SXSW 2011: Compilation Champs

Last year, I finally figured out how to use Garage Band to put together a sort of digital mix and I think it worked out pretty well. I think my CD-burning days are behind me, but I’m still excited to be revealing my 11th annual South by Southwest mix. You don’t need to be attending SXSW to download and enjoy this edition of Compilation Champs. But if you are, make sure you say hello if you see me. In any case, please let me know what you think about the songs. I love putting this together each year and writing a little bit about music, which I don’t do often enough.

You can stream the whole thing by hitting the play button, but it works best as a download, so go ahead and click that link (or the image). By the way, the lovely image is of my dear late friend Brad Graham, whom I met at my very first SXSW in 2001. That’s him trying on a jacket at Austin secondhand shop Uncommon Objects that very year. The amused-looking Dinah Sanders is in the background. We lost Brad in January of 2010 but it just wouldn’t be SXSW without him.

SXSW 2011 Compilation Champs

Duration: 55:11
Download .m4a file (81.4 MB)

  1. Lisztomania – Phoenix (2009, from the album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix): How 2009, the hipsters are sneering. But who am I kidding, the hipsters don’t come here. Sure, I may be late to the party with French veterans Phoenix, but how much more I’m enjoying them after waiting out the hype. This whole album just feels like a refreshing breeze and a taste of summer. Sort of like Austin in March, non?
  2. Pure – Lightning Seeds (1989, from the album Cloud Cuckoo Land): Believe it or not, I rediscovered this song in Carlos Assayas’ masterful 5.5 hour film Carlos (review). I really loved the way he used music, from the jagged postpunk of Wire and Another Sunny Day to the, well, pure pop of this song. “Just lying smiling in the dark” – ah yes, I remember.
  3. The Last Time – Gnarls Barkley (2006, from the album St. Elsewhere): Here’s a great overlooked track sung by the great Cee-Lo Green from his collaboration with DJ Danger Mouse. I really like the combination of his silky voice and the jittery keyboard riff.
  4. Pages – Starlight Mints (2003, from the album Built on Squares): I think Starlight Mints should be more well-known. They have a really unique sound and some lyrical tricks, like on this off-kilter love song.
  5. I Want the World to Stop – Belle and Sebastian (2010, from the album Write About Love): From perhaps the finest pop songwriters of the past 15 years. I saw the band this year and was knocked out by their showmanship and musicianship, but most of all by the sheer number of incredible songs they’ve written. Plus, Stuart Murdoch is one of the coolest gents ever.
  6. Love Without Lies – Comet Gain (2008, from the album Broken Record Prayers): I discovered this band literally the day before putting this compilation together. I was watching a UK indie film called 1234 (review) about, yes, being in an indie band, and found veterans Comet Gain, together since 1993, for the first time.
  7. Whirring – The Joy Formidable (2010, from the EP A Balloon Called Moaning): Welsh three-piece fronted by a kick-ass blonde guitarist named Ritzi. What is not to love? Plus, they are playing SXSW, although I won’t be around for music this year. Make sure to catch them live.
  8. Off Your Face – My Bloody Valentine (1989, from the EP Glider): Upside Down is a documentary about Creation Records that is playing SXSW this year. My Bloody Valentine are one of my favourite bands from that label and era. I used to think that Bilinda Butcher was singing “James” in this song, and since my crush on her remains undimmed for the past twenty plus years, I refuse to change my opinion.
  9. Hummer – Foals (2008, from the album Antidotes): Late to the party with these guys, too, but really love the dancefloor-friendly precision of the guitars. I found out about them through my support on IndieGogo for Anyone Can Play Guitar, a documentary about bands from Oxford. Go and help Jon finish his film!
  10. Royal Gregory – Holy Fuck (2007, from the album LP): I saw this Toronto band at SXSW in 2010 and loved their live knob-twiddling performance. Catch them live this year if you can.
  11. Steady Shock – Girl Talk (2010, from the album All Day): I’m not a huge Girl Talk fan but some of the samples in this particular track were inspired. Not a day goes by recently when the line “all the girls standing in a line for the bathroom” doesn’t run through my head about a hundred times.
  12. Zebra – Beach House (2010, from the album Teen Dream): Beach House really don’t sound like any other band I’ve ever heard and I’ve enjoyed listening to their moody music this year.
  13. Down in the Park – Gary Numan and Tubeway Army (1979, from the album Replicas): When I was 14, I wore out the grooves on this record. This predates Blade Runner but shares the same vision of a grimy and slightly seedy future.
  14. Dream Job – The Dears (2008, from the album Missiles): Montreal natives The Dears just released a new album that was critically savaged by hipster favourite Pitchfork. This is from their previous record, which wasn’t reviewed all that strongly either. It just goes to show you that some bands march to their own, er, drummer. I’m glad to say that The Dears’ music is the sort that grows on you, and I hope you’ll come to love this underappreciated band as much as I do. Also, I have a Dears story.

