“Each and Every Phantom” now on sale!

My first project with Amazon hit a few bumps, but I went into this knowing it was a learning process.

One of those bumps is not such a terrible thing. As of today, “Each and Every Phantom” is live in e-book format! That is a few days earlier than intended, but it’s probably best that it went up before a weekend, anyways.

You can find the e-book at the link below! Thank you to everyone who helped in its cultivation. A paperback version is in the works, we’re just busy ironing out some technical details. Updates on that will come further down the pipeline.

If you read it, I would be grateful for a review, good or bad. The Kindle app is free and can be downloaded from Amazon directly.

Thanks, all.


Back from the Dead

Here we are, back from the dead, and I come with an announcement.

My first foray into the kaleidoscopic, harrowing territory of self-publication is just beyond the horizon. This February, my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom,” will be finding a home in Amazon’s in-house publishing service. The exact date is yet to be announced, but will be posted here as soon as it’s confirmed.

Loren Stump (@acrylix91 on Instagram) did me the honor of designing the cover, which is beautiful and everything I could have wanted.

Updates and details to come as we approach release.

Thanks all you happy people.

Cooper D Barham — Published Works Compendium — 08/19/18

The proceeding is a complete list of works I’ve had published across the internet, in descending order from newest to oldest. The first half includes all of my publications with Geeks Under Grace, where I’ve been a content creator since mid-2014 and department editor since early 2018. The second half includes all publications to my personal writing blog, including my serialization of “Anarchy” which ran through 2015. Aside from “Anarchy,” “Iscariot,” and a few short stories in the early days of the blog, none of my prose writing has been formally published.

Geeks Under Grace

“Review: Tokyo Godfathers” published 08/13/18

Our Favorite Humor in Anime published 07/23/18

“Review: Banana Fish — Episode 1” published 07/20/18

“Review: My Hero Academia — Season 2” published 06/29/18

“Review: Violet Evergarden” published 06/20/18

“Anime: Dubs VS Subs” published 06/08/18

“Review: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku — Episode 1” published 06/06/18

“GUG Community’s Favorite Anime” published 06/04/18

“Exploring Suicide in Anime: An Analysis of the Medium” published 04/06/18

“The Most Underrated Anime Soundtracks” published 03/19/18

“Review: Made in Abyss — Season 1” published 01/22/18

“Violet Evergarden: Episode 1” published 01/20/18

“The Junji Ito Collection — Episode 1” published 01/13/18

“How Weekly Shonen Jump is Evolving” published 01/01/18

“Our Favorite Anime Christmas Episodes” published 12/25/17

“Review: Boruto: Naruto Next Generation — Season 1” published 12/22/17

“22 Terms Every Anime Fan Should Know” published 11/06/17

“Remove One Character From an Anime to Make it Better” published 10/20/17

“9 Anime YouTubers Worth Watching” published 10/16/17

“The History of Anime — Part 3” published 10/13/17

“The History of Anime — Part 2” published 09/18/17

“What is Your Favorite Anime Power or Ability?” published 09/15/17

“The History of Anime — Part 1” published 10/21/17

“The Apostle Paul’s Favorite Anime” published 08/14/17

“Review: Little Witch Academia” published 08/11/17

“Review: Made in Abyss — Episode 1” published 08/07/17

“Review: Shoukoku no Altair — Episode 1” published 07/25/17

“What Makes Your Perfect Anime?” published 06/17/17

“Anime Characters Who Deserve Their Own Series” published 05/26/17

“Review: Clockwork Planet — Episode 1” published 05/05/17

“Who Is Your Anime Husbando/Waifu?” published 05/02/17

“The Moment Digimon Forgot It Was a Kid’s Show” published 04/20/17

“Review: Boruto: Naruto Next Generation — Episode 1” published 04/12/17

“Review: My Hero Academia — Episode 14” published 04/02/17

“Review: Kill La Kill” published 03/16/17

“Avatar’s Bending in Our Modern World” published 03/06/17

“What is the Best Gateway Anime?” published 01/27/17

“Review: Little Witch Academia — Episode 1” published 01/09/17

“Review: Taboo Tattoo” published 01/04/17

“How Could Christian Stories Benefit From Anime Adaptation?” published 12/28/16

“Dragon Ball’s Most Foolish Character” published 12/13/16

“Review: My Hero Academia — Season 1” published 11/22/16

“Akame Ga Kill! and Affording Redemption” published 09/23/16

“Review: Orange — Episode 2” published 09/11/16

“Review: Orange — Episode 1” published 09/03/16

“Review: Taboo Tattoo — Episode 3” published 08/13/16

“Villains & Sympathizing With Evil” published 08/02/16

“Review: Taboo Tattoo — Episode 2” published 07/25/16

“Top 8 Tournaments in Fiction” published 07/20/16

“Review: Taboo Tattoo — Episode 1” published 07/19/16

“Video Games and Coming to Terms with the End” published 07/01/16

“Review: Twin Star Exorcists — Episode 5” published 06/13/16

“Singer/Songwriter Christina Grimmie Has Passed Away — Can I Say Something?” published 06/11/16

