Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #376

I had hoped to get another post or two up this week but going back to school got in the way. Those first few days are always exhausting. I do hope to get some posts up this week but we shall see. In the meantime, let's get to today's ten...

1. Tell Me/King Khan And The Shrines (4) - last played on 3/31/13
2. Volunteers Of America/The Both (10) - last played on 7/21/15
3. Still New/Smith Westerns (9) - last played on 4/4/15
4. It Ain't Right/Paul Burch (3) - last played on 11/2/14
5. Tears For Affairs/Camera Obscura (6) - last played on 7/31/14
6. Elmo Delmo/Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks (6) - last played on 11/3/14
7. You're Going Back/The Tallest Man On Earth (8) - last played on 4/26/15
8. Jubilee (Acoustic, BBC Live Version)/Blur (3) - last played on 3/28/15
9. In A Little While/U2 (4) - last played on 5/27/12
10. When I See Her/Higgins (13) - last played on 2/27/14

Monday, August 17, 2015

Fantastic Four Flashback #2

John Byrne's second issue of his run on Fantastic Four (#233) begins with a man on death row in what's made out to be the harshest prison around (nobody's heard about Deeden because no one has ever escaped and lived to talk about it, because they were all killed. Cheery!). George David Munson is about to die but he laments to Father Vito that even though he's been a bad man, he's to be killed for a crime he didn't commit. He then last requests the priest to deliver a letter for him, a letter to...the Human Torch!

Cut to Father Vito pulling up in front of the Baxter Building two weeks later (2 weeks? Really? Why so long, Father?). These leads to a two page sequence that demonstrates the kind of security the FF has, as Father Vito happens to run into Sue in the lobby. When they reach the "visitor reception level," the two walk into an ongoing fight between the Human Torch and the Thing. Cue a two page fight/insult scene between the heroes until it's broken up by Reed and Sue. The Thing walks out upset and the others realize an eye must be kept on him. Finally, Father Vito delivers the letter and the story proper kicks in.

It turns out that Johnny and Munson were high school classmates in Johnny's pre-Torch days and that Munson used to pick on him. Johnny is willing to put that aside and investigate to try and clear Munson's name for that one crime, at least. He takes the old Fantasticar for two reasons - Reed wanted him to check on the servo-grids and he didn't want to deplete his power levels by flying. Well, sure.

Johnny's investigation takes him to the police station and then to the liquor store where the murder occurred, where his suspicions are aroused. Of course, his suspicions were correct and he goes to tussle with some goons in a warehouse where he makes some threats he wouldn't back up but those criminals don't know that. Eventually, he reaches a penthouse where the mastermind behind the whole thing stands revealed...Hammerhead! The two have a fight for several pages and Byrne does some nice work depicting that fight, with splintering wood and hard punches. I also like the way Byrne draws the Torch; he just looks cool. In the end, Hammerhead seemingly plunges to his death but in actuality has gotten away.

The epilog occurs one month later (again, why so long?) as Johnny goes to Munson's grave to talk with Munson's mother and explain that Munson was set up as a fall guy. Munson's mother knew all about his other crimes and thinks he got what he deserved (ouch!). She recognizes Johnny is a hero, the kind of man a mother could be proud of.

This is a solid issue but just that. The heights of this run are still (hopefully) to come...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #375

It's the last Shuffle of the summer season - school starts back up on Wednesday. Of course, summer is actually still going on and the weather is certainly typical for August - my 4.75 mile run this morning was rough in the humidity. I do have a couple days off, which I will enjoy as much as I can. Anyway, it's already after 9:00, so I'd better get to today's ten...

1. Summer Dust/The Love Language (17) - last played on 6/20/13
2. Sweet Marie/Crooked Fingers (6) - last played on 10/24/12
3. Primary/Spoon (6) - last played on 6/21/15
4. Hallucinations/The Raveonettes (4) - last played on 11/23/14
5. Challengers/The New Pornographers (12) - last played on 1/27/15
6. No Snow On The Mountain/Nada Surf (16) - last played on 5/28/14
7. Vincent O'Brien/M. Ward (5) - last played on 3/18/13
8. The Magpie/Bishop Allen (5) - last played on 8/12/14
9. Break It/Reigning Sound (7) - last played on 5/19/13
10. Silver Leaf And Snowy Tears/Superchunk (13) - last played on 3/22/15

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fantastic Four Flashback #1

The new Fantastic Four movie opened this weekend and I imagine there are a lot of reviews of it that mention how unfantastic it is. I haven't read many reviews but the overwhelming consensus is that the movie is terrible. I hadn't planned on seeing it even before the reviews started appearing; the trailers did nothing but make me bored and annoyed that we had to reboot the origin yet again. I've had enough of super-hero movies that feel the need to do so. Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm? Absolutely, but give me something that excites me more than what I've seen. I may see this movie eventually, although I've still never seen Daredevil (the movie, that is) or Green Lantern or any number of reviled super-hero movies. I love comics but it's not a blind love.

