CYNC #55- Learn Chinese- Northwest

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CYNC #54: You are wise to be deeply attached to your family and home

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CYNC #53, Part 4: M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire”- A visual interpretation

Our visual interpretation of M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire” is now complete!  You can view all four parts together here:

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CYNC #53, Part 3: M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire”- A visual interpretation

Here is the third installment of the four-part visual interpretation of M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire.”  Click here to view Part 1 and Part 2!

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CYNC #53, Part 2: M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire”– A visual interpretation

Here is the second installment of the four-part visual interpretation of M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire.”  Click here to view Part 1!

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CYNC #53, PART 1: M83’s “Raconte-moi une histoire”– A visual interpretation

Over the next four weeks, we will be featuring a visual interpretation of M83’s whimsical and psychedelic story-song, “Raconte-moi une histoire.”

Listen to the song here:

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CYNC #52- Long life is in store for you

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Johnny’s favorite comics and graphic novels of 2011

It was an amazing year for comics.  I started with a list of 45 comics and graphic novels worthy of being considered for this list.  Whittling it down to 12 favorites and 9 honorable mentions was a difficult task.  Please feel free to weigh in on your opinions and choices!

1) Habibi by Craig Thompson








I’m in awe of this book.  The sheer scope of vision, attention to detail, and craftsmanship place this work of art in a class all its own.  The fact that Habibi is far better than Craig Thompson’s previous graphic novel Blankets (a high water mark in comics in its own right) should give you an idea of how masterful it is.  I can lend a sympathetic ear to the (seeming) masses of people who felt uneasy over Thompson’s alleged reification of Arabic stereotypes and Orientalist tropes.  However, Habibi exists outside of conventional time and space; and thus one must resist the temptation to assign political and sociocultural values to its fantastical narrative.  Set the rhetoric aside (just for now) and allow yourself to be swept up in the magical beauty of Habibi.  


2) Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme








Told in a spare yet elegant style reminiscent of Chester Brown’s early work, this intimate story follows two teenagers as they struggle to grow up and away from legacies of mental illness, abuse, and despair.  I have read Lucille three times, and each reading is more haunting than the last.  Harm to self and others is a persistent theme throughout the narrative.  We’ll have to wait for Part 2 to witness any glimmers of hope.


3) Big Questions by Anders Nilsen








It took me multiple readings to agree with the praise heaped upon this book.  However, once I realized that Nilsen’s use of clichéd, trite expressions (e.g., “live each day like it’s your last”) is intended as commentary on armchair philosophy rather than as authentic wisdom, I was won over by the unique nature of the book and the puzzling connection between its contents and its title.  I was particularly taken with the labored pacing of simple events (e.g., a leaf falling on pg. 36) and the sense of dread that envelopes the narrative without smothering its hopeful resolve.


4) Mr. Wonderful by Daniel Clowes





Daniel Clowes is a master, and this pitch-perfect graphic novella is among my favorites of his work.  The embarrassingly raw human emotions displayed by the central characters make this a painful book to read.  Clowes’ command of dialogue is without peer in comics, and Mr. Wonderful employs a unique emphasis on characters’ inner dialogue that makes it virtually impossible to focus on what they are actually saying.  Clowes allows us to enter the inner psyches of his fragile, fallen characters; and, in so doing, he crafts a statement on the human condition that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like the shittiest person alive.


5) Paying for it by Chester Brown








I absolutely love Chester Brown.  I find his comics to be the most engaging, readable, and honest works in the genre.  Paying for It doesn’t disappoint, although it’s hardly in the same league as Ed the Happy Clown or I Never Liked You.  By the end of the book, I grew a bit weary of Brown’s monotonous, sterile descriptions of prostitute encounter after prostitute encounter.  But then came the rich appendices in which Brown fills in the skeleton of the book–outlining his political beliefs about prostitution, allowing friends to criticize his views, and providing rich explanatory footnotes.  I wish these appendices had been illustrated and inserted into the book to alter the pacing and tone of the narrative.  With that criticism aside, one of qualities that I love most about Chester Brown (and something that makes Paying for it a success) is his normalization of attitudes and behaviors that society views as abnormal or bizarre.  In The Playboy he normalized pornography; in “My mom was a schizophrenic” he normalized mental illness; and in Paying for it he normalizes “deviant” sexual behaviors.  You may not agree with his views, but you have to admit that few cartoonists inspire the same level of debate and discourse as Chester Brown.


