Sunday, June 28, 2009

No Words

Adrian Glynn- Ballad of a Christian Man.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dan Mangan and Jenn Grant Live

Last night I had the pleasure of taking in a fantastic show downtown featuring two and Canada's most talented musicians- Dan Mangan and Jenn Grant. Mangan, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia gained wide acclaim with his first full-length album, Postcards and Daydreaming, and over the course of touring that album for the past three and a half years, has developed a devoted fan base all across the country. In kind, Dan opened the show in his typical scene-stealing fashion. Armed with just his guitar, his excellent song-writing and his mind-blowing voice, Dan silenced the entire room. During his performance of "Journal of a Narcoleptic," a track from his first album, you could have heard a pin drop. Throughout his all-too-short set, I found myself constantly holding my breath without even realizing it, totally fixed on the stage. I just have not come across any musician, indie, major-label, or otherwise that commands the attention of a crowded room the way Dan can, and that ability is purely a function of talent, not of any kind of trick or overwrought showmanship. He's just spectacularly talented, end of story. He finished off his set with the heart-wrenching "Basket-" an ode to his own grandfather, but more broadly, to the anxieties of aging- and with the always delightful sing-along, "Robots" which found him in the middle of the crowd, guitar unplugged, the whole room stomping, clapping and singing along to the final refrain "Robots need love, too. They want to be loved by you." After his set, I had the chance to talk to him for a few moments at his merch table, and just as he was the last time I saw him at JunoFest, he was absolutely gracious, friendly and willing to talk to anyone who had a minute to spare. Dan has just released a teaser EP called Roboteering in anticipation of the August release of his new full-length record Nice, Nice, Very Nice that features track such as "Robots," a spoken word collaboration with Vancouver beat poet Shane Koyczan called "Tragic Turn of Events/Move Pen Move," and a beautiful collaboration with Vancouver composer/experimental pop artist Veda Hille called "The Indie Queens are Waiting." I'd highly recommend checking it out and seeing Dan as soon as possible. With talent like his, he won't be playing little rooms for much longer.

After a bit of an intermission, the adorable and endearingly crazy Jenn Grant took the stage with her two-piece backing band. Admittedly, I was a little behind the curve on the whole Jenn Grant thing. She just released an album to great acclaim this year and has been touring non-stop and playing very prestigious shows all over North America, and yet I never really caught on with the record or the live show, despite a few half-hearted efforts to do so. And so, the only thing I had to go on heading into the show was an enormous amount of hype and no real, concrete expectations. Recipe for disaster? Luckily, Jenn's beautiful blend of art pop, folk and country, matched with her dipped-in-syrup voice, and accompanied by bass clarinet, glockenspiel, and violin, confirmed and validated every bit of press I've heard bout her over the past few months. Initially a bit closed-up and seemingly distant, Jenn really opened up as her set went on and she danced through song after song of delicate melodies with the most expert precision. I never once heard a note out of place or a misshapen phrase. She just has a natural talent for flitting through her vocal range with a unique blend of grace, delicacy and very real power. I'd like to point out a few highlight songs from Jenn's set, but, as I'm basically ignorant when it comes to her album, I don't know any of the tracks by name. However, every tune was delightful and she put a smile on every face in the room. Perhaps the highlight of the whole evening, though, was when Dan Mangan joined Jenn on stage during her set to perform a collaborative version of Dan's song "So Much For Everyone," which they claim was a seat-of-the-pants kind of exercise. Regardless of how long they spent preparing, the result was spectacular and something I'll remember for a long, long time.

Overall, a great night, a great crowd, a great room, and even more motivation to see Jenn and Dan again in the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It feels silly to follow up last post with something kind of nerdy and self-serving, but fingers crossed that my readers are forgiving. I am seeing Dan Mangan and Jenn Grant next week! So excited. Dan was incredible at JunoFest and I've heard nothing but amazing things about Jenn Grant's live show and new album, Echoes. ALSO, while squandering my life away on YouTube yesterday, I found this video by an awesome vlogger "Your Friend in a Box" who also happens to be a dynamite young Canadian filmmaker whose short film "The Hall" went all the way to Cannes this year. Observe:

After I watched it, I decided that I was going to make my own personal "Top 5 Songs of Summer 2009." Alas, it isn't even officially Summer just yet. We have to wait a few more days for that. But I figured that it was fun, and a good excuse to geek out about great tunes. I'm thinking that I'm going to make several of these lists throughout the summer, but for right now, these are the tracks that put a smile on my face:

5. "Tightrope" by Yeasayer from the Dark Was the Night compilation album.

