Saturday, December 08, 2018

2018 Music

During the past twelve months of working at a music store that actively stocks new releases, I kept track of what I heard that was released this year that was remotely of interest. I also kept track of all the things I heard and investigated via the internet. I am actually in a pretty good position to do a year-end "the year in music" post. The main thing working against me is just the feeling that records can't really be ranked, when you consider how disparate everyone's goals are. So, rather than come up with some kind of "master list" I wrote a bunch of short lists that are essentially determined by genre. But genres are about as fake as ranked lists! These lists should maybe be thought of more like an attempt at coming up with a bunch of theoretical tastes a person could have, perhaps to more efficiently "catfish" nerds. To that end, I'm doing a weird thing where I'm putting reissues of stuff alongside new releases. Without counting, I imagine this might end up being like fifty records, which is honestly way too many for a "year-end" list to have and retain some sense of purpose for anyone who wasn't paying attention to music all year, which I always think is the "point" with such lists at major publications. This just being my blog, it's fine, we do it "strictly for the heads" here at briannicholson.blogspot.com. Anyway, I'm including Bandcamp links when possible, which is not always.

Let's begin with the weirdest genre of all... The total outliers. Or what I could call "jazz-adjacent freak prog." I wrote it down. Number one on this list is the five Haruomi Hosono reissues Light In The Attic put out. I bought all of them, which is insane. My rationale was: Two of them, Philharmony and Cochin Moon, I already know and love. The other three were basically unknown quantities. While plenty of people only buy records they know they love after extensive online sampling, those people are basically assholes, unadventurous and intellectually uncurious. These Hosono records are rewarding, but they're also sort of challenging: Not because they're abrasive, but because they're insanely goofy, and maybe most easily explained in terms of references to things I don't regularly listen to, or sometimes even actively avoid. They're all good. Next up on this list is Creative Healing's record Low Effort Social Events, which is like an art-rock thing, post-Captain Beefheart, with violin and saxophone. It's got members of some bands I knew from releases on OSR Tapes, Salt People and Listening Woman. Recommended if you like getting the coffee jitters and listening to Prime Time. I really did make lists, but am not just copy-pasting them because the spacebar key on my keyboard is broken and I'm using copy-paste to make spaces between words and I don't really think a list of bandnames followed by a paragraph explaining what's good about each would be particularly readable anyway. You have to just trust me I have a series of lists I'm going to work my way through. Next up is Kemialliset Ystavat's new tape SIIPI EMPII. Damn they make beautiful music, fascinatingly alive and finding harmonies between stuff that feels futuristic robot and organically grown, in a way that's really only analogous to drug experiences, but so filled with motion and allergic to stasis that it's totally unlike everything else that gets called "psychedelic." This description could be used to discuss virtually all of the music they've made, they're basically never bad. Way poppier than this is Daphne And Celeste "Save The World," produced by Max Tundra, which is bright and sunshiney and totally funny and goofy in a way that definitely places it in the same universe as Hosono. Then there's Jake Tobin who also I know from OSR Tapes releases. I think he is someone who likes Steely Dan, who are terrible, but are a good reference point for Hosono's Paraiso. His tape Fifth Thought is, I think, a mixture of Chopin etudes and improvisations. He also just released another tape a month ago I only discovered yesterday but haven't spent much time with yet. He's an interesting cat for sure. Next up is Mouse On Mars' Dimensional People, a record I think people didn't really like, maybe because it has a lot of features but they're not very good? I still think Mouse On Mars are generally interesting and this one doesn't really feel like an attempt to make a party record, it's more like everyone's been invited to something very weird and are trying to make the best of it and have a good time. Damn I'm just realizing this list is going to be defined more than the other lists by people whose work I've followed for over a decade but are really unfashionable, like this is my "bad list," like an uncle whose top albums of the year include Paul McCartney and Van Morrison, only I'm riding for IDM dudes who have lost "relevance" as music-writing embraces more straight-forward pleasures. To that end, the fucking Dirty Projectors released a record Lamp Lit Prose that I only heard once but thought "This is pretty interesting... It's weird this guy isn't just the poster child for cocaine though, because this record is manic and all over the place." Again, I think people turned against this dude for making a break-up record and breaking up his band but those early Dirty Projectors records were done solo and are totally insane, this one is like that but with guest singers who are successful r&b vocalists. Anyway when I ordered the Jake Tobin tape I got two more tapes thrown in that I really liked and would be remiss to not mention, by Magic From Space and Dok-S Project. Some people might know the latter name from having put out a tape with Orange Milk, it's in this "insanely sequenced electronic music" realm which is kind of a theme here. Also only heard the Paul De Jong record You Fucken Sucker once but thought it was real interesting, and intense in its use of sampled screaming, really the sort of thing you can only listen to the privacy of your own home and only when you're in a weird mood of self-loathing. This list ends with Marcia Custer's Stacey's Spacey, which is a noise performance art comedy thing. I saw her perform live and would highly recommend it.

 But I called that "jazz adjacent" which is sort of insane but I guess a lot of music is jazz adjacent, especially if you're just moving in a direction away from the blues, but what about actual jazz? Well, shit, I really loved the Charles Lloyd and The Marvels record featuring Lucinda Williams, "Vanished Gardens." And I don't really listen to Charles Lloyd ever or Lucinda Williams. Having Lucinda on every other track and a bunch of long jams just fucking rules. Bill Frisell is a member of the Marvels and also plays on some Lucinda Williams records. This record is long and the fact that you sort of get used to a vocalist but she's not always there means you can sort of lose track, like "what am I listening to" but the very fact that you ask that question means you're engaged. Loved it. Blue Note also put the Nels Cline 4 record "Currents Constellations" which is similarly defined by two guitars, it's great. I actually bought the Alice Coltrane "Spiritual Eternal" reissue though, of three LPs on two CDs. Another actually astounding reissue is of Sun Ra's God Is More Than Love Can Ever Be, which is a piano trio record circa the time of him putting out funkier records, i.e. what most people I know would maybe consider their favorite era. It's so good, a piano trio can really rewire your head when someone like Ra is doing what he does with harmony and rhythm. The Sylvie Courvoisier Trio also did a great record this year, D'Agala. She also performed a track on this Tzadik comp "Winged Serpents - Six Encomiums For Cecil Taylor" where six different pianists did solo tracks. I feel very differently about piano trios (with bass and drums) than I do about solo piano but am trying to suggest something about her skill level by bringing that comp up. Also Sarathy Korwar's "My East Is Your West" is a double-CD merging of Indian music and jazz, covering Alice Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Don Cherry, etc. It's almost obvious, in that it's obvious you will like it. Sons Of Kemet's Your Queen Is A Reptile is a pretty great upbeat record. Bandleader Shabaka Hutchings seems like a dude who loves both jazz and "jazz-inspired" no wave but wields it into effective dance music; this record has some rapping on it for the sake of pushing the energy level higher. I also liked the Fire! album from this year, which I guess is aiming for like a jazz-meets-krautrock thing, I found it real listenable. Damn this preference for listenability is leading me to mention stuff that's not necessarily the most radical- I both acknowledge that jazz isn't just music to put on at a cafe or something but also like it should be played in such contexts more! This is the paradox of modern jazz basically. I also liked the Brian Marsella Trio album released on Tzadik, it's all covers of this pianist "the legendary Hasaan" who really only cut one record with Max Roach that he wrote all the tunes on. I also have the "J-Jazz" compilation of jazz from Japan at the bottom of the list but I remember it less than any of these other things and obviously my memory with instrumental music isn't as good as my memory of stuff with vocals.

I also made a list marked "droney stuff" topped by Park Jiha's Communion, which is a record calling it drone oversimplifies, as it clearly relates to jazz, minimalism, and traditional music of Vietnam. It's a really beautiful record, but I should clarify, not just beautiful, clearly comfortable with creating moments of tension, it's not trying to relax or be ambient. Similarly tense is Louise Bock's Repetitives In Illocality. The artist's name is a pseudonym for Taralie Peterson of Spires That In The Sunset Rise. Way more relaxing is the Matchess Trilogy, three cassettes, only the most recent of which came out this year, the others were released on vinyl in recent years. My friend Sara did the album art for the cassette box and that's only part of why I endorse the more affordable option. Another amazing reissue was Laraaji's Vision Songs, handled by Numero Group, that differs from his other stuff by the presence of vocals, singing songs which are sort of like new age gospel numbers but very very funny and kinda dumb. I like this WAY more than Day Of Radiance. I think this is a CD and LP reissue of what was originally a self-released tape. Contemporary music released on tape was the Gemini Sisters, which is a duo of the people from High Aura'd and Mind Over Mirrors which I like more than their individual efforts. But the new Mind Over Mirrors record Bellowing Sun is way ambitious and it gets a slot on the list as well.  I should also mention the Joe Talia record, Tint, and Alison Cotton's All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre. The Talia record is very nuanced, he contributes to another record I'll talk up, and there's a sort of scope or attention to detail that's interesting- There's a huge difference between people doing stuff I'm calling "droney" on a record vs. a tape but it's not a qualitative one, it's more like a type of nuance that's almost besides the point in terms of how you feel the music but it's like a different approach to the horizons of the perceptual field or something. On a tape those effects are still there but maybe you're hallucinating them, whereas Talia is doing like an electro-acoustic thing where that stuff is deliberately being worked on. Alison Cotton is more of a Tony Conrad type thing, at a high enough volume you don't notice the difference: But with the stuff that's on CD or LP you do hear the difference. Is this very clear? Also, rounding out the list is the new Yo La Tengo record, There's A Riot Going On, which is basically ambient, with many of its songs being like peaceful pools you dip your toe into, but with a few tunes as well. They don't really disturb the calm. It's not the best Yo La Tengo record but I truly appreciate it.

