This Ain’t No Magazoin: 5 Best Albums of 2012

So, the holidays were a little busier than I expected but here, finally and just before the New Year, are my top 5 records of the year. This Ain’t No Magazoin!!!!

#5: Grizzly Bear – Shields

Shields is Grizzly Bear’s most accessible record to date and their most sonically interesting. They’ve always had prog leanings, but on Shields those leanings are truly on display; so, this may be their most accessible from a sonic and songwriting point of view, but if you’re not into prog, this may be the dividing line. Still, Grizzy Bear always create beautiful atmospheres and Shields is their best so far.

#4: Tame Impala – Lonerism

From its opening percussive mantra, “Gotta be above it, gotta be above it, gotta be above it,” Kevin Parker knows he has something to prove after Tame Impala’s astounding debut Innerspeaker. And prove it he does, time and again, on Lonerism. It is a more ambitious and daring record than its predecessor but perhaps most pleasing of all are Parker’s weird pop sensibilities, the way melodies slide around each other. It truly is amazing that any of it works at all.

#3: Of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks

After several records as his alt ego Georgie Fruit, Kevin Barnes is back and sounds like old Of Montreal. Sort of. Skeletal Lamping and False Priest were full of the spastic and bombastic quirks Of Montreal is known for, but not like that of The Gay Parade or Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies; the later records have a less organic weirdness. Paralytic Stalks then is more a meshing of the two eras of Of Montreal, organic and robotic. It’s also Barnes’s first record with session musicians. It is a dark record: the melodies come up from the bottom of a river, the music behind the melodies contains sinister qualities. This is Barnes at his most vulnerable, perhaps even more so than on Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer.

#2: Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Service You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

The Idler Wheel… was a long time coming. It was worth the wait: Apple’s quirks have never sounded fresher. This is a sparse record, musically and lyrically; every note is perfectly clear and as perfectly important as the last or the next. It is such an astounding listening experience, I hesitate to call it the second best record of the year. Closer “Hot Knife” alone is better than most songs in the last decade: it is gospelesque, satisfying, disquieting. And so is The Idler Wheel…

#1: Beach House – Bloom

Like Woods (#9 on this list), Beach House have been making consistently good records since 2006. Sonically speaking, each Beach House record shares a similar aesthetic and ambience; yet, they have mastered the mysterious trick of sounding fresh and still somehow familiar with each release, finding other hidden paths or caves on the same mountain. Bloom then is not a new phase for the band, but the continued building-on of these wonderful moments, forming and reforming them, showing us something we haven’t seen before from the same rock we thought we knew so well.

NotReallyAReview: Why I Couldn’t Finish Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

For the past three years I’ve chosen a book to be my “holiday reading.” I choose them mostly based on their behemoth size and because they look like fun reading for cold days, and begin reading them in late November or early December and through the beginning of January. The first year I read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke, which is easily one of my favorite books. Last year, I read the Jeff and Ann Vandermeer-edited anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories (the Corvus UK edition); it may be one of the best, if not the best anthology I’ve ever read and has completely influenced my writing and the way I think about writing (in particular, the selections from Eric Basso, Michel Bernanos, Alfred Kubin, Joanna Russ, Bruno Schulz, Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link, Michael Cisco, and Angela Carter remain fresh in my mind).

So, for this year’s reading I chose Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Lin the narrator, like Roberts, was convicted to nineteen years in an Australian prison after being involved in a series of bank robberies. He escapes from the prison – of the most maximum security kind, he tells us – and finds his way to Bombay, India. (We know Bombay today as Mumbai, but for consistency’s sake and because at the time Lin/Roberts was in India Mumbai was still known as Bombay, we’ll keep with Bombay.) According to the back of the book, while hiding as a fugitive in a foreign country, Lin/Roberts “established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for a branch of the Bombay mafia.”

I made it about 300 pages in on this 900+ tome, or about as far as “free medical clinic for slum-dwellers.” Here’s why:

I found most of the prose either too reliant on comparison and analogy, or just absurd. For instance, the beginning of this paragraph: “Incensed, I shoved the men out of the way, grabbing them by shirt collars, and hurling them aside with the strength that swarms into the arms of righteous anger.” That rhyme “swarms into the arms” is vaguely annoying. But more to the point, Lin is angry because some men tried to steal a seat from his friend Prabaker on a train. “Righteous anger” seems a bit much here and actually made me laugh out loud.

