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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

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Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which We Consider The Problem Of Ex-Girlfriends

Myriad Complications


dir. Alexander Poe
71 minutes

I can’t help but read the new comedy Ex-Girlfriends, Alex Poe’s first feature film — which he also wrote, produced and stars in — as less about girlfriends than about the business of being a storyteller. On its surface, the film is about love and its complications, and untangles a succession of moments in the lives of three people who find themselves interconnected in strange and unlooked for ways. At its heart, however, it’s more about our ache for something profound in our lives, and our tendency to inscribe beauty and significance into ordinary, sometimes unlovely things.

The plot is pretty simple, except where it becomes convoluted. A boy named Graham meets a girl named Laura. Boy chases girl. Pandemonium ensues. Journey of romantic conquest becomes journey of self-revelation. But the girl is an ex from Graham’s past who reappears the same day he’s dumped by his most recent girlfriend and the love story is complicated by a quadrangle involving Graham, his friend Kate (Jennifer Carpenter of Dexter), Laura (Kristin Connolly) and a guy both Kate & Laura are dating, with all the vectors pointing in all the wrong directions. And as for this notion of self-revelation, isn’t that just another word for fleeting moment of clarity that evaporates with your morning cup of coffee?

You could call it a romantic comedy — Ex-Girlfriends is, after all, funny and sweet and captures the lives of 20-somethings in New York — but it’s really a hybrid sort of thing. Through its use and misuse of the common tropes & beats of romantic comedy — including first-person voiceover, quirky sidekicks played for dubious hilarity, and a madcap car chase to win the object of attraction which hinges on the highly banal detail that she can’t check her email because she doesn’t have a smartphone — it interrogates the romantic comedy as a genre capable of representing the messy reality of love in our lives.

Similarly, one of meta-gags employed by the film are the MFA workshops in which Graham, a fiction student at Columbia’s School of the Arts, presents and endures comments on the very story that the film is telling. His fellow students are a Greek chorus of derision. They don’t want things as they are; they want a prettier version, a more enlightening version, a version that empowers and reassures us with its articulation of things important and empyrean in life. Things as they really happen, oh how very boring…

Throughout, the film plays with conventional emotional & narrative expectations. There’s no sex, for example, and ideas of love and happiness are only seen in their absence. It’s not clear why exactly Graham wants Laura back in his life — does he love her, or this merely a habitual apophenia, willfully creating significance out of a random constellation of details, such as the fact that she’s read War and Peace? — and all the ex-girlfriends (except Kate) seem to blur together: a revolving door of blondes with soft faces and soft eyes and softer voices. All blondes being equal here, are we being told here that no one of these girls is qualitatively better than the other?

And yet it’s a tender film. The characters all have the grace of human awkwardness — because they are so flawed and so yearning, they move us — and there's a kind of weariness that colors the mood: in the way the city is depicted (water or bridges are always in the background; you can’t help but be aware of how New York is a city surrounded by water, and how vulnerable we are in that isolation, especially in this post-Sandy age), in the plot-structure and use of voiceover, in the music, and in the way that moments of silence or non-verbal response are sometimes stretched out between characters and left to linger in the air… But that weariness is also ironic, the weariness of someone weaned on Proust who tastes a madeleine for the first time and discovers that it’s, eh, not what you thought it would be. It is weariness as something palpable you note and file away; the failure of significance is in itself what becomes significant.

Still, Ex-Girlfriends offers Jennifer Carpenter’s Kate as a counterpoint. It’s fitting that her character is the one non-New Yorker in the film and that she sets a chain of events in motion with her arrival in the city. She’s ferocious, her voice pugnacious, her body wild with uncontrolled energy and emotion; she seems to exist in a different world than the other characters. In Ex-Girlfriends' most poignant scene, she and Graham lie next to each other, just two friends, lonely & exhausted, and she asks, “Will I ever find real love?” “Yes,” he says. “When?” “Later.” And that’s it.

If this exchange feels incomplete, the slippage into the fragmentary is emblematic of what the film has to tell us about stories & how we locate ourselves in them. It is impossible to represent totality, in film or in fiction, or even in 3 a.m. moments of perfect drunken clarity. Our perceptions about ourselves and the world are always incomplete. We mine the past, we make lists representing who we were and where we’re going, and rifle through the archives of memory knowing that the moment, the fragment, the very things that fail and remain unfinished have a vitality that is indelible.

