Friday, February 28, 2014

COMICS REVIEW: Nova Phase

NOVA PHASE
by Matt Ritter & Adam Elbatimy
[Slave Labor Graphics]

Nova Phase is a part of a six issue series of comics that are being released through Slave Labor Graphics. The story is being billed as a “treasure hunt in space with old school video game graphics!” It certainly delivers on the promise of pixelated panels. You can see the bits and almost here blips and bleeps.  

Nova Phase tells the story of Veronica Darkwater, a bounty hunter with a good heart. Maybe too good—not a good trait in a bounty hunter. Even Han Solo ran into a bit of trouble in this area, despite the image he wished to project. Veronica is set up against a ruthless military antagonist  who, like all ruthless military antagonists, is on a quest for absolute power at any cost—at all costs!

If the story sounds like something from a late eighties/early 90s video game, that is hardly a coincidence. The arcade-style art and classic storyline is meant to pay homage to the 8-bit past.

A print version of the first two issues will be collected for sale through the SLG website and Amazon.

Nova Phase Blog:
http://8-bitspacewestern.blogspot.com
https://www.facebook.co/8bitspacewestern


Sunday, February 23, 2014

HISTORY OF MUSIC #11: Thompson Twins - Into the Gap

THOMPSON TWINS
Into the Gap
(Arista) 1984

About six years ago, before moving for the second time in less than nine months, I gave away a good portion of my collection of 80s pop records: Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Altered States, et al. I was thankful for not having to schlep a few more boxes, but after I was moved into my new place, I regretted the decision. Even if I never listened to any of those records again, it was somewhat comforting just to own them. The 80s dayglo colors of record covers like Into The Gap, Colour By Numbers and She's So Unusual —I mean, the future was so bright, we had to wear shades for godsake! That’s what Timbuk 3 advised anyway. Nowadays, the future is not so bright and shiny.

Since that time, I have determined that much of my record buying present and future will be involved in reclaiming my record owning past. Which brings me to a recent thrift store discovery, the aforementioned Into The Gap. Into the Gap was Thompson Twin’s 1984 chart topper. What the three twins produced in this release is a great pop record by any decade’s standards. It didn’t hurt that they  had, not only a firm grasp on 80s fashion, but the means to capitalize on it. They did it so well, in fact, that their many detractors thought they were simply flash and fluff with no substance. Into the Gap proves those assertions wrong. The record is full of great synth hooks, danceable beats and soaring vocals backed with great harmonies.

The Thompson Twin’s had both style and substance by way of good songwriting chops. The album's two certified hits, "Hold Me Now" and “Doctor! Doctor!" are still radio mainstays but deeper cuts like “The Gap," "Sisters of Mercy," and "You Take Me Up" were equally worthy of 80s chart success. Class dismissed!

HISTORY OF MUSIC #10: The Ramones - Too Tough to Die

THE RAMONES
Too Tough to Die
(Sire) 1984

Not the greatest Ramones record ever ever, but really, have they ever made a bad one? With the Ramones you have to embrace their faults, idiosyncracies, and quirks and love them wart hogs and all. Considering the personalities and disorders at play in the band, any release seems like a miracle in hindsight. Plus, we got Tommy Ramone back in his spot at the controls, so there's that. While most of the tunes on Too Tough to Die won't have you jumping to your feet, shaking your fist in a beat-on-the-brat kinda way, it does have its moments. Like "Wart Hog," for example—a Dee Dee punk rock gem with a very infectious chorus. This was Dee Dee's answer to the hardcore of the day, but he just couldn't help making it a catchy tune. "Endless Vacation" is another Dee Dee attempt to play hardcore which succeeds in the brainless and tunelessness a lot of hardcore aspired to in the mid 80s. In fact, Too Tough to Die is a mostly Dee Dee affair with the bass player contributing nine out of thirteen tracks. Non Dee Dee songs like "Chasing the Night," and "Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La)" are classic 60s ala Ramones pop songs. There are some throwaways sure, like "Planet Earth 1988" (still four years away at this point), and "Danger Zone," a forgettable if not forgivable bland rock attempt. All in all, Too Tough to Die is a return to form and remains a solid brick in the house that the Ramones built.  

