Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Good Bits (So far): Game of Thrones Season 6

If you’ve been following my monthly blog posts or even if you’ve just peaked at them one time, first of all thank you. Second, you may have noticed there’s a category missing from my writings about music, books, and movies: television shows. This is mainly due to the fact I don’t consistently watch too many shows. Some I’ll watch multiple episodes for in a row and then have a long gap in-between. Also, there’s just so much more to process in TV shows compared to films given that many of the best span years. So despite my love for shows like Archer or Daredevil, I feel I don’t watch them consistently enough to produce a well-written piece in the monthly posts. Game of Thrones, however, is a different story.

I was given the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire in 2009. Now I’m just one of many fans, book reader and non-book reader alike, eager to see what happens next in the story as we move into the uncharted waters of season six, the first season largely based on material not present in the books (yet). But after last Sunday’s episode, I got to thinking about doing a post about the season at its halfway point and then another once it concludes.

Before we do anything else…HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. Don’t read if you aren’t caught up!

 

 

 

Last warning.

 

 

 

 

 

Here we go.

 

 

 

Jon Snow Rises From the Dead

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A Dance With Dragons left readers floundering after the apparent Ceasering of Jon Snow at the book’s end. But that was back in 2011, and since then theory and speculation have run rampant in the fanbase, reaching a fever pitch once non-readers joined the club after the show’s depiction of his death last season. Lo and behold, Lady Milesandre was there to save the day. Speaking personally, I was unsure about watching season six because of revelations like this. I always like reading the book first, mostly because I find it harder to go back and read it after watching the adaptation. This makes GoT’s case all the more odd since there isn’t a book to read (yet). But goddamn, seeing Kit Harrington take that gasping breath had me squealing. To finally have conformation that Jon lives after five years overrode any misgivings I had about watching this season.

 

The Tower of Joy

tower of joy

Speaking of Jon, there’s a key scene from the book A Game of Thrones that hints at the answer to his mysterious parentage. In the book, Ned Stark has a fever dream that recalls the day he fought at the Tower of Joy to save his sister, Lyanna Stark. It understandably wasn’t included in season one because it would probably mess with pacing, but I always wondered how if ever they would show it. The answer was found in Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. As soon as I realized what the scene was, I could barely contain my excitement. Solid action and plenty of suspense, leaving even those unfamiliar with R+L=J intrigued. Having the commentary from Bran makes the scene even more layered, questioning how history is told compared to what really took place. Also, we get to see Ned again! Yippee!

 

Daenerys Emerges Unburnt (Again)

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The Mother of Dragons also ended up in a pretty shitty place at the end of A Dance With Dragons, though not quite as dead as Jon. Still, stranded with no one but the Dothraki horde for company puts a real dent in her plans for conquest. How does she get out of it? She kills them with fire. In a moment mirroring the end of season one, Dany emerges from the burning Khal tent unharmed. Perhaps the most notable detail of this event is that while Dany reunites with Jorah and Dario, she basically works everything out herself. This isn’t the same timid Dany that rode alongside Khal Drogo. She’s had it up to here with their horseshit and will not be made to bow.

 

The Kingsmoot

kingsmoot

In the books, Balon Greyjoy is the second king to die after Renly Baratheon, yet in the show he’s outlived everyone else. For awhile, it seemed like the show was going to forget about the Ironborn altogether. But this season we finally saw Balon kick the bucket and Euron show up to wreck everything at the Kingsmoot, a pivotal part of the Greyjoy’s story in the books. It’s a very intense read as everyone stakes their claim, but the show had an additional emotional touch to it thanks to Theon’s acknowledgment that Yara (Asha in the books) should be the rightful queen. Add in the mix Euron’s knowledge of Dany and the dragons and you get what appears to be a slow stroll to the series’s endgame. Not to mention it subtly shadows our own election of a leader in the United States…

 

Hold The Door

hodor game of thrones

Hodor is one of the most beloved characters in the book and show despite being a giant that can only say one word. But I don’t think anybody suspected what the real origin of his name was, let alone the way it would be revealed to us. I know that David Benioff & D. B. Weiss have earned their share of flak from fans over the years, but they and director Jack Bender really knocked it out of the park with this scene. The emotion of it just sinks through you and pulls you into a trance as you hear a young Hodor repeat his namesake over and over while present Hodor plays out his role in one of the saddest and most emotional deaths of the series. With all that said, I have to admit I was crying more over Summer. Nothing’s worse than when something happens to the dog.

