Monday, March 29, 2010

Comic Book Rock Stars #1: Bryan Lee O'Malley

Comic Book Rock Stars: Yet another ongoing and infrequently updated feature, in which we cover crossover comic book artists/musicians.

Back in September, I was wondering aloud about the under-researched realm of comic book artist/musicians. This came about when I went to see the final Harvey Danger shows in Seattle and the opening act for one of the shows was Can You Imagine? which featured cartoonist Peter Bagge (to be covered in a later installment). My research dug up a surprising number of crossovers and a planned single blog post spiraled out of control until it got stuck in draft hell. In accordance with my new year's blog resolution (simplify, simplify, simplify), we'll be kicking off this feature by focusing on one such artist, which perfectly ties in with my CanCon biases: London, Ontario-born cartoonist and creator of Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O'Malley.

If you aren't already familiar with Scott Pilgrim, the mass awareness campaign is well underway. In brief, Scott Pilgrim is a twentysomething slacker who must defeat his girlfriend's seven evil ex-boyfriends to win her heart. With its manga-style illustrations, the series is also riffs on video games, indie rock, and pop culture at large, all the while unabashedly set in Toronto. The first volume of the acclaimed series came out in 2004 with the 6th and final installment hitting stores in July, just a few weeks before the film adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theatres with Michael Cera in the title role and helmed by Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright.

The promotional machine is starting to kick into high gear. A couple weeks ago they released the teaser poster ("An epic of epic epicness.") followed by the recent trailer, which had the internet a-buzzin'. I'm sure it's not lost on pop culture geeks that we get to see George Michael Bluth vs. Superman (Brandon Routh), The Human Torch and future Captain America (Chris Evans), Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), and even George Michael's ex Ann ("Who?") Veal (Mae Whitman). Even the inevitable video game tie-in looks promising with retro graphics and music from 8-bit punk rockers Anamanaguchi.

Music plays a big role in Scott Pilgrim (even his name comes from the song of the same name by 90s Halifax band Plumtree) with numerous references to bands, both real and fictional, and scenes taking place in actual Toronto show venues. Scott plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-Omb whose music in the film, it was recently revealed, is written by Beck. Music for the other fictional bands in the story will be provided by Metric, Broken Social Scene, and presumably others yet to be revealed making for probably the most anticipated soundtrack this year. Even Chris Murphy of Sloan, who were referenced in the books, is serving as the film's musical director, coaching the actor's musical performances. Yes, the inherent Canadianess of the comic is faithfully being infused into the film.

Anyway, this is all a long introduction to something I learned in my comic book artist/musician hunt, that Bryan Lee O'Malley played keyboards in some Toronto bands (Imperial Otter and Honey Dear) and he also has a collection of solo recordings under the name Kupek that even includes (gasp!) a few cover songs. As he states succinctly on his site: "Kupek is a band, and I am the only member of the band".

Kupek - Nautical Disaster [originally by The Tragically Hip]
I used to love this song from The Tragically Hip's Day for Night but it kinda got ruined over the course of several parties during university when some friends I know would repeatedly crank it and drunkenly sing along karaoke-style. Now whenever I hear it, that image immediately springs into my head. Still a great song though. In my mind, The Hip are pretty much the quintessential Canadian band and it's a shame they weren't a part of the Olympic opening or closing ceremony, though judging by the latter's line-up the producers weren't that keen on exuding Canadian pride anyway.

Kupek - Nothing Compares 2 U [originally by Prince]

Go check out to download up to seven albums of his music for free!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jamie Cullum Live in Vancouver!

Jamie Cullum blew through town last Saturday night and his show at the Commodore Ballroom immediately vaulted into my top five all-time concerts. My sister flew in from Edmonton to join me at the show and we went an hour before the doors opened, but there were still about 40 people in front of us in line. Fortunately when they finally let us in, most of them were clamoring for the tables and booths while I made a beeline for the stage. Even before we went in, I knew I wanted to be parked left of centre stage right in front of Jamie's piano and that's exactly the spot we got. I think the pictures speak for themselves! The opening act was also a treat with rockabilly vocalist Imelda May revving up the crowd with an energetic performance (she recently teamed up with Jeff Beck at the Grammys in tribute to Les Paul & Mary Ford). Then it was on to Jamie Cullum and I was in awe from the moment he started pounding his new single I'm All Over It through to his second encore, his cover of Radiohead's High & Dry. I've been patiently waiting years for my opportunity to see him live ever since first hearing his 2004 album Twentysomething and the show blew away my already high expectations. It was a perfect storm of excellent sound, a diverse setlist, an unbelievable vantage point, and, of course, a phenomenal artist and performer.

I’m All Over It
Don’t Stop The Music [Rihanna]
Just One Of Those Things [Cole Porter]
Get Your Way
Not While I’m Around [from Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim]
Frontin’ (Solo) [Pharrell]
I Got a Woman intro [Ray Charles]
These Are The Days
I Get a Kick Out of You [Cole Porter]
London Skies
What a Difference a Day Makes [Dinah Washington]
If I Ruled The World [Leslie Bricusse and Cyril Ornadel]
Mind Trick
Cry Me A River [Julie London]
All At Sea

The Wind Cries Mary [The Jimi Hendrix Experience]

Encore 2:
High & Dry (Solo) [Radiohead]

Jamie Cullum - After You've Gone [originally recorded by Marion Harris]
Jamie recorded this snappy version of the standard for the BBC series of the same name.

Jamie Cullum - Seven Nation Army [originally by The White Stripes]
Recorded live at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, Jamie tackles the White Stripes anthem with his piano and looping pedals. Speaking of which, their Under Great White Northern Lights super box set came out last week and I was finally able to get mine from the post office yesterday. The whole package is a thing of beauty. It was practically a ritual as I unwrapped it and sifted through each of the components, which includes two DVDs, a CD, a double LP, 7" vinyl, a Rob Jones silkscreen print, and a book of photographs chronicling the tour. Woo, Christmas is March!

Jamie Cullum - I Get a Kick Out of You [originally by Cole Porter]
This is from Jamie's Live at Blenheim Palace DVD, which is where I first got a taste of his dynamic live show.

Jamie Cullum - The Wind Cries Mary [originally by The Jimi Hendrix Experience]
This solo live version of the Jimi Hendrix classic comes from the live 5-song EP Twenty Zero5 Live. A full band studio rendition appears on Twentysomething.

Video evidence of our brilliant vantage point

For the past five years, I've had "Must see Jamie Cullum someday" as a blog label. . . Mission accomplished with a vengeance!


Here's a little postscript to my Addicted to Codeine Velvet Club post from last week... according to my profile, Codeine Velvet Club are now:
  • My #1 Top Artist of the last 7 days
  • My #1 Top Artist of the last 3 months
  • My #1 Top Artist of the last 6 months
  • My #5 Top Artist of the last 12 months

    Pretty spectacular considering I first heard them only 20 days ago. Yep, must see Codeine Velvet Club someday! I told you I was addicted.

  • Monday, March 15, 2010

    Addicted to Codeine Velvet Club

    I'll admit, I'm a terrible music blogger when it comes to new music. To catch my attention amidst the sea of PR e-mails in my inbox, I generally have to have some sort of pre-existing inclination towards a new band or project, which is probably why I usually stick to the covers beat. So it's a pretty rare set of circumstances when a press release will float through my mailbox and actually pique my attention enough to download the promo copy of the album, then actually listen to the whole thing . . . repeatedly . . . for 10 days straight. Such is the case with the self-titled debut from Codeine Velvet Club.

    Codeine Velvet Club is a side project from Jon Lawler, lead singer/guitarist of The Fratellis, and Glasgow songstress Lou Hickey. The reason this particular e-mail happened to strike a chord with me was because I've been recently rediscovering The Fratellis' 2006 debut Costello Music and racking up the playcounts. The Fratellis also have penchant for covering T. Rex and have previously covered The White Stripes on the BBC, which obviously gives them brownie points in my books. I skimmed the e-mail and the phrase "jazz-noir, big-band duet" jumped out at me and decided to give it a try. Lo and behold, my new favourite album of the year.

