Photo: Norman Wong
Photo: Norman Wong

Essentials… with Charles Spearin

Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer Charles Spearin, known for his work in Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think, recently released a new solo album, My City Of Starlings, a largely instrumental collection of beautifully textured songs that glide between avant-garde, art rock and electronic soundscapes.

My City Of Starlings isn’t a “pandemic record,” exactly. Although Spearin found himself with extra time once touring came to a standstill, some of the compositions that found their way onto the album had been taking shape since 2017, while others were born from a more recent song-a-day writing and recording club of fellow musicians from around the world.

Spearin came to see his city—Toronto—in a whole new light during the endless walks he would take through its streets, both on his own and with fellow musos, over the past year and a half. The walks became a regular part of Spearin’s daily routine, stemming from his new interest in birding, but they also led to the many collaborations on My City Of Starlings, which features a long list of Toronto’s best jazz, pop, rock and experimental music performers, including BSS band mates Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew.

Unexpected and indelible—much like the way the birds his album is named for are known to mimic sounds from their surroundings in their own distinct calls, My City Of Starlings reveals yet another facet of Charles Spearin’s uniquely observant artistry.

The album is available now through Arts & Crafts.

Essential Album: K.D.A.P., Influences (Arts & Crafts, 2021)

Full disclosure, I played a little bass and guitar on this solo project by Kevin Drew, but that doesn’t mean I have to recuse myself from enjoying it. Kevin and I have a loooong history—25 action-packed years. We’ve made maybe a dozen records together, travelled the world and been through a delirious spectrum of highs and lows. I love the man. So when he presented me with the rough mix of his new album, written on a smartphone app, I was puzzled. On the surface there is a lot of video-game-like frenetic energy blended with some new-age tranquility but after repeated listens I started to see the genius.  Each song is a stroll through a vivid landscape and rewarding in unexpected ways. Like friendship, you never know what’s around the corner.

Essential Book: Thomas King, The Truth About Stories, A Native Narrative (House of Anansi, 2003)

Based on a series of Massey lectures, The Truth About Stories examines how the differing narratives of two cultures inform and perpetuate different attitudes and behaviours. We, as people, as communities, are just stories built on stories built on stories; like the classic creation myth of Turtle Island where the whole world is built on the back of a turtle. And what is the turtle standing on? Turtles all the way down. It’s a warm-hearted and gentle read about some heavy, important truths. 

Essential Podcast: Conspirituality

Each provocative episode takes aim at the odd overlap between aspects of the yoga/wellness community and far-right conspiracy theorists and the libertarian ideals that drive them. The three hosts, Derek Beres in L.A., Matthew Remski in Toronto and Julian Walker in Zimbabwe are thoughtful, articulate and determined to get to the core motivations behind many of the popular new quasi-spiritual sensations from David Avocado Wolfe to QAnon.

Essential Movie: Sound Of Metal (2019)

My father was an artist who gradually went blind. It was a painful and difficult experience for him but through meditation and support from his Buddhist community he was able to find real joy in his new, darker, world. Sound Of Metal, a movie about a drummer who suddenly goes deaf, presents a similar story. The truth is that there are infinite ways to find delight in being alive, the taste of a ripe strawberry, the smell of a freshly washed towel, a good novel. Watch the movie and then notice what you notice. The world may be richer than you thought.

Leave a comment