One of Those Lists: Band Edition
(My Top 10 Favorites)
I’ve always had a strange relationship with music. I’ve never really been the kind of person to listen to a lot of the popular music most people would recognize. I find certain bands or artists that I like and end up just sticking with their body of work, without going out of my way to listen to a lot of new bands or songs. I rarely, if ever, liked the popular music of any era growing up. I hardly ever listened to the radio and bought even fewer CDs, and still tend to just stick to things that I know and enjoy. In fact, I’ve been to one concert my entire life. Music is a big part of my ability to focus as a writer, but even that is very specific in terms of what works and what doesn’t when trying to capitalize on the emotion. I’m sure it’s a lot easier for most people to come up with their 10 favorite bands, but I actually struggled a bit. Not because I have so many I like, but rather because I listen to so few on a regular basis.
I’ve never been one of those people who say “Music is my life.” and I’ve been okay with that. Though as an adult, and wanting to try and unlock a deeper sense of self and creativity, I’ve been learning how to create music of my own.
For this list, I decided just to stick to bands and not include people like Ennio Morricone or Clint Mansell, who are most well-known for movie scores. I also left off genres of music that I enjoy but that I couldn’t specifically pinpoint artists. I’m referring to things like “Retro Wave” or “Ambient Space Music”. This is usually the kind of stuff I listen to while writing, depending on the mood of the story.
Each entry on the list will include a song that I find to be their respective best or personal favorite. For some of them, it changes day to day, but it’s what I would consider “my favorite” at the moment of writing this.
10. Lacuna Coil: Starting off, I decided to go with a band that not a lot of people have probably heard of. They’re an Italian Goth Rock band that has never really had a major hit in the US. I discovered them thanks to the game Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, which I talked about on my favorite games list. The soundtrack for that game was great and Lacuna Coil had one of the more memorable songs on it. They probably have the lowest playtime for me in terms of bands on this list, but I still enjoy it when I do listen. It’s not something that has aged incredibly well, but it’s very heavy and dark sounding while not bordering too far into the metal genre, which I'm not a fan of.
09. Yngwie Malmsteen: : Another one that not many people might have heard of and I might be cheating a bit here because I’m including him as a “solo act” and not any of the bands he’s been associated with. But for those who may have not heard of him, he’s who I believe to be the greatest electric guitar player of all time. The things the guy does with a guitar are insane and that’s why he’s on my list, even though I’m not huge on “Glam metal” genre that most of his stuff would fit in. What I enjoy most is when he’s done Neoclassical metal, which is heavily influenced by classical music.
08. Die Antwoord: By far the most unusual choice on my list, the South African hip-hop duo is unlike anything else that I listen to or enjoy. But I think the reason that I do enjoy their music, even though it’s incredibly ridiculous, is that they’ve built this image of foolishness around themselves that you can tell borders on parody. They’ve also mastered a very unsettling, unique imagery that I think speaks volumes to their creative talents, even while raping about off-the-wall topics. They’ve got a huge following around the world, but haven’t exactly hit it big in the US, so I’m not sure everyone here even really knows what they are all about. Though you might have seen the movie they made called Chappie.
07. Deadsy: Another lesser known band from the early 2000's who have only recently gotten back together, they’re fronted by the son of Cher and an Allman Brother. They had a very unusual theme visually and their music would fall somewhere between Industrial Metal and Synthwave. I don’t remember where I first heard them, but I have been listening to them for a long time and owned a few of their CDs back when they were still a group. I dig how they mix the metal with the sci-fi sounding synths and the vocals are surprisingly deep in a lot of their tracks. I hope that whenever their new music drops, it follows the same kind of theme.
06. A Perfect Circle: While the majority of fans of Maynard James Keenan would say that Tool is their favorite band led by the front man, Tool fails to even make my list. To be fair, APC has had a decent number of hits and a lot of people would recognize their music thanks to being featured in movies and getting good playtime on the radio. Maynard is one of the most talented musicians of all time and a genius when it comes to songwriting. However, I’ve always felt like Tool was a bit too “droning” even though it’s very well done. A Perfect Circle had the quality without the “slow” factor that put me off of Tool. The songs have depth, the lyrics are powerful, and they’ve managed to update their sound with every album. APC (and most of Maynard’s music) has always had a lot of religious allegory and symbolism, with their new album set to come out later this year seemingly even more focused on that theme.
05. V.A.S.T: Yet another band that might not be very well known, but one that is fronted by a great musician. Visual Audio Sensory Theater is the personal project of Jon Crosby, who plays multiple instruments, does the vocal work, and writes the songs. The music would fall somewhere along the lines of alternative to ambient rock, and has very deep lyrics often focusing on love or lost love. A lot of people might recognize their biggest hit (Touched) which seemed to be included in every single early 2000's drama.
04. Eric Burdon and The Animals/War: I’m going to state an opinion now that I think might upset a lot of people. Eric Burdon was the greatest talent to come to the States during the British Invasion of rock during the 60's. Yes, even better than The Beatles. His voice has more soul in it than any other singer in the history of music. This might be another cheating entry, since it's actually two different bands, but it fits. The Animals were way ahead of their time when it came to the powerful messages most of their songs had. Many of their songs became ballads for the men fighting in Vietnam. Burdon would go on to create the funk rock band War, which broke both racial and cultural boundaries at a time in which things like that weren’t common. War is a much different sound, but Burdon’s powerful voice and soul comes across and mixes well with the other members of the band.
03. Puscifer: Maynard James Keenan’s third, and probably least well received by fans, band started off as a personal project that was meant to be much different from what it ended up as. Maynard had planned on a creating a kind of “super group” with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails that would allow them to bring in other musicians and do things that neither NIN nor Tool/APC were doing. Things didn’t work out scheduling and creatively with them, but Maynard didn’t want to just shelve the idea and moved forward with different members. It would almost become his own "solo" project that involved new members every time. Early Puscifer albums were very…strange. They mixed a lot of different ideas and sounds, including heavily themed country and religious songs. None of it made any kind of sense, but was so well made that it’s still good to listen to. Even when trying to be chaotic with his sound and themes, Maynard managed to create something that was better than what most could do. As Puscifer grew, new members came and went. The current version (which has Corina Round, Mahsa Zargaran, Mat Mitchell, and a few others) is by far my favorite era. The Money Shot album has become one of my favorites of all time. While the lyrics are still a bit disjointed and chaotic, the music and the way those lyrics are implemented created something that I find to be artistically beautiful. Puscifer also tends to piss off and annoy die-hard Tool fans who feel like it takes away Maynard’s time from working on Tool, but that just makes me appreciate it even more.
02. Karnivool: An Australian group that is sadly not very well known in the States, they started as a nu-metal band that very clearly could be more, and grew into a progressive rock band with some of the most meaningful and powerful songs I’ve ever heard. Their more modern music is so incredibly good that it’s shocking to me that more people haven’t heard of them. They are one of the few bands who I feel have created “perfect records” that don’t have a single weak song on them. The lead singer has a strong voice (Ian Kenny) and Drew Goddard writes compelling and dynamic lyrics.
01. Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor is one of the greatest musical talents of all time, and he has become that by constantly evolving his music to create new eras of the band that stay modern. NIN might be best remembered for the very industrial heavy metal music and disturbing imagery that made them popular in the 90's, but with every album since then, the band has become something different for the better. He’s a masterful lyrical writer and builds music that is so technically strong that it puts others to shame. Reznor has beaten addiction, kept the band relevant for decades, and has even won an Oscar for his musical talents. NIN was the first band that I really became what I would consider a fan of, and one of the few that I made an effort to buy albums of. They are also the only band I’ve ever gone and seen in person, which was during a rough time in my life and very much needed. It would not be hard for me to sit down and name 100 Nine Inch Nails songs that I love to death, with the only hard part keeping it at 100 and ordering them by favorites. Trent is in his 50's now, has children, is an award winning composer, and still finds to create modern day NIN music that kicks just as much ass as they did in the 90's.
Honorable Mentions: Sevendust, London Grammar, Darling Violetta, Pearl Jam. No dishonorable for this list, since it's really easy to just not listen to music you don't like.
One of Those Lists: Video Game Edition
(My Top 10 Favorites)
I, like most Americans my age, grew up playing a lot of video games. My family had one of the original Nintendo systems from the 80s, and I played N64 all the time as a teenager. As an adult, I swayed towards PlayStation and then eventually the PC. I’ve wasted a lot of time playing video games, but at least I’ve had fun doing it. This list probably isn’t totally accurate, but it’s games that I am fond of and have spent the most time playing over the years.
