Sunday, September 25, 2016

Come Off It Jason Pettigrew

The web never sleeps, which means the news/content cycle never does. "Jack White Has Dinner, Uses Napkin" isn't what a seasoned reporter would call a get.  -Alternative Press Editor In Chief Jason Pettigrew


I'm not enamored of Jason Pettigrew's half of the feature with Scott Heisel about web music journalism. I think he's disingenuous in the spots where it's not overly bitter. In his defense, there are legitimate things to be bitter about. Posting a tracklist and an album art counts as news, for someone, and "link-whoring duty" is an actual phrase used by Gawker. Reblogs of wacky internet videos poison the well, but keep a certain, ever declining number of readers engaged. Pitchfork reviews of punk and hardcore records leave me foaming at the mouth. Careless reviews of pop superstars make me question my sanity.

Pettigrew longs for the days of the noble gatekeeper, when a person had to be vetted by an authority before they could write about music for a magazine. And now, he says? Everyone's got an opinion. Well, sure. They always did. Now they can express it publicly and people might actually look at it. He aches for the days when access was limited (and this part is worth repeating) and he had it. But now, it's not and Good Lord, one does not have to first be approved of by Creem Magazine before writing or hearing the music. The horror.

"the days when gatekeepers (read: music press) were given the responsibility for having well-informed, articulate opinions regarding the material they were to wax wise about...All it takes is one sticky-fingered, disgruntled intern or one unscrupulous person to receive the wrong package...and the introduction of a band's new work belongs to the masses."

Mercy, sir, a person could be introduced to the record by listening to it themselves without the precious context of whatever the writer decides to copypasta from the press release, a quick Google search and a list of cliches too long to name? I am mortified. (For best results, read this paragraph again in Foghorn Leghorn's voice.)

Admittedly, that's a disingenuous summation of his argument. Those days of gatekeepers being paid a maybe decent amount of money to have opinions is gone, and we lose that, while we gain, and this is crucial, immediate access to the work itself, rather than sitting around for the intermediary of the music critic's judgment. I'd love to be a professional music critic, admittedly. But, everyone listening to it alongside each other means more people get the experience sooner. And our judgments were always a half measure towards other people giving an album their attention.

At bottom: I think this development sounds fantastic.  I don't think improving a person's filter on what they read is a bad thing. Shit, I think you should be doing it anyway in every aspect of your life. Democracy means there are more critics, yes. But those experts still exist. They haven't gone anywhere. You can still find them. And some of the critics today will be the experts of tomorrow, as they'll keep writing, going to concerts and turning over songs in their heads. Democracy also means you have to do the legwork to decide what opinions and beliefs are most valuable and useful to you. You can still get those opinions from somewhere else, if you as a consumer don't want to do the work.

Two other points: 1) Pettigrew's not required to read the ramblings of the imaginary, but almost certainly existent college freshman who is obsessed with Nirvana. 2) That imaginary college freshman Nirvana obsessive? That was us, once upon a time. Nirvana might not have been my or your focus, but those ramblings could easily be his, mine or ours.

There's a lot of resonant scenes in Almost Famous, but the one where Lester Bangs offers William Miller $35 for 1,000 words about Black Sabbath is instructive. Here's the catch, Pettigrew aches for the time when he could be Lester Bangs, dispensing sage advice and long assignments to reporters or freelancers. Those days of access and using that access as a megaphone to which the kids will flock are done. They're not finished, certainly. The Rihanna airplane debacle proved that. But, like a knife to the armpit, you're going to bleed out and die and Pettigrew sees that coming.

Here's to whatever comes next.





This is years and years old, but I kept coming back to it privately. I didn't post it because of cowardice, but now that time's passed, it can finally exist outside my own head. As for this choice of song, well, "fuck the glory days" feels pretty appropriate.
 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Four Years Too Late: Some Thoughts On Mass Effect 3

Hannah and I completed a run of Mass Effect 3. It’ll be on a podcast in the future, but I want to get my thoughts down before yelling into the microphone. We haven’t played 1 yet. I confess the vehicle sections of Mass Effect 1 frighten me off of the game. We'll probably do a full playthrough at some point in the future, but, due to the ending, not any time soon.

