Blue Devil #2 (July, 1984)

blue devil 02-04
Note: Whoops. I’ve been kinda busy. This tends to happen, I guess, though it’s super lame for it to happen a whopping two entries in. My apologies.

In his (then) most recent adventure, Dan Cassidy was still a real boy in a robot suit, until the very end. While being trapped into a fancy suit made to look like a movie monster might because for endless pathos (or villainy, if you are, say, Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich¹), Dan’s not exactly happy with his lot, but he isn’t bemoaning the old–er, Cassidy–luck and sulking.²

Let’s not beat around the bush–Dan’slooking for a way out of the suit, and dealing with some poor luck (that only gets worse), but he does find some enjoyment in his now internalized powers, and even uses them to make normal life easier here and there:blue devil 02-07
But he’s not really given a chance to whinge or exult in his invention’s newly organic nature, as a trip outside in Metropolis results in unwanted and unsolicited attention from passersby and the media, which he simply tears away from. Absent-mindedly, almost, he stops a mugging in process (and is mistaken by some out-of-towners for Superman, in a pretty good gag).

Dan’s casual heroics are left be as he returns to the Brownstone he invested in (and has yet to rent out) to find his phone ringing, giving him a chance to use his powers for the most mundane of reasons (which is a great touch):

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(Though he follows this up by accidentally ripping his door off its hinges, so, I guess it’s a wash)

Turns out, all that attention from the media got him in hot water with the shadowy film producer (no, not Marla, she’s not shadowy! Also, she’s the director/producer, not the Money Person, whose name is Jock Verner) of the not-yet-released Blue Devil movie he made the suit for in the first place.

In the meantime, Shockwave (a brand new villain!) is in the midst of robbing S.T.A.R. Labs, and trouncing the questionable security of an ostensibly tech-wonder location to acquire what he’s after, and causing wanton destruction as he does so, making his way to a pick-up spot.

What relevance has this to our hero? Not much. He’s not a hero, after all. He’s a poor schmuck who got stuck. But Shockwave’s casual negligence in his destructive rampage destroys the Brownstone Dan has recently purchased and failed to rent out as yet (ouch!), thus earning Shockwave his ire. Dan’s not outclassed, but he is a bit out of his depth in dealing with Thunder Thumps, as the two try to find their way around each other, gaining momentarily only to lose shortly thereafter, even when trying a few clever tricks.blue devil 02-23

Dr. Jenet Klyburn from S.T.A.R. appears, though, and informs Dan that the stolen object is an advanced “super Kryptonite”, so it’s imperative that he regain it (partly, she notes to herself, so that Supes doesn’t find out…), which causes him to go ahead and redouble his efforts (and letting Paris Cullins do another super-great Devil-in-Motion panel!³)

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The Devil doesn’t successfully wrangle Shockwave, but he does prevent the loss of the super Kryptonite, and rides off with Klyburn in…okay, maybe S.T.A.R. has had some budget woes. A Chevy Astro? That’s what they sent the Doc in to regain an item of the utmost importance? Yikes.

But, of course, we can’t leave out this great bit when Marla has gritted her teeth and sent the lawyers with a C&D after Dan to stop appearing in public. Showing one of the better acknowledgments of proportion and perspective from Paris Cullins, with dialogue to match (a lot of the book shows that Dan is now pretty ridiculously tall compared to normal people, and Cohn and Mishkin even acknowledge this in the dialogue):

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As intended, the book is a fun book, despite coming out a time where it contains ads for Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing (which was rarely fun, despite its excellence), just as the authors and editor intended.

¹With apologies, for those who demand it, for a Marvel reference in a D.C.-based project.

²Ha! I stopped myself before doing it again, though!

³By now, I guess my appreciation of those things is readily apparent.

My Own 2014 Top 20 of Music (#10-1)

So, this will at least complete (part 1 here) my top 20 music releases of 2014 (you can see what I drew from here), a relative first, in its way, as I’m actually commenting on them all and what have you. The numbering has been agonized over, but remains fluid, because I rarely make ordered lists that have meaning in their order. Hell, my top 3 have been mingled gases at this point, each being “obviously” number one at the time I’m listening to it, but I factored in a few things and feel (mostly) happy with my final conclusion.

So, without further ado:

10) Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter

Maybe it’s the fact that Fun. got so big–though I think it’s also related to the sound and production style–but I have difficulty framing Fueled by Ramen as a small label.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s the sound. Young the Giant sounds like a “big” band. I mean that both in the sense of “large, with many members and a full sound” and “probably could be or are played on pop stations”. I don’t actually know if the latter is true, but it would be the least surprising thing in the world if it was. The video for “Mind Over Matter” has 1.4 million views, which, considering some official videos I’ve linked to in this thing have, say, 2,000, should indicate something about their cultural penetration.

