Archive | December, 2012

Koi No Yokan by the Deftones

31 Dec


The Deftones have put out their second record in the last two years. What is this, the 90’s or something?

Famously, in the past decade, the Deftones have taken a good deal of time between releases. Their last release, Diamond Eyes, proved that they were still capable of writing a cohesive album that almost required a one-sitting listen to get the full effect. Not necessarily a departure in sound per se (not that they really need one since there’s a wide range of sound within their sound), Diamond Eyes seemed to be a shift in aesthetic. The front man, Chino Moreno, on more than one occasion expressed his disenchantment with the negativity that pervades a lot of alternative music. With their last release, he set out to do something different by painting interesting word pictures.

The album was meant to be a celebration of life, conveying emotions more complicated than simply happy vs sad. The album was beautiful and promising, but so brief.

Koi No Yokan sounds like the album that Diamond Eyes was preparing them for. There are some repeated ideas/melodies, but this is forgivable and probably necessary. As always, the song titles seem for the most part arbitrary, as though someone went through after everything else was done and wrote random phrases and words for the track listing. A nighttime, wintery sort of listen, the album opens with ‘Swerve City,’ hardly challenging, post-punky and light-hearted, before sinking into the more nuanced, textured ‘Romantic Dreams.’ Of course, what would the record then be without a couple songs to prove that the band is still quite noisy? ‘Leathers,’ ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘Goon Squad’ wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on Around the Fur.

One thing the Deftones seem incapable of is coming out with an uninteresting single. Their first, ‘Tempest,’ (incidentally one of the longest tracks on the album) is as challenging as anything from White Pony while far more textured and atmospheric. ‘Gauze,’ very reminiscent of ‘Risk’ and ‘976 Evil’ from their last record, serves as a slow, draining bridge to, arguably, the most powerful track on the album (if picking a most powerful is possible), ‘Rosemary.’  The Album concludes as it began, on a light note, with ‘What Happened to You?’ a song that could easily have been written by The Cure.

Speaking of The Cure, one must speak of roots. While the Deftones’ ancestors have always loomed somewhere in the background of their music, they now seem to have pulled their influences with more deliberation to the surface with a master’s precision. Shed for the most part of their early hip-hop influence, they’ve reached back further to their hardcore punk roots while alternating seamlessly into synth-pop soundscapes. On whole, the album has a much bigger sound and more ambitious spirit than Diamond Eyes. It’s just as cohesive as White Pony but far more uplifting and lighthearted. It’s just as noisy as Around the Fur but far more mature in theme and multifarious in tempo.

Had the album come out after White Pony, it certainly would have been considered a staple of their career. Now, however, we get to experience it as the perfect eventuation of a comeback that started with Diamond Eyes after the structural duds that were their (forth) self-titled record and (fifth) Saturday Night Wrist. One can’t help but think, upon listening to this record and the last that they are just now beginning something in their career even bigger than what they’ve accomplished so far.


Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow – A Review

17 Dec


After being the first writer to really introduce us to the American Jewish voice, Saul Bellow took this occasion to change things up and offer us a Gentile voice. Henderson the Rain King is a perfect example of why Saul Bellow is perhaps the most serious of comedic writers. His love of language flows through our restless, yearning narrator, Eugene Henderson, an aristocrat dissatisfied with life and forever chasing a voice inside of him screaming, ‘I want! I want! I want!’

One probably wouldn’t guess, had they not read The Adventures of Augie March, that for this book, Bellow was trying to ‘tone down’ his linguistic acrobatics. Henderson, though big and brutish, though sometimes childish and quick to speak, is not only capable of thinking complex thoughts, but squeezing them through the filter of his simple language and still managing to be musical. Henderson often reads like the thinking man’s Hemingway, or like a comedic prequel to Heart of Darkness with Henderson himself as some sort of goof-ball Kurtz.

This book is a coming-of-age tale, if you’re still allowed to use that term for a story about a man in his late fifties. After deciding that he wants to start living his life, he does what any of us would do—He flies to Africa.

