Seven great video game tracks (part 4)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans, and a good Monday to the rest of the world if you can bear it. Not that it feels that different from any other day. I don’t guess there are going to be as many barbecues as there usually are on this holiday. To commemorate it, I’m making a post that has nothing to do with Memorial Day: the fourth part of my favorite game music series, to demonstrate again that game music is not just “real” music but is also varied and diverse in style and all that. Not that I probably have to convince you of that if you’re already reading this. Anyway, on to the good stuff. As always, the order the entries are presented in doesn’t matter.

1) Kohei Tanaka — Old Town (Gravity Rush, 2012)

I’ve already written a bit about Gravity Rush — not so much about the substance of it but rather how I’d still probably want to date Kat if she were real, even at the risk of accidentally being flung into a wall thanks to her out-of-control gravity-shifting powers. So let me address some more substantive, less stupid material: the game’s music. You may not be familiar with the name Kohei Tanaka, but it’s likely you’ve seen or played something he’s written a score for if you’re into anime at all. He also wrote the soundtrack to Gravity Rush. It feels like a movie score, and I mean that in a good way. Almost feels like something out of a Ghibli movie. If you like Joe Hisaishi’s work, you should check this out.

The old European feel of the initially accessible part of town is enhanced by this Manneken Pis reference

I picked “Old Town” because it was the first track in the game that I heard a lot and got a strong impression of; it’s the music that plays in the first section of the city as you’re flinging Kat around in the air getting used to the controls. I’ll always associate it with Kat falling hundreds of yards out of the sky flat onto her face or tumbling into the void around the floating city. No, I’m not very good at this game.

2) Tatsuyuki YoshimatsuIn a Lonely Cave (Hakoniwa Explorer Plus, 2018)

Some of my favorite game tracks are the unexpected ones. Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is a retro-style action RPG that includes a lot of dirty jokes and lewd monster girls and stuff like that. It’s not an adults-only game, but there’s a lot of suggestive stuff in here along with all the hack and slash fighting slimes and bee-girls and lamias and similar beings. Since that really sells itself, the makers didn’t have to include a nice soundtrack, but they did anyway.

“In a Lonely Cave” plays when you enter a cave-themed dungeon area as the title suggests, and it made me want to stand in a corner and listen while enemies quickly beat down my HP. It’s very relaxing, especially the piano/acoustic guitar combo later in the track. Maybe this is too relaxing for a combat theme, actually, but I don’t care; I still like it.

3) The Humble Brothers — Terrain (SimCity 4, 2003)

Although I didn’t play it nearly as much as SimCity 2000, I was still somewhat into the series back in high school and bought SimCity 4 on release, and it was absolutely worth getting. In the spirit of the older SimCity games, it also had a good soundtrack. “Terrain” is an interesting one: it’s one of the tracks that plays during the map creation part of the game, but it sounds more like the backing music to a film scene of people walking through the mountains or jungle or some other wilderness, and not because they want to. Very ominous.

The song does suddenly cheer up halfway through, shifting into a major key. I don’t like that part quite as much, but I guess a SimCity game should provide some optimism to make the player feel like his future city will be a success, so I get that. I’d never heard of the Humble Brothers before writing this post, even though I’ve known this song of theirs for 17 years now, but they did a nice job. Maybe they’re too humble to make their identities known.

4) Jerry Martin — Buying Lumber (The Sims, 2000)

Another Sim game. I’m not the biggest fan of The Sims, and I didn’t touch its sequels aside from a very short time with The Sims 3 on someone else’s computer, but I can’t deny how amazingly popular and successful the series was. To their credit, Maxis poured a lot of work into it before they and EA together ended up crapping absolutely everything up, and said work included getting composer Jerry Martin to write music for the first game. This is a solo piano piece that is way, way more contemplative than you’d expect from the title “Buying Lumber.” This track plays when you’re in build mode while the game is paused, so the title makes sense in that way. Still, the few times I’ve been to Home Depot, I haven’t felt this melancholic while walking through the lumber aisles.

This is a depressing-looking house, but I wouldn’t call it melancholic exactly. This guy just needs to clean it up and buy better furniture.

5) ??? — Data Select (Sonic the Hedgehog 3, 1994)

Okay, enough of the profound contemplative music — next is the jaunty Data Select song from Sonic 3. This track doesn’t seem to have an official title; it’s just the song that plays when you’re on the screen to start a new game or load a saved one. I’m also not sure who exactly wrote it, because Sonic 3 famously had a large team of composers working on the music. These included guitarist Jun Senoue, whose work would be a lot more prominent in later 3D Sonic stuff, and keyboardist/frequent Michael Jackson collaborator Brad Buxer. Buxer’s involvement has led many fans to speculate that Jackson himself worked on some of the Sonic 3 tracks and had his name removed later because he wasn’t satisfied with the sound quality on the Genesis.

Too bad if that’s true, because the quality is pretty damn good. It’s impressive to hear how much these guys do with the limited resources of the 16-bit console. This is one of those tracks that a lot of people don’t hear all the way through — it is a data select screen theme after all; you’re not usually lingering on it too long — but it does go on longer than you’d expect. I like the light atmosphere it creates going into the game. If you like it too, be sure to also check out the Tee Lopes cover of the song. This guy was featured in the last entry in this post series; his fan works were good enough that he got hired by SEGA to write music for Sonic Mania, and that game had a great soundtrack too.

6) Shoji Meguro — The Days When My Mother Was There (and another version) (Persona 5, 2016)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m playing through Persona 5 Royal. I’m liking it a lot so far. Admittedly I’m not as in love with the new Royal-exclusive music as I’d hoped, but it’s still good. It’s hard for that to compete with the amazing soundtrack that already existed in the base game anyway, with songs like “The Days When My Mother Was There”. A lot of people highlight the dramatic vocal tracks like “Life Will Change” and “Rivers in the Desert” and those are indeed great, but I prefer these more relaxed pieces. “The Days When My Mother Was There” sounds like it should be more melancholic from the title than it actually sounds, but there’s some plot stuff going on that provides context if you’re hearing it while playing the game.

Each of the Palace themes in Persona 5 also has an alternate version, and I like this one almost as much as the main theme. I’m a big fan of the electric piano sound it has — I think that contributes to the 60s/70s fusion/funk/soul/etc. sound Persona 5 has in general.

