Tuesday, November 8, 2022

briefer book reviews

made myself laugh imagining adding an epigraph to this blog post

 

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Karabata: bought this after enjoying The Lake. it's a short, strange domestic drama centering on traditional japanese tea ceremonies. felt like i wasn't able to understand most of the subtext or social cues for lack of knowing anything about traditional japanese tea ceremonies or the state of japan when it was written; the author is quoted as confirming that it's about some conflict between the contemporary world and the world represented by the traditional tea ceremonies. but i enjoyed the prolonged discussion/description of centuries-old tea bowls and other objects. felt curious about the intentional repetition of certain phrasing and images throughout. enjoyed the emphasis on sex, especially the guy having sex with this girl's mom. felt dumb/racist at feeling like there was a strong sense of 'haiku'-like imagery/description throughout.

Live my Lief by Steve Roggenbuck (self releases/boost house): never read any of his writing before, i think. this one seems to be a compilation/best-of(?) of previous books or something. felt surprised/turned off by how many poems are 'earnest'/romantic with emphasis on kissing and the moon. some of the humor feels dated, especially the section that's just image macros, but i felt like other jokes/poems held up well. most enjoyed a short poem that felt like an earnest love poem that ended with a brief advertisement for home gym equipment. feeling 65% convinced that roggenbuck has rebranded as the mysterious Dave, based on some notable similarities between their books.

Southeastern Nowhere by Bram Riddlebarger (gob pile press): i think this is a collection of (out of print?) chapbooks from 2000-2015. mix of themes/images presented in mostly very short poems, sort of haiku-like. noticed a large number of metaphors/similes describing things as being like dreams in a way that felt nonsensical, made me think about what people mean when they talk about dreams in poetry. mostly liked the poems about camping/the outdoors.

Everything Was Fine Until Whatever by Chelsea Martin (future tense): felt interested in reading this one following EE's (unused, comically unusable) blurb for my book: Reading Zac Smith’s Everything Is Totally Fine reminded me of reading “Alt Lit” books in 2009, particularly Chelsea Martin’s Everything Was Fine Until Whatever, which made me wonder if Chelsea Martin might write an essay abt Zac Smith the way Sam Pink wrote an essay abt Sean Thor Conroe, but mostly idc, because mostly idk what “Alt Lit” is, I never did, and I still don’t care. i have read and enjoyed other books by chelsea martin before, but hadn't read this one. it may be my least favorite so far. mostly short, self-deprecating vignettes about relationships, body image, pregnancy/birth, family, and food. some minor experimentation in form and includes some drawings (i like her art style a lot). sometimes felt repetitive and took me a while to finish, although i thought it had various good moments/images whenever i picked it up. i don't think our books are very similar aside from each emphasizing absurd humor within short pieces. thankful that chelsea did not write a 5k word essay talking shit about me.

Teenager by Bud Smith (Vintage): have read and enjoyed previous bud smith books/novels. felt interested in his 'major label debut' and how it would compare. enjoyed various specific scenes in this one but felt like some plot points were predictable (why they leave the ranch) or arbitrary/confusing (meeting neil at the grocery store and the subsequent events). enjoyed the theme of hapless and silly cop deaths throughout. laughed at one line (when they stole the dirt bike). felt confused at times by the narrative perspective -- mostly follows kody's internal monologue, but veers occasionally into tella's -- and seeming lack of conversation/character development between the two characters during a prolonged, intense, intimate road trip. noticed, grumpily, several copyediting/consistency issues (including the use of 'wretch' when he meant 'retch' and the continued emphasis on them only stealing shitty cars except for the one scene where the plot requires that they're driving a BMW), which only stood out to me because of the long-running publicity story that the book was rewritten and edited by several people over an ~8 year period. the long length and emphasis on plot/action/adventure often made it hard for me to want to pick it back up continue reading. felt like various minor plot/character points were needlessly inserted and repeated for dramatic, major-press-style drama. felt like the ending was good overall, cementing the book ultimately as a condemnation of America, which wasn't as in-your-face throughout. felt in the vein of earlier stories by bud, e.g. the one about eating american flags

