“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong – Book Review

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a letter dedicated to Ocean Vuong’s mother, in which the speaker of the novel explores his intimate past, beauty in the aftermath of hate and desperation and cultural identity.

Ocean Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam and at the age of 2 came to America with his family to be raised in Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a BA in Nineteenth Century American Literature, and later graduated from NYU with a MFA in Poetry as stated by his website.

“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” has an outstanding number of accolades attributed to Vuong and his words. This book is Vuong’s first published novel. He has two published poetry collections, “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and “Time is a Mother”, both of which I now have a strong desire to read. 


I am a big hater of novels and stories that are in a letter format. Books like “Dracula” and stories that have clippings of information usually take away from the personality a book can offer, but Ocean Vuong puts so much of his voice into this novel.

Little Dog, the narrator and speaker of the novel, is an immigrant from Vietnam who takes us through his family’s past, his own sense of love and what family means to him. The scars the narrator presents us are deep, but Vuong is able to explore their divots with a perspective of beauty and hope rather than solely pain and sorrow. 

Each word of this letter carries the emotion of someone who has lost so many people they have loved, hated and feared. The story weaves in and out of the present and past. Actually, the letter rarely focuses on a central time frame. Instead of being centered around a moment in space, it centralizes itself around the various feelings that stem from love. 

We read through neighborhood myths and stories of war crimes separated only by a few spaces. The novel flows impeccably. Vuong threads emotion throughout all the memories that resurface in the letter. 

Despite the unimportance of chronology in this book, it is a journey for Little Dog. He comes to terms with losses in his family, and he must learn the importance of loving people deeply. What makes this book so great is in attempting to write about it, I am utterly failing to convey the appropriate amount of grace and insight that can be gleaned from a single page.


Good art makes you appreciate how other forms of art shape the way we experience the moments and people around us. “On This Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is a tremendous novel on its own, but adding its perspective to the multitude of words, eyes and lips that exist in the modern artist leaves me wanting more art and beauty to devour. 

I cannot wait to see where Ocean Vuong will take language in his writing, and I hope he provides the best inspiration for the future of voices and language.

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef

Classic Album Review

“Drive My Car” Soundtrack Appreciation

“Drive My Car” has an outstanding list of accolades that would blow most films (besides “Parasite”) out of the water. Most of the achievements of the film are focused on acting, cinematography and best foreign film, but not nearly enough give love and credit to the composition of music that flows so beautifully with the pictures on the screen. 

The director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and screenplay writer, Takamas Oe, adapted this film from a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. The collection, in my opinion, features some of Murakami’s best works, so I was naturally excited to see this film introduced to the world. 

Eiko Ishibashi, the composer of this film and independent musician, has a prolific career collaborating with different artists to make “acclaimed singer-songwriter albums to film scores for film and television to improvised music settings” according to her website.  

In this film, Ishibashi conjures emotions with simple, soft sounds. One of the benefits of movies with softer soundtracks is how unaware the audience is that music (in combination with cinematography) feeds into their emotional attachment to a scene. 

The track, “Drive My Car”, has light pianos and strings to allow viewers to take in the scenery and picturesque beauty of the film rather than watch an awkward silence encompass two people talking to each other. The soundtrack itself has sounds from the movie recorded in it, so the film is inescapably part of the soundtrack.

One note about the OST is that almost every song’s name is a different version of the original. By that I mean each song is a variation of its predecessor, which I think is a neat way to make a soundtrack. Each song is noticeably different, but every variation still holds true to their original. 

One more track that I hold dear is “We’ll live through the long, long days and through the long nights (SAAB 900)”. I consider this track the ode to the gorgeous car, the SAAB 900:

Red 1983 SAAB 900 GL on a street with shrubbery behind it.
Photo by Niels de Wit of a 1983 SAAB 900 GL. Creative Commons license.

The song has the heartbeat of a car, and makes me feel like I am driving with smells of old leather and sunbaked seatbelts. I love how Ishibashi made this car into a song. Usually, I don’t care for cars, but the combination of the film and music made me fall in love with this machine. 

