Sunday, July 31, 2011

“The Emperor’s Sofa” by Greg Santos

Greg Santos is a traveler. Reading his short biography he’s been everywhere. A couple of continents have hosted him. Places as varied as France, the United States and even tropical Canada have welcomed him. Throughout his travels he never gave up writing. He not only writes but teaches future generations of writers. I can’t think of a more noble profession for this man. With “The Emperor’s Sofa” he collects his writings from the past few years into a coherent whole.

I like the format of the book. Separated into three distinct parts, it manages to come together as a story arc. Poetry can have themes or even a bits and pieces of a story. Greg’s approach has a whole plot, with rising and falling action. Upon reading it a few times, I noticed how seemingly unconnected parts made sense in the grand scheme of things.

The first part is called “Thinking things through”. In this section things are based around loneliness, discomfort, and an inability to fit in to the environment. Besides this focus on being alone there’s a dull buzz of consumer materials. “All Hotel Rooms Are Alike” mentions the constant din of the television late at night, selling you useless garbage in between episodes of stale sitcoms. For me the poem at the end embodies the lack of comfort these products provide: the narrator needs someone to talk to, they want to feel comfortable yet the foreign air is very cold.

“Hulk Smash” and “Love Poem for Shelley by Hulk” takes a more light-hearted look at being alone. Our protagonist is frustrated, rejected, and unable to fit in anywhere. I enjoy how Greg managed to use Hulk’s way of speaking and make it oddly beautiful. While the Hulk is usually just a big brute, the two poems bring out a certain desire to be loved and to love others. He doesn’t want to be managed by anger anymore.

On “unhipsterish earnestness” and “Autopilot” the work focuses on aging. People get older. They no longer are cool. All those things they could relate to have gone away. Instead they find ways of letting their age work for them. Working on being cool is sad. References pass them by. Little efforts to fit in, to be hip, are met with an attitude of “at least he tried”.

Part two, “Things thinking through” gives us a perspective on inanimate objects, their hopes and dreams. Usually he focuses on their desire for freedom. Flying furniture happens in “Out of the Blue”. Revolutions are contemplated by appliances. Animals pop in here and there hoping to join our world. Unfortunately they never seem to be able to break into our life or way of doing things. We try to help them (like in “Showbiz”) but our attention is misplaced.

“Travels around the Empire” ends the book. Some of these poems are the most tender, beautiful pieces in the entire book. By now the emperor is tired. People move around while the Emperor does nothing. As time passes the Emperor grows restless, as shown in “The Emperor’s Insomnia”. Peace doesn’t come to him anymore. Instead he feels frustrated longing for tranquility that dodges him. What’s interesting is how his subjects, going about their daily lives, are oblivious to his dilemmas. They have meaning and purpose in spite of their lowly positions. They move, wander, while the Emperor is stationary, losing control of himself. Dialogue occurs a lot in this section showing little glimpses of characters like walking through crowded squares overhearing snippets of conversation.

The book flows swimmingly. The attention to characters and development is welcome. I enjoyed how many times I returned to this work. Tenderness throughout the whole book binds it together. Emotions of loneliness appear to be resolved by the end, with friends travelling together, getting on each other’s nerves, and generally being normal people. Greg’s take on the isolation of power felt spot on as well. While I’ve never been an Emperor, I’ve worked in an office and often thought those same isolating thoughts appeared. I’d see others getting along with boring bureaucratic nonsense (like in “I Am His Majesty’s Most Trusted Servant”) and would wonder why I’m even there. Thankfully I was not alone when one of my colleagues asked me “What do we actually do here?” in half sincerity/jest. We laughed because there was no good answer.

Greg Santos has written a book which speaks volumes about our current isolation and how overcome it. It’s fantastic.

Coiso! - Mega Trip 6.3

Coiso! do a fairly decent job of remaining elusive. That applies not only to their completely non-descript bandcamp page but to the music. You see, they specialize in strange, hypnotic mash-ups. Unlike most mash-ups, they tend to be a bit less abrasive and a lot more ambient. Most mash-ups or sampling tends to be considerably harsher. By taking the road less traveled they make the entire record a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, the main drawback of this approach is the oftentimes aimlessness of this album.

"Apres Paris" falls into this trap. Starting off promisingly with a fashion conscious sample, it fails to really expand upon this idea. Instead of being engaging or zen with its repetition, it ends up bothering the listener with its stasis.

Where the album succeeds is with the dance elements of the album. "Drunken Dub" takes a different tact, and while repetitive, ends up having enough going on in the background to make it more engaging. Plus, whoever is responsible for this Porto-based project shows a certain sincere love for the genre. Ditto goes for "Bad Ass Congo Amplifier" which is a blast of a track. Really, it bounces around with a certain joy.

Unfortunately, the longest track "After Eight Fleeting Radio" gets a little too silly and lazy. Coiso! doesn't really work much with the source material like they did on the more successful tracks. Rather, they offer up the samples spliced together in a particularly unconvincing and almost ironic way. The humor would work better with a slightly different tact and perhaps a greater variety of clips.

For me, this was an interesting album. It certainly was fun. Coiso! has a great sense of humor about what they do. Next time they should try focusing on doing more in a shorter length of time. The shorter tracks for me really struck me as fantastic. Longer ones generally chased too few ideas for too long. Either way it’s a fun trip.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kisses – Kisses 4.9

Kisses makes coy, retro pop music. I know the deal: dusty keyboards, silly lyrics, all wrapped up in lo-fi sheen. Countless bands do this with varying degrees of success. Most are generally light on ideas and usually enjoyable. Normally you can’t hate them for using a winning template. Problems would lie in execution then, in the watery sound, boring hooks, or flaccid vocal delivery. All those problems are on full display here.

