Monday, November 15, 2021

brief book reviews

 i've been having a hard time feeling motivated to read books lately. here are reviews for the most recent books i've finished

Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement by Alan Ten-Hoeve (Gob Pile): I've spoken with Alan a few times on Twitter, about writing and publishing mainly, but also life stuff. I bought the book without knowing anything about it, vaguely thinking it would be a story collection, but it's poetry, or that contemporary mix of poetry and then some longer pieces that don't look like poems. It is a very earnest, memoiry, sentimental collection that revolves around a few common themes/topics: memories from his own childhood (usually featuring his grandparents and/or divorced dad), memories from his current life with emphasis on his own children/being a dad, and nature/domestic haiku or short poems. I really like this approach and I think it's very well done, though I think my appreciation for it is very much based on being a dad myself and trying to engage with/live in/think about nature more. I really like the quiet moments of domestic life, and the contrast between the fucked up things he experiences as a kid and his experience as a dad (seems like a good dad btw). The pacing and sequencing is good, and I felt engaged by the characters and their dynamics from piece to piece. There are a few melodramatic moments/turns at the end of some pieces, which I get but didn't think were too necessary - kind of jarring in contrast with the otherwise straight forward narrative style. I found the pieces about the mailbox really engaging, funny, and endearing, while the haiku often felt a little out of place and the meditations on nature without the context of his family were to me the least interesting parts, but I understand them and why he wrote them, and I enjoyed some of them for what they are; I can't really comment on what makes good haiku or poems about nature. I also felt distracted by the line breaks often, with many lines being only a single word long. I feel like framing these pieces as poems with a lot of line breaks isn't really necessary in terms of their rhythm and imagery - would have enjoyed it more just as a collection of (often very short) prose, maybe like Potted Meat. I recommended this book to jerome spencer, who just had another kid, by saying it's "a very dadly book."

The Sun Still Shines on a Dog's Ass by Alan Good (Death of Print): alan is a nice guy, and i've really liked his nonfiction writing in the past (eg on the neutral spaces blog) and various stories online. this is a book of fiction and it follows alan's general aesthetic outlined in his previous book the war on xmas: all the stories are about kind of angry, down-and-out smartasses navigating personal/structural setbacks, and they all sort of hinge on satirizing/shittalking contemporary conservative politics/caricatures. most of the settings are in texas, missouri, maybe kansas - the american heartland - and involve shitty cops, religious freaks, pro-gun maniacs, racists, and other kinds of often uniquely american rightwing assholes. while reading, i felt like this was generally a cathartic experience for alan as a writer. the jokes often get pushed to the extreme, the world in these stories is a very extreme place, but the main characters are left in as much disbelief as the reader, usually -- slavery-themed chain restaurants, for example, but also guys doing horse semen protein shake pyramid schemes, doomsday preppers collecting guns and stuff, etc. i feel like in spite of the common tropes and characters, the stories are generally very interesting and propulsive, action-oriented without reading like a car chase, and alan isn't afraid to let things wind up in weird or unexpected places because of some dedication to realism or literary devices. for example, the titular last story is also probably my favorite, and involves a bank heist, and, spoilers, the plucky idiots who just kind of improvised the whole plan end up totally getting away with it. writing this kind of ending requires a special desire of not giving a fuck, of pursuing what would be the most interesting or unpredictable path, which i like and appreciate. the total fuckedness of some of the characters leads to cathartic moments - a guy destroying a bunch of cop cars with a forklift, for example - and dramatic irony, like the ending of the really long story about a guy who takes out a bunch of loans because he's in love. something alan does that i don't like as much is let big story beats enter and exit without much transition, sometimes making it feel like i missed something because one paragraph will end and the next will start with an in media res hook, which would probably benefit from more scene breaks or something. there's a lot of emphasis on humor, wordplay, self-referential asides and jokes from the main characters, which i enjoyed, but sometimes they don't shine as much as they could because the settings and themes are so consistently about social/political commentary, and the sense of humor/attitude is pretty much the same across protagonists. trying to think of why i liked this collection more than, say, something else that seems really based on topical culture/politics, is that alan doesn't try to impress you with twists or unexpected takeaways, but just lets the story be what it is. while everything hinges on some absurd caricature, it doesn't feel artificial in its construction. and while a lot of the writing emphasizes humor, often straight up jokes, the humor feels unpredictable and insane, less calculated and more experimental. i'd be curious to see how he'd approach writing something less pointedly about contemporary politics with this humor and approach to character. pretty good book overall imo.

