Feeling weird. I put on the record that I love.
In like 2007 an anonymous stranger came knocking on my last.fm inbox and said "we have similar taste, want to trade some mp3s?" and I said wow, okay, sure!
I can think of a handful people who directly sculpted my musical taste. My first ever internet friends were three internationally located furries (US, UK, AR) all like 7-9 years older than me. I didn't tell them I was 11, I was just grateful to have friends. I'm sure they could tell both of these things. This was MSN Groups, I volunteered to edit HTML and graphics for their Tails fansite. (I had not played any Sonic game, I still have hardly played any Sonic game.) One of them bestowed a series of his mix CDs unto me, one file transfer at a time - real Napster comedy stuff. Moxy Fruvous, TMBG, Weird Al probably. (Another of the three furries was into house music. I liked house music for like a year.)
So that got me going for a while. Before that, I was taking piano lessons but never actually listened to music recreationally. This was a whole new world for me. And then shortly thereafter, someone much closer to my age accidentally started a community on deviantART which became my home for the next 8 years. He had the same taste as the furry, but with less emphasis on comedy. He fleshed out my mp3 library and pulled me towards indie rock.
And then I found out that Toxic The Machine AKA Marko The Odd AKA B0b Barker, mp3.com era mashup man, animutationeer, and contemporary of Neil Cicierega in his flash days, hosted an internet radio show of basically that same kind of stuff. I had to join an actual IRC room to witness it (also turned out to be furries. Actually, like 6 or 7 years later I was a freshman in college and somehow it was revealed that one of my classmates was also a member of that IRC community of maybe 70 people tops. We didn't remember each other from the chatroom, but we knew all the same people. She dropped out or transferred almost immediately, I remember she once had an off-campus boyfriend come to drive her to a Sonic Burger [which must have been over an hour away]). Toxic did a good job pretending this literal 12 year old hanging on his every word was not exhaustively irritating. He got me into Barenaked Ladies (I bought Gordon entirely on his recommendation) and shibuya-kei; his taste was much more varied in a "i am a cool pirate who knows how to use torrents to find unbelievable things" way. When I got older we would occasionally send each other playlist challenges on Livejournal. There's still a 2011 last.fm message in my inbox where he asked if I had any haunted carnival sounding stuff. (well, NOW i do, Tox!!) Don't know where he went, don't know how to contact him. Hope he's doing well. He probably doesn't remember me. WAit. Earlier this week I had a dream I met him at a beach. Whoa
Many many friends and strangers and algorithms have contributed to my musical taste. These are the people who just outright tractor-beamed their entire music brain to me and I was like well, this is a whole new 25% of me that wasn't here moments ago.
So this was 2007, like 2-4 years after everything previously mentioned, and that stranger from the first paragraph showed up, primarily curious about a fake band I scrobbled. (That was an AMIP joke from my IRC/webchat days that my friend Erica created. Sometimes I still reach into that well for song inspiration. A few years ago I wrote "Corn Salad Is A Benefit.") This is what I remember of their playlist:
But then Brothers Creeggan!!!! Look! The subject of the article rears its head.
The Brothers Creeggan are brothers. Jim (upright bass, vocals, left) and Andy (piano, percussion, vocals). They were members of Barenaked Ladies. Jim still is. They both sometimes try to play every single instrument they can get their hands on, they both write and sing very sweetly. This does not sound like what you think Barenaked Ladies sounds like. This is more contemplative.
It wasn't till 2015 or so that I hunted down their entire catalog. Their debut album "The Brothers Creeggan" is packed full of energy, lots of bass & conga duets. Of all of them, this sounds closest to Barenaked Ladies. (There are a couple songs that became BNL songs.) But it was recognizable as jazz. There's a real weird song with John Millard of the Polka Dogs as a clown (SEE, Toxic??) Jim gets to play bass guitar(!) and sing like with a new wave vibrato on some stuff and they pull in a 1994 Alanis Morrisette to sing a harmony. They get their parents to play a song. What a cute album. Ends with a hammered dulcimer iterative improvisation.
Second album came out a few years later. "The Brothers Creeggan II." Lots of instrumental or close to instrumental songs. Why Won't They Bite? is like, minimalist New Orleans jazz. Cyclical and iterative. Live At Montreaux is an instrumental that gets jammy at times but has so many HOOKS in it that I forget sometimes they're all from the same song. Andy had been travelling globally to study music as part of his degree, and he wrote a few songs with Latin rhythms and Spanish lyrics. Jim wrote a song about a pirate. This is the album where the music begins to feel sentimental. "Suite For Sarah" is a song based on a melody someone's pet bird sang. "Sous La Pluie" is a little French ditty that Natacha, Andy's Acadian wife sings. Songs as moments; moments of emotion, rumination, intimacy. This is a thing I do not usually value in the music I consume. I learned to appreciate it when I first heard the Brothers Creeggan. They sound like the best kind of brothers, able to respond to and support each other musically, gentle and capable. Everything feels familiar to me. How did they do this.
The third album came out in 2000 I think. It's called Trunks and it features a photo of them as children wearing trunks. Man I could dedicate a whole page to this album too. Suffice it to say that "Stuck" is where Andy became an amazing guitarist - like, I am able to play that song on guitar, and I am not an amazing guitarist, but that he was able to arrange such a full piece of music for like, open chords and stilted fingerpicking.... I learned it immediately the first time I heard it and I still play it all the time. Beautiful song. A pop song! Definitely a pop song! This is the pop record. Oh boy. And the next track, "Fondly Yours," got a freakin MUSIC VIDEO where they're wearing headlamps like miners. It's a cute waltz where Andy plays in 6/8 and Ian plays in 3/4. Oh, by the way, they got a drummer, Ian McLauchlan! He is as delicate as the other brothers are. I don't especially know from jazz drum kit, but he sounds quite capable to me. Then a little subdued funk song about the time their third brother (not a musician) got stuck in the refrigerator. It's like how Homestar Runner connects with people by creating an atmosphere of sibling inside jokes? LIke, quite literally some of the jokes on Homestar Runner are jokes the creators (also brothers) had as kids. This is even more direct. They are inviting you into their family with this song. And they got Kevin, who had just joined Barenaked Ladies as Andy's replacement, to play the same sort of electric guitar arpeggios he played on massive pop hit "One Week." This was never a single, this was going nowhere. But now he's part of the family too.
I can't keep talking about every single song. I haven't even started talking about the album I meant to talk about. But Lila and Survey The Situation sound like Jim and Andy trying to write songs with the same sound, but Jim overestimated Andy's stride and wrote a confusing historical fiction ballad in 5/4, and Andy underestimated Jim's and wrote a cut-time traditional-sounding song about a matriarch. Both songs are beautiful. It feels like role reversal.
There are a bunch of other beautiful songs on this album, with steel pans and slide guitar and operatic vocals & tenor. There are two very dancey instrumental jams towards the end where they get to shred on piano and bass; one has a moment where they play anklungs. They let Ian do some break beats. And then they end with an accordion/upright bass/drum kit 6/8 rendition of Hans Christian Andersen's Inchworm. Incredible. You should get this album. It's not easy to find I guess. If you can't find it and you want to hear it, tell me.-
Sleepyhead opens on beat one, no count-in, no fanfare. electric piano, classical guitar, upright bass drums. "You will be adored, you will be adored. You will be adored, you will be adored" is the chorus. Jim sings it and then Andy dances around it in harmony. The brothers' lyrics often feel like poems that, if I were writing, I would really have to exercise a lot of restraint to not flesh out or embellish. "I used to call you Blue Eyes though your eyes are brown. You just gave me vague replies, now you are not around." It's not a sad song. The narrator seemsgrateful for the time they spent with this Blue Eyes, and they wish them well on their journey. "May the skies be clear when the crowds all cheer. [...] I'll be with them at the show." In the chorus half a bar gets dropped every time. It's unobtrusive if you're not paying attention but if you are, it's like a secret musician's wink.
Anna On The Moon is second. It is based on what I would refer to as a drone, but I am not a real musician. I feel like we can always hear the pedal tone and almost always the 5th. But there are other scale tones that come into play a lot. IVs and iis and a V7. There's so much going on, different types of guitars, dobro, viola. One guitar is Ed Robertson's of Barenaked Ladies. The harmony vocal is provided by Canadian folk mainstay Sarah Harmer. (I saw a video of Jim and Sarah playing another song about a moon (by the Hip) and that's how I found out about Christine Bougie, who has made another of my favorite cooldown albums ever, Whistle Up A World. That will be for next time.) "Anna on the moon hasn't ever seen a loon. She wants to know where loons grow. I said 'they can't, they're not a plant. They swim in the sky, and fly underwater by your canoe.' She said to me, 'why here you steer? There's nothing on this rock. Time without a clock. Sometimes light, then comes night.' Well, I'm a searcher of all I lost and love." This is like 5 people harmonizing and playing acoustic instruments gently? It feels like, a family camping under the stars or something. I don't know. It's beautiful.
A Vote For Beauty comes next. This is the first Andy song on this record. Jim writes closer to pop usually, Andy writes impressionistic modal things, very sweet, almost afraid to approach you. It is a piano trio ballad for the most part, but there is a section of arco bass when the energy crests. Starting gentle, as a droning response. "We'll send a note to your family saying you're happy but not typical." This song is just, a moment. "Falls will rise, float, fade and turn away, curl, glide..." It feels like he's just, singing as it comes. "Grace will come. May it find you alone on a sofa." It feels effortless. It's clearly not effortless. but the music is very simple. Sometimes a tiny amount of dissonance from fistfuls of piano notes. Ian gets to go a little nuts on the toms & hi hat. And then it fades into nothing again. What is this song about? Because it feels like it's about the feeling you get listening to the song.
Coastline also starts on beat 1. A plucked nylon string guitar and a gentle hi-hat sizzle. There's a dobro in the back. The only English words are "coastline," repeated, the rest is in French. The playful electric guitar, distant whistling of the dobro, the string noise like a gentle breeze or the sound of the sea in the brushed riveted cymbals. I translated the lyrics and they seemed to be about time as tide, things coming and going in waves. Waiting for a human translator friend before I post it and make a fool out of everyone.
Ali Baba's ALSO starts on beat 1. Just crashes right into it. This is a song about a falafel shop. Namely, based on my limited time in Toronto, a chain of falafel shops. This is the song that is like your dad's blues band saying "well, Phil Lynott sang about Dino's Bar & Grill in The Boys Are Back In Town, I'm gonna write a song about MY local!! Okay but your dad wasn't writing a lopsided arco bass ostinato to sing his garbage over. And your dad's brother wasn't doubling the piano solo on vibraphone. "Hot sauce is what I'll try." Terrible. Awful lyrics. "This business keeps us afloat, only rent can sink this boat. The neighborhood won't wait so the brothers and I work late." Oh. This is real. This is a real place, staffed by real people, with real concerns. It almost feels more sincere given the economy (and quality) of language used.
They were invited on a morning show to play this song and the hosts talked to them about the importance of supporting the Islamic community after 9/11?? I guess to write a song that said "I am friends with the Lebanese men who sell me falafel" might have been a big political statement in Ontario in 2001? I don't know. I don't expect it was written like that, but what do I know. I was a 9 year old white New Yorker. I think it was just another of their little Moments, like the song the bird sang. or Andy sitting on a sofa singing about sitting on a sofa. They wrote a song about the place they went for lunch. And somewhere there's an interview where they say the workers hung the CD on their wall. That's sweet. That's like the kind of interaction you read about in a book.
Then there's a false start of them recording the next song, Rocking Chair. But Jim says "I fumbled." And Andy sings "Fumbled" and plays a few keys. It's 10 seconds long. And then Rocking Chair starts.
This is the one that took the longest for me to get behind. It sounds so empty, just a ol'-fashioned rock & roll shuffle, electric guitar and honky tonk piano and 3 piece harmonies (hi Ian). It's just like an opportunity for Andy to do a cute honky tonk solo maybe? Could it be? I think it's just about time passing relentlessly while you idly fiddling with whatever it is that you do and you suddenly look up and see "the end in sight." "I thought time was standing still, but look at the dust on the windowsill. I'm no longer 21, and I see I have some laundry to be done." What?!?? What is this band. I still don't get it. But I like the idea of a simple rocker in their oeuvre.
"You love fall, I love spring. You love anything that I can't sing. You love only birds with broken wings." The harmony and piano accompaniment are sometimes a little ominous, or lost in thought, but they resolve. Cute. It's like an Ivor Cutler song.
The A section of Sometimes is, man. It's in 6 but they drop a beat once every 4 bars. Is that 23/8. I don't know music. "Sometimes" is very minimal, thoughtful. "Sometimes I'm sincere but you're always in style." A few verses later, "A style is like a single note that you'll never ever find. Today you're like the clouds and the tide." Verses interweave. There is piano and steel pan and guitar all moving in and out of each other. Ian plays congas & cymbals. Feels transient. Feels like a snapshot of something in progress rather than a starting point or a destination.
Okay, if I'm going to call that the journey then Long And Slow is definitely the destination. What a powerhouse. First off, the whole thing's in 5. There are a lot of weird little interlocking rhythms and moments of start/stop but they are all functions of the 5/4 time signature. Lyrically it feels domestic. "How's the chicken? I cleaned up the kitchen." And then a little more like Much Ado About Nothing classical absurdism. "I bake up a pie made of clouds in the sky. When the queen gives a try, I win a prize: a kiss goodbye." This is an understatement. Please listen to this one. The man goes nuts on the vibraphone and he rips into an unexpected accordion solo that sounds like an analog synth. I know that The Brothers Creeggan make quite different music than I make (but of course I started playing upright bass because of Jim and stuff like hammered dulcimer because of Andy). They write gentle, thoughtful jazzy folky songs. I write car crashes. I know this. And maybe that's why I love their gently complicated music so much, because it feels like a world I can never breach. But THIS song, Long And Slow, I am absolutely ENVIOUS of this song like none other in their catalog. I wish I had ever been smart enough to ever have any one of the many rhythmic, melodic, or arrangement ideas that they put into this one. What a track.
Okay, time for a dynamic change. That was the exciting song. Here come the sad songs. This song is called "Bye Song." Opening with nylon guitar, upright bass, ride cymbal. As the melody begins to blossom, the guitar and bass and drums get more adventurous. I feel like it is still harmonically recognizable but we went on a little walk. Hammered dulcimer and the softest arco bass appear to fill the spaces between the verses. "'Come down here,' we go, 'then we'll all go home.'" The song seems to end.
And then a new riff comes up, a much more grounded one, a more optimistic one. "I'm singing but I'm sad, I'm singing low." Oh. The riff resolves quite nicely and then too peters out and we get another wave of the most harmonic part of the first half of the song. Andy vocalizing in unison with the bowed bass sounds like one woodwind instrument. He has such a crazy expressive voice when he needs to. I think I love this song because it allows me to not listen to it as a musician. I can feel what comes next, I can gesture towards where a good feeling chord comes from, or when a particular bass fill I've memorized surfaces. But I don't know how we get there. If I try to play along I get lost thinking about what key or mode or rhythm we're ever in.
When the B section comes back, they sing over it. "I'm floating and I don't care, I'm floating anywhere," Andy sings. And then Jim sings on top of it, "Why are things for there crying cause for here?" The whole track swells and dissipates. Andy has said this song was about visiting his mother in law in the hospital. He played this acoustic guitar riff over and over for her while she was on what became her deathbed.
I don't know if there is a similar story behind the next track, Grey. It sounds far more literal than Bye Song and also features vocals from both Brothers. It opens with a piano ostinato on the right hand that the left hand also begins to play half a bar late. It is a hypnotizing effect. "I'd only seen a sky like that once in a memory, but I couldn't touch it or be clear about, and I wound around the coast almost with nothing to say."
And then full band entry, arco bass chugging on every beat, Ian gets to do the gentlest breakbeats. Feels like we switch to major for a brief moment in the instrumental. The tiniest hints of hammered dulcimer & vibraphone accompany, you'd think only piano if you weren't reading the liners. Jim sings a desperate plea. "My face fading from sight. Picture comes clear of the night. A fever too hot to control. Doctor's word was 'put him in the cold' so you drew the bath and put me in the water to my face. My skin numbing, I looked to you, praying for your sun to get through." The groove continues till fade out.
Last track! They serve us the simplest, most compact piece of heartbreaking pop ballad in the world. It's called "Will You Come Back To Me" and those are the only words. It's the harmonic composition that makes it work. The tension between piano notes, the expanses of space where he might otherwise play a complicated solo, the sympathetic harmony. If you are learning piano, learn this one. Super simple shot of theory to wake you up. I love this song. Andy said it was written about a bus.
Ian McLauchlan died in 2009 from complications of endocarditis. If you want to feel emotions, you can read his obituary while listening to the last song he recorded with the brothers, "Will You Come Back To Me." Nowadays when they play live, it's at the Barenaked Ladies cruise ship festival, where there is statistically likely to be a double-digit number of Brothers Creeggan fans. They get BNL drummer Tyler or BNL non-drummer Ed to play drums with them.
Jim is still in Barenaked Ladies making money. Andy put out several solo albums, mostly of ponderous neoclassical music I think (I haven't actually gotten my hands on them, if you have I and II please give them to me) but one that's just grooves all the way down. That one is fun, Andiwork III. That's the most recent Andy thing we've heard, but he produces some arty bands sometimes and I believe works as a professor somewhere. There was a video of him singing a new cute song on a ukulele in the back seat of someone's car in like 2019, and then a podcast interviewed him and released it on Christmas day implying that some time or another there'll inevitably be another Brothers jamboree where they scrounge up the songs they've accumulated and record it for me and probably only me to buy and play 100 times. Or, well, it's been 18 years. I need not to get my hopes so high.
They did a live Brothers Creeggan show with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in 2013. I found out about it too late, and my life was in shambles at the time, but, if they announce something like that ever again........ This is the only band I'd book plane tickets for. They have done so much for me.
This is absolutely 100% my go-to cooldown album. I don't talk much about this because I have very limited experiences and others are much more experienced and more eloquent. Sleepyhead by Brothers Creeggan will not stop a panic attack but it is the electric blanket I wrap myself in immediately after one. Alternatively if I get those little tingles like "this is about to pop off" and I have no medication on me at the time, sometimes Sleepyhead gets the job done. I know the world they create on Sleepyhead is gentle and can be taken at face value and fade into the background, or I can focus at basically any moment of any song and find something mathematically/rhythmically/melodically satisfying, or I can focus at any other moment and find a little musical mystery that I cannot quite explain. Or I can listen to the dumb song about how Jim's no longer 21 and has to do his laundry. There is so much to occupy my mind here.
I don't know how to thank them. I don't think they especially want or need to be thanked. I am sure it would be weird to send a cold email to someone saying "hi I've been listening for 13 years and you sometimes literally keep me on this earth," but I have sent and received emails like that in the past and it is usually way less frightening and more positive than I ever expect. But like, they're adults. Hey, while I'm rambling. I was in a band where the leader selected me and this other guy and we were both multi-instrumentalists, the other guy previously played bass for a past band of the leader but entirely on keyboard. They asked if I was more comfortable on keyboard or bass, I said keyboard absolutely. The bassist rose to the challenge and within a few years was playing fretless bass more rhythmically than I ever hope to. But he did a thing early on in his tenure as a bassist, he reached out to some bassists he liked asking for tips. One of whom was Danny Weinkauf of TMBG. And the story is that my friend got on the metro-north out to Long Island, sat in Danny's personal home, and they sat around listening to Motown for an hour or two.
Uh, I don't remember what the point of that story was. I didn't ask a lot of questions but I believed him because I get that vibe from Danny. I want to be as patient and willing and giving as Danny was in that story. What a mensch.
Um, so anyway, I love music