Playlist 11 -- Picture This!

Those who may recall Playlist 8, when I mentioned Alison Bechdel's Fun House, know that I'm not a huge fan of the graphic novel format. I don't have anything against the medium. I've just never read them. Heck, I didn't even read many comic books as a kid. But, by pure coincidence, I found three that I had heard about at my local library a couple of weeks back. I breezed through all of them in a few days -- and they each wowed the heck out of me.

Jame's Sturm's America: God, Gold and Golems by James Sturm.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by
Marjane Satrapi.

Let's start with Sturm's novel, broken into three distinct scenes -- a tent revival meeting in the early 1800s, a mining town in the late 19th century and a barnstorming Jewish baseball team in the 1920s. I can't really comment on the artwork other than to say that it changes slightly, and appropriately, with each story. These vignettes are charged with emotion. Sturm's text and drawings capture the faith and agony of the couple who show up in Kentucky with a dreadful secret. And you can sense the desparation and greed in the drawings of the mining town's hard-scrabble men. The best piece, though, is the third one, which follows the Stars of David, an all-Jewish baseball team that eventually aligns itself with a huckster and promoter.

While Sturm turns his eyes on American's history, Satrapi chronicles her life growing up in a Westernized, intellectual family in a turbulent Iran. First, it's the revolution, then the war with Iraq. The young Satrapi is sassy and pushed by her parents, and grandmother, to speak the truth. When they fear for her future, Satrapi's parents send her out of the country. The second book recounts her struggles to find herself and to live up to her family's expectations, before she finally returns to Iran. Both Perspepolis books capture the fear, confusion and frustration of living under a Fundamentalist regime. Not just a great graphic novel, but a great memoir.

These wonderful books have sparked my interest in graphic novels. And, as luck would have it, The USA Today column Pop Candy offers this list of the 25 Essential Graphic Novels. Persepolis makes the list (as did Fun House). Has anyone read any graphic novels on the Pop Candy list? Or any other ones you'd recommend?

Angels of Destruction and Can't Take it With You EP. Marah.
Been listening to a lot of loud music in the past couple weeks, starting with this new one from Marah, along with the band's 2007 EP. I think my favorite Philly band is struggling a little right now. These songs aren't bad. In fact, there are some good ones -- Hard Up, Coughing Up Blood and Wilderness. But Marah hasn't put together a consistent effort since 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. And Angels fails to rank with their other best efforts Kids in Philly and Let Cut the Crap and Hook up Later Tonight. Still, it's worth the few bucks it'll cost you to download it at eMusic.

Recently Pop Headwound reported that the band was going through some personnel changes on the eve of their European tour. There's no evidence of canceled gigs on their Web site, so the shows must be going on, albeit with a couple new members. Maybe, this is a good sign. Upheaval has led to the band's best work in the past.

In the Future. Black Mountain.
My favorite album of 2008 so far. This album is heavy. I've heard critics call it "stoner rock." but don't believe it. Yes, Black Mountain's songs evoke Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Blue Oyster Cult and even a little Emerson, Lake and Palmer. And they sing of witches and tyrants (and slog on with their nearly 17-minute epic Bright Lights). But this is not one long metalfest. This is a band with diverse influences and skills. Just listen to Angels (eMusic calls it reminscent of Neil Young), Evil Ways and Queens Will Play. A little bit retro? Hell yes. But it sure is a lot of fun.

Some other tunes I've been digging this past week ...
-- Do You Realize? The Flaming Lips. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Wayne Coyne is a wise, wise man.
-- Gemini Cusp and Thermal Treasure. Polvo. Today's Active Lifestyle. I'm still not sure what "math rock" means, but these guys do it really well.
-- Heavy Metal Drummer. Wilco. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Overheard this on my wife's computer (she was tuned to WXPN) and it brought a smile to my face.