Anna B Savage is a London-based singer-songwriter whose songs are filled with intimate confessions that are more likely to make the listener cringe than to sway. The painful honesty of Anna’s lyrics weigh heavily on the somber tones that she chooses to carry her words. Often, the songs’ melodies buckle under the shear heaviness of Anna’s intimate thoughts she conveys, forcing the listener to construct a mental bridge that ultimately links Anna’s lyrical content to the music. This is a good thing. It’s songs like Anna’s that make a music lover an active listener. She deliberately asks us to appreciate the nuisances of her rather husky voice and the space she gives each song to reside in.
In her debut EP simply titled EP, Anna has given us four solid songs that showcase her inherent talent to make us wince and sigh, groove and contemplate.
The opening track “I” takes us into a bedroom, placing us front and center into an intimate, anxiety-ridden position many of us can relate to: “He’s left the lights on / so I’ve kept my shirt on.” Later on in the composition Anna admits, “And they haven’t all been good / Like they said they would…/ But Jesus, he came off smarter than that / to grab an inch of stomach and say ‘fat’.” Before the song meanders towards a musical crescendo, Anna tells us that she’d “like to be strong”, reassuring the listener that her desires are more than just skin deep.
On the second track, “II”, Anna doesn’t allow us to emotionally rebound from the previous song. She begins by cathartically announcing: “I will never amount to anything / Skipping showers every other day.” A nervous guitar riff accompanied by a jittery drum beat quickly cuts up the silence of the song, throwing the listener into an unbalanced fit to hold on to Anna’s wrought words. The much appreciated reprieve doesn’t last too long, and we’re thrown back into the oppressive pit of despair Anna seems to be singing from. We’re right there next to her in some unlit hole, digging our way out to feel light on our faces.
Track three “III” recounts the uncomfortable tale of a suicidal friend who could only sleep with the image of a gun between her teeth. It’s a melodramatic, slow-burning number that captures the range of Anna’s welcoming voice, a voice that seems to be constructed of bits of PJ Harvey, Marianne Faithfull, and that one outstanding performer at your local coffee shop’s open-mic night.
The EP ends, of course, on a somber note, an emotional farewell to a fantastic debut. “IV” builds upon a sparse yet dramatic instrumental, punctuated by the passionate plea of “please forgive him.” A warm and much appreciated male voice eventually joins Anna to tell us that “ignorance is bliss.” The sentiment isn’t lost in the bromide. We hear you, Anna.
These are four amazing tunes that need to be appreciated. There’s a stark yet concise vulnerability about Anna that I love. I can’t wait to see what Anna does within the confines of a full album. I get the feeling that she’d answer a lot of questions this listener has. For example, I want to know why Anna feels the need to skip showers. How did she reach such an unhygienic point in her existence?
Sabbath Blaath’s self-titled release is an interesting sort of Appropriation art. I know, mix ups, mash ups, or whatever, have been around for some time, but this doesn’t feel like a composition of multiple songs delicately spliced together to create a larger, novelty-type of track. What we have here are ten Black Sabbath tracks, eight taken from the band’s third album, Master of Reality, while two come from the self-titled debut release, that have been abstracted, or chopped up, from their original contexts and associations and then amassed back together so the familiar songs have been decontextualized to a point where they are fresh, original compositions.
When these classic tracks are divorced from the canonical heavy metal records, qualities like Tony Iommi’s oppressive riffs and the poetic echoes of Ozzy’s voice provoke countless associations unrelated to the band and they’re historical contributions to music and pop culture. On a lighter note, it’s much like Family Guy appropriating Kool-Aid Man for comedic purposes, which the creators have done on six different occasions. When Kool-Aid Man is taken from an advertisement and made to do something silly in an animated sitcom, the character becomes something larger. At this point, most people born after 1990 probably associate the Kool-Aid Man with Peter and Stewie than they do with artificially flavored sugar water. I’m getting away from the music.
Imagine cutting up your cocaine on the back of your Master of Reality compact disc and inserting it into your player—this is what Sabbath Blaath’s compositions recall. Tracks like “lordoff” (“Lord of this World”), “sweet” (“Sweet Leaf”), and “foreverafterforever” (“After Forever”) showcase the whole my brother-scratched-my-disc-to-fuck quality that is annoyingly pleasant in this instance. These borrowed sounds build upon the idea that music is, in all reality, just noise.
