2015 in music: Far on the Water

Aaand…now for something new. Released shortly after the CD version (and right around the time of my other most-anticipated album of 2015, but more on that later), I now have the limited vinyl edition of Kalafina’s latest full-length: Far on the Water. Their last two singles had been given the analogue treatment, so I was hopeful that their next LP would be released in the same way…and here it is.

The artwork is the most “minimalist” of their albums so far, but it still looks great in full 12″-sized format with the discs in plastic inner sleeves accompanied by a large lyric sheet. Going on my previous experiences with Japanese vinyl releases (Praparat and Noise by Boris and Level3 by Perfume, for those curious) this is pretty standard, and I can’t fault the quality either. The discs are plain black vinyl with no sign of scratches or warping, and sound excellent on a decent home hi fi setup. Because it’s an album produced in today’s CD-dominated era, the track listing is too long for one vinyl disc so it’s split across two…which gave the ideal opportunity to package it in a gatefold sleeve with more photo artwork inside.

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Stepping back into 2008 with Re/Oblivious

There’s been some heated discussion in fan circles just lately about the recent output and the future direction of composer/songwriter Yuki Kajiura’s Kalafina project. Since hearing them for the first time in early 2009, I’ve seen them grow from a movie theme tune side-project to being a chart-friendly act playing the prestigious Budokan, which I believe holds the same level of kudos as a UK act “playing Wembley”.

I started trawling the used market for some of the more obscure and hard-to-find items in their back catalogue, outside of the usual CD singles, live DVDs, T-shirts and squishy shark-shaped phone charms (don’t ask). Some of the releases are already out of print, but the b-sides and other rarities can be some of the most interesting. The one thing I’d been looking out for over the years was the little-known Re/Oblivious.

With the benefit of hindsight, the CD’s plastic inner sleeve is a weird little prediction of their most recent releases getting vinyl editions

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Examining the personal side of technology in Channel 4’s Humans

By now, we’re probably familiar with A.I. and realistic androids in cinema. I sometimes wonder whether there’s anything new to add to a theme that’s still years away from actually *happening*, especially when moments like Rutger Hauer’s “tears in the rain” speech at the end of Blade Runner are so iconic. Then Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Time of Eve happened. And then, unusually for mainstream TV, Channel 4 gave us Humans.

In a similar way to Black Mirror, which incidentally was also the approach in Time of Eve, Humans is ‘soft’ SF that concentrates on the social and emotional repercussions of technological advances while downplaying the nuts-and-bolts details. In my view it’s a wise decision: we’re not currently at an advanced enough level to create real humanlike robots, so explaining how stuff like operating systems, battery life and other details might actually *work* wouldn’t have been time well spent when there are other interesting, and relevant, avenues to explore.

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall (on your desk, in your home, in your pocket…)

I can remember once doing a GCSE English coursework assignment on the portrayal of fear and horror in Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds and the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. I didn’t enjoy Poe’s stuff at the time, and I’ve never been much of a horror fan anyway; I thought du Maurier’s book was cool and unusual though.


The main argument in my essay (I wish I’d kept it: I got an A!) was inspired by an article I’d previously read in the monthly magazine that was later rebranded BBC Focus, on the possible origins of horror stories (theories that vampire myths originate from symptoms of the medical condition porphyria, and so on). It also explained the psychology behind horror writing, and I wish I’d been able to keep a copy of that article too.

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Your Lie in April and Nodame Cantabile: music is the food of love

While keeping up with currently airing/streaming TV, I recently watched Your Lie in April. Its premise of classical music performance reminded me of those times I’d been recommended Nodame Cantabile, in that weird way that often happens. It’s a barely-noticeable drip-feed of “this is cool. You might like it…” over many months or even years, finally reaching critical mass after being reminded through something else, and practically forcing me sit down to watch the thing then wondering where it had been all my life.

Source: Pixiv (click pic for original)

In a recent Twitter conversation I was asked the very good question, “which is better?” but sadly could only come up with a “that depends…” cop-out answer. For the record, I personally enjoyed Nodame… more, but I don’t know how helpful that would be to anyone else. Sorry. Here’s why.

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My thoughts on Psycho-Pass season 1

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Netflix is pretty great. The convenience of having so much stuff available with just a few button presses of my remote can’t be overstated, especially when Real Life circumstances have left me with more free time than I know what to do with in the past few months. Their anime selection is pretty good too.

Take Psycho-Pass. Somehow it slipped under my radar, as things annoyingly all too often seem to do. With hindsight I can’t even explain why, because I soon discovered how it ticks so many boxes in terms of setting, writing and, well, pretty much everything.

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RPM Challenge 2015 submission

It’s that time of year again…four weeks shut away indoors, tied to my keyboard and frantically trying to get ten songs or 35 minutes of sound down to (digital) tape. There are no prizes or awards for this – Record Production Month is open to anyone with the time and tenacity, whether they’re professional musicians/songwriters or enthusiastic amateurs.

I just like the motivation to *do something*, and for some reason find working under a constraint like this to be helpful as well as limiting. For we OCD and perfectionist types, it does mean we don’t really have the option of retakes, extensive planning or laborious ironing-out of bum notes. It’s a bit rough, chaotic and making-it-up-as-you-go-along.

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Doing the Danse Macabre to Death Parade

Back when I saw Death Billiards for the first time, I thought it was a fantastic little oddity that had a lot of mileage in its premise and storytelling. Even so, the cynic in me was resigned to the fact that it didn’t have enough guns and tits to have broad popularity outside of the Anime Mirai project and be a serious contender for a full TV series; despite it ticking all the boxes for being one of those things that has me personally grinning like a loon for twenty-five minutes and wanting to write about it afterwards. I’ve come to realise my tastes are a little weird sometimes.

A wonderful place where you’ll never miss last orders

In this case however, the TV Gods were merciful and this quirky little thing was given a fighting chance and its role shifted to being that of a pilot for its TV incarnation, Death Parade. I never did get around to writing about Death Billiards, but after two episodes of its spin-off my opinion on it hasn’t changed: it’s bloody brilliant. I just hope that enough people share my admiration for it.

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Kanae Minato: Confessions

Comparisons between an adaptation of a written work and the original are always interesting, even if the piece of film or TV is inferior to the story that it’s based on. In rare instances the adaptation proves to be even more enjoyable than the book that inspired it (the only one that springs immediately to mind however is Satoshi Kon’s mind-bending animated film of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel Paprika) but it can still encourage you to view the source material in a slightly new light. It feels a bit awkward to me when I experience the adaptation first though, because there’s that nagging feeling that my appreciation of the original is being clouded somehow.

For instance: I picked up (and reviewed, if you’re interested) Tetsuya Nakashima’s schoolroom psycho-thriller Confessions long before the English translation of Kanae Minato’s novel. If you have seen the film and are familiar with the story right up to its shocking denouement, I still recommend the book: inevitably, there are certain plot points that were edited out to fit the flow of the movie, but the shift in emphasis means that the novel is still a refreshing and rewarding experience. You certainly won’t get *quite* the same feeling as you would from the film even if, say, you read it with a Boris album playing in the background or something.

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MONO: Rays of Darkness and The Last Dawn

Just when you start to wonder what one of your favourite bands is up to, their next offerings turn up like buses: long awaited, and arriving two at once.

It’s a real challenge for music artists who work the treadmill of recording and touring to keep their output fresh and varied, especially when their line-up remains unchanged throughout their career. MONO have apparently been grappling with that issue, and although they’ve broadened their horizons by contributing to a TV mini-series and collaborating with a couple of indie filmmakers since their last studio effort, the move to release not one but two albums at the same time is I think quite a turning-point.

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