I've been listening to The Protomen lately. A lot. So much so that it's probably driving my friends completely bonkers. So much so that they're probably starting to wonder how much of a Megafan I am. So much so that they're probably starting to wonder how deeply obsessive I may be.
Only that's not it at all.
Strike that. I am obsessed. Absolutely.
There are these things that matter, these things that people either dismiss as unimportant or irrelevant, or have forgotten entirely (not unlike the citizens of The City). Things like cohesive composition. In music, "appropriate" narrative and emotional impact - BEYOND just identifying personally with the subject matter - are things that I've not seen in years.
Truth told, I'm not sure I've ever seen it in my entire life.
But this is not a dissertation on the decline of the state of the (concept) album, as I'm hardly informed or old enough to write it. Nor is this is a qualification on the state of music in general, as I feel that everything has its place and can (and should) be appreciated in its own ways for its own merits.
This is instead a public service announcement. This message in my head and in my proverbial heart that is simply ACHING to get out, and I hope beyond hope that I express it well enough to convince a few souls to go out, invest a little time and attention, then re-evaluate and reinterpret what they discover, many times over. This is to say that there is a something in the world now that wasn't here before. Something that makes me feel in ways I've never experienced, due largely to the quality and totality of its composition, and the expert hands that crafted it (and little to do with the fact that it's "Mega Man").
This is a message to every "you" willing to read, that you (yes, you - I am speaking to You) should go out right now, and find for yourself a copy of The Protomen's catalogue; (as yet) a "mere" two album discography, readily available for purchase through their website or via more immediate means online.*
Destructoid briefly commented on the fact that their newest album was recently released, but not much was said as to why you should CARE.
When was the last time you listened to a cohesive album? I'm not referring to an artist whose tone or style is consistent throughout a track list, but rather an album with an overarching narrative, established lyrically, emotionally, and musically; thematically. An album that was - instead of a collection of singles - built as a singular entity. Written with specific and deliberate intent. A story crying to be told that finds its way into the voices of those worthy to tell it.
(I find the concept not unlike musical theatre, save for that I've known few musicals to affect me even remotely near so powerfully as I've been affected by the music of The Protomen; a conversation for another time.)
For me, the answer is that I've never listened to what I now define as a "cohesive album". I'm tracing lines back through my musical tastes, exploring every song I've ever loved, yet.. nothing.
This is not to say that this "thing" isn't out there. I'm sure that it is, and I intend (see also: yearn) to find more stories presented in such a beautiful fashion. But again, that conversation is not this conversation, and can wait for another time.
The first time I ever listened to "The Protomen" (here I refer to their first album), I found it to be a disjointed mess. I found its sounds grating. Internally, I interpreted the majority of the songs as "noise". Now this probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was exceptionally disappointed that the entire album was not as I'd come to appreciate the epic, operatic style of "The Stand (Man or Machine)". When you expect a certain kind of sound, it's hard not to dismiss the remainder as crap, especially if its aesthetic is vastly divergent.
For this reason, I turned my back on the album for months.
Eventually I found my way back and decided to listen to it one evening, while also pulling up some lyrics from a random website. Fortunately for me, the site that I found included - in addition to the lyrical dialogue - those supplemental story elements intended as part of the collective product. You see, the physical copies of The Protomen's albums have a much deeper and more involved narrative (told in the italicized font of the liner notes) than the song lyrics themselves actually convey (even though those lyrics do stand incredibly well on their own).
So it wasn't until I was immersing myself in both the lyrics and the story - attempting to read at the same pace as the music I was listening to was playing - that I discovered how remarkably well-crafted the songs actually were. At the time, I found myself surprised and thought it to be an incredibly cohesive work, thematically, but ever since the release of "Act II: The Father of Death", it's expressly clear to me how much The Protomen have developed during their "off" time, and that their latest release is "superior" to the first, though in a justifiable and appropriate sense; they've simply expanded from it.
All this with Mega Man.
Mega Man, for cryin' out loud!
