Sunday, October 29, 2006

Woodpigeon CD Release Party

It is quite an experience to show up to an event of say, two hundred people, and realize that you are friends with at least half of them. Last night's Woodpigeon CD Release party at the Engineered Air Theatre was one of those elusive gatherings, made all the more poignant by the fact that it was a tiny little intimate affair, set amidst the much larger, anonymos, Halloween festivities of Saturday night. Not only was the show a coming out party for indie rock critics' darlings, Woodpigeon, but it was also a homecoming of sorts for Aaron Booth, who has spent the last five years living in Toronto, and recently moved back home to Calgary. Furthermore, while we missed their opening performance, the night was also the debut of local duo Jane Vain, as well as being an unofficial closing to the CJSW Annual Funding Drive, to whom Woodpigeon was donating all proceeds.

Watching Aaron Booth take the stage, assisted at times by his former bandmate Chris Vail, ex-of XL Birdsuit, and Vailhalen, it made us appreciate how special a moment in time Vail and Booth occupied as members of the short-lived and awkwardly named Shecky Forme. Considering that both Vail and Booth have firmly established themselves artisticly, as has Shecky drummer Dan Gaucher (as part of a Vancouver-based jazz band), the music that they made seems filled with the promises that each member is now makin good on.

In a similar fashion, Woodpigeon enters the scene. The brainchild of Mark Hamilton, a former CJSW DJ, and regular writer for FFWD Weekly, Hamilton started composing music to serve as backdrops to lyrics written a few years back during a post-university global sojourn, one that was often as lonely and dreary as it was eye-opening and exciting. "Who knew he could write such good songs", Aaron Booth offered by way of introduction last night. Not only has Mark Hamilton demonstrated himself to be a gifted songwriter, but the vast expansive sound of Woodpigeon is made capable by the players he as chosen to surround himself with, notably University of Calgary Faculty of Music grad, Kenna Burima, and the inestimable Darren Powell, who, we think, has been playing in rock and roll bands almost as long as any of member of Woodpigeon has been alive. These two no doubt go a long way in helping Mark flesh out his musical ideas.

Who knows how long the fragile beauty of this sometimes nine piece, sometimes twelve, sometimes three, sometimes one will last? We suggest that you enjoy it quickly and warmly.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's a question of perspective really . . .

Canadian Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski is coming under fire for "stalling" debate on the Clean Air Bill. Lukiwski claims that his move was intended to derail debate on Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez' Private Member's Bill to revisit Kyoto. In doing so, Lukiwski claimed “We felt very strongly about the fact that what Mr. Rodriguez was trying to do was fast-track an obsolete and out-of-date plan which most experts, quite frankly, have discredited, and that’s called the Kyoto plan.”

It would be interesting to see just how Lukiwski feels that Kyoto has been discredited, when many of the world's nations are moving towards new targets set for 2012. Little mention of these new targets appear in Conservative rhetoric, as one of Enviromental Minister Rona Ambrose's first acts as chair of this year's earlier enviromental conference was to declare ALL Kyoto targets unreachble. This touched off heavy speculation that the Harper Government is taking their enviromental cues from George W. Bush. Unfortunately, Lukiwski's actions are being viewed as an attempt to undermine his government's own enviromental policy.

The Harper Government's image problem continues, as it fails to establish some form of common ground with the disenchanted Liberals who helped put him into power.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bejar vs. Reed vs. Cohen

So, not everyone in our office reacted as positively to our Destroyer posting yesterday, with our tongue-in-cheek "Bejar's doin' Bowie doin' Lou do, so really, Bejar's still doin' Bowie" comment. Bassano del Grappa, our 'foreign affairs' expert, once again brings his outsider's perspective to the debate. Feeling that we are selling ourselves short as a nation, del Grappa argues that while musically Dan Bejar is perhaps consistent with David Bowie and Lou Reed rock n' roll forumulations, lyrically Destroyer's Rubies is much more aligned with the sprawling poetry of mid-1970s Leonard Cohen. Quite passionately, he argues.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reaching into the Stacks

There's been a temporarily lull in the new releases sweeping through the Wenzel offices of late. In many ways, this is a welcome respite, as it has allowed us to revisit certain albums and artists in greater depth. When you are cosntantly bombarded with new music, you can typically only spend a week or so "exploring" the album, but some ideas only reveal themselves with time and reflection.

