Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Music of 1975

This is not about the band called The 1975. I know they exist, but I am not really familiar with them. I like so many bands from Manchester that I probably should check them out, but not right now.

Having arrived at another holiday weekend, I was concerned that reviews that I posted today and tomorrow might get lost in the shuffle. Christmas is on a Thursday too, so I will have to figure out something for that week as well, but for this week I am replacing the normal band reviews with other writing about music. For today, that centers on an upcoming project.

Currently the songs of the day have been mainly songs by bands I have reviewed. (Though again, to keep anyone from getting ignored, today will not be one of those.) I am almost done with the current list, and I got the idea that next I wanted to do a countdown to my birthday.

From December 5th through January 17th, each day will be a year, and the song of the day will be something associated with that year. Ideally it will be a song from that year that has some emotional or symbolic significance for that year of my life, but sometimes there is a more apt song from a different year. Looking at the charts, for these last two years there will be nothing that charted that I will give any kind of notice (too many auto-tuned abominations).

Covering the earlier years is more difficult, because there are things I don't remember, and also I was not really culturally aware until we got MTV. I was trying to think of the earliest records I could remember. All three candidates came out in 1975.

They are not representative of 1975, except for maybe one of them. I am pretty sure that they did not even come to me in 1975, except maybe for a different one. Let's just get into talking about them.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith

This is the first record I remember picking out in the store. I was drawn to it by the cover art. My brother told me I wouldn't like it, and he was right, but it was more that I wouldn't like it yet.

At the time, I remember putting it on, and it was nothing like I thought it might sound. I remember how I thought it should sound, but I could not remember how it actually sounded until I brought the songs up today. I would end up liking some of those songs later.

I could not tell you if it was representative of the musical landscape at the time, but it was more likely than the other two candidates. However, I am pretty sure that I did not get the record in 1975 anyway, because I remember my older sister picking out Book of Dreams by the Steve Miller Band, and that didn't come out until May 1977. I believe she also picked hers out for the artwork - a horse with rainbow wings - but it worked out better for her because I remember her playing it multiple times. I remember "Jungle Love" and "Swingtown" pretty clearly. (We shared a room.)

Based on that release date, at the very earliest our ages would have been 5, 10, and 12, which are somewhat different demographics. That kind of leads me to the next one.

Happy Birthday From Sesame Street, the Sesame Street cast

My first memory of choosing a record was Toys in the Attic, but I had been given records before that, and there was a lot of Disney and Sesame Street in that collection, which I loved unironically and still have fond memories of.

When I first looked this up, I saw 1975 as its release date, but now I see 1977. It is possible that some of the songs appeared on the show prior to the album. I think it was a birthday present, so with a January birthday, I probably got it the year after it was released.

Regardless, I can tell you the one that stuck with me was "Blow Out The Candles" by Bob, and it was awkward because it kind of gave me a crush on him. Frankly, that increases the likelihood that this was from 1977, because that was about the same time that I got a vocal crush on Shaun Cassidy, which is more embarrassing.

At the same time, there are sometimes combinations of music, lyrics, and vocals, where it stirs an emotional response. That's part of what makes music great, embarrassing crushes aside.

At the Hop, various artists

This is the one I might actually have heard in 1975. It was a part of my life as far back as I can remember.

Generally speaking, I thought of music in the early '70s as a vast wasteland. Some things I was not ready to appreciate yet, and some things I was just never exposed to, but I remember hearing a lot of depressing, horrible things. Because of that, I mainly listened to older music.

I thought of it as '50s music. Later I found that a lot of it was from the '60s, but the title track here was from 1957, and one of my other favorite albums from then was Cruisin' 1956, so that may have been my ideal range right there.

One thing I hadn't realized until I started researching is that the song "At the Hop" experienced a kind of resurgence after being used in the 1973 movie American Graffiti. The compilation album I loved so much may have been a result of the movie, but it also makes me think that perhaps I wasn't the only one who found '70s music dismal.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Comic Review: Internet comics, no particular theme

I tried to divide this into a theme where I could pick three again, but the most likely theme did not have an obvious name, and I realized that the ones I haven't read yet are probably ones that I will cover based more on their authors, so this is just throwing several things out there.

