Comics, Manga, Today I Learned

The Gaiman Awards

Today I learned that there is an award for comics called the Gaiman award. And contrary to what one might expect, it is not related to our favorite Wordsmith in Black.

The word ‘Gaiman’ here is an abbreviation of “Gaikoku no manga’, literally, ‘foreign comics’. This refers to comics translated from foreign work and published in Japan. For those of you who fret over what is comics and what is manga and bug-eyed-styles and all that, here you go: ‘Civil War’ translated into Japanese and published in Japan becomes manga, and can even get nominated for a manga award. You can keep your Western biases to yourself, thank you.

The list of comics nominated since the award was instituted in 2011 shows a curious mash-up of titles, including the aforementioned Marvel title; Superman: Red Son rubs shoulders with the likes of Nicholas de Crecy’s Celestial Bibendum (French), Schuiten and Peeters’ Les Cités Obscures (Belgium), Lat’s Town Boy and Kampung Boy (Malaysia), Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s I Kill Giants. All of which make for great, solid reading — though the jury’s still out on The New 52: Shazam, which managed to make an appearance on the 2015 nomination list. (The previous sentence is vague hyperbole, the prize went to Sweden’s Sayonara September, by Åsa Ekström)

One thing to note: the titles nominated are based on translation date, and not on publication date. This causes similar confusion as the ‘Best US Edition of International Material (Asia)’ Eisner award, where classic material ends up being nominated alongside newer ones, just because they were translated the last year. In 2016, a work by Shigeru Mizuki from the 80s (Showa: A History of Japan) beat the contemporary Master Keaton and Assassination Classroom in the Eisners.Doesn’t that make it overly confusing to judge something that is fresh along with another that has been coated with the patina of time and generational acceptance?

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Music

India + Romania Redux

Apropos of my earlier post on the popularity of ‘Selfie Pulla’ in Romania, here is one more example of cross-cultural pollination. A Romanian song called ‘Condimente’, by Nosfe and featuring Ruby wears its Indian influences on its sleeve. The song lyrics have the singers using funky spice metaphors to talk about their relationship. (‘You’re spicy, like chili or paprika/I just eat more light, be my soy sauce/me basil, you mint/This ain’t perfect but it has a tint’) The video features India-influenced background dancers, and the setting is totes obvs Bollywood. If we lived in the 90s, this song would already have made an appearance in an Anu Malik album — or four — by now.

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Myself

The Second Marie Kondo post

This is a followup to my first Marie Kondo post, and is meant to serve as a thought-dump of what I took from the book, and how it has affected my life. I am well aware of the risks of sounding vaguely faddish — like people that can’t stop talking about their cross-fit classes or that new vegan diet that has changed everything and why you should take them up too, because life is meaningless otherwise, darling.

Uh-huh. The context here is that I have, for a while, been wondering about specific things regarding my lifestyle. The only thing that moved with me to LA from India, were my collection of books. These are books that have (mostly) been bought from 2002 onwards, ever since I graduated from college, and have moved with me from apartment to apartment, city to city. The ones bought before 2002? Most were transferred to my parents’ place in Assam. A lot of those have ended up in the library in my mother’s school, or have gone to her students who seemed interested in reading.

Over the last few years, I have been curating the books that stay on my shelves, which is to say that the ones on display in the living room are the ones that I *love* to own. Now a bulk of these books are comics and manga, and while I have quirks related to those (case in point: at one point, Watchmen was present in my shelves as the original 12 issues, a trade paperback, a 10th anniversary trade paperback, and an Absolute Edition. Right now, I just have the Absolute Edition and the original 12 issues), the comics get read and reread frequently. I cleared out a couple of shelves before moving to LA, and last year, a chunk of comics that I never read went to the local comic-book store. But despite my occasional cleanup, I still had way too many books. And the sad thing is — it’s not like I reread any of them. They were all just there, as a function of my taste and what was available in bookstores in the last decade. You have to remember, that was a time when e-readers did not exist, and neither did Flipkart or Amazon. If I saw a book at a used bookstore and did not pounce on it, I had no idea if I would ever see it again. So yeah, I bought everything, because I was earning enough and I could. My buying habits changed over the years, and it’s no longer about going nuts during a discount sale or bidding on random deals on eBay,

The best thing of Marie Kondo, in my opinion, is that she does not talk of minimalism — which right now is an -ism that encourages a competitive zeal in lowering the number of possessions you own. Ms Kondo’s techniques help enable a certain kind of mental freedom in evaluating your possessions. You do not need to disown everything, she says. All you have to do is to find the things that bring you joy. Which meant that the question she asked was not “what do you want to throw away?”, it was “what do you want to keep?”

One fine day last week, I did what the KonMari method prescribed. Which is to tackle one kind of item at a time — in this case, books — and piling them all in one place; and without being distracted, to sort them one by one into two categories: the ones that spark joy and the ones that don’t. At first, I was too lenient. Of course, I loved my Terry Pratchett paperbacks, and the Tom Sharpes, and the Robert Heinleins and the Andrew Vachsses. They were not getting out of my sight. Why on earth would I want to get rid of my Harry Potter first edition hardcovers? Or the Kamala Subramanium Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana that I bought so many years ago? Those books were memories for me, and it seemed criminal to get rid of them.

Except, if I took away my projected feelings for them, they were just semi-yellowed, well-thumbed blocks of paper, most of which hadn’t been opened in years. My Stephen King Dark Tower books were still waiting to be read since 2005 or thereabouts. The Richard Burton Arabian Nights volume, pretty as it was, had never been opened in the United States. I reread some Vachss and some Pratchetts every now and then. But not the books I owned; I would just download them on my Kindle when I wanted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the books weren’t really bringing much of value to my life, they were more fetish objects than the ideas they represented. Once that switch flipped in my head, it became easier and easier to understand what I should keep, and what should go.

I ended up with 9 boxes of books that I no longer wanted, after 2 nights of sorting. I took them all to the local charity shop. The books that still remain fit one shelf; there is another shelf that I will refer to as a ‘probation area’; I have left the books that I may put up on eBay, or give away as gifts, or are novel enough to merit their presence. I could not get rid of the first edition of Gods, Demons and Others, as much as I thought I would; nor could I let the Diana Wynne-Joneses go. But I have given myself 3 months – if the books on the probation area still remain untouched and unread, they all go.

One might think that there is an addendum where I reminiscence about the emptiness the missing books have left in my life, but on the contrary, I feel happy. And free, in a way. Is that a two-thumbs-up vote for the KonMari method? I guess. I still feel like I cheated because I did not do anything about my comics, but you know, I am okay with that. My comics have always sparked joy in my life.

In addition to what I did above (and I did that with my clothes a few weeks ago, which was easier), I have been doing specific things that Ms Kondo recommends in her book.

  • The most important thing is that of mentally assigning things in their right place, at home. She advocates figuring out where every item you own belongs, so that the amount of clutter is minimized, and also you think more about where something new should go, when you think of buying it.
  • Clearing the space around the kitchen sink, the bathroom shower and wash basin. It helps a lot, both in terms of aesthetics and mental calm.
  • Folding my clothes the right way and stacking them horizontally, not vertically; that’s one of the smartest moves ever. I did that with everything, including socks, underwear, hand towels, pocket squares and t-shirts, and it really serves its purpose well.
  • In general, using the ‘spark joy’ method is a great way to figure out if you want to do something, anything at all. An invite to a dinner party? A choice between reading this book or that book or not reading either of them? If it’s not making me happy, why should I be doing it all?
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Music

This song is a hit in Romania, and you can’t guess why

If you are a connoisseur of the comment section on YouTube, you will be surprised to see the number of Romanians commenting on this particular video. As it turns out, “Pula” is Romanian slang for the male member/dick/cock/prick/insert (giggle) your synonym here. The video was featured on an entertainment show in the country, and suddenly went viral there. My Romanian friends have been sending me the link for expert commentary, and it’s hard to keep a straight face. Not since ‘Kolaveri Di’ (which was popular enough to be included in zumba classes in Cluj) has an Indian song made such an impact on Romanian internet circles.

But then, I have my own arsenal of pop culture artifacts to make the most hardened Romanian patriot blush, or at least back away slowly, eager to deny all association with these gold-encrusted nuggets.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B: (NOT work-safe, hellz no)

Exhibit C:

But to be fair, Romania has its share of good music. The most obsequious, and often reviled, genre is dance-pop, and it even has a special name for the country — ‘popcorn’. O-zone’s ‘Dragostea din tei‘ (if you don’t remember it, maybe you recognize it as the ‘Numa Numa’ song) was a legit hit in the early 2000s, and by the end of the decade, artists like Alexandra Stan, Inna, and Andreea Banica had broken through, making frothy, catchy pop music that is easy on the ears and quite the rage in night-clubs around Europe. Synthesized accordion and brass melodies are occasional hallmarks in these songs, and most feature English lyrics that sound like afterthoughts on top of the production, suffering from a lack of depth. (Hey, who are we to complain, we purveyors of Ishqwala Love/Selfie Pulla/Hai Hukku?) Overall, popcorn is very distinctive, drawing influences from trance, house and dub-step into a sound that is uniquely Romanian. The videos are rife with pretty people; the artistes themselves are usually gorgeous, and are consequently mainstays on /r/sexymusicvideos. Here’s an extended, albeit, outdated popcorn playlist:

Of all the popcorn artistes I know, I tend to favor Inna and DJ Andi the most. I heard the latter for the first time in 2009, when his ‘Freedom’ was playing in every bar and nightclub and radio station during my visit. Inna is dear to my heart because I heard some unplugged songs by her, and I simply could not resist.

I can’t stand Romanian rock. With very few exceptions, most local bands have an 80s hair-metal hangover that turns me off. I suspect it is both my taste and my lack of context for the lyrics that contribute to my lack of interest in them.

My favorite sub-genre in Romanian music happens to be ‘etno’, which mixes traditional instruments, rhythms, voices and melodies with sleek production values. It is folk meets turn-tablism, hip-hop, D&B and dub-step loops. Subcarpati is a band I keep an eye on, and they feature outstanding work on their tracks, the language barrier hardly a factor in bopping along with their songs.

If you want to keep an eye on new Romanian pop, /r/RomanianHouse is the sub-reddit to follow.

And if you really want the dregs of Romanian music, don’t look further than Manele. Local critics have used terms like “pseudo music”, “pure stupidity, inculture and blah-blah”, “the genre for the mentally challenged”, and my personal favorite: “society’s bed-wetter”. I am not morally equipped to point you to manele videos, proceed at your own peril. Please do not come asking for a life refund once you are done, okay?

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Mixtapes, Music, Myself

The Second 2016 Playlist

Just in time for April, another selection of songs that makes my head bop, my toes curl and my fingers fly on the keyboard.

I have had Grimes’ new album, Art Angels on heavy rotation the last few weeks. My love for this album has been bolstered by a long interview with the artiste that I read recently, and a book called Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. It’s a stunning collection of tracks — accessible and complex at the same time, and self-aware, in a strange way. Grimes has appeared on my older playlists, obviously, but I have never been as completely blown away by the totality of her earlier albums. ‘Kill v Maim’ is here because it’s one of the weirdest songs on Art Angels: the video is all glitter and J-pop, and her voice takes on textures that . What makes the song really special is the concept ­— it is sung from the point of view of Al Pacino in Godfather II, except ‘except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space’. Um, yeah. Fuck.

Klimeks is a British producer that falls squarely into the ambient/synthpop genre, much like Burial and even Mura Masa, both of whom are artistes I love. In fact, if ‘Tokyo Train’, a track from 2013, had pitch-shifted vocals, I would probably think it was Mura Masa. Though that’s kind of doing Klimeks injustice, he has a very distinctive sound that makes for great listening both at home and at work. Calm yet filled with nervous tension.

Moderat’s new album Moderat III is out already, and this was one of the first singles that I heard from it. The video features a sci-fi story with teenagers harvesting crystals in a dystopian world, and it feels like an avant garde video game someone else is playing when you get high. The song is so distinctively Moderat – the sharp synth wail, the repeating 5-beat snare pattern at 16 bar intervals, the layered vocals.

Julietta’s ‘Conquest’ is a catchy pop song about heartbreak. It has this unsettling tremolo synth loop going on at first, which is kind of distracting, but the song ultimately wins it with her voice and the main hook.

Early Winters is one of my favorite bands, and their second album ‘Vanishing Act’ is my album of choice on silent, meditative nights. Their third album has been forthcoming, but what we got was a 2:13 minute song that proves that they have not lost a little bit of the wonderful sound and the unique mood of their collaborative act. Justin, Carina, Dan and Zach, please finish your album.

