April 10, 2012
by Elizabeth Bishop
At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn’t wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.
December 14, 2011
Why wear one pair of shoes when you can wear two? From this editorial (no hard feelings).
November 3, 2011
The geese are gone, mostly. All through September, looking up from the gnarl of traffic in the mornings, I could see them departing: small, honking arrowheads the color of stormclouds. The pumpkins are gone too, and the leaves are mostly down. It’s cold at night, not cool; and the ocean has sunk into its black hibernation, no longer hospitable to even the most hardy late-season swimmers. For those of us who love Halloween, and fall in general, these annual departures are difficult. In some ways, this mix is intended to mitigate that a bit, to encourage the season to linger. After all, in our quartered calendar, November is autumn’s third act. Still, the month seems less a part of the season than a requiem for it, an increasingly dark stretch of days unleavened by Christmas lights or the world’s fastest menorah. The good news is that those of us who consider Halloween a favorite holiday also tend to be receptive to these increasingly bleak conditions. The thought of being holed up with a hot drink and a book, while the wind howls outside and frost laces the windowpanes (or whatever Bronte-esque imagery fits here), is actually pretty exciting. If this is you, I hope this mix just deepens your dive into the snowbound depths of the coming months. For the summer types, consider this music your first round of therapy. You can play these tracks while sitting under your sun lamp and staring wistfully at your calendar of Caribbean beaches.
So, a few notes about the songs themselves: first of all, it being a Halloween hangover mix, most of these tracks are meant for Halloween. Hopefully they won’t sound too out of place in November (I don’t think they do). Really, this is a sequel to the late fall mix I posted last year. I’ve been slipping a number of my all-time favorites into these collections that, and this mix is no exception. For example, there’s Dar Williams’ “When Sal’s Burned Down,” a song I first heard in high school. Williams’ story in this song, of a fire that burned down an old multiplex in small town Connecticut, and the subsequent emotional fallout, is conflated in my mind with a series of similar incidents in the town in Connecticut where my family vacationed during my childhood. To me, “When Sal’s Burned Down” captures the way singular events in one’s past can become confounded by time with the overall feel and arching narrative of a place. Really, the song reads as a particularly poignant short story, and the guitar figure is just gorgeous.
Speaking of literacy, I’ve included a song here—“Dante’s Prayer” by Loreena McKennit—that I realize might be a bit new agey for some. McKennitt’s music certainly isn’t for everyone; though personally, I’ve always found her songs transportive. This despite my distaste for Enya, Clannad, or similar peddlers of the synth-driven silliness that’s too often considered “celtic” music. Loreena is somehow different. It might help that the majority of her songs are played on real instruments, and that she herself is an accomplished harpist. Still, her sound has its share of studio keyboards. Maybe it’s that her songs are literate. They do a wonderful job of situating themselves in recognizable historical periods, and are as concerned with telling a story as they are in setting a mood. Anyway, “Dante’s Prayer” is a beautiful piece, dumb title and all. It’s always struck me as one of the great “dark night of the soul” songs, as indeed the Commedia is perhaps history’s archetypal “dark night of the soul” work of literature. Other favorites, like Destroyer’s “Bay of Pigs (Detail)” or A.A. Bondy’s “When the Devil’s Loose,” are relatively new; but they’ve immediately become favorites, because they’re amazing. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Destroyer—Dan Bejar’s voice is hard to love, and his occasional aimlessness can be off-putting—but Kaputt is a focused, remarkable album, and “Bay of Pigs,” released on EP last year and included on this year’s full release, is the album’s crowning achievement. It’s a weird masterwork, a sprawling poem set to ambient disco, at once utterly unique and, once heard, indispensable. Like “When Sal’s Burned Down,” it seems to have more in common with short fiction than, say, the Beatles (which is good, because I hate the Beatles*). Also like the Williams track, it reminds me of my time in Connecticut. Specifically, the song’s opening lines and casual lugubriousness remind me of the way old men gather in the daytime at a certain pier in a certain shoreline town. They sit in their cars and drink and watch the water. I remember joining them a few times, idling in the rain while my companion downed six-packs of half-pint chardonnays in the passenger seat. Yeah, I know, right? It felt like we’d stumbled into death’s anteroom; as indeed, I suppose, we had. It wasn’t morbid, though, just sort of wistful. Bejar’s song makes me think of the way mortality can feel so close on grey days, and how liberating that feeling can sometimes be.
