Saturday, January 28, 2012

Questions for some big time comics geeks?

I am proud to be one third of The Hour Cosmic (along with Matthew Meylikhov and Chad Bowers), a new comics podcast from Multiversity Comics and Tell Me Something dot org.  Each episode, we will be soliciting questions from you, our (hopeful) listeners.

So, anything you want to know about comic books?

iTunes link coming soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

All Caught Up With...Black Flag, Part I: Tangents

So, a month has passed since I started this project, and I can say that I have come out on the other side of my experience with Black Flag.  If that sounds particularly vague, you're right.  I was thoroughly surprised by a lot of what i found.  Before i get to my findings next week, a few tangents:

Tangent #1 - New Ideas > Old Ideas

I'm not breaking any new ground with this, but I think it is important to realize just how monumentally new all of this was when it was happening.  "Nervous Breakdown" is a song that practically caused riots when it first debuted, and yet, 15 years later, this could've been a minor alternative radio hit.  

Listening to a lot of the Black Flag stuff, i was shocked at how not shocked i was by it.  This was punk rock, a little faster at times (a lot slower at times), but not all that different than the hundreds of punk bands i have encountered before.  Again, i know this is because i grew up in a post-Black Flag world - i was 9 years old in 1991 - "The Year Punk Broke" - so most of my music-obsessed life came after you could see Nirvana videos during the day on MTV and hear "Blitzkrieg Bop" on classic rock radio.

So, a lot more time was spent lowering my expectations (of having my mind blown) and trying instead to judge the material based on merit alone.

Tangent #2 - Importance Does Not Equal Greatness

Black Flag are no doubt an important band, and would be even if they never released anything after Damaged.  They were truly trailblazers in the DIY ethic - they formed their own label, booked their own tours, retrofitted their own instruments, made their own flyers, etc.  Musically, they slowed punk down, let jazz influence seep in, weren't afraid to admit they loved metal (and, in Ginn's instance, the Grateful Dead).

But one of the impulses i fight against as a listener is equating importance with greatness.  This is tough; on one hand, i want to celebrate pioneers justly.  No one should think that Nickelback is doing anything important or new - they are just mining the worst parts of grunge and making more money than any of the bands they're aping did.  On the other hand, there are many bands that aren't reinventing the wheel, but making incredibly great music.  They shouldn't be penalized for not starting a new genre, they should be celebrated for making good music.  And finally, there are bands who did important things without making life-changing musical contributions.  Link Wray's "Rumble" is one of the first uses of distortion on an electric guitar.  This is important.  "Rumble" is a cool song.  "Rumble" is not "Strawberry Fields Forever," or "My Girl" or even "Rise Above" - it is a cool song that influenced people by its sound, not its merit as a song. Link Wray is not a great artist, but an important one.

Tangent #3 - The Picture Frame Argument

The following two paragraphs are taking from Ben Sisario's Doolittle, a book about the seminal Pixies album that you really should buy.  Thompson, mentioned below, is Charles Thompson, aka Frank Black aka Black Francis:

The plastic bag from our trip to the record store the day before lies crumpled beside him on the seat, and he holds up I’m Your Man, the Leonard Cohen CD he bought along with Doolittle. The cover design of I’m Your Man is ridiculously simple, just black on top with LEONARD COHEN in big, thin white letters, and a field of textureless gray on the bottom. In a passport-size black and white photo, Cohen stands in black shades, his left hand in his pocket and his right holding a half-eaten banana. Thompson looks at the cover and grins wide. “This album is sooo great,” he beams. Really? I say, embarrassingly ignorant of most of the Cohen catalog. He says something about how Cohen started off as a writer, a poet, and did some albums, and...He gives up and just sticks the CD in the machine, and it begins to play. 

Released in 1988, it is a cold Eurosynth concoction, a prison made of neon. Cohen’s weary baritone sounds trapped there, the only sign of humanity. Thompson sees my puzzlement and smiles as though he’s letting me in on something. “Think of the production as just the frame around the picture,” he says, tracing a rectangle in the air. “And just look at the picture.”

To say that the Black Flag records sound like shit is an understatement.  Now, granted, i heard them all digitally, so i don't know if the problem is the transfer from vinyl to digital, or if the problem is that they were poorly recorded.  The comments of some seem to indicate the latter, but in many spots these are muddy messes or over-compressed/reverbed out.  I'm trying to ignore the production/engineering and focus on the songs, but that isn't always so easy.

Tangent #4 - Separating art from artist

Henry Rollins is a guy i respect a lot, but reading Get in the Van has made me really, really dislike the way he wrote/thought during this time.  He toggles between bullshit moral-relativism and self-hatred pretty much non-stop for 300 pages. You can see a real person peek out from underneath the ego every few pages, but much of what he is saying is just so boring and self-absorbed.

