Separated at Birth: A Devil in the Woods, by The Gun Club; Lucifer Over Lancashire, by The Fall

I’d like to think these two songs came into being independently. And technically I can tell you that they did. A Devil in the Woods (The Gun Club) in the US, and Lucifer Over Lancashire (The Fall) in the UK, the latter circa 1986(?),  the former in 1982. The thing is, they sound tremendously similar, and I can’t help think whether Mark E. Smith et co might have found inspiration in The Gun Club track. But wouldn’t it be incredible if they were hashed out in isolation from one another? There’s really no downside to this discussion because for music fans they’re both post-punk crackers.


(note: I typically prefer sharing Bandcamp links as it’s more generous to its artists, but these two tracks are not available there.)


Barley, by Water From Your Eyes

This is a wonderful track from a band I overheard while doing some revising at Voodoo Child, a café near work. I love these moments of serendipity, where I hear something that simply sounds “new” yet checks certain boxes (motorik, electronic, Stereolab-ish).


Glenn Branca

I just discovered Glenn Branca. I don’t actually remember how this came about, but it was late last week that I tripped over him, perhaps as part of a randomized Spotify playlist or some post-rock/Minimalist rabbit hole I was chasing. [edit: what’s odd is that I couldn’t have discovered him on Spotify because what I’d first heard was a track from his tremendous early album The Ascension which doesn’t exist on Spotify; a bit of a mystery, I admit.]

It’s like both barrels of a shotgun going off. The first barrel fires and I’m like Whoa — what’s this? And all I want to do is dig further and research and figure out what the deal is with his music. The second barrel fires, and rather than reactive it’s reflective and I suddenly realize that what I’m hearing here, recorded many years earlier, was the essence of the calamitous and shambolic guitar orchestrations I was eagerly intrigued with from the generation of Montreal bands (usually on the Constellation label) I discovered in my 30s, namely Godspeed You Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion, and (to a lesser degree) Arcade Fire.

I found myself both thankful to have discovered his music and regretful that I didn’t discover him back in my late teens where for a while I was specifically searching for someone who might elevate the guitar to the heights of symphonic performance. Needless to say I’m mainlining pretty much everything I can listen to.

There’s a very thorough and well-reflected piece on Branca here, and I’m thankful that there are people out there sharing reflections like this.



State of Music

At some point early this year I found myself sitting at one of my writing spots in Little Portugal and hearing a really good post-punk band, Ought (note: the album to hear is 2015’s Sun Coming Down). It was everything I liked, reminding me very much of one of my favourite post-punk bands, The Fall.

And I was sick of it.

I’d had enough. I’d heard too much. And so I’ve spent the year focusing intently on other types of music: ambient (which I’ve written about here), classical, Afro-funk, R&B, soul, you name it. Especially coming back from Memphis I rediscovered blues in all its forms (gospel, rockabilly, etc). What I like about blues — and there are many derivations of it so bear with me for the purposes of a blog post; let’s assume I’m talking 1950s John Lee Hooker — is its lack of pretence, its sparseness. There’s nothing wrong with pretence, don’t get me wrong, but what I’m realizing is that part of me has seen the need to get back to basics; a compelling repetitive motif communicated succinctly with next to no frills. I suppose I’d spent my life listening to so many artists inspired by early blues, gospel, soul, funk, and R&B that I needed to (re-)acquaint myself with the original source material.

There is something about the sound of John Lee Hooker pulling and snapping an E-string on a hollow-body guitar that brings music to its essence. That sound is the equivalent of Pete Townshend doing windmills, Karen O screaming with a microphone clasped between her teeth. Simple, primal, pure.

There are so many incredible developments in music production (listen to Kaytranada‘s 99.9%) and yet it’s easy to get lost in all the plug-ins and digital magic. Under no circumstances, unlike a certain Toronto jazz radio station’s tag line, am I suggesting that the lack of analog instruments denotes a lack of soul or legitimacy. As far as I’m concerned, an instrument is an instrument is an instrument. What I’m saying is that at some point I lost sight of the primacy of musical performance.

And lately I’ve realized (ironically while listening to an awesome track by the band Dry Cleaning, reminiscent of Broadcast) that post-punk is, well, dead. For now, at least. It’s spirit will always be alive but all of its chess moves have been laid bare, its finiteness made plain. This is subjective, of course. Anyone who hasn’t heard a lot of post-punk will enjoy years (if not decades) of fulfillment. But I feel that my time is up. And I’m not sure where I’m going next because I know my recent rediscovery of blues in particular can only go so long and so far.

Blues travels well as an art form, but, similar to theatre, it can be stifled in certain environments. Its strength is its fragility, but you can’t inorganically manufacture fragility, which is why most blues recordings don’t do anything for me. Like jazz, hearing blues live is best, but that’s assuming the trio or solo artist you’re seeing is in command of their art (or, say, isn’t just there for a quick paycheque). I guess what I’m saying is that I can see the end of this journey on the horizon (not that I’m not going to enjoy every highlight I can find; I’m currently learning Freddie King’s Hide Away on guitar, which is a great introduction to Texas blues).

I suppose the worst case scenario is that my playlists become even more disparately populated by genre than they currently are. To be fair, if I’ve done any mourning for my relationship with post-punk, I’ve expressed it within my next novel, Radioland, which I’m hoping will find a publisher in 2020. Sometimes writing a novel is a way to process change, and sometimes the novel itself sets me off on a fact- (or feeling-)finding mission to explore that change. Welcome to the artist’s life.