Queer Icons: A Discussion

I’ve been thinking a lot about what brings people to the status of being “queer icons”. Many of these people aren’t queer themselves, yet they are subject of adoration by many queer fans. And, there’s so many people who are queer themselves and quite popular who never seem to receive this distinction. My knowledge in this matter is primarily focused on musicians, so I’ll keep this discussion limited to that realm.

Allies and Icons

Kate Bush is a good example of someone who isn’t queer herself, but her music resonates with those fans. “Running Up That Hill” has been interpreted by many as a trans allegory, where God swaps the places of the narrator with her male lover. “Kashka from Baghdad” laments the situation of a gay man who “lives in sin” in a relationship with another man.

Music video for “Kashka From Baghdad” by Kate Bush

As far as icons who are queer themselves go, Lady Gaga has certainly made her mark. She not only has music directly supporting queer people, but has contributed much to queer activism. Both artists pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to discuss in mainstream pop culture for their time. Keep in mind, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga was released four years before even the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized gay marriage.

A Would-Be Icon

So why does someone like Kurt Cobain, who similarly supported queer people during his time with Nirvana, not have the same level of recognition as a queer icon as others? Cobain’s one interview during the release and promotion of Nirvana’s Insecticide was with The Advocate magazine which promoted “Gay and Lesbian” issues. He called himself “gay in spirit” and “probably could be bisexual”. He performed with Nirvana at a benefit concert in Oregon to oppose an anti-gay ballot measure being proposed in the state.

If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the f— alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records

Liner notes for Nirvana’s “Incesticide”

Although Cobain was certainly popular enough to be known by queer fans, he’s largely left out of these kinds of conversations. I believe this may be due to the nature of Nirvana’s music. Most queer icons in music, at least in the 20th century, are women or they are men who write poppier songs and ballads. This trend is largely reflective of the perception of gay men and lesbians by themselves and wider society at the time. Gay men were stereotypically effeminate and lesbians were stereotypically butch (and any other queer people were ignored).

Even though Cobain often acted in line with these stereotypes, both in his private life and on-stage, his music was much more aggressive than the music of most other queer icons of the time. As such, there may have been a reluctance among the queer community in the 90s to adopt Cobain’s music as theirs because it broke from those stereotypes.

Concluding Thoughts

While popularity and queer subject matter may be important in making someone a queer icon, those don’t seem to be the only criteria, at least for older musicians. Actually this trend still exists to some extent today too. Rarely, if ever, are aggressive rock or hip-hop artists (many of whom are queer) seen as icons, even if they discuss the matter in their music.

Miscellaneous Playlists

How to: Mental Health

Some days, things are just going bad. Sometimes, we know the root of that cause, sometimes we just feel unlucky. Sometimes, there hasn’t even been anything bad that’s happened, we just feel awful.

In the moment, it can be near impossible to ignore the emotional reality that you’re experiencing. It’s difficult to fix problems that do exist and matter when you’re having a rough time.

I’m putting this collection of tips out there for those days when things just seem to be going badly. It’s difficult to know when to seek help, or even if you need help, but it is easy to know that this might not be the greatest of days.

A lot of this article was inspired by Sinope’s Tumblr post, “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up.”

Things you can do right now

Eating healthy and drinking water regularly are both extremely helpful for your mental health. Even if the food you’re eating isn’t perfectly “healthy”, having balanced meals with carbs, fats, and proteins in some capacity can help a lot. If you don’t feel like you can prepare a meal, eat some mixed nuts with whatever bread products you have access to. Maybe eat a banana or some grapes with it.

On that note, buying foods that can be prepared in bulk ahead of time can be quite helpful in alleviating the stress of making a meal in the moment. Additionally, try to at least drink a water bottle’s worth of water a day. Fill a reusable water from the tap or a Brita filter if you have it, or just grab a plastic water bottle.

Take a shower if you’re at home. Don’t worry about how long you’re in there or how hot the water is, just keep the temperature comfortable and get clean.

Likewise, dress into some clean clothes if you haven’t gotten dressed today. It gets you out of the tired mindset that being in pajamas may put you in, giving you more energy during the day.

Things you can do with and without people

If you haven’t really interacted with people, especially friends or family yet today, try to meet up with them, even if it’s just for an hour or two. If you can’t meet in person, text or call them. Don’t worry about getting work done during this time. Ask for a hug from friends or family if you’re comfortable. This doesn’t necessarily apply if those people are part of the reason you’re not doing that great.

If you’ve spent large chunks of the day around people, even friends or family, take some alone time. Play around with hobbies, whether it be knitting, playing video games, or programming. Sit down with a show or a movie.

Hell, watch Tiktok or Youtube to unwind for a bit, though try to limit these to an hour or so.

Things you can do to be active

Exercise also helps your mental health greatly. People who do a lot of intellectual or emotional labor may find exercise especially helpful. If you have access to a gym, take your pick of what activity you want to do, whether it be strength exercises, swimming, or walking/running on a treadmill.

Personally, I’ve found lifting weights to relieve my mind of stress, since all of my focus is on physical exertion.

Going outside in any capacity is probably the most helpful piece of advice I could possibly give here. Whether you go on a walk, sit on a bench for a while, or run around for a bit, these all tend to be more beneficial to your mental health than staying inside. If you have access, go to a local trail through the woods.

I cannot stress enough how rejuvenating a nature walk like this can be. Green spaces more generally are also relaxing compared to dense urban environments.

How music can help

Music tends to be prevalent through all parts of my life. I use it to highlight pleasant moments and relieve negative moments. There’s a number of different types of music that I tend to gravitate towards when I’m struggling with a variety of things, and I want to share those here in the hopes that they help others.

Healing – In Love With a Ghost

Music video for “Healing” by In Love With a Ghost

In Love With a Ghost is probably my most played artist when I’m having a bad day. Their lo-fi, bedroom pop sound allows listeners to let their thoughts drift away as they listen. Their music is perfect for those times when you might not know exactly why you’re sad or upset, just that you are.

Pills & Good Advice – Left at London

Lyric video for “Pills & Good Advice” by Left at London

On the contrary, sometimes I just need to vent my emotions until I’m satisfied. When I feel wronged, especially by someone I know well, I tend to come back to Left at London’s music. Her album “t.i.a.p.f.y.h” is phenomenal for giving me something to sing my heart out to in the car. Songs like “Pills & Good Advice” give me the perfect opportunity to feel like I have closure over some bad event that’s already finished.

Meant to Be – SAFFRA

Official audio for “Meant to Be” by SAFFRA

Other times, the most helpful music is that which will get me back into the swing of things. “Meant to Be” is the debut single from SAFFRA, and it rides the line between positive energy and low-key relaxation perfectly. Its long solos in the middle of the song provide a wonderful chance to just close your eyes, sit back, and let the music wash over you. I tend to use this (and songs like it) after artists like Left at London to get myself back into the swing of things.

LAW OF AVERAGES – Vince Staples

Music video for “LAW OF AVERAGES” by Vince Staples

Sometimes, all I need from music is to have a soft, somewhat depressing tone to stew in my emotions for a while. Unlike Left at London’s invigorating, aggressive attitude, Vince Staples sounds more low-key, as if he’s having a serious, emotional conversation with listeners. This sentiment is especially true on his last two albums: “RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART” and “Vince Staples”. I especially recommend his music if you’ve had a rough day at work and you’re driving home.


