"Everything about this record screams 'Too fucking precious!' Pardon my cynicism, I'd forgotten how to recognize beauty in the increasingly infrequent "Everything about this record screams 'Too fucking precious!' Pardon my cynicism, I'd forgotten how to recognize beauty in the increasingly infrequent times I stumble across it." - some guy in Melody Maker
First things first: If You're Feeling Sinister may not be my favorite Belle & Sebastian album, but it was my first! And, in all honesty, I cannot tell you which of B&S's albums is actually my favorite one anyway. But, Sinister is likely the one that got the most airtime with me... I listened to this album for a good two years without buying another B&S record (even though in 2003, the band had five studio albums released), because it was good enough for me to listen to it on repeat and think, "I could just listen to this and nothing else..."
Apparently, Sinister was most people's first Belle & Sebastian album, since their debut Tigermilk was this impossible-to-get mythological limited vinyl-only release. <-- This theme (the mythology and legend of "discovering" an indie-pop band in the pre-iTunes era) runs throughout Scott Plagenhoef's 33 1/3 Series offering.
See, Plagenhoef is an "associate editor-in-chief" at Pitchfork. If you don't know Pitchfork, its the internet-age answer to the dying 90's zine-scene (and if you don't know about that than I am out-of-my-element in being able to draw a comparison because you're probably old); it was the ultimate hipster-music-geek-go-to web venue - to the point where hipster-music-geeks have mostly outgrown it - it became "too mainstream" or something...kind of became a parody of itself due to the style of the reviews and the focus on its own importance in determining indie-rocks hits and misses.
So, as you can expect with Plagenhoef at the helm, this book gets a bit off-topic (topic: Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister) and starts to drag serious ass while Plagenhoef whips out his "Entire History Of Indie Rock" notes that he's been compiling for no reason in the second chapter, "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To." (yes, that's the real chapter title, named after a Belles lyric). Yawns-ville!
(Also, can one of you music nerds tell me what "MOR" bands are? I've worked in retail music for the past nine years and can't figure out this term that Plagenhoef throws around multiple times without defining. Shame on me? Shame on Plagenhoef?).
Plagenhoef mostly waxes about how the internet is kind of good for music - but not really: That the days of authentic "discovery" are gone, and that Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister was probably the last indie-rock album that came along before the internets changed music forever.
People had to wait for this album, and talk about it, they had to reason whether it lived up to the hype or not on their own. And it was the last time a band could "withhold" til the right moment, in terms of press exposure/live shows/recording and releasing. In some ways, he was a good enough writer to (almost) make you wish that the days of "the album" weren't over. In some ways, he was a good enough writer to make you believe Belle & Sebastian are the ultimate purveyors of pop-nostalgia.
I felt like this was mostly an extended magazine article. I did, however, find Plagenhoef's writing style superior to Paul Whitelaw's, who wrote a Belle & Sebastian biography in 2005 that made me uncomfortable in the sense that it read like an extended Tiger Beat obsess-a-thon. I mean, Plagenhoef still maintained a cooler-than-you/hipster indifference one comes to expect from a decent music journalism piece. I got the sense that Whitelaw, in his bio of the band, simply wanted to offer Stuart Murdoch the best blow-job of his life, albiet in written form.
I would've liked to have seen less "check out my knowledge of post-punk/indie pop" discussions from Plagenhoef, and more focus on the record itself. The discussion of the actual songs and lyrics of If You're Feeling Sinister was mostly regulated to a decidedly short third chapter, with a lot of unrelated music-journalism mess in the middle the book.
Anyways, I'm going to go listen to Sinister now (even that borefest, "Fox In The Snow," which Plagenhoef calls "achingly gorgeous"). Because I don't really care where Belle & Sebastian land on the indie-pop timeline, or what their significance is to the development of the internet forum. They are the fucking best band on the planet: a band that writes in character-point-of-views instead of trapping itself in the "I am/I will" first-person; writes songs where suddenly there's a flute you were not expecting to hear; and a band that brings sweet strings and loud trumpets and happy hand-claps into a giant orgasm of over-the-top prettiness while always being tongue-in-cheek enough to pull it off. :-P...more
This book came really close to being awesome - but, sadly, it got a tiny bit bogged down with a few "rock band" cliches. It also has the disadvantageThis book came really close to being awesome - but, sadly, it got a tiny bit bogged down with a few "rock band" cliches. It also has the disadvantage of being published too soon after that amazing rock-band-powerhouse-novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad, and I can't help but think it will draw comparisons (did for me, I read them within a few months of one another).
