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.

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.

Off to Reykjavik

cross-posted from Toronto Screen Shots

Reykjavik International Film Festival 2008

On Wednesday, my wife Brooke and I will be flying to Iceland for the fifth edition of the Reykjavik International Film Festival. We’re staying for the entire duration of the festival, which runs from September 25th through October 5th, and in addition to seeing films, we’ll be doing some sightseeing. We’ve rented a car for the entire time, and are hoping to see as much as we can, including the Golden Circle (the geyser at Geysir, the waterfall at Gullfoss and the site of the world’s oldest parliament at Þhingvellir National Park), the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, and possibly an overnight stay on Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands. Other planned activities include whale-watching and horseback riding, depending on the weather.

All that to say that I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to cover the film festival yet. Ideally, I’ll be able to blog as usual, posting reviews shortly after seeing the films, but because it’s a vacation, I might just be having too much fun to post right away.

Though the entire schedule hasn’t yet been posted, the main program (Open Seas) features the following 18 films:

Some of these played at TIFF this year and some others were released earlier, but I haven’t seen any of them. So far, I’m planning on seeing the ones marked with asterisks based on either recommendations from friends or just my own interest. If you have any recommendations I haven’t marked, please comment and let me know why I should see them.

Iceland Socks Rocks

With our trip to Iceland just a few weeks away, I was delighted to discover Iceland Socks, a promotional site for the Iceland Express airline. They’re already a pretty hip company, with a great blog featuring lots of information on music and other stuff, but Iceland Socks is pretty amazing. The site lets you quickly create your own travelogue movie, starring a pair of sock puppets you can name. You can add subtitled dialogue in up to three scenes. Lots of fun and a great way to get people to think about Iceland’s “other airline”.

You can see my masterpiece here.

Air Travel in Crisis

The Toronto Star reports today that Air Canada is laying off another 632 flight attendants, trying to cut costs associated with the soaring cost of fuel. Most interesting was a compilation of measures other airlines are taking in a desperate effort to keep flying:

  • American Airlines has removed pillows from most domestic flights to save $375,000 a year.
  • American and others are charging $15 for the first checked bag.
  • Southwest Airlines is among those slowing down to reduce fuel.
  • Delta has swapped heavier seats for models weighing about 5 pounds less.
  • American’s new drink carts are 17 pounds lighter, a move that saves 1.9 million gallons of fuel a year.
  • Lufthansa is among those washing its planes more often to reduce wind resistance.
  • Japan Airlines is redesigning cutlery to save 2 grams per piece. It is also saving 50 pounds per flight by cutting the number of newspapers and magazines it carries.
  • Cathay Pacific has removed paint from its 747 freighters, removing as much as 440 pounds per plane.
  • Delta is studying whether it is feasible to divide pilot manuals required on each flight between the captain and first officer, so they are not toting duplicate sets of five or six books that each weigh about a pound and a half.
  • Northwest is carrying 25 percent less water for bathroom taps and toilets on international flights. Each 25 pounds removed, saves $440,000 a year.

It is definitely only a matter of time before passengers will be paying fares based on their own weight. With rising obesity rates in the developed world, some passengers may find themselves, er, grounded unless they can pay their way. It only seems fair, since there are already extra charges for overweight baggage. But I wonder what kind of a “human rights” kerfuffle will result?

With some peak oil commentators like James Howard Kunstler arguing that the whole airline industry will be dead and gone within 24 months, the point may be moot.