Month: April 2019

Subway Stories

There I was on the 3 train, minding my own business, reading I Am God, the incredibly funny and polyphonous novel by Giacomo Sartori, and a middle-aged woman sits down next to me, ready to grade papers on her way to Brooklyn.  How do I know she’s bound for Brooklyn?  Trust me.  I can’t help myself, I start reading the papers over her shoulder, or at least glancing now and then, asking what’s going on here, why are these pages so heavy with instructions?   I can’t resist myself, I lean over and say, “Fourth grade, right?”  She’s startled, she grips the essay she’s grading as if it might flee to my arms, but then she smiles and says, “No, this one is 26 years old.  It’s ESL.  I’m teaching them English, and they come from everywhere.  She’s Ukrainian.  You want to read it?”   “Hell yes,” I say.  The question at the top of the page is, Should children have to study languages that aren’t spoken at home?  The Ukrainian woman wrote four pages and never got around to the question until her last paragraph.  It was nonetheless brilliant, and moving (and her script was like they used to teach in grade school, every letter a little boat on a smooth sea).  In the penultimate paragraph, after explaining the intricacies of translation from the Russian, she says, “Parents...

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Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood — With Animals

Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood With Animals Heavenly/Ipecac This is the second collaboration between Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood.  Lanegan cut his teeth as the front man of the most under-rated of the great Seattle bands, The Screaming Trees, and since their dissolution in the late 90s, has emerged as force to be reckoned with as a solo artist, as well as collaborating with everyone from Greg Dulli (most notably with The Gutter Twins, but also with Dulli’s Twilight Singers), The Queens of the Stone Age, Tinariwen, Isobel Campbell, Soulsavers, UNKLE, Moby, Slash, and more.  Garwood, meanwhile, is not only one of Lanegan’s favourite artists, is a seasoned guitarist, based in the blues, if I had to classify him, but he kind of defies that.  He has also collaborated widely, including with The Orb, Savages, and Shezad Darwood, amongst others.  He is also a well-established solo artist, his last album, Garden of Ashes, was masterful. On many levels, their collaboration is a natural one, both men favour dark, brooding, and vaguely threatening soundscapes, and whilst Garwood’s voice is light and tremulous, Lanegan’s voice, as he gets older, is becoming even more of a growl.  In many ways, he’s becoming Leonard Cohenesque, minus the poetry, though the topics are the same: God, love, death, and sex.  Lanegan handles the vocals on these albums. The album comes out of the Mark...

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Witches Who Work: Female Patriarchal Caretakers in “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

Since its release on Netflix in October, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has frequently been discussed in terms of its politics. The series, a macabre reimagining of the saga about the chipper teenage witch (based on Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s updated comic of the same name), is an extended allegory about female power and patriarchal oppression. In its handling of these concepts, it’s about as subtle as Halloween. But while the show is preoccupied with exposing sexism in power structures, it also slowly reveals and condemns the group of women who allow, enable, and defend such institutions of tyrannical misogyny. The half-witch...

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Strand of Oaks — Eraserland

Strand of Oaks Eraserland Dead Oceans Strand of Oaks is the project of Philadelphia’s Timothy Showalter, and Eraserland is his 6th album.  Showalter makes what we in the critic business call ‘heartland rock.’  But, when I think of that term, I think of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, and it’s 1985 and it’s impossible to escape the long shadow of these giants.  I’m still running against the wind, I guess.  You could also call this ‘Americana,’ but that usually means more countrified stuff like Jason Isbell.  But, then again, a couple of weeks was on Colbert playing a track off this album, ‘Ruby,’ with Isbell and his wife and partner, Amanda Shires amongst his backing band.  Whatever, Strand of Oaks play rock’n’roll.  But there is this 70s AOR feel to some of this. Funnily enough, I hear all kinds of other things in his music, including Courtney Barnett and Sharon van Etten, especially in the way Showalter delivers his lyrics.  As for those lyrics, Eraserland is about adulting.  Adulting means insecurities and doing difficult things and not getting a fucking gold star for your efforts [Note to editor: Where’s my fucking gold star?].  But if you come for the lyrics and their delivery, stay for the music. As my wife would say, this is Matthew Music™.  It’s laid back, it feels like California. There are gentle rhythms, the bass...

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Bonnie and Clyde Redux

How do you tell the same story, over and over? How do you know you’re a human being? These are the same question. We return to what we think is the origin because we believe that what happens after the fundamental, formative “event” keeps changing, in accordance with our new understanding of human possibility and depravity. Garden of Even, infancy, yesterday?  Same result. Put it another, less pretentious way. How would you retell the story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the notorious and glamorous outlaws of the early 1930s, when, then as now, the “loss of faith” in American institutions—a contemporary expression, I admit—was so profound that tens of thousands of people attended the funerals of bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde to be sure, but “Babyface” Nelson, too? Put it another, more pretentious way. How would you step outside the shot-reverse-shot protocol of classic Hollywood cinema and remake the story told in Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” meanwhile commenting on Pauline Kael’s ecstatic review—a landmark in film criticism—of that 1967 movie? Would you have to make a whole new movie, outside the frame of the old, and in view of her plain speech about what made the original so compelling? (Footnote: roughly 1930 to 1960, the movies brought us into their imaginary world with a simple device, shot-reverse-shot, cameras over the left and right shoulders of the speakers...

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