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"I want to listen to this... (blogspot)"


Ecouter et Repeter: Archivist
Ecouter et Repeter #1

It’s always difficult to be open and fair when it comes to writing about your friends. In the world of “serious” journalism, having an intimate connection to your subject is often poo-poohed (as is that word) and usually if something or someone is newsworthy, the story is passed on to someone who is unbiased towards the subject.

In the online world of blogs this kind of journalism is looked upon as more of a venal sin than a mortal one. I’ll take my contrition and tell you up front that I know the subject of this post. I met him years ago, before he was hobnobbing with some of Montreal’s best musicians and recording songs in a home studio. When I met Archivist, he was a basketball-playing-beat-poet reading university student. And I was smitten.

And so I am smitten once again.

It started with a cover he sent me of Xiu Xiu’s “Fabulous Muscles”.

It continued with a correspondence and eventually, an interview.

It doesn’t end with our discussion. It continues with a MySpace, a couple MP3s*, and hopefully, plays on your iPod.

How did the name Archivist come about?

I wanted a name that captured my sort of conscious pilfering of music of all sorts through the ages. Everything: John Jacob Niles to Morissey; Leadbelly to Kate Bush; Cohen to Panda Bear. I am forever cracked-up by this undying discourse of the original, and music seems to be so driven by this cult of the new, but really it's just this tiny self-reflexive and insulated world. I wanted to begin with the idea that music is highly conventional; as one man said, 'business as fucking usual.' It's a tissue of quotation, it appeals to a formulated sensibility in us, you know? And so, my stuff has a number of samples in it, 'field recordings,' accidental sounds; sort of autobiographical archives. Into this lust for moremoremore; the pervasiveness of irony; and this 'difference' that is really just shambling sameness, I wanted to kind of insinuate memory: remembering undifference. The archive is a funny machine. While it is essentially a mnemonic device it also actively writes history. Too, if not for the prosthetic memory of such archives as, say, the internet, perhaps memory as it has been understood prior to this late moment of postmodernity-- something experiential and internal-- would not be so threatened as it seems now to be. I want to be a watcher. I want to absorb ideas and present them sonically. But keeping in mind always that it's just my own little solipsistic stage.

Do you find it difficult to be from Montreal in times like these, when everyone from there has instantly (and perhaps without merit) become blog/critic worthy? Do you find the city to be conducive to being creative, perhaps moreso than the other cities you have lived in?

There is this late-Victorian novel by a fellow named George Gissing called New Grub Street. It's about the writing climate of the era. It details a London rife with writers, everybody clambering to succeed, crawling over friends and lovers for a place in the begloomed sun. Some of them are hacks, some of them are selling out. All of these ideas are still circulating. Musicians today who gnaw the bitter bone will tell you about the decline of the music scene, its superficiality. These criticisms are not new. There is a document from five-hundred B.C. that talks about how the world will end soon, the barbarians are at the gate, the next generation is monstrous and over-indulged, that people do not believe in anything and that the emperor is corrupted. These ideas aren't new. That being said. I like the climate. I like the creativity. There are so many talented people here, and in Toronto. I wish everyone could get at least one disc out, get heard. There was once a time when labels gave people three records to break before cutting them loose. (Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run was his third strike, for instance.) Things change. Everyone can record, everyone can launch their own album. Critics too work this way. Anyone can launch a blog, say what's on their mind. How many are looking to get pinned by a pitchfork right through their navels? Many, i wager. Is Montreal especially conducive to creativity? I don't know. I was having this conversation with a fellow whose band helped to break the scene here in Montreal, in 2004 or so, while i was living in New York. He said he'd be at concerts at Sala and suddenly the place was crawling with A & R guys. All in a matter of a month or so. I didn't know that Montreal. But then, on any given night you can walk into a bar on Bernard, or be walking down Parc of a sunday morning and see Jace from the Besnard's or Graham from Miracle Fortress or Murray from the Dears, and they're all making music you live to, and in that respect it's very surreal. New York will always have its Art Stars and their LES and Williamsburg folkies and avant garde performance artists, they will always have their geniuses. But Montreal has it's own little pocket of myth whose high water mark is a global measure (at least to certain nations of the leisure class, who have world enough and time to fret after Pop) and one which, I think, can no longer be considered sophomoric.

Do you work alone?

Yes. For the most part. I pen, perform and produce all Archivist music. I have had friends who play violin for me, or mouth organ here or there. Andrew Smith has done a couple of killer drum tracks for me, and of course I have an in-house bassist in Lisa Smith (of Pony Up fame –ed.), whose shown up on a track or so, and will likely be on more in the future. I like the work of development. I don't know what textures and arrangements will appear finally. I mean, this is perhaps an aspect of the name Archivist too. I can't help but privilege the recorded moment: the sharpening of space and time into a crystalized sonic event. But i like the creative work, and I am selfish for it, i want all of it, you know?

