At Last – “Humanz” Review

It’s a good time to be a music fan. Fall Out Boy is pushing their new album, “Mania”… Walk the Moon is back in the studio… and the band that taught me how to love music finally released a new album.

It’s been seven years since Gorillaz last released an album, and in that seven years I had more or less lost all hope of ever seeing them again. I’ve definitely mentioned how important they were to me in my formative years before, but it’s worth restating. It was in a car listening to Feel Good Inc. when I decided to ask my dad why there were people cackling maniacally in the background. My dad had no idea, but he did know that the band was made up of cartoon characters, which was the CRAZIEST THING EVER to my small brain. I went home and immediately looked them up.

Several days of Wikipedia and Youtube surfing later, I was a dedicated fan. I familiarized myself with the lore and fell in love with the fictional 2D, Noodle, and Russel. (I wasn’t too fond of Murdoc. I’m still not.) And there was something about them… maybe it was their off-kilter style, something different than what I usually heard on the radio. Maybe it was Damon Albarn’s characteristic mumble that drove me to take pride in figuring out the lyrics and their meanings. Maybe it was the fact they were the first band that was all my own, something I discovered for myself and enjoyed on my own terms. Either way, Gorillaz has stuck with me for years.

And then, “Humanz” came out. And I’ll be honest… I was a little worried. It’s always hard when something you loved as a kid comes back. Nostalgia can really change the way you view something. I figured there was no way this new album could ever rival the band I fell in love with when I was younger and full of wonder. And, yeah, I was right. My first listen through of this album didn’t excite me except when it reminded me of “Demon Days”, which is my favorite album of theirs.

But then, I kept listening to it. And I gave it a chance on it’s own. And I realized… “Humanz” is really good. It’s really, really good. Its got a voice all it’s own, but it also really stays tuned to some of the things that made Gorillaz really great. I’ll talk about this specifically for each track, but if you hear people putting this album down for not living up to the hype, don’t listen to them. This album deserves to stand on its own.

Also, I wanted to address two other major criticisms I’ve seen floating around around this album. One, that it’s too feature-heavy. To that, I’d argue that Gorillaz has always been a collaboration. None of the members are actually real, and the only consistent contributor music-wise is Damon Albarn. So to say a Gorillaz album is too feature heavy… I mean, dude, just go listen to Blur or something. Plus, Damon/2D gets lots of great parts on this album!! In almost every song!! Chill!!

Second, that it’s too political. Which… ugh. I don’t even really want to argue against this point, because it’s idiotic. Gorillaz has always been political. ALWAYS. They’ve done songs about gun control, about urban decay, about the dumbing-down of media… hell, their entire last ALBUM was about global warming! It was called “Plastic Beach”! What else would it be talking about?

Too political… god. The complete idiocy…

Uh… where was I? Oh yeah, Gorillaz! “Humanz”! The new album! I’m sorry, I’ll actually get to the review. What follows is a quick little track-by-track review. I skipped the interludes because they’re mainly just quick flavor or sly little statements, and there’s not much for me to say about them. (But, The Non-Conformist Oath is hilarious and I adore it, and I can’t help but give it a shoutout)

(((But, hey, if you’re not super familiar with Gorillaz yet, that’s cool! Before I dive into the new album, why not take a look at some of their old stuff too? It’s all really good. There’s of course their three hits, Feel Good Inc., Dare, and Clint Eastwood. They all deserve their popularity, of course (I love Dare with every fiber of my being, and of course Feel Good Inc. was the song that started it all for me), but I’ll just give you a quick little list of my other favorites in case you’re interested: The SwaggaEl Manana, Broken, Empire Ants (***MY FOREVER FAVORITE***), To Binge, and 19-2000 (Soulchild Remix).)))

Ascension (Feat. Vince Staples)

“Ascension” is a deep, scathing commentary on the state of police violence in America. It’s angry, it’s desperate. And… that’s all I feel I can really say about it. See, firstly, this song is very rap-heavy. Gorillaz has always had a pretty solid rap presence, but I’m not the most knowledgeable about rap. I enjoy this song, but I don’t feel like I have the language or knowledge to criticize it. Plus, it’s not made for me. I’m a white girl living in an affluent society, and Vince Staples is a young black man who has had to deal with racism, hatred, ignorance, and violence I will never have to deal with.

For that reason, this song is worth listening to, and reading in on the lyrics. But as far as my own personal commentary goes, there’s not much I can (or should) say.

Strobelite (Feat. Peven Everett)

Now we get into the songs I actually feel capable speaking about. (Well, mostly.) “Strobelite” is an upbeat, funky little number about the unpredictability of life. So dance!!!

Jokes aside, this song (and really most of this album) is surprisingly hopeful despite its heavy focus on the end of the world. It’s borne of a world where things are going really bad, yet people feel the need to cling to hope and keep fighting. It’s a message I really appreciate from this album, and something I found myself resonating with again and again.

Shoutout to Peven Everett, who adds his really gorgeous vocals to this track. Vocal-wise, I also really like the subtle backup singers.

Saturnz Barz (Feat. Popcaan)

Before I say anything else, I wanted to talk for a second about how much I like the “z” motif in this album. HumanZ, SaturnZ BarZ, MomentZ, etc. etc… it’s a cute little nod to their name, and I love cute things like this. I’m possibly overthinking this, but what if it’s also a reference to the end of the world this album is so focused on? Z is the last letter of the alphabet, and this album is about the last gasps of humanity, joyous or no, before the end of the world… Yeah, I’m definitely overthinking this.

“Saturnz Barz” is a real auditory shoutout to the sound of “Demon Days”, and for that reason it’s like a familiar friend to me. If you’re an old fan of Gorillaz, this is a good track to hop back on board with, since I think it pays homage to their old style while also having a certain unique polish they’ve picked up through “Plastic Beach”.

