Parts & Labor have changed t heir style over the years going from noisemakers who have a melody to being melodious noisemakers. This album is one of their earlier releases when noise dominated. Right from the opening you know the album is going to be a challenge. The first song has pounding drums (electronics that sound like bagpipes) and heavy distorted shouty vocals. By the end of the songs there is squealing feedback, punk speed drums and screaming distorted vocals (complete with space sound effects). It’s an aggressive opening for sure. Song two opens with a long low rumbling and then “Drastic Measures” proves to be another fast-paced song.
“A Pleasant Stay” is 5 minutes long (most of the rest of the album’s songs are about 3 minutes). It continues in this fast framework, although it has a bit more open moments of just drums or just vocals. The way the band plays with feedback in the last minute or so of the song very cool.
“New Buildings” has a hardcore beat with a guitar part that sounds sped up. “Death” is a thumping song (the drums are very loud on this disc), while “Timeline” is two minutes of squealing guitars. “Stay Afraid” has a false start (although who knows why–how do these guys know if the feedback sounds are what they wanted anyhow?). The song ends with 30 seconds of sheer noise). The album ends with the 5 minute “Changing of the Guard” a song not unlike the rest of the album–noisy with loud drumming and more noise.
The album is certainly challenging, it’s abrasive and off putting, but there;s surprising pleasures and melodies amidst the chaos. Indeed, after a listen or two you start to really look forward to the hooks. If you like this sort of thing, this album s a joy. It’s also quite brief, so it never overstays its welcome.
[READ: April 15, 2011] McSweeney’s #13
I have been looking forward to reading this issue for quite some time. Indeed, as soon as I received it I wanted to put aside time for it. It only took eight years. For this is the fabled comics issue. Or as the cover puts it: Included with this paper: a free 264 page hardcover. Because the cover is a fold-out poster–a gorgeous broadside done by Chris Ware called “God.” And as with all Chris Ware stories, this is about life, the universe and everything. On the flip side of the (seriously, really beautiful with gold foil and everything) Ware comic are the contributors’ list and a large drawing that is credited to LHOOQ which is the name of Marcel Duchamp’s art piece in which he put a mustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s a kind of composite of the history of famous faces in art all done in a series of concentric squares. It’s quite cool.
So, yes, this issue is all about comics. There are a couple of essays, a couple of biographical sketches by Ware of artists that I assume many people don’t know and there’s a few unpublished pieces by famous mainstream artists. But the bulk of the book is comprised of underground (and some who are not so underground anymore) artists showing of their goods. It’s amazing how divergent the styles are for subject matter that is (for the most part) pretty similar: woe is me! Angst fills these pages. Whether it is the biographical angst of famous artists by Brunetti or the angst of not getting the girl (most of the others) or the angst of life (the remaining ones), there’s not a lot of joy here. Although there is a lot of humor. A couple of these comics made it into the Best American Comics 2006.
There’s no letters this issue, which makes sense as the whole thing is Chris Ware’s baby. But there are two special tiny books that fit nearly into the fold that the oversized cover makes. There’s also two introductions. One by Ira Glass (and yes I’d rather hear him say it but what can you do). And the other by Ware. Ware has advocated for underground comics forever and it’s cool that he has a forum for his ideas here. I’m not sure I’ve ever read prose from him before.
Talks about relating to Peanuts as a kid and how Spiderman evinced that same loneliness under the superheroism.
Ware talks about comics, as he does so well. This essay includes the comic “Pinnacle of Civilization” a sort of history of drawing.
IVAN BRUNETTI-“P. Mondrian,” “Erik Satie Compositeur de Musique” “S. Kierkegaard”
Brunetti makes little biographies of depressed artists.
ROBERT CRUMB-“The Unbearable Tediousness of Being”
It’s amazing how much mileage Crumb gets out of writing about depressed losers. This one is very good as well, about a date that goes very badly–for both parties.
DANIEL CLOWES-“The Darlington Sundays”
I love Clowes’s style–so clean and effortless looking. This appears to be an excerpt from a longer piece about a family that had moved from Pittsburgh to the ‘burbs and the weirdness that goes on there.
RODOLPHE TÖPFFER-“Obadiah Oldbuck”
This is a brief biographical sketch of Töpffer (by Ware) who is credited with “inventing” comics. It includes a selection from Obadiah Oldbuck (circa 1842) who fails (disastrously) to woo a woman.