I also made a list of stuff I'm calling "electronic-y stuff" but that's probably not the best way to define it. It has nothing to do with computers or the stuff I was talking about on the "outlier" list I opened with. I'll explain the vibe as I go. Maybe the best of the year was Profligate's Somewhere Else which was released in the first few months of January. I vaguely consider Profligate in the vein of like "a noise dude making techno," but also feel like, in a live setting, it doesn't really move the crowd as effectively as some other people in that realm. But on record it's a different thing, especially here, it feels like a sort of mournful downcast bedroom thing, unconventional songs but with a good amount of lyrics and live guitar. Numero Group put out a compilation called Switched-On Eugene which collects tracks made by the Eugene Electronic Music Collective, people in Oregon in the eighties who would share equipment and be played on college radio shows hosted by members. Most of the people do instrumentals, there are some tracks with vocals but they're towards the end, which really does help conjure up this late-night radio vibe. Similarly sourced from self-released cassette tapes is Michele Mercure's Besides Herself. But the thing about late night is that it's not just about feeling sorry for yourself, it's also about feeling like your brain is leaving your body. Surgeon's "Luminosity Device" is supposedly inspired by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, but let's be real, that's press release talk to benefit hacks, it's psychedelia via beats is not that far off from the rest of people here. High-minded in a different way is Lucrecia Dalt's Anticlines, which is an interesting development away from her earlier Badalamenti-ish work to something more abstract. It's comparable to Laurie Anderson, whose record Landfall with Kronos Quartet I thought was stunning. Exploded View are more of a "band" than the the rest of what I'm talking about, but their Obey is nicely propulsive and grimey. There was also a 2CD reissue of the Nightcrawlers, The Biophonic Boombox Recordings. The Nightcrawlers were a Philly-based eighties-cassette concern, in a similar universe to the Mercure but a little more dedicated to the drawn-out atmospheres of the German electronic stuff I don't really deal with. Glasser's Sextape seems like a serious leveling up, despite the potentially-alienating use of heavily featuring spoken word interviews with queer people talking about their earliest sexual experiences. (I think a dude I know is sampled extensively on this record, actually.) Rounding out this list would be Lolina's The Smoke, which in some ways didn't click for me but I returned to a few times to see if it did, and I always basically enjoyed it enough to let it play out its runtime.

Also, let me talk about film scores real briefly, as that's a designation that's actually important, with intentions distinct from albums. Jonny Greenwood's score to You Were Never Really Here is great, I heard it months before the film and always felt like "wow, this must play over a really intense scene!" even as I enjoyed it as music. The Lynne Ramsay film is similarly good, in that, as you watch it, it feels very intense and compelling, though as a narrative, it doesn't really leave you with a ton to think about afterwards. As a film, it works as this cavalcade of sensations, which is kind of what you want from a film score. Matthew Herbert's score for A Fantastic Woman is very understated, almost minimal, and while I haven't seen the film, the score is stately and romantic. Liars have long been one of my favorite bands, literally, for the entire time I've maintained this blog, but I kinda didn't they could pull off a film score, but the music they did for 1/1, what I think is a horror movie, that I also don't know if anyone's seen, was great and really engaging. I also thought Alexandre Desplat's music for Isle Of Dogs was a lot of fun, I'm a big fan of Wes Anderson doing these sort of "boy's adventure" movies and the galivanting miniatures of his recent scores do a lot to animate them.

I've got a list here I labeled "indie rock," which I view as a pretty wide category, but let's say that means there's a rhythm section and there's a vocalist and the bulk of what you're hearing Roseis being made by a solid "band" type structure of people in a room, and the general mood of the music is not one of aggression, but something more conversational and empathetic and built around the relationships of the performers. (When I have "metal" list, aggression will be the determining factor, say.) Let's begin with Palberta's Roach Going Down, let's say that's the best of the year. Palberta's three women, switching off on instruments, playing short songs, sort of RIYL The Raincoats, The Minutemen, and Deerhoof. You might have noticed those are some of the best bands ever! Palberta are truly compelling, giving off the feeling of being fun goofballs you could be friends with if they weren't already such good friends with the people in the band who are really good at making music. They're a great live band, but not the best I've seen this year, (I think I last saw them last year) that honor belongs to Ohmme from Chicago, who made a record called Parts. Live, the group (two women are the "core" of the thing, the songwriters, though the drummer seemed very skilled and sharp, relied upon to be a background element) shredded way more than I anticipated having heard the record, doing weird songs in a natural way that made me think about a version of The Roches that had more in common with King Crimson than just being produced by Robert Fripp. Their vocal harmonies are less complex than The Roches, it's just the two of them singing the same lines, but it arrives at a nice place between classic songcraft and complexity. I'll link you to this live video, where they do one of their own songs and then cover Jim O'Rourke's "Memory Lame." (From the record Insignificance, which makes this as good a time as any to say RIP Nicolas Roeg.) The record is also embellished by appearances by jazzers Ken Vandermark and Tomeka Reid, which is waht got me to check it out initially, despite the fact that they're barely on it, that's a promising pedigree. The Breeders' All Nerve is a really good record, stacked with good songs, marginally better than the other post-Last Splash Breeders records, which are also totally good. I have no idea how overjoyed I would be to see this band perform live but damn I'm pretty happy that they still make good records. On the same record label as Ohmme is this band The Ophelias, who released a record called Almost I listened to a ton. Produced by Yoni Wolf of Why?, who I guess is also playing the vibraphone, and with prominent violin, we get something very poppy and gentle, but never really reassuring, always sort of comfortable with its provocations and potential to unsettle, more melancholy than anything. This is the record I played the most this year, with the melodies that got stuck in my head the most often. Possessing a totally different kind of tension is the Oneida record Romance, which actually is on the same label as well, a double-LP set of long, tense, dissonant songs where you rarely get catharsis, but feel relief when a song ends. The songs are long, but not ridiculously so, this is a real nervous-feeling record, a psychedelia like you get from eating spicy food or something, where you feel just barely out of your mind. It rules. Big Blood have been a favorite band of mine forever, their new one Operate Spaceship Earth Properly reminds me that while I think of them as being a folk duo, who clearly listen to a lot of great records due to their choices of what they cover, probably they listen to a lot of Black Sabbath. A band built around being a couple, this one has their child, probably quite young, playing drums with a steady beat. Rose Mercie and En Attendant Ana are basically the same band, two gangs of french women playing songs reminiscent of Electrelane, Rose Mercie are the better of the two and don't have an American record label helping them out. Locate S,1 is the newest name for Christina Schneider's songwriting outlet, previously associated with C.E. Schneider Topical, this is a little lusher and very inviting. Their record is called Healing Contest and it's both initially charming and a grower. It's a total bummer to me they're on tour opening for a band as mediocre as Of Montreal but maybe they're making a lot of fans that way, their softly "jazzy" songwriting probably wouldn't win them many fans on a more DIY circuit, I definitely had a difficult time trying to get them on a bill a few years ago. I checked out the band State Champion after the press release for their record Send Flowers had a blurb from David Berman calling the frontman "the best non-rap lyricist working," after wondering if David Berman listened to Starlito I realized this dude also fronts the Load Records band Tropical Trash, and his earlier records had press releases by such If-you're-going-to-sing-you've-gotta-have-the-lyrics-matter sticklers as Wooden Wand. So, despite the southern twang which will assuredly turn some people off, I was totally on-board, the songs are in a sort of plugged-in-and-jammed-out style as to feel pretty loose, but closer to "free" than tossed off. Probably the next closest thing to a "good lyricist" would be the Haley Heynderickx record I Need To Start A Garden, whose songs were much shorter, and called more attention to the fact that this is a woman who cares as much about meter and syllable count as she did making sure there was evocative imagery. This list seems as good a place as any to mention that Numero's Basement Beehive two-CD set of obscure girl group stuff ruled, and I appreciated its willingness to include both a and b sides of singles, and present individual artists with a degree of agency rather than just presenting them as just a cultural phenomenon. I liked this year's U.S. Girls record, In A Poem Unlimited less than the previous Half Free but I guess the presence of a live backing band makes for a more satisfying live experience, I think everyone left the show I saw her do a few years back pretty disappointed. Also in the "probably a great live band" category is Lithics, beloved by my friends in Portland who get the chance to see them perform regularly. Their record Mating Surfaces certainly indicates a fun time. The new Low, Double Negative, is an unexpected turn by a band who it is easy to take for granted to the point of ignoring. The new Stephen Malkmus record, Sparkle Hard, is maybe the best of his post-Pavement records, with a couple unexpected moments and maybe only one embarrassing misstep.

I also made a list more explicitly marked "singer-songwriter," and that list is topped by Ned Collette's Old Chestnut, a sprawling double-LP that Joe Talia contributes to, I think playing drums on. A dude from The Necks plays piano on it; it is a great-sounding record, sort of like if one of Jim O'Rourke's "pop" records were stretched out to a double-LP using embellishments from his more "experimental" work. This was released in the U.S. by Feeding Tube Records, who released a ton of the stuff I'm advocating for now, even more that doesn't quite make the list (like the A Faun And A Pan Flute 2-LP, which I bought a cassette of but probably deserves to be heard in the best possible quality), a good bit I'm ambivalent on, and way more that I haven't heard. I also heard the Mount Eerie record Now Only exactly once, streamed via NPR's website. I thought it was great but devastating and haven't heard it since. I want to track down a copy but I have to do so via mail-order from Phil and if I were to do that, I'd get a bunch of his records at once and it would be a big expenditure. I was really surprised by how good the Anna St. Louis record If Only There Was A River was, sort of close to the Angel Olsen close-to-country style of Half Way Home, or stuff on Numero's Cosmic American Music compilation. It's produced by King Tuff, who is a garage rock guy whose stuff I don't really engage with, though I was recently reminded he rips a guitar solo on Blanche Blanche Blanche's "Wink With Both Eyes" and has been in bands with Ruth Garbus and Kurt Weisman, he's not unfamiliar with nuance, this record sounds gorgeous in a way where I very quickly felt like "wait.. this record is really good," even though, yeah, some lyrics I found a lil' silly. Speaking of Jim O'Rourke, I gotta cite Eiko Ishibashi's The Dream My Bones Dream, which he produces and plays on a little, though it is Ishibashi's earlier records with O'Rourke I freaked out about and texted friends about, I'm a little unsure if I "get" the new one yet I'm confident it's good. Like Lucrecia Dalt, hers is a discography worth digging into, I actually think there might be a lot of parallels between the two of them actually. One artist whose work actually seems to just be getting better and more interesting is Sarah Louise, whose album Deeper Woods feels like it's heading nicely to places further and further out, but also burrowing inwards into not just the self but also the past and musical traditions there. Anna & Elizabeth's The Invisible Comes To Us has a different relationship to the past of songwriting traditions and how to move further out from there, I shouldn't consider it "singer-songwriter" record so much as just a "folk" one utilizing traditional song.

As for metal, as usual, I barely paid attention to it, but The Body's new album "I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer" is phenomenal, they just get stronger and stronger. Also I'd never really listened to this band Daughters, who I guess used to be a grindcore band, but now aren't. I don't know if you'd really consider them a metal band either. Still, You Won't Get What You Want rips, put it on if you want to get yelled at. The Body's collaboration with Uniform, Mental Wounds Not Healing was good too. Also, not really metal but definitely notable and important is that this year the High Rise album II was reissued and I heard that for the first time, more of psych thing played at high speed but really distilling the whole "oh shit rock music" in such a powerful way that I'm classifying it with metal out of respect for its force. Also not really metal but described at their show by an audience member as "kind of a merger between nu-metal and indie rock, but in a good way" was The Dreebs who I've seen live many times over the past few years, and they're frequently good but Forest Of A Crew is the first time I've felt like one of their records worked, though maybe it's the first I've actually heard. Again, I don't pay a ton of attention to metal, but I occasionally buy metal stuff via Bandcamp, because I love having a weird diverse collection there.

Let's stay in the realm of "genres I barely pay attention to," because just because I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I don't have opinions! Tirzah's "Devotion," produced by Micachu, is the r&b record of the year, built on minimal loops, winning the approval of Earl Sweatshirt and the "album of the year" slot on two lists I've seen thus far, reminding me that people love r&b. I like the narrow range it falls into, the lack of vocal dramatics complementing the music really well. I also liked the Kadhja Bonet album Childqueen a good deal. It's lusher and more colorful but still muted. I realize I am mentioning things Numero did a good deal, and generally I feel like they do a better job branding themselves than they do in putting out things that are truly extraordinary, but their Eccentric Soul comp of the work of the Saru label contained a ton of great songs. Hearing the sample Kanye West built "Bound 2" around is a stop-in-your-tracks moment but the whole thing's that good. Meshell Ndegecello's Ventriloquism album of covers of sort of classic hits rendered in mildly artsier ways I found really winning. Also, while previous records by The Internet I've been pretty ambivalent to, their newest Hive Mind is pretty good, good enough for a local jazz player to ask about it while it was playing in the store.

I don't feel like I ignore or don't really fuck with rap but I feel like I am too old for new rap, all of the Soundcloud stuff I'm avoiding on like general principle, and a lot of older rappers are clearly corny now, and now it's actually really hard for me to keep up because I think a lot of stuff is exclusively on streaming services I don't fuck with, whereas for awhile there was a lot of stuff you could get a download of via Datpiff or there'd be CDs pressed. Anyway, I do think the new Earl Sweatshirt rules, such a weird raw fucked-up record, following in a tradition of Wu-Tang Clan's The W or Lil Ugly Mane's Oblivion Access. That it's called Some Rap Songs when that seems barely true owing to how the raps are buried, it feels more like a blown-out beat tape with some rapping quietly in the mix making it more captivating and compelling than any beat tape since Donuts. But also, for whatever it's worth, I also thought the new Dr. Octagon album, Moosebumps, was better than I would have expected. It seems like Kool Keith is maybe the only aging rapper to not become corny. I also really enjoyed Roc Marciano's Behold A Pale Horse, which is filled with jokes I thought worked. All of these records work basically outside of the expectations that I have for rap besides that the language will be interesting, but I'm continually reminded that for a lot of people that isn't even an expectation.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Catching Up On Writing About My Reading

I am not reading nearly as much as I did a few years ago, when lists of all the books I read in a year would appear on this blog, with a handful of entries including links to longform reviews I wrote elsewhere. Partly this is because the main venue where those reviews would appear is now defunct, and the other sources by which I would find out about books, both new and old, seems largely to have dried up. Much of the book coverage appearing online now feels less related to criticism than it does to plain publicity, which would be an unreliable source of information even if what weren't being sold so often seemed plainly unappealing. There remains a small handful of people I respect as writers even as I suspect our tastes differ too substantially for me to put too much faith in their every recommendation. I am grateful that they are out there writing about literature regardless. Still, any coverage inclined towards new books ends up sharing the biases of our age, towards a set of literary values it's difficult to place much stock in. Largely it all comes from people wanting to encourage each other, in a climate not necessarily amenable to literature, which I understand. If you need a disclaimer that my own opinions are formed at least in part by my resentment of my own failures, there you have it.

I do find a lot of value in people simply keeping track of what they're reading, what they like and what they like dislike. Even if no one recommendation leaps out, the slow accrual of endorsements can make me notice something. Often it seems like the books being published currently now only attempt to do one thing well. Seeing that there are certain books that work for a wide variety of people for a wide variety of reasons, over time, points us in the direction of work that does a lot of different things. This is a record of what intrigued me enough to investigate, subtracting the things that were too dull to risk me repeating the pattern of my mistake in others. I will warn against wastes of time unless a book seems too exhausting to give any more time to than I did in my initial reading.

Let's begin with the good stuff. Jen George, The Babysitter At Rest. This was great! Weird and funny and brutally mean short stories. Ended up lauded by The Believer, and Jen George got on a Granta "Best Young Novelists" list despite not having written a novel yet, alongside Rachel Glaser, who has written a novel, but still probably seems like she earned her space on the strength of her superior short stories. I would describe the vibe as like Donald Barthelme but with the concerns of a young female art student as opposed to those of an older man. I was immediately gripped from the opening pages.

Catherine Lacey, The Answers. I reviewed the same author's earlier Nobody Is Ever Missing somewhat enthusiastically for Bookslut back when that came out, and am relieved her new book is good. It's better than her first, richer in characters and plot. A woman, short on funds due to receiving new agey medical treatments for chronic pain, becomes a subject in a paid experiment where a celebrity delegates various aspects of a relationship to a fleet of disparate women. Mary is the "emotional girlfriend," who nods along with full eye contact while he talks about his struggles, and who he falls in love with without once asking anything about herself. Lacey plays the satirical aspects from a removed distance. At times it feels like she read Tao Lin and took deliberate note of what effects she could channel in a more rewarding book.

Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy. I am a fan of Lockwood's poetry and tweets and her memoir works really well. It's about being raised as the daughter of a man who converted to be a catholic priest. Lockwood presents herself as devilish, mischievous, filthy, worldly, literate, in contrast to her politically conservative father. The story of her distance from him and the patriarchy in general, is a question of feeling unseen, unlistened to: It's then her challenge to see and capture everyone around her as accurately as she can, to demonstrate her empathy and gift of sight, even as she initially frames all characters as somewhat ridiculous. Everyone's sense of humor is presented as a way to stop from going completely crazy, even as the sense of humor presents itself as self-consciously crazy. I would recommend this one more widely than it would be appreciated.

Antoine Volodine, Minor Angels, Bardo Or Not Bardo, Radiant Terminus, and under the pseudonym Manuela Draeger, In The Time Of The Blue Ball. Volodine's is maybe the most exciting literary project I became aware of over the past year. A French writer, writing under several pseudonyms, with some of these pseudonyms appearing as characters in other books. The name Volodine itself is a pseudonym, the writer's true identity is essentially anonymous. Many, maybe all of these books take place in a post-apocalyptic landscape, after the fall of Capitalism, but also sort of are manifestations from a Bardo state. The first of these books I read was In The Time Of The Blue Ball, credited to Manuela Draeger, who in the context of other books it is revealed is a children's librarian at a prison camp. The Draeger books, published in France as children's books, with no mention of Volodine's name, are more indebted to surrealism and British nonsense literature than the other stuff. That book is totally delightful, especially initially, although as it collects three short books the way the world is established becomes a bit repetitive over time. I was infatuated enough with the voice to track down a translation of a fourth book, published in the anthology XO Orpheus, where it appears along another one of Volodine's pseudonyms, Lutz Bassmann. Minor Angels is maybe a better book to start with, a collection of fragmented short stories being told by a grandchild, sired from lint, about to be executed for accidentally reinstating Capitalism, it would seem to convey many of the author's themes in literature. The most recently translated Volodine book, Radiant Terminus, is long, bleak, Tarkovsky-esque sci-fi, that only momentarily clicks into something vivid and compelling: A scene where a character pricks himself on a phonograph needle, dooming him to thousands of years inside the dreamscape of a psychic dictator, as all characters are in a post-death state where they are essentially continually dying. Volodine's endgame is to have 47 books in total, this being the number of days one spends in the Bardo, according to Buddhist teaching.

