Monstober : Part 1

Why do we watch scary movies in October? Follow me, won’t you, on this wildly speculative evolutionary psychology theory, unreviewed by any peers and free of academic rigour. First, let’s unquestioningly accept my axiomatic assumption that scary movies are an outgrowth of scary stories, tied directly to millennia of oral tradition.

If you’re living in a proto-european farming village in the neolithic, October is a deceptively easy time. The death rate of your community is low all summer, when there’s lots of food for humans and lots of food for things that might eat humans. You’ve let your guard down a bit, and why not? you’ve earned it. The big work of the harvest is just over, and everyone has so much food, you might as well make a lantern out of a turnip. Who cares? You’ve got so many, and even in the neolithic nobody really likes them.

As the days get shorter, the elders start speaking of death, both myths of death as is it culturally understood, and also just stories of death in the community. The are people that you know, or at least have heard about. In these stories, winter will be well-represented. Starvation, cold, hungry predators, isolation; all kinds of hazards that you’ve sort of forgotten. October is a great time to start thinking about these things again. This is where we get all the holidays like the mortality-centric All Soul’s Night, or Samhain (which is partly about warding off evil for another six months, and partly about the ritual intimidation of haves by have-nots who might depend on communal resource redistribution in the cold winter. We call it trick or treating now). Yes, I’m suggesting there is (or was) evolutionary pressure that selects for individuals who enjoy spooky stories in autumn. This is a free doctoral thesis idea if you want it, because lord knows I’m not going to put the work in.

I personally experience this definitely real biological urge every October. My problem is that horror films are notoriously quite scary, what with the gore, jump scares, tension, and narrative universes that are casually indifferent to human life. That said, I love monster movies, which are sort of nominally horror movies but tend to be less cruel, more fun and accessible. An arbitrary distinction, for sure. Probably it’s because my ancestors were just very concerned about the ravenous beasts of winter, and they passed that on to me. 

Anyways, I watched a bunch of monster movies and now I’m going to talk about them

Spoilers, obvs. Not big ones but you should know.

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Top Albums of 2020

It seems a little disingenuous to make any kind of year-end retrospective in 2020 without acknowledging up front that this was a bad year. You know it, I know it, we don’t need to get into it. I hope music brought you the kind of relief it brought me.

A tertiary, insiginificant side-effect of all the everything was that the music industry slowed down to a geological pace, so, finally, my asynchronous, autobiographical, back-catalogue music review format is more relevant than ever. I knew this day would come. 

Oh, hey, also, I made an album last year. If you like my music reviews, you might be interested in it. I’m not shameless enough to write an entry about it on my own best-of list, but I’m so consistently terrible at self-promotion that I haven’t mentioned it even once on this blog.

As always, no rankings, no order, no gods, no masters.

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Great Big Sea, Empire, and the Art of the Protest Song

It’s Canada Day, which is an extremely weird “national” holiday. Sure, most of English Canada is waving flags celebrating “Canada’s Birthday!” It’s hardly important what that means specifically, but the anthropomorphication of a nation state is key. Technically, it commemorates the 1867 confederation of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and a no-longer extant morass of Ontario and Quebec called the Province of Canada. Other provinces and territories would be added for the next 132 years, sometimes on July 1, but generally not. However, the vaguely defined shifting colonial administration of British North America is not celebrated equally in all places; famously, Quebec takes advantage of the day off for a defiantly practical Moving Day. In Newfoundland, the day is divided at noon, and Canada Day takes place in the second half. The first half is reserved for the more sombre Memorial Day. Continue reading

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Top Albums of 2019

This review was shockingly hard to put together, and it’s a bit hard to be comprehensive about why. Part of the reason is technology based. I lost my mp3 player (an old iphone I got for free); my laptop slowed down almost beyond functionality, being twelve years old. This eliminated the two standard ways that I’ve listened to music for the past 12 years. I had an office job, and I would listen to Spotify and Bandcamp at work, but that contract ran out in February. 

The reason is also financial. At the start of the year I resolved to “go see more live music” I went to a one concert in January (Shannon and the Clams). Unemployment brought austerity to the entertainment budget so seeing Doug Hoyer, Karimah and Baby Grayden was paid for by my girlfriend, and Bardic Form’s show was free (not relevant, but there was a bird there that almost seriously derailed the performance, and frankly they should have charged tickets to watching the flute player continually laugh and have to restart the tune). I even skipped volunteering at the Folk Fest because I was working a short renovation contract and had to keep applying for jobs.

Even still, though, the reason remains only partially articulated. It was a grim year in a lot of ways. I’m not a person who can ignore music; I have no choice in whether or not I’m absorbing it. When I got work in September, it was in a warehouse and I had to listen to mainstream radio, which, after years of retail and restaurant work, made me want to give up on the concept of music. Every day I was exposed to of 100s of songs that I don’t like, but have memorized note-for-note. The Hits of the 80’s, 90’s and Beyond. Classic Rock stations that haven’t changed their playlists since 1990, but have cranked up the conservatism. Edmonton’s Best Rock, somehow not airing a single band from Edmonton*. I genuinely think that mainstream radio made me exhausted with music. 

Anyways, you know how this goes by now: in no particular order, these are the top albums that I found in 2019. Continue reading

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The Top Albums of 2018

This article is late, but, in a sense, everything is hurtling towards obsolescence anyway. Do you feel the passage of time? Does the fourth, non-spatial dimension offer a sensation as you pass through it? In language, we describe time spatially; the year rushes past us, we leave moments behind. But the feel of the passage of time demands more complex metaphors. It is your notion of a permanent self, fraying; it is the transient nature of human experience echoing in old injuries flaring up; it is watercourses shifting thousands of pounds of sediment to forge new paths; it is the decay of a language that was never translated, the last living speaker senile and isolated.

It is your 25 year old co-worker asking if you’ve heard some musician on youtube, and you stare at her blankly because you quickly realize that your last new favourite album came out ten years ago.

Anyways, here’s some stuff I listened to this year.

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The view from Stanley Park

Album art for a song I just released. I really love working in sharpie, on cardboard. I don’t know why. It just feels right.

Also, I learned after completing this piece that all the sulphur is from Alberta, which is very resonant with the song, which is about leaving Alberta for the coast.

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What To Do When Your Wallet Is Stolen

Someone broke into my garage, and while I was at the hardware store to get replacement latches and hinges, someone pinched my wallet out of my coat pocket.

After cancelling the cards, ordering replacements, filing a police report and requesting a replacement ID and health care card, I decided to make a new wallet.

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The Top Albums of 2016 and also 2017

Ok, yeah, I’m a year behind. You know what though? Nobody sent me a single promo disc to review. No press copies, nothing. The most common way that I heard about new music was the randomizer on Youtube, and I only wish I was making that up. How embarrassing for ambitious artists looking for exposure on my extremely well-read blog. As a result, I feel like I really only have enough material to do one real good list anyway. Remember, these are in no particular order. See the Best Of 2015, if you want to know why. I’m sticking to the same premise. Continue reading

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Visit Scenic Tofield

Maybe the most legendary prank in Alberta history.

Media: Permanent Marker on T-shirt. You’re welcome for the free advertising, Mountain Equipment Co-op.

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Know Your Bike!

img_20161115_151925555IMG_20161115_151935385.jpgYears ago I designed this poster. Slightly less years ago fantastic human June Mitchell turned it into, like a real-looking poster. Now they are for sale through the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. 100% factual labels for bike parts. Very useful.

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