The Sixties have helped create the expectation that music will reflect turbulent times. The war in Iraq has led us to keep our ears open for what may be this generation's Blood on the Tracks. Currently, the leading candidate is Green Day's American Idiot, but Ben Harper's Both Sides of the Gun double album may be an attempt to wrestle that crown from the West Coast trio. Unfortunately, despite heavy rotation this weak, we fear that Harper's message might be spread out too thinly in this magnum opus.

If Harper is trying to be Dylan, then Vancouver's Destroyer is entering is Lou Reed period with his latest album, Destroyer's Rubies. Of course, this may be slightly off-the-mark, as Dan Bejar drew many David Bowie comparisons when he first appeared. Perhaps Destroyer's Rubies is simply Bejar doing Bowie doing Lou. Long, labrynthine lyrics, carried along by baroque melodies. Much was made of this album earlier this year by people who enjoyed Sufjan Steven's Diamond Dogs-tribute, Illinois.

Perhaps the most enjoyable discovery, aside from our deep descent into the Flaming Lips back-catalog, was finally getting around to listening to When Pigs Fly, by the Canadian hiphop outfit, Chicharrones. Perhaps about as far removed from the seriousness of say, Ben Harper, the focus here is on fun, sarcasm, and a little bit of poking the bear.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Mountain of Conscience

Having recently been given a bag of Big Mountain Organic Costa Rica coffee as a gift, we decided to test out the drip coffee function of our Rancillio. The result? Uncertain. Switching from the dark roast Moak espresso of Sicily to the lighter Costa Rican roast of this Banff, AB based company has given us cups thinner on taste than we are accustomed too. In our own bookish fashion, we have a debate brewing over how we should go about improving the taste. The suggestions are as follows:

1. Grind the beans down and use them as espresso anyways. This will allow us to compare Big Mountain as we are used to drinking coffee.

2. Continue to experiment with the drip function of the Nancy. We used her now for three years, but this is the only time we've ever tried drip coffee.

3. Borrow a drip coffee machine.

There has also been talk about switching glasses, the proper amount of coffee per cup, sugar to coffee ratios, and many others. Big Mountain offers an espresso roast that we are also considering.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Policies

Okay, perhaps to call on of these a policy is stretching a bit, but it is more than a little revealing that the Canadian Federal Government and the European Union both released the details of their enivonmental action plan today. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is focusing on cleaning up Canada's air, hoping to reduce emissions by 2020, eight years after the next proposed Kyoto deadline. Furthermore, the actual targets are to be determined in consultation with industry groups, a tactic that the Liberal government used to delay progress on Kyoto as well.

In Europe meanwhile, the focus is on energy awareness and reduction, something that Mr. Harper's government recently eliminated funding for. The European approach is two-pronged: first by increasing consumer awareness of the energy demands of various consumer goods, the hope is that they will opt for the item with lower consumption, second, measures are being introduced through tax incentives for manufacturers to switch to more energy efficient processes. The crude simplification here is that the less energy used, the heat-trapping emissions produced.

One the surface, the difference with the Canadian approach may appear to be one of semantics. After all, aren't emissions bad, and so cleaning the air will remove them? Some heat trapping gases, like nitrogen dioxide give smog its brown haze, but others, like carbon dioxide cannot be seen. The proposed Clean Air Bill will make no impact on carbon dioxide levels. In fact, there's a small irony here: the Harper government is trying to imply that it's Clean Air Bill is a more practical approach to global warming than Kyoto, when it actually barely addresses the same concerns, the cynical smile comes in that many of the visible particulates that "dirty" the air actually reflect light and heat, contributing to global cooling . . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Audrey Gunther

It is with a heavy heart that the staff of Wenzel announce the death of our friend and one-time colleague Audrey Gunther. Last night as Audrey and a friend were crossing the street at a Bow Bottom Trail intersection, they were struck by a car. Audrey was killed instantly. A longtime choirmaster, many of us had first crossed paths were her through St. Mary's High School and our various alumni duties there. Sean Marchetto taught with her there during his brief stint at the school. Her death comes as a shock to all of us, and we at Wenzel are somewhat stunned, coming as it did so close to our musings on Calgary's needless sprawl, worsening traffic, and low vehicle occupancy rates.

