Tag: reviews

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Because I ought to do some writing but am not really sure what to write, I have decided that I might as well talk about this show and some of my frustrations with it. This show forms a sequel to Attack of the Clones and a prequel to Revenge of the Sith. Exploring the Clone Wars was a great idea, because I personally think that they are one of the most interesting periods in the Star Wars chronology. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) this show was a disappointment on several levels. And so, I give you…

…or at least my review and criticism of it. This most recent Star Wars Day (May the 4th), I decided I needed to watch something Star Wars. Being in Honduras right now, I don’t have access to any of the movies, or anyone to watch them with, and so I thought “why not delve into The Clone Wars?” And so I did, and finally finished watching the series the day before yesterday. My feelings about this show are decidedly mixed. I’ll go into the good first:

 

  • Some of the characters. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka especially. I felt that this show added well to the already established characters of Anakin and Obi-Wan, even managing to make Anakin likable and sympathetic (most of the time, anyway), which I have never felt he was in the movies. The addition of Ahsoka was a nice touch (though I think her design is somewhat silly), because she gave the show something like a protagonist, added a new and interesting dimension to Anakin’s character, and was a fairly decent character in her own right. Also, I liked the clone characters, especially Rex and Fives, and enjoyed all the episodes that focused on them. Finally, Asajj Ventress, while stereotypical and melodramatic in the beginning, developed into a much more interesting and three-dimensional character by the end, and in my opinion was the show’s best antagonist.
  • Most of the episodes that focused on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, or on the clones. These I felt were generally the strongest episodes in the series, the ones with the most interesting concepts and dilemmas, and the ones that actually make it worth watching. In particular the final four episodes of season 5 are very good.
  • The art and animation style. I’m not sure what the general consensus about this is, but I for one enjoyed the art style of The Clone Wars. Yes, it could be a lot prettier, but I think the style is well-suited for the show, and the almost video-game-ish look contributes to the fantasy feeling that I think Star Wars ought to have.
  • The music. The composer for this show combined many of the classical Star Wars elements we all know and love with new and diverse elements from all sorts of musical traditions, with the result of a dynamic and interesting soundtrack that always fits the mood and seems to go perfectly with Star Wars.

 

But now for the bad, which in my opinion outweighs the good, though I should say that I still enjoyed the show throughout despite these unfortunate elements:

 

  • Too broad in scope. I felt that the show tried to cover far too much ground. It attempted to show a galaxy-wide perspective on the Clone Wars, which was very ambitious, but did not end up working as well as I’m sure the creators hoped it would. Because of this, and also because I knew already how everything was going to end, it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with what was going on in many instances. The result of this broad scope is that you get many small windows and glimpses into different parts of the war, but rarely get to delve deeply into any one area–and that sort of deep-delving is what is needed to create a really engaging and emotional experience.
  • Too many characters. This is one of my major issues with the show, and is related to the first thing I listed. In order to cover this broad scope of the war, the show employs a huge amount of characters. There are stories that have done this successfully–such as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga–but this show is not one of them. The individual episodes and story arcs are simply too short and unfocused to delve really deeply into any of the characters or, for the most part, to develop them in really significant ways.
  • Other issues with the characters. I liked a lot of the side characters that were added to The Clone Wars. But there were a lot that I didn’t like at all, and felt really detracted from it, such as the ridiculous Colonel Gascon in season 5 or Ziro the Hutt. Jar-Jar Binks, of course, deserves mention here. His inclusion in most of the episodes that he’s in makes very little sense. He’s not funny and the other characters seem to be selectively blind towards his idiocy, which definitely hurts the show’s immersion factor. Also, the treatment of battle droids makes very little sense. They act with too much intelligence and emotion considering their supposedly simple programming, and like Jar-Jar, are rarely ever funny. The attempt to insert comic relief with the battle droids usually fails pretty badly, in my opinion. And then of course there’s the villains, but I’ll go into that in my next point.
  • Simplistic villains. With the exception of Asajj Ventress towards the end of the series, I felt that all of the villains in this show were overly simplified and lacking in motivation or fierceness. Even Palpatine is not depicted as the incredibly cunning man that he is supposed to be, but as someone always gloating about his plans behind everyone’s back. You’d think that people would’ve started to notice all his evil grins by now. General Grievous is basically a joke–he’s too cowardly to be an effective commander and if the show was sensibly written he would’ve been relieved of duty very quickly. Asajj Ventress is also pretty cowardly, but she makes up for that by being sneaky and cunning, which General Grievous most certainly is not. Other villains for the most part have no subtlety, unrealistic or unspecified motivations, and a general “comic book feel” in the bad sense of that term. Count Dooku is okay, but is very little developed, and could have been much stronger than he was.
  • Simplistic morality. The simplistic villains in this show are perhaps a symptom of its deeper problem of simplistic morality. It gets better as it progresses, but still the entire show is based around very simple and unrealistic moral precepts. Pacifists are good. Fighters are bad. Peace is right. War is wrong. Good is good and bad is bad; with rare exceptions, the characters are shown without the moral complexity and shades of grey that real people have. This was really an irritation, because as the viewer you’re supposed to champion the side that is presented as good, but that is difficult when the show is so simplistic with its representation.
  • Apparent ignorance of major philosophical questions and ethical problems. And here is another point that I think is related to the show’s simplistic morality. There are some really major philosophical questions surrounding the Clone Wars that this show almost totally ignores. Those are the extremely questionable ethics of the Republic and Jedi in fighting with an army of slave soldiers; the development of identity and codes within that army; the psychological impact on the young Jedi padawans of being thrust into positions of command in a huge war; the psychological impact on the Jedi as a whole of becoming generals when formerly they were peacekeepers; the ethics of the Separatists in wanting to make their own laws and not be subject to the Republic, and even fighting with an army of droids instead of sending slaves or citizens to the front lines to be killed; the effects of propaganda on both sides–remember that the Separatists, while they have a noble cause, are essentially ruled by megacorporations who do not have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart, and the Republic claims to be a champion of democracy and freedom while refusing to allow people to peacefully leave their rule and fighting with an army of slaves. All of these questions and more are implied in the basic setting and situation of the show, but none of them are explored except in the most basic levels, or not at all.
  • The movie. What more needs to be said? But actually, my main problem with this movie is that it’s kind of exhausting. Even when viewed as merely an episode or series of episodes in the overall show, it still has far too much action in proportion to everything else, and doesn’t do much at all for the plot.
  • Use of the Force. This was one of the most frustrating things to see in the day-to-day of the show. The Jedi did not fight like Jedi. They used only the most basic of Force techniques, and sometimes not even those. Even in the movies the Force is used to greater effect than this, to say nothing of all the complex and powerful uses that it’s put to in the Expanded Universe. The Jedi even seem to be ignorant of well-documented Force phenomena in the Star Wars universe, like Force ghosts. The Jedi in this show are essentially Chinese warrior monks with laser swords and some basic telekinetic powers. Even Anakin, who is supposed to be one of the strongest Jedi, doesn’t seem much stronger than your average Padawan in any other Star Wars story.
  • Contradiction of and/or blatant disregard for canon. Related to the above point. This frustrated me to no end. Yes, The Clone Wars stayed in line with the canon as established in the movies. But it appeared to exhibit a definite contempt for what had been established throughout the Expanded Universe. And maybe I’m just extra sensitive towards this point because of Disney’s recent stupidity in saying that only the movies and The Clone Wars will be considered canon, but really. Show some respect for the multitudes of artists and writers who have developed this universe. I think the worst offense was the butchery done to the Mandalorians, but there are numerous examples. Personally, I think that the creators of the show could’ve just as easily stuck with the established canon as make up new stuff. It would’ve been easier, even, and no difficulty to fit into the show.
  • Poor and/or nonsensical storytelling choices. Another perplexing issue. This relates to the issues I mentioned earlier with the characters and scope, but also manifests in things like the random Jar-Jar episodes and the terrible 4-episode arc in series 5 about Colonel Gascon. It simply doesn’t make sense to divert the watcher to these random characters that no one knows or cares about, and then never revisit them. Also I have very mixed feelings about the revelation of the control chip in the clones’ heads. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense; on the other hand, it removes a good deal of the drama, horror, and moral complexity of the clones’ betrayal of the Jedi in Order 66. It was an explanation that wasn’t needed, which hurts a story as much as anything.

