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Off the Grid and Into the Cut: The Impossible Kid

Aesop Rock has probably been one of our best rappers working and churning music out today. And now with both Skelethon and The Impossible Kid, he has become one of […]

Aesop Rock has probably been one of our best rappers working and churning music out today. And now with both Skelethon and The Impossible Kid, he has become one of our best producers working today, introducing heavily industrial sound and outright math-rock-like time signatures to hip hop. Much has been made about his vocabulary, his heavily intricate lyricism and his amazing flow. But his musical compositions are just as delightfully driving and out of the world as his lyrics.

The Impossible Kid is that rare album that manages to break away from an artist’s general style while still being tangibly and uniquely his. Aes’ previous work was often outright cryptic at times. Not unlike Death Grips’ MC Ride, Aesop delighted in dropping hints about his life and articulating his own pain. There were occasions when he was willing to bare it out (One Of Four, which, should be pointed out, is a secret track) but once Skelethon arrived and Aesop was producing his own beats, something clicked and Aes decided to be outright open about his life as a depressed and reclusive rapper.

This isn’t music without a sense of humor. Aes opens up album highlight “Shrunk” with “my first name is a random set of numbers and letters and other alphanumerics that changes hourly forever” and then places that in the context of a conversation with a therapist. He also spits “The future is amazing, I feel so fucking old // I bet you clone your pets and ride a hoverboard to work” with just the right amount of insecurity and sardonicism. In general, it’s safe that when the album is not a trigger for self-reflexion, it’s a humor mine, just constantly working in hindsight, as you realize things like the shrink from “Shrunk” is the one who suggested Aes gets “Kirby” the cat (and the song)

All of this is in an album that’s delightfully honest, explaining everything from Aesop Rock’s disappointment with the rap scene (“Dorks”) to his disappointment in himself for being a failed visual artist (first single, “Rings”) Aes combines all of this with his particular love for metaphor and simile to encode meaning with ease. It’s all very goofy but rap-heads who understand the form’s true potential as a challenge to the language speaker to communicate in ways that don’t often seem natural will appreciate it.

This combination of communication and depression is also something Aes milks for all its worth in this and what I’d argue is a companion piece: Skelethon, his previous work. In both albums Aesop communicates his feelings and ideas in ways that are often too complicated to parse at first sight. As he jokingly confesses in Shrunk, this is because he’s being guarded. Which makes the title “The Impossible Kid” take on so many meanings. Aes confessed that it referred to his “endless and often impossible quest to just feel OK—with myself, with the world, with my place, with my life, my relationships, my art, my impact, if any.” But that he could take many different meanings from it. The meaning I took from it is this: It’s about the genuine paradox in understanding communication on technical levels and yet not being able to communicate yourself to others because you’re guarded or scared of people knowing who you really are.

Aesop takes a brave step here, an extension of his career as the rapper who often rapped about stories that symbolized his feelings about labor or the rap scene through characters or code. And that brave step is realizing that he’s the most interesting character in his life.

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My Hero Academia Reminds You Why You Love Superheroes

Japan and America both have a long history with the superhero genre but despite obvious similarities, the differences between the way the cultures have approached the genre make for some pretty […]

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Japan and America both have a long history with the superhero genre but despite obvious similarities, the differences between the way the cultures have approached the genre make for some pretty different stories. One only needs to look at the Japanese Spider-man TV where our hero Tatsuya gets his power from an alien from the planet Spider, as well as a giant robot. Despite the massive differences between the way the two cultures treat the genre, there’s still an immediately recognizable core that makes a superhero. It’s something that makes My Hero Academia, the new anime adapted from the manga by Kohei Hiroshi and Hirofumi Nedi, a fascinating look at the evolution of the superhero genre as our fiction crosses borders at an unprecedented level. It doesn’t hurt that My Hero Academia also represents the best of what it means to be not just a superhero, but someone who loves them as well.

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Daredevil never dares and barely devils.

It’s amazing what a year can do to your opinions. Stories you love become, in hindsight, bloated and ridden with boring passages. Stories you dislike at first sight reveal their […]

It’s amazing what a year can do to your opinions. Stories you love become, in hindsight, bloated and ridden with boring passages. Stories you dislike at first sight reveal their charms. Stories you are indifferent about become filled with meaning as you reconsider what the story tried to do in the first place. In Daredevil’s case, a season that packed quite a punch for me on my original view, felt increasingly stale as I started to think about its treatment of its diverse cast and its anticlimactic ending. Of course, these individual flaws don’t necessarily eliminate my enjoyment of the show and the way it handled things like Matt Murdock’s origin by showcasing his relationships with Jack (his father), Foggy (his best friend/partner in law) and Karen Page (their legal assistant) was thrilling and Charlie Cox’s performance demonstrates exactly what makes Daredevil more than just “Spider-Man meets Batman”.

