Reviews

Weird & Wonderful: Karin Tidbeck's 'Jagannath'

Magic in the woods, anthropomorphic plants, machine/beast hybrids, and some intense body horror: it’s the stuff of dreams and nightmares.


Jagannath

Publisher: Cheeky Frawg
Length: 142 pages
Author: Karin Tidbeck
Price: $11.99
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-06
Amazon

Fantasy isn’t just a realm we escape to, it’s something we often run from, eyes wide open, hysterical laughter bubbling up from our guts. Maybe it’s only a feeling that scares us away, or maybe it’s something we see, a dark reflection or ill-formed shadow. It’s best not to look back, but Swedish author Karin Tidbeck does more than look back, she lingers, and what she sees is recorded in the amazing collection Jagannath.

Tidbeck’s work has appeared mostly in her native Sweden, with some English publications in Weird Tales and other purveyors of literary oddities. Tidbeck’s work is horror because it’s scary, and it’s fantasy in the sense that it’s fantastic, but labels and categories hardly seem worth it, even as shorthand. There’s a timeless, old world feeling in these stories, a feeling that these sorts of things used to happen. And why not? Magic in the woods, anthropomorphic plants, machine/beast hybrids, and some intense body horror: it’s the stuff of dream and nightmares and tales told so many times we assume they’ve always been with us.

In the opening story, “Beatrice”, a man falls in love with the prototype of a flying machine, but he cannot purchase it. Later, he assembles from a kit a machine that is exactly the same in every way, but it’s not her. The story plays with the ways we assign gender to things as a way of familiarizing ourselves with them, how we create a sense not just a sense of ownership but of belonging. The man in the story loves his ship, tries to make his relationship work, but knows it doesn’t. Things take a dark turn when the ship’s feelings about his romantic and sexual advances are revealed to the man by the love child of a woman and a furnace. It’s a sad story, filled with the man’s isolation and the ship’s pain, all of which is complicated by the strangeness of the subject.

“Rebecka” imagines a world in which “the Lord” has returned and answers prayers literally and reliably. Rebecka is unstable, repeatedly attempting suicide but always failing. As Rebecka’s painful past is revealed, asking how god can let horrible things happen becomes more than a question of theology. The question has actual, real world implications. Tidbeck proposes that a present, verifiable god in the world would only reinforce humanity’s cynical urges, not cure them.

“Pyret” is everything that is great about this book: it’s a catalogue of wonders, a study of the unreal, a confirmation of strange goings on. Presented as an academic essay, it’s the a catalogue of events surrounding a cryptid throughout history, including the narrator’s personal account of the pyret assuming the form of all the residents of a small village. It begins as a rather dry examination, complete with footnotes, of the pyret, and it slowly becomes light and funny, which leaves one unguarded for the creepiness which pervades the remainder of the story.

“Augusta Prima” and “Aunts” both take place in the same world, another realm where time is thin and powerful beings entertain themselves with wicked games of croquet and never-ending orgies. The Aunts are three grotesque beings resting on couches, their only purpose to grow larger and larger. Of the biggest woman, Great Aunt, Tidbeck writes, “Her body flowed down from her head likes waves of whipped cream, arms and legs mere nubs protruding from her magnificent mass.” When time comes to their realms, the Aunts are to be replaced, and the cannibalistic ceremony of death and rebirth which follows is one of the most vivid scenes in a book filled with them. This strange realm feels like a place Tidbeck will visit again, a depository for her most out-there ideas, and if we’re lucky she take us there again.

“Jagannath” is the tale of a woman named Rak living inside of a monstrous creature called Mother, and it’s easily the best story in the book. Mother provides nourishment in the form of goop oozing from her interior walls, and the humans to whom she plays host act as the engineers of her massive body. Children are birthed from pulsating tubes, and the dead are kneaded through Mother’s intestines by workers, nothing wasted, all of it in the service of Mother’s survival. In many stories like this, those dependent on Mother would eventually revolt and break free of their oppressive, planned existence as cogs in the belly of the beast.

Here the conflict is not the relationship between the beast and her hosts, but rather what happens when that relationship ends. Rak asks, “What is outside Mother”, but not in cliché way, the way that suggests she longs to break free. She asks for the reader, because we’re in her world and we want to know, too. “Jagannath” is a story filled with uncomfortable smells and sensations, a visceral experience that’s difficult to ponder and wonderful to read.

“Unexpected” is the word which best describes all of the stories here. As with any collection there are some stories which are better than others, and usually it’s obvious within a paragraph or two which ones will or won’t hit that sweet spot in the heart or the head. Here, though, Tidbeck leaves little room for doubt, and when you start reading something happens and it won’t let you go. At only 142 pages, Jagannath is a small book, but the joy, dread, and wonder it evokes is immense.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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