It is going up late, but there are really a lot of reading options for your long weekend.

by David Malki

Old-fashioned pictures are combined with rather current exposition. The jokes often have fairly long setups, where the result is more likely to be a smile of understanding than an loud guffaw, but I find that many of them are applicable, and I end up sharing them with others. The Terrible Sea Lion was exactly right, and the one about daycare being wasted on the young made me jealous.

by Randall Munroe

The jokes are generally centered around math, language, technology, and human relationships. The art itself is usually pretty simple, with stick figures, but then something of amazing and beautiful complexity will appear. The humor is sometimes weird, which works for me, and sometimes it is entirely above my head, however, there is a disclaimer right on the page:

"Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."

This double liberal arts major (Romance Languages and History) still enjoys it.

by David Willis

This one focuses on the lives of the mainly freshmen students living in the dorms. It would be really easy to make some of the characters unsympathetic stereotypes, but there is a nice humanity to the strip. Some aspects of college and dorm life feel very familiar. There is a fair amount of focus on sex, which I don't remember as much from my time in school, but it certainly seems plausible.

by Jen Wang

There is currently only one chapter up, but it is really intriguing. The story switches from a collection of snakes where several snakes are missing and a person is dead, to the therapy session of a seemingly open and rather unworldly girl. I do want to know what happens next.

by Kate Leth

This is often really cute, and then sometimes it kind of dragged for me. I can't write it off though, because it frequently touches on issues of depression and identity that are handled really sensitively, and I know there is a need for that. It is probably best to not expect too strong a theme. Sometimes it functions more like a journal, sometimes there is a story, and you take it as it comes.

by Kate Beaton

This is different in that it is not fully developed yet. The drawings are rough sketches, and at least for when I was trying to read it, the individual issues cut off, where there were parts and connections missing. It is more of an experiment in that way, checking to see if there is something there. And there is. I believe there are important themes there, and that it would pair well with Underground from yesterday - perhaps not quite as action-packed, but with the focus on environment, industry, and human cost.

I thought I was going to cover three more, but of those left, they are all taking long enough to get anywhere that I can't tell where they are going. That's not an automatic reason for dismissal, but it may be a good reason to come back in a few months and see what's happening.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Comic Review: Internet comics, complete stories edition

These are three very diverse stories, all of which I have enjoyed, and which you may enjoy as well.

Adapted by Anna Sarhling-Hamm from a 1904 story by M. R. James, "Lost Hearts".

This is the shortest of the stories and it is safe to call it the eeriest. It is also helpful that it is not very long, because you will want to go back once you understand the resolution and see how it played out.

At least that is how it was for me being unfamiliar with the story. If you have already read "Lost Hearts" then there are no surprises, but I imagine that seeing it pictured would be rather satisfying.

While going over internet comics I have been considering things like layout and navigation, and I feel like the page setup here works well with the overall mood. Nicely done.

by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona was put out as an ongoing comic, but it always had a defined arc, and that arc having been completed, will be released in book form next year.

Nimona herself is a shape-shifter who volunteers as a sidekick to villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Initially I kept reading because it was so fun. If you think a powerful shape-shifter with the attitude and attention span of a teenage girl would be frustrating for a villain with a pretty strict honor code, you would be right. That frustration also has a lot of comic potential, and the shape-shifting has some great artistic potential. There is also fun with science and especially one scientist who is the very definition of nonplussed (and probably nonplussable, if that were a word).

At the same time, there is a lot of heart to the comic, and there are times when it really gets you in the gut.

Written by Jeff Parker, art by Steve Lieber, and colors by Ron Chan

Here there are five books, which can be purchased via Paypal donation.

The story centers around a cave system that the protagonist is trying to protect while various other people are trying to make a profit from it, told over five books.

I appreciate the balance given to the various characters and points of view. I sympathize with preservation, but I sympathize with the need for economic stimulation too. I believe the multiple needs can be met, which the book seems to indicate as well, based on its resolution.

The most amazing thing about it is exploration of the cave system with everything that happens there. I will admit that there were a few places where the action got a little confusing to follow, which would probably happen if you were in the situation yourself. I just also have to say that there were moments when it left me breathless, like Dang! How do you get out of that? It's a lot of adrenaline for reading a comic, and I'm not sure that claustrophobics would be free from panic while reading it, because it gets to you.

It does make the caves look really cool, it just grabs you by the throat a little bit in the process.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Comic Review: Internet comics, superhero edition

When I started looking at internet comics, it seemed that for every one I found and read, I kept finding more, and a list from five quickly grew to twenty-one, even with me stopping myself from noting others. It is probably better to look at it as something where the reading will not end, rather like non-internet comics. So, it is reasonable to review a few now, that I have read.