Sameer Gadhia’s voice, when it opens up, reminds me of a full-throated–think Genesis–Peter Gabriel, with that unconscious, strained vibrato. Heavy strings and other full-bore production choices really expand the sound of the band and feed those feelings of an enormous band. But the ear worms of particularly the tracks that come in the early mid-section of the album hooked me instantly. Standing in a store I visit on periodic trips across the state (Earshot in Winston-Salem), the guy working that day just happened to be playing it, and I bought it on the spot, something that I don’t do all that often. Revisiting the album recently (mostly in attempting to narrow my choices for this/these list(s)), I found that a few tracks really got me moving, which is something I largely avoid, being as me moving is not something anyone needs to see, or I need to imagine happening.

It says something when an album does it anyway–and that I could suggest this band to both a relatively picky friend and my father and have them both instantly interested after one track. Maybe that all makes this a weird choice, but it is what it is, no?

Get it here (on Vinyl, CD, or Digital).

9) Aphex Twin – Syro

Anyone who knew me in or around high school and college knows that Aphex Twin rapidly ascended to one of my “core” artists and stuck there for a long time. I wandered–a bit–away from electronic music in recent years, less due to disinterest than it was to constantly moving forward (or backward) and outward into new sounds and feelings in music, as I discovered them. It may not have helped that, in most senses, Richard D. James¹ hasn’t released much of anything in years–seven years ago, two EPs as “The Tuss” (both now astronomical for physical editions) and nothing as Aphex Twin since the vinyl-only Analord series in 2004 (which I do, in fact, have in its entirety, unlike the Tuss EPs).

“XMAS_EVET10 [120][thanaton3 mix]” is a mouthful of title and a crazy-long (10:31) track to suggest, but it’s still the one I’d go with. It feels like some really fresh, new stuff, but it also has hints of a number of his older sounds in it and just sounds really good in general. The 120 is an indication of the BPM, and it puts this track in roughly the middle of the pack for the album insofar as that metric. Still, it shows our RDJ has just kind of embraced the freedom he’s largely guaranteed in making music, to make a ten-and-a-half minute track and put it on an album as the second cut and move on. It’s not one of his more frenetic records–this isn’t that mid-to-late 90s stuff–and feels like it has the most in common in overall feel with some kind of amalgamation of the Analord work and Drukqs, which is nothing to be upset about, especially as it refines the rather scattershot collection that is Drukqs (as good as it is).

Buy it on 3xLP, CD, or digitally here. You can also stream each track.

8) Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

The latest DBT record comes on the heels of continued upheaval: Shonna Tucker exited, cutting the songwriters down to two after years and years of numbering three, and John Neff pulled their overall numbers down yet again (naturally, Shonna, as a bassist, had to have a replacement, and came in Matt Patton).

In a way, the record really epitomizes change: down to two songwriters for the first time ever, some changes occur even in Patterson and Cooley. The record opens on a Cooley track–which hasn’t happened since 2004’s The Dirty South–which was also the first time it happened. As a nice hook for fans, they emphasized that, this time, Cooley sings a song Patterson wrote–another first for the band. Percentage-wise, that puts him on more even ground with Patterson than ever before–2008 got more songs out of him, but it was on a 19-track album, and it was only the one more.

All of this adds up to one of the most consistent Truckers records in years: lean ‘n’ mean and shooting straight. They dropped a couple tracks (“Pauline Hawkins” and Cooley’s opener, “Shit Shots Count”), but it’s been “Part of Him” that has most caught my own ear, expressing Patterson’s peculiar turns of phrase, the roots-y tinges that have lingered in what is largely a Southern rock band that often emphasizes “Southern” lyrically and “rock” musically, but here pushes the first into the music more emphatically, too.

Ever occupied by the thought that I’d unfairly–even by my own reckoning–spotlight part of a group or record to the absence of another, Cooley’s “English Oceans” is a strong contender, with its darkened, ominous musical tone and Mike’s rapid patter of characteristically clever words.

Get it here (on Vinyl, CD, or deluxe edition with bonus live CD and live DVD).

7) Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams (there, three times in a row) has rapidly climbed to the top of my personal “charts” (I suppose literally, if one happens to glance at my last.fm profile) over the last 2-3 years, so I pre-ordered this record in no uncertain terms, as it was a pretty sure shot.

After feeling uncomfortably unfamiliar with particularly the sound of the Cardinals records (I’ve since grown to feel otherwise, mind you), a new sound (that has something in common with, I think, the Cardinals’ III/IV) that is married to the familiar made me pretty happy.

Ryan’s coated the record in a “deliberately 80s” tone and production style, with a touch of smoky reverb and some metallic, sharp guitar. Obviously, this adds up to a winner for someone with my tastes, but the strength of the songs here doesn’t leave the sound to hold as a delicate framework for nothing–“Feels Like Fire” has a pounding 4/4 snare and gnarly guitar (and a pretty buried bass) with Ryan’s voice and uses a light touch of choir with a bass-expanding piano to turn into a prettier, catchy chorus.

The cover is kind of weird, but the coloured lighting on Ryan’s face is kind of in keeping with the neon lights-feeling of the record, which seems to just barely echo something like an early 80s Heartbreakers (Petty, not Thunders, obviously) record.

