Album review: “Coexist” by the xx

by Lauren Staten—The common question, is there sound when a tree falls but no one is there to hear it, is answered by the unobvious duo of Romy Croft and Oliver Sim.

The XX released their second album, Coexist, on September 10th, and I’m one of the few who saw this tree falling.

This album was no surprise after the first, and no disappointment. Croft and Sim keep you hanging on to every word with their slow, minimalist approach. It’s easy to picture the two sitting in an all black room with their instruments, naked, raw, pale and intent on the unusual songs. As Sim says in one of the songs, it’s “the things that no one else says.” The etched mutterings of Croft and the smoother tones of Sim is a deadly combination.

It feels like wooden souls that are being carved out in front of the listener. Painful and torn, elegant and soft. They have ventured some since the first album, applying some modern undertones to their songs; using less xylophone. But it remains familiar to their common “Basic Space” tune.

The alternative artists created a sophisticated album that is timeless. An album containing tracks that can be used in so many places. Simply painful, yet effortless. Scenic sounding. Like when a tree falls and no one hears it.

This album has the potential to startle so many when they walk upon the strewn branches.

The Host: a Review

“The fight for your world has ended. The battle for your future has begun.” Look out, fans of the Twi-verse, because Stephenie Meyer has another hit coming up fast and hard. In Meyer’s novel The Host the threat is no longer warring vampires and werewolves, but aliens. No, not the squishy little green guys the mainstream has had us come to expect, but an enemy so powerful they take over the world with humans none the wiser. To live in a world where aliens with human skins called “Souls” outnumber the natural born humans and any second could be your last as a free being would be a living nightmare. This is Melanie Stryder’s reality. In an attempt to save her aunt and cousin who are hiding in Chicago, Melanie is ambushed by a group of Souls and is implanted with a Soul named Wanderer. Unlike the other human hosts, Melanie refuses to be pushed aside and slowly fade away. After Wanderer witnesses Melanie’s memories, she and Melanie form an unlikely partnership as they set off to find the humans they have both come to love.

This novel has all the elements we’ve come to expect from Meyer: action, adventure, and an impossible love triangle. Once again Meyer has pulled these elements into an entertaining thriller that makes us believe that love truly can conquer all. I highly recommend everyone, Meyer fan or not, to put aside your opinions of the Twi-verse and dive in. For those who want to visually dive into yet another Meyer world, you’re in luck. On 29 March 2013, the takeover begins as theaters across the country release the movie adaptation to the masses. So grab a copy and prepare yourself for the takeover.

Surviving the Khmer Rouge: a Review of a memoir by Loung Ung

First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is the first of three memoirs written by Loung Ung describing her life during and after the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.  Between the years of 1975-1979, an estimated 1/5 of Cambodia’s population was killed as a result of the Khmer Rouge.  Ung tells her story from the point of view of her five-year-old self.

At the beginning of the memoir, Ung is a member of a large, close-knit, middle-class family.  When the Khmer Rouge invade Phnom Penh, where Ung and her family were living, all of her comfort and privilege is stripped away.  Over the next few years, Ung suffers through starvation, separation from those she loves, her training as a child soldier, and the devastating deaths of her family members.

Ung’s memoir is a harsh, heart-breaking tale of a time in Cambodia’s history when strength and hope were essential.  She captures and holds her audience’s attention by telling her story, not as though she is recalling a memory, but as though she is living the event at the present time.  Though the memoir is centered around the Khmer Rouge regime, First they Killed My Father is, at its heart, the intimate story of a young girl whose strength made her a survivor.

An Eager Listener’s Thoughts

Another beautiful piece of art has emerged from a simple barn in Illinois. Andrew Bird’s self-recorded new album, “Break it Yourself,” was released to the public on March 6, 2012. From the album art, to the intricate well-written songs, Bird’s new album is a wonderful piece of art that should be listened to and celebrated by music-lovers.
Although Bird’s new songs contain his iconic whistles and violin-plucks, the overall mood of the album seems less mellow and more energetic than his previous “Weather Systems” and “Armchair Apocrypha.” The vivacious musical details that fill his songs on “Break it Yourself,” provide a refreshing experience for the listener.

In addition, many of the lyrics to his new songs seem a bit more relatable than the ones in his previous albums. Specifically, Bird’s songs “Eyeoneye” and “Give It Away” revolve around a common love-subject. The subject is relatable, and the words are still well written without cliché. Bird’s musicianship and lyric-writing abilities show their true potential through “Break it Yourself,” and should leave understanding artists in awe of his talent.

