Until the Quiet Comes, 2012
Nico here. Mr. Struggan, an avid pilot and horticulturist, unsurprisingly invited me to review Flying Lotus’ newest album, Until the Quiet Comes. Flying Lotus’ last album before this one, Cosmogramma (2010), was a cool album during a cool time.
Effective music elicits physical reactions. The 5th Dimension makes me dance. This album makes me fall asleep. No surprise, since the album’s concept relies heavily on dreams. This is not a negative criticism, I’m just saying this album is a dangerous selection for a solo road trip.
So, It’s a sleepy album. No less meaningful, though. “Sultan’s Request” has this deep repetitive riff/bass line that lulls the listener like a mantra. Not in a rocking way, but in a sleepy way, even to a point of monotony that begs attention. Interesting effect.
Furthermore, I disagree somewhat with critics who have said this album delves deeper into the jazz influences FlyLo began experimenting with on Cosmogramma. The jazz is there, but I hear a lot more hip hop rhythm on these tracks, albeit abstracted. Even thematically, this album is more hip hop-influenced. Think turntablism. Two of his collaborators, Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu, are good flavors for the songs’ drowsy soundscapes. FlyLo is an ascetic, not a baller. ”DMT Song” is more introspective trip than psychedelic roller coaster.
On Until the Quiet Comes, Flying Lotus continues to work his butt off and gets us listening in new directions. Thought-provoking music is important, but not always super-fun.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
Shout out to Plan 9 Music in Richmond, Va., where I bought this album. Helpful staff. Good selection. Be sure to make a visit if you’re ever in Carytown.
Siegfried Vol. 1, 2012
Nico here. As a participant in the Graphic Novel Reading Group at Politics & Prose Bookstore, I read at least one graphic novel per month. Mr. Struggan has invited me to share my criticism of this month’s selected reading here.
Alex Alice’s Siegfried is the first volume of a three part adaptation of German composer Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, a pretty grand story to be condensed into 50 pages of comics. Alice weaves the origin-story of Siegfried, a boy who is friends with wolves, raised by an outcast and whose mother was a goddess. Pretty epic.
Unsurprisingly, Alice’s art is heavily french-influenced, from the looks of characters to unabashedly cinematic paneling, even to the innocent, hopeful tone of the story. His warm, romantic style is evocative of late ’70s heavy metal, The Legend of Zelda, and the art of Disney animated films, an influence the artist credits.
It’s a beautiful book. Alice deftly mixes hand-drawn and computer-generated illustration to create evocatively, detailed panels. As good as the graphics are, the quality of the materials used in printing made a huge difference. With a hard cover and glossy pages, no expense was spared.
As strong as the work is, Siegfried may be a little too psyched about itself. Over 60 pages of an interview with Alex Alice and preliminary sketches are nice, but unwarranted. I might expect these extras in a reprint, but not a first edition. As nice as they are, I’d prefer the first edition to let the work speak for itself. That said, it’s a great change of pace from diaristic indie comics and more familiar American comic books.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
Nico here, reporting from Mr. Struggan’s Possum Alley bureau in Washington, D.C. In keeping with our new schedule, Mr. Struggan has assigned me a review of Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love, this week. Tuesday morning, I stayed home with a fever of 100.8. Beta Love did not soothe my senses as well as other music could have; it sounds like a quarter life crisis.
The main problem with this release is that it does not offer much sonic or thematic breadth. Lack of lyrical ingenuity could be forgiven if the sounds were more convincing.
"Wilderness" shows me something, but then, the verse line’s cheesy, repetitive arpeggio drops in. It doesn’t give the listener much to work with. I can’t tell whether this is minimalist, or just bad. I’m leaning towards the latter. "I Shut Off" is supposed to be some kind of final-track-of-the-album anthem, but it lacks instrumental backbone. Aside from a few tracks, this album is pretty flat. "When I Dream" showed a lot of promise as the album’s single. As lead vocalist Wes Miles switches between alto and falsetto, it creates interplay that is absent from the rest of the album.
Synth rock can be a great genre from bands to tap into. Add some synths and beat, and your average rock group can fill arenas, get people moving, and reach a broader pool of listeners. This summer, Passion Pit’s sophomore album Gossamer attained a broader reach emotionally and musically than the group’s debut album, showing that the genre doesn’t result in being pigeonholed. Ra Ra Riot does not have the same success in their reinvention.
