Listening/reading log #20 (May 2021)

Damn, 20 of these posts. This feels like a landmark somehow, though that should really be marked at 24 instead, shouldn’t it? I don’t have anything special planned anyway — just the same old great writing from around the communities and a look at some of the music I’ve had on recently. On to it:

Sunshower (Taeko Ohnuki, 1977)

Highlights: Kusuri wo Takusan, Tokai, 振子の山羊

Hey, it’s more city pop. This smooth Japanese style has been winning me over a lot lately. Well, it already had me ever since hearing “Plastic Love” like everyone else, but I’ve been listening to more lately anyway, probably to help with de-stressing. And it does the job. Sunshower is the perfect title for this album, because it sounds like the sort of music that goes along perfectly with driving along a coastal road in the summer breeze with the top down, or maybe hanging out at a rooftop pool in the middle of a city thirty stories in the air. One day with nothing to do and nothing to worry about, that kind of feeling.

Taeko Ohnuki’s singing contributes a lot to that feel — she has a really nice voice, soft and smooth, that goes along with this style well. Most of the songs are catchy as hell too — “Tokai” is the one that pulled me in, and I can see why both this song and “Kusuri wo Takusan” were put out together on a single in 2015, nearly forty years after the album’s release. There’s also a very obvious strong fusion influence here I really like (and maybe even a bossa nova one as well, though that might just be me.) And apparently a lot of these upbeat-sounding songs deal with dark subjects, like “Kusuri wo Takusan”, about the overprescription of drugs — and this was in 1977! Not much has changed, apparently.

My only problem with Sunshower is that it indulges a bit in some stupid synth tones. For example, about 20/30 seconds in the middle of “Tokai” unfortunately has a dumb as hell sounding synth gooped onto it that wrecks that section for me. Maybe you don’t mind those wacky synth tones, in which case you’ll be fine. I mind them, but I still like Sunshower a lot.

Octopus (Gentle Giant, 1972)

Highlights: The Advent of Panurge, Raconteur Troubadour, Knots (yes, really)

Shit, have I really gone 19 of these posts going on about prog and not bringing up Gentle Giant at all? Today I fix that. This English prog band didn’t quite reach the commercial success of colleagues like Yes or Genesis (and they tried but failed to make that leap into 80s pop those bands managed) but they had their own unique style — as far as I know, no one else came close to even trying to sound like Gentle Giant. Understandable, because it wouldn’t have been easy. These guys were really talented, some of them playing a load of instruments each, combining rock sometimes with a kind of medieval or Renaissance European sound, sometimes with orchestral or dance hall music, and occasionally with… Gregorian chanting or something? I know that probably sounds weird, but I can’t think of a better way to describe Gentle Giant than that.

Octopus seems to be considered their peak by some fans, and I can see why; it’s pretty damn out there while remaining grounded enough to enjoy. The opener “Advent of Panurge” combines those rock and folk styles really nicely, and I’m a big fan even if I have no idea what they’re singing about (I think Panurge and Pantagruel are characters from some Renaissance-era novels or plays; shows you how far back these guys go for their influences.) “Raconteur Troubadour” is more old folk/medieval-sounding but still a great time, and I’m also partial to Dog’s Life. Just a nice song about a dog and his owner, and who can’t like that? Though I’ve never had a dog, so I can’t exactly relate. And come to think of it, this song has some out-of-place synth fart sounds in the middle too (or maybe it’s some obscure old instrument? Probably, knowing these guys.) Maybe that’s the hidden theme to this post, irritating sounds in sections of otherwise good songs.

And then there’s “Knots”. This seems to be a controversial one — some really hate this song, and I can’t blame them for feeling that way. But I like it. At first it sounds like a complete fucking mess, but it does come together at times in a satisfying way, and I get the feeling that even the messy-sounding parts are extremely precisely and purposely written. As for the lyrics, God knows what they mean or if they mean anything at all. The song could be an avantgarde retelling of Macbeth for all I know. But it could just as easily be nothing more than a weird joke on the listener. Either way, “Knots” does have a practical use as someone in the comments of the video mentions — it’s great for clearing out a party when you want those annoying stragglers to go home.

