Monday, September 8, 2014

A belated thank you from SCQ

Dance party in the SCQ Office; Ottawa, 2010

Dear readers,

You’re probably lost. Skeleton Crew Quarterly hasn’t published new material since the end of 2012, so whatever review or interview you’re looking for, I hope it’s old. On the off-chance you’re visiting this blog intentionally, as an occasional reader wondering what the hell happened here, you remembered SCQ on the right day. Below is the goodbye I’d written in January 2013; I opened it today expecting some half-coherent draft and was surprised to find it nearly complete. So, with over a year and a half behind us, here's SCQ’s lost goodbye:


The term “hiatus” is often met with sadness in the music world, not because it represents a permanent cessation of a band or label but because there’s no itinerary to comprehend just what lies ahead. Like a chalkboard wiped clean of plans, the hiatus leaves a momentary gap before we listeners fill it with other interests, other bands. And occasionally, we don’t notice the gap at all.

Skeleton Crew Quarterly turns five years old this month. Those who’ve tuned into this music-blog semi-regularly over the years know that I rarely pass up an opportunity to celebrate the passing seasons, and I had another Year-End Questionnaire arranged to commemorate this milestone. The questions were written and in two cases submitted – both recipients, pianist Nils Frahm and Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre, agreed to take part – but my heart just wasn’t in it. Back in the winter of 2007, the idea of asking a beloved musician their top records of the year seemed like a dream. I was personally invested in discovering and communicating those answers through a loudspeaker to anyone who cared. And over the years, I’ve met and traded emails with many listeners who were quite like me; readers who enjoy peering through the artist’s looking-glass and investigating music their idols like. Only I’m not really one of those people anymore.

I remain terribly obsessed with music. It’s one of my life’s few great loves. But gradually, thankfully, the pedestal I’ve offered songwriters for most of my life has diminished; they’re real people with real jobs and real worries and real minutia. Their opinions on music can be valuable and provocative, but it’s trivia all the same. And in the spirit of simplifying my life and focusing my creative impulses on what matters most, I’ve decided to leave the trivia to others.

A random glimpse over the 1,000 reviews I’ve written showcases an overabundance of trivia – plenty of details I barely remember learning so long ago. But they also chronicle five years of living, which is something a sentimentalist like me cannot ignore. As I read over these reviews, it isn’t commentary on the music that resonates so much as the memories invoked from the time period in which they were written. Whether I was finding my voice with records culled from my own collection during my year in that summer-y High Park apartment, or clicking “publish” with the hope that proofreading wasn’t necessary during one of my Greek-town all-nighters. Records I broke into over subway rides, between classes at my teaching job in Taipei, on late-night Ottawa walks to pick up my girlfriend, at the Starbucks in St Catharines before our internet was connected, and so forth. In the end, how music scores our lives is what Skeleton Crew Quarterly has always been about for me.

Some reviews I can vividly remember – where I was sitting, the view over my laptop as I stared off in concentration. Other reviews, I haven’t the foggiest. Sometimes I’d sneak little secrets into my reviews, to see if friends or family were really reading. (Fun fact: I announced my return from Taiwan a week before I surprised everyone with my appearance in Canada.) And there are many great stories that have gone on behind the scenes about attaining promo copies, missed opportunities and weird semi-friendships that developed with artists, but they’re really only great to me.


That’s it, that’s where I stopped. I’m glad I was proactive enough to notify those who knew me best and tell them, among other things, that they can stop wasting postage on SCQ. I'm also happy I had a chance to tell my conspirator Yusuf before he left this world. There was a list of people I wanted to thank but the task to compile it would be difficult and pointless now. So instead I thank my publicity comrades and label insiders who were always stoked to send me CDs and tickets. I thank the songwriters and band members I got to know for all of their kindnesses and great music. And I thank the readers who made this whole enterprise a glorious bit of fun. In many ways, SCQ was its own little hiatus.

We had some amazing listens,

Love SCQ

2007 - 2012
Toronto, Ottawa

Thursday, December 20, 2012

SCQ's Top Twenty Albums Of 2012

Nobody has ever accused Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s Top 20 Albums list of being a deduction in populist opinion. But as five years of scouring the ever-changing landscape of indie music’s expanses can attest to, these year-end proceedings have certainly distanced themselves from the top-tier names one might expect. That is, if anyone has any idea of what to expect anymore. How does one measure fame when buzz-bands fall in and out of favour so rapidly? How does one express loyalty when we’re constantly on the fringe of something new, something else? Five years ago I worried about sharing too many favourite album picks with the likes of Pitchfork; now that’s just a funny memory.