JOHN McLENAN-“Noodle’s Attempts at Suicide”
Sensing a theme here? This comic dates from 1859 and id very slapstick. I love that there are so many of these old comics in the book–things I’ve certainly never heard of. And it’s fascinating that the themes are so similar.
BUD FISCHER-“Mutt & Jeff”
An example of Mutt & Jeff from 1922 with some details about its publication and the way comics syndication was dealt with then.
JOHN UPDIKE-“Cartoon Magic”
Updike writes about how he loved comics as a kid and how he studied them and drew them in great detail. He worked on the Harvard Lampoon as an artist (along with Fred Gwynne–Herman Munster!). It also includes several drawing by Updike–and he is very good!
MILT GROSS-“I Won’t Say a Word About William Faulkner’s “The Wild Palms””
Gross makes one page wordless summaries of novels. I don’t know the story so I don’t get all the nuances of the drawing but I do get the sense of the story.
CHARLES M. SCHWAB-“To Our Comic Artists”
An article from 1923 which tried to sell the appeal of comics to newspapers.
KAZ-“12 Samples of Underworld Comedy”
Kaz seems to appropriate famous comic characters for his comics–that’s clearly a distorted Popeye in a number of scenes and what looks like Felix the cat, but he updates them with modern (and inappropriate) concerns. I wish a few of the comics had some comments about them–I know that that would spoil the mystery of the artists, but it would be nice to know some of the story behind them.
F.W. SEWARD-“Great Health Value of Comic Strips”
This is a 1925 article convincing all and sundry about the benefits of laughing–like at the comics he publishes.
MARK NEWGARDEN-“The Little Nun” & “We All Die Aloe”
“The Little Nun” is a funny, wordless comic in which something bad happens and the nun is there to pray for the victim (even if she makes him the victim herself). The final panel of the nun praying is always a little snarky. “We All Die Alone” is a collection of “jokes” which are not funny but are angsty.
Pupshaw is about a buck-toothed cat and a series of surreal creatures. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.
ARCHER PREWITTT-“Sof’ Boy”
Sof’ Boy is a series of cartoons about Sof’ Boy (a kind of white marshmallowy creature) and his pals Flitty (a fly) and Pidgy (a pigeon) in which they never fail to disappoint him, but he remains happy.
LYNDA BARRY-“Two Questions”
Barry is angry that two questions Is This Good? Does This Suck? took over he love of drawing for so long. Now she doesn’t care about those questions any more and draws from her heart.
CHARLES SCHULZ’S Preliminary Drawings
Some drawing from the late 90s show Schultz doing sketches for his comics. It’s a cool insight into the master.
CHRIS WARE-“We’ll Sleep in My Old Room”
I’ve read this somewhere before–a sad tale (really, from Ware?) of a bad relationship and its after effects. His stuff is so depressing but so good.
TIM SAMUELSON-“George Herriman’s Last Drawings”
Unfinished comics from the creator of Krazy Kat circa 1944, it’s another cool insight into an artist.
PHILIP GUSTON: A Cartoonist’s Appreciation (by Chris Ware)
Guston was painter who tried to imagine what you looked like if you had no mirror– if you could base your own visage on the way you perceive the world. His style influences cartoonists (and Ware), although he never did comics himself.
MARK BEYER-“Amy and Jordan”
A series of dark comics about the horrible state of the world.
GARY PANTER-“The Nightmare Studio”
A look at Gary Panter’s nightmare factory. All done in blacks and blues–very cool.
CHARLES BURNS-“Black Hole” & “1963 Cat Club”
I loved Black Hole, this is an excerpt. The “1963 Cat Club” is a drawing he did when he was 7 and it shows how much detail he would later include in his art (although it looks nothing like his later style)
GLEN DAVID GOLD-“… nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!”
A story about Gold’s dorky classmate who claimed to have a mint edition of Action#1–which would fetch millions. It was destroyed by another classmate, but was ultimately proven to have been a reprint (whether that makes it better or worse is hard to say).
RICHARD SALA-“Strange Question”
A nightmare scene in which our heroine actually comes out ahead!
MALACHI B. COHEN-“Independent Comic Book Publishers of the Pre-Independent Era. Number 113 in a Continuing Series”
The story of Michael Chabon and his friends trying to start their own comics publishing company when they were kids. I was called Nova Comics and they created their own line of heroes. But it never went anywhere. I assume this is true (although I can’t imagine he has 113 such stories).
