image: MadMannequin


Circlesquare main man Jeremy Shaw garnered deserved attention for a string of releases he issued between 1999 and 2006 on Trevor Jackson's Output label, with the 2003 collection Pre-Earthquake Anthem and 2006's Fight Sounds EP perhaps the most arresting of the lot. Shaw's brooding electro-funk mix of slow-as-molasses beats, mangled guitar playing, and his deep, at times cryptic voice helps make Circlesquare stand out from the crowd, and he pushes that style to an even further extreme on the latest release, Songs About Dancing and Drugs, where a fractured blend of techno, pop, funk, and electro makes for one seriously heady listen. At one time a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Shaw's now ensconced in Berlin. Nevertheless, his Canadian roots run deep, as evidenced by his in-depth familiarity with the country's pop history. That knowledge gets an amazing workout in the Top 10 (actually Top 12) that Shaw crafted especially for textura.

1. Images in Vogue: “Lust For Love” (1983)

This is one of my first memories of really feeling a connection to something that I perceived as dark. There was something about how he sang that made it feel totally taboo to me as a six-year-old in suburban North Vancouver, like I really wasn't supposed to be hearing this with my little ears, and that of course totally excited me. I think it was a combination of the super affected Bowie-isms and the fact that I didn't really understand what lust was, but it sounded incredibly sinister to me. I vividly remember watching the video on our black-and-white TV downstairs (not that it mattered as the video was black and white), and really thinking that I was doing something devious, worrying that my mom would come in at any minute and scream in horror. I also remember seeing them on “Good Rockin' Tonight” and being so completely in awe that they were from Vancouver and not British. Years later I tracked down the album with my room-mate and learned that (one-time MuchMusic associate) Kim Clark-Champniss was their manager! Also of note: Kevin Crompton ended up in the band with the next song on my list…

2. Skinny Puppy: “Smothered Hope” (1984)

My brother, who is three years older than me, dubbed a dub of a friends' older brothers' Bites and Remissions tape when he was twelve. So, of course I borrowed it and took it to play for every 4 th -grader in school. It was the most evil thing I'd ever heard; it sounded like my Walkman had been infected by the tape and was melting inside, like I was being screamed from something inside of the machine at and most certainly going to hell for listening. I misinterpreted the lyrics for years as being “I shit / up and down / everybody knows it's brown,” further adding to the overwhelming evil and crass vibe they instilled in my nine-year-old self. I had no idea at the time that they were from Vancouver either; I truly thought they were from somewhere very, very disturbed (this is before I knew of the downtown eastside, mind you). I still play this song anytime I get a chance, which is generally only on Halloween, but it still rules.

3. Leonard Cohen: “If It Be Your Will” (1984)

I had a Leonard Cohen Greatest Hits record in my early teens, and grew more and more into him as the years went on (and mortality kicked in I guess), but the moment that truly made me realize the power of his songs was oddly enough due to this song's inclusion in the Christian Slater film Pump Up The Volume. (“Everybody Knows” is Slater's suburban pirate radio-show theme song, and recurs throughout the movie, but it's when a kid commits suicide at the school he's attending that he broadcasts this one in memoriam.) I'd never heard it before, and something about the sparse, bleak-yet-optimistic tone really, really moved me. It was like hearing a prayer as a song. I saw him perform this summer in Basel for the first time ever and to my total disbelief he played it. He read the first verse as a poem and then had his backup singers, The Webb Sisters, do the rest. I was worried at first, but it was totally amazing; like hearing the Cocteau Twins cover it live.

4. Nomeansno: “Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed” (1988)

It's hard for me to choose between Canadian punk/hardcore bands I've been into at different periods in my life. First there was D.O.A., SNFU, Dayglo Abortions, and The Young Canadians, and then as I got older I was well into hardcore with Sparkmarker and Strain and a slew of others I can't quite think of right now. But for actually changing/challenging the way I listened to music, Nomeansno definitely takes it. They were the first punk band I ever heard use a stop/start dynamic, a somewhat math- or post-rock style far before I think any of that was going around (dare to say the influence was coming from jazz? I'm doubting Kraut-rock, but you never know). They were also the first band in this vein that I heard who weren't afraid to slow things way down. It's hard to choose a song in particular, but “Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed” is them at their weirdest, which was something I was certainly looking for as a teenager. I proudly wore a  “BE STRONG BE WRONG” t-shirt for years that I bought at Trax Records on Seymour street. My cousin Chas, who is ten years older than me, is from Seattle where he was deep in the grunge scene while it was actually happening. I remember him telling me that Nomeansno were one of his favorite bands ever and that they were hugely respected by the world of grunge. That was one of those early lessons about how sometimes really great things are happening in your backyard and it's not always somewhere else.
This very early, almost Suicide-esque song, the group already playing with bizarre structures, is pretty amazing as well:

5. Wavestation: “Reeling” (1996)
I first heard this song in my first year at art school in 1996 where my new friend David Crompton was editing a super-8 film for it. He was a friend and collaborator of the band, at that point doing visuals during their live shows. Being a late-comer to shoegaze music, the introduction to Wavestation came right at the peak of my immersion in the genre, and even though I'd listened to Loveless a million times, this song always felt like they'd pushed the idea even farther forward by composing a complete, resolved song based on the experimental interludes of that record (which is exactly what they were going for I learned soon after meeting them). It was released on a cassette-only EP called Melodica that I still have somewhere in a shoebox full of tapes in my mom's basement, and that my friend Alex asks me to find every time I see him. I haven't heard it in many years and am very curious as to whether I'd still think what I've just written is true. Nonetheless, at that moment in time it had a huge impact on my musical world with the possibilities it seemed to propose in a song.

6. Jerk With a Bomb: “Slang of the City” (2001)

Canada has always had a lot of good indie bands, but this two-piece (and later three-) from Vancouver is far and away my favourite ever. With their unique minimal morphine cow-punk, the dynamics of their songs were incredibly intense, heightened largely live by the fact that the drummer would also be playing keyboards and shouting back-ups all at once, and often building and building but never quite reaching a climax. I used to go watch them any chance I got, many times totally catching myself with my mouth wide open at the end of a song. I've never since witnessed a band that played with such intense restraint, not even a certain Black Mountain that they're running these days.

P.S. I can't find the right song online, so these will have to do…
P.P.S. Note the pre-beard members in the video:

7. The Beans: “Hollow Stars” (2001)

The most realized recorded song from this band of post-rock Vancouverites (actually Ladner) from the mid-‘90s-early ‘00s that once played a legendary forty-eight-hour set at the legendary Sugar Refinery on Granville Street. I had always been a big fan, but when I first heard this song, I really thought something big was about to happen.

8. Peaches: “Fuck The Pain Away” (2001)

The ubiquitous Peaches changed a lot of things in 2001, and the world still seems yet to have caught up (or is possibly just coming around, yet seems to have amnesia for the years 1999-2003). I couldn't for the life of me place this song when I first heard it, which is totally amazing considering it's a voice and a Dr. Rhythm. It was instantly lodged into my mind and my record crate and has yet to leave.

9. Rational Youth: “Close To Nature/City of Night/Cite Phosphore” (1983/2002)


I actually didn't discover these guys until the second coming of what they did. While scouring record shops in Vancouver in 2002 at the height of Electroclash, I found Cold War Nightlife for a dollar and bought it on the band name and title alone. I soon learned that it was a Montreal act from the early-‘80s that included an original Heaven 17 member. I also soon learned that it would become one of my very favourite synth-pop albums of all-time, Canadian or otherwise.

10. Konrad Black: “A Broken Down Mustang” (2002)

His second proper four-to-the-floor release (post-drum-and-bass recovery) was an amazingly restrained, dark-as-night minimal workout that's stayed with me ever since.

11. Mathew Jonson: “Magic Through Music” (2003)

This song was the named theme of Berlin's notorious “Love Parade” in 2003—really and truly another one of those moments where you realize that sincerely amazing things are being made in your own backyard, and that it's not always greener somewhere else (although the fact that it often takes somewhere else to actually recognize this, is another story).

12. Arcade Fire: “Tunnels/Wake Up” (2004)


One of those incredible reminders about the universality of music and song that truly doesn't seem to come around as often as it should. A very special moment and a very special band—again, reminding me of a lot of what I truly value in music. Seeing them live has never failed to induce a near-cathartic state for me (when it was announced that they were going to play with David Bowie, I thought that this was basically the peak/end of modern music as we know it).

March 2009