Sparky the Spunky Robot by Dani Brown – Book Review


by Ben Arzate

Matthew was once a keytar player for a synthpop band. After he got his girlfriend Karen pregnant, he was forced to marry her, get an office job, and move to Suburban Hell.

He keeps his keytar, as much as Karen wants him to get rid of it, and jerks off over it in his shed, imagining what could have been. To keep from damaging the keytar, he built a small robot called Sparky to dump his cum into. What he doesn’t know is that all the cum he fills Sparky with has brought it alive and Sparky wants nothing more than a voice to be able to speak.

“Sparky wanted her parts. Sparky wanted Papa to view him as something more than a jizz deposit box. If he took the keytar parts to have a voice, Papa would never forgive him.”

Dani Brown aka The Queen of Filth’s Sparky the Spunky Robot is a Bizarro comedy fable. It features plenty of gross-out humor with Sparky leaking cum all over suburbia as he journeys out for a voice. The contempt for modern suburban living is obvious as well.

The main critique here is against the idea that one must put one’s dreams away forever to become a “respectable” member of society and raise a family. It’s a skewering of the American dream (although Dani Brown lives in the UK) that’s been done before, but the take on it here is a lot of fun.

The plot has Sparky visiting the sheds in the houses around Suburban Hell and discovering the dreams and hobbies the people in the town have tucked away. He sees other failed musicians as well as artists, ghost hunters, taxidermists, and even another semen-powered robot named Sandy.

Sandy, however, has much darker ambitions than Sparky. This leads to friction between the two that eventually brings everything to a head when Sandy gets into Matthew and Karen’s house.

The prose reads like that of a book aimed at young readers, simple and direct. The book is even packaged like one with its colorful cover and silly title. It belies the contents full of jokes about Matthew’s giant ballsack, Karen’s numerous dildos, and spiders eating cum off the floor. It reminds me of the “children’s books for adults” that Carlton Mellick III has done.

I do find the way Matthew and Karen develop through the book somewhat lacking. Karen is too simplistically antagonistic to Matthew’s dreams of being a musician and comes across as a one-dimensional nagging wife. Likewise, Matthew’s change from henpecked husband to being able to stand up for himself comes a bit too suddenly. The story would have benefited from fleshing them out more.

Despite that, Sparky the Spunky Robot remains an entertaining Bizarro fairy tale. If you like weird, gross-out humor, this is well worth a read.

A Terrifying Probe into the Consequences of Female Naïveté: Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday

Review by Bob Freville

An official selection at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday tells the story of Sascha, the goomah of a small-time drug lord. When we first meet Sascha, she is walking through an all-white airport, the noisy footfalls of her hot pink peep toe slingbacks a cacophony that seems to announce her very loud presence.

A sign hanging from the rafters reads “Welcome to Bodrum,” but it might as well read, “Introducing Sascha” as her long blonde hair and form-fitting clothes match the volume of her footwear and make it clear that she has arrived. At least that’s what the young trophy girlfriend seems to think as she struts with all of the confidence of a seasoned runway model.

That this confidence will be swiftly taken from her may be the point of the film, a slow burn chiller that is unlike anything you are likely to see in multiplexes this year.

Holiday‘s plot concerns what happens when Sascha finds herself at an intersection of opulence and anguish along the Turquoise Coast. After emerging from the airport, we see Sascha on a bus traveling through the port city of Bodrum.

Her glimpse of a sullen young woman sitting alone in a deck chair with nothing but desolate road on either side of her should be an ominous omen…if only perception was that cut and dry.

It should be said up front that this is not your typical thriller. From the opening titles, rendered in hot pink like Sascha’s peep toe wedges, to their accompanying display of a woman undulating in white undergarments, it is obvious from the outset that we are watching an auteur film. That is to say, this is less Turistas and more Knife in the Water.

A subtle theme of religious upheaval runs through Holiday; after the distributor (Breaking Glass Pictures)’ logo has vanished at the head of the flick, another company logo appears, this one for something called Heretic Outreach. This is peculiar in and of itself, but then we have the foreboding and distorted cover of the African-American spiritual “Sinnerman” which drives the opening titles sequence.

