Living in Austin, it’s easy to take music for granted. SXSW is less of a party and more of a reason to get out of town and make some money renting out your house or apartment. Sure, if you wait in line at the Spotify House on a Tuesday afternoon you might get to see a big-name artist for free, but whatever. Bands come through here all the time. The only act I planned to see at SXSW this year was Royal Trux, who were supposed to play at the Levitation festival last May. I thought that would be my only opportunity to see them. Luckily, I was given a second chance.
While waiting to see Royal Trux perform, I stumbled onto a band called Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, or Rolling Blackouts C.F. (a lousy name, but at least it fits on a poster). The band’s soaring guitar lines recalled the best of ’80s jangle pop, infused with a power pop edge and a hint of wistfulness that you typically only find in bands from Australia or New Zealand. As I watched them tear through a series of songs from last year’s Talk Tight and the just-released French Press EP, I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm I thought I’d long since outgrown. Turns out a good band is still exciting to see live, provided it’s a) Royal Trux or b) from another country.
I kid. But there’s a sound from that part of the world that you don’t hear too often in bands from the States. Think The Go-Betweens meets The Clean, with a mix of The Feelies thrown in. I’m a sucker for that sound—Salad Boys, Twerps, Chook Race, you name it—but Rolling Blackouts C.F. stand out even in that talented crowd. The band’s pop hooks are clean, clear, and catchy: songs like “Heard You’re Moving” and “Sick Bug” have singalong choruses that give them the extra oomph of memorability. The latter song especially packs a punch that sets the band apart from its peers: having listened to it about 50 times now, I can confidently say it lies on just the right side of annoying.
The French Press, the band’s latest release, doesn’t so much develop the band’s sound as expand it, taking clear guitar melodies and expansive, mid-tempo grooves and pushing them into more mellow territory. Talk Tight was a decidedly upbeat affair; The French Press is less so, although no less pop-oriented. The title track opens the EP with a five-and-a-half-minute jam, making it the band’s longest song (and also one of its best, if, like me, you appreciate a more-is-more approach to a good rhythm). “Julie’s Place” breezes by at a comparatively short three minutes (its brisk guitar makes it feel even quicker), and ”Sick Bug” rounds out side A with its awkward-but-charming fist-pumping chant.
On side B, the band slides slowly into rumination, moving from the bright but forgettable “Colours Run” to the nostalgic pastiche of “Dig Up” before settling into the dusty “Fountain of Good Fortune,” a minor-key jam with dazzling guitarwork and a haunting chorus: Holding on to my own, burn it down when I’m gone, holding on to my own, holding on. Spoken-word asides, crooning harmonies, and tinkling piano are subtle details that push the song from good to great, and it resonates in a way that’ll leave you singing after the record stops. Clocking in at five minutes sharp, the album ends the way it begins, with a strong, sophisticated song that isn’t afraid to stretch out while flexing its pop muscle.
Although it only has six songs, The French Press is an early 2017 favorite; if you combine it with Talk Tight, you’d have one hell of a full-length debut. If this Melbourne band comes through the streets of your town, don’t pass on the chance to see it. You never know if you’ll get another. (Album available via Sub Pop)
Due to an oversight in the editorial process, we did not include artist Este Puerta in our list of featured artists on the back cover of our spring/summer 2017 issue, nor did we include her bio in the list of featured artists. We apologize sincerely for this mistake, and we include it below.
Homesick for Another World
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Publication Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Penguin Press
Homesick for Another World collects Ottessa Moshfegh’s short stories from the past five years, many of which were published with The Paris Review. The 2013 winner of that journal’s prestigious Plimpton Prize, her work appeared so frequently that I began to think of her as the Paris Review house writer, and her tales of misanthropic decadence and self-loathing shaped my impression of it as a bastion of casually brilliant writing, cynical and unfazed by all the grotesqueries of human existence. The Paris Review was La Dolce Vita of the literary world and Moshfegh was its Maddalena, a disenchanted socialite in dark sunglasses, hiding a black eye.