 

Shadow and Light are a Delhi-based band that caught my attention through a random link that someone shared. Pavithra Chari and Anindo Bose make for a wonderful collaboration; she is the vocalist and lyricist, while he works on the music production and provides harmonies. Oh, the harmonies. ‘Dua’ makes me very happy indeed, with its nimble mix of the jazz piano and a mellifluous ghazal.

Synthwave is a genre inspired by 80s film, video and TV soundtracks, mostly driven by non-American bands. You can hear the sound in the OST of Drive, or in the music of Com Truise. This Carpenter Brut track needs no endorsement. The video is batshit insane, and the propulsive synth-driven beat puts you square in the center of B-movie action.

What is it with young British electronic musicians? Feint is 22, and his Drum and Bass songs burrow their way into my brain like nothing else. Veela’s vocals work beautifully on this song.

Thomas Vent is electro-funk with a dollop of dubstep. You better have your dancing shoes on.

I had included Sir Sly’s ‘You Haunt Me’ in an earlier playlist, but my preference was for the remix of the song, rather than the original. This song drove me crazy, with its hypnotic beat and Landon Jacobs’ whisky-smooth voice and the throbbing, glitchy arpeggiator that comes in somewhere in the middle. The video’s wonderful too, makes you want to not blink at all.

It’s funny how artistes take on new meaning with a bit of context. I heard Mr Oizo one fine day, thanks to a random online recommendation. Two days later, while in conversation about weird cinema with a bunch o’ fellow-nerds at a signing, the name Quentin Depeaux came up, who is a French film-maker that has made some surreal films. Turns out Mr Oizo is Depeaux’s side-project as a DJ/musician. And his music is as sufficiently weird as his filmography, according to people in the know.

A New Zealand-based band that has settled in LA, BRÅVES has had its share of crazy videos ­— including one with full frontal male nudity. This video is tamer, but the song is a crisp crowdpleaser.

I stumbled across the work of the pianist/multi-instrumentalist Lambert while looking for more artistes like Deaf Center and Nils Frohm. German artiste who has recently performed at the Hotel Cafe, and I wish I had known of him before his act. Must have been fun to see him live.

Ibeyi means ‘twins’ in Yoruba (a language spoken in Nigeria), and true to their name, the band is made up on twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz, whose music combines Cuban, French and Nigerian influences. I paid attention to their music from a remix of ‘River’, which removed their vocals altogether, focusing on the thumping percussive beat of the track. A waste, if you ask me, because their voices give you goose-bumps, and the video leaves you holding your breath, literally. I love how the song ends with Yoruban lyrics. These sisters are incredible.

Nombe is Noah McBeth, a musician from Germany who now lives in Los Angeles. The lead guitar riff in the song ‘California Girls’ reminds me of ‘Finally Moving’ by Pretty Lights ­— the song that Avicii and Flo Rida made huge hits of. But that resemblance is just enough for you to pay attention to it, the song stands up well on its own.

The first thing that gets me about Tom Misch’s ‘Memory’ is its use of steel drums. The song weaves its layers around this single bar loop, which changes only when the vocals come in, almost 2 minutes into the song. It takes off with a crunchy guitar solo, and a drum-and-clap beat that glides in and out. Beautiful, beautiful track.

OH SHIT! This Four Tet remix of Jon Hopkins gut-punched me when I heard it the first time. The piano, if I may, is like moonlight peeping in through the trees as you drive through a dark forest late at night. Not your normal moonlight, more like moonlight in high contrast and embroidered with gold and fairydust. And then there’s stars going supernova as you suddenly begin flying into the sky, and there are colors everywhere and you can barely feel your own body. The closest you may get to this experience is if you are sitting on a window seat and your plane is about to land in LA late in the night. Or something like that. The video is insane on its own, but with the song, whoof!

Umm, yeah, Hans Zimmer’s theme for Batman v Superman featured heavily in my listening all of last month. “Day of the Dead’ particularly, because it goes from tenderness to dread to melancholy to bombast in the space of a few minutes, weaving layers over the four note Kal El theme from Man of Steel. Especially with the pizzicato strings ticking along like a time bomb.

That would have been the last song on the playlist, but for the fact that I noticed that Hana had released the video for her exquisite ‘Clay’. There’s also the added connection of her opening for Grimes in her last tour. My favorite moment on the song, the point when I knew it was going to be on constant rotation, is when the beat comes in at 0:56. Love the use of echo in her voice, and the warbly violin-sound that creeps into the track.

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