Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Night Watch

I forgot to mention a few weeks ago that I finished reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Despite the very different era and story format, it still has the feel of a Waters novel but I found it to be a bit lacking. The story starts in 1947 and works backward - it starts off with characters in a dark place and they're given to you without any backstory -- you find out about why they are doing what they are doing, how they got to be where they are, etc. by slowly being given their story as you go back through time. It's a really cool way of filling us in, revealing the mystery.... My only problem was that I was expecting the novel to twist and pull the rug out from under me like in the previous two Waters novels. Instead, I found the story kind of predictable and the ending disatisfying. I wanted to know much more about the characters than what we were given.

Good points were that the characters were really interesting and the backward format was well done. I liked the story itself and the telling of it. I just wish the story were longer and fuller. The lack of length and depth left me wanting more in a very wistful way -- because the story starts in despair and goes backward to a more hopeful time, you do end up feeling a bit more hopeful but again in a wistful way. Maybe that was her point. That after all is said and done, we look back to better times.

Gokujou Seitokai and Azumanga Daioh

Trey and I have started watching Gokujou Seitokai which is full of more WTF-goodness (and most of it in Pucchan) than in most other anime I've seen so far. I think the whole Pucchan puppet character *alone* has more WTFness than Sana-chan of Kodocha - okay, easily. Just... WTF? *laughs* Oh, it's too good. And we've only seen four episodes. :D

Trey also started me on Azumanga Daioh which possibly has the best "pat-on-the-head" character of all time in the form of Ayumu "Osaka" Kasuga. What's great about this anime is how realistic a lot of the humor really is. For instance, at one point Osaka is spacing out in class but at the same time is like she's intently following something around in the air. The first thing that came to mind with the way her eyes were moving is when you look at the sky and see dust motes floating across your eye itself and as you follow them they dart away, so you look back to the starting point and there they are again. And it turns out that is *exactly* what she was doing! ROFL! And here I thought I was the only one. ;)

Monday, April 24, 2006


When I look back at my very oldest entries, it is apparent I didn't really know what to do with myself once I obtained an LJ account during its famed "invite only" era. It has eventually evolved into an amalgam of sorts, a multi-purpose area that I use for a few things. Mainly, that would be to 1) Keep my friends updated on my life and to 2) Journal, to rant and rave and think out loud about everything. These are the two main reasons for my LJ existing. But secondarily, I keep my LJ to meet people with similar interests and to talk about and do creative stuffs involving those interests. This last element is something I simply cannot do in person so in a way this secondary reason really could be an integral reason for my LJ's being.

Beyond that, LJ is my social life in a masochistic sort of way. Masochistic in that people are generally pretty busy and response time to real time problems often doesn't line up -- which really is my own problem of needing to be a little more self-sufficient, I suppose. It's hard to quantify how much of it is my own fault/problem when I'm so isolated in my life at the moment. Like, even if I get my drivers licencse, say, where am I going to go? I don't like social places. Introverts simply don't hang out. Anyhoo, that's not really the point of my post.

Okay, we have established LJ is yay social life. :D

I don't like timeframes, I really don't. I tend to keep my life as flexible as possible so that should the mood take me or someone gives a call, I can usually take leave and go do something at a moments notice, or at least with shorter notice. I'm pretty good with email and will generally reply as soon as I read it - which is actually due to the fact I recieve so little email. But I like LJ so much better because most of the people I care to communicate with are on LJ. Not everyone has time to chat, so by posting I can tell everyone everything all at one time in a format that people can read at their leisure.

I like the comment structure. I like that it's all self-contained (although now Gmail is kind of built the same way - I find Gmail really appeals to the LJ side of me).

I love the design of LJ. Its clean, uncluttered, and easy to follow. People can make a visual mess of their journals but they generally have to really go out of their way to do so.

I love that the user info page is seperate from the blog bit of the page, kind of like the foyer from the house. Again, navigation is pretty straightforward there.

I like that communities look exactly like regular journals so there's no confusion as to how they work.

I... heh, I was going to list a bunch of other little things but thinking about it, it's all navigation stuff. Interests, communities, just -- all of it is so simple.

I also like that the basic information that you can plug into your Info page is just that - basic. And you don't have to give info you don't want to give. MySpace, in comparison, makes it look like a dating site - height, weight, age, sexual orientation.... If you WANT you can plug all that info into your user info text area but really, who cares? I'm not going to read your journal differently if you are 5'2" as compared to if you were 6'2". I mean, seriously.

To me, that lack of information makes journals seem a little more... serious, I guess. Though definetly not all journals are serious - and there are plently of blinky-meme filled LJ's just like you find on MySpace. They just seem to be a little fewer between.

I like that LJ was made by a single guy, a home grown type of thing that is run by a smallish company who is gonna keep it relaxed and not cluttered with ads and all that crap.

All in all, LJ is a place I actually feel GOOD about paying an optional $25 for a paid account. I am not much of a power user but I do like having that much more flexiblity and it just feels good to support something so well designed. :D

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Feng Zhu [art]

Feng Zhu is an awesome artist. He's done designs for all kinds of things, from video games to movies, comics to television shows - including Stargate. What I really like are his digital sketches and the simplicity of them, but how he can turn them into something fantastic with a little color and strong lighting.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Symphonic/Goth Metal

Symphonic goth/metal

A Wikipedia article about Symphonic Metal
A Wikipedia article about Gothic Metal

Symphonic goth metal is basically unheard of in America. The closest thing we have is Evanescence (which I don't care for) and even then it's still not anything like its European cousin/predecessor. From the vast amount of symphonic goth/metal [sgm] bands, you'd think that's all they listened to over there. ;) It's definetly not like anything on the radio in the US, or possibly in the UK, either, seeing as how it's kind of hard to find even sgm stuff there (according to Trey, anyhow) and so for most Americans it seems to be an acquired taste.

