Sunday 7 March 2021

Dega by Dan McDaid

One unexpected side-effect of this bloody pandemic is that so many comics creator are now funding and publishing their own works via services like Kickstarter. One such artist is Dan McDaid, one of my fave modern comic guys who has worked on Judge Dredd, Firefly, Doctor Who and many other strips in recent years. I bought a lovely Spider-Man / Sandman page from Dan a few years ago which you can see here.

When I heard Dan had a new, self-published graphic novel coming out I jumped at the chance to support it. The postie dropped it off yesterday and I devoured it instantly, like a hungry, tentacled alien monster eating a small human in a spacesuit... which nearly happens in the book.

Dega is a relatively slim story of a lone, enigmatic human trying desperately to survive in a hostile alien environment but there are some nice twists and turns to the narrative and a surprise appearance by a Kate Bush song. And, of course, there's the artwork. Dan's work is just bursting with energy  -  a loose but lush style of brushwork that reveals just enough details of an image and always suggests more. His alien creatures are suitably frightening and ferocious, while his humans are tough but vulnerable and full of life. I'm not exaggerating when I say Dan's style here reminds me of the lunatic visions of the great Philipe Druillet and, if anything, he can draw a better human being. And, in keeping with the likes of Druillet and Moebius, Dega is printed in a lovely, hardback edition, very much like the classic European "albums" of the '70s produced by Les Humanoids Associes.

As well as the graphic novel itself, the backers of this project also received a postcard and a sticker ( see photo above ) as well as an A5 sketch of their choice. Because I'm a big fan of the way Dan portrays Jack Kirby's characters I asked for a sketch of that scourge of Apokolips, Orion of the New Gods, and here he is:

Great isn't it? It's slightly more "cartoony" than many of the other sketches Dan's posted on Twitter recently but I like it because he captures the sheer power and anger of Orion. Darkseid beware!

Thursday 4 March 2021

Albums Of The Decade ( Part Two )

Okay, it's March already. How did that happen? Way back in the wastelands of 2020 ( is it always going to be painful to write that sequence of four numbers? ) I began to list my favourite albums of the last 10 years. Here's part two for anyone who wants to laugh at my musical choices:

Simulation Theory  -  Muse 

I've always liked Muse and, although Sarah is more of a fan than I am, seeing them play live a couple of times in the last few years has increased my admiration for the boys from Devon. Their music is a very slick, supremely well-played amalgamation of metal and prog, shot through with Queen-like bombast and slightly dodgy old science fiction ideas. Simulation Theory jams all these elements into its grooves but also adds a huge dollop of '80s synth-pop which makes it easily my favourite Muse album. There are some absolutely huge tunes here from the Gospel-inflected Dig Down to the appropriately catchy Thought Contagion and the pop-metal juggernaut of Pressure. All these songs are powerful and effective, even when divorced from their stage-show special effects.

The Modern Age  -  Sleeper

The Brit Pop era was a massively important time for women in indie music; so many talented females comprised and /or fronted great bands that went toe-to-toe with the more laddish types  -  Echobelly, Garbage, Elastica, Curve, Kenickie and Lush all kicked against the pricks and one of the most successful of these bands was Sleeper. After three albums of sassy, breathy pure guitar-pop, Louise Wener and her "Sleeperblokes" ( TM the NME some time in the '90s ) went their separate ways... until this 21st century reunion which was a long-overdue delight. A slight update to the original Sleeper sound but still that knack for a well-turned lyric and contagious chorus made this album, very possibly, the best thing they've done so far. Let's hope for more soon.

Diamond Mine  -  King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

A quietly beautiful amalgamation of Folk ( KC ) and electronica ( JH ) with ruminations on getting old, family squabbles and life at sea on Scottish trawlers. Kenny Anderson's vulnerable, Caledonian vocals float effortlessly over layers of acoustic guitars, found sounds and Hopkins' harmonium on such sublime songs as John Taylor's Month Away and Bats In The Attic. Absolutely haunting.

