Melodic Mongolian Folk Metal


Metal’s made a name for itself representing the heyday of Norse raiders but the genre’s heavy riffing love goes above and beyond Scandinavia. If your culture has a violent voice buried deep in its past or present, some entrepreneurial metal heads will exhume it up and slap it into an album. Results vary in terms of quality. Recently an excellent subgenre has popped up from the sparse grassroots of the East Asian steppes. Welcome to the fold Mongolian Folk Metal.

Mongolia’s rich roots of conquest and epic raiding of sedentary societies makes it an amazing target for Metal’s Asian storytellers. Pair the slams of a double bass drum and the aggression of snarling guitars with a loud vocalist and you have a method prime to tell stories of plunder and societies torn asunder. It’s no wonder that Metal made its way to Mongolia!

If you want a good glimpse into the novel subgenre, then look first to Ego Fall, Seven Treasures, and Tengger Cavalry. These bands all come from China’s Inner Mongolia province. It aptly raises some eyebrows that the big names in Mongolian Metal come from China. It is hard to tell how big a touching point is it to the musicians. Does talk of appropriation abound, or is that a creative crisis unique to western art? The bands that have a presence outside the strange sheltered Chinese internet stress their Mongolian origin. Tengger Cavalry even speaks up about the things they see battering traditional Mongolian culture in China.

Tengger Cavalry politics

Accepting Mongolian heritage does not negate a Chinese aspect either. For the state and many people living in it, to be Chinese only means to be a citizen of China. One can be Han Chinese (the ethnic majority) or Mongolian Chinese or Tibetan Chinese. The Chinese state includes all ethnicities into one Chinese “family.” In a way America does the same with all its unlikely immigrants. America tries to bind with the hot water of a melting pot and China tries to bind with the blood of kinship. In the end the resident, immigrant, and artist chooses whether to accept that stamp of nationality, put heritage above it, or settle down in the middle ground between the two extremes.

Ego Fall is probably the most identifiably Han Chinese band among the trio, with songs full of Mandarin vocals. However, they still build their sound around Mongolian folk music and metal more than anything else. Ego Fall stands tall as the elder statesmen of this budding subgenre, having played the longest and produced the most of any of the three bands.

Pinning down Ego Fall’s sound in one category is a tough task. Some songs like “Legend,” and many others off their album Inner M constantly employ Mongolian traits such as the recognizable overtone throat singing as well as the incredibly bouncy twang of the horse-head fiddle. “The Horn Starts” also features whole verses of Mongolian throat singing matched with heavy guitar riffs.

In Spirit of Mongolia Ego Fall buck the folk trend and root themselves more firmly in heavy metal territory, with deep screeching vocals and damn near heavy everything. Songs like “The Rule in Troubled Times” create an odd take on a traditional folksy style of beat by recreating it with synthesizers. Other songs like “Iron Horseshoe” break from metal to return to Mongolian folk styling paired up electronically to sound a lot like hard rock.

Ego Fall keeps things interesting between every song by making it hard to guess what they’ll do next. That wildness can also make it harder to fall in love with the band due to some of its stranger shifts. If they settle into a groove you love, you’ll never know how long they’ll stay there. Furthermore, electric guitars dominate Ego Fall’s instrumentation, so when the folksy Mongolian elements fall out their music sounds a bit stale.

Nine Treasures sticks to a more consistent style and sometimes sounds more parts hard rock than metal. The singer fluctuates between rhythmic talking and deep throat singing, but never losing grip of his characteristic low, growling vocals. Like Ego Fall, Nine Treasures relies a lot on strings, but more those of folk instruments than guitars. “Sonsii” demonstrates how Nine Treasures songs play a bit like ACDC style rock anthems with lots of rising and falling action set to simple but powerful melodies. While their style can sometimes want for more, they do a great job of making songs that fit the image of hordes of horsemen galloping across endless grassy plains and incorporating folk instruments in a way that makes the Mongolian folk element more than a quick gimmick.

If Ego Fall sits like a great khan on this genre, then Tengger Cavalry is the true challenger rising up to take the kingdom. Tengger Cavalry formed in 2010 and has since hit the studio hard. The band instantly opened with an EP, then in 2011 produced their first full album, signed with an international label in 2012 to get the album out to western audiences, and then made two more albums by 2014. Their newest album came storming in less than a month ago.

Led by a man named Nature Ganganbaigal (Tianran Zhang), this band of all Mongolian artists does not have a weak song. Each album takes on a different sound that still stays identifiably Tengger. Folk instruments ride wild side by side super heavy pulsating double bass drum beats and distorted guitars.

Songs like “Hymn of The Wolf” and “Hero” blend in Mongolian elements so well that you could have sworn Metal was meant to have them. Other songs like “Legend On Horseback” rely much more on the folk elements. The violent reverb of electronic distortion becomes scenic background noise to the folk instruments, until the guitar solos take the song back over. “The Wolf Ritual” pits the stretched and sonorous sounds of traditional strings against the choppy and heavy blare of electric guitar. Old and new battle it out in a duel of string solos that evolves throughout the song until both styles blend seamlessly together for the finale.

In every song, Tengger’s exceptional mixing puts the band over the edge. Ganganbaigal worked extensively as a soundtrack composer, and his ability shows in the way he mixes the sounds of each song. The folk instruments never get drowned out, but they never sound artificially loud. For such a young act Tengger’s almost unbelievable sound quality sets a bar for Metal as a whole. Every note resonates. What’s more, they release albums almost annually and just put out their newest work Blood Sacrifice Shaman, which measures up easily with the rest of Tengger Cavalry’s discography.

For those inclined to the clean and craftily composed, ride into battle with Tengger’s curated sound ringing through your ears. If you love anthem rock, ally with Nine Treasures. For those obsessed with the distortive elements of Metal, follow the Ego Fall horde. If you can, check out all three! One day they may stand as legends in an even more fleshed out subgenre. In some distant dawn, these sweeping steppe melodies may run over the rest of the world! Tengger Cavalry has already taken the first step with international releases and lighthearted social media pages.

tengger-cavalry-cuties

~Austin R Ryan

P.S. – If you are interested in hearing more Mongolian music with excellent mixing and sound, see Nature Ganganbaigal’s recently made label, Khulug Music. If you are interested in learning about all sorts of excellent music check out WVAU – the site that originally published this piece and many better ones!

