June 22, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Christopher Coake's You Came Back is a haunting and ambitious debut novel about a parent who loses a child.
My novel You Came Back--a ghost story with a grieving father at its center--was at no point composed in silence; even now, as I read it, the book is intricately soundtracked. This was the first long project I'd attempted as an adult, and the more I tried to plow through it, the more distracted, scatterbrained me found he needed music that de-emphasized vocals and let him hone in on his own words. So in addition to mining the indie stuff I usually like, I also started sniffing around trancey experimental electronic music, metal, and post-rock; though even now I'm still not sure what I make of much of it (for music that's supposed to be free of the shackles of rock/pop structure, a lot of it ends up sounding pretty samey) I found a lot that I loved, and still do. In short: these were the songs and albums that kept my butt in the seat while also scaring the hell out of me.
Nadja, Bliss Torn from Emptiness
Nadja's a two-person band from Canada, and they specialize in overdistorted, doomy, beautiful metal. This three-part suite is my favorite work of theirs (though their cover of Slayer's "Dead Skin Mask," from their covers album When I See The Sun Always Shines on TV, is a close second). Beautiful, trance-y, terrifying (at one point the music gives way to a robotic voice saying "God" over and over again, maybe as a question, maybe as a denial, maybe as both) and--eventually--bludgeoning. The only flaw is the pretension of the title--ugh.
Saddleback, "Hanging at Picnic Rock"
I found Saddleback years ago, back when the site eMusic was worth a damn, and allowed subscribers access to ridiculous amounts of marvelous indie music on the cheap. I know nothing about Saddleback, except that their album Night Maps is weird and lovely. "Hanging at Picnic Rock" is almost funky--while still being sad and spooky and intimate.
Grouper, Way Their Crept
If there were ghosts, and if they had a band.
This song, from the album fixed::context, is a long, slow burn. A rhythmic bass pulse, a repeated lick of twangy guitar. Twenty minutes of this, with constant, subtle variation. It doesn't sound like much when I try to describe it, I know--but after a while that song was like muscle memory.
William Basinski, The Disintegration Loops I-IV
These albums were so important to my novel's creation that I very nearly named a section of the book after them. Their construction is simple: In 2001, Basinski was playing old analog tapes of pretty, pastoral synthesizer loops, then noted that the playing of the loops was destroying them, a little at a time, as the tape disintegrated. He was struck by the sound, and proceeded to record the loops being played over and over until they had completely degraded. The result is the spookiest music I've ever heard--this is the sound of aging, of death, of evolution, of entropy. Of understanding. More than once I've listened to these albums and been moved to tears--I know how this makes both me and the music sound, but fuck that: put this on headphones, sit back, and try not to think about your own end, and those who've already ended.
The story goes that Basinski was recording these albums in New York when 9/11 occurred. He put pictures of the smoking wreckage on each of the covers. Maybe the best praise I can give these records is that, when I'm listening to them, such a move doesn't really seem presumptuous.
Radiohead, "Climbing Up the Walls"
Black metal wishes it was this scary.
Red House Painters, "Silly Love Songs"
Mark Kozelek takes the Wings trifle (though I gotta admit I love it) and stretches it out into a howl. The song clocks at eleven minutes, so the vocals hardly dominate, and Kozelek's Neil Young-ish guitar ends up trashing the room. I love me some Mark Kozelek--"Lost Verses," from Sun Kil Moon's April, was an honorable mention for this list.
Paul Duncan, "The Lake, Pt. 2"
I did have to write some love scenes every now and then, and then I'd turn to Paul Duncan. Duncan has released three albums (this track is from Above the Trees), all of them gorgeous and muttered and weirdly hopeful. Another guy I found way in the back of eMusic--but someone please go buy one of his records and agree with me that he's brilliant? Honorable mention: "The Night Gives No Applause," from Be Careful What You Call Home.
From the album of the same name. The song that introduced me to post-rock (which I heard on the store stereo while opening a Half Price Books long, long ago) still worked wonders for me here—maybe because it still sounds like nothing else. I name-checked Tortoise in the book.
Unwound, Leaves Turn Inside You
Harsh and grating and beautiful from the first track to the last. There are vocals, but they're inscrutable, acting more like instruments. You Came Back features a protagonist who's haunted and suffering, and who in turn makes others suffer. This entire record put me right there.
The Beta Band, "Push it Out"
My daily affirmation/dirge. A "be aggressive" cheer for mopes. Perfect.
Christopher Coake and You Came Back links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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