Sunday, August 7, 2022

Consumption Diary: May, June and July 2022

MUSIC: MAY

CAPTAIN'S LOG

So last time I was not-so-quietly pleased with myself for having knocked out a first draft of a short novel. I haven't done much with it since then, because life. As in:

  • post-COVID frailty and winter cold and flu season meant my kids missed 3 weeks of school each last term
  • I started my doctorate (DBA), which involves 6 papers in the first 12 months and then 2 years full-time on the thesis after that, which means lectures and assignments for the first time in *checks notes* 18 years!?
  • I needed to let the novel sit anyway. I still haven't quite figured out how to re-up the ending to make the payoff match the set-up AND the twist. 
  • While letting it sit/stew, I did some research for some of the characters, like reading Jordan B Peterson and watching all of Lost.
Some of the above reasons/excuses/humblebrags (Lost is loooong, dude) help explain why I haven't done one of these consumption diaries for 3+ months, too. So I haven't gone to any lengths to write about the books individually. And the film & TV list is incomplete as I don't take notes as I watch things and, unlike Libby, Audible or physical book shelves, streaming apps such at helping you remember what you watched and when... by design?

Anyway, now that I'm studying again, I'm reading a lot of journal articles and using Endnote...  but don't expect any of that consumption to make it into these entries, though some of my fave books from last year (Braiding Sweetgrass and Sand Talk) are definitely part of my research area.

BOOKS

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere (non-fiction, audiobook)

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (novel, audiobook)

Vladmir by Julia May Jonas (novel, audiobook)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (novella, audiobook)

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (novel, audiobook)

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (novel, audiobook)

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (novel, audiobook)

The Snow Leopard Project and other adventures in warzone conservation by Alex Dehgan (non-fiction, audiobook)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (novel, audiobook)

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun (novel, audiobook)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman (novel, audiobook)

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (novel, audiobook)

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor (novel, audiobook)

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (non-fiction, audiobook)... research for a teenage character, I swear!

Rat King Landlord by Murdoch Stephens (novel, physical book, NZ)

Down from Upland by Murdoch Stephens (novel, physical book, NZ)


MUSIC: JUNE


FILM & TV

Lost, Seasons 1-6

Parks & Rec - Seasons 3-7*

Hacks, Season 1

Better Call Saul, Season 6

Barry, Season 3

The Pentaverate, Season 1

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Midsommar

Hustle

The Reader

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Spiderhead

Space Jam: A New Legacy

Zombieland: Double Tap

Old

The Gray Man


MUSIC: JULY

Saturday, April 30, 2022

March & April Consumption Diary (with writing update)

MUSIC - MARCH


WRITING

On the 4th of March I started work to expand my short story, 'Ambient Ecstasy', which I wrote late last year and was published in The Listener as part of their summer reading series, into a short novel. By short, I was picturing 40,000 words. The short story was about 1,200 words.

On 25 April, I finished the first draft, which clocked in at 32,180 words.

Disclaimer 1: I was on day three of testing positive for COVID, so the final days of drafting were a little cloudy.

Disclaimer 2: I knew at the time that there were some additional scenes/chapters I'd need to write as part of the 2nd draft, but I'd made it to the end and would need to go back to the start to figure out where these additional bits went. The second half has a different narrative form to the first, with multiple narrators, so there'll be quite a bit of moving chunks around between now and settling on the final form.

Right now, I'm mid-way through a full read-through. This involves noting down things to add in, or sections that need to be sped up, or spruced up, or made consistent with later chapters, and also making some quick tweaks as I go.

The aim is to be done with the 2nd draft by mid-May... and we'll see what's left to do when I get to that point.

16 days into the first draft I released what needed to happen in the second half, and stopped to write a short essay about the realisation and how I'd reconceptualised the book. I'll have to return to that, too, when the book is a little closer to its final form.

It feels good to be writing again, even if it is in 500-700 word chunks every morning before the kids wake up and my days get hectic. And writing through COVID (my daughter caught it first, then my wife, then my son, and I was almost done with my 7 day isolation as a household contact before I tested positive). Day two was the worst: body aches and it felt like I was going to run a big fever, but then day three I felt almost normal, only to get a massive head cold that lasted the next three days. I just have a dry cough now. My brain is slightly muddled, but I figure that's 2 weeks of house arrest with other sickies, while working in between the stat days.


BOOKS


Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Classic Stephenson.

A big, glorious, only-slightly-ludicrous (giant hogs vs meth gators!) examination of what might happen when certain low-lying territories take climate action into their own hands. Goes deep into the science and doesn't do the same for the morality, though this isn't completely shirked. 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Another long, hard-leaning sci-fi that I just lapped up. Similar to The Martian, but also different enough. Which do I prefer? Maybe this one?

Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (novel, phys/audiobook, 2021)

I started reading this as a physical book but anyone whose read one of these consumption diaries knows I struggle with physical books these days. The act of reading sends me to sleep, regardless of the content.

So I restarted this as an audiobook when it appeared on Audible and man, it was so great. 

Lot's of the coverage focussed on the early section of the novel when abortions were illegal in NZ but not Australia, but the later sections, set amid the first nationwide COVID lockdown in 2020, were a triumph in their own right. I think in twenty years, it'll be interesting to see which parts people focus on.

As an aside, man I wish more NZ books were available as audiobooks!

