Saturday, 17 November 2007

"It's just like a real rock concert, except that we're not lying to you"

Prinzhorn Dance School -- 'Up! Up! Up!'

I should've seen this band play live twice this year, but (disorganised asshole that I am) I missed them both times. They were the support band, of course, but still... I really need to get it together at the moment. Perhaps I can do it Scott Pilgrim style?

Anyway, thanks to Plan B I finally remembered to check our the Prinzhorn album, and I like it. I mean, as this song/video suggest, it's kinda hideously pretentious. But still: the minimalism, the fact that there's only this great, chunky bassline with a couple of clanging guitar lines and clumsy drum accents supporting all that obtuse yelling and hollering... it ensures that every element of the song connects, that every strange lyrical detail and jerky crack of the snare drum hits you right in the face. It also makes the mechanical thump of the music seem all the more beautiful to me, probably because the lack of flash and clutter allows me to see the people behind the control all-too-clearly (never forget, I'm weirdly hot for process).

Also, the Pinzhorn Dance School album? Totally great to listen to during bus journeys -- something to do with making monotonous scenery seem strange and vivid all over again.

LCD Soundsystem -- 'All My Friends'

This song, I've listened to on the bus, but... this one stops me dead in my tracks, so I don't know if I could do much more than that while listening to it.

The first time I heard 'All My Friends', I actually just froze where I was, which was slightly rediculous because I was standing there in a towel in my icy-as-fuck bedroom, theoretically on my way to go to the shower. When the song ended, I got up and put it back on again, and sat there freezing my ass off and loving it.

Anyway, LCD's Sound of Silver is definitely one of my albums of the year. It sees James Murphy combine the snarky groove of his early singles with the disco sass of 45:33, so how could I not love it? More than that, however, there are several "you'll believe a music geek can cry" moments on the record that are designed to make nerdy, self-conscious schmucks like me go all wobbly. 'All My Friends' is case in point, and what can I say: sometimes it's good to feel like you're on exactly the right frequency to really open up to a song.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

There Aren't Any Words..!

Rereading the original Lee/Kirby Galactus story, I was struck by how it reads like a Stan Lee story that gets blown wide open by a bunch of Jack Kirby characters*. More specifically, it reads like a crazy situation comedy whose characters suddenly find themselves in a deranged photo-collage dimension where the stakes are so high that the fate of planet Earth barely registers.
It's a rough, engaging set-up, with Lee's cheap'n'cheerful banter and Kirby's gloriously blocky monstrosities sharing page space in a powerful, if wonky, melodrama.
And maybe this is just me, but reading it over it seemed like a precursor to any number of Grant Morrison stories. I'm specifically thinking of the way that nature of Galactus makes the Fantastic Four panic about their place in the food chain, an effect that is central replicated in Morrison works such as Animal Man, The Filth and We3. Of course Morrison gives the idea a more literary sheen, but there's still a hint of Moz's interest in shattered perspectives in this old pulp adventure.
But forget high-faluting thematics for a second, and enjoy some good old-fashioned melodrama:

THE THING: Yiccchh! My eyes... my nose... what izzat? What in blazes is happenin'??

MR FANTASTIC: Can't you tell? He's treating us like some sort of bothersome gnats! It's some type of cosmic insect repellent!

Now that's what I'm talking about!
*This dynamic repeats itself throughout those old Fantastic Four issues, and is reversed in what little I've read of the Lee/Kirby Thor stories.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Change, Zen and Politics

While I was writing that last post, I couldn't help but think of Grant Morrison's favourite movie, O Lucky Man!. Directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell, it's an absurd satire punctuated by musical performances by Alan Price and his band (who end up wandering through the movie for a while during its later stages... yeah, it's that sort of film). One of the best songs, 'Changes', starts with the following lines, which ring through my head every time I think about The Wire:

Everyone is going through changes
No one knows what's going on.
And everybody changes places-
But the world still carries on.
I should note that I'm not comparing The Wire to O Lucky Man! in any concrete way -- when considered alongside the grounded, steady build of The Wire, Anderson's movie can't help but seem totally fucking unhinged. O Lucky Man! makes its points about the destructive greed of unfettered capitalism and the naivety of humanist optimism through broad farce and surreal, rambling adventure -- whether you like the film or not, you can't judge it by the same criteria you'd apply to The Wire.
Me, I like it, but then I would. The film's last scene sticks with me: is that look on McDowell's face a look of beaten obedience, or does it suggest a zen acceptance of the nature of existence? I know Anderson intended the zen interpretation, but I like the ambiguity. And I can't help but wonder about whether there is such a clear distinction between these two readings. An exchange from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles comes to mind:

JACQUI: 'We don't have to "do" anything. Surely you can see you've ended up needing your enemy to make you who you are. You couldn't live without them now...'

KING MOB: 'Bollocks! Zen for "I just can't be bothered." Maybe you can happily sit there and watch out freedom and our souls being taken away, hoping some benevolent nonentity from the sky's going to save us all at the last second... I have to do something.'

Who Else Can Do What We Do?

Okay, so I've just finished watching season 3 of The Wire, and I have to ask -- does anyone do climactic montages as well as David Simon and co? For three consecutive seasons The Wire's crew have assembled closing episodes that perfectly convey the weird mix of constant change and perpetual stasis which is at the heart of the show, and those dense montage-sequences are an essential part of this effect.
And it's interesting, because while the final montage in season 3 highlights the variety of personal triumphs and tragedies that have played out during the previous twelve episodes, the main impression conveyed is that the big picture remains much the same. The montage is perfect for generating this effect, because it keeps your eye on the smaller details while also suggesting the broader state of things through sheer aggregation. All of which makes perfect sense as a part of the show's critique of degraded, self-serving institutions, but... is it just me or does it also exemplify the show's working methods in a neat way? Through such techniques, The Wire makes polemical points while avoiding the normal 'hitting the audience over the head' pitfalls of dogmatic fiction. It builds its case up from a conflicted tumble of character details, which allows for plenty of thematic wiggle room while also making for some damned good TV.
If all of this sounds vague then I'm sorry, but I'm trying not to give away anything to those who're even further behind on the show than I am. I'm also painfully aware that The Wire is too big a show for this post -- there's a lot to be said about it, but right now I feel sadly incapable of actually saying it (perhaps because of the strength of the shows specific details).
So... yeah, montages: not just for cheesy training scenes.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Finding the Right Lens

Batman #670, by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel

The previous release in the Moz-Bats series, ‘Club of Heroes’, was a sampledelic mini-masterpiece, with Morrison providing an old school Agatha Christie beat while JH Williams spliced clips from Bat-history together into something new. In comparison to such gloriously confident noise-making, this new volume sounds more like bar rock Batman. There are a couple of cute winks to the audience along the way, but not nearly enough to liven up the dull thump of the song itself.

