Friday, October 31, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Sisters of Mercy

The Sisters of Mercy: Floodland

Then: I think it was around 10th grade that I started abandoning Tool and Korn and all that crap, and for about a year I really got into 80s goth type stuff, mostly through my previous association with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. I picked up all the essentials: Disintegration, Violator, and of course Floodland. It was never my favorite of the group (I was a big Depeche Mode guy) but 'Lucretia My Reflection' was a stalwart on the mixtapes I had in my car when i first got my license.

Now: Listening to the album after a long time away, it really rides so strongly on the good graces of its three singles: 'This Corrosion', 'Dominion/Mother Russia', and the aforementioned 'Lucretia My Reflection'. All three songs remain astounding, and show that Andrew Eldritch could write a killer hook when he wanted to (to say nothing of Jim Steinman's production, which is bombastic, ridiculous, and totally awesome). Sadly, he doesn't show the same panache for the rest of the album as he does for its singles, and honestly the rest of Floodland is actually kind of boring, which is always the most egregious offense when you're creating art. Still, if you could cut Floodland down to the singles, it would be a nifty little EP (and a fairly beefy one too, considering that two of the singles cracked 7 minutes).

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat

Then: Another album I was absolutely blown away by in 2004. I had the Furnaces' first album, which was a rad but inessential collection of White Stripes-style stripped down rock, and when I first heard Blueberry Boat's 10-minute long, elliptical opener, "Quay Cur," I really thought I had picked up the wrong disc. The feeling got even stronger when I saw them live, a show where they distilled down both their albums into a single 45-minute long song. This was my absolute favorite album for years.

Now: Damn if Blueberry Boat isn't just as solid and essential as it was 10 years ago. The Furnaces' songwriter/lyricist/musical kaleidoscope Matthew Friedberger strikes that rare balance between melodic and experimental, and he does it in such a way that the album's several 8-minute-plus songs never wear out their welcome. Friedberger has to be one of the cleverest musicians around, as well, which makes his apparent disappearance since 2008 or so a tragedy. His lyrics are absolutely sharp, an extension of Pete Townshend's rock opera work, and the music is a melange of The Residents' Not Available, early Psychic TV, and the Friedberger siblings' own, strange take on pop music. Blueberry Boat is no longer on my favorite albums list, but it's most certainly an album everybody should hear at least once.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Sung Tongs

Then: This was absolutely mind-blowing around 2004. I had never heard anything quite like Animal Collective's Sung Tongs, which was sort of experimental folk music, lots of weird droning acoustic guitars and bizarre vocal affectations. I was absolutely blown away and tried repeatedly to make an album that was basically a big ol' rip-off of it (I think we were going to call is NUJV). I remember going to see them live and describing them to a guy in line who was only there for the headliner (Black Dice, I think?) as "Can with acoustic guitars." The rest of their records sounded absolutely nothing like this one, and for the most part I gave up on the Collective after about 2005, but there was a year or so when this was my life.

Now: Ehh...Sung Tongs is okay, but nowhere near as good as I remember. Maybe it's just because I've discovered Comus and The Incredible String Band since, but their 'unsettling acoustic' schtick doesn't feel nearly as fresh as it did at the time...hell, singer Avey Tare even sounds like the dude from Comus. Speaking of which, Jesus Christ, the lyrics on this album are straight-up awful, some of the most mind-numbing poetry I've ever heard. If you ever needed proof that doing drugs makes you an absolutely atrocious poet, give a couple tracks from Sung Tongs a spin (or, as always, Kemialliset Ystävät, which is so bad that I have to believe is intentional). The last couple A Screaming Comes Across the Sky albums were fairly psychedelic folk influenced, so Sung Tongs remains an album that affected my music, but these days I look at it more like a record that got me to find records from OTHER bands that are, for lack of a better word, much better.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: The Shins


The Shins: Chutes too Narrow

Then: I initially discovered The Shins after seeing them headlining a show The Fiery Furnaces opened soon after this record came out. I dug Chutes too Narrow but I don't think I paid any mind to their first album, which I've completely forgotten the name to. I remember being very impressed that I could fit both albums on a single CD, though.

Now: Not bad! The album is really stripped down, acoustic guitar-based, catchy pop music, and James Mercer's singing voice doesn't fall into the insufferably cutesy trap a lot of 'indie' singers fall prey too. It has an impressive string of really good songs in a row, from the first to the eighth, and considering the album is only ten songs long, that's not bad at all. If you want some harmless, Beatle-influenced pop music, you could do a lot worse. They weren't that good live though, sadly.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove: Unwound


Unwound: The Future of What

Then: There was a time around 2000 of so, when Unwound was on the verge of splitting up, that they were my favorite band. They took Nirvana and Sonic Youth, two of my favorite bands growing up, and made them more noisy, more vicious, and more feedback-laden. Since I didn't know how to properly play guitar, I looked at Justin Trosper's feedback and saw the soul of elegance. It's no surprise that most of my attempts at bands then were Unwound/early Sonic Youth-style washes of sound. I guess that's still kinda what I do, really.

