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Tegan and Sara

In Tegan and Sara’s 13-year career, they’ve made progressively influential material that has earned them a global following. The Canadian twins are back again, but this time they’re playing ’90s inspired music influenced by artists many of us have become increasingly nostalgic for this year as electronica seemingly devolves. Released in 2013, Heartthrob is the duo’s seventh studio album, filled with infectious singles like “I Was a Fool,” “Closer,” and “Now I’m All Messed Up”—modern pop/rock that makes you feel young and carefree, in the same vein as Ace of Base or “Baby Baby”-era Amy Grant. Tegan and Sara will be supporting Katy Perry on her Prismatic World Tour in September, which will also mark the anniversary of their much-celebrated fourth album, So Jealous. In the meantime, they’ll be doing what they do best: bridging the pop and indie music worlds as they finish up their Let’s Make Things Physical tour with The Courtneys—a Vancouver-based slacker pop trio blowing up skirts with their flying nun-influenced punk/pop that also drifts back to the sound of the early ’90s.

Tue., June 24, 8 p.m., 2014

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Water: A Sweet, if Somewhat Scattershot, Collaboration

How can we save the planet when we can’t even save ourselves? That’s the essential question posed by Water,
a sweet if somewhat scattershot collaboration by Filter, a lively British troupe with a zesty approach to the classics, and director David Farr that concluded a brief run at BAM’s Next Wave Festival.

An exploration of climate change and
personal stasis, Water opens with a l980s lecture by a marine biologist (Ferdy
Roberts), who uses an overhead projector
to show how water molecules cleave
together — as people must in order to halt global warming. Years later, his two sons, Graham (also Roberts) and Kris (Oliver Dimsdale), meet fractiously in Vancouver
to scatter his ashes. One hotel room away,
a policy advisor (Poppy Miller) tries to
convince other countries to agree to
environmental accords as she fends off
angry online calls from her cave-diving ex.

Water twins these narratives, not always successfully, backed by tech low and high. While the use of projection and screens is spirited, it falters in comparison to what more digitally savvy companies can accomplish. Water flows best when it concerns itself not with slick visuals or grand themes, but with the local, the personal, and the soppily
human.

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Said the Whale

For a Vancouver-based band, Said the Whale creates convincingly sunny West Coast indie rock. Formed in 2007 by songwriters Ben Worcester and Tyler Bancroft, the five-piece has built a repertoire of hooky riffs, breezy vocal harmonies, and choruses sung with the reckless rock ‘n’ roll abandon. Touring in support of their new purposefully misspelled album, hawaiii, expect repetitive yet somehow compelling refrains, solid guitar work, and catchy near-sea shanties.

Tue., Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., 2013

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Vancouver Punks White Lung Have It All Figured Out

Anything you’ve ever heard about White Lung—and mostly anything you need to know—probably came from the mouth of Mish Way. The ferocious singer of the speed-bagging, melodic Vancouver punks does most of the press for the group both by nature—she’s the lyricist—and by trade, given her moonlighting (or sunlighting, technically) as a writer herself, for publications like VICE, Bust, and artist-on-artist site The Talkhouse. She writes on the Internet about the same things she writes for her terror of a powerhouse quartet: shit that pisses her off.

You’d think, after seven years together, that might get old for bassist Grady Mackintosh, drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou, and guitarist Kenneth William. But beyond agreeing that Way would be the first Lung to die in the zombie apocalypse—she’d either “be way too distracted looking at her phone . . . until it was too late,” per Mackintosh, or, says Vassilou, she would lie down in surrender before the surviving even started—they’re anything but resentful.

“I don’t read the interviews, actually,” says Mackintosh. “I don’t even know what she says [most of the time].”

But while Way covers the whys of White Lung, the rest of the band shoulders much of the how.

Some things you ought to know about the other three Lungs: William always drives the van. Grady controls the receipts. And Mish is the self-appointed boss of “socializing and talking,” though for all their furor onstage, the four hardly ever chat in the car.

