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Music Review: Michael Guy Bowman, all 162 tracks
A twenty-five thousand plus words deep dive into what truly makes Bow the Man.
Michael Guy Bowman. Comedian. Actor. Artist. Musician. He’s many things, but he’s never been popular. Merely really damn good.
I’m going to review every piece of music he’s ever made, album by album, track by track.
Epistemusicologic status: I’m not a musician. I’ve only worked with musicians, and I know nothing about music theory. If you know anything, you’ll probably cry while reading this.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Homestuck Vol. 1 (2009)
Homestuck Vol. 2 (2009)
Homestuck Vol. 3 (2009)
Midnight Crew: Drawing Dead (2010)
Homestuck Vol. 5 (2010)
Homestuck Vol. 6: Heir Transparent (2011)
Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido (2011)
Homestuck Vol. 7: At the Price of Oblivion (2011)
Jailbreak Vol. 1 (2011)
Homestuck Vol. 8 (2011)
Homestuck Vol. 9 (2012)
Rainbow Trip (2012)
Comfortable Bugs (2012)
We Think We're Playing In A Band (2015)
Homestuck Vol. 10 (2016)
Electric Daydreams (2016)
128 BPM (2017)
Look On My Works Ye Mighty And Despair (2019)
Jesus Christ Supermarket (2020)
Gravity Makes The Flame Rise (2021)
Ulterior Motives (2022)
Michael Guy Bowman was born as Guy Michael Bowman III in Oak Ridge, Tennesee, aged 12. I actually have no clue what his early life was, not that it matters. Let’s get to his earliest song already, we need to make good time here.
Homestuck Vol. 1 (8/9/2009; ~1:36)
(1:36) Sburban Jungle (Brief Mix)
Homestuck’s Music Team had an eclectic set of backstories. For example, Toby Fox was brought in by someone who had a massive meltdown and got kicked out from the team shortly after, a fella you might know by the name of Bolin. Other people like Mark Hadley had something of a history with Hussie before the band got together, scoring an author-endorsed title screen for Problem Sleuth.
Bowman didn’t have a special way into the team though, he was just someone who posted a fansong that somebody liked. I think Sburban Jungle was the song. The first three or so volumes are largely made out of demos and remixes as the team (largely a bunch of fan-musician newbies) tried to figure out their sound, and more importantly, what Hussie wanted for his animations.
Sburban Jungle has no vocals, like the vast majority of Bowman’s Homestuck music. In its short form, it’s nothing more than a synth track, some odd percussion, and a slow piano promising something more. In Homestuck, it accompanies a foreboding loading screen. Both the piano melody and the percussion riff are quoted very often throughout the discography. The most often referenced track in the Homestuck Discography, in fact.
I’ll get into it next time we see it, but this track is notable indeed.
Homestuck Vol. 2 (12/14/2009; ~5:16)
There’s actually not a lot to say about the first one here. It’s notable that it was Aylsworth’s only contribution to the soundtrack, but it’s just Harlequin with an electric guitar playing the melody, and some apparently real drums—the name is fitting, is what I’m trying to say. It accompanied the first Homestuck’s boss battle, which is a funnily quaint concept in retrospect. It also accompanied that one Pogo minigame with a leaderboard. I tried to fix that leaderboard for the Homestuck Collection, which is why this track is stuck in my mind and I did not need or want to revisit it for this review. Alright, I guess there was a bit to say about it, mostly things no one cares about.
Explore, though, now that’s a track. Explore and the flash animation it scores are both often referred to as “that point where I realized Homestuck was truly special”, for a good reason. Like most other Buzinkai tracks, it needed some help from a different composer to be usable in the comic. Bowman adds only a bit of his flourish here, extending the ending and adding a subtle but climactic final drum hit,but it makes all the difference, turning what is merely a really great Cave Story-inspired chiptune loop into something that fills your head with the words “I wonder what comes next?”. After Sburban Jungle, this is the track most people remember Bowman for.
Homestuck Vol. 3 (12/15/2009; ~3:23)
Ohgodwhat was clearly at one point meant to be Jade’smain leitmotif, which is hilarious. It’s just not a good melody at all, sorry Nick Smalley. Bowman tried his best to turn it into an upbeat silly track, but it comes across more as an early 2000s brickphone ringtone. No musician is perfect, especially with these raw materials to work with.
Chorale for Jaspers accompanies a cinematic flash where you see a cat die and decompose, and I’m only partially exaggerating here. It’s meant to reveal a minor plot twist and work as exposition for one of the critical concepts in Homestuck. The way Andrew Hussie chose to tell this story is by using a laughably mock-sad track where cat meows (clearly sung by Bowman at points) play over a macabre funeral march, exclusively featuring organs. Oh, was Homestuck special.
This leads perfectly into my discussion of the next track. As the above animation ends, a pink horseshoe flashes onscreen. Clicking itwill take you to a secret, obviously non-canonical extra animation where we see a character riding a pony in something I can only describe as Cowboy World. The song, Pony Chorale, was clearly only made as reference to a single throwaway joke about a character getting a pony as a birthday present, but it was so good the author of Homestuck had no choice but to devise an entire animation around it. Pony Chorale uses horse clip clopping as its main percussion, and soundfont whistling as its main melody driver. It’s a meme song, using the same mock-sad melody as Chorale for Jaspers. It ends with a neigh, spoken by one of Bowman’s associates. This should not be good. AND YET.
Midnight Crew: Drawing Dead (2/4/2010; ~5:15)
Merely a year after its conception, and the Homestuck music team didn’t think scoring the comic was enough. It was time to start making concept albums to develop their skills and fill time simultaneously.
Midnight Crew: Drawing Dead was based on a hypothetical: what if the titular villain group started a jazz band? A bunch of noir, jazzy tunes ensue, that’s what. This was later contrasted with the more orchestral, twisted-in-time Felt album, but Bowman didn’t participate in it, which is a tragedy.
Lunar Eclipse honestly has one of the most annoying starts to any Homestuck song, long, droning, very slightly distorted notes carrying a very slow melody over the first minute, to the point I’ve slept on this song even though the rest of it is not terrible, certainly. Knowing nothing about the genre, I’m perfectly comfortable labeling it as Space Jazz, making use of an echoey sax and some staccato xylophone whenever that’s not playing, for some unholy reason. There’s also a bassline, but it’s not the best, and there’s no ending, the song just stops. This is a weird track. I think… it’s a bad track, overall? Hopefully that’ll be the last in this article.
Hauntjam is nothing like the previous track. Chaotic is the best word to describe it. While the melody is ostensibly based on a ditty by Andrew Hussie himself, I would not be surprised if the vast majority of this remix was improvised, which certainly isn’t unexpected for a jazz album. The instruments are fairly low quality (the trombone and clarinet are particularly bad), and it’s mastered pretty overbearingly, not making this a particularly good listen. This track was mostly by Andrew Huo, one of the artists that most improved while working on Homestuck. Bowman is credited for having improved this track with some moving melodies that find some order in the chaos, but he didn’t have much to work with.
Huo will be mentioned later and praised for something else, don’t you worry.
Homestuck Vol. 4 (4/13/2010; ~3:39)
(3:39) Sburban Jungle
Finally heard in full in the atmospheric, apocalyptic end of Homestuck’s third act, this track takes the brief mix past the first minute, past the main melody and into ascending, might I say epic? percussion-heavy segments that go very well with the heavy action. Around the two minute mark, the backing instruments all but stop, focusing on the piano, a tension building melody that resolves itself with the classic backwards cymbal. This song has many of what I might uncharitably call cinematic (but musically vacuous) elements, like many of Bowman’s songs in this period. I’m actually not as much of a fan of the song itself, as listening material, as I am of what it represents. At the very least, the leitmotif (some say elitemotif) is really damn good, one of the most memorable building blocks of Homestuck as an artpiece
Shout out to the otherwordly distorted plucks around 1:45, which would become a trademark of the Bowman Sound™, especially for Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido.
Homestuck Vol. 5 (6/13/2010; ~13:10)
(2:54) Hardchorale (meows)
The first track is a 0:35 remix of Chorale for Jaspers, which I think might have been created entirely by Toby Fox—there’s a bad habit in the Homestuck Discography of crediting people for tracks they didn’t make, just because their music is being remixed. Anyway, this is terrible. I do not know why it exists.
How Do I Live deserves its own section. The movie Con Air is a big part of Homestuck’s cultural mythos, being one of the favorite movies of massive-nerd John Egbert, which might very well be the mainest main character in the comic. In the animation, he reenacts the final scene of the movie, where Nicolas Cage gifts a bunny to his estranged daughter. I don’t believe Bowman knew this was going to happen, he just wanted to do a bombastic almost-academy-award-winning Hollywood song cover, and John’s initial obsession gave him a good excuse.
Musically, there isn’t anything worth mentioning, besides maybe the extremely distorted, almost lo-fi guitars taking over as the main instrument, while the original song is an inoffensive but bombastic country-pop ballad with synth strings, a loud female voice and nothing else popping up. The Homestuck cover is interrupted halfway through for a spoken guitar solo by Nick Smalley, infamous music team funnyman. It doesn’t really ruin anything, since this is not a track that anyone listens to for its musical quality, it’s a fun joke song for the whole family, and the animation enhances that.
Obviously, this track is the first to feature his voice front and center. A few people have sometimes described Bowman’s timbre as nasal and slightly annoying, but I prefer to think of it as distinctive, an acquired taste that in my case was nigh instantaneous. The comparative success of this track is something I’m sure convinced him further vocal tracks were a possibility, and would eventually lead into a solo career.
It’s worth mentioning Andrew Hussie, according to the music team, almost universally disliked and rejected vocal submissions, but he never once rejected one of Bowman’s. Food for thought.
Ruins is more of a Jit track, so I’ll lazily let Bowman speak about his own contribution:
Really it’s the “(With Strings)” part that is my doing. When Jit was first inducted to the team, he did not have access at the time to a proper recording environment or midi controller that he could apply a high-quality piano sound to, so he had recorded his piano demo for “Ruins” on what I’m guessing is an on-board laptop microphone. I thought the composition was really great but knew that it would sound too unpolished to make the cut onto a Homestuck album [ed. Jit confirms this], so I resolved to write a string accompaniment around his composition.
By applying an incredibly enormous amount of reverb to the piano part, I hid the low fidelity of the original recording and made it sound as though it was hauntingly played to the listener from the other end of a cave […]
He also mentions World of Goo played an influence, which surprises me. Bowman sometimes uses very obviously video-game influenced synths, but I thought that was an affect of his time in Homestuck, not the other way around.
Greenhouseis what Ohgodwhat Remix wanted to be. Just an overall fun, flang-synth-heavy track, with intermissions that feel straight out of the Kirby games, some scatting from Michael Guy, and finally a triumphant surf-style guitar coming in halfway through to complete the composition. It’s definitely one of my favorite Volume 5 tracks. Greenhouse’s page in the wiki is tragically anemic, with not a single follow-up or remix, no commentary and no context. Thankfully, the wiki is failing us in this instance, and the first, amazing remix came out in 2017, a whopping 7 years later. There’s always hope, guys.
Hardchorale is yet another Chorale for Jaspers remix, mainly by Alex Rosetti. Bowman contributed some heavy metal meows. After writing this, I checked out Rosetti’s commentary, and he used those exact words to describe it. I guess I’ve said all that can be said.
Squiddles! (8/26/2010; ~11:47)
Squiddles! is the second in-universe concept album. Within Homestuck, Squiddles is a cartoon for babies that’s referenced a couple times, with the squids foreshadowing eldritch entities from another dimension, which is typical for Homestuck. This is the fake soundtrack for that fake show, and Bowman contributed three original tracks.
Tangled Waltz is an extremely competent score, the kind of music even a normal person could listen to without realizing it comes from a fake soundtrack for a fake show featured in a fake webcomic. A slow waltz that builds upon itself, using soft synths, bells and pianos to still sound like background music for a children’s show. Unfortunately, around minute three, the time structure is warped further, presumably because Bowman got bored of the track? It doesn’t work at all, making the track stressful and more than a little bit strident. Wait, did he just do that because of “Tangled”? It was not worth it, because before that point, the track was maybe a bit forgettable, but charming.
Later commentary by Bowman explains that he likes experimenting with new structures, signatures, instruments, etc. I’m guessing Homestuck was both the best and worst environment to do that in, because, while you could do whatever weird electronic shit you wanted and people would eat it up, there was definitely resistance to anything that even superficially leaned on traditional styles of music, some it from the author himself.
Moving on to the next, I might call Squiddle Samba the chill version of Greenhouse, with a happy melody alternating sections of bassy synth, some pitched-up vocals and the mandatory oceanic steel drums. The distorted electric guitar is a bit too overbearing when it comes in, ruining the chill atmosphere, and the bassy synth isn’t great either. A+ for concept, C+ for execution.
Mister Bowman Tells You About the Squiddles starts with a classic performer-kid question-and-answer routine typical of kids shows, and then it transitions into a singalong track.
Kazoos are involved for some reason, as well as backup singers. Definitely memorable, but I wouldn’t listen to this more than once. It gets points for playing into the concept of the album, that’s for sure.
This was not really anyone’s best album, so we can’t blame Bowman here.
Homestuck Vol. 6: Heir Transparent (1/5/2011; ~3:57)
(3:57) I Don't Want to Miss a Thing
Remember how John Egbert liked Con Air? He also liked Armageddon, so Bowman had no choice but to record yet another cover (he totally did have a choice). The funny thing is that Andrew Hussie somehow ended up using it for an animation, a few years later, and it made some disturbing amount of sense.
This cover is a calmer, more faithful version of the original track, though Bowman really hams it up more than Aerosmith ever could. The Youtube comments describe it as “horrible, yet beautiful”, and yeah, I’d have to agree with that. Otherwise, not much to say about this. You can only get away with the movie cover concept so many times.
Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido (5/31/2011; ~39:16)
(5:44) Dawn of Man
(4:35) Beta Version
(4:28) No Release
(4:46) Lies With The Sea
(4:37) Chain Of Prospit
(3:31) Pumpkin Tide
(3:36) The Deeper You Go
This album marks the beginning of Bowman’s solo career, though still technically within Homestuck’s label. Go listen to it right now.
You’re back? Wow, so fast.
This album is considered by manyto be the best solo album, maybe even the best album in the HS discography, to the point of itself gaining tribute albums. Though I’m sure the conceit for this record was originally just an excuse to justify using his voice, the album ended up ballooning in ambition, to the point Bowman and Morra, the titular Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido, made outfits for the fictional characters they were supposed to be embodying inside the Homestuck universe, and wore them for track arts. All the instruments are either real or fully synthethized from scratch to get the right sound. Even a music video was made, and is very much worth watching if you’re too lazy to listen to the entire album.
Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido, agents of Prospit and Derse. They once fought on the battlefield as their respective nemeses, only to be united by a common epiphany - the truth behind the Ultimate Riddle. Gazing upon the Skaian clouds, the secrets of the past, present, and future are now well guarded by these strange sentinels who spread enlightenment through their cryptic music and dance. Together, they hope their songs may be a beacon to all those who undertake the Riddle.
Yeah, even if you’re a Homestuck fan, this is paper thin, and merely an excuse to embed original songs into the discography as a Trojan horse. There are some references in the lyrics, but overall this is a Bowman track first and foremost. You can forget about the concept now and forever.
The album begins with Forever, a very slow, almost slowed-down instrumental guitar melody with some highly echoey synths escalating into a higher volume and complexity. Very good (within the bounds of ‘foreboding guitar song’), but merely an intro track to what will come.
