There is a (tiny) gimmick with this album. The band is called Re: and all of the songs have titles that work when you add “re” as a prefix. So song titles include: 1. scue 2. duce 3. solute 4. cipe 5. straint 6. buke 7. pent 8. legate 9. volve 10. ject 11. gulate. This makes me smile, even as the music can be a bit more challenging.
The first track is simply noise and electronic pulsing for 2 minutes. It melds into track 2 in which the noise ends but the electronic pulsing continues. Then a faster, newer noise comes in and stays there while the beeping gives us a rhythm. Then all the noise drops out and it is replaced by a more delicate wave of almost strings. Then what sounds like detuned strings play some notes while the noise is buzzing in the background and swirling around your head. The 7 minute track 3 is a bit much. It opens with the sound of a kind of static and mechanical sounds. It has a feel of a horror movie soundtrack, especially as it builds and tension mounts with the “bass” notes that come through. Even though I find it long, by the time it really gets going I could listen to a lot more of it, I think the buildup at the beginning is too long.
The fourth track brings in some interesting percussive sounds, but mostly it seems to be about the background noises that swell and get in your head (those piercing high notes). Track 5 introduces an acoustic guitar. I feel like this should have gone earlier so it’s not as much of a surprise at this stage. It’s quite a pretty melody (with more of those electronic noises floating around the background and it’s a nice interlude among all of the mechanicals. 6 also has a guitars–this time electric–playing a staccato rhythm. The chords are nice and there’s that persistent electronic noise floating around to keep it somewhat edgy. 7 employs feedback sounds and beats with what sounds like human voices. And interesting piece of soundtrack noise.
Track 8 starts off quietly but introduces some more guitar. There’ an interesting melody with the electronics buzzing around in the background. 9 has big percussion sounds and lasts a reasonable 3 minutes. 10 is an acoustic guitar song that reminds me of something Beck might do, and it’s too short at 2:15. The final track, 11, is mostly low pulsing sounds. It’s kind of meandering end to the disc that features a lot of uptempo noisy music.
[READ: April 25, 2014] A Million Heavens
I’ve enjoyed John Brandon’s other novels, and I had read an excerpt from this one in McSweeney’s #41. I found it enjoyable and somewhat confusing. And, actually that’s a bit how I feel about the book as a whole.
Each section of the book (from a paragraph to several pages) has a different character as its title. What’s confusing is that it starts off with “The Wolf” who is a major character and is (for the most part) sentient and thoughtful. The wolf roams the periphery (as wolves do) coming close to interacting with characters but seeming more like a narrator than a character. The next character we meet is Soren’s Father.
Soren’s Father’s story is a catalyst for much of the book’s action. Soren was at piano practice. He was a new student. When the teacher walked away, he played a piece of beautiful music for about 15 seconds and then passed into a coma. He has been in the coma for a few months now with no real hope of recovery but with no real indication of not recovering either. Soren’s Father is a pragmatic man, not interested in the music his son played, nor in the plans and prayers of the people who are holding a vigil outside. Really he just wants this over so he can go back to his old life. But he is ever faithful to his son, sitting with him every day, letting his business slowly erode. Over the course of the story, several people become connected to Soren’s Father.
The Piano Teacher is another character. She feels responsible for all of this. She didn’t want any kind of prodigy, if that’s what Soren is, she just wanted kids to play the piano badly so she could teach them to do better.
Dannie is another character. She is a woman at the vigils. She goes every week with her boyfriend Arn. But Dannie has a fascinating backstory herself. She fled from Los Angeles to New Mexico (where the story is set). Once she got divorced, she moved to New Mexico for a month, which turned into a year. She has no life back in L.A. So she wants to start totally new without telling anyone. She met Arn, a young sexy guy who is a bit of a loner (and a liar–Arn’s own story is dark but very funny). She relies on the vigil a stabilizing force and something that she hopes will let Arn feel settled in a routine wit her. (She’s also trying to get pregnant from him, without telling him).
Then there’s Cecelia. Cecelia is another major figure in the story. She becomes one of the vigilers in front of Soren’s window. She pledges to never miss a night (they meet once a week). She slowly gets to know the others by sight (no one speaks) and she plans to outlast all of them. Cecilia is also facing her own loss. Her friend and bandmate Reggie died recently. He was a great songwriter and she feels she never got to say goodbye. She vows to never play music again. Also, her mother has slowly started going crazy. True, Cecilia doesn’t really talk to her, so that may contribute to it, but she has started raising chickens and sitting in a wheelchair even though she doesn’t need to.
We also see Reggie in whatever location he may be in. He is in a large room with a piano and other instrument. He decides point blank not to be bossed into playing or writing songs for whoever is holding him there. He does many many things to avoid writing songs–and frankly whoever is keeping him is treating him well, so he is disinclined to write. But soon enough, with some incentive he sits and plays some notes and then a song comes out.
After about 40 pages we meet The Gas Station Owner, a man who has a personal journey to go on. He is somewhat tangential to the two main plots but he introduces a spiritual aspect and does connect with the Wolf in an unexpected way.
Mayor Cabrera owns a motel in town. He is also the mayor of this dying town. A church group is looking to move into town (which would give the town a lot of money), but he can’t be bothered to bribe the guy. Because he has his own problems. He’s in love with a prostitute, he has ignored his sister-in-law ever since his wife (her sister) died and he has been a lousy uncle to his niece.
The stories begin to merge in an unexpected way. When Cecilia realizes that Danine is one of the vigilers, although their paths do not directly cross, they impact each other. And when Cecilia starts hearing songs, she’s inspired to play in her band again (the scene where she freaks out on her other former bandmate is arresting and enjoyable).
And when the mayor realizes that he can’t have what he wants until he helps those he has ignored characters, start meeting more.
The title is directly mentioned in the story, but it also comes into play in spiritual and scientific ways, like that Arn works at an observatory.
There are many more subplots that creep up which really help to flesh out the small town and the story. At the same time there may be too many ideas at work. Although the wolf’s perspective is interesting–it may or may not be necessary. And the piano teacher’s story more or less ends when she exits the frame which is kind of shame. But minor quibbles aside, this was an enjoyable story which I found really compelling. And I wanted to know more. Brandon doesn’t really wrap up the story. There is an epilogue that could be past and could be future. I like to think it is future.