Listening/reading log #10 (July 2020)

Last month was one of my most prolific ever. Between the Atelier and Monogatari stuff and my Sim series retrospective, I managed to say more than I thought I had to say, which might be a sign that I need to edit. But I’m too lazy to edit. I’m a bit tired now, but don’t worry: I still have several anime and game review drafts sitting around and even more to come after that, so there’s no end in sight.

For now, let’s do the usual end-of-month thing and check out some good music and writing from fellow bloggers. I didn’t get much of a chance to hear any new music in July that wasn’t part of a soundtrack, so this time I’m pulling two old classics out, both by groups that I covered a long while back:

Maggot Brain (Funkadelic, 1971)

Highlights: Maggot Brain, Hit It and Quit It, You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks

I guess I haven’t actually talked about Funkadelic before but rather Parliament, but they’re sort of the same thing. They were musical groups with a lot of overlap in membership, both led by musician/composer/producer George Clinton, and are often referred to together as P-Funk. There were differences, though: while Parliament’s releases tended towards dance-oriented stuff, Funkadelic was more of a psychedelic rock/funk group as their name suggests.

Maggot Brain is also one of their best albums. It has a lot of great energy and emotion, even in cases where it’s hard to tell if the music’s about anything — see the excellent title track for some of that, with guitarist Eddie Hazel playing his heart out. I really like some of the shorter songs as well. The only song I don’t like is the closer Wars of Armageddon, which I would describe charitably as “a fucking mess” but then it sounds like that was the intention anyway. The rest of Maggot Brain is good enough to still made it a personal favorite.

And no, I don’t know why that lady is buried up to her neck in dirt on the cover. She doesn’t look like she’s having a great time, though.

Emerson Lake & Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer, 1970)

Highlights: Take a Pebble, Knife-Edge, Lucky Man

At first glance, ELP and Funkadelic might not look like they have much to do with each other. But both of the albums I’m looking at today have a lot of energy and a nice degree of weirdness to them, even if stylistically they’re very different. This is the debut album of the prog group Emerson Lake & Palmer, three guys who were already well-established when they joined together in 1970. So despite being a debut album, it sounds very confident right out of the gate.

My favorite here is “Take a Pebble”, which doesn’t feel its length at all. It’s relaxing and mellow in parts but also builds a lot of tension near the end with Keith Emerson’s great piano-playing and Greg Lake’s dramatic vocals. ELP swiped the tune to the classical-rock piece “Knife-Edge” from Czech composer Leoš Janáček without crediting him until they were called out for it, but it’s still a great song. And “Lucky Man” was supposedly a song Lake wrote when he was a kid, a nice simple guitar ballad about a guy who isn’t really so lucky.

I don’t know if I prefer this over ELP’s followup Tarkus, so I’ll just say they’re both classics. Maybe I’ll also take on their later album Brain Salad Surgery one day, though my feelings about it are more complicated. I do love its insane-looking cover. If you’re a fan of H. R. Giger, look it up.

Now for some great posts from the past month:

The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 5 – Plot and Themes (Lost to the Aether) — I’m not putting the whole long title of this article here (those are “Mass Destruction” lyrics, right?) but you can and should check it out for yourself above, in which Aether continues his multipart analysis of the excellent JRPG Persona 3. There’s a lot here I never considered even after playing the game through a few times in different forms, with Aether going into depth about its connections to the Tarot and the Fool’s Journey.

The Great JRPG Character Face-Off! (Shoot the Rookie) — If you’re looking for a blogging community event that’s also an excuse to talk about your favorite JRPG characters, check out Pix1001’s post above detailing the rules. I’ll probably be taking part myself — it seems like a waste not to since I’ve been playing JRPGs for over 20 years now. Can’t waste all that valuable experience.

A perhaps biased opinion on Disgaea (Nep’s Gaming Paradise) — Neppy played through the first Disgaea game and gives his thoughts on it. He says his view is biased, but it’s not any more biased than mine — I love Disgaea 1, but this post brings up some weaknesses in the game that are worth talking about. We may not agree in our analyses of the game, but Neppy’s take on it is very interesting and worth reading.

Steam’s Inconsistency is Hurting Visual Novels – How We Can Help (MoeGamer) — Valve has been up to their old tricks with the visual novels on their game platform, removing an all-ages version of the VN Bokuten from Steam without warning. Pete Davison addresses the matter and raises the option of buying digital copies of VNs from alternative platforms and stores to try to break Valve’s virtual monopoly.

Anime Review #40: Little Witch Academia (The Traditional Catholic Weeb) — Here’s a Trigger series that passed me by completely. I was planning to watch their newest show BNA, but I’m now also interested in Little Witch Academia thanks to the Traditional Catholic Weeb’s very positive and thorough review of it.

Senko-san and Japan’s corporate culture (Reasons to anime) — From what I understand, some companies in Japan work their employees so hard, often without overtime compensation, that the Japanese language had to invent a new word. The word is 過労死karoushi, meaning death from overwork — not a figure of speech, but rather literal death caused by work-related stress. Casper examines the anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san and how effectively it addresses corporate culture and workers’ quality of life.

The Toxic Side of Fanbases (Lex’s Blog) — Being part of both the Persona and SMT fanbases, I can say for sure that we have some crazy in there, with more than our share of infighting and weird feuds that probably look like total nonsense from the outsider’s perspective. Lexine raises some of the issues with fanbases, particularly with the minority of people in most every fanbase who are hostile to newcomers.

What I Learned from Watching the Ghost Stories Dub (I drink and watch anime) — The English-language release of the series Ghost Stories is legendary among a set of western anime fans because of its intentionally bizarre dub. The original work was pretty mediocre, but the dub turns it into an ultra-offensive comedy of the kind that probably wouldn’t fly today. Irina analyzes the ways in which this dub completely changed the feel of the series into something uniquely western.

I finally played “Da Capo” (Baud Attitude) — And from Baud Attitude, a look at the romance visual novel Da Capo and a comparison with its anime adaptation. Anime versions of VNs really do always go with the most boring, safest routes, don’t they? I bet if a Tsukihime anime were made, it would do exactly the same thing. Good thing that hasn’t happened.

And here’s to yet another month. Good luck and health to everyone, and please look forward to more of my nonsense posts to come. I might even review a banned-from-Steam VN or two if I can get them.

Listening/reading log #9 (June 2020)

If you feel like we’re living in a TV drama about an alternate history timeline, I do too. In which case I’d ask why I’m stuck playing the role I am, but that’s probably my fault for making poor life decisions. At least no matter what happens, short of the world actually ending in an apocalypse, we’ll be able to listen to music and read blogs, and that’s what I’ll be covering in this post as usual.

Ege Bamyasi (Can, 1972)

Highlights: Sing Swan Song, Vitamin C, Spoon

Maybe Can is a weird name for a band, and maybe a can of okra makes for a weird album cover, but this is absolutely one of my favorite albums ever. Can was a German band with an amazing rhythm section and a Japanese singer who sang bizarre nonsense lyrics. The effect is really striking on their best albums like Ege Bamyasi. I could have put most of the songs up in the highlights list really; they’re that good, though it’s a bit hard for me to explain why aside from saying… they’re good. I’m a pretty useless reviewer as it turns out.

This is another album that doesn’t feel like it means anything at all (though I could be wrong, maybe it’s really just about okra?) but that doesn’t matter when it’s so memorable and hypnotic. Very good music for studying because of those beats, though Damo Suzuki’s yelling can maybe be distracting sometimes. Tago Mago and Future Days are also great albums by Can to check out.

Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 (Tokyo Active NEETs, 2014)

Highlights: 六十年目の東方裁判, フラワリングナイト 〜紅霧夜華2014

I’ve already written about Tokyo Active NEETs once before, specifically a review of album #6 in this series, but they’re still one of my favorite doujin music groups out there. Active NEETs are a jazz ensemble that plays a lot of music derived from the Touhou Project series of shmups, already known for its excellent BGM.

And they totally do it justice. Just like 6, Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 is energetic, catchy, and full of great takes on songs this time from the game Touhou 9: Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Active NEETs also put up a lot of great videos on Youtube — be sure to check out the links above, the first of which is a live studio recording of one of the pieces from the album, and the second of which is an MMD animation of characters from the game in a band playing the various parts. Makes a little more sense if you’re familiar with the series (for example, the guy dancing around with a sack over his head, and two sort of friend/rival characters Reimu and Marisa cutting each other off during their performance in the animation) but they can still be enjoyed without knowing anything about Touhou, just like the music itself.

Close to the Edge (Yes, 1972)

Hightlights: Close to the Edge, And You And I

And finally, another repeat artist because I guess I’m getting lazy. Close to the Edge was one of those mind-blowing albums for me when I was young, though I discovered it thirty years after it came out, so I can only imagine the effect it had back then. Yes’ music sometimes gets accused of being weird and emotionally detached, and I think this album is part of why some people feel that way — some of it is very strange stuff, and the lyrics on it are seemingly 100% meaningless even though they do feel like they’re supposed to be about something. It also only features three songs, and the first one lasts 18 minutes.

But it’s also almost all just as catchy as good pop music, and with the added bonus of being played by astoundingly great musicians. If something is boring the shit out of me, I’ll stop trying to listen to it, but Close to the Edge holds a lot of energy and excitement. “Close to the Edge” is still one of my favorite songs ever, and the other two have some fine moments as well, though I do think the quality drops off in the closer. Even so, it’s still a great album. I also want to highlight this 8-bit version of the title track made by a guy on Youtube with the name EvangelionUnit06, because it’s also fantastic.

And now, the featured posts:

Let’s Get It On: Why Sex Scenes In Video Games Is One Experience I Can Live Without (simpleek) — Right out of the gate featuring a post about sex of course. Simpleek sets out an argument for why game developers might hold off on putting sex scenes into video games at least until the technology improves.

The Evolution of My Views on the CGDCT Genre & The Dangers of Positivism (I drink and watch anime) — Overly enthusiastic fans can sometimes raise expectations for their favorite works a whole lot, maybe too much. In this post, Irina explores how this has affected her experience with the “cute girls doing cute things” anime genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his look into visual novels with a review of a VN about a dopey weeb visiting Japan for the first time, where he’s unexpectedly hosted by two cute sisters, and it sounds like embarrassing situations also occur as a result. Who would have guessed such a thing would happen in a visual novel?

System Mastery is my Jam (Frostilyte Writes) — A game with mechanics that are harder to master can lead to a more fulfilling experience. Frostilyte explores this idea by contrasting indie games Dicey Dungeons and One Step from Eden.

12 Random Japan School Life Tidbits (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu, who’s currently teaching at a school in Japan, gives some real examples of Japanese school life and how it’s both similar to and different from what we’ve seen in anime and games.

MOTHER Gallery at Shibuya PARCO (Resurface to Reality) — Those who are into the Mother series should read browsercrasher’s post about a Mother-related gallery exhibit in Japan. When things open up again, we should push for video game-related public exhibits here in the States.

Mega Man 5 (Extra Life) — I never got around to playing Mega Man 5, but Red Metal’s review of the game got me interested in it. It’s always amazed me how they were able to take the series all the way to six entries on the NES anyway.

The Vita’s Not Dead Yet! Three Reasons Why You Should Still Own A PS Vita In 2020! (Down the Otaku Rabbit Hole!) — From loplopbunny, a post about why the Vita is still a system worth owning even after the recent Persona 4 Golden release on Steam. I got a lot of use out of my Vita, so I don’t agree with the many people I’ve heard say it “didn’t have any games.” For a complete argument, check out loplopbunny’s post.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 – Part 1: Welp…. (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — It was rough to see the SAC_2045 series on Netflix. I really like the character designer (I’ve even written about one of his artbooks here, really a great artist) and the original Stand Alone Complex was excellent. But read Scott’s review to find out where and how this new series went.

That’s it for June. I have a lot lined up this month, including more of those short “summer cleaning” reviews, an extra-long game review, and another massive commentary/analysis/series of complaints, so I hope you look forward to those. 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.

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.  And in any case, this music really isn’t any less “manufactured” than a Taylor Swift or Katy Perry album full of autotuning and other studio tricks.  And Mitchie M’s songs are a lot better than theirs 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.