Brighten my northern sky.

I haven't been writing in here as much as I'd like lately. Things haven't been going too well. As I mentioned last week, girl troubles--admittedly really stupid ones, but still--have been weighing on me, and it's brought home to me just how much I actually have cared for a while about eventually finding someone, ending my lengthy single streak. Around this time last year, I went out on a really bad date. The aftermath of that incident involved getting obsessed with the Drowningman song "My First Restraining Order" and finding scary resonances from my own mental state in the movie "The Devil And Daniel Johnston". I was pretty wrecked for most of the holiday season, and both Christmas and New Year's were rough, but I came out of it right after that and felt really good for a long time. I wasn't getting the really great high points that I generally have when I'm in some sort of relationship with a girl I like, but other things were making me happy, and I felt like things on the relationship front were bound to get better eventually.

I guess I got tired of it never hurrying up and happening already, though, because my mental state slipped a couple months ago and hasn't come back. If anything, it's gotten a bit worse (as I detailed in last week's entry). At first, the way this expressed itself in my relationship with music was by my gravitating towards the heavy, brutal, metallic hardcore that I loved so much as a younger person. I was listening to more blastbeats, mosh parts, and raw screams than I had anytime in the last few years, and it felt good. It was something I needed. And I'll probably write about that stuff soon, because I don't think my focus on it is over just yet. But right now I want to write about something completely different.

You see, I just got cable, and more importantly a DVR, last week. I've never been one to watch much TV, but given a greatly increased channel menu and the option to record things and play them back at my leisure, I've found that I'll end up watching a decent amount of it. This is mostly because I'll scan through the movies airing in the next week or so and queue up any random dozen or so of them. I'm particularly a big fan of documentaries, so when I noticed one coming up called "A Skin Too Few: The Days Of Nick Drake", I set it to record without hesitation. At this point, I've had almost everything Nick Drake ever recorded (including some of the bootleg home demos) for over five years. When I first got it, I played all of it to a ridiculous extent, and by now I've got pretty much every note the man ever recorded memorized, so I don't listen to his music very much anymore. But that doesn't change the fact that I love it, and consider him one of my favorite artists of all time. So of course, I was eager to see the movie. And I did enjoy it quite a bit when I watched it last night.

That said, it's not something I would recommend to just anyone. If you only like Nick Drake as much as the next guy, it may very well bore you to death. You see, there's just not that much information to be told about him. I had hoped going in that the movie would include performance footage, but I found out almost immediately that there isn't any. Since I've read Patrick Humphries' biography, I also knew all of the details of his life--which don't amount to much, since he really spent most of it hiding away from the outside world in his parents' house. He died when he was only 27, having made only three albums, and by the time he died, his career was basically over--it had already been over three years since he'd released anything. Therefore, there wasn't much for me to learn from "A Skin Too Few". It was interesting to see the interviews with his sister, the Drake family footage of Nick as a child, and to hear archival audio interviews with his since-deceased parents--but that may only be because I am such a big fan. Of more general interest were the conversations with his producers and engineers, Joe Boyd, John Wood, and Robert Kirby. In fact, Kirby provided the only new and enlightening piece of information that the film imparted to me. Apparently, it was he who wrote or helped write a lot of the backing music that was played behind Nick's songs on his first two albums (his final album, "Pink Moon", is a notoriously stark affair, featuring only Nick's acoustic guitar and vocals). I'd always wondered if the people who worked with Nick on his music had any clue of just how lonely and closed off he appeared to feel. The interviews with Robert Kirby and Joe Boyd made it clear that they absolutely did--Kirby in particular seemed very tuned into just how sad and despairing Nick was, and that this was the place from which he wrote his music. In discussing the song "At The Chime Of A City Clock", from "Bryter Layter", Kirby mentioned that the feel they were going for with the song was that of an alienating cityscape; lonely, dreary, and wet. To that end, he explains that rather than ever backing up Drake's single-note guitar riffs with rhythmic chord patterns, he wrote counter-melodies for the strings and other instruments to play, so as to deliberately isolate Nick's riffing and make him sound like he's being ignored and drowned out by the activity occurring all around him. This snippet of interview was immediately followed by a long section of "At The Chime Of A City Clock", which was played over footage of London streets on an overcast afternoon. It really brought home just how effective Kirby's portions of the song had been at achieving the effect he was going for.

Sections like this actually make up a decent percentage of the film's running time; the interviews take up somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes of its length, but the other 20 to 30 minutes are more like Nick Drake music videos, setting various songs of his over appopriate backdrops--"Day Is Done" over a rainstorm in the English forest, "Northern Sky" over empty fields at dawn, "River Man" over people walking around the campus of Cambridge University. Interestingly, these ethereal, atmospheric sections of the film are most evocative when set to songs from "Bryter Layter", which has traditionally been my least favorite of Nick Drake's albums. I've always felt like it was a bit too produced, that the saxophones and string sections that appear on it do too much to overshadow the naked emotion that is much more dramatic on "Pink Moon" or even the few tracks he recorded between his final album and his death. Those later songs still have a real effect on me, and remain my favorite examples of Nick's work, but I think I'm starting to see why many people most prefer "Bryter Layter", with its elaborate layers of jazzy backing music. "At The Chime Of A City Clock" always sounded to me like its intention was to be relatively upbeat, but after hearing Kirby's thoughts on the matter, I see that what I was hearing before were the background musicians and not what Nick himself was singing and playing. The lyrics are not actually upbeat, but instead express the alienated loneliness Kirby mentioned in the interview. However, Nick sings the lyrics in such a calm, almost detached manner that it's hard to pick up on the fact that there's still real feeling there.

