Quelling the Quarantine Blues

As of writing this post, we are about two months in our global lock-down due to the infamous coronavirus. With several businesses having to reduce or halt their operations altogether, many people have been laid off from their jobs and are ordered to stay home by the state in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

It sucks, I know.

You want to go out with your friends and do an escape room together, have a sit down dinner with your family at a restaurant, or even spend some alone time sipping a java while reading a book at a cafe–but you can’t. We are all stuck at home, literally left to our own devices. The usage of smart phones and computers must be on a rise with how many more people need a little bit of escapism through watching things on YouTube and Netflix.

Then of course there’s the go getters who always need to be on the go and do something productive to feel at ease with themselves. After all, keeping busy does help keep us stable by providing value to others and reaping the rewards of being responsible. Some people get the option to work at home, while others don’t.

Whether this global lock-down has altered your life in any significant way, one thing this strange time in history is inspiring–or forcing, depending on how you think about it–several people to start considering is slowing down the gears and taking the time to pause and reflect.


Rustling the Hustle and Bustle

For about a year now, I have been working at an accounting office doing something completely out of my element, and trying my hardest to adapt. After all I am more of a wordsmith and math was never my greatest subject in school. This has come with it its own set of stress and problems I had never faced in my life before, and while it has been trying at times, I am incredibly proud of how I have survived thus far. And just when I thought I was hitting my stride at doing this job somewhat perfectly, I get laid off due to the decrease in business.

Maybe in a future post I’ll write more about my experiences there, but for now I’ll sum up the year I’ve spent there in one sentence:

I came to this job as an awkward novice who knew literally nothing, and eventually became a dependable team member who teaches new things even to veterans of the office.

This was my first full time job and it made me realize just how busy all my friends and family have been back when I was in my part time job Heaven. And yes, I do mean to be dramatic in saying that being a part timer is Heaven because you really start to feel the difference between working four days a week vs five.

Now it made sense why so many plans with friends and family sometimes had to fall through, adult life is quite difficult when it comes to juggling a job, relationships, and responsibilities at home. To stack on top of that, and what I really want to talk about in this post, is something not many people put much value on, though they should if they want the previously mentioned aspects of life to truly flourish.

What I’m talking about of course leisure and recreation.

It’s weird, right?

How dare I mention having fun and saying that it’s important?

That’s because it is important. They are just as important as the job you need to excel at, the relationships you need to maintain, and the home you need to keep in order. Leisure and creation, especially of the meaningful kind, are the jobs, relationships, and home you need to keep in order within yourself.

We live in a culture that puts so much emphasis on the hustle and bustle, and we often make the mistake of deriving our sense of identity out of it that we lose sight of why we work so hard to make a living. Is it not to be able to afford to enjoy ourselves with the things we buy with the money we earn, as well as serve as a reward and contrast for putting our best feet forward on a daily basis?


Presence Over Productivity

So I’ve been keeping up with some friends and family, and not while all of them are down and out about this lock-down, for the ones that are, this post is for you. If you’re feeling guilty about having this state enforced home time or even feel anxious about it, I invite you to take a moment to breathe, put your hands to your chests, and reconnect with yourself.

You feel that? You still have your breath and your heartbeat which means much more than whatever sense of self you derived from being busy. Again, not bashing how important it is to making a living as it is required for us to thrive and survive as human beings–but basing our identities and sense of self esteem over them is a deadly trap.

This global quarantine is a strange opportunity to take the time to pause and reflect. It may seem scary if you don’t intentionally do any self-work, but trust me it’s worth it, no matter how painful it is. It may be agonizing to start having all your anxieties fill your head faster than when you were busy, but the sooner you confront them, the sooner they become your friend.

Especially if you’re the type of person who just needs to be productive all the time, in which case I suggest taking up new hobbies in this time and/or learn to be okay with doing nothing.

I, for one, am just continuing to do the things I’ve always enjoyed outside of work which is to do some creative writing, self-knowledge work, and studying Korean. When that’s all said and done, I like to strap into a video game and lose myself to these inventive and interactive worlds.

But if you know me already, these passion projects don’t come easy. I know how much my own mind likes to turn on itself and give me resistance toward doing the things I know I love to do, and for quite a long time I let my resistance win. Hence I haven’t posted much here for quite a while until recently.

The point, of course, is to start taking up new hobbies or reviving old ones more for the sake of the presence it gives you than for the sake of being “productive.”

This was something I wrestled with for the first month of being laid off from my job. When I was given the news I was driven to plan my entire days around writing, self-knowledge, and studying, but what ended up happening was that I just laid around the house a lot feeling lazy, tired, and bored despite of all the wonderful video essays I’ve consumed on YouTube.


Giving Yourself a Hall Pass

The real reason why I talk about this dangerous trap of deriving your sense of self around how busy you are, if you haven’t noticed yet, is because it’s what I started to do having my first full time job. While I don’t think a little pride in one’s efforts is a bad thing, I did start to define myself by how busy I was at work and the value I was providing to the team with my refined skills. Especially after spending most of the year sucking absolute ass at the job, I was bound to overcompensate by focusing so much on the growth I’ve gone through during my time there.

Now while I don’t want to make light of this pandemic and treat this order to stay home as a vacation, it actually could not have come at a better time. For all of April, lying around the way I did, it made me realize just how burnt out I’ve actually become. For a whole year I’ve been firing at all cylinders to get a grasp at this job and even though I did spend my time off gaming and watching Netflix, my mind was always fixated on how I will do at work the next day. I couldn’t truly enjoy myself.

For a while I used my passion projects in writing, self-knowledge, and Korean to keep me upright as something to do in the morning before going to work, but due to the fatigue I developed, I had been staying up later than I should and losing a lot of sleep causing me to drag my feet throughout the day at work and then either half ass my passion projects, or completely ignore them.

So come April with being laid off, it made sense I couldn’t do much for an entire month except for muster maybe one or two “productive” days a week before lying around and doing a whole lot of nothing for the rest of the week. I was tired because I hadn’t given myself the hall pass to just laze about with no direction required.

