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 #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.

Why I love Shiina Ringo

A few years ago I ran across a music recommendation – Tokyo Jihen’s Adult. I don’t even remember where I saw it or why I followed it. But I did follow it, and I didn’t regret it. Adult is a great album, largely because of one person – the band’s frontwoman, Shiina Ringo.

Miss Ringo is a popular Japanese singer-songwriter who’s gotten some attention in the West. She seems to go for a mix of jazz and pop-inspired elements in her music. This could potentially turn into a mess, but Shiina is very good at her job. She’s a fine pianist (and she can play a bunch of other instruments as well) and a great songwriter – almost every song of hers I’ve heard so far is catchy as hell. For an example, check out this song from her solo album Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana:

She also has a great voice. Here’s a live rendition of Poltergeist, a song from the same album:

Shiina Ringo is one of the few singer-songwriter types I care for at all. A lot of the really popular ones seem kind of overrated to me, and some of them are full of themselves or attention-grabbers etc. which can come through in their lyrics sometimes. I have no idea what she’s like – from the little I’ve read, she doesn’t say much about herself and puts on a mysterious persona. And since I can’t understand most of her lyrics, their contents don’t present any problem to me. It might sound weird, but I prefer not to know what she’s singing about. Though it’s possible her lyrics are really profound. I have no idea.

If this post seems short, it’s because I have a hard time writing about music. A few writers are really good at it and I’m not among their number. For me, trying to describe music to someone through words is a poor substitute for just playing the music for them, so check out the links above instead if you’re interested.