The Friday Five – May 27, 2016

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It’s been a very long and emotional week for music lovers across Canada and beyond. The news of Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer left all of us in shock. I’m not Canadian, but anyone who knows me knows that I might as well be. I bleed red and white. My cubicle at work is wall-to-wall Canadiana. I care as much about the political climate in Canada as I do my own country. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian national anthem makes me tear up every time I hear it. I love hockey, the Harm (Sarah Harmer), and the Hip.

Though it’s tough knowing that this is the end for the Hip, and the end for Gord, I know fans everywhere are trying to focus on all the band gave Canada over the years, and how many lives they’ve touched. And everyone is grateful to Gord for spending his precious time left with us, his fans.

To celebrate Gord, I’m devoting this edition of the Friday Five exclusively to the Tragically Hip. It was tough to narrow it down to five songs, because there are so many that are pure poetry, and so many that capture the history and beauty of Canada. But these are my favorites, and two tracks (“Now For Plan A” and “The Lookahead” — the videos for these are actually like short films) feature my favorite singer-songwriter, Sarah Harmer.

1.  “Now For Plan A”

In your face, the endless patience / The fleeting nature of life on display

2.  “Bobcaygeon”

It was in Bobcaygeon, I saw the constellations / Reveal themselves one star at a time

3.  “Courage”

Courage, my word / It didn’t come, it doesn’t matter / Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time

4.  “Nautical Disaster”

I had this dream where I relished the fray / And the screaming filled my head all day

5.  “The Lookahead”

You weigh a snowflake / The glamour of the sky / Descending / Past perfect eyes

A few words about Gord

“You don’t have anything by the Tragically Hip?” he asked, followed by that short spurt of air through his nose that I knew to be thinly-veiled disdain.

“The Tragically Hip?” I’d heard of the band, but I couldn’t say that I’d ever heard anything by them. It was 1997 in rural New York, and I was into the Indigo Girls, and Offspring, and Stone Temple Pilots. The college radio station, where I was a DJ, had introduced me to a few new things, like Better Than Ezra and 8 oz. Joe. But not the Hip.

My new boyfriend, three years my senior, grew up a few miles south of the Canadian border in Vermont. He loved hockey, he loved the Tragically Hip, and he reminded me daily that Canada was just all-around better than the US. I’d been to Canada once or twice, and I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. How was it better? But he insisted. He wanted to be Canadian. He felt he was, just by being in such close proximity to its border.

“They are the best band in the world.”

I shrugged and watched him continue to flip through my vast collection of CDs.

It would be a few years before I met the love of my life, who actually lived in Canada for several years and introduced me to its wonders. I grew to love it the way my old boyfriend had, and felt most at home in Kingston, Ontario, not far from where my great-grandparents had a farm on the shore of Lake Ontario. Kingston has given birth to so many Canadian greats: Sarah Harmer, the Arrogant Worms, and, most famously, the Tragically Hip. It has such a rich musical history, and maybe that’s one of the things I sensed as the city and the country wove its way deeper into my soul.

I can’t say that I’ve been a Hip fan since the 80s, like many. But I remember when the street in front of the K-Rock Centre became Tragically Hip Way in 2012. I remember seeing Gord Downie perform with the Sadies at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic that year. I remember listening to “Now For Plan A” for the first time, and falling in love with the songs. I remember being disappointed that we couldn’t go see the Hip play Kingston in support of that album, and doubly disappointed when I learned Sarah Harmer came out to sing a few songs with them. I remember watching Gord Downie’s dance moves on shaky YouTube concert videos, and how the songs hooked themselves in my brain and wouldn’t let go. They were my workout soundtrack, my workplace soundtrack, the songs I sang as I cooked dinner for my family. I caught myself singing “The Lookahead” while in the kitchen just last week.

I came to understand that to love Canada meant loving the Hip too. Sure, the band has its detractors. But the Hip are Canada — they are its voice, its poetry, its essence. They are places, moments, memories. They are so deeply intertwined with the Canadian culture and landscape that you cannot separate the two. And as Canada mourns the news of Gord Downie’s terminal cancer, I mourn too.

This time, I won’t miss out. I had planned to go see the Julie Ruin with friends on August 20th — I adore Kathleen Hanna — but when the Tragically Hip announced their final tour this morning, I had to change my plans. The Hip will play their very last show that day, in their hometown, my beloved Kingston. I know that it will be tough to get tickets; I even went so far as to get an American Express card just so I can make a go at the presale. I want to be there and experience the Hip for both my first and last time. And even if I can’t get tickets, I’ll be in Kingston. After the crowd spills out of the arena, I’ll be standing on Tragically Hip Way with my Northern brothers and sisters, and together, we’ll look up and watch the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.