This doesn’t mean stop giving a crap about life and start neglecting your grooming needs or anything like that, but it is very important to consider how much our minds and bodies take a toll amidst our hustle and bustle. And now that we have this strange opportunity, I think it’s important to be a bit kinder to ourselves and use this silver lining to inspire us rather than string us up with the help of our own anxieties.

Whether you’ve lost your job or not, and whether you’re an extrovert or not, I’m just here to remind you that it is important to give yourself the time and permission to rest. You don’t always have to be going to get to where you want. Perhaps pausing to rest can get you to your intended destination much quicker because it is in pausing and reflecting we refuel the gas tank.

Words Left Unspoken Leave the Strongest Impact

One important aspect of compelling storytelling is putting meaningful words in the mouths of your characters, also known as dialogue by some professionals. Good dialogue conveys what the characters say to each other with purpose and direction, in addition to non-verbal communication, and even small talk if conveyed correctly. But today we’re talking about a more subtle level of character interaction much deeper than meaningful words and actions: the lack thereof.


It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters

Dialogue may move the plot forward and reveal who the characters are through their communication style and vocabulary, but sometimes it’s what they do not say that creates the most interesting of conflicts. When characters hold secrets from each other, how they feel about those secrets cause their interactions to be strained because withholding information from either their loved ones, or enemies who could use the secret against them, can change their relationships forever.

The most common feeling accompanied by a secret is shame because as human we are fundamentally flawed, and knowing this we strive to be better than we are, thus having a tough time admitting or even acknowledging having any flaws. After all, it’s these flaws and mistakes we make that degrade our self perception in the eyes of our better potential selves, and how we’re perceived by others.

Our self image is important to us because having an identity is comforting, and identifying ourselves as good virtuous people is how we navigate the strange and difficult canals of life. Rocky waters are just part of life, but secrets can be deadly waves that drown us all.

But amidst all the watery turmoil we may face in our lives, perhaps learning how to weather the storm is how we come to discover strong we truly are, assuming we have the strength to survive.

So if anyone ever comes close to exposing our secrets and insecurities, whether they mean to or not, it can cause us to becoming defensive and deflect the topic. Unless you willingly go to therapy to talk about your problems and share your secrets, chances are, you would much rather keep your secrets to yourself and not let anybody catch wind of them.

You could either be protecting others from something you perceive as dangerous to them, or something that is dangerous to your public and/or personal perception. A secret that if word got out could potentially hurt several others, or hurt your ability to deserve any trust from others.


A Happy Accident For a Set Up

Let’s take Bob, for instance, who gets so drunk at his best friend’s bachelor party that he ends up cheating on his wife with the “hired entertainment.”

(I’m talking about a stripper, of course, not a party clown. Though hiring a party clown instead of a stripper would make for a good best man prank. Even better if the party clown turns out to be the stripper’s character gimmick, but anyways! Let’s actually roll with that for this example.)

Imagine how awkward it will be for Bob to wake up to his wife Jane the next morning, knowing what he had just done the night prior. She could ask how the bachelor party was and he could admit that he got down and dirty with a clown stripper named Trixie, but where would the drama be in that?

No, instead, he would do anything to avoid the topic because of the guilt eating him up inside. He’s questioning if he’s a horrible husband and if the drinks were laced with something strong because there’s no way he could have cheated on Jane. Maybe it was a drug induced hallucination? Or maybe the Clown Stripper took advantage of him? In either case he perceives himself as weak and unworthy to called himself a married man.


Bob and the Clown Stripper

“How was the party?” Jane asks.

“F-fine,” Bob stammers. He swiftly sits up in bed, causing his head to spin from the heavy hangover induced from one too many whiskey shots and using beer and wine as chasers.

“Hey, be careful.” Jane caresses Bob’s bed head from behind him and smooths out his hair. “Just fine? But you spent weeks setting up this prank. Did it back fire? Did Jim end up hating it?”

Thoughts of last night’s shenanigans flood Bob’s memories, and the fact that they are hazy is not the part that troubles him. It is the image of Trixie sitting on his lap and possibly kissing his neck, which is where the dirty deed may have began. He gasps and snaps out of the memory and tugs at his black polo shirt’s collar to see traces of white make up and cherry red lipstick.

Bob leaps out of bed, unbuttons his shirt and rushes to take it off to hide any evidence of his misdoings from Jane. He immediately regrets it because it comes off as suspicious.

“Thank God because you reek,” Jane says. “I was going to take your shirt off for you when you climbed into bed last night, but I didn’t want to wake you.”

Jane knows how much of a light sleeper Bob is, even when he’s punched out drunk. Bob feels ever guiltier considering how much Jane knows and loves him so much. Despite his shirt being off, he begins to sweat.

“Bob?” She asks, but he doesn’t hear her. He feels guilty considering how she had to sleep next to him stinking of alcohol.

“Sorry,” Bob says steadying himself against the dresser. “I am so sorry, Jane, I really am. And thanks.”

“It’s no big deal. Everything okay?” Jane shuffles over to the edge of the bed. “You should lie down, I’ll go make you some breakfast.”

“It’s okay,” Bob says, feeling undeserving of her affection.

Jane goes to pick up Bob’s shirt off the floor, and he tries to grab for it, but grabs for air instead. As she heads to the hamper, he hopes that she just tosses it in so he can grab it and wash off Trixie’s make up off his shirt while Jane cooks breakfast. Just as Bob is about to let out a sigh of relief when Jane takes the lid off the hamper, she pauses and turns around clearly staring at the clown’s make up smeared on Bob’s shirt.

“Bob?” Jane asks.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he says.

“Did you cheat on me with a clown stripper?” Jane giggles.

“N-no, of course not.”

“Gosh, I sure hope she took her foam nose off before you whisked her off to the circus.”

Bob is frozen, slowly realizing that Jane is obviously joking, but doesn’t know how to shake off his guilt exuding demeanour. Jane’s grin slowly fades into a questioning frown and Bob licks his lips after realizing how dry his mouth has become from the laboured breathing.


Less is More

As you can see from my morbid example that less is more. The dialogue is for the most part short with a few actions, thoughts, and exposition to provide context to why the seemingly innocuous conversation between Bob and Jane is more tense that it would seem at face value.