Bad Poet by Brian Alan Ellis (House of Vlad): i bought this...two years ago? or longer? and i guess i never read it, or didn't finish it. i picked it up this week to give it a real read through since i like BAE and house of vlad and the cover on this bad boy a lot (and the author photo). i remember someone snitch tagged BAE about the cover in a tweet to roxane gay, which was funny (the cover is a riff on bad feminist) (bad poet's cover looks better imo, with the black background). it's 3 sections - poems, tweets, then more poems. i feel like the tweets section is basically just a poems section without line breaks or titles. everything in the book is basically the same kind of thing, which is sort of BAE's thing, which is a pop culture pun mixed with self-hatred - lots of "call me maybe" references, for example, and images of living in squalor, feeling alienated, etc. The same-iness of the book is its main detractor for me, because I actually like a lot of the images, jokes, and some of the puns, but each (very short) poem is limited to a single discrete image + pun, which makes them feel template-based or formulaic, and the onslaught of so many of them makes it hard for any one image or idea to really shine. i feel like the really innovative things he does get drowned out - would like to see more metalinguistic things like the *winks* line and some of the throwaway jokes used to build something bigger, badder, and weirder. was thinking about this book and its approach to poetry when i wrote this tweet, about tweets and poems (tweets as poems?): "a lot of (viral) tweets feel like (bad) poems - a unique image/experience packaged up in some cliche, artificial convention to signify membership of the medium. thinking of things like "obsessed with," "shout out to," "i hope the person ok," "good morning to" etc." in the sense that the poems (and tweets) in this book are a merge of poem and tweet, always framing some image (a bar patron throwing up, not owning furniture, having a shitty flip phone, weird interactions with people, etc) with a formal framing device to designate it as a poem. kind of rambling here. basically i think he should have pushed himself to experiment more with this, even something as simple as merging like 5 small poems into one long poem, as all the pieces are very much the same kind of thing (and length). on rereading this review, i've said the same thing in maybe 3-4 different ways. something i do like a lot is his willingness to treat titles as their own (often unrelated) poem-like object (often the titles are the best part of the poem). i marked a couple poems that i really liked, but i don't have the book with me. i like the one about thinking about calling the cops on people.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

brief book reviews

this is a special expanded edition of my book reviews in which i review things that aren't quite books alongside books i've read, plus some bonus tracks (reviews of books i didn't finish and don't plan on finishing)

The Yellow Forklift, Notes on My Coworker Hank, My Mind is Not a Billboard, and Ketchup by Sam Pink (self-released): dr. pink had recently focused on some smaller, non-book-lengthed affairs of prose and poetry, and i worte most of this review before ketchup came out, so i thought i'd lump it all together. the yellow forklift is a hand-stapled (but 'professionally designed') 'zine' that features one story; notes is a single printed page with 9-point font mailed directly to customers in an envelope; and my mind is a 'professionally printed and designed' poetry chapbook released by Art We Are (they've put out various pink ephemera, such as his art book, i think, and some prints/shirts/etc). all three are, for the pinkman, pretty standard - the yellow forklift is a natural extension of his short story style, and could have come right out of the ice cream man or an earlier collection - it covers the foibles and characters inherent to some shitty menial job (delivering jugs of water), and to me the highlight was Gregorio's character. like with most of sam's stories it's pretty short - the 'book' is like a 5 minute read, maybe, but looks very nice. notes on my coworker hank is a little different in terms of formatting, anchored by a bulleted list of things about this guy hank. seems like a fun one-off goof that probably wouldn't make sense to include as-is in a collection. update: as pink has been re-releasing his old books with new covers and typesetting, he's included hank and forklift in i guess what is becoming a catch-all story collection from 2010-present which seems kind of strange but also fine, i think. anyway, it's funny, unique, and heartwarming in the typical sam pink way - a difficult-to-master balance of writing about some random dude with both humor and compassion. my mind is not a billboard is simply a very short collection of classic pink poems - i read it, enjoyed it, but can't remember anything specific about it. ketchup is good, although i can't imagine it'll go down as a pink classic like rontel or witch piss - it's more book-lengthed, although i think shorter than any of his other novels, and doesn't have many iconic characters or laugh out loud bits. i read it over a couple of days. it's good in the way his books are good and differs from his older books in some interesting, neutral ways -- notably, to me, there's more internal struggling with his 'say yes' persona, more internal conflict about liking/caring about the weird mundane bullshit the people he interacts with care about, and a higher tone of disdain for them (seems related), for example detachedly describing someone playing pokemon go, not using the name of the game to connote disinterest/superiority in/to pop culture. what's good, imo, is that, having spent a lot of time in michigan, the characters seem real and their interests/speech is familiar, which is what one should expect with sam pink's work. was hoping it would end with the main character getting killed in a sword fight in the park, kind of like "the stag" from ice cream man, but the ending as is is fine, something he does sometimes, a slow existential imaginative 'zooming out'. i liked the duck a lot as a recurring character, and the picture of the duck in the back. a few places made me laugh out loud but i can't recall which specific scenes or character names. felt curious about the behind-the-scenes aspect of the book originally being sold to soft skull and then, i guess, pulled for self-publication. i imagine he figured he could make more money from it using amazon KDP, and, i speculate here, didn't want to pad it out in length. the trade off has resulted in the noticeable inclusion of typos. felt interested in how the guy from kingshot press seems to have volunteered to design/typeset this and the recent re-releases, i'm assuming for free(?) -- they look good, definitely needed after the last versions were mostly pdf rips from the lazy fascist and house of vlad versions, but i'm feeling unmotivated to buy them currently - they would be my third set of sam pink's early/small press books.

a bunch of little zines and pamphlets by jerome spencer (public zoo press, self-released): jerome interviewed cavin and i for popscure about back patio press. we had a good conversation and discussed sharing addresses to mail each other books. i sent jerome 50 barn poems and some art, and he later sent me an envelope full of these little hand-made zine things. some are the very small 'single sheet cut in the middle and folded' style zine, some are hand-stapled a-few-8x11s-folded-in-half-and-stapled. the cover art and design is engaging and striking, and i like how they all look, basically. my favorites are a little poem about giving blueberries to a bird and the short story 'veruca', about a guy driving to see his ex-wife and discovering some kind of sinister doppelganger situation - a good mix, i think, of gritty slice-of-life with some mysterious/horror vibes without leaning too hard in either direction. would enjoy a book by jerome.

wait til you see me dance by deb olin unferth (graywolf): this was recommended/sent to me by tao lin, who describes it as one of his favorite story collections. the stories are mostly very short - noticed several have appeared in places like wigleaf, the esquire flash fiction thing, etc. Noticed a trend in (main) characters being mostly unlikeable and rude, sometimes in a mix of kafka strangeness and bernhardian madness/shittalk to humorous effect (like one where the main character inexplicably shittalks some magicians, calling them "bozos"), but also there's generally a sense of 'severity' or seriousness and a sense i can't really articulate well of maybe trying to be seen as clever or thoughtful for its own sake via listing off alternatives/possibility/questions, not for the sake of the story being told - sometimes in a deflating way (the aforementioned magicians story ending with the 'magic' being how language can allow us to imagine impossible things, i think), sometimes in a tedious way (one story that feels like a writing exercise based on oblique strategy cards, although i liked one small section from this a lot), sometimes in a melodramatic way (longer story about a guy shooting a kid). lots of stories about relationships with problems and being an adjunct creative writing professor. i think i liked the story about the turtles, the one about the couple captured by a revolutionary in the jungle, and some of the very short ones toward the end, where things are allowed to be strange and evocative in their shortness, the most. i liked the one that's a sort of post-modern take on a dirty joke, but it is also an example of this emphasis on cleverness in the text that i didn't connect with much. the vibe i get is that these are subversive but only in the context of establishment mfa literary fiction or, like, the kind of stuff you read on the jellyfish review and wigleaf, for the most part, where people seem really into the idea of 'flash fiction' as a form instead of a length. coming off as overly negative in this review. i liked it, feeling curious to read more by her.

in our time by ernest hemingway - i read a bunch of hemingway in high school and early college, and enjoyed it. last winter thought it'd be fun to get some of his books to see how they hold up, now, as an adult, and because i remember liking his scenery, snippets of european life, and sports and leisure from the early 1900s. so it's that level of escapism that i sought from this story collection, which includes several Nick Adams stories and some other random stories. in this sense i feel like it's just what i wanted - stories about fishing, skiing, getting drunk with a friend, walking around european towns, etc. In fact I was surprised most by one story simply being about two 20-something (maybe?) guys going skiing, eating apple strudel, and feeling sad that they have to go to school or whatever after - this feels like something someone would make fun of, now, for being too simple and earnest (heh), especially in the context of hemigway's masculine whatever whatever whatever. basically, reading them now as an adult, knowing more about hemingway and what he's known for, etc., i felt surprised by a lot of the humor, tenderness, and sense of nostalgia inherent to the stories themselves. there's definitely a theme of things already being shittier than they used to be along the value system he employs in these stories - a relationship falling apart on a beach surrounded by second-growth timber, childhood adventures and irresponsibility, washed-up boxers slumming around, and so on. this is confirmed by what i remember about parts of the sun also rises and death in the afternoon, e.g. him talking about bullfighting already sucking by 1920 or whatever. i also feel like, at least in these early stories, his style is less minimal and concise as he's credited with, and he actually has a lot of complex constructions, flights of fancy, and weird jokes. the emphasis on war stories - specifically the interstitial vignettes about war - didn't interest me and i typically skipped them, although some are pretty funny in a very dark way. some of the pieces read a little too melodramatic and some feel a little too simple to really resonate with me. felt interested in this being his first collection. being involved/interested in contemporary publishing means, i think, i'm more used to thinking of story collections as releases centered in time, while for older authors like hemingway, you most often encounter their work in large comprehensive collections, separated from the publishing cycle and sense of time.