The Friday Five – May 20, 2016

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Is it Friday again already? I’ve been listening to a lot of different things this week, but mostly I’ve been listening to Land of Talk after seeing their killer show in Brooklyn last weekend. Since I’ve already posted Land of Talk recently, I’m highlighting some of the other artists I’ve had in rotation this week.  If you dig something you hear, click on the link to the artists’ site and make a purchase! Note: I don’t get anything out of you buying from one of the artists, aside from the pleasure of making someone a new fan of an artist I love.

1.  Little Scream – “Love as a Weapon”

Little Scream opened for Land of Talk at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn this past weekend. I’d only heard a song or two by them before the show, but was really impressed with their songs and their stage presence. I’d dropped all the hard cash I had on a bunch of Land of Talk merch, so I didn’t have anything left to nab one of the limited edition copies of their new album, “Cult Following,” but you can be sure I’m gonna grab that if I find it while record shopping this weekend.

2.  Tori Amos – “Pretty Good Year”

I’ve loved Tori since I first saw her video for “Silent All These Years” at the tender age of twelve. I never owned any Tori until I got older, but I was always drawn to her music. I’ve been listening to “Under the Pink” and “Boys for Pele” this week, and could highlight any number of songs from those albums, but I decided on “Pretty Good Year” since it’s such a lovely intro for “Under the Pink.”

3.  Jennifer O’Connor – “Start Right Here”

I keep coming back to Jennifer O’Connor‘s newest album, “Surface Noise.” It’s a really solid, beautiful album, and I’ve listened to it at least once a week since I grabbed it at the Neko Case show in Troy. Not only is Jennifer an excellent singer-songwriter, but she has her own record label, Kiam Records, and an accompanying record shop. So basically, she’s living my dream. I have no singing ability, so I have no aspirations of becoming a solo musical artist, but man, I daydream daily about running a label and opening a record shop. Someday…

4.  AroarA – “#14”

AroarA is a Montreal-based duo whose most recent release came out in 2013. Based on the poetry of Alice Notley, “In the Pines” is just an exquisite album. I saw them play at last year’s Sandbanks Next Wave festival in Prince Edward County, Ontario, and they were excellent. I loved getting to see that cigar box guitar in action. I’m hoping they’ll put out another album soon.

5.  Torres – “New Skin”

Torres‘ album, “Sprinter,” was one of my favorites of 2015. Every time I listen, I’m blown away all over again. This song is probably my favorite off the album, though it’s hard to isolate just one standout track when the entire LP is incredibly tight. I’m glad that Mackenzie got some nods from NPR and the like, because she deserves every bit of attention she receives and more. She opened for Sleater-Kinney in December, and then I saw her again at a tiny little venue in Connecticut called The Space, and she does not disappoint live. I’m dying to see what she does next.

The Friday Five – May 13, 2016

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This week’s installation is jam-packed with Canadian talent. In fact, I was tempted to make a fully-Canadian list, but there’s one song by an American that’s been in my head and my headphones all week long. So, without further ado, here’s this week’s edition of the Friday Five.

1.  Young Galaxy – “New Summer”

Young Galaxy is a Montreal-based band that emerged in 2006. They have a lovely, driving synthpop sound that hooked my interest in 2013. There are several tunes that I absolutely adore, but I chose the song “New Summer” to highlight today, because hey, it’s a new summer (or at least it’s trying to be summer, though nighttime temps in my neck of the woods are still in the 30s and 40s).

2.  DIANA – “Strange Attraction”

Also a band heavy on the synthpop sound, DIANA released their first album in 2013. I saw them perform at the Wolfe Island Music Fest that year (who didn’t I see that year?), and really loved their tunes. They’re more dreamy, 80s synth, which isn’t usually my thing, but I was drawn to Carmen Elle’s vocals. I’d actually been following her career for a while before I got into DIANA, enjoying the music she made with her other band, Army Girls (which I’ve posted for #3). They were recording fairly recently, so I’m hoping for their second album to be announced pretty soon.

3.  Army Girls – “My Kin”

This two-piece Toronto band consists of Carmen Elle and Andy Smith. They began working together in 2010 and released an EP in 2011. Since then, they haven’t released a lot, but they play out every once in a while. Their sound is nothing like Carmen’s other project, DIANA; this is just guitar (her father builds incredible custom guitars) and drums, and has the driving sound that I love in a rock band.

