Toronto and Ontario Trip (Part 2)

29 09 2013

In my last post on my August trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada, I focussed on the urban aspect: my stay in Toronto, which is an incredibly diverse, vibrant, growing city, like almost nothing you have ever seen. It has turned out to be one of my favourite cities.

I thought in this post I would share with you the highlights of my trip to the city’s Royal Ontario Museum, where artefacts from Mesopotamia were on display. (Unfortunately that exhibition was photography-free.) Anyway, I’ve included a smattering of Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indigenous, and modern-day Canadian art. Quite an impressive array, I think.

Here is the outside of the museum, on Bloor Street West. It has a strikingly modern addition built on to an older structure:

Toronto - Museum I

Here is a sample of their substantial East Asian collection. I photographed the piece I thought most flamboyantly gay:

Toronto - Museum II

Check out this jewellery from Etruria, Byzantium, and Ancient Rome! The craftsmanship is absolutely exquisite. I would die for a pair of those earrings:

Toronto - Museum III

Toronto - Museum IV

Toronto - Museum VIII

And look at these rings. So delicate and elegant:

Toronto - Museum XVII

And look at these armlets. They display the same elegance:

Toronto - Museum VI

Toronto - Museum VII

And behold this radiant Ancient British (pre-Anglo-Saxon) necklace at the top of the below image. A torc worthy enough to grace the neck of a proud British queen like Cartimandua herself!:

Toronto - Museum IX

And the beauty of the human form in the eyes of the Ancient Romans. Below, a woman and man’s buttocks. I think the first one is the woman’s, though I’m not sure:

Toronto - Museum XII

Toronto - Museum XIII

Ancient Roman Busts:

Toronto - Museum XXIX

Toronto - Museum XXX

The museum has a delightfully compact little slice of Ancient Greek art, too. Notice the glory that is the miniature model of the Temple of Athena. All hail Athena!:

Toronto - Museum XIV

Toronto - Museum XXXI

Toronto - Museum XI

This is perhaps my favourite exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum: the Egyptian lady and her makeup regimen. Actually, both male and female Egyptians wore makeup. Doesn’t it make you want to paint your face up? Oh, and then there is the mummy:

Toronto - Museum XVIII

Toronto - Museum XIX

Toronto - Museum XX

Toronto - Museum XXI

There were a couple of fantastic and beautiful photographs of the people of Oceania I could not help but photograph. Yes, I photographed photographs, and you can see my reflection on the surface of the glass, but the images are gorgeous nonetheless, don’t you think?

Toronto - Museum XXV

Toronto - Museum XXVI

And then there were the modern Canadian works of art. A lot of it was furniture, which is nice, but here are a couple of the best paintings I saw:

Toronto - Museum XXXII

Toronto - Museum XXXIII

And that is Part Two of my series of my trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada. I know I didn’t include any indigenous Canadian populations–they are the basis of Canadian civilisation, after all–but I was new to the museum and late to it too. I think I may have missed a floor. Besides, I wasn’t allowed to photograph all of the delicious cuneiform tablets of the Mesopotamia exhibition tucked away in the basement. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed what I shared with you, and I hope it showed you that ancient cultures have a fabulous sense of fashion. A lot of it is cruelty-free!

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Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)