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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

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The things I do for the rubber duck brand

40 cards in 8 stacks, 300 diamonds (in-game currency) to flip each card, and on the 32nd try I get this:

Admiral Nautica in her bathtime ducky costume

The game is Valkyrie Connect, a “gacha” mobile game of collecting fighters to defeat monsters blah blah blah whatever, it’s an amusing way to pass an hour or so per day, give or take. When this latest event appeared in which the publishers clearly expect folks to plunk down ridiculous amounts of money, my first thought was, “Like hell I will.”

My second thought was, “oh crap Nautica gets a rubber duck, I’M DOOMED.”

Turns out, I didn’t need to spend very much money. Ahem.

3WA 2018 #11: Yoshida Brothers – Best Of Yoshida Brothers | Tsugaru Shamisen

In my youth I railed against “best of” sets. “Go buy the regular albums, there are hidden gems to be found there!”

I got better.

What is it?

Best of Yoshida Brothers | Tsugaru Shamisen is a 2008 compilation of thirteen songs by the Yoshida Brothers. The brothers themselves play the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument which superficially resembles a banjo, while accompanied by a variety of instrumentalists.

How does it sound?

And now for something completely different:

Why this pick?

Years ago I quipped here that I like two kind of music: Pop, and Rock. That was somewhat facetious on my part. Hook me with the right kind of introduction and I’ll follow your band off the beaten path a little ways, at least. In this case the hook was the music video for “Rising.” (Don’t bother searching YouTube for it, it’s long since been scrubbed of any decent-quality versions.)

I waffled for a while on whether to track down several individual albums or just punt to the best-of. Since the best-of was the most readily available option and removed the task of figuring out which is the “best” starter record, here we are.

Which songs are the highlights?

The aforementioned “Rising” really is the star of the show, but I also recommend “Storm” and the remix version of “Kodo” (two versions appear on this compilation) as high-quality upbeat material.

Of the slower paced fare, I most enjoy “Overland Blues” and the compilation’s closing selection, “Morricone,” a piece which is the best homage to spaghetti western soundtracks since Metallica covered “The Ecstasy of Gold” for their S&M show.

Which songs don’t work so well?

And here’s where I cheat and break the format.

I couldn’t tell you which of the other tracks do or don’t work, because this entire style is so far outside my normal experience that I don’t have a frame of reference from which to adequately judge. Nothing on this album is actually jarring or unpleasant, and several of the songs I haven’t named are in my “BGM” mood list. This is a case where, if this is what you’re in the mood for, anything here will suit that mood.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

My other Japanese-culture pick would’ve been the Geinoh Yamashirogumi release of the music from the Akira anime film. That would’ve been too many 1988 records in an 80s-heavy lineup, however. While it might have been more interesting to write about, it also wouldn’t have been as joyful a recommendation. So here we are.

Any final thoughts?

I officially endorse “best of” records for when you aren’t sure where the hell to start with a new band.

Yes, my pre-millenium self would see the above statement and cringe in horror. Things change!

3WA 2018 #10: Genesis – Selling England By The Pound

It’s my birthday weekend, I’ll fanboy if I want to.

What is it?

Selling England By The Pound is the 1973 album by Genesis, totaling eight songs of wildly varying length. The album is not quite as old as I am.

How does it sound?

It’s mixing better in your sampler:

Why this pick?

Full disclosure time: Knowing that I was restricting myself to one album by a given artist, and knowing that I could easily have flooded this year’s roster with Genesis-related albums, I picked Selling England primarily because it’s my favorite album featuring the main five guys. That forced me to not end up picking a Phil Collins record and a Mike (Rutherford) + The Mechanics record and a record from one of Tony Banks’ projects and a Peter Gabriel record and, oh, GTR or something-or-other involving Steve Hackett.

It helps that this is a great Genesis album, though. This isn’t a gimmick selection.

Which songs are the highlights?

Two of the all-time heavyweight great classic Genesis pieces come from this album: “Firth of Fifth” and “The Cinema Show.” In an album well stocked with lengthy, meandering, somewhat-ridiculous prog-rock pieces, those are the standouts. I never tire of either song, in nearly any recorded rendition.

(Side note: There’s an album by Yngve Guddal and Roger T Matte called Genesis for Two Grand Pianos Vol 2 which features the best version of “The Cinema Show” not recorded by actual Genesis band members.)

We also get what’s considered the band’s first hit single with “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).” Nowadays I mostly just quote the opening spoken bit: “It’s one o’clock and time for lunch, dum de dum de dum dum…”

The other two eight-minutes-plus songs on the record are good, if not really great. “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” is more interesting for its instrumental bridge section than for its lyrical content, while “Battle of Epping Forest” is nearly the opposite.