That's one of the things I love most about it. Not the relationship to Mega Man itself, but the fact that the Mega Man franchise has always stood upon a rather flimsy and superficial narrative, and they built upon it. Beyond the original six games, I've cared little about the "story" that Capcom has attempted to tell, save for the fact that the origin story always holds to some universal constants:
Dr. Thomas Light and Dr. Albert Wily once worked together, for the "betterment" of mankind.
The original six robot masters were developed by both Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, and intended to relieve man of some degree of technological burden.
Dr. Albert Wily "stole" the robots in order to enact designs of "world domination".
Dr. Light met this threat with the creation/alteration of Mega Man.
Protoman is the precursor/brother to Mega Man.
There's a live-action Mega Man fan film coming out. I admit that I have no interest in this thing. No interest at all. It looks.. silly. It looks like a transplant of the video-game story to "film". The problem with this is that it doesn't allow for the fact that video-games and movies are two entirely different mediums. This doesn't allow for the fact that people didn't play the first Mega Man for its eloquent dialogue or sophisticated plot. This doesn't allow for the fact that - for most intents and purposes - Mega Man is an extremely cartoonish thing, most especially when directly translated for the screen.
The Protomen either understood this fact and "re-invented" the story of Mega Man for their purposes, or simply knew what story they wanted to tell and said story wasn't at all incongruous with those aforementioned constants. They saw that this story was not a story at all, but rather a synopsis of the REAL story; mere bullet points pointing the way to Truth. They saw all of this - this precious resource just waiting to be unearthed - equipped themselves for the task, and then mined the deeper wells of context and nuance underneath and all around.
"Much that was called religion has carried an unconscious attitude of hostility toward life. True religion must teach that life is filled with joys pleasing to the eye of God, that knowledge without action is empty. All men must see that the teaching of religion by rules and rote is largely a hoax. The proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail because it awakens within you that sensations which tells you this is something you've always known."
They saw the story that Mega Man has tried and always wanted to be since the very start, and they set it free.
This is not novelty.
This is not kitsch.
This is not fan service.
In their songs, The Protomen seldom make explicit reference to the franchise proper. They drop but a few names in the first album, and not at all in the second. They seldom do anything more than allude to or imply any relation to the games themselves. Point of fact, the second album does NOTHING at all to suggest that it has anything to do with Mega Man, save for that the artists who crafted it are named for a character within, and that there are occasional musical or thematic references to the first album; a recognized Mega Man work.
Beyond that. Nothing. NOTHING to give away the secret that this is.. shh.. video-game related.
My Suggestion / My Recommendation / My Request / My Favour / My Plea:
Find these albums, any way that you can*. Dedicate less than two hours of your life to listen to and read and feel the story that The Protomen have crafted and tell. It's not much that I'm asking of you, and I wouldn't ask something of "strangers" if I wasn't so sure of the value in it; if I wasn't so sure that there was something for you to appreciate.
I'm not doing this for myself, or even for The Protomen. I don't give a flying frak if I
change any minds, but rather that you all get out there and do it. That you all get out there and find this thing that deserves to be known.
Deserves to be appreciated.
Note: It's especially important that you read the lyrics or the booklet while listening. Knowing precisely who is speaking and saying what to whom is of great value. Knowing the environment and circumstances outside of the characters' dialogue only serves to greater supplement the story as a whole.
Do NOT put the albums on while cooking. Do NOT put the albums on while playing a game. Sit down and treat yourself to an experience. A juxtaposition of words and emotions and sounds that should make you feel shaken. Powerful. Beautiful.
Treat yourself to what music CAN be.
Not convinced to even give it a shot? Not convinced to spend even those two hours?
Well then, at the very least, do THIS for me. Listen to this
while reading this
. If you don't feel or like anything about this music by the time Wily says, "Well you forget who turned this city on. You forget who plugged this city in!", then maybe these guys just aren't for you. (Unthinkable.)
Thank you for your time,
*I am not endorsing the act of piracy, but rather the act of learning and spreading as much information as possible, giving credit and compensation to those deserving whenever possible.