Cuff The Duke – In Our Time II

Well…detective Frank Burst. The guy with the great name! It’s a sequel to ye olde covers EP, ye olde covers EP the second. Why not, I guess? I actually like this one more, since I wasn’t familiar with half the songs beforehand, and therefore my reaction can generally be – “hey! good song!” instead of “quit murdering John Lenin’s memory, you Ossified homewreckers,” so that’s all good. But still – cover album ceiling! Nothing here sounds unique and/or inspirational, so it’s like you went to Guelph and saw a really, really good cover band at the bar, and it turned out they had a bunch of good albums, and that was nice, but then your girlfriend got hit by a car and was in a wheelchair, and she encouraged you to seek out sexual contact with able-bodied women, and at first you refused out of moral derpitude, but eventually you gave in to this one girl at work that isn’t even that hot, and then you lied about it because you were ashamed, and then you see that said band from Guelph is on the ticket at a bar downtown for only twelve bucks, so you buy tickets, but end up leaving early because they remind you of younger, more innocent times, and from then on you always order white pizza because white is the colour of innocence. The point here is that you never really listen to the cover EP.
So! There’s a nice folk song called “You Sing Low and We Will Sing High” that fails to reach either extreme in my mind. Who’s your favourite of Stalin’s henchmen? I like Molotov, though Kalinin comes in second, since he was the head of state all that time.
Then there’s a Beegees cover! Hee! But country-rockin’ it up doesn’t help much, because it’s a really somber song, and while I don’t doubt that the Beej played the song with considerable levity as well, I still don’t appreciate the whining yet happy tone going on here. I wasn’t a big fan of Beria, though. Pedophilia? Pince-nez? Weak stuff, old man! Plus, getting executed after the Vozhd was gone? That’s some poorly planned shit.
There’s a cover of David Bowie’s “Star,” but I don’t think that’s a particularly good song. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, it’s an upbeat show tune thing about being a “rock’n’roll star” without any big hooks. Bowie’s always seemed something of a twenty-hit wonder to me, which seems impressive when you think about it, but is it as impressive as ruling the Ukraine like Khrushchev without getting killed? Maybe not, but if anyone should’ve lost his life for speaking out, it should’ve been Khrushchev, for speaking out against the mass starvations in his appointed territory.
The cover of The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get” is a “corker,” but I doubt it matches the original. Straight up old school punk songs are rarely made for country rock. Oh yeah, everything on here is country rock. The fun’s when you experiment, guys! And speaking of not experimenting, how about Poskrebyshev, who was Stalin’s personal assistant (nowadays we’d say executive assistant) from 1918 until January of 1953, which is weird because Stalin died in March of 1918. D’oh! But man, props to THAT guy for staying alive.
Then there’s a couple straighter country songs – a “charming” instrumental Byrds cover that’s only “charming” because I mistakenly put quotation marks instead of parentheses, not that either were necessary, and a straight up country drinking song probably original played on steel guitar and shit. Okay, great, but I can get serious drinking songs elsewhere; I don’t need all this levity. I don’t like the poorly Malenkov. But you know who’s really my favourite Stalin stooge? The spy Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Now there’s a believer who was true blue with a pink bow.
Just kidding, he was a writer that was send to the gulags then lived in exile. I’m Christopher Hitchens, and we’ll see you next week!

6 / 10

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Cuff The Duke – In Our Time

Heydo whoooooom it’s a six song cover EP, across predictable influences but nevertheless ones that match my interests as a fellow white person from the east coast.
You guys like Guided By Voices? Swell, me too! They cover “Smothered With Hugs,” a song I’ve unfairly rejected for having a terrible title. How about Sonic Youth? Maybe you’ll like this version of “Diamond Sea” that isn’t 13000 minutes long! Does Smog give you a big boner? Then surely you’ll like their sorta note-for-note cover of “Cold Blooded Old Times” and stuff. Isn’t “Always Looking” by Dum Dum Girls a great song? It sure stays that way when C the D cover it! Have you ever heard of John Lennon? I haven’t, but I reckon that this “Instant Karma” thing might have potential on a piano, because it sounds all wrong on guitar.
The only one I wasn’t familiar with is Englishman Bill Fay’s “I Hear You Calling,” which becomes a rather lovely repetitive folky thing. Hey, it’s a covers EP, and Cuff the Duke don’t take any great risks, but they don’t really need to – these are all very good songs. The only real qualm is with the Jim Lemon one. Otherwise, if it was original material I’d be all floored and stuff, but as it is I’ve just the riff from “Always Looking” in my head.
So, nothing groundbreaking here, but some nice HEY! A to-do list! Apply for a job? Aw come on, I did that yesterday!