Moshfegh’s characters are all hiding black eyes: they all nurse psychic wounds that manifest in their attitudes and behaviors. “Bettering Myself,” the Plimpton Prize winner and the first story in this collection, features an SAT-prep teacher who sleeps in a cardboard box in her classroom. She refers to her students as “dummies” and fudges all of their test scores, drinks heavily, snorts coke, and nonchalantly harasses her ex-husband. She thinks about quitting her job, but tears up her letter of resignation. The story ends. All of Moshfegh’s stories unfold this way. Each sets the scene in intricate detail, introduces its characters, and follows them through their crudely bandaged-together lives. Major life events are more or less ignored, minor pleasures greeted with rapture, and impossible fantasies chased after with utmost sincerity. A teenager with a lazy eye moves out to Hollywood to become an actor. A graphic designer lives in a slum but owns a thousand-dollar coat, then trades it away for a ratty ottoman. For good measure, his apartment burns down. Not everyone will relate to these stories, but Moshfegh captures the broke, disillusioned, and dejected Millenial perspective better than anyone. When it takes all of your energy just to stay afloat, every bizarre hope, every momentary pleasure seems as valuable as anything else. If owning a house is an unrealistic dream, why not spend 1,000 dollars on a coat? As someone who bought three scarves last month but neglected to pay his student loans, I sympathize.
Moshfegh is sometimes compared to Flannery O’Connor, and she does offer a similar portrayal of idiosyncratic characters searching for meaning in an abject world. But Moshfegh isn’t looking for a savior, and she’s not concerned with the turpitude of our collective sins. Her characters do not strive for moral goodness. ”I love my characters, but I don’t like them,” Moshfegh says. “I don’t love them like family. I love them like spirits that haunt me. They’re just there, and I have to accept them.”
The reader may not. Many of the narrators are offensive—”No Place for Good People” offers a particularly egregious example—and taken back to back, the persistently bleak perspective can be trying (although there are ample doses of humor throughout, and some stories, like “The Weirdos,” are very funny.) If we accept literature’s role in fostering empathy for our fellow man, Moshfegh’s stories, in their own strange way, succeed. Her characters are not bad people, but for reasons that we are only able to guess at, they are unable to function properly in society. Explanations are both obvious and unnecessary.
At her best, Moshfegh goes beyond the dull ache of apathetic disregard and, removing the sunglasses, reveals the dark wound at the heart of her characters’ troubles. In “Mr. Wu,” she powerfully captures the contradictions of a lonely man’s desires and fears, pushing the reader through ever-deepening layers of unease. ”Slumming,” a 2016 O. Henry Prize winner, explores the heartache of small-town America’s meth problem, juxtaposing the life of a self-destructive visitor with the misery of the town’s permanent residents who are unable to escape the city’s economic plight and the foreshortened horizons that come with it. ”He always hid his shame and self-loathing under an expression of shame and self-loathing,” Moshfegh writes of one of her characters. “Always acting, even then.” At the nexus of the paradox lies Moshfegh’s keen insight and clever wit, shining like a morbid smile under the weight of the world’s misery.
by Dalton Day
Publication Date: January 20, 2017
Publisher: Fog Machine
Dalton Day’s new book Interglacials is a collection of abstract dream-letters that chronicle the various stages of distance and longing between two people. Without clear plot or continuity, the reader is invited along for short glimpses into the dreamscape that comprises the relationship between the narrator and the addressee. The poems take form as short paragraphs, often filling up only half of a page.
The symbols, as well as one of the dreams, repeat: dogs, hair, lakes, trees, birds, eggs, horses, etc. The first scene takes place in a zoo as the narrator and their partner try to reconnect. They arrive at separate ends of the zoo and meet in front of an empty exhibit. They introduce themselves.
At times, the narrator and the addressee are close. In “Cowboy Something,” Day writes, “One day, we try & lasso cattle. But you catch me with your rope instead & you swear that this is an accident & I don’t believe you but I don’t care we are holding hands now & we are looking at all those beautiful animals & all their terrifying parts.”
At other points in the book, there is animosity and distance. On the first page of part three, Day writes, “I hate you & you hate me & we spend all our time trying to sabotage each other. You set all of my parrots free even though their wings are clipped & they are defenseless.” There is an unspoken war taking place between the narrator and the addressee, prompted by the frustration of distance and the struggle to reach a place of closeness once again.
