At Dusted: Two Reviews

This week’s reviews at Dusted include Antony & the Johnsons’ Swanlight:

Swanlights‘ moves in the direction of accessibility are balanced by more unsettling moments. The pair of songs that close the album, “Salt Silver Oxygen” and “Christina’s Farm,” are each bracing and occasionally shocking. The lyrical imagery in “Salt Silver Oxygen” moves from a childlike sense of delight to something more complex, religiously informed and subversive.

And The Moondoggies’ Tidelands:

Tidelands, the followup, doesn’t necessarily sound like any of the potential followups one might have envisioned. Which isn’t to say that it’s a complete break from its predecessor, either – this is clearly the same band, albeit one that’s shifted away from both the CCR and the Meat Puppets DNA in its lineage.

Comics + the Javits Center

Spent a couple of hours on Sunday taking in the New York Comic Con. Visited some of the fine people from WORD, who were selling books on-site; bought work from Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and Carla Speed McNeil.

I did resist the urge to send a post to Twitter saying something like, “I’m cosplaying a bearded man in an Original Penguin shirt*.” Which is probably for the best, really. And when I saw one guy dressed as the Captain Universe version of Spider-Man, my respect for the accumulated obscure knowledge of the people around me grew by leaps and bounds. There was an intense amount of sensory overload there, but I have to say — I kinda want to go back next year.

*-though: if you create an autobiographical comic and then show up at a convention, are you technically cosplaying yourself?

This week in Vol.1 work

Another week, another handful of pieces up at Vol.1.

I’ve started off a semi-regular zine review column with a look at issues of Womanimalistic and Pins & Needles.

Paquita’s style here favors ornately drawn and arranged pages featuring both illustrations and test. This issue opens with a long, illustrated meditation on love, and lovers, with text taken from Carson McCullers’s “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.” Later, the work turns more specific – one piece, called “Punk Medical Myths,” leads to a longer section dealing with health and wellness issues, and the issue closes out with an account of Paquita’s experience of becoming a beekeeper.

And I contributed a long write-up of the “On the Well-Tempered Sentence” event held on Wednesday night at the Center for Fiction.

[Madera’s] introduction to the evening as a whole included some criticism of intentional flatness in contemporary fiction. He praised “sentences as a vehicle for an unsettling of things,” and went on to cite William H. Gass’s essay “Music of Prose” and Don DeLillo’s Paris Review interview. Madera’s own observations, and his citations of Gass and DeLillo, placed the sentence in a realm of physicality, rooting it firmly in the body.

A quick word on notable music writing

Very quickly: it’s worth noting that Zach Baron’s “Is It Possible to Sell Out in 2010?” is one of the best pieces of music writing I’ve encountered this year.

Fast forward to 2010. How do consumers vote with their dollar? By not spending it at all. Ask Ted Leo–people are no longer buying enough records to support musicians, period. Major, independent, whatever. No wonder then, as Sisario puts it, “lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels.” Someone has to pay artists, and increasingly, we’re not doing it. So who is the enemy in 2010? We are. Not the majors. Not Converse. Us.

Give the whole thing a read. If nothing else, it’ll make for a fine conversation-starter.

Living Safely / Living Science Fictionally

A week after seeing him read, I finished reading Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe earlier today. It’s a relatively short novel, and throughout it, Yu navigates a divide between what’s essentially an extended metaphor and a time travel storyline that’s satisfying on its own terms. And he pretty much pulls it off. The recent creative work it reminded me of more than anything was Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep — a very personal work in which theory and abundant emotionalism coexist, sometimes awkwardly, with an underlying emotional logic. (And, for that matter, a flawed protagonist haunted by an absent father.)

There were a few bits that, for me, didn’t quite work — specifically, one areference to a culturally seismic series of films seemed overly specific  given that it coexisted with more archetypal genre elements throughout the space of the novel. Still, when the novel needs to be moving, it’s genuinely moving — in its consideration of failure, and of the breakdown of the narrator’s relationships with each of his parents. It  doesn’t hurt that Yu has a tendency to veer into  extended, gorgeously written sentences — deep enough to encompass the theories on which the novel touches, and flowing enough to keep the reader enmeshed in the narrative, curious as to what might come next.

Posting on the internet about movies about the internet.

Some random thoughts after seeing The Social Network:

The way the film is structured is particularly impressive. I’m not necessarily referring to how it covers several timeframes and weaves them together seamlessly, nor how the screenplay deals with flashbacks — the Sorkin/Fincher team does a fine job of dodging expectations for an even bigger payoff. (One scene in particular left me wondering why Andrew Garfield was telling a story instead of showing it — and then the way scene paid off made it particularly clear.)

The way that certain characters are paralleled is similarly strong — it’s oddly reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way that different characters’ interactions with one another echo or invert certain other interactions.

As Edward Champion’s review points out, this is in many ways a film about misogyny, and a dissection of what, exactly, emerges out of a certain mode of thinking; of what, specifically, can emerge from a distrust of women, paranoia, technical savvy, and social awkwardness.

One qualm: despite being a fan of both actors’ work here and elsewhere,  the Jesse Eisenberg/Rashida Jones scenes never quite clicked the way the rest of the film did (though there’s one exchange that’s something of an exception to that). Their final scene was one of the few times that the film felt conventionally structured to me. To an extent, the “social network” of the title is mirrored in the film’s structure, which never feels overly plotted and does, in fact, reflect a…well, you know.

That said: the last shot of the film is terrific, and perfectly done.

Also? There’s also something a bit unsettling about coming home from watching this film and immediately…going online. And then checking Facebook. There’s more going on in this film than I’d expected, and I suspect I’ll end up posting more thoughts here in the days to come, especially if I end up making a second trip to the theater to see it once more.

Hot damn, Guillermo del Toro

I posted this to Twitter last night, but it’s too good not to cite here as well. The Portland Mercury has a summary of a Q&A with filmmaker and writer Guillermo del Toro, and it’s fantastic — funny and smart and thought-provoking and inspirational, all at once. Such as:

He is, unsurprisingly, a big book nerd-fine, the word he uses is “bibliophile”-loving them both for what they contain and what they are as objects. “We are animalistic creatures,” he said. “We need talismans.” He said he went into debt so that he could have an entire house that serves only as a place for his books, with seven libraries in seven rooms.

The whole thing’s great. You can read it here.

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.