Kaiba – How to do a Dystopia Correctly

I was baffled by how much my father praised the movie Blade Runner after we watched it together— it’s not a bad movie but there’s a reason it didn’t win any Academy Awards. I was also baffled by how praised George Orwell’s 1984 is in the realm of English literature. Again, it’s not bad, but I’d never consider it my favorite book. While Kaiba is largely building off of these giants in its dystopic society, it did it right. That’s because it focuses on the humanity of a dystopia, rather than the society itself.

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One of the first things we see in the show is the machine memory chip-sucking flying things that absorbs the chips of a couple of random guys on a natural-looking bridge. We don’t know anything about these guys, but we can assume from their reaction and physical appearance that they’re pretty ordinary working-class people, and through this we can immediately get that this is a futuristic world with a government or society that is either oppressive or neglectful. These few seconds let us infer everything that 1984 and Blade Runner spend significant portions of their time to establish and analyze.

From here, Kaiba takes time only to look at the human effects of this dystopia. Later in the episode we see the squalor most citizens live in— small gatherings of people with scrap equipment and innumerable memory chips and nothing to do with them. This only preps us for the tearjerker in episode 3 with Chroniko’s Boots (as I discussed the other day). The episode effectively highlights the corruption and apathy of the society in Kaiba, but the focus is put on Chroniko and what happens to her. Contrast this with 1984— sure, there are other relevant characters besides the protagonist, but it only marginally exposits how society is corrupt through the events regarding a particular character. We do see this in one character, Julia, but she tells us very little about the world of 1984 that we didn’t already know.

Listen to the music, too— one of the first songs that is played is “Catch it up!” It’s an action-y, heavy synth song that instantly reminds me of Tron (the original Tron, mind you). And, lo and behold, Tron is another futuristic dystopia movie! Immediately after this tech-y sci-fi song, we’re brought back to the humanity of this world in Planet (laughing version) which is characterized by its bizarre sound that feels down-to-earth and alien all at once. Even here the focus remains on the people, and how they interact under these circumstances.

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This establishment of the extraordinary before giving the audience something to empathize with is how Kaiba conveys its dystopia. It goes a step further in “show don’t tell”— rather than letting the audience see the corruption in the society and how X government official gets assassinated, we see the personable side of it and where we would stand in the shoes of others. And, more importantly, we see Kaiba standing in the shoes of others. The show gets away with expositing what the world is like by making it Kaiba who is watching this unfold. This further establishes Kaiba’s relatability to the audience, which makes us root for him just that much more and be even more surprised when we realize he’s supposed to be the evil king of this world. How can a boy so empathetic be a cruel ruler? And, mind you, all of this is to facilitate the arc of the show. The dystopia isn’t simply a setting in Kaiba, it functions as an influential part of the narrative. And, as such, the expositing of the dystopic setting is all part of the story of Kaiba.

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Chroniko’s Boots – How Kaiba Portrays a Corrupt Society

Episode 3 of Kaiba, Chroniko’s Boots is brimming with pathos, to a nearly jarring extent from the preceding episode. It portrays how family and society both have taken advantage of an impoverished girl and then analyzes how riddled with guilt the aunt, Negi, is who encouraged Chroniko to sell her body. Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.45.25.png

So, I’ve seen others interpret this differently, but I assumed that when or before Chroniko was sold, Negi knew it would mean her death (or effective death— we can assume that spending an eternity without a body as a collection of fractured memories is pretty comparable to death). That explains why she was crying and felt so much guilt over the affair— she had participated in the death of the girl she had raised as her daughter. This cruel and unjust action is then spun on its head, as we see the events prior to Negi turning bitter and preferring her own children to Chroniko.

Chroniko is clearly the representation of innocent youth— she is a young girl who openly brags about a gift from her aunt in spite of it being one of her aunt’s only demonstrations of love toward her. Beyond this, she is willing to abandon her own body for the sake of her family. While she did not know this was a death sentence, it was established in the first episode how miserable life can be stuck in a collection of body-less faces or how many people remained trapped as tiny memory chips for years and we can assume she resigned herself to this fate knowingly and willingly. Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.42.46.png

In Chroniko’s Boots, society continues to be affirmed as corrupt by having bodies sold for cash— specifically how Chroniko’s body is sold to a pedophile. No, really, they say that in the show—Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 21.48.47.pngThe society in Kaiba here is portrayed as the corruption of capitalism with all of the wealth and power belonging to a tiny number of rich people and none of the wealth or power belonging to anybody else. While Chroniko did sell her body of her own accord (though she didn’t expect it to entail her memories being released), the blatant message is that it is wrong of society to allow such things to happen and if society had a higher bare minimum for the standard for living, the tragedy of Chroniko being sold for money would never have happened in the first place.

We see that Negi wanted Chroniko gone since she was unwanted and a burden on the family— a sentiment which initially puts her at the forefront of blame over the whole society. This is immediately subverted with an ultimate re-emphasis on society as the one to blame as Kaiba steps into her memories to find how Negi was once kind and loving but with the loss of her arms and death of her husband she became cynical and jaded toward the world and ultimately grew to despise Chroniko as “one more mouth to feed” as she expresses initially. The reassignment of blame and then subversion thereof serves to strengthen the message of society being at fault for this happening.  Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 22.28.18.png

When it is revealed in episode 6 that Kaiba is definitively supposed to be the king, Warp, (we already knew Kaiba was Warp, but we didn’t know for sure who Warp was until now) there is a sudden disconnect as viewers consider this episode— Kaiba is demonstrated to be kind and empathic, so how could he have let society come to a point where the masses consider him an oppressive dictator and selling the bodies of children to pedophiles is acceptable?

As a side thought, perhaps part of the reason Kaiba empathized so thoroughly with Chroniko is that he felt he had experienced the same thing? After all, he felt as though his mother had betrayed him by poisoning him. Just something to consider.

The Temple of I & I

Now, I’m aware The Temple of I & I has received some critical reviews for misappropriating the sound of Jamaica. I’m not Jamaican, nor have I ever been strongly invested in Jamaican music, so my opinion my fall secondary to someone more familiar with the culture Thievery Corporation is incorporating this album. Just a heads up.

I was already in love with Letter to the Editor, the first Racquel Jones track to be released, but after hearing Road Block too I can definitely say that she is the star of this album. She has great rhythm and it’s pretty clear that she’s well-versed enough to sing well in a slower, more reggae-style song like Road Block as well as the faster hip-hop influenced Letter to the Editor. Having gone back to listen to the music Jones has released apart from Thievery Corporation, I must say I prefer the Thievery Corporation sound backing her singing, but I’m a fan of all of it. I am excited to see more collaborations with her and Thievery Corporation in the future.

Notch, who has worked with Thievery Corporation for quite some time, certainly performed on the most songs this album. I’ve never felt strongly about any tracks he has done before, but here I loved listening to True Sons of Zion and Drop Your Guns. His performance across tracks tends to be fairly uniform in sound and my preference of them, but I think he and Thievery Corporation are able to bring out even more in one another in ways not experienced prior to Temple of I & I.

Conversely, I found Lou Lou Ghelichkhani, easily the star of Saudade, to be a bit tired here. Admittedly, her placement in the album is rough as the first song of the middle portion with the slower, more Saudade-esque songs separated by Temple of I & I and Let the Chalice Blaze, but Time + Space struck me as “just another Lou Lou Ghelichkhani song” as opposed to the distinguished Décollage we heard in Saudade. Perhaps I’m disappointed in her performance here precisely because of how stunning she was in Décollage, but Time + Space struck me as uninteresting and more bland than her past performances.

I do not dislike Mr. Lif’s music as a whole, nor do I dislike all his performances with Thievery Corporation— Unified Tribes is a phenomenal track and Culture of Fear was also strong. However, I couldn’t particularly get into Ghetto Matrix, which struck me as a weaker version of Culture of Fear, and Fight to Survive, a track I sense was supposed to be inspirational and a call to action, was the least inspiring song on all of Temple of I & I. I do hesitate to call this criticism entirely fair, for while I did enjoy his performance on Culture of Fear, that album did strike me as one of Thievery Corporation’s overall weaker albums, so by comparison I may have appreciated the song Culture of Fear more.

