Review of An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

roxane gay photo

 

 

Roxane Gay’s gut-wrenching debut novel,  An Untamed State,  pulls the reader through the harrowing experience of Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian-American who is kidnapped for ransom while visiting her parents in Port-au-Prince. Citing Haiti as the kidnapping capital of the world, where there are professional negotiators for abductions, Gay explores the dreadful conditions of this beautiful but broken country. During this trip, the tough Mireille herself becomes broken almost seemingly beyond repair.

 

In An Untamed State, Mireille is abducted as she, her husband, and their baby leave her parents’ gated house to go to the beach. Her husband cannot save her, and the many witnesses do not try. She is held for thirteen days at the home of the Commander, where she is kept in a small room (which she repeatedly refers to as a “cage”), is barely fed, and is subject to physical and sexual abuse that would be unimaginable were it not for Gay’s straightforward and gut-wrenching descriptions. The epithet “the Commander” echoes the elite men in charge in Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Intentional or not, this detail is but one element that bolsters the novel as a feminist story.

 

Mireille’s father, Sebastien, has raised his children to be tough and to be excellent in all endeavors, as he was born in poverty in Haiti but made his fortune in the United States before moving back to Haiti. Thus, Mireille comes from class privilege in Haiti, in contrast to the racial oppression she and her family have faced in America. It is this class privilege that results in her being kidnapped for a one-million-dollar ransom, which her father refuses to pay. During her captivity, the leader of the abductors, the Commander, tells her of Haiti’s problems that, “You are complicit even if you do not actively contribute to the problem because you do nothing to solve it,” to which she replies, “You are complicit too. Don’t think for a second you aren’t.” This exchange is but one example of Mireille’s emotional strength as well as Gay’s refusal to offer easy, pat answers to oppression and privilege, both public and private.

 

During her thirteen-day captivity, Mireille experiences a split of the self, a survival tactic in which she talks about her “before” self in the third-person, even as she tries to remember who she is, though she begins to forget her self and her family, pushing her previous and current existences out of her mind in order to cope. She is raped repeatedly – by the gang of captors; by one man, TiPierre, who pays off the other captors in order to have her all to himself; and the Commander, whose authority means he can abuse her at his whim, as he does daily. Mireille also suffers being mutilated, burned, and cut throughout the thirteen days, although she fights back physically, attempts escape, and always has tough words for her captors. She is a woman who has learned to be strong, ironically from her father who refuses to pay the ransom for the return of his daughter. His reasoning, which he explains to Mireille a few years after her ordeal, is that he did not want to lose everything he had worked so hard for, because often kidnappers come after more family members repeatedly if ransoms are paid.

 

The cost, of course, is Mireille’s life – her personhood and her humanity. Although her captors release her, she says, “Once upon a time, my life was a fairy tale and then I was stolen from everything I’ve ever loved. There was no happily ever after. After days of dying, I was dead.” Once having had a strong relationship with her husband, Michael, their marriage suffers after her release. She leaves, driving from Miami to Nebraska, where Michael’s parents run a farm. Although her mother-in-law, Lorraine, had not approved of their relationship before their marriage because of Mireille’s Haitian roots and skin color, stating that there aren’t many people in Nebraska like her, eventually the women, in turn, take care of each other when in need. When Lorraine gets cancer, Mireille spends four months taking care of Lorraine, and they develop a mutual appreciation. In the end, it is Lorraine to whom Mireille runs, to seek refuge and comfort in Lorraine’s practicality and minimal, yet consoling and truthful, advice.

 

Understandably afraid of and unable to be around men very much, Mireille has difficulty relating to and being around her husband, and it takes a while before she is able to tell him all that she endured. Michael tries his hardest to understand her feelings, but Gay highlights the impossibility of anyone else being able to comprehend someone else’s traumatic experience; he fails to understand the depth of her pain, the split in her psyche, and that he cannot fix it, no matter how much he wants to do so. Yet they endure and they adjust to a different life in “the after.”