Get it here (on CD, with a sold out listing for LP, but you can probably find it at the usual suspects or–better yet!–your local record store).

6) Transit – Joyride

Speaking of rapidly climbing up my personal “charts”, Transit appeared entirely on a whim (“That’s quite a bundle of stuff for this band I’ve never heard of,” I said to myself, seeing a monstrous pre-order bundle for their previous album. “I think I’ll order it.”)

While Listen and Forgive and Young New England, especially, have had a dominant place in my listening for the past year, Joyride comes after the exit of founding member Tim Landers². The complaints fans of This Will Not Define Us are turned up even further–in ways that start to make me look askance just a bit–Joe Boynton’s voice is heavily produced in the opener (“The Only One”), drenched in cleaning, touches of reverb, and an artificial tightening. But, that’s all lost pretty quickly to another catchy pile of tunes. The apex on this one–for me, at least–is easily “Summer Dust” which launches a monster hook in that chorus: “Let it go/A wave out the window/So far, so good/It’s all over so/Let it go/Nothing’s beautiful/Face down floating up at the beach house” (considering I heard the guys discussing taking up painting jobs after the show I saw them at, I’m not sure how much a role beach houses play in most of their lives).

Get it here (on CD or Vinyl + bonus 7″).

5) Weerd Science – Red Light Juliet, Broadcast 2: Steady Straight Lights/Sudden Dark Turns

Ah, that moment where your “Oh well, I can’t imagine this drummer for a prog rock band can really rap” thoughts get stuck in your throat and you feel like a total and complete moron, because you couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first Red Light Juliet let Josh and Dirty Ern carve out a clearer sound for themselves as Weerd Science, and the second gets somewhat more subdued and somber through most tracks. While it’s tempting to point out the absurd flow of one of the exceptions to that tone (“Gangsta Dreamz” –which reminded me of Jeru the Damaja’s “Tha Shit” in its central conceit and nothing else, but when I asked Josh he wasn’t familiar), it’s better to point to something indicative of the totality, and that’s got to be “Greater Than You Are”, which manages a sad piano-focused beat that turns into a much bigger, louder chorus, transitioning back and forth with absurd ease.

Get it here (CD). Stream or buy it digitally on Bandcamp. Don’t forget to support the vinyl release of all three RLJ’s, the upcoming release of RLJ3 and otherwise follow the Weerd Science future release via Pledge Music (You’ve got three weeks. Get on it now.)

4) Mike Mictlan – Hella Frreal

Mike Mictlan. Probably the least acknowledged–outside the Twin Cities, anyway–member of the Doomtree crew, at least so far as I’ve seen, bafflingly shrugged at by those who haven’t seen them (and especially him) live, has dropped two records in the past few years–first the very weird, very out there SNAXXX and now Hella Frreal (not to be confused with a track of the same name which appeared on SNAXXX).

The release (characterized as a “mini-LP”) was preceded by the release of its final track, “Clapp’d”, which immediately suggested the self-parody and humour of SNAXXX was nothing like the focus of this release. From the opening of “Benicio del Torso”, it’s clear that Mike brought it on this one–beats that don’t bring to mind anything from DTR (because many of them aren’t Beak, Cecil or Paper), and he’s on his own flow, not the kind he uses for DTR records, whether crew or guesting on someone else’s track.

“I need a rap career to get me thru the year/ I said rap wouldn’t save YOU didn’t say nuthin about me there” he adds on “Less’Talk” in reference to his famous lines in “Game Over (Go Big Or Go Home Boy)” and “Fresh New Trash“. Well, if this is what we’re getting from you now, Mike, it sure as hell deserves to save you.

Get it here (on CD) or from Bandcamp, if you prefer, if you prefer (in your choice of digital formats, including lossless).

3) Davenport Cabinet – Damned Renegades

Well, my thoughts on this one are already out there in far greater detail than would appear here, but let me just note that this band is now a band, and has solidified their sound with their lineup and it is not a thing to sneeze at.

My favourite track is definitely “Aneris”, though, so give that one a listen, but, you know, my love of the guitars on “Glass Balloon” is pretty extreme, too…

As with the next two, any one of them could easily be #1, but, for the moment, I think I’ve got it right.

Probably.

Maybe.

Get it here (CD, Vinyl, or Digital).

2) Braid – No Coast

Not long after I burnt a copy to disc from my digital download pre-order (which included the LP but not CD), this immediately shot to my #1 for the year without any question or hesitation.

A fair number of bands from Braid’s era have re-formed or even just been reignited in recent years, but Braid was largely defunct (split into pieces and various associated acts) since the release of Frame and Canvas sixteen years ago.

No Coast is ridiculously good. Bob Nanna and Chris Broach have smoothed over their vocal approaches in most cases, with a flair that gives the album a tasty–rather than plastic–sheen. It’s one of those albums that’s solid top-to-bottom, with the two trading lead vocals (and, one suspects, writing credits) pretty handily, without losing any sense of cohesion whatsoever. Their guitars are more refined and cleaner, too, another change that also doesn’t coat the sound in anything unrealistic, just grease in the gears of moving it from beginning to end (and, most likely, back again).

