Monday, 30 December 2013

Epilogue #4

The Rehearsal
Eleanor Catton

Eleanor Catton has received plenty of attention this year for her Booker Prize-winning novel, The Luminaries. It was an interest in this novel -- seemingly written in a historiographic metafiction-esque style, and compared by some to the much-beloved-by-me series Twin Peaks -- that led me to check out first (as I'll be reading The Luminaries at some point in the new year) Catton's comparatively short debut novel, The Rehearsal.

Funnily enough, The Rehearsal's small-scale, yet ambitiously and originally presented, narrative brought to mind Twin Peaks -- though presumably in a different way to how The Luminaries' story of murder and greed did to its critics. I say this because The Rehearsal's story - largely about how the discovery of an affair between a teacher and his student has a 'rippling effect' across a small community of people - echoes, in a way, how David Lynch and Mark Frost's series presented the cataclysmic aftermath of Laura Palmer's death; as well as in how such an aftermath reveals and explores in some depth the strange 'micro-culture' of secondary school-age teenagers, to which adults are (against their wishes) excluded.

Though Catton's experimentation -- a chronologically fragmented non-linear narrative, elements of metafictional play, an modernist / expressionist favouring of heightened subjectivity -- may initially seem daunting and off-putting to some, I personally felt that these elements were used very effectively. Catton has praised the ever-evolving narrative form of the 'box set' TV series, and I think it shows in this novel in how - like with series like The Sopranos or Lost - narrative complexity and unorthodox devices are utilised in a more accessible fashion; in a way that is intended more to propel the reader's interest and engagement with the story than to shock or subvert.

Overall, I highly enjoyed The Rehearsal's effortlessly ambitious and brilliantly observed microscope-view of its small-scale settings and characters -- managing even, with its sort of ironic punchline of an ending, to conclude the novel in a satisfying way and without compromising this dedication to its understated and grounded setting -- and I look forward to seeing how The Luminaries will present such exciting originality on a contrastingly larger scale.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Epilogue #3

Amerika: The Man Who Disappeared
Franz Kafka

Before I started reading from the compilation of Franz Kafka's three (unfortunately all unfinished) novels, Amerika was the one I had the least knowledge of. Little bits of information that I gained from the acclaimed literary journal Wikipedia had formed some expectations in my mind -- the description of the novel as more realistic and humorous in tone and the stated influence of Charles Dickens had me expecting something slightly different to what we may traditionally think of Kafka-esque.

As it happened, I was right in some ways and wrong in others. Though Amerika is less surrealist / absurdist in tone to some of Kafka's other works and is, in a way, more overt in its social commentary, there's still a lot about it that is unmistakeably from the mind of the Franz Kafka we all know, love, and credit for our profound feelings of anxiety about the contemporary, post-Twentieth Century age. His representation of the real nation of America, for example, is noticeably expressionistic rather than deliberately accurate in a realist sense (famously, Kafka never visited America in his lifetime, basing his novel largely on acquaintance's accounts and books about travel): it is presented as a sort of exaggeration of America in many ways -- sprawling, relentlessly fast-paced, modern and highly industrialised, bureaucratic, capitalist, and rife with social injustice.

From the very first chapter (which is also, under the name of 'The Stoker' published as a short story in many collections of Kafka's fiction) we are introduced to this portrayal of America -- the first sight of protagonist Karl Rossmann's new life in America is the Statue of Liberty holding a sword (a factual error viewed by many as deliberate symbolism), and as this first chapter develops, the reader - without even being taken off of the boat that Karl comes in on - gains a small, yet highly detailed (and, in some ways, foreshadowing) glimpse of America, its brutally hierarchical nature, and the simultaneous wealth of fascinating opportunities and terrifying perils that this nation has to offer to Kafka's protagonist.

As with The Trial, the ending of Amerika is of particular note. Once again, the novel's ending is a fragment chronologically removed from the previous chapter -- this is particularly noticeable in Rossmann's delight at re-meeting a character that was never present in the completed sections of Amerika -- and, again like The Trial, this lends an even stronger Kafka-esque sense of dreamlike strangeness and sinister surrealism to what would already have been a dreamy, strange, sinister, and surreal closing chapter. Though, in many ways, detached from the rest of the novel; I nonetheless felt that this ending fragment did serve as a very fitting conclusion to the novel, especially as I read its blend of optimism and off-kilter strangeness as a sort of warped mirror of the novel's opening chapter's curious blend of optimism and melancholy bleakness; raising the interesting closing question as to whether this new beginning will just end up like Rossmann's other less well-fated 'new beginnings' during his time in America.

Although Amerika isn't considered to be as influential or canonical as works like 'Metamorphosis' or The Trial, its nonetheless another fascinating, if tragically unfinished, novel from a fascinating, unique writer; and, with its social commentary and questioning of aspirational, individualistic American values and of the idea of 'the American Dream', undoubtedly is a novel that invites comparison with a multitude of later more widely-acclaimed works of fiction that have trodden that ever-fertile thematic ground.

Expect a final Kafka Epilogue on The Castle soon, once I've read that (which I'll likely get to after reading Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal).

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A bit of news

I originally meant to announce this as the final Hallo Halloween II post; but, as the week's been pretty busy, I lately announce a new release from my music project Mute Branches.

Lodge / Saint Helena is a collection of two tracks that are tangentially based around Halloween-related things and that attempt to evoke those sort of atmospheres.

And, on another note, fellow Soundcloud user xciv produced a great remix of my track, Sol Delay, too.

To close this post, I'll say that I'm hopefully going to sort out a belated Hallo Halloween II post about Ti West's film, The Innkeepers.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hallo Halloween II: Beelzebub Gets His Groove Back / Slow Walkers - 'Slow Walkers'

I'm currently typing this sentence for the first time on a bleak-looking grey, rainy day. Definitely a fitting time to listen to and write about Slow Walkers -- the collaborative release on LA-based label Peak Oil of experimental musicians / sonic artists Liz Harris (better known under the name Grouper) and Lawrence English.

The collaborative project (also named Slow Walkers) was described on Pitchfork in 2011 as being "a multi-media project about zombies [taking] the form of an album, video installations and a live audio-visual concert". Listening to the album, the conceptual links to zombies and to the genre of horror and horror cinema are not explicit, as such -- certainly not in the same way as, for example, Boards of Canada's more overt references to horror cinema by way of the soundtrack work of John Carpenter on this year's Tomorrow's Harvest -- but this overriding concept is something ever-present in the music and in the atmosphere of the music.

English and Harris' slow, crumbling, minimalist compositions make perfect use of noise and lo-fi drones to establish a bleak, cold, lonely mood and to create the impression of a wide, sparse, empty and abandoned space. Listening to these six tracks (which, for the most part, segue into one another) made me feel, in my head, as if I was Cillian Murphy's character in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (I know it technically isn't a zombie film, but - come on - it really is) walking through the vast and deserted streets of London: the once bustling, functional environment having collapsed completely within a very short period of time.

It's by no means a particularly 'easy' listen (if you're looking for a place to 'start' with both of these artists, this probably isn't it); but Slow Walkers is a conceptually rich and sonically detailed 40-ish minutes of dark, uncompromising atmosphere that is stopped throughout from seeping into the background (a potential risk when working within such abstract 'ambient' territory) through the compelling snatches of more kind of traditional melodic structures that we hear as degraded and broken (akin, significantly, to the structures of society / urban environments after a zombie epidemic), as well as through the fact that these deep and detailed tones and sound manipulations are all strongly characteristic of Harris and English's own distinctive artistic styles.

It'd certainly be interesting to see how well the album synced with the beautifully bleak shots of deserted London from Danny Boyle's 2001 film, 28 Days Later.
(image from The Phoenix)

With those distinctive styles in mind -- here are two recommended tracks from Harris' and English's

Lawrence English - 'Coda for a Fading Timeline'
I'll be honest; I'm much more familiar with Harris' work than with English's; but this, from Headphone Commute's excellent 87-track ambient / post-classical compilation, ...and darkness came, probably tells me that I should rectify that. Much in the vein of the work on this collaboration, the track is an short texturally-based work of broken-sounding ambient music in the vein of people like William Basinski and Fieldhead.
Mirrorring - 'Drowning the Call'
This is from Mirrorring: another collaboration of Harris', this time with Jesy Fortino (who performs under the name of Tiny Vipers)I reviewed their album, Foreign Body,  for BeardRock here, and talked about how effectively (in a way similar to that that can be heard on Slow Walkers) Harris' unique vision crossed and mingled with that of Fortino to create something that sounded unique and special to their collaboration. As well as that, I'd say that Mirrorring's album would be an excellent recommendation for someone interested in introducing themselves to Grouper's discography -- Foreign Body's dreamy, drone-folk showcases Grouper's distinctive approach to recording and production albeit within a more accessible context that borrows from Fortino's slightly more traditional singer-songwriter-esque approach.

* * *

Slow Walkers was available on vinyl from
and is still available for download (£7.99) from iTunes.

Check out the video for 'Wake', below...

'Wake' from Slow Walkers - Lawrence English / Liz Harris from ROOM40 on Vimeo.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Hallo Halloween II: Son of Hallo Halloween / A Small Assortment of Things That Terrified Me As A Kid

After the 'haunted childhood artefact' feel of Anodyne I wrote about; I thought that, in this bit of the run-up to Halloween, I'd write about an assortment of things that harrowed me as a young'un. An interesting subject, because I don't think - in adulthood - that we ever really experience in the same way that particular thrill of really feeling scared of a safe, constructed work of fiction.

Given the nature of childhood, some things I was scared of then are kind of dumb things to relate with fear (case in point: I remember an episode of Extreme Ghostbusters freaking me right out), but this list is mainly consistent of some legitimate (primarily) '90s-based recommendations (though, I'll warn you now, one of them is borderline impossible to find (save maybe through torrents or eBay or something)).

* * *

The Black Riders in BBC Radio 4's 1981 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings

I think the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, is my favourite part of J.R.R. Tolkein's influential fantasy saga; there's a smaller-scale mystery and creepiness to it all that, when contrasted with the cosy rural idyll of the Shire, creates a tone that I prefer to the later volumes' huge, epic-scale battles and quests.

One major reason for me having this opinion is probably down to my first exposure to the story being through the 1981 BBC Radio 4 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings -- which incidentally I had no idea was from 1981, having listened to it as a kid in the '90s (usually around Christmas time; and in the dark for extra atmosphere), thanks to them having been released on about a billion cassette tapes. I remember particularly my infant mind being creeped out by the Black Riders -- who really represent more than anything else this sense of the cosy warmth of the Shire being broken by the mysterious, evil goings-on in the outside world.

Part of it, I think, was the fact that, with this radio version, I had only the atmospherically rich sounds - the creepy voices of the Black Riders, the scared responses from the innocents they encountered in their search - to use in constructing an image in my head; in a way giving these characters this really effective sense of 'formlessness' in my imagination (the sort that's well-trodden ground in horror: think Lovecraft's descriptions of monstrosities impossible for the human mind to comprehend, and how Ridley Scott hides his own Lovecraftian horror creation from the audience throughout much of his 1979 classic Alien).

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a clip on YouTube -- but here's the theme music from the radio series (which is probably available in more contemporary formats than tape).


Sephiroth, from Final Fantasy VII

Playing Final Fantasy VII as a kid in the age where the Internet wasn't such a big deal (the slow-loading forest of GeoCities sites that it was) is - despite how utterly tediously nerdish a topic it looks on paper - something that I do find quite interesting.