In his attention to such moments, Graham is not a cynic; he’s a romantic. He doesn’t stop hoping, or longing, or working to create meaning, or believing in the astonishingness of what is (or what fails to be), or even in the promise that true love is still out there. Someday, something different will surface. The gerbil wheel will break. The Mobius strip will take you somewhere else. You’ll wake up to a different reality. And you wait for that moment that will make the other moments make sense: “the moment when your eyes will lock and everything will come together…”

For the characters of Ex-Girlfriends, as for many of us, that moment hasn’t yet come. Maybe it never will. And maybe failure and repetition are just ways of saying that transcendence is no more important than this hands-on, knee-deep, impassioned mucking through the damned untidiness of life itself. Memory bleeds. Coincidence is the order of the day. Happiness, like everything, is arbitrary.

Ex-Girlfriends runs at Cinema Village (22 E. 12th Street) Nov 28-Dec 6, and is available for download from iTunes & OnDemand.

Shahirah Majumdar is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Vertigo.

"Most of the Time" - Bob Dylan (mp3)

"My Back Pages" - Bob Dylan (mp3


In Which She Performs For A Willing Audience

The New York Review of Hooks Vol. 5


We listen to Mary J. Blige because we are lonely or heartbroken or distressed. "No More Drama" is infallible because it is so familiar. Blige is not lovely or pretty on stage. She almost writhes, perched in desperation. Her performance during the 2002 Grammys was particularly captivating.

Clad in a gold form-fitting suit, sporting her soon-to-be signature short hair, Blige needed nothing more than a wireless mic and a clear stage to perform the song, a hybrid of emotional ballad and raucous, self-esteem power statement. She looked up again and again. She shook her fists; ignored the audience. This moment for her was a point of revelation and regeneration.

Blige's personal troubles (drug abuse, difficult relationships) were no secret to her many fans, but this particular performance was revealing to the world and a moment of catharsis. It is difficult to not feel taken in by her facial expressions - this is a woman with a lot to say, a voice that demands attention.

I grew up with her music, but I also grew up listening to Brandy and Aaliyah and in recent years Rihanna. These women made R&B, but their style is different from the power Blige demands. Their voices contain a lighter quality and a less memorable affect. It's obvious a great deal of work by producers goes into the final product, creating music made to please through manipulation and calculation. The listener is never carried away by the visceral quality of the audio. Instead, we remember the pop melodies, the sleek production and the overall package of the performer.

Post-dubstep as an emerging genre gained traction in 2010. Releases by British artist like Joy O (originally Joy Orbison), James Blake and Mount Kimbie sparked a trend that continues to develop and define its aesthetics two years later. Most of the output relies on slightly-danceable electronic production, glitchy synths and cuts, and samples by female R&B vocalists. Blake's CMYK EP, released in early 2010, stood out in particular as some of the best examples of the genre.

I heard the title track for the first time during my day job and the rush of sounds was overwhelming. Blake sampled Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody" and Kelis' "Caught Out there." The sampling came off pronounced and eager: Blake wore his influences on his sleeve, proudly highlighting the memorable qualities in the original.

"Are You That Somebody" - Aaliyah (mp3)

Like many hip hop singles from the 90s that sampled funk, disco and quiet storm, post-dubstep artists like Blake involved themselves with music previously ignored or isolated within the stylistic constraint of its genre. However, unlike the previous era of samples, these musicians find an inherent worth in the vocal performances rather than the instrumentation, melody or production. It is Kelis' voice that twists and turns, jumping between octaves and pitch to create the perfect complement to the mood of Blake's song.

But to consider these singers strong vocalists without the backing of high-end producers like Darkchild or Timbaland would be an aural stretch. We consider Mariah Carey's voice powerful for a reason. She hits notes that might come across as posturing, but her talent is unparalleled. Despite their lack of vocal prowess, performers like Ciara or Rihanna find perfect singles through the assistance of world class producers. Their music is less of a solo performance and is instead indicative of a collaboration between singer and producer.

To create something unique, producers utilize vocal samples that add to, rather than take away from the finished products. The singers need to compliment the hard beats, the dirty synths, or the heavy orchestration. The voices are equal to - rather than more powerful than - the instrumentation of the record. A Mary J. Blige or a Mariah Carey exists on a different vocal plane than a Rihanna or a Brandy. They are remixed, but rarely sampled in this same deconstructed capacity. And the voice of a Blige or a Carey would only clash with the final product. It’s no surprise then that as Blige and Carey age, their music is further isolated in the traditional realms of r&b. The production behind each of their songs must not take away from the selling point of their music - their voices. And as the state and style of mainstream music continues to masticate into an unrecognizable free-for-all, it is vocal talent that is one of the least important elements of a successful single.

New producers in the post-dubstep genre are able to use the weaker vocalists perhaps because they’ve already demonstrated how well their vocals work in collaboration with the instrumental and creative processes of a producer. Less than demonstrating a lack of desire to manipulate the vocals of stronger singers, new post-dubstep musicians like Blake, Jamie xx, and Mount Kimbie have found a clearer route to the sounds and aesthetics that help to define their emerging genre of music.

