Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Life Stand, Hot Chip

This is Hot Chip's 2nd release since their outstanding album The Warning. The CD prior to this was Made In the Dark. I feel I will follow Hot Chip around for much longer than I should due to my love for The Warning. But, Made In the Dark was such a slow/dark affair. But, more boring than impressive. And, One Life Stand is a strange mix of Made in the Dark and The Warning. But, a heavier bit of Made In the Dark.

Basically, I might listen to this album every once in awhile. But, rarely. I hope Hot Chip is still putting on great live shows. As their CDs are just becoming less and less about the experience.

It isn't too easy to write a review of something you just have no feeling for one way or the other.


Friday, February 26, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle

Many fingers pointed to me reading this book. The stars alined, some might say. After reading Dyer's Jeff in Vencie... and DeLillo's Point Omega, my book club discovered Dyer wrote a review of Point Omega. The review was called "A Wrinkle in Time." Also, the book was sitting on my bedside table, prior to this information, because I had decided to read it after reading Stead's When You Reach Me which made so many references to L'Engle's book. Finally, as a possible future Teen Librarian I felt it was right to have read such a famous juvenile literature book.

I was immediately surprised at how flat (simple?) the writing was throughout the entire book. This is a major complaint I have in youth literature, I feel too many authors talk down to their audience. I felt L'Engle was doing just that. The characters weren't developed as much as just thrown at you in all of their simplistic cliches.

The novel is very similar to C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. The magical world of the 'other.' Or, as Shakespeare might say: the green world. This place where good and dreams exists. But, unlike Shakespeare, these green worlds have imperfection and darkness. Quickly discovered and quickly solved. And, much like Lewis, the religious symbolism is a bit heavy handed in L'Engle's novel.

I found myself rushing through the last 70 pages. I just wanted the experience to end. I am trying to break the habit of only reading half of a book. So far this year I have done very well. I didn't want this slim little devil to get through my fingers. So I completed. And am happy to return it to the library shelf and quickly forget it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

For years I have wanted to read this short little piece of fiction. But, recently, one of my book clubs decided to read Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi. After completing the novel we decided we should read Death in Venice. In order to try and seek out answers to Dyer naming his book as he did. But, these answers are not found in Mann's novel.

Instead, I was pleased to discover something altogether new. I have always heard Death in Venice labeled as queer literature. And, in fact, this is a main reason why I always wanted to read this novel. A story about a 60+ year old writer who falls in love with a very young man. An unspoken love. Something that merely existence in the imagination of the narrator.

But, I quickly discovered the queer label is a very shallow reading of this text. Sure, go ahead and make it about the sexuality. There is, perhaps, an underlying tone of homoerotic obsession at play. But, mostly the text is about youth. About regret. About the beauty of perfection. The concept of what could have been.

The narrator, an author, views the young man's body as something of complete perfection. He believes words can only complement this body, but never create this body. Are these the thoughts of an artist realizing his art may never have achieved perfection? That art is never able to be perfection?

Also, much is said of age. Old vs. young. The narrator is quick to point out age gaps and people pretending to be younger than they truly are. This is the story of a man at the end of his life. An artist preparing for death. Seeking the answers to all that he never found time to ask questions of.

The book is beautifully written. And, at merely 100 pages, a very tightly written and heavy experience.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dear God I Hate Myself, Xiu Xiu

Time for the darker twin. Xiu Xiu's newest album starts out in typical fashion. Or, shall I say, typical earlier fashion. A dark little number. Catchy and disturbing. Starting the album with 'Gray Death' made me think I was going to travel back into Xiu Xiu time. Into that element of 'scared and moved' of earlier albums like Fabulous Muscles. But, the second track, the humorous (perhaps too humorous) 'Chocolate Makes You Happy' immediately tells me this is not a time machine.

Xiu Xiu's previous record, Women as Lovers, was promised to be a user friendly album. Something for everyone... or, at least everyone who had previously abandoned Xiu Xiu due to the dramatics of voice/lyric/sound. And I found myself uninterested in most of the songs on Women as Lovers. I was abandoned for the masses.

Perhaps this new album is Xiu Xiu's attempt to create the user friendly darkness of Xiu Xiu. Some of the darkest elements of earlier Xiu Xiu are meeting the happier and better arranged newer Xiu Xiu. Does this make success? Not quite. But, certainly a step above the previous album.