4. "Stadium Love" by Metric from their new album, Fantasies

3. "Too Soon" by Hey Ocean from the album It's Easier to be Somebody Else

2. "2 Atoms in a Molecule" by Noah and the Whale from Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down

1 (A couple years old, but still solid) "Dropkick Queen of the Weekend" by The Dudes from Brain, Heart, Guitar

Sunday, June 14, 2009


As I understand it, there are two main definitions for the term "regression." The first being the mathematical operation that you perform on data sets to determine the nature of the relationship between two sets of numbers. The second being backward or damaging actions that inhibit social progress. I do not understand either of these things, which makes both Calculus and the state of current global affairs next to impossible for me to wrap my head around. It is 2009, and yet I'm writing tonight next to a province that has, without pomp, circumstance, or challenge, passed a spectacularly regressive law regarding the education of young people on subjects such as sexuality and religion, situated above a country that, based on the desire of a radical few, is systematically denying the right to marriage to millions, all while watching news stories about the exceptionally suspect re-election of one of the word's most delusional and oppressive leaders. Let's address these issues in turn.

Alberta, a notoriously conservative province (often more graciously referred to as 'entrepreneurial') in Western Canada has just slipped a new law through the provincial legislature known as Bill 44. In essence, what Bill 44 stipulates is that a child's parent has the right to remove their child from the classroom when subjects such as sexuality, sexual orientation, or religion are being addressed by the teacher. Bill 44 passed with almost unanimous support through the Alberta legislature accompanied by an offensively cavalier attitude assumed by those politicians championing its cause. It was widely and openly acknowledged by politicians that the bill did not receive its fair share of debate in the house, and that, in many ways, it was intended as a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from larger economic issues plaguing the province as oil prices remain volatile. I suppose this is what one would call the "Rural Alberta Advantage." Effectively, this bill gives the parent of any child the right to bar that child from an education on some of the issues most central to daily, lived experiences. We're not just talking sex education or religious history. Sex and religion are indelibly tied up with some of the greatest works of art, literature and music that mankind has ever produced. Shakespeare had one of history's greatest potty mouths, and yet his work remains the centre piece of many childrens' introduction to Early Modern culture, the Protestant Reformation and dramatic literature. According to Bill 44, a parent has the right to withdraw a student from a Shakespeare class based on offensive content. I think what galls me the most about the passage of the legislation (outside of its stunningly antiquated approach to changing social climates- this is something I've come to expect from Canada's heartland) is that it gives all power of withdrawal to the parent, and yet it isn't the parent who suffers. The Child is deprived of information that he or she needs to know. It's easy to say "Oh well, their loss if they withdraw their kid." This isn't the case. The child loses out on an education that they deserve and require due to the blind irresponsibility of an ignorant parent. This isn't just irresponsibility on an individual scale, this is short-sighted reactionary politics at its best (or worst?). By depriving a whole generation of kids access to the information they need about things like safe sex, birth control, the need for social equity between genders and sexualities, the histories and agendas of different religious sects, the Alberta government has irreparably damaged the very future of the province. Ignorance is never the answer, and it's only bliss for those savvy to the truth. The shame I feel for even being near a place that would allow such a law to be passed so simply is overwhelming, and it's not often I can say that I'm embarrassed to be Canadian. This is one of those rare occasions.

I would like to say that this is an isolated case; a once-off misfire in the march toward progress. Yet as I look south into the United States, I see the same kind of spiral backward taking shape amid the Proposition 8 debates raging south of the 49th. The fact that there remains a "debate" over the legality or "rightness" of gay marriage is an unsolvable mystery to me. It seems so simple. Marriage is a union of love. If two people feel love for one another, then they should be allowed to sanctify and make official that love through the institution of marriage, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Love is love. People are people. This is precisely why talking about Proposition 8 is a logical impossibility for me. I just can't understand why the fuck people can't simply be married because they are in love. And, call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that California is the last place on earth with any right to deem any marriage more valid than any other. Overnight celebrity marriages are legit? The thousands of quickie weddings and divorces based not on love, but booze and double-dog-daring are legit? Of course they- they have the complimentary parts to make babies. Who gives a damn if they care for each other in a lasting and committed way? But wait- what if a straight couple chooses not to have a child? Or what if the husband or wife is infertile or sterile, or for some other medical reason, is incapable of conceiving a child? That marriage is no longer valid, according to the procreative destiny argument. But they're they have the right to marry...right? The lobby against gay marriage, for this precise reason, is incredibly ignorant, locked up in its own semantics, and indebted to an imagined past of a "righteous" nation. The United States was founded on separation of church and state and the equality of all the fundamental civil and social liberties guaranteed and protected by the state. That has not changed. Yet today we see a kind of quasi theocracy forming, gelling around the hateful and moronic rhetoric of a few reprehensible people, and denying the very goals that they claim to champion.

