A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 13 (Three of a Perfect Pair, 1984)

By 1984, the Belew/Bruford/Levin lineup was still together: the longest-lasting version of Crimson to date, though apparently things were getting pretty rocky during the Beat sessions. Good thing Fripp and Belew patched things up, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten Three of a Perfect Pair.

Perfect Pair (or Three? Abbreviating this one is awkward) is generally seen as also a step down from the excellence of Discipline but a step up from Beat (so I guess a half-step up?) I more or less agree with that; it’s not for nothing that Discipline is the last of the four Crimson albums widely considered to be extremely influential/revolutionary/etc. (along with Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues, and Red, or that’s how I count them, at least.) It’s not that this version of the band had run out of steam after its first album — Beat had some great material, but it also varied wildly in quality and had a sharp division between its first and second sides, featuring both more straightforward pop and out-there experimentation with just a little of the blending that worked so well on Discipline.

Perfect Pair has some of that issue too. In fact, it seems after Beat that the band realized what they’d done and simply decided to play up this pop/experimentation division on its next album, splitting it into a brain-inspired “Left Side” and “Right Side.” As before, the first side is poppy and catchy and radio-friendly (even if the radio ultimately might not have cared, sadly) and the second is full of weird extremely radio-unfriendly instrumentals. It’s also generally considered that the first side belongs to Adrian Belew and the second to Robert Fripp, though I doubt it’s as clear a split as that — if you know Belew’s solo work at all, he has plenty of weird experimentation to go along with his “normal” music, and the pop stuff on Perfect Pair wouldn’t work without Fripp’s guitar either.

As with Beat, I like this “pop side” more than the experimental one. So much for my hardcore prog fan credentials, but fuck it, what else can I say? Model Man and especially Man With an Open Heart are fine 80s pop songs, the latter of which definitely should have been a radio hit with its extremely catchy verse and chorus (though as with “Heartbeat”, I think it was passed on in favor of irritating dogshit like fill in the blank 80s trash hit you hear at your local grocery store. If you want another reason to turn on Publix, here it is, though this seems like more of a licensing issue.) These are all pretty straightforward love songs, too — a nice way to introduce Crimson to your normie friends to begin corrupting their minds so they eventually end up hooked on repeated listens to “Fracture”. I’m certainly not as open as the “man with an open heart” in his song, but I guess I can appreciate the sentiment in Belew’s lyrics at least.

However, the best songs on this side and on the entire album are the two that I think effectively mix Crimson’s two sides again. The title track is one of the best openers the band ever came up with, its lyrics about a dysfunctional mess of a relationship woven into that interlocking double guitar line in different time signatures trick resulting in a really special song, one of my favorites not just from 80s Crimson but from the band’s entire catalog. And Sleepless isn’t far behind with its godly bassline — cite this song as one of the reasons Tony Levin is so highly regarded; he does an amazing job here — and its tense atmosphere.

After the fourth track “Open Heart”, we’re done with all this cool bright 80s pop/rock stuff and into the dark starting with Nuages. Aside from the beat poetry ode to an abandoned wreck of a car Dig Me every piece from here on is an instrumental, and most of them (“Nuages”, Industry, and No Warning) are what I’d call proto-dark ambient with their sometimes creepy, oppressive feels. This is also predictably where the album loses a lot of listeners (or where it gains the real weirdos, maybe.)

I’m not in love with this second side either, and not even with the closing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III, that song series the band revived for some reason (maybe to bookend their career, if you start counting from Larks’ Tongues? Interesting to hear the 80s update, but I much prefer Parts I and II.) However, I also don’t hate them at all or even dislike them on the level I do some of that second side of Beat. Maybe it’s because these pieces really do create an effective atmosphere, especially “Nuages” and “Industry” — I can see them used in the context of a game with an urban/industrial sci-fi setting of some kind. If we’re on the continued hunt for “who did these guys influence,” add my bet of the second side of Perfect Pair -> modern dark ambient/vaporwave, a little of which I’ve covered on the site (see TOWERS and desert sand.) This shouldn’t be a surprise, since Fripp collaborated so closely with ambient godfather Brian Eno through the 70s and 80s and contributed a lot to experimental music through his own solo work.

Not that it makes me want to put on this second side any more than I do already. Like I said, I’m not in love with it, but I can respect what they’re doing especially on the more effective tracks like “Industry”. I think the atmosphere is effective, anyway, so if that’s what they were going for with these tracks, it mostly worked. And combined with two of the band’s best songs ever, the title track and “Sleepless”, and a collection of pretty fine New Wave pop, I’d rank Perfect Pair pretty highly. It’s not quite up with their four all-time classics as I count them so far, but I probably put this album on just as often as those. At least the first side of it.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the ambient and atmospheric a lot more in music, games, anime, any art in general as long as it’s done tastefully and effectively. Maybe I’m just getting old.

And that’s all for 80s Crimson. No, not even a posthumous live album this time to tie matters up, though considering how god damn good this band was live, that was a big mistake, one that would only be remedied with the archival release Absent Lovers over a decade later. Both that and the official concert video Three of a Perfect Pair: Live in Japan are highly recommended, featuring great renditions of a lot of this band’s best songs along with a few old favorites like “Larks’ Tongues Part II” and “Red”, and the video is worth watching just to see their stage antics — Belew having a lot of fun with his guitar effects, Bruford going nuts on his massive drum kit, Levin just being cool on the bass, and Fripp of course sitting down the whole time as he works away on his guitar. (And don’t miss the short travelogue in the middle with the guys wandering around Asakusa! I’ve only been there in games, sadly. But one day…)

As for the band, it was once again finished following Perfect Pair. I guess they’d gone through each primary color in their trilogy of album covers and had none left, or more probably Robert Fripp again felt the band had done its job and had to hang it up. I won’t even say it’s a shame this time: I’m just happy we got what we did. Though they never quite reached the heights of Red, 80s Crimson was just as skilled and enjoyable, and in some ways even more likable than the 70s version (though maybe that’s just Belew’s infectious positivity?) They had their excesses too, but then it wouldn’t be Crimson without excesses. So rest in peace, 80s Crimson.

Does that mean this post series is finished? Not even close (are you getting used to this theme?) King Crimson wasn’t dead but was merely on a long hiatus, though once again the members didn’t know it. Next post, we’ll be entering my era: the 90s. See you there!

 

* A general note on the album cover, because despite its simplicity I thought this one deserved some attention. Apparently that weird symbol wasn’t just something the guys pulled out of their asses. According to the album’s Wikipedia page:

The Peter Willis designed artwork illustrates the sacred–profane dichotomy while being a simplified version of the Larks’ Tongues in Aspic cover; a rising phallic object represents a male solar deity about to penetrate the crescent figure, a female lunar deity.

So there you go. And now I can’t look at this cover the same way ever again.

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 12 (Beat, 1982)

For the first time ever, a King Crimson lineup would completely hold together long enough to record more than one album, a true miracle. Beat is also one of the few Crimson albums that sort of has a concept, this time a tribute to the Beat Generation of the 50s. All those references went over my head aside from the very obvious stuff in the opening Neal and Jack and Me — I’ve never read Jack Kerouac, but I understand that the references go further than that just from reading about some of those connections online.

Concept aside, Beat continues the interlocking guitar lines and the mix of experimental and pop sense of Discipline. It’s also a step down from Discipline. Maybe that was to be expected considering that every track on the previous album was a winner, but my feeling is that Beat is a lot more uneven than its predecessor. Even those two “pop” and “experimental” aspects of this 80s Crimson that were so intertwined in Discipline feel as though they’ve been unwound somewhat, so that while the mix is still here, it’s not blended in quite the way it was before.

There are just a couple of songs that I feel do blend those sides of Crimson, and they also happen to be my favorites (and also all on the first side of the album.) Waiting Man combines a distinctive and hypnotic drumbeat with a great delivery from Adrian Belew, and Sartori in Tangier is a memorable instrumental with some of the flavor of Discipline in it. I also like “Neal and Jack and Me” as an opener, though it’s not the absolute best 80s Crimson would come up with — that would be the opener to their next album. But man, that ending section really works nicely.

Every other song on Beat either falls definitively into the “pop” or “experiment” slot, and out of those five, I only really like one. Heartbeat is about as close as King Crimson ever got to being a top 40 pop band — it’s a straightforward 4/4 love song, and I’ll set aside my pretensions here and say it’s a good one. The fact that this wasn’t a pop hit in 1982 is a shame, though maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that it was never overplayed so that I don’t have to hear it every time I go to the grocery store. (Then again, the grocery store doesn’t play good 80s pop/rock, only stuff that I disliked at first and have grown to completely hate like “Sussudio” and “Heaven is a Place on Earth”. Please, expand your fucking playlists, you corporate drones!)

But then the second side of Beat is a major dropoff in quality from the first. The Howler is rough and ugly without much of an aim (kind of reminds me of “The Mincer” off of Starless and Bible Black in fact, both for that and the similar title) and Neurotica is just too damn neurotic for me to enjoy and without much else to recommend it aside from the chorus. Even the softer Belew song Two Hands doesn’t quite work for me, though I see the more romantic types enjoying it. And considering my favorite romance is Saya no Uta, that might say a lot about just how romantic I am.

Either Saya or the classic Nekomata fight in SMT Nocturne, a true heartbreaker that one. Still waiting for my hybrid SMT/Persona digital demon dating sim.

That leaves the closer Requiem. This instrumental seems to be among the most controversial pieces in King Crimson’s catalog. Understandably so: it sounds like one of 70s Crimson’s improvs in the 80s sound, and as with a lot of those pieces, it gets equal love and hate or at least disinterest. But while it’s not my favorite track on the album, I do get something out of “Requiem” that I don’t get out of some of Crimson’s other improvs. This one feels like an eruption, building up slowly into its climax near the end of the track after which it slowly fades away. Sounds suitably mournful for a piece titled “Requiem” too, though who it’s a requiem for, if anyone, I’m not sure. Probably not for the band, since they’d be around for a while longer in this form.

But then, “Requiem” has the same problem some of Crimson’s wilder pieces have: I have to really be in the mood to identify with their dark, jagged, rough atmospheres. I just happen to be in that sort of mood more often than I’d like. I guess this music isn’t meant for very happy people, is it? Then again, Adrian Belew is optimistic enough to balance things out — just go back to that first side if “Requiem” isn’t your thing.

So Beat is all right. Still a good album on balance, but certainly not the one to start with the 80s lineup of the band in my opinion. Though if you have a friend who’s really into 80s pop and they haven’t heard any Crimson yet, consider sending them a link to “Heartbeat” — it really could fit onto that Vice City radio station, the one that starts with playing “Billie Jean” (and now that I think of it, wasn’t “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in there too? I wonder if that game eventually led some kids to get their minds expanded with Close to the Edge and Relayer. It all comes back to 70s prog in the end!)

And before I move on to the final album in the 80s trilogy (and spoilers there I guess) I have another bonus track to highlight. Absent Lovers is another instrumental, one I’d never heard until going through this full relisten, and I like it more than half of the tracks on the album proper. So why didn’t it make the album? Just as with “Dr. Diamond” on Starless, it’s a mystery.

A review of Bocchi the Rock!

Middle school student Hitori Gotou is a true loner with social anxiety so severe she can barely speak with her classmates. She desperately wants to connect with them, however, and one day she finds her chance — she picks up her father’s electric guitar and starts learning to play, hoping her skills will finally get her some recognition and more importantly a few friends.

Years later, at the start of her high school career, Hitori has gotten incredibly skilled at the guitar, even maintaining a streaming video site account for her music with a significant following under the name guitarhero. However, she hasn’t made any progress in her social life and mainly plays her guitar in her bedroom closet. Despite her intense desire to make friends and play in a band, she can’t get past that extreme anxiety. Even when she takes a chance by bringing her guitar along to school with her and fashioning a new rocker look with a full pink tracksuit, she gets no comments and seemingly no notice from her classmates.

Look, if I could just live in a closet I’d be fine as long as I had an internet connection.

Hitori seems resigned to her loner life, practicing her guitar in the closet and under a staircase at school where no one can find her. One day after school, however, a girl from a different school spot her sitting in a park with her guitar and pounces on her with a request. Her band’s guitarist bailed on them before their show in a local club, and this girl, one Nijika, is so desperate for someone to fill in that she begs for Hitori’s help. Hitori isn’t exactly keen on jumping into this situation, but she also can’t bring herself to say no, and so she ends up getting dragged along to said club to prepare for a concert.

Having never played live and with her social anxiety, Hitori can’t bring herself to face a crowd. Her new bandmates, drummer Nijika and bassist Ryou, notice her extreme nervousness and let her play their first set together while hidden inside an empty mango box.

The aftermath

The band predictably doesn’t sound that great, Hitori being out of sight of her bandmates and out of time with them for that reason. Nevertheless, she’s now an official member of their band, Kessoku Band, with the understanding that she won’t hide in a mango box at their next concert.

Hitori has finally fulfilled her dream of being in a band, but this membership comes with new, unexpected, and terrifying commitments like having to work at Nijika’s older sister’s club alongside her bandmates to make enough money to help cover Kessoku Band’s performance fees there and selling her quota of concert tickets to people she doesn’t know. Will she be able to handle these new challenges? And when her guitar finally does get her noticed by another girl at school looking for lessons, one of the most outgoing and popular girls in her class no less, how will she handle that situation?

I know the feeling. And this is the second anime I’ve watched this year in which a character tries to get out of her obligations by getting a cold by taking an ice bath (the first one was Nichijou.)

On occasion, a series hits me in a way I wasn’t expecting. If you’ve been reading this site for a while, this probably isn’t a surprise, but the just completed 12-episode anime Bocchi the Rock! is one of those rare works. People have been gushing over Bocchi lately — it’s currently one of the highest-rated series on the big score aggregate sites. So once again you probably don’t need my opinions on it, but I’ll provide them anyway, in part because it connected so completely with me.

