Thursday, April 17, 2014

NPM 2014: Adrienne Rich

Better late than never with Ms. Rich and a work for anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable with their own skin.

Adrienne Rich: "Diving Into the Wreck"

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Monday, April 7, 2014

NPM 2014: Wallace Stevens

"Sunday Morning"


Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.


Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 


Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.


She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.


She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.


Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.


She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NPM 2014: Marianne Moore

Since last year's National Poetry Month was a bit of the ol' proverbial sausage fest (and really, what a disgusting term that is, huh?) let's diversify a bit here on the first of the month with an enigmatic beauty by Marianne Moore. Enjoy this most magical of months with me!

He "Digesteth Harde Yron"

  Although the aepyornis
   or roc that lived in Madagascar, and
the moa are extinct,
the camel-sparrow, linked
   with them in size--the large sparrow
Xenophon saw walking by a stream--was and is
a symbol of justice.

   This bird watches his chicks with
   a maternal concentration-and he's
been mothering the eggs
at night six weeks--his legs
   their only weapon of defense.
He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard
as a hoof; the leopard

   is not more suspicious.  How
   could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young
used even as a riding-beast, respect men
   hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand
making the neck move as if alive
and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches

   might be decoyed and killed!  Yes, this is he
whose plume was anciently
the plume of justice; he
   whose comic duckling head on its
great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness
when he stands guard,

   in S-like foragings as he is
   preening the down on his leaden-skinned back.
The egg piously shown
as Leda's very own
   from which Castor and Pollux hatched,
was an ostrich-egg.  And what could have been more fit
for the Chinese lawn it

   grazed on as a gift to an
   emperor who admired strange birds, than this
one, who builds his mud-made
nest in dust yet will wade
   in lake or sea till only the head shows.

 . . . . . . .

   Six hundred ostrich-brains served
   at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent
and desert spear, jewel-
gorgeous ugly egg-shell
   goblets, eight pairs of ostriches
in harness, dramatize a meaning
always missed by the externalist.

   The power of the visible
   is the invisible; as even where
no tree of freedom grows,
so-called brute courage knows.
   Heroism is exhausting, yet
it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare
the harmless solitaire

   or great auk in its grandeur;
   unsolicitude having swallowed up
all giant birds but an alert gargantuan
   little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird.
This one remaining rebel
is the sparrow-camel.


Friday, February 21, 2014

More Moore part 31: Spawn & Violator part 2

Spawn: Blood Feud (1995)

Well, it's been a bit since we last visited the blood-n-slime-filled pits of mid-1990s Image Comics, but I managed to find a couple hours in between chain-reading '20s American literature to give a spin to Spawn: Blood Feud, a four-part work from right in the middle of the '90s that can be best summed up with the tagline 'Spawn fights Vampires'. Normally this is where I would say something like 'Blood Feud isn't BAD, but...' but truth be told, Blood Feud is pretty bad. But not entirely without merit. Let's examine.

The story starts in medias res, with something that appears to be Spawn carving up innocent tenement-dwellers. This leads to the city being whipped into an anti-supernatural frenzy by a man named John Sanker, a vampire hunter who convinces the populace that our favorite Hellspawn is actually a blood-sucking creature of the night and must be exterminated. Of course it's all a coverup, and John Sanker is really Jean Sans-Coeur or 'Heartless John', a 900-year-old vampire who's looking to eliminate the competition and set himself up as an apex predator (As Spawn says in an admittedly-funny line, "You sound like some kind of undead Donald Trump"). In true plucky Face/unstoppable Heel fashion, Sanker trounces Spawn the first two or three times they scuffle, and it's only when Spawn makes peace with his parasitic suit (remember, Todd McFarlane was influential in creating the similarly-suited Venom for Marvel) that John can be defeated.

Only he's not defeated, really. This may be just a problem with reading one arc in the middle of an ongoing series, but Sanker/Sans-Coeur shifts into some sort of naga-looking beast and escapes down a manhole and that's it, the story's over. I've always said one of the laziest things that a comics publisher can do is to not finish an arc in a self-contained way: sure Batman has been going on since 1941, but if I pick up, say, Strange Apparitions, I want it to have a beginning, middle, and end. Most of the time publishers and writers manage this, but not always, and Blood Feud is one of the unfortunate times when the ball is dropped, and finishing the story will leave a very unfinished taste in your mouth.