The potential for reconnection is reached only once the partners escape their human forms. In the end, the addressee becomes a ray of light in which the narrator floats forever as a blissful speck of dust. The narrator unfolds as a map and shows the addressee their life, lying visibly before them.
The repetition of symbols and the uncertainty of what exactly is going on both brought to mind Azareen Van der Oloomis’s novel Fra Keeler, in which the narrator returns over and over to the phone, the mailman, the canyon, and the yurt. But with Day’s book it is the dogs, the bodies of water, the trees. If Interglacials were any longer, it would run the risk of exhausting its intriguing yet limited imagery. However, at a modest 60 pages, each containing only a paragraph, Day’s text manages to provide us with just enough exposure to its dreamscape to leave us fully immersed, its images haunting us weeks after we close the book.
Our spring/summer 2017 issue has arrived, and we are excited to celebrate with release parties in Chicago, Austin, and Philadelphia. The new issue features interviews and new work from the following artists:
Tara Bhattacharya Reed
Michael Brown Jr.
Karma R. Chavez
Ryan Thayer Davis
Forced Into Femininity
Vanessa Marie Gonzalez
Chitah Daniels Kennedy
Wendy C. Ortiz
ir’ene lara silva
Jesus I. Valles
The Chicago release party will take place on March 30 at 8 pm at Cafe Mustache, located at 2313 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The event will feature the debut performance of ONOMAT, a new project from members of ONO, who were featured in our sixth issue. The event will also include readings from Lauren Ball, whose poetry is featured in our new issue, and Daniela Olszewska; video from artist Danielle Campbell and a performance from artist Sarah Squirm; and music from Spa Moans and Forced Into Femininity, who is featured in a profile in the new issue. There is a $5-$10 suggested donation.
The Austin release is co-presented by Antumbrae Intermedia Events & Installations, whose curator, Tara Bhattacharya Reed, is featured in an interview in the new issue. The event will take place on March 31 at First Street Studio, located at 2400 E. Cesar Chavez Street. The event features readings from authors Dalton Day, Shannon Perri, and ir’ene lara silva; all three have work in the new issue, and an interview with ir’ene lara silva is featured as well. Doors open at 6:30, and readings will begin at 7:15. An intermission will take place from 8:00-8:30, followed by a performance by Berlin-based experimental composer Arnold Dreyblatt. The readings are free, and tickets to Arnold Dreyblatt’s performance are $10. Complimentary beverages will be provided by Hops & Grain.
We hope that our Chicago and Austin fans will be able to join us for these special occasions. Philadelphia fans, stay tuned for more information on a release party in your city as well. Readers will be able to purchase copies of the new issue at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and independent bookstores across the U.S., and in select stores internationally in the coming weeks, as well as here at our website. You may also subscribe now to receive both this year’s issues.
Thank you, as always, for your support. We look forward to celebrating with you!
The curators of this year’s Whitney Biennial sought to embrace the political; unsurprisingly, they now find themselves in the midst of controversy. Several artists have signed a letter requesting the destruction of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket, which depicts an image of the slain Emmett Till. Many find the work to be problematic, and this article explains some of the reasons why. [New Republic]
Matthew Israel’s new book The Big Picture: Contemporary Art in 10 Works by 10 Artists hopes to distill the last 20 years of art trends into one clear presentation. The list has all the names you’d expect—Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, Ryan Trecartin, Marina Abramović, Kara Walker—but with only 10, there’s plenty of room for discussion. [Artsy]
Catch up with Claudia Rankine as she discusses the current state of her New York-based project the Racial Imaginary Institute. [ArtForum]
Though not a new phenomenon, librarians are spearheading educational programs and new curriculum to combat the normalization of fake news. [VICE]
In 1917 Marcel Duchamp showcased his porcelain urinal—arguably, the most famous conceptual artwork. Now, 100 years later, with Nigel Gifford’s new edible drone, tech startup initiatives are perhaps creating the newest pieces of conceptual art. [The Atlantic]
Chuck Berry passed away last Saturday, and with that comes the realization that Elvis was unrightfully crowned the king of rock & roll. Here’s a rare look at Berry’s early start and his contribution to the genre. [Rolling Stone]
Balam Ajpu talks about using hip-hop to teach a new generation about Mayan traditions and on getting people to say sacred words instead of just “hello” and “party.” [Guernica]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
Wendy C. Ortiz’s Bruja forms its own slippery shape and structure through a new genre: dreamoir. Coined by the author, this narrative format relates highly detailed dreams over the course of four years. It’s defined as “a literary adventure through the boundaries of memoir, where the self is viewed from a position anchored in the deepest recesses of the mind.” This sets the stage for a deep dive into the countless worlds contained within the author’s unconscious populated with recurring characters and fraught with danger, emotion, and hidden insights into an everyday life we as readers never see. Reality has no place in dreams, other than to form echoes of memories and feelings within them. Readers will get an idea of Ortiz’s life, but the delight lies in the gorgeous turns of phrase that project her dreams into dazzling imagery.
