Listening/reading log #24 (October 2021)

Late again. I’ve been going through shit as usual, but that’s no excuse. All the more reason for me to post. First up: music.

Juice (Ryo Kawasaki, 1976)

Highlights: Raisins and Bamboo Child are great, but again it’s all very even

Even more Japanese jazz recommended by YouTube. The damn site finally understands what I actually like; fucking took it long enough. The interesting album cover also pulled me in — a healthier theme than Camel’s on last month’s entry Mirage, though I don’t believe that electronic orange is made for eating.

Not that it has much to do with the subject of the album, which is really nothing but music. Specifically jazz fusion funk kind of music made by legendary guitarist Ryo Kawasaki and played by him and a bunch of his friends. I had never heard Kawasaki’s music before, but based on Juice I want to seek out more, because pretty much every piece on the album is a hit.

If vocals are a must for you, you might not care much for Juice, since it’s entirely instrumental. But I’d still give it a chance, because at least some of these songs are just as catchy as any good pop or rock song might be, the biggest standouts for me being “Raisins” and “Bamboo Child”. Some of the others are more jams or grooves than song-like compositions, but those have their place too after all. And when the musicians are this good, plain old jamming can be entertaining in itself. In terms of the energy on this album, it reminds me a lot of Casiopea released just a few years later — I wouldn’t be surprised if those guys were listening to this album in 1976 in fact. (Actually, they may well have been listening to Camel as well, since that album also has plenty of fusion flavor.)

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Shoji Meguro had listened to this album, because I can say with plenty of confidence that if you liked the soundtrack to Persona 5, you’ll like this — it’s just the kind of 70s fusion/funk that game’s soundtrack draws from for influence, at least in the instrumental parts.

An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (The Caretaker, 2011)

Highlights: It’s not that kind of album really

Early this year I wrote a review of Everywhere at the End of Time, a six-album project by The Caretaker, a.k.a. British artist Leyland Kirby. While that massive series is his most visible and now best-known work, Kirby has been at work for a long time creating ambient albums.

Like Everywhere, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World makes use of slowed and sometimes distorted 20’s-40’s ballroom music and even older orchestral work to try to simulate the experience of an Alzheimer’s patient. Unlike Everywhere, however, An Empty Bliss isn’t a very difficult listen despite its heavy subject matter. Partly because it’s a single album only around 50 minutes long, but even the journey the listener is taken through here isn’t nearly as harsh or jarring as that on Everywhere — no hours-long stretches of distorted mangled songs mixed with noises, no “Hell Sirens”, none of that. I was struck by just how peaceful this album felt in comparison after getting through the ordeal of Everywhere.

Even so, it’s not all sunshine on An Empty Bliss, not even close. The mood still gets pretty low, especially around the middle of the album, where the initially pretty clear-sounding pieces get a bit more stretched out and slowed down and buried in parts under static and droning. Parts of the album feel to me like a milder form of Stage 3 of Everywhere, though that may be partly because they have at least two source songs in common (the title track, with the same title on Everywhere but sounding quite different, and “Libet’s Delay”, which shows up on Everywhere as “Back there Benjamin” and then again a few more times in increasingly distorted forms.)

I’d recommend An Empty Bliss to those who might not want to take the dive into Everywhere at the End of Time, or at least not yet. This album doesn’t have quite the impact of Everywhere — it feels more like a blueprint for that much more fully realized work, which makes sense considering this album was put out five years before the first stage of Everywhere.

But An Empty Bliss is still a downer, appropriately for its subject matter, and it still stands on its own pretty well in addition to giving new listeners a hint of what to expect if they decide to take that plunge later on. Not a bad idea, because I can’t emphasize just how emotionally taxing that six-hour-plus experience is (but again, it’s worth it if you can make it through.) Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, though — I don’t suppose it’s meant to be anyway.

Sonic CD OST (Naofumi Hataya, Masafumi Ogata, and others, 1993)

Highlights: Considering the length, I’m too lazy to pick but it’s all good — all 4+ hours of it

And I’m cheating yet again with another game soundtrack. But not really cheating, because I was listening to this last month after all. Anyway, game soundtracks still deserve more respect than they sometimes get, and especially in this case. Despite losing out in both popularity and overall quality to its Genesis sibling Sonic 2, CD absolutely didn’t lose out in its backing music. In fact, a lot of collective effort was put into the game’s soundtrack: the whole thing when collected together is four and a half hours long.

Here I’m obligated to note, just as everyone is when they bring up this subject, that Sonic CD really has two soundtracks: the JP/EU version and the NA version. All my memories of the game, up through owning it myself for the first time on the Gamecube-exclusive Sonic Gems Collection (which was otherwise almost devoid of gems — thanks Sega) were with the NA soundtrack, so that’s the one I’m most used to. However, both versions of the soundtrack are excellent; they just have slightly different vibes (for example, with a lot more vocal samples in the Japanese version.) I’ve heard a lot of people say the Japanese version is the better one, though, and maybe you’ll agree? I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter. I couldn’t imagine starting the game without the NA-only “Sonic Boom”, but again that might just be that stupid nostalgia working on my brain.

