Sunday, 31 July 2011
Sometimes you don’t need a history lesson or background to explain why an album is good. The Toadies were a good alternative band who had a hit with Possum Kingdom but never really broke into the big time, which is a shame because they were a very good band.
The album starts with “Mexican Hairless”, which is an energetic, punk inspired short little instrumental. Spare of interrupting vocals it is tight and bounces up and down. The whole album has a great feeling of a little kid and this is an enjoyable party album. On the pumping eccentric “Mister Love” we are introduced to vocalist Todd Lewis, who has a suitable grungy growl. His performance on this album ranges from mellow slacker on tracks like “Tyler” to vicious howling on the fantastic “Quitter”. The lyrics focus on psychedlia but a theme of perverse love runs through. “Possum Kingdom” is a bizarre track about begging/threatening for sex, “Quitter” is obviously about a ruined relationship and “Happyface” is retaliation to someone who has deeply hurt the voice. The band excels at fun, punky, catchy tunes and I’d describe their sound as somewhere between Green Day and Nirvana, with a healthy dose of Cheap Trick in their too.
Finally “I Burn” is a trippy, slow burning finale. The album is barely a half hour but has a great deal of fun and catchy hooks over its short duration as is worth looking up.
Saturday, 30 July 2011
Metallica, when you think about it, are a really odd band. They started out doing thrash, but of the Big 4 took the most influence from prog, with so many riff changes and solos etc they pushed parody. Over the course of their career they’ve gone from brute force in the 80’s to primal ballads in the 90’s, then onto the bizarre nu-metal inspired rock on St. Anger and then again to full blown prog. They make a great band to get deeply into because a) they have so many great tunes everywhere and b)they’ve never stayed the same band for long. This process can take forever, but fortunately there is a short cut.
Symphony and Metallica can be considered a best of+ album because it takes their hits, makes them better and sorts some of their problems out. This is a live performance from 1999 of their biggest hits aswell as some of the more overlooked 90’s stuff accompanied by an orchestra.
Most bands would sound terrible in this arrangement but Metallica have such huge, ridiculous songs this approach makes the affects grander. The album opens with the classical performance of “The Ecstacy of Gold”, taken from the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This sets the scene perfectly with an epic, haunting sound. The set pounds into the bands thrash years. “Master of Puppets” sounds great with the added oomph the orchestra gives. From here on the album alternates slower 90’s stuff with hits until the roaring finally.
Unlike some live albums the sound quality is absolutely perfect, infact better in places than on the studio albums, for example Justice For All was a very poorly produced album which sounded tinny and indistinct. On this album “One” is preceded by an atmospheric pyro techniques display that sound like a warzone. Furthermore Hetfield’s vocals when he screams “No! No! No! NOOOOO!” are fantastic here and far exceed what he accomplished in the studio. Best of all is “Wherever I May Roam” which doesn’t fade out over the ending solo, which is utterly fantastic. If not the whole album then this recording alone is worth tracking down as it takes a fantastic song and improves it.
Solid Metallica fans will find a lot to enjoy here and first timers will save themselves a lot of time with this brilliant album.
Friday, 29 July 2011
The Preacher is wrong on so many levels. The story follows a man possessed by the baby of a demon and an angel on his mission to hold God, who abdicated many years ago, responsible for his crimes. Yep that’s most people offended. For the rest of you, along this journey angels on Earth bugger young children, a lot of men lose their penis, a man named Arseface tells the Church to fuck themselves and the inbred children of Christ eat their own shit. Oh, and the pope is a snorlax. So this certainly isn’t a series for the easily offended.
The heart and soul holding all this together are three fascinating, perfectly defined characters. Jesse Custer (J.C, geddit?) was a man of the cloth who learns the truth and earns the voice of Almighty, allowing him to command anyone to do anything. He’s very much based on the protagonists of old Westerns and is a southern hero through and through. He has a strong moral code and is a fantastic charmer, however his back story is just about the most tragic evil thing committed to paper in a really dark book that puts an “interesting” spin on his character. The love interest, Tulip is every bit the female counterpart to Jesse and the inevitable relationship between the two is touching and done well. Finally the tragic, hard drinking Irish vampire Cassidy, who’s complex character is easily one of the best fictional arches I can think of.
For all the preposterousness the plot boils down to a road trip/chase across America with real heart. The art and writing both make the U.S.A a perfect, warts and all back drop to this adventure. There’s kind of an updated patriotism here that’s highly infectious; the series drips in the mythos (read, not history) and geography of the vast country while introducing a huge amount of characters that pick up on everything going on in the 90’s from grunge to Texans to religion and civil rights.
The books certainly revel in the gore and sex, which is done exceptionally, but there’s an odd kind of maturity to it all. Nothing can really be taken on face value and its message; that faith and hypocrisy are very different things, is put across delicately along this epic. This isn’t an atheist book, but it unflinchingly pulls Christianity and exaggerates it’s situation in order to take swinging blows at it’s less savoury practises.
I feel I have sold this one poorly. It’s very difficult to put across exactly what this is, so I’ll sum up briefly. The Preacher is an action series with so much more folded in, there’s horror and romance and tragedy. Garth Ennis fantastically eeks out the drama while the heart and maturity stops this being purely a shock fest. Second to only the Sandman, this is the legendary Vertigo publishers shining baby and while it may seem too messy or violent to get into that’s purely because of my description. This is a fantastic example of what proper, grown up graphic novels can accomplish and if you aren’t going to be offended this is well worth your time.
The comics have been published in 9 books, which is how I read them. My local library have them available on order, which is a good way to get them as the full series costs a small fortune to buy. The series is also available as e-books and comics work great on tablets if you have one.
Thursday, 28 July 2011
I really don’t think you can make a platformer anymore. I mean the market for this is so saturated you would never make a dime and critically trying to outdo Mario is insanity. That is why when Rare, the super talented guys who specialise in making family games for the 360, created the next entry in the much loved Banjo Kazooie series they changed genre. At surface level they made a kart racing game, which isn’t much better, but the genius, wit, creativity and overall quality makes for one of the best games ever period.
The game focus on driving weird and wonderful contraptions to complete specific tasks, so you’ll vary between racing, collecting, transporting, minigames (actually fun minigames) and much more. The tasks vary greatly and often and the game in reality is more of an open ended puzzler. There are blueprints to help you but for the top medals you will almost always have to build or tweak something to great the prime results. Cleverly new bits and pieces are unlocked gradually so you’ll have to play with limitations. Basically, off the bat you can’t just put ten jet engines onto something and brains will always beat brawn or skill. If you get stuck though you can watch someone else’s attempt or even download there vehicle, meaning the game doesn’t ever get frustrating.
There’s a madcap logic; as long as it has wheels, an engine and fuel it’ll run. You can further add crazy guns (heat seeking easter egg cannons anyone?) or wings or springs or fuzzy dice. The system really works and somebody out there is a genius for making it all fit onto a gamepad so well.
The first thing to love about this game is the humour. It utterly shatters the fourth wall, making gleeful, silly jabs at the game industry. You’re on a quest to collect as many pointless items in order to reach the end of the game. That’s it. Along the way you’ll find clever ironic worlds, cut scenes that lampoon everything from 1970’s soccer coaches to soaps to Dr. Who and the dialogue is far wittier than anything necessary in a “Kids” game. As an example “Humba Wumba” is kinda Banjo’s love interest but reinvents herself each level from supressed housewife to tom-boyish pit girl to space conservationist. Basically imagine if Princess Peach was a smoking hot cock-teaser and the game revels in a very British wink and a nudge sexual tension here.
Top to bottom this game has a seriously high level of polish. Unlike kids games the controls are as tight as any racing game, the difficulty is spot on, the graphics are superb and artistically this game excels. Each level has a distinct style and the gameplay shakes up constantly to reflect this. Heck, it even has a nigh on perfect achievement list encouraging you to get the most out of the game and solve even more mad cap puzzles.