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Tibet: Kumbum Monastery Part 2


At last we entered the final area, a little square enclosed by different buildings. Each one was somewhat squat, no more than one or two stories tall, with grey shingles. Everything looked almost stylized to the imagination of an Eastern temple. Out there in the cold near all the monks in red, it all felt very real regardless. The monks eyed us and we them, standing as strangers barred by language from a straight connection. Even if we had the tongue to tie our two groups together it would have been an entirely higher level of courage to break the ice. It was nothing particular about Tibetan monks. In the majority of temples we went to the monks did their own thing and let everyone else do theirs.

The tour guide told us to sheath our cameras at this point. In a certain area we could take pictures of monks, buildings, whatever else. Inside buildings and deeper within the monastery, they disallowed photography. I felt somewhat glad for it. Pictures help with capturing and keeping a moment but not necessarily for enjoying it. It is a tricky tradeoff where I remember less of what I could not take a camera to, but absorbed more of it at the time. At this point we entered the Grand Golden Tile Hall. Here and in the Potala Palace we got cut off from our cameras and it made the dimly light and sublimely colored Tibetan tapestries come alive.

You can see the gold tiles of the hall we would soon enter.
You can see the gold tiles of the hall we would soon enter.

The bright and glaring sunlight made its exit and only gentle lamplight wore on our eyes now. The intricacy of the tapestries and the cloth covering the hallways was so intense that it felt overwhelming to try and take it all in at once. All the complex interweaving patterns created a sense of what the world’s cosmological phenomenon might look like. Pockets of well-organized tomes stood not far off either, sparking off endless thoughts on what they contained. Wild parts of my mind flirted with ill formed ideas of tantric secrets, but it was more likely the scrolls contained sutras and religious history.

Eventually we came to the large golden statue of Tsongkhapa himself, the man whose spiritual deeds sparked such grandeur. The golden statue itself was beautiful and awe inspiring in its own right, but the atmosphere meant everything here. A church inspires with ceilings that stretch on endlessly high, and cavernous expanses allowing all a seat. Kumbum felt small, but personal. The hallways were spacious enough, but crowded with so many banners and colors showered in dark light that in some way it felt packed and expansive at the same time. In this area we saw more monks and visitors giving offerings and sitting before the statue of Tsongkhapa. The holiness of the area radiated in a way I can only imagine Notre Dame or the Sistine Chapel or the Hagia Sophia might.

A dear friend I had made on the trip remarked to me how incredible the experience felt to him. He called it one of the most intense experiences he had. I had to agree, and felt good doing so since I heavily pumped up Kumbum to him while we explored Xining. I try to keep a healthy balance between cynicism and romanticism, to not to get swept up into breaking things down into nothing or building them up so they become everything.

Never forget to look up!
Never forget to look up!

Yet, Kumbum deserved respect and absolutely should radiate holiness and awe even by objective standards. Kumbum is one of the oldest religious institutions in Tibet and second in importance only to Lhasa. It should inspire in the way Notre Dame might. Centuries of tribute and donation from a mostly poor peoples, centuries of elite support, centuries of a good section of many people’s resources funneled into this site.

The result was sublime. As we loaded back on the bus, I felt enlightened by an understanding of how so many people could give so much of what little they had to a venture that never paid them back materially. Grandeur and awe incite such a flood of emotions that they become a payment all their own. As I reflect, it is not so unlike the sky scraping buildings of New York or the terrifying obelisk we dedicate to George Washington.

Nation means nothing on its own, and neither does Capitalism, but seeing all that steel and all that marble help me admonish these ideas. The abstraction springs to life in form of the finest construction people can manage. Incredible skylines remind us of how far we have come. Named after businesses, they make remarks on what might have got us there, or at least paid for the construction. Marble monuments that seat Lincoln like Zeus in a hallowed hall solidifies America into a material realm. In Tibet the grandeur of golden Tsongkhapa does not seem so different, bringing to life an abstract idea of this man become sacred symbol.

The thought makes me feel so close to so many far places but so grounded in my home. I could understand the motives and sentiments of almost any monument, but the true meaning is different. My fingers might grasp at the meaning of monuments, but I wondered how much I could ever close in on it without living in the society that made them. I still wonder if I can only properly feel the full cultural pull of the National Mall.

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Tibet: Visting Kumbum Monastery Part 1


Before boarding the train to Lhasa and the Tibetan Autonomous Region proper, we had to see Kumbum Monastery. Kumbum provided the first real glimpse into the traditional Tibetan culture and religion that all of us had heard so much about.

Few places matter more to the Yellow Hat or Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism than Kumbum Monastery. Voices in media often speak of Tibet as one entity held tight by one faith. The reality has a few more grits to sort through. Tibet once had heavier pagan or shamanistic beliefs but these seriously started to lose prominence when one of Tibet’s great dynastic kings, Songtsen Ghampo took over. Songtsen was no small talent, quickly taking control of much of the Tibetan plateau and patronizing the region’s early Buddhism. Eventually he would even rout the forces of the Tang Dynasty.

Later on the Bon faith would arise in contrast of Buddhism, though it could never get quite as hard a hold. Tibetan Buddhists themselves could not quite agree on everything and splintered into several sects that rose and fall. The Dalai Lamas and the Gelug School now iconic across all the world started up in the 14th century with Tsongkhapa and a small town outside Xining that would become Kumbum Monastery.

Standing outside Kumbum
Standing outside Kumbum

Our bus wheeled up to the outer wall of Kumbum early in the day, just as it opened. We had all layered up but the cold winter morning could cut through any number of layers. The whole place was quiet except for us shivering and chattering. For a while everyone just stood outside, waiting for a signal from our guide to head in.

An eager salesman with a plucky grin spotted us. He had the reigns of a shaggy white pony in his hands and offered rides for anyone willing to pay. None of us were much pliable to the offer, though. As tourists we likely disappointed, not buying from the stands of handcrafted goods outside or opting in on pony rides. Most of us were saving up for Lhasa, a place bubbling with commerce and worship.

Doing business
Doing business

Aside from our group Kumbum did not have so wide an audience this early in the morning. A Tibetan woman and her kid came walking in with us and there were a few other folks scattered about. I do not doubt that, come a little later time, the place would get a bit more active. Still, Kumbum was a monastery slightly removed from the really big population center, so it may never have had so many worshipers as monks.