Of course, it should have been just a matter of emphasizing these elements and phasing out the more hyper-masculine nonsense as well as the pervasive sense that the Asians members of the cast were just there to make direct reference to the worst, most orientalist aspects of the comics. Daredevil’s supposed concerns during its first seasons were about how crime fighting affected life in a melting pot like New York as people from all walks of life were outright steamrolled by criminals masquerading as elite businessmen. There’s a lot of power to this idea and Daredevil was at its best when it explored it, alongside Matt’s relationship to his friends, family and God.

Daredevil season 2 doubles down on the show’s flaws rather substantially.  In this season, you see, Daredevil is not challenged by an outright antagonist like Wilson Fisk, but by the inner conflict created by Frank Castle as The Punisher and his old flame, Elektra Natchios. Both of them are willing to kill but both of them share Matt’s belief in active crime fighting. This is a conflict that’s well-trodden territory for comic books. And it’s easy to why it gets the attention of so many writers. It attacks the very fabric of superhero comic books, it questions the moral strength of these paragons of justice and hope and it also raises the stakes of every conflict involving these characters.

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But at the same time, I can’t help but feel it’s such a fundamentally uninteresting conundrum in the first place because there’s not a lot of new territory you can cover. Sometimes, a clever writer like Scott Snyder comes around and finds a new twist on the world’s least interesting question (“Why doesn’t Batman kill The Joker”?), but otherwise, the whole concept of undermining the non-lethality of superhéroes usually only leads to pointing to the obvious core flaws of the genre as a moral parable in a way that’s not as subversive as it sounds. After all, the state does kill “criminals” every day, without giving them the chance to grow and become something else entirely. The only real difference between the Punisher and the institutions that repudiate him is simply that the Punisher beat them by skipping a few steps.

Murdock still has faith in the system that would, without much thinking, easily kill people he would fight hard to convict, based on the relatively flimsy justification that “It’s not for us to call”.  And while Matt’s belief in the criminal justice system does make sense (he’s a lawyer, after all) The show’s actual beliefs don’t seem to make much sense. By the end of the show, it’s hard to tell whether the show agrees with Matt or, worse, it simply doesn’t care (realistically, it’s probably the latter) and it’s something that pervades most aspects of the show, from the subplots to the action scenes.

The violence becomes harder and harder to justify now that Matt has become more experienced. It’s harder to accept Matt has any moral ground above Frank Castle when he still has probably killed at least one guy accidentally (or at the very least, crippled at least 10 criminals) It was easier to accept the edgier violence of season one because Matt was growing into his role as a vigilante and he was making peace with the violence he inflicts on others. But season 2 instead pretends that Matt is clearly the better person just because he doesn’t do anything as obviously reversible as killing (nevermind that those injuries are probably not all reversible) Not to mention that it all lacks the imagination season 1 does. In fact season 2’s best fight scene is a visceral-er and raw-er update to season 1’s utterly remarkable hall fight scene. It’s a damn shame that the show only goes back to the ideas in this hall scene (not just the brutality, but the physical exhaustion, the less choreographed looking fighting in favor of a more down to earth style and so on) once per season, instead choosing increasing less believable fight set ups constantly.

There are some good things that come out of this season and they’re mostly down to Matt’s systematic self-destruction to become Daredevil full time. While the material itself is weak, the actors make a lot of it rhyme and resonate. And while in general, the mob violence is weak and disappointing, the fights with the Punisher and Elektra carry heavier weight in their choreography, thanks to Jon Bernthal’s raw strength and Elodie Yung’s agility.  But overall the season proves to be mostly kind of an aimless mess, with higher concerns for its aesthetic than anything interesting it might have to say about the scars of violence it explored during its beloved, if flawed,  first season.

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Bloodborne Shows The Breadth of Cosmic Horror

Anybody who knows me will probably have surmised that Bloodborne is a game tailor-made for me. After all, I love the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I love games with strong […]
huntersdream

Welcome good hunter, you’ll be here awhile

Anybody who knows me will probably have surmised that Bloodborne is a game tailor-made for me. After all, I love the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I love games with strong atmosphere, I love subtle storytelling, and of course I also love to swear at screen and throw my controller in frustration a lot.