The most obvious comparison with Bocchi, and the one that keeps coming up, is with K-On! It’s not a surprise; both are comedies about high school girl bands and their antics. I’ve also seen Bocchi called “better than” or “not as good as K-On!” etc. etc. Maybe all this was unavoidable considering the similarity in subject matter and how wildly popular Bocchi has gotten, but while I did like Bocchi a lot more than K-On! (at least more than the first season I’ve watched — go ahead and read my review of it here and leave a comment about how wrong I am) I don’t think the comparison is all that apt. Yeah, they’re both about high school girl bands, but under the surface they’re very different sorts of stories.

The main difference is Hitori herself — the Bocchi of the title, a nickname given to her by Nijika and Ryou as a play on the term hitori bocchi, lonely/solitary. Not counting her parents, her younger sister, and her dog, at the start of the series, Hitori is alone in the world, without a single friend from her early childhood on. Bocchi is a show about music, and especially about public performance, but it’s just as much about Hitori’s struggles in overcoming that intense loneliness.

Hitori having a bit of a freakout, doing her best to practice being an extrovert as her family watches, worried

Loneliness is the key term. This isn’t a case of an introvert secure in their own existence being forcibly dragged into the light: Hitori desperately wants friends, and though she does get anonymous recognition through her guitar videos on her fairly successful not YouTube/Nico Nico Douga page, it’s not enough to satisfy her need for contact.

To say Bocchi and its main character were painfully relatable would be an understatement. I’m not sure what the original manga was like, but either its author or someone attached to the anime production must have had experience with these feelings of intense anxiety and loneliness, the depiction here is so spot-on. Hitori wants friends and wants recognition for her efforts at music. She’s great at the guitar. So why does she dread meeting new people and displaying her skills on stage, to the point that she hides in corners and tries to give herself a cold so she won’t have to show up to the new job she’s been pressed into to cover performance charges? It all makes sense if you’ve suffered from the same mindset.

Yes, even the prospect of meeting new people is terrifying. Ryou, left, is the coolest character in the show (for better or worse) and is actually nice when she’s not being a mooch.

Calling it a “mindset” might be too mild. I know too well how difficult it is to pull out of. Not knowing how you’re expected to act in various social situations, doing your best to act in accordance with those expectations that you don’t even understand because nobody’s told you about them, assuming everyone is always thinking the worst of you — feeling like you missed a master class on how to be a human being that everyone else attended — Bocchi addresses it all realistically. All the more so because, unlike the similarly socially anxious Komi from Komi Can’t Communicate, this silence doesn’t translate into a bizarre, creepy idolization from the rest of her classmates but merely (and I think far more realistically) into her being completely left alone by them. This might be one of the reasons Komi-san didn’t connect with me where Bocchi did. Though granted, I did drop Komi-san, so yell at me for that too if you want. Maybe I’m wrong about it, anyway? I know that idolization isn’t meant as a good thing either.

Thankfully, Bocchi the Rock! isn’t pure misery and anxiety for 12 episodes. It’s still a comedy after all, and the show manages to create some great comedy out of Hitori’s extreme case of nerves while not making light of it. A lot of the jokes come from its visuals: Bocchi, while normally a realistic-looking show, will sometimes depict Hitori melting or distorting when she’s falling prey to her anxiety, even sometimes going into a live-action sequence out of nowhere.

I remember when I turned into twitching static once

None of this would work without Hitori’s friends and classmates to bounce of off. Her three bandmates Nijika, Ryou, and the newly joined total novice guitarist Ikuyo Kita (or in the family-name-first naming convention Kita Ikuyo, fitting for her personality even though she hates her pun of a name) learn not only how to cope with Hitori’s extreme thought patterns but to see past them and to very gradually help her out of them, at least partially. Hitori’s self-imposed isolation is broken in part out of her similarly unhealthy inability to say no to people when they ask her for favors: when Nijika asks for her help in filling in, when her older sister takes her on as a part-timer, and a few other times throughout the series.

At times, her bandmates end up pushing her into situations that are extremely stressful for her (seemingly without their realizing it, at least, because how would they know it?) and yet that seems to be just what Hitori needs to realize that no, she doesn’t belong in a trash can. My own path out of the trash can took a bit longer and wasn’t nearly as healthy — it ended with my giving up on ever fitting into society neatly and embracing my own awkwardness and weirdness, but also with a general feeling of bitterness towards the many hypocrisies in our social norms that I thought piled onto my misery.

Now it’s far too late for me to change any more than I already have, which I regret, but it was nice to watch a series that understood those feelings that are born from self-isolation of this kind and how someone might be able to break free of them in a better way.

The best advice

At the same time, Bocchi doesn’t deny Hitori her feelings. One of my favorite moments in the series is the above scene, in which Hitori, tasked with writing the lyrics to Kessoku Band’s first original song, reluctantly puts out some “positive-sounding” words and shows them to Ryou. As much of a mooch as she is, Ryou has some excellent insight and can tell that Hitori is forcing herself to fit a mold she doesn’t. Ryou’s advice above allows Hitori to unleash her true feelings through a set of bleak lyrics, which as Ryou says are all the funnier coming out of the rhythm guitarist/singer Kita’s mouth given her extreme optimism and extroversion.

If I might have had any doubts about how Hitori’s general mindset and outlook were treated by the series, this scene in particular swept them away. Ryou is right, of course: assuming you’re not creating it specifically for mass consumption or according to someone else’s directions for a specific purpose, art is about expressing yourself, not merely what you think other people are looking for or expecting. You naturally do have to consider your audience unless you want to go totally off into the avantgarde deep end (which has its own appeal, though a much more limited one, but see my running King Crimson post series for more of that) but self-expression is key, otherwise what are you achieving?

Hitori playing without the mango box this time, losing herself in the heat of performance

Bocchi also gets pretty deep into the ins and outs of underground club performance. Apparently there’s a small market for high school bands in clubs like Starry that cater to younger crowds (i.e. why the “bar” Hitori is tending there only seems to serve juice.) I don’t think we have such places here in the States, or not that I know of at least. A related aspect of Bocchi I can appreciate, again on a personal level, is how much work it takes to get and keep your musical skills up. I’m no guitarist, but the same principle applies to the piano or any other instrument, and the coordination required by playing in a band is a challenge on top of that, one that Bocchi depicts pretty decently.

This is the one point where I think  Bocchi can be compared with K-On!, which (again, at least in its first season) has its girls somehow getting into perfect sync without much practice. Or I guess all the practice takes place offscreen? Bocchi has a far better balance between its hardcore music stuff and its slice-of-life antics, anyway. (I will watch that second season one day, though.)

Hitori has the talent and far more importantly the work ethic down — her main issue is breaking through her anxiety enough to perform well in public. Once again, she gets a little help from her friends at this, including a new one in an alcoholic bassist she meets on the street while trying and failing to sell tickets to Kessoku Band’s next performance.

