A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I’m not sure why I’d let a new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton vehicle bully me into doing anything, but the preview for the Dark Shadows film (which looks fucking awful) has got me watching the original series on Netflix. So I guess that means the continued Depp/Burton downfall has finally yielded something positive?
I’ve become obsessed with the song “We are Young” by Fun. While I haven’t really listened to the rest of the band’s album, I’m a sucker for stadium rock masquerading as indie (or vice versa). Examples include Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up, “My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade,” “My Body” by Young the Giant, anything by The National, The Killers, Gaslight Anthem, and anything else dressed up in tight jeans and influenced by Queen, The Clash, The Boss, U2, ELO, etc. Big hooks and power ballads that attempt (and sometimes succeed) to say something or at least sound smarter than the rest of the pop music pack. Although I’m not quite sure as to the exact moment when bombastic became acceptable again, I’m assuming the trend has something to do with the record industry feeling the time is right to try and replicate the success bands like Placebo and Muse have had across the pond in the last decade, as well as Green Day’s American Idiot being one of my generation’s defining commercial albums.
As of this moment, I think aside from “Fake Empire” by The National, Fun.’s contribution to the canon is my favorite so far. The song encapsulates just about everything I can think of in terms of where music is here and now: Great hooks, some piano, a little autotune, a stylish video, and Janelle Monáe. It’s also pretty great to jog to.
Also, how great is the Jonathan Lethem video essay at The New Inquiry?
The Record Store Day track I most recommend is the Xiu Xiu/Dirty Beaches 7”, insofar as having not heard it, I still suspect someone could have an interesting canoe ride or filthy lay to it. Both groups are great, and have done top notch work at giving New York a dark undercurrent for longer than they’ve been credit for. If flipped over at the right juncture during the physical act of love, it would give you and your partner at least three or four minutes to achieve momentary bliss. Jamie Stewart is one of those acts whose press descends despite him become a smarter, more engaging and liberated artist as time wears on. On the flipside, don’t make the mistake that I did of thinking you’ve heard Dirty Beaches from name alone: this isn’t Beach House or Stank Canyons, Tanlines or Heatstroked Guppies. They are something much more sinister, and thus more deserving of your time.
The Empire Records soundtrack coming out on orange vinyl is cute but a bit of a timed stunt. Especially with the awkward timing of the feds finally catching up to Coyote Shivers this week, the whole thing is awkwardly timed. I would still like to see what Renee Zellweger looks like in an apron and nothing else at age 42, but feel like we have a better chance of scoring Robin Tunney for the next Vol. 1 reading.
I’m intrigued by the Lee Hazlewood collection and the John Cale deep cuts, but feel defeated by the idea of endorsing fifty year old acts here, especially ones I may procure online through entirely tacit and legal ventures in the months to come. Ditto the Chocolate Watch Band and Blues Magoos. I know they probably have great stuff on them, but it feels easier to go listen to a forty minute version of “Dark Star”. And failing all that, you can go get the Tom Scharpling approved Lana Del Ray remix album.
I’m halfway through These Dreams of You by Steve Erickson. Having been unaware of Erickson until a few months ago when I heard his name and “great Los Angeles fiction” in the same sentence (which, by the way, is a great way to get me interested in anything), I don’t know a whole lot about how this differs from his other books. Am I doing it wrong by reading this most recent Erickson novel before the others? Am I basically tuning in for the fifth season of The Wire and being like, “Boy, this David Simon guy has some thoughts about Baltimore”? That’s not even a throwaway comparison: the anxiety of Erickson’s characters and the scope of their relationships with race and politics are not unlike what you see in The Wire. There’s an amateur-sociological bent to the characterizations of cities, the recession, and families, not to mention a talent for seemingly effortless naturalism and smooth (for the most part) plot development. It’s engaging subway reading.
Have you heard this mix that Peaking Lights made for Passion of the Weiss? It is so good, I promise. The weather is getting warmer; beats required.
After years of telling myself I’d be a responsible intellectual and read it without a teacher assigning it to me, I’m finally chewing through The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James’s seminal history of the Haitian Revolution. It’s a bizarre experience — the slim tome debuted in 1938 and is the most explicitly and earnestly Marxist bit of literature that I’ve read in… ever? Lots of passages about the slaves of the 18th century French plantations developing revolutionary consciousness and the like. But it’s awesome! As long as you accept it as a polemic written in opposition to Fascism and imperialism, it’s a ripping good yarn about a complex and brutal society grappling with the French Revolution from the sidelines and setting the template for every colonial revolution that followed it. And it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into what was tolerable for “legitimate” sourcing and argumentation! Who doesn’t love sourcing and argumentation?
I’m also finally catching up on a backlog of recent superhero comics that I’d been neglecting, specifically Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics. They’re both fantastic and — I can’t believe I’m actually saying this — they’re incredibly accessible for new readers. Both titles are relatively free of continuity and backstory and feature two characters that you already have a passing familiarity with (Spidey and Superman). Well, okay, Morrison is being his usual self and packing Action Comics full of tiny-but-crucial details and angular mythology. But if you’re into that sort of thing (and I hope you are), you can jump in and not fear that anyone else is less confused than you are. Bendis is just straight-up telling a great story that features the first black Spider-Man — young and reluctant Miles Morales. The use of a person of color is handled exactly how you’d want, namely without making a big deal out of it and building him out of traits that have nothing to do with his skin. I know that seems like a no-brainer in fiction, but for the eternally stereotype-ridden world of superhero comics, it’s something of a revolution.
This has been a slower week for me, reading-wise, than most. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Shehan Karunatilaka’s Sri Lankan cricket epic The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. I’ll have more to say about it in the coming weeks, but I’ll say this: it’s a novel that encompasses far more than simply one sport, delving into a nation’s history, politics, and sense of identity, and there are some neat structural things that Karuntilaka pulls off throughout. I believe he’ll be in New York for a couple of readings in the coming months, and I’m looking forward to them.
Before that, I read Barbara Comyns’s The Skin Chairs, which falls into a similar vein as her masterful What Was Changed and Who Was Dead — a pastoral family drama that gradually becomes something stranger and richer. At times, it’s unbelievably sad; at others, it’s grimly funny. Oddly, both of those emotions ran through my head while reading Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage as well. Ostensibly his account of not quite writing a book about D.H. Lawrence, Dyer ultimately draws things to a conclusion that’s…
…well, it’s probably best if I don’t say what that conclusion is. Needless to say, friends of mine had spoken highly of this, but it wasn’t until I reached the last few pages that I understood just how resonant it could be.
Beyond that? Listening to Magic Trick; watching Cabin in the Woods (which is highly recommended — creepy and smart and occasionally hilarious); and hopefully starting the oft-debated The Lifespan of a Fact this weekend.