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (novel, audiobook, 2017)

Oh, what's this? Another NZ book? Well, it qualified for the Ockhams in 2020 and made the fiction short-list, by virtue of a) Vann being an NZ resident and b) the book being crazy good. It didn't win (Aue by Becky Manawatu did), and probably wasn't a great look for our biggest book prize to go to something set in the US by a US national... But as I say, it's very, very good.

David Vann has written this book a few times. From the amazing story collection Legend of a Suicide to Caribou Island and I think a few others (honestly, I got a bit tired of it all for a while there)... but Halibut manages to traverse the same ground (retelling the author's father's suicide, this time sticking only to the father's perspective) in such a sharp, manic way. He feels like Thomas McGuane or Barry Hannah protagonist. And knowing how this story has ended before, and the rug that was pulled in Legend, there's an incredible extra-textual tension.

I still probably rate Legend higher, for the way it plays with the story collection form, but if you prefer novels, you might want to start here.

Clothes clothes clothes music music music boys boys boys by Viv Albertine (memoir, audiobook, 2014)

Really enjoyed this. I remembered The Slits cover of 'Heard it Through the Grapevine' but that's about all I knew of Albertine's career in punk. It was facinating how connected she was with acts like The Clash and the Sex Pistols, and what happened after the Slits broke up, and her return to music after the housewife interregnum.

Great stuff.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (novel, audiobook, 2015)

I wanted to like this more than I did. Maybe I just don't have much love left for the kind of epic, smartypants American novels (think Donna Tartt and Jonathan Franzen)? So much of it just felt false. Sometimes I like false. Even inside the book, the falsest part (Lancelot becoming a famous playwright) was the most interesting. But as a whole... 

Your Ad Could Go Here by Oksana Zabuzhko (short stories, audiobook, translated, 2018)

Yes, I thought I should read a Ukrainian book and landed on this after some research. And maybe it's impossible to be that book people go to for the wrong reasons. Like, say NZ was invaded by Chile (sorry, Chilenos, just an example!), which book should people read? That's the kind of question that can power a decent podcast, but it's not something that actually has an answer. The answer to which book is always the next and then another and then another.

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen (short stories, audiobook, 2021)

Didn't pick this to read a Chinese novel (someone recommended it to me), and I kind of forgot it was short stories at first. The first story feels like the start of a novel, but not a particularly good one. And then it ends in a non-good way. The next couple of stories are much stronger, but whenever the stories get too journalistic, I lost interest.

The Fell by Sarah Moss (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Really interesting to compare this lockdown-UK-style novel to Loop Tracks. This is the third of Moss's novels I've read after Ghost Wall (2018) and Summerwater (2020), in part because they are short and audiobooks are readily available. I'm in love with the idea of short novels (see "Writing" above) but none of these quite hit the mark for me. The further removed from Ghost Wall, the more I think it'll end up being my favourite of hers.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Meandering and dull. Felt like the first draft. The get it all out, all the stuff that actually happened and the big thing I invented to make it fiction, so I can then unearth what the true point of it is.  

How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Really disliked this book. And it's not the sort of thing you want to Google. Just keep moving.


MOVIES & TV

Our Flag Means Death - Season 1

Biography: WWE Legends - Season 1

Winning Time - Season 1 (ongoing)

Abbott Elementary - Season 1

Moon Knight - first 3 eps of Season 1 before abandoning

The Bubble

Nightmare Alley

Heat

Motherless Brooklyn

Soylent Green

Parks & Rec - started re-watching from Season 2 (ongoing)

Lost - first 2 eps of Season 1 (thinking of rewatching - never watched all the eps first time around...losts of hints of Damon Lindelof's later shows, but also lots of network elements... and 25 eps a season... Season 1 is almost as long as the full run of The Leftovers!)


MUSIC - APRIL

Sunday, February 27, 2022

January & February 2022 Consumption Diary

MUSIC - JAN


BOOKS

14 books in 9 weeks. Not on pace for 100. Cae Sera.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (novel, US, audiobook, 2021)

Absolutely hooked by the first half (struggling mid-list author and creative writing teacher takes plot from deceased student, becomes best-seller, receives anonymous messages threatening to out him). Let down by the second (obvious twist thanks to there being no other candidates).

The Proof is in the Plants by Simon Hill (non-fiction, Australia, audiobook, 2021)

This was the book that helped rationalise what I wanted to do with my diet anyway. We've been getting Green Diner Table (vegan food boxes) for the last month, and at least one of the kids is up for it. Still very much in the flexitarian category: if it has been cooked and would go to waste, the sins of refusal outweigh the sins of moderate consumption... for now.

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 2021)

Good, if uneven, essay collection on black creativity which is perhaps better remembered as a topic-driven memoir.

When I was a Child I Read Books (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 2012)

A topic-driven memoir that just never grabbed me. Perhaps its the Christian underpinning? I kinda let it gloss over me, TBH.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 2021)

I didn't have high hopes from this survey of recent human endeavour from the author of popular YA novels that spawn somewhat popular movies... But I really enjoyed it. There's something stupidly delicious about giving things like plagues (book was written amidst the first wave of COVID) and the QWERTY keyboard a score out of five like a YELP review. Despite the title, it doesn't set out to do more than it actually achieve. Two ticks.

