Sometimes, the most memorable lines in music are the nerdier pop culture references. I know Biggie says, “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,” in “Juicy,” but I don’t know what comes before or after that. Or in “Nothin’ On You,” when B.o.B. says “You’re my Wonder Woman; call me Mr. Fantastic. Stop. Think about it,” I stop and think about it! Is it forbidden romance because it’s a Marvel Man and a DC Lady? Is Mr. Fantastic capable of infidelity? Is Wonder Woman attracted to intellect?
When listening to Geek Rock Band Kirby Krackle’s albums – their self titled 2009 album and E for Everyone – I can rest a little easier. Almost all their references are nerdy; even the band name is nerdy. A “Kirby Krackle” refers to the balls of sparkling energy featured in many a drawing by comic legend Jack Kirby. From a fan perspective and a music perspective, the references have been thought through; their songs are the product of the band flexing both muscles.
The classic Konami Code is both in the chorus and the title of “Up Up Down Down.” But it’s a song about a boy’s pining, courting and dating of a geek girl. The references bounce all over the geek spectrum, from The Legend of Zelda’s Hyrule to Marvel’s Kingpin. The keenest observations must come from comic store owner Jim Demakanos, A lyric like “Like you, I pull from the middle, and skip the books up on the top,” is a specific comic store mannerism, one that I have. “Up Up Down Down” weaves all these together to turn the Konami code into a catchy hook.
Some songs are an exercise in artful cramming. “Roll Over” describes a Friday Night spent clubbing with some well known fictional characters. Though be warned: “Tossing back Johnny Bravos” may lead to spending a lot of time around a number of anthropomorphic animals: Smurfs, Rescue Rangers and ThunderCats, oh my! (Incidentally, is there a real drink called a Johnny Bravo? I’d drink that.) Because the song is laden with references, it is almost like a dare to anyone else who would try it. Nerdcore Rapper Adam War Rock accepted the challenge during New York Comic Con 2010, taking it a different direction than GMK the Great did on the album.
I call this a chalkboard song because I can imagine that, at some point during the process, there was a board rife with names, with check marks placed next to the references that work and lines through the ones that don’t. Thanks for leaving Lawndale on the board.
Another chalkboard song is “Great Lakes Avengers.” A Guy is willing to join a Superhero Team. Any Superhero Team. Any Superhero Team BUT the Great Lakes Avengers, sharing the sentiment of many a comic fan: “Like a Narwhal with a fireball, they just don’t make sense at all.” The song goes from one rejection to the next. Too Young for the JSA, too Old for the Power Pack should the new Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride. What’s appealing is that a song like this can be course corrected; Singer/Guitarist Kyle Stevens acknowledges that Hawkman joined The Birds of Prey after Blackest Night in the middle of an acoustic performance. Willing to accept changes in canon for the sake of the song is a reminder that Kirby Krackle are fanboys first, musicians second.
They have another unique skill in that they are able to homage a character, adeptly summarizing and analyzing Mega Man or The Thing. “On and On” chronicles a week in Wolverine’s life and his seemingly endless fighting, except when he’s drinking and sometimes even then. But he uses the battles against his many enemies to resolve the many issues in his past. It’s an excellent audio companion to Jason Aaron’s A Day in the Life that waxes on the same topic.
On the DC end, their song about Green Lantern, “Ring Capacity,” was the first song of theirs I heard, and it stays as one of my favorites. It follows Hal Jordan who is locked in battle with Sinestro, arguably his greatest foe. They capture all the key elements of a Hal Jordan Green Lantern story: the history between Jordan and Sinestro; Hal’s refusal to give into fear, instilled in him by his father; a power ring, further depleted by each chorus’ end; the number 2814 a.k.a. Earth. By the time the song reaches the bridge, which contains the Green Lantern Oath, the enthusiasm that Kirby Krackle has put into the song is on full tilt, possessing the same kind of energy found in comics.
“Ring Capacity” is their breakout song. It’s available on Rock Band; Reciting the Oath never gets old; there is an added thrill to singing it. There is a Facebook Group to get the Song on the Green Lantern Soundtrack. Shortly after releasing an animated video for the song, DC Comics Chief Creative Officer and long-time Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns tweeted them saying “Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps.” And as we know, if it’s Tweeted, it’s Truth.
I wouldn’t call Kirby Krackle a novelty band because that’s unfair. There’s genuine artistry behind their songs, except for “Teabagged,” which they admit is the dumbest song in history. I enjoy their songs for both the musicianship and also the references, even when I don’t get the latter (I listened to “Vault 101” for far too long before learning it was a nod to the Fallout videogame) Comparable to Parry Gripp or Jonathon Coulton, they’re musicians with particular interests: Comic Books, Videogames and Girls. That doesn’t make you a novelty; that makes you a nerd. That also makes me a Kracklehead.