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The best reason to skip Canadian Music Week this year

March 12, 2010

This year I am not attending Canadian Music Week. But before anyone gets their panties in a twist, its not a boycott.

Toronto is the city of a weekly festival, and frankly I’m all for the treasure hunt through the NOW Magazine each week to find the best and *cheapest event on any given night of the week. But even if you only choose a few festivals a year to attend, its hard on the pocket book. Thus each year I pick one act to see at Canadian Music Week, (one movie at TIFF, you get the idea).

This year there were 2 acts I was really interested in seeing this year. The first is act that needs no introduction, K-OS, with some hometown support from “indietronica” act Woodhands . Woodhand’s music really compliments K-OS’s completely unique brand of Toronto-pimping hip hop. However, as both acts are Toronto-based (and thus pretty accessible not during this one week festival), I opted instead to check out the Songwriter set at the Mod Club. Yes, even though Default is playing.

Why you ask?

No one who writes about rock music ever wants to admit that they don’t know all that much about music. Especially not the hipster cousin of rock writing, which is  indie rock writing. To admit that there might be an area of music yet to be explored, or an EP untapped would be to lose all credibility. But since I am the world’s uncoolest hipster (or at least this city’s), I will divulge this to you.

I do not know that much about music. I’ve got 5.7 days worth of music, most of it from 2008-9 that I’m cycling through. It’s been taken from Pitchfork Media best of ’09 lists, covers of Eye Weekly and NOW Mag’s, the Polaris Long List. I’m cycling through it all now, and maybe in another month I’ll have my own best of 2009 indie music. And I’m cool with that. That’s all a part of why I do this project, to stay current (more current, currenter?) and so that when I’m the second last person in the universe to hear a cool band, I can tell someone is really is the last person about that rock and roll awesomeness. (And let me be serious for a moment here and say that when I write about these acts, it really is for you guys to then go and investigate the musical content. Because it’s good.)

Recently I’ve been really getting into Joel Plaskett. This is why I was willing to shell out the bones to watch him play the Mod Club for what looks like a 30 minute set. I’m not going to be going to this performance because I’ve decided to spend time with my mom instead, and I’m not sore about it.

Of course, it helps that there are 3 more chances to see him play this March 26th, 27th, and 28th at Lee’s Palace.

I’ve actually seen Joel Plaskett play twice before. With the Emergency, not with Thrush Hermit. The first time was with one summer at the Molson Amphitheatre on one very amazing Canada’s Day. He was opening for the Tragically Hip, and I have to admit that having the Emergency open for the Hip on the eve of that proud mapleleaf day in 2004 did nothing to inspire patriotism in my heart. My only lasting impression of Plaskett was that he was okay, but that I would much rather he get off the stage and Gord Downey** get on it. When I would see him play again later that year, this time as an opener for Matt Good in Orangeville, Ontario (yes Orangeville) I would have the exact same reaction. Only this time, in a moment of all time coolness, I would ask my sister if Joel was Matt, taking my disregard for the personal lives of musicians to an all-time high.

Here is my second unhip confession of the night. I was wrong.

Think back to the list of digital albums I mentioned earlier; the 5.7 days of the finest music of 2009 according to various sources of musical criticism. I have a system for how I digest this music. For my birthday my sister and my lovely roommate bought me my first MP3 player. It’s this tiny Ipod shuffle, and its supposed to have a feature to tell you what song its playing. Unfortunately, when I engage this feature it just tells me “All Songs” in its creepy metallic robot voice. So essentially, I’m walking around with 4 gigs of unlabeled indie music, with no way of knowing which bands are, you know, “cool”. What this leaves me with is a chance to pick out music that really catches my ear and excites me, without any of the hype.

The first exciting artist of 2009: Joel Plaskett. His release “Three” from last year is really exciting. I’m going to start by getting some of the “Three” mythology all the way. The album has 3 disks, each with 9 songs. The albums focus on 3 aspects of traveling; departure, separation, and return. The concept of traveling comes after 2 years of the hardest touring Plaskett has ever done.

But the idea of 3’s runs deeper. From song names that are simply one word repeating themselves 3 times (“Deny, Deny, Deny”; “Run, Run, Run”; “Precious, Precious, Precious”), to the content of the lyrics on the album, 3’s are a pretty all encompassing theme. In Joel’s words; “In ‘Deny, Deny, Deny, it’s like, when it’s only me and you, why does everything always gotta break in three? There’s you and somebody else, but there’s always some third thing: another person, your job, the road, or the two people becoming a third thing. I was trying to bring that idea into musical fruition.”

Three is an amazing album. The first disk is very listenable because it is so goddam catchy as we follow the excitement of going somewhere new. The album isn’t all upbeat though. As we follow Joel on this musical journey there are ups and downs. The middle album, the separation part of the journey, trudges to a slower beat while we experience the sorrow and isolation of travel. Its also the hardest disk for me to listen to, even though it contains the great CBC3 single “Sailor’s Eyes”. That first time I heard “Shine On, Shine On, Shine On” I was on the Spadina Streetcar, and I teared right up when he sang about being on the Scarborough Beach and knowing he should be writing home to someone he loves, but he isn’t. In the third album, the tone picks up again though, as he returns home and is reunited.

Perhaps the best part of “Three” though, is that while the music takes us from pop to folk to rock (and not necessarily in that order), the lyrics are great the whole way through. Not only are the lyrics very easy to understand, a highly underrated thing, but they’re universally engaging because everyone can relate to the idea of leaving home and returning. And while he sings about this important artistic theme, it never seems common nor overdone.

On one hand, it’s a shame that I’ll have to miss him this Friday at the Mod Club. But on the other hand, listening to “Shine On, Shine On, Shine On”, all I could think about is how my city life is his Scarborough Beach and how the person I’m not writing is my mom. And I think that’s the best reason not to go Canadian Music Week.


joel plaskett

Joel Plaskett Gets Cubed

* Not spending money is my new favourite green initiative.
** “Coke Machine Glow” was brilliant. Everytime I think about Gord Downey, the memory that I lost the out-of-print book of poetry haunts me.

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