Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nujabes Spiritual State

I remember being blown away by the soundtrack for the anime Samurai Champloo…the show was great but the funky music is what pushed me to seek out the musicians. One of them, Japanese producer Jun Seba AKA Nujabes really stuck out with his classical yet new era style and harmonious sound. Not just in his mixing of traditional Japanese instruments but also in his approach to each song as a meal he fed to your ears.

Nujabes was one of the most influential artists I had ever listened to. His untimely death was a loss to those who really loved his ability. While he wasn’t able to finish his last studio album what was completed was released, and it’s a beautiful farewell to an inspiring musician.

Like his work in the past Spiritual State is a fusion of instrumental hip-hop and jazz -- having a downtempo sometimes somber yet an inviting and uplifting sound. The cool combination of piano, saxophone, and jazz flute mix well with the simplistic but rhythmic beats Nujabes produces.

Spiritual State does dabble in the “traditional” hip-hop flavor. Much like his previous albums Pase Rock, and Substantial lend their lyrical talents to a few of the tracks. The poetic flows of Pase and Substantial compliment Jun Seba’s production as if they were made for each other.

Nujabes was the producer I couldn’t get out of my head in college; he not only changed my musical tastes but how I decided to see the world. I’ve never felt more relaxed and at peace with everything then when I listen to his compositions. It’s not just the tone but also the feeling of the melody growing and as the music swells you get wrapped into each song.

An experimental musical mastermind that will be missed dearly: Spiritual State makes me miss times past and makes me look towards the future with hope -- I rank Nujabes among my favorite artists in any medium or form. It’s sad he’s gone but he didn’t leave without making his mark and I’ll always love the music he’s left behind.

Although not easy to come by I suggest seeking out Nujabes other works including my favorite album Departure from the Samurai Champloo official soundtrack. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Animal Man 1 – 4

Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Travel Foreman

On a long hiatus from comics I decided to go with a non-superhero affair. Yes, Animal Man does have inhuman abilities…but from everything I’d been hearing the New 52 Animal Man is a strange trip. I’m laughing now because you’ll never find somebody who reads Animal Man and says, “Yeah I’ve heard that story before.”

Animal Man is surreal creepiness in print. The art may make a person vomit. The color palette and use of said spectrum is minimalistic and beautiful. The actual visual direction is where someone may turn their nose at Animal Man. It’s hard to go a mere two panels without seeing something that looks like a Google search for car crash photos. Grotesque images, blood and exposed organs cover pages like sauce on spaghetti.

It’s most certainly a jump into the abyss of a creative human mind. And mean that in a good way. There’s nothing I can recollect that quite compares to Animal Man artistically; it’s some of the most disturbing physical shots of anything I’ve seen in any medium. Yet it serves to tell the story: it’s not for shock value.

Buddy Baker as the titular character of Animal Man doesn’t know how he obtained his bond with the beast kingdom. Punching criminals in the face was Buddy’s early years. Turning to acting, and even becoming an animal rights activist is his current life. Even without full knowledge or understanding of his ability to copy the innate attributes of any animal, he settles down and starts a family and just tries to live a normal life.

What follows in the first four issues of Animal Man is an Alice in Wonderland like tale – just with a lot of exposed human intestines. From Animal Man’s eyes bleeding profusely, to his daughter using necromancy and sheltering animals raised from their very graves, nothing is ever a non-surprising moment.

Animal Man isn’t for everybody and I honestly don’t have negative or overwhelmingly positive feelings either. The tale to this point has stretched out into another ethereal plan of existence where Animal learns that a war is coming. He’s tasked with protecting “The Red”, a secluded area of existence, from “The Rot” or the infestation that seeks to devour and corrupt. What?

Not that the story is too heady, but it’s out there, really out there -- In some other atmosphere of human consciousness. Or, it’s just difficult to wrap ones head around what Jeff Lemire is going for. Is Animal Man a good story or so off-putting that it will turn people away? I don’t even have an answer myself. It’s an interesting first four trades, nothing is cliché or contrived, it’s all creative. And for that Animal Man is one of the more exceptional new comics from the New 52 DC run.

More than worth a passing glance, Animal Man is among the most unique comics you’ll ever come upon. It’s no bread and butter, man wearing tights and punching goons adventure. Reading Animal Man is like riding in a really nice car…actually, I can’t make any type of analogy that makes any sense to this warped narrative!

Those feeling DC has fallen into a stale rut since launching its new line (I personally only like a handful of the New 52) Animal Man may be the thing that makes you realize why you read these things in the first place…that or you’ll be very uncomfortable reading and looking at each page. Either way Animal Man elicits an aura of imagination and I can’t help but applaud Jeff Lemire – even if I think he was on something while writing this!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Luther Season 2

BBC series Luther Season 2 review

Spanning only four episodes in length – but never feeling short – the second season of the BBC crime drama Luther is overwrought. A condensed season is more than enough to wet the appetite, and then satiate the hunger by the end. While the first two episodes may not have the intensity of the latter, a tense knotted feeling in your gut still permeates each hour-long showing.