George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo. This was widely acclaimed, and I am a big fan of Saunders' short stories, but I thought this novel was basically terrible. It has an incredibly simple plot, to the point where at no point in my reading did I feel like I didn't know where it was going. There's plenty of interviews with the author where he talks about how hard he worked on it, how much revision he did, but reading it feels like you're just waiting to get from the premise to the happy ending. Nothing really feels inventive, everything seems like going through the motions. Maybe the revision means that no single page that you read is untouched by the writer's knowledge of what is to come, and so nothing ever bears the spark of the writer surprising himself.

Samantha Hunt, The Dark Dark. This book carries a blurb by Kelly Link claiming that every sentence of Hunt's is "electrifying," a plainly disingenuous claim, although a closer inspection reveals it was originally written about a novel, which might inhabit a separate voice than these short stories do. Sometimes that voice feels painfully middle-class; caught between a sense of superiority to other people and a defensiveness about being thought of as less than. If you ignore this element, which reoccurs throughout, certain stories do end up intriguing, although more on a level of structure and dreamlike progression than language. The way information is parceled out in individual stories can be thrilling, and the first story of the book, written somewhat realistically, is used as raw material for a vicious dream of a story at the book's end, which makes the book seem to cohere into a more interesting thing overall than it seems reading each story individually. Also, the front cover has a rorschach blot that includes the title of the book, which I probably would've missed if someone hadn't pointed it out online, and this discovery also made me appreciate the book, as an object, more.

Samantha Schweblin, Fever Dream. This book, like The Dark Dark, was praised by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, and the author, like Hunt, had a short story published in that magazine also. Schweblin is Argentine, and this novella is a translated work. There's a good deal going on in it, a work of unease, about polluted villages, body switching, curses, and any confusion it creates in the reader is deliberate as it goes about creating its effect. The whole thing is narrated in dialogue, using flashbacks, from a sort of hospital or post-death state, although I didn't think this structural device worked as well: A further confusion that sort of pushed it too far away from immediacy for my liking. Still, not bad.

Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar's Guide To The City. This is a non-fiction book published by the same FSG Originals imprint that released The Dark Dark, which puts out straight to paperback stuff that is maybe a little weirder or quirkier than most of what is put out by mainstream publishing houses. Mostly this means they release books by people whose earlier books were put out by smaller independent presses. Anyway, I pay attention to them, maybe more than I should for how little they put out feels particularly uniquely rewarding. This book was cool enough, filled with interesting details about break-ins and heists, although its essayistic sweep was I thought lacking, with a thesis that felt more endlessly reiterated than actually supported by the material at hand. Still: Do you want to read about break-ins and heists? Of course you do. The biggest thing I took away is that it is sometimes easier to break through a wall than it is to open a locked door, which I think is probably a good rule of thumb for writers to consider before writing anything of any length.

Lindsay Hunter, Ugly Girls. Also published as a paperback under the FSG Originals aegis, although the hardcover was put out as a hardcover by FSG as well after Hunter's earlier short story collection came out straight to paperback. This is straight-up not very good, a story that develops like a crime thriller in a lower-class milieu only to not have an ending. Unsatisfying on most levels, it seems like the people who praised it largely admired the attempt at setting. Obviously, the setting seeps into the language, the metaphors the characters use to describe their surroundings, but that doesn't really make the book more beautiful or interesting to engage in. I suspect also that Hunter's pedigree means the people reading it maybe wouldn't have read many other novels of a similar ilk, of which I can only assume most would be more successful.

Denis Johnson, Already Dead and Train Dreams. I read Already Dead when Johnson was still alive. It's broken up into three sections, and I sort of felt like it lost its grip on me by the end, but it's a long book, and I was into it for a good long time. After he died, when I was thinking he wrote one of the best books I'd read recently, I read Train Dreams, a shorter novella that is pretty satisfying. Johnson was a good, maybe a great, writer, a close peer to Joy Williams in a lot of ways but more interested in the crime genre as a way of getting at a sort of desperation that gives way to an almost supernatural grace. It seems like there's a lot to learn from him that gets obscured by how invisibly he goes about a lot of what he does, particularly since his most famous book Jesus' Son seems so casual and direct.

Alice Notley, Certain Magical Acts. Didn't know this was coming out until I saw copies. Alice Notley is a very good poet although admittedly I wish she wouldn't talk about being a poet in her poems quite as much. This isn't her best book. At her best, reading her makes my brain light up somewhere between a field at night where lightning is striking tree stumps and moving through a haunted house and catching ghosts in the light that comes through windows. I don't remember this doing that so much.

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, The Fifth Child, The Cleft. Much as it is easy to hear lots about Infinite Jest without learning that it's partly about experimental film, I had no idea going into The Golden Notebook that it's about a woman becoming disenfranchised from her involvement in the Communist party after word of Stalin's abuses got out. Reading it during the Democratic primary, when political options felt incredibly small, and the more conservative candidate was presented as the women's candidate, being reminded of the vastness of political thought, through women who derided the Labour party as middle-of-the-road, felt refreshing. That's not to say The Golden Notebook doesn't have other stuff going on. It's a vast book, largely about the irreducibility of life to a single narrative. Lessing's whole career is interesting and inspiring, feeling committed to doing whatever she wanted. The Fifth Child is excellent, laser-focused in its movements through a story, about two people who want to have a lot of children only to have one come out monstrous and have to confront their inability to live their ideal life. Told without chapter breaks, the story just proceeds, always engaging and never really giving an indication of where it's going, slowly tapping into horror without giving any clues at the outset that's what it wants to do. It feels like the intention is purely to tell this story and not let anything interrupt. The Cleft meanwhile is couched in small framing devices, some of which are unnecessary, like an opening note from the author, explaining the roots of the concept. The text of the novel is presented from a historian's perspective, telling a creation myth, essentially, of the emergence of men on Earth after a previous all-female form of humanity. At its best, it feels like it's tapping into something very universal and filled with feeling, although as it goes on, the aspects of the form of the novel seem to not particularly aid in its effects, as certain things feel superfluous and unnecessary. I should point out that I have another Lessing book, Briefing For A Descent Into Hell, that I have technically begun but can't really make much headway into. It has a strong premise but also sort of one that allows for it to waste pages on bullshit that doesn't really do anything. The "crazy narrator" premise allows a space to exist in it conceptually for a sort of stalling that the other books don't allow.

Dennis Cooper. Try, Guide, God Jr. The books in Dennis Cooper's George Miles cycle are incredibly powerful, owing largely to their willingness to be upsetting. I haven't read all of them because I'm borrowing them from a friend who is also lending them to other people, some of which are not as fastidious about returning books as I am. I found Try, with its teenage narrator, more upsetting than the books which feature Cooper as a protagonist. God Jr., lacking sexualized violence directed towards young men, is more accessible than the one-word titled books. It's about a father, consumed by grief about his dead son, playing a video game obsessively. All of these books are pretty short, and each moves quickly, to contain multitudes of literary effect.

Anna Kavan, Sleep Has His House, Asylum Piece, Julia And The Bazooka. Anna Kavan struggled with mental health issues, and had a couple nervous breakdowns in her life. Asylum Piece chronicles a descent into madness, beginning with a series of Kafka-styled paranoid short stories, told in the first person, that then leads to a sort of "break" followed by a short novella, told in third person, in a mental institution, that isn't nearly as strong or visceral. Sleep Has His House is a essentially an ode to sleep and dream as a respite from reality. It's maybe a little closer to Clarice Lispector than her other stuff, owing to having a little bit less of a narrative arc. Julia And The Bazooka is short stories largely themed around her drug addiction. The first one includes an AMAZING passage where the narrator, mad at everyone, gets hit by a car, causing her head to fall off and her to gush blood drowning everyone, and the surprise of that part really raised my expectations an insurmountable degree for the rest of the book. Reading her final novel Ice before any of these probably did a similar thing, but she's a wild one for sure, and I can't say any of her books I've read are actually bad.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves. This book is beautifully written but really washed over me without making any impression at all. Mostly non-narrative, it had characters but I couldn't distinguish between them. It seems like maybe she wrote it closer to the end of her life, after multiple successes and was maybe being a little self-indulgent, or at least making a book that should largely be read by people who liked her other books and had specific things they would then be looking for in her writing, and not necessarily trying to communicate the full extent of her genius to the unconverted. This is why I wanted to read it, that sounds great to me, but the truth is it might have been better for me to have attempted to read Orlando again.

Otessa Moshfegh, Eileen and Homesick For Another World. I would most likely not object to anyone calling Moshfegh overrated, owing to the amount of acclaim her short stories, published in The Paris Review, have gained, but a couple of those short stories, collected in Homesick For Another World, I thought were really great. One is the title story, the other one's about a dude who's dirt poor and spending all of his money on designer clothing that looks indistinguishable from knock-off copies of the same. The latter in particular resonated as a good description of the way our world currently works, and it efficiently and casually set up an ending I didn't anticipate but loved. Her novel, Eileen,  she has sort of half-dismissed as a genre exercise done to get money, and there's several aspects to it that smell of cynicism, but I certainly didn't think it was bad. A miserable woman becomes infatuated with someone more charismatic than her, and unaware of the moral systems she lives in, becomes an accomplice to a crime. It feels like it could be a movie, certainly, although the pace is pretty slow. I wouldn't be surprised if she at some point wrote a truly great book, although I will a little distant from her personality or sensibility to know what that book would entail. There's a cynicism, a bleakness, to her work that feels a little performative. Not necessarily unearned, because the world we live in is bleak, but maybe more learned from literary forebears than emerging from anything that feels uniquely hers.

