Soundtrack Review: Nier Automata

By Jackson Anderson

Nier: Automata is a video game by the critically heralded niche developer PlatinumGames, masters of the spectacle fighter, or, in other words, games in which a protagonist (or antagonist, it doesn’t really matter) adventures through comically exaggerated worlds destroying everything in their path with an array of comically exaggerated attacks. Publisher Square Enix recently contracted the developer to reawaken the dormant series Nier, a bizarre cult classic that subverts genre tropes and has overt and covert commentary on the artificially of human life. In Nier: Automata you are B2: an android constructed by a small group of humans exiled in the moon with the task to –alongside a small flotilla of other androids– to retake the Earth from an army of non-sentient (or are they) machines.

 

That is all that you need to know about Nier: Automata the video game, because what really blew me away about it –and made me realize how incredible it was– was its adaptive and expansive soundtrack. Composer Keiichi Okabe outdid himself in spectacular fashion, employing an array of classic string instruments such as pianos, violins, and acoustic guitars during calmer, more cerebral moments in the game, before adding mechanical and industrial sounds through synthesizers for more intense spots and boss fights.

 

What is really incredible about Nier: Automata’s soundtrack, though, is how many minute and tailored tracks the game has. Minor spoilers for small side quests ahead. One example is there is a side quest in which the player is instructed to retrieve a music box for a friendly resistance member that belonged to their old friend. Once you find this box, it is revealed that this old friend perished at some point. If the player chooses to return the box and tell the resistance member that their friend is dead, the resistance camp theme –usually a calming and spartan acoustic guitar ballad– switches into a minor key on the xylophone: the music box that the player has just returned to the resistance member. Two incredibly minor characters that make no reappearance come to life through music, and the music box resounding through the camp as you exit makes for a bittersweet and touching experience.

 

A more light-hearted example of these specifically tailored tracks is another optional side quest in which a player has to escort a little girl safely back to her sister in a small village. It’s a happy return if you succeed, the entire village singing praises as you do, with rewards abound. The most beautiful and heart-warming change, however, is that the village’s theme, usually played by a flute, switches to a little girl singing it in la’s. It was so sweet and perfect that I didn’t want to exit the village. It perfectly encapsulated the feeling of reunification and hope that the villagers were experiencing better than any dialogue could have, and added an emotional layer to a video game that is difficult to achieve.

 

Not all studios can afford to have massive soundtracks like Nier can, unfortunately, but when the budget is there to go all-out, Okabe and PlatinumGames have set the new standard for soundtracks. Every single track on the expansive track list for Nier feels like it serves a purpose rather than to simply fill the silence. Instead, they complement what is happening on the screen and make each scene 3-Dimensional and lifelike in a way that not enough video game soundtracks do. Okabe and his team deserve high praise and recognition for a resounding success in one of the best video game soundtracks ever created.

Nothington’s In the End – Album Review

By Jackson Anderson

It’s quite a pleasant phenomenon, being graced with new releases completely out of the blue. It’s like a surprise birthday party. When I saw Nothington’s In the End appear on my spotify feed, I was astonished. I wondered if there was another band that called itself Nothington, or if there was some sort of mix-up. In my mind, Nothington had ceased to exist. With there being a now six-year gap between their last release, and former guitarist Ryan Donovan joining Red City Radio to replace Paul Pendley, I figured that the orgcore legends known as Nothington had quietly dissolved. Then In the End unceremoniously released. I went to see if any of the usual news sites had written any reviews on it, and absolutely none of them had, so I decided that I had better remedy that.

 

Nothington, along with The Lawrence Arms, Red City Radio, and Hot Water Music is a poster child of the piss-taking sub genre of pop-punk that is orgcore. Characterized by rough, throaty vocals, apolitical subject matter, worn flannel, beards, and pretentious folks such as myself discussing these bands on the internet (hence the org), orgcore is a somewhat disputed sub genre as to whether it even exists, but no matter who you ask, Nothington has always been one of its forefathers, whatever it is. Fronted by Jay Northington (I wonder how they got the name), a good ol’ boy from the south with a voice rough, throaty, and low as they come, Nothington have always dealt with another classic orgcore trope: the struggles of the middle-class white American. I don’t say that with any disparaging intents, but simply as a statement of fact. Everyone has struggles, and the orgcore demographics and artists feel a desire and venue to voice their own unique struggles as well.

