There are a lot of magnificent worlds in Margo Lanagan’s head. With her latest collection of short stories, Yellowcake, she once again drops the reader in the middle of these lands and into the lives of the characters that attempt to navigate, make sense of, and survive the remarkable events these locations suffer. What always impresses me about Lanagan’s short story collections is not the remarkable settings she establishes, but how she will dump me in the middle of these places without apology for the lack of explanation. Instead, she teams the reader up with a rapidly developed character and a compelling human conflict, allowing this person to walk us down distorted corridors as we all grow together.
The ten tales from Yellowcake, collected from numerous short story collections over the past few years, offer no exception from this remarkable formula. Each of her past three collections has provided me a story that seems forever ingrained in my head (for the record, “Singing My Sister Down,” “White Time,” and “A Feather in the Breast of God,” from Black Juice, White Time, and Red Spikes respectively). I’m not entirely sure which story will hold the same distinction from this new collection, but if I had to wager a guess, I’d promote “An Honest Day’s Work,” for its incredible transition from the ecstasy of a windfall for an impoverished people to mortification at the realization of the humanity of their pending fortune. It is a great example of the emotional wringer Lanagan’s stories can put a reader through, yet somehow done with a compelling wonder.
Eluvium’s latest double-CD release, Nightmare Ending, is my first real exposure to the artist. For its rich composition of instrumental genius, the fact that I found it a bit…happier…than music I generally listen to in no way served to reduce its stunning musical impact (I don’t mind being happy, but I guess I tend to gravitate towards more minor chords in songs). To my predictable liking, there is a fine mix of atypical musical sounds and samples that provide a wonderful accompaniment to the piano, percussion, and emotional guitars and slowly rise and fall with distorted, but far from harsh, tones. Still, this is a hard mixture to pull off in creating a full album of unique music (let alone a double album), but Nightmare Ending does it incredibly well…an opinion I had even before I was pleasantly surprised to hear Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan as a guest vocalist on the final track.
And, in a very “chocolate meet peanut butter” way, Nightmare Ending served as a wonderful soundtrack to my reading of Yellowcake, greatly highlighting Lanagan’s stunning worlds with its compositions.
The above is our sweet Sasha Cat resting among a collection of stuff toys. We call her “Sash-ET,” as sometimes we wander right by her and don’t even notice she has buried herself by the animals.
This is our new neighbor cat. When Neighbor Kitty comes by, sweet Sasha turns into a howling beast, emitting a noise so chilling that it brings Ozzy Cat running to see what is wrong with his sister. In fact, the noise has the same effect on us.
So angered by the visitor, Sasha patrols the window to ensure she doesn’t return. The above picture was taken two hours after the visit; it took another 30 minute or so before Sasha gave up the vigil.
The first shot captured after the initial collection posted here. Perhaps its former owner read the book and realized Tinker Bell was really a nasty character.
I sat for a short break and saw this little guy staring up at me.
To put it in perspective, here it is cowering by a golf ball I found on the trail.
I’ve seen a few neat events lately.
A few months ago, I had an impulsive response when seeing the NYC Ballet were to be performing at The Kennedy Center. Without much thought, I bought tickets and by pure chance ended up at the event on a night they would be performing to a series of Philip Glass songs in one of their acts.
I’ve always suspected that everybody remembers the first time they heard Glass’ compositions. For me, it was sitting in the basement of a friend’s house mindlessly chuckling to the viewing of Koyaanisqatsi. But jokes aside at the film that I would eventually come to appreciate, the repetitive music that made up Glass’ soundtrack to the film dug deeply into my head and created a long term interest.
After the premiere of Monsters of Grace at Wolf Trap years ago, this was only the second time I had witness any type of performance to Glass’ music. The ballet was remarkable, providing an interpretive dance that somehow managed to capture the peculiar, compelling weirdness that draws me to the music. From a manic performance of “Rubric” to a noble presentation of the Akhnaten opera, the choreography was just as exciting as the live performance of the music.
Had it not been for the fantastic performance by Thurston Moore in support of his mostly acoustic Demolished Thoughts at the Black Cat last year, I’m not sure I would have given his recent return to the club in support of his new band, Chelsea Light Moving, much of a thought. But the happy memory was still strong, and while the band’s first album struck me as being decent, but not necessarily to head to a show on a school night, I thought I would give it a whirl. The club was remarkably empty upon my arrival and I would estimate that the final crowd barely topped 200 people. Still, Moore showed up in happy spirits (humorously looking for his second guitarist who thought the start time was fifteen minutes later than the rest of the band) and ripped through a fun set after a somewhat defensive statement that “we aren’t just some shoegazing band” early in the evening.
It is, for many reasons, an interesting time to be a longtime fan of Sonic Youth and the separate creative outlets of its members. Moore’s on stage act seems to have reverted back to the days of a start-up band with random monologues and awkward pauses between tunes, but the energy and creativity that he has brought for decades is still obviously present. Yet, while I really liked the entire Chelsea Light Moving band (including those who played with him on the previously-mentioned solo tour), I felt bad for watching them with a certain longing for the other Sonic Youth members to be in their place. I suppose it is bad to be stuck on such attachments, but I think CLM needs a few more years of releases and experience to draw the same level of interest that history demanded.
Years ago, I vowed to never attend another “arena concert.” Then I went to see Tool in an arena and, as a result of that unpleasant experience, really, really vowed to never see another arena show. However, for years Nicole had expressed the desire to see Rush in concert, and when a show in Baltimore’s relatively small arena appeared on the schedule, I again broke my vow and headed to the friendly city to give my gray hairs a workout.
