Friday, June 24, 2016

A Total Debridement of the Heart: Other Music

Deerhoof released a new record, "The Magic," today. Shelve it with their focused, non genre-tributary releases. Under Deerhoof: Rawk.

In 2003, I bought my first Deerhoof record, "Apple 'O," at Other Music, which closes tomorrow.

Opposite to interstellar alignments, rock-bottoms will sync. Trenches intersect. Lows coincide. Namely, my plum, writerly day-job of nine years ended involuntarily today. Yet I'm far more vklempt over OM's demise than I am over unemployment.

Permit a wistful moment: early '00s. October. I'd stroll up Broadway, after a day amid the misery traffic of the criminal courts, and wander among the stacks at OM, their door open to the first autumn chill, the late-day sun in the southwest skimming off their south-facing window, the murmured recommendations of staff beneath unknown in-store music I'd refrain from asking about only so I could leave without spending $20 more than the $60 I'd probably drop. There was no end to treasures found, like this probably rare '05 release by Scott Mou and Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, both OM employees at that time or some time:

OM's initial rise is already re-hashed well in other places. I recall standing at a listening station (so age me) in Tower Records, sometime in late fall of 1995, looking out the window across Great Jones and seeing OM's logo in their window, a "coming soon" tag (maybe?) beneath it, and thinking: Whoever's opening this middle finger to the vastly overpriced Tower is crazy like a fox. One thing about New Yorkers (who aren't landlords): they like to taste-make. 

For a while after OM launched their concurrent online music biz in '07 (same year Tower closed, I think) OM's weekly emails became the best music writing online, where anyone with half a brain was tired of Pitchfork's High School-newspaper-level hackdom. Some of us do not forget or forgive Pitchcrotch's embarrassing and unfair panning of Long Fin Killie while OM rightly championed LFK to the high hills.

So Like Rocks in Your Head, Kim's, and Pier Platters, OM will live on in price stickers on the plastic outer-sleeves of the many records I'm saving to someday finance a week's tuition of my kids' college educations. 

Jobs are a dime a dozen. Other Music was not.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Autopsy for the Record Industry

Stephen Witt's superb "How Music Got Free" administers a bone saw to the music industry's corpse and details the official cause of death with a pathologist's detail. It's a slow, circuitous death, and every corner is set in fascinating detail, from Karlheinz Brandenberg's use of research on the possible spectrum of heard sounds in order to develop the specific compression innovations of the mp3, to the riveting, almost noir-like efforts of CD warehouse worker Dell Glover, patient zero of '00s music leaks, to secreting advance copies out of an NC plant and onto darknet file sharing forums. And when isn't it fun to re-live the destruction of major record labels?

I followed this with Bob Mehr's monumental "Trouble Boys." No one should use the word monumental lightly. Never go Full Monumental. But this is the first Replacements book where Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson participated fully (although the oral history "All Over But the Shouting" shouldn't be missed by fans), and it not only doesn't suck, it delivers on the comprehensive coverage as well as insight. My only warnings would be to 1) get it now 2) prepare to be sad, because Bob Stinson will break your heart again and 3) prepare to be madder at the record industry than usual, and madder at the 'Mats, too. Westerberg and Stinson don't shy from being self-critical when it comes to their chemical and neurological tendency toward career self-sabotage. Mehr doesn't spare them, either. Yet it occurred to me how perfectly born-at-the-wrong-time the 'Mats were, as far as the music industry (which was always a business; by the eighties, for successful bands, it was only a business), how completely ill suited they'd been to arrive after that eighties' commodification and then to flare out before the initial decline and current obsolescence of the major label. Someone should have given them one more chance to do it all wrong.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Books I Can't Shake: Speculative Fiction

You read a little of this, a little of that. The celebrated prizewinners deliver as expected, but the majority of their books fall away from memory. Those that stick aren't the technical best, oddly. Maybe technical prowess is only a superficial concern when it comes to lasting art. Maybe this is how Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life," for all its timeshifting narrative skill, can still be a snooze.