The sparseness of the monastery added to it anyways, at least for a visitor from far off. Generic holiness as I knew it always had this idea of solitude surrounding it. Generic holiness shows itself in form of a person alone in a church atoning, like in the movies. Yet if there was anything that the Yonghegong monastery in Beijing and my sometimes unstable routine of bible study taught me, it’s that faith and religion come alive when people come together underneath it. The people make the faith as much faith makes the people. That dialogue with an idea of something holy or unworldly good was always what gripped me.

Two people headed in to the monastery
Two people headed in to the monastery

Still, Kumbum easily shined through the biting morning cold and everything else that kept attendance away did not mean much. The monastery gradually wove upward into the side of slightly sloping mountain. The sharp red, gold and greens burst to life in the sunlight and from that moment I could feel myself romanticizing everything. I fought against that urge. I love the romantic but it can really run against you if you really want to grip something.

Red arches welcomed us into the monastic compound. Our long linger in the cold came to an end with a row of white stupas topped with colorful spirals at their tops and intricate colored patterns at the bottom. Each stupa represented a different part of the Buddha, Shakyamuni’s life and teachings. The sun shined down and the tour guide led us further in. First we visited a few rooms on the outside of the complex, shrines to various religious figures. We could not take pictures inside and unfortunately my memory cannot hold all the specific images. Still, the colors in all the temples, the deep reds and oranges stitched into so much incredible quilt work, and the glimmering gold of mighty statues has not left me. Rather, the colors just bleed into a mess of mixed images that won’t separate for all my pulling at them.

neatly lined up stupas
neatly lined up stupas
A closer look at the stupas
A closer look at the stupas

We walked through the thick and brilliantly colored cloth that covered the thresholds of some of the shrines and dropped small donations as we went. Sometimes we got shawls in payment for a donation. They feel thin to the hand and would not combat the cold, but they have beautiful color and decoration. They came with a meaning too, red for passion and love, orange for prosperity, and so on. Even with the meaning attached the shawls reminded me that I was as strange as a person could be to this place, separated by layers of culture thicker than a thousand of these shawls.

The tour guide showed us complex statues made from Yak butter, and important offer given to Tibetan temples and monasteries, before we walked off the beaten path to somewhere deeper in. Along the route we ran across some monks making their way into the main complex where we would soon be. They worse Nikes and eagerly eyed their smart phones.

So much color!
So much color!

It might seem a sharp contrast, but Buddhism and Capitalism do not often clash so much. Even before capitalism ever came about, any religious order needed money and resource to stay alive. Often those resources had to come from the surrounding towns, the monks and abbots too busy with holy scripture, prayer or meditation to manage all on their own. So monks in many places lived as a privileged class funded through heavy donation.

My father never pushed Buddhism very hard on any of us, but he had demystified it for me. Buddha does not wipe away the little terrors people feel. Even monks stay human, eating human food, finding human shelter, at least until the accounts say they burst into clouds of lotus flowers. Like any religion Buddhism could coexist alongside anything from something as small as smartphones or as sinister as fanatical violence. I was glad to see monks in Nike’s as another reminder to not fetishize faith.

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Facebook Sticker Store Tier List


Facebook is not a social media site, it is a battlefield. Socialization is not a fun diversion, it is a competition that you must win at every stage of your life until you are number one, the Caesar Augustus etching the name of your foes onto the proscription list. Perhaps you feel frightened to stride straight into the forum and slap down the stickers that will rile up your rowdy allies into seating you in the Senate. Well no worries friend, I am here to guide you with a comprehensive Facebook sticker/emoji set tier list! All I ask is that when you are on the very tip top of the ladder you look back down to me and say, “yes you did me a mighty kindness, I will pull your name from the list silently in the night even if you have wronged my allies.”

How does this list work? I have split all the emoji sets I could find into 6 tiers, the top tiers appearing first and the worst tiers appearing last. This way the tiers go from high as heaven to low as hell. Where will you place yourself? The ranking itself is a strict science! I consult the top Meme Scientists about my lists and they all say my lists are A-Okay. Do not ask me for the contact information of the Meme Scientists or I will ban you.

The ranking works off of three primary categories: depth of responses, art style, and true meme spirit. Depth of responses indicates how many emotions and situations the sticker set can cover. It is very important that you are ready for absolutely anything anyone can throw at you, so the sticker sets must have much depth as to speak on nearly every worldly issue and maybe some otherworldly ones too. Art style simply alludes to how striking, unique, and well-crafted the art of the stickers are. True meme spirit truly escapes all human touch. One cannot simply speak of it or even think of it. True meme spirit comes when memes master propriety with divinity, when stickers walk the path but leave no footsteps, when the emojis clap but stir not a sound, when they do all with dankness.

This list cannot explain life’s mysteries, like why it is called the Facebook Sticker Store when everything in it is free? Why doesn’t the Sticker Store have a search function? Why do the sticker sets seem completely randomly sorted? This list may not answer these questions, but it will guide you straight to the top.

God of Memes Tier:
Power Rangers, Sports Talk, Sinister Oyster, Business Fish, HamCat, MiM+, Tuzki+


Mememaster General Tier:

Text Talk, MiM, Hamilton, Regular Show, Bun, Pusheen, Mr. Baldy & Friends, Cece, The Dam Keeper, Banana, Skullington, Tuzki, Blue Cat, NuaNia , Beast, Oakley, Chumbak, Biscuit, Unchi & Rollie, Mikey

Chase the Horizon to Danker Memes Tier:
Napoli, Hatch, Baach, Dia de los Muertoons, Yes We Code, Boo and Buddy, Dance Party, Masked Wrestler Q, Bee & Pupppycat, Eagle & Snake, Say Thanks, Sugar Cubs, Yuttari Dragon, Hello Kitty, Mockingjay Part 1, Kinokoko, Yarukizero, Piyomaru, The Expendables 3, Prickly Pear, Stella Supernova, U.S. Soccer, Dweores, Facebook Foxes, Gumball, Mostropi, Bigs and Yeti, Anooki, Pandadog & Friends, Despicable Me 2

MehMeh Tier:
Adventure Time, Meep, Super Tiny, Friendship, Love is in the Air and other emotion based sets, The Pixar Pack, Hacker Girl, Hacker Boy, Hacker anything else, Naughty Foods, Carnival, Meow Town, Rose, Tigerbell, Nyanchi, Paul Frank, First Mate, Happy Go Lucky, Soccer!, Ref, Opi, Sunny Eggy,Ya-Ya, Free Birds, Koko, Snoopy’s Moods, Cut the Rope, Kukuxumusu, Candy Crush, Plum

Memehell Tier:
Tanuki, Lunar New Year, Mugsy In Love, Biscuit in Love, Taz, Shaun the Sheep, Snoopy’s Harvest, Mango, Home for the Holidays, Wide Eyes, Part Fowls, Momo, Soccer Scarves, Ruby, On the Move, Pride, Cutie Pets, LEGO Minifigures, Likes, Fat Rabbit Farm,

Father, Forgive Them, For They Do Not Know Not What They Are Memeing Tier:
Year of the Horse, Finch, Bigli Migli, 1600 Pandas Tour 1 and 2, Waddles Winter, The Boxtrolls, Heromals, Peabody & Sherman

Lets get started! (Via a pretty interesting examination of the emoji from Rhizome</a )
Lets get started! (Via a pretty interesting examination of the emoji from Rhizome)

Further Explanation:

God of Memes Tier:

Sports Talk:
Imagine the number one supreme sports fan, the True Sports. For me this being is loud like the trumpets at a thousand jazz festivals yet speaking in a strange ancient language of furious airhorns and Darude Sandstorm and Alternative Rock and Gary Glitter and arcane gesticulation. This being has much flesh, seas of very shaky flesh, but absolutely no shirt for the colors and numbers of the being’s most admired sportsmen must adorn its multitudinous form. The true sports fan knows no other team as rival for all teams other than the home team cause this being great rage. Its mighty jowls quake, emitting the blast of airhorns like so many blasts of bees and the spray of nacho cheese like fiery geisers and bits of chips like molten rock at the mention of any team aside the one it favors.

The fan is the alpha and the omega, the yeller of praise and the thrower of batteries, the author of defenses and death threats, the starter of parades and riots. Some may call it male or female, but I believe it genderless with only the team’s decal brandishing the light of suns, the light and heat that gives galaxies life, where gentalia would be. Can you picture the Sports, the True Sports? The True Sports uses Sports Talk for sure. It loves this emoji set, and so do I. It covers a lot of bases and emotions and has a pleasant art style! The True Sports coddles this emoji set as it were a child, for it sees in the images the faint traces of itself, so I too adore it.

Power Rangers:
This emoji set has everything you could want. It covers the basic emotions with ease, it reaches out to the more complex topics and responses too. Power Rangers will give you an answer to any question or comment a friend can dish out so that ultimately you can triumph over them in conversation as the Power Rangers triumph over evildoers. The art in the set is pretty nice too and comes together in a style that surprisingly pleases the eye and captures the goofiness that a Power Ranger based emoji set should have. Besides all that, the Make My Monsters Grow emoji is the unstoppable hero facebook deserves and needs.

MiM+, Tuzki+:
I do not understand how the hell a designer sorts emojis and what limitations they face, but clearly the will of heaven mandates that some sets must be divided. When most sets divide it’s to create a themed “X in love” kind of thing that just looks plain awful. How many different saccharine, heart based emojis do you need? MiM and Tuzki do not phone in their extra emojis as they easily could, they go the extra mile to make every set great. Any MiM and Tuzki set can stand on its own, but if you took them all together you’d be set to meme your friends freshly straight up to your deathbed. Once there, your friends would remember how heartily you memed and come to your funeral and weep copiously. Your funeral would have much screaming and your ancestors would be very proud.

Sinister Oyster, Business Fish, Ham Cat:
These three all forge unique sets of emojis that can speak to most situations that you would need to reply to. They have wonky and fun art styles that will impress your friends into saying, “wow I bet this friend of mine reads the New Yorker sometimes and does not spend their entire weekend on children’s cartoon based playbuzz quizzes” silently to themselves as they communicate to you.

Mememaster General Tier:

Text Talk:
When I first saw Text Talk my mind flooded with violent visions of high school. Then I started to use Text Talk, and it actually covers most bases you’d need in facebook conversations. What’s even better, it embraces what it is with just a tiny touch of irony, overdoing everything with huge bubble letters and polka dots and strange nearly neon colors that occur more in Mountain Dew factories than nature. Overall it’s pretty damn fantastic because it captures the spirit behind the stereotypical valley girl who gleefully abuses texting abbreviations until indeed the neon and the polka dots stick to her words. This girl does not really exist, we have manufactured her as a lesson to strike fear into those who overmeme, and to limit humanity’s hubris so that memes may take our languages and senses but never our souls.

Cece:
What a fun set this one is! Cece has much life and spirit painted with an interesting and fun art style. Cece can apply to many interactions that you may need to respond to. If perhaps you work in a casual office environment you can respond to your boss using a Cece sticker and your boss will say, “What a spark plug it is that works here! They have much spunk and this is good for our profits, I will give them many promotions so they will hopefully stay here.” If your work environment is perhaps more formal, do not send emojis to your boss unless maybe it is businessfish.

Banana:
This fun and pleasant gorilla will impress many of your friends. However it may offend some of your friends that have been mauled by wild, rampaging gorillas that have escaped from the zoo so please be considerate! I am sick of these phantom pains…

Bun:
A fun and bouncy bunny that makes many ugly faces. The scrunchy bunny is the best. The scrunchy bunny is too good. It describes much of the strange twisting awkwardness found in every corner of modern systems doing their best to manage hordes of very frustrated people. No other bun can live up to the scrunchy bun so why bother to do anything with this emoji set than spam the scrunchy bun?

Behold the glory!
Scrunchy bun

Mr. Baldy:
I like Mr. Baldy’s strange, fleshy head and the weird discolored monsters that haunt him in the merriest of ways. Good art, good depth of responses, strong emoji set all around!

The Dam Keeper:
What this emoji set lacks in depth of responses it makes up for in unique and interesting art style. No emoji set is quite like this one. However, it is not clear why it is called the dam keeper. There are no images of dams. What kind of place makes a pig in charge of a dam? Would this not be the job of a beaver? Apparently a short film inspired these images but knowing this does not ease the burden on my mind. Why do we have emoji sets based on short, critically acclaimed, animated films? Have we gone too far? These questions plague my dreams.

