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Get Back (Peter Jackson's Beatles Documentary)

If I didn't have, um, access to someone's Disney+ account, I wouldn't have paid much attention to this. Who needs another Beatles documentary? But I do have access, so I have watched part of it...and now I think, more or less, who needs another Beatles documentary? Or book, or re-master re-issue re-organization of their recordings, or collection of outtakes and scraps? 

If that sounds like I'm not really that much of a Beatles fan, I'd have to say "you're right." I admitted as much to a couple of people who said they had been glued to their TVs for the entire six (!) hours of the thing. Not me. I was bored after 45 minutes or so and stopped. then a day or two later went back and watched another hour. That still didn't finish the first of the three two-hour episodes. I will most likely eventually watch the rest, because it's somewhat interesting, and after all it is the Beatles. But it's not at the top of my to-do list.

When I say "not much of a fan," I mean "fan" in the sense of "fanatic." I do like the Beatles, and I do think their work is is one of the greatest achievements in popular music. But I don't revere them. Even back when they were an active band putting out new records, and I was young, I didn't hang on their every word or take them as gurus. If anyone had that kind of effect on me then, it was Dylan. And I had gotten over that by the mid-1970s. 

The movie does have a nice humanizing and demythologizing effect. If you've ever been in a band, or just in a group of people casually trying to play together, that first 45 minutes is pretty much the same thing: a bunch of guys sitting around playing bits and pieces of stuff, getting irritated, getting bored, trying to be funny, and so forth. It's just not very interesting to watch, even when I remind myself that they are going to end up with at least a few brilliant songs.

I guess I should back up a bit: this is basically a revisiting, at great length, of the Beatles' Let It Be documentary, released in 1970, covering the sessions that led to the recording of the album of the same name and to a rooftop concert. I saw it when it was originally released, and did not realize that it has mostly been unobtainable since then. It was, to me at least, not exactly an enchanting film. The group was falling apart--I think they had already broken up when the film was released--and the album was a mixed bag at best. Apparently a whole body of belief about the last days of the band grew up around that documentary: it was Yoko's fault, it was McCartney's fault, and so forth. The new one claims to provide a fuller and more accurate picture. Here's the trailer:

I will leave it to those who are more interested and knowledgeable to pick over what this film does or doesn't tell us about the breakup, the personalities, the relationships, the relative importance of musical contributions, and so forth. For what it's worth, my long-standing belief that McCartney was by far the most musically gifted of the group is confirmed. He also seems to be, at this point, the only one of the four who really wants to work, and to keep the band going. Watching him work out the title song is striking: he does it with just his bass, and if I'm not mistaken he's using the bass as a 4-string guitar--which of course it is, but typically it's only played one note at a time. McCartney seems to be strumming chords on it. I'm not a musician but I think that's pretty unusual. And of course he does it with perfect ease.

It also brings out something which I guess has been pretty obvious for a long time: by this point in their career, the songwriting had really declined. Both McCartney and Lennon sometimes seemed not to want to spend much time with lyrics. "Get Back" is great musically, and it has a great chorus, but the verses are throwaway. I'd say something similar about several of the other songs on Let It Be. "You can syndicate any boat you row". Whatever.

But if you are a real Beatles fan, you'll want to see it.


Surprise Symphony

I went to hear the Mobile Symphony on Saturday. There were three works on the fairly short program: Rossini's overture to The Thieving Magpie, Saint-Seans's Violin Concerto #3, and Mendelssohn's Symphony #4, known as "The Italian." I was slightly surprised to find that I recognized the overture--just slightly, not very. I knew it was one of those that gets played fairly often, and figured I had probably heard it on the radio somewhere along the way.

I did not recognize the violin concerto, and I quite enjoyed it. I will no doubt seek it out again. The violinist was Bella Hristova, and all I can say about her performance was that I enjoyed and admired it--there's some tricky stuff in there, as in most 19th century violin concertos, though something I read, maybe in the program notes, said that it's not as difficult as his other violin concertos. As an encore she played what I think was a movement from one of Bach's unaccompanied violin works, and I liked it as much as the concerto.

