Archive for the 'music' Category

Simon Reynolds on fandom

I think I’ve met them all now. For me, there are no more heroes left. And no new ones coming along, by the look of it. It could be that this is a time marked by a dearth of characters, or that the smart people in rock aren’t interested in self-projection but in obliterating noise. But really, I think, it’s the case that, in this job, you don’t have the time to develop obsessions, what with the insane turnover, and all the incentives to pluralism.

The heroes you have kind of linger on from a prior period when only a few records passed through your life, when you had time to get fixated, spend days living inside a record. It’s a real effort to click back to that frame of mind, which is bad because fanaticism is the true experience of pop – I think of the splendid devotion of all those bright girls who, as soon as they’ve got hold of the new Cure or New Order or Bunnymen record, immediately set to learning the lyrics by heart then spend days exhaustively interpreting the Tablets From On High, struggling to establish some fit between their experience and what is actually some drunken doggerel cobbled together in a studio off-moment.

Seriously, I approve. I approve the deadly seriousness, the piety, the need for something sacred in your life. However deluded.

It’s become a reflex for critics to castigate the readers for being partisan, for being sluggish and single-minded in their choices. We exhort you to disconnect, discard, and move on, acquire a certain agility as consumers. But maybe this ideal state of inconstancy we advocate only makes for fitter participants in capitalism. For the one thing that makes rock more than simply an industry, the one thing that transcends the commodity relation, is fidelity, the idea of a relationship. There are voices that you turn to as a friend, and you don’t just turn your back on your friends if they go off the rails. You hang around.

–Simon Reynolds, Melody Maker, March 12, 1988

in a supreme irony, it took me forever to compose this

By and large, Rolling Stone may be the poster child for the obsolescence of the print magazine, but one thing they’re still good at is the in-depth, Cameron-Crowe-style artist profile.

Reading through Mark Binelli’s Lil Wayne profile in last month’s issue, we learn a few facts about the “best rapper alive”:

  1. Lil Wayne is always stoned.
  2. Lil Wayne releases tons of music for free over the internet.
  3. Lil Wayne goes to a recording studio every day.

Now, I don’t know what to make of the first one (as I understand it from the article, he literally chain-smokes weed. His assistants roll blunts and put them in packs which he carries on him at all times. Like Lyle and Ray’s Perfect Jays.). But #2 and #3 made me think:

Lil Wayne is to music as webcomics are to comics.

It was #3 that surprised me, but it’s starting to make a lot of sense. Studio time is expensive if you are a garage band, but not if you have the #1 album in the world and you own a dozen studios. It’s also pretty easy to do it yourself these days, even for garage bands. And if you are prolific and talented and like making music, why would you ever not be recording?

It’s a completely opposite model to the standard rock process (write songs privately, spend intense time in the studio perfecting the recording, then release your finished masterpiece into the canon). In music, call it the U2 or Zeppelin model. In comics, think of Craig Thompson or David Mazzucchelli.  It’s also distinct from the corporate deadline/assembly-line model, exemplified by the early pop singles industry, the syndicated comic strip, or the Big Two comic book.

Instead, it’s what people have been saying about the Internet for years: removal of middlemen, instant delivery, zero barriers between creation and distribution. Lil Wayne (or Randall Munroe) has an idea, he gets on his computer, he lays it down, he clicks a button, and 50 million people download it.

Art as blog.

Andrew Sullivan (who does more or less the same thing for political commentary) has written thoughtfully on blogging:

The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. … The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts

Apparently Wayne doesn’t even write his lyrics down anymore, he just records whatever comes to him during his (again, daily) recording sessions. Webcomic creators like Chris Onstad and Jeph Jacques improvise on a similar day-to-day basis.

And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers… When readers of my blog bump into me in person, they invariably address me as Andrew. Print readers don’t do that. It’s Mr. Sullivan to them.

That matches my impression of both webcomickers and Lil Wayne: the immediacy and unmediatedness of their work is intoxicating, and they blur the line between personal diary and product, between friend and fan (with sometimes frightening results).

I hasten to add that I don’t think this is the sole future of artistic or literary production. It’s just one part of the cultural ecosystem. We will always need thoughtful, well-crafted, large-scale pieces in every medium. Some creators are better suited to one type or another (God knows if we were all bombarded with Twitter updates and Myspace diss tracks from Bono or Thom Yorke we’d shoot ourselves in the face). Some can tackle both, just as Sullivan finds time apart from his blog grind to compose the occasional essay or book.

But as for the New York Times’ much-mocked anxiety about the upcoming xkcd book — if this comparison holds, Munroe doesn’t have much to worry about.

Where are the sister series to 33 1/3?

or, “Let’s Build a Canon”

I’m a big fan of the 33 1/3 series of music-crit books published by Continuum Books. I appreciate the diversity of authors and approaches they’ve published, from book-length interviews to song-by-song analyses to New Journalistic anecdotes to short fiction to essays in aesthetics, written by everyone from Douglas Wolk to John Darnielle to Colin Meloy to Chris Weingarten to Dan Kois.

33 spines

Boing Boing commenter “Jack” has a great point:

…the concept has potential since in the MP3 world we live in it’s hard to have a physical connection with an album.