I’d be hard-pressed to firmly select a track, but that’s only because “This Is Not a Revolution” is the closing track and it’s especially in that particular position. Additionally, man, the guitars on “Many Enemies” are ridiculously good (though that track was released in a slightly different version on their split with Balance & Composure, anyway), as are the pretty ones used in “Light Crisis”.

Buy it here (on CD, Vinyl, or Digital, and with multiple other places to buy or stream linked directly)

1) The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

I’ve advocated for The Twilight Sad since I first saw them open for Mogwai in 2007 (and then headline shortly thereafter, with Brakes and We Were Promised Jetpacks in tow), and I’ve liked every album they’ve released up to this point. They’ve always been somber, bordering on morose, and only carried strains of the post-rock characteristics of, well, Mogwai, with too much focus on the vocals of James Graham to really fall neatly into that category.

Andy MacFarlane, as producer and guitarist, keeps the band’s recorded sound clear and cohesive, and keeps that cold, sparse sound that has stayed with them from the outset: even as they are woven together, the separate electronic noises, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all have just a touch of echo that gives the feeling of cold, dry air surrounding each.

Touches of that tremolo’d My Bloody Valentine sound creep into Andy’s guitar, but it remains an unlikely focal point for the band, electronics often (pleasantly and justifiably) arcing over the tracks as their dressing and adhesive. It’s a fascinating sound, as they manage to appear and disappear quietly throughout tracks, only coming in as fasteners or emphases as needed, never overstaying their welcome. Future single (announced, not my declaration) “I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want” exemplifies this, only dropping in peculiar warbles to punctuate and underscore the chorus.

“Last January” highlights the drum-heavy sound they’ve often favoured, with the ever-passionate Mark Devine precise and powerful behind some of James’s most well-integrated vocals and lyrics. “Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep” has one of his best vocals, and a spartan backing track that lets it hold center stage as it should, a reverb effect added to even further give it power over that backing. Ending as it does on the draining sustain and then trailing off to heartbeat drums, it’s a brilliant choice for album closer.

In no uncertain terms: this is the best album of an already excellent band’s career so far. It was apparent within moments of listening to it that this was an absolute triumph for them, so perfectly refined, passionate, organic, and laser-focused on being the best that it could be, that it could do little but succeed.

Buy it here (on CD, Vinyl, or digital).


 

And, with that, you’ve got the whole list. Give everything on it a listen–not because it will affirm my taste, but because these are sounds that should be heard and enjoyed, because these are sounds that should be found and recognized. I’m just one person doing it, and there should be more–of course, in plenty of cases, there are more, but that’s not really the issue here.

Incidentally, it was a small note last time, but J. Robbins also snuck out a digital EP called Abandoned Mansions that should also be heard. While he, Gordon Withers, and Brooks Harlan turn out some excellent acoustic versions of J.’s older tracks (Burning Airlines’s “Aviary”, Office of Future Plans’s “Lorelei” and “Salamander”, Jawbox’s “Spoiler” and “68”), it’s the new title track that highlights J.’s writing a song for the acoustic format that really shines.


 

¹I realize most people say “RDJ” and mean “Robert Downey, Jr.”, but I doubt I’ll ever not think “Richard D. James” first, especially when it’s “RDJ”, which was used amongst his fans regularly for quite a while, up to and including in the context of “The RDJ Album”

²I strongly suspect that Tim and Joseph Lacy exited after the band signed to Rise Records and has become more popular on the back of a much more melodic and catchy sound that has irritated some older fans, and, perhaps, some band members. Speculation, though. I don’t know at all for sure.

 

 

Blue Devil #1 (June, 1984)


And just like that–he’s got his own book!

When we last left our hero, he had foiled the Trickster (somewhat clumsily) using the powers imbued by his self-invented Blue Devil costume. Wayne Tarrant was making unwelcomed advances on Sharon, though convinced she was interested in Danny (“we’re just friends”, she said incredibly convincingly), Norm liked to sit behind cameras, Gopher was Danny’s biggest cheerleader, and Fred was a pretty decent security guard, so long as super-villains weren’t involved.

Now, we’re into the filming, though–Marla Bloom (oh, right–she does have a last name, incidentally) is clearly directing, even if she’s “just” the producer, as Danny cackles and chews scenery evil-ly. It’s Gopher who ruins the shot, but free time means Wayne, in one of the more misinformed romantic attempts of the bd1ftworld, leads Sharon to an abandoned temple in their on-location shoot. While Tarrant has some second thoughts, Sharon seems to have a flashback to preschool and cannot resist putting an object into a whole shaped like it, unwittingly releasing the demon Nebiros.
bd1ob

Because no one knows how to contact the JLA or Doctor Fate, Danny’s left to hesitantly pursue heroics again, at the behest of Marla’s quick-thinking insistence. Nebiros is befuddled by this tiny demon attacking him, and attempts to sap away his occult powers with a blast that leaves Danny down for the count (well, that was a short run, I guess). Norm takes up the heroics after the fall (he’s not just going to sit behind cameras forever, hooray!), and drives a bulldozer into the demon, because that’s what you do in these sorts of situations.

