I keep swearing off Homestuck and everything related to it. I keep telling myself I’m not going back, that I’m going to ignore whatever antics Hussie and his fans get up to. It’s not like my tastes need to dictate what the rest of the internet does or likes, and it’s not pleasant for anyone when I end up ranting. Some people like webcomics that I don’t and I’m fine with that! Let them have their fun, I say. For the most part, I’m actually quite good at dodging things that would get up my nose, quite good at avoiding Homestuck altogether. My friends that read and enjoy the comic are well aware of my opinions and mostly simply avoid engaging me on the subject. Sometimes, though, sometimes, they’re just so enamored with some aspect of the comic or its vast fanworks that they simply have to share. They’re convinced that this thing will be the thing that warms my frosty heart, that this thing will finally change my mind. It’s usually easiest to simply say “Alright, show me,” watch or read whatever generally-inoffensive thing they’re latching onto now, and apologize when it simply doesn’t blow my skirt up. And then we move on with our day and our lives, and everyone’s happy.
Sometimes, though, sometimes, this thing they force on me is so banal, poorly-executed, offensive, or just plain bad that I have to say something. Today marks another such occasion. Today’s irritation-fodder is one of the newest albums the Huss crew cranked out: entitled “The Wanderers” (or should that be The Wanderers? I’m not sure of the protocol for album titles), it’s ostensibly designed to provide some tone and atmosphere for the post-apocalyptic exiles the way Alterniabound and Alternia set the aural stage for the trolls’ stories. Whether those albums did that or not and their quality isn’t the issue I’m tackling today; I simply bring them up to clarify what I’m getting at.
As Homestuck dragged on and more and more music was released, I became gradually disenchanted with their collective styles and works. I no longer expect any kind of overall quality from any Homestuck-related album, and thus wouldn’t bother posting here if I simply thought “The Wanderers” was bad. In fact, compared to other recent releases, it’s actually rather good. Not in a void, mind you, but when put up against disappointing musical abortions like The Felt, it fares rather well. There’s a catchy, listenable song or two, but that’s about all the good I can say of it.
No, the reason this album has piqued me isn’t just because it’s ignorably mediocre. It’s not because of its trademark Awful Track By Radiation. It’s not even because it feels like just another monthly album churned out by uninterested musicians in a desperate bid for revenue from a source ready to snap anything up that has the Homestuck label that does nothing to enhance the comic or story. Any and all of those things would simply have made it a typical Homestuck album. What makes this one noteworthy and especially awful is much more subtle.
The first thing, and in fact the first thing that occurred to me as I listened, is the overall instrumentation. In contrast to most albums released by this team, which are characterized by grating synth guitars, plonky synth harpsichords, and chiptunes of all flavors, this one is filled with ouds and zurnas. Melodies are carried by breathy flutes, and the overall impression is “Bazaar level from an SNES game”. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. I’m actually rather offended that the entirety of the Middle-Eastern musical tradition and instrumentation has been boiled down simply to provide a “sandy” feel. I’m similarly put off that an entire group of musicians saw a bunch of suffering characters in robes toiling in the desert and made the decision based solely on that (despite the fact that said characters are in America!) to give near every song a sound-palate pulled straight from Lawrence of Arabia.
It’s as though to them, all there is to any country between Austria and China is just camels and oases. You can’t even argue that it’s a respectful use of a legitimate musical genre or tradition to set a mood; the songs themselves lacks any kind of grounding in actual Middle-Eastern music. They’re just the same old thing, but with a different texture slapped on. And, frankly, I’m fairly certain that even the instruments are a careless mishmash of different regions and eras, slapdashedly tossed together with no care for their actual use.
To add to the absurdity, the album is tagged both “ethnic” and “ethnoelectronic”. I certainly wasn’t aware that “Carapace American” was an ethnicity! This whole thing smacks of thoughtless co-opting and an ignorant, childish view of non-Western cultures.
On top of all that, even if there were no unfortunate implications in the instrument choice and album design… It’s lazy. Unabashedly, indefensibly lazy. Rather than work hard to create the atmosphere they wanted, rather than blaze new or novel musical ground to evoke the idea of a desert, they simply decided “The whiny oboes those brown people play make me think of sand. Let’s use those!”; it’s dull, uninspired, and banal. It’s the worst kind of musical shorthand. Next up will be an album about Jade’s pre-SBurb life: every song will prominently feature steel drums and a funky beat. Because she’s on an island, you see. EDIT: I’ve been reminded that Jade’s album will not include steel drums; rather, it will primarily use her spirit instrument, the koto. I had completely forgotten about the musicians’ and Hussie’s decision to use an iconic Japanese instrument in the theme for a girl with black hair, big, round glasses, and buck teeth. Probably because I actively try to forget that.
Even setting allll that aside, even ignoring the low quality, offensiveness, and lack of originality, there’s this track. I can hear you now, hypothetical reader. “I don’t really think all that stuff about the Middle East is that offensive, Regina! You’re just oversensitive. This album isn’t bad, and you’re just full of sour grapes. I mean, it’s not like they pointlessly and blatantly lifted music from a video game again!” Ahaha, but that’s where you’re wrong, O figment of my imagination: I’d encourage you to give a listen to Schala’s theme, from everyone’s favorite JRPG, Chrono Trigger.
With the exception of one measure, the background parts in these two pieces are tonally identical. This goes beyond sampling, beyond referencing, beyond homages. This is simply a direct lift of a well-known melody by a respected composer. Despite or because of the ridiculousness of the melody’s inclusion, I can’t even puzzle out why Malcolm Brown decided to use it. It doesn’t add significantly to the piece beyond what a similar-but-original melody would have. It’s not even particularly organic to the rest of the music. And then, after overtly and pointlessly aping Schala’s theme, it goes on to morph into a leitmotif that has nothing to do with anything related to the exiles or their stories! It’s just… Everything about this track is ridiculous.
Overall, I am completely disgusted with this album. It’s awful, I hate it, and I felt the internet deserved to know.
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