Monday, November 03, 2014

A review of Blake Butler's 300,000,000

Please forgive me if this review takes on the cadence of its subject's sentences. One of Three Hundred Million's mechanisms is the mirror, an image it returns to over and over, to speak of the way that configuration of glass and light makes a multitude, and try to make a horror of the fact that in the act of reading, words are reflected out into the reader's heads, that the reader then might be another mirror reflecting the word into the world at large. The narrative concerns itself with a killer, a Charles Manson/David Koresh hybrid named Gretch Gravey, who, through existing inside a literary space not beholden to realism, is able to kill via his words overriding their audience's will and replacing their consciousnesses with himself, and his intention to do violence, kill. He gets inside other characters because the path of one reflection into another turns into a tunnel, to name another image the book obsessively touches upon.

Author Blake Butler has written extensively online about what interests him in literature and what he wants the written word to do. Disinterested in humanism, he dismisses mimetic realism, and what he wants instead is books that describe things that cannot exist inside our reality, and get at a space of serene silence, defined in the context of his latest novel as what might be beyond death. Inside his fictional spaces he tries to activate through images the feelings narratives bring him to: Writing for Vice he's likened the novels of Harry Mathews to falling through a series of false floors, and in 300,000,000 his investigating detective protagonist does exactly that.

Calling such attention to his techniques lets in light through the sense of play palpable, and this book contains far more ecstatic prose than what has preceded it in Butler's bibliography. Before what was felt behind each sentence as its shadow was only a bit of darkness. Here one can sense the possibility of other thoughts, wriggling inside the reader as the words come wrecking in to make a ruin to excavate. This is the method by which, in another author's intention, literature might soften the heart and make a more empathetic human, through the superimposition of one world projected onto the interior life of another. Reading Butler what we hear is the rattling of the film through the projector. Such sound holds a place in the nostalgic heart of the moviegoer, and Butler is a reader's writer in that particular way: I came to read his novels almost as an act of gratitude for the better ones his enthusiasm turned me onto. But it is worth noting his invocation of the sound of such machinery is intended as a means to invoke an industrial disquiet, like a Coil record, or the sound design in Eraserhead.

Butler has openly admired David Foster Wallace, and the publication of Infinite Jest is offhandedly referenced inside this novel in a similar manner to how he made oblique mention of his suicide in 2011's There Is No Year. The titular entertainment in Infinite Jest was one that could not be looked away from, overriding the individual in a manner akin to Gravey's words here, and Wallace's act of mirroring was his novel's scope signaled to readers that a space had been created they could die inside of. In Wallace, this idea of something completely overpowering is a metaphor for addiction's perpetuation of itself; with Butler it seems based more on a want for the book to function like a drug, that his words might hit the reader's brain in a place lower than its language centers, and be felt not merely observed.

But let me speak to you now in a manner as realistic and pragmatic as possible: That is not what literature does, and that is not how words work. This is not to say that Butler needn't have bothered, only that the reader need not worry. The book cannot become a drug; the paragraph cannot even hold heat inside your face the way chewing a clove of raw garlic can. I believe in literature's redemptive power, in a way I think Butler may doubt, but as someone who has only ever ingested garlic raw for its antibiotic qualities I felt in those moments that I understood its fire for what it was, the same way I see the written word as capable of shining light. Language maintains it remove, and even as Butler attends to the music of a sentence's movement he cannot hit the low notes that lead to a liquification of the bowels. 300,000,000 can disquiet if you let it, if you read it slowly and take its sense of its inevitability seriously, if you do not compartmentalize it to see it as lines of type written by one man in a room. Beyond that it can be beautiful: One can see the typeset MIDI and hear the symphonic roar it is a shadow of, the opacity of many sentences resulting from sound being prized over all else.

Halfway through the book everyone in America is dead, and still the book goes on, following a figure through an abstract space, an empty afterlife a reader might recognize from other Blake Butler books, in its make of houses and their hallways. In consciously trying to transfer the reader to a space, the author thinks of spaces. While he wants them to be impossible, he would also be the first to admit that every book positions you inside a space, even as he is the only one who tries to do it by speaking so obsessively of suburban architecture.

In the book's gesture towards doing violence to the reader by what it makes them think about, its mode is primarily philosophical, albeit in the manner of Manson's maniac rambling. Scenes that strive for graphic descriptive detail are limited to about one. It seems unlikely this book will find the readership that would make it the trigger of a massacre, through means of some schizophrenic living in a state with lax gun control laws. The readers will be readers, and failing to wreak total damage the book will do what all books do, excavating more of a space inside you wherein words can resonate and echo. To the same extent the book is a drug that perpetuates a want for more literature, every book is also a meal stretching out the stomach. What Butler wants is the mania of eating filmstrips, that might expose themselves inside the stomach and once fully digested show through shit-smears the image of the reader's unmaking. This then would be not a food but a feeling, which means that many reading will find themselves left empty. This does not mean the author fails in what he set out to do. A few weeks after reading 300,000,000 I decided I might as well read Infinite Jest, after having pretty much decided years ago that I never needed to. What I was reflecting then was another entity's appetites.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Descent Of Alette

Spent the day at work reading Alice Notley's The Descent Of Alette, and having my head turned around. In its strangeness, and the density of which its ideas and insights come, I was reminded of Joy Williams' The Changeling, an all-time favorite. Notley is a poet, and every page works as its own unit, pretty much, conveying some sort of idea, individual to itself. The work itself is an epic, as the narrator starts off inside a subway from which no one ever leaves, then descends into deeper darknesses of caves. Then there is a campsite with a lake of infinite depth to stare into. All this realm is ruled over by a tyrant who it becomes clear the narrator must kill. I do not want to reveal too much, and diminish its power by simplification and summary. Suffice to say that the tyrant's true body is itself the substance of the subway, and that one must descend to the heart of being to bring change to the surface.

The whole thing is told in sets of words set off from each other, measure for measure, in quotation marks. On an initial flipthrough, so many of the phrases seem to be reused that I was thinking of the quotes as meant to mark Burroughs-style cut-ups, the bare elements of phrase. The book hit me very hard, and I felt like it was doing things I was intending to do in this book I'm writing now, which I wanted to climax in some sort of impossible architecture, a series of rooms where the rules are ever changing. The name the narrator is given, Alette at one point, and at another called Miss Owlfeathers, creating the name Alette Owlfeathers, is almost exactly the sort of name I assign my own characters. More importantly, the book does want I want my own writing to do: Symbolically kill tyrants, in this witchy magical way, where the body that makes up the world is restructured phrase for phrase, until the dominant shape of the world is made to bleed out all it runs on.