Or, upon trying to describe Karla-the-sort-of-love-interest’s eyes (there is a lot about how green her eyes are in this book): “I thought of leaves and opals and the warm shallows of island seas…” Reading how someone’s eyes look like this or that, after awhile, stops being interesting, if it ever was in the first place. I still don’t know why he is so concerned about the color of people’s eyes but Shantaram is very seriously concerned about it.

The action also suffers from too much Looking Back Syndrome. Looking Back Syndrome* is when the narrator or author relates an event that has already happened and then, through the magic of years of wisdom and reflection, is able to turn that event into a metaphor about a universal life lesson. I cannot recall a single instance in this book where LBS wasn’t used, from the monsoon season floods during a visit to his friend Prabaker’s village really meaning the deluge of wrong he’d done in the past and sometimes “you had to let your soul do the crying for you” to helping Karla’s friend get out of prostitution and drugs really meaning there is hope for everyone, even yourself, and so on. I prefer a story that lets the story take center stage, and lets me figure out any moral underpinnings without being told what I’m supposed to think at chapter’s end.

Speaking of Karla and her friend the prostitute: there are two women, as far as I read, that are fleshed out enough to be considered “real” characters. One is a drug-addicted prostitute with serious mental/emotional issues; the other is Karla, whom Lin is in love with: a woman on a pedestal, untouchable, perfect, green-eyed…as green as foliage after a heavy spring rain or something. Karla is supposed to be this mysterious woman – badass with a heart of gold but also watch out because you never know! – and secretly in love with Lin (duh!), which Lin discovers after reading her journal after getting somewhat sexual with her prostitute friend (who I think was shooting heroin at the time), so… I could accept the fact that maybe Lin just didn’t know many women during his time in Bombay except that he’s a kind of a ladies’ man, always charming and witty even though he doesn’t think so (duh!), but I still think it problematic that there are only two women characters who have any real presence in 300 pages and that they are at such disparate ends of the personality spectrum. It is especially noticeable when placed next to myriad male characters of moral and ethical complexity. I suppose I could give Roberts the benefit of the doubt here, except, again, that he fleshed out his male characters so much more vigorously and left his female characters either a)pedestaled or b)drug-addicted.

As a reader, I like characters who are flawed; hell, I like reading downright unsympathetic characters; I like reading about characters who have strikingly different views than my own. For instance, in Michael Moorcock’s Pyat Quartet, the narrator is Colonel Maxim Pyatinski, and he is fiercely anti-Semitic (despite being Jewish), fascist, and when he arrives in America he even tours the lecture circuit for the Ku Klux Klan. Obviously, I find Pyat’s beliefs reprehensible; it’s also obviously clear reading the books that the author, Moorcock, does too: in fact, Moorcock is acutely aware of Pyat’s contemptible views and is able to utilize and subvert the narrative in interesting if troubling ways because of it.

Pyat, of course, is an extreme example of an unsympathetic character. An example – or rather, examples of another are brothers Hegel and Manfried in Jesse Bullington’s The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Hegel and Manfried, cursed by a witch, are grave robbers in medieval Europe. Some of their tale is hilarious, much of it is vile and horrific. Although you never empathize with them during the strange, dark turns their journey takes, you will find yourself continuing to turn page after page.

I don’t think Roberts wanted his narrator to be unsympathetic; indeed, Shantaram has a New Age-iness about souls and figuring ourselves out and whatnot that is very hit-you-over-the-head-ish that this book only works if your narrator is sympathetic. Unfortunately, Lin isn’t. But he isn’t unsympathetic – at least, not in the way Pyat or the brothers Grossbart are unsympathetic. Instead, Lin is a perfect specimen. Although there are several references to the narrator learning to be the good person we all strive to be, he is always in the right place at the right moment, saying or doing the right thing, and everybody noticing just how awesome he is for doing it. Which, for me, as a reader, means he is incredibly boring. (Don’t get me wrong: a sympathetic character, when done right [see: Mor, the narrator from Jo Walton’s exquisite Among Others or Saleem from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or Gogol from Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake] is a thing to behold.) So, after 300 pages of Dude Always Being Right And Awesome But Also Learning About Foreign Culture But Also Managing To Be Awesome And Never Do Anything Wrong, well, I got bored.

