Monday, July 27, 2009

The Magic of Rob Liefeld

I can't believe I have never saluted the magic of this great artist before. He was all over mainstream comics like a rash in the 1990s, either drawing everything or with everyone being forced to draw like him. This may explain why I gave up on superhero comics.

Anyway, over on the internet, someone has got together a selection of his greatest pictures: The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings. See them and be unashamed.

The terrifying Liefeld picture of Captain America does not come from that website, but from from this post on the blog Grotesque Anatomy

Saturday, July 25, 2009

v/a "La Belle Epoque: EMI's French Girls, 1965-1968"

This was dirt cheap in Glasgow's Monorail, but it turns out to have some really good stuff on it, much more so than the compilation of French girl pop I picked up in the USA some years back (that was admittedly vol. 44 in a series). This one was so cheap that I wondered if it might have been a cheapass bootleg, but it has pretty good sleevenotes, talking a good game about the CD being produced from the original masters, so that sound quality is better than the original releases (which would have been on four track 7" EPs). The guy on the sleeve-notes also claims knowledgeably that one of the stand-out tracks (Liz Brady's 'Partie de Dames') must have been recorded in London, given the production quality, and even goes on to hazard a guess as to who the session drummer was. Another exceptional track is 'Les Mains dans les Poches' by Les Roche Martin, a group comprising two sisters and their brother, here using vocal harmonising that makes their track sound that bit different to the others.

The whole record is of impressive quality, not just the ones mentioned above. I say, therefore, that you should keep an eye out for this compilation.

image source

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Incognito" #5, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Penultimate issue! This is the one about Zack Overkill, a former supervillain in a witness protection programme. Now he is on the run from both the authorities and his former colleagues, in the company of Ava Destruction, the psychotic super-powered former girlfriend of Zack's late twin brother. Much of this issue is about Zack feeling all sad about his past and starting to register how he has changed from the bad-ass supermaniacs like Ms Destruction, though we also get the first intimations of where all these supertypes have come from. Anyway, it is all deadly stuff, and while nothing like as thrill powered as #4, it is very much building up to an explosive climax.

If you are the kind of person who only buys collections then the graphic novel of this will be out soon. You might well like it. One thing that collection readers will miss, though, is the essays on pulp fiction stuff that appear at the back of each issue. Yellow Peril subjects have been looming large here, and this issue featuring a short piece on Sax Rohmer's sinister oriental mastermind, Dr. Fu Manchu. I have never read a Fu Manchu story (apart from pastiches of him in the pages of Planetary and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but I have always found them interesting (for all the obvious caveats about racism and creepy ethnic stereotyping etc.). This piece discusses some antecedents to the Chinese genius, including the somewhat outlandish claim that the first readers of Frankenstein would have taken the Monster to be Mongolian; I am unconvinced. Nevertheless, the piece has made me think more of Fu Manchu. Has anyone reading this ever read any of Sax Rohmer's stories?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mary Weiss (with The Reigning Sound) "Dangerous Game" (vinyl)

As you know, Mary Weiss was the lead singer with the Shangri-Las, and here in Panda Mansions we have been on a bit of a Shangs kick of late. After the Shangri-Las broke up, Weiss turned her back on the world of music, but was coaxed out of retirement a few years back to record this record with mid-western garage band The Reigning Sound. Once I heard about this album I became semi-obsessive about it, basically because there is not much Shangri-Las stuff and the Mary Weiss album was a way of getting more of it (or more of something like it).

On first listen I was not so sure about Dangerous Game, but I have become very fond of it. One great thing is that Mary Weiss still has it - her voice is in great shape, and the stripped down musical accompaniment suits her and the songs she is singing. It is good that no one approached this as a record designed to sell millions of copies, because a combination of contemporary big production and Mary Weiss singing would sound dreadful.

The songs themselves are mostly new compositions (by someone in the Reigning Sound), with one Shangri-Las cover ('Right Now And Not Later'). Mary Weiss sings like she did before, but with a voice that now suggests a certain experience of the world. Back then she was a bad girl, now she is a bad woman.

