31 Days Of Horror: Quatermass And The Pit

10 Years of FearBefore Doctor Who there was Quatermass, which started off as a 1953 BBC TV serial. The show’s success lead Hammer Films to adapt it into a movie, The Quatermass Xperiment, which I’ve written about a couple of times (here and here). Creator Nigel Kneale wrote two more TV serials — Quatermass 2 and Quatermass and the Pit — which were both made into films by Hammer. That’s a lot of Quartermass!

Quatermass and the Pit was originally released in the United States as Five Million Years to Earth.

Professor Bernard Quatermass was played by American actor Brian Donlevy for Hammer’s first two outings. It was felt that Donlevy, a recognizable supporting actor from dozens of films and TV shows, had the stature to get the film theatrical screenings in North America. Kneale, whoever, disliked Donlevy as Quatermass because Donlevy played the character as kind of a huckster instead of a brilliant scientist. For the third film, Quatermass and the Pit, Andrew Keir stepped into the role. He was a perfect fit.
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31 Days Of Music: Whose Turn Was It Supposed To Be, Again?

I have no idea whose day the music thing was today but we`re not going to miss the last day of the series because of confusion and laziness, so here`s a song: the final song in this inaugural and maybe annual 31 Days Of Music. And really, there`s no better choice than this particular tune by a great local band that blew us all away this year with maybe the best video ever to come out of Saskatchewan.

Happy new year! May you mix memories and melodies throughout 2011.

31 Days of Music: “Heartbreaker”

The story of Christopher Owen’s childhood as a member of a religious cult and his subsequent escape is so fascinating that it threatens to overwhelm the actual music. Which is kind of a shame, since Girls’ latest release is full of effortless, daydreamy pop, the kind of music that goes well with a quiet afternoon. I couldn’t find a video for “Heartbreaker,” but perhaps you’d enjoy looking at a bus full of girls while Chris Owens tells you that he knew he’d break your heart?

31 Days of Music: “Partners in Crime”

What we think about when we think about Saskatoon: Bridges, green-roofed barns, warehouses, the Shelley-Western parking lot, the St. Louis Blues, the Saturday afternoon blues jam, jam, Meewasin Valley, Friendship Park, Dr. Seeger-Wheeler Park, Silverwood Heights, Christie’s Mayfair Bakery, Nutana Bakery, Doukhobor Bread, the Northern Pikes, the Northern Lights, traffic lights, Traffic Bridge, Penguin Park, Clarence Ave., Jason Wolfe in a pirate shirt (ca. 1991), samosas in Sutherland, catchy dance-pop music.

One of these days, we’re going to have to do a feature on Saskatoon’s We Were Lovers in prairie dog. Nudge, nudge. Hint, hint.

mp3: “Partners in Crime” by We Were Lovers

31 Days of Music: “Tightrope”

So. What if I told you that the coolest release of 2010 was a bizarre concept album about a far-future android visiting the present to lead an android rebellion… or something like that? I know, it sounds like an idea that Platinum Blonde rejected. Let’s just be thankful for the small things in life.

Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid is like nothing else you’re going to hear. It’s kind of earnest and crazy in spots, but Monáe appears to be one of those artists who’s so ridiculously talented that she can get away with nearly anything. “Tightrope”, the first single from The ArchAndroid, is probably the most radio-friendly track on the album.

31 Days Of Music: “Holiday Eyes”

In these days of wine and leftovers, when we begin to fear that we won’t be allowed to board our return flight because we’ve eaten so much Toffifee that we no longer resemble the person we were back when our photo ID was issued, it’s nice to listen to Howe Gelb.
I’m kind of a big Howe Gelb fan, a Giant Stan, if you will. But even I’m shocked at how much music the dude has released this year. Check out his Bandcamp page for more info. “Holiday Eyes” is from Melted Wires, a digital-only release that came out in November, and features guest appearances from several members of Calexico, some of whom are former members of Giant Sand.

31 Days Of Music: “Any Which Way”

Scissor Sisters is a New York disco troupe that broke out in 2004 with an inventive take on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. They released their third album Night Moves this spring. I called it “horny, engorged disco”. Here’s one of the album’s singles. Dig the monologue.

The band also just released a video for the song “An Invisible Light” which is creepy, violent, garishly surreal,  generally offensive and pretty good overall. You can watch it here unless you’re offended by mild gore, violence against seemingly helpless women (and dead rabbits) and nudity in which case, well, then you don‘t have my permission to watch it — but don’t let me catch you enjoying surrealist paintings or reading Alice In Wonderland later. Also, Gandalf says “hi.”