Over the months chronicled, prominent players and settings emerge. Ortiz travels to Olympia (or not-Olympia) time and time again to visit Michael. She bounds among tumultuous feelings regarding a relationship with S., who she nearly marries before deciding the idea is against her principles. Her mother intermittently walks in on her and her lovers, or doesn’t, instead becoming a looming threat of intrusion just outside the door of her childhood bedroom. Many interactions leave her loudly angry or quietly fuming, while others, often zeroing in on her interior life rather than other people, leave her exhilarated. She saves people from disaster (earthquakes, huge waves, sharks) or leaps into the sky. Cats often flood rooms, her own always difficult to find among the crowd.
Without context, the people Ortiz dreams of remain mysterious, given meaning only from what she feels about them or how she believes they feel about her. Instead of making the narrative confusing, this allows Ortiz as a protagonist within the cumulative dreams to become better defined, stronger, and more intriguing as the months fly by. Imagery as surreal as Alice in Wonderland crops up, as when she dreams of being a pallbearer in charge of organizing boxes containing a body, each gift-wrapped and the size of a watch box, marked with signifiers such as a number or the etching of a rose. These interludes, often shorter, create a whimsical haze around the rest of the dreams, which can feel like explorations of long-mulled over, difficult conversations. It’s clear the dreamer is working through troubles found in daylight hours, just as we all do. However, most can’t put achingly beautiful words to the puzzles in our heads like Ortiz can.
Reading Bruja offers an entirely new experience. It’s difficult to put down, even as the dreams jump swiftly from scene to scene and month to month. Amorphous as the format may seem, the ending, labeled “Now,” hits hard, and you’re left with the blooming feeling of a bruise, the kind you can’t help but worry at and think of the blow that marked you long after the color fades.
How should you react if your doctor tells you he hasn’t read a book written by a woman? A: Go to a new doctor, B: Recommend Anne Frank, or C: [Signature]
Speaking of brilliant female writers: In an excerpt from her soon-to-be-published essay collection Tell Me How It Ends, Valeria Luiselli offers no answers to the constant questions posed to immigrants coming to the U.S., instead stitching together individual stories to highlight a broader narrative. [Lit Hub]
We never get tired of looking at statistical analyses of fiction, and this one proves that the gendered use of language is a problem that goes beyond coverage of our most recent Presidential election. [The Wall Street Journal]
This week, an Italian activist group left 88 pounds of dog poop outside of an exhibition space as a demonstration against Damien Hirst’s shitty art (convenient pun, sure, but it’s appropriate). Don’t be surprised if this almost performative protest is more interesting than the artwork itself. [Hyperallergic]
The Whitney Biennial opens to the public today, and it has garnered positive reviews for its sharp political commentary. Here’s a look at the curatorial process and why it’s been described as “the biennial on the brink.” [W Magazine]
Russia is adding another link to the biennial circuit this year with the first annual Garage Triennial of Contemporary Art in Moscow. The event timely coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and in a massive curatorial survey of artists, the triennial will feature underexposed contemporary works from all across the country. [artnet]
Kerry James Marshall’s exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last fall won rave reviews, and now Los Angelenos will get a chance to enjoy his phenomenal paintings. Highly recommended. [The Guardian]
Afrobeat for many begins and ends with Fela Kuti, but a new collaboration between Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and electronica pioneer Jeff Mills shows how the genre can move past its impressive origins and evolve into new sounds and styles. [FACT]
Terrence Malick’s new film Song by Song premiered last week at SXSW, where he made a rare appearance. Even without an interview, here is a surprisingly in-depth look at his life growing up in Texas and his involvement in the Austin film scene. [Texas Monthly]
