Thursday, June 30, 2011

Feeding Ground #5

Written by Swifty Lang
Art by Michael Lapinski

I was very happy to see another issue of this cool werewolf/illegal migration story, especially since the creator seemed to use the gap between issues to really perfect their craft; this is the clearest issue of the book so far in terms of storytelling.

Feeding Ground is about a family that works to help migrants cross into America from Mexico, and the paramilitary organization that operates in the area and is a front for a werewolf pack (would that be the right term?).  This issue has the family separated, as Flaca, the young daughter who has been infected and turned, is taken to the Blackwell compound, while her mother and brother continue their crossing after being helped by the Border Patrol agents who survived the werewolf attack with them.

Miguel, the main character of the book, is having a much rougher go than the rest, as he continues to cross through the desert on foot.  He's pretty delirious, and Lang and Lapinski make good use of the comics medium to show us things from his perspective.  It's a pretty trippy scene, and I thought it worked quite well.

This has been an interesting series, as it attempts to recast a typical horror set-up in a setting with political and social relevance.  It's pretty cool, and I like that they include a Spanish version of the comic on the flip-side for no extra cost.

The Secret History Book Fifteen: The Amber Room

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

Okay, is it a cash flow problem at Archaia that causes their translated, previously published books to be so late?  It's been ages since we've last seen an issue of The Secret History, and watch - there's going to be another one in two weeks or so; there would pretty much have to be, if they plan on catching up with their publication schedule, as they still solicit this book like it's a monthly, even though they are about six months behind schedule.

Anyway, it's The Secret History.  It's always good, if pretty confusing.  This issue is concerned with the beginnings of the Cold War, as the American and Soviet occupying forces continue to try to extract as many powerful artifacts out of Germany as they can.  This time around, the object of desire is an 'amber room', which does some stuff I didn't fully understand.  Among the players in this issue are a group of Jewish partisans who walked across Nazi Germany, fighting for their lives the whole way.

As always, Pécau does an incredible job of weaving his fictional world into our historical record, and Kordey continues to draw the hell out of the book.  I do wish that the pace would pick up a little, but I enjoy reading this series (when it's published).

Blokhedz Vol. 1: Genesis

Written by Mark Davis, Mike Davis, and Brandon Schultz
Art by Mark Davis

I started picking up the Blokhedz mini-series when it debuted back in 2004.  I've long felt that there is nowhere near enough hip-hop in comics (and no, I'm not counting the garbage put out under Wu-Tang Clan's imprimatur) and I wanted to support this book.  The only problem was that it was hella difficult to find, and I never did get a hold of the final issue.  Even though this trade was published a while ago, I only just found it recently, and was happy to finally take this book off my list.

Blokhedz is about Blak, a teenager with lyrical skills, who is growing up in Empire City.  Picture Gotham City, if the entire place was housing projects, and you'd get an idea of what Empire looks like.  He wants to become a famous rapper, and struggles with wanting to remain true to his conscious roots, and taking the commercial route and glorifying his brother Konzaquence's past misdeeds.  Blak gets into conflict with Vulture, the local king of hip-hop (who looks a lot like Ja Rule), his brother is killed, and the story starts meandering all over the place, involving some super abilities, a lion medallion, and the spiritual influence of Empire City's projects being built over Aboriginal graves.

In other words, the book suffers from too many ideas being crammed into too short a space.  The first issue is terrific at establishing Blak's character and his inner conflict, but from there, the trio of writers lose focus.  There are too many elements introduced that don't really work - the police officer with a cyborg arm, the motorized tricycle chase scene, and the demonic record company executive just get in the way of what could have been a very good little comic.

I don't know if the Davis brothers have written any other comics since Blokhedz.  If they have, I've never laid eyes on it, which is too bad, because they are very talented.  With a strong editor, this could have been a very good book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mission #5

Written by Jon Heober and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werther Dell'Edera

I really haven't seen this series get much love on the internet, and that's a huge mistake, as The Mission is continuing to evolve into one of the most interesting comics that I read every month.  Basically, this successful business and family man named Paul has been recruited into a mysterious war between the forces of good and evil by a man named Gabriel.

So far, Paul has killed a couple of people, stolen an ancient artifact, and had to lie to his wife and employers repeatedly.  Now, having lost the artifact he stole last issue, having been threatened with divorce from his wife and the loss of his job, Paul decides to stop following Gabriel's instructions.  What he doesn't know, however, is that there will be serious consequences to his decision for both himself and his children.