 

Gay uses the forthright style of a fairy tale, although she deconstructs the genre, revealing that the past never ends for us. There is no happy ending; there is only moving on, Mireille being irrevocably changed. She does give her father a tidy ending, of sorts. She tells him she forgives him but reflects, “I wanted to forgive him, that his impossible choice had killed all my love for him, but when I looked into his face, all I saw was an old man who made a terrible, weak choice and had to live with it for what remained of his life. He did not deserve the truth of how I died.” She realizes she does not have to actually forgive him to be free of him.

 

An extremely talented writer and a promising voice for women, Haitians, black Americans, and LGBTQ persons in her previous writing, Gay has given readers in this novel a complex view of race and class privilege, particularly foregrounding violence against women. Readers can look forward to Gay bearing witness to these issues and more in her future work.

 

Gay has previously published a number of short stories and essays in anthologies, including Best American Short Stories 2012, as well as her short story collection, Ayiti, which focuses on the Haitian Diaspora experience. Gay is also co-editor of PANK, essays editor of The Rumpus, and will begin teaching at Purdue University in this autumn. Her forthcoming book of essays, Bad Feminist, due to come out August 5, has already created a buzz for those who have been following her career or who have read the advance press for the book.

 

 

Grove Atlantic, $16 USD

Overall rating: 9.5/10

 

Tracey K. Parker is a college English instructor who earned her PhD from the University of Arkansas. The focus of her research is popular culture in literature. She also has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and is an avid reader and published writer.

 

Hump Day Tunes

black dub junelle skylar grey

We’ve reached the middle of summer blues and hump day tunes. A lot of great records have come out in recent months, but sometimes a lone single or cover can sneak under the radar.

A couple songs come to mind, both temporarily lifting me from the grueling (but also rewarding) week of writing in which I have embarked upon.

First, we have a cover.

The artist, Junelle, is a little known jazz singer from Auckland, New Zealand, the same town where alternative superstar Lorde grew up. Mixing mellow beats, personal lyrics, and silky vocals, Junelle’s sound is distinctive. She classifies her style as ambient pop with meditative qualities.

Backed by the Dalai Lama and citing Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday as inspiration, Junelle has done what most struggle to even contemplate: add something to the ever evolving music industry. Each song on her extended play, Just This Sky, takes jazz and spins it on its head.

Recently, she recorded a cover of Surely by Black Dub. The single is a bonus track on her EP, which can be found on both Bandcamp and iTunes

The original version, sung by Trixie and written by Daniel Lanois exudes power with sparse instrumental accompaniments. Many facets of Trixie’s voice cannot be duplicated. With incredible range and a mixture of soft tones and belted notes, Trixie lets the desperation soak out every word of the five and a half minute track.

Junelle takes a different approach with it, highlighting her rn&b/jazz infused vocals. With guitar, drums, subtle meditation sounds, and static reverberation, Junelle masterfully encompasses the narrative of the lyrics, arguably better than the original artist. While both clock in at the same length, Junelle’s version feels slower, with more emphasis placed on the words themselves.

Junelle on why she chose to cover this track:

“The lyrics are so profound. I love it when you know that someone’s sat down and had a song pour out all at once. I feel that was the case with Daniel Lanois and this track, where it’s pretty much all conceived all at once and in the moment of that situation.  There’s an absolute honesty with that type of conception of a song.  Then of course Trixie, she identifies so profoundly with the song, you would believe she wrote it herself.  It’s also one of my favourite tracks to play live, there’s a shift in gears when we do this song.  I love being able to feel it melodically and lyrically, to identify with it so much that it feels as honest as playing one of my own songs. So to do a version of it, pay tribute to it, felt appropriate. My boyfriend produced it and it’s been us playing it live together since we first came across it.”

Both versions are worth a listen. A mashup of the two could add even more layers to the voices of these two talented ladies.

Junelle’s cover

Original Version

The other song of the week, freshly recorded is American by Skylar Grey. Grey is a singer/songwriter who has collaborated with artists such as Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Diddy. She was the songstress behind the mega hits Love The Way You Lie and Coming Home. She released her debut album, Don’t Look Down last July. Skylar spent over two years perfecting the album. She also has music out under her real name, Holly Brook.

 

Skylar’s voice is unexplainable and she is one of the most talented artists of my generation. This is evident in her latest song, American. Recorded on an iPhone with just a piano and raw vocals, Grey wavers from note to note, emotion to emotion effortlessly. Playing on her balcony, the wind and sound of children playing below her give the track a scenic feel.

