There’s less than a month to go before the new iteration of Twin Peaks hits the airwaves, and though I wouldn’t say I’m anxiously awaiting the show’s return, it’s got me thinking back to my high school years, when original run debuted. My circle of friends and I gravitated towards David Lynch’s surreal, suspense-filled, cinematic sense of scope, as we had never seen anything like it on network TV up until that time. Watching Twin Peaks turned into a ritual, and we often held viewing parties, where dressing up as a character, serving apple pie, and other show-themed treats became common occurrences.
Winnipeg art rockers Viewing Party recently released On, a record loosely connected by the band’s shared love of television (the medium) that plays on the influence of Television (the band), Bowie, Nick Cave, and other musicians with a flair for the melodramatic and a penchant for creativity. Samples of vintage TV programs frame Viewing Party’s off-kilter, post-modernist pop songs. Opener “Prologue” is an exceptional example of this often-used aesthetic, blending the opening narration from 1950’s PSA educational film Habit Patterns(albeit as spoken in an oddly terrifying male voice) and the band’s woozy musical sensibilities. The television theme extends through “The Evening News”, a glammy, trashy romp, to the funeral organ filled “End Credits (78)”, an oddly satisfying coda to Viewing Party’s bizarro musical adventure.
The endless stream of entertainment options available to us makes filtering out first-rate content a challenge. To paraphrase The Boss, there’s millions of channels out there, but it’s next to impossible to find something as on point and engaging as Viewing Party’s On.
There’s discernable beauty in the broken melodies of The Pinc Lincolns’ Joy to the World. In a recent press release, Dan Colussi, the lone soul behind The Pinc Lincolns called the album “midnight mood music” and said it is “…sprawling in its own kind of busted grandeur.” Such a poetic – and prophetic – phrase. I love rolling those words around in my brain as I listen to the record, teasing out some of my own thoughts.
There’s a real tactile pleasure to Joy to the World. Colussi is a collector of musical treasures, recording scraps and songs in “bedrooms, basements, and hotel rooms” from Vancouver to Ottawa. Using just a four-track cassette recorder, a previously-loved laptop, an electric guitar, and a distortion pedal, he pieces together songs from loose ideas like musical decoupage. “Soon Soon Soon (Joy)”, “Feels So Good”, and “86’d Again” gum up your consciousness in the same way white glue would stick to your hands when you were making crafts at school. Remember the soothing joy of opening and closing your gum-covered fingertips, feeling the elastic strands of drying adhesive stretch between them? Feels so good, indeed.
The Pinc Lincolns are more about feeling than they are finesse. Without being lyrically verbose, Colussi communicates stray thoughts, fleeting glances, and minute details through his midnight mood-music. A title like “Kick Against the Day” suggests a rousing kick-ass anthem, not the reflective shoulder-shrugging song that finds Colussi in quiet contemplation (sometime around midnight, no doubt).
That press release goes on to say that the songs on Joy to the World are coloured blue, silver, and grey; another accurate description. However, there’s a rainbow of variety in The Pinc Lincolns’ limited colour palette, and Dan Colussi makes the most of his finite means.
Once you get your head around the idea that former members of a Weakerthans cover band based out of Winnipeg have an achingly beautiful song about a landmark Toronto transit line, Kakagi and “Spadina Streetcar” makes absolute, perfect sense. On schedule and without delay, “Spadina Streetcar” rolls through legendary stations and intersections, spiriting a pair of longing lovers closer together with every clickety-clack of the mechanical tracks. It’s the kind of ride you want to go on forever if only to linger with the romantic ache of anticipation just a few stops longer.
My first encounter with Micah Visser happened in 2015. At the time, the Winnipeg based musician was making earnest, honest folk-inspired music. Hearing his work reminded me of how I felt the first time I heard Bright Eyes. Though this introduction was relatively recent, Visser’s evolution since then is marked on the aptly titled Forward EP, a five-song collection that thrusts the singer-songwriter into excited, uncharted synthy-pop territory.
