“Help in the Head” opens with an incredible amount of feedback and squalling noise–some of it natural and other parts sounding quite processed. After ten seconds the song begins properly with a pounding drum and buzzing guitars. The song is quite simple–a catchy melody that blossoms once the bridge kicks in (with some “oh ohs”). The chorus is also simple and catchy, “I just meant you needed help in the head” with all kinds of fuzzy screaming swirling around. A few minutes later, the song ends with more noise, just as it began.
The Faint has been around a long time and are on Saddle Creek records, home to Conor Oberst and his many bands (he was in an original incarnation of The Faint). The song has much in common with Oberst’s style of pop–simple melodies and very catchy structures, but it is so overlaid with noise and distortion that it takes it out of the realm of simple pop music into a pop music that is actually abrasive..
[READ: February 21, 2014] The Galaxy Club
Brendan Connell is back with his most daring book yet. Daring, because it is so very different from what he usually writes.
I have really enjoyed Connell’s audacity in his previous books–whether it was the extensive research done into both cooking and history in Lives of Notorious Cooks (2012) or the brutality that religion can inspire in The Architect (2012) or his exploration into extremely transgressive behavior in Metrophilias (2010). He has never been afraid to push the edge of the envelope into unexpected areas. But what makes this book so daring is that it is, for the most part, pretty “normal.” Book covers don’t typically indicate anything really, but this book cover, in sober black and white, really conveys the feeling of the book–gritty, small town, hardscrabble Southwest.
And yet despite the somewhat conventional nature of the story, there are also fantastical elements. Each chapter is narrated by a different (sometimes recurring) character. Some are narrated by “Those Underground,” and “Demon Taming Stick” and even “Prawn Dragon Colonel.” But they are also narrated by normal folks. Connell’s past work in creating manifold characters in his short stories really pays off for the number and divergent characters he has here.
The main characters are a man named Cleopatra–who claims to be the Queen of the Nile herself. The Montoya family: Ibbie, Theodore and their son Blue Boy. The Roybal family: Elmer and his aunt Ramona. And a police officer named Alfonso Torcuato Southerland-Hevia y Miranda who claims to be switched at birth with Elmer–but he claims he bears no grudge.
The story begins with Blue Boy killing a fish with his Demon Taming Stick. The fish, it turns out, is a dragon and is in fact related to the Prawn Dragon Colonel. This sets in motion a plan of revenge by The Galaxy Club. At the same time Cleopatra has just rolled into town. He goes to the pharmacist to buy terps (a codeine based drug) and talks knowledgeably about the landscape of Greece. Later he goes for more bottles of terps which sets one of the plots in motion. Along the way, he meets up with Elmer and Ramona where he learns about some gold buried in the region. As he heads off, he is set upon by a local cult who perform a religious ceremony on him. When he wakes, bloody and confused, he decides on a new plan. He runs into Blue Boy–who has faced far more fearsome creatures than some cult–who tells him where the gold is located.
The story leads back to Elmer and Ramona. Officer Alfonso is aware that they are mixed up with this Cleopatra stranger, and he goes to investigate. This involves guns, handcuffs, the possibility of sex and the certainty of alcohol. I loved the way this part of the story was told both from Cleopatra’s and later from Officer Alfonso’s perspective–one of them is delusional.
The story ends with a convergence of characters and a clashing of the natural and spiritual world. Connell moves back and forth between characters with impressive dexterity. Although many of the characters comes from the same location, they each have their own voice.
The beginning of the book is definitely unsettling–with different, seemingly unrelated characters and narrators some of whom are clearly not of this realm. And yet the way they interweave is great, making the reader want to go back and re-read the beginning of the book to see just how these people were introduced. Fortunately, the book rewards a second read.