November 20, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Blake Butler is the rare young writer who consistently and effectively challenges his readers. Scorch Atlas is a haunting collection of interconnected stories and vignettes, a dystopian work of genius.
The book itself is a work of art. The internal pages are individually distressed, and the page edges and cover appear burnt and scarred, and the design complements the book's theme perfectly.
Matt Bell wrote of the book:
"Scorch Atlas contains fourteen interlocking stories, each one rendering some family relationship apocalyptic and imperiled. What at first may seem merely bizarre--especially given the shifting forms that provide much of the textual delight of the book--eventually becomes terrifyingly familiar. Butler excels at forcing the familiar through the a sieve of strange until it is stripped clean of its everyday banality, until it is once again made so fresh you can smell the decay it contains, until you can taste the despair that threatens to destroy not just his characters but also the dangerous worlds they inhabit."
Scorch Atlas is a novel consisting of 14 kinds of rain, rain that fall on homes where families live and try to survive, including gravel, glitter, blood, meat, light. The original soundtrack for this book was the sound of every piece of fruit remaining on the earth crushed at once between two cars that two different people used to love so much they could not drive them. This is the second soundtrack to this book.
1. "Summons" by Mount Eerie
I had never heard this song when I wrote Scorch Atlas. It begins with guitar swells and small singing. It is a quiet start. It instructs something to, "Scream through my house." When I was little I would walk around the front yard and sing in the way it feels like Phil Elverum makes. Though he sounds better. Songs this quiet make me feel like I am about to die.
2. "Subject" by Prurient
Prurient is far beyond the feeling of impending dying. It is far beyond the realm of death. He makes a terror comes out of machines like nothing. This kind of sound is what it feels like often to be awake when you feel you should not be awake. The voice comes out of some massive sound recorder. If there were a narrator for Scorch Atlas, I would ask it to be the voice inside this song, and I would be afraid. BONUS: My friend Sam Pink said Scorch Atlas "is like little-kid+lsd+prurient on full blast+repeated punches to the face+an old man laughing and taking steroids and coloring his penis black with a magic marker=gottdang kid."
3. "Die And Get The F**k Out Of The Way" by Agoraphoric Nosebleed
When I was writing this book I often felt like the sentences were telling me to do exactly that.
4. "Village Oblivia" by Wolf Eyes
I had hoped this book would be all texture. Anywhere emotion comes in is an accident, which is fine. Emotions comes from rocks and money also. This song reminds me of when the father is laying on the bed in one of the stories in the book looking at the glass window he has ripped out in the ceiling over his marital bed, while through the floor below him the mother is wallowing in soot. More stars should detonate in books without the description of stars detonating. Anywhere this feeling comes in is beyond my control, which is the only way.
5. "Drum Gets A Glimpse" by Liars
There aren't really any liars in this book. All of the characters say exactly what they mean. I imagine for me this is one of the book's strengths, and helps it to work in a way that might feed. If the book feels brutal, which people seem to think it has, I think it is not brutal enough. This is a children's book. Drum Gets A Glimpse is a children's song. All the best things were made by children, if inside adults. I am not an adult. I sing this song in my car and feel nice. It says, "Why can't we just try start again?" More swells, though this time they are cymbals. "There's so much light we couldn't see."
6. "Respect" by Flying Saucer Attack
This song reminds me of waking up on a beach covered in whale meat. Not rotting yet, but about to, so that you can see the pockets on the flesh where the bugs are going to land but there are no bugs yet. The only questions that get asked in this book if I can remember right are asked by birds. Oh, there is a question asked by a girl to a bear. Actually there are many questions, but I think the questions are the answers. I like when the guitars come in over the noise rolls in this song. I like to think of Scorch Atlas as intricately layered sheets of noise and sometimes someone singing words you can't quite make out.
7. "Seed Me" by Retconned
A lot of questions like to ask about where is the light inside the dark of this book. Perhaps it feels the dark is so deep the light is not there. Instead all I see is the light, because it works in contrast to the black so that any thread is mega-magnified. This Retconned song sounds like a machine having a painful orgasm, like it hasn't had one in years. It has a good underlying rhythm, like all good things. This soundtrack is about to get more brutal. I like quiet parts the best when you are afraid of them because you are waiting for it to get brutal, and then the song never does.
8. "Hypostasis" of the Archons by Secret Chiefs 3
When I can smell myself because I have been writing so hard, I like to delete everything I've written up to that point and start again right there in the middle of the stink. This song reminds me of another of my favorite parts in my own book, being forced during this writing to think about the book, when the father is naked covered in mud coming back from looking for the son he drowned in dark liquid, and anticipates the dogs that have been throwing themselves against the house for weeks coming back right then while he is outside, and wondering if he would go inside or if he would let him eat them. Then he wonders what his son would have tasted like. And what would his wife. I think these thoughts about my relatives and friends when I am feeling young.
9. "Song for Dead Time" by Swans
I like to think of Michael Gira as one of the characters in Scorch Atlas but I'm not going to say which one. I think I thought about Swans a lot during the whole time I was writing these sentences. I listen to "Blood Promise" at least 50 times a year. It is the perfect song. I like the title ‘Song for Dead Time.' If I were in a black metal band I would have named the book that.
10. "Mezzo Forte" by Burning Star Core
This song is a bunch of weird breathing layered all on top of one another, again in a fantastic rhythm. I like to drive my red car with this song as loud as will go and not seem like it's going to rip my hair out. I have subwoofers. If I could give any piece of advice to a writer asking for advice, I'd say buy some subwoofers and put them in your car. This song also reminds me of my dad.
11. "Foe Life" by DJ Screw
DJ Screw (RIP) writes novels made of sound by taking rap tracks and f**king them in the ass. What more could you ask for. If there were a radio station alive somewhere in the ruinland of the architecture of Scorch Atlas, DJ Screw would be the magic playing the only remaining music in that earth air. DJ Screw smoking fat blunts and eating chocolate cherries while the white kids in Television Milk gag and bag their mother and make her guess what they are sticking in her flesh. Night transmissions. Money logic. Ass rip. Scorch Atlas.
12. "Hands That Mold" by Dystopia
People say you should forget your parents while you are writing. Every sentence I write I am thinking only and ever about my mother. This was the favorite band of my friend Jeffrey Patterson, who was shot in the face in downtown Atlanta when we were kids in a hardcore band. He cared so much about the music one time gave himself a concussion during band practice. The dedication to this book is in his memory.
13. "We Never Sleep" by Boredoms
All the houses buried. Eating chocolate. Why would you ever want to sleep. More music should be just someone throwing around a microphone while they roll in the floor eating things and trying to destroy the house. I wish the Boredoms would write a novel. It would sound like paper dogs being torn up and a moon made of gross.
14. "Vacuum" by Fennesz
Stop saying you are tired and just look into the box. Climb ladders more often if you can find them. There are at least 4 ladders underneath my parents' house, which is where I wrote most of this book. I drive there when my own house is small noisy, which is every day. My white noise machine is my favorite thing I own.
15. Side A of the Fresh Air 7" by Emeralds
I've looked all over for the name for this song and can not find it so let's end with this gleaming unnamed song.
Blake Butler and Scorch Atlas links:
Boston Phoenix review
Dennis Cooper review
Dispatches from Utopia review
Matt Bell review
Outside Writers Collective review
Tarpaulin Sky review
Three Guys One Book review
Eclectica interview with the author
The Faster Times interview with the author
Flavorpill profile of the author
Keyhole interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist by the author for his novel, EVER
Writers' Bloc interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)