Maybe it says more about me than it does the state of literary fiction that the books I can't shake twist science fiction, or fanstay. Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Buried Giant" is an odd, haunting deconstruction of Arthurian legend, complete with knights and swordplay. Yet it meditates on love, time, memory, and pre-recorded history itself. It's more than a bit reminiscent of Jim Crace's "The Gift of Stones" and "Harvest," but Ishiguro has always genre-hopped, from Victorian upper crust to cloning. This one might warrant a sequel.

G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen," unlike any book I've read, conjures a make-believe middle-eastern dystopia where hackers and demons battle in cyberspace as well as hand-to-hand. It's bloated in the middle, like many first novels, but Wilson's storytelling skills have been honed by comics (she's the mind behind Ms. Marvel) and the images pile on, stunner after stunner.  This better be a movie. I'm in line, spiritually.

Atop my heap stands Michael Faber's "The Book of Strange New Things." Hired by corporate miners, a pastor with an addiction history travels via inter-dimensional jump to a distant planet quietly inhabited by odd wildlife and eerie, cloaked humanoids. who yearn for a conversion to Christianity begun by a previous missionary who has disappeared. Our alien-curious pastor meanwhile exchanges messages with his wife on Earth, only to helplessly witness, through her messages back, the beginnings of a global apocalypse back home.

I simply can't shake it. Faber's swift, suggestive descriptions of his alien planet, a flat, featureless steppe as storm-swept as it is brutally hot, transmit an atmospheric loneliness. Even the wildlife - a migrating herd of poisonous, flightless duck-like animals --in their seemingly infinite march, are unfairly despairing. The book may not even resolve itself properly. His aliens speak in an undecipherable language rendered untranslated throughout, and I couldn't crack it. There's no real ending for any of the characters. I suppose that's the gist of religion.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Make America Drunk Again

Not so unusual to have a madman close to running our country considering America was founded upon the abuse of alcohol. Susan Cheever's slight but pleasing "Drinking in America" clarifies our major malfunction, beginning with the Mayflower's decision to put in at Plymouth only because they'd run out of beer. Those Revolutionary War stories of political and strategy meetings? In taverns, patriots shitfaced. Americans taking on well-armed British regiments despite being outgunned? Shitfaced. Civil War drags on for four years? Shitfaced generals. Temperance movement? Women tired of shitfaced men coming home from work shitfaced --or maimed because they were shitfaced while working. And publishers, if you're looking for someone to hire, I would've pushed for "Shitfaced in America" as title, if you were wondering how to sell 25% more copies. Susan: call me.

Nice to read this prior to Joseph Alexiou's "Gowanus: Brooklyn's Curious Canal," at least for context on the very central role the Gowanus creek played in the Battle of Brooklyn. Not Alexiou's fault that his book slogs through a 19th century swamp of boring city projects and political chicanery -- some excellent takeways, nonetheless, for local NYC history junkies: baseball played on ice skates for a time in Gowanus, and the particular history of getting Prospect Park planned. Of course the startling pollution of the canal and recent efforts to rethink it are solid, as is the section on the arts community's use of the factories lining the canal in the 80s heyday of NYC visual art. Would have been interested to know how many of them have cancer now, given the coal tar and lord-known-what-else they were exposed to, and sometimes used as site-specific installation materials.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Elena Ferrante Vs. "KO" Knausgaard: Texas Style Cage Match

After word of mouth drove me to the killer first of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, frustration with a library waiting list longer than a movie theater concession line necessitated my cash forkover for the next three (shout out to the Mysterious Bookshop, NYC). To say they didn't disappoint understates overstatements. Sadly, a fifth volume is impossible in a narrative sense -- taken together, all four make a cohesive Neapolitan novel, and had she been American, publishing for a larger press, and a man, Ferrante probably would have been pushed to make it a "big book" one-off to satisfy the publishing industry's occasional doorstop jones.  Because of Ferrante, I now follow Europa Editions like I used to follow music labels. They're my Drag City (Gene Kerrigan's crime novels set during the Celtic tiger: get them post haste).

