We’re officially in the holiday season if you live anywhere in the western world. So unless you’re an actual Scrooge who hates the holidays (which feelings I won’t begrudge you if you do have them, because I’m a bitter fuck too) I hope you have a good holiday season or a happy Christmas etc. etc. In the meantime, I’ve got more music to cover as well as a few articles and posts that I found interesting recently. The following albums contain music that I’ve mostly heard before, but I’ve been playing them a lot lately, and it’s all good stuff, so I thought why not put them in the spotlight this month.
Shiina Ringo is an interesting character. She seems to have been retired or on hiatus for a while now, but back in the early 2000s she was a very active singer/songwriter/pianist/shamisenist (is that the right term?) Shiina put out some excellent albums at the time, my favorite of which is Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana. It’s full of memorable songs written and performed in a mix of rock/pop and jazz. It doesn’t sound anything like fusion, though; it’s more just Shiina’s own style. I love her singing as well; her tone ranges from angry and aggressive to light and sweet depending upon the song. She can also play a ton of instruments, an ability I greatly respect.
The songs I linked above are much more in Shiina’s jazz style, but she’s done plenty of lighter pop stuff as well that’s good. If you’re into this particular style, Shiina also performed similar music with a band under the name Tokyo Jihen. Their album Adult is a great one to check out if you like the above-linked songs.
Damn, I am really building up my respectable music critic reputation with this one. King Crimson has been one of my favorite bands for a long time. They’ve been around since 1969 and have put out groundbreaking albums like their debut In the Court of the Crimson King (which some people argue started the prog rock movement and others argue didn’t, though I’m not getting into that stupid debate), Red, and Discipline. All these albums feature the guitar of eccentric jerk/genius Robert Fripp and otherwise completely different band members, so they all sound very different. I’m not in love with every album they’ve ever recorded, but when Crimson were good, they were great.
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic might be their most out there album, though. The vocal tracks are pretty good (especially Easy Money, with a great funk beat by the excellent drummer Bill Bruford) but I think the instrumentals are the best part of this album. They’re pretty heavy rock in that early 70s style like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, but completely different in approach, in how cold and impersonal they feel to me. The Talking Drum/Larks’ Tongues Part II final stretch of the album is more hellish-sounding than Black Sabbath even. I could keep going on about this album, but I’ll cut it short here. I like it. Note: the above links are all to live versions of these songs, so they’ll naturally sound a bit different in the studio versions. The band was supposed to be amazing on stage in the early 70s anyway, so it’s still good stuff.
Remember that respectable music critic reputation I was talking about just now? Time to blow it up completely, because I like this album too. Not only do all the instruments sound entirely synthetic, the vocals are synthetic as well — Greatest Idol features the singing of Vocaloid software characters, most prominently Hatsune Miku. It’s also 100% upbeat sugar-sweet pop. My high school self listening to Larks’ Tongues would have been shocked to see my current self listening to this stuff, but that kid was an idiot, because these songs are catchy as hell. Mitchie M is a Vocaloid composer with the impressive ability to make Miku and friends sound almost human, at least compared to songs put together by most other composers.
In any case, this music really isn’t any more “manufactured” than a Katy Perry album full of autotune and other studio tricks. If anything, it’s more honest about what it is. And Mitchie M’s songs are a lot better than hers too. Or maybe I’m just an unrepentant weirdo. Listen to these tracks from Greatest Idol and tell me I’m crazy.
Also, I really like that combination keytar/guitar Miku is playing in the cover art. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Not sure how you’d play both parts with only two hands, but Miku is an android, so maybe she can manage it somehow.
That’s it for the listening part of the post. Now on to the reading part:
Awful People Can Still Be Great Characters — A reminder from Irina that sometimes a character who is a terrible person is also perfect in the role they’re playing.
Take Your Heart: Visiting the Persona 5 Cafes in Japan — Browser Crasher describes the experience of visiting Persona 5-themed cafes in Japan in 2016 and 2019. These kinds of promotions are apparently pretty common in Tokyo. The best I can do is read about them, so I appreciate this account of Browser Crasher’s visits.
The 13th Doll (2019) [PC] — From the Well-Red Mage, a comprehensive review of The 13th Doll, a fangame of the 1993 FMV puzzle game The 7th Guest. While 7th Guest hasn’t aged well in some ways, I still have a lot of fond memories of playing it as a kid, and from this review it sounds like the makers of 13th Doll did a fine job capturing the spirit of the original work.
[GAME REVIEW] Colossal Cave Adventure — Red Metal reviews one of the oldest things we generally consider a video or PC game: Colossal Cave Adventure, a text adventure released in 1976. While it sounds like the game itself doesn’t hold up that well, the story behind it is interesting if only to understand the important influence it had on later games.
Anime NYC: First Impressions — My experience with anime cons has been mostly wandering around the dealers’ room trying to justify expensive artbook purchases to myself while recovering from a hangover from the last night’s activities. Simpleek gives her initial impressions of a recent New York anime con, and it sounds like her experience was quite different and probably much more responsible than mine. She also writes about the different feeling of being an adult fan of anime and how attending a con can bring that out, something I can relate to.
And that’s another month almost done. See you next time, when I’ll hopefully have the next entry in my deep reads series up.