The ninety-seventh classical recording: #48 Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber - Mystery Sonatas

These sonatas are the earliest piece we've covered in a while and they feel from a different time. While later works start to pick up a certain sound, using string instruments (I believe it's from the continuo group if I read it correctly) that we heard in the very early works but disappears later to be replaced by heavier pianos. Here it adds an upbeat flavour that connects the music to earlier, less religious music, and while the pieces continue to have that meaning, they are also a big change from the harmonies that are present in more religious music. This feels more like a mix between the religious and secular.

There is a lot of variation in these two hours of music, dominated by violin performances. As a collection, it makes good use of different instruments to lend a different feeling to each of the works as it goes through these emotions with an ear for change while keeping a lot of the work consistent. It's a nice collection of sonatas with some variety in there, and I can see how this would have been leading in its day.


The eighty-ninth comic: #467 Torpedo 1936

I sometimes love stories about antihero, people who aren't a traditional hero but that you end up following through their story, if not rooting for. The line between one and someone who becomes repulsive can be thin, though, and Torpedo 1936 goes too far off the wrong end.

The most egregious examples are several instances of rape as a payment for a hitjob he's done, which feel unnecessary and over the top, and are the biggest crime in the series completely failing to build any empathy for the character. He's a dick, he seems to delight in killing as many as possible and it's all probably pretty realistic, but doesn't make for anything approaching a good comic. It'd be good if that changed, but as it is this feels like a comic to avoid.


The two hundred and fourty-seventh album: #247 Curtis Mayfield - Superfly

While I haven't watched the blaxploitation film Super Fly, I've seen the similar Shaft and listened to its soundtrack. The soul of Superfly isn't quite as good - although that might be because I don't have the movie to compare it to which may make it shine by comparison.

A lot of it, even with the vocals there, comes down to a sound that goes to the background, with this sounding like supporting music rather than music that stays in the foreground. It has some decent riffs, but the strength is in the vocals that aren't used for the movie, telling a rather uglier, more depressing story that doesn't approve of the protagonist as much. In that sense, the story it's telling is a lot more welcome and mostly works really well in its context.

It works with those goals in mind, but is hardly exceptional in what it does. It's a fine album to listen to, but little more than that something that here is certainly a matter of taste


The eighty-eighth comic: #901 Sardine in Outer Space

I have to say that in this case, dealing with a comic that's clearly not aimed at me is quite frustrating. I'm sure that it's fine in its category, but it's hard to see how this comic aimed at young kids is that important. The jokes are obviously kid friendly, following an anarchic set up of naughty jokes, kids being naughty and all of that enabled by the fun parent. What really gets to me is that the entire story line is immediate, throwing in sudden changes and expectations and just feeling unfulfilling. It is as if it's written by a five year olds - including their sudden "but they win because of this new thing" twists - which ultimately feels unsatisfying.

I'm sure it works for the target audience, but as a comic on a list of recommendations, it doesn't hold up.


The eighty-seventh comic: #572 Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga

On some level, Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga has shades of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, in that it tries to break down the comic in a meta fashion. However, where the latter focuses on breaking down the medium, analyzing it and trying to say something about the art form, Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga has a more down to earth, almost exploitative bend in the way it talks about drawing manga. The focus is more on creating a comic that's popular and will sell, without going deeper. While that works for the comedy (as over the top puerile as it is sometimes) it means getting lost in technical details that get a bit bewildering for a Western audience.

Ultimately, it means the comic is fun - really good from the start - but loses steam as it gets to some in depth genre 'analysis' (how do I reach the biggest audience, usually with some sexual undertones) that just doesn't appeal quite as much. Still a worthwhile read, but it's a concept that stretches itself just a bit too thin.


The two hundred and fourty-sixth album: #246 Neil Young - Harvest

The potential in folk and country rock is one where musically, it keeps itself a bit more contained - there can be more going on, but it avoids screeching guitars as well as the musically 'full' wall of sound. Not necessarily a man and his guitar, but while there's an orchestra on some of these tracks, it doesn't dominate. The connection you get with the work is more personal, from the vocals and what is there getting its hooks into you.