If you haven’t seen this film or heard the music, make sure to check it out if you feel inspired to. 

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef


“SLC Punk!” – A Movie Review

The rage, terror, and joy of punk rockers is hard to appropriately capture on film. I have seen directors place punk into a nice neat box of hardcore drug users, nihilism and fighting, but that’s not punk.

“SLC Punk!”, directed by James Merendino, explores hardcore punk rockers’ reasons to live and rebel. I do not think this film encapsulates all of the punk genre, but it does get a clearer representation of punk compared to a mainstream music film. 

This movie stars Matthew Lillard as Stevo, Michael A. Goorjian as Bob and Annabeth Gish as Trish. A few other notable actors are Jason Siegel, James Duval and Summer Phoenix. 


Stevo and Bob are reformed nerds who turned to the punk music scene when they felt outcast by their classmates. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is a funny setting for a punk film. Exploring the fictional punk scene in Salt Lake City (SLC), we are taken on a journey of pent up emotions. 

Stevo is pushed by his parents to attend Harvard Law School after graduating from Utah University. Bob, on the other hand, is growing more accustomed to life in SLC as he falls in love with a mystical being, Trish. 

I love the way Merendino is able to show Stevo becoming more aware that being a punk in SLC isn’t something to do for life. Stevo’s dad at the beginning of the film tells him to “buy in” to society and law, but don’t sell out. This comment is a catalyst for Stevo’s change throughout the film. 

By the end of the film, Stevo changes, Bob changes, even punk changes. The characters are full of life throughout the film, but as we explore their motives and backgrounds they become more realistic and loveable. The way I perceived this vision of punk changed how I appreciate music in general. I see more artists as expressive, and I am able to enjoy more voices in music. 


Okay, the music in this film is great. It doesn’t dive as deep as it could in terms of hardcore punk, but it grasps the roots of punk rock firmly. 

The movie opens with “Sex and Violence” by The Exploited, which is a fun way to open any film. I think this track (even though it is a bit repetitive) can keep my blood pumping even harder. It also prepares viewers well for the blood, sex, and stories that follow. 

Also, in the intro are the opening credits where they put actors’ names onto the album art of tracks they used in the film. I thought it was a cool way to appreciate the art and love for the albums as they flashed across the screen. 

A few more key tracks in the movie are “Amoeba” by The Adolescents, “Gasoline Rain” by Moondogg and a classic, “Kill the Poor” by Dead Kennedys. 

The Adolescents bring a hard, riotous edge to one of the fight scenes, while “Gasoline Rain” slows the film down a bit during an emotional scene. I find both tracks are used perfectly in the score. They tie into the characters’ emotions well and are able to make the scenes feel bigger than the film. 

“Kill the Poor” by Dead Kennedys is great core punk music. I just wish this wasn’t saved for the end credit scenes of this movie. It could have been used for a cool rowdy scene in the desolate SLC, but unfortunately got chopped up to be put with the credits. 


I don’t think I could write about this film without talking about the costumes. There are so many wonderful flavors of people that are represented. 

Stevo’s striking blue hair is sick. At one point he has a massive blue mohawk that grabs your eyes from every other thing happening on the screen. Everyone’s clothes are really well adapted for the SLC weather and punk shows.

Check out this clip that shows off their costumes well [Content Warning: violence and cursing]:

Clip off YouTube from “SLC Punk!”. YouTube video posted by cybluvshatchets2012.

I love how all of the “gangs” of Salt Lake City all have a semblance of a uniform. The mods in the suits and coats, the punk rockers in their rough style and the rednecks looking like stereotypical rednecks all come together to create a strange, vibrant scene. Everything meshes together to create a lifelike city atmosphere, and I could almost attribute that solely to the costumes. 


While I love watching this film, there are a few issues with it. Mainly, I think it does not talk about sexuality and punk well. It will have lines that hint at the topic, but I think it’s a big part of punk culture that gets glossed over and not explored. 