6) The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists by Seth








Given his extremely high rate of productivity and fondness for antiquated remnants of a glorified yesteryear, it’s a bit too easy to write off some of Seth’s work as mere confection.  The simplicity of The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists belies a haunting narrative rich with pathos and commentary on the human experience, particularly experiences of solitude and resignation.  As always, Seth’s artwork is warm and engaging– transporting the reader to an alternate reality that feels both vaguely familiar and starkly alien.


7) RASL by Jeff Smith








RASL is an enigma; and so, too, is Jeff Smith, whose most notable work, Bone, feels featherweight next to this more adult tale.  RASL covers a lot of ground in its stark black and white pages.  The reader is educated about time travel and Tesla while enjoying a sci-fi narrative with compelling characters, adult content, and references to popular culture.  The action is heavy, the pace is swift.  The series wraps up in just a few more issues, and I’ll certainly be along for the remainder of the ride.


8 ) DC Comics The New 52








I was really impressed with D.C.’s major 2011 reboot.  Out of 52 new books, there are numerous gems.  Some of my favorites include Animal Man, Catwoman, Voodoo, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Demon Knights.  While “superhero comics” are often maligned for being kiddy fare with little to no social relevance, the DC New 52 are markedly more adult in content.  They also do a universally effective job of portraying female protagonists who know that being sexy and being strong are not mutually exclusive.


9) All Nighter by David Hahn








All Nighter is a 5-part miniseries that follows its heroine Kit as she struggles to find direction during her transition from childhood to adulthood.  Kit’s observations of herself and her surroundings feel very realistic; and the exquisite artwork perfectly captures the alternapunk lifestyle of the central characters.  One can only hope that Hahn has more work similar to All Nighter up his sleeve.


10) King of the Flies 2. Origin of the World by Mezzo and Pirus








The second installment of this three-part series is once again told through a series of loosely related short stories that coalesce around themes of violence, anger, isolation, and betrayal.  The Origin of the World feels like a major step forward from the first volume, primarily due to the metaphysical musings of deceased Damien as he revisits his worldly surroundings to make sense out of life and death.  The storytelling is masterful, and the artwork is trippy and vibrant.  When do we get Volume 3?


11) Swamp Thing Book 5 by Alan Moore








For my money, Alan Moore is the greatest writer in the history of comics.  While some may see Swamp Thing as a humble beginning for a creator who would go on to pen such masterworks as From Hell and Watchmen, it is interesting to witness the roots of Moore’s central motifs (e.g., metaphysics, magic, and political subversion) at this early phase in his career. “My Blue Heaven” alone is worth the price of the book.  It is a soul-searching tale that seethes with life and flows like jazz.  All other reincarnations of Swamp Thing pale in comparison to Moore’s definitive take on the fragile, misunderstood character.


12) Oil and Water by Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler








This restrained journalistic graphic novel about the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill works because of its objectivity and devotion to telling all sides of the story from the perspectives of diverse stakeholders.  Oil and Water is far less polemic than most books of this ilk would dare be; and therein lies its greatness.


Honorable Mentions:

Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

 The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross








Infinite Vacation by Nick Spencer and Christian Ward








Green Wake by J. Wiebe and Riley Rossmo








Criminal- The Last of the Innocent by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips








Nonplayer by Nate Simpson








The New York Five by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly








Spaceman by Brian Azzerello and Eduardo Risso








One Soul by Ray Fawkes

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Johnny’s favorite albums of 2011

Although this was an incredible year for music, it was sorely lacking a clear ‘album of the year’.  Last year, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs was the clear victor; the year before that was Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest; and 2008 had Fleet Foxes (even though I didn’t fully appreciate it until the following year).  This year, I agonized over my album of the year.  If I went with the album that most consistently blows my mind, then Smile would certainly win.  Woods and Real Estate both graduated from their lo-fi roots by putting out albums with lush instrumentation and mature song-writing.  Megafaun includes perhaps the most exciting variety of tracks, as well as my favorite closing track of the year (“Everything.”)  Even Tom Waits’ Bad as Me was a contender for album of the year due to his return to form (and piano!) after the discordant, overly experimental Real Gone.  

At the end of the year, though, Parallax won for a variety of reasons– most certainly the songs.  There isn’t a dud on the album.  Across 48 minutes, the album shifts and soars–starting out with a fragile, melancholic opener (“The Shakes”)… moving to a straight-forward, yet vulnerable, pop gem in the middle (“Mona Lisa”)… coming down a bit with a brooding ambient soundscape (“Doldrums”)… and ending with a beautful anthem that will leave you feeling uplifted and purified (“Lightworks”).  Everything that Bradford Cox touches turns to gold.  Don’t be surprised if an album by his band Deerhunter tops the charts next year.

