Revisiting “Now, More Than Ever” As a Concept Album in 2022

In my last post about the wonderful works of album-era Jim Guthrie, I made a glaring omission in describing the sound of that period: Guthrie likes his songs to be lyrically dense. I briefly touched on that, but not to the point where I could extrapolate on it. Case in point, the song that got me into Guthrie’s body of work was Trust, and I still struggle to comprehend sections of it nearly a decade later. A lot of Guthrie’s early work is like that. Sometimes, you’ll have a song like Sexy Drummer, where the prose is easy to read into and understand. But occasionally, you’ll run into something like Virtue which is about… the concept of virtue, I guess? But you may have noticed that, in all of my articulation about the style of Guthrie’s lyricism, I have yet to bring up a single track from his 2003 album “Now, More Than Ever.” Had I not come to a startling realization today, I would have. I have been listening to “Now, More Than Ever” as a series of disconnected vignettes ever since I heard it for the first time. But if you concentrate on the lyrics enough and try to piece the puzzle together, a much clearer picture forms. “Now, More Than Ever” is a concept album. Maybe not by intention, but everything fits together so that it just makes sense. That’s my reading of it, at least.

If I had to summarize what the album’s about, it goes like this: “Now, More Than Ever” follows a man who settles for a relationship that he has been chasing after, only to realize that they aren’t compatible. The relationship has a long and messy ending, resulting in a string of nameless one-night stands that only progressively get more tiring as the singer feels his time on Earth shortening at an increasingly high rate. He attempts to adopt a more positive outlook on life, which brings him closer to another person. Knowing how his last relationship turned out, his inner-voice wonders if there’s anybody out there who is genuinely compatible with him or if that’s a pipe dream whose chance of being a reality is null.

If you want the full version, here it is. The album opens with Problem With Solutions. The singer finds himself in a bar, drinking his time away. His outlook follows this rough pattern: “if hay can be used to make alcohol and is healthy for a horse, why can’t I have the best of both worlds and just eat the horse instead?” His reliance on getting drunk causes him to spin out of control and be distant from those around him, including those he feels deeply connected to. He recognizes that his current outlook is problematic and can alienate others from him but continues on this path to deal with his own feelings of alienation. All Gone finds the singer sober as he lies down at home, thinking of someone he cherishes. Thoughts of marriage cross his mind as he begins to long for their presence. He wonders to himself internally if he could “make something out of nothing,” perhaps implying that there’s not much of a connection to be had. The next day, this longing turns more severe when he sits alone on his porch in Montreal, feeling small and distant from the world around him. The world around him freezes as his mind begins to slip. Finally, in Save It, the sourness catches up to him. The world around him melts as he sees his future as a bleak and empty place where nothing is thought through, resulting in a series of meaningless conversations that ultimately lead to even more meaningless conflicts. He seeks out help to calm him of his increasingly hostile view of the world but finds no solace in any of the assistance he’s been given. In his second attempt to alleviate himself, he tries to find sexual satisfaction in the world but quickly shoots the idea down as it makes him uncomfortable at the time. He finds a new lease on life through the messy self-destruction of himself or someone close to him. In Broken Chair, this new perspective gives him the confidence to finally seek after the person he cherishes. However, his attempts are met with skepticism and ambivalence. The reality of that is portrayed in Lover’s Do, where the relationship starts out strong but becomes one-sided as it painfully deteriorates in silence. Time is a Force jumps in time to a point where the singer’s idea to find peace in sexuality has gotten to his head. One-night stands are almost daily, and, despite fulfilling his need to be seen in the world, he feels even more empty and alone. He feels his time on Earth slipping as the tedium gets to him. But just as soon as he feels himself falling into the same pit he struggled to get out of in Save It, he finds the energy to pull himself up in fear of ever falling down that hole again. Now, More Than Ever is the only song on the album with no lyrics, but it doesn’t need any. The way Time is a Force leads into it, and the positive energy it radiates from the rest of the album says all that’s needed to be said. The singer finally confronts everything that he finds to be woeful about his life and tries to put his best foot forward in addressing all of it. This positivity leads to him finding someone he shares a deeper connection with in The Evangelist. The title of the track is the second reference to religion found within the album. It hints at two possible scenarios: the person he seeks intimacy from is religious, or the connection he feels with them is so deep that it mirrors that of a husband and wife during their honeymoon period. Given that the first reference was about marriage, the latter is more likely. The last track on the album, You Are Far (Do You Exist?), is perhaps the most introspective—and short—of the bunch. Instead of giving his listeners a happy ending, Guthrie gives them a more realistic one. Right now, the singer and his partner are comfortable in each other’s presence, but what if that doesn’t last? Finding someone who makes you happy and never puts you down seems ideal but is rarely an occurrence in a world filled to the brim with billions of people. And yet we are told to seek after these partners and that they lie in wait for us. The singer is happy where he is but worried that things might happen in the same order as he repeats his series of mistakes, and perhaps this fear is something that he finds to be too debilitating to be open about. The success of this relationship demands that he can successfully open himself up to that conversation, but that may never happen. Until it does, he’s left to wonder: where is the perfect person for me, and do they exist?

Now, More Than Ever” has been on my computers and phones ever since I first heard it. At one point, Guthrie’s music calmed me to a point where listening to it helped me get a good night’s sleep. While that anecdote might make his body of work seem uninteresting, it is quite the contrary. Through engaging with his music past the surface level, I have a newfound appreciation for what he, and the musicians he’s worked with, have been able to accomplish. After reading “Now, More Than Ever” in the way that I’ve outlined in this article, I can only say that my love of it has gotten stronger. Although I do not keep definitive lists of what my favorites are of anything, if you were to ask me what my favorite album of all time was right now, I’d say “Now, More Than Ever” by Jim Guthrie.

This article is based purely on personal interpretation. If you have an interpretation of your own or feel that mine doesn’t work, feel free to share it!


Revisiting “Takes Time”: Jim Guthrie’s Latest Original Album Deserves to be Listened to, Almost a Decade Later

I’m going to take a break from saying doo-doo about movies that I didn’t like and instead put that energy into something that actually brings a smile to my face.

Jim Guthrie is not likely a name you’ve heard unless you’ve been paying attention to who’s been composing independent video games for the past five to six years. He’s done the score for Sword & Sorcery, Below, Planet Coaster, Reigns, Bleak Sword, and more recently, Nobody Saves the World. With that pedigree, you might assume that this is all he’s ever done. But I have to say that those soundtracks sell him short. How short? Well, Now More Than Ever is easily in my top five albums of all time; I still have Sexy Drummer, Trust, and Invisible Gem on my playlists; and I have caught myself humming to 1901 more times than I can count. Guthrie is the rare artist that I can say I’ve been listening to for a decade without feeling ashamed of myself. My taste in music has changed a little bit since 2012, but the quality of Guthrie’s early work has not.

But it wasn’t the sweet sound of All Gone that introduced me to his distinct sound. His soundtrack for Indie Game: The Movie is where I first caught wind of his work, but if I’m going to be talking about pre-soundtrack era Guthrie, I have to speak about Takes Time.

What makes Takes Time so intriguing in a modern context is that it was an album sandwiched between what I refer to as “album-era Guthrie” and “soundtrack-era Guthrie.” The former is marked by strange, sometimes unrefined, and limited soundscapes backed by wordy lyrics that tend not to speak in complete sentences. Of particular note in this era is the album Morning Noon Night, which was composed entirely on Guthrie’s copy of the PlayStation version of MTV Music Maker. Now More Than Ever is a massive departure from this style, as the songs on it were structured in a completely different way. His style of lyricism remained intact, but with more variety in the types of tracks he was composing, it’s not nearly as noticeable. This layer of polish is something that continued with the album Moody Motorcycle created by Human Highway, a small side-project formed by Guthrie in conjunction with Nick Thorburn. Although Moody Motorcycle presents its listener with less variety than Guthrie’s previous album, it goes all-in on the strange-folk aspects of Guthrie’s previous work. All of this is to say that album-era Guthrie more than holds up. Soundtrack-era Guthrie takes some of the quirks and polish from the album-era songs, and recontextualizes that for different scenarios. A few of his soundtracks are lacking in that distinct sound, but generally speaking, it’s not hard to hear the Now More Than Ever influence in Planet Coaster. What makes this contextualization differ from his previous work, though, is that a lot of the album-era fat is trimmed off. As much as I love the gorgeous sound of The Light in Us All, it’s the only song that I can recall from that soundtrack.

