Rachel’s June Musings

Women

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Written more like a series of diary entries than a novel, Chloe Caldwell’s autobiographical short story acts as a coming-of-age narrative for the author when she begins to explore her sexuality after falling obsessively in love with an older woman.  The brevity of Women mirrors the intense and short-lived relationship between the narrator and Finn.  Remaining mysterious with very few details revealed other than her tailored appearance and the fact that she’s in a long term relationship with another woman, Finn is less the focus of the story and acts more as the catalyst for the narrator’s self-discovery.  Caldwell’s self-reflexive style goes so far as to articulate her fear that we won’t fall in love with Finn as thoroughly as she did, yet she spends very little time really reflecting on her own behavior throughout the experience.

She admits to having an addictive personality and moving to a new city was going to be a fresh start for her yet falling in love with Finn is essentially another drug.  Her obsessive love mixed with her insatiable need for approval and attention culminate in an ultimately toxic relationship.  I found this story painfully relatable, being one to obsess over people and fall deeply and blindly in love.  I only wish I’d read this a year earlier when the story’s meaning would’ve had a more profound effect on me.

Tickled

Wow, this movie is WILD.  If you’re planning on seeing it, I hope you don’t read anything more about it and you should stop right here.  Going in blind to this movie was a great decision and I highly recommend it.

Tickled

For those who have already seen it/probably won’t go see it, I’ll continue my review.  Expecting a lighthearted comedic documentary on tickling, I was pretty surprised to discover I was in for a documentary thriller involving Competitive Endurance Tickling that would uncover the creepy hidden identity of the ma behind it all.  Setting up video shoots around the country and bribing young men to participate in the tickling competitions, this guy meticulously arranged a convoluted system of power under the front Jane O’Brien Media.  After intense bullying, legal threats, death threats, and other various harassment, the documentarians finally confront him outside a Starbucks.  I was expecting more of a blow-out but this guy just hid behind his meager knowledge of the law and drove away.  It’s a story of power and obsession, of how the extremely rich can hide behind their fortune and the powerful can manipulate control.

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Ariel’s June Musings

WOMEN

I am certainly the kind of person who judges a book by its cover, in the literal sense. It is my personal belief that if I like their writing I will most likely also like their taste (or the publishing company’s taste for that sake) in cover art. So far, this has only failed me 5% of the time, so I consider it safe. This is not to say I buy the book blindly without even the back summary. It more so determines whether I pick up the book in the first place.

I was only barely passing the first couple displays of books at The Strand Bookstore in New York when I saw this tiny, little pamphlet of a book; Women by Chloe Caldwell. It looked so precious with its size and classically simple design. But I’ll be honest, the title alone would have sold me.

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“Women is a novella that explores an affair and the aftermath between two women nineteen years apart. The book is about the blurred line of female friendship, about being a daughter, a mother, a woman, and a friend. It’s an urgent recall of a heartbreak and a stark identity in crisis. “

Recently understanding myself as a queer woman, this book felt like a well needed mirror welcoming my experiences, doubts, and joys. Written much like a journal after a specifically important event, moments are remembered in a generally, but not altogether truly, chronological order. An honesty only “fiction” can provide, portrays the mind of a young woman experiencing new thoughts, feelings, and situations. This novella, easily read in a day or two, feels both like a summation of an event, but also like the compilation of all the thoughts had by Chloe during and after her relationship.

Although no relationship is the same, the messiness, complexity and delicacy of this particular relationship speaks to larger truths of how we interact with each other; be it platonic or romantic. Personally, finding the experience relatable on many different levels made this novella one of my favorite contemporary works.

The Most of It

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Thanks to references made in Women by Chloe Caldwell, I have been reading a collection of works by some amazing contemporary writers. One of whom is Mary Ruefle. Her collection of fiction titled The Most of It compiles an incredibly various selection of personal thoughts, feelings, and incredible creations. What I love so deeply about short stories is their allowance to cut directly to the truth. I do not mean to say every short story deals with incredibly important or deep ideas, but rather that there is an understanding that any and all material deemed non-vital can be ignored without fuss. I feel like the author has more freedom to mold and create without worry of misunderstanding. Ideas are less clouded, memories more direct, creations more imaginative.