“Review: Twin Star Exorcists — Episode 4” published 06/01/16

“Geek Week: A Testimonial” — published 05/21/16

“Review: Twin Star Exorcists — Episode 3” published 04/29/16

“Review: Twin Star Exorcists — Episode 2” published 04/27/16

“Review: Twin Star Exorcists — Episode 1” published 04/23/16

“Lyric Review: ‘What Sarah Said’ by Deathcab for Cutie” published 04/17/16

“Review: The Gamer’s Guide to the Kingdom of God” published 03/31/16

“Review: The Reason: How I Discovered A Life Worth Living” published 03/23/16

“Why I Find Dark Media Appealing” published 01/29/16

“A Geek’s Guide to Analyzing Video Games…” published 01/15/16

“Ten of the Most Endearing Canines in Video Games” published 11/25/15

“Review: Life is Strange — Episode 5” published 11/03/15

“Why I Grieve Monster Tamer Video Games” published 09/06/15

“Review: Life is Strange — Episode 4” published 08/12/15

“Review: Super Meat Boy” published 07/12/15

“What I Learned From My First Steam Summer Sale” published 07/06/15

“Review: Splatoon” published 06/14/15

“Review: Life is Strange — Episode 3” published 05/27/15

“Review: Mirror’s Edge” published 05/20/15

“Review: The Kingkiller Chronicle” published 04/24/15

“Review: Life is Strange — Episode 2” published 03/31/15

“Review: Perspective” published 03/14/15

“‘Rape’ as Video Game Vernacular” published 03/10/15

“Review: Shiftlings” published 03/07/15

“Top 10 Video Game Diseases, Viruses, & Parasites” published 02/26/15

“Review: Life is Strange — Episode 1” published 02/23/15

“Review: This War of Mine” published 02/14/15

“Video Games 101: Developers, Pioneers of an Industry” published 02/11/15

“Preview: Besiege” published 02/11/15

“The Power of Fear and Why I Pray For Anger” published 01/16/15

“Kingdom Hearts III “Confirmed” for 2015 Release By Voice Actor” published 01/09/15

“Review: Digimon (Season 2)” published 01/01/15

“Retro Review: Megaman Legends” published 12/22/14

“Iscariot — Original Short Story” published 12/15/14

“Review: Infamous: Second Son” published 12/07/14

“Writing Excuses — A Podcast for the Aspiring or Established Author” published 12/06/14

“Review: Digimon — Season 1” published 12/17/14

“Naruto: a Dedication to 15 Years” published 11/15/14

“Video Games 101: The Perception of Video Games as a Sport” published 10/19/14

“Review: Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut) published 10/18/14

“Review: Super Smash Bros. For 3DS)” published 10/08/14

“Review: The Lightbringer Series” published 08/18/14

“Review: Legion” published 09/23/14

“Video Games 101: Best-Selling Consoles & Games” published 09/01/14

“The Game that Will Destroy Your Soul” published 08/24/14

“Two Week Rock Devotional Part 2” published 08/20/14

“Two Week Rock Devotional Part 1” published 08/13/14

“Review: Ready Player One” published 08/11/14

“Review: Tales of Xillia” published 08/08/14

“Review: The Last of Us” published 07/29/14

“A Level-Up Program” published 07/28/14

“31 Reasons You Should Read Bakuman” published 07/22/14

“Review: The Rithmatist” published 07/15/14

“Review: The Emperor’s Soul” published 07/08/14

“Video Games 101: The Burning Question” published 07/04/14

“Review: Edge of Tomorrow Vs. All You Need Is Kill (Part 2)” published 06/28/14

“Review: Edge of Tomorrow Vs. All You Need Is Kill (Part 1)” published 06/23/14

“Review: Bobby Dollar — Your Friendly, Sarcastic Neighborhood Angel” published 06/20/14

THE PUPPET KITCHEN — cooperdbarhamwriter.com

“A YouTuber Worth Exploring” published 06/17/18

“Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 5/5)” published 12/18/17

“Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 4/5)” published 12/17/17

“Top 50 Instrumentals Songs (Part 3/5)” published 12/16/17

“Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 2/5)” published 12/15/17

“Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 1/5)” published 12/14/17

“Thoughts from the Kitchen (#5 — Bad Obligations)” published 09/17/17

“Thoughts From the Kitchen (#4 — I Want to be a Hero, Too)” published 08/13/17

“Thoughts From the Kitchen (#3 — Ten-Thousand Voices)” published 07/17/17

“Review: All is Vanity by Christina Grimmie” published 06/17/17

“Something Sad, Like Usual — Original Poem” published 06/08/17

“The Puppet Masters (#7 — Dedicating a Book to its Character) published 06/06/17

“Visiting Tropes (#2 — Syndromes & Curses) published 05/29/17

“The Puppet Masters (#6 — Busy, or Lazy?) published 05/26/17

“Thoughts From the Kitchen (#2 — My War Against the Beginning) published 05/20/17