Lifespan: The Revolutionary Science of Why We Age - and Why We Don't Have To by David A. Sinclair (non-fiction, Australia, audiobook, 2019)

I'm still not sure I will, or want to, live to 120, but I'm a little more optimistic for my kids. Published before COVID swept the globe, it's got some portentious comments on the risk of viruses undoing much of the gains in human lifespan discussed in the book.

The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 2022)

Unlike Green's book, Klosterman's is supposed to be more timebound, but it feels rougher and more superficial. The bad kind of book-written-in-lockdown. Lots on presidential elections. Very little personality, which is weird for Klosterman. Disappointing.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (novel, Australia, audiobook, 2015)

It was odd reading this after Wood's book on craft (The Luminous Solution). It destablised my foundations. But will I think much about this book (plot or craft) much in 12 months?

The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World by Lewis Hyde (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 1983)

A long, fulsome examination of gift economies and how this might apply to the act of writing (particularly poetry), with two extensive case studies/counter examples of Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound.

The last chapter left me dumbfounded. The way it summarised my nascent feelings about writing, particuarly the question "Why write (with no guarantee of readership or financial reward)?" I suspect I will return to that chapter multiple times over the coming years.

Binge by Douglas Coupland (short stories, Canada, audiobook, 2021)

60 very short stories, read by a range of narrators in the audiobook version, from the aging don of finger-on-the-pulse-itude. Coupland still has no qualms about hopping into different identities (though he is perhaps more constrained when it comes to race), and a less generous reader could probably find fault in most of these tableau, but it's Coupland. There's enough connection between the stories that it could have been sold as a novel-in-stories (heaven forbid), but it's just a rollicking good time amid the opioid crisis, a global pandemic and the kind of information overload he's been preaching since I was in primary school but finally WE ALL GET IT.

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox (novel, UK, audiobook, 2021)

Risked being too fancy by half. But succeeded with this reader. Looking at some of the reviews and engagement with Knox on social media, not everyone got it (it's a novel presented as non-fiction, based mostly on the work of Knox's female writer friend with some of his own additions after her death).

The Writer's Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse Five by Tom Roston (non-fiction, US, audiobook, 2021)

Opens with the claim that Vonnegut and a fellow POW may have hunted down and killed one of their guards from the camp in Dresden. Even as Roston relays this theory, he distances himself from it, saying ultimately he doesn't believe it happened. But without it, the book is a little flat. And with it, the book is lacking integrity.

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner (novella, UK, audiobook, 2021)

So this is who Max Porter's ripping off :) 

The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (novel, US, audiobook, 2021) 

Loved the first few chapters. It felt like the very close third person of a George Saunders short story. But that self-correcting, multi-clausal, sweary mode can really start to drag after a while. And the back and forth structure (and yes, the more fantastical elements, which are never really my bag) didn't help keep me hooked.



FILM & TV

Station Eleven: Season 1 - Makes me wanna re-watch The Leftovers.

Yellowjackets: Season 1 - yessir, we 90's kids are officially the target market for nostalgia

Starstruck: Season 2

After Life: Season 3

Boyhood

Motherless Brooklyn

Home Team

The French Dispatch

Chaos Walking

Heathers

The Masked Singer (US): Season 5  + I Can See Your Voice: Season 1 - the kids enjoy these...


MUSIC - FEB

Monday, January 31, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Awards: Best Books I read in 2021

Not the best books that came out in 2021, just the best books I read in that calendar year. Same story as for 20202019, 2018, 2017, (...), 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, & 2010.

I first tweeted out my 2021 top 10 (with GIFs!) in December, which kinda took the heat out of me actually doing this post. But when I finally got around to it, I realised my list of  89 books read was missing one. 

And that book should have been in my top 10. 

Shit. I mean, THIS BOOK WAS MY NUMBER ONE.

How did this happen? I must've read this book over the crest of two months, thereby leaving it out of my monthly/bi-monthly consumption diary, which I used to create my Excel list of titles for ranking and statistical dissection.

So let's start with #1 and taiho on the pie charts for a tick.

1. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (novel, audiobook, NZ, 2020)

This novel is funny. This novel is dark. It's like a perfectly weighted handgun. Like someone you hate saying the quiet part loud. Like the thrill of having your stitches pulled and the anticipation of whether your flesh will hold.  

There's a caesura at the centre. An illness afflicts the narrator, Martha. It's mental, it's genetic, it explains a lot... only it's referred to as "--"in the physical book and "x" in the audiobook. It's not meant to stand in for any one particular real-life illness. In the wrong hands, this vagueness, this game-playing, would cheapen everything. But Martha is so completely rendered, so real, such good company on the page, that we feel this diagnostic void as she must have in all those years before its absence, and even since. What power does naming have over chemistry? Over years of interpersonal muscle memory?

I wanted to read it again immediately after finishing it. This is a thing people say, but I rarely ever feel.

I want to read it again now. For a raft of reasons, both to do with the book and events in the lives of friends and family.

None of this has anything to do with the fact Meg Mason was born in Foxton, but that, too, is awesome.


2. Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan (novel, audiobook, UK, 2020)

What I said about it in October:

So good. A top ten book of my reading year for sure. Friendship, youth, music and loss all intertwine. 1980's Glasgow and Edinburgh shine through, as does this novel's winning heart.

The best book about mates, mortality and music I have read.


3. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2021)

What I said about in in August:

SOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOOD.