Omori: Soundtrack Review

Omori is an astounding visual and listening experience. Released in 2020 after over six years of development, this sweet and dark role-playing video game quickly won the hearts of players.

The game follows the story of a young boy named Sunny and his dreamworld counterpart Omori. Throughout the game it reveals childhood memories between him and his friends, and the dark histories that lead them to the current day.

This game presents its story with elegance and care with a stunning and diverse soundtrack to match.

Game Overview and Themes

The game opens up in the world of whitespace– the divide between Sunny and Omori’s worlds. Blank and isolated, whitespace gives the player a moment of reflection and pause before entering and reentering the story.

The player is then introduced to the world of Omori. Which is bright, colorful and surrounded by loving friends and cute enemies. Throughout this side of the game, Omori faces his greatest fears with his friends by his side.

Omori’s soundtrack is light, airy and playful. It really leans into childhood nostalgia and curiosity.

Meanwhile Sunny’s world is grim, lonely, and lost. In the real world the divide between his friends is great. This side of the game is spent trying to mend the connections between him and his friends before Sunny moves away from his childhood home in three days.

Sunny’s soundtrack is mundane and grey. Both the sound and graphic design in this world captures emotions of uncertainty, fear, and regret unlike any other content I have experienced.

Went growing up, there is often times a wish to go back to the simpler days of childhood. Omori is a game that captures this unspoken emotion beautifully.

The juxtaposition between Sunny in the current world and Omori in a childhood state is the foundation of the game– the soundtrack follows suit with explorative, dynamic contrast.

A Deep Dive into the Soundtrack

Starting off with the opening track “White Space”, this is a simple, clean start to the experience. It gives no clues to the musical themes to come. It takes on a very classic 8-bit videogame sound. I think this track is a great, simple start to such a complex web of themes and experiences in Omori.

Dreamworld Soundtrack

Looking at some of the tracks in Omori’s dream world, some of my favorites include “By Your Side.”, “Three Bar Logos” and “Chaos Assembly”.

“By Your Side.” is a sweet, delicate tune played when interacting with Omori’s sister Mari. Without flare or complexity, this song captures emotions of comfort and security.

It is easy to hear and see how much detail and care went into the production of this game. Each track has a purpose and emotion tied to it. The soundtrack holds such a complex variety of feelings in relatively simple sounds.

Another great example of this is “Three Bar Logos”. This one is played in special combat sequences and really captures feelings of fun and teamwork.

Most of the combat in the game is done in a team of four: Omori and his three friends Hero, Aubrey and Kel.

The player has to utilized each of their unique abilities to juggle between three emotion types: happy, sad and angry. I think all of the combat tracks do a great job of making combat interesting and support the theme of teamwork immensely.

“Chaos Assembly” is another great example of this. It ties in themes of upbeat teamwork with the underlying fear of combat. It pulls background from some of the darker tracks in the album that I will discuss more below.

Real World Soundtrack

Taking a look at some of the tracks in Sunny’s Realm, some of my distinct favorites are “Where We Used to Play”, “I Prefer My Pizza 90% Grease” and “Just Leave Me Alone”.

I am simply in love with “Where We Used to Play”. This track plays when walking around the hometown and childhood park of Sunny.

Although this track is just simple piano and delicate recorder, I think it is one of the best tracks on the soundtrack because it brings innate nostalgia to the listener. Especially in the context of Sunny’s world, this track is perfect.

“I Prefer My Pizza 90% Grease” is a joyful pocket in the midst of Sunny’s world. This track plays in Kel’s favorite pizza restaurant. It is a refreshing upbeat tune in the overarching uncertainty of Sunny’s world.

“Just Leave Me Alone” is one of the must distinct on the album.

I would define this 40 second track as a fusion of metal, hard rock and electronic grunge. It is loud and boisterous. It evokes feelings of unbridled frustration and chaotic fear, which is perfect for the context in the game. I won’t go into the context because it contains a minor spoiler, but this is a moment where the soundtrack truly shines. It makes a great moment in the story into something spectacular.

Alone Soundtrack

There are moments in the game where Omori is completely isolated from his friends, whitespace, dreamworld and real world. These moments are when he is confronting great fears or making a profound discovery.

This is where the soundtrack really shines.

“Acrophobia”, “Arachnophobia” and “Fade” are indescribably eerie. All three use simple sound techniques to build an inescapable atmosphere of isolation and fear.

They are each so distinct from any of the other tracks in the game and they appear at unexcepted moments throughout the experience.

These soundtracks are so desolate and dark that it innately makes the player miss the sounds and sights in both the dreamworld and real world.


Omori is an extraordinary video game experience with thoughtful creation and deliberate soundtrack.

In this blog I only mentioned a handful of the extraordinary work and dedication that went into making this soundtrack– They created a total of 179 unique tracks totally in at 3 hours and 45 minutes of listening.

In this blog I only discussed on tracks in part one of the Omori soundtrack. If you would like to listen to tracks off part two and part three, you can find them here.

Another component I really appreciated is there are many endings the player can have. It gives decisions made in the game gravity and an incentive to replay once completed.

Also, there is a wide variety of side quests within the game that add a lot of body and diversity to the game play. Omori has so much content and enriching character.

If you are interested in playing Omori, it is available for both the Nintendo Switch and desktop via Steam.

Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous

Compelling Composers: Storytelling in Soundtracks

The storytelling ability of movie and video game soundtracks is astonishing.

This goes without saying, but there are so many outstanding stories to be told, and music provides us with a conduit for expressing overwise indescribable emotions.

For folks that have experiences tabletop role playing games, soundtracks extend beyond the story they were originally tailored for. Music becomes a backdrop for new stories to be built and new characters to be born.

I have fallen deeply in love with storytelling through music. Entire worlds, atmospheres and moments are fabricated through thoughtful sound design and music.

This care, consideration, and devotion within musical storytelling is demonstrated beautifully through fantasy composers. To highlight some of my favorite stories and soundtracks, I have compiled favorite tracks from three different composers.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Original Soundtrack Recording)” cover art by Gareth Coker

Gareth Coker

Gareth Coker has truly mastered the art of soundscapes. Using mystical strings, woodwinds, piano and vocals he invigorates and redefines video game and fantasy soundtracks.

His music is simply smoothing, pensive and mystical.

Some of his projects include Halo Infinity, ARK Genesis and the Ori series. However, the context of these projects is not necessary to appreciate the peaceful ambiance and atmosphere Gareth Coker creates.

I particularly love his work in the Ori albums. These albums are simply musical bliss.

Moody orchestral lines are the backbone of the project. Combined with angelic vocals by Aeralie Brighton, the soundtrack is dynamic and pensive.

“Ori, Lost In the Storm” is a lovely example of the atmospheres he is able to construct.

“Darkwood (Original Video Game Soundtrack)” cover art by Arthur Kordas

Arthur Kordas

Arthur Kordas is the co-developer and composer of Darkwood, a survival horror video game released in 2020.

Although his discography is limited, his work builds an isolated and eerie world like no other.

His work defined by his command of subtly. The soundtrack creates an ambiance rooted in emotions of loneness and fear, making a perfect backdrop for Darkwood.

A lot of soundtracks attempt to make music that is monumental in sound, however Arthur Kordas recognizes the beauty in ambiance.

“Intro” uses sounds found in nature to bring the listener into the world of Darkwood. The subtle rustling of trees fades into deep rhythmic motions shrouded in an unknown tone. Long, building line are prominent throughout his work.

“Piotrek” and “New Dawn” are an excellent example of the power within stillness. Long orchestral beats bring a sense of caution and fear to the listener. As if scared to make the next move, each line is intentional in the path it takes slowly building to tenser moments.

The stillness, patience and atmosphere heard in Darkwood is unlike the work of any other composer.

“MADE IN ABYSS ORGINAL SOUNDTRACK” cover art by Kevin Penkin

Kevin Penkin

Kevin Pankin is the composer of Made in Abyss series. This is a composer that creates monumental sound with a compelling, abstract approach.

He combines heavy, roaring sounds with delicate lightness. The juxtaposition within his discography is distinct.

He provides the listener with a true experience without the context of Made in Abyss. The personalities and childlike curiosity of the characters are evident within the tracks.

The use of orchestral elements is also very unique in his work. Through thoughtful dynamics, placement and composition, Kevin Penkin turns an orchestral piece into an experiential collage.

“Made in Abyss” and “The First Layer” are excellent introductions to his discography. Light and childlike, these gentle tracks subtlety allude to approaching challenges.

Kevin Penkin loves the use of sudden dynamic leaps. “Encounter the Umbra Hands” makes dynamic movements beautifully. Elegant strings are contrasted by big roaring sounds.

In even bolder tracks Kevin Penkin begins to meld vocals into the composition. “The Rumble of Scienitic Triumph” is characterized by its chant like choral melody with a dynamic, thoughtful backing.

The variety of orchestral movements Kevin Penkin makes is astounding. His work exceeds his genre and becomes a musical collage triumph.


DMC Woodstock’s Top 50 Albums of 2022

Here it is.

This was the first time I paid close attention to new albums releasing throughout the entire year. Because of this, I can now make this big list with a nice round number at the top.

A frustration that I have when I make these lists, is that when they are posted and published, I have no way of changing them. My listening habits change over time. In retrospect, an album I place several spots higher or lower than another may not deserve to be there. There are also a ton of albums that I didn’t listen to this year. In time, I’ll find more albums from 2022 that deserved to be on this list, but for now, this is all I’ve got.

I chose the rankings for these albums about a month ago, and even in that short time, there are already changes that I’d like to make. I’ve decided to keep the original rankings to preserve how I felt at the end of 2022.

Without further ado, here are my top 50 albums of 2022:

50. Shiruetto – “Era” | Groovy future funk.

49. Govlink – “Weapons” | Breakcore with nutty sampling and sound design.

48. Ho99o9 – “Skin” | Hard hitting digital hardcore.

47. Ada Rook – “Ugly Death No Redemption Angel Curse I Love You” | The 10 stages of aggression.

46. Black Country New Road – “Ants From Up There” | Pretty, introspective head-bobbery.

45. Courting – “Guitar Music” | Post-punk that quickly flies through track after track of multilayered fun.

44. Kai Whiston – “Quiet As Kept, F.O.G.” | Club music with sheen, haze, and keen attention to detail.

43. Tricot – “不出来” | Bright, energetic math rock from Japan.

42. Conway The Machine – “God Don’t Make Mistakes” | Excellent down to earth lyricism coming out of Buffalo NY.

41. Sam Gellaitry – “VF VOL II” | Shiny, well produced pop take on Sam Gellaitry’s production style.

40. Justice – “Planisphere” | Great return for Justice with this incredibly cohesive 20 minute EP.

39. The Garden – “Horses— On Route 66” | Really fun punk rock noise.

38. Druida – “Limnociclo” | Haunting, rich IDM, perfect for late nights.

37. 2Hollis – “White Tiger” | To read more about this album, check out my review of it here.

36. Nanoray – “Toybox” | Fast hardcore electronic bangers mixed with some nice long shifting tracks.

35. Lewis Cole – “Quality Over Opinion” | Light jazz fusion album with some really high highs.

34. Chat Pile – “God’s Country” | Sobering sludge.

33. Lexie Liu – “The Happy Star” | Really fun and intricate pop with a bit of a Rina Sawayama sound.

32. JID – “The Forever Story” | Great storytelling, just an overall pleasant listen

31. Kinoteki – “Human Noise” | Hypnotizing house for late night ventures.

30. Metaroom – “Dog Bus: The Remixes” | Collection of EDM remixes that all manage to bring something new to the table

29. Denzel Curry – “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” | Reflection of Denzel’s career and decisions while being incredibly catchy. The deluxe edition is excellent too.

28. Infinity Knives – “King Cobra” | Bold hip-hop album with plenty of variety and interesting production choices

27. BABii – “Screamer” | Consistently great dance music with clean production complemented with nice vocals

26. Weyes Blood – “And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow” | Beautiful slow burns

Album cover for "Neon White Soundtrack Part 1" by Machine Girl. It features a girl with purple hair and pale skin in a rabbit mask pointing a gun at the viewer.
Album cover for “Neon White Soundtrack Part 1” by Machine Girl

25. Machine Girl – “Neon White Soundtrack Part 1”

What a way to do a videogame soundtrack. From front to back, the frantic pace of the game is perfectly matched with frantic intricate grooves. Each track has plenty of variety, and nothing overstays its welcome. If you want to get into a flow, this is your best bet.

Cover for "His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering" by Backxwash - A black and white image of a church being ripped apart and debris flying through the air
Cover for “His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering” by Backxwash

24. Backxwash – “His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering”

The third and final album in Backxwash’s trilogy, continuing her reconciliation with religion, race, family, and transness. Every drop of anger oozes out of Backxwash’s vocals, and the instrumentals are crushing. This is an excellent way to conclude the trilogy.

Cover for "This World Is Going To Ruin You" by Vein FM. It features a blurry picture of a decaying house and a skull in the woods.
Album cover for “This World Is Going To Ruin You” by

23. – “This World Is Going To Ruin You”

Admittedly, metal is not my strong suit. However, that didn’t stop me from keeping’s new record on blast throughout the year. The breakdowns are heavy, the hooks and chorus’s are rad, and overall, it’s a pretty awesome metalcore record. While I still prefer their 2018 album “Errorzone,” this was a nice exploration into more melodic territory.

Album cover for "You can't kill me" by 070 Shake. It features an oil portrait of a woman whose face has been painted over in white
Album Cover for “You Can’t Kill Me” by 070 Shake.

22. 070 Shake – “You Can’t Kill Me”

The peaks on this album are some of the best musical moments to come out of 2022. The grandiosity throughout this album is really what makes it stand out.

Album cover for "Berdlycore Chapter 0" by Xaev. It features a purple pixelated city skyline from the game Undertale.
Album cover for “Berdlycore Chapter 0” by Xaev

21. Xaev – “Berdlycore Chapter 0”

“Hyperflip”, or as it’s commonly known, “Dariacore,” is my favorite trend in electronic music at the moment. Its mindmelting blend of Hyperpop, EDM, 2000’s pop samples, and Jersey Club is truly something to behold. Xaev brings an incredible level of polish to this genre with the Undertale adjacent brand of Hyperflip, dubbed “Berdlycore.” Alongside the meme-ish sampling and goofy song titles, “Berdlycore Chapter 0” is on the forefront of innovative EDM production.