Reading it I was thinking about a comment offered in some dumb online article where the current drummer for Swans talks about how Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians seems to rearrange him, neurologically, with each listen. On the bus ride home I watched this kid solve a Rubik's Cube over and over again, at a speed so fast I could barely register it: Each side would be flat with color for a second and then his gaze would look away for him to shuffle it again anew. These are similar methods, really, of minimalism within sets of formalist constraints. Notley's book, being narrative, and not actually a work of cut-ups, keeps on finding new words, new sensations, to shuffle, rather than melodic phrases, and feels very powerful, in its power to change the reader, but sadly it can not reach beyond her to shift the world at large so easily.

As I write this it is September 11, 2014. Last night the president announced that we will be going to war again, back to bombings. The same place again. Where once there was a war and a failure to rebuild created a new problem, this time, seemingly, there is no intention of rebuilding. The war is endless, against the same places, with the same supposed allies, and the fact that our violence only seeks to radicalize a populace... I imagine a Rubik's Cube in the oval office that George Bush could not solve that Barack Obama inherited and is also unable to solve. Or maybe like at one point in his second term George Bush got frustrated with not being able to solve the puzzle and so stripped off the stickers and rearranged them to feel satisfied. But then he shuffled the grid again, to see if he couldn't solve it for real, and that is what Obama's inherited. There does not seem to be the sense of perspective, of spatial reasoning, to enable either president to solve the puzzle. And the desire to attempt to force it into succumbing to the will, rather than place it aside and focus instead on say, a peg-pyramid, feels deeply childish to me, someone who cannot solve the Cube but can do okay with the pyramid.

For other unrelated reasons, the sky over Baltimore today is filled with Blue Angel planes, flying low, the sound of their engines on this day scaring the piss out the populace. To associate the sounds of planes overhead, meant to be a demonstration of military might, with a threat, is something that the people of the middle east are I'm sure long accustomed to.

I want a reshuffling. At the end of The Ticket That Exploded, Burroughs advocates a cutting up of the tapes of all whose words regurgitate the same message, splicing them into a reel that shows the voice for what it is, "you will hear one ugly voice and see one ugly spirit is made of ugly old prerecordings the more you run the tapes through and cut them up the less power they will have cut the prerecordings into air into thin air" the book ends. At the beginning of this closing chapter Burroughs asserts "what we see is determined to a large extent by what we hear." Notley's image, as Alette looks into the lake and sees all that there is, is to see the air and abyss also as sets of eyes, and what exists inside the body as a light among mirrors. In metaphor I view the relationship of eyes to light as the constituent parts of all things as akin to the protons and electrons that make up an atom.

Running up against the boundaries of what one book can do is that only the reader is changed and not the world at large. An individual on the bus can solve the problems set out for him, created by him, in a way that nation-states cannot.

In other news, most people's iTunes downloaded a new U2 album, as if in callback to the U2 iPod of yesteryear, even as the old iPod was announced as being discontinued. Somehow I avoided this fate by never having updated by iTunes or buying anything from their store. I believe the U2 iPod was launched to coincide as a promotional tool for an album called "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb."

With our eyes open we go into the darkness that is our home and hopefully we uproot and kill the thing the system that oppresses us.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


When I was in middle school and my favorite band was They Might Be Giants, there was plenty of music my older brother tried to sell me on that I would dismiss by saying it wasn't funny. I wanted things to be funny. It's not like I was actively into Weird Al or something like that- I liked Beck and Ween and Frank Zappa and all sorts of things that it makes sense for a particular type of nerd to be into. Nowadays, They Might Be Giants are pretty much never listened to, but the songs still exist in my head, still are some sort of platonic ideal of song-form that exists in my mind, and I think that a lot of what I registered as "humor," which I knew other people were dismissive of in music, is really just techniques of writing, extended metaphors and unconventional imagery and things that are not direct emotional appeals.

On the other hand, you will often see in reviews for some novel or another praise for the author's sense of humor, or references to the jokes present within the text. I remember thinking, back in middle school, when my older brother was lending me Douglas Adams books, that the idea that a book could be laugh-out-loud funny seemed pretty much impossible, owing to timing. I was proven wrong, those books cracked me up, and even more recently there are things I've read, more literary in intention, that have provoked actual laughter, like the novels of Donald Antrim. But, by and large, these mentions of the humor of books is completely full of shit. The praise is a response to registering the presence of some authorial voice, which most often tries to just use certain references, the smug signifiers of intellect, to establish some sort of chumminess with an imagined-to-be-quite-learned reader. Reading most novels my facial expression does not even smirk.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Richard Linklater's Boyhood

There is a scene in Boyhood I was warned about ahead of time as being a misstep. This scene wasn't described to me, just mentioned as being "a red flag for right-thinking politically-minded people." This scene is the one where a Latino tells a white lady that she changed his life. He used to be a plumber, but went to night classes at community college after she told him he was smart, and now he's a restaurant manager. I didn't think this scene was a misstep, for the record. Even though the initial scene of the mom (Patricia Arquette, established as a college professor) telling the plumber he is smart made me laugh out loud, it did so because that is the sort of thing my mom (a teacher of ESL students) would do, and maybe I imagine that most strangers treat the words of my mom the way I do, as largely incidental to what's happening inside my own thoughts. The later scene, where it is revealed these words spoken so casually actually did have an impact, seems important because there is also a scene where Patricia Arquette reveals that she's been viewing her life as this series of milestones, and now that her children are leaving the house for college she feels like the only thing that's next for her is death. That the incidental small moment had a callback is a way of saying that life for an individual isn't just about their impact on their family who they spend the most time with, but that every incidental moment can be huge, even as it passes.

This speaks to and contrasts with how the film includes certain motifs for a little while and then just drops them as the character loses interest. Early on the main character is doing graffiti. Later on there's a mural on his wall and he says he went to an "urban art" camp. The characters are constantly playing video games until they get into girls and photography instead. All the while the characters are building themselves regardless, the film is doing its thing simultaneously.

What's interesting about Boyhood is that this approach to time means that there are no real mistakes in it, no scenes that are "wrong." Looking at most movies we see scenes that don't go anywhere in terms of the rest of the narrative and think of how they could be cut. They stick out and don't fit in with the whole. Here, things that might scan as egregious or in bad taste work because, in the same way Waking Life is about dreams and how they correspond (or don't) to cinema, Boyhood is about direct experience and how it corresponds (or doesn't) to memory. Big mistakes are a memorable part of life. If I think that starting the movie off with the use of Coldplay's "Yellow" is stupid because it sets a precedent for a cloying tone, that then means I remember a scene of a young kid looking up at the clouds, which I probably wouldn't otherwise. I remember most scenes in this movie.

