Buy We Can Never Go Home Vol. 1, written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, and illustrated by Josh Hood, at your local comic shop, or here.
Synesthesia is a cognitive condition where one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (totally lifted that straight from Wikipedia), like sounds and colors. It's also what I decided to call my column where I make playlists for comic books that I like.
When I first decided that I needed to write something about We Can Never Go Home, my first thought went to discussing the mixtapes on the back of each issue. Each one has ten new 80s punk classics, from bands like The Replacements, Bad Brains, The Clash, Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, and a whole bunch more. They've been a lot of fun to dig into myself, but I don't think I'd accomplish very much over-analyzing them here that hasn't been accomplished better elsewhere (read Our Band Could Be Your Life if you haven't already and you're curious). Instead, I've decided that it would be more fun to make my own mixtape of 2015 punk (soon-to-be) classics, and over-analyze that instead!
First, a quick intro to the comic... Madison is a cool girl, with a football-captain boyfriend and a college application stuffed with extra-curricular activities. Duncan is a loser, who has a knack for getting punched in the face by captains of the football team. Things happen, and they lead Duncan and Madison to discover that each of them have super powers. High school is high school, and Madison's exploits become gossip, but she remains quiet about the real reasons behind her "craziness" to keep her secret safe. This makes her something of a social pariah, and in turn she starts to get closer to the only person treating her honestly since the ordeal. Later, Duncan makes Madison a mixtape, just like the one's on the back of each issue. Soon after that, more things happen, and everything spirals out of control very quickly. It's awesome. Go give these wonderful artists $10 and read it.
In Issue Three, things really start to hit the fan, and at one point Madison finds herself without any of her own clothes. So, they go to buy some with a little chunk of the money that they stole from Duncan's drug dealers. Since Madison has recently let loose her long-hidden super-strength, she tries on a mess of superhero costumes, because Duncan feels that if they're going to be outlaws on the run, they need to look the part. In a defiant two-page spread, Madison tries on a number of iconic female DC and Marvel uniforms, casting each one aside while poking fun at how ridiculous these outfits would be on an actual girl ("bathing suit... bathing suit... bathing suit with belt... bathing suit as evening wear"), until she decides on jeans and a hoodie.
"What is that?" Duncan asks. "It's nobody. It's ME" Madison replies.
Now, in the past few years, I've had my socks rocked clean off by a brigade of wonderful, young, and singular punk bands that have created a counter-culture of their own, just like the hardcore bands of the 80s championed on the back cover of each issue of We Can Never Go Home. A lot of these punk bands also happen to be either female-fronted, entirely female, or mixed in a rocking co-ed harmony. Madison's power and strength of character in this comic during the 80s indie revolution reminded me a lot of these awesome women making forceful, singular, and emotional punk rock right now in 2015. I'd like to share a few of my favorites from this year, and this year alone (to make it harder/more fun), that I've thought of while reading what's become my favorite new comic from this year.
"Under a Rock" - Waxahatchee: Katie Crutchfield is my favorite songwriter currently making music right now, and she and her twin sister Alison (of Swearin') having been doing this well for awhile now (See: p.s. eliot). This song features my favorite diss line of the year, "I got upset I told you twice that I know how to break inside the brick house that you built around your cranium. You wear it like a crown." Sounds like something that Madison would say to Duncan when he's acting like an idiot (which is all the time).
"That Kind of Girl" - All Dogs: In the first scene, Madison kicks the crap out of her boyfriend, Ben, for pushing her down when she tries to stop him from kicking the crap out of Duncan. Afterwards, she becomes a social pariah when Ben spreads word that she's a psycho, and she can't say anything without spilling her secret. In this song, Maryn Jones gets herself out of a bad situation only to hear that people are speaking negatively behind her back because of it. "What's that mean when you say stay away from me?"
"Purple Rage" - DILLY DALLY: When Madison gets enraged and super strong, her eyes bleed blue electricity. It's not quite purple rage, but it's close enough for government work. When, Katie Monks sings "You don't know me man. You try to stop me but I'm not dead" she sings like someone who will fight against being pigeonholed and continue to change until she's dead. It's a good parallel for what Madison's character has gone through, and where she is going.
"Be Your Friend" - Dog Party: "I just want to be your friend." Don't you wish things were that simple? That we didn't let trivial things impede possible connections between like minds? That Duncan and Madison didn't have to go through such horrible experiences to find each other? I mean, had high school run it's course, they probably wouldn't have said more than ten words to each other over four years. At least we have punk rock and bands like Dog Party, who RIP SO HARD by the way.
"Texas Funeral" - Hop Along: Frances Quinlan has a super power, and it's her voice. I'm not just talking about her beautiful and emotive howl, but her writing too, which is simultaneously abstract yet full of details. I always have a good time trying to pin down what she's singing about, but no matter how tangled the narrative, her feelings are front, center, and unmistakable. In that regard, Hop Along connect on every single song. This one makes me think of the string of rotten luck and bad situations following Duncan and Madison on their deadly misadventure.
"Witness" - Makthaverskan: Loosely translated, Makthaverskan is a Swedish word for "powerful woman." This band is a force of nature, and this song is a maelstrom. "Who will survive? Who will survive?" Whether we are talking about We Can Never Go Home or anyone in frontwoman Maja Milner's path, I honestly don't know.
"Grind My Teeth" - Colleen Green: This barn burner starts out directed at an old ex, but eventually becomes an all-enveloping indictment of anything and everything that draws her ire and anxiety. She sounds like she's reluctantly taking on the world with her guitar, kind of like our budding outlaw superheroes have to do here, except they have super powers.
"Six" - Bully: There may be a better song from Feels Like to fit with the events of the comic, but "Six" is my favorite and I don't care if there's a better pick. I almost did the same thing with "TV" by Colleen Green, but I'm only allowing one lapse of this kind in my mixtape. "Fuck those jerks, they're only angry. They don't know you're great but I do!" It feels like it fits, right? It definitely feels like... something.
"Ideal World" - Girlpool: I wonder how many people have told Girlpool that they need a drummer. Tom Breihan, of Stereogum, called Girlpool "one of the greatest punk rock bands in the world right now" and he's dead on. They don't sound at all like punk rock, but that's the most punk rock thing about them. They channel a punk rock ethos through their need to only be themselves, just like Madison in the costume shop, and the music that comes out of these two is full of striking emotional honesty. "Tranquilize me with your ideal world." The world of We Can Never Go Home is far from ideal, because it's painfully real.
"Get Bummed Out" - Sports: Some relationships are doomed from the start, even when you don't want them to be. Some relationships are best ended before they've begun, left as flaming wrecks inside your mind to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Madison and Duncan have chemistry, despite themselves, but maybe it's best left alone before it explodes. Side note: Sports may not be a band anymore, but All of Something is still an incredible album displaying some serious rising talent. Lead vocalist Carmen Perry already has an album out under her stage name Addie Pray, and it's great.
"Raising the Skate" - Speedy Ortiz: Don't call Sadie Dupuis bossy just because she's better than you, and more than capable of telling you what's what. In fact, we would all be better off if the word "bossy" was expunged from our vocabulary altogether. Madison meets a lot of men, especially later in the story, who want to control her and her powers. She doesn't take so kindly to that, just as she didn't take so kindly to her football captain boyfriend pushing her around.
"Anywhere But Here" - Chumped: Breaking another rule here, Teenage Retirement came out in 2014. But Chumped just broke up, leaving us this one beautiful and vital mess of a record to help us get our shit together before it's too late, or not, or whatever. It feels even more important to me now than it did a year ago (disclaimer: it felt pretty goddamn important to me a year ago), which makes it even more important that I share it with as many people as possible. As for this song, it's amazing, and it's maybe my fourth or fifth favorite song on the album, but I thought the subject of imagining you were anywhere except where you're stuck meshes well with We Can Never Go Home.
"Wave of History" - Downtown Boys: I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I caught Downtown Boys in our hometown of Providence back in April. At first, I'll be honest here, I was kind of put off by the militant stage presence Victoria Ruiz and co. That lasted for about half of a song (and they're short songs), because this band has so much ENERGY (and two saxophone players... in a punk band... yesss). It's infectious. They BELIEVE in things, and they are not afraid to impose those beliefs on the world to try and make it a better place. Let's hope Duncan and Madison get that opportunity when this story returns in 2016.
"Criminal Image" - Screaming Females: This band exemplifies the "get in the van" mentality of Black Flag, arguably the hardcore band that started it all. They also happen to be the tightest rock and roll trio I've ever had the pleasure of getting leveled by in person. Marissa Paternoster is the best guitar player making music right now, and if you disagree, I'd feel sorry for you if I wasn't too busy rocking out to care. Jarrett and King Mike are no slouches either. If I had to pick a theme song for We Can Never Go Home from 2015, it's this one. That's why I've put it last.
I could have kept going, but this was pretty long as it is. For those who wish I did, I'll be back with another playlist for another comic arc when I can. Keep digging (or follow me on Spotify!), keep listening, keep rocking, and most of all thanks for reading.