Dawn of Man is the first look at what this album is really about.
(A small aside first. Bowman has quite a few covers uploaded on his Youtube account, so, for those fans who’ve already listened to the originals, I thought I’d include them in the review whenever it made sense. I’m not reviewing the videos, I’m reviewing the songs, but you might like these if you’ve never heard these alternate versions before. Here goes Dawn Of Man (Piano Version)).
I fell into the tide
It spat me back on the sand
I laughed without a clue
How lucky I was to land
The guns they all went pop
We heard the screams and shouts
I was brought into this world
As they were taken out
Featuring lyrics referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey and even tragedies like that of Tiananmen Square, Dawn of Man isultimately a song about the illusion of safety in a modern world built on the corpses of past generations. Despite all our visible progress, our DNA is that of an extremely violent species, we live in a cruel world, and the masquerade could break down any second. People don’t know how well they have it.
Despite the lyrics, the singer sounds sad but hopeful. A rhythmic piano and frequent guitar solos play in between. Sometimes, the leitmotif for Sburban Jungle comes in, an almost unwelcome reminder of the limitations of being locked to a single audience.
As the song continues, Bowman gets more and more audibly excited, putting more energy into his voice and performance, sounding almost like he’s out of breath at points. After triumphantly reaching its apex, the song switches tracks and progressively slows down, brought to a silence by a melody reminiscent of the epic bridge in, again, Sburban Jungle.
The next track is instrumental. Beta Version, a track which significance I can only describe as “cult classic”. People who don’t like Bowman’s vocals will still point to this track as the best track of MTaHK, and one of the best period. The name obviously refers to how the game played in Homestuck, SBURB, is still in beta, so I guess it’s a track about the game? Oh it doesn’t matter. It’s a very active synth bop, featuring a funny structure, with constant staccatos. And for once, an electric guitar that doesn’t go crazy. In fact, it’s the synth and drums that go crazy towards the end, in a way that defies description in all ways except the one I just wrote. Keys were changed, synergy was achieved. That end section is certainly one of my favorite moments in the thousand hours of the HS discography.
No Release comes immediately after. A very standard slow-dance song, this is probably the least complex, least memorable track in the album. It’s not bad exactly, but even the lyrics are a bit lacking.
If she's the reason you live
You'll only get what you give
And what you've given is no release
The singer addresses a toxic, maybe codependent relationship from the outside, in a way that doesn’t exactly let you know if he’s right or not. He tells the man to cut ties with his partner or at least be true to himself and admit his unhappiness, in a relationship where he is pretending everything is fine and she’s is checked out. Both would be happier apart than together.
Let’s remember that this is a track in an album for Homestuck, a webcomic about four thirteen year olds playing a video game, at least at this point in the timeline. Far be it from me to complain about the ties to Homestuck considering this was merely a stage in Bowman’s career, but while it’s certainly original to write a song about a toxic relationship set to an inoffensive slow-dance melody, it doesn’t do much for me in any musical or narrative way. It picks up towards the middle and the end, gaining beautiful arpeggio synths and some complexity, but Bowman’s slightly robotic intonation and a subpar guitar solo stop the song from sticking the landing.
Moving on to Fly, you might have already heard the song in the video above. This one is a banger.
Dream dream dream dream your life
Make it up from scratch
In your dream you're the star
It's you who makes that catch […]
It's insane you must be high on pot
It's insane the air this man has got
It's insane the stuff you must be on
It's insane you wake up and it's gone
The Homestuck theme is finally out in force. This song is a lyrical monument to Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, which probably needs no introduction.
You have to stop yourself from singing along to Fly once you know the lyrics. It’s fun and upbeat, and you can enjoy in Bowman’s voice that he thinks the same thing. Unlike in the rest of the album, the voice actually takes full protagonism, with the synths only enhancing the pauses and not getting in the way, all set to a high BPM drumline that is making me tap my foot as I write this. Have I mentioned I love this song? Well, it’s not over. The song’s taking a break, and the spacey guitar solo comes in to set up the finale.
There’s an attempt at a smooth transition into the next song, Lies With the Sea. However, Lies With the Sea starts with heavy, disctinctly unsmooth sounds of distortion. A baffling move, maybe less nonsensical if this wasn’t a slower, more understated song than the former.
Bowman sings with a low voice. Surprisingly ‘clappy’ drums rise above the mix, sometimes accompanied with actual drum machine claps. A melancholic high pitched synth and a slow reverberating guitar carry the melody, sometimes veering into (again) Sburban Jungle. The lyrics are weird, but evocative. They’re about a lost submarine, and the singer is enamored with the things found deep below.
Lonely submarine in murky shades of blue and green
A silent knock on Davy Jones' door
Octopi and hydronauts explore unsalvaged shipwrecks caught
In coral reeves that span the ocean floor […]
My heart lies with the sea
My heart lies with the ocean
Bowman mentions in a rare piece of commentary that this song is inspired by the slow tracks in Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, which I can definitely hear, and explains why I like this track. I rarely think about it, but I never skip it and always enjoy it. The perfect track to put in the middle of an album, between two bangers.
Speaking of rare pieces, there’s a demo version,which I include below.
It might be a bit unfair to review a demo track, but you’ll forgive me, because I love this. Maybe the voice is mixed a bit too quiet, maybe the end sounds like a small child playing with a keyboard, and it does abuse sound effects a little in general, but this would have been a super memorable lil thing.
And here’s Chain of Prospit, the second banger, known to everyone who’s ever heard of MTaHK. This invigorating, optimistic track is about suicide!
Before your hopes and dreams are sold up
You haven't failed yet don't hold up
Don't cut the tape before it's rolled up
You've always got a chance
And if the picture isn't clear just shop it
You're swinging by the chain of Prospit
The future's always there so pop it
Back into its place
Bowman even veers into falsetto a few times, almost making fun of the concept, a pep talk to someone hanging to life from a thin chain. There’s always something you can do, even if things look dim! Homestuck is namedropped, and references to story concepts aren’t rare either. In my headcanon, Bowman pitched MTaHK to the creator of Homestuck and said “Look, this solo album is totally about your comic, let me put it up on your Bandcamp. You’re skeptical? Okay, listen to this.”
The vocals are strong and endless, with barely room to breathe, especially with about five layers of synths coming and going in the mix. A heavily distorted, shrill, almost percussive synth loops the “riff” this song is known for throughout. The song is better for all these interlocking parts, but it’s so high energy that I have to admit that you’re often glad it’s over by the time it ends.
A light, almost old-timey piano starts playing, but is quickly overtaken by loud vocals and a distorted rhythmic bass, reminiscent of a garage band. Pumpkin Tide is here.
Destroy your desk, it's useless now
Build yourself a fort to hide
Close your eyes and crawl inside
You're sailing on the pumpkin tide
This track is about Andrew Hussie’s former comic, Problem Sleuth, at least cosmetically, with the lyrics using terms from the story but actually telling a story about extreme paranoia and reclusion. Everyone will betray you eventually, you can’t trust anyone.
Despite the lyrics, the song is not without its animated moments, with the shrill lead synth really going haywire, sliding all over the damn place. The main melody feels completely at odds with whatever story is being told, but all in all, it’s a decent track.
Finally, with The Deeper You Go, we’ve reached the end. Another synth track carried by a simple bassline, and making heavy use of Sburban Jungle, but a good way to shed the emotional overload from the last two tracks. It has some odd percussion, involving finger snaps, until, near the end, it briefly evolves into a poignant rock song, like the album is sad to let us go. Then, calm again, back to the original structure until the album fades into nothingness. I now realize this is actually what the title is about.
And that’s Mobius Trip and Hadron Kaleido! Not strongly tied thematically but instrumentally, and an evolution, maybe even perfection of Bowman’s production style into something he’d make good use of in the coming years. A hint to what he would eventually become, and an experiment that gave us at least two top-ten Bowman tracks.
Thanks for staying for me so far. Back to Real Homestuck. Wait no, intermission.
Michael Guy Bowman’s comedy videos (2011-Present; ~99:99)
That last review was hard to get through, wasn’t it? Boy I’ve typed the words “track” and “song” a lot. Maybe reviewing all of Bowman’s music at once was a mistake? Nah. Lean back, relax, and watch this video to tide you over, then we’ll get back to it.
Though mainly a singer, Bowman became one of the most well known fandom celebrities in certain circles not because of his music…
I’ll let Bowman-Stutzman Expert Ngame explain it:
What isn't as well-known is that he's also an incredibly hilarious individual with dozens of sketch comedy videos - often featuring his equally sidesplitting friend, Scott Stutzman […]
If you liked Bowman's Homestuck stuff, love comedy videos, or were just too damn intrigued […] to stay out of the loop, I recommend giving the Stutzbows (as I like to call their videos) a watch. Whether it's Scott singing you the jingle for his favorite breakfast cereal, Bowman informing you about his credit score (spoiler alert: it's 720), or both of them having some good, old-fashioned backyard fun, I'm certain there's something to enjoy for everyone.
Here’s a good example, though you can check that link above later if you need a longer intermission.
Homestuck Vol. 7: At the Price of Oblivion (5/31/2011; ~3:50)
This seems like a good point to mention that Homestuck’s album release schedule didn’t match the song production order. It would be a great transition to say “taking a rest from MTaHK, Bowman moved on to sillier, lower ambition tracks like Warhammer of Zillyhoo”, but for all I know, both of these tracks were made before that. Whatever the backstory is, both the previous album and this one were released simultaneously.
Sillier, lower ambition is a good way to describe both tracks here. Warhammer of Zillyhoo is one of the simplest songs in the soundtrack, a tribute to one of the weapons carried by one of the characters, though it must have been a pain to record. Bowman simply sings the words in the title over and over in an actual, full blown gregorian chant. This track is a good example of how the musicians would directly and aggressively control the actual story events, or at least specific scenes, as I’m pretty sure we got an entire animation around the song only because it exists, and Andrew Hussie would have never asked for one in the first place. A memorable piece for sure.
Maplehoof’s Adventure is pretty clearly a “sequel” to Pony Chorale, down to using the same samples, but it’s higher BPM, with an upbeat marching tone heavy on bells and whistling and constantly intercut by neighs, voiced by what can ridiculously be described as a non-Bowman female. At one point, a whipping sound is heard, and the neigh takes on a sexual tone, and by the end, the neighs sound exhausted, almost like the vocalist is in her deathbed. Honestly, this song isn’t that good even for a joke track. At three full minutes, it vastly overstays its welcome.
The Wanderers (7/14/2011; ~8:48)
The Wanderers is a forgotten gem, one of the two albums completely lost in the mismanagement of the Homestuck Bandcamp. Unlike the previous Music Team group albums, this one is not meant to exist within the universe. It’s merely a variety of tracks themed around a group of characters stuck in a post-apocalyptic desert. The concept often leads to melancholic, airy melodies and, hilariously, a heavy use of middle-eastern instruments, even though the actual locations would match to the United States and what used to be an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Bowman contributed two tracks to this album, and we’re all glad for it, as his focus on production allows him to perfectly replicate the original sound this album is going for. The first of the two, Aimless Morning Gold, is a slow acoustic guitar song accompanied by an high pitched, Rhodes-piano-like-synth, with no percussion but a rough bassline, a combination that personally reminds me of Pink Floyd. After I wrote this, I looked to see if Bowman had ever addressed the comparison, and he had.
A few people have compared it to Pink Floyd, though I think I have yet to hear the track it’s reminding everyone of [ed. for example, the beginning of Sheep]. Aimless Morning Gold was just a lot of noodling around with western sounds and whiny synths in the middle of the night. I wanted to build a track that would contrast with all the fake middle eastern music that I knew would inevitably populate the album, so I picked a different desert culture to mimic.
Near the end, the track is briefly interrupted by a flurry of gunshots, a nod to the character this is for, but quickly returns to its calm structure and fades into silence. An outstanding contribution.
Ruins Rising is a remix of a track we’ve previously talked about. A five minute track, way longer than the average track in the soundtrack.Despite the length, this track flies by. It starts with a forlorn electric guitar that almost seems to lead from the previous piece into this one, but it slows down and fades into a reverberating, airy background layer that will accompany the rest of the song. A synthethized piano starts playing the looping riff that defines the song, together with distorted, scratchy, almost turntable noises, and some very light percussion. Almost two whole minutes in, the Ruins melody starts playing by what what’ll become the most tangible instrument in the mix, another guitar, but the song maintains its lowkey, chill façade. A chorus slowly builds the song up to the next stage, with the guitar finally and loudly coming to the forefront to repeat the Ruins melody. By this time, the percussion is going crazy, and you feel like you’re in a rock concert, but in space. What an amazing tribute to Jit’s composition.
I feel I need to bring up at this point that Bowman is really good at handling songs with a slightly more extended length than the Homestuck Music Team is used to. They never really feel long, at least when they’re not joke tracks.
Jailbreak Vol. 1 (10/16/2011; ~1:42)
(1:42) Mechanic Panic
Okay, I’ll be straight with you, I had completely forgotten Bowman contributed to this album. Like you all, fellow Homestuck music TRUE FANN….sI knew that GFD, Jit and RJ, maybe a couple more obscure team members worked on the famous, incredibly popular unofficial Jailbreak album. But unlike you all, I forgot that Bowman was in here. Shameful, I tell you.
Like most if not all tracks in this album, it’s a chiptune. A truly outrageous number of beats per minute carry a short loop that would not be out of place in a Game Boy game boss fight. Good, but it doesn’t stick with you. It’s no Drillgorg.
Homestuck Vol. 8 (10/25/2011; ~24:16)
(3:12) Ocean Stars Falling
(2:58) Escape Pod
(4:15) Frog Hunt
I was going to start this section with “Bowman brings his most eclectic selection of songs to the table in this album” but then I looked below at Volume 9. We’ll get there.
Calamity starts heavy on the piano, partnered with ascending synths, honks and samples from Warhammer of Zillyhoo. Bafflingly, sounds from a rocket launch sequence finish up the intro sequence. Flangy, drawn out synths and a fast drum will back up the piano melody for the rest of the track. The piano itself becomes more articulated as the song continues. Calamity is the first track in the album, which is good, because I feel like this song ceaselessly builds up to something that never comes.
Ocean Stars Falling applies the Ruins Rising-like treatment to a new track, Mark Hadley’s Ocean Stars. In the original Squiddles album, Ocean Stars was a slowish, simple song accompanied by synthethized strings, but it had a strongly memorable melody, which Bowman makes good use of here.
The Falling version completely sheds the time structure of the original, turning it into a steadily progressing track that takes it from its humble, slow origins into something bigger and better. Strong percussion, background vocalizations and guitars, while keeping the original synth as the lead instrument, completely transform the song into something new and amazing.
Escape Pod uses springy, Sega Genesis-like synthsto carry a brief, speedy melody, but it has standard background guitars and slightly lo-fi rock percussion. It’s not my thing. It feels like the kind of track that plays during an action scene of a cartoon, and, while I suppose I have to respect the originality of the concept, it doesn’t do much for me.
Frog Hunt is a calm, guitar heavy track that would not feel out in The Wanderers, but it sets itself apart by its frog sounds and a happy melody, which I feel is more improvised in these tracks than it’s ever been before, like a jam session over the jungly drumbeats. Features a couple of sections where you’re sure it’s about end, but instead the song changes structure and the percussion gains a bit more focus.