Other than that, the book is honestly just dull. Spawn and Sakner come off as total products of their generation, each one trying to out-grim and out-mope each other at every turn. Spawn's inner monologue captures that Alan Moore poetry a bit, especially when he's wracked with guilt over thinking that his suit is murdering innocents when he's unconscious, but otherwise he mostly just complains his way through the entirety of the story, and listening to Sanker drone on and on about the vampire's place in a world of humans is trying at best. Tony Daniel and Kevin Conrad are on the art side of things, and their work is bland, ugly, and typically mid-'90s, everything dark and gritty.

That's not to say the story is all bad; Moore attempts humor here and there and succeeds pretty much with all of it. Most of the relief from Spawn and Sanker's grim antics comes from Sam & Twitch, the two homicide detectives who have to clean up after the murders and piece together exactly what happened. Sam & Twitch function a bit like Batman's Bullock & Montoya, respectively, Sam is the slovenly overweight one and Twitch is the nervous and, uh, twitchy one. They not only provide laughs, but they figure out Sanker's game plan way before Spawn does. Twitch ends the story in bad shape, and part of me wants to read on a bit to see if he turns out okay, and that's a testament to both the likability of the characters and Moore's light touch on their writing. I'd read a Sam & Twitch spinoff, and incidentally it looks like they made one. Might have to check it out...

The other moment of brightness in the otherwise dull grey plot is a surprise appearance from Spawn's eternally wacky nemesis, Violator, in the third chapter. I'll put this out there right here and now: no matter what else you can say about Moore's time with Image, the man knows how to writer Violator. Spawn sneaks into a toxic waste pipe, figuring it's the only place where "not even the lowest of the vermin would go" only to find Violator, in homeless clown mode, comfortably reclining there. Violator mostly functions as an info dump in this story, there to explain to Spawn that his suit couldn't be the one murdering the tenement families, but it's not hyperbole to say that the majority of the time I enjoyed Blood Feud was the five pages where he appeared.

Beyond that, there's not much to say about Spawn: Blood Feud. It's very much a product of it's time, as demonstrated by Sanker in the second half of the book: nude, covered and blood, and ridiculously proportioned. It has none of the self-aware goofiness that the Violator stories had, and only a fraction of the black humor which had characterized Moore's best work during this period. It's unnecessary, and like The Killing Joke it feels less like a Moore work and more like a work very heavily influenced by Moore, but without even the beautiful art that the former work had going for it. Not much to recommend this one.


Best quote: "You're dead, you sap! Vampire bites only affect living tissue! Boy will ya look at me! Kinda like Danny DeVito, only more distinguished, don'cha think?"


Up next: Yes Virginia, more Spawn!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sound'a'Roundus: Dan Callahan's Top 13 Albums

A long time coming, behold the majesty of Dan Callahan, he of A Screaming Comes Across the Sky and Dan Le Fou, and most recently of the quantum majesty of Doctors Without Borders. A King of Kings like Ozymandias, getting 13 albums from Mr. Callahan was like pulling teeth, and thanks to my suddenly full school schedule, it was a pain to find time to get this together. But here it is.


Fashionably late. Hal fuckin' Jordan, let's kick this pig. Self-imposed rules: no compilations, one album per artist.

Beethoven's 9th Symphony, performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker and conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (1824)

(No, it's not Berlin, which appears to not be on YouTube. As Dan says, "Use your imagination.")

Yes, the distinction is important. The first CD I ever bought with my own money, and the best recording I've ever heard of the best piece of music I've ever heard. My having a favorite recording of Beethoven's Ninth has been called "the most pretentious thing I've ever heard," but I ain't doing this shit for effect. Once you've heard this one, you'll know the difference, and the others simply won't do. Even the most famous, von Karajan's recording with the Philharmoniker, feels rushed and slight by comparison. In the '94 Northridge earthquake (i lived in Northridge at the time), the CD fell off the rack, out of its case, had some rocks fall on it, and got scratched to hell. I went out to the Wherehouse on Balboa and Devonshire and bought a different recording that was about seven bucks. I walked out of the store, tore off the shrink wrap, and put the disc in my Walkman. A few minutes in, I heard someone cough. A few minutes later, I heard someone drop something on the floor, where it clattered for a few seconds. Then I took the CD out and threw it in the nearest trash can I could find. Then I walked from the record store to the grocery store, bought some generic-brand windex, went home and cleaned my old one until it would play again. Fuck you, it matters. Whoever you may be, reading this, I'll burn you a copy with joy in my heart; all you have to do is ask, slim. When I started thinking about this list, two albums sprang immediately to mind; this is the first one.

