Mahmud’s Top 13 Albums of 2013

There are a bunch of great albums albums I am still digesting (In particular new albums by: Aosoth, Forest Swords, James Blake, Vattnet Viskar, Craven Idol)  but I wanted to get this list out. I reserve the right to change it as I get through the albums I’ve neglected all year.

13) Ponctuation – 27 Club

Spent a lot of time studying for my government french test this year and in my search for good Quebec music, I got into these guys – two person garage rock group from Montreal, solid, catchy songs, a nice variety of tracks. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

12) Celeste – Animale(s) 

I usually hate double albums, I’m of the opinion that the shorter an album the better. Concept albums are generally terrible and self-indulgent. Animale(s) is a two CD concept album- 70 minutes of blackened french hardcore and a silly sounding concept album to boot “bleak story of a boy and a girl, a kind of love story with a tragic ending”. The fact that I enjoy this album as much as I do is a testament to what a compelling listen it is. It could definitely get cut down a bit and it is a bit of a punishing listen (70 minutes of gorgeous brutality is a long time, even for me), but it sucks you in.

11) Subrosa- More Constant than the Gods

Subrosa’s last album ‘No Help For the Mighty Ones’ is a hard act to follow- it was one of my favourite albums of 2011. This is not as good, but is still excellent. Subrosa is growing into their own niche of a weird hodgepodge of metal styles very well and they play better together than they ever have- the lyrics are my main gripe, but it is constantly interesting and the songs go some pretty interesting places.

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Mahmud’s Top 13 Albums of 2013

Thoughts on “12 Years a Slave”

I finally went and watched Steve McQueen’s latest film “12 years a slave”.  McQueen (the director, no relation to the actor from the 1960s) made two previous films, “Hunger” and “Shame”  which, like this one, are complex portraits of male martyrdom. “Shame” veered a bit too close to melodrama for me and “Hunger” had a flawless first half that was followed by a flawed second half. I think 12 years a slave is McQueen’s strongest work yet.

Before going to see the film, I sought out some negative reviews to give me a sense of the film’s shortcomings. After watching the film though, I think most of the criticisms were off base. I’m going to go through my defence of the film. It isn’t flawless, and I’ll get to my issues with the film, but overall I think it is well worth your time. (spoilers follow).

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Thoughts on “12 Years a Slave”

Mahmud’s picks for Top 10 albums of 2012:

10. Author and Punisher –Ursus Amercanus

Don’t get me wrong, I love Wolf Eyes, Kevin Drumm and Whitehouse, but I need to be in a particular mood to appreciate it. ‘Pop-noise’ (think Black Dice) fit my temperament better these days. Stand out is the searing opener of “terrorbird’ you get something that is equally accessible and vicious.The video is also pretty hilariously over the top too:

9.  Slow Machete – Evening Dust Choir

Imagine if Son Lux spent a long time listening to down tempo Caribbean music.

8. Cloud Nothings- ‘Attack on Memory’

I hated the self-titled ‘Cloud Nothings’ album; inspid, boring, sappy tripe. Somehow, something changed and they released this nasty little jam- maybe it is the influence of Steve Albini, or the fact that the band plays off each other well but the first 11 minutes of this album are utterly flawless. In particular, “Wasted Days”, sums up a lot of graduate student angst. I gotta say, if this video doesn’t convince you nothing will:

7. Chromatics – ‘Kill for Love’

Strangely endearing. Reminds me of ‘Disintegration’ era-Cure with gloomy female vocals. They manage to pull off the opener- a gloomy cover of Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey, My, My”. The whole thing is impossibly silly but somehow works. While consistently fun, the lyrics are corny as hell.

6. KTL – V

Creepiest album of the year. I can’t say I’d put this on most evenings, but every time I did, I listened to it all the way though- engrossing, terrifying drone. Consistently fascinating, like exploring a totally alien soundscape. I can’t say I’ve had something get under my skin as much since I listened to Eleh’s ‘Location momentum’. I was let down by Horseback’s ‘Half Blood’ and part of the reason was because this album raised the bar for drone.

5. Royal Thunder- CVI

What can I say, I love good female fronted metal. Last year it was Subrosa’s ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’ but this album is almost as good as that one. ‘Blue’ in particular is fantastic- bluesy guitars, fantastic vocals, heavy, propulsive, epic. Everything you would ever want from metal.

4. Metz- Metz

Man, such a good rock album, stripped down, angry, perfectly produced. I could just listen to the drums alone on repeat. Perfect stuff to scream along to.

3.  Pallbearer – “Sorrow and Extinction”

Metal album of the year, ‘The Legend” alone is track of the year. If you like heavy music, you should check this album out.

2. Andy Stott- “Luxury Problems”

If I had to think of the sound that encapsulated (for me) what was ‘cool’ in 2012, it would be this album.

1. Swans- “The Seer”

Instant Classic; almost perfect from start to finish. The sleazy “The Seer returns” is my favourite track though and proof of why Swans is one of the best bands ever.

Mahmud’s picks for Top 10 albums of 2012:

Silent film thoughts: Mantrap (1926)

I spent the weekend at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities (I was presenting). The highlight of the weekend was the screening of the silent film “Mantrap” (1926) starring the magnificent Clara Bow, put on by the Canadian Association for Film Studies. It had an improvised piano score by a fantastic pianist who specialized in scoring silent film. The film is great, a product of its time, but fascinating and very well acted.

What struck me most about the film was how “natural” the racism was. There was plenty of blatant discrimination against people of color throughout the film. Still, the film didn’t try and gloss it over with humor or make the white characters look any less horrible, nor did it justify their racism. It wasn’t “Birth of a nation”, but it had a lot of nasty baggage to it.