To my eyes, Final Fantasy VII wasn't just a game. It was a three-disc enigma; a hugely immersive world filled to the brim with fascinating secrets, amongst them the creepily elusive Emerald WEAPON (I could write a thing about that, but it'd just be pretty much "saw a creepy-looking monster in the underwater depths, went up to it, died instantly, learned to respect the boundaries of this madly ominous beast") and the - to my childhood self, especially - mindblowingly deep layers of hidden backstory (I once got really excited because I thought I'd discovered a cut-scene that no-one else had found; I think I remember feeling very slightly offended at the juxtaposing ambivalence of my parents when I told them the world-changing news).

One mysterious enigma that really got to me when I first played it though, is actually one of the most major parts of Final Fantasy VII: Sephiroth.

I knew virtually nothing of the game or its settings and characters when I first picked it up and, reading the character list in the manual, I noticed Sephiroth's entry and how it's ridiculously vague - no picture, no age, a brief description of him having disappeared, and virtually nothing else. Then, gradually, this mysterious character sneaks into the story - bringing with him this huge sense of dread, frighteningly competent displays of violence, and twisted, tormented, borderline batshit motives for his world-threatening evildoing - and had me scared, as well as enthralled and immersed into the world of the game.

The extent to which I found Sephiroth scary can be seen in the instance when I woke up in a frightened jolt having, in my dream, come across what seemed to be Sephiroth's driving licence (or some standard form of identification, anyway).

Now, what the hell is that all about?


Assorted episodes of The X-Files

I remember that I impressed someone at school with the revelation that I'd been allowed to stay up and watch The X-Files. My Fonz-level veil of coolness at that point would have smashed into a billion pieces if I had revealed that I had resultantly been unable to sleep (more like refused to for fear of alien abduction / a Jersey Devil mauling) and that my parents decided I probably shouldn't stay up and watch The X-Files again.

For all the show's wit and humour, I think the main thing I got from it was the threat of imminent attack by paranormal entities. In the West Midlands. It turns out I may have had a point (though I probably didn't).

Not much else I need to say about The X-Files; stick to the early seasons for guaranteed quality.


The Realms of the Haunting

I think it's borderline impossible to find nowadays, but if you ever get the opportunity (getting past the whole DOS compatibility issues, etc.), I'd definitely recommend at least having a look at Gremlin Interactive's 1996 game The Realms of the Haunting.

The game is a first-person-shooter / horror adventure that puts you in the shoes of Adam Randall, who must explore an abandoned mansion in order to investigate the mysterious (and, as we find out, supernatural) circumstances surrounding the death of his estranged father.

There's a lot about Realms that's rather dated now - most notably the full-motion video cut-scenes (actually used a lot more effectively than many of its contemporaries) and the early 3D; but there's equally lots about it that stands up today and, in some cases, was ahead of its time. For example, there's the then-novel blending of the action-orientated first-person-shooter genre with the narrative elements and puzzling of the graphic adventure (this is two years before Half-Life received considerable acclaim for imbuing its first-person action with more sophisticated narrative elements); and the fact that the player has this expansive, haunting, excellently-realised environment of the house (and of the myriad strange places it leads you to) to explore, which is only really hindered by the fact that the player is required to switch between the four CDs irritatingly frequently in order to so.

My memories of playing it as a small child aren't exactly expansive, because I refused to exit one of the rooms out of sheer terror at the fact that I would be confronted with the game's first enemy; but, as I got older, I mustered up the psychological strength to soldier on and I can safely recommend this as a great, underrated and, unfortunately, largely forgotten game. Ideal if you're interested in seeing a relatively early example of an action game having the ambition to ramp up the atmosphere and story.


Dr. Fred's voice from Day of the Tentacle

Messed me right up.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Hallo Halloween II: The Bloodening / 'Anodyne'

Once again, Halloween's on the way -- and I'll be providing, in the run-up, some examples of seasonally relevant culture-y stuff that you can make use of to keep yourself entertained while hiding from trick-or-treaters and their inhuman demands. Kicking off this week with independent developer Analgesic Productions' surreal action-adventure game Anodyne.

Looking at Sean Hogan and Jonathan Kittaka's 2012 game, Anodyne, there are quite a few aspects of it that that don't necessarily make it look like the most obvious choice of game to be looked at in relation to Halloween. The game's got a relatively prominent sense of humour; on the surface, it draws comparisons more to an old Legend of Zelda game than to, say, Silent Hill or Forbidden Siren; and there are plenty of moments that could be seen as lightly whimsical: for example, the girl with a bike called Wares, and a bear called James who asks you not to defecate on his berries.

Of course, in talking about how Anodyne contrastingly has many other elements that create a sense of unease (and in a way, too, that makes these aforementioned lighter aspects contribute to this dark atmosphere), I'll make a little reference to a compelling old online urban myth I read about a few years ago about a haunted Majora's Mask cartridge.What interested me about that (to get quite wanky about it) was how, like any good ghost story, there were depths to it that, through the supernatural elements, had some resonance with real life -- this idea of someone, in adulthood, revisiting something representative of the carefree innocence of his childhood and finding it tainted with the death and sadness that people grow to realise is an inherent part of existence.

I have no idea whether Hogan and Kittaka are aware of this particular 'Creepy Pasta' (there's nothing that conjures up fear and dread like a famous and widely-appreciated staple food), but I definitely think that their game shares, to some extent, this same vibe of 'corrupted childhood artefact'.

To gamers of a certain age (i.e. my age, and a bit older), aspects of the game's presentation and gameplay will likely evoke nostalgia. Probably bringing back memories of playing old Super Nintendo games, or maybe - if you're closer to my age - of playing something like the old Pokemon games on the Game Boy.

Further comparisons with such games (specifically something like Zelda) can be seen in the premise and storyline of Anodyne: travelling and puzzling through a variety of dungeons and environments, with the objective being the seemingly simplistic one of having to "save the Briar from the Evil Darkness". It is here, in the unfolding of this storyline, though, where a player will also first notice the 'haunting' in all the nostalgia and apparent traditionalism.