I’m kidding (a bit) because Bloodborne ended up being the most even handed game I may have ever played. It’s such a tightly constructed game that it began to affect my ability to enjoy other games. Witcher 3 is a sprawling epic RPG and a labor of love but now I find its clunky controls and repetitive combat jarring. Platinum Games’ Transformers: Devastation fares a bit better with its tighter controls but as a result I found myself instinctively going back to Bloodborne’s control scheme and wondering why I was dodging instead of attacking. Bloodborne is a game that infiltrates your headspace in such a way that you end up viewing other games through that lens.

What makes this game the most impressive to me is the way it intermingles with the Lovecraftian themes. Between the atmosphere, the oppressive difficulty, its subtle storytelling, and its lore that has inspired hundreds of fan theory videos, Bloodborne is the best game made to take on the themes of cosmic horror and human insignificance that H.P. Lovecraft set down. Whether it’s the use of dream worlds, (an oft-forgotten aspect of Lovecraft’s work) the bizarre scope of the ending, or even the unbelievable monster designs, nothing can touch the atmosphere that Bloodborne has created.

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When you’re stuck in Bloodborne, don’t be afraid to ask for a hand oh ho ho.

I’ve played a lot of games that deal with Lovecraftian themes, a number of them quite good. Some of my favorites include Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Eternal Darkness, and -more loosely- Cthulhu Saves The World. As much of I’ve enjoyed these games, there are a number of recurring issues that end up harming the atmosphere that the games try to impart. Bloodborne is fascinating in how it jumps over these hurdles, keeping an atmosphere that feels foreboding and alienating while still keeping familiar themes.

The first is a slavish desire to be ‘authentically’ Lovecraftian. This isn’t even unique to video games. So often people find themselves dedicated to the lore and its details and lay them out in painful detail throughout the story, with quibbles over whether Cthulhu is an elder god or an old one taking central emphasis in the plot. Call of Cthulhu: Darkest Corners of The Earth submerges itself in lore and has a whole bunch of scenes made specifically for fans who have read the material. Even games that don’t deal directly with Lovecraft’s mythos drench themselves in the trappings to a ridiculous amount. Eternal Darkness doesn’t feature elder gods like Cthulhu or Dagon nor any monsters like shoggoths or star-spawn, but it still features a woman researching a mysterious book left by a New England academic. One of the chapters is even just a straight retelling of the H.P. Lovecraft story The Rats in The Walls, though without the cat with the horrifically racist name.

This isn’t unique to video games. Too many creators dealing with the mythos Lovecraft created are often more interested in showing how well-read they are rather than creating a chilling world. This is something that makes Bloodborne unique, in how much it’s willing to deviate from its source material. An interview with developer Hidetaka Miyazaki  revealed that as a child he would read many books in the library with complexity that he struggled with, resulting in him filling in the blanks with his imagination. You can draw a straight logical line from here to why Bloodborne’s fast and loose playing with Lovecraft’s world still manages to remain faithful to the original ideas without being slavish to the world. The details might be different -this is a game where you can stab Elder Gods in the face after all- but the overwhelming presence of more powerful forces that aren’t actively malicious but simply dangerous to us by their very being shines through.

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Light your way and take a breather when you can. You’ll need it.

This isn’t to say I think that you’d be at an advantage for writing cosmic horror stories by not reading the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, out of the mind of a creator that had less attention to detail and exactness in craft than Miyazaki this could have ended up being a mess. The subtle storytelling provides opportunity  for ideas in regards to Lovecraft I’ve never seen done before. Instead we get hints that these gods have an actual rapport with humanity and perhaps even were sympathetic in their own twisted way. Lovecraft’s work treated elder gods as being far too above us to even view as alive, while the more lazy stories using figures like Cthulhu or Yog-sothoth turn them into Luciferian figures.  The world Miyazaki creates is filled with so much detail and life (as it were)  that any explanations that we would be given would have made this world less powerful.

Plenty of Lovecraftian stories are about explanations, going back to Lovecraft himself. Lovecraft would know when to withhold the right information to maintain tension, but his love of academia meant that he would want to write in the method of scientific journal, leading itself to elaborate explanations and an establishment of detail to better lend the idea that these were things actually happening. Plenty of writers have worked hard to try and copy this aesthetic to varying degrees of success. However, Bloodborne doesn’t go that path, instead choosing to alienate you by never giving you anything clear.

