A few days later than most, I’ve taken a look at Mr. Weingarten’s piece from this year’s #140conf, as well as this response from the folks at The Hype Machine. What I think their response misses — and there are definitely echoes here of Steve Almond’s and Kevin Smith’s recent criticisms of critics — is the acknowledgment of a middle ground in terms of less-than-stellar reviews. From “On Music Journalism”:
They’d review an album they hated because…well, why? Did they really feel a sense of duty to let you know what not to buy, or is it just cool to make fun of some intangible rock band?
There are, absolutely, bad reviews of artistic work that come from a place of contempt. And I can understand Smith’s frustration with the critics who seem to discuss his films using nearly identical talking points from film to film. (The same thing happens to Wes Anderson, which seems to have bled over into conversation about Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom.) But there are also bad (or even mediocre) reviews that come from a more constructive place — one in which an artist has made a substantive work that is nonetheless flawed. (For rock criticism, I’d think the Lester Bangs/Lou Reed critic/artist relationship would be the definitive example.) And as this debate has continued, it’d be nice to see some recognition of that enter the debate.
Heading out of town tomorrow for a week and change in a trio of Northwestern cities: Portland, Eugene, and Seattle. While there, I’m hoping to see many fine people; take in the Stumptown Comics Fest, make some headway on my punk rock anti-romance short novel, see some live music and some soccer, and generally clear my head. Fingers are officially crossed.
Has working as a director affected how you have adapted your work for the screen?
I usually prefer not to adapt my stories. An adaptation is a reading of a text and a writer’s reading is usually less surprising and interesting. $9.99 was a great experience but I don’yt believe I’ll write any more adaptations in the recent future.
Yesterday, I made my way to the MoCCA Festival for the first time in many, many years. (For context: the last time I was there, Craig Thompson’s Blankets was brand-new and Bryan O’Malley’s Lost at Sea was this close to coming out.) Here’s what I ended up getting while there; ah, commerce.
Not long ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle and Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography back-to-back. I know Sampsell largely through his fiction — short, sometimes jarring, oftentimes sexually charged — and via his role as publisher of Future Tense Publishing. I came to Coates’s memoir as a reader of his work at The Atlantic — in a single day, his blog there can cover topics ranging from the Civil War to 80s hip-hop to online role-playing communities. I had hoped to write some sort of essay encompassing both – each book is definitely worth your time, and both Sampsell and Coates do a fine job of evoking their younger selves with warts and all. These are, for lack of a less awkward phrase, books I’d like to go on record as having endorsed.
Actually coming up with something lengthier than the above paragraph has been hard, though. Some of it, I think, has to do with just how central each author’s family is to the book in question. I don’t have siblings myself, and that makes it harder for me to understand the relationships between siblings — something that has a significant role in each of these two books. Something I’m beginning to work on in my own fiction is dealing with limitations — of writing about people looking at situations that are beyond the scope of their comprehension. This experience of essentially staring at a blank screen, trying to formulate thoughts beyond “you should read these books,” has been strangely edifying. Though it’s also made me think about resurrecting a theoretical project I mentioned to someone offhandedly a few years ago: trying to come up with a sort of master list of only-child lit. Though that might well be a very only-child thing to do.
Earlier this month, I attended one of the New York-based Dzanc Day classes, headed by Dawn Raffel and Pamela Ryder. The class was very helpful, I’d say, for many reasons; the topics discussed here have helped me get past a section of a novella-in-progress that had been holding me up for the better part of six weeks.
For me, the best and most representative Wingdales songs involve Hannah [Marcus] and me in a roomÂ together, sometimes yelling at each other and trying to get each other to work outside of our ruts. She is a great editor of my lyrics, and IÂ think I help her to attempt the accessible sometimes, when she wants toÂ come at something more obliquely.
The interview is also slated to appear in print later this year.
In a lengthy SXSW recap, Molly Templeton touches on a show played by onetime Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky. Beulah — and the album When Your Heartstrings Break in particular — hold a particular place in the part of my heart dedicated to smart pop music, and I picked up Kurowky’s album The Desert of Shallow Effects — his first solo album, and first album of any kind in six years — earlier this month. My hastily-arranged thoughts: it’s good! The same sort of literate yet blissed-out pop songs that initially piqued my interest in Kurosky’s work with a bit more variety in terms of arrangements and dynamics. Fine stuff so far, I’d say.
Last month, I referenced Steve Almond’s take on self-publishing. More recently, he’s written an essay that, more or less, argues that criticism (mainly music, though he applies it to other disciplines as well) is “a pointless exercise”.