Maybe I'm starved of down-to-earth literary criticism, but this book was probably the biggest encouragement to start writing again of anything I've read, done, seen or heard this year


A degustation menu with an avuncular, expert guide. The slow food revolution for the short story. Read me more, Daddy!


4. Earthlings by Sakata Murata
(novel, audiobook, Japan, 2020)

What I said about in January:

A gem. I loved it from the first sentence. I worried for a bit that it was going to swerve too much into the territory of Convenience Store Woman, but it remained enough of it’s own thing to be a triumph!

Go weird into that good night! 


5. No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (novel, audiobook, US, 2021)

What I said about it in June:

Gonna call it now: this is the funniest book I will read all year.

Is it a novel? Is it another autobiography, veiled this time by the third person pronouns? Is it longform poetry?

Answer: it is the natural end result when language and attention and logic come out the other side of being "extremely online".

Buy a ticket, buckle up and enjoy the ride.



6. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2013)

What I said about it in June:

Right book, right time. One test of a book is how often you bring it up in conversation and I've been able to refer to, and evangelise about, Braiding Sweetgrass often in the weeks since reading it.

It ranges widely - and does drift in parts, being rather long - but the topic is so broad (see that subtitle) and the process of decolonising the thinking of a reader such as me when it comes to plants takes time.


7. Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta (non-fiction, audiobook, Australia, 2019)

What I said about it in December:

Wow. Read this immediately after reading this piece by Angela Meyer. Thank you Angela and thank you Tyson (and thank you Audible and I guess, grudgingly, Amazon, for making this book free to all members so hopefully many more will read/listen to this and extend the yarning).

Books like this raise interesting questions about form. As an audiobook narrated by the author it more closely resembles the kind of yarning and sand talk at the heart of the culture Yunkaporta shares, but the listener misses out on the sand talk symbols as visual things (my brain, at least, cannot follow extended descriptions of unique symbols). In the end, all books are imperfect and incomplete in whatever form they take, and it's the work of the reader to complete the circle.



8. Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (short stories, audiobook, Canada, 2013)

What I said about it in May:

Wow. This book is exciting. It starts out with short stories in a recognisable, North American mold. It felt a little like a first nation's Jesus' Son - and then the stories lean more into Nishnaabeg modes and language. Another bad comparison: it felt like the bait and switch in David Vann's Legend of a Suicide where the death (the dyer?) in the second half is unexpected and makes you re-evaluate everything. This time, it's like: where those first stories good on their own terms or were they bait to lure me in.


9. The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary (novel, audiobook, UK, 2019)

What I said about it in June:

Okay, so, hear me out. I enjoy reading romance...

The set-up (a male hospice nurse who works nights rents out his flat 7pm to 7am to a junior book editor so he can pay legal fees for his brother, and the two flatmates only converse through post-it notes...) is super hooky.

Sometimes the beats felt like they came with signposts: THIS IS A BEAT.

But I devoured it. I like romance. It only took me 38 years.

...

Which brings us to the 10th spot... Which I'm making two white dudes share because they made my Twitter list and I can't decide who to boot... This is also the point where those of you playing along at home realise that, I've put a romance novel in my top 10 by not Marcel Proust. Yup. Swann's Way came in at 27th, beating 2020's Booker Prize Winner but not the latest Stephen King. Good thing no one is paying that much attention, eh?


10th= Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2011)

What I said about it in May:

Published in 2011, collecting magazine pieces from even earlier, but it didn't feel dated. Sullivan was tapping into the racial, religious and economic discontent that would propel Trump into the White House - that's part of it. But his voice is so clear, distinct. I really want to read a collection of his essays from the last 10 years...


10th= Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell (non-fiction, audiobook, UK, 2020)

What I said about it in June:

This is the book I thought I was going to read when I picked up End Times by Bryan Walsh in May. I wasn't sure if I was ready for more apocalypsia so soon, but O'Connell's book lived up to my (deferred) expectations. Maybe it's homerism, but I enjoyed the section set in NZ the most. Often, that would be the part where the hollowness of the European correspondent rang through, but not here.




CHART TIME!!


Interpretation: My eyes suck. I've worked hard for nearly two decades to be a good reader with my ears. This enabled me to read 90 total books this year, a significant step up from 66, 61, 42, and 66 in the preceding years.


Interpretation: Nothing to see here. Novels were 56% of my reading the year before. Moving on.







Interpretation:
Backslid from 2020 when on 41% of authors identified as male (52% the year before that).

Interpretation:
Still a 'work on' (the same old saws about audiobook availability etc etc). 18% in 2020.



Interpretation: In 2020 UK and US tied as most common countries of origin with 20 titles each. US more than doubled its count. Wha' happened?
Interpretation: Kinda follows from the above  levels of diversity. Page count might've been different thanks to Proust!


Interpretation: A stab at intersectional analysis. To help decide my top ten list, I rank every book I read out of 100 in a not-very-scientific way (for reference, Sorrow and Bliss got a 95 and Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld got 60). But it shows that non-white females out-perform the average. And women edge men in general. There may be some selection bias (perhaps I only read "diverse" books I really think will be good, while I'm more willing to read dudes without knowing much about the book?) or maybe I give these diversity titles a higher score to make me feel like a better person when I'm making my list? Am I really that sad? The jury is still out.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Song of 2021

I did albums yesterday. Anyone who got in the top 10 for that list can't make this one.

