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Originally posted on The Weirdest Band in the World:

Photo by heikkituuli.kuvat.fi

Photo by heikkituuli.kuvat.fi

It’s Labor Day here in America, so to celebrate, we thought we’d play you all something that has the power to actually induce labor. Here’s “Insomnia,” nine minutes of crazy from the Norwegian experimental singer Maja Ratkje. Our thanks to our old pal Miss Hawkline for this one. Miss M, when you post stuff like in the comments section, that’s how we know you really love us.

To hear more of Maja’s unearthly shrieks and sighs, check out her website.

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“This is vengeance, and so I am to ferry you to hell.”

After finishing Hell Girl, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Even when I was halfway through, I found myself missing it. Fiction is what keeps me going, and when a story I love is over, I always feel kind of sad. It’s true that I can return to it whenever I want, but it’s not the same. I miss having something new to look forward to. Anime and manga often has this effect on me. I don’t know why, but there’s some quality to it that makes me kind of melancholy. I hope that I never become too old and cranky for anime. It gives me a feeling that nothing else can. By that, I don’t mean to say that it’s better than any other art forms; they’re all equal to me. (Or rather, they’re impossible to measure against one another.) All I mean is that it’s unique.

Hell Girl is haunting. Though it never goes as deep as Serial Experiments Lain (which has become the ultimate work of fiction in  my mind), they do share a lot of elements and themes. Even their protagonists are similar. Ai Enma, like Lain, is silent and self-contained. She seems emotionless, but her personality is not as still as it appears on the surface. She is a supernatural being for the modern age. Ai has no problem with using technology, and the series mixes the creepiness of the internet with the eeriness of ghost stories beautifully. Even Ai’s outfit shows this; despite being centuries old, she wears a school uniform, something associated with modern times. One of the reasons why Hell Correspondence, the website used to contact Ai, is such a scary concept is that it sounds exactly like one of those urban legends you come across from time to time. Hell Girl understands what makes stories like that so chilling and effective. In some ways they’re clichéd (Hell Correspondence can only be accessed at midnight) and over-the-top, but that adds to their atmosphere. It’s almost like they’re confirming why these horror tropes are used so often- because, according to such stories, they happen in real life. The thing about urban legends is that they should be laughable. They’re absurd, after all, and any sensible adult can assure you that they’re not real. But, they still scare us, because of how extreme they are, and because there’s the slightest sliver of a possibility that they might be true after all. (Being the sort of person who worries constantly about every little thing, they terrify me, though I can assure any other sensitive people reading this that they’re all completely false.)

And then there’s also the element of nastiness to them. Urban myths are mostly directed at young people. They focus on young people’s problems, on how petty young people can be to one another, and on what could happen when such pettiness is taken too far. In Hell Girl, people (usually teenagers) summon Ai Enma when they want their tormentor banished to hell. However, doing this means that they too will end up in hell, though only after they die. Many of the characters who choose to do this are otherwise sweet people who end up forced into horrible situations that seem impossible to escape from. I usually don’t like social commentary, but I have to applaud this series for showing that bullying is a disgusting, petty thing to do, and can easily ruin somebody’s life. The media often depicts it as something harmless, but as Hell Girl shows, it really isn’t. I found the first episode difficult to watch because it reminded me too much of my own experiences in school.

The main focus of Hell Girl isn’t really horror, though. Again like Lain, there’s a strong feeling of urban alienation to it, and a sort of melancholy. Its opening and ending themes are both mellow pop songs, and it contains as much slice-of-life elements as it does supernatural. Hell Girl is actually quite beautiful, with some gorgeous artwork. Despite her job, Ai always maintains a calm silence that comes across as more poignant than creepy, and her three assistants are almost like a family to her. The moments when they act like normal people, or show their concern  for one another aren’t done for comic relief, but are genuine and make their characters more believable. It’s actually quite touching, and is one of the reasons I feel so fondly for this series. (Though there was one moment in episode two where Wanyuudo and Ichimoku cruelly taunted one of their clients that made me extremely uneasy.)

It’s true that Hell Girl does have a lot of mediocre episodes, though. The exposition was often quite clunky, and the premise was worn a little too thin. A good few episodes were rather…episodic, and there were times when the characters didn’t act like real people would. However, I still couldn’t stop watching, because Ai herself is just so fascinating. I love her monotone, the mystery that surrounds her, and the eerie scenes where she calmly ferries a new soul to hell. Luckily, around episode eight, a plot begins to develop, rather than focusing on individual stories, and we get to learn more about her, as well as see some variations on the usual formula. The final three episodes were extremely heart-wrenching, and Ai’s back-story will not disappoint you. I can’t wait until I have the chance to see series two and three. Until then, I will have to be patient.

Review: Neuromancer

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

William Gibson writes about technology, the future and urban life in a way that is poetic and often quite abstract, enthralled with computers in the same way that others are by nature. He approaches these things from such an alien perspective that it can make his intricate plots hard to follow. (Not that it matters too much to me, though; when reading a book, I’ll always pay more attention to prose than plot.) He doesn’t give you a large amount of context or background information, as you’re expected to read his work from the perspective of somebody who is familiar with all of the technobabble and takes their world for granted. Neuromancer uses familiarity to make the reader feel like an outsider, and it’s all of this that makes it stand out from many of its imitators. The only aspects of it that feel dated are the surface ones, because those are the tropes that have been copied most often. (And Gibson himself copied some of those from detective fiction.) While the hackers, ninjas and fast-paced action scenes have become overused, the deeper aspects tend to be left untouched. Neuromancer might be a thriller, but it is one that is totally immersed in its world, to the point where it becomes disorientating. Like Jeff Noon’s Vurt series, it shows us just how weird the future could be, and how weird our present would be to somebody from the past.

There are characters in this novel such as Molly, Riviera and 3Jane (my favourite), who could easily have been introduced as individuals with unique abilities. Instead, Gibson shows how weird they have become, thanks to the technology that alters them. Molly has computer screen eyes, for instance. Her eyes aren’t balls contained in sockets, but smooth glass. She can’t even cry like a normal person does. Her tears come out through her mouth or something, so whenever she spits it’s a hint that she could be in pain. Case, the protagonist, uses his skills as a hacker to “jack in” and see things from her eyes, and, in a way, share her body. Doing something like that would no doubt be a dizzying experience, and while Gibson only touches on it lightly, he does give us some idea of what such a sensation would be like.

“Into her darkness, a churning synaesthesia, where her pain was the taste of old iron, scent of melon, wings of a moth brushing her cheek. She was unconscious, and he was barred from her dreams. When the optic chip flared, the alphanumerics were haloed, each one ringed with a faint pink aura. “

Neuromancer is like the result of a time paradox. It’s a book that seems influenced by itself, like Gibson from the past read it in the future or something. The descriptions of the arcade, the beach and the cityscapes  read like the creation of someone who has spent all their time reading the novels, watching the films and playing the video games that took influence from this. There’s something lonely about Linda Lee, who reminds so much of the people who love stories like this. As for Lady 3Jane, I read her as an anime character, mostly because she really does seem like one.  3Jane could have easily written the book herself, too, because her fascination with cyberspace leads to her dialogue being some of the most beautiful parts of Gibson’s writing. I could imagine 3Jane reading the whole thing out loud in her calm voice.

While it lacks the maturity of Pattern Recognition, this is still a brilliant work, especially considering that it was Gibson’s debut as a novelist. I usually don’t enjoy action novels, but this one is so well-written that it doesn’t matter, focusing more on the thriller aspects. The biggest flaw is his portrayal of Molly, who does end up being objectified. It’s a shame, because she’s otherwise an interesting character, and those moments leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Luckily, his later works seem to contain far less of that.) Aside from that unfortunate shortcoming, though, Neuromancer is a great book, with enough substance to back up its style.

 “With this comic I am pretending I am making a comic strip for a newspaper in the early 20th century.”

-Ryan Armand

It’s only recently that I’ve started reading webcomics. I used to think that there weren’t many good ones out there, but luckily I’ve been proven wrong. (Beforehand, I just wasn’t looking hard enough.) Hopefully, they’ll be able to fill the gap left by the decline of newspaper strips. Webcomics allow artists a lot more space, something that their newspaper counterparts no longer have. Some strips from the papers have even moved online. Ryan Armand’s minus (no capital letters) didn’t start out that way, but it’s drawn to look as if it could have. minus takes inspiration from classic print comics such as Little Nemo, and is painted on large paper with plenty of colours, like a Sunday strip, but simply told. It’s one of my favourite comics in any medium. minus is done in the same vein as Calvin and Hobbes and Cul de Sac, looking at the strange and whimsical elements of childhood without being too sentimental or twee.

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The titular minus is a young girl who might easily be omnipotent. She’s quiet, and keeps mostly to herself, apart from her one human friend and a few ghosts. While cute, her morality is a dark enough shade of grey, and the comic has enough hints of darkness to keep it from turning saccharine. The strip is otherwise pretty light, though, in tone and style as well as colours, but it’s all blended perfectly naturally, and always with a tint of poignancy. Some of my favourites include numbers 54, 116, 117, 99, 1011 , 36, and the final one (it contains spoilers), 130. Really, though, all of them are worth reading. I went through the whole thing in one afternoon.

Originally posted on The Weirdest Band in the World:

Dancing Deadlips Potworow

In what is clearly a match made in both heaven and hell, two of our favorite weird Polish artists, Dancing Deadlips and Potworow, have collaborated on a new track. It’s called “Buffalo Bill’s Defunct” and like each lady’s solo stuff, it’s dark, creepy, menacing and undeniably sexy all at once.

They’ve also put together a very Blair Witch-like video for the song, which you can see below. If you want to download the track for free, you can do so via Bandcamp.

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I probably should have alerted The Weirdest Band in the World to this, but Motion Sickness of Time Travel (real name Rachel Evans) is so good that I had to do a post on her music myself.

MSOTT is one of those things you come across through a lucky accident. Evans describes her music as “musical witchcraft from outer space”, which is so accurate that I wonder why I bother even trying to add any of my my own. (And according to 20JazzFunkGreats, her style is “digital shoegaze”.) Her way with words should be indication enough as to how unearthly the music is. Any writer can tell you that even prose needs a rhythm to it. Words have a musical quality, and a good understanding of one can help with the other. Many of the titles to her pieces sound like whimsical excerpts from a slightly twee stream-of-consciousness poem. Even her name puts strange images into your head.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel is perfect for those who enjoy Tropic of Cancer. Out of the two, I’d have to say that Tropic of Cancer is my favourite, but that’s only because her music has a darker, more urban atmosphere, as well as a Coldwave influence. Both are equally talented at forming proper soundscapes with a deep and witchy mood. One can only hope that some day the two will team up. (Though if that happened, my ears might melt out of ecstasy.)

Subtle Tea

While every so often it’s nice to read something complex and ornate, understatement often has a deeper affect on me.

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