There are moments like on the opening track “void” (“Into the Void”) or on “emembryo” (“Embryo”) where the music is broken down into accessible sound bites where it’s easy to hear the riffs and sounds thousands of bands have ripped off over a period of forty years. Further yet, a neutered Sabbath surprisingly builds upon the spooky, for lack of better words, quality of their sound and image.
The final track “wizaard” (“The Wizard”) sounds beautiful in its truncated form. It’s an excellent bookend to the album. Like all good art, it left me wanting more. I was also left wondering why the artist didn’t try to rearrange the beautiful gem “Solitude.” Did he/she feel intimidated to hack up and rework such a beautiful song? I use the word “hack” in a complimentary way.
Anyway, the art of music Appropriation is as powerful as it is annoying, especially if you’re a true Sabbath fan, or Sharon Osbourne and her lawyers. Sabbath Blaath has created something special that is currently getting lost on Bandcamp. I would love to hear the artist’s take on most of Zeppelin’s albums, especially Led Zeppelin III and Houses of the Holy. Hail, Satan!
Oli Deakin and Lyla Foy are Lowpines, an honest and sincere twosome hailing from west London. The dashing duo create succinct and heartfelt tunes that have the uncanny ability to simultaneously sound familiar and unique. Like finding a misplaced photograph on the bottom of a dresser drawer, Oli and Lyla’s compositions have the power to unearth emotions that have been ignored or pushed aside. Lowpines have released two EPs (Give Me a Horse and Avenue Blues) and a handful of scattered songs that have created the proverbial buzz among music bloggers and people with excellent taste in music. In an industry full of imitators and phonies, the Lowpines are a sweet distraction from the status quo. Oli was patient and kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the band, the process he goes through to develop songs, and the overall evolution of his musical journey. Hopefully this interview will give Lowpines fans a deeper understanding and appreciation of their music.
How did you guys come together as a band?
I’d been playing as part of a larger set up for a while when I was invited on to a tour that required something smaller. So to begin with I arranged some songs for two and began things from there. That formed a basis for the first recordings and it all started from there.
What is the origin of the band’s name?
The name Lowpines came from chewing on a few different words that felt good but didn’t seem to work on their own. I kind of stumbled upon it and liked the way it sounded. It feels like a place name or house name, sounded like a good place to keep my songs… Shady.
How did Lowpines become involved with Eardrumspop? I’m assuming you support the label’s digital only, free music approach? Has the band thought about approaching any more traditional labels to release music, especially in vinyl/cassette/compact disc format(s)?
Eardrumspop came across Lowpines on Soundcloud and sent a message inviting us to collaborate on a release. They have quite a unique approach that appealed to me – teaming up bands and visual artists. It turned out to be a very happy place to start things. It’s always nice to produce actual vinyl and cd copies of records and that’s always part of the plan. But free downloads are a wonderful way to get things out to people quickly, which is more important when you start something new. In the first instance you just want people to hear what you’re up to.
From what I understand, the band was hands-off with the artwork for the Give Me a Horse EP? If so, are you comfortable with someone creating a visual aspect/representation of your music? Did you guys have any input into the artwork?
I’ve always preferred to do my own artwork, it seems so important that it should fit with what I see in the recordings. But with Give Me a Horse it seemed like an opportunity to actually see what would happen if I let someone else have complete control. I loved what Sean Mahan came up with for this. I never would have come up with something like that.
What is your goal with Lowpines?
Lowpines is a home for songs that I write and record. The goal is always to write and record more of them. Releases are the moments where some of those songs are gathered together to form an album or an EP to be presented as a collection, but behind the scenes there are always more songs being written and the works goes on. There’s no specific end point. It’s a beginning.
Does Lowpines perform any other cover songs outside of The Be Good Tanyas’ “It’s Not Happening”?
I’m working on some Nick Drake songs I have been asked to play to accompany a film screening about him. It has got me thinking about other songs I might like to play afterwards. It can feel quite indulgent to record covers, but there are often good things to be learned from doing it, so I think I’ll always have something I’m thinking about playing.
What did the The Be Good Tanyas think of your version?
