Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Books 09

I read a lot of good and great books this year but for the purposes of this list I'm limiting myself to nine titles. Why the hell not.

* The best comic I read in 2009 was Black Hole by Charles Burns. The story is a bit ropey and some of the characters a bit dopey - think about it, you'll see what I did there - but this story of a virus attacking a bunch of small-town teens is atmospheric and scary and black, really black.

* Tom McCarthy's second novel Men In Space is actually his first novel, written before but published after Remainder. The fragmented narrative follows a group of young artists and art-world associates/hangers-on in post-Communist Central Europe. Maybe not as outright brilliant as Remainder but still hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking in a way that most lit fiction just isn't, ie. Men In Space actually provokes thought.

* The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is brilliant.

* I reviewed China Mieville's The City & The City here so you can go there to read what I had to say.

* I also reviewed Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire. One of the best prose works I have ever read.

* Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler is an amazing artefact: an odd-shaped paperback that looks as if it's been recovered from the bottom of a dam. The stories and bits of text inside fight for space with streaks of visceral material; effluvia of the apocalypse. Scorch Atlas describes a putrid, dying world in such vivid sickening prose that it gave me nightmares. I'm frightened of this book, it's that fucking good.

* The other nightmare-inducing book I read in 09 was The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. It is horrific and informative and written with skill and passion.

* Rather more cheerful: True Grit by Charles Portis is a short, almost perfect novel. Any lingering associations with John Wayne vanish immediately once Mattie Ross, the novel's determined, vengeful, shrewd protagonist, begins her narration. It is one of the finest first-person narratives I have ever read, utterly absorbing and believable. The story is simple, and simply told, with great characters and a lot of humour. I can understand the Coen's interest in this book and I suspect they'll do right by it.

* Jonathan Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant, a bio of the English writer B.S. Johnson, is enthralling. Johnson's life is interesting in itself, but Coe's insights into Johnson's art, his attitudes and his aesthetic make this as much a study of the work as of the man. I'd like to write more about my response to this book, but frankly it's a bit personal and we've only just met. Perhaps some other time. It is, in any case, an astonishing book.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Music 09

: Some albums released in 2009 that I have especially enjoyed listening to in 2009: The Thing, Bag It!; Polvo, In Prism; Moderat, Moderat; Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion + Fall Be Kind; Emeralds, What Happened; Health, Get Color; Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport; Wild Beasts, Two Dancers; Wooden Shjips, Dos; PJ Harvey & John Parrish, A Woman A Man Walked By; King Midas Sound, Waiting For You; Teeth of the Sea, Orphaned by the Ocean; Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures; Paul White, The Strange Dreams of Paul White; Devin Townsend, Ki; John Zorn, O'o; Acoustic Ladyland, Living With a Tiger; Mordant Music, SyMptoMs; Tyondai Braxton, Central Market; Mission of Burma, The Sound The Speed The Light; St. Vincent, Actor.

Plus, some albums released in years other than 2009 that I have especially enjoyed listening to in 2009: Animal Collective, Feels; Tom Waits, Rain Dogs; Ellen Allien & Apparat, Orchestra of Bubbles; Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Rock 'n' Roll With the Modern Lovers; Harry Belafonte, Calypso!; De La Soul, Buhloone Mindstate; XTC, Black Sea; Unwound, Repetition; Drive Like Jehu, Yank Crime.

The old haunted brickworks

Local legend has it that the first person to spend the night here, and live to tell of it, will receive the grand sum of one million broken bricks.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


The new Buddha Machine is here, and I mean here, in front of me. It's called Gristleism on account of it being a collaboration between FM3 (the Chinese musicians responsible for the Buddha Machine) and noise/industrial band Throbbing Gristle. (The collaboration was to be called the Throbbing Gristle Box, but KFC already had that trademarked.)

The original Buddha Machine played nine ambient loops; BM 2.0 added a pitch shifter. (There is a Buddha Machine iPhone app that performs the same functions, although it lacks the artefactual qualities of the original.) The Gristleism unit or toy or whatever-you'd-call-it does much the same thing, only with Throbbing Gristle loops instead of FM3 originals.

Gristleism is a curiosity, but I'm not sure what you're meant to do with it. You put it on, listen to the weird creepy loops, fiddle with the pitch, then turn it off. I left it running while doing housework and while the droning and hacking and blipping does resolve into a pleasing/disturbing ambiance, the effect is diminished by the unit's tinny speaker. Gristleism's main value comes from the confused look on people's faces when they turn it on for the first time. (This pleasure is undermined somewhat by the look on people's faces when I explain that this essentially useless plastic box cost me $45.)

It's probably a bit late, but Gristleism would make an ideal stocking stuffer - for somebody you hate. Don't give it to them; hide it somewhere in their house and watch them go slowly insane trying to find the source of all those strange noises.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Saturday, 12 December 2009