by Jonathan on February 3rd, 2012
I was hanging around with my friends Eva and Luna tonight, taking turns playing each other new music on YouTube. Which reminded me that I hadn’t posted my favorites of 2011 yet. So!
In no particular order (other than stating my favorite of the year in #5), some stuff I loved in 2011:
1. Cass McCombs, “County Line”.
Last spring, someone from Domino was evangelizing about Cass McCombs’ upcoming Wit’s End, and played me “County Line”. At the time, I liked it well enough, but, to my surprise, the song haunted me all year long. And why not? Right from the start it had the feel of a standard – I could easily imagine Glenn Campbell singing it on a TV variety show in 1976. Beautiful songwriting, lovely performance, sincere production, just a great song.
2. Burial, “Street Halo”.
Glad to have anything from Burial – I’ve been crying myself to sleep waiting for that long-promised K7 mix album for several years now. The thing that gets me most about “Street Halo” is that loping break that hits at 1:11 – I don’t know why, but it just slays me. Indeed, the song is largely about various progressions and transformations of that run. BTW, sorry this video isn’t more interesting – fan video makers seemed to prefer the other songs on the EP (“Stolen Dog” and “NYC”); they’re all great, but “Street Halo” – glacial, alienated, beautiful – is the best of them.
3. EMA, “California”
Like Asian porn, “California” is something far more likely to appeal to men, who’ll tend to see it as some cool chick really telling it like it is, than to women, who (I’m guessing) will find it narcissistic posturing. And it’s true – the tough girl posing works only so well (I don’t think I’d have loved this song so much if I’d first seen it a a video, rather than listened to it without the visuals). But love it I do. It’s the drones, really – the Suicide-like distorted organ, the bass pedal-y bits that somehow remind me of Laurie Anderson, the sustained, shrilling electric guitar. And I love the lyrics. I don’t usually listen to song lyrics, but there’s something arresting about spoken word stuff, and Erika Anderson, with her Kim Gordon-echo delivery, does the almost-stream-of-consciousness thing very well. For me, the song becomes transcendent at around the 3 minute mark – the lyric is personal, and meaningless to me, but she nails the stresses and the rhythmicity down so tightly that my weapons are useless against it. The album is quite good, but it’s, you know, songs, and she’s not yet a strong enough lyricist to stop her words from becoming a little trite when she slots them into the grid of a verse. Still, I think we’ll all agree that this is the best song we’re likely to hear about selling menstrual blood-stained pants to a friend for some time. I seem to be going on at length about this one – apparently, I feel the need to defend my choice. Basically, at the end of the day, I just love this song.
4. Bon Iver, “Holocene”
Let’s see: clean, sweet acoustic/semi-acoustic guitar trickling quietly, sparse instrumentation to avoid burying the singer, emotionally-exposed double-tracked vocal? Yep, Justin Vernon pretty much owns Vulnerable Sincerity in pop music. A beautiful song, wholly irresistible.
5. Oneohtrix Point Never, “Sleep Dealer”
“Replica“, the title cut from this year’s Oneohtrix Point Never album, got a lot of love, and I’m not sure why. I mean, it’s good, but to me it sounds like a 1998 Boards of Canada out-take. Don’t get me wrong – in my book, that’s high praise indeed, but… still. For me, the strongest song on the album was “Sleep Dealer”, also a throwback, this time to the glitchy electronica of Diskont-era Oval, but just absolutely gorgeous – my favorite song of the year. I like it so much that I’m going to post links both for the short edit for the official video, and for a clip of the full-length song. BTW, if you don’t like the short edit, you won’t like the full version. Update: Well, I can’t find the full 5 1/2 minute version online, so, sorry about that. It’s more of the same, only… more.
BONUS ROUND: BEST TWO FREE SONGS OF 2011:
6. The Weeknd, “The Morning”
Therapists say that people who pay more for their sessions tend to value them more; I say that’s probably also true with music. I downloaded House of Balloons back when it first blew up, but didn’t listen to it properly for much of the year. My mistake. I’s a remarkably strong album, dark and electronic and unsettling and frequently beautiful. “The Morning” is probably the best cut on the album, but has some stiff competition. Download all three Weeknd albums for free at his web site – scroll horizontally to find them.