 

As time went on, Jay adopted a sidekick in the form of Chris Matulich, a nasally second vocalist evocative of Green Bay’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Chris proved to be the upbeat and optimistic yin to Jay’s at times negativistic and dreary yang. Chris did always feel like just that, though, a sidekick. Jay usually split the vocal duties with Chris at a ratio of about 75/25, allowing Chris 3 or 4 songs an album. It was a decent balance, but sometimes it left people confused as to who that other guy even was.

 

With In the End, it feels as if the apprentice has finished his training. For the first time ever, Chris has the majority of songs on the album. It is, I concede, a small majority, with Chris singing in six of the eleven songs on the record. As for the album’s sound as a whole, it may be the best and most refined that the band has ever produced. Aging is always a difficult thing for bands, but for Nothington, a band whose shtick is rough and throaty vocals, age has a similar effect on them as it does on a fine wine. Both Jay and Chris exhibit a maturity in their vocal talents, and a rough growliness in their vocal styles that longtime fans of the band should eat right up.

 

Sonically, In the End is Nothington’s darkest record. While they have always been a bit of a doom and gloom band, they did it with an upbeat devil-may-care attitude and a southern charm. In In the End they sound decidedly weathered. The album art, as you can see, features a minimalist depiction of a bird falling to the earth. Songs like Jay’s “Already There” and “End Transmission” have an almost apocalyptic tone to them. These downers are balanced out by anthemic songs of nostalgia and motivation, both courtesy of Chris, “Cobblestones” and “It Comes and Goes.”

 

Overall, I believe that In the End will become a classic, highly regarded entry in Nothington’s discography. It has both the familiarity of Jay’s throaty desperation with a tinge of hopeful ambition to it, and a newfound bit of energy and newness in Chris’s added bit of spotlight. It features some of the best work from both vocalists, driving anthems, and even a fleeting melody in “Nothing but Beaches.” They done good.

Album Review (?): Signals Midwest’s At This Age

By Jackson Anderson

One of my goals in starting this blog or website or writing endeavour, or whatever one wants to call this collection of writing tied together by domain name and punk rock subject matter, was to never let it become review. I don’t consider myself a music critic. I don’t consider myself a film critic. I don’t consider myself a literary critic. I still feel very strongly about all those things. People have called me a punk rock aficionado, a film buff, a bookworm, and I believe those are all apt titles. There is no clause in any of those roles that states I must review the mediums that interest me. I have opinions of course, and I’ll happily tell you my favourite band, my favorite album, my favorite movie, or my favorite book without even being asked to. The problem that I face with criticism is when it becomes negative. I may have very briefly fired some snarky words the direction of some of my favorite bands because I knew they could take it and because my reverence for these bands was so apparent that I was confident enough that a bit of tongue-in-cheek language would not be mistook for negative criticism or “bashing.”

 

 

Maybe it is because I come from the online world, but I have seen a disturbingly populous cohort of people that take a perverse, almost sexual pleasure in telling their fellows, particularly artists, how much their work sucks. These individuals love nothing more than the complete and utter failure of a videogame to live up to the hype, and every failed promise of the developers brings them a greater sense of schadenfreude than the opposing party failing to deliver on campaign promises in elections. A similar cohort exists not only in the videogame community, but among the communities surrounding books, film, and, of course, music. This obsession with the failure of others, the delight in which people take in seeing the crushing of dreams, has never been particularly attractive to me. I don’t do review primarily because I only talk about music that I like; I have no interest in making comments about what I don’t. Maybe this creates the illusion that I adore anything associated with the punk rock community. Let me clear that up; I certainly do not. For every standout punk band that is criminally underrated and unknown, toiling through obscurity despite the fact that they should be the best in the business, they are surrounded by hundreds of other bands in the same position that actually just suck. Was that a very nice thing to say? No, it wasn’t; that’s why I refrain from using that kind of language.