Ted Chiang, Stories Of Your Life And Others. The title story of this one got turned into the movie Arrival, and I read it before the movie was produced, and thought "not really sure how they'll turn that into a movie," and after watching the movie learned the screenwriter adapting it spent a decade writing it on spec, probably working out ways to make what happened visually interesting and emotionally satisfying and not just intellectually interesting. The other stories are good and thoughtful things. I think Chiang is considered pretty emotionally resonant for a science-fiction writer but as someone who's not a huge science-fiction reader that wouldn't be the main takeaway. He seems pretty interested in religion. If he had more books out I would read them because as is I'm not sure I can wrap my head around where he's coming from.

William Gass, Cartesian Sonata. Wanted to read The Tunnel, which seems appropriate to our current situation, but found this one at a used book store instead. I didn't love it. It's a collection of short stories, maybe novellas, many of which are pretty boring. Well-written on a sentence level but I don't really care about that unless it's doing something else, and really the only thing the other thing these stories do is be pretty boring.

Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado and The Old Man And Me. I'm a longtime open admirer of the NYRB Classics line, and The Dud Avocado seems particularly well-known or iconic as one of their books, in that it's a fun and likable book that would be difficult for contemporary audiences to know about without the imprint. Nails the balance perfectly between being light enough to be understood as a comedy and dark enough to actually be funny. That's not to say some of the comedic elements are not somewhat dated, but it essentially works. In terms of movies, if there was ever a historical moment where Elaine May was a peer of Billy Wilder, Dundy's work would function inside that time.

Iris Owens, After Claude. I think Owens' main thing was writing porn under a pseudonym, and this is her lone "actual" novel. Also from NYRB, way meaner than Dundy, dark enough to abandon jokes altogether at a certain point and just be kind of upsetting. Not a great book overall although enjoyable at first, and sounds good in summary. Probably one of the most lacerating books about its female protagonist written by a woman.

Lucy Ellman, Man Or Mango. Ellman's later novel Dot In The Universe was shortlisted for a Believer book award fifteen or so years ago which made me aware of her to pick up this book when I saw it for sale cheap. A quick flip through reveals a multitude of voices inside it, although a reading reveals a lot of these are essentially epigraphs, or bits taken directly from other books. Two narrators, one male and one female, having shared a romantic past, slowly get back to each other, after making a bunch of jokes about other things first. Once reunited, they promptly die in a flood. "Dying is easy, comedy is hard." This took me a long time to read despite not being very challenging, it was amusing but not compelling. I finished it on a bus trip. It's not bad but I think I'd only read her other books if they fell into my lap again.

Roberto Arlt, The Seven Madmen. Another NYRB Classics book, this one ends with a "To Be Continued," essentially, into a book that's not translated? I really don't get why both books weren't just published in a single volume. This one is sort of a Dostoevsky thing, about a man's tortured psychology leading him astray, into crime, and the companionship of a terrorist who aims to radically reshape the world. Always enjoyable, but never particularly distinct, each sentence moves forward but doesn't necessarily reward rereading, and it never really gets to the exciting surprising place you're hoping for as a reader, instead choosing to move in this world of moral turpitude, where we are meant to feel concern for the protagonist's soul.

Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama. Another NYRB Classics, translated from Spanish, this got adapted into a movie this year that's supposed to be pretty good. Existentialist thing about a guy posted out far from home in a colony, with very little money, very little hope to improve his station, and he cheats on his wife. Not bad but I feel like anyone I would recommend it to would have read a lot like it already? Which I imagine to be true for the movie as well: The audience would have a degree of familiarity with the form.

Tarsei Vesaas, The Ice Palace. The same British imprint, Peter Owen Modern Classics, that handles Anna Kavan handles Vesaas, and this book also carried a blurb by Doris Lessing. It's cool, a spooky, sparse, snowlit thing, about the friendship between two girls, and the embarassment that leads one to skip school and explore a palace of ice she dies in, and the town's attempt to find her body, and the surviving friend's grief. Would recommend. One of Vesaas' other books got reissued this year, with an introduction by the popular-but-unappealing Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Blaise Cendrars, Dan Yack. I love Cendrars' Moravagine, and this, published by the Peter Owens Modern Classics line, had a good summary on the back although it turns out said summary totally gives away everything that happens in it. A rich dude, drunk after being dumped, wakes up beneath a table of poor strangers, than invites them all to be his new best friends as he charts an expedition to an island. They end up freezing to death in the arctic, although the rich guy survives. Apparently the rich guy is modeled on Cendrars himself and this is basically what his life was like? An enjoyable read.

Rachel B. Glaser, Hairdo. Glaser's short story collection Pee On Water is an all-time favorite, and made me interested in any other forms she might attempt. This is her second book of poems, and it feels a little bit better than her first, Moods, although it still plays a game so uniquely her own that how exactly I come to that conclusion mystifies me. The voice of these poems encompasses the adolescent and airheaded, but is able to nail perfectly both the details of that worldview and character and how it can still observe, poetically and brilliantly, the world outside it. These poems, and their relationship to character and voice, seem more closely connected to the joke-telling, or short-story-writing, impulse than they do to other examples of poetic form. It feels like a gallery show of cartoons drawn on napkins; or like Ishmael Reed in terms of coming up with a completely new literary value system in order to accomplish its myriad goals. Or if I were to make a musical comparison, maybe The Waitresses but tbh I don't know their deep cuts. I'm imagining deep cuts based on the singles. I think this is really good, and the fact that you might disagree makes me like the book more.

Mitch Sisskind, Do Not Be A Gentleman When You Say Goodnight. The publisher of Hairdo, The Song Cave, also put out this book, a collection of poems and short stories by a writer that Donald Barthelme once called the funniest living American writer. I do not think it is actually very funny. It is very Jewish and very 1970s. The Song Cave still seems worth paying attention to, I don't mind being on their mailing list. Their monochrome book design makes all their books like Night People tapes.

 Leonora Carrington, The Collected Stories. I read Carrington's novel The Hearing Trumpet close to ten years ago, as it was one of the favorite books of a friend of mine, although she said she never recommended it to men. Carrington was a surrealist painter, one Jodorowsky cites a guru. Her memoir, which I haven't read, was translated and published by NYRB Classics at the same time as this short story collection was published by Dorothy, A Publishing Project. These short stories sort of delight in their sense of wildness and transgression: It feels less dreamy than specifically pointed, and maybe a little bit corny and unmemorable, as you get a feeling for what it's going for very quickly. I wanted to like it more than I did but I think it's fine enough. I could certainly imagine selling it for money in the future although I don't mind it being on my shelves. Also, I ordered this from Amazon at the same time as I preordered the New York Review Comics collection of Nicole Claveloux comics, hoping this would influence the algorithm in some way. The science-fiction writer Jeff Vandermeer put both books on his "Year In Reading" list at The Millions but other than the two of us maybe not as much readership overlap as I'd assume.

B Catling, The Vorrh and The Erstwhile. The author's stated intentions, when writing The Vorrh, a book that begins with a man dismantling his wife to make a bow and arrow to enter a massive forest, were to make a surrealist epic. Seemingly Alan Moore's praising the book as a landmark work of fantasy then inspired the author to make it into a trilogy, of which The Erstwhile is the second part. (A third installment, The Cloven, is forthcoming in 2018.) Without being too versed in fantasy literature, I would say the vibe, its relationship to genre, seems sort of of a piece with assorted Vertigo comics, or Mike Mignola's Hellboy material. However, all that stuff generally makes a big deal of Lovecraft homage, and that material doesn't seem a part of Catling's influences whatsoever. There is violence and sex, all of it weird, although the prose sometimes gets in the way, either obscuring a bit more than it illuminates, or putting forth some clunky metaphors, but all in keeping with a poetic vibe in keeping with the world it describes. Away from the jungle, a cyclops kept in isolation has sex with robots filled with goo. I had a great time, felt very much at home, like I was indulging myself in something very close to the true heart of me.

Raymond Roussel, Locus Solus. Roussel is a character in The Vorrh, and this wild book, which is blurbed by a panopoly of important twentieth century avant-garde figures, also gave its name to a historically important poetry journal. It's about a rich scientist-inventor showing people around his palatial estate, and all the crazy inventions contained there, like a solar powered thing making a mosaic out of teeth. I don't know if it's the translation or what, but while the images are vivid and imaginative, the logic pulling the reader from one sentence to another isn't, and I frequently found this book exhausting and easy to put down, even as I admired it from afar. If my understanding is correct, this book was basically written by a proto-Oulipo method where Roussel wrote two sentences based on the most similar words he could think of and still make two completely separate unrelated sentences, and then wrote the book to get from one, with its meaning, to the other, but that would be in the original French and uhh I might be getting this wrong anyway: I didn't read the book where this method is outlined, "How I Wrote Certain Of My Books," but rather a Wikipedia page.

Brian Evenson, Windeye, A Collapse Of Horses and Last Days. Brian Evenson wrote a piece for Electric Literature praising the Catling books. Evenson's work has its own relationship to intellectualized horror. His short stories, collected in A Collapse Of Horses and Windeye, are haunting, dark-humored thought experiments, essentially. More specifically, they're interrogations into the failures of thought to make sense of reality, utilizing the ways in which fiction can be stranger than reality, as it doesn't play by any rules at all. I am reminded also of how similar the Samantha Hunt book seems to be by Evenson, but really only when she's at her best. Last Days is something that could probably be a fairly fast-paced movie were it not for prohibitive amounts of gore and disfigurement. It is more concerned with the body than the mind. It's about a private detective, who lost his hand, being called on to investigate a crime at a secretive cult that cuts their own limbs off as an act of worship. His work is consistently of high quality, although his novel The Open Curtain is a cut above. He's also a great translator of French literature, having handled In The Time Of The Blue Ball and generally being one of Volodine's biggest champions, writing the introduction to Radiant Terminus as well.

