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.

familyman

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!”)

Conversations With Ben Greenman

Newly up at The Rumpus, a conversation with Ben Greenman. Which is, in some ways, a followup to an earlier conversation with the writer in question.

You mean how much reality has to be in unreality? I’d say that it has to be mostly real: what is extraordinary about those locations, about those times and places, have to fade away pretty quickly so that they seem like normal places. The strangeness of them remains, of course, and hopefully it gives the stories a certain quality: alienation, oddness, a face glimpsed in a funhouse mirror.

If you’d like, please give the whole thing a read.

ATPNY 2010

Also: figured I should, perhaps, say something about my time at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival this past weekend. Which I’ll do very quickly, with some brief rundowns of the festival’s musical highlights:

* Fucked Up: I’m planning to write something lengthier about their set for Vol.1, but for now: damn right, that’s some hardcore. And it’s hardcore that I can enjoy both as straight-up hardcore and complex, challenging music in its own right.

* The Breeders: For me, the most ebullient, joyful moment of the festival. Spot-on pop songs old and new.

* Sunn 0)))/Boris: Liked this quite a bit more than I was expecting; Jesse Sykes’s vocal turn provided an emotional connection that helped pull me in. Unintentionally bizarre/hilarious moment: at one point, one of the guys on stage, clad in black robes and a hood, began playing the trombone. Which made sense sonically, but created a visual image that evoked the Grim Reaper playing in a Dixieland band.

* Sleepy Sun: Damn good expansive rock music. I heard the harmonies and was reminded of Bonnie Prince Billy’s The Letting Go; the esteemed Daphne Carr heard the expansiveness and volleyed out a Storm in Heaven reference.

* White Hills: Psych-rock songs that were, in fact, songs, and a stage presence that found quiet precision mixing with explosive, violent energy.

* Hannibal Buress: Dude pretty much had me when he started making fun of guys with handlebar mustaches.

* Explosions in the Sky: I’ve had tickets to see this band three times, and three times I’ve been laid up with a 24-hour bug. Finally got to see them live, and they did not disappoint; the the loud/quiet/loud/really, really loud dynamic was in full effect, and it was kind of glorious.

Montreal & the novels set there

In brief: I’ve just finished Emily St. John Mandel’s Last Night in Montreal.

montreal_pb_lrgAnd it’s quite good — the sort of book that opens suggesting it’ll be one thing and rapidly becomes something very different, a narrative that seems straightforward at first giving way to something much more fragmented.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on the book, but it’s got a bit of a love story and a bit of noir and a bit of travelogue and some smart ruminations on language.  The fractured structure works quite well, and Mandel’s honest y about her characters’ flaws is impressive; the novel as a whole comes highly recommended.

Hallucination Punk

So! Not long ago, I talked about Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps at Vol.1; Ms. Krilanovich has now contributed a Book Notes column to Largehearted Boy. And it’s terrific, not just from the music chosen, but because of sections like this:

I wanted the music to play into the idea of “excess.” That is one of the great things about the form of the novel, that possibility of (invitation to?) excess. Here you have this vast space you can run amok in, with so many places to hide.

Seriously, read the whole thing. She also uses the phrase “a garage rock Fraggle,” which I need to begin incorporating into daily conversation.

Two Reviews

Up today at Dusted: thoughts on Bon Iver member S. Carey’s All We Grow, which I liked overall. I’m curious to see where Carey’s next album goes, however — when All We Grow was good, it was quite compelling, but there were some aspect to the album of which I was less fond.

Also in the “recent reviews” camp: at Tiny Mix Tapes, I discussed  the Carissa’s Wierd collection They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996-2003. So hey, you might want to check that out as well.

Weekend Reading: Gender & Rock.

Two worthwhile pieces for your weekend reading.

In the first, Amy Klein, guitarist for the excellent punk rock band Titus Andronicus, takes a look at the new issue of Rolling Stone and its handling of gender. She then ties this in with a larger political narrative which, I would argue, makes no small amount of sense. Definitely worth a read. (Hat-tip to Maura for the link.)

The second is Jamie Peck’s profile of Frankie Rose for NY Press. Which both functions as both a fine overview of the musical history of the drummer-turned-bandleader (whose upcoming album is terrific) and a spot-on take of the gender issues contained in the indie rock scene of today. (Of which, sadly, there are many.)

If “Psychic junkie vampires” doesn’t get your attention…

I reviewed The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich’s surreal novel of vampires, ESP, and punk rock,  for Vol.1. You can read said review here; here’s a bit of it:

It’s possible that Krilanovich’s gangs of pill-popping, train-jumping, Pacific Northwestern vampires are vampiric in metaphor only. It’s never clear, but that lack of clarity is the point – somewhere partway through the novel, its nameless narrator left to her own devices, it becomes apparent that the shape of her head is far more important than whether or not some straight-edge Van Helsing will eventually show up, stake in hand.

There’s also some discussion of the book at HTML Giant, and a trailer for it below. Something that didn’t make it in to my review but may be relevant to yesterday’s Gowns-related post: I found myself mentally cueing up Gowns’ “White Like Heaven” as I read Krilanovich’s novel. Which is likely not going to make a lot of sense to anyone reading this who is not, well, me. But still.

The number one and the word “volume”

For what it’s worth, I’m doing a bit more blogging these days over at Vol.1. Some recent posts there include:

Also, a few of the reviews that I wrote for the now-apparently-defunct Lit Mob will be given new life at Vol.1. The first, on Tony O’Neill’s Down and Out on Murder Mile, is now up.

(I am also going to try to do these sorts of posts more frequently.)

(I cannot think of a good play on “metadata” right now. My apologies.)

My first sudden reaction of the night was that Till Fellner’s recording of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” would make excellent for the night’s editing.

My second sudden reaction of the night had to do with the amount of classical music in my collection. In my apartment, I generally listen to music in one of two rooms: my office, where the preferred format is digital and the playback device is my computer; and my living room, where the turntable and CD changer live. All of which means that, while most of the music I have exists in multiple formats, some can only be played in one room or another. And while some of the classical music I have might be well-suited to editing, iTunes (understandably) doesn’t default to a “search by composer” mode, which can make things problematic.

Alternately: take it away, Nico Muhly:

If you listen to a lot of classical music, you know what I’m talking about: whole CD’s, with each track assigned to a different artist. It’s like, Lorraine Hunt with the orchestra of the age of whatever. Lorraine Hunt + Random Tenor + That orchestra + That Lutenist whose name I forgot. Lorraine Hunt + That Lutenist + That Oboe d’Amore-ist whose name I forgot.

Exactly.