 

 

Another reason why I never wanted to do any reviews was because I was unsure how to rate or score albums. They would all be releases that I liked, since I was going to stay away from negativity, and thus a scoring system would likely get very repetitive. I am also hugely anti-scores in any form of criticism simply for the sheer arbitrarity of assigning percentage based scores to equate goodness. From what I have found, 5/5 is very different than 10/10. 75% is also very different than 7.5/10. Then aggregates have to average all of that, and some sad bastardization of all the scores comes out on the end that represents nothing of the original sums. I tried to not go on that tangent, but I went on it anyway. Bottom line: I don’t like scoring things.

 

 

Lastly, review was just never really my schtick. I wanted to talk about what the songs meant to me. I wanted to relate songs to incidents that had happened in my own life. When I wanted to explain what made songwriters great, I wanted to do it in greater detail than to simply say their latest album was good. When I saw a motif in an album that was particularly effective, I would rather single it out and really explore all it had to offer rather than say “I like how The Wonder Years talk about Ghosts” as a one-off sentence in my review on their album. Because, at the end of the day, to appropriate a quote from Ratatouille, I don’t like music, I love it. If I don’t love it, I don’t listen. When I do love it, I don’t feel like I need to tell someone; that should just be apparent by the fact that I’m going into such detail of talking about it and pointing it out.

 

 

But, the thing is, I’m busy. I can’t do a post a day anymore. What I can do is recommend new albums that I like and give a brief summary of why they’re good. I don’t know if this will be a regular thing, but we’ll see where it goes.

 

a0555595794_10

Signals Midwest are the third band to makeup a trio that exists only in my head that I call “Chris McCaughan’s Midwestern Nightmare.” We’ll probably meet the other two bands later, but, as of right now, they’re not important. Signals Midwest impressed the only guy I’ve ever heard mention them, Jackson Anderson, with their 2012 release, Latitudes and Longitudes mainly due to the impressive technical guitar work that appeared on that album’s opener. The musicianship and talent in the band has always been very apparent. Lyrically, the band also proved that they were in good company with the usual suspects of Orgcore, having the same poetic and thesaurus-complemented ways with words as some of their contemporaries like Elway or The Lawrence Arms. What I didn’t really like about Latitudes and Longitudes was Signals Midwest’s attitude. They had it, and they flaunted it. They were smarter than the average punk. They could play their instruments better than the average punk. Cool, cool. Neither of those things are bad at all, but some of that translated into arrogance. I say this having never met or listened to an interview with any of the band members. They could be really chill, relaxed guys, or they could actually be egomaniacs.

 

 

Luckily for Signals Midwest, their talent and the fact that their first two albums were generally well-received were enough to stave off that one guy from Utah that slinked to the back of the show when people started talking about them. I was actually really excited for At This Age even before I heard a single song off of it. Every album that has been released this year by any band that I have heard of (and most bands that I haven’t heard of) has just turned out to be amazing. The first thing I said when I listened to At This Age was something along the lines of “What the hell happened to Max Sternwell’s voice?” Well, I probably said “that guy” because I had to look up his name just barely, but you get the idea. Max had a very unique singing style on Latitudes and Longitudes that was smooth, but booming and forceful. It was one of the things that I had liked about the band, but, upon reflection, was also one of the things that made me think he was pretentious. By the time we arrive at At This Age, Max has mellowed it out a bit, and I think it serves the album quite well.

 

 

At This Age is the Greatest Story Ever Told for this band. Oops, I might have showed my hand a bit too much there. Yeah, I really dig this one. Signals Midwest have perfectly divorced themselves of any air of pretentiousness or arrogance, and  have produced the perfect orgcore album. Is it generic? You bet your ass it is, but I am certainly not going to complain. It’s four real dudes singing about real things that happen in real life. So it’s generic by factor of its uniqueness. The chords are a bit samey; we don’t have as much of the crazy technical “look how good I am” that was on display on their earlier albums, but, again, I think it fits the album better. It’s another album about good times, bad times, pretty people, broken hearts, love, death, and everything in between. I’ve heard a thousand records like it, but none of them are quite like this. The same can be said for all of those other records, too. That’s really what orgcore is all about. Keep on keepin’ on, Signals Midwest. You hit it out of the park with this one.