Gust of Heir was primarily a James Dever composition, but Bowman produced it from a midi file. It’s a long, ambiental, atmospheric track with a two-note bassline and a heavy use of synths, though it speeds up a little towards the end with some extremely low fidelity percussion, and I’m not exaggerating, it feels like someone is tapping on the microphone. The melody is very simple, but honestly, we’ve been reviewing a lot of fast rock songs and it’s good to interspace those with ambiental, lowkey tracks. Despite its simplicity, I think many people remember this track fondly. James Dever would return the favor for Bowman later, we’ll talk about it.
Similar to Gust, Revered Return is a remix of a chiptune track by Nick Smalley and Andrew Huo named “Dirgeish”. I have no explanation for the title or the Christian cross featured in the track art, but the song itself is a good—if a bit standard instrumentally—rock melody with a high paced buildup, and surprisingly, a nod to Sburban Jungle. Structurally it’s a bit over the place, to the point we get over five completely different sections in a two and half minute song. It’s an upgrade over the original track, but the original track wasn’t very good. Overall, a messy, slightly overbearing track fitting for the characters its meant to represent.
The final track was a bonus track. It’s a softer, slower version of How Do I Live, with slightly filtered vocals, though that doesn’t stop it from including the mandatory whiny, loud rock solo. This is an improvement over the original cover, but it abandons its concept as a joke song to do so, so it’s a bit forgettable.
Ithaca (1/1/2012; ~44:08)
(3:35) Old Buggy Now
(4:47) Come With Me
(2:15) Tacit Blue
(4:09) Rodeo Clown
(3:22) Cerulean Skies
(3:57) Kalesa In Binondo
(2:33) Underneath It All
(2:18) Laughing Forest
(3:59) The Roamin' Bowman
Well, here we finally are. Okay, Homestuck is still a factor, but Ithaca marks the beginning of Bowman’s solo career. It would never be very successful, and to this point I’m fairly sure 90% of his fanbase still comes from his humble origins, but I digress.
Old Buggy Now is a bombastic pop song, with repeating, rhythmic horn-like sounds and arpeggio-ing synths reminiscent of dial tones accompanying some fun lyrics.
Guided by the stars burning up petroleum
Here inside my car I could be the only one
Somewhere in the sky a satellite on high
Watches with its lonely eye
Unless I’m completely failing at lyric comprehension, this is a simple love letter to cars. With a car, you can drive anywhere you want. Bowman almost peaked early with this track, and it’s honestly one of the most fun songs he’s ever made. The lyrics repeat often, the solo doesn’t go crazy, but it’s enough. An amazing song.
We’re taken to Ascension, a slower song with extended, string-like synths by HS musicians Solatrus and AbortedSlunk, as well as reverberating guitars. A violin played by Andrew Huo (remember him?) supposedly shows up at one point, but I’ve replayed the track a few times and I cannot hear it anywhere. It’s possible it was an electric violin and I’m mistaking it for a normal synth tune?
Ascending off to god knows where the ancient ones took parole
Legend says they were running from a force beyond their control
And the kingdom that was left behind
Was turned to dust from which mankind
Did first emerge like cinders up from the coal
This has nothing to do with the piece, but the story told by the well crafted lyrics reminds me a lot of the movie Prometheus. Ultimately, it’s a song about ancient aliens, but Bowman’s hair is not as crazy as that one guy’s. As the song progresses, Bowman’s lines get a bit more emotional, and the synths take on a beautiful timbre that reminds me of, don’t kill me, the Steven Universe soundtrack. Guitars accompany the song to the end as an insane synth solo plays.
The number of contributors to this track is odd, and you’re right to think so if you noticed it. This track was originally meant for a Music Team-splinter rock band opera project, entitled “Doctor Space”, but it wouldn’t pan out outside of less ambitious attempts like Casual Sunday, which would come much later, we’ll talk about it. This obscure fact of lore doesn’t really make the track feel less at home, however.
Come With Me comes next, a song instantly distinctive from the rest of the album by the addition of a female backup singer.
Your weak young heart is resting safe and sound
But the child you were is nowhere to be found
Well I’ve read in books that most folks feel this way
But the game cannot resume 'til you press play
The lyrics feel vaguer and harder to grasp than any Bowman piece before. I can only interpret them as being about a coward, a person who’s too focused on consequences to live in the moment, and being told by the singer to follow them into an adventure.
A good, prominent bassline and fast drums play throughout the track, and, surprisingly, shrill synth tones that wouldn’t be out of place in Old Buggy Now, a weird choice palliated by their lower volume. Even weirder, the track ends with a very extended guitar solo by Thomas Ferkol (which you may know as EidolonOrpheus from the Music Team),which doesn’t match the softly, methodically sung lyrics. Despite the incongruency, it works somehow.
Tacit Blue has one of the weirdest concepts in Bowman’s discography. It’s about an engineer (figuratively?) in love with the plane he built, disillusioned when it goes off to war but glad when it returns and becomes a museum piece.
Back in the lab I’m running the test
If you won’t fly then I won’t rest
Turbines turning in the tunnel of love
Upon that perch sits my dove
Built for stealth like a silent blade
My cobalt queen adorned in jade
Navy seal but Air Force-made
Please be true, the things you’ll do
A few “la-la-la”s and undulating “Tacit blueueue”s give the sound of this song a unique feel, helped along by sliding surf-rock-like guitars. The singing matches the lyrics, alternating between taciturn, offended and happy. Ultimately, besides the mandatory crazy synths, the instrumentals fall into the background, and you’re focused on the vocals all throughout.
The track is succeeded by Rodeo Clown, a track about an instantly recognizable figure in any friend group.
You are a rodeo clown
Does that not get you down?
We only keep you around for a laugh
But I just can’t help but frown
Bowman sings about the wildcard, the “friend” no one seems to actually like but which does crazy shit that keeps the group entertained. The kind of person you say “what a character” about, but you never get close to.
An overall depressing guitar melody and generic synths hold up the lyrics. Musically, I don’t think there’s anything interesting here, besides a short flute accompanyment played by Marcy Nabors around the middle, but the lyrics are good.
We’re not done with songs about pitiable figures, for Cerulean Skies is here.
Come on (write your own role)
Come on (no lump of coal)
Come on (just rock and roll)
'Cause if you’re not damned yet then you’ve sold your soul
Cerulean Skies’ lyrics tell a story about a man who’s so dedicated to helping others that he never helps himself, and he sings with regret about how he should have been more selfish. A bold message to be sure.
Musically, the vocal lines are echoey, even slightly distorted, but they are part of a call-and-response structure (like in the quote above). A straightforward rhythm guitar and a standard rock beat are virtually all that’s going on throughout the track, musically, though there are a few interesting synth choices here and there. Near the end, the singer starts sounding more and more angry and desperate, and so do the instruments. The song ends on a depressing note, driving the message that it’s too late to change anything.
Contrasting the above, Noun almost feels like a sad love song.
Somewhere in a jungle grove a candle burns denoting Saint Therese
A prayer that those we’ve left behind are troubled not with heart and mind at peace
Nurse attending close at hand with wine to cast its old familiar spell
An elder soul looks into you but cannot speak in things the tongue can tell
Long and distorted, poetic lyrics start off the track before it properly begins. It’s hard for me to boil down what they’re about. There are themes of forgetting, maybe even mourning. The singer might have lost something or someone important and they don’t have the word for it.
This is a very long and slow song. Flanging, bassy synths and sleepy drums punctuate the melody, mainly coming from Bowman’s voice. At times, the drumline even plays backwards. There are a few active oases in the track, but overall it makes for a contemplative, but good experience.
We move on to Ithaca. This track has gone places, from its humble beginnings during the making of MTaHK into the title track of a solo experience.
To Ithaca I sailed
And though I have not failed
My home is a fleeting camp, the journey’s just beginning
This song cosmetically references the Odyssey. It’s about the singer having finally settled down after a long journey and realized they’re still not happy, that they’re not at their final destination, this is just another transitionary stage on their way to a better place. More metaphorically, this could be not about physical places at all, but about the growing up process. You’re never really done, and you’ll always have some learning to do.
A piano features prominently, both rhythmically and as the lead, while an oddly (for Bowman) unaltered bass guitar plays an interesting line.
Kalesa in Binondo is an instrumental track, which is good because we just went through a whopping seven vocal ones. These would ultimately become rarer in Bowman’s solo adventures, but this one is strong, consisting of a slow crescendo in both volume and complexity of overlapping guitars, synths and bizarre vocal samples, like single notes of a choir. Three minutes in, the complexity falls back into a simple guitar melody reminiscent of Aimless Morning Gold, but it doesn’t end there, it returns to where it started, and finally ends with a quote “it will be fifty-two dollars, please”, which legend tells was spoken by Nick Smalley. From the name and this quote, I don’t think I’m in danger of being wrong when I say it’s a track about a ride in the Philippines, ending with the classic tourist ripoff.
Underneath It All starts with a memorable piano section, but is notable for its multiple singers coming together to punctuate certain lines, and Bowman backing himself up at multiple points (not in the piano version below though).
Underneath it all
I was always bound to fall (I’m just so scared to fall)
Behind the blood and tears
I’ve been running dry for years (running from my fears)
I thought the lyrics related to the singer being in a generic losing situation and having to deal with his realization, but the final lyric seems to put it in the context of a romantic breakup. You’ll come to learn how much Bowman likes this theme.
Interestingly, there’s an appearance by orchestral strings that wouldn’t feel out of place in a more mainstream pop track, seemingly added by Clark Powell, which gives Underneath an interesting texture and a high energy vibe. Despite the lyrics, the singer sounds almost happy about his situation, which combined with the strings makes it feel like a joyful final track to an album or even a movie.
Laughing Forest hits the brakes, another instrumental track that slows down the flow of the album with a repeating piano melody, laugh samples and a languid guitar, with a theremin-like synth trying to make us remember the track in the future. It won’t succeed. At least it’s blissfully short.
The final track, The Roamin’ Bowman feels like a sequel to Underneath It All, to the point I’m confident calling their shared “vibe” the Clark Powell sound.
Lonely days, humid nights
When I go to turn out all the lights
I only know you, love, will still be my true love
To have and to hold all my own
For without you I guess I'd just roam
It’s a breath of fresh air after the vague lyrics. This is just a love song that can be summed up as “home is where the heart is”.
The orchestral string backup and a strong piano melody return in force. Again, we feel like something special is about to end, and this time we’re right. Bowman’s voice might be at its strongest here. He sounds like he’s really enjoying recording this, and he shows off an impressive array of skills, from vibrato, to a range that leans into falsetto, and the perfect volume shifts to accompany the transitions of slow guitar to piano and everything else. The key change sequence is particularly great, and we’re left with a good taste in our ear mouths as the album’s over.
Homestuck Vol. 9 (6/12/2012; ~23:50)
(4:39) Another Jungle
(3:29) GameGrl (Original 1993 Mix)
(2:47) Minihoof's Adventure
(2:39) Elephant Gun
(3:25) Busting Makes Me Feel Good
(1:20) Another Countdown
Back to Homestuck! I’m pretty sure that if Hussie hadn’t replaced his diverse music team with James Roach and Toby Fox, and later just James Roach, Bowman would still be making tunes for the newer projects in the franchise. He clearly enjoys working on it, with the biggest showing yet for this album (though some tracks are unusually short).
Another Jungle has a weird backstory. You see, Homestuck is a highly influential work that made a lot of kids start their own webcomics inspired by the formula. It would boil down to a group of kids—usually the author and his friends—playing the same game and getting the same abilities and potential as the original protagonists. Another Jungle was a song for the fancomic Housetrapped, I’m not sure if commissioned or simply a labor of love. Bowman made it emulate the track Sburban Jungle, obviously. Musically, it’s a chiller track, using some light rhythmic guitars and sounding less overwrought. There’s no feeling of danger, but it’s fun and chipper, with a guitar heavy composition replacing the piano, and some nods to the song Showtime. Hilariously, Andrew Hussie liked it so much that despite being made for a fancomic, he ended up reusing it for Homestuck proper.
GameGrl deserves some context. Maybe it cannot be enjoyed without the context, even, so here it is. Feast your ears on GameBro.
While the original, masculine track has some chiptunes, it’s very inspired by Parappa the Rapper, being almost identical to the title screen song in the sequel, and otherwise taking after hiphop cliches in the 90s. GameGrl takes the concept in a wholly different direction, overall focusing on weird samples, and a more modern, airy, synth rock feel. Jit, the creator of the original song, plays the keytar, and a pitched-up Tavia Morra embodies the most mock-offensive, tongue-in-cheek parody of a girl gamer this world has ever seen.
Both tracks reference in-universe Homestuck magazines, and they are really, really good homages to their spirit.
Minihoof’s Adventure is yet another take on Pony Chorale, being a pitched-up, speed-up version of its remix Maplehoof’s Adventure. It sounds like a Kirby track, but it’s a bit too grating for usual listening. It’s the kind of track that would fit great in a minigame, but it went unused. Bowman somehow compares it to Mozart.
I stuck to my guns as a high school music theory student on this one, mostly drawing from Mozart and Sousa - it’s an overstimulating mess of counterpoint, and my main goal was to see if it would annoy composition major Erik [ed. Jit] Scheele (it worked).
Not just him! I have to admit, the musical theory implications went over my head, but if you’re at this point in this macroreview, you already know I’m not a musician.
Elephant Gun is another slightly grating track, with a loud synth and extremely fast, repetitive basslines, and drumlines with high attack and fast decay that cut right over the mix. Frenetic is a good word to sum this up, and I’m also getting Kirby feels here. It’s meant to be a Strife! theme, but unlike the likes of Showtime and Aggrieve I kind of want this to be over sooner than it is.
In the most surprising example of convergent evolution yet, we arrive at Busting Makes Me Feel Good, a remix of a single line in the Ghostbusters theme song.
This track was an attempt to try something in the same vain as the soundtrack to Jet Set Radio Future which was recommended to me by friends Erik Scheele and Richard Gung.
It really was an attempt. Sorry Bowman, but this just feels like a high energy synth track with lo-fi percussion that uses a lot of vocal samples, which isn’t enough to truly emulate the master Hideki Naganuma. The samples are annoying, but the instrumental and structure are one of Bowman’s best. You could almost dance to this song at the club, which might make it the singular example of a joke song in Bowman’s discography that works both ways. My only criticism is that the bridges make the song a bit longer than they should, and I think a constant escalation and an ending would have worked better.
Irreconcilable is a spanish guitar/castanets track paired with an electric guitar and drums, a weird combination to evoke a particular fusion of characters in Homestuck. A guitar solo by EidolonOrpheus tries to make this song memorable, but it ends far too soon, much like the character fusion.
Sorry in advance, but the next song also needs a bit of backstory if you’re not a Homestuck fan.
I mentioned the Midnight Crew before, a group of HS characters. At one point, Toby Fox sampled the first song he could find with “Midnight Crew” in the title, and unwittingly made this ancient song an unavoidable influence in the Homestuck soundtrack. Bowman tries to bring this influence to the forefront of our minds by making a post-punk cover, an unholy transformation that… doesn’t really work.
Bowman here - thought I'd speak up considering the bizarre amount of misconceptions about this track. I made this song because I like it. The arrangement isn't a joke, and I wasn't drunk when I sang the vocals. If it's not your cup of tea, fine, but let there be no illusions about my intentions - this song is me sincerely giving my 100% to make the "Midnight Crew" cover I've always wanted to hear. And I succeeded.
No you didn’t, sorry. I’ve done a deep dive into the commentary, and apparently this is a spin on an Iggy Pop production, and honestly, Iggy Pop’s voice is never the strong part of his songs? He does often sound drunk himself. This song is kind of a failed experiment, and even the production falls short, with the drums being so loud and separated from the mix they pierce your brain. It’s not the kind of song I automatically skip, but it’s a weak point of Volume 9 as a whole.
