The drill, familiar now like that post-sex muscle spasm: 100 words or fewer, words of 2 or fewer letters don’t count.
The Life Pursuit, Belle & Sebastian (Matador, 2006)
You know how all the heavy metal bands have one or two softer songs on each album, and how the softer songs often sounded (back in the ’80s, of course), really great? Zeppelin started it: “Going to California” is mind-blowing in between “Four Sticks” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
I’ve always disliked Belle & Sebastian: too precious, too twee. Pursuit is just a bit more muscular. “White Collar Boy” pounds just enough to set off the lighter songs. (One contains the lyric “I took a photograph of you in the herbaceous border.” The very definition of twee.) And “Dress up in You” is so gorgeous, twee as fuck or no, it needs no special setting. My favorite sound this spring.
— Dave B
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Certain books you’re supposed to read in high school, like Catcher in the Rye. Same with this one, only I never did. That didn’t stop me from pooh-poohing it recently, which (rightly) offended a friend, who found a used copy and gave it to me.
Verdict? A skillful piece of work, and affecting at times. But repeating “So it goes” after every mention of a death? Blech. In the end, the moral attitude of the book is more praiseworthy than the book itself. And I start to wonder about the moral attitude: Do I approve of it just because approving makes me feel I’m better than the fuckers who ordered the firebombing (or the Vietnam War, looming in the subtext)?
It would have been better in high school, when things were simpler.
— Dave B
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Am I the last person on the planet to have read this?
Written in the ’30s, it remained unpublished until 1966. Satan shows up in Moscow in the ’20s — and fits right in. His cronies, including a talking cat who walks upright, raise all kinds of hell, but the paranoid populace pretends not to notice. Part One’s dense web of magical realism and satire of state-sponsored literature is compelling enough, as are whole sections set in Pontius Pilate’s Yerushalem, but it’s really Part Two, when Margarita arrives, that knocks it over the fence: a deal with the devil, gratuitously nude broomstick-flying, a Satanic ball, crowing cocks, loony bins, and suddenly we confront nothing less than the enduring and transformative power of art.
— Bryan Waterman
He Poos Clouds, Final Fantasy (Tomlab, 2006)
Owen Pallett — who’s arranged strings for and toured with the Arcade Fire — offers up a concept album on the eight schools of D&D magic. When it opens, you might think it’s Erlend Øye, but the string quartet’s staccato and a jittery percussion line signal a more ambitious score. On “This Lamb Sells Condos,” a driving piano gives way to harpsichord, a children’s chorus, and nagging parents: medieval village meets early-’80s suburbs. Pallett performs with violin and tape loops but isn’t aping Andrew Bird: his nervous twitch motions lead uphill into opera. When the first track closes with a near-whisper — “Your rock and roll has gone away” — I don’t care if it ever comes back. Thanks to Zoilus for the recommendation.
– Bryan Waterman