Reviews

Manhattan Monologues: Stories by Louis Auchincloss

Sarah Tan

There's depth and a taste that can only be attributed to a well-cultured insight refined within the headiest caskets.


Manhattan Monologues

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Length: 226
Subtitle: Stories
Price: $25.00
Author: Louis Auchincloss
US publication date: 2002-07
Amazon
"And will you promise not to reveal what I say?"
"I promise. Unless you authorize me."
"Very well. I'll do it for you and for your ears alone. Because you so seem to care."

There is something alluring about the notion of being confided in. The idea that someone has chosen you to be the recipient of personal thoughts and feelings. It is even more flattering, and one cannot help but take more interest in the process of exchange, when the person sharing is of higher status in life. Admit it or not, our value as individuals lies to some extent in other's people's opinions.

With his first novel, The Indifferent Children, published in 1947, Manhattan Monologues: Stories is Louis Auchincloss' fifty-seventh book. Like a seasoned merlot or Gruyere, Auchincloss's subtle yet distinct prose ages well. There's depth and a taste that can only be attributed to a well-cultured insight refined within the headiest caskets.

Reading Manhattan Monologues makes one feel like an honorary member of America's most affluent society. Auchincloss's stories conjure visions of intimate moments shared with characters that smile at us from the back pages of the glossies. Even though they are fictional, one cannot help but hold the thought that the characters are based on real people. Maybe it is the effect of his vivid descriptions that makes these visions so real. His work draws physical profiles, twitching and sauntering across the room -- revealing subtle hints of personality underneath.

"If tall and slender, he was also firmly built and smartly clad, even for a country hike, usually in soft gray, as if to match the thick and prematurely whitening hair that descended in a triangle over a high clear brow, pointing to the thin tip of his aquiline nose. His voice was low and grave, his articulation precise, and his blue-gray eyes twinkled with a mockery that was inconsistently gentle."

Manhattan Monologues is a set of ten stories that read like confessionals. Divided into three periods (Old New York, Entre Deux Guerres, and Nearer Today), Auchincloss attempts to depict the "moral paradox" that has plagued the uppermost tiers of American society in the time frame of almost a hundred years. The protagonist of each story shares their thoughts to paint pictures of particular stations n life, and the dilemmas, hopes, and complications that confront them.

It is the structure of each monologue that draws one into the book. Each story makes the reader the confidante, an insider, and that strengthens the determination to understand the nature of the characters found on each page. Auchincloss pulls you into an intricate web of familiarity. One finds oneself in hiatus with the protagonist, and feelings of suspicion are aroused when it comes to the motives and actions of others. One relinquishes the ability to be subjective about the described situations because of the depth of involvement with the characters.

One of the book's finer points is the different landscapes in which we find ourselves engrossed. In one of the pieces, we are trudging through the New England marshes just before World War II, and by the end of the book, we're observing the disintegration of a legal empire. Auchincloss takes us within the walls of American homes and lets us listen to men and women struggle with notions of war, love, consequence and survival. The ideals and conflicts are still fresh in today's modern society. The questions are timeless.

Auchincloss's book reads like a skilfully crafted social commentary. His pieces give insights to characteristics most often associated with aristocratic America -- status, class, loyalty, honour and scandal -- and questions our ideas on success and the credibility of perception. Manhattan Monologues accords a sordid shallowness to society's desire for wealth and prestige. In each piece, once gets a taste of regret and compromise that look like a cold empty room surrounded by Art Deco engraved mirrors; an environment filled with beauty that reflects a certain nothingness.

Elegantly written and rich with character, Manhattan Monologues is eloquent and a pleasure to read. It explores the depths of human character with such beautifully written character pieces, that one cannot help but personalize them and feel a dreaded sympathy for society in general. Auchincloss's language is refined and stylised in good taste, which is a nice contrast considering much of contemporary fiction available today is sloppy.

The conversations we read are precise and introspective. They give insight into the complicated socio-psychological aspects of human nature. We taste the clashes that occur between personal desires and that of class and overall community. And as for society as a whole, (reworking the comment of one if his characters) nobody will ever fathom the depths of its arcane personality.

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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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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