Men and Music Updates Plus Other News

It's been an exciting few weeks for Men and Music. I worked on the book manuscript for almost eight years, and it's thrilling to see the collection appear in places all over the country. People are buying it and saying kind things, which is encouraging. Earlier in the week I tweeted that it made the Amazon Best Sellers in Best Gay and Lesbian Poetry List (appearing at no. 97), and it was awesome to see it climb up to spot 78 by the weekend. What a cool achievement; I am very grateful! Thank you to everyone who has picked up a copy. If you've read Men and Music, I hope you will consider rating the book on Amazon too (or write a review on Amazon or Goodreads).

In other literary news: my new essay about Kim Addonizio's latest books appeared at Lambda Literary. Also, my internet neighbor, Collin Kelley, is publishing a bunch of new poems in a series of posts called the New Poetry Project. It's good stuff, and I hope you check it out. (The first poem is here.)

Happy Sunday, dear reader. I wish you a wonderful week ahead.

Singles Review: Closer by Chainsmokers and The Greatest by Sia

The end of summer is a good time for music. The back-to-school rush and build to fourth quarter shopping always motivates smart pop singles. The Chainsmoker's "Closer" (featuring Halsey) and Sia's "The Greatest" embody the nostalgia indicative of early autumn radio.

Let's start with "Closer," which captures the YOLO spirit of fading youth. What I like about this song is its attention to details: the transient nature of early adulthood, a desire for intimacy despite change, and the freedom inherent with being young and broke but happy. When the chorus delivers the hook, "We ain't ever getting older," it's with a bit of sadness because both the band and the audience know youth fizzles. "Closer" captures the ache of late August--everyone returning to reality but with sweet memories in tow. It's no wonder the song has been number one on the Hot 100 for the past four weeks.

Sia's "The Greatest" is a different beast, working in the singer's signature power-anthem tradition. The tune succeeds as a tribute to Orlando victims, but it is also the perfect tune to start a new school year with confidence. Not to mention, LGBTQ audiences need a self-esteem booster after a summer of tragedy and anxiety. The song is destined to be a hit, and I hope it is as big as her current smash, "Cheap Thrills."

Album Review: Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion Side B

How do you follow the best pop record of 2015? For Carly Rae Jepsen, the answer is release the best collection of B-sides possible. In fact, Emotion Side B plays well in its own right as a short album brimming with catchy hooks, crisp production, and 80s nostalgia. Opener "First Time" has a backing track similar to Gloria Estefan's "Get on Your Feet." "Higher" and "The One" thunder with drum machines and bravado.  "Fever" may be the best track here, built as a wall of dance beats and longing that captures late-summer melancholy. (It doesn't hurt that the lyrics "so I rode your bike to your house last night, and I'm so damn scared because your car's not there" recalls Strangers Things--another master work of 80s nostalgia). The second half of Side B is crisp and clean, if not quite as gripping--but even a slightly lower bar for Jepsen is masterful. While "Body Language" is fun and "Cry" plays with melodrama, I prefer the quirky Dear-John-letter "Store;" it's one of those weird lyrical ideas that shows Jepsen's odd side, and I adore those moments on her records. (I mean, read the lyrics for "I Really Like You" sometime and tell me it doesn't sound like a bubble-gum slasher film.) "Roses" also works as a closer, discussing the end of a relationship and the end of a creative period for the pop star. It's a gift to have more tracks from this era, and these tunes make me excited to see where she goes next too.

                                 Click here to buy a copy of my book, Men and Music.

Album Review: Britney Spear's Glory

Britney Spears new record, Glory, is the kind of album fans have long been waiting for from the pop star. It's as cohesive as her best records (2007's Blackout and 2003's In the Zone) but this album focuses on her considerable (and often forgotten) vocal talents and a breezy aesthetic that make Glory not only the best summer record this year, but the best record of Spear's career.

The album is mostly set in a cozy, luxurious bedroom where Brit plays the sexiest mom-next-door ever. She calls listeners in with the soft "Invitation," and continues the theme with the single "Make Me," the campy "Private Show," "Just Love Me" (her best slow-groove ballad in a decade), the thumping come-on "Clumsy," dance masterpiece "Do You Wanna Come Over?," and the burlesque-ready "Slumber Party." In contrast to previous efforts, these tunes vary in tone from intimate ("Just Love Me") to playful ("Do You Wanna Come Over?") but their productions avoid clutter and focus Spear's enigmatic voice. She can coo, whisper, groan, and warble with more dexterity than ever. There's a reason she's one of the most iconic vocalists of the last 20 years, and Glory allows her to show the many shades of her voice.

She can even belt when she's called to. In "What You Need," Spears goes balls-to-wall delivering a funk-influenced come-on that feels like a lost Duffy gem. At the end of the song, she closes the record saying, "That was fun," and that's the whole point: Britney Spears enjoyed making this music. Glory shines because it is a pleasure to hear Spears having such a good time.

Men and Music Out Now!

Men and Music is out and available for purchase on Amazon. I am stunned with joy. This book was many years in the making, and I cannot quite express my excitement. I'm sure I will have many more things to say about the book in future posts, but for now I want to say I feel blessed and to thank everyone who has supported me along the way.