MiM and Tuzki:
What excellent memeing can be done just with these two sets! Tuzki and Mim contain truly fun moving images to impress your friends and make them say such things as “wow” and “tubular” and “haha yes I do find this quite funny enough to make me laugh out loud.” The original sets alone lack the depth of responses to carry you through literally every foreseeable interaction. If you lust to meme like a heavenly being than you must incorporate their additional sets as well.

Blue Cat:
Truly one of the most baffling image sets on the internet. Does this belong in meme hell or meme heaven? The art is basic and the eyes are soulless, but at times it is so indulgent in glossy and overdone effects that it seems a poignant parody of itself. Besides that it has so much raw content that you could probably respond to damn near anything with just the one image set. Ultimately Blue Cat is strange and may give you sleepless nights, but if you harness its potentially maligned energies you may be able to wreak havoc on those around you.

Pusheen:
The classic meme cat bounces jubilantly up and down on Facebook. It shares with you its mirthful, pudgy body. Use that body to express emotion to your friends, but just remember that while this meme has aged well, it is aged and will surprise few people.

Pusheen (via @pusheen)
Pusheen (via @pusheen)

Chase the Horizon to Danker Memes Tier:

Masked Wrestler Q:
it pains me to put the masked wrestler so low, for there are few that use this set more than I. However I have to admit that it lacks the raw content, the sheer number of relevant emojis to set you up or success in every interaction. At times this emoji set will leave you woefully undermanned, but the emotions it can express it expresses very well and with the vigor of a masked wrestler.

Yes We Code:
One of the few sets to really rock the vintage signage style to full effect. It can answer most of your friends’ responses in a creative and clever way, very solid overall though perhaps not explosive enough to wow anyone. Perhaps if you travel heavily in computer science and web design circles this image set will prove very relevant to your life and become more than memes, but in fact a fast friend for you.

Say Thanks:
If you are looking for emojis to express your love for hallmark card style greetings then this is the set for you. Even though the style is super corny and sometimes a bit too goofy, I really gotta give it to this set. It thought of just about every way to say thank you and put them all into an emoji set. Godspeed you thankful bastards!

Boo and Buddy:
This lil’ pup nearly ended up in meme hell, but as I employed these small poofy animals in daily conversation I truly was wowed by its utility. The set covers most of your emotional bases, and does so with the flippant irony that can be read into this small fluffy animal with squiggly lines drawn on its face.

U.S. Soccer:
A surprisingly complete set of emojis. It will do you well and stand loyally by you but it may not impress your associates. It is a fine set, but a simple set. Ultimately Sport Talk outshines it, but if you reject any Sport but European Ball Kick then maybe this is the set for you. I, for one, will stick with Sport Talk since it includes American Diamond Ball Toss, Ice Stick Combat, Advanced Statistics Wood Bat Ball Hit and even Old Man Pebble Strike.

Napoli, Hatch, Baach, etc:
These kind of emojis have solid art styles that distinguish them and bring out the fun expressions of the animals that should represent the equally fun expressions behind the words you type. They have a pretty wide range of emotions and events. Overall, they are fine, but sets like Hamilton, Business Fish and Hamcat do the same but with more distinct art styles that bring such fun to your expressions that your friends may even feel disappointed when speaking with you in real life for you lack the strong body language of business fish.

Dance Party:
I would put this in the MehMeh tier because there’s only so much these animated dances can express, but I really like the headbang one and the twerk one.

(Party all night with these funky dancers! Courtesy of the  FB stickers blog)
Party all night with these funky dancers! (Courtesy of the FB stickers blog)

MehMeh Tier:

Adventure Time:
I too love and worship the vibrant colors of the TV as it plays this my favorite cartoon show. However, these emojis have not the zest and personality of their original medium. Sure, your friends will laugh heartily when you drop that weird Lemongrab emoji, and how they might delight in seeing the Jake-Finn fist pound, but the static pictures of the cast come with few words. This set alone will not carry you through the treacherous waters of Facebook socializing.

Hacker whatever:
If you talk with a lot of very old people on facebook they may find these emojis very impressive, but then they will definitely ask you for help closing internet explorer. Then what will you do? Talk your way out of it with hacker girl stickers? Fat chance.

The Pixar Pack:
You tried, Pixar, but did you really try hard? Yes these are your characters but they do little as to relate themselves to my emotion. How am I supposed to express the raw fury that wells up inside me when something tiny goes wrong during my interaction with a piece of technology or when I face one of the many bureaucracies that subtly rule my existence? I have no room to truly feel if I use this set of stickers and so I must cast them aside. Good job on the movies though! Those are great.

Friendship and other emotion based sets:
Facebook amalgamates the stickers that express similar things like love or friendship in form of one great sticker conglomerate. I won’t deny it; you will command an almost sickening mastery over certain narrow situations with these stickers. However if you use only the love set or the friendship set you’ll end up unprepared for expressing something as simple as feeling hungry for eating too little and then immediately after feeling bloated for eating too much. If you use many of them in tandem, as to cover all your bases, you will be like the person bringing grocery store brownies to the party. Ultimately everyone’s fine with it, but something you made yourself has more heart.

Soccer!:
These stickers have a pretty rad and unique art style. They look like logos come to life to duel the players themselves in European Ball Kick. Perhaps when they win the big European Ball Kick against a team of the best Ball Kickers from all of the world’s countries we will learn their true motivations. Until then, no doubt their goals will remain murky to us. Regardless of all that, these stickers can only help you express ways in which you kick the European Checker Ball so it’s only alright.

Memehell Tier:

Tanuki, no thank you! (Courtesy of Sticker Social.)
Tanuki, no thank you! (Courtesy of Sticker Social.)

Tanuki:
Get this weaboo nonsense out of my face.

Soccer Scarves:
The emojis don’t look that bad, and I like how raucous the jumping faces of these European Ball Kick fans look. However, these scarves can’t possibly serve that much purpose. Why would you need a visual representation of a howling, scarf wielding fan from every country with a world cup team? This seems copious.

Shaun the Sheep:
We all like Wallace and Gromit and whatever Claymation masterpieces the directors of it make, but let’s not push it. This is too much. This is decadent and we do not need it. Even if we did need it, the jarring images of this emoji set do no honor to Shaun the Sheep.