Before we can meditate on any of this, Sascha is smacked around by a serious man who works for her boyfriend, the significantly older Michael. It seems that Sascha is here to deliver $30,000 Euros, but she’s made the mistake of spending 300 of it during her journey.

Before the gravity of her situation can fully sink in, Sascha has been dumped into the waiting arms of her lecherous beau and he has fucked her, taken her on a joyride and showered her with the sort of bling befitting a “true princess.”

Holiday drops us into a candy-colored world of ice cream and potential pederasts, a world where so-called gentlemen size barely legal girls up like they’re cheesecake and talk to them like they’re idiots. If the presence of the song “Sinnerman” has any particular meaning here then the only sin we can divine is Sascha’s naivete. Indeed, her real crime is being innocent enough to think that men are pure of intention.

It’s not just Sascha either. Her friends are equally taken with Michael after arriving at his villa for a champagne-fueled vacation, and they all seem oblivious to exactly what it is that he does. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

When Michael is not peddling his poisonous wares, he is objectifying women. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. In a particularly discomfiting scene, Sascha has blacked out from excessive drinking and we are forced to watch as Michael pulls up her skirt, grabs handfuls of her ass and then delicately arranges her limbs however he pleases. He does this with the meticulous decisiveness one would apply to sussing out the ripest fruit or vegetable.

When he rolls her onto her stomach and spreads her legs apart, he smiles and squeezes his cock through his slacks. We cringe. He walks to the foot of the bed and gazes down at her, fondling himself some more. We wretch. It’s all we can do because the camera is not going anywhere. This scene is one long take, a single static shot that gives us no choice but to play voyeur.

As Michael continues to manipulate Sascha’s limbs, his hand mercifully falls away from his crotch…or maybe it falls not so mercifully as its removal means there’s one more hand clutching Sascha’s unconscious form.

From here the smile fades from Michael’s face and the act of groping becomes less about arousal and more about power. Like any low-life rapist, Michael is not turned on by women so much as the control he has over them. Whether or not Michael violates Sascha any further (we are thankfully spared anything more than this over-the-clothes manipulation) the impetus for it is the same—this isn’t about carnal appetite but man’s need for power and property.

When one thinks of the power dynamic between on-screen criminals and their women, it is impossible not to think of Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco) in Scorsese’s GoodFellas or Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) on David Chase’s The Sopranos. Both of those characters were guilty of both innocence and complicity, and we see early on a similar mixture in young Sascha.

After she awakes from her bender, she overhears Michael talking to his colleague about a suspicious transaction that would involve the moving around of more than 3 million Euros, much of it coming from the mysterious “white account.” The squinty, brow-furrowing expression on her face is largely unreadable, but it definitely suggests some level of incredulity. Did I just hear that right? What could this mean? That sort of thing.

Sascha’s error is in abandoning this possible train of thought immediately. Next thing we know, we’re at a restaurant with her dumb tourist friends and talk has turned to whether or not sea bass taste like cod. When the younger members of her group verbally spar, it is the boys who have the last word.

One of them says to his younger sister, “Karsten, are you on your period? Do you need to change your tampon?” This shuts her down for good by trivializing the pain that women experience and reducing them to a lesser and more vulnerable sex.

To say that this film is very much a part of its time (the era of #MeToo and the presidential pussy grabbing age) would be to miss the boat entirely. This film would have been as relevant to the female plight thirty years ago as it is right now. But the fact that it is so soberly directed by a woman is something of import.

Females have long been a minority in the field of motion picture directing. When they are afforded the opportunity to do so in America, they are often maligned by male artists. For instance, post-modern novelist and pop culture critic Bret Easton Ellis notoriously shit-talked Kathryn Bigelow and her film The Hurt Locker, even going so far as to say that women aren’t fit to be filmmakers because they lack “the male gaze.”

