Show Recommendation: Chernobyl

Did someone say a five part miniseries about a historical disaster and Russians during the cold war? Count me in. I love miniseries’ because they’re not too long and you don’t need much of a commitment. I’m basically a completionist, so if I get invested into something I need to know how it ends. If it’s terrible at least I’m not committed to 5 or more seasons of crap. And I love historical documentaries, books, comics, video games, etc so HBO’s Chernobyl easily piqued my curiosity. You may have heard of this as it’s fairly new and was quite popular due to its critical acclaim, but I feel if you’ve simply heard of it but never gave it a shot, maybe my write up might be enough for you to give it a try.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Chernobyl catastrophe here’s the rundown: in 1986 a nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded and left a reactor core exposed. It proceeded to spew vast amounts of radiation into the air which was taken by the wind and swept west,affecting the majority of countries in Europe. During this time Ukraine was under the Soviet umbrella, so naturally they denied the accident and it’s severity due to keeping up appearances for the sake of the cold war. HBO’s show, which is ultimately a drama and not a documentary, covers the lives of many characters involved from the beginning of the explosion, to the containment and cleanup efforts, evacuations, and the trials of those deemed to be responsible for the accident. There are plenty of reasons this show is truly a top notch miniseries.

For starters, the show has a great selection of actors who execute their roles beautifully. They deliver many of their dramatic lines with power and emotion. The Soviet people are fairly direct and blunt which adds to this effect and knocks up the intensity of each critical scene and leads to fairly tense moments. The videography is excellent too, there are plenty of great shots through the show especially ones where they show the scenery of Eastern Europe. Also the use of a less intense colour palette really seem to capture the bleakness of living behind the iron curtain.

Lastly, the accuracy is fairly good though not 100% spot on. As mentioned, this is ultimately a drama and not a documentary. The writers did take some creative liberties, especially near the end of the series, though this is noted at the end credits and looks to be solely done for the dramatic affect rather than to blur the facts. The differences don’t seem to change any plot points or hinder the truth behind the events. I did find myself going down a rabbit hole after I watched the series. I found myself reading articles, watching interviews, listening to podcasts and going through documentaries on the event for a few weeks after I finished watching it. I must say that many of the events depicted in the shows are extremely close to what actually happened back in 86. I also think I’m now basically qualified to run a nuclear reactor myself. At least I think so anyways.

One of the biggest takeaways from the show was the behavior of both the Soviet government and the Soviet people. The show did depict a clichéd style Soviet government, as in they tried to really hide the reality of the accident and contain information of the scale of the disaster. The clandestine operations of the KGB and the bureaucracy riddled with lies to pass blame was true to form. More importantly though, the show also captured the determination of the Soviet citizens. The endurance, sacrifice and resilience of the people during the disaster and cleanup was inspiring, the show captured the collective ‘we have a duty’ attitude. However, it can be argued that this ‘duty’ was not inspiring, but rather that the Soviet government forcefully put their citizens to work during this time.

All in all, it’s a great show and I recommend watching it if you like historical stuff during the Cold War era.

As a little side note that pertains specifically to me, I was about 6 months old during the Chernobyl incident and was living only 900km to the south west of Kiev. I’m positive I got a bit of radiation from the leak during that time. Having many relatives and friends in the area recant their experiences and how the news traveled and what precautions local authorities provided also gave me a bit of interest in the subject and when I heard about this show I knew I had to watch it.

Comicbook Recommendation: Y: The Last Man

L&K

Well before The Walking Dead became a cultural sensation, I’ve always had a major interest in the zombie apocalypse. From watching George A. Romero’s first movies like Night of the Living Dead to playing games in the arcade like House of the Dead, the flesh eating byproducts of an annihilated world always excited me. It wasn’t the gore that I was attracted to, in fact used to be rather squeamish around that sort of thing, it was more the survival aspect paired next to the threat of human like brainless creatures. But most of all, it’s the splendor of a world destroyed. Monuments of man’s achievements lying around gathering dust and slowly being absorbed back to nature over time. In short, I simply love the post-apocalyptic setting. The radiation filled wasteland in the Fallout series or the urban infestation of the Left 4 Dead video games, I find myself drawn to worlds where society only once stood but no longer resides.

Before you read on, I’d like to point out I’m not trying to justify becoming some sort of super villain looking to destroy the world. Just want to throw that out there. This infatuation of the post-apocalyptic theme has always led to me to explore all sorts of media with this as a backdrop. And so I’d like to recommend a comicbook called Y: The Last Man by Brian K.Vaughan.

Y: The Last Man is not a traditional post-apocalyptic setting though, in fact it’s quite different. The story begins at the very beginning of the “apocalypse”, but the events are not detailed and no explanation through the whole story is verified as to what exactly happened. Rather than having nearly all of mankind wiped out by nukes or disease, nearly all of malekind is wiped out in an instant for an inexplicable reason and without much violence. The only survivors after this flash of male extinction is our protagonist, Yorick, his male pet monkey Ampersand, and every female on the planet. To an extent this does cause some chaos among those spared, such as male airline pilots perishing mid-flight, men driving their families on the highway, and of course much of the knowledge that they took with them. Imagine a nearly all male workforce dying at once that operate a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the half that disappeared, male or female, half an entire planet disappearing in a heartbeat would cause major problems to nations. There is also the problem that it’s not only men, it’s all male animals and others species that disappear. This leads to the ultimate issue that it can become the end of the world once the first generation of all female life dies off. But of course, you’ve got Yorick and Ampersand.

There are plenty of reasons I rank this as one of my favourite comicbooks. As mentioned above, it’s not entirely a traditional post-apocalyptic setting. It’s fairly unique compared to other end of the world books, and has its own unique problems rather than traditional zombies or mutants and I found that to be a refreshing aspect of it. There are many well written characters and with 60 issues there are plenty of good arcs that explore various themes of love, science, family, and politics through the eyes of Yorick and his travels.

I just chuckled as I remembered my first impression on the concept. It was a sarcastic momentary thought that went along the lines of “damn, someone actually made a book based on the fantasy of being the last man on earth and having to repopulate the world until he dies of too much sex”. That’s not entirely the point of the story, but it’s definitely got some light hearted moments beside the more serious themes. This ranks fairly high up on my list of comicbooks and if you’re interested and seeing survival in this unique end of the world scenario, I highly recommend picking this one up.
As it seems to be the trend these days, I believe that FX is releasing a small screen adaptation sometime in the near future. Personally I love seeing film/TV adaptations of books I’ve read so I’m looking forward to this, hopefully it will at least be half as good as Preacher.

Album Recommendation: The Looks

Buried under a mound of metal/rock/punk/industrial albums in my music collection, there are a few oddball albums that don’t seem to fit the general theme of said collection. But when it comes to music, I can appreciate something from all genres so it should not be a surprise there are outliers scattered about. I can’t believe it’s already been nearly 13 years since my ears first heard MSTRKRFT’s The Looks but I have nothing but fond memories of listening to it ever since.

As you may have noticed, I like to listen to ‘harder’ or ‘heavier’ music, that’s just my taste. Even as I write this, I’ve got KMFDM playing in the background. But if you’re familiar with industrial, you know that it has many of its roots from electronic music. If you take out the guitar on some of my favourite tracks, you get a sound that’s heavily electronic inspired. So, an album like The Looks isn’t a very far stretch for me.

The Looks is a fairly ‘light’ electronic album when compared to other electronica inspired albums I’ve got by groups like Lords of Acid or VNV Nation. It crosses over into pop territory at times which may be a turnoff for many listeners but not really for me. Songs like Easy Love and Work on You sound like pop songs altogether but are two of my favourites. Tracks such as Paris and Neon Knights tend to be a bit more ‘heavy’ electronic ones which changes the pace or sound of the album as you listen through it all.

My personal favourite though is Street Justice. For me the chorus riff always reminds me of bar hopping in Budapest in the early hours of the morning with the streets still packed with bar patrons. It seems to remind me of a very busy, active social scene in a big city and you’re there partying along too. I’m not entirely sure why it reminds me of that it does. A friend who heard the track back in school told me it’s the kind of riff that makes him want to pop some acid and dance all night at a warehouse rave. And to an extent I agree with his visualization of the song.

Regardless of the track, I do find electronic music that is not a 90s repetitive bland uhn-tss uhn-tss techno to be enjoyable so I would recommend this album to anyone despite what their preferred genres are. Prior to listening MSTRKRFT, I enjoyed some tunes from Death From Above 1979, particularly their remixes which are much more electronic than the songs they release themselves. And surprise surprise, Jesse Keeler, who is one half of Death From Above 1979, is one half of MSTRKRFT. It was one of those “I’m shocked but I really shouldn’t be” moments.

Of course when you find a new artist or group that you like, you try to explore the rest of their work. I tried listening to MSTRKRFT’s more recent albums, but I just couldn’t get into them that much. I find they deviated from The Looks by going a little more hip-hop, but with a heavier sound. And for me it just didn’t sound that great. But The Looks is an album I find myself coming back to from time to time. Give it a listen sometime!

Show Recommendation: Preacher

 

Preacher

Normally when I tend to do a write up on a piece of media that I’d like to recommend to my readers, I like to stray from the often travelled path. There’s not much of a point to recommending Game of Thrones for a TV show, Gladiator for a movie, 1984 for a book, or London Calling for an album. These are already cultural icons praised by millions and those without an interest in them are still aware of their existence. This one is a TV recommendation, and while TV is one of the most popular forms of media consumed, the show itself is a little less known and is based off a comicbook. Though the comicbook is highly regarded amongst avid readers, the majority of TV viewers are not aware of it so I thought I’d recommend the TV adaptation of Garth Ennis’ Preacher. I finished off binging season three not too long ago and was more than happy with how the show has been adapted to the silver screen, especially with this season, which prompted me to write this.

As you read this recommendation, you’ll notice the show and comicbookare definitely not for everyone. It can be fairly disgusting and disturbing at times. Besides that it is highly unbelievable at times, a little ludicrous or absurd, and even has a dark comedic side. If that doesn’t bother you, or perhaps it’s your thing, then Preacher makes for a highly entertaining ride.

Anytime I’m discussing Preacher with someone unfamiliar with it, they tend to ask the traditional ‘what is it about’ question. This is a somewhat tricky answer given some of the absurdity in the Preacher universe so I usually bellow out a long winded summary that goes like this:

A long time ago, a demon and angel got it on and the angel gave birth to an abomination called Genesis, which is basically a floating ball of light. It’s imprisoned in Heaven but eventually breaks free and heads to Earth. There Genesis begins to inhabit the body of our protagonist Jesse Custer, a hard drinking, bar fighting, ex-con trying to redeem himself by becoming a preacher in a small town in Texas. Genesis essentially sits dormant in Jesse, the only difference in Jesse is that when he uses a specific voice he commands the word of God and no being can refuse his command. After trying to contact God to ask why he was given this power, he finds out God has basically checked out of Heaven and is having fun on Earth. And so the long quest to find God begins and is the general overarching plot to the story. Heavily entwined with the main plot is an organization called The Grail, which essentially controls most governments and corporations giving it unlimited resources. The Grail protects the bloodline of Christ, who’s only descendant is a mentally challenged man (thanks to generations of inbreeding) known as Humperdoo. This organization is headed by a morbidly obese glutton called the Allfather who is bent of capturing Jesse to transfer Genesis into Humperdoo and show the messiah to the world.

Since Preacher is a bit of a lengthy comicbook, there are several story arcs and a large cast of colorful characters. Besides Jesse, the main cast includes his badass girlfriend Tulip and his Irish junkie friend Cassidy, who also happens to be a vampire because why not. There’s Arseface, who tried to kill himself by putting a shotgun in his mouth, but missed and now his mouth looks like a sphincter. You’ll meet the Saint of Killers, a tortured soul of a cowboy who lost his family and took his revenge on a town. He was later gifted with revolvers that can kill any being in existence and is tasked with capturing Jesse. Herr Starr is a ruthless and no nonsense German commander in The Grail who has a ridiculous amount of nonsense happen to him.You’ll see Jesse’s grandmother, who has sort of voodoo like powers she uses to steal the souls of others for her possible immortality. There’s an owner of a slaughterhouse who has an extremely odd love for meat. A hillbilly who likes animals a little too much, a pair of idiotic angels who try to capture Jesse, and of course Satan. He happens to be surprisingly funny and charismatic despite being a stereotypical bodybuilding red demon with massive horns.Let’s not forget Hitler, who breaks out of Hell and begins working in a diner. I can’t cover all the characters in a short write up but that should give you enough to think about.

While the comicbook is great, I’m quite impressed with how the creative team adapted it to the small screen which is why I chose to go with the show for my recommendation. Besides adapting and following story arcs, the show has stayed true to form when compared to the comicbook in other ways. A couple of examples I can think of off the top of my head would be that the TV show is not afraid to use plenty of violence and some gore, although it doesn’t go too overboard. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there is a comedic sense to the show that comes directly from the source material. Given the absurdity of the show it’ll make you give out a guilty chuckle from time to time. In short, the atmosphere of the show feels as the comicbook reads.

Like almost all TV adaptations, the show runners have naturally made some changes. This can be a hit or miss, but in my opinion so far it’s been pretty win winwith Preacher. Some notable changes were shuffling up some of the arcs from the comic, suchas the slaughterhouse owner arc was in season one of the show while it’s fairly later in the comicbook. The visual depiction of some places created for just the show are fairly entertaining and creative as well such as purgatory. Again, all done with a bit of interesting absurdity.

So in summation, if you’re looking for a hell of an entertaining show I highly suggest Preacher, even if you’re not a fan of comicbooks this one is a unique gem. Again, it’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy larger than life stories and characters mixed with some comical absurdity and violence you’re in for a treat.

As a side note, after rereading this write up I can see it’s not written particularly well. These write ups are supposed to be both a recommendation to the reader also an exercise in writing for myself. However, there is a reason this one just sounds like rambling. I actually wrote a different recommendation for Preacher a couple of weeks ago, though the general idea of it was the same, the wording and grammar were polished a few times over. Unfortunately the file of my USB drive became corrupted and I couldn’t recover it and got frustrated. So I decided I didn’t want to write it up again, but after thinking about it again, I just decided to just write it quickly even if it’s poorly worded. Sorry.

Comicbook Recommendation: Transmetropolitan

Transmetropolitan #1

While I’ve already declared Locke & Key to be my favourite comic book, I must confess that it won the title by only a hair. Though to be honest, I’ve read several comic books that I’d consider to be pretty good, but not many that I absolutely love. Since this is only my second recommendation from this medium, the choice must still come from the top of my list. And while there are many on that list that are tied for third place, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan sits alone on the podium as second place.

Before I continue, I must make another confession. This recommendation might be somewhat vague and short unfortunately, for I haven’t read this series in years now and some of the details may be lost in the hodgepodge that is my mind.

Transmetropolitan is set in a somewhat dystopian world a couple of hundred years down the road. The cities are futuristic cesspools of debauchery where your average citizen seems apathetic toward it all. The typical urban dweller is sedated by drugs or distracted by technology that satisfies their every desire, so they are primarily numb to it all. As you’d expect, the city is packed with a cast of colourful characters; street side scammers, sexual deviants, junkies, trendy people with cybernetic implants or limbs, average criminals, mutants and the deformed, beggars, just plain crazy, and self-proclaimed religious prophets. In additional to the population, as you stroll down the streets you’ll also see heaps of trash piles as you’re being bombarded with advertisements that line nearly every inch of the infrastructure, sometimes even under your feet on the sidewalks.

As fascinating as the future presents itself, the core focus of the story is an eccentric (and somewhat psychotic) journalist named Spider Jerusalem who is forced to come out of his hermit like retirement and begin writing again. Think Hunter S. Thompson set in cyberpunk world, but with much more tattoos. His character is more than entertaining to say the least. He has a diverse vocabulary and is always inventing new swear laden insults for anyone he has to deal with, even those he considers friends. He’s a very jaded and sarcastic individual who thoroughly enjoys drug binges. Jerusalem also sports a small arsenal at times and is always willing to kick someone’s ass to get what he’s looking for. Above all though, he’s an amazing journalist who is not afraid to do anything it takes to get the truth published and bring justice to those who deserve it most.

While there is an overall story arc to all of Transmetropolitan that focuses on Jerusalem versus corrupt politicians, Ellis takes plenty of time to throw some focus on some other points. Some of these topics are existent only due to the nature of the fictional futuristic world the story is set in, though even thosecan be boiled down to philosophy that can be applied to today’s real world. Some of these topics are religion, rallies and protests, cryogenic preservation, poverty, the media, body altering with implants, and many more real world and fictional issues. Jerusalem does this all while giving his unique opinion on the subjects, often with sarcasm and swear words as expected.

I’m sure there are other great points worth mentioning about this series, but as I mentioned it’s been years since I’ve read it. Not only that, but the world Ellis has created is highly detailed and vast I can’t go over it all in one short write up. I highly recommend this comic if you’ve got interest in a dystopian somewhat cyberpunk world, or gonzo journalism, or politics, or the media. Even if you don’t, the eccentric Spider Jerusalem and artwork make for a highly entertaining read.

Album Recommendation: The Vandals Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes

 

Somewhere in my mid-teens, one of my best friends and I went fishing at a small lake nearby. It was a bust, but on the way home we listened to a local radio station that played offbeat music that you wouldn’t hear on the usual generic pop or rock stations. A song called “People That Are Going to Hell” by The Vandals began to play and we liked it even though we never heard of The Vandals before. It was a somewhat catchy punk song with amusing lyrics so it naturally got stuck in my head for a while. It wasn’t long before that I had their entire discography and found myself listening to them more and more. Picking my favourite album by them is difficult, as with any other of my favourite bands, but I did end up finding one I could listen to front start to finish. There’s a bit of an oddness to the album I chose though. It’s a country album. Besides this album, The Vandals don’t really play country music as they’re a punk band. I don’t really like country music, though I admit there is the odd tune I enjoy. So oddly enough, “The Vandals Play Really Bad Original Country Tunes” ended up being my favourite album of theirs. The album was originally released as “Slippery When Ill” though I enjoy the latter as it has a couple of additional songs that were not on the original.

Many punk bands out there are politically motivated but The Vandals don’t really seem to care for such things. Many of their albums and songs are tongue-in-cheek, immature, and sarcastic. So it should be no surprise that they decided to combine punk and country music for an entire album (they’ve also got an entire Christmas album too, go figure). Somehow it worked wonderfully even though I thought punk and twang would never mix. The tempo for most songs seems slightly slower than their typical punk songs but the pace is kept at a higher rate than your typical country song. There is also a great mix of twang in one song, while others favour a distorted guitar with a country rhythm. This is coupled great with some immature lyrics such as the kind that appear on songs like “Clowns Are Experts (At Making Us Laugh)” and “Play That Country Tuba, Cowboy.”

Without a doubt, my absolutely favourite song on the album is called “Elvis Decanter”. I would even go as far as to say it is amongst my favourite songs of all time. It just has a great rhythm and to me is the perfect mix of country and punk. Whether it was on purpose or just a great accident, the song’s lyrics are sad and seem to follow a similar formula that many original country songs utilize. A man who loses his girl due to alcoholism which was enabled by his lover. Slightly clichéd, but the lyrics end up being a little depressing. The only thing it seems to lack is mention of a horse, truck, and maybe a sunset.