Whenever I recall Takes Time, this is almost what gets brought into my memory. Takes Time does not have the lush, sweeping songs of Now More Than Ever or the rough sound of the two albums that preceeded it. But you’d be hard-pressed to find songs on it that lack the same spirit. The song that opens the album, appropriately titled Taking My Time, puts its chorus near the end of the song and only goes through it once. There’s an emotional build-up to that point makes the song’s bizarre, but all too relatable, statement on growth feel more profound than it would be if it was hammered home over and over again. On a similar note, Like a Lake moves its one and only chorus farther back into its runtime. The minimalism that builds up to it gives it a folksy air of mysterious wit. These two songs always stand out to me whenever I listen to Takes Time that one more time. But the other songs aren’t too shabby, either. There’s about one section in Don’t Be Torn that was I initially a bit miffed on, but as this album has grown with me, I’ve accepted the strange inclusion of cheerleaders shouting “BE ASSERTIVE” as part of Guthrie’s enjoyable weird style. If I were to talk about every song that I loved in this album, I’d be writing about just about all of them. There isn’t a single tune here that feels like filler made to pad out the album’s length. Everything is perfectly structured, written, and preformed.

And yet, in the nearly ten years that has passed since this album’s release, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it. I’ve gone through old blog posts, watched a live recording on NPR that feels ancient by this point, and looked through websites with users reviews. Those who know Guthrie’s music well also know Takes Time. But with a whopping two user reviews on Amazon and none to be found on a site like Discoggs, it’s weird how few people outside of those following Guthrie have said anything about Takes Time.

To celebrate almost ten years since its release in May of 2013, I urge you: listen to it if you haven’t already. If it isn’t your thing, that’s fine. But as somebody who has been listening to it for nearly as long as its been released, this is an album that has a surprising amount of longevity to be found in its pleasant tunes.

If you found this to be a fascinating read, consider checking out my piece on another overlooked album, It’s All a Bit Weird by Ben Morfitt (also known as SquidPhysics)

Squid Game and the Curse of Popularity

It’s gotten to the point where I’m hearing people at work are calling Squid Game overrated.

I almost don’t blame them; the only reason my brother had any interest in starting to watch it with me is because his boss brought it up. If you work with computers all day and your boss is talking about television while you’re both on the clock, the show he’s talking about is a hit. While I’m writing this, I know for a fact that I have good things to say about Squid Game. I enjoyed my time with it and recommend it. But I also feel this ounce of “oh god, do I really have to?” It’s kind of like recommending a Marvel movie like it’s some unheard-of gem. “Oh, have you seen Endgame? It’s only this cinematic masterpiece that nobody’s talking about, that beat the record-setting Avatar in terms of its performance at the box office.” If you want to read my opinion on it, here it is: I liked the characters. The acting was top-notch stuff, and although it falls apart in some places near the end, it kept me hooked and ready to see what the next episode had to offer. I can tell pretty easily that it was engineered to be binged, and it does its job effectively. I have issues with the culture of Bingewatching (something that I’ll likely write about at some point; saying I have issues with it is a massive understatement, in fact), but Squid Game doesn’t sacrifice any of the excitement by choosing to craft its episodes in the way that it does. The end result is cliffhangers that sting like a wasp and resolutions that have to be ultra twisty to justify the time investment, even if some retroactively dampen the emotional impact of earlier episodes. If you’re into that sort of thing, it more than has you covered.