Even further abroad, more signs of a dangerous cultural decline. Iran, for the last several years under the rule of the, for all intents and purposes, crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has just proclaimed the results of this week's federal elections. Against a number of very suspect circumstances and conditions that raise serious questions about the validity of the electoral process, Ahmadinejad was once again proclaimed Iran's president by the Ayatollah Khameni- the nation's highest spiritual leader and ultimate authority on all domestic and foreign concerns. Ahmadinejad has, since being confirmed as the winner of a curious ~60% majority of the popular vote, refused to guarantee the safety of his main rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi, explained the arrest of several dissenting voters and opposition-party members via the thin veil of a "soccer riot," and done absolutely nothing to address the criticisms leveled against him regarding the integrity of the voting process, outside of a few rather arrogant quips in the vein of "Every Iranian is able to cast a vote in our elections." If only every vote counted. Just as in the Prop 8 furor, however, there are glimmers of hope. As Ahmadinejad cracks down on protests throughout the country with tear gas and riot police, shuts down official websites and expels foreign journalists from Iran, those with a hope for a progressive future continue to subvert his extremism and theocratic rule through a number of new media resources, chief among them, Twitter. As one Iranian citizen tweeted earlier today, "If Iran sleeps tonight, Iran will sleep forever."

I try my best to remain positive and put my faith in people. I believe that we can do better for ourselves and each other by working hard and never giving up on something with any shred of hope left. And while I'm spectacularly disheartened by the weakness that this world has shown today, by the stifling arrogance, ignorance and hatred perpetuated by an elite few on a mass demanding equality, I hold out hope. I hope tonight for those fighting in Tehran and throughout Iran, for those rallying across the United States and Canada against legislated hatred, and for those in Alberta who are demanding better, more equitable and open education for their children and a stronger future for their province and country.

Number's aren't my strong suit, and a lot of people can't crunch a data set through a regression formula to save their lives. Talking and marching and demanding better in the name of progress, though, might just do the trick.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Long Story Short (And Bonus Features)

Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series*:

Male Vampire: /Sparkle. Is it alright if I you...instead of have sex with you because I appeal to a younger audience and somehow cannibalism is more appropriate than regular-type romance?
Female Lead: /Swoon
Other guy: I think I'm a werewolf? 

The End.

*I have not read any of these books or seen the movie. I just assume that this is pretty close. 

In slightly more enlightening news, here is the quote that Mark Kingwell uses as the epigram for his Concrete Reveries. It's pure greatness. 

"The situation of consciousness as patterned and checkered by sleep and waking need only be transferred from the individual to the collective...Architecture, fashion-yes, even the weather-are, in the interior of the collective, what the sensoria of organs, the feeling of sickness or health, are inside the individual. And so long as they preserve this unconscious, amorphous dream configuration, they are as much natural processes as digestion, breathing and the like. They stand in the cycle of eternity selfsame, until the collective seizes upon them in politics and history emerges." 
-Walter Benjamin

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekday Distractions

To all of those looking for some way to kill some time, please consider the following (pop culture reference, look it up). 

Paste Magazine's Josh Jackson tells a really wonderful story about the power of great, honest music in a time when all fame requires is an audition with the Disney Channel and a maladjusted father-figure. Also, bonus points for the fact that it focuses on Brandi Carlile, one of my favorites. 

One of my favorite columnists, Witold Rybczynski, who writes on architecture for Slate Magazine, put together an excellent photo essay a while ago on the proposed plans for the new Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C.. In it, he touches on a lot of the concerns I looked at in my entry about Arthur Erickson a while back- architectural fancy vs. continuity with the surrounding world- something Witold phrases much more simply as "pink flamingo or garden gnome?"

Following a brutal spring of civil warfare in Sri Lanka that represented the final motion of the Tamil independence movement, the Tamil Tigers, the militant forces fighting the Sri Lankan government conceded defeat near the end of May. For a lot of people, this was a clear-cut fight: Sri Lankan government against radical terrorist organization. But take a look at John Green, another of my very favorite lay-cultural observers, explaining the situation, and maybe try and consider this in a perhaps more moderate light (I'm so self-indulgent it kills me).

Another reason why the United States still scares me: Jennifer Steinhauer for the New York Times reports on a more-or-less horrifying wing of the Boy Scouts of America which preaches preparedness and skills in the wilderness....only with guns and xenophobia. 