According to Stephen Thompson and his “First Listen” review on NPR Music, listeners must prepare themselves to experience Bird’s new album. Thompson accurately instructs: “Clear away any and all distractions, listen on headphones and let its subtle charms sink in slowly. Early mornings or late nights work best. This isn’t a record for chaotic commutes or busy offices – these are songs of quiet contemplation” (NPR Music). Thompson completely embodies the ambience of “Break it Yourself” through this statement. Bird’s music is like a tapestry woven together with different unique detailed instrumental sounds that create one beautiful piece in the end. Luckily, this type of art is not only seen, but experienced, and can set the tone for an entire morning or evening. So, kick back with a cup of tea, put this record in, and let Bird’s music take affect.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: a Review

“We are infinite.” The tagline for the national bestseller and critically acclaimed The Perks of Being a Wallflower says it all. The novel, published by Stephen Chbosky over a decade ago, has become a household name to most young adults. It is written in the main character, Charlie’s, point of view in letters to an unknown friend describing Charlie’s anxiety about starting high school, meeting new people, and ultimately, about the two seniors that accept him as part of their group and show him how to live life and accept who he really is inside. Charlie faces many trials and finds himself facing many of the experimentations that most adolescents must go through in order to really know themselves. The novel is an enlightening look into the mind of an extraordinary student that isn’t even aware of his own worth. It is a must read for all young adults that have ever gone through something difficult or oppressing, which, of course, is all of us. With the novel being made into a feature film to be released on September 20 of this year, there will be plenty of publicity about it, but don’t let it’s newfound popularity discourage you. The film, starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller, will just be a bonus after diving into the wonderful world that Stephen Chbosky has produced. And, for the movie buffs out there, the film’s screenplay and directing are both being done by Stephen Chbosky so the film should run very close to the book. So, grab a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and get ready for the film on September 20!

Review of THE FOUNTAINHEAD

the_fountainhead

When I came across this novel after my teacher generously gave my eleventh grade English class all of the copies she had purchased with the intent of assigning it as required reading, little did I know the value of the literary gem I had just acquired. The struggle of the brilliant architect, Howard Roark in striving to pursue his passion according to his set of uncompromising standards laid out in each of his projects conflicts with the contemporary expectations of what great architecture should look like and thus places him before the brunt of scorn from the public. But he refuses to sacrifice his own artistic integrity just to bend to their demands or gain wealth. He is the very embodiment of human perfection for he seeks neither to influence nor please others with his work. His is the judge of his own work and sets his own standards. Continue reading

Review of Crazy Love

Pamela Uschuk's Crazy LoveEven the language and the speaker falls victim to the flux in Pamela Uschuk’s new collection, Crazy Love, from Wings Press.”I will be the torture rack/that stretches out my own truth,” she writes. Her poetry is both wrought by war and tended for its beauty, both bitter with “regret’s venom” and exuberant with love. After all, “What is the tender palm without the tough skeleton/forming the back of the hand,” she asks in the poem, “Geometry Lesson.” The persistent voice of these poems speaks of the tension of the dance between violence and benevolence, man and woman, nature and humanity, as well as the hesitation after the music has stopped. Here, in Uschuk’s world of encounters, nothing is complete, and everything is moving, extending, reaching, growing. Even the buck, the chickadee, the tigrita lily sway in the gust of Uschuk’s rhythmical words, and the reader has no choice but to follow suit.

Reviewed by Emilia Phillips (2009)

For more information about Pam Uschuk, see her profile on the Meacham Writer’s Conference website.

Review of Exit Pursued by a Bear

Gaylord Brewer's Exit Pursued by BearIt is with an appetite, even after the feast, that Gaylord Brewer writes the poems of Exit Pursued by a Bear, the 2004 collection from Cherry Grove. Beyond the innocuous fruit fetishes, the near pornographic pole beans of “Co-op Girl,” Brewer dines on the ironies of interaction, and likewise, in assuming the authority of speaker, he chooses, with great immediacy and poignancy, what words to swallow, what to leave out of his lyrics. He writes, “and though I believe/I am correct, I couldn’t identify about what.” It is in these silences that the uneasiness, the regret, surfaces much like oil on still water and nudges the reader towards “some saner madness.”

For more information about Gaylord Brewer, see his profile on the Meacham Writer’s Conference website.

Reviewed by Emilia Phillips (2009)