I am curious towards the dreams that keep you alive, I don’t mean living with a regular heartbeat throbbing through you and penetrating the steps that leave holes in the ground but the kind of living that inspires you to simply chew with dominion, stare with desire and laugh with abandon. I know that you want to live a novel-worthy, nickname deserving, reference commendable life and I believe that somewhere inside of you, you are capable of such wondrous strides. Strides that will take you to a place in the future where people simply stop and ponder how you truly were. Not only how you truly were, but the way your hair fell to the side when you were relaxing, the pensive lip-biting you did before doing something of such extreme deliberation and the way your body felt vulnerable yet strong while you became ever more sun-kissed during the festivals people only wished they could attend.
I know you want people to think of you while they are making love, at the end of some kind of ambiguous and self-important crises and after the most memorable fleeting experiences that turn into feathers in our memories. I can smell your longing to be heard one day as if you were shouting through a megaphone at the top of a mountain, on top of a tower in an undiscovered yet highly acclaimed place in Spain that North Americans can’t quite properly pronounce. I know you want your smoke rings to turn into butterflies in the night that touch the noses of strangers and mysteriously inspire them to do what they were truly born to do. I know you want to be mysterious yet bold, have distinctive but elusive qualities that others can dream about but never touch. I know you think about books you should read, and the life you could need and the food you could eat but you don’t. You surrender to your very own charity of clichés of the procrastination you vocally resent but realistically present to your tortured self that keeps you up through the potholes of the evening. However, this isn’t a story about you, it is about me, the regretful and sobbing self that tends to find you quite attractive, alluring but ultimately pathetic.
My name is Simon and I am simple. I am not simple in the way that some politically fruitful people say when they mean to say challenged but just…calm, happy and simple. I grew up in Manitoba in an even less interesting town called Brandon which is an underwhelming part of Canada which I realize immediately makes this tale less interesting but I still ask you to listen.
I grew up in Brandon with my father Neil and my mother Mary who are both just fine. My father is the distributor at a software company, I still don’t entirely understand what he does, I believe that the majority of people don’t really understand what their fathers do but know the title of the job when people ask. I didn’t understand this growing up as I thought any career would be distinctive-an astronaut, a pilot, a cop-but then, I got older and discovered that at every single job could only be understood by the person doing it and is ultimately disappointing.
My mother Mary is a stay at home mother but became more and more interested in the use of Tupperware and eventually distributed the plastic items at parties devoted to such mundane objects. She has pretty freckles that I used to think represented each mistake she made and the largest one splattered upon her nose was that of our family. This isn’t to say I am a self-indulgent replica of so many dysfunctional families and think that I am personally a mistake, my parents had my sister and me on purpose but I don’t think they did it with well, you know purpose. They are both nice to me, especially during the oblivion of my youth, they told me pleasant parental statements about the importance of my pursuing what it is that I love, although I never found love for things. I found like and lust for things but I wouldn’t say the sheer, ridiculous and abandonment that is love was the feeling for anything at all I had growing up. I never felt a crushing and thrilling feeling for school, peers or anything else that happened in the freedom of the night during those years, I just felt…simple.
My sister Raina is strange, she is two years older than me and completely obsessed with self-image. Raina wears really tight unflattering pants and is obsessed with finding only the tightest to make her feel beautiful, or sexy, or undermined or whatever it was she is going for. I would ask her how she wanted to be viewed by boys at school when she left the house and she would call me a fag or when I was lucky- an outcast. That’s exactly what I was in school.
We had two high schools in Brandon, one of which is Catholic and the other was the one we attended, as my parents were boring but relentlessly secular. High school was enigmatic to me, it was like a hormonal pool of cruelty and gratuitous classes that drove us further into nothing. Raina cared a lot about it however and through her, I had insight on what it meant to people, there was that aspect of popularity, which seemed too fleeting to handle and academically torturing which seemed too complicated to grasp. I went to my classes and raised my hand when I knew the answer, I listened to the best of my ability but the best time of day was during the breaks when I could go outside and just look at things, the trees either covered in snow or relinquishment from the sun. I could smell the pierogies coming from the restaurant downtown and would imagine the conversation billowing over a nice bowl of the polish delicacy or just sit there, just to feel my body interacting with the ground.
I would sometimes try to read during those breaks but only made it about three pages through the novel that I was trying at the time. I only read classics-Hemingway, Orwell or Twain they were kind of like the friends I had that still didn’t like me much. I did have two real friends though- Katie and Drew.
Katie was in choir and did very poorly in school. I think she was about 25 but no one knew for sure, she got really excited about the little things-baseball games in town, someone wearing something unordinary to school and one of the pretty girls having some kind of error. Katie chain-smoked and snorted cocaine more than sometimes but was oddly cavalier about the whole execution of doing so. She would excuse herself periodically throughout the day and admit what she was doing, she would never express guilt nor pride, she just was. That’s what I liked about Katie, although I didn’t aspire to be like her I admired her for just being who she was, broken and quirky with no intentions of being otherwise. She sang well but didn’t really sing with any vigour. She was like a machine while she sang vocally complicated and emotional songs to Drew and I during lunch break and her eyes were colourless, like the sheet that I hid underneath after this youthful disastrous time in my life. Drew is extremely intelligent but because of that he had few friends, either they found him too smart to bare or he found them to daft to talk to, it was as if his intelligence was a problem and he was apologetic for it. Unlike Katie and I, Drew really wanted friends, he would approach a group of people hanging around who appeared to be doing nothing at all, he would tell them a seemingly witty joke and to his demise he was made fun of for it due to the groups lack of knowledge of the protagonist in the punch line. I think he is hilarious, but not for the reasons he wanted to be. I thought he was funny because of his imprudent mannerisms and the way he never tied his shoes and never noticed. It took me a while to realize I was actually laughing at him, just like every other asshole but it wasn’t because I thought I was better, I knew that I wasn’t.
