November 29, 2007 § Leave a Comment
Alan Moore is renowned in the world of comic books for many things, most notably his historic revisionism with established characters. Where some writers might rework characters adding a one-dimensional darkness and proclaim the update done, Moore opts for ambiguity and approaches the tales with multi-layered commentary and examination in such a way that they often turn in on themselves. He was meta before meta was meta, so to speak.
Moore’s grand and sweeping genre conceit has been his “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” project with artist Kevin O’Neill. The idea begins as one of simplicity, but its execution requires a convoluted complication that begs a creator’s giddy self-indulgence, otherwise it would never work to its fullest promise. Essentially, Moore has crafted a super team — like the X-Men or the Justice League or whatever — out of pre-20th Century literary characters who could qualify in some manner as the early versions of the modern day superheroes — Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Mr. Hyde, etc. They join to fight evil-doers within the context of that universe.
In the wider sense — and in this universe he has fashioned — any given literary adventure character turns out to have actually existed. In a parody of the modern superhero genre, Moore has fashioned a “universe” where all fictions are interlinked in an external continuity of some sort, where the heroes of old pop up in each other’s adventures.
The previous two books have been relatively straightforward adventures, though each has had extra material in the collections that hint at a much wider story. In “The Black Dossier,” that extra material takes center stage and the actual comic book adventure is tucked nicely in there somewhere. That adventure involves the mysterious Allan and Mina — they share names with the main heroes of the original adventures and while you feel fairly assured who they actually are and what their story is early on, it’s not made plain until the end. Allan and Mina have procured the Black Dossier, a top secret document that attempts to patch together the history of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and reveals that this is a long-standing arrangement stretching back centuries — there have even been French and German versions of the same.
With the dossier in their possession, our secretive twosome are being chased by some of the more loathsome fictional secret agents — James Bond and Bulldog Drummond — while reading bits of it in their quieter moments. Each section of the dossier apes another literary form — everything from P.G. Wodehouse to George Orwell, with postcards, official reports, and the new illustrated adventures of Fanny Hill sharing space.
Equally, cultural references both obvious and obscure abound — even Emma Peel and Fireball XL5 make their way in.
This is less an adventure with heroes than a hypertextual examination of adventures with heroes — and it has a lot of sexual content that may put off some people.
Though at times the Black Dossier might threaten to come off as an extended naughty joke on Moore’s part — at first, it all does come off as gratuitous — when all the bits are tallied, I can’t think of a comic where gratuitous bits of erotica — that is, semi-graphic sex and subsequent tittering — is more appropriate to the larger point. In one abstract volume, Moore seems to be taking his turn-of-the-century superhero team and examining the role of sex in rebellion and rebellion’s subtext in the superhero genre, as well as the speculative and naughty preoccupations in fan fiction, where all sorts of creative sexual activity verges from “canon.” Moore is peering into the most private parts of our heroes and investigating our preoccupations with them.
The sexual content seems to be a diversion from what is truly cheeky about the book however — once again, we find Moore subtly biting the hand that feeds, albeit with some possible affection. This becomes apparent in a later section of the book when one official report begins cross referencing several ’40s era superheroes — most notably the Crimson Avenger and possibly Captain Marvel, who is amusingly described as “a thirteen-year-old orphan said to draw fantastic powers and abilities from an adjoining extra spatial region or dimension ruled by technologically advanced fly people” — who once operated in their own void but were later incorporated in the wider DC Universe. Since then DC has spent a lot of time retroactively mapping out the histories and relationships of their ever-increasing stable of superhero characters — indeed, some might say it’s turned into a bit of an obsession that supercedes the smaller stories that one might tell. What purpose does the Black Dossier serve if not to do the same — claim disparate fictional characters through history are actually linked and use half-assed intelligence reports to cobble together something resembling a coherent timeline. Where the pieces might not fit together, the reports reflect an inability of the fictional agents to whittle down the possible stories to one. Even as DC unites its multiple Earths and then splits them apart again, Moore does the same in less time and space to years and years of pulp and classic fiction.
At the conclusion, the obvious point Moore seems to be making is that as each era of fictional hero passes on from the public imagination, there is a Valhalla where they rest, rewarded for their efforts in furthering the evolution of the human soul by parties and drink and sex. The less obvious one — at least, as I took it — was the offer of a safe house, where they live out the rest of their days, which would technically be eternity, away from the rigors of having to act out their official stories. Their legends remain, though some are terribly obscure now, and the wafting of these tales through the ether of popular imagination is where the characters want them. If the actual Black Dossier that the characters work so hard to recapture commits any real sin, it is that of attempting to uncover the truth of our intrepid adventurers and not letting the fiction move in its natural flow. The Black Dossier tries to create an official story — a mistake that is often waged by fans and editors alike — but the heroes know there is no official story, that fiction is fluid and wild and as hard to tame as Fanny Hill’s libido.
“The Black Dossier” is an intellectual exercise, to be sure, and also a ponderance on the strange industry in which Moore has found his calling. Its intrigue is not in the actual adventure, but in an abstraction on the nature of storytelling. It might properly be called navel gazing, but it’s brilliant navel gazing on a belly of artistic and cultural philosophy. You don’t often find levels like this in what amounts to a superhero graphic novel — the last time these ideas were mined so effectively was 20 years ago in Moore’s book “The Watchmen” — but now Moore has dispensed with genre expectations and merrily explored themes while on his own path, in his own time.
November 26, 2007 § Leave a Comment
In Paul Cornell’s 2002 book “British Summertime,” (it’s finally been issued in the United States this year), time travel is treated with its deserved complexity — so much so, unfortunately, that the adventure is not to be tread lightly and might best be reserved for a long and quiet vacation where one has lots of time to devote to concentration.
In the simplest terms, the story follows a woman named Allison Parmeter, who has this sort of psychic gift of recognizing patterns. She is searching for her lost friend, Fran, and has only vague recollections of the night that she went missing. She is trying desperately to reconstruct them — one thing she is eventually certain of is that they involve mysterious and God-like Golden Men.
At the same time, a weirdo has crossed into her life — Leyton, a kind of old style British fly-boy hero who claims to be from the future and in search of his partner in flight, a head named Jocelyn who is in the hands of a top government spy.
Oh, and there are huge sections of the book that are given over to the story of Judas, his betrayal of Jesus and the Book of Revelations — and how this all relates to an alternative future that has the Earth as a massive socialist heaven that seems to embrace its spirituality even as it wages a silly space war.
Plus there’s a strange encounter with cave explorers, a future history of the earth, a film director struggling to accurately portray a film about some version of the life of heroine Allison, and the secrets of the Golden Men themselves, the demon children of our obsessive love of money (no spoiler there — it’s a lot more complicated than I expressed in that sentence and still only works in a darkly abstract way in the book).
Cornell is no stranger to time travel tales — he is best known as a writer for the “Doctor Who” franchise, the British institution about a eccentric alien time traveller and his obsession with English culture that is currently enjoying a wave of revitalism that Cornell has contributed to in a large way. “British Summertime” is a far more abstract, obscure, and intellectual variant on the ground mined in “Doctor Who.” It involves a British archetypal throwback traveling through time to save the Earth from some weird monsters, but it’s not as easy to soak in and certainly not as charming.
There is a certain dissatisfaction with leaving the book — the twists are so bunched up, the turns so sharp, and the amount of information one must take in so heaping that it makes the level of detail one needs to come out alive from a the Harry Potter series miniscule by comparison. The frustration, however, need not be a bad thing, but rather a call to revisit the book in another decade. In tone, there is no similarity, but in thematic complexity and its resolutions, “British Summertime” reminds me of nothing quite so much as “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It doesn’t spoon feed the reader with answers and, in that way, really is what science fiction ought to be.
Though my head is partially spinning by what I took in — and though my brain still finds certain threads ponderous — I’m looking forward to tackling this again in 2017. In this way, it joins Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy and that is high praise indeed. I’ll check back with you in a decade and let you know my further thoughts on the work then.
November 23, 2007 § Leave a Comment
In Scott Chantler’s “Northwest Passage,” the glory of the western genre is taken to a new place for graphic novels — Canada. Chantler’s tale of a wilderness outpost in 1755 has all the thrills and grit of any novel about men taming the wild, but adds to it a cartoonish charm and a good helping of fascinating Canadian history — with informative annotations
The graphic novel tells the tale of archetypal he-man Charles Lord unfolds, warts and all. Lord is in charge of Fort Newcastle, a remote British-run trading post in what was known then as Rupert’s Land. This area, which included a good deal of Canada including portions of Quebec and Ontario, was under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was given to them by Charles II and essentially handed over to the company a massive monopoly on the fur trade.
With such profits to be had, obviously the company wanted its men to stay put and keep bringing in the money.
As Chantler points out in the annotations, it’s important that the story takes place one year before the Seven Years War, a.k.a. the French and Indian War, which lead to the creation of modern Canada after the seizing of Quebec by the English. Chantler describes the period as “a time of complacency that is about to be shaken up by violence and change” and “Northwest Passage” functions as a gripping parable for the wider movement of Canadian history.
Charles Lord is about to step down as governor of For Newcastle — a replacement is on the way and Lord is struggling with what to do with himself after a life of adventure and service. He also has familial issues to contend with — his son, Simon, part Indian, struggles with the confusion that his parentage offers. At the same time, an old Indian friend of Lord’s shows up at the Fort having been attacked by a mystery party.
Lord must not only defend himself and his men against French privateers ready to seize the fort, but also align himself with remnants of his past, before he was a governor, when he was a wandering adventurer, unleashed on the land with other foolhardy and brave souls and dreaming of finding a northwest passage to the Pacific.
The French, however, also hold specters, most notably in the person of their leader, Guerin Montglave, who keeps terrible secrets of his own that create personal hatred between he and Lord. Chantler proves himself not only a sharp writer whose characters draw a reader in, but a fluid and amiable illustrator. His pen work holds a cartoonish fluidity that lends the characters a feel of movement and personality and he’s great at period details without be fussy about it. In Chantler’s hands, simplicity evokes great depth.
“Northwest Passage” is a fine choice for anyone who loves frontier adventure and is looking for something very different, yet appealing to tradition — it’s packed with bravado and pluck, but also tenderness and danger. It’s a graphic novel for all ages, certain to enlighten and engage people who never considered the real possibilities in the comic book form.
November 23, 2007 § Leave a Comment
You can’t argue with a nice comic and Nick Abadzis’ “Laika” is as nice as they come — gentle and humane, it’s almost so low key that I can barely believe it’s a comic, let alone one about the Russian space program. And yet this tale of the first dog in outer space reveals within an oppressive bureaucracy shy people, strong in spirit but soft in emotion, facing a moment in history in the only way they can — from their small vantage point.
It’s nice, indeed, but that doesn’t mean that it ignores the darkness implicit in the story he has chosen to tell — nor the human complexity.
Abadzis finds several small vantage points from which to allow his tale to spring, all converging to some grim overview of the Soviet reality. Korolev, the future chief designer of the Russian space program, walks away from the belittling oppression of the gulags to promise himself greatness. Kudryavka the dog is a runt who can charm some, but can’t get any sort of break in life — a survivor of all the cruelty that Soviet self-loathing can conjure, Kudryavka will one day be Laika, the Russian dog that was sent into orbit.
These two sorry lives turned towards greatness converge in the space program — and with their associations with Yelena, the lab technician who nurtures the mutts and runts that have been gathered in order to go through competitive training to be that first canine in space. Yelena, considered possibly too soft in the beginning, proves to be publicly solid if privately filled with hear — so much so that she warms that of Gazenko, who quietly creeps through the Russian system of bureaucratic oppression, attempting to do his best within a process where the is no room for personal pride, everything is done for the state.
Abadzis has crafted a warm tale about the march of history, focusing on a small incident with big implications that was borne of the passages of myriad lives and personalities — not just workers in the space program, but various children and adults living normal lives in Russia against whom the various players brush in crucial and emotional ways. In this way, Abadzis dissects the parts that build to an event and unearths the complexity of any given historical moment.
It’s a low key work and Abadzis takes his time to let the themes unfold — you’re almost unaware that they exist until the final moments in the book, when everything that has come before drifts up out of the pages and the scope of it all is contained — still as ever before — in the little moments of the little lives of ordinary souls.
November 15, 2007 § Leave a Comment
New sounds are hard to come by in this world, so many cultures have been gone over carefully, their styles and instruments happily borrowed to spice up popular music — that’s why it’s so exciting when those rare occasions arise that something unfamiliar actually hits your ears. It’s doubly exciting when you find out these sounds have been going strong for about 40 years without being messed with.
On the new compilation “The Roots of Chicha,” 17 tracks by six bands are collected as a presentation of the Peruvian music known as Chicha, a variation on the cumbia form.
The CD was compiled by Olivier Conan, who is quite a musical explorer himself. Conan is the cuarto player for the band Las Rubias del Norte and owner of the acclaimed Brooklyn music club Barbes. Conan discovered the sound of Chicha on a music-buying trip to Peru. He had very specific ideas of what types of music he was seeking out, but the street vendors in Lima introduced him to a sound he hadn’t heard before — part Latin lounge, part surf music, part psychedelic. Conan was hooked.
Chicha stands as the Peruvian response to American and British pop music of the 1960s. Local bands took rock and roll instruments as their arrangement to create new versions of their traditional music, throwing in the twang of surf music, as well as, eventually, Moog synthesizers and Farfisa organs to add a whole other far out flavor to the sounds. The form was quite popular among Peruvians, but it was considered lower class music and the musicians never stepped out of Peruvian borders to pass it along to the world.
Olivier’s collection is a lively one — most of the songs would be considered mid-tempo, but the bands are clearly excited by what they are doing, with the tinny treble of the guitars dancing around the Latin dance rhythms and often excited vocals — mostly chanting guys with their party on, but at least one enraptured girl makes her presence known in Juaneco y Su Combo’s spy theme flavored song “Valcilando con Ayahuesca.”
Meanwhile, “El Guapo” by Los Diablos Rojos may well answer the unasked question of what music would have ensued if James Brown had somehow been born in Lima. “La Danza del Los Mirios” may well convince you that the Ventures were hiding out in South America in the 1970s.
As the cold winter months approach, you can find no better solution to keeping warm than this collection of Chicha. Olivier’s next goal is to offer full recordings by the bands featured on this collection, a move that promises warm and lively winters to come.
The collection can be ordered online at http://www.barbesrecords. com.
November 15, 2007 § Leave a Comment
Alienation is a very personal experience, and yet such a universal one. Those who feel the emotion have their own reasons for it, their own circumstances for leading to it — and yet it is such a common emotion. It’s always surprising to find out the people who thought they were outcasts in high school — I’ve heard cheerleaders and football players claimed that they felt apart and distant from the rest of their school. Who knew? Who would ever guess?
In cartoonist Andy Hartzell’s wordless graphic novel “Fox Bunny Funny,” that nether realm of personal alienation that links to a larger picture is examined through an absurdist lens. In this case, the disaffected soul is a fox — a fox with a secret. In this funny animal universe, it’s a fox’s world, regardless of the bunnies that also inhabit it. It is natural and accepted for foxes to want to be with foxes — it never even crosses anyone’s mind that foxes might want to be with bunnies.
It gets worse. If togetherness with bunnies is an absurd thought to the foxes, imagine how far out there the idea that a fox might actually want to be a bunny. That’s not the way normal foxes think, obviously — but it’s the way one fox, our fox, looks at life.
Hartzell’s book follows the young fox as he dips his toes in the well of the forbidden — and is forced to succumb to societal pressures of what it means to be a fox. In Hartzell’s world, foxes play video games in which bunnies are hurt and scouts are trained to prey on bunnies — but our fox begins with a suspicion, a fetish, that turns into an acknowledgment that the bunnies are not all that the fox norm has painted them as — but is it decent fox behavior to be so interested in bunnies? Will the fox father approve of such feelings, or will he go full force in showing the young fox the proper face of modern foxhood? And what path will our fox take? Will he stay true to himself or will he cave into the pressures of society to conform to a viewpoint he thinks is wrong?
The beauty of Hartzell’s book is that it manages to address the general tone of repression and alienation that infects so much of American culture, but still manages to be amazingly funny. It’s a profound work to anyone who has ever found it impossible to fit in, heart-wrenching in its way, but it’s also about cartoon foxes and bunnies, which has two great effects. One is that it lightens a pretty heavy load — the other is that it makes the examination of a very personal emotion and situation to be an entirely universal one. It might even serve the wider picture well in opening a few eyes for people who have never, ever been our fox.
In the bodies of foxes and bunnies, Hartzell’s characters are free of stereotypes — this is not a book about being gay or being weird or being foreign or having a different skin color or making personal choices that are not the normal way of doing things, but it could also be any of those.
Alienation is all things to all people — but, of course, to foxes and bunnies, it’s mostly one thing or another. Thank goodness Hartzell is out there, ready to portray both.
November 14, 2007 § Leave a Comment
In his graphic novel “Northwest Passage,” Scott Chantler reinvents the frontier western comic book by doing something very simple — he takes it out of the west and puts it into the north. While it’s more Daniel Boone than Two Gun Kid, it mines the same territory of manly Americana, but dispenses of the well trod plot devices by placing his adventure in Canada and examining the pressures between the French and the English.
Taking place in what was known as Rupert’s Land in Canada in 1755, Chantler’s story follows Charles Lord as his past comes to catch up with him on several roads and he ends up having to fight for his post at Fort Newcastle after it is taken over by a French privateer. Lord is forced to team-up with rag-tag comrades from his past, as well as own up to family connections and responsibilities in the present.
Chantler’s story-telling is tender and gripping, while his art manages to keep things light with an almost cartoony style that comes together with the subject matter in an unlikely but highly successful mixture for pure excitement. Adventure trends lean towards bells and whistles, but Chantler has proven himself an ace at doing the most basic thing demanded of a comic book creator that too many fail at— he can tell a gripping story in a straightforward manner, blowing away his competition in most genres.
Chantler lives in Waterloo, Ontario. His childhood comic book interests aren’t immediately apparent from his current work.
JM: When did you first begin to read comic books?
SC: I was pretty young when I first discovered comics…probably only three or four years old. Remember how Gold Key used to package comics together two or three to a plastic bag and sell them in toy stores? I was constantly pestering my mother to bring comics home from the toy store. I was really into Batman, probably because of the ’60s TV show. I was born in the early ’70s, but that show ran in repeats forever.
I didn’t really become a regular comics reader, though, until I was 13. Then it was “Conan,” DC’s “Warlord,” and the other sword-and-sorcery books that were popular at the time. Then, when I was 18, I discovered Will Eisner, and it was mostly Indie books from then on.
JM: What prompted you to conceive of Northwest Passage? What was the process of creating the characters and realizing the plot?
SC: Six or seven years ago, I read two books by popular Canadian historian Peter C. Newman — ”Company of Adventurers” and “Caesars of the Wilderness.” They’re the first two books in his history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which is the English trading company that was so vital in the exploration and settling of Canada — many of Canada’s major cities are built of the sites of HBC posts. It occurred to me at the time that here was an ideal setting for an adventure story, a setting that strikes the same mythic chord with Canadians that the Old West does with Americans, or that the age of chivalry does for Europeans.
« Read the rest of this entry »
November 8, 2007 § Leave a Comment
DC Comics’ imprint for teenage girls, Minx Books, has kept up the quality since its highly successful — and extremely likable — debut title, “The Plain Janes.” The line is a fun mix of titles that opens up the perception of comics for a non-comic book audience, giving some idea of the breadth of the graphic novel form and just possibly assuring future audiences keep coming back.
This is good news, since comics have matured over the past decade and the best of the works — far from being the male-oriented superhero adventures most people expect — have been giving, ahem, “legitimate fiction” — as well as film and television — a solid challenge in playfulness, intelligence and invention. Giving teenagers something to read that invigorates their minds and speaks to their experience is the best way to keep them in the form as adults.
Most of the Minx output has not had the same calm tone as “The Plain Janes” — a book notable for many reasons, one of them being a delightful lack of histrionics while portraying teenagers — but has rather been defined by a cartoonish energy that takes advantage of the medium’s energy. — the best example being the new release “Kimmie66,” Aaron Alexovich’s cyber science fiction tale. In the future, virtual reality has been utilized to borrow of our current Internet landscape — social networks, posting boards, even a site like “Second Life” — and create “lairs” that everyone spends as much time in as they can, sometimes at the loss of “real life.”
For Alexovich, pointing out this loss isn’t a value judgment, but he does investigate all the implications of online relationships as he delves into the quest of our heroine, Telly, after she receives a suicide note from her best friend in the lair, Kimmie66. Telly has no idea who Kimmie66 is outside of virtual reality they share and the note only punctuates that point as she tries to uncover her friend’s actual fate— and a possible cross-lair conspiracy in the process.
Alexovich asks some of the big questions about the virtual social world that we are currently entering, but he does so while having a lot of fun. Action scenes and teen comedy are interspersed with themes exploring the ways in which people really do or don’t know one another, how much of reality and relationships are merely perceptions built from our own conceits and the ways in which identity is measured.
It really all boils down to socialization — the center of teenager life — and the settings and methods through which that pursuit unfolds. In “Confessions of A Blabbermouth,” — written by father/daughter team Mike and Louise Carey and illustrated by Alexovich — it’s once again a form of cyber futurism versus so-called reality. The story pits a hypersensitive teen blogger — Tasha — against an old school writer who is about to become her stepfather. Not an old guy by any measure, he doesn’t know much about computers and blogging and clings to his old typewriter
The irony of this conflict is that the typewriter and official publishing world become walls that cloister the writer from his audience and, therefore, reality. The blog — virtual communication though it is — represents something live and immediate and its informality holds more power by being closer than an arm’s length. Tasha is also editor on the yearbook — a print project for which she has little patience — and that proves a catalyst for action and self-improvement as she spars and bonds with her future step-sister.
Even in its embrace of the new, there’s something old fashioned about “Confessions” — it falls in the tradition of high school clique comedies — but its setting in a British public school, complete with the sloppy uniforms, adds some exotic verve for American readers. If you watch enough Brit-coms, you may well be familiar with some of the archetypes the book is playing on.
Such is the power of words, stories and fiction in the Minx Universe, whether on a suicide note or a teenager’s blog – or in family legends or cultural myths. In “Good As Lily” — written by Derek Kirk Kim and drawn by Jesse Hamm — the idea of life as a story with chapters is taken to its thematic and surreal extremes when Grace is faced with three other versions of herself — a toddler, a 30 year old and an elderly spinster — who follow her around and constantly interfere with her teenage life. This is juxtaposed against the reality of Lily, Grace’s sister, now deceased. Things to come are possibilities of reality and Lily only exists as a wisp as other people’s potentials.
In “Lily,” facing yourself is the same as facing your own story. A teenage sees versions of herself with regret, an emotion that many teens might claim to feel, but few can really feel the full power of. It’s in comparing this version of her story against the figurative specter of her dead sister that Grace comes to terms with the fact that one isn’t always the author of their own fiction, but it is a worthy pursuit to act like you are when you have the opportunity. “Lily does a good job at mixing hi-jinks with life lessons.
In “The Re-Gifters” — written by Mike Carey in peak form and lively cartooning by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel — the idea of taking a gift and passing it along to someone else becomes a kind of viral karma. The meaning of the gift changes with each giving and, with it, the situation of each recipient. In this way, a gift reveals the inner logic of each stop on the path.
The book follows Dixie, first generation Korean American in high school, ace student of the Korean martial art of Hapkido and child to people who lost their livelihood in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Dixie has a horrible crush on a kid in her Hapkido class that is getting her off track — and her impulsive tendencies, buoyed by her temper, are getting her in trouble.
Carey brings all these elements together with energy and wraps them around the notion of “re-gifting,” as well as utilizing the idea of “ki” — that being a universal energy that binds everyone and everything — in order to give power to a circular motion of good feeling. That is, the person who gave the gift originally, if they gave it with honest intentions, will benefit in the end from the re-gifting — it will return and energize the original giver with “ki” when they most need it, it seems.
The book is not overrun with new age or Eastern philosophies — these are merely the backs on which the characters intermingle in the plot. Mostly, it’s loud teenage fun, as Dixie learns about responsibility to others and, also, how to be a gracious warrior. There’s a lot of energy in this book and, as a character, Dixie leaps out of the pages.
The strength of Minx is that its works examine the life of teen-agers on several levels — the books will mean one thing to a 15-year old, but the stories and ideas can be revisited for years to come and will continued to resonate. The line may be marketed to teens, but its creativity rises above any marketing plan.
November 8, 2007 § Leave a Comment
Bronx-born Iranian singer/ songwriter — and area favorite — Haale has returned with two 5 song EPs that acknowledge both the past and the future, honoring her previous efforts while still moving onward and experimenting with new sounds, particularly those in the dance realm.
This is not dance music in the American club sense, however — more in a wild and untamed, swaying and flailing and feeling the vibrations of the percussion way. The music, at times, echoes work by Danielle Dax or Kate Bush, but Haale’s sensibilities are more up-to-date and her production instincts give her songs an authentically mysterious feel — there’s a particular brand of psychedelia going on here that makes one consider the idea of the Beatles’ “Revolver” album being remixed somewhere in Bolly-wood, actually. And that’s a great thing.
Haale’s Middle East is a romantic one, drawing from 12th-century Persian poets and soundscapes that capture the seductive desolation of desert countries with both power and delicacy. She’s pulling from the culture of the region and revealing a direct line between the scribes she reveres and the world today. There’s no better example of this tightrope walk than the song “Floating Down,” which begins with an intense, exotic dirge of guitars and voice before transitioning into fierce, lively dance beats and Haale’s intoxicating wail.
Both EPs match that one song’s aurally lush magnetism and whether ballad or rave-up, evoke the same landscape of Haale’s mind at different points in time. Slower songs like “Aabeh Hayat” and “Morning” conjure up the same vast desert visions, but add different, more reflective emotions to the mix — Haale always delivers with passion, whether in English or another language, or just one of her vibrant cries that pepper the songs.
Haale adds to her own mystique by adapting Persian poetry to her music — it mixes well with her own oblique lyrics that speak to a wandering frame of mind that desires to be grounded while still basking in freedom, much like the sounds she produces.
November 4, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The Internet is filled with strange music enthusiasts offering their wares on blogs here and Web sites there, but no one has taken the activity to such a major extreme as Otis Fodder. Fodder is the instigator behind the 365 Days Project, which first saw the light of day in 2003. The idea was that each day for a year, he would present on unusual bit of recorded audio — and, in order to live up to this task, Fodder was able to enlist the help of others.
Fodder returned to the project this year, with WFMU in tow as his sponsors. This time, it was more ambitious — not just one song a day, but a collection, sometimes a whole album. The number of contributors have expanded as well as the contributions and Fodder’s project has quite possibly become the most complete of its kind, a vast library of rare and unusual MP3s covering everything from celebrity recordings to home recordings.
Fodder is also a DJ and member of the band, The Bran Flakes.
As the 365 Day Project begins to wind down in its last quarter, Fodder took the time to reveal the method behind his madness to Shuffleboil.
JM: How and why did you conceive of such a project?
OF: On a complete whim, like most things — woke up on New Years Day 2003 and thought, “Why not put up a piece of music a day?” I never imagined it would take off like it has — and at first there was no grand design, just sharing.
JM: How did WFMU get involved?
OF: I have had a long standing relationship with the station — having music played that I have created and doing a couple of one-off shows and being a guest at the station. Before 1999, however, I was a long time west coast fan and was not able to tune into the station because there was no Internet stream and for a San Francisco — transplanted to Seattle — native. I only had a catalog the station used to put out — “Catalog of Curiosities” — and the station magazine “Lowest Common Denominator” to go by.
JM: Was it more work than you imagined?
OF: Yes, but it sure beats flipping television channels for hours on end. I act as a project coordinator of the project and my workload is not as much as some people may think, I just do all the crap of getting everything together and the contributors involved — almost 200 now — well, this project would be nothing if I was only involved.
JM: How much stuff that came in were you already familiar with?
OF: Maybe 5-10% at the most. I am consistently surprised.
JM: What sort of surprises were there?
OF: Too many to mention. I don’t even know where to start. When contributors send in music to be posted about 99% of it makes it on the blog and the only requirements are that it is not in print and that the audio fits the certain audio avenue we are trying to present. It can’t be a rare live concert of Phil Collins or Peter Cetera singing some Top 40 muck, unless of course they have some blooper outtakes cussing, throwing a fit and changing lyrics to a more degraded level — now that would be a nice post.
JM: What’s your relationship with record collecting?
OF: I’ve never been a big collector. I purge regularly. I have close to 1000 records, which is too much as it is. It comes down to the fact that if something is sitting here and I’m never going to listen to or enjoy it, out the door it goes. I keep a giveaway box in the hallway for this purpose and records, cds, and videos that I pick up and end up not playing for various reasons get thrown in the box.
JM: Where do you like hunting for records?
OF: I really love looking at thrift stores. Many of the records I am looking for people just don’t pick up and they are cheap. Not a dime or a quarter anymore, but finding something like a vanity pressing of a comedian or lounge singer doing an act, you just don’t know what to expect, and for a dollar it’s worth it to take the chance. However, usually the finds go straight into the giveaway box. I certainly don’t hit thrift stores like I used to years ago, but sometimes still like to stop by a Goodwill or Salvation Army if there is some change in my pocket and some free time.
JM: When you’re seeking out rarities, what is your criteria? What sorts of things appeal to you?
OF: It’s not the condition factor that’s for sure. I’m not a collector in that sense. I am most certainly a collector, but one that does not let everything pile up. If I did I’d probably go a bit mad with too much stuff on the brain suffocating me. I’ve also never quite got the whole “I’m important now because I have something super rare in my possession that I will never unwrap or play because it would decrease in value” mentality. Very foreign to me, but I don’t want to knock anyone for that, it’s just not who I am.
Every genre is open for business when I’m digging through crates of records, or downloading music online. The taking chances part is what is the most fun, discovering new music. That’s why 365 Days has more offbeat material then what you’d hear in the mainstream media. It’s new and exciting. And sure some of it is funny and we can’t help but laugh at certain material, but I don’t view the audio in a poking fun way, more of in a “wow this exists and what is this’ way. I’d like to sit down for coffee with every artist on 365 Days, if that was even possible. And yes, every artist, even Little Markie.
JM: Of things you’ve found yourself, what are your most cherished?
OF: Many. Here are two I have been carrying around forever that I paid under a dollar for at thrift stores: Bob Dorough – Devil May Care. This record always makes me happy. And the Marimba Band Of Fairfax High School performing “Popcorn”. Popcorn on Marimbas!
JM: Do you remember how you got started on this strange trip?
OF: High School, mid-1980s, San Diego. That’s where I first heard of artists such as Martin Denny and Rusty Warren and Herb Alpert. I knew Herb, but I when I had a stack of Tijuana Brass albums, well let’s just say I didn’t quite fit in when sharing my musical tastes. I never want to go back to high school, it was a boring drag and after 10th grade, I pretty much stopped going. I didn’t learn the value of an education until I dropped into a local college in the San Francisco bay area in the late 1980s but by then it didn’t last long as I choose to become a club and mobile DJ instead.
JM: Do you have any recorded holy grails that you’ve yet to encounter?
OF: Yes, millions. Hopefully I’ll get to listen to a small percentage of that in my lifetime.
JM: What’s the worst record you’ve ever heard?
OF: Most of what is played on commercial top-40 pop stations nowadays. The same recycled formula played over and over and over again — in rotation no less.
If you’re interested in exploring recorded music, Otis highly recommends these Web sites: