Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Wicked & The Blissfucker

The time period is late 2010-mid 2011. I am running around Europe, but not nearly enough.

I have two things in my head, Phonogram and Trap Them. I am lost and confused and more or less alone. I go out to Thought Bubble in November 2010 to see the Phonogram team, and some Borges style magic happens. I return to England in April or May 2011,  to see them again at a London comic book convention called Kapow, but to do so, I must miss Trap Them when they come through Rome.

While in London, I have the new Trap Them record Darker Handcraft, and it keeps me settled and together while I navigate the hamster habitat of the Tube. My review of Darker Handcraft ends up being one of the reviews I'm proudest of ever. I got a gift of 10 pounds from Kieron Gillen in November, and felt obligated to pay him back, which was largely the reason I attended Kapow. When I wasn't with friends in London, I had Darker Handcraft and not much else. I found bookstores and waited.

I have to talk about both Blissfucker and The Wicked & The Divine at the same time before I will ever figure out what I think of either of them individually.

The time period is now mid-2014. I live in the United States, but not nearly enough.

I believed Blissfucker and The Wicked & The Divine came out the same week and wrote this hurriedly. A quick Google search tells me Blissfucker came out the week before, meaning I held off on Trap Them for Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie again. Blissfucker is more sludgy than Darker Handcraft, but turbocharged by Ryan McKenney's crusty/d-beat yawp. You will not mistake any part of Blissfucker for drone. The Wicked & The Divine is a more refined (and vulgar) version of that team's recent works.*

In The Wicked & The Divine, heads explode in a pop art fashion, in what I believe highlights the intrusion of visible, but not fully graspable magic into the story's real world. Producer Kurt Ballou understands Blissfucker is a guitar record and lavishes attention on Brian Izzi's instrument. Matthew Wilson's colors on The Wicked & The Divine are flawless. When called upon, they're not merely bright but vivid. I find The Wicked & The Divine's first issue cliffhanger to be underwhelming. A judge (less a character than a object against which Lucifer [nee Luci] can monologue) dies and it appears Lucifer did it. Lucifer claims innocence.
Blissfucker slows down and it works. Darker Handcraft was a record that went for the open, unguarded throat in the first quarter second of the first song. That sets a precedent that Blissfucker does not maintain. The first track, Salted Crypts, introduces itself with a dirge that is all menace. The Wicked & The Divine opens with a full page splash of a hand on a skull. The comic manages to go through a couple different fonts, each feeling correct and precisely placed, so I'm assuming that means letterer Clayton Cowles did his job well.

I didn't know what I was expecting with The Wicked & The Divine, but I ordered it sight unseen. Since then, I read too many interviews so I knew what was coming and that lessened the blow. By comparison, I'd heard three, maybe four songs from Blissfucker and I love it, especially the sludgy parts that aren't what the public thinks of when they think about Trap Them. Trap Them's discography is broader than most people realize (Dead Fathers Wading In The Bodygrounds prefigures the 7+ minute Savage Climbers, Bad Nones could be described as a palate cleanser made a full song, see Sordid Earnings) so Blissfucker doesn't entirely wreck the line of best fit. In short, they're still a Swedish thrash band before they are anything else.

But Blissfucker is new and it isn't what a lot of critics were expecting. A crusty/d-beat thrash metal band is not unknown to our ears and is easy to put in a neat little box. (The box is marked "fast drums, no solos, do not color outside the lines.") The Wicked & The Divine is new and it is, with scientific accuracy, what a lot of critics were expecting.

Mouthy dandies with superpowers? Check.
Who happen to be gods? Check.
Meta-commentary on creators and fans? Check.
It's probably about myth**, the importance of producing the largest volume of /your/ work before you die and a few really good costumes? Check, check and check.

Blissfucker is a new taste or at least a different taste from a group known for something else. The Wicked & The Divine is a superior edition of a taste I was expecting. A different review would say that it synthesizes the lessons from Kieron Gillen's more hype Marvel bibliography. But what I really mean is it's an easy jump from Young Avengers into The Wicked & The Divine.

