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.

Music review: Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 by Tokyo Active NEETs

No, it’s not a soundtrack review this time, but don’t worry; I’m not changing my format. This and a few other reviews I’ve got slated to post are of cover albums based on game soundtracks. Specifically the soundtracks to various Touhou Project games. I’ve never actually reviewed a Touhou game on the site, but I used to follow this one-man-developer shmup series pretty closely. And I still love the music in these games. ZUN, the man behind game developer Team Shanghai Alice, is good at making shooting games, but he’s a better composer. The pieces he writes for his games are memorable and powerful, and they’ve spawned thousands (yes, literally thousands) of cover albums by hundreds of artists that are sold at Comiket and other Japanese conventions. A few of these Touhou cover albums even show up at American conventions, usually at grossly inflated prices, because they know the only alternative is to pay high shipping costs online and wait three weeks. (And don’t even get me started on the prices of the doujins.)

(Wait. No. Please forget I said that.)

Touhou Eiyashou ~ Imperishable Night (2004)

Anyway, I was very happy to find a physical copy of Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 (translated from 東方爆音ジャズ6 in case I convince you to seek it out.) As its title suggests, this is just one in a series of cover albums by Japanese jazz ensemble Tokyo Active NEETs, who play in a traditional jazz style (at least on this album – they mix it up in some of their other works.)  The several albums I’ve heard by Active NEETs are pretty much consistently great, but Touhou Explosive Jazz 6 is one of the best, featuring the band’s take on almost all of the music from 2004’s Imperishable Night. Imperishable Night isn’t my favorite Touhou game – that title would probably have to go to Perfect Cherry Blossom – but IN’s soundtrack just edges out PCB’s for me, and the Active NEETs do a great job with it. This album really is “explosive” – the NEETs play with a lot of energy, and there’s a lot of tenor sax and trumpet in the mix.  But they’re not just constantly blaring the shit out of your ears.  The brass has a great balance going with the keyboards, and the rhythm section is excellent.

As far as the individual songs go, they’re all great.  I can’t even say I really have a favorite among them, though their take on Marisa’s theme “Love-Colored Master Spark” that opens the album always grabs me, as does their version of Reimu’s theme “Maiden’s Capriccio ~ Dream Battle”. As outstanding as the album is, though, it’s also nice to watch them play live in the studio – the NEETs put out videos like that sometimes on their Youtube channel.

 

Here’s their rendition of “Dream Battle”. Pretty damn good. The guy in the center with the sack over his head is also a member of the band, I guess. He’s supposed to be what’s usually translated as a “sinsack” – a character from some Touhou fanworks who’s usually depicted as otherwise naked. Yeah, Touhou Project is kind of weird. But the music is excellent. I give this album a perfect 7, because I like it just that much. I should also note that all the other albums I’ve heard in the Explosive Jazz series are really good, and the Active NEETs are up to #13 in the series, so there’s plenty to hear at this point.

Unfortunately, you might have a hard time finding a physical copy of this album if I’ve piqued your interest in it at all. I had to attend the same con a few times before anyone had it in stock, and it seems to be out of stock on Amazon along with most of their other albums. Their newest albums are available on iTunes, though. And it goes without saying that there are ways to hear the older ones without paying out the ass for an import (though that’s what I basically did.) Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of music, it’s worth scouring Amazon and other online retailers for these albums. Or hit up your local anime con. You were probably planning on going anyway if you’re reading this site. Don’t lie to me.