Emerging from the apparently simple and traditional 'fight the evil force' storyline are an array of fascinating, cryptic mysteries. You'll come to play through increasingly strange and imaginative settings (I don't want to spoil these -- though the monochrome world alone makes the game very suitable for Halloween playing); meet a cast of eccentric, bizarre characters and enemies who serve to compellingly complicate any search for clarity with regards to what's going on; encounter commendably nuanced suggestions of heavy narrative themes that include murder, loneliness and suicide; and, after the credits roll, you have the chance to experience the game world in a thrillingly innovative new way.

All of this (coupled with the excellent soundtrack by Seagaia) serves to create and maintain this really effective atmosphere of melancholy, unease and deliberate 'brokenness' throughout the entire game; emphasising the creeping surrealism of its darkest moments, and skilfully undercutting the moments of lightness, humour and naivety. Is the ever-shifting world of Anodyne its (with this in mind, perhaps aptly named?) protagonist's attempt to escape the pressures and stresses of the adult world by trying to retreat into a dreamlike fantasy representative of the 16-bit video games of his more carefree childhood days?

I, frankly, don't know... and it doesn't really matter whether or not you 'figure it out', because the challenging, yet addictive, classically-styled gameplay is accessible, entertaining, and never alienates; helping to form a complete piece in which the player is able to experience, analyse, and - importantly - enjoy Anodyne's unique complexities at his/her own pace.

Great stuff.

Anodyne (Analgesic Games, 2012)
Available for £6.99 from Steam here --


On a similar note...

Lone Survivor
(Superflat Games, 2012)

Jasper Byrne's 2012 independent survival horror game, Lone Survivor, is - like Anodyne - a fever-dream-esque experience that similarly works a constant air of unease and danger through Silent Hill-esque dilapidated environments, a relentlessly surreal and bleak storyline, and experimental survival-based gameplay mechanics.

Available for £6.99 from Steam --

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Label to Keep Your Ears On: Sparkwood Records

A while ago I wrote a piece about some tracks released by Above, Convenience Store! on their Soundcloud page; in this piece I'm going to recommend the independent label started by the duo, which is named Sparkwood Records.

At the time of writing, the label is home to three releases -- Above, Convenience Store!'s own full-length album Building in Search of the Sun; and self-titled EPs from the Elephant Frame and Eyesix.

* * *

Building In Search of the Sun cover art

Building in Search of the Sun continues the promise of the duo's earlier work; relevantly enough, I first listened to this from start-to-finish on a day that had kicked off with lightning, thunder, and lashings of rain. This is an album that reflects the storminess and the turbulence of the natural environment -- something that can be heard in the samples of rain on a track like 'Boneyard Stray Dog', and atmospherically throughout the album in the windiness evoked by the lo-fi drones and layers of distortion that can be heard in tracks like 'Mask of Mammon' and the aptly-titled 'Shaken from Earth'.

Also interesting is that this album shows the duo nicely branching out and showing a bit more of themselves in their music: while twanging guitars like those on 'Hierosheva', and the synth textures of 'Dusk Encryption' still sonically bring to mind the influential collaborative efforts of Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, I can hear them using these sounds to explore different themes and ideas. For example, I get from this album -- from the storminess of the sounds, from the interesting title, and from the cover art's towering pylon against a sinister grey sky -- a sense of the duality and conflict between humanity and nature.

From a label that can be seen to (as you'll see from the other release) specialise in highly nuanced, almost 'visual', sounds, it's this full-length release from the label's founders that I feel really sets the standards.

The Elephant Frame EP cover art

With this self-titled EP, Oslo's The Elephant Frame certainly fits well alongside Sparkwood's founding artists. The five tracks on this EP have the same evocatively mysterious 'outdoorsy' feel of the tracks on Building in Search of the Sun, albeit with less use of distortion, which serves to lend the Elephant Frame's work a general sense more of grey-skied cloudy melancholy than the stormy turbulence of Above, Convenience Store!. As a sense of greater threat is introduced in EP closer, 'A Day to Remember' - as distortion and noise begin to take on a greater role against a contrastingly gentle guitar line - I can visualise a storm beginning to emerge from the melancholy, and I find myself anticipating what lies in store for future releases from the Elephant Frame.

eyesix EP cover art

Offering a different sound altogether is eyesix. In keeping with the general style of the label, this is music fascinated with and deliberately evocative of nature and the outdoors -- something that can be seen in the similar artwork, and that can be heard in the continued utilisation of field recordings / samples of field recordings on this release. Crucially different though is the mood evoked: where Building in Search of the Sun and The Elephant Frame explore dark clouds and storms, eyesix brings to my mind's eye a greater sense of a brighter atmosphere; something more like a clear, blue-skied Winter's day.

The Boards of Canada-esque synthesizer textures give the EP an unmistakably nostalgic, almost 'hauntological' sound (implied also through track titles like 'Nuclear Family' and 'Soylent Green'); and are coupled with a good ear for melody that helps the music act as more than just a vehicle for nostalgia -- something that I find can sometimes be a downfall with many artists working with this similar sonic palette -- as the music evokes a feeling not dissimilar to going for a carefree walk in a fresh, cool Winter breeze, as the sun retreats behind hills. Especially on the excellent 'Soylent Green'.

* * *

Definitely a label I'd recommend -- not just for the music (as in tune with my taste for music that blurs the lines between 'organic' and 'electronic' as it is) -- but also for this ambitious sense of almost continuity that runs through the work they've released to date: this sense that Sparkwood are a label who aim to reflect, through music, the various faces and characteristics of the outside world and how people can interact with it.

Details from where you can hear their music on Soundcloud, and stream / download (pay-what-you-want) from Bandcamp are...
Soundcloud --
Bandcamp --

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Epilogue #2

The Trial
Franz Kafka

It seems like there's not a great deal that I can say about Franz Kafka that's not already been said. But having read, for the first time, what is (except maybe for the short story 'The Metamorphosis') probably his best-known work, The Trial (as part of Vintage's The Complete Novels collection), I feel the urge to say all that stuff anyway.