Here is some praise from great poets about Men and Music:

Isaiah Vianese's love of pop music gives his work a steady, rhythmical beat. And like any good pop song, these poems hook you with their clear-eyed stories of love, loss, displacement and unexpected joy. 

--CollinKelley, author of Render and Better To Travel

Isaiah Vianese’s carefully crafted lyric poems celebrate queer life and love, not just in dark corners of night clubs, where kisses “taste like peach margaritas,” but also in bright kitchens where “dishes pile in the sink and the plants thirst for water.”  All the while, Men and Music pays homage to the soundtrack in the background, songs that carry us from Nebraska to New York, and even to our hands and knees, where we offer ourselves to the labor of our lives.

--CaitlinMcDonnell, author of Looking for Small Animals

Men and Music Cover Reveal

I am very excited to reveal a mock-up of the cover for my forthcoming poetry collection, Men and Music. I've been working closely with my editor/designer at Coyote Creek Books, Jan McCutcheon, and her work is brilliant. She's been very open to my vision for the book, as well as made spot-on suggestions for how to make it the best product possible. Working with her has been a pleasure, and I feel super grateful for the experience.

On a related note: what is about a cover that makes a book feel real? Up to this point, the book has felt like a manuscript, but the cover marks its transition towards a fully realized work. It's an exciting metamorphosis.

I am not sure the exact date the book will be available. It looks like we have a couple more weeks of fine-tuning, but Men and Music should be up for purchase as a print and ebook on Amazon in the near future. As always, stay tuned for more detail. My next post about the collection should be the announcement of its publication!

Thank you for checking in, dear reader. It's great to have your company on this journey. See you again soon!

The Best Horror Movies of 2016 (So Far)

As a follow-up to my previous post, I wanted to talk about horror films that have come out over the past eight months. It's a been a great year for the genre, and as a result I've ventured to the theater a lot more than usual to catch these efforts. For simplicity sake, I have discussed them in order of theatrical release below.

The Boy

This is the first horror film to pique my interest this year, and I was not disappointed. Pitched as a haunted doll pic, The Boy is beautifully shot and Lauren Cohan delivers a stellar performance as a nanny hired by an elderly couple to babysit a doll they treat like a son.Critics were a bit hard on the movie--especially its twist--but I argue the film creates genuine suspense, mixes realism and supernatural elements with success, features a strong action set piece, and is anchored by great acting. The Boy is a high quality, classy horror effort that both mainstream audiences and genre fans can enjoy.

The Witch: A New-England Folk Tale

As both a period piece and a witch narrative, this film fires on all cylinders. Some fans may find it a bit slow at the outset or have trouble with the 17th century dialogue, but once you get into picture, it is an engrossing, terrifying work of psychological horror. I don't want to reveal much about the plot, but I will say that I did enjoy the questions Witch raises about religion, family, gender, and truth. Is there really a witch in the woods? Where is the line between religious devotion and disastrous zealotry? Does patriarchy generate evil in women by alienating and manipulating them? It's a fascinating film.

Green Room

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room is a siege narrative about a punk band held hostage in a back stage room after witnessing a horrific crime. It is the most difficult to watch film I've seen this year. There is lots of body horror, and the late Anton Yelchin delivers a career-making performance as the unlikely hero in the pic. I was also lucky to have Saulnier at the screening I attended. In his Q and A, he talked about his punk rock past and how that informed the film. He knows about this world, and his love for these characters and their lifestyle shows on screen.

The Conjuring 2

It's really saying something that The Conjuring 2 is my least favorite of the five films I'm writing about today because it is a successful piece of supernatural horror and I (mostly) enjoyed watching it. My stumbling blocks for the pic are the use of a character that too closely resembles the monster in The Babadook and my growing distaste for the Warrens as pop culture figures. The Warrens are difficult people to fictionalize. In real life, they seemed to have earnest belief in their work as paranormal investigators, but they also seemed--according to reports--as interested in celebrity as helping people. The Conjuring films cast an empathetic light on the couple, but I'm having a hard time swallowing that idea. The way The Conjuring 2 draws more attention to their marriage and their alleged generosity doesn't sit well with me. Many people claim to have been hurt by the Warrens as their pseudo-science left collateral damage on their road to fame. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that these concerns hurt my enjoyment of the picture. That said, if you like the first film, you will likely enjoy the second.

Lights Out

Based on a great short film, this full length feature succeeds at meeting fan expectations. It expands on the premise in an enjoyable way, while also adding depth to the concept and some commentary on mental illness. When I first saw the film, I tweeted that if you liked The Grudge or The Babadook, you would enjoy Lights Out. I stand by that opinion. The film has good scares and strong performances, which help you care about the cast. Even the doofy boyfriend character has more depth than your average horror pic. If the film has a problem, it's the ending, which may have an unfortunate message on suicide depending on how you read it. (For more on the film's conclusion and its intentions, check out this great interview with the director.)

As usual, thank you for stopping by, dear reader. I promise to have more updates on my forthcoming poetry collection, Men and Music, very soon. I am working with the publisher to get everything ready for the presses, and the book should be out in September. Needless to say, I am very excited! Stay tuned for more information.