The tone is somber and slow, and possibly even a little creepy. (I mean, after all, the music video features a haunted house.) Plus, 2D’s part is so gorgeous and subtle, adding to the ethereal quality of this track, like it’s pensive. And while Gorillaz certainly isn’t a stranger to reggae, it’s always a nice style to hear from them.

Momentz (Feat. De La Soul)

Speaking of shoutouts… I know I said I wanted to give this album a chance to stand on its own… but it’s De La Soul! You know, De La Soul, those guys from Feel Good Inc.! They’re back! And once more they’re here to make you dance.

This song has a great beat and I mean… what else does it really need to have? It’s got that swagger-y “I’m the best” type of lyrics and it just makes you feel good.

The ending is somewhat confusing, I’ll be honest. If you had told me that an upbeat party song where De La Soul returned to chill with Gorillaz again, I would not have guessed it would end with a tongue-in-cheek KKK joke… but hey, this album is full of surprises??? I’m all for belittling a white supremacist terrorist group, of course.

Submission (Feat. Danny Brown and Kelela)

Rather unsurprisingly, my favorite Gorillaz member has always been Noodle. For that reason, whenever “Noodle” takes over the vocals of a track, I’m instantly in love. “Submission” is the latest in a long and prestigious line of Noodle songs. Kelala’s voice is smooth and pleasant, and although Little Dragon will always and forever be my favorite Noodle, she holds the mantle really well.

This song is sad and pensive, but never loses a certain drive. It grabs you from the very beginning with the gorgeous vocals and keeps you along with it with the subtle electronic instrumentals. It’s not a large or bombastic song by any means, but it leaves a lasting impression. Probably one of my favorites off this album, for sure.

The rap part… kind of threw me off though. The somber, powerful tone felt kind of thrown off by Danny Brown’s unusual pronunciation in his rap bridge. But, you know, I’ve listened to it a bunch of times now, and I think I’ve grown used to it.

(At least he’s not Shaun Ryder in “Dare”)

Charger (Feat. Grace Jones)

This is a super weird song. And yet… I really enjoy it? I’m unclear on what exactly this song means, but I’m fairly used to Gorillaz’s lyrics being puzzling so that’s not too horrible. I could make a guess that this song is about the all-encompassing effects of technology on our lives… but that’s a guess.

It’s one of those Gorillaz songs that makes you really confused on the first listen, intrigued on the second, and absolutely hooked on the third. It’s relatively simple, mostly just a guitar riff, some electronic noises, and 2D’s and Grace Jones’s vocals echoing off of one another. The lyrics certainly don’t reveal anything about why this song exists, and yet, it works. It fits, as a catchy, oddball little track.

Andromeda (Feat. D.R.A.M.)

This is a really cool song. Has a nice, fast, walking beat, and a pretty strong focus on 2D’s vocals. I know I talked earlier about how much I appreciate the featured vocalists, but I’ll always love 2D, and it’s nice to see him prominently featured here. I think it’s a great song to match his subdued, smooth tone.

The instrumentals focus on an atmospheric tone, to match the astronomical title, and it’s a sound that just really works for Gorillaz. They’ve done clean electronica, dirty rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop, and even beach-side tunes… but once more they’ve found a new style to fit their music seamlessly into. A style I’d best describe as futuristic? Stellar? Who knows, words are hard.

(I also just really like the background vocals. But then, I always do.)

Busted and Blue

And finally we’ve arrived to the single, solitary Gorillaz-only track on this entire album. And god, is it ever beautiful.

It’s quiet, and features nocturnal sound effects, as well as some sort of strange beeping sound that could be a rusty windmill or an alien spaceship… and beyond that it’s up to 2D’s quiet vocals, the backup singers (always killing it), and some minimal instrumentation to carry the listener through.

I can’t help but read into the choice of having the one non-featured track be this slow, wistful ballad. I’m not sure whether it’s confirmed that this album will be the last for Gorillaz, but if it is, I’ll feel satisfied, I think. This band has had such an incredible impact on my life, and this album, while standing on its own, is also a beautiful homage to everything I love about Gorillaz. The collaboration, the bold political statements, the slightly off-kilter music, the odd and memorable lyrics… and I think “Busted and Blue” is a poignant illustration, at least to me, of all this band has done for me.

Carnival (Feat. Anthony Hamilton)

I’ve been pretty complimentary of most of the other tracks on this album so far, but don’t worry, there are some duds coming, this one included. Okay, fine, this one isn’t bad so much that it is forgettable for me. The hook is kind of uninspired and Anthony Hamilton is just alright. There’s nothing here for me, to be honest. Skip!

Let Me Out (Feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)

I first heard this song performed on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and I was honestly a little disappointed hearing it on the album. I felt like a lot of the raw power and emotion from the live performance was absent from the album version. I’m gonna assume this is just the sort of song that is better performed and enjoyed live! There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it doesn’t take away from the powerful lyrics and delivery.

Sex Murder Party (Feat. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz)

Another weird song, but this one didn’t work quite as well for me as “Charger” did. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t really get it I guess? It’s kind of catchy, but I’m not really sure what the point of having this song stuck in my head would be? It’s mostly just the title whispered over some drum beats. It also feels a little too “trying to be edgy” for me, which is not something I usually feel about Gorillaz. 2D has a nice enough part, I guess, but he’s had better parts in other tracks on this very same album. Forgettable. Skip!

She’s My Collar (Feat. Kali Uchis)

Hey, don’t worry, we’re back to tracks I really like. So nice of this album to arrange all of my duds into a little group like that so they don’t detract too badly from the rest.

2D gets some fast-paced, clever lyrics in this song, and next to the upbeat and and catchy hook, this is the sort of song I could see as a minor radio hit. I also really like Kali Uchis! Her voice has the same kind of sleepy quality as 2D, but with a clear and loud tone that makes her stand out from him as well. I’m also a big fan of the bouncy little 8-bit noises in the background. Too fun.