Agents of the Realm:

Artwork and content by Mildred Louis

"Shortly after beginning their first year of college at Silvermount University, Five young women discover that they’ve each been chosen to help protect not just our world, but a newly discovered sister dimension as well. As they venture forward through their college years their lives start to take on forms of their own, providing them with new opportunities to learn just how much power they have over them."

I like the artwork quite a bit, but I find the pace of the storytelling frustrating. Sometimes a long time will be taken on setup of a crisis, and then resolution is too quick. This is still fairly early in the run, though, and things may even out.

My So-Called Secret Identity:

Created by Suze Shore, Will Brooker, and Sarah Zaidan

" My So-Called Secret Identity is what happened when internationally-acclaimed Batman scholar and popular culture expert, Dr Will Brooker, decided to stop criticising mainstream comics for their representation of women, and show how it could be done differently; how it could be done better."

The name works on two levels. The similarity to "My So-Called Life" seems apt, as a precocious redhaired heroine deals with frustrations and personal growth, but also, the identity is not that secret. People know who she is, and in general the heroes and villains in Gloria City are pretty well-known. Even with the superhero pair that hires actors to portray their alter egos, there is no big surprise to that. Costumed heroes are so common here that it is easy to be cynical about them and their impact. That's the situation against which the story unfolds.

Reading four issues in succession I was very caught up in it. Issue 4 ended on a very dire note, and one common issue with web comics is that the schedule can be pretty irregular. Cliff hangers can last a while, is what I'm saying.

JL8: A Webcomic:

By Yale Stewart

"JL8" is a side project of "Gifted" creator Yale Stewart. A weekly webcomic, it follows the adventures of popular DC comic characters as children in elementary school. Mostly funny, with a dash of pathos, it should be an enjoyable read for any fans of DC Comics characters as well as people who enjoy the traditional syndicated comic strip."

I adore this one. It is adorable, while also feeling correct in that if you took these various characters and put them together into an elementary school, this is how they would be. Has really made me love Martian Manhunter.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Band Review: Busy Living

Busy Living is a pop punk band based in Central Wisconsin.

Although the pop punk designation feels very appropriate, I did hear other influences. At times the introspective sadness of the lyrics reminded me of some of the emo bands I have been listening to, but the music did not, feeling more determined and energetic. Some of the tunes verge into hardcore, but not consistently. At various times I thought of Touché Amoré and Science.

Their album How an Ending Feels was released on October 28th. While it is not a concept album, there is a strong theme. There is regret for the past relationship, and some self-recrimination for its loss, but part of that failure is also geographical. He could not make the West Coast work for him, and needed to return to his origins. There is a general understanding that this is how it needs to be, despite the pain involved with that.

I don't know how autobiographical it is for any of the band members, but if a return to Wisconsin was needed, and they are all there now, then it is logical that the things that need to happen can happen now. Maybe this is the right launching place and time for the band.

There is an ending, but it is not the ending. At least it shouldn't be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Band Review: Professor Shyguy

Professor Shyguy creates music that you could classify as Chip Pop.

I have reviewed one Chip Tunes composer before (Ben Landis), and was completely unfamiliar with the genre previously, so this is still pretty new to me. There are two things that stood out.

One is that with Professor Shyguy there seem to be more non chip elements introduced - at least it does not sound all 8-bit. Because of the beats and melodic features there is more of a dance/electronica feel. This in no way detracts from the game influence, as various songs reference games like World of Warcraft or Minecraft. (Well, I think they do, but that is also unfamiliar ground for me.)

The other thing I noticed was that in club music there is often a lot of sampling which may not be the reason for the monotony, but I suspect it doesn't help. There is a note in his Facebook bio:  "Composing every note, no sampling, all original."  Perhaps that is why the music sounds fresh.

There is a fair amount of collaboration. If you click on the Facebook music link you will get an album that is not all Professor Shyguy. He is on many of the tracks, but often working with others. It is still a good introduction, so I recommend checking that out and also the video for "Guilded Love - A Song about The Guild and World of Warcraft", available on the main site.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And Phil

We love Phil. We love Ty Burrell too, but we love Phil.

Yesterday when I mentioned Jay being unusually nice to Phil at Disneyland, I did not give the context. Phil, "the king of roller coasters" started feeling really ill after the Indiana Jones Ride. Jay told him that this was a result of aging, when the fluids in your ears thicken up, and you can't take the motion anymore. Jay said he needed to take a Dramamine to get on his swivel chair - doubtless an exaggeration, but a good explanation for why the only attraction we saw Jay participate in was Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.

Phil tried to tough it out for the Matterhorn, but after Big Thunder Mountain Railroad he had to admit he was ailing to Luke, in a touching and funny scene that ended with Phil sending Luke off to Space Mountain, knowing that they could find other things to do together. It could have been bittersweet, but all was well when Claire realized that Phil had a fever. His nausea was the result of a flu bug going around the office, so roller coasters could still be okay in the future, and also, he and his coworkers should get cups instead of just drinking out of cartons.

There are two things that make that plot line resonate. One is that as we were on the hotel shuttle to the park one morning, an older (62?) gentleman was talking to someone else about how he used to like Space Mountain, but a few years ago he felt really sick on it. He went to his doctor and the doctor told him some people get calcium deposits in their ears when they get older, and it can result in vertigo symptoms.

My sisters and I looked at each other: it was true! Technically Jay's issues sounds more like Meniere's Disease, and the man on the bus more like Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo.

One of our greyhounds would sometimes have flare-ups with his vestibular apparatus, so I know the drill. But also, apparently it does not happen to everyone. That is good news for us. I love rides.

None of us appear to have age-related vertigo yet, but we have experienced illness in the park. Not flu; colds.

Julie started feeling it coming on toward the end of the trip. I felt it about two days later. We are both getting over it now, and Mom seems to have it, though she was not with us, and though it does make her feel dizzy (but she is older than us). The really weird thing about this is that Maria, as the kindergarten teacher, is usually patient zero whenever anything works its way through the house.

I suppose it raises a second question, of whether we are now too old to ride in airplanes without getting sick, because I got sick on our last trip to Disneyland. I thought it might have come from swimming in the pool. On Wednesday my throat started feeling scratchy, and on Thursday I had no voice.

I was really cranky that morning. Not being able to talk is no fun. I mean, you can write notes if it is really important, but usually for me it's just wanting to make jokes and smart remarks, and there is a pain in not being able to do it, but a lack of significance to them that makes trying too hard to get them out inappropriate.

However, it was not just being sick. We'd had a really late night Wednesday, which led to us oversleeping Thursday, which threw off our whole schedule. We were going to go to dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, but we decided to start there for lunch. I didn't really want to go there at all, but my sisters did and it was their birthday.

When we finally got to the park, we went to Cars Land to ride the Radiator Springs Racers, and that was the longest line. (Still is.) So we waited and waited in the hot sun, and it was really annoying. Why couldn't we have gone in the single rider line? But they didn't want to get stuck with strangers.

Finally we got on the ride, and it was great, and then we went on other rides which had much shorter lines, and I felt a lot better. I still couldn't talk, but what I need was motion. The way the morning had gone gave me a pretty long delay before being flung or pulled or going zoom anywhere, but that's what I really needed.

This was a stressful trip for me financially. It was probably irresponsible to go, but a part of me wonders whether we will ever be able to afford another vacation again, in which case it is even more important that we went. (And yes, we are still trying for Italy in March. That is one reason I am writing up such a storm.)

For all the guilt and worry, there was so much joy and pleasure and exhilaration. Leisure is necessary. Work is important too, but without breaks, it's drudgery, and sometimes I forget how easily I turn to being a drudge. Which I suppose means that when my solution to escaping the drudgery is working even harder, that there is some irony there, but at least the writing harder part is something I like.

The networking part has been interesting. Some people have read the screenplay, or at least part of it. There have been a lot of favorites on the tweets, which I hope means they also click on the link, but it's at least supportive, and some very kind things have been said. (It does worry me that none of the five people who bought my book have said anything about liking it.)

I do feel some support, and also, it has still been really great remembering all of the bands and friendships, and the projects I was able to back when things were feeling financially better for me. So maybe I will do a round of asking comic book creators to check it out also. I don't know.

I've essentially decided to focus on the writing for now through March. If at that point nothing has happened, then I need to start looking for a different day job. I hate the thought of it, but I need to occasionally be able to visit a theme park. I need to have things to look forward to. Everyone does.