I was good at two things in high school-running and observing. The first, I would run to school simply because I was going to be late otherwise, my mother would serve us cereal in one of her new Tupperware muses. The cereal container was one that insisted to secure the cereal from becoming soggy. I knew every morning that cereal becoming soggy was always approaching so I amused her by eating the whole dish at home then darting to school as her intention for me to take it to in time. I never had the heart to tell her that was ridiculous and she should just wake us up earlier and find a better outlet. Raina, on the other hand, made it known that it was ridiculous and for some reason that made my mother a bitch, the two would bicker before school and I would just close my eyes and eventually it sounded like two crows having an argument that I couldn’t understand. I would then run and Raina would catch a ride with some guy who looked ever-presently guilty of murder, he didn’t go to our high school and had a tattoo that read “never made it as a wise man”, Chad Kruger’s salty introduction into our strange world.
I would make it to school in about 3 minutes, it was 35 k away and one day a man in the neighbourhood pointed out that wasn’t normal. I would just run and stop when I got to my destination, wherever it happened to be. I never thought anything of it until this neighbour Karl told me that I was unusual and special and that I had a gift, he encouraged me to join the track and field team at school in which I did and all trouble ensued.
I ran in a very casual and gawky manner, sometimes I ran while eating a fruit roll-up. The other boys would run as if they were upset and scared, without meaning to. I ran about three times as fast as each of them and our coach liked me a bit too much. He would call me his little champ, in which I felt uncomfortable yet the other boys still managed to be green with envy over it.
Secondly, I observed by calculating how I thought people are feeling by the hue of their eyes or the state of their body language. When I told my peers it seems they are feeling either disappointed about the loss of their last relationship or excited about the prospect of grilled cheese for lunch they said I nailed it, so I stuck to it. I stuck to both.
Running became somehow meditative, as I didn’t truly love anything I needed to feel exhilarated and going through the ominous and empty streets of Brandon at a high volume made me feel this way.
When the dull array of days that were high school concluded and I was given a scholarship for track and field at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I never even thought about a life outside of the one I lived, I mean I knew there was a world, but I didn’t really believe it and that’s where I met you. Graduation was anti-climatic for me, I went to grab dinner but couldn’t stand staying for the party. At the dinner, they played that horrible Green Day song alongside a slide show of people looking reasonable. Drew and Katie and I snuck into the local golf course, we all smoked weed and I became extremely paranoid, convinced that high school was all a dream and we were actually just finishing junior high and about the repeat the horrid nightmare once again. For some reason, immersing myself in cold water when I got home made me feel better and then I ate a whole thing of Cheetos.
The summer was sweltering and uncomplicated. I was all done with high school and not the least bit nostalgic about it. Everybody in town seemed to be investigating their sexual territories with respect to the notion of carpe diem and an explosion of hormones. There was something very sexy about leaving. In my experience, I have always found girls more attractive if they are soon to be out of my life, but this was my first time having it the other way around. As everyone in town was relishing in the blossoming nature of their lives in addition to legally drinking, we all became friends.
I lost my virginity to a girl named Sarah who was a professional ballerina and said she wanted to lose it to someone she wasn’t afraid of and I was the only one in town she could think of. It was a short yet memorable experience, which required very little on my behalf. She phoned me and proposed the engagement which her an I took part in four and a half hours later. We met up at her parent’s house and it was the first time I had been close to a woman at all, we kissed, had oral sex and I eventually penetrated her for what felt like 2 minutes. While I was inside of her she asked me to tell her I loved her, which I didn’t, so I didn’t say it and she understood. She lied in my arms for a long time, that part I liked, neither of us even pretended we had anywhere to be. She told me about her plans about going to Vancouver to dance, I told her about track in Halifax, it was like two high functioning athletes discussing their dreams, we both knew this wasn’t the case. She was tortured, I was simple and there we were. I believed that the matter of fact nature of our intercourse would stamp all of my future sexual experiences-vanilla and unexciting, although this seemed accurate in correlation with the other elements in my life I just didn’t want it to be that way. I wanted to have dramatic and exuberant sex with artists whose limbs are running away from one another who moved like volcanos and eventually slept like logs.
I spent time with Katie and Drew not really doing anything at all, the two would divide off quite a bit and I had the sense they were angry at me for leaving Brandon, and I think that’s because they thought I was better than them for doing so. This wasn’t how I felt at all, I became irrationally guilty, it consumed me and I apologized to each of them individually. They shared with me that they were not in the least bit angry with me but had feelings for one another and the tension overtook them most of the time. They eventually shared this information with each other and spent the rest of the summer in bed together. I spent most of my days by the lake, sitting and thinking as if it was some kind of consuming activity, and it was, it was for me.
When I left, my mother and father gave me 40 dollars at the airport and some Tupperware for my experience in dorms. I had an unfortunate vision of dorm life. I imagined an oblique grey box and hallways packed with drooling and drunken alleged leaders of tomorrow. When I arrived I discovered this was exactly correct. I had a roommate named Max who was deeply passionate about the little things-the game of Jenga, magnets and marbles. He was dispassionate about the broad and general parts of life like school, friends and physiological needs such as food and showering. He forgot to eat a lot of the time, truly just forgot. He was studying science-particularly physics. He was obsessed by how all objects seem to find their way to balance and because of this, he was considered a genius worthy of a scholarship.
