Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Okay. So one of my reading goals this year is to read more works by women, LGBTQ authors, and authors of color. Part of this is acknowledging my own privilege in that I frequently see people who are at least somewhat like me presented as authors and as characters by those authors. By trying to read authors who are dissimilar to me I'm attempting to broaden my perspective and hear stories from people who have had very different lives than mine. Which is why I'm slightly uncomfortable with the author-subject relationship in Beasts of no Nation. Uzodinma Iweala is an American-born, Harvard-educated man of Nigerian descent who was inspired by a Newsweek article to write a novel about child soldiers in an unspecified African country. In the author interview section at the end of my copy of the book Iweala states that he didn't want to set his novel specifically in Nigeria because he didn't want to reinforce stereotypes about the violence in that country. My question is "how is making the violence generally African any better than making the violence specifically Nigerian?" This seems to be perpetuating the "Africa is a country" attitude seen so frequently in Western film and literature. More problematically Iweala is the son of a wealthy family from a wealthy and generally safe country, and though he has spent time in Nigeria with family and researched his novel by speaking to child soldiers he is as far removed from his main character's history and experience as it is possible to be while still sharing some background experience and vocabulary. I just felt like that needed to be pointed out.

That being said, Beasts of no Nation is an excellent, if horrifying, novel. It tells the story of Agu's recruitment into an army of child soldiers and the horrors he experiences (and becomes nearly numb to) between losing his family and finding himself on a dusty road, starving and scared, near the end of the story. The violence of the story is disconcerting while never seeming unnecessary to communicate the novel's central message (a somewhat on-the-nose point that children who commit atrocities are still children). Agu's isolation, his confusion at the world around him, his memories of his family and the safety of his village, and his clinging to symbols of strength and power are well-crafted and subtle elements of his character that warm you to empathy for the character while holding a hand over your mouth in disgust. Agu's language in particular is an impressive example of craft, a dialect of subject-verb quarrels and repetition mated with pidgin slang and not-quite-right sentence structure keeps the character's immaturity and drifting state in the forefront of the reader's mind.

It's a short novel, so this is going to be a short write-up to keep from utterly spoiling the thing. I was entranced by it, and had trouble putting it down (I read the last 100 pages at a sprint so I could finish it without having to wait for tomorrow); the characters were almost all a fascinating combination of sinister and sympathetic, and the story as a whole brings up some troubling questions about humanity and the terrible things we're capable of. Overall I would recommend Beasts of no Nation, but I'd also like to find some narratives about child soldiers written by people who themselves have experienced the terror and exhaustion of living through a war without the polish of earning multiple degrees from Ivy League universities instead.

Iweala, Uzodinma. Beasts of no Nation. Harper Perennial. New York: New York. 2015. (2005).

Swashbuckling sweetness

Cary Elwes (with help from Joe Layden) has written a charming book about a charming movie. As You Wish is Elwes' memoir about the production of The Princess Bride, which is of course itself an adaptation of the wonderful William Goldman novel of the same name.

Elwes recounts the story of making the sleeper hit with a kind touch, pulling heavily from his co-stars' and production crew's memories of crafting a film that nobody expected to become a family classic. The book is an easy, fast read that never digs too deeply into the nitty-gritty nastiness that's so common in film memoirs but instead recalls friendships formed on sets and touching moments with ROUSs and giants alike.

Everyone who lent their voice to the book is unfailingly sweet, sometimes frustratingly so. Elwes himself is the harshest voice in the book, and even then all his ire is directed inward at his foolishness for injuring himself with a frivolous ATV ride. I had rather hoped that Mandy Patinkin might have something harsh to say about his grueling fencing practice, or that Robin Wright might express some horror at the thought of being set on fire during her first day of filming, but none of that ever happens. As You Wish sets up film-making itself as a fairytale experience (at least with Rob Reiner at the helm) almost on par with the story of Buttercup and Westley. Growing up in LA and visiting film lots and attending at least a couple of auditions I'm inclined to glance askance at this rose-tinted view, but The Princess Bride was an indie film made three decades ago by a bunch of people you only ever hear lovely things about so maybe it was just as great to make as it is to watch.