The truth is that Nick Drake's music never expresses emotion in an overt, obvious way. The only reason "Pink Moon" sounds more raw and exposed is because of its lack of backing music. He's still singing in a calm, detached manner, but without strings and drumming to distract from it, it's impossible to miss the import of his lyrics. However, on "Bryter Layter", it's all too easy, which is probably the reason that only the song "Fly" has ever really impressed its desperation and sadness upon me in the past. And honestly, I don't know if I'd ever have picked up on even that if I hadn't first fallen in love with the solo demo from the posthumous collection "Time Of No Reply". Now, after seeing "A Skin Too Few", I find myself playing "Bryter Layter" obsessively, trying to see through to the core of all of these songs, and not just that of "At The Chime Of A City Clock". One other song that's moved me to an equal extent is "Northern Sky". The vocal melody Nick sings on the bridge of the song is one of the few places on the album (and perhaps in his entire career) where he disturbs his typical placid vocal tone and reaches for something. Certainly what he was saying must have been important, and upon closer listening, it becomes clear that it was. "Been a long time that I've wandered through the people I've known," he says, before making a solemn request: "If you would and you could, straighten my new mind's eye." By the time he's reached the request, though, his vocal has dropped from the heights it reaches earlier in the bridge. He's making the request in a tone that indicates that he doesn't expect to get what he wants from this exchange. This in the end is how pretty much every Nick Drake song sounds to me: he pleads for help, for some sort of acknowledgement and understanding, maybe even companionship and love, but he doesn't expect to get it, and probably doesn't think he deserves it anyway. On "Fly", he follows up the request to "please give me second grace" with the statement "I've fallen far down on the first time around, and now I just sit on the ground in your way."

I think I'm losing the thread of what I was trying to say with this entry, so I'll just finish with this. At the very end of "A Skin Too Few", Nick's sister Gabrielle tells a story that her parents told her before they passed away, about Nick sitting with them towards the end of his life and complaining that he'd been a failure at everything he'd done. They'd try to point out his accomplishments, but he'd just brush them off--his record sales had been lackluster, he'd performed live very few times, and although he was only in his mid-20s, he was already a has-been. According to Gabrielle, he told them that he'd feel like maybe it was all worth it if his music had ever touched one person, had ever helped anyone, he could feel like it was all worth it. She finished by saying that she wished he had made it to see just how much his music had been embraced by the current generation of young people, that he'd have been pleased to no end to see just how many people he was helping now, long after he was gone.

As one of the people that his music has helped, and is still helping, I can only say that I wish he'd made it, too.

Nick Drake - At The Chime Of A City Clock
Nick Drake - Northern Sky



It's my only medication.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to a Taking Back Sunday CD for the first time in a while, and I was sort of surprised to find that it wasn't hitting me the way that it did back when I first bought it. It was still good, but it didn't make me feel like I needed to throw myself around my room, screaming along and punching myself in the chest. It wasn't the huge emotional catharsis that it once had been. I couldn't help but wonder why that was. But then I thought about it for a minute and realized that a big part of the way that "Where You Want To Be" first impacted me had to do with what was going on in my life at the time. "Set Phasers To Stun" fit with the intense loneliness I was feeling in summer of 2004 when I lived with people I'd just met, some of whom didn't even like me. "Bonus Mosh Part II" and "A Decade Under The Influence" had sections in them that described the relationship I had during fall and winter of 2004/05, and specifically its awful emotional fallout, to a tee. "Number Five With A Bullet" described those spring months in 2005, right after the whole thing came apart, when I was a raw nerve and couldn't stop thinking for even a second about what I might have done wrong. It was a rough period in my life, and I needed things like the second Taking Back Sunday album so that I didn't go completely insane. Sometimes I needed it just to get through the day.

Things have gone really well for most of this year where my mental state is concerned. I have barely dated anyone the whole time, and I don't exactly like that, but I've been dealing with it pretty well, and getting plenty of happiness and contentment from almost every other facet of my life. But it felt sort of weird to listen to a Taking Back Sunday album and feel no real emotional connection to it. It felt wrong. I almost missed the days when it would resonate on a very deep level within me. I sort of felt like I'd lost something that, even if it was painful, was intense and real. Lately, despite a sort of general discontentment with the fact that I don't have a significant other, I don't really feel serious desire for anyone in particular. And the truth is, it makes things easier. I don't have to suffer the way I usually do when I have feelings for someone (since, let's face it, that shit NEVER works out for me).

Of course, less than a month after all of that went down, I had a really weird encounter with a girl, which mostly played itself out on the internet, despite her living in the same town as me. The details are honestly too embarrassing for me to get into here--it makes me look like an idiot. And where girls are concerned, I am well aware that I am kind of an idiot. But there's a difference between recognizing it and inviting everyone to point at you and laugh. Anyway, this encounter with this girl made me feel stupid and embarrassed and hurt on several different occasions. I managed to handle it so badly that I gave her multiple opportunities to set me up for a fall, and I fell every time. For all I know, she may yet still try to mess with me some more--don't worry, the plan at this point is to tell her to fuck off. But so yeah, within a month of thinking that I sort of missed that old "I need an emotional catharsis just to get through the day" headspace, it came back on me with a vengeance. It was only really rough for a few days, but I haven't been able to break out of it completely even now. And the longer it drags on, the more I've found myself falling back into stupid habits that I had previously abandoned for a long time.

Specifically, I'm turning toward the internet again. If there's one thing I've learned from my years on the internet, it's that there are plenty of other shy, lonely people online. Some of these people are much like me--reasonably cool, reasonably attractive, but plagued by shyness and insecurity and unable to handle going out into the world and seeking out the sort of romantic companionship that they desire. Instead, they only feel comfortable approaching people, flirting with people, when they have the internet to hide behind. I spent years being one of those people, and I've dealt with the double-edged sword of these sorts of interactions (ego-boosting in the short term, but ultimately only a further reinforcement of how alone and lonely you really are) all too many times. These days, I try my best to resist the temptation to fall back on these old, easy habits. I try to challenge myself, to make myself go be a part of the real world that's happening all around me, to meet the potentially cool and attractive people in my very own town that I haven't met yet.

