Friday, January 17, 2014

Top Pun 2013: Music

As with last year, this music list will be arranged with no particular care, including songs, albums, soundtracks, genres, and instruments. As such, the order will be largely arbitrary. There's not much else to say here, so let's get right to it.

Hatsune Miku

Favorite song: World is Mine

Despite this being the third time I've posted this image, I do believe this is the first time I've actually mentioned who this is. This is Hatsune Miku, first and most famous of the vocaloids. To reduce the matter to a gross oversimplification, a vocaloid is an autotuned text to speech synthesis program. I'm not familiar with the details of the program, but the gist of it is that you input syllables, pitches, and durations for notes, and it outputs a song sung by a computerized voice. Naturally, with Japan being Japan, this program was anthropomorphized into a schoolgirl with a short skirt, long twin-tails, and sleeves that don't seem to be attached to the rest of her clothing. Also a tie, just in case anyone's keeping score.

Miku is really more of an instrument than an artist, as any idiot with the software can produce a song that's exactly as legit as any other. I think that Miku represents an interesting philosophical Idea in the relationship between machines and art, redefining what it is that makes art truly human in the first place. But, dropping all pretense of me being interested in some high-minded philosophy debate, I will admit that I just really like several songs composed for her. I could discuss the implications of an immortal pop star who never ages, whose voice only gets better as technology improves, and who is immune to the embarrassing scandals that plague so many stars. But I would be lying out my ass if I implied that I had any idea what I was talking about, and I think there's been quite enough of that on this blog already (For instance, I actually do look like a robot-man in real life). Although, with regards to the whole "immune to scandal" angle, try googling "Hatsune Miku", in conjunction with a word that you'd be reluctant to use in front of your mother. I can all but guarantee that on the first page you'll find things that would make Miley Cyrus blush.

At this point, I'm including these references just so they'll seem outdated in the future.

The King is Dead, by The Decemberists

Favorite Song: Rox in the Box

OK, yes, this album is 3 years old by now, but I thought I'd include it as reparation for my earlier statement that I regretted buying it, which I now regret.

"Rox in the Box", despite the shoddy spelling, is just a damn good song. I can't really do it justice with words, but it has an all-encompassing realness to it. Listening to it is accompanied by an urge to just go out and do something, like chopping down a tree, or building a cabin, or... well, perhaps not mining granite, if the lyrics are meant to be taken seriously. Thankfully, I'm well practiced at resisting these urges, so nothing ever comes of them, but the reminder that music can make me feel something is appreciated.

"Down by the Water" also evokes a similar degree of realness, though not enough to inspire italicization, I'm afraid. As a whole, the album sounds considerably more "American" than most of the Decemberists' previous work, which had a decidedly British feel, with lyrics featuring muskets, nautical adventures, and bagmen, which I assume is something like a humanoid bagworm.

Artist's Interpretation

Fire Emblem Awakening Soundtrack

Best Song: Don't You Dare Speak Her Name!

I had originally considered making this entry solely about this one song, rather than the Fire Emblem soundtrack as a whole. And if you listen to it, I think you'll understand why. This song is powerful. It is at once mournful and majestic, as well as thundering and triumphant. It only appears once in the game, and like a wizard, it arrives neither early nor late, but exactly when it is meant to. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll just leave it at that.

The rest of the soundtrack is pretty damn good, but only a few songs are notable enough to be mentioned alongside the aforementioned. Id~Purpose is one of those songs. Id is the name of the theme song for the tactician, your custom unit in the game. There are quite a few different arrangements of the song, and Purpose is easily the best. It's the song that plays on the last stage of the game, with all of the grandeur that the position entails. The way it mixes in the main theme of the Fire Emblem series later on is a nice touch, unless you're so good at Fire Emblem that you beat the last stage before the song even gets to that part, brother of mine.

Look at Mr. Fire Emblem Prodigy over here.

Finally, I'd like to mention the song that it plays when you initiate a carnal union between two of your units. (i.e. one proposes to the other) Because there was clearly someone from the "name first, ask questions later" school of naming aboard the development team for this game, it's called "Ha, ha! Yes, it will take some getting used to!" While it serves as a decent piece of listening music, the main reason I like this song is for its honesty. While you might expect a theme for a proposal to be cheerful, uplifting, and romantic, this one is pervaded by a sense of anxiety. A proposal is a stressful event, and this song reflects it, while still conveying a sense of romance. If I ever propose in real life, there's a good chance I'll start playing this song, so it might be a good idea to train yourself to run away from this song on reflex.

Paper Mario Sticker Star Soundtrack

Favorite Song: Kamek Battle

And now, I turn my attention to the other game made by Intelligent Systems that I played in the year of 2013. I had originally bought this game as a Christmas present for my brother, but because he never had the time, I ended up playing it before him. I then retconned my Christmas present to "Playing Paper Mario Sticker Star so you didn't have to". The game wasn't very good, but the music was very good, which is why I'm including it on this list. Picking a favorite song was difficult, because there isn't really one song that stands out above the rest. Almost every song in the game is great, but none really rise to the level of excellence set by Don't You Dare Speak Her Name! That said, I think it can be argued that, as a whole, Paper Mario's soundtrack is better than Fire Emblem's, as it has more great songs than Fire Emblem, though none that are as fantastic as the best in Fire Emblem.

