Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week.
Chris: After the wan enervation of their last album, Elysium, the new Pet Shop Boys single “Axis” comes on like somebody jolting up from sleep: relentlessly propulsive, a coruscating pulse, with only the merest vocal presence from Neil Tennant himself. More singing would just complicate the sensation. “Why don’t I use the synthesizer, which is the sound of the future?”
“Because you are a woman, and you feel feelings, you must draw some giant, oversimplified conclusion. You must have blandly down-to-earth protagonists, you must have lovable mommies hugging lost kittens, you must have rainbows and sunbeams spewing out of your ass. They’re going to coach you into writing something you’re not entirely sure about, something you would never in a million fucking years read yourself (if you had free will, which it sometimes seems like you don’t), and they’re going to tell you it’s pure genius. And even though you still might see your piece or essay or snippet of prose as “literary,” they’re going to stick an incendiary headline on it (‘Help! I Ate My Own Vagina!’) and it’s going to be an internet sensation, and you’re going to feel Bad with a capital B about it.”
Carl: I was recently in the Andalusian province of Sevilla, but didn’t visit (or then know about) the town there that is apparently its own small-scale experiment in utopianism that recalls the anarchist hopes of the Spanish Civil War. Compared to the unemployment-ridden Spanish economy in general, it seems like it’s thriving, although the comments on this story throw not-unexpected doubt on the mayor’s domineering style and perhaps cronyism. Still, any such real-life testing of social potentials and economic alternatives is exciting in a world so ahistorically convinced that one model fits all.
For a hilarious illustration of said model’s deep contradictions, you could do no better than Kathleen Phillips’s character monologue as a high-school guidance counselor who sees her job as an excuse to do “sweet fuck-all.”
The luminous writer Paul LaFarge brings a similar mixture of laughter and queasy undertones, but a lot more fucking, to these “scenes left out of Henry James’s The Ambassadors.” I thought it was really funny at first, and then it started to wear thin, and then it became unexpectedly meaningful. I haven’t read The Ambassadors, so that’s not a prerequisite, but you likely have to have swallowed your share of James one way or another. Oh dear, that last part sounded like a line from the story.
And finally something for which I’ve been lobbying for years: The Experience Music Project in Seattle has got a bunch of videos online of lectures from this year’s mini-Pop Conference. Douglas Wolk’s talk on very, very short songs is one not to miss: