Listening/reading log #17 (February 2021)

Sorry for being late this month, work and all that. I’ve been doing these posts long enough now that I had to look up which number this one was — either that or I’m starting to lose my mind if I haven’t lost it already.

So there’s no point thinking about it. Let’s just talk about music and great writing from around the communities as usual. Today I’m going way back into the past for still two more old prog albums (i.e. I didn’t listen to enough new stuff this month I really loved enough to write about here, so I’m being lazy yet again — but I was going to write about these albums at some point, so why not now.) One of these is very well-known and the other isn’t quite as much for reasons I can understand, but I like both of them a lot. Let’s get started:

In the Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson, 1969)

Highlights: 21st Century Schizoid Man, Epitaph, The Court of the Crimson King

Nice cover, right? As great and iconic as it is, I still find it kind of unsettling, which I guess is the point.

In the Court of the Crimson King was the debut of English prog group King Crimson, who I’ve written about a lot in these posts mainly because they’re one of my favorite bands (which I probably didn’t even need to mention at this point.) If you’ve only listened to their other albums I wrote about here, though, going back to their debut might feel weird, because it doesn’t sound much like Larks’ Tongues in Aspic or Red from only a few years later, being more of a mix of heavy rock and older classical and almost operatic sounds.

In the Court gets a lot of credit for being the first progressive rock album. Maybe that’s debatable, but it did absolutely have a massive impact on rock music as a whole, and it’s pretty easy to tell why when you hear it. The opener “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a crushing, massively heavy song with a great memorable riff and vocals, and the following “Epitaph” is also excellent, with a kind of epic feel to it and great vocals from Greg Lake. I also love the ending title track, even if its verses go on forever, because it’s just that good — it feels like this one song did a lot to establish that “classical” prog style that later bands would adapt for themselves, with its weird lyrics about the black queen and fire witches over a lot of organ and flutes and other fancy orchestration.

So maybe this is a bit pompous, but it’s the kind of music that totally earns that right because of how good it is. Out of all the songs, the only one I’m not a big fan of is “Moonchild”, which also goes on forever but apparently without much of a reason; the rest is amazing. Unfortunately, the version of the band that made this album fell apart pretty quickly, leaving guitarist Robert Fripp to keep things going all the way to the present day. Though it did mean that Lake got to go off and form Emerson Lake & Palmer with Emerson and Palmer, so maybe it wasn’t all bad. Now if they’d just shortened “Moonchild”, taken Cat Food off of the followup album In the Wake of Poseidon, and put it on here, it would have been perfect. As it is, though, it’s still an excellent album and probably one of the best debut albums ever made.

World Record (Van der Graaf Generator, 1976)

Highlights: When She Comes, A Place to Survive, Meurglys III (The Songwriter’s Guild)

Another returning band that I wrote about way back in post #3. Van der Graaf Generator is another old English prog band, and while I don’t like everything I’ve heard by them (like their 1977 album that directly follows this one, which is a near-total mess in my opinion aside from a few interesting songs) I do like this one. Partly because World Record is a weird album. It feels like a mix of older prog styles like those found on their 1970 release H to He, as well as on Crimson King that probably influenced it a lot, together with newer styles that were rejecting all the artsy, proggy, and glammy stuff like punk. Makes sense — despite that clash, frontman and band leader Peter Hammill did put out an album the year before (Nadir’s Big Chance, which is great in its own right) that got praise from Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, so maybe it’s not actually that weird.

A lot of the music on World Record is pretty harsh, and some of it sounds intentionally ugly in parts like “A Place to Survive”, a driving song with rough vocals from Hammill that can work as a nice motivator if you’re feeling discouraged but have to get up the nerve to study for a test or something. My favorite is the opener “When She Comes” though. It’s really hard for me to even describe this song, except that it’s just weird and catchy and I like it. And finally, there’s the sidelong track “Meurglys III” at 20 minutes, the piece that feels most like the typical self-indulgent prog thing on here. But hey that’s my thing after all, as long as it’s done well, and this one is. I really connect to those opening lines too.

