Playlist 17 -- Bad Grammar, Good Music

March Madness has been huge on my Playlist this week, but with my alma mater and St. Joe's losing and my brackets mostly in shambles, I'll focus on the music and books.

Volume One. She & Him.
Zooey Deschanel is so darn cute. She's cute in the movies (Elf, Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy), on TV (Weeds) and on record. She & Him, the collaboration between her (or should I say "she") and M. Ward, is dripping with sweetness. Deschanel's unique voice stands out on torch-lite Take it Back, the girl-groupish Sweet Darling, the twangy Got Me and quirky cover of I Should Have Known Better. Volume One's highlight though is This is Not a Test. M. Ward is a very talented artist, but he takes a back seat here to Zooey, who wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. It's a fun album, especially if you're a fan of Linda Ronstadt and other 70s singer-songwriters.

The Name of the World. Denis Johnson
I decided to try out this short novel, one of Salon's top five books of 2000, before I tackled Johnson's monumental Tree of Smoke. Unlike Smoke, which covers most of the '60s and features numerous characters, The Name of the World is grounded in one Midwest college town over a short period of time and focuses on professor Michael Reed. The former political operative lost his wife and daughter in a car accident four years earlier. He left his post with a controversial conservative senator and found his way into a professorship. We pick the story up as he's in his final year at the university. It's clear he's sleepwalking through life, without a care. People seem to care about him, but he has no close friends (though a lot of acquaintances) and holds no deep conversations. Until he meets Flower Cannon, a student/caterer/performance artist/stripper.

Oh, and after 65 pages, I've decided to pass on Tree of Smoke for now.

Trouble in Dreams. Destroyer.
Destroyer's latest is filled, as usual, with a mixture of epic songs sung with leader Dan Bejar's abstract lyrics and pretentious vocals. Yet, as Amazon declares, the album is "utter joy." Destroyer has been called a cross between David Bowie and Pavement. But it's really difficult to categorize the band. Best songs to download -- The State, Dark Leaves Form a Thread and Leopard of Honor.

The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. Jeff Yeager.
Jeff Yeager practices what he preaches. He travels to his book signings by bicycle. We're not talking about the riding to the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. He traveled across Florida on his bike. Yeager's message is a welcome one in this consumer-driven world. The book is full of practical advice -- delivered with homespun humor -- about how to live more happily with less. I have no doubt that if the recession worsens, Jeff Yeager will come out of it better than anyone else.

Other songs I've enjoyed this week ...
-- 15 Years in Indiana, Jack Logan, Bulk.
-- You Can Kill Me, Gong, The Best of Gong.
-- The Green King Sings, Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation.
-- Day After Day, Badfinger, Wish You Were Here.