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Connell Dr.Black jacketSOUNDTRACK: KODAGAIN-“King of Curls” (2014).

supernaturalWhen I looked for a picture of this book cover, I was connected to Connell’s blog which has links to many songs by Kodagain. After some more work, I learned that Kodagain features music by Saša Zorić Čombe and lyrics by Brendan Connell!

It was hard to find any real details about Kodagain (they have a media presence, but it is rather abbreviated), until I saw their soundcloud page which gives these nuggets of information

  • Kodagain formed in 1985 in Knjazevac, SE Serbia, where it’s hard to be alternative but easy to be alone.
  • Kodagain writes and records songs with English lyrics because English is more musical than Serbian.
  • Kodagain has a miniaturist approach to pop music, channelling influences from Henry Purcell, through Dean Martin, to Roxy Music, into short compositions combining a bubblegum-pop concern for melody with lo-fi experimentalism, resulting in songs as soulful as they are playful.
  • Many of the lyrics have been provided by the existing poetry of famous poets such as Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Chu-I Po (Bai Juyi), Lord Byron, Ogden Nash, Sara Teasdale, Louisa Stuart Costello and Robert Creely.
  • Since 2007, Kodagain has also been using … original lyrics from the writer Quentin S. Crisp; since 2012, Kodagain has similarly collaborated with the writer Brendan Connell.  Brendan Connell says: “My ultimate goal is to write a vast number of lyrics about natural wonders, public parks, lost watches, Indian villages, hidden love, birds, trees, mountain passes, fake Taoists, imperceptible colors, rhetorical mysteries, and flowers. Ideally these would be compounded into a ‘Guide for Modern Life’ which could be used to build better relations between workers and their bosses, the various sexes, and those whose religious beliefs differ.”
  • Their songs and videos can be found in generous supply on YouTube and SoundCloud. Albums include: Speed Up, The Nowhere Land’s Echoes, A Drink With Something In It, 000, Vranje, Letters From Quentin, Time to Get Ready for Love, My Fear of His Fear of Death, and Supernatural.

Since encountering Kodagain, I have become totally transfixed by them.  The melodies are simple and lovely and Zorić Čombe’s voice is gentle but wise.  Lyrically the songs are certainly all over the place, and most of the songs are under 2 minutes long.  The instrumentation is simple–usually a gentle guitar, steady drums and multi-tracked voices.

It was really hard to pick a song to talk about because there are so many.  But I decided to pick “King of Curls,” in part because the video is fantastic, and so are the lyrics

If I ruled the world
I’d call myself
The King of Curls

If I were king
I’d change damn near
Everything

If I ruled the world
My army wouldn’t fight wars
But rather eat chocolate bars
And move to the beat
In shorts
While my advisors wise
Would do jazzercise

(and that’s just the first part!)

Zorić Čombe’s voice sounds a bit to me like a smoother Jens Lekman (although that could just be the enunciation style).  I find his songs utterly enchanting.

And if you look on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of videos–most of which are masterpieces of found footage.

[READ: February 20, 2015] The Metanatural Adventures of Dr Black

About 7 years ago, I read a novella called Dr Black and the Guerrillia and I liked it quite a lot.  I liked that Connell created this character, with no apparent context (at least none given in the story) and that it was so amazingly detailed and “real” and yet so seemingly unreal–an unsatisfying word which Connell has corrected for me with the title of this collection–Metanatural.

This book is something of a collection of short stories about Dr. Black, but it is far more than that.  It collects some of the adventures that Dr. Black has been on as well as some of the patents and other ephemera and fashions a kind of narrative (although a very sketchy narrative) about the life he leads.

Before I even get to the “plot” of the book, I need to say just how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was absolutely captivated by Connell’s voice.  Over the years I have known that Connell was an accomplished writer with an unparalleled attention to detail and to choosing the precise word.  But somehow in the Dr. Black stories Connell’s details and specifics push the narrative to real heights.  Perhaps it is because Dr Black seems so real that when anything “metanatural” happens to him, it is entirely believable–drawing you into his exploits even further.  I really wanted to read more and more.

