Saturday, January 20, 2007

Best Album Covers of 2006

Just for fun, here are my favorite album covers of the year. Here is another site that did the same thing and picked a bunch of cool ones. I noted who the artist is if it is not clear from the cover itself. They are roughly in order of best to relatively worst.

The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me by Brand New

The Crane Wife by The Decemberists

What I'm Reading -- Graphic Novels

Scott Pilgrim (Vols. 1-3) by Bryan Lee O’Malley
23-year old Scott Pilgrim has to fight and defeat each of his new girlfriend Ramona’s boyfriends, so that he can continue dating her. And he still has his 17-year old girlfriend, Knives Chau, to deal with. This series is absolutely hilarious. O’Malley combines manga stylings with a contemporary realistic setting that throws in comic book and video game references into the plot for good measure. Scott goes through one of Ramona’s exes each volume, so there are four more evil boyfriends for him to defeat. These are sarcastic, crazy and great.

Moped Army by Paul Sizer
Sizer is the author of the very good Little Mouse Graphic Novel series. Moped Army is also set in the future but is based on the real Kalamazoo based group. In this tale, the Moped Army lives in the bowels of a city, where its respected citizens live in comfort suspended above the city. Simone becomes trapped between both worlds after her loser of a boyfriend plays a serious joke on some of the Moped Army members. Sizer takes a good look at making tough decisions in life and creates a solid story while doing it.

Banana Sunday by Root Nibot

This GN is about Kirby, who is in possession of the “Hear no evil,” “See no evil,” “Speak no evil,” monkeys. It is a bit goofy for my tastes but is still pretty funny. One of the monkeys is an intellectual, one is always hitting on the ladies and the other likes napping, eating and breaking things. Kirby is new at school and meets a scheming, though well-intentioned newspaper writer and a charming boy she starts to date. This is well done and illustrated by Colleen Coover in a hip, yet clean style.

Off Road by Sean Murphy

Kent, an art student, goes with his jock friend Gregg, to pick up Gregg’s new jeep. On a whim they pick up another friend and go off-roading. Of course, they have never done this before and have no idea what they are doing, which leads to them getting the jeep incredibly stuck in the middle of a stream. Some other great characters enter the scene before it is all said and done. This is a great and funny adventure with an accurate look at how guys communicate with each other. Definitely recommended.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Music Review -- Born in the U.K. by Badly Drawn Boy

Damon Gough, who performs under the Badly Drawn Boy moniker, seems to have two personas. One is the quiet introspective singer-songwriter of The Hour of Bewilderbeast and About a Boy. The other is the heavily arranged and orchestrated sound of Have You Fed the Fish? On Born in the U.K., he fully returns to his glossily produced sound. While I miss the intimate sound of his earlier work, Gough is a good songwriter and makes most of these tunes work. The bulk of the songs are piano based with generous helpings of brass instruments and background vocals. It begins with the experimental sounding Swimming Pool then morphs into the seventies inspired Born in the U.K. Actually, this seems like more of an ode to 70’s pop than it does to Bruce Springsteen’s similarly titled Born in the U.S.A. The standouts here are the sing-along tunes like Journey from A to B and the rockier Nothing’s Gonna Change Your Mind. Promises, a mellower tune, shows off Gough’s ability to also write quality straightforward lyrics as he sings, “Just promise you will remember/ A promise should last forever/ Right up to the dying embers/ Of a fire that burns so slow.” I have always had a soft spot for modern bands that throw in some of the 70s pop touches I grew up with and this is why The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner by The Ben Folds Five is one of my favorite albums. Badly Drawn Boy is definitely as talented as others in the pop songwriter genre like Ben Folds or Grant Lee Buffalo. While this is a quality album, it never reaches its potential with its standard arrangements and production. This is for fans the aforementioned artists, Ben Lee and Rufus Wainwright.

2.50 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale.

Music Review -- Let's Get Out of This Country by Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of This Country is a great album of background music. Unfortunately, the band just does not seem ready to create a fully realized album. Camera Obscura raids the pop sounds of fifties and sixties bands, while sounding quite a bit (though in a good way) like Belle and Sebastian. Everything about this CD is solid, including the writing, but they rarely elevate themselves past average songs. The band continues their signature laid-back indie-pop sound, which I greatly enjoy. The hipsters’ tunes create a great ambiance, but don’t really hold up to closer listening.

1.90 out of 4.00 on the Vin Swanson Scale

What I'm Reading -- Son Moon Stars Rain by Jan Cheripko

Cheripko writes this story with grace. Danny is home from college after a relationship went bad and he just couldn’t stay there anymore. He knows he is wasting his piano scholarship, but is trying to settle some things first as he returns home to his Mom in the Northeast. Once home, he meets an ornery land owner who is trying to save his woods from the government and Stephanie, a pretty single mother. Cheripko packs a lot in 160 pages including all of the emotions present as Danny is trying to figure out where to go next and how to deal with his part in his father’s accidental death. The characters, antagonists and settings of Sun Moon Stars Rain are written with simple and poignant observations. A comparable work is Tom Drury’s stark and haunting Driftless Area.

Friday, January 05, 2007

What I'm Reading -- Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling Vol. 1 by D.M. Cornish

Rossamund is an orphan boy with a girl’s name. In this substantial fantasy, Cornish introduces his innocent, but tougher-than-he-seems character. Rossamund is hoping that he will be drafted into the military so that he can fight the monsters that roam near the world’s cities. Instead, after weeks of waiting he is forced to become a lamplighter, which he assumes is boring. He is then expected to travel to his new home by himself. Naive to the world around him, Rossamund falls into a series of adventures with pirates, monster fighters and giants. It took a little while for me to get in to it, but once I did, I was amazingly hooked. Cornish has created a wonderfully complex world and an engaging character in Rossamund. This is a must read fantasy series and I am looking forward for Vol. 2. There is a lot to digest about Rossamund's world to appreciate this book, but I thought it was well worth it.

What I'm Reading -- Playing it Cool by Joaquin Dorfman

This debut novel from Joaquin Dorfman is a good one. 18-year old Sebastian helps his fellow students with their problems, as long as he gets a favor back. As the book opens, Sebastian is helping a young girl who needs an abortion and is ready to introduce a son to his long lost father. Things get quite complicated when Sebastian’s friend’s real father turns out to be an adult version of Sebastian. Sebastian scheme's start to turn his friend against him and could leave him in trouble with the new girl he meets. This is a fun and fast moving story, though readers have to take some logical leaps to follow the plot. The characters are very interesting, especially Sebastian and his friend’s father Dromio. Unfortunately, the end left me wanting more since it did not make a good connection between how Sebastian’s life was affected and changed by the concluding events. Unrealistic plotting aside, Playing it Cool is an enjoyable and interesting debut by Dorfman.