Tuesday, November 30, 2010

OYL has moved!

Hello, friends, colleagues, lions. OYL is back -- and at a new home! We've relocated to Tumblr. Our hope is that, with more of a microblogging bent, we'll be able to update at a quicker and more regular pace. Update your bookmarks, tell the world!

Oh, Young Lions.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rabbit Light Movies Episode #11 (summer 2010): Zachary Schomburg's "Because it Comes Right at You Does Not Mean it Comes to Save You"

Rabbit Light Movies, brainchild of Joshua Marie Wilkinson, has been compiling and putting out issues of "poemfilms" since 2007. The poemfilms tend to be videos of poets reading their poems, but may also feature some other poetic footage with the poet's disembodied voice coming from off camera. Poemfilms are not only a smart publishing move in internet land, but they offer a great resource! RLM has published 115 movies to date, and if I was lucky enough to have a computer in my classroom, I could bounce back between their total visual archive and PennSound, exposing my students to lots of great contemporary poets whose books I did not force them to buy.

Well, yes, I could do that with online text-only journals, too. But I am one of those people who believes that poetry is very much about the pleasure of sound, about that slippage that happens between the text and the voiced language, and that poems need to be read. And that they need to be read well. Yeah, there are exceptions; there is conceptual poetry these days that is not really intended to be read at all, never mind read aloud. But it is unbelievable how many amazing writers are completely awful at reading their own, well crafted, completely enjoyable poems. I mean, you wrote those sounds because you could hear them bounce against one another, you crafted that syntax because you could feel the rhythm of your sentence, timed the beats because you anticipated the humorous response, broke the lines because of your sense of breath or meter or interruption or contradiction or time-dispersed meaning. Why are you reading these words as if they are haphazard, unrelated pieces of trash you are retrieving one by one from a grassy median on I-95?

Okay, rant over. What I want to say is that Zachary Schomburg is a great reader! If you haven't read his new book Scary, No Scary yet, seriously, go do it. How did you avoid it? Isn't he literally driving around the country offering rides to bums and handing out copies? But also, do it because it's a pretty good book. He is a fan of the completely underrated book apparatus known as the index. (See me avoid using the totally awkward plural form "indices" there? And I don't even have to read this blog aloud!) I think I love the index so much because it underscores, even privileges, one of the most satisfying feelings I have when reading a book of poems: that the writer, as Jack Spicer would say, has been tricked into this entangled web of language. That he's following a thread of language through this kind of chaotic cloud, and all the related and repeating motifs are folding in on one another. Or, as Robin Blaser might say (via Spicer), "that it's as if you go into a room, a dark room, the light is turned on for a minute, then it's turned off again, and then you go into a different room where a light is turned on and off." For Schomburg, the book is the navigation through this dark house, and the index is the retrospective of all the odd and glorious encounters along the way.

But really, I want to talk about the video. If you must see the text version, you are lucky that it was published in this spring's issue of Jellyfish Magazine. "Because it Comes Right at You Does Not Mean it Comes to Save You," as a title, benefits from being read aloud, since it's tone is so intriguing--proverb-like, practical yet ominous, coolly predicting disaster--and since it's fairly iambic. Also, it's a bit of advice that someone should have offered to the Lost raft crew back in season one when these guys were coming right at them.

You can tell Schomburg is a strong reader within the first 30 seconds of this video, when he thrusts his tongue into your ear with the word "boat," lest we miss the resonance with "Ocean," and then slips into a kind of light Anglo-Saxon beat in its wake with "tearing toward" and us/crust. His reading does justice to the repetitive "o" sounds throughout (boat, shoulder, cold, closer, hold, slow, go, etc. etc.) I love when writers aren't too proud to roll around in the pleasure of simple sounds and rhymes. He takes advantage of the performative edge that his tendency toward (reliance on?) uncanny narrative lends him, giving life to the dramatic impulse and dialogue of the poem. His voice always seems to be pushing forward, not picking up the words one by one, but pulling on a rope, hand over hand, that is leading him anxiously through the poem.

We all have our "poetry voice," which sounds like some dead baby zombie version of ourselves, but Schomburg's is not affected in an unbearably pompous, offensive way. Also, check out that little awkward smirk as he comes up out of the poem. That's why poemfilms are so cool!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Mynabirds' "Let the Record Go" and "Numbers Don't Lie"

You may or may not have heard yourself some Georgie James, a group whose sound I enjoyed most when Laura Burhenn's voice was showcased on tracks like "Cake Parade" and "Long Week." I was thinking the other day about how much I like those songs and got to wondering what Burhenn's been up to. Guess what? She has a new band! With an album that was released in April, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood.

