Song of the Day: Paradise Lost (by Gain)

ga-in paradise lost

The latest Song of the Day: K-Pop Edition is not just borderline NSFW, but should also piss off the very religious. From the video’s dark and very sexual imagery and choreography to it’s reinterpretation of some long-standing Biblical storytelling, Brown Eyed Girls’ member known as Gain released the song “Paradise Lost” from her 2015 solo album.

The song’s release had the usual fanfare but also reconfirmed her as one of K-Pop’s longstanding artist who pushed the boundaries of the very rigid and structured K-Pop industry where talent is trained and honed and controlled by untold numbers of corporate handlers.

“Paradise Lost” is a 4 minute-plus tour de force of a video that presents Gain in the role of Eve both while in the Garden of Eden and also after her expulsion from “paradise.” Whether it’s the elaborate satin and lace white wedding dress that obscures and hints at Eve’s repressed sexuality down to the black and white sequence where Gain is not just Even after her expulsion, but moving like the snake who tempted her and Adam to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.

While some will just focus on Gain’s sultry and smoldering beauty and the video’s sinuous and sexualized choreography, when the lyrics of the song and Gain’s powerful and emotionally devastating performance gets factored in the song and video become one of K-Pop’s great masterpieces that even the Western music world hasn’t seen since the days when Madonna experimented and explored her sexuality through her music and her videos in the early 1990’s.

So, come and take a seat and watch for the taboo thrill of the NSFW video, but stay for the message in the song and learn why sometimes it’s the non-believers who truly understands the true meaning behind the things we consider Biblical and sacred.

Neon Dream #10: The Album Leaf – The Outer Banks

The Album Leaf is an electronic-oriented post-rock band headed by Jimmy LaValle. While the project has been around since 1998, LaValle made it onto most post-rock radars with his third album, In a Safe Place. Released in 2004, is was LaValle’s first album on Sub Pop, and it featured most of Sigur Rós as studio musicians. The album was significant, I think, for affirming that great post-rock did not have to conform to the structure and instrumentation standards that were beginning to overwhelm the genre.

For me though, it filled a very different role. I was pretty obsessed with Lost in Translation at the time, and that soundtrack had a bit of a love affair with Rhodes piano and similar tones. That sound happened to be The Album Leaf’s trademark, and it fit in beautifully, especially with Brian Reitzell’s contributions and “Tommib” by Squarepusher. I ended up inserting my favorite track off In a Safe Place into the middle of my Lost in Translation playlist, and that’s how a song called “The Outer Banks” came to make me think of Japan.

Neon Dream #9: Air – Alone in Kyoto

Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation left a strange impression on me. In a way I can only really compare to Casablanca, it burrowed into my memory like an actual personal experience. I don’t review movies, and I am ill equipped to explain what made it such a special film for me, but the bond that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) forge over a few days in Tokyo is something I’ll always carry with me and look back on fondly. That’s pretty weird, but I’m not complaining.

Music was essential to Lost in Translation, embedded into scenes as a part of what Bob and Charlotte actually experience. The hotel lounge has a live jazz band. “The State We’re In” by The Chemical Brothers plays in the club they visit. Phoenix’s “Too Young” pumps over the stereo when they go to a friend’s apartment. A woman dances to Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” at the strip club. The actors aren’t just seen singing karaoke; they perform it at length. Coppola was pretty clever about extending this integration to the more traditionally situated background music. Happy End’s “Kaze wo Atsumete” enhances the feeling that Bob and Charlotte are winding down from an exhausting night, but it drifts faintly into the hallway, as if playing from the karaoke room. Charlotte is wearing headphones when we first hear Air’s “Alone in Kyoto”. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” kicks off as Bob enters his cab. The encore of “Kaze wo Atsumete” in the credits could easily be playing in Bob’s head. Almost every song in the movie functions within the environment, not just as a peripheral enhancement.