7. Azealia Banks, “212″
Utterly infectious – who couldn’t love this? Well, if you have issues with bad words or lesbian/gay sex references, you might not love it, but I thought it was really delightful. And, seriously, once you’ve seen the video, only a person with a heart of stone couldn’t forgive the naughty stuff! Not sure if this is still a free offering, though.
by Jonathan on September 15th, 2011
Hey, I’m in St. Louis, at Bouchercon, where I’ve suffered complete technical collapse. My computer can’t connect to the hotel wifi, the in-room internet connection is via ethernet, and my Macbook Air doesn’t have an ethernet connection, and my Ecto blogging software seems to be having some kind of identity crisis. The crisis is my fault – I seem to have changed something, somewhere and now it won’t connect. So that beautiful, image-studded post is gone, at least until I figure out what the hell is happening. So, here goes:
Kazu from Blonde Redhead – click anyway. She’s my favourite frontwoman, and this is a great song.
I’m on several panels (I put this here as much for me as for you):
Thursday September 15 11:30AM, Landmark 5-7 – A CLEAR CUT CASE OF MURDER – a panel with forensic types, plus Marcia Clarke
Thursday September 15 4PM – 5PM, Landmark 4 – I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES – music and crime fiction
Friday September 16 4PM – 5PM, Landmark 4 – ONE OF OUR OWN – writers write the first lines of each other’s books
In addition to signing sessions after each panel, I’ll be signing with Joe Finder at the Crimespree Booth on Friday September 16th from 11:30AM to noon. Seeya there!
Speaking of music, I like to make mixes to share with my friends. Here are a few – all are downloadable. If you’re using an iPod or iTunes to listen, you’ll find the complete track listing in the Lyrics section. Click on the cover image to reach each mix – you probably know how to download a file on your own particular computer. UPDATED! Click on the link – I can’t get the cover images to load!
THE HIGH ROAD TO A HARD DEATH – My mix for the book tour for A HARD DEATH. An American road mix, fast and loud, featuring the Soledad Brothers, the Cramps, Motorhead and other purveyors of noisy rock and roll. Bad language abounds. At 33 minutes, the shortest.
PERENNIAL SUMMER – Pastoral and psychedelic. A bit too blissed-out at some points, but, still, summer. Animal Collective, the Beach Boys, Blonde Redhead, the Rolling Stones and others. 60 minutes-ish; some of it’s immediately accessible, some may take a little getting used to.
PAUSES AND SILENCES – A mellow, darker mix, tending to the instrumental and electronic. A moody hour of Four Tet, Ry Cooder, Max Richter, the xx and others.
THE 9/11 GARAGE MIX – An odd mix, this, a relic that’s still means a lot to me. During the recovery process, when we had down moments, I’d DJ. The mix starts sad, with an old Joe Walsh/James Gang classic, then kicks off with Fatboy Slim. Along the way: New Order, Royksopp, Goldfrapp, and a sad and beautiful close with the Swans’ cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Oh, I see the track listing isn’t imbedded into the mix file. Here it is:
James Gang, “Ashes, the Rain”
Fatboy Slim, “Right Here, Right Now”
St. Germain, “Rose Rouge”
Looper, “Mondo ’77″
New Order, “Crystal”
Goldfrapp, “Lovely Head”
Royksopp, “A Higher Place”
Swans, “Can’t Find My Way Home”
Also, last week, I counter-programmed for the 9/11 bathos with some of the most beautiful music I know. Find them on my tumblr, www.afterthetorchlight.tumblr.com .
by Jonathan on September 11th, 2011
I have escaped the city for this miserable anniversary. I’m staying by the sea; it’s quiet and beautiful here. There are dogs and books and good food and music, and it’s easy to tune out the buzzing hysteria.
I lost no close friends in the attack, but the fall-out afterward surprised me in its cruelty. For a long while, I was pretty wrecked. I managed to discover some bottomless well of… what? self pity? fear? – inside myself. The thing just bleeds and bleeds – my sheets are red, my sheets are wet, my sheets are ruined!