bonus tracks: books i gave up on reading because i didn't really like them

the cult in my garage by duncan birmingham (maudlin house): mallory sent this too me in what felt like an overly-forward request for me to read and interview duncan and pitch to a selection of magazines. i told her i wouldn't interview him or pitch it to magazines but i might read it and review it on my blog, and she sent it. duncan is a comedy tv writer and the stories read like it. he also writes about comedy writers. some of the attempts at humor were comically bad and already felt super dated, like in the first story, where a character says "amazeballs" and says that patrick stewart "fucks" - these lines are obviously satirical, meant to make fun of millennial women, or something, but in its lazy topicality made me feel embarrassed for him. i had a really hard time wanting to read more of the book after this story, so i skipped around. the stories generally felt "normal," some interesting characters facing some kind of unexpected thing, usually with a kind of serious/somber turn toward the end, eg the title story, where a guy starts a cult in this woman's garage and she decides to join the cult, and the first story i think ends with someone getting stabbed, etc. I got a lot of television show plot vibes from it, like a sort of zaniness mixed with twists in contemporary settings. One story about comedy writers is like a character sketch of an old guy who feels threatened by young people and their new sense of humor. i dunno i personally couldn't give less of a shit about ruminations on generational divides but it seems popular for some reason, and lots of the humor strikes me as topical caricature -  aging frat bros, woke zoomers, wine moms, that kinda shit. feeling a low level sense of dread about comedy tv people putting out uninteresting books, which seems to be happening with a few presses.

what is the what by dave eggers: found this for a buck at a garage sale. hadn't read it before, but i think it's like his first book after AHWoSG. felt weird about it because it's written from the point of view of an african refugee living in america, so i couldn't shake this sense of like, all of it being kinda racist in a way that would prevent it from being published today. some of the prose is gripping but it definitely slogs and i couldn't shake the weirdness of him writing this character for a whole book, the early conflict of him being robbed by Black americans, thinking about race and heritage and stuff. getting the vibe that people praised it for being a famous author giving visibility to the story of african refugees. felt unsure whether the framing it was more post-modern stuff or real - just looked it up, apparently it was actually a collaboration with this real guy. strange book. it's also very slow, the main plot interstitched with like endless, repetitive tragedy porn about the guy seeing people killed by lions in africa and going on refugee marches and stuff. enjoyed learning that several colleges required incoming freshman classes read it 2007-2009. put it down after maybe 50 pages.

the brothers by frederick barthelme: have enjoyed almost all of his books i've read, but felt like this one was starting to get a little redundant in topic. while reading it, i felt confused/surprised by the introduction of the character and romance from his book painted desert, and then i looked it up and discovered this book came first, and painted desert is kind of like a sequel, based on the same characters. i felt my motivation to finish it dry up during the introduction of their romance and the repetition of ideas/plot points. the prose is good, as it usually is for barthelme - i probably would have enjoyed both books more if i read them in order. felt confused by the lack of marketing/information about this relationship between the two books.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

late night talk show musical guests

i have recently admitted to myself that i feel very interested in late night talk show musical guest performances. in several situations in recent memory i've found myself recommending that people watch some of my favorite late night talk show musical guest performances, and i sometimes find new ones that i like that i hadn't seen before. during the writing of this post, i found a lot of new favorites.

i feel like, when i was a young teenager, the idea that an 'indie' band i liked would perform on a major television channel for any reason was exciting, surprising, and strange. this includes modest mouse performing on The OC once, that my dad told me about because he read about it in TV guide or the newspaper, maybe.

in general, these kind of performances are bad - they often suffer from sound engineering problems, or they strive to do some kind of gimmick that plays out poorly. for example, bloc party sounds really bad during this kind of performance (guitars are hard-panned with no reverb, for example) and the pixies gave a lackluster and confusing performance during which they didn't really play their own instruments, that i've seen. i've looked up performances i remember seeing live on tv and then feeling underwhelmed, later, for example with broken social scene and clap your hands say yeah.

but sometimes the performance is great, and i find myself being drawn into certain performances even if i don't know the band or the song very well. i've recently tried looking up 'top rated' late night talk show musical guest performances and noticed a lot of people referencing the same few (sometimes uninteresting/bad) examples - i don't get why anyone likes the future islands letterman performance, i was bored by the white stripes one, etc. so this is me documenting ones that are interesting to me personally.

something i've noticed, too, looking up lists of who played what shows on wikipedia, and looking up different performances, that frequently my favorite performers put on uninteresting late night talk show musical guest performances, and some acts i don't care about much (like the beastie boys) surprise me in a good way. i've also been interested in seeing bands i'd never assumed were on these kinds of shows - Hum, Jesus and Mary Chain, Cake, etc. Writing this, i found myself googling more things, reading blogs, and watching playlists. i felt surprised at how many different shows and hosts there are - randomly remembering jimmy kimmel, jimmy fallon, uh, that british guy. i felt overwhelmed at the prospect of watching like 500+ hours of late night musical performances. i also realized that snl and chappelle's shows are sketch shows, and not late night talk shows, so, like...i guess this post is kind of all over the place. not sure what i'm doing.

