Sunday, December 31, 2006

10 things I liked this year

1. The rich and complex debate arising from the gentrification of the west end

2. Old school critical theory
Repressive tolerance! Cool band name, cool theory. Speaking of which…

3. Missing Nuit Blanche
I was in Brooklyn entertaining an audience of 9 so I will never really know if Nuit Blanche was a success or not, the ambiguity of which might be the ultimate Nuit Blanche experience.

4.Footage of Glenn Branca’s 100-guitar composition “Hallucination City”
Could someone with money please bring this to Toronto? (crappy Real player clip, but worth it)

5. Unearthed recordings of Kraftwerk, when they were young and Neu! Mp3s here. Video here.

6.Wondershowzen Who would have thought that MTV cornered the market on relational art...through hand puppetry?

7. Mission of Burma’s The Obliterati Even better than the music itself is that by putting out better music in their mid 40s than they ever did when they were teenagers, MOB completely disrupts half the dogmas of rock music.

8.The disappearance of electro mullets from the art scene Of course, in the Coke Pepsi push pull dynamic of late capitalism’s choice illusion, the fading of self conscious glamour will only guarantee the reemergence self conscious anti glamour. And what will that be? A hint was given at a party recently when Steve Kado and I realized we were both collecting Mudhoney mp3s. He then revealed that Blocks would be putting out an actual “deep grunge” record this year. Look for a spike in flannel at Mercer openings in 2007.

9. The Ex with Getachew Mekuria
The best band in the world team up with the Ethiopian sax legend. Have a listen. (ahem, Real player clip).

10. Volver
While good, I thought there was a leaden gravitas to Almodovar's last 2— Talk to Her and Bad Education. Here, there's a venomonous snark not seen since the early days and Penelope seems to be unloading some "Tom" issues and it makes for a great performance.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I can't resist the obligatory 'blog' year-end music round up, but I'll limit myself to five picks, all of which are covers:

5. "Waking Up To Us" Bob Corn. I have no idea who Corn is (and web searches aren't very helpful) but this version of Belle and Sebastian's 2001 single betters the original, which was the first B&S song to break their run of excellent non-album singles like "Legal Man" and "This is Just A Modern Rock Song."

4. "Heartbeats" José González. This almost certainly pre-dates 2006 but I've just rediscovered Gonzalez' version of "Heartbeats", written by fellow Swedes The Knife. His own songs pale a little in comparison but between this and his version of Massive Attack's "Teardrop" he shows an uncanny ability to wrench a song out from under it's electro-pop trappings (and without sounding like Frente).

3. "By This River" Console. Early Eno songs have aged well and good covers of them are scarce, but this succeeds somehow. Console, as a side-project, serves as a good stop-gap in-between Notwist records and the album, Mono, also includes a decent version of Sonic Youth's "Starpower".

2. "No Cars Go" TAM. A stripped down Arcade Fire cover that adds fuel to the rumours that the Montreal singer tried to break up the Butlers.

1. "The Orchids" Califone. Califone's trademark sound (a kind of junkyard folk that could have been recorded 50 years in the past or 50 years in the future) is perfectly suited for this 'unearthed' Psychic TV gem. One of my favorite covers, ever.

Happy '07.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

these are a few of our favourite things

This is the first installment of the Mercer Union Staff/Board Picks. Welcome.
Every so often we will post the url for a web project that we love. Love is the operative word. This is to be a forum devoid of critical analysis. It is a time and place for us to unabashedly proclaim our love and admiration for someone's artistic outpoppings.

This month, let's love

a project by Miranda July, Harrell Fletcher, and Yuri Ono. We love Miranda July and we'll do anything she tells us to do.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Thing Big (by thinking small)

Who needs the white cube anyway? Just the office will do. Link courtesy of the equally micro Sleepwalker space opening December 15th at 787 Queen West.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Come Hecker

Montreal-based DJ, Artist, and Musician Tim Hecker comes out with his new material on vinyl this month entitled, Harmony in Ultraviolet (Kranky, US).

Hecker joined Mercer Union for the insanity of the Toronto installment of Nuit Blanche this past September. His piece hung in the tree opposite the gallery on the west side of Lisgar Street and played ambient noise until the wee hours of the morning.

Luckily, the sound was accompanied by ongoing showers that night and Hecker's piece ended up being a perfect fit for the bad weather. Upon my own exit of the gallery I observed, in spite of more decent places to get away from the rain, that some of the night crawlers had stationed themselves underneath the tree, surrounded by the noise. So nice to know that art still wins, even in shit weather.

Hecker also participated in the Night Swim the same evening at the Trinity Bellwoods Pool in Toronto.

Find out more about his past work here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

the sci-fi baby.

the upcoming mercer union member's show is entitled "2008." it is a loose thematic in keeping with previous date-related member's shows... 2002's palindrome which looked both forward and backward, and the "Halcyon days" theme, which connoted either past, present or future depending on the interpreter's relative state of optimism. 2008 talks specifically about the near future. not the Jetsons' future, but something close enough that we can start making plans for in our daytimers. or not. 2008 still feels malleable in 2006, full of possibilities. it is also a US presidential election year.

for the invitation postcard, we decided to convey the theme by depicting "Baby 2008." we auditioned dozens of babies, but finally settled on little Kian Reilley for two reasons: 1; he is cute in the kind of Anne Geddes way we were going for, and 2; all of the other babies exuded a "2007 vibe" and Kian was the only one who really got what we were after...
excited anticipation seasoned with a touch of anxiety.

