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 World Provider – Autumn Wheels (2015)
Maybe we can squeeze a little more autumn out of this year. We can bite into apples, wear scarves without tuques, hoard the remaining coloured leaves into one big pile. We can linger with friends on the street, in the parking lot, pause on corners astride our bicycles. We can postpone the winter, or try to, listening to the World Provider’s fuzzed-out guitars and failing falsetto, casting memories back to past Novembers. November 1997, perhaps; November 1979; November 2003... There were so many Novembers before this one, dark ones and bright ones, cold ones and hot ones. And Autumn Wheels lives in the rich space between yesterday and tomorrow – where things are always pretty good, all right, exactly the way they ought to be. Malcolm Fraser’s World Provider have been plumbing the present since 1999, playing foolish with Peaches, Feist and the Dears’ Murray Lightburn, making almost every kind of arty, punk-ish pop, writing songs that are smart as border collies and dumb as cuckoos. Autumn Wheels is a tune that draws from many eras – Big Star jangle, Sebadoh jumble, Devo and Kurt Vile and a little of the Animals’ world-weary organ – but Fraser’s got a perfect knack for the hooks that last forever, evergreen. “Autumn wheels make it all right,” he sings, “frozen meals by candlelight / perfect feels cut down to size.” Simple joys, humble pleasures, the kind of wisdom that’s waiting in the first smear of frost across the grass.
Missy Elliott ft Pharrell Williams – WTF (Where They From) (2015)
Time to throw a party. Promised since 2007, Missy Elliott’s seventh studio album seems like it’s finally on its way. WTF is a shiny new song with a shiny new video, yet both seem like anachronisms, continuations of a visionary aesthetic that Elliott debuted in the 1990s. WTF has the same bouncing, skip-rope quality as Work It or Pass That Dutch – a compliment, seeing as those are two of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. But I do hope Elliott’s invented some new shades of dazzle: we could use her help, we always could.
Kurt Vile – Pretty Pimpin (2015)
Released in July, Pretty Pimpin took until now to really ripen. Its summery guitar licks seemed redundant while it was still summer; it needs an obstacle, an antagonist, the buffeting of cold air. Despite the good-times chorus, Vile’s lazy drawl, Pretty Pimpin is an unrestful song. Apprehensive, chafing, it’s like Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis reinterpreted by Tom Petty. “I woke up this morning,” he begins, “didn’t recognize the man in the mirror ... I proceeded to brush some stranger’s teeth / but they were my teeth / and I was weightless / just quivering like some leaf come in the window.” It sounds like music for a road trip but properly, probably, it’s music for a (nervous) breakdown. When your life is on the verge of wrecked, smoke everywhere, there are alternatives to throwing away the keys. Keep the radio on.