Casanova #10, by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon

The food they serve at Cafe Casanova is like gourmet fast food, y’know? It’s packed with artificial flavouring and it doesn’t take long to eat, but man does it ever taste good! So… yeah, this new dish makes for good eating. The ingredients are all quite raw and pungent (Fellini, sick sex, reality TV), but they complement Old Daddy Fraction’s usual super-spy sci-fi fare well. It should also be noted that head chef Fabio Moon brings a certain Euro-comics elegance to proceedings, smuggling in subtly flavoursome elements like the body language in the Kaito/Ruby scenes underneath the sharp tang of that all-blue first taste. Four and a half greasy spoons.

Suburban Glamour #1, by Jamie McKelvie

Just because a come-on is obvious doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. Check this number, for example. It slinks up to you looking like a fashion model fresh from some immaculate yoof publication, and flatters you with brazen allusions to times past. You’re not dumb, so you can tell that it’s trying to open you up by appealing to your bored suburban origins, but... fuck it, sometimes it’s good to give in to such blatant fantasies, if only for a little while.

The Umbrella Academy #2, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

You might know Way from the popular teen horror-soap The Black Parade, or you might not. You might loathe the histrionic theatricality of his most famous productions, or you might admire the trashy bombast of such blatantly teenage dramatics. Regardless of where you stand on Way's previous works, you could be forgiven for worrying that his attempts to become a stand-up comic could be embarrassing. This reviewer found Way's second stand-up performance to be more convincing than the first, due to the fact that he uses it to riff on some of his usual concerns, giving the show a (slightly angsty) throughline while keeping the silly nonsense quotient high. One imagines that this might irritate some comedy fans, but surely not even the most well-weathered of stand-up patrons could deny the beautiful "Mike Mignola does Doom Patrol" sparkle that veteran gag-meister and stage designer Gabriel Ba brings to Way's comedy outings.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

You used to be alright/What happened?

Keeping it brief and abstract: In Rainbows = a great album, rather than a collection of good songs.

A few more thoughts:

'15 Step' is jaunty enough to make Thom dance his twitchy dance (see above), but I still feel as though the song's taunting me right now. Something to do with the whole 'You used to be alright' refrain, most likely.

My other big favourite of the moment is 'All I Need', which sounds like the hollow, dubbed-out shell of a ballad. Thom's voice haunts the piece, suggesting what it once was, or maybe even what it might have been (and I'm talking purely about the sonics of this song, rather than the lyrics). The climax is particularly great, especially the way the whole piece surges but yet somehow the crashing drums ends up being the most expressive part of the final rush (see also the percussion throughout 'Reckoner' for further evidence of Phil Selway's genius). It gives the song a suitably emotional finally without making it seem to obvious, which is a trick that Radiohead pull over and over again on In Rainbows.

And... damn if the recurring theme of this post doesn't seem to be be squandered potential. Reflective of my mood as this might be, it shouldn't put you off listening to the Radiohead album (which is, as I've said, great).

If these feelings persist then I guess I'm going to have to break out the Fugazi again: 'You can't be who you were/So you better start living the life you've been talking about'. Sounds fair to me.

Except... actually, I don't think there'll be any need to go there. There's quiet catharsis in these Radiohead songs, and right now I think that might be just what I need. Time to shake it off and do a strange wee jig.

Grr. Argh.

New job = where the hell has all my blogging time gone!

Updates are going to be patchy for the next week or so, sorry. After that I'll hopefully be able to get back up to pace.

And yes -- I'll get back to the comics soon. Grant Morrison. Jack Kirby. Eddie Campbell. The usual Vibrational Match favourites.

Friday, 12 October 2007

From Dark Matter to the Big Crunch

You know, there was a while back there where I thought I was sick of the Wu, but any time I dip into the Wu-Tang Manual I end up being convinced by the RZA's rhetoric all over again.

Forget some of the less-compelling solo albums, and think of that first rush of material the Wu released. I'm talking about the line of group albums and solo joints that goes something like Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Tical, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Iron Man, a wave of sheer fucking greatness that crashes with the glorious mess of Wu-Tang Forever.

Listen to those albums (all of which were released between 1993 and 1997), and it's hard not to believe that the Wu-Tang Clan are everything they say they are. They're damaged street heroes, a super powered pantheon of trickster gods, kung-fu masters, ice-cold soul singers, austere formalists, angry young men, fiendish comedians and more. Of the seven albums I mentioned above, Tical is the only one I don't listen to much anymore (Forever is patchy, but it's got some of their best group cuts so I still play that one all the time).

And... yeah, sure, the group haven't kept that level of consistency up over the years, but I can't think of any other band I love who had such a strong opening run of albums.

Reading The Wu-Tang Manual, I almost find myself believing that this run of great records never ended. The RZA juggles the various pieces of the Wu mythos with such confidence that you forget you ever saw them touch the ground.

But forget all this backward looking nonsense -- the 21st century Wu still ain't nothing to fuck with. The W is as bleak and fragmented as Iron Flag is boldly unified, and Ghostface looks pretty unstoppable these days, artistically if not commercially. Hell, even Masta Killa has released a couple of solid albums in the past three or four years.

8 Diagrams then: I'm in. Who knows how good it'll be, but pessimism... that's not for me. Not where the remaining Wu-Tang Clan members are involved, and expecially not when they're making songs like 'The Heart Gently Weeps'.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The RZA on Composing With Voices, From The Wu-Tang Manual (Commonplacebook)

'I always thought of the different voices in the Wu-Tang Clan as being instruments. They were they instruments I used to compose. Instead of me having a trumpet player or a bass player, I had Ghostface or U-God. On a song like "7Th Chamber," everybody rapping back to back, it's high pitch to middle pitch to bass pitch. Ghost, you could call the soprano, then you take it down to Raekwon and Deck with the tenor, then down to the bass of U-God or ODB. Or it's like Ghostface is the strings: He gets more mellow, more emotional on you, but at the same time strings can attack.'