 

And so, what would I do to fix the show? Well, if it was in my hands, I would have done several things differently. First, I would have focused it much more closely around Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka. I would have made them the “power trio” of the show, like a Harry, Hermione, and Ron, or a Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. I would have made Ahsoka the protagonist, with Anakin and Obi-Wan being her main ally and her mentor, respectively. A lot of the other side characters could still come in, but I would never have focused on them, except maybe in a handful of episodes scattered here and there. The central thrust of the story would have been the relationships of those three and the way they grew as characters. Through Ahsoka the problem of Padawans becoming commanders could be explored. Anakin and Obi-Wan would’ve made great foils for each other because they would disagree on many of the philosophical questions mentioned above. Also, I would focus each season on one or two planets/battles and plotlines. This would allow each setting and plot to be explored much more thoroughly and mined for all its potential. Then, I would greatly expand on the use of the Force. I would contrast Ahsoka’s relative weakness with Anakin and Obi-Wan’s skill and strength–they are, after all, two of the most famous and popular Jedi in the Republic during the Clone Wars. The various questions I mentioned above would all be explored in various ways. I would delve a lot into clone culture and the way the Jedi affect it. I would keep Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress as the main villains, but I would make Dooku a much more compelling character. This is a charismatic man who holds together a galaxy-wide movement–he ought to be much more convincing in his arguments for his own side. I would explore his motives much more, as well as Asajj’s. In short, I would make the show much more complex, rich, and layered, while narrowing the focus to only a few characters and settings, and getting rid of several annoyances in the overall makeup of the show.

 

Now, I should probably say that I do know that this show was originally made for children, and that that is probably the source of some of the issues that I pointed out. But personally, I don’t think that should be an excuse. Children are able to understand fine shades and good storytelling. And also, the creators of the show had to know that it was going to be watched by thousands of people who are not children. Under the circumstances, it makes no sense to dumb it down.

 

Anyway! I would like to reiterate that I did actually enjoy the show. But I also enjoy picking apart its flaws. :P

 

~ Jared

The Hobbit

I mentioned in my last post that I enjoyed reading The  Hobbit by the seashore. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, and felt like I got so much out of it this time through, that I just had to write a blog post on the subject.

 

I’ve only read The Hobbit two or three times. The first couple of times were many years ago, and I liked the book very much, but it never became one of my favorites. I was always much more interested in The Lord of the Rings, despite The Hobbit being much easier to get through! I picked it up again recently because I wanted to read a good adventure story, something that I could just escape into and enjoy on every level. I became engrossed within the first few pages and spent many more happy hours reading through the rest of the book over the course of a week or so. I had forgotten how good it was; I’d known the recent movies fell far short of the mark, and had been wanting to reread the book so I could see how much they got wrong, but I was surprised by just how much fun it was to read and by how much I got out of the story.

 

There’s so much in it! Of course there’s the world, which is one of the richest storyworlds ever. You don’t find out quite as much about it in The Hobbit as in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, but what you do find is still extremely fascinating and easy enough to get lost in. And then there’s the characters. I’ve heard people say that Tolkien’s characters are flat or boring, but I’ve not found this to be so. For the most part they aren’t  loud and obvious with their personalities, but they certainly do have unique and interesting personalities (although it is true that many of the Dwarves in The Hobbit aren’t very well developed; not that I can make a fuss over that, seeing as there are so many of them!). Bilbo Baggins especially is a great character. He is the sort of hero that I wish we could see more of in modern books, especially books meant for young people–a very normal person, rather fond of comfort, plain of face, without any obviously outstanding qualities. He doesn’t look heroic, and it’s awhile before he starts acting heroic. What makes him great is his nobleness of character and especially his courage, which come out more and more as the book goes on. It’s inspiring to read about him, because if this fat old hobbit who whines about having to leave home without his handkerchief can go on such an adventure, and be so bold and strong, than surely I can, too. Bilbo shows, in a very believable way, how a normal, everyday person has the potential to be the greatest of heroes. I think that is a major reason why reading The Hobbit is such a wholesome experience.

