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a little bit of BK in VA

Posts made in June 4th, 2009

COMICS BREAK!

I don’t review comic books here, generally, although I may start doing so.  Increasingly, I’m discovering (thanks to my two boys) that comics have come along way since their low point in the late 1990s.  And I’m not talking about indie books, I’m talking Marvel.  X-Men is still an over-crowded, jumbled mess with far too many Wolverines running around, but the relaunch of New Mutants is proving to be a fantastic effort.  Now, I’m a 1970s-80s comic nerd, so I missed out on Legion–he’s the villain in the series—but my ignorance doesn’t detract a bit.  To his credit, Mr. Wells doesn’t waste a lot of time backstory or exposition: He assumes your knowledge, but doesn’t punish your lack of it.  In other words, I can figure out what’s going on pretty easily, and I dig it.  I wonder if the return of Chris Claremont to his own X-Men book will be equally as good?  Claremont was one of my favorite authors up until about Uncanny X-Men #200, but when I look at those books now, they seem wordy.  I’m hoping he hasn’t lost his touch for crafting great stories, but has learned a little bit from the Frank Miller school of letting artists tell the story, too.  (This isn’t to say that verbal economy is always good—Grant Morrison is unintelligible, largely because he refuses to tell the reader what the hell is going on.)


More than the New Muties, though, I’m here to write about the Amazing Spider-Man.  It was my favorite comic, hands down, when I was a kid, and it’s fast becoming my favorite again.  I know most people today favor the heavy-handed grit of Punisher (which is also pretty good these days, what with his Ant Man helmet and Iron man repulsors) or the pseudorealism of Daredevil (excellent) or the cynicism of Captain America (also excellent) or the adult humor of the new Deadpool (again, excellent), but for me, at bottom, the best comics will always be fun.  Yeah, it sucks to fight supervillains, but it’s fun to swing on webs and jump around and be twentysomething forever.  If it’s not fun then, eventually, the comic book will become a slog.  (See Batman.)

I’ve been a fan of Brand New Day since its inception.  The conceit (a deal with the devil essentially reboots a franchise) was kind of stupid, but I accepted it as a mechanism to get Spidey back to his roots.  I’ve loved that the book has stayed clear of most of the downright depressing details of the Marvel Universe–ever since they killed Cap, the MU has become dark and, frankly, overly interwoven, making staples like The Avengers basically unreadable.  Brand New Day has been about introducing wild new villains (Freak, Menace, e.g.), and even managed to tell a pretty complex tale of betrayal and police corruption without becoming heavyhanded.  It comes out three times a month, so there’s a few missteps (the Jackpot story and the Flash Thompson tale are two), but on the whole, the book is both reliable and suitable to read with your kids.  If your kids were old enough to dig the films, they should like this, too.

In the latest storyline, “American Son,” Spidey ventures a little too close to the mainstream Marvel Universe: It’s a Dark Reign crossover.  Dark Reign is terrible.  That the villains have been able to take over the world makes sense in the post-Civil War MU, but it’s still a truly bad idea.  It was one thing when the X-Men made the world so cynical that you felt dirty after reading it.  It’s quite another for the entire universe to be that way.  Note to the Marvel editors: Clean up your acts and get back to making good, self-contained stories about heroes.

But “American Son” doesn’t jump in to the drudgepot with both feet.  Instead, we get to see Harry Osborn and Peter Parker tease J. Jonah Jameson (who is now, in a brilliant comedic move, the mayor of NYC), pick up chicks, and come to accept Aunt May’s pending nuptials to J.J.J.’s father.  At the same time, the book shows depth and evil as Norman Osborn draws his son into his evil web . . . Or does he?

Much of what makes Brand New Day great is that it spends most of its time on Spider-Man, and Parker is a backstory.  Author Joe Kelly is clearly increasing Peter’s facetime here, but it seems to be for a purpose—not just backstory.  And while in costume, the book continues to be, well, Amazing.  Spidey’s rooftop reality check with Wolverine, in which Logan essentially dares Spider-Man to kill Osborn, is both funny and meaningful.  Wolverine is older than about five Spider-Mans, and he shows the kind of father-figure wisdom here that’s also apparent in his relationship with Kitty Pryde (in my son’s favorite current book, Wolverine: First Class).  Oh, and I have to mention Phil Jimenez’s artwork, too.  The panels in which Spidey uses Norman Osborn as a human piñata captured movement like it was animated.  I can’t wait to see how he draws The Dark Avengers in the next issue, on sale this week . . .

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A COUPLE THINGS YOU OUGHTTA CHECK OUT . . .

In order of preference, four albums from the mailbag:

HOTEL EDEN-“A Way Back Home” (EP)

The best thing about Hotel Eden’s debut EP, “A Way Back Home” is that it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there right now.  It’s a crisp meld of pop electronica and “real” instruments, like crispy piano’s on “The Take-Home,” with pitch-perfect pop vocals.  The songs are instantly familiar and intimate without being trite or cliché.  This is one of the best EPs I’ve heard so far this year, and should be quickly added to your collection.  You won’t regret it.  On Solar Set records.

For fans of: The Stars, A.C. Newman, Peter, Bjorn & John, Feist.

The Take Home

SIX RED CARPETS-“Nightmares + Lullabies”

Six Red Carpets‘ debut album, which you can download absolutely free right here,is a cross between Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins.  And yes, you should find that very intriguing.  I definitely recomment that you get the whole album! (follow the link)

IN CADEO-“Making Our Graves”

In Cadeo are offering 4 out of the 5 songs on their new album, Making Our Graves, for free at their website.  Why should you care?  Because this Brooklyn-based foursome sent me those 4 songs, and I dug ‘em enough to write ‘em up without a full album review.  That’s something I almost never do.

NATSTAR

Natstar is offering his humbly titled I Am Legend mixtape for free.  It’s not bad, and you sure can’t beat the price.  Click here for a direct link for the album.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST . . .


I’m giving a shout out to one of my favorite directors, Sam Raimi, who scored bigtime with one of the best horror films of the past 10 years.  Go see “Drag Me To Hell.”  Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, you will enjoy his deft camera work and non-CGI fx (as well as the CGI ones, of course).  Only Raimi could make the tired gypsy curse theme fresh and innovative.  And scary!  It was very reminiscent of his great work in Evil Dead 1 and 2.  My only complaint: Where was the cameo from Bruce Campbell???

AND STILL ANOTHER LAST . . .

Cover Me has a collection of Pixies covers–the entire album, “Doolittle,” covered.  I was never a huge Pixies fan, but it’s cool to hear this blogger’s great work . . .

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PRINCE AND PASSION PIT

Today’s review is something unusual, and not just because it’s a twofer.  It’s because I’m taking a risk by reviewing two albums that were not submitted to me, I found them on my own, and that carry with them the specter of possible litigation.

First, I’m taking a risk by reviewing Passion Pit.  The album is being released in the U.S. on Frenchkiss records, an indie label, but I’ve read that Columbia Records is handling the band’s UK promotion.  That makes it not indie.  But I’m making an exception to my indie-only rule for two reasons: It’s indie in the U.S., and it’s a really great record.

Second, I’m reviewing a Prince album.  Prince has gone independent, selling his latest (3-disc!) album on his own via his own website and at Target, but that doesn’t stop him employing Web Sheriff.  In fact, he may be the only guy who has sued more folks over music rights than the RIAA.  So why would why I give him time on my site?  One reason is: He’s the Artist.  He created the music, so I get his being possessive of it.  But more importantly, he’s one of the greatest musicians of our time, LotusFlow3r is a project worthy of bearing his name, and he’s finally released something independently, so a review fits with my purpose here on this site to promote only those artists who aren’t backed by big money publicity machines.

But legal issues aside, there’s another reason to review these albums together: They’re two sides of the same coin.  Prince, regardless of his Religious bent or his pure musical intentions, makes dance music.  It’s what he’s always done, in one form or another.  But, let’s be honest, most clubs and kids are dancing to funk and instrument-driven R&B anymore.  They’re listening to synth-and-sample driven beats that focus more on the hook and the vocals than on a groovy guitar solo or a winding sax lick.  It’s just a fact.  Prince is old, and Passion Pit are new.

Now, I’m not in any way trying to suggest that “Manners,” the brainchild of 21-year-old Michael Angelakos, approaches the musical brilliance of any of Prince’s best works (which include, let’s remember, Sign O’ the Times, Dirty Mind, The Symbol Album, and one of the greatest records of all time, Purple Rain).  But Passion Pit’s debut does rate up there in terms of quality with some of Prince’s more mediocre works (such as Come or Crystal Ball).  It’s fresh and sunny, taking familiar sounds and themes (it’s regularly compared to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds) to new heights, it’s catchy as hell, and it’s almost impossible to avoid dancing while it’s playing.  That’s not very different from the young Minnesotan upstart who basically smoothed out James Brown’s rough edges and sprinkled in ‘80s androgyny.  Plus, Angelakos is already known for being a studio perfectionist.  Thus, the similarities continue.  By the way, “The
Reeling” has a synth beginning that reminds of some song I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know I’ve heard it before and it’s driving me insane.  Any help out there?

As for Prince, his new one is a triple(!) album and is being sold by Target (it’s a steal—three records for $11.98) or through his impenetrably complicated and self-indulgent website.  Actually, it’s not really a triple album.  It’s two Prince albums (LOtUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND) and the decent-but-not-great “Elixir,” the debut album release of Bria Valente.  Still, either one of the Prince records is worth twelve bucks, so even if you never give Valente a chance, you’re still ahead of the game here.  It’s amazing that after 25 years, Prince is still releasing stuff worth listening to.  Some of the stuff here has already been released, but usually in different forms as demos, live tracks, etc., and when you’ve got a double album there’s bound to be some filler.  But the good news is, there’s not a lot of it.  There’s the ‘60s groove of “Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful” and “There’ll Never Be Another Like Me,” a nice Latin rhythm on “Love Like Jazz,” playful blues on “Colonized Mind,” and good old classic rock and roll guitar work on one of the greatest cuts here, “4Ever.”  On “Chocolate Box,” Prince manages to make dirty funk without profanity or even the suggestion of something untoward.  He does seem, literally, to be saying that he’s “got a box of chocolates that will knock the socks off” the girls.  It’s innocent, fun, and funky as hell.  But the track that will probably get the most written about it is the cover of “Crimson and Clover.”  Although it’s not unusual for Mr. Nelson to do covers in his live act, to my knowledge he’s never recorded one before.  And even if he has, he’s certainly far better known for being covered himself.  The awesome thing about this cover of the ‘60s garagepsych cover is it’s seamless melding of “Wild Thing.”  It reminds me of the great song, “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island,” in which the lyrics to the one song were sung to the tune of the other.  That’s almost what’s done here, except that Prince jumps from one song back to the other and through the last one so completely, so fluidly, and so often that both songs cease to exist, and only one remains.  Plus, the guitar solo sizzles.  “LotusFlow3r” is definitely the better of the two albums here, but both are pretty cool and it’s hard not to see them as parts of the same record (kinda like GnR’s Use Your Illusion 1&2).

So, you get two recommendations here: Prince’s Lotusflow3r and Passion Pit’s Manners.  Buy ‘em both and get ready for an enjoyable afternoon.  But you’ll have to take my word for it because there’s no way in hell I’ll post a song by either artist.  And you probably won’t see me write again about guys when I don’t feel like I can (safely) offer you a sample.  This is a one-shot, so enjoy it.

To soothe you, though, why not dig some Prince covers?

Prince covers, A to Z: Coming tomorrow.

The Reeling-Passion Pit (Mike Snow’s remix).

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