Cakes and Money

Friday, January 30, 2004
 
All You Need Is Love

Enthusiastic But Mediocre nails Robbie Williams' ass in one perfect paragraph:

"See, what gets me about Robbie is that he's always so down on himself, but when he sings, he's smug, as if he's singing and writing the best songs in the world and as such is some kind of master entertainer. He isn't, isn't and isn't. Oh, and because most of his songs have a guitar somewhere, they're real songs, unlike all the fake songs by everyone else. Real songs. Real emotion. A real performer. A real cunt, that's what. Who writes some of the worst lyrics in pop today, all the while smirking about how fucking clever he is."


Thursday, January 29, 2004
 
Sounds Good By Me

So, Toxic by Britney Spears then - fun isn't it?

As I've mentioned before, there are only a handful of Britney songs that I particularly rate, and this is definitely one of them. In fact, at the moment it's my favorite tune she's ever done. Why? Simple - it rides on one hell of a slinky guitar line, features a breathy vocal performance from Miss Spears that skillfully avoids any of her occasionally annoying vocal tics (like that bizarre "singing through my nose" voice she sometimes switches to), and is jammed full of icy, but dramatic, string samples. Oh, and did I mention that it's really catchy, in a stealthy sort of way? Because it is. It really, really is. It's ace, basically, and the super-spy vibe of the accompanying video is amusingly wonky and insane.


 
Scene of the Crime

While we're still on the topic of The Unfunnies, here's Bill Sherman on the difficulties of judging a comic book series by its first issue, and here's a link to one of ADD's review columns, wherein you can find a positive review of the first issue of the series.


 
What We Have Is A Green Screen

I've always felt odd about Mark Millar's comic book work. When he's on form he churns out simple, entertainingly OTT modern superhero comic that may not leave much of a lasting impression on me, but are certainly very entertaining in the short term. But when he's not on form... man, can his work get on my nerves. I've already written a little about what I consider to be Millar's more irritating excesses here, and issue #1 of The Unfunnies is a prime example of Millar at his worst.

First things first: Bill Sherman has already given this comic a thorough kicking here. His review is very sharp and on target, and I highly recommend that you read it before continuing with this post.

Ok?

Cool.

The Unfunnies is a comic book about a cartoon world full of cute talking animals that's going wrong. Pedophilia, prostitution and murder seem to be the main side-effects of what ever's happening here, and a figure called Troy Hicks (a bald man with a moustache - that ultimate signifier of evil! - who is presented in a couple of inserted photo comic segments) seems to be behind all of this in some way.

Now I'd just like to make this clear from the start: I've got a pretty black sense of humor, and am not easily offended. I don't have a problem with "shocking" material, except when it's poorly executed. I'd be somewhat hesitant to say that I need my black humour to have a point to it, but it certainly helps. With The Unfunnies I find myself not even caring if there's a point to any of this. The humor here is weak and obvious (he's a pedophile and he wants to be put in the side of the prison that faces the school - the hilarity!), and the "horror" meaningless because there are no characters, just barely defined stick figures. Stick figures that Millar and co proceed to draw crude genitalia on and write rude comments under - comments, you suspect, that include the odd joke about hanging out at Michael Jackson's house. And we all know how "edgy" and "shocking" Michael Jackson jokes are, right?

The Troy Hicks plot has the potential to become interesting, but I severely doubt that it will: I'd be far more inclined to wonder exactly why this guy from another reality is messing with the inhabitants of this book if anything about the characters here was even remotely memorable. As I said a moment ago, they're all stick figures; visually distinguishable as the mother, the father, the neighbor, and the kids, but otherwise... there's nothing to them. They are corrupted versions of innocent (and personality free) cartoon characters, no more.

The funniest thing about this comic is the back cover blurb, which it turns out that Rich Johnston did write after all:

"People say that America is unshockable now. That all the taboos have been broken. That after 9/11 nothing can make a real impact. Those people just haven't read Unfunnies yet."

Three thing about this comment:

(1) People are still shocked and appalled by stuff all the time. The idea that the Western world suddenly became unshockable overnight is, I think, a deeply stupid one with little evidence to support it.

(2) Is The Unfunnies in any way more "shocking" than Blue Jam, Meet The Feebles, or even South Park? I don't think so. Bill Sherman has already pointed out that underground cartoonists were playing with a similar set of clashing aesthetics back in the day, but the point bares repeating - there is nothing particularly fresh about this approach*. This wouldn't be a problem were it not for the cloud of hype which clings to everything Millar touches ("Welcome to the most depraved comic-book of the 21st Century"), and the aforementioned unimpressiveness of the comic itself.

(3) If this comic actually was "shocking" in a whole new way, would that make it any funnier or more horrific? I'm not entirely convinced it would, to be honest with you. I think it'd still be pretty damned worthless, as it wouldn't make the jokes and characters any less paper thin. Oh well...

Was there anything I actually liked about this issue then? Well, the art was okay - Anthony Williams does a good job of making everything look "cute" enough to create the aforementioned sense of aesthetic wrongness, but I'm not sure how well the photo-comic sections work. They are obviously supposed to jar with their surroundings, but I'm not convinced that this works well in practice here...

Anyway, that's enough of that for now. Take it easy y'all...
David

*Does this in any way contradict point (1)? I don't think so - certainly there's a lot of "sick"/"edgy" humour out there, and there has been for some time, but people do still get genuinely upset about it.


Tuesday, January 27, 2004
 
No Deadlines

I'm feeling really tired and rundown right now, and as a result of this things are going to be pretty quiet around here this week. Between University, my social life, and sleeping, I don't have that much spare time at the moment, but I will try and write a post about Mark Millar's The Unfunnies sometime soon, because it sucked. A lot. This will replace the previously mentioned rundown of the various other comic books that I've read recently, because I started to write that and it was turning out pretty boring. And because The Unfunnies #1 was really, really bad.

Anyways, take it easy guys, and look out for those sporadic updates.
David


Saturday, January 24, 2004
 
Inclusions

I highly recommend Eve Tushnet's excellent critical essay on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen to anyone interested in reading someone actually engage with this much talked about but little analysed comic. Eve is dead on for the most part, especially when she points out the importance of patterns and what people make of them in the comic ("Rorschach's name is key, of course."), and yeah - there is a hell of a lot of discussion to be had about the role of humor/laughter in the comic. Hmmm. I need to re-read this some time soon. It's been a while.