Though when it comes to a character trying to hide a secret from another, they don’t always have to be sparse for words. They could even over compensate by spinning lies rather than simply avoiding the truth. Bob doesn’t have to say anything, his entire avoidant responses imply that he’s hiding something, but poor Jane is non-the-wiser, even when she jokingly asks if he cheated on her with a clown stripper.

On top of hiding the truth from Jane, Bob apologized profusely for something his wife didn’t take as that big of a deal when it came to coming home drunk and falling asleep reeking of alcohol. That itself is a subtle tell that the reader could pick up on to gauge Bob’s guilt over possibly betraying his loving trusting wife.

It is implied that cheating is unusual and unexpected of Bob, and that he and Jane have a solid marriage with how she’s joking around with him with the idea of…well…the possible truth of what happened. I will leave it up to interpretation whether he actually she cheated on her, and whether she figured it out after where the examples off from.

That is it for today’s Workshop Wednesday! I hope this helps you make good use of a valuable tension building tool.

What are your favourite unspoken words from fiction?

Do you have any thoughts, questions, and criticisms about this post?

Was the example too out of left field and not very family friendly when it could have been?

Whatever the case, let me know in the comments below!

 

Music Review: Messgram – Cheers for the Failures

Photo Credit: Official Messgram Facebook Page

Photo Credit: Official Messgram Facebook Page

Hello everyone, it sure has been a hot minute since I’ve posted something here, so here I am breaking the radio silence by delivering to you my review of Messgram’s first full length album Cheers for the Failures.

Messgram is an electronic/screamo/metal band hailing from South Korea that consists of the following members:

  • Jiyoung – vocals
  • Jahnny Shin – vocals, keyboards
  • Yushik Shin – lead guitar
  • Chanhyun – bass
  • Soojin Lee – drums

Messing Around With Messgram

I was first graced by Messgram’s existence in 2017 and 2018 when YouTube’s algorithm recommended to me their covers of Drown and Avalanche by Bring Me the Horizon. I was instantly intrigued by how the female vocals added a whole new emotional dimension to Oli Sykes’ heartfelt lyrics, and that the band had their own keyboardist who helped maintain the cinematic feel of the originals.

This made me grow curious of what Messgram’s original songs would sound like and so I checked them out. Even back then I knew they were talented musicians and that they definitely deserved more recognition, but for some reason none of it really clicked with me.

At least not yet, anyway.

Every few months since then, YouTube would remind me of Messgram’s existence and I would watch their videos, have a little fun, but then move on to whatever other random A.D.D. riddled YouTube watching I typically do.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, Friday April 17, 2020, Messgram released their first full length album Cheers for the Failures along with the music video of their lead single Karma. 

And what can I say?

If I thought Messgram was talented before, I now knew they were also incredibly skilled, and that shows with how much they’ve grown as musicians with their release of Cheers for the Failures. It is now that they have clicked for me because I have been listening to this album, along with their previous EP’s, nonstop everyday ever since this full length release.

So without further adieu here’s a quick preview of the album and my review for each song:


Messgram – Cheers for the Failures Review

(Quick disclaimer that this is all my personal opinion despite making claims through seemingly objective statements. This is just a way to cut back on the over use of “I think,” and “I feel like,” statements that would bog down the flow of the review.)

1. Little but Fierce

This opening track comes in hot with a very brief soft section, just to showcase the kind of electronic samples to expect throughout, and then wastes no time having the full band jump in with the pounding drums, blazing guitars, and Jahnny’s wild screams. Jiyoung’s clean vocals come in at the pre-chorus and chorus while Jahnny still screams in the background to emphasize certain lines during the chorus.

The bridge also simmers down long enough for you catch your breath with more of that soft electronic stuff found in the intro but this time with the addition of soft vocals, all before bringing the full band back in for an epic heavy and emotional outro. It all happens pretty smoothly so there isn’t much more you can ask for here.

This is Messgram at their finest balance of heavy metal verses and instrumental sections, and emo choruses to emphasize melody more over instrumental complexity and intensity.

Song Score: 9/10


2. Rockstars

Following the opening metal track comes Rockstars which showcases Messgram’s pop-punk/emo side. This song reminds me of early 2010’s screamo, but with keyboards to keep it fresh and to continue the cinematic feel brought from Little but Fierce. It also kind of reminds me of the Final Fantasy theme to a little degree so that helps boost the nostalgic feel brought from the lyrics and the song’s overall feel. The second chorus getting the extension also helps pack a bigger emotional punch to it.

The bridge has a lot going for it, mainly how it brings back the intro riff with a few electronic and bass changes. However it’s difficult to appreciate the new string section and slightly different bass line with Jahnny screaming over it all. It could have worked better as an instrumental section since the following rhythmic pop-punk breakdown, and soft electronic section are already so vocal heavy.

This brings us to the final chorus which teases us with a momentary modulation that makes me wonder how the song would have fared if the chorus got a full key change for the outro, but that would detract from the synth outro, which itself could have been longer by another measure that faded out slowly, instead of ending abruptly.

Overall still a damn good song. It has a grand and epic sounding instrumental section that gets repeated a second time for a nice callback to it, even if it is mired by misplaced screams. The catchy chorus thankfully gets an extension the second time and even gets a momentary modulation the third time as to keep the song staying fresh.

Song Score: 8/10


3. Karma

Karma wastes no time endearing you to its emotional intensity with the heavy guitars and both vocalists belting it out with no restraint in a pretty damn cool trade off with each other. They reverse the order of their vocal trade off in the second verse while the guitars get a little more dissonant than the first time around, while also adding new lead riffs between the chord strikes.

The chorus is quite lengthy right away, but that’s fine as all three sections of it are awesome and help keep the pace going. It would not have worked if they saved the two extra chorus sections for later in the song, You got the first part where Jiyoung belts it out with a lot of sustained notes, the second section that has those backing “whoa” vocals with more subdued main lyrics to follow, and then finally the non-verbal vocals to soften it out momentarily before bringing in the heavy parts back in for the second verse.

The third part of the chorus is ommitted after the second chorus, which was a good call because the mid-section of the song very much calls for a cathartic heavy section and this is where Jahnny really shines. If his screams did not fit well with Rockstars’ pre-bridge, they fit perfectly for the pre-bridge for Karma. 