Like Hitori, Kikuri is painfully relatable, but in an entirely different way. Maybe in the second season her friends can get her some help.

Aside from these story and character elements, the technical aspects of the show are perfectly fine. Bocchi is another CloverWorks production in cooperation with a bunch of other studios according to the ending credits, and hell if this isn’t the fourth CloverWorks production out of four I’ve liked or loved so far (counting back from Bisque Doll, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and Spy x Family in collaboration with Wit Studio.) These guys have some kind of eye for talent. And just as it should, Bocchi has a good soundtrack. See the OP for evidence:

But now for the chief question, since it’s being asked of so many other series right now like the second cour of Spy x Family S1 and Chainsaw Man (which I won’t address yet if I ever do get around to them): Is Bocchi the Rock! really that good? I’ve heard “flavor of the month” (more accurately season) thrown around a bit, but unjustly — because yes, it is that good. This series treated its subject with due respect and with an appropriate depth while being entertaining as a comedy. Not an easy trick to pull off, but Bocchi manages it. My personal connection with the story and the struggles of Hitori are certainly coloring my view of it, but even if you don’t connect in the same way with her (which I hope you can’t for your sake, but if you can, welcome to the club) I’d still recommend Bocchi — it effectively “translates” those feelings for those who might not relate on that personal level. And it’s just a good comedy, and what more do you need than that?

Also highly recommended if you liked Shirobako — yeah it’s a P.A. Works series, but there are similar vibes at times here with the absurd cutaways.

So of course I’m on board for a second season if we get one. I wouldn’t be surprised by that considering how much talk Bocchi has gotten. Until next time!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 7 (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, 1973)

Back to the true excellence, and it only took a few breakups and reformations! The fourth incarnation of King Crimson featured Robert Fripp (spoilers: he’s in every one, yeah), John Wetton on bass and vocals (if the name’s familiar, he’d go on to more commercial success in Asia), drummer Bill Bruford (recently departed from Yes after Close to the Edge), violinist/keyboardist David Cross, and percussionist Jamie Muir. Not even this lineup would remain totally stable, with Muir taking off pretty quickly, though he does have a strong influence on this album’s sound, but Wetton, Bruford, and Cross would be around for a while.

That’s good news this time, because Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is the best Crimson album since their debut. This new version of the band, on this album at least, is powerful and focused — out of every song and piece on Larks’ Tongues, only Book of Saturday is kind of middling, and it’s not even bad, just a two-minute showcase for Wetton’s singing, some backwards guitar, and the work of new lyricist Richard Palmer-James, formerly of Supertramp. The Lyrics to “Saturday” sound like meaningless gibberish that I don’t care for too much for, but he does marginally better elsewhere. It’s Crimson anyway — the lyrics don’t matter nearly as much as the music.

Every other track is a winner. Larks’ Tongues is divided between songs and instrumental pieces, with a clear emphasis on the instrumentals more than ever before: despite the even 3:3 split, the instrumental section is longer, dominated by the title track suite that’s broken up across the album. To take the other two songs first, they’re both very good and present a nice contrast, with Exiles being softer and more atmospheric and melancholic with a nice use of synths (and Mellotron? It is listed as used in the liner notes with Cross and Fripp both playing) and Easy Money being more rock, with a lot of funk thrown in, just in case you thought this music was all for nerds like me. Just listen to the bass and drums in the instrumental middle of “Easy Money” and tell me it’s not music to move your ass to.

Well okay, I can’t dance either outside rhythm games, so not like it’s my concern. Has anyone ever danced to King Crimson anyway? Now there’s a deep question.

But the real focus does seem to be on those instrumentals, starting with the opening Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I, a 13-minute piece that’s simultaneously all over the place and together somehow, the best part being that repeated monster of a riff after the tense violin-guitar lead-in near the beginning. Even better is the closing two track-punch of The Talking Drum and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II. Though they’re separated in the track listing and on the album, they feel like one long song, with “The Talking Drum” tense lead-in once again only stretched over several minutes, starting from what sounds like a bongo beat surrounded by some swirling wind effect and building up to a wild full-band piece, then ending in an explosion with “Larks’ Tongues Part II”, which — just listen to that one. It’s the best piece on the album, an amazing closer, and a deserved fan favorite to this day.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic is among my favorite King Crimson albums for a reason. It’s not my absolute top; might be my third or fourth-ranked below Crimson King and another album I’ll be taking on soon. However, Larks’ Tongues seems like it was just as ahead of its time, if not even more so, than the debut in 1969 was — I’ve even seen this one referred to as metal (maybe the first progressive metal album then?) and it’s easy to see how this version of the band would influence rock musicians 20 years later, where Crimson King instead inspired the “classical prog” movement that Crimson itself had already moved away from by this point.

Of course, Village Voice music writer and “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau didn’t like Larks’ Tongues very much, famously writing at the time that it “doesn’t cook,” whatever that means, and “doesn’t quite jell” which, sure, subjective opinion here, but he’s wrong. But then Mr. Christgau doesn’t like progressive styles in general, so his opinion doesn’t count for much when judging such music in my own opinion. There’s a reason I don’t have any posts about Call of Duty or Rent-A-Girlfriend on the site: I have no interest in the genres they represent, so I leave them to those who enjoy them and can most effectively address such works’ strengths and weaknesses. Does that make sense? Maybe not, I don’t know. I guess when you’re a professional, you have to review what you’re asked to review — another benefit of being an unpaid amateur!

A full run through the King Crimson discography: Part 1 (Start)

What? Have I finally lost my mind? Probably. It certainly feels that way. I’ve been at the end of my rope for what feels like years now, yet I still somehow hang on. I haven’t had a day truly without work in three weeks now. The “looking for a way out” bit in my Twitter bio isn’t a joke.

I’ve been trying to channel these feelings in a few productive directions. One of these is fiction, which I’m now writing at a fairly steady pace. You can expect more posts now and then bullshitting about writing and fiction for that reason. Another is my revival of that old long-dormant deep reads post project that was far more ambitious than I could handle (check it out if you haven’t — I can’t give Atelier too much love.)

And still another (productive?) direction is this new small project I just decided today to take on. I’ve written plenty of short album reviews on the site in my old end-of-month update posts that I’ve stopped making. I’d like to pick those up again at some point, but in the meantime, I felt like taking a dive into one musical artist’s body of work, and for me there’s no better artist to try that out with than the British/British-American prog/jazz-rock/classical-rock/pop/weirdo avantgarde band King Crimson. I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I like King Crimson — I’ve already covered four of their albums on the site. But I covered four of my favorite albums of theirs, which hardly provides a full picture of the band.

