Saturday, 17 November 2007

"It's just like a real rock concert, except that we're not lying to you"

Prinzhorn Dance School -- 'Up! Up! Up!'

I should've seen this band play live twice this year, but (disorganised asshole that I am) I missed them both times. They were the support band, of course, but still... I really need to get it together at the moment. Perhaps I can do it Scott Pilgrim style?

Anyway, thanks to Plan B I finally remembered to check our the Prinzhorn album, and I like it. I mean, as this song/video suggest, it's kinda hideously pretentious. But still: the minimalism, the fact that there's only this great, chunky bassline with a couple of clanging guitar lines and clumsy drum accents supporting all that obtuse yelling and hollering... it ensures that every element of the song connects, that every strange lyrical detail and jerky crack of the snare drum hits you right in the face. It also makes the mechanical thump of the music seem all the more beautiful to me, probably because the lack of flash and clutter allows me to see the people behind the control all-too-clearly (never forget, I'm weirdly hot for process).

Also, the Pinzhorn Dance School album? Totally great to listen to during bus journeys -- something to do with making monotonous scenery seem strange and vivid all over again.

LCD Soundsystem -- 'All My Friends'

This song, I've listened to on the bus, but... this one stops me dead in my tracks, so I don't know if I could do much more than that while listening to it.

The first time I heard 'All My Friends', I actually just froze where I was, which was slightly rediculous because I was standing there in a towel in my icy-as-fuck bedroom, theoretically on my way to go to the shower. When the song ended, I got up and put it back on again, and sat there freezing my ass off and loving it.

Anyway, LCD's Sound of Silver is definitely one of my albums of the year. It sees James Murphy combine the snarky groove of his early singles with the disco sass of 45:33, so how could I not love it? More than that, however, there are several "you'll believe a music geek can cry" moments on the record that are designed to make nerdy, self-conscious schmucks like me go all wobbly. 'All My Friends' is case in point, and what can I say: sometimes it's good to feel like you're on exactly the right frequency to really open up to a song.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

There Aren't Any Words..!

Rereading the original Lee/Kirby Galactus story, I was struck by how it reads like a Stan Lee story that gets blown wide open by a bunch of Jack Kirby characters*. More specifically, it reads like a crazy situation comedy whose characters suddenly find themselves in a deranged photo-collage dimension where the stakes are so high that the fate of planet Earth barely registers.
It's a rough, engaging set-up, with Lee's cheap'n'cheerful banter and Kirby's gloriously blocky monstrosities sharing page space in a powerful, if wonky, melodrama.
And maybe this is just me, but reading it over it seemed like a precursor to any number of Grant Morrison stories. I'm specifically thinking of the way that nature of Galactus makes the Fantastic Four panic about their place in the food chain, an effect that is central replicated in Morrison works such as Animal Man, The Filth and We3. Of course Morrison gives the idea a more literary sheen, but there's still a hint of Moz's interest in shattered perspectives in this old pulp adventure.
But forget high-faluting thematics for a second, and enjoy some good old-fashioned melodrama:

THE THING: Yiccchh! My eyes... my nose... what izzat? What in blazes is happenin'??

MR FANTASTIC: Can't you tell? He's treating us like some sort of bothersome gnats! It's some type of cosmic insect repellent!

Now that's what I'm talking about!
*This dynamic repeats itself throughout those old Fantastic Four issues, and is reversed in what little I've read of the Lee/Kirby Thor stories.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Change, Zen and Politics

While I was writing that last post, I couldn't help but think of Grant Morrison's favourite movie, O Lucky Man!. Directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell, it's an absurd satire punctuated by musical performances by Alan Price and his band (who end up wandering through the movie for a while during its later stages... yeah, it's that sort of film). One of the best songs, 'Changes', starts with the following lines, which ring through my head every time I think about The Wire:

Everyone is going through changes
No one knows what's going on.
And everybody changes places-
But the world still carries on.
I should note that I'm not comparing The Wire to O Lucky Man! in any concrete way -- when considered alongside the grounded, steady build of The Wire, Anderson's movie can't help but seem totally fucking unhinged. O Lucky Man! makes its points about the destructive greed of unfettered capitalism and the naivety of humanist optimism through broad farce and surreal, rambling adventure -- whether you like the film or not, you can't judge it by the same criteria you'd apply to The Wire.
Me, I like it, but then I would. The film's last scene sticks with me: is that look on McDowell's face a look of beaten obedience, or does it suggest a zen acceptance of the nature of existence? I know Anderson intended the zen interpretation, but I like the ambiguity. And I can't help but wonder about whether there is such a clear distinction between these two readings. An exchange from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles comes to mind:

JACQUI: 'We don't have to "do" anything. Surely you can see you've ended up needing your enemy to make you who you are. You couldn't live without them now...'