“Bloody, Merry — Original Poem” published 05/05/17

“I Want to Play Piano, Dad — Original Poem” published 04/29/17

“Visiting Tropes (#1 — Hey, Bandages are Cool) published 03/29/17

“The Puppet Masters (#5 — We, the Failures) published 09/08/16

“The Puppet Masters (#4 — Magic, & Sanderson’s Laws) published 08/29/16

“Neil Gaiman on Heartbreak” published 08/29/16

“The Puppet Masters (#3 — On Writing) published 08/16/16

“The Puppet Masters (#2 — Judgment)” published 08/04/16

“Brother, My Brother” — Original Horror Short Story

“Final Thoughts. Christina Grimmie, the Girl with a Full Heart” published 06/18/16

“Singer/Songwriter Christina Grimmie Has Passed Away. Can I Say Something?” published 06/11/16 (Also appears on Geeks Under Grace)

“The Puppet Masters (#1 — Test Your Might)” published 06/09/16

“30 Day SFFH Writing Challenge” published 06/08/16

“Thoughts From the Kitchen (#1 — Organized Chaos) published 05/30/16

“Challenge Month, Day 5” published 04/10/16

“Challenge Month, Day 4” published 04/09/16

“Challenge Month, Day 3” published 04/08/16

“Challenge Month, Day 2” published 04/07/16

“Challenge Month, Day 1” published 04/06/16

“Update: 03/21/16” published 03/21/16

“Leave ‘Em Laughing — An Exercise in Myth-Crafting” published 03/18/16

“Update: 02/23/16” published 02/23/16

“The Appeal of Dark Media” published 02/10/16

“Hymni’s Broken Gift — An Exercise in Myth-Crafting” published 02/04/16

“The Spirit of Color — An Exercise in Surreal Prose” published 01/21/16

“Update 01/14/16” published 01/14/16

“An Exercise in Alliteration (Ben vs. the Asteroid)” published 01/12/16

“That One Time I Was Interviewed” published 01/06/16

“Update: 01/06/15” published 01/06/16

“The Ghost of Christmas Never — Original Short Story” published 12/21/15

“Papa’s Little Girl — Original Short Story” published 07/21/15

“The Drums — Original Short Story” published 07/03/15

“The Red Thread of Fate — Original Poem” published 07/03/15

“Ghost — Original Short Story” published 07/03/15

“The Interview — Original Short Story” published 07/03/15

“Daughter of the Rain — Original Short Story” published 07/03/15

“Disposable — Original Short Story” published 07/03/15

ANARCHY — Original Serialization, published between July 8th and October 22nd, 2015.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14


A Youtuber Worth Exploring

So a couple months ago I found a writing gem in the form of this sassy, hilariously self-deprecating character known as Jenna Moreci.  Jenna is, at her own admission, a bit rough around the edges.  But this is also one of her greatest strengths, and I doubt I would have gone through half her upload history if she were as tame as other writing-centric Youtube creators.

Jenna is a bona fide, published author who is eager to share not only her advice on the various topics which orbit writing and publication, but her own personal goals and the progress she makes towards each.  She’ll call herself and/or you a variety of colorfully crude things, but she means well, I promise.

Sometimes her fiance Cliff will be on the video with her, and you can only expect fun times when their chemistry begins to show.

This is one of the only few Youtubers where I have that little notification bell clicked, so I can see what she shares as soon as it goes up. I highly recommend checking her out.  Some of my favorite of her videos are:

1. Her Quarterly Goal Videos

2. Any of the double-team videos with both Jenna and Cliff

3. This weird habits of writers video

4. And any of her “pet peeves” videos


Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 5/5)

This is the fifth in a five-part series to be released daily, in which I unpack my favorite instrumental songs in the history of, well, ever. Narrowing this list down was obviously difficult. There were four “waves” needed to thin out the contestants from my library of thousands, and once we got below one-hundred it was like pulling teeth.

Yet, I stayed true to my original goal of fifty, for my own sake, and not compromise that number. I wanted to know for myself what I believed were my favorites among the gallery of songs I so dearly love.  This following list is the conclusion of those struggles.  They are not in order.  Simply getting a pool of them was hard enough.  I do wish to leave with my sanity.

Many are favored because of their execution and style, while others, because of a particular attachment or association they have with my personal life.  With each entry will be a short blurb, explaining why it belongs. And for a disclaimer: if I couldn’t understand what language they were singing in, I considered the vocals as their own independent instruments, and thus things like Gregorian chants do not disqualify songs from being “instrumentals.”


#41 – “Atonement” by Masashi Hamauzu

My all-time favorite song, in-and-outside of instrumental music, accounting for all genres and all phases over the course of my nearly twenty-seven years of life. In the beginning, I didn’t think much more of it than “mmm, what a bittersweet sound,” but with time and repetition, it wiggled its way into the soft, squishy parts of my heart, and nested there.  I am not going to boast of its technical or emotional merits.  Just please do me the favor of listening to it a couple of times, and if you find it not capturing you right away, return later.  It is not for all moments of life, but imperative to a specific few which matter.  I hope you are fortunate enough to find this song in one of those times.

