Monthly Archives: March 2015

A confession (part 2), or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the reverb

In my previous post I talked about the various things that got me involved with Death in June (DI6) and the neofolk scene. Now I’m going to talk about the things that got me out.

I was always uncomfortable with some of the DI6 lyrics. At first I tried to brush it off as my failure to “get” the metaphor, or that the songs were referencing other thing (like “because I him”, where the line “helping one race, one creed, to meet their need” is a reference to either Heaven’s Gate or the Brian Jonestown thing).

The next step was to try and self justify, to tell myself that there was nothing wrong with the social Darwinism that seemed to permeate everything. Honestly, that’s the pout where I should have realize that something was wrong. I was facing a huge amount of cognitive dissonance at this point, trying to hold on to my own value structure while simultaneously attempting to accept the right-libertarianism that appears all over the genre. 

I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I just accepted feeling conflicted about the disconnect instead of actively questioning what was going on.

One of the things that delayed my move away from DI6 and the neofolk scene was the actions of their critics. I don’t have much respect for direct action Antifa types, and the accusations leveled against Boyd Rice, Douglas P, and others in the scene were so ridiculous as I be impossible to take seriously. Antifa does more to protect there opponents than they ever actually accomplish.

Just as there were musical and social reasons behind why I got into neofolk in the first place, there were also musical and social reasons behind why I “left”.

Musically, I attempted to resolve my discomfort with DI6 by seekin out other music that was satisfying in the same way but less problematic. I started doing this almost immediately, even while insisting that there was nothing problematic about DI6.

The first thing I found was Current 93. I know there are former neofolk fans that won’t listen to C93 because of David Tibet’s connections to Sol Invictus and DI6, I didn’t find nearly as much to bother me in Current 93’s music (especially once David Michael/Tibet and Douglas P had their falling out).

Part of why I found Current 93 more acceptable was that I was much more familiar with the philosophical sources they were drawing from. I wasn’t bothered by “Hitler as Kalki” because I had read enough at that point and while I can understand why the comparison is incredibly troubling from the perspective of mainstream Hinduism (conflating Hitler and Vishnu would be mindbogglingly offensive) that’s not ever how I understood the song, and David Michael/Tibet has gone to great lengths to explain it.

Still, it’s my least favorite track on that album so that’s another reason why I wasn’t so bothered.

Tibet’s connections with the OTO and thelema were way easier for me to accept than Douglas P’s Germanic paganism. The fact that David Michael eventually left the OTO helped too.

Current 93 seemed more interested in the aesthetics of weird religion than they did in perpetuating a dream of a bygone Europa. Still, C93’s more psychedelic style (in the releases I could find. This was before Bandcamp and relatively early in the iTunes era, so neofolk was hard to come by outside of mail order CDs for $60 a pop) wasn’t quite as satisfying as DI6 was.

I finally found something to replace DI6 when I started looking more heavily into French music. A student lent me the first La rue kétanou album and I was instantly hooked. That lead to Les ogres de barback and Les hurlements d’Léo and a whole wealth f French music that had everything I lined about DI6 with none of the uncomfortable lyrics. Un air, deux families is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

I also started to seek out Chinese rock and came across Liang Long’s Second Hand Rose, which helped to make it increasingly clear that it was possible to combine traditional music with rock without introducing reactionary politics.

I still occasionally returned to DI6, although without much enthusiasm. I rarely listened to whole albums anymore, picking out those tracks that seemed less problematic. I later discovered that the DI6 song I continued to listen to were the exact same ones that David Michael continues to listen to. 

The final musical nail in the DI6 coffin came from my brother in law, who introduced me to the burgeoning folk-punk scene. Pat the bunny, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and similar groups supplanted the last remaining vestiges of DI6 in my musical rotation. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable with all of their lyrics, but it was an uncomfortableness that was easier to pin down and examin.

Socially the biggest factor in my move away from neofolk was an increased widening of my social network to include people who didn’t order their lives around their musical tastes.

A graduated and moved away and I started spending time with L, a friendship that I have since neglected to my regret.

L was a member of the OTO an regular participant in the gnostic mass. They also actively avoided Death in June because they were uncomfortable about the content and, more significantly, they felt like because of their appearance and very German surname they felt it would be best to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, regardless of whether or not DI6’s use of Nazi imagery was in earnest.

At the time I shrugged and continued to be a DI6 fan, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one. I felt like L’s concerns were overblown. Still, with L I had a friend who shared my interests in weird religion who wasn’t particularly connected with the neofolk scene. 

It helped that A started waxing poetic about Whitehouse, which made me realize that his far right stances weren’t just bitterness or an attempt to shock people; they were his sincere political views.

Also around this time I started traveling much more. I spent time in China, Japan, and France. These were major formative experiences for me, and the people I met and the things I did made it really clear to me that the survival of the fittest ideology prevalent in neofolk really wasn’t for me.

I became much more confident, philosophically, and came to the realization that vulnerability is not necessarily bad. I decided that empathy was not in fact a weakness, and that weakness was not bad in itself anyways. I also really internalized the saying “when walking in the melon patch, don’t bend down to adjust your sandals”. It was a sayin I had never really understood before, but it became my own version of “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety”.

The fact that I was able to avoid internalizing that lesson until I was in my 20s really points to how privileged I am. My brother was forced to come to terms with it while still in high school.

The other thing that drove me away from DI6 was Douglas P himself. I read an interview with him after The rule of thirds was released where he talked about the inspiration behind the songs on the album. His explanation of the track “Takeyya”, which I had interpreted as a criticism of closemindedness, revealed that it was the opposite, and that Douglas P was aggressively Islamophobic.

Then, I read another interview where Douglas P repeated most of the standard racist canards about aboriginal Australians. When he released the Free Tibet EP, his comments about being adamantly opposed to forgiveness really bothered me.

Let me make this clear: I don’t think Douglas P is a neonazi or white supremacist. I do think that he’s a racist neoreactionary peddling a dangerous ideology.

There’s a lot of wiggle room between “neonazi” and “not problematic”. The “is he a nazi or not?” game that gets played regarding DI6 (and pretty much everywhere else in the neofolk scene) ends up being counterproductive, as the neonazi charge is too easy to refute and ignores that the work is still problematic for other reasons. 

To draw a comparison to criminal prosecutions, looking for clues about white supremacy in DI6 is the equivalent of charging a murderer with treason: it enables them to get away with lesser crimes because it puts all the focus on the big crime that is easier to defend against.

My next post I’ll look a little more at rejecting an artist because of their beliefs, and how acceptable it is I be a fan of problematic things.

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A confession (part 1), or, I was (almost) a teenage neoreactionary

Taking a break from book reviews for a moment for something completely different.

Here’s where I alienate all the people coming here looking for parental advisories.

Anyways. I promised a confession.

Here it is: I used to be a huge neofolk fan. Death in June (henceforth DI6) in particular.

It’s not something I’m particularly proud of (at least not now), but it brings to mind a more complicated version of the “is it possible to enjoy problematic art? And what about art by people with despicable personal views?”

It’s not just a right wing thing either – there’s a radical leftist singer/songwriter that I have qualms about as well.

I’m going to get autobiographical before I get into that stuff though. This got incredibly long as I was writing it so I’m going to split it up into multiple posts.

My introduction to DI6 was two-fronted: one was a natural consequence of seeking out new music by artists I liked already. The other front was social.

Musically, the whole thing started with Bauhaus. That lead to a Cleopatra records sampler, which lead to a five dollar darkwave sampler that featured a Mission UK remix of Christian Death’s Spiritual cramp. It was obnoxious and bombastic and while I was unimpressed by the rest of the album it made me seek out more Christian Death. Unfortunately what I found was the more recent Valor-fronted band which is really just terrible. Eventually I got ahold of some of the Roz-era stuff. That lead to Boyd Rice.

I was never a big fan of Boyd Rice, to be honest. But that’s more or less what lead me to DI6 musically. This all mostly happened while I was still in high school.

