Two Worlds, One On Each Shoulder

Two Worlds, One Kurt Vile.

Two Worlds, One Kurt Vile.

Last month, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Kurt Vile released his latest and, I would argue, strongest single: “In My Time.” I haven’t always bought into the hype surrounding Vile, but his hazy classic rock atmospherics are put to great use this time out.

Kurt Vile – “In My Time”

Give the song a listen and, if you feel the need, pick the 7″ up via Matador Records today.

How Every Fool Can Play Upon the Word! [1]

William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a fascinating dilemma of a play. The rather heavy themes of bigotry and prejudice often belie the play’s comedic designation. Enhancing this weight is the wealth of biblical allusion found within the play. Shakespeare so imbues The Merchant of Venice with appropriations from both the Old and New Testaments that it is thoroughly difficult to understand the play in any way other than in theological terms. As a result, we are left with a play littered with allusions, each referent as semiotically charged as the next. Steven Marx, author of Shakespeare and the Bible, goes so far as to claim that “The Merchant of Venice contains more biblical allusions than any other play by Shakespeare” (Marx 104). This has made the play a frequent target of interpretation by historically orthodox exegetes. Recent times, though, have seen a rise in approaches by more hermeneutically imaginative scholars. As a result, the critical landscape has been besieged by readings both daring and conventional, each vying for legitimation by a return to the source of Shakespeare’s appropriations: the Bible. The result is, itself, a rather peculiar dilemma in which the scholar and critic makes a biblical appropriation to defend his or her own interpretation of Shakespeare’s biblical appropriations. With so many critical perspectives, each vying for dominance, how is it possible for new readers to approach such a play? My answer would be: with a fair amount of suspicion. It seems possible, in fact, to read The Merchant of Venice as a type of warning against biblical appropriation (or, at the very least, misappropriation), a warning that, perhaps, foresaw the interpretive battlefield that we now have before us.

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A Year in Review: Of Music and Midpoints

Records, Summer 2010

My Spoils of War

So, I claim this blog won’t be a masturbatory exercise and then I commit the self-aggrandizing cardinal sin of list-making. What can I say? With the month of July already winding to a close, it seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at the music that 2010 has offered us to date.

This year has seen an almost overwhelming amount of quality releases, including new long players from many of my favorite recording artists. My top picks (with audio of the year’s best singles) after the jump…

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Jean Paul Sartre and the Anti-Social Novel

According to the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin, novelistic prose is fundamentally social in nature. Bakhtin’s groundbreaking essay, Discourse in the Novel, proposes that the novel “is a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech and voice,” (1Bakhtin[1], 261). These different styles and different voices, found within the prose, give a novel its social significance. “The speaking person in the novel is always, to one degree or another,” Bakhtin contends, “an ideologue, and his words are always ideologemes. A particular language in a novel is always a particular way of viewing the world,” (1Bakhtin, 325). Bakhtin’s concept of the novel, then, becomes the ideal forum in which these various ideologemes can engage in active discourse with one another. If this social function is the defining characteristic of a successful novel, though, then where do we find ourselves with a work such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea? Sartre’s existential novel is, by its very nature, utterly insular and completely subjective. From the style employed to the idea-hero portrayed, Nausea comes across as a decidedly anti-social narrative. We would be remiss in excluding the piece from Bakhtin’s classification of the novel, though. In fact, the way in which Sartre’s novel handles both its social heteroglossia and its various individual voices proves to be quite significant (1Bakhtin, 264). Ultimately, though, for a piece as seemingly self-indulgent as Nausea, a Bakhtinian reading may create more questions than it does answers.

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Charlie Chaplin

When Charlie Chaplin died, his hair turned dark
and thick as a pack of Venetian thieves,
his old skin painted so white that the light
could pool within the hollows of his face.

His eyes were floodlights, just like God’s eyes,
and they shone brightly through the sepulcher.
I recall that when his tomb was sealed,
his casket shuttered like an aperture.

If he had seen the way he had been lit,
I bet Chaplin would spin within his grave.
“Still, the show goes on…” I thought I heard him say;
“Shall they remember you differently?”

The Cryptic Cartography of Maps & Atlases

Maps & Atlases – “Solid Ground”

I get so over-inundated with new music these days that it can be hard for anything to make much of an impression. Fortunate for me, then, that I was able to catch Chicago’s Maps & Atlases opening for Frightened Rabbit at the Southgate House a few months back.

It’s a very special thing when an opening act is actually able to cut through the mindless chatter and eager anticipation at a club and unexpectedly connect with an audience, but Shiraz Dada (bass), Dave Davison (guitar/vocals), Erin Elders (guitar), and Chris Hainey (drums) won over more than a few new fans that evening. I spent some time with the band after the show, put their You and Me and the Mountain EP into heavy rotation on my turntable, and eagerly awaited their Barsuk Records-released debut LP, Perch Patchwork.

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Breaking Things With Blake Mills

Blake Mills

Blake Mills – “Hiroshima”

Little known fact: Dawes’ North Hills was one of 2009’s finest albums… and one of the best debut LPs I’ve heard in the last five years. North Hills certainly didn’t break any new ground, but it most definitely accomplished exactly what it set out to do, song after stunning song.

But this post isn’t about Dawes. No, this post is about Blake Mills, former member of the pre-Dawes outfit Simon Dawes. Blake’s been busy enough in recent years that he should’ve popped up on my radar before now: stints supporting Band of Horses, Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas, and Cass McCombs have honed the dude’s song-writing sensibilities to something damn near perfection.

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