Incidentally, if you enjoyed Eve's post then there's also a neat response to it up at Grotesque Anatomy right now. Good stuff.

That's me done for the weekend now. Sometime early next week I'm going to write a post full of short reviews of various comics that I've read recently, and after that... we'll see.

Take care everybody, and have a great weekend.
David


 
Around the World

A big cheer is due for Sax and Kit-Cat Club, whose excellent 'The Death of Jenny Everywhere' is quite possibly the best Jenny Everywhere story that I've read so far*.

The tone of this story is really nice - there's a somber quality to it intertwined with a sense of confusion and discovery, and the soft scratchiness of the artwork backs all of this up wonderfully.

Go check it out.

*It's a close call between this and a couple of the other comics, but there's something to the characterisation in 'The Death of Jenny Everywhere' that really appeals to me, and it's my favorite Jenny Everywhere comic at the moment because of this.


Friday, January 23, 2004
 
Take Me Down

A few thoughts on the Sleeper: Out In The Cold trade paperback, which I read over the Christmas period and have been meaning to write about ever since.

Jumping right in - on the whole, I'm a fan of writer Ed Brubaker's work. Scene of the Crime, Deadenders, the autobiographical comics that are collected in the Complete Loser trade paperback - this is all good stuff. He's a smart, entertaining writer who has covered a fair amount of fictional ground in his time (he's done crime, superheroes, post-apocalyptic science fiction, and more), and works with very talented artists like Cameron Stewart, Michael Lark, and Darwyn Cooke to boot.

But still... Sleeper is far and away the best Brubaker comic I've ever read. I know, I know - you've probably heard this a few times recently, but it's true! I really do get much more of a kick out of this than anything else he's written. This is odd, given the fact that it feels like the specific genre combination upon which this comic is based shouldn't hold together (for reasons I'll get round to in a minute), but there you go.

A quick recap for those who, like me, came in late: this comic is all about Holden Carver, a sleeper agent in a big old criminal organization. He's pretty much trapped where he is, as his main link with the people he ostensibly works for is in a coma. Basically, he's fucked.

It's a nice, simple premise, and one that Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips milk for everything it's worth. Each issue in this collection is full of horribly juicy tension - every move Carver can possibly make is extremely dangerous, not to mention morally and personally difficult, and the end never seems to be in sight. This is the stuff that good pulpy noir is made out of, people, and I love it!

About the genre mish-mash that forms the core of this story - right, obviously all of this is built on a fairly natural mix of crime noir and spy fiction. Since it's also set in the Wildstorm universe, however, there's a superhero element present as well, and this is where things get strange for me. Now, the powers that all of the characters have isn't the weird thing - they're nicely built in to the characters who have them, and work very well to raise the stakes of the drama here. No, no, the weirdness here comes mostly from occasional use of traditional looking superhero costumes in the story - Sean Phillips does such a great job of creating a world that is bleak and shadowy enough to contain this story, and it looks a bit weird when you've got characters who look like Dr Strange swanning though it. Somehow, though Phillips pulls it off - makes it all look convincing. I'm not sure how he does it, but he does. Maybe it adds a little humor to proceedings, I dunno. Anyway, like Brubaker, Phillips is doing some of the best work of his career here: one of Brubaker's stylistic trademarks as a writer is his use of lots of small panels on every page, and Phillips really makes this technique breath here. A typical page of Sleeper consists of about five-or-six small panels tumbling over one larger panel in a loose, non-gridded style that could be confusing were it not handled so masterfully. There's something to this style that adds to the stories almost as much as the inky blacks from which Phillips forms his figures and scenes. It creates a very claustrophobic sort of feeling, with events piling up on top of each other, again, with no end in sight.

Some people have complained that the coloring on this title is too murky, but it looks fine to me - sure, unlike in, say, Hellboy, there's no constant burst of color to break up the shadows, but the murky hues in which the book is colored are just textured and subtle enough to avoid monotony. And just look at the little flecks of glowing light in the city at the start of issue #4 - this is gorgeous work, and it suits the tone of the story perfectly.

Trust me - this is one occasion where you should believe the hype.


Wednesday, January 21, 2004
 
A Mighty Beard



 
Quote Of The Day

"Some directors rely on dissolves, but what we found was much more effective was - a goat."

(Director of photography Newton Thomas Siegel on the commentary for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)

The weird thing about this quote is that it actually pretty much makes sense in context! Madness!


 
Upward Behind The On-Streaming It Mooned

I've slightly tidied up Monday's post, by the way - it was written first thing in the morning, and was, I felt, slightly incoherent as a result of this.

Anyway, I caught Christopher Guest's latest mockumentary A Mighty Wind with a few friends last night, and loved it. It was just really pleasurable to watch all those weird characters bumble towards the big show at the end, and the Mitch & Mickey storyline that threads through the whole thing actually manages to be pretty tender in its own way. Major props are due to Eugene Levey and Catherine O'Hara for this - both of them put in excellent performances here, and the scene with the two of them in the dressing room before the show is particularly excellent, with O'Hara's little glances at Levey in the mirror conveying so much amidst the straight-up comedy.

Some reviewers have complained that the movie is too gentle with its characters, but that didn't strike me as being a problem here. It's definitely a bit sweeter than Guest's previous efforts, but there's always been a certain affection in his comedic mockery, and this movie strikes me being a fairly natural development of the style that he and his fellow cast members have been playing around with for a couple of movies now. The characters and folk music which this movie focuses on may be presented as being weird and humerous (which they are), but there's no nastiness to this presentation, and I kinda like that, y'know?


Monday, January 19, 2004
 
Here It Comes

"What he liked about these books was their sense of plenitude and economy. In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so - which amounts to the same thing. The world of the book comes to life, seething with possibilities, with secrets and contradictions. Since everything seen or said, even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear a connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be over-looked. Everything becomes essence; the centre of the book shifts with each event that propels it forward. The centre, then, is everywhere, and no circumference can be drawn until the book has come to its end."

