Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Greenleaf: Trails and Passes / Sixpoint: Righteous / Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon

We're hitting our targets today. Riding on through and knowing that we've made the right decisions. Let's go.

Greenleaf: Trails and Passes
Small Stone Records

Small Stone Records has a lot of good bands on their roster... like "a lot-a lot". That being said; you must know that I love fuzz in all it's forms. Whether it be dirty alt-blues, stoner rock, doom or retro "classic" rock, Small Stone is really putting out music that's pumped directly into my comfort zone. In my opinion Sweden's Greenleaf is in the Top 5 of that roster easy. For a band that has gone through something like 4 lead singers their output is very reliable. Trails and Passes features Arvid Jonsson on vocals. He's sort of got mix between Dan Aurbach of the Black Keys, (when he still sang with some conviction), and Graveyard's Joakim Nilsson. A perfect blend of soulful crooning and rock n' roll punch allows him to fit right in with the stoner/retro rock of Greenleaf. This is not the steady nod of a lot of stoner rock bands, no no no, Greenleaf bring the ruckus fast and furious to your speakers. Based more in the pacing of Deep Purple or Uriah Heap there are some slower moments but for the most part there is a pretty good gallop and energy to spare in all these songs. They also mix in some of the spaced out reverb and noise of modern psych giants like Dead Meadow to give everything a little more atmosphere and flow. You get from song to song here seamlessly. Nothing seems out of place or forced in any way. The rock just flows out of them like a river.

Trails and Passes kicks off with a steady blues riff and a some lightning fast snare strikes and thunderous tom work in "Our Mother Ash". While the entire band sounds like they're waiting to explode at the drop of a hat, the vocals are laid back and in the pocket smoothing the edges of the song and laying down a solid hook in the chorus. "Ocean Deep" follows up with an equally rambunctious drum beat but some hanging guitar chords that offset the tension brought by a more forceful vocal approach. This is the kind of dichotomy you can expect throughout the record. Sometimes within the different instruments during singular parts of a song and sometimes the entire band will change it's mood during the course of a song. The second side's opener "With Eyes Wide Open" maintains a somber spaciness and turns around into a full on pummeling chug. "Bound to be Machines" maintains a steady drum and bass gallop as the guitar and vocals flow in and out like the tides. All of these dynamics are thrown in to pretty simple rock formats. No long winded songs with continuous time changes and incessant noodling. This is straight ahead rock with a lot of thought put into it. The guitars soar and solo's are tasteful, the rhythm section pounds away a steady beat and the vocals are melodic and hooky. I'm probably oversimplifying it but at first listen that's what you're going to get for sure. As you go further down the rabbit hole that is Trails and Passes, nuances will bloom in your consciousness and you will see how full and intricate a record it is.

Sixpoint: Righteous 
Rye Ale
6.3% ABV

"They should be good men; their affairs as righteous: but all hoods make not monks." That is what is printed on cans of Sixpoint's hoppy red rye ale, Righteous. I'm no philosopher but I'm pretty sure that it means basically the same thing as "The clothes don't make the man". For a company who's motto or tagline or what-have-you is "Beer is Culture" the monk line seems a bit more fitting. Being that beer is the oldest and most consumed beverage in the world and that countries and regions and time periods all have their own styles of beer I'd say that yes, beer is in fact culture. Cultured or not, there is a lot for everyone to love about Sixpoint and especially Righteous.

The color of the beer is a hazy reddish-brown. If you hold it to the light it has a nice orangey glow but under most circumstances it will  appear to be quite dark. The nose is strong with caramel sweetness. This fits well with the color of a beer but the taste pushes that scent and color to the back of your mind right away. The smooth mouthfeel and medium body of the beer is littered with bitter hops from beginning to end. The colder the beer the more of the bitterness you're gong to get. The hop flavors are pretty standard IPA type flavors.You're not going to get a bg taste of pine or grapefruit from these hops but at the swallow there is a bright kick that sets it apart. The spicey rye malt flavors start to muscle their way in as the beer warms a bit and the hops also take on a bit of a sour fruit character. This may not take a long time on a hot day but if you're drinking in the comforts of your air-conditioned home you may have to let your beer breathe a little while if you want the full experience. Righteous may be a little bit too heavy and too big on the bitterness overall to be a daytime summer beer but I think after the sun goes down it's an easy go to and would be a solid choice.

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja & Javier Pulido
Marvel Comics
Ever wonder what it's like to be a super-hero with no super-powers and no guns and no real armor to speak of? Ever wonder why the characters like this have bows and arrows? Did it ever occur to you that having no powers at all and being on a super hero team would be like a tee-ball player starting in the major leagues? Well that's how Hawkeye has always been treated. Now in the wake of the success of Avengers in the movies Hawkeye has a great writer and a very human view on what it's like to be Hawkeye. Writer Matt Fraction brings a realism to Clint Burton that most writers of super hero books wouldn't have the guts to attempt. The story is more about his life outside of the Avengers than it is about fighting crime or battling aliens and all that. Yes there is still a great deal of arrow shooting action and adventure as well as some international espionage but it's all seen through the lens of a completely relatable human being. He worries about things like his neighbors and what the next paycheck is going to pay for. He also knows his job is dangerous but it's all he knows how to do. These are everyday sort of issues that are made the focus of a character that lives a life that is far from ordinary. 

His relationship with Kate Bishop, (the new Hawkeye), brings another level of awkwardness and reality to the character. It's a big brother/little sister meets teacher/student with a little bit of sexual tension thrown in. He wants to teach her everything he knows but he also feels the need to protect her and is obviously attracted to her even though he knows she's too young and they should remain at least somewhat professional. Fraction brings these tightropes completely to the forefront in a way that characters like Spiderman and Mary Jane Watson or Batman and Barbara Gordon could never quite pull off. The dialog is spot on and the narration, (aka Barton's thought process), reads like a stream of consciousness movie script. It feels spontaneous but you know there's a plan guiding things.

This trade is split into 2 basic arcs. The first 3 issues where the bad guys is the Russian mob and last 2 issues entitled "The Tape". I'm not going to get into any plot details cause I don't want to spoil things but I mention this because there are different artists for each arc. While there styles have a sort of Johnny Quest meets Archer sort feel to them, David Aja (#1-3) is dirtier and feels like he's doing sketches of actual events. Javier Pulido (#4-5) has a little bit cleaner and more open feeling. Everything looks bigger in Pulido's version and that gives it a little more cartoonish nature but the movement and expressions on the characters faces are all that more telling because of it as well. Aja's art isn't lacking at all in expression but the characters read more as human and therefore everything is more subtle and subdued. Even though their feelings may not be written all over there faces, they are understood because they're more recognizable as real. The muted pastel color pallet brings both styles together. While the first arc is a little bit darker and more focused on purples and thicker black lines and the second has more yellows and oranges there is a continuity in the way the colors are presented. So all in all again this is a sort of super hero book where the super hero-ing isn't the main attraction. While I know I've said that about previous books, I just think this one hits closest to home.