Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BOOK: Got by D

Got (Seven Weapon Arsenal) by D
The Armory (imprint of Akashic Books), New York, 2006

Got is the debut novel from The Armory, the new “urban noir” imprint of independent publisher Akashic Books (Akashic’s tag is “dedicated to the reverse gentrification of the literary world”). The specific genre label seems deliberate, a nod to controversies that swirl around the genre’s other names, “street lit” and “gangsta lit,” questions about the genre’s literary values and social impact.

Which I only mention because it would be disingenuous not to, just as it would be disingenuous to shrug off my white privilege coloring my perspective of a predominantly African-American literary form.

And which I won’t dwell on because it seems patronizing, seems to take a different tone than any teeth-gnashing over the nihilism and questionably literariness of Nick McDonnell or Bret Easton Ellis and its effect on 15- to 25-year-old white kids.

This novel rises above such concerns, or perhaps more accurately blasts past them. It is high-energy, swiftly-paced noir, gritty and violent without being gratuitous, grim but not nihilistic, a narrative pull that understands desperation is another kind of hope.

Got is written in second-person, which works so perfectly for noir that I’m surprised I haven’t come across it before. Second-person is risky, can devolve into gimmick if not handled with a deft touch, and this is the most consistent and effective application I’ve read since Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

The immediacy created by the second-person voice drives the story. You’re a college student and part-time bagman for the city’s toughest boss, and, as the story opens, you’re in the middle of a VIP session with your favorite stripper, backpack of your bosses cash at your side. The moment she concludes your special customer treatment, you notice the bag is gone. A foot chase, shotgun blast to the chest, and violent meeting with your boss later, you’re on the street with the rest of the night to retrieve the cash.

The story is a runaway train from there, barreling through forged and broken alliances, old grudges, and wholesale gang warfare. And yet you, the narrator, remain central, never overcome by events. The narrator is a warrior, has fought for a lifetime against inevitability, unwilling to be defined merely by his abusive home life with his parents, the brutal murder of his loving adoptive parents, the realities of getting by on the streets. He is fighting for his conception of himself as a person of worth, a college student, not just another punk. He fights for his right to self-determination.

There is a spirit that pervades this book that violence isn’t inevitable, but the product of choice, even when the choices life lays out are dire. It is a short novel that crackles with energy, yanks the reader out of his seat and into a headlong plunge, but leaves in its wake a deeper resonance, meaning that seethes up out of the muscle memories of the sprint.

reviewed by Jim Jewell, 484 words


Thursday, April 05, 2007

CD: Avant Hard by Add N to X

Add N To X: Avant Hard
Mute Records

The middle part of my formative years, musically speaking, took place in Nuremburg, Germany. I was there from 1980 – 1984. This may explain why I still have an affinity for European bands whose track lists mostly consist of electronic or synth instrumentals.

The only American counterparts to this music (that I can remember listening to at the time), were Devo, and early hip-hop classics (George Clinton’s “Cosmic Dog,” Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” and Jonzun Crew’s “Space Cowboy”).

I’d been hooked since I first heard Robert Palmer’s “Johnny & Mary.” After that, it wasn’t long before I was freaking out to the sounds of KMFDM, Bauhaus, Kraftwerk, Tones On Tail, and the Art of Noise (both the Trevor Horn influenced experimentia, and the later more commercial work – the “Peter Gunn” cover, Max Headroom’s “Paranoimia” – that Dudley, Morley and Langan popularized).

I am particularly fond of these last two strains of AoN. You can feel their influence in some odd places like Wizardzz (Horn gone minimalistic, and jammy), or Daft Punk (Homewerk captured the early schizoid nature of AoN rather well). However, a number of their direct descendants are found playing under the unlikely and algebraic moniker Add N to X.

Possessing only their last two albums (Add Insult to Injury, Loud Like Nature), and in search of something new, I picked up Add N To X’s third album Avant Hard (1999) expecting to encounter more of their groovy, synth-based, math-y goofiness (or moog-tinged body music, if you will).

What I found was an album that Trevor Horn wishes he had created.

Starting with “Barry 7’s Contraption” (an odd little concept piece that mixes the mouth harp with a Danny Elfman-esque loop, amidst other oddities), Avant Hard takes you through some of the strangest musical landscapes created this side of Aphex Twin’s less aggressive ventures.

Along the way, you’re taken on video gamey joyrides (“Skills”), menacing cartoon parades (“Steve’s Going To Teach Himself Who’s Boss,” reminiscent of AoN’s “A Time For Fear” and MC 900 Foot Jesus’ Welcome to My Nightmare), sped past a dramatic and arid desert landscape(“Revenge of the Black Regent”), until you end up in the breathy embrace of a confused muse (“Oh Yeah, Oh No”), nestled cozily in a lush Morricone cloud (“Machine is Bored With Love”).

If all of this sounds too esoteric, too “challenging,” then I’m simply not doing a good job of conveying the amount of fun to be had listening to this album. Yes, they use a loop of a horse galloping as the basis for one of the album’s more aggressive songs (“Ann’s Everyday Equestrian”); but, they aren’t shy to use a basic punk drumbeat, nor a more traditional rock rhythm section on a number of these songs, though.

There is a considerable evolution between this and the two albums that succeed it (though not necessarily in approach); Avant Hard makes an already difficult to place, yet greatly enjoyable band, even harder to pin down.

--thebeigeone, 494 words.