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January 30, 2008

Note Books - The Shondes

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

The Shondes released their debut album, The Red Sea, earlier this month, and it has easily become one of my favorite discs of the young year. Their classically-trained musicianship and socially inspired, politically active lyrics are the perfect combination to this music blogger's ears.

CMJ wrote of The Red Sea:

"Louisa Rachel Solomon's vocals are strong, nimble and graceful on the band's self-released debut, which sees both complex song structures intertwined with direct, inquisitive lyrics. The result is an album rich in saw-tooth guitars, pummeling rhythms and an undeniably anthemic spirit. It's haunting and it's eerie, yet it's rousing. The Shondes are a twisted carnival film noir come true."

In their own words, here is the Note Books entry from Elijah Oberman and Temim Fruchter of the Shondes:

Elijah Oberman – Violin, Vocals

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Mostly I love books that tell a big grand story (I love narrative), but usually in some twisted or roundabout, messed up way, and I’m a sucker for really beautiful descriptions. I love it when writers use language in their own really specific way so that reading their books is like learning their language, learning what specific images and ways of speaking and repetition mean in their context. Some of my favorites are The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon by Tom Spanbauer, In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Most recently, though, I read Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, which is pretty different than what I usually like, but there’s this one really brilliant part that I can’t stop thinking about. Oscar, one of the main characters, starts the book as a little boy in England and his father is a fanatical Christian who thinks that celebrating Christmas is sinful. There’s this amazing part where the cook who works for the family is so devastated to think that Oscar has never tasted Christmas pudding that she makes it for him secretly. And the description of him eating the pudding is so gorgeous because he’s eating it and thinking it’s the most wonderful thing he ever tasted and realizing that everything he’s been taught is a lie because something this wonderful couldn’t be sinful and evil. He just knows, and he can’t be lied to anymore because he’s tasted the pudding.

It’s a great metaphor and really fun to read because it’s incredible to find a way of describing that experience (which I relate to a lot from experiences in my own life, especially about getting politicized about different things), when you realized that what you’re being taught isn’t what’s true and you can never go back. It’s just, you know, no one can tell you that pudding wasn’t the best thing you ever ate and you can’t ignore your own experience.

Temim Fruchter – Drums, Vocals

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

I am the first to admit: first and foremost, I am a shameless romantic, and I die for a captivating story. When I look for something – or someone - new to read, I want a storyteller, someone who will craft something lyrical, shocking, intoxicating, challenging, and - well - narrative, and give it to me in the shape of a book. Sometimes it's hard for me to find discipline around and outside of this tendency – my heart yearns for poetry, history, theory, biography, politics, but my hands will grab a good story before my heart can ever protest. But I also read to be challenged and pushed, not just cajoled by a good, quick read - so I aim to find provocative texts in the most luscious and bizarre packaging I can find.

Anne Carson is a classicist and a poet and maybe the biggest writer-crush I've got. Her book Autobiography of Red is a novel in verse, based very, very loosely on an ancient Greek lyric poem. Its central character is a red, winged monster named Geryon whose love for the character Herakles is stunning, vivid, and kinda painful. The book is funny, sparse, lush, and at moments, hauntingly sad. Carson's scorchingly romantic and completely queer creations are perfect vessels for exploring issues of body, identity, relationship, sexual abuse, and being a monster with wings in a world where there aren't many others.

Reading narratives that push boundaries, lyrically and otherwise, DEFINITELY translate into the songwriting process. Any time I’m reading challenging, exciting stuff, well, I’m a better songwriter – and a better, more engaged artist – in general. Autobiography of Red is, among other things, a brilliant song.

Also, just for the record, ANYTHING by Sherman Alexie, Octavia Butler and Jeanette Winterson can’t really do wrong by me. And Nate the Great, the children’s book series, was punk, goth, smart-ass and pancake-loving before its time.

Shondes links and free and legal music downloads:

the band's website
the band's MySpace page
the band's Wikipedia entry

stream The Red Sea
Shondes: "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" [mp3] from The Red Sea
Shondes: "Don't Look Down" [mp3] from The Red Sea
Shondes: "Let's Go [mp3] from The Red Sea
Shondes: "The Mother and the Colony" [mp3]
Shondes: "I Watched the Temple Fall" [mp3]

CMJ review of The Read Sea

the band lists its favorite holiday music at Largehearted Boy
Spin profile of the band
Village Voice profile of the band

Shondes music blog posts at
Shondes tracks at Hype Machine
Shondes posts at Largehearted Boy

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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