The other song, Bondy’s “When the Devil’s Loose,” evokes New Haven, with its tale of cyclical violence and woe; but my own experience of it is ancillary to its sheer perfection as a composition. I’m not the first to mention this, but “When the Devil’s Loose” is a perfect song. Also, everyone’s favorite Drake song is here, and in keeping with last year’s trend, there’s some brooding, early-eighties ambient, this time from the man himself. Eno’s 1982 On Land album, from which the two tracks here are lifted, is the final installment in his Ambient series, and by far the darkest of the four. It’s also, not coincidentally, my favorite Eno album. Another profoundly dark record that I love is Didn’t It Rain, by Songs: Ohia, and that album’s best track, “Two Blue Lights,” is included in this mix, for when you need something truly despairing to listen to. Really, the whole album is like some rust belt nightmare, gorgeous but very, very bleak, like “Dirty Old Town” as seen through the lens of Winter’s Bone. And who knew Goblin’s Suspiria theme had such a wacky fusion breakdown in the middle? It’s like Edgar Winter just wanders into the song all of a sudden, and then wanders out a couple minutes later. Was that in the movie? With all the bbatshit crazy stuff happening onscreen, I don’t actually remember. Finally, if there’s one band I can recommend everyone should get into (besides Noisettes), it’s Shivaree.
It was an unusual, snowy Halloween, haunted more by the specter of downed power lines than by ghouls. We’ve had tornados, a hurricane, an earthquake, record-breaking heat and, before that, record-breaking snowfall already this year. Who knows what challenges are ahead. One thing I like about Halloween music, is that despite all the gloom and the goofiness, the focus on death and decay that these songs are filled with, they end up, sort of by default, throwing a spotlight on the future. Halloween isn’t so much about endings as it is about cycles. Which is an idea that November then puts into action, I suppose—a bit of a shock after all the fun of late October, but that’s New England for you. Anyway, track list and downloading details are below. Enjoy the mix.
*Though if you listen to the luminous Clientele song on here, “Harvest Time,” you’d say I’d have a hard time defending this statement. But listen, I don’t feel I have to explain my art to you, Warren.
So, using Dropbox again to pass along said songs. Here’s how it works: go to dropbox.com and log in (top right corner) as me, like this:
(an ceol, of course, being the Irish for “the music”)
Now right-click on the folder marked “Autumn Mix 2011” and choose “download folder.” It’ll download as a .rar file, which is a sort of zip file. A program like WinRar should unlock it, which is available for free on the web (just google it). And that’s it. Tracklist is below.
- The North American Halloween Prevention Initiative / Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?
- M83 / Midnight City
- A.A. Bondy / When the Devil’s Loose
- The Clientele / Harvest Time
- Atlas Sound / Ghost Story
- Joan Osbourne / St. Teresa
- The Police / Bring On the Night
- Junior Boys / Bits & Pieces
- Cults / Walk at Night
- Drake / Marvin’s Room
- Elton John / Madman Across the Water
- Sufjan Stevens / Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
- Justin Vernon / Epic (I)
- Rocky Horror / Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul)
- Lady Gaga / Monster
- TV on the Radio / Wolf Like Me
- Brian Eno / Lantern Marsh
- Destroyer / Bay of Pigs (Detail)
- Iron & Wine / Sodom, South Georgia
- Cat Power / Werewolf
- Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti / Fright Night (Nevermore)
- The Mountain Goats / Up the Wolves
- Bon Iver / Perth
- Brian Eno / Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)
- Zola Jesus / Night
- The Civil Wars / Poison & Wine
- G.B. Grayson / Ommie Wise
- John Maus / Hey Moon
- Memory Tapes / Green Knight
- Califone / The Orchids
- Antony Hegarty / I Was Young When I Left Home
- Boards of Canada / Beware the Friendly Stranger
- Gustavo Santaolalla / De Usuahia a la Quiaca
- Leonard Cohen / Famous Blue Raincoat
- Madonna / Justify My Love
- Garbage / #1 Crush
- The Pixies / Break My Body
- Portishead / Roads
- Robyn / Be Mine
- Shivaree / Bossa Nova
- Beanie Sigel feat. Melissa / Feel It in the Air
- Spoon / Who Makes Your Money