Game Grump Remixes

Favorite Song: Jon Wins

Game Grumps was (or still is, if you're a casual) a Youtube show in which two friends played video games while cracking jokes. I believe it to be responsible, at least in part, for the trend of "Let's Play" videos on Youtube, where you can watch people play games, instead of playing them yourself. It's like being a younger brother, and having to wait for your older brother to finish playing a single-player game before you can play, except you're doing it to yourself on purpose.

Aside from being a chief exporter of 80% of my friends' inside jokes, The Game Grumps is also a decent source of music. Except they don't make the music; for whatever reason, some person once got it into their head that it would be a good idea to take words said by the Grumps, and autotune them into a song. For reasons lost to time, this caught on as a trend, and there are now hundreds of songs on Youtube consisting of remixes of things the Game Grumps have said on the air.

When questioned about possible involvement, Shenron declined to comment.

If that sounds like a recipe for terrible music, then, well, it kind of is. I won't deny that the majority of Game Grump Remixes are pretty bad. Garbage, even. But good stuff is out there, and some of it is pretty damn great, if you know where to look. xXJerryTerryXx is my favorite GGR composer, annoying naming conventions aside, and I also recommend Atpunk and liltommyj. Conveniently enough, the three have collaborated in the past, resulting in two Triforce Collaborations, though the second is a medley of a bunch of little bits of their previous songs, so it's probably bet to wait until you've heard those before you give it a listen. And while it may be a bit late to mention this now, a fair few of these songs contain crude language. So I don't want to hear complaints about the new words you learned when Jon described just which of his arms hurts.

Skullgirls Soundtrack

Favorite Song: In Just a Moment's Time (Credits)

Did you think it was over? Did you think I was done gushing over Skullgirls? (NO ECCHI) Well, that's too bad, because there's plenty more where that came from. I'm not sorry.

Obligatory image "borrowed" from Lou Tennant
First of all: That credits song. I admit, it's something of an acquired taste. But goddamn if it isn't one that I'm extremely glad I acquired. The singer's voice has an unusual quality to it that didn't really catch on with me until after I had heard it many times. But there is a chance that the song is being sung by a dread artifact through which the very threads of fate are spun by the Gods themselves, so I guess I'll give it a pass.

The second standout song of the soundtrack is the awesomely named "Skull Heart Arrhythmia", the battle theme of The Skullgirl. As a final boss song, it hits all the right notes, so to speak. The haunting chorus at the beginning sets up an appropriately climactic feel for the battle, and the jarring shift to a more frantic melody later on matches up well with The Skullgirl's more aggressive strategy as the fight wears on. If this fantastic song is meant to be an apology from Lab Zero games for making the final boss so unpleasant, then apology almost accepted. Almost.

I accept apologies the same way I beat Skullgirls. Almost

The whole soundtrack has more great songs than I could possibly link, but you can check it out on "music for poor people" app Spotify if you're interested.

Frozen Soundtrack

Favorite Song: Let it Go

While this list is full of things that were created before 2013, then discovered by me this past year, the opposite is true of Frozen. The movie hit theaters in 2013, but that wasn't the year I watched it. For the sake of simplicity, let's just say I watched it in 2014. The main reason I'm including it here is because it's the only noteworthy movie from 2013 that I watched, and I don't feel like writing an entire list on movies with just one entry, because that kind of behavior is strictly in the domain of classless assholes.

But that's not to say that the music doesn't stand alone as worthy of this list. Frozen is a musical, (something that I didn't know going in) as well as a damn good movie. (something else that I didn't know going in) The film is a perfect mix of heartwarming, heartwrenching, and genuinely funny; it really stands up to the standard of children's movies established by Wreck-it Ralph. It has enough dumb jokes to keep kids entertained without being annoying, as well as real substantive humor, with a smattering of adult humor that's subtle enough to leave you legitimately questioning whether or not it was intentional. That said, if you don't crack a smile at a line like "Why have a ballroom with no balls?" being dropped in a children's movie, then either your heart is so Frozen that not even a kiss from your true love can thaw it, (SPOILER: This is a movie about princesses) or you possess some sense of decency. Either way, you make me sick.

But this is a list about music, not my repressed desire to be a pretty, pretty princess. That post is still in the works. So I guess I should say something about the music. It's... uh... super good? Sorry, this entry is a bit of a fixer-upper. For instance, those spoilers I just linked to.


As before, this post is (mostly) about music that I discovered and enjoyed during the year of 2013, rather than music actually released in 2013. And with that disclaimer, my Top Pun lists for 2013 are officially concluded. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I loathed writing them. And on that note, I'd just like to state that there is a good chance that it'll be awhile until my next post. My workload for college has gotten yet more intense, and I can't say I've many ideas on what to write about. Until next time, this is Havoc Mantis, signing off.

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