But then why bother with a full picture of King Crimson? There are a few reasons I’m picking this band for this new ill-advised project over all others:

A diversity of styles over a long period of time. Crimson was formed in 1968, starting as a progressive rock band with classical and jazz influences, and all before progressive rock was even really a thing — their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King is widely credited with creating the genre, or at least with defining it sharply as an offshoot from the artsy rockers of the late 60s starting with the Beatles and through other talented guys like the Moody Blues and Procol Harum. But unlike other prog masters such as Yes, ELP, Genesis, and Jethro Tull, Crimson never had a “signature classic sound” — they shifted almost immediately into a new style starting in 1970/71 because the band fell apart after the debut with guitarist and appointed band leader Robert Fripp holding the pieces. Throughout successive breakups, reunions with a mostly or near-entirely new lineup, breakups again, and hiatuses through the 70s, 80s, and 90s and into the next century, the band would keep changing, avoiding the stagnation that hit some of their old prog colleagues.

Wildly varying quality (at least from what I remember.) I do like King Crimson, and I love some of their albums. But I’m not that impressed by a few others, and a couple of others still from what I remember are outright bad. One of the reasons I’d like to revisit these guys’ work in full is to see what holds up and what doesn’t. It also helps that unlike say Yes, Crimson doesn’t have a 90s/00s+ run of albums in which they try to recapture that old prog spirit that they just don’t have anymore, because really who needs a 90s sequel to Close to the Edge? Leave that stuff to the new prog guys, some of whom are really talented and barely get any notice over on Bandcamp.

That’s to say that even when King Crimson kind of sucked, they did so in new and interesting ways. You can’t accuse them of ever being boring (and link back to this post if I ever do accuse them of that in the reviews.) So I’m happy to even sit through some of their more infamously ear-scraping music, or happier than to sit through fucking Keys to Ascension 2. (I love Yes too, but man. If I ever get some actual free time, maybe.)

They’ve had a serious influence on me. Not musically, since I don’t write music. I can get by on the piano, but as far as composition goes, I’m sticking with words rather than notes and chords. But I do feel like my favorite musicians and musical groups have influenced how I think, especially the ones I really got into as a teenager like Crimson, and that in turn influences my writing now. Even if Crimson’s music never exactly had a message that I can recall. They were mainly just hardcore music guys, and even when they took their lyrics more seriously, it all still felt pretty abstract and hard to connect with emotionally aside maybe from the very few straight up 80s love songs Adrian Belew wrote like “Matte Kudasai” and “Heartbeat” (good recommendations for you city pop fans too — they have similar vibes, but we’ll get there.)

But all the better in helping to mold a dour, miserable fuck like me. I don’t know if they deserve thanks or blame for that. In any case, I might learn something about myself writing this post series too, since a lot of this music is tied up with my own early memories. And now I’m wondering if this is really a good idea, but it’s too late to stop now.

Apparently one of the top ten Stands in JoJo, and that has to count for something. Bill Bruford also got a character named after him, and he was in Crimson off and on too. Araki must be a big fan.

Before I really start this venture, though, I have to set out a couple of rules:

1) I’ll be listening to each of these albums in chronological order by release, including the ones I’ve already written about in those month-end posts. It would screw up the flow otherwise, and I like those albums, so I’ll want to listen to them again anyway.

2) However, I won’t be listening to every single Crimson release. Every studio album, yes, including the couple of EPs they put out later on, and every regular live album. You’d think that would be common sense, but the problem I face is that Crimson also has a metric ton of “from the archives” live albums released through Mr. Fripp’s Discipline label, some of which fill major gaps in the regular discography (Epitaph and Absent Lovers) and more of which are pretty damn duplicative (that fucking four-disc Great Deceiver boxset, which I’m not touching unless someone pays me to do it.) These archive releases are often sorted in reviews chronologically too, but I’m not doing that because man come on. Though I might highlight real essentials like Absent Lovers in an appendix or something.

I’m still questioning my choice here, even as I write this, but I need something to do to stave off my now near-constant anxiety and more writing always helps, and this is something I can enjoy writing about even if it’s a little outside the site’s usual scope. I’ve also been in more of a rock-related mindset — in fact, I’ve been catching up on the now-airing Bocchi the Rock!, which is excellent (and more on that anime probably next month when I review it) but it probably has something to do with this sudden decision too.

So coming up next in this post series, it’s another look at In the Court of the Crimson King. I’m not sure I’ll have much new to say about it, but soon we’ll be in new territory. Reviewing 50+ year-old music — I’m nothing if not fashionable. Until next time!

A review of K-On! (Season 1)

I finally got around to watching another anime standard. K-On! is one of the first names in relaxed slice-of-life comedy anime, a manga adaptation by the first-rate studio Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni.

I say it’s a standard, but K-On! isn’t universally beloved. As one of the best-known and most-cited examples of a “cute girls doing cute things” series (see also the much older Azumanga Daioh, much newer Yuru Camp, and contemporary Lucky Star) it gets a lot of disdain from some anime watchers depending on their tastes. Back in 2009 when this first season aired, I remember that “cute girls” anime trend was in full swing in the same way the isekai trend seems to be now, and along with all its popularity it also received plenty of backlash.

But was that backlash deserved? I used to ignore this genre myself, aside from Azumanga which somehow felt like an exception, being an older series and heavy on both comedy and surreal weirdness alongside all the high school slice-of-life material. Watching Yuru Camp early this year convinced me that I was wrong to ignore it, and I even found a lot to like in a pure slice-of-life series a bit later on with Akebi’s Sailor Uniform. So finally I decided it was time to watch the first season of what many consider the best CGDCT/slice-of-life series ever. Would I fall in love with K-On! like I did with Yuru Camp? (Yeah, I’m leaving you in suspense for a while this time, sorry. Unless you just want to cheat and scroll to the middle/end.)

As much as that “anime girl running to school with toast in her mouth” thing is a standard opening (so much that the Niigata prefectural government early this year complained that it was depressing rice consumption in introducing their new “anime girl running with onigiri in her mouth” campaign) this is the first time I’ve seen it in a while.

K-On! opens with Yui Hirasawa rushing off to her first day at Sakuragaoka High School. As a new first-year student, Yui is immediately set upon by representatives of every club at the school because if anime has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing on Earth more serious than Japanese high school club membership. Yui has a problem, though: she has no idea what club she wants to join. When her far more responsible childhood friend and classmate Nodoka Manabe asks her two weeks later what club she’s going to join, Yui is still drawing a blank — she doesn’t seem to have any real interests aside from eating and sleeping.

Nodoka, a new student council representative, won’t let Yui just join the Go Home Club and tells her she’ll end up a NEET if she doesn’t take some initiative, so Yui goes for the easiest and most fun-looking group she can find: the Light Music Club.* Thinking “light music” means she’ll get to play the castanets or some other easy-looking percussion instrument (which yeah, I know they’re not easy to play well and the show does acknowledge that later, so the percussionists reading this can put down their beating sticks) Yui walks into the club with full confidence and absolutely no musical training.

Club president Ritsu camping out in the music room. I don’t think they ever use the staves on the board back there to write any music, or not that I saw at least.