My Woman  -  Angel Olsen

This eclectic album from the ultra-talented Angel Olsen veers from the electronic torch song of the first track, Intern, through garage stompers like the Courtney Barnett-esque Shut Up Kiss Me to the Country Rock epic Sister, all held together by her soul-baring lyrics and keening, gorgeous vocals. Easily some of the most deeply moving performances I've heard in recent years. "I want to live life / I want to die right."

Kablammo!  -  Ash

After their A-Z Singles project when they'd announced that the album as a vehicle for music was dead, Northern Ireland's greatest pop/rock/punk/ metal band had a re-think and came back with this outstanding set of songs. As good as anything else in their career, Kablammo! saw Ash producing such classic power-pop singles as Cocoon and Bring Back The Summer, while Let's Ride and Evel Knievel showed they could still rock out with the best of them, and Free was just a beautiful, string-assisted Tim Wheeler ballad about escaping a toxic relationship. I had a ticket to see Ash play live in Bristol last March but, of course, the pandemic stopped that from happening like it put so much of our lives on hold. I'm really hoping that their "Teenage Wildlife" tour will be rescheduled... and Free will take on a whole new relevance.

American Dream  -  LCD Soundsystem

Another comeback album, this time from James Murphy's electro-pop outfit who had famously split up in 2011, making a big noise about it, and then apologetically reformed only four years later. Luckily, the result was worth it as American Dream is every bit as good as their previous output. Full to the brim with their retro-synth-driven Bowie / Talking Heads art rock and featuring the absolutely massive single Call The Police, it's a monster.

Given To The Wild  -  The Maccabees

With their melancholy lyrics, existential themes, beautifully smooth production sounds and propulsive guitar playing, the late lamented Maccabees almost turned into an indie Pink Floyd on this wonderful album. Which is a good thing.

Damage & Joy  -  The Jesus & Mary Chain

Can I use the word "comeback" yet again? Yes, I think I'll have to, as this album saw the return of the notoriously fractious Reid brothers who had buried the hatchet ( hopefully just figuratively ) long enough to go out on a couple of tours and produce some songs together for the first time in what seemed like several ice ages. Sticking to their tried and trusted formula of distorted rock 'n' roll fatalism, Jim and William showed there was life in the old dogs yet with such typically obnoxious tracks as All Things Must Pass, Mood Rider and Amputation ( "I'm a rock 'n' roll amputation" Of course you are, dear ). They also still have a way with a fuzzed-up girl-group ballad which Always Sad and The Two Of Us prove perfectly. Yes, it's a formula, yes, they're sticking to it and, yes, it's still fantastic.

Lost In The Dream  -  The War On Drugs

Okay, hear me out. What if Bob Dylan took a shed-load of mushrooms and recruited the E Street Band to back him on some windswept AOR epics that all went on for precisely forever? Yeah? Well, that would seem to be the thinking behind Adam Granduciel's psychedelic Americana on this towering album. And it works, it really works. Man.

The Sunshine Underground  -  The Sunshine Underground

Along with The Maccabees, The Sunshine Underground are one of those bands who, in a just and fair world, should have been absolutely massive. Their sky-scraping Nu Rave dance epics like Start and It Is Only You were tuneful, propulsive and all-inclusive and they were a massively fine live band. I saw them a couple of times and grinned from ear to ear throughout both performances of their positive-vibe-filled indie-dance-pop. ( That's a lot of hyphens! ) I was gutted when they announced they were splitting up but Sarah and I were lucky enough to catch them on their final tour at Bristol's iconic Thekla. As I say, in a better world, they would have been megastars. But of course we're living in a world where, instead, Ed Sheeran is a megastar. Aren't we lucky?

So, there you go, another 10 great albums which are guaranteed to make you even cooler than you already are whilst you listen to them. And you're pretty cool already, am I right?


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