Album Review: Japan Digs: SHOWA by trog’low

Japan Digs: SHOWA by trog’low — “romansu”

The latest EP by Vancouver-based artist trog’low, Japan Digs: SHOWA, is a fluid mix of old school hip-hop beats, turntabling, Japanese inspired melodies, and urban soundscapes. The album is composed of samples from records trog’low picked up while travelling through Japan.

Showa refers to the period when Japan was ruled by the emperor Hirohito, from 1926 to 1989. By the end of Hirohito’s reign, Japan was the world’s second largest economy. The prosperity of the late Shōwa period is an appropriate association for the album’s rich instrumentals. While trog’low samples records from the late Shōwa period, he layers the samples to create a modern sound. “daimyo” transitions from conversation over soft strings to a rhythm and melody that is at once reminiscent of ’90s West Coast hip-hop and traditional Japanese music. In another juxtaposition of Eastern instrumentation and Western popular music, shimmering chimes support the prominent electronic riff in “kasui.”

On the album’s Bandcamp page, trog’low explains the etymology of showa: “Japanese, from shō ‘bright, clear’ + wa ‘harmony’.” The derivative meanings of showa are fitting descriptions of Japan Digs: SHOWA. The tracks form a bright, cohesive 23 minute whole. The album’s sound is multifaceted, in contrast with the minimalist production that is currently popular in ambient hip-hop. “koi” makes a playful romp through electronic sound effects, while “omoi” is built around a vocal track, scratched and interspersed with melodic samples. “romansu” is a sunny walking tempo track, with horns and chimed scales. With its light, nostalgic sound, the track would make a fitting score for a modern day silent film.

The album’s final track, “BeFreePartThree,” is an effective summation of Japan Digs: SHOWA. trog’low pairs doo-wop vocals with a sample of a laidback MC verse, both of which are overdubbed with record scratches and a regular beat. Rather than become the point of prominence, the vocal samples on “BeFreePartThree” blend seamlessly with the track’s instrumentation. All the musical elements work in clear harmony.

Song of the Day: “romansu” by trog’low

This review was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Discorder Magazine.

The Third Date

Grandview Lanes Bowling Alley

Even as I was going into it, I had a feeling our third date was going to be our last. Our interactions became more markedly awkward as time passed. I responded to his boisterous extroversion in near whispers. “The whole bar doesn’t need to hear our conversation,” I said quietly, as he banged on the table to keep time with his story. It’s not that his bold personality silenced me; I wanted him to dial down the volume so other patrons wouldn’t look around to find the shouting man and his embarrassed companion, trying to retreat under the table. I’m comfortable with a spotlight when I command it, not when it is thrust upon me by my date’s gesticulations.

I agreed to the third date as a way of bringing our time together to a conclusion. He suggested bowling. I love The Big Lebowski  but I hate bowling. I tend to make three strikes in a row and gutterball the rest. By the time I’ve had a few beers, I’m practically tossing bowling balls down the lane. I agreed to go bowling, even though I anticipated that it would only exacerbate the awkwardness of our dynamic.

We had a few beers before we went over to the bowling alley. The night was off to a bad start. He was frustrated by the attention I had payed to the Lakers game on TV, I was annoyed by his over-apologizing. On top of that, my hair was mainly dry shampoo and I wore leggings for pants. As we got our bowling shoes, my date addressed the attendant like he was Steve Buscemi addressing his fellow kids . “A size eleven, please, brother. Thanks, duder.” I asked for my shoes and a can of beer without a single diminutive.

Between turns, I drank my beer and observed my date as he made his bowls. I had a lot of time to think about the direction in which the evening was going. I had made two strikes and three spares before my luck ran out. My date thought it best to encourage me. This was embarrassing but endearing while we had the section to ourselves. It became mortifying when couples on a double date arrived beside us to bowl and bear witness to our mounting mutual discomfort. We started our second round. After my first ball landed with a loud thud and rolled into the gutter, I squared up with my second ball and tried to get into the motion of rolling rather than tossing. Then, to the whole bowling alley, he exclaimed, “GO COURTNEY! YOU CAN DO IT!” I was aghast. Rolling motions be damn, I tossed the ball under what felt like the watch of everyone in the alley. The ball went immediately off course and rolled with a clatter into the gutter. I returned to our seats. “I appreciate your enthusiasm,” I said delicately to my date, “but not everyone here need to know how I’m bowling.” He looked crushed. “I was trying to be supportive.” “And I appreciate that, but I would appreciate even more if you supported me a little more quietly.”

