Learning Japanese


The year is 2020, and I have decided to star learning Japanese. It’s early goings so far, but I’ve also decided to blog occasionally about the experience, something I have never done (and regret never doing) in the 10+ years I have spent learning Chinese over the previous decade.

Why Japanese?

As I approach fatherhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own childhood, and trying to remember what it was like. When I think back to my early teens, my mind immediately goes to my favorite types of days – rainy, dreary, cold Chicago weekends sitting bundled up on a futon in the den, the faint buzz of a cathode ray tube television humming beneath one of any number of JRPG soundtracks emitting from the screen; or late nights in a dark living room, half asleep, as dubs from Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory and Serial Experiments: Lain played on Adult Swim and TechTV. These were mesmerizing downloads for a young and impressionable mind.

I left these things behind after high school, but I’ve never forgot about them, and now passed the age of 30 I have found that I still have great nostalgia for the same types of things that I liked as an early teen. And yet when I look back at these imports which so thoroughly populated my life as a young teenager, I find myself wishing that I knew more about the country that produced them, and its culture and people. I wish I could appreciate these works more fully, but not only that, I want to understand the source more deeply.

Here in the United States, Japanese games and anime are as popular as ever, especially for kids. But we still maintain a certain arrogance in our interactions with the outside world, enjoying the content contributions that other cultures make to our lives while  rarely attempt to participate ourselves, instead always being content to aloofly sit atop the food pyramid of international commerce as the least bilingual nation in the world. I would like to set a different kind of example, for myself and others (my future family included), that rejections the notion that language learning and cultural exchange is either superfluous or will be in the future thanks to technology. In fact, as we watch relationships break down across the globe and all peoples becoming more insular, I have to wonder if our neglect of deep cultural exchange has had something to do with that…

I have studied Chinese for over 10 years, and have almost developed a sort of allegiance to it. Studying a language is a lifelong commitment (a marathon, not a sprint). Truly, I could likely spend the rest of my life only studying Chinese, but I feel it is time to let myself explore a little more…

Path Forward 

I am starting slow, and trying to keep in mind some lessons learned from my experiences with Chinese. Pimsleur’s gentle monthly subscription plan seems as good as any in terms of a starting position – when I began studying Chinese, I neglected to actually listen to the language for the first several months of class (tapes were generally locked up in the dingy campus “Language Laboratory”), and as a result of those bad habits it my Chinese listening has always lagged considerably behind my literacy. I will not make the same mistake with Japanese. I will spend the early days doing nothing but listening, getting a good feel of the language and the types of words and phrases and sentence structures that can be used to express one’s self. Later, I will look to begin the written scripts, perhaps by guiding myself through a textbook, perhaps by finding a tutor. Since I already know the meaning of the Kanji thanks to my Chinese study, I hope that learning Japanese will go a little bit more smoothly for me. Later on, I may look at Chinese materials designed to teach Japanese, since I am uniquely positioned to do that.

In the coming days/weeks/months, I will update my progress here, recounting major things I’ve learned or other anecdotes from along the way. So far, as I said earlier, it’s still early goings. Just two lessons in, I’ve felt humbled by my inability to retain even half of what I’ve learned so far, and I’m experiencing what my wife (who has now been studying Chinese for 6 months) has felt early and often in her own study. But I have also felt excited again, in a way that only language learning has ever managed to excite me.

Ja matane!



Playing Shin Megami Tensei: IV

I’ve long been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to give the mainline games of the series a try. I picked up IV on the 3DS first, finished it, and moved promptly on to the first game (on iOS) and Nocturne for PS2. Ah, Nocturne. Finally, I’m playing the game that will allow me, once and for all, to shed my “casualness”.

Shin Megami Tensei IV 
was a fascinating, but flawed, experience. The game has a dark post-apocalyptic atmosphere, with creepy synthesizer music and a misanthropic plot. You take the role of a Samuri from a vaguely Christian Kingdom who, along with a few companions, descends upon the remnants of a demon-infested Tokyo through hidden tunnels (Tokyo being destroyed is a main theme that seems to occur in most mainline SMT games). Along the way, you encounter various demons who you can fight, bribe for money, or coerce into joining your ranks.

The mechanics work, and there’s always an element of strategy and luck to every battle. You don’t have to grind levels in SMT IV, but you do have to pay attention to every fight. Just spamming the “attack” button will get you to the game over screen very quickly.