I don’t know that they’ve heard it. I can only imagine that they’d think it a little… darker than they perhaps intended. We certainly took the spring out of its step. It’s a challenge to re-interpret a song you really like, you have to find a way to make it your own and take it away from somewhere where it’s been happily living it’s whole life, see if you can get it to put down roots elsewhere.
Do you guys have any non-musical influences?
Songwriting is so much a product of your experiences I think it’d be hard not to be influenced by all sorts of things, whether you’re aware of it or not. I think whatever song you set out to write you’ll find yourself referencing some aspect of your own experience. Books are very nourishing in terms of language. I don’t read as much as I’d like to but I try to dip into books as often as I can, if only to take in a few pages, or even a few words. Books seem to get your imagination going in ways you wouldn’t normally use.
Do you feel your songs are melancholy? Do you strive to make a melancholy song?
I don’t intentionally write melancholy songs. But I can understand how some people might see them as melancholy. To me, they’re uplifting; I pursue the sounds and images that feel good to sing. There is warmth to certainty, and I suppose melancholy has a kind of certainty.
Who does the heavy lifting in the creation/development of a song? Are the lyrics/song structures/music a combined effort, or are they isolated creations that are pieced together during the recording process?
I normally write songs alone but arrangements are nearly always collaborative. I like to respond to whomever I’m playing with and get their stamp on the sound.
Do you get nervous about writing songs? In other words, is there an overwhelming stress hanging over you until a song is completed?
Not a stress, no. There’s an energy to it for sure – an excitement if it’s going well, apprehension if it feels like it’s eating itself. Songwriting can be a very addictive process, particularly once you get started on a few new songs at once. So if a song starts looking a bit off-colour you have to turn your attention to another so as not to lose momentum. Sometimes they turn a bit grey and you just have to walk away.
Where do the lyrics come from? Are they pieced together from journal entries?
They come from all sorts of places, always different. The ones that come quickest seem to give the least indication of where they came from. Sometimes if a song just arrives, fully formed, you look at it thinking ‘where did this come from? Whose is it? It can’t be mine…’ Those are the best. The ones you don’t even recognise but get along with at once, becoming life-long friends.
Where’s Lyla’s beautiful vocal contributions on the new songs?
They’re out there somewhere! Lyla is doing lots with her own project at the moment, so her beautiful voice is in high demand.
Can you give a little insight into the new song “Call off the Hunt”? What is it about? What inspired it? How long did it take to develop and record the song?
It’s a song that went through a few different stages. During the winter I started a little project to write songs just on my guitar and write them all out in a big book, only recording them into my phone. I figured I might end up with lots of different recordings of the same song in different places. This is one that was bothering me in that it never seemed to sit quite right on any of the versions. So one night in January I just threw some other noises on it and started messing around with it. It came together pretty quickly after that. It’s a song about the moments between climbing and falling.
In regards to song composition/construction, when is a song finished? For example, is there a feeling inside that says, ‘this song should be less than three minutes or longer than four minutes?’
I’m not sure a song is ever finished. But there comes a point when it’s ready to be heard by others and continue its life out in the world. I’m always changing little bits along the way, odd words and notes. Occasionally changing the name, maybe give it a haircut. But it’s only allowed out of the house once its got its boots on.
What do your parents think of your music? Are they proud? Embarrassed? Indifferent?
I come from a musical family so there’s always a support, expectation, curiosity… and pride when it’s earned. My parents play classical music so we have totally different references for what we do, but work in very similar worlds. So we compare notes a lot.
Outside of a Facebook page and a brief write up on Eardrumspop, there’s not much on the Internet about the group. There seems to be a mystery behind the band. Is this intentional? I even had a difficult time even finding pictures of you guys. Any plans on developing a proper website that solely focuses on the band?
There’s no intentional mystery, but I do think bands are best represented by their music. If people are looking for something about Lowpines I’d always prefer that they found a song first rather than a biography or press shot. It’s still a very new project so the music is very much the focal point. I’m sure we’ll set up a website at some point, but I quite like inhabiting all these different music sites for now. They each have their own little communities of users so there’s always a slightly different atmosphere to posting tracks on the different ones.
Are you collectors of vinyl/cds? Do you have a large music collection?
