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Smash Mouth – All Star (2016)

Somewhere on YouTube, a user called CoolStoryCory released a new version of Smash Mouth’s 1999 alt-rock hit All Star. Like Smash Mouth’s original, CoolStoryCory’s All Star is a conglomeration of summery guitars, studio drums and Steve Harwell’s California croon. Unlike the original, CoolStoryCory has dissected the music so that each of its component parts – guitars, drums, wheaty croon – occurs at a slightly different tempo. Listening to the result is a little like finding that you have five YouTube videos playing in separate tabs. It’s also a little like listening to Captain Beefheart. This second thought stayed with me, made me force myself to listen over and over again to CoolStoryCory’s All Star. Why is this music so brain-bending? Why does one simple change make a familiar thing so strange? Listening on repeat, I felt my mind expanding, neurons squeaking. It’s generally stupid, mostly horrible, very tenuously profound. I thought of Coltrane and Sun Ra, leaving structure, going free. I thought of a guru’s mantra, Moebius-strip-like, unfolding into enlightenment. Dumb things can still hold interesting ideas. And although Smash Mouth’s San Jose sits a limitless distance from nirvana, if truth be told, so do I.

Woodpigeon – Whole Body Shakes (2016)

Woodpigeon’s T R O U B L E is an album soaked through with its own titular problem. Sex and betrayal, loss and mistakes – the kinds of trouble where it isn’t clear who started it or why. It’s a tense piece of work in a genre that isn’t known for its tension: indie folk is usually the domain of ukulele love songs or strings-drenched sad ones. But Whole Body Shakes, like most of T R O U B L E, is dark and taut. It’s as ugly as it’s pretty – and it’s very pretty. Woodpigeon’s Mark Andrew Hamilton enlisted musical magician Sandro Perri to produce his sixth studio album, plus contributors such as Mary Margaret O’Hara, David Thomas Broughton, and THOMAS’s Thom Gill. Despite the resonant piano chords and fingerpicked guitar, the gorgeous orchestrations, Hamilton’s own tremulous voice, they all managed to keep the album on edge. Whole Body Shakes opens with the most forlorn whistling solo I’ve ever heard. It closes with a bassline so funky that it made my tulips come up. I believe the song’s a serenade as well as a threat. “The bottom line is: I’m an animal,” Hamilton sings. “And I don’t take kindly to being caged.” Woodpigeon travelled around the world to write these songs. There were nights on the road, and days, and moments stuck in the half-light, in-between. It’s those ones, when the dawn felt far-off and the evening long-lost, where a track like this seems to live.

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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