    The album emanates a 60s orchestral pop vibe complete with lush big band backing and retro boy/girl duets with perhaps a little more polish and a rock 'n roll edge. Lawler and Hickey (a real find!) smoothly trade off verses and sing gorgeous harmonies (particularly in the dreamy Nevada), though it's Hickey that really shines in her solo bits like Time or the rousing chorus of The Black Roses. The orchestral score was composed by Mick Cooke of Belle & Sebastian fame. During my first play through the albu I thought to myself that some of these have the feel of a Bond film, so perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise to find out later that it was part of Lawler's vision for Codeine Velvet Club to sound like "John Barry playing with a rock ‘n roll band”. The horn section even includes acclaimed trumpeter Derek Watkins who, get this, has played on EVERY James Bond theme including the classic "Wah WAH-WAH Wah's" on Goldfinger! More recently you've probably heard Watkins' trumpet solo that opens the 2004 film Chicago, a soundtrack I'm well acquainted with.

    Codeine Velvet Club - Hollywood

    Fortunately the track I'm cleared to stream is one of my favourites from the album. I'm seriously addicted to the whole disc, but some other standouts for me include The Black Roses, Like a Full Moon, Time, and Vanity Kills, the track that initially spurred on the collaboration between Lawler and Hickey (they had originally teamed up to do a song for her solo album). I haven't even mentioned that the closing number is a great cover of The Stone Roses' I Am the Resurrection, which you can fortunately download for free from the members section of their official website (requires registration). I barely even want to think about it this far in advance, but I know Codeine Velvet Club will be guaranteed a spot in my next year-end review.

    Me blathering on about tracks you can't hear doesn't do you much good, so you can check some of the tunes out for yourself on their myspace or official youtube channel, which has some live versions and a couple music videos.

    Album is out in North America April 6th!


    Upcoming live dates for Codeine Velvet Club include a handful at SXSW and then some West Coast shows supporting Metric. Come to Vancouver soon!

    3/17 The Parish (SXSW) Austin, TX
    3/18 Austin Convention Center (SXSW) Austin, TX
    3/19 Rusty Spurs (SXSW) Austin, TX
    3/20 Cedar Street (SXSW) Austin, TX
    3/21 Showbox SoDo (w/ Metric) Seattle WA
    3/22 Roseland Theater (w/ Metric) Portland, OR
    3/24 Fox Theater (w/Metric) Oakland, CA
    3/26 Hollywood Palladium (w/ Metric) Los Angeles, CA

    Can't leave without mentioning Lou Hickey's Twitter since she's gotta be the only Scottish singer who tweets about her love of hockey. Mind you, ice hockey does have some Scottish roots historically...

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Alligator Pi, Alligator Pi

    Happy Pi Day! Today we celebrate all things pi and, because it's tastier, pie. Apple pie, blueberry pie, pumpkin pie, banana cream pie, pizza pie, shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie, and so on and pie forth. In celebration, I'm going to share a little slice of Canadiana with you, a slice of Alligator Pie.

      Alligator pie, alligator pie,
      If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
      Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
      But don't give away my alligator pie.

      Alligator stew, alligator stew,
      If I don't get some I don't know what I'll do.
      Give away my furry hat, give away my shoe,
      But don't give away my alligator stew.

      Alligator soup, alligator soup,
      If I don't get some I think I'm gonna droop.
      Give away my hockey stick, give away my hoop,
      But don't give away my alligator soup.

      -Dennis Lee
      Alligator Pie, 1974.
    Alligator Pie has been consistently entertaining scores of Canadian children since it's introduction over 30 years ago in the popular and award-winning collection of children's poetry of the same name by Toronto-born poet Dennis Lee. As Canadian as Alligator Pie, one could say.

    While Alligator Pie is a modern Canadian classic, it's actually Lee's later 1983 collection Jelly Belly that's nearest and dearest to my heart, his upturned nursery rhymes combined with fascinatingly detailed (sometimes grotesque) illustrations by Juan Wijngaard. It's been a long while since I've read any, but the whimsical humour, sometimes delicious nonsensicalities, and effortless sing-songy nature of his poems recalls the likes of Shel Silverstein, Ogden Nash, or A. A. Milne.

    Eddie Douglas - Alligator Pie [based on the poem by Dennis Lee]
    Carole Peterson - Alligator Pie [based on the poem by Dennis Lee]

    These are two different versions of Alligator Pie put to music. The first is a wonderful folk interpretation from Ontario singer-songwriter Eddie Douglas whose children's album Alligator Ice Cream - Jelly Delight! is completely based on poems written by Dennis Lee. The latter is a sing-a-long for pre-schoolers from Chicago music specialist and educator Carole Peterson. Peterson and a group of kids even make up later verses about alligator cake and alligator pizza. Amusingly, both artists' websites refer to themselves as "a Pied Piper with a guitar" (Douglas) and "the Pied Piper of children's music" (Peterson). I was fascinated to learn that pied (meaning: multi-coloured) and pie (meaning: YUM!) are probably both derived etymologically from magpie...