So I’d say give World Record a chance if you want to hear something a bit bizarre but good. The feeling of it is pretty dark and I have to be in a weird mood to listen to it, but when I’m there it’s perfect.

Now for the featured articles:

Anime Recommendations: 5 Reasons to Watch Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- (BiblioNyan) — I’m always up for new anime recommendations, and Kakuriyo sounds like an interesting one, a comfortable series featuring a lot of demons, spirits, and good food. I might check it out!

Pix’s Anime Jukebox! (Shoot the Rookie) — Combining two things I like, good anime and good music, here’s a look at five great tracks from anime series. I should finish Mr. Tonegawa sometime, really.

Super Mario 3D World: The Most Fun Ever (now with extra cats) (Professional Moron) — From Mr. Wapojif, a very positive review of the new Super Mario 3D World and a critical analysis of its new cat suit feature and the benefits it brings to the game. Reminding me I still have to get a Switch.

Book Review: The Prince (Let Me Tell You the Story of…) — Outside the scope of what I usually take on here, but writer H.R.R. Gorman has an excellent blog on novels and books of all kinds. This review of Machiavelli’s classic The Prince is well worth checking out, especially if you haven’t already been forced to read it in a political philosophy class.

Is the 90s Up to Par as Others Say? (Lita Kino Anime Corner) — A perspective on the upsides of 90s anime that I mostly don’t have myself, even though I started watching anime at just that time. Lita brings up some interesting points about how 90s anime was different from 00s and 10s series along with a few examples of great series from that decade.

A Huge Step Forward in Robotics for the Earth Federation of Yokohama: The RX-78F00 (Resurface to Reality) — Any modern wonder of the world list isn’t complete without this life-sized Gundam that actually moves around now on display in Yokohama. It’s not just anime anymore.

One of the Best Isekai Protagonist (or Antagonist) | Youjo Senki (Tanya The Evil) Season 1 Thoughts (SAE with a K) — I really liked The Saga of Tanya the Evil a lot, though I thought the isekai aspect wasn’t that necessary — but Dez Polycarpe brings up some great points about Tanya, the protagonist of the anime, and her growth as a character that may connect back to her past life.

Am I Going to Buy the Mass Effect Remaster (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — An interesting look at the upcoming Mass Effect remaster announced by EA and Bioware. Remasters can be controversial; they can feel like ripoffs depending on the features offered and the improvements made (or not made) and can be a real dice roll for fans, even when the original games are beloved.

Volatile Voyages: Sea of Thieves Review (The Below Average Blog) — From Amanda Hurych, a review of the pirate-themed XBox Game Pass title Sea of Thieves. I still like pirate stories even to this day; it’s not something you ever outgrow (that concept is a stupid one anyway, isn’t it?) Unfortunately, the game sounds a bit disappointing, but Amanda also brings up some positives in it, so be sure to check her review out if you have an interest.

Fighting Games and Approachable Design (Frostilyte Writes) — I’m complete garbage at fighting games, which is probably partly why I never write about them here. But MrMKL knows quite a bit more about them and has some great points to make about approachability in the genre, using a few specific games to illustrate those points. Be sure to check out his guest post on Frostilyte’s site.

My Ideal 3D Sonic the Hedgehog Game (Nepiki Gaming) — Nep here sets out what he’d like to see in future 3D Sonic games, and I happen to agree with a lot of his ideas, especially in the sense that the 3D games shouldn’t just try to mimic the 2D ones but rather do their own thing (given of course that that thing is good.) And yes: bring back the Hyper forms and Super Tails. Come on, Sega. I know you’ve said the Super Emeralds from Sonic 3 & Knuckles weren’t canon, but you can always take that back. Do something right for a change.

Who’s There? Haato or Haachama? (The Unlit Cigarette) — If you think the VTuber scene is all cutesy stuff, you’re not totally right — see the popular streaming personality Akai Haato. Or Haachama. It’s hard to tell which is which sometimes. Despite being part of the massive agency Hololive, Haato/chama is known for doing her own thing (her horrific cooking series and reviews of her own lewd fanart are both well-known for good reason) and lately, she’s been weaving a strange horror story through her streams. If you’re not in the VTuber hole already you might not have any interest (and don’t jump in, it’s not worth it) but if you’re already in here, it’s pretty fascinating stuff especially if you’re into weird psychological/body horror.