Hallelujah Money (Feat. Benjamin Clementine)

Ahh, “Hallelujah Money”. The first real listen I ever got to this album was when they dropped this song. The excitement of opening up YouTube to listen to a new Gorillaz song for the first time in seven years…

And yeah, this song is weird. But it’s also such a powerful criticism of the culture of the rich that dominates politics nowadays that the more you begin to understand the lyrics, the more Benjamin Clementine’s wandering, wavery tone starts to change from strange to beautiful. It’s a call to arms, a rallying cry against the corrupting power of money. I’m also crazy about the way 2D’s “When the morning comes / How will we know we are still human?” weaves in with the rest of the song, like an overarching question, asked again and again. It’s a question that is never truly answered, not by the song itself, but the next song is probably one of the reasons I love this album so much…

We Got the Power (Feat. Jehnny Beth)

And the answer to 2D’s repeated question from the last track comes in this unabashedly optimistic track about the power of unity and togetherness when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m so happy this song exists. Much of this album struggles with despair as the world around it seems to crumble, to end, and yet this is the song that the album ends with! (Well, the non-deluxe version, that is).

And this song preaches unity. Optimism. Believing that with hard work and perseverance, things can turn out alright in the end. And really, that’s an idea worth singing about.

Is it naive? No, I don’t think so. I think “Humanz” isn’t copping out in answering its gloomy questions with this rallying cry, rather, giving the only answer that has a chance to fix anything. We can talk about how the world is burning all we want and it doesn’t do a thing to extinguish the flames. No, the answer is to get up, join forces, and put it out ourselves. We got the power. It’s inspirational, it’s beautiful, and it’s the perfect ending to this album’s philosophical questions.

The Apprentice (Feat. Rag’n’Bone Man, Zebra Katz, and RAY BLK)

And so begins the five bonus tracks available on the deluxe version of this album. I’ll be honest, I raised an eyebrow at Rag’n’Bone Man being on this track, but it actually really works. I’ll be honest that I’m not too impressed with his song, “Human”, but his appearance on “HumanZ” is pretty enjoyable. (Haha, see what I did there?)

The best way to describe this song is “clean”, I think. It’s really catchy, too, probably one that will get some repeats on my playlists. Beyond that, though, I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s a strong, likable track.

Halfway to the Halfway House (Feat. Peven Everett)

Hey, who is this Peven Everett guy? I’m serious, I really like him. “Strobelite” is beautiful and so is this song. This is my own note to self that I need to go check him out, for sure. I love how this track constantly seems to build on itself, and how the discordant noises in the background play with the beautiful choral harmonies. This song has a really gospel feeling to it.

And mostly because I was curious as to why this song sings about “Cherryade” so much, I went and looked it up, and it turns out it’s a reference to the phrase “drinking the kool-aid”, meaning going along with a doomed or obviously dangerous plan. It’s a pleasant little statement on the status of our society, everyone going along with something that is clearly doomed. In that vein, the “Halfway House” mentioned in the title refers to a place after prison where those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities go for rehabilitation. I can’t decide whether being “halfway” to a place of rehabilitation is a positive statement or not… I suppose that’s up to the listener to decide.

Out of Body (Feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Imani Vonshá)

If you ever thought to yourself “I wonder which track off of this album is Gillian’s favorite?” congratulations, we’ve made it. I’m honestly kind of obsessed with this song. It’s simultaneously a fun party song and also a weird thematic track and that combination just tickles me.

I really like Kilo Kish’s vocals. They fit the weirdly mysterious tone of this song while also keeping up the fun danceable beat. I’ve seen a lot of people compare her to That Poppy, and yeah, I love That Poppy. Plus, shoutout to 2D! His vocals are really fun in this one too.

I love the framing of the seance being related to a party. I’ve heard millions of party songs but I’ve yet to hear it believably and cleverly related to some sort of supernatural ritual, and it’s amusing and clever. I think this song just really encompasses what I love about Gorillaz – they’re unafraid to take on tons of musical genres and make them completely unique and fascinating. This is a typical party dance song, and yet it’s made unique by the interesting supernatural motif and the way it seems to question itself, and the usual “who cares let’s party” mentality of most songs of its ilk (“Where am I going? What am I doing?”)

Also… I can’t stop listening to this song. It’s in my head constantly. Help.

Ticker Tape (Feat. Carly Simon and Kali Uchis)

“Ticker Tape” is a really traditional Gorillaz song, with a heavy focus on 2D’s vocals. I’m a big fan of this one for it’s smooth, slow sound. I like the simple role Carly Simon’s vocals play, and the touch of complexity in the outro as Kali Uchis’ vocals overlay 2D’s.

This song mainly concerns itself with technological progress and the possible negative effects it has on society. I feel generally iffy about this sort of commentary, because I believe a lot of these social statements blame the younger generations and call them brainwashed. I think this criticism is completely useless because it takes the blame completely off of older generations who are also just as responsible for abusing technology. That’s not the whole reason I dislike this sentiment, but it’s a big one, I guess. Thankfully, this song doesn’t fall into that trap and instead focuses on media’s integration into technology and how easy it is to remain inactive in our modern age. That’s the sort of criticism I can get behind – specific and not pointing fingers.

Circle of Friendz (Feat. Brandon Markell Holmes)

The last track off of the deluxe version! We’ve climbed this whole mountain together, haven’t we.

I like how the discordance of the breaking glass and sounds of destruction in the beginning with the repetition of the lyrics “circle of friends” is… surprisingly earnest, actually. Similar to “We Got the Power”, this song doesn’t really seem ironic about its insistence that with teamwork any problem can be overcome.  It’s a short track, and really repetitive, but seems to drive home the point I made earlier about “Hallelujah Money” and “We Got the Power” that this album is ultimately optimistic about the state of society. Even as it critiques where we are and compares it to the end of the world, it isn’t bleak. And at risk of repeating what I’ve already said, I really appreciate that. This song isn’t really a great one on its own, but as a wrap-up for this album, it works.

