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.
---KKUURRTT
 
 
 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
 
 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

brief book reviews

here are brief reviews of the four books i've most recently read. i have collected a lot of books recently and have slowly been reading some and very quickly reading others.

the bridegroom was a dog by Yōko Tawada (Kodansha): maybe 2 years ago or so tom laplaige recommended i read the emissary by Yōko Tawada because, i think, we had talked about japanese literature on twitter, and i remember tom expressing curiosity/disappointment in me not writing about it for this blog. i liked it a lot, particularly the strange consequences of the apocalyptic setting and the daily minutia and this, i felt, kind of bold anti-American sentiment, or at least setting. i thought it was an interesting book with a lot of cool imagery, and it ends, basically, with this child turning into a fish, kind of. anyway, i found this collection of three stories, kind of like three novellas, from the early-to-mid 90s, for cheap online. across the stories there's this consistently interesting meandering structure, where unexpected things come up and happen, characters are introduced, and how long they last or what they do is unpredictable. i got a lot of kafka vibes, especially in the second story, which is about a mail-order bride showing up in a strange country, never meeting her husband, and trying to learn about the country with its strange quirks from combative, guarded, and selfish people. the third story reminds me of Bernhard, with its more obsessive protagonist, european setting, and emphasis of a second character named Reinhart, but there is a weirdness and playfulness to it, with the protagonist being insane in unique and special ways (rambling about wanting to be 'swallowed' by a mountain) and, interestingly to me, a lot of funny images/scenes involving penises. reading the book, its trappings and style choices and some of this imagery, like the penises, reminds me of my own book in a lot of unexpected ways, which, in a comforting way, made me feel like my book isn't that unique or innovative at all. something in particular i liked is that these stories feature characters who seem unexpectedly angry, rude, and frustrating - even the protagonists are very flawed and selfish in a non-edgy way, which made the reading experience exciting and unpredictable. the imagery and plot for each story hinges on unexplainable, evocative things, but is often written with a lot of humor. for example, the first story begins with a litany of weird, seemingly abusive/traumatic things a daycare teacher does or teaches children, but the emphasis is on how gossip works, how people can bicker over potential explanations, and even trust that they don't know any better; the title story is about a strange 'folktale' the teacher tells her students about a lazy caretaker training a dog to lick a child's ass instead of wiping her herself, and then the child grows up and marries the dog on an island (or something - the story is unclear, in the story); the story then randomly pivots to the teacher dealing with a sex-crazed vampire moving in, and other unexpected things happen. i like the perplexing crassness of various scenes - lots of weird sex and toilet stuff - without seemingly written to be shocking, just bizarre and contemplative, like an image of the protagonist thinking/dreaming about 'rotating' her friend on the beach until he's mostly under the sand, aside from his penis sticking out. each story also prominently features unexplained phenomena, magic, transformations, etc. all set against the normal, selfish, preoccupied modern world, which creates a lot of the humor and intrigue. overall, i think i most liked the confidence she shows to let the stories meander, flow in strange directions, and not feel tidy or overly moralistic. something that stood out to me is that these are explicitly not "i-novel" in execution, and i'm curious more and more about less popular japanese literature especially from the 90s (my previous reading has mostly been limited to banana yoshimoto, haruki murakami, ryu murakami, and some other random, more popular books like convenience store woman and older books like the key and no longer human); feeling more and more sure that someone on twitter would berate me for not knowing about how the CIA made japanese writing known for the i-novel in order to something something something communism.

