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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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Entries in alice bolin (25)

Friday
Feb282014

In Which We Evoke A Particular Time And Mood

We Have All Learned To Ignore It

by ALICE BOLIN

My first day teaching creative writing to middle schoolers, I walked into the room where my class would meet, normally a health classroom, and found a large piece of butcher paper taped to the blackboard. Written in teacher handwriting across the top of the paper was the question “WHAT IS UNINTENTIONAL INJURIES.” I was on my laptop, trying frantically to record all the examples of unintentional injuries that had resulted from the health class’ brainstorm (“to accidently drop a baby,” “committing suicide on accident,” “accidentl death”), when my group of eighth graders started trickling into the classroom.

There I was, strange adult, rapt by the results of a seventh grade health class activity and clearly taken off guard by their appearance in my classroom. The eighth graders didn’t laugh at me, didn’t even smile, only stared at me skeptically. I scrambled to put my computer back in my bag and stand at the front of the room like some sort of authority, but the damage was done — it is a particular kind of indignity to be regarded as freakish by a group of nerdy pre-teens, one of whom is actually named Anakin.

There was just no way to explain to them what I was doing. “Look at this thing,” I said, pointing to the butcher paper. “Isn’t it funny?” They only eyed me more dubiously. In my first act as their teacher, I had inadvertently revealed my strongest personal compulsion, which is to hoard verbal matter, overheard conversation, stray remarks, stray thoughts, notes, lists, e-mails, gchats, text messages, diaries, notebooks, any and every piece of paper on which something mysterious or funny is written.

For instance: I have in my pocket at this moment a note I don’t remember writing to myself that I found recently on my floor. It reads, “Landscape quote: O pardon me thou bleeding piece of Earth.” (Googling reveals this is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.) Also in my pocket is a note card where it says in my graduate thesis advisor’s handwriting, “Question / Is there a historical reason for the great number of rear/alley entrances/exits in Missoula bars?” Also: a stranger’s to-do list I found tucked in a book I ordered online; its only noteworthy item is “Return Cal’s pants!”

Why I keep these things, why I needed to document “What Is Unintentional Injuries,” why I write down any interesting group of words that I hear or see, even just phrases that materialize in my brain suddenly but insistently — it is impossible to account for this practice completely, even to myself. As Joan Didion writes in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself."

The easy justification, the one Didion is referring to, is that these random words might some day make it into a piece of writing, and of course they might. But I can tell you this happens for me remarkably rarely: the sentences I treasure most as found artifacts do not transform gracefully to components of writing, either poetry or prose, that could be judged as traditionally “good.” For over a year I kept a file on my computer where I recorded my most emphatic thoughts, in an attempt to identify my mental refrains. I believed this file might become a useful reserve of poetic lines; instead it only serves to illustrate my incredibly vulnerable self-talk.

“Why do I keep forcing myself to think about this?” reads one item in the list. Another reads, “I have to not think about it.” “We have all learned to ignore it” and “It’s no one’s fault,” read others. There are pleas: “Don’t get some other girl.” “Don’t bring your girlfriend.” “Don’t kiss where I can see you.” And confessions: “I’m fairly obsessed with you.” “Sorry I’m so obsessed with you today.” But most of all there are just so, so, so many feelings: “I sometimes really feel that way.” “I am a happy person always.” “I’m always sad, but it’s okay.” “Am I sad or happy?” “I am sad or happy.” “I have no feelings.” “I’m a thing, I’m a feeling.” “I’m a thing.”

Didion also mostly records cryptic phrases, but she relates the strange items that she writes in her notebook as guideposts to memories, the one detail needed to evoke an entire place, time, and mood. The phrase “So what’s new in the whiskey business” written in Didion’s notebook calls to her mind a blonde woman conversing with two fat men by the swimming pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel — an intact context exists in her memory. “'So what’s new in the whiskey business?'” Didion writes. “What could that possibly mean to you?” But for me it is exactly the lost significance, the sentiment that is not meaningless but only unmoored from its origins, that appeals to me about this kind of collecting.