Wednesday, 10 October 2007


Reading one of Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder comics is like wandering through a strange new city without a reliable guide.
Unlike Ursula K Le Guin, another master of anthropological science fiction, McNeil doesn’t build up her world systematically; instead, you discover information about the cultures in Finder almost incidentally, by watching the characters interact and keeping your eye on some of the key sights. No wonder Kelly Sue DeConnick compared the book to a shotgun blast!
Still, I'll stick with my 'strange city' analogy, if only because of the comic's pace. Freshly released in a hardcover volume, Finder: Sin Eater is a brilliant, wandering introduction to a truly great comic book. It's a twisted mess of a story, with family ties, military ties and cultural boundaries revealing themselves at a leisurely pace, all the better to fully appreciate the damaged contexts the cast of characters live in. McNeil's art becomes more and less abstract as the story dictates, sometimes becoming almost manga-like in its simple expressionism, at other points snapping into realistic focus to give us a better look at the thoroughly singular world she's created.

What saves Finder from the most obvious pitfall of world-building fantasy is exactly this fascination with the demands character and story. While their methods may differ, both Le Guin and McNeil understand that the essential otherness that is at the heart of their imaginings is also the raw material of drama. Le Guin's great novels (The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness) draw grand personal conflicts out of the clashes between cultures or societies; McNeil's stories are driven by more grounded concerns, but her depictions of family interactions in Sin Eater have the same elliptical vitality as her most bizarre imaginings.

Indeed, there are passages in Sin Eater that show me just how lazy a reader most comics expect me to be. While McNeil is capable of broad cartooning, she's also happy to let subtle body language and bare bones dialogue suggest the bigger picture. So, for example, a character will tell another character that they can ask 'one question' without much in the way of an obvious build-up, and you're expected to infer the connection. It's a simple enough scene to parse, but most comics tend to signpost such conversational twists in a really clumsy way, so it's refreshing to be jolted out of your complacency, to have to deal with the strangeness of simple conversation.

And if you think that this is evidence of a lack of imaginative follow-through, there are also copious notes at the back of the book that show just how much thought McNeil has put into every detail of her work. Of course, you could argue that there are times where more of this should have made it onto the page, but in the end I would argue that Finder's strength lies in the way it takes many different times of oddness for granted. Like I said above, otherness is the stuff of pure drama, but it's also essential to the conflicts and pleasures of our day-to-day lives. Without any knowledge of who we aren't, we'd have a hard time contextualising who we are, you know? And if this play of difference can lead to love, or humour, or surprise then it can also lead to violence, bigotry and misunderstanding. It's this fact that smart writers of anthropological fiction explore, and it's this sense of exploration that makes a book like Finder: Sin Eater worthwhile... that makes it more than just fictive cartography.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Back to the Future

The above image is the first page of The New Testament, a six-page comic strip that was published in 2004 as part of the second Commercial Suicide anthology.
I wrote the script, Tim Twelves provided the purdy pictures, and Kieron Gillen and Alex de Campi handled the editorial side of things. The general idea was to create a Chris Morris style comic that took the piss out the media attitudes to sex and violence, with a few random pot shots at Mel Gibson and Grant Morrison thrown in for good measure.
In the name of self-mythologising I should also mention that the strip was partly responsible for the anthology being banned from certain shops in London, a fact that gives me a naughty sense of pride to this day.
Why mention this now? Ach, I dunno... I'm just trying to find some fresh motivation, and sometimes it's good to acknowledge what you've already done when you're trying to work out what to do next. I've got what seems like a million projects on the go right now, most of which are almost done, and I think I need to remind myself that I can finish things, that not everything I write has to languish on my hard drive forever.
Plus, y'know -- 'CHRIST SMASH!' That line still make me laugh...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Stay Forever

Inspired by my recent visit to the Kylie exhibition, I've decided to repost what I wrote about 'I Just Can't Get You Out Of Me Head' (aka the second best Kylie song ever), back nearer the time it came out:
"A lot of people I know seem to think that I'm being ironic when I go on about how good this song is, but they are utterly, utterly mad, because it really is brilliant; a towering slice of immaculate disco, sexy as all hell and yet run through with a weird, obsessive sadness.
It's definitely one of my favourite pop songs from the last couple of years. Hell, it's probably one of my favourite pop songs of all time. There's something about the almost flawless, robotic sound of the whole thing -- it's really shiny and fun, sure, but it's also a little bit sad in a way. Maybe it's just me, I don't know, but I think it adds something to lyrics: it gives them a kind of hollowness, a lack of fulfillment that is oddly fitting...
There's a dark secret in me
Don't leave me locked in your heart
Set me free
Feel the need in me
Set me free
Stay forever and ever and ever and ever
Brrr -- is it just me, or is there a chill in here!"
Don't worry comics fans -- I'm working on a post about Finder at the moment, and I've got a couple of big posts about Eddie Campbell, Grant Morrison and superhero comics coming up soon.

Post Rock Heaven or Prog Rock Hell?

You decide!

You Need Your Disco/Your Disco Needs You

The Kylie Exhibition at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Gallery is compact, but effective, just like the good lady herself. Indeed, the tiny size of most of the outfits is jarring at first, like staring into the (far too saucy) wardrobe of an abnormally rich child.
Once you readjust to the perspectives in question, the whole affair becomes far more entertaining. There's something inherently funny about the setting -- to see some folk adopting their reverent, museum-visiting posture while the video for 'I Should Be So Lucky' blares in the background and the outfit Kylie wore in the 'Spinning Around' video rotates on a pedestal is to observe a clash of cultural expectations.
It's all very exciting, in its unashamedly garish way -- there are more versions of Kylie than there are of Batman, and she has enough spangly outfits to make Dita Von Teese blush, as evidenced by the packed room full of tour outfits, video costumes, photos and concept sketches at the Kelvingrove.
In her time Kylie's been eighties pop trash, a soap-opera star, a camp cop, a fairy princess, a showgirl, a cyborg, and much much more. The records have been up and down, but I'll maintain that for a period at the start of the current century Kylie was one of the best pop acts out there. Then again maybe it's simply the case that albums like Fever and Body Language finally saw Kylie transform into the kind of pop star I'd like to listen to. Kylie's less histrionic about her constant reinvention than Madonna is, but she's no less persistent for it.
Hmmm... perhaps the idea that this is an overgrown child's wardrobe is of some value after all. Looking at the variety of costumed personas on display in this exhibit, you can see a child's ideal of ultimate freedom -- the ability to keep changing who you are, to keep playing dress up, to lose yourself in disco heaven. Okay, maybe that last part is more of a teenage dream, but still, it can begin to look exhausting, this life lived in constant flux. You see, the tricky thing is that in order to keep living like pop royalty, you have to be everything to everyone all the time. This kind of freedom is probably exhilarating, but it comes at the price of having to keep on changing, forever afraid that one day no one will care.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


Battles -- 'Routes: In'
Sometimes it's fun to end up in a new situation. Having to relearn the rules can force you to flex yourself a little, even if you're really just repeating the same routines in a slightly different from. And so you find yourself gearing up for a new job, and you find yourself surprised by how much mervous, twitchy energy you've got.
'Routes: In' has something of this energy to it -- it takes rock music (the 'same-old, same-old' in this scenario), and imbues it with fresh, jittery purpose. As such, it's the perfect introduction to a debut album that constantly looks at music from a different angle -- be it on the technoid glam rock stomp of 'Atlas' or the alien R&B of 'Layendecker', Mirrored excels at twisted reflection rather than full-on reinvention.

Battles -- 'Routes: Out'
But it can get you down, this never ending series of giddy distortions. Imagine playing a computer game where every level looks different but plays exactly the same. Maybe this is why Mirrored's album closer 'Routes: Out' starts off sounding so melancholy -- is there any point to all this noodling or is it just musical masturbation?
'Routes: Out' answers this question the only way it can, by taking the musical components of its predecessor and tilting the mirror a little so that they now seem both defiant and absurd. And isn't that all we can do, really? To keep on searching for an angle that'll work, that'll show us what we need to see?
It's a foolish way to live your life, so keep laughing, but don't ever stop searching. And try to have some fun while you're doing it; after all, however tangled Battles' music gets, there's always a way to move to it, always a way to connect.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Hidden Darts

Ok, so since brevity doesn't seem to be my strong point at the moment, I've challenged myself to write one sentence reviews of some of my favourite albums of 2007. Here goes!

Battles -- Mirrored
Musical science makes avant-rock fun/makes fun avant-rock.

Future of the Left -- Curses
What's the point of losing hate if it won't lose you?

Dizzee Rascal -- Maths and English
He's still here.

Marnie Stern -- In Advance of the Broken Arm
Like listening to an art school girl battle her 1000 inner Van Halens, and win (mostly).

At least poverty tourist MCs acknowledge the world outside their own penthouse dreams.

Malcolm Middleton -- A Brighter Beat
Superhero songwriter reaches out, laughs off death, asks: when are you coming home?

Ghostface Killah -- More Fish
Forget Raekwon: with leftovers this tasty Ghost is the only hip-hop chef still worth a damn.

MF Doom -- Mm... Food (2007 Special Edition)
Uhm... forget what I just said: this guy's pretty good too!

PJ Harvey -- White Chalk
Instead of Tricky, Tom Waits and Black Francis think Wuthering Heights, Emily Dickinson and The Stone Book Quartet.

(All hyperlinks provided in the name of giving you more fun stuff to read/watch/listen to. Also: cheating is good fun sometimes, y'know?)

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Different Versions

Batman #669, by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams and various (warning: this post contains mild *SPOILERS*)

Reading this comic is like looking into a hall of mirrors – every page is a collage of difference, with what Batman is blurring into what Batman isn’t. Is he a wounded child, an unhinged fame-seeker or a bored millionaire playboy? Nah, forget that: he’s a detective, an inspiration to others and a kick-ass crime fighter. Like, duh!

Jog has already broken down the 'Club of Heroes' arc in terms of good adults, bad adults, bad creators and bad readers, so all I really want to say is that I love JH Williams’ art, and wish that he was sticking with the book for more than three issues.

It strikes me that when Williams illustrates one of Morrison’s scripts, the art very much is the story, in much the same way that the conceptual framework of a Dennis Potter play becomes its substance.

In, say, Blue Remembered Hills, the fact that the children are played by adults might seem like a gimmick, but the effect that it generates is inseparable from the overall impact of the play. In that play, the confusion of adult interaction with childlike behaviour becomes as central to the story as any of the games or betrayals that drive the narrative. Similarly, Williams’ belief in design as story is every bit as important to the success of the 'Club of Heroes' arc as the actual mystery plot.

Many of my fellow bloggers have already linked to Williams' discussion of the sense of history that he was trying to suggest in his mix of various character designs and drawing styles. What's received slightly less praise is the way that Williams makes the layout of the page itself part of the story. My favourite example in this issue comes when Williams encases the Knight's head in his family crest, making an iconic helmet out of the panel borders in order to suggest the lasting damage his father's breakdown has caused him. Or am I reading too much into this? Is this icon just something that the Knight and Squire wear on their costumes? This is what's brilliant about Williams' work, both here and elsewhere: like little Borges fragments, his pages allude to bodies of knowledge that may not actually exist.

Y'know how I just said that this element of Williams work had been undervalued? Well I'm just about to shoot the shit out of that point by quoting what Jog said on the matter. Here it goes:

I was struck by the elegance and depth of Williams' glove-shaped panels - it's not only an awesome way to convey the paranoiac presence of a killer, but it shapes the very comic itself against Batman and the Club of Heroes, evidencing an untouchably god-like presence.
And damn is that ever a fine point! Like the good folk on the Barbelith board have said, even if the Black Glove doesn't turn up on-page, they still have presence to spare!

Since both Jog and a handful of Barbeloids have noted that they found issue #669 a little hard to parse at points, I think it's worthwhile to look at something Williams said on his blog:

The overall effect of this arc needed to have this building up to a crescendo feeling and I think it does that pretty well. The 3 issues have a real sense of progression to them with the first being medium on a scale and the final being at the highest. Hopefully most of you will agree when you see it. That this story has this feeling of slowly burning and ramping up.

I reckon that the crescendo effect comes through in the way this arc develops, but there's a chance that by the end of this issue the volume of information is too high, that the last few pages are simply too loud to be read clearly.

Me, I enjoyed the frantic, pulpy feel of the finale. Watching those Batmen jet off like that I felt like I was watching them blow up the hall of mirrors and blasting off to fresh adventures.

From 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror', by John Ashberry (Commonplacebook)

I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
My guide in these matters is your self,
Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same
Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon
Much later, I can know only the straight way out,
The distance between us. Long ago
The strewn evidence meant something,
The small accidents and pleasures
Of the day as it moved gracelessly on,
A housewife doing chores. Impossible now
To restore those properties in the silver blur that is
The record of what you accomplished by sitting down
"With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass"
So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous
Forever. In the circle of your intentions certain spars
Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self:
Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn't matter
Because these are things as they are today
Before one's shadow ever grew
Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

No Part is Saved

'Crash, roar, smash, plunge. The artist's journey finishes with him washed ashore on the desert island of his own mental isolation. He wanders around in a state of despair, talking to the fauna. There is an odd plant with a distinctive smell that reminds him of a very old book he once owned.' (Eddie Campbell -- The Fate of the Artist)

There's a sense of thwarted purpose that runs through all of Eddie Campbell's autobiographical works, a repeated suggestion that Campbell wants to stop playing Sal Paradise and start playing Dean Moriarty; that he'd rather be O.Henry the family man than O.Henry the writer.
This comes through most clearly in The Fate of the Artist. Indeed, it's one of the many factors that cause Campbell to write himself out of that story. Not convinced? Then check out the fact that Campbell closes the book with an adaptation of O.Henry's Confessions of a Humorist. But anyway, it was there at the beginning too, this conflicted feeling; don't mistake the boozy enthusiasm of The King Canute Crowd for a lack of worry. This strange doubt manifests itself in the young Eddie Campbell's concern that everyone else is better using 'the amenities' of life than he is; it's in the constant riffs on 'Campbell the observer' that recur throughout his work; it's even there in the first chapter of The King Canute Crowd, however obliquely:
'Alec MacGarry [Campbell] never forgets things said... Danny Grey forgets most things.'
Which is to say: Campbell remembers enough to write stories about Danny Grey; Danny Grey is too caught up in life's great adventure to ever return the favour. This line is also a neat summary of the respective strengths of the two friends, of course, but the feeling that Campbell would like to change places with Grey is evident throughout the book. For example, later on in The King Canute Crowd the author writes the following line in praise of Danny:
'He lives his life to the full. No part is saved like a slice of birthday cake going stale.'
Campbell accompanies this comment with an empty panel, a square of whiteness blocked in on all sides by black lines. Had Campbell merely presented us with blank space, this would have been an effective little gesture. With the box enclosing blankness the effect is emphasised: Danny Gray holds nothing back for later FULL STOP!
That Campbell (or at least, his comic book stand in) would aspire to such a state of living makes sense. After all, if Campbell's autobiographical work is fueled by his obvious love of living, doesn't it follow that he'd eventually grow frustrated of his self-imposed role of chronicler? There's an amusing scene in How to be an Artist where some wanky wee man bothers Campbell by asking what happens when he runs out of life to draw. Of course, Campbell decides to walk away, because he certainly doesn't want his life story to finish during that irritating conversation. But what does happen when life catches up with the autobiographical artist? Various permutations of this question pop up in Campbell's I Have Lost My Sense of Humour strip (drawn for the Autobiographix anthology), and the theme is explored to its conclusion in The Fate of the Artist. So (to reverse engineer Campbell's work, and blur fiction back into fact) does this mean that Eddie is going to turn his back on autobiography, that one of the great practitioners of the form is simply going to walk away from it?

Probably not. Both Campbell's most recent book (The Black Diamond Detective Agency) and his next one (The Amazing Remarkable Mr. Leotard) may be period pieces, but if this interview is anything to go by there's little chance that Campbell will stay away from the autobio genre forever:
'Ideally, I’d love to do another book like The Fate of the Artist—I think that’s the kind of book I’m most happy doing—or After the Snooter. Those kind of books are the ones I enjoy the most, where I can ruminate at length on the little things of everyday life as it is here and now.'
As someone who feels compelled to constantly write about the things that bring me pleasure, I understand that it can be frustrating to find yourself reflecting on life more than you're living it. That said, I'm also aware that this behaviour is driven by an odd sort of love, and I can only hope that Campbell follows up The Fate of the Artist sooner rather than later. After all, who else creates panels as beautifully far-fetched as the one at the top of this post, and all in the name of exploring the problems and glories of day-to-day existence?
And... now I'm late for my bus. Gotta go!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Amerie -- 'Gotta Work'

A great pop single this, another clever twist on a still emergent song-type. Its genius lies in the way Amerie takes the now familiar mix of tumbling drums and jerky soul vamps and uses it to blow your standard self-help rhetoric wide open. 'Gotta Work' has no time for doubt except as a catalyst for future success -- 'When you're feeling low/And you can't get no lower/That's when you know you're close/Sometimes you gotta work hard for it'. Paired with Amerie's orgasmic delivery, these lyrics invoke a pliable paradise, one in which everyone has a dream and the means to make it real. All you've got to do is want it enough, to show the audacity to believe.
Like '1 Thing' or 'Crazy in Love' before it, 'Gotta Work' builds up so that by about halfway through the song the beat, vocals and horn sample sound like they're chasing each other round in frantic circles. While the relentless energy of those older songs was romantic/sexual in nature, 'Gotta Work' is less of a call out to a lover than a motivational speech gone somehow right. The inescapable impression that the song leaves is that it's possible to sing, shake and pose yourself into a new life. Every dream you've ever had can come true if you're willing to sing with the beat, to ride its stuttering flourishes all the way to pop-transcendence.
It's a stupid, beautiful fantasy, and it's yours for the taking every time you hear this song.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Wallace Stevens -- The Snow Man (Commonplacebook)

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Flowers in a Foreground

While we're on the topic of appreciating what's there (as opposed to the really super-duper deep stuff underneath), let's talk about Eddie Campbell. Campbell has long been my favourite autobiographical cartoonist because he always seems ridiculously interested in the world outside of his own head. Campbell wrote himself out of his most solipsistic work, 2006's The Fate of the Artist -- it's hard to imagine any of his peers even attempting such a gloriously cheeky conceit, let alone making it work.

Anyway, the interest that I've mentioned manifests itself most obviously in Campbell's subject matter (the adventures of his friends, family members and fellow artists), which in turn demand the impressionistic richness of his art style. Essentially Campbell has had to create his own personal vocabulary of the comic book page (and isn't that true of every great author-cartoonist?), one equally suited to exploring the finer points of double dates gone wrong and musing on the philosophy of art.

Normally, I take in Campbell's artistic grammar on a page-by-page basis. His autobiographical works have the timing of a good newspaper comic, so I normally find myself too caught up in the procession of pratfalls, punchlines and moments of everyday glory to fully appreciate the content of his individual panels. There are exceptions of course -- there's a one-page drawing of a dreary street in Alec: How to be an Artist that catches my breath every time, but that image has a narrative context that necessitates this effect, so my broader point stands.

This has been changed by a series of recent posts on Campbell's weblog in which the artist has discussed his use of zipatone and tipex to achieve what he calls a 'painterly' effect. These posts make for great reading (didn't I tell you I was hot for process?), all the more so because Campbell provides plenty of images to back up his musings. The image at the top of this post is a great example -- looking at this single panel up close, I couldn't help but think of the differences between the way Campbell depicts the elements and the way Frank Miller does the same. This Sin City image is case in point:

It shares with the Campbell panel a sense of centralised composition -- in both images the human subjects are located in the middle of the frame, assaulted on all sides by a storm of pure white blotches. Beyond this similarity, however, the content of the images is as different as Miller's subject matter is to Campbell's. In contrast to the inky, melodramatic blackness that defines Miller's Sin City work, Campbell's panel contains a glorious abundance of different objects and textures -- bins, buses, buildings and bits of stray signage are all present, depicted in a series of overlapping tones where Miller would show only darkness. This isn't an attack on Miller, by the way. Whatever you think of Sin City, you'd have a hard time arguing that Miller's brutish cartooning and stark colour choices don't suit his OTT crime romances. The point is that the same mundane clutter that has no function in Miller's stories is central to Campbell's, and that Campbell's work succeeds partly because he's so good at suggesting the nuances of a 'simple', undramatic street scene.

'Normal comicbook drawing has always looked dead on the page to my eyes. I needed a style that could suggest light and air.'
So Campbell says in one of the aforementioned posts. Looking at another blown up image from Alex: The King Canute Crowd (below), I'm amazed at the way that Campbell makes all of this stylisation look so effortless:

From this perspective the mix of ink and tipex and zipatone has an abstract beauty that nevertheless meshes into a larger, more recognisable picture. And isn't that what Campbell's work is all about, in part at least? Life is full of detail that is every bit as arresting as the strangest flights of the imagination; let's hear it for artists like Campbell who are capable of making us see this with fresh eyes time and time again.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Geoff Klock/Casanova: A Visible Core

While I’m a fiend for subtext (as my writing on this blog no doubt shows), I’m also a great fan of critics and artists who’re good at detailing the complexities of the surface. Sometimes I feel that I skip over the obvious stuff too much, to the extent that I start to feel like one of the poet-villains in Kenneth Koch’s ‘Fresh Air’ -- you know, the ones who can’t smile at anything unless they can see some sort of deep metaphor for human suffering in it.

Geoff Klock’s weblog is a pretty great remedy for that particular problem. Klock is good at telling you exactly why he thinks a comic or TV show works or doesn't work in a manner that is both witty and well considered. He can certainly do subtext when he wants to, but aesthetics seems to be his primary concern, and I appreciate that.

It’s funny that I should praise Klock here, given that I found his book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why disappointing precisely because he didn’t get deep enough into what all of that interconnectivity meant. I guess I was hoping that Klock’s appreciation of Harold Bloom’s poetic theories would extend to an approximation of Bloom’s fierceness, of his investment in poetry as a matter of existential urgency. Instead, Klock’s book offers a smart, excited account of the content of and connections between various comic books, which wasn’t what I was looking for at the time.

Klock’s blog improves upon the good qualities of his book – even when I don’t agree with him, I still find him entertaining, and his appreciation of comic such as Casanova and Grant Morrison’s Justice League Classified makes me enjoy the comics in question just that little bit more.

Sometimes I want deconstruction or grand emotional resonance; sometimes I just want a better idea of why I find myself thrilled by art and, by extension, the world.

Related: since I’ve just mentioned Klock’s favourite comic Casanova, I’d like to note how much I like the backmatter that appends each issue. Not only does it provide space for a variety of behind the scenes sketches and doodles, but it also allows writer Matt Fraction to talk about the production of the book, and thus make visible the framework of each issue. Alongside other commentary-heavy publications like Fell, Criminal, Pulp Hope and Phonogram, Casanova is responsible for re-engaging me with mainstream comic books not written by Grant Morrison or Peter Milligan. What can I say: while I’m not going to bow down to a writer's authority, I’m as hot for process as Harold Bloom is for poetry! Blame Jeff Noon and Grant Morrison (him again!) for filling my formative years with metafictional adventure stories that made writing seem sexy, dangerous, and even urgent.

Roland Furious -- The Fifth Cant, by John Stewart of Baldynneis (Commonplacebook)

As painfull pilgrim pressing to fulfill
His irksum journay, passing to and fro
In dririe nycht--so I, agains my will,
Dois stot and stummer in my mateir low.
I haif no way quhairbe derect to go,
But (as the wycht, quho wanders wilsum blind)
This work of myn behuifs me schers ir so,
Quhyls heir, quhyls thair, quhyls fordwart and behind.
The historie all interlest I find
With syndrie sayings of so great delyt,
That singlie, most I from the rest out spind,
As the unskilful prentes imperfyt,
Quho fyns the gould frie from the laton quyt.
No wonder thocht my wittis waver will,
In flowing field of sic profound indyt
My minschit meitir may bot mank and spill.
Yit, as the painter stairing stedfast still,
With trembling hand, his dracht perfyt to draw,
So indevoir I with my sklender skill
For to do better than my breath may blaw.
Accept guid will, for I guid will sall schaw
To fram so furth as I haif done intend.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

More Shrigley

Because it's a sunny afternoon and Shrigley's scribbles continue to make me laugh.

Because I like having pictures up on my new blog.

Because in its deliberately clumsy way this piece actually does suggest something interesting to me (is it about relationships or teh self??), a fact that is in itself a testament to my ability to find meaning in total gibberish.

Because 'SHUT UP! That's why,' is still a great reason.

Girls Aloud – ‘Sexy! No No No…’

The fact that Girls Aloud wore PVC catsuits in the video for this song pretty much guaranteed a leering reaction from tabloids and lad's mags. What interests me is the fact that the video itself seems almost designed to thwart such a response.

Sure, the Girls rock the black fetish gear in this video, but it’s all very abstract. Indeed, compared with the hypersexualised movement of Beyonce’s ostensibly similar ‘Green Light’ video, the motion in ‘Sexy! No No No...’ is oddly conceptual, with the Girls mostly just posing awkwardly or else jerking out of the way of giant sewing pins (!).

Furthermore, at least half of the running is taken up with images of the Girls in bizarre, inflatable red dresses (still fetishy, but in a more unusual way), a fact that adds to the slightly clumsy artiness of the piece (the parallels with the video for Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fighter’ are obvious, both in terms of look and quality).

This stylisation sits nicely with the theme of the song, which is all about not submitting to the allure of the hot sexy sex: ‘But you’re knock-knock-knocking again boy/ Whoa-oh, good ain’t good enough, gonna keep you waiting.’

This video, then, presents fetish gear as armour, as a way of sealing yourself off from physicality, of becoming something strangely distant and protected. (Somewhere in the background I can hear a Guardian writer querying why such allegedly empowering fashion trends necessitate ‘immobilising stilettos and rib-breaking dresses’ -- which is an interesting point, if one that is made somewhat stiffly and with little or no concept of masochism). Again, all of this is a perfect fit with Girls Aloud’s style: they’re really good at making icy detachment sound like the most fun ever, and if the cyborg pop-stomp of ‘Sexy! No No No’ isn’t one of their best songs then it’s still one of the most invigorating singles of 2007.

And the other bits of the video? Well they’re pretty and striking, and they also dramatise the idea of the Girls working to evade something (sex?). You can read as much as you want into the fact that they’re dodging phallic objects (the sewing pins), or indeed into the fact that these needles not only have traditionally feminine connotations but are also used to manufacture clothing. The fact that these pins become ropes in which the Girls are entangled towards the end of the video seems to resonate with such readings almost too well. For now, I’m going to listen to the song another dozen times and then take some time to appreciate the fact that Nicola has really awesome eye makeup in this video:

(Related: Popjustice break the song down into its component parts and discover that it is guilty of total aceness!)

(Also: I didn’t mean to use Girls Aloud as a chain to beat Beyonce with. ‘Green Light’ is a great song, it’s just that its video was much more like what I expected the video for ‘Sexy! No No No…’ to be like from the press it had generated. Interesting that the 'Green Light' video didn't receive anywhere near as much hype, in the UK at least.)

Friday, 21 September 2007

Passive Linkage

  • 'They were being taken advantage of, in a way.' This story, about a teacher who gave his class Dan Clowes' Eightball #22 to read over the summer, and who has resigned amidst a storm of WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN controversy, is a minefield of stupid quotes. My favourite bit comes in the second link, where a worried mother talks about how she became concerned when she found out that the teacher had asked her daughter 'how the book made her feel'. Because he must have been a paedophile, of course -- he couldn't possibly have been trying to engage her as a student or anything. Argh! Jebus, please don't let me become such an asshole if I ever have children. I understand that I'll worry more about these sort of questions if I'm ever a father, but... don't let me shut off my brain entirely. (Links via Eddie Campbell, who seems to have retained his sanity despite fathering three children.)

  • Of course, I do feel sorry for the girl who's being bullied because the students see her as being responsible for this whole fandango. But I also feel sorry for the teacher, who, from this uninformed distance, seems to be guilty of nothing more than trying to give the kids something a bit more adult to read. Worth noting here: books don't come with age ratings, and while few booksellers are likely to provide a five-year-old with a sex guide, kids can still buy tons of relatively racy books without difficulty. Hell, some of these racy books may even be of genuine merritt (just like that Eightball issue!).

  • Go check out this Fluxblog post if you want to hear some more Scout Niblett. Matthew's also got some interesting thoughts on the differences between Scout Niblett and Cat Power, a topic that I touched on in this post.

  • Also: Fluxblog's Matthew writes about Future of the Left and provides a free mp3 of their song 'Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood' on his Hit Refresh column. Future of the Left's debut album Curses is great, caustic fun, by the way. It contains fourteen tracks of top quality bruise-pop that will please fans of Mclusky, the welsh punk outfit that previously provided an outlet for two thirds of the band.

[Edit: in the name of fairness, here's the mother mentioned in the above news story defending her actions and providing some context. Now: the teacher seems to have acted rather foolishly here, if he did give make the rather clumsy move of giving comic in question to the girl rather than to the class. That said, I still object to the way this situation has played out. Eightball #22 has a couple of crude moments, sure, but they're part of a highly sophisticated and discussion-worthy narrative. I can't help but think that the medium is important here -- visual depictions of sex or nudity leap off the page more obviously than textual ones, or at least more immediately than similar scenes in literary works of roughly the same genre as Eightball #22. On balance, I think my capability for empathy was initially overpowered by the more stupid quotes in those early news stories, which isn't something I feel too proud of. As such I'm glad to have read the mother's take on the situation, but from my obscure vantage point I still think that the parents' reaction was ill-considered and OTT. Which isn't to say that various commentators (myself included) aren't guilty of the same crime, but I've not put anyone out of a job by talking about this. Well, at least not so far. New linkage via David Welsh.]

Homework (A Follow-Up Post)

For extra credit: compare Morrison/Quitely's treatment of Superman as a character with Brendan McCarthy's inclusion of him as an icon in this piece. Pay special attention to the ways in which the All Star Superman team explore the character from within his fictional universe while McCarthy evokes him as a two dimensional figure from the past, thus positioning himself as a 'pop'-artist outside the superhero genre (for that page at least).

'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands', Spandex Remix

I love the cover for All Star Godman Jesusman Superman #10 (above), it's like the cover for issue #1 with the volume turned up. It could be such a cheesy or sinister image, but I think Frank Quitely's mastery of body language gives the picture a level of benevolence that is almost undeniable. Something about the slope of those shoulders gives that OTT muscleman body a friendly grace it probably shouldn't have, y'know?
This cover also brings to mind something that Brendan McCarthy said in this Dogmatika interview:
The problem with a character like Superman is that he could impose world peace in a day if he wanted to. So why doesn't he do it? That's why the (very beautiful) All Star Superman comic by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely is essentially nostalgic.
Isn't this 'problem' neatly encapsulated in this one image? Superman is bigger than the world; he's protecting it, but his power would be frightening were it not for the fact that he exists in such a strangely nostalgic, childlike idiom. And in a way, isn't that what All Star Superman is about? Morrison and Quitely seem to be looking for a way show Superman growing up that doesn't involve Authority style ultra-violence or doomed interventionism a la Squadron Supreme. The closest predecessor to their approach would probably be Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, but Moore brought the day-glo funfair to an end in that story, forcing all of those silly story lines to resolve so that Superman could slip out of his life and re-invent himself as an adult.
Somehow I don't see Morrison and Quitely taking that route. They're making Superman confront his own mortality, true. But the threat of death seems to exist in this story in order to force Superman to change, to become something else, a new/better/more developed version of himself (still alive, still in technicolour). It's all about transformation again (and oh my god will I be coming back to that amazing Jog article sometime soon!), a theme that is very close to my heart at the moment.
Of course transformation for its own sake isn't worth a damned thing, and hey -- death is a pretty extreme form of metamorphosis, right? But Morrison's an optimist at heart, and he almost always builds towards a happy ending, so I can't wait to see where all of this is going.
My one complaint about this series so far is that Lois Lane has been unfairly sidelined, especially in issue #3. With any luck, the next issue (number #9) will see Lois get a bit more to do. When Morrison puts words in her mouth, I love his take on the character, so hopefully the cover is indicative of her actually getting involved in the story a bit more. After all, if Superman is going to grow up, surely one of the key things that need work is his slightly unhinged romantic life. The beginnings of this are already present in Morrison's run: let's hope that this particular thematic butterfly gets a chance to spread its wings.
Also: issue #9's cover? That's Frank Quitely at his comedy best -- it's total slapstick, from Superman's bashed nose to the disdainful sneer in the yellow-clad woman's eyes. Classic.
And... we're done. There'll be more on Morrison and co next week, plus, y'know, comics commentary that isn't so Morrison-centric.
(Cover image found on this Barbelith thread, which is full of all sorts of entertainingly OTT commentary and speculation.)

A Vibrational Mismatch?

I found this image while I was looking into David Shrigley's work (writing this post made me curious to learn more about the strange world of this Scottish artist).

It both made me laugh and seemed oddly fitting given the title of this blog, so up it goes.

Shrigley's website is well worth checking out, particularly the sculpture section, which shows that the artist has more than just the scribbly cartoon thing going for him.

Dennis Potter on Looking Back (Commonplacebook)

We should always look back on our own past with a sort of tender contempt. As long as the tenderness is there, but please let some of the contempt be there, because we know what we are like, we know how we hustle and bustle and shove and push and sometimes use grand words to cloak it; one does. I'm not looking at you specifically, so don't squirm!

(Dennis Potter, as interviewed by Melvyn Bragg shortly before his death.)

I'm struggling to think of better advice regarding the act of self-evaluation and looking back. If anyone has some wisdom they'd like to share then I'm more than up for hearing it!

Pretty Vacant

Good news everyone! My most-excellent friend Scott McAllister has started updating his web-comic again. The strip is called Wake Up Screaming, and it's a mix of random gibberish and post-adolescent geek-boy angst. Also: it's great!

Scott's art might seem a little unpolished at first, but persevere and you'll see that he's got great sense of comic timing. Plus, if you look back through the WUS archives you'll find ample evidence of Scott's interest in playing around with the massive page space web-comics provide; when he's not doing talking heads he's been known to have a shot at doing full-on monster-movie action, which can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

What else can I say? Scott is better at providing his everyday worries with a punchline than anyone I know, and if you like Wake Up Screaming you might also want to check out Uncertainty Principle. UP is written by Scott and drawn by an American chap called Darrell M Stark. It shares a certain sense of stressed-out humour with WUS, but it's also a sci-fi comedy in the vein of Futurama so it also has a little something different going on.

Thanks for your attention -- I'm hoping to get a few reasonably-sized posts up here over the course of the next couple of days, so please stick around if you're interested in Girls Aloud, Grant Morrison, Dennis Potter etc.

In the meantime take care, and remember to check out my friend's comics!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Scout Niblett -- 'Dinosaur Egg'

So is Scout Niblett the Happy Shopper Cat Power then? Cool. Weird how I can't bring myself to care when she sings songs as fun as this one. And there's magic here, too: it's in the way she lets David Shrigley's wonderfully silly lyrics hang in the air as though they're the most painful thing she's ever had to sing, and in the way she barely plays the song's few simple notes on her guitar. Shit. Maybe this song does have something in common with Cat Power's music after all (it's all in the ultra-hushed delivery, isn't it?).

Cat Power would never sing lyrics like 'Dinosaur egg... oh dinosaur egg/When are you going to hatch/Cause I've got a million people coming round on Friday/And they want to see a dinosaur not an egg' though, would she? Frankly, I can't hear it. When Cat Power sings a song like 'Werewolf' she uses the fantastical creature as an angsty metaphor, which isn't something you could accuse Scout or Shrigley of here. There's a bizarre story going on in 'Dinosaur Egg', but there's no sensible reason for Scout to sound so anguished when she's singing about how she hopes the 'Tortured spirit' will be awake to help her 'scare the shit' out of her party guests. Is there?

Of course, if you're not a fan of ultra-minimal indie or David Shrigley style lo-fi silliness then this will probably sound like 'Smelly Cat' for unkempt hipsters, but if that's your take on it then fair enough.

Ultimately, I guess it's a question of how you want to hear this song, or rather this performance (and ain't that always the case, one way or another? The listener always brings themselves to the song, no matter how hard they try not to). Let's check out a couple of the options, shall we?

Take the negative approach, which leads to you hearing someone wailing twee nonsense over a barely competent guitar line, and you'll almost certainly wish you hadn't bothered with the track. After all, this is the musical version of bad conceptual art, and who the fuck has time for that?

Rewind: listen to the song again. From the start. Try to hear the beauty involved in making words so silly sound so tragic. Why is Scout worried about whether or not her 'Robot slave' is going to be active for her party? Well, if she really does have a million guests coming then I guess she might need some sort of help to serve them drinks! Submitting yourself to the song's warped logic is fun, isn't it? It stretches a certain childlike part of your imagination.

(Uhm... is now the time to admit that I don't know much about David Shrigley? I like his scribbly little art books: they seem to be more considered than they look, in a very Scottish, piss-taking sort of way.)

Listen to the song a third time. What do you hear in it? You see, I'm interested in what makes us appreciate the sort of art we like. Why do some people love flawed, ramshackle work while others seek out only the smoothest of the smooth? Sure, a lot of this probably comes down to social/cultural environment, but it sure as hell isn't the whole story, not by a long way.

'Every line means something' -- or so Marnie Stern sang in the song of the same name. It's not always true in the world of music, but sometimes it's fun to act like it is. Even the silliest linguistic conceit can open up fresh possibilities, fresh perspectives, making old forms/feelings/styles seem fresh. Like I said, there's magic in this song. Let's hear it for the magicians.

Steam: it's what I'm running out of. Quickly. And since hot air is my stock in trade that probably means I should shut up. One last thing before I go: Scout rules!