St. Pius V Corner: Kissing KissAnime Goodbye (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Traditional Catholic Weeb analyzes the much-lamented death of the popular anime streaming/piracy site KissAnime, asking whether it’s ever justified to pirate anime and taking into account some of the weird problems western fans of anime have faced over the decades in trying to watch it. I’d try to approach this problem from the legal perspective, but it’s honestly too straightforward to bother writing about from that angle — the moral angle is more complex, though, and this is an analysis well worth checking out.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Extra Life) — And finally, Red Metal brings us a comprehensive review of the first Fire Emblem game. Like a lot of beginnings to classic series, this game seems to be a mixed bag, though maybe I’m just spoiled having only played Path of Radiance and Awakening.

And that’s another month. It never fucking ends, does it? Well, it does eventually, but sometimes it really doesn’t feel that way, and this was one of those months for me. I shouldn’t complain about my workload, though — more work and more responsibility means more opportunity for advancement this time around, so what can I really complain about? I haven’t gotten much time to play games, but I’d at least like to try to get the next part of my deep reads series on Megami Tensei out this month. I also have a few more anime series I plan to write about, and they’re different enough in tone and scope that hopefully everyone will be able to find something they like. Until next time!

Listening/reading log #15 (December 2020)

We’re at the end of the year, finally — now for 2021. Not that changing the year by one number makes that much of a difference in reality, since it’s just another bit of distance of the Earth revolving around the Sun, but maybe there’s a real psychological effect in changing years. We humans made up the calendar, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. So let’s hope for better things this year as we collectively give a middle finger to the last one.

And let’s also do the usual end-of-month thing: talk about some good music and good writing. This month, I’m returning to two bands that I’ve already covered twice before. But these are both really good albums, so it’s excusable I think. The holidays are all about being comfortable anyway, and I’m totally in my comfort zone today. On to the business:

Discipline (King Crimson, 1981)

Highlights: Discipline, Matte Kudasai, Thela Hun Ginjeet

When I wrote about King Crimson’s album Red a while back, I mentioned that the band broke up shortly after it was released and wouldn’t reform for seven years. Discipline is what they came back with, “they” being constant Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, returning jazz/prog drummer Bill Bruford, and two new guys in bassist Tony Levin and guitarist/singer Adrian Belew.

80s Crimson is completely different from 70s Crimson in sound. Instead of the heavy rock, Discipline and the following two studio albums are done in a New Wave style that gets compared to Talking Heads a lot but is more technical and weird in a different way. Adrian Belew is a bit of a neurotic goofball like David Byrne, but I like his brand of strangeness too, and he’s also an excellent guitarist with an interesting experimental edge just like Fripp. Discipline mixes things up with the fierce fast-paced “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and a nice love song in “Matte Kudasai” (aside from love songs never being much of a King Crimson thing in the 60s and 70s, check out the title — “please wait” in Japanese. Were these guys also weebs before it was cool?) “Discipline” is also an insanely precise instrumental that shows off all their talents, with Fripp and Belew’s guitars going off into different key signatures and meeting up again.

I still think Red is the best album Crimson put out, but I also like that the band has changed things up so much throughout their run (well, they’ve changed their lineup a lot too, aside from the mainstay Fripp) and the 80s version of the band made a lot of good music. I also recommend the excellent live album Absent Lovers, which includes some great songs from Discipline and the following albums Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair along with a few old 70s standards like “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” and “Red”.

Fragile (Yes, 1972)

Highlights: Roundabout, South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise

When I said I was in my comfort zone this post I wasn’t kidding. I’ve already written about The Yes Album immediately preceding this and Close to the Edge immediately following it, so I had to write about Fragile too; I couldn’t leave that gap in there. Also, like those albums and Discipline above, Fragile features Bill Bruford on drums, making this his sixth appearance in these short reviews up until now. He really is a great drummer, so he’s deserving of that great honor.

