Episode 384: Galaxy’s Edge Review, with Todd James Pierce!

Episode 384 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s episode, I talk with creative writer and Disney historian Todd James Pierce about the new developments in role-play storytelling that were and perhaps still are planned for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios park at Walt Disney World.

Episode 384 Art

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According to the end of the line cast member outside Oga’s Cantina, you can’t see all three of Batuu’s suns, but you could certainly feel them, on a day called Heatstroke-in-the-Shade.

Galaxy's Edge Gunner Score

My score as a gunner, on a later visit to Smuggler’s Run.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

Scribophile

TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out Todd James Pierce’s site and podcast, Disney History Institute.

Check out my literary adventure novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover


Episode 384 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

The Curator of Schlock #290: Lola

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The Curator of Schlock #290 by Jeff Shuster

Lola

I think you’re growing up too soon, girl. 

I don’t like it when box art lies. This goes back to the days of Mom & Pop video rental palaces, when you’d see some movie you’ve never heard of with an intriguing cover only to be disappointed when you popped it in the VCR when you got home. This brings us to tonight’s movie, 1969’s Lola from director Richard Donner (of Superman fame).

Look at this DVD cover.

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We have Charles Bronson in a coat brandishing a pistol. This brings to mind Paul Kersey, the vigilante from the Death Wish movies, but there’s one big problem. Charles Bronson doesn’t have a mustache, nor does he brandish a gun in this movie. The back of the case claims that the movie was directed by John Sturges, but it was, in fact, directed by Richard Donner. The backs reads, “Charles Bronson, Susan George, and Trevor Howard star in this gritty portrayal of a man struggling to keep his demons at bay.” Nope. Again, I’m not seeing it.

This is a goofy 60s comedy about a thirty-eight year-old man dating a sixteen-year-old girl.

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Susan George plays Lola (also known as Twinky in some versions), a sixteen-year-old English girl who just happens to be having intimate relations with Scott Wardman (Charles Bronson), a close to middle-aged writer of pornographic fiction who’s living in a London flat. Lola tells Scott that she spilled the beans to her parents, and her father is furious. Scott asks her what the age of consent is in England. She says it’s sixteen, but England can still deport Scott or send him to jail for other reasons. Lola consulted the family lawyer on this. Scott chases Lola out the apartment, but then chases after her. They decide to get married in Scotland, where a man can marry a sixteen-year-old girl. Problem solved!

Lola

What am I watching here? The movie presents this situation as cute and zany. I wasn’t alive in ’69. I’m not that clear on what the social norms were, but I’m surprised that at no point in this movie do we find an angry mob surrounding Scott and beating him to death. Maybe if John Sturges had directed this movie.

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Lola’s father says their marriage won’t work out. Lola’s mother seems more sympathetic and wishes them the best. I can’t help, but notice how attractive Lola’s mother is. Then I realize she is none other than Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore from Goldfinger). There’s a theme song for Lola that’s sung by Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter books, that I mistook for a lost Dave Clark Five track.

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Scott and Lola move to New York City where Scott begins a career as a failed novelist. Scott is required to enroll Lola in high school, as it is the law.

I keep imagining there’s an alternative version of this movie where Lola falls in love with the captain of the football team and asks Scott to drive them to prom.

Anyway, Lola leaves Scott a Dear John letter after they get into a fight over her cat.

The end.

What does it all mean? This movie is messing with my head.


Jeffrey Shuster 3

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #35: And Once Again

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #35 by Drew Barth

And Once Again

Five years. That’s how long Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles have been creating The Wicked + The Divine. With that forty-fifth issue just being released this past week, it’s hard not to get nostalgic. Whether it was through the monthly issues, the trade paperbacks, the various specials, or the online support groups, all of us dug ourselves into the actual fandemonium the series had inspired.

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But that’s all we’ve got. The series has ended.

We all knew WicDiv would end eventually. The premise of the series was that once a generation, young people would be bestowed godhood and would essentially become the cultural icons of their time. But in two years they would die as a means of fighting back the Great Darkness. The cycle happened for thousands of years, hundreds of times. That was the story that was told to each of the reincarnated gods by Ananke.

