Said the Gramophone - image by Ella Plevin
by Emma

The Weakerthans - "Aside"
The Weakerthans - "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute"
The Weakerthans - "Reunion Tour"

The Weakerthans are finished. Maybe it seems a little lopsided to mourn the passing of a band whose last album came out in 2007, whose members all have solo/other projects, are out in the world making things still. But this band was important, and important to me, so let me do this for a second.

Their third album, Reconstruction Site, came out in 2003, and in the sense that loneliness can kill the kindest parts of you, it saved my life. I was a very weird kid and an even weirder teenager and though I've learned now (as you do) to spin that strangeness into a few edgeless, charming origin stories, things were pretty rough there for a second. Do you remember what it felt like to be alive, a human being walking around and thinking and feeling in the world, before you'd met any of the art that now defines your borders? The word alone's barely a start. The year Reconstruction Site came out I was in the seventh grade, bookish and anxious and depressed and insomniac; I loved Nancy Mitford and the CBC and old punk records and my mom and none of it was charming or coherent; I was awkward and precocious and thin-skinned and flinchy and terrified of everyone. Most of all I was very, very, very sad, and as afraid as I was convinced that I would never be less so.

I don't remember exactly how I found Reconstruction Site - I think I heard something on the radio, or caught the cover art in the record store? - but I do remember bringing the CD home, hearing the joyous thump and blast of "(Manifest)" for the first time, and going wait a minute, is this a sonnet? And the ground shifting under my feet.

Over the course of their career, the Weakerthans put out four albums - Fallow, Left and Leaving, Reconstruction Site and Reunion Tour - each of them gorgeous and bookish and sad and hilarious and anxious and strange and completely unique. Do you remember what it felt like to find the first piece of art that spoke your language, before you even knew what that language was? The first thing people talk about when they talk about this band are John K. Samson's lyrics, and with good reason - they're singularly beautiful, real poems and not just lyrics-that-sound-like, always honest and ringing and true and backlit by a generous sense of humour - but it's not just the words. There are plenty of bands with "literary sensibilities" that still reach too far, try too hard, haven't ever figured out the balance the way the Weakerthans seemed to breathe it. In the wrong hands, a song like "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute" (a prose poem from the perspective of a housecat with a depressed owner that contains my favourite lines on earth, of all time) would be a clattering, cringey overreach. Instead it's an anthem that lifts you out of your fucking shoes with its soaring line, its sympathy. (There are lots of songs about depression out there, in the world, but few that can pull off the phrase "tinny blood" and mean it.)

There's influence, and then there's influence. The Weakerthans wrote songs about cats and curling and bus drivers and Bigfoot-spotters and confused explorers having dinner with Foucault; they had songs that were prose poems and songs that were sonnet sequences, songs where time went backwards and songs that ran in backwards time. They quoted poets like Catherine Hunter and Patrick Friesen and used art by Marcel Dzama and I didn't know who any of those people were when I was thirteen, and it didn't matter. They loved Winnipeg, a place no one was supposed to love, and taken together their body of work forms a complex, layered lesson in origins and enthusiasm and honesty and frustration and love and familiarity and community that I think I am still learning even now.

This music matters to me, still - but when I was younger, when I first found it, it showed me a way that things might be, and the first art that does that for you is the art to which you owe your life. The way the Weakerthans were - sweet and brave and shy and sad and hopeful, unafraid to love the things they loved, to push around and yelp a little in that feeling - gave me a glimpse of who I might be if I ever had the courage and the patience to become myself. They were not the first band I ever liked, but they were the first to ever make me feel truly un-alone, and for that I owe them, forever.

[buy all of their albums // image]

by Mitz
(photo source)

Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Piano)" [Buy]

Susumu Yokota - "Purple Rose Minuet" [Buy]

Rest in peace, Mr. Susumu Yokota.