Similarly, Greg Ginn seems like a pretty insufferable guy as well - i mean, can anyone equal parts Dead Head and Dio fan be anything less than terrible to hang out with?  The people in the band who seem the coolest are Dez Cadena (quit), Chuck Dukowski (kicked out), Bill Stephenson (quit after fighting with Ginn constantly), and Kira Roeseller (quit and pretty much verbally abused/sexually harassed by Rollins on the way out), also known as the people who no one really cares about.  I think those people would tell a far more compelling version of the story than the two main guys, one of whom expresses his side of the story through masturbatory journals, and the other who keeps his comments terse and dismissive of the other members of the band.

So i am trying my damnedest to not let these grating personalities change the way i feel about the music they made as Black Flag.  But it can't be helped when listening to Family Man and just wanting the two sides to stop being so boring separately and do something interesting together.

Come back next week for what I actually thought of their music.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chuck Klosterman is stealing my thoughts

I was planning on writing, basically, this article later on this week.  Stop stealing my thoughts, Klosterman!

The Pitfalls of Indie Fame (from Grantland).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Extra Curricular, Part 2

A round up of all the stuff i've written on other sites since when i last recapped, back in November.  I'll try and do this every few months, for the .3 people who give a shit:


The Hour Cosmic - a new comics podcast from Multiversity Comics that i'm a co-host on (with Chad Bowers and Matthew Meylikhov).

Music Writing:

The Waster Reviews: Big Wake - Big Wake

Comics Writing:

Features: James Robinson's Justice League of America, Multiversity 101: Out With the Old, In With The New? (with David Harper), Multiversity Lights the Menorah (Nights 4 and 8), Multiversity's Advent Calendar (Days 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24)

Reviews:  The Shade #2, Justice League #4, My Greatest Adventure #3, Superboy #4, Supergirl #4, Batman Odyssey (Vol.2) #4, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (Vol. 2) #3, Batwoman #5, O.M.A.C. #5, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #5, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #4, Legion: Secret Origin #2, Red Lanterns #4

Mignolaversity (David Harper and I tackle all the new Mike Mignola-related releases):  BPRD: Hell on Earth Russia #3, BPRD: Hell on Earth Russia #4/Dark Horse Presents #7, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This is a Blackout - Don't Let it Go to Waste

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Monday, January 16, 2012

5 Song Shuffle, Vol. 19: MLK Day Edition

My iTunes library, as of January 16, 2012 , has 26,820 songs in it. Some are novelty downloads, some i have because i'm a completionist, some i rarely (if have ever) listened to. So, in this blog segment, i will let shuffle pick out random songs (without personal editing to hide embarrasing and/or lame songs), and i will write about what i think of them, plus any details i an give about how it was procured. At current rate (and if my iTunes never repeats a song...) this will be the eighteenth in at least a 4,000 part series.

Track #1 - "Bread and Wine" - Peter Gabriel

This is from Passion, Gabriel's soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  This is Gabriel in full-on world music mode, with very few hints of his prog-rock '70s or MTV '80s.  Lots of pan-flute and not-so-great-in-2012-sounding synthesizers.  The record works incredibly well with the film (which, if you haven't seen it, is great, despite Harvey Keitel being the most Brooklyn Israelite ever), but not every track works without the visuals, this one included.

Track #2 - "The Ugly Organist" - Cursive

This is why this feature can be frustrating - this is the first track on this fine album, also called The Ugly Organist, but this is just sound effects and a little organ setting the stage for the record.  No substance here folks, move along.

Track #3 - "Leisurely Poison" - Stephen Malkmus

A B-side from, I think, his eponymous debut post-Pavement.  The synths are way in front of the mix, there are some nonsensical lyrics, acoustic guitar and a drum machine beat and a fade out.  An extremely minor song in the Malkmus catalog.

Track #4 - "The Christmas Song" - Arcade Fire

I haven't done my yearly de-checking of Christmas songs in my iTunes yet, and damn it, I have to listen to this trying to be funny version of Mel Torme's classic Christmas song.  This is obnoxious.  In fact, I'm going to delete this from my library right now, there is no need to ever hear this again.  Ugh.

Track #5 - "Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)" - Bob Dylan

This is from the A Tree With Roots fan-made compilation of the famous "basement tapes" Dylan made with the Band at his Woodstock home (aka Big Pink).  The actually released Basement Tapes are shit on by "real" Dylan fans for not being authentic enough, and A Tree With Roots is the raw, unchanged catalog of that time.  I like this version, but you can't beat the Byrds' version on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, especially the drum beat change in and out of the chorus.