My favorite track on the album is 'House Sparrow.' There is something 80s trance dance to the music. And the voice follows so closely to the music. It is nothing new. But something I knew still existed in Xiu Xiu. This record is not for everyone.


Monday, February 22, 2010

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

While reading this book I asked myself "why isn't the author going deeper into the violence and issues of the South during the Civil Rights movement?' 'Why such a blind eye to the depth of the problem?' Then, I started to wonder if it is something the author lacks... or, if it is a choice on the author as a way to portray the narrators. And, even if the surface is all that is scratched... does the dialogue that comes from the book save the lack of depth?

I would group The Help into a pile of books such as The Secret Life of Bees and Fried Green Tomatoes. Southern women, their maids, their purpose, etc. There is something very sentimental running through these fictions. And, sentimental isn't always a fault. But, typically, not a strength.

I never would have picked up this book if it were not this month's choice for one of the book clubs I take part in. After the first 100 pages, I assumed I would never finish the book. But, I found myself reading the entire book within a couple of weeks. While the book may lack depth, it does not lack layers. I wouldn't recommend it, but I wouldn't shoo people away from it either.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom

BEST OF 2010

For the past two weeks I have been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell. Mostly her first two albums, Song to a Seagull and Clouds. There is a simplicity. An innocence. A beautiful mixing of love, nature, and the feminine. As I listened to these records spin I thought to myself how there will never be another Joni Mitchell. The voice and the message comes from a period in history so far behind us…

This weekend I found the early leak of Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me. And, I realized it isn’t always about the present. Some of us are capable of climbing back into the past. Ms. Newsom has done just that in her new release.

Her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, is a lovely harp filled music fest and a fragile voice singing from the edge of a sharp piece of glass. At times, too much for everyone to find comforting. The second album, Ys, is a complex and long-winded exploration. An incredible journey. One I didn’t think could be topped.

On Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom has re-created the pop/folk fusion. She has copy and pasted the Mitchell history into her harp strings. She has found a happy medium of pixie and pleasantry on her vocal chords. No one can listen to ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ and tell me Joni Mitchell isn’t still very much alive.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shutter Island

I knew going into this film what to expect. The big twist already known. But, I thought it would be interesting to watch the film knowing the twist. See if anything is revealed prior. And, it was almost comical. Scorsese went overboard with the shifting eyes, the not so subtle comments, and the over acting of Leonardo DiCaprio. Although, the last part isn't really Scorses's fault per say. DiCaprio has over acted his entire career.

It was nice to watch the film knowing what would happen. I could watch the film as a "film" and less as a "story." But, that is the wrong way to watch a Scorsese film. The camera shots are horrid... choppy, jumpy, and down right sloppy. The music is over the top, distracting, and often times silly. This is an admired director at work?

The film still saves itself in plot come the end. Even knowing the twist didn't distract from the reveal. There is something lovely about a film that just pulls the rug out from under you. But, I wonder, how many times can someone (the few who might love this movie) watch this movie? The first time for shock, the second time to see what you missed... the third time because, um, uh?


Friday, February 19, 2010

United States of Tara, Season One

I understand the concept. We've all dealt with trauma. We're all hiding something. And, sometimes, to hide the things we dislike about ourselves... we act. We put on different faces. In United States of Tara this idea has gone a little too far.

Toni Collette plays a woman with dissociative identity disorder. In order to really get better she has decided to stop taking her medication. I am one for ridding yourself of medication. I want to agree with the purpose of this show. But, after a few episodes, you grow worn out by how far Tara (and her others) push her family. How much can you destroy the ones you love just to better yourself? And, how much can you forgive another and just blame a sickness?

The series is filled with sitcom cliches... pathetic sister, a stalker boyfriend, young queer love. At times, the way they deal with these cliches feel original. But, most of the time, recycled. Diablo Cody is the creator of this show. And, you notice it immediately in the dialogue: very smart, but very unlikely.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Golden Archipelago, Shearwater

BEST OF 2010

Dark. Moody. Dramatic.

I like to imagine a music myth. A mother of sound giving birth to two bands. Twin brothers. Xiu Xiu and Shearwater. Xiu Xiu is the depressive, angsty, and earlier sexualized of the brothers. Shearwater is shy, contemplative, and consumed by each emotion. I will review the new Xiu Xiu album at a later date. Today, the new Shearwater.

There are songs on this album that sound as if they are meant to haunt you. And, that feels a little forced. Then, there are songs that truly haunt you. I have spent the last three days wrapped in the sounds of Golden Archipelago. I am only familiar with their previous album, Rook. After listening to that album a couple years ago, I found no real reason to seek out their earlier music. But, after this album I was quick to download as much of their previous music as I could find.

