7/22/15

Five issues into a library copy of Kyle Baker and the late Robert Morales’s collected Captain America: Truth miniseries, I decided I would buy it.

I don’t normally waste money or space on books I can read for free, but this book is incredible (so far) and there’s only one other copy available in libraries throughout the state of Maryland.

That’s a shame.

Don't tell me

This book, had it remained in print or more regularly referenced in current continuity, could’ve acted as a defense against naysayers like myself who are…less than satisfied with the Marvel’s heroic mantle-passing efforts.* Not only was this a rare example of the corporate subsidiary trusting a flagship title to a non-white creative team; it also controversially tied Captain America’s super-strength to a history of Nazi-esque experimentation on black American soldiers that recalls both the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and the era’s general attitude of black expendability, leading to routine executions of soldiers, scapegoated for rape by white perpetrators in American-occupied England and France during World War II.

Baker’s storytelling shines here, making masterful use of digital coloring to economically utilize lighting and space. His style, while somewhat dated by these same computer effects, I think would resonate with today’s audience, whose expanding tastes now extol the talents of Javier Pulido and Adrian Alphona right alongside brand stalwarts like Steve Epting and Stuart Immonen. Morales’s writing is equally spry, punctuated with swift one-liners and accentuated with well-researched period references. I imagine today’s depressing industry goalpost would’ve needed a significant raising had Morales survived to continue producing more work with Baker.**

I also gave another listen to Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead!, which I’m convinced is his Axis: Bold as Love, if only for its conscious embrace of otherworldliness and organic transitioning between tracks, verging on near-inseparability here. Both albums would feel all-too-short if they didn’t immediately spur the urge to replay them in their entirety, which I do with the same frequency as some favorite songs of mine. Angel Deradoorian’s melodic mating calls–sounding more like vocalized palpitations this go around even compared to the last–on “Siren Song” have me very excited for her upcoming solo LP.

And, on the subject of conscious weirdos, I’m a third of the way through Ralph Steadman’s Proud Too Be Weirrd, a recent purchase whose weight is sure to lead to an infrastructural collapse of my second-floor bedroom (worth it.) If Paul Pope’s insight into inking as surgery holds true, Steadman is the surgical equivalent of Patrick Bateman. I’d love my own drawing style to grow into some grotesque combination of Steadman and Klimt.*** The twisted shapes Klimt squeezes his subjects into, like human amoeba wobbling around in a mosaic petri dish…imagine replacing the semi-precious gems and flourishes with splatter and grime and you have an idea of where I’m steering my brush with this attempted project of mine (details soon.)

* Marvel re-framed the issue of white male supremacy in superhero comics as one of representation, which plays well to the cosplay crowd but ignores that today’s continuity/crossover-leaden comics are geared toward nostalgic adults instead of the children this issue would be more relevant to. Until Marvel Studios replaces the multimedia versions of the Avengers to reflect the rebranded “All New, All Different” lineup, no amount of talk show promotional pandering will convince kids the “real” versions of their favorite heroes aren’t the white male versions they see on-screen.

** Baker’s output has slowed somewhat this decade, but he’s still producing great work in books like The Fifth Beatle and Rocketeer Adventures.

*** Though, depending on the order one places the artists, the result would be either a “decorative assault” or something insultingly precious.

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7/21/15

James Blake “released” Radio Silence‘s title track today, by which I mean Consequence of Sound posted an article that hyperlinked to DIY magazine’s article from yesterday which featured an embedded live performance video from last weekend.

It’s good.

But, while its full potential is hard to gauge until hearing the recorded version, Blake’s songwriting style–for the albums at least–leans once again toward the throaty-crooning-over-jerky-keyboards formula he perfected on “Retrograde” and failed to recapture the magic with on “40455”, among other tracks put out since.

Now that the 1-800-Dinosaur collective/label is its own separate beast, I’m hoping this doesn’t signal a departure from songs that push the boundaries between danceable dub and spare-but-loaded singer-songwriter lyricism (“Life Round Here” was arguably the only successful synthesis of the two on Overgrown. “Voyeur” fared somewhat better as its own, officially “dubbed” A-side but still sounded like Kermit the Frog looped over a Gaspar NoĆ© nightclub sequence.)

As I told a concert buddy after seeing Blake and his exceptional live band (consisting of labelmates Airhead and Mr. Assister) play 9:30* following Overgrown‘s release, his go-to themes of relationship dissociation and communication breakdown feel less authentic as he becomes more comfortable showcasing his vocal abilities.

His idol Joni Mitchell’s naked singing voice conveyed a fearlessness that betrayed the lyrical vulnerability for the purpose of performance but always sounded in-character. Blake’s voice, while appropriately strained in his ballads, never sounds more in-character than when fed through a jittery vocoder that often cuts him off before a full note allows any semblance of emotion to register. What better way for listeners to fall into the role of Blake’s alienated lover than to have his delivery sound as if it’s fighting through signal static to reach them?

*Filmed here for your viewing pleasure.