471. TMTF Reviews: Something’s Rotten

An embarrassingly long time ago, I received an invitation from a band called the PDX Broadsides to share my thoughts on their latest album: Something’s Rotten.

somethings-rotten

This happened shortly before I attended a writing conference and then took a vacation. As I traveled, connecting to the Internet only briefly and infrequently, I regrettably let the PDX Broadsides and their invitation slip through the cracks.

Only a few days ago did I finally listen to Something’s Rotten in its entirety. It’s geeky; it’s folksy; it’s definitely an album worth reviewing—and by gosh, I’m going to review it. (Yeah, I know TMTF doesn’t review stuff anymore, but I’ll make an exception for today’s post.) I don’t know the first thing about music, but I am totally a geek, so I consider myself at least slightly qualified to review this album. Besides, my last music review didn’t cause The End of Civilization as We Know It, so what’s the harm in one more?

The PDX Broadsides are an acoustic-folk-geek trio. I wasn’t familiar with them prior to their invitation, and I haven’t the faintest idea why they invited me to share my opinion, but I’m glad they did.

Here we go, with due apologies for the late review.

The PDX Broadsides seem disappointed in me—just look at those disapproving faces. I’M SORRY FOR TAKING SO LONG TO REVIEW YOUR ALBUM. Geez, guys.

Something’s Rotten is an acoustic guitar-driven album of geeky music, with a folksy vibe and plenty of vocal harmonies. This style reminded me repeatedly of Peter, Paul and Mary, whose music I adore. (I’m pretty sure I’m the only person of my generation who listens to Peter, Paul and Mary, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them.) As a geek who likes folk music, I really dig Something’s Rotten.

The album begins with “The Girl Who Couldn’t Even,” which I can only describe as the ballad of the stereotypical white American young woman. It matches her humorous overreactions to a melody that sounds like something straight out of the Old West. This intersection of tense music to a frivolous subject is pretty funny.

“Something’s Rotten: Hamlet’s Lament” is a musical soliloquy from Shakespeare’s most famous character—and let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot more amusing than any of the soliloquies the Bard himself wrote for Hamlet. I enjoyed the offhanded way the song’s lyrics reference the events of the play.

“Catatonic” is the sad, slow lament of a fan whose mind goes blank every time she meets her favorite TV actor. I’m guessing this one was written from experience, because its authenticity strikes a chord with me. I’m easily overawed by brilliant creative people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of my own creative heroes, and I’ve gone a bit catatonic myself.

“Hey, that’s Grey DeLisle! In person! How exciting! Wait a second. OH GOSH. SHE’S HUGGING ME. PLAY IT COOL, ADAM. PLAY IT COOL.”

“Meant to Be” is a love song, but not a typical one. Love doesn’t just happen. Love takes work. This is a song about rebuilding love. There’s a tired determination in the refrain: “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried.”

By the time I reached “Astronaut’s Hymn,” I was already thinking of Peter, Paul and Mary, but this was the song that really clinched it. This is basically a sadder version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” except the singer is leaving on a spaceship instead of an airplane, and may possibly not come home. Heavy stuff.

“Far Away and Distant One” seemed at first like an unremarkable ballad of unrequited love, but after listening carefully to the lyrics, I can’t shake the conviction they must refer to a Dalek—the pepper shaker-shaped death machine from Doctor Who.

How… romantic?

I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure lyrics like “you blew my world away” and “you hide behind your armor” are meant literally here, not figuratively. The repeated use of the word exterminated can’t be coincidence!

“The Ultimate Riot” tells, to a tune of almost sickening cheerfulness, the story of a riot started at a convention by a guest speaker who butchered his allusions to geeky media. This was my least favorite song on the album; I found the melody grating.

In spectacularly nerdy fashion, “Nopetopus” alludes to the Internet meme of an octopus fleeing the scene, and praises the example of that cautious creature.

nopetopus

We’ve all found ourselves in awkward social situations. The thought of fleeing like the Nopetopus, “flailing like Kermit the Frog,” is certainly a pleasant one. Equally pleasant are the vocal harmonies toward the end of the song, and its chorus of “nope nope nope.” Even the wary Nopetopus has nothing to fear from this song.

“Something’s Rotten: Ophelia’s Retort” is Ophelia’s response to Hamlet’s earlier lament. It lends a nice bit of continuity to the album, and turns Hamlet’s soliloquy into a duet. The lyrics continue to amuse: Hamlet, who early in Shakespeare’s play is confronted by the ghost of his late father, mourns, “Parental expectations never die.”