Yes, he does get himself involved in some morally ambiguous business: gunrunning, counterfeiting, etc. However, his constant Looking Back Syndrome makes everything totally uninteresting and dissolves any forward movement the book sometimes begins to have. I really don’t like giving up on books, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time to get through ones that are so damn boring. Instead, I’ve switched to Robert Bolano’s 2666, of which I already have some issues with, but am still enjoying it much more than I did Shantaram.

What book(s) are you reading for the holidays?

 

*I made the phrase Looking Back Syndrome up. There may be an actual term or phrase used to describe that particular thing, and if there is, please let me know. Thanks.

In Response to Pierce Codina’s FB Post: Top 10 Albums of the Year (#6: This Ain’t No Magazoin)

On December 17th, Pierce Codina – drummer for Tin Tin Can (full disclosure: I play bass and sing in the same band) – posted this statement on Facebook:

Anyway, in my continuing goal of appeasing/annoying him, I have compiled a list of the 10 Best Albums of 2012, and every day for the next ten days I’ll be counting down to the best record of the year.
This ain’t no magazoin.
https://i2.wp.com/www.inflexwetrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/IFWT_Kendrick_Lamar_Track_List.pngNUMBER 6
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
This record is pretty epic and near-perfect. It uses a magnifying glass on themes of violence, power, and money and, instead of glorifying them, lets the listener know how terrible they can be. Perhapse Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City‘s strongest theme is family: the need for it, and the emptiness one can feel without out. As his father says, in the song “Real”, “Any nigga can kill a man. That don’t make you real. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.”

In Response to Pierce Codina’s FB Post: Top 10 Albums of the Year (#7: This Ain’t No Magazoin)

On December 17th, Pierce Codina – drummer for Tin Tin Can (full disclosure: I play bass and sing in the same band) – posted this statement on Facebook:

Anyway, in my continuing goal of appeasing/annoying him, I have compiled a list of the 10 Best Albums of 2012, and every day for the next ten days I’ll be counting down to the best record of the year.
This ain’t no magazoin.
Nhttps://i1.wp.com/c400862.r62.cf1.rackcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/leonard-cohen-old-ideas-300x300.jpgUMBER 7
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
You have to grow into this record. Cohen, who is 77 year old, is at the top of his game here, and seemingly in the middle of a late career comeback. Old Ideas, however, is the best of his latest albums, ruminating cleverly on love and lust, and the sorrowful experiences life brings. His voice is ragged, which fits these themes and the music nicely. Truly, these are songs for dark nights, some introspection, and a glass of good scotch.

In Response to Pierce Codina’s FB Post: Top 10 Albums of the Year (#8: This Ain’t No Magazoin)

On December 17th, Pierce Codina – drummer for Tin Tin Can (full disclosure: I play bass and sing in the same band) – posted this statement on Facebook:

Pierce Codina
‘Good sense, innocence, cripplin’ and kind. Dead kings, many things I can’t define.’ – Strawberry Alarm Clock “Incense and Peppermints”
 
I can only assume he thought he was being festive.
 
Anyway, in my continuing goal of appeasing/annoying him, I have compiled a list of the 10 Best Albums of 2012, and every day for the next ten days I’ll be counting down to the best record of the year.
This ain’t no magazoin.
 

NUMBER 8
My Best Fiend – In Ghostlike Fading
Pink Floyd is alive and well and living in singer/songwriter Fred Coldwell’s bones. (Sidenote: what a damn fine last name: Coldwell. Awesome.) This record, despite being a total throwback record, replete with doomifying organs and swaths of guitar racket, has managed to stand the test: it still sounds fresh and dark. Listening to the record in its entirety is the surest way to enjoy these songs – each builds on the last, putting the pieces of some mysterious and gruesome puzzle together. What it all means is anybody’s guess – Coldwell’s cryptic lyrics shed no light – but it’s never not engaging.

