The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Imagine you live in a suffocating world. You are trapped. You can see all that is around you; your friends, your family, your love interests, but to interact with them is impossible. Sure you have sex, you see your mother and you go out and get pissed with your friends, but how much of is tangible? How much is real?

I was hesitant to read this at first given Plath’s ‘depressed’ reputation. I imagined the book would be a self-pitying, thinly veiled depicition of this troubled artist’s own life. My only experience of her was through her poetry (duh) at school, when I had to memorise ‘Ariel’ a tale of a girl’s sexual awakening through the medium of a horse. Or at least that’s what my teacher led us to believe. I actually quite liked this poem, although the history we were given on Plath didn’t warm me to her.

So the idea is simple, summed up the title of the book. This sense of detachment permeates through the book. Esther Greenwood is a university student, who ostensibly lives an interesting and fulfilling life. Yet these experiences that she he has in NYC fail to make her happy, they fail to engage her, and there is always someone around the corner to knock her back down. The bell jar is always around her. Whether it be from elder mentors or her mother, it always seems like poor little Esther can’t catch a break.

Is it pathetic self-pitying or is there something to be said for the girl who has little control over her emotions, in fact, over her own sanity. The style is nice, it mimics the disjointed thoughts and enthusiastic naivety that we expect of a student. It also depicts the depressed attitude that people of this age normally read events with very well. I don’t think Plath was shouting out for attention via Esther, but obviously her own state would have helped her to empathise.

One thing I particularly liked was how the insanity crept up on you so subtly. It all seemed so natural for these events to happen, and Esther herself did not seemed fazed whatsoever. It really showed how easy it would be to slip into such a situation, without quite realising the gravity of what is happening. Rather; “Oh, these nice men are taking me away for some rest.”

Sadly Sylvia Plath killed herself shortly after this book was published, and this was her only attempt at a novel (at least one that was published). A talented woman, clearly haunted by her own demon. Scary to think that we can see them in this book, haunting Esther. A thinly-veiled allusion to Plath’s life? Yes. Self-pitying? I’m not convinced. I think it is just brtually honest, which makes it all the more moving. I finished the book feeling sorry for Plath. If these demons haunt you too then God help you.

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A Song of Stone – Ian Banks

Post-apocalypse. Desolate. Hostile. Scarce. Tropes that have been handed down from the political forebearers of this genre to the current western one-man-hero, fuck the world and my surprisingly emotion backstory, badass mavericks. Is it time for an end to this conceit? Probably. 

We begin with a man and his partner (the reader takes her position) leaving his castle in an unnamed land with an unnamed event (maybe there wasn’t one) to try their luck elsewhere. Before they even get the chance they are forced back by the ‘lieutenant’, who is eager to capture this stony fortress for herself and her group of sidekicks. Deceit and subversion reign throughout the novel, in a power-play between the once powerful Abel (narrator) and the lieutenant, who enters the castle and claims the throne. 

Banks does well to capture the sense of immorality which would surely be prevalent in such a time. A dog-eat-dog mantra controls all, few attachments are made and any promises are taken with a grain of salt. Underneath all the words are currents of doubt and suspicion. Walking through the post-party slumber with the narrator, the desire to slay the sleeping guests in his castle is palpable. We want these people dead, they are unlawful in a time without law, they are disrespectful in a time with no respect and they are foolish and trustworthy of a man who had been enslaved. Obviously we want him to kill them, but he doesn’t. Why not? Because he has grown to like them? No. Becuase he is scared? No. Because he has emotional integrity? Maybe. Because his life is already over? Yes.

A post-apocalyptic wasteland is no place to start again, the protagonists frail attempt to do so is met immediately with denial. His hope is shattered and he is returned to his beginnings, albeit under the control of someone (it doesn’t matter who it really is, he is made the slave in his own home, it could be Ghandi and you’d still hate him). 

His backstory is overly sexual (what relevance is there for this, please fill me in if you know), and doesn’t impart much useful information about Abel. For such a descriptive and sparse novel it seems stange to include so many memories of past which do not enhance the plot. This sparse style of writing (see ‘The Road’) does obviously help to induce the mood of such a time, of low rations, or primal thoughts, yet why attach it to seepingly emotional backstory. Yes, it contrasts our hero to the other animals but he himself is just as much a pawn in the story. He reacts to events with no control, he kills from his head rather than his heart. 