Garden State tried something like this a year later, though I don’t recall the extent of it beyond the awkward Shins sequence. The effect was a sort of garish, in-your-face endorsement of director Zach Braff’s favorite tunes. It didn’t really cut it for me, in spite of the soundtrack’s impressive cast. In Lost in Translation, Coppola was a lot more attentive to creating continuity between songs and bringing musicians on board with the film’s atmosphere. She didn’t stop at using “Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine; she dug founder Kevin Shields out of relative obscurity to compose four original pieces. A lot of the other artists formed a pre-existing community of sorts, suited to engage the project as art rather than a quick paycheck. Soundtrack supervisor Brian Reitzell performed drums for Air on their 2001 album 10 000 Hz Legend. Both Air and Roger Joseph Manning Jr, a fellow studio musician on that album, contribute original music to Lost in Translation. Phoenix previously performed with Air, and Sofia Coppola ultimately married their singer. While their contribution was recycled (“Too Young” appears in the context of young adults who would have been familiar with obscure but up and coming artists; using Phoenix’s first single made sense), the band was still involved in Coppola’s social sphere of musicians.

“Alone in Kyoto” plays as Charlotte travels through the classic side of Japan, visiting shrines and observing ancient customs. While that could possibly put it at odds with my theme, Air’s approach keeps the feeling modern, casting tradition as a subtle, delicate element of the present rather than as a form of escapism. It also occurs in a sequence without character interaction, permitting a pure sense of exploration. Within Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack, “Alone in Kyoto” reaches closest to that Japanese dream that still permeated a lot of American subcultures in 2003. The movie itself brought many of us the closest we would ever come to actually living that dream.

Neon Dream #8: Aphex Twin – Flim

I had a really neat experience once in Monterey. I had never been to California before, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t get to see much of anything getting there, so I had no idea what existed outside of the town itself. I volunteered to help in the Big Sur marathon, and we loaded up at 4am to drive to the starting point. I knew we were going around a lot of twists and turns, but it was dark and I didn’t think much of it. When the sun came up, we were in a forest, so I figured we must have traveled inland. On the way back, I realized that we’d been dangling on the edge of a cliff dropping into the Pacific ocean the whole way. We were so high up and it was so foggy that sometimes I couldn’t see the ocean at all, and it looked like we were on some floating island in the sky.

An inner city doesn’t work like that. At night, your senses are distorted by a thousand lights shining at you from every direction. Mile-high offices dot the sky like stars. Roads expand to accommodate a vast matrix where red and white atoms shift about chaotically. Black holes surround floating portals into the dimensions of designer makeup and investment banking. Nothing really ends; it just blurs into an electric haze in the distance. The daylight shrinks it all back down into something you can swallow. The cars are just cars. The billboards abandon their depth. The towers have their peaks. Without distinct points of light, they fade from your awareness. No matter how vast the sun-lit scene may be, something about it feels just a bit smaller. It’s quaint, really–a return to a simpler world where buildings are merely a thousand feet tall and bodies line the streets in self-propelled steel boxes, listlessly nodding their heads to music beamed in from outer space.

“Flim”, by the venerable Aphex Twin, appears on the 1997 Come to Daddy EP. It has the sense about it, to me at least, of opening blinds at the top of a highrise hotel and staring across a city in its mid-day bustle.

Song of the Day: Pacific Rim Theme (by Ramin Djawadi feat. Tom Morello)


Ok, to say that my latest musical obsession comes directly from Pacific Rim shouldn’t be quite a surprise. I’ve been so hyped about Guillermo Del Toro’s valentines card to all things mecha and daikaiju that it is only logical that it should progress right to it’s soundtrack. The latest “Song of the Day” is the awesometastic and auralgasmic opening theme song to Pacific Rim composed by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi featuring the lead guitar stylings of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.

The “Pacific Rim Theme” is quite the homage to the classic mecha and giant robot anime series of the 70’s and early 80’s. It doesn’t go for the recent trend of classical-based opening credits song with the latest mecha series from  Japan, but it instead goes for the full-on rock’n’roll treatment. It’s mostly brass and strings with some cameos from the horn section. It also makes great use of the electronic style that evokes early John Carpenter and some of the scifi action films of the early 80’s.