Needless to say, I am devoured by this album.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

It is rare that I read something I would consider "pop" literature. To me, pop literature is not only the popular fiction, but the type of fiction that acts as a blanket. The type of fiction most anyone can pick up and find a relationship with. The type of fiction you can read, your mother can read, and even a grandparent can read. I place John Grisham, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, etc. in this category.

There is a time and place for this type of fiction. And, I had forgotten the joy of a quick read which fully requires you devour in a few sittings. Shutter Island was one of those novels. Equal parts Grisham and King, I was reminded of a much younger period in my reading history.

Shutter Island has many surprises. I thought I was following along pretty closely. I even figured out 1/3 of the final surprise. But, there was still so much to discover.

Something has to be said for an author capable of requiring your full attention for three days.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The New World

The slow, meditative film making of Terrence Malick. My first time experiencing Malick was through The Thin Red Line. I have never enjoyed a war film. Never sat through an entire war film. But, The Thin Red Line may not only be one of the greatest war films, but one of the most beautifully made films about the human experience.

The New World is slower than Malick's previous endeavors. The dialogue is tossed here and there. Mostly, Malick wants us to watch. To slowly survey the land, the people, the ideas clashing. The slow takeover of America. The complexity in power.

Tonight, I was unable to finish the film. My friend shouted, about 40 minutes into the film, "is this a silent movie?" But, I have a memory of the film from my first viewing. Slow, yes. Quiet, yes. Gorgeous, indeed. The plot is simple. Nothing we haven't experienced in other Pocahontas stories.

Transcendental is how Malick's films are described. I would have to agree. I sit open mouthed and just stare at the screen. True wordless beauty.

Love... shall we deny it when it visits us... shall we not take what we are given.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Downtown Church, Patty Griffin

There was a phase in my life, during the mid to late 90's, when I was in love with folk music. Few artists have survived my change from folk to indie rock. The one remainder, the strongest, is Patty Griffin.

There are songs Patty Griffin has written which will bring me close to tears no matter how many times I listen: 'Mary,' 'Mother of God,' 'Night,' and 'Nobody's Crying.' It has been a few years since she has written a song that I really felt connected to. And, in her new album, it is even harder to connect. Downtown Church is a gospel album sung by an artist removed from religion.

The usual players are at work: Emmylou Harris, Julie Miller, and Buddy Miller. The music is still stellar. Her voice, bliss. The lyrics are too far away. There is very little I can relate to or want to seek relation with. But, there is one saving grace... 'Coming Home to Me.' When I saw this performed live I was brought to tears. With this being only one of the two songs she wrote, I feel as if the old Patty is still alive. Buried under the remains of an abandoned church.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

House of 1000 Corpses

I have seen this film many times. The first time I was disappointed. Then, a few years later, I re-watched it to prepare for the sequel The Devil's Rejects. Upon the second viewing, I was more intrigued by the film. Now, after seeing all of Rob Zombie's films, it was nice to return to his directorial debut late last night.

The styles Zombie uses in later films are briefly on show in this film. There is the glimpse of what is to come. This film is very much a remake, a respectable nod to films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. It isn't until the last 30 minutes that Zombie really creates his own film.

Zombie's use of music may be one of the highlights of this film. Songs one would never really relate with "shivers down the spine" are created anew with scenes of gore and revenge. The shivers aren't just from fear, but from the recognition of a sick sort of genius at work.

I look forward to watching the sequel very soon.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Odd Blood, Yeasayer

This album seems to be one of the most hyped albums of the year. Months before the release I was reading tons of positive reviews for the band and the album. I finally listened... and, I am not sure I see all the hype.

I do enjoy the album. Something in the voice seems familiar. In a comforting way. And, I feel there are a lot of almost original moments in the album. But, realistically, I have heard a lot of these sounds on other albums.

'Mondegreen' is a great 80s sounds meets The Faint hand clap song which really pulls the album out of a slight lull.


Friday, February 12, 2010

IRM, Charlotte Gainsbourg

BEST OF 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg may be one of the coolest people alive these days. She's creating amazing films (Anti-christ, I'm Not There, The Science of Sleep) and now an incredible album.

Her previous album, 5:55, I thought was a little too soft. More like a spoken word whisper album. Very pretty, but little reason for many repeat listens. But, IRM is packed with lovely little songs.