7) Nobuo Uematsu — One-Winged Angel (Final Fantasy VII Remake, 2020)

So I guess I have to eat my words about how I thought the FF7 remake wouldn’t be that good. At least I should prepare to do so, because I’ve been surprised by what I’ve seen so far. Not by the music, though, because I didn’t expect Square-Enix to mess up the excellent soundtrack of the original, and it seems like they haven’t. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out the new version of the classic “One-Winged Angel” with the full orchestra/choir treatment it deserves. Though for nostalgic reasons, I still like the original more. I don’t know, maybe that’s stupid.

Not everything about the original was better.

So that’s it for the latest entry in my favorite game music series. Four entries over six years — I really am lazy. Please look forward to the next entry in 2023. In the meantime, I’m still playing through Royal and a few other games, so I hope to get a couple of reviews/analyses up next month. There’s also a reason I featured a couple of tracks from the Sim series. That’s a not-so-subtle hint at the subject of the next deep reads post. Let’s see if I have anything new or interesting to say about that franchise. You can be the judge when it comes out.

For now, I’ll be taking the rest of the month off to work. I wish I could take off from work to write and play games instead, but as long as I stay on the projects I’m working on (which I absolutely need, so I hope I do) that’s not an option. That’s the life of a contractor: free, but also not all that stable. Well, what can you do. Until next time.

Listening/reading log #7 (April 2020)

Nothing significant happened this April. It was totally normal. So let’s move on to the usual: some music and some notable posts from other writers from the past month.

The Name of this Band is Talking Heads (Talking Heads, 1981)

Highlights: A Clean Break, Love → Building on Fire, Life During Wartime

Another live album, yeah. This one is a real favorite, though, as it should be. Talking Heads started as part of a mid-70s New York City scene playing at the same clubs as guys like the Ramones, which is weird to imagine when you hear how god damn nerdy they sound with David Byrne’s nervous warbly singing and how precise their playing is. I really like them, and I like The Name of this Band is Talking Heads because it lets you hear the band both near their start in the late 70s and around their peak in the early 80s — they sound a lot bigger and fuller in the later tracks, but it’s all good stuff. Catchy, memorable, energetic. If you only know Talking Heads because the local grocery store won’t stop playing “Wild Wild Life”, check this album out to see how much better they were than that (not that it’s a bad song, but it is way overplayed and not nearly as good as the older stuff. There, now I sound like a snob again.)

The remastered CD version also has an extended tracklist, so that’s the one to get, though I don’t even know if you can find the original one outside of used vinyl stores anymore.

新しい日の誕生/Birth of a New Day (2814, 2015)

Highlights: It’s all kind of the same song

I have to be in a certain mood to listen to this kind of music. Maybe a brooding mood or a foul one, which happens often enough to make it worth my while to find stuff like 新しい日の誕生/Birth of a New Day by the group 2814. This music is supposed to fall into the “vaporwave” category, but that seems like such a broad category that I’m not sure what it even means, and it doesn’t sound anything like the few other vaporwave albums I’ve heard. There are no vocals aside from a few samples, and each track flows into the next. Sort of like Geogaddi, I don’t know if I’d call this relaxing exactly, but it’s not quite as unsettling as that album is.

Try this out if you’re in a brooding mood too. Maybe it can work as therapeutic or meditative music or something. I like to use that “lofi hip hop radio” channel on Youtube, the one with the constant loop of the anime girl studying. You know the one; it’s probably in your recommended videos.

And now, the featured posts:

The Benefits Rant — Aether writes some thoughts about processing benefits applications for a government agency during the coronavirus outbreak and brings up some issues about government benefits that are probably easy to forget about if you’re not working in that field.

A Rebuttal to James Whitbrook: Our Fascination With Canon Is Not Killing the Way We Value Stories — Some critics are all too happy to ignore plot holes or acknowledge them but claim they shouldn’t matter, justifying sloppy writing and poor characterization, as long as the work in question delivers what they think is the right message. Red Metal breaks down these arguments in an interesting rebuttal.

A Character Analysis of Two Gilgameshes — Type-Moon has its own take on the ancient epic hero Gilgamesh, who’s appeared in several of its Fate series as a blonde pretty boy with magical powers. Scott analyzes two very different versions of Gilgamesh in this piece.

Touhou 2 – Story of Eastern Wonderland Review — I’ve had Touhou Project on the mind lately, partly because I’m following blogs posting about the series. Yomu is writing a series of reviews of the main line Touhou shoot-em-ups. The old PC-98 games that came out before Touhou really blew up get somewhat ignored, so it’s nice to see them getting some attention.

Touhou: Luna Nights — And Neppy reminds me that I need to get around to playing Touhou Luna Nights with this review of the Metroidvania spinoff.

I also have some massive posts planned for the near-future depending on how strictly you define “near.” Until then!

Listening/reading log #6 (March 2020)

I’m hiding in my new apartment avoiding the coronavirus right now, just like most of the rest of you. It’s still outside stalking around, despite all the efforts of internet artists to anthropomorphize COVID-19 into a cute yandere anime girl (I don’t have a problem with that, understand — we all have to do our parts in this crisis after all.)

So let’s forget about Corona-chan for a while and listen to some good music. This time, we’re looking at two albums that feature Phil Collins. Are you shocked by that? Well, I’m serious, so keep reading and find out what the hell I’m talking about:

Live (Genesis, 1972)

Highlights: The Musical Box, The Knife

I was thinking about classic prog bands I haven’t covered in this feature yet — I got Yes, King Crimson, ELP, and Van der Graaf Generator already, so it wouldn’t be right for me not to cover Genesis. This live album might be a weird work of theirs to highlight, but for whatever reason it was the first Genesis album I ever heard, so it still has a special place for me. Proggy 70s Genesis was quite a different beast from poppy 80s Genesis, though they were both really good in their own ways (well, Invisible Touch on pretty much sucks but that’s a different post.) Under the artistic direction of singer Peter Gabriel, these guys were ultra-artsy, writing long epics about killer plants (“Return of the Giant Hogweed”) and evil landlords genetically engineering shorter people to take up less space in apartment blocks (“Get Em Out By Friday”). And their stage act was apparently nuts, with Gabriel changing costume between certain songs to dress up as Britannia, or a flower, or a crossdressing furry. Or as Pyramid Head, like you can see on the cover.

Naturally you don’t get any of that spectacle on this live album, but it’s still really good. Gabriel is one of my favorite singers, and all the musicians in the band do well — for those of you who hate Phil Collins for his solo career of mostly cheesy pop and sappy ballads that are on constant play in your local grocery store, you should know that he was (still is?) an amazing drummer. The music is excellent as well. My favorites are the bizarre “Musical Box” with Gabriel going into his creepy old man persona in the end, and the violent “Knife”, which sounds like something these guys wrote after reading a lot of Machiavelli at college. The energy in that song is amazing. Great album, though it really is weird that they didn’t make it longer. They didn’t even include “Supper’s Ready”, which would have taken up another whole side of a second record. How did that not happen?

Unorthodox Behaviour (Brand X, 1976)

Highlights: Nuclear Burn, Born Ugly

Peter Gabriel left Genesis in the mid-70s to start a long and successful solo career, though I don’t guess he made as much money off of it as Phil Collins did with his. But in the mid-70s Collins was still Mr. Hardcore Progressive Drummer Man, and in addition to doubling as the new singer for Genesis he also recorded jazz fusion albums with the separate band Brand X, of which this was the first. Brand X is totally different from Genesis aside from also featuring Collins on drums — Unorthodox Behaviour is instrumental fusion with a big emphasis on technical skill. For me, technical skill isn’t quite enough, but thankfully most of the pieces on this album are really catchy and entertaining. “Nuclear Burn” is the kind of thing I can’t play in the car because it would make me want to drive faster, it’s got so much energy and speed. The whole album is really good for studying or working to after one or two strong coffees, in fact — try it out.

And now the featured articles:

Keeping my blogging to myself — Kim at Later Levels talks about the feeling of not being able to tell real-life friends and family about your blog. This is something I can strongly relate to. The wall between our online and offline lives can be hard to maintain sometimes, but for some of us, there’s really no choice.

Fate/Extra — An insightful review of the PSP action RPG Fate/Extra by Neppy. I was too busy/lazy/drunk to actually get through Fate/Extra when I first played it years ago, but if you want a real analysis of it, check out this review. The only meaningful commentary on the game I can give is that Caster is cute, and you probably don’t even need me to tell you that.

Visual Novel Theatre: Ame no Marginal – Rain Marginal — Aether brings back his visual novel review feature to look at Ame no Marginal, a short VN about a depressed man and a girl stuck in a Limbo-esque world, and if you want to know the rest, go read his review. It’s interesting, even if the VN itself seems like a bit of a let-down from Aether’s analysis. His post still piqued my interest, though, so I bought the game on sale while digging around Steam today, along with Narcissu. I’m sure I won’t regret this decision at all. (Also, check out his latest entry in the Persona 3 retrospective series he’s writing.)

Weekend Reads: Japanese Non-Fiction & Islamic Epic Fantasy — Yon Nyan talks up some interesting recent novels, including one in the category of Islamic fantasy, a genre I didn’t even know existed outside of old stories from 1,001 Nights. Sounds interesting, though; I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. If you’re into fiction at all, Yon Nyan is also absolutely worth following.

[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 4 — And as promised, linked here is Red Metal’s review of Mega Man 4, as in-depth as usual.

A bit shorter than usual this time, yeah. I had hoped to be more productive on the blog this month, but between the great plague and my recent house-moving, most of my free time’s been occupied. Now that I’m settled and working from home without having to worry about commuting at least two hours a day, I’ve been able to get deep into some of the games I wrote about last post, and you can be sure I’ll write about anything I find that’s interesting (or not, but you’ll have to be the judge of that.) And maybe I’ll finally get that god damn Disgaea deep reads series done. I can only hope.

Until next time, dear reader, all my best wishes and try to stay safe.

Listening/reading log #5 (February 2020)

End of the month, so it’s another one of these. I don’t have a good way to start the post this time, so I’ll just get right to business.

Tarkus (Emerson Lake & Palmer, 1971)

Highlights: Tarkus, Bitches Crystal, A Time and a Place

Continuing the tradition of covering one classic prog album per post, here’s one of my favorites from one of those bands with a name that makes them sound like a law firm.  Tarkus isn’t great all the way through (the painfully preachy atheistic anthem “The Only Way” and the boring “Infinite Space” suck pretty bad in my opinion, and I don’t like the album closer much either) but that doesn’t matter, because the main point of the album is the title track, a 20-minute multi-part piece about… well, according to the inside art, it’s about the “armadillo tank” on the cover hatching out of an egg and going on a rampage, fighting other weird monsters straight out of an old kaiju movie.  Not that the lyrics give any clue of this at all, but who cares when the music is this good?  Keith Emerson is a master on his piano, keyboards, and synths, Carl Palmer does a great job drumming, and Greg Lake delivers some of the best vocals on a prog album in the “Stones of Years” and “Battlefield” sections of the suite.  The songs on side two are supposed to be outtakes, songs that didn’t make the cut for “Tarkus” proper, but some of them are excellent as well like “Bitches Crystal” and “A Time and a Place”.

For me, this album is the ultimate proof that music and art in general don’t need to be about a damn thing to be entertaining. Tarkus is about fuck all and I love it, or most of it anyway.  And I still think it should be adapted into a game.

Argent (Argent, 1970)

Highlights: The Feeling Is Inside, Liar, Schoolgirl

This band’s name isn’t all that imaginative (it’s not even named after the country or the Latin word for silver or anything, it’s just the last name of founder/pianist/organist/producer/etc Rod Argent, who previously co-founded the Zombies aka the guys who did “Time of the Season”.) But they made some good music, and this debut has some fine songs on it. “The Feeling Is Inside” is a nice soulful tune about a guy who cries because his girlfriend is so hot, and she brings him coffee in a special cup, whatever the hell that means — maybe they got that line from Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So”?  But they’re both great songs. I also like “Liar”, a much harder-edged breakup song that might be the sequel to “The Feeling Is Inside”. Another highlight is “Schoolgirl”, featuring a guy reminiscing about his love when they were younger.

Hey, this whole fucking album is full of love songs, isn’t it? That’s not usually my thing — I prefer meaningless nonsense music like Tarkus — but these love songs are well-written, so it’s no big deal.

Adult (Tokyo Jihen, 2006)

Highlights: A Secret, Niigata

For the first and certainly not the last time, I’m writing about a musical act that I’ve already written about once. Sort of. Tokyo Jihen, or Tokyo Incidents, is a band formed by singer/musician/songwriter Shiina Ringo. I covered one of her solo albums just a few months ago, but I’ve been listening to some of her stuff again lately. So here’s Adult, featuring songs that don’t sound too different from her solo stuff. More of that mix of jazz, pop, and rock all done in a classy and catchy as hell way. I don’t like Adult quite as much as Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana, but it has some excellent songs like loud jazz blast “A Secret” and somber piano ballad “Niigata”. Some of the album consists of more standard pop stuff, but Shiina’s amazing singing makes it all worth a listen.

And now the featured articles:

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020 Film) review — The consensus seems to be that the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie doesn’t suck, which is far more than most people expected out of it. I might even bother to watch it at some point. If you’re interested, check out this review of the film from Wizard Dojo.

Game Designer Spotlight – Sid Meier — From Caleb Compton of Rempton Games, an interesting look at a man who provided me with many hours of entertainment growing up: Sid Meier, creator of the Civilization series and a bunch of other good stuff.

Good Sexy, Bad Sexy — Aether explores the use of sexuality in games and how it’s used both effectively and ineffectively. This is a subject I’m extremely interested in (as you all probably know already) and I found Aether’s take on it to be very insightful.

Who — The Who put out a new album, a fact that was completely shocking to me considering the fact that they’ve been around for 55 years now and half of the original lineup is sadly no longer with us. Find out what Matt at Hi-Fi Adventures has to say about it.

[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 3 — I’ll just keep posting links to Red Metal’s Mega Man reviews, since they’re all comprehensive and entertaining.

And finally, let’s welcome Nep back to reviewing games after a hiatus. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

As for me, it’s another grinding month of toil and bullshit.  I’ll do my best to finish out the Disgaea feature I’ve been working on, though.  Can you imagine that I originally intended it to only be one fairly short post about Disgaea 1, and now it’s grown into a four-part series.  Now I know how George RR Martin feels.  Still waiting for The Winds of Winter here anyway — the day it comes out I’ll be taking at least a two-week break from the site.

Listening/reading log #4 (January 2020)

Well!  We managed to almost get through the first month of the decade without a total global disaster occurring yet, so I guess that’s good.  More importantly, I got halfway through my latest deep reads series of posts this month, so check out the first and second parts of that if you haven’t already.  Since life in the world and here in my country continues despite all the unrest we’re going through, we may as well keeping listening to good music and reading good blog posts.  Here are some of those.

The Yes Album (Yes, 1971)

Highlights: Starship Trooper, I’ve Seen All Good People

I guess it’s tradition now that I include at least one classic prog album in my listening log, so here’s another one.  Out of all the big old classic prog bands, Yes is arguably the most positive in tone (they named themselves “Yes” for just that reason supposedly) and The Yes Album is maybe the most positive-sounding of their classic period, which just happens to start with The Yes Album.  It’s the first one of theirs I heard, and it’s a great introduction to the band, featuring some typically long as hell songs with a lot of impressive solos and the insane, seemingly meaningless lyrics of unearthly high-pitched singer Jon Anderson (no, that’s not a falsetto he’s singing in, that’s really his regular voice.)

My favorite track on the album is “Starship Trooper”.  Everything about it is great — it’s sort of a combination of folk-rock and space-rock, which probably sounds like it shouldn’t work but really does.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with the Heinlein novel (it’s always hard to tell with Mr. Anderson’s bizarre lyrics) but the title does remind me of the famous shower scene from the film adaptation, which affected me so deeply when I saw it as a kid.  I also really like “I’ve Seen All Good People”, a song you’ve probably heard a bit of in a commercial or on classic rock radio if you’ve ever bothered to turn it on.  I think it was in an Intel commercial once.  Excellent album, anyway.  If you need to hear some music that feels positive even though you can’t understand what the hell it’s about, try it.  (For all the JoJo fans — “Roundabout” is on the following album Fragile, which is also excellent.)

The Bends (Radiohead, 1995)

Highlights: Fake Plastic Trees, My Iron Lung, Just

I always feel the need to balance the moods out with the music I listen to over the long run, so to balance the sunshine and happiness of The Yes Album here’s a Radiohead album.  The Bends is one from my childhood — it came out a bit before I was old enough to be an angsty teenager, but it was there for me when I got to that point and got it along with OK Computer and Kid A.  And damn if this album wasn’t tailored exactly for an introverted 13 year-old boy to connect with.  The music has a sharp edge throughout, and Thom Yorke’s singing has a matching bitter, sarcastic feel to it.

However, this music doesn’t feel whiny or anything, partly because of that sharp instrumental edge and partly because Yorke’s voice wasn’t whiny like another popular 90s frontman’s (you know who I’m talking about maybe, no need to say his name) but mainly because most of the songs still hold up well. “Just” is especially good, my favorite on the album.  I also put “My Iron Lung” up because it captures that old teen angst from around my childhood/school years better than anything else.  Not sure that one holds up as well, but you can’t reason with nostalgia.  Though should I really be nostalgic about that time in my life?  I don’t know.  Let’s just move on.

Chopin – Complete Piano Music (Frederic Chopin/Idil Biret, 1820s-1840s/1995)

Highlights: too many to name, but here are a few samples

This album is really testing the format I’ve been using for these posts.  This truly is a collection of all the solo piano pieces written by the legend himself, the French-Polish Romantic period pianist and composer Fryderyk (or Frederic) Chopin.  This guy is claimed by both France and Poland as a kind of national artistic hero, and for good reason.  Chopin hits a wide range of emotions using only a piano.  There are plenty of longer epics on this collection, but a lot of these pieces are also very quick and catchy — a few are even under a minute.  Anyone who has a bias against classical music in general as being “that boring old stuff” should really give Chopin a try.  He’s one of my favorite composers.  In fact, if you check out the links above, you’ll discover where I got the original name for this site.  (Didn’t last very long as the “official” name, but I suppose it still is the name of the site in some sense.)

Pianist Idil Biret also does a fine job playing all these pieces.  At least I think she does.  I’m no expert.  I can scrape by with a few myself, but I make them sound like shit.  Biret is a real professional.

And now for the featured posts:

“Classical Music is Dead”: Misconceptions and More — rxtrogression takes on the many misconceptions a lot of people hold about classical music, a couple of which I mentioned in the bit above about Chopin, but also including equally mistaken ideas like “it all sounds the same.”  When you’re dealing with a set of music written across an entire continent and a few other places besides, and over a period of three centuries, you can’t generalize about it.  This piece does a great job at breaking that subject down.

5 things I’ve been doing wrong when writing posts — Irina recently attended a WordPress course and analyzes the wisdom its lecturers had to impart on writing a “good post.” These include such nuggets as “don’t go off on tangents”, “write fluff pieces”, and “don’t be too weird.”  Many of the blogs most worth reading break most of these rules, and Irina’s blog happens to be one of them, so you should check it out.

Trout Mask Replica — If you want to read some more comprehensive album reviews than the mini-reviews I write in these posts, you should follow Hi-Fi Adventures.  In this post, Matt analyzes Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, one of the most classic “weird albums” ever to exist.  It’s a complicated and interesting work, just like Beefheart himself, and Matt covers the subject very well.

All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait: Delaying The Release Of A Video Game — If you’re disappointed about the delay of Cyberpunk 2077, simpleek’s post is a good one to read, detailing why it’s better for a game to be delayed than released in a rush and providing examples.  Reasoning these points out doesn’t remove the sting from delay announcements, but it might make them easier to bear.

The Gutenberg WordPress Block Editor – An Update — I hate the new editor, but Yomu at Umai Yomu Anime Blog has a more nuanced view of it, discussing both its strengths and weaknesses.  Maybe I’m just not willing to try anything new at this point, no matter how good it might be.

You Best Took it Serious When You Heard the Tone. The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 3: Presentation — You know the deal.  It’s about Megami Tensei so of course I’m going to talk about it.  This is the next part in Aether’s insightful Persona 3 retrospective, this time getting into the game’s distinctive and beautiful presentation.

Finally, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Red Metal’s Star Wars sequel trilogy reviews, starting with The Force Awakens.  They’re full of spoilers, but if you’ve seen the series and want some in-depth analysis of these films’ characters, plots, general feel and all the rest, you should absolutely read them.

So that’s it for the month.  I know this post is coming a bit early, but this week is going to be hell for me, so I thought I may as well write this end-of-month piece before I get mired in bullshit as usual.  I do plan to finish the Disgaea deep reads sub-series in February, though.  And if you’ve liked these commentaries I’ve been writing, I have good news: I already have plans for #3 and #4 in the wider series.  Might take a while to actually write them, but they will happen.  Once again, you probably won’t be surprised by what I’ve decided to write about.  Until next month, take it easy.

Listening/reading log #3 (December 2019)

I know I said I’d be off for the rest of the year, but there’s still one piece of old business for 2019 left to address. So let’s get right to it:

Magic (T-Square, 1981)

Highlights: It’s Magic, Sunshine Sunshine

Quite an album cover, isn’t it?  Pretty magical in my opinion too, at least as far as the subject matter goes.  Magic is an album recorded by Japanese fusion band T-Square, which has existed in various forms from the late 70s up until today.  These guys along with Casiopea were apparently a big part of 80s fusion.

The problem is I don’t seem to like 80s fusion very much, not even the later Casiopea stuff I’ve listened to.  70s fusion, sure, I’m into it.  But 80s fusion might just use way too many cheesy, ridiculous synth tones for my taste.  Some of those are on Magic too, and that might also be part of why I’m not a fan of the instrumentals here.  Half the songs on this album are vocal pieces, however, and I like those.  These feature lyrics in English sung by famous Filipina vocalist Marlene (yeah, just the one name) who I only learned about last week.  Her singing is unbearably cute and uplifting and makes the album opener “It’s Magic” as well as “Sunshine Sunshine”, a song you may be shocked to hear that I really like.  I’m not crazy about the message (which is essentially “don’t mope around, just be happy” — yeah, if only it were that easy) but when I listen to the song, it’s impossible not to imagine Marlene bouncing around a stage while singing the lines “SUNSHINE SUNSHINE IT’S A SUNNY DAY SUNSHINE SUNSHINE LOVE IS HERE TO STAY!” and that does actually make me happy.  So maybe this stupid shit works.  Anyway, Magic is mostly pretty good, and maybe you’ll like it more than I do if you’re not allergic to cheesy 80s synths.

H to He, Who Am the Only One (Van der Graaf Generator, 1970)

Highlights: Killer, House With No Door, Lost

Hey, was I being positive there for a few minutes?  Fuck that!  I know just the cure: some Van der Graaf Generator.  This was an English prog rock band that started back before prog was even really a thing, fronted by excellent singer/crazy lyricist Peter Hammill.  VdGG was pretty uneven in my opinion, but when they were good they were great, and H to He (referring to the solar fusion process — no idea what the rest of the title means) is one of their best albums.  This is dark, bitter, sad artsy rock featuring Hammill singing what sound like a lot of very personal words over a saxophone/organ-dominated background.

Which you might not think you’d be especially into depending on your tastes, but the songs here are really good.  “Killer” is energetic and catchy and has a monster riff that I love, and “House With No Door” is a ballad sung by Hammill sounding like he just had his heart torn out.  My favorite is “Lost”, though.  It meanders like crazy through its 11 minute run time and bizarre time/key signature changes, all classic prog-style, but it works because the whole song is about a guy who’s lost his love and is wandering in the same fashion.  Nothing pretentious here, it’s really just a love song.  Check it out!

So it’s only two albums I’m putting up for your consideration this time, but I hope the contrast between them is enough to cover pretty much everyone’s tastes.  If it isn’t, try out some of the following excellent pieces by my fellow blog writers.

Shadows of Mass Destruction.  The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay — Aether dives deep into Persona 3 in his continuing retrospective series on the game.  If you like the Megami Tensei content I post here (what’s that, about two-thirds of my site?) you should follow Lost to the Aether as well for some great in-depth analysis.

Humanity Has Declined: Nameless Adventures With Incalculable Entities — Scott of Mechanical Anime Reviews writes about the uniquely weird anime series Humanity Has Declined and why it’s worth watching.  I liked the show a whole lot, and Scott captures the essence of it very well.

Editorial: Supporting the Little Guys — Professional and semi-pro game journalism sites are largely copy-and-paste clickbait outrage factories, and Pete Davison of MoeGamer takes on some of the problems this causes in this piece.

[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 2 — Red Metal of Extra Life reviews one of the best NES games in such a thorough way that I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it.

Chapter 754: Hachinohe Station Giant Lanterns and History Museum — If you have any interest in traveling to Japan, or traveling anywhere for that matter, be sure to follow The Flying Tofu, now on part 754 of her travels through Japan and other lands.  I can’t go anywhere at the moment or anytime in the near future, so I like to read a few travel blogs instead, and this is one of them.

And that’s it once again.  A preemptive happy new year to everyone — doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a great year coming up in general, but we’ll see.  The last few years have turned me into a real fatalist, both as far as my personal life and public/world events have gone. But what the hell.  There’s not much ordinary people like us can do (assuming you’re ordinary too, dear reader — if you’re extraordinary, can you please do something about all this shit?)

Anyway, if all else fails, just remember this: no matter how much things might suck, nothing is forever.  That’s what I tell myself, anyway.  Until next time!

Listening/reading log #2 (November 2019)

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.

加爾基 精液 栗ノ花/Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana (Shiina Ringo, 2003)

Highlights: Meisai, Okonomide (live version)

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.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (King Crimson, 1973)

Highlights: Easy Money, The Talking Drum, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II

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.

Greatest Idol (Mitchie M feat. Hatsune Miku, 2013)

Highlights: Freely Tomorrow, 愛Dee

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.

Seven great video game tracks (part 3)

It’s been a while since my last dedicated music post and nearly four years since I posted an entry in this particular series (see parts 1 and 2 back in 2014 and 2015*) but I thought why let it stay dead?  I’ve been working on that second deep reads post, which is proving to be more of a pain in the ass than I thought, but all this music is helping power my brain after work hours along with the caffeine.  I’m also in the middle of a 10+ hour round trip drive today across some boring state highways, and I’ve been refreshing my playlist and adding to it to get ready for that.

However, the main reason I decided to revive this series is that I’ve heard a few people online suggest that game music isn’t “real music”, which is utter horseshit.  So here are seven tracks to prove them wrong.  I’m sure they’d consider most or all of these “not real music” either, but judge for yourselves.  As before, these are listed in no particular order — they’re just seven more tracks from games that I like.

1) Yousuke Yasai – Point of No Return (Eschatos, 2011)

Somehow I haven’t brought Yousuke Yasai up once on this site, but the guy is a long-time game music composer who does some great work.  I especially like the soundtrack to Eschatos, a scrolling shooter released on the 360 and PC.  This game was put out in 2011 but the music sounds like something out of one of the Mega Man X games (in fact, I think Yasai did some music for the Mega Man Battle Network series, so maybe there’s a connection there.)  Point of No Return is my favorite piece on the soundtrack; it’s driving and powerful in the way you’d expect from a shoot-em-up, but also memorable and catchy.

2) Garoad – Every Day is Night (VA-11 HALL-A, 2016)

I know I’ve raved about VA-11 HALL-A enough here and mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Sukeban’s followup N1RV Ann-A.  The bartending mini-game with a visual novel wrapped around it worked just about perfectly for me.  But the soundtrack was a big part of the game’s success.  Composer Garoad did an excellent job with the background music.  Every piece adds a particular mood to the conversation Jill has with her mostly depressed/insane clientele, her weird boss, and her one more or less normal coworker.  The game even lets the player set up the actual in-game soundtrack for the bar every night on the jukebox, so you can create any kind of mood you like with this music.

Every Day is Night is one of my favorites — I usually started each night in the game with this song.  The title is apt; this and the rest of the soundtrack have a great nighttime feel, very fitting for this game that takes place entirely at night.  Though I also really like Safe Haven, the piece that plays when Jill is home from her shift at the bar.

It’s the soundtrack to my life, sitting in the dark in my shitty apartment

3) Kenichi Tsuchiya – Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven (Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, 2003)

It’s a piece from Nocturne.  I know, what a surprise.  This one wasn’t written by Shoji Meguro, though.  Composer Kenichi Tsuchiya was also responsible for a fair number of the tracks in the game, including the organ piece Heretic Mansion – Shining Heaven, the theme that plays when you visit the Cathedral of Shadows during a full Kagutsuchi phase (if you haven’t played Nocturne I know this probably sounds like nonsense, but it really does mean something.)  Tsuchiya has written quite a bit of music for the SMT games and spinoffs like Persona and Devil Summoner, and I’m sorry that I’m only now getting around to mentioning the guy, because he is worthy of notice.  There are a few different Heretic Mansion themes, and they’re all pretty ominous, but this is the only one that’s performed entirely on what sounds like a giant church organ.  It sounds like it came straight out of the Baroque period.  Great stuff if you’re into that.

4) Shoji Meguro – A Way of Life (Persona 3 Portable, 2009)

Even so, I can’t go without listing at least one Shoji Meguro song.  This time I’m going with the opening theme to Persona 3 Portable, the PSP port of Persona 3 that included the female protagonist who’s now part of a weird multi-universe canon along with the male protagonist since they can’t exist at the same time in the same game.  It’s no wonder they haven’t tried this out since.

Fans argue over whether P3P or Persona 3 FES, the expanded PS2 version of the original, is a better game.  I prefer FES, but I still like the P3P exclusive music tracks, which include A Way of Life.  It’s just a catchy pop song.  That’s really all it is.  But Meguro is really damn good at writing catchy pop songs, so this one is worth a mention.  There’s no Lotus Juice either, so if you’re not a fan of his this is a good track to check out.  I like him, but his rapping can get old sometimes.  There’s a reason I didn’t put “Mass Destruction” on this list instead — it’s a good song, but it’s been burned into my brain so deeply that I can never listen to it again.

I remember when this game coming out was big news. Ten years, shit. I feel old again now.

5) Tee Lopes – Lights, Camera, Action! (Sonic Mania, 2017)

One of the best things about Sonic Mania was how it finally killed all the “Sonic was never good” bullshit going around the reviewer and critic circles.  The game’s music also lived up to the quality of the Genesis soundtracks thanks to Tee Lopes, a composer who had previously worked on remixes of music from Sonic and other series.  Lights, Camera, Action! is the first stage thrme in Sonic Mania and sets the game’s mood perfectly.  It sounds like a technologically updated version of one of the Sonic Genesis pieces, which is exactly what I was looking for (well, the same can be said for Sonic Mania as a whole.)

6) Toby Fox – Spider Dance (Undertale, 2015)

I never thought “spider girl” plus “maid” were tags I’d be into, but the weirdos who draw Undertale fanart taught me something new about myself. (source: zingexGG, pixiv)

Shit. Somehow I’ve gone all this time without even bringing up Undertale. I don’t even need to tell you about it, right? It was a massive hit back in 2015 when it came out. I guess a surprise hit as well, because I didn’t know it was a thing until it was out and everyone was raving about this weird indie pacifist RPG. I wasn’t quite as in love with it as some people were, but I did enjoy Undertale a lot; it obviously had plenty of time, effort, and care put into it. However, I did love the soundtrack without any qualifications. Game creator and composer Toby Fox wrote one of the best game soundtracks ever, in fact — nearly every piece in the game was so memorable that they stuck in my mind for weeks and months afterward.

It’s hard to pick this time, but I think my absolute favorite Undertale piece is Spider Dance. The frantic feel fits the mood of the scene perfectly; it’s just the kind of music that should play when you’re fighting against a deadly spider woman or trying to dodge all her attacks if you’re doing the pacifist thing. I guess I might be in a small minority here in saying this is my favorite; everyone really seems to love Megalovania, and people will even get teary over Toriel’s theme and all that. Those are great pieces too, but I just like Spider Dance the best.

7) Masafumi Takada & Jun Fukuda – Sleeping Intermission (Grow Up Nyan Nyan) (Contact, 2005)

Here’s a bizarre song to end with.  Contact was itself a weird game, a Suda51-written DS RPG that didn’t get a lot of attention when it was released and that since seems to have slipped into near-obscurity.  I reviewed it years ago here, and I haven’t played it since, but I still listen to the game’s music from time to time.  The Contact OST was composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda, both big pros in the field who also worked on other Suda51 stuff as well as titles like God Hand.

Contact.  There’s a fourth-wall-breaking setup here that I won’t get into now, but it was interesting.

Sleeping Intermission might be a weird choice to pull from the Contact soundtrack.  It’s the song that plays when you send the protagonist to bed to heal his injuries and pass time in the game world.  However, during this intermission you get to play with the Professor’s pet Mochi by tapping him with the stylus while the hero sleeps it off.  It’s a bit strange like everything else in this game, and the same is true of the music, especially those digitized synth voice parts that play throughout.  But shit, I just like it.  I liked Contact too.  It’s worth playing if you have a DS, a 3DS, or an emulator.  Check it out.  I still think it deserved to be remembered more than it is.

And that’s it for now.  I’ll go back to being on semi-vacation here.

=

* Yeah, I know part 1 says “seven” in the title here but only contains six if you read the actual post.  I think I was too drunk to know what I was doing at the time.  That’s a safe bet to make back when I posted it.

Listening/reading log #1 (October 2019)

Well, here’s another thing I’m doing now. As I wrote a while ago, I’ve been listening to a lot more music at work, in the car, on the train, and I felt like posting my thoughts about the more interesting stuff I hear but that I don’t necessarily want to write whole reviews on. At the same time, I wanted the chance to start highlighting some excellent articles and pieces posted by my fellow blog-writers and site administrators. So why not put these two completely unrelated ideas together in an almost-end-of-the-month post? I can’t think of a good reason not to do that, so here we go:

Wave (Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1967)

Highlights: The Red Blouse, Mojave

In signs that I am mentally an old man now, I’ve started putting on a lot of nice old easy listening stuff at work, especially bossa nova. This Brazilian musical movement started in the late 50s and went strong through the 60s and 70s, and even today it seems to be pretty popular. Guitarist Antonio Carlos Jobim* was one of the biggest names in bossa nova, and Wave contains some of his best-known work.  Almost the entire album is instrumental, so if you’re looking for vocals, this one isn’t for you, but I’d still recommend checking it out because it is relaxing as hell. This is less coffee house music and more drinking a mimosa on a rooftop penthouse in the summer evening music. Not something we can all do all the time, or even any of the time, but at least listening to the music puts me in a better frame of mind. A couple of tracks on Wave sound similar to each other, but there isn’t really a bad one here.

Casiopea (Casiopea, 1979)

Highlights: Space Road, Swallow

That album cover fits the contents perfectly. Casiopea’s first album is a jazz fusion punch, well-played, tight, and sometimes very fast (especially in the excellent “Space Road.”) Casiopea is a Japanese band that seems to get lumped in with guys like Yellow Magic Orchestra, being active around the same time (late 70s/80s) and with similar influences, but they do sound different. Both good, though. Casiopea is great all the way through, especially if you’re into 70s fusion with a few weird synth tones coming in occasionally that say “it’s almost the 80s but not quite yet.” Also, “Swallow” is really catchy.

Geogaddi (Boards of Canada, 2002)

Highlights: ???

I’d always heard a lot about Boards of Canada, but I hadn’t bothered checking out any of their stuff until I put on Geogaddi last week.  This album is interesting, but definitely not relaxing.  Just the opposite.  Maybe you could call this “unsettling ambient” or something.  A lot of electronic tones, synth and drum loops, fuzzy voices in the background, but it’s not a mess; it all meshes together in a weird way.  This sounds like the soundtrack to the story of the only survivor left on a damaged space station that’s lost radio contact with the ground.  I have to be in a very particular kind of mood to get into music like this, and not a good one either, but maybe that’s just me.  I still like it, though.  Check the album out and see if I’m just crazy.

And now for this month’s featured articles:

“Anime Avatar” is not an argument — Pete Davison of MoeGamer explores the incredibly annoying trend of dismissing people out of hand on Twitter and other platforms because they have anime-themed avatars.  Pete makes an excellent argument in favor of actually reading and understanding people’s views and not judging them based purely on the 100×100 pixel jpg files they upload to their profiles.  What an idea!

[GAME REVIEW #200!!] Persona 4 — Red Metal of Extra Life passes his 200th game review milestone with an extremely thorough deep dive into one of my favorite games, and he totally does it justice.

Countdown to Halloween — I’m not doing anything special for Halloween, but if you’re looking for spooky stuff and so on, check out Irina’s great work at I drink and watch anime.  She’s writing a whole series of articles relevant both to the season and to anime and related cultural stuff.

Marvel’s Spider-Man’s Unique Take on Dramatic Irony — Aether takes on dramatic irony, a great narrative tool, and how it’s used by the game Marvel’s Spider-Man to mess with the players’ expectations in interesting ways.

Fighting Games are F@$#ing Hard — Frostilyte discusses difficulty and (in)accessibility in the fighting game genre, a subject I can really connect with because I’m shit at fighting games.

On the Topic of Trashy Anime — You all probably know I don’t mind some fanservice in my anime and games, so I can appreciate Baud Attitude’s take on anime series that some people consider low-brow.  It’s all good fun.

And that’s all for this month.  Also, in case you’re wondering: yeah, I’m still working on that first deep reads post.  It has a life of its own, growing larger and more unwieldy every day.  I feel like Dan Carlin here explaining why I haven’t posted an episode in eight months, except people actually give a shit when he doesn’t post, including me.  I need my free four-hour history podcast, damn it!  Anyway, please keep looking forward to that post, because it’s coming soon.  And happy Halloween/Samhain/whatever you like to celebrate.