It helps to have Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine doing lead guitar duties throughout the piece.

In the film, the Jaeger pilots were seen as rock stars by the public and this theme made damn sure that we know that when it plays out in the beginning.

VGM Entry 26: Tim Follin’s noise machine

VGM Entry 26: Tim Follin’s noise machine
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

In most cases it’s fairly reasonable to think of the ZX Spectrum as a secondary system for game music. It didn’t seem to have the capacity of the Commodore 64, and a lot of the game themes that ended up there were toned down takes on C64 originals, attempting to emulate the SID sound as closely as possible. But the ZX Spectrum did have its own unique if seldom exploited flavor, and over the course of three years one ingenious artist in particular would develop that into a brilliant new chiptune style to rival anything produced for the SID.

Some time in 1985, or perhaps a bit earlier, Mike Follin scored a programming job at Insight Software. Mike passed the soundtrack of what would be his first commercially released game, Subterranean Stryker (Insight, March 1985), down to his musically inclined younger brother Tim, who thereby got his first taste of programming. The result was fairly simple–little more than an amateur doodle–but for a 15 year old kid with no prior programming experience it was a pretty sound start. Insight Software were satisfied enough to keep Tim Follin around, and over the next year he familiarized himself with the sounds of the ZX Spectrum.

What he probably didn’t do was familiarize himself with the sounds of Rob Hubbard. What emerged from Tim Follin’s early experimentation on the ZX Spectrum was a sound all of its own. Agent X (Mastertronic, 1986) was heavily influenced by progressive rock, a feature which would characterize Tim’s work across multiple decades and platforms, but its uniqueness rested on his productive employment of the system’s excessively distorted tones. Rather than viewing the distortion as an obstacle blocking the path to quality arrangements, Tim Follin made it an essential and intrinsic feature of the music.

Agent X didn’t appear out of nowhere. Follin’s sound steadily improved during his short stint with Insight Software, such that on Vectron (late 1985) you can definitely hear a rough draft of things to come. His better works also coincided with his first real job. Follin was hired by developers Software Creations in 1986 (they developed all of the Mastertronic games I’ll be featuring here); he was no longer tailing his brother and composing for spare change. The compositional quality understandably improved in turn.

Tim Follin’s ZX Spectrum sound was unlike anything heard on the Commodore 64. It was a sort of post-rock prog shoegaze madness before any such notion formally existed, meant to be blasted at maximum volume, encasing the listener in a wall of sound. Future Games (Mastertronic, June 1986), my personal favorite on the system, was a far more intelligent piece than Agent X. The way the song slowly builds up into a glitch-beat explosion at 2:06 is a tremendous feat given how little Follin had to work with. The song essentially ends unfinished at 2:31, but I think that can be forgiven in light of what all he accomplished here.

I think a lot of this style is the product of Follin’s own originality, and fairly unprecedented in its day. Certainly outside influence on some of the progressive rock elements is self-evident, and in an interview probably dated to 1999 or 2000, the original of which is now lost, Follin acknowledged that he was exposed to a lot of Genesis, Yes, and Rush growing up. But the shoegazey layer of static and especially the glitch beats are features I don’t start to identify in other musical scenes until some time later. It’s not like he was listening to Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares at home.

Agent X II (Mastertronic, 1987) was a good deal more accessible than most of his previous works, featuring a bluesy groove and plenty of rock and roll soloing, but noise was still the glue that held it all together. I think it’s pretty telling that when Tim Follin programmed the Commodore 64 port sound–Agent X II and Scumball (Mastertronic, 1987) were his first attempts at C64 composition–he wrote an entirely new set of songs. Follin based everything he wrote around the instrument with which he wrote it, and however much other artists were trying to make the ZX Spectrum sound like a C64, these were two different animals.

Chronos (Mastertronic, 1987) is probably his most famous ZX Spectrum theme, and understandably so. Technically, or so I gather from the comments I’ve read, it is his most outstanding effort on the system. I don’t know enough to recognize technical skill in chiptune programming when it slaps me in the face. But I think the music speaks for itself. Tim Follin was to the ZX Spectrum what Rob Hubbard was to the Commodore 64, and it was only his first of many legacies.