Donald Goines by Calvin Westra (expat press): enjoyed his previous book and i enjoyed this book, but partially for different reasons. this is a quick, funny, heartfelt novel about poor teenagers getting addicted to drugs. enjoyed the emphasis here on the recurring comedic bits and several very comical scenes/dialogue. enjoyed the unique and internally-consistent effects of the drug, how people talked/felt about the effects of the high. enjoyed how the narrative slowly unveils aspects of the characters/background, revealing variously emotionally engaging layers below the at-first-absurd-seeming things, e.g. the puppets/birds motifs. thought the last third tended to drag/get repetitive, but overall i think calvin westra is a very talented writer and this is a good book, according to my personal preferences.

Guess What's Different by Susan Triemart (malarkey books): short stories with a surprisingly high number written in second person. felt like if it weren't for these it could have just been billed as a CNF collection about death in the family. felt generally uninterested in the mfa writing prompt-like nature of most of the stories -- lots of artifice in the form like lists and fragmented flashbacks, inventing/emphasizing parallelism in the events and wording, and an overall sense of self-importance/melodrama. graham described this kind of writing as 'precious'. most enjoyed a longer, early story about her grandpa running over a toddler. didn't finish.

Characters by Derek Maine (expat press): we published a ~6k word review/interview about this on the Last Estate. i liked the book more than i expected. thought it was engaging, ambitious, and clever, if at times overwrought and melodramatic -- lots of people dying and lots of people smoking cigarettes. unironically reminded my of infinite jest (it also references IJ on the last page). thought the non-postmodern parts of straightforward (auto)fiction were most engaging but respect that they were subsumed into the higher-dimensional ambition of the book. enjoyed thinking of it being structurally influenced by dubliners. enjoyed/noticed and empathized with his interest in writing fake autofiction about indie lit success stories, e.g. a scene where there's a well-attended reading at some bar in NYC that features "tyrant, house of vlad, and expat" as publishing entities. i think it's the first book afaik to mention cyberwriting (and currentivism -- i'm sure derek would appreciate me recognizing this book as 'being in conversation' with bibles' book)

The Light To Never Be Snuffed by Josh Dale (Alien Buddha): josh sent me this after i sent him a copy of my book. this is a novella about an overweight, awkward kid with a bad home life who really likes pokemon and hallucinates about ants. the underlying story seems compelling in its bleak realism re: the family life, specifically the parents' complex relationship, but i don't feel comfortable really reviewing it for style or execution because it seems very unedited, which i mostly blame on the editor/publisher of the press, who seems to just churn out books (this started out as a more inflammatory note about alien buddha press, but having done some research, and based on my experience reading alien buddha books and speaking with some of the authors who publish with them, i don't think they're necessarily a scam, but think they could make fewer, but better-looking and better-edited books).

bonus chapbook speedround

Cheat by Danielle Chelosky (self released/the waiting room): brief diary type thing about cheating on a boyfriend in high school and drinking too much/feeling rebellious and self-pitying. includes a large number of similes for feeling bad. feel like its strength is the 'honesty/intensity' and less the style/structure/voice. enjoyed feeling frustrated by the bouts of self pity during an expensive family vacation to a tropical island, as a dad.

The Leave Society Cookbook by Tao Lin (forever magazine): very little written content but looks very nice. includes some good jokes, including a recipe that he has never made, but still recommends. would have enjoyed more recipes; would enjoy a full-length hybrid cookbook/memoir that focuses just on food and family.

King Ludd's Rag #10 by Rebecca van Laer and Alan ten-Hoeve (malarkey): 2 longer stories. rebecca's is about a dysfunctional couple temporarily moving to new orleans so the painter can work on her art. alan's story is about a failed wood-worker with a mysterious penis infection trying to get answers from various anxiety-inducing doctors. enjoyed the ending of rebecca's, and the conceit of the protagonist being judgemental and dismissive of the other characters. enjoyed alan's story's conceit and laughed a few times throughout. alan reminded me that i had read a ~1k word earlier version of the story and rejected it for something, but i like the new, longer version. enjoyed the theme of the zine being that each story centers a self-centered, failing artist of some kind with a troubled marriage. seemed like a good editorial decision.

