Tobby’s Recommendation Yell: nostraightanswer’s specters
Released on May 29, 2020, specters indeed haunted me with its much shorter and darker yet mostly subdued and pensive Vocaloid-human vocal hybrid sound carrying painfully relatable sensitive themes connected to its creator’s fears, the haunting made more powerful by the electronic pop sound I find myself quite inclined to and, later on, inspired by.
Certainly, 21st century humanity has less fear of ghosts and spirits than before, but I like to think that we still tend to look at such beings the wrong way. For example, some folks my age online are having fun unironically wearing devil-themed avatars while vocally roasting heinous sinners according to popular culture, which also tends to refuse to believe in God and/or make up its own gods. Understandable, and we can present as evidence the prevalence and/or popularity of proudly religious people and other oppressive folks, but on the other hand, one can say that being irreligious and the like are religions of their own, no? In other words, sin can thrive either way, and while circumstances can soften its gravity, sin is a decision at its very core, and damage is still damage, no matter how big or how small. And going back to ghosts and spirits, I think all of us who believe in them, whatever sort of faith we have, can agree that it’s a sin to trifle with such beings, no matter how much we think we’re allowed to interact with them.
With that evaluation standard, I think we can say that nostraightanswer, my favorite Anglophone Vocaloid producer, did very well with specters, which I boneheadedly insulted on top of the man himself during the previous year while I proudly praised SYNTECH 0, the more feel-good album that came before it. Now, I like to think that his response was pretty much a successful roast.
Released on May 29, 2020, specters indeed haunted me with its much shorter and darker yet mostly subdued and pensive Vocaloid-human vocal hybrid sound carrying painfully relatable sensitive themes connected to its creator’s fears, the haunting made more powerful by the electronic pop sound I find myself quite inclined to and, later on, inspired by. I don’t think I can say that I’ll ever be able to relate to my favorite Anglophone Vocaloid producer’s second full-length the way he would, but I do think I can now say that he’s yet another person who helped me grow a competitive spirit that also better recognizes people and things that have been humbling me quite well, him and his second full-length included.
So yeah, to me, specters is potent bitter medicine, a powerful acquired taste that took me a long while to get used to. Getting used to it began with “bokeh,” a song about Lupin’s struggles with his eye problems and fears of going totally blind. My ability to relate to such struggles is more or less as good as Fubuki Shirakami with her crazy gushing about glasses, but the song’s astronomical poignancy managed to bring me back to my struggles with the specters of moral and spiritual blindness, enough to push me into an attempt at writing and singing lyrics tackling just that over its instrumental. And then there’s how “bokeh” is quite thematically fitting as the album opener, especially considering how ghosts and the like are normally hard to see and can make a person question their own vision.
And while “bokeh” is about a struggle to have good open eyes, “sleepless” serves as quite the book end with how it’s about a struggle to have good closed eyes. Indeed, it’s pretty amazing how the album ender is the other track that helped me get used to the rest of specters. Of course, I can relate because of my own struggles with having proper sleep, which is probably more common than I think today, but there are also thoughts like “What’s the point of me fighting awake if nightmare aspirations keep me awake?” In other words, even with my self-pepping about the fun in being awake, my lack of proper rest makes me someone trifling with the specter of insomnia instead of being an actually good dream-chaser. The song’s melancholic yet relaxing night-strolling duet over a piano-and-brass-carried instrumental definitely helps it connect to me a lot, too. Like, finally, at least I’m not being pressured into being some woke guy chasing some overrated dreams!
With those two songs, I gained more strength to review specters further. In the end, I realized that my opinion of the album was greatly soured by just one song. But I’ll get to that later, because while specters is bound to disconcert listeners, especially toxic privileged idiots like me, it exhibits a lot more good self-awareness than my weaker eyes of faith had seen at first, making me have a more worthwhile time thinking about and dealing with my own specters as those eyes of mine somehow managed to grow stronger. I’ll explain all that further as I talk about the rest of the album’s tracklist from what I consider least disconcerting to what I consider most disconcerting.
First off is “voicemail,” with its fast-paced and rhythmic sonic picture of unhealthy dependence and inspiring struggles against it. The end is quite obvious, but the journey to it is freaking satisfying. And it’s the least disconcerting to me pretty much because of my struggles with being what folks today call a “simp,” which I like to think is no different from a “stan” or even a fan. Indeed, the specter of unhealthy dependence reminds me of how rotten we’ve made pop culture, if it can be good at all.
Second is “the dots,” with its fascinating play with angelic and enlightenment themes to discuss and attack uncertainty and misdirection. And now I’m realizing that the four-eyed wolfman more or less talked about blindness of the figurative sort as well in specters, and he did it in such a wonderfully calming way. Good job for him, good grief for me.
Third is “wishing well,” with its crumbling attempts at living with self-love disconnected from love for and from others. I think it would be disgusting to the proud but relieving to the humble, especially with the hilariously weak attempts at self-absorbed sass that pop music usually convinces us into emulating. Pretty good follow-up to “bokeh,” too, if we consider how it’s the album’s second track. Combine that with how it’s the first single off the album, and I’m now regretting my stupid insults against specters and the four-eyed wolfman some more.