“I Ship It” is an overenthusiastic ode to shipping: the tendency of fans to support or wish for romantic relationships between fictional characters (or occasionally actual people). I regard shipping with wary amusement, and this song with the same.

“Eureka!” is a chipper ode to some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. As with a number of the songs in this album, I’m amused to hear a folksy melody and arrangement matched with something nerdy. In this case, it’s SCIENCE!

Despite some humorous lyrics, “Smile!” makes a serious point. The song is a woman’s annoyed response to a stranger asking her to smile. As well-intentioned as it may seem, asking someone to look happy isn’t courteous. It may be irritating, creepy, or sexist, depending on the situation. A woman who looks unhappy probably isn’t waiting for a Prince Charming to offer flirtatious encouragements. She’s probably, y’know, genuinely unhappy. Her face is her own, and she has a right to whatever expression she chooses. Beneath the humor and upbeat melody of “Smile!” is a serious message, and it’s worth considering.

By contrast, the album’s final song isn’t even slightly serious. “Nathan Fillion (Please Take Off Your Pants)” is exactly what its title suggests: an earnest plea for actor Nathan Fillion to remove his pants and share his manly buttocks with the world. Fillion’s character loses his clothes in a memorable episode of Firefly, exposing his chiseled cheeks, and the writer of this song approves. Can I say this is my favorite song in the album? This is my favorite song in the album. It’s unbelievably catchy, and the absurdity of its premise is glorious. Think about it. Here, in our very universe, a song exists about Nathan Fillion’s bottom. Isn’t that bonkers? Besides, the thought of Mr. Fillion doing a little dance sans trousers is perfectly delightful.

nathan-fillion

This is a photo of Nathan Fillion wearing pants.

As I conclude this music review, I realize my conclusion is exactly the same as in the last oneIf you’re a geek, this album is absolutely worth checking out. If you’re not a geek, don’t feel guilty giving it a miss. It’s steeped in nerd culture, and its jokes and references are bound to go over the heads of listeners not in the know.

For those able to appreciate its geekiness, Something’s Rotten is a clever, well-written album of acoustic folk music. There’s a bit of bawdy humor, especially in that last track, and a few swearwords, but the album is fairly tame. Something’s Rotten is on the short side, but at ten dollars (or thirteen for a physical disc) for thirteen songs, it’s a good value.

Anyone interested in Something’s Rotten can listen to its tracks and/or purchase the album here.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.


This post was originally published on June 3, 2016. TMTF shall return with new posts on Monday, September 5!

Vacation Music

For today’s Geeky Wednesday post, I was going to write something serious and weighty about a poem by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. Then, remembering that I’m on vacation and really should chill out, I opted for some sunny video game music instead.

Yes, it’s our old friend Smooth McGroove, the one-man video game choir. Today’s tune hails from the warm shores of Outset Island in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is probably the most vacation-ey game I’ve ever played, sea monsters and all.

Well, with today’s post done, I can get back to hiking, swimming, snacking, and dreading my inevitable encounter with the Tiny Hotel Soap in my hotel bathroom. It’s too soon, guys.

461. Adam Does Dark Rock

Yeah, this song again. What can I say? I like it.

The band Disturbed produced a dark rock cover of “The Sound of Silence,” and when I stumbled upon a karaoke track for it, I took a stab at recording a cover of my own. My timing isn’t very consistent, and the key change partway through doesn’t sound great, but I’ve sung worse.

Toward the end of the track, there are prerecorded background vocals for a single line. I tried to mask them with vocals of my own, but they still sound out of place. Ah, well. I prefer the original version anyway.

Speaking of which, at some point my dad and I may sit down and record a cover closer to Simon & Garfunkel’s original, with a guitar and two voices. My cover above is either a warm-up or a consolation project, depending on whether we actually get around to recording.

I read somewhere that it’s best to record standing up, so I perched my microphone atop a stack of books to give it some height. The summer heat was fierce—I kept the door and window shut to keep out ambient noise—so I blasted my laptop with a cooling breeze from my fan at intervals to keep it from overheating. Thanks to the experience I picked up from my last recording session, this one was a lot easier despite the ungodly heat.

My dad snapped the photo in the video somewhere in Uruguay—Punta Colorada, I think, but I don’t remember for sure. I’m the silhouette on the right, gazing out over the gleaming sea, and probably thinking of sandwiches.