The best part of this novel – the hate. It is really tangible and Banks doesn’t ham-fist it down our throats, it slowly bubbles up between the lieutenant and Abel. It is what drives the novel. A post-apocalyptic novel? Yes. One about revenge and hatred? More so. 

Margaret Atwood on…. Love?

Margaret Atwood on…. Love?

The Canadian genius once again showing why she is a genius. One of the finest writers of our time. This doesn’t have any great writing in it, just an excellent point to make. 

Mount Kimbie – Made to Stray

New release from my favourite band Mount Kimbie. A pioneering rocket ship of a duo, they’ve careened through the sonicsphere leaving a myriad of inspired seeds in their wake. This release from a hopefully soon to be third album sees them pull back on the gas pedal and slow down to enjoy the music around them.

Their usual formula worked well. Half a track of slow building atmosphere, then a second half of explosive emotion, built on the foundations they took a couple minutes to painstakingly create. Obviously this led to some people just skipping to the two minute mark. I personally enjoyed it but it is nice to see a fresh take on their particular brand of tunes.

Made to Stray gets straight into the beef of the song, there is no pussyfooting around at the beginning. The croaky beats backed with a wailing trumpet sound are beautiful. The vocals also compliment very well.

Bravo Dominic and Kai, this is a great progression. They haven’t remained stagnant in their production techniques or creativity. Besides a quite different sound it is still undoubtedly Mount Kimbie. This is a really interesting step forward, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of the same in the future.

Nighthawks

Image

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. To me this picture is like a reverse of ‘Nighthawks’, mainly due to the traced lights mimicing the lines of the building in Hopper’s famous painting . The same sultry and lonely night vibe rings through (especially with the solitary waiting girl), but there is something more optimistic about this shot, making it more fitting for the antithetical mood of today. I think it is to do with the bright lights and the lush sky.

I have no idea whose this picture is, I just found it on my computer so I must have saved it a while ago. Compliments to you if you somehow see this, I like it a lot.

James Blake – Retrograde

Recently released new track from the king of cool James Blake – inventing a sound no one knew they loved until they heard it. I wasn’t a huge fan of CMYK e.t.c but think this track hits the nail on the head; his vocals are given the spotlight over instruments which is a step in the right direction for him. Video isn’t half bad either.

Esbe

Esbe

Picture yourself on a lilo wafting through the ether of space and you might be close to what this sounds like. Mainly instrumental but with a measured and tasteful use of vocals, at once playful and deep; Esbe has reached a new plane of soul-inspired music making.

For the nights when you are by yourself, for the days when you are filled with the energy and brilliance of the sun; he doesn’t suit your mood so much as divert it into his own beautiful vision of the world. So many ‘beat-artists’ fall flat of the main criteria for music; it needs to SOUND good. Take Flying Lotus for example, a well-known pioneer of the genre. Indeed he is influential, his footprints are rife throughout, yet for me it isn’t pleasant. Compared to these mellifluous sounds, he is simply jarring.

Take this for example; Flying Lotus – MmmHmm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uCyv05SG1g

I can’t deny there are moments where it all comes together but on the whole it is an irritating noise. A boundary-pushing one, but irritating nonetheless. I genuinely wonder about the fanbase of FlyLo (to keep to my example, there are of course other high flying offenders). Is there an honest appreciation for the SOUNDS he makes, or is it an appreciation of the figure? While the fact that he doesn’t conform to normal musical structure does make it interesting, it doesn’t make it good. Is it good music or is it cool music? These don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

The one qualm I have with this collection of songs (I have listened to Late Night Headphones Vols.1-3 and Sweet & Sour Vols. 1-3) is that they can be too loungy. In the quest to infuse all his songs with soulful licks, I feel that the L.A. based musician loses individuality for each track, as they tend to blend into each other.

I look forward to new his new releases and urge you to check him out and help support a true artist. So prolific already, I hope he continues in this vein. I would also love to see him do more production work, give him a listen and I’m sure you’ll agree.