When my father passed away, people said "he is watching you over." I'd like to think that, but I don't really believe in any religion. The closest I came was when I used to listen to Bad Religion for one summer in junior high. Anyway, I do enjoy the traditions and customs that come with religion, like going to Shinto shrine on new year's day, visiting ancestors' graves, or even Christmas. These are great ways to spend time with family and friends you love. I think likely there is no afterlife. When someone dies, that's it. No consciousness. Nothing. Complete darkness, like when you pass out after drinking too much tequila sunrise watching sunset and next thing you know you wake up in a rain, in between that, time passed but you don't remember. Dead blank time. You will never get to talk to, touch, or see the person who is gone again ever. Forever.
But I'm not sure, maybe there is. The is heart pumps blood though your body. How does your heart pump? Where does the original source of energy that pumps your heart come from? When someone dies, where does that energy go? Maybe that energy goes somewhere else. I have no idea and I'm no where near an expert on this, let alone using my second language to explain this deep stuff. Looking at nature: water evaporates and forms a cloud and rains, on repeat, or a tree dies and falls over decomposes, back into earth. It seems like that the energy is re-used somewhere after someone dies? Reincarnation? Possibly.. But i really have no idea.

When someone says, "your dad is watching over you," I always thought, but I have two brothers, and my mother, and my grandmother. How can he watch all over of us at same time??? but then, a picture would pop into my head of my father relaxing in a comfortable Eames chair, petting my deceased cat on his lap, in front of dozens of surveillance camera monitors (one monitor for all of people he loves), drinking cold sake and watching all of us at same time.

But then I thought, I don't want him to see me and my girlfriend having sex!!!!!!!
But maybe the monitors have parental control built in so it will blur when we are engaging in activities that we don't want the deceased to see, our subconscious sends the signals automatically. No problem

by Jeff

Close-up detail of Canadian sculptor Kim Adam's junk pile work the Bruegel Bosch Bus, and old VW bus covered in junk

Tenement - "Feral Cat Tribe"
Tenement - "Hive of Hives"
Tenement - "I'm Your Super Glue"

Before his grandfather got sick, Doug had to do the rounds with him every garbage day. At first when his grandfather stopped his tiny car on the side of the road, Doug stayed in the passenger seat, reading a comic book as the old man efficiently worked through the pile.

"I can use this to fix that broken toaster!" He held up a spring for Doug to see. "This will come in handy," he said, picking up a piece of sheet metal.

Doug was twelve and embarrassed, worried a kid from school might see him. He was there in case his grandfather needed help getting something heavy into the car. Lifting wasn't good for his bad heart. "It could just go in a second. Pow, that's it," Doug's mom told him.

"This is the golden age of junk," his grandfather said one day, while rummaging through a big pile - the contents of a whole house put out on the front curb. "I grew up in the Depression. No one threw anything out. Everything had to be used six or seven times. People wore rags!"

That was also the day his grandfather first got Doug's attention, coaxing him out of the car with the question "I guess you don't want any of these, eh?" He held up a few old comic books.

There was a whole crate of comics from the seventies and Doug eagerly gathered them up. After that, he started looking through the piles at his grandfather's side, picking up stray parts and figuring out what they could be used for.

Later, with his grandfather gone, Doug spent most of his summer days in the old garage behind the house. Everything was in there: a wall of broken TVs, five lawnmowers, sprockets, ratchet sets, and teacups of fine bone china. Doug liked the smell of the place, musty and oily, and the quiet. He sat in his grandfather's easy chair, drinking a pop, and dreaming about what he was going to do with his inheritance.

[buy Predatory Headlights]

(Kim Adams, "Bruegel Bosch Bus" (detail), image source)

by Sean

New Dog - "23". Anar Badalov sing a song of half-serious confession: the things he's done, the things he's done. But mostly it's the guitars that do the admitting, the baring of souls. Splashy electric guitar, dependable electric bass, a mingling of notes that add up to autobiography. Imagine the confessional pyrotechnician, making memoir out of his fireworks display. Imagine the hedgemaze-maker whose hedgemaze says it all. His topiary says, "This is who I was, this isn't where I'm going." "23"'s guitars inhabit this song from the very beginning, giddy to say what they have to say. That first solo, 28 seconds in - part-evident, part-hidden, a laughing panorama. But Badalov doesn't get caught up in their flightiness. He remains convincing, steady, a monk slowly tracing page after illuminated page. [buy]



