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Archive for the ‘Graphic Novel’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“Ma Vie en Rose” (2019).

Lucy Dacus has been on a roll lately.  Her album Historian is fantastic.  She has put on some amazing live shows (I’ll be seeing her again in March), she did some amazing work as 1/3 of boygenius and now she has made a delightful version of “Ma Vie en Rose.”

The original is swooning and slow, allowing for the words to linger and tickle every inch of the listener’s ear.  But sometimes love isn’t slow and languorous.  Sometime, it hits you hard and runs fast with your heart.

So Lucy has recorded a version with this tempo in mind.  She says

I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love.

Musically the song is pulsing beat and piano–electric guitar and bass and it is just relentlessly chipper.

She sings the song first in French and then in English in her gorgeous quiet(ish) voice in under 3 minutes–that’s a minute faster than the original which is only in French.

And she released it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

[READ: February 11, 2019] The City on the Other Side

The book begins on the other side of the veil that separates our world from the fairie realm.  It is a very thin but very powerful veil and virtually no one can cross it.

This is a story of fairies and humans.  And how our worlds impact one another.  When we build buildings, the fairies feel the digging and when the fairies had a war, it caused earthquakes,   The massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906?  That was caused by a massive fairie war.  That fairie war started when the Seelie (the creatures who bless brightness–birds, ferns, humans) and the Unseelie (who celebrate darkness-worms, rotting logs etc) couldn’t agree on a ruler.  They are expected to rule the underworld in equal parts–six months at a time.  But recently there had been trouble. The leader of the Unseelie didn’t like the way the Seelie seemed to be taking over (because humans were becoming so powerful) so he captured the Seelie leader’s daughter and waged war.

Back on earth we meet a young girl, Isabelle.  She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who wishes her to be perfect–clean, respectful, and quiet.  In the summertime, she is shunted off to her father–an artist who is more interested in his work than his daughter.  But at least she can relax and play and get dirty.  It is while she is here that she sees a Seelie with a magical necklace. The Seelie is supposed to get that necklace to the kidnapped daughter of the Seelie leader.  But he has been wounded.  Since Isabelle is allowed to cross dimensions he pleads with her to help the Seelie.

While heading into the city with a helpful talking mushroom named Button, Isabelle’s necklace is stolen by…another human?  This young boy is shocked to discover that she is a human.  When he tells his story they agree to work together.

It turns out that the earthquake killed his parents and his discovered a rift between the worlds when the ground opened up.  He was rescued by the now-missing Seelie daughter which granted him the power to cross the veil. But no one has seen the daughter for many years so he–who is not welcomed in Fairlieland and has nothing waiting for him in human land–has become a simple thief.

The thief knows his way around the fairie world and has made something of a name for himself.  But that also means that Unseelie warriors are aware of what he does and where he goes.

How will these two humans find a princess in the fairie realm?  And will they ever even want to go back home?

This story was a little to fast for my liking–everything seems to be very truncated.  Maybe that’s because it’s a children’s book?  And while I am glad that it wasn’t stretched into two books, it just felt like it took on a lot and resolved it all really fast.

I also didn’t love the artwork.  I really didn’t like the fairie characters at all–they seemed hastily drawn and I didn’t really like the main characters all that much either.  The whole book felt like it was done very quickly.

Having said that, it’s a good introduction for kids to know about the Seelie and fairie stories–there are so many they can explore later on.  I did like how the final pages with Button the mushroom (my favorite character) were informative both about the story process and the history of San Francisco and the earthquake.

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SOUNDTRACK: LAU NOAH-Tiny Desk Concert #823 (February 11, 2019).

Lua Noah is a Spanish singer/guitarist with a fascinating story.  She sings mostly in Spanish (with subtitles!).

Lau Noah’s journey as a songwriter and guitarist occurred by happenstance. She was born in Reus, Spain barely a few hours drive from Barcelona. She speaks and now sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew. She’d played piano growing up (never guitar) and left Spain for New York City five years ago while in her late teens.

On a visit to Montreal in 2016, Lau hoped to go to a Patrick Watson concert with friends. But the performance sold out and she was left alone in an apartment while her friends went to the show. Then a snowstorm ensued. The apartment had two guitars and, with nothing else to do, she picked one up and began to play. She wrote her first song, “Pequitas,” which means “Little Freckles.”

Her songs are quite short.  “El Jardinero (The Gardener)” is barely 2 minutes long.  She plays complex chords but not in an elaborate way–just making lovely sounds in beautiful patterns.  The speed of her singing is somewhat at odds with the gentle playing, but it all works, as if she needs to get these passionate words out.

There’s a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool. As melodies pour from the strings, she sings these words in Spanish: “On the verge of the soul, there is a red petal, attached to the skins of mortals.” A few lines later in the song she continues, “a fragile petal that drinks the water of the most cruel stories: children who have never heard a fairytale, lovers who love, dressed in regret.” This is the sort of poetic tale that captured my heart amongst the thousands of entries I watched during the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Her song she submitted for the contest is called “La Realidad.”

I love the way in “La Realidad (The Reality)” she returns to a part where she plays a low note that rises and falls while everything else stays the same as she sings.

She says thats she is from Catalonia and was always afraid to sing in Catalan, so she sang mostly in English.  She is very happy to sing the next song “L’Adéu (The Goodbye)” in Catalan.  It has a beautiful melody and sounds very differrent from the other two songs.

She re-tunes her guitar for “La Belleza (The Beauty)” which has a very different fingerpicking style–faster and a bit more intense.  The melody rises and falls both from her fingers and from her voice.  It’s a mesmerizing song.

Before she played her final song, “Red Bird,” (in English) she quoted Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from his novel Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies,” Lau said, reading from her notes. “Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams is madness. And maddest of all: to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

She sounds just as lovely singing in English as she does in her other languages.

[READ: February 11, 2019] One Day a Dot

I don’t normally post about children’s picture books.  But this one has two things going for it.  It’s published by First Second and it’s pretty awesome.

This is, as the cover says, “the story of you, the universe, and everything.”  All in 40 pages.

It begins: One day a dot appeared.  And it was so excited to be there that it burst.

And that is the children’s version explanation of the big bang. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Float Along-Fill Your Lungs (2013).

In 2013, KGATLW released a Western narrative record and this record which opens with a 16 minute psychedelic epic called “Head On/Pill.”  It’s got everything, including a sitar.

There’s a cool, simple riff that lends itself to some groovy jamming.  After 3 and a half minutes the song takes off in a rocking/psychedelic avalanche of sounds.  Around five minutes it settles into a two note sing/play along.  By 7 and a half the sitar is back and the two-note melody has expanded somewhat.  By ten minutes its just bass and drums before the band starts to rebuild the song again.  It’s a very cool exploration of a style that the band hadn’t really toyed with before.  And it would really go on to define one aspect of the band (minus the sitar).

The rest of the album is largely shorter tracks.

“I’m Not a Man Unless I Have a Woman” is a weird little nugget with a soul feel and falsetto vocals.  But with sitar and harmonica.

For the first minute or so of “God is Calling Me Back Home” its sounds kind of goofy and lo-fi.  It’s just a guitar and lots of vocals.  But after a minute, it rocks out with full distortion.  It’s a wild ride for a couple of minute before it degenerates into just feedback and noise by the end.

“30 Past 7” is slower with sitar and a soaring psychedelic feel.   While “Let Me Mend the Past” has a classic Motown sound with piano and falsetto vocals from Ambrose.  Keeping with the jumping around, “Mystery Jack” is a short, fuzzy, garage rock song.  Then comes “Pop In My Step,” which was created by guitarist Cook Craig.  It’s a simple poppy song with fuzzy guitars and a trippy synth.  The middle has a very cool riff that separates the parts.

The disc ends with “Float Along – Full Your Lungs” which returns to the psychedelia.  This song is shorter but even wilder with the sitar and trippy sounds. It’s a fantastic bookend to this wild collection of songs.

[READ February 7, 2019] Animus

This is a creepy story set in Japan.

It opens on a police detective discovering that yet another child has gone missing.  That makes 40.  Luckily the press hasn’t gotten word yet so there’s no general sense of panic, just upset parents and frustrated police.

We cut to two kids in a playground.  A boy playing with a soccer and a girl reading.  It gets dark and the kids are still there.  When the boy kicks his soccer ball, another child, a boy in a mask, shows up and kicks it into the sandpit.  The boy yells at the strange kid and goes for his ball.  But when he steps in the sand, it turns to snakes and the boy runs off.  The girl gets angry at the kid in the mask.  She acts very mature with him and she goes for the ball.  But when she walks in the sand, arms reach out and grab her.  She grabs the ball and flees while the kid in the mask laughs.

The next day the kids return to the park to talk to the weirdo in the mask (in the daytime).  He says that nothing that happened was his fault–it was all the park.  The sand pit shows your greatest fear, the swings show you other people’s dreams and the statues of animals are the ears of the area…they hear everything.  Then he reveals that he was taken from this world a long time ago.  He was buried and never found and now he must haunt this area until he is freed.  His name is Toothless. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Eyes Like the Sky (2013).

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard clearly didn’t set out to top the charts. After the frenetic fun of 12 Bar Bruise, their follow up is this–a spoken word “Western” musical.  Stu Mackenzie says that after recording “Sam Cherry’s Last Shot” with Broderick Smith, he wanted to try a “multi-song, read-along, narrative based western musical” and Brod was keen to write a story and narrate it.

The music is impressively “Western.”   Right out of the gates, you feel the reverbed guitars and sound effects of gun shots.  Repeating motifs abound and there is an amazing amount of restraint.  Plus, the songs (which don’t really follow the story chapters) are quite different from each other (all within the same Western motif). “Year of Our Lord” builds some real suspense.  While “The Raid” adds some surf guitars.

You can also hear his parents’ dogs barking in “The Killing Ground” and his dad banging on a rusted saw blade, which you can hear in “The Raid.”

“Drum Run” is, indeed, very drum heavy with distant echoing harmonica.

And then there is the story.  A story of a man who is feared as a legend.

The bad white men call him the devil the Yavapai call him Eyes Like the Sky.

Miguel O’Brien was kidnapped from his white family when he was five years old.  He became a fearless Yavapai Apache warrior.

The American Civil had not encroached on Apache territory.  But ten years later, the Americans brought their war to Apache land.  They were

Led by a man holding a leather book with a cross stamped in the leather.  An evil man who did terrible  things to people in the name of a god that looked upon the man himself with revulsion

The music for this track is called “Evil Man” and between the Western riff and the backing “ahahas,” it’s got gunslinger all over it.

The Americans killed the Apache, but he was spared because of his blue eyes.  But once more family he loved had been killed–this time by Americans.

The god man thought he might be from the O’Brien family or maybe the Jebsen family.  So they named him Jebsen O’Brien but they called him “blue” because of his eyes and his expression.  A trapper taught him white man’s ways so that he could read and write and also learned to use a gun.

The god man was a truly evil man–“satisfying his goat lust with a Yavapei girl.”  Seeing this defilement, Blue swiftly killed him. Then he took guns, money and the defiled girl and fled from the Fort.  The two of them happened upon a scene of death–white men killing white men but disguised as Apache.

I’ll not spoil the ending but the final two songs are “Dust in the Wind” (not that one) and “Guns & Horses.”   “Dust in the Wind” is a stomping song that presages death–of many.  “Guns & Horses” ends the story–all too early in my opinion.  While Eyes Like the Sky’s story comes to a satisfying conclusion, I want to hear more.

With a cool soundtrack.

Incidentally, the soundtrack is far more grown up than the graphic novel.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Knife’s Edge

I didn’t realize that these two books made up the Four Points series (I didn’t know there was a series title until I looked this book up].  But it is nice to see that this book ends the story.  And it ends it very well.

This book opens with the explanation of what happened to Alex and Cleo’s father when he left them on their own.  He went off to do a (supposedly) simple job down at the docks.  But while he is aboard a ship he is attacked by Lucky Worley.  Turns out Worley knew that Mr Dodge had the pocket watch and pocket knife–the clues that will lead him to the treasure he wants so badly.  It also turns out that he doesn’t know about Alex and Cleo.  So he hijacks Mr Dodge and takes him aboard his ship.   We also learn that Dodge isn’t their father–which we knew from how young the babies were when he received them, but the kids didn’t.  He doesn’t know who their real father was.

Worley had caught word of them through their involvement in the Black Hook gang and he deduced that they had the map pieces.  So their lives were now in danger.  And that’s pretty much where book one began. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAT POWER-Tiny Desk Concert #821 (February 4, 2019).

I remember when Cat Power was a buzz artist who had signed to Matador.  I bought her album in 1996, but I guess it didn’t leave that much of an impression on me.

Since then, she has been a buzz artist for performing and then for not performing and then for performing again.  All the new music of hers that I have heard seems to get slower and softer.

The biggest surprise about the Tiny Desk Concert was how full of smiles she was and yet the blurb makes her sound uncomfortable:

Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance. She intermittently steadied herself by resting a hand under her chin while clutching a cup of tea, and she ran through three songs without a break, making her set sound more like a Cat Power medley than a series of distinct songs.

So I don’t know any of the songs she played here and when I first listened I actually assumed she’d only played two songs because the first two blended together.

Regardless, the music was arresting and beautifully orchestrated, with simple piano lines and brushed drums backing a voice that could only be hers.

Opening with “Wanderer,” the title track to Cat Power’s latest album, Marshall sang of restless love and yearning with a nod toward motherhood and her 3-year-old son: “Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind, now your soul is in between.”

It has a quiet, simple piano melody (from Erik Paparazzi) and a gentle guitar (from Adeline Jasso) that imperceptibly pushes it forward.  After a minute, the brushed drums (from Alianna Kalaba) come in to add a little snap to the song.

“Woman,” another track from Wanderer starts immediately.  She had recorded this song with Lana Del Rey and I recall liking it. This version sounds so much like the previous song that I don’t even recognize the original in it.  The differences between the two songs are that the piano notes have changed a little (but since they repeat all the way through, it’s not hugely noticeable) and the guitar now uses a slide.  Otherwise the beat is I believe unchanged.

She segues right into “The Moon,” from her 2006 album The Greatest.  The only distinction here is that the guitar and drums stop briefly while the newly repeating piano picks up a slightly different melody.  This song sounds so much like the previous one because she sings the word “Moon” so much like the word “Woman” (often given Moon more than one syllable) I couldn’t tell that she was saying something different.

I suppose if I were in the right mood I would have found this mesmerizing and enchanting.  But mostly I just found it rather dull.

[READ: February 5, 2019] Speak

I hadn’t read this novel and, in fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was about (although I knew it was intense).  The only reason I picked it up was because I thought it was a First Second publication and I plan to read all of their books.  This was listed in their 2018 publication list, but it ultimately wasn’t published by them, it turns out.

S. knew the book from her work with teens and said she didn’t want to read the graphic novel version.  So I expected a harrowing, potentially unreadable story.

But Anderson has created an excellent and compelling story built around a harrowing incident.  She also doesn’t detail the harrowing incident until later in the story, so by the time we hear about it we are even more sympathetic to Melinda.

I will say that as the story opened (because I didn’t know the timeline), I thought that the kids were being unrealistically mean to her.  I thought she was a new student at the school (it’s her first year in high school) and I couldn’t imagine why people really had it in for her.  It seemed hard to believe.  Especially as we realize pretty quickly that the incident has already happened.

Then it gradually comes out that kids are mad at her for something she did.  It is connected to the incident, but clearly isn’t about the incident because she hasn’t told anyone about it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Willoughby’s Beach (2011).

After releasing five new albums in 2017, KGATLW spent 2018 re-releasing their first five releases.  These were out of print and hard to find.  And now they’re back.

Back in 2011, KGATLW was more of a goofy side project (hence the name).  But they coalesced as a seven-piece band and proceeded to make an EP–Willoughby’s Beach.  At nine songs in about 25 minutes, this garage rock/dirty blues project pretty well flies past.  Lyrics are an afterthought (most songs repeat one line) and most of the songs are under 2 and a half minutes.  It is great zipping fun with fuzzy guitars, fuzzy harmonicas, fuzzy vocals and an all around DIY feel.

“Danger $$$” is a fast, crazy blues with a wild harmonica solo and the repeated shouted lyrics of “danger money” between lots of whoops and screams.  “Black Tooth” opens with a similarly fast riff but it immediately slows down into a slower but still rocking riff.  “Lunch Meat” is a crazy fast and catchy song with the full lyric: “They made me get up in the morning morning morning morning.”

“Let it Bleed” is the longest song on the disc at 3:14.  It’s slower and the repeated lyrics are far more comprehensible (I want to see my lover again).  The wonderfully titled “Crookedile” has a kind of a spy theme for its music dark with echoing squealing guitars and chanted vocals.  What “just say god is on your side, he’s on your side” has to do with the title I have no idea.  “Dead Beat” is also (relatively) long, but it is much faster with lots of whoops and a simple but addictive guitar line.

“Dusbtin Fletcher” is a fun punk song with lots of big backing vocals–like The Monkees doing punk.  Oohs and oh ho ohs make this an incredibly poppy song.  “Stoned Mullet” has two sets of lyrics: “jack it” and “green out.”  Your guess is as good as mine.  It’s fast and catchy with a wonderful chorus.

“Willoughby’s Beach” is quick and catchy, a wonderful end to the disc.  The song is the definition of three-chord rock and features the lyric: “Just because I like you, it doesn’t mean I like you.”  Superb stuff.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Secret Coders: Monsters & Modules

This book ends the Secret Coders storyline.

It begins with the boys feeling very calm as they work out a code that will get them to travel to Flatland.  But Hopper doesn’t understand why they aren’t freaking out since as soon as they work out the code they will be travelling to a world with one fewer dimension!

Using a simple repeating code, the turtle makes the opening and they fall into the second dimension.  Eni turns into a square, Josh turns into a triangle and Hopper turns into a line!  And we learned in the previous books that lines (and women in general) were considered nothing.

They are immediately bothered by circles–the most superior shape in Flatland.  After some altercations, Josh and Eni are thrown in jail.  Hopper is able to hide because she is just a line and is therefore very hard to see. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-“Cyboogie” (2019).

Few band names are as much fun as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. With a name like that, the fact that they actually make good music is somehow amazing.

2018 was a quiet year for the band after they released five albums in 2017.  But they are now back with a new single and an upcoming tour.

“Cyboogie” is basically exactly what it sounds like it might be–a cyborg boogie.  It also features a classic trope of KGATLW songs–one word repeated over and over again (see: Rattlesnake).

This boogie is nearly 7 minutes long and features electronically processed vocals, prominent synth sounds and the occasional run up the musical scales at the end of each chorus.

It opens with the robotic voices chanting “boogie boogie boogie.”  Over a pulsing bass and 70s sounding keys, this very retro song starts.  There are lyrics in the verses, but they are so processed as to be almost inaudible (nice melody though).  They lead to the chorus: cyboogie, cyboogie, boogie boogie boogie boogie, cyboogie.  All with that undeniable beat.

The instrumental breaks are classic trippy 70s era instrumental breaks.  Including the one at 3 minutes where the music stops briefly and a new beat and sound style emerges (more boogie).  The third verse is so vocally processed I wasn’t even sure if there were words–but since the music has all boy dropped away it’s all you can hear.  But fear not it is melodically sound and makes the next chorus even more interesting.

The song ends with some more robotic voice reciting something (no guesses as to what).

[READ: January 31, 2019] Compass South

This story was written by Hope Larson but illustrated by Rebecca Mock (which is only odd because Larson herself is an excellent illustrator).

It opens in New York City, 1848.  A man named Dodge is seen going home when he is stopped by a large man in a cloak.  The cloaked man tells him that his beloved Hester is dead in Ireland.  But she wanted him to have…two babies:  Alexander and Cleopatra.

He vows to be there for them, but in Chapter One, it is twelve years later and the children are on their own.  As we zoom in on them, they are in the middle of robbing a house.  They are with the Black Hook gang and Alex is getting tested.  But Alex gets caught.  Cleo goes to save him, but Luther, the local head of the gang stops her and says if they rat on the gang, they are dead.

Next, the twins are talking to the police.  They have nothing to offer, so he gives them a deal–tell them about the Black Hook gang and they can go free.  Of course, they take the deal. But before Luther can go after them, he is contacted by the henchman of Felix Worley, famed pirate and captain of El Caleuche.  Seems he wants the twins, too. (more…)

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