But, I would still recommend it for alt-music fans, because it gives you one of those 90s punk-grunge rock stories that you didn't know you secretly craved.
The main character is strong most of the time - the only time the characterization faltered for me was in the descriptions of her supersexyhot body and in her sexual exploits... when I thought to myself - yes, this was definitely written by a dude. Otherwise, I liked her voice, her story, her tone - almost everything about her. And rest assured, she was not written to be likeable. She's written to be the gritty, standoffish bitch that looks good playing a telecaster....more
I think if you asked me, I would tell you that 'war stories' are not my thing. Reading Josh Ritter's debut novel, Bright's Passage reminded me that II think if you asked me, I would tell you that 'war stories' are not my thing. Reading Josh Ritter's debut novel, Bright's Passage reminded me that I would be lying to you. Some of the most beautiful stories come out of terrible wars, and I cannot deny their effect on me: surprise at my reaction toward them ("But, I don't like war stories!"), sadness for the tragedy and horror, too... But, they are also books that stay with me. You know, the good kind of literature that follows you around and doesn't let you forget it. And, why, so often are they so lyrically beautiful?
When I was younger, my relatives undoubtedly viewed me some kind of book-reading-anomoly-child. Having never read books themselves, they didn't ask what kind of books I liked or wanted to read, but they bought me books just the same: they just bought me books that they found in dollar stores and at Walmart for 2/$1.00. I appreciated the effort, but rarely read those things. At one point, I had three copies of The Red Badge Of Courage. But, I said..."Blah, blah, blah, a young soldier? Ew. I read about baby-sitters with dangling parrot earrings!"
So, I didn't read RBoC until I was twenty-six. And when I did... I was floored. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous teeny tiny book. Stephen Crane, who was so young when he wrote RBoC, was also an accomplished painter. And I could tell: RBoC was f*cking artwork. It was a beautiful pile of saturated descriptions and well-turned phrases on a goddamn canvas. I shook my head, thinking of all the copies of RBoC that sat in my bedroom as a kid, collecting dust. Well, whatever, I was an idiot.
The entire time that I was reading Bright's Passage, I was reminded of The Red Badge of Courage. Like RBoC, Bright's Passage is a teeny book (barely 200 pages). Bright's Passage is a book about WWI, RBoC is a book about The Civil War - but, they are both books about naive, wide-eyed American country boys who are given guns and told to kill for their country, and then left dumbfounded by the chaotic, frightening din of actual battle. Like the protagonist of RBoC, Ritter's main character is named Henry, and he is a mere nineteen or twenty years old after he returns from The First World War. And like RBoC, Bright's protagonist undergoes a somewhat frightening spiritual awakening.
Like Stephen Crane, Josh Ritter was/is a primarily different type of artist (songwriter), and the writing reflects, at times, a lyrical poetic style. It's just pretty, you know? Some really beautiful writing. So, it reads a little more gimmicky than RBoC. But, I felt Ritter's language and story unfold just as wonderfully as Crane's.
I mean - I'm comparing Bright's Passage to one of the greatest works of American Literature, here. And, for the most part, I really mean it! Josh Ritter, that indie-songwriter-guy, is not just a novelist - he is a great writer!
The plot of the story unfolds (fairly) masterfully. The narration moves from the novel's present-day (West Virginia, 1918/19), back in time through the trenches in France and the yucky-pretty tales of the battlefield, and it traces the protagonist through his homecoming from WWI to the birth of his child, and the flight to save him from some evil creepy-Appalachia-style in-laws.
Through all of this, Henry Bright is being led by his talking horse, who is possessed by a presence he calls Angel. Whether Angel is an angel, sent to protect Henry and his son, or a serious form of shell-shock (ahem, PTSD), the author does not say. But, Ritter has done a remarkable job of capturing the desperate sense of urgency and displacement that our protagonist soldier feels.
The rating: (BTW - disclosure: I got this for free from a Goodreads giveaway.). However, this did not affect my review in the slightest. I decided to give this book four stars. I thought about giving it five, at first. But, I think the surprise of Ritter being so talented at novel-writing wore off enough for me to give it a well-deserved four. I mean, this could be someone's five-star book, for sure. But, the only books I give five stars to are the books that I personally want to marry and have babies with. So, you know... I'll go with four....more