(Although I can't really remember the names of the characters, besides that the kid's name is Mason, and maybe I remember that because of the scene in the movie Clifford where Charles Grodin says that the name of his nephew he's "very fond of" is "I want to say Mason? Clifford, It's Clifford!")

Watching it I was thinking about a couple of phrases- One was Julie Klausner, on her How Was Your Week podcast, telling women that if they see it on their period they will cry. Maybe she specifically was saying this to childless women who can sense their biological clock ticking, I don't remember. Corresponding to this thought was Gary Panter, in the "Men's Group" portion of the last Ben Jones book, writing in his essay about manhood, that once you are old enough and have had kids seeing the John Frankenheimer movie Seconds will make you cry.

I didn't cry while watching Boyhood although I think I got close a couple of times. It still felt personal in a weird way of corresponding to my life- reminding both of my youth that culminated in going to college, which is where the movie ends. I remember being a freshman in college and being really psyched when I'd enter the dorm rooms of potential friends and seeing copies of DVDs of Waking Life. Here the kid is offered mushrooms by his new roommate's girlfriend and goes for a walk in the desert. I started college in the fall of 2003. 2003 is a year represented in this film, in the background. Ethan Hawke tells his kids that if they could vote, they should vote for "Anybody but Bush." So watching this movie unfold I am thinking about two different timelines in my personal timeline: Probably a parent watching this will be thinking about themselves as a child and themselves as a parent.

Later on in college I would take a film class where on the first day we were asked, each of us, to say the name of a director we thought was interesting as we introduced ourselves. I said Richard Linklater, but with my last name being in the middle of the alphabet I think I only got that chance after a lot of other directors had been said and I don't know if he would've been my favorite choice, but at another later date, after I'd forgotten this happened, a classmate said to me that he thought was Linklater was really interesting also.

There's this thing in Linklater movies where I am unsure if I am to think of the things the characters are saying as deep and profound or are just meant as examples of the sort of the things people say. I remember positive reviews, like Roger Ebert's, of Before Sunrise talking about how nice it was to spend time with these thoughtful people, but those characters aren't like the ones in My Dinner With Andre, they are youth. The feeling of people talking to each other and establishing a bond with each other through words is more important than that the ideas those words convey connecting to the audience. Although there are scenes in Slacker and Waking Life that actually do the latter, which I think is what sets the precedent for me to look for that stuff in his other movies that are more about people. When I talk about Boyhood right now I am basically babbling, probably, trying to explain how this movie and its approach to its characters and time is really moving just by telling you where they've been at any given moment.

I remember where I was when I saw Waking Life, actually. I saw my dad on weekends and one Friday night we went to Blockbuster and I picked Waking Life to watch and he picked Mulholland Dr., asking me as I did so if I liked David Lynch. I hadn't seen any of his movies, that ended up being the first, but I was pretty much already aware of the idea of Lynch as something I would probably like.  (Later on when I was watching reruns of Twin Peaks running in a marathon on cable I'd tell my mom I was doing so and she said "I thought you had taste," sarcastically, in a way dismissive of the show, which speaks to a contrast between one parent's genuinely unknowing asking of questions I was embarrassed by and the other, more present, parent's projection of assumptions of their own self.) Anyway, my dad went out to a bar and I watched Waking Life by myself because he didn't care about it and then when it was done and he still wasn't home I ended up watching Mulholland Dr. by myself as well. Two great movies, a pretty big night for me, a Friday night spent alone as a high schooler.

The parents in Boyhood are both really good parents, and the film's story begins with them already divorced. The stepdad figures Mason later has to deal with are destructive presences, but their initial appeal to Arquette's character is clear. What's interesting to me is how the biological parents are both "hip" parents on some level, and how maybe that's what drew them to each other initially, and resulted in children that it is hinted at were unplanned, but once that didn't work out, each sort of sought out partners that were more conservative in one way or another. This seems basically true to my experience of what people are like as they age, especially if they have children they want to take care of. Ethan Hawke, the weekend father, who in actual lived time would be a considerably smaller part of his child's life, is still a major part of the movie, and by extension the narrative of who Mason turns out to be. Part of the film is his arc of continually striving to become a better father, doing the work to be emotionally present and connected whenever he is physically around. The film has a very real (and I would say profound) sense of what it means to be present in a moment, and how being present in moments whenever they present themselves leads to being present in relationships. But even with these characters being fully-fledged and well-developed the story it tells is truly one of the internal journey that happens basically incidentally in ways no one can truly witness.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Don't Get It Twisted

There are ten years of posts I've accrued writing on this blog, and I don't recommend reading very many of them. I envy the photogenic who can document their youth with images, and look back ten, twenty, thirty years on and think "Damn, I looked sexy as hell." A record of words means that the past is mostly embarrassing. I don't know if I ever truly believed that 2012 would mean the end of the world but I remember in 2005 thinking things were getting worse and worse and feeling like seven years could wreak a lot of damage, especially assuming a point where damage done would begin to be exponential, and could not be recovered from. It still seems slightly insane that people are having children, but it is a belief in the future that got us this far.

To a certain extent our beliefs in the future are problematic and damaging. I had this essay I wanted to write that would be all about science fiction. I wanted to talk about how writing stories where humans go to war with aliens with advanced technology makes an incredibly wrong-headed assumption in thinking that a violent species could work together long enough to get itself off a planet and find our own. Whenever I think of people who view the notion of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe as relating in some way to technology I feel like a point has been missed. But here's the thing: I don't know what books are about that. I know they're the popular science-fiction narrative, but I feel like they're more popular with science people than fans of literature, and so they've bypassed my awareness completely. But it's being bought into by science people, the same science people I assume are the ones being hired by the military to design rocket ships, that I think creates the issue. I feel similarly about narratives that postulate all of our existence as a computer simulation, created at a point in infinity that is far in our past but most easily understood as being in our future. The assumption is that there is a future in the way we are now, and that we are not inherently self-destructive.

"Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" was the anthem that got Bill Clinton elected. In 1992 it was meant to appeal to baby boomers. Who could know that hipsters twenty years later would pretty much unanimously be on the Fleetwood Mac train but find that to be the song on Rumors most necessary to skip? Likewise a few years earlier, when Tipper Gore was profoundly disturbed by the Prince song "Darling Nikki," who could she know that the children she wanted to protect would grow up to vote and view her and her husband as schoolmarms and racists and reject Al Gore's presidential bid by voting for the more liberal Ralph Nader instead? Al Gore can brand himself an environmentalist, an issue that appeals to the young much more immediately than it does to the old, who seemingly can't see the destruction being wrought for the fact that it will only get much worse after they're dead, but now the youth have grown cynical too and can't imagine a future not destroyed and so do not try to stop the onslaught.