31 Days of Music: “Xmas in the Jailhouse”

Mark Browning has been making alt-country/melancholy psychedelic music as OX for at least decade. Long enough, I guess, that he’s earned the right to make a Christmas album. Silent Night & Other Cowboys is that album, and seeing how this is Christmas Eve, it’s as good a time as any to highlight this down & out yuletide singalong.

mp3: “Xmas in the Jailhouse” by OX

31 Days Of Music: “Odessa”

Dan Snaith (a.k.a. Caribou) is no slouch. A prolific musician who’s been recording albums since the early aughts, he also found time to complete a PhD in math in 2005. A few years later, he pulled off another big achievement – this time, an artistic one: the 60’s pop tinged Andorra, which captured the 2008 Polaris Music Prize. Rather than trying to duplicate the feel-good psychedelia of that disc, the Canadian-born, U.K.-based electronic musician took a different tack with this year’s Swim, a stark and eerie sounding record by comparison.

One of the things I love about Swim is that it manages to be both cerebral and emotional all at once. Cerebral in the sense that Snaith’s not afraid to experiment with strange textures (one track features a prominent clanging sound, like someone hitting a metal bowl with a spoon) or unorthodox songwriting styles. And emotional in the sense that he seems to want to elicit more than just a head nodding to a beat.

Take the opening track “Odessa” for example. The words (“Takin’ the kids/drivin’ away/turn around the life she let him siphon away”) suggest a woman trapped in a bad relationship – possibly an abusive one, depending on how you read into it – and plotting an escape. But even if you don’t care to analyze the lyrics (I honestly didn’t even notice what he was saying until a couple of weeks ago), the song  is still engaging on a strictly musical level.  I’m always amazed by the variety of sounds that Caribou comes up with time and again. On “Odessa”, it’s weird little shrieking noises set against funky percussion, resulting in a track that’s simultaneously haunting and danceable. Who knew?

CARIBOU – Odessa from Caribou on Vimeo.

31 Days of Music: “Home” By LCD Soundsystem

“‘Cause you’re afraid of what you need
Yeah you’re afraid of what you need
If you weren’t? If you weren’t
I don’t know what we’d talk about”

I’ve heard people say that LCD Soundsystem is dance music for people who don’t like dance music. But that’s not right. It’s dance music for grownups. Or at least it’s by grownups. The wistful and slightly perverse dynamic behind LCD Soundsystem comes from James Murphy’s constant reminders that he’s an old guy playing music for crowds of young folk. Sometimes the band threatens to topple into self-pity, but an edge of self-deprecating humour (“Losing My Edge” comes to mind) and a bit of wisdom always saves them.

It doesn’t hurt that the music kicks ass, either.

31 Days Of Music: “Straight In At 101”

The fun thing about writing 31 Days Of Music is going back to stuff I haven’t listened to in six months. Such is the case with Los Campesinos!, a terrific Welsh band who released their third album, Romance is Boring, in January. I haven’t listened to it since the summer — in fact I had it in my head that this spectacufabulous CD was from ’09. Nope! And hooray — it’s a real pleasure to get to revisit it.

Los Campesinos! is one of those baseball teamish-sized mobs of a band — seven regulars and a rotating cast of support players. LC’s members all go by the last name Campesinos!, probably to piss off journalists and editors. Somebody needs to, I guess. The music is multi-instrumental pop-rock with punky vocals by lead singer Gareth Campesinos! (the buddy with the ears in the back). They remind me of The Beautiful South lyrically, but thanks largely to Gareth’s idiosyncratic singing/shouting, LC! have kind of a Ray Davies/Kinks vibe going on too — melodic but with crunchy instrumentation and smart, bitey verses armouring a sentimental  and romantic vulnerability (Los Campesinos! is the sarcastic, drunk clown at 20-something house party who’s a delicate little flower under the jokes, jibes and comic bluster).

Or maybe I’m nuts on that one. Regardless. There’s lots of bash and clang in the songs, which usually sound like they’re about to fly apart like a bag of peanuts in a centrifuge. If this album were a stock car race its outside wheels would lift off the track and maybe a hubcap would sail off. Just makes Romance Is Boring more exciting.

There’s nothing wrong with crafting pop songs like a spray-can Jackson Pollack if you’ve got the talent.

There’s lots of great songs on this disc — there’s an official video for the lead single, “There Are Listed Buildings” and a better one for the titular “Romance Is Boring”“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” tops both of those, too. But I’m going with this video for “Straight In At 101” I scrounged on YouTube because I really like the one dirty sentence in the middle.

