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Yes, I am still alive. I have new obsessions: Zola Jesus, James Ellroy, and James Lee Burke. What I don’t have, alas, is time to adequately elaborate on said obsessions. Between a recent move and way too many months of diddling with various albums in the process of being released, not to mention trying to catch up on reviews for THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL, I have had very little downtime since the last post. The fog will lift eventually, though, hopefully by the end of the year….

In the meantime, I have more bookcases to build.

READING: James Lee Burke — LAST CAR TO ELYSIAN FIELDS
HEARING: Sepultura — ROOTS

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I know, I have been most remiss in posting here. What can I say? Life is currently taking precedence over posting. I will nevertheless return at some point. In the meantime, feel free to avail yourself of the many swell links on the sidebar to your right. Especially the music-related links, of which there are a growing number. Who knows? Maybe by the time you get through them all, I will have returned from stumbling through the wasteland….

READING: Franz Kafka — THE TRIAL
HEARING: Ludicra — THE TENANT

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Has it really been six months since my last post? How time flies when you are a busy, busy guy. More to come soon, once I finish dealing with other obligations (especially recording the new Korperschwache album).

READING: John D. MacDonald — THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY
HEARING: Skullflower — STRANGE KEYS TO UNTUNE GODS’ FIRMAMENT

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I just finished reading Tana French’s brilliant first novel, IN THE WOODS, and I haven’t been this excited about a new writer since I stumbled across Natsuo Kirino a few years back. The book is ambitious in both plot and execution, weaving the threads of two crimes — one past, one present — into an unusual police procedural that frequently diverges from the cliches of the genre. Just to make things even more interesting, the action takes place in Dublin, Ireland, lending a foreign feel to a thoroughly familiar kind of story, and (this is where the ambitious part comes in) one of the detectives attempting to solve the current crime is a victim of the first one, which took place in the very same woods of the book’s title.

Written in a style that’s considerably more literary and leavened with mythical overtones than the average police procedural, French never lets her prose become too flowery to overwhelm the story, and the action moves at a brisk clip, even when she sidesteps into various subplots not strictly germane to the whodunit element. One of the most exciting things about her approach to the book, though, is how unpredictable the characters are — this is definitely not a formula police procedural (even if it does subtly impose an American style of policing onto the Irish legal system), and the nuanced characterization and realistic characters are a considerable step up from most books of a similar nature. (I’ve been attempting to read one of the last William J. Caunitz books recently, without much success, and he could learn a lot from reading this book and applying her attention to detail and superb characterization skills to his own books, if he weren’t quite so dead.)

This is not to say the book is flawless. The narrator, Detective Rob Ryan — a badly damaged man who witnessed two of his friends disappear in the woods as a child and now cannot remember anything that happened that day, making him a psychologically poor candidate for investigating the brutal murder of a twelve-year old girl in the same woods — sounds awfully girly at times, for one thing. Even a writer as good as French runs into trouble accurately sounding like the opposite sex, and speaking from a man’s perspective, not all of his behavior and dialogue ring completely true. Her flaws in this area are pretty minimal, however, and certainly not enough to seriously detract from the book’s brilliance. Some readers will almost certainly be more disturbed by her deliberately inconclusive ending; if you approach crime novels expecting to have everything neatly resolved by the end of the book, this one will disappoint you. Of course, that’s one of the biggest reasons I liked the book. I’m about to start reading her second novel, THE LIKENESS; let’s hope it turns out the first one wasn’t a fluke.

READING: Tana French — THE LIKENESS
HEARING: Live Skull — POSITRACTION

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Publishing companies grapple with the question of scheduling e-books.

Amazon.com erases Orwell books from Kindle readers.

Both of these articles are troubling, and more evidence that the publishing industry is still having trouble navigating the shark-infested waters of the electronic reading revolution. If I’m going to spend several hundred dollars for a dedicated e-book reader, the last thing I want to discover is that I’m going to have to wait in line to read new content while the old-school hardback and paperback readers will get to read everything first. At the very least, it makes sense to publish e-books at the same time as the corresponding hardback releases; publishers who think e-book sales are going to erode hardback sales are being exceptionally stupid. At least right now, the print book and e-book markets are almost totally different, with very little overlap, and delaying e-book releases will just alienate the core group of buyers who are inevitably going to become publishing’s biggest customer base as the print medium continues to fade into oblivion.

The second article really worries me, because regardless of what issues I might have with old-school publishing companies, at least they don’t sneak into my house at night and steal back my books. This ties in with what I said above about alienating your customers; this is not going to be good news to anyone (like, say, moi) considering shelling out for a Kindle. It’s bad enough that you can’t share books or sell them after you’re finished with a Kindle, and that other technological issues make me nervous, but the idea that someone else might decide to tinker with my book catalog — well, I take a real dim view of that possibility. Amazon.com really shot themselves in the foot with this one. Let’s hope they start thinking more clearly about these issues before acting in the future, nu?

READING: William Hope Hodgson — THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLANDS
HEARING: Go-Go’s — GREATEST HITS

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I’m wading through books by Leon Uris and Will Self, among others, but have little to report at the moment on writing or reading. I would like to note, however, that the last Khanate album, CLEAN HANDS GO FOUL, is finally out after a four-year wait. The album consists of four improvised musical pieces adorned with Alan Dubin’s psychotic screaming and corrosive lyrics; the music was recorded during the sessions for CAPTURE & RELEASE, the last album the band released before breaking up, and the vocals were added later (much later, which is why the album is just now appearing after so many years of sitting on the shelf).

Khanate was unique among modern doom / drone bands for both their sound — they were one of the few musical (as opposed to noise or free jazz) bands ever to master the concept of escaping the tyranny of the beat — and their attitude, which was closer to the reenactment of powerful psychodramas more than anything else. Khanate’s albums are not just music, they are exercises in role-playing, in which vocalist Alan Dubin acts out the frightening thoughts of insane, dangerous psychopaths, and does so in a manner that’s far more nuanced and unsettling than the obligatory death-rattles of your average metal band. (For the record, I don’t think Khanate were really a metal band, although they were tagged as such because their first two albums came out on uber-metal label Southern Lord and their first one, made while the band was still getting its turds together, did actually sound like a metal record, sort of… a slowed-down and hideously grotesque one, sure, but still recognizable as actual music with beats you could count and riffs you could detect. All that changed with their second album, THINGS VIRAL, and everything after that just got further and further out into experimental territory.)

Their final album is both their most subdued and experimental, ending with a half-hour track in which very little happens, but in a most disturbing way. (Dubin’s agitated vocals and unnerving lyrics might have something to do with that.) I don’t know that this is the most appropriate place to start with if you’re not hep to the groaning mindfuck that is Khanate, but it’s certainly no blemish on their stellar record. It’s not as brilliant as THINGS VIRAL, but then, that album is my vote for the scariest and heaviest album ever made. It’s still better and more genuinely frightening than most of what passes for metal, that’s for sure. The artwork is great, too, with a heavy BLAIR WITCH PROJECT vibe (note that “In That Corner” is almost certainly influenced by the final harrowing scene from that film, a piece of cinema whose aesthetic is very much in line with Khanate’s approach to music).

Bassist James Plotkin reveals the secret behind Khanate’s unique sound.

The best article ever written on the band and its inevitable breakup.

READING: Leon Uris — THE ANGRY HILLS
HEARING: Khanate — CLEAN HANDS GO FOUL

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Last night I finished reading NYT columnist David Carr’s interesting addiction memoir THE NIGHT OF THE GUN. I’ll freely admit to being a sucker for addiction memoirs, but I kind of lost my taste for them when James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES was revealed to be mostly fabricated (which came as little surprise to me after reading it; how anybody familiar with addiction, and particularly the ins and outs of treatment facilities like Hazelden, could have believed his ridiculous Hollywood soap opera is beyond me). Carr sucked me back in, however, with his novel approach — using a tape recorder and video camera, he went back to interview all the people involved with and affected by his rampage through the Valley of Crack. In the process, he made a revelatory discovery about the nature of memory as well as the usual pithy truths about addiction that so often populate books like this.

Carr’s book is pretty good, certainly one of the better addiction memoirs I’ve yet read. (It helps that Carr, unlike Frey, is an excellent writer with a firm grasp of proper syntax, along with the fundamentals of grammar and spelling.) Some reviewers have taken him to task over an apparent glibness in his recounting of events, or what they perceive as shallow attempts at self-understanding, but I think those guys are mostly chasing smoke. Carr is honest enough to admit that he has no idea what possessed him to do the things he did, which is a central reality for most addicts — after all, if they really understood what motivated them to fuck up so spectacularly, they wouldn’t ever relapse after recovery, right? (And yes, Carr relapses, although with booze rather than crack, but the results are just as predictable.)

The book I’m reading now, the Peggy Noonan memoir WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION, details her years working as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan in the White House during the 1980s, and it’s every bit as interesting, albeit quite different. I don’t necessarily share Noonan’s politics (although I did vote for Reagan), but I’ve always found her to be one of the more intelligent, literate, and rational political writers of the past few decades. I’d certainly rather hear what she has to say than the idiotic blather of people like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, barely literate fools who have turned reasoned conservative discourse into the equivalent of foul-mouthed kindergarten bullies yelling at anybody who will listen. Noonan always had more class than these rubes, and she’s an excellent writer as well, always worth reading even when I don’t agree with what she says.

One of the things I like about her book is that she periodically talks about the nuts and bolts of writing — specifically regarding writing speeches, but at other times in more general fashion — and what she has to say is often quite illuminating. I’m only about halfway through the book, but I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to say in the rest of the book.

READING: Peggy Noonan — WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION
HEARING: The Traveling Wilburys — COLLECTION

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