Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 04, 2011
      ( 6/04/2011 09:49:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC: A weekend photo of Boo Cat:

THE USUAL NOTE: For more cool pics of companion animals, please check out Modulator's "Friday Ark."
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Monday, May 30, 2011
      ( 5/30/2011 03:17:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“IF I UNDERSTOOD, THEN I COULD UNDERSTAND.” With a moniker like Hot Club de Paris, the uninitiated listener might understandably expect something on the nature of Django Reinhardt to come slinking out of the speakers. But this trio of Liverpudlian alt poppers are going for a different sound altogether: art-pop with tinges of XTC and Blur, a guitarist who recalls a less sinuous Tom Verlaine in places, boisterous back-up vocals that immediately announce their pronounced British boyishness, crisp lyrics -- good times for lovers of smarty-pants pop, in other words.

The band’s newest release, Free the Pterodactyl 3 (Moshi Moshi Records), is their North American debut, though this prolix threesome have priors in their native land. The material in this disc is in fact culled from two earlier import-only EPs, reshuffled for us Yanks into one engagingly ragged package. Opening with a burst of Big Country clang, the CD release offers a good overview of the group’s energetic sound: slices of young urban life placed alongside more lyrically dense numbers. “Rise and Fall of the High School Suicide Cluster Band,” for instance, tells the tale of a would-be band of alt-rockers, while “Fuck You, the Truth!” is a spoken word track in the mode of Blur’s “Parklife” that would appear either to be about police brutality or the debilitating nature of outdoor concerts -- or maybe something else entirely.

If at times these guys come across overly self-conscious in their wordiness (e.g., the aptly titled “Three Albums in And Still No Ballad”), their snappy catchiness carries you through to the end, especially on cuts like “Biggie Smalls and the Ghetto Slams” and “Noses Blazing,” which starts out almost sounding rockabilly until the guitar line goes slightly Voidoid. Brothers Matthew (guitar, vocals) and Alasdair (drums) Smith, alongside bassist Paul Rafferty, clearly have taken the D.I.Y. sensitivities of the mid-seventies/early eighties to heart. This may not win ‘em any massive airplay in the benighted U.S. but it should connect with lovers of angular and eccentric tunesmithery.

More Songs about Buildings and Chocolate and Food and Girls, in other words -- and if you get that blended reference, then you’re probably part of the listening audience for this appealing little disc.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Sunday, May 29, 2011
      ( 5/29/2011 11:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“CRAZY . . .THAT’S WHAT HE IS!” A hard-edged British war comic developed by the co-creator of Judge Dredd, “Darkie’s Mob” ran in the pages of the black-and-white comics mag Battle Picture Weekly from 1976 – 77. Set in Burma, 1942, the strips depicted the wartime adventures of a battered group of soldiers stranded behind enemy lines in the jungle. Their commanding officer dead and their numbers depleted down to twenty, the demoralized Britishers are reconciled to death until a mysterious figure calling himself Captain Joe Darkie steps out of the undergrowth. Taking command with brutish authority, the thuggish Darkie rouses the band into guerilla action against the enemy. “If you stay with me, I’m going to give you hell,” Darkie pronounces at the end of the introductory episode. “You’ll curse me and hate me! But I promise you one thing . . . you’ll kill Japs!”

Darkie is a right bastard, alright, in the tradition of other Wagner hard-case quasi-heroes like Joe Dredd. The story of his mob is told through a small bloodstained notebook “found at the scene of a brutal jungle,” its writer nowhere to be found, so we know at the start that the story of Darkie and his crew will not end with the cast happily returning home to receive their medals of commendation. Instead, we get to see the mob take on the Japanese in three- and four-page episodes, their own numbers dwindling as the series progresses. The notebook’s author, nice-guy Private Shortland, makes it to the end of the series, of course: our primary lens, he also is the first to realize that the self-proclaimed Captain Darkie is not what he claims to be.

Darkie’s past proves a minor mystery that by and large gets shoved to the side until the last two episodes: the emphasis is on short, quick skirmishes with what seems like an inexhaustible amount of ammunition until midway into the series when our mob is provided a cache of old British weapons by some grateful Burmese villagers. Occasionally, we get a few panels where one of the gang bridles at Darkie’s harshness, but these mini-rebellions don‘t last long. On the one hand, it’s clear that Darkie is their only hope of surviving the Burmese jungle, even if he does have a propensity for pushing them into dire mortal combat. Over the series’ run, we also see more than one character – the hulking Sergeant Samson, most notably – adapt to Darkie’s vicious ways. Only Private Shortland has his doubts.

Wagner’s ultra-rough-and-tumble storytelling is ably supported by artist Mike Western, also know for handling the art on the soccer comic “Roy of the Rovers.” He’s particularly strong in capturing the brutal nature of one-on-one combat, and if occasionally his renderings of Japanese soldiers comes close to WWII era caricature, it’s not as if he’s all that sparing with his Englishmen either. In Wagner and Western’s hands, war is a dehumanizing experience for both sides. Those who might be offended by wartime racial epithets are advised to skip this new hardcover collection of the complete run, though it’s also worth noting that when we finally learn the title lead’s story, he himself has experienced life-changing racism.

A dark and rousingly violent series, “Darkie’s Mob” proves to be more psychologically ambiguous than you might expect from a mid-seventies British lad’s war comic: an undeserved obscurity that hopefully will find a larger audience today through Titan Books’ hardbound resurrection.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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