1) Atlas Sound- Parallax








2) Beach Boys- Smile








3) Woods- Sun & Shade








4) Real Estate- Days








5) Megafaun- Megafaun








6) Tom Waits- Bad as Me








7) The Antlers- Burst Apart








8 ) Papercuts- Fading Parade








9) The Rosebuds- Loud Planes Fly Low








10) Kurt Vile- Smoke Ring for my Halo








11) Rural Alberta Advantage- Departing








12) Future Islands- On the Water








13) Girls- Father, Son, Holy Ghost








14) Cass McCombs- Wit’s End/ Humor Risk














15) Radiohead- The King of Limbs








16) Wilco- The Whole Love








17) Ganglians- Still Living








18) Panda Bear- Tomboy








19) Iron and Wine- Kiss Each Other Clean








20) The Decemberists- The King is Dead








21) Okkervil River- I Am Very Far








22) The Low Anthem- Smart Flesh








23) Doug Paisley- Constant Companion








24) Beirut- The Riptide








25) Washed Out- Within and Without

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Johnny’s favorite songs of 2011

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my ‘favorites of 2011’– including favorite songs, albums, comics, and foods.  We’ll start off with my favorite songs.  Click on the song title to listen to the song.  Please feel free to comment with your own favorites (or to criticize my favorites!)

1) Beach Boys- Surf’s Up.  I love the Beach Boys and was thrilled when they finally released a proper version of their cult album Smile.  This is the centerpiece and stand-out track on the album.  Each time I listen to it feels like a new experience, and I can’t hear the final minute without getting chills.  The luminous harmonies, rich orchestration, and thought-provoking lyrics add up to my favorite song of the year.  I’ll never grow tired of listening to it.

  • Sookie Says: Let’s shift things a bit and move this one down to honorable mentions. Yes, this is a good song, and no, I don’t have the same heart-rending love for the Beach Boys that Johnny has…but I still think you need to know that the real #1 song of the year is Lightworks by Atlas Sound. No one can sound as much like a sad 1950s girl singer and a swaggering rockstar all at the same time as Bradford Cox does in this song–and effortlessly so. “Everywhere I look there is a light and it will guide me…and there’s no pain.” The chorus is sung as an incantation to bring the light into being and to celebrate its existence.

2) Woods- Any Other Day.  Low-fi DIY bands are a dime-a-dozen these days, but Woods really spread their wings with their album Sun and Shade.  This is my favorite track from the album– a short, catchy Byrds-inspired number that sounds splendid in any setting– whether it’s in the car during a road trip or through headphones, sitting on the porch on a mild autumn evening.

  • Sookie Says: Move this one down to number 11 and call it To Have in the Home – my Woods pick for the year. The Beta-Band-esque groove is pleasantly infectious.

3) Okkervil River- Your Past Life as a Blast.  Although I was a bit disappointed with I am Very Far, this track is one of my all-time favorite Okkervil River songs.  It has a cool world-music vibe and some of the most evocative imagery of any song this year (see such lines as “How will we go, what do you think? Into the dust? Into the drink?”).

4) Atlas Sound- My Angel is Broken.  It was really hard to pick a favorite song from Parallax.  This is the one that I find myself returning to most often.  It’s got a killer opening riff, a sexy groove, and some of Bradford Cox’s most confident and histrionic vocals.  The way he allows his voice to crack on the final word of the line, “The older you get, you’ll see/ you’ll be a lot like me,” kills me.  It’s easy to understand why Sookie is so obsessed with this guy.

  • Sookie Says: Well, since you gave me another outlet for my obsession, I’ll go ahead and take this opportunity to extoll the virtues of Te Amo, another track off Atlas Sound’s newest offering. It is sweet and insisting. Who doesn’t want to be so enamored as to forget all past longings and “pretend you were the only one.” Bradford’s delivery is startlingly fresh and unencumbered, prompting one to wail along with him through the strange dreams, same dreams, and down times.

5) Radiohead- Separator.  File The King of Limbs under the “major disappointment” category but damn if Radiohead doesn’t kill it with this closing track.  The gentle guitar noodling that enters at the 2’32” point really elevates the song.  Radiohead may not strike gold with each new album, but they’ve cemented their status as the greatest “rock” band in the world.  “If you think this is over then you’re wrong” indeed.