leave society by tao lin (vintage): tao had the publisher send me an advance copy, which i was excited to get. this is another mostly straightforward autofiction book based on Tao's life, but includes - which i thought was most exciting - several sections which he refers to, in the book, as meta-autofiction, where he writes about writing/planning the book, with jumps between time to create a sense of auspiciousness or wholesomeness, or larger context for various scenes, and also serves as a means of explaining the naming of the sections of the book and stuff like that. the first two thirds focus on the protagonist, Li, traveling between NYC and Taipei, spending time with his parents and their poodle. i knew going into it that there would be a big emphasis on Li learning about health and nutrition and reading books on alternatives to accepted scientific thought, but what i didn't know, and which made the book more exciting to me, i think, is that this is framed around Li's chronic back pain. the pain serves as a key lens through which his past and present are connected, exploring childhood illness and hospitalizations, mental health issues, and family problems, and gives a richer context to the book's larger theme/obsession with 'healing.' i can imagine this book being challenging for some people for reasons similar to his previous autofiction books, in that the character of Li does/says a lot of frustrating, unempathetic, or pushy things, which can lead the reader to feel that the author, tao, is some kind of asshole, but i think the book's strength is in capturing a larger complexity to personal life that a lot of fiction fails to capture and is thus overly simplistic and (ironically) moralizing. i think we all generally think of ourselves as good and correct and like to ignore when we're short-tempered, mean, dismissive, bossy, etc in our personal lives, in small moments that we often move past or recognize and apologize for. this is a thing i also liked in frederick barthelme's books, where characters 'act out' under pressure but then quickly realize that was stupid - i think most fiction tends to require that every interaction build toward some monolithic 'good/bad' characterization, where only the 'bad' characters say mean things and only the 'good' characters show empathy. in this sense i think leave society's focus on daily minutia and research into wellness and experiments with foods/alternative medicines is encouraging and realistic and brings a natural sense of tragedy, to me, at least - by the end, Li still mostly suffers endlessly from physical and mental ailments and struggles to navigate interpersonal relationships. unlike the more grifteresque 'guru' people who promote natural health remedies, tao lets the reality of Li's life speak for itself and doesn't try to insist on having figured everything out from some sort of pedestal, but i can see a lot of people lazily, negatively reading/dismissing the story as some kind of lecture. in this sense this book is similar to his previous books in which the protagonist, suffering a great deal in the modern world, continues to explore new ways to make his life better (cognitive behavioral therapy/self-help tapes, pharmaceutical drugs and nihilistic socializing, alternative medicine/science, calm art creation/learning) in an order that seems relatable and that i've seen in maybe all other people as they age (image here of restless teenager moving to the city and then becoming, eventually, a suburban grandmother with an extensive flower garden). style-wise, tao alternates between simple action-oriented sentences and complex, adjective/adverb-riddled, hard-to-parse-on-first-try realizations/insights into the Mystery - idle speculations or fits of imagination about the world, universe, history, and humanity. these sentences use unexpected verbs and invented/inventive adverbs, but there are also these kinds of word choices in the rest of the text. some favorites include "quarterheartedly" and the when two characters come across the word 'winkle' and start to use it. so there's generally a playfulness and lack of self-consciousness that i like, and, i think, all the discussions of books he's read in the text itself serve some part of the 'plot', which i thought shows a lot of restraint and conscious effort in crafting the story. this is an excerpt of what i sent tao over email after reading maybe half of it (looking over this now i've enjoyed seeing how infectious tao's newly developed writing cadence/style is, in this book, like with his other books): "wanted to say really quickly that i got leave society and have been enjoying it a lot. i've had to get my car's brakes and tires fixed/replaced yesterday and today in a convoluted way, at a mechanic shop 1.2 miles away, needing to go back and forth so we could use the car to help my kid nap, etc., so yesterday i walked about 7 miles total while reading your book, which was a really pleasant and heartening experience... i've felt really impressed by the playful and unexpected word choices, like 'dodder' as a verb, and things like that which made me smile, alongside the general arc about family, memory, and introspection... the discussion of prehistory, history, alternatives to established scientific assumptions, and medicine are really thought-provoking. felt myself feeling curious, intrigued, and excited to think, speculate, and imagine between bouts of reading, especially about alternatives to 'modern society'. reminded me of learning more about childbirth (we're expecting another baby in december), how the western medical establishment arbitrarily and patriarchically dominated childbirth and reframed it as a 'medical procedure', resulting in the unneeded death of tens of thousands of mothers and babies, unneeded trauma, and negative cultural associations with childbirth and femininity (eg cultural assumption that childbirth is painful, violent, traumatic, requires drugs and metal tools, and involves blaming others). so i've also enjoyed reading your book and seeing connections form between my new knowledge and thoughts on childbirth and 'medical' things i hadn't thought much about, and i enjoyed reading your book about walking up mountains and in parks while walking up and down the hill we live on, near trees and flowers. i'm maybe halfway through. thank you for sending me a copy. excited to continue reading it. just got to the part where Dudu cuddles with Li and guards the bathroom door for him, felt emotional thinking about dogs."  the last third or fourth of the book transforms into a love story, focusing in the slow building of the protagonist's relationship with Kai, an editor for an unnamed press, and staying in hawaii for a week together. there was a lot of humor in this section especially, i felt, for example, the recurring bit about Kai rubbing a clay ointment on Li's butt. i never felt bored reading and wanted to continue reading when i wasn't able to, but i imagine a lot of people won't have the interest or patience to enjoy it because of its unique writing style, subject matter, and assumptions about authorial intent/division between author and protagonist. i did really enjoy thinking about a random, generic enjoyer of big press books buying it on a whim and having no conception of what to expect from the book, because it intentionally subverts the vast majority of literary fiction conventions and in this way is unlike any other book i've read. enjoyed realization maybe halfway through that i might show up as a character in his next book.