This leaves the singers who were just on a single track, none of which I feel strongly about. Thief Rockers I thought made a good but not wowing (as in Décollage) introduction and felt slightly better than 33 Degree. Love Has No Heart was a strong performance by Shana Halligan— I thought it was better than Depth of My Soul, but I also wasn’t impressed by Depth of My Soul at the time. Lose to Find was neither impressive nor disappointing, and felt simply average. I feel bad saying this since Elin Melagarejo’s performances in Saudade were already overshadowed by Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s, but no recent appearance of her has particularly excited me. Puma, while also overshadowed by Notch on Temple of I & I, did well in Babylon Falling. While not the most gripping song in the album, I thought it was both memorable and welcome.

I feel like I’m missing something in all of this… I covered all of the musicians, right?
Oh yea, I have barely touched on the duo who actually IS Thievery Corporation. For their no-guest tracks, Let the Chalice Blaze was so-so, but The Temple of I & I was engaging and interesting. Pretty sure I got goosebumps the first time I heard, “This is the Temple of I & I” after having been wowed by True Sons of Zion. Speaking of True Sons of Zion, I must stress that while I did like Notch’s performance alone on this song, it’s the Thievery Corporation duo that enables Notch to leave such an impact.

This is similarly the case with Letter to the Editor. Part of what made Mr. Lif’s performance on Unified Tribes so excellent was how well Thievery Corporation adapted their style to fit rapping. Letter to the Editor has so much pop and effect because of how well Thievery Corporation fit their style to Racquel Jones. It is a risk with any guest musician in any work that the guest won’t fit with the classic style of the other artists, but Thievery Corporation has repeatedly shown its strength is making their sound fit with the guest’s performance over the other way around, and Letter to the Editor is a shining example of this.

I think Saudade still slightly edges out over Temple of I & I, but another strong release by Thievery Corporation has left me eagerly waiting for the future as they continue to evolve and explore the familiar genres they pull from in greater depth. And, you never know, Temple of I & I keeps growing on me. Thievery Corporation has mostly improved with every album (I prefer The Cosmic Game and Radio Retaliation to Culture of Fear) and I don’t see Temple of I & I as being an exception to this.

 

Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda Ep 12: The Fujoshi Zone

Screen Shot 2016-12-25 at 01.10.51.pngSoulmates, that is what Serinuma calls Nishina. They’re soulmates. Not lovers, not friends, but soulmates. It seems this grey zone between a friendly relationship and a romantic one if where Nishina stands in Serinuma’s eyes. Even when they are going on the date in Episode 12, Serinuma expresses that Nishina is “fun to be around.”

Actually, let’s take a look at her date.

For Nishina, this is her chance to express her love for Serinuma, and she does the whole set up right. She reserves a whole boat, plane flight, dress, all of it for a truly “proper” date. She is dressed to impress.

Her first line of dialogue is introducing the place. She’s rehearsed that. Serinuma needs to know where she is, after all, right? She even makes it halfway through her next line— “When I see such beautiful scenery…”

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And then comes yaoi pairings. She was so close to pulling a romantic line, but then it comes out as yaoi. I can reiterate the lesbian undertones of fujoshi culture a million times, but it won’t change that concretely, roleplaying and imagining male / male sexual contact is not the same thing as legitimately engaging in sexual contact.

Nishina had the lesbian fujoshi crutch— she was immediately the closest to Serinuma and attempted to use this fujoshi connection to grab Serinuma romantically. Yet ever since the kiss, Serinuma has persistently emphasized their friendship as fellow fujoshi over romantic interest, and before long Nishina found herself satisfied with being Serinuma’s soulmate.

By satisfied, I’m not implying Nishina only wants friendship, but she has convinced herself that she can’t have anything more. Do you know what this is called?

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Now, to be clear, one could argue the whole cast of Watashi Ga Motete struggles with “the friend zone,” but Nishina is the only one who actively perpetuates her friend zone.

Igarashi is the most vocally against the state of things. He repeatedly seizes opportunities to bond with Nishina and had a clear-cut goal of becoming her boyfriend.