 

Skylar on the new song:

I kinda like how there is zero production value in these videos I’m posting… welcome to my little world… a world where an iPhone a piano and some scenery is all I need to pass the time enjoyably. This isn’t a patriotic song even though its called “American.” Whether you’re republican or democrat or other, if you were born in America, you should be able to relate. We don’t have a choice where we are born and raised, and we can’t help the fact that some things are just engrained in us from a young age, just like all of the other cultures of the world have their own unique characteristics.”

 

A lyrical mastermind, Skylar is on top of her game:

There’s no place like home

I slaughter every man I know

And then I listen to Johnny Cash

On the way to the big game

Cause I was born an American

 

Listen to the full version here:

American

Skylar, Junelle, and Black Dub are all artists worth giving a look.

The three manipulate words and sounds in such interesting ways, bringing something new to music every time.

 Annabelle Edwards is a young writer and photographer living in New York. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming at Mixtape Methodology, Eunoia Review, and Crack The Spine. You can find her here: mysteriouswritergirl.tumblr.com

 

 

 

 

Night-Watch Man & Muse (Salmon Poetry, 2013) – A Review by Bernard Kennedy

This book of poems, Night-watch Man & Muse is a deep expose of our human existence, feeling and thinking. As a psychoanalyst and poet, I needed to return and re-read. It was a tolle lege experience for this reviewer. The theme of desire, irascible to Juan de la Cruz, journey, lifeblood of Kerouac, Father, central to Freud, and poetry, the night and watch of man are excavated within this existential lyric. I would use the word philosophy to express my thoughts as I read, Taking Shade with Buddha, where the universe is excavated sensitively, with the lyrical use of Balzac’s cloak, a sentence I will use to express the poets place under that tree. In the Roman Laurel, ‘a remarkable choreography’to use  Mark Murphy’s phrase, sums up the search of our life, and On Chasing Pigeons and Coniston Water a spiritual thrust expresses that human search for which we all apply in being born.  In Killing the Summer, ‘it is not quite right how the kettle on the hob, outlasts the man who wrought it’, expressing the disappointment of a realization between desire and possibility.This theme continues throughout the poems, where we meet Lenin, Burroughs, Chomsky, Frank O’ Hara and Diogenes, themselves signifiers of the land being excavated and worth slowly rereading and returning to read.  Russia, Chile, and the Minotaur give us a signifier of place. It is said that geography influences us as much as heredity and here we are invited into both place and person with emotional resonance… ‘ listening to Saties’ Gnossiennes/yet every note is out of reach’ and ‘ we are all love sick and sick of love’ is why I use the word philosophy and psychoanlysis to etch a review of this wonderful provoking book of poems. It is for me an anthology of a life’s experience, a review of reaction to an existence, a mirror reflection.Snowbound was for me a paradigm of life, and I think you will find the same in Mr. Mojo risin’ where hope, so often future based comes from a life here, and the poem Night watch Man and Muse, the title poem, defines the poet well, ‘I do not seek to order the night/My task is to watch and listen’. In Last Word where every note is out of reach, and In a Rage with Allen Ginsberg a poetry definition and journey is made with another signifier of person. William S. Burroughs Dead reminds the poet of his moral duty and the writer too… ‘He will not be enticed into the guilded palaces of deception’. That sentence for me is a clarion call of the true artist, which reduces the number deserving the title poet. It would spoil the read if I were to dwell, in review, on each poem but it is the duty of the reader to dwell, and alone, outside those palaces in his lonely room of existence to taste deeply of this nakedness of humanity themed so beautifully.

“Mark A. Murphy is a true poet, as you will find as you take this text in your hand, and play with the themes of our very living. It is provocative, lonely, happy, and a signifier of our living truthfully.” – Bernard Kennedy

Review of Lazaretto by Jack White

Jack White’s second solo album, Lazaretto, defies the sophomore album curse, as the songs showcase the talent and range for which he is known, as well as the indie, garage, country-and-blues infused rock that is his oeuvre. Lazaretto was released on June 10, 2014 and set a vinyl sales record of 40,000 copies sold in its first week. The album is the follow-up to White’s first solo venture, Blunderbuss, the Grammy-nominated album that fans had longed for after experiencing his music with the bands The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather.