I do like the Fantastic Four and I started to think how I could bring some positive experience with them into my life. It wasn't a comic I read growing up, which is a shame because I would have basically been able to start with John Byrne's run on the title in 1981. His first issue arrived around the time the comics bug bit me big. I have read some of his run, having discovred a bunch of those issues for cheap back at a Wizard World Chicago back in the 90s. I haven't had those issues for a decade at this point but thanks to my Marvel Unlimited subscription, I can go back and read the whole run. That's what I'm going to do, at a pace of one a day. Along the way, I'll jot down some thoughts on each issue...

Byrne's run as writer/artist begins with #232, an issue titled "Back to the Basics!" It starts with the villain Diablo monologuing about his plan to finally defeat the FF, which is humorously undercut by his landlady banging on his door and haranguing him about cooking in his room, which he is not supposed to do. Also? He uses the name Mr. Olbaid to disguise himself. At least anagram it, man!

We check in on each member of the team as Diablo's plot is put into motion - Sue is getting a new short haircut, Ben is out with Alicia and being moved by The Elephant Man, Johnny is trying to get a handle on his relationship with Frankie Raye, and Reed is doing science! They are attacked by elemental creatures and are momentarily flummoxed by them. Reed discovers the truth of them, thanks in part to the fire elemental not wanting to engage with The Human Torch. The idea that each of the FF corresponds to a different elemental is interesting - they all make sense as opposites, though Reed and water is the furthest reach.

Reed gets to show off his smarts. Johnny has his usual relationship issues and utters "Flame On!" Ben is shown as sensitive but also ready to rumble because "It's Clobberin' Time!" What's most interesting is that Sue is given a lot to do - she pushes herself past her usual limits and discovers she can use her powers to glide through the air ala Iceman's ice slides (it's specifically referenced). She's still Invisible Girl here but clearly on her way to becoming Invisible Woman.

Oh, I also want to mention a brief cameo by Doctor Strange, which shows off the interconnectedness of the Marvel Universe circa 1981. Pretty sure this run will feature many more guest stars.

Byrne's art is not as stylized as it became later on in this run; by the time I knew who he was on the mid-80s Superman books it looks quite a bit different from this. He inks himself under the alias Bjorn Heyn. The colors and lettering are all standard for the early 80s, which all makes sense to me but someone who's started reading comics recently may find quaint.

This is a solid issue and a good introduction to Byrne's long run on the book. If I had plucked this issue off the drugstore shelves when it came out, I certainly would have wanted more. Actually, that's still true today. This issue does not make me want to abandon this project; it only makes me what to see what's ahead.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #374

I started my musical morning by listening to the rest of The Joshua Tree (I started it last night after listening to the corresponding episode of U Talkin' U2 To Me?) and thought about continuing on to listen to albums the rest of the day. However, it's been three weeks since I've done one of these and six weeks since I've done a "regular" version, so why not jump into some shuffling...

1. What You Do To Me/Teenage Fanclub (6) - last played on 3/26/15
2. They Want My Soul/Spoon (14) - last played on 6/26/15
3. Look At You/My Morning Jacket (9) - last played on 3/24/13
4. Away When You Were Here/Ben Folds Five (11) - last played on 10/26/14
5. Another New World/Josh Ritter (17) - last played on 4/22/15
6. Stay With Me/Ryan Adams (10) - last played on 6/23/15
7. Floating Vibes/Surfer Blood (10) - last played on 12/14/14
8. Foolish Young Bastard/Patterson Hood (9) - last played on 3/29/15
9. Criminal Piece/Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (14) - last played on 3/17/13
10. Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 1/My Morning Jacket (10) - last played on 11/11/12

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Superchunk #2 (Sunday Shuffle #373)

This would actually be the perfect weekend to do a Wilco shuffle - we got a surprise new album called Star Wars on Thursday night and then they were amazing at the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday night. However, I have almost all of their music on CD...which makes shuffling a bit difficult.

So instead, I'm going to bring Superchunk back for round two. I just wrote about Come Pick Me Up and then heard them played on the Dad Rock podcast (which I just started listening to...more on which soon), so I'm itching to hear all of their music. Let's do that now...

1. Tie A Rope To The Back Of The Bus (20) - from No Pocky for Kitty
2. Iron On (11) - from Here's Where The Strings Come In
3. Untied (18) - from On the Mouth
4. Screw It Up (13) - from Leaves in the Gutter
5. Watery Hands (24) - from Indoor Living
6. Seed Toss (20) - from No Pocky for Kitty
7. Flawless (21) - from On the Mouth
8. Creek (22) - from No Pocky for Kitty
9. Rope Light (21) - from Majesty Shredding
10. For Tension (17) - from On the Mouth

Monday, July 13, 2015

Heavy Rotation #25

It's become more difficult to become immersed in any particular albums over a concentrated period of time. I love the fact that Spotify exists because I get to hear way more music than I ever used to...but it also makes it harder to remember what I've been listening to in any given week. I also don't really listen to music in the car or while I'm walking in town or even doing the dishes; instead, I'm listening to podcasts. I love that medium and am always trying to catch up (and usually failing) on the ones I like while also trying new ones. All that said, I am still just as passionate about music and do get into grooves with some albums. Here are the ones I've been listening to the most in the past month or two...

Courtney Barnett/Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit - I first became aware of Barnett when I heard her song "Avant Gardener" (possibly via All Songs Considered). I loved her lyrics, which were delivered in a singsong style and laid on top of excellent indie rock. That song was part of a collection of EPs she put out in early 2014; she has now come out with her first full-length album and it is great. Her lyrics are just as sharp if not sharper and she piles words upon words and it works brilliantly. An example: "You said we should look out further, I guess it wouldn't hurt us/We don't have to be around all these coffee shops/Now we've got that percolator, never made a latte greater/I'm saving twenty-three dollars a week" (from "Depreston") Another example: "I'm growing older every time I blink my eyes/Boring, neurotic, everything I despise/We had some lows, we had some mids, we had some highs/Sell me all your golden rules and I'll see/If that's the kind of person I wanna be/If I'm not happy I'll be glad I kept the receipts" (from "Debbie Downer") If the lyrics don't get you, the song titles will - "Aqua Profunda!" and "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party" are highlights. The music is great here as well, from the blistering rock of "Pedestrian At Best" to the sleepy chug of "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)" to the acoustic beauty of "Depreston." Barnett's guitar is all over too, mostly notably on "Small Poppies" and "Kim's Caravan." That last song gets me every time as she sings "Take what you want from me" over and over again with background ohs and an ever increasing guitar build that smashes into raging chords and then some fiery playing. This album is one of the year's best.

Dawes/All Your Favorite Bands - I consider myself a fan of the first two Dawes albums, North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong, but for whatever reason I skipped Stories Don't End in 2013. Well, if I think about it I probably skipped it because a lot of bands were taking up their sonic space, bands I didn't like as much, and it bled over. Anyway, I figured I should check this one out and when I did I was very pleasantly surprised - either I had missed their sound or this album is particularly good or maybe a little of both. These are sturdy pop/rock songs, full of melody and insightful lyrics and harmonies and organ and some really interesting drum flourishes and a lot of solid guitar soloing. I feel like I'm damning with faint praise at this point but that isn't the case. These are songs that get stuck in your head and make you want to sing along. What more can you want from music?

Mac McCaughan/Non-Believers - I first came to McCaughan's songwriting via his Portastatic project, more specifically their 2005 album Bright Ideas. From there I started checking out Superchunk and fairly soon he was one of my favorite songwriters. Non-Believers is his first proper solo album and has a slightly different sound than his usual work, even if you factor in Portastatic. Synthesizers are a big feature with a sound harkening back to the early 80s in some respects but also totally of this time in others. I really like the interplay of the synths and McCaughan's usual guitar-based music. I also really like that he quotes Yoda: "There is no try/there is only do" from "Only Do." That song is a prime example of the interplay between guitar and synth - after the first chorus they intertwine lead lines and it works perfectly. And then he also puts heart on sleeve with "my compass is you." Even the more classic guitar-based songs like "Our Way Free" benefit from some synth. If you've never listened to McCaughan in any form, this would be a good place to start.

Spoon/Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - I've talked about Spoon a lot. They're one of my favorite bands. When I was shuffling through their music, I realized I hadn't listened to this album as a whole in a while. It's definitely in my top 3 as far as their albums are concerned. It starts with the blistering rock of "Don't Make Me A Target" then gets ethereal with a piano loop and spacey vocals on "The Ghost of You Lingers," which is followed by the bouncy pop of "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb." I love the jaunty horns of "The Underdog" and how the simple opening of acoustic guitar, piano, and shaker opens up into a fuller band sound in "Black Like Me."

Superchunk/Come Pick Me Up - The beauty of coming to Superchunk during their long 2000s hiatus meant that I was able to approach their albums in any order and without any preconceptions of what the band should sound like. Come Pick Me Up is their 7th album (it came out in 1999) but it was the 2nd one I heard, as I worked my way backwards from 2001's Here's To Shutting Up. The band just put out a reissue, which is what brought me back to it. The album opens with "So Convinced," which has an oddly flat drum sound that works with the buzzy bass. It is not the blast of power from their earlier work, though over the course of its 2 minutes the song pushes the pace faster and faster before slamming into "Hello Hawk." There's some unusual sounds in that song too, with a woozy undertone during the chours (which, by the way, gives the album its title via the lyrics "Hello hawk, come pick me up") before charging back into some prime guitar. Jim O'Rourke produced this album; he also worked with Wilco in the early 2000s during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost Is Born era. There are nice touches all over these songs - the "ooh ooh ooh"s of "Cursed Mirror" and the sneaky violin in "1000 Pounds" and the unexpected horns in the last minute of "Pink Clouds" to name three. Remember how I said earlier how Mac was one of my favorite songwriters? "Good Dreams" is a particular favorite with its heartfelt chorus ("Hold me all night/Give me good dreams") sung in falsetto; another favorite is "Pulled Muscle" with its chorus of "The heart's a muscle/I pull it constantly/Pull my muscles/Pull my muscles, please." Then there's 'Tiny Bombs" which gives us "How honest can I be?" with some sing-song "bongs" laid overtop and then a great guitar freakout to follow. I just love this band.