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks. I remember liking Cloud Atlas, but this one manages to have more complicated plot and do a lot less. While having huge threads of fantasy that essentially dictate the shape of the book, stylistically it feels very beholden to "realism," or agreed-upon notions of what constitutes "good" writing, with a lot of pages being spent on descriptions and characterizations of largely uninteresting people. It seems like the audience that would be most enthusiastic about the fantasy stuff would just skim the majority of the book. The fantasy stuff is fairly stupid. If you're emotionally involved by the end it is simply due to the sheer weight of having read so many pages about these characters. As far as integrating "literary realism" and "science-fiction excitement," this seems like basically the worst way to go about it, as opposed to the poetic surrealism where everything becomes interconnected of much of the work whose virtues I'm extolling in this post. For how long as this book is, it might be the thing on this list I resented the most.

Steve Erickson, Shadowbahn. I am not sure I have ever taken more than two days to read one of Erickson's books. They are always compelling, mysterious in their construction, and powerful in a dreamlike way. They also almost always have stuff I wish wasn't in there, usually this sort of cornball eroticism, but now he's writing about his kids, I guess, and that element is gone. This one finds him riffing on a bunch of different themes and images in a near free-associative way: The Twin Towers, stillborn twins, twins of all sorts, a-sides and b-sides, music playlists. There's a narrative but it's as close to dream logic as he can get, as he chooses as his material all of these massive images that possess their own charged meaning. Certain passages felt inspired by Blake Butler, others were more rock-critic-canon inspired. Erickson's always great, but also always a little up his own ass, but always with the implicit agreement with his audience that that they'll shares many of the same obsessions: If you're reading his books, you're likely to be as deep into movies and music as he is, although this one has less movie-talk than most of his oeuvre.

James Hannaham, Delicious Foods. I read this because of an article written at The Fanzine by Scott Creney, who mostly wrote about music for them. He was talking all sorts of shit about contemporary literature, but had a brief digression where he listed recent books that were actually addressing the modern world in interesting ways, and this was the only one he'd listed I hadn't already read and enjoyed. So I ordered it from the local library, and yeah it's good: A plot-heavy thing about the world of modern slavery, of people abducted and working in a way designed to create debt, given crack cocaine. A boy is separated from his mother and tries to track her down. Tragic turns are taken. I feel like the language employs more cliches than are advisable but I remember images the book created in my head. If you're charting literary constellations, as seen from my hemisphere, Hannaham blurbed The Dark Dark.

Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project. Jessa was the founder of Bookslut, which I wrote for, so I went to see her on her reading tour. I probably would not have tried to write for Bookslut if I didn't think she was a great writer and admirable intellect. Her essays are appearing widely now and I always agree with them, and they're always written with style and brio. This is her book about traveling around Europe, visiting the places lived in by writers and personalities she admires. As good as this book is, it's also in large part a recommended reading list. The memoir aspects are sort of kept in check by the fact that she's not the type to really disclose too much, not a confessional writer, there's an assumption that you will know what she is saying if you've been alive for long enough and lived any kind of life at all.

Ariana Reines, Mercury. A widely-acclaimed contemporary poet, some of this I thought was very good and other parts did less. I was lent this book by a friend, a young female poet, and certainly I could return it to her and say I liked it without lying, although I'm sure that the overall book meant more to her than it did it to me.

Anne Sexton, Transformations. Supposedly Sexton is mostly known for being a confessional writer and this book, her riff on fairy tales, is an outlier but also her best book. Changes in consciousness of fairy tales and their attendant darkness almost certainly make it read differently than it did when it was written.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. A lot of women probably read this when they were teens but I didn't get to it until now. It is crazy to read a book that is so much like The Catcher In The Rye. It seems necessary for this book to exist so it can be read and no one has to write it now. Like the Sexton, it seems to owe so much to the context of the time its created, and its own constancy since that time, as an influence, that it feels tricky to read now and be surprised. This makes me appreciate the mission of publishers that are reissuing out-of-print books that much more: Many of them tend to exist inside this moment better than something that's been being read all these years.

Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress. Haven't read the best-known novel by Lem, Solaris, although I've seen the Tarkovsky adaptation, which seems pretty far from the things about Lem that intrigue me: A sense of play, that his science-fiction is somehow close to Calvino. This is the first book of Lem's that I've read, and it's wild, in that while you read it it often seems completely unstructured. The narrator attends a conference of people discussing the future, his hotel gets bombed, he wakes up in the future. Things continually seem to go from bad to worse, or be worse than they initially seem. That the ending actually calls back to things at the beginning and makes the whole thing seems like it would reward both people who expect stories to make sense and people who would rather they not. Apparently liberally adapted into a movie called either The Congress or Robin Wright At The Congress where the actress plays herself, but in a semi-animated setting? I have no idea how good it is, although I'm intrigued enough to investigate. I should also probably read more books Lem wrote.

Jonathan Lethem, A Gambler's Anatomy, Girl In Landscape. A Gambler's Anatomy is an intriguing one: Early chapters posit a fantastic premise (that the narrator, a world traveling gambler, owes his success to his telepathic abilities) while late in the game another character undercuts this as the delusions of a self-important jackass. I feel like the characterization in this book is actually really well-handled, like the characters are interesting, not completely self-aware, and feel full and alive, as revealed through their decision-making process. That's Lethem's new book. Girl In Landscape is probably twenty years old at this point, immediately preceding Lethem's breakthrough work, and is much simpler in some ways, although it's still a genre-switching work, integrating dreamlike science fiction elements into a western framework. I feel like Lethem is a weirder novelist than he gets credit for being, because it's easy to characterize his interest in genre as that of a nerd rather than as a collage artist consciously aware of the richness and depth of the material he's working with. Still, it's rare to feel totally blown away by his work, maybe because he frequently wants it to succeed as genre material, because he's aware of how that stuff can be transcendent when it works.

Joanna Russ, The Female Man. This is a landmark work of 1970s feminist science-fiction. Cool and experimental and more fragmented than I expected. Feels written from an angry enough place that, although there's a framework in place, Russ feels like she can just write what she feels the need to say at any given point.

Ann Quin, Berg. Good on a sentence level, good on an existential terror level, pretty weird and experimental. The Wikipedia article is both how I remind myself of the book's basic premise, and reminds me of why I read it. It's got a great first sentence. Quin was a British avant-gardist kept in print by Dalkey Archive, and this, her first book, seems less far-out than she later got. I imagine I'll get to the later books at some point. There's also a collection of recently discovered stories and fragments coming out next year.

Oisin Curran, Mopus. Initially read about this book through Blake Butler writing for Vice and saying it was a good companion to Joy Williams' The Changeling, so my expectations were high and not really met by this thing which has less narrative than I would want it to. It's like, a dude is looking for his dog, that is a ghost, sometimes the ghost is narrating?

Eugene Marten, In The Blind, Waste. Two novels of pared-down minimalist writing by a contemporary small press guy, blurbed by Gordon Lish. Waste is about a janitor at a large office building who finds a dead body in the dumpster and brings it back to his house to have sex with. In The Blind is a longer book about a locksmith. I heard about this guy via the publisher Tyrant Books, who published Marten's book Firework, which they're soon to reissue, who was talking about how James Dickey's novel Deliverance was a masterpiece and a big influence on Marten.

Kate Zambreno, O Fallen Angel. Zambreno is a contemporary writer with somewhat avant-garde and feminist intentions to her work. She is successful enough at this point to have written the afterword for the recent Penguin reissue of Anna Kavan's Ice. Her stuff was put out by small presses, but is now getting reissued by Harper Perennial. She's connected to Semiotext(e), and this one's got a blurb by Chris Kraus. It's... basically total garbage? A satire without jokes, split between narrating three characters, all of which are sketches: There's an angsty young woman, her consumerist mother, and an unrelated dude who self-immolates, whose awareness of the larger political realities is meant to be the point of the novel. I really don't know who would be surprised or rewarded by this book, who would find themselves challenged.

Vanessa Veselka, Zazen. While not necessarily a bad book, this one certainly feels like an argument for why the generally culturally accepted length of a novel is too long. This one feels written with a place of true familiarity with underground subcultures, or the periphery to them, of people working service industry jobs. It's about one woman's cynicism leading her to make bomb threats, and then places start exploding. Feels written by someone who's legitimately punk, but also feels fairly tedious a lot of the time, its supporting cast filled with interchangeable people, being criticized for their escapism and complacency.

Mark Leyner, The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack. So this dude was famously dissed by David Foster Wallace for being super-shallow and jokey. I read an interview where his stance was hey, it's cool to be compared to the antichrist, and his counter-argument is made by his work itself and he doesn't need to articulate anything beyond that. Anyway, the self-conscious metafiction elements in this are annoying as hell, super-tedious, not as funny as he thinks he is. The parts that poke through where he reveals his intelligence are good but few and far between, this is mostly head-up-its-own-ass garbage. The author is not be confused with Mark Leidner, the poet who has a short story collection called Under The Sea coming out next year, which I really anticipate. Both are "funny guys" but Leidner is no bullshit in his approach.

Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos. A book where the main character shares a name with the author, about going crazy about the universe when weird stuff, like a hanged bird, is sighted. It's supposed to be a comedy but doesn't really get there. A classic in Poland, seemingly. Adapted into the final movie Andrzej Zulawski made before he died. That movie is pretty insane, and somewhat tedious, like Zulawaksi's movies can get sometime, although I guess these adjective apply to the source material as well.

Robert Walser, Jakob Van Gunten. Walser is a early twentieth century German writer supposedly admired by Kafka. This is a slight coming-of-age book about a boy who's run away from home and is attending a school for servants. J.M. Coetzee wrote an appreciation for it back in 2000 that helped it regain some attention. Can't say I got that much out of this one.

