Nocturne Vibes


The Review’s Review

Added to “Gen X Soft Club” channel by Evan Collins.

I love this time of year. It takes a little while to adjust to the shorter days, but soon I settle into and relish the long dark hours. Some evenings I turn out the lamps, except for the dim reddish one, lie on the sofa, and listen to terrifying music. I love to feel my heart pound, my stomach drop, my blood move backward. I remember as a child encasing my head in my dad’s enormous leather headphones and listening to his Hawkwind, Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, and Captain Beefheart records in the dark. The padded headphones were a helmet and the spooky eccentric sounds they emitted conjured a nocturnal universe that I soared and tumbled through alone, so alone. Over the years my repertoire of spine-chilling night music has grown and includes Scott Walker, Krzysztof Penderecki, Pan Daijing, Pauline Oliveros, Swans, and Aïsha Devi. A few years ago I splashed out on a ticket for Only the Sound Remains at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. Inspired by Noh theater and based on translated texts by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa, this musical work by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho was unlike any performance I’ve ever seen. So still, so minimal, so slow, and the auditorium was dark, so dark; cell by cell I was slowly blotted out. It was intensely unnerving yet weirdly consoling at the same time. Last night, after gnawing on some leftover sticky chicken and poking at eye-wateringly astringent red cabbage, I lay down and communed with the spectral sounds of Lichtbogen and Petals (performed here by the unsurpassable Imke Frank) and within moments I was overcome with the same feelings of terror, exhilaration, curiosity, and willful independence that swarmed around me as a small child. Bliss. —Claire-Louise Bennett (Read Claire-Louise Bennett in conversation with Lauren Elkin here.)

The Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute was introduced to me a couple years ago, when I first learned the word for those muted, rainbow-toned Millennial blobs that stumble through subway ads for app-based services and resonate in the weird bubbles encapsulating the human forms on the cover of the new Sally Rooney novel. Dedicated to “developing a visual lexicon of consumer ephemera from the 1970s to now,” their site archives and sorts images—music video stills, home interiors, magazine illustrations, product photos—into a dizzying number of distinct “aesthetic categories,” which you can filter chronologically, by “first known example,” or by “end of popularity.”

There’s the easily recognizable contemporary internet aesthetics: Pinterest Mom, Internet Awesomesauce (nyancat), and HyperBling—a pinker revival of the more golden 2000s-era McBling, which, CARI fastidiously notes, is “largely misattributed as ‘y2k’ on platforms like Instagram.” And then there are slightly older categories in minor keys I didn’t know I knew: Indiecraft (buttons, puppets); Paperback Chic (aka Chobanicore); Gen X Soft Club (think Kate Moss or consumer electronics shot au naturel); or Soft Colonialist Wanderlust, which covers the phonographs and hot air balloons that have traipsed off Neutral Milk Hotel album covers and onto, say, the wallpaper of the redesigned MGM Casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. 

The project is not only a rich visual archive, but a categories game, a gleeful exercise in terminological pedantry that reminds us of the shocking fun of language (not to mention consumerism). There is the rare flash of recognition that accompanies matching a term to a thing, the ability to capture and communicate what was previously just it, and the desire to Spread the Word (if only I were able to filter cafés on Yelp by #GlobalVillageCoffeehouse). Ever since I saw my first American Apparel ad, I knew I’d be a lifelong adherent to the Cobra Snake flash photography vibe that CARI calls “Indie Sleaze.” Tonight, consider incorporating into a personality-type party game. —Olivia Kan-Sperling

Empty Wardrobes, the first work of the twentieth-century Portuguese writer Maria Judite de Carvalho to appear in English—in a translation by the legendary Margaret Jull Costa and featuring an introduction by Kate Zambreno—is a book about how men betray women, and how women betray each other. After Dora learns a distressing secret concerning her dead husband, whom she has publicly mourned for the last ten years, her life falls apart. What follows is a work that does not hesitate to expose the cruelties and power grabs that lie beneath marriage, and how quickly society discards aging women. “When single women reach a certain age, they’re so . . . frightening,” says Lisa, Dora’s teenage daughter, at one point. “They wither away, don’t they?” Foolish Lisa! She forgets that she will one day age, too. —Rhian Sasseen (Read Kate Zambreno’s introduction to Empty Wardrobes here.)

Menus of the “Global Village Coffeehouse” aesthetic added to by Evan Collins.