Sunday, May 08, 2005

Cole Slaw Blog mini-reviews

The proprietors of Cole Slaw Blog like books and music, but not everything merits a full-blown review on the site. Here are a few books, performances, and albums that are worth some quick recommendations.

Goat, by Brad Land. A quick, dark read about the author's experiences pledging a fraternity at Clemson. A somewhat trite premise, but it's overcome by Land's sharp writing and powerful characters. The story is affecting and well told, though it sometimes wanders into dreaded "sensitive male" territory.

Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Drubner. Levitt is an economist at the University of Chicago who researches things like the link between abortion rates and crime statistics, the economics of baby naming, and the mixed incentive of realty agents. A quick, fun, breezy read; I sometimes wished for more detail, but the book targets a wide audience and hits its mark. The authors maintain a nice blog, which you can find here.

To Ruhleben -- and Back, by Geoffrey Pyke. The memoir of a resilient British teenager who takes a reporting assignment in Berlin during World War I, is arrested by German authorities, and placed in an internment camp. Long out of print, this sometimes-fun, sometimes-harowing book was recently republished by the people at McSweeney's, God bless 'em.

A Frieze of Girls, by Allan Seager. Seager's fiction was celebrated in his lifetime but quickly forgotten after he died. These semi-autobiographical short stories -- set in bootleg-era Memphis, Ann Arbor, Chicago, New York, and Oxford -- are the obscure F. Scott Fitzgerald stories you've never read. Tremendous stuff, beloved by both proprietors of this site. I liked it so much that I've tracked down a used copy of Seager's most famous novel, Amos Berry.

Pete Miser. This past Friday I headed out to Mercury Lounge with blog pin-up Brian and his much-celebrated girlfriend, the Queen of 2005. We went to see Seattle soul group Maktub, but the highlight for me was Pete Miser, an Oregon-raised, Brooklyn-based Asian-American rapper. He put on a great show, and happily, his new album is available for download on iTunes. He's a touch like Digable Planets, but with hyperliterate, witty lyrics that cover subjects like office-life banality and the neediness of being an "emotional M.C."

Guero, by Beck. I didn't like the album much, but the songs jump into my head when I'm just walking around or in the shower. These songs are catchy, light, and kind of annoying. I think that I don't like the album, but then it gets in my head and I bounce around the apartment like a 6'2 Gummi Bear. Hence, I am frustrated, and say that you should purchase the album at your own risk.

Open Season, by British Sea Power. With a lot of shitty '80s-throwback bands garnering notice via overwrought bullshit, these guys are the real deal. Their song "Stand Up" would fit in perfectly in that scene where C. Thomas Howell, Ally Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall have a moment of gestalt marking the passage from adolesence to adulthood, and I say that in a good way. They're playing two sold-out shows at Bowery Ballroom next weekend. (I have a spare ticket for Sunday; if you want to tag along, e-mail me.)

Separation Sunday, by The Hold Steady. So, so, so good, it merits a stand-alone review, but I don't want to embarrass myself. Yesterday I listened to it five times back to back; dark lyrics about drug abuse, violence, fucked-up romance; a vocalist who sounds world-weary and sarcastic; great punch-in-the-throat rock riffs. Sounds pompous, but it's not. Like Neil Young's "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Down by the River," The Hold Steady tap into a heart of darkness and rock out. I am so in love with this album, it hurts. Tickets are still available to their May 19 show at the Bowery Ballroom.

What Comes After the Blues, by Magnolia Electric Co. Speaking of Neil, I found these guys through my favorite Neil Young site, Thrasher's Wheat, which compared them to a crunchy version of Crazy Horse. The comparison sort of stands up, especially in "The Dark Don't Hide It." Most of the album is a little too mellow for my taste (much like Neil's country-tinged work) but it's nice stuff to hear on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Black Sheep Boy, by Okkervil River. Falls somewhere between the subjects of the two preceding reviews -- dark lyrics with a gentler sound. I was very enthusiastic about this album until I stumbled onto The Hold Steady, which pulls off the trick a little better than Okkervil River. For whatever reason, their lyrics remind me of Faulkner's short stories.

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