#42 – “Soul Battles” by Ryan Taubert

Similar to “Time” from Inception, “Soul Battles” darkly shines with a heavy, swaying sadness. It is the sound of somebody who is being overcome. I’m going to waylay my usual blurb for these entries.  Just let the music carry you away to the trenches.

#43 – “Kakariko Village” by Koji Kondo (performed by the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony)

This famous track from The Legend of Zelda practically oozes good feelings.  I feel safe when I hear this song.  I feel home.  This song precludes the adventure, showcasing the mystified daydreams of a hero-to-be, before he picks up the blade.  “Kakariko Village” is quaint, just like the village itself in every incarnation of Zelda.  I’m not the world’s biggest Zelda fan, but Link to the Past was one of the first games I ever played, and I would sometimes just leave my character sitting in the middle of the village to hear the soothing overture.  They brought perspective and optimism whenever I was feeling lost or uncertain in my direction.  It still makes me feel that way.  And for a song to be able to do that is nothing short of phenomenal.

#44 – “Kindred Spirits” by REEN

I think the image in the above video does a pretty good job of capturing my feelings towards this song.  “Kindred Spirits” is gingerly, romantically tragic.  An honest love, cracked down the middle by external powers.  Romeo and Juliet, except believable, and actually sad.  If I walked in on the scene depicted in that video, in that lighting…yeah, I can see how this song would fit.

#45 – “Friends” by Yoko Kanno

I have no idea what this show is about.  I’ve never seen Wolf’s Rain, but I discovered its soundtrack around the time I was reading a series called Bakuman.  A major theme in Bakuman is that of friendship and camaraderie, to which this song appropriately fits.  Yet, despite the earnestness of the track, it’s very clearly a song of bittersweet quality.  I suspect it originally plays in Wolf’s Rain to the scene of a friend dying, or having already passed and being reflected upon.  At any rate, that piano lacerates my strength.  I am made somber beneath its gentle might, just in time to be done in by the violins which follow after.  We approach the conclusion with a dirge of aching woodwinds, playing notes so low, they’re practically whispers.  Whispers between friends.  A promise to never forget one another.

#46 – “Ascending into Naught” by Demetori

(Despite the picture above, this is not from an anime…just a video game with anime aesthetics.)

It was difficult to narrow down one favorite from the Japanese metal band Demetori, but, gun to my head, I’d have to go with “Ascending Into Naught.”  This song has been on my workout playlists since my friend introduced me to it in college. The colliding harmony of layered guitars—some riding power chords, the others flying through high notes— synchronize perfectly with the piano to create what sounds to me like a grade-A, final boss video game track.  You can even tell when the final boss would go on its last leg.  Near the 5:48 mark, a slaughtering drum-line breaks through a tasteful lull in the energy of the song, ushering it to new heights, in which the guitars and piano/synth run a gauntlet of increased stress and speed and rioting awesomeness.

This song is crazy, it’s epic, and it’s so much fun.  Just like everything Demetori does.

#47 – “Beyond” by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer

When people describe something which is “epic,” they are referring to scope and magnitude.  If something is epic, it is of great consequence, usually world-altering in nature, involving hundreds, if not thousands, millions, or billions of moving pieces.

If I were to describe “Beyond” in any two words, it would be as the spiritual incarnation of “epic sorrow.”  This is the dirge which follows a long, hard-fought battle, and things did not turn out well.  As the siren-like strings slowly crescendo, they build into a drop which plunges your heart into your feet.  This song is the sound of hope dying, as all the world weeps.  It, and the game it comes from (Beyond: Two Souls) were the original seed from which my own story, “Doubting Puppet,” was founded.

#48 – “Between Worlds” by Roger Subirana Mata

I’m sorry the world is not what it should be—that the crack in your chest has held on despite all these years of trying to make it go away. I’m sorry people are not always patient, not always kind. I’m sorry that sometimes neither am I. I’m sorry you’ve lost friends, in however way that might have happened. Tragedy is not always necessary in losing someone important. I’m sorry your heart doesn’t always feel big enough or strong enough.  I’m sorry your mind doesn’t always feel as though it can persist through the gales of stress which blow your way.

I’m sorry people don’t understand, can’t understand, or won’t understand.  Please forgive them.  Please forgive yourself, because you know sometimes it’s hard for you to understand, too.  That’s not your fault, it’s just the way of things.  We do the best with what we have, and as long as you are doing all you can, no fault can be justly held against you.

#49 – “Farewell, Life” by Arn Andersson & Nights Amore

One of the saddest songs I know.  Dangerously sad.  It should not be consumed without caution, and definitely not over an extended period of time.  Beneath the heartbreaking rhythm, a seduction is taking place, a parasitic spirit of hurt which will slowly drain you of vitality if you’re not careful, and lead you into thoughts of obliteration, however hypothetical.  That said, it is beautiful.  The ocean in a grey morning, not a stir to be seen, despite the cool gust tossing your hair.  Froth on the rocks.  A quiet harbor town.