    Rowlf the Dog - Cottleston Pie [based on the poem by A. A. Milne]
    From the rare album Ol' Brown Ears is Back, Cottleston Pie is introduced as the little song Winnie-the-Pooh sings to himself when his brain felt fluffy, fittingly another pie-related nonsense poem as sung by Rowlf the Dog AKA Jim Henson.

    B. A. Baracus Band - Fraggle Rock [originally written by Dennis Lee/Philip Balsam]
    On a related note, Dennis Lee wrote lyrics for Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock television series including the classic opening theme! Henson and Lee also collaborated together on the story for Labyrinth.

      Talk Pi!
      Sing Pi!
      Tweet Pi!
      Eat Pie!
      However you want, celebrate π!
      Also, Happy Birthday Albert Einstein!
    Of course, we can't leave without my favourite all-time π song...
    Hard 'n Phirm - Pi

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Max Vernon's Silent Sirens

    It's been a few months since we last checked in with Max Vernon. Here are two from their upcoming Silent Sirens EP and you'll notice musically Max is going with a more electronic vibe, yet it's still unmistakably Max Vernon. I love their willingness to dabble in different genres and you gotta kinda hate that Max is so über-talented that they pulls it off with no apparent effort! Not to mention Max does their own surreal album art... Dig these:

    Max Vernon - Silent Sirens
    Max Vernon - Bound

    Max is doing a gig at Joe's Pub in NYC on April 5th with Dan Fishback. Win a pair of tickets via The Music Slut. Or buy 'em, tix are only $12.

    Listen to more at
    You can follow them on Twitter too.

    Sunday, March 07, 2010

    New Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings in April

    Ah, now here's a press release I can get behind. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' new album I Learned the Hard Way is due April 6 and can be pre-ordered immediately directly from Daptone Records. 15% of all pre-order sales from the official site will be donated to Doctors Without Borders’ Emergency Relief Fund, which will directly contribute to Haiti relief efforts. The first 1000 orders of the CD or LP will receive a bonus 45 single and the first 100 LPs will also be signed (oops, sold out of those). LPs come with a code to download the full album, which is how it should be for all LP releases. Pre-order from the Daptone online store.

    Sharon Jones - This Land is Your Land [originally by Woody Guthrie]
    From Triple J's Like a Version 3, this acoustic cover uses the arrangement from their album version except without the trademark backing horns. But it's still awesome. Speaking of which, the Dap-King horn section will be guests on The New Pornographers' new album Together due in early May. Can't wait to hear that unlikely combo!

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Feed Your Head

    I'm more curious than really excited about this latest Tim Burton experiment. Cautiously optimistic . . . or is cautiously pessimistic more accurate?

    The Damned - White Rabbit [originally by Jefferson Airplane]
    God the Band - White Rabbit [originally by Jefferson Airplane]
    Call Sign Cobra - White Rabbit [originally by Jefferson Airplane]
    The Murmurs - White Rabbit [originally by Jefferson Airplane]

    A new White Rabbit cover by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals accompanies a recently released compilation called Almost Alice, songs "inspired by the film". While featuring a new single by Avril Lavigne (yeeha.), the album intriguingly features Robert Smith covering Very Good Advice from the original Disney animated version and Franz Ferdinand putting music to The Lobster Quadrille, a song from the original book. A new Wolfmother track too.

    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    After the Gold Rush

    So it's been a while since I last blogged and there are a couple reasons for that. First and foremost was, of course, the Olympics came to town and I've been indulging in non-stop celebrations and festivities over the past few weeks, blogging the last thing on my mind. Of course, the e-mail backlog built up and the RSS feeds got clogged. When I did actually check-in I read this article about music blogs being deleted and was hardly in a rush to get back. Meanwhile, I got another DMCA notice for my year-end post, which I had previously edited and re-posted a while back thinking I could leave up the links to mp3s from the artist's official websites. Oddly enough, before I made any movement to repost it a second time, I got another notice for the same post while it was sitting in draft mode... I know I'm not exactly stringent on my mp3 posting policy in the first place, so if Fong Songs ups and disappears for repeat violations... well, it was fun while it lasted. 4.5 years and counting--ZING!

