After the claustrophobia of Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief was a nice compromise between their earlier guitar rock and the ambience and the technology of Kid A. “2 + 2 =5″ is one of their most satisfying songs, opening with a nice guitar lick and Thom Yorke’s keening vocals, it abruptly jumps into a full-fledged rocker. “Sit Down Stand Up” has similar properties–it opens quietly with a distant guitar riff. The song builds and builds into a manic intensity. By the end, when the pace is much faster and the lyrics are repeating “the raindrops” over and over, it’s a glorious mess.
“Sail to the Moon” is a keening piano-based ballad. Not one of their best, but with very nice melodies. “Backdrifts” flashes back to the experimental side of Kid A, with lots of percussive noises tapping into the electronic groove.
The band surprises everyone with a very acoustic sounding song, “Go to Sleep.” It’s a really wonderful track, especially placed amidst the electronica of the other tracks. The bridge brings Yorke’s vocals into the stratosphere (and the guitars get noisier and noisier). “Where I End and You Begin” is a noisy staccato piece of fun with effects and more effects trying to hide Yorke’s voice.
“We Suck Young Blood” is a spare, almost completely stripped song composed of pianos and handclaps. It is eerie and not a little disturbing. While “The Gloaming” is practically all electronics. It’s one of those transitional songs, not terribly exciting in itself, but not throwaway either. And it leads into the gorgeous quintessential Radiohead of “There There” which could be an OK Computer outtake.
“I Will” is mournful dirge with just guitar and multitracked voice that lasts only 2 minutes and leads into the experimental “A Punchup at a Wedding.” “Punchup” opens with that rarest of Radiohead sounds: a solo bass. But it is quickly swallowed by more electronica.
“Myxamytosis” is a nother great rollicking track with a great slinky keyboard riff that propels the song through the murky depths. “Scatterbrain” features a cool guitar motif that shows that they can still play pretty music and which leads to the album closer, “A Wolf at the Door.” “Wolf” ends the disc wonderfully with a cool guitar song and awesome almost-spoken lyrics. It is kind of sinister and kind of sad at the same time.
This is a disc that rewards repeated listens (and headphones). If OK Computer was difficult, Thief is much more so, but for very different reasons. But it pays wonderful dividends.
[READ: January 6, 2011] A Naked Singularity
I received a copy of this book about a year ago in March. It is self-published and seems to have been sent to many folks who blogged during Infinite Summer (because it’s a big book, you see). I was interested in reading it, but I had a lot of other things that I was reading first, so I put it aside until last month. And I am really bummed that I waited this long.
A Naked Singularity is a wondrous, beautiful mess of a book that I was so absorbed in, I couldn’t put it down. The writing style is great: funny, clever, funny, philosophical, funny, legal, funny and at times rather violent.
I’m torn when writing this how much of the “story” to give away. I didn’t know anything about the book (the blurb on the back is just a quote from the book–there’s no summary or anything). So I’m going to rob you a little of the “what the hell is going on in this story” aspect that I had, but I’m not going to give anything major away.
The story opens in a the middle of a conversation between a prisoner and a lawyer. It’s a bit confusing until the story pulls back and we get the whole deal. The story is about Casi. He is a wunderkind lawyer who has never lost a trial (in 14 attempts). He plays the system, but he’s also dedicated to getting his clients off (even though he–and everyone else on staff–knows they are guilty) mostly because he is undefeated.
The entire first Part of the book (320 pages) introduces us to Casi, to his workload, to his clients, to his coworkers and to his family. His clients are mostly drug dealers. His coworkers are mostly jaded and are no longer excited by their jobs. His family is wonderful, a group of Colombian immigrants who love each other and fight with each other loudly. (The early scene at his family’s house is hilarious scene in which unattributed dialogue overlaps–it’s wonderful).
And yet for all of that, the first part never quite gives us a plot. This might be a problem for some books, but the whole set up is so compelling that you just go with it, from one amusing (or hilarious) segment to the next.
In addition to introducing us to his cast of drug addicts and low level criminals, Casi also indicts the New York Justice system (in hilarious detail). There are quite a few chapter spent talking about “bodies” (criminals) and how many of them sit in jail for 72 hours until they see a lawyer.
Of course, when he gets home, all is not normal there either. His apartment is free (because his downstairs neighbor’s father owns the building and Casi squats there). The neighbors are a curious bunch of college students. One of them is a total TV junkie. And, there’s a bizarre, wonderful subplot about him trying to bring Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners to life in his room by watching the shows nonstop for weeks. Yes.
