Monday, September 9, 2013

Music Monday: Leper's Beautiful Gray Day

(Review originally posted at A Flame in the Dark in February '13)

Grrr Records has never had a massive roster, but has nevertheless managed to bring forth an eclectic group of bands and musicians. Over the years, the label has introduced the blues rock of Resurrection Band, hardcore punk from Crashdog, a modern, post grunge effort by a group of teenagers named Sheesh, Celtic folk rock, hippie rock, and now solid goth act Leper.

Leper, who has been around since around 2000, describes themselves as "a darker Pink Floyd, an Edgier Cure with some NIN mixed in." This seems like as good a description as any.

Beautiful Gray Day is Leper's third full-length album, and possibly their most accessible to date. Though the first two albums were replete with monster movie and horror references, BGD eschews such enticements in favor of a subtler, more moody approach. For one thing, even the title is just a touch more upbeat than the instantly-depressing title of their sophomore effort, "And Everybody Died." Their debut was even less subtly titled Kreischen (from German, The Shriek).

Leper tends to let their lyrics dictate the flow of the music. Because of this, some of the tracks sort of plod interestingly along ("Ascolta"), while others lean toward Nine-Inch-Nails-inspired industrial ("Spezza Spezza Spezza"). Possibly the most accessible track (read: radio friendly) is the medium-paced "Perseguita (Haunt)." The song borrows heavily from The Cure, leaning almost toward catchy before pulling slightly back to maintain its mostly dreary feel.

Lyrically, you get a real feel for the ministry aspects of band on this album, more so than in previous works. Some of the songs on BGD ("Oido Tutto - I hate Everything," and "Fai Come Vuoi - Do As Thou Wilt") seem almost a direct challenge to much of the Goth/Scene lifestyle, while others, like "Non Ho Piu Paura Di Dormire (I'm Not Afraid to Sleep Anymore)" act more as an answer to the fears and emotions that drive people to it.

Overall, this third effort from Leper is a dark but enjoyable musical journey from dark alternative rock to an ambient industrial. Whether you or not you describe yourself as "goth," Leper presents an almost friendly introduction to a mysterious, and often beautiful, artistic style.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How To Write A Syfy Original Movie...

A friend of mine just posted on Facebook that he wants to write a Syfy original movie. Which is awesome, because I've been harboring the same dream for a few months now.

I believe I can make this a reality, because I believe I have figured out the formula. But why should it stop with me and my Facebook buddy? Take a crack at it yourself - but remember the formula.

Ready for it? Here it is: the recipe for crafting hit B-movies for the Syfy Channel!

1. Introduce a random character nobody will care about. Then kill him horribly.

2. Introduce the main character, preferably driving. He can either be introduced with a faithful dog who will outlive almost every other human character, OR, with a group of 4 buddies (2 girls at LEAST), 3 of whom will also die horribly. There should be some inexpensively derivative music on the radio.

3. Find a convoluted way to bring "science" into it. This will work best if delivered by somebody nobody will
ever, in a billion years, believe as a scientist. Write the part for Tara Reid, because there's a good chance she's available.

4. Find a roll for one of the following (at least): Dean Cain, Mark Decascos, Judd Nelson, or C. Thomas Howell. Give that person all the "tough guy" lines, unless it's Judd Nelson.

5. Write an entirely context-inappropriate sex scene between two characters who barely know one another, one of whom should have by now suffered the trauma of watching his or her sibling, best friend, or lover die.

6. End Movie.

7. Gotcha. Monster gets back up... kills somebody. Probably Tara Reid.

8. End Movie for real this time.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Webcomic Wednesday - Between Failures

Today's featured comic isn't the first webcomic I've ever enjoyed -- but it is one of the first I've actively followed since college. I can no longer even remember how I found Between Failures, but I remember very clearly reading that day's page, and then immediately backing up to the beginning. And then sitting there, for over an hour, until I'd read every single page. After that, I made note of Update days, and have been back every week since (sometimes three times to catch each update as it came out).

"Between Failures" art and pages (c)
Jackie Thomas Wohlenhaus
Used with permission
The comic takes place, mostly, in a media store (selling books, videos, video games, and music), and follows
the staff as they tackle gaming, nerd culture, sex, love, life, and each other. At time humorous, at others poignant, and often both at once, Between Failures is more than a workplace strip. The characters love one another, each in their own way, and none more so than the group's unofficial Godfather, Thomas (the main character). It is a story -- several stories -- of life lived, as creator Jackie "Crave" Wohlenhaus reminds us, between failures.

Between Failures is a real look at real life and real love. As messy as it is. As imperfect as it is. As infuriating, frustrating, sad, ridiculous, and wonderful as each of our own.

