Design (department of scowl)

So: decided to do a quick theme-change here, for no apparent reason. I have plans afoot for a much larger-scale renovation around here , but for the time being, I figured I’d shift a few things around and see how it looked. The theme in use is The Erudite by Matt Wiebe; I’ll be getting working some kinks out over the next few days.

On Small Presses + Design Restrictions

This isn’t a post about starting a small press. Though I have to say, between Jackie Corley’s two posts so far on the subject and the announcement of Publishing Genius’s Awesome Machine imprint, it’s something that’s been running through my mind more than usual lately. In lieu of having, say, a book I’d like to release on a theoretical small press, my mind turns to the look and feel of things — hence, these ramblings.

There’s something appealing about developing an aesthetic, of working with restrictions (say, no color on the covers) and making that into an asset. I recently read an old New Directions edition of John Hawkes’s Travesty, and the cover artwork manages to be distinctive using only a dissected photograph and a pair of typefaces.

There’s also something appealing about experimenting with the tactile. Not long ago, I picked up Wild Nothing’s Gemini on LP. Their label, Captured Tracks, released a limited edition of this album with silkscreened covers; it turned the cover image from something lush and surreal to something timeless, and made it tactile in the process. I’d think something like this (taking a certain number of each print run and silkscreening covers, for instance) would be doable in the print realm as well.

Mostly just thinking out loud, at present. But I can’t deny that the challenge of creating a distinctive look and feel for the paperback editions* of this theoretical press has a pretty significant appeal; of, essentially, creating the sort of books that would draw my eye by being distinctive from the editions around them.

*-I assume there would also be digital editions involved as well.

Mark Robinson!

So hey, Maura Johnston has an excellent interview over at eMusic with Teenbeat founder Mark Robinson.

This bit is interesting, and — I’d think — gets at a lot of what’s good about both physical and digital distribution of music.

What do you think of digital distribution’s effects on the presentation of albums?

My main beef right now is that for some reason all our covers that we’re sending through our digital distributor are coming out fuzzy, which really drives me crazy. I have mixed feelings about it, ’cause I still like the physical artifact. But I also like that music is actually becoming music, instead of something to look at. And I love albums, but I also like that you can just buy one song, which is great.

It’s worth mentioning that the archival CD-R releases that they’re doing both look and sound great. It’s also worth mentioning that Robinson and Tae Won Yu are credited with the design of Versus’s new album On the Ones and Threes, and the look of it is terrific; I’ve got the gatefold LP, and it’s the sort of — dare I say opulent? — opulent design that works really well at a large size.

The album itself? Also pretty terrific.

Some Thoughts on “Casanova”

The good people at the Portland Mercury have a fantastic interview up with Matt Fraction, the man responsible for writing Casanova, pretty much my favorite comic book right now. There’s an equally good interview with Fraction up over at Comics Alliance, as well as this one in GQ. The last of those includes the following quote, which has been running through my head for the last couple of weeks:

For all the bravado and, what you call it, callow youthfulness behind the idea of “Do it yourself!,” at the end of the day, there’s a time in your life when you absolutely can, and there’s a time in your life when you’re married and you have a mortgage and a baby or two babies and you need diapers and food and it’s just like, “I can’t do that, I can’t work for free anymore.” It’s not like anybody’s getting rich. It’s not like “Well, I need a BMW.” No-I need to pay my light bill. That’s the reality of it.

The backmatter this time out — short essays on work that was, in some ways, influential to Casanova — is reminiscent of Fraction’s work as critic and and enthusiast at Artbomb and CBR’s Poplife. Good stuff all around, I’d say.

I have a second copy of the first reissued issue, should anyone want it. Casanova‘s the sort of thing I feel borderline evangelical about; the reissued second issue is out today, and there’s a preview here.

For Flavorwire: Capsule Reviews, Enhanced Books

At Flavorwire, I have a piece up on what my editor there has dubbed “Performance-enhanced books.” In practical terms, that involves capsule reviews of five titles:

And here’s a bit of it:

In recent years, the pros and cons of print and digital editions of books have sparked more than a few debates, with each side boasting its own set of passionate advocates and agitated detractors. What follows will not address that argument. (At least, not directly.) Instead, we’re taking a look at books that are, in some way, enhanced – editions packaged with a complementary object that supplements the words printed between the covers, enhances the author’s themes, or provides a valuable point of reference for the work.

The whole piece can be read here.

Slush, etc.

Via their Twitter feed, Fictionaut recently linked this Jim Hanas post arguing against the slush pile.

I’m not sure that I agree with it.  I think Hanas is a little too optimistic about editors seeking out and finding good work, if good work can theoretically be found anywhere. Though given that Fictionaut provides exactly the sort of system that Hanas is talking about (and has been embraced by the editors of some journals and small presses), it’s understandable that they’re enthusiastic about this argument.

Admittedly, I do in fact have a Fictionaut page. I’ve been seeking homes for two stories for a while now, and have been pondering shrugging my shoulders, posting them on said Fictionaut page, and moving on.  I can understand Hanas’s argument; I’m less sure that I agree with it as an overarching philosophy.