It looks like this my shortest recommendation I’ve written. It’s also probably the most poorly worded one too. But I’m too lazy to go back and rewrite most of it. So in summation, if I had to pick my most beloved of all albums from The Vandals, this would be it. It’s fairly unique and very different from all their other stuff. If you like country music but not punk, still give this a try. If you like punk music but not country, give it a try too. If you like neither, why the hell did you read this?

Album Recommendation: Welt

 

Despite KMFDM being my favourite group of all time, I can’t say that I exclusively listen to industrial music, or really even all that much outside of KMFDM. While I do have some tracks and albums from other acts such as PIG, Combichrist, Ministry, or Nine Inch Nails, I find that my collection of music isn’t too heavily composed of the genre. Surprisingly enough, it also has very little Skinny Puppy which is basically an industrial legend. Perhaps it’s because most of the Skinny Puppy tracks I listened to were from a long time ago and just didn’t gel with my tastes or I didn’t give them a fair chance based on my first impression.

Later in the early 2000s I was introduced to a track called “Cracker” by ohGr. I found it stuck in my head for quite some time. To me it was electronic industrial music (rather than industrial metal or rock) with a mix of fast glitch pop, granted I didn’t know what glitch pop was at the time. Stuck in my head for days, I had to get the whole album called Welt and give it a spin. Now over 15 years later, I find myself listening to it again and again in my office and I think it’s safe to say this is one of my favourite of all time and deserves to be one of my recommendations. Here’s the kicker, Welt was primarily made by a fellow named Kevin Ogilvie, better known as Nivek Ogre who was a founding member of (you guessed it) Skinny Puppy and has served as the front man for the group since 1982.

While I’m a fan of almost every song on this album, two in particular stand out to my ears. As mentioned, “Cracker” was one of the first I heard on the album even before I had the album. I find this one to be a bit more upbeat than some of the others and perhaps even a little catchy, not unlike a pop song. As mentioned earlier, I instantly loved the glitch sounds used and think it complimented the light bass riff. Not to mention in the music video there’s a faux Eminem doing a little rap, which the younger me found amusing. The second track that caught my attention even before I got my hands on the album, is one called “Pore”. But this track caught my attention for different reasons as it’s a very different song. It almost seems like a light and simple drum loop with various sound effects put together to form riffs that would stand in place of a vocal choruses and lyrics. Throw in some fast talking lyrics (not rapping though) and a great warped bass riff and you got something that seems to be tuned into the essence that is experimental industrial music. My description doesn’t do it justice, but this one seems to be fairly difficult to describe, so just YouTube it and check it out.

Those are my two highlights, but the rest of the album is great too. Most of it will sound closer to “Cracker” though rather than “Pore” so if you find yourself not being a fan of the latter, this album is still worth giving a shot. I’d highly recommend “Suhleap”, “Solow”, “Lusid” and “Water” as those are my next picks after the first two. When I first heard the album “Welt”, it was a fairly different change from the usual industrial music I was used to that leaned towards rock. As a good friend of mine always put it “When I listen to industrial I usually imagine a factory with giant gears and hammers with lots of clanking” (I’m paraphrasing that but you get the idea). Something like the older KMFDM albums is what industrial is to me as well. But “Welt” is much more electronic, doesn’t use guitar, and even feels like it relies on riffs and choruses that seem to be inspire by pop music. If any of that sounds like your cup of tea I highly recommend giving this a listen.

As a side note, “Welt” came out back in 2001 and since then ohGr has released three other albums. I gave the next album, “SunnyPsyOp” a listen though I never found it as good as their first. And since then I haven’t listened to their newer albums either, though I hear good things. Maybe it’s time I get the newer ones and also a bunch of Skippy Puppy albums and give them a fair chance.