The perspective time affords in retrospect is pretty much unfathomable. Seven years seemed a huge amount of time looking forward to the future for me in 2005. It still does, looking into the future. But that's nine years in my past now, and does not seem like that unbridgeable of a distance. I have friends who had kids around that time who I wish I could see and talk to now.

The conclusion I wanted to get across to you now is the idea that viewing the future as being fucked is unproductive. I sincerely wish that politicians in office right now knew how widespread that belief was, and didn't then view that cynicism as a reason to not bother trying to court the youth, because they don't vote anyway. The ramifications of a population that does not believe in the future are massive. Every congressman whose sense of the future does not go further than the next election, and then shores that up with gerrymandering, is both a symptom of the problem and a cause of it at a larger and more systemic scale.

It's this notion of how ideas affect the spirit of the people, and the conscious decision to change your mind accordingly, that is sort of what the spirit of literature is all about. (And when I say literature in this instance I am including film, and really all narratives. But still making a distinction between this and games which seem too much like distractions to be too much concerned with what it means to live a life.)

I am going to go forward into the future with a belief only in the nature of time as a thing that keeps going, and a sense of human behavior at a fractal level, that while doing things decently might not really make the world any better, any destructive behavior makes it invariably worse somewhere outside your vision. For pretty much the entire life of this blog I've viewed writing as being sort of the only moral thing to do, the only world to engage in where I felt like doing it wasn't making things worse. I felt that learning to drive a car would kowtow to the oil industry's dominance, and that trying to get a MFA would support a system of academia built on debt. I've spent all these years believing I should probably stop eating so much meat, and learn to farm and garden. I still believe that but have not really changed my behavior. This isn't going to be a post where I announce at the end that this blog will no longer exist as I move into the woods. 

Time is going to keep moving forward and I am still going to be myself for the next foreseeable chunk of it. When I no longer exist in this human body, the world will keep spinning, and if there are humans in any large capacity, there will be, to a certain extent or another, people like me, but they will exist in a context I cannot imagine, and so how much their behavior will resemble my own is not up to me to judge. It seems likely there will still be bastards too, and to a certain extent my own spirit is defined in opposition to the existence of said bastards. I hope the current bastards keep their future bastard children in mind, but they won't. Is everything going to be fine? No, nothing has ever been fine.

In conclusion everything is inconclusive. Keep on rocking in the free world.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Follow me on Goodreads!

This post is a sequel of sorts to one I wrote a few months ago, where I listed all of the books I'd read and offered some brief commentary. This is essentially what I would write on Goodreads if I had a profile on that site, which I do not because I find the idea of giving book's star-ratings way weirder and more off-putting that I do with rating movies on Netflix, which I do incessantly. During the early entries on this list, consider the post I wrote about drug use and know that I felt fairly weird and distracted during that era, but was progressively on the way towards feeling increasingly fine and normal. Many of these books helped. It is weird to think about the fact that some people think the redemptive power of fiction is stupid, or corny, or not the purpose of art: Art seems like it should be able to fuck people up. But there are many things more effective at fucking people up than art, and the act of creating something, even something that embraces darkness, can feel spiritual in its own way. That said, I still continue to dislike or feel indifferent to most things, even the things that I seek out because I expect to like them.

A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley. It’s cool, sort of, to read a book that a lot of people like but feels completely internalized to me, its voice so diffuse that I feel like I’ve seen it elsewhere. A man who drinks too much and feels superior to most people, although he hates himself and hangs out at his parent’s house watching television. I have friends who love this book, much like I have friends who love John Fante and Charles Bukowski, who I haven’t read, and I feel like I or any of them could write this sort of book if they engaged their worst impulses. I think that is the appeal of this sort of writing, that never feels startlingly insightful so much as it just feels honest, and honesty is sometimes enough, for some people. It can feel like it’s in short supply, or it can feel like it’s always being invoked in defense of misogyny. To each their own.

Nightwood, Djuna Barnes. Abstract enough for me to have forgotten most of it, besides the fact that I liked some parts. Weird and cryptic and mystical.

Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem. Decent historical fiction, with bits about Quakerism, and alzheimer’s. Felt thought through, lived-in, complete. History of Jewish twentieth-century New York liberalism. The characters are smart but that does not prevent them from hurting each other.

Demonology, Rick Moody. Collection of short stories, none of which spoke to me, all feeling fairly middle-class and unremarkable. Bought at a cheap price and I’m not going to be able to trade it for store credit anywhere.

Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem. I was really into this one. Riffs on the psychology of Tourette’s that seemed made up but still insightful and real. I was particularly fond of the narrator talking about relating to the 12-inch dance remixes of Prince singles. Also a really well-realized sense of location and place. Characters felt vividly realized. There’s this thing in books, where, in a movie, you can see a character and know everything about them at a glance. The drips of information where you can feel like you only fully understand a character at the end of a book works well in the mystery genre. In this book, it’s like, oh yeah, these characters that are being described, they would all hate each other, and that feels like an epiphany, placed at the end, whereas in a film body language would reveal that right from the first establishing shot.

Beloved, Toni Morrison. Totally confused by the storytelling here, to the point where halfway through I realized I had character’s genders wrong. Most people I talked to about this book while reading it admitted they found it confusing when they read it. Song Of Solomon rules though.

Europeana, Patrik Ourednik. A brief history of the twentieth-century, told in terms devoid of humanism, no proper names, only names of groups and ideologies. Compelling enough, although because of where I was at I found the autistic voice occasionally deeply terrifying.

How I Became A Nun, Cesar Aira. A short book, but still long enough for me to go “this book rules” to “well, that was disappointing.” Aira’s improvisatory style here gives way to philosophical private-world residing until the “plot” kicks in to tie up things based on what happened earlier in the book. Still sort of fun, probably the best Aira I’ve read.

Tell Me, Mary Robison. Thirty short stories, all sort of blurring together and being more traditional than the formally daring Why Did I Ever. Running theme in this list: Things being traditional in a vague literary sense and my being disappointed in them, a risk particularly likely to be run by short story collections.

The Isle Of Youth, Laura Van Den Berg. I saw Laura read in Baltimore last year, and  wasn’t really able to pay attention, blamed it on the fact that live readings are not an ideal way to take in prose. This book was revised/finished on the block I live on. Short stories, all sort of in the same wheelhouse, driven by women, tangential to the crime or noir genre, recast slightly to allow for more focus on character and ambiguity than plot. The last story in here, where people impersonate each other on false pretenses, is the best- getting more abstract in a more complicated plot that then allows for something closer to true mystery. The story I was bored by in a live reading is not that much better on the page.