Fourth is “empty,” with its hard yet humble noise against tempting yet meaningless voids. It could’ve just went on and on about the woes of being empty, but then it makes an awesome drift into a stable fighting stance as the song goes on its way to the final chorus. It’s made even more awe-inspiring by how that part repeats “i don’t wanna be empty anymore” a lot on top of having lyrics that, on paper, should sound edgier and more unconvincing than the overall track managed to make them sound.
Fifth is “last words,” with its slow processing and numb languishing about the death of other people, especially loved ones. It disconcerts me a lot as it evokes a not so disconcerted reaction from me, which reminds me of my excess in care for myself as I try to look strong in the face of death. Lupin and I take it differently, but I guess I can say that we both know the slowness and numbness in struggling to deal with others’ deaths.
Sixth is “don’t watch me die,” with its despairful begging and glitching emotions about oneself dying. I’m more of a guy who would rather die in a blaze of glory, though, so imagining myself singing the song – especially repeating the song’s titular lyrics with their glitching vocals – brings to mind my fear of dying an evil man and my doubt about whether I can truly be a good man while I’m alive, two things I often pervert into a belief where I think that image matters more than integrity, leading me to thoughts where suicide by cop, among other ugly ideas, seems like a great idea to me a lot.
Seventh is “we’ll all be dead,” with its somber fire about and enduring rebellion against apocalypses, particularly the sort induced by class struggle, social injustice, and environmental abuse. What it gets from me is a combination and amplification of the fears I discussed with “last words” and “don’t watch me die.” To be more exact, it reminds me of my obsession with control and image and the thought that I’d struggle with that obsession worse and drag the rest of humanity with me into total moral and spiritual destruction if I let myself vainly charge upward in society one way or another. Still, while it reminds me about the doom and gloom in the world and how we can make it worse, there’s this sense of being humbled into also remembering that we can still make things truly good and better, hard it may be to do.
Eighth is “face to face,” with its sassy “queens > kings” strutting that’s now part of the forces that make me want to challenge and love face-to-face a woman who’s actually stronger than me on top of being another track that makes me want to learn more about ways to more healthily handle fans, myself included. As for why this is the penultimate disconcerting specters track to me, well, I think it’s because of how much I’m really enjoying it, even when I see myself as the target of the song. Like, dude, that sassy sound is hypnotic enough to help a repentant enough stalker actually strive to turn over a new leaf! It reminds me of “Just Deserts,” a Lupin-produced track I first learned about through Circus-P’s Spectrum. Yet again, our dear four-eyed wolfman gives me freaking welcome surprises with his beautifully sassy pop.
And the last is what I consider the album’s one and only crap song, “lies in their blood,” with its understandably confusing yet pitifully violent attempt at tackling gun violence that rings more like a hot take knockoff of “we’ll all be dead” (which also happens to be the track preceding “lies in their blood”) than a thoughtful protest about one part of the tricky web that is violence. The twitchy and snappy beat makes it even worse, especially with how appealing it sounds to me, and all that makes something pretty undermining to the tightroping wonders that the rest of the tracklist has been making. I admit that I’m a toxic privileged straight man who made dumb and dumber writing about this on top of a wonky attempt at musically mirroring that foolish forcefulness back to its creator, but still, I find “lies in their blood” a foolishly forceful piece that stoops down to the level of monsters like me, and if there is any way to truly consider it otherwise, I dearly wish someone can convince me about it.
But hey, at the very least, my appreciation for specters wouldn’t be what it is now without the impact of what I still call its weakest song. In my attempts at protesting against it, not only was I pushed to face the painful truth of another bunch of my attempts at boosting my pride than my love, I was also pushed to discover the wonderful truth of the beauty beneath the other tracks of specters and the album itself as a whole. Within its part of the Vocaloid scene where edginess is so dominant, specters manages to pose a probably even better challenge than SYNTECH 0 managed to achieve, what with how specters played with the doom and gloom of popular Anglophone Vocaloid music not only in individual tracks but also as a collective body. The ghosts are shown, indeed, but they’re delivered more like an ordinary piece of real life with all its ups and downs making and inspiring sense no matter how much attention and attacks it gets, and less like one among many run-of-the-mill reality shows thriving on exaggeration and shock value against an audience being looked down on no matter how much cursing or coddling said audience is perceived to deserve. Lupin’s wounds and breaks are exposed, but I can feel that they’re also being patched up and/or worked around, even as I’m reminded that healing and living are also hard processes. That process of understanding is something that I failed to do as I slacked off on doing my part to be the change I want to be and worried more about how much other people cared about my own wounds and breaks and healing and living. I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book while trying to keep another person from getting suckered by such tricks again. And I still feel like there are a lot more undiscovered and undiscussed wonders in specters, wonders which I think I should leave to others to discover and discuss.
With all that said, I guess specters is my favorite nostraightanswer album now. And again, I’ve been humbled by the popular enemies of my kind, that kind of mine being toxic privileged straight men. God Almighty and His power over real life certainly works a lot better than this essay’s arrogant idiot writer wants, alright.
So yeah, I’m really sorry for that crap I gave you, Lupin, and thank you very much again for your freaking beautiful work. Also, if you need a good target to humiliate, then hey, here’s me, whether I like it or not.