The social thing was a combination of having a very compartmentalized social life, where none of the people I hung out with individually were friends with each other, and one friend in particular. 

This friend was an occasional member of the Church of Satan, so I’ll call him “A”, after Anton LeVay. A loved DI6. He came to it through black metal and was something of a neofolk evangelist. His political views varied widely from one day to the next, but looking back they were consistently right wing. If it had been a thing at the time he probably would have been a dark enlightenment type. No, I was not friends with Davis Aurini, but A had plenty in common with him.

I met A my freshman year of college. At the time I glossed over the right wing nature of A’s politics. I think it was wishful thinking, since none of the other friends I made in college were interested in talking occultism, weird politics, or weird music. The fact that I didn’t get along with the existing punk establishment didn’t help. I went to a couple of shows and got frustrated by the gatekeeping from the younger punks and the entitled upper middle class white angst of the older ones. The indie kids (what we called them at the time, they’d be recognized as hipsters now) were even worse when it came to gatekeeping, since it wasn’t enough to like the same music; you also weren’t allowed to like any other music.

So really this was the only friend I had who shared many of my passions, which meant I probably overlooked a lot more than I really should have.

I will say I wasn’t the only one who did this. He had had a hard life and was understandably bitter, so there was more than one person who was willing to write off his more problematic positions (primarily antifeminism at the time).

So it was through this friend that I actually got access to DI6 and neofolk in general. We both self identified as leftists at the time, and because this fried regularly talked about how uncomfortable he was with NSBM and the neonazi presence in the black metal scene I was inclined to believe him when he said that the accusations against Douglas P were built around misunderstandings of his lyrics and imagery.

It helped that neofolk was exactly the music I had been searching for. Largely acoustic but still not afraid of experimentation it had a lot of the things I liked about othe genres (indie, free jazz) but without the whining and gatekeeping from the indie scene while also being less aggressively atonal as more experimental stuff. Dealing with (at the time) undiagnosed depression was probably a factor as well, and it was exciting to try and catch all of the literary allusions in the lyrics.

What it comes down to is that neofolk was pretentious in a way that appealed to me and made me feel special for “getting” it. While there were definitely aspects of the music and the scene I was uncomfortable with, I wrote them off at the time as references to Maldoror, or attempts to be subversive and push artistic boundaries.

So that, more or less, is what lead me to DI6. The next post will cover my gradual disillusionment with the scene. My third (and probably final?) post about this will cover my thoughts about the issues posed, both specifically with regards to DI6 and the neofolk genre and generally with regards to art in General and where we draw boundaries of appropriateness.

Right hand magic (Golgotham series)

Right hand magic / Nancy A. Collins.

Right hand magic is the first book in the Golgotham trilogy. The basic premise is that supernatural creatures live uneasily alongside humanity. Golgotham is the name of the neighborhood in New York City where most of these creatures live.

Brief plot summary

Tate Donovan is a sculptor seeking inspiration and a cheap place to live, preferably one as far as possible from her ex. Initially excited by the prospect of living in Golgotham, especially with her attractive Kymeran landlord Hexe, she soon finds herself forced to contend with Golotham’s version of the mob.

So how is it?

It’s certainly readable, but it’s not great. The premise is more well developed than I was expecting, but there are a few major flaws. The biggest one is the incredibly forced slang, which is more silly than street.

Beyond that, the Golgotham trilogy is really one slightly overlong paranormal romance novel that doesn’t realize it’s supposed to be one.  The plot gets more development than the relationships between the characters, and it’s significantly less intense than your average romance novel. 

In some ways it’s similar to Laura Resnick’s work (normal human in New York City gets in over their head dealing with supernatural phenomena and organized crime) but Resnick’s work is intentionally goofy whereas Collins can’t seem to decide whether this is supposed to be a gritty series or not.

One thing I was slightly uncomfortable with is that it’s possible to read the second and third books as a defense of gentrification. I don’t think it’s intentional, it’s largely a plot device for putting another obstacle in Tate’s way, but there are some unfortunate implications there.