The surprise was the Mendelssohn. I've never gone out of my way to listen to Mendelssohn very much, though as the parent of a violinist I became very aware of the violin concerto. I figured I had heard the Italian at some point or other, perhaps a broadcast concert or something, but can't remember ever having actively listened to it. So I was very surprised when they struck it up and heard something very, very familiar. If I'd heard it without knowing what it was, I would have thought now which Beethoven symphony is that? I would have bet money that it was Beethoven, and I don't bet. Or perhaps I would have refused to bet, on the grounds that it wouldn't be sporting to bet on something where I was sure I was right.

So I'm puzzled. The rest of the symphony was as unfamiliar as the first movement was familiar. I'm wondering if the opening measures have been used as the theme of some movie or tv show. If anyone has any idea why it might be so familiar, I'd like to hear it.

Here's a performance of the entire symphony:

To tell you the truth, I didn't really listen very well to the rest of it, because I was so preoccupied with wondering about that opening.


Kompakt's Pop Ambient Series

Kompakt is a German electronica label which I think is mainly oriented toward the types of music that those of us who aren't into them lump together as "techno."  EDM, for "electronic dance music," is the preferred term, I think. Whatever you call it there are actually quite a number of sub-genres; see this Wikipedia article if you want to know more, and note that it includes links to information on sub-sub-genres. Do you know the difference between house and trance? I don't, even though I once read a few paragraphs of a music producer complaining, and illustrating his complaint with technical observations, that trance is boring in comparison to...I don't remember now, some other variety of EDM. But it was amusing because he spoke as if the two were as different as peanut butter and jelly.

Kompakt also produces some ambient electronica, which at first struck me as odd, since ambient music is typically tranquil, and the polar opposite of the frenetic hard-driving beat of dance music. But it actually makes sense. I think (I have no personal experience!) ambient music has some kind of place in the dance club world as a respite from the pounding music, reportedly played at industrial volume levels. A few years ago there was a controversy about a techno club in downtown Mobile. Although that area is described as an "entertainment district," there are also some apartments and condominiums, and if I remember correctly some of the residents got it shut down because of the very loud music. This was notable because there same area contains half a dozen or so clubs where rock bands play every weekend.

Anyway, since 2001 Kompakt has issued an annual anthology called Pop Ambient. Back when eMusic.com was the principal way I heard about and purchased (old-fashioned notion!) new music, I acquired a number of these: 2002 through 2016, to be exact. Every one is excellent, if you like this sort of thing. It's very static--there's no forward movement, as in normal music. It's all repetition and addition and slight variation. I was thinking about how to describe it and remembered Rob G's description of a trance (I think it's trance) track in one of the 52 Albums posts.

the musical development all happens vertically above the basic axis and not along it, so to speak. Sounds, instruments, and voices are added and subtracted in such a way as to propel the song to the next one, rather than to bring closure. 

That's really pretty accurate for Kompakt's ambient music, too. I haven't attempted to analyze any of this music in the way that Rob does, but it wouldn't surprise me if they aren't constructed with similar consistency (as opposed to the loose, drifting nature of much ambient).

Here's a track from the 2002 edition, the earliest one I have. Triola is the name of the artist, "Ag Penthouse" the title of the track (I don't know what the "Ag" means).

And here's one from 2020, "Urquell" by Thore Pfeiffer:

Without some indication one--well, at least most ones--would not be able to tell any basic stylistic difference over the 20-year interval. Which is a little bit amusing, since EDM seems to be a very trendy scene. At least a couple of the artists from the 2001 edition also appear on 2021. 

The graphics accompanying those tracks are the album covers. Every edition features a photograph of flowers somewhat like these, and that's very appropriate: I think of these pieces as being like pictures. The experience of listening to them is more similar to the experience of looking at a painting than is the narrative sort of movement that most music provides. Moreover, the flowers are a good visual analog of most of the pieces: gentle, delicate, graceful, beautifully colored. Also fitting is the fact that twenty such pictures are all obviously very different from each other and yet obviously very similar.

While looking for the post-2016 (post-eMusic) releases in this series, I discovered that Kompakt also puts out an annual anthology of their dance music. I listened to one--not very closely, just let it play while I was doing miscellaneous little tasks around the house--and rather liked it. That series is called Total, with a two-digit year: Total 21 and so forth. I think it's been running at least as long as Pop Ambient


Øystein Sevåg: "Cobalt"

A few days ago I was looking for a CD to play while I was doing some not-very-demanding software work--something more or less in the ambient vein, not too insistent on attention. I noticed this one, which I hadn't heard for quite some time, put it on, and very quickly wondered why I even had it. The first couple of tracks are a sort of slick rock-jazz-new-age-world-music hybrid and I started thinking that I should get rid of it. Toward the end it got better, and finally with this track I remembered why I had bought it in the first place.

