Thursday Night / Readings, Music, Writing

Ended up returning to WORD this evening to take in a reading — my fourth there in five days, as it turns out. This time, the writer in question was Joyce Hinnefeld, reading from (and interviewed about) her novel Stranger Here Below. I wasn’t all that familiar with Hinnefeld’s work before tonight, but I suspect that will change — I liked what I heard from said novel, and the fact  that it involves, among other things, Shakers and Berea College in the early 1960s definitely piqued my interest.


Now I’m home, listening to the Collections of Colonies of Bees offshoot All Tiny Creatures and working on transcribing a bizarre and possibly not-so-coherent essay from its original state as scrawls in a series of notebooks. (Presently covered in said essay: getting lost in Redmond, WA; the borough of Queens; reading a Javier Mariàs novel in Cleveland; getting lost in Trenton, NJ; the neighborhood of Vinegar Hill; Hudson River crossings; and the fate of Mark Ruffalo’s character in the film Collateral. We’ll see what happens when the editing begins.)

Bluegrass Science Fiction Music

Sunday night found me in Greenpoint, taking in the first installment of the Wold Newton reading series at WORD. Reading were Brian Francis Slattery,  Jonathan Berger, and Charles Yu, and hosts Edward Champion and Eric Rosenfield performed some bits between the readers that could, I daresay, be called ‘vaudevillian.’

All of the readings impressed — Slattery’s shifted from sorrowful to playfully surreal; Berger couched daily frustrations in science-fictional language; and Yu read selected sections from his new novel How To Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe. Yet is was the way in which Slattery and Yu incorporated music into their readings that made for the night’s most impressive feature.

Slattery’s method of reading involves leading a three-piece band playing bluegrass-influenced music as he half-speaks, half-sings his prose. It works far, far better than you might expect from that description. And when it came time for Yu to read, Slattery and band returned, playing a subdued accompaniment to Yu’s melancholy remembrances of distant fathers and retconned dogs.

Having a bandleader who’s also a musician, I suspect, helped Slattery and band get their dynamic just right — not so minimal that their music was inaudible, but also not drowning out the reader in question. The whole thing clicked nicely. One side effect was to make me want to listen to the Dirty Three when I arrived back home, which, in fact, I did.

On “Close to Jedenew”

Recently translated into English and published in the US by Melville House, Kevin Vennemann’s Close to Jedenew is a densely written, temporally-shifting narrative. I reviewed it for Vol.1 earlier this week.

Vennemann’s structure here evokes panic – and even more so, it evokes a very shared panic, multiple minds each flying off in different directions, seeking different associations and alternate memories to process their current situation. The treehouse that provides them shelter is at once a source of wonder and an essential component of survival.

You can read the whole thing here.

On “Daddy’s”

Last year, I saw Lindsay Hunter read twice. The first time was at The Slipper Room as part of the Dollar Store Show’s summer tour; there, she read a story called “Meat From a Meat Man.” The title, I daresay, is pretty self-explanatory. The story is terrific.

The second time was in Chicago as part of the Quickies reading series; the story she read there was called “Kid,” and it’s included in her collection Daddy’s, which is out now on featherproof. Hearing “Kid” last October put this collection at the top of my list of books I was eagerly awaiting for the year to come. By which I mean, this year. And now that I’ve read it, I can say that my expectations have been met: this is one of the best books I’ve read this year, funny and transgressive and occasionally horrific, with Hunter pulling off about a dozen distinct voices over the course of the collection.


Plus, the design for the book emulates a box of tackle; one reads the book at a ninety-degree angle from the way one might expect. This did in fact prompt some stares as I read it on the subway, most likely of the “does that bearded man actually know how to read?” variety. It’s a beautiful sort of bewilderment.

Talking “Russian Lover”

So hey, there’s a collection of short stories that came out a few years ago that I read recently and quite enjoyed. It’s called Russian Lover; the author’s name is Jana Martin, and I have some thoughts on it up at Vol.1.

Martin is comfortable in a variety of milieus, from the fringes of academia to a procession of gentlemen’s clubs. She can be righteously angry at injustice, and painfully funny when dissecting a layered set of awkward situations (as in the title story, structured as a series of letters of apology, each one revising its predecessor).

The whole thing? Readable right here.

Talking Three Mile Pilot

Following my earlier thoughts for Flavorwire on their new album The Inevitable Past is the Future Forgotten, I have some additional thoughts on Three Mile Pilot up at Vol.1.

There’s a steadiness to these songs that recalls Pinback’s entire discography, and a more complex emotional spectrum to Pall Jenkins’s vocals that hits a different space than his work in the Black Heart Procession. It’s a good reminder of why this band is, in fact, beloved by some, and of how potent Jenkins and Armistead Burwell Smith IV are when working in tandem.