A major piece of the first issue doesn't connect with me for ideological reasons. ("She's looking right at me! I swear, she's looking right at me!" v. "These are three chords, now form a band"***) It connected with a lot of other people, though. And those people love it. It hits their notes and not mine. I suspect that I'll like the comic when it gets more wicked and less divine.

At bottom: I didn't know what to expect with Blissfucker and I liked it. I knew what to expect from The Wicked & The Divine and I criticized it. They're both constructed meticulously. I'd recommend either to casual (and hardcore) fans of the metal genre or the medium of comics. For my part? I'll need to stop reading so many interviews.

One of the conceits of The Wicked & The Divine is that it is about gods that live for two years and then die, to be reincarnated every ninety or so. I'm of the opinion a character called Lucifer has a nefarious plan, so, I'm waiting for that other shoe to drop. While not on Blissfucker, Dead Fathers Wading In The Bodygrounds has a line that while it doesn't fit perfectly, fits just nicely enough: "We are the old graves, digging the new." For those people who actually want to listen to Savage Climbers (find it above) and then Dead Fathers... (find it below,) enjoy.

*And yes, I know the next problem is that Blissfucker arrives as a complete package whereas The Wicked & The Divine is one issue of something much, much larger. I'm aware.

**There is a thing here that I am asked to keep quiet about, but I think a friend of mine has the team figured out on a major thing in the comic. I'll copy paste it in when this friend gives the all clear.

*** Before we get to "there's more to music than things with guitars," pretend it reads "here's Fruity Loops and a YouTube tutorial, now write some songs."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Punknews 100

I wrote a couple things for the now-announced Punknews 100. It was an attempt to do a top 100 albums of the years 2000-2010, and it almost came together. This being 2014, people in my ear tell me this thing may finally see the light of day.

I'm mostly posting this to shame the Punknews hivemind to continue to collate the list, because I want to see the discussion that will come of it. If I had the opportunity to write up a list again, it would be very different, but I suspect that's the trouble with lists. There's large swaths that remain the same, but it changes and mutates (or ought to) with breadth of experience and age.

Spelling errors and other things are left intact because, well, that's how they went out.

I was initially bummed that I didn't get a couple of my all-time favorites, but found out later that Jordan got the truly important ones and I'd end up with my personal favorite, Career Suicide, a couple months down the line.

It was an honor to be thought of and included. Thank you, gents.


There's something disarming about Jeff Rosenstock's "inclusive alienation" lyrics that matches the frantically played (and excellently composed) music on Scrambles. The economy sucks, I lost my job, NYC is too expensive, my friends are all successful are turned from self-pitying wankery to a unifying celebration of the freedom and terror of 20-something modern life. The ska-punk framework makes it easy to throw in little touches that humanize the record, whether it's far too many syllables in "(Shut) Up the Punx!!!" or the ODB sample at the end of "25!"

Released for free digitally in early 2009 (and for money physically later that year on tentpole Asian Man Records), Scrambles set punkews commenters on fire not because of how it was released, but because of the content: the synthesis of unapologetic ska-punk, dead on lyrics, overwhelming heart and PBR-lubricated camaraderie. Other records on this list might be more technically proficient, more carefully recorded, more deftly worded, but you know what? Scrambles captures the essential soul and the grimy spirit of punk rock and that comes out crystal clear.

I Am the Movie

In 2003, everyone was incredibly serious. Mall screamo was small enough to drown in the bathtub, Drive-Thru Records approached the height of their ubiquity, Bad Religion was back with a bullet and finally Rise Against, Thrice and Thursday looked at major label waters after Less Than Jake gave the all clear with their most sobering record.

I Am the Movie then, blew up because of its neon colored soul. It was as sincere as anything released that year, but brighter, stranger and more intimate. "The Future Freaks Me Out Out" finally perfects the bedeviling Weezer cum Get Up Kids alchemy, complete with now-mystifying pop-culture references (Will and Grace?) . "My Favorite Accident" is as morose today as it was back then "Don't Call It a Comeback" still breaks land speed records with moog flourishes intact, while "Modern Chemistry" slyly cops to Justin Pierre's half-measures at sobriety.