The vinyl version, carrying the label “Ultra LP”, includes a number of extras that the digital version does not, and although some may see the extras as gimmicky, White is known for being innovative and deeply invested in the art of music, which seems to be where these tricks come from.  Some of these special touches are firsts in record making. For example, it is the first record to have an “under label groove,” a song that is pressed under the label, which plays, albeit roughly, through the label. Additionally, the song “Just One Drink” offers listeners the choice of an acoustic or an electric version that then come together in the middle of the song. Lazaretto is also the first LP to include a hologram in the “dead wax” on the Side 1; the listener can see a hologram of an angel (to echo the album cover) when looking at the right angle. It is also the first record to have different finishes – Side 1 is shiny, and Side 2 has a matte finish – and is the first record to have at least one portion that plays in each of the three LP speeds (33 1/3, 45, and 78).  Also included are locked grooves on the outer edges of each side, and Side 1 starts on the inside and plays outward.

The digital track / iTunes listing (tracks 8 and 9 are reversed on the vinyl version):

(Vinyl Side 1)

1.    “Three Women”

2.    “Lazaretto”

3.    “Temporary Ground”

  1.  “Would You Fight for My Love?”
  2.  “High Ball Stepper”

(Vinyl Side 2)

6.     “Just One Drink”

  1.  “Alone in My Home”
  2.  “Entitlement”
  3.  “That Black Bat Licorice”
  4.   “I Think I Found the Culprit”
  5.   “Want and Able”

White opens Lazaretto with “Three Women,” a track that boasts of having three women, “red, a blonde, and brunette,” an ego maneuver that gives a nod to the tradition of bragging in rap and hip-hop.  Aware that he is arrogant, the speaker notes that the listener might ask, “what gives me the right”; his answer is that “Well, these women must be getting something / ‘Cause they come see me every night.”

White continues with this theme of braggadocio in track two, “Lazaretto,” although the speaker boasts of mundane things such as having blue veins and being able to “dig ditches like the best of ’em” before climaxing with the boast that “I’m so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes.”  This track sounds a fiddle section, blustering guitar licks, and even Atari noises, which create a collage of sound that highlights the pain of being isolated and the hope of a phoenix-like rebirth. This title track establishes the theme of isolation, as a “lazaretto” is a quarantine hospital.

“Temporary Ground,” the third track, comments on emotional paralysis, referencing the feeling of “Moving without motion / Screaming without sound.” The song may most specifically address artistic paralysis, as White writes, “The old explorers had it easy / They discovered nothing new / But returned on home with answers / Of sad existent clues.” True originality may be impossible for today’s artists, but the artistic process is one of piecing together, in one’s own way, old influences and past music, and White achieves this in Lazaretto.

Like any good bluesy album, Lazaretto features obligatory songs about unrequited love. In “Would You Fight for my Love?” (track 4), White shows the vulnerabilities of both sides of a relationship; while one is afraid of being hurt, the other needs to let the speaker in, emotionally. He sings, “But I can’t kiss you ’til you lift up your chin / You have to want to stop being alone.” Again, White places this speaker in the figurative lazaretto, as he is isolated from the one he wants the most, a problem that seems unsolvable as long as both parties have their guards up.

Track five, “High Ball Stepper” is somewhat of a classic/psychedelic rock instrumental with crunching guitar alternating with discordant, clunky piano solos and fiddle that sounds like high-pitched, half-howling vocals. White plays with distortion and feedback in this recording, which adds grit to the song rather than distracting the listener.

White returns to the subject of unrequired love in the sixth track, “Just One Drink.”  The Jack White twist in the lyrics comes when the speaker “drink[s] gasoline,” perhaps a more fitting beverage than whiskey for someone who agonizes over the love of someone who “stares at the ceiling” and seems to be “growing colder / as I get older and older.”  He is older and wiser, not experiencing unreturned love as a young, naïve infatuation, but someone who can sense the nuances of another’s moods and unspoken feelings.  The song puts the listener inside a roadhouse, with its fiddle and honky-tonk piano riffs, but this is White’s roadhouse, so the effect is a musical mélange that one might call “hard country,” as gripping guitar licks pervade the song as well.

