Phonogram, vol. 2: The Singles Club

Phonogram 2Summary: We’ve put you on the guest list. Don’t be late! This is one night you’ll never forget! The second series of Phonogram separates itself from the frenzied mob of adoring critics just long enough to transform into this handsome collected volume, which features seven individual-yet-interconnected stories set in a single night in a single club, each starring a young phonomancer, and each exploring a different mystery of music and magic.

Collects Phonogram: The Singles Club #1-7, including a cover gallery and “Making Of” extras.

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Phonogram, vol. 2: The Singles Club, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie 8.75

The second volume of ‘Phonogram’ is a very different beast from the original mini-series: Instead of telling one linear story through its seven issues, it now takes a moment in time and explores it from the perspective of seven different characters. It’s also far less cryptic in nature, being more about human relationships and the joy of music.

“The Singles Club” is set on a late Saturday evening and it takes us to a club that’s holding an indie music night. It follows a handful of characters (aside for David, Aster and Kid With Knife, from “Rue Brittania”, all of them are newly-minted) as they intermingle at the club and afterwards. Each of the mini-series’ volumes explores a different character.

Penny: She is a phonomancer whose chief ability is to dance the night away. A bubbly blonde, so simple-minded and self-absorbed that all she cares about is the next song she can dance to, her effervescence is endearing. But not everyone appreciates her vacuousness: the club’s DJ tears into her lack of musical depth, and her boy crush wants nothing to do with her. But she doesn’t let them put a crimp in her style – the moment The Pipettes’ “Pull Shapes” plays, she hits the dance floor and forgets all her troubles; there’s magic in the air.

Marc: Marc, or Marquis, is the object of affection of Penny because he’s “a hottie” – plus he can dance. But going to the club is bringing back some terrible memories for him, of meeting a pink-haired, punkish foreign girl and being seduced by her. Presumably, he’s on the mend from a break-up with her, as hinted at in the early parts of the first two volumes. Although we see him hangout with his buddy Lloyd (ahem… Mr. Logos), most of this episode is about his earth-shattering encounter with the girl and the devastation he feels in recalling it.

Aster: Though she was in “Rue Brittania”, Aster wasn’t explored much – the first volume was entirely focused on David. She came off as a bit cruel and distant, and here get a little bit of insight into her. Dragged to the club by David, unaware that it was indie night, she tries to make the most of her evening. But she has to overcome her resentment of Seth, the DJ, her anger at a girl she knows (and fights with in the bathroom), and the “sad inner girl” that she banished many years ago. But what could help more than clubbing and f-ing a dude she shouldn’t?

Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl: The pair are the club’s DJs on this Saturday night; they always do one Saturday of every month. They have three rules for the night: 1) Dance, 2) No male vocals, and 3) No magic (their gigs draw a lot of phonomancers). Seth is the snob of the two and he delights in telling people off (when they make what he considers undignified requests) or arguing their musical taste. Silent Girl, however, is slightly more open-minded and frequently vetoes his choices. The whole episode consists of watching them DJ – it’s super fun.

Laura: Laura is Penny’s best friend, but she also envies and despises her for being effortlessly content and having the world eating out of the palm of her hand. Laura is troubled, conflicted and is seen cutting herself before going out to the club with Penny. “I want her and I want to be her, and don’t know where one starts and one ends” perfectly encapsulates how complicated her headspace is. Meanwhile, she makes arrangements with Lloyd for Marc to be at the club – in the guise of setting him up with Penny, but with her own self-interest in mind. Interesting stuff.

Lloyd: Lloyd (or Mr. Logos, as he prefers to be known – though few indulge him), is a frustrated, self-styled misunderstood “genius” who has a “Master Plan” to start a pop band by using snippets of music that are about to go into the public domain in order to ironically mix nostalgia and extreme sexual content. It’s a plan he’s proud to expand upon to anyone who’ll give him the time of day. But no one digs it. So he goes home after the club closes and writes up his ideas and frustrations in what he calls his ‘Grimoire Project’ – on an old-school typewriter, no less.

Kid With Knife: This one is mostly silent. It begins with KWK talking about his view of magic versus David’s view and then proceeds to show us that he’s also a phonomancer by making him run up walls, hopping about town, prodding some hoodlums into chasing him and outracing them, …etc. Until the last page, any dialogue is expressed in logograms instead of words, which is fitting given KWK’s intellect – he doesn’t express complex concepts. Ever. In any event, he winds up at the club, dances and seduces one of the other characters. It’s a quick, fun read.

What’s great is that, despite criss-crossing its players, the book rarely repeats sequences as seen previously; we are usually treated to unseen aspects of those moments or there are subtle references to previous and upcoming issues. It’s a fairly smart construction that must have required much planning, and it’s clever enough to involve intelligent readers.

I really liked the artwork here. While the first volume was in black and white, affecting a zine quality to it to some degree, this one’s carefully designed, inked, and airbrushed. It’s slick and looks absolutely terrific. It’s miles above the work on the last book because now it truly feels three-dimensional. It firmly puts McKelvie on my radar now.

Personally, while I can’t relate to any of these character types, I can easily relate to some of the situations they’re in and the emotions they’re feeling; the way Gillen writes them makes them all feel real. As for the spell that their love of music casts on them, I can completely understand: music has a power over me that can be like magic in some respects.

Although it’s enhanced here, it remains true.

It’s this recognition of the entrancing quality of music that makes ‘Phonogram’ so amazing. And it’s the way this mini-series explores and intersects the lives of seven single young adults that makes “The Singles Club” so potent. Add to it a bevy of notable indie singles to wax nostalgic to, and you’ve got the making of the perfect book for melomaniacs.

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