Said the Gramophone - image by Daria Tessler
by Emma

Usher - "Confessions pt. II"

Oh my god, this song. THIS SONG. A while ago I was making a playlist for a friend who spent 2000 to 2007 being too cool for pop music and now wanted to know what he'd missed. I had not really thought about "Confessions pt. II" since probably the last high school dance of my mid-teens, but while I was searching for something to bridge the gap between "We Belong Together" and "Country Grammar," suddenly this song appeared before me, shimmering like a beautiful mirage.

I have always had a kind of vague conceptual respect for Usher as a guy who seems to just be very, very good at his job; dude has managed to smooth-chameleon his way through multiple eras of pop music without ever shedding the aura of self-awareness that somehow protects him from the potential consequences of his own slight corniness. Styles may change, but he always manages to land himself right in the centre of whatever newest thing. When the prevailing vibe in pop music was "midtempo pleading" he reached harder than anyone; when it was "beats that grate both your eardrums and the very fabric of your soul into thin shreds" he was like, sure; when it was "we only like Frank Ocean this year" he was ready to THROW DOWN. It's impressive!

All that said, I guess it took over a decade for his work to really occur to me, because up until three weeks ago I had never made a conscious effort to seek out any of his songs. But now, ever since I dropped "Confessions pt. II" into that playlist, I have listened to it more times than probably anyone involved in its production - including Usher Terry Raymond IV himself - ever has or will again.

Look: this is a perfect song. No matter what you want from it, all angles, every level. If you are looking for a music video that combines a very good-looking man with his shirt off, an abundance of direct eye contact, piano dancing, and a mirror shattering in slow motion, here you go. If you need a dramatic monologue that perfectly QEDs a certain vintage of seductive dirtbagginess, hold out for the spoken-word breakdown. And if you need a narrative that bends inward as it pulls you forward, this thing has got lyrics for days: Usher on his knees outside your house in the rain, Usher beating his frantic tight fists against the unyielding locked door of your heart, Usher needing once and for all to tell you the absolute, unvarnished truth - even though you know and I know and he knows that none of this stuff ever really happened to him per se.

But if you don't care for theatre, or shirtlessness, or narrative line - if all you're looking for is handclaps and hooks and a melody that will make the world seem edged in neon, all you have to do is listen. The thing that makes me feel shot through with a million thin beams of pure light starts off in small hints through the chorus - the tiny trilling harmony stacked on top of those "all"s - and then suddenly, in the second verse, when he's riding in his whip, racing to her place, the way the melody just takes off running, perfectly controlled and totally off-road reckless all at once. It's not necessarily anything new, but it's the thing you know from hours and hours of other songs done perfectly. That alchemy of total control and perfect abandon. The fission of form and the chaos it contains, push-pull of his voice and your heart. Pure gold, pure rushing light. Smooth like nothing in this world has a right to be.

[buy Confessions]

by Jeff

anatomical drawing of a skunk

TV Freaks - "D.Y.O.T."

Skunks! I don't know where they came from but one summer I saw them every time I went out, mostly around the tracks. Maybe they got tired of hopping trains and set up a hobo jungle. This was back when the fences were always cut and passage over the tracks was guaranteed. We would see them, shadows moving in the night, and stand back to give them passage. They move in a wiggly side to side fashion, loose hips, like they're dancers. When you're packing that much heat you can shake it any way you please.

One night Relic and I were out walking and saw a cute cat with a white stripe coming towards us down the sidewalk. "Moufette!" some folks hanging out on a balcony warned us and POOF he was gone. Relic high-tailed it, knees flying in the air, like he turned into a cartoon for a moment, leaving a puff of smoke behind him.

Coming home from a show a few weeks back I saw one a ways ahead of me on the sidewalk by the lumberyard. This time we were walking in the same direction. She was just getting on with her life and I gave her a wide berth. It was a cold night, but she looked well fed. We were two nocturnal creatures, neighbours living our own ways by the train tracks.

