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 #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.