The Groove Seeker: Mayer Hawthorne’s How Do You Do?

On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Mayer Hawthorne: How Do You Do? (Universal Republic, 10/11/11)

Mayer Hawthorne: “A Long Time”

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As the soul revival sound goes, Mayer Hawthorne is in a league of singers who strike the proper balance between old school and new school. Yes, the singer’s act takes greatest influence from the early Northern soul era, but there’s more to Hawthorne’s music than a game of name-that-classic-45.

In exception to the Impressions EP and the New Holidays cover on his 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne’s music is wholly original. He shows his appreciation for the throwback song-craft by mirroring its fundamentals: carefully placed horn sections, sweet harmonies, tight group-vocal backing melodies, and exceptionally smooth and polished arrangements.

For his sophomore effort, Hawthorne reaches deeper into the late-’60s, early-’70s reference bag to make a no-frills record packed with tolerantly addictive soul hooks. How Do You Do? covers a lot of ground and shows some new sides to Hawthorne’s musical palette with cleaner and more robust production and instrument arrangements. Whether or not his jump to Universal Republic from Stones Throw has anything to do with it is arguable, but Hawthorne finds a way to use time-honored soul maxims to forge an individual sound.

Kagan McLeod: Infinite Kung Fu

Zine Scene: Infinite Kung Fu

Kagan McLeod: Infinite Kung FuKagan McLeodInfinite Kung Fu (Top Shelf, 9/13/11)

At first glance, Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu would seem to have limited appeal. Despite inspiring near-religious devotion in its fans, martial-arts movies have been marginalized, commercialized, and derided in popular culture as a sort of kitschy guilty pleasure. Attempts have been made to revive the genre, most notably in anime, but Infinite Kung Fu may be the first graphic novel to stand a decent chance of creating new interest in a niche genre.

Innovative and smart, Infinite Kung Fu pays homage to classic elements of martial-arts films, from wise masters to wise-ass students, but it manages to do away with the clunky dialogue and feel of Asian exploitation that have come to dominate many viewers’ perspectives on kung fu. Instead, McLeod returns to the kung-fu story as a quasi-mystical battle between good and evil. As with the Kill Bill films, whose own master, Gordon Liu, provides a foreword, Infinite Kung Fu is a loving tribute and a partial reinvention.

McLeod, a longtime fan of kung-fu films, populates his story with familiar archetypes that nonetheless remain stylish and cool. The story begins with the eight Immortals, grand kung-fu masters who have gained superpowers, and their fight against the rapidly increasing legions of zombies on Earth. Each of the Immortals’ students has turned to dark magic, with the exception of Moog Joogular, a sort of Isaac Hayes/Jimi Hendrix mash-up with a sword.

With the help of Moog and his assistant, Thursday Thoroughgood, the leader of the Immortals trains a young army deserter in the ways of kung fu. Along the way, he must learn fighting techniques from animals, defeat a ghostly emperor, and figure out the secret of the undead’s resurgence.