The post-internet era has changed the pop landscape. The ADHD generation, who grew up on blogs, YouTube, Twitter, MP3s and any sonic tool imaginable at their fingertips, is reinvigorating pop and what that definition denotes.
In Canada, Grimes’ pop is the sort that melds goth-hued bubblegum and weirdo persona with such disparate influences as Mariah Carey and Skinny Puppy. In the U.K., The xx, that black-clad gang of three raised on Sade and dubstep, concoct a particularly English version.
When we first met the shy Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie Smith, they were barely into their 20′s. But like many of the black-clad English bands before them (The Cure, Depeche Mode) dance music and gloom seemed to be in their DNA. Madley Croft and Sims sing about love with the same air of misery and maudlin as Morrissey amid one of those countless doomed relationships.
And in the same monochromatic realm as King Krule’s post-riot R&B, malaise looms large. As with The xx’s debut, Coexist follows the prior’s slo-mo gloom blueprint. Those trademark guitar echoes overlaid by a halo of reverb and far too much luscious atmosphere to match its minimalist sound.
Three years after its debut, the question that still often emerges involves what the mood elicits. Indeed, there is an element of sex. Like the way Madley Croft and Sims whisper lyrics on “Chained” like two lovers pillow-talking. Then there are also Smith’s restrained oscillations and melodic subtleties, which could provide the soundtrack to miles upon miles of love-making sessions (although the band has denied that their songs are about sex).
Coexist is dance-minded, reflecting the trio’s past three years coming-of-age submerged within London’s club scene. In the period between albums, Smith (aka Jamie xx) has produced a swath of remixes, including those for Adele, Florence + the Machine and Drake, not to mention his post-dubstep masterpiece, We’re New Here (2010), featuring the late Gil Scott-Heron.
Certainly, that time spent on other projects shows in Smith’s sonic accuracy, be it a sinuous rush of steel drums on “Reunion,” the Massive Attack-percussion of “Missing” or the slight house beat on “Sunset.” The details come in small amounts, but the influence is there and the meticulousness is enthralling.
ALBUM STREAM: Departures – Still And Moving Lines -
My favourite local album of 2012.
The Swedish duo’s debut is a bold escapade into the deepest corridors of the synth-pop genre. Making use of the pop spirit of Prince, strands of 1980s-drenched Giorgio Moroder, and Robyn’s electro precision, the songwriting is all done with a sense of self-awareness and unabashed love for pop expression. Add in the many surprising embellishments (i.e. the South Asian inserts on Last Night and synthetic flute blares on Mother Protect), all of the animal motifs, effervescent keys courtesy of Gustaf Karlöf and the effect is magical. Malin Dahlström’s voice is chameleon-like, able to sound like Stevie Nicks one minute and a glossy lioness the next. Borrowing from an amalgam of influences and repackaging all of it for current consumption isn’t anything new, but Niki and The Dove do it with so much style,
Patrick Skene (Pip Skid), the caustic Brandon-bred rapper known for his biting verses and misanthropic views of most things, paints a picture of Winnipeg as a city where there is little opportunity to find a good job, biking is for fucking nutcases and public transit is a mobile insane asylum.
Though his perspectives are often bleak about the city, Skene mentions that he’s trying to be “less negative” these days. As of lately, he’s been making art, eschewing his previous songwriting template and looking to fantasy for inspiration. His last song was about “a city full of chickens who all have missing limbs and ride around in wheelchairs”. He says that he needs “something new,” or maybe it’s just a coping mechanism to escape the harsh realities of living in a city, which he can’t seem to help but view as “depressing.”
So here we are on a Saturday afternoon meeting to talk about Winnipeg in one of the most depressing places in Winnipeg– the Portage Place food court. If we’re going to talk about the city, this is the place it needs to happen.
I realize shortly into our conversation that if he’s really trying to be less negative, change his disposition, or whatever, this is possibly the worst interview that he could be doing at this very moment.
Note: This interview was edited for length and flow.
Spectator Tribune: Do you ever come through (Portage Place)?
PS: I try to avoid it.
Spectator Tribune: So many stores are closed.
It’s a sad place. When Cass (Elliott) first moved back to Winnipeg, after he first got back from Portage Place, he said it was one of the most depressing places on the planet earth. It’s pretty weird in here.
Spectator Tribune: What are some of your earliest memories of this mall and what are your perceptions of it today?
PS: I came here as a teenager from Brandon with my girlfriend at the time. There was this bodega kind of shop and I bought an African medallion there – so embarrassing. Maybe there was a Stitches and I bought a mustard button-up, polka dot shirt. I thought it was fucking amazing when I was a teenager, especially coming from Brandon. Now it’s so insane in here. I think it’s like a perfect Petri dish of Winnipeg: It’s sad, it’s lonely, it’s heartbreaking. I mean, all malls are, but this one in particular stands out in that sense.
Spectator Tribune: How would you describe public transit?