If it weren’t for Yushik’s super bluesy guitar solo coupled with Jiyoung’s backing vocals, the brief piano and vocal solo rendition of the chorus that follows would feel too abrupt with the full band interruption–but for the outro and the way it simmers out makes it work well enough. Part of me wishes that  the piano part was a bit longer, but it probably would have dragged the song out too much.

Awesome lead single, it was the one to make the band finally click for me so there isn’t much more I could ask for from this song. Once again it’s Messgram at their finest striking the perfect balance between heavy and emotional, neither veering out too be too metal nor emo.

Song Score: 10/10


4. A Handful of Light

I fell in love with this song right away because of that cinematic intro carrying on with the hard rock riff to come in hot right after that. The verses for A Handful of Light are a perfect showcase for Jahnny’s screams and how his synths compliment the more spaced out guitar riffs. Even though there’s a lot of layering with the screams happening in the background, it doesn’t come off as messy, rather filling in some gaps as they should

The chorus showcases more of Jiyoung’s belty vocals that I am so glad she is pushing herself to do to match the heaviness of the instrumentation. She definitely has a damn good melody for the main chorus as well the chorus tag that comes after the second and third choruses, but Jahnny just steals the show for this song. His bridge screams and the lyrics to go with them feel very empowering. Makes you wanna tap into your badass energy.

Keeping it heavy with the metal and hard rock feel, A Handful of Light is another one of those songs that screams Messgram at their finest, but doubling down more on their metal side. The energy and the feel of it is just so uniquely them.

Song Score: 10/10


5. Signal

Signal is one of those mid-album songs where it makes sense to slow and simmer things down, but makes you feel disoriented that the energy has dropped after songs like Karma and A Handful of Light.

As a stand alone song alone, it’s a very good to showcase Jiyoung’s range between soft emotional vocals with slightly restrained power vocals to match their softer pop-punk side. They definitely doubled down on the emo sound for this one!

But as a song that comes after two intense ones, it felt too soft and abrupt of a vibe change. Having random screaming in it doesn’t help ground it and remind you that you’re still listening to a metal album, they just feel out of place as they tend to for these more pop-punk/emo songs.

One thing it has going for it though is perfect pacing with a much needed extended bridge section where the clean guitars and drums take their time to build up to the post chorus. And what a post chorus! Soojin stops holding back on that drumbeat and gets more intense with the keyboards before bringing the song to a close. The guitars, bass, and vocals take a step back here so it’s good to have the drums become the centre stage of intensity.

Decent song on its own, but not placed well to mark the mid point of the album. It’s straightforward with a few misplaced screams, but overall gets the job done in being one of the more hopeful sounding songs to bring some light into an otherwise gloomy sounding album.

Song Score: 7/10


6. Purgatory

If Purgatory and Signal switched places in the album it would actually flow a bit better. I know it sounds like a very menial nitpick, but Purgatory is just a bit heavier than Signal due to its melancholic feel and would flow better after A Handful of Light. And since it does pull you down to a pretty melancholic feel, Signal would have worked to bring some hope back into you instead of having that hope torn away by the somberness of Purgatory.

This song doubles down on their emo side and the synth sound for it fits so perfectly for it. Extra points for the first chorus teasing us being so brief because the chorus tag added for the second and final choruses really hold down the emotional weight this song conveys. That bridge build up is also pretty awesome with the drum rolls and the atmospheric synths. Or is it the guitar with volume swelling? I can’t tell. Either way I love that sound to break apart the usual crunch of the distorted guitars.

The chorus revisiting outro with altered and intensified vocal lines real bring the emotion alive. Good call on having the chorus tag repeated to really emphasize those lyrics and to make good use of that catchy melody we just didn’t get during the first chorus and not enough of after the second chorus.

Another pretty straight forward emo song to give us a little bit of respite mid-way through the album, but done a lot better than the ones that came before it. The chorus tag repetition for the outro was great, along with the electronic instrumental slowly fading out at the end was very much needed so it can prepare us for the upcoming song.

Song Score: 8/10


7.  As Times Goes By

Now that we’ve gotten time to catch our breath with slower and softer songs, why not bring back the heaviness? Once again Jahnny just rocks the verses here with the screaming, and I gotta say this is the best riffage Yushik did in this album. The chugginess never ends, and carries on into the chorus. Speaking of which, is Jahnyun doing a sick tapping bass riff before the chorus or even throughout it? It’s the grooviest bass I’ve heard throughout the album so far, we definitely need more of that. He’s gotten the job done so far, but it would be nice to have the bass get more of a spotlight in Messgram’s songs.

Soojin’s calculated beats in the intro and chuggy parts are only rivaled by Yushik’s bluesy hard rock guitar solo 3/4 into the song. And since I’m such a stickler for soft electronic bridges, I get my wish with the best soft electronic bridge in this song: softly sung version of the chorus under a new instrumental context. It doesn’t out stay its welcome and gives you the right amount of time to take a breathe before bringing the heaviness back in. There’s just something about this song where the instrumentation’s complexity and flavour is ramped up more than they already were throughout the album.

This is the perfect lucky track 7 to bring the metal energy back into the album with its speed and intensity. It would be redundant at this point to mention how well written Jiyoung’s melodies are and how awesome her power vocals are, but along with the band she just really brings it up a notch as well in this song. It catches me off guard because I get used to a certain standard before the bar gets raised once again.

Maybe this is why it helps to have had two emo songs back to back? To downplay the expectations a little bit since the album has already set huge precedence, it doesn’t need to impress you anymore until it does when it wants to on its own volition in this incredible track?

Anyways, I’ve spammed the line “Messgram at their finest” already,  and I’m not gonna say that here because As Time Goes By is Messgram beyond their finest.

Song Score: 11/10


8. Omen

Omen feels like the band went, “let’s do a similar intro to Rockstars, but wait we’re also a metal band, so let’s rip the listener’s face off with this moshpit worth riff!”

Ah yes, the good ol’ metal is back in full swing some more in this song. The ominous synth section before the rest of the band comes in eases us toward Jiyoung’s soft vocals finally doing something foreboding over a chuggy verse riff.