What We Lose in the Fire, a collaboration with Richard Swift, is a little less indie pop than Georgie James and a lot more soul, complete with motownesque back-up vocals in songs like "Numbers Don't Lie." To be fair, I've cherry-picked the more lively tracks on the album here. Songs like "Give it Time" and "What We Gain in the Fire" involve a little less hip-shaking than "Let the Record Go," a little more bluesy swaying, a few less beat-stopping ohs and a little more emotional crooning. But I am a sucker for those beat-stopping ohs in "Let the Record Go," and for Burhenn's heartfelt "I gave it all of mine." This song is catchy; the chorus achieves that heady-claustrophobic feeling of being caught in a round of a high-pitched, high-speed "This is the song that never ends," but in both these songs Burhenn knows just how to slow us down and pick us back up again. The videos are striking, too, the bright colors popping against washed out background neutrals, the playful narratives indulging in a bit of the irony that the music itself completely avoids. The soul bent here is sultry and not imitative, so the visuals, particularly in "Numbers Don't Lie," hit me as a surprising pairing for Burhenn's thick voice, but really are charming. The Mynabirds album feels like Burhenn laying out her cards, confident all along in her surprise hand.

Okay, I don't play poker, and we all know Corey is the music guru around these parts. Maybe Spencer Krug and Laura Burhenn should get together for some kind of amazing "wuh-oh-oh" collaboration. Yes please?


Monday, July 12, 2010

Paris Couture Week: Dior, Adeline André, and Alexis Mabille

Hey guys. Corey has had me tied up in the basement. He was inspired by the thriller Hide and Seek. Don’t worry. I escaped while Corey was distracted by Lebron James. JUST IN TIME FOR PARIS COUTURE WEEK—THANKS LEBRON! The fashion muses are lookin’ out for us, OYL family.

A lot of the talk surrounding haute couture these days sounds a lot like the talk surrounding poetry every day. Is the art of couture fashion dying? It’s just not relevant to the masses. Who can afford/understand/wear/enjoy/access THIS STUFF? In this flailing economy, who is excluded from this art? How uncomfortable do we feel being the people who create/indulge in it? What can we/should we do about it? Well, from a young, uncelebrated poet to the large, famed, lucrative, creative, innovative genre that is fashion, courtiers recognized by the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, no less, have no fear. The alarmists have been predicting the death of poetry for ages. You’re not going anywhere. I know, I’m so comforting. There, there, Christian Lacroix.

I’m going to look at three of the Paris shows for now: Dior, because, while John Galliano certainly doesn’t need my praise, this show was breathtaking, and two designers a tad less lauded, Alexis Mabille and Adeline André. I will NOT be talking about this:

WHO THE HELL CARES ABOUT CHANEL’S GODDAMN GIANT LION? WHO KNEW KARL LAGERFELD WAS SUCH A BIG OYL FAN? Inspired, visually surprising, an elegant show, sure, but people are just salivating for the overstated in an atmosphere where everyone feels we've been herded into quiet little cages called "understated" and "sensible." Nonsense. (Hey there, Karl, I know an egomaniac in Miami who might be willing to pay a few million dollars to take that second-hand, lightly-worn lion off your hands & use it as a lawn ornament in his new backyard. Conversely, if you're looking to make a charitable donation, I know a little blog looking for a mascot.)

John Galliano’s Dior show took one of those huge romantic risks that beautiful art almost always flirts with. He turned women’s bodies into startling human bouquets. A theme that, in my opinion, failed miserably for Louise Gluck, turned out to be a masterfully executed home run for Dior.