I suppose this can’t be separated from my relationship to poetry: that I love the way that poetry makes words strange and frees everyday speech from its everyday uses. Any carefully written thing can be loved for the beauty and ingenuity of its language, but it is poetry’s main selling point that we may enjoy it at the level of the poem, the stanza, the sentence, the line, the word, the syllable. And much of contemporary poetry is explicitly about divorcing words from their contexts, evoking emotion without a discernible story. So while the sentences I write down rarely become poetry, I have noticed that it is often other people who love poetry who I see also grabbing their notebooks after hearing a startling turn of phrase.

And it is often these same poetry lovers who produce fodder for notebooks: my experience in grad school for poetry was remarkable for the incredible sentences I heard and read delivered offhand. I have recorded in old class notes countless statements like, “Pennies are probably our most happy coins,” “‘I don't want to think about that’ is what my sisters say,” and “Debra says squirrels smell like mice with rotten teeth.” My colleagues annotated my work with comments like “Sexy connotations!” and “I read your movements as ‘begat, begat, begat’ and also ‘subsumes, subsumes.’” Taken in context, none of these remarks are as odd as they seem written here; that’s why it’s so important for me to remove the context, so I can delight in them.

My collecting is not only about enjoying language in its mystery but also becoming a mystery to myself. I often write things on my cell phone’s Notepad feature late at night, when I am half-asleep or drunk, that I puzzle over in the morning.  There are two identical entries that say, “Rom com: woman lives in vegas and is a court reporter.” Another: “Hersheys kisses mutant chocolate chip something.” One of the things I am most grateful for in life is to find traces of my own former thought processes and feelings that I could not possibly replicate or inhabit again. I read “I’m fairly obsessed with you” written in the file of my thoughts and I have no idea whom I was addressing.

“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget,” Didion writes. “We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” She ignores that to forget can be a supreme grace.  I treasure all of the diaries I kept when I was a child precisely because of the distance I feel from the girl who wrote them. Seventh grade Alice: “It’s totally cool because it’s like we’ve moved on to another level of flirting.” Eighth grade Alice: “You know I’ve been thinking way deep things lately.” First grade Alice: “Dear Alice, I don’t know. Love, Alice.”

I have always been a person who is “sensitive,” and I take too long to get over everything. Reading old journals and notebooks, I am reminded that feelings are, in their essence, immediate, and they pass over us like shadows. All the words I collect are artifacts of sentiments that do not exist and could not even be conceived of again — ideas that once desperately needed to be expressed disappear, leaving husks of language that I save, I care for.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about music made by boys. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Images by Yayoi Kusama.

"Standing Still" - Rachel Reis (mp3)

"Words" - Rachel Reis (mp3)

The new album from Rachel Reis is entitled Ghost of a Gardener, and it was released on February 14th. You can purchase it here.

Wednesday
Oct232013

In Which We Don't Like Music Made By Boys

Male Diptych

by ALICE BOLIN

1. Justin Timberlake

It is a prominent feature of my personal #brand that I don’t like music made by boys or boy things in general. As far as boys are concerned, I have historically favored Backstreet Boys: as a tween, when I would receive issues of YM or Teen People featuring their rivals *NSYNC, I would rip the magazines’ covers off.

Still, Justin Timberlake is difficult to hate. He’s a solid musician, a pretty good actor, and an always delightful Saturday Night Live host.  In his solo music career, he has shown artistic savvy far exceeding his boy band origins. I had low expectations for Timberlake’s album The 20/20 Experience, which came out in March of this year, considering its boring-ass lead single “Suit and Tie” and the fact that six out of ten of the album’s tracks are over seven minutes long.

But I was won over by The 20/20 Experience’s creative, orchestral arrangements and ecstatic melodies. For my money, “Mirrors” is one of the best radio singles of 2013. Nevertheless, when I heard Timberlake was releasing another album of ten extremely long songs this September, I was all, “uh oh.” The 20/20 Experience was such a critical and commercial success that I wasn’t sure how Timberlake could pull this off twice. And guess what.

