Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.
The Highest Order – Stare Down the Barrel of Today (2015)
“Meet me here in indecision,” drawls Simone Schmidt, and something in the singing makes it sound like indecision’s a place – a prairie town next to Accident, Maryland, or Eyebrow, Saskatchewan, down the highway from Whynot, Mississippi. This notion’s reinforced by the accompanying video: Indecision gets a capital letter whenever it appears in the subtitled song lyrics.
So here’s a cosmic country song about a feeling that’s a place, where existential panic is a minor municipality. Schmidt keeps searching for other places to dwell – for sun-soaked answers “in the palms of Miami / … in the palms of Tehran.” But always she is left staring down the barrel of today, comforted by Paul Mortimer’s kaleidoscopic guitar and Kyle Porter’s trusty bassline, like two drinking buddies and their anesthetizing, psychotropic moonshine.
Julia Holter – Feel You (2015)
Diaphanous chamber pop from a keen collector of sounds. With stately strings and harpsichord, perfectly composed drums, Holter sounds as if she’s standing at the crossroads between Haim’s San Fernando pop and Judee Sill’s Laurel Canyon folk song. No question the singer lives in Los Angeles, but Holter seems uneasy at the centre of Feel You’s endless summer: She’s wistful “in [a] raincoat,” “run[ning] away from sun.” Even in the city, each line laps like a lake.
Wilco – You Satellite (2015)
A medium-fast burner from Star Wars, Wilco’s free, surprise new album. Greatly benefiting from Nels Cline’s comet-trail of electric guitar, You Satellite is like an object plunging through the atmosphere – lost and hurtling, ripped apart by winds.
Amid the roaring feedback, singer Jeff Tweedy seems like nothing more than a distant narrator, a pensive stargazer; above his head, something bursts into flame.
Wizkid feat. Drake & Skepta – Ojuelegba (Remix) (2015)
Toronto should be ashamed of the 50,000 people who signed a petition opposing Kanye West’s appearance at the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremony. Yes, it would have been wiser to choose a Canadian. Yes, West is a jerk. But I can’t imagine an equivalent protest for a performance by equally non-Canadian jerks like Bono or Mick Jagger. White people in particular need to examine the biases that can make black musicians – especially young, outspoken African-American musicians – seem unqualified for certain roles. It’s been more than 30 years since a black artist won the Juno for best album, and no black artist has ever won the MTV VMA for best pop video. Taylor Swift’s not responsible, but Nicki Minaj is right to be upset.
Even if the Pan Am Games had called up a local kid like Drake, I suspect there would have been outcry. But it’s all stupid anyhow: Nationalism’s dumb, and borders are dumb, and the Games are supposed to be bringing the continental land mass together. Music fans shouldn’t care about citizenship: Spend your summer listening to Drake, from Forest Hill, on a song by Wizkid, from Lagos, and Skepta, who lives in London. Sip a beer or a julep or a lassi or a caipirinha; leave the lines in the sand to the speedy track-and-fielders.