Music! If the Extra Glenns had given us nothing but the lyric “Our love is like Jesus, but worse,” their place in indie-rock Valhalla would be secure. But why not raid a few more monasteries and maybe get bumped up to first class? And so this week here comes the new release from the moderately renamed Extra Lens. I haven’t had a chance to give it a thorough listen since I’m chest-deep in indexing, so the quieter songs haven’t sorted themselves out yet, but that’s also because I’ve had “How I Left the Ministry” on repeat for the last 30 minutes. It is a 100% perfect piece of songcraft of the sort that should make most other, lesser songwriters stop, but probably won’t. Franklin Bruno contributes a chiming guitar that you at first think is ironic, given the protagonist’s compromised position: but then you realize that while you would probably regret doing what he did, he’s not so sure it wasn’t worth it after all. The final track, “Dogs of Clinic 17,” is a stand-out as well: a hyper-compressed version of the psych-ward drama in John Darnielle’s Master of Reality book, “Dogs” does a lovely sneaky thing near the end where the elegiac turns abruptly queasy, as the narrator reveals that the “light” that’s “in all of us” has begun “eating its way through me.” Because in a John Darnielle song, being born again is just as messy and painful as it was the first time around and he’s not going to let you pretend otherwise.
Oh yeah: I downloaded it so don’t have the liner notes, which I hear are, unsurprisingly, a treat. I have ordered the vinyl so will get to read them in 2-4 weeks!
Books! In anticipation of the Coens’ new adaptation of True Grit, I decided to read a little more Charles Portis. Not True Grit, of course, because I certainly don’t want to be that guy reading a book that is just about to be made into a movie. I have my pride. So I dusted off longtime shelf-sitter The Dog of the South. I’m having much the same reaction that I did to Portis’s conspiracy-theory farce Masters of Atlantis a few years ago: The books are funny as hell, and Portis is a master at creating characters who counterbalance their lack of self-awareness with an intense and unfounded faith in their own competence. But what’s funny for a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter seems curiously flat over the course of the whole novel—the plot isn’t that engaging, the characters aren’t getting any more or less deluded, and so on. This sounds like a harsher criticism than I really mean it to be—Portis’s narrative voice is strong enough to carry me along to the end—but ultimately I’d like chapter ten to be something other than a repetition of chapter one but with different jokes.