In other news, it is so flipping hot outside. In fact, looking out the window, I think I just saw one of the local geese burst into flame.

I’d better turn on that fan again.

Two Perfect Girls

For the record, I support monogamy. (I also support Pokémon.)

Did you know there was an official Pokémon musical? I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard most of the songs from its soundtrack, and a few are actually pretty rad. (That said, a few are terrible.) Seriously, though, how cool/weird is it that Pokémon got its own musical?

Heck, they’ll be giving Ace Attorney its own musical at this rate… wait, what? Japan got three separate musicals based on the Ace Attorney series? Of course it did. Of course it did. We’re still waiting on an official Ace Attorney musical in the West, but there’s a fan-made one in the works, and its soundtrack is pretty good. (I was involved with the fan-made musical in a very minor way a long time ago. Good times!)

Returning to the Pokémon musical, the song above, “Two Perfect Girls,” is a bouncy ballad of divided affections. Catching random Pokémon must be a lot easier than wooing the perfect catch.

In other news, Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game, was released a number of days ago. It has flooded my social media with digitally-enhanced pictures of Pokémon in real-life parks, streets, restaurants, churches, and… bathrooms. The world just got a little weirder, guys.

450. Adam Answers

As TMTF hits its last fifty-post milestone before the end, I want to pause a moment, thank everyone who has been a part of this blog’s journey, and declare my opinion that Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie.

Empire Strikes Back

The greatness was strong with this one.

All right, with that out of the way, here are my answers to the questions submitted by readers for today’s Q&A. Here we go!


JK asks: In spite of your down-playing your abilities, I think your singing is quite lovely. Do you have any music related experience/training, or is it just natural know how? Play any instruments to go along with the vocals? Follow up, can we get another serenade while you’re at it?

Aw, thanks, JK! I sang in choir a couple of years in high school, and performed with a few worship teams over the years, but I’ve never taken lessons or anything.

I am a little proud of my vibrato: that wobble in the pitch of my singing voice. As a kid, I heard other singers perform the vibrato technique. I thought it was neat, so I trained myself to do it. Mine is a bit forced, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

The only instrument I’ve ever played is the bongo drum, for which I have no training whatsoever, and on which I performed with more enthusiasm than skill.

Bongos

None of my typewriter monkeys play bongos, thank heaven. Imagine the racket!

I’ve thought about doing one or two more song covers, but for an amateur like me, they take a ton of trial and error. I’d rather spend my non-blogging free time relaxing! I did cover “Baba Yetu” karaoke-style a while back, though, singing over the original track. I’m really pleased with how that one turned out.


Sarah asks: How much time per week do you and your monkeys put into the blog? And how has that changed since you started the site? Of all the places you could have chosen to live, why Indiana?

Good questions! My time spent blogging varies wildly from week to week, and I don’t really keep track of it, but I estimate three to eight hours.

Depending on the kind of post I write, I might dash off it in an hour or slave away at it for three to five. Personal reflections and silly thoughts on random subjects are quicker and easier to write; serious treatises take tons of time and effort. Posts involving audio recording or image editing take extra time.

I’m probably spending less time on the blog these days than when I started, thanks to my decision long ago to publish a short, geeky commentary every Wednesday instead of another numbered post. The shorter mid-week updates require much less effort, and they let me share stuff I think is cool.

Your final question is a familiar one! When people ask me why I settled in Indiana after living overseas, I tell them, “It’s a really long story, but I’ll give you the really short version.”

Here’s that short answer: I live in the United States because, of all the countries in the world, it’s the only one for which I currently have the legal paperwork required for a job; I live in Indiana because, of the few roots I have in this country, most are here; and I live in the little town of Berne because, when I was looking for a job years ago, it had the only place that would hire me.

Berne ain’t a bad place to live.

I’m fond of Berne, but it really could use a movie theater, some mountains, a beach or two, a Japanese noodle stand, and a Starbucks. Ah, well. Nowhere is perfect, I guess.


JS asks: What about pants?

A most profound question. I cannot offer an answer worthy of it, for I am but a foolish mortal. How can I, or any of the humans who live their short lives upon this fading earth, match a question of such wisdom with an answer equally wise?

The word pants can be traced back through the English, French, and Italian languages to Pantalone, the character stereotype in commedia dell’arte, a form of performance art popular in sixteenth-century Italy. This stereotype, which caricatured Venetians, was named for Saint Pantaleon, a saint popular in Venice.

By following these tangled skeins of history and etymology, we trace pants to a legendary saint. Does its connection to an ancient martyr make pants the holiest of clothes?

Speaking of holey clothes, why do some stores sell torn jeans? Who actually buys pants that, as Dave Barry put it, appear to have been ripped to shreds by crazed wolverines? That’s another question for which I have no good answer.

Wolverine

Not that kind of wolverine, guys.

Returning to my reader’s question, a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, my all-time favorite show, offers this unfathomable wisdom: “Pants are an illusion, and so is death.”

My own view on pants is that a gentleman shouldn’t leave home without them.


That concludes today’s Q&A post! I’m grateful to everyone who submitted questions; without you, this post would have been embarrassingly short. Thanks, guys.

With fifty posts left, TMTF is hitting the final stretch at last. I could say a lot, but I’ll save it for some other time. For now, I will only say this: Onward!

Waiting for E3

E3 happens next week. This annual trade show for the video game industry is like Christmas to gamers like yours truly. New games are shown, game systems unveiled, trailers released online, and announcements made. These exciting videos and headlines are tossed rapid-fire at eager gamers like me, like a stream of crumbs sprinkled among so many hungry goldfish.

This year’s E3 promises news of the new Legend of Zelda game, which was supposed to come out this year but has been delayed to next. In honor of this year’s E3, and because I can’t think of anything else for this week’s Geeky Wednesday post, have eight minutes of beautifully orchestrated Zelda music. The Legend of Zelda games have some rockin’ melodies, and this medley showcases some of the most iconic. Enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll go back to staring at the calendar. Just six days to go.

446. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

I had planned to share this beautiful cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” at some point, but quixotically decided to record my own cover of the hymn instead. You see, kids, this is why we don’t let Adam near microphones.

My wobbly vocals are propped up by a dynamic piano arrangement from Silas Rosenskjold, who made it freely available on his YouTube channel. The photo in the video, snapped by my dad quite a number of years ago, shows the Basílica del Voto Nacional: a cathedral in Quito renowned for its architecture and hideous gargoyles.

I discovered this lovely hymn in a violent video game, of all places. BioShock Infinite, a first-person shooter, offers the most fascinating take on Christianity I’ve ever seen in a video game. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Around the time I shared of how I almost left my faith last year, I found myself often listening to this hymn. Some of its questions seem to be aimed squarely at wavering skeptics like me.

There are loved ones in the glory whose dear forms you often miss; when you close your earthly story, will you join them in their bliss?

You remember songs of heaven, which you sang with childish voice; do you love the hymns they taught you, or are songs of earth your choice?

One by one their seats were emptied, one by one they went away; now the family is parted—will it be complete one day?

One question, the question, stands above the rest: Will the circle be unbroken? Will that legacy of faith, cherished by your loved ones, upheld by generations past, live on in you—or will you break the circle? Will you be the one to shatter this legacy of religious faith?

I know people who’ve broken the circle. I know people who’ve kept it whole. For my part, the circle remains unbroken.

As I work with the elderly, I face regular reminders of the transience and frailty of human life. As James Thurber flatly expressed it, “Even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.”

While the skeptical part of me can’t help but question the notion of an afterlife, I rejoice that death is a temporary separation, not a permanent one. I can hardly bear the thought of losing loved ones forever.

When my family is parted, it will yet be reunited one day—thank God.

Obligatory Goth Phase

I just realized this blog never went through a goth phase. Given how much I write about depression and other gloomy stuff, I think TMTF really needs a goth phase.

That said, I don’t really like goth music, so I’ll compromise with a hard rock cover of a Simon & Garfunkel song. That’s edgy, right? Simon & Garfunkel’s music is super dark and grim, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

And just watch the music video above. It has wrecked instruments, and ghosts, and, um, what I’m assuming is the river Styx. It’s all in black and white, and the singer seems angry at everything, so I’ll assume it all counts toward this blog’s goth quota.

In seriousness, I’m impressed by the singer’s stentorian voice and the guitar flourishes toward the end. I’m hardly a fan of heavy metal, but this cover manages to be darkly epic while respecting its folksy source material. The video ends on a faintly redemptive note, which is how this blog’s gloomiest posts generally conclude, so that’s apropos.

Welp, I suppose this counts as TMTF’s obligatory goth phase. Now I can go back to making coffee jokes and heavy-handed video game references, thank goodness.