Given my proclivities towards noisy fast rock, there is no reason that I should like The XX, and yet I like Coexist quite a lot. It is such a spare album, but Romy’s voice is fantastic—so sensuous and breathy–that she can totally handle a song that is nearly a capella. So a song like “Angels” whose music consists pretty much entirely of a beautiful echoey guitar (and virtually nothing else except for some occasional soft percussion) is engrossingly intimate and not at all boring. In fact when that simple percussion eventually comes in, it’s like a revelation of sound accompanying her.
What also keeps the album interesting is that she is not the only singer (so there’s something for everyone). “Chained” has Oliver’s breathy, sexy voice as he more or less whisper/sings the lyrics. It has slightly more complex arrangements (meaning the drum is constant and there are quiet waves of synths). “Fiction” slowly builds with an ominous muted guitar motif and echoed chords. But when the chorus kicks in, that muted guitar grows loud and it’s almost overpowering (relatively, of course). “Try” brings in a spooky kind of keyboards that is slightly unsettling under their mellow hushed duet of vocals.
The diversity of simple sounds that Jamie xx adds to each song are revelatory. Even though each song is quiet and intimate, the sounds that he uses are so very different within that limited palate. So “Reunion” sounds like a steel drums, before adding pulsing bass beats. “Sunset” has a slinky guitar and “Missing” introduces as drumbeat that is like a heart beat. “Tides” has one of the loudest drum beats on the record, alternating with a delicate guitar line.
The simple bass line adds a really funky quality to “Swept Away.” And when the claps and keyboard hits come in it feels almost like a dance song.
This is a great album for quiet nights and headphones. Even if the songs seem to be mostly about lost love, it has a calming effect that is really enjoyable. I’ll have to check out their debut as well.
[READ: September 30, 2014] The Lost Scrapbook
Some fans of David Foster Wallace speak well of Evan Dara (at least that’s how I’ve heard of him). I was unfamiliar with him and the fascinating story he has built around himself. Evan Dara appears to be a pseudonym. As one writer put it: “Hell, we don’t even now who Evan Dara is. Apparently, he is a male American in his 30s living in Paris.” This, his debut novel, has attracted attention not only for being really weird, but for being really good.
What was fun about reading this was that I knew there were strange things afoot in the book, but I didn’t know what exactly (I really like to go into a book completely blind if I can). So when the book started out with a conversation in which no character names were given (or even how many there were), I was prepared. And while I didn’t really know what the subject they were talking about was, I figured that would be fine as well. Then when four pages in the all caps word YIELD seemed to signal a change of narrator/perspective/something, I thought, okay this is what I’m in for.
Then I noticed that every paragraph which wasn’t conversation (with an em dash) was preceded by three ellipses (and ended with same). A few pages later there’s an all caps TOW-AWAY ZONE which introduces another shift.
And somewhere around page 14 a sort of plot begins to form (although it’s unclear whether or not any of the earlier sections have anything to do with this one). A man is shot…or not? But then after the KEEP DOOR CLOSED section break, a new story develops. A man with a Walkman (I was trying to decide if this was deliberately retro or intentionally set in the 80s, but that was unclear to me) is driving along to meet a man named Dave (at last a name!). Dave is a filmographer who has been collecting fireflies for a video project. And just as we near a kind of resolution of this section, it morphs, unannounced, mind you, into something else entirely–a discussion of music, specifically Beethoven and his decision to rework limited material into multiple variations. It is fascinating and engaging and very well-considered, but it too ends before anything can be “resolved.”
This morphs into a story of man buying his son a drum set, but the son is actually very upset that it was not the top of the line set that he wanted. This caused all kinds of friction and the eventual moving out of the son.
The (possibly) titular scrapbook shows up around page 44, with the introduction of Nick. Nick is an inbetweener–an illustrator who connects establishing drawings (we learn a lot about his job, which I would have loved to have when I was younger).
I started keeping a post it note of all of the stories and developments that were coming along in this book (already nearly a dozen after 60 pages), and about half way through the book I lost the post it which was really a shame, although I also realize I did a very incomplete job anyway.
The book shifts to a woman who decided to go door to door to engage people about whether or not they are planning to vote. She does not have an agenda, just questions. She is eventually tied up and threatened by a couple of guys, and she is telling her story on a radio or TV show.
