"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mr. Sandman, send me a dream; make it the creepiest I've ever seen

The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1

By Neil Gaiman

Vertigo, 612 pp

99 dollars

It isn't exactly bedtime reading. Putting aside for the moment the fact that falling asleep and dropping this massive tome on yourself would likely result in a broken nose, if not a fractured skull, the eerie nature of this collection of the first 20 issues of the groundbreaking comic book The Sandman is enough to make you want to keep the lights on all night.

When the main character is the eternal personification of all dreams, you expect a bit of nightmarish spookiness, but The Absolute Sandman is a compendium of creepiness, a grimoire of grim tales and a treatise of the terrible. The series of stories includes a journey to hell, a conspiracy of cats to rid the world of humans, a serial killers' convention led by a demon with toothy mouths for eyes, immortals and minor gods held prisoner by sorcery, death incarnated in the form of a punk-rock goth girl and a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Will Shakespeare himself for an audience of fairies.

Whatever Neil Gaiman may lack, it certainly isn't imagination.

Gaiman has become something of an industry in his own right with successful novels (American Gods, Anansi Boys) screenplays (Mirrormask, the English language script for Princess Mononoke, and two films, Stardust and Beowulf, due to be released this year) and a plethora of comics projects, but the Sandman series (no relation to the Spider-Man 3 villain of the same name) was his breakthrough work, spanning 75 issues from 1988-96.

The series is generally considered, along with Alan Moore's The Watchmen and Frank Miller's reimagining of Batman, to have brought an air of respectability to comics aimed at adults.

Lavishly illustrated by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zuli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcom Jones III and Steve Parkhouse in a wide variety of styles on heavy, glossy paper and bound in black leather, the book looks like something a movie wizard would cast spells from, an effect that is unlikely to be a coincidence. The price sounds a bit hefty for a comic book collection at first, but a few moments browsing the impressive artwork--especially the covers by Dave McLean--will have most fans of graphic novels, fantasy, horror and gothic literature reaching for their wallets.

The story begins in 1916, when a group of British occultists seeking immortality attempt to conjure up and hold captive the incarnation of Death, but instead trap her brother, Dream, also known as Morpheus, Oneiros, the Prince of Stories and, more recently, the Sandman. His mystic captivity lasts 80 years, with all sorts of odd phenomena occurring due to his absence: Dream creatures enter the waking world, changes occur that threaten the existence of the Dreamworld and the tools that give the Sandman his power are scattered throughout many worlds.

This first quarter of the Sandman series focuses heavily on the horror genre with a good deal of otherworldly sparring between the eternals, demons and demigods thrown in. The Sandman gathers his tools, puts the Dreamworld back in order and rights some previous wrongs he has committed.

In several of the stories--that of the aforementioned feline conspiracy, for example--Morpheus does not actually appear except in a sort of peripheral way. In others, he teams up with more mortal comic book heroes such as occult detective John Constantine--even the Justice League of America makes a brief appearance.

The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1 is not intended for children, or adults who are easily frightened, but at least if the nightmare creatures do crawl out from under the bed, the book is heavy enough to swat them with.

(Apr. 28, 2007)


Because of the Times

BMG Japan, 2,548 yen

There is not a great variety of sounds or musical styles on the new Kings of Leon album, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Followill clan work with their limited sonic palette in much the same way photographer Robert Capa worked with black and white. Because of the Times, their third album, shows them at their most versatile yet, but there is still little to differentiate one broken-hearted, buzzing power-chord anthem from another.

As always, Caleb Followill howls, moans and declaims in throaty splendor about an array of wicked women who have steered their men wrong while his cousin Matthew picks out distorted, ringing repetitive riffs reminiscent of a southern-fried version of the Edge, all backed by the thrashing drums of brother Nathan and the often sinister basslines of brother Jared.

The centerpiece of Because of the Times --named for an evangelical conference the brothers attended annually with their itinerant preacher father when they were growing up--is the lead-off track, "Knocked Up," an atmospheric seven-minute stunner about a couple of rebellious teens determined to escape the confines of their small town in a Cadillac, have their baby and live happily ever after no matter whose body they have to step over to do so--James Dean would star in the movie. Menace and youthful angst hang heavy in the air on this and most of the other tracks, reaching almost Jim Morrison-esque dramatic heights on "Trunk"--though Caleb's rough-and-ready emoting is unlikely to be mistaken for Morrison's coiled and oiled Brechtian theatrics.

If the howling, bluesy trailer-park gothic of "Black Thumbnail" and the Red Hot Chili Peppers-meets-U2 insistence of "My Party" manage to get some radio airplay, the Kings of Leon may be the next big thing.


Grand National

Warner, 2,580 yen

If the Kings of Leon present a series of gritty black and white snapshots of young white American male macho angst, the John Butler Trio lay the flipside on us with a Technicolor touchy-feely grab-bag of an album that mixes reggae and funk rhythms with hard-rock and blues sensibilities, folk instrumentation and hippie-trippy lyrics put to hip-hop cadences. The American-born, Australian-raised Butler made his mark with 2003's Sunrise Over Sea, an independent release that debuted at No. 1 on the album charts in Australia.

Grand National is in the same vein as Sunrise Over Sea, but the influx of major label money into the recording process has allowed Butler to branch out even further in term of arrangement, adding string sections ("Caroline") and brass bands ("Gov did Nothing") to his already potent mix of searing electric slide guitar, acoustic six and 11-string guitars, banjo and harmonica, backed by drummer Michael Barker and bassist Shannon Birchall.

Major label support has not blunted Butler's socially conscious approach to songwriting, with songs like "Used to Get High" decrying the demons of fast food, drugs, neo-conservatism and political apathy all at one go. "Good Excuse" has the counter-culture would-be guru delivering a wake-up slap to sullen, self-absorbed, video game-obsessed teens, urging them to "Go take a step outside, see what's shakin' in the real world."

While Butler's lyrics may lack subtlety, his heartfelt playing more than makes up with numerous extended slide-guitar solos and even some easy-skanking ukulele on "Groovin' Slowly."

(Apr. 28, 2007)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Domestic terror attack (yawn)
A bomb was found in Austin, Texas, today -- fortunately it was deactivated before it could hurt anyone. Normally, I'd expect that to be a big story since everyone in North America and most of the rest of the semi-civilized world seems to crap their drawers and beg the government to take away some more of their rights every time a car backfires or a balloon pops. But this bomb was at an abortion clinic, so aside from 15 seconds on CNN and a six inch AP story there is no coverage.

Imagine if this bomb had been in a Baptist church or at a Republican political rally or a police station or school or supermarket or just about any where else -- People would be running around screaming "terrorism!! terrorism!! ooga-booga!! Don't let the scary Muslims get us Dubya!" But since it was found outside an abortion clinic and they get bombed all the time (According to the Austin Statesman: "32 incidents of violence or disruption against abortion providers in the United States and Canada were reported in the first three months of 2007, along with five hoax devices or suspicious packages. In 2006, abortion clinics reported seven bomb threats and four attempted bombings or arsons ") we get: "eeeehhh, not such a big deal."

I guess its okay if its a pro-life bombing

Feministe has the details and a much better all-around smackdown

That was the week that was...
Not a great seven days for the Gnu Gummint of Kanada, at least according the punditry, and especially to Scott Feschuk.
But you would have thought that Stephen Harper's new psychic beautician would have seen all this coming and warned him. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The triumphant return of Friday HST Blogging

(I don't care what the date above says, I posted this on Friday morning, blogger has been smoking ibogane or adrenechrome or something)

"The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason."
-HST "Generation of Swine"

"We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world-a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us... No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you.

Well, shit on that dumbness. George W. Bush does not speak for me or my son or my mother or my friends or the people I respect in this world.

We didn't vote for these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today- and we will not vote for them again in 2002. Or 2004. Or ever. Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who among us can be happy and proud of having all this innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid little rich kids like George Bush?

They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali locked up for refusing to kill "gooks". They speak for all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the American character. They are racists and hate mongers among us-they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss down the throats of these Nazis. And I am too old to worry about whether they like it or not. Fuck them."
-HST "Kingdom of Fear"

Hunter S. Thompson 1939 - 2005

and a hat tip to RossK at the Gazzeteer

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just say moe.

What do you get when you combine rock influences as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan and Gram Parsons, as played by five talented musicians with a passion for improvisation?
Less corporate radio pop and "moe." music.
Hot on the heels of the release of its critically acclaimed eighth studio album The Conch, moe., the band with the unusual orthography, brings its wide-ranging jams to Japan for a whirlwind four-stop tour that starts tonight in Yokohama.
"We are an improvising rock band that likes to write pop songs," writes moe. guitarist, singer and songwriter Chuck Garvey in an e-mail exchange with The Daily Yomiuri. "It is a mix of every possible influence, style and idea we like--channeled through three different songwriters and five (multi) instrumentalists exploring the unknown. It is schizophrenic, yet familiar. Psychedelic, yet defined and memorable. It's the sound of a really diverse, fun record collection played by your friends."
Garvey is one of the original members of the quintet that started off playing college parties in upstate New York in 1989 as Five Guys Named Moe (the title of an old Louis Jordan song). After brief stints as Haggis and the moe guitar army, the band finally settled on moe., complete with the period, in 1991.
The band released three albums on Sony subsidiary label 550 Music during the next few years as it worked to build an audience with a shifting lineup--the band had five different drummers in as many years and even Garvey left for a few months at one point. Finally moe. hit its stride in 1999 with the creation of its own record label and an appearance at Woodstock 1999.
The current group, together since then, comprises Garvey, founding bassist-singer-songwriter Rob Derhak, guitarist-singer-songwriter and sometime keyboard player Al Schnier, drummer Vinnie Amico and percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Jim Loughlin.
Moe. takes a collective approach, according to Garvey: "The dynamic of the five of us (and our crew and management) adds up to a great whole. To a certain extent, our decision-making process is highly flawed, yet very democratic and satisfying at times. As far as leadership, the ball (or 'Conch') gets passed around so that everyone gets time at the top, but no one has to carry the whole weight all the time either."
Writing and arranging are also influenced by the group's collective nature. Garvey, Derhak and Schnier bring their initial versions of songs forward to be molded by the group to one degree or another.
"We used to jam to come up with parts that complement each other, then arrange them into a song. Now that our writing skills have developed, it is more likely that we can 'hear' complementary parts and put them together on the fly. We also 'harvest' improvised sections of live performances--especially when they have become a very identifiable entity on their own--to use as songs or parts of a song in progress," Garvey says.
Derhak's description of The Conch (the title is taken from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies) on the band's Web site bears out the close-knit, collective nature of the band's endeavors: "The Conch is a symbol of keeping things civil. We sort of took all these elements of us playing as if one of us has a conch and then it's taken away and it turns to chaos. That is very similar to our lives."
Moe. has evolved its own way of recording that combines painstaking studio work and the energetic live shows they have built their career on.
Like many jam bands, moe. has its own tribe of fanatical followers who see as many shows as possible--The Grateful Dead had deadheads; moe. has moe.rons.
Garvey and Schnier also have become icons in the rock guitar world and were named by The Rolling Stone's David Fricke as being among the top 20 "new guitar gods" in February, an experience Garvey described as both exciting and humbling. The duo are also featured in the June issue of Guitar World magazine.
Asked to compare and contrast their styles, Garvey writes: "Al's technique seems to be equal parts discipline, structure, noise and abandon...My technique is based around phrasing and melody up to a point, with white noise being an alternative to make a point. I think we occasionally operate as the left and right hands of a very accomplished chord/melody guitarist--'Two is better than One'!"
Moe. will play April 21, 6 p.m. at Bay Hall in Yokohama, (03) 3444-6751; April 22, 6 p.m. at Ax in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 3444-6751; April 24, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211; April 25, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka, (06) 6535-5569.
The Daily Yomiuri, April 21