Now for the featured posts:

Itch.io Indies: Jam and the Mystery of the Mysteriously Spooky Mansion (nonplayergirl) — A review of a game that I haven’t yet played in that itch.io bundle I keep going on about. It sounds like a very quick one, so there’s no excuse for me not to check it out. Sounds like a nice time from what nonplayergirl says, especially if you like some irreverent humor, and I’m sometimes up for that.

What I Would Like to See in PlayStation’s Future (The Gamer with Glasses) — I still don’t plan to buy a PS5 (my future console money is still set aside for the Switch alone, which no I still don’t have one yet) but it’s still interesting to read the Gamer with Glasses’ hopes for the new console, including some much-needed improvements and fixes from the PS4 era.

MagiCat – If a Christmas Calendar was a game (Nepiki Reviews) — Nepiki takes a look at MagiCat, a nice-looking old-school-style platformer available on Steam. I’ve never played a game that includes a transcription into katakana of its title on the opening screen that I didn’t like, so MagiCat looks like a safe bet for me.

Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons – Episode One: Marooned on Mars (Extra Life) — PC games were a big part of my life as a kid in the 90s, but somehow I never played a Commander Keen game. This is without doubt a historically important series, but how does the first title in the series hold up? Read Red Metal’s review to find out.

East Meets West #5: Vatican Kiseki Chousakan .vs. Father Ted (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb here continues the series in which he examines and compares works from both East and West, this time putting up the Catholic-themed mystery thriller anime Vatican Kiseki Chousakan against the Catholic-themed Irish comedy Father Ted. Incidentally, this is maybe the one time I can say that I’ve seen the live-action show but not the anime.

Fragile Packages Don’t Exist: Totally Reliable Delivery Service Review (The Below Average Blog) — None of these apply to me, but if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription and a few friends who do as well, Totally Reliable Delivery Service sounds like a great game to pick up. Though the repetitive soundtrack might be a dealbreaker anyway in my case.

Anime Reviews: Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (Lex’s Blog) — People are now going out without fear after over a year of quarantine. I’m continuing my quarantine for as long as humanly possible because I hate the outside and everything associated with it. But if you’re actually a healthy and well-adjusted person who doesn’t feel that way, taking in a movie is a good way to pass time with friends or even alone if you prefer, and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train sounds like a good one to watch if Lex’s review is any indication. (Also, watching a movie in the theater alone is fine and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.)

It Takes Two to Break Me (Frostilyte Writes) — It’s not easy for an artistic work to elicit real emotion, but Frostilyte talks about his experience with the new co-op game It Takes Two and how it manages to achieve an emotional response using elements that are unique to the game medium. Interesting as always — check it out!

Visiting Ureshino, the Cheerful Hot Spring Town from Zombieland Saga (Resurface to Reality) — If you liked Zombieland Saga and you’re in Japan or are planning to visit, be sure to read here about the attractions in Ureshino. One day I will visit a hot spring inn, I swear to God. It’s on my lifetime to-do list.

Rhyme like a Rolling Stone! The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 6(e); Characters-Koromaru, Ken, and Shinjiro  (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his excellent analysis of Persona 3, covering one of the worst and one of the best characters in the game in this post. Can you already guess which is which? Neither of them are Koromaru, though he is a good dog (in fact he could easily be the subject of “Dog’s Life” linked above.)

On Writing: Female Representation in Video Games (Meghan Plays Games) — Meghan here takes on the hotly debated issue of female representation in games. I agree with much of what she has to say in general, though not on some of the specifics — her piece might provide some counterargument to the one I wrote on fanservice a while back, but interested readers can judge for themselves. I don’t feel any differently now than when I wrote that post, but it’s still great to read different and well-reasoned points of view. More civil discussion, fewer bullshit kneejerk-reaction fights on Twitter, that’s what I say! Though we’re always civil here anyway from what I’ve seen.

Reflections: Am I too old for anime high school? (In Search of Number Nine) — And finally, Iniksbane reflects upon his feelings towards anime set in high school (i.e. a whole lot of them) at the age of 44, far removed from that stage in his own life. It’s an interesting question to consider and quite a personal one, whether you can (or should?) still relate to characters 20 or 30 years removed from you in life experience — I’ve had some similar thoughts before, but I think different people will come to their own conclusions on it. Either way, a very insightful and interesting post, so be sure to check it out.