I love my vinyls and try to buy a handful every year. But I’m always listening to new things so I store most of my music on my phone, and stream online. I try to listen to as much as possible and then make concerted decisions when I get to the record shop. Buying a record normally means picking out five or six that I really want and walking round the shop with them for a good while, working out which ones I feel I really can’t leave without. Then the others go back on the shelf ‘til next time. I like to mail order vinyl too – there’s something extremely pleasing about the size of box that a collection of eBay-ed Dylan vinyl comes in, not knowing whether any of them will actually play.
Do you have a favorite Smog album? Did you read Bill Callahan’s novel, Letters to Emma Bowlcut?
I keep my copy of Letters To Emma Bowlcut handy at all times – I must have read it about five times through but now I just like to dip in and read one letter at a time. There’s a perfect balance of poetry and humour in the way Callahan writes. I went to hear him reading from it in London and he looked really uncomfortable, almost pained. I went to get it signed afterwards so my copy has a scrawled message in the front. I first came across Smog when someone gave me a copy of A River Ain’t Too Much To Love. It’s one of my favourite albums. Since then I’ve been quietly collecting all his albums.
Do you have a favorite Rolling Stones album?
I don’t really know their albums, but I spent some time with Exile On Main Street on a recommendation from a songwriter friend. That’s a good album.
Is there anything you’re currently listening to or reading that you’d like to share?
I’ve been trying to read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer for a while but I keep getting distracted. This week’s listening has included… Joshua James, Kurt Vile, Daughn Gibson, and the new Caitlin Rose record.
Any plans for a lengthy tour in 2013? Or do you guys have day jobs that keep you from fully pursuing your musical desires?
No lengthy tour plans at present, working on lots of new songs and some collaborations, all of which leaves no time for a day job. Alas.
Is there anything else you want people to know about yourself?
We have songs you can listen to. We’re working on more songs. Soon as they’re done you can listen to those too.
Jack White has done it again. The vinyl pusher has joined forces with Sun Records to begin releasing a series of reissues from their legendary back catalog on his Third Man Records label. White has promised that this will be an ongoing partnership between the two labels. One of the three initial releases is the Prisonaires 45rpm 7” single “Baby Please” b/w “Just Walkin’ in the Rain.”
The Prisonaires were an African-American group consisting of five members, all prisoners of the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, hence the band name. It’s been said that the felonious fivesome were greatly admired by Elvis, leading the King to even cover their hit single.
Originally released in 1953, “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” was Sun’s first real hit, and the short-lived band’s only success. Written by band/cellmates Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley, the somber, slow jangling doo-wop driven tune recalls a simpler time where a broken heart left one to wander the streets in the rain while reminiscing of a lost love. It’s a beautifully arranged composition that is held together by a bluesy guitar waltz, but it’s the rising and falling of the various vocal harmonies that carries the song. Johnnie Ray recorded a more upbeat version of the single in 1956 and it pales in comparison to the Prisonaires, further emphasizing the beauty of the inmates’ command of their vocal palette.
The A-side of the single, “Baby Please,” penned by Riley, is a more lively love song kicked off by a somewhat aggressive guitar riff and a half-hearted yelp. Johnny Bragg confesses in the chorus, “I love you so, so, so much / my world is nothing without your touch.” The sweet sentiments are accentuated by the group’s doo-wop harmonizing, creating a romantic backdrop for Bragg’s vocals to flourish.
Johnny Bragg, John Drue, Marcel Sanders, William Stewart, and Ed Thurman, the five fellows who formed the Prisonaires, enjoyed an extremely brief singing career that allowed them to escape the penitentiary for a brief time to perform at the governor’s mansion and an elementary school. Wow, times have changed! White chose a good place to begin with his Sun Records reissue series. He’s given us a quick glimpse into a fairly obscure group, allowing us a moment to enjoy the simple sounds of a vocal group with a dubious origin. It’s a wonderful piece of vinyl. Keep up the good work, Jack.
On a quick note, it looks as though a documentary about the Prisonaires has been completed and is soon to be released. Exciting times.
Lowpines are a cool co-ed duo hailing from west London. Behind the somber sounding band name are Oli Deakin and Lyla Foy, partners in the sublime. The talented two have released a minimalist masterpiece, Give Me a Horse, via EardrumsPop.
Teasing us with only three songs, Lowpines open up the EP with the title track, a slow moving lo-fi acoustic waltz that meets somewhere between Bonnie Prince Billy and Smog. Deakin interjects some Bill Callahan/Jandek type of lyrics: “Give me a horse and I’ll give it grass to feed on the winter long / Give me a horse and I’ll keep it strong for you to ride on.” Much like Callahan, I’m sure the horse is metaphorical for the aching desire to be in a loving relationship. Foy’s convincing voice, along with a somber electric guitar enters to bring the song to a sweet climax. Quite frankly, “Give Me a Horse” is an excellent single.
Opening with a softly cutting and climbing guitar lightly washed with effects, “Heavy Hander” is haunting in its efficient construction and pleasing in its economical use of vocals and instrumentation. Deakin and Foy magically meet in the chorus when they plead, “Come away heavy-hander / Give me back my summer sun.” It’s interesting how the duo can make the song simultaneously sound anxious and relaxing.
The EP ends with “It’s Not Happening,” a cover of the Vancouver-based band The Be Good Tanyas. Though Deakin takes the lead on the vocals, this is the first time we hear Foy flex her vocal power without harmonizing with her band mate. Maybe I’m a bit too enamored with the Lowpines, but their version of the song is more heartfelt and emotional than the original. At the same time, I would’ve liked to have seen the band give the listener another original composition instead of a cover tune.
I’m pleasantly surprised by Lowpines. I want more. I want more songs. I want a physical release of the EP to hold in my hands and wave around. I want to see them in concert. Heck, I even want a t-shirt and poster. The Lowpines have real talent. They aren’t just studio smoke and mirrors. Make sure you check out their fairly recent Daytrotter sessions where they give a beautiful performance of their few tracks. Oh, and I love the cover art. It fits the mood of the EP. Great job, guys. Write more songs!
The Portland, Oregon-based, multi-instrumental twosome are in the business of crafting emotionally energetic songs that are simultaneously futuristic and familiar. With Kevin O’Conner handling the percussions, guitar and piano and Lisa Molinaro playing the viola and synths, the talented duo hover somewhere between the backwoods and the suburbs with their unique blend of indie-folk and hip-hop. The instrumentals are deep, textured and refreshing. It would be criminal to add any vocals to their songs.
Recently, the band took part in another Daytrotter session that you need to check out. Talkdemonic originally recorded a session in late 2008 that showcased the intimate and appealing nature of their compositions. The most recent session is more light and airy in comparison to their Daytrotter debut. Make sure to check out the playful and provoking “Summer Glass.” Also, shut off the lights and get lost in the spaced out sounds of the aptly titled “Slumber Verses.” At times, it seems as though the Portland pair’s songs are too brief. I would like to see (hear) the band expand their songs. It’s almost as though O’Conner and Molinaro are teasing the listener by clocking some of their tracks just over two minutes.
Regardless of the terrible band name—rhetorically, it seems more fitting for a metal band—Talkdemonic is a band worthy of your time. Also, Lisa Molinaro is almost as beautiful as the music she creates. Check out their Daytrotter sessions and tell me what you think.
Elizabeth Veldon is a found noise merchant hailing from a small town outside of Glasgow, Scotland. She spends much of her time creating very large and obtuse soundscapes that are well grounded in feminist and political theory. Veldon is recognized as one of the most prolific noise artist working today; she has created well over one hundred albums of deeply dense sounds. Her newest release, A Soul with No Footprint, is a two-song album that has the noisy noisemaker pushing newer boundaries with her art.
The opening track, sharing its name with the album title, is a forty-two minute dust-up of repeated loops of sound often repeated. Veldon leaves the listener on an anti-climatic edge of sound that never quite reaches a satisfying end. The noise is constant, consistent, and cathartic. There isn’t a wasted note within this heavily textured composition. It’s obvious that Veldon is reminding the listener of the inherent power of sound. Be careful when listening to this track. It’s easy to get lost in the swell of it all.
Clocking in at just over thirty minutes, “Folk Music as a Parasitic Expression” is, for the most part, quite a different track. There are layers and layers of feedback tones undulating beneath the soft shell of surreal sound. The song is fragile and familiar in its attempt to intertwine the underlying warmth of the found sound loops. Where the opening song left the listener unfulfilled in its promise, “Folk Music as a Parasitic Expression” fulfils one with promise. This is not an easy accomplishment.