With the recording industry in the way it is, do you think it would be easier or harder to carve a career in music?

I'm not sure about this. I've spoken with people who have found it very difficult to make money with their bands, even if they've had relative success getting their name out. I'm quite certain some of it is who you know. But eventually, hopefully, it comes down to someone liking what you make. Will your music get out? Will it be well received? Who can say? Not if you choose the 'indie' route, which becomes ever less so politically charged as it once was, or not the same valence of political charge anyway. I do think there is more space on the margins. The peasants of the music industry will have their days in the sun. That being said, the initiates and the courtesans will be fewer. That's fine anyway. I think. It's always difficult, art as a career still makes my skin crawl, despite my understanding the pair are deeply imbricated.

Who would you like to work with?

I'm not sure. I'm not especially talented, and then there is always this question of what you could offer the other.

Having done already one cover, would you feel averse to recording other people's songs, or do they have to be your own, or at least, have a known connection to them?

I have one song I do called "Universe Questions," which is by a friend of mine from high-school. I just really like it and I get a bang out of performing it, so I will probably record it. But too I like working with other people's words. It's a reminder of sorts. You try and broach that liminal space between what some body else is trying to say and how it washes over your own person, experientially or whatever. Always this appropriation. I like that. So no, I do not feel averse to working with other people's stuff. It reminds one of the relationality of things; how everything is so metaphor sodden.


The Archivist lives, writes and loves in Montreal.

*MP3's for your listening pleasure

"Fabulous Muscles", by Archivist (Xiu Xiu Cover)
"For The Poetess", by Archvist

- Simon Thibault

"Disc of the week Archivist- Learning to Live on Poison"

Learning to Live on Poison (independent)
After heartbreak came hibernation, and local musician Ben McCarthy learned to live on songwriting, eventually emerging to partner up with half of Pony Up and four other musicians on keys, strings, drums and effervescent harmonies. His debut record is earnest, artful and impressive, from liturgical a cappella to pretty pop to suave rock to a blasé poetry-reading. Here’s to Ben. - The Montreal Mirror

"Review: Archivist – Learning to Live on Poison."

Montreal’s Archivist* has crafted a devastatingly gorgeous album. “Learning to Live on Poison” cycles through the various emotional states of heartbreak. Ben McCarthy channels it all: from the insomniac’s depressiveness to the shouting defiance where he rages against himself, his lover, the world, before returning to somberness (although never resignation). The album is filled with emotion but it is ever trite or overblown. Seemingly deeply personal – the songs are filled with the pronoun ‘I’ and, on a few occasions, by McCarthy’s first name – the emotion he is expressing never seems less than heart-wrenchingly genuine.

The album’s tone is set with ‘Sunday Morning,’ and you know it is going to be a rough ride for McCarthy by the time ‘Educated Hand,’ creeps around. But it is ‘Jagwagger’, where a defiant strut emerges – propelled by cymbals, slinky q-chord, gorgeous vocals by Pony Up’s** Lisa Smith, and a great guitar line – that shows McCarthy (heart)broken but not obliterated. But the pace cannot be kept up for long and, in ‘Son of my Sorrows,’ returns to melancholic resignation, declaring “I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.” There is, however, more to be expressed, and he is back to raging in ‘Pop Litany,’ continuing through the remainder of the album shifting sounds and tempos but never being able to shake his devastation. It is the undoubtedly deliberate pacing which gives so much power to the record – the songs feel that they arrive naturally, as McCarthy is working through his emotions.

The diversity of tone – while remaining thematically unified – is matched by the diversity of sounds that brings the narrative to life. McCarthy enlisted some of the greatest talent in Montreal, and, while I have no doubt that this album could have been powerful if it was just McCarthy with his guitar, they add an amazing richness to the record. The vocal harmonies throughout echo and reinforce his sentiments. The horns of ‘Sunday Morning’ are glorious, wonderful plucked and bowed strings and the tinkling glockenspiel on ‘Speaking,’ and more and more, all serve to assist McCarthy’s catharsis.

I am pretty sure, halfway through the year, that “Learning to Live on Poison” will be on my best-of list for 2009.

Here’s a song off the record (my favourite at the moment) for you to check out:

* Jagwagger

Visit Said the Gramaphone for another track – the astounding ‘Sunday Morning’.

Get yourself this amazing album available at CDBaby and Amazon, as well as iTunes.