Raymond Kennedy, Ride A Cockhorse. Another NYRB Classics reissue, this one's from the eighties, and written by an American. I wanted to read it because it has a great title. Another attempt at comedy that kind of fails. I do remember a lot about it. A woman who works at a bank has her personality completely change, becoming sexually aggressive and taking over the bank and terrorizing her opposition until, eventually, saner heads prevail. Has a lot of Goodreads reviewers arguing about whether it's sexist or anti-feminist or if it's just about petty tyranny and its completely incidental that the main character is a woman. The back of the reissue talks about how it prefigures Sarah Palin, and Palin prefigures Trump, so it can still claim to work as satire. With its supposed satire that's largely unfunny, and maybe sexist underlying worldview, it sort of gives off the vibe of coming from the same eighties space as something that would be National Lampoon affiliated, like O.C. and Stiggs or something.

Susan Daitch, The Colorist. This was a Vintage Contemporaries book, circa 1990. It's got a great cover, and it's about a woman who colors comic books. When the publisher stops putting them out, she and the letterer work out their own stories, featuring the same superheroine. The stories they tell are summarized within the book, although they are impossible to visualize being told in comics, as they're incredibly complicated and would eat up pages. The stories become hopeless. It's a weird metaphor and I don't really get for what, or what this book is doing, beyond depicting a certain urban malaise, a mass of characters bouncing off each other, each stressed out, assailed by their reality and the uncertainties of it. Blurbed by Mark Leyner, but also Lynne Tillman, Salman Rushdie, and Mary Gaitskill. Was also considered a peer of David Foster Wallace's, for a time, and he publicly praised her work later, although this came out either before then or before anyone cared about him. The Google search I made to find out when this book exactly came out finds Eugene Lim, author of 2017's acclaimed Dear Cyborgs, also liked this book. It's well-written enough but I don't think it's unfair or unreasonable to want a book to do more, and cohere in a greater way than this does.

Alejandro Jodorowsky, Albina And The Dog-Men. Was sent a review copy of this, and while I reviewed another Jodorowsky book I've read approvingly this one felt a little tired. Jodorowsky's narratives are frequently digressive and all over the place: It's interesting how The Holy Mountain works because, despite its lack of a three-act structure, it can still be broken neatly into thirds, and so feels tighter and more focused because of this.

William Kotzwinkle, The Fan Man. Recommended to me by my friend Molly O'Connell, who I think read it in high school, I think maybe because a teacher really liked it. Recently reissued by Pharos Editions, whose books I haven't read too many of, although much intrigues. This one is narrated by a dirty and constantly stoned hippie who is collecting fans and other garbage, written in a voice that is constantly punctuated by the word "man." The narrator definitely commits at least one rape, which might put some people off. I was definitely thinking about the idea of the comedic novel, and trying to find examples that work these past two years, as that was what I was attempting to write. I'm not sure how well I pulled it off, and it's also unclear how well these books that feel so dated pull it off.

Charles Portis, The Dog Of The South. Another one I read because I heard it was funny, and it kind of is, if you can latch onto its tone. Real loose, about a road trip down to Mexico. The narrator is looking for his wife, who's run off with another man, and his companion is a con-man/salesman type, obsessed with a guy who wrote business self-help books, looking to get money from his mom, a missionary. When I say it's kind of funny, I mean I can imagine the characters being funny, if they were being portrayed by actors, as their situation is fairly pathetic, though the overall effect of the book is just fairly loose.

Nicholson Baker, Substitute. One of my favorite writers does what might be his longest book yet, a catalog of the days out of a year he got called in to work as a substitute teacher. He mostly loves being around the kids, and is blown away by how much tedium they are assigned as a way to keep them busy. This book definitely becomes repetitive, and sometimes feels like work to read, as it is capturing days of work, but is fairly interesting if you've been out of the school system for a while, although I think most people want their non-fiction reading to have more of a thesis and narrative structure than this.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Music of 2017


As I began to write this post, I realized that the "jazz phase" that defined most of my music listening for the last few years, so much so that I thought it would just be a fact that would define my thirties, seems to have past. I am back to the land of song as a form of direct emotional communication from the singer to the listener. Weird jams to bring the listener into tripped out zones took a backseat to the primacy of the takeaway. Lyrics and refrains left their hooks in me and called me back. Things that are weirder, further "out," I will still include in my cataloging of the year's listening. I spent more time listening to things I could relisten to in my head, even though for whatever reason I remained more inclined to buy records of weird instrumental music.

Still, it's 2017; and to most people's ear, guitars alone sound somewhat tired. Something else needs to buttress the song's structure than this signifier of the straightforward. So when I talk about songs I like there are almost always rhythmic and textural accents defining them. Nothing I list is not made in large part by its arrangement.

Probably the number one exception to this rule, the thing I would still feel the need to include in a best of the year list, is Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me. Phil Elverum's testament to his wife Genevieve, now deceased, was spare and spartan and, in my few listens to it, devastating. Last year I mentioned Anohni's Hopelessness was an incredible album that for its emotional power I could admire but didn't really spend a ton of time with, this principle applies to the Mount Eerie record this year.

So with an exception to my rule named, let's move on, to what it was I was talking about when I was trying to outline some general premises. For instance, The Weather Station released a self-titled album and while earlier records released under that alias were spare in their accompaniment, folk music through and through, here there is a rhythm section and occasionally a string quartet. The singer's voice is a fine one, but not hair-raising on its own, I don't think. Lyrics supply this feeling of urgency, or even revelation. I am grateful to her for lending an earworm to the necessary-to-be-remembered thought "You and I, we are complicit." The record never gets to actually rocking, the most aggressive thing about it is always the force of the thought behind the lyrics, the weight behind them surges them out the speakers like water gushing out a hole in a dam. Not everything is political, but everything has meaning.

Sophia Kennedy released her first album this year, also self-titled. That record's use of piano chords and a sort of grid-based rhythm structure makes her songs saunter in a way that feels to me like a John Cale record produced by Matthew Herbert. I listened to a good deal of John Cale this year. The lyrics emphasize wordplay, the rhymes adding additional jaunt to the rhythmic interplay, while still essentially seeming simple, sounding like upbeat pop music. The album was released by a label known for dance music, and some press outlets were quick to point out that it wasn't a dance record, but I feel like the uptempo numbers really swing in a way that is pretty rare.

The EMA album, Exile In The Outer Ring, really struck me, although I hadn't been taken by music of hers I'd heard in the past, which was barely anything. Here, things click into focus. Songs seem stronger melodically, and the lyrical strategies seem more primed to be used as anthems for audience identification, rather than her older music's direct address to an imagined audience. For instance, I think that as far as pop songs go, listing traits the way the chorus to "33 nihilistic and female" does, works better than saying "You were a goth in high school,"  to quote a line from a few albums ago. Sonically, it's weirder, less acoustic guitar where you can hear fingers moving about the frets and more hums of texture, crackling into riffs. Her voice is stronger and less strangled sounding. Everything is more confident, emphatic, and all noise elements seem committed to selling the song. The weirdo commands the stage by communicating her emotions to an audience more interested in feeling than abstraction.

I feel I can almost go without mentioning the records Angel Olsen and Circuit Des Yeux released this year. Not like those albums aren't good, but that to discuss them at length seems unnecessary. These are women I feel invested in as artists. Angel in particular has never made a bad record and a compilation of her rarities works just as well. The Circuit Des Yeux is another step forward. The same concept applies to the Colleen record: If you're not aware of these people, you should catch up. It seems more necessary for me to note that the band Oxbow, who I had never listened to before, put out a record that essentially came out of nowhere for me, although I guess I was aware enough of them for them to be on my radar, I still didn't really know what they sounded like. It seems like when people talk about Circuit Des Yeux's connection to Scott Walker they're talking about the stuff he did thirty-plus years ago, while the new Oxbow thing seems vaguely connected to what he's doing now, although that's not quite comparable: The blurb saying "like Burt Bacharach doing charts for Harvey Milk" comes closer. I've not spent much time with Scott Walker so I am referring more to an idea, extrapolated from "The Electrician" alone.

It's also exciting to encounter legitimately new bands. The Parlor Walls album Opposites is probably the thing I have listened to the most. The presence of saxophone alludes to jazz but they're a post-punk band basically, and they get me as a listener to the place of thinking "yeah, this rocks" more than any other band that released a record this year, due to the emphasis on drums, and a vocalist who screams her lyrics, but keeps them enunciated and clear. When she says "Don't you know I'm perfect?" I am convinced.

The record label that put out Parlor Walls had my attention all year. Particularly notable would be the On Fillmore record, and the Horse Lords mixtape featuring their performance of a Julius Eastman piece. On Fillmore is a group consisting of Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and bassist Darin Gray, a Chicago dude who's done a lot of work with Jim O'Rourke. While they are the band's membership, a lot of people perform on their record, Happiness Of Living. Essentially I take it as a rhythm section working as composers recording a record in Brazil. Certain songs sound like late period Can, songs are sung in Portuguese. It is very easy to recommend, and very easy to put on and listen to, or play for other people. Other releases Northern Spy put out this year I can vaguely endorse based on scant listens include PC Worship, Ross Goldstein, and the Brooklyn Raga Massive's performance of Terry Riley's In C. Also, a few years ago they put out a record by a band called Starring that I wanted to hear but somehow never did until 2017. They are sort of like a music-school-prog band's attempt to go to some late-Boredoms/OOIOO ecstatic trance states. I did some cursory searching to try to find out if this band was still together and found the Twitter feed from one member, from a few years back, although essentially after the band stopped being active, I believe, talking about seeing Guerilla Toss and being blown away- referring to them as "Gorilla Toss" in the method of hearing a band announce themselves rather than owning a record, and also saying the band was too cool to be on Twitter. I was pretty disappointed by this year's Guerilla Toss record, but the cassette released by their drummer under the name Do Pas O, Join The Fucking Drum Circle, I can recommend. I assume it's electronically produced using MIDI or GarageBand, bright and sprightly stuff not far from the On Fillmore album's general effect but with less of an exotica sound palette.

Almost exactly between the realms of the song and the zone was the collaborative Shackleton/Anika record, which seems like the best thing either artist has done, although admittedly my experience with Shackleton's stuff hasn't really dug that deep. Anika's first record has this sort of dull industrial/militaristic vibe, working in a factory, produced by Geoff Barrow of Portishead, but here there's a deep space science fiction vibe, like alien nanotechnology is infiltrating the air to clean it. Two LPs worth of music.

The Fifth State Of Consciousness, this year's Peaking Lights album conjures up something similar, although its more earthbound in its psychedelia, more plainly dub-influenced. Their last record was terrible, seemingly an attempt to make pop songs by mixing the vocals too high, and having them say the dumbest lyrics imaginable. This feels both like a course-correction and a way of showing what they were going for, what a cleaned up version of the sound on earlier records could be. It exists in this rhythmic space that allows for a perfect halfway point between dancing and walking around, pacing.

The Eric Copeland album "Goofballs" seems similarly to come from just a place of being made by a sentient weed cloud. This is true of a lot of Eric Copeland stuff, and certainly he comes close to a general endorsement for his whole career, but he is fairly prolific and has made some records I don't need to ever hear again. This one, though, is like a techno version of a Ween record, where each song is a little too long and repetitive, but there are these pitchshifted vocal melodies that are very goofy and endearing and still conjure an atmosphere. I guess the final, bad Ween album actually had songs on it that were techno parodies but what I mean is that the Copeland record sounds like is like a highly drum-machine driven version of The Pod, widely known among those who've lived their lives inside potentially-sentient weed clouds to be the best Ween record.

 Rick Weaver's cassette tape The Secular Arm, released by Hausu Mountain, feels evocative of an entire sonic world, the occasional excursions into the world of linear song making it feel more grounded than gaseous. It feels like a cartoon world, but vaguely pastoral, like the woods the wagon rolls through in Calvin And Hobbes or something. Rick's done a ton of projects, from noise-rock to acoustic folk but always on the weird side of the spectrum, always defined by some eccentricity or performance-as-confrontation. The same label released a tape by Rick's cassette-music-trio, Form A Log, that's good too, and of course the Khaki Blazer/Moth Cock stuff is always going to be a favorite. (The Moth Cock cassette Rick released on his tape label a few years back is also on Bandcamp, which I didn't realize until just now.) I feel like I am sort of out the noise loop currently, not too many shows of that sort happening in Baltimore right now, or if they are they're being put on by people I am not friends with, and this stuff, this sort of psychedelic abstraction humor music, is sort of the only thing I'm aware of that I'm even into, really. Hausu Mountain also released the Do Pas O cassette I mentioned earlier.

The highlight of the year's instrumental electronic music, though, was the Jlin album Black Origami, which will surely receive no small share of praise elsewhere. Let me weigh in to say I agree. Sounds incredible through sound systems large or small. Feels like putting the CD into a car stereo could transform your vehicle into something that walks upright. While it's rooted in footwork, it is something else, something that seems more readily danceable by normal people than that stuff.

I still tried to keep engaged with contemporary jazz. The Nicole Mitchell album is cool, Mandorla Awakening Part Two and I spent some time with older work of hers through it. It got her on the cover of The Wire, but I still felt like she should have received more attention, outside the world of music. The fact that it's a concept album about the work of Octavia E Butler is pretty interesting as a hook in itself, but for whatever clout Butler might be getting as a reference point right now, avant-garde jazz is still not really going to be discussed in more generalist venues. I had this idea I would try to write an article for a women's-focused online publication about the current wave of women in avant-garde jazz, specifically how Nicole Mitchell as director of the AACM is interesting because it's women inheriting an organization specifically designed as a way for black musicians to get more respect by controlling their own destiny but such an article should probably be written, if not by a woman, then at least someone in the city of Chicago who has more access to the people whose work I would be discussing- Nicole Mitchell, Jaimie Branch, Tomeka Reid, and Mary Halvorson. Many of these women are white, by the way. I assume all are driven by ideals of solidarity and commitment to art which is frankly utopian. Obviously it would be ideal for such an article were written by a woman, but it seems necessary it be done by someone in a position to see these people perform together, even though the records are good on their own. Mandorla Awakening admittedly has some vocals late in the game that make the record much harder to just put on and listen to than some of her other work.

Jaimie Branch's Fly Or Die was the one I was most interested in owning as a record I think, because it was a single LP. At first I was put off by how went back and forth between group settings that hit really hard and portions where it's just Branch playing and electronically processing her trumpet but now I think I'm on board. International Anthem also put out Irreversible Entanglements, where Moor Mother fronts a free jazz group delivering spoken word against police brutality.

I do not mean to neglect rap but am not sure there's anything I can mention that hasn't been praised extensively elsewhere, besides to say that about half of Future's album HNDRXX totally rules- I didn't really fuck with the self-titled at all, which seemed like a retread of the commercially and critically successful DS2 approach to diminishing returns, while the pop songs on HNDRXX seemed to rekindle a sort of romantic streak that was present on the retroactively-maligned Honest. If you put on HNDRXX, you can sort of skip straight to "Incredible," which is maybe the song of the year, and go from there. The only thing is that its tone then feels very similar to Young Thug's "Beautiful Thugger Girls" album, to a point of borderline redundancy, but Future's hooks and songwriting are better I'd argue. But honestly I feel like the way people talk about rap is so insane and focused on youth and what's new that, besides Kendrick Lamar I feel like I'm continually hearing about things I have no idea what they are and that often sound awful to me just on a level of what a rap name should be. This is how I know I am old.

More music: The Dirty Projectors record sounded great playing through the record store sound system, making architecture out of multi-layered and pitch-shifted vocal harmonies. Tara Jane O'Neil's self-titled album was spare and campfire in the sunlight warm, I want to compare it to Sibylle Baier. Obnox's Niggative Approach is great: I feel like if it had been released on CD under a different title I could've played it in-store and sold it to people buying Childish Gambino records, but as it is it's just for garage-rock obsessives I guess. I checked out the Nick Hakim record due to the Keith Rankin album art and it fucking swept through my coworkers like wildfire, although none of us got it together to see him live. Amir ElSaffar's Rivers Of Sound was a very good large ensemble jazz record. Mary Halvorson in a quartet setting playing John Zorn compositions I found very soothing. I bought Alvarius B's 2 CD set collecting 3 LPs but haven't spent a ton of time with it yet. NHK made a cool electronic records I enjoyed listening to. While listening to the new Linda Perhacs album, I'm A Harmony, I tweeted that it sounded very nice, but then came to regret that when it lapsed into silly territory, but it is in fact still good, and the fact that two songs are embarrassingly corny seems true to where she is at at this point in her life.

Reissues:

 I stumbled across an original copy of Yoko Ono's Approximately Infinite Universe a few months before it was reissued, and it's great. More straightforward and classic rock than you might expect. Oh shit: CD and digital reissues of this include "Dogtown," the song I was originally introduced to as a Jeff Zagers cover that appears on the much later Season Of Glass. I assume this is a different, earlier version? Anyway. Pep Llopis' Poiemusia La Mau Dels Argonautes is a beautiful work of minimalism with spoken word poetry passages. I am honestly furious at how that label's follow-up, Richard Horowitz Eros In Arabia received such a small pressing as I was anticipating it hungrily. I work at a record store and we never received copies, despite me insisting on ordering it as soon as it was listed at the distributor. I have now paid for a download, and it's a masterpiece I was totally right to want a physical copy of. Editions Mego released a 2LP of Jaap Vink's work, which is a gauzy or gaseous form of pure early electronic musics that I don't normally have the patience for, but is definitely good. RVNG also did a great job with their compilation of Paulina Anna Strom recordings, overdubbed synthesizer recordings originally for the "new age" cassette market, made by a blind woman. The compilation of Alice Coltrane's 1980s ashram recordings was great.

Speaking of compilations: Soul Jazz Records put out two amazing CDs of wildly different material I would highly recommend. Space, Energy, And Light is a compilation of electronic/new-age stuff, with a Laurie Spiegel piece that wasn't on the 2CD Expanding Universe I already have. The only other person on it I'm familiar with is Richard Pinhas. They also put out a compilation called Soul Of A Nation, which opens with a Gil Scott-Heron piece but is primarily afrocentric jazz, and was mostly stuff I was unfamiliar with, despite being a big fan of Don Cherry and the Mwandishi band or whatever. There's a great song that pauses to introduce each member of the band and includes their astrological sign.

Oh also, for whatever it's worth: Superior Viaduct reissued an Arnold Dreyblatt record, Propellers In Love, and while that album is fine, this year I heard for the first time a record that dude in the nineties for Tzadik, Animal Magnetism, that is much better. It is weirdly similar to the band Horse Lords my friends are in. It is also very good music to get writing done to, I think. If I get my shit together to write a post about books I've read and enjoyed this year, the influence of Brian Evenson will hang heavy over it, for much of what I've liked he either wrote, translated, publicly endorsed, or does work that just feels similar to. In some interview with Evenson or another he talked about enjoying the quality of music where it feels like if you turn it up more, you will hear more, catch something mysterious, and this is what he likes to write to, or the sort of mindstate he finds rewarding. The Dreyblatt liner notes mention that due to the way the work is meant to work with overtones, it should be played at maximum volume. But of course, who really does that? All you can do is play it loud enough for it to do its thing but still allow you to be in the room with it.