Johann Sebastian Bach - Goldberg Variations, performed by Glenn Gould (1955 & 1981)

That goddamn weirdo recorded this somewhat obscure classical suite (which he single-handedly made un-obscure) twice: once as his first professional recording, and again at the end of his life. I guess I'm technically cheating by picking both, but both are completely vital for very different reasons - one is the sound of youthful exuberance and raw talent; the other, heavier and slower and more significant with the weight of age. Both recordings are actually improved by the fact that he's audibly humming along - the only man more into the music than I am, listening to it at this very second.

Howlin' Wolf - Howlin' Wolf (1962)

"This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies."

The Velvet Underground - "White Light/White Heat" (1968)

 A thick, black slab of noise. Neck and neck with their self-titled, which is almost its complete opposite, and great for the opposite reasons.

The Stooges - "Fun House" (1970)

And here, almost halfway into this list, I present my thesis: virtuosity is overrated. Technical skill takes you only so far. For me, it's about how the music feels and makes you feel. this one makes me feel filthy. Luckily, that's a feeling I love.

The Clash - "London Calling" (1979)

The entire history of 20th century western music in a tasty, easy-to-digest package. Every time you listen to it, this will happen: "Oh yeah - I forgot how great *that* song is!" and there's 19 of dem bitches.

Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes (1983)

The word "perfect" gets thrown around a lot, but here we are. "Blister in the Sun" is an ideal opener, "Good Feeling" is an exemplary closer, and there's magic in-between; "Add it Up" rocks about as hard as any song ever recorded with acoustic instruments.  Ten songs, no filler.

Big Black - "Songs about Fucking" (1987)

Possibly the greatest album title and cover of all time contains low-down & dirty rock & roll. It's refreshing to hear music of any genre which is this completely unsentimental.

My Bloody Valentine - "Loveless" (1991)

The poster child for an album whose cover perfectly represents the music contained therein: hazy, pink, dense, dreamlike and dreamy. It's also ideal music to fuck to. Normally, i don't like ending my sentences with prepositions, but this album is just that damn good.

Nirvana - "In Utero" (1993)

I've said for years that Nevermind is a better collection of songs but this one is a better album overall. Most people don't get that, but fuck you, *I* know what it means. My nigga Steve Albini makes this sludgy whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1999)

Tale as old as time: a Cold War-era East German transvestite finds and loses love in the American midwest. Proof positive that the best art is simultaneously unique in its specifics and universal in its themes. Whether you prefer the film or theatrical production soundtrack is between you and your conscience. Or do what I did and combine the two - both have songs the other doesn't.

The Magnetic Fields - "69 Love Songs" (1999)

This is the second album that immediately sprang to mind. The greatest gift I've ever received or given. Demands to be shared; speaking from experience, anyone/everyone you give it to will love it (and if they don't, stop hanging out with them.) An astounding batting average.

Radiohead - "Kid A" (2000)

Atypical (believe me, no pun intended.) There hasn't been an album like this since, by Radiohead or anyone else. When I first listened to it, I wasn't crazy about it because it didn't rock. Let the record show I'm a fuckin' idiot.


If I may, a shout-out to my personal runners-up:

"Cheap Trick at Budokan: The Complete Concert" (Is this the greatest live album of all time?)

"Johnny Cash at San Quentin" (Or is this? Towdier, sloppier, and higher on pills than his more famous "at Folsom Prison", this one sounds like he could have started a prison break just by saying the word)

Descendents - "Milo Goes to College" (The Platonic form of punk rock. Milo's is the voice everyone since has been trying to imitate)

Butthole Surfers - "Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac" (This album is absolutely disgusting, and so am I; the appeal is obvious. My favorite album by my favorite band that no one else likes [aside from the three or four people reading this])

"Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols" (A cliché pick, with good reason. 10/11 unforgettable songs [Even as I write this I'm completely blanking on "New York"])

Black Flag - "My War" (There's that firecracker title track, and then there's Side B - three songs, eighteen minutes that drove the punkers NUTS because they couldn't handle their favorite band slowing it down a little bit. And so grunge is born)

Tom Waits - "The Black Rider" (Popular consensus says this partial soundtrack to a theatrical Burroughs collaboration musical is his worst album - fuck 'em. It's haunting and moving and I have a personal sentimental attachment to it [which, as everybody knows, trumps all])

Dead Kennedys - "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables" (My big problem with most punk rock is that it's too straightforward. This debut handily averts that with a healthy dose of weird. Socially astute carnival calliope fronted by this dude who sounds like Fred Schneider)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Murder Ballads" (Mean and nasty [so am I; the appeal is obvious]. The last album before Cave's tragic descent into that deadly killer of artistic creativity, sobriety, this one will cheer you right up when you're in a bad mood. Listening to it in a good mood is not recommended)

Slint - "Spiderland" (Disqualified because every time I listen to "Washer", I hear the birth of emo. When your album is 40 minutes and nine of those are the genesis of something hateful, well... some sins cannot be forgiven)

The Shaggs - "Philosophy of the World" (Fuck irony. This album rocks hard, and it's catchier than just about anything else you'd care to name)

and [YOUR FAVORITE BEATLES ALBUM] (Dear punk rock shitheads who slag off the Beatles because you're trying to be controversial - shut up, the Beatles are great.)

Albums cut from the final 13 because they were already on Bollweg's list:

The Smashing Pumpkins - "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" (Billy Corgan's predilection for horrible puns aside, this double album is bloated, self-indulgent, pretentious, angsty, and completely amazing)

Pixies - "Doolittle" (When I was sixteen, I'd listen to this one all the way through then start it over again from the beginning)

Miles Davis - "Kind of Blue" ("Get the fuck out of my face, you jive motherfucker, and take your silly bitch with you.")

The phenomenal artists I didn't feel had an album representational enough of how much I like 'em: Aphex Twin, B.B. King, Beck, Lady Day, The Birthday Party, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Cab Calloway, Coil, The Cramps, CCR, David Bowie, Dinosaur Jr, Etta James, Faith No More, Flogging Molly, Fugazi, Grinderman, Gorillaz, Hüsker Dü, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Jesus Lizard, John Prine, Joy Division, Kanye (that's right, you fucking heard me), Melvins, The Misfits, Mission of Burma, Motörhead, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd (shut up), The Pogues, The Pretty Things, Queens of the Stone Age, The Rolling Stones, Scratch Scid, Shellac, Social D, Soundgarden, Swans, The White Stripes, Wilco, Wire.

To Ennio Morricone - whose soundtracks to Leone's films are achingly, heart-rendingly beautiful, but best experienced as a part of those films rather than as discrete albums.

And, of course, to the Dirty Three's "Everything's Fucked" and Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea" - two of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard and *almost* good enough for me to pick their respective albums on the strength of those tracks alone.

Now, if this was a list of favorite individual tracks, mine would look very different.




Friday, January 17, 2014

Miracleman #1...a consumer's opinion

Both photos in this article swiped from the wonderful!

So, with the start of another school semester, I'm finding myself a little overwhelmed with the amount of literature being thrown at me, and so at least for a bit I'm going to slow down on More Moore. Depressing, since there were some months I was pretty slow before, but that's how it is, and I'll try to put up at least a post a month or so. In the meantime, Marvel has given us chapter one of Alan Moore's (and later Neil Gaiman's) seminal first major work, Miracleman! I ran out and picked up my copy on the 15th, the day it was released, and here I am, a couple days later.
So is it worth it? Tough call. 

Consider this a little consumer guidebook for the new Miracleman, just something for those on the fence. I don't regret my purchase (much) but there's no question that Marvel made some bizarre decisions regarding this issue, so be informed.

First off, let's address the big blue-spandex-wearing elephant in the room: the price. For reasons known but to God, Marvel decided on not just a premium, but a massive premium markup for this particular issue, and it sounds like a decent premium for each issue to come. The standard Miracleman #1 is going to set you back $5.99, and I've seen variant covers (like that Garry Leach beauty up there) run as high as ten bucks. This is a heart-stopping price, double what a normal comic costs these days, and if Marvel wants to snare new readers for this series, this is absolutely the worst possible way to do it, and hopefully it will sell just based on name recognition.