Vassiliou has prayed at the altar of Hole drummer Patty Schemel since age 13, while Mackintosh—who played guitar as a teenager before taking up bass to join a previous band—owes much to Courtney Love. William met Way when she worked at the bar where he and his teenage, 100 percent unpracticed band booked shows to drink without fake IDs. This is his first official guitarist gig (he’s only played drums in other groups). The rhythm section is open to space travel, if Justin Bieber passes on his opportunity, but only if they can perform there—and Danzig can come, too. And they all immediately recommend “Take the Mirror,” the seething, bitter opener to their 2012 LP Sorry, if you’ve never heard a White Lung song.

But the best thing about the non-screaming Lungs is that what you see—a furiously tight trio with all attentions zoned in on the next lightning-riff or thunder-thwack—is always, and fortunately, what you get. They’re not interested in small talk or postulating on why White Lung works.

Says William, “It’s just more exciting than sitting around in Vancouver.”

“I don’t know. We just started playing and it ended up working,” says Mackintosh. “I’ve toured the most with this band. It just happened.”

For how little explanation they need, and for how comfortable they seem out of the spotlight, there’s no question as to how they feel about staying the course exactly as is. It’s a perfect model.

“I’d rather quit than play with another person in this band,” says William. “If anyone else [joined], what we have would get diluted.”

White Lung play 4Knots Music Festival on Saturday, June 29.

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Mass

Robert Honeywell’s new musical at The Brick just might give you a sympathetic earache. This new tuner, performed exclusively by women and set in present and future New York, Vancouver, and Shanghai, retells the anguished friendship between self-mutilator Vincent Van Gogh and syphilitic Paul Gaugin.

Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: April 13. Continues through April 30, 2013

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Umami Defined Via a Hot Dog

This frankfurter, Dish #13 in our countdown, was designed to showcase umami flavor.

Welcome to 100 Dishes to Eat Now, the tasty countdown leading up to our “Best of 2012” issue. Tune in each day (weekends too!) for a new dish from the Fork in the Road team.

Umami is a term thrown around a lot lately, but who the hell knows what it really means? It was invented by Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda, who was searching for a flavor to supplement the four (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) that had been recognized by philosophers and culinary experts for millenia. But how to describe it?

The new dog is called Okonomi

Meaty and fishy flavors have often been credited with possessing umami, and looking back in time, it seems that the sauce called garum that the Romans used on everything was the essence of umami. In fact, Professor Ikeda defined the term in relation to the broth made form seaweed, which was eventually used to manufacture monosodium glatamate, said to be a flavoring that most closely resembled umami.

Maybe Americans were once afraid of umami, because MSG (marketed as Accent in the United States) was generally discredited in the U.S. during the 1970s as responsible for a set of symptoms — which may have been illusory — called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.

But now everyone wants umami, it seems. Vancouver hot dog chain Japadog has recently added a wiener said to be the soul of umami on its St. Marks menu. The thing is made with an outsize Kurobata frank, which makes a nice pop when you bite into it, but is rather bland on its own. The bun is lined with crunchy sauteed cabbage, and on top are squirted mayo and a brown proprietary sauce, which owes something to Worcestershire — another umami stronghold. Finally, bonito flakes are sprinkled over all, light as new-fallen snow, and providing further fishy taste that umami often involves.