But let me ask you a question: are the people who are complaining about Squid Game being overrated actually talking about Squid Game? Those co-workers that I mentioned just said they watched the show and didn’t say anything about it other than ‘it’s overrated.’ You don’t need to sit down for fifty minutes to say one good or bad, thing about a piece of entertainment. You just say that you didn’t like the ending, or you didn’t like the characters, or you hated how anti-climactic the ending was. The fact of the matter is, they’re talking about it because other people are talking about it. I was not the first person to bring Squid Game up. If I was, the conversation would have been different. If you look on social media or talk to somebody who’s watched the whole thing through, everything that I said about it will be repeated. Memes will be made to hammer home the same point. Suddenly, Halloween costumes based on the show are in the style, and if you’re not already tired of it, you’ll have no energy to watch the show once people are done talking about it.

A better way to ask the aforementioned question would be: hey, do you remember Undertale?

You know, that indie darling from six years ago that was cute at first, but was run into the ground by social media sites like YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter? I remember there was a time when Sans was a character that people enjoyed. Now his name is an in-joke that me and my brothers have. Even with the added context, it’s hard to describe why it’s funny to put “Sans” as an answer in Jackbox. It’s one thing to be told that something became too popular for its own good, but it’s another to live through that and the discussions that come directly from it. I remember there was a time when I considered not spoiling Undertale for myself. A copy of it for my PS Vita, that I bought off of eBay when I was collecting physical copies of games for the platform that would have otherwise been digital only. I’ve been meaning to play it for years. I even own a copy of it on GOG. But the plastic case above my desk is collecting dust, and its been in my backlog for longer than I care to admit. There are likely things that the internet has not had the opportunity to spoil for me, but I know how Flowey is. I know what the two endings are, and how they affect your game. If I had played Undertale at the same time as everybody else, at the same pace that they did, I would probably understand it a little bit more. But as it stands, no sequel to Undertale can capture the same lightning in a bottle that was starting high school at the same time as people who could do nothing but talk about it.

The truth is that there are only so many things you can say about a piece of entertainment. Unless the piece of entertainment you’re tallking about is your life, every story has a definite beginning, middle, and end. If it never gets to that endpoint, it still at least has a beginning. There are only so many ways you can analyze the plot of a film before you run into a brick wall. Once you reach that brick wall, it becomes tiring to hear new people say so many of the same things. It nearly becomes cyclical. But unlike a snake eating its own tail, at some point, the snake digests itself. You end up with a macabre display of people moving on, rushing toward the next big thing that they can get ahead of before other people ultimately push them away from it. It’s sort of like going to see the Beatles preform live during Beatlemania. Except, when the concert ends, a new band goes on stage that sings the exact same songs and everybody in the crowd reacts to them as if they’ve never heard it before.What I said about Undertale can be said about Five Nights at Freddy’s and Friday Night Funkin’; can be said about Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3; can be said Skyrim and Fallout; can be said about Blade Runner and Drive. More devastating in the case of Squid Game, it can be said about a vast majority of Dystopian fiction, which Squid Game is most comparable to. Squid Game only feels fresh because it doesn’t have teenagers, an evil government pulling the strings, and a love interest thrown in for a steamy make-out scene. It’s brutal and it pulls no punches. It also feels fresh because Hollywood stopped milking these settings a long time ago. A cured body can only be pure for so long, though. Once comparsions to Hunger Games start rolling in, so do the people who associate that comparison with an idea being old hat. On top of all stories having a clearly defined structure, they also have the tendency to steal from each other. It’s not like they can help themselves; even the most original movies are derivative of another body of work.

Squid Game is going to have another season, that much has been confirmed. What hasn’t is if the co-workers I have at the time of its release will react to it with enthusiasm, begrudgingly accept that it’s a thing that exists, or have to be reminded of it at all. Only time will tell, but if the Austrailian band Men at Work is anything to go off of, people will still call you a one-hit wonder if your previous success overshadows every single hit you have that breaks the hot-100 after it.

Whatever happened to Hoodwink?: The Problem With Forgotten Games and Preservation

Steam Greenlight has launched. I recommend Forge, Project Giana and Hoodwink.

