Unmaking Fear, Remaking Happiness

Music is the key to happiness, as my life’s research continues to inform such a hypothesis, it continues to be more and more true. Live music as an audience or performer continues to bring community together in delightful ways. As a hobby musician I have always greatly enjoyed being present while others explore musical topographies of placemaking. This quest has taken me through hills and valleys of emotion, road trips, and friendships. I am so very grateful for all of it. In early years, this was led by live folk concerts in Athabasca, AB; in recent years it has been the independent music production of friends and/or well-known musicians across Canada as I continue to seek out joy in each place I visit. (Thanks to parents for keeping the Alberta-Maritime duality alive!)

For over two years, the 17th of each month has been a day of synthesis, of surprises, and of inspiring moments which have continued to merge into each other. This month, June 2016, has been no less than the same kind of surprising wonderful.

While in Montreal recently I bought a book entitled DIY Magic, and while flipping through the short chapters, I stopped at chapter 17, curious about what it held. Mystically perfect, it was about bringing this kind of serendipity into our lives by welcoming patterns and supporting the factors which help contribute to increased collaboration. I chuckled, at this very synthesis reinforcing itself.

In mentioning this to fellow enthusiasts of living while in Montreal, they supported my wondering: what would take place on this 17th?

The answer was indeed a beautiful surprise, and a synthesis of many of the unravelings I have experienced since February 2014. Another neat form of influence on this reality, and because I’ve been opened and broken to see beautiful patterns, I smiled and savoured that perhaps the 17th is not just important to my own psychology, but important on the cosmic level.

Cosmic patterns notwithstanding, I am quite pleased with Dan Mangan’s ‘surprise’ release Unmake EP as a reminder and distillation of the wisdom of Club Meds.

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It is a self proclaimed artistic compilation of gratuitous play, as Dan wrote and refined his most recent full length album songs like Whistleblower came to be but didn’t have a place among the other songs. The internet seems to agree this EP release is a fine home for such gentle works.

I wholly enjoy the title ‘Unmake’ as it refers to the dissolution of what has been for 5+ years as his band formed around him and informed each new sound development. Loel (of Wintersleep) takes over on drums as Kenton Loewen focuses on more solo endeavours, though Gord Grdina remains as +Blacksmith is notably not a part of this new product. A stripped down solo structure for these songs is a continuation of the mini-tour Dan constructed in Fall 2015 through BC and Alberta. Hearing songs like ‘Vessel’ without the band or studio effects (or animated cartoons from the psychadelia-inspired video) was my first introduction to what this new sound might be like, patiently waiting for the next release.

Unmake also speaks to the subject matter of the poetry in Race to the Bottom – where the idea of destabilizing normal could actually be seen as progress in the eyes of individuals not benefitting from the corporate model of happiness. From his initial philosophy which helped get a Polaris Prize nod in 2010 “spent half my life in the customer service line” (Robots, NNVN) this angst and anxiety about the state of the world has only grown to be a deeper creative metaphor.

These songs can be understood as a snapshot of the realities of being a North American in 2016. We have an idealization of our lives dominating how we understand and interact with the world. The point of Kitsch, Forgetery (with Tegan), and these new additions ‘Whistleblower’ ‘Race to the Bottom’ + ‘Hang With Me’ (Robyn cover), are about embracing the alertness of vulnerability in daily interactions. To remember moments are both important and fleeting specks in time helps adjust our nostalgic tendencies.

During the performance with Nova Scotia Symphony in January 2016 Dan explained Kitsch to have a double meaning: both as the rustic style of craft and/or vintage home décor being ‘kitschy’ considered to be in poor taste but in an ironic or knowing way; but also the idealization of successful people to be heroes without seeing the human qualities of their living.

I am grateful for these opportunities I have seized to be witness to Dan’s live performances if only for these moments of wisdom. For, of all people to have kitschy idolation over, I have most commonly turned to Dan Mangan for his soothing tenor and conscious undoing of this mess of culture we’re in.

This EP has been received with mixed reviews, but those who get it are wholly appreciative. I had the opportunity to share ‘Race to the Bottom’ with my high school social studies teacher (a vegetarian social justice advocate, a guerrilla geographer and former soldier, presently taking great joy in retirement life in Northern Alberta forest and farms). He properly used the ‘sad face’ emoticon on Facebook to express how true this commentary is to the state of the world. It doesn’t offer many solutions but the perspective of the pale blue dot image for scale of our problems does capture the heart and purpose of living. It may not be a cheerful song, but a catchy hook with meaningful lyrics enables enjoyable reflection on these larger than life issues.

In the indie88 Facebook Live interview on the morning of June 17th, Dan reflects how they may not be happy songs but he is generally feeling pretty decent – these are not meant to be depressing. Merely reflective and encouragingly insightful. I hope to continue to use this music and other clever songwriting to enable conversation about interesting problems in the world. This is the ultimate way to find a solution, silence will never solve anything.

Regarding Robots – Dan is bringing it back to live shows without the expectation of making it bigger and better each time, but instead “playing it in the present rather than fulfill nostalgia.” It is a song of happy repetition, and of course one of his most famous works, but as mentioned in an interview in December 2015 “you go crazy doing the same kind of show over and over again.” I can only imagine.

In this vein, regarding both Redux-es, these ‘cover songs’ from Club Meds, a fascinating approach of: ‘can they survive a different treatment?’ is applied, and hearing Forgetery with Tegan Quin is a beautiful reminder of many possibilities within the same formula of music and lyrics. It was also key in this new project to engagingly empower strong women in the pop realm, which is a new trajectory from +Blacksmith being all males.

The way I understand it, fear is a crippling monster which will tell us not to say/think/do/believe something in the world but it will also limit our opportunity for joy. I have come to settle on this understanding in some part thanks to Dan’s own progression of life informing lyrics informing our audience’s reception. His song ‘Jude’ offers a meditation on maturation – ‘so much for fear’ being a focus of the lullaby to his son. It is also used as a score for Hector and the Search For Happiness, underscoring the importance to fight for a better world. We should not be afraid of our past, nor the uncertainties of the future. Race to the Bottom is a reminder of the trauma of daily life in the present which can be unsettling but we gain nothing by being afraid. We may not always be happy, but we are working to preserve the good in the world. This preservation of good maintains the memory of happiness, and ensures it is possible in the future, for prolonged generations to come.

A line from the film is inset into the cadence of lyrics in Race to the Bottom “nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be.” Upon rewatching the film I take great pleasure in seeing this crossover – clearly an artistic choice on Dan’s part, having been so involved in the production but also personally aligning with the sentimentality of the message of searching happiness in his work.

One lesson I take from a few days’ reflection is to Unmake the pillars of nostalgia in our memory banks, but keep the strength and joy and lessons. We are aware the colonial legacy of our ancestors is something which is now quite outdated. The world deserves our creativity to do the work of goodness.

This recurrence of serendipity will continue to guide my way through the world, but I have no way of knowing what it is I will discover as the 17th rolls around again. A philosophy which I began to be a peace with thanks to Dan’s assurance: serendipity is life.

In the wisdom of Hector’s journey seeking and studying happiness, we must learn (through whatever means necessary) to ‘take comfort in the rich, random patterns of life’ to reconcile our desire for happiness in the routine of the everyday.  Once we do, fear and sadness (under the code names anxiety and depression) continue to distance themselves from our daily reality.

 

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6Q with Old Towns (Robbie Shirriff) in Halifax, NS

While in Halifax for some midweek evening shows, Robbie, his girlfriend Becca and I moseyed around on a beautiful afternoon. We recorded this interview on Citadel Hill in beautiful sunshine with a mini picnic and some banjo pickin.

After knowing Robbie for a couple years now, we were overdue for this promotional chat. It was serendipitous to meet up with him on the East Coast after we both found ourselves in new realities next to the ocean.

 

Always a pleasure, Robbie!

Check out his tunes here:

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and keep an ear out for more shows @ http://www.oldtowns.ca

Thanks for listening!

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Collections of Stardust, part 1 of Yesterday’s Tale

2 years ago, give or take a wrinkle in space time, she met a pale blue dot of galactic gravity.

He helped her find mirrors to shine sunlight into the deepest part of her caves. with eyes that shone like diamonds and a track record of defeat, he knew he may be more than she could handle. still he offered two diamonds shaped by a hard world, polishing her as reciprocity for being tough enough to shape complicated carbon into mantles of trust and collaboration.  Neither had any plans for living next to despair forever, wondering how long this game could last. Pompeii had no time for rest or vests, Vesuvius claimed active history; our humanity swept away by more forceful dust.

She used bars as litmus tests of emotion. Radio at a high frequency promised highly metamorphic metaphors sustaining sympathetic cymbals on well timed existence. We hardly know our selves, we’ve always learned through others. Jesus can’t help you find the mental health you lost. Mocking you from the dismantling foundation of certainty in hospitality you’ve always celebrated. Stumbling into another’s shared third place; another Monday for the books. The first day of creation, Gregorian decided. The first step on collaborative connection with this environment. Culturally shared geographical spaces become places. How many of our shared stories have taken place similarly? There is earthly consistency for destruction bringing new life.

This undercover spiritual scientist had other intentions in mind, not just our collective best. Challenging this, our upbringing, against understanding synechdotal synchronicity. We mustn’t put up a fuss for the end to arrive just in time for grief. It’s all been a dream, one that plays out in patterns and smiles. We keep using words like good and bad, pretenses for emotional evacuation posing for sympathy. Forging our own ways through habits of forgetery.

It’s hard to believe this is more than a dream. A hard world, a heavy bag, the weight of how it all seemed. Next to happiness and enjoyment. Falling through cracks and finding a rabbithole of generosity and communal city.

Released from fibres of a familiar weave, this freedom from winter’s sleeves challenges everything I knew about creating seams in time’s fabric. No longer tethered to expectations of next. No longer disappointed by a withering eternal ‘yet’.

SAVOUR IT. The love, the feeling of peace. Compliments + congratulations. Beastial pedestals of ceremonial competitive complacency.

SAVOUR the moments of simplicity as record of potential, of patterned culture. Even on days when every movie seems like yesterday’s script; you hardly had time to memorize the lines before fame’s curtain closed. They say try again tomorrow, with less enthusiastic repose. Yesterday’s script inspires today’s always. And never. We know we can always be better.

One such movie, The Giver, narrates this well: “it is the memory which keeps me going.” “Life. The More I Experienced, the more I wanted.”

Triggering self statements of actualizing truth:

I treat those around me like dirt, thinking I am the greatest seed. But I tend to myself, and plan to leave after sharing pollen with other flowering seeds among common weeds.

Unhealthy avoidance of these truths and fears bleed us out, organically faltering, continually altering, each thing we pretend to consider.

Narcissus waited for the Echo to guide him home. Familiar moments of faith, lust, diminished fifths, and captive in reflection.

synergy of the sol

When you arrived, it was with a breath of goodness and a hug of love.
Now with a reminder of our love in recent memory (you stepped out this morning)
I’m smiling with your grace and joy, it’s a part of me again
Active progression of thought and rhythm keep this life enthused
Daily breaths of life kept taught (inform the confused)
Keep apologies next to gratitude
On the bedside of your anxiety
Distribute as needed, generosity of spirit can live quietly.
In hearts of bitter experience, allowing sublimation
Cleansing, resting, refined joy in captive times
Moments of honest love, touching toes
As toughness grows ever gentle the sensation
Soulful rhymes overwhelm the boy
With the problems of the nation
Sneaking requests into beauty you hadn’t known yet
getting misty at mangan’s phrasings
finding new sound always, individual grazings
Requests for change, demanding an honest stage

Where’s freedom to live when captive strange holds tight
Where’s struggle to remain if competition is no longer the game.
In remeeting ourselves in these fresh eyes
(swirls of entropic destiny aligning lottery’s prize)
You speak of distant loves with reasons to be by their side
And many more meetings left waiting for a ride
An energetic resilience will save us from our failure
Not our addictions or our saviour
Obsession dissection is overthinking our true forte
Of gentle love and brightened song
With great desire to sing song along
Pretend until you get it
Break it til you fix it
Of all the deranged masses’ screaming insanity
Freak meetings of synergy are all too often met with hostility
Until serene reminders joining anxious and peace
As mirrors of the same, well brought up poor and alone
Are you an echo of a grief living deep?
Is all this life just waiting to be buried by sleep?

Let’s get to it then, move on move up move out.
Find the ‘worth it’ in every sigh.
Grip tightly what keeps you “I”
Introspection is often too nearsighted, distance meaning fear
Extrapolate these meanings, go forth without tears

When you find softest tears from your pupils
Wrinkled pages keeping score
These are the moments of true brilliance,
This is the forgetery of poor
Stains of our so(u)l(e) making statements among the ink
Showing off emotion without closing off or out
Applying devotion as travellers’ idea grout
Is love just pity in a pretty box of sugar?
Do we know how to taste it, finding truth in disgust
Understanding beyond our meditation, instead medication
Insulin of apologizing can’t fix rooted indigestion
Turgor required for movement
Stalled in periphery and genuine limits of capacity
Each moment of change brings us closer to home
The one we’ve never known
The hope we’ve never shown

[Jude’s 6Q] feat. Astral Swans > “what calms you down freaks me out” <

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Astral Swans from the stage in Cranbrook. December 1, 2015

 

“I once saw a dead bird on the sidewalk, so being a sensitive guy easily affected by death.. I wrote a song about it.” Matt Swann offers some lighthearted stage banter in Cranbrook, BC, at the end of a season of touring small venues and humble stage shows throughout Canada. This time, sharing a stage with his Madic Records manager, Dan Mangan.

From the initial press release of the label announcement, Dan has been forthright about the experimental nature of this personal project:

“I’d had this longstanding pipe dream of having a boutique label. For years, it seemed a fulfilling hobby; to help spread the word about music I believed in that wasn’t getting enough attention. It was never quite the right time, and I figured if it ever were to be, that it would happen fairly organically, and because a particular album or project fell in my hands. It took about one listen through Astral Swans’ rough mixes to light a proverbial fire.” (http://danmanganmusic.com/dan-mangan-launches-madic-records/)

Speaking to Dan about working with Matt and developing this toned-down touring style, he confirmed this experiment was a mutual decision, as, “Matt has zero intentions of world domination. If he could play to 80 people every night he would be so happy.”

Lyrics are meant to be the focus of Astral Swans’ performance, with lines arising around sensitivity in the wake of death, compromising social situations, or simply having a conscience in a world that doesn’t seem to value it. Matt’s sensitive existential musings are summarized by the line: Continue reading