When I'm feeling shitty like this, though, it's tough. So I do go back to the stupid habits. I've been hitting up internet dating websites that I've forced myself to stay away from for weeks and months at a time. I've been on AOL Instant Messenger a lot lately, after staying away from it for over a year. And don't get me wrong, this hasn't been all bad--I've talked to a few people I haven't been in touch with in a long time, people that I honestly do care about and have missed. But sometimes that only makes it worse. I know so many girls from completely different states or even different countries who seem on a personality level to be very compatible with me, and who feel the same way about me as I do about them. But I've done the long-distance thing too many times, and I just can't even entertain the concept anymore. So in some ways, the reminder that there are cool girls in completely different parts of the country who already know me and find me worthwhile only makes suffering through my current loneliness that much harder. It's a shitty feeling.

Comadre is a melodic hardcore band that I saw months ago. I hadn't heard them at all before I went to the show, and since the band they were touring with, Graf Orlock, was well known to me, I figured Comadre would play before Graf Orlock. Instead, they headlined the show, with Graf Orlock playing next to last. Now, on some nights, when I go to a show to see one band in particular, and they play before the last band, my inclination is to just leave and skip out on the last band. But for whatever reason, I didn't do that at this show, instead sticking around to see Comadre. Thank god, because they blew me away. Unlike Graf Orlock, a hectic grindcore band who base their songs around samples from 80s action and horror movies, Comadre played a driving form of melodic, emotional hardcore (no, not emo. Shut up). Not only were their songs really catchy and enjoyable, they really impressed me with their performance. In particular, I was struck by the last song they played, which ended with the entire band singing a few lines together, with no musical accompaniment, before the music came back in and they built it up to a stirring conclusion. The guys in the band looked like they were getting a real emotional catharsis from this, and a whole lot of people in the crowd, who were evidently familiar with this song, sang along at the top of their lungs. The set ended with a bunch of hugs between band members, friends, and random audience members. I was pretty blown away by it--it reminded me of things I used to see 10 years ago, back before this kind of emotional catharsis started to seem staged every time you saw it. Comadre seemed like they were for real.

After seeing the show, I went home and downloaded a bunch of records that I didn't already have by Graf Orlock. And while I was at it, I also downloaded two Comadre albums--last year's "Burn Your Bones", and the slightly older "More Songs About The Man", which is a CD version of their 7 inch EP "Songs About The Man", plus several bonus tracks. I burned myself a CD-R of those two albums, with "Burn Your Bones" first, and listened to it a few times. But in the end, it didn't keep my attention. It started out well, but by halfway through, the songs started to seem less interesting and more repetitive. As a result, I soon had filed the CD-R away. I'm constantly bringing new albums into my life, and if something can't hold my attention after a few listens, it'll almost certainly be bumped by newer and more interesting things.

But then, a week or so ago, I was in a record store, looking through their used LP bins. I've found myself in a position to need to come up with over a thousand dollars in the next two months, and as a result I've been thinking a lot about buying used albums for cheap and reselling them on Ebay for a profit. While looking through one of these LP bins, I discovered a copy of Comadre's "Burn Your Bones" album on limited edition picture disc. It was numbered 65 out of 200, and was priced at $5. I figured I could almost certainly get more than $5 for it on Ebay, and bought it. I hadn't even entertained the idea of keeping it--after all, I had a CD-R with the album burned onto it, and I didn't enjoy the album enough to really care about owning the actual vinyl version. Or so I thought, until I put the record on. It wasn't when I got home that I did so--it was actually a couple of days later, and I was really just listening to it to see if it would be worth it to dig up that CD-R and give it a few more listens. I liked what I heard when I put the needle down on side one, though it was a bit faster and angrier than I remembered, with a bit less melody. There was one song on the first side, "The Southern Comfort Smile", that featured an extended quiet melodic breakdown, and reminded me more of what I'd seen from Comadre live, but for the most part, side one was a straight-up hardcore record.

Side two, though, was a revelation. The first song on the side, "Blackland Dirt", begins with a long sample of a woman talking about being depressed and contemplating taking an entire bottle of sleeping pills because the thought of not waking up seemed almost comforting to her. As she speaks the words, "I'd sleep without dreaming, without waking... I'd be dead", her voice starts to break, and Comadre starts to play the song. The opening riff is undistorted and melodic, with only the singer's rough screams adding any sort of tension to the melody. After going through one verse and one chorus, the band kicks in the distortion and plays the same verse and chorus again, with much more drive and intensity. The first time I heard this, I was sitting on the floor of my room, and I looked up at the record player, surprised. "Oh shit," I remember whispering. "This is fucking GOOD." For some reason, even though I'd owned a burn of the album for months, and listened to it several times, I'd never noticed the powerful impact of this particular riff.