Overall, I love “Humanz”. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but honestly that’s not too surprising to me. Gorillaz could have churned out the most flawless album in the world and people would still be upset. After all, it’s been seven years since we’ve seen them last, and that sort of a gap makes the nostalgia wall difficult to scale. Personally, I think it’s a worthy successor to “Plastic Beach” and has reignited my love for this band. For real, I’ve spent a lot of time rediscovering all of my old favorite Gorillaz songs thanks to this album, and that alone is enough for me to give two thumbs up to it.

So, whether you’re a Gorillaz fan or not, I strongly advise you overall to check this album out. It’s solid, it has a great message and motif, and it’s just a lot of fun. Or, you know, check some of their older stuff out too. Fall in love with them the same way I did so long ago, I promise, it’s fun.

 

April Poetry

Somewhat on a whim, encouraged by a Twitter post I saw on April 1st, I took part in a personal challenge to write one poem per day during April. I found it to be a really great experience. A lot of the time, it was therapeutic to sit down and write about whatever was on my mind for that day. Still, I went back and forth throughout the month over whether or not I actually wanted to post them here.

My poetry has always felt like a personal thing, not something I really want to share everywhere and with everyone. The reasons for that stem mainly from the fact that a lot of my poems are directly taken from real life. Therefore, there are real people and real situations in these poems. It always makes me nervous to write publicly about these topics because, well, it toes a bit of a moral line for me. But a couple of factors convinced me to go ahead with it anyway, and they are:

  1. Not all of these poems are sensitive in this way, in fact, most of them aren’t.
  2. They don’t name any names nor use any real identifiable specifics.
  3. None of them are about bad or dangerous situations. Just little things, little conversations (And most of them are positive.)
  4. I’m really proud of most of these poems.
  5. The timing worked out perfectly for the last day of April being a Sunday, and how can I ignore that little twist of fate?
  6. It’s been kind of a crazy two weeks and I couldn’t just pass up this practically pre-made post idea.
  7. This whole year has been a year of me testing my boundaries, so why not, really?

With that all being said, I hope you enjoy my collection of poems. They range in quality, and some are kinda… out there, I guess?

(And for a last note, if you like to hear me talk about poetry, you can check out my last post on the subject)

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Gushing About Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun

When I started this blog on January 1st of this year, I made a promise to myself that I would post something new to this blog every single Sunday. As of now, April 23rd, I have yet to break this promise to myself. I don’t plan on breaking this promise to myself, either.

Less ingrained into this goal, however, is that every Sunday post be well-thought-out and carefully written. Ideally, every week I would be churning out excellent new ideas or posts that took lots of time and energy to compile.

But listen, I’m gonna be honest here. This week and next week are gonna be… kind of crazy. I already have a pretty low-effort high-quality idea for next week, but as for this week I was kind of at a lost.

And so, I decided that for today I am going to kick back, relax, and talk about something I really love. And I figured, why not make this a thing? I think the idea of having a series of posts that involve me just talking about something I really love might be a good thing. This won’t be a review, especially since I haven’t really watched this anime in a while. I’m not gonna go too horribly deep into analysis, and there certainly isn’t going to be much constructive criticism. No deep life meaning will be drawn. You and I are just going to get excited about this anime together.

Thus, for weeks like these when I don’t have much time to get too critical, I’ll post one of these “Gushing About…” posts. Maybe it’ll be an anime, like today, or a band or artist, or a TV show or book or movie or… gosh, anything really.

I should say firsthand that I’m probably going to be too worried about spoiling anything – although, honestly, in this anime there’s not much to spoil.

“Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun”, known in English as “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun”, and hereafter referred to as GSNK to save my fingers, is a shoujo slice-of-life anime centering on the life of a high school student named Sakura Chiyo. At the beginning of the series, Sakura has just made up her mind to confess her love for her fellow classmate Nozaki Umetarou. In true shoujo style, she looks into the mirror, fluffs her cute red ribbons, pats down her uniform skirt, and marches into the classroom.  Nozaki stands alone there, lit only by the fading orange sunset outside. Sakura steps over to him, takes a deep breath and stammers out her confession, cheeks red and blushing. Then, silence. She waits for Nozaki to speak, everything hinging on his reply…

…And Nozaki hands her his autograph.

While, yes, GSNK is a shoujo anime, and unapologetically so, from the very first scene you get the feeling it’s self aware. The humor is all exactly like this. It sets up like a stereotypical high school romance would, but the charm of the series is how it breaks these stereotypes in absurd ways.

If you’re wondering, the reason Nozaki gives Sakura his autograph is very simple! While he seems like a regular high school student, he’s actually incredibly popular shoujo manga artist Yumeno Sakiko, an artist praised for “her” incredible knowledge of the hearts of high school girls. In reality, though, Nozaki wouldn’t know love if it kicked him in the face. He’s far more interested in creating shoujo manga as an art, and he devotes much of his life to people-watching and observing the world around him as inspiration for the next installment of his popular manga series.

Nozaki, still under the impression that Sakura is a big fan of his manga, invites her over to his apartment and has her help him ink his art, and thus, the over-arching motif of the series begins. Nozaki has a habit of employing his friends into helping him meet his deadlines for his manga, and as the series progresses, the cast of characters who find themselves at Nozaki’s, helping him put in backgrounds or do screentones or draw effects grows steadily. At the same time, the series focuses on the lives of these high schoolers, and their relationships with one another.

I think the best part of GSNK is the strength of these characters. As I mentioned before, the series is well aware of the trappings of its genre, and plays with the stereotypes in a way that makes it both familiar and entirely unique.

nozakura

Sakura fits the bill as a shoujo heroine to a T – she’s cute and tiny, she has her signature polka-dot bows, and she’s motivated by, among other things, an unabiding passionate crush on her fellow classmate. But at the same time, Sakura often plays the straight man in much of the humor. And while, yes, her love of Nozaki is often played for laughs, it’s pretty clear that she’s well aware of his shortcomings. She’s often the first one to groan at his naivete, or crack sarcastic jokes about his obsessive tendencies.

And on top of that, Nozaki is far from your typical shoujo romantic interest. He is decidedly masculine-looking, but he’s not even remotely charming. He’s obsessively focused on his work. (In fact, his relationship with his characters in his manga is perhaps one of the most relatable things I’ve ever seen in any show ever. You truly do become both malevolent god and doting parent to your characters…) He’s deadpan and rather stupid, and yet… Sakura loves him anyway. And for his part, while he obviously doesn’t understand her, he definitely respects her and relies on her.

While Sakura does do some pining, the two of them actually spend a lot of time together, and seem to be pretty close. Most of the time, Sakura and Nozaki make a pretty good team, and many of their scenes together don’t have to rely on the romantic tension to be funny. (Consider the iconic scene, pictured above, where they both forget their umbrellas and have to make a mad dash home – shielded by Nozaki’s school jacket. It’s definitely not played up romantically, but it is hilarious.)

wakaseo

The supporting cast of this anime also shines, although my favorite duo is absolutely Seo Yuzuki and Wakamatsu Hirotaka. Seo is Sakura’s best friend, and simultaneously the tough girl delinquent and a musical genius with a voice like an angel. What more can be said about her other than that she’s hilarious and the queen of my heart? Not much… well, except for her adorably hilarious relationship with her underclassman, Waka.

The dynamic between the two of them is sadly ironic – see, Wakamatsu is a first year basketball player who is constantly tormented by Seo, who often stands in and helps with the boys’ basketball rehearsals. His anxiety over these encounters leads to insomnia, to the point where there is only one thing that can lull him to sleep… a recording of Seo’s beautiful singing.

Of course, he doesn’t know the recording (which he got from Nozaki), is Seo. And Seo doesn’t know the effect her voice has on him. And so these two dance around each other, constantly coming close but never quite figuring out how intertwined their lives are. It’s frustrating but it’s also hilarious and is probably my favorite part of the whole series.

kashihori

Not to be outdone, the princely Kashima Yuu and her harem of devoted fangirls is constantly amusing, topped only by her relationship with the tragically short Hori Masayuki. They’re both excellent actors who love and respect each others’ craft, but they can never quite see eye to eye (both literally and figuratively). The audience is left somewhat to wonder whether what these two have is romance… or a rivalry… or just a really weird friendship? Who knows? Probably not even them.

mikorin

And of course I can’t forget Mikoshiba Mikoto, or “Mikorin” to his friends. He just doesn’t fit as well into a pairing as the other characters, but that’s a point I’ll get back to in a second.

Mikorin looks to be your stereotypical pretty boy cool guy “every girl loves him” type. Which is… true. Except Mikorin is also incredibly socially anxious, and often deeply embarrasses himself with the flirty things he tells girls. He’s far more comfortable playing otome games, and yet, regardless, he gets roped into spending time with his adoring fangirls anyway. There’s something very relatable in his endless cycle of shallow confidence and self-loathing, and he’s a loveable character for sure. (Plus, he’s excellent at drawing flowers for Nozaki’s manga and I’m SO JEALOUS ABOUT THAT MIKORIN TEACH ME HOW!!!)

But this brings me back to my last point in this (unintentionally very long) tirade. Yes, Mikorin doesn’t fit into a pairing quite as easily as the other characters do and yet… it doesn’t matter? One of the things I really appreciate about GSNK is the amount of time it spends developing not just the main pairings. It’s easy to throw together Nozaki and Sakura, Seo and Wakamatsu, and Hori and Kashima because their relationships are, well, ships. But there’s also great stuff between Seo and Sakura, whose yin and yang friendship is too precious. Wakamatsu looks up to Nozaki as a senpai, and often goes to him for advice. Kashima and Mikorin are rivals turned best friends! Sakura and Seo try to teach Kashima how to sing! Nozaki writes scripts for Hori!

While, yes, GSNK is a silly anime, it’s a silly anime with a lot of heart. It cares about its characters, and it expects the audience to as well. It’s legitimately funny, and smart, and basically the only anime that’s had me hurting from laughing so hard. Do yourself a favor and watch it. (And campaign with me for a season 2 because the manga has SO MUCH MORE CONTENT that would be INCREDIBLE animated so COME ON!!)

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in this… oh god, nearly 1,700 word rant about this anime. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled quality content next week, I promise.

Let Them Have Rainbows

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube series that, I’m gonna be honest, kind of made me upset. I’m not gonna name any names or talk about any specifics because I don’t really want this to sound like I want people to go and send this guy hate, but I’m sure you could probably find him just based on what I talk about here. Just don’t be dumb, I guess is all I’m saying.

But anyway, the series involves this guy browsing Deviantart and “critiquing” the fanart and Original Character (OC) art he finds there. He presents it as a service, a “what not to do” of sorts for creating art and OCs.

The points he makes are legitimate, I guess, but the biggest problem I have with it is it all seems way too obvious. It seems like he picks the art that is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel rainbow pastel Sonic OCs done by young people. The critique he gives is repetitive and completely useless and unhelpful for anyone old enough to be watching his channel. Plus, even if the person watching was young enough to not be able to guess the obvious flaws he finds, he offers no real alternatives or suggestions to improve.

Lemme give you an example.

rainbows

Here’s a screenshot of one of the pieces this guy critiques (with all identifying names blocked out, of course). To you and to me, this character is obviously not a very well designed character. The colors are vibrant and clashing, the body parts are a mishmash of different ideas with no real purpose, and overall too much is going on to get any sort of clear image of what this character is meant to be. Tack on the obvious use of MS Paint and the subject matter of a Sonic OC and you’ve got yourself the most textbook “twelve-year-old who has just figured out how the internet works tries to create their own **super cool** character and falls flat” ever.

It’s so easy to criticize this piece of art because everything wrong with it is glaringly obvious. Even someone not familiar with internet culture, specifically Deviantart culture, would probably be able to tell that this is not a picture of a “good”, fully realized character.

But you know what? That doesn’t matter. At all.

I speak as someone who was that twelve-year-old when I say this, while kind of embarrassing and definitely not too fun to look at, this kind of terrible art is ultimately a good thing. So this kind of critique is not only so obvious that it’s completely useless, it is harmful and impedes a very natural creative process. 

I guarantee you, nobody in the history of the universe sat down to create their very first character, their very first story, their very first piece of art, and made a masterpiece. There’s this myth that pervades in a lot of creative circles that artists and writers and musicians and the like are what they are because of some natural talent or affinity for their craft. That’s… just not true.

Sure, there are people out there who are naturally gifted, but natural talent alone can’t carry anyone to success. There’s a correlation between natural talent and success (probably because having an affinity for something makes it more fun and therefore a motivator to practice that something more), but it doesn’t directly cause it.

For my own personal example, I am a writer. But that’s not really because I was born with a pen in my hand (or keyboard, preferably), it’s because I write… a lot. Every day, really. This blog, poetry, prose… I write constantly.

And the reason why I write so much is because when I was young I idolized authors and I wanted to be one, so I sat down and I wrote. I wrote garbage.

The very first novel I ever wrote was plotless hogwash, a fanfiction of a show I was really into at the time with the names changed. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story did nothing and went nowhere. And yet, I wouldn’t change a single bit of it if I had to go back.

Why? Well, because, at the time, that awful, horrible novel was something I was really proud of. It was an accomplishment. It was written in a month for NaNoWriMo, it was 50,000 words long, and I really poured my heart and soul into it. I loved those flat characters. I desperately wanted to tell that uninteresting story. It was my first foray into writing for the fun of it, writing because I loved it, writing not because I thought I was great at it, but because it was something that spoke to me.

It was bad, but it inspired me to keep going, to keep improving. It showed me that I was capable of making myself into one of those authors I looked up to. It’s a big reason of why I’m here today, writing this blog, writing every day. It’s the reason I’m… admittedly, pretty good at this whole writing thing.

So that’s why when I see people try and put down these young creators for making less-than-perfect art, it makes me really sad. I was really lucky to be surrounded by an accepting, loving community of people both online and offline who celebrated the art I created, even when it was bad. Now that I’m older I understand what made those early writings so terrible, and I’m mature enough (mostly) to take critique and use it to improve. But when I was younger and filled with idealism and passion, hearing the kind of snide remarks this youtuber makes would have destroyed me. I was just figuring out that creativity was possible for me, so I was miles away from understanding that I could also work to improve the things I made.  I would have taken these condescending statements as unchangeable fact, and I would have given up.

So, let young creators make these mistakes. Let them create flat, pastel rainbow vomit characters and MS Paint Sonic OCs. Let them create two-dimensional worlds that exist only in the space of one month and 50,000 words. Because someday those creators will grow up, and they’ll understand just fine that they weren’t born gifted. But with the proper support and encouragement, they’ll become so.

 

A Spring Break in Songs

For the last week, I, like the rest of the population of Carmel, Indiana, spent my Spring Break in sunny Florida. As with every year, it was a week of good food, relaxation, shopping, and music. And it is with that last aspect that I come to you to today. Here’s a quick little review of my Spring Break in the songs I listened to.

Green Light – Lorde

It’s a Spring Break tradition for all of the members of my family to choose songs and compete to see whose song shows up the most on the radio on our drive down to Florida. My pick this year was Lorde’s newest track, the dynamic and beautiful “Green Light”. I actually talked about it a bit in my Women in Music post, but it’s so good it deserves me discussing it again. I’ve been a fan of Lorde since she first popped into the scene in 2013 and her sound has only gotten better since then – more mature and emotional without losing that simultaneously real and artsy view on the world.

It didn’t really… win our annual competition, but I contend it won a moral victory, since I picked it out of pure love. (And the winner was my Mom, who picked some awful ZAYN/Taylor Swift song she didn’t even like…)

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Dad didn’t win the competition with this pick either, by the way. But still, whenever it came on, despite the anger at seeing my dad get a point, it was immediately mollified because gosh do I ever love this song. Listen, I know I’m a hipster, and this isn’t the sort of music you’d expect me to love, but listen to me… Bruno Mars transcends genre with his charm. He’s just such a good dancer, and his voice is beautiful, and his songs are always so fun and danceable… and yeah, this music video makes me grin like an idiot whenever I watch it, what of it? I know all the lyrics to this song and belt it whenever it comes on, so? I guarentee there’s not a sane person in this world who would disagree with me.

Don’t Take the Money – Bleachers

Still, even as we’re competing for glory with our own picks, we always discover a few new favorites on the road trip down to Florida, and here’s the first of the few I’ll mention here.

It’s always nice to hear new songs from old favorite bands, and Bleachers didn’t disappoint with this summery track. I can practically picture a scene from a saturated teen romance movie set to this song. Not to cheapen the impact of the emotional strength of this song, of course, but it’s a good time.

We Got the Power – Gorillaz

And speaking of old favorite bands, there is no older favoriter band out there than Gorillaz for me. Gorillaz is basically the reason I have the music taste I do today (long story short, I thought the idea of a band of cartoon characters was the coolest thing ever when I was in middle school, which led to me becoming obsessed with their, erm, eclectic discography).

The car ride to Florida was not the first time I’ve heard this track off of their upcoming album, “Humanz”, but it was when this song really started to gel with me. I’ve never really thought of Gorillaz as the sort of band that makes perfect sense on the very first listen, but rather takes a few listens to fully grasp the concept of this song, and this one is no different. It’s definitely very bubblegum in its optimism, but that’s honestly one of its best features. It’s happy and hopeful and unashamed of neither of these facts, and that’s refreshing in a world of cynicism and criticism. The only issue with this song is its criminally short. Just a bit over two minutes…. give me more!

Watershed – Vienna Teng

Now, I have a confession to make. It’s a personal tradition that every spring break, I pick an artist I like and familiarize myself with their entire discography over the course of the week. In years past, this has been very successful (three years ago, it was Arctic Monkeys, two years ago it was Walk the Moon, and last year it was Saint Motel, all incredible bands I love). And I have loved everything I’ve heard from Vienna, (I talked about her in my Women in Music post as well, actually), but I unfortunately only had time this break to listen to one of her albums all the way through.

I absolutely intend to listen to everything of hers, and I’ll do a post on my favorite tracks of hers once I do, but as a nice little sneak preview, I want to share this incredibly haunting track off of “Inland Territory”, the album I listened to. This song is very different from the rest of the songs on this list, because it’s quiet and pensive and honestly… kind of creepy. But this is what I love about Vienna – she’s a storyteller. This song tells the story of mankind’s folly in the eyes of some sort of ancient power – a Gaia or a Cthulhu or something of the like. The quiet, withheld power of this song illustrates the dormant power of the narrator perfectly to a listener, and the lyrics are beautifully and terrifyingly written. I’m a huge fan.

Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

But hey, it wasn’t just old favorite artists and bands returning for a glory lap this Spring Break, there were some new favorites too! My dad and I had a field day with the band name of this artist (Why the random period? What does it mean?), but neither of us could deny how gosh darn catchy this song is. It’s bouncy and driving and gets lodged in your head and tortures you for weeks at a time. It’s driven by a simple beat, and that’s all it needs to get rolling and never stop. I’m obsessed. Give it a listen.

Mexican Jackpot – Flagship

A song that got a surprising amount of airtime this break despite being by a band I’ve never heard of before, I nonetheless came to really enjoy this song. It’s calm and atmospheric, and undoubtedly pleasant. I can’t say I see much in the future for this band, since they sound exactly like about fifteen other alt bands, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this pretty track.

Pork Soda – Glass Animals

And we return to an old favorite band. Oh Glass Animals, how you continue to amaze me with the weird stuff you can pull in your songs and totally get away with it. And yeah, this song is weird, from title to sound effects to lyrics, but there’s a strange sort of method to the madness. If you look into the lyrics (beyond the obvious nonsense lyrics), you’ll find a surprisingly tragic and poignant look into the decay of a once loving relationship. Perhaps the odd and nonsensical nature of this song plays to the idea that when relationships decay, it can seem chaotic and may make no sense? Or maybe I’m being too analytical about this fun song. Ah well.

Along Came Jones – The Coasters

One of these things is not like the others~ yeah, okay, I couldn’t talk about my spring break without mentioning the solid amount of 50s hits I listened to in my Grandma’s car. She always cracked jokes and apologized about forcing me to listen to her music, but hey, it’s kind of fun. I am a fan of all things vintage, even if that’s not necessarily the music. But it’s hard not to remember super, uh, unique songs like this one, and it sparked some interesting conversation with my Grandma about the nature of music throughout generations as we looked for thread to match my prom dress at the craft store. She and I might not see eye to eye regarding music, but no genre or generation of music will ever be perfect – all have their duds along with their masterpieces. So it’s pointless to be an elitist to someone else for liking a different type of music than you.

(Also, I think this song is funny, and it’s the only one I remembered the title of, to be honest.)

So there you go, a little auditory taste of my spring break. I hope everyone is returning from their breaks relaxed and rejuvenated, and even if that’s not the case, I hope some of these songs can help do the trick.

Taking the Poetry Plunge

When I started first semester of this year, I did so with an incredible excitement for one particular class. I had saved my Creative Writing class for this year, my senior year, a reward for having accomplished four years of hard work.

I looked avidly forward to talking about my most favorite thing in the world on an every-other-day basis. I know it sounds like the most stereotypically nerdy thing in the world, but the idea of getting graded on creative writing, my special talent, was incredibly appealing. I’d get to spend an hour and a half of every other school day doing the thing I love most in the world! What could be better than that?

Well… actually, there was just one tiny thing.

See, the course description talked about how I would be writing short stories (great), memoirs (great), and scripts (interesting and new), but I always froze around the last topic.

Poetry.

Like all young writers, I had tried my hand at poetry in the past, but it always felt clunky. Wrong. I could never express what I thought in the rigid meter and rhyme I associated with poetry. I dreaded having to bend my ideas around what words I could force to rhyme with each other. And while I was aware that non-rhyming poetry existed, I could never figure out the difference between that and excessively flowery prose. And anyway, prose has always just flowed more easily from me, more naturally.

And yet, and yet… when the poetry unit of class started, I found a surprising amount of freedom. Yes, there is structure and definite patterns to rhythm and rhyme, but there’s a method to the madness, to use a cliche. Even for the most strict forms of poetry, like sonnets, the structure made sense as I worked with it.

Well into my second semester I find myself returning to poetry often. I write poems almost daily. I have an entire full memo of poetry on my phone, and I recently had to start up a second, plus a smattering of word documents on my laptop filled with my musings. The class was only for one semester, yet the unit we spent on poetry has stuck with me for months afterward. Where I once hated writing poetry with a firey passion, I now consider it another method of relaxation.

Where did that change of heart come from?

Well, honestly, an epiphany.

See, for our final project in the poetry unit, we were tasked to create a book of poetry unified by one theme. Looking at all the poetry I had written over the course of our lessons, I realized very quickly that all of my favorite poems had been written for people. Not always the sort of things I would want to proudly present to them, but nonetheless written with specific people in mind. Thoughts for them that were hard to express, or ugly, or embarrassing, or conflicted.