Mark Kingwell's stunning book, Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City was released in paperback this week to excited yelps from tools, geeks, nerds and literati around the globe. In this book, Kingwell takes a new philosophical perspective on what seems like the lowliest of subjects- concrete. Channeling everyone from Walter Benjamin to Sigmund Freud, Kingwell turns concrete, through precise strokes of beautiful prose, into a spectacular metaphor for hope in the modern, globalized megacity; into a way of looking at the convergence of hope and hopelessness, in and out, here and away, in a world where the very validity of those concepts seems to be slipping away. 

I'm going to bed because work began at 6am this morning. Hulk smash. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


1. I have a job now. Mostly I fold clothes and scrub mannequins, but it works. Recessions kind of suck, just FYI. 

2. I played an open mic with a friend last night and it was great. It was at a teahouse downtown and it ended up going really well and we may be getting into regular/featured rotation at some point in the near future. Cool? 

3. Music: La Blogotheque has once again proven itself as freaking awesome. 

Yeasayer- "No Need to Worry/Redcave" live in the Paris Metro

Lisa Hannigan- "I Don't Know" live in a pub somewhere

Andrew Bird- "Anonanimal." I listened to this song while scrubbing mannequins for hours, and suddenly the job seemed a whole lot more awesome. Listen to it in HQ.

Monday, June 1, 2009

From Fencesitters to Flip-Floppers: Defending the Moderate in an Age of Extremes

Critiques of the contemporary political system as one that is highly polarized and divisive are hardly new. We are all fully aware that one is expected to be Right Wing or Left Wing, with little room for crossover between the two, and very limited provisions for effective, cooperative measures geared towards social progress as opposed to numerical advantage. This system creates a kind of decision-making vacuum within the political process that relentlessly suctions legitimate debate and discourse into a spectacularly unwinnable and moronic conversation between two hostile parties riddled with phrases like "bleeding heart," "pig," "pinko," "fascist," etc. Complex social issues are reduced to hero/anti-hero levels of simplicity, nuances are overshadowed in favor of sensation and the conference table suddenly becomes no-man's land in such a climate of discussion- two camps dug into rotting and unpleasant trenches on either side of an insuperable divide pockmarked with failed attempts at conquest. 

In the space of this vacuum, however, there is an opportunity for improvement and a chance to bridge the right-left, hero-antihero model that is superimposed onto some of the most important political and social issues the world over. That chance for improvement is simpler than it would seem. It is nothing more than moderation and consideration. Before I continue, I'm aware that my simple request is perhaps functionally impossible, and that I am indeed an idealist, though this is never a title I have resented. Nonetheless, I feel that the role of the moderate political subject position has been muddled and, in many cases, lost, on the global stage. What is a moderate? In my mind, the moderate is a political or social actor with individual agency and the ability to exercise that agency is a way that moves beyond dichotomous polar politics and takes a more holistic view of life as a series of interests, motivations and bids as opposed to a string of actions. The difference here is crucial. I feel that, by and large, global political activity is based largely on responses to actions. Perhaps above all others, the recent crisis in Sri Lanka illustrates this gulf between action and interests most clearly. The Sri Lankan government,for years, has been reacting to the independence movement staged by the Tamil Tigers by employing military force. The Tigers, in response, stage further acts of resistance (in many cases, acts of terrorism), which, in turn, are put down by further Sri Lankan military action, ad nauseam, This is the trajectory taken by a number of seemingly insoluble international conflicts- one side moves, the other moves against that movement, leading to further movements. These are desperate circumstances often marked by sporadic and scattered tit-for-tat bombing such as that that characterizes the Israel/Palestine conflict. Oftentimes, the most heavily affected are those caught in the middle, in the residential and unarmed areas used as a staging ground for guerilla and insurgent violence. To consider and approach tensions from a more moderate stance, from one that acknowledges interests and bids, however, could potentially go a long way to dismantle this kind of long-standing and stalemate type of conflict. When speaking of interests and bids, I have a specific meaning in mind. Take the bid metaphor, for example. At an auction, a bidder places a bid with a specific goal. They don't simply enter a bid expecting nothing in return, or for its own sake. A bid is a calculated move that reflects the interests and goals of the bidding party. It is an extension of the self into the shared space of negotiation engineered to generate a certain type of response. Conflict erupts when a bid remains unsatisfied, or in other words, when the intentions and interests of a particular party are ignored and not considered for whatever reason. The bidding process is entirely foregone in tit-for-tat, retaliatory conflicts. Any action taken targets only some other previous action, not the underlying goal, desire or intention that motivated that action. The conflict digs itself deeper into the earth, more lose their lives, and policy makers and international organizations grow increasingly weary and pessimistic about the possibility of coming to an effective solution. 

