July 30, 2009

that old time religion

There's a slew of albums coming out this year are clothed in unmistakably religious symbolism and I'm not quite sure how to take it. Following last year's Heretic Pride (a shout out to Prostestants? Anabaptists?) and their Satanic Messiah EP (I guess not), the Mountain Goats have recently revealed their new album, Life of the World to Come, set to come out later this summer. I'm starting to see a progression here and frankly, the concepts behind this new release sound a lot more interesting than last year's admirable but heavy-handed records. What are the Mountain Goats doing reading the Bible? Life's first single, "Genesis 3:23," is a finely tuned folk ballad with a chorus that, quite appropriately repeats the line "I used to live here." Each track is named after a different verse from the Bible and will, I expect, feature the same sort of bittersweetness. I'm interested to see how ambiguous they allow this album to be (which should correlate to its overall quality). My hope is that it will be something comparable in tone to last year's City of Refuge by the Castanets.

Another, perhaps less suprising release is the new album by Om, entitled God is Good, which follows 2007's Pilgrimage. Now I'm aware that a lot of black metal subverts religious concepts, but it seems like Om is going another route (or maybe I'm just really naive) - either they're making an attempt to parody and ultimately subvert religious imagery, or perhaps their interest is an aesthetic one? Are they following Sun 0)))'s devastating Monoliths and Dimensions, a very strong candidate for 2009's best album, whose album centrepiece "Big Church" fuses a macabre metal with droning walls of sound? It's an album about death and the void; and what better entry point than that hollowed-out ghost-town called religious tradition?

One of my most anticipated albums of the year, Atlas Sound's Logos, sees Bradford Cox returning to the kind of spiritual concepts that have infused Deerhunter's best material. The Flourescent Grey EP, whose title track seems to me like a meditation on Christ's flesh (attentive to the strangeness or humanness of the "logos"), is probably the best example of this bizarre interest in transcendence - which is ultimately what Deerhunter's sound is all about. Logos sounds like it could be another winner. If you haven't heard the first single, "Walkabout" featuring Panda Bear (!), I suggest you do so RIGHT NOW! Cox has alwayts taken himself way too seriously, but calling his new album Logos takes the cake. Seriously, would anyone have had the gall to use that title ten years ago? Is this evidence of an increasing secularization (where religious ideas are put into service of a higher aesthetic or artistic truth), or are people realizing that there's something worthwhile about revisiting religious traditions. Perhaps we haven't left them behind after all. Perhaps we can't.

July 24, 2009

archive fever

I very randomly found this video yesterday while searching for my medieval lit course blog. Two former profs and one fellow student. I'm practically famous by association! Don't they make the U of M archives sound like a blast!? I feel like I'm watching an infomercial.

July 23, 2009

the arrogance of spirit

I was recently asked to list my favourite records of the year-so-far. After some thought I scribbled down ten of them, in no particular order:

Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear
Bitte Orca by The Dirty Projectors
Here We Go Magic by Here We Go Magic
Heavy Ghost by DM Stith
The Crying Light by Antony and the Johnsons
Dragonslayer by Sunset Rubdown
Heart to Elk by Point Juncture, WA
Actor by St. Vincent
Jewellery by Micachu and the Shapes
I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day by Julie Doiron

+ + +

On the academic front, just finished reading Umberto Eco's metaphysical detective novel, The Name of the Rose, which was first published in the early 1980s and indirectly responds to critical debates in the field of semiotics. I'm writing a paper for my course in medieval literature that compares Eco's use of detective genre conventions with Geoffrey Chaucer's Wife of Bath, whose prologue develops a sustained critique of the practice of "glossing" (an technique employed by clerks to guide interpretation by filling a book's margins with commentary, often offering a directive explanation of authorial intention) in medieval manuscripts. In both texts, the mutually constitutive roles of reader and text are embodied (by the detective and the trail he follows in Eco's novel and by the clerk and the Wife of Bath in Chaucer's text) and shown to be contingent--their relationship comes from what Eco's detective, William of Baskerville calls an "arrogance of spirit." In this way both texts question the basis of textual authority. As you can probably tell, I had some fun writing this paper. Writing about detective fiction isn't new to me. It's a great way to enter into a discussion over narrative and how meanings are constructed, especially when one is open to a specifically theological horizon. Two years ago, I took a course on the portrayal of detectives in fiction and film where we read stories by Poe, Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Sayers, and what has become one of my favourite books, Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. Films were also a large componant of class and I'll have to revisit Jean-Jacques Annaud's 1986 adaptation of The Name of the Rose.

July 14, 2009

folk fest!

We weren’t made for hedonism.

But we like to pretend.

I was camping at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It was my first time back since 2005 and I couldn’t have asked for a better return. My roommate and I peddled 36 km on our bikes to the Birds Hill park and set up camp with thousands of (mostly young) folks, all of whom seemed to own a drum of some sort. The presence of entire drum kits was new to me this year. I guess jembes aren’t for everyone.

Camping aside, most people go for the music (I hope), which was phenomenal this year.

The Punch Brothers played an brilliant cover of “Morning Bell” from Radiohead’s Kid A (not to be confused with the lesser version from Amnesiac). Montreal’s Socalled was another exciting discovery. In fact, I don’t think I enjoyed another set as much as I did theirs. Yiddish rapping! How can it get any better? The band, which fuses klezmer, hip-hop, funk and blues, played at the volunteer wind-up, ending their set by hopping off the stage, instruments in hand, and marching with about 200 people to the festival camp ground where the party would continue well into the morning. Loudon Wainwright III, who impressed us all with his off-colour humour and world-weary cynicism, had the audience eating out of his hand. Iron and Wine (a.k.a. Sam Bean) had incredible stage presence, cracking jokes and sharing existential musings on God and breast-feeding. It had never before occurred to me how sexually charged much of Bean’s out-put is. He performed a wide range of songs from his catalogue, but the song I was really hoping for, “Jesus the Mexican Boy,” didn’t make his setlist. Apparently, he was a film professor in another life. Other highlights included Mirah, an under-dressed Neko Case, Patrick Watson, Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Orchestre, The Deep Dark Woods (who I managed to see three times over the weekend), Arlo Guthrie and, of course, Loreena Mckinnet, who prefaced nearly every song with a pseudo-academic explanation that was so over-the-top I couldn’t help cracking up.

All in all, it was a very well done event and I had a fantastic time soaking up sunshine and booze. I think heard at least 3 covers of Gram Parson’s “Sin City” over the weekend and it’s never felt more appropriate. The Winnipeg Folk Festival may be an artificial environment, a weekend sustained by both communal and Dionysian ideals, but it’s a fantasy that gets many of us through those cold winter months and it’s an outlet that helps us through the disappointments of the prairie summer.

Thank God it only happens once a year.

July 7, 2009

The boys from the hilariously irreverent Peep Show (a popular British sitcom) try putting the shoe on the other foot.