Galliano’s genius, pretty well established, is on full display in the Fall/Winter couture collection. I imagine he had some Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll on his mood board, and all that animated boldness, the tangibility of the textures and shapes and colors of the collection, is what makes it work. This is one contemporary, larger-than life Garden of Eden, and none of these flowers are wisping away in the wind. The romantic tradition is implicit: watch the first dress shed a petal at 0:38, and you’ll start to see how seriously Galliano took his project, how dedicated he must have been to honoring the relationship between the floral and the female form in a fresh and palpable presentation. The belted waists serve not as some fetishized center of cheap sex, but as an actual life-source from which the colors and volume bloom outward. The dresses are consistently full, full, full, above and below the waist, yet there are so many playful shapes and textures here. You can see the artist reveling in his constraint. Check out, again in the first dress, right as the model turns at the end of the runway, the flash of orange that matches the gloves peek out from under the dress. All the details are nailed, and yet the flowers are growing, living, the colors of natural compliment ripening in front of our eyes. This man knows how to interact with his medium and tradition. Blunt scallops or boldly angled, tattered edges to everything, like the gray and orange separates at 2:15. Then, the next piece, when we thought we were resigned to a set of bold and bleeding solids, breaks out what looks like a silk printed skirt and a boxy printed coat. We see that silk print splashed in several times, always a welcome variation. The necklines are mostly over-the-top, face framing cowls and collars (see the soft jacket at 3:17) or wide, off the shoulder or strapless extreme v-shapes, full and framing, like at 3:30 or 7:30, or lower and sharper, like the more formal dress at 5:45. Either way, they’re accentuating the center of the body by unfolding out toward the shoulders and then creating a flattering, dramatic opening for the face. The hemlines are mostly knee-length, with the volume sometimes taking on a life of its own and weightily bouncing below.

My absolute favorite piece in this part of the show is the strapless white and blue dip-dyed style dress with the green floral belt at 5:10. I cannot say enough good things about the clothes, the colors, and the execution of the show. This is why couture is not at the mercy of the market. I’m gushing, so I’ll move on.

If we want to say (okay, I want to say) that Dior's show was a spectacular theme and image driven performance, Adeline André's show falls more on the conceptual, Vanessa Place side of things. Famous and respected among the in-crowd of the industry, André is less of a household name than Dior. I can't say why, though; her Fall 2010 show demonstrates artfulness, playfulness, and awareness of the female shape while offering a smart, stripped down exposure of performance. Layers and color are showcased here, like at Dior, but the silhouette is long and slim. Bows tied at the shoulders and left hanging long marry a simply-arrived-at sense of style with an unmasked, unabashed fulfillment of function, that function being some interplay between covering up and stripping down, the interaction got at much more acutely through a performance like this than any articulated theory I could offer. Like a good collage poem, this Adeline André collection jumbles up all the pieces of the picture we thought were familiar, deconstructing the color block garment into something new that makes us question context and meaning, and yet arrives at a visually pleasing, cohesive whole. Ten out of ten to André and Galliano for creativity, innovation, and beauty.

Alexis Mabille Fall 2010 CoutureAlexis Mabille Fall 2010 Couture

Alexis Mabille is a younger designer, but it's worth pointing out that both he and Adeline André worked for Dior before opening their own labels. Mabille shunned performance this year for a focus on decadence, showcasing detailed separates on models and mannequins--an opening reminiscent of couture's early days.

Alexis Mabille Fall 2010 CoutureAlexis Mabille Fall 2010 Couture

Mabille's fall couture collection captures some of the trends we've been hearing about already, but in a truly extravagant and lavish way. The hems are mostly ankle length here, with volume above or below the waist, not both. That slim black pant is Audrey-like, for sure. The tops, though, add glamor that is almost Victorian. If you weren't quite sold on bows, here they are again, the volume or shapes, again, always drawing out toward the shoulders to create volume matching the hips and underlying the face. The pieces above entertain the sheer trend, and the bodice underneath that masterpiece of a coat fits into the exposed-lingerie trend, both recently chronicled by Garance Doré, and played out over at Jean Paul in a more overt, sometimes less sophisticated manner. You'll notice that Mabille's collection is darker than the others. If Dior is displaying the bright poppies, Mabille's sitting on the edge of opium-den sensuality, luring me further in.

With love & consumer envy,


P.S. In case you missed the onslaught of gray paired with purples, rich in a decidedly Russian way, in fabrics a few years ago, Dior’s show confirms that it’s back in beauty this year. Off to get myself some gray lipstick and dye my hair.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wolf Parade's "Little Golden Age" and "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)"

You don't need me to tell you about Wolf Parade. They've become one of the biggest bands on the planet (in the relative sense, meaning "one of the biggest bands on the planet amongst people with taste like mine, which is such good taste!!") based largely on the success of their 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Have you heard that album? It is better than most albums.

2008's At Mount Zoomer, while possessing mega-jam "Language City" and a few other gems, seemed to most something of a letdown. In my book, the blame for that failure (the album is not a failure, and really, what album wouldn't be considered a failure when held up next to Apologies?) was thrust largely at the boatshoed feet of Spencer Krug, whose tendencies toward prog rock seemed to swallow him whole on tracks like "California Dreamer" and who I suspected of saving his best songs for Sunset Rubdown's then-upcoming third full length. That, by the way, turned out to be completely true -- Dragonslayer was my pick for album of the year in 2009. That declaration, of course, leads us into the boilerplate critical observation of a Wolf Parade review: they have two singers! Those singers also have other successful bands!

See? You turned to OYL for expert analysis, and good for you! Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Dan Boeckner's Handsome Furs are both wonderful bands, in their own right. In fact, most of my well-documented Krug worship devotes itself to the Rubdown. Handsome Furs are almost critically underrated, with last year's outstanding Face Control receiving little, if any, end-of-year attention here in Blogworld. So, with its co-leaders releasing such brainbursting material on their own, where does that leave Wolf Parade? Is that band, in fact, now the side project?

I'll give you a minute to pick your jaw up from the floor. Take a sip of water to remoisten your newly reattached tongue. You will need it to sing these new Wolf Parade songs, both of which are great and both of which are from the so-hot-it-just-dropped EXPO 86. "Little Golden Age" is Boeckner at his strutting New Order by way of Springsteen best, and "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" has Krug embracing the combo of menace and disco shine that made his early Wolf Parade compositions so wonderful. What's more, both songs are perfect examples of how Boeckner and Krug can reach stratospheric levels when they combine their talents in just the right ways.

"Little Golden Age" wouldn't be the same without Krug's patented "wuh-oh-oh's" carrying it out of the gate, along with his insistent, emotive synth line providing the perfect backbone for Boeckner's twitchy guitar hook. Boeckner's on his game here, writing the kind of character sketches about worn out, lovelorn, tragically heroic outcasts that he (and, yes, The Boss) do so well: "And someone sang about a golden age, / in some rundown park, / drinking in the dark -- / this place was the machine that put the iron in your heart." His voice's uncanny way of shifting instantly from growl to falsetto stuffs the song with enough tension to give it the fuel it needs to become an all out anthem when that tension finally breaks. Fists in the air, heads banging, sweat rolling. Sign me up.

"What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" is another success story that proves the two songwriters can share. That guitar riff is vintage Boeckner, scuzzy and seductive in all the right places. Arlen Thompson's tireless hi-hat gives the song the proper amount of bounce, and Krug sets his keyboard to "space-age" to provide a perfect halftime counterpoint to all of that energy. His imagistic lyrics are on point, too, nothing like Boeckner's but equally indelible: "I've got a sandcastle heart, / made out of fine black sand; / sometimes it turns into glass / when shit gets hot. / I wonder if all the beaches / in all your holiday towns / will turn to giant shining earrings against / the cheek of the sea, when / finally this supernova goes down." (Notably, his dream journaling is still in effect, as he reminds his listener, "I don't think I should be sorry / for things I do in dreams".) It's his strongest offering on EXPO 86, and it seems like more of a full-band effort than anything on At Mount Zoomer.

The rest of the album holds up well, more or less. True to the pattern the band's been setting in the last few years, Boeckner's songs are stronger as a whole. "Ghost Pressure" snakes insidiously between Krug's synths, and "Pobody's Nerfect" (yes) has an honest-to-God guitar solo that sends me into fits every time. That's not to say that Krug's a slouch. "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" opens the record with satisfying bombast, and "In the Direction of the Moon" gives us that rare and beautiful creature, not seen since "Dinner Bells": a Wolf Parade ballad. On the other hand, if there's a hook in "Oh You, Old Thing," please find it and mail it to me. I'm loathe to commit any of this Krug hesitance to print, as I still think he's likely the best songwriter around right now (though I do have one more candidate, if you haven't noticed). Whatever the case, I'm happy to have Wolf Parade with us once again. Keep it coming, guys.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Future Islands's "An Apology"

I have a theory about listening to New Order: it is really good for you! If you came to me and said, "Corey, 98% of the good music made in the last thirty years is a direct result of people listening to New Order," I would say, "You're probably right." (I would also say, "HEY, WHO'S WRITING THE BLOG HERE, PROFESSOR STATISTICS??") Baltimore's Future Islands know what you're talking about, too, and thank the maker for that.