Cover for "Berdlycore Chapter 2" by Xaev. It features three characters from the video game Deltarune staring out into a city skyline
Cover for “Berdlycore Chapter 2” by Xaev

20. Xaev – “Berdlycore Chapter 2”

Of course, I couldn’t mention “Berdlycore Chapter 0” without also mentioning the other Xaev project from this year, “Berdlycore Chapter 2.” More incredible hyperflip production from Xaev.

Cover for "A Couple of Good Days" by Fennec. It features a picture of a cat on a hardwood floor next to a toy palm tree.
Cover for “A Couple of Good Days” by Fennec

19. Fennec – “A Couple of Good Days”

This album is perfect for relaxing on a beautiful summer day. Its laid back sway is absolutely delightful. I am of the opinion that most house music is best enjoyed at night, but this is a different brand of house music entirely. “A Couple of Good Days” calls to mind sunny beaches, volleyball, and a lovely breeze kissing your skin.

Cover for "Heaven Is Here" by Candy. Features a painting of a large crowded group of masked naked people on a dirty set of stairs. People are climbing over each other and everyone appears to be very grim.
Cover for “Heaven Is Here” by Candy

18. Candy – “Heaven Is Here”

This Candy record is big time heavy. It’s only 30 minutes long but the time flies by with the amount of crushing variety within these tracks. I may be a bit biased towards this album, having seen these guys live in September. I can confirm that Candy lived up to my expectations. Again, I am not well versed in metal, but this album scratched the hardcore itch in my brain.

Album cover for "Harp" by Pendant. It features a shiny reflection of a mans face in water, obscured by shimmers and bubbles.
Album cover for “Harp” by Pendant

17. Pendant – “Harp”

“Harp” covers a lot of ground. You can be listening to this album and it will go from layers upon layers of soft silky Chillwave to angry noise based rap verses. It swings both sides of this pendulum with grace, delivering satisfying track after satisfying track. If you like anything spacey, you will like this album.

Album cover for "Meeting With A Judas Tree" by Duval Timothy. Features a tree with a small bunch of pink flowers growing out of the side of its trunk.
Album cover for “Meeting With A Judas Tree” by Duval Timothy

16. Duval Timothy – “Meeting With A Judas Tree”

Duval Timothy carefully crafts soulful piano melodies all over “Meeting With A Judas Tree.” Every single track on the album is beautiful, and to top it off, there’s an incredible infusion of electronic elements as well.

Album cover for "Renaissance" by Beyonce. Features a nearly nude Beyonce calmly sitting atop a horse made of electricity.
Album cover for “Renaissance” by Beyonce

15. Beyonce – “Renaissance”

Beyonce came out of left field this year with an album full of house bangers. I went into this album thinking, “ok… well I suppose I’ll listen to the new Beyonce album.” I left this album thinking “wow, I can’t believe I just danced for a straight hour.” It’s catchy, confident, and fun. Beyonce went into new territory for this one, and it absolutely paid off.

Album cover for "Every Flower In My Garden" by Lilien Rosarian. Features an abstract pixelated scene that seems to be a collage of extremely low resolution pixel images of plants alongside other squares of bright color.
Album cover for “Every Flower In My Garden” by Lilien Rosarian

14. Lilien Rosarian – “Every Flower In My Garden”

Lilien Rosarian is making some of the most interesting ambient music I’ve ever heard. Each track feels like viewing our world through a bright distorted lens. The sampling work reframes familiar sounds into brand new textures and continually keeping things fresh throughout the whole album. It all comes together on the final track “revery hour” which managed to unlock a brand new emotion I didn’t even know I had.

Album cover for "Elseware OR: Eating The Snack Fantastic" by Halisca. Features a brightly colored psychedelic scene of flowers, vines, hands, and eyes all forming a giant mass. There is a drop of blood in the center that is falling onto a foot protruding from behind the mass. In the middle there is a small heart.
Album cover for “Elseware OR: Eating The Snack Fantastic” by Halisca

13. Halisca – “Elseware OR: Eating The Snack Fantastic”

Lots of genre exploration happening on this Glitchpop album from Halisca. If you’re looking for a Sweet Trip-eque sound with some extra details and doodads thrown in there, this is for you. It’s cheery, playful, and uplifting all the way through. Also, the last song is called “Super Dracula RPG Original Soundtrack.” How can you go wrong with that?

Album cover for "I Love You Jennifer B" by Jockstrap. It is a blank grey cover with nothing but the word Jockstrap on it.
Album cover for “I Love You Jennifer B” by Jockstrap

12. Jockstrap – “I Love You Jennifer B”

This is Jockstrap’s first capital A Album, and they did not disappoint. The unique instrumental-electronic mix on this album makes it stand out entirely on its own. It’s strange, but there are so many facets about this album to appreciate, that it’s still quite approachable.

Cover for "Cometa" by Nick Hakim. Features a dark close up of a man examining his glasses. Two reflections of the man can be seen through the lenses of the glasses.
Cover for “Cometa” by Nick Hakim

11. Nick Hakim – “Cometa”

Nick Hakim blows it out of the park with “Cometa,” an album that retains the psychedelic qualities that Nick Hakim is known for, while also feeling incredibly intimate. The balance between these two elements is what makes this album a consistently enjoyable listen.

Album cover for Darklife by Death's Dynamic Shroud. Depiction of the word "Darklife" in shiny 3D silver letters, as if it is floating in space.
Album cover for “Darklife” by Death’s Dynamic Shroud.

10. Death’s Dynamic Shroud – “Darklife”

With “Darklife,” DDS succeeds at making their music sound cinematic. The sounds and the vocal sampling are super ambitious, and they land. Everything sounds really really big and foreign. DDS is setting another high water mark for themselves with this record.

Album cover for "Dariacore 3...At least I think that's what it's called?" by Leroy. Features a still frame from the show Daria where there is a character sleeping on a couch, a character on the floor using a hammer with a parrot on her shoulder, a character walking in the middle of the room, and another character holding a vase. In the middle of the room, pictures are strung up on a wire.
Album cover for “Dariacore 3…At least I think that’s what it’s called?” by Leroy

9. Leroy – “Dariacore 3…At least I think that’s what it’s called?”

Leroy, AKA Jane Remover, FKA Dltzk, AKA c0ncern, is making huge waves in EDM. They started the Dariacore/Hyperflip movement, and this production style seems to only be getting more and more traction. I’ve already covered some other albums that fall under this category on this list, but Leroy was the one to start it all, and they’re still going strong with Dariacore 3. For my money, this is Leroy’s best work yet, and I’m hyped for the future of LeJaneltzk Remover projects.

Album cover for "Counterfeit" by Fordmastiff. Features a dark image of a parade float with various hard to make out objects covering it at the bottom
Album cover for “Counterfeit” by Fordmastiff

8. Fordmastiff – “Counterfeit”

This album came to me at the perfect time. I listened to this album for the first time on a cold winter night while walking under the streetlights. My surroundings were the perfect canvas for Fordmastiff to paint a landscape. Listening to this, I felt like I was experiencing the memory of being in a lively festival. The details were dull, but the tone was clear as day. This album is lo-fi in a way that I’ve never heard before. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this Brazilian Lo-Fi scene for the foreseeable future.

