Archive for the ‘Epistolary Novel’ Category

ny1117SOUNDTRACK: FISHBONE-In Your Face (1986).

inyourfaceFishbone’s first full length starts out with two great songs.  “When Problems Arise” has the great stop/start techniques that Fishbone uses so well, as well as a great riff and some fantastic funky bass playing.  The second track “A Selection” has  a great ska feel, and could easily be The Specials or Selecter; however, Fishbone throw in a bit of humor (“No toothpaste?”) to make the song their own.

The rest of the album is good, but it stands in the shadows of its follow up.  (And, actually a bit in the shadow of the preceding EP).   The album admirably mixes up styles throughout.  It includes some of Fishbone’s lightest, most soul/gospel songs like “Movement in the Light,” but it also has some rocking tracks, especially the ending pair: “‘Simon Says’ The Kingpin” and “Post Cold War Politics” (the two songs together are less than two and a half minutes).

My copy still has the Used: $5.99 sticker on it, and I know I got it much later in my Fishbone appreciation.  But really the only problem with the disc is that Truth and Soul and The Reality of My Surroundings are just so good, this one can’t compare.  It’s a good stepping stone though.

[READ: December 26, 2008] “Lostronaut”

The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about this story.  “Lostronaut” is set up as a series of letters from Janice (an astronaut) to her boyfriend, Chase.  Janice is an astronaut at a space station called Northern Lights.  Things are going pretty badly for all on board, and each letter tells of the deterioration of both ship and spirit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006) & Barenaked Ladies Are Men (2007).

Barenaked Ladies decided to forgo a major label altogether and just use Nettwerk as a distributor. They called their own self publishing “label” Desperation Records. [There was a fascinating article in Wired way back when this was happening, which made me want to get their CD, and it’s still online here.] The details are sketchy to me now, but it seemed like they thought they could make it on their own, and Nettwerk seemed pretty innovative as well. So, they released two albums in the span of about five months, and the results are below.

areme.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Me. As I said, I was excited that BNL were basically doing the whole thing themselves, and wouldn’t have any label pressure to release the next big thing. So, I was a bit disappointed at first that the album stayed in the same “mature” vein as Everything to Everyone. There’s nothing crazily exciting on the CD except for the last song “Wind It Up,” which is the rockingest thing they’ve done in years.

The one song that really stuck out for me though, was “Bank Job” a really catchy Ed Robertson sung song about, of all things, a botched bank job.  It is funny without being silly, and it is so catchy! The song gets stuck in my head for days and days.

As for the rest of the record, once I started listening a few times, and now having listened to it again for the first time in a while, it’s a very solid outing. Again, “Bank Job” and “Wind It Up” are the two tracks that really stand out, but the rest are solid, well-crafted songs. And, here I pay my respects to Kevin Hearn and Jim Creeggan. Usually I don’t enjoy their songs as much, but (and maybe it’s because they don’t sing them themselves) “Sound of Your Voice” is an up tempo singalong, “Everything Had Changed” is a pretty, mellow ballad, and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas” is a pretty, slow song, that really gets into your brain. These are real highlights of the record. Oh and what is Peterborough and the Kawarthas? Why not see for yourself.

So, I give the BNL Are Me a big thumbs up.

aremen.jpgBarenaked Ladies Are Men. Five months after Are Me, came this follow up. The packaging and styling of the disc is very similar to the other one (as you can see by the covers). I wasn’t even sure that it was a new record. Well, it turns out that these are more songs from the same recording session. And, rather than releasing a double album, they did a Use Your Illusion I and II type of thing (there, how many reviews of BNL refer to GNR?)

The problem, such as it is, is twofold: there are really too many songs on this record. Are Me had 13, and this one has 16, which may just be 3 too many. The other is that several of the songs sound like other songs, both from Are Me and from Are Men. There are at least two songs that start out with the same vocal melody line as “Bank Job,” and they’re both sung by Ed Robertson. And the very first song, “Serendipity” sounds an awful lot like one of the songs on Are Me. Fortunately, the songs are catchy, and removed from Are Me, Are Men is probably just as strong a collection. But really 29 songs is a bit much.

The allmusic review suggests that this one is a bit more rocking and diverse than Are Me, and that’s true. The first 8 or 9 songs show a nice breadth of style and feeling. I still think the record runs a bit too long, but overall these two records together are a very good sign of future things from BNL.

And good luck to them and their Desperation “label.”

[READ: December 27, 2007] Ella Minnow Pea.

Sarah read this book over the summer, I think. I sounded great, so I put it in my Amazon “order later” cart, and promptly forgot about it. (This was before I used any kind of reasonable system for keeping track of books). Anyhow, I stumbled upon it while placing holiday orders, and decided to check it out. And, hurrah, our library had it! (more…)

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gum.jpgSOUNDTRACK: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS-Anthology: Through the Years (2000).

petty.jpgTo me, Tom Petty suffers more than anyone else from egregious overexposure. I’m not sure if it’s just me who feels that way, but in my experience, “Free Fallin'” was utterly inescapable for what seemed like an eternity. And, geez, his mug was all over MTV when that album came out. It got so bad that I simply decided I was done with him.