Capping off this album, if you’ve heard Sburban Countdown, Sburban Jungle, and Another Jungle, you know exactly how Another Countdown sounds, and why it was made. It’s a bonus track for a reason.
Volume 9 marks the end of the Homestuck Music Team for Bowman, as Toby Fox and James Roach got favored by the owner of the Homestuck franchise for stupid reasons, and everyone else was left on the wayside. They would return in more limited ways for Cherubim, and in way more limited ways way later for Volume 10, but soon after this, Bowman would start focusing on his solo career.
Rainbow Trip (9/21/2012, 5:04)
Before her Jamie Paige stage name, she used to go by hrmnzr. I used to be a fan, but at one point she removed everything she made off the Internet, which is why I somehow managed to forget this collaboration with Bowman existed before I published the review.
i’m a man but not your boy
i’m your fun but not your toy
i’d be glad to sing but this is someone else’s song
Wow, meta. Paige has a very unique indie rock style, and she’s a very good match for Bowman. This is her track, not his, so I can’t say much about the instrumental or I’ll be committing breach of contract. He alternates between a very subdued, un-bowmanlike style and his usual, somewhat crazier than usual yelling. There’s another collab track coming up later, so I’ll save some stuff for then.
Sburb OST (11/24/2012; ~1:28)
It’s pretty funny that we arrive at Waiting for Adventure right after Another Countdown. They’re the exact same type of song, for the exact same purpose, a loading screen for the game SBURB.
Sburb OST was a Homestuck fanmusic album (maybe the first fan album outside the Gaiden ones?) headed by Marcy Nabors, whom you might remember from Rodeo Clown. It was very common for music team members to constantly help with each other’s projects.
From the audio commentary:
This is like the third [ed. note fourth] example of a loading theme Bowman has done. He originally submitted Another Jungle, […] but we asked for something original.
Going for more of a dance beat and with heavy use of arpeggios and funky basslines, this does have a different audio feel, and it’s returning to the pianos from Sburban Jungle, with no guitars whatsoever. I like to imagine Bowman despairing that they made him somehow come up with yet another spin on the concept. Overall, it’s a really strong introduction track, and I have no complaints.
Comfortable Bugs (12/21/2012; ~43:05)
(4:06) Hard Reset
(2:45) Bad Dudes
(1:57) Looking For A Rock
(4:41) Comfortable Bugs
(4:24) I'm Letting Go
(4:04) Three Small Words
(3:56) Roll With The Punches
(4:11) Light Of Apollo
This is the second solo album from Bowman,having no relation to Homestuck, and it’s one that many of his fans call his best. He peaked early, you could say, but he hasn’t gotten any less skilled over the years.
Hard Reset might be the most memorable opener in a Bowman album. It makes heavy use of repetition, with short, fast lyrics.
This is a new day
I've got a new job
I've got to tell everyone about a
The lyrics are vague, but you can imagine they’re about a deluded singer trying to desperately convince everyone they’ve changed, and to give them another chance. Alternatively, it could just be a happy upbeat song about a new stage of life. Who knows?
A strong, scratchy synth lead carries the main melody until a backing piano, guitar and the vocals come in, a long intro that works well as one for the album. The piano falls back, but both it and ethereal strings punctuate the track at points in ways that really help feel it less samey. Ironically, the song builds up in effusiveness until Bowman, almost manic in his enunciation by that point, stops the song completely, only for it to hard reset. After a short repeat of the chorus, the song concludes with a single note endlessly echoeing into the void.
69423 is an oddly named track, but you will never forget the number once you understand it.
This train will make you feel pain, will make you feel pain
Tick tock trains - running on the fumes now
Turn it on, and how
Got to get high get down get lost come round
This yarn will make you burn barns, will make you burn barns
Big black barns - quite iconoclastic
How long will you last
If you should trip the light fantastic
Got to get high, get down (420), get lost (), come round (69). Ultimately, this song is about mindless hedonism, drugs, and the fun things in life, and the lyrics are fresh and inventive enough to convince you.
I’m consistently surprised this song is over four minutes long, because it feels so much shorter. A slow, garage band-style guitar sets the structure of the entire track with a repetitive, bassy line, and a piano plays an unforgettable tune between the stanzas. While this is a great song, I have to admit the piano is weirdly produced, seemingly having slowed down in post production. That’s my only complaint, really.
Bad Dudes is next, a song that, despite the title, is low energy and more reminiscent of Come With Me than anything else.
Are you a bad enough dude
To carry a torch, to ignite a feud
To change the whole world when you change your mood
It's hard to conclude
Are you bad or just rude?
Some of the lyrics are an obvious reference to a famous video game screenshot, but they go beyond, portraying a character that wants the appearance of a badass revolutionary, but who in practice is just a rude poser with an attitude problem. Musically, it’s just drums, piano and bass for a slightly jazzy experience, nothing special, except maybe Bowman singing “So Bad!” between lines and acting as his own backup singer.
Looking For A Rock is an unusually short and forgettable song.
I've enforced such a needless course
To a mindless goal that consumed my soul
But now that I've been torn asunder
I'm looking for a rock I can crawl under
There are a bunch of rock puns in the lyrics (which are about a man telling others to not be hypocrites by getting on his case for making a mistake, since everyone makes them), but I honestly forget this track exists every single time. A heavily distorted guitar plays over the kind of piano you’d hear in a very old classic rock song, but the synth line fails to carry a strong melody, and you keep waiting for the “point” of the track that never comes, though it’s never a drag. Maybe the most memorable part of the track is its ending, when it stops short and we softly hear Bowman say “wait a minute, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here”.
The opening tune of the title track, Comfortable Bugs, always reminds me of the theme for The Simpsons.
We're comfortable bugs living fun-loving lives in a wonderful world
Not a care for tomorrow, no pain, no sorrow, just boys and girls
We're comfortable bugs living fun-loving lives in a wonderful world
Without a care at all
I have no clue what this song is about, so I’m just going to go literalist mode and say it’s about literal bugs, inspired by a dream Bowman had. Or something.
Still, it’s one of the strongest tracks, with a very active background piano, and even trumpets helping Bowman’s voice along. About four types of piano and organ play in the bridge, and it should fail miserably, especially when a synth right out of Kill Bill ushers in a repeat of the chorus, but this is a song that’s better than the sum of its parts.
Next up is I’m Letting Go, a track with the first music video Bowman made ever since Fly.
I'm letting go
Of the chances I had but was always gonna blow
Of the beautiful people who never said hello
Of the life I'd have lived if I knew then what I know
This slow ballad marks the transition into a calmer, more poignant half of the album. The singer is at a ball or dance, but beyond that, it’s a bit hard to grasp at the message the lyrics are sending, though a sense of alienation pervades them. He should be happy, but he’s alone instead, and he lets go of the hopes that he’d ever find a dance partner, or more generally, that he’d ever fit in.
It’s not just the lyrics, this song would be a good fit for slow dancing. There are points where the song picks up, but overall it’s an understated rhythmic guitar distorting into ambient sounds, a tangible beat and Bowman’s voice responding to the constant call “I’m letting go”.
If the previous song was slow, Three Small Words is downright sleepy, in a good way.
One small chance - One thin line
No damn way I can conceive to say what's on my mind
I love you - Three small words
Just the dumbest thing I'm sure that you have ever heard
Each time I try to call it feels absurd
That quote sums it up, the singer is afraid to say a certain thing. The instrumental is particularly good in this track, and while there’s a guitar that mostly follows the vocals and a very simple 4/4 beat, the simplicity is contrasted with orchestral strings coming in at key points, as well as a piano an and organ alternating a sweet melody whenever Bowman’s quiet. The song makes the odd but pleasing decision to end with very airy horns, almost like train noises. Beautiful.
The next song is Every Time I Look Into Your Eyes. At a whopping nine minutes, I don’t know what Bowman was thinking, but it works. It’s almost progressive rock or jazz improv, but there’s a festive quality to the lyrical, melodic and instrumental choices, especially when the guitar is not playing and the organ takes over.Lyrics are rare, but really tug at your musical heartstrings when they do come.
Where do all of the walls go
When you walk in the door
You are the "and's" and the "also's"
I am the "either" and "or"
You look to me like an angel
I took to you like a drug
Bizarro heaven or strange hell
We both were comfortable bugs
The singer is hypnotized by the subject’s eyes, like a siren’s call, and it could be romantic, but a couple lines like “I can’t remember the lies” hint at someone using beauty to get away with toxicity, and the singer being too weak to resist.
You’d think you’d get tired of this song, but even when writing this review, I had to play it twice. The soft instrument choices and mixing make this track feel like a warm blanket in a cold day.
That feeling carries into the next track, Roll With The Punches.
Is it always so damn hard
To learn to be happy with who you are
To roll with the puches
Admit that our hunches
Are the only truths we know?
I’ve realized this is a theme with Bowman as I write this review. These lyrics criticize the idea of holding onto a mask, and promote being who you really are, with no pretense. Admit you’re weak and fallible.
The instrumentals are similar to the previous track, with a plodding piano and some ethereal bells, and even what sounds like a sitar at one point playing an amazing solo.
Remember when I said this was the slow half of the album? Nah, Light of Apollo arrives to ruin the streak.
Another golden hour - a needle in the sea
Another gift shop postcard - always close to me
The light of Apollo flows through all we see
The way I see it, this song is about the inexorable passage of time, and how we try to preserve small moments, even though it’s a losing battle. Despite the theme, it’s a very active, reverb-y track, almost psychodelic, with a strong bassline. A small piano shows up and does some clear improv throughout. Solid end to this comfortable album.
Cherubim (3/14/2013; ~4:46)
(4:46) Constant Conquest
The cherubs are a pair of characters in Homestuck characterized for their duality, like they’re two sides of the same coin. Bowman thought this was a pretty interesting musical concept. He came up with Cherubim, which would be an album where happy clean songs would be paired with darker dirty versions, each made by a different artist. This is the dark version of Constant Confinement by Jit, and it would be Bowman’s last contribution to Homestuck for over three years.
Constant Conquest is set to a mechanical beat throughout, with heavily distorted synths coming and going, reminiscent of the Portal 2 soundtrack. As the lead, a dreamlike, modem-like synth carries the melody. The background noises get stronger and stronger until they reach an apex, and the song is interrupted by a noisy solo, where synths warble and bubble like you’re at a vampire rave. Glitches and crashes crescendo into noise way further than you think they would be able to while keeping their musicality, and the track finally resolves into a creepy, low quality laugh sample.
Some peoplecall Constant Conquest one of the best songs in the entire soundtrack, and I can’t blame them. As they say, it’s a shame Homestuck’s development became such a mess by then that tracks like these could never be used to score an (extremely rare by then) animation.
Shortcuts (11/2/2013; ~5:51)
(5:51) Loop 1
Shortcuts was the first and last album of Casual Sunday. It was essentially a band created to make up for the lack of a Homestuck Music Team, so all their members could still hang out and make music together.
A soft electric guitar plays an ascending melody, while Doppler effected sounds fade in and out, fitting since this is a song about a highway. A very strong and significant beat, almost like claps, plays throughout. After a point, a progressive synthethized line takes over. It’s a nice little thing, maybe a bit repetitive. This is what Bowman has to say about it:
This track pulls from the sound of krautrock, copping the motorik beat and droning sensibilities of Neu!
I have no idea what any of that means. Sometimes I feel unworthy of the mission of reviewing 170 Bowman tracks. Let’s just move on.
Hush (8/19/2015; ~40:44)
(3:18) I Have A Plan
(4:14) Hush Fell
(4:22) Wrong Or Right
(3:15) Talk To The Words
2015 was well into the Dark Period of Homestuck, and people really thought Bowman wasn’t coming back. But nah, he’s here, starting with I Have a Plan. Notable for the period, this album has no features, it’s pure Michael.
If the river has a course
It's been dammed, it's been dammed
If the journey has an ending
It's a sham, it's a sham
I don't know a way out
But you know what I have?
I HAVE A PLAN
I suppose it can just be a generic song about lying to everyone about being in control, but it really reads to me like it’s about politicians or The Establishment in particular, “Guided by promises, some future prize”. If 2015 wasn’t a bit too early, it might even be about climate change.Unlike the previous three openers, there’s no slow start to this one, kicking things off with a heavily distorted riff and leading right into the main event. The mix in the middle of the track is almost pure noise, with even Bowman’s chorus sometimes falling behind the mix, and a harsh melody with almost discordant guitars accompanies Bowman’s wailing vocals. A very standard drum beat keeps things sane, convincing us there’s a plan behind the madness.
Yeah, this is an unfitting but amazing opener to an album named Hush. Let’s hope the next track is…
Hush Fell is the second track of Hush, an album with the subtitle ‘Fall in the Hush’, but it’s not to be confused with the ninth track ‘Hush’. Guy had a theme.
The HUSH that FELL shook the trees
Old receipts blew in the breeze
Paper nights, plastic days
Earth stood still, red with haze
Emphasis not mine, Bowman does this a lot this album. These lyrics are echoed thrice at key words, leaving almost no space for instrumental sections—but once in a while, Bowman whispers “Hussshhhhhh” and falls back. His voice feels a bit disillusioned with whatever he’s singing about, and a distorted piano plays a repetitive, ascending melody while a wavering guitar sets a disconcerting but magical rhythm alongside Bowman’s lines, which I believe are about the moments right after terrible secrets have been revealed.
Let’s now give respect to the next track, a fan favorite, Synchronize. A tragedy this one never got a music video.
All I want to do is SYNCHRONIZE
See the look of terror in your eyes
At the moment when you sympathize with me
I think there is a theme with Bowman, where a single line changes the context of the lyrics. Well, this song is basically alternating lines that could be about reaching a deeper connection with ones that paint the situation in a darker shade. It’s difficult to gauge whether it’s about a toxic, strained relationship, or about a stalker with a crush.
Overall, it’s a standard pop tune with a funky beat and staccato synths, and possibly the track with the most chances to go mainstream, especially still when Homestuck fans numbered higher than a thousand. But the miracle never happened.
While Synchronize is great, I’m grateful the next track gives us a bit of a break from the high energy marathon. Tribes has an emptier mix, with almost disconcertingly strong, steady drums, and the melody more carried by a voice than by the understated guitar. More than anything, this track reminds me of Dawn of Man.
What we are is who we hate
Who we castigate for all the rest of time
Little children, it would kill them
If they knew what we were doing to their minds
You can probably guess that the song is about party lines, culture wars, scissor statements. The dark side of tribalism, pure and simple. The combination of the subject matter and the drums make the track feel like an anthem, Bowman imploring us to see what we’re doing wrong.
Oddly, this track just ends out of nowhere and unexpectedly. I’m guessing the simple, repetitive structure didn’t give Bowman much to work with.
Following the sudden silence, Redshifts appears. This is one of those I completely forget exist. A frequent, recurring guitar riff reminds me of the credits theme for a sports movie, while most of the way the vocals are sung reminds me very strongly or David Bowie.Maybe a bit too much.
Everything we have is borrowed
Past and present and tomorrow
All of what we are, we're losing
Nothing much is ours for choosing
What depressing lyrics. Hinted by ‘Redshifts’, this song was clearly inspired by the concept of entropy, the Big Freeze, but its more immediate, less literal focus is on Time, that cruel mistress. Wait, he already did this with Light of Apollo. What a hack, using the same theme twice!
