Friday, 20 December 2013

Top 5 Albums of 2013

Breaking with my tradition I thought I'd get this in before the end of the year. Seems I'm still almost a month behind most of the music press but it'll be one less 2013 post for me to bore you with in January.

1. Low "The Invisible Way" - This album came out in January, I think, which might explain why it's not featured that high on many of the media lists. I've loved it all year and that's not been diminished by the passage of time. I missed their London gig in April so had to travel to Cambridge in November to finally catch them live. They were stunning that night and made every minute of the three hours it took me to get there worthwhile. I think 2014 will see me try to fill in the gaps in my Low collection.

2. Eleanor Friedberger "Personal Record" - I've known a lot of these songs from early in the year thanks to frequent plays by Marc Riley. She followed this with a fantastic session in August and that was the final push I needed to get the album. Despite the name the album was co-written with alt-folk singer/novelist John Wesley Harding. It's full of catchy songs with intriguing lyrics. I regret not getting to the show she played at Bush Hall but with a UK based band put together by David Brewis of Field Music I hope she'll be back over soon.

3. Bill Callahan "Dream River" - A late purchase but one that zoomed to the top of my favourites. I thought his 2009 album, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, was as good as he could get but Dream River runs that very close indeed.

4. Euros Childs "Situation Comedy" - I've picked up a few Euros Childs' albums over the last year or two but this is the best thing I've heard by him yet. Again Marc Riley played a big part in this thanks to frequent plays. Laura J Martin also features on several tracks on flute. The album is packed with perfect pop tunes that have genuinely funny, and at times quite poignant, lyrics. I saw him play the Boston music room in October and don't think I've ever laughed so much at a music gig.

5. Ezra Furman "Day Of The Dog" - The first time I heard the track Tell 'Em All To Go To Hell I assumed it was by some 70s Glam band I'd not heard before. Then My Zero came along and took the sound in a more Indie direction. The rest of the album flits from genre to genre whilst retaining a consistent sound thanks to Ezra's voice and the copious amounts of saxophone (unusually this is a good thing).


Friday, 13 December 2013

Top 5 Comic Book Super Teams

Following on from last week's Superhero Top 5 these are my favourite Super Teams.

1. The X-Men (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) - The X-Men weren't the first super hero team I discovered but they were the catalyst for my obsession with comics. When I was much younger my mum would sometimes buy me a comic when I was poorly. One of the last times she did this I got a copy of a British X-Men magazine that reprinted X-Men 133. this was one of the later parts of the Hellfire Club story and I was instantly hooked. The X-Men had been created by Kirby & Lee as a team of completely original characters (rather than combining existing solo heroes) but really came into it's own when Chris Claremont took control of the title in the late 70s.

2. The Avengers (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) - One of my very first US edition comics was an Avengers story, bought from Tilly's in Thames Ditton, that explained the origins of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Traditionally the team formed around a core of Captain America, Iron Man & Thor though often it was the peripheral characters that drew me in. Wasp & Ant Man/Giant Man were favourites from the early issues but one of my favourite Avengers remains the impractically purple costumed archer Hawkeye.

3. The Fantastic Four (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) - I suspect I picked up my fist copy of The Fantastic Four in the same visit to Tilly's I mentioned above. The FF were a little different from any other team as they were linked by blood and marriage. Johnny Storm was Sue Storm's brother. Sue eventually married Reed Richards and Ben Grimm was their long standing friend. Unlike other series membership of the FF never changed. In a universe where teams and characters are rebooted and redefined more and more frequently the FF remain a happy constant.

4. The Justice League of America (created by Gardner Fox) - DC's shining beacon of super teams combining all the very best DC characters in one magazine. I mean, holy crap, any group that includes; Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash & Aqua Man is a force to be reckoned with. As an occasional DC reader the JLA gave me a hit of their best characters for the price of one comic.

5. The Defenders (created by Roy Thomas & Ross Andru) - I struggled to decide on my fifth pick. I quite liked DC's Legion of Super Heroes, a space based team, led at times by Superboy, made up of alien heroes from a future world who didn't appear in any other titles. I considered The Watchmen, from Alan Moore's excellent graphic novel, but they were never really a genuine ongoing team (in my eyes at least). But at heart I'm a Marvel kid so I plumped for Marvel's secondary super team The Defenders. The early issues saw a pretty cool core team of Doctor Strange, Hulk & Namor the Sub-Mariner and soon added the Silver Surfer and Valkyrie.


Friday, 6 December 2013

Top 5 Comic Book Superheroes

Some Twitter pals got me thinking about my favourite b-list Superheroes the other day and inevitably that also got me thinking about my a-list too. I spent a lot of time reading comics as a kid, probably too much if I'm honest, but I still have a lot of love for them.

1. Spider-man (created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko) - Spidey was always number one for me. The late sixties cartoon series (with it's character defining theme tune) was probably where I first discovered him, either that or the late seventies live-action TV show starring Nicholas Hammond. Watch either now and you'll probably struggle to see much to admire but back then you took your thrills where you could and seeing some bloke climbing skyscrapers in an ill-fitting costume was way more exciting than anything else at the time. I got into comics entirely thanks to Spider-man. Initially the UK produced black & white reprints but soon after the full colour US originals. Spider-Man was a hero it was easy to identify with, funny and sharp witted yet a bit awkward in normal life.

2. Batman (created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger) - Again it was the kitsch TV series that first got me interested in Batman. I was a confirmed Marvel Comics fan though and didn't have a lot of time for DC comics but the Batman series is one of the best superhero tales ever written. I would buy DC titles occasionally (usually if the latest Marvel title wasn't in and I didn't want to go home empty handed) and the various Batman comics were always good value. Frank Miller's Dark Knight era got me reading more regularly and for a long time the films were the only really successful superhero franchise on the big screen.

3. Wolverine (created by Len Wein & John Romita Sr) - The Chris Claremont era of X-Men titles was what tipped me over the edge. Previously an occasional comic book buyer, discovering The Uncanny X-Men led me into slight obsession with collecting comics. Claremont redefined the X-Men with a new set of characters and costumes. There was a slightly grittier reality. Wolverine was core to this and not your typical all-American hero. He was Canadian for a start, had a dark sense of humour and could be disruptive to the team dynamics. His background story hinted at a troubled past which eventually opened the door to his own series of comics.

4. Iron Man (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) - One of the big five Marvel characters (I think, there's a possibility I'm making that up) who was also a founding member of The Avengers. I read that Stan Lee created billionaire industrialist Tony Stark as the sort of character that Marvel readers would hate. The archetypal capitalist business man that went against the grain of the 60s counter-culture. I'm pretty sure Iron Man wouldn't have featured quite so high in the list without the recent trilogy of films but it was a title I bought & enjoyed for many years.

5. Hulk (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) - Hulk! Smash! Who couldn't love the big green bundle of anger? Another character I first discovered through the TV. The Bill Bixby/Lou Ferringo series was a big part of my Saturday night entertainment growing up and the Hulk comics were great fun too.