Wednesday, December 26, 2007

DEERHUNTER — FLOURESCENT GREY

DEERHUNTER — FLOURESCENT GREY

If I'm a sucker for anything, it might just be indie pop music from Georgia. I'm pretty sure that very little other good has come out of that state... I kid! Deerhunter hails from Atlanta, which is weird. I thought dreemy shoegazer music came from Athens and oiled up booty rap came from Atlanta. These guys are seriously messing with my head.

They're messing with my head in another way. On the one hand, this brand of music isn't really an endangered species, and it's not exactly hard to find people doing it fairly well, either. On the other hand, Deerhunter do it exceedingly well on this four-song EP. Walls of sound, noise breakdowns, psychedelia and dancey, heart-beat drums are all here in abundance — yet the band sounds focussed and energized.

A person could do a lot worse than listen to Flourescent Grey. It's a nice, tight jar of honey and a good diversion.

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COMICS STUFF

So, I've taken the holidays as a time for holiday from Kaiju Jugoruma. I just needed a break before I hated everything I did. I pencilled four pages of another thing, and decided I wasn't really feeling that either. Then I completed 4 fully inked pages before deciding THAT wasn't what i really wanted to do either.

But I'm not quite ready to jump back into Kaiju Jugoruma just yet. So, I'm going to mess around with something else for a couple days, I think. Start the new year with full freshness.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

PHAROAHE MONCH — DESIRE

PHAROAHE MONCH — DESIRE

There's nothing wrong with dropping a solid. There are plenty of artists we all wish had done just that from time to time. Of course, once we get a solid, we're bound to wish it was even better. Desire is such a solid. It's a good album, with very few weaknesses, but it's also not a great album with plenty of epiphanies.

In a lot of ways, it's reminiscent of the albums put out by its patron saint, KRS-1. Pharoahe has put out the sort of album full of the consciousness that people attracted to that first will cause them to exclaim that the album is "real hiphop" or such blather. There's no bling, no nerd obsessions, no mysogyny or outright homophobic epithets. The rhymes can be clever without drifting into surrealism, and they don't exist just for the sake of rhyme, but to stay on message. Pharoahe also streamlines his flow and stays mostly within a punctuated staccato, less interested in rhythmic gymnastics or in latching onto faddish styles (with a couple notable exections). This does give most of the songs an evenness of delivery and a consistency, but that only becomes a problem over an extended period of time.

To his credit, Pharoahe keeps the album short (much like albums from the eighties) and tops it off at under the 48-minute mark. Unfortunately, the lack of variety still makes the album feel a little longer than it is. But, before sagging a bit in the middle, Pharoahe includes enough strong tracks that really rate.

After the short, gospel intro that is to be commended for not be a skit and acting as an actual intro, Pharoahe comes in hard with with a heagy, deliberate beat that provides a strong backbone to his declaration of freedom. It's worth noting that this is probably one of the last tracks to be recorded, since it makes specific reference to the label problems that kept Desire on the shelf. Normally, I'd be put off by a track so focussed on complaints about A&R reps and publishing rights — the underground's equivalent to pop music's bitch sessions about celebrity (oh, boo-hoo!) — but Pharaohe isn't pulling a Kanye or a Lindsey Lohan here and creating a radio hit that contdradicts his words. Instead, he's just coming in hard and reminding us why we loved him in Organized Konfusion and why we've missed his voice for 8 years (!).

Then we head into the title track that threatens to turn the entire album into hard-hitting complaints about A&R. But he manages to transcend that by crafting a track more universal in its attempt to talk about artistic struggle and all the forces that work against it. Also, Pharoahe is still coming in strong, and I'd take an entire album of record label complaints if they were all this much fun to listen to (are you listening Prince Paul?).

In a lot of ways, the first four tacks of Desire recalls Talib Kweli's Quality, in its use of well-selected samples and beats with a strong central voice. Pharoahe opens up his criticisms to the political on Push which never gets bogged down in its own message. And then we move into the most interesting track on the album: a cover/update of Public Enemy's Welcome to the Terrordrome. Pharoahe is an excellent mimic (he does a great Busta Rhymes and Southern Drawl at later points in the album), and his ability to capture Chuck D's flow is even more impressive on the new verse. This isn't a reinvention a la Tricky's Black Steel, but rather a track trying to recapture the original's magic.

This does cause one problem. Welcome to the Terrordrome is such a dynamic and iconic song that anything that follows it either needs to be as dynamic and iconic or it's just going to fall a little flat. And, unfortunately, that's what everything does. What It Is is pretty awesome, in an Ultramagnetic MC's psycho rap way, but it's such a slow, creepy change of pace that it takes a while to resituate your ear. We then move into When the Gun Draws, which is more of a decent addition to anti-gun violence raps than a new revelation.