(from City of Glass, by Paul Auster)

It occurred to me last night that while I have read and watched several stories that either rewire the underpinnings of mystery/detective fiction for their own postmodern ends, or mash the genre up with another one, I have read very little actual detective/mystery fiction in my life. Hell, I've probably read more theory about detective fiction than I have detective fiction, and that's a pretty weird situation to find yourself in!

It's weird, because I've experienced a lot of cut-up, gutted and inverted detective fiction without getting much of a feel for the genre beforehand. I think that it may prove interesting to read some (relatively) straight stuff, just to see what I get out of it and how this relates to what the authors and theorists whose work I am familiar with have taken from the genre. I suppose I did the same thing with superhero comics, really; I got into the genre through various twisty Grant Morrison/Alan Moore comics (Watchmen, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo etc), and then worked through the stories that these comics derive from. Hmmm... more on this later.


Sunday, January 18, 2004
 
Don't Touch That Dial... No, Seriously - I'm Not Kidding Around Here!

One thing I'm loving about Palomar, by the way, is the way that sex is handled in the comic. There's so much of it going on, all of it convincingly drawn, and while it often has very really physical and emotional consequences, there's never any icky moralising about it in the stories themselves. Sure, some of the characters in the stories may get a bit judgmental from time to time, but that's fairly realistic, unfortunately.

When I say "convincingly drawn" here, I do so in reference to the way the characters and their relationships are constructed and portrayed in the comic, though the fact that Hernandez is a cartoonist (and a good one at that) means that he doesn't have to write the sort of lengthy descriptions of sex that can often be so cringe-worthy in prose form!

(Be warned: from here on in, this post contains 100% more smut than any post I have previously written on this blog!)

Speaking of bad sex scenes in prose form, here's my favorite (?) excerpt from one of the novels/passages shortlisted for the Guardian's 2003 Bad Sex award:

"Further down my body, Honey Mackintosh bobbed up and down between my legs, her big soft lips locked around my hootchee and, true to her Scottish roots, she sucked away like she was the last person left on earth to play the bagpipes on Robbie Burns' birthday."

(from The Sucker's Kiss, by Alan parker)

Well! After reading that I doubt I'll ever be able to think about Robert Burns/playing the bagpipes/oral sex in the same way again!

I highly recommend that you read the rest of the passages provided on the Guardian website. It's an educational experience, if nothing else!


 
Tonight's Reading Chimes In...

"So what is it with guys, huh? A girl just can't dress up nice and have a good time dancing and drinking without some jerk or two spoiling things. I mean, just how many ugly... names do men have for women anyway?"

(Luba, in 'the Reticent Heart', by Gilbert Hernandez).


 
Brain and Body Energy

From an interesting Flyboy post about misogyny, pop, and hip-hop:

"Point is, less than a decade ago the lack of female MCs, not to mention producers, was widely berated. Now, they're everywhere, and busy kicking the blokes' arses on regular occasions. The rise of the duet and the 'answer record' have a large part to play in this. Often this takes the form of a fiercely fought battle of the sexes, sometimes with the interrogation of gender roles thrown in for good measure - and yes, sometimes this involves a large dose of misogyny and machismo from male rappers - but it's usually reclaimed and thrown back in their faces two bars later. The Rolling Stones never did *that*."

There's a lot of good stuff in that post, and in the new Barbelith thread that it's spawned. The fact is that sexual politics in hip-hop is a very tricky area, and one that is far less simple than many people seem to want to make it out to be.

On a personal level, I'm particularly interested in the areas of this discussion which deal with what Flyboy calls the "puritanical streak" that such conversations always seem to turn up. There always seems to be a certain point in arguments like this where someone breaks out the line "Yes, but [female artist X] dresses like a whore!" There's something pretty unhealthy about this sort of statement. Lets face it - it really is all about boiling things down to some sort of deeply stupid and idealised virgin/whore set-up, isn't it?

God forbid that "we" (whoever "we" may be) should accept that women can dress however they want to... that would just be terrible now, wouldn't it? How could we possibly get by without making all sorts of nasty judgments about people based on a bundle of (dodgy as fuck) ideas that we've cooked up for ourselves? Imagine having to think of all women as (*gasp*) people. Man would that ever suck.


 
Weirdness

You know, I genuinely get kind of uneasy when I realise that people I know in everyday life read/have read this blog.

Now, I think I should point out that this isn't a major thing with me. I'm relatively un-fazed when my close friends read what I write here, and I only ever feel a little bit weird when other folk from my "real" life mention that they've read my bloggy ramblings, but still... there is a certain sense of discomfort there, and I'm unsure exactly where it comes from. It's not related to the quality of my writing or anything; this place has its ups and downs, but I'm pretty happy with it on the whole. It's... something else, basically. Something that I can't quite put my finger on at the moment.

Hmmm...


Wednesday, January 14, 2004
 
Crossing the Road With Style

The TV moment of last night - Christopher Guest deadpanning during an interview that the Matrix movies were, like his films, largely improvised on the spot. Sure, the rest of the interview was pretty dull, but that one moment cracked me up!

This has been today's throwaway dig at the Matrix movies. Thank you.


 
Keeping Quiet

So I finally parted with the cash for the mammoth Palomar hardcover that collects Gilbert Hernandez's 'Heartbreak Soup' stories together in one big bundle. I'm only 80 pages into the thing so far, but it's excellent stuff - overloaded with characters and stories in the most satisfying way - and I look forward to making my way through the rest of it over the course of the next week or so.

Aside from my gushing praise I have little solid to add so far (I really want to read it all before I jump in with a comment), except that yes, actually, this collection is a good size for reading. It's perfect to sit cross-legged on the floor with! While it's a tad too cumbersome to be carried around with you and read on the bus, it's definitely something that gains from being collected together - you can almost feel all the stories sprawling out in front of you.


 
David Smash Puny Marvel!

Peter Bagge's Hulk comic has been cancelled.

This news, as they say round my way, sucks arse like a black hole with a straw. Okay, they don't really say that round my way, or anywhere else for that matter. But this news still sucks.

(Via Fanboy Rampage!)


