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Smoke Signal and Kano's Stars

Cover images from Desert Island Comics.

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For "Three From Me," our weekly WFUV feature, DJs and staffers write about a trio of experiences, inspirations, or discoveries. Fill-in and overnight host Benham Jones writes: "I escaped the city earlier this year to live in the Berkshires, on the land and off the grid. I spent the spring on a tree farm, focusing inward, learning about the forest and repairing my relationship with the sun. I returned to New York on my 33rd birthday, about 25 pounds lighter, in less pain, more at peace, and ready to move forward. I’ve spent the last couple months in the city, continuing to mine the quieter places. Here are some my favorite ways to drift off."

Smoke Signal
Nothing relaxes my system like two hours on airplane mode, sinking into a pile of comic books. I enjoy my regular monthly superhero titles (currently Silver Surfer Black and The Immortal Hulk) and am always picking through the Queens Library system for classics. 

But nothing fills me with capital letter PLEASURE like Smoke Signal, the free comics newspaper from Williamsburg’s Desert Island Comics. Smoke Signal is edited by Gabe Fowler and occasional guests, each issue is a premium visual experience and a primer on the contemporary landscape of comics, illustration, and psychedelia. (Fowler is also behind the annual Comic Arts Brooklyn Festival.)

Think of it as Mad magazine by way of Kafka, in full color and with equal interest in politics, gross-out humor, and philosophy. There is no wrong way to enjoy a Smoke Signal as long as you take your time; every edition is overflowing with quality, and the conscious consumer will be dully rewarded.

While the cultural landscape (and skyline) of Williamsburg has changed drastically over the last fifteen years, Desert Island’s steadfast commitment to the ethos of punk art and DIY has only made its voice stronger. Even the newspaper format feels transgressive; in this day and age of digital color on $1000 touchscreens, I can’t help but feel like I’m flipping the bird when I crack open a Smoke Signal on the subway. NYC is richer for the work being done at Desert Island (beyond superb curation by Fowler, the shop operates on a consignment basis for artist-distributed work), and I fear the day it becomes a victim of NYC’s real estate race-to-the-bottom. (How soon is too soon for the store to apply for protection as a historic cultural landmark?)

Fowler’s clever use of digital tools has brought international acclaim, allowing projects to take on a global scope. In turn, Smoke Signal, which celebrated its tenth birthday this past summer, recently shifted away from the anthology format to curated solo artist issues, focusing on creators without books in print in the States. Recent bombshell editions have highlighted Tetsunori Tawaraya and Baptiste Virot. Treat yourself to some eye candy: Smoke Signal is always available free at Desert Island or via mail order for a few bucks.

Stars of the Lid
I had to put my cat Kano to sleep in September. She was the best. When her diagnosis became terminal, the vet advised I keep a close eye on her and enjoy the time left. We watched classics she’d never seen and snacked on gourmet seafood, but mostly just stared at each other and listened to records.

In the final week, too much excitement would send her hiding, so our playlist adjusted accordingly: William Basinski, Arvo Pärt, Aphex Twin, and Debussy. All the dreamiest sounds of the last century made a bed for Kano as her body wound down. Of everything we absorbed, nothing resonated in the same way as iconic drone pioneers, Stars of the Lid. This Austin-born duo makes drumless contemporary classical music that has been embraced by yogis and ravers alike, with unhurried compositions that have the textures of expansive (and often ineffable) processes in the natural and interior world.

Uniquely, they do this primarily without synthesizers, focusing instead on guitar, piano, and heavily-affected classical instruments. The effect is organic but energized, seemingly ancient but also from the future. While I recommend exploring the band’s whole output, we found particular comfort in the epic three-LP set, And Their Refinement of the Decline (2007). Tracks like “Even if You’re Never Awake” and “Don’t Bother They’re Here” play like elegies on the approaching white light and, clocking in at just over two hours, the whole album feels like watching your own Viking funeral on the lazy river.

Stars on the Lid articulate the processes available to everyone, hard to articulate but always remarkable with patience and consideration. We spent Kano’s last morning just lazing on my freshly-made bed, listening to some of our favorite records. Around 11:30am, Dr. Wendy McCulloch of Pet Requiem arrived, a rare home vet who performs euthanasia on-site, and just the most amazing mix of practicality and sensitivity. We moved out into the living room for more space and sunlight and, after the sedative was administered, Kano crawled into my lap, eyes getting heavy and heart slowing down. In my bedroom, I heard the track change.

Fordham University Libraries
Working at WFUV has all the perks you might expect: a wonderful community of staff and listeners, a non-stop avalanche of new music, and bagels in the kitchen. One unexpected perk has been access to Fordham’s exceptional library system. I wandered in one day while killing time and tried checking out books with my FUV ID. And it worked! They didn’t have any of the beach reads I was craving that day, but the Walsh Library in Rose Hill has given me access to something way more valuable (and harder to find): an unbeatable collection of contemporary poetry.

This place buys all the latest cutting-edge verse and just leaves it on a shelf of “New Arrivals” in the lobby for a month (usually jammed between volumes and volumes of reactionary poli-sci “analysis”) before moving them to this third-floor hidey hole called the poetry room! Some favorites from the past few months have included: R E D, Chase Berggrun’s devastating erasure and reclamation of Bram Stoker's Dracula; Ilya Kaminsky’s charged protest-narrative Deaf Republic; and the complex aural tapestries that comprise Morgan Parker’s superb Magical Negro.

Make a friend with a university ID and raid the stacks!

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