*Fun anime-related fact: the three old men who show up every so often in Cowboy Bebop to complain and talk about the old days are named Antonio, Carlos, and Jobim after this guy.  No surprise, since that show is packed full of music references.

Soundtrack review: Katamari Fortissimo Damacy

It’s been a while since I reviewed a game soundtrack, so I thought why not take another one for a spin.  This particular soundtrack I only own a digital copy of, so I can’t tell you about the inserts or liner notes, but the music itself is enough to write a review, isn’t it? I’m not a professional at this.

If you can’t tell from the cover to the left, I’m talking about Katamari Fortissimo Damacy.  This is the OST to Katamari Damacy, a weird ass PS2 game that pretty much defied categorization when it was released back in 2004.  If you’ve never played any of the Katamari games, imagine rolling a sticky ball around a city that grows as it collects objects and is able to pick up increasingly larger objects as it grows such as cats, mailboxes, cars, fountains, trees, entire buildings, and eventually whole land masses.  That’s more or less the object of a stage in a Katamari game, or at least of its most fun stages.

Katamari Damacy was one of those wacky new things from Japan when it came to the States, the kind of game that made people think “wow, look at the crazy shit they come up with over there.”  Something like Super Monkey Ball or Seaman.  It is also a complete classic.  I’ve only played the first and second games in the series (We Love Katamari, also for the PS2) but both are well worth picking up.  They have a style of goofy lighthearted humor that is actually pretty funny and not annoying as such attempts can often be, and one that also gels with the unique gameplay style that the series established.  I don’t know why someone made a four-hour longplay of Katamari Damacy, since it’s the kind of game you really have to play yourself to get anything out of, but here’s one on the off chance you’ve never seen it before:

The same “wacky and interesting” vibe delivered by the game is also carried by the game’s music — in fact, I think the soundtrack to Katamari Damacy is one of the reasons the game did so well.  Even if I’m not totally in love with all the tracks here.  That’s not a criticism of any of the songs on Katamari Fortissimo Damacy, though.  The old breakup line “it’s not you, it’s me” comes to mind when I think of some of these songs, except in this case that phrase isn’t a lie; it actually describes how I feel about a few particular songs on this album.  (Well, that line doesn’t even work in the context of a breakup, but the subject of breakups is outside the scope of my blog.)

Before getting into that, let’s start with the positives.  I really like about half the songs on Katamari Fortissimo Damacy.  The theme of the game, Katamari on the Rocks, is a fast-paced song with a big horn section and a chorus of singers in the background.  This establishes the lighthearted feel of the game, and it’s a catchy song aside from that — good luck getting that “naaaaa na na na na na naa naa katamari damashii” line out of your head after hearing it the first time.  A Crimson Rose & Gin Tonic uses a 1940s-style big band setup with female jazz vocals, a style that I really like.  I’m also a fan of Katamaritaino for being such a nice chilled out song with relaxing vocals.  I really am getting older; every year I appreciate this kind of easy listening stuff more.  But this is good easy listening.  Tasteful.  Like João Gilberto or Tom Jobim.  In fact, there’s a really good bossa nova-style song on the second Katamari album that I’m not reviewing here but that you should check out anyway.

My favorite song on this album might be Katamari Mambo, a song that features two main vocalists: a goofy comic relief sounding-guy who keeps trying to start singing the song’s lyrics proper, and a lady who keeps interrupting him to sing said lyrics in a strikingly sexy mature voice (sorry if that sounds weird, but I can’t describe it any other way; just hear it for yourself.)  Add to that the fact that the song is full of lines that sound like sexual innuendo, and you’ll start to wonder how Namco got this one past whatever the Japanese equivalent of the ESRB is, if they have one.  Good thing the lyrics weren’t translated into English for the game’s western release, or else concerned parent groups might have started a campaign against it (this was back in the day when they were the ones primarily fighting against “inappropriate content” in games instead of our current set of usual suspects.) I’m always a fan of getting stuff past the censors, and Katamari Mambo is energetic and catchy enough to keep on my playlist forever.

The song’s main singer, Nobue Matsubara, also has a metric ton of albums out since the early 80s that all have covers like this, so I guess she’s been a big deal in Japan for a long time. No idea what these might sound like, though.  Leave a comment if you’re a fan!

However, while the game’s musical quirkiness works for me in some places, in a few others it doesn’t.  Like Cherry Blossom Color Season, for example, which features a bunch of little kids singing.  Which I’m just not a fan of at all.  Same goes for Katamari of Love, the ending theme to Katamari Damacy.  That song doesn’t feature annoying little kid singing, but I still don’t like it that much.  I can’t point to any really good reason for my dislike, though.  Maybe this album is just too god damn quirky and positive and happy for me to take all at once.  Or maybe the songs I like on the album are the ones I heard first while playing Katamari Damacy, and the novelty of the game along with the novelty of the music made a positive impression on me at the time.  I can’t think of any other reason why I’d like Lonely Rolling Star and dislike Katamari of Love, because there’s nothing technically wrong with the latter.  Same goes for a few of the other songs on the album that just grate on me sometimes.  In fact, if I’m in a bad mood, I can’t get into any of this Katamari music at all — even most of the songs I normally like end up irritating me.

So I’m not giving this album a rating.  I just don’t think I can judge it objectively enough to assign it a meaningful score.  Not that any of my reviews, or any reviews at all, are ever objective, but this time I really feel like I’m being unfair to the work in a way I can’t help.  So here’s my general view of it: this is a good album, and if you’re not a bitter, miserable asshole like me, you’ll probably appreciate it more than I do.  Or maybe you won’t like it that much, and that’s fine too.  This is one of those cases where I’d recommend playing the game over listening to the soundtrack on its own, though.  Katamari Damacy is still a lot of fun, and the music contributes to the game in setting a rhythm and pace for the player.  And the game is a hell of a lot cheaper than the album — a quick search shows used copies of Katamari Damacy available for several dollars, while the soundtrack will run you more than 30.  If you have a PS2 lying around and haven’t played this or any of the Katamari games, consider that a solid recommendation.  Or you can buy the Switch remake Katamari Damacy Reroll, but I haven’t played it, so I can’t give it a rating either.  Some fucking reviewer I am, huh?