Having said all that, while this book is certainly his most accessible, it is still not light reading.  Connell challenges the reader with his extensive vocabulary, his lack of compunction about throwing in some obscure sections of text (that I won’t pretend I understood, but which didn’t bother me at all) and his willingness to defy reality, which may lose some readers.  But the rewards of the stories are worth it. (more…)

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dtmaxSOUNDTRACK: TOM WAITS & KEITH RICHARDS-“Shenandoah” (2013).

roguesgallery-f8be47f3887d51de57ea842a129f0a722e53ef74-s1This tune comes from the album Son Of Rogues Gallery.  The album is, of all things, a sequel to the album Rogues Gallery.  The full title is Son Of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.  The first album was a kind of novelty–I can’t even say novelty hit as I don;t know if it was.  But it must have had some success because here’s a second one (and there’s no Pirates of the Caribbean movie to tie it to).

The album has 36 songs (!) by a delightful collection of artists, including: Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, Macy Gray, Broken Social Scene, Richard Thompson, Michael Gira and Mary Margaret O’Hara (among many others).  I enjoyed the first one, but I think the line up on this one is even better.

“Shenandoah” is not a song that I particulalry like.  Because it is traditional, I have a few people doing versions of it, but I don’t gravitate twoards it–it’s a little slow and meandering (like the river I guess) for me. And this version is not much different.  What it does have going for it is Waits’ crazed warbling along with even crazier backing viclas from Keith Richards (there;s no guitar on the track).

[READ: January 7, 2012] Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

I had mixed feelings about reading this biography.  I’m a huge fan of David Foster Wallace, but I often find it simply disappointing to read about people you like.  And yet, DFW was such an interesting mind, that it seemed worthwhile to find out more about him. Plus, I’ve read everything by the guy, and a lot of things about him…realistically it’s not like I wasn’t going to read this.  I think I was afraid of being seriously bummed out.  So Sarah got me this for Christmas and I really really enjoyed reading it.

Now I didn’t know a ton about DFW going into this book–I knew basics and I had read a ton of interviews, but he never talked a lot about himself, it was predominantly about his work.  So if I say that Max is correct and did his research, I say it from the point of someone full of ignorance and because it seems comprehensive.  I’m not claiming that he was right just that he was convincing.  And Max is very convincing.  And he really did his research.

It’s also convenient that DFW wrote a lot of letters–Max has a ton of letters to quote from.  And DFW wrote to all kinds of people–friends, fellow authors  girlfriends, colleagues….  Aside from old friends, his two main correspondents were Don DeLillo, whom he thought of as a kind of mentor, and Jonathan Franzen, whom he considered one of his best friends and rivals.  I guess we can also be thankful that these recipients held on to the letters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-“Is It Too Much” (2013).

raraI loved the first Ra Ra Riot album The Rhumb Line.  This song expands on some of the ideas from that album, but I fear that it goes in the one direction I would have preferred they not go.  The album had strings, nice harmonies and a great singer all melded into an interesting rock structure.

This song retains all of the elements that were interesting, but it removes it from the rock structure, making it  sound much more lightweight.  It’s pushing too far into easy-listening.  And do I hear autotune on the vocals?  The instrumental middle section is the most interesting part of the song.  But Ra Ra Riot seems to have removed the riot part of their sound.  If this is the direction of the album, I’m afraid I won’t be following.

[READ: January 8, 2013] “Consider the Writer”

I just finished the D.T. Max biography of David Foster Wallace.  I was curious what kind of reception it received.  And lo, here’s a review by Rivka Galchen (something I would have read anyhow since I enjoy her so much).

Galchen opens with two main points–the biography is gripping (and it is, I’ll be saying more about that tomorrow, too).  She writes: “In writing a chronologically narrated, thoroughly researched, objective-as-­imaginable biography, Max has created a page turner.”