This is not something with which I agree, and Glenn Kenny (with additional thoughts from Robert Christgau in the comments) has a good response up here. I don’t necessarily disagree with every point that Almond makes, but it seems to me that his points would be better served arguing for better criticism rather than an end to it. Almond’s discussion of himself as a vindictive young critic, and subsequent extrapolation of those experiences to a universal scale, seems a little too neat. And there’s a fairly essential middle ground here that Almond doesn’t touch on — specifically, cases where a critic discusses work that hasn’t appealed to them from artists who, historically, have. (I’m thinking of some of the reviews that emerged last year for the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, and Colin Meloy’s reaction to them.) Admittedly, that’s a debate that doesn’t fit neatly into the snark/enthusiasm scale, but it’s no less important for that.
Picked up the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach earlier this month, and so far have been liking it pretty well. I’m a fan of most everything Damon Albarn has done, but Gorillaz have never been my favorite of his projects — maybe because of a somewhat disappointing experience seeing them live earlier in the decade; I’m genuinely not sure. Plastic Beach, though, is doing a fine job of getting stuck in my head in a multitude of ways.
Last October, I volleyed out a couple of thoughts following my first and second encounters with Los Angeles’s Dum Dum Girls. I’ve since heard their full-length debut I Will Be, and I am pretty well sold on the band. As a listener fond of the Aislers Set, Black Tambourine, and Henry’s Dress, their style of reverb-heavy pop sits well with me. Thankfully, though, the album exceeds expectations: the songwriting pushes the hooks and choruses beyond what would merely satisfy, and the harmonies, echo-prone production, and use of repetition seem all of a piece.
Good takes on the band can also be found from Todd Martens (“even if the Dum Dum Girls tap a rock ‘n’ roll sound that may live outside the mainstream, it’s one that never really goes out of style”) and Matthew Perpetua (“I didn’t expect to love the Dum Dum Girls’ debut album as much as I do, but quite simply, their songs are very difficult to resist”).
Made my way to Greenlight this evening for a conversation between Victor LaValle and Maud Newton, held in part due to the recent paperback release of the former’s novel Big Machine. The discussion between the two, preceded by a reading, was enjoyable — it achieved a good balance between casual conversation and deeper explorations of mutual areas of interest.
The conversation segued to LaValle talking about Ralph Ellison — the ambitions and flaws of Invisible Man, along with the reluctance of some to acknowledge the humor that Ellison brought to parts of it. The Ellison discussion concluded with LaValle volleying out a recommendation for Three Days Before the Shooting…; from there, the audience offered up a few questions, ending with a back-and-forth on the merits of bothversions of The Crazies.
I reviewed Past Lives’ Tapestry of Webs for Dusted. Short version? It’s very good — aggro in the right places, yet featuring an unexpected tendency towards the ambient/drone side of things when necessary. (This also reminds me that I need to given the new album from fellow Blood Brothers alumni Jaguar Love a listen — between friends’ takes on them at SXSW and Mr. Weingarten’s review of said album, I’m intrigued.)
Elsewhere, Tapestry of Webs borrows a mutant-jazz sound from 1980 New York. The guitar on “Falling Spikes” evokes the blare of a saxophone; later on the album, the hum of reed and brass open the manic “K Hole” and accentuate the austere, atmospheric “At Rest.” And while “Hospital White” is neatly frenetic, the trio of songs that follow it to close out the album – “At Rest,” “Aerosol Bouquet,” and “There Is a Light So Bright It Blinds” – suggest that the band’s understanding of quieter dynamics is as well-formed as their ability to tear through anthemic punk.
I’ve been a fan of Scott Snyder’s writing ever since we took part in a Dollar Store Show reading at McNally Jackson a few years ago. His collection Voodoo Heart is highly recommended — Snyder understands and deconstructs irrational male anger with empathy and precision. Nowadays, Snyder has a Vertigo series in collaboration with artist Rafael Alberquerque called American Vampire, and the first issue (sixteen pages from Snyder and Alberquerque, sixteen pages from Stephen King and Alberquerque) makes for a nicely creepy pair of opening chapters.
To me, vampires are one of the scariest creations of all time. A classic monster. Like zombies and Frankenstein, werewolves too, which I hope get a good treatment sometime soon. These guys have stuck around because they’re primally frightening monsters.
Snyder’s referred to Near Dark as a favorite horror work of his, and that’s encouraging — it’s significant, I’d think, that one of the most unsettling vampire films is also one of the most understated.