While SMT IV is a ton of fun, it is a bit lacking in plot and character development. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that your companions aren’t really real people as much as they are paragons of certain ideologies. One of your companions is a privileged richboy who hates demons and represents the “law” side of the spectrum. Another of your companions comes from the poorer classes, and thinks Tokyo’s chaotic landscape isn’t so bad. Often, you’ll have to settle disputes between the two, moving the plot along in a specific direction that culminates (predictably) in a showdown between your party and the ultimate good or evil.

That may not be the most original concept, but SMT IV sure is nuanced about it. Whether you choose to align with angels or demons, the game is quick to remind you that your choice might not necessarily be the right one. At one point in the game, you’re cast into a hell of your own doing, a realm made up of the culmination of your own choices (and, trust me, it’s bad no matter who you choose to side with). There’s also a neutral path you can walk, which is probably the most rewarding but also the trickiest to obtain, though somehow I managed it on my first try (without even using a guide).

As it stands, SMT IV is a flawed gem. It’s not the godsend to JRPGs that Persona 3 was, but in an era where most JRPG games are of the cutesy kiddie variety, it stands alone, boasting a mature narrative and very little BS.

Thoughts on Nocturne will be posted in a few weeks.

One Feeling At A Time – Björk’s Vulnicura


I wasn’t even halfway done listening to Vulnicura before I decided it was the best Björk album in several years. Now that I’ve listened to it a few more times, I have to reconsider: it might be the best Björk album there has ever been.

Björk’s music has always been interesting and, at the very least, ambitious. As she’s developed as an artist, Björk has gained a reputation for creating albums that are highly dense and experimental, and even as I listen to Vulnicura I feel like I’m experiencing a modern Classical piece – a sort of marriage between, say, Tori Amos and Phillip Glass. But over the last few years, Björk has also earned a reputation for creating music that is more abstract than personal; too dense, and leaving many unable to connect.

It doesn’t get more personal for Björk than Vulnicura. Crafted from the embers of her failing relationship with her longterm partner, Vulnicura is something like Björk’s Blood on the Tracks: Sentimental and nostalgic, visceral and misanthropic, and expressing all manners of reflection knowable to those who’ve loved and lost.  It doesn’t get further from Biophilia than this.

I Think Lupe Fiasco Just Released His Best Album


It’s tough to get a good handle on Lupe Fiasco. Ever since his debut, Food & Liquor, Lupe has been an artist that dishes out excitement and disappointment in nearly equal doses. Albums like The Cool were ambitious and reached for admirably high themes, but failed to deliver on the level of some of rap’s greater concept albums. Other releases, like Lasers, went for a more mainstream and accessible sound without gaining much momentum (Although who can say they don’t like “The Show Goes On”?).

Tetsuo & Youth seems to be where Lupe has finally put it all together. Lupe is undeniably Lupe – with the typical references to social activism, nerd culture, Islam. But here, unlike any time before, Lupe has dropped the sledgehammer pretension without  skimping on edginess and intellectual content. Instead, what Tetsuo & Youth offers is something far more raw, something that cuts straight to the bone. This album is a real portrait of an artist who, after 5 albums, is finally putting all of the pieces together and finding their true voice. It’s awesome. One can hope that this is just the beginning of a new chapter in Lupe’s career.

2014 Review

This year, I started a number of self-improvement projects. With major events like grad school, finding a job, and getting married out of the way, I found that I once again had time to my various hobbies. I started listening to more music; I began actually recording my own music. I started studying Chinese again, and learned new techniques for playing guitar. I began to pay attention to my diet, and joined a gym. Perhaps more than anything, I caught up on TV shows and finished several video games.

It’s been a pretty good year: not too exciting, but not very boring either. Going into next year, I would like spend a little bit less time in front of the TV, and more time on music and language. I would also like to revive this blog.

Somewhere, the purpose of the Tingle Review was lost. Initially, I saw the Review as a purveyor of how I experience culture.  As time went on, however, it diminished to this sparse wasteland of lists. I’m hoping to change that in 2015.

Here are a few books, games, and albums that gave me inspiration that I’ll carry into whatever I do next year:

Book – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I’ve read a few of Mitchell’s books in the past. This one wasn’t my favorite, but I still really enjoyed the way this book seamlessly wove several different points of view and unique plots around the common thread provided by the main character. Maybe this has been done before and I have simply never read another book like it. Regardless, I found Mitchell’s style to be refreshing, and clever. Increasingly complex worlds and characters are built in a way that feels completely organic.

Book – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Unfortunately, I haven’t read many of Murakami’s books. This one was great, though. This book perfectly captures the feeling of being isolated by friends, as well as being vindicated by the discovery of new friends.  The loneliness Tazaki experiences is inherent in human relationships, even successful ones.

Music – Casualties of Cool by Casualties of Cool

Devin Townsend really outdid himself with this collaboration. Having delved more into acoustic music and ambient music lately, this album came out of the woodwork and knocked me flat with its genre defying style. I know for sure that Townsend’s empty, ambient folk is going to be a huge influence on any music I make on my own.

Game – Mario Kart 8

If for nothing else, for at least reminding me that games can be simple games and still just as fun as the big-budget interactive movies you see on the other next gen consoles.

Best New Music – Apr – Jul 2014

I’ll admit – I’ve been slacking. Still been listening to quite a bit of music this summer, so it’s time for an update.

BADBADNOTGOOD – III (Jazz/Instrumental/Hip Hop)

Featuring a multitude of jazzy hip hop beats that sometimes sound like videogame soundtracks (artsy videogame soundtracks), III is one of the tightest instrumental records of the year. Always compelling and never pretentious, BADBADNOTGOOD have crafted a well-together album that expands the mind while moving the body.

Kishi Bashi – Lighght (Pop/Electronic)

The electric violinist of Of Montreal returns with a second solo album full of catchy hooks and trippy melodies. The end result is something like Electric Light Orchestra, with a little bit more poetry and a little less prog. Lighght is a big improvement over the solid solo debut.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Pika Pika Fantajin (Pop/Electronic)

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s newest record is the musical version of a kid shotgunning pixie sticks. It’s childish, cute, addictive, and probably not very good in the long term, but did I mention how cute it is? Pika Pika Fantajin is an overwhelmingly fun album. It sticks to you and grows, and with repeat listens reminds you of all those great previous listens.

March Music Picks

This month wasn’t great for music, especially compared to the awesome new releases from Beck, Marissa Nadler, Sun Kil Moon and Nicole Atkins in February. But I still found myself enjoying a few records.

Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion (Instrumental; Fusion; Metal)


Until recently, Animals as Leaders were a band that fell through the cracks for me. Having heard more than my fill of generic instrumental progressive metal over the years, I was reluctant to try out another band that might blast me with djenty tones and sci-fi levels of virtuosity. Man, was I wrong. Animals as Leaders aren’t prog metal as much as they are a tasty blend of fusion that combines energy with atmosphere and technique. Tosin Abasi is quick becoming one of my favorite electric guitar players.

Hozier – From Eden EP (Singer-songwriter; Folk)


None of the songs on “From Eden” are as good as “Take Me To Church” on last year’s phenomenal EP of the selfsame title. But this release still displays Hozier’s uniqueness in lyricism and phrasing that should make for an awesome Hozier album in the future. Both EPs are brimming with potential, but I’m still waiting in anticipation for the eventual full-length from the Irish bard. In some ways, Hozier feels to me like a male counterpart to Florence – with a voice that can haunt or uplift in equal proportions.

La Dispute – Rooms of the House (Spoken Word Hardcore)


-Core music has never really been a favorite genre of me, but I found something alluring about the jagged stream-of-consciousness delivery on “Rooms of the House”. The album is tight instrumentally too, but really it’s the words that paint all the pictures – if you can get over the monotone and follow along.

* * *

Well, that’s it for this month. I was hoping there’d be more, but like I said above, this month was weak. Plus, I’ve been doing a lot less desk work, so I’ve been listening to less music overall. Next month looks to be pretty promising, with new releases from Nickel Creek, Cloud Nothings, Devin Townsend, and Manchester Orchestra.

February, Month of Folk

February’s a short month, but thankfully a ton of great music has come out, especially if you like folkie or singer-songwriter stuff. Here are a couple of albums I’ve been digging for the month of February.


Beck – Morning Phase

I’ve never listened to much Beck, but “Morning Phase” is going to make me a fan and send me back scrounging through the latter discography. “Morning Phase” is a lush, emotive album that combines downtempo strumming and folkie dreampop vocals with lyrics that express hopefulness for new beginnings. It’s a compact and solid album, but lush and diverse enough to earn repeated, ever-rewarding listens.