“Alone in My Home,” the seventh track, directly echoes the dark tone that is the common thread of the album. White declares that he is “alone in [his] home” and is “becoming a ghost . . . / so nobody can know” him. The music of the song belies this theme, however, as its cheerful and sprightly piano-driven melody and happy-go-lucky rhythms are listener-friendly and engaging.  The tension between form and content makes the loneliness all the more compelling.

Track eight, “Entitlement,” is perhaps the most fun song lyrically, as White ponders (and plays with) the right to feel entitled. He asks, “In a time when everyone feels entitled / Why can’t I feel entitled, too?” and adds that “I can’t bring myself to take without penance / or atonement or sweat from my brow.” Ironically, these declarations suggest that the speaker does, in fact, feel entitled, as he complains that whenever he is doing as he pleases, someone “cuts [him] down” and he feels that he feels he’s “been cheated.” Entitlement occupies a great deal of discussion about American culture, but the irony that White brings forth suggests the hypocrisy of any generation or person protesting entitlement and wishing they “could feel entitled, too,” when most people in our culture do carry a sense of entitlement. He ends the song saying that “Not a one single person on God’s golden shore / Is entitled to one single thing / We don’t deserve a single damn thing.”  This dark turn suggests the maturity of White as a 38-year-old songwriter whose life experiences have brought him a wiser perspective.

White foregrounds gritty, raunchy guitar in track nine, “That Black Bat Licorice,” a song that again references the lazaretto theme of isolation. He sings, “I fantasize about the hospital / The army, asylum, confinement, in prison /Any place where there’s a time to clear my vision.”  The song is another in which the speaker boasts about himself; this time, he “play[s] dumb like Columbo,” the television character who other characters generally misunderstood and underestimated.  Additionally, one has to be intrigued by a songwriter who uses the word “avuncular” and references “Nietzsche, Freud, and Horace.”

“I Think I Found the Culprit,” track ten, offers the hard country feel with steel guitar, piano, and raw lead guitar. Thematically, the song approaches isolation differently; this time, the speaker is on the offensive, saying that “birds of a feather may lay together / but the uglier one is always under the gun.” Even as part of a couple, he has feelings of inferiority that create emotional estrangement.

Lazaretto closes with “Want and Able,” in which Want and Able are characters in a fable, until White ends it with the moral of the story: Want is desire, and the Able “is the means,” and although he wants to be with the one he wants, “that’s not possible, something simply will not let [him].” While this is quiet song is not a standout, it does close the album with the accepted despair brought on by loneliness and isolation.

Overall, the album comes in at just over 39 minutes but seems dense in its exploration of music and themes that reinforce each other in an intriguing mix of musical genres.  The common thread of isolation suggests that White is working through the emotional baggage of his very public divorce from Karen Elson. One can only expect that White will continue to push boundaries by fusing blues, country, rock, psychedelic rock into a garage indie sound that is his trademark. Ultimately, how the album is perceived may be less important than its presence on the continuum that is the work of one of the most original musicians working today.

Overall rating: 9/10

 

Tracey K. Parker is a college English instructor who earned her PhD from the University of Arkansas. The focus of her research is popular culture in literature. She also has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and is an avid reader and published writer.

Review: Sia — 1000 Forms of Fear

  1. Chandelier
  2. Big Girls Cry
  3. Burn the Pages
  4. Eye of the Needle
  5. Hostage
  6. Straight for the Knife
  7. Fair Game
  8. Elastic Heart
  9. Free the Animal
  10. Fire Meet Gasoline
  11. Cellophane
  12. Dressed in Black

 

Sia is a songwriting powerhouse of addictive downtempo electro-pop. Since her 1997 Australian debut OnlySee, she’s written and co-written hit after hit with the likes of Flo Rida, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé, in addition to writing and recording her own music.

Sia is part of a sad-girl songwriting tradition that’s captivated audiences for decades if not centuries, a tradition whose sirens range from Dinah Washington to Marianne Faithfull to Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey. As a culture, we have a fetish for female brokenness (to paraphrase author Stacey D’Erasmo), and it makes sense that we eat this kind of music up.