Tuesday, January 13, 2004
 
A Footnote

How invigorating is Sleater-Kinney's music? Everything about their sound is just so fucking immediate and punchy, and their albums never fail to get me going - to give me a little bit of a boost when I'm feeling flat. There's so much more to them than this surface rush, though. There's the way they sometimes let their wittier, more playful side interact with their emotional and political concerns to great effect (particularly on the fantastic All Hands On the Bad One album), and the fact that their arrangements are often really twisty and complex despite their seemingly primitive punk-pop vitality, and... fuck it, they're just really good, okay?

I love 'Burn, Don't Freeze' from the Hot Rock so much right now... it's weird, because it always sounds to me like two different songs intertwining with each other, but yet there are no joins on show, no clunky moments to ruin things - the construction of the song is immaculate. The interplay between Tucker and Brownstein's guitar and vocal lines is just so perfect here - it feels like they're doubling up on you; contrasting with each other and reinforcing each other at the same time. It is absolutely bloody glorious, and probably one of my favorite songs of all time - 'nuff said.


 
Today's Soundtrack:

Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta this mess baby, outta my head
Whaddya want? - whaddya know?
One to get started, three till we go
Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta this mess baby, outta my head
Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta my body, outta my skin

Ya got me... for now
I'm here... for now

Whaddya want?
Whaddya know?
Do ya get nervous makin me go?
Get into your sores, get into my things
Do ya get nervous watchin me bleed?
Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta this mess baby, outta my head
Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta my body, outta my skin

I wear your rings and sores
In me... in me it shows

I have your hands your holes
In me... in me it shows
Oh god let me in
There's nowhere else to go
Oh god let me in
And let me go

Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta this mess baby, outta my head
Dig me out
Dig me in
Outta my body, outta my skin


('Dig Me Out' - Sleater-Kinney)


Sunday, January 11, 2004
 
Welcome, To The World Of Tomorrow!

So, New X-Men then - where to start, where to start...

Well, I suppose I should start by mentioning the fact that I'm going to be *SPOILING* the last couple of issues for you. Anyone's who's reading the comic in trade paperback form, or who may read it in this format or any other one day, that doesn't want to have at least one big detail spoiled for them should probably stop reading about now.


So we're all clear on this, yeah?


Cool.


Thanks to David Fiore for pointing out handful of micro-articles about New X-Men at Peiratikos.

There are three articles in total: one on creation of self through narrative, one that expands on this idea, discussing Borges and the X-Men as a civil-rights metaphor in the process, and one that brings "geek pride" and feminism into the equation.

These are apparently preparatory notes for something bigger, but they make for a very interesting burst of reading as they stand right now, and they sure got my brain ticking away!

"...I think New X-Men is about characters attempting to create themselves by creating narratives, and it’s about characters losing control of those narratives."

Well, there's certainly a lot of this going on in the comic. Yes. Definitely.

I was re-reading New X-Men #150 the other day, and more than ever I feel like this issue sums up what Grant Morrison has been doing with Cyclops/Scott Summers throughout the course of his run.

Just after Summers announces that he's finally decided between his wife (Jean Grey-Summers) and his psychic mistress Emma Frost (a decision that would see the character step decisively out of the love triangle he's been a part of since the start of Morrison's run) Jean Grey is killed (again!), and he's sent sprawling back to an old, unfortunate, narrative of his. The love triangle may not be there any more, but Summers still hasn't made a new story for himself - he's went straight from one brooding narrative into another!

This is, on one level, just good old fashioned soap opera, but it's also a neat example of the sort of thing that those micro-articles seem to me to be getting at. Morrison's Summers is a man always on the brink of some sort of personal evolution; his life is always hyper-dramatic, but it never really "goes" anywhere new.

"It must be getting rather tedious, Scott dear. These reruns of your grief."

That's Emma Frost in issue #151, by the way, hitting the nail on the head in an amusingly blunt fashion. How fitting that Summers' response includes the line "...nothing we do makes a difference."

Of course, this being a Grant Morrison comic (hell, this being a superhero comic), I've no doubt that things will turn around a bit in the next three issues, but it's still a fascinating situation.

Anyway, that's enough of that for now - I'll give this comic a proper going over when Morrison's finished his run and I'm finished my exams.

I liked New X-Men #151 a lot, by the way. It made the link between old school X-Men craziness and good old-fashioned Grant Morrison style craziness seem clearer than ever, and the scene that I've just quoted from (the only one set in the present day instead of in Morrison's crazy sci-fi future) was brilliant, in its own succinct way.

Mark Silvestri's artwork is just right for this story, I think. There's a certain gnarled, trashy quality to it that recalls every apocalyptic X-Men future story that I've never read.

The cover, on the other hand, is a tad too cheesy for even my tastes, but there you go.

I know that some folk are fretting about whether or not Morrison is going to neatly tie everything together at the moment, and while I certainly understand where these worries come from (there's a lot of action going on off panel, and Morrison can be more than a tad vague with this kind of stuff at times) I'm far too caught up in the rush of not knowing how everything is going to play out to care at the moment. I've no doubt that quite a lot of stuff will be left unexplained, but hey - I've enjoyed the hell out of the comic so far, and I'm willing to wait and see where things go from here before I make any final judgements.


Friday, January 09, 2004
 
Tribute

Well, that's me for the day folks - with any luck I'll be posting a couple of thoughts about New X-Men over the weekend, and after that... well, my blog-rate is likely to become much less consistent again, as I start my final term at University on Monday. With my final exams looming in the near-distance, panic will surely set in soon, but I'll try and update this place as frequently as possible, so please bare with me when things start to get a bit erratic.

Anyways, take care everybody, and have a kick-ass weekend while you're at it.
David


 
So Wrong, But Yet, So Very Right

Random music thought of the day: you know, I actually really like that No Doubt cover of 'It's My Life' - it's an oddly perfect pop mini-drama ("...all swooshing, swaggering and wailing" - thanks Enthusiastic But Mediocre). There is, as they say in the business, something to it.


 
"Your tale, sir, would cure deafness."

A brief rundown of a few songs I've been listening to recently:

Basement Jaxx - 'Good Luck'

There may be better tracks on Basement Jaxx's latest album, but this is the song I'm currently most obsessed with.