At times, when these compositions meander past the twenty or twenty-five minute mark, the listener becomes suspicious. The noise can become fraudulent and forced. In other words, pretentiousness can begin to seep in. There is a concern for this from this listener. Is it necessary for these soundtracks to carry on to such great lengths? Rhetorical speaking, what’s Veldon trying to say? How would the listener respond to this album if it were abbreviated—neutered a bit? Do soundscapes only work when they are close to an hour long? I suppose that the answer to this is dependant on Veldon’s goal with this album. Concurrently, maybe I shouldn’t be asking these questions? I don’t know.
Nevertheless, Veldon has given us another thought-provoking work that leaves us with more questions than answers. And maybe I shouldn’t look for these answers? I don’t know. Maybe I should just get lost in the sound of it all. On a serious side note, if you are prone to fits of madness or susceptible to seizures, it is best to approach this album with caution. Veldon’s soundscapes are unforgiving in attitude and scale.
Twin siblings Amelia and Pat Innit are bentcousin, a London-based duo who have released their debut EP, Everybody’s Got One, on Conor Oberst’s Team Love Records. Okay, they have some songs and a hip label to shop them, so one would think, not a bad place to start for such a young group. Right?
The EP begins with “bentpaperboy,” a gentle singsong sort of track that is oddly reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy),” mixed with a B-side to a Belle and Sebastian single. Amelia’s vocals are covered with a sweetness that draws the listeners in, but, concurrently, the lyrical content repeals us and pushes us away. With lines like “I like the cut of her gib / I like the cut of her soul / I like the cut of her underwear,” Amelia has undermined the flirty feel inherent in the composition. Does anyone outside of a retired Navy recruiter use the nautically inclined term,“gib”? In the next line, Amelia rhymes “hobby” with “origami,” further adding to the listener’s frustration. In all actuality, it’s not that bad of a track, but it’s too brief, and it abruptly ends without completing the bentpaperboy’s journey.
Pat takes over the vocals on “Slade,” a track that sounds too similar to Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” While Pat is more energetic and sped up, it’s probably best to leave the vocal duties to big sis, even though her backup, ill-produced “la-la-la’s” that pop up on “Slade” do nothing to help this argument. The same clumsy la-la-la’s show up later on the uninspired “Glittery Joe.”
“I Quit You” has Amelia and Pat stuck in a give-and-take vocal battle sung over a Sleater-Kinney drumbeat. Amelia presents more awkward, high school notebook lyrics: “You said my eyes were average / You talked about your ex in bed / You started taking me for a fool / And that’s not cool.” Ho-hum. I did enjoy the handclaps on the track, though. I’m a sucker for handclaps.
“F.O.R.G.E.T.” is a Pat-led piece that does its best impersonation of the Bay City Rollers. Once again, it’s best to get Pat away from the microphone. His attempt to sing “reason” with three syllables at the one-minute mark is proof of Pat’s vocal inabilities. This is one I would like to f.o.r.g.e.t.
The EP ends on a strong note. “I Think I Like Your Girlfriend More Than You” is a fun two minute, eighteen second romp that reads like a 1960s-sounding lounge single. Amelia’s voice is convincing and attractive; she brings life to the goofy lyrics. Her English accent sells the sweetness of her sentiment. Take Pat’s indecipherable singing off of the last twenty-four seconds and this could be a hit. Sorry, Pat. I think I like your sister’s singing more than yours.
Something tells me that bentcousin’s songs sounded better in their heads than they do on the EP. There are some highlights that shed some hope on the band’s future. Nevertheless, if bentcousin wants to be successful, Amelia must take sole control of the vocals, any and all backing vocals must be mixed better and the lyrical content needs to improve. Sometimes being too coy and too cute can be extremely annoying and abrasive. The twins have a chance, but they might just need to be separated to have any measurable success outside of London pubs.
Please check out bentcousin’s recent Daytrotter session: http://tinyurl.com/b536zqm
The Predator is one of the most promising and creative characters created in the last thirty years. When he (it) made his (its) big screen debut in 1987, audiences everywhere were instantly attracted to absurd ugliness and horror of the humanoid creature. We couldn’t stop staring at the crustacean-looking face hiding underneath his futuristic space mask/helmet. After the creature’s anti-climatic death in the Schwarzenegger movie, it only seemed natural that the Predator had to be revived and revisited, and an origin needed to be created.