Before I get to my fave songs released in the year of false hope, here are two songs from 2020 that would have made the list if not for chronology:

  • 'Glenfern' by Kathleen Edwards 
  • 'Big Wheel' by Samia 
And here's a sprinkling of progressively older songs I didn't discover or properly fall for until 2021:
  • 'Edge of Town' by Middle Kids (2018)
  • 'As the Earth Caves In' by Matt Maltese (2018) - even better slowed down for use in memes
  • 'Ballad of Big Nothing' by Julia Baker (2016 - from an album of Elliot Smith cover songs, Say Yes!)
  • 'Be Forewarned' by Pentagram (1994) - thanks to Monster Magnet
  • 'A Penny More' by Skydiggers (1992)
  • 'I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight' by Richard and Linda Thompson (1974)
Best songs of 2021: Highly commended

Cluster 1: Great artists with great new songs... waiting for that next great album
  • Time Escaping by Big Thief
  • Old Peel by Aldous Harding
Is Big Thief morphing into tUnE-yArDs? Will Aldous actually release an album in 2022 or just tour (will she even get to tour?)?

All this and more will be revealed in the year of hope's faults.

Cluster 2: Songs that I can see all the arguments for NOT listing, and yet...
  • 'See the World' by Brett Dennen
  • 'That Funny Feeling' by Bo Burnham
Dennen sounds like Tom Petty, which is a good thing but doesn't make him original or current or whatever. Also, a retiring ESPN journalist quoted the line 'Now I'm planting trees I'll never climb' as she bid adieu. I should hate this song. But I'm not hip enough, I guess. I love it. 

I tried watching Burnham's Netflix special but quickly got bored, so I'd never heard his version of 'That Funny Feeling' until Phoebe Bridgers covered it. Burnham's supposed to be funny, while Bridgers is walking a knife-edge between po-faced and wry... but Burnham's version is the only one that hits. It's like James Taylor doing 'We Didn't Start the Fire', with lyrics rewritten by Patricia Lockwood. It's the Don't Look Up of popular music. And it's singable as all hell.

Top three

Every time I come back to this list I change my favourite, so for the first time ever I'm not naming one song of the year and copping out with a top three. Maybe it's because none of them rely on nonsense syllables - more's the pity.

  • 'Andy Sells Coke' by Declan O'Rourke
There's something incredibly earnest about this song, from the jangly Cat Stevensy guitar intro, to way the first line echoes the title and the general big brother looking down on younger fuckup tone ("What kind of life has he got? Maybe none soon if he doesn't stop being something he's not"). 

But then fissures start to open in the 2nd verse. Who is the singer in all this? Might he be Andy singing in the third person? "He'll be dead in five years if he doesn't change something" hits different in that context.

But then Andy disappears from the third verse and it's all about the "I"

How did I end up at the party?
I'm the fool who passed out in the chair
Just came up to the smoke for the weekend
Got a wife and a baby down there

And I wake up to these three fucking ghosts
Fumbling round for a five in my coat
More fool I to be thinking that I could still drink
Like I did twenty years ago
Flirting with my ego
The only thing I need is a one way express out of here

I'm too old in the tooth to be around this shit

(some outro strumming and end song)

Typed out like that, it looks as if the "I" of the song is back where he started, holier than thouing despite a minor slip. But the more you listen to the song, the murkier it gets. Both versions of aging are fucked: the guy who never got it together and the guy who did but the veneer is so thin it cracks within hours of hitting the big smoke.

  • 'Heroes' by Natalie Hemby
Natalie Hembry is a Nashville singer songwriter who has written for lots of big names, including a song on A Star is Born. She was also part of the Highwomen in 2019 with Brandi Carlile & others. So when she sings:

I don't wanna meet my heroes
I just wanna be a face in the crowd
If I ever meet my heroes
They might let me down

There's a lot going on. I think the first is a sense of irony. SHe's not going for Carlile and probably not Lady Gaga or Sheryl Crow. It's probably about dudes (the versus refer to male superheroes like Superman and Spiderman). Which starts to sound very #MeToo, as in lots of the big stars are creeps or worse. Maybe it's a 2021 version of Liz Phair's 'Soap Star Joe'? And there's something BIG about the song sharing a title with one of Bowie's biggest singles.

But she doesn't want to cancel her heroes, just not meet them and thus avoid being let down and facing the conundrum. Is this the Schrodinger's Cat of pop culture consumption? If I don't get proof he's a creep, I can still enjoy his music / films / comedy?

There's too much irony at play here, all of it couched in the catchiest, slicked production you'll find (for starters: if you want to remain a face in the crowd, stop sounding so amazing! I catch my six year old son singing the chorus sometimes!), for any one reading to win out over another. 

  • 'I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can't Keep)' by Whitehorse
I love song titles with parentheses. 

I love couplets like: "Let's argue in Ikea, make a scene, go home and fuck / On unassembled furniture fresh off a moving truck"

(This song comes from an album called, Modern Love*). 

*What is it with these possibly inadvertent Bowie references?

I love how dark and 2021 this love song is. We're done pretending the rules apply. The parenthesis drop away. We'll say it to each other's face, "knowing that we slowly die / with each and every breath". 

But let's still promise to love each other forever, especially if it sounds like this.

---

And with that, I give you... A PLAYLIST:

Monday, January 10, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Albums of 2021

This annual tradition has lasted long enough [2020201920182017, (...), 2014201320122011, & 2010it deserves a nickname... 