Archivist do not have any upcoming dates at the moment but be sure to check their myspace page for shows.

And, finally, here are a couple of videos for your viewing/listening pleasure.

*(not to be confused with Milwaukee’s The Archivist, although you should toddle off over there and pick up the free ep on their site after you are done buying Archivist’s record).

** hot dog! Pony Up have a new album out and what I’ve heard on their myspace it sounds really, really good. Add that to your collection as well – you can get it physically with a handmade case and digitally from their store and digitally at VillaVillaNova (where you can get the track “Charles”). - B(oo)tlog

"a record of decay and death, decoy and dearth: archivist’s learning to live on poison"

The packaging has a homemade, dossier feel to it with its courier font and textured card stock. A rambling, nearly stream of conscious lyric sheet is stuffed in one of its pockets like a frantically-typed, yellowed note to self. The inside cover has red type that reads: “One said the elliptical sleep sound unwound in the throat of her abed exhaling dreams that you find at the back part of your mind and she can’t sleep for it.” It is secretive and raw. This is Montreal musician, Ben McCarthy’s project Archivist, including members of The Dears, Sunset Rubdown, Pony Up and Land of Talk, and the resultant record called Learning to Live on Poison. It is a document of passion, confusion, self-loathing and self-immolation. Like reading a particularly dense, but valuable book, McCarthy’s album and lyric sheet are to be mulled over and worked through. This album questions identity, desire, love, art, belief and every other facet of our human consciousness, and it does it through a wealth of complex language with the musicality of a true poet. Meter and internal rhyme create music from the page alone, and with the added benefit of aurality, these songs expand into more than the two dimensions of the page.

The record begins with Opening in which McCarthy declares “I’m trying to dissolve myself completely. I’m trying to explode my dogged will” in a stark, gospel accapella. His voice, and soon the voices of others, fill the silence, the emptiness, a fermata of vacant mindscapes; despite his attempt at finding the “gaps we tell our lies for,” his busy mind cannot be still, cannot stop making connections, cannot stop foiling him with his own faith. A minute and a half into the song, strings begin to pulse to a 3/4 beat against droning voices in a mesmerizing Eastern feel. With the thickness and otherworldliness of a Sunday morning, Sunday Morning comes next, full of slinky, laconic guitars, punctuated by drums, trumpet and tambourine. McCarthy repeats the line “it’s Sunday morning coming down,” emphasizing the unique quality of the disappointment and deflation on the day of rest. In Educated Hand, guitar arpeggios push the song gently along like a current in a brook; the atmosphere of the track is dream-like and dizzying, forming spires and peaks of smoke. There is an intensity and depth to the murkiness and haze like the sensory reality of a hallucination before it all fades into chimes. There’s a resignation to a form of inexplicable fate in this track as the lyrical content describes betrayal of self and beloved, and the way we seem to poison and infect those we are closest to.

Jagwagger, whose title sounds like a clever Carrollian creation, follows with enigmatic cymbal and tomtom drums before a fantastic guitar riff comes in. The music for this song gives you the impression of being circled by a tribe of cannibals, which is appropriate considering the song appears to be about an all-consuming lack and/or boredom: “I feel nothing again (an accidental violence) no madman, no tyrant, just boredom. There’s no humour in this smile, no dearth in what I don’t know, a blankfaced little child, no dearth in what I don’t know.” There’s a schizophrenia to the song in the style of Of Montreal and a desperate soulfulness reminiscent of TV on the Radio before it disappears into spacey organ at the end. The bit of controlled chaos ends to start a beautiful, fluid acoustic ballad, Son of My Sorrows (Genesis 49:27). There is a dark claustrophobia to the song, but the melody is so delicate that its strings weave a thread-like cage as subtle, but as strong, as a spider’s web. The biblical verse in question reads: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil.” McCarthy, who shares his first name with the biblical character, deftly parallels his own self-loathing and seeming incapacity to change his flawed nature; he sings, “Benjamin is not one. I am nothing. Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. Without you I remain [...] I am nothing. You made me. You can’t help me. I love you. Our kingdom will not come. I remain. I remain. I remain. I remain. As I divide the spoils.” McCarthy becomes a cipher for others to fill or empty at will while being the only one left to deal with the fallout of a relationship; in spite of his yearning to disappear and destroy himself, he remains, pickled in his own imperfections. With a faster tempo and electronic burblings elliding a crisp beat, Pop Litany fluxes between clipped, jigging speech patterns and smoother, swirling vocals, alternating between torment and calm. It feels like the battle between insomniac panic attacks and attempts at a lullaby sweetened with twinkling glockenspiel. The lyrics are brilliant:

And what if all these feeble pop songs became for us as incantations? And all of our mixtapes a heretic’s litany of curses we would have to suffer, broken broken heart, life of the party but estranged from our art, beauty loves a liar but so so so so so does your g-d.