I originally put this on Facebook earlier this morning. I'm refining it here and adding a couple photos.

Major spoilers, obviously, but my guess is if you’re interested in my take on this, you’ve already played the series.

 
BioWare/EA was too aggressive with the release date of Mass Effect 3. Hell, the game got another six months, it appears, and it still came out this way. Mass Effect 3 is an example of what happens when you’ve got resources but not time. There’s about five different BioWare offices credited at the end of it.  Art is never finished, only abandoned.

According to Geoff Keighley’s book, the main exposition character Javik got cut because BioWare ran out of time, and so the plot had to be reworked around that absence. The Citadel invasion was supposed to happen after Thessia. On The Illusive Man’s orders, Kai Leng would kidnap Javik, and the subsequent Cereberus invasion would make sense. Because Javik was moved to DLC because of time constraints, the story took on water.

And yet.

Despite a botched ending, DLC that was planned for the main story but got cut because the game needed to ship, and a missed shot on an open net with Omega, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are still two of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. Maybe top five, even. If EA commissioned a game of the year edition, I suspect critical consensus would be kinder to Mass Effect 3. As it stands, though, I found Mass Effect 3 only a tremendous experience. Admittedly, BioWare and EA may not be interested in reopening that can of worms.

In any story of this scale, you have to accept plot holes. I can forgive quite a bit. I can forgive the extended ending. I can forgive that because the story set up the Reapers as an actually apocalyptic level threat beating them back will require sacrifices on a frightening scale. But the instant the Star Child shows up, the game falls apart.




In short: It’s a brutal invocation of deus ex machina alongside contradictory cues about what effects your choice will have in universe. It’s a drastic shift in mechanics and tone at the worst possible time. It’s remarkable in that Star Child spends all of my goodwill built up over two games inside ten minutes.











(The post-credits scene was unforgivably corny. I was bewildered, confused and disappointed by the ending, but only the post-credits scene made me fucking livid. Buzz Aldrin was allegedly the main narrator, and given that context, I'm shocked they couldn't find something better for him to do than reheat sf/f cliches from 60 years ago.)

Maybe Mass Effect 3 was always going to crumble. Massive stories written by many people usually do. What’s energizing is that BioWare held off crumbling right until the end. Recalling only the anger  obscures that for 30 hours of my life, I was enraptured. By remembering only the bad, I forget I said that I wanted to savor as much time with those characters as I possibly could.


I'll go back for the Leviathan and Citadel DLC, but when those are done, I don't think I'll go much further. It's a great game on its own merits, but absent an investment by BioWare or EA to right the ship, great is furthest star it'll ever reach.

Keelah sa'lai.



 

Entropy Magazine published a long piece about choice in the Mass Effect series, and it's absolutely worth your time. There's a massive chart of the choices, too. Go look. Pictures are from the developer, Kotaku and Ars Technica, in descending order. I've been listening to The 1975 singles for the past eight odd days, and the song that's currently ruling my headphones is by them, and it's called Chocolate.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Final Wave Goodbye

Goodbye, Bane.

The Massachusetts hardcore band plays their last two shows Friday and Saturday. Their influence on my life is too big to calculate right now.

There are so many stories. Most of them are variations on a theme: I am scared or low and listening to Bane makes me more confident and more kind. This happened in Chicago, in Pittsburgh, in Washington D.C. and in Rome. I saw them in two Bottom Lounges at two very different parts of my life.

Obviously, this is only the end until a good friend of the band has horrible medical bills and Bane does a benefit show. Then maybe eight people on the internet will complain how dare a band reunite after they break up. As for Bane's legacy, like every band, it's in how they made the audiences feel and how they treated their fans.

What matters is that Bane's last two Chicago shows were the best I remember seeing them. They looked like a band rejuvenated and played with obvious joy. The crowd for both shows yelled at them for multiple encores. What matters is that I sobbed through my cries for one more song. What matters is that I'm crying as I type this.

What matters is that Bane wants me to know it's okay to cry. What matters is that when I wasn't equipped to handle my life and couldn't find a way out of it, Bane helped me navigate.

