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Two songs you need to hear: Sean Michaels’s playlist of the week

Shaun Weadick – Sparrows by the Cross at Mena’sen (2016)

If you’ve got air conditioning at home, I don’t know what to offer you. If you live somewhere cold, shivering through your July; if you’re a labourer employed by a refrigeration company, hauling sacks of ice … I’ve got nothing to give you. Not this week. Because I’m in Montreal, where it’s been hot as a greenhouse, and the music I’ve been listening to suits an air that’s been stilled to a stop.

Take this composition by musician Shaun Weadick, who, after years of contribution to Montreal’s radical punk and folk scenes, decamped in January for Sherbrooke, Quebec. Sparrows is an instrumental recorded at Weadick’s home (I think) and if you close your eyes, you can imagine sitting in the room with him, listening to the musical figures unfurl. He paints a whole, vivid picture with nothing more than fingerpicked acoustic guitars. Or maybe not a picture, maybe something closer to a film – fluttering, darting, finally going dark. Sparrows is lovely, peaceful, but like all of Weadick’s best work it’s also slightly uneasy – a figment by an artist who knows that any respite will only for last so long.

Waclaw Zimpel – Lines (2016)

The Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel applies layer after layer of soft, felty sound, as if insulating the listener from everything outside of the music. Think of stepping into a rainforest and the way nothing else exists, beyond. Contrary to expectations, a cacophony can be gentle. It can be nourishing. Then it’s polyphony, like the interweaving rhapsodies of La Monte Young, Steve Reich or Moondog, like the works of Canada’s own Colin Stetson. Lines’ motifs circle and repeat, meet and diverge, steered by Zimpel’s woodwinds and a rippling Hammond organ. Listening, you will be transported somewhere else – beyond the heat and humidity, beyond the backing-up garbage trucks, into a different summer.

The best moment comes late. A clarinet part appears at the song’s two-thirds mark – forceful, unexpected, staggeringly beautiful and luxuriantly tacky. A clarinet at its sax-iest – less saxophone than dream saxophone, the sort of sax that appears at the feet of a character in a fantasy movie from 1985, in the first scene of a Kurt Weill production from 1929. It brings the whole track into focus and then, just at Lines’ peak, the whole landscape starts to shimmer, as if the place you were transported to has decided to go away, withdraw, vanishing back across the horizon.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.

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