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Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels is photographed in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, November 11, 2014. (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)
Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels is photographed in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, November 11, 2014. (Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail)

Three songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week Add to ...

Haim – If I Could Change Your Mind (2013)

There are at least two kinds of change: categorical change, one thing transforming straight away into something else, and incremental change, that process of shift and shift and slip and skid, snowballing, as reality gets reformed. I’ll leave it to the political analysts to explain how change came to Alberta this week: Whether it was sudden orange crush or a multiyear orange thaw. But as the oil sands get new masters, here’s a sound for undoing, redoing and changeover; here’s the sound of syncopation. Take a regular beat and subdivide it. Take the subdivision and divide again. Quarter-notes become eights and eighths 16ths: One moment tumbles suddenly into the next one, one thing gets left behind, mere drums become rebellion. Haim’s If I Could Change Your Mind is throwback pop, eighties rock through a filter of Fleetwood Mac and younger indie stuff. It’s fleet-footed, skipping, but of slightly heavy heart. It’s not necessarily the sound of a victorious present – I hope the federal NDP can find a better anthem. Yet it’s full of syncopation, so much syncopation, and all of syncopation’s promise. The real lesson of Tuesday’s election is not that change has happened but that change can happen, is happening, that down- and back-beat can move within the measure. No party is unelectable, no future’s foregone. This time around, clap the off-beat not the on-.

French B – Je m’en souviens (1990)

I spent much of last week at the Frye Festival in Moncton. It was inspiring, emboldening – days and nights of literary events which seamlessly blended English- and French-language writers. The Frye program showed a level of courage that I rarely even see in “bilingual” Montreal: Anglo authors like Kathleen Winter and Neil Smith on the same panels as Alain Beaulieu and Simon Boulerice, with a bilingual moderator, bilingual audiences, bilingual questions. It’s a testament to New Brunswickers, Acadians, all of Moncton’s open-minded patrons of the arts, but forget the various tribes: By ignoring language barriers, just traipsing on regardless, the festival short-circuited debates on language and identity, “nations” and diaspora. Instead of talking about all that we just talked about books, characters, metaphor. We just got on with it. Some of us danced to songs we didn’t understand, or listened to poetry we didn’t 100-per-cent get, but we got on with it, assembled, tout le monde ensemble.

Fetty Wap – Trap Queen (2014)

First nominee for 2015 song of the summer is a year-old track on all the familiar trap themes – money, drugs, gangs, girls. Fetty Wap’s not getting rich on lyrical originality. But he has a gift for delivering rhymes: Each of Trap Queen’s lines rises and falls in a tidy arc; each one feels like a hook. Mix this with airy synths, chords poised at the edge of dancing, and you have a song meant for repeat and repeat and repeat, for wafting out the lowered window of a million passing cars.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

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