For a number of reasons, reading this novel rarely gave me the feeling of one written in the early 20th-Century: obviously, there's the fact that the contemporary reader can most likely empathise with Josef K.'s frustrating dealings with a satirically absurd bureaucracy (I shamefully admit that I drew parallels between K.'s anguish and the time when I got a bit annoyed because I had to keep sending documents to the Student Finance Company). But there's a lot in Kafka's general world view that I think is very interestingly more in line with later writers and with the contemporary age in general -- the shadowy dystopian setting of The Trial, the depiction of a society controlled by unknown and un-knowable forces that exert their power elusively from a space seemingly towering above even the most elaborate hierarchies is something more akin to the culture and thinking of the post-modern age: the conspirators so frequently rambled about by Thomas Pynchon protagonists, for example, the vast conglomerates of cyberpunk fiction, or the almost alien figures behind the scenes of Mulholland Drive's film-within-a-film The Sylvia North Story.

Furthermore, there's been much notice from others regarding the fact that what - at the time - may have been read primarily as a darkly surreal satire on the bureaucracy of modernity gained a much more sinister sense of relevance in the wake of the totalitarian, fascist regimes that would contribute to the shift from modernity's world of order and categorisation into post-modernity's (rather Kafka-esque) age of increased uncertainty, distrust, and paranoia (hello GCHQ / the NSA!). This is definitely something I picked up on throughout my reading of The Trial: in the aforementioned elusiveness of its dystopian power structure, I noted that - far from being an Orwellian portrait of an oppressed 'Big Brother' state - it was (even though the whole novel is given a dreamy, surreal tone by Kafka's focus on the insular figure of K., and his effectively blunt and straight-forward prose) a more hauntingly recognisable dystopia: one where the governing systems' corruption and unhealthy disconnection from ordinary people doesn't make itself apparent (or maybe just doesn't matter to you) until, like K., you find that your fate is in its hands.

Though the novel does have a final chapter that ends K.'s story, it's a shame that Kafka died before writing what leads up to it, as The Trial resultantly concludes with an abrupt time shift. Though that said, it is quite fitting with K.'s constant state of profoundly not knowing what's going on that the novel ends so very strikingly and with such a crucial lack of supporting context as to be possibly even more powerfully Kafkaesque than Kafka himself ever intended.

I definitely look forward to progressing onto Amerika (and then, The Castle soon after) in the near future.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Epilogue #1

Epilogue is a new section where I aim to write a little bit about a book that I've recently read... Just so you know.
I'm back after my slight absence with my brows facing more towards the moon than ever before; and I aim to break new ground by blogging about literature without at any point making reference to tea or gin.
Like what some sort of enterprising pioneer of the form would do.

Mason & Dixon
Thomas Pynchon

Around this time probably about two years ago, Thomas Pynchon was one of those writers whose work I thought I would be eternally intending to read without ever getting round to it. Since then (partly due to deciding to write a chapter of my undergraduate dissertation on Gravity's Rainbow), I've now read his first five novels -- as well as some of the hilarious bits of Pynchon miscellany that have been archived on the line (see: /

Most recently - as you can probably tell from the massive picture and heading above - I've read his 1997 novel, Mason & Dixon. After 1990's Vineland - smaller-scale, and more low-key in its thematic complexity than typically associated with a Pynchon novel - this novel represents more of a return to the sprawling, dense and tonally eclectic fictions of V. and Gravity's Rainbow.

The striking difference here is that - unlike with his previous works - Mason & Dixon's primary setting is far-removed from the recognisable 20th Century, modern / post-modern age to which Pynchon is so strongly linked. The novel follows a lengthy period in the 18th century, centred around the lives of astronomer / surveyor team Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, best-known for charting the Mason-Dixon line to establish the correct boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Despite this, it's definitely worth noting that Pynchon's historical narrative is firmly connected to the 20th / 21st century age of late / post-modernity... and it's this that leads me to talk about what I feel makes Mason & Dixon really fit with its aforementioned encyclopaedic predecessors. From his work, Pynchon's general aesthetic attitude towards history is (and for more about this, by the way, read up about Linda Hutcheon's ideas about 'historiographic metafiction') one that argues the importance of the outsider and the 'preterite': leaving us with novels that highlight how the present moment is always essentially the culmination of the chaotic mess of all events of the past (including, crucially of course, events 'forgotten' by or 'rejected' from the grand narrative of history).

This aesthetic approach to history and historiography can be seen in by the bucket-load throughout this novel: Mason and Dixon's tale is framed as a story told by the unreliably subjective and human narrator Wicks Cherrycoke to members of his extended family; the novel blends impeccably researched historical fact with obvious fiction (e.g. a talking dog, ghosts, a super-intelligent mechanical duck); a focus on the 'preterite' throughout history (the stories of slaves, indigenous cultures, etc.). Most significantly, almost everywhere is this idea of the many events of the past leading unquestionably to the present moment: it is as present in the largest aspects -- primarily, I refer the ever-looming theme throughout the book of how the innocence and naivety of superstition and religion / folklore gives way to the 'experience' of rationality and science in modernity and of commerce and consumerism in post-modernity -- as it is in the tiniest details -- the presence of Pig Bodine's similarly drunken ancestor, for example, and even a paragraph describing a grandfather clock that I feel can be read both as an extremely subtle allusion to the sort of shadowy almost-fascism that features so heavily in Vineland, and as an even more subtle reference to George Orwell's 1984 (for which Pynchon wrote a foreword, fact fans).

As is no doubt evident, there really is a hell of a lot in Mason & Dixon. Though it may seem a bit slow to begin with, and maybe not quite as detailed and intense as some of Pynchon's other work; if you persevere, it becomes apparent just how filled to the brim with detail, warmth, character, ambition, insight, and wonder this fascinating novel's 700-plus pages are.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Above, Convenience Store! - Tūndâr / Arvedálki Beaivvada (Foundcloud #7: A Set Review)

This month's Foundcloud thing is - unlike the previous instalments - going to be a look at one specific set. I think it's good to keep my possibly non-existent readers on their possibly non-existent feet.