We were the two boys with scholarships in the scholarship room and the other kids loathed this about us. It was nice, I probably wouldn’t be in University if I didn’t run fast but I think that would have been OK. We did have an amazing amount of pressure as well though, constant e-mails from the faculty reminding us how they were honoured to have us but we must keep up a certain grade average to continue having our school costs covered. To me, it just read- don’t fuck up or else we will stop paying. The track and field team here was highly competitive and serious. Our coach even called us maggots from time to time, which I found too cinematic to take seriously. I took general classes and learned about the human brain, the state of humanity and the history of humans. This is when I learned that history consistently repeats itself and life is absurdly simple, just as I previously thought but now I had ornamental terminology to make it sound more interesting.
The sight of Halifax did something to me, it’s aggressive and specific beauty was one I could hardly look at. Like going out with a girl too pretty to stare directly in the eyes. I suppose I felt like I was dating a city out of my league, it was exotic, mysterious and so abundant with rare beauty. It was also cold, elusive and I struggled. I could see people enjoying themselves here, I mean really enjoying-bending their head back with laughter and splattering colourful paint on buildings that were lopsided and looked like antiques on broken stilts.
The Dirty Few
There was a park in town where three musicians gathered and played folk music, the kind of folk music that is infused with whiskey and aggressive chants, I liked this a lot. I would go there and watch them with awe; they were young and liberated, unlike the people in the dorms. They called themselves the Dirty Few. They were made up of Thiessen who played the fiddle, Dana who played the guitar and Billy who played the banjo. Thiessen was the first girl I ever met who was really nice to me, she had orange dreadlocks that rested at the top of her head and her eyes were green like lizards, she loved that I came to listen and had the biggest smile I had ever seen. Her girlfriend Dana was like me, an observer with deep olive skin that was splattered in stick and poke tattoos. She wore the same clothes every day, layers of greens and blacks but they didn’t really look like clothes on her, more like a uniform explaining to the world she wasn’t a member of their society.
Billy resembled an animal more than anyone I had ever seen, he was like a pseudo-human stopping in shortly, and the majority of his features werewolf and goat-like. He even wore a tail and goat hoofs, he shouted at people and drank whiskey all day. He played the banjo really fast and made sense about 40% of the time. When he did make sense he was one of the smartest men alive, he would slow down in timbre and speak clearly and passionately about subjects that mattered. When he wasn’t doing that he was scatting estranged poetry at the top of his lungs and yelling at tourists. When I first heard the Dirty Few I hid in the bush to listen, I would come day after day and eventually, they told me to get the hell out of the bush and hang out with them.
Hanging out with them was fun, they never paid for anything but alcohol and cigarettes from the change they made playing music on the street. They always found some way to eat off of tables or out of garbages, they sat by the water and sang songs, I don’t know where any of them slept at night. They invited me into their world but we all knew I was just dropping in. I wasn’t evolved like them, I wasn’t as interesting as them. I wasn’t part animal or able to grab throbs of lasagna off of tables in restaurants. They taught me how to enjoy myself around people and what it was like to like your friends. They all began to tell me they loved me and gave me big hugs while admiring the parts of me I didn’t know about. I admired them and you admired them too. They were the first friends I loved, I thought about them when they were gone, they made me feel better about myself and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. This taught me I was capable of love and I no longer feared it.
I saw you for the first time with them, your perpendicular purple dress was contrasting their utilitarian turtle shell-like clothing. You had freckles on your face but unlike my mother, yours represented all of your dreams, many of which you had conquered. You were young, fragile yet bold. You, you were too pretty to stare in the eyes. When you introduced yourself to me, and the name Maggie spilled out of your distinctive lips I wanted to pick you up and run away with you forever.
I found a place in town just for me, I loved spending time with the Dirty Few. I hated school but immersed myself in it, it was like the pleasure of doing something self-destructive. This sensation is similar to inhaling smoke or putting your fingers in your throat. That’s what it was like going to school for me, without the thrill I guess.
There was a place I found by accident wandering around the streets of Halifax, trying to figure out how it was designed and I never could-it wasn’t a grid, it wasn’t a line, it was like a scramble of streets with no ends or beginnings, chaotic, beautiful and unpredictable -like you.
This place was a crevice of grass between two derelict buildings with the ocean seemingly sprayed right in front of it. The ocean here wasn’t like it was anywhere else, it was cold, invasive and uninviting like when you were angry. I think that is what I loved about this place, it wasn’t comfortable, nor was it the kind of personal paradise where one reads a book and “finds themselves” as it were. It is the kind of place where the water reminds you that your problems aren’t as important as you think. I would occasionally draw there, stickmen really, but my stickmen. I took you there once and you found a similar beauty in its simplicity or alleged darkness. You said it forced you to stare at your demons and discover your next move. I had never met a girl with so many self-inflicted problems; I think you came up with them because life never did it for you.
My eyes became shutters while looking at you. I froze and fell into your frantic frenzy. I didn’t understand how you just walked around in the world, with the others, The Dirty Few at that. Your skin sang to me underneath your forgiving dress, I could make out some of your erogenous areas, your valleys and your sidewalks. The places you were self-conscious about for some reason that I thought were cute and you thought were too serious for me to fathom. I could smell your childhood, the way you saw the beauty in the world but couldn’t stand all the other parts. I knew you ran from somewhere and were on your way to somewhere else and somehow I got to meet you while you were on your way. You sat down with The Dirty Few and pulled out a bottle of cider from your bag, it was in a long glass vase like mechanism that kept right up with your upmarket demeanour, it was like drinking during the day was merely an accessory for you. You sang with the others and your voice was neither exquisite nor putrid, its neutrality gifted me with the simplicity I searched for. You sang a song that you wrote about the politics among children, or at least I thought that’s what is what about, you always made everything more complicated than it truly was.
I went back to my dorm room after the first day I met you, I listened to the “Codex” by Radiohead on my Discman over and over and over and over. I tried to ask Max questions about love, his reaction to the subject was sincerely disinterested. We eventually got to a place of mutual understanding, this took a while but discovered we both liked to make things, so we made a fort. We made a glorious fort that we had built with various blankets from our room. It was my new favourite place and in there Max and I connected. We eventually felt more comfortable discussing how we were really doing, we both hated school and we both had unusual insecurities. Max wasn’t complicated but he was kind and that meant a great deal to me. There was nothing specific about him, I don’t think I could describe him to a forensic sketch artist, the artist would end up with nothing but a blank face. Max knew he was a blank face, he didn’t try to be anything else. He didn’t try to torture that nothingness with makeup or insincere facial expressions like you, he just accepted it. Even though Max was dull he was real.
There is some kind of voodoo magic that moves across the high desert and Joshua Tree National park. The fusion of the bizarre beauty, the zany locals and the high desert chill make it hauntingly distinctive. The people that come here are running from something or to something, or maybe a little of both. It seems fitting that one of the most iconic music venues is located near the national park in a western movie film set called Pioneertown.
Myself, enjoying the downtown core.
Pappy and Harriet’s emulates the comforting scents and sounds of bbq, beer and rock and roll. It is not uncommon to enjoy a stack of juicy ribs while watching a famous or up and coming band in this cozy and nostalgic saloon. The second you set foot in the unpretentious and understated bar/diner you feel as if you have entered another ether. It reminds you that music isn’t only alive and well but that it continues to change and influence lives. The walls are draped in relics of musicians who have played there. This impressive list includes-The Arctic Monkeys, Robert Plant, Lucinda Williams, Peaches, Queens of the Stone Age and most recently-Sir Paul McCartney. It also hosts up and coming musicians who are going to be huge over the next few years.
Every Sunday the Sunday House Band plays for several hours to an adoring crowd of mostly locals. They play as a core and with intermingling guest vocals and other session musicians. I had the pleasure of witnessing this last week.
Drummer, singer, guitarist and fellow Canadian Stew Heyduk shared some words with me on what it’s like playing this marvel of a venue each week. He has been playing in The Sunday Band for four years but the Sunday Band is 10 years strong. He describes the space as “ a second home”. This at home feeling certainly shared by the other musicians and audience members. Stewart grew up in Toronto but now resides in the Joshua Tree Park area. He loves working on his craft as a musician in the desert, it’s “great if you like a peaceful place to be creative”. The California stars are draped across the sky in Pioneertown, wild horses freely walk by and you truly feel like mother nature’s son. The troubadour Stew describes one of his favourite experience at Pappy and Harriet’s as “Standing about five feet away from Paul McCartney as he sang and played songs like “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. As a die-hard Beetles fan, it was described as something he will never forget. As he indicates ” That was a wonderful gift Pappy and Harriets gave to me and a lot of people that night”.
Kali Uchis- Isolation
The incomparable Kali Uchis’ debut full-length album Isolation is nothing shy of extraordinary. The incredibly sensual Columbian artist just drips with talent. Isolation is a lush collage of soul and R&B. There is a slew of skill featured on the record including Jorja Smith, Bootsy Collins and Tyler the Creator. The production and songwriting quality is remarkably refined. It is her tranquilizing vocal ability however, that is the vehicle driving this beautiful beast of an album. This is the 2018 version of Erykah Badu’s Baduizm, it’s a one women celebration of finding her voice, and what a voice it is.
Khruangbin-Con Todo el Mundo
The difficult to pronounce and easy to love Khruangbin’s album Con Todo El Mundo is a brilliant sophomore record. The Texas-based trio is an innovative and refreshing band that seem to be everywhere these days. From their viral KEXP recording to opening for Leon Bridges, they may very well be the band of 2018. They intertwine various elements of psych rock and funk to create a rich yet soothing sound. Their music is inspired primarily of funk music from Thailand. Khruangbin is actually the Thai word for aeroplane (or moving engine) which was the original name for the band. This album features the gospel and hip-hop background of drummer Donald Johnson. Con Todo El Mundo also contains musical influence from the Middle East, India, and Iran- specifically in the politically charged song and music video for “Maria También”. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in this record which is apparent in the luxurious newness of it all. It is also somehow the ideal background album for a lazy afternoon. It’s essentially the listener’s perspective that will determine how they hear this music. It is like a subconscious choose your own adventure novel in the form of a generously orchestrated record, what a time to be alive.
Angélique Kidjo- Remain in Light
Almost 40 years ago the otherworldly Talking Heads released their groundbreaking Remain in Light. Kidjo, a vibrant and enormously talented Beninoise singer interpreted the album and gave it new life. The original album still holds up incredibly well, it is a musical landmark and easily one of the greatest albums ever made. Kidjo picked up on the Afrobeat undercurrent of the original record and exploded that influence to a fully fleshed Afrobeat carnival. This album is a shapeshifter, a mood elevator, and a room filler. There are so many musical elements occurring simultaneously, creating a tower of sound. Kidjo is a 58-year-old musician and actress who has been making impressive music for decades. This is such an important record and bold step in her career. Risks pay off, this is an album that needs to be cherished just like the original.
J Mascis- Elastic Days
J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. has this rare talent for creating highly vulnerable yet completely badass music. It’s as if the wonderful cracks in his voice invite you into his old rock and roll soul. This is his third solo album and arguably his best yet. It is a gentle yet powerful arrangement of folk-rock ballads. He has a unique ability to pluck one’s most susceptible heartstrings while remaining void of cheese. The album is melancholic but doesn’t feel sorry itself, it is an authentic reflection of the often sad world around us. Elastic Days is more sophisticated than his two previous solo albums, it’s more mature and confident. In between belts of agony or poetic ramblings are earth cracking solos that Mascis is known for.
