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May 1, 2014

Book Notes - Maxwell Neely-Cohen "Echo of the Boom"

Echo of the Boom

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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Maxwell Neely-Cohen's ambitious debut novel Echo of the Boom, told in fresh and energetic prose, melds pop culture, youth, and prophecy with striking results.

Benjamin Hale wrote of the book:

"Echo of the Boom is one of the strangest and most exciting novels I've come across in a long time. It reads like Mean Girls seen through a fever dream, treating of the ecstasies and agonies of being young with apocalyptic anxieties flaming on the horizon."

Stream a playlist of these songs at tape.ly.

In his own words, here is Maxwell Neely-Cohen's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Echo of the Boom:


My first novel, Echo of the Boom, is admittedly dripping with music. Whatever other technological, geopolitical, and adolescent mayhem the novel may be about, I dedicated an extraordinary amount of the text to describing amplified noise. There is no clean and easy justification for this, besides the fact that a book which is largely about contemporary teenagers should probably have a lot of music in it, and that the end of the world as described in most eschatological traditions is very loud.

But that doesn't really explain it. At one point, I even made mixtapes for Molly, Steven, Efram and Chloe, the novel's four main characters.

Before I was a writer, I was a DJ. I started playing in bars and clubs when I was 15. Over my eight year career, I spun everything from dingy DC emcee battles to catastrophic NYC college parties to giant clubs in Europe. When I first started writing fiction, learning that so many novelists (like Murakami) had musical backgrounds was the only comforting evidence that I wasn't completely wasting my time. So when I write, I write with music blasting in my head, and with the knowledge that most of my close friends will forever define me more as a DJ than a novelist.

Echo of the Boom is divided into seven sections. At the beginning of each I paired an excerpt from The Book of Revelation with a song lyric. There are also numerous references to other songs throughout the text, both overt and camouflaged. The following playlist contains none of these. These are the songs not included in the original soundtrack, which somehow, might actually therefore be the true soundtrack to the book:

"Love Story" (Syrup cuz Im Single D33J Remix) – Taylor Swift (as remixed by D33J)

When people ask me what Echo of the Boom sounds like, I answer with this [unauthorized] remix of Taylor Swift. There are no words for what California producer D33J did to Taylor's voice by slowing it down 30%. No vocabulary for taking a bland, overwrought pop anthem and turning it into an ethereal, ambient, chopped-and-screwed-turned-almost-drum-and-bass masterpiece. It could be the backing track to a nuclear apocalypse or the lamest Gossip Girl plotline in history. Or both at the same time.

"Wait (The Whisper Song)" (Chopped & Screwed by Michael "5000" Watts) – The Ying Yang Twins

You have not really heard any hip-hop song until you've heard Houston label Swishahouse weigh in with their chopped and screwed version. In this hard-to-find case, the morphing of an uptempo club-ready single into a drawling cacophonous mess turns what was just a dirty anthem into a sinister track oozing connotations of power. Every time I hear it, I think of the character Chloe. The opening beats hit and I see the beginning of the day at LeMay Senior High School shot in slow motion, and I watch Chloe and her terrifying clique stroll into the place in in the highest possible definition. Slowed down, "The Whisper Song" is no longer a song about sex. It's a song about being a badass. And as the most frightening Machiavellian mean girl on the planet, Chloe qualifies as a badass.

"A Band Called Smith / Danny Drive Thru / Mobb Deep" – Excerpt From Kutmah's mixtape The New Error

There is a DJ/producer character in Echo of the Boom. She is small and little and one of the youngest characters in the book. She also has been a favorite of many early readers. Her name is "The Savage". People ask me which real-life DJ The Savage most sounds like. It's a hard question to answer. Half of the time I wistfully hope she sort of sounds like how I sounded in my best possible moments, evolved to 2014 standards. But half of the time, she sounds like Kutmah. Go listen to Kutmah. Go listen to Kutmah drop a chiptune version of Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones" out of an underrated blues-rock cover of "Baby It's You." Go and be amazed as the Appletalk voice starts rapping.

"Posers" – Andy Stott

In one of the lowest parts of trying to write this book, I bought Andy Stott's 2011 EPs on a whim, remembering a couple of respectable techno singles he had done years earlier. I absentmindedly tried We Stay Together while compiling some of the thousands of notes I would email to myself. The first track played, an ambient noise music intro, and then "Posers" started, and I did a double take. I ran to the volume control and restarted the entire EP and stood there captivated, standing, for the next five minutes and eight seconds. This was what the end of the world actually sounded like. Or what the greatest party ever sounded like. It was music from another species. Music from a different class of machines, like bored botnets hiding in smartphone hard drives had started producing avant-garde techno and recording it on ancient tape machines.

"Kids" – Sleigh Bells

Sleigh Bells' first two albums are the soundtrack to every high school sporting event in the history of the world. Yet Sleigh Bells first two albums are also a perfect representation of the total destruction of the 80s/90s teen movie idea of high school social structure. Jock music made by hipsters. Hipster music made by jocks. Chaos. The fact that the TV show Friday Night Lights ended before it could ever use one of their songs remains a national tragedy.

"Live Your Life" – T.I. feat Rhianna

Something about this, the use of a sample made popular by youtube, the opening shoutout to all the soldiers in Iraq, the contradictory pre-YOLO message of its lyrics- it's the innocent version of the book's anthem. The parts before all hell starts to break loose, when almost everyone didn't understand the larger forces at work, before Miley and Snowden and Bitcoin crashes. Except that somewhere within it, "Live Your Life" knows what is really going on and what is about to come, like it is winking at us and saying, "Hey, this little in-between time was fun."

Also, T.I. wrote a novel.

"Next Episode" – DJ Sanj

DJ Sanj's Bhangra version of Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg should be the official anthem of early 21st century globalization. As a DJ I used it for years as a secret weapon, always getting away with dropping it regardless of the makeup or location of the audience. I was once told a story about an Indian Air Force pilot who would get in trouble for sneaking an IPod up on his sorties and blasting Bhangra music in the cockpit of his Su-30MKI multi-role fighter while twisting along the Pakistani border. "Next Episode" was allegedly one of his favorites. War always finds a way to have a soundtrack.

"Okay Cupid" – Kitty

There's just something about when Kitty opens the song with the teenage refrain "GET OF MY ROOM!" It gets me every time. Kitty represents a perfect example of a youth culture that cannot decide what it hates and what it loves, what is authentic and what is contrived, what can be appropriated and what cannot (See also: Miley). I think Kitty is brilliant. I also think she should write a novel. She'd crush the the novel writing game. The publishing industry needs her.

"Hands On The Wheel" – Schoolboy Q feat. A$ap Rocky

This is almost cheating on my promise not to use any of the songs quoted in the text. Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness" was quoted as the lyrical epigram to Part Six. A California-based folk-rock artist named Lissie released an amazing live cover of "Pursuit of Happiness", which then was sampled by this Schoolboy Q track, providing the title "Hands on the Wheel." In this convoluted exchange, there's some important statement on the state of music, youth, technology, and intellectual property. Two up and coming young rappers, one on the brink of huge fame, sample the hook of another famous young rapper using the beat constructed by two DC producers, by way of a small white blonde folk rock singer who lives in Ojai, California. And all of these parties think this is awesome and grand and okay. No one sues each other. The result is a song about weed and booze that is not about weed and booze, an exercise in pure aestheticism, the soundtrack to thousands of teenage tumblrs flooded with images of hot models decked out in Supreme clothing and photosets of Frank Ocean looking pensive.

"The Day The World Went Away" – Nine Inch Nails

This is the song I was listening to when the very first version of this book popped into my head, back in 2007. I was sitting on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, thinking what it would be like to watch a plane fall out of the sky, or better, a nuclear detonation strike the city, especially if you knew it was coming. And I thought, "what kind of psycho would actually think about that?" And in that moment so many years ago, Steven, a teenage incarnation of Death, was born.

And I kept listening to the song, again and again, both the original The Fragile version and the stripped-down "Quiet" version. And during one instance of that repetition, hidden in the pages of the very first notebook I ever kept, I found the ingredients for Molly, a warrior-child of survivalists, Efram, an original prankster, and Chloe, the ultimate adolescent powerbroker. And "The Day The World Went Away" was still playing. All else followed.


Maxwell Neely-Cohen and Echo of the Boom links:

the author's website
the book's website
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
ForeWord review
Publishers Weekly review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

Two Book Minimum interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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