More issues include how the movie ended and what it poses as a solution for punk rockers. I won’t go into much detail about it because it spoils it a bit, but I feel as if it gave up too much of its core values and did not set up a bright future for all of the characters (not that they have to have bright futures). 

Overall, I highly recommend watching this even if you aren’t remotely into punk as it explores art and music in an exciting way. 

Keep eatin’

DJ chef

New Album Review

New Album Review: “Behold! I Make All Things New” by Jozef van Wissem

ALBUM: “Behold! I Make All Things New” by Jozef van Wissem


LABEL: Incunabulum

RATING: 7/10

BEST TRACKS: “What Hearts Must Bleed, What Tears Must Fall”, “The Adornment”,  “A New Earth”

FCC: None

Jozef van Wissem, I have found, is an interesting character. He composes soundtracks for films, collaborates with directors, and he makes beautiful lute tunes, all while looking like a thrasher pilgrim. 

Behold! I Make All Things New” has a play time of 51 minutes and 41 seconds, and every single moment of it is delicious. 

In the past van Wissem has worked with film director, Jim Jarmusch to create a few soundtracks and album projects. This album, however, is a solo project filled with the plucks, strums, and chimes that could only be made by van Wissem’s delicate fingers.

To start out, the opening of this album is a little darker than it ends, which I love. A transition from dark to light, especially in instrumental albums, allows me to “take shotgun” on the musical journey with the artist. 

The jump from the first track into my favorite track of the album, “What Hearts Must Bleed, What Tears Must Fall”, creates that feeling of transitioning from dark to light. The slow opening of the album creeps and eventually pounces into strong, high notes filled with positivity and light. I know this track is lengthy (13 minutes and 41 seconds), but the gaps of silence between some of the sections give my ears a moment to reflect and soak in the entirety of the song.

More instruments create more layers as the album crawls onward. Unfortunately, I found the middle section of the album to be my least favorite section. The third and fifth tracks slip by and are forgettable, but with “A New Earth” van Wissem regains my attention with faster strikes against his instrument. This track elevates itself from the rest of the album with how short, fast and upbeat it is. 

A lot of what I appreciate about this album is how well everything fits together. I know I lose myself in the middle section, but I can put this album on and completely immerse myself in everything that is happening. 

Another piece of this album that I enjoy is the background drone sounds in “Your Flesh Will Rise In Glory On The Day Of The Future Resurrection”. The whirring of the continuous reverb in the background of this track sits me down at such a strange place. I can’t really place myself in the world when I listen to this track. I do wish he utilized that background noise throughout more of the album in different styles, because I think it helped bring out the power of his normal plucking. 

Through the strengths and weaknesses of “Behold! I Make All Things New”, I gained access to a new appreciation for instrumental artists and some good songs to sit and think to. This album also helps me to know where solo instrumentalists can exist in the music industry today. They have their niche carved out for them, but more artists like van Wissem need to reach out and grab the attention of their genre listeners.

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef


Book Review – “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

Author Bio

William Gibson is a Canadian Science Fiction author with a crazy talent to prophesize the internet’s future. Not actually, but he came pretty close with “Neuromancer”. 

Gibson’s writing style includes short, descriptive sentences that are able to gather the best angles to view and perceive action through writing. Gibson also is able to make characters that feel fictional and realistic through the way he humanizes them in his stories. 

In “Neuromancer”, William Gibson created new meanings for tech-y words like “matrix” and “cyberspace”. We constantly use these words today, but Gibson was able to create the context and story that allows us to visualize what matrices and cyberspaces are. 

Synopsis (Spoiler Free)

This book starts out with a bang. Case, the main character and lowlife hacker, is given one more shot to make it big with a huge data heist. His nervous system is crippled and most of his organs are failing in the first few pages of the book, but a mysterious employer, Armitage, gives him a chance with this heist. 

Case partners with Molly Millions to prepare for this data heist against Lady 3Jane, the most recent clone from the Tessier-Ashpool company. As Case and Molly explore each other’s backgrounds, they do some data digging on their employer, which involves them with an Artificial Intelligence, Wintermute. 