Still, it’s self contained and complete in three fairly short volumes.

Recommendation

Honestly, the Golgotham books are a little bit like a cross between the InCryptid series and the Esther Diamond series, only less demanding than either. It’s a good bet for fans of those books looking for something new, but it’s more of a stopgap recommendation while lookin for better things than it is a series worth actively seeking out.

Disappearing nightly

Disappearing nightly / Laura Resnick

(I am currently experiencing some hardware issues so a link will hopefully be forthcoming)

Disappearing nightly is the first book featuring Esther Diamond, aspiring actress struggling to make ends meet in New York City. It’s one of those series where it’s unclear which book is first and so I accidentally read the second one first not that I’m bitter about that or anything.

Brief plot summary

When the female lead  of the off-Broadway show Sorcerer! disappears for real during the disappearing act, her understudy Esther Diamond is understandably nervous about stepping into the role. When a mysterious stranger appears with dire warnings, it’s up to Esther and an eccentric group of allies including a rhinestone cowboy and a team of enthusiastic drag queens to figure out who is really behind these disappearances.

So how is it?

It’s not that great, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s goofy and fun in a cheap romantic comedy kind of way. Esther is essentially a stock character: Jewish girl comes to New York City to make her dreams of stardom come true. She’s love able and klutzy but finds it easy to make friends with a wide variety of people.

There are a couple of things that distinguish this series from other urban fantasy … series.

First, the basic trope common to most urban fantasy is that the protagonist has some special power. Tobey is a changeling, Harry Dresden is a wizard, etc.  Esther Diamond is just a normal aspiring actor. While the people she interacts with have all sorts of mystical powers, she remains (at least as far as I have read) a regular person who succeeds with pluck and determination.

The second distinguishing trait is the generally irreverent tone. While it’s not totally unheard of in the genre, Resnick’s work is notably sillier than other “light” urban fantasy. Slapstick humor is pretty commonplace, and the plots themselves are pretty goofy. 

One of the things I like about these books is that the jokes are more than just simple wink-wink nudg-nudge references to other media and/or “look at how self aware I am!”

Not that I don’t enjoy that kind of humor, it’s just nice to see something more upfront.

One possible stumbling block for readers is that sometimes Esther falls a little bit too much into the stereotypical romantic comedy leading lady role. Think ice cream and weight complaints territory. She never goes full on Cathy but it’s still worthy of more than a few eye rolls.

In conclusion…

I’ve read the first three books in the series so far and I’ll probably continue to pick it up. I tend to use it as a palate cleanser in between books from more serious series.

As to recommendations, this is one that doesn’t really require any previous investment in the genre and could definitely appeal to readers who don’t normally “do” fantasy. It’s light and silly and there’s a definite lack of convoluted mythology that can be a barrier to entry in the genre.

Black wings

Black wings / Christina Henry

 

Luckily Black wings is the name of the first book and the name of the series, so no confusion here.

Black wings sits somewhere between the InCryptid books and the Ghost finders books for me. It’s an interesting premise but there are some devices that I’m not a huge fan of that prevent me from really getting into the series.

Brief plot summary

Maddy is a grim reaper, charged with ferrying the deceased to the afterlife. She’s also the landlord of an apartment building in Chicago, struggling to balance her responsibilities as a psychopomp with the need to make ends meet. Finally finding a new tenant in Gabriel Angeloscuro, Maddy will soon discover a long-buried secret about her family and the true origin of the grim reapers.

Continue reading Black wings

Ghost of a chance (Ghost finders)

Ghost of a chance / Simon R. Green

And now we go from a series I enjoyed to a book that I find it really hard to say anything positive about.

Simon R. Green is apparently more well known for his Nightside series, which I’ve never read. I picked up this one instead of the first Nightside book because the fact that Ghost of a chance was the first in the series was printed on the cover. Urban fantasy publishers: PLEASE do this. More than once I’ve started halfway through a series because it was nigh-impossible to tell which book was first so I grabbed the one in the worst condition. Historical romance books are even worse, as I’ve seen some authors (Laura Lee Guhrke, for example) where the books in the series are listed in a different order in each book.