The first I ever heard of it was when Trey showed me some songs by Dutch band Within Temptation. I knew one of their non-metal songs, "Neverending Story" from a Xena fan-vid that was made from the song. I was shocked to hear all this other music that they made. It was their not-so-metal stuff that pulled me in first. Songs like "Ice Queen" and "Dark Wings". Their older stuff contained "death growls" which are apparently typical of goth/dark metal and at first I didn't know what to make of them. The thing that got me beyond the death growls was the fact that the music was so intricately done and well performed. No two songs were alike and were all so very dynamic. The guitars weren't monotonous and were all very unique. The best part was the way that Sharon del Adel's voice (she's the female/main vocalist), despite its soprano, was piercingly strong and powerful, holding its ground with the heavy guitars and orchestra. Like a dove in the face of a storm. The immagery was fantastic and it just pulled me in.

I think the immagery is the main thing. SGM music is usually thematic. You could create an epic film using a single album from most of the bands. It's "musical" that way, almost sound trackish -- and generally I'm not big on musicals or soundtracks. I think because I saw that first Xena video I could see the power of the image within the songs. But strong immagery is part of SGM music, it seems -- usually medieval, fantasy, warriors, magic, ladies, vikings, stormy weather, lost love, romantisiced death, and all that is dark in that romantic way. This actually was not a selling point for me, but at least for Within Temptation, it did help pull the songs together. Listening to the albums like they are a story, like it's an aural film/story really helps the believeability for the American ear, I think. ;)

The next group I heard was Italian band Lacuna Coil. They're not really symphonic, just goth metal. All their albums could of been written in the same year for all the band evolves with their sound (or rather, doesn't -- it's more like they're slowly fine-tuning their stuff). They have two vocalists, one male, one female. The female sings on every song while the guy sings on about two thirds of them and sometimes does a harsher growlier voice, though genearlly never a "death growl" type of thing. With the dual dynamic, they can kind of do that stereotypical goth metal "soap operal" lyric thing, which isn't why I like Lacuna Coil. I like them because their guitars are so very unique and yet familiar. They don't sound like but they do remind me of Metallica - how you can tell a Metallica song anywhere, even if you've never heard it before, just because of the signature guitars and drums. Lacuna Coil has that same quality; the guitars and drums never get tired. Also, the female vocalist is more in the alto range and very powerful.

Some bands I've heard I really did not like at first- like Nightwish. Some SGM bands use a more operatic vocal that to me puts the music over the top into the realm of the absurd. (Wikipedia does, in fact, describe them as "opera metal"). Ugh.

In general, a lot of SGM bands I've heard seem to use soprano vocals in tandem with death growls. So far the only death growls I've ever been able to tolerate have been those in the first Within Temptation album (which, oddly, is my favorite of their albums - death growls and all). For me, the soprano vocals often tend to be too light and flighty; they don't hold their own with the power of the music.

Folk Metal: Leaves' Eyes

A Wikipedia article about Folk Metal

I recently discovered, quite by accident, the Norwegian folk metal band Leaves' Eyes when trying to find music by Lacuna Coil. They're once again interesting because of the folk element. Folk Metal tends to use native folk music elements. In the case of Leaves' Eyes their music hearkens back to the days of Vikings, and in fact their most recent album is about just that. (In fact, there is a sub genre called "Viking Metal", heh).

I made an offsite backup of their first album and for the most part it's pretty monotonous, actually. The vocalist sounds amazingly like Sarah Brightman, though not quite as strong and clear. They use some death growls here and there and they're quite badly done, unintelligible (you could actually mostly understand the death growls from Within Temptation) and just... un memorable. Leaves' Eyes' songs in general are not very strong - the songs all kind of run together and are not dynamic at all. Nothing pops out in most of them and it all sounds the same.

There are a couple jewels here and there, though, that I have become rather fond of. "For Amelie" is my very favorite, definetly more in the Folk Metal genre than in the symphonic/goth genre, and even then the guitars don't kick in til later. It's primarily a piano, fiddle, bass, and some kind of tinny folk stringed instrument - probably just an accoustic guitar. What makes it so great is the 3/4 time -- no one ever writes in 3/4 time. And 3/4 time with electric guitars (which, as I said, come in later) is even better. :D So the song overall has this almost lilting, wistful feel. I love it. If this genre sounds at ALL interesting to you, I reccomend this song.

I am working on making a backup of their more recent album, which seems a bit cleaner in terms of instrumentation, from what I can tell from four songs. So far, "For Amelie" is the lightest song by far on their first album. "Mourning Tree" is an even lighter song on their current album, mostly accoustic guitar with fiddle and flute, some keyboard strings, etc. - with no grinding guitars at all. I think they shine best when sticking closer to their folk element than to the goth/metal side of things.

I doubt anyone will find this particularly interesting; I just felt like writing. It's kind of a mini-rundown of my thoughts about European symphonic/goth metal and related bands that I've heard so far. Description of the music, what I like about it, what I don't like about it... We just simply don't have it here in America, and I wonder how many people are aware of it who might like it. Definetly an acquired taste for Far-Western ears but fun nonetheless.