Racing through the build-up to the big heist, we are able to learn about Case’s losses and mental issues along with the problems Molly and Armitage face. I found that Molly and Armitage are really good support characters to Case, as they each exemplify parts of himself that he needs to fix. In comparing Molly to Case, it is the guilt and love in Case’s past he needs to work through, and in Armitage’s comparison, it is the trust and support of people Case needs to learn from. 

The heist, like many heist books or movies does not go off without a few hitches. Case is able to come to terms with his prior issues through the people he met like Molly. Gibson creates a labyrinth of action sequences that leaves us muddled, confused, yet satisfied up to the final pages of the book. 


I am a big Sci-Fi nerd, so learning about the influences “Neuromancer” had on Sci-Fi writing cultures made me interested in picking this book up. I am extremely happy that I did so. 

The foundations of shows and movies I love have roots in this book, and for that reason alone it makes “Neuromancer” a must read book. But also, this book is a fantastic piece of literature. 

The way Gibson describes technology and the endless expanse of Sprawl (basically a visual internet) without ever seeing anything like it before astounds me. Reading absolutely free thinking people’s crazy fantasies where anything can happen helps open my eyes to the possibilities I can influence around myself. 

I can’t wait to read the two follow-up books that make this into a trilogy. I need to read more of Gibson’s style because of how rapid and free it feels, so please check out his book from a library (or buy it form a local bookstore).

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef


Film Review: “Only Lovers Left Alive”

The romantic and gothic world of vampires and music fanatics are combined in this Jim Jarmusch film. What is not to love about a combination between music, love, and blood? Just think about the rituals that are cast with that combination. 

The director, Jim Jarmusch, helped create the soundtrack for this movie with his band SQÜRL and Jozef van Wissem. He also recruited Tilda Swinton to play Eve, and he recruited Tom Hiddleston to play Adam. Jarmusch creates films that focus on people and the relationships they incur in the world, and “Only Lovers Left Alive” does not stray from his film focus. 

Synopsis (If you are not into spoilers, then maybe don’t continue reading)

In “Only Lovers Left Alive” two extremely intelligent vampires, Adam and Eve, fall deeper and deeper in love as the film progresses. We get to watch two beautiful beings come to the realization all they need in their worlds is each other. 

Adam lives in Detroit, and Eve lives in Tangier. Both are connected to their respective city’s natural life, culture, and especially musical culture. Adam is depressed. He pays a “zombie” (human) to make a wooden bullet and plays with a loaded gun.

Somehow Adam’s depression isn’t the main tension in the film. Jarmusch is able to propel off Adam’s oddly short suicidal character arc and latch Adam and Eve together again. Through a ridiculously complicated FaceTime, Eve decides to visit Adam in Detroit (which is gorgeous in this film). 

The two lovers are together again. Nothing can go wrong, right? Well, Eve’s sister, Eva, eventually shows up on the doorstep and begins to destroy Adam’s image in Detroit. I personally love this part because we get to see the music scene in more detail, which of course is abstract and dark. 

With Adam’s image ruined, he returns with Eve to Tangier where the two can start again and tap into the roots of music, culture, and nature together. That’s it. That is the film. 

While that was a brief rundown, there is a lot more within the scenes, shots and sounds of the film I want to dig deeper into.

The Cinematography

First, the empty abandoned streets of Detroit (I don’t understand why these vampires are enamored with Jack White) are incredibly gorgeous. The film shots are filled with flickering lamp posts surrounded by vegetation that is left to run free and dark, decrepit mansions which are abandoned and forgotten. I do not understand how I fell in love with a city I have never seen before. I would love to roam the streets Jarmusch creates. They leave so many adventures untold. 

Adam’s lair in Detroit is also a thing of beauty. The haphazard decorations and walls filled with amps, guitars, lutes, violins, and anything a musician would ever need occupy every inch of space. He might have a cluttered home, but every bit of it is loved.

