Essex County by Jeff Lemire


What a fragile lovely book. What beautiful art. This Canadian graphic novel about family, and hockey, and superheroes, has so much ambiance. It draws spidery lines in all sorts of different directions, making connections. The different characters tie back together, creating a whole. It’s saying something about the interconnectedness of family; how family can make us strong, but also be our weakness. It’s saying something about nation, and identity, and the heroes we watch on tv.

I’ve been trying to write about this for a while now. I read it months ago. It was incredible, and I don’t know what to say. I could read it again — it’s still sitting on the floor outside my bedroom due, long past due back to the library. It isn’t a long book at all, I could reread it in an afternoon, or just page through it for inspiration about what to say. I don’t want to crack the cover open. I want to leave it sit. I’m not ready to come back to it yet.

That I can’t quite pin down what’s in it’s magic is part of the appeal. It’s full of hidden things, about hidden stories, half forgotten histories. Really, you should read it for yourself and tell me what you think.


Him by Sarina Bowen and Ellie Kennedy

I had issues with this book, but it really worked for me as a romance novel. If I was in a mood to be critical there’s a lot I could dig into about the way bisexuality is presented. An outsider’s homophobia comes across as a hurried plot point in a weird way. There’s a half-acknowledged but still uncool misogyny of one the main gay character. Some of the stuff about how major league hockey contracts work is just… not correct, or at least not realistic, and there wasn’t a compelling plot reason for changing things. This book has issues.

But I still really enjoyed it? It was well paced, the characters had strong voices, and their feelings made sense. It works. The sex scenes were well placed and compelling. The ending was satisfying. What more are you looking for in a romance novel? It isn’t great, but it’s a pleasant afternoon’s reading.


Deerhunter – Fading Frontier

Deerhunter’s new album, Fading Frontier is a great soundtrack to washing the dishes when you can’t stop crying. I don’t want to get into it, but yeah. That’s verified truth.

According to my sweetheart, “It actually sounds like real music,” which is true. This is Deerhunter at their most domestic. It’s a very comfortable album. I’ve been enjoying it, top to bottom. But nothing off it has really captured me. Nothing feels transcendent or perfect or heartbreaking, and that’s too bad, because I know Deerhunter can do that. I still really like this album, they’re one of my absolute favorite bands, and this is absolutely solid. But it isn’t their best. There aren’t any absolute “wow” moments, just a whole album of good enjoyable songs.

I was struggling to explain why I find Fading Frontier lacking, and actually went back and listened to both Microcastles and Halcyon Digest for comparison. It might be something about the rhythm, the groove of the album as a whole. Fading Frontier ambles along quite pleasantly, but it never clicks into something really marvelous.

It’s a very comfortable album. That’s the word I keep coming back to: comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with comfortable, and after following Deerhunter and Bradford Cox, I’m happy there’s some comfort in their lives, but I’m not sure if that’s what I want from an album. Deerhunter are one of my favorite bands, they’re already comfort music to me, in all their odd shapes and tangents. I even found the ramshackle Monomania quite comfortable, in all it’s lo-fi garagey glory.

This is probably the Deerhunter album that my parents would object to the least, but I’m not sure if that’s a point in its favor. I have loved Deerhunter for their balance of experimental sounds and beautiful pop moments. I love them because they can surprise me. This album is downright friendly, which isn’t inherently bad, but strange.

Maybe I just need to listen to it more. Right now the songs are still indistinct, which could be because it’s a fairly unified album, but I could listen more closely. I could see this growing on me. I already enjoy it, maybe time will bring it to another level.

Greyback Bears Series by T. C. Joyce

Do you ever do things that you know you don’t really want to, and you don’t know why you’re doing it, and you know you could stop, there isn’t any reason to keep going, but you aren’t going to stop, even if you aren’t really enjoying yourself, and don’t understand what’s going on.

Yeah. I read all of the Greyback Bears books by T.C. Joyce. They aren’t very good. At all.

I have a buddy who’s in the romance novel business, and a while ago she was talking about werebears, which I just thought was an amazing concept, and I had to go exploring.

