Friday, May 1, 2020

Concept Corner: Fist Me 'til Your Hand comes Out My Mouth

There's a band I've been listening to pretty frequently for the last few years. It's not one I talk about very often, because it's not like a lot of the other bands I listen to. As you're likely aware of, I like to talk about Power Metal, the bombastic, over-the-top genre that tends, more often than not, to be really fun. But with much of the other music I listen to, it's more difficult to talk about, because it's much more personal. That, and even describing the genre can be a chore. I'm talking about my Sad Music. That stuff I'm sure we all listen to when we're feeling low, the music that speaks to us in our dark times.

For some, it's The Mountain Goats, others, it's Brand New, for me, it's been a little band called Crywank. Crywank is a band formed in 2009 in Manchester, UK. Their genre is nebulous, but best put as "anti-folk" or punk-folk. That pretty much means they take the folk aesthetic with a punk mindset. Usually little more than an acoustic guitar and drum kit, but mostly about the things in life you hate, including yourself.

If you could take a look at my drafts (please don't ever do that) you would see quite a few prospective articles I've began about Crywank. It's not easy to put into words just what I like about this band without embarrassing myself. Hell, the name alone makes everyone I tell it to do a double-take. And to be honest, what they've been doing, and what their appeal is to me, has been changing with each subsequent release.

In their first few albums, it's about what you might expect from a self-pity band you might listen to after a couple too many drinks alone on a Saturday night. That's not to say they didn't do that exceedingly well. Songs like Hikikomori and You Couldn't Teach Me Integrity still resonate with me, and even in these albums there was something a little more than the sadcore fare I was used to. The themes are less "The World is Bad and I am Sad" and more "I am sad because of my internal problems which I can only identify." It's a more introspective sort of pity party.

As the albums go on, the introspection becomes the point. With Don't Piss On Me, I'm Already Dead the focus shifted from how sad one is, to the flaws one has that cause them to be sad. It's overthinking their overthinking. Being sad about being sad. It's a rabbit hole I've traveled down more than once, and it's one of the only albums I've seen that contained a song like I Am In Great Pain, Please Help Me. And I haven't seen a song about writing quite as potent as Me Me Me (Boo Hoo), a personal favorite.

Egg on face. Foot in mouth. Wriggling Wriggling Wriggling. goes in a more metaphorical direction, with much more upbeat tempos, making some of the songs a bit difficult to parse. It's got quite a few more songs than previous albums, and covers a bit more ground. These songs combine criticism of others with the blowback of self-hate you get when you realize you're hardly in a position to judge anyone, or if it's even worth it to bother. An Academics Lament On Barbie is one that hits personally, for reasons I'm sure you're aware of.

Their penultimate album, Wearing Beige On A Grey Day shifts back towards less, but longer songs, and takes on a more structural theme than previous albums. What about society causes us pain, and what do you even call the pain you feel? Doubt comes up with a non-answer that resonates, and Unassimilated Normie looks at how societal standards make us into cowards.

That's all to say, Crywank is a band that's been evolving since Day 1. And their newest and final album is no exception. Fist Me 'til Your Hand comes Out My Mouth is only part concept album, with numbered parts to the story like The Near Future, but the whole album adheres to the themes presented in the first half.

Concept Corner: Crywank - Fist Me 'til Your Hand comes Out My Mouth

The first thing I can say about this album is that it's Crywank trying a bunch of things they've never done before, but at the same time it's so fundamentally Crywank. Fist Me is an album about what it is to be in Crywank. I don't mean what it's like, as if it were something you had to interpret. It's just about Crywank. The previous albums were all about James Clayton, the usual songwriter and guitarist, but to make the album about the band itself is just more Crywank than Crywank has ever been. Songs were either written by Clayton, Daniel Watson, or a collaboration between the two, and more often than not are openly antagonistic against one or the other.

Imagine traveling the world with someone whose issues are increasingly caustic to your relationship, while singing songs about your most shameful moments over and over again. What began as catharsis turns into a needle in your side, you've made all your songs about yourself and now you can't escape who you were. It's like the dark inverse of when a comedian becomes successful and all their jokes become about flying and travel. Crywank, itself, is the issue. The subtitle of the first section is, "I Love You But I've Chosen Me" which could be from either of the bandmates referring to the other, or both of them to the fans.

It's the first Crywank album that really takes you on a trip. There are a few songs that are just instrumental, and some with only spoken lyrics. They were writing and recording these songs while on the road, so they end up having variable sound qualities, even though almost all the song lead into one another. But the overall effect of these is to impart the feeling of being on tour. And that tour being not great.

Musically, this is definitely a step forward, boasting the most similarities to Egg on Face though retaining the Trombone added in Wearing Beige On A Grey Day. There's some club-music bass pounding, there's harmonica, there's even some theremin in there, as far as I can tell. It's experimental, it's fresh, and it's certainly not something I would have expected from Crywank a few years ago. I should've expected it, but I didn't.