The dog is good, but I’m still not sure it hits the umami nail on the head. Maybe if they sprinkled a little MSG on top…

An aerial view of the hot dog

Japadog
30 St. Marks Place
646-476-2324

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Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie

Celebrity scientist and PBS fixture David Suzuki arrives late to the global-warming-documentary party with this combination of biography and filmed lecture, his last, according to the billing. Director Sturla Gunnarsson doesn’t bring much new to the form beyond a welcome unobtrusiveness and a few fleeting moments of visual elegance. Suzuki’s unimpeachable cred as a longtime climate-change evangelist and swooning regard for the natural world do give the conversation a convincing, if depressing, urgency, but what sets Force of Nature apart is the sweeping diversity of his life. Born in Vancouver to second-generation Japanese-American parents, Suzuki was tossed into an internment camp as a child during WWII, participated in the burgeoning civil rights and eco movements in the 1960s, and leveraged his nascent academic stardom into a durable gig as host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things, among other shows. Gunnarsson ably juxtaposes the septuagenarian geneticist’s personal reflections with scenes from the lecture, and Suzuki’s probing, bittersweet recollections provide genuine insight into his gift for making connections most of us could never conceive. Suzuki’s not obscure by a long shot, and the film indulges in more than a little of the preening egotism for which he’s known (or, by his conservative critics, reviled). That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s among the shrinking segment of public figures worth listening to, though.

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Sightings+Shearing Pinx

What is that inky, weird shadow draped over America? Oh right, it’s Shearing Pinx touring the entire country in one whirlwind month. The Vancouver, BC, trio tumbles forth kicking and shouting into some pretty heavy-duty stoner scuzz that finds strange shapes in what used to be melody. Sightings, meanwhile, keep their noise bent toward the listener, too: No matter how nuts it gets, or how loud the distorted shriek, there is a song in there, man, underneath that racket. Dig it. With Whore Paint, The Dreebs.

Thu., Aug. 18, 8 p.m., 2011

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The Sublime Creations of Destroyer

Destroyer, the project of Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, has a new album out called Kaputt, a clumsy word written in very classy script on the cover. It sounds different from his last album (2008’s Trouble in Dreams), which is something you could say about a lot of Destroyer albums. While Bejar’s home base is a rough, folksy variation on English glam rock, he routinely derails his routine: 2004’s Your Blues, for example, was a synthesizer-heavy, drum-free album that sounds like Les Miserables starring an angry Jewish cantor mid-nervous breakdown. He has released singles of himself speaking over ambient music. He has released an EP of Destroyer covers. He once told an interviewer that the innovation behind 2002’s This Night was to not bother rehearsing his band before recording. The creative self-sabotage is part of his appeal: It’s proof that he’s concerned more for art than brand integrity.

Bejar is known as a sharp lyricist, first and foremost. His writing often deals with music and art: Why people make it, the various ways in which they are terrible at making it, the ideals they compromise to succeed in the marketplace, the spiritual void of those compromises, and other increasingly joyless topics. His observations are funny and careful; his disses are as brutal as Oscar Wilde’s. (“Why do you work for the festival when you’re sick of lifting spirits to the sky? ‘Body’ and ‘soul’: two words for that same nameless thing you have never known.” Daaaaaaaaaamn.) His voice is needling and whiny, but it has to be: In a world where people are generally more comfortable with the words “Let’s party” than “You’ve got to stay critical or die,” whining is his best chance of being heard.

Kaputt is his leisure-rock album. Sometimes it sounds like early-’90s New Order, sometimes like mid-’80s Roxy Music, sometimes like a whole list of barely remembered bands with no discernible legacy. His disco-lite moment, sweatless and continental. There are several smooth trumpet and saxophone solos. They sound generic; they’re there to conjure the idea of a nightclub, the idea of a smooth sax solo. The music has fun, but Bejar doesn’t—he sounds sapped and weary. He’s the smartest guy in the room and bent on walking into rooms where nobody wants to listen to him. He recently told Pitchfork that he recorded some of the vocals while “fixing myself a sandwich.”

These are the juxtapositions that make Kaputt—and all of Bejar’s music—smart and worthwhile. “Poor in Love,” for example, is anthemic in the same way Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” is, the sound of skyscrapers and progress, of ’80s video footage of Tokyo. But the song ends just as it finally starts to build, and concludes with the line, “Why’s everybody sing along when we built this city on ruins?,” which not only feels bad to sing along to, but is effectively an attack on the entire impulse to sing along. It’s like getting a toy for Christmas and immediately being told it is very dangerous.