 

Jon and Sansa Reunite

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There are many things fans have been waiting forever to see since the first book came out twenty years ago (yes, that long ago), ranging from Jon’s parentage to who the hell is going to sit in that ungodly pointy throne. But one thing that fans always hoped to see, despite having their expectations dashed many times over, is members of the Stark family reuniting. Arya almost met her mother and brother at the Twins before the Red Wedding and Bran moved past the Wall unseen by Jon. It seemed like it would never happen until season six’s third episode when Sansa rode through the doors of Castle Black and embraced Jon. I can’t remember the last time I teared up so quick. With only body language you can see the weariness and the torture they’ve both endured fall away when Sansa runs to him, allowing for a moment of awe and also “awwww.”

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The Good Bits: April 2016

As you can see, April was a month for music above all else. These six albums are the ones I’ve gone back to over and over during a month full of travel (six flights in two weeks, ugh). There’s a nice variety here too, and while metal still takes up the majority of spots, there are entries on here that are like to appeal to a wider audience. Given the way May has gone so far, you can expect a bigger focus on film with the next edition.

Music:

Ra Ra Riot, Need Your Light (Barsuk)

ra ra riot

Ra Ra Riot are one of the first bands I genuinely fell in love with when I first started a college radio in 2010. In the six years since, the band has had a few lineup and sound changes that even out in terms of pros and cons. While the band was initially focused on upbeat, string-heavy baroque pop, Beta Love marked the start of a more electronic pop sound with strings taking a much more minimal role. Need Your Light continues this same sound and, as a result, my feelings about it are similar to its predecessor: it’s catchy, Wes, Miles still shines as a fantastic vocalist, and it’s welcoming to new fans and old (assuming you liked Beta Love). “Foreign Lovers” stands out in particular as a seamless meld of the band’s old and new styles, starting with an bass-driven upbeat into before moving to a synth-heavy chorus. My only real criticism is the same one I held for Beta Love in that I really miss the strings being the at forefront of the music. Sure, they’re still there and I applaud the band for successful experimentation, but I do miss the atmosphere of cheery melancholy from the first two albums.

 

Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (Indie)

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Vertikal was one of my favorite albums in 2013 and it helped open my ears to the post-metal subgenre. After a year of touring, the band announced they’d be taking a break for the foreseeable future, so I naturally assumed it would be a while before we heard any new music from the group. And while three years may sound like a long time for some people, I’m just thankful it’s here at all. Admittedly, the fact that it was billed as a collaborative album put me into doubt not because of Julie Christmas’s musical ability, but because I’m usually mixed when it comes to collaborative efforts. It’s sort of like not wanting the food on your plate to touch so you can enjoy flavors individually (though truthfully I’m not a stickler in that department).

But surprise surprise: the album is great. While Vertikal possessed sprawling emotion and was grand in scale, Mariner makes you feel like finding a quiet corner of space to put yourself away for awhile, and sometimes we need that more. It takes you aboard a space frigate floating through the galaxy with an exceptional coat of atmosphere and plenty of heavy bits to tug you along. And holy hell can Julie Christmas scream; her performance only gets more intense as the album progresses. Like most Cult of Luna albums, this is best experienced as a whole, so I won’t recommend one particular track over another. Just find a stretch of time to put this on and forget about Earth for a bit.

 

Deftones, Gore (Reprise)

gore

One of the most anticipated albums of the year following up its critically acclaimed predecessor. Sound familiar? That’s because Deftones always seem to face that challenge, offering up one of the most consistently solid discographies in rock/metal as a result. So how well does Gore stack up following 2012’s exemplary Koi No Yokan? If you were hoping for more of the same, you might be disappointed. If you enjoy Deftones’s constant bushing of sonic boundaries, you’ll be pleased. While Deftones are no strangers to ambience, previous albums featured enough structure to pick out hooky hits that even the most casual rock fan would enjoy (seriously, I’ve yet to meet anyone who outright hates “Diamond Eyes”). But on Gore, the band loosens its grip a bit more, resulting in a nonlinear structure may challenge your expectations.

You can certainly pick out tracks like “Prayers/Triangles” or “Phantom Bride” (my favorite track) and enjoy them for their own merit, but this is yet another album I feel is better taken as a whole. It certainly doesn’t sound the same as Koi No Yokan or Diamond Eyes, and that may disappoint some. It admittedly threw me off a tad when I first put it on, but with each subsequent listen, my appreciation has grown, and that’s one of the best things an album can achieve. It’s like there’re levels to this album that cannot be unlocked in a single session. I guarantee that even if your initial reaction to this album is unfavorable you’ll feel compelled to come back to it, and that’s the kind of charm you can only find on a Deftones record.

 

Ninja Sex Party, Under The Covers (Self-Released)

Ninja_Sex_Party_-_Under_the_Covers_(Artwork)

If you’ve never experienced the Youtube channel Game Grumps or previous works of Ninja Sex Party, you might be missing a spark of joy in your life. Unless you don’t care for video games or songs laden with innuendo, in which case you are missing a slightly bigger spark of joy. While NSP are normally known for synth heavy rock songs about boners, sex, and dragons (among other things), this is a covers album borne of Danny Sexbang and Ninja Brian’s love of the 80’s. The comedy duo display their musical flexability with delightful covers of “Take On Me” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. I personally appreciated the cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions” and the album closer “Wish You Were Here”. As you can see, the band certainly cover a lot of ground and there’s something for everyone here. Admittedly, I think people unfamiliar with GG or NSP might not think this is all that special, but I do think the covers are good enough that non-fans might consider checking out more from Dan, Brian, and their other projects. Side note: this is a self-released album that reached #17 on the Billboard 200. That’s impressive for a covers album from Youtube celebrities!

 

Haken, Affinity (Inside Out)

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Haken turned some heads in 2013 with their third album The Mountain, and with good reason; it was a breath of fresh air for prog rock/metal, reminiscent of genre greats like Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree without being derivative. With Affinity, Haken has continued that trend by offering up another album that is a refined blend of heaviness, melody, technical skill, and songwriting. Personally, I sometimes get turned off when newer prog bands record big bloated noodlefests and then stitch them together into an album. It not that such bands are bad, it just gets tiring when prog becomes synonymous with said noodlefests. Perhaps this is why Haken is so refreshing because there’s life to their music and not just cold musicianship. This is particularly evident on Affinity, sporting diversity from the catchy synth driven “1985” to the nearly sixteen minute centerpiece that is “The Architect” all the while moving cohesively from track to track. This is easily one of my favorites of the year so far both in the prog genre and in general.

 

Ihsahn, Arktis (Candlelight)

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Most metal fans know Ihsahn for his time in Emperor, but the man has done so much since the band’s final release in 2001. I was introduced to Ihsahn’s solo work in 2012 with the release of Eremita. I can’t speak for Ihsahn’s first three solo albums, but Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen took some time for me to get into, especially the former. I’m all for weird, experimental avant-garde kind of stuff, but some of the stuff I heard on these albums were pretty out there. Enter Akris, which is a bit most structured than Ihsahn’s previous albums but still roams into different sounds. “Until I Too Dissolve”, which starts with a very Jake E. Lee era Ozzy riff, and the grand closer “Celestial Violence” are excellent tracks that make solid starting points for new fans. Some of the stylisic and tonal shifts may throw you off on the first go-around (it did for me), but I can’t knock the album for it since I expect the unexpected when comes to Ihsahn by now. Once again, I’ve yet to check out all of Ihsahn’s solo work, but of his three most recent works, Arktis stands as the best of them.

 

Currently Reading:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune

I’m almost done with this one, so I’ll have my thoughts out in a month. Perhaps I’ll end up watching the infamous David Lynch film between now and then as well.

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