The Fluidies? Ack! 

The Thrillies? Better, but still no.

Maybe a statute? I'd be tempted just to print this image of the fluid thrill test on some perspex and mount it on a stand:


I mean, it IS musical. From the percussive nature of the test itself (the doctor taps part of the abdomen and listens for the sound of the fluid rippling elsewhere) to the soundwaves (or perhaps the patient has been marked up ahead of an elaborate sawing-in-two) to the cock-ward point of the patient's hand (rock'n'roll, baby!).

Okay, yeah, let's just do another blogpost like it's forever 2008.

BEST ALBUMS

Last year I floated the idea of doing a rolling two-year list so that I could consider 2020 music I'd missed, reconsider 2020 albums I may have over- or under-rated, and pit them against new music from 2021...

But it's actually quite tricky. Looking back at my 2020 list, I haven't really listened to many of these albums again (except Dua Lipa on family roadtrips). I feel like cueing up Lo Tom's LP2, which is a good sign, and I don't have any 'Really?' reactions to the others. It was a solid list. 

Along side of this, I'd add short list of 2020 albums I didn't get into until 2021, but really rated:

  • Will Butler - Generations
  • Blake Scott - Niscitam
  • Uffe Lorenzen - Magisk Realisme
  • Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom
  • Big Wheel - The Baby
  • Ghost Woman - Anne, If (which appears to have disappered from Spotify)
  • Liza Anne - Bummer Days
As for 2021, here's my top 10 albums released in the calendar year, presented in an order I've picked more for the sake of the flow of the resulting playlist rather than the comparative virtues of the albums...

  • Monster Magnet - A Better Dystopia
2020 and 2021 were a golden age for covers as artists were locked down, short of audiences and inspiration but big on time to jam. So it's only fitting that I kick this list off with an album of covers.

MM's covers have always been one of my favourite things about them. Dave Wyndorf has this incredible, off-kilter taste which means every cover song sends me off discovering a new original. There are 13 tracks if you count the bonus (I do!) and they all felt new to me. That is, I must've heard the original version of 'Death' because I had The Pretty Thing's S.F. Sorrow on my iPod back in the day, but I didn't recognise it. And, maybe I'd heard the Hawkwind song (Born to Go), but it didn't ring any bells beyond sounding like it could have been a Hawkwind song.

Not only this this album send me down Pentagram and Poobah and Scientists wormholes, but the covers themselves are good and the album hangs together as a twisted, grungy pysch affair that was perfect for its time and place.

  • Like a Stone - Remember Sports
I like to think I have a reasonably wide-ranging musical tastes. But I have my weaknesses. For example, if you take muscular guitar-driven indie rock, add an idiosyncratic female vocalist and produce songs that get you dancing while you vacuum, I will have A LOT of time for that band.

Remember Sports follows this formula. Sometimes there's a strong Hopalong vibe. Other times, it's Cayetana or Bully or Camp Cope. 

I've enjoyed RS's previous albums All of Something and Sunchokes without them ever quite sticking out as TOP TEN MATERIAL (whatever that is). 

But Like A Stone finally cracked it. Or cracked me. Or I cracked. One of those. 

And now I listen to older songs like 'Clean Jeans' and I'm like, 'How was this not my favourite song of 2016?'

  • Slothrust - Parallel Timeline
I loved Slothrust's last album (The Pact, 2018), but came to their new album (released in Sept '21) late and it almost missed this list... but now I've corrected my omission and can't stop listening to it. 

Harkening back to "the formula" above, Slothrust is rockier than Remember Sports, and the singing more tuneful, the lyrics less angular and look at me, and I am here for it!

  • Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
Speaking of angular, look at me lyrics... This band sounds a bit like Life Without Buildings (who only released one album, but 2001's Any Other City is *chef's kiss*) or Arab Strap. So not great for housework dance sessions, but unbeatable when walking to work.

I can never decide if they sound retro (as old-making it is to consider music that came out when I was at university retro), or very now. Either way, here's hoping they aren't another one-and-done outfit.

  • Allie Crow Buckley - Moonlit and Devious
Same vibe as ACB's amazing EP So Romantic, with more songs. Who's complaining!?

  • Middle Kids - Today We're the Greatest
I heard 'Edge of Town' from their 2019 album at the end of an episode of the UK show, Defending the Guilty and not long after Middle Kids dropped their new album and they were periodically the greatest in my books.

  • James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds
Son of Larry 'Lonesome Dove' McMurtry has been releasing albums for three decades but I only started listening to him in 2021. His song, 'Just Us Kids' from the 2008 album of the same name is one of those Straight to the pool room tracks that you keep finding excuses to crowbar into playlists.

As for 2021's The Horses and the Hounds, it's classic McMurtry country-fried story telling with politics that subverts the red-state twang. Think Drive By Truckers. Think Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet, Joe Ely. And he often put me in mind of a certain era of Warren Zevon.

So yeah, goddam fantastic.

  • Foxing - Draw Down the Moon
I had a big Foxing phase this year. 2014's The Albatross is crazy good. Like Local Natives go Emo. There are two more albums between that and 2021's Draw Down the Moon, in which time Foxing morph into... Manchester Orchestra? Unknown Mortal Orchestra? MGMT? The National? Vendetta Red (remember them?)?

They are all over the shop and I can't decide if it's their taste or mine that's dubious*, but all of it is glorious.