Album cover for "Dream Desert" by desert sand feels warm at night. Features a pyramid in a desert contained within a larger transparent pyramid that is shooting a beacon into the night sky.
Album cover for “Dream Desert” by desert sand feels warm at night.

7. Desert Sand Feels Warm At Night – “Dream Desert”

Some might say that four hours is too long for an album. To that, I point to “Dream Desert” and say “nonsense.” This music is vaporwave at its most potent. The tracks average around half an hour, making each track an experience of its own. It’s incredibly drawn out, making the magic moments where a beat drops all the more special. This is far and away the most soothing album of this year.

Album cover for "Miracle In Transit" by Naked Flames. Features a shiny marsh landscape with no trees. In the foreground there are two large metallic looking objects that are shaped like logs and tree branches.
Album cover for “Miracle In Transit” by Naked Flames

6. Naked Flames – “Miracle In Transit”

Naked Flames shows us that you don’t have to have the most exotic ingredients to cook up an amazing album. Rather, an amazing album can come from a few simple ingredients used in just the right way. This record layers idea after idea on top of one another in just the right way until they all fit together in an entrancing but dance-able house lasagna. “Miracle In Transit” is a truly gratifying experience.

Album cover for "Gunsmith Tha Mixtape" by Hackle. Features Hackle standing in a forge with a hammer holding an assault rifle over an anvil. Behind him on the wall, are more guns, and on the ground there are bullets scattered all around.
Album cover for “Gunsmith Tha Mixtape” by Hackle

5. Hackle – “Gunsmith Tha Mixtape”

As Witch House/Trap artist Sematary has gained notoriety over the past few years, I’ve found myself just shy of hopping on the Haunted Mound. It turns out the missing ingredient was Hackle. The catchiness and energy that Hackle brings to Sematary’s production makes the sound work perfectly. Out of any album on this list, this one deserves the loudest speakers.

Cover art for "The Last Spa On Earth" by Divino Nino. Features a heart shaped spa floating in the clouds.
Album cover for “Last Spa On Earth” by Divino Niño

4. Divino Niño – “Last Spa On Earth”

Divino Niño put an electronic and reggae spin on their latest dream pop record. It’s fun, fresh, and exciting throughout, and each transition from one idea to the next is satisfying. You can read my full review of this album here.

The album cover for "Number Four" by Culprate. It features a trippy landscape made up of several small shapes and alien textures. There is a cat-like creatures at the top, a pyramid on the left, what appears to be a grassy field on the right, and waterfalls in the bottom left corner.
The album cover for “Number Four” by Culprate.

3. Culprate – “α​ρ​ι​θ​μ​ό​ς τ​έ​σ​σ​ε​ρ​α”

On this record, Culprate attacks Drum and Bass from every angle. It’s a wonderful, all you can eat buffet of musical flavor and texture. You can read my full review of this album here.

Album cover for "Hellfire" by Black Midi. Features an abstract collage of unrecognizable shapes and images over a pink background. The only intelligible figures on the cover are two men sitting down.
Album cover for “Hellfire” by Black Midi

2. Black Midi – “Hellfire

An incredible display of directed chaos. Every musician is putting in 200% to make this explosion of music as powerful as it can be. If anyone ever tells you rock is dead- that progressive, forward thinking, innovative rock is dead- they clearly have never heard this album. “Hellfire” is by far Black Midi’s most accomplished album to date. Every track holds something new and exciting. This is the sound of war, death, insanity, and sin, and good lord it is beautiful.

Album cover for Flood Format by Bird's Eye Batang. It is an abstract painting made of various shades of blue.
Album cover for “Flood Format” by Bird’s Eye Batang

1. Bird’s Eye Batang – “Flood Format

A musical adventure that is both adorable and terrifying. Otherworldly sound design that brings you somewhere entirely new. This album cements the mysterious South Korean producer as one of the best artists working today. You can read my full review of this album here.


Celeste, Tackling Anxiety with Synths

On January 25, 2018, a small team led by Maddy Thorson and Noel Berry at Extremely OK Games (EXOK) released Celeste. The game quickly grew in popularity as a 2D platformer with smooth, intuitive movement, a heartfelt narrative, and a stellar soundtrack. The impressive levels of depth to the game also helped launch a vibrant speedrunning community as it is the 6th most active game on

I want to dive deeper, though, into how the music in this game ties together those other elements. Between Lena Raine’s composition and Power Up Audio’s sound design, Celeste has been nominated for (and won) 7 different awards for its score. There will be spoilers for the first 7 chapters that comprise the main game, so go play Celeste first if you haven’t already.

Lena Raine, composer and producer for Celeste. Photo courtesy of Sara Ranlett, under Creative Commons.

Opening Anxieties

Chapter 1, Forsaken City, establishes our protagonist and her goal of climbing Celeste Mountain. Madeline travels through an abandoned town with run-down steam machinery as her theme plays in the background. Using a high-pitched synth in a major key, the theme sounds hopeful and optimistic.

Along the way, she meets a fellow climber, Theo, who mostly just wants pictures for his Instapix followers as opposed to actually reaching the summit. Eventually, she finds an old campsite with a memorial “dedicated to those who perished on the climb”. The music dies down, leaving just a piano repeating the same three notes softly, and the chapter ends.

Chapter 2, Old Site, introduces Madeline’s antagonist, who refers to herself as “Part of You”. The community has instead nicknamed her Badeline so I’ll use that name here. She casts doubt on Madeline’s journey and reflects her anxieties, uncovering Madeline’s true motivations for climbing Celeste Mountain.

About halfway through the chapter, she begins chasing Madeline by imitating the player’s movements, killing her if they touch. Here, the music intensifies as Badeline’s theme begins playing. The same synth for Madeline’s theme plays a similar melody, but lowered an octave and slowed down, creating a spookier, haunting melody that echoes on. The parallels between Madeline and Badeline are obvious through gameplay and music, though their ideas still clash.

Screenshot of Chapter 2 of Celeste. Photo courtesy of Maddy Makes Games, under Creative Commons.

Books and a Breakdown

Madeline makes it up to a hotel on the mountain for chapter 3, Celestial Resort, which is often considered harder than the next two or three chapters. A soft piano introduces the chapter as Madeline meets Mr. Oshiro, the hotel owner who appears to be a ghost. As the player progresses through the level, Oshiro continues to grow more insecure about Madeline not wanting to stay.

Badeline tells Oshiro that Madeline only wanted to help him to satiate her ego, which Madeline tries to argue against. A boss fight with an enraged Oshiro ensues, and the music grows violent. An 8-bit synth mixes with Oshiro’s ghastly theme as vibrant drumming intensifies the interaction.

Madeline: If I disappear now, Mr. Oshiro could have a meltdown.
​And maybe I can actually do something good. For once.

Quote from Chapter 3 of Celeste.

Madeline was advised earlier by Theo not to try to help Oshiro with his anxieties for her own safety, but she refused, saying she wanted to “do something good for once”. So, Badeline was not that wrong in what she told Oshiro, leaving players with a sense that Madeline and Badeline are not as good and bad as they seem to be respectively.

Magnifying Mirrors

Chapter 5, Mirror Temple, delves into a visual representation of Madeline’s worries through a labyrinth of puzzles. The score is quiet, subtle, and devoid of either Madeline or Badeline’s themes. As a result, players feel alone and lost in the temple, allowing doubt about their own abilities to creep in. Madeline eventually gets sucked into a mirror where she enters rooms now occupied by seekers.

The temple amplifies the mountain’s ability to bring out a part of oneself that they despise, so these seekers represent Madeline’s worries about climbing the mountain. She feels they’re attacking her. The same vibrant drums from the boss fight with Oshiro return, indicating that Madeline feels as stressed now as she did then.

Revelation and Reform

Chapter 6, Reflection, opens with Madeline telling Part of Herself that she doesn’t need her anymore. Badeline is only slowing her down. It seems like Madeline has finally defeated Badeline as bold, optimistic synths come in. And then, Badeline breaks. She begins berating Madeline for thinking she can just neglect Part of Herself and Madeline begins having a panic attack. Badeline worsens her stress and they end up falling all the way back to the base of the mountain.

They meet again later, and the last boss fight in the game commences. The music swells louder and more complex than ever. Madeline and Badeline’s themes alternate now as the fight progresses. Everything feels so grand that this difficult section feels invigorating rather than discouraging to play.

Madeline tries to keep calming Badeline down until they are both beaten down. Madeline tells her counterpart that she was wrong to leave instead of helping her, and that they have to work together instead of separating again. They merge into one character and the player unlocks a new mechanic.

Chapter 7, Summit, ends the game by progressing through remixed versions of each of the previous chapters. Now each chapter’s music is accompanied by triumphant strings and a piano version of both character’s themes. The progression of the game becomes much more vertical as it feels like they are speeding up the mountain far faster together than they ever did separately.

Screenshot of Chapter 7 of Celeste. Photo courtesy of Maddy Makes Games, under Creative Commons

The last section features a series of checkpoints counting down from 30 as players are encouraged to jump, dash, and climb their way to the summit. As the player reaches the final checkpoint, the score fades into the background so a sense of relief can wash over. Madeline was really able to climb the mountain. The player was able to climb the mountain.

Closing Thoughts

Aside from the contents of the music within each level, there are a couple other elements I wish to praise. No part of the score ever grows stale, since there are so many small variations of each chapter’s music. They never seem to loop on themselves.

The way EXOK handles anxiety in Celeste is remarkably original as well. Much of the story was created through Maddy Thorson’s own experiences, and there’s even a genuinely helpful strategy at the end of Chapter 4 for alleviating panic attacks, both for Madeline and the player.

Although Celeste’s narrative was primarily focused on anxiety and how to reckon with it, many trans people have found the narrative to describe their experiences very well too. In fact, this coincidence likely comes from Maddy’s experiences as well, since she came out as trans not long after Celeste released. In a follow-up DLC to Celeste, the last cutscene shows a trans pride flag on Madeline’s desk, confirming that Madeline the character is also trans, which is a nice touch.

Anyway, play Celeste if you haven’t before, so you can greater experience this indie masterpiece. And if you have played it before, replay it and see what connections you can make to your own life. Keep on a lookout for EXOK’s next game too, Earthblade.


I See You, Opal – A Review of Jack Stauber’s Magnum Opus

On Halloween, 2020, Adult Swim released a series of short films titled “adult swim smalls”. Many of these featured the work of Jack Stauber, an animator and pop musician who uses many different styles and genres to create moving, eccentric pieces of art. One of these works was “OPAL”, a 12-minute amalgamation of ballads, pop songs, and animation.

Now, I highly recommend you go watch this film before continuing on with this review. It’s a fantastic work of art and the music is pretty neat I think. Also this review will just make more sense. You will find so many different analysis videos talking about “OPAL”, so instead I’m going to discuss my own experience and feelings watching it for the first time.

“OPAL”, a short film created by Jack Stauber.

Opal and the Plot Summary

I’m going to give a brief overview of “OPAL” here for people who refuse to watch the actual video. The opening scene shows a family gathered around a small, likely malnourished child named Opal as she picks up a burger and subsequently starts dancing around with it in her hand. She sees a dark, decrepit house across the street before the shutters on the top window swing open, releasing cries of anguish and despair as a ghastly presence spills out around it.

Still, she gets curious and sneaks over to this dark abode. The first thing she encounters is an old, obese smoker who calls the girl Claire. He seems to be her grandfather, and he asks her to bring him some cigarettes before launching into a tirade about how Claire shouldn’t try to get him to quit smoking because he’s fine, actually. Also, he’s likely blind.

After a while, he gets suspicious that this girl is not actually his granddaughter and starts chasing after Claire as she runs up the stairs in fear. She’s stopped by being seen through the doorway by a man surrounded by mirrors who we can believe to be Claire’s dad. He’s clearly dealing with narcissism coupled with insecurities about his appearance and hardly ever talks to Claire directly. Also, he never sees Claire’s face.

Eventually, she runs off and ends up being grabbed by a drunk, pill-abusing woman who we can assume is Claire’s mom. The mom keeps calling herself similar to or the same as Claire even if that’s not actually true. Also, she never sees Claire in focus.

Opal finally escapes and ends up in the room with the top window mentioned earlier. Through that window, she sees a billboard for “Opal’s Burgers” with the same family from the opening scene, but a healthier, well-fed girl. Claire begins to have a mental breakdown and retreats into her own head while her (probably actual) family bangs on the door to get in.

Opal and the Hamburger

The opening scene and everything to do with the first house is honestly kinda confusing to open with. I mean, it makes sense by the end, like a Tarantino movie, but it makes the later tragedy even harder to stomach. Opal’s here having a good time actually being seen by people she can consider family.

“We See You, Opal” is more of a thematic intro ballad than an actual song, so it doesn’t really leave much impact, especially since I didn’t know what “OPAL” is about yet. However, the pure, innocent joy that Opal gets just from picking up a burger is infectious.

Opal has a family who cares about her and doesn’t try to project themselves onto her and it’s really sweet. Of course, we’re only 2 minutes into the film at this point, so things were bound to get worse. The cries that come from the dark house are genuinely chilling. Opal’s dad’s warnings not to look at or think about the house are pretty spot on to how suburban parents handle local crime, homelessness, drugs, and Black bad people. Or maybe that was just my family.

Opal and the Cigarettes

A pile of used cigarettes.
Cigarettes, Photo courtesy of Ardfern, under Creative Commons

The scene with Opal/Claire and her grandfather is such a dramatic shift in tone delving into the abuse Claire faces on what is probably a daily basis. The way the grandfather’s head seems to snap around at the sound of a wood block is extremely disconcerting.

“Easy to Breathe” during this scene did not really have much going for it to be honest. I mean, thematically it works really well with how Claire is never seen for herself throughout the film, but the music itself is bland. The piano uses very simple chord progressions and the drums add basically nothing interesting. The backing vocals singing “la, la, la, la” are fun though.

Also, something I didn’t notice first time around was how claymation was implemented into “OPAL”. I’ve seen other Jack Stauber shorts before so the clay heads of the first family and Claire were not a shock, but it’s weird to see them placed in the frame so that they basically just cover the head of Stauber’s body in different outfits. Claire is the only character to get her entire body in claymation, probably so that her malnutrition can be exemplified.