  • Sookie Says: Oh, Radiohead, you’re such a tease and Thom’s such a flirt…My number one re-listen-able track off King of Limbs goes to Little by Little. Is it groundbreaking? No. Is it awesome? Yes.

6) The Rosebuds- Go Ahead.  I’ve probably listened to this track more than any other song released this year.  It’s also one of my all-time favorite opening tracks.  Loud Planes Fly Low is a break-up album, recorded after the divorce of founding members Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp.  This fact makes such lyrics as “Let’s make a pact, set a date/ meet back up here at the same place” all the more heartbreaking.

  • Sookie Says: This place on my list belongs to Thurston Moore’s beautiful Benediction. “I love you my darling. Life is just a fling.”

7) Tom Waits- New Year’s Eve.   The closing track on Bad as Me is a quintessential Tom Waits ballad– chock full of  flawed characters and maudlin sentimentality.  The “Auld Lang Syne” sing-along near the end of the song could be cloying from a lesser artist, but Tom Waits turns in a definitive rendition of the timeless holiday classic.

  • Sookie Says: Here’s another place you can see the divergence of tastes between Johnny and myself. I would give a nod to Tom Waits’ Hell Broke Luce rather than the tribute to auld lang syne. It is harsh and abrasive, but I love the jarring intensity of this song.

8 ) Real Estate- Wonder Years.  My buddy Vince is going to give me hell for including this song instead of the (arguably) superior “It’s Real”; but I have an affinity for bassist Alex Bleeker’s optimistic resignation.  Such lyrics as, “No I’m not okay, but I guess I’m doing fine,” speak to a part of me that draws comfort from the knowledge that I’ll never be entirely “okay.”

9) The Antlers- I Don’t Want Love.  The Antlers create music so wrought with human emotion that it practically demands a cathartic release in the listener.  The opening track from their Hospice follow-up Burst Apart suggests a fractured relationship (or perhaps a failed one-night-stand) and the acknowledgment that sometimes it’s just better to be alone:  “Keep your hands to yourself/ When you follow me home/ I don’t want love.”

  • Sookie Says: Picking one Antlers song to describe here is a really tough thing to do, so I’ll pick two instead. Tracks 3 and 4 on Burst Apart–Parentheses and No Widows, respectively–go together like a bad decision and a consequence. Sonically, Parentheses is Jeff Buckley getting sinister on top of a drum machine, with a little trip-hop ambiance in the background–or, as Johnny might say, it’s got a mean, sexy groovy. No Widows is the morning after Parentheses, with all the varied emotions that implies. Lyrically, one is shoving someone away and the other is ending up with no one to shove in the first place–sinister intentions followed by loss.

10) Lana Del Rey- Video Games.  Haters gonna hate, but there’s a reason that internet sensation Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough hit has been viewed over 8 million time on youtube.  It’s a perfect pop gem that brings to mind influences as varied as Dusty Springfield and Tori Amos.  One can only hope that she doesn’t exit the music scence as quickly as she entered it.  Time will tell…

  • Sookie Says: I leave this one as Johnny has it, but with one addition. I also hear a young Stevie Nicks every time I listen to this song.

11) Future Islands- The Great Fire.  It was a tough call between this track and the anthemic “Balance”, but “The Great Fire” wins out for the beautifully heart-wrenching  interchange between frontman Samuel Herring and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.

  • Sookie Says: The only thing I would change here is that I would move this one up to the top 3. Loved it. The entire album was great, but this is definitely the stand-out track.

12)  The Low Anthem- Boeing 737.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strange obsession with the events of 9/11.  This chugging freight-train of a song captures the terror of a bystander witnessing the WTC attacks while also referencing the high-wire daredevil antics of Philippe Petit.  For both, there’s hope for salvation– either in the sky  (“I put one foot on the wire, one foot straight into heaven”); or on the ground (“There’s nothing left I call my own/ Come down and build me a home”).

  • Sookie Says: I like this song by The Low Anthem, but would like to give a nod to Beirut’s headstrong Payne’s Bay. It makes me sing along every time.

Honorable Mentions:

Papercuts- Marie Says You’ve Changed

Jolie Holland- All Those Girls

Fleet Foxes- Battery Kinzie

Megafaun- Get Right

Blitzen Trapper- Taking it Easy Too Long

Iron and Wine- Tree by the River

Death Cab for Cutie- Codes and Keys

Mount Moria- Reckoning

The Rural Alberta Advantage- Goodnight

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