5 Novels Of Daniel Pinkwater. Compendium I paid two dollars for, on the endorsement of Matthew Thurber. Young adult novels from a more innocent era, goofy and exploratory and gentle. Interesting to see the stuff of youthful fascination be mined for all the simple pleasures they afford. The last book collected is an abbreviated form, as Thurber’s article talks about a whole plot that never comes into being.

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon. I am very happy that Thomas Pynchon is still alive, and his faculties are still with him. I talked to a friend who is more of a traditional science-fiction reader who was totally thrown by Pynchon’s approach to sentences, their jumps in register from slang to technical talk.I liked this book a lot. It felt like being set closer to the present made it feel more sinister, whereas in a book like Against The Day, seeing the anarchist argument being presented in the past, feels more hopeful. Pynchon’s always fun.

Sexing The Cherry, Jeanette Winterson. I remember girls in college being really into Winterson and me not knowing what her deal was but intrigued by the obvious erotic undercurrents in the titles. Later I’d see clips of her on television talk shows, online, on a panel about the comic Kick-Ass and talking about how dumb and sexist it was. This book is her as a fantasist, and skimming it in-store particular sentences struck me as the exact sort of thing I like to read. Also I really like the illustration/design style of the current editions. Anyway. Reading it, it scanned as more vague, philosophical in tone but without much in the way of insight, besides like “Time might not be real,” “nothing might be real,” and the fantastical elements sort of go-nowhere and unsatisfying.

Miami, Joan Didion. This book rules. Journalism about something I didn’t really know about, Miami in the 1980s Cuban population- so sort of like Brian De Palma’s Scarface, only rather than be about like the excesses of capitalism it’s about a population who is really into capitalism and conservatism because of feeling fucked over by Fidel Casto and Kennedy. The figures in this book have a different sense of politics than is traditionally found in American life, which I found refreshing, even as it’s about assassinations and counter-intelligence, which is its own type of darkness, but more interesting than the brainlessness of partisan cheerleading. Apparently the Miami Cuban population is Democrat-leaning now.

The Skin, Curzio Malaparte. Yeah, another winner. One I recommended to all sorts of people. Italy is occupied by the Allies in World War II, and Naples is debasing itself to survive. Malaparte walks around, takes in the landscape, and when Americans offer judgments, counters with charming amorality. I don’t know how much of this book’s more vivid and grotesque scenes actually happened, but learning that this is what a moment in time felt like is enough. A few months after reading this I saw Walter Murch give a talk at Johns Hopkins where he talked about translating Malaparte into free verse poetry and compared the composing of poems to the editing of film, the length of lines likened to how long to hold a shot before cutting.

The Hour Of The Star, Clarice Lispector. I keep giving Lispector chances, even though I should have learned I don’t like her. I was loaned this (and her short story collection, Family Ties) by a friend and it is fairly short. Philosophical or metaphysical proclamations and repetitions. Fine enough.

Don’t Look Now, Daphne Du Maurier. I read this while going to and staying at my mom’s house over Christmas. Horror short stories that have been turned into movies by Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds). A fun light read, although reading short stories that you’re familiar with as movies sort of ruins the factor of shock and suspense. Other stories, where a woman gets eye surgery and sees people with animal heads, and one where a woman kills soldiers out of a hatred for war, are just as good. I feel like an idiot having as much of an allegiance to the NYRB Classics brand as I do, but the books that seem like they’ll be appealing generally are, divorced from any kind of hype cycle.

Traveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. I love this book, I love Nicholson Baker. Incredibly plain-spoken and straightforward, the voice in this book is able to juggle multiple things to be about- An appreciation for simple pleasures, a hatred of war and drone strikes, love of poetry and music, affection for a long-term partner, regret at mistakes made. The love of music includes both tutorials for current electronic music software and ruminations on playing classical music. One sentence, “Aphids and grubs stir cuntily in the bass clarinet,” wowed me enough to tweet, dubbing it “Best Music Writing 2013.” Highly recommended.

A Changed Man, Francine Prose. Another book picked up for two bucks, that I remembered reading praise for on Bookslut around the time of its release, although way too traditional for my tastes. This took me a very long time to read, despite its plot and easy prose. It is a novel about a skinhead trying to reform himself who ends up living with a family and working for a holocaust survivor. A friend of mine once talked about the historical origins of the traditional novel as being a kind of field-guide to all the different types of people one can meet in the modern world, and reading this sort of thing, where characters are these different sociological types, I sense a completely different appeal being attempted than what I am interested in as a reader.

Taipei, Tao Lin. Insufferable characters whose nihilism sort of convinces you that things are going to be okay by virtue of their not really mattering, through attention to detail of moment to moment inconsequential action and associated feeling. As someone who felt a little crazy from a hallucinogen experience making me feel like life wasn’t real, reading Tao’s approach to drug use, where they are not presented as profound but just as a momentary sensation, is comforting. Still not a particularly interesting book or an author or scene I feel like supporting. It seems fucked up to me that these people can tweet about wanting heroin and not have their friends say “hey, don’t do heroin.” Tao gets mad at his mom for his mom not wanting him to do drugs, and makes an argument that drugs are not a problem unless one views them as such. What a shitty and privileged way to look at as basic an impulse as one person’s concern for another. Depression and ennui are basically championed as default states, drug use as a temporary balm, with no real thought given to ways to improve one’s being, and this whole thing is sort of symptomatic of the modern world, presented in the book as without judgment. Whatever to the book in the singular, a hearty “fuck you” to this scene in the abstract, and the abundance of books with this point of view occupying readers’ brainspace. The conversation/interview between Tao and Sarah Nicole Prickett that Sheila Heti set up is pretty great though, Sarah seems like a total badass whose point of view Tao seems completely unable to understand.

Tenth Of December, George Saunders. George Saunders remains better at a certain type of short story writing than pretty much anyone else. I can remember multiple stories in this collection: Their plot, their language, imagery, and effects. Extensively praised at the time of its release. The most memorable bit to me is a sequence where a chemical allows for more articulate language floods the narrator’s nervous system. I’ve said this before: Saunder’s solution to solving the problem David Foster Wallace felt- where being incredibly articulate and self-aware stifled his ability to be direct and relatable- was to dumb down his language and make jokes, but he’s still able to shift things about some when he needs to. Few people can preach empathy as effectively.

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed. Cool book, dedicated in part to George Herriman, both a classic to a certain extent and totally neglected by most quarters. Most people I talked about this book in terms of its sheer premise thought it sounded great. The spirit of the twentieth century and modernism and jazz is presented as a voodoo curse, presented by black people, and the knights templar emerge to repress it with counter-politics positing a falsely intellectual avant-garde. True enough! Seems obvious why Ishmael Reed is not widely read, but this book is a lot of fun, written with velocity. Most satires about race from this era that I can think of are films made by white people that feel incredibly dated - (Hi Mom, Putney Swope, The Landlord) but this book rips all of that to shreds with its historical sweep.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis. The newsstand/bookstore at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Train Station is surprisingly great, and on the way back to Baltimore I bought this book, which took me a really long time to read, owing to not being my kind of thing at all.