Except of course it won't, because there's no name to recognize. I know this isn't Marvel's fault, but due to Alan Moore's vicious contract hardball, there's no writer credit at all on this book; just a creditless cover and the still-hilarious "STORY - THE ORIGINAL WRITER" on the inside. As everyone's favorite comicmonger Mike Sterling so eloquently put it, apparently “WRITER: A.M.” or “MR. M.” or “JILL DE RAY” were out of the question.

So the price is okay to you, and you've known that Mr. Moore was involved for decades, right? And hey, it's 64 pages, who's going to complain? Well that brings us to big problem number three...
It's only got like 20 pages of actual comic inside! The rest is a monumental parade of filler, including sketches, interviews, essays, and a handful of Golden Age strips from Marvelman creator Mick Anglo. I had thought that there were supposed to be a couple Warpsmith stories, a spinoff story that ran concurrent to Marvelman and eventually crossed over in book II, but a scan of the solicitor's notes show I was mis-remembering. Keeping in mind that a normal, $2.99 comic is 24 pages, what Marvel is trying to do here almost feels insidious, and if for some bizarre reason a member of the uninitiated DOES pick up a copy, they will feel so gypped by its contents that I can't imagine any of them picking up chapter 2. Personally, I loved the Golden Age work, but I suspect that I'm in the minority among even '80s Alan Moore readers, let alone 2014's hip kids, and since I seem to recall the all-Golden Age Marvelman book that came out a few years ago sold about ten copies, I think I'm right in those assumptions.

So there's the negatives, and I don't blame you if they're too much to bear. Any positives? Absolutely. The work looks absolutely gorgeous, recolored and relettered and treated with the utmost care. I've heard a lot of people complain about the new colors, but I don't get it; it's perhaps a bit 'standard' compared to Swamp Thing or Watchmen or something, but the old Warrior and Eclipse coloring jobs were so bad that I can't imagine anyone wouldn't prefer the workmanlike Photoshop job we got. Everything is crisp and clear, the colors pop where they're supposed to, even a few details that were obscured in the original work are intact here. I have heard that the digital edition of the comic slaps some panties on the otherwise bare bottom of Liz Moran in one panel, which makes me wonder what exactly they're going to attempt when we get to the birth chapter, but the physical copy I got is in its uncensored glory.

And finally, there's the fact that this story is just really, really good, and that Marvel has brought us a story that's remained out of print for 25 years (and in Gaiman's case, unfinished). Reading it in print for the first time (I could never afford those Eclipse trades), I was struck by how, even though nearly every comic since then was influenced by Marvelman in some way, it still feels fresh and urgent and downright essential. And, minus some unfortunate Beckum artwork around the middle, it's only going to get better. Everybody that is interested in what comics have become since 1982 absolutely has to read Miracleman.

So there you have it: three reasons against buying the book, and two reasons for. Draw your own conclusions from it, I suppose, though part of me does think that the average Joe should just wait for the trade. As it is, I can't imagine what Marvel was thinking giving us a 25 page comic, adding 40 pages of filler, and charging us 6 bucks for it, unless they really thought that rabid Moore fans alone would boost sales enough to make it worthwhile. I'll say this though: I'll be buying issue two in a couple weeks. How can I not? It's Miracleman!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Demeter's Bountiful Harvest: The Ten Best Albums of 2013

And here we are, the day after Sol Invictus, and it seems as good a time as any to discuss the albums that made my year. Last year was easy, with the release of a new Swans album, a new Scott Walker album, and some fantastic works from groups like Goat and Ty Segall. I was worried at first that this year would be tougher, with no absolute obvious standouts, but starting in September the record industry proved it was just saving its best for later in the year, and some jaw-dropping moments started arriving with amazing frequency. So as you're all calming down from your Sun-worship (that's why everything was closed yesterday, right?) enjoy some wonderful music, and hopefully use some of those iTunes gift cards you picked up to grab some of these amazing works! And don't forget, the REAL best album of the year is free!