 

One thing that I found interesting about The Hobbit as I reread it this most recent time is how many events occur in the story that were not caused  by the heroes or by the villain. In most modern writing it’s typical for the events of the story to be driven by the actions of the hero and the villain; usually it starts with something caused directly or indirectly by the villain himself, then continues to the hero’s reaction and its consequences, then back to the villain, and so on and so forth, with typically very little influence from outside forces. If a story isn’t that way, then it can run the risk of seeming random, as if too many unconnected events are occurring around these characters–at least, that’s the conventional wisdom on the subject. Yet in The Hobbit, most of the story’s major events do not happen as a result of what the characters are doing (except insofar as the events wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t gone on their adventure), and it still works quite well as a story. The dragon Smaug isn’t even killed by one of the main characters! He’s killed by this random guy from Laketown who happens to be a good archer. In a modern story it would be almost unforgivable for the big bad monster to be killed by someone so totally unrelated to the main characters. In a modern story it would seem far too fortuitous for the adventuring party to be suddenly rescued by eagles, or to come across such helpful personages as Beorn without doing something pretty tough to earn his help. But I think the reason all this works in The Hobbit is that it’s more like real life. In real life, you have very limited control over the events that take place around you. A good deal of what happens is not very much the result of your actions, or the actions of anyone you might consider an enemy, but the result of other people’s lives crossing yours in unexpected ways. And so it feels very authentic when, after all that struggle, the dragon flies off into the blue and is killed by a random stranger, or when the very old legends about the return of the King Under the Mountain result in a warm welcome for the adventuring party in Laketown. There is a life in Middle-Earth and its characters that causes all sorts of wild events,  the same as the life in our Earth and its people does.

 

To me, The Hobbit seems a very true story. It is an excellent example of how fantasy can be as true as life, or truer. I think it has certainly now earned a place amongst my favorite books!

 

~ Jared

Furuba

Fruits.Basket.full.1184173

And so, for the second time in my life, I have finished reading through Takaya Natsuki-sensei’s lovely manga series, Fruits Basket. This is a special series for me, because it was the very first manga I ever read, back when I was sixteen or so and just getting interested in Japanese culture. In some ways, this is an odd series to begin with, especially for a sixteen-year-old guy. It’s shojo, or “girl’s manga”–a genre specifically targeted at girls between the ages of 10 and 18. It’s a fairly well-known series, but it’s never gained the popularity of, say, Bleach or One Piece (which is a shame, because Bleach, at least, is a far inferior story). The only reason I ever knew about it was because it was recommended to me by a dear friend, to whom I am forever indebted for introducing me to this story. When I first picked it up, I’ll admit that the cover designs made me a little dubious.

Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.
   Cover art for Fruits Basket: Volume 1.

 

See what I mean? But I quickly got over that. It took no time  at all for me to fall in love with this series and especially with its characters. I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to go on and read many more manga, and I’m pretty sure that Furuba (as the series is nicknamed by Takaya-sensei) was the real beginning of my interest in Japan and all things Japanese. I’d been doing karate for years by the time I read Furuba, so I’d had a curiosity about Japan for a long time–but this story really inspired me. Anyway, that’s a bit beside the point. A few years went by, I moved out  on my own, and I decided upon finding out that a good friend owned most of the series that it was time  to read it again. It didn’t take me long to remember why I liked the story so much–and also to realize that I’d forgotten most of what happened! I still remembered the most important points of the story, but I’d forgotten so much that it was almost like reading the manga again for the first time. This managed to push Harry Potter aside for the duration of my reading it–which is a huge compliment, coming from me! (although I should grant that this is my third or fourth reread of Harry Potter and I’ve also seen all the movies a few times) Anyway, I just finished my reread of Fruits Basket a couple of days ago, and so, I would now like to share a little bit about why I love this story so much.

