Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

No, I didn’t forget — the monthly recap is here. And this marks a full year of them. It’s weird to think, I had the idea for this post series when I was at the office, which is somewhere I haven’t been now for the last half-year since the work-from-home plan was put into place. But I’m okay with that. I would honestly be fine with never leaving my apartment again. In fact, I’ll just sign up for that Singularity thing where we get to become consciousnesses in a massive universal computer network or a simulated universe or however that’s supposed to work.

As usual, I’m going to highlight some excellent posts from around the community here, but first, here are short looks at a couple of albums. This time I wanted to do something more seasonal. Everyone likes Halloween and it’s October now, so here are two real classics that I like but also find to be spooky. Well, maybe more unnerving than spooky. I’d include that Boards of Canada album I covered in the very first one of these posts, but I already wrote about it. It’s pretty chilling too; check it out if you’re into that.

Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (The Residents, 1978)

Highlights: not even going to try

The Residents might be the most bizarre band ever created. It’s hard to call them a “band” actually; the names and even the number of Residents have always been unknown, and some of what they do involves other media like film or falls more into the realm of performance art than music alone. And even though they tour and do live shows, the performers always wear various disguises, most famously giant eyeball-helmets, sometimes with top hats and full formal suits included. Maybe that’s where Daft Punk got their own helmet disguise idea from?

However, I didn’t pick Duck Stab to highlight because of any of that. It’s rather because this album creeps me the fuck out. None of it’s “scary” exactly, but it can be kind of unnerving in parts. The Residents are known for their deconstruction of pop/rock music, and you can hear that happening right here — most of these songs should sound pretty close to normal with beats, melodies, verses, choruses and all that, but everything is just “off” enough to sound completely bizarre instead. Some of the songs sound intentionally ugly, like the opener Constantinople that seems like it was made to try to get you to turn the album off in its first ten seconds. Or Semolina, which sounds like a Beach Boys song produced in Hell. Laughing Song and Birthday Boy are genuinely creepy as well.

Listening to Duck Stab, I get the feeling that the Residents could have easily made a good album full of regular rock and pop songs if they’d wanted to. Even though a lot of it’s ugly, this music is also interesting and even catchy sometimes. It’s very obvious that these songs weren’t just some shit they threw together but were written, probably with a lot of care. The Residents just chose to make the songs fucked up on purpose, with clashing instrumental parts and vocals and lyrics that almost make sense but not quite, resulting in something that I think resembles an Uncanny Valley effect for music. Captain Beefheart did the same sort of thing in the 70s; this reminds me a lot of his album Trout Mask Replica. It’s worth looking up Duck Stab if you’re into that kind of strange music (and if you haven’t heard it, look up Trout Mask Replica too!)

Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh (Magma, 1973)

Highlights: no

More weird stuff from the 70s. And yeah, the title is meant to be written that way. Both the album and song titles, and even the lyrics themselves, are written in a fantasy language that sounds a lot like German but isn’t quite. Magma was a French band, however, and the only French prog band I know anything about. Like the Residents, these guys were known for their strange compositions, but Magma’s are different. Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh has separated tracks with titles but feels like one full piece, almost like an old opera with characters singing and sometimes yelling and ranting in this fantasy language over organs, pianos, and pounding bass and drums.

There’s a story behind the whole piece that looks spiritual in nature, but I can’t tell what’s going on with it. Maybe it’s an extremely high-minded concept album like Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans about some esoteric religious ideas. But I just think the music is cool aside from whatever the lyrics might be about. The first parts sound ferocious and martial and can even get a bit frightening with the main singer’s ranting and yelping and more singers joining in, but the tone softens and gets more peaceful in the second half of the album. From the flow of it, I can believe there’s a story being told here, even if I don’t really get it.

In any case, Magma are some interesting guys, quite different from a lot of the British progressive bands I’ve covered. I like the fantasy language element of the music as well. Reminds me of the Hymmnos songs from Ar tonelico and the made-up futuristic English/French/Gaelic/Japanese lyrics in the NieR games’ tracks.

And now, the featured posts:

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off: The Results! (Shoot the Rookie) — pix1001 concludes the contest co-run with Winst0lf to determine the greatest JRPG character, and the result may surprise you! But I’ll say it’s a deserving win.

You are the main character of your own life. (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — An introspective post from Yomu about how we think of our own places in our lives and how anime usually puts that in a different light. I can’t really do it justice here, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Last of Us Part II (Extra Life) — A massive and truly comprehensive review of the controversial The Last of Us Part II from Red Metal, digging into both the gameplay and the story. No matter how you feel about the game, this is very worth reading.

Introducing the Frosty Canucks Podcast (Frostilyte Writes) — Frostilyte is now co-hosting a game-related podcast! It’s good stuff, I’ll be following it from now on, and you should too.

