Sunday, January 13, 2019

Album Review: Ghost Files: Bronze Tape

Ghost Files: Bronze Tape (Remixes) - Ghostface Killah & Bronze Nazareth
(released Nov. 30, 2018).

It finally happened: in the year that marked Wu-Tang Clan's 25th anniversary, we were finally blessed with an album from one of the nine generals fully produced by their most talented Wu-Element, Detroit's "hip hop blues" wizard Bronze Nazareth. After a productive decade-and-a-half waiting in the wings of the W---producing or featuring on tracks with virtually the entire Clan* and producing albums for Wu Killa Beez like Dom Pachino (of Killarmy), 60 Second Assassin (Sunz of Man) and Timbo King (Royal Fam)---in 2018, Bronze Nazareth got to design the soundscape for an official Ghostface album. Tony Starks, whose penchant for soul sounds is right in Bronze's wheelhouse. Indeed Bronze, given a chance to take a Ghost album for a spin, roars out the gate in a hail of fire, jetting along curves like a Bugatti, carting a dump truck full of jukeboxes jangling soul sounds over a rocky road of chunky bass and snares. That's the sound of Ghost Files: Bronze Tape. Keeping with the motorcar metaphor, the journey is punctuated by a few brief stoplights featuring dramatic dialogues from dusty old films while soul jams loop quietly in the background. With such heavy presence by the producer deploying cinematic clips and heavily orchestrated bangers, manipulating beats to embellish bars, the overall audio experience conjures classic Wu in a fresh form.

The project began in October with The Lost Tapes, a new album from Ghostface stuffed with notable features and fully produced by talented beatmaker and imposturous internet author, Big Ghost Ltd. Eight weeks later, fans were gifted a special double-edition of remixes to that album, the Bronze Tape (prod. by Bronze) and the Propane Tape (prod. by Agallah). While the Agallah version and the original Big Ghost Ltd version are both solid, in what amounted to a three-sided producer battle to craft the best Ghostface album, the kid from Motown put on a clinic. In this review I want to focus on how the Bronze Tape embodies what sets Bronze apart as a producer and why this record offers promise to diehard Wu-Tang fans hungry for fresh production.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back on 2018

Mural seen in Antwerp, Belgium June 2018.

Looking back on it, in many respects, 2018 was not a great year for me. Had lots of drama and bullshit in many of my relationships with those close to me. Suffered thru four months in the middle of the year where my across-the-street neighbor descended into a drug-addled psychotic collapse featuring, among other things: angry threats, kidnapping someone's dog, damaging property, going in neighbors' yards, lying down in the middle of a busy street, and even covering the entire outside of his home with creepy spray-painted screed of lunacy and racist, alt-right garbage. It was daily escalating insanity. This being the heart of heavily-armed Texas, every day it felt like the neighborhood might collapse into a Tarantino scene. Shit was a horror movie for a bit there. Seriously. Mercifully, that bullshit finally ended. He's gone and the whole neighborhood came together, so now we've got cool neighbors as friends.

In 2018 I also worked a lot, at a fairly challenging job, and spent an absurd amount of time commuting in heavy Austin traffic. With all that, it's always refreshing to assemble a piece like this and realize I also made the time to do a lot of the things I love. Writing this reminds me of what an awesome year 2018 was in many ways. I got to deliver lectures on Finnegans Wake at two universities this year, one in Florida, one in Belgium. I got to travel to cool places, read lots of cool books, write some things worth reading, watch good movies, listen to good music, meet cool people. Here's a brief recap of cool stuff experienced in 2018.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Album Review: Orpheus vs. the Sirens by The Hermit and the Recluse (Ka & Animoss)

Orpheus in Hades  (Beronneau, 1897).