here is the current list:

at the drive in - the conan o'brien show

musically, i like the vocal manipulation done live via the little pedal board on a stand, and i like how out of tune most of omar's playing is. the performance itself is energetic and involves lots of entertaining movements and eventually omar throwing his guitar and running off the stage at the end, which is very comedically-timed and entertaining still after several rewatches. i don't know ATDI's music too well but i do also like this song a lot.

the vines - letterman

the vines, i think i remember, were notoriously 'dysfunctional' because of the guitarist/singer's personality or something. i feel like this performance is probably a big contributing factor to that notoriety. i like this performance a lot because of how badly he fucks things up and how visibly frustrated the other members seem. early on, he rolls around on the floor, which, i think, knocks the guitar out of tune, so the majority of the song, when he does try to play it correctly, sounds like shit. he then fucks up his microphone a lot, rolls around some more, and really hucks his guitar at the drum kit - the drummer then seems very visibly pissed off and throws his sticks over his head and walks off. the guitarist/singer does a roll over an amp, picks up another microphone to howl for no reason, then leaves something plugged in/fucked up so there's a loud feedback squeal during the cut to commercial. something small that stuck out to me is that i don't think he's being entirely disengaged, which i noticed around 1:50, where he slows down a lot playing by himself, but follows the drummer's lead back to the correct tempo. at the very end, a stage hand comes out to switch off the amp that's emitting the loud feedback squeal. A+ television performance.

the beastie boys -  the arsenio hall show

i like this one a lot because of the energetic jumping, maybe, but also i feel like it's energetic and engaging to see the beastie boys perform their rap songs live because there is always someone rapping, due to them trading off. i also like the presence and performance of dj hurricane, who, compared to the small white beastie boys jumping ridiculously the whole time, is a tall black man who stands mostly still and stares down the camera, and his verse is very well delivered. i think i also just like this song. i like maybe 4 beastie boys songs, as far as i know.

tribe called quest - the arsenio hall show 

after working on this list for a while, i tried watching more random live performances, especially things form the arsenio hall show. i like a tribe called quest and busta rhymes, and i like this performance. i also like it, basically, for all the same reasons i liked the beastie boys performance, and i enjoyed (predictably) thinking in terms of musicology and influence, how it seems dumb to have thought the beastie boys were doing anything very original, especially in the context of hiphop. so i put it here, to sort of bookend that thought right at the top. in this performance, i like busta rhymes' outfit a lot, and the part where someone holds his mic so he can invert his hat. seems like a sort of needless and complex goof which appeals to me for its sincerity of spectacle. i wish there was a higher-quality recording of this one.

death from above 1979 - the conan o'brien show

i loved the first DFA1979 ep and album, some of the remixes, and then very little of what they've put out post-hiatus. i think they were (are?) incredible musicians and and their production on those albums is really engaging. this performance is from that era and is interesting primarily to me because of 1) how the bassist sways while playing, 2) the drummer's outfit, and 3) the gimmick where the conan bandleader comes in to play drums. this version also has a good intro interlude that isn't on the album. i'm further always very impressed/excited by musical performances that include very few people and no pre-recorded parts.

das racist - the conan o'brien show

i simply like das racist a lot and think most of their live performances are entertaining. this one in particular has a lot of effective goofs - heems rotating slowly while rapping, the reveal of kool ad's wig and subsequent playing of the piano with his head (which seems to only be plugged in for this one single goof), and dap's podium. musically, i like the delay on the snare, the digitech wammy vocal manipulation on dap's vocals, and the low bass note. also, one of the cymbal players looks like kat giordano. i do usually stop watching when the michael jackson impersonator comes out. i recommend das racist's KEXP performances, with the guy lying on the couch.

talking heads - letterman

probably the only talking heads song i really like that's not on remain in light, but this is from the remain in light tour, i think, based on the live players. i really like how it's in black and white against a purple background for some reason, and i like how david byrne dances. and i like how everyone plays - very expressive, enthusiastic, and tight.

public enemy - letterman

i like public enemy a lot, in general. in this performance, i like flava flav's outfit and dance moves, and i really love the early scene of the paul guy eating a big ass plate of food. i like the look of the militant-looking background dancers, and i'm always interested in rap performances that use a live band - this is a good one.

