IR can’t wait to read your sound & place writing for our Summer 2020 Soundscapes Folio! Here’s what we’re listening to right now, with some tasteful book pairings:
Mariah Gese, Editor in Chief
I recently finished Kraken by China Miéville, and I haven’t been able to escape the London he evokes—filled with cults, horror, grime, and fear, ever since a taxidermied giant squid vanished from London’s Natural History Museum. A cult of cephalopod worshipers are the suspected culprits, and since their foretold doomsday approaches, London’s magical underworld fears this apocalypse may be the real thing. A war erupts in an effort to stop—or bring about—the end of the world. Chelsea Wolfe is the perfect haunted accompaniment, and a great seasonal mood. Her voice moves between soft flutters and guttural screams of noise, propelled by a doom metal drum line to…The End.
Alberto Sveum, Associate Editor
Whether withering in the sun, finding solitude in front of the television, or asking garden slugs about how they view sociability, Snail Mail’s 2016 EP Habit is constantly balancing both lethargy and fervor. The opening track “Thinning” exemplifies this quite well. While the lyrics are about sickness and a desire to remain languid, the pop of the snare drum and the recurring guitar riff, somewhat reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s “Incinerate,” punctuates “Thinning” with a driving purpose. Lindsey Jordan’s whirring chord progressions and raw vocals, mellow and atmospheric, are present all throughout the six-song stretch, but nowhere do these tunes turn dull or cliché. “Static Buzz,” for example, dwells in a feeling something like sinking, before the drums pick up and Jordan cries out until the song’s end. Though Habit is largely an exploration of coming-of-age monotony and introversion, Snail Mail deftly proves that this does not mean the music needs to be tedious or alienating.
Prada knockoffs, Niles from Frasier, privilege. All of this and more makes up the absurd cultural and political landscape that Carmen Giménez Smith sets her sights on in her poetry collection Cruel Futures. Giménez Smith wields irony much like we see in Habit; rather than couple ennui with gain-laden guitar riffs and drum fills, however, these poems approach the absurdity of our current epoch with a critical eye, co-opting pop culture references to offer scathing assessment of where we are. She writes in the title poem, “We’re so not-naughty, so tweet-missiles against injustice, but smiling / on the outside, waiting to pay dearly, subject to change.” Cruel Futures forces the reader to stop and think about where they are and to turn the corner, away from comfortable pacification, into the tumultuous world.
Soleil Davíd, Poetry Editor
I’m currently teaching Sarah Gambito’s Loves You in my poetry class, and it’s a sardonic, jubilant collection that utilizes recipes—most of them Filipino food recipes—to complicate, contemplate Filipino/Filipino-American identity, postcoloniality, immigration and family, with the consumption of brown immigrants in this country a definite hum in the background.
The poem “Cento: Don’t Eat Filipinos!” uses a Wikipedia article on Filipinos—a sweet snack food sold in European countries, including Spain, which colonized the Philippines for more than 300 years—to make this hum a shout, metaphor turned literal.
Gambito follows the poem with “My Husband’s Lychee Macarons” a recipe-poem that begins with the missive, “Instead of eating Filipinos, make these and enjoy.” The six-page poem details the gargantuan task of making French macarons from scratch, concluding with instructions to serve the infamously temperamental dessert to a theme song of the reader’s choosing. The speaker has recommendations, including Madonna’s “Get into the Groove,” David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” I love those three songs, and can definitely see myself waltzing into the dining room with a tray of macarons in my hands. But I think I’ll choose The National’s “All the Wine,” to pair with Loves You, because they both capture an inflated sense of accomplishment, a touch of mania that barely covers a sense of utter desolation.
Jenna Wengler, Fiction Editor
While Flynn’s other novels (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl) get more attention thanks to their hit screen adaptations, Dark Places is perhaps even harder to put down. As the novel explores rural America and the Satanic panic of the 1980s, protagonist Libby Day must excavate her long-avoided past in order to solve the cold-case behind the murder of her mother and sisters. Not only does Halsey’s “Control” feel like the perfect moody backdrop for Dark Places, the lyrics echo many of its driving questions: Who should we be afraid of? How do we grapple with the darkness inside ourselves? And who is in control of the narratives that shape our lives?
L. Renée, Nonfiction Editor
The first few seconds of Lianne La Havas’ “Lost & Found” opens with a single piano that I imagine is played in a low lit, cavernous room. At second five, a bass drum knocks on the door of this room and a few delicate acoustic guitar strings answer. The strumming blossoms into the kind of woe that only a shattered heart recognizes as its shadow. Everything, in fact, about this song plays with light and dark. The instruments, paired with haunting vocals, swell and contract. They labor in concert, imploring the listener to face that ever-swinging pendulum between shame and need in the absence of an intimate partner.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ Lighting The Shadow does much of the same, breathtaking work in poem after poem. The collection traverses immense landscapes of trauma, grief and desire, as well as the determination to survive one’s physical and spiritual losses. Repeating images of fire, light and ash are juxtaposed with skin, flesh and blood. “Lighting the shadow, a woman/ crawls out beneath her own war” because, after all, she must persist. Otherwise, as the speaker asks in “The Dead Will Lead You,” “Who will embalm our bones?” This was one of the first books of poetry that both astounded and confounded me in the best way — stripped of artifice, I was frighteningly made visible to myself. Lost and found.
Austin Araujo, Prize Editor
I just finished Saidiya Hartman’s latest, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, and am still working to gather coherent thoughts about it. Hartman writes beautifully and rigorously, and capably wields both wide and narrow looks at the lives of black women in Philadelphia and New York at the turn of the 20th century, using the scraps and periphery of archives of that time period. What excites me most about the book, and what makes it hard to be in conversation with, is the manner in which Hartman manages to hone in on particular romantic relationships and carefully consider each aspect of their struggles while smoothly transitioning into an exploration of how what some might consider romantic failure is actually a “revolution in a minor key,” as Hartman writes. It’s a book curious about untangling just how much our notions of what tenderness and the erotic can be are tied up in structural white supremacy and patriarchy, and how black women in particular have suffered and thwarted it.
The song that most often soundtracked that reading experience was Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby,” from his 1972 record Talking Book. Basically, it concerns the speaker’s worry that their baby has someone else, namely the speaker’s best friend. Melding lament with a funk groove that rides for almost seven minutes, “Maybe Your Baby,” culminates with a guitar solo that articulates a similar sort of sorrow that Hartman gets at in Wayward Lives, one entrenched in a dread that love is doomed but that one can still push up against it, can outlast that fright. Listen, at least, to this song for its funky synthesizers.