I have no way of determining how many people download the compilation this year, so if you’ve read this far, would you mind just dropping a comment to say Hi after clicking the download link? Of course, it would be great if you came back to tell me what you thought of the music, too.

A Prayer for the G20 Summit

Unprecedented disruption to our city, and more than a billion dollars spent on security. A billion that is sorely needed elsewhere. Tension and exasperation in equal measure. This weekend’s G20 and G8 Summit meetings here in Toronto (and Huntsville) have been hogging the headlines for weeks. As “Fortress Toronto” gets set to “welcome” both world leaders and protestors this weekend, I offer the following to everyone as a sort of prayer and plea:


Here we are in a special place
what are you gonna do here?
now we stand in a special place
what will you do here?
What show of soul
are we gonna get from you?
It could be Deliverance
or History
under these skies so blue,
but if I know you, you’ll
bang the drum
like monkeys do.

Here we are in a fabulous place
what are you gonna dream here?
We are standin’ in this fabulous place
what are you gonna play here?
I know you love the high life,
you love to leap around,
you love to beat your chest
and make your sound,
but not here man!
– this is sacred ground
with a power flowing through,
and if I know you, you’ll
bang the drum like monkeys do.

Now we stand on a rocky shore
your father stood here before you.
I can see his ghost explore you.
I can feel the sea implore you
not to pass on by,
not to walk on by and not to try
– just to let it come
don’t bang the drum
just let it come
don’t bang the drum
do you know how to let it come now?
don’t bang the drum now
just let it come now
don’t bang the drum now
don’t bang the drum

“Don’t Bang the Drum” by The Waterboys. Words and lyrics by Mike Scott and Karl Wallinger, 1985

SXSW 2010: Compilation Champs

It’s hard to believe that this year will mark a decade for me of attending the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. I started in 2001 by attending just the Interactive festival, and that’s still the core of what interests me, but over the years, I’ve extended my stay and now take in film screenings and panels and as much free music (along with beer and food) as I can squeeze in. One of my traditions has been to make a mix CD each year of songs that have meant something to me in the previous 12 months. I used to make about 20-30 copies on CD and then give them out in person each year. It was a nice way of reinforcing the connections I’d made and giving a small token of friendship to some of my new pals. But each year, it got more onerous to create something that most people would end up ripping to their hard drives anyway. The only place most people play CDs these days is in their cars, and I expect that’s changing, too.

So, this year, behold the mighty .m4a compilation! It has album artwork and everything. All that’s missing are the liner notes, which I’m going to provide for you right here. You don’t need to be attending SXSW to download and enjoy this 10th annual SXSW edition of Compilation Champs. But if you are, make sure you say hello if you see me. In any case, please let me know what you think about the songs. I love putting this together each year and writing a little bit about music, which I don’t do often enough.

You can stream the whole thing by hitting the play button, but it works best as a download, so go ahead and click that link (or the image).

SXSW 2010 Compilation Champs

Duration: 48:00
Download .m4a file (67.8 MB)