I like the way the Hoeber's write the scene in the doctor's office where Paul learns just what will happen if he doesn't continue with his mission.  His arrogance at knowing his fate disappears completely once his children enter the equation.  Dell'Edera draws the scene wonderfully.

The Mission really has my interest right now.  We know so little about the nature of the war that Paul has become involved in, and why he was chosen.  I appreciate that we have been seeing things from his perspective alone, and look forward to having more revealed as the series continues.  If you are looking for a new, intelligent and taut thriller, you should give this series a try.

All Nighter #1

by David Hahn

I picked this up on the strength of David Hahn's name, and found it to be just about exactly what I expected.  All Nighter fits in the college kid slacker genre of indie comics, alongside books like Wet Moon, New York Four, and Forgetless, among others.

The series starts Kit, a girl about to enter art school who is living on her own (with friends) for the first time, and is looking to dump her long-time on again off again boyfriend Dwayne.  They hang out at a diner locally known as the All Nighter, and Dwayne convinces her to help him on a break-in job, which is something they used to do frequently.

Most of the issue is spent introducing us to Kit, her best friend Sally-O, her family, and other roommate.  Hahn sets up a few plot elements that will provide direction going forward, such as introducing a potential roommate, and having Kit refer a few times to how she is responsible for her mother's death.  This book is interesting, and Hahn's artwork is always nice to look at, but there's not much about it that makes it stand out yet.  I'm curious enough to stick around though, and I hope it does more to differentiate itself moving forward.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fables #106

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

It's hard to tell, reading this issue, which concludes the 'Super Team' arc, and finishes off the long-running plot line revolving around Mr. Dark, if Willingham had written himself into a corner, or had always intended to end it thus.  You see, in the first few pages of the book, Mr. North decides to attack Dark, and already has made plans to box him again, with the help of Frau Totenkinder and her new husband.

It seems like a pretty quick and easy ending for a storyline that has taken a couple of years to tell, and in a lot of ways, it feels like a cop out.  This is mitigated by some excellent character work immediately afterward, as Willingham checks in on a number of the book's more prominent cast members, and drops a few hints that whatever is going to happen next, is going to involve Rose Red in a pretty big way.

This issue is an example of how cutting two story pages has hurt a few DC comics; specifically, it's hard to imagine that something as momentous as what happened in this issue would take place without getting the reaction of Gepetto, who does not appear in this issue.

Dark Horse Presents #2

Written by Paul Chadwick, Robert Love, David Walker, Neal Adams, Carla Speed McNeil, Howard Chaykin, Michael T. Gilbert, Patrick Alexander, Chuck Brown, Richard Corben, and David Chelsea

Art by Paul Chadwick, Robert Love, Neal Adams, Carla Speed McNeil, Howard Chaykin, Michael T. Gilbert, Patrick Alexander, Sanford Greene, Richard Corben, and David Chelsea

It's pretty difficult to look at an anthology like DHP, which has no unifying theme, as a single, whole entity.  It's easier to break it down into its components and review them individually.  I will say that I still wish there was more originality to the book - as much as I love things like Concrete and stories by Richard Corben, I'd like to read the next big thing even more.

Concrete - I'm always happy to read a new Concrete story, although I thought this one was kind of strange, with its hinting that the aliens that made Concrete could be returning, and Maureen's explorations of the roots of religion.  I think it should have been a bit longer, but mostly that's because I'd much prefer a new Concrete mini-series.

Number 13 - This appears to be a pretty cool post-apocalyptic story about a young kid who is a cyborg or bioweapon or something, and the three-eyed girl he rescues from an ogre.  There's not much more than establishment going on here, but it's pretty interesting.

Blood - I'm not sure why Neal Adams thinks that he should be writing without some help.  This story shifts from what looked like a crime-fighting thing to a combination of The Secret History and I Am Legion, but not as good.  Just wordy.  Adams's terrific art does not make up for the story.

Finder - The Finder stories in this series so far are becoming favourites of mine.  It's the first I've read of McNeil's series (I do have the Voice graphic novel in my to-read pile), so while I'm not sure of the context, I am finding it amusing to explore her world through the eyes of a courier.

Marked Man - This is still not doing it for me (mostly because of Chaykin's art, which is better here than his recent New Avengers work), but I found the second chapter of this 'career criminal as family man' story to be better than the first.

Mr. Monster - I find this kind of thing unreadable, and therefore did not read it.  I'm still impressed with myself for making it through the first chapter...