Montreal: TV Freaks are playing with fellow Punk Scrapbook 2015 alumni Heathers, plus some other great bands at Brasserie Beaubien on Saturday night. Be there!

[buy]

(image source)

by Sean

Mitski - "Your Best American Girl". People tell you, when you're young, that music moves in cycles. They say that your favourite new band sounds like their favourite old band; they say it's retro, re-heated, re-hashed. You say no. You say no this is a bit like that shitty dusty old band but mostly it's different; this is fresh and utterly, absolutely alive. Your favourite new band is the most important thing in the world and it is like a jewel hidden in the cabinet of your chest, something no one who is older can fully understand. You say this with absolute certainty, staring them straightly, darkly, in the eyes. Your gaze does not waver. It doesn't drop. You know it. This is young and whole and wholly mine.

But then of course you yourself get older. After ten years of listening, fifteen, twenty, you have the same straight, dark gaze. You have the same seriousness of listening, you hope you do. Yet there are more lines around your eyes. A skepticism has set in, or a weariness. You have heard so much music, so much whole and transformative music; so much music has meant so much to you; and now the cycles have come round and round and there are things that sound so much like the things you discovered at the beginning, and the feeling you have is that this music is redundant. That it is attempting something that others already attempted. (It's attempting something that others already attempted and, perhaps, others already solved.)

Perhaps you say so to the kids. You tell them their favourite new band sounds like your favourite old band. You say it's re-heated. And they stare at you with their dark young eyes.

Because you're wrong.

You're not mistaken but you're wrong. Because listening to music should not be a conversation about knowledge, a conversation about taste. It should not be a conversation about evaluating a song's antecedents. Those conversations run into dead-ends: stubbornness, defensiveness, distrust of elders, contempt for youth. Fundamentally they run into the dead-end of each of our accumulated sets of experiences, unique and incomprehensible. "Knowledge" starts with self-knowledge, "taste" is secret, incontestable.

Instead, we should come to these conversations the same way we come to weddings.

We sit and listen. With flowers and booze, manners, affection, our gladdest garments. Our friends tell us about their love and we try to let that love light and fill the space. We do not question it; we do not compare it; we do not challenge it against the other loves we have known or witnessed. While the wedding lasts, until the last toes leaves the dance floor, we do everything we can to feel each other's happiness.

Everything new is also old. In youth we should try harder to understand the way we are linked by our loves to all the songs and singers and listeners that came before, the string of dark straight looks that leads back through yesterday to long ago. In older years, with that flimsy experience, we should be humble enough to learn that the shadings of a new thing matter: that the smallest aspects of its reinvention can amount to transformation. It matters that a synthesizer is playing this part; or it matters that the line is about an email, not a letter; or it matters that a woman is singing these lines. It matters that a young person is singing these lines, a young person more like you.

Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" is a wondrous song. It sounds like music I have heard before and it is also a transformation. Loving and rending, wisely demanding, rock'n'roll with its furnace in the grass. Measured syllables, guitars as loud as bagpipes, the flash of a ring as it's thrown through the air.

[buy]

by Emma

Vince Staples - "Loca"
Vince Staples - "Lemme Know"

Summertime '06 is called what it's called and it came out last June, but really it's an album for the sharpest corners of winter, the way it keeps lacing the spring's slow approach, even when the light starts to change over for real. Cold splintered in the wind like stray glass, all kinds of whisper and drift in the air. Staples raps with this clenched-teeth diamond-throated supernatural jittering leanness, a calm that's half a molecule away from total chaos in every syllable. An object lesson in how stillness and frenzy aren't anything as simple as opposites. His anxiety, all through these songs, all through this album, is so pervasive that every other impulse starts and ends inside of it. You can hear it in the background even when he's pausing, in the echoes that skitter across each song, you can hear it when you're walking home with your headphones in at night along an empty street in a cold that wants to claim you even as it's beginning to dissolve. Sexy in how bad it wants to teach you a lesson or grasps to be taught one, sexy in its stainless steel, its strobing. Staples can't rap over a beat if it doesn't sound like a stuttering heart. He can't ask if you wanna fuck without checking to see if you're down to die in the same steady, gasping breath.