He couldn’t. The 20/20 Experience2 of 2 is as hackneyed and lame as the first installment was fresh and interesting. Timberlake is still working with his long-time collaborator Timbaland on 2 of 2, but the lush disco strings of 1 of 2 are replaced by boring, weirdly retro drum machine beats. There are times when 2 of 2 sounds kind of like *NSYNC, which I’m pretty sure Timberlake would take as the world’s worst insult.

Silly metaphors are a hallmark of both installments of The 20/20 Experience — on “Strawberry Bubblegum” off of 1 of 2 he sings (over and over), “Be my strawberry bubblegum… let me love you ‘til I make you pop.” But on 2 of 2, where there is nothing compelling going on musically, the corny lyrics are glaring. “True Blood” is a truly embarrassing track about, yes, vampires: “It’s that demon in me that’s got me screamin’,” Timberlake sings, “Makes me wanna build a coffin for two.”

At times this metaphor mania reminds me of country songwriting — especially on “Drink You Away,” where Timberlake partakes in the venerable tradition of personifying varieties of alcohol. “I can’t drink you away,” he sings. “I’ve tried Jack, I’ve tried Jim, I’ve tried all of their friends.” This can be charming, granted, but so many of the lyrics on 2 of 2 are so bad they’re unforgivable. On his lovemaking jam “Cabaret” he sings, “I got you saying Jesus so much it’s like we’re lying in the manger.” This might be the most profoundly unsexy simile of all time.

2 of 2 closes with the ballad “Pair of Wings,” on which Timberlake acknowledges that he can’t protect his love from pain, but says, “If I could I’d fly you away/On a big old pair of wings.” This is a hidden track, and if you ask me, it wasn’t hidden well enough. It exemplifies 2 of 2’s creative exhaustion — the lazy lyrics, the nondescript melody, the tendency towards the cheesy. The thing is that most artists would be satisfied with releasing one very good (and very long) album in one year, and they should be. If 2 of 2 were released as a bonus disc, I could take the songs at face value, but as a companion to 1 of 2, the comparison is just unfortunate.

In some ways Timberlake’s solo career reminds me of Paul McCartney’s. Both were “the cute one” in their original groups, and they are used to being indulged, which has led to wildly inconsistent creative output — for McCartney, it has meant both the successes of his albums like Band on the Run and Ram and his writing and releasing dozens of tracks that are boring, trite, and bizarre. For Timberlake, it has meant both the success of The 20/20 Experience - 1 of 2 and the disappointment of The 20/20 Experience2 of 2. If that comparison sounds like way too big a compliment to Timberlake, keep in mind that he was in *NSYNC and Paul McCartney was in, you know, The Beatles — which was a pretty good band, despite being comprised entirely of boys. 

2. Drake

“This is nothing for the radio,” Drake sings on “Tuscan Leather,” the first track on his new album, Nothing Was The Same, “but they’ll still play it though.” Drake clearly suffers from the same ambivalence about being a hugely successful pop star as his mentors Jay-Z and Kanye West. West impregnated the most overexposed woman on the planet and then made a scary, angry album about how he hates being a celebrity. On “Moment of Clarity” off The Black Album, Jay-Z says, “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be/Lyrically, Talib Kweli,” expressing a weird desire to be a “smart” rapper instead of a gazillionaire. “Who else making rap albums doing numbers like it’s pop?” Drake asks on Nothing Was The Same and I’m like, “Um, Kanye?”

West made it acceptable to rap about growing up suburban and middle class, and Drake took that shit and ran with it. He talks about his bar mitzvah money and his mom driving him to the set of Degrassi in her Acura. People have made fun of him for his track “Started From The Bottom,” since he obviously didn’t have it hard growing up, but that’s the point. “Boys tell stories about the man,” Drake sings on “Started From The Bottom,” “Say I never struggled, wasn’t hungry.” He’s saying that just because you don’t grow up poor, it still isn’t easy to become one of the most successful rappers in the world, which, point taken.