Fragile is also just a really entertaining album. Everyone reading this probably already knows the opener “Roundabout”, either because it’s an old rock radio standard in its shorter edited form or because it was the ending theme to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and was featured in seventy million of those “to be continued” meme videos. But there are other great epic-length songs on Fragile, including the multi-part ultra-complicated super-proggy piece “Heart of the Sunrise” and my personal favorite “South Side of the Sky”, a driving heavy song about people desperately trying to cross a snowy mountain range with a really nice piano solo in the middle from Rick Wakeman. Unique among these albums, Fragile also features shorter solo-focused pieces for each band member to show off in, which are pretty fun as well.

I recommend Fragile highly together with The Yes Album and Close to the Edge, especially if you have any interest at all in that classic early 70s progressive rock period. Yes made a lot of other good music, especially in the 70s and on the 80s pop standard album 90125, but to me this run of albums contains their best work.

Now that I’m done with my fanboy nonsense, reviewing albums I’ve listened to since I was in high school like a lazy asshole instead of expanding my horizons, let’s move on to the featured articles from around WordPress:

In Memoriam: Adobe Flash (Nepiki Gaming) — Flash has been a big part of many of our lives, especially for anyone who grew up on the internet in the late 90s and through the 2000s and even the 2010s, which I have to imagine covers almost everyone reading this. Nepiki gives a eulogy for the now discontinued program.

The Romance of Space as an Ocean (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — Scott examines how certain science fiction works treat space like a massive ocean and the romantic aspects of that theme. I love space operas as well (watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it’s great!) and I can relate to the feelings he expresses here.

Beginner’s guide to indie (2020): part one (Later Levels) — Kim at Later Levels has posted a series on indie games, which as you know I’m all about. There are some interesting-looking titles she brings up I haven’t played either. In the same vein, her review of the indie sort of-visual novel VA-11 Hall-A is worth reading. I loved that game. Still waiting for that “coming soon” semi-sequel though. Maybe we’ll get it this year.

The Traditional Catholic Weeb Speaks: Nichijou Revisited (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — A review of Nichijou, a weird comedy anime series that I vaguely remember from years ago. Traditional Catholic Weeb’s detailed and comprehensive post got me interested in it again, and I might finally get around to watching it now.

Lightning Warrior Raidy (PC/FMTowns/PC-98): A Surprisingly Solid Dungeon Crawler (Detailed Review) (NSFW) (Guardian Acorn) — Annie Gallagher takes on Lightning Warrior Raidy, an old and famous (or maybe infamous?) h-game. Not safe for work as the title suggests, but if you’re not at work and otherwise okay with it, I suggest checking this review out.

My 5 favourite games I watched other people play in 2020 (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Ever since the invention of the Let’s Play way back in 2007 or around then, people have been watching other people play video games online. This might seem strange, but some games can be interesting to watch in the context of someone else’s playthrough if their commentary and personality add to the experience (and given how many VTuber game streams I’ve watched in parts lately I certainly can’t say otherwise without being a huge hypocrite.) Wooderon here addresses some of his favorite games to watch others play paired with a few particular streamers.

Looking Back: 2020 Post Mortem (Frostilyte Writes) — This was a shitass year all things considered. I don’t even really have to say that. But thankfully, some of us have been able to do something productive with the crap 2020 gave us. Frostilyte here looks back on his own year and what he got done blogging and gaming-wise. I should also thank him for being one of the people who finally convinced me to start on the Yakuza series, which I recently started at 0, so I’ll do that here. Thanks!

Early Impressions on Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Lost to the Aether) — Speaking of Yakuza, here are Aether’s first impressions of the recently released Yakuza: Like a Dragon, a game that takes the Yakuza setting and feel and combines it with a turn-based RPG mechanic. An interesting combination, but does it work? Aether takes that question on in the above-linked post.