10. Vampire - The Masquerade Bloodlines: Thanks to not having to pay taxes, pay for food, or have time to do anything, I managed to save up a decent amount of money after fighting in Iraq. One of the things that I bought after getting back was a gaming computer that cost me a couple grand (because 20 year olds make great decisions) and this was one of the first games that I got with it. I’ve never really been into the whole “vampire” thing, other than liking the Underworld movies (mostly because of Kate Beckinsale). But this game seemed interesting enough to give it a shot. Back then, it was a buggy, unfinished mess that just left me disappointed more than anything because I kept running into game breaking bugs. The soundtrack was great and the game had promise, though, and I decided to give it another shot after finding out that fans had released an unofficial patch that fixed a lot of the issues. It’s short, but has a lot of cool writing and a unique feel to it.
09. The Elder Scrolls – Oblivion: I’ve always been more of a “sci-fi guy” rather than “magic and blades” but it was hard not to get wrapped up into this game when it first came out. I had originally tried the Elder Scrolls Morrowind but found it to be too hard and confusing. Oblivion fixed a lot of the issues I had and ended up being a very memorable experience. I got emotionally attached to my created character and the world around me. I spent probably 100 hours on just one save and stayed up until 4 in the morning one night to finish the main quest. The girl I was dating at the time was staying over and “ruined it” a bit by waking up right as I was fighting the end boss to complain that I was still up. Most people would consider Skyrim to be a better game, but it never hooked me like Oblivion did.
08. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: As I mentioned in my last list, one of my favorite Star Wars characters is the “star” of this game and who you control. This (and its sequel) was one of the few games on the original Xbox that I actually enjoyed a lot. I was a Star Wars fan and getting the chance to create a character and become a Jedi exploring new planets was a blast. The combat is kind of odd (you click buttons and watch the game actually do the action) but you eventually get used to it. The storyline is great and the freedom you get to make choices that affect the story meant that you could play it multiple times and have it all feel new again. Easily the best Star Wars game out there, even if it doesn’t have any of the movie characters in it.
07. Battlefield 1942: I once spent an entire summer vacation doing very little other than play this game until all hours of the night (and also Team Fortress Classic, another game). You could set up all kinds of intense historical battles from all fronts of the war and the amount of carnage was insane for the time it came out. There was ground combat, ground vehicles, and planes. It was everything a fan of military history and games could have asked for. If you take all the other games in the series into consideration, I’ve spent in insane amount of hours playing Battlefield games. I sometimes even boot up 1942 and still play against computer players. While the A.I. hasn’t held up all that much, it’s still a good time.
06. Dragon Age Origins: Another fantasy game that I initially wouldn’t have given the time of day, but happened to buy it after it had been out for a while and discovered that it was a great game. The voice acting and story was top notch and it made you really want to drudge on and finish it. And the version of the game that I got included all the great DLC that they released with it, so I spent hundreds of hours on this game. It is a shame that every single Dragon Age to come out since has been underwhelming, because I’ve been wanting the same kind of experience in this world as I did with the original game.
05. Perfect Dark: I’m far from a Nintendo fanboy, but I always felt that the N64 was a lot better than the original PlayStation. It didn’t have long loading times and those cartridges were far more durable than CDs. A lot of people would say that Goldeneye was the best shooter game on 64 (and I do have fond memories of playing that at sleepovers with my high school buddies) but Perfect Dark was just a bit better. The single-player story was groundbreaking for its day, the music was really good, and the graphics were really pushing the limits of that system. I also spent a lot of time just playing the multiplayer against the different kinds of bots. The controls are kind of clunky when you go back to play it now, but it’s still enjoyable enough to make it worth it.
04. Fallout 3: I went into this game really knowing nothing about the series at all. I had never played the originals on PC and had no clue that this one was so different from those (a top-down RPG vs. 1st/3rd person RPG) and I think that is why I probably liked it as much as I did. It was a whole new experience in this interesting world that I got hooked on. The music was great, the gameplay was challenging but fun, the exploration was intriguing, and the amount of content was mind-blowing. The only downside was that the main story was a bit short and uninteresting, but all the DLC and side-quests made up for it.