I'm a bit of a cynic (which is probably sparklingly clear from the general content of this blog) so I found the syrup-sweet "she was great to work with, just an absolute trooper" and "he was a teddy-bear, never got mad, everyone loved him" tone throughout the book a bit taxing, but there are anecdotes scattered in the pages that cracked the shields around my cold and bitter heart. Reading that Wallace Shawn (the clever Sicilian) was acting in constant fear that he'd be fired was endearing, and hearing that Rob Reiner had to be banished from the set while Billy Crystal took his hilarious turn as Miracle Max was certainly something cheerful to think about. Most of what I enjoyed, though, was Elwes and Co. talking about Andre the Giant - telling stories about him messing around on set, describing the tremendous volumes of food and drink he consumed, that was expected; getting a lesson about discrimination and hypervisibility kick-started by a fart on set was wholly unexpected, and one of the best moments of the book.

If you're a fan of The Princess Bride you will probably enjoy Elwes' memoir and appreciate the background details that get filled in through stories from the cast and a lovely set of production stills. If you aren't already a fan there's probably nothing between the covers that will convert you. This book is a decent afternoon's distraction, full of warmth and bright little moments of joy - just like the movie it's about.

     - Alli

Elwes, Cary, with Joe Layden. As You Wish. Touchstone. New York: New York. 2014.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I can see the parade

Sol Invictus, the 7th studio album by Faith No More (5th with Mike Patton on vocals), was released on May 18th/19th 2015. I was so excited that I couldn't wait for my preorder copy to show up - I printed out a coupon that Ipecac Recordings had stuck up on FaceBook and drove to the store to get the album after realizing that it wasn't in my mailbox at home. Then I didn't even want to wait to listen to it - I peeled the plastic off in my truck and drove around until "From the Dead" had finished, then started the album again.

My initial response was disappointment - every member of Faith No More is tremendously talented and ground-breaking in his own way. And this album wasn't - it had none of the experimentation of Angel Dust, lacked the steel-and-spit core of Album of the Year, was missing the sneers and flourishes of The Real Thing, and was too homogeneous to recall the delightful genre-dabbling of King For a Day. It didn't feel like my favorite band.

It still doesn't, really.

Oh, there are elements. Some songs have that fucked-up carnival sound that's so common to Mike Patton's catalogue. There's an operatic quality to the piano that you can tell Roddy Bottum was trying to introduce to the music back in the early 80s and is present in nearly every FNM song between now and then. Billy Gould is showing off his impressive chops with virtuoso speed and consistency, but none of the sloppy, sticky funk that hooked me in the first place. Puffy Bordin has put together some nice fills without being flashy (and while being HARD as FUCK). Jon Hudson is, as ever, competent and (perhaps unfortunately) unassuming, not making a mess of anything and occasionally pulling off a very neat technical trick. There are very good things in this album, and to be honest it was still my favorite record last year. It's an incredibly decent forty minutes of rock. It isn't the moody, fussy, face-shredding, irreverent Faith No More we last heard from nearly two decades ago, but the album certainly isn't an embarrassment after all that time. Faith No More may not be the same as they were in the 90s, but only in the sense that they're now elder statesmen and have better things to think about than being naked in front of the computer. Sol Invictus is tidy, it's got a cohesive sound and it all tells basically the same story - a pretty significant departure from the manic genre-hopping FNM is known for. But there are plenty of parts of the album that sound like the old days.

Separation Anxiety and Cone of Shame are brilliant, heavy, perplexing songs that recall hints of tracks like Jizzlobber and Collision; the hilarity and drama of Sunny Side Up mimics the funniest moments of Land of Sunshine and Be Aggressive; The cold country sobriety and warm nostalgia of From the Dead make it seem like a descendant of Take This Bottle.

Sol Invictus is 100% for sure worth a couple of listens, and is fun to return to once in a while, but it's not the kind of album you can't leave behind. Where much of FNM's discography is unforgettable and arresting Sol Invictus is ignorable but contemplative. There's a lot to be examined but you might not care enough to start that examination in the first place.