Despite the fact that women have helmed some of the most groundbreaking pictures in world cinema history (see: Maya Deren, Chantal Akerman, Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat, Shirley Clarke, Sara Driver, the Soska Sisters, Marina de Van and the list goes on), it is rare to see them in the director’s chair for American productions.

Holiday is not an American film, it’s a Danish film featuring English-speaking characters of Danish and Dutch origin. But it is being released Stateside by Breaking Glass Pictures, the people behind 2017’s superlative Israeli drama Scaffolding. This is great news for fans of auteur filmmaking and great news for American women.

Indeed, all women should see this dangerous portrait of placid and passive femininity. Lest they one day find themselves in the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus with the other arm candy guilty of willful ignorance.

Fizzy Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Review of Mark Mathews’ Upcoming Album

One of my favorite quotes is by singer and songwriter Macklemore. “It’s up to you to turn the pen into a machete and make sure that every beat that you meet gets killed.” I try to live by this line. It’s a perfect representation of what every author, filmmaker, singer, and songwriter strives for.

A remix of the old adage of the pen and the sword. How much more powerful is that line? To take the pen in your hand and not wait for it to become a sword but to create that sword and slay any obstacle in your way.

I recently had the opportunity to listen, for the first time might I add, to the music of Mark Mathews. Fizzy Beasts, to be precise. I pressed play and needed to write this review. I love music, though I tend to get most of my tracks from the radio, rarely seeking new and unique music, unless the radio tells me I should.

Yep, I’m a bit of a drone in that regard, don’t judge me. When I was younger, I would attend local concerts, picking up a few bands I still look for today, though the ones I really enjoyed are all but dead, having never caught that big break. Maybe they just needed a good review? 

Anyway, back to the point: Mark Mathews. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first clicked play. As soon as those notes hit my ears, I fell in love. The sultry voice and soft tempo forced me to listen through to the end of the set.

I am, in fact, listening to it again, for the second time. The first track just started over and I had already forgotten how much I enjoyed it. He takes his pen and turns it into his machete, slaying the notes, creating sweet rhythm and harmony, and forcing your brain into a submission which begs for you to press play again as soon as it’s over.

I am a big fan of lyrics. One of the highlights of his music is the lyrics. They aren’t hidden by synthesizers or auto tuners, he blasts them from his vocal canal with the ferocity of a loving mother dragon, spewing them forth to your ear canals as his guitar, drum, piano, and other instruments aid their arrival.

Mathews sings of love, mostly, the love of a woman with raven hair who lives down under. In one song, The Flowers Still Grow, he throws in the sounds of the city, bikes and bike horns, the click of the gears as the wheels spin. I have to say, I love the image it gives me. For a second I thought that maybe I had a music video in the background and almost went to watch what was happening.

This is the type of music I imagine listening to while…well, writing. Like I am right now. Or sitting in a Barnes and Noble listening while browsing some random novel. I can take a step out of what I’m doing to relax with the music and then immediately pick back up where I left off without missing a beat. A sweet, sweet beat. Delivered by Mark.

He is described as “the hardest working solo artist in the UK right now” That’s cool, good on him, but who really cares? I, for one, don’t other than to commend him for being hard working, but you can be a hard working stable hand and simply have a pile of cow manure at the end of the day. Gratefully, that isn’t what you end up with at the end of Mark Mathews music. 

You end with an enjoyable listening experience. And I have ended up being a new fan. I plan on listening to more of his music in the future. You should check it out if you’re into mellow tones and smooth voices. Fizzy Beasts is available April 5th. 


Kindle Crack: The Literary Edition, Featuring Thomas Pynchon, Umberto Eco, G. W. Sebald, and More

The opening poem is a clever little lick based on the tune to “Off to See the Wizard” from The Wizard of Oz. The second features an interesting palate of shifting perspectives, but I haven’t been able to dig further yet. Helen Dewitt’s fiction reads sort of like David Foster Wallace’s, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic collection. For the price, it’s bound to be worth the dive.