In its bipolar about-faces between despondent and thrilled, Motion City Soundtrack proved that authenticity comes in more than shades of gray; it also comes in Day-Glo.

the Troubled Stateside 
The Troubled Stateside was Crime In Stereo's Long Island hardcore disc, the moment when they first began to calibrate their own filter through which to view the world.

Vocalist Kristian would stretch his range on later records, but here Crime In Stereo plays with the trappings of the LIHC genre and found there was room to grow and stretch, like the "dying in a hospital"-aesthetic of "Gravity/Grace." But the jewel in The Troubled Stateside crown is the all-encompassing final track, "I, Stateside". In five and a half minutes, the band blitzes through the themes of the last 11 songs, with the chorus, a fevered, supercharged hosanah, "God, please save these troubled states."

The Troubled Stateside is a record that is influenced by living in Bush's America, but remains important today because it could go from macro to micro and back without losing intensity or focus. It's about growing up in a country you thought you knew and not liking what you found, played with nothing held back or close to the vest.


One of Rob Dobi's bleakest design jobs, Ruiner is as straight-forward as its title and "birds attack boy" art would have you believe. Buoyed initially by the release of "Me Vs. Morrissey" on the that year's Warped Tour compilation (like He-Man going through a Chinese phone book, as one critic put it), the question at the time was, the forthcoming Ruiner couldn't be better than Mute Print, could it?

About that: Yes.

The instrumental intro to the opening track, "The King Is Dead" was just a tease: It simply got faster and maintained the intricacy, a display of virtuosity meant only to show the listener they didn't know what's coming. That song's first words are a reference to autoerotic asphyxiation, and the song itself is about committing suicide by hanging from the garage.

The rest of Ruiner was almost equally humorless, most songs memorializing a disintegrating romance with a vulgar, pitiless focus that emitted little emotional light. It's a bummer of a record that way, but the only way you can slow down enough to tell is long after Ruiner finishes and that just means you should play it again.

Career Suicide

Sincerely believed histrionics in bullet points:

-Vulgar without being trite.

-Virtuosity without ostentation.

-Weary, but not exhausted.

-To skate to and to be held by.

-Bad Religion being recorded by Kerry King.

-The final, towering shot in Nitro's brief, nearly unfuckwithable salvo of career making records.

It ain't magic, kid. It's as pedestrian as the culmination of hard work, talent, relentless touring, learning from mistakes, willingness to be in debt and leave lovers. A Wilhelm Scream aren't miracle workers.

Mundane as it is, those are the reasons Career Suicide is so good.

 (Well, that and the Blasting Room.)

 Career Suicide is more intricate because they dared to write the songs they thought would one up Ruiner. It's faster because they had the personnel to sustain it.  It’s surprising because A Wilhelm Scream broke, again, what we thought was their ceiling.

What makes Career Suicide so special is how evenly it blends speed, technical prowess and metric volumes of compressed, focused, gotta-get-it-off-my-chest emotion. The balance of those elements is flawless and the recording sprightly enough to capture it all.

Yeah. Nitro went out on a good one.

The '59 Sound

It starts with the crackle of vinyl, for fuck's sake.

It's really tempting to view The '59 Sound as reactionary, or as if it must be an opposing party to whatever surrounded it in the pop landscape. It isn't. It's a record about girls, Saturday nights, driving, Maria and records. They're dudes that like Springsteen, Miles Davis and Otis Redding more than Rancid and produced a record that reflected those influences.

It really is that simple. The ’59 Sound wormed its way into listeners’ hearts the way hardly anyone ever talks about: great songs played without shame or a knowing wink at the listener at a time when the style isn’t in favor.

There's telling details like the diner staff comping Fallon a side dish with his coffee, waiting for a woman that won't come. With a lyric like "Broken Bones Matilda left a note and a rose…" one simply understands "Film Noir" was titled not only correctly, but also as an aspiration.

Their earnestness paid out beyond their wildest dreams. Springsteen didn't just let Gaslight Anthem kiss his ring, but went one further and joined the band for the title track in Europe during 2009. There are subtler influences and it’s ultimately what makes this uncomplicated record so surprising and resonant. Anyone can get Springsteen, but the Cure on "Old White Lincoln?"