Memories Of The Future, Sigimund Krzhizhanovsky. Intellectual fantasias from a man whose work was never published in his lifetime, owing to the Communist regime of Russia at the time. There remains a philosophical approach to logic, contorting the language in a way that makes it less accessible than the fables of, say, a Calvino, but it’s also much more politicized, about discontent with the modern world that leads to these fantasies. Really smart and strenuous work which probably is not as enjoyable as the work of many of the artists you would want to compare it to, but each story has a memorable idea or insight inside of it.

Ablutions, Patrick Dewitt. Picked this up because I liked The Sisters Brothers a lot. This is a book about a dude working in a bar, hating himself, acting out, with some spooky bits. Good and bleak, gets harsh enough to counteract the quasi-autobiographical general conceit. The “normal guy” tone also sort of shows a knack for storytelling that explains how a western can grow out of it, that storytelling is just a form, or muscle.

Tampa, Alissa Nutting. Cool to write a book that functions as a “guilty pleasure” with the intermingling of those feelings as being a part of its point or literary effect. Told from the perspective of a sociopathic female pedophile, it manages to be pretty hot, occupying this woman’s mind. In an interview, Nutting has said her goal in writing about sex is a feminist operation, opposed to patriarchal violence. Through the scrim of language’s separation from images, readers of any orientation can feel these thoughts and fantasies palpably: Not manifesting as empathy or sympathy, but as heat within the body. Playing this transgressive trick enables it to read easy as trash while still being able to evoke a sense of culpability in the reader. Alissa’s short story in the My Mother She Ate Me, My Father He Ate Me collection, which contains a line that gives the anthology its title, is good as well, and shows her skillset runs deeper than a facility for horniness and monstrosity.

Crystal Eaters, Shane Jones. Read this twice to write a more formal review that went up on Fiction Advocate.

Master Of Reality, John Darnielle. Basically a reread, picked up one afternoon. I think I’d probably read all of this book in bookstore skims years ago. I’m excited to read John’s novel, Wolf In White Van, when it comes out.

Blindness, Jose Saramago. Flipping through this in stores, every sentence seemed brutal. An epidemic of blindness strikes, people get quarantined in a hospital, the outbreak continues to spread, conditions worsen as society collapses. Reading it and finding out that there is a narrative, not just a procession of degradations, one is comforted by the characters love for each other, their decency in resistance towards systematic oppressors. The plot is set into motion arbitrarily, and then the happy ending, where the blindness goes away, is just as arbitrary. Most would consider this book a classic; I would like to read more Saramago, but do not at the moment feel any pressing need to do so, in absence of another book being championed as loudly as this one is.

The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz. Put out by Dalkey Archive, and described by a friend of mine as her new favorite book. She then proceeded to seem shocked and indignant that I hadn’t read it, in that moment, the first I’d heard of it. A book of porous progressions: An island exists where music has enough silence in it to blend in with atmospheric sounds, there are names for stains that objects can be likened to, and a book is collectively written, filled with digressions. Everything in the book is a demonstration of this principle, an argument against the concrete: A woman hears her neighbor composing a story through the wall filled with sexual degradation only to later learn the story was not about that at all, but that was how she interpreted the sounds: The perversions that so shocked her came from inside herself. It took me a really long time to read this, due to its lack of incident, and the way in which the type was set.

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov. Reread, bought a replacement copy for one that got lent out and was never returned. I first read this book in high school and remembered finding it confusing, rereading it I realized that I had totally understood it, and remembered a lot of it, besides the fact that some of the confusion in the early going is completely deliberate, owing to its structure. I’d remembered the poem being incredibly moving but had forgotten the details of it.

99 Stories Of God, Joy Williams. I was incredibly excited to learn this book existed and then convinced I would probably never read it for lack of an e-book reader but it turns out there’s an app for that lets you read Kindle books on your computer. I still prefer paper, but I read this late one night, eyes becoming strained, soul becoming moved, feeling close to weeping. Each story places its title after its body, like a little hashtag. The weight of this book, felt more on the eyes than in the hands, and as such closer to the brain or soul than the body. Like it’s playing a trick on your tear ducts. Its prose incredibly direct in its address of the strangeness of being alive in this world. Jesus in an office building, asking “what has become of my living water?” to be responded to with “Oh, we thought that was just a metaphor.” That Williams’ conscience is consumed by issues of metaphysics, as well as environment, as well as just brutal tragedy- She is taking in so much at once that grace just emerges by virtue of these juxtapositions.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. I tried to read this a few years ago and kept falling asleep at the density of its language. I think this was after I’d read The Road and The Sunset Limited and didn’t like either of them. Since then I read Suttree and Child Of God, liked both, and saw The Counselor, and liked it. I intended to write a blog post about The Counselor, actually: How it seems really weird as a movie because it’s all about this sort of cruelty and violence that is unearned, how people just die in it for no reason, good doesn’t triumph over evil because it’s making a point about evil’s existence. Basically, it is more like a book than a movie, and I think that’s fine, that’s the argument McCarthy wants to make. But at the same time I find his books- frequently incredibly violent, sprawling in their casts, mostly devoid of characterization, fairly frustrating and unsatisfying: They can be tedious whereas a film like The Counselor just feels constantly surprising.

Family Ties, Clarice Lispector. Do I remember anything from this book at all? I’m not sure I do. At this point I had realized that I didn’t really like her work but I might as well read this book before I returned it. I still haven’t returned it, but I have read it.

The Quick And The Dead, Joy Williams. Reread predicated on ordering a personal copy after reading this book from the library a few years ago, and writing a long essay about Joy Williams for Pleasure Editions, the gist of which is: I love Joy Williams.

The Literary Conference, Cesar Aira. Borrowed this from a friend who had it, read it very quickly. Not very good. I really dislike books about books and the world of writers. It just seems small. This book starts off with talk about a mad scientist plan to clone Carlos Fuentes, and ends with mass destruction by giant blue silkworms. And then the destruction stops. Aira views himself as a writer for readers who already read a lot, who have consumed a great deal of literature before they got to him. This is probably an accurate and self-aware thing to do, but it lowers the stakes of expressing oneself to virtually nil. Do you like to read? You can read this incredibly quickly! So basically it’s the sort of logic that leads to short stories being written on Chipotle cups, without any hope for mass appeal or communication.

