July 24, 2007

A journey through the thrilling world of my media

Ah, the thrilling life of a teacher in the summer...

Continuing my work through the excellent Ex Machina series, I took a deep breath of Smoke Smoke - volume five in the series. Ex Machina continues to be a fine piece of writing, exploring complex themes and issues - in this volume, the issues of mandatory minimums, marijuana legalization, continuing gay marriage themes, and safety from a killer posing as a fire fighter.

This volume, though, feels a lot more like a middle chapter - introducing and addressing the issues but never bringing any of them to a resolution. There are a number of interesting things introduced - a big splash page of Mister Mayor toking up, the infidelity of one member of the first male-male marriage in NYC, continuing plots against the mayor - but none are brought to anything near a resolution.

The series is excellent. I imagine that the issues will be dealt with in time, but as a contained mass, this trade left me wanting.

Astro City's third trade - Family Album - leaves nothing lacking or missing. The trade - running against the grain of most collections that simply grab a single span of issues - takes its tales from two runs of the second Astro City series: #1-3 and 10-13.

These chosen tales hold together marvelously well thematically if not entirely as one story. The first three are single-issue stories of the people in and around the heroes of Astro City (two of which won Eisner Awards). Each of these frame the City and invite us brilliantly into the amazingly rich, fictional world that Busiek has created. We see the heroes and the City through the eyes of a family new to town (issue #1), a second-rate villain who steps up his game (#2), and a fictional creations accidentally turned real who has to live with the consequences (#3). None of these could be remotely considered a "typical" cape and tight story, and therin lies Busiek's talents. His writing is so masterful that he can focus on the most minute of characters in a grand story (huge battles go on around the main characters in these issues - particularly the new family) and reveal the most human of foibles and successes, making what should be an absolutely fantastical world into one that we feel that we've known for years.

The second group of issues are broken into two stories - one telling of the youngest member of Busiek's pastiche of the Fantastic Four search for a "normal" life, and the other of a heroe's choice between becoming a hero (keeping to the increasingly risky life of a rooftop-hopping crime fighter) or to step away and raise a family, a choice made more tricky particularly after being confronted with three possible outcomes of those decisions.

If there is anyone out there who claims to not like superhero comics, these are the trades to hand to them.

Astro City is a gem of a read.

Another grower, dangit...

Apparently I'm coming into albums with too many expectations, because I'm finding myself more likely to dislike or dismiss an album the first few times through but to fall into...not always love, I guess, but at least a strong like.

Ryan Adams's first release in a year and a half (official release, anyway, as he's apparently been streaming music on his website for the past couple of years - who knew?) finds him seemingly answering a lot of the criticisms levied his way. He's been accused of throwing out any old thing that he records, desperately needing something in the way of a firmer editing hand to shape things into a cohesive, quality album rather than three throwaway albums that are each half filler.

On Easy Tiger, Adams lets that shaping take place, plunging hard into territory that everybody has been clamboring for him to plow for years now: folky, country rock. He's good at it. Hell, there have been some moments where he's been almost great at it. So why doesn't this album quite work?

Well, the first third of it has some excellent songs - stuff right up there with his his best from Cold Roses, but for some reason the rest of the album doesn't hold together. It's good stuff, solid work. But it doesn't grab me that way his best songs have.

We asked for a tight, together album, and Adams has clearly given it to us (thirteen songs in the same vein, all but one between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 minutes).

To quote AllMusic.com's review (not atypical among critics this time out):
As fine as some of the songs are, as welcoming as the overall feel of the record is, it seems a bit like Adams is giving his fans (and label) "Ryan Adams by numbers," hitting all the marks but without passion. This is when his craft learned from incessant writing kicks in — he can fashion these tunes into something sturdy and appealing — but it also highlights how he can turn out a tune as lazily as he relies on casual profanity to his detriment. Ultimately, these flaws are minor, since Easy Tiger delivers what it promises: the most Ryan Adamsy Ryan Adams record since his first. For some fans, it's exactly what they've been waiting for, for others it'll be entirely too tidy, but don't worry — if Adams has proven to be anything it's reliably messy, and he's sure to get ragged again somewhere down the road (and based on his past record, safe money is on October 2007).
If you'd like to give the album a try, here are alternate versions of 'bout half of the songs. They're not quite the same as what made the final cut, but they're close enough to give you and idea.

Man, the critics have been all over the place on the Beastie Boys' Mix-Up.

Some love the light-hearted nature of a good groove band just throwing down some solid tracks for a change.

Others throw it at the Beasties for putting out such pedestrian instrumental fare.

Again, I'll turn to the AllMusic.com review (seriously, if you're not checking that site out yet, you need to get started):
Even if the instrumental interplay is tighter, the overall atmosphere is alluringly warm and friendly: it's music that flows easily and it's a perfect soundtrack for a slow summer afternoon. Most of all, the Beasties sound relaxed and comfortable, enjoying the process of making this music, and if you're on the same wavelength, it's hard not to get sucked into it too. The Mix Up is not a major statement, but that's the nice thing about the record: it's as personal and idiosyncratic as any old funky soul-jazz LP that you'd find deep in the crates of a second-hand record store. It's easy to enjoy and it's indelibly stamped with the personality of the group, which is not only no small thing, it's also a good, rewarding path for the Beastie Boys as they approach middle age.
Me? I fall on the side of enjoying the hell out of the album. Oh, yeah, it's far from a great artistic statement or anything, but it's fun.

It's got a nice beat, and you can certainly dance to it.

Ok, I'm gonna take a break here and throw down reviews of the other media in my world of late some other time. Just so ya know, though, here's what'll be coming up later:
  • Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (movie)
  • Breach
  • The Fountain
  • All-Star Superman
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four
  • Ultimate X-Men
  • Superman/Batman - Enemies Among Us
  • Superman/Batman - Aliens/Predator
  • Justice League of America
  • Civil War: X-Men Universe
  • Super Paper Mario
That's a whole lot of crap, eh?

1 comment:

achilles3 said...

The only reason I know what Ryan Adams sounds like is because of all the stuff on your exterior HD...thanks for that. I like it.

As for Beasties i'm NOW going to buy that album. This was just what I didn't know I was looking for!