This is also the first song where she sings in Korean on the album and it’s a very welcomed surprise. It makes me wish she sang more parts of the other album in Korean because damn it sounds so badass in metal.

The chorus opts out for a “brighter” sound, but continues to pack the heavy hitting punch it needs to. The lead guitar in this song whether during the chorus or to compliment the chugs during the verse, are a nice reminder of Yushik’s guitar chops since there’s no room made for a guitar solo in this song. It definitely could have benefited from one, but beggars can’t be choosers.

What can I say? The energy was picked back up thanks to As Time Goes By and is maintained greatly by Omen. My only gripes with this song is that it’s too short and that it makes me wonder if their songs would benefit with more Korean lyrics either sprinkled in, or if they had more songs written fully in Korean.

Basically I have nothing bad to say about this song and I’m straining to find something because I’m getting self conscious about sounding too much of a fanboy at this point.

But screw it, this band deserves some more fans!

Song Score: 10/10


9. Poena

Poena is a very strange song and I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s a good thing. This is the song where they tried to blend the metal and pop-punk in one song and it comes with very mixed results. The intro reminds me of Paramore’s song Misery Business, but heavier with synths and screaming so it makes me think, “okay for this track they’re going the pop punk route again?”

Not that that’s a bad thing, of course, since they do well with either genre.

The verse’s chuggy riff is pretty damn heavy, though Jahnny’s screaming was dialed a little too far here on the high side. He really shines when he can add more lows for variety, but there weren’t enough low screams here. Although they aren’t layered like they were in A Handful of Light, they seem messy here due to being sustained for too long.

I’m also pretty sure I can hear Jiyoung and some random electronic samples coming in to add a bit of melody in these sections, but they’re pretty hard to hear over all the overdone screaming. The clean vocals in the verses could either have been extended or removed completely, and somehow that would have made it better than being interlaced here and there.

It also took a few listens, but I can finally anticipate when the choruses come in now, because this is an epic and uplifting anthem for a chorus. Catchy and empowering both lyrically and melodically. Upon my first listen it was hard to tell when it was coming in and works as a double edged sword for a surprise. Genre changes within a song are always welcomed, especially when they’re unexpected, but this one was too unexpected. It doesn’t help that the second chorus’s beginning is further obscured by clean sustained vocals that overpower the start of the second chorus.

The second half of this song, however, is a bit of a smoother listen and that long and soft electronic bridge really helps slow and clean this song up a bit. The disorientation kind of continues with the key changes, but those are great to allow the emotional guessing game to continue. The outro is also a nice opportunity to spam that anthem of a chorus with more melodic variation and harmonies layered on top of them.

Probably my least favourite song on the album, but definitely not a deal breaker this far into it. While I do like songs with experimental structures and genre mixing, Poena was a bit too messy, even for my liking. That anthem like chorus does help in being the other hopeful sounding song on this album so at least it’s got that, and its experimentation going for it.

Song Score: 6/10


10. Lightfall

And finally there is Lightfall, the final song that carries the burden of being the album closer. Now we finally get to really simmer down with the chill electronic sound and more of Jiyoung’s soft vocals, and in Korean no less. This is a good way to help you catch your breath once again and lets us feel the entire album’s sense of a roller-coaster ride with the mostly appropriate switch ups between rise and fall.

Ominous synths also really bring this song home and entire album home as the verses sound reminiscent of the darker K-Pop you can find when a group does a bad-ass or girl crush concept–but it doesn’t go too poppy because then the electric guitars come blazing in for the choruses that give the song’s overall feel a deeper depth than it begins with.

For an album outro, it doesn’t go out in a bang as hard as it first came in with Little but Fierce, but still gets the job done by switching up the vibe and formula enough to really signify things coming to a close. It’s a side of Messgram we haven’t seen before where there’s even longer emphasis for the electronic side during the verse, as to serve as a subdued counterpart to all the electric guitar we’ve been treated to.

While Lightfalls’ outro could have been stretched out a little longer with an electronic fade out section, it still gets the job done by adding more variety to Cheers to the Failures.

Song Score: 8/10


Cheers to Messgram and Their Future Success

So there you have it, my somewhat in-depth and comprehensive review on Messgram’s first full length album Cheers to the Failures. This band definitely has a decent enough range in genre exploration, excelling both in the metal and emo categories, and while I do appreciate both genres, it’s quite clear which genre I lean more toward. Especially since most songs on this album clearly declare themselves as either more metal than emo, more emo than metal, or just straight up emo.

Modern metalcore elements and 2010 emo makes for a pretty good sound that, while we’ve heard it all before, Messgram does it their way and it’s nothing to scoff at because when they bring it, they really really bring it! I am still blown away by this album and will continue to listen to it from start to finish in the following days, possibly weeks, months, and years because I think I’ve stumbled upon quite the gem of a band.

On a selfish level I’m hoping Messgram sticks more to their metal side while sprinkling in some emo and pop-punk sections in their next release, but at an objective level they’re definitely free to do what they did here with Cheers to the Failures with switching between genres in a manner that kept it fresh for variety sake. They keep you guessing and that’s good to prevent becoming too formulaic and predictable.

And although their previous albums followed in this vein already, there’s just something about the entire songwriting quality that has been greatly improved in this full length release, and I hope I did a good enough job in explaining how.

I definitely look forward to more from Messgram, and will continue to rock out to everything they have so far in their ever growing discography!

Final Album Score: 87/100

Be Sure to Support Messgram by Purchasing/Streaming Their Music:

  1. iTunes
  2. Apple Music
  3. Spotify
  4. YouTube
  5. Bandcamp

What are your thoughts on Messgram’s first full length album?

What are your thoughts on my thoughts of the album?

Agree or disagree, let me know in the comments below!

Stories Are the Study of Being

Human behaviour is a peculiar thing. There’s just so many of us, and so many different kinds of us, that it’s hard to pinpoint what “human nature” actually is. While that’s up in the air, what is certain is that stories are the study of being.

No matter what story you experience, no matter what genre or medium it is expressed in, the one thing they all have in common is the exploration of human behaviour. The main characters will all behave in their own unique ways that either clash with or compliment each other depending on their temperament and relationship to each other.

Maybe one character is easy going while another believes in strict discipline in conducting their lives. Let’s just name these two characters Mary and Sue. Mary would be the type of person who calls her friends out randomly whereas Sue prefers to schedule her hang outs and jot down the dates and times these occur in her day planner.

The conflict these two can have is that they’ve been best friends since pre-school, but they have diverged into having different responsibilities in life such as jobs and families that occupy most of their time, so it’s really hard to keep in touch. Mary keeps calling Sue to hang out on a random night where Sue is already scheduled to watch her kid’s soccer game. Sue tries to schedule a hang out time with Mary, but Mary is disorganized with her time that she goes out drinking one night and is hungover on the morning she and Sue are supposed to have brunch.

Throughout the story, you as the audience get to explore the core being of each character, and how each of their behaviours have their pluses and minuses: Mary’s spontaneous ways keep things fun and exciting, but can also hamper on the precious resource of time to which she’s spending carelessly. Sue’s strict schedule allows her to organize her time and spend it like a precious and scarce resource, but she can also end up becoming a slave to her planner, allowing no room for spontaneity and fun surprises.

And even more peculiar thing about human behaviour is how we all affect each other when we are in proximity of each other. Every little interaction we have with conflicting and complimenting mentalities reshape us and leave us taking a piece of the other person to adapt into our own mode of being. In our example story, Mary could teach Sue how to let loose a little bit and have more fun instead of worrying about the next appointment. Sue can teach Mary how to prioritize her life better so she doesn’t lose track of the days.

One of the fundamental functions of storytelling is exploring and expressing different modes of being. Modes that either inspire you or warn you on how to be. What are the costs and benefits of acting a certain way? Assuming a story is written well enough to show the most logical and realistic consequences of certain behaviours, your audience or you as an audience member will have a manual on how you can better yourself, and make better use of the relationships you have, especially with people who you share some conflict with.

We’re all here to help each other grow and part of that means allowing contrary philosophies to challenge our own.

Your Write to Revive

It’s been quite a while since my last post and I’ve actually grown increasingly anxious about the future of Your Write to Live. I’ve neglected the blog and potential readers since September of last year, but then I realize the pressure is all coming from within. My site isn’t so popular that I  have legions of fans demanding my return, nor is it so unpopular that no one cares whether or not I disappear. Or maybe it is, and that’s something that adds to the anxiety lol!

In any case, as I’ve written before about writing being my life blood, it doesn’t matter whether or not I have an audience. I write for myself and then edit for others. Primarily, I write these Meaningful Monday, Tuney Tuesday, and Workshop Wednesday posts for myself as love letters to remind myself of my love toward life, music, and literature. If the byproduct of all this is people read my work and hopefully get some value from it, then I would be pleased and eternally grateful for the readership.

I’m at a point in my life now, though, where I think I need to take this little blogging hobby of mine to the next level. I know I can be doing more with it and synthesizing my writing wisdom (or lack thereof seeing as I haven’t written in a long time, nor studied the art of writing recently either) to better connect it with my intended Writing Coaching practice.

I tend to start projects when I’m passionate about them and then stop when they start to become responsibilities, which in turn then allows my ego to find a way to turn them into obligations. Obligations that I end up resisting because I become my own worst enemy and no longer have the capacity to help anyone out the way I want to.

When my life is going well in terms of finances and socializing, I tend to value writing as sacred solitude time. But for the past couple years I’ve been too focused on writing and studying Korean that I haven’t given much time to anything else, hence I got depressed and had to go through those Trials of Tribulations.

I’m starting to realize just how important it is to balance love, work, and play in your lives because tunnel visioning towards only one of them closes you off from truly appreciating the one thing you spend your time obsessing over.

What the hell am I talking about?

Well three years ago I was the manager at an escape room and it was the most meaningful and fulfilling job I ever had in my life. I got to connect with wonderful customers and provide a fun experience for them, and whenever I clocked out, I continued to buzz with productivity that writing became second nature alone time, along with attempting to create a YouTube following through my good old BSBS Reviews.

Along the way I started coaching other writers on how to organize and express their ideas and this meant the world to me. I had a meaningful and fulfilling job that paid my bills and entertainment purposes, and on the side I was also creating things based on my true passion for writing. But then after some scheduling issues along with some family issues happening around the time, I got overwhelmed by all of it and quit my job prematurely.

This is where 2017 and 2018 come in where I thought I could focus on just creating my own business to make a living. I thought that maybe now that I’m free from a day job, I can put ALL my energy into creating something of my own.

I really wish it could have worked out that way, but what happened was that living off my giant savings only set me up for giant disappointment. Simply put: I can’t create when I’m starving. Fresh out of the job I WAS able to finish the third draft of my novel and then host some writing workshops that allowed me to pay some of my bills, but I never made enough disposable income to enjoy myself with.

That’s when it hit me.

I have a bad habit of jumping the shark too soon. Three times in my life where I thought I could quit my day jobs and pursue writing full time, the story ended up the same. I would develop hatred for the job and think “I’m better than this, I should follow my own path!” And so then I would pursue writing full time whether it was night school, staying home to write what I thought would be my debut novel at the time, then again for another…

It’s a cycle that I was tempted to call endless, but nonetheless I want to end it.

The realization I’ve had was that I need to have a day job to make me feel safe and secure so I can in turn feel free to create without worrying about going broke. Then I also need writing so that I feel like I can express myself and create my own escapism that is far superior to the tremendous enjoyment I get from other entertainment that’s out there.

I need BOTH in my life. It’s just that simple. So from now on I want to honour the mere idea of working for someone else because that doesn’t take away from the fact that I can also work for myself if I choose to create on my own time.

Here’s to hoping I strike the right balance between a day job and a side hustle.

I hope that this year goes a bit better for me. Scratch that. I hope that this year I MAKE things go better for myself. And that means taking on more responsibility by earning money to help pay for my family’s bills at home, while also nurturing my own soul by rebuilding my business at the same time instead of thinking I need to be free from a job in order to do it. No, having a job will help me FUND That business and let me have fun with it the way it did when I was doing BSBS where I would spend my paychecks toward new books and movie tickets just so I can make book to film reviews about those adaptations. Even if it didn’t take off in viewership like I thought it would, to me it still mattered I was creating and immersing myself in this world at all.