Nana and Shinomiya are similarly romantically-minded— most of the things they do, while not as suave as Igarashi, have the same goal of impressing Nishina into falling in love with them. Nana achieves this impression through his charisma and situational decision-making, and Shinomiya succeeds through his adorkable failure to properly ‘man up’ to the situation.

Mutsumi, ever since discovering his love for Serinuma, is calm but clear. He has no difficulty expressing his love or his thoughts toward Serinuma, but is also fine with casually being with her. He would come closest to being a “romantic companion” as opposed to a “boyfriend,” if that makes sense.

He views his innocent companionship as an entirely separate issue and tackles his attraction to Serinuma by simply expositing her it.

And what is Nishina doing? Talking about BL? What happened, girl? You were her first kiss! You had such a great shot! And now you’re struggling to come up with topics?

Simply put, Nishina has done more than just put herself squarely in the friend zone. She has put herself in the fujoshi zone. Here, she cannot escape, for the only way she knows anymore how to express her interest in Serinuma is through pairings, thus perpetuating her friendship.

It isn’t a miscommunication, it’s a vicious cycle that Nishina has put herself in since she and Serinuma made up with their reversible pairing argument. Since Nishina’s strong point from the start was BL, she returns to it in an attempt to preserve Serinuma’s interest in her. Yet at this point, Serinuma has accustomed herself to this as a gesture of friendship, and Nishina finds her hopes of romance falling away.

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Think about it— the date wasn’t her only opportunity. She had the whole time at the hot springs! Heck, given how much she and Serinuma talk about conventions, surely they go to some BL places or at least traverse Otome Road without the others, right?

Of course this is all speculation, but these are par for the course for any good fujoshi friends. Yet in none of these situations has Nishina pulled anything on Serinuma. It’s because they are all BL-centered.

After she herself made it clear that she was serious and would take advantage of any opportunity to attract Serinuma, Nishina set the world of BL off-limits for her. After all, it was the foundation of the deep trust she had accumulated with Serinuma. At the start she had no issue putting it on the line— their fujoshi friendship was just a crutch. But as that friendship deepened, Nishina realized she had to separate BL and romance.

In fact, going back to Episode 6, there is the moment where Nishina’s mind changes. Her original intent with their competition was to assert her superiority and cut ties with the BL side of Serinuma and leave with only romance. Instead, she realized that these two— the BL and romance, were connected.

If she were to throw dirt in the face of BL-loving Serinuma, she would too be throwing dirt in the face of potential girlfriend Serinuma. This was not an option. Therefore, Nishina made it clear to herself that from then on she would not interfere with their fujoshi friendship.screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-02-29-42

This was all fine and well, but in doing so, suddenly their fujoshi friendship became a source of comfort. Sure, she could risk their net relationship by making a romantic move, or she could simply maintain their current state by continuing to be a fujoshi buddy.

Furthermore, in a place like Otome Road or at a convention, Nishina would have strictly been in fujoshi-mode. Therefore, her prime opportunity to change up her pace was ruined by her own conviction that fujoshi friendship and romance remain different issues.

What first excited me about Nishina in Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda was how she was the embodiment of Mizoguchi’s Reading and Living Yaoi theory. In her fujoshi rapport, she was able to establish an immediate (lesbian) sexual connection, and then leverage this by bringing that virtual lesbianism into material lesbianism.

Yet, by the canon of the anime, this has simultaneously been her downfall. Because Nishina established herself upon virtual lesbianism and not material lesbianism, in her efforts to stay with Serinuma she has reverted to a state of pure virtual lesbianism. Pure fantasy.

The difficulty Hato had with their relationship with Madarame was chiefly that they were uncertain of the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Their best times with Madarame were the times they were most real, most concrete. It is when Hato had a real conversation with Madarame, shooting the shit about whatever, or when Madarame really blushed at receiving Hato’s chocolates.

And, accordingly, it is when Hato was most in the world of fantasy that they were unsuccessful in wooing Madarame. The whole worry about “Hato x Mada” as opposed to “Mada x Hato?” Purely in the realm of theory.

It appears history has repeated itself— Nishina was most succesful when she concretely gave Serinuma a kiss, and she was least successful when she reverted to the fujoshi mindset to stay comfortable with Serinuma.

This is the fujoshi zone.

