Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Polaris Music Prize Finally Gets It Right

After two years of misguided and misinformed winning picks for the annual Polaris Music Prize, the 2008 Polaris Grand Jury finally made the right choice this year selecting Caribou's Andorra as the top Canadian album of the past year. The selection process has been somewhat questionable during the prize's first two years of existence. In 2006, Final Fantasy's He Poos Clouds beat out much more deserving albums such as Broken Social Scene's self titled third disc, The New Pornographer's Twin Cinema, Malajube's Trompe L'oeil and Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary. The 2007 prize saw an even bigger shock, as Patrick Watson's Close to Paradise beat out the Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, Feist's The Reminder, and the criminally underrated Junior Boys' So This Is Goodbye.

Andorra won out over a number of other good albums from this past year including Holy Fuck's LP, Black Mountain's In the Future and Plant and Animals' Parc Avenue, however it would be hard for one to argue that any of these albums were able to accomplish as much as Caribou's Andorra. Andorra saw Caribou's Dan Snaith build on his past records and fully realize his hazy, 1960s, sun kissed pop without losing the rythmn and instrumental prowess which initially made his work so engrossing. Andorra was easily one of the best records of 2007. Congrats to Dan Snaith and Caribou.

Oh and is it just me, or does it make entirely no sense for Rogers, a company soley dedicated to the creation and retention of wealth, to be the major sponsor of an award that aims to "recognize albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history, as judged by a panel of selected critics and experts"? Seems kinda fucked up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A destination a little up the road...

This weekend I drove up to Austin, Texas to catch the Saturday lineup at ACL. Apart from getting pulled over by the cops for making an illegal right turn, finding out that Orbitz had fucked us over for a hotel reservation and realizing that you can only buy beer from stores until 12:00 am on Friday, my first night in Austin was pretty tame. Luckily, Saturday morning came quickly and I couldn’t help but feel that we were in for a blast. The first band I caught was Fleet Foxes. Having seen them in Chicago at the Pitchfork festival, I knew it was worth my time to catch their set again. Though, I would agree with the band when they said, "we're not really a festival band," I can say that their luscious harmonies traveled effortlessly and beautifully upon the early morning crowd. From 'Sun Giant' to the gorgeous 'White Winter Hymnal,' Fleet Foxes were a great start to my day. Throw in the witty one line banter from drummer Josh Tillman and you have on hell of a start to a Saturday morning.

The next highlight was also the surprise set of the day. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings straight out rocked my ass off. Decked out in a hideous black and yellow evening gown groomed with beanstalk heels, I could tell she was going to scorch the stage as soon as the band began the build-up for her entrance. Jones was full of soul and played right into the hearts of the crowd. She called guys and girls respectively onto the stage for different numbers, taunted her band to pick it up and rocked the microphone all through her set. I looked around to find a sea of bopping heads and dancing feet, including my own. I left thinking that Ol' Sharon was a bowl full of soul that would never hesitate offering seconds to anyone. The only mid afternoon set I was really anxious to make it over to was Man Man. I've heard the hype around their live show and I was determined to see how it would translate at a festival setting. At this point I had already said 'ahhh, fuck it' to my initial worry that the midday sun would rapidly accelerate the pace of the tallboy assault I was on and found myself with a nice warm buzz as I crept and maneuvered my way into position for their set. Man Man’s live show is everything you’ve heard about and more. It is pure raw spirit, waves of passion and fits of rage. By the end of the set, the only wish I had was that I could climb up and join Honus Honus and the rest of the hooligans on stage, cover my face with war paint, throw on a white t-shirt and join the beautiful commotion of madness that had been created under the scorching Austin sun. Do yourself a favour and go see this band if they come near you.
Believe it or not ol' John Fogerty easily stole the award for Oldest Non-Berg in a non-berg setting. His set played like a CCR greatest hits show, ranging from "Travelin' Band," "Bad Moon Rising," to "Have you ever seen the rain?" and "Fortunate Son." All you really need to know is that Ol' Fogs still shreds the shit out of his guitar and while he will probably die as most Flannelest Fogerty, he rocks shit out.

There are more bands that I could talk about, but it would feel forced as the rest of my heart really belongs to Beck's closing set. Even though Ol' Beckster was as motionless as a virgin on prom night, and seems as though he is as dead inside as Dexter Morgan, he still knows how to string together a set list from that abyss of a catalog he has developed over the years. He grabbed our attention with 'Loser,' made us long for our lost lovers with 'Golden Age' and 'Lost Cause' and incited ass shaking with ' Where It's At' and 'E-Pro'.

After the dust settled from Beck’s E-Pro finale, I began walking with the crowd to the heart of downtown Austin to hit the ‘Ginger Man’ for some pints. The walk seemed endless and the streets were filled with an air of confusion, madness and music. I felt lost and at ease simultaneously. As we finally reached the entrance of the pub, I couldn't help but smile as the feeling of confusion was washed away and replaced with one of warmth and welcoming, as I had finally received a message that my nephew Jacob had just been born healthy and free of complications, a message I had waited for all day and one that I won't forget. Proved to me that our time spent in a particular day or city is alike in that they both have the ability to start out foreign and end familiar.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Harper Continues to Make Cuts to the Arts in Canada

The intention was never to start this blog off with a political post, but driving through Hamilton this morning, seeing all of the blue conservative signs peppering the lawns of the city, I came to a stark realization that Harper's conservative government is incredibly close to capturing a majority in the upcoming election. Because this blog is supposed to be dedicated to the exploration of different cultureal mediums I will keep my thoughts on the upcoming election directed at how this conservative majority will affect the arts in Canada, and I will avoid other ridiculous platform issues like criminal law or social funding.

At a news conference yesterday, on the campaign trail in Saskatchewan, Harper characterized the arts community in Canada as "government subsidized whiners", and explained that the cuts that he has made to the arts in Canada over the past year, and that will continue if re-elected, are a necessary course of action. As articulate as ever, Harper explained that "I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up - I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people." This is a blatant and ignorant attempt at appealing to the historically NDP, or even Liberal, oriented working class in Canada, yet it seems like this strategy might just work. Nearly all of Harper's platform policies are aimed at dividing and conquering the population of Canada by pitting historically connected political groups against each other, and the cut in arts funding is just the latest example. Presumably, this policy and public bashing of the arts sector will work to split and ultimately steal a large number of the working class vote away from parties like the NDP and the Liberal Party who have historically supported and funded the culture/arts sector in Canada.

Although Harper plays these cuts off as only truly affecting the cultural elite, those in the 'ivory towers' and the 'gala crowd', the truth is these cuts are going to drastically effect the entire sector and the existence of many of Canada's great cultural touchstones will be threatened. Just one example of the effects that these cuts have had on the arts can be seen in the independent music scene in Canada. PromArt, a government program established to help independent musicians, and other traveling acts such as symphonies or ballets, with the escalating costs of touring and promoting was recently cut entirely by the Harper government. Although the program was only costing the government 4.7 million annually and producing some impressive results, the Harper government claims that "The funding choices made [by PromArt] were inappropriate...because they were ideological in some cases, or the money was going to fringe arts groups that, in many cases, would be at best, unrepresentative, and at worst, offensive." Therefore, many so-called 'fringe' groups in Canada are now unable to get their art out there to a wider audience. It looks like cuts to the arts like this will only continue to occur, as a CBC report claims that Trade Routes, a government program used to promote cultural exports abroad, will be cut soon as well. Clearly, if we want the arts in Canada to continue to flourish we need to really re-consider our support of the Harper government. Change needs to be made, but if we are all to apathetic or distracted by the glamorous American elections to get off our asses and vote, the change will never come and arts in Canada will slowly die. Just something to think about.

Lastly, I know I promised to keep my musing to only the arts, but can anyone else believe the amount of conservative media propaganda about the rising violence in Toronto on TV and in the press right now, which just so happens to conveniently coincide with Harper's new hard stance on crime? TALK ABOUT FEAR MONGERING.

Oh and when the hell did artists in Canada become something other than 'ordinary' people?