I love this record and I’m going to listen to it all week, again. So there!

For more Campesinos! action check out Metacritic for reviews of Romance Is Boring. Or better yet, just visit the band’s website. They have a zine!

31 Days Of Music: “Change of Time”

“Change of Time” by Josh Ritter

You’ve got a couple of options for listening to Josh Ritter’s “Change of Time”: the video or the MP3 linked above. The video features Ritter performing the song solo, something not out of character for the folk troubadour. Since he started releasing albums over a decade ago, it’s never been a stretch for him to do the solo thing on occasion. When he played Saskatoon last month, the band left the stage while he trotted out a few classics with just him and the old acoustic. The song stands up well to that treatment, and Ritter can sell it well that way.

The difference between the just-Josh live versions and the album tracks has never been obvious than on his latest album, So Runs the World Away, so much so that you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t take a listen to the MP3. “Change of Time” is a great song, showing Ritter’s typical lyrical talent to great effect. In the studio, however, it gets a really unexpected arrangement that touches on ethereal beauty by the end.

31 Days of Music: “Bowsprit”

Instrumental music doesn’t get enough love. Not even from me, and I love instrumental music. Don’t get me wrong, singers are pretty nice, but there are times when I just don’t want to hear what they have to say. Especially if I’m writing. Austin, TX’s Balmorhea (pronounced “Bal-Mor-Ay”) aren’t exclusively instrumental, but their songs with vocals are rare enough that I’ll gladly put on their 2010 album Constellations when I’m in the mood to not hear voices.

Balmorhea – Take Away Show – Bowsprit from valerie toumayan on Vimeo.

I missed my chance to see Balmorhea (who were touring with Denmark’s Efterklang) in Vancouver earlier this year. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to miss them again in 2011.
On December 7th, Balmorhea released a limited edition 7″ called Candor/Clamor, which can be streamed by clicking this very words on the Western Vinyl label. Both songs are verrrrrrrry nice and will impress your neighbours.

mp3: “Bowsprit” by Balmorhea

31 Days Of Music: “Norway”

Not to sound like a whiner, but the summer of 2010 was a little stressful. I was working far away from home, up in northeastern B.C. and trying to deal with some family drama from a distance. The music of Beach House was a balm for my tired brain. But restorative properties aside… I thought it was the most original and beautiful album I’d heard all year.

The song “Norway” is the aural equivalent of a blurry old photo. You can’t really make out of all of the details, but it tugs at your emotions every time. Alex Scally’s woozy guitar lines dip in and out of tune. Singer Victoria Legrand swoops around playfully in the verses, almost mimicking the wobbliness of the music behind her. Her timbre is pretty unusual, which I like. (Actually, I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman singing, the first time through.) It all builds to a sparkling chorus with a lightness that makes you feel like you’re laying in the sun, with your feet in the grass.

If you like “Norway”, be sure to check out the rest of Teen Dream. It’s a gorgeous record… and my pick for album of the year.

31 Days of Music: “Conversation 16”

Flip through enough of those star magazines at the grocery store, and you’ll start to believe that plucky, hyper-confident teenagers rule the world (Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber.) Thankfully, there are musicians like Matt Berninger – frontman for Brooklyn band The National – to remind us that it’s OK to be a Sad Bastard 30-something still trying to figure things out. “Conversation 16” is just one example of what drew me to their album High Violet: the shimmering guitars and breezy backup vocals juxtaposed with brooding, oddball lyrics (“I was afraid I’d eat your brains/’cause I’m evil”) had me hooked.

In an interview with Under the Radar earlier this year, Berninger talked about his unease as a live performer, likening the experience to being dunked in freezing water. “It takes a good hour to warm up to the point where you feel like you’re not going to drown”, he said. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I caught The National’s show in Vancouver this fall. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that Berninger was – yes – a little awkward in that enigmatic, Michael Stipe sort of way… but also capable of cracking jokes in between songs, adding a bit of levity to an otherwise intense set. And on a chilly September evening, the enveloping sounds of “Conversation 16” felt just right.

31 Days of Music: “Death by Elektro” / “Love is a Hunter”

I was very glad to get reacquainted with Rae Spoon this year. I remember interviewing him back in the day when he was a cowboy singer doing some of his first tours. His 2010 album, Love is a Hunter, still has a little of the dirt from those early records (lyrics like “You can dance with the one you came with, or you can come home with me” are pure country), but shimmers with urban electro-pop production over a solid folk base. I don’t want to make too big a deal about it, but it’s hard not to draw a parallel between Spoon and Alberta’s other LGBTQ country crooner-turned-torch singer, k.d. lang. For what it’s worth, at least one reviewer compared Love is a Hunter to Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man.