Evangelion Sword Exhibition at Toei Kyoto Studio Park (Resurface to Reality) — I love the idea of an Evangelion-themed exhibit like the one described here at Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. As usual, I regret not being able to visit it myself, but reading about it is interesting.

Who I Want for Roommates or Neighbours in Quarantine (Anime Edition) (A Geeky Gal) — Meg at A Geeky Gal considers the following: which anime characters would you have as roommates during quarantine? A question to be carefully considered since you’ll have been stuck with them for nine months as of this writing.

December 2020 in Summary: Hindsight Is 2020 (Extra Life) — Red Metal’s overview of his last month of blogging. I don’t usually feature end-of-month recaps on other sites like the one I’m writing here right now because that feels a bit weird to me, featuring that kind of post in a similar one like this. But this one contains Red Metal’s takes on some excellent movies like Ben-Hur, The Twilight Samurai, All The President’s Men and others that should be read.

Some of my favourite openings! (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — And Yomu takes the time to write about some openings he likes. I’m a fan of #6 on the list myself.

And that’s it for the year. I’ll get more into my own plans for this year in an upcoming post, but the extra-short version is that I have a ton of games I’m either working through or have lined up in the backlog, so there should be no lack of game-related material in 2021. The same is true for anime, which I’ll keep writing about as well, along with music and the occasional pissed off set of complaints that you’ve come to expect from me. The same goes for my deep reads posts, though the latest one I’ve been working on has been giving me hell. I hope to have it out sometime this month, though.

Until next time, I wish you extreme prosperity, maximum happiness, and whatever else your heart desires this year.

Listening/reading log #11 (August 2020)

As America gets closer and closer to becoming a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game and I start to consider how to maintain a Neutral alignment (still the best alignment, no Law or Chaos for me) I’m finding comfort in music. Today I’ll be presenting two works: another old classic and one of my favorite albums ever, and something new I discovered recently. And as usual, I’ll also be featuring excellent articles from around the community in the past month.

Red (King Crimson, 1974)

Highlights: Red, Fallen Angel, One More Red Nightmare, Starless (basically the whole album except for one track that’s just okay)

I’ve written these short album reviews for nearly a year, yet until now I haven’t talked about one of my all-time favorites: Red. This album was put together by the second (or third, or fourth, depending on how you’re counting) iteration of the prog band King Crimson, which has changed lineups about twenty million times since it started in 1969. Through the years, the only constant in the band has been guitarist Robert Fripp. The other two guys on the cover are bassist/singer John Wetton (formerly of Family and later of Asia) and drummer Bill Bruford (formerly of Yes, and who’s been featured the most out of anyone in these reviews so far, also on The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.)

Red is extremely heavy, precise rock, full of memorable songs. The atmosphere this album creates is something to experience — it’s dark but not trying to be “evil” in the way some of the 70s heavy rock and metal was going for. This is one to play late at night during a coffee binge. I love every track except for the improv-sounding piece Providence, and even that’s not exactly bad, just kind of messy-sounding and out of place. But then I know people who love 70s Crimson improv works found on albums like Starless and Bible Black as well, so you might love this too if that’s your thing.

Somehow these guys just broke up right after recording Red and wouldn’t return for seven years, reforming into a totally different-sounding (but still good!) early-80s New Wave band sort of like Talking Heads. Weird stuff, but then Robert Fripp is a weird guy. He’s also responsible for the startup sound in Windows Vista if you remember that thing. Anyway, this is an amazing album that you should check out.

Bon Bon Appétit!! EP (Sugar & Co., 2020)

Highlights: it’s only three songs long and they’re all good, but I love SWEETSWEETSWEET

If Red is too dark and stormy to suit your mood, here’s something completely different in tone and style, and something so sweet that it might be dangerous to listen to. Bon Bon Appétit!! is a short EP that I might never have found if not for Muse Dash, the rhythm game I reviewed last month. Ever since learning about future funk a couple of years ago I’ve really liked what I’ve heard of it, and this is in that style, made by Shanghai-based composer ANK and a few other people operating under this Sugar & Co. name. And the name, album title, and pink as hell anime girl cover fit the contents exactly: Bon Bon Appétit!! is all cute vocals over electronic disco/funk tracks.

There was a time long ago I’d have never listened to this kind of stuff, but not anymore: it’s catchy and addictive like actual sugar is, and I like it about as much. Really nice, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out from ANK and the rest of them. There are a few other tracks in Muse Dash by the same group that I also like, so it seems like they’ve got more material around. I’ll also probably be listening to more future funk in general because of how relaxing I find it — I’ve already gotten a few great recommendations that I’m looking into further.

And now for the featured articles (more than usual to make up for my being too lazy to review more than two albums again, one of which is less than ten minutes long. Sorry!)

Mega Man 6 (Extra Life) — Red Metal completes his analysis of the original NES Mega Man series with his review of Mega Man 6, a game that gets maligned a whole lot but that maybe doesn’t deserve all of that hate. See Red Metal’s in-depth review for more.

Visual Novel Theater – fault (Lost to the Aether) — Another VN review from Aether, this time of fault, an episodic kinetic novel that I haven’t played. Sounds like an interesting premise, though I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the lack of an ending (at least there isn’t one yet, and it sounds like there might never be one from what Aether says.)

Exploring Miyazaki & Aoshima Island at Sunset (Resurface to Reality) — One day I’d like to visit Japan, but for now all I can do is keep reading travel posts like this one, a look at the Kyushu coast from browsercrasher.

Happy Birthday GoldenEye 007! (Mid-Life Gamer Geek) — A birthday tribute to GoldenEye 007. I remember the movie being all right, but the game was legendary, and Mid-Life Gamer Geek does it justice in this post.

Appreciating My Manga Collections More in a COVID-19 World (Objection Network) — Michaela reflects on the dire state of the US and the world as a whole and how it’s made her appreciate manga as a hobby. I’m all about buying physical copies too.

Fate/Grand Order Tierlist: Ranking all Caster servants! (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — I don’t play Fate/Grand Order, but I do like what I’ve played/watched in the Type-Moon universe, so reading Neppy’s character rankings for the game is still a good time. He’s got a whole series of posts on the subject going, so be sure to check it out.

The Top 5 Animes That Made Me Want to Order Take Out (I drink and watch anime) — Anime often features food that’s incredibly detailed-looking and makes you hungry just seeing it. Irina here recommends five anime series featuring great-looking food. None of these are series you should watch if you’re fasting (also don’t watch Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, speaking of great-looking food and the Fate series.)

The Uzuki-Chan Drama – Twitter imposing their morals on a foreign culture (A Richard Wood Text Adventure) — Having just gotten current on the anime Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! I can say it’s fucking weird that this is the show of the season people decided to start fights about. Wooderon addresses the drama surrounding Uzaki-chan and the part moral and cultural superiority is playing in creating said drama, especially on Twitter.

Waifu Wednesday: Rorolina Frixell (MoeGamer) — Anyone with an interest in JRPGs that are a little out of the ordinary should be following Pete Davison’s massive series of Atelier posts covering what looks like the entire series. In this post, Pete highlights some of what’s great about Rorona, the protagonist of Atelier Rorona, one of the few in the series I’ve played so far. And I agree with his assessment — Rorona is easily one of my favorite game protagonists.

I Really Dig Disco Elysium’s Character Building (Frostilyte Writes) — Disco Elysium looks like it has a unique character creation system. I think I can easily get into the mindset of a sad drunken detective already, but Frostilyte’s post about the game got me even more interested in it.

The Plague of WordPress: AI Generated Posts (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu delivers a warning about the rise of AI-generated nonsense posts on WordPress that are currently misusing the anime tag. We’ll have to stay one or more steps ahead of the jerks behind this garbage.

Surgeon General’s Warning: DO NOT WATCH ANIME (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — And finally, Scott delivers a warning about the effects of watching too much anime. Sadly, it came too late for me.

That’s all for this month. I have more anime reviews and a couple of game retrospectives coming up soon, but before that I’ll be taking on a couple of tag posts. Until then, stay safe as always.

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.