For an exhaustive song-by-song look at the album, please see the remainder of this incredibly long post. If you don't want to do it then I'll just get to the point: I'd score this album at 80-83 out of 100. At the very least it's a reunion album that doesn't fall victim to rehashing old material and certainly is much better than anyone had any right to expect.

"Sol Invictus"
Sounds like: Lusty monks singing a repentant dirge from a cave slowly filling with saltwater.
Feels like: The opening dance of a tragic ballet.
WTF?: The piano-driven melody and distorted vocals (sometimes half-whispered, sometimes sounding like they're bubbling up from underwater) give an unearthly feel to this track while the half-time tattoo makes it feel like a dirge. I get a strong "Black Hole Sun" vibe off this song, but instead of the intensity of youthful emotion  you hear in BHS, Sol Invictus is a song by a band stained with age and stooped to study the twisting path that brought them to this juncture.
Best Lyric: "Peace ain't coming our way, but the sun keeps burning my face, where's my faith? My blasphemy?"
Score: 7.8/10

Sounds like: An engine running really well on a bright morning drive.
Feels like: Winning a pissing match against Superman.
WTF?: This is a high-energy song with a call-and-response feeling similar to "Be Aggressive" - it's the meanest track on the album, with lines snarled and drawled and spit into the microphone. That does not, however, make it the hardest song on the album; it's pretty hard though.
Best Lyric: "Leader of men get back in your cage."
Score: 7.6/10

"Sunny Side Up"
Sounds like: A face-melting cereal commercial.
Feels like: A real FNM Song - only song on the album with any funk but still has lots of great piano and howling metal-screaming.
WTF?: One of the great things about Faith No More is that you're never really sure what they're on about. Is this song about fucking? Literal breakfast? Aging? Fuck if I know, and fuck if I care: it's fun to listen to, silly, theatrical, but somehow wistful. It's odd for a song this full of growling and pounding guitars to sound so sweet and open but somehow it manages.
Best Lyric: "Sunny side up, such a lovely way to start the day; sunny side up, dance the night away like Fred Astaire"
Score: 8.9/10

"Separation Anxiety"
Sounds like: Auditory assault.
Feels like: Getting put in a blender where all the blades are Billy Gould's angry black bass.
WTF?: This is four minutes of relentless rythym on the part of Gould, Hudson, and Bordin with lovely decorative/melodic touches from Patton and Bottum.The lilting vocals and solemn keys are a brilliant contrast to the heavy music and abrupt vocal shifts. The song is paranoid and snarling and simpering and writhing; I actually feel it's a pretty good representation of anxiety (and thus it manages to calm me down when I'm panicking).
Best Lyric: "I can't let you go 'cause you're a part of me, not apart from me."
Score: 9.5/10

"Cone of Shame"
Sounds like: Being relentlessly followed down an abandoned midway by a screaming axe-murderer.
Feels like: Angry masturbation
WTF?: The first time I heart this song it confused the fuck out of me - is it a story song, is it a torch song, is it a revenge song? What story is it telling and who is it telling that story to? Then I realized I didn't particularly care - it's got an incredible spooky sound (including samples of Patton's growling dog) and some wonderfully angry lyrics and I love it; it mourns, it howls, it snarls, it hisses, and it pounds its way into your brain where it takes up residence and doesn't ever want to leave.
Best Lyric: "I'm only happy when I'm pissing you off."
Score: 9.8/10

"Rise of the Fall"
Sounds like: A drunk Frenchman became a carnival barker who was then kidnapped by sailors and is singing on deck.
Feels like: A confusing scene in an early Tim Burton film
WTF?: ...That's unfortunate. I'm pretty sure it's the lyrics that kill this for me instead of the music but the lyrics kill it hard - they just don't seem to scan ideally and they're a little too... Expected? Predictable? something. It's nonsense but it isn't good nonsense, which bugs me because I KNOW FNM can produce good nonsense.
Best Lyric: The lyrics suck in this, but the piano and accordion are BITCHIN'.
Score: 6.7/10

"Black Friday"
Sounds like: A mariachi band joined forces with a thrash metal band to write a product jingle.
Feels like: Mike Patton howling all of the sins of conspicuous consumerism out of the world.
WTF?: This is like getting a dildo from your aunt for your 16th birthday. Maybe you wanted it but were surprised to get it and don't quite know what to do with it. You like it, kinda, but it doesn't really do anything and takes a lot of effort on your part to be fun. But for reals, this is a fascinating song that goes to all sorts of odd places - it's got a few moments that are legitimately surprising and entertaining, but the song as a whole is a very strange inclusion.
Best Lyric: "Buy me a future regret, a shrink-wrapped fantasy that I'll want to forget."
Score: 6.8/10

Sounds like: Misanthropy
Feels like: We've probably let everyone down with this whole civilization thing.
WTF?: So it looks like a band that first had a hit with a politically-motivated sneer song is still doing the same thing thirty years later and it still works for them. Motherfucker is full of loathing for the mess we've made of the world and is a subtle demand to fix it.
Best Lyric: All of them are good but the prize of this song goes to the soaring guitar bridge and stuttered "Get-the-mot-ther-fuck-er-onthephone" just past the midpoint. That's a solid fucking moment.
Score: 8.9/10

Sounds like: A melodramatic 80s hair-metal ballad with more distortion.
Feels like: Somebody got a bit too serious with the rock-opera concept.
WTF?: Look it's not hard for lyrics to ruin a song for me and "we will rise from the killing floor, like the matador" both doesn't scan and is too expected; the whole thing just makes me very uncomfortable and there's not much else going on for this song other than a cool ominous bell sound, the rest of it is pretty generic and makes me sad.
Best Lyric: "We will rise from the killing floor," and "let the dead live" - gotta give some credit for snarky self-awareness.
Score: 5.8/10

"From the Dead"
Sounds like: A really grumpy Beatles song, actually - lots of harmonizing and acoustic guitar.
Feels like: A hug from someone you thought you'd never see again.
WTF?: Of all the things that feel like shoutouts to fans in the course of the album this song is the biggest nod. It has musical merit (but it really sounds nothing like Faith No More), sure, but the song isn't about the song, it's about the fact that you got the chance to hear the song.
Best Lyric: "I can see the parade, welcome home my friend, we come back to history in present times, watch your watch unwind" followed by unremitting sobbing because oh my god it's been 18 years and you just weren't expecting this and I'm sorry but I'm just so happy I'm going to need a minute.
Score: 8.1/10

Subtotal: 79.9/100
Bonus Points: 
Reunion album that isn't pure shit +5
No inane solos or self-indulgent jamming (tight shit all the way through) +2
Somewhat cautious, could be more daring -1
Frustrating simplicity of lyrics & bass, unusual for the band -3

Grand Total: 82.9/100
Final Score: B-

I wish I could rate this album higher, it's FNM and I love them and I want everything every member of the band does to be perfect for all time. But that doesn't always happen. Sol Invictus isn't a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't in the same league as any of the post-Mosely albums (it's probably fair to put this offering on a level with Introduce Yourself). I'm reviewing Sol Invictus a year late specifically because it took me a while to warm up to it; once I had I wanted to listen to it to the exclusion of all other music for about two months, and now nine months later I can happily listen to the whole thing a couple of times and then forget about it (as a whole) for months. There are a few good songs that stand out on their own and have worked their way into my heavy rotation playlist (mostly "Separation Anxiety" and "Cone of Shame, though "Sunny Side Up" is my weekday alarm) but overall Sol Invictus is a decent, listenable, replayable, and largely forgettable album. I want so hard to love it, I hope that other people out there like it, I hope they love it, I hope the same songs that speak to me speak to them and more, but "pretty okay, good to hear once in a while" is the best that I think this album will ever be for me.

     - Alli

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tasty, tasteful porn

Y'all, I've bought so much porn this year, and so much of it through awesome Kickstarters; I hope anyone reading this is 100% okay with me talking lots and lots about cartoon humping because there's a lot more to come.

Food Porn is a collection put together by Filthy Figments (which is an AWESOME, women-driven subscription porn site that you should totally look into if you're looking for some great wank material). The book is organized around the dual themes of food and sex, and each short story is accompanied by a recipe for something that sounds super tasty. I donated to the Kickstarter at a level that allowed me to end up with both the collected, soft-cover stories and a coil-bound cookbook of the recipes by themselves. I'm going to be honest, the coil-bound cookbook is a bit disappointing; each page is laid out by the author of the comic and some pages are very hard to read. It might have been slightly more effective as a cookbook if the editors had stuck with a more conventional cookbook layout and maybe had just a single illustration for each recipe, but overall you can tell that a lot of effort was put into the recipe pages and that's nice. The stories themselves are great and some of them are incredibly fucking sexy, so the porn portion is a-okay and I've got no complaints about it.

"Following Directions" by Kori Michele (Recipe: Sally's Simple Veggie Soup)
An adorable couple get more than they bargained for when they read a recipe slightly wrong - silly puns abound as the issue is resolved with a little unexpected help.

"Safe Harbor" by Kickingshoes (Recipe: Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi)
Aaaah! Aaaah! When a fisherman finds a secret cove he has the adventure of a lifetime with two shark-men who help him make his catch after helping him with something else. (SOOOOO PRETTY)

"Food Talk" by Boltplum (Recipe: Raggmunk)
A couple discusses the desire for a taste of home and adjusting to change all while having a good time connecting on a very personal level.

"Quick Distraction" by Scotty (Recipe: Cream of Mushroom Enchiladas)
A chef takes advantage of her boyfriend's poor cooking skills while they wait for a whole chicken to boil.

"Lion and the Lamb" by Niki Smith (Recipe: Arabian Style Leg of Lamb)
Spices warm up a cold winter night between lovers. (Niki Smith's art is off-the-charts amazing, just so you know)

"Knead and Rise" by Dechanique (Recipe: Homemade Pizza)
SO FUCKING CUTE AND SEXY - Pizzeria owners are surprised by the early arrival of a delivery-person; everyone takes advantage f the unexpected situation.

"Breakfast in Bed" by Dumpling Heart (Recipe: Taiwanese Rice Rolls)
A woman is frustrated by he boyfriend's abundance of kindness - he wakes early every morning to make her breakfast in bed but she wants a taste of something else.

"Complex Spice" by Tsukiyono (Recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala)
A woman returns home to find that her partner has made her favorite meal, but the taste of spices on skin is more appealing than dinner.

"Overload" by Apollo (Recipe: Apollo's Lava Overload Cake)
OMFG, honestly Apollo's sexy boys are the reason I signed up for Filthy Figments in the first place. This is a great example of why. A chocolate demon is on the warpath and about to wreck a strawberry demon's lovely home - the strawberry demon offers his pert ass for destruction instead and ends up wonderfully, happily wrecked. Lots of macro going on here and a not-quite-all-the-way-through money-shot. SO FUCKING HOT.

"A La Mode" by Gina Biggs (Recipe: Vegan Pumpkin Pie)
Things get saucy between a young couple with very few inhibitions in a public diner.

"Raspberry Heart" by TE Woodis (Recipe: Chocolate Mousse)
A mousse monster is on the loose and the super-hero Raspberry Heart needs some loving from her boyfriend before her heart is charged up enough to take care of this sticky situation.

"A Little Different" by Jamie Jennings (Recipe: Super Pink Cocktail and Watermelon Salad)
Trainee space-pals (I don't really know what either does other than bone in the comic) share a decadent meal and some delightful downtime before cuddling up to sleep.

"Nectar" by Aero Zero (Recipe: Honey Cake)
A king and his consort enjoy the nectar of the forest god, a potent aphrodisiac, before the god himself finds them and joins in on their fun.

"Crumble Me" by Ariel Vittori (Recipe: Soft Lemon-Clove Biscotti)
FUCKING HOT D/S ACTION - Master has been feeling ill so Master's Dirty Little Girl takes it upon herself to serve him (FUCKING GOD, this came out of nowhere for me, the art is so soft and sweet and the story is so kinky, dammit, GOOD WORK).

"Seaside Sweethearts" by SW Searle (Recipe: Apple Crunch)
A seaside picnic turns into a different kind of wet adventure as two lovers take advantage of an empty beach.

"Red Summer" by Molly Ostertag (Recipe: Pomegranate Syrup)
A woman is entranced by the beautiful girl who sells pomegranates at the  market - lots of luscious fruit imagery, great illustrations, sexy as fuck.

"Red Bean Buns" by Blue Delliquanti (Recipe: Red Bean Buns)
Aaaah! Cute lovers (one of whom is so fat and happy and lovable and just so fucking cute I can't handle it) get distracted from their baking project by their hunger for one another. SO CUTE.

"The Munchies" by Megan Rose Gedris (Recipe: Apple Chicken Pie)
Someone gets the munchies after enjoying some pot brownies, but it turns out she's hungry for something that isn't hiding in a cupboard.

Various Authors. Ed. Gina Biggs. Food Porn. Strawberry Comics. 2016.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cult status

Romances by John Kaada and Mike Patton is probably my favorite album of all time. I love it enough that it inspired me to script a comic book about it (though the comic book in question was depressing enough that I've yet to finish drawing and inking it). So when the pair announced another collaboration for release in April 2016 (12 years after Romances) I was excited and delighted and ordered it immediately. And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

Ipecac Recordings is a good record company. They have a great stable of artists and the music they put out is always fantastic and beautifully presented. But they seem to sell most directly through Merchaye, which leaves a little something to be desired. I ordered my CD in early February (along with two other albums), thinking that pre-ordering Bacteria Cult meant that I would get the album on its April 1st release date. Wrong! My order didn't even ship until April 5th, by which point I'd contacted Merchaye to see what was going on (I didn't pay for express shipping so I waited until I was sure that the 4-day delivery time wasn't screwing with anything). Thankfully there was a stream available on February 25th so at least I didn't have to wait to hear it until it was finally delivered on the 11th.

So that was the saga of getting the thing, was it worth all of the trouble? Well that depends.

(It doesn't depend on anything for me - it was totally worth it for me and I love it.)

If you like Patton exclusively because of Epic then you probably won't like Bacteria Cult. If you're into Fantomas because of the heavy sound you probably won't like Bacteria Cult. If Mister Bungle is appealing to you mainly because of explicit lyrics and funk-metal bass lines you probably won't like Bacteria Cult. If you like film scores for their ability to tell a coherent story through sound you probably won't like Bacteria Cult. If you like classical music for its relative length and ability to fade into the background you probably won't like Bacteria Cult. If you enjoyed the depth of sound and resonant singing on Romances you may like Bacteria Cult, but I make no promises.

Romances sounded like a broken western, full of vistas of sound and howling voices; Bacteria Cult sounds like a symphony of arachnids, all strings and shrill with whispered vocals and backgrounded by a dissonant hum. It's rich and thick, layered with muddled motifs and unfettered malice. Romances is easy to sink into and to love, but I think Bacteria Cult wants you to hate it. Bacteria Cult is like Copeland for nihilists.

The music doesn't soar, it waddles and wallows; the vocals are almost completely nonverbal (and maybe completely nonverbal - I may be falsely identifying words where there are only screams) and come together in a jumble of cooing, humming, and nonsense that is barely identifiable as human; there are sweeping trumpets undercut by guttural grunts and precise strings drowned in faint electronic echoes.

I love it but there are things I might love more if they were done somewhat differently. It's just like Patton, widely recognized as one of the greatest and most versatile singers in the world, to put out an album full of tracks that you'd be hard-pressed to call songs. I would really have liked it if Bacteria Cult had at least one song with words just so I could feel a little more equal to it - the album is hard to approach since there's no way to know exactly what it's saying. But such is the life of a Patton fan - if Suspended Animation didn't chase you away nothing will. The other thing I'd like is MORE. After twelve years Kaada and Patton put out a brilliant album that has only eight tracks, none of which are over five minutes. There's barely more than half an hour of listening here and I feel a tiny bit cheated. It's not that the album doesn't stand up as a complete piece - it does - but I was hoping for a novel rather than a novella. It's a beautiful story, I wanted to live in it a little longer.

Official music video for Imodium - CW for Incest, Gore, Nudity. NSFW

     - Alli