Lunar New Year:
The art is pretty cool, and it acknowledged the proper zodiac animal. Yet, I cannot imagine that this emoji set has much use outside of actually talking about the Lunar New Year. If you find yourself having many conversations over the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival or zodiac signs than maybe this is for you. Otherwise there are probably better emoji sets out there.

Mugsy in love, Biscuit in love:
Biscuit and Mugsy did not need these extra emoji sets, the originals were fine. These emojis will not shame your family, but your friends may reasonably ask you why you need to have 15 different dog emojis to express romantic inclination and will you honestly have a proper response ready for them, outside of spamming scrunchy bun?

Father, Forgive Them, For They Do Not Know Not What They Are Memeing Tier:

The Boxtrolls:
I do not know what these disgusting mammals are supposed to be. I do not understand them and I do not like them. Please do not send them to your friends.

Year of the Horse:
What the hell are you doing still using this? Do you want bad fortune to come upon your house and hearth? Do not tempt fate, it is a wily snake and the grass and you cannot will it into your basket. Switch to a goat/sheep related emoji set before it is too late for you.

1600 Pandas Tour 2:
I do not think that the first set could do much to justify the second. These stickers try to profit off of the ageless panda-monium sweeping the world, but staring into the bizarrely pupil-less eyes of these strange sticker, you can see they have no soul. They lack any sort of interesting design or expression. Their shaky borders make it seem like they could vibrate out of existence at any moment. Judging by their soulless eyes, they would take your humanity with them as they disappeared.

Finch:
This set looks like those smiley advertisements on old flashplayer websites with amusing animated shorts. When I accidentally moused over those ads they said “HELLO???” in a loud and jarring way. Those ads frustrated me to no end and so does Finch. At best this set is a poor man’s Meep and everything in the sticker store is free, so don’t settle.

Bigli Migli:
What a confounding thing Bigli Migli is. Why does every emoji relate to love? Why do none of them have mouths, making them look bland and expressionless? Why are their bodies and heads lumpy, shapeless white forms? Who named these things Bigli and Migli? You will find none of these answers starting into the empty face of Bigli Migli. You will only find suffering, very bland and quiet suffering.

Peabody & Sherman:
This emoji set appears next to the idiomatic dictionary’s definition of “phoning it in.”

[If it isn’t clear by now, this article is satire. These rankings are mostly arbitrary, written in jest, and whatever stickers you use are probably fine. Social media is not a battlefield where the most epic of memers triumph. At least not yet…

Happy April Fool’s Day!
~Austin R Ryan]

4 Bands from the Land of the Rising Sun


I recently wrote another article for WVAU.org about Japanese music. Some tremendous music has come out of Japan recently, ranging from Metal to Post-Rock. I try to display the sound and the story of each band I talk about. If you have an interest in Japan, or in Music, check it out!

Normally I would post the full article here, but I am a bit pressed for time, and I do not think I can come close to WVAU’s standard for website design and article presentation.

Click here to read an awesome article on an awesome website!

Special thanks to Will Knapp for introducing me to many great Japanese bands!

~Austin R Ryan

The Importance of Being Metal


A friend and I started to talk on music. We talked on the beauty behind new genres we found. Talks of new music led to old. We came back to a common heritage, a genre we loved and never forgot: Metal.

What was the reward in the furious grapple of gravelly voice burned hard over a rhythm beat in the double bass of a built up drum kit? How did guitar distorted rougher than ocean waves and racing bass beats do to endear anyone to metal? Metal held something to us that avant-garde indie oddities, post-rock empty swelling melodies, and sweet soft folk serenades never did. Buried beneath harsh beat on harsh beat was sincerity.

What is the importance of being Metal? What does a genre that cannot reach coffee shops, elevators, or common rooms clutch tight to sustain itself? This inglorious genre does not garner half the fame and money as most of its friends and contemporaries.

Yet, – like a musical Zeus – it mates and pro-creates sound on sound so often that an onslaught of bastard sub-genre progeny come clan on clan to offer homage to the blood of Mother Metal. That coagulated blood begat Mastodon’s erratic prog rock crock full of half-baked stoner storylines. Those furious fingered guitarists, overcompensating instrumentalists, beat life into the heart of Boris’s gargantuan wall of sound. The sludge and mud of Metal’s greasy thick stereos formed hard into Iron Maiden. The furnace of lyrics bloated with battle shaped Metallica.

Check out the Map of Metal if you have not already!
(Taken from the fantastic Map of Metal website)

Metal’s family tree has grown so wide you’d think they were Irish-Catholic denying prophylactics. The roots and branches broke into ice cold Nordic lands, tapping deep into Viking lore. Branches touched Japan’s peaks, crawled a place into China’s ancient scrawled history, and pushes ever onward. All of the woodwork comes back to bear on the stump they came from, to bicker. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most Metal of them all?

Sincerity was what gave Metal that special spark. Earnest love for the deep sludge, the battered rhythms, and the battle-born lyrics made it all possible. More than that, it made Metal exceptional. How a songs sounds will come down to the ear of the beholder. Believing in the value of those subjective sounds means a lot in any genre. But for me, nothing goes beyond glory so hard as Metal.

Indie rock styles – fueled by Arcade Fires – go to NPR. Pop anthems populate the VMA’s, with Rap and Country earning awards at their own shoes. Hipster heartlands buy out tickets to Broken Bells and St Vincent. In recent years one of Metal’s big breaks was a documentary on the once popular but quickly obscured band Anvil. Anvil’s picture of unrequited love to a not-so-friendly audience played out a lot of scenes. But Anvil’s poor popularity meant nothing in the face of their earnest efforts, and that earned them their return to fame.

(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)
(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)

Metal’s prize possession is that sincerity in all that does. Metal is the band trying to make it big off obscure reference to wordy fantasy unworthy of literary snobbery. Metal is the group of poorly maintained people staking their lives to speak on orcs and emotions. Metal is not the fusion jazz group earning accolades. Metal is not the careless Punk band beating social statements out of the streets of Brooklyn. Metal probably cares too much, and in a time where folks have gotten pretty debonair, that’s cool.

So even though I met and know all sorts of genres, even though my love for other music may supersede it, Metal’s something I want to keep up with. I want to keep watching as the odd branches born from Iron Maidens, Slayers, Blind Guardians, Black Sabbaths, and Dream Theaters contort out to conquer new lands. I want to catch the next power balled beating to death high fantasy tropes, blanketing emotional cries in ugly gore. I want to plunge headlong again into the mosh pit that never ends. I might not put it at the top of playlists, and I might not end up with hair long and black as the shirts that I wear, but I will always recognize the importance of being Metal.

~Austin R Ryan

Special thanks to Devon Bealke for introducing me to the wondrous world of Metal!

New Nostalgia


My roommate recently started on an Outkast spree. “Hey Ya” blares on through the speakers and across the room. Reveling in the nostalgia feels glorious. Memories of riding back on the bus from public school in 2003, kids asking the driver to turn up the radio, come flooding back.

It would take endless effort to separate the song from childhood. The same goes with “Ms. Jackson” and “Roses.” I would spend the article space writing a love letter to Outkast and exonerating the good things of the late nineties and early thousands, if I were sure I really loved any of it.

Nostalgia works like a pair of rose-tinted glasses. Something slips them over my eyes whenever I glance at “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. I loved the song once, do I still love it now? Is my mind caught as much in the music as it is in the past? “Mr. Brightside” remains buried with Outkast and all the old Kanye while modern favorites sit in all my playlists.

After all that time, can any sound penetrate the raw wall of nostalgia laced over each beat? There is no complete way of knowing. If the enjoyment feels sincere, run with it. No one needs another reason than nostalgia. For all the obfuscating it may do, I would not abandon nostalgia. I’d rather the past flow like honey, than sting like a bee.

    Rose colored air waves

But each moment of remembrance that made an old song feel so much stronger came to me from the radio. Billboard still got a few in one hundred in my head. Bands formed up vast waterways of sound. Labels became seas opening and genres oceans.

The radio made Somethings float to the top and gloss the surface of sound in every car. The radio formed up rivers of hit songs that we would trace back out to the oceans and seas. I got older and made it out to the ocean more often. I swam to the bottom to pick pearls up from the seafloor. Getting through the radio-pop gloss at the top made it worthwhile.

It seemed to work that way even for my non-musical friends. The most nerve wracking moments came in pooling up the jewels everyone gathered from the deep sea. We got to be explorers breaking through the surface trying to measure our successes using the ears of others.

When the water left my ears those old glossy songs on the surface sounded better then I remembered. The notes rang with radio intervals. Colorful personalities played it out to me. Sitting there, the radio brought plate by plate of commuter music. The rose colored air waves made it age like wine but it still felt less classy than a natty. The pleasure was guilty to the bone.

The radio brought the songs it beat to death back to life in vivid color.

    Radio is dead. Long live radio!

This image is from Broadcasting World's article: "ONLINE, DON'T MIRROR OFFLINE RADIO INDUSTRY"

Now radio dwindles and old seas grow into oceans. Everybody has a fond memory, and that reverie will create nostalgic ecstasies. With so many more bands, fan groupings, and new scenes I wonder how nostalgia will come of age.

Will kids ditch radio but stick with the top 100s? Perhaps radio will never die, not even faint, ever revived and kept alive to dish musical entrees out of large label kitchens. The kids might socialize it quicker, torrenting CD’s, speeding through discographies to keep friendly. Hit songs might not live long, and maybe memory will no longer wrap easy around the ears of a full generation.

It could all stay the same, just put in a different with new tools just used the exact same. Soundcloud and Google made it useful to scoop seaweed off the surface of the deepest oceans.

It would not work to try and divine nostalgia’s next line. But when dealing with the horizon you should make some stretches. To me it seems that something new might come through. With so much changed, media so rearranged, one true pop king might find harder to reign. Instead warlords come claiming teen scenes in scattered out places. The nostalgia of Orlando will not sound the same to kids from Kansas City riding high on the new Killers.

Bastion’s Soundtrack


Supergiant Games recently came out with a new game called Transistor. If you enjoy music you should really know about their last project, Bastion. Supergiant creates games that feel catered to the soundtrack behind the action.

Few other studios, whether they create movies, shows or games, put the same love into their soundtracks. Supergiant set themselves apart by putting music at the core of their story, almost like the videogame version of an opera. With transistor now out in stores, take some time with me to remember how Bastion’s soundtrack did something truly unique.

Click this link to catch my latest WVAU article, and read about why few soundtracks measure up to Bastion’s.

Lessons from The Chinese Server, Part 2


Overall, the players on my server did not seem to talk much. Perhaps games back home went that way too. Calamitous racket always sticks out more than silence, and the words could not grip me as they did in America. Even when things turned bad players rarely took to the keyboard. I would sometimes try to type things in pinyin.

I knew how to type in characters, but not in League’s in game chat system. When I typed in pinyin the other players gave me an array of awkward or disgruntled emoticons. Most of my messages came across through bursts of color and sound, pings.

Through pings and movement alone teams came together or crumpled apart. Only using pings and movement, I found it easier to figure if I baited the team into something bad. Most of my own shortcomings felt more present. With only pings, it became clearer how movements alone can cause miscommunication. Though mistakes stood out more I did not mind them as much.

My happiness depends on me

In a ranked game giving up first blood caused my stomach to sink. It felt like other players were waiting on the wings to write something rude. It did not need to be particularly confrontational. They could utter a simple “ugh” or “come on”. It only had to have that senselessness of an annoyed person behind it. It needed only the blind and maligned idea that a sharp, kneejerk indulgence in shaming another would somehow straighten them out. Even if I ignored the user, I would likely tilt harder than a teapot. Even if no one made a comment the sinking feeling alone could cause a tilt. With the chance of argument cut away I studied mistakes more clearly.

Slip-ups still irked me. I knew that four people still relied on me. It still felt bad to do poorly by my own standards. I removed all the things I blamed my fragility so heavily on. That only meant I had to admit to my own flawed thinking. A bad apple could spoil the whole bunch but a good thought could keep me from biting into rotten fruit. I always plunged myself head first into unnecessary mental narratives. Too many hours went to thinking up resolutions to problems I could have been up and about solving. My happiness depended on me. That lesson would become clear as I opened up to China.

Gaining confidence

The language came quicker as the semester wore on. I wove through the city to see famous temples and to get to work and back. The fear of getting lost and not knowing enough of the language always remained. In the beginning retreating into an asocial shell seemed the best response to that fear. I saw the flaw in that and Confidence came gradually. With it gathered all sorts of new acquaintances and connections, Chinese and American. That confidence applied right back to League.