So I’m back everyone, and I’m going to make sure I’m in it for the long haul now because I’m sick and tired of playing small and stabbing myself in the back all the time. I really want to thrive  this year by contributing my time toward a reputable company that will provide me the decent enough cash to invest into my true passion for writing. My hope is that in one year’s time I will have hosted some writing workshops and amassed a good amount of clients I can coach with their writing.

Why?

Because I have this gift that I haven’t brushed up on in a long time and I think it’s pretty shitty to keep it from the wolrd.

Geek Out About Your Favourite Stories

Is there a story that has left such an impact on you that you can’t stop thinking about? What is it about that story, its characters, plot, and setting that’s so appealing to you? Write about that until you can’t stop!

A good way to get inspiration is by dissecting your favourite stories and pick apart what you like about it, and even things you don’t like about it. Try to see what excites you the most and figure out why.

Maybe the characters behave in ways similar to yourself, or you’ve found yourself in similar situations, or you even consider wishing you could live in the fictional setting the story takes place in.

Whatever the case may be write as much as you can about your experience with this story. Go in so far as to recite certain instances where a plot twist or special moment gave you an involuntary reaction of either shock, joy, or even sadness.

As you write about your thoughts and feelings about this story, you are priming yourself for writing in ways similar to your favourite writers and thus increasing your chances of impacting your future audience in powerful ways as well.

Or if you’re a private writer who only writes for themselves you can still borrow from your favourites the same way and increase the joy and entertainment you give yourself when you write.

Here are some questions to consider when dissecting your favourite stories:

1. How do I feel when I experience this story? Why?

2. When do I feel the most immersed by it? Why?

3. What do I wish was different in the story? How would that improve the story?

4. What do I think is perfect in the story? Why?

5. Who are my favourite and least favourite characters? What is it about them that inspires me or cause any other emotional response?

These are just a few to consider as I don’t want to overwhelm you with even more of what I ask myself when I dissect my favourite stories. I trust in the creativity and ingenuity of writers to think of their own questions unique to their value systems.

But in the end the most question I would ask is: what does this story mean to you?

If you can’t or don’t answer any other question, this is the vital one to keep in mind as it opens the avenue for even more thoughts that inspire your creativity and capacity to impact others.

Music Review: Dreamcatcher – Alone in the City

Wudup, fellow Somnias?! Dreamcatcher is back to grace us with yet another comeback today!

With the huge success of Escape the Era and its lead track YOU AND I attracting even more fans than ever before, does What continue to build on the Dreamcatcher legacy?

Well let’s take a look and find out by first enjoying the music video together (if you haven’t already spammed it a couple times this morning like I have):

What? What. Wat? Wot? What!

What is a very breathtaking thrill ride! No that was a statement, not a question. What do you mean, “what’s a breathtaking thrill ride?” What is! The song What! By Dreamcatcher.

Okay, I had to get that out of system. Excuse me.

Go to any YouTube comments section for a Dreamcatcher video, and I bet you’ll find a handful of comments saying their music sounds like anime music. If we’re going to think along those lines, then this song sounds like the appropriate fresh new sound an anime’s 5th season should sound like.

You know, the cast has gone through so much together and have grown a lot since the 1st season. They have a brighter outlook on their journey realizing how powerful they can be, so it sounds brighter, but not too bright as to imply their journey is over. There’s still a hint of much more ahead, but they have even that much more confidence in taking it on.

All in all, strong intro to the song and I welcome the change more, surprisingly much more than say how Fly High kind of threw me off guard at first. For What, my enjoyment of it was more instantaneous.

The verses are mostly identical sounding to me and that’s okay. Notably for the second verse, I like how the distorted guitars come back immediately rather than being built up to as they are in the first verse. They’re sparse with a couple power chord strums as to not overshadow the vocals and busier synth and violin combo. And of course give space for the vocals to shine as they should.

Melodically I don’t think the verses are that interesting. Every member definitely gets the job done when it’s their time to shine. We’re still treated to a very short Handong moment in the second verse and it makes me sad that they didn’t give her another line for the bridge because hearing her sing in that range I realize her vocal timbre does seem to fit better with the more laid back sections of songs.

And now while it’s easy to fanboy about Siyeon and Yoohyeon’s power vocals, Jiu’s soothing yet hauntingly soft voice, Sua’s badassery, Gahyeon’s innocence and charm–I think it’s time to admit that I’m a closeted Dami bias. My growing fondness for her is growing the way it has for Moonbyul of Mamamoo where they both started off as the underutilized rapper now allowed to reach their potential by getting some actual vocal lines, and by golly does Dami own both of her sections in this song like a bawss!

The chorus is composed a lot simpler than previous tracks, but that doesn’t take away from how catchy it is with its 90’s sounding dance melody, and the syncopated What’s help keep the song going. After all, who doesn’t love a little syncopation and accentuated break beats that the “break up my dream” part provides. It goes well with the lyrics like moments in a nightmare where you think you’re about to wake up, but there’s still more to haunt you because the second post chorus treats us to a nice chuggy riff.

This could just be the metalcorefag in me, but I want to hear more chuggy riffs in Dreamcatcher songs. I felt they were too short in Fly High (why do I keep comparing this song to that one?), but even if they’re short in What as well, it’s a nice smooth transition into the bridge. We get that intro piano riff again with Jiu singing over it this time before we’re blasted with the final chorus.

It’s strange that this is the second longest lead single by Dreamcatcher, but it doesn’t feel that long at all. It actually moves along at a brisk pace, none of the parts drag on, and ultimately feel like they transition together quite smoothly. Though it’s not structurally or even compositionally complex as their other songs (as far as I can tell), What gets the job done in introducing us to a new era in the Dreamcatcher world.

For delivering the goods, feeling shorter than it actually does, and somehow manages to impress me even if it had less dynamics and simpler verse construction than previous releases I give it a 5/5


What vs Alone in the City

I actually love What just as much as any other lead single Dreamcatcher, and I definitely welcome Happy Face Entertainment wanting to experiment with their sound a little bit. But it’s for that reason that I feel a bit conflicted about the rest of the album.