ART SPIEGELMAN-“In the Shadow of No Towers”
Excerpts from Spiegelman’s book. I have the book in my basement but have never had the gumption to read it. Seeing these excerpts makes me want to now though. It’ a series of vignettes about life after 9/11, and I think enough time has passed for me to read this.
KIM DEITCH-“Ready to Die”
This was a powerful story. Deitch met a man on Death Row who was found guilty of killing several people in an evening of mayhem. He gets to know the man and his family as well as family members of the victims. It’s wonderful reporting, made even more powerful by Deitch’s style.
JOE SACCO-“The Fixer (excerpt one and two)”
A brief look at life in Serbia and Sarajevo. The excerpts just aren’t long enough though, as the story was very good and I wanted more.
DAVID COLLIER-“Moving to Hamilton”
Life outside Ontario. This was the hardest comic for me to read–small print and an oblique cursive font really resisted reading. The story was interesting though.
Chester Brown-“The Death of Thomas Scott”
An excerpt from a comic biography of Louis Reil. I really liked this–it was informative and the style was very simple but effective.
BEN KATCHOR-“Excerpts from the series Hotel & Farm”
The Filtourian Hotel stages fire every day for the excitement of those who know about it and the concern of those who do not.
I love this series of overhead shots of a scene as it pushes in or pulls back from the action from detail to global view. They are very cool and I’d like to see more.
JEFFREY BROWN-“I’m Not Your Girlfriend, Jeffrey”
Brown has a very rough style that looks simple but is probably not. It’s a sort of diary of the misery of not getting the girl (like so many other comics here). And it’s also amusing.
Since this is called Diary I assume it is a diary–it has a very informal style although it looks very polished. Doucet recounts several days which culminate in a game of Monopoly with friends.
‘DEBBIE DRESCHLER-“The Dead of Winter”
I loved the play on words in the title which is about having an abortion. It’s a dark and powerful story.
CHIP KIDD-“Our Blood was Blue and Yellow”
Chip Kidd talks about growing up with action figures and comics. How he and his friend would spend hours talking about this and that figure. Until his friend’s father embarrassed them both and ultimately killed the friendship.
JOE MATT-“Toronto, Ontario, Canada”
Another portrayal of a loser–this one is a man who endlessly looks at porn but pledges to stop. It’s amazing how many of these artists are from Canada.
SETH-“A Perplexing Excerpt from Clyde Fans”
Seth is also from Canada. I have heard great things about him and I want to get more f his stuff. This excerpt was cool but unsatisfying since it was just an excerpt. But I love his very polished style and would love to read this whole book.
GILBERT AND JAIME HERNANDEZ-“Julio’s Day” & “Locas” & “La Blanca”
The Hernandez’ created Love and Rockets and these pieces are from it (the band stole their name from the comic, by the way). Gilbert’s style is a little less clean, little more gritty. While Jaime seems to specialize in perfectly polished pictures and large breasted women. There are several short stories in here. The one about the boy losing his love fr school was very very sad to me.
ADRIAN TOMINE-“from Optic Nerve No. 9”
I love Optic Nerve. In this one an Asian girl confronts her boyfriend about his apparent desire for white women. There’s also an amusing sequence where he pretends to be the boyfriend of a Korean lesbian. The go to meet her parents because even a Japanese boy is better than her being a lesbian.
DAVID HEATLEY-Portrait of My Dad
This is a really funny series of sketches about Healey’s dad and his bizarro dad-like behaviors. I laughed harder at these pieces than I imagined I would.
The two supplementary comics that came tucked into the cover:
JOHN PORCELLINO-“King-Cat: Comics ad Stories”
A series of simple (almost one line drawings) comics about a man’s neighborhood and the bird that lives there. A melancholy little book.
RON REGE-“She Sometimes Switched”
The story of a would be suicide bomber who changed her mind upon seeing the children and innocents who would die by her bomb. The whole story is a conversation between her and who I assume is the devil. Given how cartoony it looks, it’s quite powerful.
This was a great issue of McSweeney’s. To bring together the history of comics along with contemporary greats and a few (I assume) unknowns. It’s a wonderful survey of the state of comics and how hard these men and women work for such little reward.
For ease of searching, I include: Rodolphe Topffer