We never expected Trump to be an arts patron, and based on his kitsch aristocratic aesthetic, he may have been weary to even see his hands near the arts. But with the proposed budget cuts to the already low-funded National Endowment for the Arts, his tiny hands are in there, scrapping for what’s left. Here’s a look at how these cuts will affect our communities. Call your reps. [The Atlantic]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
International Women’s Day was March 8. In response, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of We Should All Be Feminists, argues that feminism should be the norm (because obviously). Then maybe we can admit that every day is women’s day. [The Guardian]
Singer-songwriter Laura Marling releases a new album today. Directed in a kind of “crass pop feminism way” and inspired by the first female psychologist, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and the story of write Rainer Marie Rilke, who was dressed as a girl until the age of eight, Semper Femina examines our relationship to masculinity and femininity. [Noisey]
If Charles Baudelaire is the ultimate flâneur, who is the picture of a flâneuse? Baudelaire in drag? In her new book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City, author Lauren Elkin gives us a look into the forgotten female flâneuses and argues for reclaiming and reshaping city spaces for women then and today. [The Atlantic]
These three short stories taken from the literary journal The Pen-City Writers—part of a creative writing project by inmates at John B. Connally Unit—give glimpses into life in a Texas prison. Deb Olin Unferth is one of our favorite writers here in Austin (her latest short story collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance, will be released by Graywolf later this month), and the work that she does with inmates is just further proof of how amazing she is as a writer and a person. [VICE]
Art programs in prison are not a new phenomena. Take a look at Camp Amache, a Japanese internment camp from World War II, and its silk screening shop and workers’ stories. [Atlas Obscura]
Crys Yin’s new exhibit at Amy Lin Projects in New York explores the alienation that Asian Americans feel in the face of persistent Orientalism, in the art world and in daily life. Amy Li is one of the only Chinese gallerists in the Chinatown area, and her gallery continues to show important work in the face of spreading gentrification. [Hyperallergic]
As we become more aware of the power of protest in our current political climate, these archived images of protests in NYC may remind us that our challenges are also historical ones. [artsy]
Issue 6 featured artist Kevin McNamee-Tweed is gearing up to leave Austin. Here is one last interview with him—we wish him all the best! For more on Kevin’s life and work, pick up a copy of Issue 6. [Austin Chronicle]
SXSW is descending upon our city, and we’re having some fun this year by throwing a pre-show on Monday, March 13. Join us in a cool backyard, away from the congestion and the chaos of the city center, as we listen to some great under-the-radar local acts and a couple of Chicago’s most exciting new bands (including editor Sarah Jane Quillin’s band Heavy Dreams). No wristbands required. [Facebook]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
SXSW is around the corner, and we’re skipping out on recommendations this year (although I recommend checking out Royal Trux at Hotel Vegas Thursday or Friday night – Sean). But we’re not forgoing the fun; in fact, we’re hosting our first-ever SXSW show, a few days before the official music portion kicks off. We’re proud to feature three local acts and two Chicago artists in an early show on Monday, March 13, at the house venue Clocktown, located at 1190 1/2 Ridge Drive. Lineup is as follows:
Fee Lion (Chicago)
Heavy Dreams (Chicago)
Mark your calendar and start your week off right with an eclectic showcase of rising artists from Austin and the Windy City. And did we mention that fields editor Sarah Jane Quillin plays in one of these bands? We’ll let you figure out which one.
For more information, visit the Facebook event page. Doors at 6, bands play at 7. We hope to see you there!