Speaking of instrumental sections, “After The Ordeal” is four enjoyable minutes of musical goofing-around.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“More Fool Me” is kind of a quiet dud. (Sorry, Phil. You do a better job as lead singer a few years later!) And “Aisle of Plenty” isn’t really a proper song so much as an odd two minutes of coda following up on “The Cinema Show” with a callback to “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” so it’s a bit unfair to call it out like this, but there you go.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I briefly considered going with Calling All Stations. It’s criminally underrated, for starters, and it would’ve covered the last-added of the official band members (singer Ray Wilson) while freeing me up to use a Peter Gabriel album elsewhere in the year. And maybe one of Phil’s. Maybe.

Did I mention criminally underrated? I have opinions, y’all. The temptation was quite strong.

I could have done one of these project posts for each of nearly everything in the Genesis catalog. The decision-making wasn’t hard at all, though.

Any final thoughts?

While I’m on a tear about it, sure: I wish they’d gotten a second album out with Ray Wilson. The potential was huge, and hugely wasted. Seeing what would’ve happened once Wilson was a fully-integrated creative partner would’ve been fascinating and (I’m certain) enjoyable.

On the other hand, I want to travel to the alternate timeline wherein Kevin Gilbert survived to audition to be the new singer for Genesis. Arguably the biggest and most talented Genesis fanboy ever to record his own album, Gilbert would’ve brought something interesting to the table, make no mistake.

In this timeline, however, what we’ve got is what we’ve got. I’ll leave you with a quick list of essentials, the Genesis albums I love best:

  • Selling England By The Pound
  • Duke
  • A Trick of the Tail
  • Calling All Stations
  • Invisible Touch

I’m sure I just offended nearly every other Genesis fan on the planet with that list, somehow. Oh well!

3WA 2018 #9: The Church – Gold Afternoon Fix

Late February, 1990. An Australian band which had burst into the public consciousness of a U.S. audience with their previous record releases a follow-up, hopeful to continue and expand that level of success.

Yes, another one.

What is it?

Gold Afternoon Fix is The Church’s follow-up to the popular and highly-regarded Starfish album. Thirteen songs and nearly an hour long, it’s a real swing-for-the-fences effort.

How does it sound?

Back in the sampler mix, circuses and elephants:

Why this pick?

This is an easy one: It’s the only album from this band that I really like. It came out at about the same time as the Oils’ Blue Sky Mining, I knew The Church from the singles off their last record and I liked the lead-off single from this one, so I bought it. Note that going into the 1990s I worked a burger-flipping job and my only real expenses were my share of rent on a tiny apartment and keeping food in my belly, so most of my income was disposable. I was willing to buy pretty much anything that caught my eye. Or ear, as it were.

Weird thing is, The Church isn’t really my kind of band normally. Listening to other songs of theirs I’ve heard paints the picture of a band operating in a drug-addled haze most of the time. You get some of the same feel from Gold Afternoon Fix but it works better here, somehow.

Basically, through no intention or fault of the band’s own, they ended up making a record that veers into my preferred territory.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Pharaoh” and “Metropolis” start things off normally enough, then “Terra Nova Cain” brings in a new level of trippy sci-fi weirdness.

My standout favorites are the snarky little “You’re Still Beautiful” later in the record and the album’s six-minutes-long closing piece, “Grind.”

Which songs don’t work so well?

There’s a middle stretch to the album, from “City” to “Essence,” where the songs aren’t very engaging. “Monday Morning” has the benefit of being the shortest track on the album, at least.

Later there’s the somewhat-aptly-named “Disappointment.”

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

Had I not picked Gold Afternoon Fix I’d have not picked a Church record at all. Other than the two singles, most of Starfish doesn’t gel for me.

From numeric necessity, of course, I ended up passing over a bunch of artists entirely when selecting this year’s roster. Maybe I’d have gone with Disturbed’s Ten Thousand Fists or something. Who knows?

Any final thoughts?

While the band didn’t get what they wanted out of this album or the process of its creation, the results are better than folks generally give it credit for. The studio wanted another album loaded with hits like “Under The Milky Way” and instead we got… all of this. It’s a helluva thing and I genuinely adore this hot mess of a record. Every song here ranges from decent to great, and I don’t hate any of them. It’s hard to find an entire album of ten or more songs without a 2-star or lower blip in the lineup but here we are.

And that’s why Gold Afternoon Fix earned its place in this year’s run.

Comparing the two Australian bands’ albums which came out within days of one another was an amusing exercise. Pointless, maybe, but irresistible. My conclusion? While Midnight Oil made a very good record, I think The Church made a more interesting one.