I've been thinking for a while on which song to write about when holding up to you the band's latest effort, In Evening Air, as the most exciting record I've heard in 2010. Should it be "Swept Inside," the track that best crystallizes the band's update of New Order, built upon a Peter Hook-style is-that-a-bass-or-guitar hook and an absolutely transcendent outro (and which begs for a 12" extended cut, so that the simple melody can go on forever and ever)? Or should it be "Long Flight," which sees synths interlocking with that bass again, all tension and all building to vocalist Samuel T. Herring's flooring outburst in the song's final seconds? Maybe "Inch of Dust," replete with the absolutely huge beat that drives its themes of loss and reconnection right through your heart via your hips?

I suppose, though, that it has to be "An Apology". (Although, really I suppose that I put a couple of extra tracks at the bottom of this post, because who cares let's get crazy!). Like most of the tracks on the record, it's a song based on a slow build, simple drum programming letting the instruments breathe and create a sense of insistency and burning urgency. That's one of the reasons it's so difficult to pinpoint one song to highlight from In Evening Air -- the album works so well as a whole, each song relying heavily on mood and tone to tunnel its way into your brain, where it will make camp and become your new landlord.

"An Apology" lets Herring get his Tom Waits on, if Tom Waits had immersed himself in the Factory Records scene of the 1980s, instead of New Orleans roots music. Herring's vocals here have what you might call "texture". His lungs are crawling out of his throat. When he hits the refrain -- "so far away / so far away" -- I feel like my trachea's about to rip itself to shreds by proximity. In other words, he's got a knack for a convincing delivery. There's heartbreak, here. His voice inflates those simple lyrics to a place that makes them the most important, the most critical sentiment he could utter, and we believe the authenticity coming through the microphone. It's as real as it gets for us, too.

Crucially, Herring doesn't always sing this way. In Evening Air shows him in perfect control, understated when the mood suits him and confident enough in his melodies not to feel the need to max out the levels on every track. He lets the band guide him to where he needs to be. Listen to that distorted squall that caps out "An Apology," and you hear a group of musicians perfectly attuned to one another, each member of the band contributing to a deceptively complex blanket of sound that evokes their desired mood utterly and entirely. I'm on board for the duration.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How to Dress Well's "Suicide Dream 2"

Of course I would love music made by someone called How to Dress Well. Other bands I would like: How to Cook with Various Gravies; How to Talk About Literature At Least as Often as You Talk About Television; How to Shut Up Your Child on the Metro Train and Just Please Get Off Before the Zoo So You Stop Breathing On Me With Your Mouth Just Please. These are all important things to learn to do!

How To Dress Well is actually just a dude named Tom Krell, who lives in a suburb of New Jersey called "Brooklyn". He also apparently sometimes lives in Cologne, Germany, where he translates post-Kantian philosophy (this is not an oblique joke regarding hipsters in Brooklyn; he actually sometimes lives in Cologne, Germany, where he translates post-Kantian philosophy). I assume he does not wear pleated pants.

What he does do is create the kind of bedroom-electro-R&B that tricks my brain into thinking I've just swallowed twenty ounces of codeine. The track above, "Suicide Dream 2," is from a free EP recently posted to his blog -- you can download 7 of these EPs there, in fact, though he also includes a convenient "pay" option (take that, conscience!). "Suicide Dream 2" is the kind of soulful, aching song that hooks you slowly, pulling you into its swirling folds with a force subtle enough that you almost don't notice that you're up at 2 AM, still listening to it on repeat. I'm doing that now, by the way, as I write this. How could I not?

I felt the same way when I first heard Bon Iver in 2007, and Tom Krell's music has more in common with Justin Vernon's than you might think. The former locked himself up -- infamously, now -- in a Wisconsin cabin to record For Emma, Forever Ago, and Krell's going it alone, too. The two men share a falsetto almost shameful in its decadent beauty (though both can hit those low notes when the occasion calls, as it does in the latter half of this track). Both, too, have much of the impact of their music rooted in a lo-fi appeal, the tinny chimes of Vernon's resonator guitar in "Skinny Love" and the way Krell's loops go into the red in "Suicide Dream 2," the final notes of each keyboard swell fraying and spinning away into distortion. It's music intimate and haunting, the kind of thing you feel you should listen to through a cracked door or with your ear to the wall of the next room, hoping that whoever's making these sounds will keep going, unaware.