Textually, the story also plays with lots of styles. In addition to the dramatic scene with his family, we also see many court transcripts. The second one with Mr McSlappahan is quite funny not least of which because the judge cannot get the poor man’s name right and the official transcript changes his name throughout the case. There are also letters to and from one of the clients. There’s a chapter-long epic poem (which was probably the hardest thing in the book for me to digest). There’s even a recipe for empanadas (which sounds delicious).
In addition to some wonderful wordplay and punning there is also childish gross-out humor. A scene with frozen burritos (pp. 150-158) had me laughing out loud for several pages. But there’s also a lot of commentaries on society. For instance Television is always capitalized and treated as a proper noun. The mayor of New York is named Toad. There are street vigilantes with cameras everywhere and, most amusingly, there’s an in-the-making TV show: Clerical Confessions.
By the time Part Two comes around a plot starts forming. I was concerned that all of part two would follow this nascent plot, but it doesn’t. The book continues in a similar vein with the plot-instigator [coworker and lawyer, Dane, one of the most consistently amusing characters I've read in a long time] continually popping up on Casi’s periphery to try to get him to help him with…the perfect crime.
And that’s when boxing comes into play. Casi is a fan of boxing, specifically a fan of Wilfred Benítez (who I didn’t know was a real boxer, but whenI looked him up I found this part of the story even more compelling). And so, interspersed throughout the rest of the book is Benítez’ biography and fight history. It’s a rather lengthy character study of the man himself and boxing in general. Now, I’m not a fan of boxing, I’ve never watched a fight, but I was totally engrossed by the storytelling.
Because he is setting up a whole story about muiddleweight champiosn, the novel follows many boxers who I had heard of and knew from pop culture (I checked and even Sarah knew who most of these boxers were, so they really must get into the pop culture world): Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns (I didn’t know him, but De La Pava’s description of the 3 round Hearns-Hagler fight is so exciting that I’m going to watch them on You Tube) and Roberto Durán (she didn’t know him). And so the story of these middleweight fighters trying to knock each other over for the title becomes something of a metaphor for the Casi’s life pre- and post- crime. In fact, when they go to execute the perfect crime, the first half of that chapter is taken up with a story about Benítez…that’s quite unexpected.
While the crime is beign set up, Toom, one of Casi’s coworkers asks him to help with a case in Alabama. A severely mentally retarded man is to be executed and Toom has taken on the case to rescue the man. This plot adds a surprising amount of pathos to the story, especially when Casi flies to Alabama and meets the man. But even that sequence is lightened by a wonderfully absurd hotel scene. I totally want to stay at this hotel.
Part Three of the story is where the whole thing devolves into a crazy quilt of insanity. The crime has happened, and it is messing with everything. There is a city-wide blackout, Casi has no heat, no cars are allowed on the streets so he can’t even escape to his mother’s house. There’s also a strange guy in is building who looks and sounds suspiciously like Ralph Kramden. And, Casi is accused of contempt (and is about to be ousted by his law office’s morals group, the childish but amusingly named Committee to Oust Casi Kwickly). Both trials are as absurd as a Marx brothers movie (Karl of Groucho?).
The lead up to the end is very satisfying will all kinds of loose ends tied together (things that I thought he’s never address were in fact cleared up!). But with a story this all over the place, it’s hard to imagine how you would finally end it. The ending goes in a direction that is supported by the title (and is a little overwhelming). It’s a little unsatisfying, but aside from a tidy happy ending (which you knew you weren’t getting) I don’t know how else you could have ended the book.
Ending aside, this is a fantastic novel. There is just so much going on in it (I didn’t even mention the discussion of Hume vs Descartes “I guessed there was nothing wrong with Hume provided it was acknowledged that Descartes was The Man” (510)) or the whole subplot about the two kids who kidnap a baby), and it is very well constructed and tied together.
Somebody please publish this book officially! Yes it’s long, yes it’s multifaceted, yes it demands a lot of the reader,but the payoffs are wonderful and, frankly, this is the kind of unexpected story that could be embraced by, well, not the general public, but a niche market who enjoys clever books (and yes, probably fans of David Foster Wallace (and his progenitors)).
Give De La Pava a contract, huh! You can read an excerpt here.