Comics

Uzumaki Vol. 1-3

Stefan Robak

Junji Ito creates an innovative and bizarre horror series that has thus far proved to be his most creatively successful series to date.

Uzumaki Vol. 1-3

Publisher: Viz Media
Contributors: Junji Ito (Artist)
Price: $15.95 - $16.95
Writer: Junji Ito
Item Type: Comic
Length: 200-260
Amazon

Sometimes it seems that the horror genre is out of completely original ideas, especially in the world of comics. While there are still lots of great twists on ghost stories, urban legends and classic monsters, such as Frankenstein's Monster and vampires, it is rare to get a horror that is completely new and different. But in Uzumaki, creator Junji Ito creates a unique horror series unlike anything else in comics. The threat in this three-volume series is not personified in a single entity, but rather in a shape, the spiral, which seems to alter the nature of reality itself. Though the story itself is clearly influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Junji Ito creates an innovative and bizarre horror series that has thus far proved to be his most creatively successful series to date.

Uzumaki focuses on a small fishing town Kurozu-cho, where a young girl named Kirie notices that her boyfriend Shuichi is beginning to look despondent and weary. It seems that he is worried about his father, who has begun an unnatural obsession with spirals: he collects anything that is spiral shaped, he refuses to eat food without spirals in it and he constantly raves about the simple elegant beauty of the spiral. Shuichi's father even claims that spirals can be manifested within the human body, and plans on proving it. Days later, Shuichi's father dies (supposedly from falling down the stairs and breaking his neck) and during the funeral Shuichi tells Kirie the truth about his father's death: he had crushed all of his bones by somehow twisting his body into a spiral. Things get stranger when the smoke from the crematorium rises into the air above the town, taking the form of a black spiraling cloud.

Following this, Kirie begins to find her life invaded by all sorts of other strange phenomena revolving around spirals: a friend with a scar that seems to turn into a vortex, her own father's growing obsession with spiraled pottery and even her own hair curling into strange hypnotic patterns. Shuichi sees that the town is actually infected with spirals and begins to sense where spirals are and understanding how they manifest themselves. As the series continue the threat escalates as the spiral phenomenon gets more outlandish and deadly with people turning into snails, a lighthouse that dizzies and confuses all that it shines on and the town being struck by multiple hurricanes. As the series continues to its conclusion, we see the people of the city being driven mad by both the horror of the situation and the almost irresistible pull of the strange spiral force that grips the town.

What makes Uzumaki really intriguing is that it takes a very simple concept, spirals, and turns it into a strange and unsettling threat. It is a threat that is completely unavoidable, which is proven later when Shuichi realizes that there is an obvious spiral in the human body: the cochlea, a sensor for sound in the inner ear. We also see that the spirals aren't just manipulating matter, but also people, as we see that many of the people who encounter the spiral begin to go mad. The madness involves a character's desire for attention, such as a young girl with a growing scar that attracts boys, a boy called "Jack-in-the-Box" trying to get Kirie's attention by scaring her and a girl who discovers that spiraled hair can mesmerize people. As the threat grows over the course of the series, it becomes apparent that characters are beginning to accept the spiral, often without realizing it. At one point a man is desperately trying to find a way to leave town, but when next we see him, he's happily building houses for the town. Somehow, even with each new revelation of the spirals' capabilities, the nature of the shape remains mysterious throughout the course of the series. Is it malicious, or simply a mindless cancer? Is it sentient (which is implied when it seems a hurricane is fixated on Kirie, almost as if it where in love with her) or a thoughtless reflection of human madness?

The art in Uzumaki is a real tour de force for creator Junji Ito, and may be one of the most visually impressive horror comics ever made. This is in no small part due to the fact that the threat in the story is a geometric one, and although the spiral is the threat throughout the series, each chapter allows Ito to do something completely new and different with his visual style. Highlights include the shocking scene in the first chapter where Shuichi's father is found as a spiral, a scene in which a girl's spiral is devouring her body, two young lovers entwining their bodies like rope, and a boy turning into a snail. While each phenomenon is connected to the same threat, no two chapters feel alike for the first two thirds of the book (after which point the chapters become less episodic). In fact, I personally have noticed that after reading all three books in a row that I had felt dizzy and confused, as though I too was affected by the malicious geometric entity.

"The devil is in the details" always struck me as an odd expression and like many expression it didn't really work for me until I read this book. Sometimes things are intriguing when all of the small details of a work force you to focus intensely on the piece itself. This work, however, makes you focus on the details outside of the book. Look around right now. How many spirals do you see? How many spirals are invisible, but you know are there? Compared to all the other shapes in the room, why does the use of the spiral seem so different than the use of any other shape? Themes of obsession and madness are common in Junji Ito's previous work (such as Tomie, about a beautiful girl men are compelled to kill), but this is probably his strongest book released to date (although his latest work remains untranslated).

This might be the first comic book that not only scared me, but also gave me nightmares. I find that many reviewers complain that because of the limitations of the medium, one can't make a really scary comic, but they clearly haven't read this series. Frankly, it's hard to deny that this book is genuinely unnerving and brings back to both comics and the horror genre something that it has been missing for a while: something completely new.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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