3WA 2018 #8: Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining

Late February, 1990. An Australian band which had burst into the public consciousness of a U.S. audience with their previous record releases a follow-up, hopeful to continue and expand that level of success.

What is it?

Blue Sky Mining is Midnight Oil’s follow-up to the popular and highly-regarded Diesel & Dust album, consisting of ten more tracks of the brand of politically-charged rock-n-roll that made them famous.

How does it sound?

How sounds the sampler on this winter’s night:

Why this pick?

There are more important Oils records. There are Oils records which are held in higher critical regard. Blue Sky Mining occupies an interesting sweet spot, however. It’s the band at the height of their powers, delivering a solid record with some gorgeous stand-out tracks and almost no duds.

Yet somehow this album is also the safest thing they’ve ever done. How do you follow a popular and acclaimed world-wide hit record? By very carefully giving audiences more-or-less what they want, in this case. This somewhat mellower Midnight Oil phase continues right up to the release of the in-your-face Redneck Wonderland several records down the road.

Which songs are the highlights?

Unlike the initial run of Star Trek movies, this album’s highlights are on the odd rather than the even numbers. It leads off with the big hit single, “Blue Sky Mine.” Two songs later, “Bedlam Bridge.” Two songs later, the gorgeous “Mountains of Burma.” Two songs later, “River Runs Red.” The pattern continues and breaks with the ninth & tenth songs, the outstanding pairing of “One Country” and “Antarctica” (one of my all-time favorite Oils tunes).

Seriously, “Antarctica” is just plain beautiful.

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Shakers and Movers” is the only dull thud for me here. It sort of vaguely comes off as being something like a love song, almost, and boy howdy are the Oils not good at those. Other than that I’d say “King of the Mountain” and “Forgotten Years” are by-the-numbers tunes which are listenable enough but don’t stick in the mind much past the final fade-out.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

It could’ve been either of the “red” albums (Redneck Wonderland or Red Sails in the Sunset) or else 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. Not that I couldn’t make a case for most things in the catalog other than Capricornia or Breathe, mind you. Sure, this is an angry band in a lot of ways, but they deliver that anger with such infectious energy that it doesn’t bring you down, it lifts you up and gives you energy and strength.

Any final thoughts?

Due to an interesting coincidence I didn’t notice until it was revealed by the spreadsheet I’m using to track this project, next week’s entry will, indeed, count as shenanigans…

3WA 2018 #7: Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

“Well space is there, and we’re going to climb it.”

What is it?

The Race For Space is Public Service Broadcasting’s second full album release, part of a sequence of records centered on a specific arc of historical events. Over the course of nine songs they hit a number of both high and low points along the path of what’s now called “the space race.”

How does it sound?

Everyone’s tuning in to the bleep bleep of the sampler mix:

Why this pick?

When it comes right down to it, I picked this one because “Gagarin” and “Go!” are the best possible introductions to what this band is about: Great musical grooves and audio clips from archival film footage married together in an unexpected but often entertaining way. Their first full album is titled Inform-Educate-Entertain and they do, in fact, deliver on that mandate here.

Basically, if you like this one? Lucky you! There’s the previous album, there’s the superb War Room EP, and there’s the latest album, Every Valley.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Gagarin” gets you grooving and takes up residence in your head for days afterward. “Go!” is almost as upbeat, though part of what makes it compelling is that it’s basically about the Apollo 11 landing itself. I can’t help but get caught up in that moment, every time. “E.V.A.” is nearly as groove-inducing as “Gagarin,” and “The Other Side” is another nice piece, mellower than the others but still plenty enjoyable.

Which songs don’t work so well?

It seems unfair to say that the title track doesn’t work, as it’s really just the JFK “we choose to go to the moon” speech with some backing music meant to serve as a short lead-in to the album proper. And then there’s “Fire in the Cockpit,” which is a somber piece for a tragic moment in the history of space flight. Neither is bad, but you probably won’t cue them up very often either.

“Valentina” is… nice, I guess? Not my speed or style, really.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

The clear runner-up is the War Room EP: Four nearly perfect songs followed by one short unmemorable piece. I recommend it most highly if you dig anything you hear from The Race For Space. Heck, though, if you dig this record you should just buy all the rest of their stuff anyway.

Any final thoughts?

I’m amused that one of my longest-running favorite bands and one of my newest favorites share an acronym. It means, among other things, that I can make an “hour of PSB” smart playlist in MediaMonkey and get good songs by two different musicians.

I considered putting this back to back with Fundamental to make a brief PSB-a-thon, but decided against it. There will be plenty enough opportunities for shenanigans later this year…

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