Listening/reading log #22 (August 2021)

Another month spent watching the world fucking burn. I mostly spent it working, and the parts I didn’t I spent mostly watching anime and doing other degenerate kinds of things. What else is there to do? At least for now, while we’re still trapped indoors (not that I really mind, of course. Actually my state is completely open, but hell if I’m taking chances.) For the time being, let’s just get on to the usual thing: music and great writing from around the communities.

Animals (Pink Floyd, 1977)

Highlights: Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones)

Yet another set of guys who don’t need any introduction — I think even kids today know who they are thanks to YouTube (and TikTok? I don’t go there, so I have no idea.) But in case you don’t know them, Pink Floyd were another English art/prog-rock band that got their start in the 60s and went on to massive popularity with heavily concept-based albums in the 70s before breaking up soon into the 80s and suffering through legal battles over the rights to the band name. Look those up; they’re fun in a morbid way.

Animals gets a little overshadowed by two of Pink Floyd’s other big projects, Dark Side of the Moon before it and The Wall that came directly after, but I think this one deserves just as much if not more praise. Because for me, Animals is where both the music and the concept it’s based around come together to create a really cohesive and entertaining album.

Not that the concept is all that complicated. I think Roger Waters read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and just decided to adapt the idea of dogs, pigs, and sheep representing different classes of humans in an unfair, unjust societal structure (the dogs being the enforcers for the rich/ruling class pigs, and the sheep being the rest of us I think.) Maybe it works just because it’s pretty simple and straightforward, but then Waters’ lyrics thankfully aren’t so straightforward that they’re battering us over the head with the message.

And most importantly, the music totally fits the theme. Pink Floyd were great at creating atmosphere especially between Dave Gilmour’s guitar and Rick Wright’s keyboards, and Animals creates a pretty oppressive, dark one appropriate to its theme. “Dogs” is an excellent example of this, probably my favorite song on the album; doesn’t feel its 17-minute length at all. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is also catchy, and likely the one song from Animals you’ve heard if you’ve only heard one of them. Out of the three big pieces on the album, Sheep is a little less memorable, but it still works well in the concept and puts a nice cap on it with an ending that reminds me a lot of “The Knife” by Genesis with that “kill them all!” vibe.

So I’d recommend checking out Animals. Especially if you want to feel depressed about the horrible uncaring bullshit society we live in. Don’t look to Pink Floyd for happy positive funtime music, but you already know that if you’ve heard or seen The Wall. And best of all, Doug Walker will never get his hands on this album, since it never had a film adaptation.

Siren of the Formless (City Girl, 2020)

Highlights: “Serene Tears, Elysian Eyes” and “Devote Ember” are nice, but it’s all very even

Well, maybe you don’t want to meditate on how fucked society is and how we’ll probably destroy ourselves sometime this or next century because of faults inherent in human nature that have existed since the Stone Age. If that’s not your thing and you’d rather relax instead, here’s a better option. I’ve covered City Girl once before, but she (at least I guess she, though again I’m not sure; could be a group for all I know) has put together quite a few albums that are posted in full on YouTube and are also available on Bandcamp and other platforms for sale.

Siren of the Formless is another nice album for chilling out and sitting back in your chair on a rainy morning, full of smooth, slow lo-fi tracks. I especially like the combination of acoustic and electronic instruments; there’s plenty of synths together with what sound like piano and actual strings being played, and they blend together well.

As for the songs themselves, there are a few that I especially enjoy like the ones listed above, but the whole album itself sort of blends together when I listen to it. In some cases, that would be a bad thing, but here it works, and it feels intentional as well. The album cover fits the contents perfectly — it feels like I floated through the whole album, like that girl floating in that lake. Not sure how to describe it in a less artsy pretentious way, but that’s just the feeling I get from it.

If you’re not generally a fan of “easy listening”, I’d still give this a try, because it’s the tasteful and well-thought-out kind rather than the artificial-feeling plasticy kind. I’ll keep following City Girl myself, and I’ll be on the lookout for similar stuff coming out on YouTube and Bandcamp and elsewhere.

