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Four songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week

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

James Irwin – Needleye (2012)

Occasionally a concert feels like an ending, a passage from one time to another. Last Sunday, all of a particular Montreal gathered at a bizarre, beautiful, veiled bar called Snack & Blues and passed from one era to the next. James Irwin, singer, songwriter, collaborator, poet, writer, gang leader, clubhouse founder, is moving to Toronto and this was his goodbye. He played old songs with old friends and new songs with newer friends and his whole scene was there: a scene just on the verge, the doorstep, about to blur away. A musician can have many kinds of talent – performing, composing, singing perfect harmony. As a maker of weird folk songs and prismatic, experimental pop, Irwin gave us many great, small songs, many great, small shows. But his greatest gift was as a rallier and inspirer. Every season he would give new evidence of the work to do and still worth doing. This is how he became my friend – by drawing a new circle on the ground, inviting all his neighbours inside. Without Irwin, one particular Mile End will never be the same. It’s over and gone; it’s yesterday.

James, come back soon. Toronto, heed what you’ve received.

Aristophanes – Left and Right (2015)

This song keeps wafting through my home. I guess it’s me putting it on, but somehow it feels as if it’s rising from the house plants, my living room’s vacant turntable. Aristophanes raps in Mandarin; some of the lines are distant, murmured, other lines come from close by, like a sibling’s earnest asking. The beat, by Lidly, is a drowsy cut-up of trumpet and piano, cool jazz in broken pieces. It’s like a scene by Wong Kar-wai, smoke low in the air, one woman seeking a new way out.

Low – What Part Of Me (2015)

A glittering, upbeat ballad from one of the greatest bands in indie rock, still at it after 20 years. What Part Of Me is powered by simple parts, nothing reinvented: machine-like snare and high hat; fast, searching touches of guitar; mirrored rhymes that trend toward the stuff of moon/June. But the song’s slow crest is strong as silver links, and I can’t shake the feeling that Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker sing two sides of the same heart. “What part of me don’t you know?/ What part of me don’t you own?” A plea, a love song – or both – and just cold enough for the summer.

Sleaford Mods – Fizzy (2013)

One for the first fortnight of this election campaign: fury from Nottingham, contempt for the smiling liars. “You better think about the future/ You better thing about your neck.” Taut punk-rock that shouts down its enemies, spits at their feet, gives up on anything except the falsest, slipperiest, smallest change. You can know he’s right even as you hope he’s wrong.

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