Intro: Epic as always and builds the expectation that Dreamcatcher will continue to deliver the rock sensibilities that distinguish them from their peers. And this time with more electronic sounding synths, dare I say EDM and dubstep-ish even if ever so slightly. It would be a nice welcome changed from the more classical strings sounding synths from previous releases.

By default I usually love short instrumental intros that build up the hype and tension for the title track that follows them so it gets a score of 5/5!

Wonderland: The track following What on the album is a nice dark sounding R&B track. It’s a nice pallete clenser after the adrenaline rush What is as it does slow down the pace a bit. It has some nice wub wub wub sounds for the chorus and I generally EDM and dubstep so that stuff is pretty cool.

Though I can’t help compare its post chorus vocal melody to Loona’s track Perfect Love off of their OT12 debut album. Because my ear is accustomed to Perfect Love’s pre-chorus, my brain tries to fill in the gaps during Wonderland with Perfect Love’s fuller sounding melody. Then before I know it, the song ends on a very abrupt note. It could have benefited from a short instrumental outro that sounded different from the rest of the song, but it didn’t.

Maybe this song needs more time to grow on me as its own entity, and it does have a nice overall vibe, but its abrupt stop and its similarities to Loona’s Perfect Love it gets a 3.5/5

Trap: After Sleepwalking, everyone seemed to want Dreamcatcher to explore what they can do with a more EDM sound and I’m actually happy we got that with Trap. The chorus has some decent wubbing and the vocals and their melodies are pretty good. I actually do like this song’s clean guitars comboing with the piano for the verses and outro, but that chuggy riff at the start kind of pisses me off!

Wait, didn’t you say you wanted more chuggy riffs in Dreamcatcher songs?

Yes, I did say that!

But it kicks so much ass that it’s so disappointing that it never comes back later in the song, nor do the distorted guitars at all. You know, the instrumental element that sets Dreamcatcher apart from other K-Pop groups? It’s a huge let down that they didn’t employ any more rock into this otherwise decent EDM track.

I would probably love it more if I wasn’t deceived by that distorted guitar riff at the beginning building up an expectation for me. And once again a very very abrupt stop to the song doesn’t give me time to savour the other good stuff that has going for it. I mean, I know What ends very shortly after the vocals do, but so far Wonderland and Trap both have that problem of ending with not much of a bang or climax. Or since they are softer songs than the rock infused lead track, they could have easily faded out instrumentally or have just a few seconds for us to savour the beat with a more definite finish.

Did I mention how much it pisses me off that they only used distorted guitars for the coolest part far too early and far too sparsely in this song? I mean with the tom drums pounding for the pre-chorus they missed an opportunity to put a palm muted riff! Why you gonna play me like that?

Sorry, but Trap gets a 3/5

July 7th: Is the date that Love Shake was released back when Dreamcatcher was Minx and had five members instead of seven. Hence it has a bit of a tropical kind of sound that takes a bit getting used to, especially after how much dark, aggressive, and fast paced music we’ve gotten so far from Dreamcatcher.

Yes, yes, I know. There were the ballads of course and those were nice contrasts to the heavy lead singles.

And speaking of the ballads does the July 7th chorus sound familiar?

If it does, then you would notice that it’s the same vocal melody as Lullaby, but slightly altered to better fit this tropical house track that I suppose also needs time to grow on me. But once again. What is up with the abrupt endings to the songs on this album?! July 7th does it also…

It’s a shame too because the bassline to this track is quite groovy and does well to compliment the swankier vocal style they were able to experiment with. I would give this song 2/5 because reggae and the whole tropical feel is not really my cup of tea…because…it’s a glass of pineapple juice instead–

(Yeah let’s pretend I didn’t make that shitty joke…)

BUT! I do like the vocal melody and style of this song as well as the nods to Lullaby by not only borrowing its chorus melody, but also having a piano riff that’s similar to Lullaby’s that is snuck into the end of the bridge. So that much I can give them credit for 4/5


Final Thoughts

Like any other Somnia I am proud of what Dreamcatcher has accomplished in the past year and a half since they’ve redebuted. They took the K-Pop world by storm with a unique rock and horror concept with powerful choreography that can only contend with the likes of GFriend whose only similarity to them is the anime intro shtick. But otherwise, the two groups are drastically different from each other in genre.

Despite of the negative criticism I’ve given to this album I think it is still a nice step forward for Dreamcatcher to continue expanding their genre range. It’s interesting to hear what their voices are capable of adapting to, they can do it all; they can rock out, soothe us with a lullaby, or get us to rave dance very embarassingly by accidentally knocking things off your desk, which is something I totally didn’t do when I first heard Sleepwalking off of Prequel.

But yeah…the rocker in me is sorely sorely disappointed from the lack of rock tunes and sensibilities the group is meant for. I loved Escape the Era for them totally owning that sound and I love that the company delayed its release as it gave us a much more polished product with better overall song structures and dynamics, whereas Alone in the City feels a bit rushed to me. There weren’t any memorable moments where I feel like constantly rewinding the song to re-experience them.

For instance when Yoohyeon blasts her power vocals back in after Dami and Handong’s vocal trade in Good Night’s second verse, or when Mayday goes for a soft rendition of its chorus after the bridge right before the full band kicks in. And let’s not forget the pre-chorus of Chase Me, the song that started it all, surprising the hell out of everyone with the distorted guitars there being introduced for the first time ever.

Anyways those are my initial thoughts on Alone in the City. My opinions may change upon more relistens, but that’s how I felt upon a first impression. I am usually conscious of how my expectations for artists cloud my objectivity to enjoy any new music from them, but it always goes three of the same ways:

  1. They defy expectations and I am instantly in love with the new direction.
  2. They defy expectations, but I’m on the fence about it and need time to let it sink in.
  3. They defy expectations and I can’t stand it because either my expectations were too high and/or they simply failed to top what they delivered before no matter how much I try to re-listen to their new stuff

Let’s hope for option number 2 because I like to retain some amount of optimism in life.


Be Sure to Support Dreamcatcher By Purchasing Their Music Through:

  1. iTunes
  2. K-Pop Mart
  3. Yes Asia