The lack of the other members of the Shangri-Las (now all deceased, I believe) means that there are no conversational interludes in the record. It would have been great to have the now old Shangs talking away to each other about how their daughters are out of control, but you cannot have everything.

image source

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shop Assistants "Will Anything Happen"

This lot are one of those famous lost indie bands of the 1980s. Monorail in Glasgow were selling this collection a bit cheap, so I thought I would snap it up to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out the fuss was not about much – I was kind of hoping for another Primitives, but this lot's music seems a bit thin. They are in no sense the "Shangri-Las fronting the Jesus & Mary Chain", for all people say such things. It all seems a bit underperforming, reminding me of why people do not like indie music.

assistant pandas

Friday, July 17, 2009


You may recall me talking about the ERGODOS festival. I went to nearly every concert in this nine day long event, missing just one night to go and see EARTH in Whelan's. I was excited about seeing EARTH – they are meant to be the band who inspired ((((SUNN-O)))), so this promised a lot of drone-rock action. I was particularly excited because I had never seen EARTH before.

Or so I thought. One of the band played a bit of jazz as a warm-up for the main event, but when the rest of the band started coming on they all started looking a bit familiar. Flailing around in mental confusion, I accused my friend E------ of bringing me along to see a subset of NILE, that ultimately not great band seen with him recently in Whelan's. He assured me that I was on crack. Then it hit me – I have seen EARTH before. In fact, I had seen EARTH before some time last summer, in no other venue than Whelan's.

I found this a bit perturbing, because the memory suddenly came back of how I had found EARTH less than overwhelming. This time I liked them a bit more. They do suffer a bit from all the songs being kind of the same – one big fucker of a heavy riff played fairly slowly over and over again. But you can get into it and start seeing the variations or noticing the flourishes being added in over the riff. Curiously, for all their scary music, the band themselves seem to be an amiable enough bunch. I must investigate them on record sometime.

drone rock panda

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Francesco Turrisi & Tarab – live

Not too long after purchasing Turrisi's album* I went to see him playing live in J.J. Smyths. Tarab seems to be the name of Turrisi's backing band, yet there seemed to be no overlap with the last time we saw them. Still, you know what they say – if it's Francesco and your granny on fretless bass, it's Francesco Turrisi & Tarab.

Funnily enough, I do not remember too much about the actual music at this, but I remember a fair bit about other aspects of the event. It was a lot fuller than the other J.J. Smyths concert I have been to. Maybe the local musicians are able to pull in bigger crowds, as every one of the players has local pals to come along and see them. There was also a good bit more crowd noise at this – perhaps people feel more entitled to chat away to each other if it's only one of their mates playing on stage.

The one big musical thing about this I do remember is Tarab being joined by cellist Kate Ellis of the Crash Ensemble for a couple of tunes. I was struck here by both the cello's range as an instrument, and by Ellis's skill with it. I would not hitherto have thought of it as a jazz instrument, but it fitted in well here. But I liked the whole concert, not just the stuff she played on. Turrisi is himself a great musician, and he seems able to gel well with whomever he plays with.

fretless panda

*which I seem to have left unreviewed. Bad Panda.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Comics Roundup 11/7/2009

I'm not sure if anyone actually reads my round-ups of weekly comics purchases, so maybe no one has noticed its absence. Whatever, it is now BACK!

Superman: World of New Krypton #5, by James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Pete Woods

As you will recall, Superman has left the Earth and gone to live with a load of other superpowered Kryptonians on a new planet opposite the Sun. In this exciting episode, the sinister General Zod (Terence Stamp in Superman II) has him on trial for the capital crime of treason. Oh noes. Much of this title hangs on Kryptonian society not actually being that great, with Superman (or Kal-El as he now is called) being plainly of a superior moral cast to his fellows. The aspect of fascination is Kal-El's relationship with Zod, a much more ambiguous figure than the scenery chewing villain of the film.