new year babies have always perplexed me a bit. when we first meet them in december they are infants, often with top hats and hour glasses. but they age alarmingly fast. by the end of their assigned year, they have reached old age, say, eighty. this condition is far more severe than the 1:7 human to canine year ratio. new year babies are more like 1:80. with this in mind, we should start introducing new year babies far in advance of their obsolescence. i propose we meet baby new year 2087 next month, so he can age at a sensible pace until his retirement in 2088. let's get to know them a bit better before our time together is over. maybe then we could take the time to ask: "hey baby new year, what's with the top hat?" or whatever.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

37 Fluxus Movies

Jon might blog sometime...and hopefully it will be about the Rodney Graham show he just saw in Montreal, where Graham created a fictional film document of a Fluxus potato action. Until then, here are 37 period Fluxus films online at the world's greatest website

I'm still shocked by how many Torontonians actually don't know about this free repository of rare experimental film and audio, essays, and artist videos. Ubu's contemporary holdings have just been expanded. In the New Additions bar alone there's work by (my latest obsession), Jack Goldstein , a Wim Delvoye gross-out and ten years of video work by Pipilotti Rist. See them again, for the first time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Five links in lieu of a true post

The brochure essay for the Jeremy Deller exhibition is now online at It situates Deller's work as a continuation of folklorists Alan Lomax and Harry Smith and looks at Deller's attempts to foster a more inclusive culture.

For more information on Deller's practice visit the artist's homepage. Also, a recent article he wrote for the Guardian about his new film on Depeche Mode fans is here.

For information on Alan Lomax visit this. The Harry Smith Archives domain has apparently expired, but a review of a recent Smith tribute CD/DVD set (including Nick Cave, Richard Thompson, Lou Reed and others) can be found at Pitchfork.

Lastly, the exhibition (which closes in three days) just received a four-star review in NOW, by Stephanie Rogerson.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Politics of Failure Have Failed

(In response and to expand.)

The new Sofia Coppola film `Marie Antoinette' remains esoteric either as a high-class chick flick or an appropriate 80’s back catalogue of all “our” favourites. Take your pick. Coppola keeps a strong continuation of theme from her first two films in that she focuses on societal pressures as they relate to young women (hence, chick flick). In her past efforts, (the strong debut `The Virgin Suicides' and the heartbreaking `Lost in Translation') she has done this with an appreciable amount of success. However, this film differs greatly in many respects, but most importantly in the choice of her female protagonist.

Tackling a historical icon at the threshold of the French Revolution launches Coppola into intense socio-political territory. Would one know it as they watch the film? Ninety-nine minutes out of a hundred I’d say no. The main focus of the film lies (apart from pretty clothing) on personal woe and triumph, and in doing so creates compelling and subtle portraits of the main characters. Coppola manages to isolate these individuals from their historical context. While this is at least consistent, it makes another aspect of the film painfully clear: Her timing in terms of the contemporary political climate is sadly off.

With the Republicans still holding the reins (you can say what you want about mid-term elections) a film that dismisses one of the most important periods of time for the progression of Western Democracy is a film that lacks an appropriate amount of self-awareness. Very much like the naïve title character, the film remains dismissive to the point of insult. At the very least, it leaves the viewer wondering why Coppola would release something so openly indifferent to the monarchy’s role in the Revolution, and ultimately in its own demise.

This is not to suggest that every film released between 2001 and 2009 be ripe with political content. However, the choice of heroine makes apparent the opportunity to do so, which was then discarded in favour of something more easily digested. I would hazard a guess that the shining fluff with which it was replaced is a more tragic gesture than we realize. However gorgeously filmed, it does not compare to the potential for political gesture that it side-stepped in jewelled shoes and never looked back.


Friday, November 17, 2006

A little bit country, a little bit dada

Not to hog Mercer's newly minted blog but this was too good not to post about. Speaking of being 7 and reading Cracked magazine, I actually remember this episode of Ripley's Believe it or Not! dedicated to sound poetry. As a rule I find sound poetry created post-1924 funny for all the wrong reasons...unless it's performed by Marie Osmond!

Link of Osmond reading a Hugo Ball poem
courtesy WFMU and Kenny G

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What are the politics of the puffy shirt?

I’ve been haunted by Marie Antoinette, a glorious failure of a film, for several intriguing reasons. Not least of which was its curious reading of style and politics in pre-revolutionary France by invoking a glorious failure of a fashion movement in the early 1980’s U.K. While Coppola’s film charges itself with occasional trenchant analysis from Gang of 4 or with Jamie Reid style graphic interludes, the bulk the film looks and sounds like an issue of The Face, circa 1982 (though I’m guessing. At the time I was 7 and reading Cracked).

It’s very New Romantic, in other words.

As we all now know, the sequels to punk were post-punk and hardcore but those weren’t good enough for ex Sex Pistol manager Malcolm McLaren in 1980. Ever the music industry antagonist and always looking for a political argument for fashion trends, McLaren sensed that the greatest issue affecting the business during that time was home taping, something the industry considered “piracy.” And if pirates were threatening the merchants once more, McLaren would produce a reasonable facsimile in fashion (his then partner Vivienne Westwood’s pirate lines) and musically in Adam and Ants and then in Bow Wow Wow. Bow Wow Wow’s first cassingle, a paean to home taping titled "C30, C60, C90 Go” was shipped with a blank b-side heavy with temptation and implication. That really trumps anything the Pistols did.

Except mass influence. As far as fake subcultures go New Romantic wasn’t bad but it never caught on outside of London. It’s references and referents far more historical and complex that punk; Burundi drumming, subversive economics and puffy shirts would never play in Peoria. In cultural history it remains a micro fashion and thus all the more fascinating for it.