The second idea is that you keep thinking “that you just don’t find Wallace all that nice”  (which I also thought).  But then she wonders if it is fair to be worried about that.  We should not judge others after all.  Especially since, as she points out, “We don’t always find ourselves asking whether a writer is nice. I’ve never heard anyone wonder this at length about, say, Haruki Murakami or Jennifer Egan.”  So why is that a concern about Wallace?  Because niceness is what Wallace wrote about, tried to encourage.  And perhaps “One understandably slips from reading something concerned with how to be a good person to expecting the writer to have been more naturally kind himself.”  But that is not necessarily the case–people strive for things that they cannot achieve.   I like her example “the co-founder of A.A., Bill W., is a guru of sobriety precisely because sobriety was so difficult for him.”   And her conclusion: “Wallace’s fiction is, in its attentiveness and labor and genuine love and play, very nice. But what is achieved on the page, if it is achieved, may not hold stable in real life.”

And Galchen talks a bit abut DFW himself (the book is a biography after all).  How he wore the bandana because he sweated so much–how self conscious he was about that and by extension nearly everything he did.  This mitigates his not-niceness somewhat.  It also ties in to his alcoholism  drug use and depression.  And his competitiveness, which is obvious in the biography.  She enjoys the pleasure of Wallace’s correspondences, “especially with his close friend and combatant Jonathan Franzen, but also with just about every white male writer he might ever have viewed as a rival or mentor. Aggressive self-abasement, grandstanding, veiled abuse, genuine thoughtfulness, thin-skinned pandering — it’s all there.”  I rather wished that the authors’ own reactions were included (of course it’s not biographies of them, and they are still alive), just to see if they sparred back with Wallace or if they were put off by yet indulgent of his needs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JENS LEKMAN-Tiny Desk Concert #173 (November 7, 2011).

I have enjoyed Jens’ skewed take on pop folk for some time. He plays great folk music and there’s wonderful backing vocals by Addison Rogers.  What’s funny about this Tiny Desk concert is that he talks a lot about the song before singing it.  But he pretty much gives away everything in the song (especially if there is a punch line).  For the first song, “I Want A Pair Of Cowboy Boots,” the explanation is pretty good, he says that if you have the same dream for two years you may want a new one…with cowboy boots.  The song explains that the boots will help him walk back to the girl of his dreams.  Sweet.

What’s cool about the second song, “The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love”  (in addition to the song) is that you can hear a car driving away before it starts, just showing how intimate the Tiny Desk shows are.

But it’s the final song in which Jens gives away so much about the origin of the story that the song itself is almost redundant (although it’s still great).  When you finally get to the punchline of “Waiting For Kirsten,” you’re charmed and smiling.  Jens explains that Kirsten Dunst once said that she likes his music.  So when she was filming with Lars von Trier in Scotland, he couldn’t help but stalk her day and night.

He’s a charming guy.  You can check it out here.

[READ: November 7, 2012] Revolution

Deb Olin Unferth has now published three books and I’ve read them all, even though I’m not a huge huge fan.  I enjoyed her novel Vacation, which was delightfully peculiar.  Her other book was a collection of flash fiction, a genre I’m really on the fence about, although Unferth’s is really quite good.

This book is a memoir.  And, as the subtitle indicates, it’s about the year that Unferth spent looking for a revolution in Central America.  The book proves to be about much more than Central America and revolutions–she talks about religion, family, morality, relationships, youth, idealism and reality.  Not bad for 200 pages.

It’s also about the man she fell in love with, George, who encouraged them to go to Central America and vive the revolution.  George is a Christian, Deb was an atheist Jew.  But she falls for him and his Christian ways and “converts” (much to the detriment of her younger sibling who had the family’s faux Jewishness now thrust upon her to avoid a similar thing happening.  (Poor Deb’s younger sister really is the victim in this saga).  George and Deb flee the comforts of home and all 80s capitalism and head to Central America.