Spontaneity for its own sake by Shawn Michael Sullivan (self-released): shawn is responsible for me appearing on bookworm with tao, as i understand it. he later sent us links to/pdfs for his own books and was transparently angry with us for not promoting his writing in exchange for getting us on the show. i purchased two of his books to be nice. this one is a collection of self-referential short stories mostly about the act of writing vis a vis this and other books, although one of the pieces says it's all poetry. other themes include frustration, self-pity, and living in los angeles. many pieces feel like self-affirmations. the longest pieces read like an alt lit-style autofiction but with more affectation/drama/annoyance/frustration -- the style makes me think of someone telling a story at a fancy dinner party. enjoyed this line: "I use my imagination when I write of who I was and am, and I like thinking about the different ways I can use my imagination."

Monday, August 29, 2022

briefer book reviews

the return of my book reviews was a smash hit. this is the rushed, sophomoric slump post. we got a new producer and everything. 6.2 on pitchfork ass post.


Love by Hanne Orstavik -  when i sent christian utigard some books, he sent me some uk-published translations of norwegian books, including this one. it's a a split narrative following a single mother and 9 year old son, taking place over the course of about six hours. it's bleak - everyone has problems, it's cold and icy, etc. the split in perspective happens randomly, paragraph by paragraph, introducing some intentional ambiguity at times, i think to create additional tension. felt interested in the internal thoughts of each character, both seeming very realistic - a mix of self-doubt, intrusive thoughts, strange memories, speculations. i don't remember reading many books with a child protagonist that feels so relatable and realistic. felt like there was an artificial amount of thriller-adjacent tension which was unneeded, but i enjoyed most the daily artifacts of life in a small norwegian village, like people eating liver paste on bread and watching music videos on tv. didn't predict the ending and thought it was just good, as an ending. but overall felt like the book went slowly, in spite of its short length. curious about orstavik's first novel (this one seems more acclaimed and is probably, to me, based on this and what i know about myself, the worse of the two).

Zero by Gine Cornelia Pederson (Nordisk books) - bought this without knowing anything about it because i liked a different book in translation from nordisk. published originally in 2013, translated in 2018. this is a book-lengthed poem, split into chapters, about a teenager/young woman slowly getting into drugs and going clinically insane. started out slow and melodramatic but then quickly pivoted to ridiculous, slapstick/comedic, and very dark in a fun way that made me laugh out loud and share passages with others. reminds me of alt lit in a good way, but cranks up the action and is less self-referential, or something - leans into being fiction and not autofiction. i enjoyed the consistent emphasis on her being selfish, misanthropic, and uninterested in others in spite of much of the plot revolving around intense feelings of love and desire, often to great comedic effect. the poem form allows/encourages some moments of obscuring what's happening with more impressionistic/staccato lines especially toward the end, which i wasn't as interested in, but i 'got' it as an effect. thought i wouldn't like the end as it was happening, but then i did. would recommend; keep thinking of it as a 'romp.'

Modern Massacres by Timothy Willis Sanders (Publishing Genius) - i liked TWS's novel Matt Meets Vik and random stuff i've read online. this is a very short collection of mostly very short stories. most seem/appear autofictional and mostly focus on social anxiety; there's a big theme of overthinking and being distracted during interesting social situations. similar to Matt Meets Vik, I really like his tendency to emphasize the disconnect between what people think vs. what people say; several of these scenes made me laugh throughout the book. some of the stories do that fragmented/shuffled up cnf thing that doesn't appeal to me much, and it felt like the sequencing and content was imbalanced; i think most of the stories follow tws-like protagonists except one toward the end. felt like, because of its length, it could have fully committed to either just autofiction or a wider mix of perspectives. would have also enjoyed more/longer stories - i found all the stories compelling and enjoyed reading them. would vote for an elected official whose platform includes the publication of modern massacres 2.