Often, when I hear a riff like this, one that imparts an intense emotion to me, I get curious about what the singer is singing. I want to see if the words live up to the emotion of the music. Sometimes they don't, and that's always really disappointing, but although Comadre's lyrics are pretty abstract most of the time, this particular song did have a powerful lyric. As best as I can tell, it's about feeling frustrated in the face of materialism's increasing grip on our culture, but also knowing that one is powerless to stop this from happening. "Level my utopia", the vocalist sings, "flood this perfect world with cover-up and hairspray, diet pills and vomit. Starve my siblings, then turn my child against herself." At that point in the song, the chorus has come around again; this time, the drummer and the singer play it almost completely by themselves. Then, rather than going straight back into the verse, the band chugs, stops, and chugs again. After another pause, they slam back into the verse riff for one last time, again doubling the intensity from the previous verse. Rather than playing the beat as he has for the rest of the song, the drummer goes nuts with rolls and fills, and the guitarists frantically strum the chords, feeding back between notes even as they manage to retain the melody of the song. At this point, only two minutes after the song began, it has gone from a catchy melody that the singer was more singing than screaming to a raging torrent of frantic intensity. The whole thing is threatening to shake apart as the final verse comes to an end, but just before it does, the band forgoes another chorus in favor of playing three descending chords and ending the whole thing in a wall of feedback, out from which emerges the sample of the woman who was speaking at the beginning of the song. She's still talking about suicide, about simultaneously desiring it and feeling guilty and crazy for having that desire. As the feedback fades out, her voice fades too.

The rest of side two continues with the more melodic, more emotional theme set by "Blackland Dirt". It has moments that are more straight-up hardcore, just as side one had more melodic, emotional moments, but, whether accidentally or on purpose, it seems that Comadre have sequenced "Burn Your Bones" in such a way as to make the feel of the two sides very different. And honestly, while I do like side one quite a bit, I like side two a good bit better.

This is especially true due to the last song, "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell", which turns out to be that big emotional song with the a capella section that they ended their live set with. It worked well live, but sometimes songs like that, which base a great deal of their power on being in the same room with the five band members singing into the air without any microphones, can lose their impact on a record. This one doesn't, and if anything, the recorded version helps me to notice the earlier parts of the song, which do a lot to set up the big ending. The opening verse of "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" is both fast and melodic, with the same sort of feel as many of the best, most anthemic songs by Kid Dynamite (who they actually covered on "More Songs About The Man"). And when it hits the chorus, it becomes both faster and even more melodic. I love the contrast between a really catchy guitar part and screamed vocals, especially when the vocals have a lot of emotion to them. The chorus of this song has both of those qualities in perfect contrast, and it's almost disappointing when it ends so quickly. However, the a capella part it leads into is just as catchy in its own way. When I saw them play it live, the line "We are the doctors with all the prescriptions" stood out to me, and I wondered what the song was about. Now that I have the lyrics before me, I find that, again, it's one of those songs where the emotion of the lyrics hits home, and further underscores the emotion in the music. "I am everything miserable without you. Three thousand miles can hold so much. These miles of land are the separation. How much desperation in between? Like a phone call with no reception. Our heads are a couple of cases, and we're everything miserable without each other. Can't wait til we see the same sunset at the same time. Can't wait til a phone doesn't mean three thousand miles. Hit me up, boy, on your celly-cell." Jesus. It's like these guys are going through the same thing I am--that feeling that every time you meet someone who really gets you, they're too far away for it to do anything but to make it hurt more.

It's sorta sad, though, because I feel disconnected from the real message of this song. I think what they're trying to say with the big finish--"We are the doctors with all the prescriptions. Can't wait til our appointment comes. It's the only medication"--is that love will conquer all. That the pain of separation is worth it, that there will be a payoff to all of this. There was a time when I felt that way too, but I can't really see it anymore, and maybe that's the worst part of this loneliness and depression. Everyone I click with is far away. Everyone close to me seems to miss some crucial part of what I'm about. It doesn't seem like I'm ever going to find something that works. I'm not in my early 20s anymore, like these guys are, so what do I have to believe in? It's hard not to think that I've missed my window, that I'm going to be stuck in this position for the rest of my life.

But having said all that, just hearing a band put the same sort of things I'm feeling into a song, and take a much more positive attitude about them, helps a little bit. It's a catharsis, like the Taking Back Sunday record once was, but in a different way. I feel like the message of "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" is that, no matter how shitty I feel right now, no matter how little hope I see for my future, I can't and shouldn't give up. And really, as hard as it is to imagine right now, I hope I don't. I hope there's something in my future to look forward to, even if right now I have no clue what it is or when it will be here.

Not every song on "Burn Your Bones" is equally good. Based on how much better it is than "More Songs About The Man", I think I can say with confidence that Comadre is improving. For all I know, their next album will be fucking flawless, and will knock everyone on their asses. But for my part, I don't know if they'll ever write a song that means as much to me as "Blackland Dirt" and "Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell" do. For me, I think those two songs might just be the pinnacle of Comadre's career.

Needless to say, I won't be selling this record on Ebay.

Comadre - Blackland Dirt
Comadre - Hit Me Up On My Celly-Cell



Wax On Radio (Part III).

Right now, it's a little bit past 2 o'clock in the morning, and I'm listening to Wax On Radio. Specifically, their album, "Exposition", which I first got roughly a year ago. I don't even know if they've put anything else out since then. At the time, though, I wrote about it in great detail on this blog. Twice, actually--something like 4,000 words total, expended on this one album. That certainly speaks well for how much I liked it at the time, but whether or not some album I wax eloquently about when I first get it will stand the test of time is another question entirely. Apparently Wax On Radio are here for the long haul, though, because here it is, mid-fall, the time when the weather first starts to get cold here in Richmond, the time when the clocks get set back and it starts getting dark really early--the time it was last year when I first got this Wax On Radio album. And what happens? I start getting these songs stuck in my head again. I start wanting to hear this record again. I'm carrying around the CD-R I burned of it (it is fucking criminal that I still don't own a proper copy of this album, but then, I've never seen one for sale) in my CD book, I'm putting the album on late at night when it's bedtime, and I'm playing it over and over again during the long afternoons of the days when I don't have to work.

