Mark Robinson - Canada's Green Highways

(pulCec003: 708527199916)

500 pressed on black vinyl.

SIDE ONE: 1. Aluminum 2. 100% Guaranteed 3. Angels in Waiting 4. Wonderful 5. Dilated Pupils 6. Peanuts & Cracker Jack

SIDE TWO: 1. Misplaced on the Kitchen Floor 2. I'm Still Breathing 3. Syvain Cote 4. Arlington Station

As I grew older, I became angrier. Ask all your friends, I'm a jerk. I mean, there's so many people I was rude to out of anger, insecurity, or feeling so depressed, I was just not making sense. And so, I needed music to get me to slow down and go, OK, stop breaking stuff. In those days, I was very angry at the music industry and where I was at with the music I was making. I was just a very distinctly unhappy person. I've always medicated with music, but in those days, I was using music as a narcotic. 

There's a guy named Mark Robinson, who owns the label Teen Beat and was in the bands Unrest and Flin Flon. I love all his records, but the one that came out in 2001 was a solo record called Canada's Green Highways. His records are super low tech and they're not agro. They're almost like a bedroom band, like, listen-to-it-alone, introspective pop music. Because of my unbelievable amount of anger, depression, and sadness, Mark's music was a balm. Still is. 

Around 2004, I woke up one morning and went, Wow, I'm done with music. I called my manager, who flipped out because he was getting 15 percent and, at that point, the Rollins Band was a money maker. He's like, Oh, no. And I'm like, Oh yes. 

Little by little, I went back to being a music fan. I want to go to the gig, I'm a fan of your record, I want to follow you around and see 25 of your shows. And I got happy about music again, because I was no longer making it. I'm way, way better off. Still not the happiest guy on the team, but not prone to bouts of anger like that. I get depressed because that's just how I'm wired. But it's not the sturm und drang and it's not the rollercoaster. Maybe the testosterone level is starting to fade, as my hair can't get any whiter. I still hate men and want to fight them but, knowing that any 16-year-old could kick my ass, I have to remain peaceful.
- Henry Rollins, Pitchfork (2019)


"Mark Robinson certainly had his work cut out for him after coming off of one of 2000's best indie pop records. He set a standard in that vein of music with the numerous releases that he put out under many guises on his own Teen-Beat label. Canada's Green Highways is no different in that Robinson maintains a very high level of sophistication for a style of music that is viewed by many as disposable. This record is more complex than the previous year's Tiger Banana as Trevor Kampmann oversees production duties here. Known for his brilliant low-tech electro as hollAnd, Kampmann lends a conservative yet experienced hand in the crisp final product. One can sense his presence on tracks like '100% Guaranteed' where a cheap drum box provides the backing beat to Robinson's cool and passionate vocals. Though these lyrics are not quite as personal as usual, Robinson seems a bit more at ease on this record and takes more chances instrumentally. While the odd track may resemble Tiger Banana's four-chord, stark, skeletal song structures, Robinson has found a perfect pop formula not unlike Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys' and he truly makes it sound easier than it really is."
- Ken Taylor, All-Music Guide


"I got nothing to say really...except I just listened to my LP of this and thought, man, it's too bad this is such an unknown gem, so I should go write a review of appreciation on Amazon. If you like Unrest, this is probably the best offshoot, and I'm including Grenadine and Air Miami, which are better known, but not as simple and perfect. This was a great live show, too. Wish I had an Olympic Death Squad t-shirt."
- Andy Davis, Amazon


"Here's a fun trick to play on your friends. Put Mark Robinson's new solo album, Canada's Green Highways, in the CD player and then queue up track 9, "Sylvain Cote," and try to convince everyone that it is a song from David Pajo's upcoming album.

While Robinson's latest solo album, Tiger Banana , seemed like a long weekend of funning around that turned into a limited edition CD, his new release shows more care and effort, as heard in the many layers and careful construction of the over nine minute "Sylvain Cote." The song (named after a Washington Capitals hockey player) is a delicate, instrumental drone that uses several guitar overdubs to create a crystalline structure of lightly bouncing progressions. Little more than subliminal use of drums is added as the song seems remarkably compact for its epic length.

Like this song and the Tiger Banana album, little more than guitar and voice are used on the rest of Canada's Green Highways. If you've heard Robinson's other albums, the music here will seem familiar, as Robinson takes few chances outside of "Cote" and, as he's often done before, revisits several guitar themes on his solo songs that he made full pop songs out of with his previous bands.

"Peanuts & Cracker Jacks" uses a downward guitar progression you've definitely heard before as Robinson uses his old vocal trick of focusing on familiar, interesting sounding phrases. Like Flin Flon's role call of Indian cuisine or Olympic Death Squad's "Ski Jump," here Robinson invites you to "take me out to the ballgame," sung with the same melody as the ballpark standard. Even more like "Ski Jump," though, is "Angels in Waiting," the entire lyrics to which are provided in the liner notes as "Angels in waiting/Angels y'know."

Other songs are a bit more lively though and will help to remind you why you fell in love with Unrest and Air Miami oh so many years ago. "100% Guaranteed" is a short, fast, perky song that uses producer Trevor hollAnd's expert use of synthesizers to great effect. HollAnd also gives "Wonderful" an interesting sound as its drum machines and mild industrial grunts fill out the space well behind the rhythm of the guitar and the light keyboard melodies. "I'm Still Breathing" is a light, pillowy song with Juliet Swango of The Rondelles providing backing ewwws and ohhhs while Robinson provides two intricate guitar parts and sparse vocals to create a very soothing, pretty song.

As Teen-Beat is now over 15 years old and Mark Robinson is still sans band, his recent solo albums find him in an odd place. He both seems to want to experiment in radical new directions (his series of electronica EPs made from sine waves or the instrumental drone of "Sylvain Cote") while he also seems still to be wrapped up with recreating the past, writing the same type of songs he has since Imperial f.f.r.r., even though they will never be as successful without the requisite drummer and female bassist. While Canada's Green Highways is quite fun to listen to, you have to hope the next major style change or femme fatale partnership comes soon."
- Jim Steed, Fake Jazz


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