MSB (Masahiko Satoh & Medical Sugar Bank, 1980)

Highlights: Ridin’ Out, Fly, May Fly, Overhang Blues

And finally, Japanese jazz, yeah. Why not. YouTube keeps dropping these recommendations in my sidebar and I’ve started listening to them. It seems Japan was really big on fusion in the late 70s and 80s (see my very first one of these posts featuring Casiopea) which makes sense when you listen to say the OutRun or one of the early Sonic soundtracks. There has to be a web connecting this jazz/fusion stuff with city pop and new jack swing and leading to that music I heard so much of in my childhood.

This particular album was created by pianist Masahiko Satoh and the strangely named band Medical Sugar Bank. MSB is a fully instrumental jazz album, though it varies a whole lot in tone from piece to piece. I only like part of it, though thankfully the larger part that falls into the more fusion-sounding funky category like “Ridin’ Out” and “Fly, May Fly”, songs that remind me a lot of the really good stuff off of Casiopea. I’m also pretty all right with the ending free jazz freakout “Overhang Blues”, probably because it’s just short enough to make that controlled chaos really work for me.

The rest of the album roughly falls into two categories: more sections of dissonant avantgarde horn wailing that I can only take in small amounts, and “heavenly” sounding pieces like Saga Unknown that I don’t care for in any amount at all. The latter gets too close to standard smooth jazz for my taste, just the kind of easy listening I don’t like as opposed to the kind on the album just above this one. It also probably doesn’t help that some of these tracks sound like they feature a lot of soprano sax (see Nebulous Suspicion for example.) Not that the soprano sax did anything to deserve its reputation — it’s a fine instrument, but Kenny G has kind of defined its sound after all, and he didn’t do it any favors in my opinion. Though if you want to hear it really done well, check out John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things.

But before I sound like way too much of a snob (forget it, I’m years too late for that) I’ll mention that all the playing is extremely professional and I can see even those tracks I don’t care for much working as nice mood-setting music. Maybe especially if you’re trying to set a romantic mood. See, I’m no romantic, so I don’t have any sense for this stuff. I’d end up playing some crazy shit like Amon Düül II and scaring the woman off (or discovering she’s exactly as weird as I am — maybe this is actually a great idea?)

So take what I have to say with a grain or a handful of salt, or sugar, or whatever. I basically like the greater part of MSB, and if 70s/80s fusion is your thing and you don’t mind a little sap you’ll probably like the whole thing more than I did. And even those sappier pieces have some cool parts in them, albeit ones that I don’t feel like pulling out and hearing again myself.

Now for the featured posts:

Let’s Get this Roadshow on the Road: SHIROBAKO the Movie (OGIUE MANIAX) — I liked Shirobako a lot, but the fact that it had a sequel movie slipped my mind until I read this review. Another one to add to the list along with the Youjo Senki movie that I need to see anyway in preparation for season 2 of Tanya the Evil. There’s so damn much to watch… but this one looks like it’s well worth the time.

Uma Musume Pretty Derby: Whole-Series Review and Reflection (The Infinite Zenith) — I have to admit that the concept of Uma Musume came off as weird to me at first — a bunch of horse girl idols who race against each other in derbies and also sing in concerts and do typical idol stuff. However, this review got me interested. P.A. Works already has a pretty good track record with anime as far as I can tell, and honestly the idea behind Uma Musume isn’t any weirder than that in say Nekopara, or those shipgirl games like Kantai Collection or Azur Lane (which in a way are quite a bit stranger.)

Commander Keen in Aliens Ate My Babysitter! (Extra Life) — Red Metal has done something I could never do myself and played through and reviewed the whole Commander Keen series in depth, ending with this sixth installment. Do yourself a favor and read them all if only to understand what kinds of platformers PC-only players had to choose from in the early/mid 90s, before emulators were a thing. Feel some of that pain. I was one of those kids back at the time who had to sponge off his friends and relatives to play their SNES and Genesis, so I can relate.

Yakuza 0 – Punching human pinatas for mad cash (Nepiki Gaming) — That title says it all, really. I’ll probably be writing a review myself whenever I manage to actually finish it (which could be anytime this or next year, lacking discipline as I do) but in the meantime, you should read Nepiki’s review of Yakuza 0. I will also agree that the game provides poor explanations of mahjong and shogi — I already knew how to play mahjong so I was all right there, but I gave up on that old man’s shogi challenge two minutes in. There’s a sidequest I’m guaranteed never to finish. Good thing I don’t care about 100% runs.

In Search of… Kaiji, the Ultimate Survivor (In Search of Number Nine – an anime blog) — Kaiji is easily in my top few (top three/five/whatever, I don’t really count them) anime of all time, so I’m always happy to see other bloggers writing about it. Iniksbane has some interesting points to make about the first season of the series here, with observations that I hadn’t really considered before. Be sure to read it (and also watch Kaiji if you haven’t!)

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Nintendobound) — All I’ve played of Ace Attorney was some of the very first game on the DS so long go that I don’t remember much about it. Perhaps shameful to say for a hybrid lawyer/gamer like myself, but that’s the fact. However, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles sounds just like the thing for me to try to get into the series again if I ever take the shot. Matt gives the game a comprehensive review here.

A Guide to Soloing Alatreon in Monster Hunter World (Frostilyte Writes) — While I’m in the process of degrading my serious gamer status or however that works, I’ll also mention that I’m not into Monster Hunter. Frostilyte is, however, and he’s written an in-depth guide to soloing a boss fight in Monster Hunter World. I really like seeing these kinds of narrow-focus but extremely deep guides, though I haven’t written any myself — they remind me a lot of the old days on GameFAQs. Those were the days. No bills to pay or any of that shit. Before I start complaining about my life again, I’ll just recommend that you check out Frostilyte’s guide if you have an interest in this game.

The Summer of Love III: Final Thoughts on Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya (Shallow Dives in Anime) — Dewbond gives his concluding thoughts on the magical girl-themed Fate spinoff Prisma Illya following a series of posts on the anime. I was already thinking about picking it up myself — I’ve already covered one Fate spinoff series, so why not another? Dewbond makes it sound well worth the watch in his post.

Shangri-La – Let’s Watch a Random Anime (#6) (Side of Fiction) — Every month, Jacob spins a wheel full of anime hosted at randomanime.org and watches whatever comes up. This is a brave undertaking, and not one I’m equal to (when I went to randomanime.org, I got a painfully generic-looking harem comedy, and fuck if I’m watching that. Not my thing.) But Jacob here writes about his sixth randomly selected anime, Shangri-La. Sounds like a mixed bag but possibly an interesting one for some people; I might just check it out for the concept and because it’s another Range Murata-involved project like Cop Craft was. Murata being a character designer, that’s no guarantee of the story’s quality — I just like his designs (though maybe Last Exile is a better bet than this?) I also look forward to seeing what random anime comes up in this post series going forward.

Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #1: Sakura Kinomoto (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — And speaking of magical girls, Traditional Catholic Weeb in this new post series features Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura with a focus on the challenges she faces. The magical girl genre seems a lot heavier than I used to think it was, and that’s even setting aside the famously dark Madoka Magica.

Should Nintendo Fire Game Freak from Pokémon? (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — I’m not a particular fan of Pokémon, but I have noticed a lot of the discontent among fans over recent entries in the series. and the role of original development team Game Freak might have a lot to do with that. I’d argue the same about Sonic Team and the Sonic series myself, but that’s another matter. (Just give the keys to Christian Whitehead for God’s sake; he actually knows what he’s doing. But I’ll save those complaints for later.)

Olympic Gold (Shoot the Rookie) — Pix1001, in honor of the recently ended Tokyo Olympics, has put together a set of predictions for which game characters would dominate in a hypothetical video game version of the competition. No arguments from me about these picks; I’d put money on all of them. Watching Bayonetta try the pole vault would be entertaining as well.

Fry Force and How to Use Anime Influences For Marketing (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Commercials tend to be hated, and for good reason: they’re trying to sell us things we usually don’t need, and they’re often doing so in the most irritating, mind-numbing ways possible, with “wacky” characters who make me wish I lived on a desert island with no access to goods or services at all (see GrubHub, Liberty Mutual, those horrible McDonalds spots that play on Soundcloud for some of the worst offenders.) However, Taco Bell has somehow gotten it right with an ad that takes serious influence from anime as Scott sets out here. Credit to the Taco Bell ad people for putting actual effort into their advertising, even if I’m not much of a fan of their food (and points for the Gawr Gura cameo — of course I couldn’t go without mentioning that.)