The album is called Bridge, and it's by Øystein Sevåg. The jacket describes it as a "fusion of jazz, ambient, and world music elements with a classical dimension." It was released in 1997 on the Hearts of Space label, and I remember now that I bought it specifically because I had heard this track on the Hearts of Space radio show, which I used to tape faithfully every Sunday night (remember tape?). I recall even leaving my wife and/or children instructions about how to do it once when I was going to be out of town.

Much of the album is not to my taste and I wouldn't recommend it as a whole, but there are several tracks almost as good as this one, also featuring the violinist, who is the composer's wife, Maria Sevåg.


A Perfect Recording?

Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor Solo, Horn, and Strings, Op 21; Les Illuminations for Tenor Solo and Strings, Op. 18.
Peter Pears, tenor; Dennis Brain, horn; The New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Goosens. London LL 994

Clearly, the use of the word "perfect" requires some justification and explanation. What I mean is that this is great music, performed and recorded in such a way that I can't really imagine it done better. If you don't care for Britten's music, or for these particular pieces, then obviously this can't be considered a perfect recording. But I do like the music, very much. And the performances seem to me to be perfect in the sense of being ideally suited to the music. And the sound is about as good as one could expect for 1944, when this LP was issued; moreover, it has a living quality which can be absent from more technically sophisticated recordings. (It's from the Fr. Dorrell trove, by the way, described in this post.)

BrittenLesIlluminationsAndSerenade

Whenever I talk about classical music I feel obliged to note that I am no judge of performances. If it's devoid of obvious mistakes, I think it's ok. Still, I think this one is ideal, even though I suspect that someone really knowledgeable about singing might find some things to criticize in Pears's performance. I at any rate find his performance here very effective.

Is it great music, in the sense that, say, the Goldberg Variations are great music? Perhaps not. On second thought, in fact, I'll say no, I don't think it is. But I'll let critics of the future worry about Britten's place in the tradition. It's distinctly "modern," although not defiantly so; it demands no theoretical knowledge or an ear that's capable of tracking a twelve-tone motif (if that's the right word). What I mean is that it's accessible to me, and I think to anyone, in the sense that it isn't abstract--atonal and dissonant.

Les Illuminations is a set of prose poems (a dubious term, but never mind that for now) by Rimbaud. I was in a mild sort of way an enthusiast for his work in my youth. If I spoke French I might have been more enthusiastic, but at any rate I was drawn to his quasi- (or proto-) surrealist visions. Here's a sample, from "Cities," one of the pieces Britten sets:

Cities indeed! This is a people for whom those Alleghanies and Lebanons of dream were staged! Chalets of crystal and wood that move on invisible rails and pulleys. Old craters circled by colossi, and palm-trees of copper roaring melodiously in flames. Feasts of love resound, on canals that hang there behind the chalets. The hunt of chimes cries in the gorges. Guilds of gigantic singers flock among robes and oriflammes dazzling as the light on the summits.

Britten uses seven of these in his work, with a sort of refrain drawn from one of them, "Parade": "I alone hold the key to this savage parade." Fortunately I still have the New Directions translation that I bought when I was in college, and it includes the French. You really need something like that to fully enjoy the work, unless your French is good enough that you can understand the sung text. You can read the entire work in English at this useful site, Poetry In Translation

The other work, the Serenade, is also a setting of poems, this time in English and by several different poets. One of them, the poem of Tennyson which we know as "Blow, Bugle, Blow" is titled "Nocturne," but really the whole thing is a nocturne. The opening horn solo almost inevitably and irresistibly evokes sunset, and all the poems are related to evening and night. I haven't made up my mind yet which I like best (not that I need to), but I think most people would find the eerie "Lyke-Wake Dirge" among the most striking of the settings.

Thanks to YouTube, you can hear this work, and even hear this recording, so I don't need to try any harder to describe it.

(If you are reading this months or years after I posted it, you may well find that the video is gone. That's the way it is with YouTube.)


Martin Phipps: From the Soundtrack of The Crown

When I watched the series I was so struck by this segment that I went looking for the soundtrack. It's called "New Queen," with apparently semi-ironic intent, since it occurs at the end of Series 3, Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee.