Wherever “god” appears in the lyric sheet its “o” is conspicuously missing. While there is a Jewish tradition of avoiding spelling the name of God out of reverence, McCarthy seems to be playing with this respectful measure by not capitalizing the “g” and perhaps emphasizing the emptiness within the word itself. McCarthy sounds like a suffering scribe at the mercy of an OCD-fuelled night of listmaking as he breathlessly repeats, “I did it, I found it, I wrote it all down.” The song ends with the tapping of an old typewriter as all attempts at empty, memory-erasing sleep fail.

The second half of the album commences with Speaking, which has droning cello dragging below the skipping surface of guitar and the see-saw of violins. The skewed religious imagery continues as McCarthy repeats “I want my words to be like bread. But I can’t speak.” He is impotent in the midst of his song, which is ironic considering the verbosity and sheer power of his language throughout the record; he can still only offer an empty, meaningless communion with the one he wrote the song for. It ends with a quote performed by Rick Cluchey from Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, a play about diseased stasis. From the melodic action of Speaking, the album moves into a more hymn-like direction with Love Sick Man. The dextrous guitar arpeggios resonate with humming and fingers troubling the frets while there is something almost ominous in the song’s serenity. McCarthy declares, “Love is a discipline that takes even the faithless in, and if I fail this time I will not try again,” as he fights for distraction. Unfortunately, just like sleep won’t come, diversion won’t either.

I shouldn’t be surprised that McCarthy has a song named after Anne Carson, the Canadian poet, essayist and Classics professor. A few years back, I was encouraged to read a couple of her poetic books by a co-worker, who was utterly in love with her writing – so much so that he carried her book Autobiography of Red with him all the time. Having read Autobiography of Red, a verse novel based on Stesichorus’ poem Geryonis and the myth of Geryon and Herakles, and her long poem The Beauty of the Husband, I can completely see the parallels and influences on McCarthy’s work here. She, too, packs meaning upon allegorical, referential meaning in a fluid torrent of language and metaphorical juxtaposition while exploring the depth of pain and the incomprehensibility of love, including its gradations and degradations. Love is not simple in Carson’s work, nor is ultimately satisfying, and McCarthy’s record expresses a similar sentiment. Some of my favourite lines in the whole album are in this song: “Yet the clawings on the cell wall staid, in fact, they are engraved, though the whole panopticon waltzed glassly off the stage” and “Always one side’s meant for cutting and the other’s meant to bleed, such wounds are drawn together by the gravity of need.” There’s a violence and venom to the lyrics while the music itself connotes both a spaghetti Western and a circus, a simultaneous sense of confrontation and flippant nonsense. Then comes the track, seeing * **, which burns along like a clementine fire, blown into different directions at once and occasionally exploding the life-giving sap out the aortas of tree trunks. It is one of the most lyrically dense songs, and it just staggers me that there can be so much meaning in a few verses. It is a song of life and death and lack of achievement and lack of integrity. It barrels through countless intertextual references, including references within the album itself; for example, “he writes ‘the game won’t end’ on the back of his dishpan hand,” which recalls the earlier use of Beckett’s Endgame and reinforces the irrational necessity for stasis even it’s putrifying. It’s as though McCarthy is both yearning for and afraid of blindsight, sight without sensation. The strange grouping of asterisks in the title feel like placeholders or footnotes that lead nowhere because seeing isn’t believing, so sightlessness is preferable. As a perfect closed parenthesis to the record, Closing hearkens back to the mystical feel of Opening. The plaintive acoustic guitar and the magic charm of violin converge to create a dangerous, gothic Mediterranean feel with dashes of flamenco; the song becomes a pasa doble of the self, attempting to conquer one’s own thoughts and feelings. The track ends with the profound line “You’ve been learning to live on poison – the sad truth is it won’t do you in.”

Despite the seeming finality of Closing, there is one more track as a curtain call, which is McCarthy reading his “Flowers: a poem” initially over tattoo of drums and distant vocals and then over nothing at all. His voice is slightly shadowed by reverb, paralleling the shaky, nearly doubled type on the album case. It begins with the prescient “I gave her flowers when she came home though I could swear I taught her ever to be suspicious of such a gesture.” There is an eerie detachment to the whole poem in which McCarthy dissects the gangrenous parts of relationships – a painful game is played while both parties try to forget it’s happening. As McCarthy states, “we, too, are susceptible to the achingly daily ambience of a pot of daisies.” His last fragment of the poem is the phrase “pushing daisies,” which can be read in at least two ways here: as decay and death or as decoy and dearth; the moribund relationship or the forcing of a superficial sentiment on another. The track ends with feedback that surges around your ears like water drowning your brain.