Unsurprisingly, construction equipment is not the secret weakness of demons, but this does give Danny a chance to stand up (oh! it will last more than one issue! hooray!) and fight back again. Wayne fights to overcome his cowardice (it’s a giant demon, to be fair, though), and they eventually all work together to force the demon back from whence it came. And no one’s even left holding a little girl’s arm attached to nothing and gibbering their way into a mental hospital!

Marla, of course, has kept the cameras rolling and is completely cogent, inspite of the madness-inspiring events of the day, and is immediately re-writing the plot to make the Blue Devil a misunderstood hero. Oh, Marla.

bd1hn

Then again–Danny has discovered (after Marla notices his costume is so amazing it sweats!) that he’s trapped in the Blue Devil costume! Gosh, guys, I guess they were right that we figured everything wrong after that preview story! I mean, assuming you knew nothing about this 30 year old character, anyway. Which is actually not the most unsafe bet. Bet this will make his crush on Sharon interesting, huh?

Cohn and Mishkin worked in a good bit of fun for a book intended to not be about angst (ever–so sayeth editor Alan Gold on the final page’s “Hey, we don’t have a letters page, yet” letter page), and Paris keeps it breezy and fun, but with some cool designs and pencils (I really, really love how he’ draw’s Danny’s suit, I can’t lie).

Sadly, Danny’s sideburns are scaled back significantly. Budget cuts, I guess.
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Bonus! Includes a full-page ad for some character called Blue Devil, who’s going to have a pull-out preview in Fury of Firestorm #24! Awes–wait…

Oh well. I guess you might not have been picking up Fury of Firestorm when you grabbed this #1, or something.

My Own 2014 Top 20 of Music (#20-11)

I’ve never successfully written about a year’s choices in any kind of meaningful fashion, and the last time I tried, I got through about #10-#7 (and then I hit Carcass’s Surgical Steel, and writing about metal in the way I write about music is not an easy thing to do, for some reason). However, some kind soul happened to “like” the comment in the one place I had my 20 albums for the year, bringing it right back up and out of the fog of a billion comments out there—and one of my friends took the trouble to rate concerts he went to, so I thought, perhaps I’d give it a go here.

It’s not that I have the best Top 20, or the weirdest, or the most eccentric, obscure, or elite—no, it’s more that I have “my” Top 20, and that makes it whatever peculiar thing it is. Probably not the most (or even least) of any adjective, other than “mine”. You can see what I drew from here.

So, without further ado:

20) Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

Dean Wareham is most “famous” (it’s often surprising to me the blank looks I get, but, then, I guess I don’t really run in “indie rock” circles much, even when I run in circles that deal in independent music) for Galaxie 500 and Luna, and Luna’s Rendezvous is probably in my all-time top 10 somewhere, but after Luna was “pared back” to Dean and his wife Britta Phillips (as Dean and Britta, of course), he cut back even further.

Well, on the name. Britta still plays on the record (and sings a bit), and tours and plays with him, too (as I saw at the beginning of the year, with people who mostly had ten plus years on me). If you know Galaxie 500 or Luna, the style won’t be too surprising, though of course it leans toward the latter–and even moreso toward, of course, the Dean and Britta stuff. It’s laidback as all get-out, and lush. It’s delicate and fragile with Dean’s notoriously Lou Reed-esque vocals (think VU, not solo, but even then it’s influence more than imitation or duplicate).

The two covers above represent the two media it was released on–the left is the CD cover, and the right is the (transparent yellow) vinyl cover. My favourite track is easily “Holding Pattern”. A bit more uptempo for the record, but has a nice feel for his unusual lyrics and wonderfully tasty guitar.

Get it here (on Vinyl, CD, or Digital).

19) Die Nerven – Fun

Almost completely randomly discovered (blame Amphetamine Reptile), Die Nerven are a dark, hardcore-tinged post-punk in the vein that leans toward the sharp corners and points of Joy Division, with an overall sound a bit closer to lesser-known talents like Josef K (do yourself a favour and check those guys out).

The relentless pounding thump of “Eine Minute Schweben” (yes, they’re a German band that sings in German, if that wasn’t clear) that comes out in bass and drums simple and straightforward is just a brilliant move. Guitars that hit that pinched keen that post-punk bands of this spartan style are so fond of turn it around a slightly unexpected corner if this is your first time with the band, without losing the ridiculous power that intro gives it. Vocals that careen between near-spoken and near-shouted complete the image.

Yeah, still my key track. Sure, it’s lazy. What of it?