“Farewell, Life,” is a deathbed anthem.  It’s what plays in the miasma of the spiritual plane when one of our own passes over, eyes clicking shut for the last time.  Songs like this are important.  They help us remember death isn’t necessarily bad or scary.  But it is significant, and should never be forgotten.

#50 – “Super Saiyan 3” by Bruce Faulconer

80’s Hair-metal ain’t got nothin’ on this. ^^^

There is a special place in my nerdy heart for many of the Super Saiyan themes.  This one is arguably my favorite (there was much internal debating).  Where the theme from Goku’s original ascension carried with it the sound of a legend being born—mystical and slow—and Gohan’s theme from reaching Super Saiyan 2 showed him surpass his father—chilling and violent—the Super Saiyan 3 Theme is something else entirely.  In Goku’s own meme-ified words, it is “to go even further beyond.”

This is the song of the ultimate hero, one who has found the final ceiling of their own potential, and somehow managed to push through it.  When the heroes of Dragon Ball Z first reached Super Saiyan, they were quick to realize there was something beyond it, a perfected form.  Super Saiyan 2 was achieved: the natural end to their evolution.  But Goku, he invented a level beyond that, something he and only he had ever done.

Super Saiyan 3 was an impossibility, creating one’s own reality from just being that awesome.  While the transformation in-series had the least emotional build-up and impact, it was no doubt memorable for its sheer confidence.  This song helped craft that feeling, make it whole, and cemented Goku, for better or worse, as one of the coolest shonen protagonists of all time.  So it would be fitting to make his ascension to SS3 the bookend to this immense list.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you found at least one song you enjoyed.

Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 4/5)

This is the fourth in a five-part series to be released daily, in which I unpack my favorite instrumental songs in the history of, well, ever. Narrowing this list down was obviously difficult. There were four “waves” needed to thin out the contestants from my library of thousands, and once we got below one-hundred it was like pulling teeth.

Yet, I stayed true to my original goal of fifty, for my own sake, and not compromise that number. I wanted to know for myself what I believed were my favorites among the gallery of songs I so dearly love.  This following list is the conclusion of those struggles.  They are not in order.  Simply getting a pool of them was hard enough.  I do wish to leave with my sanity.

Many are favored because of their execution and style, while others, because of a particular attachment or association they have with my personal life.  With each entry will be a short blurb, explaining why it belongs. And for a disclaimer: if I couldn’t understand what language they were singing in, I considered the vocals as their own independent instruments, and thus things like Gregorian chants do not disqualify songs from being “instrumentals.”


#31 – “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest” by Joe Hisaishi

This song could straight-up break me out of a coma.  This is the song which holds the most history of any on this list.  My Neighbor Totoro was my first exposure to anime, played by my babysitter Patty when I was four years old.  She said I asked for it constantly.  Thus my love of anime was born.

When I hear The Huge Tree, I am brought to imagine the beautiful antiquity of rural Japan, in which My Neighbor Totoro is set.  Specifically, I feel the essence of late afternoon, bottled up and hung next to wind chimes.  Sunlight calms down as the late afternoon sets in.  The world, in spite all its troubles, is for a moment at peace.

And when those chimes or whatever they are start up…there is nothing more nostalgic.  That sound has the compounded interest of twenty-two years of memories behind it.  Nothing can compare.

#32 – “Otherworld” by Nobuo Uematsu and the Black Mages

Almost objectively the worst song on this list, my appreciation for “Otherworld,” the heavy-metal anthem of Final Fantasy X, relies on a story, and the evidence that it invokes one of the strongest biological reactions of any song I know.  Nearly all of my love for this track comes from the first twenty seconds, and that requires some context.  I’d first heard it long before it became one of my favorites, when the game first released in my elementary school years and I watched my friend Joey play it.  From that young moment, I’d come to associate that song with “Sin,” the immense and unstoppable monster which plagues the world of FFX.  When this song is first introduced, it is to the visage of Sin as it obliterates an entire city.  Your city.

For years I believed this song only played at the beginning of the game, as I’d never owned the game myself or completed it.  But in college I had the opportunity to play FFX to conclusion.  Once I reached the end, to the climax against the heart of Sin—my in-game father—I prepared for the worst.  I knew from word of mouth by multiple friends who’d gone before me that Sin’s core was an incredibly intimidating boss.  I got ready for the typical fare we see in Final Fantasy last boss soundtracks…

But when Sin (aka “Braska’s Final Aeon,” technically) reached its hand over the lip of the arena which was to be the place of the final battle, and slammed it down, that guitar from “Otherworld” kicked in, and I found myself instinctively leaning away from the screen as a massive, flaming demonoid creature heaved itself slowly into the frame, almost too large to be contained by the arena itself.  As it glared down at my party, now seeming woefully unprepared, I remembered the words of my friends who warned me of its might.  I did not know this song played again for the final boss.  I thought it only played at the beginning.  Years and years of listening to this song rushed at me all at once as I looked upon the true face of whom it belonged, the core of Sin, a creature of terrible menace.

