Archive for the ‘Edith Wharton’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ULVER-Shadows of the Sun (2007).

I really wanted to like this album because of the cover–which is striking.  I know, I know, never judge…  My initial reaction to the disc was kind of poor.  I’ve followed Ulver’s progress through their many incarnations, and it’s not entirely surprising that they should make an entirely ambient record.  It just strikes me as an odd release–mellow and almost lullaby-ish but also a little creepy (the voice mostly).

But at the same time, musically it’s quite pretty.  And while it wasn’t a very good listen for a car trip to work, it was actually really perfect for listening to at work–where headphones allowed for hearing so many nuances.

There’s not much point in a song by song listing, as the songs are similar–washes of music with slightly distorted, deep vocals.   But there are some interesting musical choices that make each song unique, and consequently better than a lot of ambient in which all of the songs use the same musical palette.  “All the Love” employs piano and come cool electronic sounds near the end.

“Let the Children Go” is a much darker song (with drums!).  “Solitude” is the most melodic song of the bunch.  It reminds me of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (which should tell you something about the overall tone of the album).  It has a noticeable vocal line (and really audible lyrics, which are quite melancholy and more emotional that I would have expected: “You just left when I begged you to stay.  I’ve not stopped crying since you went away.”

Another observation.  At times when he actually sings, the vocals sound a bit like XTC–“Shadows of the Sun” in particular.  And since that song has pianos it’s not inconceivable that this could sound like XTC (although not really).

With the right atmosphere, this record proves to be a very impressive listen.  Kristoffer Rygg’s vocals really suit the mood and, all in all, it does reflect the album cover rather more than I initially thought.

[READ: March 18, 2012] The Marriage Plot

I had put this book on hold a few months ago.  And I was ninety-something on the list, so I didn’t think too much about it.  I looked the other day and I was 10.  Yipes.  How was I going to read this 400 page book  in three weeks while also reading Gravity’s Rainbow??

Well, amazingly, The Marriage Plot worked as a nice foil to GR. It is a supremely easy read.  It is completely uncomplicated.  And, it actually has some unexpected parallels to GR–specifically, two of the characters travel to Europe, one on a pilgrimage the other on a honeymoon, and they travel to Paris, Geneva, Spain, Zürich, and even Nice.  There is literally no connection between these two books (although Mitchell does bring Pynchon’s V along with him), but it was fun to see new people go to the cities that Slothrop has been traveling to for very different reasons.

I powered through the book, reading large chunks and staying up way too late both because I liked the book and because I wanted to get it back on time (beware the library police!).  And there really is something about finishing a book quickly, it really keeps the story and characters fresh and makes the experience more enjoyable.

But on to the book.

This book centers around three people in a kind of lover’s triangle.  The woman at the center is Madeleine (and yes there are wonderful tie-ins to Madeline the children’s book series). The two men are Leonard and Mitchell.  All three of them are graduating from Brown in the mid 80s.

I identified with the book immediately because Madeleine is an English major (as was I).  She studies the Victorian era [and I had just read the piece by Franzen about Edith Wharton] and is on track to write her thesis on this era.  The title of the book comes from this section–novels written at that time were especially focused on marriage–if a woman did not marry, she was more or less doomed, and so the plots centered around her quest to find a suitable mate.  As Franzen noted in the above article, Wharton and some of her predecessors sounded the death knell for the “marriage plot” and Madeleine was going to do her thesis on that.

As the pieces of the triangle fall into place we learn (skeletal at first with much detail added later) that Madeleine and Mitchell were very good friends initially.  So good, in fact, that she invited him back to her parents house for a vacation.  He was head over heels in love with; however, out of fear (mostly) he never acted on the opportunities she gave him, and she thought that he wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship.  Basically, he blew it (although he doesn’t learn this until much later–I can relate to this all too well). As the story opens, she has just woken up, hungover, smelling of a party, with a mysterious stain on her dress.  She knows she did something with someone last night but she’s not sure what.  Not atypical college behavior.  But the kicker is that it is graduation morning and her parents are ringing the doorbell of her dorm right now. (more…)

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I received this disc when it was donated to our library.  Clinic is an art-punk band from Liverpool.  This is a collection of B-Sides (that’s an unusual place to start when you’ve never heard a band before). As such, it’s hard to tell if this is what the band sounds like or if these are crazy experiments (because the songs are pretty crazy).  Even if they are experiments, they’ve got me very interested in hearing what the rest of their stuff sounds like.  And since these songs are all over the map I’m still not sure what their albums may sound like.

There are twelve songs on the record: only three are over 3 minutes long, the rest are just over 2 minutes (with a couple under 2 minutes).  This whole collection is under half an hour.  And yet it feels like they take you all over the place, music-wise.  The collection covers from 1999-2007, but they’re not in chronological order, so you can’t even tell if any of this is a progression in musical styles or just a bunch of experiments.  The willful obscurity is quite exciting.

“The Majestic” is a grand, building monstrosity.  It is full of pomp, which is immediately deflated by the slightly off-key organ.  “Nicht” is a 180 degree turn—a blistering hardcore song. It’s played very fast and yet it is not sloppy (and it’s 90 seconds long).  “Christmas” flips the sound again, with a delicate, slow song about, yes, Christmas.  “The Castle” has a lot of organ sounds, which reminds me of early weirder Who songs and even Stereolab.  “You Can’t Hurt You Anymore” is an instrumental (with cowbell!).  “Dissolution” has a distorted guitar and tribal drums.  It breaks after a few riffs to showcase some bizarre distorted spoken words.

Speaking of lyrics.  A lyric sheet is included which is very helpful because the lyrics are utter nonsense: “Pork pie had to know uncle now you can elope” “Diktat no fat fun eyebrow shhhh for the one and the one with horrors”  “Cheat the bored, cheat thee sup at the toast.”  I suspect they are just making sounds while they play and then figuring out what the words might be later.

“Magic Boots” returns to that punk sound with distorted guitar solos at the front (and distorted vocals in the back).  “The Scythe” has a kind of western guitar feel (simple, but interesting).  “Lee Shan” is the slowest song on the disc (spoken/chanting vocals are low in the mix).  “J.O.” is a slow keyboard song.  “Circle I” is another blistering noisy punk song. The collection ends with “Golden Rectangle” which is a slowish surf-sounding song, but with keyboards.

It amazes me that this band has so many full length records out.  They must have a cult following, even though I’d never heard of them before.  I’d really like to check out what their main releases sound like.

[READ: March 11, 2012] “A Rooting Interest”

Hot on the heels of Jonathan Fraznen saying he hates Twitter, I get to read how much he loves Edith Wharton.

It’s no secret that Franzen is a curmudgeon–he is an emotional guy who believes in authenticity; there is absolutely no surprise that he would hate Twitter.  And, while I think Twitter is good for some things, he is absolutely correct when he says, “Twitter stands for everything I oppose…it’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters…it’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis.”  [Actually I’m not sure that that simile is apt, but I get the point.]

He may be a little overstepping with the rest: “Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium … People I care about are readers…particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”  I think there is some fun to be had yakking about ourselves, but the point is well taken.

It also seems quite appropriate for this article in The New Yorker in which he lauds a writer who wrote almost one hundred years ago. (more…)

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ijestSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-Sonic Nurse (2004).


After the glorious Murray Street, SY return with an even better disc: Sonic Nurse.  This is probably their most overtly catchy (and therefore in my opinion wonderful) record since the Goo/Dirty period of 1991.  (Can it really be 13 years between these discs?).

This disc features Jim O’Rourke as well.  I’m led to believe that he has been playing bass with the band in order to free Kim up to do other things.  Although what she is doing I can’t really imagine.

“Pattern Recognition” opens with the most catchy guitar line in Sonic Youth memory.  Such a great and easy guitar riff.  Kim’s voice is sultry and wondrous.  And Steve Shelly really gets a chance to shine with some fun drum parts.  And, as is typical lately, the catchy songs get some lengthy end treatments, so this song ends with a 2-minute noise fest.  But it’s a good one.  “Unmade Bed” is one of Thurston’s special mellow-singing songs but the guitar solo is weird and wonderful.

“Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” was originally called “Mariah Carey and the…” (and I have no idea if the original was different).  Is one of those noisy Kim-sung jams that SY are known for. But it also features a “Hey hey baby” sing along chorus too.

“Stones” continues this midtempo catchiness with another amazing guitar riff that runs throughout the song.  While “Dude Ranch Nurse” is another mellow Kim piece that has a great riff and wonderfully noisy bridges.  And of course, Lee is awesome on “Paper Cup Exit,” yet another fatastic song.  The cool breakdown in the song is a nice unexpected twist.

“I Love You Golden Blue” may be the most beautiful song the band has ever done.  Kim’s voice is delicate and delightful as she whisper/sings over a gorgeous guitar line.  The final song is another of Thurston’s beauties: “Peace Attack” a slow builder, complete with verse ending guitar solos.

Sonic Nurse is a beuaty.

[READ: Week of September 14, 2009] Infinite Jest (to page 949)

Flying in the face of potential spoilers, I was looking for any evidence of there ever being a “unedited Director’s Cut” version of Infinite Jest.  There is, supposedly, one copy of the full text floating around, and I’m actually quite surprised no one has tried to capitalize on DFW’s death by releasing it (I’d rather see that than another “This is Water” type publication).

But while looking around, I got this pleasant surprise from the Howling Fantods–these are comments on a first draft of IJ (without too much unpublished work shown).  But there’s also this disturbing (to me) item:

(N.B.: Wallace made numerous corrections for the paperback edition of 1997, so that edition is the one scholars should use. Put a Mylar cover on the pretty hardback and leave it on the shelf.)

Great. So I read the wrong copy?  Twice??

I haven’t said very much in any of these posts regarding DFW himself.  I don’t feel it is my place to comment on the man or his situation.   However, through a nice shout out to me, I found this really cool site: The Joy of Sox.  It’s primarily about the Red Sox but it has a delightful side venue in DFW information.  There’s not a ton, and he quotes extensively from others who have done more research than he–he’s a fan of DFW, but this is a sports blog after all.  But it is a delightful collection of miscellanea.  And he pointed me to this article, “Democracy and Commerce at the U.S. Open“, which I had never read (so thank you!).   So, do check out the site, he’s not doing Infinite Summer, but he’s likely going to read IJ again in the fall.

As this almost-final week opens, the book is flying downhill like an AFR wheelchair, paralleling Gately’s literal inability to talk with Hal’s metaphorical? literal? we’ll see? one.  But it really is the Gately show.  We learn more and more about him, and his back story makes him more and more likable.  Who ever would have guessed? (more…)

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