In short, I think I'm fascinated by the way the song is always so rich with sound, but yet still builds up and down really constantly and dynamically. It starts with a neat burst of strings that fade out almost right away to be replaced by that big old ass-kicker of a bass line, Lisa Kekaula's voice, and a sweet little beat that's just going to grow and grow as the song goes along. It's an opening that demands your attention, but just as soon as this set-up is in place a skittering guitar line is thrown into the mix and then, rapidly moving along again, we hit the bridge, with it's brief snippet of garbled backing vocals that distantly remind me of the opening music from Farscape every time they pop up. The bass speeds up and then we hit the chorus, and Jesus - how much stuff has been crammed in so far? Who cares - keep moving. The chorus is just huge (widescreen disco?), and hey - the strings are back, and they're here to stay this time. This pattern repeats and repeats, with a couple of brief pauses thrown in for good measure, and the overall effect is, it seems to me, both giddy and invigorating. Kekuala's vocal performance here is just right too - it's joyous and confident enough to match the music, but with the right hint of roughness to carry the bite of the lyrics ("You sold me, sold me/You sold me down the river now/I hope you're feeling happy now/Now you always have a sneer in your smile"), and by the time we hit the bombastic "No more lies" section, music crashing in with every syllable, I'm just totally there.

It occurs to me that one of the neat things about the Kish Kash album is that it manages to keep its sense of urgency across all fourteen tracks. Sure, there are a couple of dips in terms of quality, but unlike a lot of albums that are so full of energy, there's enough variety on Kish Kash to stop it feeling tired halfway through, and in this way 'Good Luck' can be seen as a sort of microcosm of the whole album, I think.

Elastica - 'Connection'/Wire - 'Three Girl Rumba'

Listening to 'Three Girl Rumba' again recently, I remembered that I never minded the fact that Elastica had blatantly nicked the riff from that particular Wire song for 'Connection'. Despite the overt musical similarity between the two tunes, they always seemed so different to me in some way, so it never felt cheap, and I think I've figured out why. To state it crudely, while Wire are an excellent arty punk band with an occasionally very strong melodic sensibility, Elastica always seemed to me to be a great pop band with an art punk sound, and while I like 'Three Girl Rumba' a lot, I think that Elastica did enough with the riff to make this something more than plagiarism. It's like sampling or something; a creative re-jigging of someone else's idea that provides a whole new context for the same bit of music and thus turns it into something completely different. 'Three Girl Rumba' is an excellent fragment of a rock song, while 'Connection' is a big, textured pop-monster; the disparity here is almost as big as the similarity, and though the connection will always be there in my head, I love the two songs in two very different ways.

Beck - 'Milk & Honey'

I seem to remember that at the time some folk wrote off Beck's Midnight Vultures album as OTT Prince impersonation, but bollocks to that quite frankly! Like all of Beck's best work, this sounds like Beck and no one else. He's an artist that dresses up in lots of ill-fitting musical clothes, for sure, but he never becomes totally submerged in any of the roles he plays, and he almost always keeps his very distinct pop sensibility about him (the duller moments on Sea Changes being an exception to this rule, obviously). While the outfits he wears on this particular album may be particularly glitzy and at times preposterous, I still think it all holds together really well.

'Milk & Honey' highlights the album's many strengths quite nicely, I think, but it's a testament to Midnight Vultures as a whole that I chose this tune pretty randomly; the rest of the album could be written about in a way both very similar and very different from the way I'm about to write about this tune. Every track on Midnight Vultures can be seen as a dazzling collage of different musical elements - the specific components vary from song to song, but the overall trick is still the same.

Anyways, 'Milk & Honey' is, like most Beck songs, a pretty straight pop song at heart, but there's a kitchen sink feeling to the arrangement that makes it all feel much weirder than it really is.

The verses are built on a very compact and limber sort of kiddies electronic funk, with what sounds to me to be a sort of half-finished country style guitar arpeggio weaving in and out wonderfully. The chorus, which arrives almost without warning, is entirely different - bombastic rock drums crash and clatter, while a cheesy piano part, some vocodered vocals, a weird little space-rock guitar lick, and all sorts of whooshing and zooming noises battle for supremacy on top. And then, if you'll excuse the clunky nature of this narrative, you've got the mid section (zombie hip-hop chant builds back into a slightly more exagerated version of the song's central silly lover-man vocal style), and the soothing guitar-centric finale, in which Smith's guitarist Johnny Marr's anonymous noodling eventually gives way to a slight, but warm, synth line, which in turn gives way to, well, nothingness. As a song, it's a bag of tricks, and good ones at that, and I think that all of this fits in quite nicely with all lot of the other overloaded pop music I've been talking about recently. There's similar thing going on in some of Beck's material, particularly on Midnight Vultures: a sort of very accessible musical mish-mash that has a lot in common with the music that Basement Jaxx and Outkast are making right now. And as I said in that post I just linked to, in the right hands less is not more - more is more!

The Flaming Lips - 'Summertime'

"It's summertime, and I can understand if you still feel sad
It's summertime, and though it's hard to see its true possibilities
When you look inside all you'll see
When you look inside all you'll see is a self-reflected inner sadness
Look outside, I know that you'll recognize - it's summertime
"

I know those lyrics don't look like much written down, but when I actually hear this song it feels like a brilliant refutation of inward-looking mourning or sadness that manages to sound genuinely understanding and compassionate towards the aforementioned sadness even as it looks past it.

It starts with a sort of deep electronic funeral throb*, which is quickly joined by a melancholic sounding acoustic guitar part and Wayne Coyne's voice (which sounds much more subdued and worn out than it normally does to begin with). Sure, the song builds up to something a bit more textured and, dare I say it, beautiful, and Coyne's voice soon starts to hit those higher notes, cracking in its usual triumphant way as it does so, but I think it's important that the electronic pulse and acoustic guitar parts on which the song is more or less based still remain sad sounding - the sense of loss is still there, but there's also an acknowledgement (both in the music and in the lyrics) of everything else.

That all this is achieved in a way that completely lacks any trace of triteness that my description may suggest is, in some small way, a triumph, and I love the song for it.

*The subtitle of this song is 'Throbbing Orange Pallbearers', which may seem like a slightly strained attempt at weirdness on first glance, but which actually feels quite fitting when you think about it.

Nirvana - 'Serve the Servants'

In Utero is, straight up, one of the best sounding rock records I own. Steve Albini's recording is just right on the money here - the drums boom and thud in a way that is hugely satisfying, and there's this nice trebly edge to the guitar distortion, a sort of perfect mix of meatiness and shrillness that I really rate. 'Serve the Servants' seems to me to exist in the middle ground between the noisier and more melodic sides of In Utero, and it's one of the flat-out best sounding songs on the album too (especially in terms of that guitar sound I was talking about). It's also got a really great deadpan vocal performance from Kurt Cobain ("Teenage angst has paid off well/But now I'm bored and old"), and even the nasty, trashy sounding guitar solo sounds brilliant here - I've never been much of a one for guitar solos (in fact I mostly find them hopelessly boring) but for whatever reason this one really rocks my ass.

Erm... rock on?


Thursday, January 08, 2004
 
Gimmie Some More!

"I can smell it already. Marvel will most assuredly screw the pooch and not release the first five issues of this book in Manga format and in black and white and, thus, avoid making a shitload of money. Bendis and Millar have taken the best parts of the FF mythos and glued them together with the best parts of the Spider-Man mythos and, voila, hundreds of millions of adoring new readers giving Marvel their money. What? It will only be read by fatbeards? Oh well. The direct market is doing fine on its own. Right?"

Benjamin Birdie weighs in on the first issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four, and yeah, he's right.

While the first issue didn't really sell me on the series*, it's a solid slice of entertainment - like a slightly fresher version of Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man - that seems pretty much custom made for a certain emergent market. Hell, I couldn't even find much to annoy me in Kubert's artwork, which is a first! There is just enough actual plot development in here to justify the slow pacing and yeah, it's a good comic all round. Now lets see how well it's packaged and marketed.

*I'll stick with the old Lee/Kirby comics as well as a couple of more recent works like Grant Morrison's #1234 mini-series, or James Sturm's Unstable Molecules, thank you - for my money there's more interesting stuff in any of those comics than there is in the first issue of this series, or in any of Bendis or Millar's other work, but hey!


 
The Serious Issues

Today's other choice slice of randomness comes from comics blogger Steven Wintle, who is once again extolling the virtues of comics that make little sense, this time in a review of an old Wonder Woman comic.

God bless the good ship Flat Earth, and all those who sail in her.


 
Speaking of Which...

Following on from my last post, dead rock stars really do generate some funny/icky/embarrassing crap, don't they?



Heh. I've read a few snippets of the comic itself, and trust me - the inside is every bit as bad as the cover!


 
There's Such a Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid

I just saw the video for Puddle of Mudd's 'Away From Me' again, and yes, I was right the first time I saw it: they really have went out of their way to make the frontman look as much like Kurt Cobain as possible this time around. I've only seen the video through two or three times, but it's definitely there. Just as the music strains to sound like an antiseptic Nirvana at all times, so the video's director seems to attempt to reduce the band's frontman to a Cobain-aping fringe and mouth combo. Seriously, check out those camera angles; the way the POV floats around the microphone, almost always hovering just above or below the singer's eye level, is fairly eerie in its slightly cleaned up recreation of Cobain's MTV face. Think about the way Cobain looked in the 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' video and several others - hold that image in mind while you watch this video, and I think you'll find the desperation of it all either amusing or a tad creepy, depending on your mood.

I pretty much shrug off the music itself - it's so bland as to be utterly ignorable - but there's just something so embarrassing about this particular video. I'm not entirely sure why, but I can't stop thinking about it - the sheer refinement of the thing is mind-blowing!


 
Stop

Today's choicest slice of random silliness comes in the shape of the following installment of webcomic We Don't Get It Either. (Thanks to Scott McAllister for the link)


Tuesday, January 06, 2004
 
Pouncing Cowboys

One more thing about Wanted: while I don't think it's going to turn out to be a particularly complex work, there is ample room for a nice play on the old "power and responsibility" theme here, and this is something which I may come back in the near future - maybe after a couple more issues have come out.


 
Wanted #1, by Mark Millar, JG Jones and others

Right, first things first - I know this is a statement of the obvious, but "Watchmen for super-villains" this isn't. While I am aware that advertising slogans like this should always to be taken with a mouthful of salt, I still feel like it needs saying, as there's nothing in this first issue to indicate that this series is going to tackle the power structures behind the genre like Moore and Gibbons' classic did. In fact, I reckon a better, or at least more accurate, catchline would be: "a superhero comic for people who like to play Grand Theft Auto with the cheats on."

This isn't a put down, by the way: I quite enjoyed the comic in question, but I do feel that it's necessary to outline what the creative team actually seem to be trying to do here, and to realise that this is distinct from the line they put out as an advertising blurb.

Paul O'Brien's review of the title felt pretty accurate to me, and I particularly liked his summary of the general thrust of the plot as it stands right now:

"...it's a Mark Millar version of "One day my real parents will take me away and I'll become a princess." But because it's Millar, Wesley gets to be a gun-toting leatherclad psycho instead. Something that he doesn't seem altogether happy about, it must be said."

So far there's little to the characters beyond their role in the plot: the main character (Wesley)'s girlfriend and best friend are defined purely by the fact that they are having an affair with each other, which gives Wesley something to be unhappy about and shows that he is too passive to actually do anything about the state of his life; his "African-American boss" exists to reinforce this point, and to hint at some dodgy racial politics lurking beneath the surface of Wesley's desciption of her. Wesley himself is slightly more defined, but only because the other characters exist to frame him. This isn't a problem or anything, and indeed it seems fairly intentional to me, so I mention it only as an example of why I don't think this book is heading for Watchmen territory. No, I think Millar's other advertising pitch, the one in which he described this book as the next natural development in the style of superhero comics he's been writing since he took over the Authority from Warren Ellis, is more useful here. This is full-on trash, and furthermore, it's full-on trash that wants to shock you.

