Sunday, March 30, 2008

Last Wednesday, I was invited to be on the radio to play some records. I brought along a copy of Wooden Wand's Harem Of The Sundrum and The Witness Figg, thinking I'd play one of two songs that struck me as stand-outs. When I say "stand-outs" in regards to Wooden Wand, I am talking about songs that might not end up being the "best" over time, just that thing in radio parlance where something jumps out as a single, or something with more clarity of light than murky atmosphere. When there, on air, my mind blanked on what the second song was. I played "Vengeance Part Two" because, looking at the playlist, I couldn't remember what song "Eagle Claw" referred to.

Later on I realized 'oh right, that's the song where the chorus is "don't say your last words 'til you die".' A lyric I take to mean a refusal to lay down and die a living death, kind of a flipside to David Berman's "on the last day of your life, don't forget to die" line from the Silver Jews song "Advice To The Graduate." On another hearing, I heard the line differently, as "don't save your last words 'til you die," which is sort of the opposite sentiment, but, right, don't view your life as a narrative you can control. Both of these hearings, which are kind of opposites in terms of "What am I supposed to do with these awesome last words I have lying around to use?" apply to Wooden Wand's music in the way in which it's so all over the place in its alternation between psychedelic jam albums and more straightforward singer-songwriter stuff. I can't name a favorite, "best" Wooden Wand record. The best record for the jammy stuff is the Wooden Wand And The Vanishing Voice album The Flood. The best song-oriented record would be the James And The Quiet. This is for records that are actually released on labels, there are slews of CD-Rs around on bootleg networks whathaveyou. There's one I really like from a Spring 2006 tour where Hush Arbors covers Neil Young's Sugar Mountain with a series of high-pitched unnerving notes.

The constant records, under a bunch of different names, is what sort of frustrates the narrative impulse which probably is what makes someone popular- It's hard to place a clear progression, hard for people to agree on a favorite record. How many of the bad reviews of James And The Quiet were probably written by people who wanted jammy stuff? Music reviewers- who I don't hate at all, who I don't think are silly or worthy of mockery- are dealing in words, and end up receptive to narrative clarity. When the record Second Attention came out, filled with religious allusions, critics didn't know what to make of it, so they complained.

The next record made by the guy who uses Wooden Wand as an alias will be done under a birthname, on a major label, and is rumored to sound like Tom Petty.

So this post is a tribute to the scrambled musical path of Wooden Wand, where even the bad records have their moments. Good times.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I buy very few comics these days, due to budgetary constraints. It seems like people who buy more have lower standards, in a way that's not necessarily to their detriment. The more things you consume, the easier it is to evaluate something on its own terms. I think I can listen to music more honestly due to the volume I consume, but when I buy a comic, I tend to have unreasonable expectations- I expect it to work on every level a comic can possibly work, rather than as just an aesthetic experience.

Anyway, Kevin Huizenga's Ganges 2 works on every level a comic can work. I listed his stuff at the top of my 2006 list- his complete output that year. Then, in 2007, nothing came out, except for a minicomic called New Construction that I didn't read because I would've had to order it through a website that didn't have anything else that particularly appealed to me. Ganges 2 came out today, after a hiatus that would suggest a year spent working on it.

New Construction, apparently, had deleted sequences from Ganges 1, a suite of short stories. Something appeared on Huizenga's blog (linked to in my sidebar) that seemed like something from Ganges 2 in the middle of last year. In retrospect, it seems like that was probably the deleted sequence that appeared in the New Construction zine, and that shows up in Ganges 2 in expanded form. There, it was a small vignette, with a vaguely poetic ending. Here, it's a period piece set during the dot-com boom that allows for all sorts of tangents and details. When that poetic ending is reprised here, it's still not quite amazingly moving, but there's less weight on it after the extended narrative of the rest of it.

Huizenga exists at this point on the alternative comics spectrum between something like Chris Ware (Eddie Campbell might be a better comparison point) and something like Paper Rad. Here, he starts talking about video games, and their kind of abstracted relationship to nature, which is vaguely the province of Jacob Ciocci. There's also a really great scene describing a fictional platforming game using some Ben Jones-ish details for jokes. But there's this more bookish/short story way of going about it, with a more delineated cast of characters playing off of each other, and the politics of the day and interpersonal dynamics are drawn in detail. But the tone is closer to melancholy than depression, because people are capable of warmth and feeling in Huizenga's comics. Sometimes, Huizenga navigates the divide even further, by using crazy cartoony doodles to communicate some kind of abstract epiphany in thought process at a comics' climax. I love it when he does that, but it seems like his best comics don't do that, in favor of being more controlled and concrete. His three stories from Drawn And Quarterly Showcase that were reprinted in Curses don't do that, for instance. This comic doesn't do it either, but it does start off with this abstracted overture of drawing that seems like something out of issue 18 of Paper Rodeo. It's kind of superfluous filler compared to the generally literary thrust, but it's great for what it is.

These are generalities. Here are specific bits I liked: The strip of panels at the bottom of a page where Glenn drives home, goes to sleep, and dreams of corridors. Specifically, the rhythm, cutting from outside a car to inside, to then being outside of Glenn's sleeping head and then inside a dream sequence, and how that is inforced by the compositions.

I also like how, on the very next page, the vistas of the videogame remind me of the movie Black Narcissus. There's this gorgeous palette of shades of blue that make up the color in the comic, so the technicolor of that film isn't diminished by the one-color of the Ignatz books' format. Black Narcissus had all painted backdrops, in keeping with the videogame's artifice later highlighted: It's a deliberate allusion, but a subtle one.

There's other things- the strength of comics to balance the subjective and objective, and the way that the captions tell a parallel narrative to the drawings, which happens in Huizenga's comics a lot, and is almost not worthy of note, besides to point out how dynamic the depiction of action in the images is this time around, and how lived-in the narration is, compared to the sometimes facts-cribbed-from-books nature of, say, "The Curse." That had it's own strengths, in terms of information about starlings I didn't know, that made it pleasurable to read, but this development seems distinctly like artistic growth.

This isn't to say it's perfect, that every choice seems like a good one- I don't know why there's that drawing of Glenn's head popping off in the middle of a meeting, but it's still a great comic, and those moments where it becomes a little too excitable are just evidence of reach exceeding grasp in a way that seems like it should be expected from a great cartoonist actively trying to become a better one.
I'm sure I've talked about this before.

There is a scene that ends the documentary The Cruise, where Speed Levitch is standing in front of a door, pontificating. The door is labeled "Emergency Exit Only- Alarm Will Sound." It leads to the roof, or some kind of overlook. Speed is explaining how this sort of sign, this sort of wiring, is the opposite of "the cruise" as he defines it- being able to go wherever, being free. Sometimes these doors aren't alarmed at all, it's an intimidation tactic. You open it, and nothing happens. Although sometimes it's a silent alarm, and the police accost you within minutes.

He opens the door. No alarm goes off. He opens it wider, and because of the f-stop on the camera being for indoors, the frame fills with light and overexposure, and that's how the film ends.

It is an amazing moment of film-poetry, and it seems to capture an obscure feeling perfectly, through metaphor.

There are so many films being made, so much of everything being made. Sometimes it is worth it for when something like that happens, this weird metaphor added to the language, like the Gupta Empire coming up with the idea of zero. You know, that's why we have empires, or cameras and film stock.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Paper Rad news: That video Problem Solvers is amazing. Three segments, all with songs, all with lyrics that are hard to discern due to mixing, masterful use of Flash, very funny jokes. Also, apparently Wyld Fyle (the commerce-minded group of Jacob Ciocci, Ben Jones, and E-Rock) are doing a commercial for Corn Pops. And Extreme Animals did a cover of Archers Of Loaf's "Web In Front" at South By Southwest, that I would very much like to hear.

Newspaper news: The Stranger is a much better written paper than The Portland Mercury, with which it shares a design sense and probable owners. Portland is a better city than Seattle in almost all ways, but seems weirdly car-choked compared to most other cities in a way that kind of put me off.

Portland news: I went there to see the Boredoms and slept on sidebar-linked-blogger/shit-talker extraordinaire Ben Parrish's floor.

Music reviews: The new Silver Jews record is silly, although I like the parts where Cassie sings. Bands are letting me down in 2008!

Movie reviews: I started watching O Lucky Man!, the follow-up to If..., directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell. So far, so good. It's tonally closer to The Ruling Class than If..., at least so far. Partly this is because of the professionalism of its construction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I just learned that one of my favorite books, John Barth's End Of The Road, was adapted into a movie starring Stacy Keach and James Earl Jones. It doesn't look good, per se, but there it is.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sometimes I will get two bands confused with each other, before hearing either one. For example: The Afghan Whigs and Archers Of Loaf were the same band to me back in 2003, and when I was in middle school, Blur and Rush were indistinguishable. The most recent confusion for me to correct were the bands Ecstatic Sunshine and Awesome Color. Awesome Color are on the record label Ecstatic Peace, which is a fine label, but as I learned when they opened for Dinosaur Jr., Awesome Color are kind of terrible. The difference between Ecstatic Sunshine and Awesome Color is that the former are pretty, with volume kind of on the fringes of the sound in a way I know will dominate live, but Awesome Color are just kind of dumb.

Ecstatic Peace are from Baltimore and are signed to Carpark, kind of like Beach House and Dan Deacon. All these acts use different instrumentation from each other, but all seem kind of pretty, and have some kind of relation to volume. Even Beach House, who are totally quiet and gentle, have organ used as this blanket in this way that's like early nineties shoegaze. So far Ecstatic Sunshine doesn't seem quite as great as the others but I've just heard a few songs so far. (Also I think they're instrumental. They kind of have that "instruments playing themselves" feeling, but more stripped down than when you hear a bunch of musicians jamming out.)

This is probably worth another post of its own, but I just watched three movies starring Warren Oates in close proximity to each other. He is good in all of them, and all are pretty good. These movies were Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfigher, and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Dash Shaw's Bodyworld webcomic is totally great.

So's the end of this interview with Andrew Earles, for completely different reasons. Edit to emphasize: Just the end, where the interviewer asks Earles to define a hipster on. The reviewer betrays his not really having his own thoughts and opinions in favor of received knowledge and it's great.