There is little in the way of fites in this title, but plenty of thrill power, and a great OMG ending.

Does anyone reading this know if General Zod (and the lovely Ursa, and the brutish other guy, who both make appearances here) had a pre-existence in the comics before they appeared in Superman II? That would in any case have been pre-Crisis (?), so they would have to have been re-introduced at some stage anyway.

North 40 #1, by Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples

As a first issue fiend, I decided to check this one out. It is set in some hick American town where some unexplained event has happened that has suddenly made loads of weird things happen – people turning into monsters or becoming invulnerable, zombie & vampire invastions, that kind of thing. Lord knows where this will go.

The is a preview in the back of a potentially interesting new title called Red Herring by David Tishcman and Philip Bond. It seems to be an attempt to do a humourous series about conspiracy theories and stuff like that, and if it works I expect it to be driven by Bond's rofflesome art.

That's all for now, though I may yet play catch-up with the issues I missed over the last few weeks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eighties Coming Back

Unemployment reaching pandemic levels, people gathering at a tree-stump apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Eat the Peach remade – truly we are going back to the future.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Tesla Girls

Friday was the birthday of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian scientist. Tesla invented radio and alternating current, two things that transformed the world. Sadly, he never received as much credit for these as he should have done, with many still thinking of Marconi as the father of radio. Without alternating current (AC), electricity would be next to useless as direct current (DC) loses too much energy as it travels through wires*. Maybe the big problem with Tesla was that he was not up to much as a businessman, and he also spent much of his later life promising various outlandish inventions (death rays, free energy, that kind of thing) but never delivering on any of them. Anyway, the Guardian have an interesting article about him here: Happy birthday, Nikola Tesla: thanks for the electricity

Today, meanwhile, is the twentieth anniversary of the Detroit Disco Riots, when an anti-disco mob smashed up the White Sox stadium after a local anti-disco DJ Steve Dahl blew up thousands of disco records during a break in a baseball game. White racist homophobes across the USA still like to affirm that "disco sucks", with the terrible events of that day meaning that the later emergence of house music in Chicago would always be far more appreciated in Europe than in the country of its origin. See more on the BBC: Earth, Wind and Pyre

*I do not understand why this is the case - can any of my scientist readers explain this?

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Telescopes – Live in Glasgow

When I was in Glasgow over Easter I went to a concert by The Telescopes. Older readers may remember this band. They were one of the first of the post-My Bloody Valentine acts, so quick off the mark that the term shoegazing had not even been coined when they first treaded the boards. They were popular for a while, and then they faded away when people moved on from shoegazing to what ever the next big thing was (what was it again? Britpop? Grunge? Peruvian Anal Flute Music? It is so hard to remember). However, the Telescopes kept going in some notional sense, even as the popularity of their kind of music disappeared around them. You may remember me describing the time I saw them play Lazybird here in Dublin. By then they were something of a one-man band, with Stephen Lawrie of the Scopes playing on his own. He did not give us the muscular guitar work of yore but music based on textured electronics and that kind of thing. That is what I was expecting in Glasgow.

First up, though, was a band called something like St. DeLuxe. You know the way sometimes you see bands that are almost good but not quite? Well this lot were a bit like that. They obviously knew how to play, and had some good ideas what to with their skills, but they did not really have any good songs. Also, their singer's vocal stylings did not really do it for me. They got a bit better as they went on, mainly by louder, but they were not a band I thought I would ever want to see again.

Then Stephen Lawrie came on. This time he was not doing funny electronic stuff, but playing solo acoustic guitar versions of various Telescopes classics. Having seen Mark Gardner in Nottingham a while back, I am familiar with acoustic versions of shoegazing music. It works better than it ought to, and I think maybe Lawrie's version of it worked better than Gardner's. Obviously, if you know the old songs, you do a bit of joining the dots, but Lawrie had a certain something that made the tunes work on their own terms. I actually found this concert pretty intense, with Lawrie's focussed delivery accentuating the way most of the tunes plainly had lyrics about drug addiction or mental illness, something not quite so obvious when the vocals were buried in walls of feedback. I seem to remember hearing somewhere that Lawrie has had his problems with stuff, so there was a bit of an edge to his delivery here. Of course, maybe he is a totally happy camper who just can act well, but the effect was the same.

Stephen Lawrie's one-man Telescopes experience played a relatively short set, and then he left the stage, to some applause. After that St. DeLuxe came back to the stage – WTF them again???? But as they took to their instruments, suddenly Lawrie reappeared, and it hit me what was happening – they were going to be Lawrie's backing band. I said to my beloved: "I think this could get quite – " VAAMMMMMMMM! We were blown to the back of the venue by the band launching into a version of 'The Perfect Needle'. Suddenly I was back in 1988, in a backroom of the Camden Falcon. Great moment.

They only played two songs this way, before letting the gig end. A shame really, it would have been an amusing art experiment to play the same songs acoustically and then with a full band, but we got the idea.

So yeah, the Telescopes. See them live, who knows what you might get.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of the Robot

In my SF book club a couple of months back we read Isaac Asimov's Foundation. I found it good and bad. I liked its enormo scale and its attempt to base the story on ideas from the social sciences. I also found that the book cracked along, with Asimov having a writing style that made his book hard to put down. On the downside, the characterisation was pretty hopeless – it seemed like the same character kept showing up with different names. Some of the social science ideas deployed also seemed a bit clumsy. Everything seemed rather telescoped, with societies forgetting technology or adopting crazy new religions more or less over night.

For all the problems with Foundation, I liked it enough to want to read more Asimov. The library did not seem to have any copies of its sequel, Foundation and Earth, but it did have The Naked Sun, one of Asimov's books about robots. I read it today, and my initial impression is that it is total genius. It has the readability of Foundation, but a far more coherent plot and much more convincing characters. The story follows a detective from Earth (where everyone lives in crowded underground cities) who is for mysterious reasons called in to investigate a murder on one of the outer worlds, where a small human people live on the surface with millions and millions of robots doing all their work for them. The book plays on the detective's agoraphobic reaction to the openness of the colony planet, and his gradual understanding of just how odd the human society on it is, with the robots an all-pervasive and generally creepy presence. I helped this by imagining them all as looking like the ones in Doctor Who classic Robots of Death.

There was a thread* on ILX once where people were invited to think up offensive terms that in the future will be used for robots. After a series of posts threw out such classics as skin-jobs, metal mickeys, tin dicks, and many more, some people became very offended (as is the way of ILX). This was not because they were robots themselves, but because they reckoned that in SF robots are basically analogues for black Americans; in coming up with offensive terms for robots, people were basically engaging in a safe form of racist dialogue.

At the time, I considered such thoughts to be the usual kind of ILX taking-everything-a-bit-too-seriously mentalism. Actually reading one of Asimov's robot books, I am not so sure. It is noticeable that the detective keeps addressing robots as "boy", while they call him "master". The society on the robot planet is reminiscent of the antebellum South, with a lazy elite living in rustic mansions while slaves (in this case, obviously, robot slaves) work away for them, and the humans keep underestimating the robots, just as whitey underestimates black Americans. Whether it is actually racist to come up with slang terms for robots is something I will leave to you, but it is hard not to think that Asimov had race in mind to at least some extent here.

*I can find no trace of this thread. If you know where it is, post a link.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The music of the spheres

Here is an interesting article about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon: Who is Neil Armstrong?

I was particularly struck by the music he chose to bring to the moon.

In other news - hello. One of the great polite fictions of blogwriting is the idea that people actually read what you have to say, so I have this delusional idea that several people out there have been feeling all puppy sad because I have not been posting. The lack of posts stems from the lack of Internet in the new Panda Mansions, but I have now discovered that my iBook can pick up the wifi at the local library. Winner. So stick around, I hope soon to have some amazing new posts here for you.