Please quit doing this, publishers. My public library occasionally numbers things in-series on their spines, but they aren’t particularly consistent about it and it appears to be more common with hardcovers and or/trades than it does mass market paperbacks. The least you could do is list the series in order on the fly-leaf.

Back to this book in particular.

Brief plot summary

JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer are a team of paranormal investigators working for the Carnacki Institute. Tasked with investigating an apparently simple haunting in the London Underground, things become more complicated when a team from their arch-rivals, the Crowley Project, arrives.

Continue reading Ghost of a chance (Ghost finders)

Discount armageddon (InCryptid series)

Discount armageddon / Séanan McGuire

I’ve already reviewed Séanan McGuire’s October Daye series, so I figured I’ll start my massive collection of urban fantasy posts with her “other” series.

Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about this one, for whatever reason, but I had read all of the available October Daye books so I decided to pick up the first book in the InCryptid series.

Plot summary

The InCryptid novels (there are some short stories but I ha’n’t read ’em) follow the exploits of the Price family: cryptozoologists and self-appointed wardens of the American cryptid community.

Discount armageddon follows Verity Price, Latin ballroom dancer and traceuse, who has moved to New York City in an attempt to prove to her family that she can make it as a professional dancer. Her career aspirations are complicated by the appearance of a member of the Covenant of St. George, an international group devoted to exterminating all cryptid life.

Continue reading Discount armageddon (InCryptid series)

Urban fantasy bonanza : introduction

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve mostly been reading urban/contemporary fantasy lately. Since it’s fairly fresh I figured I’d collocate these reviews for easy comparison. Some of the posts I’ve already written about books in the genre are going to be retroactively added to the series, but I’ll be writing all-new posts for each series and/or book.

 

Here’s a preview of what I’ll be doing, in no particular order:

The InCryptid novels by Séanan McGuire – After reading all of the October Daye books I decided to move on to these. They’re interesting, but I think I like the October Daye series better.

Black wings by Christina Henry – The protagonist is a grim reaper/landlord. Interesting premise but the writing didn’t really grab me.

Ghost of a chance by Simon R. Green – This book was laughably bad.

Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick – Not a great work of literature but fun in a ridiculous kind of way. I realize that this isn’t the first in the series but for some reason urban fantasy and historical romance publishers LOVE to make it as hard as possible to figure out which book is actually the first.

Gregor the overlander by Suzanne Collins – this book made absolutely no impression on me.

The hum and the shiver by Alex Bledsoe – This one was REALLY good although the “twist” was pretty obvious from page 1.

Singer of souls by Adam Stemple – I’ve brought this one up before – a good story brought down by a horrifying ending.

Nightlife by Rob Thurman – This book was straight-up terrible.

The Golgotham series by Nancy A. Collins – Not a terrible series, it had its ups and downs but I actually read the whole thing.

Half-resurrection blues by Daniel José Older – Can’t wait for more.

The iron hunt by Marjorie M. Liu – I’m on the fence about this one. The second book in the series is the next one in my queue so maybe I’ll have stronger opinions after that.

The black London series by Caitlin Kittredge – It’s decent, but borrows way too much from the early Hellblazer stories.

Dying bites by D.D. Barant – Tonal whiplash all through this one. Not sure if I’ll read more.

Magic to the bone by Devon Monk – a more unique premise than most of the ones on this list, I’ll be checking out the next one in the series the next time I’m at the library. [Update: the only book in the series that my library doesn’t have is the second one.]

Dead to me by Anton Strout – Haven’t read this yet, it’s in my queue after the sequel to The iron hunt. [Update: enjoyable]

 

So that’s the preliminary booklist. It’s possible I’ll add more eventually. It’s also possible that I’ll end up doing some  other genre stuff in between so it doesn’t get too monotonous.

 

[Updated to add the following]

Spider’s bite by Jennifer Estep – incredibly violent but I’m still going to check out the sequel