Things pick up again with Let's Go and then gets fun and funky with Body Baby before moving into the love rap of Bar Tap which is saved a bit with humor, but drags on a bit too long. In a way, it sounds more like Pharoahe is using his humor to struggle against a label-mandated ballad than he is including it for his own reasons. Erykah Badu adds a much needed extra voice to the album on Hold On, but we're still stuck in a place where bith the beat and Pharoahe sound tired and a little bored. This is exasperated once we get to So Good. Pharoahe barely even tries to rap on that song. It's almost like we're in a very different, duller album than the one we started out in.

Trilogy redeems things a bit. It's still a bit... slow. The mix of beats sound too unadorned and would benefit from more texture. There's a lot going on, but there's almost too much space between each element. But the whole thing still has an ambition that's to be commended. In fact, if it wasn't preceded by the previous three tracks, it would stand out even more. But, placed where it is, I spent more time just wanting to move on to a different album than immersing myself in Pharoaohe's story of romantic betrayal.

It's all so contextual. Some resequencing to move the softer tracks in amongst the harder ones would've created a better sense of dynamics and would've allowed each song to better stand on it's own. You can kind of see what went into the thinking behind the current listing: things are grouped thematically and become more human as the album progresses. The defiance at the start gives way to a sense of unwanted freedom. But it kind of doesn't work because the comedown is so long and protracted. Instead of stressing a more well-rounded dichotomy, the album takes you on a journey that ends on a far less interesting note than the way it began.

Still, the strength of the opening, combined with the few gems along the way make the album impossible to dismiss. It's a good album. I still wish it was great. But I'll settle for good.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

JESU — CONQUEROR

JESU — CONQUEROR

I've listened to Conqueror so much, it's almost hard for me to remember what a shock it was to hear it for the first time. I mean, it's one thing to be continually surprised that Justin Broadrick, one of the founders of Napalm Death, continues to transform himself and the music around him (Want to feel old? Scum came out 20 YEARS ago. Want to feel unproductive? Broadrick is only 38.), but it's another thing to realize just how much he's transformed in the past few years.

I mean, Conqueror is pretty. REALLY pretty.

Jesu is still heavy. The beats still crash down like metric tons of Heinz ketchup bombs. The dirge still shifts like continental plates. But on top of so much bottom, way on top, drifting miles above, are the layered, echoed guitars and a plaintive voice. Broadrick begs even as he's resigned to let the train leave the station. There's just as much horizontal space as there is vertical.

No longer do we have to dredge ourselves through the sludge to reach the higher elevations. Broadrick isn't taking us along this time. Instead, he's high above the clouds and suffering from the monumental depression that you aren't as well. It's lonely where the air is so rarified and you find yourself as Major Tom floating above a world in apocolypse.

But that's just the sound. The words aren't as reaching. All this elevation and space travel is all happening on a deeply personal level. Broadrick is talking to you, or someone very much like you. And he's talking about you and him and both of you in the great shoegazer tradition. He's a lapsed Catholic in the Church of love. He wants to believe in it, but he knows it's not true.

That's incredibly corny, I know. And the lyrics too, on their own, look a bit like the writings of a 15-year old girl. But the way that they're sung, each sylable drawn out to evoke its full meaning, and drifting above that unbelievably slow grind, it's all the more painful. And beautiful.

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PELICAN — CITY OF ECHOES

PELICAN — CITY OF ECHOES

I'm not sure I read any review on Pitchfork that was more incongruous with the actual listening experience than the one of City of Echoes. While I've seen plenty of writing suffer from unresolved daddy issues, this may have been the first I've ever seen suffer from unresolved 'drummer issues'. The whole thing reads like a 1000-word rant of misdirected anger toward a drummer who never showed up to the writer's little league games. Now, I was never a music studies major, but it always seems strange to see someone focus so much energy on what they wished a performer did instead of engage the work that was actually done. It's hard to ignore the irony there, isn't it?

So what did Pelican do? Well, they went into their post-rock metal attic and tossed out all the stuff that made them seem a little less distinct from their peers. Since the beginning, Pelican differentiated themselves from predecessors Neurosis and Isis by dipensing with vocals. They further distinguished themselves by shedding some of their more metallic features. The last thing to go was length. All but one song is under 7 minutes long (and that one track is only seven seconds under). Another song is just over six minutes long. Most fall in the 5-minute range, and one is under 4. What Pelican have nearly transformed themselves into is a rock band. And not just any sort of rock band, but a triumphant, almost boisterous rock band. Queen replacing cheese with density.

And the whole thing IS dense. Four distinct instrumentalists each seem to be struggling with each other, afraid to find themselves in the same mental space at the same time for too long. Rather than a strict rhythm section, the drums and bass seem to be vying for leads with the dueling guitar parts. Sometimes, this can lead to incongruities in the music itself (not so much between changes). At times the drums are bouncing (like in the bridge of Dead Between Walls) while archepegios play against sludgey, tuned-down guitar and bass, but this doesn't betray the natural development of the music so much as betray the listener's expectations. It's a curveball that demands continued attention just when you might be inclined to subsume yourself in a predictable flow. It's soundtrack music that refuses to be in the background.