[buy Summertime '06]

by Mitz

The Pathetic and Elegant - "And You're Still Here" [Buy]

So I updated my IOS on my iphone4 and my ipad.

Well, for my iphone 4, people told me not to update so it was an accident. So far seems fine. People also told me to walk like a penguin when sidewalks are icy because penguins got its center of balance right so I did walk like a penguin but I fell on ice like an penguin too. Never trust anyone.

Anyways, to update your IOS, Steve Jobs asks me to log into Apple ID or whatever iCloud or something. The problem is that I barely log into Apple ID or iCloud so I don't remember the password. I have two passwords I use mainly for things like email log in etc. Obviously, I won't tell you but they are band names from 90's.

Let's say, those band names I use often are collective soul and soul asylum.

Oh! and at least, one of the letter has to be upper case.

cOllective sOul ? or sOul asylum ?

And they ask to have numbers in my password to be strong!

cOllective sOul69 ? or sOul69asylum ?

All of these combined, the possibility is infinite to me.

3.14ColleCtivesoul ? or sOUL3.1495ASylum ?

Because every time, I try to log in to download app or something, I don't remember and I try so many times and the account log in gets locked out for security reason. Then, I have to click "forget password" with email address and it says "wrong email." Then, I click on "forget your email" and go through it. I felt like a hacker trying to get into pentagon or FBI but in this case, my own brain is the highly secured information.

Because, I reset passwords so many times, now they started to say, "you can't use same password used within an year."

fuck sakes! I just wanted to type eatshitasshole for my password.

anyways, I calmed down and realized it was just a first world problem. So I had a glass of milk and started to watch food documentary on Netflix eating melon ice cream

but then, wi-fi was glitchy like Aphex Twin song.

Fuck! I said it again but realized it was another first world problem so I went to bed dreamed about world with free wi-fi.

The end (sorry for bad language parental discretion wasn't advised but it's human nature.)

by Jeff

photo of a rocky beach

Alvvays - "Next of Kin"

Walking down the rocky beach is a good way to spend an afternoon, especially if the wind is up to keep the bugs off. Sometimes at the head of the beach a golden dog barks at us from a house in the distance, but he means no harm. Walking on rocks requires care and balance, looking down and putting a foot on one rock and the other foot on another and trying not to slip. At the pond a frightened duck always flies off in a perfectly straight line. Further down the beach I once saw an eagle up close, and another time an osprey dove into the harbour and flew off with a wriggling fish in its talons.

A ways past the old camp there are a few patches of salicornia growing along the shore of the marsh. Standing a few centimetres tall, they grow in clumps, and look like tiny trees from another planet. I crouch down and pick the stems, making sure not to tear out the root. They're salty, but also moist and incredibly fresh tasting. After a bit of snacking we continue on to the headland, or past it, and then turn around and go back home for supper.

[buy]

(photo by Spike)

by Sean
Inside a penguin's mouth


Chairs - "Animals". A gorgeous, strange, strained cut of dappled pop. Like a giraffe's neck, a giraffe's-neck of a song; and the thick jade leaves, the sound of chewing. A sunbeam can page through you like a book, make certain things clear. "We're all animals / don't try to tell me." But then the light changes; clouds, clouds. And: "We're not animals." Which would you rather? To be an animal, not to be an animal? It depends on the masters, the pastures, the other animals in your paddock. It depends on the trees and their thick jade leaves.

Riddles are good for us. They teach us that answers that can be found, that there are truths hiding inside the things that confound us. And so I am very grateful to Chairs. A band from Montreal that records fascinating riddles. Gorgeous, strange, strained, fascinating riddles - a sour pop sound that grows like a crystal, slightly more expansive with every passing bar, every passing listen. Some guitars and some echo, some voices and reverb, it don't take much; not in the right hands, before the right mics, or from atop the right steeds. Recommended.

[bandcamp]

(photo by Alexey Trofimov, via National Geographic)