Opal and the Egomaniac

On first watch, the scene between Claire and her father felt both refreshing and familiar while still bringing that disturbing touch that Stauber is often known for. Although I don’t think it’s Stauber’s intent, the father reminds me of being an “ally” to marginalized communities. He’s completely unaware of his own biases while still seeing himself as a “tiny growing thing” on a journey. And of course, he refuses to lose the audience that sees through his narcissism while he ignores any and all issues at hand.

The song “Mirror Man” in this scene creates such a dichotomy with the previous song in that this feels so sterile and clean compared to the dirtiness of “Easy to Breathe”. Also, “Mirror Man” is much more in line with the sound of Stauber’s discography outside of this film, including the voices, which he uses often. Overall, this track is definitely the most fun and enjoyable in the film, which is probably why this scene is the least impactful to the emotional punch at the end.

Now I sit here in reflection chamber

Fixing myself so that all can savor.

Lyrics from “Mirror Man” by Jack Stauber

Opal and the Booze

Seeing Claire’s mother for the first time creeped me out far more than any other character thus far. Her drunken stupor is clearly something that happens quite often for Claire to have to deal with. Her narcissism is probably the most traumatizing for Claire, as Claire has to fight fear and hopelessness in order to be better than her mother who sees Claire as a reflection of herself. Her dad is more neglectful than directly abusive, and she seems to almost exist in a sort of business relationship with her grandfather.

And that song, “Virtuous Cycle,” is just so chilling. The piano is something straight out of “Friday the 13th”. The song’s breakdown at the end as a montage of the mother’s abuse plays is by far the most haunting part of the whole film. It’s unclear whether these are the mother’s own traumas that she’s relaying down to Claire or whether these are just a collection of abuses towards Claire. Either way, the use of “Mama” in the song is the most disrespectful thing to happen to Claire that we see. Claire is fully justified in not seeing that woman as family, let alone her mama.

Opal and the Hamburger (reprise)

That ending is just a punch to the gut. Opal and her family don’t actually exist, they are just the closest thing to a loving family that Claire has reference to. Her house is so isolated that she may not ever see anyone other than her relatives. The reprise of “We See You, Opal” has such a twist of irony to it now that Claire’s troubles are not “miles away” but right outside her bedroom door.

I still don’t think I’ve seen anything as creatively diverse in medium and unified in theme as “OPAL”. Stauber was responsible for all of the singing, all of the acting, much of the animation, and most, if not all of the music. I highly commend his work as an artist, and I hope you all go on to visit more of his projects.


The Music of The FitnessGram Pacer Test

In 2011, the Cooper Institute dropped an eight track instrumental mixtape of back to back bangers. However, after seeing that the market for instrumental mixtapes was oversaturated, they overlaid a recording of a tired sounding man counting from 1 to 247. They then marketed their mixtape as an “exercise program” and it was distributed to elementary, middle, and high schools all over the United States.

This was the birth of the FitnessGram Pacer Test as we know it today. The test is simple. Run the length of 20 meters in less time than it takes for a chime to ring out. After your second time of coming shy of the 20 meter mark, you’ve finished the test, and you can go sit on the bleachers.

When most people think back on the FitnessGram Pacer Test, it draws to mind memories of pain, sorrow, and harsh blows to self-esteem. For some, the standout memory of the test is the spiel of instructions at the beginning. But why do people forget the most important aspect of this sweaty school gym gauntlet? Why do people always forget about the music? Let’s go through each and every song in the FitnessGram Pacer Test and look at the best, the worst, and those that shouldn’t exist.

Song 1: Level 1-2

The nice relaxed groove that everybody knows. The electric wah-d out guitar funkily shreds up the track. It also throws in a sound byte of a person coolly saying “feel it” on occasion. It’s laid back, and encourages listeners to pace themselves. This track sounds like it could be a water level in Mick And Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis.

Man with a beard, glasses, and hat holds up a copy of Mick and Mack Global Gladiators for the Sega Genesis. On the cover, there is a cartoon of a big green goop monster in the background with two adolescents standing in front of it. The title of the game is in big letters at the top of the box.
Average Mick & Mack Global Gladiators connoisseur. Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart, under Creative Commons.

Song 2: Level 3-4

The instrumentation, the beat, the everything. The drums are so crisp. It’s all so groovy. The flow matches beautifully with the pace of the test. This is also where the challenge starts to pick up. If you’re scouring for a runners high, this is where it’ll be found. There’s a great sense of depth to the track. It retains the cool-ness of the first track and expands on it. It’s hard to hear over the deafening squeak of sneakers against the gymnasium floor, but there’s a lot of detail going into this song. This is without a doubt the best track you will hear in the FitnessGram Pacer Test. 

Song 3: Level 5-7

Very synth oriented, but the brass isn’t to be counted out. There’s subtle arpeggiation in the “chorus” of the track, when mixed with the high up string really pushes you forward. The keyboard solo around lap 54 is also a neat highlight. Unfortunately, much of this track feels flat, especially when compared to the last track. The drums are weak, and the whole mix feels cheap. It’s still a mildly catchy melody though. Certainly not the worst track.

Song 4: Level 8-9

Bringing back the funk in a big way. Huge emphasis on the slap bass, with guitar highlights and a lead coming from the horns. Total fanfare for the tuckered out prepubescent soldiers still trooping through the middle school gymnasium. There’s also a nice sax solo tucked away in the song that deserves a shoutout. Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 (2007) would dance to this.

Song 5: Level 10-14

Intimidating and minimalist. This is some Terminator music. If you are still in the running at this point, your gym teacher is going to turn into the Terminator and you will have to fight them to the death. It sounds like if Hans Zimmer did the soundtrack for Donkey Kong Country. It does a weird little switch up and turns into a total rip off of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Even the music sounds bored at this point. It’s no longer trying to push anyone forward. It’s now speaking to the classmates of the one person still left going. “Look at this guy go,” it says, “you’re just going to have to wait this one out.” 

Song 6: Level 15-16

I guarantee you’ve never heard this song before, because this song is the start of part 2 of the FitnessGram Pacer Test, which no gym teacher has ever felt the need to put on. Regardless, it exists. The highlight here is this bizarrely stilted saxophone which winds up sounding like a quartet of clowns honking their noses. Aside from that, this track is pretty forgettable. No components of this track make an effort to stand out. I’d say it’s towards the bottom of the tracks in the FitnessGram Pacer Test.

Song 7: Level 17-19

This music should not exist. It is too upbeat. Between the fast paced organ and the midi piano, it’s just too much. Other elements come into the song to round it out a little better, but it’s not enough to save it. It’s cheap, awkward, and doesn’t properly hype up whatever superhuman This is the worst song in the whole thing.

Song 8: Level 20-21

This music should really not exist, but I’m sure glad it does. It’s a four-on-the-floor banger with nice chimes ringing out in the background. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the music we’ve gotten before. The beat is simple, but the sheen on the production is more than welcome after the rough quality of the last track. The synths fade out nicely as the final lap is called, and the test ends.


The pace at which you’re running by the time you’ve gotten to the final 247th lap of the FitnessGram Pacer Test is roughly 6 meters per second. This is about three times faster than the pace from the first lap. After running just over three miles at an average pace of 7 minutes and 26 seconds per mile, this is an astonishing feat.