We really are physically disconnected from our media — not just music, but TV, video games, news, blogs, webcomics. If you’re like me, most of the stuff you consume is in digital form, and even that which isn’t ephemeral (a dwindling amount, as our media shift from our hard drives to the cloud) is still untouchable.

This is the appeal of the webcomic T-shirt — it’s a way to substantiate an insubstantial thing that we love. You can’t cuddle with your favorite characters, but you can have the next best thing. I’ve never actually owned a physical copy of Low, but I own Hugo Wilcken’s 33 1/3 book on Low, and that makes me feel — however irrationally — like I own it more than I would otherwise. I’ve demonstrated a commitment to it.

(I think of this as part of a larger pattern of active consumption, i.e. the set of actions that readers take in response to a work, as a way of “claiming” it. Fanfiction, mounted art & posters, cosplay, cover songs, claiming communities, shoutboxes, etc)

At any rate. Offworld linked to these sweet mock book covers by Olly Moss. They’re inspired by the staggeringly design-y design history of Penguin Books. I wish they were real.

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

GoldenEye by Olly Moss

And it got me thinking: why aren’t there little books, critical retrospectives, for video games? The potential audience is in the millions, and they’re eager for a tangible connection to the ephemeral electronic entertainments of their youth. You don’t need permission from the copyright holders.

The critical turf is a little different — as I understand it, video game history seems to be about a few gigantically popular games that become cultural touchstones for a generation, and then a second tier of considerably less popular games, and then the recognition level drops even more steeply. That’s probably changed somewhat as the industry has matured and widened, but this enterprise inherently needs a little distance — at least ten years since release. So you’re either facing the challenge of writing the definitive book on Mario 3, or you’re writing about Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and trying to sell enough copies to break even.

There’s an additional challenge, of course, because old games are generally “out of print” in a way that albums aren’t. Thank God that emulation is starting to make some older titles legally available via programs like Nintendo’s Virtual Console, but it’s not the same, is it? And for computer games… God help you if you want to play Warcraft II on a modern machine.

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Legend of Zelda by Olly Moss

Still. I want a half-dozen 100-page books on my favorite half-dozen games. Call it D-Pad Books. Come on, world. Make it happen.

For that matter, where are the books on great movies? I know there are hundreds of books on Citizen Kane, but where is the 33 1/3 series for films? Hmm… a quick search reveals that Macmillan is doing it, with the BFI Film Classics series. And, uh, they have been for years, without me noticing. Whoops. Anybody have any experience with those?

(By the way, Olly’s also done some sweet vintage movie posters of modern movies.)

Kids will have fun and offend

or, What Hath Linkin Park Wrought?

Here’s Robert Christgau on the Go! Team:

Thunder, Lightning, Strike [Columbia, 2005]
The gleeful clamor of Today’s Young People listening to what they want when they want to without paying for it and dancing around like kindergarteners at a maypole or gay guys under a mirrored ball and no offense Mr. Businessman but this is their birthright not your copyright so butt out OK? A-

Here’s Warren Ellis on New Mexico band Brokencyde:

[“Freaxxx”] really is one of those “fall of Western culture” moments. It’s a near-perfect snapshot of everything that’s shit about this point in the culture.

Exaggeration? Watch:

Now, though no fault of my own, I have stumbled across this music video, “The Impaler” by California band Winds of Plague. The first half literally looks like somebody dubbed the song over a completely different video, until you see that yes, the vocals really do sync up.

We want to believe that these are jokes. Because ha ha, how preposterous to combine screamo metalcore with hip-hop (musically, in the case of Brokencyde, or simply visually, in the case of Winds of Plague).

But I think this might be happening.

Whether we like it or not. Call it syncretism, call it musical miscegenation, or just the latest version of idiotic teenage music. When you’ve got a generation that grew up playing Dragonforce on Guitar Hero and listening to Lil Wayne on Myspace, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that this kind of stuff emerges. We keep talking about how the barriers to cultural crossover are lowering. If this isn’t what we had in mind (these guys are not exactly Elvis, or the Clash, or Public Enemy for that matter), maybe that’s our problem?

[also, the Winds of Plague album is some pretty solid metal.]

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

Listening to Iced Earth’s mediocre new album and reading Marvel’s mediocre summer event comic from last year. I guess it’s a day for toothless apocalypses.

on universal truths

So such is life that it writes itself
Trying to right itself
But there’s nothing wrong with it
There’s nothing wrong

Guided by Voices has quickly become one of my all-time favorite bands. Bandleader Robert Pollard writes these incredible, timeless pop melodies the way most of us shed hair follicles. Then this middle-aged man, with his scratchy everyman voice somewhere between Michael Stipe and Roger Daltrey, belts out the thing, backed by a band that sounds like it’s about to fall apart, like they’re all playing it despite themselves, like the song is just too strong to stay inside them. Like, imagine if Neutral Milk Hotel‘s Jeff Mangum had grown up listening to the Who instead of reading Anne Frank’s diary – he’d have started a band like GbV.