Well, as it turns out, Sarah is a fan, so I decided to get her a greatest hits for her birthday. We’ve listened to it a few times, and it made me remember that, hey! I used to like this guy. In fact, disc one of this set is pretty darn great. There are about three songs that I didn’t recognize immediately, but otherwise I was singing along to all of his old classics.

There’s a great memory from Fast Times at Ridgemont High with “American Girl,” And there’s some songs that I forgot about like “Breakdown” and “Refugee.” However, I feel that the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” was the original overexposure video on MTV. I can’t decide how many times I saw that video when I was a young’un watching MTV in its nascent years. It was so ubiquitous that even Weird Al made a parody of it on his first album called “Stop Dragging My Car Around” (which was not terribly inspired, really).

Through much of the post-Dylan years people were described as the “next Dylan.” What really struck me, re-listening to Tom Petty is that, he seems to have misunderstood that they were speaking about his lyrics, not his voice. It’s bizarre how Dylanesque he sounds, especially on “Breakdown,” If not Dylanesque necessarily, he is at least very idiosyncratic in a way that Dylan made commercial.

Even the second disc (the overexposed era) holds up pretty well, and now, seventeen (!) years later, I can sing along to “Free Fallin'” without cringing. See that, Tom, all I needed was a decade away and now we can hang out again.

[READ: December 10, 2007] The Gum Thief.

An unusual title, The Gum Thief.

I’ve enjoyed Coupland’s work for many years now (see the JPod review), and I’m always excited to see a new book come out. I opted for the autographed box set from amazon.ca which actually turned out be pretty cheap at the time I ordered it. The box set contains Roger Thorpe’s book Glove Pond, (which will make sense in a few paragraphs) which I will be reviewing shortly.

[DIGRESSION]: Incidentally, amazon.ca is THE source for imported items from England. Most of the time, the imports on amazon.com are really expensive. But the retail price on amazon.ca for British imports is usually quite good. (This was even more true before the looney reached parity with our dollar…the exchange rate for awhile was practically half off list price!)

Back to The Gum Thief.

This is what’s called an epistolary novel, meaning it is written as a series of letters. This book varies the premise somewhat by having the letters written to each other in a diary. But it is not a series of diary entries; rather, Bethany discovers Roger’s diary and begins writing responses to his entries in it. It’s a very interesting conceit, and it plays very nicely with these characters, both of whom are completely antisocial. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Roger is an alcoholic, divorced father whose life has been generally going downhill; he more or less bottomed out with a job at a Vancouver Staples. Bethany is a post-high school goth whose life is stalling while she works at the same Vancouver Staples. Roger begins the book with some diary exercises in which he tries to get into the mind of Bethany. Bethany discovers the entries and is appalled and flattered at the same time. She writes back to Roger, telling him what he got right, but also emphatically insisting that they never acknowledge each other outside of the diary.

What Roger’s diary also contains is the beginning of his novel: Glove Pond. The box set I bought contains Glove Pond as a separate item as well, and I’ll review that next. But for now, I can say that Glove Pond is basically Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in tone, mannerism and setup. [I rather hope this will get people to read the great Albee play]. It is about an older, long-married couple (he is a writer) who inadvertently invite a young, newly-married couple (he is a writer) over for dinner. The angry resentment between youth and age, success and failure and so many other things brews up into a heady mixture of Scotch and insults.

What makes the story even more meta- is that Kyle, the young writer in Glove Pond is writing his new novel, about an old, drunken man who works in an office superstore.

Surrounding the chapters of Glove Pond are the actual letters of the story. Primarily they are between Roger and Bethany, but they also include some correspondence with Bethany’s mom (whom Roger knew in high school), and, in a break from the “in Roger’s diary” aspect, some letters between other co-workers (who also discover Glove Pond, and do not share Bethany’s (genuine) enthusiasm for it).

Aside from all of the intricacies of the make-up of the story, what about the narrative? Well, the story is basically about a young girl–whose life had been full of close people dying–connecting to a frankly pathetic father-figure (but her own father is also out of the picture, so it’s understandable). It is at times very sad, especially as you watch these characters shut themselves down internally and externally.

Ultimately, Bethany tries to make a bold move outside of Staples, a risk that she didn’t think she was capable of. And Roger sets his sights on accomplishing at least one thing in his life, namely, finishing a book. You watch these characters slowly come alive until the last chapter, in which the meta- world comes crashing in on Roger and makes you rethink a lot of what you have just read.

As with most Coupland, the pop culture references, and corporate skewering, are fast and furious. And, as with most Coupland, just when you think the novel is going to be light and funny, weighty themes are opened and genuine sadness falls over these seemingly frozen people. What I think is particularly cool about this book is the way he is able to take a somewhat detached literary style like the epistolary novel and imbue some real passion into these shells of human beings. Obviously, diary entries tend to reveal impassioned thoughts by the writer, but in a series of letters written to two people who are not wooing each other, one wouldn’t expect high emotion. And yet it comes out, and it comes across very naturally.

And, as it turns out, stealing gum does play a pretty big role in both the novel and the novel within the novel, so the title does make sense.

Oh, and there’s also some cool videos available from Random House Canada. They are promotional shorts for The Gum Thief, and they’re available at Coupland’s My Space page as well as on You Tube, which is funny given the You Tube references in the book.

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