I could only find evidence of one person completing the FitnessGram Pacer Test. I have to wonder if they even acknowledged the music as they were chugging along. Did they bob up and down to the beat? Did they match their strides with the notes? Or did the music remain banished to the background, with not so much as a thought passing through the champion’s mind?

Whatever the case, I’ll always be thankful for the musical highs and lows of the FitnessGram Pacer Test. While the tracks were oftentimes cheesy and antiquated, they kept me company. It made the whole ordeal bearable. Thanks Cooper Institute.


Holiday Season: Locally Owned Stores

As the holiday season quickly approaches, for many it’s time to start thinking about gathering gifts and presents for friends and loved ones.

As a little background, I grew up in Cary, NC and my parents have been living in Cary since the early nineties.

The Triangle Area has gone through a ton of changes in the last few decades. This includes an increased population, more housing developments, tech industries entering the area and more stores.

The rise of online shopping has also severely increased.

These developments have in many ways overshadowed and threatened the existence of locally owned small businesses throughout the area.

If you are looking for some great locally owned stores, I have highlighted some of my favorites in the Raliegh and Cary area. Hope you all have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Unlikely Professionals / Edge of Urge

Location: 212 E Franklin St, Raleigh, NC 27604 

If you are looking for gifts that are unique, modern and well made– this duo is perfect when shopping for that person you are unsure what they would like. These stores truly have something for everyone.

This family-owned business has a wide collection of clothing, jewelry, beauty products and oddities. In Unlikely Professionals they also make a collection of handmade leather goods.

They are located right across the street from one another, and their collections complement each other beautifully.

Not to mention, the stores are absolutely stunning. Great decor and friendly staff make the shopping experience that much more enjoyable.

They also have a great online store where you can look at their products in the comfort of your own home.

So & So Books

Location: 719 N Person St, Raleigh, NC 27604

Located right next to the Unlikely Professionals, this lovely little bookstore is a great place for some peaceful reading and shopping.

Airy and open, this store is a breath of fresh air in the shopping experience.

Although it has a relatively small collection of books in-store it has a great range of genres including fantasy, cookbooks, children’s books and poetry.

City Garden Design

Location: 117 W Chatham St, Cary, NC 27511

Nestled in the heart of downtown Cary this plant shop has a great assortment of greenery, pots and accessories for indoor house plants.

I have yet to find a plant shop that is as beautiful and diverse as this one. They have a great selection of plants, from airplants to succulents to large leafy plants.

The other element I love about this shop is that all the plants are very healthy.

A brief disclaimer, I do not have the biggest green thumb. However, I have brought many different types of plants from this shop and all of them have been healthy, happy and have survived for years.

Sometimes you can buy plants that are unknowing already dying and have been mistreated, but that is not the case at this shop.

The shop is run by a mother and son duo– the son has a degree in Horitculture from the University of Georgia. It is clear upon entering this store that the owners deeply care about growing great plants and sharing their passion.

Cary Gallery of Artists

Location: 200 S Academy St, Cary, NC 27511

Also located in downtown Cary, this gallery space is a great opportunity to admire and purchase locally made art and crafts.

Every time I go here, I have been greeted by the sweetest staff. It is a pleasant experience to look at the galleries even if you are not looking to purchase.

They support and showcase dozens of local artists; this shop is yet another unique experience.

Science Safari

Location: 1255 Kildaire Farm Rd, Cary, NC 27511 

Last but certainly not least, has been one of my favorite shops as a kid. This toy story and science education center has been in Cary for decades.

Defined by their friendly staff, science classes and unique toys, this shop is great for finding gifts for the younger relatives and siblings.

They also have live animals in store, including an iguana, chinchilla, turtles, frogs and fish. This shop is extremely unique.

They also offer free giftwrapping and offer personalized shopping closer to the holiday season.


My Five Favorite Horror Movies for Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner which means it is officially scary movie season. My favorite Halloween activity is sitting down on a couch with some friends and watching a bunch of horror movies.

I wanted to share some of my favorite horror movies that I’ve seen over the years. If you’re a horror movie fan I’d highly recommend any of these movies for a movie marathon.

Ranked in order from least to most scary (in my opinion):

House (1977)

This Scooby-Doo-esque Japanese horror film from 1977 is the most fun you can have watching a scary movie. A cult-classic, this movie is famous for how off-the-walls it is. The plot is quite simple, a girl and a group of her friends go to visit her ailing aunt’s home out in the country for a vacation and come face-to-face with a bloodthirsty piano, skeletons, evil spirits, and more.

The first time I watched this movie, I had an absolute blast. Each time I’ve watched it since, I’ve had just as much fun but also come to appreciate the film in new ways. “House” plays on gender roles and implements themes of post-war trauma and the role of family through the use of humor and horror.

I would definitely recommend this movie to finish a horror movie marathon as a chaser to movies that would otherwise keep you from getting a good night’s rest.

The Thing (1982)

“The Thing” is a classic. I was shocked to hear that this movie initially flopped in the box office when it came out in 1982. Kurt Russell’s performance, the practical effects by Rob Bottin, and the unravelling mystery written by Bill Lancaster are all top-notch, still this day.

This movie centers itself around a group of twelve scientists in Antarctica, trapped in the dead of the Antarctic winter collecting data. They uncover a mystery that if not contained, would destroy humanity.

This is my favorite movie by John Carpenter, and would definitely throw it on for a horror-movie marathon with friends.

Nope (2022)

Jordan Peele’s newest movie is my favorite by him. I won’t say anything about the plot because this movie is best experienced going in knowing nothing about it. I truly believe that in 20 years, “Nope” will be marked down as a classic.

This movie brilliantly uses horror elements to provide commentary on spectacle and trauma. Peele has finally mastered balancing comedy and horror, which grounds and creates investment in the story for the viewer.

There are two scenes in this movie that are most likely the scariest scenes I have witnessed on-screen. If you didn’t catch this movie while it was in theaters this year, I would definitely recommend watching it this Halloween season.

The Shining (1980)

“The Shining” is the most well-justified classic I have ever seen. There are too many classic scenes in this movie to count. The blood from the elevator, “Here’s Johnny!”, red rum, and more. No matter how many times I watch this movie, it’s bone-chilling.

A masterful dive into madness and commentary on abuse, if you haven’t seen this movie, this Halloween is the time. The three leads in this movie are each excellent in their roles, their performances sell the horror of this movie more than anything else.

Hereditary (2018)

Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” is gut-wrenchingly terrifying. I was lucky enough to see this film in theatres in 2018 and I have not stopped thinking about it since. A family tragedy that breaches into the supernatural, this movie feels like classic horror but turns every fear-inducing element up to 11.

This movie creates a pit in your stomach and does not let it dissipate until well-after the credits roll. This was the first real horror movie I viewed in a theater, and it’s still the scariest. While I’ve been meaning to rewatch it for a while, it’s hard to get the courage to go back to it.

If you want to make your horror movie marathon truly one to remember, put this movie on your list.


Now is the perfect time to sit down and watch some horror movies. As someone who doesn’t usually seek out horror, Halloween is a great time to give myself an excuse to watch it. If you want to watch some movies but don’t know what, this list is a great start. Happy Halloween and happy viewing.