7 / 10

Cuff The Duke – Union

When I changed my Facebook status a week ago to “I know how to nod my head like yeah, but I’m still not sure how to move my hips like yeah” (and in the process got more attention than I usually do for serious life changes), it certainly wasn’t in the anticipation that Miley fucking Cyrus would be new news in North America ever again. After all, she’s 20. She’s a symbol for a group of people who are younger enough than me that a good portion of our cultural touchstones are different. Not quite a new generation, we all watch Breaking Bad, but one would imagine that, now that she’s 20, her fans would have mostly moved onto liking things that are actually good, like non-teens tend to do. And they did, good for them!
But the goddamned media couldn’t fucking move on. No, stuck in neutral like the dead-eyed middle-aged nothings that the fine at CNN, NBC, and Fox are, they just made Miley Cyrus Today’s Top Story…because she twerked on the guy who sang “Blurred Lines” at the MVAs. Yes, I just typed “twerked” and meant it. Even Word thinks I mean “tweaked.” I wish, Word, that’d be way more fun to see, but no. I know that it’s on us viewers, but this is perhaps the apex of the failure of Western society to live up to its potential. It’s bizarre to see people being shocked – shocked! – at a twenty year-old woman being rebellious in a way that gets her attention. Why is the reaction even “what is this world coming to?” Shouldn’t it be “yep, young people are gonna young”? Did people Candy Crowley’s age really never see a young woman do something brazenly sexual, like maybe when they were 20? No, surely only their generation should do coke off of Mick Jagger’s stomach, young woman today should be virtuous, to be role models to the kids who’ve grown out of them! And – can you imagine – she was dancing sexually during a performance of a song called “Blurred Lines,” a song that’s explicitly about seduction! To think of that young lady polluting such a wholesome message! Oh my achy breaky heart. And of course she did it in front of cameras. She was a child star! Being in front of cameras is all she knows! Somehow, an entire cohort of people not much older than me have entirely forgot that they once taught their children that they’re free to be whatever they want to be. I guess that’s unless they’re licentious young women. Dancing sexually – can you imagine a young woman doing such a thing???
And I also don’t want to let off the hook, because I never can, the doofuses on my Facebook feed who’ve decided that it’s okay to attack her as long as it’s on racial grounds. I don’t know how smart Miley Cyrus is, but I can guarantee that she wasn’t doing it to exploit black culture. And don’t say that doesn’t matter, because the fact that she’s doing a (currently) VERY popular sexy dance move couldn’t possibly count. Unless they’re accusing everyone who’s ever danced in North America of being racist, but….guys, cultural miscegenation is inevitable. Pretending the Jersey Turnpike is an act of racial exploitation is way over the top. Sometimes arts majors just need to get paid by feigning outrage. Oh, and the two ladies at the Culture Gabfest who mocked her for being skinny can fuck right off. I thought we didn’t judge women’s bodies anymore in privileged chattering class world. Don’t let that only apply to people who look worse than you.
Now what, you might be wondering, does this have to do with Cuff the Duke? Well, Cuff the Duke wrote Miley Cyrus’ classic “Party in the U.S.A.,” so it really comes full circle.
They keep reeling me in, but only far enough that I don’t swim far out to sea. Not that I’d ever leave them, because I have a silly website (this one) that I channel all my obsessive tendencies into (and why do people say “I’m so OCD” anyway? Wouldn’t that mean they’re saying “I’m so obsessive compulsive disorder”?), but they give me glimpses of greatness then let it SAIL AWAY SET AN OPEN COURSE FOR THE VIRGIN SEA
For the most part, this album sounds like a bunch of Tom Petty filler songs. Or, if you’d rather, Blue Rodeo tracks. Which probably sits well with these guys, since I was once going to see them open for Blue Rodeo until the show was cancelled, but t’ain’t my style! I like chances in my music, not slightly above-averageness!
This is all a bunch of nice light country rock, with too many lyrical placeholders and meh choruses like “stay with me tonight.” I’d never let it be said that they’re a lazy group – there’s quite a few good little grooves here and the solos never follow the verse melodies. I get that they’re trying, but too much of it is completely unmemorable B-side material. Four songs here, by my count, start off with potential but lose it when the words start gettin’ made and the music takes the backseat. And what the hell does “I just want to life my life / In my time,” the chorus of the opening song, even mean? And could that possibly be at all interesting?
In all of these wasted ears there’s still two great songs where the musical inventiveness carries its way onto my ‘Recently Played” list with regularity. “Where Did We Go Wrong” builds like a 90s rock song into something danged fine to hear, while “Open Your Mind” braves sounding like Steely Dan and jazzing out with way too much falsetto (somehow in a good way), and a guitar line that they let play off the theme instead of forgetting about. Good stuff.
Trust me on the Cyrus though. It’s pathetic. Just let the girl dance.