Philip Roth's "When She Was Good" came to mind often while I read Ferrante. I wondered what she would think of him, in that many of her male characters seem to be plucked from his list of first-person narrators. If she hates him, he deserves it; she's his equal or better as a writer, at least in translation -which is so good as to almost be questioned; add in that Ferrante is a pseudonym, and she gives only one interview per country ... nah.

And dig: oh how Ferrante buries Knausgaard as far as the Bildungsroman zeitgeist; unforgettable characters the least of her gifts. Book one of his "My Struggle" (I know it's a sly joke to name a book "Min Kamp" but I'm not sure how funny, for a book set in Norway, Axis country during WWII) included a harrowing and unsurpassed, for me, depiction of an alcoholism-related parental death. Book two had me rolling...over, snoring.  Without a the grounding of a sensible tragedy, like in book one, the fictional Knausgaard is kind of a tool. I sort of knew this, I suppose, but it's hard to care about the type of sophomoric lout Kafka would have strangled if he had the time. To Knausgaard's credit, he'd probably agree. For a portrait of the struggle Knausgaard only shadow boxes, check out Asene Seierstad's "One of Us," if you can get through it without the panic attacks and nightmares that almost made me stop.

At the same time, I occasionally vacationed from Knausgaard and Ferrante by losing my Donald Westlake virginity, starting with his Parker books, written as Richard Stark. There's no greater polar narrative opposite for Knausgaard, short of Proust, than the Stark novels. But I'll be damned if there isn't a link between Ferrante's titular friend and Parker. They're both sociopaths. Maybe both murderers, in a utilitarian sense. The Stark books were the reprieve I'd wanted from the Knausgaard books, but they also had me realizing there was a bit more noir to Ferrante than she lets on. It's even more evident when you take her prior novels "The Lost Daughter" and "Troubling Love." No wonder I found them at the Mysterious Bookshop. Shout out again.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seven Ways of Thinking About "The Art of Fielding"

Chad Harbach's Art of Fielding via My Laziness. Overused poetic trope, I know, but for book reviews? Maybe novel.

1.When amazing-hitting infielders lose their ability to throw to first, they become outfielders. See: Chuck Knoblauch, Gary Sheffield, etc. The book gives no reason why this change isn't made. Henry Skrimshander is the best hitter on the team. Which means someone else can play shortstop while his bat stays in the lineup. Coach is stupid, but team isn't, and would demand the switch.

2.This is about small-college love lives. Baseball setting could be Frisbee, & nothing would change.

3. Plot lines of aging academic - college student romances are gripping if you don't read much (and Blue Angel is the best place to go for that).

4. Plot lines of aging academics losing their religion with a college student are an improvement, but give him a (living) wife, maybe; otherwise, who cares?

5. There's one major female character. That's ok. She's ok. But one? See #4

6.The Art of Fielding is a book to read while reading other books. I still haven't finished it.

7. Since beginning The Art of Fielding last March, I've read, among other stuff: Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke, Parry's People Who Eat Darkness, Benjamin Black's Vengeance, Hilary Mantel's Bringing Out the Bodies, Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns, Peter Carey's The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Ackroyd's London Under, Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream and The Tempest, Graham Greene's A Gun For Hire and The Heart of the Matter, and maybe pages 503 to 613 of Pynchon's Against the Day. 

Reading is a sickness. Please send medicine in the form of books. 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Last week: big for indie music geeks.

And the winner is:

Deerhoof - "Breakup Songs." Short and to the boogie-woogie-point, the point being your butt.