A more typical version of this story would have the reincarnated gods just fight the Great Darkness and win, or even to simply live out those two years and die one by one. But From Phonogram to Young Avengers to WicDiv, Gillen and McKelvie have never done a simple thing in their collaborations together.

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WicDiv is a story in which all of the stories we had been told before are lies. There is no Great Darkness, and there is no reason anyone has to die outside of one character’s belief that they should be witness to history and that their story should be the one that is sustained throughout all of human culture. And the biggest lie of all is that the story needs to keep going.

But what they never tell you is that the story can just stop. The characters can just say “no” like they’re in an anti-drug ad. The stories ended because these characters gave up being those characters. The gods they had been reincarnated as—and the names we as observers of this story had grown accustomed to calling them—were given up, and they were just people again. Permanently mortal people. The godhood wasn’t a costume or ring to take on and off, but an aspect of the story they would have found themselves trapped in. And as a reader, we can see these changes happening. From the characters themselves to the way in which the panels within the book have been set up—it all points toward an exiting of the programmatic story.

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But then, now what? The last pages of the last issue are intentionally left blank. We’ve begun and ended the story with a mortal Laura Wilson and all the godhood in-between—and we must create a new story from the space we’ve been left.

If The Wicked +The Divine is about anything, it’s about the stories we tell to get through life. It’s about the music we share as a part of those stories. It’s about the drama and the theater of existing. It’s about people making decisions—mostly bad decisions—and having to deal with the repercussions.

For a story about reincarnations of gods, it’s a weirdly humbling experience to see a very human level of consequence. We never felt catharsis during those times we would see the scared kids wearing god costumes underneath all the pomp and circumstance. As far as the story Ananke had told them had gone to their head, there was always that human element within.

I don’t think we’re going to see a series like The Wicked + The Divine for a while. And that’s okay. That’s why those last pages were blank in the last issue.

Get excited. Make a story.


drew barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 383: Scott Phillips!

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Episode 383 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s episode, I talk with crime novelist Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest, Cottonwood, Rake, The Adjustment, and other books.

Scott Phillips

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Ice HarvestRake

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

Scribophile

TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out my literary adventure novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover


Episode 383 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

The Curator of Schlock #289: The Evil That Men Do

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The Curator of Schlock #289 by Jeff Shuster

The Evil That Men Do

Charles Bronson returns to the Museum of Schlock!

It seems like only yesterday that I began this blog. I remember that one September five years ago when I covered all five Death Wish movies.

Oh, wait. It was six years ago.

Six years of my life spent apart from Charles Bronson.

How did I let this happen? Time to rectify this misfire on my part. Time to partake in the second greatest mustache in cinema history (first place goes to Franco Nero). September is Charles Bronson Month here at the Museum of Schlock!

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1984’s The Evil That Men Do from director J. Lee Thompson features men doing evil things to other men. But if Charles Bronson is doing the evil things, are they really evil? Charles Bronson is America’s vigilante, and who doesn’t love a vigilante? To hate Charles Bronson is to hate America itself.

The movie begins with a Welsh gentleman named Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher) who goes by the moniker, “The Doctor.” They call him the Doctor because he is a real medical doctor, but he uses his medical expertise to perfect methods of torture to be used by any South American dictator with the money for his services.

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I mean this guy’s methods are disgusting. The Doctor is kind of the guru of torture. The movie begins with him electrocuting Jorge Hidalgo, a reporter who’s been investigating him. Any of you ever watch that Nickelodeon show Mr. Wizard? Remember the episode where he used electricity to cook hot dogs for lunch? This is kind of like that except with a real live human being.

Some Israelis try to assassinate the Doctor, rig a car bomb in his car, but the operation goes awry and the Doctor gets away again. A man named Hector travels to the Cayman Islands to convince a retired CIA assassin named Holland (Charles Bronson) to come out of retirement and kill The Doctor.

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The Doctor is fairly evil. In fact, I might go as far to say he’s Kidnap Syndicate evil. Holland says he’s retired and doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore, but it’s not long before he flies out to Guatemala to take out the Doctor. Holland tells Hector that he wants to pose as a family man. He’ll need a pretend wife and a pretend child. Hector hooks him up with Rhiana (Theresa Saldana), the deceased reporter’s wife, and their young daughter, Sarah.