I’ve never had such an animal response to a video game before.  To physically put space between myself and an enemy which could not technically hurt me.  I felt intimidation rolling off this moment as if I’d suddenly been caught out by a bear.  It was amazing.

If anybody were to tell me that, of the songs in my top 50, this was their least favorite, I would not blame them.  It’s special for me independent of its own quality.

#33 – “Drowning in this Fog of Yours” by Cicada

If you haven’t noticed, I am a never-ending sucker for the contrite piano.  When it’s part of an ensemble cast, alongside a guitar and strings which share its vision, then we have a classic case of a sum being greater than its parts.  “Drowning in this Fog of Yours” has a little something for both sides of the emotional soul.  Some melancholy, some tranquility, some encouragement, some love.  Such a perfect morning song.  A perfect reading song.  A perfect living song.  There’s nothing special about it musically, nor personally.  I just can’t seem to shake its hold on me.  It makes my heart smile.  I want more of it, as soon as it ends.

Songs like these are my favorite because they are so good at doing what traditional, vocal-driven songs cannot: they speak to you.  I am not ignorant to the irony of that statement, nor do I believe lyrics can’t convey amazing things. But there’s an undeniable transparency and individuality with these sorts of tracks.  There’s no words to misinterpret, no specific story behind the narrative.  It’s just feelings, made semi-material, a gateway into another person.  The music is much more honest than we could ever be with our faulted tongues.

#34 – “Death Image” by Yoshihisa Hirano

This song is morbidly simple.  It is the swaying footsteps of the man on his last dredges of vitality, ready to surrender to his own weight. The way the strings make drawn, flat notes provide a perfect foundation for the eventual raindrop sound of the piano, as well as the organ and slight percussion which give a sort of ticking clock sound.  If I must capture this word in a scene, it is that of somebody taking their final steps as the world melts away around them.  It’s a good deathbed song, extracted from the anime “Death Note,” something which says “yes, it’s over.”

I once listened to this song on repeat for an entire 8-hour overnight shift.

#35 – “Creator of Worlds” by Epic Score (I think?)

Three things: drums, ominous choir, and the angriest violins on this side of existence.  That’s 90% of this song, and it’s one of the most intense things ever.  Objectively.   I’m allowed to say that, I’m the writer.

It really does give an impression while you inhale the music of a divine act of terraforming taking place somewhere in the universe.  Can’t you feel it?  Tectonic plates, freshly birthed from the magma of a fledgling planet, sliding together, mashing into mountains and earthquakes and underwater ravines.  The oceans stir into place, a devastation contained only by gravity, drowning tens of thousands of miles in unstoppable nature.  Storms of lightning war with themselves as layers of atmosphere begin to form around the soft meat of the globe, tender from its chaos.  And then, somewhere in this miasma of ancient power, life rapidly expands beyond its natural elements.  I can imagine a body coming together just as easily.  Muscle sinews stretching and reaching for each other, forming elastic bridges between the still solidifying frame of bone and cartilage which will eventually have the power to raise itself up.  Eyes, for a moment mush, round out into something which is firm, and then complex, swallowing the world in the birth of perception.

This is the song, as the name implies, of a great god-hand sewing together the many fabrics of the universe.

#36 – “Fantasia alla Marcia” by Yoko Shimomura

There is something intrinsically important about this song.  It’s hard to quite land a finger on.  I mean, it’s obviously beautiful and dramatic, but that’s typical fare for Kingdom Hearts.  What I think sets this song apart, aside from it having like seven different melodies, is the nebulous sense of inheritance it provides.  As if I’m being entrusted with the responsibility to refine and pass along virtues of worth, in the hopes of breeding new caretakers of this strange truth: that humanity, in spite of ourselves, can imagine, and wonder, and create.  We make art, and music, and those things are worth maintaining.  You inherit a sense of protection towards that, such an insane and honest and worthwhile campaign.

#37 – “Goodbye” by Jared Emerson-Johnson

This is the saddest song from the saddest game I’ve ever played, and if I’m not careful, it can ruin my entire day.  I make this one of my favorite songs almost ironically, as it encapsulates an experience which plunged me into a thick, four day depression after exposure.  What I said is dramatic, yes, but not without cause.  To unpack all the reasoning behind that now would take too long, but in short, I associate this song intrinsically with a sense of unforgivable failure.  And as crudely categorized as that is, I love this song because, despite its simplicity and sorrowful grade, anything which makes me feel so deeply deserves to be considered a favorite.

That game broke me a little.

Sorry, Clementine.

#38 – “Into the Wild Chapter II” by Axl Rosenberg

A slow, but glorious burn. You need to stick with this one for a bit, because the first couple minutes are preemptive—steadily building in strength and tone.  The true character of ItWC2 resurrects around the 1:45 second mark.  Then opens the anthem to the long journey, an adventure to find an unknown something, a place not yet seen.  Being lost, and finding.  When I hear this track, I imagine a grand voyage or pilgrimage, either alone or with companions.  It is the quintessential self-discovery arc every person and character must endure to find themselves.