Noname- Room 25
Noname’s follow up to her groundbreaking debut album Telefone is a fully realized body of work. Noname seamlessly combines spoken word, sultry bars, and complex musicality. The Chicago based artist weaves together lyrical imagery and thought-provoking poetry. Her music is ubiquitously fun, sad, impossibly smooth and somehow hilarious. She takes you on a neo-soul infused journey that investigates her internal dialogue and the way she perceives the world. Room 25 is gorgeously intimate, the way that Joni Mitchell’s Blue is, it feels as if you’re reading her diary and looking through her room. Noname manages to make that profoundly personal feeling sound groovy as hell.
Small Town Artillery
The is no other band quite like The Vancouver based Small Town Artillery. Their third album Don’t Talk Away The Magic is a remarkable body of work. The genre-defying and brain-bending band orbit mostly around funk and rock and roll. Lead singer Tom Van Deursen is one of Vancouver’s top guitar players and performers. Don’t Talk away the Magic is like a musical mosaic from the pieces of a broken heart. Heartache has never sounded so good and been so fun to dance to. This deeply emotional record is electrified with rock and roll instrumentation and one hell of a horn section. Additionally, their performances are sticky and sweaty celebrations of being drowned in sound.
Thanks for this entirely new concept Kinfolk
There is a popular magazine titled “Kinfolk” which is available online and on print, it is based out of Portland, Oregon. Kinfolk, is a successful and aesthetically pleasing publication that reaches an audience that is typically against standard magazines. It appeals to a young, hip, smart, authentic and fresh crowd who would normally scoff at being told what to do by a magazine. Kinfolk’s slogan is “Slow Living” and includes photographs, articles and interviews that celebrate the notion of a quiet, artistic and poetic lifestyle. The photographs involved normally focus on subjects such as: rustic brunch, women wearing linen, rosemary sprigs in apothecary jars, helmetless babes on one speed bicycles, whisks and spoons, extremely modern haircuts, people spending time outdoors in their best wool… you get the idea.These images are inexplicably beautiful, they’re both inviting and isolating. They create a similar feeling of…
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The glorification of the tortured artist is terribly common and enduring. We have a fascination with the broken, drug-addicted, alcoholic, depressed and impulsive gifted person. The roots of this fetish are old and lost to the haze of the past, but what we do know, is that many great artists struggle profoundly. This is apparent in many people across the eras, yet it is exemplified in the life of Henry Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, the renowned French post-impressionist and art nouveau painter. He was born in the late 18th century and was the victim of the severe effects of generational of inbreeding. He became heavily reliant on alcohol to numb the pain and died of an absinthe overdose at the age of 36. As well, Sylvia Plath was the depressed and talented poet and author most famous for the intensely emotional novel The Bell Jar. She died by suicide at age 30 by putting her head in the oven while her kids (the children of famous author Ted Hughes) were home. Ernest Hemingway the iconic author was rejected by the army due to his poor eyesight so he enlisted in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps. He dealt with a series of traumatic events that irrevocably changed altered his trajectory. He experienced extreme heartache and manic depression yet managed to work for several years as a wildly successful author culminating in the 1954 Nobel Prize for literature. By 1961 he later spiralled into a deep depression and died by suicide.
In a more contemporary example, Kurt Cobain, the genius songwriter, and revolutionary grunge musician was addled with depression and drug addiction before killing himself at age 27. It seems Cobain was particularly glorified in his depression and addiction by inadvertently inspiring a generation of people who equate sadness with coolness. The cohort of the “27 club” still haunts our cultural lexicon and consists of a graveyard of prodigious musicians that were silenced too soon.
Historically, there is definitely a correlation between darkness and art. Unsurprising, as most powerful art needs to contain conflict and tension which heightens our interest. We want conflict, we want to relate to something and we want to experience emotions in this world. Life is filled with pain and when somebody can make that beautiful we are provided with a momentary reprieve from that suffering. That being said, it’s by no means random that we are drawn to the archetype of the broken artist. I use the term archetype intentionally to highlight their humanity; for ultimately they are people, and their suffering is real and tragic.
I have heard many people confide that they aspire to drink excessively and write great material just like Hunter S Thompson. I have seen people drown in years of drug addiction because they thought their songs needed a certain Keith Richards- esque edge. Yet, this quest for self-inflicted misery is both ridiculous and misguided. As members of the adoring public, we get to consume the material these artists eventually produce, which is often astonishing. What we don’t see are the countless days filled with misery and the void of inspiration. Brian Wilson’s album Smile could be easily consumed as a charmingly quirky album instead of a record of a psychologically traumatizing time in his life. It is extraordinarily difficult and rare to remain creative and motivated while dealing with vicious internal demons. It’s even more difficult when you drown those demons in whiskey, garnish them in drugs, sleep infrequently, tour incessantly and eat poorly.
The commodification of depression and addiction is harmful and problematic towards mental illness. We fetishize the creative darkness but we don’t actually want the brutal sadness. It’s a superficial phenomenon that has conditions, while true tragedy is heavy and unconditional. Art is such a cathartic way to express pain and that is important. However, memorizing John Bonham’s horrendous diet because you think it might make you play drums better isn’t important. This reduces the pain felt by our beloved artists. It disrespects the complex field of mental illness which requires our astute attention and daily action more than ever. Romanticizing people who managed to produce brilliance whilst drenching their livers in wine is problematic because it is rare, and doesn’t account for all the artists who got lost along the way. Additionally, this ideology is likely not doing your art any favours.