I absolutely love that piece. I just wish it went on longer. There are other good things in the soundtrack but nothing grabbed me as much as this.

Here's the whole scene. I take it for granted that the series gives a picture in some ways false, but whatever might be said along that line, Olivia Colman's performance as Elizabeth is outstanding:


Stewart Copeland on Charlie Watts

I've never been inclined to mourn celebrity deaths, especially in cases like that of Charlie Watts, who died this week at the age of 80 after a long and spectacularly successful career--and I hope his private life was equally successful. But I certainly don't feel any sense of personal loss.

And anyway I lost interest in the Rolling Stones sometime in the early '70s. I remember once, in probably the late '70s, picking up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine (no relation) and reading a review of whatever Stones album had just been released. The reviewer said that the album showed that the group was "still at the forefront of our culture," or something to that effect. Maybe he said "leading edge" or even "cutting edge," terms that were not as hackneyed then as they are now. I remember thinking "Which culture is that? The culture of super-rich hedonists?" It sure wasn't mine.

I liked those early (i.e. the '60s) Stones albums quite a lot, but haven't listened to them for many years. As a matter of fact, the only time I can remember hearing the Stones in the last forty years or so, apart from the occasional song on the radio, was maybe five to ten years ago when I noticed one of their recent releases in the library and checked it out just to see if they were doing anything interesting. And after one listen I concluded no, they weren't. I am somewhat curious about the blues album they released a few years ago--I can imagine that being quite good--but I haven't heard it.

Still, the eulogies about Watts reminded me of something I read way back when, probably ca. 1970. It was a remark by a jazz critic, and he was probably discussing the fact that Watts began as a jazz drummer: "Somebody makes the Rolling Stones swing, and it must be Charlie Watts." That intrigued me because I sort of knew what he meant, but sort of didn't. That is, I recognized that something about the Stones' rhythmic feel was different from that of other bands, but I didn't know what it was. The rhythms seemed looser than (for instance) the Beatles, almost relaxed in a way, but yet intense and driving. They don't "swing" in a jazz way, but...they do.

And that faint leftover curiosity was what prompted me to listen to this four-and-a-half-minute clip of another famous drummer, Stewart Copeland of The Police, commenting on Watts. It's interesting, and the technical bit seems to describe the thing I heard.

I think a lot of people have an image of drummers, especially rock drummers, as Neanderthals pounding on things. In my experience drummers tend to be quite bright. On some level they have to be, unless they literally are just pounding, to keep track of the multiple interlocking rhythmic threads they generally have going on. 

Speaking of drummers: I have a Kindle Fire, the Kindle which is cheaper because it forces you to see Amazon advertisements. Now and then it offers me a free Kindle book, and it's usually not something that interests me, and anyway I don't often read books on the Kindle or any other electronic device. So I usually ignore these offers. But when it offered me the memoir Inside Out by Pink Floyd's drummer Nick Mason, I was curious enough to take it.

The book turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Mason is a bright and witty guy, and the book is a straightforward account of Floyd's history, pretty well devoid of sensationalism, modest, very down to earth, with a particular focus on the sheer logistics of the elaborate stage shows for which the band was famous. Worth a look if the subject interests you.


Laura Donnelly Sings Kate Bush

I ran across this when I was working on that Laki Mera post, and I love it. It's a rare instance of a cover that's neither a mere copy nor a complete transformation--not that there is anything wrong with complete transformation, if it works. Everyone who knows Kate Bush's music at all knows this song, "Running Up That Hill," which is on what most consider her best album, Hounds of Love. It's a very striking song, and Kate's voice was of course pretty spectacular back then, and the big arrangement, with lots of multi-tracked vocals, is very effective--the whole thing is just big, a movie on the big screen (although according to Wikipedia it's all done by five people, counting Kate). It sort of demands to be played loud.

Here Laki Mera make it intimate without really changing anything. Laura Donnelly's performance exemplifies what I like about her singing: it's soft but not weak, not overtly expressive but still somehow full of feeling. You might call it restrained in comparison to Kate, but it doesn't feel constrained. Instead of a cry of passion it's a gentle word, but the emotion is still there.

The song seems to be a sort of musing on the strangeness of the male-female difference, and the fact that neither can know what it feels like to be the other, in the sex act but not only there. 