The first one is kind of fantastic trash? I like the lead because she reminds me of my best friend in a really weird way. The later ones getting increasingly muddled and repetitive. The third book had a moment where the heroine’s internal response to seeing her bear paramour’s dick is thinking “Holy maccaroni,” which may be a high point of the series in terms of sheer absurdity.

I can’t recommend these on any level, they’re terrible, but… They’re also something special? I read a lot, but nothing quite like this before.

place + specificity

theory: my appreciation of Kendrick Lamar is related to the specificity of place in his music. He is from Compton, making music about Compton, for people from Compton to listen to. The rest of the world is allowed into this relationship between artist/location because as an artist he is interested/invested in the explaining why this location means so much to him.

I like Drake best when he is acting as an avatar of the city of Toronto. Drake makes the specificity of “running through the 6 with my woes” into something transcendent. He invites the audience to see his city. I have mixed feelings about Drake the musician, but basically, he isn’t as interesting as Drake who wears old man sweaters to Raptors games, and is so Canadian he actually used to be on Degrassi.

Rap lends itself to specificity in place more than other sort of music. I’m not entirely sure why, but I know this is true. I think it might be because it’s spoken. It’s a conversation. The rapper is talking to the audience. There are a lot of words, a lot of chances to communicate.

I know there has been work done about hip hop and authenticity, but I’m not in the mood to find back the readings, and I don’t feel like I need academia to back me up here. Being real is an important quality in hip hop, or at least something to nod at. The emphasis on reality would naturally lead to a specificity of place.

It’s interesting that one of the only rock acts that I think of as being hyper specific about place is Lifter Puller. They’re a very talky band. Craig Finn says a whole lot of words. Also, they’re from my town. I get every place reference, I know every street. That’s one of my favorite things about Lifter Puller — a shared sense of space. These songs are about my city, and therefore more relevant to my life than songs about other places. I take the 21 bus home, listening to “Lake Street is for Lovers”, and I know exactly what they mean.

Or like, Atmosphere, “January on Lake Street.” I have been there. Every part of the video that isn’t shot on Lake is physically painful, and that so obviously isn’t January — where is the ice? Where’s the snow? I can say from personal experience that walking down Lake Street in January is not a lot of fun. That isn’t really the point of the song, really, I’m not super into that song, but it’s about my place, and that means something to me.

“Southsiders” tho— I’m a south mpls girl, “Southsiders” really means a lot to me. Here is music from where I’m from, talking to me. That’s pretty special.

The possibility of specificity leads to these weird moments of rupture, where things don’t quite line up right, or where there’s room to imagine something that wasn’t intended. Like the song “Bitter,” where Slug says, “You’re as cold as a river in the winter.” This line fucks me up. I had this song stuck in my head for a week solid when the single came out, and I couldn’t get over that line because he says “as A river” not “as THE river.” In the Cities it’s always THE river, it’s always the Mississippi. But I guess not right here, not necessarily. There was a chance for specificity, I expected it, and the absence still feels glaring in a weird way. It’s a little thing, but it bugs me.

That specificity, the shared sense of location, can add so much. “In Her Music Box” is such a great song, and there isn’t a ton of description, but he says it’s Lake Street, and because of that I have such a specific vision of where this story is taking place it only adds to the already rich story.

There’s a connection between me and this music and this place, which changes how I hear things, makes it richer. When artists who aren’t making music about places I know I’m still able to enjoy that sort of specificity. Music that’s grounded in a certain place brings more than just the music, but the setting too. It’s hearing a glimpse of someone else’s relationship to their location, which is something I really appreciate.

There are some bands that sound rootless, they could be from anywhere, sometimes even anytime. These are mostly not bands I’m crazy about. I like music with a sense of place, of character — music that is more than just itself, but a part of a world. Music that is located somewhere specific.

I could go on and on about this, about how Doomtree talking about Powderhorn makes my heart sing, about how some bands sound like New York City, and others sound like London, about how there are at least two different ways a band can sound like New Jersey. I’m not sure how this love of specificity in location connects to my love of Americana, but I’m sure it’s there. (Americana is dreaming of a specific imagination, using a common set of landmarks to gesture to a world that never really existed, and is mostly gone now?)

This started as an excuse to talk about Kendrick Lamar, because I really like talking about Kendrick Lamar, to the point that the people I talk to have gotten sick of it. Their loss.