It’s slow and lowkey, with a piano underscoring the words, and the chorus is sung in detached, almost singsong tones, very heavily processed. The end comes with spoken vocals, by then long given up on singing, and instruments appropriately fading into the distance, heavily echoed.
Rage is the next song, immediately kicking off a weird beat, and leading into a bassy synth line straight out of an 80s TV show intro.
I'll run my fingers 'round through any woman's hair
I'll steal anything that I've been told to share
I'll scream that word I know if I can't leave my chair
I know just what I want and when it isn't there
I usually confidently and wrongly call each song’s meaning, but I remember Bowman writing about this one, so I’ll retell it. I remember correctly, these lyrics came from an experience Bowman had with a severely disturbed mentally disabled man, who despite his handicap abused his caretakers until he got what he wanted. Actually, the fact this history is so specific and personal makes me wonder how many of the previous songs seem generic but hide an interesting backstory.
These words are sung in an emotional, villainous voice, even leading into a scream at one point. They come across a bit silly, unfortunately, and the instrumental is one of the weakest in this album, despite some gimmicks. What sounds like an anvil punctuates the end of the first half of the chorus, and the drums are trying its hardest, with a complex beat to contrast the simpler ones we’ve heard so far, but the actual melodies are a bit discordant or maybe just unengaging and repetitive.
An overdriven, bassy riff presents Wrong or Right, a very memorable if simplistic song.
WRONG or RIGHT, what's said is said
WRONG or RIGHT, my hands are red
WRONG or RIGHT, I am not ashamed
WRONG or RIGHT, to endure this game
These lyrics in my view, speak of a person who doesn’t actually care about truth or morals, lied their ass off, and is currently getting called out for it.
The chorus is the strongest part of this track, and its structure takes up most of the track. Unfortunately the bridges struggle to keep up the quality. In general, I’m beginning to realize this album overuses production gimmicks, particularly reverb. A particularly anemic synth tries to carry some kind of melody around what’s supposed to be the climax. Despite all these criticisms, I don’t think it’s all that bad.
Talk To The Words is next.
Kid myself I had control
But I was part of something whole
Or broken, how I let it get away
Though there are themes of regret and a paradigm change in the singer’s life, I have no clue what this is actually about, buried under layers of metaphors. A guitar with a lilting, ukelele-like rhythm, and a low bitrate synth will be our only company for most of Bowman’s vocals here. Speaking of his vocals, they are endless and playful, and carry a very good melody. Though a bit repetitive, they do gain some triumphant energy during the climax, which is not common for this album, or really, Bowman in general.
The final line is “You are here, now fall into Hush”. WE GET IT.
Much like Redshifts reminded me of Bowie, title track Hush is strongly reminiscent of Daft Punk, particularly Random Access Memories, which did come out in the gap between Comfortable Bugs and this album. More than reminiscent, I’d say this track is unashamedly an attempt to ape the now defunct duo, and try to emulate a collaboration between their instrumental style and his voice.
Breathing in your ears
Whispers in the brush
Nothing there to hear
You against the HUSH
Oooh, fall in the HUSH
Oooh, fall in the HUSH
Well, he’s not getting Kendrick’s Pulitzer for this one. If there’s any theme in this song, it’s sleep, and the lyrics and music video do nothing but underscore it. An atmospheric track is more than welcome at this stage in the record, and there’s a quiet if speedy beat, with a guitar that gives it a bit of a disco feel. Due to the intent of the track, it’s repetitive but inventive.
If I have to say something bad about it, it’s that it gets a bit too long at 4:50 minutes, which is a criticism I have for many Daft Punk tracks myself.
Hush as its most psychedelic, through wavy synths, Chameleon fades in.
This is this, the lips we kiss
Are worn as red cocoons
Hats and wigs and Meyers-Briggs
Like phases of the moon
Musically, this is Bowman’s most underrated track.I’ve complained about chaotic, disjoint combinations of layers earlier, but this is simple, and this is good, the redemption this album needed at this stage. This might just be a random connection in my brain, but the combination of the lo-fi drumline, the low piano, and the dark, spiraling feel strongly remind me of Clark Powell’s productions. There are no prominent synths, only an intro and some atmospheric pads, and it really makes the track stand out among the others.
The position of Chameleon at the very end of the album is interesting. Usually, you put the strongest tracks either in the middle of streaks of weaker ones, or at the very start so people stay and listen to the whole thing, and clearly Bowman understood how good it was, or it wouldn’t have gotten a music video. It might just be because it’s a calm track. Strange.
Overall, this album gives full protagonism to the vocals, but often fails to respect the instrumentals, falling back to repetitive guitar structures and overproduced layering. The issues aren’t universal though.
Michael Guy Bowman’s comedy videos (2011-Present; ~99:99)
Look, you knew what you were getting into. Were those last eight thousand words exhausting? Worry not, it’s time for another funny video.
Are you done? Relax, it’s almost over.
We Think We're Playing In A Band: A Tribute To Tally Hall (11/22/2015; 4:14)
(4:14) Spring And A Storm
This is a Tally Hall cover album headed by Marcy Nabors (they show up a lot, huh) and someone else, and Bowman contributed a track as he often does. I like Tally Hall a lot, though I lean towards their most experimental work,and the original is pretty much a normal pop-rock song, even if it’s still got the melodic, storybook feel they’re known for.
Bowman’s cover is completely different. Not only does it have an ethereal feel, almost like a reconciliation of the main track with the future shape of Tally Hall’s soundscape. Mr. Bowman from Squiddles accidentally kind of subconsciously referenced this track in the first place,so it’s a funny turn of events.
Despite the relaxing feel of most of the track, a beachy instrumentation surprises you towards the end, like the track wants you to get in a conga line.
Lightyears (12/25/2015; 5:44)
(5:44) Like Clockwork
Another hrmnzr collab. Thanks to Laughingmanlol for the heads up for this one!
Oh, why rely on last July?
You’re all wound up on a memory
Going tick tick tick into history
Every time I think Bowman has tried everything, he surprises me again: this time, it’s a duet with a vocaloid, GUMI in particular. To be clear, hrmnzr produced this song like this one, not Bowman, this is “merely” a feature, I won’t waste your time with instrumental analysis until my 2026 Jamie Paige review. But he’s the best part of this track, somehow a perfect match for the virtual diva.
This is actually Bowman at his most emotionally involved, vocally speaking, presumably because he could put full focus on the singing. I will say so again at some point, but he really needs to collaborate with more people, it always works out beautifully.
Homestuck Vol. 10 (6/12/2016; 5:06)
Remember that concert I mentioned way earlier? This track was conceived then. A song born from friendship and collaboration, with seven musicians all bringing their best, including the first and highly dangerous Tensei/Bowman collaboration, and his last track in the official soundtrack.
Originally called Explare, this track was meant to be a merging of Explore with Clark Powell’s progressive piano masterpiece Flare, but this volume 10 appearance brings out a completely new sound. They call it a medley, but it’s something more. The first half is disappointing, with a tinny, low quality piano playing Ruins (surprise, there’s a third song in the mix now) and then Flare, but it’s a bait-and-switch trick, and then the electric guitar starts playing Ruins over the Flare drums and synths, now out in full force. Explore is almost forgotten til the very ending, at first playing in piano, and slowly increasing in articulation and depth, until it starts being backed up by Tensei’s guitar. Finally, all instruments but the pianos fall back, suddenly resetting and ending on a sustained backwards note.
What a way to go.
Archive (7/19/2016; ~1:03:23)
(3:32) Awake (2012 Version)
(2:52) Got It?
(3:14) Mad Science
(3:33) Millennium Bug
(0:53) Far Away
(1:24) Emery's Theme
(1:58) Know That You're Mine
(1:30) Just Destroy It
(1:00) In The Marching Band
(1:47) Make It Bounce
(2:26) The New Window
(2:41) Slow Bay
(3:20) This Sunset
(4:00) Jungle Boogie
(3:28) Awake (2013 Version)
(1:27) Aba Daba Honeymoon
(0:52) Ismelda The Bearded Mermaid
(0:57) Emery's Theme (Fast Version)
(0:36) Conro Corp Anthem
(1:48) Get Start!
(0:26) You Are The Birthday Boy
(0:26) You Are The Birthday Girl
Other albums may have cool backstories, but Archive is “every old track that did not make it into an album”.Most of these tracks are commissions that I won’t bother revi—ugh, okay, I guess I’ll do it for completionism’s sake. I’ll at least give each track one sentence.
Awake stands at both ends of the album, in the form of a 2012 version and a 2013 version. This first one has a beautiful, almost religious shape to it, with Clark Powell playing the cello. Despite being a Kickstarter reward for someone, I would honestly call it one of Bowman’s best.
Another time, another place
A strange and yet familiar face
Buried deep within my bed
I wade through memories in my head
It’s a song about someone waking up from a bittersweet dream. Don’t expect all of these to be so good. Sadly, the track ends sooner than we expect, with the final line of the lyrics, no denouement here.
Got It? is a purely instrumental track. The best word I can describe it with is ‘electric’, with a high energy beat and distorted synths. In addition to a slow breakdown with a clean synth, the track ends with a hopeful piano, in both instances abandoning the distortion completely. Good stuff.
Airwaves shares a lot of similarities with the previous one instrumentally, and the short commentary lets us know it’s from the same time period. This one has singing though.
Keep your back to the sunlight
Keep your eyes on the rubber T-Rex
Save your teardrops for later
You're going to need them for the part that comes next
Sorry for the visual spoiler, this track is about drone pilots. I’ll solve the mystery here: the rubber T-rex is just a generic toy, such as the one a child gives you when you’re off to war. When this track came out, everyone was asking “What did he mean by this?”.
Musically, it’s fucking amazing. It uses very a EDM instrumental, and Bowman’s voice reinforces that, abandoning his usual vocal cadence for a smug, steady tone alongside the beats.
Sadly, we have to say goodbye, but it’s for a good cause. Mad Science is my favorite track here. Shout out for Nick Maragos for commissioning this. Bowman’s vocals are a bit lazy at points, but there’s something about the coolness of the lyrics that a synergy emerges.
Your career starts with a dream
That becomes a brilliant scheme
When you first acquire the rudimentary skills
Soon you're turning lead to gold
And making space's fabric fold
And breathing life into the dead to get your thrills
You may say it can't be done
But baby, I am number one
And the things that I can do
Prove the facts I know are true!
We do it 'cause we can
It's all part of the plan
Yes, we have got the tools
Consequence means nothing when you learn to break the rules
A funky synth bassline and guitar accompany evil laughs and samples of Bowman hamming it up. A lot of fun was had making this track, and consuming it.
Millennium Bug is a fully instrumental track featuring a strong beat, and a synth line almost entirely composed of ‘plucks’. There’s not a lot of complexity to this track, and it goes a bit too long.
Far Away is the first track that lets us know this is not a normal Bowman album. It’s 53 seconds long, someone’s Kickstarter reward.
Hollow rockets filled with solid fuel
Faster than the Earth can pull
Body of the aether's night
Takes you on your maiden flight!
There’s the start of a song about spaceflight here, with fluctuating vocals and incredibly fast vocals. The song is frenetic and chaotic, but it gets no room to evolve.
Gondwanaland is a very strange composition, dense with repetitions of windy notes, and an undulating, high-speed organ, abandoning all notions of a comfortable time signature. It’s very original, I’ll give Bowman that.
Diamonds and Diamonds and Diamonds reminds me strongly of Ascension, with essentially the same lyrical style, and even similar vocals, at least until it gets to the titular diamonds.
Nothing standing in the way
The anti-matter stares straight back
Nothing to see but diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and diamonds and diamonds
Another song with space-related lyrics. A bit repetitive, especially when the lead guitar is just playing the same notes over and over, a bit stridently. Feels like Bowman didn’t know what to do with it, until the very end of the song where it gives an attempt at an interesting role. Feels a bit phoned in, fitting for a commission.
Bandages is possibly the worst fucking song in Bowman’s discography, and I’d know. Elton John is rolling in his grave, and he’s not even dead yet. Be grateful I’m not describing this. Commissioner Colin Burns, one day I will have my revenge.
Electroverture is a relic of a less civilized time. Remember when electroswing was a thing? Well, this was Bowman’s take on it, with grating violins and pianos, and he’s not a very good fit. Thankfully this was a commission, so his hand was forced. Besides an interesting chiptune-y bridge, I don’t have any good things to say about it.
Emery’s Theme is okay. Elevator music for people who need a break after the elecroswing track. It’s not bad in the slightest, there’s just not a lot to describe.
Know That You’re Mine is a commissioned love song.
The sky turns from blue to an orange to black
With the slow passage of time
We ought to be home, but you know that I’m yours
And I know, know that you’re mine
It’s alright, featuring slow acoustic guitars and music boxy sounds, though at one point Bowman uses the spooky ghost synth as the lead instrument, and it cracks me up that he thought it was the best match for the cloyingly sweet lyrics.
Despite its obscurity, this track is a mysterious someone’s favorite, and Bowman constantly makes fun of its ridiculous stats on Spotify. He even made a lyric video for the anonymous listener.
Just Destroy It is a bizarre follow-up to the previous two songs, with a very industrial feel, and glitchy computer noises. It feels like an intro to vocals that never come. Foreboding and mysterious, but it ends suddenly, without giving the guitar room to breathe.
In The Marching Band… Bowman sings about some guy’s marching band.
Some bands never really get big
Only play a few gigs
Not at all immersing
God, you were right to hate these guys in high school, americans. These vocals are very annoying, and the lyrics are at Bowman’s laziest. At exactly 1 minute length, I feel the obligation involved.
Make It Bounce has a stock drumbeat and some improvised piano over it. The track grows a bit, and by the end it feels like a solid melody heavy on the arpeggios, but just as you’re getting to like it, it’s over.
Explosion Force (They Do It Right) sounds exactly like you expect it from the title. It’s one of those G.I. Joe dadcore style themes.
Arthur, demolitions expert
Felix, demolitions expert
David, demolitions expert
Bryan, who's also a demolitions expert YEAHHHHH
It’s a gimmick song, and besides the novelty of hearing Bowman trying to sound “badass”, and his soundfont choices, there’s not much to this.
The New Window is a slow, contemplative track that reminds me of Laughing Forest, but better. I don’t know why, but the guitar in the background makes me think of Half-Life 2. A lo-fi beat starts playing halfway through, and it recontextualizes it completely. You can put this one in your sleepy music playlists, but it’s solid.
Polyominoes is another EDM track with a very memorable melody and beautiful layering, to the point you almost don’t notice that a 7/4 signature leaves you hanging at every stanza.. Unfortunately, this version of the song has been ruined for me by a remix that I’ll talk about in the future.
Slow Bay starts with a sad piano, flanging synths and low horns. Despite the apocalyptic vibe track gains some energy towards the end, like something is being reinvigorated.
This Sunset starts off sounding like that one Windows 7 Media Player sample song.
But in this moment
The sun is not just some giant ball put there to make me feel small
It is an old friend who I have known longer than anyone else
And this evening, I am by its side to tuck it into bed
Hang in there, Bowman. I know “make a song about the sunset xD” didn’t give you much to work with. These lyrics are actually spoken poetically, with rare distortion, and some interesting drumlines enhance the material a little, but overall it doesn’t leave much of an impression.
Remember how we talked about Bowman’s four songs about loading screens? There is another, Jungle Boogie. This fifth final instanceturns the xylophonic line into an everpresent beat, and leaves the main melody to smooth synths. The piano becomes an afterthought, and halfway through the song, the structure of the original is abandoned, and sirens begin playing something completely new. It returns to its origins right before the end, finishing the way the whole saga started. Yeah, that was a fitting title.