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The two of them manage to catch a glimpse of the doctor at a local cockfight. Holland decides the best pathway to the Doctor is through the men who work for him. He tracks Randolph (Raymond St. Jacques), a burley man in charge of the Doctor’s communications. Holland follows Randall to the US Ambassador’s office. It seems that the Doctor has blackmailed Paul Briggs (John Glover of TV’s Smallville), the U.S. Ambassador of Guatemala, into aiding his nefarious activities.

There’s some throat slitting and ball crushing as Holland works his way through the Doctor’s organization. He manages to kidnap the Doctor’s sister in an effort to root him out of hiding. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, but if you think the Doctor is making it to the end of this movie without a painful and humiliating death, you don’t know Charles Bronson.


Jeffrey Shuster 2

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #34: A Shorter Piece

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #34 by Drew Barth

A Shorter Piece

Many of the works discussed in this blog over the past months have been long-running series or graphic novels. And all of those have been great. There’s an expansiveness to many of those works. In a way, many of these series act like literary novels in this regard. But as a result, few comics emphasize shorter stories. Not just series of less than ten issues, but stories that aren’t even a full issue. This focus on shorter pieces is something that is seen much more often in many manga as the result of a great number of manga magazines publishing weekly. Because of this, there’s almost always overlooked collections of short manga.

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One criminally overlooked title is Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. Only recently released through Fantagraphics Books (although, alas, now out of print again), this collection maintains a continual sense of compassion and wonder throughout. Hagio herself as a creator is known for her work that would become foundational for shojo as a manga genre both in its content and style. To read through “The Willow Tree” or “Iguana Girl” is to reach deep into shojo manga’s DNA. But what these stories here do as well is show off just how effective of a short story author Hagio has been. Her characters feel inherently human from panel one, and we can see that defined arc of who they can become by the end of the piece, most notable in “Iguana Girl,” which pulls from legends of an iguana falling in love and asking a sorcerer to turn her into a woman. The story follows that woman’s daughter and the struggles of believing herself to be an iguana from birth.

Other pieces like “The Willow Tree” or “Girl on Porch with Puppy” showcase an astute understanding of how an ending of a short piece that maintains an innocence can be fraught with tragedy. Hagio creates these short pieces with an almost effortless perfection in line and panel while maintaining pitch- perfect stories.

On the other end of the content spectrum is the creator Junji Ito. Legendary for many of his longer series likeGyo,Uzumaki, and Tomei, many of those works typically include a variety of his shorter stories as well, most notably the legendary “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.”

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Most recently, however, Ito adapted Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to much acclaim and included in that volume a larger variety of his short stories as well. Ito is known as a contemporary master of horror. From “Amigara Fault” to “The Neck Specter,” Ito’s short pieces deal heavily with the surreal and horrific that exists around us. With simple things like holes in a mountain and a house’s support beam or more bizarre premises like finding a man’s head with a six foot long neck, there’s a continual escalation of horror throughout. The art itself offers gruesome levels of detail incorporated combined with the uncanny. A fish with legs may not be the scariest idea, but with the right kind of shading and shadows, it’s up there.

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And then we have a work like Ken Niimura’s Henshin, a collection of short stories centered on the idea of change. What makes this collection unique is that it is a short story collection published by Image, a publisher known mostly for its monthly series. But that only speaks for the quality of the work itself. Much of the work is centered around the daily minutia of life in contemporary Japan, but typically with a small twist. A reunion between niece and uncle turns into an interview for becoming a hitman; a family enjoys a picnic when an old man asks them about suicide; a man saves the world with farts. And every single story is punctuated by this Niimura’s art that is deceptively simple in its line work but complemented by panel composition that stands up with some of the best manga of the twenty-first century. But it is Niimura’s commitment to the shorter form that lets these stories shine as delightful morsels of manga that is tough to find in many longer works.