Cat Power's "Sun." I saw Chan Marshall in concert in 1997, and I saw her on the street last year near my home. Better-looking through chemistry. Better albums? Maybe. "Sun" departs from the soul formula of her last two albums, which, while admirable, had me listening no longer than I would to a Norah Jones album (34.6 seconds). 'Sun' also returns to the complex, beat-rich arrangements found intermittently on "Moon Pix," and includes the melancholy drama abandoned after "You Are Free." And then there's auto-tune and Moog stuff. Which is okay. It's her Radiohead album. It's an ok listen. And SFJ of the New Yorker was listening to a different album than I was, his talents eroding after challenging his I Am Critic! muscles by repeatedly wasting words on technically un-reviewable pop pap like One Direction.

Jens Lekman - " I Know What Love Isn't." Lekman lost heart halfway though this album, it seems. "He Don't Want You Anymore" is among his best songs, but the rest aren't. I can't listen to Paul Simon's "Heart and Bones" all the way through, and I bet you can't, either.

Bob Mould -"Silver Age." One of my sad,old-guy achievements: Still a teenager, I saw Sir Bob live in 1990(89? 91?) at the now-defunct Marquee with Tony Maimone and Anton Fier his only accompaniment. My ears rang for days, and as a 7th grader I saw Fascist Nugent, and he's a pussy compared to Mould in the volume department. My achievement? I haven't lead a champion's life, but life has lead me far enough to name-drop: Mould is a friend of a friend, Maimone is a friend of a friend, and that night's semi-famous opening band's svengali is now married to my wife's boss. I was still in more movies than any of them, though. They could name drop me if they dig 80s B-movie horror flicks.

And the "Silver Age" album? Once in a blue moon I dig hanging out with that old friend who goes by the name "The 90s," but it's still sad since he sounds slightly off, and maybe that's age, and it only makes me wanna go home and forget about time and not see him again for a while. Trick metaphors aside, "Copper Blue" is being reissued, and so hurrah, but then for me (and maybe you?) Mould's defining Sugar-moment was the 'Beaster' EP, which was not topped by anything he did post-Husker aside from "Workbook" and most of "Black Sheets of Rain."

The Loser: Animal Collective. No comment.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Arms Are Open But My Hair Is Thin

Heard myself some Arcade Fire today, and realized I hadn't listened to them much since 2006 because they make music that lends drama to those young lives that lack any real drama of their own. And now I'm too old for drama. Thus: the music of people giving up. Like Nico's Chelsea Girl, or any Hank Williams. Codeine. Alex Chilton pre-1985.

With maybe the exception of this.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ariel Pink, and Why

Ariel Pink first flashed across my radar maybe in 2003? A video on the defunct New York Noise (a tear falls): low budget, washed images of a live band, as inchoate as their impressionistic song, less a tune than pulses of noise, as if the Partridge Family had been embedded in a warped, chip-damaged Atari 2600 console.

And then I forgot about him. Until some years later, maybe in New York Noise's final year, I saw the vid for "Politely Declined," a lovely teenage symphony to .... maybe psychotic breaks, stalking, and opiates.

This was great too:

Talking about his new rekkid "Mature Themes" in this past Sunday's NY Times, Pink states "If people are into it, they're weirder than I am." I'm weirder than Ariel Pink. I'm not even done with his previous album yet, and between that one and this one he probably made four more unreleased records' worth of material.

Today P-crack gave "Mature Themes" a best new stamp. Maybe, but this record isn't for mass consumption, in a good way. To wit: super-great single "Only in My Dreams" is only on the record in order to fool the straight-laced toward the real trip. Can't wait til some Wilco-lovin' or Rick Ross-lovin' Pitchfarters barf when their cloud unspools "Pink Slime" or "Symphony of the Nymph." When he sings "shemales hopped up on meth" on the sweet, bouncy "Kinski Assassin."

Although I'm sure he isn't serious, Pink sounds serious, which is all the funnier, probably, to him. It is to me. I can't wait til someone mistakenly recommends "Mature Themes" to their suburban friends who prize an ability to dig Adele, and Pink starts singing about G-spots ("Is This the Best Spot?"). No, this is not the album for Those People, although it'll be great if, somehow, it makes it there.