July 2nd, 2010 5:33 pm | by CASEY JARMAN Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns, Columns

Crapshoot! (Vol. 2, Issue 1)

CrapshootHi, Casey Jarman—WW's music editor and resident comics/videogames nerd—here. I've decided to re-launch my short-lived old column, "Casey Jarman's Crapshoot Starring Casey Jarman." I've lost a couple of the unnecessary "Casey Jarmans" in the title, to seem a bit less arrogant. I also won't be starting this re-launched version with a reference to Genesis (the band or the bible). Instead, I'll try to skip to the chase and make it a real-life list of all the crap I like; a catch-all home for rants on music, art and technology; a little corner of the internet I can call my own.

Why would you read about comics and basketball and crap like that on a local music blog? Well, for one, I'm going to soundtrack each installment. The idea is that you press play on the YouTube video and peruse at your own leisure. The idea isn't to link to things that are new and buzzworthy, just to report on stuff I'm really excited about. Sometimes that'll mean covering the Bee Gees, sometimes it'll mean writing a short essay about Concrete. Sometimes it'll get real lazy, sometimes it'll get really inspired. And if you don't like it, I can't help you. This is as much to keep me sane (and bring in lots of new swag, of course!) as it is written for a general audience. Maybe I shouldn't admit that. Maybe my bosses are reading. Anyway, I'll write it whether you read it or not. Thanks for getting this far.

Here we go:

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a super-pusher of the last Maxwell album. It is, without question, the disc I've listened to more than any other in the last year. I know Max got his fair share of critical praise for BlackSummer's Night (and for the below single, "Pretty Wings," in particular), but it's not enough. This disc is every bit as good as either of D'Angelo's discs, and it's the best R&B album I've heard in years. Now, granted, my R&B listening habits began with Boyz II Men and skipped to 60s and 70s albums from guys like Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield and Al Green from there. But for people like me (read: people who like horns and some degree of lyrical subtlety in their R&B), this is some heavy duty stuff. And I keep running into people who still haven't checked it out. So this is for them. And if anyone reading this went to the show in Seattle last month, please don't tell me about it. You're going to break my heart.

*Show of the week that WW didn't write about: Mic Crenshaw listening party, Saturday night at Slabtown. Dude is a beast, we just don't usually do much with "listening parties." This one is more than just a listening party, though, and I feel kinda bad about missing it in print.

All of these Jacques Tardi books that Fanta is reissuing lately are flipping my shit. The first book, West Coast Blues, was a crime novel that Tardi—a really genius catoonist who's famous in his French homeland, but just a cult favorite elsewhere—adapted from a crime novel back in 1976, is a spiritual ancestor of books like 100 Bullets and Stumptown: An early example of graphic noir done just right.

The second Tardi re-release, You Are Here, was just as engaging, albeit in a totally different way. The book has this weird, depressing slapstick tone to it, and reading it will give you the same feeling that watching the original Willy Wonka movie does: Entertained, exhausted and vaguely bummed-out.

But this third one, It Was the War of the Trenches, this one just might kill you. It's a collection of war stories with no winners, no heroes, no moral and no God, certainly. Tardi studied combat photographs from World War I in great detail, and the barren trenchscapes he draws throughout the book prove his OCD compulsion to get everything right. But his characters retain a bulbous cartoony look that really endears them to you, even as their guts spill out across the page. I could give a shit about war, and no war stories (save for Kurt Vonnegut and Modern Warfare 2) have ever been able to hold my attention. I read Trenches in small chunks (because it's just that depressing), but it held my attention completely. Its characters are as bored and bummed by the idea of war as I am—they've just been thrust into it. This is an awful, amazing book.

Image courtesy of Fantagraphics books
It Was the War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi - page

I have an Xbox 360 (thanks for asking), but I have probably spent more time playing the "Arcade" download games than blockbuster titles. I'm especially stuck on puzzle and board games, and having a digitized version of Risk has always been high on the priority list for me (I played the Sega Genesis version for years, because it's faster and easier than rolling dice). Now there is one, and I gotta say, it's pretty sweet. Lots of things Electronic Arts touches turn to shit (James Bond titles; any game that goes online; Madden—which I will never forgive for killing the NFL 2K series), but they've done a pretty interesting job on Risk. Not only do they give purists a reasonably straight port of the old global domination board game, they've introduced a number of new maps and gameplay elements—DANGER! DANGER!—that actually work really well. Not only that, but they let you choose from robot, cat, military, yeti-guy and undead armies to fight with, adding animations that are pretty fun to watch and have a lot of character.

The online multiplayer has some icky problems, but if you've played other XBOX Live Arcade titles, you're probably pretty used to that (lots of games just don't have enough people playing them to make online matching work correctly; this one suffers from panic attacks whenever a player drops out of a game). It's still Risk, and it's got a lot of extras (you can flood your friends armies by demolishing a dam, for instance) that make the game more interesting than a straight-up conversion. I dig it. Here's a video:

It's been floating around at a handful of blogs (I have Ball Don't Lie to thank for pointing it out to me), but this Boston Globe profile of Ray Williams is a pretty intense read. Williams, once a star player for the New York Knicks, now lives in a car in Florida. I can't say the story worried me so much for ex-NBA players in particular (though I'm sure, like so many other American institutions, it exploited the hell out of them early on), but it definitely made me think about the people I pass on the street every day. It also just made me really jealous of the writer, Bob Hohler—what a hell of a subject to find.

1. Menomena, Mines (and the poster that lies within)
2. iPhone folders
3. Fireworks from Vancouver
4. Blue Giant, Blue Giant
5. Finder

Thanks for reading. See you next week, and every week until I run out of things to talk about. Wanna tip me off to something I'd dig, or send me your comic/game/cool shit? Email: cjarman (at) wweek (dot) com; Address: 2220 NW Quimby, Portland OR 97210. Bam!
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