I saw Rush once as a kid during the Presto tour and, for the best of my memory, spent the early part of Tuesday evening’s event making comparisons and contrasts to that show from long ago. “Old people” would be a good first contrast; while my first experience had a health mix of middle-aged stoners and young heads, this show was almost exclusively folks our age and older with the exception of those who dragged their children to see the holy trinity they obviously worshiped for years. Taking advantage of the aged crowd’s disposal income would be another contrast; while I recall spending $30 for two spiffy shirts back in the day, that amount wouldn’t have come close to completing a transaction for one flimsy jersey this time around.
It was also fun to note that, at any point in time, there were probably more people in the men’s room that there were at the entire Chelsea Light Moving show I saw not even a month earlier.
The similarities, however, were probably the reason so many people still filled the arena this past Tuesday night. With Geddy on the left of the stage, Alex on the right, and Neil centered and surrounded by a giant drum kit, the band ripped through a series of old songs (although, it was hard for me to come to terms with the songs being considered “old” since they were new when I was a kid) and the remarkably fun new tracks from the recent Clockwork Angels album. The band, as fans have come to love, were just goofy as anything, playing before silly videos in the background and smiling at roadies who occasionally roamed the stage dressed as monkeys and gnomes. Not unlike the Yo La Tengo show we saw in February, Rush played the entire even alone, using two sets to perform for nearly three hours, never seeming to fade after what must have been an exhausting exhibition.
And, without question, the three long-lived fantastic musicians were having as much fun as the thousands of fans around them. In fact judging by their everlasting grins, they perhaps had even more fun (although I do wonder if, had they known both the Habs and Leafs were to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, they would have scheduled the tour to start a few months in the future).
The set list was interesting; while “old” defined a lot of the songs, they weren’t the “old, old” songs I had come to distinguish as aged. In fact, most of the set consisted of songs that were released in my high school and college years instead of moldy tracks like “Xanadu,” “The Trees,” and “Freewill” that dated more towards my intermediate and elementary education days. Four songs performed from Power Windows, an album I seem to recall being fairly unpopular when I was excited to buy it new on cassette at the time, shot out Neil Peart’s political lyrics that, interestingly, seemed more apropos today than they perhaps did 30 years ago. The second act started with a long selection from Clockwork Angels which carried the crowd very well.
Still, it was the closing selection of tracks, “YYZ,” “Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and selections from “2112″ that got the granddads off their behinds and screaming horridly out-of-tune lyrics…and, in the case of the guy seated behind us, vocal twanging of each instrument from “YYZ.” Each air-drummer, guitarist, and bassist pounded away at their imaginary instruments, all ready to jump on stage if any member of the aged band were to finally keel over. It was hard to not appreciate the excitement of the event both from appreciation of the music we have all heard for nearly four decades as well as the realization that the days of seeing the band are very likely numbered now.
In the end, my phobia (or annoyance, take your pick) of arena shows was happily quelled. These days, I’m still not as much a fan of reliving music from my youth or the spectacle of an over-produced rock show that I saw in Baltimore. But I can’t deny having fun, and I suspect the next time I see a band of youngins’ play a sloppy set, I’ll probably wonder if they will have anywhere near the energy to play for another 40 years in such style and enjoyment.
Images stolen from the NYC Ballet website, Brightest Young Things, and Soundspike.
…that will form into an alien and eat your brain…
The last set, unclassified, sometimes unrecognizable, and yet equally strange to find in the otherwise sedate woods.
We took a trip downtown today to do a little museum hopping. Although we don’t have a set pattern for the buildings we visit on the Mall, we almost always end up at the Sackler Gallery which, more often than not, presents an exhibit or two that serves pleasant surprise to our journey.
Today was no exception. Nestled in the rear corner of the main exhibit floor was complementary exhibition to Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). The project consists of two giant Phoenix sculptures constructed from the remains and scrap from a large business complex built by migrant workers. When asked to commission the project, Bing was moved by the hard labor suffered by the migrant workers and chose a symbol of pride and power built from materials that were, in total, touched by the hands of these people. However, funding evaporated and the project was left incomplete and ultimately not to be displayed in the new commercial complex. A private investor came through and the stunning sculptures were displayed in China’s Today Art Museum before making their way across the oceans to appear in MASS MoCA.
The exhibit at the Sackler is minute in comparison to the gigantic sculptures. Two small scale models are surrounded by numerous drafts and sketches of the Phoenixes; but perhaps most interesting to the display is a seventeen minute film documenting the creation and plight of the sculptures. This film is also hosted at Vimeo and linked below; additionally, background of the project is available at the MASS MoCA website. I found it easy to be awed by the story and I’m already contemplating a road trip to Massachusetts to see the works in person.
Finally, the interesting film uses the beautiful music of Hildur Gudnadottir as a wonderful compliment.
Images stolen from the Sackler and MASS MoCA websites.
Very far from any homes, somebody broke their shovel…
Every year, for as excited as I am to see the Bluebells bloom, I’m reasonably disappointed to see them disappear.
Although there are still some patches of the flowers across the Cub Run trails, mostly the flowers have fallen into decay. Soon, there won’t be any evidence that they even existed beyond the pictures that captured them in time.
But now, the land turns green, the insects will arise, and a wealth of photo subjects will appear. Here are a few.
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
The Older Blog
Something OffSomething Off
There is no hole deep enough to stifle the sound of protest
There is no man ridiculous enough to quiet the world
Maria Alyokhina must be freed
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova must be freed
Viet Khang must be freed
Tran Vu Anh Binh must be freed
Vladimir Putin there is something off in your world
Truong Tan Sang there is something off in your world
I hope so
Contemplating Silent Wishes
Contemplating Silent Wishes, the second release from Fertanish, presents minimalist, experimental rhythms and sounds that patiently travel through a complicated and mesmerizing composition.
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