Emotionally naked (you perv)

Juliet Naked Nick Hornby

Fair warning: if you look up Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked on Google Images, be prepared to find way more than you were looking for. But despite what Google might push on you, the nakedness here is innocent: it refers to the emotionally raw and unfinished nature of Tucker Crowe’s new release.

Tucker Crowe is a past-prime recluse rock star. In the 20 years since the release of his seminal album Juliet, Crowe has led a hermit life, making progressively bigger mistakes until he decides to settle and become a good husband to Cat, his fourth wife, and a good father to Jackson, his fifth child. Jackson, six years old, is one of the best characters in the story, with wisdom well beyond his age and a paranoia about death equalled by few. Duncan is a huge fan of Tucker Crowe—a Crowologist. One of those fans who spends his free time discussing 20-year-old music in an internet forum, as if the reason for Tucker’s sudden abandon of the music scene held a greater truth.

Annie is Duncan’s not-really-wife. She puts up with his Crowe obsession, but it’s taxing on their relationship. But she’s not as clueless about Tucker’s music as Duncan seems to think. When Juliet, Naked comes in the mail direct from the record company, she listens to it without telling Duncan. Juliet, Naked is essentially the demo version of Juliet, raw and unfinished, and Annie doesn’t think it’s as good as the official, finished album. Duncan, despite being furious over Annie’s breach of protocol—and even more at her dislike of the album—writes a raving review on the forum before any of the other Crowologists get a chance to listen.

Here’s where the plot starts to get interesting. Annie decides to post a review of her own to the forum, and she receives an email response from Tucker. From Tucker Crowe the hermit! At first she’s incredulous, but slowly an email relationship begins to develop, with plenty of teenage fawning on both sides.

When Duncan cheats on Annie with a new coworker and Cat divorces Tucker, the two find solace in their emails, and eventually they decide to meet. Now this is where the story takes off, with an awkward Crowe family reunion in a hospital in London and an even more awkward encounter between Duncan and Tucker. But I’ll leave it at that so I don’t ruin the best bits.

My first experience of Nick Hornby’s writing was Long Way Down, an absolutely hilarious novel about four people who meet at the top of a building, all planning to jump, and end up convincing each other not to. Juliet, Naked isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as Long Way Down, but it’s more touching, and equally good. There’s plenty of humour, but it’s more human. Long Way Down is a tragicomedy of extremes—depression and hilarity—while Juliet, Naked is one that makes good use of the gooey stuff in between.

Caveat. Remember the cringe-worthy epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Of course you do. We all wish it didn’t happen. The epilogue to Juliet, Naked had a similar effect. It kind of made the book bleh, in those four pages, by telling us more than we needed to know about how the story unfolds. In Deathly Hallows it was all too wishy-washy, too much everything-turned-out-well-in-the-end; in Juliet, Naked it was an unwanted confirmation that sorting out Tucker’s problems made his music crappy. Which is kind of funny, I guess, but I would have preferred the “ignorance is bliss” approach.

Indie rock goes Choral at PuSh Fest

coastal sound push festivalImage source: www.woodpigeon-songbook.com

I’m not much of a choir person—seldom a watcher, never a performer. But with an acquaintance performing this past weekend at PuSh Festival, I decided to attend. And I wasn’t attending just because of the performer: I was also genuinely interested in their choral renditions of popular music.

The Coastal Sound Youth Choir is composed of 55 performers aged 16 to 21, and last Saturday (January 18) they performed alongside Woodpigeon, a Calgary indie band led by Mark Andrew Hamilton.

The set began with Woodpigeon performing by themselves. Mark was the lead singer, with Colin (sorry, but the last names escape me) on cello and Jen on backing vocals. Mark took the acoustic guitar for most of the performance, with Jen on the drum—yes, a single drum with a single cymbal—but for the first song they switched instruments.

Mark was a funny man on stage, witty in a dry and awkward kind of way that the audience ate up. Woodpigeon’s music was a soft indie folk rock, as might be expected of a group playing only vocals, the acoustic guitar, a cello and a single drum and cymbal. It’s a style I enjoy, and the group was clearly talented. Unfortunately many of their songs sounded similar. And even within the songs themselves there was little variation; the songs did not build, or change in any way. It was the same thing throughout.

And it’s not that Woodpigeon didn’t have the resources for variety. While Mark sang every song—he was clearly the leader, with the others looking to him—Jen had an amazing voice that was barely exploited at all. It may have been the theatre acoustics, but the drum was overplayed, while the cello was significantly underplayed. I love the cello, but it worked mostly like a bass guitar, playing almost in the background most of the time. They used the drum only in very standard ways, predictable beats—and in some cases it didn’t need to be played at all.

Woodpigeon then gave up the stage to Coastal Sound. They usually sing more classically inclined music—I’m imagining along the lines of Carmina Burana, but that’s just me—but for this weekend’s event they performed choral renditions of songs of their favourite bands, accompanied by The Salteens, a Vancouver indie pop group. The performers were varied, many not looking like the singer type, but all the singers who performed solo filled the shoes very nicely.

They opened with The Shins’  “Simple Song,” one of my favourite performances of the night. They also played a number by Arcade Fire, a couple other popular songs, and a couple samples of their more traditional classical music. Unfortunately, they didn’t play any songs that I already knew, so I can’t say how well they did relative to the original. But objectively speaking (or, as objective as you can get talking about music), they did a great job.

The highlight of the night was when Ashleigh Ball of Hey Ocean! joined the choir on stage to perform “I Am A Heart.” Again, not a song I knew beforehand. But Ashleigh’s energy on stage, and her influence on the excitement of the performers—and their influence on her—made it the most engaging song of the evening.

To finish the event, Woodpigeon returned to the stage for a join performance with Coastal Sound. They played more of Woodpigeon’s music. With Coastal Sound backing them up, the music became a lot more interesting—the choir provided the variation that their music lacked on its own.

They performed the very last song of the evening as a “group hug”—the choir encircled the audience, with only Mark and two Coastal Sound singers remaining at the front, leading the song. The effect was a super-stereo, with music coming from all sides. It was a great way to finish the show, which lasted right around two hours. I would very much like to see their performance again next year, when they do more modern covers.

Coheed & Cambria and Friends

I first heard Coheed and Cambria sometime during my first year at university, and I instantly fell in love with much of their music. I knew from the beginning about their sci-fi graphic novel tie-ins, and I still think creating music and comic books together is a pretty awesome concept, but I never really got into them; I only payed attention to their music. Maybe one day I will check them out. In any case — right off the bat I could tell Coheed’s music was impressive, especially “Welcome Home.” Even if you’ve never heard of Coheed and Cambria before, you most likely heard the opening of “Welcome Home” on a trailer for the animated movie 9, where the music made the movie seem a lot cooler than it turned out to be (although it was still pretty cool). I was sad that I missed their performance at the Rock in Rio festival last year; but thankfully I was able to attend their Vancouver concert about two months ago. Continue reading