good things come in threes
Three kickass things I have recently discovered:
The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro. I know it came out in 1995, but we're all playing catchup here. "Kafkaesque" is the awkward adjective that gets thrown at it a lot, and the resemblances are there, but I think this is more a side effect of Ishiguro's narrative strategythe most impressive use of dream-logic I've ever seen in fiction. The story is first-person, but will break off into brief third-person segues where the narrator is not present; plotlines are extraordinary fluid, impelled by a logic more associative than causal; location and time are elastic, twisting as events dictate. This is impressive enough on its own, but doubly impressive when you consider that this was Ishiguro's first novel after the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day, and that The Unconsoled is essentially about the bizarre demands and pressures placed upon a successful artistin this case, a concert pianist. The allegory is clear enough, but it never feels reductive because of the book's narrative innovation and sheer weirdness. After The Remains of the Day, which was the apotheosis of the controlled, precise historical-realist style Ishiguro had cultivated in his previous two novels, he must have realized that he was in danger of being pigeonholed. To address those very artistic concerns in his next novel, and moreover to address them in a style completely unlike anything he had previously written, seems an incredibly ballsy move to me. And I salute him.
Bluebeard's Castle, Béla Bartók. Is it an opera? Is it a "vocal/musical drama" or a "tone poem collection?" Who the hell cares? It's an hour long, has two vocal parts (Bluebeard, Judith) and is perfectly harrowing. The librettist Béla Balázs inverts the traditional fairy tale so that Bluebeard's new bride finds not the severed heads of previous wives, but something far worse. As plenty of commentators have noted, the castle functions as an expressionist representation of Bluebeard's mind, and everything that Judith discoversthe torture instruments, the bloodstained treasury, and most chillingly, the lake of milky tearsis some bit of the psyche that were best kept hidden. It's a mythic and gruesome testament to the ways that men and women can fuck each other up. And as far as the music: I mean, it's Bartók. What else do you want?
De Stijl, White Stripes. I have Lauren to thank for this one. The people at Amoeba Records say it's one of the hottest titles in music right now and is impossible to find, which makes no sense since it isn't even their latest album, but okay. They're a husband-and-wife duo (him: guitars, vocals; her: drums) who play a minimalist blues/pop/punk mélange. I guess the appropriate music-geek label is "garage," but that makes it sound sloppy and lo-fi when it's actually driving and controlled. Think you can't have a groove without a bass player? Think again. Plus there's a lot of really cool slide guitar work. Half the time it sounds like White Album-era McCartney, half the time like a pissed-off B.B. King who just discovered the distortion pedal. Only more modern. I don't know, just buy it.