I'm Not Hungry but I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez (sante fe writer's project): vaguely knew about this from online, bought it at a local shop. liked it a lot more than i expected to; i had assumed it would be mostly melodramatic 'normie' litfic kind of stuff, but i found it overall engaging and unpretentious. all the stories focus on being insecure and bisexual - some trauma-from-being-closeted/coming-out stories, some cynical 'love is hard to find' stories, some more 'plays-with-form' stories. i liked the emphasis on food and the straightforward narrative structure of most of the stories, but felt like some of the endings were 'mfa-style' with shoehorned in setups and at times relied on 'lazy' caricatures as an attempt at humor/levity. repeatedly thought that i would have enjoyed more long stories - i enjoyed 'inhabiting his world' and felt like he doesn't need the 'punchiness' of flash-lengthed stories to keep you interested. unrelated to the stories, i felt that the cover is terrible and looks like a bad cook book/chef memoir. also noticed all the blurbs try to make metaphors/similes comparing the stories to eating food, which feels embarrassing for chris.

Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass by Harold Gatty - a nonfiction book from the 50s, i think, about 'pathfinding'. mix of practical navigation tips (of varying levels of stupidity, such as 'follow your nose: cities smell like factories, and farms smell like cow shit'), belligerently confident speculation (author is convinced that people naturally walk in wide circles because of having differently lengthed legs; no idea what is true explanation but i assume this isn't the reason), complex math problems (calculating the day of the month based on some tables you're supposed to memorize), and legitimately interesting history, anthropology, biology (specifically the chapters about bird migration patterns and how some pacific island nations navigated by stars, thinking of the sky in terms of a dome with bands of stars). skipped some of the dumber-seeming passages. enjoyed various scientific fun facts i've since forgotten. unsure i learned anything practical. biggest takeaway was thinking of moon phases as they relate to the moon's spatial opposition to the sun in the sky - a full moon rises as the sun sets, for example.

 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

briefer book reviews

after experiencing minor petty twitter bullshit over a middling review on my blog, i stopped publishing book reviews. i felt like the petty twitter bullshit stirrer made me reassess the purpose of me writing book reviews, what role they could serve anybody, and whether my criticisms of any given book weren't just rooted in various biases. i spent some time learning, in a shallow way, ideas related to art and taste, quality, etc. i also talked with some people about the role of negative reviews in small press publishing, how there's little value in it in contrast to the millions of dollars invested in keeping small press books out of serious press to begin with -- someone puts out a book on a no-name press because they care about their art more, i believe, than someone who views publishing as a job, and their books as marketable products. i have nothing new to say about literary criticism or critique. i like reviewing and talking about books. i had mostly positive, personal feedback from people who read my more honest and open reviews of indie books. i have seen a fun trend in people i like writing single-paragraph reviews of books online (eg nathan, crow, and sebastian), on their blogs. i feel inspired by this and want to participate again. and, finally, if you don't like my review of your book, fuck you. just kidding.


Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist: this is from 1808 and apparently was a favorite of franz kafka, which is why i assume people know about it today and revere it, and why it was recommended to me. it's about a horse trader who suffers a petty slight from some baron or something, and his quest for justice escalates in exceedingly rambunctious and bizarre ways. wikipedia describes it as eerily modern for its time, which i agree with. it made me laugh in several places, although i felt like the ending dragged on a little bit. i liked the emphasis on absurdism by way of pettiness and honor. the writing is at times hard to follow, with lots of long, complex sentence structures and confusing references to people, eg lots of referring to someone as 'the latter' or 'the former' in a 200-word sentence, and using various titles like 'the elector' that had to be understood in context (as there are many electors). i celebrated kohlhaas's various victories and cursed his enemies. fun book.

The Mold Farmer by Rick Claypool (six gallery press): a purely sci-fi book that i felt was compelling for its severe bleakness and provocative imagery. i haven't read much sci-fi as an adult, but i enjoyed this, its emphasis on family obligation and futility, the conceit of the world post-alien invasion, and the non-contrived-seeming ways some people act, the ambiguity of their choices/actions. i felt the dream sequences and some aspects of the prose were distracting, but overall the book made me feel frustrated and depressed in a fun way.

