MP3 Monday: September 5, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday (Observed) celebrates the genius of Matt Murphy — in this reporter’s opinion, One Of The Greatest Musicians Of The Last Half-Century. It’s sad that there’s not overwhelming global agreement on that point. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had to write his Wikipedia entry my damned self.) As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
10 Lbs.” and “Better Call” by The Super Friendz. From the album Mock Up, Scale Down (1995).
Matt Murphy grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was part of the ’90s scene there that generated bands like Thrush Hermit, Jale, and (a favorite for over a decade now), Sloan. His band was the Super Friendz, a deliriously good power-pop band. They had the nervous energy of kids and the songcraft of…well, people who could write really good songs.
Like a lot of those Haligonian bands — and in typically Canadian style — the Friendz didn’t believe in letting one member hog the spotlight. So three members alternated songwriting and singing duties. Now, I’m all for band democracy, and his bandmates weren’t awful, but come on — when you have a weapon like Matt Murphy in your arsenal, you don’t bother with slingshots.
The songs here are from the Friendz’ awesome first album: “10 Lbs.,” a plea to a girlfriend not to get too skinny, and “Better Call,” whose Lady Chatterley’s Lover reference in the opening line was the first of several lit-nods in Murphy’s work. (He remains the only rock star I know of to sing: “Who’s your favorite author? / Mine’s Graham Greene / He started with the start / And kept his sentences lean.”)
Getting Super Friendz albums in this country has always been difficult — I’ve had to special order mine from Mesopelagia — but if you can, track down either Mock Up, Scale Down or (even better) the later greatest-hits Sticktoitiveness, which includes almost all of MUSD plus some later greats.
Where the Change Is” and “It’s Alright” by The Flashing Lights. From the albums Where the Change is (1999) and Sweet Release (2001).
After the Super Friendz broke up, Murphy moved to Toronto and started a new band, the Flashing Lights. Screw democracy — this was going to be a Murph project from the get-go. They sounded a little more polished and little more ’60s/’70s — some Kinks, some Badfinger — but still awesome. A significant portion of their oeuvre is perfect for loud cranking while driving down the freeway.
The key moment in the FLights early history was apparently a show at a small bar in East Toledo in 1999. They were opening for Sloan and were, at the time, completely unknown in the States and unsure how the band would fare. (As opposed to later on, when they’d only be overwhelmingly unknown in the States.) Anyway, the band was terrific, and the crowd ate it up. “The [shows] were amazing…We actually sold out of our CDs that we brought. People were really into it…It was really successful and I can’t wait to go back.” I was at that show, cheering very loudly, so I take credit for Murphy’s continued presence in the music biz.
Both Flashing Lights albums get a big thumbs-up (as does their rarer Elevature EP). “Where the Change Is” is a groovy rave-up in the style of much of the first album; “It’s Alright” is an amusingly rawk-star jam from the looser, excellent follow-up.
The Sad They Walk On” by The Super Friendz. From the album Love Energy (2003).
The Flashing Lights went into hiatus somewhere around 2002, which made the time perfect for a one-off Super Friendz reunion concert back in Halifax. That one-off turned into a microtour and this album. It’s not great, sadly — a lot of the non-Murphys, if you get my drift — but “The Sad They Walk On” is a classic bit of propulsion.
Whiskey, You Can Save Me (Live in Toronto)” by Matt Murphy. From the album The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico: Bring It Back Home (2005).
In 2005, Murphy stretched into acting, playing the fictional country-Canrock ’70s icon Guy Terrifico in the mockumentary The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. The reviews of the movie were, well, not great, but all the ones I’ve read singled out Our Hero for a bravura performance. (Quoth the CBC: [H]e’s a charmer. The string-bean Murphy…proves himself a perfectly capable actor, and his voice makes the songs (co-written with [director Michael] Mabbott) the loveliest part of the picture. The film, unfortunately, is not as charming as its lead.”) This gramparsonsalike song is from the soundtrack.
What’s Matt Murphy up to these days? There’s talk of the Flashing Lights being turned on again. His main gig these days is the puzzling Toronto band City Field. For some reason, Murphy doesn’t sing on most of the songs, and it doesn’t sound like he’s writing them either. Instead, some Fred Schneider wannabe handles lead vocals. Oh, well — hope springs eternal.

5 thoughts on “MP3 Monday: September 5, 2006”

  1. well, this just plain warms my heart. here I am cranking “highschool” (which would have been my pick from where the change is, but my power pop tastes run a little more saccharine than yours, i think) a few times, and then a few times more before I head back to that place, and I stop in here to find this homage.
    I haven’t had the chance to see city field yet- but I’m actually more interested in checking out Gavin Dianda’s new project, Saffron Sect. Anyone who can wield a tambourine the way Dianda does has earned the right to bring a dulcimer on to a rock stage.
    thanks, as always, for the great tunes, and for making my day!

  2. And while we’re naming Flashing Lights players, let’s not forget the greatness of bassist Henri Sangalang — the man whose very mention at an Austin bar in 2002 birthed a beautiful friendship between Katherine and I.

  3. Yeah, I’m with Katherine over “Highschool” but since I already had that track, thanks for all the others! Canada loves you right back, Josh!!

  4. Matt’s been playing solo these days, as well as being in City Field, who are amazing live. He’s doing his own thing, more of a folky country instrumentation, bound to be amazing. (havn’t heard it)
    i agree one of the best songwriters (also one of the best guitar players i’ve seen, from what i saw/heard of him with the flashing lights i can only draw comparisons favourably to jeff beck yardbirds era, and yeah i’m serious.)
    Steve Pitkin has been drumming in Elliot Brood (check them). and Gaven’s Saffron Sect can be found here..
    (there’s tunes on myspace as well) it’s sort of cosmic folk ?

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