The following is a list of five female musicians that you should most certainly know about…
Karly-Marina Loaiza AKA Kali Uchis is a multi-talented soul singer and songwriter. The 24-year-old has created a homemade empire for herself. She has been nominated for two Grammys and has collaborated with an array of talented artists including Daniel Caesar, Jorja Smith, The Dap Kings, Tyler the Creator and Bootsy Collins. Uchis spent her early years in Columbia then moved to Virginia. She was living in her car at age 17 where she wrote songs and poems in her notebook. She had the audacity to start recording music in the said car and managed to put together an impressive demo. She later took that demo to no other than the iconic Dap-Kings which resulted in a career-altering collaboration on a tracked titled Killer that was featured on her debut full-length album. She has been fiercely independent her whole life and the majority of her family still lives in Columbia. She takes risks, is constantly working, plays multiple instruments including the saxophone and has a true earth-shattering voice. All of her music videos are worthy of short film awards, her style is timeless and her eloquence is mesmerizing. She is currently in the midst of an extensive tour, her performances are unsurprisingly incredible. Check out her latest single with the hip-hop genius Tyler the Creator and funk legend Bootsy Collins here.
Fatimah Warner AKA Noname is a Chicago born and bred hip-hop artist and poet. The innovative 26-year-old has been rapping and doing slam poetry since 2010. She collaborates with Chance the Rapper extensively, most notably on the gorgeous track Lost on his acclaimed second album Acid Rap. Noname’s full-length album Telefone released in 2016 is nothing shy of brilliant. It is lyrically courageous, musically complex and ubiquitously garnished with her unparalleled flow. Rolling Stone Magazine called it the most thought-provoking hip-hop album of the year. She is currently touring across the US followed by a festival-centric summer. Her performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Series showcases her rapping ability and impossibly humble presence, check it out here.
Destiny Frasqueri AKA Princess Nokia is a New York-based amply skilled rapper. She is from African American and Puerto Rican descent and grew up in Harlem, New York. She pioneered the podcast The Smart Girls Club alongside Milah Liblin, which celebrates feminism and transparent conversation in a safe space amongst women. Her music is wonderfully distinctive, complex and refreshing. She identifies as a Bruja, queer and feminist, in her words, she isn’t burdened but empowered by her complexity. She lost her mother at a young age to HIV and lived in an abusive foster system afterward. Her breakthrough album 1992 which came out last year “freed her soul” as she tenderly explains on her podcast. She admits to being fully lost in depression in the past but she encourages inspiration in replace on anger and sadness. She is constantly reinventing herself and exploring the depths of her personality. Her music is a true reflection of her radical mind and a slipstream of her captivating creativity. 1992 is blazingly gritty and beautifully unapologetic, check it out here.
Jamila Woods is the Chicago based R&B singer, songwriter, and poet. Her music is extraordinarily sophisticated, liberating and impossibly smooth. She is a graduate from the Ivy League Brown University. She collaborated with Chance the Rapper most on the song Blessings from his Grammy award-winning album Colouring Book. She also collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on White Privilege II. Her debut solo album HEAVN (on Jagjaguwar Records) is a phenomenal record that crystallizes the arduous labour of struggle while simultaneously honoring freedom. It is a profound exploration of emotional resilience and sounds like sonic honey to boot. Her single Holy reveals her lyrical precision and musical aptitude, check it out here.
Tahlia Barnett, also known as FKA Twigs has certainly gained a well-deserved following along her musical trajectory thus far. She is a British Singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, and director. She is a true artist who is exceptionally skilled at various mediums. Her concerts are like performance art and her music is a transcending experience. She grew up as a trained jazz dancer which is certainly apparent in her music videos. At age 18 started producing her own music and found a team in London to work with. She worked as a backup dancer during this time, you can find her on Jessie J’s video for Do it like a Dude. In 2014 she was experiencing self-depreciation and worked on an album through it which resulted in breakthrough debut record LP1 on Young Turks Records. She has directed most of her music videos and her adventurous, experimental and stunning talents are on display in these works of art. Her latest project was dancing beautifully to the latest Anderson. Paak track titled Till it’s Over for the Apple Homepod speakers in a short film directed by Spike Jonze. It is nothing short of amazing, check it out here.
The latest Typhoon record Offerings is a haunting portrayal of tortured character experiencing the wrath of darkness. It completely commits to shattering the delicate hearts of those who appreciate the nuances of this complicated band. Typhoon is a generous buffet of talent with a total of 11 members who are all essentially prodigies at their instruments. The reside in the ever musically evolving city of Portland, Oregon. This is Typhoon’s first full length record in four years and certainty their most complex. One would argue it’s one of the most complex albums in general in several years. The 70-minute record doesn’t reel out of its intensity for even a second.
Some of the inspiration for Offerings derives from lead singer and songwriter’s Kyle Morton’s experience with “losing it” which is certainly palpable throughout the emotionally generous record. Offerings is also motivated by various literature and films that Morton immersed himself in throughout the making of the album. Morton is especially enthralled in Fellini, Lynch and Nolan films along with a handful of books that he states made for a much darker album.
Offerings is divided into four movements; Floodplains, Flood, Reckoning and The Afterparty. It is based around a character experiencing unexpected chaos and eventually yields to his terrible destiny. Morton explains, “I wanted this character to be a journey, like Dante’s Inferno. It kicks off with the track “Wake”, where the character wakes up and he’s shitting the bed and doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Morton is also inspired by the likes of the brilliant Irish playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett whom he was reading heavily while writing the lyrics for Offerings. Morton states, “Beckett would call it a literature of impoverishment where he’d strip away as much as he could get a feeling of essence and scarcity; that’s what I tried to do musically and lyrically here.