6 / 10

Cuff The Duke – Morning Comes

Oshawa’s finest are back with a record that’s way the fuck more alt-country, and way more predictable. That’s nice, but, as I’ve mentioned many times, I’m far more into originality. The album starts with four songs use an identical chamber-of-souls-sings-song-title-four-times for a chorus, and they are all midtempo little country rock songs, and they all make our narrator seem rather valourous, and they are all rather good. Then there’s a boring little acoustic country meh. Why is anyone content? It could be way, way, worse, but it sounds like what it hopefully is: a placeholder album for a talented, but economically struggling band.
I’m trying to learn guitar myself, and let me be the very first to yell you, it isn’t easy! I’m learning from Justin Sandercoe, a nice British boy who wears lots of hats, and trying to be as methodical as possible. Hey, anything’s better than writing cover letters (I’m miserably unemployed)! I’m currently on my fourth day of Stage four, a stage that I reckon will take me a few weeks to get through, since I motored through the earlier stages on the back on my earlier guitar learning’s back when I was just writing my book, not having already sat on it for two years.
I’m having some trouble with my life these days, and I’m feeling all that charitable to music that in no way helps. Only the wonderfully epic “Bound To Your Own Vices” makes me feel better about the world and my ability to make anyone happy, since I obviously can’t make myself happy. That’s what I want, Cuffsters! Chance-taking nine-minute multi-part epics with clever lyrics and feels of longing and sadness conveyed through music instead of through increasingly achy vocals. Music is therapy for me, like booze and cuddles, so don’t get all milquetoast on me here.
Apparently the little theme is loss, but it isn’t obvious to me where that’s coming from, unless they mean their loss of ability to write songs as good as “Ballad Of A Lonely Construction Worker,” though it could be that the musical hooks just aren’t there to make me follow the lyrics, and when I do I get lines like “life is all the things that happen between the things that happen to us every day,” and then I drift off and continue reading about Breaking Bad. Holy shit, they really did turn Walter White from a charming anti-hero into a despicable villain, and I hardly even noticed! Now that’s writing! Someone get THAT guy to write songs for Cuff the Duke! I hear he’s unemployed too!
Wait, did I say “unemployed”? I meant “a well-adjusted, well-paid professional creating an intelligent and much-loved television show.” Not sure what happened with my brainboard there.
On loss, though, the closer “Letting Go” is pretty damned nice, clumsy lyrics aside.