fear - snl

i spent some time googling for the most interesting late night talk show musical guest performances and this one came up - basically a hardcore punk show from 1976. there's a mosh pit and everything. and one point the singer/guitarist loses the mic, and so abandons his guitar to pick up the mic off the floor just in time to start singing again. they also play a few songs and it's a great performance, too - i like the saxophone a lot, and the guitarist's use of the whammy bar. enjoying sounding like an idiot who doesn't know anything about cool/punk music in writing this.

battles - jools holland

as far as i can determine, most jools holland performances are relatively free of spectacle. so this is a pretty straightforward performance, but for battles, this means it's still pretty interesting. this is my favorite version of battles and one of their best songs, even though it's probably their best-known song. i like that the performance is 7 minutes long, when usually for late night musical guest performances, long songs are cut down, and i like the emphasis on live-looping in conjunction with live performing, using multiple instruments.

 cibo matto - viva variety

ok this probably doesn't 'count' since it's not a late night talk show, but a short-lived variety show, but i still think about it frequently. there are a few interesting things about this performance: 1) that's sean lennon on one of the fattest-sounding distorted bass lines ever, 2) the drummer looks like steve burns playing a very paired-down drum kit, 3) they use the horse neigh sample to cover up the word 'fuck', and 4) i like yuka's outfit a lot. i also think they do well in spite of the large, unadorned stage, and power through what could be an awkward performance.

flaming lips - letterman

i'm mostly attracted to seeing wayne's really big goofy smile throughout. i feel like that's a really endearing and understandable look, like he thinks it's really funny they're playing on letterman, and thinks the song is funny, because it is. this is also just a very good performance - ronald is/was an incredible guitar player and makes just the wildest sounds. i wish he were featured more in the video footage. i'm also a sucker for distorted bass. the whole performance sounds good, full-sounding, and engaging.

kanye west and lil pump - snl

i laughed a lot when i first saw this and i've since rewatched and laughed several times. it's simply a terrible performance with a really lazy attempt at spectacle, but that's what makes it charming. i like how they really have a hard time getting through a 'tv friendly' version of the song and slip up a lot anyway. i like their awkward dance moves and the poorly balanced "skrrt" ad-libs. and i like kanye's big goofy grin the whole time, especially when he proudly/comically gestures to their outfits during the 'sparkling or still' line, like saying, 'see? this is why we have these costumes on. get it? lol', and then he starts laughing while bumbling through a profanity-less version of a part about getting his dick sucked.

beastie boys - david letterman

this isn't the one where they walk down the street. this is sabotage, played with live instruments, and is interesting to me for several reasons. i like the outfits a lot - the drummer looks like the main character from malibu's most wanted, almost identically, i think, and the bassist has a really stupid hat on and doens't move much. i like how the guitarist/singer is standing awkwardly while playing, complemented by his baggy pants. i like seeing it played live to give context to its composition - it's mostly one powerchord over a minimal bassline, but is still engaging and novel-seeming throughout. i like the live percussion mixed with dj scratching as well. feels like music that is both very dated but still very unique and stands up well.

built to spill - conan

troy james weaver linked me this one. i love built to spill and this song especially. i dont' think this performance is especially 'charismatic' but i wanted to include it simply because of how good it sounds. having three guitars live really fills it out the sound, and it sounds really on par with the studio recording. i think they're a great-sounding live band, in general, and it's good to see them maintaining that for a tv performance. i like how the guitarist in the middle looks like an angsty goth teenager, but also that toward the end, he's doing a lot of what i think wes borland would later get credit for 'innovating' with the 'divebombing' effect (which i mention in my other blog post about limp bizkit).

troy also sent me this, which isn't from a late night talk show, and isn't good, but is fascinating because it's so bad, from the vocal performance, to the lackluster bongos, to the guy wearing pajama pants: puddle of mudd covering nirvana.

arcade fire - snl

this is one of my favorite arcade fire songs and i was reminded of it during the phoebe bridgers guitar-smashing controversy. i think win's guitar destruction in this performance is very effective - staring at the camera, being slow and methodical. it comes off as bleakly resigned and pairs well with the message of the song. it feels like one of the more effective protest songs you could perform on SNL and the performance in general matches it well. i feel like it is a pretty moving performance, in spite of what people think about arcade fire in 2021. also, the organ sounds good, and fills out the sound well - probably one of the best-sounding snl performances i've seen.

wyclef jean - the chappelle show 

i remember seeing this in high school and feeling then, and still now, that the chorus of this song is incredibly powerful in its simplicity. it feels, depressingly, timeless, relevant, and unselfconscious in a way that i think a lot of people would consider bad, but i'm thankful i remembered it and went back to watch it for this. it's a great song and the performance is very effective, i think.