[The LP is out of print again, so is the CD. Stream it on Bandcamp, and you can buy it digitally or in import-priced physical formats from the usual suspects]

18) Hew Time – Hew Time

I suppose you might instead credit this to Crover/Plummer/Willis–justifiably–but I hate dealing with three names (not aligned into a band name, a la CSNY) in terms of alphabetization, so, they’re stuck with this from me.

My distaste for drum solos is not a secret–in spite of the fact that I’ve developed a pretty strong love of drums and rhythm sections in recent years, used properly–so, on the surface, an all-drums, all-the-time record sounds like a terrible idea. But the pedigree here isn’t toward the kind of wankery that leaves me cold in classic and prog rock drummers (I still hate you, section of In the Court of the Crimson King), it’s that of Dale Crover (Melvins, Slayer, Fantômas, pre-Grohl Nirvana), Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Black Heart Procession, The Shins, Cold War Kids), and Coady Willis (The Murder City Devils, Dead Low Tide, Big Business).

What does that mean? Well, Plummer said he started from Max Roach’s M’Boom as an influence, so we’re sort of off near jazz drumming. Kind of. But it’s jazz drumming as filtered through backgrounds in indie rock, punk, and metal. That isn’t to say it gets really metal-y (it’s hardly laden with double-kick), or that it eschews non-kit percussion (there’s a fair bit of stuff hiding in here, in fact), but it keeps the thing interesting, which is the cardinal sin of percussion-only stuff I distaste–being boring as hell.

The guys managed to make an all-percussion album really interesting to me, and that takes something. Key track: “Bell Window”.

Get it here (on Vinyl or Digital).

17) Tobacco – Ultima II Massage

Bit of a leap here, genre-wise. Tobacco was one of the driving forces behind Black Moth Super Rainbow, but kept his grimiest, dirtiest sounds for his solo work as Tobacco. Maniac Meat was my entry point, so I was in time to be one of the hundred people who has a completely unique copy of this sucker on vinyl.

Tom Fec’s approach to synth-y beats is grungy and weird, but this was a pretty great realization of it all. It builds more on his (yeah, BMSR is kinda solo now) last BMSR record than it does on Maniac Meat, but the differentiation that kept BMSR from being “Isn’t this a Tobacco record in all senses, even how it sounds?” keeps these two apart. The first video released (for opener “Streaker”) is filthy enough to get an NSFW marker in most places (even if, admittedly, it’s casual frontal nudity, not anything realistically troublesome–it’s not really even all that sexual).

It might be lazy again, but the former split track (with Black Bananas) “Lipstick Destroyer” is my selection. Complete with another bizarre fan-made video that features weird found footate. Plenty recognizable, if the name “Booji Boy” means anything to you…

Get it here (on CD, Vinyl, Digital, or Cassette–no shit).

16) John Howie, Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff – Everything Except Goodbye

I’ve been following Mr. Howie since I saw him perform in the Borders I worked in a lifetime ago with his previous band, the Two Dollar Pistols. At this point, I think the fact that I listen to an explicitly, unquestionably country band is the one that most surprises people, even those who’ve known me for a long time. I can’t tell you what it is exactly–the cutting, clever but direct lyrics that aren’t exactly a surprising tone for country music (quite a bit of heartache spoken here¹) have often struck a nerve with me (I know thing or two about heartbreak and tears). The music is not “borderline” or anything–the first few bars and anyone even remotely familiar with the genre can call it out, but it’s more old school country with turns from modern music in general than it is modern pop country.

Maybe it’s that–the disaffection for what is most oft-called country in this day and age (and for the past 20 years or so) without some willful leap away from it or into another genre. Whatever the case, his stuff never fails to impress, and the latest record was no exception.

“Nobody Moves, Nobody Gets Hurt” is my selection–turning that expression into what he does is clever enough, that it fits with the tropes of country as a phrase even before that just makes it all the more delicious.

Get it here (on CD) or from Bandcamp, if you prefer (in your choice of digital formats, including lossless).

15) Solids – Blame Confusion

I used to get a lot more direct record recommendations via overhead playing when I lived in the Triangle, but my periodic conversations with Chris out at Dead Wax in Lenoir do go into “Check this one out!” territory sometimes, and this was one of those (another will show later, actually).

I waited a long time to listen to it for stupid reasons (mostly amounting to wanting to have time to just sit with the turntable that just were not coming around), but pretty much regretted that fact instantly when I got around to it.

They’re only a duo (they even “cheat” at bass–it’s a pedal effect) and come out with a noisy wash of sound that sounds like it fell out of the 90s or early 00s (think My Bloody Valentine and descendants), but feels fresh despite that. They remind me, overall, of the less weird, less electronic bits of Parts & Labor (fine company to find yourself in!)–leaning toward BJ’s solo stuff as “Shooting Spires”, but a bit more organic than his usually was. They sound a lot more like a full band than you might expect, and they’re actually quite creative as the songs go. By “Off White”, it becomes clear that the goal is not just noisy, sweet little punk tracks, but something taking a more unique shape out of the noise.