I find Millar's cruder and more violent excesses to be mildly out of place most of the time, to be honest with you. I feel like he often goes for shock value, and ends up with something that is just plain boring instead (see his last Authority arc, which wasn't crap purely because it was "toned down" and edited, but because it was a really shitty, cliched superhero story dressed up with a couple of shabby "extreme" touches). But nontheless, he can be an entertaining writer when he's on form - I love his first Authority arc, his first Ultimates arc, and various bits of his Ultimate X-Men run, for example. However, I'd say that Wanted, while perhaps too desperate to impress us with it's excesses (Hey look - she just killed a room full of people just to prove how much of an untouchable badass she is! That's totally badass!), provides a better context for the more OTT and icky side of Millar's writing than his other (company owned) superhero work has so far; it is, after all, a creator owned comic book about a load of nasty of super-villains who rule the world.

Jumping back to his review for a second, I reckon that Paul O'Brien is on to something when he points out that J.G. Jones' art gives the whole thing a slightly deadpan feel; ideally, I reckon this would be like the Kill Bill of superhero comics - a really silly, bombastic exercise in style, violence and black humour presented in a fairly straight-faced way. So far, Wanted hasn't really hit the level of masterful absurdity of Tarantino's latest movie. There are too many clunky bits in there (such as the whole Fuckwit section*) for me to really love the first issue, but I'll check out the next couple of installments to see how it develops - I'm interested in where this is all going, even if I'm not yet entirely convinced by the series as a whole.

*Yes, yes Mark, Bizarro is "a Down's Syndrome copy of Earth's first superhero" - could you please try a bit harder next time?


Monday, January 05, 2004
 
Random #1

Yesterday in work a customer told me that when she was a child she would resort to reading the phone book if she didn't have enough pocket money left to buy a new book for herself. I laughed, but she assured me that this was actually true; that she really was so into reading that sometimes she just had to read something, anything, just for the sake of it. Now regardless of whether or not this was just a very straight-faced bit of humour (and ignoring how libraries would or wouldn't fit into this equation), I like this image a lot. It's endearingly enthusiastic in its own over the top way, and yet it also feels slightly familiar - is this in itself a cliche, or is it simply ringing a bell with me because of the old cliche about someone being able to read from the phone book and make it sound interesting?


 
"And We're Completely Sold Out of Lord of the Rings..."

I saw the final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple of weeks ago, and to be honest with you, I can't help but wonder if there's not a bit more room for someone to feel a bit indifferent about the whole thing. I dunno... I've read so many reviews that either threw great heaps of praise at the trilogy or sniped at it angrily, but for me the movies just fall somewhere in-between. I like them well enough in terms of visual spectacle, but while I get the themes that are going on, nothing about the characters, performances or indeed the whole mythos really draws me in and makes me care about any of it. Well, that's not entirely true - the Gollum/Smeagol stuff is interesting, and Christopher Lee's Saruman was fun when he was onscreen, but apart from that... very little in the movies hooks me in any major way.

Now this is at least partly a matter of personal taste, but still... I reckon I've seen many better movies in the last three years or so, and quite a few worse ones as well.

So why did I go see all three movies in the cinema, you ask? Well, as I said, it was a nice visual spectacle, and one that was, in my opinion, best suited to the big screen. And besides, the teenage boy in me enjoyed some of the battle scenes quite a lot, and my inner teenage boy needs feeding sometimes (I like my inner teenage boy).

Anyways, since I don't have enough invested in these movies to find anything particularly interesting to say about them, I might as well link to this post by my friend Graeme Lyon. Now Graeme is a huge geek for the Lord of the Rings, but he had a lot of problems with the cinematic cut of the Return of the King. Only a couple of the things he mentions actually occurred to or annoyed me when I was actually, y'know, watching the movie, but hey - at the very least he's a lot more into the trilogy (in both forms) than I am, and has a lot more to say about it as a result.


Saturday, January 03, 2004
 
Ballad of a Comeback Kid

Well that's me done for today, and by extension, for the week. I hope you all enjoyed my first week of comeback blogging - I certainly have, and I'll try and make sure that next week's output is just as full as this week's has been.

Take care everyone, and have a great weekend
David


 
Maximalism

I know I've written about it a lot already, but here's one more thought about Speakerboxxx/the Love Below for you:

I'm a big fan of music and other slices of art or entertainment that do a lot with a little - so much of my favourite stuff falls into this category - but sometimes, like when I'm listening to the latest Outkast double album or Basement Jaxx's Kish-Kash, I find myself thinking that in the right hands "less is not more - more is more!"

There are times when I just need to listen to something that is completely overloaded with sounds and grooves and lyrics and tunes, and groups like Outkast and Basement Jaxx fulfil this need marvellously.

Hmmm... if I'm in the right mood, I may well try and write about comics and literature with a similar feel to it sometime next week - we'll see.

(This post inspired in part by posts by this one and this one, and of course, by Outkast and Basement Jaxx.)


 
Due to the Speed of Current Events...

More good news everyone - Steven Wintle's always interesting Flat Earth blog seems to have come back to life for 2004!

Wintle has posted a huge essay that he wrote on the Barbelith message board a while ago, and while I'm not sure that I have much of interest to add to this particular discussion (I'll think it over, but I'm less confident of my writing about comics as a business than I am of my writing about the actual content of the comics themselves) I can say that I am very excited about the prospect of Wintle blogging again. Apparently he's going to write a post about how his blogging experience has affected the views expressed in this essay sometime soon, and I, for one, am looking forward to it immensely.


Friday, January 02, 2004
 
Revenge of the Nerds

So American Splendor then - I liked the hell out of it, but then, you knew I would, right?