The Wraith - This is also not really kind of thing - I guess it's cute, but it doesn't fit with the rest of the stuff in this book.

Rotten Apple - Now this is a new entry that has some promise.  Brown and Greene are building an interesting world populated by rival zombie gangs, religious orders, and cartoon animal mercenaries.  I think that this would have benefited from more space to build the setting, but I like Greene's art and am curious to see where the story goes.

Murky World: The Treasure - Richard Corben stories don't have to make a lot of sense, because they are always so well-drawn.  This chapter has our hero get tricked by the women he helped last time, and we meet a gigantic monstrous cabbie.  This is good stuff.

Snow Angel - In the first issue, I found this story to be pretty charming, but this chapter is just kind of cute.  I can see getting tired of Snow Angel - a girl who gains powers when she lies in the snow.

DMZ #66

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

It's been a while since we've seen what's going on with Zee, the character who has more or less functioned as the conscience of this series since we, and main character Matty Roth, first met her back at the beginning of Matty's time in the DMZ.

Since splitting with Matty, Zee has been living with Martel, the girl Matty rescued from Trustwell, the Halliburton stand-in that was one of the plagues the people in he DMZ have had to endure.  As this issue opens, Martel leaves, and Zee finds herself examining her stubborn persistence in the city.  It's true that she comes from New York, and so can't go home, but still she struggles with the notion of abandoning her medical work, and leaving the city to its fate.

While she goes through this conversation with herself, the reader is treated to a number of flashbacks to different moments over the last five years as she revisits her relationship with Matty.  I like that DMZ has run in real time, covering such a long stretch of time in the life of the city and its inhabitants.  There is only one arc left before this series ends, and so it's fitting that Brian Wood take a moment to look in on one of the most important characters in the book.

Before finishing here, I want to comment on how wonderful John Paul Leon's covers have been for this book, since he took over from Wood.  This issue's cover is among the best he's done.

Chicanos Vol. 1

Written by Carlos Trillo
Art by Eduardo Risso

Over the last couple of months, I've amassed a number of graphic novels by the team of the recently deceased Carlos Trillo and collaborator Eduardo Risso.  I've been buying these books on the strength of Risso's unconventional art, but haven't read anything by this team beyond the first chapter of their Vampire Boy (the nice new Dark Horse edition of which is on my 'to-read' pile).

Anyway, Chicanos is an interesting project.  It was clearly serialized in short installments when it was first published in Europe, as each story is pretty short.  For whatever reason, when designing this trade paperback, the people at IDW decided to place the various short stories that make up the book in a continuous stream of pages, with the effect that it's sometimes confusing to read the book in prolonged sittings.

Chicanos stars AY Jalisco, a short, pencil-legged, over-endowed Latina private detective operating in what I assume is New York.  Poor Jalisco is pretty bumbling and clueless a lot of the time, as she stumbles from case to case or problem to problem.  She doesn't have many friends or clients, and spends too much time stuck in her own head.  None of this stops her from going up against mobsters time and again.

It's interesting to see how this European comic portrays Jalisco and the people that make up her mostly-Latino neighbourhood.  To begin with, I don't think many poor New Yorkers have bidets in their bathroom, but Jalisco does (minor point, but it really stood out as being strange).  Also, it's hard to believe that there has been a period in the last twenty years where anti-Chicano sentiment and prejudice has been as virulent as it is shown here.  This book implies that Latinos live under Jim Crow-like conditions, where they can't even enter the front door of hotels, let alone hail a cab (that one being more believable).

Still, Chicanos is a frequently funny and engaging comic.  Risso's art is always brilliant, if never beautiful.  It's interesting to look at his pre-100 Bullets work and see how his style has developed and been refined.  I will be looking for Volume 2 of this title, and am glad that the two books are connected, but are not exactly continuations of each other.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Midnight Sun

by Ben Towle

This small graphic novel was the last purchase I made at TCAF this year, and I'm very glad I picked it up.  Midnight Sun is the fictionalized account of the rescue of the crew of the airship Italia.  In 1928, an Italian known as General Nobile (despite not being in the armed forces) captained an attempt to reach the North Pole by airship.  They achieved their goal, but crashed shortly afterward.

In Towle's telling, which differs from the historical reality in a number of ways (strangely, the real story is more complex and bizarre than ever could have been fit into a book like this), a group of survivors set up a camp on an ice flow, and attempt to reach possible rescuers through the use of their radio.  After a while, a small group decides to walk south to land before the ice breaks up.

The story of these two groups is told alongside the story of HR, a New York reporter sent by his boss to cover the rescue operations.  HR is aboard a Russian icebreaker attempting to reach the men, and he doesn't have much to do.  He eventually makes friends with a Russian female journalist whose fiance was on the Italia.

Towle has a good eye for building character and suspense, and tells this story very well.  I especially liked the Swedish Air Force pilot who, in attempting to rescue some of the men on the ice, himself becomes stranded with them.  Towle's artwork reminds me a great deal of Scott Chantler's - had I not known better, I would have sworn he drew this book.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Northlanders #41

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Marian Churchland

There is a lot to love about this comic.  First, the art for this done-in-one story is provided by Marian Churchland, who is a remarkable up-and-comer who is not getting nearly the amount of recognition she deserves.  Her graphic novel Beast, and her work on Elephantmen have been brilliant, and it's terrific to see her on a book like Northlanders.  Her art is complimented perfectly on this issue by colourist Dave McCaig - in fact, I thought she had done the colours herself.

The story in this issue is also terrific.  Birna Thorsdottir is a fourteen year old girl who has grown up the only child of the local lord in the Outer Hebrides in 990 AD.  She's never been off the island she was born on, and when her father dies suddenly, is forced to step up to defend her home and her title to it.

Northlanders is frequently the most literary title that Vertigo publishes.  Wood writes such amazingly tight, little stories in this book that resonate deeply with modern readers, despite being set in a time few people are familiar with.  He is able to construct complex characters in a short span, and make the reader care about them.

I was sad to see the news last week that Northlanders is going to be canceled.  Truly, it's not much of a surprise when any Vertigo book is canceled these days, but it is disappointing that a book like this doesn't attract a wider readership.  Still, I can't wait to dive into the Icelandic Trilogy, which will see the book to its conclusion.

Undying Love #3

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

I really like the way that Coker and Freedman have set up and are telling this vampire story.  The first two issues introduced the main characters, an American soldier and an Asian vampire woman, and the plot, which involves him trying to hunt down the vampire that turned her so she can be freed of the curse.  What we didn't know though, through those first two issues, is just what the relationship between these two characters was.

This issue opens in a desert in Syria, and shows how the two first met.  A lot is done in this issue to establish the strength of the bond between them, while also setting up the second half of the series.  John and his squad free the woman from a group of Bedouin vampires that are holding her captive, and they feel compelled to stay together after that.  It's clear that Coker and Freedman put a fair amount of thought into this book, in making it distinct from the hundreds of other vampire-related media that seems to pour out of every TV, movie theatre, and book and comic store these days.

Of course, with the art being as good as Coker's is, the good writing can be viewed as icing on the cake.  I'm glad I gave this series a shot.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #5

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

Reading this issue, I couldn't help but think that, for someone who has had centuries to perfect her skills in the art of spycraft, Cindy is not doing such a good job in this series.  The flashback sequence set in 1986 has her failing her objective, and not capture Dorothy Gale, while things in the present day go even worse.  Perhaps this is all part of a grander scheme, but given some of the events of this issue, that really does not seem likely.

Cinderella has been hunting Dorothy, at the request of Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool), one of the Russian Fables that we only learned about at the start of this series.  When the issue begins, Cindy and Ivan are prisoners of Dorothy's minions - a bunch of spoons and a see-through glass cat.  They're in an airship flying over the Deadly Desert of Oz, although they do make good their escape.

This Cinderella series has been a lot of fun.  I've been enjoying the flashbacks and McManus's artwork a great deal, although I kind of think that perhaps five issues, and a little more density of plotting, would have been better.

Graveyard of Empires #1

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

I made the decision to order this comic based on three things.  Mark Sable and Paul Azaceta's Grounded was a very enjoyable take on the young superhero; the solicitation in Previews said something about it being a war comic (I don't read solicitations when I know I like a creative team); and finally, that cover is awesome.  The point being that I didn't really know what this book was going to be, and so the surprise at the end of this issue was something I didn't see coming until just moments before it happened.  That's something I always appreciate in comics, even when the big event is also the premise of another Image series right now...

Still, this is a good comic.  It is set in Afghanistan, although I'm not sure exactly where or during which phase of America's involvement in that country since 9/11.  There is a small base that is in a precarious position - the soldiers' CO is using heroin, and locals attack with mortars and small arms fire constantly, not to mention that there are a lot of suicide bombers about.  The soldiers are unhappy, and tend to fall into the usual categories of soldiers that we see in books like this (one is a noob, another is ready to kill anyone, etc.).