Kaputt‘s conceit—delivering occasionally philosophical ramblings over cocktail rock—is funny for the same reason it would be funny to have a four-year-old read a quarterly report at a shareholders’ meeting: The context is sour and absurd. But Bejar is also tender, in a backhanded way. As “Blue Eyes” dissolves into ambient prettiness, he half-whispers, “I sent a message in a bottle to the press/It said, ‘Don’t be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves.’ ” As with all his albums, Kaputt‘s most sincere moments are also where its ironies are the thickest, and what saves him from ever sounding academic are the jokes, the asides, the murmurs of the heart—it all goes to show that despite his intelligence, he’s not just a gigantic brain being wheeled around in a jar.

The musical history Bejar revives here is marked by leisure and indulgence, but his imitations sound post-excess, a cold cobblestone street and a hangover. Tired, but beautifully so. Sometimes Kaputt is a facsimile of its influences; sometimes it sounds more like a kind of grotesque commentary. (The opening lines of the title track, which could soundtrack a montage of well-oiled bankers partying in slow-motion: “Wasting your days, chasing some girls all right/Chasing cocaine through the back rooms of the world all night.”) Like Steely Dan’s Gaucho or Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man, it’s both breezy and bitter, a contradiction, an album that grinds against itself relentlessly. The concept is lofty, so it helps that the music is entertaining—maybe his most entertaining, if not his most lyrically rigorous.

Which is an important point: Kaputt is unquestionably a Destroyer album, but the things that I think bothered people about Destroyer before—the relentlessness of the writing, Bejar’s nasal, wordless, quasi-Hebraic choruses—have been toned down. The songs sound shapeless in a way that gives the album a feeling of unprecedented drift. The choruses are mantric and repetitive, and the tracks sound like they could be lengthened or shortened without losing their essence. It’s the first Destroyer album that anyone could dance to (unless you like waltzing alone), and the first I can imagine anyone bothering to remix. Bejar’s chokehold—his brilliant but almost repulsive intensity—is relaxed. All of a sudden, the words really need the music to survive.

The American underground—Bejar’s phrase—is in identity crisis. “Yacht rock” is a concept with cache. Soft-focus opulence is suddenly a virtue. Twentysomethings are making music they would have shit on as teenagers. In LCD Soundsystem’s prophetic words, we’re reeling in “Borrowed nostalgia for an unremembered ’80s,” but the nostalgia has shifted from an alternative sound (post-punk) to a nauseatingly marketable one (in a word, Loggins). The trick now is to make cool what never was, usually with rhetoric and a lot of echo.

Bejar doesn’t hide behind these pretenses. His faith in the sound is a rebuttal to his irony. He’s in deadlock with himself. His love is bitter and strange that way: He prods and pecks and criticizes, but still sounds passionately invested in everything he does. The Destroyer paradox is that every album Bejar makes contains at least one argument for why it shouldn’t exist. The beauty of the paradox is that he makes them anyway.

Destroyer play Webster Hall April 3

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Frog Eyes+Beach Fossils+Pearly Gate Music

Vancouver indie-prog outfit Frog Eyes are basically the new Rush. Who else in Canada is writing such frenetic guitar ballads, full of crazed drumming and vocalist Cary Mercer’s Springsteen-as-Geddy-Lee imitation, not to mention lyrics that decry “and the glory of the economy, is when your dwarf shall become a man . . . hit him in the fucking knees!”? New album Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph pitches the band at their most prolific and their most accessible, thanks to frequent burn-down-the-bar mitzvah-organ solos and Mercer’s quavering death cries. In a perfect world, they’d sell out the Garden. Tonight, enjoy them at the Mercury Lounge at your leisure. With Beach Fossils, Pearly Gates Music.

Sat., June 19, 8:30 p.m., 2010