The first half of the album works out slightly better than the dregs-filled ending. At least in the beginning there are some fairly decent melodies. Nothing amazing but they are somewhat catchy. Even the early tracks run long in the tooth. Despite the extremely short length of the album the songs drag heavily. Songs generally need things like ‘ideas’ to be successful. Kisses decided that they’d come up with one idea and chase it for a couple of minutes. Unfortunately that one idea happens to be dangerously close to generic. “Bermuda” comes closest to being a solidly decent tune.

I’m not a huge lyric person. Generally speaking I can tune out some bad ones in exchange for a good melody or rhythm. As there’s not much on the creative front regarding melody or rhythm I can’t help but to focus somewhat on these lyrics. On “Midnight Lover” the singer croons “I would like to take you out for a nice steak dinner”. What’s terrible about this song is it happens to break the template regarding the boring samples. Kisses manages a relatively interesting groove to these depressingly awful lyrics.

Really this is a terrible album. The coy nature of the album irritates me. I constantly get the feeling with the album like they’re about to take things into a more interesting area only to let me down. “Midnight Lover” is one example. “Bermuda” would be another. Normally I like this kind of style, sound, and taste, but there’s not enough stuff going on to keep me interested.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

C.P Harrison

C.P Harrison is an American Poet. It says that right on their Tumblr. From their Tumblr you can find their entire web-based existence, from their blogspot to their twitter. I never said this anonymous person had a large online presence. Keeping an anonymous online persona makes sense to me a little bit. Though seeing their picture on blogspot of a simple outline with a halo makes me realize they are an angelic figure. Perhaps with their name they could be a future President of the United States. We’ve already had one President Harrison, why not a second one, particularly one attuned to the needs of poetry.

Flarf is Harrison’s stock and trade. Poetry’s last chance may be by embracing this embracement of all things internet-related. Pieces of nonsense come together into an elusive whole. Usually the write chooses the words they want to use. With Flarf, the writer merely sets a series of perimeters for what they want. You become a navigator of a sea of words. They choose you. All these words then are there for you to chart a course through the absurd.

Saturn-Fence, Harrison’s blog, explores language. Entire poems are posted for readers to explore, think about, and fail to understand. The titles are the beginnings. Harrison’s methods allows for some bizarre lines. A few of them stuck out at me. In the first poem you’re treated to the absolutely insane line “with her beautiful heart failure and international sex”. Honestly I read that one line over and over. Besides his blog he’s been featured on Letpeoplepoems (a site I’ve been associated with), Awake After Quake, Tiny Words, and “All Write Then”. Each one of his poems tends to focus on a current event whether it is Anthony Weiner or the Nuclear Reactor Disaster in Japan. Keeping a certain degree of timeliness means the poem serves as a ‘time capsule’ of some of the language, phrases and thoughts we encountered in Google Searches during that period.

The Tumblr Flarf-Ku is a shorter format. Combining the method of Flarf and the format of haiku, it ends up being quite effective. Oftentimes flarf has a tendency of becoming overwhelming, of having no limits whatsoever. Since we’re already bombarded by much of this information it loses its impact in large form. By stripping away the excess, the debris, he focuses purely on the sort of language we’re exposed to on the internet. It is funny, foul, insightful, but works as a snapshot of whom we are at our most invisible. Despite having humanity in real life, we quickly abandon it on the internet for pointless aggression, trolling and other nonsense. Harrison realizes this and puts in on display in Flarf-Ku. On Flarf-Ku there are no judgments.

I like what C.P. does. It’s a bit strange, a bit disorienting at times. Harrison tries offer an honest portrait without veering into any preference for humor or sex. Everything is treated equally which I find doubly refreshing. C.P Harrison has a plan but I can’t figure out what it is at all. That’s a good thing.

Hotel Orpheus- Dementia EP 6.5

At the beginning of the EP there’s a count off. I can’t see why a count-off would even exist for this band. Nothing anywhere on the EP indicates there is a beginning or end. Things never build up or break down. Songs begin and end when they feel like it. You’re treated to a series of annoying feedback, random hits on the drum, and no attempt whatsoever at likability. Hotel Orpheus doesn’t give a fuck if you like them. They do what they want.

Whenever something closely approximating a rhythm or beat comes up, the guitarist (if you can call him that) says to quit it. Then the guitarist proceeds to have their guitar feedback for a couple seconds before the drummer gets an idea and bangs on the drums for a while. Occasionally something resembling singing comes up, but it’s more like muttering. Sometimes they yell to themselves. Don’t worry if you can’t understand the yelling, you probably won’t even understand what they are doing.

My main beef with the EP has to do with the extremely thin sound. The first three of the songs sound really thin. On the fourth track “Crash” you’re treated to a fuller, more dynamic sound. Honestly, had they used this larger, more detailed sound for the entire EP I probably would’ve liked it a lot more. Or some attempt at more bass frequencies could’ve thwarted some of the tininess I hear. Even then though, it’s still a pretty hard beast to enjoy.

Hotel Orpheus has a pretty unusual EP here. Is it annoying, grating, and getting on your nerves? If it doesn’t then they aren’t doing their job or you could be insane. Yet despite this unabashed desire to repulse any kind of listener, there’s something oddly endearing about what they’re doing. Maybe it is the rawness, which reminds me of an artier version of early 80s noise. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. “Dementia” is a weird trip.