Read Steve Almond’s The Notorious B.B. Chow, David Markson’s The Last Novel, and started Beckett’s Malone Dies. Watched Room 237, The Bay, and rewatched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Listened to Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Bill Callahan’s Dream River, and Lubomyr Melnyk’s The Voice of Trees.
Short reviews of most of those after the jump.
-Steve Almond’s second collection of short stories, The Notorious B.B. Chow, traffics in similar material to his first: love, sex, death, and tangential relationships with academia. However, Almond has sharpened his plotting and dialogue since My Life in Heavy Metal — gone is the ranginess of the title story of that collection, replaced with tighter sentences and structures. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s lost his edge — he does wring a compelling story out of the academic value of Michael Jackson’s penis — but the collection feels like the result of an author slowly honing their craft.
-While I enjoyed Markson’s The Last Novel, it’s tough not to compare it to Wittgenstein’s Mistress. The main character, The Novelist, is considerably less involved in the story, and there’s very little action or plot. It felt like Markson wrote it somewhat as a reaction to his critics — kind of a “if you thought my last novel was plotless, then just you wait.” The interplay between the trivia sections and the life of the novelist was interesting (Markson effectively builds character that way), but it lacked the strong charge that the scant but affecting plot of Wittgenstein’s Mistress provided.
–Room 237 presents nine wingnut interpretations of Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s form — excerpts from The Shining and other movies, with the theorists speaking over top of it — is smartly implemented. Rodney Ascher, the director, chooses to be as impartial as possible, subtly advancing the commentators’ theories just as often as hindering them. While I wish the film would have gone a little more into a debate of post-modern theory (specifically the idea that the intent of the creator isn’t a relevant consideration), it was engaging.
-Not much to say about The Bay. I’m a sucker for found-footage horror movies, and it scared the crap out of me. There were plenty of clunky sections, but it was effective.
-Watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for the second time, I was struck by how effective the voiceover sections are. Usually I can’t stand narration, particularly in a film as visual as this one, but it perfectly balances providing information to the viewer and giving them further access to the character.
-Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, is her best and furthest reaching album yet. Since Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, her albums have gotten more and more stylistically diverse, and her new one is no exception. The opening track, “Wild Creature,” begins as an unassuming, shuffling mid-tempo rock song, then layers and builds along with Case’s always stunning voice. Lyrically she’s never been sharper. There’s many highlights on the album, but this section in “Night Still Comes” jumps out:
Did they poison my food? Is it cause I’m a girl?
If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?
I’m gonna go where my urge leads no more.
Swallowed, waist-deep, in the gore of the forest
A boreal feast, let it finish me, please.
Cause I revenge myself all over myself.
There’s nothing you can do to me.
-Bill Callahan’s Dream River is a quiet and exceptional album. I wasn’t crazy about his last one, Apocalypse, but I’m enjoying this outing more. Callahan seems committed to stripping back his lyrics as much as possible, and he works well within that simplicity. The track “Summer Painter” is especially good, and shows off his narrative skill.
–The Voice of Trees by Lubomyr Melnyk is an odd recording. It was performed by Lubomyr and a tuba player named Melvyn Poore, and is listed as being played by 3 tubas and 2 pianos, however 2 of the tuba parts and one of the pianos are prerecorded. It was also recorded at a dance performance, so the dancers feet can occasionally be heard. Nonetheless, it’s a stunning recording of a unique piece. The tuba parts are unconventional and weave through Lubomyr’s virtuosic “continuous music” style. You can read more about the piece here, and listen to part of it here.