What attracted me to write about this set was that I'd been particularly taken by some of Above, Convenience Store!'s earlier work that they had released on their page; in particular, the track 'Up to Jack's for No Good' -- a brilliantly atmospheric Twin Peaks-sampling piece that incorporates the uniquely eerie tone of that aforementioned show into an appropriately smoky almost trip-hop context.

This sense of the eerie and the pastoral is something that runs through much of the Norwegian duo's work: their hazy, dream-like sounds often sound lo-fi, but they never sound restricted to within the confines of a bedroom studio. Like fellow lo-fi experimentalists Grouper and Fieldhead - Above, Convenience Store!'s droning lo-fi compositions often sound as if heard somewhere in the vast expanse of the outdoors, from a distant clearing beyond oppressively tall hills and trees.

This set - Tūndâr / Arvedálki Beaivvada - is no exception. Tūndâr begins with murky reverberating guitar chords that gradually come to be accompanied by further meticulously-placed layers of distorted guitar and synth drones. All of this melds together to fuse into one huge, spacious sound that sonically recreates the feeling of harsh winds forcing themselves through the trees and chilling the skin.

Second track Arvedálki Beaivvada pretty much starts straight away with the dense wind-like drones, underneath which are snatches of melodies hidden and buried beneath the chaos. Breaking this is a guitar passage that, as well as being evocatively haunting, also serves effectively to calm the storm: giving structure to the thick layers of noise as they shape themselves to fit the guitarwork in a way that sounds appropriately organic and natural. All of this - in a way somewhat reminiscent of the work of Flying Saucer Attack or of Mirrorring's excellent Foreign Body - establishes a very effective dichotomy between subdued calm and stormy chaos.

While writing this, I also found that the duo operate a Bandcamp page -- -- where you can stream and download two of their EPs - the brilliant Gasfarming EP, which contains the aforementioned 'Up to Jack's for No Good'; and the Planetary Exiles EP, which I have yet to listen to.

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While I'm here, I'd also like to take the opportunity to share the fourth instalment in Body in the Thames' series of mixes showcasing the music of the Drowned in Sound community, on which is contained a track of mine, 'The Almost Harp', as well as eleven other tracks by the freakishly talented members of the DiS forums.

1. Ghosting Season - Time Without Question (alternate version) (DiS user worrier1)
2. Evangelink88 - Shok Shok (DiS user evangelink)
3. J Howes - TD-W700 (DiS user Howes)
4. Moth Effect - Toggy Dubness (DiS user bongodeldrongo)
5. Aquatic Slime - Howling (DiS user wasted_opportunity)
6. Cementimental - . Strangely Enough, There Was Also Electricity in Ataru's House (DiS user cementimental)
7. Internet Forever - White Light Collision Course (DiS users alcxxk, laura_wolf, & hrtbps)
8. Neon Highwire - Just Suppose (DiS user maosm)
9. oh-dude - 120 to 30, delayed and filtered (DiS user chris-budget)
10. Go Faster - When the last note sounds (DiS user dead_fred)
11. Falling Stacks - View of a lake (DiS users moribund & JimmyHuntspill)
12. Mute Branches - The Almost Harp (DiS user mute-branches)

Monday, 8 April 2013

Foundcloud #6

After not releasing a Foundcloud in March (though maybe the Pan.American post kind of counts), here's another couple of tracks from the 'Like' folder...

PLVS VLTRA - 'Rocks in Sun I'

This track is from PLVS VLTRA, the electronic solo project of Toko Yasuda -- probably better known for her work with the likes of St. Vincent, Blonde Redhead, and the Van Pelt.

'Rocks in Sun I' obviously differs from the work of those aforementioned projects: while the influence of electronic music is evident in the work of St. Vincent and Blonde Redhead, here the focus is entirely onto electronics -- as the sound-bending capabilities of the sampler are utilised to great effect.

The track admittedly doesn't go through any great changes in its 4 minutes, but where it stays - as its echoing 4/4 beat and vintage-sounding synth bass pulse through a hypnotic, sonically dense swirling collage of processed piano and vocal samples (which, I should add, at a number of points, I also found reminiscent of the dreamier and more electronically-influenced instrumental parts of St. Vincent's incredible 2009 album Actor) - is undoubtedly a nice place to be.

I should also, while I'm recommending this, urge you to listen to another track on her page - 'Sitcat (yo-yo blue)' - because it's just SO MUCH FUN.

Pinkunoizu - 'Tin Can Valley'

Speaking of fun, one of my favourite aspects of Copenhagen-based experimental rock band Pinkunoizu was how much fun their releases to date (the EP Peep and 2012 debut album Free Time!) have been to listen to, laden as they are with genre-smashing eclecticism, playful experimentation and an energy that they've shown a talent for successfully translating onto record.

This new single 'Tin Can Valley' (from an upcoming EP Second Amendment, out next month on Full Time Hobby) is no exception to that rule. On the track we can hear a band who just sound like they're enjoying every aspect of what they're doing, while unleashing the kind of exciting, noisy, sprawling music that wouldn't sound too out of place coming from Sonic Youth circa-Daydream Nation.

* * *

While I'm here, I'm also going to mention a Soundcloud playlist originating from the Drowned in Sound forums:

As well as including my track 'Lake', it also features 14 other great tracks that show how much interesting stuff can go on in a single minute.

Happy listening!
(not to be a regular sign-off, it just seems weirdly appropriate right here)

Monday, 25 March 2013

Not Foundcloud, But Something I Found On Soundcloud

I've been relatively more busy than usual recently, though I do plan to get another Foundcloud out by the end of the month (or if not then, then very likely early next month -- unless BioShock Infinite ends up taking over my life, which is VERY possible).

Anyway, here's something that came across in the Soundcloud feed that I was rather excited about...

The first taste of the upcoming new album from Pan American (Cloud Room, Glass Room: to be released on Kranky next month).