Tangier’s beauty is different. The slow undulations of the streets let the characters roam about with a bit more luxury and light compared to the dark corners of Detroit. I feel more at home in Adam’s Detroit, but that is probably because the film spent more time there. 

The Sounds of the Film

Another reason I fell for this film is the way Jarmusch blends music and film. He brings in his own band and a close friend to this movie to hand select the perfect musical accompaniment I have heard in a while. 

SQÜRL’s rough sounding guitars and bass help create the atmosphere needed to appreciate the places and things Adam and Eve experience. Also, Jozef van Wissem is able to create songs which allow you to love the gaps of silence. 

Final Thoughts

I could write another thousand words about this film, but it won’t be able to let anyone experience it the way they should. If you decide to watch this movie, then appreciate it in its entirety. I am not sure there is a more perfect vampire film that exists than “Only Lovers Left Alive”. 

Keep eatin’ 

-DJ chef

Blog Concert Review

Built to Spill @ Cat’s Cradle 5/8/22

If you, like me, are an indie rock fan, then seeing Built to Spill should be on your list of bands to see live. I went with a group of friends to Cat’s Cradle (one of the best venues to see anyone play) on May 8, and I saw a couple of electric performances by individuals and bands. 

Built to Spill frequents Cat’s Cradle, as they usually make sure to have a stop every tour. This year they brought along two openers, Itchy Kitty and Prism Bitch. Itchy Kitty are from Spokane, Washington and they play wonderfully loud, jarring sounds in the vein of punk and “whiplash inducing riffage” as stated by their Bandcamp bio. Prism Bitch are from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their genre focus is in the pop indie rock niche, which unfortunately adds to my slight distaste for their performance. 

Itchy Kitty

Itchy Kitty performing live at Cat's Cradle
Itchy Kitty onstage at Cat’s Cradle – Photo by Ben Price

After milling about in the crowd waiting for the show to start, Itchy Kitty hopped on the stage. The members, Ami Elston (guitar and vocals), Naomi Eisenbrey (bass and vocals), Mike “Sug” Tschirgi (drums), and a fill-in guitarist, immediately started off trying to get the crowd moving.

Elston and Esenbrey’s vocals screamed through the Cradle and jolted most people awake. I don’t think many people were expecting a raging punk band like Itchy Kitty to open for the soft, mild-mannered Built to Spill. 

At one point during their set, my group of friends got a shout out from Elston and Eisenbrey for being the only people trying to mosh and get moving to the music. I loved their stage presence. Especially Naomi Eisenbrey’s jerky movements when they covered “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads (which was fantastic and horrifying at the same time). 

Itchy Kitty killed their set. I didn’t recognize all of their songs, but “Year of the Slut” and “Diffuse the Rat” were good ones to throw some elbows to. I am hoping this tour with Built to Spill will make their fanbase a bit more vast so we can see them headlining soon. 

Prism Bitch

Moving onto the second opener, Prism Bitch did a fine job. They were more of who I expected to open for Built to Spill. Their pop centered indie rock did not blow me away like Itchy Kitty’s in-your-face screams and riffs. The members are Lauren Poole (bass and vocals), Lilah Rose (keyboard, guitar and vocals), Chris Walsh (guitar), and Teresa Esquerra (drums and vocals). 

I thought Poole and Esquerra made the most impact on the band’s presence on stage. Both were fun to watch as they poured in all their energy into their instruments. Poole’s vocals were a great addition to Rose’s dreamy, classic, pop-rock style of singing. Prism Bitch did not get me moving like Itchy Kitty, but I have hope they’ll be able to fine tune their style to find a sound more intriguing. 

Built to Spill

When Doug Martsch finally came to stage it was already 10:30 p.m. Both openers had exhausted me and friends, but nothing could stop me from enjoying seeing one of my favorite bands knock out some of the best guitar work in the world. 

Doug Martsch was joined on stage by Prism Bitch’s drummer, Teresa Esquerra, and bassist Melanie Radford. Both Esquerra and Radford were amazing fill-ins. Radford’s bass playing was fun to watch. She looked like she was having as much fun as the crowd the way she swayed with Martsch’s rhythms. 