There are avenues for shorter pieces of graphic narratives in America—many literary magazines now include short graphic works, and there are still a couple comic compilation books released seasonally, even Best American Non-Required Reading has a couple graphic narratives annually. But overall, many of those are few and far between. Western comic culture prioritizes the monthly issues or the graphic novel every couple years, not the persistence of the weekly manga magazines. One of the only consistent places to find shorter comic stories in the west is typically through the different annual series for superhero comics, but then those are limited to a specific cast of characters and worlds.

Why don’t western comics really have those avenues for shorter pieces? Series like Islandused to showcase new talent and shorter pieces, but that ended up canceled after fifteen issues. And there are still magazines like 2000 AD and Heavy Metal, but their visibility in mainstream comics isn’t as prevalent as it had been in the previous decades. To maintain a more healthy comics scene, we need these outlets for small shots of creativity—for pieces that aren’t going to be massive series or graphic novels, but short pieces that allow readers to discover something new in the medium.

Get excited. Read something short.


drew barthDrew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 382: Rick Moody!

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Episode 382 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Rick Moody about his new book, The Long Accomplishment: A Memoir of Hope and Struggle in Matrimony.

Rick Moody by Laurel Nakadate

Photo by Laurel Nakadate

TEXTS DISCUSSED

The Long AccomplishmentThe Black VeilThe Four Fingers of DeathBeckett TrilogyBeckett MurphyDream of Fair to Middling Women

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

Scribophile

TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Learn more about the Kerouac Project of Orlando here.

Kerouac-Color-CMYK-HiRes

If you are in Orlando on September 7th, come join the Kerouac Project in welcoming its fall 2019 resident, Chelsey Clammer, with a potluck dinner.

Check out my literary adventure novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover


Episode 382 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcasts, stitcher, spotify, or click here to stream.

The Curator of Schlock #288: Delirium

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The Curator of Schlock #288 by Jeff Shuster

Delirium

That will be the title of my memoir. 

Week Five of Giallo Month here at The Museum of Schlock. What do you want me to say? I’m all gialloed out this point.

But I will persevere.

It’s usually around this point that I tell myself I will never do another Giallo Month. Of course, this is a lie. All it will take is for The House With the Laughing Windows or The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh to show up on streaming or on Blu-ray and I’ll be putty in Edwige Fenech’s hands again.

In fact, if Severin Films give them the royal treatment like All the Colors of the Dark, I’ll be a very happy man. That one came with a soundtrack CD.

Yes, I listen to Giallo soundtracks. Don’t make fun.

Tonight’s movie, Delirium, features tracks by Simon Boswell. He used to work with The Sex Pistols and Echo and the Bunnymen. Maybe you’ve heard of those bands.

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1987’s Delirium from director Lamberto Bava is interesting to watch since I’m more used to watching Gialli from the 70s, but the Italian movie industry kept moving along until it fell on hard times in the early 90s. Anyway, the movie begins and we’re treated to a barrage of synth rock and photos of naked ladies. The movie stars Serena Grandi as Gloria, a fierce and beautiful young woman who happens to run a very popular men’s lifestyle and entertainment magazine called Pussycat. Gloria may have been a prostitute prior to marrying her late husband, the owner of the magazine. I’m assuming he was a Hugh Hefner type whose bum ticker finally tocked itself out.

Gloria would seem to have it all: a talented staff of photographers and models, a big fancy mansion, and a teenage paraplegic neighbor named Mark who makes obscene phone calls.

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But this wouldn’t be a Giallo without a little bit of murder. One night, one of Gloria’s models, Kim, gets stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork and falls into Gloria’s swimming pool. However, the next morning, no body is found. Turns out the killer dumped Kim’s mutilated body into a dumpster, but not before taking photos of her corpse in front of a blown up photo of Gloria.

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In a later scene, the killer is dressed in a beekeeper’s suit. The killer seals off the doors and windows in this one model’s house, into which he releases a torrent of bees. Hundreds of bees sting the naked model as she’s drying herself off from a shower. To add insult to injury, the killer squirts honey into her hair.

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More murders happen. The killer is obsessed with Gloria. He stalks her in an empty department store, killing her brother and his girlfriend who were giving her an after hours tour. Gloria swears she heard a woman’s voice taunting her, but the police are zeroing in on a male suspect, Tony, the photographer. He gets run over by a car before police can question him, but they consider the case closed after that.