In all honesty, 'Project for an Apartment Building' is no great leap for Pan American... within the first minute, we hear the crackling static, the dub bassline, the clattering rhythms, the looping synthesizer sequence: these have been hallmarks of Mark Nelson's distinctive sound since early releases like 360 Business / 360 Bypass 13 years ago. And as more sounds are introduced -- further rhythmic elements, ambient washes, the buzzing and whirring of a dreamily processed guitar -- it's clarification that this is Pan American, doing what he does best and, I should definitely add, doing it as brilliantly as ever: crafting a soundscape full of atmosphere, beautiful textural touches and character.

Certainly an album I'm looking forward to, then (especially given the reported presence of former Labradford member Bobby Donne), but this will be more than enough for now to get my fix of Mark Nelson's brand of understated yet dense ambience.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Foundcloud #5

Two more tracks for February! One of which is accompanied by a rather lengthy slab of text.
So something for everyone.

Elephant - 'Skyscraper'

I had a real soft spot for Elephant’s Assembly EP when it was released in 2011 (helping to soundtrack, as it did, lengthy stretches of time in a university library), and I’m glad to hear a new song from the London-based boy-girl duo – presumably a first taste of their upcoming debut album.

I’m even more glad, it should be said, that this is the most fleshed out realisation of their dreamy, almost David Lynch-esque, approach to a fifties-style pop sound – as the band crafts an elegantly melancholic wall of sound (consisting of organ washes, retro-cinematic vibraphones (always a personal favourite), string and choral samples, and passages of processed guitar, amongst others) around Amelia Rivas’ suitably dreamlike vocals; all of which combine to create a brilliant three-and-a-half minutes of dreamy pop that – like the work of Tennis, and like Beach House’s more recent releases – favours brightness and clarity over murkiness and ambiguity.

Download it from their Bandcamp page here, too.

Scarfolk Council - 'A Day at the Seaside'

There’s a different sort of nostalgia at work in this second selection.

I discovered the Scarfolk blog ( earlier today, and I think it’s fair to say that anyone who looks at it will have an idea of what that “different sort of nostalgia” I mentioned is.

The blog’s aesthetic – visibly influenced by public information films of the Cold War 1970s as well as, it should be noted, the visual style of Ghost Box Records, Broadcast, and the BBC comedy series Look Around You (which, of course, are themselves visibly influenced by public information films and posters of the 1970s) – can clearly be linked with ‘hauntology’: the aesthetic style / music genre that offers a skewed interpretation of the 1970s, often focusing on a somewhat childlike perspective on the anxieties of that time in which the eerie warnings of public information films mingle with the warped fantasies of 1970s horror films like The Wicker Man and of children’s television programmes like Children of the Stones.

This track – from the blog’s Soundcloud account – has its own mythology that ties in with that of the blog’s titular surreal perpetual-1970s town (the track description reads “Scarfolk Council is proud to announce its musical debut! Here's "A Day at the Seaside" from the "Scarfolk Music & Audio Library Vol. 1" released in 1973(v.2.0).”). Musically though, I didn’t feel it evokes the past in the same way as is generally associated with ‘hauntology’ artists like Belbury Poly and the Focus Group: despite the presence of hazy analog synth drones, the track doesn’t evoke the 1970s through a pastiche of library music or of cult science-fiction or horror films. Instead, the track evokes the implicit nostalgia of its own title (‘A Day at the Seaside’) through creating the sense of a distant memory through field recordings of seaside sounds melting and fading into the downtempo ambient drones in a way that presents us with a view of the past that’s more introspective and personal than hauntology’s post-modern warping of cultural artefacts. Highly recommended!

Sunday, 3 February 2013


It finally happened.
Even at the height of expectation, I wasn’t really expecting it.
But yeah, as everyone and their oft gazed at shoes knows, My Bloody Valentine have released their third album!

This isn’t going to be a track-by-track review / run-down, as I imagine there are tonnes of those and, I think it’s fair to say, I’m one of those people who are prone to criminally overusing terms like “blissed-out”, “hazy”, and “killer swirly, bro” when describing shoegazey stuff.

Instead it’s just going to be a bunch of very subjective words related to m b v.

The Release
Jon Bon Jovi said something about the effect of the Internet on music and its listenership and how its “killing music” (a lot of people have said this, I know, but I wanted to subtly shed a light on the irony of Jon Bon Jovi accusing anyone or anything of doing harm to music (and, yeah, I know it’s a cheap shot)); and he said all that stuff about how the romance of listening to a record and pouring over it in your bedroom was lost in the digital age of instant gratification: teenagers can now just jump thoughtlessly from song to song, before taking a break with some demented Cold War-era Soviet pornography and a marathon session of the most critically acclaimed HBO drama series of the moment.

I think, however, we could see a new sort of romanticism in music listening brought about by the Internet and its promises of “what you want, when you want”. By which I mean – and I assure you at this point that I’m not trying to sell you a new phone contract or anything – connectivity. I saw it when Radiohead released King of Limbs from out of nowhere, too, this sense of the release being an event because it was immediately accessible to all the fans, who could share their thoughts, their feelings, their jokes with one another over forums and social networks.

It was even more noticeable with m b v, though, due to the excitable fans causing an almost-immediate server breakdown (instant gratification, my balls!). Sure, it wasn’t great to find that my excited, hopeful clicking on that fateful link was met with a ‘Server is busy’, and later, a message throwing into question my credentials – but the Internet response was quite inspiring. Comments expressing individual confusion at the server being down quickly gave way to individuals speaking for the whole community – verbose expostulations of “NOOOOOO” and YouTube clips expressing those sentiments. The widespread hysterics, and mass excitement at the fact that someone had a screencap of the page pre-crashing, made the whole thing like experiencing Beatlemania from the comfort of your own home.

Most enjoyable was how the community wasn’t the stereotypical view of Internet hordes as a mass of entitled whining “trolls”, but of people whose genuine excitement and anticipation for 47 minutes of new music was clear through just the simplistic vector graphics of words on computer screens. Who can say the romance of listening to music has been killed by the Internet, when it can be used as a means for complete strangers to bond with one another over speculation and over jokingly making false claims about having heard the album (one of mine was that “the drop on ‘Fill That Cat’s Urethra With Formaldehyde, You Sainted Buffoon’ is up there with Skrilly”).