6 / 10

Cuff The Duke – Way Down Here

As I listen to the dulcet sounds of Cuff the Duke’s fourth album, I’m reminded of the words I didn’t and would never say: “say! I’m tired of all this inventive indie rock! What I need is predictable indie folk!”
Yes, not only have I figured out C the D’s crude pun (I GET IT, I “C” your “D”, you fucking vulgar freaks), but I have punctured the yolk of the soft fetus within their Southern Ontarian shell: they just want to be nice guys who do nice things! And not in a deep, serious way, but in the sense that they sing “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” and mean it. And that’s nice in a person, but it’s sad in a band.
This certainly isn’t a bad album. It’s a very pleasant album. But the boys from the Parkdale basement are getting houses in the suburbs at an alarming little rate. The cloying voice and 4/10 lyrics are coming to dominate the scene, and the musical experimentation has given way to sounding a bit like The Eagles. They even get out their self-righteous has more than once, to belt out lines like “take the high road and follow me” as if I won’t mind; as if that’s somehow kay-fucking-o. It makes me sad, but it’s the way of things: we get older and mellow out and go to bed at 12, and this is an album not quite there, but it’s going to bed at 1 on a Friday because there’s a garage sale that it doesn’t want to miss, and it’s okay being a bit hungover, but not seriously. I don’t like it. I’m still me over here, as long as I have people to get wasted with and talk about my problems and their problems with I’ll be doing that, because I’m a fucking child, that’s why. I think the world doesn’t care, and that’s a serious thing, so we have to stick to the people who stick with us, and that’s a serious thing too. Luckily it’s cut by being filled with getting wasted and singing songs and trying to get by. And that’s okay, too, but I’m going West on this one. The big one. Unless I have serious liver disease when I’m 40. We’ll see!
But in any case. I don’t have time for this. Most of this. Some of it I do. I have time for “It’s All A Blur,” since it has an interesting rhythm, even if it doesn’t go much of anywhere. I have time for the one time they get excited on this album, the angrily depressed “Another Day In Purgatory” (even in the in-song line is “one more day in purgatory”), but then they ruin it by wanking out six minutes of a bland folk song called “I Need You” and a few more minutes on a bland outré that seems like it’s here to fill space. There’s not a whole lot else here that’s worth taking time from my mental illnesses for – it’s just kinda nice, and that’s kinda nice, but I don’t think it’ll ever be for me. Music has to do something – mean something – for me to do and mean a fucking thing towards it. This is an above-average album, and by all means give it a listen, but right now it’s all a big Howie Kendrick to me. Of course, I would say that because I’m drunk, and alone.

6 / 10

Cuff The Duke – Cuff The Duke

I’m sorry!

Had to get that out of the way. Now then, I’m not sure how I missed reviewing this one since I reviewed the following album years ago, and this isn’t really a skippable album in the ol’ C the D (hee!) chronology. It might actually be their best.
Track after track on here is filled with youthful originality and chance-taking, such that pretty much none are easily overlooked, with two inoffensive exceptions. Nothing here will result in nuclear non-proliferation or become a big dancey summer hit, but hey hey my my it’s all a bunch of the best that Southern Ontario could come up with without looking beyond its gentle hills and snowy highways. It’s definitely still indie-country-rock, but it’s hooky as all get out, no two songs are iike one another, and it’s just weird enough to be charming in its unpredictability.
There’s four uptempo pop songs, and they’re all solid. “Take My Money And Run” plays the most country, with a little hickish riff in the chorus to offset the soaring sorta-seriousness, the re-written “Anti-Social” overcomes an awful first couplet to make a point about….something? But with hooks coming out of the drums and a cool built-up solo section. “Belgium Or Peru” is a fun stomper with a nice ringing guitar chord to fill up the verses between stampings, and “I Really Want To Help You” overcomes sounding a bit too serious by getting successful poetic about the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Honourable mention to the harmonica-led opener “The Future Hangs” that sounds like it could’ve come from a younger Neil Young minus the Neil Young voice.
So that’s all gravy. But then, most of the other album tracks are filed with delightful weirdness. The lyrics are nobody’s award-winning poetry, but the music quirks and hooks carry all. “No Sleep No Heat” is a slow burner that glows like a lakeside cabin in December. “The Ballad Of Poor John Henry” has both an oddball lo-fi intro, then a great back-and-forth from a bouncy bar piano to a conventional chorus with a female vocal cooing “doooo you ever think of me?” to mix things up. Closer “It’s Over” starts off boring but then spends most of its time ascending a memorably epic piano hook. Otherwise bland piano ballad “There Was A Time” has an inexplicable chorus of the singer soulfully demanding his parents recognize that he isn’t gay (really); hey, it’s something new. Even throwaway “Meet You On The Other Side” has a guitar line in there somewhere that most indie bands would make a hook on a lead single.
It all adds up to a rather remarkable slap ‘n’ tickle, let down mostly by the aforementioned unremarkable lyrics, but kept up but relentless musical greatness, not in playing but in commitment to being interesting. And hooks. Lots of hooks hiding where you don’t expect them. Sorry you had to live in shitty apartments, guys, this one deserved to be much bigger.

