Month: September 2014

Book review: The Watch Tower

The Watch TowerThe Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t really a book I can say I enjoyed. It’s masterfully written, yes, and lives up to the forgotten treasure billing Harrower’s works have been given – but Jesus, it’s a difficult thing to get through.

Set in ’40s Sydney, it’s a story of constriction. Two sisters are marooned by their couldn’t-give-a-shit mother. An arranged marriage with an older man seals their fates, robbing them of educational opportunities and forcing them into servitude in the suburbs. Add in some on-again, off-again alcoholism and some domestic violence and misogyny and you’ve all the making of a Real Fun Time. Not. (more…)

Through the looking-glass

All smiles

Fancy seeing you here.

I recently completed both American McGee-penned games based on Alice in Wonderland. I’m pretty sure “American” is not really a legitimate first name, but regardless, I’d been interested in these games since the first came out in 2000 – you know, back when having an ex-NIN guy make your soundtrack was cool, and when a Cheshire Cat with tatts was a good idea.

A while, then. (more…)

Book review: Mr. Mercedes

Mr. MercedesMr. Mercedes by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading Stephen King for years – doesn’t everyone begin reading his stuff in their teens? – but haven’t had much to do with anything he’d written lately, other than On Writing. So it was interesting to see what his fiction was like these days.

Of course, this isn’t much like most of King’s other work – or at least, his stereotypical horror output. For starters, it’s not horrific: it’s a cop drama. Retired cop drama, to be specific. With Mr. Mercedes, the first in an as-yet-unnamed trilogy, he’s started telling the story of Bill Hodges, an unlikely hero and even less likely Lothario.

King tips his hat to James M. Cain at the start of the book, and it’s easy to see (more…)

Book review: Hello America

Hello AmericaHello America by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’d be a bit much to expect J.G. Ballard to write something cheerful. So here we are in disaster-town again: a North America abandoned after peak oil and climate change joined forces to ruin the landscape and the economy both. The world is a fractured, largely socialist or communist environment (you know, trains running on time, bad soup, joyless sex in afternoons off from suitably pro-community factory jobs) which keeps people alive but only just.

That kind of world. Good job there’s a steam-powered excursion to North America on the cards, hoping to explore the abandoned continent and repopulate it. (more…)

Book review: 1Q84

1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1Q84 is a meandering work. It’s not a quick read, though that’s not because it’s difficult: rather, it’s because Murakami takes his time savouring plot elements. He chews the characters over. In some ways, it’s Murakami-by-numbers – there’s ear fetishism, music fetishism and other standard tropes – but it also bears an unexpected shout-out to his non-fiction writing. Underground‘s explanation of cult terrorism certainly appears to have influenced the story here – it’s hard to see some of the cult imagery here without Shoko Asahara coming to mind.

At heart, this is a love story. It’s surrounded by weirdness, and it slips between worlds, but it’s the tale of two people and their journey to find each other. Sounds twee, but Murakami has always been about solitude and its alternatives. (more…)


God, I hate that word.

However, it’s the only thing which comes to mind while listening to VHS Logos. Here you go:

I came across them looking at stuff on Bandcamp tagged with the vaporwave name. Think of it as the musical equivalent of vaporware – software that there’s a bunch of buzz about only it never eventuates. This is as close to that idea in the form of music. It’s like slow jams played on a tape left in the sun too long. There’s something nostalgic about it – in a big-perm, Patrick Nagel kind of way – but also something corrupted, something rotten. It’s intangible cheese.

Listening to too much of it gives you a wicked ice-cream headache.

(More soon – playing through American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns has taken up a bunch of my time because platforming plus 3D equals lots of dying.)

New Howard Stelzer review

My review of Howard Stelzer’s Brayton Point album has gone live at Cyclic Defrost. Here’s a sample.

The album consists of manipulations of field recordings taken from around the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The station is to be decommissioned in 2017, so Stelzer’s recording acts as a kind of memorial to the site; a document which initially captures working sounds of the area before transforming into a thrumming, windy meditation on the limitless potentials of power. The industrial grime of the power station is strongly present, though it’s not in the jackhammer way which one would associate with an Eraserhead ethic.

You can read the rest here. 

Book review: The Father Of Locks

The Father Of Locks The Father Of Locks by Andrew Killeen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another day, another Orientalist mystery! Andrew Killeen’s book is almost custom-made for the Dedalus imprint, in its exploration of lugubrious living and the nuances of history. Set in Baghdad (largely) around 800AD, this is a very descriptive tale of poetry, rivalry and rooting with its roots in reality. Most of the characters existed, and a glossary at the end of the book provides potted histories of those mentioned.

The problem with this book is – like The One Thousand and One Nights which Killeen claims inspires him – its labyrinthine nature. The plot itself is pretty simple, really: it’s a detective story with the titular Father of Locks (Abu Nuwas, an historical poet who – here, at least – proves Byron and Shelley didn’t have the only dibs on dissolute living) and his narrator-cum-sidekick Ismail attempting to solve murders and mysteries. Except the plot is often shuffled off to the side for a round of storytelling and romance – affairs of the zabb, at least, as Killeen coyly styles the multiple penile peregrinations of the piece. (more…)

New Bruno Sanfilippo review

Another of my reviews for Cyclic Defrost has gone life. This time, it’s a look at Bruno Sanfilippo’s ClarOscuro album.

The music is uniformly quiet in a way you’ll be familiar with if you’ve heard Nyman’s The Pianosoundtrack (‘Absentia’), or perhaps the piano works of Gavin Bryars (‘Luciana’), Yann Tiersen (the titular opener) or (in her quieter moments) Elena Kats-Chernin. It’s lyrical and there’s alot of sustained notes, stretching into decay. There’s touches of the rainy-afternoon Erik Satie or Claude Debussy about the work, but I feel that’s just in terms of emotional association rather than in terms of execution: the sound of the piano played this way makes the listener feel this way, almost regardless of the content. It could be library music.

You may read the rest of the review here.

Book review: The Arabian Nightmare

The Arabian NightmareThe Arabian Nightmare by Robert Irwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d been meaning to read this for a long time. When I first began to read some stranger fiction – the first time I discovered the Dedalus imprint, I think – I saw The Arabian Nightmare recommended highly. It’s one of those books which has attained cult status – and pretty reasonably, too, given that it’s part sex manual, part spy story, part meditation on dreams and part talking-animal tale, all wrapped in the patterned carpets of Orientalism and stuffed inside a shaggy dog.

I suspect it’s one of those books which, by dint of the enormously evocative descriptions and obviously well-researched background – Irwin is a scholar and Cairo is certainly in his bailiwick – dazzles readers and seems, like the rope trick, to be something more than it is.

It is enjoyable. I can’t deny that. The beginning of the work creates atmosphere as quickly as anything I’ve read. But it doesn’t maintain interest as well as the narrative seems to think it does. (more…)