This weekend, I read the internet from beginning to end (baby watch + the ebola virus will provide you endless hours to unearth every opinion out there). Much like music, there’s a lot of shit out there but I did stumble on an interesting post from LA based critic, David Greenwald. It’s nice to see a critic/blogger — yes, you can be both in rare situations — care so much, want to revitalize how blogs are viewed and demand better than “me first!” and lazy, fence-sitting posts. “Flagpole Sitta” posts however, I wholeheartedly endorse.
The two ideas that grabbed me are the stabilizing foundation herohill is built upon. The first? Take it seriously. Honestly, for me this is the big one. We know we aren’t fantastic writers. We have no formal training in music or journalism, but we try. We try to get better with every review and make our posts count. We try to say something and have our own opinion, refusing to simply say “this is ok.. and it’s free!” It kills me that people just dump shit on a page, link an illegal MP3 and pull in huge numbers. More now than ever, blogs are a labor of love and if your only goal is to be a voiceless consolidation of press releases and back and forth tweets to musicians, unplug and go outside. Get a dog. Learn the guitar. Read “1Q84.”
The second? Champion a band. Fuck, when we find a band we love (be it East Coast or an unheralded acts from the Prairies) we make an effort to get them heard, ultimately missing our window to endless google hits and ad revenue in the process. Sure, we’ve been in early on some 5-star recruits that got recruited to big time college programs and then went on to the big dance, but herohill has championed under appreciated bands that are forgotten by most outlets before the next submit is clicked. I don’t care if your favorite band is Arcade Fire, if you are writing for an audience, having something unique to say is vital. If you are just ZOMG-ing over some iphone footage or ripping it into a barely audible MP3 for traffic boosts, why bother?
One of the bands we happily throw our support behind is Ox. The Sudbury stoners connected with listeners on the sincerely sad Burnout, a fantastic record but the new record is the type of monumental leap that defines a band’s legacy. It’s easy to say this is an old school effort made with friends and for love (opening the LP with a fantastic, straight forward cover of “Out on the Weekend” is almost like the plot summary and mantra that defines the band’s intentions), but Tuco is forward thinking, massive in scope and success.
Any of the ear pleasing, drug like meanders the band used so effectively in the past are reigned in. Still hazy and loose when needed, in general Tuco is focused and poignant. The imagery; big cars, West Coast sun, strip malls and isolation is cased in new wrinkles, but with the help of the cinematic instrumentals and constant themes of open road and heartache, the package is cohesive . Ox could have easily taken the same lyrics and put together a traditional sounding, dust covered alt. country record, but when you hear the Korg organ transform the smoking “What I Love About Cars”, you realize Tuco is destined for bigger and better things.
Tuco manages to soundtrack your introspection and coddle your loneliness, but it’s just as successful as back porch or road trip record. The title track is little more than one man pouring out his heart that could pull you down, but the melody is a warm gentle breeze that floats away to leave space for the muscular “Midnight on the Island.” Over the Browning uses a bit of Al Tuck like swagger and diction to charm you, and the band meshes soul, psychedelics, dime store keyboard sounds, and even a little playful nod to the Velvets (on the note perfect “Nico”), but the meat of this record is it’s melancholy.
Hearing Mark, Kate Maki and Brian Dunn sing together on the heartbreaking By the Fireside’s cover (“Battlefields” – I’ve never heard the original and the song is such a natural fit that if I hadn’t been looking at the liner notes I would never have believed Mark hadn’t penned the tune) or effortless way Mark presents his broken heart on the title track reminds us that sometimes sadness sounds the sweetest, but gritty riffs like the one they crush on “Rock and Roller” more than offset the weight.
Tuco comes out tomorrow, and is my second favorite record of the year (Mark Davis won in photo finish). It might not be the type of record that changes your life, but subtly and confidently, Tuco changes the landscape of Canadiana. Ox refuses to settle for the tried and true, somehow crafting stories from timeless images and wordplay but refreshing textures and ideas. We can only scream so loud, but I’d pass you Tuco like I’d pass you a fantastic novel, expecting you to spend equal time with both and get equal reward.
Ox opens for Al Tuck at The Carleton on Thursday. Unless your wife is due today, I can’t see any reason to miss it.
MP3:: Ox – Nico