And now that I'm beginning to equip myself for my journey, Bane says goodbye.

After night two, Bedard and I talked about comics and counseling. We talked about facing our fears as adults. I'll regret running away from Dalbec to catch a bus for the rest of my life. I'm sorry about that, Aaron.

So, to Bedard, to Dalbec, and to everyone who's ever been in Bane: Goodbye, thank you, and I can't wait for what you're doing next.







I think I can type this part without crying. I think I can. Ciao y arrivederci.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Shelly Bond Was Always Going To Fail

The story is Vertigo Comics' Executive Editor Shelly Bond got reorganized out of her position yesterday. Rumor has it her head needed to roll because Vertigo's sales were bad. We don't know for sure. No one has yet spoken on the record.

What goes unremarked on is that Shelly Bond's job, the head of DC Comics' premiere indie imprint was in danger the instant she stepped into the role.

To understand what went wrong, we have to understand what changed, and who Ms. Bond followed. Ms. Bond followed Karen Berger, the long running editor in chief of Vertigo Comics. Ms. Berger stepped away and down in 2012 after a career that introduced Garth Ennis (Preacher), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Peter Milligan (Enigma, Shade), Alan Moore (Oh, Come The Fuck On) and Grant Morrison (Invisibles) to the American mainstream. And that's only the 90s. In the 2000s, Vertigo published early major works from Jason Aaron (The Other Side, Scalped), Ed Brubaker (Scene Of The Crime, Deadenders), Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders), Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Cliff Chiang (Beware the Creeper), Jeff Lemire (Essex County), Becky Cloonan (American Virgin), Scott Snyder (American Vampire), G. WIllow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man).

How did this happen? Contracts and trust.

The Vertigo contract was structured such that creators kept most of the rights associated with their comic, but Warner Brothers had a first look at any adaptation of the material.

Before Karen Berger stepped into Vertigo, she'd worked for DC for 10 years under the impresario Paul Levitz. Industry gossip tells us Levitz made a deal with Warner Brothers that went to the tune of "as long as we're profitable, you don't tell me how to run my company" and Warner allegedly accepted. Vertigo was given, fittingly, room to fall. Most of Vertigo's perennial sellers did badly in single issues, but made the money back on the collections.

Both changed. Levitz left or was pushed out and the contract was allegedly looked at by a Warner Brothers executive who said "why don't we have these rights" in the early 2010s.

There were two other things that happened which murdered Vertigo and they both start with an i.

The internet is the most obvious, and it decimated much of the physical book market, which is not coincidentally where most people went to spend money on Vertigo titles.

Image in the 2000s was a publishing house that was not terribly exciting. It had The Walking Dead and a roll of the dice. It was "creator owned," but in a world where Vertigo's deal was still the place to go if you wanted an editor and a marketing department talking about your comic, Image wasn't terribly attractive. The major creator owned success stories outside of Vertigo didn't often break 10,000 single issues sold a month.

Image's Eric Stephenson was slowly making deals with people to make Image a player, but it wouldn't pay off in 2000s. It would pay off around 2012, with Brian K. Vaughan's Saga.

And bolstered by the runaway success of Saga, Image turned out more and more and more and more comics, some incredible, some bad, but most okay or mediocre. This caused a second Image bubble.

Now what does this have to go with Shelly Bond?

Ms. Bond steps into the head of Vertigo in 2012, a time when
1) the internet makes pirating things you're kind of interested in easy
2) physical bookstores are sinking
3) Image will ascend to the premiere creator owned comics company
4) Vertigo's m.o., long runs allowed to fail in singles buoyed by strong trade sales will no longer be tolerated by the parent company
5) Bond's ability to manage her house is constrained even more by whim and fiat
6) her predecessor is arguably the most important American mainstream comic book editor in 30 years
7) perception of Vertigo is at an all time low

Ms. Bond's four years at Vertigo, like her tastes or not, were spent keeping a Wile E. Coyote sized anvil afloat.

Shelly Bond was always going to fail.

p.s. Birds in my ear tell me Ms. Bond was a shit boss and difficult to work with.
p.p.s. The sad epilogue is that DC's most widely known harasser, Eddie Berganza, still has a job. Mr. Berganza runs the Superman office.