You can read the whole thing here.

Taking Apart / Putting Together

Aaron Burch wrote a short, strange, beguiling book called How to Take Yourself Apart, How to Make Yourself Anew. And in the new edition of Word Riot, I have a review of it.

Aaron Burch has arrangement on his mind. Biology and lineage and anatomy all fill the pages of this collection, some sparsely, some nearly bursting. And yet classifying this book is next to impossible: the ever-popular “prose poems”? Aphorisms? This is a book concerned with taxonomies, yet it defies that sort of classification for itself. Which, one suspects, is the point.

You can read the whole thing here.


I reviewed Buke & Gass’s debut, Riposte, for Dusted. As my invocation of The Ex in the opening paragraph suggests, I thought it was pretty terrific — an album that’s half controlled dissonance and half wary beauty.

…there’s a savagery to the playing here that unquestionably puts this in a punk rock tradition. There’s the low-end squall putting momentum into “Medicina” and the frantically strummed “Bundletuck”; the Branca-as-chamber-pop salvo that’s opener “Medulla Obllongata” and the obsessive, frenetic rattle of “Outt!.”

You can read the whole thing here.

A parade….of mice

Today at Dusted, I reviewed Mice Parade’s What It Means to Be Left-Handed.

What It Means to Be Left-Handed is less one coherent longform document and more a collection of singles – all of which should probably prompt some sort of rumination on the album as art form, and what that means in the midst of what may or may not be a digital-format-led single-song revival. But those debates can be read about elsewhere.

You can read the whole thing here.


Today at Dusted, my review of The Walkmen’s fine album Lisbon is now up.

The group has, however, always possessed the ability to make beguiling music. Admittedly, “The Rat,” from 2004’s Bows + Arrows, was a frenetic cry of frustration that still resonates. But we shouldn’t forget that one of the group’s earliest high-profiles songs, “We’ve Been Had,” from their debut Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone, was not exactly a rager – until You & Me‘s “Red Moon,” it was probably the prettiest song they’d written.

You can read the whole thing here.

At Flavorwire: Welcome Musical Comebacks

Also up now at Flavorwire: a piece on 2010’s best musical comebacks.

At their best, albums made after a long absence can be essential: a restatement of what made an artist great, or a revelation of something fresh and unexpected. What follows are 10 of the year’s most notable musical comebacks: some from recently reunited bands, others from long-dormant projects that never really went away, and a few from musicians bringing new projects into the spotlight. They range from minimalist electronic music to classically-inspired post-rock, from autobiographical ruminations to three-chord punk.

Artists covered include Three Mile Pilot, Gil Scott-Heron, Corin Tucker, and The Vaselines. The whole thing’s up here.

At Flavorwire: Pulp & Beyond

Up now at Flavorwire: ten capsule reviews of novels and collections, past and present, that take different pulp traditions to interesting places.

There’s a reason that acclaimed authors of literary fiction, from Borges to Atwood, from Houellebecq to Moody, find resonance in the pulp tradition. Detective stories, science fiction, and tales of horror can inform and influence novels that seem to be more rooted in reality or mundane life. But some of the most interesting work occurs in the space between the two – novels and stories that aren’t necessarily rooted in one literary tradition.

This is a list that encompasses Muriel Spark and Terese Svooboda; Tony O’Neill and Patricia Highsmith. The whole thing can be read here.

Some notes on “Family Man”

In late April, I was in Portland, Oregon for this year’s Stumptown Comics Festival at the suggestion of the esteemed Molly Templeton. While there, we caught a panel on comics and history featuring Kate Beaton (whose work I was familiar with) and Dylan Meconis (whose work I was not). I was intrigued by what I saw of Meconis’s work, and spent quite a bit of the subsequent week — in which I was supposed to be making headway through writing a short novel — reading through her ongoing Family Man, and ultimately pre-ordering the print edition.


Yesterday, my copy of the first collected edition of Family Man arrived. It is indeed quite good — a look at 18th-century Germany from the perspective of  Luther Levy, a theologian whose life puts him at the intersection of Christianity, Judaism, and atheism. There are also hints through this volume of something older — something ritualistic and pagan — just beneath the veneer of the isolated town in which he finds himself.

Meconis’s artwork has an expressiveness and a flow that reminds me more than a little of Carla Speed McNeil, which is a fine thing. And some of the things that she does with her text can be thrilling –  this sequence in particular. It works well online, but the cumulative effect in print is even more impressive.

Also, Meconis is behind this bit of artwork, which is total genius. (Hint: “They are hot for liberty — and you!”)