Now: Hm...it's true that on relistening to the record, Unwound has struck a pretty great balance between Nirvana's punkiness and Sonic Youth's noise, but...I dunno. All the songs on The Future of What sort of sound the same, to be honest, and while Justin Trosper could conjure up some absolutely wicked noise with his plexiglass guitar, his lyrics are pretty damn embarrassing, juvenile poetry, which is something I'm fearing I'll be saying a lot during this exercise. As-is, The Future of What could be good in very small doses, but even its meager 30-minute running time was too much.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Introducing the Rock Song of J. Alfred Pruflove

Yep, I'm deep in my studies again, so I'm putting the usual halt to More Moore, though if anyone wants to talk Dostoevsky with somebody, I'm their man. So that the blog doesn't get stuck for months without any updates, I've devised something I can do that requires little work: I had a pretty different musical palette in the early 2000s, with a lot of bands that could be referred to these days as, I guess, 'indie'. On the way to school, I figured I'd pop in an album from my late-teenhood and do a little writeup to see how well it holds up now that I'm older and, I hope, wiser. I better be wiser, it's sure costing me a lot of money.

Oh, and I set up a rarely-updated Tumblr as well, if you feel the interest in following it. I'm just putting up paintings of beautiful women with it, at the moment.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

More Moore, part 34: WildC.A.T.S. book I

WildC.A.T.s book I: Homecoming (1995)

And at last we come to WildC.A.T.s, probably the closest thing to a 'crown jewel' in Moore's Image canon, and certainly the book that he worked the longest and hardest on during his tenure with the company. WildC.A.T.s is the creation of Jim Lee, now mostly known as the Tweedledee to Dan DiDio's Tweedledum as co-publishers of DC's New 52 reboot. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Lee is a fantastic artist (his pencilwork was the only thing that elevated All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder out of the embarrassing shlock that Frank Miller's prose otherwise gave it) who sadly had no ability in writing his own scripts, so he created a new IP with Image comics that eventually had Alan Moore come on-board and give the work some much-needed depth. Much like Moore's work on Spawn, Moore and Lee barely worked together at all, and WildC.A.T.s quickly took on a revolving door of artists that gave the work a frustratingly inconsistent quality. And, like his work with Spawn, Moore's work on WildC.A.T.s is surprisingly well-done, if nothing ground-breaking.

WildC.A.T.s, as Jim Lee first envisioned it, is basically just the Image take on X-Men, which Lee had worked on during his time at Marvel. Like Professor Xavier's students, the Wild Covert Action Team is a group of young superheroes, each with a signature power or ability, like sexy ninja-assassin Zealot (nothing at all like Psylocke, of course) empathetic robot Spartan, and beefy purple Maul, yet another wisecracker in the Thing style. The only real difference brought in by Lee and original writer Brandon Choi is that THIS close-knit group of superpowered young adults led by a rich, older telepath (Lord Emp, in this case) is that the C.A.T.s aren't mutants, they're aliens! The team are all Kherubim, an alien race locked into an eternal war with rival aliens the Daemonites. That groan that you just heard upon reading those names came from yourself, and thusly you can see why Moore was brought in to give the script a little depth.

Just before Moore's first chapter, the C.A.T.s are splintered, and much like Gail Simone would do in Secret Six, Moore creates two WildC.A.T.s teams; While Emp takes most of the members back to the planet Khera to find out just what the hell is going on, another sexy ninja-assassin named Savant and the Superman-esque Mister Majestic found a new team back on Earth to combat criminal organizations. Honestly, the second team gets up to very little during the course of Homecoming; they recruit punk cyborg Ladytron and persuasive Tao and cause some trouble among Mafia organizations, including what looks like Liefeld-era Deadpool. The Earth chapters are entertaining but inconsequential, at least at this juncture; the best moment is where they crash a robot wake for a recently-deactivated guardbot:

"Though known to all the world as H.A.R.M., his close friends called him Chuck. Born Charles Sweeney in Cleveland, 1946, he had one childish dream/He wanted to weigh fifteen hundred pounds with ground-to-air bazookas on his shoulders."

The real meat of Homecoming, however, is with the team on Khera. Moore's big twist is that the Kherubim/Daemonite war is over, long over. The Daemonites lost, and Earth was so remote that neither side bothered to tell the soldiers on the ground. Khera, flush with its victory, is in a millennia-long decadence, and both Emp and Zealot are quickly and easily seduced with the promises of endless power that Khera's two political parties offer them. The other members are treated like garbage, especially half-Daemonite Voodoo and Maul, whose Titanthrope heritage marginalizes him rapidly: as another Titanthrope tells it, their race are the true Kherans, who were subjugated and enslaved by the Kherubim and who now make up the lower-class workforce for their rich masters. The plot jumps around as thus: from Emp and Zealot in glorious luxury, to the new C.A.T.s on Earth, to the rest of the C.A.T.s on Khera trying to unravel a conspiracy to use both Emp and Zealot as martyrs to further political causes.

Homecoming is far from perfect; like most Image work, a lot of the issue is in the art. The original plan before the penciller merry-go-round was for Moore to work with Travis Charest, but even that wouldn't have made the work much better, it's simply an issue with the style in the early to mid '90s. If you can get past the art, Moore does some impressive worldbuilding with Khera, and the glittering facade hiding the rot within is an impressive approximation to an alien version of the late Roman Empire. The second team is slower getting out of the gate, but Moore still has another book to go. Homecoming is really quite good, especially for Image-era Moore, and he makes the most of giving an alien world some serious political depth.

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Up next: The cats are still wild in the second half of Moore's WildC.A.T.s.