Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Archelon Ranch by Garrett Cook

Garrett Cook's novel Archelon Ranch is a surprising work for a number of reasons. First, it keeps shifting the narrative focus. At the beginning the main character is a sentient hat named Bernard. Later Bernard is a genetically altered human who is the subject of cruel medical experiments. Still later the focus is upon Bernard's revenge obsessed brother, who may or may not be the true protagonist of the novel.

Another surprising element of the book is the presence of Garrett Cook, himself. No, I don't mean we sense his authorial imperative, though, that's an important part of the book as well. No, Garrett Cook, the author, appears as a character- joining the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Kaufman, James Joyce, and indeed, even Luigi Pirandello, who all deal with the modern existential question by inserting themselves as characters in their own works.

This act catapults the work into a metaphor for the creative process itself. Such self-examination is usually undertaken by a more mature writer, and one might question the wisdom of an author appearing in his own third novel. Cook seems to delight in his audacity, in a kind of tortured, confused manner that makes his plight appealing. I look forward to seeing what perspective Cook might have as an authorial character twenty years from now.

Some of the characters in Archelon Ranch are aware they're characters in a book, and some are not. It's all bound up in the concept of Deep Objectivity, a characteristic a good author must possess. Cook is objective enough to know his characters suffer at his hands, and his characters are aware enough to hate him for it. It's a masterful technique for imparting insights on the subject of consciousness, and one that is unique in Cook's work. It's the best depiction of some of the realisations I've had while under the influence of certain consciousness expanding substances I've ever seen.

Some themes from Cook's first two novels are seen here - duplicitous religious leaders, frighteningly ominous shopping malls, a society out of touch with itself. You might have noticed I've avoided talking about the plot. That was intentional. I can't describe it, and really, it's kind of irrelevant. I'm not saying the plot isn't strong- because it is. It's just impossible to try and encapsulate in a few sentences, and there's so much else going on in this book that is thought provoking, it's not even necessary to get into the plot for this review.

Cook as an author has grown considerably as a storyteller in this book, which is quite an achievement since all three of his novels have been written in a relatively short period of time. I suspect Garrett felt more at home with the free-wheeling nature of this story, as opposed to the rather tightly plotted Murderland volumes. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys challenging material and surreal storytelling, but who also like to be thoroughly entertained when reading.

Buy Garrett Cook's Archeon Ranch on Amazon here:


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interesting New Stuff...

When you think of Bill Mumy you probably think of this:

Or this:

Or maybe this:

Or maybe, if you're really hip, this:

But probably not this:

Bill Mumy's Carnival Sky is an album of 15 folk rock numbers that show a mature individual reflecting on life. Bill has a spare lyrical style that makes the most of the words he chooses. This is one of my favorite lyrics from the album:
"Snow kept fallin’
Rivers froze
Cold confessions
Highway closed
Tumbling words
You could lose your mind
Memories like birds flying
Through a blizzard of time"
I love that metaphor of memories being like birds flying through a blizzard. Mumy has an expressive voice equal to the task of delivering the meaning behind his lyrics. He has a strong band assisting him. This album is well worth many listenings.

Bill Mumy - Speechless
What's even more revelatory than Carnival Sky is Mumy's "Speechless." An album of "ambient blues" or as many might classify it, "new age music." Get the images of sleepy snooze jazz out of your minds though. This is a collection of instrumental numbers, mostly guitar and keyboards that journeys through a lot of territory. Imagine Will Robinson as an adult at rest in a space station, watching the stars float by, if you will.


And while we're at it, when I think of Juliette Lewis, I usually think of something like this:

Not this:

Juliette Lewis - Terra Incognita
I'll admit I'm out of the loop. I never knew Juliette Lewis is a rocker grrl... but apparently she's been playing in bands as long as she's been acting. She's pretty darn good, IMO. She really puts everything she has into her music and delivers some gutsy rock n roll. I must say I'm impressed! I'm amazed at the depth of her vocals- at times very bluesy, at times sounding a bit like a young Patti Smith.

Juliette & The Licks - Speaking My Language
This album is more straight ahead rock, but it still impresses.

Here's a new and old contrast:

The Byrds - Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde
This 1969 release was the first album by the "new" Byrds after Chris Hillman and other members left. David Crosby was already long gone. This album continues the country flavor of Sweetheart of the Rodeo and is a fine album in its own right- This Wheel's on Fire, Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man, Stanley's song- all classic material.

John York - Arigatou Baby
Flash forward to present day, and we have one of the members of The Byrds, John York, releasing a solo album. John gives us straight forward singer/songwriter material on this release, anchored by his soulful vocals. Fine work.

John York's website

Brenda Lee Anthology 1956 - 1980
Contemporary with Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee has not had quite the critical regard of Cline. Lee may not have had that sultry croon that Cline had, but her somewhat flatter voice lent itself to more variety in material- country, pop, rockabilly, torch songs. Brenda Lee was just as influential in her time, so enjoy these 40 tracks from her career.

All this and much more can be heard on NeverEndingWonder Radio
Or- on iTunes, in the radio section, find NeverEndingWonder Radio in the Eclectic category

Friday, March 5, 2010

No, I Have NOT Been Sleeping!

Some music added during the past few weeks, from the NeverEndingWonder archives:

Jonathan Edwards - Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy
Second album from folk/country rock pioneer Edwards is just as strong as his first.

Santana - Abraxas
THE classic album that brought Latin flavored rock to most of America.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Happy Trails
Second album from QMS, was also the last that featured the founding members. Every number is strong- from their version of Mona to the 25 minute Who Do You Love Suite.

Pig Iron
Fabulous brass heavy band from 1970. They lend support to one of my favorite obscure albums- The Naked Carmen. Their debut album featured worthy covers like I Put a Spell On You, Neighbor Neighbor and I Can't Make It Alone, as well as great originals.

Captain Beyond - Sufficiently Breathless
Pioneering Pro rock outfit's second album finds them issuing a more straightforward sound, that is nonetheless equal to their more exploratory debut album.

Sun Ra - My Brother the Wind Volume 2
This rather schizophrenic album is split between Sun Ra's free jazz side and his electronic experimental side. Some of the moog experiments may sound quaint today, but at the time they were fresh and innovative.

The Nutty Squirrels
Classic novelty album from 1960. When jazz musicians Don Elliott and Sascha Burland heard the Chipmunks, they figured, hey we can do that- only with jazz! The result spawned a couple of top 40 hits, and their animated cartoon actually made it to the tube before the Chipmunks did.

That's just a taste, folks! Tune in NOW to hear what else you're missing!
NeverEndingWonder Radio
On iTunes find NeverEndingWonder Radio in the radio section, Eclectic category.

Coming soon:
Two new albums by Bill Mumy! Yes- THAT Bill Mumy!

New album from Gary Duncan, founding member of Quicksilver Messenger Service!
New album from John York- former member of The Byrds!