Which makes the album cover choice kind of brilliant–I’ve been good at those since I was a kid, mind, and it’s actually not that unique an image.²

Get it here (CD, Vinyl, or Digital). Stream it on Bandcamp.

14) Sims – Field Notes

My love of all things Doomtree, despite my distance from Minnesota, could only inspire hysterical laughter, if anything, if termed a “secret”. Every release is pre-ordered, every show in the state is attended (or close to it, at least?).

Things have a been a bit odd since their crew album, No Kings, in 2011. Dessa’s spun off into less rap and more singing for her solo work (which made for her Parts of Speech being my unquestionable top album last year), P.O.S. started the trend of moving away from Beak and Paper Tiger as producers (or Cecil, or Stef himself), and no one’s really been breaking the trend.

Sims’s last record was co-credited to Lazerbeak, so, the fact that this one contains zero tracks produced by him (most are by Cecil) is a huge turn of its own, but the first track alone makes clear that this release is not the Sims of old. His flow has shifted, and it’s most present on opener “L’Audace” (which, at the Blowout at the end of the year he called “the hardest part of his night”, before starting up the most unusual of verses). By the second track–“Sims Jong Il”–we’re off in wildly unexpected, almost unrecognizable territory.

Get it here (on CD) or from Bandcamp, if you prefer, if you prefer (in your choice of digital formats, including lossless).

13) Survival Knife – Loose Power

I mentioned that Dead Wax brought me to a few records this year? Well, here’s that other big one.

Easy in: Justin Trosper fronted Unwound, and Brandt Sandeno played drums for ’em. That ought to be enough, but maybe it isn’t for you. Fair enough.

Muscle-y post-hardcore that sounds like a new band and not a revival or continuation–though I love that stuff, it’s good to keep fresh strains, too. Does that thing post-hardcore does so well: the instruments are layered and doing their own things to create a sum-of-parts styled whole that coalesces only at the right moments. They ooze exactly what they titled their own album: a loose power–a kind of threat, but an ease in it, the feeling that they could utterly destroy you (musically, of course) but are keeping it loose in service of the songs.

Indeed, the title track exemplifies this.

Get it here (CD, Vinyl, or Digital).

12) Mogwai – Rave Tapes

Ah, Mogwai. They’ve become relative stalwarts, in their way–not quite AC/DC or Bolt Thrower-type stalwarts (ie, reliably good’n’familiar), but consistently around, releasing and making it count. I probably shouldn’t take it for granted, admittedly.

They’ve been leaning into electronic sounds for over a decade, but they’ve only gotten further and further into it. You won’t find a “Glasgow Mega-Snake” or a “Batcat” on this record–the closest thing is the heavily electronic track that marks my favourite for the record: “Remurdered”. It’s all about the keys and Martin Bulloch on that one–a big shift away for a band known in the past for their absurdly loud guitars (yes, they are absurdly loud live, it’s not an exaggeration).

Interestingly, otherwise, they feel a lot more like the band I grew to love them as than the sounds they’d wandered into in the mid 00s or so, which is nothing sad at all, though the bizarrely funny vocal they sampled for “Repelish” is almost Negativland-like, though the backing they give it is just a great time.

Buy it here (on CD, Vinyl, or Digital).

11) Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

When I went to see Dessa early last year, her listed opener was frequent collaborator Aby Wolf, but since I was in Chapel Hill, local Durham-ites got in via their relatively new group Sylvan Esso. They made quite an impression on me and the friend I saw the show with. Composed of Mountain Man-er Amelia Meath and Megafaun-er Nick Sanborn, it’s an indie-fied mix of pop vocals and unusually produced beats. It was a good match for the show, and I was not surprised to see them catch on rapidly–even if I was surprised at the speed with which they dropped a record and hit a bunch of end of year lists like my own.

Still, the strength of a track like “Play It Right” (re-created from an a cappella  Mountain Man track of the same name)–in terms of catchiness and unique qualities–is pretty undeniable. Amelia’s vocal was already written perfectly and beautifully, but Nick gives just the right counterpoint to really cut it into the pieces that highlight it so excellently.

(It’s something to see them perform, too, and just clearly feel that track!)

Buy it here (on CD or Vinyl).


 

Stay tuned for the next ten. Sorry if you think any of these should’ve been up there, too! It was not an easy list to whittle down or position. I was tweaking it even as I wrote each, for all that I’ve had the list written for a while.

¹Bonus points if you follow that sort-of country reference, incidentally. Though

²It’s a raised hand, if you’re wondering. If it were “off-white” itself (instead of the weird “static” of 3d image-thing), it might be mistaken for a Spiritualized cover, really.

 

Honourable mention to J. Robbins for his Abandoned Mansions acoustic EP.

 

The Fury of Firestorm #24

Firestorm_Vol_2_24“What’s this tomfoolery?!” you declare loudly, “I came here to read about an Irishman trapped in a special effects movie costume, not nuclear powered people with strange split personalities!”