The character goes through a series of dystopian and eerily relatable experiences throughout the record. You follow this person through an intensive look at emotional turmoil and frustration towards the collapse of meaning during the age of information. It feels deliberately claustrophobic, creepy and severe. You can almost feel the walls closing in as you get lost in the layers of the story. The music is incredibly intricate and careful, not unlike the Icelandic masterminds Sigur Rós.
Offerings is rich with inspiration from other literate including the short story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes which is one of Morton’s favourite bodies of work. The protagonist of Offerings struggles with the sense of cognitive dissonance throughout the whole record. The seemingly last track “ Sleep” is a profound portrayal of sacrificing oneself. This is followed with the secret track “Afterparty” that celebrates the sense of freedom and peace on the other side of this wild journey. To say the album flirts with death is an understatement.
Records like Offerings rarely come out and when they do they deserve the same meticulous attention to detail that went into it. Morton astutely states, “if I could write my one line review of the record, I think I would want people to say it’s disturbing and unfortunately correct.” Well Morton, you completely nailed it.
For those of you who may not know the term manifest is used commonly in certain communities as a way to describe the spiritual cultivation of things that will increase one’s well being. Like many interesting words (such as existential) is it completely mugged of its fundamental properties in our sloppy snapchatting society. The term manifestation is actually quite interesting and useful in our vocabulary.
Manifestation (noun)-An event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something abstract or theoretical.
mass noun The action or fact of showing something.‘the the manifestation of anxiety over disease’
As reality is often stranger than fiction I will use actual examples of this term that I have heard in recent history…
“Even though it’s sold out, I am going to manifest tickets to Odesza.” translation– “I am going to cruise Craigslist for tickets and use the money I made from tree planting.”
“ Can you manifest some bagels while you’re out today?” translation– “can you buy me some bagels?”
“ I am going to manifest true love this year.” translation– “I am going to delete tinder.”
(I wish I was kidding)
Some folks even say “manifest destiny” as a way to express that we can sculpt our dream life with the right headspace. This one is especially problematic due to the origins of the saying. Manifest destiny was a term commonly used in the 19th century that supported the American expansion from coast to coast. It encouraged western settlement, the war on Mexico and the removal of First Nations people. It is essentially the anthesis of imagining your amazing future, it’s ignoring important and horrendous history.
There are even wildly published articles that encourage this misuse, for example…
The common thread in these examples is using a term that seems whimsical to obtain tangible things; money, objects, healthy relationships and even anything. This is challenging as the counter-culture that subscribes to this particular concept of manifestation are often against material objects to the point of being condescending and elitist. We all seek out these particular examples (especially the “anything” one) and that unites us which is basically the foundation of what inspired this way of thinking in the first place. Why misuse a term to mask the fact that we have similar human desires?
You can live your dream life by making the necessary steps to do so. You can communicate effectively with your ex and if you both want to, get back together. You can make money and buy the things you want in so very many ways in our society. Make no mistake about any of these examples though, you worked for them you didn’t manifest them. If anything doesn’t the idea of manifesting something remove the acknowledgment of hard work? Unless of course, you have a generous trust fund that supports your life in which case you have privilege. Language is empowering and having an astute grasp on it it’s infinitely useful. Using vague terms towards interesting topics just makes you sound like a shitty hippie, don’t be a shitty hippie.
The Vancouver based Sam Tudor’s Quotidian Dream is what Tudor calls his first album technically but third in actuality. Tudor is a young and brilliant folk musician who artfully obsesses over his homemade soundscapes. The 22 year old is wise beyond his years yet his music drips with youthful authenticity. The album is quite spectacular; it invites you into the dusty basement of Tudors psyche and makes you feel right at home. The ten song strong record is ambitiously emotional, vulnerable and complicated. Tudor experiments with generous lyrical metaphors and intense transparency. The album begins with the track New Apartment that immediately sets the tone in its wise songwriting paired by haunting musical backdrop. It features the shattering lyrics: washing up on a beach of carpet / you were drowned and you found the shore. Little things that keep you sober / keep them close when I’m far away. As the tide is moving lower / I think it’s time for you to stay. This is followed by the brazen track Quotidian Boy that unabashedly investigates the facets of childhood difficulty. The album continues to generously explore the depths of the beautiful and tragic human experience. The final track Silver Lining Skies provides a sense of closure, making one feel that they’re never alone in that awkward moment between birth and death.
Tudor grew up in a small town outside of Williams Lake and played music throughout his adolescence. He shared that “In the past I didn’t know what I was doing sound wise. It was hard enough trying to make something that sounded good. I didn’t have the mental energy to actually think about an album’s aesthetic. I was just trying to make an album that didn’t fall apart”. This self-deprecation certainly paid off as Tudor learned to refine his particular brand, which is severely fragile and rare. He manages to pull off Andy Shauf-esque velvet melancholy that dances in depression. Tudor further explained “ I am much more confident now and know how to record and write, so I can put more intention into the actual sound. That’s why although this is my third record, it feels like my debut album”.
Quotidian Dream does feel like a debut album in the way Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker is his debut album. It is triumphant declaration of musical catharsis that is waiting to be heard and not just heard but cherished. Tudor produced the album himself and mostly in his bedroom, yes he is obnoxiously talented. He is joined by an avalanche of local talent such as Harry Tudor on drums and percussion, Jasper Wrinch on electric bass, Nathan Turner on upright bass and Tegan Wahlgren on violin, viola and vocals. The musical landscape is rich and transporting which impossibly intuitive to the lyrical tapestry. Quotidian Dream is an uncommon invitation to the intimacy of one’s honest internal exploration; there is nothing quotidian about him.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile-Lotta Sea Lice
This one was highly anticipated by myself and many other desert loving, psych rock adoring and reverb attics that I know. I fell in love with Barnett’s music three years ago at Pickathon- my favourite music festival on this godforsaken rock. She was spilling out witty and clever lyrics while simultaneously demolishing her guitar seemingly effortlessly inside a steaming hot barn around midnight. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. The audience seemed to avoid blinking in fear of missing this supernova who has now deservingly reached international success.
