M J Nicholls’s Playlist for His Novel “Condemned to Cymru”

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In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

M J Nicholls’s novel Condemned to Cymru is inventive, compelling, and thoroughly original.

The Heavy Feather Review wrote of the book:

“M.J. Nicholls’ new novel Condemned to Cymru is Rabelaisian in every sense of the word: it’s gross, it’s droll, there’s sex and violence and jokes. It even affects the Rabelaisian flourish of an artificial structure—the story is mostly presented as one pathetic misanthrope’s alphabetized travelogue (of sorts) of Wales, written for a sinister Icelandic thinktank bent on world domination. And much like Rabelais, beneath all the playful language and grotesqueries is a story concerned with people, society, suffering, and justice (or the lack thereof)…”

In his own words, here is M J Nicholls’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Condemned to Cymru:

The following is a sequence of skinny devotions. Any attempt to relate these songs explicitly to my novel have collapsed spectacularly, with a staggering three hundred words of clumsily shoehorned Cymru references blissfully wiped, leaving only lean and unwanky commentaries on music that feathered my earholes around the composition of the novel. My eagerness to toot a fatter strafe of artists, along with my inability to write unobvious music criticism in any Morleyesque manner, means the paragraphs presented are mere pithy streaks of homage. Anyone who has briefly perused the intolerable torrents of autofiction on music reviewing websites, where the writers strain every sinew larding the canon of Sebadoh into their personal mythology, melding 1990s indie rock albums into the manifest destiny of their supremely bigly being-them-ness, might appreciate the thinness of my prospect.

‘Frenzy’ by The Ex

The wondrous roar of anarcho-punk ended in the 1980s, when Gang of Four turned sappy, The Clash turned funky, and The Dead Kennedys turned flabby. Dutch outfit The Ex never stopped producing vital anti-establishment skronk, cutting defiantly off-kilter records lifted by the visionary ramblings of G.W. Sok.

‘Year of the Hard Hitter’ by Guided by Voices

I favour fragments of cryptic wordplay and funky non sequiturs swimming in my ears as I write. Robert Pollard, the one-man walking manifesto against self-editing, is simply incapable of lyrical or rhythmical blandness.

‘Life on the Line’ by The Raincoats

Playful naivety is always cheering, especially when the players have the audacity to record a sheerly poppy variation on ‘Heroin’, blissfully unwilling to accept the bleakness of the original’s Cale-injected screech.

‘Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled)’ by Half Man Half Biscuit

Every joyously executed lyric from caustic satirist Nigel Blackwell, swaddled in deliriously catchy melodies and riffs, is a continual source of unfettered bliss.

‘Split’ by Kleenex/LiLiPUT

Moments of spontaneous lunacy and violent creative splatterings are things to be cherished, whether aural or no. This one’s for the ages.

‘Janitor of Lunacy’ by Nico

Summoning walls of epic drear from the medieval chasm of her harmonium, former VU intoner Nico scaled the peak of her artistry with the 1970 masterpiece Desertshore—twenty-eight minutes of chamber-music-from-hell, a mix of archly miserable poetry sprechgesanged over the fortunately divine viola and piano of John Cale.

‘Elephant’ by Shellac

Meta-rock composed with mathematical precision, where each thump and pause has been carefully calibrated for maximum aural astonishment? Oh, OK then.

‘Nine Out of Ten’ by The Fall

Mark E. Smith stalks off the stage, leaving the lone strum of a serially whipped musician to perform a suitably repetitive lament, following the final perfect Fall album.

‘Weird Diseases’ by The Magnetic Fields

Exquisitely executed memoir-in-song shot through with self-deprecatory brilliance and an invigorating eclecticism by one of the (caps coming) Great American Songwriters.

‘Betty Lonely’ by Vic Chestnutt

Only a writer of Chesnutt’s calibre could produce a song as haunting and tremendous to match the mastery of this lyric: ‘She sunk her past out in the surrounding salt flats / Her maidenhood was lost beneath the Spanish moss.’

‘Apostate’ by Swans

A towering edifice of migraine-strength bass and bone-shredding barks collapses under a hail of meteor-shower tomtoms, bringing to close an astonishing work of art, The Seer.

‘Religion II’ by Public Image Ltd

A sneer for every occasion, Lydon’s post-Pistols outfit is a triumph of razor-wire guitar, freaky yelps, and nostril-flaring invective.

And here ends my skinny devotions. I appreciate you appreciate my reluctance to wax lyrical on these matters, bearing in mind the Latin motto nihilo peius quam alius homo est musicis gustibus, which loosely translates as ‘there’s nothing worse than another’s musical tastes’.

M.J. Nicholls is the author of TRIMMING ENGLAND (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2020), SCOTLAND BEFORE THE BOMB (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2019), THE 1002ND BOOK TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2018), THE QUIDDITY OF DELUSION (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2017), THE HOUSE OF WRITERS (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2016), and A Postmodern Belch. He lives in Glasgow.

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