Fear not, dear reader. This is actually the first appearance of Daniel Patrick Cassidy, aka Blue Devil. If you were to look closer (which I’m sure you did!) you’d find that this is not that subtle–there’s a pull-out feature on him here, which predates his own series. Call this a soft-launch–whether you mean my writing, or the character, or his book. Just, you know, don’t call it a soft-launch for Firestorm, because that would be weird, since he’s in his second volume here, and two years into it, at that.

We’re not going to talk about the Firestorm story, because this is about Mr. Cassidy.realcover

Also, because I didn’t read it, so there’s that.

The “real” cover of this pull-out issue is over there on the right¹.

Coming a good few years after the infamous “D.C. Implosion” (D.C. marketed their own “Explosion”, then cancelled a crapload of the books they created–including, incidentally, the original Firestorm, which ended up lasting a whopping 5 issues), this book seems in line with the intentions D.C. had that I read about in a 1980 Comics Journal–more pages for the price (75¢ at this time, in–hey, the month I was born!). No extra charge for the extras, just more story.

The story opens with a clever side-by-side set of panels of some blonde guy (we’ll find out!) and some kid (later named Gopher–c’mon, guys, the Muppets already did this…) reading the latest “Stuntman” magazine, about Daniel Patrick Cassidy’s fantastic “Blue Devil” suit–all its secret powers for the film Dan is working on have leaked. Some Blonde Guy wants this suit for himself, and Gopher’s super excited, but Dan shrugs, since only he knows how his super-sweet suit works. Don’t forget to also note Dan’s similarly super-sweet sideburns (you won’t be seeing much of them, I believe).

split

Now we get a sneak preview of all of Dan’s supporting cast from the movie he’s working on. Well, starring cast, because he’s a stuntman, not a star, so he’s the supporting cast. Or less, I guess. Look–forget it.

Here’s who we’ve got:

  • Marla – The producer of this whole escapade (the fictional movie, not the comic book. This isn’t Ambush Bug.) Or maybe she’s the director. Or both? It’s a b-movie about a blue devil-man in a weird v-shaped leotard, after all.
  • Wayne Tarrant – The rather diva-ish star of this escapade (see note above). Suffers foot-in-mouth disease and crumbling vanity. He’s convinced Sharon is after Dan, but is interested himself.
  • Sharon – The other star, who insists on rocking a purple headband to keep her short bangs out of her…forehead? I don’t know. They’re really not very long. She has a policy against dating coworkers, especially ones who casually throw out frustrated insults without thinking.
  • Norm – He runs the cameras. That’s about it for now. Maybe forever, even.
  • Fred Klein – The security guard of Vernor Brothers Studios (my, so subtle) who has never failed to keep people out! Until, of course Some Blonde Guy appears–and Fred calls him “Mr. Jesse”–waitaminit!

Yes, if you know your D.C. c-list villains: it’s James Jesse (more subtlety!) a Flash rogue alternately known as–The Trickster!

And so, Dan’s left to fend off the Trickster’s attempt to steal his super-powered suit, but James mistakenly heads for Wayne instead, who is “ooga booga-ing” (seriously) his way through Dan’s role in an unpowered mock-up version of the suit and clearly all wrong-place-wrong-time now. Of course, Dan’s a tech-wiz, and we’re looking at a weirdo Iron Man, only…

oopsieI love that Dan’s “Oh shoooooot” is a sound effect.

 It’s stuntman vs. stuntman (yes, that’s why Fred knew James), but Dan manages to mostly pull it off, and we have our nice, 16-page intro to the world of Blue Devil, courtesy of creators Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Paris Cullins, and Pablo Marcos. Clearly, a sense of fun is intended here, considering even Dan screws up in an entertaining way. There’s already a surprising amount of relationship establishment for the supporting cast, but we’ll see all that play out later on.

Oh, and we close with this great page-size preview that nearly cackles maniacally with the Cohn/Mishkin claim that they are BTO and you are their audience (who ain’t seen nothin’ yet)²:

preview


¹Fair warning: I’m not going to take the time trying to find scans for the moment. These are photos of my own real-life copies of the books! Whee! Perspective distortions, ahoy!

²If you read this and are pedantic, eagle-eyed, and not familiar with comics: the publish date for this (and also Blue Devil #1) is in June. However, publish dates are usually a few months past the time they hit actual racks, so the “On Sale April 26th!” isn’t as crazy as it looks.

A Bit of a Silly Project

InWP_20150103_027 the interest of something that I might be able to maintain regularly, I’m going to follow the lead of perhaps the only blog I follow with anything remotely resembling regularity: Superman 86-99.

I’m not going to be so amibitious as Mr. Yezpitelok, though—I’m going to address a character I’ve developed a recent fascination with, whose entire book ran for a whopping 32 issues. I’d ask you to guess who I mean, but, well—the picture’s right there. Of course, you either know who that is, or you don’t—it’s not labeled, at least.

I may delve into other things sporadically, but hopefully I can stick pretty close to something for 32 entries (I’ve done that much in the past, after all!).