The whole time I was watching it I had the Robert McKee speech from Adaptation going through my head and I just love the way that the film's multiple layers (documentary style interviews with the real Pekar and his friends and family, segments from Pekar's autobiographical comic stories performed by actors, bits of comic book art brought to life on-screen) all serve to illustrate the sadness, weirdness and funniness of Pekar's life. The techniques employed here could easily have felt unnecessary, but instead they emphasise the amount of self-reflection that's going on here, and the focus that all of this puts on creation is obviously very important - this is, after all, a movie that is at least partly about Pekar's belief that his life, and the lives of the people around him, are worthy of being made into comic books, and indeed, movies. There's a nice mix of big dramatic stuff (Pekar's struggle with cancer, for one) and smaller, but no less important, moments here, and I love the interplay between these two elements because, really, they're a part of the same thing - Pekar's life. So yeah, it's an excellent movie that's sheer artifice is a testament to the richness of its subject matter, and I think that the following quote, from Bill Sherman's review of the film, sums it all up pretty nicely:

"There was a time when I first started reading Pekar's comics that I thought the title he gave his series was meant to be taken ironically. But the longer he's been writing and the more developed his vision of American life has grown, the less sarcastic his title appears. It would've been easy to turn this movie into either a sneering or a sentimentalized vision of Pekar's life and work. American Splendor, the movie, does neither."


 
Cakes and Money - An Update

Hmmm. In response to yesterday's post, I have been advised that I should perhaps consider developing some sort of special container for my soon to be world famous Ice Cream Cake - something that'll keep it cool as it travels without increasing my low, low, prices.

Ladies and germs let me assure you: I'm working on it.


Thursday, January 01, 2004
 
Sketches

That's me for the day folks! My friends and I are going to a preview screening of the American Splendor movie tonight, so I wont have any more blog-time today. Take it easy, and I'll be back for more blogging fun tomorrow.

David


 
Looking Back

While I have no real interest in doing any best of lists for 2003, I found Paul O'Brien's review of the year in X-men comics to be a highly entertaining distillation of the man's critical skills and observations.

It's funny, because on more than one occasion in the past year I've read O'Brien's review of one of Chuck Austen's efforts and have found myself thinking "No way! This guy has got to be making this up." Sadly, but somewhat amusingly, a brief perusal of the comic book in question always proved that O'Brien was not in fact making it up, and that Chuck Austen really is that bad a writer.

O'Brien's cutting critiques of Austen's work have always been highly amusing, and he really goes at it here, throwing up a big bundle of intelligent points in the process. Take the following segment, for example, in which he tears apart Austen's 'Holy War' X-Men storyline:

"The Church of Humanity is retconned into a heretical sect led by a victim of Catholic rape, who plans to instal Nightcrawler as the Pope and then cause a crisis of Catholic faith using evil disintegrator communion wafers. This will make people believe that the Rapture has occurred, and turn their backs on Catholicism. Point one, as many Catholics e-mailed me to point out, the Rapture isn't even part of Catholic theology. Point two, any plot involving evil disintegrator communion wafers is too stupid to live."

Quite.

The weird thing about this is that, on the whole, O'Brien still gives these stories D-grades at worst. Now I know that a D- is a pretty poor grade, but given the scorn O'Brien pours on some of this stuff, it seems a tad inadequate. I'm not the first person to point this out, but it's true. Paul O'Brien is a very skilful and intelligent reviewer, but it seems to be that if you're going to review the entire line of X-books (most of which O'Brien seems to find middling, and some of which he seems to find execrable) and use an alphabetical rating system, you might as break out the F grades every once in a while!

Anyway, this is a minor gripe - as I've already noted, I have a lot of respect for what O'Brien does and I admire the fact that he seems to keep his sanity in the face of so many X-Men related comic books.

His observation that Grant Morrison has slightly twisted the central metaphor of the X-Men while also playing around with a lot of ideas from the book's history is dead on, by the way: change and evolution are at the heart of New X-Men, perhaps most importantly in the slow, but yet always hyper-dramatic, evolution of Scott Summers, which seems more and more to be the emotional heart of the run.


 
The Name Game

Big thanks to Chris for suggesting that now that this place is called "Cakes and Money" I should try and start an online cake selling business here. Apparently it's a big new market or something, I don't know.

Anyways... here's the offer, kids: if you send me a cheque for five pounds and fifty pence then I will send you a freshly made Ice Cream Cake. Ice Cream Cake is my speciality you see - I make Ice Cream Cake like a motherfucker. I'd say that I was famous for it, but I'd be lying - I'm not famous for it yet, but the year is still young.

We here at Cakes and Money take no responsibility for the state that this cake will arrive at your house in, and suggest that you blame the Royal Mail if it goes missing en route. I am reliably informed that a package stuffed with ice cream would be binned on sight by Royal Mail employees, but, again, this is something that you should take up with them, not with me.

All enquiries to the usual address...

[Special to readers from outside Great Britain: drop me an e-mail, and we'll discuss prices and delivery methods.]


 
Good News Everyone!

Cartoonist Daniel Clowes on what he'll be up to this year:

"A new Eightball is all done except for the coloring, and I'm about to start work on the Art School movie. After that, I'm going to put together an expanded book-form edition of my Ice Haven comic from 8Ball #22."

(from the Readers Voice interview via ADD)

So while I'm obviously very excited about the prospect of more Clowes material in both comic and movie form, the thing that really catches my attention here is the mention of an expanded version of the 'Icehaven' story. This is potentially really fascinating, but also kinda weird - I'm just so fond of Eightball #22 as it is... it seems so perfect that I can't imagine what he'd want to add to it.

Should be good though - I've not been let down by a Daniel Clowes project in, well, ever! Sure, there's a first time for everything, but hey - I'm an optimist at heart!


 
Eep!

Looks like my archives have become pretty messy looking dew to that problem I was talking about earlier in the week. I had to patch up that Jessica Abel review I just linked to, and the damage that the surrounding posts have sustained is pretty extensive. Ugh. Maybe I'll tidy it all up later, or maybe I'll move to a new address and just move over the posts I really like, I dunno.

Anyone else got any suggestions?


 
Just Like Honey

The currently out of print first issue of Jessica Abel's magnificent La Perdida is available in its entirety on her website right now, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check it out if you have not already done so.

While I like all of Abel's previous work, I really think that La Perdida is a big step up for her, and I hope that the series finds a bigger audience when it is completed and collected as a graphic novel as I think it's shaping up to be something quite special indeed.

I wrote a review of La Perdida a while back, in case you're interested as to why I like it so much.

(Thanks to Bookslut for the link and info.)

p.s.

If you're interested in ordering parts two and three of the comic then Bookslut's Jessa Crispin will point you in the right direction -- just follow the link above.