of Maine

Just to be clear…
December 9, 2008, 5:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

There will never be a Sorry dude. post about Fleet Foxes. That’s one critical consensus we will not be getting behind.


Sorry dude.: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
December 9, 2008, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , ,


Sorry dude. is (potentially) an occasional column where I apologize for publicly or privately criticizing art that turns out to be pretty good.

I guess I have Kermit the Frog to thank for making me finally appreciate Sound of Silver. Kermie’s video lip synching along to album closer “New York I Love You” (it’s not on YouTube anymore, presumably you can find it elsewhere) was pretty great, but had the consequence of making me appreciate that song a little more and finally giving Sound of Silver a front-to-back listen.

My embarrassing (and, it seems, legendary) reaction to the video, by the way: “…nothing makes me feel as warm inside as a wide-open muppet mouth.”

The consensus pick for the Best Album of 2007, Silver‘s first single, “North American Scum,” remains irksomely self-conscious; James Murphy’s lazy drawl is, one supposes, actually intended to sound like the ultimate example of the hipster cliche, but that doesn’t make the schtick funny. Or tolerable. The loud, vaguely unenthusiastic girl harmony backup sends me over the edge every time.

Elsewhere, things are pretty good, and surprisingly consistent and digestible for a longish album made up of nine longish songs. “Time to Get Away” has proven its utility on the dance floor, “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” are legitimately excellent and intelligent pop songs (the latter won me over late last year – not that I told anyone – after I heard this cover by the Main Drag). Ditto the title track and “Kermit I Love You.” “Us v Them” is still annoying though. Anyway, keeping this abbreviated, sorry dude.

p.s. Fingers still crossed that, in ten years, everyone will realize that this was actually the album of ’07.

Chris Adrian, more books
December 8, 2008, 3:31 pm
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It’s been up on the web for a while now, but I finally got around to perusing the NYT’s 100 Notable Books of 2008 yesterday, and was pleased to see Chris Adrian’s recent book of short stories, A Better Angel, on the list. As you may recall, I ditched this blog for a couple months to write a very lengthy review of it (which I may post soon, once I abandon the idea of submitting it to other publications). The title story, one of the better ones in the collection, is freely readable here.

In other news, the Literary Event of the Season is now complete. Commentary coming tomorrow or Wednesday.

Arthur Russell, Love is Overtaking Me
December 5, 2008, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , ,


“Old music” and I have settled our disputes, and had a pretty nice year. Maybe I just found my niche. (More likely: the illusion of “discovery” weighs heavily on my likes.) Love’s Forever Changes is a new, perhaps permanent addition to my Best Albums Ever list. There’s more I can’t recall offhand, but discovering Arthur Russell has impeded any progress I hoped to make getting through the canon of notable 2008 releases. Fortunately, the deceased songwriter-composer actually has one, and it’s a beaut.

I’ll spare the career-summary for a while (writing at length about him in a couple of months), but two good places to start are (I assume) this New Yorker profile I haven’t read yet and the documentary Wild Combination – an excellent counterpoint to the largely nauseating hero-worship doc genre –  released this year and just out on DVD. (More on that when I write the other stuff; it’ll be screening at SPACE early next year, so locals are advised to wait until that event to see it. It’ll be worth it.)

Long story short, Russell was a songwriter/composer far ahead of his time, best known for his cello music and disco-pop songs (an obvious inspiration to Antony and the Johnsons, Kelly Polar, and others). Love is Overtaking Me, surprisingly, is a collection of mostly folk songs. Upon further research, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there are some traditionals here, but Russell owns them well. His voice and his composition is warmer here than his most famous material, and he mixes sadness and catchiness really well. Love is Overtaking Me is almost unabashedly MOR, Sunday-morning folk. From an email I wrote earlier today: It’s like my semi-cheesy semi-awesome cozy Sunday morning album dream come true.

You half-expect Russell to begin most of the songs with an achy, spoken-word plea: “Baby, you know I’ve been missing you and I hope you’ve been missing me, but there’s just one more thing I needed to say.” (On “What It’s Like,” he actually sort of does.) “Hey! How Does Everybody Know,” scratched-up and fuzzy with age, has winning backup harmonies, and stuff like “I Forget and I Can’t Tell” stinks of ’70s Dylan in a wonderful way. There are some more expected (read: experimental) pop and cello tracks thrown around, like the moaning, urgent “Eli,” but Love is Overtaking Me adds a welcome dimension to the work of a legend long overdue, and my favorite find of the year.

NYT’s Best Books of 2008 (and Row Hard, No Excuses)
December 4, 2008, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Words | Tags: , ,


Back! And just a shade under two months. In lieu of excuses, I’ll be posting a lot of the work I’ve been swamped with in the past two months in the coming days (and catching up on movies, books, and – once I decide how to do it – a series remarking on the pretty underwhelming year in music). Every intention of being back in the daily habit now.