I can’t condemn the accelerated accessibility of new music nowadays, especially since many of the artists who appear on this year’s list were introduced via that perpetual online frenzy. Still the virtue of loyalty plays just as significant a role in this year’s decisions – not intentionally, just as matters of talent insisted. Included are bands I’d pretty much closed chapters on, albums I'd never planned on listening to and, in one instance, a recreation of music that was written nearly 300 years ago! Unlike some of my colleagues’ exclamations, I don’t personally think 2012 was an exceptional year in music. But it was a great year, like the rest.

With the utmost pleasure, I present Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s Top Twenty Albums of 2012. Enjoy and Happy New Year!



20) The Four Seasons Recomposed - Max Richter (TOP 20 OF 2012)

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons | Recomposed 

Max Richter
Deutsche Grammophon.

SCQ Rating: 81%

While this note-by-note rewriting of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons likely won’t unearth throes of listeners wondering about Vivaldi – you know a score is already ingrained in Western culture when about half of the rich villains in action movies have hired a tuxedo-dressed quartet to perform it – but this disc should shed fresh light on ambient-storyteller Max Richter. Like modern day Vivaldi lovers, Richter’s following is quietly dedicated and sure to notice how his interpretation invokes the same emotional clairvoyance that adorns his post-classical catalog. Although any surfacing revelations should be accredited more to Vivaldi than to Richter, this terse reworking finds The Four Seasons’ beauty feeling sharper and more resplendent than ever.

19) Exercises EP - CFCF (TOP 20 OF 2012)

Exercises EP

Paper Bag Records.

In 2009 Mike Silver wouldn’t have been a wise candidate for keeping electronic music firmly in its shoes. His debut Continent had engorged itself with a taste of everything the electronic music scene brought to the buffet, espousing chillwave, downtempo, IDM, the lot. This year’s Exercises EP not only matches the Mike Silver I’ve seen spinning, diligently reserved, in the trendier lounges of Montreal, it inverts CFCF’s adventurousness from of-the-moment chic to 70s futurism with a post-classical bent. It feels truer to electronic music's past without getting trapped in the kitsch.

What makes this newfound dry approach work is how Silver’s electronics and piano work never fully enmesh; the old-school analogs coinciding with his traditional compositions the way vines curl around woodwork. Complimenting the record cover, Exercises EP finds two different scales fleshing out an architecture hollow but reliable, small in stature but deeply impressionable.

18) fin - John Talabot (TOP 20 OF 2012)


John Talabot
Permanent Vacation Records.

No electronic music fan worth his or her salt can deny the distinction between a dance album and a dance epic. One’s a collection of individual cuts, organized to fulfill the artist-in-question’s style; the other utilizes those style principles as a foundation for something grander – an imagined landscape populated with sonic intricacies that seek to transport your mind as well as move your muscles.

Given the string of singles John Talabot has teased over the course of some four years, the likelihood that the long-awaited fin would land in the latter category is surprising, especially because those singles appear here as if originally written to be part of fin’s evocative, Heart Of Darkness-like journey. Talabot doesn’t just find a rare kinetic balance on tracks like “Depak Ine” and “Oro Y Sangre” but a complete state of being, transmitted from some dense jungle south of Ibiza’s lush coastline. Even in the headiest moments of club-thumpers “Last Land” and “So Will Be Now…”, we’re never in a poorly-lit club; we’re weightless in the mindspace of Talabot’s creepy, masked fancy. 

17) Long Slow Dance - Fresh & Onlys (TOP 20 OF 2012)

Long Slow Dance

The Fresh & Onlys
Mexican Summer Records.

As a band renowned for a ragged brand of garage-y psychedelia, it’s funny that Long Slow Dance’s best attribute is its light touch. Surrounding the odd riff-heavy chasm of “Euphoria” we find classic pop songs swooning in details: “Foolish Person” dabbed in sweet echo, “Dream Girls” decorated with some island marimbas and death-slow surf guitar laced throughout the title track. Given the instrumental wares working to compliment Tim Cohen’s poignant lyrics, the album’s highlights – “Executioner’s Song”, “Fire Alarm” – have the chops to haunt just about any competing rock tune this year.