As with Unferth’s short stories, these chapters are almost all very short.  And they often feel as unfinished as some of her flash fiction.  They are also mostly jumbled up in an utterly non-narrative way.  It’s entirely possible that you could shuffle some of these chapters and it wouldn’t matter at all (that’s not entirely true, as some do flow one in to the other, but many are jarringly out of sequence). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TRACY THORN & JENS LEKMAN-“Yeah! Oh Yeah! from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

This cover makes me think that I like The Magnetic Fields for their songs, but not really for their singing or arrangements.  This song is pretty hilarious (every yeah oh yeah is in response to something awful (Do you want to break my heart?  Yeah, yeah, Oh yeah!).  The cover by the wonderful Tracy Thorn & Jens Lekman is much more understated than the original, with simple instrumentation.

The original is a chiming, kind of noisy track.  While the cover has Thorns beautiful voice languorously singing the lines while Lekman chimes in.  The backing music is delicate and almost sweet (a nice contrast to the lyrics).  I think the song is fantastic, but once again, I like the cover more than the original.  This is especially surprising as the cover is actually slower than the original.  But, really, it’s hard  to pass on Jens Lekman.

[READ: April 30, 2012] “Borges on Pleasure Island”

When I browsed for Rivka Galchen articles the other day, I found a few published works that were not in Harper’s or The New Yorker.  So, yes, I’m going to write about them here.  And since I’m caught up with the end of Gravity’s Rainbow, these short non-fictions were a nice balm.

I have been encountering a lot about Borges lately.  Roberto Bolaño loves him, there was a recent article in Harper’s about him (a review of some new translations called “The purloined Borges: Translation and traduction” by Edgardo Krebs) and now I get this article.  This article is a strange one–and I’m not entirely sure where it would have appeared in the Times.  It’s strange because it’s kind of a review of a new collection of Borges’ work (this one called On Writing, the first of three Borges’ related works published that month).  Although really she only talks about one essay, “Literary Pleasure.” (more…)

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On July 25, I reached 90,000 hits.
It took me seven months to get from 60,000 (Dec 25, 2009) to 90,000.
It took me nine months to get my first 30,000 hits.

There are some obvious contributing factors to this improvement (not the least of which is links from referrers that make absolutely no sense whatsoever (and which are pretty clearly spam, but hey, numbers are numbers, right?)  But the most obvious is the huge outcry at the failure of Scholastic to continue publishing the Ulysses Moore series.

If you Google “Ulysses Moore” I am the first post (after the official Scholastic site, Amazon, and fantasticfiction).  I have received so many comments from people who are frustrated that the can’t finish the series. It is amazing that so many voices are ignored.  As you can see, this series has garnered me 4020 views.

At 60,000 views I posted some theories as to why I thought these posts were so successful.  Since very little has changed (mostly just a little shuffle of the top ten), I won’t bother repeating that.  But, there is one post (see the bottom, hee hee) which has absolutely skyrocketed in just a few short months.

1. 4020 views posted April 25, 2009 [was #1 at 60,000: 1663 views]
Pierdomenico Baccalario–Ulysses Moore series Books 1-4
SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vitalogy (more…)

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[cue music]:

I saw these stats come sailing in, on Christmas Day on Christmas Day.
I hit 60,000 views on Christmas Day in the mor-ning.

I hit 30,000 views back in March, and I was quite thrilled.  When I started the blog in May of 2007 I didn’t expect to get all that many views, it was more or less a blog to keep track of my books and maybe have other people comment too.  And so, it took nearly two years to get to 30,000.  Imagine how delightful it is to reach the next 30,000 views in the span of just nine months!

So thanks everyone for checking out what I had to say.  And thanks also for all the comments.  As with the first 30,000, I’ve included the stats that have brought me to this hallowed (but random) spot.  And I must add that Infinite Summer, which is underrepresented in my top ten posts, was absolutely essential for this huge spike in views (thanks DFW fans).  But, by far the biggest surprise was the surge that came from the first book(s) on the list below.  I posted about the Ulysses Moore series in April.  And it was by far the most frequently sought and (presumably) read post on the blog.  So, Scholastic Publishing, if you read this, please note the craving that my readers have for the rest of the series!  And please update your site!!

So, anyhow, thanks all.  Listed below are the Top Ten (and a few extra) viewed posts on my blog.  Happy New Year!

(more…)

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