“One must allow that a certain amount of carelessness in one’s nature often accomplishes what the will is incapable of doing. ”

Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles

“The Trees, The Trees” at The LA Review of Books

“WHEN I WAS 17 my goal in life was to run headfirst into a brick wall. Literally.”

Very pleased to have my essay “The Trees, The Trees” published today at The Los Angeles Review Of Books. Part of Shya Scanlon’s multi-platform Twin Peaks Project, the piece covers the iconic show, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Houellebecq’s The Map And The Territory, and the search for the root of human evil.


Review Of “Shade Themes From Kairos,” by Ambarchi, O’Malley, Dunn


You don’t know where they come from or even their given names. Ambarchi, O’Malley, Dunn: an ensemble. They arrive offering access to a seizable breach in time, “kairos,” the right or opportune moment to act. Within this long-sought dimension the trio compose a gradual music made of instruments made of gear, a sound that combusts with notes becoming feedback becoming a new and magnificent intensity. For a guide into this realm you’ve chosen a scrap torn from another mythic and relentlessly musical text:

Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and jam your ear as close into the loudspeaker as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as possible, and not moving, and neither eating nor smoking nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can into your hearing and into your body.*

It begins. Godspeed! and indeed you feel that coiling kinetic tension as “That Space Between” opens to a galaxy of unresolved blips and swells and wails, all that swirling noise finally finding a common center of mass in a thudding pagan drum, this rhythm the gravity in a system of sleeting cymbals and drones on top of drones; somewhere in the distance a cage door slams, beckoning forth or locking the only way out, crashing down again and again until another steel door responds, creating a maze of sudden walls and channeling forces, you have no choice but to push forward through waves of guitar there is beauty there is fear there is a gently bending xylophone offering an evanescent grasp of the pastoral before folding back into the immensity of space.

You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

Guitars and drums lock into the collaborative violence of “Temporal, Eponymous,” there will be blood and there’s no escaping the circular drum loop, the beat careening off the dark boundaries of the vortex and forever spiraling back to the exact moment where it began. Gaseous frequencies flit and degrade while a hydraulic whipcrack gives way to a sidewinding guitar, this is not music this is motion, you’re goaded on toward the cellared bondage of “Circumstances Of Faith,” a terrifying croak through the oubliette depths of the Haxan Cloak. Wandering blind in the creeping dank, both hands extended toward the advancing echoes of cymbal and drum, closer, closer, closer through the mouth and out into the writhing sweat of frenzied ceremony, a manic tabla conjuring furious peals of occult guitar, fully possessed you know not whether you’ve been summoned for exaltation or sacrifice, body and soul committed to the inexorable unknowing.

Is what you hear pretty? or beautiful? or legal? or acceptable in polite or any other society?

Out of that fevered trance you come to amid spare acoustic notes and articulated brushes of percussion, everything amplified you are so small, this space, yet finally “Sometimes” offers the journey’s first pure human voice, a lullaby sung foreign-tongued and serene, the woman dipping strips of cloth into a bowl of cool water and applying each soothing compress to the bruises and burns of your ordeal. You could submit to these gentle ministrations forever except she sings not for you but simply for the task at hand, another will soon take your place and you must resume.

Black clouds of heavy guitar gather to mark the extended close of “Ebony Pagoda”: the question is not whether you’ll make it out alive but whether existence will continue as you know it, the music becoming a tectonic roar of moving plates and geologic drones, some aggregations of sound rising mighty while others cluster and crumble to naught. Strange angels flutter at the outskirts but the turbulent notes keep them at bay, guitar and drums maintaining a center that continues to hold. Many of the fires have gone out but some still burn as you continue forward until there is nothing.

Nothing except the boon that you have been somewhere and are better for it.


*Excerpted from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1939), in which James Agee exhorts his readers to put Beethoven’s Seventh or Schubert’s C-Major Symphony on their phonographs and crank it LOUD.

“The Trigger” In The Classical Magazine

The latest edition of The Classical Magazine (Issue #8) includes my essay “The Trigger,” which looks at Harry Crews, Shane MacGowan, genre, Skippy Dies, revisionist history, Rabbit Run, and athletes on the brink. Very happy to be in this “Books” themed issue alongside other regular Classical contributors like Holly Wendt, Chris Collision, and Damon Agnos.

You can find the issue online here.

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Paste Best Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year when the lists come fast and the disagreements come furious. Paste and I agreed that Phosphorescent’s Muchacho was the album of the year: you can read an abridged version of my review here at número uno atop Paste’s 50 Best Albums of the Year, or read the original piece here. I also contributed new capsule blurbs about Earl Sweatshirt and Cass McCombs, and blurbs for Autre Ne Veut and Deerhunter are excerpted from my longer reviews here and here.

For those keeping score, here were my 25 favorite albums of 2013. Feel free to throw Burial’s Rival Dealer EP in there just about anywhere:

Phosphorescent Muchacho

1. Muchacho, Phosphorescent
2. Shaking The Habitual, The Knife
3. Monomania, Deerhunter
4. Big Wheel & Others, Cass McCombs
5. Cerulean Salt, Waxahatchee
6. Anxiety, Autre Ne Veut
7. Loud City Song, Julia Holter
8. Excavation, The Haxan Cloak
9. Dour Candy, Billy Woods
10. Don’t Tell The Driver, Mick Turner
11. Torres, Torres
12. Silence Yourself, Savages
13. Slow Focus, Fuck Buttons
14. Year Of Endless Light, Wilder Maker
15. MCII, Mikal Cronin
16. Purgatory/Paradise, Throwing Muses
17. Woman, Rhye
18. Privilege, Parenthetical Girls
19. Cruise Your Illusion, Milk Music
20. Push The Sky Away, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
21. Doris, Earl Sweatshirt
22. R Plus Seven, Oneohtrix Point Never
23. Innocence Is Kinky, Jenny Hval
24. Surrounded, Richard Buckner
25. The World Is Well Lost, Vaadat Charigim

Paste Best of 2013


Youth and The Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle

“Though thoroughly disorienting, ‘Acrobat’ applies The Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle to avoid pure randomness, with the narrator moving forward in time while trying to recapture a missed point. With a billion swirling atoms of possibility and just that one fixed coordinate, a story takes shape as van den Berg brings the unexpected into brilliant focus.”

At The Millions you can locate the rest of my essay, “Youth and The Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle,” covering Laura van den Berg’s latest collection of short fiction, the works of Deborah Eisenberg, and certain key principles that I may or may not have made up out of thin air.