Words like “litany” and “dearth” make several appearances throughout the record, and I think that’s significant. Litany is a type of prayer based on repetition, and there is reiteration of lines in all of these songs; at the same time, there is a scarcity and a grasping for something valuable permeating the album. There’s a sense of not being able to move on, a recognition that we may pollute ourselves without a hope of redemption. The narrator, who may very well be McCarthy as he references himself by name twice in the lyrics, is the recorder, preserver and curator of his own grief, his own toxicity. This is the dossier of a person searching for his own truth and ensuring that he writes every detail down. For there is power in words even when you long to forget. It is the scripture of a madman who cannot conquer his own instinct to survive. Even if survival means adaptation to poison.

You can buy Learning to Live on Poison here. - Condemned to Rock 'n Roll

"Learning to Live on Poison. by Archivist"

There's something curiously appealing about a band that embraces the musical freedom of art-rock, where impressionistic chaos boils beneath the temper of a single idea, feeling, or scene. What's even more appealing is the result of that intimate intensity when it mingles with a brocade of tight harmonies and inimitable mastery of syncopation, creating a solid brace between emotion and logic as they battle for dominance.

Archivist, a band whose proclivity for assembling a Trail Mix of musical inspiration has caused them to elude actual classification (though the merit of classification at all these days eludes me - at my most eloquent, I'll pretty much go with "this sounds real good"), is a fantastic example of the aforementioned concept. I've never been a huge believer in the prospect that something could be "so complicated that it's simple"; even knowing that Schnabel described the sonatas of Mozart as existing in this phenomenon, it still seems like a farfetched and pretentious notion. Still, I can't help but acknowledge how much each song on this album is packed with the frequencies of the subtlest tics of human consciousness, and all of the implications that lie within a central theme of, as expected, living on poison.

The best part about all of this is that the music is simple. Each beat is expertly arranged; from the dissonance and pulsating grid-locked rhythm of "Pop Litany" to "Closing," an electronic sea shanty with a delicate face and a powerful body, I could wager on each track being completely danceable in some form or another. (This with the exception of "Flowers," which pretty much stands on its own for containing the epitome of existential rants and a general feeling of doom. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.)

"If that isn't a bad thing," you ask, "then what is?" An example of a Bad Thing would be the sudden realisation that one of the main preservatives in foods (propylene glycol) is nothing more or less than embalming fluid. The more you know!

Learning to Live on Poison is set to release on June 2nd, 2009. - Confessions of a Would-Be Hipster


Learning to Live on Poison. (Independently released)
'Song of Faith and Harm' (Released on Passovah's Summer Compilation)

Archivist has charted on CJLO here in Montreal and CIUT in Toronto, and has also received radio play as far afield as Edmonton, Windsor and Texas on 'This Great White Canadian North.'
We have tracks streaming on a number of blogs including Said the Gramophone, Confessions of a Would-be Hipster, Toronto's Music Snob, Condemned to Rock and Roll and many others.



It has become a common place to credit the deathly cold of Montreal’s lengthy winter season for the hot-chronology of creative outpour that has entered the global music scene from Canada’s tiny heart-shaped island. Archivist’s debut release Learning to Live on Poison, does not present an exception to this particular rule, though it will inevitably be accused of challenging a great many others. Is there not a law against literary lyrics over shake-your-ass drumbeats and synths that turn your aural canals into ecstasy-riven sex organs? Rapier irony and scathing confessionalism framed by pop-luscious arrangements and achingly sweet vocal harmonies? If there is no such law, why is it only now that such a collection of recordings has emerged?
Beginning as a home-recording project, Ben McCarthy (writer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist) invited a number of his talented and generous friends (including members of the Sunset Rubdown, Pony Up and Land of Talk) into his chilly bedroom-come-studio on the lonely side of Mile End to help him fully realize his sonic vision. The result defies even the eccentric, hyphen-ridden genre-generation of these late-postmodern days: lit-rock, folk-wave, existential-party-pop, whatever its denomination, this is an album whose dark poignancy will embrace you in the stark umber of the sleepless four a.m. morning, in the crowded, rush-hour subway, or squeezed between the sweaty and undulating bodies of utter strangers in the thrumming of an endless loft party.
It has been said that ours is the first generation that will learn to take nourishment from toxin. Archivist’s Learning to Live on Poison (to be released independently June 2nd), bears witness to, archives, this becoming, this everyday event of surviving on what would do us in.