Listen again...

A fully enumerated list of which songs on these records broke my skull open and forced me to think differently about music would keep me here forever, but man, I've been partial to the cane sugar sweetness of Motion City Soundtrack for years, so have the sub two minute banger "Don't Call It A Comeback." WE DON'T LIKE ENDLESS CYCLES...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Did You Read Yesterday?

I bought the first two volumes of "What Did You Eat Yesterday" by Fumi Yoshinaga at a con.

It's a manga about a gay Japanese couple in their early 40s, centered around the food they eat. I bought it,

1) because it got recommended with the highest praise, from a friend of mine who actually knows the genre (hi sunriseline!)
2) because it sounded interesting
3) because I knew it would mess with my friends expectations of what I'd buy.

In describing "What Did You Eat Yesterday" to people who actually read the genres in question, I say I like the manga (I keep typing comic) because of the strong character work. And while that's not wrong, those characters, a volume and a half in, are why I'm there, saying "strong character work" feels like a bit of an easy out. I feel like saying "strong character work" is not giving the manga its full due. The pencils are meticulous, the asides are well placed, and the sketches of supporting characters are precise and evocative. The two men in question each have flaws, but also personalities that would interact well. I confess to not being finished with the second volume yet, but what's there so far feels authentic. The descriptions of the food and preparation of dishes reveal character, but also make me want to try my hand at cooking. It's a great manga. If it is not too long, I will purchase it all, like I have with Pluto.

But the more I describe "What Did You Eat Yesterday", the more I feel I'm stepping around the fact that I don't have a vocabulary to talk intelligently about the genre. This is a problem, because in comics, black and white slice of life works are things I actively avoid, much the same with Young Adult material. I have no trouble, when I'm running my mouth of course, passing judgment on those things. And I've got a friend on Twitter (hi Katie Locke!) that loves YA material and will often make the very reasonable point that if I don't read the genre then it makes it hard to pass judgment on its effectiveness or legitimacy as such.

In talking about YA, or Yesterday, or b/w slice of life (hi Adam Witt!), when I am forced to praise them, I talk only about fundamentals. Do you have a plot that's interesting? What motivates the characters? Are the characters compelling? And so forth.  Which, again, feels passing over something politely, or not giving the idea its full respect. I feel my omission.

I can say oh man, China Mieville's a great writer, praise those same fundamentals, but with infinitely more enthusiasm. China Mieville does cool shit. There's monsters! And Serious Ideas! And nightmare fueled panic, white-knuckling an entire final quarter of a novel. I don't have those same things to talk about with ...Yesterday, YA or, b/w slice of life. It is hard to get away from the judgment in my head. To indulge my judgment: What overarching plot is there in "What Did You Eat Yesterday?" Someone, find me some. Really. Go for it. I'll wait. The plot appears to be "a Japanese couple who is gay navigate the labyrinthine code of Japanese formal niceties. Also: Every chapter, a new food dish." That's it.

That's what makes my pleasure in reading "What Did You Eat Yesterday" so striking. I believe I'm having a Nixon goes to China moment here. Enjoying "What Did You Eat Yesterday" and trying to talk about it reveals just how provincial I am. That's the opposite of the how I present myself. I'm looking at my bookshelf right now, it's Faulkner to Foucault to Fuentes. I'm very cosmopolitan. I promise.

(All three Serious, Important Male Authors. I'm aware.)

To say I like "What Did You Eat Yesterday" as a palate cleanser also feels like an omission, a sly insult, as if the stories are not a complete meal on their own. This is a long way of saying I took a chance on something new, and like all great media it rewarded and challenged me in equal measure. I don't know how to talk about this stuff and at bottom, I really ought to.

Been on a Danger Days kick, and while I'm pretty sure I've used Summertime before, I don't believe I've used Vampire Money. Allegedly, a song about turning down a spot on the New Moon soundtrack, and with an opening stolen from Ballroom Blitz. One of the best songs on that record.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.