You sometimes hear, including from me, that the annual Polaris Prize shortlists represent a misleadingly narrow spectrum of Canadian music, dominated by guitar-centric indie and its folksier hinterlands. Ascribe it to the lingering cultural prejudices of this huge small country, the taste consensus of the 200-plus bloggers, broadcasters and critics (like this one) who determine each year’s nominees, the ideological construct of meritocracy, the magnetic undulations of aurora borealis, whatever you prefer. But the performers at last night’s gala defied that critique: in the Art Moderne auditorium built by a ruined mercantile dynasty we heard assaultive riffs, worldly R&B, unbreathing minimalism, queer dance-pop, aboriginal club anthems, and finally a rejection of any such mediation. Jessica Hopper introduced the eventual oversized cheque recipients with two or three sentences: “Godspeed has decided not to be here.”
Last month, I did something I sedulously try to avoid and entered a serious discussion on Facebook. Another music-writer friend posted about Macklemore’s gay-equality single “Same Love“ and asked (to paraphrase), “why would anybody attack this song?”
I left a series of possibly-deranged-looking comments, trying to explain why I and others have such disdain for it: the spectacle of a straight white rapper sanctimoniously calling out “hip-hop culture,” i.e. black people, thereby overshadowing both queer MCs from that culture and his own lesbian collaborator; the adoring reaction from certain excitable websites, as if “Same Love” were a more rebloggable “Strange Fruit”; the well-meaning lyrics’ resemblance to a bad college-entrance essay. Then a bunch of strangers got mad. That almost surprised me, because all I did was echo existing “Same Love” critiques less eloquently. The NYC rapper Le1f tweeted one of the pithiest a few weeks ago, while noting that Macklemore’s #1 hit “Thrift Shop” is also strongly reminiscent of his earlier track “Wut.”
Because the world is occasionally a beautiful place, 2 Chainz included a 28-page cookbook with his new album, B.O.A.T.S. 2 #Metime, which was released earlier this week. While the cookbook in its current form presents recipes for favorites such as shrimp scampi and garlic mashed potatoes, the original version was less focused on tour-bus cuisine and offered more in the way of guerrilla warfare tactics than your average foodie may expect. Here, a deleted entry from the unedited manuscript.
Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers is, among dozens of other things, a musical evocation of the American civil rights movement, scaled to its subject’s full Homeric arc. The work’s 273 minutes expand far beyond what Bayard Rustin called the classical phase of that struggle, reaching back towards the Dred Scott case, forwards to September 11th, and encompassing such abstractions as democracy or the black church.
If Ornette Coleman is the foundational figure of the free jazz era, Anthony Braxton the most mercurial (tough competition), Smith could be its greatest composer, a trumpeter who makes every stray note sound deliberated. He wrote improvisational moments into the suite’s traditionally notated score, and absent any vocals—Ten Freedom Summers was recorded by the author’s usual quartet and an orchestral ensemble—they dance expressively around an austere mass, like light hitting a monument in just the right way. The piece “Emmett Till: Defiant, Fearless” moves through several distinct sections, an ethereal cello solo yielding to violent, sudden and mounting intrusions by all the other instruments. It’s 18 minutes long. They pass at the distended pace of a fugue state.