I think one of the best examples of this is the boss fight against Ebrietas, Daughter of The Cosmos. Many players revile Ebrietas for being difficult even by Bloodborne’s standards but I found her fight relatively simple. Instead, what I find fascinating is the situation surrounding her. Most bosses in the game will attack you as soon as you enter the boss area. Ebrietas is the exception. Entering the boss area, you will find her kneeling in front of an altar where Rom the Vacuous Spider, one of the bosses you killed before, lies. She won’t even react to you until you actually decide to attack her. You’re the aggressor and it’s unclear if she even has any designs on humanity. The fact that you can use this altar to revive another character also raises questions on what Ebrietas was doing at this altar. Was she trying to revive Rom? Was it out of sentiment for a friend or did she need something from Rom? I’ve never seen an attempt to humanize elder gods in such a way, to make them so tragic or even to cast man’s rage against them in such a morally dubious light.

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You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?

Lovecraftian games have always struggled with making the ever-present theme of madness a workable game mechanic. Most simply decide to make the screen go blurry upon viewing the monsters, as though the first signal of sanity slippage is the loss of one’s glasses. Amnesia: The Dark Descent managed to make this work in its hiding-and-running focused game but still encountered the issue of a lack of payoff concerning how little we see of what is chasing us. Many would argue this makes it scarier, but for me it mitigates an otherwise scary game by removing anything immediately visceral from the threat chasing us. Eternal Darkness also had a novel mechanic where low sanity would result in the game messing with the interface. When your sanity bar was low then odd things would happen not just to the world, but your game. It would pause without your permission, sound would get low, and it would act as though the channel had just changed. It was an engaging mechanic, but the problem was that once you became familiar without it, you would cease to be intimidated by it and would deliberately keep your sanity low to see all the funny effects. The act of playing with the interface ceases to put you on edge and begins to feel like a joke you’re in on.

Bloodborne takes a more muted approach with the idea of insight. High insight grants you the ability to see monsters and obstacles you wouldn’t otherwise see. However as a result you’re both more susceptible to the ‘frenzy’ mechanic when you see certain monsters, which can quickly kill you. In addition certain monsters become tougher and more aggressive against you. For one of the bosses if your insight is 0, they’ll impotently throw paralyzing spells at you. However if you have any insight they’ll also summon monsters to attack you, resulting in a much more difficult boss fight. Insight can also be spent on armor and items, so if you really want low insight you can get it. This ‘gamifying’ of the concept actually makes it a much more present thought for players, something to ruminate on and consider the consequences of. You want the advantages high insight provides you, but you also have to consider the dangers of it.

There’s also just the utter subtlety of it. Going into Bloodborne blind you’d be forgiven for assuming it has more in common with gothic horror than cosmic horror, though there’s an undeniable overlap. Most Lovecraftian games are very excited to show you the shoggoths and fish people right off the bat, which at worst can eliminate the mystery. It’s not all bad. After all, if you buy a game named Call of Cthulhu it stands to reason that’s the stuff you want to see, so not every game should adopt Bloodborne’s slow burn. However, Bloodborne having a slow turn towards its cosmic themes makes the game more about the slow dawning realization that many characters experience that we ourselves don’t since we’re expecting it. Going from fighting werewolves to seeing statues of awkward elder gods, to actually fighting those elder gods themselves is an eye-opening experience.

I should emphasize that I don’t think Bloodborne is the model for which all games that want to deal with cosmic horror should base themselves on. I don’t think all cosmic horror games should have killable elder gods, ignore Lovecraft’s mythos, or have such a brutal difficulty. However, those who hope to make these sort of horror games should learn is how truly malleable the themes of cosmic horror are when you stop being limited by well-intentioned imitation. I love the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but creative people need to find themselves inspired to make their own things, incorporate the themes of that work into their own worldview rather than parrot the styles and ideas of Lovecraft. This mix of both the old and new is what raises Bloodborne above so many imitators.

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American Tragedy

  Most stories based in real life events often revel in finding the inner tragedy or comedy of real life and exposing it. They convert a real life event’s actors […]

 

Most stories based in real life events often revel in finding the inner tragedy or comedy of real life and exposing it. They convert a real life event’s actors into characters, with clear goals, convictions and personalities. Sometimes those are not very true to the people they’re reflecting. But often, they are true to the story and the lives they are reflecting. That’s the genius of American Crime Story; a show that is often willing to speculate on the personal lives of people whose lives were very well documented, but doesn’t use that speculation to demean or insult those people. Instead it tries to empathize and understand them.