Predator made its comic book debut in a four-issue mini series that began in the summer of 1989. Instead of stalking the jungles of South America, the Predators (Yes, there’s more than one) wandered into New York City. The second Predator film similarly had the creatures running amok on the streets of Los Angeles. As one can see, the problem with the Predators is that no one quite knows where to posit these creatures within a story. The storytelling has been quite clumsy. For such an advance group of aliens, it seems odd that these intelligent humanoids would waste time killing random individuals rather than simply invading and taking over the Earth. But with a character as popular and unique as the Predator, it’s important just to get these sapient beings into as many comic books as possible. This leads us to the ever-popular comic book idea of crossovers.
In 1991, the Predator made a visit to Gotham City. In a three-issue run, a lone Predator takes on Batman, and the cape crusader gets a world of hurting. A boxing match kicks off the series. Both of the combatants, Bull Bersaglio and Marcus King, are bankrolled by two of Gotham’s most influential gangsters—Alex Yeager and Leo Brodin. After the match, King, the winner of the fight, is found dead in the most gruesome manner—the champ’s spine and skull have been removed. At first, Brodin, who sponsored Bersagilo, is blamed for the boxer’s murder. But the severe nature of the death suggests a different culprit. It is up to the caped-crime fighter to solve the murder, and prevent the mob bosses from doing battle.
Beginning the book with a boxing match serves many purposes. Mainly, in simple terms, the match is presented to foreshadow the eventual battle between the two real heavyweights—Batman and the Predator. We get this. I mean, this is why we purchased the book. More importantly, the rhetorical purpose behind the boxing match is to get the comic to read like a movie. The opening splash page is action packed; it’s cinematic and fast moving. There’s shadow play with the value of the venue light married with the stark quality of the light illuminating the ring. The readers are given a quick view of the eccentric audience members, peering back at the reader, making us feel like we’re part of the crowd. We are sharing the audience’s vantage point. Fans of film noir boxing classics Body and Soul (1947) and The Set Up (1949) have seen these images before. These are the two main sources writers, directors and artists look to when they want to portray a realistic boxing scene.
When taking a character like the Predator that was initially created for Hollywood, it is important to keep the creature in familiar visual surroundings. I’m sure there was a worry that the Predator might not translate well in the comic book format. This had to be a concern. If the artist wasn’t careful, a menacing figure like the Predator could’ve been easily transformed into a cartoonish image that died on the limited paper format that once hindered and endeared comic books.
The cinematic magic of the opening page leads into a cliché horror movie scene. We peer in to Woodrow Pickett’s trailer, located in his salvage yard, watching the aforementioned boxing match, while sipping from another can of Budweiser. Next to Pickett sits Satan, his trusty watchdog, howling away. What would a salvage yard owner be without a trusty dog to scare away potential thieves? Satan hears a noise outside of the trailer and, following Pickett’s command, investigates the disturbance. After hearing a “hrruuuffHRRUFHR” come from Satan, Pickett grabs his shotgun and heads to the door where he’s greeted by three red laser beams on his chest. Cue the blood-splattering panel as the television announcer declares King the new heavyweight champion of Gotham City.
The clichés continue when the readers are given an overhead view of Marcus King resting in a hotel bed–post-coitus?– with his woman, Lita, exchanging pillow talk, while a shadowy Predator drops through a skylight and subdues the lamp-wielding champ with his hunting net and proceeds to remove the boxer’s skull and spine. How many times have we seen this scene? The crashing through the skylight/picture window has become a crutch for those in the creative community. I suppose we shouldn’t expect the Predator to use the front door. It is news of King’s death that gets Batman involved. Before Batman can get hot on the case, the Predator kills Bersaglio is the same Mortal Kombat type of way that King suffered.
At this point, the reader is a bit puzzled. The Predator travels all the way to Gotham to kill a hillbilly salvage yard owner and his dog? Two boxers? Is there a greater reason why Pickett is the first victim of the Predator’s wrath? Or is Dave Gibbons, the writer, just trying to establish the Predator as some sort of interstellar sadist? Later in the story, Batman uses deductive reasoning and figures out that the Predator is choosing his prey based on some “savage code of honor.” The space creature has come to Gotham to take on and kill the city’s strongest combatants in hand-to-hand combat. Predator’s weaker encounters—Pickett, two security guards and a blind ex-fighter—are simply shot. He saves the skull/spine removal for the tougher dudes. And Batman is next.
Adam Kubert, the artist of the series, draws a very bulky Batman. In certain panels, Batman appears to be out of proportion, his chest is literally wider than the front of the Batmobile. Bruce Wayne must have a lot of explaining to do in the boardroom meetings. A built Batman is necessary, though. He will soon be taking on one of his most impressive (and massive) foes, and, even though Batman is physically no match for the Predator, a bulkier Batman makes it more believable that the Dark Knight can hold his own.
Kubert conjures up an extremely dark Bruce Wayne. Whether he’s tooling around the Batcave or catching up on the news, Wayne’s eyes are squinted, his brow crunched up like he’s recovering from cataract surgery while sucking on lemon wedges in a smoke-filled nightclub. In certain panels, Wayne looks a little like Marvel’s non-superhero vigilante, Frank Castle. Kubert also darkens up Alfred. Batman’s lifelong caretaker looks uncharacteristically angry and distrusting. This is an Alfred we are not used to seeing. The entrance of the Predator in Gotham City has everyone grimacing in fear and anger.
It’s also interesting to note the appearance of the Predator. Off the top of my head, the Predator is one of the most physically threatening and muscular alien species in popular culture. Times sure have changed since the days of Greys, E.T., Alf, Mork and Klingons. What was going on in the mid-to-late 80s that made an alien become so large, physically fit and violent? This is something worth investigating.
After all the deaths and speculation, Batman crosses paths with the Predator in the salvage yard and their encounter ends just the way we think it would: Batman gets the shit beaten out of him. The last five pages of the first book ends in a dark and confusing manner. Batman’s battle with the Predator is broken down into multiple mini-panels, giving the fight a fast-moving feel, similar to the opening page. There are close ups of eyes and hands, punctuated with various comic book action noises. Kubert’s panels are muddy and disjointed, so much so that it’s difficult to follow the sequence of battle. It appears that Batman’s only mode of attack is throwing scrape metal at his alien competitor. Batman never makes physical contact with his opponent and when it’s all said and done, the issue ends with a somewhat bloody Predator grasping a fallen and bloody Batman by his cape.
Gibbons and Kubert do an effective job ending the opening issue with a cliffhanger. Readers everywhere must’ve been anxiously waiting for issue number two to hit their comic book store’s shelves. How is Batman going to escape from the Predator? We’ve never seen Batman in such a defeated condition. He looks defenseless and weak in the grasp of the Predator. Despite its countless clichés, muddy pages and darkly styled, squinty-eyed characters, I’m hooked. Batman and the Predator are two exciting characters—one complex and the other mysterious and intriguing. That said, it’s obvious that Gibbons and Kubert had a difficult time translating the Predator into the one-dimensional format of a comic book, especially since the Predator rarely speaks. We, as readers, bring our movie memories of the Predator and meld them together with the Gibbons and Kubert creation to expand our understanding of and excitement for the brutal space traveler. On to issue number two.
 Later, in the second book, we find out that the Predator uses the salvage yard as a makeshift hideout. For a character that possesses stealth capabilities, it would seem redundant for this highly intelligent space creature to actually need a hideout. More on this at a later date.
Florida’s pop-noise makers and SPIN darlings Merchandise have released a new single, “Anxiety’s Door,” from their upcoming five-song EP/LP Totale Night, due this spring. The track is a swirling, seven-minute blast from the past, heavily laced in a mid-80s gothy post-punk sound. Lead singer Carson Cox does his best The Queen is Dead era Morrissey impersonation over an Echo and the Bunnymen/Jesus and Mary Chain groove, punctuated by a drum machine working overtime. Cox even manages to successfully mimic the ambiguous, pseudo-romantic, somewhat melancholic lyrics that infected the English post-punk sound: “Some things are really never there / I walk the street at night, yeah / I drink the perfumed air.” Things must be real dark in Tampa?
If it was 1985, I’d be more excited about Merchandise’s forthcoming EP/LP. Let’s hope that the rest of Totale Night isn’t lost in the 80s, and let’s give this Tampa trio (and their drum machine) a chance to live up to their SPIN “Breaking Out” stars status.