Bungou Stray Dogs S1 + S2, Baby Steps S2, Trigun, and Paprika

We’re doing another Things I’ve Seen Recently! Woo.

BY THE WAY, THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR ALL OF THESE SERIES HERE.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Bungou Stray Dogs Seasons 1 and 2:

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So, since the end of Bungou Stray Dogs came out recently I decided to watch all of Season 1 and 2. First of all, this show is definitely one of the more normie anime I’ve seen. It’s basically an X-Men kind of world but with cooler powers and more of an appeal to younger audiences.

This strongly strikes me as something that 12 y/o me would have really loved. As it is, I definitely feel the effects of plot armor, crappy animation, and edgy characterization.

That said, it was still fun. The animation was kind of crappy, but I’m a total sucker for the over-saturated, near-KyoAni style of art. If I started thinking about the plot much, I kind of realized how flawed and childish it was, but the show was engaging enough that I didn’t think too hard about things.

I personally liked the first season more than the second. The strongest parts of the show, to me, were where Atsushi was going on an episode-long adventure with somebody. It also made it interesting to see how he battled paired up with different characters.

The whole second season’s story arc was more strongly present, and I don’t think the plot was grabbing enough to make me accept it in lieu of the more episodic adventures of the first season.

Oh, and the Agency boy who’s super strong reminded me a lot of Kousaka from Genshiken which made all of his lines way funnier than they should have been.

Baby Steps Season 2:

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I had originally seen all of Baby Steps Season 1, but I dropped the series part way through Season 2. My mother loves tennis, so since we’ve been watching anime together, we ended up watching through all of Season 1 again and then I got to see all of Season 2.

My biggest concern with Season 2 of Baby Steps I think is that it was coming out so slowly that I had forgotten it by the next time an episode came out. Rewatching it at a more rapid pace was really great, and I’m reminded of how good of a sports anime Baby Steps is.

The downright atrocious animation doesn’t do it any favors, but I don’t think any other sports anime is as realistic in its characterization nor as interesting in its story arcs as Baby Steps is.

Well, maybe Ping Pong, but that’s a whole different story. Anyway, now grabbed by the plot, I found myself really happy to see Natsuo’s confession scene and surprisingly engaged by how awesome Maruo got by the end of the show.

I love all of the emphasis on making tennis into a career the story has. The most inspiring stories, to me, are ones where someone works as hard as they can and are rewarded by becoming a professional in the career they want to pursue the most. That’s effectively what Baby Steps is about, and it does a damn convincing job in engaging me in its narrative.

I’m not expecting a third season given how little critical success Baby Steps has had, so I’ll probably pick up the manga from here on out. Good recommendation, though, Digibro!

Trigun:

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I loved the first arc of Trigun. Actually, my criticism of it is similar to that of Bungou Stray Dogs. In my opinion, the best episodes of Trigun are the episodic ones, and as a result the second half of the series suffers massively.

How the series goes full edgelord doesn’t help things, either, since I really get impatient with shows that try to be edgy. If it’s legitimately dark like Texhnolyze, that’s a different story. It’s a fine line, and I don’t think Trigun balances it well.

That said, I like the character arc of Vash in the second half. I don’t like the story, but I like the character. Vash confronting his own morality is an interesting subject and feels precisely like what I would imagine an immortal character’s story arc looking like.

The best parts of the show, to me, are by far where Vash is able to succeed in saving the day through his off-the-wall antics. I really was able to buy in to the comedy and I was largely satisfied with the upbeat mood of the show.

Paprika:

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Best for last. I loved Paprika. It’s by far the best animated thing I have seen in a while and has a really fucking cool plotline using the familiar dream device we’re already familiar with.

Honestly I feel like I can’t say much about this movie until I watch it again. It’s such a visual experience and delves into some really cool psychology. I’ll talk about it more at another time when I have more finalized feelings about it.

Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda Ep 11: Why So Surprised, Everyone?

So in Episode 11 of Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda, as predicted from earlier, Mutsumi-Senpai has now confessed to Serinuma! Oh wow! Shocker!

Wait a moment, why are they surprised though? Nishina already confessed!