This album is here to stay, I think. This is one I will be reaching for years from now, in the same way I go back to The Smiths and early R.E.M. and Angel Hair and Black Flag and Dungen and Jeff Buckley and so many more, immersing myself in their records every once in a while even after having owned everything there is to own for a long time. And I think it'll be happening a lot around this time of the year--this record has placed its stamp on this particular season. It sounds like mid-fall to me now. More than that, it sounds like the night. And more than that, it sounds like nights when I lie awake thinking about girls. Last year, I was dating someone who lived hours away from me, and I often had to drive at night for long periods of time in order to see her. I played this album a lot on those trips, and it underscored a lot of restless confusion on those long drives. I had started dating this girl because she intrigued me, but had quickly realized that I wasn't connecting with her in any real way. She was hard to draw out, hard to get talking, and when I did, I either found thought processes that I couldn't relate to or emotional issues that no amount of discussion seemed to help her work through. By the second time I hung out with her, I knew that there was no future in the situation, but I felt bad breaking things off with her. She was a nice person, she really liked me, and worst of all, there wasn't any appropriate time to do it. Over the phone, from three hours away? Seemed like a callous way to go about it. Driving up just to break things off, then turning around and going home seemed pretty terrible too, but then, so did spending a day or two in her company and pretending nothing was wrong, only to end things right before I left. I didn't know what to do. So I listened to Wax On Radio, and I thought about it.

Eventually things were broken off, right around the start of the holiday season. In fact, I last saw her right before Thanksgiving, and drove back from her house straight to my parents' house, knowing I'd seen her for the last time (even though I hadn't yet broken things off with her). The drive through holiday traffic was long and frustrating, and the Wax On Radio album played all the way through at least three times. Despite the fact that I'd already loved it for at least a few weeks, I think it was that night's experience that cemented it in my mind for good. That huge, expansive sound that they somehow obtained when they recorded this album just clicked for me. There was room within that huge sound for all of my hopes and dreams about the perfect life. I had been through so much over the previous couple of years where quests for love were concerned, and with all of those issues rattling around in my head, I still didn't know exactly what I wanted (still don't even now). But I knew what I wanted it to feel like, and I could feel that floating out there somewhere in Wax On Radio's music. But more than that, I could feel that Wax On Radio were evoking it as a desire rather than a concrete reality. They too were reaching out for something, and they too only had the most abstract idea of what it would feel like. But they were describing it, and at the same time, touching on the more melancholy feelings summed up by reality as it currently stood. There was no love here, and it was hard to imagine the possibility of it ever being here. I knew what that was like, and could feel my own emotions reflected in the melancholy undertone of the singer's soaring vocals.

I'm still feeling it. It's nearly 2:30 AM now, and I'm still wide awake. I don't foresee getting much sleep tonight. Some nights are just like that--a thought before bedtime anchors in your mind, and you know that getting it out and getting some undisturbed sleep won't be possible until you've stared at the ceiling for a few hours and felt your emotions shredding themselves. I've had a few of those lately. There's a girl in my life now, really only on the periphery, but there's some interest there on my part, and it's been very tentatively returned. But this girl is interesting and beautiful, which is enough to strip me of any real hope that anything could come of the situation. I have this terrible tendency to believe that anyone who even seems like they might make me happy as a romantic partner will never actually be attracted to me. The only people whose attractions I can allow myself to trust are those whose attentions don't interest me. Which is terrible.

What's even more terrible is that, while I'm lying awake tonight, I will doubtless fantasize about something eventually working out between myself and this girl. I will admit that the situation isn't entirely without potential, but it's very hard for me to believe in anything coming to pass. That's not going to stop me from daydreaming about it, though, much as I wish it would. And those dreams, while they won't go far enough to get my hopes up, will certainly make things harder than they otherwise will be. Thank god I have the Wax On Radio album to play tonight. I'll probably be listening to it over and over until 6 AM.

Apologies for this pathetic, emotional post. It's late, and I'm not at my strongest.

Wax On Radio - Remembering
Wax On Radio - When In Rome...



New Sigur Ros.

Sometimes I feel like my entire life is one big wait for something to happen. While at times I'm perfectly content where I am, and don't notice the passing of the hours, these times are few and far between, and become more so as I get older. My attention span drops, for this same reason. I'm easily distracted by my own constant feeling of anticipation. I don't know what I'm waiting for, but I want it to get here. A lot of times, especially at my most depressed, I feel like it never does, and never will. I actually wrote a blog entry for another website, once upon a time, called "Nothing Ever Happens". It wasn't just an obscure Pavement reference; at the moment I wrote it, it felt like the truth.

I've written about Sigur Ros on this blog before, when their third album, "Takk", so pleasantly surprised me with its awesomeness. After their first album, "Agaetis Byrjun", a record I found enjoyable if not always as great as its opening track, "Svefn-G-Englar", they released the much more soporific "( )", an album I couldn't quite get my head around. I was afraid that "Agaetis Byrjun" would eventually prove to be the best they'd had, that it would all be downhill from there. "Takk" was marked evidence to the contrary, possibly their best album yet. I loved it.

Now they have a new album, which is actually a double CD (though it fits onto a single CD-R; hopefully, the actual package will reflect this length and be single-disc priced). The first disc, "Hvarf", is the soundtrack to their upcoming movie, and the second disc, "Heim", is described as acoustic versions of earlier material. This isn't strictly true, but I'll get to that in a minute. Let's discuss "Hvarf" first.