The Sonic CD soundtrack is further lengthened by each stage getting four separate, dedicated themes, three types of which are also separated into their JP/EU and NA versions. If you’ve played the game, you already know that its defining mechanic is time travel: when Sonic hits a Past or Future post, he can warp through time accordingly to a past or future version of the stage as long as he keeps his speed up (easier said than done in most cases.) In addition to altered stage layouts and decorations/color schemes, each past and future stage also gets its own theme. Not only that, but the future stages and themes are divided into “good” and “bad” variations depending on whether Sonic has fulfilled certain optional goals. For some reason, the past themes are shared between the JP and NA soundtracks, but otherwise they’re each different as well.

So you get a hell of a lot of music in your Sonic CD no matter which version you’re playing, and it’s all quality. Some of my favorite stage themes include the various Stardust Speedway themes (especially the normal JP version, 90s funk as hell), the final stage themes, and the chilled-out bonus stage themes that don’t match that well with how pissed off I got because I kept failing the harder ones.

Sonic CD is a unique game. Not perfect, but it’s still well worth a play. And its soundtrack is unique as well, which is fitting: just like the game, while the music has some resemblance to the also excellent Genesis soundtracks (aside from Spinball, which I don’t count anyway) it very much does its own thing. It’s also had a lot of impact on some of the newer Sonic soundtracks — just listen to Tee Lopes’ work on Sonic Mania and you’ll hear the influence.

Now on to the featured articles:

Some Yuri Recommendations (KS Blogs) — One game I’ve just started (yes, it’s the Blue Reflection sequel, of course) has me thinking about yuri a bit. If that subject is on your mind as well, why not try out some of these recommendations on KS Blogs for good yuri manga? I’m not much for manga, but there are a ton of translated titles out there for every palette.

Halloween Movie Review — Godzilla (1998) (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — aka “that really bad one with Matthew Broderick.” But there might be a little more to the film than you think, so be sure to read the linked review!

Donkey Kong Land III (Extra Life) — Red Metal continues his look through the Donkey Kong series with another Game Boy title. Does it improve on the first two handheld games in the series? Red Metal delivers his usual insight in this review.

Metroid Dread (Nintendobound) — Matt gives his thoughts on Metroid Dread, the new entry in the long-running series. Maybe once I get a damn Switch I’ll try it out too!

Anime Review: School Babysitters (Lex’s Blog) — Sometimes you need a break from all the bullshit, and maybe anime dealing with serious dramatic subjects or featuring a lot of fighting, explosions, or death gambles won’t help. School Babysitters seems like a good choice in that case. Shit, maybe I should watch it too. Thanks to Lex for the review!

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom Review (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Or maybe a fantasy isekai is more your thing. Yomu has been reviewing a ton of those on his blog lately, among them How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. Compelling concept maybe, but does it hold up? I’ve become pretty numb to all these new isekai series that are constantly being released, but Yomu’s analysis is still interesting, and it’s a must-read if you’re into the genre.

Like Mom’s Chicken Soup: Bravely Default II (Eating Soup with Trailing Sleeves) — From Trailing Sleeves, a review of Bravely Default II with a look at its comfortable aspects through a chicken soup analogy. Also, I like those chibi character designs, but I get why some people wouldn’t. The styles do clash a bit.

Stop Quitting Early (Frostilyte Writes) — From Frostilyte, some thoughts about when quitting in a competitive game is called for and when it isn’t, with a particular look at the popular MOBA Pokémon Unite. A good read for any competitive gamer.

Reflections on That One Scene in Peter Pan (Lost to the Aether) — Aether here takes on the heavy subject of racism in old films, with a look at a scene in Peter Pan featuring a lot of Native American stereotyping, and some insight into the importance of considering historical context in such cases. (And returning to the subject of Godzilla, Aether is also continuing his long-running Godzilla movie review series, so please check that out as well if you’re interested.)

Zak Starkey: Ringo Starr’s Son & The Importance Of Being Idle (Professional Moron) — I didn’t know Ringo Starr’s son was also a high-profile drummer, but apparently he takes after his father in that way, having filled in when needed on tour for other giants like The Who. Mr. Wapojif also focuses here on Starkey’s drumming on a particular Oasis track that showcases his talent. (And hey, a good place to note that his dad also released a ton of solo albums post-Beatles… none of which I’ve heard. Maybe I’ll try one out for the hell of it. The guy wrote a few fine songs when he was a Beatle, even if he was overshadowed by the other three in that department.)

Shin Megami Tensei V Hype Train (The Gamer with Glasses) — And finally, a post from the Gamer with Glasses rightly hyping up the much-anticipated Shin Megami Tensei V. No, I still don’t have a Switch, but I do have my copy of SMT V preordered. I look forward to finally getting to play it (at some point.)

Apologies if I missed anything else especially good last month, but I wasn’t entirely myself through most of October. Or maybe I was, which was the real problem. Either way, I wasn’t so engaged, but I hope to get back to more writing and exploring around the community this month.

I also have a ton of running anime and games on top of the work I actually get paid to do, including the above-mentioned Blue Reflection: Second Light, which is holding up very well so far. Also, Atelier and Yakuza are still happening, and I still have three games in particular that I need to get done at some point soon if I can. Also anime. Is it possible to sleep one hour a night and not suffer horribly for it? No? Shit.

Well, I hope the afterlife will allow me to catch up on whatever I’ve missed, assuming I’m deemed deserving of that privilege. Until then, I’ll still be writing, so see you next post.