Is it sometimes a little sloppy? Yes. Is it sometimes almost a little too demanding of the listener's attention? Yes. There are times when you just want to get caught up in a thing, especially a thing as much fun as this, but Pelican won't let you. Part of the reason for that is that there are just so many damn changes happening in such a short period of time. But those changes never feel forced or completely left-field. Instead, they seem like slalom races when most people might be trained into expecting recreational downhill.

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THE NATIONAL — BOXER

THE NATIONAL — BOXER

In case anyone mistook me for someone in some sort of loop, I'd like to point to The National as an example of just how far out of one I can be. Boxer is the band's 4th album in 6 years, but for months I was convinced this was one of the most impressive debuts of the year. It's hard to figure out exactly how I should reconcile reality with my own fiction.

I certainly can't compare the album with the band's previous output, since I don't have any of it. I also can't overlook them wearing their influences on their sleeves, because this is an experienced, lauded band. I also can't be as impressed with their polish for the same reason.

But there are benefits to my misconceptions. For instance, I have nothing prior to compare the band to. I can't say I'm disapointed by expectations and I'm forced to judge the album on its own terms. I don't know if the album is essential to long-time fans, but I do know that it is an impressive piece of work.

Apparently, the band has been compared to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Joy Division and Wilco in the past, and they certainly evoke those comparisons here. However, finding a place where all those influences share a common crossroad is surprising. It would be easy to find locations where two or three of those meet, but all four? Admittedly, The National don't attempt that merger on every song, but they do so effortlessly on songs like Brainy and Squalor Victoria. The blend the band achieves is in creating a chamber orchestra, country cover of gothic dance beats with highly litterate lyrics repeated to find an addtional rythm track within singer Matt Berninger's deep baritone. This is So Long, Marriane for an unplugged set on the Albion/Batcave's dance floor.

Not every track is as ambitious, and some of the more traditional ballads do little to distingiush themselves, but at no point did I feel embarrassed for The National or embarrassed to be listening to them. I wish I could say the same thing for other acts that plunder the depths of musical nostalgia. The album is also overly long, and there's a fair amount of fat around the middle. It seems unnecessary for there to be 14 tracks. You could pretty much eliminate every track from Green Gloves to Guest Room (5 tracks) and you'd be left with a tighter, meatier album.

We'll see if this makes it into the Top Ten, but it's an impressive album and valuable discovery (for me) nonetheless.

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MAGIC MARKERS — BOSS

MAGIC MARKERS — BOSS

Boss is a tough album for me. On the one hand, it's impossible to disparage the Magik Marker's tastes: Dinosaur Jr., the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith's Horses, Patti Smith's Horses-inspired Sonic Youth and Patti Smith's Horses-inspired PJ Harvey. It's also nice to hear an experimental band find the pop elements in in their influences. On the other hand, do those pop elements allow the magik Markers find a way to transcend their influence(s)? Do the Magik Markers do to Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey what Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey did to Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground and Dinosaur Jr.? Is there a reason to intentionally play this album if you already have the albums that influenced it?

The answers, unfortunately, are No, No and Not Really. The Markers haven't discovered unforseen potentials in their influences, nor have they recovered a sound thought lost. They just really like what they like, and they've made a tribute to that. And it's a loving tribute. It's the sort of album one wouldn't mind hearing individual tracks from in a random itunes shuffle. But it's not a Best Of The Year contender. At least, I hope there were 10 albums better than this...

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GHOSTFACE KILLAH — THE BIG DOE REHAB

GHOSTFACE KILLAH — THE BIG DOE REHAB

I wrote about this before, but I think I've got a better grasp on what went wrong here.

Ghostface has done something I never thought possible before. He's managed to make his skits more interesting than his songs. Hiring the Rhythm Roots Allstars was an inspired choice for a Tony that's been more Montana than Starks these past couple years. And when the At The Cabana Skit builds up after a brief intro, it's easy to get caught up in the momentum and start salivating at the thought of Ghost wrapping a crazy tale around the beat. But, just as the first drop of spit is about to fall, you discover that he's not going to spit at all. Instead, he comes hard on a tired funk loop. But, at least he does come hard until he doesn't and Beanie Sigel and someone else who seem intent on proving how boring the track is.

Things improve greatly with Yolanda's House. Even if the soul sample sounds overly familiar and overused, Ghost, Raekwon and, especially, Method Man use that familiarity to craft expert word stories. It's the sort of beat they can work in their sleep, but they don't. Unfortunately, this leads into We Celebrate, using a rocked-up Rare Earth sample that is both obvious and dull. Ghost tries to elevate the beat into a crossover showcase, but he runs out of ideas quickly. The less said about the list chorus and Kid Capri's shouting, the better.