03. MLB - The Show: This is a series, not a single game, but I figured that they are all basically the same so I’d just include it as one. Of all the games I’ve played, combined, these ones would probably be the “most time played” of them all. I buy the new game every year and play it off and on for the entire year until the next one comes out. It’s a relaxing thing for me, as I often only play it late at night. The roster management keeps me entertained when it would probably bore most people. I play the Franchise mode and control all 30 teams, and play games for every team. I have a process and it would take a long time to explain every little thing about it. But basically, I like baseball and this is the only baseball game around worth playing.
02. Mass Effect 2: No other game has ever made me care more for its characters than the Mass Effect series. The writing and voice acting is top-tier and the crew that you assemble is the best in video game history. The backstory and quests keep you interested and the action is fun without being repetitive at all. The music is my favorite, as well, and worth listening to even on its own. I like science fiction, and these games created a great new universe to have adventures in. The first game is really good, but the gameplay is a bit hard to get back into. The third game is really good, but the second beats it out for me by just a fraction. Actually, let’s just count the entire series as number two.
01. Fallout New Vegas: Now, though I lumped in all the games from certain series as one entry on the list, I’m going to go ahead and separate this one from Fallout 3. Different people made the games and the quality is noticeably different. Fallout 3 is a great game, but New Vegas is just more enjoyable for me. The environment, the freedom of your choices, and the quests are by far my favorites in video game history. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on multiple characters from both PS3 to PC and still am able to find things that I haven’t seen before when I boot it back up. Last year was the first time that I was able to play it with all the incredible mods on PC and it made me fall in love with it all over again. Writing this makes me want to play it again…
Honorable Mentions: The Witcher 3, Rainbow Six Vegas, Resident Evil 2, and countless others. No Dishonorable this time, because that'd be a crazy long list. Maybe I'll do a "most overrated games" list sometime.
One of Those Lists: Star Wars EU Characters Edition
(My Top 10 Favorites)
I grew up in a pretty small town in Indiana. There wasn’t much to do other than play baseball and go to the library, which meant that for half the year you could only do one of those two things. The library had a “reading contest” that you could take part in one summer that involved reading a list of books, which would result in a prize of a free book of your own. The first prize book that I chose after finishing my list was a Star Wars book. I hadn’t ever read any of the books, and though I had seen the movies, I wasn’t a huge fan or anything. But out of all the choices, that book seemed like the most interesting. It was the fourth book of a Young Adult series, and hooked me into reading Star Wars books ever since.
The characters that became part of what was known as the “Extended Universe” ended up being more interesting to me than those from the movies. I “grew up” with them as they progressed through the stories and series. I took my time reading them, as I didn’t want to rush through them all, and still haven’t completely caught up. But that is because when Disney bought the rights to the franchise, they declared that the Extended Universe was no longer considered “canon” was now known as Legends. It meant that those characters would “cease to exist” and wouldn’t have any more books written starring them. That means that I’m eventually going to get to the end of their stories, and I’m not sure I’m okay with that after so long. So I’m somewhere in the middle of Legacy of the Force series, with just a couple more to go after.
I’m sure that at some point I’ll finish the rest of the books, but in the meantime, here is a list of favorites from the old Extended Universe/Legends. I am especially fond of the Young Jedi Knights and New Jedi Order series. For the sake of the list, I’ll leave out characters from the movies.
10. Kyp Durron: It’s been a long time since I first read the Jedi Academy trilogy that introduced Kyp to the universe, but it’s still one of the best series in the EU. Kyp’s struggle with the dark side and the reclamation of the character at the end is great stuff. His role as a “not like the others” leader in the New Jedi Order series is interesting, as is the brief flirtatious moments with Jaina Solo. His carefree attitude and ability to question the other Masters is rare and a welcome inclusion.
09. Corran Horn: Overall, I find his character to be rather boring, but he makes the list simply for one reason: his showdown duel with a Vong commander on Ithor. It’s an incredibly written battle and one of the best parts of that entire series. It’s just a shame that he could never live up to it otherwise.
08. Alema Rar: Though she was never the focal point of any story, she was always interesting. She had a rather sad character arc all throughout, beginning with the loss of her twin sister during the early part of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. She was part of the Mrykr Strike Team, which resulted in the loss of a number of friends and her love interest. And though she was a great pilot that took part in many of the battles during that war, she would eventually fall to the dark side. I always felt bad for her as a character, and the struggles that she endured. Even when she was completely evil, there was still a part of me that was rooting for her.
07. Tenel Ka: She was always a strong, determined presence that fit in well with the rest of the Young Jedi Knight crew: the story in which she believes that her physical ability is more important than her Jedi training and construction of her lightsaber is perhaps the best in the first YJK series. It results in her first lightsaber malfunctioning and the loss of her arm, but instead of having it replaced with a cybernetic one, she decides to go without as a reminder of her carelessness. Her relationship with Jacen Solo is endearing and one of the more realistic in the EU, though it was never a continuous thing. She would end up Queen of an entire cluster and mother to a child with Jacen before his turn to the dark side.
06. Darth Revan: The only non-book character on the list, Revan is who you play as in the Knights of the Old Republic video game. There is a canon version of the character, which could obviously differ from how you decide to play the game, but the first time I ever played the game I actually went along with much of the canon version choices. Revan was a Sith Lord, one of the worst in history in fact, who was betrayed by his Apprentice and eventually saved from the dark side by the Jedi. It’s a great game no matter what choices you make, but the “good guy” version that is canon is a great story and character.
05. Anakin Solo: I never read the Junior Jedi Knights series that starred Anakin Solo, Jacen and Jaina’s younger brother, but he made a big impact in the early parts of the New Jedi Order. Chewbacca sacrificed himself to save Anakin, and Anakin would eventually sacrifice himself to save the Mrykr Strike Team and finish the mission. He was being groomed as the next great hero of the universe, much like his grandfather Anakin Skywalker, before he met his end. He risked his life to save his childhood friend and love interest Tahiri, and his death was a pivotal moment in the series. He was coming into his own and his loss hit me hard as a fan, but it was done in such a great way that it was worth it. And it added depth to Tahiri’s character.
04. Tahiri Veila: As mentioned, she was Anakin’s childhood best friend and would eventually have deeper feelings for him as the two of them aged. He rescued her from being brainwashed completely by the Vong, which only made the two of them closer. He was the only person in her life that she considered family, and never truly felt complete after his death. She also had to handle a deeper part of herself as the brainwashing would sometimes come to the surface and influence her in a way that was totally out of character for her. She didn’t do much in the Dark Nest Crisis series, but would eventually turn to the dark side and join up with Darth Caedus, before being saved by Ben Skywalker.
03. Nom Anor: The only Yuuzhan Vong character that survived the entire series (until the final book, anyway) and also the only one with any real depth. He didn’t act, think, or speak like the rest of his species and his scheming ways were always interesting. By the end of the series, he went from one of the main protagonists to a bit of an anti-hero. He broke the mold of “bad guys” in the Star Wars universe fitting a very small set of common standards, which was a good thing.
02. Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus: Jacen was such a happy-go-lucky character when he was younger, cracking jokes and collecting animals. He loved his family and doing the right thing. This would eventually lead to him questioning the Jedi’s role during the New Jedi Order series and him meeting up with a character that would eventually put him through a trial of sorts. His maturing and eventual fall into darkness is one of the best continuing story-lines throughout the entire EU. I haven’t yet reached the finale of his time, but I do know how it ends, and I feel as though it couldn’t have gone any other way.
01. Jaina Solo: Growing up, I always connected with Jaina’s character personality wise. She was independent, headstrong, and knew that doing the right thing was important. She was strong, determined, and often found herself in tough situations that tested her. Her roles as a Jedi and as a pilot were more important to her than anything, but still found herself the object of affection from many different characters. Very rarely would she ever have moments of weakness, but when she did, she would find ways to overcome and “save the day” when others couldn’t. The brief moments of grief and tease of falling to the dark side after Anakin’s death were important to her evolving as a character, and I was glad that she was able to stay on the right path as "Sword of the Jedi". It made the most sense that she would be the one that finally put an end to Darth Caedus, though I am sure it’s a sad moment for those of us who had known the two of them since they were kids. (Someday I’ll get to that, but I am in no rush.)
Honorable Mentions: Ganner Rhysode (None shall pass!), Raynar Thul, Shedao Shai, Vergere.
Dishonorable Mentions: Mission Vao, Cal Omas, Jagged Fel.
One of Those Lists: Television Show Edition