i'm curious to know what performances people who read this think of and have enjoyed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Indie Lit Fall Playlist

 at 6:54 AM on Sep 3, 2021, while cooking breakfast, i tweeted:

interested in writers i know and/or like emailing/messaging me about a song they associate with autumn, so i can compile a blog post and companion playlist
when people reached out to send me a song, i requested a little write-up, saying something to the effect of "wonderful. thank you. could you provide a little write-up as well? a blurb would be ideal, some kind of personal story or anecdote, or analysis, something. thank you" so that there could be interesting content to go alongside the playlist itself. some people responded quickly with a song, but required more time to write something, or basically ignored my request for a write-up. i enjoyed laughing at the idea of writers not wanting to write.

below is what i got from people in a sort of arbitrary order. a spotify playlist can be found here (note: two of the songs are not available on spotify)
reading the write-ups, i like the common themes people mention in their relationships to these songs: depression, melancholy, and transparently thematic lyrics or song titles. i also enjoyed seeing different things people associate with fall that i associate with other seasons - for example, i delivered pizzas in the spring and summer mostly, but nathan dragon associates delivering pizzas with fall. i also enjoyed only really being familiar with only a few of the songs people sent me.

Fall music for me doesn't have the qualities of a category I can name, unlike, say, summer music. Just know it when I hear it. This is one of my favorite songs, and I feel it is a song exemplary of the fall—walking through an empty park while wearing a light jacket, etc. I do not know what the lyrics say, as I do not speak Japanese, and I have not looked up a translation. I suppose that is another somewhat-maxim I feel about music: lyrics don't really matter, unless they do. The arrangement is so beautiful. I really treasure this song. That's all I can say.
---Sebastian Castillo 

"Banshee Beat" by Animal Collective
The first Animal Collective song I heard was "My Girls." I saw a video of three old people reviewing contemporary music. Breakfast at Sulimay's Music Reviews is a program from Scrapple TV from Philadelphia. Which is weird because I lived in Raleigh at the time and had never heard of Scrapple. Now scrapple's my second favorite pork and corn based breakfast meat and I live in Philadelphia.

The old people didn't like "My Girls." They said it was too repetitive and that nothing would come of the band. Despite their opinion, Animal Collective became my favorite band for a long time.

I worked backwards through the discography. Their music made me feel excited and somewhat insane because each album seemed better than the last. I remember telling friends, "They never miss, they can't make a bad album."

Feels was the album I liked the most. It's mostly analog sounding instruments looped and sampled. I liked the way Geologist talked about the album. How the band tuned their instruments to an old piano their friend had. It was experimental and strange but still pleasant. It was music I could put on and win people over with eventually. It was music that made me feel like dancing.

The drums and keys and guitar on "Banshee Beat" remind me of a campfire. Leaves cracking under feet on the brick campus. Rain falling while walking to class. A bowl in my jacket pocket.

There's also something lonely about the song compared to the others on the album. It's whispered. Avey sings on it with Geologist and Panda Bear doing harmonies and ad-libs. But the type of loneliness in the song is only possible with friends. It feels like stepping away from party noise to wash your face in the bathroom and think what's waiting outside.
---Graham Irvin

If you google “jackson c frank october lyrics” you’ll get a version that has the first line as “Halloween is signal I received in France”, which should really be “Following” but now I always listen for Halloween instead, see if I can make it out or if I can get it to sit in that colorblind space of perception where it could totally be one thing or the other, you have no idea which. Halloween is my grandma’s birthday, followed pretty close on by my wife’s birthday, then her mom’s, then mine and Thanksgiving and my nana’s and then Christmas. This makes it kind of sad to hear JCF sing “And it's already over in October / Already Christmas every year”, skipping that whole procession, so now when I listen to the song I just think of a slow march of cake.
--- Tom Snarsky
---Troy James Weaver 
Honestly the whole album, Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV, Part Two: No World For Tomorrow is an autumn album for me. I'm pretty sure I've listened to it every autumn since it came out in 2007. It came out on the 23rd of October, so that's an easy enough reason. It came out in the fall and I listened to it obsessively as I had with their three previous albums. I was a freshman in high school at the time, 15, and had started to move away from being more of a bring fantasy books to school to read in class nerd to a wear all black and hang out with the kids with weird hair and Tripp pants who play smash bros in basements while listening to System of a Down nerd. Only one of my friends was into Coheed and Cambria at the time, and my interest in the band surpassed his very quickly.

This being the fourth Coheed and Cambria album made the rotation of albums fit in perfectly with the seasons. Their first album, Second Stage Turbine Blade is a spring album, their second, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: Three is a winter album, their third, Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV Volume One: Fear Through The Eyes of Madness is a Summer album. I still go through each of these albums once a year, usually during the season I associate them with.

I have lots of music that I associate with seasons, I have a roster of summer artists, I generally also go through and listen to a bunch of psychobilly and horror punk during the fall as well.