Meanwhile, Yui’s fellow freshmen and Light Music Club members are waiting to get a fourth member so they can be recognized as a proper club by the student council and school administration. Drummer Ritsu Tainaka, bassist Mio Akiyama, and keyboardist Tsumugi Kotobuki are specifically looking for a guitarist so they can form a four-piece band. When Yui shows up at the music room to visit, they’re all excited and assume she’s a guitarist, piling up tea and cakes in front of her to convince her to join.

Yui is surprised to learn that this club has such specific standards and finally admits with some embarrassment that she can’t play the guitar at all (and shit, maybe they should have written we need a guitarist on the flyer?) But it all sort of works out for everyone: since the student council is about to axe the club, they take Yui despite her lack of experience and promise that they’ll teach her how to play.

And since their keyboardist is the heiress to a company that owns a musical instrument dealer, they manage to get her a fucking Les Paul for her very first guitar, amazing luck for Yui. And have fun getting those calluses.

The rest of the season follows Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Tsumugi (aka Mugi as the girls call her) as they work on their music, write a few original songs, and get ready to perform in front of their classmates at their school festivals. An entire year breezes by halfway through this season, and with the new class of first-years comes an already skilled guitarist in Azusa Nakano, who makes the Light Music Club into a five-piece band. The club hits a few rough patches but gets through them, managing to write a few songs that become hits with their classmates and getting a taste for putting on live shows. And of course, they eat cake, drink tea, and screw around a whole lot while also doing their best to stay on top of their studies, but the last only really being an issue for Yui, who has the ability to actually study but not much in the way of discipline.

This is supposed to be a makeup midterm study session for Yui specifically, who screwed around so much she failed her first time around. But I like tea and cake too, I admit it, so I can’t judge them for this. (Also that lump on Ritsu’s head is from Mio’s much-deserved corrective slaps.)

K-On! is an interesting series to me largely for its impact on anime and the community (here in the West anyway, since I don’t know about the situation in Japan, but I assume it was probably a big deal there as well if not even bigger.) Like Azumanga, it was a huge hit online. It doesn’t seem to have had quite as wide of an appeal, but K-On! still received a lot of love, and I can see why, because there’s a lot going for it. KyoAni is highly regarded for good reason: the animation throughout this first season of K-On! is excellent. While I’m not a particular fan of their “squishy” character designs, Yui and her friends also have a unique look to them, and the style is recognizable and consistent.

I also like some of the music featured in K-On! It would be hard to forgive the show for failing to deliver at least a few good songs given its musical theme, and it does: Don’t Say Lazy, the ending theme, is a real earworm and a nice one even if the lyrics are a bit embarrassing (but that’s in character for the band’s lyricist Mio, so it’s all right) and Fuwa Fuwa Time is just god damn good. If my school had a band that could have written originals like these and performed them as well as the girls in K-On! do, that would have been impressive as hell. The show doesn’t skimp on the visuals and animation in these sections either: the playing actually looks realistic, at least to me. The instruments themselves are very real-looking as well, modeled as they are after real-life instruments (and hey, I’ve played a Korg synth a few times — not sure what model Mugi is using though.)

A rare scene of the girls actually practicing

Being a sort-of very amateur musician myself, I thought this series would be a perfect fit for me, especially since I’ve been on this cute slice-of-life binge. But it wasn’t, not quite. At least I can say this first season of K-On! hasn’t seized me in the way Yuru Camp did from its very first episode, and that series is about girls camping, a hobby I have absolutely no interest in. It’s weird how that works, isn’t it?

Before the legion of K-On! fans breaks down my door and demands an explanation, I should clarify that I didn’t hate or even dislike this run of episodes, not even close to it. If I had, I would have dropped it halfway through, because I don’t have the willpower to keep watching something I don’t enjoy on some level. I was hoping for more, though, based both on my own expectations and on the series’ great reputation.

My problem certainly wasn’t with the very light plot, which can be summed up as “high school girls play music and eat cake and drink tea.” By this point, I’ve watched enough anime more or less like that, only replacing “play music” with “go camping” or “just mess around all day” to know that this relative lack of plot absolutely isn’t a dealbreaker for me. But I think I’ve nailed down what I do need to really enjoy such a series, some mix of the following: 1) a compelling/entertaining cast of characters; 2) comedy that hits for me; 3) atmosphere so well done that the series sucks me into its world (and yeah, this last one sounds pretty flaky and hard-to-define to me writing it out, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.) I loved Azumanga and Yuru Camp for their characters and their comedy, and Akebi got me largely with its atmosphere.

This proves I really can’t live on cuteness alone

K-On!, or again at least its first season, was somewhat lacking in those areas for me. The characters in particular just didn’t grab me, aside from one, and having an interest in one character alone isn’t enough with an ensemble cast like this to keep my interest.

The “one” above isn’t the most central character Yui. With all her clumsy cuteness, you’d think I’d have liked her as much as I do Nadeshiko or Osaka, but no. I think my issue with Yui is that everything just comes too god damn easy to her, to the point that I’m not sure what exactly I should think of her — I guess she’s a lazy layabout who secretly has genius-level natural abilities judging by what she pulls off, but that’s not all that interesting to watch taking place. She has barely any motivation to study and fails her midterm, but it just takes one night of Mio drilling math into her head to get her a 100%; she seems to have not all that much work ethic or discipline but gets to be pretty damn good at the guitar in just a year to the point that she can do great in front of an audience (though the show acknowledges she’s not nearly as good as Azusa, sure.)

The same goes for the rest of the band, more or less. Aside from Azusa and Mio, the group has barely any motivation to practice, with the goof off Ritsu and flaky Yui being the main culprits and Mugi following along and providing a constant supply of tea and cake to go along with their leisure time. They do eventually get around to practicing, yeah, but they apparently also have a chronic case of laziness to the extent that Mio and later Azusa are pretty consistently annoyed by it. But despite all that, the girls put on great shows at their school festivals. (And maybe that’s why the ending is “Don’t Say Lazy”? Are they preempting this criticism?)

Practice?! Fuck that, let’s go to the beach

This might be an entirely stupid complaint. I didn’t watch K-On! expecting to watch the characters just practicing for 20 minutes per episode. But it does annoy me a little that there don’t seem to be much in the way of consequences for their general discord and fucking around. The real problem here might be with me and my own hangups: I never played in a band, but I did play solo piano from my childhood on, enough that even though I haven’t consistently kept it up for a while now, all that practice and muscle memory is burned into my brain and I can still do decently and polish my extremely rusty playing if I put the effort in.

The point is that I know playing well takes serious practice and discipline because I had to put that work in, and the same is true of even a natural genius which I’m damn well not. We do see Yui practicing her guitar a few times along with comments from her also far more responsible younger sister Ui that she’s gotten more focused, so that’s something, but a band is going to sound like a fucking mess if they spend most of their days in their club room eating cake and bullshitting.

That brings me to the one character in K-On! I really like so far: Mio. She has drive, discipline, and a backbone, and on top of all that she’s the only one in this first season with much of a real character arc, being forced to get over her shyness a bit so she can take the role of lead singer when Yui slips up and forgets her lines in their first performance. I don’t dislike Mugi, Ritsu, or even Yui although I complained about her a bit — they’re all fine. Same with Azusa, who also has plenty of motivation but unfortunately gets manipulated with cake bribes (which again I admit I completely understand.) But Mio is by far my favorite character at this point. Without her there grounding the rest at least somewhat, K-On! might have been a hard watch for me.

