Friday, April 13, 2012

Russell Banks - Continental Drift (1985)

Continental Drift is a converging of two cultures, of two very different worlds, who take part in a similar journey; white and black into a formation of 'gray.' Its dual perspectives are written about with an omnipresent, almost anthropological detachment. However, due to Bank's ability to present the shoes of his characters for you to walk in, and a natural application of vernacular, both stories feel very personal. The prose is simple, yet at the same time quite technical.

In many ways, Continental Drift is a spiritual successor to Updike's Rabbit, Run. Bob Dubois, like Rabbit is a simple man who begins to long for something more in his life. Both characters have similar destinations and are a bit racist and misogynistic, at least as much so as the next uneducated, small town man in their respective times/environments. The only difference is a crucial one (perhaps also a modern one) and that is that Bob Dubois has the boldness to act on his ennui, to scratch his itch, and goes through with his exodus into the 'new world' and Continental Drift revolves around this folly.

My problem with it, was that it was not particularly entertaining or relatable, for a book that advertises itself as it would be. The main reason for this was that its characters were too naive, their mistakes too apparent to me. The scenarios Bob found himself in were frustrating to me and could have all been avoided with a little foresight. I will say that I enjoyed the last part, however. During the 'ritual' scene, I was listening to Jandek perform his first live radio broadcast, and the combined effect of the music with the words put me in a trance. There was a building up, a letting go, an excitement, a remnant of animalistic fury, of sex and violence. I lost myself for a short while.

Finally, the author's note at the end of the book really tied everything together and clarified Banks' motives in writing Continental Drift. All in all, it was a decent read, but as someone who is not a 'Bob Dubois' it offered nothing profound and hence I would have to label it as 'novel.' Read if you ever visit the Keys.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Nearly two years and 500 posts after the fact, I’ve finally hit 100,000 unique visitors. I consider this to be a landmark, because it is a level of exposure I am satisfied with. Anything less would be not enough, and anything more wouldn't feel right to commemorate.

Bigger Splashes started as a hobby, as a need to 'do something' amidst the tyranny of mid-20s lethargy, but was also something of a causa sui. At the time of its creation in the summer of 2010, I was right in the middle of discovering a goldmine of really special stuff. I was very passionate about my discoveries and wanted to share with others what was affecting (enriching) my life so profoundly. In retrospect, it was nothing short of serendipitous. But like all things special and rare, supply is limited, and I have at long last reached an impasse. Surely there is more out there but as you begin to dig into the more obscure stuff, the quality tends to drop. For every gem, there are 10 turds. For every turd there are 10 really derived albums from admirable mimes which offer nothing of value beyond mere rhetoric. Many of these records in question were made by zealous young people who meant well and wanted to be a part of the scene, who even may have understood what the “scene” embodied, but were ultimately not musicians or artists. There’s a reason a lot of these recordings are unfound and that’s because many of them simply aren’t very good. Because of this, things have slowed down some recently.

A band like Felt is an anomaly. They were talented, ambitious, and most importantly, opposed to the vulgar, oaffish trends of the decade that would ultimately ignore them – and that speaks a lot for their artistic integrity, something missing almost entirely from the world today. In a perfect world, every musician would be as much of a relentless perfectionist as Lawrence or Kevin Shields. Such a world would surely not be facing the artistic recession we are currently in the midst of today. Music may not be dead, but it’s looking awfully moribund. Visit [certain popular music publication/site] and take a look at the front page. You will most likely see a number of record reviews, which, upon listening, you will potentially be saddened by (at least if you are as critical as I). These magazines and sites are largely bullshit. The music they support is bullshit. Plastic, turgid ordure. If anyone would like for me to expand on this, I will be happy to, but I figure if you are reading this, you are here for a reason, and my opinion is shared and understood.

There is still hope, and I am not one to claim that ‘good music’ is dead. There is plenty of 'good' music out there, although much of it has its priorities a little askew. Of course this is opinion, and many would say that the song style I enjoy is archaic, but I genuinely feel that simplicity is not a bad thing, and within a simple framework there is much room for experimentation. Taste and intelligence are important too, of course. There are only a few current musicians who I feel understand this pop philosophy: Ariel Pink, John Maus, Matt Fishbeck, Matt Fanuelle, Julia Holter, Nicolas Currie, as well as some more mainstream indie artists such as Destroyer, Girls, Beach House, Cass McCombs, and a handful of others. Still, they represent a minority of pop-culture dissenters/pop-music savants, and sadly, they are largely alone in their pursuits.

Back on the topic of BS.

Over the years I have come to realize that it’s important not to take one’s endeavors too seriously, but its also hazardous to not take them seriously enough. I’m aware that I’m operating on a cultural fringe with the content here, that my audience is a niche one, and exposure and interest is limited. I am also aware that this is a blog and blogs are cheap because anyone with a computer and working fingers can start one – BUT – the if the soul and spirit are vivacious and the content is crafted with care and dedication, the format is irrelevant. I am an appreciator, an enthusiast. I think it was Eno who said something about non-musicians really listening because it’s all they have, and I feel that’s why I talk about music – because I’m not inclined to making it. I only hope my taste and selectiveness speaks more than my ecstatic and at times even juvenile ramblings ever could.

My final advice to both listeners and creators alike: Be critical and critical and more critical. Criticism is what fuels all progress and without it we could sink into mediocrity and stagnation. But equally as important as criticism is appreciation - and that is where WE come in.

Anyways, that's enough rambling. Here's what you're here for : a mix which I feel embodies the quintessence of BS to celebrate this moment. It's a double disc affair consisting of 150 minutes of hardcore pop on pop action. It took me all day to make and I hope you'll like it.

01) Bitter Springs – Hollywood’s Decision
02) James Kirk – Houston, Texas
03) Even As We Speak - Drown
04) The Orchids – A Kind of Eden
05) The Brilliant Corners – Brian Rix
06) The Chills – Frantic Drift
07) Always – Love and Death in Metroland
08) The Wake – Pale Scepter
09) Blueboy – Cosmopolitan
10) The The – Jealous of Youth
11) St. Christopher – The Stars Belong to Me
12) Momus – Girlish Boy
13) Go-Kart Mozart – We’re Selfish and Lazy and Greedy
14) Fanuelle – Million
15) Strawberry Switchblade – Michael Who Walks by Night
16) Band of Holy Joy - Bride

01) Electronic – Second Nature
02) Cath Carroll – Moves Like You
03) The KLF – Madrugada Eterna (Club Mix)
04) Ryuichi Sakamoto – Risky
05) Friendly Fires – Looks Like Rain
06) The Other Two – Selfish
07) Saint Etienne – Lose That Girl (alternate)
08) Felt – A Wave Crashed on the Rocks
09) Television Personalities – Privilege
10) The House of Love – Love in a Car
11) Comet Gain – Draw a Smile Upon an Egg
12) East Village – Strawberry Window
13) The Apartments – On Every Corner
14) Cleaners From Venus – Living With Victoria Grey
15) Captain Sensible – Glad it’s All Over
16) David J – Hoagy Carmichael Never Went to New Orleans
17) Denim – The Osmonds
18) They Go Boom!! – Someday Soon


Thanks for reading, for emailing, for appreciating.



Bigger Splashes

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sudden Sway - Solo Store Detective Man

Robert Walser - The Assistant (1908)

So I have recently read two books from two different time periods which were strikingly similar in subject: Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Robert Walser's The Assistant. Both books revolve around the experiences of young vassals who take on positions in 'aristocratic' houses and focus on their respective integration into the paternal arms of their upper class employers. Neither are particularly interesting reads, and both often frustrating in the characters' passiveness, but that is not to say I did not enjoy reading them. The Red and the Black was the more psychologically complex, but even so, not quite as 'existential' as it was made out to be. Much has been written already about this book, so I'll focus on the latter, which is still relatively unrecognized. I enjoyed The Assistant purely for the poetic, classical descriptions of the Swiss country side - this was it's main appeal to me, admittedly.

The protagonist, Joseph, who is much like a more tamed, prudish, and older Julien Sorel, is quick witted, but lacking ambition. He takes on an apprenticeship with a failing inventor, boarding a sinking ship for the sake of experiencing the sea, and clings to his own obedience and rebellion until the inevitable demise/collapse of his employer's business. Much of the book is a documentation on early 20th century caste psychology, or rather, caste Stockholm syndrome. There is an interesting dichotomy of scolding and caress in the way Joseph's master condescends him, and how this patronizing treatment is accepted and even appreciated; mistaken for familial love. He enjoys being subservient yet also enjoys his bold moments of undermining his employer and his employer's dainty and eloquent and personality-less wife, although he often apologizes immediately for these petty acts of defiance.

Nearly all of this commentary is outdated, yes, but the idea of social imprisonment is still very prominent outside of class echelon and extends to many other facets of our society. If you were to take an optimistic perspective, I also dare say that it serves to remind that despite what our idealistic criticism may debate, there has been some social progress in the last century, even if this 'progress' can be deemed miniscule. The gist of the book is summarized in a moment of realization about his follies and his curious and illogical affection towards his spiritual captors near the end:

"The assistant found it so lovely to be sitting there in that room. This was something that resembled a home. And how often, in former times, he had walked the city's lively and deserted streets, his heart filled with the cold, wicked, crushing sensation of having been abandoned. How old he had been in his youth. How the consciousness of not being at home anywhere had paralyzed him, strangled him from within. How beautiful it was to belong to someone, whether in hatred or impatience, displeasure or devotion, melancholy or love. The human magic that resided in a home like this - how dolefully enchanted Joseph had always been when he saw it reflected in some window that had been left standing open, making it visible down where he was standing on the cold street all alone, tossed from one place to another, without a home. How Easter, Christmas or Pentecost or New Year's came streaming fragrantly down from such windows, and how poor he felt when he thought of how he was allowed to enjoy only the paltry, almost imperceptible reflection of this golden, ancient glory. This beautiful privilege of the upper classes. The kindness in their faces. This peaceful doing, the living, and letting live!"

Related sentiments from a modern Joseph/Julien Sorel:

Courtesy GJ