Walk Around is a return to Supreme Clientelle/Fishscale Ghostface with an appropriate sample and a barrage of raps. Yapp City sounds like a More Fish track, which is fine and would be a great album track if the rest was awesome. White Linen Affair is fun once the actual song starts (about a minute in) but breaks down into lame list rap and awful skit bridges. Supa GFK is another attempt to return to classic Ghost, but he seems to be fighting the lame sample that just plays straight through. Ghost sounds a bit tired on Rec-Room, but the track is almost saved be a reinvigorated Raekwon until U-God shows up to bore you again.

The Prayer by Ox. Why is this on the album at all? Did someone decide the album wasn't long and annoying enough? Or was it meant to make us forgive the dull list rap and tired sample of I'll Die for You? Paisley Darts is a posse rap with a big cast and a terribly annoyingly looped sample before drifting into a pointless concert outtake. Shakey Dog would be a perfectly acceptable album track. It's not exciting, but it's not offensive either. Unfortunately, there's already so much filler on Big Doe that it sounds more like space filler. ! is another reminder of just how good this album would be if Ghost rapped over the strongest beats instead of relagating them to non-segue skits. Killa Lipstick is just a misguided attempt to court critics impressed by 'meaningful', 'deep' ballad raps. As a pause in between amazing tracks, it would seem fine (and you could excuse the weak showings by Meth and Masta Killa), but it's been a half hour since anything sounded impressive at all. Slow Down is better than Lipstick, but it leaves you waiting for something better to follow it instead of leaving the album strong.

The itunes version comes with a remix of the Gym Class Heroes single, Clothes Off!. Am I the only person who can revel in nostalgia without treating it like its own genre? Ah, Chic. It's time to do a reunion tour, I think!

Ugh. This is not making the list. Truly unfortunate, considering Ghostface is one of my favorite rappers of all time.

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EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY — ALL OF A SUDDEN I MISS EVERYONE

EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY — ALL OF A SUDDEN I MISS EVERYONE

I only heard 2001's Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever this year, when I started on my big obsession with post-rock. That album's mix of bombastic and militaristic rhythms mixed with heavily layered, processed guitars and ambient-soundscape synths seemed like an actualization of what an army of angels would use as it marched into triumphant battle. As beautiful and driving as it was, each song and each movement withing each song sounded fully realized, lending a real credibility to something so ambitious.

Where All of a Sudden fails, is in both its cohesiveness and in its realization. Songs seem to be thrown together with no sense of working together as an album, and each song seems to be built out of disparate parts rather than out of organic movements. Instead of a beautiful blend of what might seem like a clash os aesthetics, most of the songs here sound like attempts to fuse fragments written by different composers. And just as each fragment appears to be on the verge of transforming itself into something full and transcendent, it instead turns into something unrecognizable and the process starts all over again. I found myself either never fully engaged with each piece or confused as to why a group of songs were all grouped together as one track. Adding to my confusion was the absence of bottom on many of these tracks. The propulsive live drums of Those Who Tell the Truth are largely missing, leaving the songs feeling confined to their melody and mid-range harmonics. The addition of strangely compressed and somewhat amateurish piano on some tracks to add melody only draws further attention to a lack of substance upon which to hang such details.

If I ever find myself looking for an album to play just to have something better ignored in the background, I might turn to this. Why I'd ever do that, I don't know. This album is not making the list.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

MIDDIAN — AGE ETERNAL

MIDDIAN — AGE ETERNAL

First of all, I love the Middian name. Everytime I see there name in my playlist, I think of the wrestler. And then I laugh a little. And then I wish I had an album by Gangrel. Or Viscera. Second of all, I'd heard OF Mike Scheidt's previous band, YOB, but I've never listened to them. I should.

Middian play what almost sounds like a mashup between classic Black Sabbath and Motorhead played at a much slower rpm. Even the vocals sound like finger-spun Lemmy co-existing with standard Ozzy. On top of that are some layered guitar effects from the progressive metal school, but the overall effect is dirge-like sludge with some post-rock ambitions toward beauty. But this isn't a cathartic experience, more like a long, dangerous half-crawl-half-climb. Robert De Niro climbing the cliff in The Mission only finding Mordor at the top instead of redemption. Even the screams sound as though they're being forced out, like they desperately want to be screamed above the noise, but that everything else is taking too much energy to spare on release.

Actually, it's a bit like those slow-motion shots of Chris Benoit winning a long, arduous submission match, covered in blood and trying really hard to lift the belt into the air from the mat.

It's good stuff. But I wonder if they go quite far enough...

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DOIN' SOME WORK CHECKIN' IT TWICE

So, while drawing for the next few days, I'm listening to nothing but the sounds of 2007. For a year that seemed uninspired, I do find myself with 39 albums/398 songs/nearly 32 hours worth of music. I guess that's not too bad. Actually, it's a lot. But I don't think there's anything in there that's blown me so far away. Maybe I'm too old for that reaction now. There is, afterall, mostly good stuff here:

From Aesop Rock to Baroness to Battles.
From Bjork to Boris & Michio Kurihara to Burial.
From Busdriver to Café Tacuba to Dan Deacon.
From Deerhunter to Demiricous to El-P.
From Explosions in the Sky to Ghostface Killah to Jesu (two albums!).
From LCD Soundsystem to Liars to M.I.A. (the hipster bracket)
From Magik Markers to Marnie Stern to Middian. (they're not really in brackets)
From Modest Mouse to Nadja to The National.
From Neurosis to Novembers Doom to Panda Bear.
From Pelican to Pharoahe Monch to Prodigy (from Mobb Deep).
From Radiohead to Rob Sonic to Rwake.
And, finally, from Sage Francis to A Sunny Day in Glasgow to !!!.

So, let's see about making this a top ten list.

Handicapping? The first three in alphabetical order are also the early favorites for making the best of list. This might be the year the old hiphop heads go down (8 Diagrams got a first-round by and doesn't join the competion till late in the week). Will this be the year of bloop-bleep vs. post rock? Will this be the year of 'Where have all the women gone?'

Who didn't make the initial cut:
I buy most of my music on itunes, so not having an album available there got you off the list Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Legion of the Damned, Esoteric and Sa-Ra. The Entombed album was a clean version. I don't even know why. Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, Talib Kweli, UGK, Hezekiah... as you know, in music, one day your in and the next day your out.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

EMAW 10 PAGE 17




So, this was supposed to be the super-fast catchup page. If my sinuses hadn't been completely on fire the past three days, It would've been done on Sunday and anything that looked rushed could be excused. It's now Tuesday, and it's all a bit harder to let slide. But let slide I will!

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In case anyone else was confused, my comic book reality show graphic novel idea was NOT reflective of actual REALITY. Normally, I wouldn't worry about such things, but I think Al's Heimer smacked Marcos upside the head over the weekend.

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Congratulations are in order for Mr. Kenneth Belasco, Esq. We're all required to call him that now that he's freakin' ENGAGED! This guy goes from dodgin' fistpunch to bended knee like Formula racers. That's right, I'll make public stinks.

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Pitchfork does the Top 50 Albums of 2007, and actually manage to make the year seem WORSE than the Tracks List did. That's some ugly shit right there. If I get the chance, I'll make up my Top 10 list sometime soon. I will check out this LCD Soundsytem album first. It better be good!

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Many moons ago, I tried reading Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix Vol. 1. I did not make it very far. But, now that I've better learned to appreciate Tezuka, I've given it a second go round. 190 pages in, and it's shaping up to be my favorite comic of the moment. I humbly beg forgiveness to anyone who can't be bothered to work up the proper amount of incredulity at my previous disinterest.

STUPID HEAD

I'm letting the white paint dry. I'll probably scan this page in tomorrow night.

So, there's this new cable arts-focussed network (like Bravo!) that's planning out its next season of programming and they want to come up with a new reality contest show that will fill out the year once Next Thespian and Poet Slam wrap up. The executives toss out ideas and then one of them mentions that in six months they're doing an entire month of movies based on comics, documentaries about comics, movies written by cartoonists, etc. and that it would be the perfect way to launch a comic book reality show. Yes. Yes. Great idea. Brilliant. Whatever.

And now they just need a name (that's how it is, even before figuring out the creative staff). So, what's the name? It's not Comic Book Idol. Not America's Next Top Cartoonist. Not Project Word Balloon. Not Top Funny Book Maker. Not Drawer Survivor. Not Who Wants to Be a Cartoonist. Not Graphic Novel Bachelor (although, that's a great blog name). Not Dancing with Mangaka (although I WOULD buy two copies of that if it happened, one to collect my enthusiasm fluids and one to read).

I need a good name! Dammit. This is a big part of what we do when writing lyrics for Suave Prospects. A lot of it is just coming up with different names for the same things. I need a pampers clamp for my Comic Book Reality show! I need help!

On another note, there's the contestants. Project Runway starts off with 16 with different backgrounds and eliminates one a week before having a showdown with the final three. That seems like a good number.

So, let's see. It's important that contestants fit certain stereotypes while being able to surprise us. That's how it works, right? So, these can mean whatever:

1. An anime/shonen Otaku.
2. A super hero fan.
3. A Fort Thundery person.
4. A D&Q-type.
5. An editorial cartoonist.
6. A web comicker.
7. A Diaryist.
8. A Heavy Metal sort.
9. An undergrounds fan.
10. A shojo fan.
11. A Jeff Smith wannabe.
12. A Juxtapoz illustrator.
13. A Kubert school fellow.
14. A nineties self-publishing type.
15. A Vertigo or Slave Labor goth.
16. Probably our unlikely winner. So, someone who works in a winner style. Befriends at least two of the other contestants, one of whom goes home halfway through. And one who makes it to the end along with the bad guy.

You could really expand this too. On the one hand, you could do it just like episodes of a show. On the other, you could really get into all the stuff that doesn't make it onto the air. And you could really get into the behind the scenes stuff with the producers and the executives. One of the execs even wants to bring the whole thing down and enlists the aid of an insider on the production staff.

I mean, you could do this — really do this — AND throw in every last possible cliche to boot. Which might not be that bad. It could actually help me reign in and do some straight up, old school storytelling instead of the ramblings I usually turn out.

ARGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

FILE UNDER: ANOTHER IDEA I'LL NEVER GET AROUND TO DOING

As I'm waiting for some ink to dry, I thought I'd just post this completely original and unique idea I just had that no one else has ever had. Ever.

I was thinking about Project Runway and the way something like that (a contest featuring actually talented people actually doing something creative that isn't itself performance-based and being judged by people of authority in that field) could work for comics. I know Comic Book Resources has Comic Book Idol (although finding it when it isn't running is a bit difficult). But that only features finished work, instead of process, and seems more focussed on a particular type way of making comics. Also, the message board format it uses isn't particularly flattering. And there have been other comic book contests that have had their mechanics even less bare. But there really isn't anything that works in the style of a reality show, with the all the seams showing. I realise that an advantage Runway has is that each challenge ends with a certain 'end performance' and that wouldn't work too well for comics... but, it would be cool if it did.

Then I thought about it a little more (I'm doing speedlines, so there's a lot of thought wandering) and wondered if it could work in a magazine format. Bang one out a week or each month. And that led me to thinking about a constraint-oriented magazine anthology... but I was losing the thing that really worked for me.

So, I re-focussed and thought about Hikaru No Go. What if there WASN'T a Project Runway for comics, but there was a comic book was just like Project Runway... but for comics. Iron Cartoon Jan. Hikaru No Cartoon. (Oh, you'll give me your googles.) So, it's a comic book about a group of contestants gathered together on a reality show all striving to be the Next Great American Cartoonist. Each issue/volume would start with them being assigned their challenges and then we'd follow them through the day as they strove to complete each challenge and live with each other.

Then I thought you could do the whole book in one style, but that each cartoonist would have their own style you'd have to illustrate in. And that style would further mutate to meet the demands of the challenge and you could open the entire process up by showing thumbnails and pencils and inks and... and right there is where the intellectual excersize would destroy an average brain. And it's right where my own masochism would attract me to it like a moth to that dangerous stuff moths are attracted to.

So, I know it's hardly an original idea. In fact, I'm pretty sure Old Man Marcos suggested something similar to me several months ago. Even then, he wasn't the first to say anything about it, I'm sure. But the difference between all those other pie-in-the-sky dreamers and me, is that this idea will probably keep me up all night trying to figure out just how to "make it work." And then I'll have to go into the office in the morning with no sleep and I have two long meetings I need to attend. TWO!

BEST SONGS OF THE WORST YEAR

I wrote this at the office, so it might be more disjointed than usual:

So, was it the worst year in popular music ever? Yes.

I'd like to think that I'm just old and not with it. I'd also like to think that there have just been things that have slipped past me and everyone else that we'll all love in a few years. I'd like to think both these thoughts, but the sad truth is, I'd be lying to myself.

This was the year that completely lacked a defining single (was Umbrellas really the best there was?). This was the year a decade- plus hipster infatuation with disco reared its all-consuming head. This was the year when nearly all the old heads found their edges dulled to insignificance. This was the year that went out of it's way
to prove Nas' lamest prediction nearly true: hip hop might not be dead, but it needs some serious organ transplants at its top. This was the year the experimentalists finally lost their grips on the last tethers of reality. This was the year nostalgia went from being an influencing factor in new music and became a genre unto itself.

Pitchfork has their top 100 songs of the year http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/47681-staff-list-
top-100-tracks-of-2007

I have 12 of these. Most of those are pretty good (Modest Mouse, The National, DJ Kaled, Aesop Rock, MIA), some are probably good but I'd need to listen to them to know which songs they are (Magic Markers, Liars, Dan Deacon, Battles, Radiohead) and one is I'm a Flirt, which I don't think anyone would acknowledge if it was R Kelly.

There are twelve tracks that surprised me. They surprised me because I realized I still haven't listened to some albums that would have been obvious listens a couple years ago. Jay Z? I still haven't listened to Kingdom Come, never mind American Gangster. Kanye West's Graduation? Deerhoof? UGK? LCD Soundsystem? Ted Leo? From looking at another list discovered that I missed a new El-P album. And I forgot
Talib Kweli had a new album. The El-P album could make this year seem better, but the rest? Do I even need another Ted Leo album? Probably not.

I think all the tracks listed have mp3/streaming links, and I found 23 write-ups that intrigued me enough to sample those songs. How many I listen to will depend on my tolerance of Indie Disco, it seems.