Then there’s the comedy, which doesn’t always hit for me. I think it’s pretty hard to write about why I find some jokes funny and not others — shit, I found Osaka’s sata andagi scene in Azumanga hilarious and I absolutely can’t explain why except that I really probably do have brain damage. K-On! does have some good bits, my favorite probably late in the season when the imposter Yui shows up (I won’t spoil it, but see if you can detect her) but too many of the jokes get repeated or fall flat for my taste.

The absolute worst offender for me in this regard is the club’s teacher advisor, Sawako Yamanaka, a former metalhead and Light Music Club member herself. I was on board with her “nice teacher turns out to be a weirdo/irresponsible shit” role for a while, sort of a Yukari going back to Azumanga (or for a better analogy, Chug-sensei from Yuru Camp — Yukari never made a pretense of being nice) until she started turning into a bit of a Kimura. I guess she’s meant as comic relief, but even so, I ended the series nearly hating Sawako for just this reason.

Oh God please shut the fuck up

I have no idea why Sawako’s character had to go in this direction. Even her enthusiasm in dressing the girls up in sometimes embarrassing costumes might have just been linked back to her theatrical rock past, her pining for her student life and the potential boyfriend who got away and all that tied up with it. But then she occasionally turns into a pervert and gets near-gropy with her students and god damn is that a dealbreaker for me.

If you’re new to this site or just haven’t read it for very long, you might think I’m being squeamish or prudish or something, but I can assure you I’m not. I love a good h-game, I’ll freely admit that. Stick around for a while and you’ll probably see me posting about one soon enough. But there’s a particular character type that shows up in anime every so often, the aggressive sort of pervert who’s more or less tolerated by the surrounding characters for some inexplicable reason, that gets under my skin to such an extent that I can’t stand it. At least Sawako doesn’t actually do anything beyond being a fucking creep sometimes (again, a bit like Kimura) but still, holy hell. (And now you might say “Okay, you loved Azumanga, but what about Kimura in that case?” But being a creep was his entire thing, and almost every other character recognized him as one and acted accordingly, which is largely not the case here aside from some sideways looks and comments and the occasional exceedingly deserved slap.)

And yeah, I know it’s all just meant to be more comedy, but I still can’t help feeling this way.

There’s also Mugi’s very occasionally expressed thing for yuri that I have no problem with (I mean I have a bit of a thing for yuri too, honestly) but it also comes out of and goes nowhere.

K-On! has clearly captivated a lot of fans since it started its run 13 years ago, to the point that people still watch it and talk about it on a regular basis. And again, I can see the appeal. All the complaining above might make it sound like I hated this series, and I don’t want to give that impression because it would be the wrong one. I enjoyed some of the cake-eating and tea-drinking fun times the girls shared, and I really liked the attention to detail surrounding the music and performances when the show focused on those elements. Details like Mio being left-handed and the difficulties that presents with finding a suitable bass, or some of the references that obviously weren’t just shoehorned in with Mio going on about how great a guitarist Jeff Beck was when asking Yui about her influences in the first episode, or about how Ritsu is basically a schoolgirl non-alcoholic/not constantly stoned version of Keith Moon (and I understand he’s her favorite drummer, which completely makes sense given her temperament and playing style — in fact she and Mio feel like they have a Keith Moon/John Entwistle sort of dynamic going on. Now I really want to hear the girls’ take on “Heaven and Hell.”) I get the impression the original manga author Kakifly has a real love for this music too.

The Who comparison only goes so far, I guess. Yui certainly isn’t a Pete Townshend and there’s no Roger Daltrey around either. But be sure to listen to Live at Leeds anyway, one of the best live albums ever recorded.

So if I absolutely had to say whether I liked K-On! or not with no other qualifiers, I’d say I liked it. Drowning myself in this fluffy slice-of-life feels almost therapeutic now, and KyoAni did a great job with the production. Aside from the bits that include Sawako prominently, I didn’t really dislike any part of this first season. I’ve also heard that the second season of K-On! is stronger than the first, and I think I enjoyed the first just enough to want to continue watching based on that recommendation. Ritsu claims they’re going all the way to the Budokan, and if they do, I’d like to see how they make it there.

And hey, the final performance was mostly nice and heartwarming too, and again “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is a good enough song that it probably salvaged all the not-so-great parts for me.

But maybe I’m just a jerk who still doesn’t truly get it. I’ve heard K-On! called the peak of this CGDCT/slice-of-life anime genre, but I think if I’d started with this instead of Yuru Camp, I might not have tried getting any further into this genre considering my biases not too long ago. But maybe I will get this series when I start watching the second season. Feel free to tell me exactly what I missed in the comments: that’s what they’re there for. If you’re really skilled you might even get me over my near-compulsive dislike of Sawako, though good luck with that if it’s your plan.

Either way, I’ll be continuing the series after starting/getting through a few more in the backlog, so look forward to more on K-On! at some point. Until next time!

 

* Language note that most of you probably know about already: the title K-On! comes from keion, short for keiongaku or “light music.” Just like Yui, I’d never heard the term “light music” before hearing about this series years ago, but apparently it’s another term for pop. Not exactly easy to play either.

The future is in our hands: “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” and “C Kara Hajimaru ABC” from Kaiji

Following up on a post from a few days ago, today it’s a look at the opening of the first season and ending of the second of Kaiji, the anime adaptation of one of Mr. Fukumoto’s most famous gambling manga. I’ve written a lot about Kaiji already — it’s one of my favorite anime series, the story of eternal debtor and failed gambler Kaiji Itou:

I wrote a while back that I’m not big on punk, but I do like some of the classic late 70s/early 80s punk: the Clash, the Ramones, the really well known stuff, since I haven’t delved too much into the genre beyond that. This song came out a bit later than that — this version of “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” is a cover of the original from the Blue Hearts’ 1987 debut that I’ve heard was a big landmark album in Japanese punk. I’m far more used to the Kaiji OP cover, but the original sounds great too, and the cover itself isn’t too different from the original anyway.

On top of just being a fine song, “Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka” is a great fit for Kaiji and for the opening sequence, which really sums up the frantic feel of a lot of the series. If you haven’t watched Kaiji but have watched last year’s Squid Game, it’s pretty much Squid Game before Squid Game, only better (I did like Squid Game, but I thought it had a few serious trip-ups. I might still check out the second season.)

Kaiji is also the rare case of a series in which I love the first season’s opening and pretty near hate the second season’s. “Chase the Light” is just not my style at all. But be sure to check out the second season’s ending theme C Kara Hajimaru ABC, or “ABC Starting at C”, by Wasureranneyo, also a very classic punk-sounding song though a much newer one.

Who’s that girl hanging out with Kaiji? You’ll have to watch the series to find out.* It’s only 52 episodes long! Yeah, I get if you don’t feel like trying it out for that reason, but I promise it’s worth a try.

 

* Spoiler: she never actually shows up in the anime, though she’s referred to. She would show up in a hypothetical third season based on her appearance in the manga, but since we’ll never get a third season, this is the only time we’ll see her animated.

Another classic anime theme: “Nantokanare” from Akagi

Today and tomorrow’s posts deal with two more anime opening themes from series that are connected in my mind forever, even if they don’t have much in common other than the same creator and genre. I’m pretty sure I’ve written about both these openings before, but they can always use a second look, especially since both are from relatively old anime at this point (and the songs themselves are far older, especially the first.)

First up is Mahjong Legend Akagi. Sure, on the surface it’s a series about people playing mahjong, but it’s really far more than that. Original manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto is known for his gambling stories full of psychological games and power struggles, and Akagi is packed full of them. Several years ago I wrote a complete synopsis of the first episode of the anime here, one of the few posts from back then that I’m not completely ashamed of now. (Partly kidding, it’s not all that bad, but still, eight years ago — I can’t believe it’s been that long.)

Back to the subject: you wouldn’t be able to tell from this OP that Akagi is about a insane teenage gambling genius who uses his skill to take on the yakuza in incredibly high-stakes mahjong matches. The OP animation does fit the feel, though: just the protagonist Shigeru Akagi walking around 50s Tokyo, and with the still under construction Tokyo Tower in the final shot before the 1 pin tile gets slammed down, a nice touch.

The song is also fitting, a real classic this time. Akagi aired back in 2005, but the OP theme “Nantokanare” comes from the 1972 album Furuido no Sekai by Japanese folk-rock group Furuido.* It has a wistful feel that fits well with the series — though it does get very intense, Akagi himself is an extremely cool and collected guy with an attitude that suits the feel of the opening. The full song is worth hearing, along with some of Furuido’s other work. Maybe I’ll feature them separately later on.

But tomorrow I’ll be back with that related anime OP. Some of you might already have guessed exactly what song that’s going to be. For the rest, I won’t spoil it. Until then!

 

* Another language note: I’m not sure whether these guys are supposed to be pronounced “Furuido” or “Fluid”. Google lists the band’s name as “FluiD”, but in Japanese their name is written 古井戸, meaning “old water well.” Since that’s pronounced furuido, I’m inclined to just keeping calling them Furuido despite Google disagreeing with me. I know Google knows everything and all that but I feel pretty confident, though it’s possible that the Furuido guys themselves intended for there to be a double meaning in their name.

My favorite rare/impractical musical instruments

If you’ve ever been in band or seen an orchestra, you might be familiar with the normal set of instruments sorted into the percussion, woodwind, brass, and string sections. There are dozens of interesting instruments in your standard symphony orchestra, some of which are also popular for solo performances (most of all the piano, along with some of the strings) and some not so much (bassoon? French horn? Definitely the triangle.)

But then there are the instruments that don’t even usually play in the orchestra and that barely get any attention except among the truly hardcore types, many of which are extremely low- or high-pitch versions of the more standard ones — think your standard soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones you find in a lot of jazz as compared to the more unusual sopranino and bass types, but even those are commonly used instruments compared to some. Today, since I don’t have any other ideas, I’ll run through a few of my favorites of these unusual instruments.

Contrabass flute

You know the flute, that small instrument with the light, flighty sound to it? The flute and the even smaller and higher-pitched piccolo are usually included in orchestras and show up in other contexts — the flute even features in some rock music (see Jethro Tull.) So we know what a flute sounds like. But this is also a flute:

The contrabass flute is the second-largest and second-lowest-pitched of the flute family, just above the subcontrabass that’s too ridiculous even for me. I really like the sound of the contrabass flute — it’s a versatile instrument judging by what this guy above can do with it. I also like how it’s shaped like a 4.

Sopranissimo saxophone

Speaking of saxophones, here’s one on the extremely high end of the spectrum, so high-pitched that it’s apparently difficult to even play. Your standard saxophone is easy to at least make a sound come out of — I’ve played an alto sax before, though extremely poorly.

But the sopranissimo, also known as the soprillo or piccolo saxophone, is only for the elite, far rarer than even the relatively rare sopranino. This instrument was theoretical for a long time; according to Wikipedia the technology to produce the first true sopranissimo only existed a short time ago, and the first of their kind were manufactured in the mid-2010s.

Sadly for this instrument, it’s really not in demand due to its combination of being so expensive to produce and so hard to play. All the more reason to enjoy it when you can. If I ever win a huge amount of money so that I can do whatever I want, I’ll buy one of these along with a contrabass flute and spend some time figuring out how to play and write for them.

Hurdy gurdy

Some instruments used to be popular and later fell into obscurity. That fate befell the harpsichord, which was displaced by the piano, and it extra-befell the hurdy gurdy, which wasn’t really displaced by anything as far as I can tell. This string instrument was commonly featured in western Renaissance music and has a unique sound that can still be found, albeit rarely, in music today.

Modern varieties of the instrument are sold online, but you’d probably need to dig around to find one, and they look to be a lot more expensive than your typical guitar or similarly sized string instrument. This seems to be true of any rare instrument, but the hurdy gurdy also looks like it takes some real upkeep to maintain in good condition. Still, it can be worth trying out if you want to be known at your school or in your social circle as “the one with the weird medieval musical instrument” if you think you can accept the responsibility of such a title.

There are plenty of other strange and interesting musical instruments out there that I haven’t covered like the completely ridiculous octobass, a massive version of the double bass that seems designed purely to hit the brown note. But if I kept writing about unusual instruments like these I’d be writing all day, so see you tomorrow with something new.

A look forward to next season: “Comedy” from Spy x Family

I didn’t make any secret of liking Spy x Family a lot last season. Just like almost everyone else who watched it judging by the other reviews and the extremely high ratings, so my own late opinion was nothing special. So of course I’m looking forward to the second cour of Spy x Family coming this fall.

Everything about Spy x Family was quality including the music, and especially the ending sequence paired with the song “Kiseki” or “Comedy” by singer/composer Gen Hoshino:

Typically if I prefer one theme over the other, it’s going to be the opening over the ending. For some reason that’s the case nine times out of ten (or in a few rare cases like Call of the Night I’ll like both of them equally.) The OP “Mixed Nuts” is a good time, but “Comedy” is more memorable to me. Or maybe I just like its smooth classy sound. I don’t know much of what else Gen Hoshino has done aside from the pretty all right catchy love song “Koi”, but if at least some of his other music lives up to “Comedy” I’ll have to check it out.

More action, more comedy, more Anya expressions

Take this as still another recommendation to catch up on Spy x Family if you haven’t already, but just as long as you like fun characters and an exciting story full of mind games (and quite literally mind-reading in Anya’s case.)

A short one today, but I’ll be back with more tomorrow. This month has been interesting, forcing me to think of something to write about every day. I hope I can keep it going until the end of August so I can satisfy my obsessive side.