This is looser than usual and without links, because, well, I'll be talking about this at length for a podcast and I could keep it all in my head for juuuuuuuuuuust long enough to type it out. I'd normally source this stuff, but a couple minutes on a browser and you'll find what I write corroborated. I want it out of my head and into the wild. Song is Murder By Death's I Came Around. I admittedly haven't cared for Ms. Bond's output at Vertigo, but the more I think about the circumstances she had to deal with, the more I had to acknowledge the trying times she faced. Get some sleep, 'mam, you're finally off the clock.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Error Is In The Text: Material #1.

Ales Kot was kind to me at NYCC 2014. I believe that experience influences this review.

Mr. Kot has said he could write his new comic, Material, forever. I bought the first issue. I won't buy the second.

It's not that I want my money back, I felt entertained for a long enough duration of time that satisfies my desire for "THINGS THAT I MAY NOT HAVE SEEN" though a large amount of that entertainment was at the issue's expense.

It is my opinion that Mr. Kot's copious footnotes work against him, except in two instances that require the reader to know that footnotes exist and are to be expected. The footnotes condescend to the reader more often than they illuminate. (Throw 'em in the back, properly annotated, Mr. Kot, and you'll achieve your aims.) I'd argue they're not even footnotes, as there's no markers for them in the word balloons. It does not read as Mr. Kot being helpful or showing his work, it reads as Mr. Kot telling you he's very intelligent.

Wil Tempest's pencils in this issue are rough in the way that makes him the target of jokes, and deservedly so.* It is a terrible introduction to his work, and I heard this from people who have seen his art before and like him. His use of color and panel composition makes up for it. Mr. Tempest knows when to use a secondary color to highlight a particular character and to maintain the reader's eye. Which is good, because his backgrounds are abysmal. To be more charitable, Mr. Tempest has a strong grasp of storytelling, which is done no favors by his shoddy pencils.

There are four plots in Material, two of them worth following, and one of those is only if you squint.

-I'm from Chicago. The Horman Square story will probably be handled with care. It's also there that the most egregious "you have got to be fucking kidding me" footnote** appears. It concerns the abuse of a protestor.

-True to Wild Children, there is an incurious professor on a pedestal, ripe for an Ales Kot monologue to knock him off. His interlocutor this time around is a stretch even within the writer's bibliography.

-There is a plot which appears to be an excuse for Mr. Kot to tell the reader that he has seen 8 1/2 and Contempt.*** It contains a scene so flimsy it must be lampshaded. Watch 8 1/2 instead. ****, *****, ******, ********, *********

-The Guantanamo Bay plot resonated with me. It suggests a problem that is difficult to talk about and the dangers to the problem's resolution many. It is the strongest of the plots and the one that involves actual characters and not ambulatory vehicles for Mr. Kot's monologues.

I don't have much to say about the Material #1 that I haven't said about Wild Children. Mr. Kot remains precocious and reaches beyond his grasp. To finish the Warren Ellis line, good, that's how you grow.

There is an essay by Fiona Duncan in the back which earnestly extols the virtues of Franco Berardi (don't worry, the Wikipedia link is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco_Berardi) while unintentionally highlighting the low quality ********** of Mr. Tempest's pencils. In praise of the comic she's writing in, she says, "The students, save for the one who walk outs, are a sketchy mess." (The error is in the text, I've reproduced it.) Which is true for precisely one panel. Of the four panels the character is in, two of them that character is just as sketchy as the other students, he's merely colored brown and not that shade of light blue. In the third, he differs from the other students because he gets dots for eyes and a smiley face. *********** In the fourth, he gets a head shot.************ (I grabbed the first two pages from the CBR preview.)





I could argue, were I inclined*************, that the choice to be a sketchy mess was specifically chosen to non-verbally reinforce the professor's bored, jaundiced perspective and the student slowly making themselves known as a distinct person.************** I could also argue that Mr. Tempest's work is just as bad elsewhere in the comic and it detracts from the effectiveness of the story, which I do not believe can stand many more of these choices. His use of a different style, in a purple background, presumably to highlight lingering traumas is effective. He's better than this. So is Mr. Kot.

