Monday, September 29, 2008

Beer Review: Redhook's Late Harvest Ale

OK, I'll keep this short and sweet (for once), because it's late, I'm going on 3.5 hours of sleep, but I'm bound and determined to get three posts up this month.

Fall is possibly my favorite time of the year to get seasonal brews. I like my hoppy IPAs in the summer and my lighter beach beers, but fall is when the malty beers come out. Pumpkin ales are very hit or miss--I generally try one new pumpkin ale a year and 2/3 of the time I'm disappointed because it tastes more like pie than beer. The so-called "Oktoberfest" beers tend to be a bit sketchy, too. But there are still plenty of rich, flavorful beers to be found, such as Redhook's Late Harvest Ale.

This is a relatively new seasonal for Redhook, which helpfully has breweries on the west coast and the east (though the Late Harvest is apparently an east coast exclusive). Pouring a dark amber with little head, this tasty ale uses a number of specialty malts: Crystal, German Smoked Munich, Caramel, and Smoked. I'm not going to bore you with my usual stats (all of which you can find on the website), I'll just say this is a delicious beer that deserves a tasting. You definitely get a sense of the caramel and hints of coffee and chocolate. It's by no means a sweet beer, and the web site suggest pairings with grilled burgers and other tailgate cuisine. But I'm having mine for dessert, all by it's lonesome. Redhook's seasonals are often quite good--with the possible exception of the disappointing Copperhook--and the Late Harvest is a nice gateway beer into the always satisfying Winterhook.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

EJP's Comics Primer, Pt. 5: Fables, Conclusion

Bill Willingham's Fables
I'm saving one of my favorites for last in my little comics primer. Fables is a great comic for anyone who's just too lazy to become engaged in new characters. You know these characters already. Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, King Cole, Prince Charming, Goldilocks...think of a character from a (public domain) fable, fairy tale, or nursery rhyme, and Willingham has probably incorporated that person or creature into his story.

OK, so the premise isn't exactly ground-breaking. Neil Gaiman used his fair share of mythological and literary figures in The Sandman series, but Fables takes things to a new level. As with most series of this length (the 11th TPB will be released later this fall), there is a long term story arc and lots of smaller story lines scattered about. The main arc focuses on the immortal--or nearly immortal-- Fables, who live in our world (the world of the Mundies) as refugees from the Homelands, which were usurped by the mysterious Adversary. The Fables who can pass as human live in a small neighborhood (Fabletown) in New York City; the not-so-human live on The Farm in upstate New York.

I'm a sucker for what-if scenarios like this. What if Rose Red got up to some zany antics with Jack from Jack and the Beanstock fame? What if Prince Charming had to constantly deal with bumping into his ex-wives, Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty? Willingham has fun with the premise, giving a lot of well-known characters surprising personalities and putting them in increasingly odd situations. And it's definitely an adult comic, with a fair share of sex and violence (though no where near as much as The Boys). I've stayed engaged throughout the long series, and the latest TPB, "The Good Prince," was one of the best yet. The art, which is primarily by Mark Buckingham, is consistently good. Nothing too ground-breaking, but detailed enough to make it interesting.

Like Hellboy, Fables also has it's own spin-off comic, Jack of Fables. Jack the Giant Killer eventually got his own series, which is written at least partly by Willingham and co-written and drawn by a variety of others. Unlike the Hellboy spin-off B.P.R.D., which can actually be a lot more serious than the parent comic, Jack of Fables is a lot more light-hearted and a really fun read. It's most recent TPB, "The Bad Prince," also introduces a whole new plot element to the Fables world that I couldn't possibly describe here. You'll just have to check it out.

So that pretty much wraps up my comics primer. I've described all the comics I've been reading over the years, though I'm sure new ones will pop up in the future. It's not a lot compared to some, but it's probably more than your every day joe walking down the street. I wouldn't have put this much time and effort into describing my favorite comics if I didn't sincerely believe that this was a valid artistic/literary medium. Some of the best stories I've ever read, and some of the best art I've seen has come from the world of comic books.

If I've convinced even one comic naysayer to rethink the medium, or even drop a few bucks on a comic book, I'll have considered this a success. If I've guided someone who wanted to delve into the comics world but didn't know where to start, that's good, too. If you're either type of person, please let me know what you've tried, what you've liked, and what you haven't liked. Maybe someone else out there has some good suggestions for me. Thanks for reading my thought bubbles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Love Psychedelico: Annoying? Awesome? Annoyingly Awesome?

Love Psychedelico is one of the odder bands I've come to enjoy this year. This duo from Japan has apparently been all the rage in their home country and southeast Asia for a few years now. That's right, I said Japan and southeast Asia. It's my understanding that this is pretty general, Japan is the pariah of the Eastern world. Culturally, the country keeps to itself, and the rest of Asia likes it that way. But these rockn'rollers are changing that, and with the recent release of This Is Love Psychedelico in the U.S., they're now moving their way west.

