Monday, 15 February 2010

What do a 29-year-old Russian-American and a Japanese man in his 60s have in common?

No, this isn't one of those tasteless jokes you find so often on the Internet.

The problem with being a creative person is sometimes having too many ideas. So I've come up with this series of posts, each of which contains some brief musings. I'm calling them Espresso Shots, because they're quick and don't last long but hopefully leave you with some sort of energy, if I do them well enough.

Here goes.


A few months ago, I had the idea that, as much as I liked Regina Spektor's newest album Far, it would have worked even better as a collection of short stories. It even seemed structured like a short story collection might: you had your charming, offbeat, subtly sad opener in "The Calculation", deeply human protagonists ("Human of the Year", "Genius Next Door"), and a mysterious but oddly satisfying closer ("Man of a Thousand Faces").

Now I realize that Far is an awful lot like a Haruki Murakami story, or collection of stories. Haruki and Regina seem to have that same off-kilter charm and eye for details. Like a couple that chooses to, seemingly on a whim, hold up a McDonald's in the middle of the night.

You should read Murakami's story "The Second Bakery Attack" here, and listen to the songs below, and tell me what you think.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saturday Spotlight: Ariana Gillis

If I told you that this generation’s Bob Dylan hails from a small Ontario town and recently won the Canadian Folk Association’s award for Young Performer of the Year, you’d probably believe me. But what if I told you that this generation’s Bob Dylan has vibrant red hair, wears plaid socks, plays the ukulele and is only nineteen years old?

Ariana Gillis began playing music at the tender age of six, and by the age of eleven had already recorded a demo CD. Accompanied by her father— the esteemed Toronto musician David Gillis— she began touring across Canada, introducing audiences to her unique style until it came time for her to record her debut album. To Make it Make Sense was released in 2009 and quickly won listeners over with Ariana’s intelligent lyrics, bold arrangements, and dynamic, appealing vocals. Listening to Ariana Gillis is like enjoying a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice on a sunny afternoon; her music is the perfect blend of youthful exuberance and precocious maturity.

From the rhythmic drums of opener “Blueberry Ocean” to the Dylanesque "Project Man", To Make it Make Sense is an album that honors Ariana’s musical influences and breaks with tradition. The resulting sound is captivating and utterly personal, as likely to put a smile on your face as it to bring you to tears.

To Make it Make Sense’s most recent single, the jubilant “Simon Brooke”, is currently enjoying regular rotation on CBC Radio 2; the song perfectly encapsulates its singer’s personality, with its warm, burnished arrangement giving a rousing accompaniment to Ariana’s quirky lyrics about her fascination with an obscure Vietnam War soldier – a man whose name is rapidly becoming familiar to listeners across North America.

The stories she tells are unconventional, frequently brilliant, and painfully relevant, yet they are anchored by her natural talent, innocence, sweetness, and fresh outlook on today’s confusing world. Like Bob Dylan, she holds a candle to the darker parts of humanity, and is not afraid to speak the truth.

Listen to more songs at her Myspace, or visit her official website here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Grammys 2010: The good, the bad and the ugly

When it comes down to it, the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards were an awful lot like an old-fashioned western. You had your heroes -- most of which were country musicians, come to think of it -- and your villains -- the most ominous of which, Kanye West, could have been compared to Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget for the way he remained behind the scenes at the Grammys while still managing to win one of the darn things anyway.

In keeping with western tradition -- and the sorry state North America seems to be in -- the evening had a distinct air of escapism; the King and Queen of Camp themselves, Elton John and Lady Gaga, had the opening number, for Pete's sakes. It was an evening that offered those watching a chance to escape from the humdrum of their ordinary lives and witness the end of a storyline that had been going on ever since the MTV Video Music Awards earlier that year.

On January 31st, plans were made, guns were drawn, and music's highest earners prepared themselves for a long battle -- a battle that, like any good western, was effectively over before it already began.

Here's how it went down.

The Good

  • Lady Gaga's opening number was interesting and kind of fun, but it was ruined by the cheesy cries of "She's a monster and she's turning all of you into monsters!" and was painful to watch at some points, almost becoming as laughable as her performance on Oprah when she tried to smash a car window and couldn't. While Elton John was a welcome addition halfway through, the choice of "Your Song" seemed awfully self-congratulatory, and it was weird, not necessarily glamorous.

  • Stephen Colbert was essentially given the opening monologue of the evening, which could be compensation for not hosting the Oscars. It was very funny, his daughter had great comic timing, and he managed to get in a few priceless jabs at Adam Lambert and Jay-Z without bursting the fairytale bubble of the whole thing.

  • Even though she's been doing it for a few tours now, Pink's aerial act while performing "Glitter in the Air" was stunning and classy -- and, according to visitors,their favorite performance of the night.

  • Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli singing the Simon and Garfunkel classic "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in support of Haitian relief. Very passionate, but the pairing was a bit odd -- she seemed beside herself and he had virtually no facial expression. I'm not sure if I like this as much as I did upon immediate viewing.

  • Leonard Cohen and Neil Young finally won some sort of Grammy Award. Need I say more?

The Bad

  • Let's face it: Beyonce's performance on Sunday was, vocal theatrics aside, pretty uneven. That she decided to perform something from the bloated, melodramatic I Am... part of her ridiculous so-called alter-ego "concept" album instead of a fun, upbeat song from Sasha Fierce and throw Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" into the mix was bizarre enough. But did she really need to pull a Jay-Z and start grabbing at a, ahem, certain part of the human anatomy that she doesn't even have?

  • It's no wonder Taylor Swift won Album of the Year, because she clearly has some of the best computers in Hollywood to be able to turn that voice into something that could stand against someone like Stevie Nicks. Unfortunately, while she can carry a tune, she didn't do her best on Sunday night, and the fact that she used elements from the far-superior Butch Walker cover of "You Belong to Me" -- a cover that doesn't even suit her voice -- didn't help either.

  • Justin "I Entirely Benefit From Studio Trickery" Bieber and Ke$ha "Why Am I Here?" Sebert easily won the Grammy for Least Enthusiastic Reading Off Of Teleprompter, Duo or Group Presenter Division. The 15-year-old Bieber also referred to Bon Jovi as Beyonce, covering himself by claiming "Beyonce's always on my mind." Thank you, Justin dear. Excuse me while I cringe.

The Ugly

  • Some sort of lowbrow parody of opera, Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Slash, some other guy nobody's heard of, and Robert Downey Jr. This was so incredibly awful that even Jay-Z was speechless.

  • I was speechless myself when Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood, Usher and the postmortem voice of Michael Jackson joined together for a performance of "Earth Song" that, aside from the well-thanks-for-not-telling-us-about-the-3D-earlier special effects, seemed rather ironic considering that a group of people whose combined carbon footprint is probably larger than Mali was up there crying "What about us?" At least they had good intentions, but the irony was too evident not to notice.

I'd like to end this post on a positive note, so I'll direct you to Taylor Swift's lovely acceptance speech after winning her first-ever Grammy for Best Country Album. Good night.