If I only could
I'd make a deal with God
And I'd get him to swap our places

I guess I should include the original, in case you don't know it.

 


Laki Mera: Turn All Memory Into White Noise

I've been meaning to write about this album for well over a year now. When I first got the CD (thanks, Rob), I left it in the car player for a while, which meant that I heard it several times, but not very attentively. What with the distractions of driving and the interference of various noises, I always miss something when listening in the car--sometimes a lot, as my ten-year-old Honda Civic is not especially quiet. Now, having finally gotten around to writing about it, I thought I ought to give it a listen at home, partly to refresh my memory and partly to see what I'd missed. 

I'm glad I did, because I had indeed missed a lot. The album is even better than I remembered musically, and the quality of the recording is superb. There's a lot of electronically-produced sound on it, and modern recording equipment and techniques seem to be able to make that stuff seem enormously present. 

Partway through the first track, I jotted down an initial three-word impression: noisy melodic trip-hop. The first word, however, proved not very applicable to most of the album. The third...well, trip-hop, like all the subgenre terms in pop music, is pretty elastic, but this fits my idea, more or less, though it stretches the term pretty far. (Actually it seems to me that the implied connection with hip-hop is rather thin, but I'm pretty ignorant of that genre--you can read the Wikipedia article if you're interested in the background). It's not as dark as a lot of trip-hop. So I'll say bright melodic trip-hop.

The heart of the music is Laura Donnelly's warm, clear, even voice. I guess what I'm calling "even" is a matter of style more than equipment, but at any rate her singing has relatively little variation in intensity and volume, and that's not a criticism: it's very appealing, something of a warm-blanket effect. 

As with trip-hop in general, there's a mysterious atmosphere, which is enhanced by the lyrics, also by Donnelly. They're vague, prose-y (no rhyme or regular meter), but suggestive and affecting. The first track, "Come Alone", begins with this:

Come alone
Don't bring anyone inside who won't believe
The air pervades all things
Since we moved all of our things
I get confused
About which room I'm going into

That sort of bouncing back and forth between the dreamy and the down-to-earth is pretty characteristic of the songs. 

YouTube has made it seem like too much work to try to describe music in words. Here's the lovely "Keep Me Safe," the album's closing track. Several others have equally fine string arrangements--and they're real strings, not synths, which I casually assumed when I half-heard them in the car.

I also have the band's first release, Clutter, which is as good as this one. I have not heard their second, The Proximity Effect, but I soon will, as I'm going to buy it from their Bandcamp store when I've finished this post. Turn All Memory is their third and apparently final: it was released in 2013 and as far as I can tell there has been nothing else. (The title, by the way, comes from a Margaret Atwood novel which I have not read.) Laura Donnelly has a solo album, Let Your Listening Be Wide, which I also plan to sample, at least. 

P.S. Here's a better three-word description, from the band themselves: organic, emotional, electronic. From this interview.


John Darnielle: Universal Harvester

JohnDarnielle-UniversalHarvester2

John Darnielle, as you may know, is the principal in The Mountain Goats. In effect, he is the mountain goat, as the band seems to be (or at least to have been for some time), essentially a one-man project consisting of Darnielle and various accompanists. He's a brilliant (and astonishingly prolific) songwriter, and the great strength of his songwriting is in the lyrics. This is his second novel; I have not read the first, Wolf In White Van.

When a friend passed this book along to me after having read it himself and, if I understood him, not expecting to read it again, I wasn't sure that I would ever read it. Why not? Well, contemporary fiction is not my great interest, and I had low expectations, including the impression (of unknown origin) that it would be a whimsical, ironic, and gently humorous look at small and mundane things, somewhat along the lines of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone stories. I enjoyed those at the time, but the time was decades ago now, and I have not wanted to revisit them, and have no particular desire to read anything else of the sort. And--the strongest reason, I guess--the ability to write a good song is not necessarily accompanied by the ability to put words on a page effectively.

And I might well not have read Universal Harvester if the recent release of a new Mountain Goats album, Dark In Here, which I haven't heard, had not been the occasion of a conversation which resulted in my lending the book to someone else, and his reaction causing me to have a look at it myself.

