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As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time for me to finish my annual review of the year in music.
In a previous post I highlighted the best cover songs of 2014, while this time I’ll focus on the entirely original music that moved me most in 2014, starting with…
Wild Beasts are a UK band who were nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2010 for their second album, Two Dancers. Their fourth LP, Present Tense, arrived in February and became one of the few new albums I spent much time listening to this year.
The Vancouver Asahi is a Japanese movie shot in Tokyo but set in Vancouver, making it quite an oddity, since it’s far more common for movies to be shot in Vancouver but set somewhere else. Even though it’s an entirely Japanese production, it bears all the hallmarks of a Canadian film, meaning it’s earnest, obvious, amateurish, and hopelessly dull. It’s the sort of thing that could play on the CBC on a Sunday afternoon without confusing or offending your great grandmother back on the farm in Saskatchewan, which is a shame because the subject matter had potential.
The Vancouver Asahi is based on the true story of a Vancouver baseball team founded by Japanese immigrants who prospered in the early 1900′s before being sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor. During the pre-war years, the team became a source of pride for the Japanese community while helping the recent arrivals to integrate into Canadian society. It’s an intriguing piece of Canadian history I was not aware of until I first heard about the movie earlier this year.
At the start of the film, the Asahi are perennial losers until they figure out a way to compete against the bigger, stronger, more aggressive Canadians. Anyone with a scintilla of baseball knowledge knows that the way they’ll end up doing this is with speed, defence, and strategy, but it takes the Asahi more than half the movie to figure this out, and it takes the equally dumb whiteys an entire season to figure out a strategy to combat it.
The film’s Moneyball meets racism concept had a lot of potential, but the movie does absolutely nothing with it except check off all of its predictable, clichéd plot points in the most mundane, mechanical, obvious way imaginable. Individual scenes are so utterly lacking in character or distinctiveness, it’s like they lost the script during production and had to film the beat sheet.
And to make matters worse, the Canadians in the film are all hopelessly bad actors with profoundly laughable accents. Apparently the white actors were all US naval officers posted in Japan, which explains why they all sound like Texans pretending to be Quebecois lumberjacks. If only one of the Canadians had said “aboot” I could have let it slide, but when they all do it’s obvious the filmmakers have never spent much time in Western Canada and think we all sound like Bob & Doug McKenzie. Maybe this is how people in other cultures feel all the time when seeing their stories portrayed on-screen by outsiders, but as a Canadian I’m just not used to it.
The Vancouver Asahi is playing at The Vancity Theatre until January 8th. Get showtimes here.
It’s a sad day for America because Craig Ferguson is bidding us all adieu after his final late night show airs tonight. As much as I love Stephen Colbert, whose show also ended this week, we all know he’ll be back on the air soon, replacing David Letterman, but Craig Ferguson’s future is much more of a question mark, so the end of his tenure on the Late Late Show is much sadder to me than the end of the Colbert Report. The rumour is that Craig will probably be doing a similar show in the future on another network, and hopefully Geoff Peterson and Secretariat will be joining him, so even if this is only a temporary hiatus, Craig Ferguson going off the air will leave an hour-long void in my life every weekday.
As devastated as I am to be losing my nightly dose of CraigyFerg, the people I really feel sorry for are the beautiful young starlets of Hollywood, because who’s going to flirt with them now? Jimmy Fallon? I don’t think so. Jimmy Kimmel? Gross. Now that I think about it, I also feel sorry for young single men worldwide because watching Craig Ferguson was like a masterclass in flirting, so I expect a decline in birthrates in English-speaking countries beginning nine months from now. Compounding the problem is the fact that Craig’s female fans can no longer count on their nightly Fergasms to get them in the mood.
As a parting gift to his loyal fans, the Late Late Show has put together this great video featuring a cavalcade of Craig’s favourite guests, which serves as both a tribute to the last ten years and a sign that Craig probably won’t be silent for long.
In typical Ferguson fashion, the video features a song by a little-known Scottish band called Dead Man Fall, and it’s a damn fine tune. I could have sworn it was a long-lost Coldplay track, but I’m not going to fault Dead Man Fall for sounding so much like Coldplay since they’ve picked the right era from the band to emulate.
It’s that time of the year again, when every website, media outlet, and pundit in the known universe provides their year-end lists for the best in music, movies, books, craft beers, or whatever their topic of choice may be.
Here at Dynamic Range Radio, that would normally mean it’s time to announce the Dynammy Award nominees, which, for the past several years, have been my alternative to the Grammy Awards, whose current batch of nominees are as laughable as ever, with the possible exception of Beck’s Morning Phase being nominated for Album Of The Year.
Normally I would provide a list of 15 nominees for Best Song, enough for a mixtape, along with five nominees for Best Album and Best Sound Quality, but this year I’m doing something a bit more stripped-down, highlighting the five artists with new music in 2014 who I spent the most time listening to.
Does the fact that I couldn’t find fifteen songs worth highlighting at the end of the year mean it was a bad year for music or just a bad year for me, personally? Probably a little of both. I’ve definitely had less time to focus on Dynamic Range Radio this year, and less desire to seek out new music in general.
Still, a few things did manage to catch my ear in 2014, starting with:
Oh Susanna is the stage name of Suzie Ungerleider, a singer-songwriter who was born in Massachusetts but raised in Vancouver. As you can probably guess from her stage name, she works in the area of Americana, Alt-Country, or Modern Folk, which all mean more or less the same thing, so you can pick your favourite label and apply it as you wish. If you’re a fan of Patty Griffin, The Be Good Tanyas, or The Wailin’ Jennys, then Oh Susanna is probably right in your wheelhouse.
For this album, she teamed up with producer Jim Bryson, a member of Kathleen Edwards’ touring band, with the idea of performing songs by other Canadian songwriters she knows and respects, such as Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett, and Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, but what separates Namedropper from other cover albums is that none of these songs have ever been recorded before. All the songwriters in question provided these songs with this album in mind, allowing Oh Susanna to put her personal stamp on them. The end result is both fresh and familiar, and one of my favourite albums of the year.