And yet, they’re not. Life goes on. I live comfortably, I live beautifully. I have fallen in love, I have been loved. I have amazing friends. I got less healthy for a good while, but I’m getting better. I live in the greatest city on earth. I go out in the world, and when I do, I am exhilarated. My life has returned to normal as the thing has slowly assumed its rightful proportion.
It’s still there, this throbbing, beating thing, locked in a trunk in the basement. And sometimes it gets out and wanders, traipsing its blood up the stairs, splashing gore on the upholstery. But I’m OK with that – that’s what things like this do. Besides, it doesn’t get out very often these days.
My capacity for self-pity pisses me off. After all, my loss was trivial compared to, for example, that of my friend Barbara, who lost the love of her life. And I was lucky, because I had a role to play; in those unreal days after the attack, I was able to do something meaningful, and find focus in that meaning. So many other people were hurt so badly, so many continue to be hurt. The cost has been staggering – beyond the human toll of the two active wars that followed, I read the other day that it cost Al-Qaeda less than $500,000 to mount the attack, and that in its subsequent reaction to the 9/11 assault, the US has spent $7 million for each of those Al Qaeda dollars.
Beyond the price we’ve paid in blood and treasure, the political shifts in this country have been depressing. There’s been a rush to abandon nuanced thinking, to reject any sophisticated interpretation of complex events. The knee-jerk Islamophobia has been particularly repellent – yes, it’s your right as an American to burn any document you want, including the Koran, but if you know that that pathetic little show you’re planning in a Florida trailer park will cost the real lives of innocents, it would be at least polite to think twice about it. There are few lessons from this whole miserable experience, but one of them is certainly that hate and ignorance breed hate and ignorance. The thing is, a lot of us had already learned that lesson, and many of us will never learn it.
But, enough. I’m sitting in the morning cool, two dogs at my feet (one on my foot), listening to the water lapping the edge of the pool, to the cicadas and the birds and the breeze. It is a sad and beautiful world; the trick is to manage the sadness by concentrating on the beauty.
by Jonathan on September 7th, 2011
Hi. Yes, I’ve been neglecting this space – in truth, between work and writing and living in NYC, I’m stretched pretty thin. I’ve been working on my next book, Monster Park, a thriller set in winter in the low mountains of Colorado, and I’m the newest member of Murderati, the group blog for a fistful (if you can fit fourteen of them in your fist) of prominent crime fiction authors. Plus, you know, earthquakes and hurricanes and whatnot.
Today, I’m discussing a few cult films in the crime genre, kicking off with Scarface, alighting briefly on Blade Runner, then focusing on Fight Club and Leon: The Professional, two films that have a cult following among Millennials. Plus a generous slathering of my thoughts on internet -p-o-r-n- and tumblrs. (I’m not trying to emphasize that word, I’m trying to hide it from spammers, doubtless futilely.) Speaking of tumblrs, have you seen mine lately? It’s awesome! Although sometimes NSFW – usually just a sprinkling of nudity, but occasionally something “worse”.
So, check out today’s Murderati post, and if the spirit moves you, say something in the comments! “Hallelujah!” would be good.
Other topics I’ve blogged about there:
by Jonathan on June 4th, 2011
I had one of those satisfying chance encounters with my iPod today – the random reappearance of a song I haven’t heard in ages, in this case far too long.
There’s a scene in Precious Blood where Jenner watches Ana dance alone on the dance floor of an East Village nightclub at 4AM. I rarely write with specific music in mind, but for that passage, here’s the music I was imagining: the Foul Play VIP remix of Omni Trio’s “Renegade Snares”.