* Who am I kidding: it's definitely mine. Vendetta Red? 

  • Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
The Tuareg guitar god and his band "rip a new hole in the sky" with this album, according to the blurb they posted on Spotify. I love that. It's so cool that Saharan Africa is transmuting rock and taking the mantle of prog, glam and metal blowhards along the way. 

I can listen to Moctar's music for hours. The only thing that can convince me to stop is when I picture a white guy with dreads who busks in Noosa with a strat and an effects pedal and probably loves this shit as much as I do.

  • The Weather Station - Ignorance
I have issues with the boring quotient of band name + album name + song titles, but I am working through them.

'Atlantic' was the only song I put on two different monthly playlists in 2021. It's a hell of a song, only disqualified from song of the year consideration because the rest of the album is almost as good and artists can be on both lists.

Rules is rules.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Two other albums deserve special mention:
  • Assertion - Intermission - sorry lads, there was only one boring band name + album name slot available this year, but that's for the year's best straight-ahead rock album.
  • Taylor Swift - Red (Taylor's Version) - I am now a bigger fan and Taylor than my 9 year old daughter. I stan what she's doing with the rerecording. I concede there's a bit less pep in her new versions of 'I knew you were trouble' and 'We are never ever getting back together' but this is more than made up for in the chutzpah of 'All Too Well (10 minute version)(Taylor's version)' [greatest song title with parenthesis ever?] and more unlost gems than we mortals deserve.

Friday, December 31, 2021

November & December 2021 Consumption Diary

MUSIC - NOVEMBER

The space bar on my laptop went on the fritz as I was battling a deadline earlier this month. Met the deadline (short story submission) but my space bar is still unresponsive for the 2/3rds of its length, as if it had a stroke. The working side sometimes adds two spaces for one touch as if that'll make up for it. FML.

...

Now I am in Christchurch typing this on my phone in the week between Xmas and New Year's to finish this post. I miss my shitty laptop.


BOOKS

Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill (short stories, audiobook)

Mary, Mary, quite contrary. Reading Gaitskill is always a good reminder of how much you might be self-censoring yourself and how much braver you can be.

Billy Summers by Stephen King (novel, audiobook)

Retiring hitman must pretend to be a writer to pull off one last job... I enjoyed this quite a lot. It was perhaps overlong and there was less of a final payoff than a winding down, but King still delivers plenty from this half-familiar premise.

Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta (non-fiction, audiobook)

Wow. Read this immediately after reading this piece by Angela Meyer. Thank you Angela and thank you Tyson (and thank you Audible and I guess, grudgingly, Amazon, for making this book free to all members so hopefully many more will read/listen to this and extend the yarning).

Books like this raise interesting questions about form. As an audiobook narrated by the author it more closely resembles the kind of yarning and sand talk at the heart of the culture Yunkaporta shares, but the listener misses out on the sand talk symbols as visual things (my brain, at least, cannot follow extended descriptions of unique symbols). In the end, all books are imperfect and incomplete in whatever form they take, and it's the work of the reader to complete the circle.

I'll be reading a lot more on this topic from a Te Ao Māori perspective next year and keen for recommendations... Knowing full well there won't be any audiobook versions anytime soon.

Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer (non-fiction, audiobook)

More singular in focus than RWK's Braiding Sweetgrass (which will be in my top 10 for the year), but still wider ranging than any tretise on moss has any right to be. More please!

The Meaning of Trees by Robert Vennell (non-fiction, NZ)

My bedside reading. So nice to dip in and read about a tree or two before bed. Makes me want to start and edible natives garden, but being in Dunedin isn't the best climate for a lot of the more intriguing species.

Double Bind by Edward St Aubyn (novel, audiobook)

Find this thrilling to begin with (contemporary, unafraid to be intellectual) but the story never truly coalesced and the characters never rounded out.

Soundtracks by John Acuff (non-fiction, audiobook)

Acuff makes his living as a speaker (and selling books) that leans heavily on comedy. I found his humour worked well in what is essentially a self-help book about overthinking. Reminded me of John Hodgman, which is a compliment. There's something in the tone and tenor of these dudes I'm trying to unlock...

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (novel, audiobook)

There's a sub-genre of literary fiction I'm slowly diagnosing that just doesn't do it for me. Seems to all come from the US. Reads like carefully crafted MFA-workshopped text. Has a supernatural aspect but it's withheld and suppressed and generally never allowed to have a payoff, so that one is left wondering if the writer lost faith in their ability to hold a reader's attention with the realism they actually care about...

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan (novel, audiobook)

The perfect palate-cleansing sorbet after reading something that feels overcalculated and dead on arrival.

I think I'm going to extend the short story I mentioned above into a short novel that is a bit Brautigan, a bit Jenny Offill & Patricia Lockwood & Ali Smith, and a bit Kurt Vonnegut... We shall see.

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl (non-fiction, audiobook)

I think this book has a bad title. Dave Grohl isn't a good storyteller. Stories in the 2nd half of the book revolve around meeting other famous people and good versions of these stories would have some reversal of fortune (Paul McCartney is rude to Dave's daughter rather than the lovely bonus uncle who teaches here piano) but everything keeps coming up Dave. 

The early life and career bits were engaging, but the caginess post- Nirvana leaves a lot of drama unspoken. 

