November 9, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Tobias Carroll's striking debut novel Reel is a smart and lyrical examination of interconnectedness and art.
LitReactor wrote of the book:
"Carroll is a new, exciting voice who walks a fine line between the most lyrical end of literary fiction and the kind of writing that deals with mosh pits and waiting outside a tattoo shop while eating cheap food."
My novel Reel is about two people, Timon and Marianne, whose paths briefly cross at a punk show in Seattle. Throughout the book, I referenced bands from the early 00s–in my mind, the novel is set around 2002 or 2003, and a lot of the musical choices in there reflect that. Because the novel follows these two lives in parallel, I ended up referencing a lot of bands with two words in their names (FCS North and 764-HERO both come to mind.) So it seemed appropriate to list a couple of favorite songs in here, including a bunch by artists whose names wouldn't quite fit in with this constraint.
FCS North, "High Rize"
note: I do not actually know if any digital version of this song exists on the internet.
And here's the one exception. When I first went out to the Pacific Northwest in 2000, I flew from Newark to Seattle and then took a train from Seattle to Portland. I'd picked up this album, from a post-rock trio from Seattle, at a record store called South & Fury on the Lower East Side. I bought it, essentially, on the strength of the description written up by someone who worked there, and I listened to it a lot on that trip. And so the sounds of these songs are inexorably wrapped up in my memories of that place, and of that feeling of traveling towards something new.
Hello, deep cuts. In the second part of the novel, Marianne goes on a road trip with her friend Elias; at one point, he pulls out a tape on which he's recorded a bunch of split seven inches. (I did this a lot in the late 90s and early 00s.). I had this one in mind; it's from a split with a band called Kentucky Pistol, who featured Rocky Votolato on drums. (Their song is fantastic, incidentally.) The cover art on this record–all blue skies, northwestern vistas, and architecture–helped a lot with the mood of the novel. Also, Sharks Keep Moving were a tremendous band.
I'm pretty sure I first heard this song on a CD sampler that came with an issue of CMJ. I'm somewhat hit or miss on Dub Narcotic Sound System's broader work, but this song with Lois Maffeo on vocals is absolutely fantastic–and anticipates the circa-now moment when the lines between indie rock and R & B became mightily porous.
A lot of my connection to the music of Seattle comes via Rocky Votolato. The label that my friend Scott and I ran for a few years released his EP A Brief History in 2000, and I've had the good fortune to listen to the music he's made over the years, from his work in Waxwing (and, before that, Lying on Loot) to his terrific work as a solo artist. This early Waxwing song finds them at their most chaotic and their most dynamic.
Pretty close to a perfect song, I'd say. And it taps into a kind of lived-in feel that I wanted to evoke, at least to some extent, with both of the main characters of this novel.
There's a point in the novel where I refer to Charleston as "the port of Charleston." This song by Seam is why. I heard this band for the first time at a party shortly before going off to college; I didn't know who this band was, but I knew it was music that made me sad in the best way. Come to think of it, that same party also inspired a scene in my story "Last Screening of A Hoax Cantata," and it was also the place where I first heard the music of Rachel's, who also informed the making of Reel.
I mean, it is one of the sources from which this novel takes its name. And the fact that its two voices wind around each other but never quite converge had more than a little influence on the structure of Reel.
One of my roommates in my last year of college was a huge fan of the first Red Stars Theory album, But Sleep Came Slowly. He played it a whole lot, and I found myself constantly impressed by it. Eventually came album number two, released by Touch and Go, which I managed to score a review copy of for the zine I was editing at the time. Life in a Bubble Can Be Beautiful was and continues to be a gorgeous and melancholy album, nuanced and unpredictable. This song, and its lyrical juxtaposition of collisions and solitude, tapped into the same kind of aesthetic that I'd hoped to echo with the novel.
I came to the Seattle power trio Hush Harbor in a roundabout manner: I'd been given a 764-HERO album to review, and when I mentioned to a friend that I'd been enjoying it, he urged me to seek out singer/guitarist John Atkins's previous band, Hush Harbor. Though I don't think the two sound remotely similar, this song (like the Waxwing one from earlier) goes beautifully from melodic to anguished and back again. Trying to find a way to convey that in prose? That's one of the fun parts of writing.
Tobias Carroll and Reel links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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