Saturday, September 24, 9707

Welcome to Symmetry of Birds!

The initial purpose of Symmetry of Birds was to round out my trio of blogs/zines, which include Clockwise Cat and Miro Screaming (now defunct). All three blogs incorporate or adapt lines or titles from poems I have written. Clockwise Cat, my webzine, gets its namesake from one of my favorite self-penned poems; Miro Screaming, which was my rant-blog, evolved from my poem, "Miro's Scream"; and "a symmetry of birds" is part of the concluding line of my poem, "Silent Symmetry," published in Blue Fifth Review in February, 2008.

(We must also call attention to curiouser and curiouser: the cure, cerebrally speaking, my Cure-blog, which is no longer active, but is up for posterity and eternity, because I still love ALL things Cure, and always will.)

So anyway. Symmetry of Birds is the gathering place of all my online published work. My online published work encompasses poetry, reviews, and political polemics (also known as rants). I rarely write fiction these days, though once upon a time I was a prolific short story scribe. Maybe one day I will get back into fiction, but for now, I reserve my creative zeal for verse and invectives (the two birds whose polar styles serve to balance each other - hence the title of this blog).

So anyway. What I do in this blog is provide links to a given published piece, and also paste the actual piece. There are several instances here where the website link no longer works, due to the site shutting down. However, I have simply left the links up for now.

Please be aware that this is a perennial work in progress.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Published Polemics and Reviews

The Seaside Cure for Sheltering at Home at PopMatters

Nostalgia for the Downtown Slacker at PopMatters

The Pandemic of Bad Parenting at Medium

Fontaines DC's Dogrel and the Power of the Voice at PopMatters

Cupcake Chronicles Inside Cover Blurb

The Perpetual Decline of Western Civilization and the Ascendency of Punk-Dystopia at Five2One

The Carefully Constructed Chaos of Wrack Lariat at Five 2 One

Ross Heller Levinson Book Review Links at Black Widow Press

Review of Myriad Circles at Five 2 One

The Ultimate How-NOT-To Guide: Ally Malinenko's Verse-Letter to America at Five 2 One

Five 2 One Masthead

Review of Nathaniel Rounds' Megamouth Shark Eats Dongpo Pork With a Spoon at Fowlpox Press

Nathaniel Rounds' Book Blurb At Fowlpox Press

Jessica Lawrence's Terrible Little Stars Book Blurb at Amazon

The Glorious Madness of New Wave at Five 2 One Magazine

It was a Texas Dashcam Vid: Corrupt Cops and Black Heroines at Fear of Monkeys

Definitions of Obscurity Book Blurb at Unlikely Stories

Babes in Toyland: Riotous, But Not Grrrls at Literary Orphans

Adventures in Television at MungBeing

An Ultimate Massaging of the Senses at MungBeing

Magic Math: Felino A. Soriano's Mathematics at Nostrovia Writing

American Revolution, Part Deux at MungBeing

The Sordid Secrets of a Foolish Heart at MungBeing

Anarchism or Anachronism at MungBeing

Crazy Lynch Time at MungBeing

Hinge Trio Review at Of the poetry this jazz portends

Felino Soriano Book Blurb at Of the poetry this jazz portends

Kathryn Wins Big, but Hollywood Still Hurts for Female Directors at Bad Subjects

Occupy or Die! at Fringe Magazine Blog

Middle Class Aspirations in an Ominous Economy at Fear of Monkeys

Abolish Work: The Art of Zen-Surrealism at Fear of Monkeys

Author Insides: Alison Ross at Vagabondage Press

An Interview with Clockwise Cat Editor Alison Ross at Black Heart Magazine

Of Collocated Rhythms by Felino Soriano Book Review at Black Heart Magazine

Poetic Gravity at Anya Achtenberg

Five Rants at When Falls the Coliseum

Five Diatribes at Muse Apprentice Guild

Twelve Rants and Satirical Pieces at Democracy Means You

Politically Erect at Exquisite Corpse

Ode to Corporate America at Exquisite Corpse

Xenophobes and Homophobes at Democratic Underground

Black Lips CD Review at Laura Hird

Letter to the Editor at Creative Loafing

Monday, October 5, 2020

Bright Eyes Down in the Weeds a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope at PopMatters

Bright Eyes Down in the Weeds a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope at PopMatters

Published September 2020

Bright Eyes Down in the Weeds a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

by Alison Ross

In 2004, as I hobbled toward my frumpy 40s, I became enamored of a band that, at the time, appealed primarily to angsty teens: Bright Eyes. With his emo coiffure and "screamo" vocals, lead singer Conor Oberst was quickly becoming the pin-up for a generation of hormonal floppy-hairs.