Awake (2013 Version) ends the main album. Honestly, despite chronologically coming after, the first version was much stronger, in part thanks to Clark Powell’s amazing cello, but also because you could actually hear the lyrics. This bassier, calmer version doesn’t do the concept justice.
With this, we enter the bonus tracks, may Bow have mercy on our souls. Many of these aren’t even on Youtube, so I will be brief with these reviews maybe five people will be able to understand.
Aba Daba Honeymoon is a cover of the ancient song of the same title. Bizarrely, it starts with an insanely high quality electronic intro, only to shift into really low fidelity samples and a simple. Halfway through the song, the electronic backing comes back, a pitched up copy of Bowman duets with him in a way that makes the track feel like some early internet remix à la Hampsterdance.
Valentine To Sarah From Julian is a hilarious chiptune instrumental under really stupid lyrics.
I met you
Through a mutual friend
Oh, we were introduced
All I knew was you liked Doctor Who
I guess that was good enough for me
We’re reaching the more personal commissions behind the paywall, I guess. The chiptunes aren’t even bad!
Ismelda The Bearded Mermaid seems like a joke track. But who can really know?
A terrible opera singer sings faster and faster while some old-timey piano by Jit struggles to keep pace. It’s over very soon, and I have no explanation for this.
Emery’s Theme (Fast Version) is a fast version of Emery’s Theme. It’s actually significantly worse, the production feels overwrought. I wonder if the titular Emery complained her track sounded like elevator music, or if it was the other way around.
Conro Corp Anthem is a 30 second GameBoy chiptune with some real guitar playing over it. This is actually quite good.
Get Start! seems like it uses the exact same style as the previous song. I wonder if this was an aborted attempt at a soundtrack for a video game? I’ve mentioned Kirby influences in Bowman’s music before, but I swear I can hear an actual sample from it here. Some singing goes over the end section, capping off another good track. Now I’m sad he didn’t make more stuff for Jailbreak Vol. 1.
You Are The Birthday Boy and You Are The Birthday Girl are the same song with genders switched in the lyrics. I swear this is using a melody from Mr. Bowman Tells You About the Squiddles. It sounds like a generic happy birthday song, so, nothing to write home about.
There are three remixes by other artists at the end of existing tracks. Out of these, Astro Kid’s Chain of Prospit Remix is shockingly bad, feeling like it’s just the original song put through the automatic wub machine. On the other hand, Solatrus’ Old Buggy Now Remix rivals its predecessor. Man, his dry/wet channel gimmicks should get old at some point, but they never quite do. Jamie Paige’s Ithaca remix completes the triad, but I feel the track isn’t transformed enough one way or the other, besides the addition of a ton of bass that kind of ruins the cool atmosphere.
And that’s Archive. We made it!
Electric Daydreams (11/22/2016; ~28:49)
(3:35) The Wild Years
(3:15) Touch My Brain
(4:37) We Don't Know Anything
(3:09) Wherever We Go
(3:25) I'm Seeing Everything
(2:24) Suicide Hotline
(3:04) Tomorrow's Gonna Come
Electric Daydreams is the first of these without a title track, oddly enough. This came out five months after Homestuck was dead and buried, and a month after it was further dead and further buried with a Credits animation. But shortly before its release, singles started appearing, like Purgatory. People were surprised, but excited.
I’ll take this opportunity to talk about the place singles have in Bowman’s discography. Honestly, they’re nothing more than a way to double dip some money from the least patient fans, since they’re always in the final albums and get removed from Bandcamp in single form when those come out.
Though he would never do it again, I distinctly remember Bowman promising that these first ones wouldn’t be in the final cut, that you wouldn’t have to essentially pay twice for them, but the promise was broken. These days, they’re just a way to give him as much money as possible, if you really want to. I guess it’s a good sign that this is my lone negative personal impression of the man in an article of over twenty-five thousand words.
The Wild Years starts with a canny, simple beat holding some wonderful lyrics.
Oh, the wild
Oh, the Wild Years
Oh, the Wild Years, the Wild Years, the Wild Years
Oh, the wild
Oh, the Wild Years
Oh, the Wild Years, the Wild Years, the Wild Years
Oh, the wild
Oh, the Wild Years
Oh, the Wild Years, the Wild Years, the Wild Years
Oh, the wild
Oh, the Wild Years
Oh, the Wild Years, the Wild Years, the Wild Years, the Wild Years
What a virtuoso of the sung-composed word. Okay, I kid, there’s more to it.
You're prowling in the allies like a cat
Crashing on open floors and yoga mats
Your shirts are dirty and your teeth are green
But all you want is what you haven't seen
Carpe Diem, the joy of exploration and figuring things out, that’s what this is all about, which we might have figured out from the name.
Though risking becoming repetitive, the choruses give the song a background texture so the bridges can pop. The… drums? really sound like Bowman is just tapping cans, but it somehow works. In what will become increasingly common through the album, Bowman sings in a less dramatic and affected voice, though he still leans into that range once in a while. I will dub this ‘grunge mode’.
An unusual opener, though I can’t say it doesn’t work, and leaves us with a good first impression.
This new vocal style carries into Touch My Brain.
And oh, how I'd like to be there with you
On your level, in your memories, on your plane
And oh, how I'd die just to share with you
Crack me open
Touch my brain
Though I initially thought this song was about parasocial relationships,it makes more sense if it’s about someone obsessed with a fictional character, to the point of generating a tulpa. Tulpas are those intentionally created split personalities, sometimes taking visible form in people's field of vision. Largely a 4chan hoax and related to waifuism, and way more relevant back in 2016 when this song came out. Maybe I’m taking this too literally, but it really works, more than whatever Bowman actually meant.
An acoustic guitar and the electric version take turns in the mix, not really a crazy combination, but they stand out. The progression of the rhythm guitar in particular synergizes with the vocals, helped along by some good production. There’s a small break focusing on the acoustic guitar, and the vocals returns for a final refrain.
Most notably, this song features the worst rhyme in the entirety of Bowman’s body of work:
My dendrites don't bend right
I need them to mend right
God I love this song anyway.
Up next, We Don’t Know Anything.
We don’t know anything about truth
We just know where we’re going to stand
We don’t know anything about choice
We just get movies on demand
This song is the audio equivalent of those boomer comics.
I really, really tried my hardest to get a more complex message than “screens are bad, retvrn to tradition”, and there are elements of media manipulation… which really are just a reinforcement of the former in modern times. It just isn’t there.
This track is made slightly annoying by the awful backup vocals unconvincingly singing “nanananana” at various points, in a way that feels more than a bit forced. Instrumentally, it feels more than a bit similar to the previous one, if with a bit less nuance, with more repetitive lines. At one point Bowman drops the singing and just starts giving a speech. I don’t have much further to say about this.
Wherever We Go is a homage to Mac Demarco. I’ve listened to a couple of his songs, but not enough to really appreciate what the song is going for here. Hell, maybe only the music video is homaging him.
Wherever we go
It's one of those days
Out in the sun
Under the haze
There's nothing to lose
Whatever we choose
It’s a lot of this. No strong message here. A lazy, country-like guitar and a complex bassline feature prominently, while Bowman sings like he’s leaning back and enjoying a good rest. The guitar is a weird choice that doesn’t let me fully relax, like nails scratching over the blackboard supported by the other instruments. This song, like that one line foreshadows, is merely OK.
Onwards. Back when the album came out, I had a brief chance to talk to the man himself about I’m Seeing Everything. I praised its lyrics, and compared them to Oingo Boingo, which is one of my favorite bands of all time. Bowman simply responded “the elf man”, which might be the most important thing he’s ever said.
And I'm not taking anything
I'm just touching everything
The dirty dishes on your stove
The pockets in your fancy clothes
And I'm not missing anything
I'm just feeling everything
The scent of you upon your sheets
Your toothbrush against my grinning teeth
A story is being told through these lyrics, from the first line to the last. They’re way more concrete and easy to follow than previous songs: an obsessed stalker constantly spies on someone. Unintentionally, he is witness to their overdose, and has to blow his cover to take them to a hospital. Their life is saved, but there’s no happy ending, afterwards they just close their blinds and bar their windows, while the stalker continues stalking, now vindicated.
The instrumental is more than a bit more annoying. I like the song, but in an “acquired taste” kind of way. Very very loud drums and an equally deafening discordant rhythm guitar come in and out depending on the vocals’ mood. One of those tracks that live or die based on the lyrics (it lives).
SUICIDE HOTLINE, I’M SUPPOSED TO CARE, BUT I DON’T.
I see the stop sign
I should just wait there, but I won't
It's more than I can bear
The most poppy track about death wishes yet, with a frantic if simplistic drum beat and VERY barebones bassline, this is all about Bowman’s singing, musically speaking. One of his most catchy melodic hooks, the entire thing is built around it. It’s a shame the track is so short, but it’s up there in the rankings, one of the many ways this album confirms that sometimes, less is more.
You might notice some obvious fanart in the video. At this point in his career, Bowman had started to lean into the fandom, and he asked for contributions for this (my Red Cop is there at 2:15) and a future track. It was nice of him to get the fans involved, for more than one reason.
The next track, Tomorrow’s Gonna Come, has a very weird or very funny music video, depending on your point of view.
Every single day, I feel it happening
The moving of the rocks, the tremors and the shocks
Heaven only knows which way it's coming from
But tomorrow's gonna come real soon
Despite the sweet melody and animated guitar, I think this track might be about apocalypse. I know, I know, this is the tenth time I’ve claimed very simple lines had a twist involved, but lines like “I won't sleep at all until the work is done” work really well if the singer is personally involved in its ushering. I don’t actually have much further to say, this is the least complex song in the record.
The closer is Purgatory.
Oh Muses guide me, please provide me with your hallowed song
I’ve been to Hell and back, I’m losing track of the road I’m on
Help my recounting of this mountain rising in the dawn
Very poetic. I just read on TVTropes that the track actually references the Divine Comedy, which second part is titled Purgatorio, though I honestly initially thought it was about greek mythology and the references to purgatory were anachronistic. Beyond the cosmetics, it’s a track about the singer making amends, starting the journey towards becoming a better person, fitting of the title.
Musically, an acoustic guitar features strongly, with some light shredding and piano riffs here and there. Bowman gets increasingly emotional while he sings, and this track is also unique among closer tracks for how active it is, especially in the last stanza before the end section. Wherever We Go might have been a better choice here.
I’ll conclude this by noting how much this album fell back to the basics (or really, rose up, it’s fucking amazing), completely rejecting the shift that Hush represented. I was getting a bit depressed there, actually believing I was either getting burned out or that Bowman got worse throughout the years. No, the right direction is all it takes.
128 BPM (3/9/2017; 19:33)
Did you think I would forget?
128 BPM is a masterpiece of electronic dance music. Amazingly, unexpectedly, Bowman turns five of his previous tracks into a mashup I keep coming back to five years later.
It’s not hard to add a strong beat to a existing song and call it a day, but these songs are transformed into their ultimate selves here, especially Beta Version. Airwaves is only very slightly altered, since it was already an EDM track, and in a way, was the core this remix is built around. Hard to improve upon Synchronize, but the time displacements, pinches and plays with volume try their hardest.
Hilariously, Noun is completely transformed, since it’s actually Astro Kid’s remix of it, with the lyrics deconstructed into a chaotic, brand new melody. You barely notice the speeding up when the classic structure returns, and the jubilant chorus is strengthened by the beat. Polyominoes, another track from Archive, feels right at home in the mix, and once it leaves Bowman Remix appears to briefly wish us goodbye.
My biggest takeaway here is that Bowman missed his true calling as an EDM producer. Really hope he makes more of these in the future.
P[S] (6/13/2018; ~5:33)
Homestuck has what’s known as Meme Numbers. Other franchises simply have arc numbers that show up here and there, but Homestuck was written by a very obsessive man who really drove them into high gear. He ordered, demanded, for Homestuck Vol. 10 to have 25 tracks… because 1025 was one of those special numbers.
This meant some tracks had to be kicked out, at least in Hussie’s twisted power-crazy mind. The Music Team bid their time. Two years after release they got together, thanks to Veritas Unae, and released those twenty-three losttracks, including a few extras.
Bro Hop was one of the extras, a track that played in the background in one of those funny videos he used to make, where he parodied Toby “Don’t Call Me Radiation” Radiation Fox’s bombastic personality.
It would not the first time a Homestuck track showed up in the background of one of his funny videos before its official release. For example, Gust of Heir showed up in the hilarious Your Bed. In this instance, though, I’d hazard a guess the simplistic, animated chiptune was retrofitted into a Homestuck relation more than actually being a previewed track, at best just be a cancelled scrap from seven years past. It’s not that good, honestly, but I’m glad it’s not lost.
We Shall Not Cease From Exploration is a different beast. A fully fledged remix of Explore, it completely abandons the beautiful nostalgic feeling. Right off the bat, we’re hearing accordions, low pianos, and a very light beat instead of the ponderous PxTone sinewaves and wide-reaching drums, in a way that makes me remember the sountracks of quirky European movies, or maybe a particular Spider-Man PS2 game. The track builds up, almost reaching the climax of its predecessor, and…
Unfortunately, it ends there, VERY abruptly. At 2:25 minutes, it feels like it was just dropped in the album because Bowman didn’t want to work on it anymore, but didn’t want to leave the track forgotten either.
Look On My Works Ye Mighty And Despair (3/19/2019; ~37:04)
(4:23) This Is As Good As It Gets
(2:50) Like Angels
(3:03) I Can't Get Enough Of You
(3:10) Faking It
(2:45) Lucky Charm
(5:24) Back To The Jungle
(3:09) Night Terrors
I love the Ozymandias poem, though that title might be a bit too long, and basically none of the tracks have anything to do with it!
The opening track is Mothership.
I said look out now, there’s a little green man inside
I said look out now, there’s a little green man inside
And they’re taking us up to the mothership tonight
Yeah they’re taking us up to the mothership tonight
There is no message to these words beyond the superficial, but it’s alright. I really like this track’s vocals and their repetitive but catchy structure. Bowman vocodes a duet with himself, giving them an appropriately alien feel. I’m pretty sure I hear clapping, and the rhythmic guitar enhances the focus on the beat. As a whole this opener injects energy right into my veins. As is usually my only complaint, the ending to this track is pretty terrible, with some attempts at Michael Jackson-like sounds that fall flat.
The true title track (except Bowman really wanted an L) comes, This Is As Good As It Gets.
I still wonder how this video was recorded. Did Bowman really go to the moon? Now seriously, I’m pretty sure he used that one James Lee trick of recording in slow motion and speeding up the footage. Some of those moves are just way too snappy.
This is as good as it gets
Oh don’t you know this is as good as it gets
I feel like I’m the greatest man in the world
You are my favorite girl
This is as good as it gets
It’s about romantic devotion, or maybe a dark obsession. Similar to the last track, there’s some heavy repetition going on here, but this takes the instrumentation of the last one and pushes it into a new level. It’s always a good sign when Bowman’s vocals are crystal clear, because it means a perfect harmony between beats and words has been achieved. A memorable, enjoyable experience for the whole family.
The second music video is Like Angels.
All the rooms are full of strangers
All you want is everything
You’ll go through so many changes
Someday soon you’ll spread your wings
These lyrics are super sketchy, I don’t trust this supposedly angelic guy. “Heaven’s Gate” is a lyric, which only adds to it.
The third song in a row with heavily recurring lines, solidly putting Look At My Works in the “mainstream-appealing pop album” column. The choir effects in the second half really enhance what would fall short otherwise. I think this might be my favorite track this album.
