The Ohs: Top Whatever Pt. 7: Martin Tielli

I was going to say “Rheostatics”, because they and I had a delightful decade. I was introduced in 2000, fell in love, gorged on their back catalogue, enjoyed two records’ releases, and attended their final shows. They were a great band.

But they really blew the illusion by breaking up. Not for sentimental, clingy reasons, I knew they shouldn’t have done it. On their own, their weaknesses shine (or the opposite of shine… maybe “glare”). Vesley’s albums with the Violet Archers went from middle of the road to invisible and limp very quickly, and he was first out of the gate post-breakup.

Bidini … I don’t even know what to say. I want my money back. His solo album (or “Bidiniband” project) is almost shockingly bad. I find it hard to figure that the man who wrote “Horses” and plenty of  other worthy gems could suck that hard. I never mentioned it here because I don’t like to write negative reviews – what’s the point? – but it bears mentioning in this context, so: stay away. What a piece of shit.

But Martin Tielli – well, he shouldn’t have left the Rheos either, and we know he knew that. Because while he’s a brilliant artist, he’s the sort of genius who needs structure to hold him together. Since the Rheos split, he’s become a Mary Margaret O’Hara-ish wonder – which is to say, awesome but not that stable and infrequently spotted.

Still, he wins. When the Rheos are parsed, Tielli’s the reason they ruled, comparably to how the Beatles’ true core was John Lennon, always. The metaphor works, for the most part, except that when Paul went solo, he proved he could at the least sing and write (and at best could do some excellent stuff); Bidini … god damn, that’s a mystery to me. Vesley’s definitely showed he can stand on his own a la George Harrison: he’s a fine backing man, and can occasionally write and sing a good one, but not often enough to really care about. Maybe in a decade he’ll do a Canadian Travelling Wilburys record with Stompin Tom, Neil Young and Ron Sexsmith. We’ll see.

Not only was Tielli the most talented Rheo, he’s done the best solo work, as well. His first solo record, released while the Rheostatics were still together, was one of my favourite records of the decade. Called We Didn’t Even Suspect He Was the Poppy Salesman, it was bleak and bloody and showcased his playing and singing by pretty much only including those instruments. A real work of genius.

Double X

Since then, he’s released 4 records – one, a so-so record called Operation Infinite Joy, another a Nick Buzz project of avant-garde classical stuff I like but can’t judge. And now, The Ghost of Danny Gross, parts 1 and 2.

Originally, these 4 were supposed to be released in one year, as a special subscription series. This was in 2004. I received the final two last week in the mail, a full half-decade late. I attended the release party for the third one a year and a half ago. As a structured series, it was a shambles – but who cares? Martin Tielli records – while in my opinion, never measuring up to the bar set with Poppy Salesman – are always a treat. I look forward to sitting down and listening to the 2 new records in the dark soon. The packages will be pored over (the package for part 2 is promised for January, so I figure I’ll have it by January 2020) – he’s painted them again, and he’s a great painter – and the liner notes will be devoured.

Here’s a track from part The Ghost of Danny Gross Part One.

Something in these Woods

PS: this is hilarious. The backside of the one CD’s notes bears this statement: “EVERY NOTE ON THIS RECORD IS TINCTURED WITH THE AMBER DELICIOUSNESS OF TOBACCO CIGARETTES. Absolutely none of it was performed in a ‘smoke free environment.'” I admire a man with convictions.

Here’s a video from Poppy Salesman, live.


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