Archive for November, 2003

Comfort Woman

Friday, November 7th, 2003

In the past, I’ve liked Meshell Ndegeocello‘s more visceral yet outgoing, angry, and political albums – like Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape – better than I have her more inward-looking, personal albums – such as Bitter, which was, I guess, not funky enough and too Lilith Fair-like for my taste (OK, so perhaps I’m more of a stereotypical guy than I like to think I am). But her new album, Comfort Woman, seems to me the best of both worlds. It’s a quiet album, made mostly of love songs. It’s even happy, optimistic, and upbeat for the most part – as Bitter was not. Yet despite my resistance to music in such a mode, Comfort Woman entirely wins me over. The album performs the rare feat of conveying a (non-ecstatic, or non-orgasmic) joy without being lulling. And this is all on account of the way it moves. The album is deeply funky, albeit without the hard edge of Cookie and some of Meshell’s other records. (I’d like to just call it “deep funk,” by analogy with “deep house”). Under the melodies, which are mostly gentle, there is a lot of roiling and seething rhythm. Not harsh or aggressive, but deeply – alive. Cross-rhythms percolate in some songs, an off-center beat pulls you along in others, a potent dub energizes others. Not to mention the best song on the album, “Liliquoi Moon,” which introduces the one note of negativity in the album – “death’ll come fast, I want to be free, closer to the sky” – but even this negativity is lyrical and strangely hopeful – “I want to fly” – and then the song concludes with an intense hendrixesque raveup guitar solo by Doyle Bramhall II. All in all, Comfort Woman is riveting; all the more so, perhaps, for the way it sneaks up on you, delivering on promises you didn’t even realize it had made.

Lyra’s Oxford

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003

Philip Pullman‘s slender new volume, Lyra’s Oxford, is best thought of as a little present for those of us who love the His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s a short story, “Lyra and the Birds,” which picks up the life of the trilogy’s heroine two years after the events of the final volume; together with a number of other artifacts (including a map) from the Oxford of Lyra’s world, and in one case (perhaps) from that of our own. The book has some nice illustrations, and a fine red binding. The story – which you can read in twenty minutes – is about the vagaries and uncertainty of interpretation; “everything means something,” Lyra says, “We just have to find out how to read it.” And again: “everything has a meaning, if only we could read it.” The difficulties of reading are not just a matter for those who deal with arcane texts; they are very much the fabric of our lives. Pullman is one of those rare authors I love utterly unreservedly – even though (in contrast to my other favorites) his preoccupations are in many ways quite distant from my own.