  1. Intro – The XX (2009, from the album XX): I named this my Album of the Year for 2009 and this song does indeed make for a perfect “intro” to the rest. The XX sound to me a bit like what would have happened if Young Marble Giants had listened to more James Brown growing up. Minimalistic dance music that’s both cool and hot at the same time.
  2. Shadow – Delta 5 (c. 1979-1981, from the album Delta 5: Singles and Sessions 1979-1981): I only recently discovered the amazing Delta 5 after watching a documentary about the history of Rough Trade Records in the UK. This unique band had two bass players and were at the forefront of the feminist and anti-racist movements. Plus they’re from Leeds, home of one of my all-time favourite bands, The Wedding Present.
  3. Blessed Brambles – Múm (2007, from the album Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy): My fascination with Icelandic music continues, and with Múm’s in particular. There’s a mechanical sound to their music that reminds me of sewing machines: industrial and yet homey at the same time.
  4. My Love Life – Morrissey (1991, from the EP Morrissey at KROQ): An old favourite from the tail end of my college days. A plaintive plea for sympathy, and who couldn’t use “a little something” for our love lives?
  5. Overground – Siouxsie and the Banshees (1978, from the album The Scream): Stark and cool, this song is from the band’s very first record. Despite being criticized at the time for their lack of musicianship, I find the stripped down sound energizing and kind of epic, actually.
  6. I’m Confused – Handsome Furs (2009, from the album Face Control): In a lucky accident, I stumbled into a show by this husband-and-wife duo at last year’s SXSW. I couldn’t believe how energetic they could be with just a guitar and a keyboard. It pleased me that they’re Canadian, from Montreal, but it’s strange that I haven’t really listened all that much to Dan Boeckner’s other band, Wolf Parade.
  7. Time for Heroes – The Libertines (2002, from the album Up the Bracket): Another discovery from the Rough Trade Records documentary. I’d only ever heard of Pete Doherty as the drug-addled boyfriend of Kate Moss. His most recent band, Babyshambles, never crossed my radar at all, but listening to The Libertines makes his subsequent troubles all the more sad.
  8. Hell Yeah (Pimp the System) – Dead Prez (2004, from the album RBG: Revolutionary But Gangsta): Dead Prez impressed the hell out of me in the film Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and so I went looking for more from them. This song is powerful enough to both frighten me and make me see things from the other side. Muggings and fraud are survival tactics, but there’s also a thrill, that of “pimping the system” that tries to keep you down.
  9. The Major Lift – Years (2009, from the album Years): Years is a side project from the impossibly-named Ohad Benchetrit, multi-instrumentalist for Do Make Say Think. It was the horn section in this particular song that grabbed me, especially the tuba, which is a bird seldom-heard in most of my music.
  10. A Prophecy – Close Lobsters (1987, from the album Foxheads Stalk This Land): Scottish band Close Lobsters were part of the C-86 “movement” spawned by a compilation put out by the NME. Though they weren’t prolific, this entire album is a treasure chest of jangly goodness. I have no idea why the song speeds up at the end, but I sort of like that it does.
  11. Footsteps – Bricolage (2009, from the album Bricolage): This Glasgow band seem to be mining the same territory as Postcard Records acts like Orange Juice and Josef K, which is just fine by me. If I had actually heard this album last year, it might have been my album of the year. Also, what is it about Scottish bands that compels them to make electric guitars sound like something else? First it was Big Country making guitars sound like bagpipes, and now on this song, Bricolage give the guitars a steel drum feeling. Or am I crazy?
  12. Broken Rifle – Evening Hymns (2009, from the album Spirit Guides): Closer to home this time. Evening Hymns is essentially Jonas Bonetta, from tiny Orono, Ontario. Over the years I’ve introduced a few people to some great Canadian music, and I hope this year it might be this lovely song that reaches you.
  13. Peach, Plum, Pear – Joanna Newsom (2004, from the album The Milk-Eyed Mender): I had heard OF Joanna Newsom for quite a while but had never heard her music until the closing credits of a short film called City Paradise, which featured “Peach, Plum, Pear.” It worked so well there that I’m stealing the idea here for my own “closing credits.”

I have no way of determining how many people download the compilation this year, so if you’ve read this far, would you mind just dropping a comment to say Hi after clicking the download link? Of course, it would be great if you came back to tell me what you thought of the music, too.