And then on page 72, the story…changes. Inexplicably there is now a lot of white space between a series of sentences (with ellipses at either end) and easily 8-10 lines of white space between them. This continues as one long saga for nearly 100 pages. And there’s a DJ or something broadcasting his thoughts through his Walkman to everyone else wearing a Walkman.
The story after a few more plot twists turned into lengthy court case about cigarettes. And then morphs into a really long section about a guy making art via the boiler room of a warehouse (this was intense and cool).
Not all of the book is intellectual (art/music/court cases) there is a sex scene which is fairly graphic but ends before climax (as so many of these plots do). There’s also a family drama of a sick child. But the mother cannot call the hospital because an earlier incoming automated call has tied up her line. This story seems like it will end horrifically but once again, we don’t see that.
This turns into an interesting domestic situation in which a neighbor starts doing his neighbor’s yard work. He has the tools and he likes doing it. He starts doing so much work that the original homeowner grows very uncomfortable by the whole thing and yet it looks so much nicer than before.
Then there’s more about music–this time Arvo Pärt (this also seems like some kind of trial or lecture that devolves into a shouting match).
And just as you assume the entire book will continue like this (why wouldn’t it) page 280 leads to a stark white page.
This brings a letter about a woman working with Noam Chomsky and their lack of appearances on national media. Chomsky returns a few more times in the book and you start to think that there are connections between these sections. And as you rethink these stories you see that there are connections even if they are not all that clear.
But then around page 332 (the book is 476 pages), the story gains an unexpected focus. The story turns to a crisis by the Ozark Corporation in Crawford County. The Ozark Corporation has evidently leached chemical solvents into the groundwater. And it has run right under an elementary school. And for the next 100 or so pages, we get everyone’s reactions to this situation–residents, employees of the company, company officials (who say that the town depends upon Ozark), scientists who claim there is no trouble, environmentalists who say of course there is, national and local media weighing in and citizens on both sides of the issue. The story is engrossing and engaging, as each side weighs in and presents seemingly good arguments.
Soon all of the speakers are speaking aloud now (em dashes). And they grow more heated as terms change and opinions change with them. Then there’s a public hearing in which Ozark is mostly exonerated. Until more evidence mounts. And then we get another blank white page at 404. And it seems like the Ozark story is over, but it picks up again, this time with more evidence and more dire consequences. And then a series of conversations in which each person say “I heard” as they cite their sources. And as the book draws to a close, there are pages an pages of italic conversation in which everyone in the country seems to have an opinion about this situation.
The last few pages includes a series of locations from where people were sending in letters, and I have to say there’s an awful lot of NJ mentioned Point Pleasant, Hopewell, Elizabeth, Lebanon, Camden, Edison, Newark, Old Bridge, Jackson Township, Somerville, Perth Amboy, South Brunswick, Plainfield, Kearney, (which could all be other places as well, but that’s a lot of NJ cities. (There are a lot of other NY and PA cities mentioned as well, including Wawayanda, where I once get a ticket).
And then the book ends with Silence.
I was delighted by how much I enjoyed this book. The amount of creativity included (not to mention the research and knowledge shared) was astonishing. I can’t believe how many stories he put into this book. Do I have any idea what is happening? Well, not really. i assume there is some thread of a character, although even that’s hard to know. Perhaps they are all simply citizens of a Crawford County and we all eventually learn what happened to them? There is a character who talks about making field recordings of the citizens of the area, which I assume the end is. Maybe the whole book is excerpts from that (which might explain the Walkman era as well).
What’s especially cool is that I keep thinking of the various sections from the novel and realizing that they all came from this one book. It’s really amazing. True, some sections were a little more dull than others–those that seemed more clinical for instance–but there were others that were absolutely riveting.
Since I didn’t really know what to expect going in, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I got and I am certain I missed a million connections. I anticipate reading this again in a few years with a notebook at hand, ready to see what all the connections mean and how they relate to each other. He earned the benefit of the doubt. And of course I’m very curious to see what his other novels are like.
I don’t know that I can recommend this book to all that many readers though, because it is such a weird and potentially frustrating book. It’s very easy to get lost and to realize that the section you were reading about ended unannounced three pages earlier. So, conventional story readers will be really frustrated. But aside from the lack of continuity, the book isn’t really “hard.” It’s just…different. And for some that’s all the impetus you’ll need.