And that’s it once again for the month. I’m in the middle of a lot of games at the moment, but a minor but annoyingly slow-healing injury to my hand has forced me to set aside some of the more action-oriented ones (most frustratingly NieR Replicant, which I was really enjoying up until then.) It is healing at any rate, but until it’s all right, I’ll probably be looking at a few of the visual novels I’ve had piled up. It was about time to get to those anyway. You can also expect the usual anime reviews — there’s at least one this month I hope to get to.

Before closing here however, I want to draw attention to yet another massive 1,000+ game bundle being sold on itch.io for $5 or more if the buyer wishes. This is the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid, the proceeds set to go to the UN Relief and Works Agency. I admittedly have a personal bias as I owe a lot to UNRWA by extension since they’ve helped a lot of my family out in the past, but they continue to do great work for the sake of Palestinian refugees. I don’t get political here all that often, but this is a major human rights issue and one that I care about a lot, so I thought I’d do a bit more than a simple retweet. (And I certainly have gotten political here before on occasion, so not like it’s unprecedented anyway.)

And of course, you also get a metric fuckton of games if you donate, so there’s that too. If you’re interested, the deal is running until 6/11. As with last year’s bundle, most of the games in here don’t look interesting to me, but a few do, so I’ll be digging through this haul at some point to find those gems. Until next time!

20 thoughts on “Listening/reading log #20 (May 2021)

  1. Thanks for sharing my post. I read through a couple of other posts and I’m proud to be in the same group as them. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! Also took a look at your post on fanservice – was an interesting read, and I’m genuinely glad to find people whose opinions differ from my own. It’s how I understand where people are coming from, and what informs their thoughts. I won’t ramble on too much though – it’s just such a nuanced topic, it’s nice to see some reasonable engagement with it.

    • Certainly! And thanks. I absolutely agree, that reasonable engagement is good to have especially for complicated subjects like this one, as well as the understanding we can get from it even if we don’t always see eye to eye on them.

    • Sure thing! Now that I have two of these bundles, I’ll be digging through a few more of these games as well (in fact, I just found this game in the new bundle as well, so there’s clearly a little overlap.)

      • I bought the bundles as well and I’m not surprised. Both have a ludicrous number of games (in a good way!) I’m going to make my way slowly through them as well. Please let us know if you find any gems!

      • I certainly will, and same to you! I’ve got a few downloaded already. I wouldn’t be surprised if more games are added later on as well — from what I remember, the bundle from last year nearly doubled in size halfway through.

  3. Awesome getting to 20! I enjoy series-style posts where you end up with a sort of journal catalogue you can go back through. Also Sunshower seems to have a really cool vibe, I plan to have a listen! 🙂

    • Thanks! Yeah, it is nice to think of these posts like a long monthly journal or catalog or something. Hoping you enjoy Sunshower; I found it to be a nice relaxing listen.

  4. Going for Gentle Giant this time, huh? I recently got into their music myself, and I have liked what I’ve heard so far.

    And thanks for the shout-out! I’m getting a little ahead of myself when I say this, but I can honestly say you’re not really missing out on much by forgoing the Commander Keen series. It’s kind of interesting to play through them for historical purposes, but of all the games in the series, there’s only one that manages to be of average quality with the rest being mediocre/bad. They were decent efforts for their time, but once id focused their talents elsewhere, they were much better off for it.

    • Nice. Yeah, Gentle Giant made some really good music. Some of it is a bit too out there even for me, but I think Octopus strikes an almost perfect balance between sense-making and weird.

      And certainly! When it comes to id, Commander Keen isn’t what most people think of, and for good reason I guess.

  5. Had another of those “Oh I know this one!” moments when listening to Tokai. When I got really into city pop/synthwave back in early 2020 (while playing Yakuza 0) that song came up numerous times in the autoplay list on YT either alone, or in a compilation piece. It is, frankly, extremely good.

    Okay so…hot take (maybe) I liked Knots the best of the stuff from Gentle Giants. The folksy/medieval sounding stuff is neat, but not exactly to my taste. Still alright music, but I don’t know that I’d put it on repeat the same way I do YES, Rush, or Dream Theater.

    Did not know about the Palestine relief bundle. I’m sure I can find at least one game in there for an American fiver. even so, it’s still a cause worth supporting. Little surprised I hadn’t already heard about the bundle, but seems people were only interested in the atrocious shit going on over there for a week or two and then it stopped being a hot button news topic. Hopefully the bundle can reach its target.

    Related sidebar: you’d said something (I forget what) in the past that made me think you had immigrated to America from another country. Is that the case? If that’s too personal don’t feel you need to answer it, but the question had popped into my mind at one point and a question never asked will remain unanswered.

    Finally, thank you for the shout-out. 🙂

    • “Tokai” definitely pulled me in to find more of Taeko Ohnuki’s music. Really nice, the kind of thing I like when I’m driving for example. I can see how it fits with Yakuza 0 too, especially in terms of the time period (I really got that feeling with Kingo Hamada last month.)

      I’m happy someone else likes “Knots”! I think it’s a sort of fan favorite from what I understand. Definitely a unique song. I never did get into Rush or Dream Theater all that much, but I’d like to give them a shot now since I’ve heard great things — 2112 and Scenes from a Memory are both on my list to hear at some point, but not sure if they’re the best ones to start with.

      You’re right: the news cycle does tend to forget about problems like this after the fighting has died down, and I’m afraid the situation in Gaza specifically has been so bad that people just think “oh, more fighting over there, what’s new” and forget the next day. Not that living in the West Bank is any picnic either from what I’ve heard and seen. Thankfully, it looks like the bundle is well on its way to getting way above its goal.

      Yeah, I don’t mind getting a bit personal here. I was born and raised in America, but I’ve lived in the Middle East (specifically Beirut and Abu Dhabi) off and on, though I haven’t been back over there for several years now. One side of my family is Palestinian — they lived as refugees for a long time, but thankfully they were able to get out of the camps and into much better positions in the Persian Gulf, and some of them emigrating to the US and Canada. Which is more or less how I happened, so I could plausibly say that UNRWA might be partly responsible for me even existing in the first place. So my bias is pretty clear in this case! But to be more serious, it’s definitely a good cause to support as you say, and I’m happy to see so much more support now in my own country for it and for a real and just peace plan (whether it will ever happen is another question that people have written whole volumes about, so I’ll leave it here, but at least people should be able to live with dignity no matter where they’re from.)

      And you’re welcome!

      • Haha yeah. All of the music from that slice of time really jives well with Yakuza 0, but then that game takes place at the beginning of the 80s (iirc) so that makes sense.

        I can’t speak to Rush super well because I still haven’t fully explored all of their albums. They were a band I only got into as an adult. When I first heard them as a teen I fucking hated how they sounded. YES and Dream Theater I was able to get into a little more readily and I think that helped bridge the gap for Rush.

        On Dream Theater specifically, Scenes from a Memory is pretty good. It’s one of their more high concept albums where the whole thing is focused on telling a single story (that expanded on a Song from one of their older albums). Personally I’d say to try their “best hits” double feature and keep note of which songs you enjoyed from that. Then choose whichever albums they’re from. On an album by album basis the sounds they choose to incorporate can change so much so trying a range can help narrow down something you’d like.

        Personally my favourite album is Systematic Chaos. It’s a little on the darker side, but I tend to enjoy Dream Theater’s darker side over the more upbeat tracks.

        Gotcha. With this being such a personal issue I’d say that’s a more than good enough reason to get political. I’ll share the bundle around with my immediate friend circle and see if I can’t drum up a few additional donations aside from my own. I know it won’t solve the issue over there, lord knows there has been generations of violent conflict, so hopefully the donations do some good.

      • Yeah, I remember when I started the game getting a trophy called “Nostalgic for the 80s” or something. Maybe a bit of a joke on the player base’s average age, since I was barely out of the nursery and still having nap times when the 80s ended.

        Thanks for the recommendations! I may check Rush later. I expect they’re more of a big deal in Canada, but I know they’re widely considered one of the main prog bands here as well — they just never clicked with me in the past for whatever reason.

        As for Dream Theater, I’ll try out a compilation as you suggest. I tend to like some darker stuff as well when it comes to these prog styles (or at least a mix of light and dark) so Systematic Chaos might be one I’m into.

        And thanks for sharing this bundle. We can only do what we can and beyond that just hope for the best in the future.

  6. Way late here, but thanks for the shout out!

    And that indie bundle. Good cause, yet I fear for the backlogs of those who pick up both this and the last 1000 game bundle.

    • Certainly! As for those bundles, I don’t even count those games as in my official backlog for just that reason. I have downloaded something like 40 or 50 of them, though — if I’m lucky I might get through a fraction of that.

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