hehehe by gg roland (clash): bought this as part of clash's indiepalooza bundle, knowing i already liked blake's book, homeless's HOV book, and roland's twitter presence. on a related note, i enjoyed, from a linguistics point of view, how, even though clash is an indie press putting out a lot of poetry books, they specifically referred to this bundle as the 'indie' one in line with, i think, sam pink's, big bruiser dope boy's, and my books, which makes me think they (clash) and potentially many others are (un)consciously using "indie lit" to just mean "post alt lit" or something like that - interesting distinction between their other indie poetry books and these 'indie' poetry books, basically. anyway, this is a book of poems that specifies they were all written 2013-2015 on the back, which is an interesting thing to include in the synopsis and stood out to be as potentially 'explanatory', trying to make sure you know they were written during the tail end of alt lit even though they're published in 2021, because the majority of them are very alt lit in execution to me, in the sense that a surprising number focus on quiet, autofictional relationship and love/alienation thoughts with a lot of 'i want to / i will' phrasing for things, like [paraphrasing] "i will not murder you / i want to touch all of your skin with my mouth". these constitute the bulk of the book, which was unexpected to me, and date the book in this late-alt lit time period - feels like a sort of 'lost' book from this time period, like no glykon's numbskull, and in this sense it is in a way 'cozy' and familiar, but also interesting form a sort of 'archeological' point of view. a few of the poems stand out to me as more wacky/goofy or intentionally humorous with a more contemporary feeling, ranging from self-deprecating one-liners to more inventive and silly imagery (like jerking off onto a robber during a break in). i think these more exploratory/image-based and humorous poems are generally the strength of the book, for me, and i'd be curious to know if these are later additions. the result of having both is that the book seems pitched/framed as more goofy/comedic/dark but reads much more tender and earnest than i expected. i am curious, though, about some of these one-liner goof poems, in the sense that they technically predate a lot of, like, brian alan ellis and homeless-style one line goof poems i'm familiar with, but being published now feel more conventional than unconventional. so i'm curious now to trace back a common ancestor for these kind of poems - seems to be something tao lin, spencer madsen, etc didn't do, but i'm also unfamiliar with a lot of alt lit stuff, especially out of print things, or maybe this goes back farther (haven't read any brautigan, for example). i think overall this shows a lot of promise and i'd be curious to see what he would write right now, or what he'd publish if he had 10 days to write a book, something like that. i think the author bio and photo are great.

family annihilator by calvin westra (expat): i've enjoyed reading calvin's things on the internet and have enjoyed his seemingly earnest enthusiasm for things/people on twitter. this is a novella told in an inventive, i think, three-levels-deep split narrative: the first is about Oen, a writer who starts a cleaning company with his brother and spends time with his girlfriend, the second follows a character named Florian from Oen's story, which is called "Family Annihilator", and the third is made of scenes from the television show that Florian is trying to write, called Family Annihilator. i enjoyed this conceit of embedded, self-referential story telling and i felt like, relative to maybe all other indie lit books i've read in recent memory, the idea of bouncing between storylines chapter to chapter like this is refreshing and novel, especially with the added post-modern layer of the characters being characters in a story in a story. however, my favorite parts where the 'real' layer, about Oen, which emphasizes Oen's relationship with his girlfriend and brother, and is very tenderly written and emphasizes small details in a wistful, mournful kind of atmosphere, featuring really compelling subplots about starting a cleaning company and being with his girlfriend, Lee, while she prepares to give her first big speech at an AA meeting. the second layer about Florian was a little less compelling but still interesting, featuring the character trying to get feedback on his strange television scripts on an internet forum (assuming 4chan) (my favorite part of this layer) and also being in a relationship, but which is also framed by flashback-style chapters about being involved, unwillingly, in some kind of traumatic porn production thing in high school, which is introduced later in the book and informs/motivates the rest of the narrative. i liked that the secondary layer is where most of the bleak, manufactured melodrama lives (the kind you'd expect from a 'normal book') and where you notice more of a mccarthyesque run-on sentence style (which i didn't really care for, in that it seems affected and overly dramatic, but is also probably intentional, to create the 'artifice' of the story being a story, in the book, so i feel conflicted about it), while the main, 'real' layer is calm and full of positivity and optimism and hard work - this feels realistic and relatable, to me, and is what i found most compelling about the book; i enjoyed the simple passages about Oen and his brother cleaning a library and talking optimistically about expanding their business, overcoming the small external conflicts, and the relationship between Oen and Lee, with its focus on being caring, supportive, and vulnerable without artificially crafted conflict. this, i felt, really stood out as the most unique and exciting thing about the book. while reading it, i felt like it's something that, if longer, maybe, and on a bigger press, it could be critically acclaimed and sell many copies (i generally don't think many indie books have 'crossover potential' but this book has a good balance of stylistic hooks and content - not too extreme in its dark themes, not too alienatingly self-aware in its autofictional approach). i would have liked it to be longer, as i think there is a lot of potential development left in each of the stories. this is probably the best book i've read from expat press and i feel enthusiastic about calvin writing and publishing more books.