What Are You? by Lindsay Lerman (clash): written to a sort of aggregation of men in the narrator's life as a condemnation of patriarchal values, sex, and relationships. a unique means, i felt, of communicating personal trauma and connecting it to broader patterns. i felt frustrated by what felt like a lack of direction/plot and a little confused on whether it should be understood as a novel or a collection of essays. i noticed a large number of cliched expressions, which surprised me, as there is otherwise an emphasis on style and philosophical expression. i think its strength is in its anger/indignation and how it collectively functions as a subjecting you, by the narrator's experience, to a sort of 'onslaught of bullshit' that is ruinous to life and depressingly common for all women. glad i read it.

Small Moods by Shane Kowalski (future tense): fun collection of mostly very short things. mostly reminded me of lydia davis in terms of style, but with some more 'fun' and absurdism. someone in an interview asked about the ellipses, and i think they contribute well to the tone, conveying 'madness' or being 'unhinged', which was effective when it happened and elevated the stories by emphasizing the speaker in a unique way. reminded me of the joy williamsian exclamation point and the bernhardian parentheses. i liked the stories most that didn't try to end on a clever pun or poetic turn, but i think for a different audience those are probably the best part of the stories. a few made me laugh out loud.

You can't betray your best friend and learn to sing at the same time by Kim Hiorthøy (nordisk books): something like 40 short stories/scenes and a few bleak drawings presented as a novel. emphasis on comical, farcical relationship things with an antagonistic/misanthropic/stupid narrator. made me excited and giddy at times and i sent pictures of the chapters to people. many of the 'chapter's made me laugh and feel validated about my own writing. felt impressed/interested that it's originally from like 2001 or 2003.
 
Yes by Thomas Bernhard: ok by bernhard standards. made me laugh in a couple very specific scenes, but mostly felt like the repetition wasn't as effective as in other books by him. the last fourth was the most exciting part, i felt, and included the best jokes. for example, the (unhinged) narrator randomly describes his library as 'the spider room' without any reason/context, and repeats it a few times - both effective and comical. i also liked the 'reveal'/explanation of the swiss couple at the end and the last few scenes in particular. it has an effective title for the book, which also made me laugh, learning its context. interested in reading more 'middle period' bernhard books.

The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata: recommended to me by troy. enjoyed it a lot and i think of the imagery/characters often. oddly split something like 30-70 between two protagonists who briefly overlap. great book about fucked up freaks doing weird, vaguely threatening shit and feeling sexually repressed. fits in the canon of books about a little creep acting weird and then revealing that they suffered some kind of trauma in their youth in the last quarter of the book. i liked the ending a lot and a lot of the dialogue, and the way that scenes and transitions are allowed to slowly develop - felt like it's presented with confidence, which appeals to me. never really knew what was going to happen next throughout the whole book, in spite of it not being a 'thriller.'

Woodcraft and Camping by 'Nessmuk': mostly a travelogue/collection of 'yarns' about bushcraft and camping from the late 1800s, written by a conservationist. includes a lot of practical (but in modernity impractical) advice/tips on camping, like how to make your own bugspray, cook certain kinds of bread, fishing, building a fire, and prepare shelter. mostly enjoyed the shittalky parts about lumberjacks (wasteful and dumb) and soft tourist-type campers. includes a very dated/racist but interesting discussion of getting into coffee on a trip to brazil. includes a good day-by-day travelogue of a trip through michigan in the deep woods. i think this author was a big influence on hemingway's outlook on the natural world and sport. made me excited about camping.

La Serenissima by Wallace Barker (gob pile): travel writing poems, mostly about continental europe. lots of repeated imagery of drinking aperol spritzes and seeing famous places i've never heard of. enjoyed the icelandic section and the montana camping sections most i think in spite of how short they are comparatively. some good humor and observations throughout. i think these are mostly technically sonnets and qualify as poems with line breaking that i don't understand. made me want to travel places again.