With the exception of the Yoshida Brothers, who use ancient Japanese instruments in a crazy mixture of traditional and contemporary styles (and are pretty awesome), I haven't delved into the Japanese music scene all that much. Unfortunately, when I think Japanese music, I often think of the generic pop that plays in the background of a lot of anime (though perhaps MWC could point me toward some anime with good music?). LP is definitely a bit more western-sounding, and they definitely have a way with the hooks. When it comes to good hooks, I'm a hungry, hungry fish.

The lyrics are really the polarizing factor in these songs. They're basically a lot of Japanese words meshed not-so-seamlessly with Engrish. This basically means you won't understand half the lyrcis--unless, of course, you happen to read Japanese--and the other half are borderline hilarious. For example, listen to the English lyrics in the video below for "Standing Bird," an incredibly catchy song:

Did you listen? One string of relatively meaningless English phrases ends with a prolonged, sincerely sung "Breaking wiiiiind." I'm pretty sure this song isn't about farting, so I can only assume that this is an unfortunate misappropriation of an English phrase. Very few of the English lyrics make sense on this album, though few lyrics are as amusingly awkward as "Standing Bird." This will probably annoy a lot of people, but there's a large chunk of albums in my collection that I listen to for the music, and the lyrics are basically not that important. If these Love Psychedelico songs were exclusively in Japanese, I'd still listen to them.

My only quibble with a lot of these songs is that they're 1-2 minutes longer than they should be. Maybe the stories they tell in the lyrics, if they are stories, require that kind of song length. For western listeners, this is not profound stuff. It's rock candy, and it doesn't need to sit in my mouth quite this long. That said, I still recommend people check out some of their other tunes on their website(link at the top of the post). It might not blow your mind, but it'll get your head bopping. I'll call Love Psychedelico one of my guilty pleasures of the summer, and they're creeping into fall now, too.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Our Followers

So I added the "Followers" gadget to the sidebar. You know, for all both of this blog's followers. Considering the dearth of posting this summer, I guess we're lucky to have two.

Anyone have a good name for RB's L-C followers? The only thing I could could come up with off the top of my head was "The Camel Toes". That hardly seems appropriate, and it definitely doesn't reflect well on the thoughts swimming around the top of my head. It would probably increase the number of hits on the site dramatically, however.

Monday, September 1, 2008

EJP's Comics Primer, Pt. 4: The Umbrella Academy, Fray

Gerard Way's The Umbrella Academy
This entry into my primer is a bit of a departure for me in that I just finished reading the first and only TPB in this series yesterday (it just came out a few weeks ago). This first story arc in what appears to be a very promising series is called "Apocalypse Suite," and it was indeed pretty sweet.

For a Dark Horse comic, this series has received a fair amount of press, largely because Gerard Way is a member of a relatively famous band. I'm not going to mention the band because, from what I understand, it sucks, and it has no bearing on the quality of this comic whatsoever. This guy knows how to create characters and spin a good yarn, which is really all I care about. Here's the intro to the comic from the Dark Horse site, 'cuz I'm feeling a bit lazy:

"In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who'd previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, "To save the world."

These seven children form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again."

Sounds pretty cool, huh? It is. And one of my favorite aspects of this comic was that it plays out kind of like a season of "Lost" in that it creates as many questions as it does answers. There's basically a 20 year gap in the story, and for the most part we have no idea what happened in those 20 years. By the end of this first story arc, we don't even fully know what powers all the members of the academy have. There's plenty of room for speculation, and plenty of room to grow. There's also plenty of humor to balance out the action, and the writing reflects Hellboy a lot in that respect.

Which brings me to Gabriel Ba's art, which is pretty Mignola-esque. That's certainly not a bad thing. It's a bit more detailed than Mignola's work, but it's got the same gothic vibe that meshes well with the story. I mean, c'mon, tell me you're not dying to see what zombie-robot Gustav Eiffel looks like. And that's not even the weirdest surprise to pop up in this story.

For a first-timer, Way has done an amazing job, and I'm really looking forward to the next batch. The next series, "Dallas," doesn't start until November, however. Makes me wish the guy would quit his band and just work on his comic.

Joss Whedon's Fray
I'll get to the point on this one quickly: if you like Joss Whedon's writing and/or if you like the Buffyverse, you really need to read this comic. It's about a slayer named the future. So besides the usual vampire slaying and such, there's also flying cars and mutants.

That description alone should be enough for some people, but for those that still need convincing, I'll elaborate a bit. This was a limited run comic of 8 issues (though it was left quite open-ended), all of which were collected in the TPB pictured here. Much as he did with Firefly, Whedon has created a rich new bastardization of the English language for all the future folks to speak. He's really good at that kind of thing. The characters, especially Fray herself, are just as rich and well-fleshed out as any of your favorites from the TV show. And importantly, if anyone out there is actually reading the Buffy Season 8 comics (which, again, I highly recommend), you have to read this TPB to understand the current story arc. Finally, Karl Moline's artwork is excellent and brings Whedon's writing to life handily. I don't think JW could or would work with a crappy artist.

The only downside here is that it came out 5 years ago and there were never any more of them. And as I mentioned, the ending left a lot of loose ends. I suspect those are going to be taken care of in the current season 8 arc, or maybe Fray will start back up again as its own series. Either way, I'll be glad to see more of it.