For some reason, Rae Spoon made a video for the title-track, but released a different song (album opener “Death by Elektro”) as a free download. Whatevs, that just means I get to present two awesome Rae Spoon tracks today. If I were a Polaris juror, Love is a Hunter would be my top pick for next year’s prize. The record succeeds on so many levels and carries a great emotional weight. Rae was on CBC Radio’s Q today, and is hopefully getting ready to do his annual Beyonce cover (may I suggest “Diva“?).
mp3: “Death By Elektro” by Rae Spoon

31 Days Of Music: “Bottled Up In Cork”

Whenever a small band adds another member, I’m suspicious. If Broken Social Scene want to add some dude in the background on third keyboards, it doesn’t really matter, but when a tight three-piece takes a fourth after years of killing it live as a trio – well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

That’s how I felt when Ted Leo and the Pharmacists came through Regina, still touring behind 2007’s Living with the Living. I had seen the band out of town a few years earlier, and they had been incredible. Leo is the type of live performer who’ll give and give and give, working hard to bring his Clash-inspired punk-ish rock to life. In Regina, though, there was this fourth guy kicking around onstage. Leo and his rhythm-section bros had been doing fine, and the new addition wasn’t necessary in my mind.

Others disagreed with me at the time. I have to give them credit; when the band released The Brutalist Bricks this year, it was fuller and more fleshed-out sound than what the band had previously produced. Chief among those tracks was the single “Bottled Up In Cork”, a track that brings Leo’s songwriting to a new level of complexity.

The video is essential as well, starring comedian Paul F. Tompkins as a musical theatre impresario, no doubt based at least in part off one of Tompkins’ more popular impersonations.

31 Days of Music: “Old Fangs”

Vancouver’s Black Mountain went to L.A. to record their 2010 release Wilderness Heart. The album follows through on the promise of 2008’s In The Future, most notably in the increased presence of Amber Webber, whose rich vocals add new dimension to Black Mountain’s refried stoner rock.

“Old Fangs” is everything you hope a Black Mountain song would be. It’s got menace, swagger & mysticism. Jeremy Schmidt really shines on keys. And the video is totally badass. If you’ve ever laid awake at night wondering what it would sound like if Neil Young fronted Black Sabbath, well, here goes.

mp3: “Old Fangs” by Black Mountain

31 Days of Music: “Dancing On My Own”

Back in suburbia kids get high and make out on the train
And then this incomprehensible boredom takes a hold again

– Robyn, “Cry When You Get Older”

One of the fondest fantasies of people around my age, with the bitter smoke of middle age faintly detectable on the wind, is the notion of going back to our youths and redoing the general clusterfuck of adolescence with an adult’s intellectual and emotional skillset. I’d nail every test without blinking, refuse that bottle of Canadian Club that someone handed me at a New Years party in 1986, and most importantly of all, I’d get out of the relationship before Jennifer van Kessel broke my heart. Or at least before she gave that Morrissey album for my birthday.

I suppose another way of saying it is that youth is wasted on the young.

Swedish pop singer Robyn has essentially animated that fantasy by revisiting ’80s dance pop and, with the benefit of hindsight, getting it right. 2010’s Body Talk sounds a bit like a lost album from the mid-80s that fuses New Order-style techno pop with Madonna and Prince, capped off with uncommonly mature lyrics about relationships, fame and making music. And then there’s Robyn’s enduring and endearing dorkiness.

The crown jewel of Body Talk is probably the single “Dancing On My Own,” a song about the pains and strange rewards of heartbreak. If only dance pop had been this good back in the day. And while you’re humming along, check out Gillian Mahoney’s review of the album from the latest issue of prairie dog.

31 Days Of Music: “Yaa I Get It”

“The only thing I like better than rapping is napping”? I really doubt that, Shad. The lead single off his most recent album, TSOL, doesn’t sound like this man could stop a minute for a rest if he wanted to.

Shad isn’t a gangsta. He isn’t a million-words-a-minute battle rapper. But “Yaa I Get It” comes at the listener hard with a bold statement of who the MC in question is in a defiantly confrontational way. He forgoes choruses and raps huge over a big, in your face beat. Like a lot of TSOL, it’s the blend of banger and reflection that few rappers can master.