#39 – “Little Fugue in G Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach

For full-disclosure, I care less about the more traditional renditions of Bach’s famous “Little Fugue in G Minor,” and prefer it in several recent incarnations.  For example, this excellent metal take on the classic.  Or this one from a game called Catherine which I’ve never played but has a great soundtrack.

But I obviously have one which stands out, as it’s the one posted above.  The version which plays to the final adversary of Mega Man Legends, one of my favorite games.

Bach’s masterpiece has such a delicious, aristocratic horror, as if dancing at a masquerade on a night filled with secrets, lies, and betrayal.  There’s a scope of history about the song, nestled deep into the public psyche.  The almost universal familiarity of it somehow emphasizes the dread it creates.  A shadow hiding in our minds, wearing a mask, polite until your guard has fallen.

#40 – “Unfinished Battle” by Yoko Shimomura

Shimomura has now shown up just as many times as Sawano.

For some reason this song was only played once through the entire 80-hour game of Xenoblade Chronicles, which is practically a sin., because it’s one of the most raw soundtracks in recent memory.  It’s hard to point at any one part of the song and tell you “that, that is what makes it amazing.”  It is simply a perfectly rounded battle fanfare, with chasing strings running the course of its length, and a mounting synth-piano which explodes into prominence at the end.  As the name implies, it encourages a tremendous sense of pushing through adversity towards a final resolution.  An excellent workout song, “Unfinished Battle” has a home in many, many of my playlists.

Top 50 Instrumental Songs (Part 3/5)

This is the third in a five-part series to be released daily, in which I unpack my favorite instrumental songs in the history of, well, ever. Narrowing this list down was obviously difficult. There were four “waves” needed to thin out the contestants from my library of thousands, and once we got below one-hundred it was like pulling teeth.

Yet, I stayed true to my original goal of fifty, for my own sake, and not compromise that number. I wanted to know for myself what I believed were my favorites among the gallery of songs I so dearly love.  This following list is the conclusion of those struggles.  They are not in order.  Simply getting a pool of them was hard enough.  I do wish to leave with my sanity.

Many are favored because of their execution and style, while others, because of a particular attachment or association they have with my personal life.  With each entry will be a short blurb, explaining why it belongs. And for a disclaimer: if I couldn’t understand what language they were singing in, I considered the vocals as their own independent instruments, and thus things like Gregorian chants do not disqualify songs from being “instrumentals.”



#21 – “Space Lion” by Yoko Kanno

I have never in all my life heard a song quite like “Space Lion” from Cowboy Bebop, and won’t even pretend like I can do justice to it with one or two meager paragraphs.  While this song makes its debut in a stand-out moment within the series, it holds its place in my top 50 just because it’s so…beautiful.  The dreamlike ambiance, the soul-soothing saxophone—and the way they slowly fade together with an African children’s choir and bongos? Outstanding to the nth degree.

#22 – “Carry the Sun” by Glitch Mob

I think of two things when I hear “Carry the Sun.” I imagine a Captain Falcon montage from Super Smash Bros, as that’s where I found the song.  But more importantly, I am thrown into a deep desire to go skiing.  I discovered this track right before going on my first real skiing trip and so it kind of became the theme song of that week.  Now I can’t hear the hook kick in without it being followed by a blast of endorphins, restless fingers, and a need to move around.  This is the only electronic song in my top 50, and has one of the most visceral knee-jerk reactions tied to it.  Simply thinking about it is urging images of snow-capped mountains into my head space, powder exploding in my wake.

#23 “Beth’s Theme” by Ólafur Arnalds

That first violin note is drowning. This entire song is drowning. This is the song of a drowning girl.

I never had a sister, and always kind of wish I did.  It’s a difficult thing to capture in words.  I’m not sure what to say about this song, as it often casts all thought from my mind.  All I know is it makes me feel.  Not sadness, necessarily, though I suspect that’s what the composer was aiming towards.  It’s just a sort of…stillness.  A bastard of depression and apathy, unwanted.  Every time I hear this song, I recognize sad things, but from a sort of observable distance.  That piano—as with many minor-key pianos—acts as a sober lens by which to see the fractures—hairline or glaring—in our world.

#24 – “Dragon Rider” by Two Steps From Hell


I’ve never seen a song so perfectly capture the essence of its title.  As evidence, I once played it for my college roommate and asked him to imagine what the composer wanted him to feel, without telling him the name of the song. He’d never heard it before.

He answered: “I feel like I’m riding a dragon into battle.”

Short and to the point, the way the song builds to its apex, you can already piece together the film montage of putting on your chain-mail, saddling over your lizard’s scaly back, and diving from the mouth of a cliff-side cave into the ravines of warring soldiers below.  The velocity of the song gives credence to the intense, romantic power of the dragon, this most legendary of creatures.  Any scene, real or imagined, is made better by having this in the background.