"Judging from my cover, each chapter's a revelation" 
- Ka

An emcee who delivers even one artfully arrowed dart or whole song weaved of references from Greek mythology would be worthy of praise. What Brownsville rapper Ka did on my favorite album of 2018, Orpheus vs. the Sirens (a collaboration with producer Animoss under the group name Hermit and the Recluse), deserves accolades of the utmost extreme. This ten-track album must be the closest thing Hip Hop has come to James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses. Whereas Joyce structured the 18 episodes of his modern text Ulysses around the wanderings of Odysseus, the 10 songs of Orpheus vs. the Sirens follow the adventures of Orpheus accompanying the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Notice how the style of the title on the cover of Orpheus vs. the Sirens even resonates with the cover of the American edition of Ulysses, as seen below:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

More Notes on David Markson's "Notecard Quartet"

To an astronomer, man is but an insignificant dot in an infinite universe---said whoever. Though that insignificant dot is also the astronomer.---said Einstein. 
p. 433, The Last Novel

Before placing David Markson's spellbinding "Notecard Quartet" (namely, these four novels: Reader's Block; This is Not a Novel; Vanishing Point; The Last Novel) back on the shelf, I'd like to share a few more notes from my reading experience. (Page numbers are from the Dalkey Archive edition of Reader's Block and the Counterpoint omnibus edition of This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel.)

1. In one of the many online essays devoted to Markson and his quartet (though I'm currently unable to identify which one), an author suggested that these books, composed almost entirely of an encyclopedic range of historical facts, quotes, and what Finnegans Wake calls "scrips of nutsnolleges" (FW 623.32), are not intended to spring the reader off to Google the history and validity of each item. I mostly adhered to that approach, streaking thru the pages with a growing sense for the vastness of the anomalous, paradoxical, occasionally confounding historical record of artists and thinkers. On the occasions where I was compelled to look stuff up, a vertiginous awe accompanied the realization of just how much color and feeling (love, pain, passion, humor, anger, confusion) can be extracted from any of Markson's terse lines once drilled into.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Discovering David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress and "The Notecard Quartet"

Somebody is living on this beach.
- Wittgenstein's Mistress, p. 240

Quelqu'un vit sur cette plage.
[Somebody is living on this beach, French]

Alguien vive en este playa.
[Somebody is living on this beach, Spanish]
- Reader's Block, p. 178


My reading recently has quickly ricochet'd through the later works of author David Markson, catapulting from Reader's Block (1996) through This Is Not a Novel (2001) into Vanishing Point (2004) on the way to The Last Novel (2007). My binge through this tetrad of experimental novels known as "The Notecard Quartet," styled as meandering strands of loosely linked bits of art historical data written as terse one or two line paragraphs (and originally composed by Markson on index cards), this began on the strength of persistent hints from my Santa Cruz pals Charlie and Luke to read Markson's postmodern masterpiece Wittgenstein's Mistress. My copy of that novel was acquired in Austin a couple years back when I happened to be at a bookstore with Charlie and Luke and they both suggested I'd dig it. They were on point. During a recent trip to Santa Cruz and the San Fran area I finally cracked open Wittgenstein's Mistress and zipped thru it enthralled. The impact of jutting single line paragraphs presenting one mental nugget after another over and over becomes a compulsive reading experience, oddly addictive. Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt compared it to a nutritional snack food for the mind.

To compose an impactful page turner out of a staccato of epigrams and ephemera with no chapters or conventional story elements was Markson's stated goal and manifested gift, repeatedly achieved over the latter stage of his career. After starting out publishing a handful of pulp western and noir novels in the 1960s including The Ballad of Dingus Magee which became a film starring Frank Sinatra, David Markson eventually began to move toward more experimental and original uses of the written word. In the mid-1980s he wrote Wittgenstein's Mistress, a story consisting of the interlinked mental fragments of a narrator known as Kate who seems to be the last person alive on earth. Persevering through 54 (!!!) rejections from publishers who found it either too unconventional or unfit to sell, Markson finally got Wittgenstein's Mistress published in 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press, thanks to the brilliant Steven Moore. The book garnered some laudatory reviews, most notably from David Foster Wallace who described it as "pretty much the high point of experimental literature in this country."

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