Cooking with Testosterone: Ahi Tuna Steak (Lost to the Aether) — While I’m not about to start cooking myself anytime soon (too busy, or lazy, or dumb, make your choice) watching Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family did make me wish I could cook like Shirou if only to be surrounded by dozens of women constantly like he is. Fortunately we have Aether, who has brought back an old series of cooking posts with his method of preparing an ahi tuna steak. I had this once; it’s good as hell. Maybe I’ll even try my hand at this one day. Can I really afford not to under the circumstances?

And from the same blog: Disgaeadventures — I don’t usually feature two posts from the same blog, but Aether also recently gave his thoughts on Disgaea 1 for PC and brings an interesting angle both on the characters and gameplay and on some aspects of them that might not be obvious at first glance. I’m always happy to see more people picking up Disgaea of course, so I had to feature this as well. (I also still promise I’m not a Nippon Ichi shill.)

Blogging Banter: Blogger Boundaries (Ace Asunder) — And finally from Solarayo, a reminder that we can see online conflict even in our usually civil blogging communities along with suggestions for trying to avoid it. One of the nice things about online communities is that you don’t really have to deal with people you don’t get along with, a luxury that we generally don’t have when dealing with family or work colleagues. Setting personal boundaries is always important in any case.

And that’s it for the month once again. Work has been especially busy for me recently, but I still intend to keep making progress through the long-haul games I’m playing. More anime reviews are also on their way. And I haven’t forgotten about those indie games in the summer bundles I bought from itch.io. And I just bought Long Live the Queen… shit. Anyway, there’s more coming. Until then.

Listening/reading log #8 (May 2020)

I don’t have anything funny to open with this time (assuming I ever did anyway.) You don’t need me to tell you; if you live in the US just open a window and you’ll hear it. Between the righteous fury of the people, the imminent threat of military forces occupying the streets, and the coronavirus that hasn’t gone away, we’re living a fucking apocalypse over here.

All the more reason for you to put on relaxing music to get away from a while, even if only for an hour. So let’s do that: in contrast to the instability, lack of leadership from the top, and total political incompetence going on right now in my country, I’m focusing this month on music to wind down to.

Getz/Gilberto (Stan Getz & João Gilberto, 1964)

Highlights: The Girl from Ipanema, Doralice, O Grande Amor

In my very first listening/reading log post back in October, the first album I highlighted was Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave. If you liked that, you’ll probably like Getz/Gilberto as well, because it’s a similar style of nice relaxing bossa nova and it also features Jobim as you can read on the cover. The main players here are naturally the guys the album’s named after, however: American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto. These guys were already both quite famous when this album came out, and for good reason, because they’re good at what they do.

“The Girl from Ipanema” is one of those songs you’ve definitely heard even if you don’t recognize the name — it’s been covered probably hundreds of times by now. It also features Gilberto’s wife Astrud on vocals, alternating his own lines in Portuguese with hers in English. There are plenty of nice lesser-known tracks on Getz/Gilberto as well, especially the short, catchy “Doralice” and somber-sounding “O Grande Amor”. This is the kind of music that sets a certain mood, and it’s very good at doing that. As with Wave, put it on when you get a drink and sit out in the warm summer night (well, maybe not right at the moment depending on your location, but you know what I mean.)

Dummy (Portishead, 1994)

Highlights: Sour Times, It Could Be Sweet

I don’t know about listing Dummy as being in the “relaxing” category. It’s very chilled out but also very downbeat — like Getz/Gilberto it does well at setting a tone, but this time the tone is depression. Singer Beth Gibbons sounds like she’s really emotionally beaten down in some of these songs with her subdued tone — I don’t know if she actually was, but it sounds real enough if it’s an act.

But Portishead is the kind of music that I sometimes put on to relax, which may say more about me than about the music. Really, this is music to listen to after you have a bad break-up and you’re sitting in an old-fashioned cafe at 1 in the morning drinking coffee and wondering why the hell you stuck with it for so long, what were you thinking all that time letting her just do that to you.

