50/50: #3 – Poetry selections

50/50 is a series of 50-word capsule reviews I’m doing in conjunction with my pledge to read 50 books in 2012. The next 50/50 will be Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Selected Poems, James Tate (1991)

Simple sensations crawling out the vivid dark: “Here the tendons in the swans’ wings stretch / feel the tautness of their futuristic necks.” Two decades’ irony, queasy particularity: tomorrow and yesterday “immigrants with one shirt between them,” skin a lace “of salt and disease.” This “exquisite emptiness“: “ground for fine flowers.”

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Spectrum Culture album reviews: Poliça – Give You The Ghost and Emily Wells – Mama

Another cd double header. Emily Wells and the voice behind Poliça both are crafters of impressive music and charismatic frontwomen. Their music stands for itself. Read about, and watch, below:

“Amongster” leads off the record with scratchy, Wall of Sound synth squealing in My Bloody Valentine-sized wallops, coming across like some glitchy club track slowed way down, while Leaneagh’s vocals skate verbal figure-eights around incessantly tapped rims. Her presence first paddles along in and then releases itself fully to the song’s chaotic percussive intensity. A basic hip-hop beat and evocative background textures lay down the steadily easy constructs of “I See My Mother,” more rim-riding sketching out the clip of a nighttime urban walkabout, beneath glaring lights and through dark alleyways. Leaneagh comes through in staggered vocal layers set at heavy delay, lending unexpected elegance to verses such as, “She’s letting down her long black hair.” “Violent Games,” by contrast, has a gruffly adrenalized start, Leaneagh’s fractious vocals at odds with her admission, “Man by my enemy, oh but he knows/ My needs.”

Read the rest at Spectrum Culture.

Gentle counting off launches opening track “Piece Of It,” Wells manifesting first in a gaseous butane hiss against the barest, wailing melodica flailing in a wash of upright bass, ukulele and plucked violin strings. Later in the imbalanced waltz, having wavered softly among liltingly impressionistic, paper-thin instrumentation for a spell, her vocals come cross-directionally and ghastly sounding, layers of Wells singing concomitantly, “Get a little piece and then give it away.” It’s a fitting induction that leads seamlessly into follow-up “Dirty Sneakers And Underwear,” on which Wells incorporates the hip-hop rhythms and breathless inflections found previously elsewhere, and for which she is at least partly known. Big drum strikes and atmospheric samples carry it out as Wells half-moans, half-sighs, again in multiplicity, “You got your hands on me.”

And here’s the rest at Spectrum.

Thanks for reading!

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50/50: #2 – Written on the Body

50/50 is a series of 50-word capsule reviews I am doing in conjunction with my pledge to read 50 books in 2012. Hope you enjoy. The next 50/50 will be James Tate’s “Selected Poems.”

image courtesy of 4.bp.blogspot.com

Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson (1992)

Genderless narrator. Extended prose poem style; ecstatic, spiraling ruminations on love. A more accessible, less frighteningly abstruse Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Rapturous in parts, slightly repetitive in others. “Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there.” An affair intensely felt.

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50/50: 50 book reviews, 50 words each – #1 – The Postman Always Rings Twice

Between now and 2012’s end, I’ve pledged (to myself? to the library gods?) to read 50 books, and to do a series of 50-word book reviews for each title, dubbed “50/50.” This is the first. Hope you enjoy. The next 50/50 will be Jeanette Winterson’s “Written on the Body.”

image courtesy of wikimedia

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain (1934)

L.A. outskirts, early ‘30s. Recidivist drifter finds work in dusty truck stop diner, bites coworker afraid she looks Mexican. They fall in love, decide to off her “greasy” Greek husband, the diner’s owner. Try, fail. Try again. Romance fiery, cruel but weighty, well-paced run-up and twist. Potboiler, but tasty, thriller.

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Spectrum Culture music reviews: Animal Joy (Shearwater) & Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Air)

Two albums, two diametrically dissimilar approaches. Shearwater is emotional, muted and occasionally ecstatic, building their sound up around simple arrangements and melodies; Air is just about what you’d expect from a couple of French guys tooling around with a crapload of keyboards and effects and a soft spot for spacey atmospherics and lounge.

After three records of muted insularity (Palo Santo), explorations taken on the wing (Rook) and heady island-hopping over open water (Golden Archipelago), it was about time Shearwater got in touch with its baser impulses. The loosely unified “Island Arc” trilogy put to bed like a grim and intricate yet surprisingly brilliant fairy tale, the Texas-based trio led by Jonathan Meiburg (percussionist Thor Harris and bassist Kim Burke backing him) was in need of a change of pace, musically speaking. Whether the hurried Animal Joy embodies such a departure, or is just the appendix or final extension of a running focus, is matter for debate, but what it is – shimmering and raw, full and biting – is in any case remarkable, and a big deal for a group that began as an outlet primarily for softer output from Meiburg and onetime Shearwater member Will Sheff that didn’t have a home on records put out during their joint stint in Okkervil River.

“Animal Joy” is available for streaming in full on YouTube. And the rest be found here.