Downloading and Listening
After giving up on the wait for the server to come back (sometime round quarter to one, I think), I went to bed. This was, I should add, partly because I was running dry on smart-arse witticisms. Next morning, I went about my usual waking routine of making indistinguishable noises and then reading to accustom my half-asleep mind to language and then... suddenly... “NEW MBV ALBUM”, which led me to run downstairs to get my laptop and DOWNLOAD THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

I was met with a transaction error at first, which I initially thought may have been some sort of Kevin Shields elaborate conspiracy. But eventually, I DOWNLOADED THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

It then strikes me that this is going to be the first time I’ve listened to a My Bloody Valentine album without it being accompanied by a rich mythology – the stunned initial reviews, the impassioned retrospectives elevating it to relic status.

As I hit ‘play’ though, the first few tracks of m b v provide me with some familiar sounds: the tremolo, the distortion, the vocals and their soft counterpoint to the instrumental noise. It starts off very much resembling Loveless – opener ‘she found now’ is very much in the vein of ‘Sometimes’, for example – albeit with a production style a bit more clear and ‘earthbound’ – most noticeable in how the tone is somewhat more reminiscent of “crunchy” Dinosaur Jr.-style noise-pop on tracks like ‘only tomorrow’ and ‘who sees you’ than of the spacey, smooth alien textures of Loveless. The overall effect led me to expect an album somewhere curiously between the more transcendent sonic explorations of Loveless and Isn’t Anything’s adventurous yet undoubtedly ‘rock’ sound.

Which is kind of true. The album definitely changes toward the end, as tracks continue the ‘strangeness’ of Loveless with tracks that exert more overt electronic influences (the excellent ‘if i am’ and ‘in another way’ both bear noticeable similarities with Kevin’s remix work for the likes of Primal Scream and Yo La Tengo); and the ‘groundedness’ of Isn’t Anything shows itself in a number of ways – the rockier elements present in ‘nothing is’ and ‘new you’ (possibly one of the happiest-sounding songs in their back catalogue, by the way, rivalling even some of the early twee stuff), as well as the humour and somewhat Stereolab-esque playfulness present in some of these tracks (is ‘nothing is’ a tongue-in-cheek response to Isn’t Anything? And the ramshackle little coda at the end of ‘if i am’, and the unexpected crazy solo kicking off ‘in another way’).

If I’m honest, it still feels weird to be listening to this and to have it there in my iTunes. It’s been great to listen today (almost exclusively, in fact) to what My Bloody Valentine have been up to since Loveless, and it’s served to make me look forward even more to seeing them in Manchester in March. Here’s hoping that – as Kevin has implied – this is only the beginning, and we’ll be hearing what Kevin’s had in mind for after this follow-up to Loveless... because I personally really want to hear a bit more stuff in the vein of his ambient stuff for the Lost in Translation OST.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Snow / Nostalgia for fellow children of the 1990s

The best way for a child of the 1990s to celebrate the modestly berserk levels of snow, which made the lake near my town look significantly more like a Grouper album cover...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Foundcloud #4

Another month, another Foundcloud. Accompanied this time by a link to my new Mute Branches EP -- Conditions in Limbo. I take a lot of inspiration from the music I cover on this blog so, if you enjoy that, please don't hesitate to stream or download free on the Bandcamp page.

El Fog - 'Time, Memory'

I only recently heard about El Fog, the vibraphone / electro-acoustic music project of Berlin-based artist Masayoshi Fujita. It’s fair to say that the concept of music containing vibraphones, elements of glitch and of general electro-acoustic tinkering (not to mention a release with Flau Records) was enough to send me rushing to his Soundcloud page like a cheetah on cocaine.

The track is a minimalist yet emotive vibraphone solo played over a similarly sparse field recording. Gradually, Fujita introduces gradually elements of electronic distortion that eventually come to take over the track. Like many of the tracks I speak highly of on this blog, it’s an excellent fusion of human instrumentalism and machine music that seems to say that, if – as so many annoying purists are wont to proclaim – electronics and computers are destroying music, then at least it’s a destruction that sounds good.

Honey Son - 'Soundprov #2'

This next track is a great live improvisation by Honey Son, the recording project of Texas-based Mars Wright.

Despite being a simple "one-man and a looper" set-up, Wright nevertheless keeps the track sounding fresh and interesting throughout. Beginning with interlocking guitar loops and the subsequent introduction of an additional phrase of e-bow guitar, the track continues to develop nicely - at one point resembling somewhat the jazz-inflected post-rock of a band like Tortoise, before increased improvisation with sampling and effects - as well as the introduction of soulful, somewhat Jeff Buckley-esque vocals - gives Wright the chance to take the track down a multitude of increasingly interesting musical avenues.

In a way, this solo, loop-based composition can be seen to - like the El Fog track - showcase just how much electronics have to offer to the realms of live instrumentation and performance.


Additional notice deserves to be given to the unexpected Four Tet release - 0181 - consisting of unreleased music from between 1997 and 2001.

Click here to read the review I wrote of it for

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

YouTube Recommendation: Beach House - New Year

What better way to usher in the new year than with a song with the title 'New Year' that just so happens to be one of my personal favourite songs from one of my personal favourite albums of the year?

Its accompanying video, I guess -- released today by the band as a "happy new year" message to their fans.

As for the video itself, it's a mish-mash of footage, amongst which is included: footage from the recording of the album, some stunning outdoor shots and time-lapse footage (of the sort one can easily associate with Beach House's increasingly beautiful and dreamy music), and - probably the Internet's favourite visual subject* - cats.

Happy new year to you all! Hopefully I'll update this more frequently through 2013, and realise some of the (perhaps slightly overambitious) plans I have both for this blog and for other things.

* That's suitable for the whole family, anyway.