The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood (fiction, audiobook)

Written as a series of prices on craft and pulled together during the pandemic, I found this really great, but a little disjointed (there's a lot of references to Wood's The Natural Way of Things, and every mention feels a like a circling back rather than a new path). Would still recommend other writers seek this out.

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (novel, e-book)

Broke my run of audiobooks because I knew the photographs would be a big part of this one. Another antidote to the Caldwell Turnbull's of the world of books.

Was interesting reading this after Proust a couple months earlier. 

Still processing tbh.

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell (non-fiction, audiobook)

Finishing off the year with yet another apocalyptic book. This one is presented as a how to manual of sorts for a rebuilding society after a massive event that leaves fewer thank 10k people to repopulate the earth.

In fact, it you often forget this and it's just a really well-told basic primer on industrial chemistry and mechanics. I feel smarter having read it but no more prepared for, or excited about, being one of the survivors...

FILM & TV

Get Back (parts 1-3)

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Seasons 1 & 11

Succession - Season 3

Sex Education - Season 3

Home Sweet Home Alone

No Time To Die

Nobody

Enlightened - Season 1

42

Die Hard

Happy Gilmore

Don't Look Up

Arthur Christmas

Greyhound


MUSIC - DECEMBER

Sunday, October 31, 2021

September & October 2021 Consumption Diary

MUSIC - SEPTEMBER

BOOKS



Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (novel, audiobook)

So I've now read Proust. Not all of À la recherche du temps perdu, but the first volume feels like enough. I enjoyed the first, second and fourth parts, but found the longest section focussed on Swann and Odette's romance tedious and uneventful. Which could probably be levelled at the other sections, but the humour was different (yes, Proust is funny, who knew?). There's a kind of peril involved in the narrator's subtle digs at members of his family and their circle, but that thrill evaporates in Swann's tale.

Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan (novel, audiobook)

So good. A top ten book of my reading year for sure. Friendship, youth, music and loss all intertwine. 1980's Glasgow and Edinburgh shine through, as does this novel's winning heart.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (essays, audiobook)

I read this after reading Solnit's amazing 2019 essay, 'When the Hero is the Problem', which describes something I've been mulling for the better part of three years (I wish I'd found the essay sooner!!). Nothing in Field Guide showed out in quite the same way, but it was good all told.

The Quiet People by Paul Cleave (novel, NZ, audiobook)

A Christchurch husband and wife crime-writing duo are embroiled in a true life crime that could have sprung from their imaginations... or did it? Lots of twists and the depiction of Christchurch and the dubious morality of writing kept me engaged.

Lockdown by Peter May (novel, audiobook)

Written in response to Avian Bird Flu but rejected by May's publisher as too outlandish... then released during the COVID-19 pandemic... Thing is, the bits he got right weren't really things I wanted to relive and the bits he got wrong hit like bum notes. In the end, just a middling detective tale with a prescient premise.

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry (novel, audiobook)

I really liked Henry's previous book, Beach Read, and thought I was becoming an undiscriminating fan of the romance genre... but this one didn't do it for me.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel, audiobook)

Um... this book felt like it was produced by an AI trained on Ishiguro's oeuvre. The artificial friend seems like a premise rejected before he settled on clones in Never Let Me Go. The slow reveal of genetic modified children and [spoiler] is Klara's version of the fascistic elements in Remains of the Day. But mostly, the clouded, fuggy feel of the The Unconsoled hangs over this one - less of an intentional artistic choice and more a sign this isn't the writer operating at the height of his powers.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (novel, audiobook)

Rather than dive into Rooney's new book with the terrible title, I went against the grain and read her first novel. It was aight. I felt her short story 'Mr Salary' had more in it in less space. 

Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump (novel, NZ, audiobook)

The book that the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople was based on. I read this one to a) see how closely the film followed the book (I'd say the resemblance is two-thirds, with the new third being the injection of Waititi's zany humour), b) to see what a Barry Crump novel was like (a lot of hunting and bush-bashing hung over the wire-frame of a plot) and c) to see what the quality of the audiobook was like from newish local producer Audiobooks NZ (it was good... maybe even flawless).

Ice Station by Matthew Reilly (novel, audiobook)

I read this book because a) it was the free book from Audible for October, b) someone's dad once raved about it and I really didn't rate their opinion but I'm all about testing my prejudices (see my journey with the romance genre this year)... Turns out this was exactly what I thought it would be, which is NOT MY CUP OF TEA.

Heart of Darkness by Josef Conrad* (novella, audiobook & ebook)

I re-read this because I wanted to write a novella and thought maybe I could use a frame narration similar to what Conrad used in Heart of Darkness, which I studied in high school. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kenneth Brannagh and read along to the ebook on my phone... it was interesting to come across all the phrases I'd highlighted or been spoonfed by my English teacher and then regurgitated in essays and exams. In the end, I abandoned the frame narration idea and started writing the novella (though I might still come back to frame narration, it's early days, but there's no reason to deliberately echo Heart of Darkness).

But man, could Conrad write!?

FILM & TV

Ted Lasso - Season 2 - like many, I missed the unremitting niceness of Season 1

Only Connect - about 5 seasons' worth (my go-to YouTube content while washing dishes & making school lunches)

Squid Game - Season 1

Free Guy

2040

Point Break (remake)

Quite a bit of NFL (for the first time in a decade I seem to be interested) and NBA (the Kings are 1 game above .500 baby!)


MUSIC - OCTOBER