But here's the thing: Bright Eyes were never truly emo. Sure, Conor's tremulous whisper could devolve into unsettling screams, but the music had a quirky, artful air, and sure, his lyrics could read like sophomoric confessionals, but they were often collaged upon surrealist and symbolist verse. In short, Bright Eyes may have unwittingly acquired elements of the emo genre, but in the end, they were far too worldly to be pigeonholed as musical poetasters.

Fast forward to 2020. After a nine-year hiatus (2011's The People's Key was purported to be their final offering), Bright Eyes have returned with a new album, Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, and Conor Oberst has turned 40. I'm in my 50s and still enamored. And yet, despite the emotional luggage that Oberst has been hauling around in the last decade (divorce, death of a sibling), and despite his staggering number of side-tangents (solo projects, collaborations, super-bands), Bright Eyes' signature post-punk Americana has remained mostly intact. That's thanks to the astute aptitudes of perpetual collaborators Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, of course, to Oberst himself, and his timeless talent.

Far from being a sonic digression, the new album Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, is an invigorating tour through all of Bright Eyes' eras. There are new wave rockers ala The People's Key; sweeping easy listening songs in the vein of Cassadaga; minimalist alt-country evoking I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning; electronica in the spirit of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn; and fragile ballads and goth-folk such as those that can be found on Lifted, Or the Story is in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground and Fevers and Mirrors. The new album is a pleasing amalgam of all that makes Bright Eyes so compelling and fresh, replete with a chatty, cryptic intro, quivering vocals, heady histrionics, bold orchestral statements, idiosyncratic arrangements and instrumentation, lush female backing vocals, and nods to just about every musical style, even ragtime.

Now, to be sure, some critical detractors resent the "bombast" and self-indulgent production of Bright Eyes albums, neglecting to grasp that the crux of the Bright Eyes appeal is their willful projection of grandiose flourishes onto sophisticated musicality. Too, Conor's quavering voice can be polarizing among critics, vacillating as his vocals do between tuneful croons and warbles that jitter on a fault line, occasionally erupting into tiny emotional earthquakes. Conor Oberst sings like a Midwestern Robert Smith, flattening the latter's English rain-drenched moan into a dry wail birthed in the plains of Omaha.

What doesn't seem to be in as much dispute among critics is Conor Oberst's status as a solid songwriter. Once hailed as the second coming of Bob Dylan (around the same time that he was being touted as the emo poster boy), Obsert has a knack for constructing strong compositions embellished with potent poetry that can be anguishing, cosmic, nihilistic, ebullient, mystical -- sometimes all at once. Conor bears the dichotomous distinction of being an extreme introvert who expresses himself urgently, candidly. Still, his words often read like versified diary entries and can feel claustrophobic, like inhabiting a cave inside his brain.

However, it bears noting that on Down in the Weeds, Oberst embraces existential ambivalence more confidently in his lyrics, even as they still trend toward dark ruminations. For example, in one of Bright Eyes' best early tunes, "Attempt to Tip the Scales", Oberst pens words of dread with only a twinge of hope. "In the dark, we're just air / So the house might dissolve / Once we're gone, who's gonna care / If we were ever here at all? / So close to dying that I finally can start living."

On the other hand, one of the best songs from Down in the Weeds, "Tilt-A-Whirl", Oberst touches on the same topic, but with more depth and maturity. "My phantom brother came to me / His backlit face was hard to see / I couldn't move, I couldn't scream / You can't un-hear Beethoven's Fifth / This human heart's an aggregate / Competing feelings so disparate." On "Dance and Sing", Oberst sounds resigned, but in a zenfully attuned kind of way. "I'll grieve what I have lost / Forgive the firing squad / How imperfect life can be / Now all I can do is just dance on through… and sing."

The entire album is a, dare we say, middle-aged meditation on love and loss -- and how more love can heal the continual loss. Oberst has never sounded so world-weary and yet so full of heart. On "Just Once in the World", he sings, "Let's stroll to the edge of the cliff / Stop here and give me a kiss / Now we're walking on air / There's no hell beneath our feet."

On "To Death's Heart (In Three Parts)", he laments, "Limbs, they hang like chandeliers from alcohol and age / Down in the weeds again, tough to explain / Mattress soaked in gasoline makes iridescent flames; I lay down." And on album centerpiece, "Marianna Trench", Oberst emotes, "Look long at that Stonehenge / Look quick is it something you missed / Look into the that smoldering building's bombed-out fog / Until it finally lifts."

Bright Eyes inhabit a perfect musical paradox, exhibiting an approach that's raw and sloppy, elegant, and elegiac. Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.