Total Biscuit

The year was 2012. Valve introduces a new feature for their massive game platform, Steam. Although there were gradual hints that the company would inevitably become less restrictive on what was under their banner, Greenlight helped pave the way for a more indie-centric direction.

The year is now 2021. Greenlight’s been five feet under for a few years at this point, and its replacement isn’t much better. Steam Direct allows users to pay upwards of a hundred dollars, file some paperwork, and–granted that the game on offer won’t generate headlines that cause Valve’s PR team a migraine–get their games on Steam. The end result has been nothing short of a disaster. The amount of shovelware on Steam is more or less likely twice the amount of rubbish released on the Wii and DS combined. If that doesn’t paint a lovely portrait, wait until you hear about Zonitron Studios. Under several different names, this was one “developer” who pumped out over two hundred games over fewer than two years before being sentenced to the pits of hell. Not even AAA studios can beat that, despite their greed. The once illustrious promise of an indie utopia is now a Rapture all on its own.

This begs the question: if Greenlight’s successor still isn’t a healthy option for the platform, how wrong was Greenlight? It’s a complicated story, but the short of it was that it was a smart idea with compromises so obvious you wouldn’t be crazy to mistake them for the glowing red weak points on a boss in a JRPG game. Groups manipulated users into voting on specific titles, quality be damned. The fact that anyone with one hundred dollars could create a page meant that hundreds of submissions ranged from incompetent to outright offensive, being built entirely off of assets the developers had no hand in creating and with some leaning toward the most blatant forms of IP infringement imaginable. If you think I’m joking about that last part, wait until you find out about the time that somebody tried to get World of Warcraft on Steam. Or Minecraft, before changing their page to Five Nights at Freddies (a game that was already on Steam by that point and originally went through the Greenlight program). Or a mod that features characters from a Nintendo game, without the explicit approval of either Nintendo or the original mod author. If you want something to laugh at for a good few hours or so, just watch the entirety of James Stephanie Sterling’s Best of Steam Greenlight Trailers series. Although Greenlight did have quite a few gems, it had more than enough stinkers for Valve to necessitate a rework of the entire system. Then, there are/were the games that went through the Greenlight process, got approval from the community, and then never released on Steam, if at all. A personal pick of mine from that category is Routine, a space-horror game in development since 2012 which failed to deliver on either of its deadlines and, as per an article by Vice that was either written before or after rumors of financial woes started floating around, is likely still in development. A much more forgotten entry in this canon is Hoodwink, a classic point-and-click adventure game that ran on the infamous Leadwerks Engine of all things. It might seem like another Steam Greenlight project that never saw the light of day, but further inspection reveals something unusual with it. Hoodwink was released… so, why has it never fulfilled its promise of coming to Steam?

I don’t get why you have waited so long for it to appear in the Steam Store. I completed the whole game available (Episode 1) in the mid-summer of 2012! 🙂

You can still buy it on many services, just choose your prefered one from here: 😉

Steam User BiGASsS

This is from a comment that was written on April 22, 2015. If you go to the link listed by BiGASsS, you’ll find nothing but a title that sits above a large white border. Googling the studio’s name will only yield results if you specify that you’re looking for a developer, and even then, your only lead to go off of are social media accounts that haven’t had a presence since 2013. Looking up the game itself might help you to understand why:

To put it bluntly: yikes.

The most forgiving article I could find on Hoodwink came from a puff-piece Kotaku did around the time of the game’s release. The writer seemed to dig the game’s style, even if it was anything but fun to play. The most important detail from this article comes at the very end:

So it came to Origin, but not Steam?

It came to quite a few platforms if the developer’s Facebook page banner is anything to go off of. Origin, My Adventure Shop, Desura, GamersGate, and Zodiac. One of which had a very public shutdown, two can’t be found with a simple Google search, and both Origin and GamersGate have the game delisted. What happened?