Rozen Maiden (The View from the Junkyard) — From Roger Pocock, a review of the mid-2000s anime series Rozen Maiden, which is about a socially maladjusted kid who gets a harem of living dolls that fight each other. This is one that seems almost totally forgotten these days, but it was insanely popular back at the time it aired. Also not quite as weird as it might sound from how I described it, though it has been over a decade since I watched it so I might not be remembering something. I do remember Suigintou being a pretty good villain, though.

Divinity, demons, and decay (Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster) — Kimimi writes about her take on Shin Megami Tensei II, a game that until pretty recently was a pain in the ass to play here since it was never officially localized. Anytime anyone writes about SMT I’m interested, and especially about the older or lesser-known titles like this one.

Freaked Out Now and Dead on Arrival. The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(a)- Characters (S.E.E.S. and Protag) (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Megami Tensei, Aether’s in-depth analysis series of Persona 3 continues with a look at the unusual school club SEES and the protagonist who joins it at the beginning of the game. Nothing is what it seems at first, and Aether has some great insights about the game once again in this post.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light – Review (Nepiki Gaming) — Check out Nepiki’s newly remodeled site for a great review of this Final Fantasy game. I’ve been off the FF train for a long time now, but it’s still a rich series and a good time to read about.

Why I Hate Fan Service in Anime (The Anime Basement) — Keni over at The Anime Basement puts forward some arguments about why fanservice can be a problem and how some anime series use it in a way that’s not very tasteful. I partly disagree with him, but he does bring up interesting points, and it’s always good to get a different perspective on these matters. (I do agree with him that Kill la Kill does fanservice really well and in a way that makes sense in the context of the show, but maybe that will be a subject for a separate post someday.)

Anime I like, but haven’t talked about yet: Maria the Virgin Witch (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott writes about Maria the Virgin Witch, another anime series that doesn’t seem to get a lot of talk. It’s a pretty short series, so no reason not to take the time out to watch it — I’m halfway through it now and it’s very good so far.

Hololive English: Examining a Worldwide Phenomenon (MoeGamer) — I’ve admitted that I fell into that infamous Hololive/Vtuber rabbit hole recently, just before that English-language branch that started a few weeks ago (and you’ll know that for sure if you saw me talking up Gura’s great singing or Amelia’s interesting mix of chilled-out and weird on Twitter or in comments somewhere.) Pete here gives a history of the Vtuber phenomenon and a rundown of what makes the various personalities of Hololive special.

The Soul of an Online Community (ft. Vtubers) (Anicourses) — Sadly, though, the Vtuber thing is not all sunshine and roses, as we’ve seen recently with the suspension of popular streamers Kiryu Coco and Akai Haato over extremely sensitive international political matters (really, I’m not kidding.) Over at Anicourses, Le Fenette examines empathy and connections between fans and players in online communities, including the very active and sometimes volatile world of Vtuber fandom and how it may have contributed to cutting one Vtuber’s career short.

And finally, congrats to The Traditional Catholic Weeb and Dewbond on two years of blogging!

So let’s finally close the book on last month. These posts keep getting longer, just like my reviews. And I have plenty more coming up: I’m in the middle of a few visual novels that I may or may not finish soon, I’ve just started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and I’ve finished a few anime series I may write about soon (including even more Monogatari! So I hope you’re not tired of that.) Until next time.


11 thoughts on “Listening/reading log #12 (September 2020)

  1. Ooh, highlighting Magma this time, huh? I managed to get into their work earlier this year, and it is definitely some of the most unique music you’ll hear. You gotta love a band willing to throw such disparate inspirations such as Wagner and Coltrane into a blender and make it sound great. Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh tends to be the fan-favorite, though there are many other gems in their discography.

    And thanks for the shout! I think Neil Druckmann directed his game with the assumption that “controversial = high art”. This is exactly what caused the downfall of Rian Johnson, D.B. Weiss, and, David Benioff among others. It takes a fair bit of charisma to go so thoroughly off the rails and make a large audience go along with it, and none of them have it. Appropriately given where Naughty Dog is headquartered, his game really reeks of that annoying “we’re always right, screw the haters” mentality currently affecting Hollywood. I suspect if you were to press him enough, Mr. Druckmann would blame the backlash to his magnum opus on far-right trolls. It’s important to know that if he does, he is either forgetful or lying through his teeth (the latter would have precedent because he lied multiple times about the content of The Last of Us Part II). He has always had extreme difficulties accepting criticism – even as early as the development of Uncharted 4 when he didn’t have to deal with all of this. I knew from the beginning that he and Naughty Dog would push their luck one too many times and receive a backlash; I just didn’t expect it to happen this soon or this quickly.

    I also think that this debacle demonstrated that Mr. Druckmann is not a leader. Like Rian Johnson, he did his best work when he was in a position that didn’t involve being a leader, but rather contributing the big ideas on the side. Plus, there’s the fact that it took them seven years to come up with a game whose gameplay and story has far less to offer than Breath of the Wild, which didn’t take nearly as long (or cause as much drama) to come to fruition.

    • Certainly! Your review confirmed a lot of what I suspected from looking at and hearing from other sources, especially back when it was released and it was the thing people were talking about for weeks. While I understand artists feeling the need to defend their art sometimes, the way guys like Druckmann and Johnson carry on about “haters” or whatever only makes them look pathetic. When you put any kind of art out to the public, it’s up to the public to decide what they think of it. And aside from those actual far-right types you’ve brought up who hate these games and other works because they have prominent women, minorities, gay characters, etc. the vast majority of “haters” are just the audience who decide said works aren’t enjoyable.

      Understandable, though! I guess it is a whole lot easier to call all your detractors bigots and complain about “anime avatars in my replies” than it is to take the effort to improve your art. These creators who act like they’re entitled to have people respond only with praise to their work are amazing to me. A lot of game journalists like to talk about “gamer entitlement”, but to me this “You must love my game, otherwise you’re stupid/bigoted” attitude is the absolute height of entitlement.

      Magma really does have an interesting mix of influences. I don’t know the continental European music from this time nearly as well as the British prog/art stuff, and I’d like to get into Magma and more of them in the future — also looking at guys like Amon Düül II and Faust.

      • I get it. It’s not fun to work on something for the better part of a decade only to be told en masse that it sucks. The problem is that Mr. Druckmann wants to have it both ways; he wants to be seen as a righteous rebel for subverting the status quo while also throwing a tantrum because he’s not being showered with universal admiration from something he himself knew would be polarizing. Because he could’ve stopped this from happening, I find I’m not especially sympathetic with him; he and his ilk really forfeit any right to call their audience entitled after that display. That and his bad leadership skills apparently made him difficult to work under.

        And no, in seven years, his skills as a writer has not improved at all. If anything, he’s markedly worse than he was when he joined the company. Naughty Dog was never especially good at thinking through their implications, but in this game, characters just do things with little rhyme or reason. Cynics like to defend those choices by saying that humans are irrational, but it turns out bad writers like that mentality just as much for obvious reasons. Going on the way that he is, I only expect his skills to deteriorate further.

        And yes, those are two bands I highly recommend checking out. Faust’s eponymous debut album in particular is one of my all-time favorites, though really, you can’t go wrong with their first four albums.

      • That the funny thing about this: Druckmann would look a lot better if instead of complaining about detractors he instead did nothing. Just say “look, our game speaks for itself, and think what you want about it” and I would at least respect that attitude regardless of the game’s quality. Based on his actual responses to criticism and the stories about Naughty Dog’s crunch time, I’m not surprised he’d be hard to work for.

        I also love hearing that “humans are irrational” argument to defend badly written characters. Sure, humans are irrational sometimes, but writing a story is very different from documenting a series of real-life events, and that argument seems to pretend the two are the same thing. Even if a character is acting irrationally, in fiction their acts have to be established to the audience as making sense to their own irrational brains somehow. A clever writer can pull that off, but it doesn’t sound like these guys managed it from your review.

        Thanks for the recommendation! I might get over to Faust soon. There’s plenty of time to kill with music while I work.

  2. God damn. Duck Stab! / Buster & Glen is some evil Satan shit. I don’t even know what I got through listening to, but you weren’t kidding about me wanting to turn it off almost immediately. It was so weird that I couldn’t stop listening though. I don’t know that I ever want to listen to it again, but that was certainly an experience.

    By contrast, Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh was much easier listening even if I didn’t understand a single word on the album. Had a really good energy the rhythm to it.

    Thanks for shouting out the podcast. We should have a new episode this Wednesday. 🙂
    And we’re working on various things that need to be improved. Big to do list right now.

    • Yeah, this is about how I feel about Duck Stab too. I know the Residents have made quite a few albums like that, though their catalogue is massive and I haven’t heard anywhere near all or even most of it. Magma’s music ended up being pretty good to put on while I worked because of that rhythm.

      I’ve never done any work on/with a podcast before, but I’ve heard there’s a lot that goes into it. Looking forward to the next episode, and best of luck!

  3. I consider myself decently into visual novels, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a point where I had a ‘few’ going at a time. More power to you on that. Hope they’re some good ones.

    And as always, thanks for the shout out! I’m really glad you liked the post; I’m never quite sure how my wild plot-crafting will land.

    • Well, I’m also barely moving on them right now, to be fair. But I am technically in the middle of them right now, I guess. Pretty good so far too. I’m impressed with You and Me and Her so far — can’t say anything about it yet, but it sure is something.

      And definitely! There’s a lot to discover in Persona 3, and the protagonist is an interesting guy.

  4. Pingback: Fanservice done right | Everything is bad for you

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