Although it’s not “weird” per se, everything by G. W. Sebald is certainly unusual. Blending fiction and historical elements with an encyclopedic historical vision, Sebald’s narratives are intoxicatingly beautiful and delightfully disorienting. I’ve read The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo, an both were more than enough to convince me that The Emigrants will not disappoint.

Durrell’s controversial first novel was heavily influenced by Henry Miller. Some folks might take the Miller influence negatively, but this is certainly better than anything I’ve read by Miller so far. It’s weird, dark, oddly fascinating, and definitely a good buy for the price.

Okay, this isn’t “weird fiction” in the slightest, but it’s a fascinating glossary featuring detailed explanations of a whole range of poetic concepts. This is a must have for anyone who is interested in taking literature seriously, and I’d stand behind Hirsch’s book even if it went for double it’s USUAL price. At less than four bucks, this is a no-brainer.

Gravity’s Rainbow is a classic, duh. That doesn’t mean I’ve ever been able to finish it, but I hope to, along with Joyce’s Ulysses. Also like Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow is famously one of the most difficult novels ever written. Love it or hate it, this mobi file features hours, months, even years of material to mull over. All for a buck ninety-nine? Yup. Get this.

Again, it’s not exactly “weird,” but damn it’s good. If you enjoy heady novels about books, snag this one. Also, fans of the medieval period will find much to enjoy, as well as lovers of mystery and strangeness. There really is too much to say about this book in so short a space. Trust me when I say at this price, it’s a steal. Buy it now, thank me later.

Near to the Wild Heart is the only long work I’ve read by Lispector yet, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s strange, intoxicating, frustrating at times, but in a well-worth-the-effort sort of way. This novel is like a pleasant fever; for the price, it’s a truly great buy.

Paris Street Rebels – I Don’t Wanna Die Young/Freakshow AA Side – Music Review

by Bob Freville

I had largely given up on Punk ever since pop-punk acts like Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte co-opted the label and bastardized it. But every now and again, I come across an artist that puts things right and calls out the many wrongs of the genre.

In recent years, acts like The Scrags and Whispering Sons have reminded me of why I loved Punk growing up. Embodying all of the cultural upheaval and working class outrage that made bands like The Clash and Fear so powerful and important back in the day.

Paris Street Rebels is one such act, a 4 piece outta Ballingfry, Fife, Scotland with enough chops to decimate a hibachi grill. Mashing up masterful melodies with snarling indignation, they bring the listener to a place where the forsaken meets exaltation.

Each towering track of disgust and unrest paints an indelible picture of the erstwhile misfit at odds with his own image. Whether they’re ruminating on the unfortunate role suicide plays in the collective rockstar mythos or reminding us of the true Punk ethos, Paris Street Rebels thrash like we haven’t heard many bands of recent vintage thrash.

“Freakshow” starts off deceptively familiar with standard brand riffing, but when Grant Malcolm and Kevin Murphy, Junior launch into their vocals we know there’s going to be something more in store. A schizo anthem meant to shed a light on mental illness, it reveals the imperative of being true to oneself even in an era in which artifice is rewarded and authenticity shunned.

As the band writes on their Soundcloud wall, “In a year you can complete your payments on that top of the range television set you always wanted. You could, if so inclined work your way towards social media saint hood or convince your employer you are appropriately obedient and inoffensive enough to be granted that 60p payrise unfairly withheld from you many times before.

“Over the last 12 months we chose another way. Bleeding over drum kits, mourning unused choruses and unfulfilled revolutions. Pacing relentlessly ‘Travis Bickel’ [sic] style in smoke filled council houses, contemplating violence. We did it for the glory, and weren’t in it for the money, which is a good job because there was none.

“We started this thing not to be accepted we couldn’t give a fuck at this point. We just knew we couldn’t live with keeping our mouths shut any longer. We are Paris Street Rebels this is Freakshow.

“Buy that television , earn that pay rise, if that’s who you are……but if it’s not….don’t pretend that you mean it.”

Lash your lobes to the sound of Paris Street Rebels here:​​​​​​