Vile is a truly distinctive artist that left the War on Drugs to pursue his illustrious solo career. His music grasps the melancholic void and executes this highly relatable yet obscure sensation into rock and roll lullabies. The two could not be more suited to play music together and fans lost it when they heard they wouldn’t only record this album but follow it up with an extensive tour. They both have a knack for gracefully extended guitar freakouts, honing a particularly attractive brand of garage rock and gently delivering powerful lyrics. Lotta Sea Lice is a collection of old and new songs written by both. The single “Over Everything” gives insight towards how amiable and intoxicating this project is. The entire album plays like a dream that reels in and casts out of reality, it’s ambiguous who wrote what, which is simply a testament towards how much the two compliment one another.
The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding
The ever so talented Adam Granduciel leads the dreamy, innovative and nostalgic Philadelphia based band The War on Drugs. The musical marvel spent generous amounts of time in the studio mulling and obsessing over his impressive material. The band’s fourth studio album Deeper Understanding was highly anticipated as a follow up to their iconic Lost in The Dream released in 2014. A Deeper Understanding is a remarkable portrayal of complex expression, detailed instrumentation and the, if you will deeper understanding (I’m sorry) of musical catharsis. Granduciel takes you on a scenic walk through his moody, prophetic and infinite imagination. A Deeper Understanding is a tenacious sonic dreamscape that completely explores the depths of sonic possibilities, leaving no stone unturned. There is a lot going on in this work yet it’s completely accessible which is likely why the band gets reduced to “dad rock”.
Aerialists is the brainchild of Canadian folk sweethearts Adam Iredale-Gray (Fish & Bird) on guitar and Elise Boeur (Jenny Ritter) on the fiddle joined by Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul (Darol Anger & The Furies) who began collaborating extensively at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Their music is best described as “prog trad” implying an intentional contradiction while properly expressing a contemporary revision of traditional folk music. They are a genre bending, rule defying, brain shattering collection of wildly astute purveyors of sound. Their eclectic skills and intuitive instrumentation create an stirring tapestry of music dripping with range, emotion and history. Aerialists truly grasp the diversity and possibilities of folk music and it’s various sub-genres. They are young people inspired by old music yet their sound is timeless.
Their first full length album Group Manoeuvre is a commanding collection of brilliant songwriting, evocative harmonies and imaginative arrangements. It is cunning, exhilarating and at times almost emotionally overwhelming. They are fully committed to their complex and difficult music. The hauntingly powerful vocalist Emily Millard is featured on the record; her voice is as intense as it is gentle which is impossibly well suited to the avalanche of sound surrounding her. Their arrangements are palpably meticulously sculpted and derive from their original compositions and traditional Scottish, Irish and Swedish fiddle songs. Iredale-Gray produced the album himself in his hometown of Main Island, B.C on behalf of his very own label Fiddlehead Records.
LCD Soundsystem- American Dream
There is no band quite like the avant-garde LCD Soundsystem. Front man James Murphy began the project when he was in his thirties and wrote the accidental smash hit “Losing My Edge” which pokes fun at mainstream artists which ironically made him a mainstream artist.Their eponymous debut title album received a Grammy for best electronic/dance album in 2005. This was followed by the exemplary Sound of Silver released in 2007 and This is Happening in 2010 and they essentially headlined every major music festival simultaneously. In April of 2011 the band sold out Madison Square Garden at a performance billed as their final one, which clearly wasn’t.
LCD is like the choose your own adventure of bands as you can digest their music as rich feasts or light tapas and either way, it’s delicious.Their music captures the evocative backbone of strong electronica and the tender resonation of strong songwriting. It’s ambiguous towards what era they are most inspired by, their sound is a unique blend of 80s,90s and the future. American Dream is misanthropic dance music that speaks to the hips as much as the brain.It is a soundtrack for our current generation.It is vulnerable, manic, hopeful yet conflicted;just like us. It wavers between dreamy electronic terrain and gut wrenching belts of cynicism.American Dream speaks volumes to late capitalism and the unwillingness to conform which Murphy has mastered musically.
Queens of the Stone Age- Villains
Let me begin this my stating this potentially unpopular opinion- Queens of the Stone Age are my least favourite band that Josh Homme is in. I adore the Desert Sessions, Them Crooked Vultures and The Eagles of Death Metal. However, Queens of the Stone Age are my favourite mainstream modern rock band. I always take a while to warm up to a QOTSA album but when I do, which I always do I need to rethink that entire statement but I still land on the same consensus-these are the games I play in my head. That said, I strongly enjoy Queens of the Stone Age but I think Josh Homme should essentially be in the dirtiest, grimiest and most obscure band in the business. However, an album like Villains reminds me why this shouldn’t and couldn’t be.
QOTSA bridges the gap between metal heads and pop fans and everyone in between. Their music is intentionally radio friendly even though Homme is THE quintessential badass. Producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson is all over this record, the same Mark Ronson who produced Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and Amy Winehouses’ Valerie- he’s a hit machine. Ronson’s craftsmenship successfully pulled out the abundantly rich and complex soundscape that the band has mastered. The record is a condensed tale of inclusive disorderly rock. It invites all listener’s into the magic of rebellious music without making them feel undeserving of the experience and that’s what makes this band so special. Villains is arguably their most accessible album which further celebrates the band’s wonderfully bizarre and friendly mandate.