Moving on.

The New York Times published (online, at least) their 10 Best Books of 2008 list. One should expect the list to be a little tame – this is the paper of record, after all – and it is. But I’ve already read two of these books, am in the thick of another, and have another one at the top of my queue, so I guess I’m becoming the contemporary-canonical reader I’ve always hoped to be. Anyway, COMMENTARY! (Note that decent-sized excerpts of the books’ first chapters are linked from the article.)

Dangerous Laughter, by Steven Millhauser – The lone welcome surprise on this list, a book of short stories that sounds pretty irresistible.

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison – Next on my reading list (unless I decide to tackle Beloved first, in which case it’s first on my reading list for 2010). The selection’s somewhat controversial, given the mixed reviews the book’s earning so far. But at the same time, every disapproving review of this novel I’ve read has a irratatingly snarky tone (calling it “slight” and what have you).

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill – Yessiree! Zadie Smith did an ace job unpacking this novel (and one of last year’s best, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder) in the NYRB recently. If you’ve read either book, print it out. Netherland’s the undisputably Gatsbyesque tale of a naive and curious wanderer’s crumbling marriage and brief fling with cricket and a mysterious Dutchman. It’s something of a plotless, man-overanalyzing-everything story in the vein of many books I like that many people (especially women) don’t, but it’s got a grace and nearly perfect pitch you can’t help but cherish.

2666, by Roberto Bolano – About 2/3 through. Comments forthcoming. A “holy shit” will suffice for now.

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri – Book’s sitting on my shelf, and I can’t say I plan on reading it anytime soon, until I need some Chicken Soup for the Soul. (Her work is, fortunately, much sadder than that, but Lahiri still falls into my semi-unconscious bias against many female writers – working on it.) I’m sure this is a fine story collection, but I’m stunned the slot wasn’t given to Marilynne Robinson’s Home.

Guess I won’t bother to parse this list, but overall it seems like a sturdier collection of picks. I’m stunned at how eager I am to buy or loan Jane Meyer’s The Dark Side, and The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, is exemplary war writing. Here’s a review I wrote of the book last month. (“Recommended by 6 people”! Really enjoying this corny new thing on the office website.)

New Andrew Bird Song
October 6, 2008, 9:06 am
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Morning, all. Due to a really fun weekend, no time to make this blog original again today. BUT, this is surely the next best thing. The first track from Andrew Bird’s forthcoming (late January of ’09) album, Noble Beast, debuted on Pitchfork this morning. “Oh No” is pretty standard, if a touch slight, Bird, but note some promising developments. That persistent buzz of electric guitar, the way Bird’s vocals sound both more considered and loose, the layers of background vocals.

The news story associated with the premiere also notes that Bird has a new live album available on his website. And go figure, it’s for a Montreal show I purchased tickets for last year and couldn’t go to. If something prevents me from getting to his Portsmouth gig on Wednesday, a reckoning there will be.

Friday errata, and more to come.

– Well, we’re a little time constrained today, so my overeager deconstruction of this song will have to wait until next week. Regardless, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, guys. Big name, big talent, and a heck of a grower of a self-titled album.

– It’s a very good day to visit Pitchfork in general. They give a nice rave to the Vivian Girls album, which is finally available in stores. (Do wish they’d stop addressing albums in the context of the hype machine they’ve helped to create, though.) More obscure but no less exciting, can’t wait to check out The Week That Was, a band featuring Peter Brewis of UK indie pop band Field Music, who released what I’d argue is the most underrated album of 2007, Tones of Town. This sounds… just as good.

– At the frequently hilarious Intensities in Ten Suburbs, acclaim for David Bowie’s portrayal of Nikola Tesla in one of Chris Nolan’s pre-Dark Knight near-masterpieces, The Prestige. Always happy to read about the film, which seems to be quickly establishing a sort of cult status.

– Browsing the website for one of my favorite quarterlies, Cabinet, it turns out they have a bountiful art and web art section. Click here and select the first option, a neat map art project by Jackie Goss about the development of maps of the United States. Can’t wait to delve further into this page.

– A smart pan of the new, bloated Of Montreal album at Dusted. Better yet, a review of the new, punk as fuck Marnie Stern album, which I haven’t listened to much, but it’s definitely a big step forward from her last one, which I didn’t “get.”

– The venerable, recently deceased alt-country magazine No Depression is back in action, on the web.

– Lastly, this one’s important! A sobering, inspiring endorsement of Barack Obama by the editors of the New Yorker. (Not that they need to convince their readers or anything…) Also, it’s Barack and Michelle’s 16th wedding anniversary today.