 

Where to even begin…? Well, I suppose I’d better start with a short plot summary. This is how the story goes: a young girl named Tohru is living by herself in a tent on the edge of town, because her mother recently died in a car accident and she has nowhere else to go (although that isn’t quite true–more on that later). She discovers, while exploring around, a house belonging to fellow named Shigure Sohma, who is living with two other members of the Sohma family, Kyo and Yuki. They take her in when they realize she was living by herself in a tent, and all they ask in return is that she keep the house clean and cook their meals. She’s grateful to accept, and the story proceeds from there. It follows Tohru’s various trials and travails as she gets to know the members of the troubled Sohma family, who are afflicted with a curse: when hugged or held by a member of the opposite gender, they change into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Over the course of the story, Tohru decides to break the curse on the Sohmas, and also eventually falls in love with one particular Sohma, Kyo.

 

Now I’ll get some technical stuff out of the way. For one, the anime: in my opinion, it’s hardly worth mentioning. It condenses the entire 23-volume story of Fruits Basket into a 26 episode anime series, and has to leave out so much that it’s hardly the same story. It’s still enjoyable, but, to use a reference to the character of Hatori Sohma, it’s the seahorse to the manga series’ dragon. The other technical aspect I want to touch on is the art–it isn’t terribly impressive. The best part about it is the expressiveness of the faces, which are admittedly some of the most naturally expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a manga. But other than that, the art is nothing to get excited about. Backgrounds are minimal enough to make me think that Takaya-sensei is either plain bad at them, or dislikes drawing them as much as I do. Characters are sometimes awkwardly proportioned, beyond the usual distortion of manga style, and the bare feet of the figures are always just a little bit “off”. But neither the lackluster anime nor the somewhat lackluster art are anything to judge this series by. The most important part of the artwork–the faces and body language of the characters–are done superbly, and that’s really all that matters.

 

So probably one of my favorite aspects of this series is its characters. There’s quite a few of them–the fourteen characters who are part of the Zodiac curse, Tohru herself, her friends, the student council at her high school (a group which Yuki Sohma eventually becomes part of), and a handful of other side characters. Without exception, they’re all fleshed out and complex. Most of them have painful pasts and, as the series begins, are living in confusion or struggle. Even the unpleasant ones are easy to fall in love with, because they all just hurt so bad. The main trio of the story–Tohru, Kyo, and Yuki–are developed the most, and it’s a mark of Takaya-sensei’s skill that they remain fascinating characters throughout the series, even once we know all their secrets. The characters and their relationships are the most important element of the story. Once you look a little bit under the hood, this story is really about a brilliant  beam of light–Tohru–shining in and dispersing the clouds that have gathered over the Sohmas. The whole meaning of the story could be best expressed in the simple phrase, “Love conquers all.” That would be an easy thing to overdo or to make sappy or to ring false, but Takaya-sensei expresses it beautifully through her story. Tohru is, for the purpose of this story, love. She is able to love truly, in a way that is very rarely depicted in fiction. She isn’t blind. She sees the faults of those she loves, maybe more clearly than anyone else does–and she forgives them. She would sacrifice anything for the people she loves. She is so kind, but she is also courageous, and even implacable. She will stop at nothing to show love to the people around her. I’ve heard it said that the depth of her love, combined with her humbleness, make her seem a little too good to be human. I disagree; I think it is possible for real people to love like she does and to be humble like she is, although that’s an ideal that might be reached for over the course of one’s entire life. But more than that, I don’t think Tohru is meant to be just a normal girl. I would say that she is a saint, and this story shows what might happen if a saint were to come along and impact the lives of a broken, hurting family. But her saintliness is balanced by her humanity. She has flaws and she’s always afraid. But she is still strong and admirable.

