Dumb Girls

May 20, 2011

In a recent flash of nostalgia, I headed over to iTunes to re-purchase (10-15 years later) the albums of Fiona Apple, Tori Amos Liz Phair. Sure, I’ve moved on, I told myself, to becoming a elite fan of 60 &70’s rebel country, velvet underground Rock n Roll and Montreal indie superstars in the making. But that day I was feeling the need for a litlle female emotionalism, courtesy of my teen idols. And then I looked around. iTunes I mean. If I were an angsty smart teenage girl in need of an identity today, who would I cling to? Miley Cyrus the Disney rebel? Ingrid Michaelson the co-ed who cooed for a car commercial?Adele the imitative balladeer?Katy Perry and co?

My teen idols taught me, just like my parents did, that being smart is better. Those girls displayed their anger and hurt with real heart and expressive, poetic lyrics. They took care in crafting records that were thoughtful in their production. They had messages to share, they wanted you by their side because you could understand them, not because they wanted to sell you their walmart merchandise. Or it at least felt that way. They inspired me to be artistic, to develop my art on the side of brains, not beauty. And this even though their beauty was utmost, and their poise uplifting, even in their darker hours.

The intelligo-female singer songwriter up until the early 21st century was a super idol worth looking up to. Another coincidence well timed with the decline of the music industry, perhaps one the effect of the other and vice versa.

Intelligent music used to sell. Now we are dumbing it down further every minute. It has NEVER been this bad.This is across the board to be sure- but for the purpose of this discourse, consider the effects only on the new generations of women from their peers. Music has always and continues to be an impacting force on how our young chose to grow old. In those formative years of confusion and tough new decisions, I just don’t see the point for parents, and all members of society to keep supporting “art” that will churn out dumb girls. Cultural education today  is so important in shaping of our future citizen humans (yes pop music can educate), and if they all start to intellectually resemble Kesha, I guess I’ll just be ….embarrassed to be a girl. That should be Miley’s next album title.

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Long gone are the deep-rooted associations stemming from my childhood concerning the artistic musical output of “La Province de Quebec”.  There was, “jadis”, a great heritage of traditional music in my native territory, and then of new folklore as well, from early traditonal “chansons” to the troubadour icons of the 60’s and 70’s and beyond, see Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Richard Desjardins. There has been, however, an outside perception of bad taste, with a capital B, interweaved with Quebec’s musical identity. It is one associated as this by my 25-45 generation, at least, one  of whose extension is perhaps unmeasurable, but is at a bare minimum acknowledged. Child of the 80’s and 90’s, victims of Eric Lapointe, Celine Dion, France D’Amour, or more currently Linda Lemay,Marie-Mai and the like, my fellow adolescent peers and I maybe expected more of a people born brave, intelligent and passionate. This is of course, is merely an opinion. Let’s just say it did not give me anything to look up to or motivate me as an artist. There were always exceptions (Les Colocs anybody?), but never a aggregate representing, and leading, something ground-breaking.

And so I stopped paying attention. My terrible mistake and loss. While i was busy catching on to every new trend band and their possibly (or not) relevant innovations and important contributions to the collective destiny of popular music, while i was busy thinking these were of english language only, by default, some great things were stirring all around me in my native province, unnoticed by my prejudice.

While bands like Arcade Fire or Bright Eyes, to name just two, have etched new paths for the contemporary sound of quality, Quebec has evolved an equally rich an interesting scope of new frontier french music, inticingly interesting and significant. Much like its creators and their humbly segregated cultural reality, it is refreshingly un-ostentatious. Yet it is making waves.

Let me walk you through a few examples of some music you should get to knowing. Yes, it does help if you understand the language, but i don’t think that is a necessity in the appreciation of what i will for now refer to as “the new french-Canadian innovators of popular music”. Genre branding has never been my strong suit.

Karkwa

Stunningly put together semi-orchestral style pop with nothing but strong underlying hard hitting grooves. Drums and rythmic guitars,  unexpected twists of language and subtle but memorable melodies. You may start with this song, “Oublie Pas”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruLivPgxgbA

Coeur de Pirate

This lovely girl has, for me, achieved what I always felt Feist was just out of reach of accomplishing. That is a shy, childlike music that inspires am fairy-tale-esque freedom, yet is rooted in a strong musical maturity, a statement that makes you dream, songs that are well-crafted yet make your imagination soar. Her voice is original and stellar, her intention is more pure, in my view, and therefore largely more effective, than her English-Canadian counterpart. My favourite track of hers is “Le Long du Large”, a terrifying tale of perished love and alienation. If you’ll forgive the rough translation, here is my english interpretation of the lyric:

Trace on the shoreline, the blood ripped of its soiled battles
by the time made by waves
The ones that push out our memories
On the shores made of Laughter
Made of Laughter

And without drowning
We remain faceless
A mass like any other
living in a mirage

We are separated by the coast
And our wishes bathe in the trenches
created by war
The one that rules the space between me and my heart-beats that scream from here to there

check out the surprisingly uplifting sounding tune here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErfX3G7ehVk

Francis d’Octobre

I made this sweet discovery on Jim Corcoran’s CBC radio 2 show, where he initiates English Canada to his choice francophone musical picks.

It was not an easy first listen, which is perhaps why i kept listening. Some of the best discoveries for me have involved a bit of struggle, as in the case with my now full-fledged obsession with Lou Reed; the visions are beyond my scope at the time of confrontation, and that is precisely what we collectively need to impose on ourselves to nurture our evolvement. Francis’ music is sober, cold to the touch but filled with meaning, well imagined. It succeeds somehow at being different within a frame of the habitual.

His newest single, “Ame Soeur” seen here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC2AKjpqAcw

Notable mentions include, but do not end with the following:

Chinatown- infectious, real deal pop pulled off exquisitely by exquisite musicians and writers.
http://www.chinatownmusique.com

Dumas- superstar by now of “indie-quebecois”, his records are always part moody 60’s pop art languishing, part new aesthetic contemporary pop. I’ve always dug.
www.dumasmusique.ca/

I’d have to end with an addendum to my previous criticism of 80’s and 90’s quebecois pop music. There is one personal favourite of mine, a sizeable songwriter and influencer, perhaps even to these young artists today. Daniel Belanger has always been a wonderful crafter of sounds, and songs, with an attention to lyricism not often paralleled in English music. Quebecois are very attached to their (our) language, and show a great respect for it by protecting it and using it beautifully in their speech, and art. My french-canadian songwriter contemporaries are certainly no exception to this rule as well, another shining quality of their craft. Seriously, get on this train I say, you’ll be glad as I am now, that you, I, did.

Rufus Of Rufus!

May 8, 2010

If there was ever a music to have a love affair to, and with, it is that of Rufus Wainwright’s. For anyone who has ever seen him perform live and has appreciation for his genre, the voice, the presence and beauty of the songs are simply a delight, a delicate and powerful force that pulls you in like a clear starry summer night. I have followed him faithfully through the years; from Pierre Marchand’s pop perfect produced debut and follow up, Poses, through the masterful twistings and turnings of Want One and Want Two, then a Judy Garland Tribute, yes, and now his latest efforts, among them the new album “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu”.

At the time of my first aural encounter with Rufus, he was young and full of piss and vinegar, with cute, tight and moody little experiments into the use of the classic pop song form. The result was magical, immediately addictive and perfectly effective at fast tracking him into super stardom. It was also the perfect introduction to him for a younger me, who only had patience so far for the more obvious and straight forward, as far as my appreciation for songwriting went. Then, along the way, not only did he grow up, metamorphosize as an artist and then spread his wings fully into a world of complex music and a deeper approach to art, but, he also succeeded in taking me with him. Not only was i growing independently and ready to comprehend the new subtleties he was bringing (and he brought it), but in turn listening to them with wide open ears and learning from them kept me blooming. And the vicious and wonderful cycle kept going, doing its work. On his newest-Songs for Lulu, the pursuit has at long last arrived at something very tangible in its daring quality. This is Art Music. All solo piano and single vocal, this is a Modern Time Walk Through Central Park re-imagination of 19th century French Romantic chansons, in my books. And some of my favorite books happen to be the songbooks of Faure, Chausson and Debussy, having studied and sang them intently. Not that this isn’t still an album of pop music, and one i believe that can be appreciated by any pallet that has the patience to let themselves be wooed and won over -by these delicious, stunning musical companions that will stay with you and give you something to dream about. I have loved every minute of listening to Lulu so far, it is a pleasing but yet so multi layered (just a piano and a voice!) endeavour that Wainwright has added to his legacy, much to our advantage-if we just let it in. Play it sitting outside by yourself on a warm starry night, and let Lulu take you too…

The Greatest Singers

March 10, 2010

Many years ago, two hopeful young singers were in a dirty van, crossing the border into NY state.One without a passport, they rejoiced in somehow having conned their way into that big land. For they were on their way together to New York City, to play a few -small in reality, but big in their minds and hearts- folk clubs. They prepared and wrote songs together, they rehearsed with their broken down guitars, they schemed and planned and smoked all the malboro lights they could. They drove and drove and with each mile passed, they reveled in their young and free selves. They talked, they played games. They decided, avid music listeners, one rather passionate, one warmly scientific, to draw up a list of their shared sentiments: Pop Music’s Best Singers.

Well they beamed over Stevie Nicks and all she had taught them about interpretation, about having a true and distinct nature in your music. Dumbstruck by Aretha. Argued over Janis Joplin (on this, if nothing else at that early stage of their friendship, they firmly disagreed). Who else had made the list? The details of these kind of memories tend to fade, they do. Did Robert Plant make the cut? Surely, he may be the greatest. Marvin Gaye?A no-brainer was Freddy Mercury, any live performance heard of his would knock anyone right off their chair, and into the corner of a room heaving and crying with joy and pain all at once…no? Well youth is dramatic. And wonderful. And sometimes so hard. Which is why its good to sing, if you can 😉 They drove into their own future and considered what had led them there, and who they would pay homage to was of great importance. That was the reason for all of it.

Today I would add so many, because the sound of a beautiful, or raw, but powerful musical human voice never gets old, or unmoving. So here are a few I was thinking of today:

Sam Cooke….I came to this one very late. But I don’t feel like i missed out, i love the idea that I’m picking up pebbles along the way for as long as I live, never will i tire of discovering! (pictured above)

here’s a nice song to start with….TROUBLE IN MIND

Roy Orbison…

Tom Petty called him “probably the greatest singer in the world.” Another of his fellow Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, said he had “the voice of a professional criminal.” Roy Orbison shared rockabilly roots with Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley — he recorded the bopping “Ooby Dooby” at Sun Records in 1956 — before his soaring, symphonic vocals brought a new level of majesty and mystery to rock in the early Sixties. “Songs like ‘Leah’ and ‘In Dreams’ start out challenging, then just climb and climb into the stratosphere,” says protégé Chris Isaak. Dion, who toured with Orbison, says that he actually sang very softly: “I’d be two feet away, and when he hit those high notes, it was quiet and heartfelt. But the emotion would go through you like a power drill.”
(excerpt from Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time”)

Bobby McFerrin…

just saw someone post a video of him today….i had no idea. Glad to have picked up a stone today and put it in my pocket. I will need it someday i am sure. check it out: Drive

Who’s your favorite, who do you carry?

It’s years later, and so much has passed, but in a few days the two old friends will get in a van again, and drive and smoke and get on with their latest journey, now not so shy and demure but arrived at a somewhere, for now, a somewhere dreamed up so long ago on a road trip to New York City. The singers who influenced them will be in their voices every night, un-shakeable. Our biggest dreams start to come true in those little moments when they spark, and we feed them with our shared human history.