Doug Martsch onstage at Cat's Cradle
From left to right: Melanie Radford (bass), Doug Martsch (guitar and vocals), and Teresa Esquerra (drums) – Photo by Ben Price

Built to Spill’s set ranged from classics to covers to long winded instrumentals. They started off with “The Plan” to get the crowd “moving” (everyone was doing the obligatory calm head bops to the beat). There were a few technical issues after the first couple songs, but after that quick pause Martsch played the opening instrumental to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, which led into “Gonna Lose”. 

A cover of a Cate Le Bon song, “Are You with Me Now?”, marked the middle of the set. The plucky instrumentals and Martsch’s soft voice created a memorable sound. I really loved this cover (unfortunately I had never heard of Cate Le Bon before this concert). At this point the crowd began to sway their hips and move their feet more.

That cover was followed by “Goin’ Against Your Mind”. The never ending guitar riffs, bass solo by Melanie Radford, and always incredible drum work by Esquerra created the perfect atmosphere for the song. I think while they were playing “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” I saw Martsch smile for the first time and only time during their set. 

“Carry the Zero” being one of the last songs they played was a treat too. That classic hit will never get old for me, and now I can say I have seen it live. I honestly believe that finally seeing Doug Martsch and Built to Spill perform live was a life goal achieved. While the merch table was mediocre (besides the bangin’ Itchy Kitty t-shirts), seeing Built to Spill live is an important experience for people to understand why they are so well loved. 

Keep eatin’

– DJ chef

Blog Classic Album Review

Classic Album Review: “The Natural Bridge” by Silver Jews

ALBUM: “The Natural Bridge” by Silver Jews

RELEASE YEAR: Oct. 1, 1996

LABEL: Drag City

RATING: 10/10

BEST TRACKS: “Pet Politics”, “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You”,  “Pretty Eyes”

FCC: None

The Silver Jews’ album “The Natural Bridge” is easily one of the best lo-fi, country-rock albums ever created. That is not at all a biased statement. It is solely factual. Silver Jews was a band composed of David Berman (the lyricist and lead guitar), Stephen Malkmus (guitar and sometimes a lyric collaborator), and Bob Nastanovich (percussionist and keyboardist mainly). In “The Natural Bridge” Berman composed all of the tracks. His lyrics are full of metaphors, religious symbolism, and his monotone, gravel-ly, indie rock voice. 

This LP consists of 10 tracks and has a 35 minute and 42 second run time. Each song is distinct, but together the tracks are able to support each other to make a collective sound of loneliness, wandering, and beauty. 

The second song, “Pet Politics”, is easily my favorite of the record; it opens with soft acoustic strums and Berman’s calm voice. Then, it slowly dips itself into the heavy lyrics obsessing over death, new Bible creation stories, and pleas for safety. Because this song elicits so much emotion through repetition and simplicity, it feels complete.

Each track on this record itches a scratch I never knew I had. The satisfying guitar and keyboard synthesis puts me in a state of calm acceptance I cannot get from anywhere else, and Berman’s lyricism is one of the reasons I fell in love with this album.

Look at this line on “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You”: 

“What if life is just some hard equation on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts”

This bleak image of the afterlife makes this album meaningful to me, as I love to learn about people’s perspectives on how the world around them works. 

Even the instrumental track, “The Right to Remain Silent“, has a purpose in this album rather than being a short filler between songs. Light drums march along, and I am transported to the dusk, empty streets of a nondescript American city. Every song accompanies you as you explore the beautiful, expansive streets of the world alone.

“The Natural Bridge” is no longer an album for me to listen to if I am feeling blue. It became a fervent necessity to focus on every note and word within each track. Silver Jews are able to blend the comfort of country with the exploration of ideology and emotion often seen in indie rock. I have become addicted to listening to this LP, and maybe if you start listening closely, you too might become obsessed like me.

Keep eatin’

-DJ chef