Why is the bid approach more moderate? The bid approach acknowledges that there is something beyond the dichotomizing nature of armed combat. It refuses to see solutions as a matter of weaponry or attrition, and demands that the conflict is solved more through policy, dialogue and discourse, as differences and conflicts in negotiations are largely an issue of rhetoric. By looking at interests, we are forced to see all sides of an argument, we are forced to consider combinatory rather than explosive action, to find ways to bridge insuperable gaps between entities as volatile as faiths, nationalities and races. Take the Israel/Palestine conflict, for example. This battle ideally epitomizes the tit-for-tat violence that can shatter hope for a solution, having been fought largely (with the obvious exception of Israeli military action) on a civilian, guerilla scale. Not surprisingly, the conflict has become startlingly polarized, at least through Western lenses. The Palestinian cause is routinely cast as unambiguously barbaric and rooted in terrorist activity, at least in the North American media. This view does nothing to acknowledge the very real suffering and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people that the establishment and subsequent expansion of Israel has caused. Since the early 1950s, Israel has been conceived of as a "land without people for a people without land," providing a homeland to displaced Jews following the Second World War- a very legitimate cause. However, the land was far from empty. It was populated by millions of settled Palestinian nationals who were, without hesitation, turned into refugees in their own country. That said, any attempt that the Palestinian people have at recovering a sovereign homeland is being ruined by Hamaas, an honest-to-goodness terrorist group governing the Palestinian people whose sole agenda is the elimination of the state of Israel. Israel, conversely, must stop attempting to expand its borders through powerful military campaigns against largely unarmed and non-unified pockets of Palestinians. As it stands now, Israel and Palestine take as their official government stances a tit-for-tat, retaliatory form of combat. Two nations officially endorse retaliatory combat as their main means of conflict resolution. Is it any wonder that the situation in Israel has snowballed so far out of control? The solutions proposed by both Israel and Palestine pay no attention to interests- shared and equal sovereignty over particular territories based on historical settlement and human need. This is an astonishingly unworkable future, for very obvious reasons. This is where the moderate, holistic, bid approach is most fruitful. We must discover what motivations are underlying acts of violence other than simple retaliation and eye-for-eye philosophy. Hamaas must be removed and a legitimate political party must be elected to govern the Palestinian people that seeks collaboration with Israeli officials; one that works hard to have its voice and claim to sovereignty over certain territories heard, yet one that demands such concessions based on legitimate claims. Likewise, Israel must embrace a spirit of cooperation that looks to cease hostilities, even if that means halting outward expansion into surrounding territories. Finally, we must all realize that there is no hero/antihero dichotomy here. All Palestinians are not terrorists simply because their corrupt government ignores attempts at peace, and Israel does not have the right to expand its holdings just beacause. Israel's interests currently lie in expansion and consolidation. Palestine's lie, somewhat hypocritically in destruction and the attainment of sovereignty. These are the interests on the table. These are the issues that need addressing. These should receive the attention and energy that the military is currently given. Every word is spoken as a bid, with some underlying intention and hope for a particular response. Lets get people back to the bidding floor, and away from no-man's land. 

Again, I understand that I have idealized this situation, but in our age of extremes, when people seem to fight for its own sake, out of retaliation, out of pure hatred, there needs to be some kind of idealism. There needs to be some attempt to create a workable solution that is, in some regard, holistic and moderate; one that considers all interests and works toward consolidating those interest by understanding the way in which we interact and expect responses. Like I said, I've never been ashamed to be called an idealist. 

Moderates are often seem as weak-of-heart, or perhaps not committed to a cause, not devoted to achieving the best for their own people as possible. In one respect, this is true. A moderate does not seek only what is best for his or her own people, but for all those people with whom they interact. They seek solutions that, in the words of one of my idols, "no one is going to like, but everyone can live with." And I feel that this is the role of the moderate today- to peel back the decades of retaliatory combat and reconsider the underlying causes, approach them with more holistic and combinatory minds and eyes, and attempt to find new solutions to very old problems. It's often said that the time for talk is over, that it's prime time for action. But I doubt that anyone who uses that kind of epithet would also say that action is the best solution for all. Why settle for less that our best effort? Have you ever noticed that negotiations between nations can break down after only a matter of days or weeks, and that immensely important global conferences last only a weekend, and yet we're willing to fight wars for decades or more? I have a hard time believing, then, that the time for talk is over. 

Here's to the moderate.