| Jonathan Monk, Continuous Project Altered Daily (ICA, 2006). Catalogue of an overview exhibition by Young(ish; 35)-British-Artist Monk, with its conceit of removing and adding a few works each day of the show inspired by the title, which comes from an early Castelli show of Robert Morris’s. Which fits: Monk’s work is part of that peculiar vein of neo-Conceptualism that involves adapting or slightly varying strategies and specific works from the ‘60s and‘70s, often toward witty or more ‘personal’ ends, while retaining the ethos of ‘idea first’ and minimal facture. Martin Creed would be a kissing cousin; Christopher Williams (more systematic and less funny) a distant one. Examples: postcards mailed to places that On Kawara sent “I got up…” postcards from; a photo piece of side streets off of Sunset Blvd. in L.A. (cf. Ruscha); text ‘paintings’ reading, say, “This painting should ideally be hung near to a Sol Lewitt (cf. Baldessari, among others); and so forth. One of the cleverer and more appealing pieces doesn’t have such a specific provenance: a slide projector that displays commercial postcards of Big Ben at the times depicted on the postcards (inc. when the gallery is closed), and remains off at all other times of day. (“A stopped clock…”and all that.) I suppose I’m drawn to at least check out this sort of thing because it’s likely what I’d be doing (because it’s all I’d be capable of) if I were an “artist.” One can discern a similar impetus behind some post-Language writing, though at the moment the sense of a love/hate tussle with forbearers’ innovations is arguably stronger in literature than in visual art; take, for example, the perfectly-titled and –executed “Whole Hog,” a sort of rural de-electrification of Watten’s “Complete Thought” that occupies the center of  Lisa Jarnot’s Night Songs (Flood 2008). By comparison, Monk and Creed’s work seems fairly affectionate. I don’t have any off-the-cuff speculations on the reasons for this difference.|
 Joseph Thomas, Strong Measures (Make Now, 2007). Highly focused Noulipean work that uses the neoformalist anthology Strong Measures: Contemporary American in Traditional Forms as sole source for various recombinations. One section reassembles single lines from various individual poems in that text to produce ‘new’ sonnets, villanelles, etc., retaining rhyme scheme (though not meter). I take it that the point is to display the constraints on content and imagery operative on a group of ostensibly distinct writers. Other sections employ selection strategies too elaborate to reproduce here; the methodological “Notes” have a MacLow-with-OCD quality. The most corrosive section is a mesostic on the title that turns the anthology’s “editorial apparatus” to so much schrapnel. The justification of the caps won’t reproduce here, but:
educaTed at san jose
new york aquarIum
i aM willing to bear
w. S. merwin
Interesting project, though the return on investment is not quite as high for me as in:
 Raphael Rubenstein, The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces (Make Now, 2007). The first half of the book consists of poems comprising n stanzas of n lines of n n-letter words, for n=1 to 8. The first, “After the Divorce: Crossing Paths by Chance in a Park,” reads, in its entirety:
The second, “Crisis”:
The tours de force really start around n=5; here’s the second stanza from n=8, the pan-musical “Active Octaves”:
Eardrums register brimming airwaves carrying assorted auditory messages,
miswired receiver confuses adjacent stations: highland Scottish bagpipes
encroach Jamaican melodica virtuoso, Hendrixy feedback explodes delicate
madrigal, Liberace disrupts Tristano, yodeling mountain peasants bulldoze
Idomeneo. Antennas remotely transmit baffling episodes: Mulligan embraces
Gesualdo, bleating electric bassoons practice Ultravox classics, Veracruz
mariachi ensemble enlivens famously pathetic Nocturne, Bayreuth audience
whistles Zepplin melodies, Morrissey conducts flawless Sibelius symphony.
Degree of difficulty slightly below Bökian levels, perhaps, but still quite the feat. If the individual poems in the back half of the book are procedural or constraint-driven, it’s not as evident; they have their own pleasures, especially “Illusion is a Gangstergirl,” each stanza beginning with the titular phrase and moving out in various directions from there, one even tweaking the Oulipean (“Illusion is a gangstergirl/an anagram for ‘langourous green misprints” (just kidding). [I myself briefly thought “profiteroles” might be an anagram of “proliferates” the other day.] Good book.
 Dream Babes Vol. 2; Reflections (RPM, 2001). There are many, many series of reissue comps out there for those who want to delve deeper into girl-group and/or gal-sung ‘60s pop minutae than the Rhino box allows; this particular series, of which this is the only volume I’ve heard, focuses on U.K. major-label singles, largely on Columbia and Paralphone, from 62-71; like most, it’s hit-or-miss. (That said, the five mostly-French, copyright-flouting Ultra Chicks comps, if you can locate them, are invaluable for yé-yé-heads.) Stylisticall, this is all over the map, from erzats rock-and-roll (Linda Laine’s “Low Grades & High Fever,” which isn’t much beyond its title and Coasters-styled hook) to budget Bacharach (Three Bells’ “Over and Over” again). Two curiosities attempt to capitalize on then-current movies: Gullivers People’s “Splendour in the Grass” and Caroline Munro’s “This Sporting Life.” (Cf. also Don Everly’s “The Collector,” found on the Bros.’ odd Hollies-produced -----). All told, there are about four tracks here that I’d at least consider if I were compiling a personal best-of-genre playlist: Cilia Black’s precisely-sung “Work Is a Four Letter Word,”well-known from its Smiths’ cover; Jill and the Boulevards’ “And Now I Cry,” with a Duane-Eddy-meets-Yma-Sumac texture that anticipates Tarnation’s brief career; Linda Laine and the Sinners’ “Don’t Do It Baby,” which obviously but effectively repurposes the hook of “Don’t Worry Baby” in a pleasant 12-string arrangement, and (best-of-show), Patsy Ann Noble’s “I Did Nothing Wrong,” a minor-key, Hammond-rich it’s-not-what-you-think number sung and played with enough gusto to rival “You Don’t Own Me” for overheated teen drama.
 Gwigwi Mrwebi, Mbaqanga Songs (Honest Jon’s, 2008). Reissue of 1967 LP (originally titled Kwela) on a specialist label run out of a London record shop, by an oddly configured (2 altos, 1 sax, piano, bass, drums) group of Cape Town/Port Elizabeth expats (expect for drummer Laurie Allan, later of Gong). The credit to Mrwebi as leader is a bit misleading, as both the tunes and most of the solos are by either the other altoist, Dudu Pukwana, who first came to London with a group that also included Louis Moholo, or pianist Chris MacGregor. The tunes are riff-based (and often catchy), not much given to dramatic harmonic shifts even when they have B or C sections, and the overall approach to form and rhythm is more in line with what one associates with continental Africa than “island music.” But it’s not wildly expansive; nearly every track would fit on a 78 side with room to spare, the unsion sax lines are almost telepathically tight, and the solos are succinct. McGregor, despite occasionally sloppy execution, comes off as the most thoughtful soloist, sometimes sounding like a pianistic translator of the African guitar styles where arpeggiation is a key melodic motivator, other times veerying off into spikily linear bop territory. Not surprised at all to read (in venerable out-pianist Steve Bereford’s informed notes) that at least one player hear, bassist Coleridge Goode, later worked with Joe Harriot, who went much further-out from a related starting point – this disc is pretty surefire for any fan of Harriot, the Ethopiques series, or even the jazzier portions of the label’s London Is the Place for Me calypso comps. Would love to hear the recordings Beresford mentions of this band backing a South African R&B singer.