I saw a Tumblr post that was supposedly Drake searching for porn; it was just a gif of someone searching “personality” on PornHub. I had a hearty LOL over it. But Drake’s main contribution to hip hop is that he writes in an honest and self-aware way about relationships. “I got trust issues,” he sings on “All Me.” “I’m the type to have a bullet-proof condom/And still gotta pull out.” Wasn’t that a Girls plot line?

Drake mostly favors fuzzy, sensual, stripped down production like his bro The Weeknd. At times the drum-driven and moody arrangements almost remind me of Phil Collins. Collins and Drake are soul twins in their own way — both make smooth, sexy, catchy music that reveals an unexpectedly intense, insecure, and sad persona behind it. Like Kanye said, “We all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” Confidence is bankrupt.

On Nothing Was The Same, Drake imitates David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans saying, “Hated it!” in their classic In Living Color sketch “Men On Film.” “The Fresh Prince just had dinner with Tatyana, no lie/All these ‘90s fantasies on my mind,” he sings on “Tuscan Leather.” You don’t need a Buzzfeed list to tell you Drake is a ‘90s kid. I don’t know if Drake is trying to pander to the internet’s nostalgia baiting or it just happened that way.

But those lyrics might give you a sense of why a leaked Drake album caused a Twitter feelings frenzy. 50 Cent had his breakthrough in 2005; Twitter was founded in 2006, and after that, as they say, nothing was the same. On “Own It,” Drake sings, “Next time we fuck/I don’t wanna fuck/I wanna make love.” Drake, I told you, I’m into having sex. I ain’t into making love. So come give me a hug. If you into getting rubbed.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about Bangerz. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here.

It was known as Poptober, when Alice Bolin brought you

an insightful look at Miley Cyrus' breakup album

an extensive investigation into Lorde

scathing critiques of Drake and JT

and the month isn't over yet

"Someday Sparrow" - Laura Cantrell (mp3)

"Barely Said A Thing" - Laura Cantrell (mp3)

The new album from Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here, is out now in the UK and will be released in the U.S. in January 2014.

Wednesday
Oct162013

In Which We Listen To Miley's Breakup Album Extensively

Dancing with Miley

by ALICE BOLIN

Driving into Hollywood this August, I listened to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” on repeat, the perfect soundtrack for a girl moving to Los Angeles with “a dream and her cardigan.” “Look to my left and I see the Hollywood Sign,” Cyrus sang, and I looked to my left, and there it was. Everything was shiny and exciting, fancy cars raced by on the freeway, and there were palm trees.

If I tell you how less than two months later I would be listening to Cyrus’ new album Bangerz on a packed LA city bus at six in the morning, clutching my backpack and trying not to fall asleep on the hour-long trip to my food service job, implicitly making a connection between the reality of my move to Los Angeles and the debaucherous turn Cyrus’ music has taken, well, that parallel would be an oversimplification.

For one thing, we’ve got to remember that after “Party in the USA” became her biggest hit, Cyrus commented that she had nothing to do with writing the song and hadn’t wanted to release it as a single, and furthermore, despite what the song’s chorus said, that she had never heard a Jay-Z song. In an interview promoting her film The Last Song, seventeen-year-old Cyrus said that she hadn’t finished the novel The Last Song was based on and that her favorite book was The Catcher in the Rye. I should mention that The Last Song’s author, Nicholas Sparks, was present at the interview. And are we forgetting the time when Cyrus had The Smiths lyrics as her twitter bio (“I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does,” of course)? Because I’ll never forget.

Cyrus has always had not only a rebellious but a trollish streak. So we’re all so surprised when the video for her song “Wrecking Ball” makes use of the most literal possible image, a wrecking ball, and is as overtly, humorously sexual as possible, with Cyrus, directed by famous perv Terry Richardson, swinging around naked on the wrecking ball and sensually licking construction equipment? Without its outrage-baiting video, “Wrecking Ball” is just another of the generic power ballads that Dr. Luke probably produces in his sleep. Cyrus’ singing on the track mimics Britney Spears and Rihanna’s robotic vocals, which are so abrasive that their ballads can be physically painful to listen to. I mean, no offense.

The extent that Cyrus has modeled her career on Spears’ cannot be overstated. Both were child actors on the Disney Channel who had “America’s Sweetheart” personas to get out from under. It doesn’t take a genius to free associate on the phrase “shocking VMAs performance”; thanks to Spears and Madonna, simulating masturbation on the VMAs stage is a time-honored way to shake a virginal public image. And Spears and Cyrus are both from the dirty south — in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ 2008 Rolling Stone cover story, “The Tragedy of Britney Spears,” chronicling what she calls “the most public downfall of any star in history,” she reports that Spears’ drink of choice was “the Southern rap scene’s ‘Purple Monster,’” a mix of “vodka, Red Bull, and NyQuil.” On “SMS (Bangerz),” a song on which Spears makes a guest appearance, Cyrus sings, “Must be the purple/Got up in my brain.”

Maybe this is why much of Bangerz is synth pop that is, to my ears, “so 2010.” Cyrus set out to make an album of explicitly sexy club bangers similar to those on Spears’ albums post-Blackout. Some of the songs on Bangerz sound like they could have been written for Spears, especially “Do My Thang,” a house anthem with a heavy 808 beat featuring Cyrus rapping about being a Southern belle. But the only song on Bangerz that is actually about sex is the fun “#GETITRIGHT,” a creative and playful track in which Cyrus sings, “I’ve been laying in this bed all night long/Don’t you think it’s time to get it on.” I assume “#GETITRIGHT” will be a single because of that bullshit hashtag, and it will probably be a hit.

But the real problem with the Bangerz concept is not that it’s derivative. It’s that Cyrus’ heart isn’t in it. You would expect an album of club music to be jubilant, but other than “#GETITRIGHT” and the album’s lead single “We Can’t Stop,” Bangerz is pretty depressing. The actual bangers on Bangerz feel rote, with their obligatory lame guest verses from rappers like Big Sean and Nelly — it is like Cyrus’ mind is elsewhere. And in the album’s angsty ballads you get a sense of what’s distracting her. In September 2013 Cyrus broke off her engagement to Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, and Bangerz ends up telling the story of the rise and fall of their relationship. Cyrus set out to make a party album and made a breakup album.

Bangerz begins with “Adore You,” an extremely mushy ode to Cyrus and Hemsworth’s love, on which Cyrus auto-tunes, “You and me were meant to be in holy matrimony.” A twenty-year-old former child superstar in a high profile celebrity engagement — what could go wrong? Cue: “We Can’t Stop,” a truly awesome party song about “dancing with molly” and “trying to get a line in the bathroom,” all of that post-adolescent experimentation and wild-oat-sowing that can sound the death knell for teenage love.

On the rest of the album Cyrus tries to hold on to a relationship that’s failing. “Don’t you ever say/I just walked away/I will always want you,” she sings on “Wrecking Ball.” On “Drive,” a great, Rihanna-esque track, she sings with real heartbreak, “You said you wanted this,/I told you it was all yours./If you were done with it/Then what’d you say forever for?” These raw moments are some of the highlights of the album — they recall Robyn, our cultural poster girl for acceptable pop, and her sad dance jams. But ultimately, the opposition of the album’s provocative dance pop packaging and its sad, vulnerable content leaves Bangerz feeling all over the place.

Some of the best parts of the album are its bonus tracks, where Cyrus is less in banger-mode — its hidden triumph is the bonus “Rooting for my Baby,” a 90s acoustic dream-pop track, like some kind of Cardigans shit. Songs like this make me certain that Cyrus will not just be a scandalous footnote in the history of pop music. She can hit the notes without auto-tune, which she very intentionally demonstrated in her acoustic performance of “We Can’t Stop” on Saturday Night Live. On Bangerz it seems like she was too married to her initial Spears-pop idea, but she is an artist who has ideas and influences and is not afraid to make big, ostentatious mistakes. And she can’t stop. And she won’t stop.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about Lorde. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here.

"Now Navigate!" - Kevin Devine (mp3)

"You Brushed Her Breath Aside" - Kevin Devine (mp3)

Kevin Devine's double album Bubblegum/Bulldozer was released yesterday. You can find information about Kevin's fall tour here.