The Defense, Vladimir Nabokov. This book’s fine. I kind of wish I’d read Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story instead but that will happen one day or another. Nabokov’s always pleasurable, this was one of his I hadn’t read.

Clandestine In Chile, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez died recently, and this work of journalism, reissued by NYRB Classics, was on my radar. This one is him working with the memoirs of a filmmaker, in exile under Pinochet, sneaking back into his country to make a documentary about conditions under dictatorial rule. Totally an interesting premise, but I think I might hate Marquez’s voice. It’s been a long time since I read One Hundred Years Of Solitude, but it was not so long ago that I read The Adventures Of Maqroll, by his good friend Alvaro Mutis (also recently deceased), and I hated that book as well, for the same reason I took issue with this book: The voice of the “charming rogue,” that assumes it’s ingratiating. I would rather read a book from the perspective of an unrepentant dirtbag shithead. The storytelling effect in things like this makes me feel like nothing is happening, there are no stakes, because the protagonist is always going to behave decently, everything is a “fun adventure,” and no impression is made on me whatsoever.

Partyknife, by Dan Magers. My friend Tim Paggi has been an MFA student for the past few years, and has been paying attention to the world of contemporary poetry. We met up and exchanged books. He lent me this, which I wouldn’t have read on my own. It’s got a blurb from Thurston Moore, world-renowned terrible lyricist. The voice in the poems goes from jokey alt-bro to poet-guy but always feels smug, like I could imagine the voice’s elevation of volume and subsequent pauses for laughter. I read this really quickly so I could be done with it and return it.

Tyrant Banderas, Ramon Del Valle-Inclan. This book’s cool, although not as cool as I wanted it to be. Supposedly a masterpiece and very difficult read in it’s native tongue, for the way it switches from dialect to dialect, from class to class. In English there are several examples of the sorts of sentences I am always down to read. What’s in both versions is a structure based on numerology, a large cast, and some parts that are really visceral and moving-forward, and others where things are more confusing. Some funny parts, although not laugh-out-loud funny. It was shockingly vulgar and black at the time but the jokes scan as more “gently satirical” now. I would still recommend this book, generally. It’s about a dictatorship in South America, and plots to overthrow the tyrant, aided on both sides by magic. Generally speaking, the longer an individual character is followed, the more into it I was, but for structural reasons, which I was into for their own sake, it couldn’t maintain that sort of linearity throughout the book. Another winner from NYRB Classics.

Granma Nineteen And The Soviet’s Secret, by Ondjaki. What the hell is that book, you’re asking yourself? I got a review copy as part of my attempts to write book reviews, thinking it would be pretty good, as a work in translation needs to bypass so many hurdles to exist in English. The author is African, from Angola, and writes in Portuguese. Another of his books won the Jose Saramago prize, which I didn’t know was a thing, but there you go, it is. In the end I didn’t write a real review of it, unless you count this blog post, because mostly all I wanted to say was that it was a Young Adult novel, with children as main characters, simple prose, a generally light tone, a happy ending. It’s about some kids in Angola who hatch plans to steal dynamite from Soviets so homes are not destroyed. They end up blowing up some salt and making fireworks. Granma Nineteen is so named because she has a toe cut off. It’s all very simple and straightforward. I know there’s a big controversy when people say adults shouldn’t read YA, but honestly this isn’t the sort of thing I was into when I was younger either. In middle school I remember reading Poe and Wells. Robert Cormier’s I Am The Cheese was pretty good though.

Scarecrone, by Melissa Broder. If you’re going to read poetry by a depressed person on the internet in 2014, I don’t think you can do much better than Melissa Broder. (Unless it turns out Patricia Lockwood suffers from depression and just isn’t making her work about that.) That’s a condescending way of putting it. I didn’t talk much about that John Darnielle Master Of Reality book, but in it there’s a part where the narrator talks about the idea of Ozzy Osbourne as saying “Pretend I am evil.” Even though he’s not, in many of the songs on Master Of Reality he’s advocating for Christianity, even. Broder is doing a similar thing, almost: Positing herself as witch, writing a poem called “Self-portrait as Satan,” when what she is doing is feeling gross about her body, as a woman in our society taught to fear calories, trying to turn that grossness into a power, trying to inherit some matriarchal energy whereby the feeding of menstrual blood to a man can make him love you, just trying to be happy, just wanting to be filled by God and content and talking about it in terms of sex as a way of owning degradation and power.

The Age Of Wire And String, by Ben Marcus. Completely inadvertent theme of this blog post is me being disappointed by books put out by Dalkey Archive, I guess for being too weird for me. (There are books they’ve put out I like or admire: Stanley Crawford, Stanley Elkin, Flann O’Brien, Marguerite Young) Another book lent to me by Tim. I remember people reading this in college and me looking at the first page and thinking, bullshit. Now I have more time for things I am initially dismissive of, I guess, but as I write this it seems like distrusting instincts is a waste of instincts- That’s why they’re there, hardwired in. I should trust myself. Who else do I have? Plenty of people, actually, I am well-loved. But still the point stands!

The Fifth Head Of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe. Another book Tim lent me. People love Gene Wolfe, specifically his Book Of The New Sun. Science-fiction that plays games with expectations and the world you think you’re inhabiting. This was presented as an easier entry-point, a collection of three novellas that function as a triptych. Prior to this I’d read a massive collection of Wolfe’s short stories, that bummed me out with its authorial notes of introduction that seemed way too self-satisfied. The first story was good, interest waned a little after that point, I think I generally like to be carried more by language or an authorial voice than the way these stories like to reveal their details about the world. Science-fiction requires a level of focus, a decoding of world line by line, where other forms set in more recognizable worlds allow for a certain drift of attention, with the understanding that you’ll click when insights occur. The level of gamesmanship in a work like this is fun but I am not always so attentive.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Music in 2013

One of my biggest disappointments this year was the Voice Of The Valley noise festival. The past two years, it's been a highlight of the year, to get out of the city, to go camp in the woods of West Virginia for a few days, with a large group of people from Baltimore creating a miniature version of the city that can sit around a campfire. The music is generally great: All of a "noise" or "experimental" nature, but with a great deal of variety. In 2012 there was Tiger Hatchery's free jazz and Gary War's blown out synth pop, each playing in front of an audience that was generally into what was happening, with whoever was particularly into one act or another circling to the front of the stage. This year, the event was held at a different campground, with one person previously heavily involved in the curating sitting out, sound that was pretty much garbage, and almost no female performers. Everyone was bummed out and disappointed, and when the rain turned the dirt to mud and soaked through tents to make sleeping bags into breeding grounds for hypothermia, many bailed out early. It felt like something dying, even if it was just my interest. As people played their undercooked electronic music, I kept on thinking about how much I'd rather be listening to rap.

A much smaller disappointment is that I did not end up consistently writing about music for a print publication this year, although for a minute there I thought that would happen. I'm not sure how interesting of a columnist I would've ended up being: I think the initial offer was made from an assumption that I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, including lots of "experimental" stuff, but this year I had almost no interest in any of that, and was instead mostly into pop music. This definition of pop music is not the same as everyone's- I'm not sure how genuinely popular anything I listened to was- but it seemed at least to be made by people with an interest in pop music, and an interest in "swinging for the fences," some degree of emotional transparency, and a disinterest in abstraction. The music I liked pretty much all chose warmth over coldness. Also I think pretty much all of my favorite non-rap music was made by women, at least in part. If you look at that big post I made where I discussed the books I was reading, pretty much all of my favorite books were written by women, and my favorite comic to come out this year was probably Anya Davidson's School Spirits. (This certainly says more about me as a person than it says about women as a gender but take it however you want to take it.)

But what am I actually talking about, you might be asking yourself?

My favorite band this year was probably Blanche Blanche Blanche, who are definitely experimentalists at heart. But that experimentation seems more related to jazz, and song, than electroacoustic composition or whatever- It seems very human. If you had never really heard Frank Zappa but only knew him as a dude who championed Captain Beefheart and The Shaggs- Wooden Ball is sort of like the dissonances of Trout Mask Replica played on a synth, while being grounded (like how bass can work in a jazz context) in these sort of flat speak-sung girl vocals. I've described them as being "younger sibling music," invested in a sort of brattiness. Breaking Mirrors has parts being played by a rock band and it feels very tight, only slightly off-beat. The energy seems related to what Deerhoof were doing ten years ago. It also feels related to Matthew Thurber's comics - they just did the music for an online ad for Infomaniacs but I'm not sure if that's for a love of the game of if Matthew just paid them - and the newspaper Mothers News. These are my favorite things. This band seems to be doing the thing that happens when you call a band your favorite band, beginning to seem like a part of my identity, or conception of self, as much as they're a separate entity. It makes me wonder if Zach Phillips was into They Might Be Giants when he was a pre-teen.

The new Saturday Looks Good To Me is such a classic conception of pop, that K Records thing of romanticizing the 1960s and girl groups, this infatuation with reverb and romance that is so distant from today's pop music emphasis on bass and the body, that it feels at odds with almost everything in the world that includes music and its attendant culture. This feels so distant from the world of partying I don't even remember what horrible stupid shit had went down the night before that led me to tweet the lyric "The city's falling apart, time to build a new city." This record is a form of gorgeousness that you only see when everything else looks ugly save for the weather.

I ended up feeling the new Marnie Stern really hard. I had been really into her first record when it first came out, the way it moved like a Deerhoof record, but it seemed like, in the intervening years, as she was becoming more straightforward, she was moving through classic hard rock in a way I found a little unpalatable. The Chronicles Of Marnia feels like it's hitting the pop spot cleanly, and it suits the inspirational pep talk thing Marnie does well. It feels bright, effervescent.

Similar feelings are evoked by the new Fielded record, Ninety Thirty Thirty, a lot, although certainly some songs are better than others. I've seen her do noise sets, and her last record I viewed as a sort of experimental folk record, but this is bright, shiny. I described it on a couple of occasions as "Kate Bush meets Bruce Springsteen" and while both of those are artists that I can't really listen to a full record by, I don't think, somehow the sweet spot between the two, when it converges with Lindsay's own particular sensibilities, I was able to get behind. (Fielded is the project of a woman named Lindsay Powell. I need to point this out because it seems like in the context of this sort of rock-based but with eccentric edges pop music I could be alluding to Lindsey Buckingham. And the Fielded aesthetic does seem like the work of someone who might have a shrine to Stevie Nicks somewhere in her soul.)

And while invoking Fleetwood Mac I should mention that I was just as into that Haim record Days Are Gone as every major press outlet. The personalities behind the record seem deeply normal, to the point of blandness, almost, but I found that compelling. Most music feels like it's being made by "artsier" people: People who found each other and it was a great relief. This band of sisters feels so assured, relaxed and comfortable, that it feels adamantly mainstream. But they make the sort of music that you want normal people to make, rooted in all sorts of pop music that's actually really good, as opposed to the sort that's actively horrible. There is in this music the sort of niceness that you get sometimes in people who are privileged enough to have never learned the defensiveness and fear that infects most people. I like this sort of person a lot but they never really want to hang out with me as they've got their own thing going on.

Much more personable was Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana, which in its obvious nostalgia for 1990s indie rock shares my interests. It seems really similar to Helium, or a Pavement record. Their lyrics read well, they sell poetry zines at the merch table, and the bandname is a Love And Rockets reference. A similarly fun rock band, 2 Ton Bug made really satisfying garage rock, while maintaining Twitter accounts that make me feel like I would get along with them really well if we lived in the same city. They made my favorite music video of the year:

Other indie rock records I liked a lot that are sure to show up on other people's end-of-year lists were those made by Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, Neko Case, and Bill Callahan.

The rap record I listened to the most often this year was Earl Sweatshirt's Doris, but the rapper I kept up the most with, downloading multiple mixtapes, was Starlito. His Step Brothers 2 record with Don Trip is probably stronger than this two solo albums from this year, but people looking to dive into his oeuvre with a free mixtape are recommended to check out Funerals And Court Dates from last year. Rapping that goes super-hard, verbally and is incredibly moving in the way that writing can be when it means it the most. As interesting as the Kanye West record was in terms of production, these records actually rewarded paying close attention to them. I also liked Young Thug, for not really rapping but taking the form of rap and just making it weird- his work on the Gucci Mane song "Virgin" is incredible. I don't mean to go over the entire genre of rap in a single paragraph, but I feel like this music has been discussed plenty, enough so to actually inform my thinking, and I cannot even have the illusion that I have something new to say. Lil Ugly Mane's "On Doing An Evil Deed Blues" was a great song. Danny Brown's Old was good. I liked the Cam'ron and Da Mafia 6ix mixtapes although I only listened to each once or twice. I'm looking forward to the new Future record dropping before the end of the year, as well as the new R Kelly.

Music I thought was beautiful, more rooted in chamber music or instrumentals, was Colleen's The Weighing Of The Heart and the cassette tape release of Brute Heart providing a soundtrack for The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari. I also liked the White Poppy LP on Not Not Fun and her cassette tape Drifters Gold, which were much less composed, more loop-based and repetitive, but still beautiful.

There is other music I liked this year, and this is still far too long and disordered to be any type of year in review. These are the things I feel like I have to talk about, the things that to not mention would be lying.