  • My novel, Us Conductors, is out this week in the UK. Buy it from Bloomsbury. In recent days I've spoken about the book with BBC Radio 4's Open Book and my fine friends at The Skinny. I'll be working with the Skinny for one of the amazing events I'm doing as part of a visit to Edinburgh and St Andrews in August.
  • But first I'm going to our nation's capital! To Ottawa for an incredible event on Tuesday night, as part of Music & Beyond: I'll be reading from Us Conductors between performances by Thorwald Jorgensen, truly one of the world's greatest theremin-players.
  • Then to Saskatchewan: readings in Moose Jaw, later this week, as part of the Festival of Words.
  • Finally, have a look-see at this week's column for the Globe & Mail, where I wrote about songs by NEEDLES//PINS (via Jeff) and Tune-yards compatriot Naytronix, plus some thoughts on Mdou Moctar's extraordinary Touareg remake of Purple Rain, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai.

by Emma

Monomyth - "Candleholder"

Sometimes, in summer, you find yourself feeling like you're in a crucial, second-act montage in the gorgeously shot and tenderly scripted washed-out-coloured sun-dappled film based on you, in the summer - like you're in a car, maybe, that's more rusted and gorgeous than any ancient boat's ever been, tracing the spine of the city with your hand out the window, the fucked up paint on everything just shining with the trees overhead, green everywhere, houses with their generous balconies and the wind so soft you feel sure someone must be messing with you - but sometimes you want to go a step further and just swallow the sun until you dissolve and become it, until how you are is how it looks, thrown over everything. Which is why we have love songs like this one. It's a favour they'll do if you ask nice enough.

[buy Saturnalia Regalia! // If you're in Toronto, Monomyth are playing with house favourites Nap Eyes, whose wonderful Whine of the Mystic was just re-released and is worth your time and attention, at Smiling Buddha on July 18th. I can't go and I'm bummed about it, but you probably can! You should go!]

by Mitz

(photo source)

Skywave - "Under The Moon" [Buy] -sorry this album is not available anymore anywhere online to purchase but there is a great tribute album.
Yo La Tengo - "From a Motel 6" [Buy]
traces - "water table" [Buy]
Meeks - "Across The Universe" [Buy] -please switch your itunes location to Japan.

oh beautiful sunny summer days. I woke up but still not getting up still laying in bed. Looking at miracles on ice on my ipad with slight double chin on my face. After two hours of life research(aka procrastination online), I decided to put clothes on and go to my studio. When I tried to put my socks, I realized I had a really hard time. As I was socks-gazing, "I need to exercise." some voice in my head told me. But other part of me said, "eat ice cream for breakfast first." so I ate leftover haagen-dazs which is half of the cup at least. I did do situps after reading online. "core muscle workout" or whatever it's called. It was more of slow-core workout but it burned my abs. I was exhausted. I read more online about make sure to rest your muscles to give time to grow. So Im planning to give at least 3 weeks of rest for my muscles to grow. So I laid down and said to myself, "oh what a beautiful summer day to stay inside."

by Jeff
Describe the image

"Old Punks" - Baby Eagle and the Proud Mothers
"Uninhibited" - Shotmaker
"Thanks, Kelly" - Assfactor 4

I met a writer a long time ago. He wasn't having a good time on tour. The other writers he was traveling with brought their partners, and he was alone. He was far from home, his accommodations for the night were my couch, and it was cold out.

He was hungry after the reading so I took him to the diner around the corner. He was pretty quiet. He said he was from the southern US and named the town. It rang a bell. "Isn't that where Assfactor 4 were from?" An old punk band who played with spit and vinegar.

"Whoa you know Assfactor 4?" He was perking right up. "I went to high school with those guys. Aw man, did you ever see them play?"

"Nah, but I loved their records."

"They were so great live!" As he launched into a story of the old days his whole demeanour changed. In seconds he went from being a moody writer of the American south, descendent of Eudora Welty and Barry Hannah, to an amped up ex-punk who probably used to drink rotgut coffee and stay up all night wearing cut off work pants and making zines.

Old punks are just a bunch of nostalgics maybe. But when you hear that word, the name of a band from another time that meant the world to you, it can just clock you right on the head. That's how I felt the first time I heard Baby Eagle sing "I wore a Shotmaker patch" in this song.

[Buy Bone Soldiers, seek out Assfactor 4 and Shotmaker]