Perhaps, it isn't Gainsbourg's cool factor, but Beck's ability to produce a really pulled together album (as he worked very closely with Gainsbourg throughout the creative process of this record).

The album stands on solid ground with the perfect single 'Heaven Can Wait' and the fantastic music video which accompanies the song: .


Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Serious Man

Perhaps, 2009 could have been deemed "men on the verge of a nervous breakdown." Both, A Single Man and A Serious Man deal with men on the verge during the 1960s. Both are very strong films. Of the two, I prefer A Single Man. But, this review is for A Serious Man.

The Coen Brothers have created their equivalent of a "normal" film. The movie isn't their typical screwball noir story. In fact, neither are at play in this film. This time they are going for dark comedy. Very, very dark comedy.

The film is beautifully shot and acted. The story keeps along at a very quick pace. Introducing new ideas, plots, characters on a fairly regualr basis. But, after awhile, one grows tired of this series of unfortunate events. At some point you just have to say enough is enough.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Last Year at Marienbad

I could not have picked a better film to follow the reading of DeLillo's novel. As Last Year at Marienbad is another run in with a series of events which may possibly take place at all once: the past, present, and future as a single line in time.

This French film comes out of the nouveau roman (new novel) movement. This movement is typically found in French literature during the 1950s. The purpose of this movement is to create another level to the literary experience. The storyteller, the reader, and the characters are all at play. The introduction of the reader as a central part in the movement.

In the film, we watch as two people, A and X, attempt to remember a previous affair. Or, are they trying to remember a dream? The male is certain his memory is correct, but is not quite sure of all the facts. The female has no memory of what X is revealing. By the film's end, the viewer is left to decide if everything was based on dream, seduction, or fact.

The background actors will freeze suddenly. In a dream like stance. The music is carnival-esque. The oversized hotel is a hall of mirrors where characters are sometimes viewed only as reflection. The passing dialogues are merely conversations we've already heard. Is everyone a part of the past? Is everyone a part of the dream? How do we cope with a memory that may have never existed?


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Point Omega, Don DeLillo

BEST OF 2010

Don DeLillo cites the abstract expressionist art movement as a huge influence on his writing style. I have never noticed this as much as I noticed it in this newest novel (more a novella at only 119 pages). I see abstract expressionist art as an artist using the simple to convey the complex. The difficulty of understanding the color fields, unrecognizable shapes, and haphazard brush strokes.

I feel Point Omega is best compared to the art of Barnett Newman. The idea of the "zip" in Newman's art acts as a definition of spatial structure. Within this text, we find the "zip" as the middle section of the novel. The four chapters resting between a conceptual art exhibit. A period of time which seems to exist nowhere, everywhere, and somehow not at all.

DeLillo uses dialogue as an after thought. A way to prove how little can be said and how much understood. The novel works as a series of ideas, concepts, a not fully developed structure. But, having read previous DeLillo novels, I realize there is purpose. The text is meant to seem exposed, raw, and harsh.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Jeff in Venice Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer

My favorite line of poetry is from Elizabeth Bishop...I lost two cities, lovely ones. I feel Dyer could have applied this so closely to this novel. Instead, Dyer writes in a detached, half-dead voice. A shallow dialogue between one empty thought and another.

The first section, set in Venice, centers around a huge art event. Parties, pot, cocaine, sex, etc are all at the narrators fingertips. And, the narrator is quick to indulge. There is something enjoyable about the free life he is living, but the story lacks any presence. Should we find significance in this story?

The second section is in Varanasi. The death is of the narrator. He is reborn. He creates his own god after a brief trip on some local drugs. He comes out a changed man. Prepared to look within himself. But, Dyer never goes deeper than the idea. We don't see Jeff's trip inside himself. We just briefly glimpse the aftermath.

If it hadn't been for the last 30 pages, I would have found this novel a horrid experience.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The House of the Devil

Perhaps it is unfair to call a horror film charming. But, that is the best way to describe this film.

I have seen many/most horror films. I consider myself an obsessive fan. Watching the shittiest, cheapest, etc horror films for the sake of watching horror. So, I feel I am just in saying The House of the Devil is extremely smart and fairly successful.

The writer/director sets the film in the early 80s and the film appears to have been made about the same time. The colors, music, mood... everything seems legit. Nothing feels forced in capturing the style of a late 70s/early 80s horror film.