Perhaps something will come of Material, but I'm not optimistic. It is difficult to recommend this comic without massive qualifications. If you've taken an intro to film class, you're probably familiar enough with Mr. Kot's references to seek out other works by those authors you haven't already consumed. Buy those. If you still feel compelled to spend money on this comic, don't. Instead, donate to a local Narcotics Anonymous chapter. Or Southern Poverty Law Center. Or any organization that works with prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to get them reacclimated. Or any of the many charities doing great work on Chicago's south and west sides.

I believe Mr. Kot is sincere, which makes this review difficult. If Material #1 was a cynical exercise at our expense, I could be more dismissive. There is simply too much crammed into this comic to make it feel disingenuous. I feel compelled to write this not merely because of my inescapable ego, but because the comic required a reaction. We need authors like Mr. Kot and Mr. Tempest. We don't need Material. You don't, either. *************





*See also: "I spent more time on this comic than Wil Tempest did" -Anonymous reviewer

** See also: telling you to Google something is not worthy of a fucking footnote it actively insults the reader's intelligence not to mention, putting Horman Square in a footnote is redundant when the writer introduces the place in the very next panel

*** See also: He could have put it in a footnote

**** See also: Fuck this, I'm gonna read the Flash, there's a talking gorilla there with more personality than every single one of the characters in this particular plot without exception

***** See also: Plus, the guy who is drawing the gorilla is a goddamned professional that understands human faces and was paid well for his work (hyper capitalism!)

****** See also: hyper capitalism is my new safeword

******* See also: That and YOLO

******** See also: And Shelley

********* See also: I'm commenting on the text /within the text/? I'm being metatextual! HOW NOVEL

********** See also: I HAVE READ ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE DO I GET A PRIZE

*********** See also: Footnote #1

************ See also: Quake II, I guess

************* See also: But I'm not!

************** See also: Actually, wait. This is a good storytelling shoring up either an inability to make a drawing of a human being look convincing or laziness or a deadline

*************** See also: Do you see how distracting and unhelpful this is now

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Stuttering.

It was Brian Wood that got me to think about this directly again.

I don't know what your experiences are with this. I don't know what your experiences are with anything similar or more socially stigmatizing. If I offend you, it was not by design. Before I start, the usual prostration about how of all the ways in which our one life can be made more difficult, a stutter is preferable to many other things.



I stutter. It's not fun, but it's livable. My friends got used to it. Now, I run roughshod over the sentences I speak. I suppose it goes without typing that I allow myself to stutter obviously. (Some people hide it or get it ironed out. To each their own.)

Thanks to the stutter, I had to discover a vocal rhythm. That, I now believe, was the beginning of my "voice." When I'm on, my sentences sound, deliberately, a certain way. Lots of commas, some single word sentences. In other words, plenty of places where I can pause for dramatic effect or if the engine of my voice cuts out.

I learned a lot of things from managing the stutter, some good, some bad, most useful. If given a choice, I'd excise the stutter. I hate it, but the task is serenity.

If I sound frustrated, it's nervousness compounded by an actual and not figurative inability to speak my desires. Even when the words are right, I still can't vocalize them. The issue is not desire and fear intertwining to compel the speaker to choose to speak multiple words simultaneously, but having nothing come out at all.

It is as if all of the lubricant in the gears of your voice disappears without rhyme or warning. Or, most damningly, another impregnable syllable in the middle of the most unremarkable sentence.

The rest is merely embarrassing details: I have pride, the stutter doesn't allow it. Stuttering in front of people I'd like to stand up straight in front of is rough. I imagine pity in their looks, and I can't stand that. I doubt the stutter has cost me lovers or friends, but my mind uses it as an excuse to believe the worst. The stutter activates my shame, which more powerful than it should be.

I don't know if I've ever wrote about this. I imagine I must have, I've littered the internet with writing, but looking at the publish button feels fresh and relieving, so I suppose I haven't. How have you been, though?







For some reason, I don't find Elastica's "Stutter" terribly insulting. I think it's because I understand I believe the singer (Justine Frischmann) is talking about her boyfriend (Damon Albarn from Blur?) being tongue tied in her presence, which happens to everyone. That, and probably residual love for Phonogram. Anyway. Above image from adsoftheworld.com

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When Blacklisted Grows, People Go

I thought they were gonna write longer songs. It's Blacklisted, though. It's never quite what you expect.

The return of Blacklisted feels spartan. No interviews. No teaser trailers. No touring. One assumes Deathwish Inc. co-owner Tre McCarthy cajoled the band into doing pre-order packages and a music video. "Oh, by the way," Blacklisted says, "here's a new full length. You might like it."

You know the story. Philly hardcore band does two full lengths worth of traditional mosh, loses a couple members, grows weird and mutates into something stranger and more compelling.

In between all of this, US tours, EU tours, Japan tours, everything falls apart. Blacklisted breaks up twice, once in a London Urban Outfitters. Vocalist George Hirsch attempts suicide (he talked about it at This Is Hell 2013 or 2014, I forget which), allegedly goes to prison and records an acoustic album under the name of a character from a book called Der Wehrwolf.



The previous Blacklisted release (So, You Are A Magician?) was about nine minutes long and three songs. When People Grow, People Go is 21 minutes and eleven songs. I get the impression of men returning to their boyhood love of the genre. The fast tempos and final cathartic seconds before the song cuts short are all here.

When People Grow, People Go is about the things you don't talk about. The sense that you're desperately stuffing your slimy, slippery intestines back into your stomach. The lyrics include:

-A friend's in prison for opiate addiction.
-The continued disintegration of Mr. Hirsch's relationships with friends or lovers.
-The many kaleidoscopic expectations of Mr. Hirsch as "guy in a hardcore band."
-His struggles with depression.

Unlike in No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me, the venue of one minute plus hardcore feels like a more comfortable venue for the lyrics.

A step backwards perhaps, though that implies that the quality isn't there. It is. When People Grow, People Go still a traditional hardcore record more than anything else. The tracklist and song lengths don't lie, but it's shoegazey and grungy in spots and I remember those parts more than I remember Gossamer or Riptide. Though Riptide does have a really cool "maybe I'll break somebody's jaw" moment. Gossamer and Riptide are serviceable and perhaps good (many bands would be happy to author the songs), but are ultimately forgettable. Can George write another batch of lyrics regarding people gossiping about him? Sure. Do you really want to hear it? Nah.

Foreign Observer has the only guest and that's Nick from Cold World singing the title through a vocal effect that makes him sound distant. Speaking of equipment, if you have ever wondered what a proper hardcore band would sound like through major label recording equipment, producer Will Yip's Studio 4 answers the question here: massive and clear.

Everything has space in the mix, with special attention paid to the drums. Describing it analytically is a minefield since I understand very little about mixing and mastering, but the recording feels correct and the drums sound exquisite and sharp.

It is hard not to look into the lyrics. It is hard not to take Mr. Hirsch at his word. Turn In The Pike begins with "they will kill you for your dreams" but continues "so what I need / is for you to shake me / when I start to drift to sleep." Mr. Hirsch is a man who knows the price of dreams and the price of art, and he's honest enough to say that for him the price is too high.

"when creation fills my mouth / just break my teeth"

I have trust issues. I believe Mr. Hirsch does too. I celebrate (literally, I danced around my kitchen when I first heard Insularized) a new Blacklisted record because it feels like someone else who understands how much of a gamble intimacy and sex are, and what can be taken from the person on a losing bet.

The final track (also the title track) is an object lesson in being alive and male. You want to do it on your own, but you know you can't. And asking for help is cheating or it's impossible. "I couldn't just call your name/Too proud to reach out when I was dying…" If it feels like a dirge, well, it is. What I get out of Blacklisted records is the acknowledgment that all is not well and the nerve, only occasionally, to admit it in public.

When People Grow, People Go is a record about abuse, given and received. It's about moving past the abuse or moving away. It feels ugly. It feels true. It's the best record this year.







The first song from this record, and also my favorite. Maybe this should be the single. Between this and Foreign Observer, you might actually get people outside our genre to listen. But whatever. You're reading this, you know my tastes. Play loud.
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