Or is it?

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Serena Grandi is known as the Dolly Parton of Italy. This is odd in that she never sang country music.


Jeffrey Shuster 3

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #33: No One’s Left

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #33 by Drew Barth

No One’s Left

I’ve talked about shonen manga a few times on here—both positively and negatively—but it’s hard to overstate the influence shonen as a genre has had on western comics. Many creators have talked about their love for the genre as younger kids watching Dragonball orNaruto and inevitably being drawn further into manga as a whole. And it’s not hard to see why. With its fast-paced action taking up whole pages combined with impeccable characters, shonen series can feel almost like a precursor to the wide-screen comics of the early 2000s. Recently, though, Dark Horse have released a series that is a pure distillation of the intersection where shonen manga and western superhero comics meet: Aubrey Sitterson and Fico Ossio’s No One Left to Fight.

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 From the first cover alone we can already see the explosion of color and influence all over the place. Our red-clad protagonist, Vale, with his large beaded necklace that already draws on many interpretations of Sun Wukong of Journey to the West—one of the main influences on the creation of Dragonball’s Goku—and the goggles on his forehead that hearken to Naruto’s first design in his titular manga. We also have Timor, the blue rival of Vale, and his wife Krysta to complete the spectrum of protagonists. They’re naively optimistic, bitterly hotheaded, and create a trichotomy that calls to mind, again, series like Dragonball and Narutoas well as the iconic trio of DC heroes like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. And with a tagline like “The comic you always wanted!” Sitterson and Ossio know exactly what kind of series they’ve created and want the readers to know what kind of fun they can have here.

No One Left to Fight is more than just the sum of its influences. As a series, it goes to places many of the more iconic shonen series never go: beyond the earth-saving final fight. Vale is that protagonist who saved the world. Now what else is there to do?

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The story starts with Vale, Timor, and Krysta going back to the site of Vale’s grandest moment because Vale doesn’t know what to do with himself anymore. He’s a wanderer. The first two issues show small glimpses of where the story is going to go, but the story has yet to concretize. This uncertainty can open up the story to a great deal of darker side paths to explore the futility of the fight and the place of the hero in the world. And yet the story doesn’t appear to choose those paths. Vale as a character maintains that continual positivity that has become a staple of many shonen protagonists—even in the most perilous of situations does that grin of “everything will be okay” maintain.

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As a new comic series, No One Left to Fight is refreshing in its sincerity. Sitterson and Ossio are acutely aware of their influences without ever putting down the campiness of the past. Even when looking at the colorful brightness of the world or the “The comic you always wanted!” tagline, the series never comes off as doing everything as a joke. Even with all of the work of the past behind it, No One Left to Fight is still a series pointed toward the future.

Get excited. Punch more.


drew barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Lost Chords & Serenades Divine #13: Palm’s Rock Island

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Lost Chords & Serenades Divine #13 by Stephen McClurg

Palm: Rock Island (2018)

A something in a summer’s noon –
A depth – an Azure – a perfume –

~Emily Dickinson

Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.
Sing, cuccu. Sing, cuccu, nu.

~Anon., “Summer Is I-cumin In”

Palm’s Rock Island conjures an aura of summer, from the sharpest July light to the dimming of vacation’s last rays. The music is vibrant, partially because of the vocalists using higher registers and partially due to bright guitar tones. Despite being described as experimental or post-rock, there is a commitment on Rock Island to vocal melody, reminiscent of Lush’s floating, silvery vocals, and sometimes even Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys.

Palm Rock Island

At odds with this melodic catchiness is Palm’s approach to rhythm. A recurring compositional element on the record is a battery of stuttering rhythms and syncopations, several so severe they sound like skips or loops. Because they are performed, they don’t register like electronic or mechanical repetition, but feel like an organic jab-and-stammer. One of the ways they achieve this sound is by using slow strums, sounding one string at a time, rather than playing full chords, an effect emphasized by a kind of hyper-chorus effect that frequently sounds like steel drum triggers to me. It’s like a steak knife in the honey. The bass sometimes shifts to upbeats, rather than the traditional downbeats in a rock band. While it’s a technique common in funk (Larry Graham is a master), Palm uses it to disrupt anticipations rather than groove.