What sold me was this quote from eMusic’s Greg Milner, in his review of their unanimously-acclaimed album Bee Thousand: “Put it this way: There is one song in particular that you will immediately want to hear again, and will be humming for the rest of your life, and the name of that song is ‘Tractor Rape Chain.'” And it’s true.

Up till 1997 they recorded with a deliberately low-fi sound; starting with 1997’s Mag Earwhig! they switched to a big shiny pop sound, but there’s plenty of brilliant songs in both periods. Most of their songs are under 3 minutes, many under 2 — enough to make the song’s point and quickly get out of there.

But 2002’s Universal Truths and Cycles features (amidst other greats) a 3:54 epic called “Christian Animation Torch Carriers.” It’s an impossibly big song, with movements and time changes and everything. It’s got just enough clumsiness to keep it real, but when Bob sings “She’s burning slow / Out on a mission’s light” and the lead guitar screams in out of nowhere, it’s just perfect. It’s quite unlike any GbV song I’ve ever heard, but somehow it sums them all up.

Oh, Lord.

This is what I get for Googling “Killed by my EYES! My cursed, mutant, energy-blasting EYES!”

The “Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature” of 1986 present: “The Rocky Horror Mutant Show.”


         Scott:            The X-Men make a wonderful team, Jean
                           So why can't I just say what I mean, Jean?
                           I think that you're pretty keen, Jean.
                           If I weren't such a coward I'd scream, Jean,
         (aside)           I love you.

         (aloud)           I'm less confident than I seem, Jean.
                           My courage just runs out of steam, Jean.
                           You're all that I ever could dream, Jean.
                           I'm trying so hard to come clean, Jean,
                           And tell you.
         Jean:             I really like the way that you fought, Scott,
                           If it weren't for you I'd have been caught, Scott.
                           But Magneto's plans came to naught, Scott.
                           Now Warren's asked me to lunch--but
                           Hey, Scott! why not?
                           Come eat too!

And then:

Jean:                      It's astounding--
                           I'm still breathing!
                           I thought I'd lost it all.
                           I feel it in me,
                           The power's growing--
                           I've got to keep control.

                           I remember
                           I was dying--
                           I knew it was the end.
                           Then it hit me
                           The power came flooding--
                           I'll be an X-Man again!
                           I'll be an X-Man again!

                           I just rose from the dead
                           To a new incarnation.
                           Now I'm a god
                           Of my own creation.
                           Marvel Girl is gone,
                           But the Phoenix power lives on.
                           I'll be an X-Man again!
                           I'll be an X-Man again!

And of course:

         Dark Phoenix:     I used to be so frail
                           Wan and pale. (--bleah!)
                           I'd only been Marvel Girl before.

         Galactus:         You mean she's--?

         (Watcher nods.)

         Galactus:         Oh SHIT!

         Dark Phoenix:     But now the Phoenix power
                           Just grows by the hour,
                           Now it desires to soar...and devour.

                           I already know
                           Just where to go,
                           I've tasted blood but I need more.

         Watcher:          More, more, more!

         Dark Phoenix:     I don't need assistence,
                           Just some real subsistance,
                           I think perhaps I'll eat
                           That star, for instance!

                           Fear, oh fear, oh fear, oh fear me!
                           Don't dare to come near me!
                           I am no longer your Jeannie--
                           I am incarnate power!

told you!

singing 'Absolute Beginners' by David Bowie

Tim Sievert comes through with proof. That’s David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners,” by the way — I was so surprised to see it in the book that I couldn’t pass it up.

6:45PM: the toll

Pause for station break: we’re here at Cosmic Monkey Comics until 10 AM tomorrow for the 24-Hour Comics Drawpocalypse! Come visit us anytime!

Cosmic Monkey hosted a release party last night for the previously-mentioned Rose City Rollers comic book. So store owner Andy Johnson is running on about 3 hours’ sleep… and this is before the all-nighter to come.

So he’s losing his grip a bit. I know how he feels.

This isn’t an awkward-looking frame captured from the middle of an otherwise-normal conversation. This is the face he was holding for a solid minute.

In more adorable news, Stumptown Comics Fest coordinator Indigo Kelleigh showed up and brought his daughter!

Metal Mondays: Hurdy-gurdy of STEEEEEL

Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for a folk-metal band that wasn’t a joke?

Recently signed to Nuclear Blast is the Swiss band Eluveitie (etymologically related to “Helvetica“). Their first release on NB, Slania, came out two days ago, I just discovered it this morning, and it’s currently my favorite thing ever.

Essentially, these guys are playing Dark Tranquillity songs with bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy taking the place of DT’s synthesizers. The folk/Celtic element isn’t the central focus of the band, nor is it tacked on clumsily. It’s just part of what they do. And what they do is rock your face off.

This one’s my favorite tune at the moment:

EDIT: it’s been taken down from YouTube. Here’s the Amazon page for the song, with a streaming sample.

And here’s the single, with an actual music video. It is almost certainly the most earnest attempt to make a hurdy-gurdy look intimidating that you have ever seen. Unfortunately, the song itself is lame:

Keep an eye out for the vicious Sevan Kirder and his goat-skull-adorned pipes:


Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.