I suspect that that Pitchfork's albums list will make the year look a little better, but I don't think it will be a huge improvement. Of course, the years haven't been good to Pitchfork either. While you can't blame them for the quality of the music they cover, you can blame them for what they don't cover (nothing about the new Rob Sonic or Cafe Tacuba!), and you can blame them for championing albums/ styles that either don't stand up under scrutiny (even if the scrutiny one applies is just one of enjoyment), and you can blame them when they spend any time at all on the umpteenth reissue of the ultimate standbys. Unfortunately, I've yet to find any other site that attempts writing on a wide range of styles, with mostly competent writers, that looks as closely at the smallest of labels as it does the largest.

The ironic thing is, for me, the year has been a lot of fun, music-wise. I've rekindled my love of heavy metal thanks to the post-rock, prog-metal and thrash revivals of the past fifteen years (Windmills By the Ocean, Isis, Mastadon, Ahab, This Will destroy You, Rwake). I've heard a few new absolute standouts (Gojira, The National and Battles come immediately to mind) and some not brand-new acts (Boris, Sun 0)))))I've reconnected with old bands and albums I just hadn't listened to in a long while (Joy Division, Wu-Tang). I've discovered music I'm now embarrassed to have been so ignorant of in the past (Curtis Mayfield! Neurosis! Sepultura!). Some of my old favorites continued to please (Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, Modest Mouse, M.I.A.). There have been some disappointments (Modest Mouse managed to disappoint even if it was also good, Radiohead, Ghostface). And some of it's been unmemorable (I'm trying to remember anything about Bjork's Volta without listening to it). Oh, and Mozart. There's been a fair amount of Mozart listening.

So, with everything that's out there, it's hard for any year to seem all that bad, but it seems like we've reached a point when we're not at all interested in refreshing the stock. We're just rotating it, and letting thing get stale and moldy. Here's hoping next year is better!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

EMAW 10 PAGE 16




Page 16! For the amount of time this spent on my drawing board, it should really be better. But it's no better than it is. NEXT!

EMAW 10 PAGE 15




I actually scanned these way back in the ancient days of December 9. I really need to catch up.

PROJECT BYRNE

57-Minute Drawing



I just finished watching the first season of Project Runway and I think I turned into John Byrne. I feel a little Deuce Dirties.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

THE VACATION MUST END

Sorry, internet. Sometimes I just don't want to share. Sometimes I don't want to hear how your day was. And sometimes I just want to watch. But there comes time when the vacation must end and we need to renew our vows, internet.

34-Minute Warm Up Drawing, Return to the Fold



I put on Marcos' latest tracklisting for the new album and went to work. It's a surprisingly good list. When I looked at it, I actually thought he was messing with me, but it flows pretty damn well. We've been going back and forth with song orders in an effort to nail it and this is one of the better ones. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be done for New Years and the seventh anniversary of our first recording session, but it might be done in time for the seventh anniversary of the first album's creation. Maybe. We'll see when he finally thinks the mix is right.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

GRINDHOUSE

I also watched some movies and listened to some musics.

I finally saw Grindhouse, or Planet Terror and Deathproof. I, like most of the world, avoided the original release since the reviews suggested they weren't 'must-sees' and the frickin' thing was four hours long. There is no theater in the world I'd want to sit in for four hours. I need a real good excuse to sit in one for 90 minutes! For the dvd release, they've split the movies into two. A great tactic, except that these are dvds, a format that allows the viewer to break a movie up into as many parts as they want. Man, remember when the Weinsteins could pretend they were geniouses?

Of the two, Planet Terror would be considered the greatest B-movie ever (and most notorious speculative movie with its missing reel) if it had come out 25 years ago. But it didn't, and it knows that it didn't. All the cgi and Bruce Willis and Food Channel references and text messaging makes that clear. Also, it's not an exploitation movie in the same way Once Upon a Time in Mexico wasn't a spaghetti western. Still, the gags are great (I think the best and most subtle was the bone saw through the shower curtain that acted as a door for the surgery room — Roger Corman would be proud).

The movie's biggest weakness though was that it was unsure about it's theme. Rodriguez is something of an uncommitted storyteller, more concerned with great horror gags he can do incredibly cheeply than he is with message. It makes his movies a lot of fun, but never great. He seems to be missing that obsessiveness with metaphor that marks the truly great B-movie makers. The metaphor should almost get in the way of the movie, but Rodriguez replaces metaphor with green screen. Final Cut Pro just isn't as compelling as giant, redemption-seeking tits, and end to war mongering, escape from an opressive regime and/or religion, disease and body transformation, a disdain for the squares, etc. — and an overriding acceptance of transgressivenss that runs through almost all the best B-movies. Even Eli Roth gets this, and his movies kinda suck. Rodriguez knows this is part of what makes these movies work (he even says as much on the bonus dvd), and he almost gets it in, but he's just not that interested in it. If the movie replaced the opening confrontation between Bruce Willis and Naveen Andrews (that makes no sense when those characters return later) with an opening that somehow married animal hormone injection fears with Gulf War Syndrome fears with Military Industrial Complex fears with whatever the zombies were supposed to represent — THEN this might've been a better movie. All that stuff is almost there. It's hinted at, but it is never made explicit or even properly subtextual.

But Rose MacGowan gun-leg, needle gun, zombie shootups, extreme knifing and Josh Brolin as evil Nick Nolte are great fun. And that's what Rodriguez does best: fun. And, of course, his 'fake' trailer for Machete has that in spades.

The best part of Grindhouse is, without question, for fans of B-movies, Death Proof, starring the greatest 70s-80s B-movie actor of all time, Kurt Russel. That, in itself, is part of Grindhouse's failure as an experiment though. Kurt Russel was never an exploitation movie star and John Carpenter was never an exploitation filmmaker.

Even if Car Chase movies were shown at the same theaters as Women in Prison movies, there's a longer tradition for them that puts them squarely in the B-movie category, and there's the decided lack of exploitation in most of them. But Tarrantino DOES get the exploitation genre better than Rodriguez — the set up for the first half is perfect for one — Tarrantino just kills off the girls before they get to be exploited.

He clearly wants to make John Carpenter's Faster Pussy Cat, Kill Kill: A Roger Corman Production, but he also wants to subvert the subverters and glorify the period rather than do what the exploitation filmmakers did. He's not really looking at the culture and picking and choosing certain transgressions or stereotypes to focus on. It's more like he's picking and choosing certain elements from old movies he'd like to focus on (like all Tarantino movies!). That's why the big drug scene involves off-handed smoking of marijuana outside a bar (has anyone written about Tarantino's fear of drugs?). That's why the big dance number requires Charlie's Angels short shorts. That's why the big music reference is to a band your father would have to ask your uncle about. Tarantino isn't interested in today's transgressions, he's interested in the way yesterday's trangressions have almost become quaint.

But, it is a fantastic blend of old movies. No one has hit the Psycho twist quite as well as Tarantino does here (even if the casting is backwards). No one has seen the inherent villainy of Kurt Russel's characters before. No one has thrown that many god-damned car stunts into one movie before and made them that compelling (due, in large part to Tarrantino's always excellent writing for female roles).

Tarantino might be culture-indifferent to the time he lives in, but his taste in the old is impeccable. He knows precisely what songs to un-earth, what movie moments to reference and what actors to people his films with. No one can deny him that. He's just a huge fan of these things, seeing flashes of greatness even in garbage. And then he pieces them all together, like a brilliant dj, seemlessly.

I laughed more at Planet Terror and I enjoyed watching it, but I don't know that I'm terribly compelled to watch it again. I could watch Death Proof a few more times and probably enjoy it just as much as I did the first.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

KING ELVIS B. BACK

Hello, New Jersey! You sure are one cold mother fucker. Well, I guess you're not cold so much as damn windy. DAMN!

Spent the week in Florida, which was not hot at all (rainy for two days, Spring-like for the rest). I saw the folks and I ate some food (including grilled chicken breast, half in a chocolate/jalapeño/pablano mole sauce and half in a sesame/pumpkin seed/jalepeño/pablano mole sauce at a restaurant that made claims of "Since 703" — DAMN). I also watched a bunch of tv for extra brain killage.

I watched a few hours of Planet Earth, Project Runway, Beauty and the Geek, The Wire, and The Shield. I figured that it was about the eighth time I've watched those season 1 episodes of The Wire. I expected Planet Earth to be good, and it did not disappoint. The Shield was more of the same since I left it (these were the Forrest Whitaker episodes). Beauty and the Geek was, once again, better than it had any right to be (this one had a girl geek and and boy beauty!). Everyone always tells me that Project Runway is great, but I refused to believe. Then I watched it, and I now believe. It is great. It actually IS very talented people using their talents for the betterment of clothes everywhere. I do wish it focussed a little bit more on the boring things (like thought processes and construction), but they make up for it with Tim Gunn. I immediately fell in love with Tim Gunn and want to be him when I grow up and find pants that fit me right.

I got some work done. Wrote out the next ten pages of EMAW. Wrote out the short action piece. Did some planning on the GN. Scrapped the other thing I was thinking about.

Read Monster 11 and Tekkon Kinkreet. I wouldn't say this was the best issue of Monster, but the series has recovered nicely from a couple volumes ago that seemed to be promising a conclusion (this was before I realized there were going to be a total of 16 volumes). Tekkon Kinkreet was fantastic, but I want to write something a little bit longer about it.

Came back to the windy city yesterday and looked at the page that I had left unfinished last week. It took me until tonight to work on it again. My first reaction at seeing it was that I needed to scrap the whole page and start over. But a little more vacation time and I was ready to "make it work." Ahhhh, Tim Gunn. It's drying now, and it should be ready for Erasure when I finish this.
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