When something was on my mind about anything, it was easy to sit down and pen a poem about it. It not only helped to clarify my thoughts and, later, talk honestly with the people the poetry concerned, it ultimately became a pretty good topic for my poetry book. Titled “Me and Everyone I Know” and filled with crude Adobe Illustrator drawings (I was still learning at the time), it became one of my most favorite projects in what became one of my most favorite units.

I often like to joke and say all of my poems are flowery subtweets, but honestly they really are. Poetry is a weirdly satisfying form of venting, of getting out the sometimes complicated thoughts in my mind. It’s a way of taking things that might be difficult to think about and lays them out in black and white. It allows me to focus on difficult things without obsessing, because I can always worry instead about the language choices and metaphors instead of the real life problems And, I don’t know, there’s something awfully romantic about feverishly scribbling a poem down based on what’s on your mind (even if it’s in the memos of my cellphone instead of, say, a worn leather notebook or something like that.)

Plus, poetry is, as a rule, kind of secretive. Sometimes there’s just stuff you want to be able to talk about, to be able to yell about, but that stuff isn’t the sort of stuff that can be said aloud. Poetry is great for that. It lends itself to vagueness, to deep symbols and metaphors and trying to find the most roundabout way of presenting an idea possible.

So I guess what I’m saying is, give things a try. They can surprise you. Even rigid rhythm and rhyme can be freeing for you if you give it the chance to be. I mean, I’m a great example of how a point of view can be changed once you give something a go. A few months ago I hated poetry, and now I’ve taken on a personal challenge to write one new poem every day for the month of April… and who knows, after I finish, I might post all 30 here!

…maybe.

 All Our “Secrets”

Whenever we have an English class on a Friday, my teacher, Mrs. Jansen, does what we like to call “secrets”. Every student gets a chance to write down an anonymous secret onto a slip of paper, which goes into a large tub. Afterwards, everyone who contributed a secret draws one out of the container and reads it aloud to the class. These secrets can be funny or serious. Sometimes they’re about the class itself, or about school, or about life.

While a small handful of people opt not to participate in this biweekly activity, most of us do. I mean, what’s the harm? After all, we’re all protected by a sort of unspoken moral code. To belittle or criticize the person who put in the secret would be immediately condemned by the rest of the class. To confess who actually put in the secret is besides the point of the activity, regardless of how innocuous that secret might be. The anonymity of the whole affair is a huge part of the fun of it. The feeling of hearing a juicy secret and realizing that anyone around you could have put it in is what makes it all exciting.

But the shallow excitement of gossip is nothing compared to the almost therapeutic effect it has on me (and I assume) all of our class. As we go through each secret, we turn the secrets into discussions. We voice our support, our concerns, our advice, for each person who confesses something on a slip of paper.

To unrequited lovers hoping to work up the courage to confess, we offer encouragement. To those stressed, we offer our own tips and stories about our own stressors. To those left heartbroken by rejection, we offer sympathy. To the confused, guidance. To the funny stories, laughter. And even to those with problems too difficult to address, too outside of our realms of experience to advise, we snap our fingers and let them know that they are heard.

I’ve put in all manner of secrets, both silly and not-so-silly. I am, not really on purpose, kind of a wealth of closely kept thoughts and worries. As much as I know I have a strong support system of people who care about me and want to help me… they shouldn’t have to always hear the things I worry about. Sometimes there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes those worries are about them. Sometimes they’re too hard to say aloud.

But for those sorts of things, there’s a white slip of paper on my desk at the end of Friday IB English class. There’s a classroom of people who don’t know who I am but still care about what I’m going through.

These aren’t really scary or dangerous secrets, don’t worry. But they’re embarrassing sometimes, or hard to explain, or don’t align with the way I want to present myself. Sometimes they’re things I’ve told close friends already, but never aloud. There’s a real benefit to hearing your own thoughts echoed aloud, and having others acknowledge and comment on them.

I, for very obvious reasons, don’t want to get too specific about any of the secrets I’ve confessed in this activity, but I will say that one of my more recent ones garnered maybe one of the most positive responses I have ever received. To be vague, it was the story of the disappointing result of a very uncharacteristically huge social risk I took.  I was expecting a few finger snaps of sympathy, but instead Mrs. Jansen told us she was proud of the writer of the secret for being mature about their disappointment, and lots of other classmates agreed that it was an admirable response to a difficult situation.

And I… almost seriously burst into tears. I didn’t, thankfully, but it was incredible to hear a classroom of completely unbiased people validate the, for lack of a better term, sucky situation I had found myself in.

No one solved my problems, of course. They didn’t have to. But what they did was provide me feedback to a difficult decision I had made without being influenced by their knowledge of me or of my situation. And that, I think, is the beauty of the “secrets” activity.

(And just as a small note, the situation I’m talking about has since more or less resolved itself into a far more positive thing, lest you all begin worrying about me.)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that trusting the feedback of others is difficult. Contrary to what a lot of millennial thinkpieces like to claim, having a childhood of “everyone’s a winner” is not only not really the truth, it also doesn’t really make you feel entitled, it makes you skeptical of every piece of praise you receive. I’ve been told I’m smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good so many times that it’s hard to believe any of those things. I mean, all throughout elementary school I was in a class of kids who were smart and skilled and in the right and just overall good.

Taking a compliment from someone at face-value is pretty rare. Most of the time I brush them off as a result of having friends and family who love me and want to make me happy, or as a result of somebody mistakenly thinking I’m more put-together than I am.

But with the secrets… I get guidance and suggestion without the fear of having things sugarcoated.

Plus, and this is kind of an important thing too, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in even the most embarrassing of things. The negative things in my life are not the sort of thing I want to wear on my chest like Superman’s S, but being able to quietly let them out and see people in the same situation is really helpful.

And that, I think, is the beauty of “secrets”. The anonymity that comes with it is a safety blanket, a place to confess hard truths without fear of getting hurt. There’s a lot of value in that.