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Kanye West: Millennial Hero

Kanye is probably the biggest musician of our time, for better and for worse, because he has truly become one with his art. His life, tweets and struggles are as […]

Kanye is probably the biggest musician of our time, for better and for worse, because he has truly become one with his art. His life, tweets and struggles are as important as the lyrics, the musical landscapes and the concerts to appreciate or depreciate the man. And the thing about him is that he never reduces himself to be a reliable or known property. A huge aspect of Kanye’s place in our culture is that we never really can tell how self-aware he is. But it doesn’t matter. What’s great about Kanye is that he’s so damn earnest.

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In Season 2 Galavant Comes Into Its Own

  It’s funny how much a series can change in a season. When Galavant first came out, it was a filler show placed in the gap Once Upon A Time […]

 

It’s funny how much a series can change in a season. When Galavant first came out, it was a filler show placed in the gap Once Upon A Time left that month and outside of some golden musical numbers, the show seemed to have been given about that amount of thought. It seemed to be directly paralleling itself to The Princess Bride and Monty Python and The Holy Grail by parodying a story so rote I’m not sure it ever actually existed. Even so, I found myself drawn to it. It was amusing enough and Alan Menken’s score was darn good, especially the opening number (which season 2’s opening song bitter points out did not win an Emmy) and there seemed to be some real gold there. The ending for the first season struck me as particularly bold, daring ABC to give it a second season while also acknowledging the unlikelihood of that.

It’s so unlikely that the first song of the second season seems to be simply bragging about the fact that the show was renewed at all. One of the fascinating things about this second season was how deliberately it broke up the structure of the first season. The hero Galavant (Joshua Sasse) was separated from his squire Sid (Luke Youngblood) and love interest Isabella(Karen David) to be trapped with the former evil king Richard(Timothy Odmundson) on a pirate ship, Sid is stuck attending to evil queen Madalena(Mallory Jansen) and her bodyguard/fellow king Gareth (Vinnie Jones) Isabella is trapped in her home kingdom to be betrothed to a ten-year-old. It’s such a defiance of the previous season that this season almost feels like a reinvention of the show. The new Galavant feels less like a parody of some adventure story that doesn’t exist and more like a low-budget adventure show that happens to be really funny.

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RahXephon 4-6

This is part of a series of essays on RahXephon. This particular essay covers episodes 1-3. I do not summarize plot on these essays as they are meant to be […]

This is part of a series of essays on RahXephon. This particular essay covers episodes 1-3. I do not summarize plot on these essays as they are meant to be running commentary, meaning that if you are interested in penetrating these rambles and rants, I strongly suggest you watch the show along with the essays.

A hot take for you: RahXephon is one of the most heartrendingly relevant shows to today’s dangerous situation created by a hotmi of terrorism and American intervention. Consider: Ayato is a kid in high school who is abducted from his home to fight the very same The rationale behind it is that they’re not human and Ayato reluctantly joins them because he thinks of himself as human. But are they not his home and country?

And in exchange, they insert him in a city where his humanity is constantly (and turns out, reasonably) questioned. His value as a person is measured entirely on how useful he can be and what beliefs remain from his life at Tokyo Jupiter. In fact, were it not because of his ability to pilot the RahXephon, Ayato would probably be treated as a prisoner of war, to be interrogated, isolated and maligned.

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1001 Frights Episode 21: The Call of Lovecraft

In this week’s episode, Jerry and Bobby do a full episode of Lovecraft short stories!

In this episode, they cover:

The Statement of Randolph Carter

The Colour Out of Space

The Shadow Out of Time

The Call of Cthulhu

Here’s a picture of the issue of Astounding Stories in which “The Shadow Out of Time” debuted! Aren’t Yithians the best?

And as always, you can visit their contact page on their website for details on how to reach them!

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1001 Frights Episode 20: A Return to (Free) Form

In this week’s episode, Jerry and Bobby do something they haven’t done since their earliest episodes, and simply discuss horror stories without any real unifying theme!

In this episode they cover:
They also announce some news concerning the Patreon, and introduce a new segment, “Is It Horror?”
As always, if you want to contact them, you can find easy ways to do so on the contacts page on their website!

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