I was not altogether mistaken in expecting something Keillor-esque. The story takes place in small towns in Iowa (their placement is significant, and a map is helpful). And the characters are small people, mostly young, limited in the scope of their knowledge and ambition. Set in the late '90s, it begins in a video rental store (the Video Hut) with a young man named Jeremy who is one of the two clerks who are the only staff apart from the owner. Jeremy is twenty-two years old and still suffering from the loss of his mother in an auto accident when he was sixteen. He lives with his still-grieving father; they get by, not knowing quite what to do with themselves. Jeremy is getting a little old to be working in a video store.

Much of the novel might be said with reasonable accuracy to be in Keillor mode. The people are portrayed with charm and a little irony, the ways of the place observed keenly, with a bit of humor and a distinct melancholy but no unkindness. But then it switches into another mode, a much darker one. Into the Video Hut one morning comes a girl named Stephanie, returning a tape, and hesitatingly, vaguely, telling Jeremy that something is wrong with it.

She didn't set her tape down; instead, she held it in her hand, chest-high, a little away from her body.

"There's something on this one" she said.

Jeremy thinks she's complaining about the movie (Targets, a 1968 movie in which Boris Karloff appeared, shortly before his death).

Stephanie looked a little blankly at Jeremy, measuring him, then said, "No, it's a great movie. I've seen it before.".... "It's the tape, there's something on it."

"I can credit your account," said Jeremy.

Stephanie put on her measuring face again and seemed to decide Jeremy wasn't going to understand. "No, it's fine," she said. "Never mind. Maybe tell Sarah Jane about it, though, OK?"

(Sarah Jane is the store's owner.) Jeremy puts the tape aside and forgets about it. A few days later another customer brings in another tape, with a similar complaint. Some days go by before anyone looks into the problem, but eventually Jeremy, Stephanie, and Sarah Jane have watched two of the tapes, separately or together, and what they find disturbs them. Spliced into the movies are bits of home video shot in what seems to be a barn or shed. In one case it's several minutes of nothing, just the empty place. Others involve mild violence, or near-violence: a hooded and silent figure doing odd, slightly demeaning things; a person or persons hidden under a tarp, seeming to struggle, and receiving several kicks.

More similarly modified tapes are discovered. Most of the interpolations aren't actually violent, but they're menacing, not only in their content but in their apparently random appearances in apparently random movies. Jeremy, Stephanie, and Sarah Jane begin to search for their source. Mixed with the deftly rendered personal stories and situations of these characters now is an element of dread: these scenes are real, and they do not seem to be staged, and they seem filled with dread, though nothing very dreadful actually happens in them.

So perhaps this is going to be a horror story, or a thriller. Then the tricksy stuff begins: the narrator intrudes on a scene to say that there is another version of it, in which this happens instead of that. Repeatedly the story walks up to what promises to be a revelation, then veers away to something else. There's a great deal--too much for my taste--of shifting around in time: something is about to happen, the scene shifts, and sometime later we learn something about the thing that was about to happen. All very cinematic--consciously so, I would guess, since movies are central to the story.

Eighty-four pages in, Part Two begins, and we are in the story of a woman who, a few days after Christmas in 1972, abandons her husband and young daughter to join a Christian cult. You'll note that there are now two instances of a lost mother.

The stories do come together, and I guess most of this back-and-forth, up-and-back movement lies in the general area of modern fictional technique. (Or is it post-modern?--I'm not competent to say.) But it becomes frustrating, in spite of the charm of the details, because (in addition to there being too much of it) too many questions remain unanswered. Or at least seem to. When I closed the book I felt annoyed that I still didn't know exactly what had happened. And then I wondered whether anything at all had happened: had I just experienced a far more sophisticated execution of the "it was all just a dream" trick that has always seemed to me a cheap one? I am not a fan of The Wizard of Oz.

Having pondered it a bit more, I think I do know what happened, though I'm not certain, and even if I'm right about the big picture there are still a good many puzzling details that I'm not pleased not to see cleared up. Moreover, I think one could construct an argument that is at least plausible that almost none of the narrative actually occurred. Ambiguity and subtlety are good things, but I think Universal Harvester may go a bit too far in those directions.

Still, I give it a qualified recommendation. There is much to enjoy, and a fair amount that is strongly moving. And perhaps you will catch on more quickly than I did; I was long ago forced to recognize that I can be somewhat thick. I'll give you one bit of advice: pay very close attention when the narrator says "I", or otherwise refers to him/her self.

In any case, there's no doubt that John Darnielle's gifts as a writer extend to fiction.