The selection in The Most of It is a wonderful example of this tendency. There were four stories that got to me the most. With the very first story, Mary Ruefle expresses a deep desire, every time snow falls, to have sex. She can not fully explain why she always has this desire, yet she goes on to clarify how this would work and what the parameters would be. Her final words made me love this book from the beginning:

“…part of the snow, which is falling with such straw fast devotion to the ground all the anxiety: the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.”

‘The Diary Farm’ and ‘The Most of It’ (the story for which the collection derives its name), are both fantastical in their depiction of fiction scenarios. The first describes growing up on a diary farm (yes, not a dairy farm, a diary farm) from the perspective of a child who has now grown up. Common plots of coming of age, nostalgia, and a lost childhood are sifted through a new perspective. Instead of cattle in the barn, there are journals and diaries that need tending, reading, and considering. This sweet story put a smile on my face from the very first line. Similarly, ‘The Most of It’ humorously describes a common interaction that has a touch of fantasy.  A little niece tells of her aunt whose profession is to sew dresses in a storefront window. She is the ideal woman to women and men alike, yet never marries. She writes letters to her sister. Her handwriting is so large however that these letters must be laid out on the sidewalk and read from the roof. The niece loves these moments for the opportunity to curl up into each ‘O.’

“Aunt Miel’s life utterly exposed to the world, while the children below couldn’t care a jot, and were happy and safe and warm, just finding a letter they could crawl into and call their own.”

I love the way something so simplistically fantastical could provide more truth on an experience or event than the telling of the event in realistic detail. Displaying something through a new lens, with new objects, characters, or happenings can still so fully encompass its referent. If ‘The Most of It’ were only a story of an unmarried aunt whose letters to her sister were read aloud to her distracted niece, the mix of naiveté and vulnerability would be much harder to find. Mary Ruefle is a master of short story fiction. Her words, flowing rapidly and stealthily across each page, filling each line with stream of conscious nuances and sudden thoughts, craft a most intriguing truth.

As for the fourth story I loved in the collection, I did a show based on one of its quotes:

SHUT UP KISS ME

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Angel Olsen has never been known for an unspoken sense of sass; until now. With her second debut single from her forthcoming album MY WOMAN, Olsen steps away from her loner-in-the-corner role of albums past and into the faded neon light of an abandoned roller rink.

Both reserved and dramatic, this tinsel haired queen, is clearly happy with her new found sense of initiative. Nearly comfortable in this role of boss, the moment of fullest frustration rings true to the power and vulnerability of Angel Olsen’s music.

“I could make it all disappear
You could feed me all of your fears
We could end all this pain right here
We could rewind all of those tears

I could take it down to the floor
You don’t have to feel it anymore
A love so real that it can’t be ignored
It’s all over baby but I’m still young
I’m still young”

The music video, directed by Angel Olsen herself, is a masterpiece of measured self confidence, humor, pain, and glam. Wonderfully summed up, the video ends with Olsen asking the cameraman, ““Um, do I need to give more attitude, or…?”

 

Ariel’s May Musings

Beyoncé

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On May 27th, 2016 I was reborn. Beyoncé sold out Soldier Field in Chicago two nights in a row and I was so blessed to go that first night. As any sane human should be, I am a huge fan of Beyoncé. To go into all of the things I love about her would force this computer to run out of ink (you’d think it wasn’t possible, but you clearly don’t know how much I love this woman). So, with this in mind, I will try to focus on this specific event.

The whole day, rain was predicted off and on. My good friend Michaela and I, nervous about the possibility of not being comfortable while experiencing the glory of Bey, decided to quickly purchase some bright yellow ponchos. Geared up and looking like large misshapen plastic chickens, we made our way to the Field. It felt like a pilgrimage. Throngs of people, all heading to one destination, all “dressin’ to the nines” with Beyhive, Ivy Park, and hand-made  apparel.

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Hoping to commemorate the moment with a touch more flare, Michaela and I purchased some super cute pink hats.

The openers were entertaining, but really just there as a filler. They were a bit early and ended quickly, probably because the tour crew had better service than the rest of us and knew a storm was coming. Rain started to pour and pour and pour. Prepped and ready in our ponchos, we stood there letting the excitement and suspense build to a fever pitch. The stadium was too warmed up to let even a torrential downpour dampen the anticipation.

The clouds slightly cleared, people with mops quickly did their best to dry the stage, and then silence. Only a moment of it, before the crowd could no longer contain its excitement. The large, monolithic, light-up cube on stage began to move, playing clips of Beyoncé staring into the camera with an orchid in her mouth. The first couple beats of Formation rang out and we all lost our collective minds.

There is an incredible amount thoughtfulness, creativity, showmanship, and professionalism in the Formation World Tour. Beyoncé sings a collective total of 36 songs in the span of two and a half hours. Weaving old and new, themes that reach across her discography are highlighted as sets of songs are portioned out throughout the show. Starting the show strong with Formation, Sorry, Kitty Kat, Bow Down, and then Run the World (Girls), it was clear this tour was about strength and self love. At one moment she paused to preface her next song, Me, Myself, and I, by expressing the need to love oneself, “you are your own best friend, and you are there for yourself when no one else is” and there is strength in that.

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It was an incredible show in every sense. Her all female band is absolutely incredible; proven in their steady stamina and energetic solos. Her dancers are top notch and stunning; showcasing Beyoncé and shinning in their own right. And of course the work behind the scenes to make sure all of the technical aspects functioned perfectly was spot on, seeing as their were no visible mistakes. The one moment her mic cut out, because water was literally flying everywhere (to be explained later), a gentleman was there to hand her a new one within two seconds. The hard work put into this tour must have been absolutely out of this world.

This was especially evident when the rain came back. Drops began lightly falling, and then dropping heavily, but Beyoncé didn’t even flinch, and neither did her dancers. These women, all wearing heels, dancing across the stage and strutting down the catwalk, all kept their composer and footing every step of the way.

The show was seamless but not perfect in a glossy, plastic way. Moving from aggressive and powerful songs like Don’t Hurt Yourself and Flawless into softer ballad-like songs such as Drunk in Love and Rocket, her voice rang clear and real. Clearly straining in moments of lyrical anger, her powerful vocal clarity returned in intimate moments of longing and love.
At one point cutting all video clips and musical assistance, Beyoncé sang Love on Top with the entire crowd backing her up. So thrilled to be singing with Bey we all kept going one verse further after she had finished. This produced an “Oh Damn” look on her face followed by a giggle that made us all feel like this was not just a tour stop but an experience.

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Next up was 1+1. One of my all time favorite songs, it really hit home at that moment that I was experiencing Beyoncé live. And there she was putting words to my thoughts, “If I ain’t got nothing, I got you. If I ain’t got something, I don’t give a damn. ‘Cause I got it with you.” Tears were shed, and continued to flow because next was her stunning tribute to Prince. Falling to her knees and singing with all her heart, she performed a stunning cover of The Beautiful Ones. Then, exiting the stage, the stadium became quite as the large cube turned purple and Purple Rain played all the way through. Rain falling steadily in tribute.

Returning to the stage with her classic Crazy in Love, she proceeded to move through the disco-esque hits I adore: Bootylicious, Naughty Girl, and Blow as a large neon cherry pulsed on either side of the cube. Another climactic moment was provided when Beyoncé and her dancers strutted down the catwalk barefoot to a now, three inch deep, wet stage; this time purposeful. Recalling the images in Lemonade on the beach, the women stood in a line and began to move to the beat of the drum-intro of Freedom. Dancers running, kicking, and jumping across the stage, Beyoncé stood powerful and restrained in the center of the pool, only joining in the exuberant choreography after singing “I’ma keep running, cause a winner don’t quite on themselves.”

The true finale came with an overwhelmingly gracious performance of Halo she dedicated to all her fans. I could now say something along the lines of “and I saw her halo, I was baptized in the rain, I have seen the light, praise the Bey, love god herself,” but instead I will say this:

Thank you Beyoncé, thank you and your incredibly talented crew, for one of the greatest experiences of my life. You’re a beacon of light in this world and you have helped me, healed me, and shown me the path to forgiveness and self love. You mean so much to so many people and you carry that knowledge with such grace and strength. Stay slaying Queen!

 

Check out Beyonce.com for some wonderful concert photos!

An Altered Resemblance

Last year when I found out I was accepted to show at the Overture Center for Performing Arts in downtown Madison, I felt so thankful and thrilled. My last year of school coming up I couldn’t believe my luck that I would have a two person show at a prominent location right at the end of my college career. Excited at the idea of being able to show a large breadth of my most recent work, I was also nervous at the idea of having enough pieces I truly felt confident in. Luckily I had a full year to work, and ended up with a solid set of twelve works now hanging till June 5th.
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An Altered Resemblance is the two person show with local Madison artist, Michael Ward, and myself. Both of our work deals with personal realities presented in uncanny manners. Hung on either wall, they create a discussion between the figurative and the abstract, the vibrant and the subdued, and the vivacious and the subtle.

My set of twelve pieces relates specifically to my current focus of absence and presence:

“The concepts of solitude and companionship are often considered at odds. Within a relationship an individual can feel part of, beside, and/or separate from another person. It is often most true that within a relationship each individual will feel varying degrees of all three. To create the distinction between alone and together as opposites, rejects the complexity of emotional and psychological underpinnings that exist within ourselves as we relate to one another.

Relating to the palpability of absence, introspective pieces allow for a rest. Absence is present. Spaces are created to let the viewer descend into a wholly enveloping space of reflection. Enfolded in this sense of calm, images of the familiar made uncanny bring new concepts to socially constructed notions. Forms we associate with comfort, intimacy, and vulnerability are rendered through mediums that suggest new insights. The fabric that envelops us as we sleep holds a history of our presence, just as it might contain the presence of another. It is connected to the body for such lengths at a time that it becomes a body of its own. Absorbing the remnants of previous interactions within its impressions and folds, each form only increases in awareness. A pillow can never entirely return to its unimpressed state.”

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detail of Beside

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detail of Creased Comfort

Jose Gonzalez at the Pabst Theater, March 19th

For eight years of my life I took classical guitar lessons. Although I was never quite good at remembering past pieces, I enveloped myself in each new work. It was an incredible moment to reach the point at which I could play a song without thinking. Fingers knowing their places and rhythms through muscle memory, it would feel as though I were controlling the sound with my lungs. Breathing in and out, I would feel and command the dynamic range of the piece. This moment of simultaneous listening and creating is what I miss most. Since moving to college, and creating series of worthless excuses, I have not since practiced guitar. Listening to Jose Gonzalez play at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee this past Saturday restored to me an intense urge to return to guitar.

 

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Jose Gonzalez at Moore Theater, photo by Matthew B. Thompson

To watch and listen to such an incredibly talented musician deftly mold each song was moving beyond words. Heavily arpeggio-ed songs are softly started and patiently built. A sound is created that is both human in its slight imperfections and warm in its consistent control. The repetitive nature ebbs and flows providing stability and room to meander and grow. His light yet clear voice rings above the flowing progression like an ore guiding and releasing control. A large selection of quick poignant pieces were foils to the handful of longer tracks that evolved and crescendoed. These songs – Vestiges & Claws, What Will, and With Of A Ghost – swelled like lungs taking in air. All three being off of his current album, show a direction toward grander and more intricate work.

 

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Jose Gonzalez and yMusic, photo by Matthew B. Thompson


Seven years since his last solo album, Vestiges & Claws reveals a Gonzalez who is more mindful and focused on humanity in general rather than personal self-pity. The concepts within the album as well as the songs within it lent themselves well to the addition of yMusic. An amazing ensemble of New York City instrumentalists, yMusic has been hailed by NPR’s Fred Child as “one of the groups that has really really helped to shape the future of classical music.” In collaboration with Jose Gonzalez, they added an incredible richness to the pieces that only heightened the feeling of being transported. With such a soothing voice and pulsing rhythm, the dream like state of a lullaby carried me through what felt like a very short set. Having listened to his newest album many many times while painting in my studio, it was incredible to feel wholly enveloped in the live experience. I only wish the magic had lasted longer.