The rise of the “alternative” or “indie” idea of R&B continues to flourish in 2012, with no end in sight. In interviews, many of the core producers and singers site their childhood influences, their listening habits as young adults. But through the evolution of this “new” sound that has flourished online and in the headphones of lonely internet obsessives, something continuous has emerged.

Two popular tumblrs, MTHRFNKR (previously known as Post-Dubstep) and Indie R&B, have monitored this growing sound. It’s hard not to draw a connection to the sampling of the last couple of years. Personally, I began listening again to all of the R&B albums I amassed throughout my childhood and adolescence during this same period of time. Why am I just listening to these reconstructions, I thought, when I could relive the purity of the real thing? It’s not that I had forgotten about them as much as I had grown into sounds and scenes that were different than what I had always known.

"110%" - Jessie Ware (mp3)

Two of the most compelling examples of this unique return to the soulfulness of R&B in the 90s was evident in full-length releases from Jessie Ware and Sonnymoon. Ware worked with producers such as Julio Bashmore to create songs that were almost austere in their simplicity. “110%,” so passionately light, is one of the best new songs of the year. It sees the noise, the “drop,” the dirty synths of the past few years and positions Ware’s voice as the true star. In this case, they were correct.

"Just Before Dawn" - Sonnymoon (mp3)

Similarly, although Sonnymoon’s self-titled release incorporates a wider array of genres into their overall sound (especially jazz), it is Anna Wise’s voice – soulful, earnest – that makes songs like “Nothing Thought” and “Just Before Dawn” sound like vestiges of a past that feels increasingly more appealing that the mainstream music of the present. Similarly, 21-year-old Lulu James, who released a new single “Be Safe” earlier this year, exhibited more soulfulness than has been heard as of recent. James reminds me of vocalists who began in the r&b genre but veered somewhere left of that in time with the popularity of EDM aesthetics, shining so quickly and profoundly.

"The Wilhelm Scream" - James Blake (mp3)

Blake released his first solo album in the winter of 2011. At first, I thought it was about the lack of lyricism, the direct quality in the phrases and the instrumentation that made it so appealing. But Blake’s voice wrapped around me, all smooth-like. There was an assuredness evident beyond his age. Or possibly the way he sings is exactly of his age - the soulfulness competing with the energy and exhaustion of the world around him.

After having lived with the album for close to two years now, it’s multitudes have become more evident: the weight of a single idea, the minimalism among the occasional barrage of noise. Blake moved away from his sampling, something that made sense. Blake’s voice is unique, is at times strong, but he’s not a crooner in the same way that a Jamie Woon or a Jamie Lidell exhibit in their music. Choosing to sample himself opened up another level of experimentation in creating his sound. He didn’t need other vocalists to create new works. He could – in essence – build from within, completely.

"Whatnot" - Machinedrum (mp3)

Machinedrum, another producer of music ranging in genre from minimalist footwork to house to lo-fi rock, uses this same method of production. As his output as a dance music producer has grown, so to has his use of the manipulation of his own voice. Again, it’s not particularly strong, but there’s something captivating about it in the same way that Brandy or Rihanna’s voices are captivating. The uniqueness is beyond the normalized idea of a strong vocalist. The weirdness in their voice, in his voice, means that songs like the recently released “Whatnot” or the entirety of his Room(s) LP create a fuller, lusher overall sound.

I have to remind myself that music is personal, and the way we respond to it stems first from the self. But there is something special happening here. Perhaps the growth from sampling to creating to embracing is just the path of least confusion. Perhaps it is just the desire for the universality of soulfulness, the desire for the reality and presence of a voice, any voice.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find the first volume of The New York Review of Hooks here. She tumbls here and twitters here.


In Which All That's Left Is The Text

Shining Off You


Dear C,

I write you this time from the upper deck of a red and blue bus zipping through the Midwest. I write you, computer balanced on my knees, from cramped window seat quarters. I write you with a sore throat, runny nose, carpal tunnel, humbly, in the tradition that I always have: to see if in explaining things to you, I may incidentally end up explaining things to myself.

A funny thing has been happening to me out there in Iowa, where I boarded this bus, and I don’t know how to explain it to you except to say that it’s started to seem like nothing matters besides the thing I’m there to do. I have a funny sensation of everything else slipping away, the margins of what my life used to contain growing ever smaller, sliding off the page, until all that’s left is the text. I stay busy, of course: I jog up Summit Street past what qualifies as mansions there, feet padding out some order to the day, and I drink tea downtown with my computer for companionship, maybe knock on Ellen’s door and sit with her a while. But I now spend so much time inside my own head that when it comes time to go out at night, I find myself loathe to leave it.

image by Angelika Sher

I am so detached from a reality beyond the page that I have even stopped appearing in my own dreams, am a mere spectator of scenes filled with strangers.  I close my eyes each night, ready to watch the movie that appears on my subconscious’ screen. There are too many characters and they speak too fast, like an Altman film, but I can’t look away.