Note:  This might be the first time in doing this segment that all of these tracks were downloaded, and not a single one ripped from a CD.  To be fair, I purchased all the tracks that are legally available to do so - the Dylan thing is a bootleg, and the Arcade Fire thing was a "gift" to fans.  And I heard the Cursive album on CD when i was in college, but just purchased it a few years ago.  Not that you care.

'Til next time,

Volumes 12345678, 91011121314151617 and 18

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Playing Catch-Up With...

When i recommitted to this blog last year, i promised a lot of regular features that have, frankly, fallen on their face.  That is mainly because I have been writing music reviews for The Waster and comic reviews for Multiversity Comics, and not dedicating as much time as i would like to this blog. Well, a New Year is nothing if not an opportunity to make changes, and so i'm going to try to really bust my ass to do some more writing here.  I have an interview tentatively set for this month with writer Ian Peel (author of The Unknown Paul McCartney) which will launch "McCartography," a look at all of Paul McCartney's solo albums/singles/weird one-offs, one or two at a time.  I have a huge audio file of my chat with artist/musician David Heatley waiting to be turned into a two or three part conversation, and I plan on returning to the "You'd Be Surprised" and "Five Song Shuffle" series this week or next (don't quote me on that).  But, last night i was inspired to start a new feature that i think will be fun for me and, hopefully, somewhat interesting for you guys.

So, i am pleased to announce the first of a new series called "Playing Catch-Up With..." - Playing Catch-Up with Black Flag.

In this feature, i will dive into a pop culture subject that i am not sufficiently knowledgeable in and take a month to really dig in deep and see what i've been missing.  The first three i have planned are bands/artists, and then plan on taking three TV shows, then three film directors, and then three types of books, taking us through an entire year.  Wonderful internet services like Netflix and Spotify make this much, much easier than before, as well as the wonderful public libraries in this great country.  So, hopefully, this is something i can keep up with (ha!), and we'll all have fun.  Or, i'll do it this month and that'll be it.  Whatever, let's stay hopeful!

So, my first topic is Black Flag, the seminal hardcore band from Southern California.  This month, i will:

(Finish) reading Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag by Stevie Chick
Re-read the Black Flag section in Michael Azerrad's wonderful Our Band Could Be Your Life.
Listen to every Black Flag release - studio, live, demos
Re-watch American Hardcore by Paul Rachman/Steven Blush
Watch Penelope Spheeris's The Decline of Western Civilization Part I
Read Henry Rollins's Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag 
Watch Chuck Dukowski's appearance on Tomorrow
Do some selected listening from the key members' post-BF musical careers

At the end of the month, I will give a report of what i liked/didn't like, what i would recommend to a Flag neophyte (like i was mere weeks earlier), and if i felt it was worth my time.

So, if  you see me violently lifting weights to get in Rollins shape, or talking about anarchy as a viable means of social change, or spray painting the four bars/flag logo, you know why.

Rise above,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ten Records From Eleven Worth Twelve Bucks From Your Wallet

I used to obsess over my year end list.  This year, my other obsessions are taking up too much of my time to spend my usual time organizing and re-numbering and whatnot.  So, instead, here are ten albums that I really love from this year that I feel are worth your time and money, a few pithy comments, plus one song to sample.  This is not a definitive list, nor is it the best ten records released in 2011, or even necessarily my favorites from this past year - just ten records that I think should be heard.  Be on the lookout for my 20-track "Best of 2011" mix to be posted here this week, possibly tomorrow.

Ten Records From Eleven Worth Twelve Bucks From Your Wallet

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

This album may have more ideas, instruments, and layers than the other nine albums combined, and those other nine albums are all brilliant.  This is the fucking timpano of indie rock - everything you would expect, and more, is contained within.  No record challenged my expectations or changed my opinion more over multiple listens than this one.

Wild Flag - Wild Flag

To call myself a fan of Sleater-Kinney would be fair, but i would never say that i was a superfan.  However, i can say that i am becoming a superfan of Wild Flag, which features 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney.  A record that nearly bursts at the seams from the enthusiasm, spirit, energy and melody contained within.  I think it says a lot about how far i've come as a listener/feminist that it barely even registers that this is an all-female band.  At one point, i'd have viewed that as novel, but i don't at all anymore.  Just four great musicians making a devastatingly good album.

Danielson - Best of Gloucester County

This is the record on this list that will be the most decisive.  Some people just can't get past Daniel Smith's voice.  I'm not one of those people.  To me, this is his best/most consistent record since Brother : Son (which is credited to Br. Danielson).  And no, it isn't just here because it's a Jersey band.

John Vanderslice - White Wilderness

I am typically against records that feature a singer/songwriter and an orchestra - the idea is great, but the execution is never quite there.  Except here; Vanderslice, a guy whose music many times i respect more than i like, nails this type of record - it still sounds like him, but it also uses the orchestra as more than just window dressing.

Yellow Ostrich - The Mistress

Always be weary of records that get a lot of hype before you hear them.  I was set up to dislike this album because so many people seemed to really like it.  But this is really, really good.  The band uses their voices exceptionally well, and in unusual ways. This is the record i've spent the least amount of time with (despite having it for longer than many of the other albums on this list), and this has the potential to be a record that i forget about for years and years and rediscover at some point and kick myself for forgetting about it.

Mister Heavenly - Out of Love

This sounded too good to be true - Nick Diamonds from the Unicorns/Islands and Honus Honus from Man Man making a record together.  When i heard the first song, i assumed i was right - however, move past that one song (and skip the reggae-ish one later on), and you have a fantastic record that harkens back to the late '50s/early '60s as easily as it does to the members' other bands.  If only the album was also called Mister Heavenly, they could've had the rare band/album/song of the same name trifecta, Bad Company style.

TV Girl - Benny and the Jetts

I'm a sucker for great pop songs, and this EP is chock full of them.  This is a band i can honestly say i have no idea how i found, but this EP has been one of the more constant records i've returned to this year when i just want to smile.  In fact, the song below, from this EP, provided the theme music to the first episode of Expectations this summer...

The Roots - Undun

?uestlove can do no wrong in my book, and 2004 Brian would go apeshit if he knew that one day a Sufjan Stevens song would inspire a Roots record.  The Roots keep getting better and better (which is almost unfair, as almost no peers try an eighth as hard as they do), and this concept album in reverse is stunning on listen #1 or #100.

Destroyer - Kaputt

When I first encountered Destroyer, I wrote the project off as a second rate Bowie wannabe.  I was wrong.  This album is by far my favorite by Dan Bejar (outside of his 2-3 songs per New Pornographers album, which, if collected, would probably be my favorite), and this is the definition of a "mature Brian" pick; if you had told me when i was 16 that i would love a record full of early-mid 80s cheesy synthesizers and saxophone, i'd have laughed in your face.  But this set of songs really fits the style of production and is a really cohesive, great record.

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

2011 was the year punk broke up (copyright some article i read about Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon splitting), but for me it was the year that i further dug my heels in the "punk" side of the field.  This year i've refined my theory that everyone in the world is one of the three types of people:  punk rockers, metal dudes or Deadheads.  I'm a punk rocker, despite being totally not a punk rocker.  What i mean is that i really value/love the sense of community, political awareness, DIY sensibility, and lack of fear that comes along with punk.  And no record more so than David Comes to Life embodies all that is great about punk rock, nearly 40 years after it broke: this record is aggressive, intelligent, melodic, tells a story and doesn't let up.  If i had to pick a best album of 2011, this would win.

Bonus Records/File Under "Full Disclosure:"

Unsung - The Paint

Steven Miller, aka Unsung, is a visual artist who makes music, and the sensibility of his painting bleeds through to his music in a way that makes it some of the most unique hip hop, or really any sort of pop music, that i know.  Thought provoking, melodic, intricate, and unwilling to bend toward trends.

Reason it didn't make the main list - Steve is a friend, and i once tried to put out one of his records via my now-dead label.

Jeremy Dubs Presents Speak!

An album mostly made up of Harry Nilsson covers, produced using a vintage analog synthesizer.  That alone should make your salivate and seek out this record.  But the best song here is an original, and Dubs puts his own spin on each song to create this beautiful, dense, (almost) Christmas album.

Reason it didn't make the main list - i did some promotional work for this album via Dubs's label, The Bureau.

The Bishoffs - Head Caves In

Catchy as shit, completely un-self conscious, and simply fun, the Bishoffs debut EP pales only in comparison to their live show, the most fun i've had seeing a band in years.  YEARS!

Reason it didn't make the main list - i interviewed David Heatley (guitar/vocals) earlier this year for a piece i still haven't finished/posted for this blog, and have since become friendly with him. NOTE: The video below is a Heatley solo joint, but is very similar in tone to the Bishoffs.  Also, a Bergen County native!

Paley & Francis - Paley & Francis

It should surprise no one that a Black Francis release makes my list.  However, his first collaborative album with, another Brian favorite, Reid Paley, finds him writing some of flat out great songs.  But the best part of this album is that it, hopefully, serves as a bit of a coming out party for Reid Paley, one of the finest songwriters around.  The songs that Paley takes the mic for here shine the brightest for me, and hopefully with having the Black Francis name attached to it, will get some more people to take notice of his three equally great solo records (and speed up the completion/release of his fourth record).

Reason it didn't make the main list - I've known/done some work for Mr. Francis for the past 6 years, and consider Mr. Paley a friend.  NOTE: This is a live version, seek out the studio version as well - both are great in their own way.