So, go read it, but I'm sending you to Page One. Start there. This is not a "jump in the middle" kind of comic, though I'm sure Crave doesn't particularly care how you begin. Nevertheless, the story is best appreciated from the beginning, in order. So go do that. Hope you like it. Let me know in the comments, yeah?

Page 1: Every Story Has To Start Somewhere

Oh! And read the blog posted underneath the title page. It'll give you an idea of what to expect, including the fact that the first chapter or so is fairly rudimentary on some levels, but he improves as the work progresses.

*My more sensitive readers should be reminded this is easily a PG-13 comic for language, sexual situations, etc (back in the day, it would've been R for language alone).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Music Monday: Christafari's Reggae Revolution (mixtape 2, apparently)

There are days (and today is one of them) which are more or less marked by varying degrees of stress. Eye-burning, head-aching stress. The kind that makes the delights of your life seem intolerable under any conditions but complete unconsciousness. 

These are those days in which everything makes you angry on one level or another. The days where you sort of want to start a fight just to do it, except you know it would only stress you out more, so you don't bother. The kinds of days where your Christian witness, if you're into that sort of thing, is the last thing actually on your mind; but you're too lazy to do anything to it, for good or for ill. 

These are the days in which your entire mind rebels against the very idea of serenity, as if peace were some sort of Hell it must escape at all costs. As if your mind and, to some extent, your very soul were actively frightened of calm. 

I was in this mood when I first rediscovered Christafari -- a gospel Reggae band I remembered playing back in my college radio days. I found them on Myspace, which only bands ever use anymore because it's cheaper than uploading streaming audio on a private website. It was there I discovered the gem that is Reggae Revolution (Mixtape 2). 

The tracks flow from one to the next to the next, with almost no indication that they're even changing. I think the first time I listened, I got all the way to song five before I realized they were all separate tracks. Usually, this would be a criticism, but it actually works for this album. 

Maybe that's because I really only listen to it when my mind needs to be beaten softly into quiet submission. But it works. 

For all that many of the tracks have the same basic background structure, they're actually each quite unique and enjoyable. Christafari really has put together another rather nice reggae mix. It may not be what I spend most days listening to, but some days you just need to chill. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Webcomic Wednesday* - Devolution

*Wherein I talk up comics I've found and enjoy, and search around for new comics to take up my limited surfing time.

I was fortunate enough, during this month's RealmMakers Conference, to meet comic writer (and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, but whatever) Matt Yocum. We discovered a kinship in both ideology (in many ways) and artistic vision (not to mention the fact that, while we both love to write, neither of us can actually draw). Matt has written stories for Marvel, and has published several comics independently. It's entirely possible I'll talk about more of Matt's comics in future posts.

In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to one of his early webcomics. It's a zombie story that looks
deeper into the personal relationship between a husband and wife who have been dealing with personal tragedy since long before the dead started walking. It's a great, if heart-wrenching, little story, and readable in a single sitting (or two, depending on how much time you have).

So, here you go. Check out Devolution, by Matt Yokum, Jake Bilbao, Ignacio Calero, and Chris Studabaker.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: When Mockingbirds Sing

When Mockingbirds SingWhen Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having never read a book by Billy Coffey, and considering the contents of most of the other books to cross my desk at work, I was more than a little skeptical when I opened the cover to his latest offering, "When Mockingbirds Sing."

Even given the back cover synopsis, I confess I have no idea what I thought I was going to encounter when I started reading. Let's get some things out of the way first. The book comes from Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, part of Harper Collins and Zondervan. For some reason which I cannot grasp, such groups occasionally like to put reading group guides at the backs of their books. This ought to be ignored at all costs, as pretending it doesn't exist will allow for maximum enjoyment.

And this is a book deserving of enjoyment. Not roller coaster enjoyment, or even walk-in-the-park enjoyment, but a savoring. Each page should be taken in, soaked up, and processed.

The Norcross family has moved to the town of Mattingly from their city home, in order to escape past hurts and heal their small family. As the family strives for acceptance, their shy daughter Leah, makes two new friends -- one of whom nobody else can see. This invisible friend, The Rainbow Man, has bestowed on her an amazing gift -- one that will rally the town around her and, eventually, turn it against her. Helping her through the ups and downs is Allie, who is faithful, loyal, and most importantly, believes in Leah's Rainbow Man.

Coffey writes engaging characters you'll like enough to be disappointed in when they fail. And they will fail. Coffey's characters are real people -- people you know -- and they each harbor a darkness the reader will find at once shocking and familiar. The town of Mattingly, a character in its own right, is as inviting on one hand as it is cold and distant on the other. You feel for the Norcross family as they attempt to fit in, even as they begin to realize it will never happen in the way they hope.

When Mockingbirds Sing is part coming-of-age, part Southern Gothic, exploring faith and doubt, community and alienation, friendship and deep hurt.

View all my reviews