4.  PS I Love You – “Get Over”

I love Kingston, Ontario. I’ve traveled many places, but the limestone city is still my favorite place in the entire world. It’s a small city by most standards, nestled against Lake Ontario, just over the border. But it’s also the jumping off place for so much Canadian talent. The Tragically Hip, the Arrogant Worms, Weeping Tile, Sarah Harmer, and PS I Love You. Even though PS I Love You isn’t based in Kingston anymore, it’s where they got their start. And this video shows so much of Kingston that it always tugs at my heartstrings to watch it. These two have a killer sound, and every album has been stellar.

5.  Sufjan Stevens – “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

Only Sufjan Stevens could write a song about a serial killer and make it absolutely beautiful. I’ve been listening to “Illinois” for the past two weeks, and this is the one song that gets stuck in my head. It’s gorgeous, as is all of Sufjan’s music, and it shows what a tremendous talent he has to take such a horrific subject and turn it into something exquisite.

Introducing…The Friday Five!

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Remember Carrie Brownstein’s NPR gig, Monitor Mix?  If you followed the blog during her three-year stint, then you know about Five For Friday.  At the end of every week, Carrie would post five videos for everyone to check out.  It was a great way to introduce her readers to music they might not know, and to highlight excellent live performances as well.

While I’m not entirely copying her idea, I wanted to start sharing music with you guys, and I thought sharing my five songs of the week every Friday would be something fun to do.  Sorry, Carrie.  I am sort of shamelessly stealing your Friday theme.  But hey, I changed the name (a little)!  Starting today, I’ll be posting my favorite tunes of the week every Friday.  It’ll be a mix of YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and links to the artists’ sites.  Let me know what you think about the songs I post, and fill me in on what you’ve got spinning on your turntable or blasting in your headphones.  And hey, if you like something you find here, support the artist and buy an mp3 — or heck, a whole album!

Also, if you never followed Carrie’s thoughts on music and culture, head on over to Monitor Mix and check it out before NPR does something silly like take it down.  Trust me.

1.  July Talk – “Push + Pull”

I love July Talk.  I discovered them about six months after they put out their debut album, and saw them live at the Wolfe Island Music Festival outside Kingston, Ontario back in 2013.  They have unbelievable energy on stage, and their songs are top-notch.  There’s such a wonderful vintage quality to their music, but it’s ferocious too, and it’s guaranteed to get you on your feet.  Last week, they released the first track from their forthcoming second album, and it’s just as badass as I expected it to be.

2.  Hannah Georgas – “Don’t Go”

I discovered Hannah Georgas the same day I found July Talk, and I also saw her perform at the 2013 Wolfe Island Music Fest.  How appropriate, then, that they both released a new track from their upcoming albums on the same exact day last week.  Her slower tunes are dreamy, synthy, lush, and haunting.  And I can’t sit still when the faster songs are on.  Her new release, “Don’t Go,” is one of those slower jams that makes you want to curl into a ball and post ten crying emojis (sans context) on Twitter.

3.  Eskimeaux – “Drunk”

Oh, Eskimeaux.  I fall more and more in love with this band all the time.  I got my hands on a copy of their new EP a few weeks before it was released, and it’s been in daily rotation ever since.  Gabby Smith and her Epoch buds are phenomenally talented.  I saw them open for Frankie Cosmos this past weekend in Philly, and man, what a show.  It’s impossible for me to pick just one standout track from their EP, “Year of the Rabbit,” but this song has a video to accompany it.  Go over to their Bandcamp page to hear the rest, and then buy the damn album.  Seriously.

4.  Land of Talk – “Color Me Badd”

If you haven’t heard the news, Land of Talk is back.  And they’re touring.  And I’m going next weekend.  I got deep into Land of Talk very shortly after they disappeared and left everyone wondering if and when they’d ever be a thing again.  Trusting the exquisite musical tastes of Canadian Music Goddess™ Sarah Harmer, I gave Land of Talk’s 2010 album “Cloak and Cipher” a try, and wow.  It’s so freaking good.  I was devastated when I found out that they were pretty much on indefinite hiatus, and I feared I’d never see them perform live.  I consoled myself with YouTube videos of live performances, but I wanted to be there in person.  And now I get my chance.  After four long years of waiting, I get my chance.

5.  Cate Le Bon – “Wonderful”

Someone forget to send me the memo on Cate Le Bon, so I’m a very, very new fan.  New as in two weeks new.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not already a devoted follower, crying at the thought that two of my friends are seeing her live this very evening in Philly.  Curses.  I’ve been dabbling since my discovery, listening to songs on YouTube and getting a feel for her past work.  The new record, though, is weird and (oh, God, I almost used the word quirky) interesting and so different, and I love that.  I like to hear something that almost makes me a little uncomfortable or unsure at first, because it forces me to be open to music outside my usual tastes.  I’ve been digging this new tune, “Wonderful,” and the video is a trip, mostly because it’s basically me working out.

What’s everyone else listening to?