In Response to Pierce Codina’s FB Post: Top 10 Albums of the Year (#9: This Ain’t No Magazoin)

On December 17th, Pierce Codina – drummer for Tin Tin Can (full disclosure: I play bass and sing in the same band) – posted this statement on Facebook:

Hey every music blog and website out there: Please stop dividing your top 1 million albums of the year but 10 album increments and posting them every day for two months until the new year. Quite frankly, all your website’s top albums are every other music website’s top albums and no one is holding their breath for your big “best album of 2012” announcement, we know, it’s probably Frank Ocean.Sincerely,- Pierce Ebenezer Scrooge
 
To appease/annoy him, I have compiled a list of the 10 Best Albums of 2012, and every day for the next ten days I’ll be counting down to the best record of the year.
This ain’t no magazoin.
 
NUMBER 9
Woods – Bend Beyond
Like all Woods records, Bend Beyond is another collection of tight pop songs; unlike most Woods records, Bend Beyond is short on the loose jams, which works to their advantage here. The production, which is a littler shinier, a little higher-fied, also gives the listener a new angle on a band that consistently makes solid records.

Mumblemumble Best Books Year End List Mumblemumble

I don’t like making “Best Of” lists. Ask my friends. What’s my top 5 favorite movies of all time? I don’t know. They shift, they change. So this isn’t really a “Year End Best Of” list for books. Especially since most “Best Of” lists consist of at least ten something or others, but these five books (and a promising latecomer I’m in the middle of, but it just so cool you have to know about it) are all fantastic reads.

In no particular order:

Things That Are by Amy Leach is a wonderful and wonderfully odd collection of essays on sea cucumbers, honeybees, Trappists, and peas, among other things. Leach’s prose is clever and bright; she’s able to take almost any phrase and turn it on its head and show something completely new, something confounding. (Milkweed Editions: publisher)

Jagganath by Karin Tidbeck. I knew Karin was a good writer – I’d been privy to at Clarion Writers’ Workshop when we attended together, along with 16 other writers, in 2010. My classmates and I read and critiqued a few of the stories in this collection. And despite my familiarity with some of the work, I was completely bowled-over by this collection. It is by turns weird and dark and luminous and harrowing…but above all, these stories – some of the finest short stories I’ve read in a long time – are human. (Cheeky Frawg: publisher)

How to Traverse Terra Incognito by Dean Francis Alfar, for me, took a little getting used to, which is a strange thing to say for a short story collection. I fell in love with the first story, “Simon’s Replica,” about a queen in her final years who orders a precise replica of her kingdom made. The next two stories, however, left me a little cold. I’m glad I pushed through, though, because the rest of the collection, like the first story is outstanding (and to be fair, I read this in the gym so maybe I was just angry at the elliptical). (Flipside Publishing: publisher)

Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders by Samuel R. Delany. Delany’s masterpiece. It is better than Dahlgren. It is better than the Nevèrÿon series. Like all great Delany it is pornographic and philosophical, deeply moving and thought-provoking. It is a behemoth, a novel pushing the boundaries of what novels do, not unlike 2666 or Gravity’s Rainbow or Ulysses. (Magnus Books: publisher)

Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem is reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining only so far as that it takes place in a rustic hotel; if it resembles anything, Poe or maybe even Kafka come to mind. After the death of his wife, Richard Carter takes his daughter to a hotel where he has found work as manager. Under the tutelage of the groundskeeper, Carter learns the strangeness and darkly alluring qualities of the hotel. The book is so good, you guys. I don’t want to tell you anymore except to read it (and maybe this: the part with the cat? Yeah. Read it.). (Solaris: publisher)

A PROMISING LATECOMER

Tainaron: Mail from Another City by Leena Krohn. I just started reading this on my kindle and have been transported. A woman writing letters to someone (lover? friend? sister? brother? I don’t know yet, or that I will know) from a city of glorious and monstrous flowers and insectlike people with a “volcanic core.” I don’t know that you could ask for anything more. (Apologies on the rhyming, there.) The letters are sort-of-meditations on love, gods, mortality, etc. The standout right now, for me, is the letter “Fire on the Mountain.” (Cheeky Frawg: publisher)