Sorry, this got a little personal. Maybe I just found this album at a weird time in my life and now I associate it with that. Anyway, forget about my personal issues and look up Dummy, it’s good.

Neon Impasse (City Girl, 2018)

Highlights: Ji-eun’s Sunset, Neon Impasse

If you liked that lo-fi hip hop girl YouTube channel I linked a few weeks ago, you should also check out City Girl. All her (his? their? I guess I can’t just assume from the name but whatever) albums seem to be listed on YouTube as well. I’ve recently been listening to some of it while working, and it puts me in a very nice place while I’m digging through stacks of horribly tedious documents. It’s chilled out electronic with jazz and that lo-fi stuff mixed in. A couple of tracks don’t quite do it for me, but I think the above-linked ones give a good impression of how most of the album sounds.

And now, featured posts made by my fellow writers. Ten of them, which is a lot, but chances are you have the time to read all of them now:

Blogging in Quarantine Times — Irina addresses the ways in which the global quarantine has been affecting her experience writing online. I can relate to a lot of what she brings up in this post, and I’m sure many other blog writers and hobbyists like us can as well.

On Making “Good” Content — Why do we write blogs about the media we like? Lethargic Ramblings gives his own opinion on the value of simply writing what you feel like without worrying about whether it seems any good to other people. I firmly believe that if you write about your own interests with feeling, it will naturally attract at least a few readers who pick up on your passion, and I think Leth’s post illustrates that view very well.

Miru Tights: A Down-to-Earth Ecchi Devoid of Discomfort — I really appreciate people who take on the more erotic and/or pornographic sorts of works without any reservations, and so I liked Inskime’s review of Miru Tights, an ecchi anime with a focus on girls’ tights, socks, and legs in general. Inskime gives some excellent insight on why this is a series worth watching even for those who don’t share its very specific interest in girls’ legs and legwear. Not something I would have ever imagined, but Inskime is quite persuasive, so give it a read if you’re interested.

Evercade: The Case for Curated Retro Gaming — As the title suggests, Pete Davison in this post makes a case in favor of curated retro gaming by looking at the Evercade, a new cartridge-based handheld designed to run collections of old Atari games [edit: and NES, SNES, and Genesis/Megadrive games as of this writing — thanks to Pete for the correction.] It’s quite a convincing case as well, considering the questionable legality of ROMs and emulators and the sheer abundance of garbage games that clog up those massive catalogues, drowning out some of the real gems that may have been forgotten if they weren’t given new life by being put into these kinds of compilations.

『GRATEFUL IN ALL THINGS』art gallery by Osamu Sato & Deconstructing LSD — Browsercrasher recounts a visit to an exhibition of art by Osamu Sato, the chief mind behind the weird PS1 classic LSD Dream Simulator. It looks as bizarre and fascinating as you’d expect if you’ve played or seen footage of that game.

Artbook Review – FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy — In this post, Krystallina takes a look at FF DOT, a collection of Final Fantasy sprite art. We need more artbook reviews, so I’m always happy to see new ones. In fact, I have a few new ones I might write about myself now.

Visual Novel Theatre- Analog: A Hate Story — We also need more visual novel reviews. I’ll keep doing my part, but here’s Aether with an insightful review of Christine Love’s VN Analog: A Hate Story.

Super Mario Bros. (all versions) — Here’s a concept I like: a side-by-side review of three versions of one game, in this case the classic Super Mario Bros. by Neppy. Maybe I’ll do one of these comparing the original Sonic the Hedgehog to its horribly botched port on the GBA. Well, never mind, I just gave away the ending. I’m still pissed off about Sonic Genesis though, even today.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 — Continuing the Mario review theme, be sure to check out Red Metal’s review of New Super Mario Bros. 2 and of many of the other games in the series.

Character Analysis: Misaki Nakahara — And finally, from the Overage Otaku, an in-depth analysis of Misaki Nakahara from the anime version of Welcome to the NHK! Misaki is not what she seems at first, and this post does a fine job at examining what makes her interesting.

That’s all for this month. Let’s hope some good things happen in June, though the odds don’t seem to be great for that. Until next time, my best wishes to all of you, no matter where you are on Earth. Or why stop there, even if you’re in space right now and somehow reading this.