    I did make it out to one Olympic event with my family, the women's freestyle moguls at Cypress Mountain where we were rooting for our Jennifer Heil, who had triumphantly won gold at the Turin games. Just before the games started it was blared all over the news that Canada had never actually won a gold medal on home soil during the previous Olympics in Calgary and Montréal (news to me!). Heil ended up winning silver, Canada's first medal of the games, finishing in between Americans Hannah Kearney and Shannon Bahrke who took gold and bronze respectively. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to see such an event live, though it was one of those experiences you wouldn't want to relive due to the hours spent in the cold rain, freezing toes, crazy 2 hour+ lines for food, and the 2 hour line to catch a bus back into the city. At the same time we were fortunate because a day or two later, the general spectator tickets for many if not most of the events at Cypress were cancelled due to the dangerous conditions of standing area, which had basically turned into a mud pit with all the rain.

    The very next day Canada's home soil gold medal shutout came to a triumphant end as Alexandre Bilodeau suddenly became a national hero, taking the gold in the Men's Freestyle Moguls! In a stroke of amazing luck, the Victory Ceremony tickets my family had purchased months ago turned out to be the very one where Bilodeau would be awarded his gold medal. Needless to say it was an amazing experience to be right there when for the first time ever at our Olympics the Canadian flag was raised above the podium and our national anthem played, which of course was proudly sung at the top of everyone's lungs. By the end of the games, this spectacle would be repeated again and again as our Canadian athletes won a record-breaking number of gold medals and surpassed our previous highest medal count.

    The biggest win was saved for last with the epic men's hockey final. With Canada leading the USA 2-1 into the final minute of the game, American Zach Parise (whose dad incidentally played for Team Canada in the '72 Summit Series) gave our country a collective heart attack, tying the game with only 30 seconds left. As the clock ran out and we prepared to enter sudden-death overtime, we held our breath hoping our boys would pull through to make history while trying in vain to avoid thinking about the alternative outcome. After about 7 minutes of tense back and forth play (we'd gurgle and scream every time the puck came close to our net), Sid the Kid scored the goal of a lifetime. On home soil, in front of a sea of screaming fans in red, with the entire country watching, Sidney Crosby scored the overtime, gold medal-winning, record-breaking goal against Team USA, the freaking dream goal that every kid from now on will re-enact in their backyard rink. It was an unbelievably perfect ending to the games that more or less shut down the country in celebration. It was so much like a fairy tale, even the clouds parted and the sun gloriously came out as people poured out into the streets and marched downtown in joyous glee.

    Then there was the Closing Ceremonies, which I will try not to rant about too much. After all the formalities of speeches, flag passing, and a Sochi 2014 preview, the music portion began. Much like he sent Conan O'Brien off the air, Neil Young extinguished the Olympic flame with a moving rendition of Long May You Run. From what I've heard, NBC's coverage of the Closing Ceremony cut out early to debut a new reality show, which had American viewers livid, though I was thankful that most didn't have to watch the organizers march out a terrible line-up of Canadian music acts that left me more embarrassed than proud to be a Canadian. Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan, Hedley... this was the best you could come up with? Were The Tragically Hip, perhaps the most quintessentially Canadian band, not answering phone calls? Rush, The Arcade Fire, Metric, Feist, K'naan, Blue Rodeo, Hawksley Workman, The Guess Who, Stompin' Tom Connors, Paul Anka, heck Anne Murray... so many choices but no, you called up Hedley and asked them to sing Cha-Ching, of course very much in the Olympic spirit. Sigh. And the Canadian stereotype mega-spectacular... um, very Springtime for Hitleresque. I'll leave it at that.

    Now it's back to business as usual and we're all already feeling a little Olympic withdrawal...

    k.d. lang - After the Gold Rush [originally by Neil Young]
    The Euphorics - After the Gold Rush [originally by Neil Young]
    The CBC Radio Orchestra with Veda Hille, Ndidi Onukwulu, and Michel Rivard - After the Gold Rush [originally by Neil Young]

    Wait, bring on the Paralympics!