Having parted ways with his wife, Lily, Henderson hires a guide named Romilayu, who takes him to the village, Arnewi. He meets the leader of the village, Itelo, with whom it seems customary to have a wrestling match, whether as greeting or as a test of strength. Throughout the narrative, there’s a peculiar shame that Henderson expresses over his own immense physical prowess. When beaten by Henderson, Itelo shouts, ‘I know you now!’ to which Henderson responds:

I couldn’t say what I felt, which was: ‘No, no you don’t. You never could. Grief has kept me in condition and that’s why this body is so tough. Lifting stones and pouring concrete and chopping wood and toiling with the pigs—my strength isn’t happy strength. It wasn’t a fair match. Take it from me, you are a better man.’

Henderson’s monstrous drive and need for purpose finds a temporary channel when he learns that a plague of frogs, which they consider a curse, has visited their river. Having failed to rid them of the plague, he and Romilayu travel on to the village of Wariri. It is here that he is introduced to strange games of social humiliation: They put a dead body in a room next to where he and Romilayu are meant to stay the night. He goes to move the body only to find it moved back to the house again later.

The novel is packed with symbolism, which it would seem that Bellow didn’t want us to read too much into, if we’re to take him at his word in an article he published shortly before the book came out about the danger of gleaning the meanings of symbolism. The novel is packed with Africa, which scandalized people who thought the subject matter was far too serious to take lightly as an imaginative exercise requiring little research. In an interview with the Paris Review, Bellow said that too much research for such a subject would have blunted his imagination.

What is it he imagines? He gives us a wild Waririan ritual filled with dancing, animals and warriors. At one point, Henderson is challenged by the King Dhafu of the Wariri people to move one of their statues with his strength. Succeeding, and being the only one who can lift it, he unwittingly earns the title ‘Sungo,’ which is a rain warrior.

Honor, granted to him by King Dhafu, is almost more than poor Henderson can bear. Our narrator spends a great deal of time telling us of his restless and confused headspace, but at the end of the day, he seems to be quite a simple character. His immense bravery is matched by immense cowardice. As King Dhafu beckons him to come near his lion as a test of courage, Henderson goes as far as to shed tears for the ‘richness’ of the situation.

It is a very lion-riddled book. Our introduction to the lion is a situation just as rich as our introduction to the bald eagle in Augie March.

From this darkness came the face of the lioness, wrinkling, with her whiskers like the thinnest spindles scratched with a diamond on the surface of a glass.

If we try to get too much into the symbolism of animals featured heavily in western novels, we say too much to arrive at the simple fact that something is being said about power beyond man and a sort of associated majesty. As for the Wariri people, they have a very specific mythology concerning lions. King Dhafu explains to Henderson that Wariri witches have congress with bad lions and that the resulting children are dangerous. ‘This is peculiar,’ Henderson says.

The gentile Henderson assures us that he is a man filled and wrought with grief at every turn. He prays:

‘Oh you … Something,’ I said, ‘you Something because of whom there is not Nothing. Help me to do Thy Will. Take off my stupid sins. Untrammel me. Heavenly Father, open up my dumb heart and for Christ’s sake preserve me from unreal things…’

Bellow hasn’t quite fooled this reader, I’m afraid to say. We’re meant to believe, especially after Augie, that mere suffering on some unexplainable emotional level is something to take issue with, if we’re to follow and sympathize with Henderson, who, despite his narrative congeniality, seems to suffer constantly, though we’re only led to believe this because he says so.

Lions, lions, loyalty and lions. Whether the lions are incarnates of the souls of dead kings or whether American gentiles are secrete heirs to the Wariri thrown, Bellow is determined to create a context in which he can throw such lines at us as, ‘It’s love that makes reality. The opposite makes the opposite.’

Desire seems to feature strongly in Bellow’s early formative work. Yet there’s something fundamentally different about this book and Augie. In Augie, we’re made to feel that our main character is stalling, that his passions and life-hungers have little to do with what is expected or even with some definable personal goal, especially in the last pages. However, in Henderson, we’re presented with a character who is unabashedly goal-oriented; a character who cares so much about results and the tragedy of his failures that he’s willing to steak his whole sense of identity on them.

And, similar to Augie, we’re left with Henderson vocally acknowledging the virtues of maintaining a positive outlook, though in Henderson’s case, the circumstances seem much gloomier.

In the end, we’re left to conclude that spirit, rather than sets of measurable philosophy, is what’s most important in Bellow’s early work.  

Other Posts

Paekomonoculus: A Novella by Shane Eide out now