Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.
Big Brave – And As The Waters Go (2015)
Montreal’s Big Brave lay in wait. In concert and on record they perform with complete patience, a patience that is terrifying and almost incandescent. The gun on the table, the thundercloud between lightning strikes, the wolf at the edge of the woods…This is violent, shearing music that bides its time, relishes its pauses. Think of Haydn and his false endings – the listener attendant, unsure of what might come. Only Big Brave aren’t writing concertos. It’s bare, anguished post-punk, a kind of minimalist metal that rests upon stabs of clean snare and distorted guitar, the tearful tear of Robin Wattie’s voice. She sings with the liberation of PJ Harvey, Björk, or Swans’ Michael Gira, painting the air with shivers and shouts. She’s breaking open piece by piece, line by line, and the band measures each change, patient as aftershocks. Reading polls this week, some of us may feel as if we’re awaiting a calamity. Here is a song for it, dark and terrible, full of dread but empty of apathy, free as the hammer as it swings through the air.
Erykah Badu – Hotline Bling (But U Cain’t Use My Phone Mix) (2015)
Badu improves upon Drake’s recent single Hotline Bling, adding lush instrumentation and jettisoning his cool dejection in favour of something more sad and more sly. Its central conceit is still the stuff of country songs: the memory of a former lover’s late-night calls, the way “that hotline bling / [could] only mean one thing.” But Badu seems to have more remove from the situation; she’s less forbearing with her recollection of her ex and his habits. Whereas Drake rapped wistfully about the girl who used to call his “cellphone,” dry-eyed Badu refers in singsong to her “cell / u / lar / de / vice.” Later she plays a darkly hilarious voicemail menu, where callers can “press 7” to beg for concert tickets.
And yet besides her evident wit, Badu imbues Hotline Bling with something else as well. There’s a certain melancholy: an old, cool melancholy, a wound scarred over. “Them people just said let it go / and on and on and such and such.” For a moment she samples OutKast’s André 3000, with whom she had one child. That child, Seven Benjamin, is credited as a co-writer on this song. Everyone, everyone, has a complicated story.
Hey Rosetta! and Yukon Blonde – Land You Love (2015)
Last week I wrote about Blue Rodeo and their angry election song Stealin’ All My Dreams. This is another anti-Harper anthem – poetic, folky, written with much more yearning and much more tambourine. A collaboration between Newfoundland’s Hey Rosetta! and British Columbia’s Yukon Blonde, it leans on hope rather than fury. “A change has to come,” they sing. “Now is the time.” These are indie-rock musicians; maybe they’re preaching to the choir. But choirs do need rallying songs, they need some psalms to call them to church.