“I Will Not Return as a Tourist” first surfaced earlier this year; it’s a tension-filled, barnburner of a track that introduced both Visser’s band, and where his musical evolution was heading. “Keeping Up” and the EP’s title song are further proof Visser knows his way around melody and musical narratives. Like Kalle Mattson, another young singer-songwriter whose style and singular sound recently developed in leaps and bounds, Visser confidently steers his band through a short, but sharply focussed set that signals many great things to come.
As he continues to move his sound and style forward with Forward, I’m predicting many more listeners will have memorable first encounters with Micah Visser in the future.
Is John K. Samson Canada’s greatest songwriter? While many others could easily compete for this title (one of whichI will touch on tomorrow) Samson’s lyrics over the course of four albums with The Weakerthans, as well as his one solo album, are among the best to ever sit atop rock songs. Period.
The world has changed alot since Samson’s last batch of songs, but lucky for us he is releasing a new solo LP entitled Winter Wheat in late October. “Postdoc Blues” is the first taste of the new record and it’s a beauty. Written partly as a response to Uncle Neil’s 1974 classic On The Beach, the lyrics, as the best John K. Samson lyrics do, make us feel okay about feeling useless, with our eyes glued to numerous screens at a time, all while encouraging us to break out of that safety zone and see the bigger picture.
The end of the song feels especially comforting and it offers pointed directions on how to live a better life: “So take that laminate out of your wallet and read it and recommit yourself to the healing of the world and to the welfare of all creatures upon it, pursue a practice that will strengthen your heart.” Anything you say, John.
The best songwriters manage to acknowledge the darkness in the world while trying to see the light at the end of all the grief and inevitable despair; if they think we can make the world a better place, it’s okay for us to think that too. John K. Samson remains optimistic and politely suggests we do the same. But if you can’t, that’s alright. You’ll get it right tomorrow night.
It’s Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1968. Expedition to Earth, a band of prairie brothers with rock in their veins and a shredding guitar sound set two songs down onto a 45” single. The A-side is their eponymously named calling-card song, the B-side an equally impressive number called “Time Time Time”, both written by band leader Danny Norton. The single connected with small town Canadian crowds from Portage La Prairie, MB to Sioux Lookout, ON, who found a distinct pride in calling home-grown talent like Expedition to Earth their own. A spat with an agent cuts this leg of the odyssey short. A full album never materializes, and Expedition to Earth splinters, turning to cosmic dust blown apart by the prairie winds.
It’s the global village of the internet, 2016. Norton’s wife, maybe on a hunch, maybe out of boredom, discovers an original edition, orange labeled copy of Expedition To Earth’s only single sells in an online auction for over $800. The next time a similar copy of the single hits the eBay listings, it goes for over $1000. Time time time catches up with Norton, and the journey resumes, this time under the name Expedition Back to Earth.
“I have no delusions about being a rock star,” Norton said when talking to the CBC about returning to the studio to make a new record due out later this fall. “I don’t want to be. I never did. I just have some stories and if people are interested then — fine.” That his story started some 48 years ago, and is now moving into its second chapter suggests that Expedition to Earth’s narrative is far from being over. Like the ethereal female voice presciently whispers at the end of “Expedition to Earth”, “Examine your past and know your future.”
Spending a night in the studio with Royal Canoe would be fun. Or absolutely terrifying, I haven’t yet decided which. I say fun because by all accounts, the Winnipeg based sextet’s sonic adventurousness knows no bounds. “Living a Lie” is a deeply funky digital experiment, mutating and morphing right before your ears. It’s terrifying for pretty much the same reason; only the most brilliantly demented masterminds to ever set foot in a studio could conjure a song this wickedly inventive.
Royal Canoe add wildly flatulent organ wails to a stuttering beat in a slow, controlled drip. Like mad scientists, they eye their concoction for the point when the combined chemicals react. The flashpoint comes three-quarters through “Living a Lie”, sending sparks flying, singeing eyebrows, and flinging sound samples through the air, busting down walls and blowing out windows.
They’re calling their new album Something Got Lost Between Here And The Orbit. On “Living a Lie”, the only thing that sounds lost is Royal Canoe’s musical inhibitions (if they ever had any in the first place). I’m genuinely in awe of, and utterly petrified at how daring and dazzling they sound right now.