- Michael Andrews / Gretchen Ross
- Songs: Ohia / Two Blue Lights
- Crystal Castles / Violent Dreams
- Tim Hecker / The Piano Drop
- The National / Mistaken for Strangers
- Justin Vernon / Epic (II)
- Norah Jones / Rosie’s Lullaby
- Bruce Springsteen / Devils & Dust
- Tom Waits / Come On Up the House
- Mirah / We’re Both So Sorry
- Chet Faker / No Diggity
- Goblin / Suspiria
- Jenny Owen Youngs / Fuck Was I
- Janiva Magness / The Devil is an Angel Too
- Dar Williams / When Sal’s Burned Down
- Joanna Newsom / Good Intentions Paving Company
- Loreena McKennitt / Dante’s Prayer
- Lyle Lovett / Family Reserve
September 9, 2011
The seawall by Crescent Bluff was washed right out to sea—we watched it go, battered by twenty-foot waves. Storm surge hopped the harbor walls and buried the tennis courts, parking lots, and golf course up to the eighth hole, and on the avenues there was boiling sewage and the sidewalk was smashed. Linden Avenue is impassable, which leaves the whole Possun Park crowd stranded, possibly for weeks. If I were them, I’d start having bonfires down at the water, because they’re not going to be hauling those fallen trees away any time soon. Everywhere along the coast, the sheer destructive power of water was on display. There were bathhouses reduced to kindling, boulders sucked from hundred-year resting places and heaved onto beachfronts. A large, square chunk of dock now sits stranded in the yacht club parking lot. And true to the spirit of the area, even the height of the storm was a social event. My cousin and I were originally at the point, what our family calls the first point (as opposed to the second point, or the breakwater at the other end). It was here that we watched, and were soaked by, the fearsome high tide and height of the storm. Later J. came by with some guys and a truck, and we jumped in back with a couple beers and toured the damage. What we concluded is that the coastline is going to look a bit different after Irene. Maybe not dramatically, but for those of us who have memorized this landscape’s details, details we assumed were immemorial, the storm-wrought alterations are significant, even shocking. The jetty at the old house is gone, after sixty years of service. That large, amorphous concrete platform that abutted the seawall is finally gone. The woeful structure had been falling apart for a decade, and what will grow up in its place is anybody’s guess. Owenego, that odd little social club at the foot of Possun Park, is in ruins; every single bathhouse is gone, to the point where one can’t even tell they had existed. The bathhouse itself seems like a holdover from the Gatsby era, what you might call Pine Orchard’s golden age, and its thorough eradication is a detail I can’t help but reduce to metaphor.
For all of Irene’s damages, there remains a certain ambivalence to the event, a resignedness that, I suppose, arises when dealing with natural phenomena. Certainly there is no anger. I think most folks who live on the coast recognize at least the possibility of a catastrophic storm, so when something of the sort finally appears, complaining about it doesn’t seem fair. Or rather, the concept of fairness itself would be misapplied in this case. The boys and I walked around the neighborhoods quite a bit, talking to people. Everyone acted more amazed than anything else. Indeed, they seemed conscious of having seen firsthand an event that only occurs every 75 years or so, something truly remarkable. And so everyone had a story about how high the waves were, how close to them a tree had fallen, how complete the damage was to this or that street. Irene was an experience at once universally shared and intensely neighborhood-specific. Hochkiss Grove, flooded and evacuated, saw a different storm than the harbor, with its own sea surge but with room (the parking lots, the golf course) to spread out, while Crescent Bluff dealt instead with the full-on impact of the waves, and the erosion and destruction that caused. And of course, even a mile inland, the storm was very different. So, though normally I’m bored by local news, I’ve been consuming stories about Irene as much as my lack of Internet at home or work allows—largely by radio (one result of the storm is that I’ve taken the time to find local news on the radio, which may prove useful in the future). If you have stories, feel free to share them below.