Other rhythmic approaches include polyrhythms. I regularly hear parts in three played over rhythms in two or four. On some tracks, rather than lock in on a riff, the band will play a musical statement across multiple instruments. For example, in “Forced Hand,” a musical phrase starts on guitar, continues on drums, and ends on bass. Some first-time listeners may find these approaches jarring, but after a few listens, the songs are as hummable as any radio pop.

The lyrics, often about relationships or lost loves, are cryptic, but not wholly abstract. 

The story in “Pearly” feels just outside of comprehension, but shimmers with vague dread. The song is about a love and a vow, but it’s unclear what kind of love and what kind of vow. 

The first verse ends with “My own rules/Are always best when broken” and leads into the commitment or warning of the chorus: “I want nothing but the best for us.” The end of the song turns, and makes the direction of the danger ambiguous. Someone “enduring a vow” sounds unpleasant and recasts the “I want nothing but the best for us” line:

In a void
You put a lock on the door
But you endure
A vow

A vow to stop at nothing
I want nothing but the best for us

The lyrics are tinged with obsession, while the music ripples with bright elements like a vocal choir sample or trigger saying “Ahhh!,” chorus effeects, and handclaps. The song feels like horror in daylight as it bleeds away, slowing, then staggering to silence. 

“Composite” features the aforementioned strumming effect, yet bounces in ways reminiscent of late-’60s Beach Boys or yacht rock. The “composite” in the lyrics–“Let me put the pieces back in place”–could be referring to a relationship or the world at large. Lyrics like “Fake a nap to breathe in for a while” capture that kind of peculiar dread about the unpeculiar, an amorphous doubt on a sunny Saturday. 

“Composite” also describes the song’s structure. For example, the last “verse” is really a composite of various song elements. Many of the songs on Rock Island play with verse-chorus-verse structure, but bend and alter it, often by having one or two different bridges or alternate, sometimes intertwining, sections.

While “Dog Milk” and “Color Code” are two favorites, I keep coming back to “Heavy Lifting.” And though the songs may have little to do with each other, I keep pairing it in my mind with the Talking Heads’ track “The Book I Read.” Both songs take quotidian objects and events, but say so much with that simplicity. “The book I read was in your eyes” has been a line that has stayed with me since I first heard it. Similarly, “Heavy Lifting” has lines like “Go out and let the cat in/Work out a plan to retire” or “You want more/Well, so do I (conditioned?) / The last one / I’ll ask you for.” Half of the song is a gorgeous, hypnotic intertwining of mostly instrumental parts. It reminds me of the “Na na na na” part of “The Book I Read” or the last third of “Found a Job,” David Byrne’s short instrumental section written as a tribute to Steve Reich–or at least meant to emulate some of Reich’s compositional techniques. These are short, meditative musical gifts big enough to live in.

While the lyrical content is more in line with the rest of the album, “Swimmer” sounds like the Residents covering “Kokomo.” It combines lyrics like “They’ll bend your eye’s ‘til all you can see is the sunshine” with electronic horn and percussion sounds that echo Residential soundscapes. 

Sometimes instrumentals feel out of place on rock/pop records, like unfinished songs. On Rock Island, the instrumentals contribute to the whole. The instrumental track “20664” opens with Eno-esque buzzing and synth before uneven hip hop electronic drums or drum triggers–that echo the opening of the album– take over the track. “Theme from Rock Island” features jangly guitars under a theme built on melodica or keyboard violin–or possibly triggers meant to sound like that. Either way, they have a breathy quality and the melodic sense of other vocal songs on the record.

Rock Island approaches at slants and angles that make it evocative, but hard to classify. Palm satisfyingly sounds like a coherent, unique whole, and not a solo project in waiting. It will be interesting to hear where they go next.

You can listen to and order Rock Island on Palm’s Bandcamp page. 


McClurg

Stephen McClurg (Episode 24) writes and teaches in Birmingham, Alabama. He co-hosts The Outrider Podcast, writes at Eunoia Solstice, and infrequently blogs. He has contributed music as a solo artist and with the group Necronomikids to past episodes of The Drunken Odyssey.