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Monday record review 4/30/2012: "New England," by the Stoves.

You gotta be really smart to be this dumb. The Stoves have it in spades, this dumb, even before you hear a note of their album New England: titles like “Let’s Do It,” “(I’m) Violent,” and “Only Hard” greet you from the album cover. You know what you’re getting.

And damn, it’s refreshing. Seriously: the basest elements are what drives rock music. The urge to just thud along to a four / four beat and yell along with everyone else is what keeps music going, the communal experience of it. All these bedroom recording projects are well and good, but the live setting remains the most important aspect of delivering music. The immediacy is amplified by catchiness: the function of a pop song, after all, is to get stuck in one’s head so said one needs to buy the record and play the damn song to purge the pop. Then, since the record has been purchased, you have to listen to it again. And in that live setting, the first time around, if you know how the chorus goes by the end of the song then something is being done right, right?

I’m Sick

Like I said, the Stoves are really dumb: by the end of “(I’m) Sick,” a first-time listener knows how the entire song goes, and is laughing along the entire time. Is there a tacit agreement between the band and the audience that the whole thing’s tongue-in-cheek? Why, no. Not at all. They are sick of your shit. They do have a pen pal. Farm donkeys do look like horses. These are guys who grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons and lamenting Canadian hockey’s move to the South. Their songs return them (and, by proxy, their listeners) to a simpler time, before jobs and mortgages and kids, when the roll of a twenty-sided die or a game going to double overtime (pre-shootout rules, dawg) were the most important events of the day. And the agreement between the band and the audience to forget about politics, interest rates and all the rest in favor of returning to that simple time is what allows their transcendence: hey, let’s all just be in the same place in the same time for a while. Their enthusiasm and energy are immediate and infectious. The songs make you forget everything in your world but for butterfly knives and well-aimed pees.

Farm Donkey


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From 'The Noise,' 3/1/2012

A Review of Hidden Wheel
A novel by Michael T. Fournier
(Trade paperback; Three Rooms Press, 2011.)
By Francis DiMenno

This is an intriguing fiction by the author of the 33 1/3 series monograph on the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. It is a short novel which is, in essence, a mock biography of two artists. Of course, nearly all fiction is a form of mock biography. But, ultimately, a novel is also a machine for explicating a philosophy. Hidden Wheel might be of particular interest to fans of Philip K. Dick, and/or Don DeLillo (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Devotees of Dick’s dark, dystopic works such as The Man in the High Castle and A Scanner Darkly would be likely to relish the author’s narrative strategy, a series of brief, skillfully arranged, quasi-documentary chapters in which the story of an eclectic arts scene is reassembled from the point of view of a chronicler writing centuries hence. Admirers of DeLillo novels such as Great Jones Street would likely find an affinity in the subject matter of Hidden Wheel, with its wide range of arts world characters, each one concisely sketched.

Protagonists include the dipsomaniacal Max, a half-reformed graffiti artist turned gallery pro, and Rhonda, a semi-reclusive chess prodigy with a sideline as a dominatrix-for-hire who spends her life assembling fewer than a dozen enormous, autobiographical canvases. The side cast includes a tax-dodging old-money gallery owner and “micro visionary” named Ben Wilfork; a scene-making editor of an arts magazine who calls herself Lara Fox-Turner; Bernie, a drummer reduced to taking some very odd jobs in order to buy a new kit; and Amy, a fading bass player still trading on her one-time affiliation with a widely revered (and wildly reviled) novelty act called Dead Trend.

The broad theme of the novel seems to be the evanescence of artistic endeavor in a digital age–and the central narrative revolves around the respective fates of Max, the prolific and obsessively self-promoting minimalist, vs. Rhonda, the prodigy-genius whose lifespan-encompassing works take place on a far greater canvas. Max, the artist who floods the market with lazy, derivative work, considers himself a trendsetter to the very end. Rhonda, the capital-A Artist, is an ideological purist who is imperious and cold. The methodology of the novel partially mirrors its theme: the story is told with an ingenious collage of narrative techniques which in part replicate the subject matter.

Yet for all of its narrative inventiveness, this is also a novel which is grounded in the real world. Particularly interesting is its exposure of all manners of scams: self-promotion in the digital age; the marginally scrupulous business practices of arts promoters; the inside machinations of the media and its star-making machinery; and the venal strategies employed by corporate majordomos to promote dubiously “hip” brand extensions. But this is also a philosophic novel which gives the reader insights into the nature of the creative impulse; as such, it ought to be required reading for that class of artisans who also consider themselves cognoscenti, members of a select tribe known to marketers as “influentials.” This novel would also be of interest to those who want to know more about how such people operate and what really makes them tick. Hidden Wheel is not so much a hipster manifesto as a dissection of hip–we might even be talking about a new genre here, “meta-hip.” Three Rooms Press is an eclectic publishing house which has made a shrewd investment in what may well become an influential and pioneering literary work.