Kind and warm, Audrey spent many hours with her choir and our thoughts are with her family and the staff and students of St. Mary's who she loved so very much.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ontario cools down while Alberta heats up

The slipping US economy appears to be dragging to the predominantly manufacturing-oriented Southern Ontario economy, where a high dollar reduces demand for Canadian goods. In an effort to prevent a recession in Ontario, the Bank of Canada is widely expected to keep interest rates the same, but if the province does not respond, then a rate reduction in the next quarter is not out of the question. Of course, lowering interest rates, or even keeping them the level, benefits the Alberta economy and encourages more development.

But what does this mean for Albertans. First of all, service industry woes are likely to continure. There is talk of attracted a further 8,600 workers a year to the province, but even this appears to fall short of the current demand. The extent of the service industry crunch has yet to be measured, but it has translated into a 33% jump in business complaints to the Better Business Bureau over last year alone.

Similarly, the traditional migrant to Alberta is young and single, so recent news headlines claiming that Calgary now has the most vehicles on the road in its history are likely to be true. At the last comprehesive measure, in the early 1990s, vehicle occupancy rates were 1.1, so Calgary is clearly not a carpooling city. In many areas of the city, "rush hour" traffic starts to accumulate by mid-afternoon, 14:30 -15:00, and on certain roads, Glenmore Trail or 16th Avenue North, it never really stops.

Furthermore, all of this traffic is just second-fiddle to the oil and gas industry which is awash in new project developments. Recent measures announceed by the government to deal with Clean Air, are unlikely to help reduce Alberta's claim to worst provincial polluter.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bookin' It

Sure we at Wenzel catch a lot of flicks and go throuh a lot of tunes, but we also turn quite a few pages. George Monbiot's Heat is not the only thing being read around here lately. Other books that have passed our way include Gautaum Malkani's Londonstani, and Simon Reynold's Rip It Up And Start Again, Postpunk 1978-1984. Some of us have been on a bit of a historical fiction kick, devouring Dennis Bock's chronicle of the life of Canadian icon Norman Bethune in The Communist's Daughter, as well as Canadian author Jack Whyte's new trilogy centring on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Black and White, and finally David Gemmell's Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow.

In depth reviews to come.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Week In Harper's Headlines

Perhaps this one should be called snatching defeat from the jaws of victory . . .

It has been an interesting week for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If we had access to the polling numbers we would be very intrigued to see who reacted to precisely which headline.

The week started off with the unveiling of the Conservative Party's much advertised Clean Air Bill, aiming to reduce smog in major urban centres. In theory, this is more directed at Southern Ontario where smog warnings are frequent in the summer. It will all be warmly received in Alberta, since it does look to police the powerful oil and gas industry, a big relief from the days of Kyoto. The Clean Air Bill has been a central plank in the Conservative Party's environmental platform. When Wenzel staffer Bassano del Grappa asked sometime contributor Sean Marchetto his views on the Tory Environmental Policy, Marchetto shook his head, replying that "A Clean Air Bill does not replace a holistic Environmental policy." Marchetto is currently reading George Monbiot's Heat: How to Stop The Planet From Burning, and points out that our own environmental record is far less than stellar.

Harper followed this with an announcement that over half a billion dollars will be spent on the West Coast to enticie more trans-Pacific shipping to use Vancouver-area harbours as their North American point of entry. No reference was made as to how the Clean Air Bill will seek to alleviate the extra tonnage of shipping exhaust.

Than came Wednesday, a day that should have had Conservative election strategists wringing their hands in glee. Liberal party leadership front-runner Michael Ignatieff was caught voicing his opinion that Israel perhaps committed war crimes during their recent conflict with Lebanon. As Ignatieff tied to backpedal saying that "uwarranted human tragedies occurred on both sides" amid calls that he was anti-Israel, Prime Minister Harper entered the fray at the end of the week stating that the Liberal Party of Canada was also the Anti-Israel Party of Canada. Liberal leadership co-hopeful Bob Rae and his Jewish wife, took to a podium and denouced the Canadian Prime Minister as being divisive and hurtful.