One might expect that after three albums, Ra Ra Riot would know a thing or two about restraint and focus. Many groups come to a point when they jump the shark in their creative direction. Perhaps Ra Ra Riot is there now.
Mr. Struggan sends his Low Regards.
Rabbit, Run, 1960
Nico here. As mentioned previously, Mr. Struggan is not terribly familiar with, nor fond of, twenty-first century literature. When I reviewed Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower last week, Mr. Struggan stated that it was “not the type of novel [I] should be wasting my time with.” This week, he assigned me John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run”, having read Paul Elie’s recent essay in the New York Times Book Review “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”. I have not read any of Updike’s work before, so I took the assignment. Plus, I didn’t really have a choice.
Note: Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the protagonist in Rabbit, Run, is not to be confused with Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith of the 2002 film 8 Mile, although a comparison of the two characters might be an interesting assignment. Moving on…
Updike does a good job of potentially antagonizing readers with Rabbit’s general ideas about women and the way he treats them. Janice, his wife, is disregarded as stupid, Mrs. Eccles, the minister’s wife, is seen as pompous, and Ruth, Rabbit’s lover, is taken advantage of.
Christian elements emerge frequently in the story. Rabbit observes parishioners leaving Sunday service, goes golfing with a minister and contemplates beauty in his self-confident, short-sighted way. The way people talk about Updike’s writing, I was expecting something a little more thought-provoking.
Updike’s writing can be irritating to read. The humor is there, but I grimaced more than I laughed out loud. Upon review, the plot’s interesting parts are less then the sum of the story’s whole.
Mr. Struggan sends his Regards
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 1999
Nico here. For the first literary review on Regards, I asked Mr. Struggan if I could review the modern cult classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. This fall, I saw the cinematic adaptation of this novel and have been curious about it since.
The film was not my first encounter with Perks. During my freshman year of high school, a classmate recited a poem by Michael, a character who commits suicide in the story, for an oratory contest. Needless to say, the poem is not a bright point. I wholeheartedly congratulate this classmate for for creating an excellently awkward silence in a theatre of approximately 240 students and administrators.
Moments like this real life one are common throughout Perks. Chbosky’s novel is made up of letters from Charlie during his freshman year of high school. As Charlie develops as a writer, his morbid observations of adolescence skew more towards inspiring hope.
Is it a happy book? Sort of. It’s exciting. The reader roots for a kid who has a lot of strikes against him and achieves a lot in his first year of high school. Charlie’s victories remind the reader that milestones in high school lead to things ahead. I think a reader in high school might also be excited about illicit activities they were reading about in the book.
Chbosky, a screenwriter by trade, tells a good story with Perks. The letters make up scenes, and are not drawn out. As opposed to larger acts or chapters, the story moves incrementally and skips from week to week.
I wonder what a reader still in high school thinks while reading it. Are they excited? Are they heartened? Maybe they dwell more on the negative aspects of that period of life. Chbosky believes that if misery has company, all bad things come to pass.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
Nico here. You might not know this, but our boss, Mr. Struggan, is a huge fan of contemporary pop music. He reached out to me this weekend and asked if I could write a review of Solange’s new EP, True, which was released on CD and LP this Tuesday.
Given the creative freedom the format allows, True works as an EP and bodes well for the direction Solange is headed in. Taken as her third album, however, True might be as unbearable as a Ric Ocasek’s Beatitude on cassette, a theme-y, period novelty. There have been plenty of bad EPs by great artists. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Machine springs to mind.
Here, Solange draws influence from 80s R&B, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, even Yeasayer, to create music that’s fresh, but forgettable. The tracks are fun and cinematic, a quality the rest of her catalogue has. However, all of these songs are downers—think 808s and Heartbreak—and the emotional range is disappointingly narrow. The sparse beats on some tracks like “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work” are ripe for more energetic remixes. I could easily hear any of these songs in the closing credits of an HBO comedy series. The British-accented monologue on “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work” transports us to London in 1984.
Like many other EPs, True shows us where Solange is right now. I hope a lot of the musical ideas on these songs will be more fleshed out on her next album. She has successfully broken away from the middle-of-the-road style of her previous work, gone full on into weird soul mode and come out on the other side all the groovier.
Mr. Struggan sends his Regards.