Easy Rider II: Sleezy Drivers by KKUURRTT and Tex (and Cavin and Brian Alan Ellis): split-perspective road novel with some cameos by cavin and brian. i liked the humor and emphasis on the physical experience of being on a long road trip with someone. enjoyed the sillier parts and the sort of meta-writing-world commentary (shout out colin winnette, who i think anyone read because of his soft skull book) and the comedic scenes at tourist traps. felt rushed toward the end - would have enjoyed it going on longer, maybe with a stronger character arc for the tex character, combating his insecurities. ends in a puff.
 
shithead laureate by homeless (clash):  this is a book of his usual type of poem - the same recurring themes and images, such as self-hatred/depression, fast food, homeless people (which he refers to as 'housing-impaired', which i think is supposed to be a joke, but feels weird in the context of his penname (and that he's not, you know, homeless)) and stuff on the street, nostalgia for childhood, and being judgemental about people who use social media. compared to his earlier poems, there's less emphasis on hope/beauty in the mundane/broken and more bitterness about things.  noticed here a reliance on convoluted, sometimes recursive metaphors/similes. usually i found myself sort of skimming them for the imagery, which i feel is the intended way to read them, but sometimes i'd actually trace one out/pay attention and feel like the metaphor doesn't make any sense. one that i remember is describing the sky as the color of a dead vacuum cleaner - what color is your vacuum cleaner? does a vacuum change color when it dies? there's also an inexplicable poem about being on a boat made out of scabs, or something, and jerking off onto a woman's feet, which made me laugh in its nonsequiturness. i also want to say here, and this has nothing to do with homeless as an author, that this is possibly the worst typeset book i've seen. i'd be really mad if this were how my book ended up looking.
 
telapaphone by adam soldofsky (maudlin house): bought based on randomly reading what felt like a compelling excerpt online which turns out to be the first few pages. it's novella-length and goes by quick. starts out with what felt most interesting, to me, as a herman hesse-style portrait of a man's friendship with another man at art school, a compelling scene of them presumably going to a baseball game together, but it quickly moves into a sort of light sci-fi thriller where the characters freaky friday into each other's bodies and the (depressed, alcoholic) protagonist, pretending to be the more successful friend (by occupying his body) comes to learn the guy's mixed up in shady bullshit. there's a russian mobster and goons, there's some quickly-resolved mystery stuff about figuring out what the mobster wants, then everything is all fixed and smoothly cleaned up and everyone's happy.  my main complaint is how underdeveloped it all felt -  felt like a 1st draft to get general plot points down and was left at that. most characters stand around or seemingly disappear when it doesn't serve the action, especially at the end.

islands in the stream by ernest hemingway: didn't finish, but enjoyed reading ~1/3 of it and would probably enjoy the rest but didn't feel compelled to keep going. i liked the protracted scenes about fishing the most especially in context of fatherhood, plus various scenes of dark comedy after his sons die. felt like some of the style was overly affectational and would have benefited from him writing more freely like in other parts of the book. thought the mysterious romance of the past angle was uninteresting and artificial. laughing at considering the ideal hemingway book one in which some dudes go camping or fishing and don't talk about women ever, which i think is what critics say is why he's bad.

the first collection of criticism by a living female rock critic by jessica hopper: didn't finish, but enjoyed various parts. main disappointment is how little criticism there is - it's mostly just a collection of published stuff about music from various sites and magazines, including short interviews, some personal essay stuff, and an interesting article about indie bands getting commercial sync deals. there are a few pieces specifically engaging with rock criticism, such as misogyny in emo music, but mostly the interviews and reviews don't seem particularly cohesive or engaging in terms of criticism. like, there seemed to be very little of herself in the writing, mostly read like stuff she wrote for a paycheck. not as in-your-face pot-stirring as i'd expect based on the title and description. favorite part was the profile of pedro the lion from 2009 with emphasis on his relationship with religion.

the vacation by garth miró (expat): didn't finish. kind of wacky. lots of exclamation points. has an emphasis on generically shittalking rich fat people; the hero is an antihero drug addict who thinks he's better and cooler than everyone. it feels weirdly inauthentic to me, kind of contrived and repetitive with a frustrating back-and-forth pacing., some vague sci-fi thrill element in it. noticed a lot of noun compounding as a stylistic effect, like 'mind-fat.' when trying to think of an example of this i thought up 'poopstink', which i don't think is in the book but made me laugh. people (for various reasons) either publicly or in private compare it to body high, which i didn't like.