While many commentators are claiming that Ignatieff's comments will hurt his leadership chances, we at Wenzel take a slightly more measured look. Yes, pro-Israel factions within the Liberal party are likely to be alienated by his comments, but there is also a somewhat sizeable group of Liberals who have been uncomfortable of Ignatieff's endorsement of Bush's immediate post-9/11 actions and have always felt Ignatieff too be to hawkish. These comments ma have the unintended consequence of demonstrating that Ignatieff's feelings toward the war are more nuanced than jingoistic, and draw him closer to those party members.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Moak Makes A Mark

We have enjoyed our initial 100% Arabica Moak coffee in our Nancy, that we bought their Gusto Dolce for use in our Gran Gaggia. Very good, mellow, and yes, somewhat sweet without the sugar.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Expectations run high

How could we forget? The Departed also came with a trailer for Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's Thermopolyae epic, 300. It looks completely fantastical in every sense of the word!

Weekend Kino Update

As Satuday Night Live banks on Adam Samber and a reduced cast pulling in higher ratings this season, Wenzel sits down to catch up on some movie watching this Thanksgiving weekend.

First off, Battle for Algiers played during our Friday matinee sessions, and the office audience was enthralled. Perhaps it is because we are all more cynical than we'd like to believe, but after seeing this fictionalized account of the French battle to quash the Algerian revolution, we find ourselves giving credence to rumours that it is shown as the "How to find a modern, urban, guerrilla war" film. Very disturbing how it matches up with our expectations and images of American involvement in the Middle East.

Once more, we find ourselves admitting our bookish tendencies. Long have we admired Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai but only recently have we sat down to watch the cowboy classic, The Magnificent Seven, the American homage to the Japanese master. Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner are excellent, though the drama was undermined by one Wenzel stafferr inadvertently blurting out, "Hey this is just A Bug's Life!".

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend however, was the office outing to Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which opened this weekend. After The Aviator and Gangs of New York we were all looking forward to Scorsese getting back to basics, although The Departed centres around Boston cops and corruption. Almost Shakespearean in its twists and turns, unblemishing in its violence, the film draws stellar performances from sources as unlikely as Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin. Jack Nicholson is fantastic as he finally escapes the fetters of his recent romantic comedy roles and gives full rein to his darker side.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cafe Spotlight

A few years ago, the Joshua Tree, located just off of Edmonton Trail and Eighth Avenue NE, was a quintessential college cafe, located far away from the University of Calgary. Drawing heavily on the student population renting in the nearby neighbourhoods of Bridgeland, Renfrew, and Crescent Heights, its eclectic second-hand decor hosted a young and vibrant clientele. As rents increased and more and more families moved into the areas, driving out the students, the cafe became more the domain of stay-at-home moms. While the menu, which features small breakfast and lunch items, is still the same. New owners have taken over and recently begun slowly updating the furnishings.

Music Update

There's no point in trying to deny that the Wenzel office staff sit around in argyle sweaters and glasses, discussing Proust and other bookish things, as we recount our grad school days. But sometimes, even for us, some things are just to academic. Squarepusher crosses that line with his latest album Hello Everything. Although he still manages to conjure up some danceable moments, the songs are permeated with a sense that he is offering us a lesson in the technical performance capabilities of various pieces of old school technology. There comes a point when, if we wanted to be lectured at, we'll put some Chomsky on the stereo.

At the complete other end of the spectrum meanwhile, 65daysofstatic have made good on their reputation as merchants of noise. Nine straight cacaphonous songs, capturing the atmosphere of DJ Shadow's opening salvo to Introducing. . . while building on the "we're just a dance band" cheek of Surrender to the Night-era Trans Am. Melding pianowork with distorted guitars, and sparing use of feedback, One Time For All Time, tastes like honey.

Elsewhere, Wenzel has reached into the archives and is currently enjoying Vancouver-based punk band D.O.A.'s best of compilation, Bloodied But Unbowed, a collection of music from 1978-1983 when the band was helping to create the politicized West Coast hard-core sound with the Dead Kennedys, rather than their later stage travelling legend status. If you ever wondered what the fuss was about, this is your introduction. Similarly,