Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Nick Krill and Jonathan Low
A small, independent publishing house out of New York last month put out a reprinted edition of Nathanael West's two greatest novels - "Miss Lonelyhearts" and "The Day of the Locust" - two unequivocally brilliant collections of American letters which parse through just such finite and rampant regards and disregards of those living (or at least existing) in Hollywood/Los Angeles and New York City/Manhattan. The books produce unforgettable characters who are inflamed and who are stricken by the coarseness of behavior of others and therefore pushed into seeing it and how it manifests out of themselves as well, all the while, hating and adjusting and finding that little of it does much good or puts any kind of dent into the greater problem, which just goes and reproduces itself like a rabbit farm. This new edition of these works features a newly penned introduction by author Jonathan Lethem who writes, "West's ultimate subject is the challenge (the low odds, he might insist) of negotiating between on the one hand, the ground-zero imperatives and agonies of the body and, on the other, the commoditized rhetoric's of persuasion, fear, envy, guilt, acquisition, and sacrifice (those voices that Goerge Saunders has nicknamed "The Braindead Megaphone" of Late Capitalism) in hopes of locating an intimate ground of operation from which an authentic loving gesture might be launched." A summation could be used in considering the lyrical work of Alec Ounsworth, both of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and his soon to be tried solo work, a man whose cryptic writing is entrusted with the same sorts of struggles and imperatives that come from unwanted fear and crippling degrees of curiosity/non-curiosity (because really, no one wants to see) to see how society will eventually tear everyone from their limbs and just what the aftermath could look like once the limbs are swept away for good. Ounsworth is known for that nasally dry and exploratory voice and for his former (?) band's great success without ever having signed up to work with the machine - instead fulfilling orders for its debut full-length by packing and mailing all of the requests themselves. He's known for his circuitous ideas and imagery-heavy thoughts, squealed out with fascinating, decorative cadences and mysterious drawling and near-mumbling that draw you in even more, forcing your intent until you're hanging from every word and trying to inhale them. He gives his words such serrated edges, allowing them interesting mobility and access and power, as if they can trigger things that were unknown. On these curious songs, most of which were still works in progress when they were recorded at Miner Street Studio on a cold as all fuck January night, with his wife and infant child listening in the control room, Ounsworth is as gloriously uncertain and sharp as the author West was in his dissertations of the way lives were being treated and led in his searing books. He sings about being afraid of a world that could possibly be getting too damned weird for him to stomach and even applying some tongue-in-cheek analysis of the American syndrome of attitude deformity, suggesting jokingly that Americans "don't need any company." He worries about the people we're becoming and some of that might be self-referential, but not likely much of it. He's an observer, a watcher and only sometimes admirer of the ways of the world, the ways of those who have gone and chosen to follow all of the slippery slopes as if they were merely covered in chocolate syrup and nothing more serious or damaging than that. On "Obscene Queen Bee," Ounsworth sings, "I wish I knew the cure for their disease, which cause's you to be so cold," and the word "cold" could have multiple substitutes as there are all kinds of diseases out there that are indefinable, yet observable. One gets the feeling that Ounsworth enjoys the farmstead that he lives upon on the outskirts of Philadelphia, leaving it for the necessities, but sticking close by just in case everything takes that scary turn and becomes that scary mess of his imagination.