the morning star by karl ove knausgaard (penguin): overall i liked it, and felt like it lets his many strengths shine, but in a lot of ways it felt like he was trying to write it to be more of a polished, engaging standard litfic best seller type novel. he's an excellent nature writer and emphasizes writing about daily minutiae, specifically food, still, in the book, which is a highlight for me. i felt kind of disappointed in what felt like a cynically transparent attempt to shake off his autofictional baggage, like it could have been better if focused on just a few narrators, like the book would be better as either closer to 300 pages or 1200 pages. i felt like the characters were more caricatures than real in a lot of ways, although sometimes this leads to funny scenes/images, like jostein cutting the line in the bathroom because he has to pee so bad and him describing ejaculating as something like 'squirting out hot juice'. i also felt like the attempts at creepy horror-y images and twists at the end of chapters were kind of lame, and felt mostly at odds with the larger theme of, i think, theological horror (i'm sure there's a real/better term for this), which is the best part of the book (and why i liked a time for everything so much, in part - making angels terrifying in a sense, undermining the omnipotence of god with emphasis on ritual and other autonomous, mystical beings). i felt like the second half, which actually started to explore this theme instead of allude to it, was more compelling. the last chapter (not the in-fiction essay, but the last jostein chapter) reminded me of the haruki murakami trick of characters entering mysterious worlds, although knowing how much of a biblical scholar knausgaard is (and my lack of biblical knowledge) i assume a lot of the mysteriousness is explained by the external lore it builds on. i enjoyed the essay at the end and the ruminations on life and death, in particular a quote from a philosopher that says something to the effect of "for early humans, everything was living - trees, rocks, water, houses, the air - but for modern humans almost nothing is living - including our own bodies, the idea of matter and space, etc."
 
the ax book by D. Cook: got as a present, along with an ax. didn't finish, but plan on going back to it sometime. some interesting history of the ax in america. diagrams and tips on cutting trees/logs/etc. interesting anecdotes about penknives. used it as a guide for cutting down a small tree. it was harder than i anticipated, but enjoyable. 

the weather book by eric sloane: felt interesting in learning about understanding the weather in a way that doesn't rely on reading accuweather maps, which this book is billed as. i liked the introduction, which emphasized connecting more with nature and the outdoors and a brief overview of the science behind various folk wisdom about the weather. ironically, the intro is dismissive of how boring meteorology has become in terms of memorizing maps and equations, but then i found most of the book just attempting to give the same kind of overview, but the maps and diagrams are hand drawn and interesting. learned a lot about identifying warm and cold fronts, how they work, the different kinds of clouds and rain associated with them. enjoyed the outdated emphasis on sailing and lightning rods being new. feel like i need to reread it to better understand high and low pressure zones vs warm and cold air zones. would enjoy reading more about understanding the sky through direct observation, realized while reading i don't confidently understand what a 'northerly' wind means, eg is it blowing south to north or north to south. but overall enjoyed being able to predict rain 12+ hours out based on observing the sky a few times.

Third World Magicks by Mike Kleine (inside the castle): i enjoyed this book, comprising two very short stories/novellas (maybe like 4k words total in the book?) connected by a couple-page fancy-word soup. i felt like each story was interesting and engaging on its own - one about music critics, one a sort of sci-fi farce on a mysterious island.  i liked the latter the most, though, and it made me laugh several times. the emphasis on 'jobs' and, as i read it, arbitrariness in seeking purpose, was interesting and clever. i also liked the visual elements throughout the book.

The Novelist by Jordan Castro (soft skull): fun, inventive, bernhardian, shittalky, cathartic. i liked a lot of the imagery and the meta aspects of it, and felt compelled by the seemless way he embedded the 'novel' into this novel, showcasing his talent as a novelist in a sort of dual way. i enjoyed the philosophical discussions, the humor, the daily life minutiae, the use of semi-colons, and the descriptions of social media. feels like a fun book to have written. made me laugh a lot. have enjoyed thinking of comparing the sound of making coffee in my chemex to the sound of a woman peeing, after reading.

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 who...is 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.
---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