VGM Entry 13: Darius

VGM Entry 13: Darius
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Taito have kindly sent me a letter informing me of their intention to sue me for this post, and in particular for its visual and audio depictions of an out of print soundtrack for an out of print arcade machine, if I do not remove such content immediately. Taito being a subsidiary of Square Enix, I highly encourage you to boycott all Square Enix products in the future. Since their games are terrible these days anyway I am probably doing you a favor.

Unfortunately Hisayoshi Ogura is the one that suffers here, since Square Enix have simultaneously expressed no intention of legally distributing his work and barred all attempts by fans to share it.

It is very easy to get on a one-track mind and focus down home gaming in total disregard for the arcade. Arcade composers rarely had the lasting impact of Nintendo and computer game music, perhaps in part because arcade gaming as a business was pretty much dead by the end of the 80s. Where arcade music is still remembered today, it is usually in the form of NES and C64 port renditions. Yet in the mid-1980s, some producers still placed their finest resources into refining the arcade game first and foremost. Taito’s Zuntata sound team most significantly, and also Konami’s Kukeiha Club and Capcom’s Alph Lyla, were composing arcade music that far exceeded in sound quality anything ever heard on a home system. Taito did it best, and among their eccentric and innovative staff no one shines brighter than Hisayoshi Ogura. When Taito released its arcade shooter Darius in 1986, it achieved a level of sound quality that would not be surpassed until at least the late 1990s.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***
Chaos and Boss 4

A collection of experimental oddities both catchy and disturbing, it could not have been better suited for the game it represents. Darius was experimental and innovative in many ways, featuring a triple-screen ultra-wide display and a non-linear level progression which would mix up the seven stages between (I believe) twenty-six possible maps, creating a slightly different experience on every play through. It even featured multiple endings–something you might not expect from a shooter game.

You probably wouldn’t expect to be fighting giant evil space fish, either. Darius receives pretty mixed reviews from a lot of shooter junkies these days, but if I was going to spend my quarters on anything in 1986 I know it’s the first game I’d have tried. It attempts to awe and bewilder, and it succeeds.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***

You can really tell that Ogura designed his score to exploit every technological possibility available to him. The depth and fullness of the sound is overwhelming. It reminds me of the sort of audio experience I got from Square’s Einhänder–a game I bought specifically for the music. But Einhänder was released in 1997! Darius was 11 years old by then.

If it doesn’t sound that special to you, try plugging in headphones. Much like Kenneth W. Arnold’s Ultima soundtracks, my lousy laptop speakers can’t do it justice. I also recommend you try to get your hands on a copy of the soundtrack; Taito released a version as early as 1987, fully aware of its significance. I included a gameplay video of “Chaos” to showcase the music in action, but a playlist of the ost is also available. (Youtube link removed due to threats by Square Enix.) You can find full gameplay videos of each level with music on youtube thanks to *censored*.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***

“The Sea” might be the most eclectic song in the mix. It’s certainly my favorite. You quickly discover that it does not intend to be a typical aquatic theme when the demented chime tones come into play. The next transition back to relative normalcy is quickly derailed by an erratic explosion of mechanized blast beats, and Hisayoshi Ogura wraps it all up in fittingly weird form with what feels like some sort of proto-dubstep.

Taito knew they were kings of the arcade. Their house band, Zuntata, even went so far as to perform some of the Darius soundtrack live.

***Video removed due to Square Enix’s corporate bullying.***
Chaos, performed live by Zuntata

A lot of game developers had “house bands” in the early days. This is part of why it is difficult to attribute authorship to a lot of game soundtracks of the era. Taking a closer look at these bands could prove pretty interesting–perhaps another task for another summer. Hisayoshi Ogura was not the first video game composer to perform his material live. I believe that credit goes to Koichi Sugiyama. But this concert, dated to 1990, has to be among the first.

Darius–a 1986 video game music masterpiece. Considering how easily it might have slipped by me unnoticed, I have to wonder how much more I am leaving behind.