Ultimately, I’m curious to see what shape the coastline takes a year from now, what changes will become permanent, which ruptures will be repaired. When I tell my grandchildren about waves as big as buildings, what will they think of? How much of the storm will be forgotten, or confined to the inexact and half-listened to retelling? Seamus Heaney asks us, perhaps in defense, to “lie down in the treasure hoard/of memory.” But in the Internet age, I don’t think we know yet the exact confines of that cave, what memory will mean to us in thirty or fifty years. Our detailed records will outlast our detailed minds. But, if one of the goals of life—maybe the only goal—is acquiring such psychic treasure, then the events of Hurricane Irene may prove invaluable. Whether they listen to me or not, I can say: I was there.
September 9, 2011
This is a short film by UK artist Hannah Richards. She writes:
This film explores my own memories of the story of the Children of Lir, an Irish legend that I used to be familiar with in childhood. The film is constructed from drawn animation and found footage and narrated by an amalgamation of my mother, brother and sister, describing their recollections of the story. Using this collected debris of memory I have tried to construct the narrative as I remember it.
Again via splitinfinitives, Sean Fennessey’s blog, which is turning out to be pretty excellent.
July 29, 2011
I don’t think I ever linked to this post, though upon reading it I thought “this is probably the best bit of music journalism I’ve read this year.” That was back in 2010. Since then, we’ve seen the crunkcore thing scaled back a bit, in favor of this new R&B thing that Drake and The Weeknd and Frank Ocean are doing (and what guys like Moodymann have sort of been doing for a while). But Kesha is still out there, somewhere; and I still claim to be a fan. Anyway, the piece is obviously a product of the DFW School of Essay Writing, no less so because it’s brilliant.
July 29, 2011
This is not a friendly conversation:
They are not talking about pies, or iPad apps, or Sarah Vowell books, or cool bars, or hipsters, or yoga mats, or Bronx Zoo Cobra tweets, or The Awl, or organic ice cream, or Dwayne’s friend ReRun, or things Chuck Klosterman talks about, or Leno on Letterman, or Lili Taylor, or pies.
July 22, 2011
Like Basic Instinct, Wild Things is a story about and by men who feel like victims, but McNaughton’s film is better-humored and less of a revenge fantasy than Verhoeven’s. This is the difference between the early 90s and the late 90s, when whatever threat feminism posed seemed to have been neutralized – “be comfortable with your sexuality” having become synonymous with “maybe have a threesome” – and the recession was over.
-from Elizabeth Gumport’s essay on the 1998 film Wild Things
July 20, 2011
Recession music can be off-putting. The etiology of an album like Washed Out’s Life of Leisure, composed by an out-of-work Ernest Greene on his parents’ back porch, hews too close to the depressing cliché of the starving artist in someone else’s basement, wasting time. But the economic downturn hit a lot of us, some harder than we expected, and if you’re part of the crowd that’s been negotiating their twenties and the new, recessed job market (as I am), Greene’s story may actually be heartening. After all, the music that became Life of Leisure and two other EPs managed to encapsulate a particular emerging genre (chillwave) and an accompanying mentality (the fuzzy analog space between youth and adulthood), as well as anyone. Yes, Washed Out is the beneficiary of the right place at the right time; but Greene capitalized on his moment. Most importantly, the music holds up.
With his first full-length, Within and Without, Greene continues to realize the potential of his sound. The album isn’t a radical departure from Life of Leisure or the chillwave format in general. But Greene throws the template wide open—many of these songs wouldn’t sound out of place in Ibiza circa 1999. Indeed, the touchstones for this go-round are less Neon Indian and Memory Tapes (although the latter’s influence can be heard on “Far Away”), and more Delorean and Saturdays=Youth-era M83 (plus a vocal line in “You and I” straight from Sigur Ros). Bass lines and choruses abound. The album begs to be heard over car stereos with the windows down. And while a lot of the discussion around chillwave has centered on the way the music evokes loss (of youth, of summer), Within and Without doesn’t do so. This is, rather, a soundtrack of immediate experience. In other words, a lot of previous chillwave music has been about summer; but this is an album for summer.