Just because melancholia can be fetishized doesn’t mean it’s not real and relatable. What we want—and what Sia seems to want in 1000 Forms of Fear—is to have agency in our own sadness.

The album’s anthemic opener, “Chandelier,” proclaims that “party girls don’t get hurt,” “I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist,” and the titular “I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.” In the entire album, this song conveys the most instrumentality both in its lyrics and in the epic swell of its song structure. However, while the lyrics express agency, the melancholic instrumentals suggest plaintiveness rather than confidence.

The title of “Big Girls Cry” is a kiss-off to The Four Seasons’ lyric girlfriend of 1962 (or perhaps to Fergie’s 2006 insistence that “Big Girls Don’t Cry”). Sia adjusts the tone of the adage, insisting that “big girls cry when their hearts are breaking.” There is no shame, the song suggests, in allowing your emotions to perform themselves. Towards the song’s finale, Sia sings “I wake up” thirteen times in a row, a heartbreaking requiem for the dream life. Again, we’re confronted with the agency of sadness: in more casual terms, it’s her party and she’ll cry if she wants to.

“Burn the Pages” is the first indication that the album has the capacity to be upbeat. We’re thrown into a different state of being as soon as the drum machine kicks in—it’s almost flippant, the steady electro-pop rhythm teasing us into believing that it’s not all bad. Thematically, “Burn the Pages” is similar to “Chandelier”—“we’re letting go tonight,” “burn the pages let ‘em go”—extolling the cathartic possibilities of forgetting the past, but without “Chandelier”’s heartrending melody.

“Eye of the Needle” invites us to smile through the pain with another surging chorus. However, the melody is not as epic as the two opening tracks. The lyrics maintain a theme of weight, of being burdened by the past: “My bag’s heavy, Been filled by me, They weigh me down, Carry them round.” But in “Eye of the Needle,” Sia is not letting the weight go, she’s lamenting the lockbox of her internal organs (“Heart-Shaped Box,” anyone?): “you’re locked inside my heart, your melody’s an art.”

“Hostage” is another light touch on the album, giving listeners an emotional respite from melancholia. It definitely doesn’t make me want to kill myself.

The mournful piano assaults us again on “Straight for the Knife.” Sia repeats the line “swinging from the wreckage,” harkening back to the opening track—“I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.”

Though not one of the album’s more exciting tracks, “Fair Game” provides a straightforward interlude on an otherwise emotionally distraught album. However, the lyrics betray the rationale of the steady drumbeat and soothing strings: “don’t leave me, stay here and frighten me.” The matter-of-fact harmony never overtakes Sia’s swaying vocal melodies—and her vocal melodies are, after all, the reason she is loved.

“Elastic Heart” is a bit of a drag. The verse drags beneath the beat—which may be the point, as the chorus proclaims “I’ve got an elastic heart”—the music stretches like elastic. But even if this is intentional, it’s not particularly engaging. Co-written with The Weeknd and Diplo, the track was originally released as a single for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. While critically acclaimed at the time of the single’s release (Spin called it a “bubbling ballad” and MuuMuse called it “gritty, gorgeous”), within the larger context of this album, it feels flat.

“Free the Animal” again tries to pull the record out of its deep depression. The lyrics suggest the joy of freedom in death, love as death, violent metaphors for romantic submission and happiness: “Blow me up or throw me down or cut my throat,” “Decapitate me!” Sia sings. Freedom in death, agency in sadness.

“Fire Meet Gasoline” is another track full of violent metaphors for love: “it’s dangerous to fall in love,” “burn with me tonight,” “we’re bristling with desire, the pleasure’s pain and fire.”

While a guitar floats hauntingly underneath Sia’s powerful voice, “Cellophane” still feels like a low point on an otherwise intense album. A guitar bends chords with a whammy bar in the background, and perhaps its ethereal tones are intended to make us feel lost, but maybe that’s the problem. Its atmospheric quality is too disconnected to be stimulating.