I know a lot of people are just as enraptured as I am, if not more so, by the dynamic, unfolding beauty of the best Sigur Ros songs. Sure, it's a typical trick of the debatably-extant subgenre they're often lumped into, that being "post-rock"; start quiet and pretty, build toward a loud, powerful, often distorted climax, then trail back off again. And sometimes, when bands do it, it sounds like that--a trick. A gimmick. Never when Sigur Ros does it, though. Instead, the songs on "Hvarf" sound to me as if they must be the perfect audio track for the images that will apparently be contained in the Sigur Ros movie--I hear it's a journey through the natural, unspoiled areas of their native Iceland, a country with truly fascinating geographical formations. The beauty of nature unspooling over time is what I hear in these songs. Jonsi Birgisson's high, nonsensical vocals soar over clearly plucked guitar notes, soaring keyboard sustain, ringing cymbal taps, and the sorts of hums that I imagine are what Birgisson produces when he draws violin bows across his guitar strings, as he so frequently does. These songs are long, and don't so much build up as unspool, not generally reaching climaxes so much as revealing more and more layers underlying each central melody.

"Heim", meanwhile, does consist of reinterpreted familiar melodies from earlier Sigur Ros albums. However, rather than sounding like "acoustic versions" (what could that even mean for a band whose electric guitar parts are usually bowed?), they sound like the original melodies transposed into arrangements for small chamber ensembles. It's as if Sigur Ros recruited Louisville, Kentucky's Rachels to interpret some of their earlier compositions. In fairness, I will admit that acoustic guitar does occasionally show up in the background of these tracks. Most of what you hear, though, is piano and symphonic stringed instruments--violins, violas, cellos, etc. They turn songs that had previously at least borne some resemblance to rock music into outright classical music, and it's definitely not a bad thing. Jonsi Birgisson's vocals show up here as well, sounding clearer and more audible than they have at any other point in his career. One might even find oneself plucking actual words and phrases from his lyrics, regardless of the fact that they are supposedly in a made-up language. The phrase "you sigh alone", which seemed to show up as just about every third line on "( )", is in evidence on multiple songs here as well.

One thing both discs have in common is their overall mood. I have heard plenty of people talk about the overwhelming power of Sigur Ros's music, and plenty more dismiss these first people as pretentious idiots. I've previously stood somewhere between the two groups. But I must say, this new double-disc set is enough to at least start pushing me towards the former group. I've been listening to this album on a daily basis for over a week now, and no journey through it has failed to bring powerful emotions to the surface for me. It's that same old feeling, generally, of being on the cusp of something beautiful and powerful, something that will make all of this worth it. It's something I've longed for all my life, to finally feel like the things I want in this life are attainable, that the things I've suffered through and will suffer through in the future will be compensated for. Late at night, with the lights off and this album on, lying in bed waiting for sleep to come, I've felt like that thing, whatever it may be, is within my reach. My heart has been lifted by this music. This is a rare and wonderful feeling, and it's one that deserves to be acknowledged when it's felt.

Sigur Ros - Hjomalind (from "Hvarf")
Sigur Ros - Staralfur (from "Heim")

The entry about Coalesce and Sunny Day Real Estate has obviously not happened yet, and maybe never will. I should never promise in advance to write about particular things--when will I learn?



A new post about comics.

Well folks, I haven't written about comics in a while, but that doesn't mean I'm not reading them. I just haven't had a big idea for a blog entry about them lately. I don't now either, but I feel like writing about them, so this will just be a quick and dirty rundown of some comics I've read lately, with no overarching theme to tie them together. Let's get it started.

Moon Knight #13

This double-sized issue helps to make up for the fact that there were a bunch of shipping delays during the 6-issue story arc that just ended. Those delays, as well as Charlie Huston's roundabout, non-linear storytelling methods, helped to make that arc seem a bit disjointed when read month by month. I'm sure the people who wait for the trade collection will get a nice, unified read out of it, but I found my attention span tested a bit over the course of the run, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Perhaps this is why, according to the back page of this issue, Charlie Huston is out of there as of the next issue. I guess I can understand it, but I'm still disappointed. A year and a half ago when I read the first issue of the new Moon Knight run, I'd never heard of Charlie Huston, but between the outstanding first half-dozen-issue arc of this run and my discovery of his awesome hardboiled-vampire novels starring Joe Pitt (if you haven't read "Already Dead", run do not walk to the nearest horror/mystery themed bookstore and pick that motherfucker up. Now. I don't care if it takes your last $12. You'll thank me later), I've come to love his writing a lot. This issue was a great refresher as to why I feel that way, especially in light of the ambivalent feelings I had about the just-ended arc. It's a dark and spooky story about Moon Knight finally dragging his ass into S.H.I.E.L.D. and getting registered--despite the fact that everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks he's a nutjob and doesn't want him registered at all. If you're not keeping up with the action in the wider Marvel superhero universe, you'll be somewhat at sea where the wider framework in which this story exists is concerned, and I really don't feel like taking the space to explain it. Google "Marvel civil war" or something. But trust me, if Moon Knight has to exist within that wider framework at all (and I suppose he does, just like Ghost Rider does, though I really prefer to think of both titles as standalone horror comics rather than Marvel universe superhero titles), this is the best way for it to happen. It just makes me that much more bummed that Huston is leaving the title. But I've still got an entire series of crime novels by the guy to check out, as well as a recent standalone hardcover horror novel about a crew of teenage boys that looks really good. Plus, to soften the blow, Marvel's bringing in Javier Saltares and Mark Texiera, the amazing artistic team who've been making me so happy on the recent relaunch of Ghost Rider. If this means they are leaving Ghost Rider, I'm bummed, but it's offset by how happy I am to see them drawing Moon Knight. Hopefully the new writer (Mike Benson, about whom I know nothing) can live up to Huston's prior work and to the gifted artistic team he's getting.

All-Star Batman and Robin #7

Well, I guess the absurd shipping schedule this comic is on (one issue in all 2006. One.) has been alleviated somewhat--this is the second issue this year. It's sad that that actually seems impressive at this point, but I hear Jim Lee is really busy. Whatever. If this comic were half as good as it should be, I'd be tearing my hair out, but as it is, it started off a bit dodgy and keeps getting worse. In this issue, Batman and someone I'm pretty sure is an alternate version of Black Canary (she's been in the book for three issues, you'd think I'd know by now...) have sex. With their costumes still on. What is THAT shit. Dumb is what it is. I keep waiting for Frank Miller to turn this early-years Batman character back into the awesome guy he was in Miller's "Year One" four-issue mini, but let's face it--that was 20 years ago, and somewhere in the interim, Frank Miller overdosed on testosterone and lost his mind. Sin City was pretty decent, but since then I haven't seen a worthwhile comic from the guy. It pains me to say this, and before I read this issue I wouldn't have admitted it, but nonetheless it's the truth. I may very well cancel this title next time I'm at the comic store. Good grief, I can't believe I'm saying that about a Frank Miller-penned Batman title, but there you are. And by the way, no, the sex scene wasn't the only thing that happened in this issue. But it's the only thing that stuck with me enough that I remember it now, four hours after I read the damn thing. Sigh.

Detective Comics #837

Another Paul Dini-penned one-and-done Batman tale. I've enjoyed Dini's work on recent issues of Detective, for the most part--his old-school Batman adventures have made a nice counterpoint to Grant Morrison's innovative work on recent issues of the eponymous title. This issue, though, is a tie-in to Dini's weekly book, Countdown. While I will read most of Marvel's universe-wide big-event crossover miniseries, I generally avoid them when DC does them, because let's face it: they usually suck. Perhaps I'm biased by the fact that I either have no opinion of or actively hate 90% of DC's heroes, but I don't think that's it. If you ask me, the idea of how to construct a superhero universe that fuels DC's superhero line is just not that good or interesting. Batman is grittily realistic enough to be exempt from this as long as he's left alone in much the same way I like to see Ghost Rider and Moon Knight left alone. Unfortunately, he's one of DC's big marquee guys, so they don't leave him alone too often. This issue of Detective is an example of that. I started out reading DC's weekly book, 52, last year because I was interested in some of the characters it focused on (Elongated Man, The Question, Gotham Central's Renee Montoya) and I liked two of the book's writers: Greg Rucka and Grant Morrison. I'm not as big a fan of Mark Waid's, and I think Geoff Johns pretty much sucks, but those two were enough to get me reading. I enjoyed it at first, but it piled up new issues in my comic box so fast that I got hopelessly behind by the time the series was 3/4 of the way through, and didn't catch up until it had transformed itself into the Paul Dini-penned weekly, Countdown. Which is apparently working its way towards Final Crisis, which looks to me like it will suck just as bad as Infinite Crisis did, if it's not even worse. I read the last 10 issues of 52 and the first 14 of Countdown all in one big shot, and the dropoff in quality that occurred with the transition to Countdown was enough to cause me to cancel the title. I'm just not interested. And the reason I just went through that whole explanation was to make clear why I was sorta bummed when I picked up this issue of Detective and saw that it was a Countdown tie-in. I try to believe that Dini is still just as good at the one-shot Batman adventures as he was before I read Countdown, but I can't help but be a little bit prejudiced by the fact that I didn't like his writing on that title as much, and I certainly didn't want this issue of Detective to read like an issue of Countdown. Well, you'll be glad to hear that it didn't, for the most part. There were a few loose threads left by the end of the issue, which denoted ominous goings-on in future issues of Countdown, but I just ignored them because I don't really give a flying fuck. I was left with a satisfying tale that barely featured Batman at all, in which former super-villains The Riddler and Harley Quin (whom I've always had a soft spot for) were the heroes. I actually really enjoyed the storyline, and it's nice to see Harley finally getting her head straight. I know, she's just a comic character, why do I care? Hey, if I didn't, I wouldn't read the damn things.

Apocalypse Nerd #6

I stuck with this one to the end because I love Peter Bagge's old series, Hate, and was overjoyed to see him doing a new series (even if the issues did sometimes come out as far as 6 months apart). However, I never liked it as much as I liked Hate. The storyline (Pacific Northwest is nuked, certain city-fied types miss getting killed by the nuke because they're out in the woods at the time, said city-fied types must now find ways to survive) is less believable than the real-world tales of Hate, the characters are far less sympathetic--even the hero of the story, such that he is, makes me want to reach into the comic and smack him about 50% of the time--and the humor is a lot more mean-spirited than it was in Hate. Or at least, so it seems to me. Maybe if I reread my old issues of Hate now, I'd change my mind, but the fact is that I enjoyed them a lot more when I was reading them. Another thing I didn't like about Apocalypse Nerd--it seemed like death and murder were treated way too lightly and happened way too often. I think Bagge has always had a much more misanthropic outlook than I do, but his vision of the way the world would go if society's laws and constraints were removed just strained at my sense of disbelief. Worst of all, this issue, the final one in the miniseries, ends really anticlimactically. I thought I was going to get some sense of everything being wrapped up, but it didn't happen. Also, I've enjoyed the "Founding Fathers Funnies" backup feature in this title, probably more than I enjoyed the main storyline, but this issue's was far less funny than any previous ones. Even the one-page back cover strip was kind of lacking compared to the ones that preceded it. On the whole, rather a letdown. Still worth checking out for the dyed-in-the-wool Bagge fans, but those of you who haven't checked him out before would do well to start out elsewhere--both Hate and Neat Stuff make way better entry points.

American Virgin #20

This comic has ridden the fence with me from the very first issue. It always features portions of the storyline that are cringeworthy and others that are awesome, sometimes on the same page. However, the most recent story arc really pulled me in, and I was very satisfied with its conclusion, and interested to see where writer Steven Seagle would take things from here. Based on what I'm seeing in this issue, though, I'm starting to think that the conclusion of the last arc was a bit of a bait-and-switch. He's now moving things in a direction that would basically nullify its conclusion, depending on the way things go. And if that happens, I will find it hard to maintain my sympathy for his main character, the always a bit hard to believe pro-virginity evangelist, Adam Chamberlain. This issue's ending leaves the choice in Adam's hands, whether he wants to stand up for himself or let others around him talk him into the nullification choice (I'm trying really hard to keep this write-up spoiler-free for those who haven't caught up with the series--sorry if it leaves me speaking super-vaguely), but it looks like things are going in the direction I don't want. I'm not too into that. But I'll give Seagle one thing--the events of this issue got me really fired up, which means he's totally sucked me into caring about his characters and where their story is going. Even if he makes choices I don't like with the next issue, I'm with this title for the long haul.

Gotham Underground #1

Hoo boy. Not sure what led me to add this to my pull list in advance--perhaps I thought it would be a sort of sequel to Brubaker and Rucka's late, lamented Gotham Central, starring the cops of Gotham City's homicide department with only occasional appearances by Batman. But it's not--it's closer in feel to recent issues of Detective Comics, with their out of continuity standalone Batman adventure stories that nonetheless make me feel like I need to be way more acquainted with Batman's rogue's gallery than I generally am. At least when Paul Dini writes them, they're pretty well constructed, whereas some of the non-Dini writing on Detective in recent years has left me really cold. As does this issue. Bruce Wayne spends most of the issue dressed as a small-time thug named Matches Malone rather than as Batman--what's that about? Is that something that's been done before? In the 60s? Well, who knows at this point (answer: bigger comic nerds than me), but I didn't really enjoy it. Or anything else about this issue, to be honest. There are a couple of big marquee characters that I really enjoy reading about, for each company--Spider-Man is the big one for Marvel--and I often feel like each company churns out an excess of titles for each character, just to get superfans to spend more money. There are some titles that feel essential, and some that don't. Right now, where Batman is concerned, only his eponymous title feels like it's essential. I still read Detective because it's a lot of fun sometimes, but it's less than essential. Gotham Underground is worse than that, though, it's extremely inessential, and I probably won't pick up any future issues.

Suburban Glamour #1

This is Jamie McKelvie's new title. McKelvie did the art for Phonogram, a Kieron Gillen-penned miniseries that I loved. It reminded me of the best Hellblazer issues I've read, but also had a big musical link--the main character was obsessed with Britpop. I had a blast reading it, digging on the references to bands I loved, and even checking out some new bands whose names got dropped in the story but whose music I hadn't heard (I was less than impressed by Sleeper, but Kenickie are actually pretty damn good). McKelvie's art was enough to get me to take a chance on his writing as well, and Suburban Glamour ends up feeling a lot like a high-school version of the twentysomething Phonogram. Main character Astrid has evidently picked up the interest of some demons, or something like that, but most of the comic just focuses on her and her best friend Dave trying to get through high school being the sort of alterna-teens that might grow up to be punks, or indie kids, but right now are still listening to some kind of cliched mainstream-alternative rock. That's not to say that My Chemical Romance aren't fucking great (an offhand reference in this issue gives the idea that they are Astrid's favorite band), but you can just tell that these kids will get way further away from the mainstream once they get a little older. I guess what I'm saying with all this is that I'm reminded of myself and my friends in high school (though these kids are more social and well-adjusted than I ever was), which only makes me like this comic more. And don't get me wrong, I'm interested in the main storyline of the comic, the demons and etc, but most of this issue was just Astrid and Dave hanging out in school and at parties, trying to figure out their place in the world and have some fun along the way. And I liked that. I hope it stays that way through the rest of the series (though I can imagine it might not, as there are already only three issues left). I would definitely recommend this comic to fans of the urban fantasy writer Charles De Lint, whom I love, and whose work this definitely reminded me of.

Doktor Sleepless #3

Warren fucking Ellis continues to be a stupendous badass, not only with his two flagship creator-owned series but also in Thunderbolts and a couple of other places. But it's Doktor Sleepless that is my favorite of his writing right now. Issue #1 led a lot of people to say that this series would be Transmetropolitan part 2, but I didn't see it at the time and I definitely don't see it now. In addition to the darker, creepier sensibility of this comic, I also see a lot of concepts being explored that were either in the background or left out entirely in Transmetropolitan. That comic was basically Warren Ellis pulling a Hunter S. Thompson on the entire world he saw around him, though it was thinly disguised through a veneer of dystopian near-future sci-fi. We've again got the near future dystopian sci-fi veneer, and Doktor Sleepless the character seems pretty angry and monomaniacal, but the resemblance to Transmetropolitan ends there, and anyone who was in doubt of this fact after the first two issues should understand exactly why that's the case after reading issue #3. I don't want to get into it too much for fear of spoiling, but it seems that Doktor Sleepless's viewpoint is not going to be what drives this comic. It may have seemed that way in the first two issues, but the camera is pulling back a bit farther at this point, and it's starting to seem like Doktor Sleepless's viewpoint is but one piece in the narrative tapestry that this comic is constructing. We also are getting the views of his former lover, Sing Watson, and with this issue, the views of John Reinhardt, who supposedly IS Doktor Sleepless, but is apparently at least one other person besides, and maybe more. Then there's the viewpoint of Nurse Igor, Sleepless's assistant, who looks to have her own dark secrets and past traumas to work through. And who is this Albert Cannon guy? Maybe our big villain? Maybe something else? Whatever the answers, I'm on the metaphorical edge of my seat waiting for them. I see big things coming from this title, and I'm very excited for them.

Next time (tomorrow perhaps?), the new EP by Coalesce, and a very old EP by Sunny Day Real Estate. Stay tuned.