If this sounds nihilistic and disturbing, I don’t mean for it to: it is, in its own way, superbly liberating to no longer feel beholden to the rules of real life, to no longer imagine that you exist on a plane inhabited by anyone else you know, and I wonder if this is what you feel, so many thousands of miles away in Nepal, in a physical landscape so unlike my own. I would be lying if I didn’t say this entire experience is lonely. I would also be lying if I didn’t say it is utterly transformative.



image by angelika sher

Dear C,

Back in school means back home for the holidays, which makes me think of those years we used to talk with phones pressed to cheeks in twin beds in childhood bedrooms halfway across the country. I miss phone-line sympathy for our gorging on potatoes, on pie, on the indulgences of being the youngest. I miss you like I’ve never missed anyone else, wildly, and yet it’s been so long that it’s now just a part of me, this missing manifested: it’s in my hands when I type, in the time zone computations I do in my head, in the hair I cut myself like you taught me to, wetting the comb, pulling the hair taut, closing the scissors carefully. I start stories about you with, “My best friend, in Beijing…”

I told some of those stories to Ryan when he visited a couple weeks ago. We went to George’s and he asked what kind of wine they had. “Red and white,” said the waitress, “But I wouldn’t recommend either.” I laughed for about ten minutes and realized it’d been a long time since I’d laughed at all, since those muscles in my face and shoulders had stretched in that particular direction. Later we went home and slept together. I find sex with him, as with all old boyfriends, to be comforting in the way I find the opening bars of an old song to be comforting, or the 978 start of an ISBN. You know roughly how it’s going to go from there. You also have some basic understanding of how it’s all going to end.

I used to think sex was only interesting to me with the potential of possibility, which meant it needed to seem not inconceivable that I could date the person I was sleeping with. But at some point it also started to mean that sex was not interesting to me with people I was dating — because the very fact of us already being together also represented in some way the absence of possibility.

This worries and intrigues me. It’s the type of thing you’d be better at explaining: you have for a long time been better at interpreting me than I am myself. When I miss looking you in the eyes part of what I miss is seeing by proxy how you see me. But it’s also missing how you see the world at large, which is the gift of a friend as close as you: a second shot at how to see, which is in itself a second shot at how to be.



image by angelika sher

 Dear C,

Do you remember that first winter after college when we went to that open bar party, and for banh mi afterward, and then for expensive ice cream? I hadn’t been that intoxicated in so long, both on wine and the whims of a city, taking the train downtown to satisfy a particular craving and, hands still sticky from the sandwiches, running across the street to catch the ice cream truck. I lived with a boyfriend then, which is why I hadn’t been going out so much and got drunk so easily; when I got home he read me poems while I cold-sweated and waited to puke. I never did puke and I broke up with him just a few months later.

I didn’t know then that breakups meant committing yourself to a certain kind of history, that they signified at the very least the elimination of one particular trajectory. I’m keeping my options open was a thing I used to say to you a lot that spring, and you rolled your eyes. I thought then that it was because you disapproved, but I can see now that it was because you already understood the fundamental impossibility of actually doing that, that you comprehended the inevitability of shutting some doors.

I imagine myself now, still with that boyfriend, but he is the abstraction in the equation, only the life I would have had with him remains clear to me. Having not chosen that life or any of the three or four that presented themselves to me afterward, I sit on my bed some cold Iowan Saturdays and allow myself to feel a minor grief for those paths unchosen, the alternate lives left unlived. I feel that for a while and then I get up, roast some squash, put on my boots, go over to Ellen’s to chat and cheer up.

These are things I believe I have taught myself to do in your absence, as if each minor bit of progress is a tangible object to show you when I see you next. I regret that my letters read so selfishly, that our distance is now so great that to recall anecdotes from our shared past seems anachronistic. All I can offer is the simple fact that you are present in each of these lines, that you have been the intended audience for every word, for every action, for all of it.

I’m on my way back to Iowa now, the bus I’m on weaving its way through actual cornfields. I never imagined myself here, would never have allowed the thought to cross my mind.  I wonder if your adaptability to place, which I so lack, comes from your superior imagination, from the things you let yourself conceive of that I avoid at all costs. I wonder, too, if this can be learned — like the roux you taught me to make or the darkroom you once showed me how to use — and if, with enough practice, I might one day be able to do the same: to close my eyes and picture the things I want, and to open my eyes and, in not so very long, find them there.



Lucy Morris is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Iowa City. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about moving to Iowa.

Images by Angelika Sher.