Fist Me 'til Your Hand comes Out My Mouth is Crywank's breakup album. This is their last, and would've come at the end of their farewell tour, if a pandemic hadn't fucked it up for them. You never get this close a look at a band splitting, even if there ends up being coverage through music publications later. They made art about making their art, an idea so self-consciously up its own ass I can't help but love it. If you listen to Crywank's records from the beginning (which I suggest you do) you can see the evolution and dismay of someone who started writing sad songs after a breakup, but made it so much more. I'd be lying if I didn't claim to be a bit disconsolate at Crywank ending, but nothing lasts forever. If there's anyone who could have created something in the midst of and about a disintegration, it's Crywank. The album is out now, so you can buy it for yourself on bandcamp.

And if you relate does that make you bad?
And for making you relate does that make me bad?
And do I glorify what it is to be sad?
Should you just turn off?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Books From The Bin: Warpath

I always hear about people who bought books based solely on the cover. I don't think I've ever done that, because books usually cost money. What I do, is get free books based on how bad the cover and the back blurb are. And I want you to trust me here, today we have a doozy.

Books From the Bin: Warpath by Tony Daniel


In the far future the bulk of humanity has spread across the galaxy--only to discover that the American Indians got there first!

Long before Columbus, a tribe of Mississippi Indians discovered the metaphysical Effect that makes space travel possible and paddled their birchbark canoes to distant worlds light-years from Earth. Now an interstellar Indian nation, armed with spears and guided missiles, comes into conflict with colonists from a technological civilization so advanced that even their homes and newspapers possess artificial intelligences. History seems poised to repeat itself, but on a galactic scale.

And on the icy planet Candle, only one lonely man stands between the universe and an endless... WARPATH.

Normally at this point I would sardonically remark, "Where do we begin?" But no. This time, there is nowhere to begin. This guy, the author, had a whole bunch of ideas and threw each and every one of them into this book with nary a whim of how they would look fitted together. The narrator is a man reconstituted from a radio signal copy of himself sent off from Earth in the distant past (but our near future). His wife's signal got fucked up so they made her brain control the weather. Some of the (ahem) Indians have holographic animals from another dimension that live in space clay. There's a character who needs to take future-barbiturates or else she makes the people around her melt, and the reason for this power is that her mom got knocked up by one of the multidimensional Pokemon.

Those Digimon are like, the crux of the book too, for some reason. Once a Native has got the clay and has melded minds with their Tamagotchi, then they can actually, literally paddle a canoe into space. The first scene is a character doing just that. After finishing that scene, I quit the book for four years. Upon picking it up again, I found no solace. At one point, the radiowave narrator meets a distant descendant of his original self, and instead of being curious about how maybe his family line is holding up or anything of that nature, he gets really horny because she looks just like his dead wife. And then they fuck.

No, really. And every single sex scene is like if poison could be administered straight to my brain through words. But not to worry, the descendant he fucks turns out to be an evil cyborg with a robot brain, and then Radiohead and his friends fuck up the robot part so she ends up braindead. And just so everything is wrapped in a nice bow at the end, Radiohead puts the child-like mind of his dead wife into the descendant that he'd already been fucking for a month!

Oh god, I haven't even gotten to the Indians. This was not written by someone who cared much about researching Native peoples. I think he thought to himself, "Woah dude, what if spirit animals were REAL?" and then he combined it with every other idea he had written down and figured he knew enough about Native Americans from westerns. Because it really doesn't get any more complex than that. Throughout the whole book, all the Native peoples are called "Mississippi Indians" despite never having interacted with anything they had called "mississippi." They had never even seen Europeans before meeting them in space, and yet there was no effort to figure out what a Native culture would look like had colonization not happened and also space travel. They're just like, slightly mystical and kinda warmongery. Like in a western. The extent of the groundwork this guy did was to watch Dances With Wolves.

Another extra ingredient to this dangerously overloaded plot element sandwich is the AI's that run people's homes and stuff. These are just copies of people's brains, but slightly hobbled so they won't feel bad that they're glorified answering machines. They're actually called "half-sents" as in, half-sentient and nobody has a problem with that existential nightmare. Radio Ga Ga's wife is stuck as the weather and he doesn't think to get her out of there until like, the end of the book. And it turns out it's not even a problem, they just copied a low rez version of the mayor's brain and stuck it in there. Radio Goo Goo doesn't even think of that until right before that, where they go to the ancient Earth most of humanity has left behind and the villain has an evil Neopet that eats AI's. Also it's a giant snake. And then he has a JoJo Stand fight with the main character Indian and his magical bear. And then the good guys win, which is good because otherwise the bad guy would've gotten the, uh. The dirt. The magic animal dirt. God damn it.