A word of warning, I’m not a fan of the next few songs, so you might want to skip ahead if words of negativity have a risk of overwhelming you.
This short track is over, followed by Unstoppable, clocking at a whopping five minutes.
Cuz I'm never gonna run
Never gonna hide
I'm telling everyone
Take a step aside
I've waited long enough
Paid a lot of dues
I'm never giving up
Never gonna lose
This track is a bit forgettable for me, though I could not tell you why. The instrumental sections in the first half are undeveloped, but the breaks add a piano and guitar that radically shift the atmosphere. The guitar even goes wild through the middle into the end, with what I can only describe as a background solo, and more and more layers are added in. I think the weak theme might have something to do with it? We can only store so many anthems of determination in our hard drives.
Why Do You Play With My Heart? is next.
You’ve had me going for months, you’ve had me all in my head
Asking what I should have done, if it was something I said
Was I too eager to love? Should I have just took it slow?
If I was patient enough, would our relationship grow?
Would I still stand half a chance, or do you have other plans?
The whole song is like this, almost like a sung poem. Words cover almost every single second of the song. I just wish they were good words, and not something something heartbreak. We’re keeping up the standard instrumentation, from acoustic into electric guitar as the song progresses. Not much to say about this one.
I Can't Get Enough Of You is another one with a long title. I wonder if Bowman noticed this pattern and it influenced the album’s own.
No I can’t get enough of you
Of the kiss on your lips
Of the shake in your hips
Of your sweet sweet love
No I can’t get enough
Bipolarly opposite to the previous track in meaning. A very bassy song and very echoey vocals remind me of Elvis for reasons I can’t begin to guess. Very grating synths straight from a keyboard’s “spaceship sounds” instrument and painfully cliche everything make this a low point in the album.
Onto Faking It.
‘Cause it feels like
No one ever gets the things they want
No one ever wants the things they have
So why do we keep faking it so bad?
The message here is that lying to yourself is bad. There’s a subtle distortion over the guitar here, whenever it plays after each line. The song has an interesting ending, with Bowman abandoning the melody and seemingly improvising the singing section, but otherwise it’s an equally forgettable track to the last four.
Let’s hope Lucky Charm is better.
I'm your four-leaf clover, I'm the wind across the dice
I'm the candles on the cake and you can cut yourself a slice
Make your wish unto me, for now it can be told
You won the lottery of livin' and I'm givin' you the gold
Like Why Do You Play With My Heart, vocals take over this track, even they’re not very deep. Essentially, it’s a love song that references many luck-related cliches. Bowman does improve on his singing over the previous few instances in this album. There’s a glaring issue a the core of Lucky Charm though, and it’s that it’s essentially a simple song looped three times, and the bridges between the loops fail to be very interesting.
The next song IS very interesting though, Back To The Jungle.
If nothing else, the music video is great, being the second such fandom-influenced one. I do find it funny that the transformation of Bowman “going back to the jungle” involves taking off a tie and sweater and putting on an open hawaiian shirt. Like, that’s the furthest he can go.
The wop-wop-wops could be infuriating, but they give the song a lively attitude instead, and lead into what might be the most enjoyable chorus in the record. I also particularly like the breakdown at the end, with the rising guitar, piano and distortion, right before trumpets arrive in force. Overall, a very well placed track. I think readers could sense I was very disappointing by the middle half of the album.
Night Terrors comes to scare us with the fact this album is almost over.
And you know that there's no one there
But you still get scared sometimes
And you know that it's in your mind
Push it right back through the blinds
Though I wish I had to evidence to relate these lines to PTSD, I think ‘night terrors’ is the actual theme. I’ve quoted the best part of the song, by the way, love those little segments. Overall, this song has a good, piano heavy feel throughout, with recurring high pitched guitar riffs that fly over the mix and help it not get lost into the bassy background.
I think it’s fair to say that this is Bowman’s Top Pop Hits Album, though obviously none of them made it to any Spotify playlists or you’d be able to talk about him with your friends. Well, you can still do it, but you’ll risk getting a “the Homestuck guy?” back. Unfortunately, it wasn’t trimmed enough. Take, say, the first four and last three tracks and you’d have a tight, unforgettable experience.
Songs from the Planet Earth (9/9/2019; ~5:24)
A Steven Universe fan album! Honestly, I’ve watched the entirety of the cartoon, and the only reason is the soundtrack. Anything inspired by it can’t be that bad, and Bowman shows it here.
This is actually a cover from an existing song within the cartoon, which is itself covered within the episode. Bowman effortlessly crushes both performances anyway, turning it into a more standard pop-rock song.
It’s not perfect though, his voice gets away from him at a couple instances, near the start. I have no idea why he didn’t just re-record the lines, maybe this project was rushed? In any case, the rest of the song is flawless, especially the chorus. Spacey sounds and a calm instrumental give the quieter sections room to breathe, but Bowman is ready for yelling (musically) the last few lines when the time comes.
Oh yeah, there’s also an instrumental if you want to record your own version and post it in the comments.
Jesus Christ Supermarket: A Compilation to Celebrate 25 Years of Green Day’s Insomniac (2/17/2020, ~1:54)
(1:54) Westbound Sign
I would have completely missed this track existed were it not for the furtive Niklink, so easily forgotten. This is a good time as any to speak about the Homestuck archival “community”, a group of nerds who’ve taken it upon themselves to store the context of Homestuck as it was, even when it’s nigh completely unrelated stuff like this one (you might have noticed the constant links to the Homestuck Music Wiki, the greatest of its efforts). I count myself among their questionable number, and I think we see their true value here.I doubt many who are reading this article would remember this one, but thanks to these people, we’re able to discuss it and spread the word of cool art.
Wow, way to kiss my own ass there. Onto the track, then. A machine gun beat immediately begins playing, paired with a high Bowman voice, layered with an odd reverby chorus effect.
Boxed up all of her favorite things
Sold the rest at a rainy yard sale
Slowly, we realize we are in fact listening to a Green Day cover album. This track could not resemble the original less though, or any of that band’s songs. If I had to compare the actual style of this to anything, I’d actually go for obscure “nerd-rock” bands like Freezepop. It’s not a harsh sound or anything, but there are a lot of oddbeat instrumental choices. This is still great, and a sound that I have not heard from Bowman before or after. Glad we didn’t miss it.
Gravity Makes The Flame Rise (1/26/2021; ~37:04)
(5:26) Gravity Makes The Flame Rise
(2:50) They Want To Live Forever
(4:04) Get Tough
(2:46) The Real Thing
(3:01) 2020 Visions
(3:33) Land Of The Free
Back to back, two solo albums. It seems Bowman’s ready for yearly releases at this point.
Before I start, I’d like to mention something. You may have noticed as you read this chronologically (though I didn’t entirely write it that way) that I’m dedicating less words to each song off his solo albums. It’s not a symptom of writer’s burnout, though I can’t completely discount it after writing reviews for over 150 tracks.
The truth is, that as Bowman stopped collaborating with Clark Powell, Jit, etc. his compositions inevitably became more samey. I hate myself every time I type “a generic drum beat and bassline, and an electric/acoustic guitar with some flourishes”, but that’s most of his music by this point, with the vocals struggling to give them identity. I remember when I complained about weird synths, but at least there was an attempt at originality there.
If Bowman ends up somehow reading this, I really need to give him the advice to try to reach out to some of those former collaborators. Though he hasn’t completely stopped (there is a Tensei collab this album, and quite a few drum collaborations), some tracks like Ascension were really made whole by them.
Anyway, sorry for the digression, let’s get into the title track, Gravity Makes The Flame Rise.
Immediately, we’re blasted with loud vocals over an almost non-existent instrumental. In a way it’s bold, it’s in danger of becoming a filter for many first listeners, Bowman’s vocals at their most grating. This album was released in the wake of the COVID 19 crisis, and the lyrics reflect that, doomsaying and simultaneously hoping it’ll be nothing more than a footnote in a history book. I’m sure the many riots over the past year influenced the song somewhat, considering the visuals. I’m not sure if the insurrection made it into Bowman’s brain in time. 2020 and 2021 were tough.
Everyone is waiting for a sign, sign, sign
Sign, sign, sign,
Chemicals reacting in your mind, mind, mind
Mind, mind, mind
All the empty stations on the line, line, line
Line, line, line
I don't want to be the one who's left behind
Tensei’s guitar feels a bit out of place, adding what I will reluctantly describe as anime energyto the song, though once the bass and synth backup come in it starts gaining coherence. Overall, this track slowly transitions from off-putting to really damn good. A strong opener once you get used to it.
I also have to mention the drums. Someone named Bijan Eghtesady recorded them for every single track. I will fully admit I’m no expert in percussion (or anything musical in fact), but he seems to do a good job in these and future tracks. I did just say that he needed to collaborate with more people.
Onto the next, They Want To Live Forever.
They want to live forever
They want to have it all
They want to kiss their idols
They want to break the walls
They want to die for love
Before the love just dies, dies
This is another song about rebellion and rioting, in particular the youngest of them who think they’re saving us from hell, but might be doing nothing but temporarily create it.
Extremely echoey vocals and guitars, under a repetitive synth-bassline are all we need for this one. Despite the theme, it’s easy to lean back and relax.
Burnout, unlike what its title implies, is a funky, extremely upbeat tune.
Congratulations, Sir What's-Your-Name
You're all that glitters, like a moth into the flame
Designer clothes, imported cars
And just enough cologne to cover your cigars
This track is about a power-hungry man who’s reached his ceiling. His obsession will soon be his downfall, as he takes out his frustrations on the people below him. Again, this is a banger, and ironically stronger on the shredding than the previous Tensei-involving track was.
Of note is that the video seems to focus on the instrumental more than usual. Bowman knew he had hit gold there. The vocals are less musical, more spoken, reminding me of Talking Heads or Devo, which is a very good thing.
I think there’s a theme in this album of smug people not knowing how good they’ve got it, and about to lose everything to a sudden crisis, a theme of hubris that would have gone much better with a title that referenced Ozymandias, but I digress. This carries into Get Tough, the next song.
Don't talk to me about living the dream
I might be dreaming, but I'm not sleeping sound
Don't talk to me about living on handouts
When you're living on hand-be-downs
The first lines particularly bring to mind the everlasting “one percent” conflict, especially with that reference to the American Dream, the impossibility to actually rise to the top in a twisted system.
Diametrically opposed to the first, this song starts very strong but kind of loses its focus in the middle. There is an odd 80s-synth solo digression, but it doesn’t really knock our socks off or anything, it’s almost like Bowman just really needed a live break from the guitar, though this track is at the strongest when it’s playing. The end also takes us by surprise. One of those songs with very good lyrics but just an alright instrumental.
The Real Thing is memorable for its chorus.
I want the real thing
I want the real thing
Oh oh oh
And if it all comes back
And you find yourself on the track
Where you came off the rails
When they promised you couldn't fail
Vague and ambigous lyrics tell a story about someone who did all the right things to climb through society, but finds the final result lacking. I’m unsure of what the Real Thing would be in this scenario, though. Though the chorus is again memorable, with its high vocals perfectly mixed into the background noise of the guitars, I find the lowkey, bassier sections more appealing.
Manufacturers is one of those songs that just grab me by the part of my brain that loves catchy hooks.
I’m not cherrypicking. Lyrically, this is one of the simplest songs in Bowman’s solo discography, with some loose themes about the control mass media has over us, turning us into another product. Distorted guitars duel, while an odd percussive noise plays after each question the singer asks. It’s more than a bit repetitive, but I like it a lot. Sometimes you just come up with a section that’s so good you need to build a song around three repetitions of it, which I know makes me sounds like a hypocrite after some of my previous reviews. It’s got an odd, heavily processed ending, like when the noisy barrier between consciousness and dreams.
The next track completely ignores the setup in favor of the in-your-face 2020 Visions.
2020 you're a memory now
They're lining up at the end of our town
2020 you're a memory now
They want to burn the government down
Ooh, I had a vision
Burn baby burn baby burn baby burn
Okay, the “peaceful” 2020 riots definitely influenced the album. I’ll admit this track felt more relevant back when I first listened to it, but still, it’s reasonably good sounding. There’s an interesting guitar solo in the middle that by now, track 7, forces us to admit their focus is this album’s thing. Bowman is far more adept at these guitar heavy songs than he was with Look On My One Hit Wonders’ pop gimmick.
The riot song leads into Anarchy.
Tonight we live in anarchy
Tonight the idols will fall
Tonight we live with the heartache
Fooling like you rule it all
The instrumental in this song is a calm, almost 80s-synth-inspired contrast to the energetic drive of the previous ones, as well as to the content of the lyrics, telling us of the dangers of anarchy—you may love the power it brings you over everyone else, but you’ll be equally defenseless if they turn against you. Unfortunately, I think the actual melody carried through Bowman’s voice is more than a bit repetitive, which stops this from being as good as it could be.
We arrive to Land Of The Free, a track about a completely anonymous country.
And we know we're in charge
With a license from God
To take whatever we want
In the land for the free
Where you can give your disease
To anyone at all
Bowman hates americans for their freedom in this completely unsubtle ode to antivaxxers and people like them. Similar to the previous track, the vocal melody suffers from being a bit repetitive, but the more frequent bridges make up for it. There are some odd distorted, pitched-down vocals that give this track a dark energy throughout, and building synths that make for a very busy mix. At one point in the middle, the track goes into weird directions structurally, like Bowman forgot what he was going for, and it makes it feel longer than it should be. A better structure was all this track needed to be great, but alas.
Sadly, we come to an end with With The World Sitting On Your Shoulders.
At the mercy of the public
In the violence of the state
If you cannot change your answer
Will you trust the hands of fate
Tell me how’s it feel
With the world sitting on your shoulders
All the time
This song speaks to an individual in the middle of the revolution: will they speak their mind, will they do nothing? What side will they join? The demand of the world for them to do something might be a bit too much for anyone to bear.
A light piano (almost everpresent in Bowman final tracks) with an acoustic guitar comprise most of the background mix, until the inevitable electric guitars take over, maybe hampering the intended melancholy. I can’t say it works for me, I wish the song went into a different direction altogether. As it is, it falls a bit flat.
This album was a breath of fresh air, with a solid theme throughout most tracks, and an amazing sound. If there was any album with the potential to go mainstream and amaze people, it was this one. Unfortunately, the next record is my least favorite in Bowman’s discography, understandably ignoring Archive. Trust me though, we won’t close this review on a sour note.
Ulterior Motives (7/20/2022; ~13:12)
(2:53) Bombs Away
(2:32) Criminal Mind
(3:10) Girl Like You
(2:51) When I Think About You
(3:36) Identity Thief
(3:01) Back To Start
Fully leaned into the meme, Ulterior Motives released a couple weeks ago as of writing this. Have I actually not spoken of the significance of 720 yet? I will close down this review with it.
First off, Bombs Away.
Well she painted my face
With the blood on her heels
I could not walk away
Because it's all that I feel
Well, the album is started with the best it’s got. Bombs Away’s strident, bombastic synths remind me of Old Buggy Now more than anything else, but the lyrics are, if anything, a rethread of Airwaves, if with a romantic twist. Wow, I really feel like a Bowexpert. Now seriously, I can’t really tell which way the metaphor goes. Is this about war bloodthirst recontextualized through romance, or is this about romance recontextualized through war? We may never know.
Heavy on the guitar and with extremely distorted yet musical synths, it’s kind of amazing that it works. I almost want to call it hyperpop, but Bowman’s voice is extremely clear, and considering what I’ve said, it speaks for good production.