 

 

 

Rachel’s January Musings

Wet – Don’t You

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Waiting in anticipation after the release of their 2013 self-titled EP, I was overjoyed to finally listen to their first full-length album.  Wet, the three-piece Brooklyn based band, consists of Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle, and Marty Sulkow who all met during college.

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Infused with delicate vocals and seductive synth sounds and muted guitar riffs, Wet’s debut album Don’t You explores the complexities of a failing relationship.  Lead vocalist Kelly Zutrau’s lyrics are on the surface very straightforward.  Lines such as “I don’t believe you when you say you love me most” from It’s All in Vain and “please don’t leave me you’re all I ever needed” from Weak don’t take significant contemplation to understand. Yet in Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl, Zutrau states “I don’t wanna be your girl no more, I just wanna see your face at home” which expresses the conflicting feeling of falling out of love with someone while not being ready to part with the familiarity of their presence.  These Days, the final track on the album, sheds their signature electro-pop vibe for a melancholy piano melody.

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What I love most about Wet is their poetic simplicity.  I can attach my own meanings to the lyrics and the band’s versatile sound makes it the perfect album to listen to both during calm mornings and emotional nights.

Chairlift – Moth

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After spending a year of my youth obsessing over their upbeat pop song Bruises, I didn’t pay too much attention to Chairlift until a couple weeks ago when Ariel sent me their newly released most recent album Moth.  Even since their 2012 album Something, they have matured creatively and cultivated a fresh unique sound.  During the time between their albums, singer Caroline Polachek has been busy working on creative side projects.  She and bandmate Patrick Wimberly helped write No Angel off Beyoncé’s self titled album and she released a solo album under the name Ramona Lisa.  Through her recent projects, Polachek presumably was able to take these new inspirations and channel them into the new album.

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Named for its metaphoric vulnerability, Chairlift agreed on the name Moth to evoke feelings of delicacy and persistence.  Songs such as Polymorphing and Crying in Public maintain the band’s signature carefree synth-pop sound while tracks such as Ch-Ching and Moth to the Flame are fast-paced high-energy dance jams.  This album marks Chairlift’s most polished and sophisticated album to date.

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Ariel’s January Musings

Anderson .Paak’s Malibu
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Malibu is the second full-length album release by rapper, singer and producer Anderson .Paak.  This is a monumental album with an incredibly diverse sound and a seamless flow. .Paak gives himself and his talented guest artists the space to share deep personal and communal truths. Opening up right off the bat, .Paak shares in the first song on the album, Bird,

“I’m repping for the longest cycle,
My uncles had to pay the cost,
My sister used to sing to Whitney,
My mama caught the gambling bug,
We came up in a lonely castle,
My papa was behind them bars,
We never had to want for nothing,
Said all we ever need is love.”

This verse works well as a mission statement for the album. Struggle and suffering is all too eminent, but love is all that is needed. Malibu is a stunning work of art that imbues a feeling of love in all its many facets and forms. In some ways, the best way to make a loving album is to make a danceable album. It’s probably physically impossible to not at least bob your head to every song on this album. A clear jazz influence inspires Malibu in its variety of sounds, solos, and layered melodies. Perfectly placed funk grooves drive the beat, and a sprinkling of disco synths and keys add to the feeling of timelessness. The intricacies of this album are continually revealing themselves with each listen, rewarding the listener who lets each wave wash over them as a new understanding of what the ocean means.

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BOWLING!

If you’ve been in conversation with me this past month you will probably be tepidly annoyed that I am once again bringing up bowling. I love bowling! Yes this is a new found love, and sure I might be going through a honeymoon phase, only augmented by the fact that the distance from it makes my heart grow fonder. Within the four to five instances I’ve tried to set up bowling extravaganzas with friends only one has followed through. But one experience was enough to get me hooked.

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Exhibit A: Me + terrible form = pulling a muscle in my glutes. The experience = priceless

There is a simple magic to sports that involve very little exercise. Competitive games in which most players are awful lead to a wonderful amount of pity and caring encouragement. Then, on top of these components add a nearly run down, retro bowling alley, matching, almost cute shoes, and a large marbled ball of god-only-knows what with three holes in it so you can pinch hold it like you’re making the quiet sign. What’s not to love!

In conclusion:
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