Since I don’t know how to embed music in WordPress yet (and am not sure why, in fact, I’m writing this in WordPress rather than on the wonderful Ecto program), I’ve put the song up on my Tumblr…
by Jonathan on May 7th, 2011
I’ve started the West Coast tour for A Hard Death. Since I’ll be driving a lot, I’ve made a, uh, driving mix. It’s fast, noisy, straight-ahead rock’n'roll music. For many people, it’ll be unlistenable. Also, at times it is enthusiastically profane: consider yourselves warned. It’s really not suitable for kids, unless they’re bad kids. Here’s the download link , and here’s the tracklisting:
THE HIGH ROAD TO A HARD DEATH
Mason Williams, “Classical Gas” (not obscene)
The Soledad Brothers, “Break ‘Em on Down”
The Cramps, “Human Fly”
The Gun Club, “Ghost on the Highway”
The Jesus & Mary Chain, “Never Understand”
Motorhead, “The Ace of Spades”
Ministry, “Jesus Built My Hotrod”
Charlie Gracie, “Guitar Boogie”
Clinic, “Walking with Thee”
Mclusky, “Lightsabre C***sucking Blues”
Bad Brains, “Pay to Cum”
One more thing: PLAY LOUD!
by Jonathan on May 1st, 2011
At mystery or thriller festivals, I’m often asked about the importance of accuracy in the genre. I think authors should take whatever liberties they need to tell their stories – after all, these are thrillers, not forensic textbooks. The important thing is that the world of the story must have an internally cohesive reality – Harry Potter is pure fantasy, but feels real because of the consistency and integrity of the characters and universe that JK Rowling has created.
That said, I personally can’t let myself distort the science – I want a character who is shot, strangled or impaled to appear and behave as they would if it had happened in real life. I create situations that are more extreme than those we usually see in our work as medical examiners, and present those scenarios as realistically as possible; I want the reader to mutter, “Whoa!”, both because the situation is extreme, and because it is also palpably real.
While I like to crank up the intensity in my novels, I need everything I use to exist in the real world. A number of elements in A Hard Death may seem over the top, but they’re all based on real world events, from Maggie Craine’s back story to the way the drug trade is depicted. A reader emailed me the other day asking me about the drugs and money in the book, wondering if I was overstating things. But turn on your TV and it’s all there – drugs shipped in homemade submarines, drugs jammed into shark carcasses, drug packets stuffed into live snakes. And it’s all because the money is just incredible.
How incredible? Well, have a look at this collection of photographs from 2007, taken when Mexican government forces, in a joint operation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, raided the home of a methamphetamine king pin. A private zoo with seven lions, panthers and tigers, an armory replete with gold and gem-encrusted firearms, and cash jammed into cupboards, walls, suitcases and strongboxes: in all $205 million in one hundred US dollar bills…
(Music: Evil Nine, “All the Cash”)
by Jonathan on April 10th, 2011
Here’s the flyer for the Thursday launch in Tribeca:
by Jonathan on April 2nd, 2011
I’m going to be hitting the road soon, preaching the gospel of A Hard Death. You’ll be able to confront me at:
Saturday, April 9, 2011 Easton, CT – Murder 203 Mystery Convention www.murder203.com
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 New York, NY – Mystery Panel Event with Alafair Burke, Linda Fairstein and Robert Knightley Mid-Manhattan Library (Fifth at 41st St) – 6:30 PM
Thursday, April 14th, 2011 New York, NY – Barnes & Noble Tribeca, 97 Warren Street – 7pm
Thursday, April 28th, Waltham, MA – Back Pages Books, 289 Moody Street – 7pm
Saturday May 7, 2011 Seattle, WA – Elliott Bay Book Company – 1521 10th Ave – 7pm
Monday May 9, 2011 Seattle, WA – Seattle Mystery Books – 117 Cherry St. – Noon
Monday May 9, 2011 Bellingham, WA – Village Books – 1200 11th St. – 7pm
Tuesday May 10, 2011 Portland, OR – Powell’s Book Store Cedar Hills – 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton – 7pm
Thursday May 12, 2011 San Mateo, CA – M is for Mystery – 86 E. Third Ave – 7pm
Saturday May 14, 2011 San Diego, CA – Mysterious Galaxy – #302 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd – 1pm
Tuesday May 17, 2011 Phoenix, AZ – The Poisoned Pen – 4014 North Goldwater Drive – 7pm
Saturday May 21, 2011 Naples, FL – Barnes & Noble – Waterside Shops 5377 Tamiami Trail – 2pm
Thursday May 26, 2011 Chappaqua, NY – Chappaqua Library 195 South Greeley Avenue – 7pm
And you will know him by the trail of A Hard Death…