Monthly Archives: December 2011

Omnivore: New Year’s edition.

Well, it’s that time of the year(s) again.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading in dribs and drabs, filling up my time mostly with Beckett and Pessoa.

And I adore the two new Radiohead tracks, “The Daily Mail” and “Staircase”.

Happy New Year, everyone.



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Two obituaries.

British philosopher Sir Michael Dummett has died. [via The Guardian]

On his work, the Guardian says:

He did not see how we could understand a sentence without having some way of manifesting our understanding. And he did not see how we could manifest this without being able to tell whether the thought expressed was true or false. So the assumption that a given thought could be true or false even though we had no way of telling which – an assumption that Dummett called “realism” concerning the thought – was immediately problematical.

Sam Rivers, one of the great ’70s jazz figures, has also died at the age of 88. [via Pitchfork]

Below, he plays “Beatrice”.

[via YouTube]


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The Guardian’s year in paperbacks.

Hello, and welcome back. I hope you had a good Christmas weekend. It’s also the time of the season when all sorts of sites are putting up their best-of-the-year round-ups. Here’s the Guardian’s round-up of paperbacks this year, which I found interesting mainly because it has quite a bit of translated fiction. [via The Guardian] Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen all appear as well, but that’s hardly unexpected.


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Year in Music, Class of 2011

No, I don’t like lists. I don’t like making them (it’s a lot more work than it looks) and I don’t usually like reading them. Nevertheless, I find that a yearly music list is useful for remembering the year in culture given how much music actually gets released these days. It also gives you something to read during the Christmas break.

It’s not a best-music-of-2011 list and more of a favourite-music-of-2011 list. The idea, of course is that they should overlap in the right areas.

In an attempt to avoid some of my disagreements with the idea of lists, I’ve put my favourite albums on mine in no particular order except the alphabetical one. However, I’ve used a three-tiered system with a crappy academic metaphor in order to give a broad differentiation with regards to the music that I liked (Second-Upper!), the music that I loved (First-Class Honours!), and the music that was significant/important (in my view, of course) while being both of these things (Dean’s List!).

Right, let’s not waste time and get right into it.

Dean’s List

Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls

[“Vomit” via YouTube]

Eschewing the emotional complexity of Broken Dreams Club for something more direct and intuitive while also preserving the richness and thoughtfulness of the EP, Girls return with an album that furthers their enterprise in exploring the limits of the pop vernacular. Father, Son, Holy Ghost is both a statement that the band understand their own magic and one of the year’s highest musical achievements.

The King of Limbs, Radiohead

[“Bloom” via YouTube]

From the swirling and gigantic opener “Bloom” to the shimmering “Separator”, The King of Limbs unfolds within a carefully-devised two-part structure. The first is eerie, skittering, surreal, and ramps up the tension before the ethereal “Lotus Flower”. The second is restrained, rich, and melodic, unwinding the work of the first half into its resplendent conclusion. A divisive album among critics, but definitely one of the year’s great albums in my view.

Let England Shake, PJ Harvey

[“The Words That Maketh Murder” via YouTube]

Our history of violence isn’t a new topic, butit isn’t every day that it is handled with such maturity and grace. The pop music vernacular is perhaps supposed to be limited in scope and impoverished in expression, but as Polly Jean Harvey has (and in a different way, Girls have) shown, it’s capable of saying much more than it has a right to.

Strange Mercy, St. Vincent

[“Cruel” via YouTube]

Fresh, assured, catchy, and sometimes deeply unnerving, Strange Mercy negotiates a difficult tension between the more straightforward aesthetic pleasures of popular music and a highly complex emotional terrain with incredible dexterity. (And just listen to that guitar on “Cruel”.) I can’t wait to see what she thinks of next.

w h o k i l l, tUnE-yArDs

[“Doorstep” via YouTube]

When I first heard “Bizness”, it was something of a revelation. w h o k i l l is a brilliant conjunction of atonal melodies, complex percussion, and an inventive use of loop effects with a magnificent voice to top it off. But the album is far more than the sum of its parts, an endlessly thrilling creative journey that tackles themes of nation, society, violence, and ugliness.

First-Class Honours

50 Words For Snow, Kate Bush

[“Wild Man” via YouTube]

Like some of the other musicians on this list (Cass McCombs and the Weeknd), Kate Bush released two separate records this year. This second album of new material is striking, and sees the musician fully at ease with her own craft. Restrained, carefully balanced, and ultimately haunting, 50 Words For Snow shouldn’t be missed.

