Perfume Genius – Too Bright (2014)

perfume-genius-too-bright

 

5 out of 5 stars

Third studio album by Mike Hadreas, who uses the excellent stage name Perfume Genius.

Perfume Genius’ first two albums are lo-fi, thin, delicate recordings which, while good, are not albums I’m likely to ever own. Too Bright is a different beast altogether. It’s amazing. I’m hard pressed to think of other artists who succeeded in such an impressive leap in style between albums.

The best way to describe Too Bright is in attributes: beautiful, haunting, sincere. Accessible yet entirely unique. Some of the tracks are intimate and piano-driven, others are forceful, driving electronica. It all deftly fits together, somehow.

Heartbreaking lyrics mixed with fascinatingly cryptic ones. Interesting chord choices/resolutions. (“All Along” and “No Good” make very cool melodic shifts that elevate them from good to absolutely striking.) The simple riff in “Queen” will dig into your brain. The first time I heard “Fool” I had to stop everything I was doing and immediately put it on again.

Consume Too Bright as a single unit, in order, instead of piecemeal purchasing tracks.

(My one complaint: I usually skip the track “I’m a Mother.” It doesn’t have a melodic center and the vocals are jarring and unfocused.)

Standout Track: I can’t narrow it down. To get a feel for what you’re getting into, you could start with “Queen” and “Fool,” but “No Good,” “Too Bright,” and “All Along” are also incredible. Five of the six remaining songs are above average. This is one of the best albums of the last twenty years.

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Perfume Genius’ site

 

“Running Dog” (Post 1/2)

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[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/2


 

Don DeLillo’s sixth novel, published in 1978. I borrowed a pretty wild looking first edition from my local library.

3 out of 5 stars.

Do you know DeLillo? Does he need an introduction? I suspect most people have heard of him but possibly not read his work. He’s most famously the author of:

White Noise (1985): In my top five favorite books. DeLillo combines all of his elements and themes correctly in this one – humor, biting satire, engaging characters. The plot taps into human fears, paranoia, and our relationship with technology, history and each other. It still feels modern thirty years on. Even if you’ve disliked other DeLillo, White Noise is worth a look if you have any interest in fiction and literature. Which I assume you do if you’re reading this.

Libra (1988): A fictionalized version of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life. DeLillo does a competent job combining research and fiction but ultimately, this one was very hard to get through. The characters were kept at arm’s length – you could see their actions but never felt any connection; a common problem in DeLillo’s work.

Underworld (1997): An incredible, ambitious work of fiction spanning decades and including an enormous cast of vivid, living characters. I read Underworld shortly after finishing Infinite Jest and the two feel like companion pieces, though Underworld succeeds in places where Jest fails. (This is a conversation for another day but, in short, while I respect Infinite Jest enormously as an author, I was frustrated as a reader.)

So: Running Dog. The plot centers around attempts by several groups to gain possession of a home movie which supposedly contains pornographic footage from Hitler’s bunker. No one knows if the film truly exists or what is actually on it (Hitler himself? His aides? Prostitutes and soldiers?). The synopsis on the flap gave me a White Noise meets Vonnegut’s Mother Night vibe.

(And if you’re thinking that it also sounds a bit like Infinite Jest, welcome to the party. David Foster Wallace greatly admired DeLillo and the more I read of DeLillo, the more Infinite Jest seems like some strange love letter to his work.)

The first thing to say about DeLillo, always: He is an incredible writer on a literal, functional level. Like Capote, DeLillo is in control of each sentence, paragraph, chapter. No hesitation, no waffling. He is in full command of his writer’s toolbox. The downside to DeLillo (and I’ll pull Capote in on this one, too) is a failure to engage the reader’s emotions.

I’m going to share some beautifully constructed passages with you. But I felt no connection with any of the characters (except a police officer in the prologue who, unfortunately, never appeared in the story again). Even as the plot increased its intrigue and tension, I did not care about the fates of anyone involved or even how the plot would resolve.

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“The Sirens of Titan” (Post 3/3)

part 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 2/3


 

[45] Vocabulary:

The actual babble, spatter and potch of the fountain could underline the Space Wanderer’s words.

(p.243)

noun – A slap, especially to a child.

verb     (1) To slap or spank a child (2) To slap; bump

(Uncommon word. This is a strange use of it.)

[46]

Rumfoord did not look well. His color was bad. And, although he smiled as always, his teeth seemed to be gnashing behind the smile. His complacent glee had become a caricature, betraying the fact that all was not well by any means.

(p.244)

[47] I need to get a better feel for the difference between:

(a) “____,” Rumfoord said.

and

(b) “____,” said Rumfoord.

There is some subtle change in effect between the two. I tend to use (a) but there are times I see authors use (b) and it fits so well. It keeps a conversation flowing; doesn’t imply as much of a pause or finality in the dialogue, like in the following:

“They’d like it just as much the other way around, you know,” he said.

“The other way around?” said the Space Wanderer.

“If the big reward came first, and then the great suffering,” said Rumfoord. “It’s the contrast they like. The order of events doesn’t make any difference to them. It’s the thrill of the fast reverse-

(p.246)

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Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

a moon shaped pool

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Radiohead’s ninth studio album, released digitally on May 8 (CD set to be released June 17).

At no point does this album cause me to stop what I’m doing to pay particular attention. It’s a fine soundtrack for writing/zoning out but will never accompany me in the car. The dynamic refuses to alter. We get an end-of-the night, tired atmosphere throughout (think of listening to Videotape from In Rainbows for fifty minutes). It works for a certain mood but makes for an unremarkable album.

I’d only recommend A Moon Shaped Pool if you deeply love Radiohead. If you’re looking to get into the band, try In Rainbows (2007) or OK Computer (1997) instead.

(The track Ful Stop has these sustained chords that sound like Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. It confuses my brain. Is anyone else getting that?)

Standout Track: Decks Dark

______________

Radiohead’s site

“The Sirens of Titan” (Post 2/3)

part 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 3/3


 

[24] Vocabulary:

He carried his whangee walking stick at port arms.

(p.67)

noun – the wood of any of several Asian bamboos; a walking stick or riding crop of whangee

[25] Vonnegut’s default outlook was pissy and pessimistic, especially in his later years (Everything’s going to hell; there’s no hope for humanity). Ray Bradbury tended toward the absolute opposite (Humans are wonders; we are all miracles; goodness lives in the heart of children). Both were very good writers when they didn’t succumb entirely to these extremes. Sirens of Titan is early enough in Vonnegut’s career that the glimpses into his philosophic pessimism still have an element of wry humor and satire. I’ve read some of Vonnegut’s later speeches and essays and had a miserable time: The man really thought we were all trash.

As Fern expressed the philosophy conversationally, in its simplest terms:

“You go up to a man, and you say, ‘How are things going, Joe?’ And he says, ‘Oh, fine, fine – couldn’t be better.’ And you look into his eyes, and you see things really couldn’t be much worse. When you get right down to it, everybody’s having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everybody. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much.”

This philosophy did not sadden him. It did not make him brood.

It made him heartlessly watchful.

(p.69)

[26]

His system was so idiotically simple that some people can’t understand it, no matter how often it is explained. The people who can’t understand it are people who have to believe, for their own peace of mind, that tremendous wealth can be produced only by tremendous cleverness.

(p.73)

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Monomyth – Exo (2016)

monomyth - exo cover

4 out of 5 stars.

Exo is Monomyth’s third release, following Monomyth (2013) and the insanely good Further (2014). This is music for every occasion: writing, driving, video-gaming, reading (though not karaoke, I suppose…)

My favorite band is Pink Floyd. My favorite Floyd is instrumentally-focused (Animals, Atom Heart Mother, Live at Pompeii, Meddle, More); Monomyth is the closest thing we have to a bearer of that flag.

Actually, let’s just say it: Monomyth is the best modern prog rock band.

I’ve tried Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky but those bands tend to follow a repetitive pattern in their work (guitar noodle, increasing volume, climax, climax, hold the climax, end). Monomyth achieves tension and release without simply getting loud and pounding away for a while. And they use keys/synth to great effect, which always earns bonus points from me.

If you enjoy 70’s Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, etc., I can’t recommend Monomyth enough.

Standout Track: ET Oasis


Monomyth’s site

“The Sirens of Titan” (Post 1/3)

part 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2/3

Post 3/3


 

Kurt Vonnegut’s second novel, published in 1959. My copy has been through some tough times.

5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Malachi Constant, an arrogant man whose wealth has come completely by luck, is unwillingly sent on a series of adventures on Mars, Mercury, and Titan.

Don’t think too hard about the science; this is sci-fi as satire and social commentary, sharing a bed with Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. If you like that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this.


 

[1] Best disclaimer in fiction:

All persons, places, and events in this book are real. Certain speeches and thoughts are necessarily constructions by the author. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

(p.6)

[2] Vocabulary:

Gimcrack religions were big business.

(p.7)

adjective – flimsy or poorly made but deceptively attractive.

noun – a cheap and showy ornament; a knickknack.

[3] The first line of the following is technically unnecessary. Some of Vonnegut’s style seems to be excessive/simplistic wordiness or repetitions (“so it goes” in Slaughter-House Five immediately comes to mind). What confidence and command you must have over your style to pull this off…

There was a crowd.

The crowd had gathered because there was going to be a materialization.

(p.8)

[4] Q: For curiosity’s sake, does the name Rumfoord have any meaning/significance?

A: Googling the name only brings up references to the character in this book (Winston Niles Rumfoord) and a character in Slaughterhouse-Five (Bertram Copeland Rumfoord).

Almost all of Vonnegut’s fiction lives in a common universe. The same names and people pop up many times (Kilgore Trout is everywhere). Sometimes the references aren’t consistent: The planet Tralfadamore shows up in Sirens of Titan as the home of a robotic race. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Tralfadamorians  are organic creatures with a very different look.

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