Marissa Nadler – July

Marissa Nadler’s “July” continues her trend of  folk records that combine eeriness with American fingerstyle guitar patterns. The album is somber, as Nadler delivers lines like “You’ve slept through the day, the night and the day/you’re never coming back” and “There’s nothing in my heart”. Under it all is Randall Dunn’s production, usually reserved for extreme metal acts like Wolves in the Throne Room, but here mostly lending ambiance to Nadler’s gothic expressions.


Nicole Atkins – Slow Phaser

The lastest record from songwriter Nicole Atkins is a quick, bohemian statement that, at times, sounds like Sufjan Stevens; at other times, Deep Purple; and sometimes, like a spy movie soundtrack. Atkins’ husky voice and down-to-earth lyrics triumph over all, however, asserting the full command the artist has over her material. More like a quick burst of eclecticism than a “slow phaser”, Atkins’ record is bite-sized and tasteful, but still dangerous.


Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Mark Kozelek’s unabashedly honest lyrics have deterred a few reviewers, but they also drive the confessional, no BS style that makes “Benji” unique.  The album’s droning fingerstyle patterns accompany vivid, often brutal images of loss and anger, but there are plenty of soft and reflective moments too. “I Saw the Film the Song Remains the Same” is a particular highlight which exemplifies Sun Kil Moon’s unique brew.

January Music Picks

The new year started off slow, but by the end of them month I already found myself behind on a ton a new great music to listen to. Here are some of my favorites:

Alcest – Shelter (Shoegaze; Black Metal derivative)

Alcest have veered away from their trademark blackgaze style, and moved 100 percent into the realm of pure shoegazing music. While the music is atmospheric and dreamy, and there is a greater diversity of soothing shimmery sounds than ever, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the light/dark dichotomy of previous records. However, Shelter still reaches melodic and emotional heights that are as heart wrenching as can be, and while the black metal elements are missed, I can’t fault the artist for moving in a new direction.

Cities Aviv – Come to Life (Hip Hop; Cloud Rap)

Gavin May’s unique beats and production defy genre. Voices are old school, atonal, gritty, but most of all, exuding confidence. Rhymes rely more on philosophical content than pure word play, but really percussive instrumentals are what drives that songs home. “Come to Life” sounds raw and harsh at times, and isn’t for everyone, but to its credit it is never, ever boring.

Sithu Aye – Invent the Universe (Progressive Metal)

Sithu’s sense of melody continues to be astounding – but over time, he’s made solid improvements to his tone, production sense, and chops as a songwriter. Pristine guitar tones, tasteful solos, intriguing rhythms, and glorious melodies scatter through “Pulse”, making the short EP his strongest and most concise work to date.

Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope (Retroprog)

Crisp instrumentation and a punchy, one-of-a-kind rhythm section make Transatlantic one of my favorite bands to listen to. This time around, songs feel more like genuine collaborations rather than simple Neal Morse epics which some additional arrangements. Ultimately, “Kaleidoscope” is a ton of fun, and it’s not all that often you see such a talented group of people come together to make music so pristine and glittering that it can take weeks to wash off.

Warpaint – Warpaint (Indie; Dream Pop)

If Dream Pop, as a genre, offers swooning soundscapes, Warpaint offer an echo of a trance murmur heard from the opposite end of a dark tunnel. I think I like it. The vocals are lethargic but ghastly, with lyrics too loaded to be considered mundane. Instrumentals emote, giving plenty of reverb-washed sonic space to the trio’s endeavor. There are times, though, where the production clips. A softer mix would have helped keep the brooding magic of the album in the bottle, and it’s a shame the record was mixed so loud.

Year of Our Lord, 2013 – Favorite Albums

So much new music, so much time commuting to listen to it all.

Here were my favorite albums in 2013.

  1. Olafur Arnalds – For Now I Am Winter
  2. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
  3. Protest the Hero – Volition
  4. Laura Stevenson and The Cans – The Wheel
  5. Levin, Minneman, Rudess – Self-titled
  6. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampies of the City
  7. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
  8. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories…)
  9. Sigur Ros – Kveikur
  10. Vali – Skolslandskap
  11. Blackfield – IV
  12. Chrvches – The Bones of What You Believe
  13. Volcano Choir – Repave
  14. Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait
  15. The Dear Hunter – Migrant
  16. Scale the Summit – The Migration
  17. Haim – Days are Gone
  18. Deafhaven – Sunbather
  19. Ulver – Messe X.I – X.VI
  20. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

Honorable Mentions –

  1. Cloudkicker – Subsume
  2. Tyr – Valkrya
  3. Devranda Banhart – Mala
  4. Junip – Junip
  5. Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft