Listening/reading log #17 (February 2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Record (Van der Graaf Generator, 1976)

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

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

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

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

Now for the featured articles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening/reading log #3 (December 2019)

I know I said I’d be off for the rest of the year, but there’s still one piece of old business for 2019 left to address. So let’s get right to it:

Magic (T-Square, 1981)

Highlights: It’s Magic, Sunshine Sunshine

Quite an album cover, isn’t it?  Pretty magical in my opinion too, at least as far as the subject matter goes.  Magic is an album recorded by Japanese fusion band T-Square, which has existed in various forms from the late 70s up until today.  These guys along with Casiopea were apparently a big part of 80s fusion.

The problem is I don’t seem to like 80s fusion very much, not even the later Casiopea stuff I’ve listened to.  70s fusion, sure, I’m into it.  But 80s fusion might just use way too many cheesy, ridiculous synth tones for my taste.  Some of those are on Magic too, and that might also be part of why I’m not a fan of the instrumentals here.  Half the songs on this album are vocal pieces, however, and I like those.  These feature lyrics in English sung by famous Filipina vocalist Marlene (yeah, just the one name) who I only learned about last week.  Her singing is unbearably cute and uplifting and makes the album opener “It’s Magic” as well as “Sunshine Sunshine”, a song you may be shocked to hear that I really like.  I’m not crazy about the message (which is essentially “don’t mope around, just be happy” — yeah, if only it were that easy) but when I listen to the song, it’s impossible not to imagine Marlene bouncing around a stage while singing the lines “SUNSHINE SUNSHINE IT’S A SUNNY DAY SUNSHINE SUNSHINE LOVE IS HERE TO STAY!” and that does actually make me happy.  So maybe this stupid shit works.  Anyway, Magic is mostly pretty good, and maybe you’ll like it more than I do if you’re not allergic to cheesy 80s synths.

H to He, Who Am the Only One (Van der Graaf Generator, 1970)

Highlights: Killer, House With No Door, Lost

Hey, was I being positive there for a few minutes?  Fuck that!  I know just the cure: some Van der Graaf Generator.  This was an English prog rock band that started back before prog was even really a thing, fronted by excellent singer/crazy lyricist Peter Hammill.  VdGG was pretty uneven in my opinion, but when they were good they were great, and H to He (referring to the solar fusion process — no idea what the rest of the title means) is one of their best albums.  This is dark, bitter, sad artsy rock featuring Hammill singing what sound like a lot of very personal words over a saxophone/organ-dominated background.

Which you might not think you’d be especially into depending on your tastes, but the songs here are really good.  “Killer” is energetic and catchy and has a monster riff that I love, and “House With No Door” is a ballad sung by Hammill sounding like he just had his heart torn out.  My favorite is “Lost”, though.  It meanders like crazy through its 11 minute run time and bizarre time/key signature changes, all classic prog-style, but it works because the whole song is about a guy who’s lost his love and is wandering in the same fashion.  Nothing pretentious here, it’s really just a love song.  Check it out!

So it’s only two albums I’m putting up for your consideration this time, but I hope the contrast between them is enough to cover pretty much everyone’s tastes.  If it isn’t, try out some of the following excellent pieces by my fellow blog writers.

Shadows of Mass Destruction.  The Persona 3 Retrospective, Part 2-Gameplay — Aether dives deep into Persona 3 in his continuing retrospective series on the game.  If you like the Megami Tensei content I post here (what’s that, about two-thirds of my site?) you should follow Lost to the Aether as well for some great in-depth analysis.

Humanity Has Declined: Nameless Adventures With Incalculable Entities — Scott of Mechanical Anime Reviews writes about the uniquely weird anime series Humanity Has Declined and why it’s worth watching.  I liked the show a whole lot, and Scott captures the essence of it very well.

Editorial: Supporting the Little Guys — Professional and semi-pro game journalism sites are largely copy-and-paste clickbait outrage factories, and Pete Davison of MoeGamer takes on some of the problems this causes in this piece.

[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 2 — Red Metal of Extra Life reviews one of the best NES games in such a thorough way that I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it.

Chapter 754: Hachinohe Station Giant Lanterns and History Museum — If you have any interest in traveling to Japan, or traveling anywhere for that matter, be sure to follow The Flying Tofu, now on part 754 of her travels through Japan and other lands.  I can’t go anywhere at the moment or anytime in the near future, so I like to read a few travel blogs instead, and this is one of them.

And that’s it once again.  A preemptive happy new year to everyone — doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a great year coming up in general, but we’ll see.  The last few years have turned me into a real fatalist, both as far as my personal life and public/world events have gone. But what the hell.  There’s not much ordinary people like us can do (assuming you’re ordinary too, dear reader — if you’re extraordinary, can you please do something about all this shit?)

Anyway, if all else fails, just remember this: no matter how much things might suck, nothing is forever.  That’s what I tell myself, anyway.  Until next time!