Listen, I didn't want this feature to turn into A Woke Look At Problematic Books, but sometimes you read a book about Space Indians and a whole bunch of other shit and then you're trapped inside because of a pandemic but also you're still working a night shift and everyone is curfewed at eight PM so you literally never leave the house except for work and now this book is just sitting there waiting for you and you can't stop thinking about being an AI stuck in a house all day with no way out there's no way out there's no way out

So anyway I'ma give this book like a five out of ten.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Concept Corner: Avantasia The Metal Opera

I've been playing coy long enough. I covered Operation: mindcrime and called it one of the greatest metal concept albums ever. I even covered one of Ayreon's albums, with just a mention of its long supposed rival metal project. That's right, today we cover the other biggest power metal collaboration project, Avantasia.

Concept Corner: Avantasia - The Metal Opera

Avantasia is a project created by Tobias Sammet, the lead singer and songwriter of Edguy, a German power metal band. Avantasia released its first album, The Metal Opera in 2001. This and the next album, The Metal Opera Part II share an explicit story, while subsequent releases either had a much more subtle story or none at all. Like Ayreon, this project collects singers and musicians from across the metal genre, though Avantasia has a few distinctions from Ayreon in that department. Lucassen's project, at least in the beginning, tended to feature less well-known musicians, which is commendable for finding more obscure talent. Avantasia took a different route, finding the all-stars of the metal community right out of the gate, even bringing Michael Kiske, legendary singer for the band Helloween, back into his first metal project since leaving Helloween. For a Helloween fan, this was the Holy Grail.

The story is communicated almost entirely through liner notes in the lyric book, and let me tell you, it's a doozy! There are a couple instrumentals with light speaking parts and there's plenty to gather from the music, but I wasn't aware of the whole story until I recently knuckled down and read all of it. You'll understand why in a bit.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020)







Man, this sure had a long leadup, am I right? Like Ghostbusters 2016, most of the buzz about the movie didn't really have all that much to do with the movie and occurred way before it premiered. But that's all "hype." It's all "marketing." So what's the deal with this thing? Did a more photogenic Sonic save it?

Eh. It was okay.

It really disappoints me to say that, but I can't claim I didn't see it coming. The studio did what lazy studios do when trying to reintroduce a franchise character to an audience they underestimate: They done plopped Sonic in the real world, with very little connecting to anything a Sonic fan would remember. Sure, there's rings, robots, he says, "Gotta go fast!" once, but they didn't bother trying to adapt anything.

Say what you will about the more current releases, but Sonic stories weren't always hamfisted trash. The first two games communicated themes of nature vs. technology very well just through level progression. Sonic 3 & Knuckles had a pretty good story, with Robotnik remaking the Death Egg on the fallen Angel Island, Knuckles thinking Sonic was part of it, and eventually Robotnik steals the Master Emerald and Sonic has to go Super to stop him. Now it's certainly no Final Fantasy 7, but with textless cutscenes they did a good job,

So what I'm saying is, this movie subtracted more than it added. Sonic's world, sometimes known as Mobius, gets a single scene early in the film before he's fled to Earth and the rest of our film takes place. But not before an opening so cliche, I think in the last 10 years there's been more parodies than straight uses: In the middle of the end-movie action scene, the screen pauses and Sonic narrates to the audience, "So, I bet you're wondering how we got here." I'm shocked the filmmakers had the restraint to not use a record scratch. He also has an Owl Mom for some reason, and echidnas are trying to capture him. But that don't get resolved. This is really just an origin story for Robotnik, and even then we're only catching the tail-end of it. He's already a pretty evil machinist in the beginning, it's just by the end he has a wacky mustache and hates Sonic.

Jim Carrey was pretty good, as I'm sure most people thought he would be. He doesn't quite bring the Grinch-level energy I've come to hope for, but it's certainly not bad. James Marsden was Mr. Bland the Human Actor, really not much to say there. Sonic. Sonic Sonic Sonic. I mean, he was more tolerable than he was in Lost World. Ben Schwartz did fine, I thought it would be really distracting, but by the end I felt the voice fit just fine. Sonic as a character is like a hyperactive kid, which I guess is fitting enough. He doesn't so much learn a lesson as get everything he wanted, but I wasn't really expected some hard-hitting emotional truth from this.

It's funny that nothing but the video games ever has any consistent idea of what rings are for. In the one cartoon called SatAM, they gave him some kinda power boost, they never show up at all in the whimsical cartoon or the OVA, and in this movie they make portals. It's not something really important, just a little thing I wanted to mention.

But yeah, there was nothing especially terrible about Sonic (LIKE THERE COULD HAVE BEEN) but nothing make it stand out. They took all the safe routes, which means it couldn't have attained any real highs or lows. I wonder what we could've gotten if they'd taken a chance on a full CGI movie in the Sonic universe. I guess we'll never know. Maybe if there's a sequel it could expand on that, but honestly I don't think we'll be going anywhere fantastical.