KING MOB: 'Bollocks! Zen for "I just can't be bothered." Maybe you can happily sit there and watch out freedom and our souls being taken away, hoping some benevolent nonentity from the sky's going to save us all at the last second... I have to do something.'

Who Else Can Do What We Do?

Okay, so I've just finished watching season 3 of The Wire, and I have to ask -- does anyone do climactic montages as well as David Simon and co? For three consecutive seasons The Wire's crew have assembled closing episodes that perfectly convey the weird mix of constant change and perpetual stasis which is at the heart of the show, and those dense montage-sequences are an essential part of this effect.
And it's interesting, because while the final montage in season 3 highlights the variety of personal triumphs and tragedies that have played out during the previous twelve episodes, the main impression conveyed is that the big picture remains much the same. The montage is perfect for generating this effect, because it keeps your eye on the smaller details while also suggesting the broader state of things through sheer aggregation. All of which makes perfect sense as a part of the show's critique of degraded, self-serving institutions, but... is it just me or does it also exemplify the show's working methods in a neat way? Through such techniques, The Wire makes polemical points while avoiding the normal 'hitting the audience over the head' pitfalls of dogmatic fiction. It builds its case up from a conflicted tumble of character details, which allows for plenty of thematic wiggle room while also making for some damned good TV.
If all of this sounds vague then I'm sorry, but I'm trying not to give away anything to those who're even further behind on the show than I am. I'm also painfully aware that The Wire is too big a show for this post -- there's a lot to be said about it, but right now I feel sadly incapable of actually saying it (perhaps because of the strength of the shows specific details).
So... yeah, montages: not just for cheesy training scenes.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Finding the Right Lens

Batman #670, by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

The previous release in the Moz-Bats series, ‘Club of Heroes’, was a sampledelic mini-masterpiece, with Morrison providing an old school Agatha Christie beat while JH Williams spliced clips from Bat-history together into something new. In comparison to such gloriously confident noise-making, this new volume sounds more like bar rock Batman. There are a couple of cute winks to the audience along the way, but not nearly enough to liven up the dull thump of the song itself.

Casanova #10, by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon

The food they serve at Cafe Casanova is like gourmet fast food, y’know? It’s packed with artificial flavouring and it doesn’t take long to eat, but man does it ever taste good! So… yeah, this new dish makes for good eating. The ingredients are all quite raw and pungent (Fellini, sick sex, reality TV), but they complement Old Daddy Fraction’s usual super-spy sci-fi fare well. It should also be noted that head chef Fabio Moon brings a certain Euro-comics elegance to proceedings, smuggling in subtly flavoursome elements like the body language in the Kaito/Ruby scenes underneath the sharp tang of that all-blue first taste. Four and a half greasy spoons.

Suburban Glamour #1, by Jamie McKelvie

Just because a come-on is obvious doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. Check this number, for example. It slinks up to you looking like a fashion model fresh from some immaculate yoof publication, and flatters you with brazen allusions to times past. You’re not dumb, so you can tell that it’s trying to open you up by appealing to your bored suburban origins, but... fuck it, sometimes it’s good to give in to such blatant fantasies, if only for a little while.

The Umbrella Academy #2, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

You might know Way from the popular teen horror-soap The Black Parade, or you might not. You might loathe the histrionic theatricality of his most famous productions, or you might admire the trashy bombast of such blatantly teenage dramatics. Regardless of where you stand on Way's previous works, you could be forgiven for worrying that his attempts to become a stand-up comic could be embarrassing. This reviewer found Way's second stand-up performance to be more convincing than the first, due to the fact that he uses it to riff on some of his usual concerns, giving the show a (slightly angsty) throughline while keeping the silly nonsense quotient high. One imagines that this might irritate some comedy fans, but surely not even the most well-weathered of stand-up patrons could deny the beautiful "Mike Mignola does Doom Patrol" sparkle that veteran gag-meister and stage designer Gabriel Ba brings to Way's comedy outings.