PS: Oh it’s so awful. My bike was stolen a little while ago, which was really hard to deal with, and it still is. I haven’t been on a bike since. So I’ve been on the bus in the summer a lot and it’s just horrible. The bus is like a mental hospital that rides around and lets people on and off. There’s times when I have to get off of the bus like a half hour before, so I have to walk for a half hour because I can’t be on there anymore. And sometimes I get paranoid and think that the bus is going to the mental hospital, like it’s actually taking us there.
There’s a blog where people share their stories about what has happened on Winnipeg Transit and there’s a lot of disturbing things on there, like men masturbating into their hard hats and stuff. There’s just so many. It’s just this potpourri of madness.
Spectator Tribune: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on the bus?
Lots of really gross things. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?
Spectator Tribune: Some drunk guy have a seizure at, like, noon on the 66 Grant.
Spectator Tribune: How would you describe Sam Katz to someone who isn’t from Winnipeg?
PS: I guess I would say that he is, like, the CEO of Giant Tiger or something, or at least that’s the way I picture him in my head.
Spectator Tribune: Do you think downtown is unsafe?
I don’t think that downtown is unsafe. When I worked at a nursing home years ago, this woman from St. Boniface hadn’t been downtown in five or six years and wouldn’t even drive through it during the day. That’s how scared she was.
Spectator Tribune: Why do you think people from the suburbs don’t want to come downtown?
People are scared of Indians, people are definitely scared of newcomers and immigrants and Africans. It’s just regular racism and classist stuff, like any city.
Spectator Tribune: I feel like this city is so segregated. Why do the downtowns of other cities have life?
Well, there’s no neighbourhoods. Except maybe around Central Park.
Spectator Tribune: Yeah, it’s kind of weird though. I mean, why is Winnipeg so different? What will it take to make downtown more of a community?
Definitely not the Winnipeg Jets or anything. There’s a lot of drop-ins and art programs and things happening – to have a place for teens to hang out is fantastic. But I don’t know about downtown. I think it’s kind of a cold place. When you walk down Portage, it’s just depressing. I’m so down on Winnipeg.
Spectator Tribune: It seems like a lot of great businesses have been closing lately, like The Lo Pub. How do you think closures like that are affecting the music community?
That was tough. Apparently, Jack (Jonasson) already has something lined up…so The Lo should be back soon. The Negative Space has been great for weird bands and stuff like that. I think this city is really frustrating in the sense that Boon Burger, which puts slime in between burger buns does so well that they have two locations and Stella’s has, what, seven or eight locations? And it’s just fucking garbage. I think that’s a good sign of where we live.
Pip Skid plays with This Hisses, The Gunness, and Republic of Champions at the Windsor on Oct. 27 at 9 p.m.
Having already worked with Amelia Curran on 2010 EP, It’s in the And, it was a no-brainer to get her to produce Dance Movie’s first full-length, Interlopers. But when the JUNO Award-winning singer-songwriter proved too busy to produce the entire album, Tara Thorne, the journalist-cum-playwright-cum-musician and brainchild behind Dance Movie, looked to some of her other East Coast pals to do the rest. Enter Matt Charlton, who Thorne formally played with via the Sonic Youth-nodding band Bloodsport, and Halifax darling Jenn Grant. Inspired by Regina Spektor’s multi-produced, Far, the album interpolates the distinct sounds of each producer: Charlton’s grunge-invoking Blood Ablaze, the poignant folk of Curran on Things Change, My Dear and Jenn Grant’s punchy pop on the rockin’ glockenspiel-tinged jam Yeah You Are (the best track on the album, BTW). Guided by Thorne’s super sweet voice, which is always on point, the record shows Thorne coming into her own as a songwriter. In a CBC Radio feature, Thorne mocks her lack of musical theory, describing herself as “usually the least talented person in the room.” I’m not so sure how long that notion will hold up. There is a promising musician in Thorne and Interlopers proves that.
Beach House has a near spotless record when it comes to sublime output. And with the help of producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear), the Baltimore duo illuminated some of its most adroit dream-pop to date on 2010 titan Teen Dream. It came of little surprise, then, to see Coady take up the role again for Bloom, which recreates that wonderfully heavy-eyed atmosphere that fans have come to worship. Opener Myth brings us back to familiar echoes: bell-like guitars and buzzing synths, sheltered by Victoria Legrand’s ethereal voice. One track seamlessly pours into the next with effortless fluidity — but such is the case with Beach House’s entire catalogue. Each step in the band’s evolution stays so true to a particular sonic outline that creative changes never sacrifice mood. There may come a time that the band is criticized for its worked-over framework, but it’s simply too lovely to fret over just yet.
Ask the Dust, even in its title implies alienation. Lorn, the Milwaukee-based electronic producer known for making bleak analogia, crafts a barren, industrial-riddled domain on his first full-length for the Ninja Tune label. Dark, menacing sonics and chilling synths unfold like a tug-of-war of between human and machine with each song mutating from crushing automations to airy atmosphere. With the rare appearance of vocals on the haunting finale Ghosst(s), a surge of emotion ruptures through, offering an imagined glimpse of the world if the machines turned it to dust and a lone civilization lived to walk it again.