A new lieutenant shows up, and promises to make changes, tightening security, but also looking to engage the locals through the payment of restitution, the offering of medical aid, and a desire for a shura - a sit down meeting with local elders.  When his new policies immediately result in the death of a few of his soldiers, the others aren't too happy about it.  Then some stuff I'm not going to talk about happens, and it becomes clear where this series is headed.

Sable clearly has a strong sense of how things work in the military, and in Afghanistan.  Everything here fits with the articles and books I've read about this conflict, and I always admire authenticity (until that thing happens).  Azaceta's art has evolved quite a bit.  Previously, I saw him as being squarely in the Mike Mignola school of art, but this issue has more of a Daredevil-era David Mazzuchelli feel to it (high praise indeed).  I'm definitely sticking through the rest of this four-issue mini-series.

Wet Moon Book 3: Further Realms of Fright

by Ross Campbell

I'm a little surprised by just how engrossed I find myself getting in the Wet Moon books.  These are manga-ish books about a group of poly-sexual punk, goth, and emo college kids who live in a small town somewhere in the American south.  They go to concerts, hang out, make out, talk a lot, whine in their diaries or on livejournal, gossip, and occasionally lose a pet cat.  And as soon as I start one of these books, I'm barely able to put it down until it's finished.

Finishing this third volume puts me over the half-way mark in the series, as Cleo decides that she is dating Myrtle, and even starts to tell her friends about it, and causes a scene at a concert.  Her friend Trilby starts being nicer, and is revealed as a closet Star Trek fan (in the funniest sub-plot of the whole series).  Some stuff happens with some of the other characters too, but it's all kind of ephemeral.

The real appeal of this series is the artwork.  I think, if Campbell didn't make these girls (and the odd male character) so visually interesting, unique, and representative of real womens' body shapes, that this book would not be so appealing.  Were it drawn by a more conventional comic artist (pick any superhero book from the Big Two off the stand, and imagine the artist drawing this book) I think I would not be able to get through the series at all.  Just now, flipping through this book and imagining it being drawn by someone like Dan Jurgens, is actually a pretty funny thing.

I don't know if this book is based on people that Campbell knows, but his characters feel pretty real, in the way in which they change their minds, go back on their word, or generally interact with others.  There are some very ominous scenes involving Myrtle, and I'm looking forward to finding out what is going on with her.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Collected And Then One Day Vol. 1

by Ryan Claytor

I have a friend who writes and posts on Facebook a daily haiku.  More often than not, they are about food, beer, or coffee, but taken as a whole (there are over 500 of them written so far), they become a substantive chronicle of his everyday existence.  What does that have to do with this small book, which collects the first four mini-comics in Ryan Claytor's series?  Almost this entire book reminded me of my friend's haiku.

Each page in this book is a strip that represents, in some way, a day in Claytor's life.  Many of them, especially in the first half of the book, are kind of banal and quotidian, but are also very charming and affirming.  Claytor is a pretty happy guy, and even though, at the start of the book (Spring 2004) he is still living with his parents and struggling to land a full-time teaching job, he maintains a positive outlook on a life that he shares with family and friends.

Last summer I met Claytor when he came to Toronto, and I bought and read the eighth book in his series (I got this first one at TCAF this year when he returned to TO).  That issue is a book-length discussion of the role of autobiography, and it's pretty dense.  It's interesting to me to see where he has taken his original idea, of chronicling his life, and has used to explore some pretty academic areas.  Both books are quite enjoyable (for different reasons), and Claytor himself is a great guy.  You can check out his work at his website.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Through Black Spruce

by Joseph Boyden

Boyden's Through Black Spruce is a powerful and fitting follow-up to his first, incredible novel, Three Day Road.  It continues to chronicle the lives of the Bird family, focusing on Will Bird (son of the main character of Three Day Road), and his niece Annie.  The story unfolds through the use of a double narrative.

When the book opens, Will is in a coma in a hospital in Moose Factory (in far Northern Ontario), and Annie sits with him each day, speaking to him to try to bring him out of it.  Annie tells her story to her uncle, and he, in his coma, narrates his own story to both Annie and her missing sister, Suzanne.