The greatest part of the film is the slow build. Roger Ebert refers to the film as "Hitchcockian" in the suspense building. And, this is very true. The first 2/3 of the film follows the mantra 'less is more.' Sounds, shadows, suggestions scare you for the majority of the film.

I adored this blood bath.


Friday, February 5, 2010

The Infinities, John Banville

BEST OF 2010

A bit of Chekhovian chamber piece. A bit of Shakespearean comedy. And a touch of Bergman's Cries and Whispers.

The Infinities plays out as a stage production. A family returning to a childhood home as their father, old Adam, takes his last breath. The dialogue is sparse. The detail is delicious. The depth is incomparable.

The novel is narrated by Hermes, a god of Greek myths. At first, I was hesitant to enjoy this narrator. To find purpose for Banville's decision. By the end, I understood. Banville needed a voice who knew all. Such a complex story required an outsider. And, only an outsider, a god-like figure, could take notice of the imperfections of human nature. Only a god-like voice could be honest and untrusting at the same time.

Hermes adds a lot of the humor to the novel. His father, Zeus, briefly inhabits the bodies of other men and the dreams of women in order to have physical contact. Hermes admits love was created by humans. Gods never would have created something so imperfect. This is both humorous and painful.

While Hermes adds another level to the novel, the thoughts and interactions of the family members are key. The complexity of lust, loss, and loathing are shown in equal measure.

Banville's prose is as perfect as it was in The Sea. This novel isn't quite as beautiful as its predecessor, but it comes close.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

I have known about this book for many, many years. As a once upon a time English Literature major, it would be embarrassing to not know of this book. But, for the longest time I stayed far away. Too afraid of all the cliche attached to the text.

Was I wrong to think the book full of cliche? No. Was I wrong to stay away from the book? Yes.

Rilke ruminates on much throughout the book... love, science, religion, criticism, art, poetry, etc. Of all these topics, my only shared interest is on art. Rilke has an amazing way of making art seem like everything and nothing all at once. Rilke's views on love, while interesting and multi-layered, are a little too positive for my liking.

A hipster commented on my reading of Rilke. He mentioned Rilke as being "pretty hard stuff." At first, I was quick to think he was totally wrong. But, perhaps not. Perhaps, for those who do not create regularly, there is something overwhelming about Rilke. For those of us who could have been the "young poet," we see so much of our own thoughts... our own devil's advocates... and our own creative want.

"If only it were possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches..." (p. 82)


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Courage of Others, Midlake

BEST OF 2010

Midlake's previous album sounded slightly old fashioned. And, I loved it all the more for this reason. On their third release, The Courage of Others, Midlake sounds even more antiqued. My first listen to this album made me feel as though I discovered an old record in my father's dusty vinyl collection.

I was immediately drawn to this album seconds after the third track started. I felt as though I was experiencing what many people have described Radiohead's KID A to be like... an event. A need to sit through the entire thing. Focused on nothing more than sound and the sight created.

The band has compared themselves to the likes of Jethro Tull and Radiohead. The presence is obvious. I feel as though this band is a 70s rebirth. And I couldn't be happier.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Heartland, Owen Pallett

Owen Pallett's previous two albums were released under the name Final Fantasy. Heartland is the first album released under Pallett's own name. A rebirth of sorts? Not quite. In fact, more a melding of the two previous albums.

I will forever believe Pallet's first album, Has A Good Home, is a simple masterpiece of the past decade. His second release, He Poos Clouds, a bit of a cluttered, bare, less emotional album. Now, with Heartland, I feel Pallett has met himself smack in the middle. Somewhere I'd call an emotional clutter.

The album starts off quite slow, but beautiful. It isn't until track 7 (Oh Heartland, Up Yours!) that the album really begins to pick up. The following three tracks (tracks 8, 9, and 10) are all very strong tracks. Those before 7 and after 10 are slightly more background. As if those four tracks rest as an island between crashing waves.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Contra, Vampire Weekend

I am still confused by the "charm" of this band. And, I use charm in place of talent because I feel all this band succeeds on is charm.

I tried to listen to their first album a few times. Other than the slightly catchy, but super annoying, "Oxford Comma", the album was boring.

At least I can't call Contra boring. It is an attempt at mimicry. It sounds like a love child of Animal Collective and Paul Simon. This should be a good thing. Instead, it is pretty annoying... think nasal, animal whine of the Dirty Projectors (with less effort and flat).

Basically, I still have little in the way of positive words for this band. But, this album is an improvement over the first. But, what is better than worse?