 

It’s the light of love shining through Tohru that softens and heals the Sohma family. She utterly changes their lives, turns their world upside-down. And it’s beautiful. This story is such a powerful expression of the strength of love and forgiveness, of the redemptive power of love, that I can’t help but be a little awed. As a Christian man who wants to write stories that can show those same truths–because they are truths central to my faith–I find this incredibly inspiring. Whether or no Takaya-sensei is a Christian, whether or no her characters have any belief whatsoever in God, there’s still a good deal of holy truth shining through this story. I can’t recommend it enough. The time reading through those 23 volumes of manga with girly fronts and painfully ridiculous blurbs on the backs will be most definitely time well spent.

 

~ Jared

Honda.Tohru.240.1358347

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Yes, I know I’m way late to be getting into Avatar. I always seem not to get into such things until after they’re already finished (Harry Potter, for example, I didn’t read until a couple years after Deathly Hallows was published). But anyway, I just finished the series. I liked it so much that I felt like writing a blog post about it, so allow me this brief bit of rambling about a favorite story, and then I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled programming (I promise I’ll write more Them Doctors! In fact, I’ve decided that the next installment will be extra-long and hopefully get the story moving pretty well).

 

Anyway, so Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’d had multiple people tell me it was really good and I needed to watch it, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I wasn’t terribly enthused, despite all I’d heard, because I’m not a big fan of American television. In fact I’m not much of a fan of television, period, and in general I only watch anime and some story-based live action shows such as Doctor Who and the BBC’s Sherlock. So I was a bit dubious. Then I started watching Avatar and got completely absorbed into it. It’s one of those stories that you can just sit back and lose yourself in, and those are my favorite kind. So many great elements to the show… I’m not even sure where to begin.

 

I suppose the characters and the way they were handled are my favorite aspects. This might sound strange, but I love that many of the characters were immature. They weren’t immature in an annoying way, though; they were immature in a realistic way. Most of them are under 20 years old, so it only makes sense for them to be so. Yet in so many fantasy stories with children and young adults as the protagonists, they’re either not immature, or they’re immature in the wrong ways. These characters behave realistically (although they’re not always treated quite as realistically, in my opinion). They act their age, yet they also show many good and strong and worthy characteristics. They act like kids who’ve been forced to grow up too fast, which is exactly what they are. Aside from that, I enjoyed their personalities quite a lot. Even Katarra’s–although for much of the series she seemed rather flat, by the end she was rebelling against her flatness, often trying to be “fun.” You’ve gotta love it when a character realizes how serious she is all the time and starts trying to act differently. Because, of course, that’s true to real life.Another thing I really loved was the treatment of Azula in the series. In the end she’s the most twisted and conflicted of them all, and she never repents as far as is shown. Her inner turmoil is never explicitly stated, never explained. But you just know she’s torn up inside, lonely, devastated, empty. I didn’t like her when she first came into the show. By the end, I pitied her as I’ve pitied few characters in fiction.

 

Anyway. I suppose all I really want to say is that Avatar: The Last Airbender had quite an affect on me. It’s the sort of grand adventure that seems to be rare these days. People often want to make their stories “gritty” or “edgy,” make them less innocent and more mature and dark. Here we have a story made for kids, which couldn’t be any of those things precisely because it was intended for kids. I think adults need more of that kind of story… that youthful, innocent sense of adventure, good striving for victory over evil, love and redemption and friendship. There’s a reason we tell those sorts of stories to our children. You don’t want to tell your child stories that would hurt his development as a person or put wrong or bad ideas into his head, or at least most people don’t. Why should something that is not fine for one’s children be fine for oneself? Now I’m not saying this applies all across the board. Plenty of good stories have things in them that you wouldn’t want your kids to see until they were of age. But never should an adult think that just because a story is “for kids,” it has no value for an adult. I think the world would be a better place if adults cared more about cultivating innocence and a sense of adventure in themselves….

 

Okay, I started rambling. Back to Avatar. There are a lot of things I could say about it, but… I think I’ll just end with this. Avatar has spirit and heart. It’s wholesome and satisfying on multiple levels, like a good savory meal. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. And yep, I know how late I am. :P

 

~ Jared

Randomness

Well, hello there! It’s been awhile since I posted anything here. Sorry about that, I just get inspiration for blog posts so rarely. I don’t have much inspiration for one today, really, but I felt like posting something, so there you go.

 First off, what’s new with me! I should be starting an apprenticeship at a tattoo shop  very soon. I’m enjoying my second to last semester of college (unless I go on to a four  year school… I’m thinking of, perhaps, going to art school eventually). I’m editing the  story I wrote for 3 Day Novel (and it needs a lot of work, I can tell you!). I’m reading  some manga–Fullmetal Alchemist and Planetes, and soon to start Hellsing. I’m in the  middle of an anime, too: Trigun! Which, at episode 11, has finally gotten to be pretty  interesting.

In other news, I’ve also bought several new music albums recently.  I think that shall  be the focus of this post. I haven’t done any music reviews yet, so I might as well, eh?  Okay, so I bought four albums in the past week or so: The King is Dead by the  Decemberists, The Suburbs Deluxe by Arcade Fire, A Maid In Bedlam by the John  Renbourn Group, and The Saga of Mayflower May by Marissa Nadler. They are all completely different and very good. I’ve found, recently, that I’m leaning more towards this kind of music lately… the more folky, indie stuff. I used to be really into metal. Which I still love, but I’m not listening to it as much anymore. At any rate, the albums. I guess I’ll start with….

The King Is Dead

By the Decemberists

This is the Decemberists’ latest album. It’s fairly different from their previous works–a lot simpler, and rather shorter, at only 40 minutes. When I first heard it, I didn’t like it. I thought the songs were boring and didn’t approve of the somewhat Country-ish stylistic shift. After having heard the songs several times, though, something about it has taken hold of me: it’s still the same old Decemberists we know and love, just with a new sound. This album has a more friendly feel to it than many of their others, and the songs, though simpler than in the past, are just as good as anything the Decemberists have recorded. Is it my favorite Decemberists album? No, so far nothing can beat Picaresque. But it’s good and definitely worth buying, whether you’re a fan of the Decemberists or not. Now, on to….

The Suburbs (Deluxe Edition)

By Arcade Fire

Ah, Arcade Fire. A band I’d never even heard of until quite recently. Definitely an interesting band, and a masterpiece of an album. They are, I believe, on an independent label, which is generally a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The songs on this album are fascinating. Musically, they’re good–catchy, complex, a very cool sound–but the lyrics are where they really shine. I’ve never been one to listen much to lyrics, because I for some reason have a terrible time picking them out from the rest of the music. But this album has some really interesting lyrics about modern life that make it well worth listening closely. I’ve listened to it several times and I still don’t feel as if I’ve comprehended its full depth.

A Maid In Bedlam

By the John Renbourn Group

Musically, this is probably the best of the four albums that I bought. It’s got some really lovely, complex songs in the vein of Pentangle, except more traditional. In fact, John Renbourn was the guitarist for Pentangle, and the female vocals on this album are sung by Pentangle’s lead singer. So if you like Pentangle, you’ll probably like this! It is different, however, and a wonderful album in its own right. I’m fairly certain that all the songs on here are traditional songs from the British Isles. The general style sounds somewhat medieval, with a lot of guitar. Very enjoyable, beautiful music.

The Saga of Mayflower May

By Marissa Nadler

The Saga of Mayflower May has, to my ears at least, the most beautiful sound of any of these albums. Almost the entire thing is nothing but Marissa Nadler’s guitar playing and sweet vocals, but you hardly notice that it’s only one person playing, because it sounds so pretty. The whole tone of the album is very haunting and sweet. The songs are very melancholy. It’s one of those albums to listen to when you want to be transported elsewhere….

Okay, I’ve rambled long enough, and I need to do homework now. Bye!

~ Jared