Suzanne went south with her troubled boyfriend Gus Netmaker a while ago, and seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth.  When Annie's friend wins a little money, they travel to Toronto together to look for her.  Annie has some problems in Toronto, and meets Gordon, a mute homeless man, also First Nations, who stays with her, serving as her protector as she travels to Montreal, and then to New York, picking up jobs as a model (her sister's profession) and slowly learning about the dangers Suzanne placed herself in.

At the same time as Annie was moving south, Will was having his own problems with one of the Netmakers; Marius, one of the brothers, had singled Will out as having informed on Gus to the RCMP, and began exacting revenge.  Marius and his friends beat him, and tried to firebomb his house, among other acts of intimidation.  This in turn led Will to commit an extreme act, and then remove himself to the bush, to hunt and trap through a fall and winter.

Boyden has his characters narrate their tales in sparse, straight-forward language that slowly works a spell on the reader, until he or she is utterly consumed by Will and Annies' stories.  He is at home describing New York nightlife as he is the intricacies of trapping beaver alongside a frozen pond.  I found myself relating better to Will and his story, but found this book engrossing.  I like that, while not shying away from the problems that consume Canada's Native communities, this book is ultimately more about character and resilience than it is about circumstance.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story

by Brian Michael Bendis

This is one funny comic.  While still an 'indie comics' guy, Marvel's current head writer found himself on Hollywood's radar.  His book Goldfish (which is excellent) seemed like an easy fit for Hollywood, and with interest in comic book movies growing, and Bendis's indie cred on the rise, things looked very good for him.  Until he actually had to start dealing with Hollywood execs, that is.

This comic follows Bendis through this time of his life where he is taking calls from people who claim to love his work, and then admit to having never read it.  He meets with executives who want to talk about Rob Liefeld's popularity, or want to cast Pauly Shore as Goldfish.  Eventually, it becomes clear to all involved that the movie is never going to happen.

But right at that same time, Bendis, along with Marc Andreyko, begin working on Torso, their incredible comic about a serial killer in Cleveland who is hunted by Elliott Ness.  They decide to pitch this as a movie as well, and once again, Bendis (this time with Andreyko in tow) is subjected to some hilariously confusing meetings.

This book works because, instead of betraying anger towards the system, Bendis keeps the tone bemused and philosophical.  It's clear that, as much as he would like to see one of these movies get made, he is not investing himself in the process too emotionally (or, if he is, he decided not to portray that in the comic).  This is a frequently funny and insightful piece of work, which also serves as a good reminder of why I wish Bendis was working on his own projects more these days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Atmosphere Storybook Vol. One

Concepted by Plain Ole Bill and Kevin Beacham

I got this compilation free when I ordered the new Atmosphere album, 'The Family Sign', from Fifth Element, the Minneapolis store that is connected to Rhymesayers Entertainment, home to Atmosphere.

This 22-track collection highlights some of the best of Atmosphere's work over the last fourteen years, including two exclusive new tracks, and fun mash-up of De La Soul's 'Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa Claus' and Atmosphere's homage 'Millie Fell Off the Fire Escape'.

Essential to any Atmosphere collection are 'Always Coming Back Home to You' from the '03 album Seven's Travels, and 'Painting' off of When Life Gives You Lemons.  A lot of space here is given over to songs from the hard-to-find Sad Clown series of EPs, and some of the band's more recent limited releases.

As with any project of this nature, the omissions feel more important than what is actually present, but if you were ever hoping to introduce a new listener to Slug and Ant, this is a great way to do it.  It's interesting to be able to chart Slug's progress from a slightly hysteric, often whiny self-reflective rapper (I've never heard the band's first album, Overcast, aside from the track included here) to the more nuanced and calmer storyteller that he has become.  It's also cool to hear how much more advanced Ant's music has become over the same period of time.

Life Stories

by Ebo Taylor

This album is sub-titled 'Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980', and it brings together, on two discs, sixteen classics from this early pioneer of the Afrobeat movement.

Taylor, a guitarist, worked with a number of different bands over the years, and this release has worked to find some of the common threads of his music across a number of different projects.  What we return to time and again is his desire to marry contemporary jazz with the sounds of highlife, creating music that was often ahead of its time, and therefore not too popular in his native Ghana or in the rest of West Africa.

Many of these songs retell local legends, making them allegories that comment on greed and the desire of the ruling class to profit on the backs of the people.  He also tells stories about his own problems with marriage ('Love and Death'), and a local man who committed incest ('Egya Edu').  The pieces collected here range in length from a radio-friendly few minutes to pieces that top 7, 8, 10, or even 15 minutes.

This is an essential piece of a good music library.