Criminal Mind comes next.
Ooh, it's the sweat from your hands on the dial
When you're cracking the safe
Ooh, it's the part of the plan where you walk
And you don't leave a trace
Bowman whispers (or at least very quietly sings?) some of the lines, which matches the lyrics (about how cool these dastardly criminal’s deeds are) pretty well, though it takes a bit getting used to, almost like Bowman’s about to lose his voice.
Some light and funny synths accompany the drums and rhythmic guitars, making for a catchy experience, but it ends a bit abruptly. At 2:32 minutes, it does feel like it had some potential left.
Girl Like You is another love song.
You put it off for a long time
You put the next episode on your TV
And you think about leaving
But you're not so sure
These words seem to tell a story about a woman who’s stuck in a rut and refuses to live a little, and the singer wants to get her out of it and fall in love with her. A classic tale. There’s not a lot going here musically, the guitar and the drums get kind of repetitive, beyond the solo, which I enjoyed. Overall, inoffensive.
Communion starts with an interesting, descending riff.
Operator, operator, we've been dying on the dance floor
We've been dying on the dance floor
Soon or later, soon or later, you'll be getting what you came for
You'll be getting what you came for
The airy, high vocals stop this from being the bop it claims to be, at one point in the lyrics, which I don’t really understand besides ‘someone dies and goes to heaven’. Descending riffs play throughout, as well as the occasional pianos adding to the religious feel, but it’s not a good combination. Even the triumphant guitar parts feel a bit drowned out due to a severe overuse of reverb. This is another two-minute track that ends abruptly, but instead of an artistic choice it genuinely feels unfinished.
Sabotage’s lyrics make me angry.
You want to get into the entourage
You've got to use a little camouflage
If you want to break into the scene, oh yeah
You take a hammer to the fuselage
You wish them all a little bon voyage
And you never say a thing, oh yeah
These rhymes are so forced, I want to punch someone. My aural immersion is instantly broken every time these little refrains come on, which is very often, comprising the majority of the song. Even if the lyrics were good—and I do think the subject matter of a saboteur is interesting, especially when accompanied by Criminal Mind—these sections are very repetitive. There is a cool synth solo, but the song still feels like it’s waiting for a “stage two” that never comes.
When I Think About You reminds me of one of those generic Ed Sheeran songs, which, okay, I guess the guy is popular, but does not help me in the slightest.
When I think about you
Wonder where you are
Look around my room
Open up my heart
Perhaps the shallowest lyrical theme in this review. Absolutely nothing musically interesting happens until midway through the song, when the guitar comes on, and all the individual elements come together in a structurally inventive combination. I can not believe this track of all tracks gets a redemption, but it does. You don’t even mind the lyrics are just “when I think about you” over and over by then. I’d say this track was perfect, but the start is a bit too weak.
The vocals are interrupted by Interlude, a purely instrumental track that’s just okay, but which at 0:53 feels more distracting than anything else. Curiously, the Bandcamp page for the song has a ‘(Strange, the way time goes by.)’ in the lyrics section. Cute, but I still don’t get it.
It leads into Mechanism, a song that really should be named Mechanism Of The Heart instead.
With the turning of the hands
See the universe expand
They're the dancers in the dark
The mechanism of the heart
This track looks at a relationship through a machinist’s lens, pieces wearing out and shattering like heartbreak. Fitting for the song, this track mostly abandons the real guitars for a synth-heavy—almost-synthwave—beat, which I find quite catchy. The guitar returns at one point, very shortly, a bit distorted and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Overall, it’s pretty good. Unfortunately, it’s YET ANOTHER track that ends on a sustained, repetitive riff with no resolution.
The love songs aren’t stopping, Saint is next.
I'm a saint, I'm a saint, I'm a saint 'til I see your eyes
Want to faint, want to faint, want to faint at your knees tonight
Essentially, all promises of celibacy (literal or otherwise) are abandoned when this singer sees the woman he’s telling us about. The lead guitar is very loudly mixed over the otherwise subdued instrumental and mostly chill vocals, which is a bit of an audible clash that never goes away. I feel this track wants to achieve a more natural fusion of the two ambiances, like in, say, The Roaming Bowman, but it doesn’t get close. There is a very weird section where the guitar is overprocessed to the point of sounding warbly, and the track ends with Bowman telling us to be still.
We arrive to Identity Thief.
I stole my identity from another man who looks like me
And I don't know what he knows (I don't know what he knows)
But I know he knows my name (I know he knows my name)
And I have myself to blame (I have myself to blame)
This track is very lyrically charged, though it’s a bit ambiguous. Is this a song about a man who stole a dead guy’s identity, and then it turns out the dead guy was a hardcore criminal, and now he’s forced to live as him, fully become him, even though he really doesn’t want to, or is it about a hardcore criminal who doesn’t want to face he was the one to commit the evil deeds in the first place, and their consequences? I’m leaning towards the first, but I have to admit, this song is very evocative.
Beyond the lines, this is a frenetic rock song, with a few more flourishes on the drums than I remember from other tracks. Bowman uses a chorus effect to great effect, but I can’t help but think his vocals are the only weak element in this instrumental, a bit too light and robotic at times. I still like the track overall, though, don’t get me wrong.
Powerline is instantly recognizable by the auto-tune.
I feel the static when your hand's in mine
One little spark and we'll be intertwined
Come get electric with me now
Though I’m pretty sure auto-tune must have been used in previous tracks, especially his EDM ones, it’s very noticeable here in a “normal” track. I have less issue with it than someone people I’ve talked to. Distorted synths comprise the instrumental, almost like the ones you’d find in a space level of a video game, which works with the newly artificial vocals. In any case, while I fully understand what Bowman was going for, I think it doesn’t get there. The track feels like an introduction to something else.
At this point, it’s almost impossible not to think of this album as an experiment in not removing B-sides from the main listing or from existence altogether. This could have been such a tighter experience if the chaff was gone.
The next track, Utopia, is an underrated one.
Now the highs are looking low
For the people that you know
Selling tickets to the show
That never opened up
For today you're not so sure
What you're really waiting for
With your face slammed in the door
The lyrics, though elaborate, seems to tell a simple story of wasted potential and unfulfilled promises, with a very disillusioned singer. An oddly unarticulated piano takes protagonism during the bridges, but the core of this track is Bowman’s vocals. I really, really like them in this one, showing an awesome range that we last saw in his previous album, and putting touches of emotion in the exact right spots. While the core is his vocals, the instrumental is great, featuring everything from church-like bells to a variety of bassy synths that stay out of the way and enhance everything above them. More than the sum of its parts, this is what I think Saint was going for. Together with Bombs Away, a rare stand-out in Ulterior Motives.
Back to Start is an ironically or fittingly named last track, depending on your point of view.
It's a crazy thing to do, getting all caught up in you
When I'm not so sure I still contain the room within my heart
To put away the pieces when we circle back to start
I think this is a song about a secret relationship between two coworkers, and having to rewind their emotions for each other “back to start” whenever they’re around other people. Another track with strong vocals, it feels almost out of place here, though it’d be a home in an earlier Bowman album. A very slow pace and acoustic guitars make for a decent goodbye.
We are still in Ulterior Motives’ release cycle, and it’s possible more music videos will come out. I might come back and edit this review if so, but I can’t promise anything. It’s completely plausible I’ll die of a stroke immediately after publishing this, my job finally done. Look on my (Bowman’s) works, ye mighty, and despair! EDIT: Yeah, we got a video for Identity Thief, it’s up there.
I’ll finish talking about Bowman’s solo albums with a Tiermaker image,such hack that I am:
Ithaca almost made it to S tier, but ultimately there are some weak tracks that drag the whole album down, opposite to Comfortable Bugs, which is good the whole way through but doesn’t make it to the peaks of either of the top albums. Electric Daydreams is roughly the same quality but shed all the excess weight. MTaHK needs no explanation, I love even the demo track.
Ulterior Motives’ position is easily explained due to the several failed experiments and unfinished tracks, and Look On My Works just has a direction I dislike (honestly, these two could switch positions depending on my mood), but I am sad I have to put Archive so low considering how much I like some of the tracks. Ultimately though, it’s 22+ tracks of commissions with around 5 truly great ones.
Bowman’s Credit Score and the Future (3/9/2007, 10:05)
Tragically, the most long lasting contribution of Bowman to the societal memeplex might be this funny parody he made out of a random, but highly spammed television ad. Bowman goes at length about his buttocks and how his credit score of 720 lies somewhere in between.
Go listen to the video. It’s the zenith that this review needs, that you need.
From 128 BPM being released in its tenth anniversary, to 7/20 itself becoming the release date of Ulterior Motives, he’s not unaware of its relevance. Bowman’s credit-driven cultural revolution had escalated by then to the point he had an entire tribute album, not to any of his music in particular, but to his persona: BOWMANIA.
As time marches on, Bowman might be forgotten. He might stop making cool music. His only significant source of fans comes from the Homestuck fandom, and that’s definitely going off a cliff after the final instance of the game comes out.
But I’ll still be here. I’ll remember him. And hopefully, thanks to this insane essay, you will too.
It’s a Michael Bowman review!
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Initially I wrote here that he added the drums, but I was mixing this up with Doctor (Homestuck Vol. 4), wherein the virtually unknown Michael Vallejo added drums to an otherwise perfect song. I actually cannot believe this is my first Homestuck music review, I can dispense more 50% useless 50% wrong trivia about this subject than a commentator at a SFV tournament.
If you are somehow reading this without being a Homestuck fan, she’s one of the four main characters, and each of their leitmotifs is a big deal, frequently used in any songs that feature them. Among others, John has Doctor and Showtime, Rose has Aggrieve and Chorale for Jaspers, Dave has Beatdown and Atomyk Ebonpyre, and Jade has… a problem.
Which you can’t do in a static youtube video as is the case with the current Homestuck.com website. If you are somehow reading this without being a Homestuck fan, DON’T READ IT ON THE HOMESTUCK.COM WEBSITE. Use the downloadable Homestuck Collection.
I don’t know if Fenris shares part of the blame here, his contribution was never explained and this was his first and last.
An understated part of Bowman’s commentary is how focused, almost obsessive he is about specific production aspects, and how many tracks by other musicians he “fixed”. We all know him as The Singing Homestuck, but he really stands side to side with Beatfox as one of the greatest producers in the fandom.
Also known as Greenspy. Man, I remember this playing non-stop on the ‘SEPULCHRITUDE!’ Team Fortress 2 server for the MSPA Forums. Shout out to Henry Spencer for the memories, and for encouraging micspam tracks like this one. In an indirect way, he’s fully responsible for this review.
Volume 5 sucks, but you get what I mean.
Okay, Beatfox was still great with Friendship is Paramount, but you’re going to give everyone depression if you use Beatfox as a standard.
A sentient bunny is named Liv Tyler because she’s John Egbert’s waifu ever since he saw her in Armageddon, so of course an Armageddon cover should score an animation about the full history of the bunny from when it was born as a piece of Con Air prop memorabilia to the moment it died in a solar explosion fueled by the combined mass of two universes, shortly after delivering that same bomb to the main characters. Listen, Homestuck is complicated.
Wikipedia tells me these are “weasel words” and that my article will be removed due to this and the lack of something called… “relevance”?
And wore them at Homestuck conventions and the concert I’ll mention later.
Bowman is really cagey about the meaning of his lyrics, and I’ve avoided commentary as much as possible anyway, so I’m almost sure to get everything wrong. You can imagine all I’m going to say with a big THIS IS MY PERSONAL INTERPRETATION above it. I am the eggman and the walrus.
It needs a footnote just in the case you’re, again, somehow reading this without being a Homestuck fan. Read this.
It’s kind of appropriate this is pretty much the only demo track Bowman has available, since Plastic Beach is infamous for having more cut tracks than real tracks, and they’re all great too. Fans have been begging for a C-Sides album for ages, but the record company went under. Get it? It sounds like seasides? Okay whatever, back to Bowman.
Longer than the average, if it wasn’t for a certain track. Carapacian Dominion, which is 7 minutes 20 seconds long, is an outlier and should not be counted.
I think I’m the only Homestuck fan left who knows what the fuck I’m even referencing here, so don’t feel bad.
I once confidently told Eidolon he was using a terrible guitar soundfont in the MSPA Forums, after listening to his song Infinity Mechanism and finding it subpar. It turned out it was a real guitar, and much fun was made. I look forward to a time where I’ll be able to laugh at everything I’ve written here.
Somehow, Afraid in the Darko, the grimdark foreboding distortion piece by RJ Lake, is directly sampled. And wow, this makes me realize RJ and Bowman never actually collaborated, that’s a weird thought.
There is a weird dubstep remix of Busting Makes Me Feel Good. Yeah, I have no words.
Clever readers might notice Bowman is spelling his name with the first letter of each of his solo albums, if we count MTaHK as solo. M.I.C.H.A.E.L. G.U…. means we have at least seven albums left before the world ends.
My musician advisor is forcing me to put in here that “it literally is just a prog rock song lmao”. I disagree, no Bowman song is ever just one thing. What a fake fan!
After writing this, I’ve heard rumors an old mix of Comfortable Bugs (the entire album) exists. I’ll keep you updated in this footnote.
At least two.
This guess has nothing to do with the fact I’m writing this in the middle of a heat wave.
Which isn’t that weird. I actually don’t like this cover very much, though. Hard to live up to any Bowie originals, to be fair.
In my anti-defense, I could have totally misinterpreted Light of Apollo, but I’m kidding anyway, it’s fine. This is what, his eightieth song?
Okay, maybe underrated tracks don’t get music videos.
And I don’t even usually like those.
That’s a lie.
There exists an amazing cover of The Mind Electric by Bowman and Marcy Nabors. Nerd fact that I’m forced to put in here: Miracle Musical, who made that track, is not exactly Tally Hall, just mostly.
Enough people have asked that Bowman has said at least twice it wasn’t intentional, though both vocalists were fans at the time.
Tensei is Homestuck’s rock star, well known for most of Homestuck’s metal tracks, fingerless gloves and broken promises. WHERE’S THE NOIR ALBUM YOU HACK.
At one point the tracklist was wildly different, at least in order (chronological as opposed to “whatever works best”), but it changed a couple years later. I’m not a big enough nerd to put it here though, I finally found my limit.
One of my many musician advisors tells me they like this track, and that it sounds like They Might Be Giants, which is a band I dislike, so that checks out.
Okay, some absolute nerds might count the amazing Sburban Strifer, released 4/7/2010 as the trailer song for a Homestuck fangame by Bowman’s long-time friend Richard Gung, which didn’t go anywhere. Here it is, the secret sixth jungle.
Such as the one a singer has with someone that writes a twenty-five thousand word review of their one hundred and fifty songs…
For the less musically inclined, Danny Elfman is the band’s frontman.
Get high get down get lost come round!
You might consider William Henry Harrison’s tragically short-lived rap a secret Bowman track, or the one in the background of Backyard Fun, simple on the guitar b— wait no one is making me review this.
I can’t wait for this article to get published on Pitchfork………
The final count is 162 tracks, though I also discuss a few covers, as well as some bonus tracks in these footnotes. Tragically, I didn’t manage to find ONE track, his Transformers Sea Shanty from 2013, which has been wiped from the Internet, maybe for good reason? The world will never know.
Okay I could have described it a different way, but fuck you.
I briefly considered adding individual squares for each non-solo-album song, but my future self appeared through a time portal and warned me I would nearly die in the attempt.
Well, if he’s lucky they might take until 2040.