#25 – “Passion” by Yoko Shimomura (performed by the Kingdom Orchestra)

Before we continue, please understand everything from Kingdom Hearts is spectacular and only picking one song was impossible.  The Kingdom Hearts soundtrack at large is in my top 3 of all time.   I eventually landed on two (second to come later), though getting to that point was like peeling off my own skin.  Seriously, I could make a top 50 list of only the Kingdom Hearts gallery and there’d still be some quality material left over.

This brain-child franchise of Disney and Square Enix has created an unconventional game series, beloved far and wide.  The music is a heavy influence on the outcome of its popularity, wielding the power of a live orchestra and the triumphant genius of Yoko Shimomura as its helm.  “Passion” expands quickly to fill the horizon of your attention, just long enough to know it’s got its hooks in you.  Then it slows down into a fragile, criminally delicate progression of notes, which isolates a new instrument every couple of measures.  It’s almost vain, as if to say “look how beautiful my music can be.”  Cue the transition into a slow march, like brave toy soldiers off to the front lines.

There is perhaps no phrase greater, or which could more accurately depict the core principle of “Passion,” than the one which is most apparent, should you take some time to consider it.  That being, this is true ‘Disney Magic.’

#26 – “Shelter” by Porter Robinson and Madeon

(To see the original song in its debut video, rather than the above piano cover, click here.  The video is…quite special.)

If my writing can somehow create the feeling this song gives me, in someone else, then I’ll have made it.  The unadulterated innocence combines with the up-and-up of the melody, and they materialize into a thing of beauty. Yet, underneath the major key is a subtle, curious sadness, like somebody waiting, but they aren’t sure what they’re waiting on.  As mentioned above, this song was originally an electronic track, composed for an animated short video.  I hope I can say without hyperbole that the animation is one of the most heart-stirring and contemplative things ever found in the medium, and this song always brings me back to how I felt when I first saw it.

This is the song I hope one day might be characteristic of my daughter’s soul, should I be so fortunate as to have one.

#27 – “Attack on Titan Theme” by Hiroyuki Sawano

Oh hey.  Sawano again. That’s three times, now.

Created by recurring favorite composer, Hiroyuki Sawano, there are many things going on with this song in a technical sense, so I will focus less on that and more on the overall feeling, as I don’t want this entry to be an essay.

Basically this is the song of inevitable and unquestionable destruction.  It is armored in a sort of demented marching vibe, punctuated by distant church bells and a Gregorian chant.  This is appropriate, because it plays when a bunch of gigantic freakazoid monsters who resemble people in only the most horrifying way begin to descend on humanity and eat them like cattle, without discrimination.  It is the march anthem of death, trampling innocence and the semblance of safety we build around ourselves.

Plus those discordant noises spread throughout the song.  They’re so creepy.

(Btw the entire AoT soundtrack is worth a listen. There were many other contenders for this list.)

#28 – “Mortal Kombat” by The Immortals

Specifically, the metal version by Youtube creator Erock.  And no, I don’t count the occasional use of soundboard recordings as “lyrics,” so this still qualifies for the list.  Song begins at 0:22 in the video.

I need to be careful not to listen to this song while I’m driving. The adrenaline in my blood gives me a bad case of tunnel vision, which is great for kickboxing and not much else.  Most audiences have some level of exposure to the Mortal Kombat theme song, but this cover takes it to a different plane of intensity.  This is one of my go-to running tracks.  It makes you want to sprint, to fight, to dodge, to ascend.  There’s not much to talk about for this one.  I just like it a ton and it’s virtually unskippable when it crops up on my playlists.  As the name suggests, I consider it one of the ultimate fight songs, and Spotify has a version without most of the gaudy soundbites, but this was the best video I could find for our purposes.

#29 – “To Zanarkand” by Nobuo Uematsu

Regarded as one of the most recognizable songs in the vast Final Fantasy archives, this lone piano captures so much of what made FFX special.  You can sense the fiction of the world behind the notes, its fantastical qualities, yet even further down is the story of a heart.  “To Zanarkand” captures the importance of its subject matter on multiple levels beyond its role as a simple song: it provides world-building, character development, and tonal improvement, all of which amplify the narrative at large.  It is almost ceremonial in its identity, carrying with it a sense of history which does not actually exist.  And to create that illusion, to seem like a tradition at first hearing, is a rare and magnificent boast for any song.

#30 – “Reverse Situation” by Toshio Masuda

This is Naruto music at its prime. Naruto has some next-level music, but in terms of raw enthusiasm, this is the peak.  I don’t attribute this song to any one moment from the series, mostly because I prefer to read it, but regardless it satisfies many scenes.  My imagination sets the track while I turn the pages, allowing me to control the direction and pacing.  There are many Naruto songs which almost made the list, but ultimately this was one of the only two which made the cut.  It’s just so invigorating.  The tables have turned, the situation has flipped.  Things are in your favor now.