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

HISTORY OF MUSIC #9: The Police - Synchronicity

THE POLICE

The fifth studio album from The Police was a monster seller in all formats. Synchronicity, (pretentiously titled after a book which name-checks a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung) turned these three blonds from super stars into super duper stars. The synchronicity concept—whereby two seemingly unrelated events occur simultaneously for some purpose—seemed to be a theme connecting the songs on this album. I guess. Maybe not. Ask Sting. The only evidence of this theory seems to be the two pretentiously-titled tracks “Synchronicity I” and “Synchronicity II”. In keeping with the theme as well, I suppose, are the two seemingly unrelated events of Copeland’s “Miss Gradenko” and Summer’s almost-unlistenable “Mother,” both lumped together on side A along with songs about dinosaurs, God and biscuit-taking and the aforementioned Synchronicitys. The B side delivers the goods though giving us no less than three hit songs as well as a song about desert tea drinking.

Synchronicity
would become The Police's biggest selling album and their last. What do you expect? These guys were on a nonstop, whirlwind touring and recording schedule and the end was bound to come sooner or later. Allegedly, Copeland and Sting came to blows during the recording. Copeland obviously didn’t punch Sting hard enough because he was able to carry on and release such pretentiously-titled future albums like The Dream of the Blue Turtles becoming a world music and tantric dork.

A lot of critics (aka nerds) like to get bunched undies when bands featuring mostly white people incorporate different styles of the music of nonwhite people into their own. This of course, ignores the fact that very little music played on this planet in the 80s or today was created in a vacuum and the origin of rock music, should they take the time to remember, was a multicultural hodgepodge of country and blues. While this fact should make them want to give up writing and actually try to enjoy music like most humans, nothing will deter them from trying to kill everyone's buzz one band at a time. (Vampire Weekend is a recent example of how this pointless argument resurfaces every few years.) They must have been relieved then when Sting opted to forgo the reggae and island rhythms of records past in favor of the more experimental approach of throwing horns at everything.

The question is whether Synchronicity deserves a place on such a high pedestal. Maybe yes, but mainly for the cultural impact it had on us back then. I will say, I was down with the Synchro in 7th grade like I was down with Thriller and Business as Usual. I rolled with the trends back then. Listening to this record many decades later, however, and after becoming a fan of earlier Police records like the pretentiously-titled Outlandos d’Amour and Reggatta de Blanc, this record is certainly not as exciting as those first efforts. Sure, it delivered the hits in spades, but it’s a dark record and kind of a bummer to listen to and nobody wants to spend that much time in Sting's head anyway. Not even Sting.

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HISTORY OF MUSIC #8: Huey Lewis Overview by Patrick Bateman

"Do you like Huey Lewis & The News? Their early work was a little too 'new-wave' for my taste, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own - both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is 'Hip To Be Square', a song so catchy most people probably don't listen to the lyrics - but they should! Because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself! Hey Paul!"—Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

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HISTORY OF MUSIC #5: Pat Benatar - Crimes of Passion

PAT BENATAR
Crimes of Passion
(Chrysalis) 1980

How come guitarists aren’t named Scott St. Cloud Sheets anymore? It’s a damn shame. Anyway, speaking of Scott St. Cloud Sheets, if you bought this Pat Benatar record in 1980, you got a pretty decent guitar rock record that bordered on pop but was quite a distance from any kinda synthy new wave shit. No, it’s not the Pretenders—it’s actually closer to Blondie (but not so cloyingly cute and clever as that band had become by the start of the 80s). And it had some hits too with “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “Treat Me Right”. The best track on the album though, is the Kate Bush-penned “Wuthering Heights”.

In summation, I hereby find Crimes of Passion, guilty of compelling guitar work and good—if not completely original songwriting. My life-long (up to this point) opinion of Pat Benatar as some sort of manufactured "tuff girl" lite rocker has been forever changed.

DISCOGRAPHY:

In the Heat of the Night (Chrysalis) 1979
Crimes of Passion (Chrysalis) 1980
Precious Time (Chrysalis) 1981
Get Nervous (Chrysalis) 1982

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