Anna Calvi, Anna Calvi

[“Suzanne and I” via YouTube]

In my own fiction, I had dreamed up a singer with a larger-than-life image, an immense stage presence, a darkly operatic take on rock music, and a hint of androgyny. Early this year, I discovered someone quite like her in Anna Calvi, and I’ve been in love ever since.

Biophilia, Björk

[“Crystalline” via YouTube]

Also a divisive record for the critics, Biophilia was touted as a multimedia art project during its release. Specific to the album, however, I am of the opinion that this is among some of the most beautiful music that Björk has produced. (This album was really close to making the Dean’s List, but I had to be picky, so it missed out very narrowly. Not that it’s any less of a brilliant album, though.)

Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes

[“A Shrine/An Argument” via YouTube]

It was difficult to imagine how anyone would construct a follow-up to the rather excellent and ambitious Fleet Foxes back when that first album surfaced. Not a problem. In Helplessness Blues, the band manages to sound new and exciting without dismantling the sound they had established in their debut. The result is memorable and grand, and a fine musical adventure.

Nuestra, La Vida Bohème

[“Radio Capital” via YouTube]

While technically released in 2010, this album gained traction on the international music scene only after its North American release in 2011. (A couple of award nominations certainly helped.) A delightful blend of the Ramones, the Clash, U2, and a whole host of other influences, their music is thrilling, danceable, and thoroughly entertaining.


Finally, a look at some of the other music that I enjoyed this year, but couldn’t quite find the space for above. Unfortunately, I can’t afford as much (ahem) real estate to these entries, but note that they’re all wonderful albums and you certainly stand a good chance of finding something to love in here. One man’s meat is another man’s wagyu beef.


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Third mixtape.

The Weeknd’s third mixtape (of the year, no less) has been released. Called Echoes of Silence, you can download it for free at the official website. [via The Weeknd]

And here’s “Initiation” from the mixtape:

[via YouTube]


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Faulkner’s recipes.

Somewhat in the Christmas spirit, here are recipes for William Faulkners hot toddy and mint julep. [via Maud Newton]


P.S. I’m not even sure if this goes under Literature.

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Writers and their bookshelves.

Pictures and text.

Including this very excellent quote from Jonathan Lethem:

People sometimes act as though owning books you haven’t read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there’s a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn’t given itself over to you yet — sometimes I’m the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be.

[via brain pickings]


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On Daniel Sada.

The Paris Review is running this marvellous piece on the late Daniel Sada. [via The Paris Review]

Roberto Bolaño considered Daniel Sada to be without rival among Mexican writers of their generation. Both were born in 1953. Bolaño spent his adolescence in Mexico, and even though some of his greatest novels and stories have Mexican settings, he never set foot there again after moving to Spain in his early twenties. I imagine that Bolaño must have relied, at least to some extent, on Sada’s novels—Sada’s perfect ear and exuberant re-creation of Mexican voices, the voices of the Mexican desert north especially—while writing his own Mexican masterpieces. Sada’s works were a polyphonic parade of voices, a Mexican cacophony: shouts, laughter, violent, lewd curses, sweet whispers, song.


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Interview with Dubravka Ugrešić.

Over at Kirkus, an interview with Dubravka Ugrešić. [via Kirkus Reviews]


Popular culture and cultural populism work two ways. Popular culture is a carrier of “old truths,” myth-like structures, and in this respect it’s always retrograde. But it’s also highly topical, engaged and relevant, because it works as a mirror. It reflects the obsessions, fears, dilemmas and frustrations of many people, transforming them into a pleasure zone, into our contemporary myths, into screens for our projections. Today’s popular culture boasts tremendous power because its consumers are no longer passive: thanks to technology, s/he is an inter/active participant. Technology gives the consumer a strong sense of communality and the power to change things. Whether it’s just a psychological trap, whether one really can change things or not, that’s another question.


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Rojak: Live act.

Rojak is a regular collection of assorted links as well as a bulletin summarising the week (or thereabouts) on this blog.


The New Yorker remembers Christa Wolf, who died earlier this month. [via The Book Bench]

Babar turns 80. [via The Telegraph]

On translating Thomas Mann. [via Time’s Flow Stemmed]

Gil Scott-Heron memoir to come in January. [via Consequence of Sound]

Consequence of Sound’s favourite live acts of 2011. [via Consequence of Sound]

The Guardian’s photography books of the year. [via The Guardian]



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