Every time I hear the music-box opening of “Dressed in Black,” I think King Harvest is about to start singing “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Then suddenly the mega-production of Sia’s chorus hits, and it feels like being in the middle of a gang war. “Dressed in Black” is an appropriately dramatic concluding track, its bridge a wordless, prolonged wail. The lyrics take the violence and romanticism of the preceding tracks into account, and conclude with a hopeful refrain: “I took to the night, I’d given into the fire…and then you crossed my path, you quelled my fears, you made me laugh.”

As we know from the success and ubiquity of Idina Menzel’s “Let it Go,” everybody wants to let things go. Let the past go, let ex-loves go, let former selves fall off and get lost in the wreckage of time (“swinging from the wreckage,” once again).

Taking initiative in tragedy is sometimes all we can hope for—and catharsis is its own initiative. An evocative wail, Sia’s voice expresses heartbreak, and the corresponding desire for catharsis, perfectly. In 1000 Forms of Fear, she struggles with demons both internal and external through forlorn melodies and deep-sinking hooks. If nothing else, swimming through this album allows its listeners to feel autonomy in sadness. The force of Sia’s voice combined with the pop sensibilities of her songwriting meld together into an album worthy of being heard while lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, grasping at agency in sadness through the very act of listening.

Rating: 8/10

 

Deirdre Coyle is a non-practicing mermaid living in New York City. Her work has appeared in theNewerYorkFwriction : ReviewLuna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She edits the music writing website Mixtape Methodology. You can find her overseeing the internet at deirdrecoyle.tumblr.com and@DeirdreKoala.

OK Go Upside Out (Paracadute) Review

Since their breakthrough in the early part of the last decade, Chicago’s OK Go has gained most of their popularity from their innovative and trippy music videos. The trend continues today, as the band’s video for its new single, “Writing’s on the Wall,” has blown up on You Tube since its release on June 17. The single is the highlight of OK Go’s four-song summer sampler EP, Upside Out, intended to hold fans over until its fourth full-length, Hungry Ghosts, is released in October.

And it’s that single that carries the EP, a song so strong it almost reduces whatever effect the other three were supposed to convey. A Gothy-tour de force that wouldn’t seem out of place on a play list next to the Cure or New Order, “Writing’s on the Wall,” tells the story of a couple whose time has passed, their break up near, and yet they still seem to give it one last shot, the singer seeking “some pleasure” in his lover’s eyes, “if it’s the last thing we do together.” It’s a wonderful song, but fans have to be scratching their heads about the format: why issue a four-song EP of songs from the forthcoming album, a record already completed? Why wait until fall if the album is ready to go now?

Upside Out finds the band in a bit of a mid-life crisis. Now 12 years removed from its debut album, 2002’s OK Go, the band is completely on its own, having cut ties with original label Capitol/EMI in 2010. This EP marks the first release of new, original music since then.

It would make sense then that the band would look back, and look to the 80s for source material – the 80s, of course, being the golden age of the music video, and OK Go being today’s standard bearer in that realm. The other three tracks compete in similar aural territory as “Writing’s on the Wall,” but with lesser results. The opener, “Turn up the Radio,” is probably the weakest of the four songs, with an a capella boy-band type chorus almost lifted from a Disney act like Big Time Rush, and mind-numbing lyrics like “I’ve got to lose myself tonight/I’ve got to let it all go tonight.” All that is wrapped up in a synth and bass groove that just doesn’t work.

“I Won’t Let You Down” sounds like a throwaway from Controversy-era Prince, while the closer, “The One Moment” may be the biggest puzzler, and also probably serves as the best snapshot of OK Go’s current meandering. “The One Moment” swells with big 80s guitars and shimmering production. “There’s nothing more profound than the certainty that all this will end,” Damian Kulash sings. The song soars like a U2-styled anthem, but falls off the rails in clichés. You’re expecting a big statement from this song, but it never quite comes.

In many ways, it sums up where OK Go is now: makers of great music videos, spotty albums, and looking for what to do next. Those treadmills in the 2006 Grammy-winning “Here it Goes Again” video probably never looked so symbolic.

Rating: 5/10

 

David Colodney studies poetry in the MFA program at Converse College. He has written for The Miami Herald and The Tampa Tribune, and his poetry has appeared in Shot Glass Journal and Egg. David lives in Boynton Beach, FL.