10. Fuzz - Fuzz

The ever-prolific Ty Segall is amazing not just in his prodigious output, which rivals any artist this side of Ergo Phizmiz, but in the very quality of the work he releases, which is all the more incredible when he manages several releases a year. In addition to his stripped-down, acoustic Sleeper, which missed this list by only the narrowest of margins, Ty went full band mode with the release of Fuzz, an acid-scarred rock behemoth which embraces his innate Sabbath-worship. Ty, along with cohorts Charles Moothart and Roland Cosio, offers a suite of tunes absolutely drenched in reverb and fuzz, with unintelligible vocals, all-encompassing guitar squall, and paper-thin drums making Fuzz a Blue Cheer for the new century.

9. Forest Swords - Engravings 

Matthew Barnes of Forest Swords has given us something special in Engravings: a dub album which has nothing at all to do musically with reggae. Barnes' productions are drowning in echo, vocal samples intoning wordlessly over beats that sound like distant thunder. There's a trip-hop vibe not unlike Massive Attack or Portishead hidden in here, but Barnes has removed the smoky, sultry vocals that make trip-hop so unique, and replaced them with nothing but his occasional apocalyptic samples, and a repetition almost reminiscent of drone artists from the '60s. Engravings must be among 2013's most rich productions from a sonic standpoint, and will reward repeated listenings with new tidbits for a long time to come.

8. Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

Slowly, we lumber on toward the inevitable date in December of next year, when The Beta Band will have been defunct for a decade. Yet though we can rightly mourn this sad notion, we should still celebrate the fact that Steve Mason is making solo records as necessary and awe-inspiring as his more famous former band. Mason's Monkey Minds is a blend of the Beta Band's dub-heavy, experimental older work and their laser-sharp, pop focused final albums, a glorious mess that skips from field recordings of street buskers to choral pop that reaches for the Heavens. The Betas may be gone, but Steve Mason keeps the giddy rush alive in his own work.

7. Lightning Dust - Fantasy

2013 was the year for the Black Mountain side projects. First, head Mountain Stephen McBean gave us Grim Towers, a collection of spaced-out folk rock recorded with Imaad Wasif, and now we have the third album from Amber Webber and Joshua Wells' Lightning Dust, Fantasy. Whereas first two Lightning Dust albums were spare, haunting folk, bringing to mind Sandy Denny's solo records from the early '70s, Fantasy adds dark, cavernous synthesizer, feeling like a mix between Kendra Smith's work with Opal and Stevie Nicks' most austere '80s material. And on top of it all is Amber Webber's achingly gorgeous voice, a husky warble that sounds like nobody else is the business now. Lightning Dust's boomy synths evoke heartbreak effortlessly, and the whole album offers a glacial beauty which I can't recommend enough.

6. Adam Green & Binki Shapiro - Adam Green & Binki Shapiro

I've dreamed for years now of recording an album similar to the absolutely seminal first album by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Song-stories with trading male/female vocals over quintessential '60s orchestration is such an impressive formula that it always confused me as to why nobody else has really done it, and it took until 2013 before a pair pulled it off so perfectly. Adam Green's work with the Moldy Peaches was uniformly embarrassing, juvenile, and really just straight-up awful, but since then he's matured into a smart-ass pop maverick, this generation's Todd Rundgren, writing lyrics that are snarky and borderline offensive while couched in music that is undeniably catchy and remains stuck in your head for days on end. On this album, however, he drops the satyrlike sense of humor, and turns in a set of tales about love and loss, sung to perfection by Binki Shapiro's sweet, honey-like voice, blended with Green's own hopeless baritone. The result is an album for romantics that hate romance, with Green and Shapiro's storm-tossed tales giving giving us bittersweet hope and doomed regret.

5. Grumbling Fur - Glynnaestra

(For reasons known but to god, Blogger won't let me link to The Ballad of Roy Batty. So go watch it here. Go watch it!)

Alexander Tucker is, in many ways, the Ty Segall from across the pond. Maddeningly prolific and willing to collaborate with anyone who comes within a ten-foot radius, Tucker's Syd Barrett-informed oeuvre has grown exponentially in the last few years, and gave us two towering collaborations in 2013: the cracked, slippery Metafather with Daniel Beban as Imbogodom, and the lysergic beauty of Grumbling Fur's Glynnaestra with Daniel O'Sullivan. Glynnaestra is another towering production, this one a mix of Tucker's dreamlike, cyclical folk and O'Sullivan's dense, hypnotic electronica, a blend that gives us songs of immense beauty, with waves of guitars and coloring atmospherics giving a stage to both men muttering through Roy Batty's final soliloquy from Blade Runner. I've heard that Glynnaetra is the perfect album to take drugs to and I don't doubt it, but even stone sober and boring like me, this is a work of impossible, unusual, all-devouring majesty.

4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

Even nearly 25 years in, Nick Cave's greatest ability is that you never know which way he will jump. For about a decade now, Cave has embraced his inner Iggy Pop, delivering two albums of cracked skronk as Grinderman and an album of dirty Christian funk in Dig, Lazarus, Dig!! before releasing Push the Sky Away, which very well could be the quietest, mellowest album of his career. Backed by the Bad Seeds compressing their work into gentle loops, even as Cave's lyrics belie the soft, aristocratic menace beating within. The whole work drifts like a boat on a sea, the languid pieces congealing into a haze whole in which each sparse instrument is nearly swallowed by the ether surrounding them. Cave understands that the album format can be true art, and his impressionistic brush strokes here give us an album at once placelessly malevolent and yet comforting as the womb.

3. Grant Hart - The Argument

As a literature nerd, it is perhaps unsurprising that I give Grant Hart's take on Paradise Lost such high praise, but even beyond the concept it's a fantastic album, one worthy of Grant's affirmed masterworks with Hüsker Dü like Zen Arcade. Similar to that earlier album, The Argument is a musical kaleidoscope, moving from pop to punk to avant-garde and back again with a zeal, giving us the rock-solid cabaret of "Sin" to the '30s radio pop of "Underneath the Apple Tree," and Hart has the musical chops to make it feel like more that just a collection of genre exercises. Among the best simple songs of the year, The Argument shows that one of the premier storytellers of the punk generation hasn't lost the spark in the intervening decades.

2. Stara Rzeka - Cień Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem 

To anyone who is willing to listen, I have never been shy in extolling the virtues of Swans' masterpiece Soundtracks for the Blind. To me, Michael Gira's two-disc monolith is the perfect album; relentlessly experimental and yet effortlessly capable of evoking such rushes of emotion, displaying the best of what is now termed 'post-rock' without collapsing under its own pretensions (so I think, at least). It's an album that sounds like little else that came before it or since, with the exception of the first couple Godspeed You Black Emperor! releases, and now we can add this incredible LP from Polish band Stara Rzeka to the list. Cień Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem understands Soundtracks and the tracks are awash in sonic grandeur similar to what Michael Gira did back in 1996, but it gives its own take on the matter, infusing the towering synth washes with both clean, exacting, picked acoustic guitar and an occasional foray down into buzzy black metal, both of which seem to be influenced by the earlier albums of Portland's Agalloch. The songs are long and twisting, working their way through suites of signal and noise, typically ending up far where they began. At once melancholy and labyrinthine, Cień Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem is a classic that recalls avenues otherwise forgotten about in music, and deserves far more listens than it will likely get.

1. Arp - More

And at last we make it to number 1...the best album of the year. And what's most surprising is that, at the beginning of the year, you'd never guess it would even exist. Arp is Alexis Georgopoulos, a New York producer who, until now, made albums of glacial, skeletal synth compositions, deep and subtle like La Monte Young or Charlemagne Palestine would have done decades ago. With the exception of a single vocal piece buried far at the end of 2010's The Soft Wave, Alexis never hinted at the slightest predisposition toward pop music, which makes More all the more stunning: an album composed almost entirely of achingly beautiful, Eno and Cale-inspired pop tunes. Georgopoulos has barely any vocal range at all, and yet that makes his songs all the more lovely, similar to how LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy could infuse his limited range into moments of tender vulnerability. The songs are simple, mostly piano, spare guitar, and a quick drum loop, but that minimalism brings out the gorgeous, naive melodies in the same way that Nick Cave was able to in his album. Everybody who has a taste for vocal pop music should pick up this album, especially if Here Come the Warm Jets or Paris 1919 are your preferred way of digesting said genre. Sweet, simple, and heart-rendingly gorgeous, More is my album of the year.