Best Music of 2009

The xx - xx
My album of 2009

This was a tough year for me to compile a list. Although, as always, there was great music released this year, I found myself mostly buying older stuff. In fact, my discovery of the year was probably Delta 5, who made music from 1979-1981. That being said, I’ll rank every complete album and EP I bought this year (a few physically, most through eMusic. Entries marked with asterisks were downloaded either free or at a significant discount (ie. the Fanfarlo album was given away for $1)

  1. The xx – xx
  2. Handsome Furs – Face Control
  3. múm – Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know
  4. Years – Years
  5. The Raveonettes – In and Out of Control
  6. Fanfarlo – Reservoir*
  7. Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications
  8. Wilco – Wilco (the album)
  9. Metric – Fantasies

Not ranked because I haven’t listened to them enough:

  • Timber Timbre – Timber Timbre*
  • Do Make Say Think – Other Truths
  • The Joy Formidable – A Balloon Called Moaning*

I thought I’d rank EPs separately:

  1. Ume – Sunshower
  2. Suburban Kids with Biblical Names – #4

Here are some of the “pro’s” lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?

50 Albums That Rocked My World

I’m crossposting this from the Facebook, where Bob Turnbull tagged me.

Based on the title, I’m going to interpret this to mean that these albums have had an influence on my overall musical education. These are the albums that I bought with my hard-earned allowance and wore out on the turntable, in the tape deck or in the CD player. I had to keep it pre-2000 just to keep the numbers down, and these are mostly off the top of my head, so I could very well be omitting something huge and obvious. It’s clear that I could easily make a list of 100, but the rules said 50. So here are 50 plus a few more…

I’ve linked to a few full-featured, ahem, biographical reviews in the Great Albums category. Ideally, I’ll write one of those for each album on this list, even if that seems daunting and scary. For you as well as me.

And please not that I wrote this originally between midnight and 2:00am so my “notes” are a little slapdash. I reserve the right to add, delete, and edit at will

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)

* Incredible in its range and showcasing the full range of the Beatles’ creative genius.

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)

* The first album I ever bought, in 1975. I remember thinking the band was really good, but that the singer couldn’t sing.

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

* The first concept album I knew, and the beginning of an amazing decade for Bowie.

Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

* THE soundtrack to my stoner years.

Alice Cooper – Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974)

* What a run Alice Cooper had to have a greatest hits album out already in 1974. A really versatile and underrated songwriter.

Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

* “Bohemian Rhapsody” was huge, but my friends and I played this right through at most of our high school house parties.

Max Webster – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977)

* I loved the combination of “hoser rock” and art rock that Max Webster always embodied. Plus, they’re in drag on the cover!

Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (1977)

* Much has been made about the “manufactured” nature of the Pistols, but for me, the songs were and still are very good. And no one had ever sneered the way Johnny Rotten did.

The Clash – The Clash (1977)

* I loved the fact that a punk band could have two different singers.

Ramones – Rocket to Russia (1977)

* Every song is a winner even as every song sounds like the same song.

Kraftwerk – Trans Europe Express (1977)

* Perhaps no other album invokes a time and place so perfectly.

The Cars – The Cars (1978)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere. “Just What I Needed” – more memories of unrequited love. Not saying that memories of unrequited love were just what I needed.

Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

* Angular and yet soulful. Arty and yet kind of primitive.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

* Twitchy and danceable, if nerds danced.

The Clash – London Calling (1979)

* Amazed then and now at this band’s range.

The B-52s – The B-52s (1979)

* Loved loved loved this whole album, except “Rock Lobster,” strangely enough.

Gary Numan and Tubeway Army – Replicas (1979)

* Wore the grooves off this one, during my “I’m really a robot trapped in a gawky teenage body” phase. Lost interest when “Cars” came along and he seemed to forget about the guitar.

Gang of Four – Entertainment! (1979)

* Only fully discovered this album recently, but loved the way they took punk in a new direction.

Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (1979)

* Didn’t own this at the time, but I remember the songs and the attitude.

Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (1979)

* Just like Dylan, I was going through a spiritual transformation around this time, and this remains a powerful document of that time in my life.

The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but this album’s finest tracks have been overshadowed by “I Don’t Like Mondays,” my least favourite track.

The Specials – The Specials (1980)

* Of all the ska revival bands, I found The Specials the most versatile and politically engaged.

Teenage Head – Frantic City (1980)

* These semi-local heroes seemed to embody working-class teenage rebellion for me and my friends. Sort of punkabilly.

The Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but for my 15-year-old self, Chrissie Hynde was what sex looked and sounded like.

Magazine – The Correct Use of Soap (1980)

* I didn’t discover Magazine until maybe 20 years after this came out, but singer Howard Devoto (the original Buzzcocks frontman) and bassist Barry Adamson define postpunk for me. Cool and yet warm, with angular guitars underscored by funky basslines and overlaid with whipsmart lyrics.

Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (1982)

* “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” still brings back memories of unrequited love, though for whom I can’t remember(!).

U2 – War (1983)

* Spirituality engaged with the real world in the nuclear-frightened 80s. I was finishing high school.

The The – Soul Mining (1983)

* I’d never heard music like this before and still can’t classify it. Confessional and haunting lyrics, catchy tunes.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but to sum up: world weary and impossibly cool, I wanted to be Lloyd Cole

Billy Bragg – Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)

* Picked out of a delete bin in the mid-80s, unbelievably. Soft-hearted socialism like Billy’s defined me as a young man, and likely still does.

REM – Reckoning (1984)

* Michael Stipe’s mumbled lyrics over Byrds-like jangly guitars was pretty revolutionary in the synth-drenched 80s. It felt authentic.

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985)

* Spooky, smart and sexy.

The Waterboys – This Is The Sea (1985)

* I loved the Waterboys’ (and later World Party’s) “Big Music” which was bombastic and yet felt incredibly personal at the same time. I loved the oblique spirituality and the sense of the divine lurking just around the corner.

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

* Not since Lennon and McCartney had there been such an amazing songwriting partnership as that between Stephen Patrick Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Morrissey’s ambiguous sexuality helped those of us who weren’t quite frat boys.

Violent Femmes – The Blind Leading the Naked (1986)

* Gordon Gano was another geek talisman, singing about Reagan and faith and not getting the girl.

The Wedding Present – George Best (1986)

* David Gedge’s strangled voice and the band’s unbelievably fizzy guitars made miserable relationships seem like fun.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

* I first heard this very very loud at a party and it still speaks to that part of me that likes music very loud. Also has the best song ever about our capacity for evil (“Ted, Just Admit It…”)

Pixies – Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim (1988)

* Completely innovative song structures and tightly-controlled aggression helped me through a very tough year.

The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)

* Mike Scott’s rediscovery of Irish traditional music was warm and open-hearted and got me through a very rough year.

Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)

* My first exposure to Björk’s heavenly voice, and Einar Orn’s not so heavenly voice.

Pixies – Doolittle (1989)

* Just a towering album which seemed unlike anything before it. And like lots after it.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

* Sonic ear massage. Sometimes painful and then forms into something incredibly beautiful. Kevin Shields is sculpting with sound.

Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)

* Matthew Sweet emerged almost fully formed with this amazing album of rock, power pop, and even country songs. An amazingly gifted songwriter.

Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992)

* Pavement’s brand of slacker rock seemed slapdash and spontaneous, but they were really just trying to hide their smarts.

Rheostatics – Whale Music (1992)

* I’ve written about this one elsewhere, but a bit like Max Webster in the 1970s, the Rheos played a winning mix of hoser rock and art rock. Martin Tielli’s voice and guitar took this into sublime orchestral territory for much of its length.

Catherine Wheel – Ferment (1992)

* Catherine Wheel were like the slightly tougher rock cousins of the shoegaze scene.

PJ Harvey – Dry (1992)

* Polly Jean Harvey kicked ass and made you want her and fear her all at once. When she later started wearing dresses and stopped playing guitar, I was sorely disappointed.

Pulp – His ‘n Hers (1994)

* Cynical Jarvis Cocker sang with a world-weary nostalgia about the seamy side and had me singing along with catchy hooks.

Sloan – Twice Removed (1994)

* Perfect pop songs from Halifax.

Spoon – Telephono (1996)

* Pixies comparisons abounded but Britt Daniel’s Texas roots gave Spoon more soul than simple imitators.

Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)

* Radiohead began to take over the world with this ambitious and sprawling masterpiece.

Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)

* Filled with startling lyrical imagery, this album matched the words to jagged music that stopped and started and changed directions. Startlingly original and exciting.

Spoon – A Series of Sneaks (1998)

* Spoon showed real development on their second album, pushing into more angular and yet funky territory.

Built to Spill – Keep It Like A Secret (1999)

* Original and every track is a winner. Not an ounce of filler here.

I had to stop this before the year 2000 to keep it near to 50, but maybe I’ll do another version of my top albums from the past decade.