While Neil Young's technique follows these elements, I haven't actually felt a connection with the music in this album. For a large part, he appeals towards a sense of Americana in the lyrics that I don't connect with, the country roots of the music shining through in a way that's not aimed at me. The songs are good, proficient in what they do and they're an easy enough listen (probably helped by them not seeming that political compared to others in the genre), but ultimately the lack of real consequences makes them feel hollow, while not having anything else that grasps me. It's a fine album, but doesn't seem to reach the heights I'd expect.


The one hundred and fifty-third TV show: #366 Neighbours

Here's another soap - I'm trying to get through them a bit - but rather than the British ones I've mostly seen so far, this is an Australian series. It's a show that skews young - a lot of it seems to revolve around showing off a bunch of hot young people and the problems they get into, while mostly living the sort of middle class lifestyle that leads to and almost requires more complex storylines - amnesia from boiler explosions, charity sales to cover debts while pretending it's for underprivileged kids... I'll be honest, I found it hard to connect, even more than the other soaps I've covered here. Beyond that, it's a case of different people, same problems, made up to the standards you expect from a soap, but I personally I don't really get it.


The ninety-sixth classical recording: #627 Sergei Rachmaninov - The Bells

While originally based on a poem, setting it to music, more interesting is how this work explores the four different moods that resonate with the different bells reference - the cosy, communal feeling of sleigh bells, the formal and almost menacing sound of wedding bells that fades towards the angelic, the loud and imposing alarm bells clearly causing panic and ending with the mournful bells at the end. It's a simple story structure but works well as an arc of emotions

These four movements are supported by different vocalists, a different sound of the music, and some use of the glockenspiel, bells and other percussion instruments that give the sound of these bells. They are mostly used as emphasis, rather than dominating the work, but feel like a nice and welcome relief - I always feel they're a bit underused. Even so, the emotions and feelings created by these bells resonate through the work.


The eighty-sixth comic: #449 Akira

I knew of Akira through the movie adaptation before the manga, probably like most, and coming at a comic from that angle is interesting. Having seen its post apocalyptic world animated prepared me for a number of the beats - mostly at the start and end of the work, which follow similar beats. They set up a destroyed Tokyo after a big explosion, the military research program that goes in with them, and at the end it tracks some parts. It looks like that end was written after the movie was made - an ending that feels relatively abrupt following the longer exploration of the shows, and it's hard not to feel Katsuhiro Otomo was done with the series at that point

What lies in between those two sections are arguably as interesting, if not more so. While we start in a dystopian Neo Tokyo run as a police state, with gangs roaming the street, we see the government driven out in favour of a regime led by Tetsuo as a supernatural force, with the titular Akira as a figurehead. He doesn't necessarily have as active a role in the story, but there's that doubt in the background on how much control he exerts indirectly when we find out he could communicate telepathically.

It takes its time, working out the many battles and the ebb and flow of power in the former capital, while at the same time Americans (or an international force) come in to take back the capital as well. Several factions are at play, and while we never get a scene of them coming together, there's a lot to keep track of there that switches who gets to do what. In the end, though, that fades away for the ultimate battle, but the lead up to it is tense and interesting enough. It's a great mix of places, shifting from a gritty gang dominated world to a Mad Max style world, resolving itself in a body horror disaster movie with art that seems to move in my mind as I see it, drawn that fluidly.

Slightly rushed ending aside - it feels like it drops a couple of threads in favour of an ending that reinforces the dystopian nature - it's an interesting journey to go on with several characters, seeing them grow and build in this world, without a great attempt to improve or fix it - it's to exist and make a good place for yourself while helping others. There's an independence in it that's fascinating, and a slight bleakness that it can't quite overcome.


The two hundred and fourty-fifth album: #245 Steely Dan - Can't Buy A Thrill

Sometimes you don't really realise what you're missing in the albums until you hear them, and Steely Dan is just hitting that spot - a pleasant soft rock album, nothing extravagant but just cruising along to a gentle sound. That doesn't mean there's no energy to the performance - it's there, and something like Reelin' In The Years really adds some pep to your step, but it's not as extravagant. The poppy sound, with some country influences, is incredibly pleasant to listen to and I'd happily have kept it on for longer.

It sounds like this is a sound that might get more elaborate, and I've got three more albums to see how it goes, but at this point the lack of big production, a focus on simpler lyrics and sounds, is welcome.