweep that puts popcorn populism and art-house sophistication side-by-side. That remains in its sixteenth edition, which finds its home once again at the comfy Royal on College, with additional screenings in several venues including Innis Town Hall. The festival also takes the films to the audiences beyond downtown, with a follow-up weekend of screenings in Richmond Hill. Definitely worth heading out to for a chance to see films that wouldn't otherwise make it onto the big screen 'round these parts. All films are offered with English subtitles.

Regular screening tickets are $12, or cheaper with passes, including a $36 4-Pak. Check the festival website for the full schedule and ticket into.


Stateless Things (Dir: Kim Kyung-mook, South Korea, 2011, 115 min.)

Screens: Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 9:15 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall

Kim's first full-length feature is a complicated construction that forces the viewer to decode its layers. The film appears hands-off and observational at times, but as it unfolds, it increasingly destabilizes our sense of what we have already seen.

We open on the story of Joon and Soonhee, workers at a gas station and refugees from North Korea who are now stuck on the bottom of the ladder in the South. Left to fend for themselves against a harassing bully of a boss, they take an action that will cost them their jobs but give them a sense of the freedom that they see around them, as they go on a touristy trip through Seoul.

The second fork of the story involves Hyun, a young hustler who has a luxurious apartment over the city which comes at the cost of being "kept" by his jealous sugar daddy. Even at the other end of the social spectrum, things aren't easy, and queer life in Korea — although we get a rather explicit view of it here — seems to still be consigned to the closet. Hyun's story is presented in shifting time-fragments as several parallels with Joon's story emerge.

And then, after three-quarters of the film's running time, we get an opening title card — and in a surprising way, both stories come together in an enigmatic final section. As that might hint, the story's construction is far more suggestive than discursive — once the film ended, I actually went back to the beginning and went through it again. And although that enriched the sensation of overlapping layers, it doesn't necessarily allow things to "resolve" in any sort of conventional manner.

All of which will certainly turn off some viewers. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who wants a straightforward narrative experience — the "plot", such as it is, is rather threadbare in places, with would-be romantic interest Soonhee simply disappearing from the movie, for example. Joon's hardscrabble North Korean exile story brought to mind The Journals of Musan (my favourite film from last year's Reel Asian) which — while grim — follows a more straightahead path that might be worth seeking out to those intrigued by the theme but put off by this film's execution. But anyone willing to engage with symbolism and abstractness will get something here.

Director Kim will be in attendance at the festival, and will be holding an artist talk the morning after the screening.

Daylight Savings (Dir: Dave Boyle, U.S.A., 2012, 73 min.)

Screens: Thursday, November 8, 2012, 5:40 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall

This film doesn't serve so much as a sequel to Surrogate Valentine (which screened at last year's festival) as a further episode in the fictional sorta-alter ego version of singer/songwriter Goh Nakamura. Which is to say that this film stands on its own, even if a lot of little references will be appreciated by anyone who saw the earlier film.

This is certainly of a piece with the earlier work, both in visual style (stylish black + white) and tone. At the outset, things are looking up a bit for Goh, who has both a girlfriend and a song in a heavy-rotation commercial. That the ad in question is for a depression medication seems tellingly par for the course, though, and soon we find out that the romance might not be too long-lived either. ("I don't really know how to talk to girls," Goh says at one point. "I guess if I did, I would have nothing to write about.")

That sets the stage for another episodic roadtrip with the laconic Goh accompanied by a new extroverted travelling partner — here his ex-con cousin Mike. En route to Las Vegas, we get a side-trip to San Juan Bautista (where an incident with a car door that is every guitarist's worst nightmare takes place) and a pause at James Dean Memorial Junction.

The trip to Sin City serves as a chance to set up a casual encounter with fellow musician Yea-Ming (played by Yea-Ming Chen), who comes across as a worthy foil for Goh as well as an intriguing musical discovery.

Like real life, we sorta arrive and depart from things midstream, making this more of a character piece than anything like a conventional romcom. That's entirely to its credit, especially as Goh once again comes across as someone that you'd want to hang out and have a beer with. At one level, this is a minor, low-key film about a minor, low-key man — but anyone who prefers a smart, well-crafted song to a glitzy disposable pop hit should consider this to be the cinematic equivalent.

Further incentive: director Boyle will be in attendance, and gives good Q&A.

Preceded by: Requiem For Romance (Dir: Jonathan Ng, Canada, 2012, 8 min.), an animated short that pairs the audio of a phonecall breakup with animation of clashing kungfu fighters. A meditation on love, cultural acceptance and the artist's life, it effectively uses the disjunction between sight and sounds to be entirely heartfelt without becoming hokey. Nice work, and a worthy hors d'oeuvre for the main feature.

Graceland (Dir: Ron Morales, U.S.A./Philippines, 2012, 84 min.)

Screens: Thursday, November 8, 9:55 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall

Do not come expecting Elvis. The "grace" here hews closer to the Biblical sense, well-suited to a film with an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye sensibility, filled with corruption and hard moral choices.

Congressman Chango suddenly has problems overshadowing the media's interest in his predilection for underaged prostitutes when his daughter is kidnapped. Marlon, his faithful but recently-fired longtime driver, is pulled into the affair when his daughter is taken as well. This sets the scene for a tense thriller that gives the impression that anything can happen — one early incident, so unexpected inasmuch as it would never happen in a Hollywood film, really gives the impression that all bets are off.

Soon, a rumpled and somewhat-honest cop is on the case, but to cover his own skin and hopefully save his daughter, Marlon cannot come clean about how the kidnapping went down. And thus, all in a rush, a deadly game unfolds with several lives in the balance.

Along the way, we catch glances of the state of class differences and rough justice in The Philippines. More specific details would just spoil how this one unfolds, so I shan't say much more, but Morales' quick-moving, well constructed film is definitely recommended. My only caveat is that the film's somewhat salacious use of actors presented as minors may well be offputting to some.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Grab-This!

Sunday Grab-This!

In lieu of a Sunday Playlist this week, here's something even better that you can stream/download for gratis!

I've made no secret 'round these parts for my love of local label Optical Sounds. The bands affiliated with the label put on great live shows and have put out some essential records over the past few years. Now, you can get a sense of all that goodness squeezed into one package, with a new label compilation featuring a tracklist selected by Will Carruthers (Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Brian Jonestown Massacre). Those very same bands tend to be a shared love of everyone in the OS family, so even if there's a terrific variety here, there is something holding it all together.

You can download or stream the album over at Optical Sounds' bandcamp, or also via the label website, where you can read a bit more about each of the bands involved. This is essential T.O.!

Plus, to celebrate the compilation, OS is throwing a two-night celebration at The Silver Dollar, with many of these bands playing. Be there on Thursday, November 8th (live sets from Ostrich Tuning, The Disraelis, Flowers of Hell, The Auras, Planet Creature) and Friday, November 9th (live sets from B-17, Revolvers, Volcano Playground, The BB Guns, Persian Rugs). Both nights are $8 at the door. Facebook event here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Recording: CTRL Phreak

Artist: CTRL Phreak

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Candle Recording Studio, November 2, 2012.

CTRL Phreak - unknown

Full review to follow. This solo excursion from Absolutely Free's Jordan Holmes bridged the gap from Brr's soundscapes to the nightcapping danceparty by routing his keyb + beats combo via the planetarium, moving things from cosmic to funky. This worked really well — hopefully we'll see more from this project.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Brr

Artist: Brr

Song: Harpoon [excerpt]*

Recorded at Candle Recording Studio, November 2, 2012.

Brr - Harpoon [excerpt]

Full review to follow. Brr is a collaboration between visual artist Ryan Dodgson and Absolutely Free's Moshe Rozenberg. This show was in celebration of the release of a joint book/7" and live, it joined Rozenberg's echoed-out compositions (gear included a reel-to-reel player, analog keyboard and omnichord) with Dodgson's hand-cranked rolling fabric tapestry.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing the title along.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Recording: Tusks

Artist: Tusks

Song: Syllables

Recorded at The Piston, November 1, 2012.

Tusks - Syllables

Full review to follow. Rock'n'roll has traditionally never been comfortable with getting older — more liable to toss a molotov cocktail at stasis rather than hunker down for a serious consideration of the slow accretion of entropy. Tusks feels like a challenge to that — neither reverting to childish blurting or collapsing into nostalgia so much as acknowledging the dayjob banality and patchwork of feelings as elements of the homosocial experience on a par with any purely music element. That said, this is no casual jam: the songs from the brand new Total Entertainment were played with distinction by Samir Khan and his band (who can also be seen in too many other noteworthy bands to even fit in here). The sound was a little bolder and more rockin' than I recall, with a three-member backing vocal section on hand for most of the show. Maybe it's not a fountain of youth, but it ain't nothin'.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Preview/Contest: New Music Passport

New Music Passport

Sophisticated music at indie rock prices!

Listening to New Music can be a lot like going to art films. Sometimes the experience can be oblique, non-linear and not laid out to give you an easy resolution. Sometimes you walk out not completely sure if you liked what you saw. But then, you wake up the next morning and start seeing new connections, and you realize you have a new and wider context — and you start to realize that there was something there that will stick with you far longer than you expected.

Musically, it's easy to stay in our little niches, especially given that we live in a city where there's no shortage of gigs to check out. But there's all sorts of different music just waiting to be explored. Sometimes it seems daunting — especially when it's "highbrow" music, whose context can come off as stuffy and, frankly, a little expensive to dabble in.

The Toronto New Music Alliance, an umbrella organization for many of the city's boundary-pushing music presenters, is out to break the ice and expose their work to new audiences. Several of their members have grouped together to launch the New Music Passport. It's a pretty straightforward concept: with a $25 investment, you'll be sent your own wallet-sized passport, which you can present at shows by up to six organizations to get a deeply-discounted $5 admission.

I've done the math for you, and it's pretty appealing. To go to six shows, your all-in cost is $9.58 per gig — that's really a bargain, given the quality of these ensembles and venues involved. And what can you go to see?

  • Array Music, pushing the boundaries of improvisation and composition, has recently been celebrating John Cage and just performed with Pauline Oliveros.
  • Continuum Contemporary Music presents contemporary classical music but wide-ranging collaborations keep things open-ended: one of this season's performances will have an electronic boost from New Adventures in Sound Art.
  • Esprit Orchestra, "Canada's only full-sized orchestra devoted exclusively to performing and promoting new orchestral music", performs larger-scaled works in the beautiful space of Koerner Hall — you won't get too many chances to see the likes of Claude Vivier's "Orion" for five bucks.
  • New Music Concerts has been bringing Canadian composers to the world since 1971 — and bringing diverse sounds back in return. This season includes new Canadian compositions as well as a focus on Korean music.
  • Spectrum is rooted in more of a chamber jazz aesthetic, but presents a wide variety of music, including the Kurt Weill-esque song-cycle Easterween and Caitlin Smith's recent opera When This War Ends.
  • Toy Piano Composers might not be seen employing the instrument they're named for, but that playful moniker reflects a DIY attitude — their first concert this year was entitled "We Started a Band".

Plus, there's more! Buy a passport and you'll receive a free issue of Musicworks Magazine, which does an excellent job of demystifying all sorts of avant-garde sounds. (The current issue has a cover story on Tim Hecker by MFS fave Nick Storring.)


Personally, I think you should just go ahead and grab your own Passport, but to make things even more enticing, I've been provided with one to give away. That means you'll be able to go to up to six shows for $5 apiece — cheaper than beer!

To enter, shoot me an email to, with "new music passport" in the title. I'll draw a winner on Friday, November 9th.