The song itself, "Radio Bye Bye," is a great autumnal song. It's got their proggy basslines, a very poppy melody, cheesy lyrics, but a dark tone and overall theme. There is still the brightness of summer, but a longing sadness, knowing that something is coming to an end. I usually listen to this song whenever a relationship of any kind I'm in ends, by the way. It's a great song for endings. The whole album is the apocalyptic end of the band's original storyline. (I assume you're aware of Coheed and Cambria's schtick, but, if not, they're a concept album band with a running story throughout almost all of their albums.) This album also came out during a tumultuous time in the band's history, it was barely made, and with it being the "end" of the story, a lot of fans were anxious to know if there'd be another album or if the band would go their separate ways. A spate of solo albums from members was coming out around this time too, adding to the anxiety. 
---Joe Bielecki

This song reeks of fall. The music video, which I just watched in preparation for this message, actually opens with sun shining through barren trees, and people scavenging through fallen leaves. The song builds to what I would call a crescendo of melancholic euphoria, which is a feeling I associate strongly with autumn. There’s also a line in the song that goes “There comes frightful news from town / Of great evil abound” which makes me think of October and Halloween, and there’s a sort of Wicker Man vibe to this song, like the villagers coming together to perform something sinister.
---Ben DeVos 
 I'm a fuckin halloween boy, so just ignore the fact that "summer" is right there in the title for a goddamn second, okay Zac?  I live in Southern California, where the differentiation between summer and fall is slim (Levi's 511) as hell, so what is a season to you might not be a season to me (so defensive). But one thing that always seems to break with the equinox is nights cooling down to sweatshirt-based wardrobes, wind blowing rustling leaves that may or may not fall, and spooky movies. Though kind of a shit film, I Know What You Did Last Summer features a Type O Negative cover of Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze" that should not bang/drone as hard as it does.  This song reminds me of nights turning cold and the fear of death lurking just around the corner. Happy Birthday Zac, and remember age is just a number.
 possibilities feel endless and they are, because you're fifteen and haven't fucked up yet. you don't even know fucked up yet. you kiss softly, laugh loudly, weep in the middle of the night. you get mad over nothing and forget it the next day. someone gave you adderall or some acid. someone else gave you a hickey. someone else gave you a handful of CDs, whose songs will be burned into your psyche until you die, the first time and the last time. everything feels important right now. the way summer slides into fall, making each breath you take more thrilling. the way it feels to make three sandwiches for two hungry friends who got stoned off a coke can in your backyard. the way pop-punk still pays homage to hardcore even though it definitely isn't anymore. you think it's all pretty sad and wonderful, and you're right. you think you know all a person needs to know about love and sorrow and joy. you do know all you need to know. it's saturday.
---Austin Islam
Heard the song for the first time in the fall of my senior year of college. Went through a big Magnetic Fields phase that summer and someone tipped me to Jens Lekman. The sample sounds lifted from Saturday morning cartoons, but Jens performs like a weary lounge singer. I worked at a coffee shop at the time and I remember a weeknight closing shift. The place was packed, but it was just a bunch of studying students so it wasn't busy and I remember this song coming on my iPod which was hooked up to the soundsystem and I watched the leaves blow across the street and waited for someone to ask me who sings this song.
---Kyle R. Seibel 

This is the perfect song to listen to while skipping middle school, strolling through the streets of suburbia and dodging cops on a crisp fall day. The visceral riff is perfect for tightening your hoodie strings and stomping on crunchy pine cones. The driving melody pairs well with angsty mischief and the smell of fresh spraypaint. J Mascis’ melancholy, bittersweet vocals are the perfect soundtrack for picking through cigarette butts in front of Kroger, hoping to find a long one. I don’t even remember who gave me that mixtape, but I remember playing this song until it warbled and never quite making it to school as the landscape turned from orange to grey and the rhythms became more sprawling and earthy. I suppose it’s a really poignant breakup song too, but I was 13 so I didn’t know anything about that.
---Jerome Spencer 

In the fall of 2015, I think, I was very depressed and was getting into more slower and sadder music. For whatever reason I saw that Numero Group was releasing this Bedhead box set and I was really interested in spite of never listening to the band before. It was a lot of money at the time, but I bought it anyway, feeling dangerous and manic, and I listened to the digital download while I waited for it to arrive. I spent a lot of time walking around that fall listening to music, and especially Bedhead. All of it really spoke to me - the mumbling, the quietness, the space, the simplicity, the lyrical themes. To me, it was very new and exciting, and paired well with how bad I felt all the time. The quiet and slow approach they had calmed me against the often overwhelming anxiety, especially as it related to the academic year starting again, when I generally felt the worst, and the depressed lyrics made me feel understood and less lonely. This song is from their third album, Transaction de Novo, where they experimented the most - some more uptempo songs, different time signatures, some more folksy Americana - but this is a more or less 'classic' Bedhead song, perfectly encapsulating their oeuvre, I feel, and so in that sense it encapsulates the entire season of fall.
 ---Zac Smith