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December 2005

December 24, 2005

Top 5 Albums of the Year


Teenage Fanclub

The good folk at Pitchfork know a lot more about music than I. They are also probably a lot smarter. Subsequently, you won’t find this album anywhere on Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of the Year list. But I am a Fannies partisan through and through, and so after the achingly average Howdy (the album that preceded this one), a relieving, if not remarkable, restoration took place. It wasn’t Grand Prix, it wasn’t Bandwagonesque, and the Fannies don’t possess the bon chic and swagger (they’re Dads now) necessary for bullshit mags to tell us how important they are. You know what you want with the Fannies--deft harmonies, crunching guitars, and the modest charm that comes from being four very lovely and talented chaps. This album gave us just that, and I’m thankful.


Sufjan Stevens

It is always intimidating writing about The Best. The best minds and fingers and hearts of our, or anyone’s, generation. To sit down and write, say, about the legacy of Joyce, or Fitzgerald, Lennon or Coltrane, is a tough job for anyone, largely because you have to convince your readers that you have something of value to add to the discussion. I’m certainly not comparing Stevens’ legacy with any of the aforementioned, but he is certainly one of The Best.
I’m still not sure what art is, but I’m sure that this record is just that--an inspiring, sometimes devastating map of emotion and memory, painted with mellifluous melancholy. “Casimir Pulaski Day'', for instance, drives a strange and intricate stake into your heart and, oddly, it feels kinda nice. Bless you, Mr. Stevens.


Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

What’s with this record? The vocals sound like a petulant child’s bitching, and the guitars often read like a high-school jam. And, of course, there is that name. And yet we were given one of the best records of the year--an album which smells both fresh and sad, like going to the beach with friends after a fight with your girlfriend.
Or not.
The album is also written with an odd sense of nerdy defiance. There is a clever confidence, but it is never overbearing in that smarmy art-college-rock-band kinda way. CYHSY don't rely upon irony or humour to make their point. They just do it their way, and it sounds great.


Green Day
American Idiot

The boys that wrote “F.O.D.'' (“You're just... a fuck/I can't explain it 'cause I think you suck'') discovered their political conscience, and used it against a background of super-amped guitars still playing the same three power-chords they discovered as teenagers. So, no, the music hasn’t really changed, but they have kinda grown up, have better haircuts and wear their liberal politics on their designer-punk sleeves.
It’s odd to think that more than a decade on after Dookie, Green Day are more popular than ever. There’s a new generation listening to them now, and instead of being fed poorly worded angst they’re getting “Fuck Bush in the mouth''. Cool.


The Rosebuds
Birds Make Good Neighbours

Gone was sun-drenched pop, replaced with something much darker, meditative and, yes, better. Sure, there’s a great pop-hook on the eighth track, but the rest is all an intelligent grey. It is not an earnest record, nor is its sombreness forced or dreary. There’s enough life-light and smarts on this record to grow on you, and its unsettling nature is largely so because of its subtlety.
Their’s is a graduation, of sorts. A sad one.

Crooked Fingers: Dignity and Shame--Sounds like the best of The Boss; and no, not the John Kerry stuff.
Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary--"Modern World". 'Nuff said.
Cocorosie: Noah's Ark--French weird-folk. Title track's good.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 12:51 PM

December 21, 2005

And Suddenly

And suddenly
where there were feet
there were none.

Just feathers,
flames and

He smiled.
Summer was great.

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 2:19 PM

December 12, 2005

Rereading Bukowski's Ham on Rye


I have just finished rereading Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, and damn it’s good. I began rereading it for mostly trite reasons I won’t list, but also in the secret hope that his work would happily inform my own. I think it helped.
Ham on Rye is surely Buk’s best novel: his saddest, funniest, most insightful and sophisticated exploration of his life and mythology. It seems to me that the life and mythology of Charles Bukowski are largely inseparable, a fact owed to his famous lack of compromise. We can see in the Baron Von Himmlen shorts (Bukowski wrote them as a 12-year-old) the great Chinaski legend already forming. Himmlen was young Buk’s fictitious WWI Fokker pilot—the greatest fighter pilot in the world—who commanded respect and inspired intimidation with his preternatural gifts for flying, fighting and fucking. Within these stories lies Bukowski’s own seed—a compelling, often ugly exercise of the Hemingway-code: a volatile mix of loose misogyny, explosive machismo and daring, physical deeds. In Himmlen there is also the older Buk’s drastic desire for isolation and drink, and a brooding, educated misanthropy.
In fact the parallels are uncanny between Himmlen and the later Bukowski—it is incredible to think that Bukowski had anticipated the life and legend of himself as a bed-ridden 12-year-old.
And so there is a great psychological depth to this book—a street-wise dissertation of the lonely, the ugly and the mad. We can really see Bukowski here, an insight birthed by an educated absence of pretension and indefatigable honesty.

Reading Ham on Rye I was again reminded of that always-important advice for writers: write what you know. I thought back to my own early writings: horribly earnest pieces written about people I didn’t know—characters unhappily but unavoidably painted with, yes, teen angst. Rereading Ham on Rye I know exactly what I have to do—forget about Leavis, Trilling and Bloom and get down to writing honestly and lucidly. I think back some more and I recall a Ginsberg quote an old housemate and friend had placed on her bedroom wall: “No tricks''—you better believe it.
And so, right now, all I have to do is find the courage…


Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 3:15 PM | Comments (6)