And here’s Air, beginning with a clip from from the short (Georges Méliès’ iconic film of the same name) scored with their music:

Starting with rolling timpani deployed over a languid rhythm, injections of atmospheric, static-laden guitar and busy orchestral flourishes that pop up like pockets of space debris, veteran electronic duo Air’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune gets off to a familiar, if unremarkable, start. Granted, “Astronomic Club” is not much like “La Femme D’Argent” or even the Space Age dancehall jam “Venus” (kick-offs to their 1998 debut, the iconic Moon Safari, and 2004’s Talkie-Walkie, respectively), but in low-frequency noise and garbled sampling possesses a sort of understated cosmic charm. As is the rest of Le Voyage, the track is both buoyed by and tied up in indelible symbiosis with the source of its inspiration: Georges Méliès’ 1902 short film of the same name, to which Air’s Le Voyage was composed as a companion when a long-lost hand-colorized print of the pioneering cinematic narrative about six astronomers traveling to the moon was restored in 2010. (The restoration, with its new score, premiered at last year’s Cannes.) “Astronomic Club” never quite makes a solid landing though – clocking in at only three minutes and change, it’s too insubstantial to even form strong opinions of – a criticism that could also be leveled at the album as a whole, given its paltry 31-minute running time and somewhat lackluster delivery.

The rest: back on Spectrum.

Thanks for reading!

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Spectrum Culture book reviews: The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama; Something to Say by Richard Klin

Book reviews: love to do ’em, but they take about 10,000x the effort of a music, film or concert review, so I don’t do them often enough. Here’s two recent ones from yours, truly.

First is Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Vol. 1)”:

image courtesy of profilebooks.com

When you’re penning a two-volume series ambitiously titled The Origins of Political Order, every word counts. When it comes to the word count of political philosopher Francis Fukuyama’s newest book, it’s a rather large one, splayed out over 600 pages. Cognizant of that, perhaps it’s better to spare the extraneous; Fukuyama’s investigation concerns no less than the historical development of human social organization from tribes, bands, clans and chiefdoms through 10,000 years to kingdoms, empires and modern democracies, examining in particular the origins of three political institutions: the state itself, the rule of law and accountable government. By no means mutually inclusive, they’ve been either present or noticeably absent from every regime in history at some time or another, and throughout history the most effective states have successfully leveraged the latter two in support of itself, the first. Beginning with ancient Chinese tribalism – one of the earliest known forms of political organizations – and hopscotching eras and regions, Fukuyama makes note of where those three institutions succeeded and where they led nations (both real and de jure or only technically existent) to ruin.

Read the rest over at Spectrum Culture.

Second is Richard Klin (and photographer Lily Prince), “Something to Say: Thoughts on Art and Politics in America”

image courtesy of spectrumculture.com

To what extent and in what proportions do art and politics converge? Should they at all? These two concepts’ messy ideological footprints (and any overlap between them) comprise the purview of Richard Klin and Lily Prince’s Something to Say, containing 15 profiles of both famous and lesser-known artists on career-long quests for a better world. Finding this intersection and thus learning what specific influences hold the most sway for each individual creator – in his or her own words, pooled among some of the most esteemed and most treasured artists of the past few decades – is the book’s aim, and in that modest goal it is largely successful. The book’s subjects, likely owing to the important issues to which they feel personally connected, weave gratifying if slightly scatterbrained (or one might use the kinder “open-ended”) tales of success and failure in their respective fields. Overall, Klin’s actual presence within the profiles is unobtrusive, almost nonexistent save for providing a contextual construct, even as the questions and descriptions he leaves behind populate the book’s pages; mostly he relays as much background as is necessary only before allowing his subjects to fill in the blanks – to tell the stories themselves, as they should be told.

And the rest? Spectrum Culture, of course.

Thanks for reading! Coming soon will be reviews of James Gleick’s The Information and a few concert/album reviews. Cheers!

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Spectrum Culture music reviews: Laura Gibson’s “La Grande,” rediscover of Lia Ices’ “Grown Unknown”

Two reviews, four vids. Haunted-voiced female singer-songwriters. A good day for everybody involved.

First, Laura Gibson’s new album, the spectral “La Grande”:

Due to enlistment of percussionists Matthew Rubin Berger and Rachel Blumberg as well as appearances from Calexico’s Joey Burns and the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee, La Grande is a decidedly dissimilar creature from Gibson’s first two records, 2006’s If You Come to Greet Me and 2009’s Beast of Seasons. Though both provided substantial proof, in evocative lyricism and fragile folk-pop songcraft, as to why each could be appreciated in its own right, neither attempted the exuberant grandeur or ambitious leaps that fill La Grande. Gibson’s spider web-thin vocals remain but are this time underlined doubly thick by more precise and energetic arrangements, hissing AM radio static and punctuating bass drum and rim taps, as on the title track, La Grande’s opener and a sonic racehorse that rollicks forth with Gibson recalling a “pine-bearded hill” near which “still, to this day/ I can hear the whistle blow/ I can smell the sage burn.”

And the rest: Right here.

I also did a rediscover of early 2011’s “Grown Unknown,” from Lia Ices:

Having ditched Rare Book Room for Jagjaguwar following release of her 2008 debut, Necima, last January’s Grown Unknown saw the unleashing of a rawer, more colorful side to New York singer-songwriter Lia Ices’ sound, even while it retained some of the stark dolorous beauty of her first record. Exploding in percussive- and piano-led fractals and feathery, funereal dirges, it’s an expert showcase for the classically trained but experimentally inclined Ices’ strengths, sufficiently developed and on occasionally stunning display just two entries into her nascent career.

The remainder be here.

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