When I declined his invitation to come over at the end of the night, he offered to walk me to the bus stop. We stood at the corner of Commercial and Broadway, our eyes on the street. I knew I had to end it then and there. I readied myself to tell him I wouldn’t see him again. Suddenly, a convoy of police cars came down Broadway with sirens screaming and stopped in the middle of the intersection. An officer in black ran out of the car and into the SkyTrain station behind us. Another officer followed him. A crowd of people at the bus stop stood at attention and watched as the police cars moved up the street. The first officer approached my companion and me, and asked if we had seen anyone running. I explained that the only running people I had seen were police officers. The officer looked distractedly to the road: “Someone was stabbed across the street from here, and we think the perpetrator went running into the train station.” Those gathered near us agreed that they hadn’t noticed anything unusual. The two officers took off in the opposite direction, leaving everyone to react to the news of the stabbing. “Oh my God,” said the young man in front of me to his female companion. “We have to get out of here. What if he goes on a shanking spree?” I was shocked. I was at a loss for words. It seemed tactless to break it off with my date while someone lay bleeding in a gutter and a madman was primed for a shanking spree. Then I saw my bus arrive. “That’s my bus,” I said. “Gotta go!” I called, as I literally ran away from my date. I would have had to wait ten to fifteen minutes for another bus. Anyway, I thought, I can always end it over text message.

Song of the Day: Like Soda by Violent Soho

Study Spots

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Exam season is upon us, which leads many to ask two inevitable questions: How the hell did I manage to learn so little in four months?! and Where am I going to go to study? For your answer to the first question, tune in tomorrow when I write about how to make it through exams. For your answer to the second question, today I will teach you all that I know about finding an effective study spot. You may wonder why I am sharing this knowledge with you when it could potentially jeopardize my own ability to find a study spot. Well, I thought that you deserved a reward for your loyal readership, and since I am not yet at a point when I can have giveaways for blenders and designer watchers, this is the best I can do. Also, I’ve already finished my exam (yes, singular), so I thought it was only fair that I try to benefit those who are less fortunate than I.

When I find a study spot I like, I’m going to be there for days, weeks, sometimes months. I usually stay in one area until I finish the essay I’m writing or the subject I’m studying. Sometimes I return to the area after that. Other times, I made a point of never returning again. (Hence why you will rarely see me in Taylor Library.) The first thing you need to determine before you try to find a study spot is the kind of environment you need for studying. If you need help deciding this, consult The Study Spots Flow Chart!

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Decide whether you prefer silence or background noise. From what I’ve found, silent study areas are usually filled much earlier than conversation friendly areas. If you prefer to work in silence, you will either need to get to the library early in the morning or later at night. I usually aim to get to the library before ten or after seven. I walked into my favourite silent study area at 1:30 the other day, looked around, and laughed. I decided to return in the evening rather than walk laps around tables in the hopes that someone was going to leave. An option if you like silence and solitude is to find an obscure location and set up there. A friend once told me he liked to study on the fourth floor of the Student Services Building because there’s a big table and no one around. Of course there is no one around, I wanted to say, no one knows where you are! And that suited him well.

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This is the library on St. Patrick’s Day. Needless to say, I was the only one there, and I ended up bonding with the custodian.

If you don’t mind background noise, there are more options available to you. Often I prefer to study in areas with background noise, because too much time in a library can sometimes make me feel like the world has come to an end and we’re still writing essays because we don’t know what else to do. Often I study in the University Community Centre because it tends to be well decorated and I like watching the dance practices as a study break. (The Indo-Canadian dance team is my favourite.)

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I like to study at the gym because it has big windows, comfortable chairs, a lot of outlets, and I can take a break by working out. Once told my mother I was studying at the gym, and she thought that was really strange. Contrary to how it may sound, I’m not studying during a spin class or while I sit next to the free weights. The gym was designed around an area meant for studying.

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When I’m not studying in the place I like to work out, I’m studying in the places when I get my coffee. There’s an art to finding the right coffee place to study near. The conversation has to be just right, and I can’t run into too many people I know, otherwise I’ll be contributing to the interesting conversation rather than studying like I was supposed to be. Usually I’m by a Tim Hortons that’s in one of the engineering buildings because the lines for coffee tend to be short, and the conversations around me tend to witty or based on number. Conversations around the Tim Hortons in the science building, on the other hand, tend to be subtly condescending, as friends discuss where they want to go to med school. I avoid that Tim Hortons. Late night cafe studying can be nice, if you can afford the time to get there. Once you find a cafe that works for you, it’s probably best not to switch up your locations. This is what happened when I moved to the cafe across the street from my usual.

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Strange lighting and an open door on a cold night did not contribute to a positive study atmosphere. The best thing to do is try out a few locations that work well with your lifestyle and studying preference. If you like smoothies and listening to death metal while you study, maybe Booster Juice would make an ideal study spot for you. If you like nature and you aren’t studying in Canada in December, outdoor study spots could work well. And if you like eating carrots and celery while you work, for the sake of everyone around you, don’t study on the silent floor.

Study well!

Song of the Day: Guns+Ammunition by July Talk

Fourth Year University Bucket List

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I’m sure that you’ve all heard of the Bucket List. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it is as a list of things you want to do before you die or before you ‘kick the bucket’. Alternatively, it is a list of things you want to do before you leave a place. Such is the thought behind the Fourth Year Bucket List. I know a few people who have made these lists, mainly so that they stay on track and manage to do all the things that are considered an essential part of the undergraduate experience. Every year, Western’s student newspaper The Gazette posts a list of 50 Things to Do Before You Graduate. I’ve done a number of things on this list. Some of the highlights:

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  • Tray-bogoning down UC Hill
  • Win a round of Sledgehammer Bingo at The Ceeps. I’ve never won myself, but I’ve benefitted from being at a table that won the family size poutine.
  • Go to Rick’s night at The Spoke
  • Go see a Friday night Cult Classic at the UCC theatre
  • Complete The Spoke Beer Tour. See above photo. Realize it was taken on the closing night of Movember. I didn’t break any records, but I did impress my friends.
  • Get kicked off RezNet for downloading too much data. This was inevitable in the days when every March Madness game could be streamed online. Anyway, I was only given a warning.

There are some good ideas on the list, certainly, but there are other things that I wish never to do. I already spend enough time at Weldon. I don’t need to arrange a Periodicals sleepover. I don’t wear sweatpants in public. You aren’t going to see me going to class in pyjamas. And don’t even get me started on the ‘Festern Wucked Your Mom’ t-shirts. In light of the list’s shortcomings, and Western’s Homecoming tomorrow, I’ve decided to share a list of my own.

The Fourth Year Bucket List

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  • Go to a kegger where I don’t know anyone. I actually did this on St. Patrick’s Day in first year. The only people I knew were the four people I arrived with, and I lost them after a few minutes. The day went well because strangers like me (and like my bandanas).
  • Do karaoke at one of the many karaoke nights at the bars in the area. I’ve avoided karaoke nights for years, but I know this has to happen.
  • Win a costume contest. This has actually been a dream of mine since I lost the grade six Halloween contest with my Elvis costume. This year, it’s happening.
  • Go on a double date. Clara gave me this idea, because she said that university seems like the time when this should happen. In an Archie Andrews world, we would go out for milkshakes.
  • End up in a presidential campaign. Election season is a big deal at Western. In the last few years, candidates have put out increasingly elaborate campaign videos that make it seem like they know everyone who’s everyone. I once spotted a close friend of mine in one of these videos. He happened to be the only one who wasn’t smiling. I immediately decided that was the campaign I had to support.
  • Go to a bar and use an accent for an entire night. This was Erica’s idea, so of course she has to do it with me.
  • Go to an engineering party when people are being dyed purple. This is basically the dream of every non-engineer. Please help me to make this happen.
  • Ride the bus from one end of a route to the other. I’ll be sure to document the experience.
  • Go to a late night diner and eat something ridiculous, like the chili cheese fries in the above picture. Prince Albert’s Diner is one of the essential places for late night food in London.
  • Play one final round of the Pokemon Drinking Game. Absolutely necessary.

These are just a few of the things on my list. There are also some things I would like to do before I graduate, but for various reasons I know they’re not going to happen. First among them: Go rafting down the Thames River. This has been a dream on mine since first year, in part because I’ve always had this Huckleberry Finn ideal in mind when it comes to rafting, but there are a few things keeping me living my dream. First and foremost, I don’t have a raft. Second, I don’t know anyone crazy enough to go with me. Third, the river tends to be cold, swift and rocky. This is a bad idea in general. I’ll just need to head to the Mississippi to live out my Huck Finn dream. Another thing that I am unlikely to actually do is go to a frat party, mainly because I know a grand total of two guys in fraternities. It’s probably for the best that I don’t go to a frat party, because I would just be disappointed if it wasn’t like a scene out of Animal House. I’ve already told you that I’m not getting on the mechanical bull, so everyone will have to cross that off any list they plan to make for me. And finally, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t run for University Students’ Council President, because while I would love the networking part of it and would enjoy sitting at the head of a table, I have no political inclinations and probably wouldn’t make a very good president. I’d be better off being one of the smiling (or unsmiling, in the case of my friend) students in a choreographed campaign dance routine.

What is — or was — on your university Bucket List and what should I add to my list?

Song of the Day: Pompeii by Bastille

Happy Homecoming Western!

Clubs Week

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I love Clubs Week. It’s one of my favourite things about the start of the school year. I always make a point of walking by all the booths and talking to the people behind them. That’s what makes Clubs Week so cool to me, getting to talk to people about the things they are passionate about. And as much as I enjoy these conversations, they can become a bit problematic. After talking for a few minutes with a classmate about, say, his love of paintball, I feel inclined to share his enthusiasm. Though I’m not sure that I want to place myself in a playing field that allows people to take shots at me while I run away wearing camo pants or something ridiculous like that, I nearly joined Mustang Paintball. As a result of my need to pay full respect to the interests of the various club executives, I’ve joined nine different clubs in three years of university. These clubs range from the Western Snowboard Federation to Theatre Western to the Estonian Society. (No, I am not Estonian.) I usually have a very good reason for joining any of the clubs I’ve joined. The reasons are so good, I’ve justified joining every club I’ve ever been in. “I would like to volunteer with more charities*!” “I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf!” “I’d love to pretend I’m Estonian!”

My real issue when it comes to joining clubs is that while I’m always enthusiastic about whatever I’m joining, I usually fail to attend a single meeting or event. I always read the emails I receive — what kind of club member would I be if I didn’t? — but I never intend to go to any of the events the emails describe. It seems that I enjoy imagining my future with a club more than I actually like being a part of a club. My position as a non-participating club member is one that I am certainly not alone in occupying. What makes my passive involvement even more problematic is that to an outsider, I appear to be an active club memeber. I wear the t-shirts, make conversation with the executives, and still fail to make an appearance at the annual general meeting. I’ve had a WSF sticker on my laptop since I started my undergrad, when I’m not even sure that I could make it down the bunny hill on a snowboard. Perhaps I join clubs because each imagined future presents an opportunity to reinvent myself, as an environmentalist, a pre-law student or an Italian. (Seriously, the people were so friendly, I almost joined the Italian club a few years ago.) But persona can only go so far, before claiming to be a snowboarder leads me to pretend I’m in another faculty. Come to think of it, I showed up at a Social Science faculty event just last night. Evidently I need to put a stop to this before it goes too far. I’ve already had a few people ask me what kind of Engineering I’m studying. It’s time for me to come clean.

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I am not a surfer or snowboarder, in spite of what the t-shirts I’m wearing suggest. I have not acted since I was thirteen, even though I had a solo in the school musical. I’m not Estonian, Italian, or even all that Irish. And while I try really hard to recycle, I’m not well versed when it comes to conversations on climate change. I’m Courtney, and though you will enjoy talking to me about your club, you do not want me in your club. I will bring nothing to your club other than my student number and email address.

With those confessions, I leave my days of joining clubs behind me, and I invite others to explore the Clubs Week booths in my place.

Wait, are those perogies I see at the Polish Club table?

Song of the Day: Clubland by Elvis Costello

*Charities must remain unnamed, so my affiliation does not tarnish the reputation of any of the wonderful organizations I’ve failed to contribute to.