Now the obvious answer is because aside from rearranging the order a bit, the anime is just adapting the manga page-for-page, but let’s take this seriously and consider the only thing that could be implied from this in the canon of the show: nobody is taking Nishina seriously.

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 17.26.42.pngWhat happened, huh?

Actually, seriously, what happened, both in the manga and in the anime? Nishina makes it clear from the word “go” that she’s in it for hawt lesbo secks, but ever since here her relationship with Serinuma has seemed strangely platonic. The only place where the audience is even reminded she has romantic feelings for Serinuma is when Igarashi refuses to let her spend the night in the same room as Serinuma. That was several episodes ago, now.

Let me go out on a limb, having read the manga, and predict how they’re going to end the show. At the start of Chapter 22 it’s revealed that everyone confesses to Serinuma, so that was my bet from the start as to how they’d end things. That’s precisely why it was such a big deal that Nishina confessed first— in the manga canon, nobody wants anybody else to be the first and so they all confess their love together, but in the anime Nishina beat even Mutsumi to the punch by about five episodes.

But now, here, nobody should be so taken aback by Mustumi’s confession. He wasn’t the first, even. Maybe it was more offhanded earlier, but to dismiss Nishina’s “I love you” as just a friendly manner means that she might as well remove herself from the harem as a whole. I don’t know about anybody else here, but if I’m romantically attracted to someone, when I say “I love you” to them I don’t mean it in a friendship or familial way. Yet for Nishina, one must relegate her “I love you” in the anime to a mere indication of friendship and nothing more, which immediately eliminates her from the big question of “Who does Serinuma choose?”Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 17.23.04.png

(This isn’t to say friendship can’t develop into romance or that friendship love and romantic love are mutually exclusive, but typically romantic love is the route of “I love you”s over friendship love.)

Of course, there is one alternative. One that might make Nishina the most realistic character in the harem! Join me next time on Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda Episode 12 to find out what.

Thievery Corporation’s The Temple of I & I : What to Expect

As of the time of writing this, Thievery Corporation has released two tracks to their upcoming album The Temple of I & I.

They are both definitely not the music from Saudade, but this isn’t to say they’re falling back on a more classic style after the mixed response from the album. “Let The Chalice Blaze” sounds like the musical style we’re used to similar to anything from Culture of Fear or earlier, but “Letter to the Editor” is most definitely not. It’s a strong hip-hop track (and Racquel Jones is killing it) backed by a more traditional Thievery Corporation sound, which judging from the album cover and title is more what we can expect to come.

I & I, for those who don’t know, is a Rastafarian message of talking about equality— “me” and “you” are different words, so they’re innately in some fashion not equal, but saying “I & I” means we are the same. This stands with Thievery Corporation’s political themes (since Radio Retaliation, anyway) of favoring a more democratic and open system, and ‘fighting the government’ and so forth.

Saudade is by far my favorite Thievery Corporation album, I’ll be honest, because it is the most distinctly representing a culture. Prior to Saudade, most of their albums may have felt influenced by certain cultures, but it wasn’t particularly brought to attention in the fashion it was in Saudade. Or, perhaps more accurately, Bossa Nova and a Latin musical style was always prominent, but it was never the focus of a whole album.

Rather than feeling like a mix of styles swirling about in one album (particularly noticeable in Radio Retaliation), Saudade went directly for a specific style, a specific culture, and a specific sound. If Temple of I & I lives up to its directly Rastafarian title, that’s what I’m going to be looking forward to the most.

Also, I liked hearing more singing in Saudade. We’ve had plenty of tracks with some vocal work but emphasizing the Thievery Corporation sound over the lyrics (I’m thinking Heaven’s Going To Burn Your Eyes, Pela Janela, Stargazer), so hearing both a sound radically different from what they traditionally did and a much more prominent vocal track was refreshing. And, to be clear, I don’t dislike that prior style, but something different was welcome.

Now in The Temple of I & I I think we’re going to hear more of those parts that make Saudade great: noticeable evolution from past albums, more emphasis on the culture of their album, prominent vocal tracks. However, it brings it back closer to the instrumentation of Thievery Corporation we were accustomed to.

Anyway, this is just me being excited about their upcoming album and procrastinating on writing essays. Those are my thoughts on the matter. Tell me what y’all think!