Thoughts on “Hey Princess”

Just finished reading Mats Jonsson’s Hey Princess (preview here). It’s an autobiographical take on coming of age in late-90s Sweden, often brutally honest, and all the funnier for it. Jonsson’s art is fairly straightforward (I’d say comparisons to Jeffrey Brown would not be out of line), but that seems appropriate for the self-deprecating tone that he strikes throughout. Throw in abundant references to Pulp and Bob Hund, and I was hooked. (It’d make for an interesting double bill with Phonogram, I’d say.) As an added bonus, there’s also an eerily resonant suggestion late in the book that a certain cult television show is responsible for the romantic ideal for indie-dudes of a certain age. It made me laugh out loud, then shudder a bit from recognition.

Brief Thoughts on “Winter’s Bone”

Since I rambled a bit about Centurion in this space, I thought it might be apt to talk a bit about a film I liked significantly more. In this case, it’s Winter’s Bone, which I saw at BAM a few weeks ago. It’s impressive: the acting is uniformly top-notch, from familiar faces (a couple of Deadwood alums pop up)  to actors I’ve never seen before, and the plot shifts its stakes neatly over the course of the film. The way in which it handles the story’s violence — mostly via implication — never softens its brutality. And it makes an emaciated John Hawkes — who’s fantastic in it — into a physically intimidating presence, which is no mean feat.


Fun fact: I haven’t read the Daniel Woodrell novel on which the film is based (yet), but I did read his Tomato Red about a decade ago. I have now spent approximately an hour so far trying to locate it

S Is For Seattle

I reviewed S’s Sadstyle for Tiny Mix Tapes.

This album is indeed a four-track project from the 90s, but it’s also a reminder of exactly why the home-recordings aesthetic works. These songs can feel messy at times, but that mirrors the messiness of the lives documented in them, something Ghetto’s lyrics and (especially) her vocal delivery makes clear.

I’ll be revisiting Sadstyle fairly soon, as I’ll be talking about the upcoming Carissa’s Wierd compilation for TMT before long. Until then, here’s one song from it:

Carissa’s Wierd – The Color That Your Eyes Changed With the Color of Your Hair by hardlyartrecords

Brief Thoughts on “Centurion”

Saw the Neil Marshall-directed Centurion at IndieScreen via a Film Comment-curated part of the Northside Festival. (I may have exhausted my quota of descriptive modifiers for the night right there.) The very short version: it’s a good action film. The slightly longer version: It’s a good action film with an unfortunate tendency to throw in some relatively stock action-movie dialogue. (One character gets a variation of the “only two weeks ’til retirement” speech, which is unfortunate.) Michael Fassbender is just about able to sell any line he’s given, which is a fine thing. Marshall is more comfortable with one-on-one combat than with the film’s larger battle scenes, but that ends up making the film’s last quarter memorably visceral. And I really can’t argue with a film in which the last act is also the strongest.

Interviewing Ben Greenman

Chatted with Ben Greenman right about here. His new collection What He’s Poised To Do is quite good, and served as the starting point for much of the discussion. Also covered: revisions, editions, and “Street Fighting Man.” Here’s one section:

Everything should be subverted if possible. That’s how you know you have an idea, and also how you pay your respects to form. I don’t think you honor structure by simply acknowledging it – you make it visible and make it strong it by challenging it.

In a similar vein, I reviewed Mr. Greenman’s Please Step Back for Word Riot last year.

Art + Artifacts

Two links; both dealing with artistic legacies and work coming from New York City.

1. Whitney Pastorek announces the shutdown of Pindeldyboz, with some nicely bleak humor thrown in.

And then hopefully, someday, I’ll stop paying the web hosting fees, and the site will be gone. In my dreams I see it hosting an exciting array of porn and/or travel deals.

2. John Freeman Gill discusses the fate of century-old stonework, for The Atlantic.

Griffins and sea monsters, gods and kings, most of the inmates of this forlorn encampment spend their days and nights with their weathered faces turned to the heavens. When it rains, water pools in the vulnerable sandstone eye sockets of some and nourishes the green biological growth that clings to others. In winter, water freezes in the bowl-like terra-cotta medallions, imprisoning in yokes of ice the heads of women and animals that protrude from them.


Doug Mosurock’s review of Tre Orsi’s new album? Quite good, incorporating thoughts on a whole long-dormant subgenre and a fine analysis of the record in question.

With crisp, balanced production by Bedhead’s Bubba Kadane, and the sort of Sonic Youth/Unwound-informed octave dynamics, surges in volume and measured aggression, and literate, even masculine lyrical reads, this could have easily surfaced in 1995 and no one would have been shocked. There was a day when bands like Silkworm, Paul Newman, June of 44, Hurl, Dis- and Bedhead would have released a variant on this record, to the stifled joy of bespectacled guys with short hair, bespectacled girls who wrote zines, and the plaintive, well-considered mixtapes both genders would make for each other.

Along similar lines, it’s worth directing your attention to a blog run by the members of Bells, a relatively new band out of Brooklyn whose lineup includes folks from Jawbox and Oxford Collapse.