How Luther wiggles his way free from consequences from the end of the first season isn’t a focus. We are thrust into a new Bureau (if it’s called such a thing in Britain) and DCI John Luther is once again faced with serial killers and maniacs.

It goes much further. Yes there is a psychopath on the loose; John still has demons (in the form of people he’s helped or hurt in the passed) that constantly haunt him.

It’s the strange pairing of John’s life and his job that guides things forward. Luther’s darker past creeps back to look him in the eyes and ask for help. And Luther, just being a simple man (a brilliant man in many respects) tries to do the right thing…he just gets caught in the wrong places.

The series feels strangely like a film, a long film -- but no less griping. Not every scene is going to steal your breath away. There’s a somber tone drizzled on top that wasn’t there in the first season.

There is a small feeling that no matter how muddy John Luther tends to get himself, he’ll come clean in the end. And while not formulaic, patterns can be inferred upon would a third season be in the works. That doesn’t mean the show struggles to surprise. Far from it. It’s actually quite difficult to see the bread trail leading to our destination.

The show isn’t about who the murderer is. It’s, “how do we get him?” And the finale isn’t’ expected. Really, how each installment could end isn’t evident. One aspect that helps the second season is the audience being more involved in how Luther problem solves. He still thinks internally, and then shows the audience after the fact. It’s less understated this time around, making Luther feel less like a crime stopping savant.

Both the first and second seasons are exceedingly well crafted. It’s not completely without flaws. But they’re so minuscule that I have a hard time giving any examples. 

Luther doesn’t fall into a stale pit of procedural repetition like today’s crime series’. Clocking in at only ten episodes in total, things aren’t drawn out. Events happen, people die, and it needs to stop now. It’s not an ongoing Looney Toon world where there’s dozens of killers – and by keeping things centered on two killers (maybe three if you want to split hairs) an easily digestible pace is formed: where you never feel like things are going to fast for you to either understand or care about.

Idris Elba is becoming an actor I want to see play in everything. He lives in the role, and his emotions are so seeable on his face it’s difficult to not care about him. The spontaneity to how he handles a conversation and his charisma stand out among the others, who in their own right are very good.

It’s also a testament to each writer and script artist. Luther’s mind is like a black hole: you have no idea what’s on the other side, he just reaches out and immediately says or does what he pulls out. How he’ll fair in the end is the real mystery. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mass Effect Invasion #2

Story: Mac Walters
Art: Omar Francia
Script: John Jackson Miller

The war for Omega rages on: Aria T’Loak, de-facto ruler of Omega, teams with the vaunted pro-human organization Cerberus to stop an experiment gone wrong – something Cerberus has done on more than one occasion.

Dark Horse’s Mass Effect four-issue comic is meant to bridge some gaps in between Mass Effect’s 2 and 3 respectively. Telling the fall of Omega, the seedy, lawless space station. It’s more or less a side story that will have larger face value upon Mass Effect 3’s release next year, one would think.

Mass Effect Invasion seems to serve mostly as a companion piece to Mass Effect 3…nothing else can explain the obscenely predictable story. Personally I question the infatuation with Aria T’Loak as a character. Of all the people in the Mass Effect universe to focus on it seems odd that Aria has become a poster for spinoffs. Outside of her constant scowling what is here actual personality? Why her?

It makes following Mass Effect Invasion entirely dependent on your love for the video game franchise. As a standalone comic, it’s flat.

At some point Aria shoots a, that happens.

You do get a few squeezings of things to come. The first two issues just don’t piece together a strong emotional resonance. Why should I care about Omega being taken over? And the betrayal that is so transparent from the start is almost laughably strung out. Cerberus wants Omega. If Aria were so smart she’d see all this as a ruse to get her away from her beloved home.

Everything just feels so stale. From the static art: visuals that just show people standing around with no semblance of any artistic angle to liven up the panel. And dialogue that’s like reading the nutritional facts on a cereal box – I strain my brain trying to figure out the logic for why this, of all the many interconnected stories that could be thrown in between Mass Effect 2 and 3, needed to be told?

I may hold some reserved feelings about the potential ending to his 4-issue comic run: in that I think readers may be surprised when we come to the eventual climax. To this point each panel is dull and the trade as a whole is bland -- Mass Effect, as a series is full of classic Sci-Fi space exploration that keeps you on your toes and eager for more; Mass Effect Invasion is just…blah!