8 / 10

Cuff the Duke – Sidelines of the City

Cuff the Duke are back, and today they repeat as winner of “most unbalanced indie-country-rock album of the year that came out last year!” But seriously, folks, there are some great songs here. And some really boring ones. And with no general artistic trend to comment on and only ten songs, let’s get right to the point where I make comments about each individual song:

If I Live Or If I Die – A sort of religious song, which is annoying, but they totes rescue it by making it an awesome fiddle-led hoedown with enough rock sensibility to be awesome. It songs weird to lustily sing something God-y, but shit, if it’s this good I’ll do it. What a great song!

Surging Revival – Whee! An awesome catchy piano-led stomper that expertly turns into a prog-something. Maybe not for everybody, but it’s really well done. Good song!

Failure to Some – Oh, that’s odd. It’s seven minutes long, slow, boring, and has a really dull, obvious message about how “Failure to some isn’t failure to most” or “I want you to know that I’m here for you” imparted in a way that doesn’t really matter, with an unnecessary four minute guitar solo. And they put this as track three? Gah.

Remember the Good Times – More like it! A 2:40 long rock song that really hits being sad about a loved one’s death AND bravely trying to, you know, remember the good times. It’s catchy! It’s sad! It’s uplifting! It’s sad again! Great song!

The Ballad of the Tired Old Man – Oh dear. The single most awkward, clumsy anti-Iraq war song I’ve ever heard. That’s not good at all. The award maybe goes to the last verse where they try to rhyme “back” with “…stop,” or maybe the “mournful” trumpet that sounds like a mariachi band solo. I don’t like the Iraq war either, but Buddy Christ I I I, okay.

Long Road – Nice “ooh”s but otherwise unmemorable. Is this about how touring is hard? If so, that’s an odd message that I don’t care about. Pretty bad by most standards.

When All Else Fails and Fades – A bad, bad, short love song that’s just nothing, really. Lots of horrible oversinging and attempts to sound sincere, and they don’t help at all.

By Winter’s End – A cliched riff with a bunch of cliched words and it still rocks. Might be my Canadian upbringing. I don’t really know what it’s about in particular, but I like the idea of anything happening “by winter’s end,” and that riff really gets stuck in there. Like classic rock, or maybe the Traveling Wilburys.

Rossland Square – A really catchy, rather sad song about how great Oshawa is. Oshawa isn’t great. The two landmarks mentioned in the song, The Velvet Elvis, which is “the best place around” is now closed, and titular Rossland Square has been bulldozed. Fail! Only a perfunctory reminder of that time I dated that girl from Oshawa, really, but a good song. Oh, and you can’t “take park road” because the off-ramp no longer goes there. And the “forests and the farms” aren’t stopping the houses in the North growing anymore. Aw, endless suburbia. I am overcome by the sentiment of affection for an Ontario band writing a song about their hometown, even if it’s Oshawa, a city mostly referenced by other people from other Ontario towns (like Guelph) saying “at least it’s not Oshawa.”

Confessions From a Parkdale Basement – Boring and overlong despite not being long. Unless they’re literally confession from my friend Nancy’s basement in Parkdale, this isn’t that great.

So! Five really good songs, one mediocre song, and four bad songs, all unconnected thematically. I don’t know what the heck either, but I feel very affectionate for these guys. I bought this CD from their rhythm guitarist at a show for ten bucks because it was all I had on me in cash and the machine wasn’t working and the stupid bar had a stupid no re-entry policy, so how could I not be overly generous PERIOD. I need an excuse to eat my maple syrup!

7/10