It would be fair to say that the (white) protagonists were entirely indifferent to the plight of black and aboriginal people. Implicitly there seems to have been some sort of cultural or social barrier that prevented the characters from speaking up or avoiding being counterproductively racist. I’m not sure if it is pride or notions of superiority or what, but the characters clearly realized that they were screwing up, but couldn’t help themselves.

Example 1: Joe, a trader in the remote canadian town of “mantrap”, attempts to sell silly hats to an aboriginal family in an exaggerated manner, clearly desperate to make a sale. The aboriginal family looks pissed off and stares impassively as he continues making an ass of himself. Half way through the scene you can tell everyone realizes that this is demeaning to everyone involved; joe isn’t making a sale, the aboriginals feel insulted and the hats aren’t going to get any less terrible. Even joe realizes that he’s screwed up, but has no idea how to relate to the aboriginals as human beings, despite his clear dependence on them. The aboriginal family leaves and Joe decides he needs to leave Mantrap to find a wife to help with the business.

(Joe gets married to city girl Alverna, who after a few weeks in the wilderness decides that she is sick of Joe and hits on the first man who wanders by, a rich city divorce lawyer named “Ralph” who is looking for sometime away from the city)

Example 2: In the middle of the night Ralph sees two unarmed natives peering into Joe’s house. Ralph shoots at them and they run away. Joe, hearing the gun shots, comes out and is unconcerned saying that the natives were “probably looking for alcohol” and goes back to sleep. Ralph is feeling like a “real man” after having shot his gun, and declares that he is going to sit out on the stoop and wait “in case they come back”. Both Alverna and Joe make it clear that Ralph is being ridiculous and that there was no need for violence initially and that there is no threat of further violence from the natives. Alverna however uses Joe’s excited state as an opening and tries (unsuccessfully) to seduce him.

Example 3: Ralph and Alverna have run off together and are being helped by a native guide. Neither knows the first thing about how to survive in the wilderness. After Alverna and Ralph finished eating, the native guide tries to eat some of the food that they had prepared. Alverna berates the guide, pointing out that they were almost out of food. The guide is clearly upset and puts all the food back, preferring to go hungry rather than beg for food. You can tell Ralph disagrees with this; from a purely practical standpoint antagonizing the guide is a poor choice. But rather than tell her off, he pushes those thoughts out of mind and tells Alverna that he loves her. The scene lasts a very long time and you can tell his initial anger gives way to his attraction to Alverna. They kiss. The guide sees this and then takes the rest of the food and the canoe and leaves Alverna and Ralph to starve.

(the film goes on, but I don’t want to spoil it!)

In all three cases the title cards and the acting convey a lot of nuance. All the characters recognize that the natives, if not equals, are people that they depend on. Ill treatment is not only needless, but counter productive. They persist being racist not because they are horrible people or see natives as necessarily being malign, but because there are no consequences to treating them badly. Without consequences a very basic human cruelty emerges.

Political correctness is exhausting. I’ve seen completely unnecessary language policing and inference of racist intent read into a completely benign statement. On the other hand, I think there is a value to speaking out when something inappropriate is said or done and having a discussion about what is appropriate or isn’t. The film was a great window into a world when those considerations were absent. I think it showed how far we’ve come and unfortunately how far we’ve yet to go. I doubt life is much better (or less racially charged) in Northern Canada these days.

Silent film thoughts: Mantrap (1926)

Review: Parts I – X| by Ian Doig – Phaneuf

Parts I – X | Ian Doig – Phaneuf.

When I reviewed Ian Doig-Phaneuf’s Memoriae 2001-2005 last year, I complained that it was too long.

Ian’s most recent release takes album length to the opposite extreme. It clocks in at about 11 minutes but every single moment is filled with gorgeous music. Nothing in here is redundant and when you reach the end you are left wanting more.

I’ve always admired how effortless Ian sounds when he is playing guitar and this is him at his best, organic without being meandering. Each track sound like a snippet of a longer jam, centered around a guitar but sometimes with interesting accompaniment (at one point I think he plays a saxophone). The tracks flow together beautifully and capture a soothing melancholic vibe. Totally suitable for Canadian winter.

This is the sort of music that expands in your brain, crowding out all the other thoughts. The first time I put it on I wandered around the grocery store transfixed for the entire duration.

Listen to this album; you’ll probably forget to buy toilet paper, but you’ll be a better person (plus, it is free). 4.5/5

Review: Parts I – X| by Ian Doig – Phaneuf

Film Thoughts: Shame (2011)

Lots of spoilers ahead, this isn’t a proper review, just some stray thoughts that I put down after I watched a film.

This weekend I saw ‘Melancholia’ again (I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I did initially). But the stand out film was ‘Shame’ by Steve McQueen (no, not THAT Steve McQueen) who had previously directed the fantastic ‘Hunger’. In short it is a movie about a man who suffers from sex addiction I thought it was fantastic, though very different from Hunger. It is a less ambitious, more personal picture. I’d recommend the film, it is a a very subtle and moving picture of a man in a truly difficult place.

SPOILERS & Trailer after the jump.

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Film Thoughts: Shame (2011)

Sabbath Assembly: Hymn of Consecration (track of the week)

Sabbath Assembly’s ‘Restored to One’ is an album that almost made my top 10 list. Gospel music dedicated to semi-satanic ‘Process Church of the Final Judgement‘ (which existed in the 1960s). Not so much into the whole religiousness of the track, but musically it is equal parts fascinating and creepy. The album clicked in the moment in this song where she starts humming.

Sabbath Assembly: Hymn of Consecration (track of the week)