If you’re looking for an official answer, tough luck. Again, Googling the studio’s name is a dead-end. What can be inferred through everything I’ve gathered, though, is that E1 Studios is no longer around. Their debut title was a critical flop and, since it isn’t easy to find information about it, I’m going to assume that it didn’t do all too well commercially, either. It’s a tale as old as time: ‘small studio makes an unsuccessful game, can’t recoup costs, goes under.’

One thing that we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue

Gabe Newell

Where do you go when a game you want isn’t sold anymore? If we were to have this discussion in the mid-2000s’, the answer would be eBay. Nowadays, an option that’s in a legal grey area has reared its head. Why buy used copies of old games when you can just download them? It’s a standard for emulation, but for old PC games, the only option left that won’t see you using a Torrent client is MyAbadnonware. Before that, it was the IsoZone. Both sites host/hosted image files for each game, making the only barrier to entry how compatible each individual game is with modern operating systems.

Now, here’s a much harder question to ask: where do you go when a game you want isn’t sold anymore, and it was only released through digital storefronts? You might assume that the answer is always piracy, but a much easier option for most people will be key resellers like G2A and CDKeys. If the game can’t be found on either platform, then piracy is your only option. Piracy tends to come in two forms; you either have sites of dubious origin that link to file-sharing websites where each game is segmented into several zip files, or you have to rely on Torrenting. The latter is more reliable than the former, but it’s not helpful if a particular file isn’t getting too much attention. The former is a much safer bet with newer games, but good luck finding anything any late-2000s’ to early-2010s’ games on them unless they’re still up for sale.

I have somewhere over a hundred games I’ve bought on Steam and a couple on services like Origin and whatever Ubisoft rebranded UPlay to. The promise that I’ll always have those games to play is not something that’s part of the Terms of Service. If the servers ever go down for whatever reason, that’s a hundred games I’ll never be able to play again. Even among the games I have downloaded, a lot of them require me to be logged into Steam to play. Digital goods are a convenience sold with the understanding that they’ll go rotten one day. They’re a representation of the present with no regard for the future. The issue I have with it is intrinsically linked to my belief that games are art. In my opinion, art can be anything. It can be forgettable pieces of popcorn entertainment, just as it can be something with several flaws to its name. Art is a time capsule. Particularly for games, whether or not a game is meant to be timely is irrelevant, as games are based on a foundation that changes at a constant rate. While games nowadays look photorealistic and downright uncanny, what’s blocky now was considered to feel the same way twenty years ago. More than just the limitation of technology are the stories each game tells, both in terms of their narrative and how they lead their player along. Standards for design change over time as a result of constant iteration. Game preservation is just as important as film preservation, or music preservation, for that matter. Yet, as we’ve come to no longer needing to hold the games we own in our hands, preserving such a thing is a legally grey topic.

Whether or not Hoodwink is a terrible game is irrelevant to the immense disappointment I feel knowing it’s been practically lost to time. The thing is, Hoodwink was released on PC. Even if the one torrent site that still has it only has one or two seeders eyeing it, it still exists in some mysterious way. If you want a real kick in the groin, try asking the same questions I proposed about games that aren’t on PC. To play the tie-in game for the 2011 movie Reel Steel, for example, you have to rely on the European version for the PlayStation 3. Other games and applications for the system aren’t so fortunate. Here’s another example I’m sure most are familiar with: remember PT? In the same way those wanting a quick buck tried to pawn off their phones with Flappy Bird installed, you can find PlayStation 4 consoles installed with the game. If you were hoping to see it make a comeback by being playable through the PlayStation 5’s backward compatibility, Konami blocked that from being possible. If PT ever saw a physical release, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the thing of legends. But it was a game that’s part of a system where preserving games that are no longer accessible to the average consumer is the most direct form of piracy there can be. Jailbreaking newer hardware can prove to be challenging, and software emulation for consoles that are still around is looked down upon by “morally upstanding” members of the respective communities. Preservation is piracy, and because that’s the case, good fucking luck preserving delisted games.

With all of this on my mind, I must ask: whatever happened to Hoodwink? We may never know, and as disappointing as it is, that’s that.

(END OF THE YEAR EDIT: Many typographical and grammatical errors have been addressed.)