I still lacked the ability to read enough characters to piece together most of the things people said. But understanding comes subtly. Pointing at pictures can get you food in any country, and reading enough contexts will help you gain some understanding. When the chat filled up after each mistake players made, a rager likely chose this game to vent his frustrations. When “好 (hao)”, good, popped on the screen it likely meant congratulations. I even picked up on some unique Chinese internet slang like SB (Sha Bi 傻屄).

Reading the wrath of Chinese players

Sha Bi roughly translates to “stupid bitch” or “stupid cunt”, surprisingly brutal insults by American standards. People talk up the Confucian elements of social rigor in Eastern societies and the freedom afforded by individualist America. Yet, people seemed much more frank and open in China then in America. Back home my parents and peers taught me a social script for near everything. Even if rage cut to the bone, I would not call someone a stupid bitch unless I wanted a fight. It feels extraneously angry even for the internet.

SB popped up in a lot of games too. Though it translates to stupid bitch Chinese players dropped it like American players drop the ellipses. I bristled at it in an unusual way. In the North American servers the ellipses or “why?” annoyed me for the petty, passive aggressive behavior they exhibited. SB filled me with this mixture of confusion and indignation.

I wondered if Chinese people got that mad or if the culture put less weight on those words. Ellipses might annoy me, but I would not report for a few of them dropped in game. If someone called me a stupid bitch in game for giving first blood, I would report so fast. The difference jarred me for a while.

Once I started registering the toxicity it became pretty fun to interact with. Big walls of characters blipped into the chat interspersed with SB’s. I never figured out how to type characters in the league chat (despite genuine efforts) so I wrote random things in English. Wrathful players would not register my absurd replies, nor I theirs. Sometimes I did try to say nice things in pinyin (Romanized characters).

A new friend

During a casual bout of absurdity I met a friend. We played in a lane together and I offered up strange assurances and compliments in English. He responded asking in English if I spoke Chinese. The questions continued during downtime in the game. We spoke afterwards in the league client, where I could type characters. We did our best to translate for each other, as we knew similar amounts of the other’s language. I learned that he lived in Beijing and attended college studying computer sciences.

Rather quickly he said he had felt fate ordained the friendship. It is not the most unusual platitude in China. The Chinese use a term called Yuan Fen 缘分 to indicate any sort of fateful relationship. I cannot account for how often Chinese people throw the term around. We still email back and forth. League introduced me to a friend I hope to maintain.

The great barometer

I owed it gratitude for an element that I loathed it for. The socialization that I despised at home felt beautiful abroad. The thousands of miles did not change so much, nor did the language. The truth was that League had the power to be what anyone made of it. I treated the game as though it had great control over me. It felt like a slot machine drawing in my energy and spitting out tokens of praise or denial.

In reality it provided a barometer for my own wellness. If angry and frustrated, league appeared a den of ragers. If happy and light, it seemed the fun distraction I needed. When closed to the world, League injected meditative emotions to help me through. When I opened up it let me socialize in a ways unseen in real life. League might have some control over me. It might swallow up half to a whole hour of my day in one game. The length sits out of my control as does the actions and words of others.

For all the control I gave it, it gave back just as much. The ultimate experience came down to the way I handled life just moments before entering the lobby. The Chinese servers taught me much more about my identity than it did the middle kingdom.

~Austin R Ryan

“Toxic”


If you play league you know about toxicity. Chances are a friend or reddit post introduced you to the term. The League of Legends community accrued some infamy for the fury behind its players. Popular perception tells that frustrated teens make up most of the player base. The young malcontents express their frustration at the slightest provocation. The veracity of League’s unfortunate reputation says little. The word around it speaks volumes.

You might not feel thankful for a toxic player, but you should feel grateful for the term itself. No word fits the effect of ragers, complainers and pesterers like toxicity. Something toxic lingers. A toxin might not knock a person dead. It could cause a cough or a collapse. Either way, a toxin goes around and people wonder whether it will hit them. Toxicity describes in-game rage so well because rage works the same way. That one argument provoking comment permeates the very air around each monitor. Engaging with it might just spread the sickness. Ignoring it does not will it away from everybody. It might not reach you, but it still clings to the whole habitat, threatening to ruin something fun.

Imagine coming home after a long day and sitting down to play a game of league. The trials of work or school proved tiring. You enter into a quick ARAM to clear you head. Everyone on the team randomly rolls a decent champion. The game starts and your team files up to the bushes at the side. An early fight breaks out and an errant arcane shift from Ezreal blows the whole thing. Your surviving teammates limp back to the tower. For a moment only silence permeates the cold air of the howling abyss. Then one of the champs falls back and stands still. The player starts to type instead of play. Ezreal receives an attack on his character. No mincing of words, not even a passive aggressive ellipses, just a raw assault on a stranger’s ego.

You made no mistake so the mad player did not target you. It does not matter, though. It could have been directed at anyone, even the opposing team. That it happened means at least one of your teammate’s put their head in the keyboard rather than the game. Even worse, that fury could turn toward any teammate that slips up.

Even the thick skinned go on guard. In a team game the morale could mean it all. One player going on tilt makes the carrying much harder. If the argument spreads to three, four, or even five players it could take a miracle to pull the team out of a nosedive. You click tab and mute the player, but that hardly means the end of it.

Responses to the rager start pouring in in spite of your requests for your teammates to mute him. Soon enough the chat lights up with the flavorful exchange of decent people turned keyboard warriors. You slate your team to lose. In the beginning it seemed like a guaranteed win. But the battle over the chat box means more to the team than the push for the enemy nexus.

Sometimes whole groups of people find that perfectly analogous term to describe a widely shared experience. The League community did just that when they coined the term “toxic”. In a team game where morale determines tilts and tilts determine who wins, nothing fits a fit of anger so well as “toxic”. No matter what you do, no matter what anyone says, the toxicity floats menacingly through the air. Even if all four players don their biohazard suits and mute the flaming fifth, the memory of the rage remains. All four know that the quarantine never needed to happen. Some might even want to fight back, but you cannot hit a toxin. You throw the punch, you take a breath, and the next thing you know it has floated right into you. You matched hate with hate. Reporting offer some reprieve, but you will never know with certainty the tribunal response. The only true consolation is that the word itself fits like a glove to a leprous hand.

 

~Austin R Ryan