The only complaint I might make is no kid could ever stand a chance on this game as you need some degree of intelligence to make any ground. The game isn’t hard, atleast mostly not, but someone under 12 is going to have real problems playing.
As far as I can tell this game absolutely bombed, which is a shame because this was a truly unique and very high quality product on a console starved of innovation. I recommend this game to absolutely anyone and it deserves to sell atleast a million more. This isn’t a rental as the game has a good 40-50 hours of gameplay, it was a budget title when it was released so you can pick this one up for as little as £8.
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
With Dr. Who you fit in to one of three categories. Either you love it, you’ve never tried it or you tried it and didn’t like it. If you’ve never tried it before it’s a very easy series to get into; there have been loads of series but once every 3 years the show kind of reboots and reinvents itself. The current doctor is one of the best; he maintains the quirk of the character but unlike Tennant, who never was to my liking really, he’s not a forced eccentric. He also geek chic and awkward charisma nailed which makes the shows infinitely more enjoyable and makes the others around him actions make more sense. The current script is absolutely great aswell; it’s the same man who did the recent Sherlock series and the companions are much better than normal. Karen Gillan plays a feisty man eater and steals the show as she flirts and sarcastically cuts down aliens. The script is genuinely funny and the current overarching plot line leaves a lot of speculation and unanswered questions; it starts at the end as the doctor is killed for good (this isn’t a spoiler at all) and then the series picks up with the past doctor. It might sound confusing but it is handled well.
If you’ve tried it before and didn’t like it here are some things to consider. As I’ve said the series changes, the previous writers eventually ended up creating a kids drama with far too much fan service. This made it hammy and predictable and every episode which had the daleks (half of them) ended up being eye rollingly stupid. Thankfully this has all been corrected with the new series and wisely the doctor hasn’t yet got lazy and just pandered to the audience.
Also, within seasons the quality can fluctuate wildly, it has a structure of two parter stories, one off little dramas and an overarching story holding them all together. If you picked up on say a Christmas special or an off tone standalone show you may have seen something very different. For example in one episode last season the doctor got stranded on Earth for a month and experienced being a normal person. It was entertaining enough and developed his character well but was completely unrepresentative of the programme as a whole.
I promise this series is actually good; I’m not into quirky nerds, British cool or Tom Baker and even if you aren’t a sci-fi fan there’s a lot to enjoy here. I recommend starting with last season simply because that introduces the key players a bit better, most characters have an arch, it’s very good and the twist in the second season (a seriously, seriously good twist) will carry so much more weight.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Soundgarden are not a grunge band. Sure they came from Seattle, sure they were about the same time and sure they did their fair share of moping, but through and through Soundgarden are an awesome metal band.
On previous album Badmotorfinger Soundgarden established themselves as followers of the Zeppelin school of rock, embracing heavy riffs and brutish rhythm sections. These aspects returned on their next album with vengeance, but the band’s sound had expanded to incorporate power ballads, psychedelia and vaguely Middle Eastern instrumentation and timing. “Superunkown” is Soundgardens sprawling 70 minute magnus opus where they take their solid foundations and explore new styles creating a unique monster.
First and foremost the most astounding thing about the album is its tightness. The band all put in unbelievably good performances and although a long album there isn’t an ounce of fat or a bad track anywhere. This is much more impressive considering the huge amount of ground covered. The record neither feels jumbled though and clever and unique themes hold the sprawl closely together.
I always felt the album sounded oddly religious. Maybe it’s the Middle Eastern sounding instruments, or the pentatonic scale guitarist Kim Thayil uses that gives the songs an otherworldly feel or just the primal pounding of drums. The lyrics and themes reinforce this. “Head Down” instantly connotes prayer while Chris Cornell (lead singer) chants “we see you laugh, we see you cry” in a scary, omnipotent way. “Black Hole Sun” is a huge, hypnotic power ballad praying for the end of the world. “4th of July” name drops Christ; “Jesus tries to smile under another shovel load” and “Spoonman” pledges allegiance to a man who controls rhythm.
Away from this heady stuff Soundgarden fucking rock. Cornell is a gifted with an all-powerful voice and takes every opportunity to scream and howl. This is more Roger Plant than Corey Taylor though, and while it sounds appropriately threatening it never grinds or becomes annoying. On “Limo Wreck” he howls the chorus louder and louder each time becoming more and more intense. “Superunkown”, the awesome title track, is cleverly written to allow him to yell the last words of each line before exploding into a fantastic chorus. Elsewhere he croons aptly on songs like “The Day I Tried To Live” where he mocks the routine life expected of him. Like any good frontman Chris knows where to apply pressure and where to lay off and the balance between gunning furiously and sticking in a lower gear allows the band to shine.
This is not Cornell’s album at all though. It belongs to the entire band, no track contains anything less than perfection from all involved and across the long running time everyone gets a distinct moment to shine. The drummer Matt Cameron absolutely steals the show on “Spoonman” with a tight and impressive drum solo, this isn’t the indulgent overlong stuff and fits excellently with the theme of a God of rhythm. Thayil rocks out everywhere with some great riffs but his solos are fantastic too, for example he stirs a frenzy up on “Fell on Black Days”. A lesser band might leave this solo where it ends but the rest of the gang pounce onto it, using its energy to push up to an even higher level. Even the bassist stands out sometimes; on “My Wave” Ben Shepherd bends his bass strings and jams creating a fantastic psychedelic theme.
For all the doom and gloom the sheer strength and craftsmanship make this album an easy listen. No matter what genre you’re into this a must check out and is a perfect example of metal done properly.
Monday, 25 July 2011
When people think of alternative, they jump straight to the 90’s and point out the Grunge monsters and Beck. Before that though, in the distant time of the 1980’s, bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jnr. and My Bloody Valentine were layering guitars, fuzzing their music up and jumping between mumbles and shouts.
Yuck are a relatively new band with a decidedly retro feel, borrowing heavily from this genre of music. Formed from the remains of Cajun Dance Party the line-up reads like a dream team of slacker geek chic; with a handsome apathetic lead, a drummer with an unkempt afro and a solemn Asian chic on bass.
Their sound is exactly what shoegazing has always been about. The guitars are unbelievably distorted; the whole album can be put as an example of how to abuse the effects pedal. The lyrics whine and moan; Daniel’s (lead vocals) are delivered with a longing and mope and can make clunky lyrics like “Tryna make it through the wall, You can see me if you're tall” work well. On songs like “Georgia” the band nail the dreamy trade-off between male and female vocals, blurring into one beautiful mess. The tone embraces the scope of alternative, opening tracks “Get Away” & “The Wall” are rocked to an inch of their lives while “Sunday” and “Suicide Policeman” make for wonderful ballads with great heart. “Suck” wistfully odes to intimate love and has real heart, bemoaning “being young and free”. It has a shy quality too, changing subject to fire brigades when the intimate confessions become a bit too much. Finally “Rubber” is a kickass distorted epic, stretching an instrumental for 7 minutes and bubbling quietly to a satisfying payoff. Technically it has lyrics but in the same way My Bloody Valentine they intertwine in the back ground, effectively being just another instrument. For all the gloom the album has peaks of happiness and heart, the aforementioned “Suck” and “Suicide Policeman” make a comforting change, the latter being a very adolescent and dramatic way of saying “I’m here for you”.
The album surpasses its older brothers in a number of ways though. Firstly it sounds very good and the mix is clear. Older albums can sound absolutely terrible, I have a copy of “Psychocandy” by The Jesus and Mary Chain that is a fantastic record but just sounds awful through anything. The layer of polish throughout really helps the other elements shine clearly. Another advantage Yuck have over their seniors, like say Dinosaur Jnr., is that they don’t vilanise anyone or change to malice. The album never really turns violent and the anger is more frustration against everything instead of anything in particular. This makes them more affable and likeable. While the lyrics might make a few eyes role their charm and innocence and sincerity makes them work better than, say, Sonic Youth’s sometimes pompous, self-importance. Finally the songs are far catchier, in the sea of bubbling sound it can be hard initially to pick anything out and hold onto it, but the characters of the band have strong personality and the changing lyrics and themes give a fuzzy sound some much needed definition.
If you’ve ever liked any the bands I’ve mentioned then this will be a lovely throwback and a welcome addition. If not the songs are catchy and charming and will stick in your head for a long time.
Sunday, 24 July 2011
If you’ve heard of this title it was probably from a bargain bin or list of easy to 1k games; which is true, but it also has to be the best game I’ve played in months.
The game is essentially a glorified point and click, only this time you wheel around Watson or Holmes in first person instead of being given a picture of the room. I’d like to compare it to the other big puzzle game of this year; L.A Noire.
Throughout the game you will notice a distinct lack of polish, the graphics aren’t awful but the animations are laughably bad and the voice acting is a bit off. The voices aren’t terrible though; the game starts with the most hilariously bad monologue ever, but as the game gets into its swing the quality improves. This is a million miles away from L.A Noires slick production, mocap and faithfully recreated cities.
The thing is the gameplay and story are infinitely better. Noire made you search for clues and play a flawed face reading game, while the story just unfolded infront of you. Here the clues are given to you pretty much, it’s about what you do and deduce from them. For instance you’ll investigate a crime scene, but then put the evidence on a board and figure out when, how and why. I’ll give you an example, you have six possible motives like revenge or money, you add statements like “the murders were brutal” or “the victims were poor” and eliminate the incorrect ones. I was very impressed how authentic the investigation turned out to be, progression felt more like progress than luck and writing.
There are also a substantial amount more puzzles that are well executed. The game balances the staples of point and clicks, puzzles and narrative cleverly and the interface, effectively the menu from Fallout, works well. The solutions are wholly logical, I only got stuck twice and both times it was because I’d missed an essential clue somewhere.
The story matches if not beats that of L.A Noires. Keeping the narrative focused on a single case means the hours invested into the story pay off much more later in the game. The ending pays off well and gives a legitimately good explanation for why the public never find out. I’d also like to commend the tone, I remarked earlier that the Sherlock Holmes were dark and sinister and the streets of Whitechapel are black, infected with crooks and disease at every corner.
If you played L.A Noire and wanted something more engaging and harder than Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper is a low budget alternative that may be a bit behind the times but is still easily enjoyed.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Battle Royale is a film where Japanese school children fight to deaf with a variety of weapons on an island. I could leave this entry here and should have sold it well. Sometime in an anarchistic future the government sets up an initiative to scare off the worst behaved children and have fun. The rules of the game are after three days if everyone but one person hasn’t died then they all die, via a bomb strapped to their neck. The set-up is rather flimsy but does the job; it isn’t important. What is important is that Japanese school children have frag grenades, uzis and crossbows. This is first and foremost an action movie, which is cathartic and great fun. The immature tone does well, nowhere does this film try to justify itself, it jumps into a big, dumb fun romp and rolls with it.
Battle Royale takes a simple concept and gets maximum mileage out of it by working on a variety of different levels; you could enjoy it simply as a gameshow; you pick your favourites, root for people, boo the villains and are genuinely invested in who survives.
It makes for quality drama too; as old friends balance their survival with friendship. The characters, of which there are many, are all given at least a basic personality and drama is wrought of it well. The villains are cackling and evil while the heroes are innocent and kind. The film has heart to it aswell, a love interest bursts between the two who don’t stand the slightest chance and you really get invested wanting them somehow to survive, despite knowing one must die.
You could also watch this movie as an armchair contestant, every strategy or way of thinking about the situation is explored thoroughly, I left the film thinking for days about which of my friends I’d team up with, what is the ideal place to hide, who’d get the machine gun.
Furthermore you could view the film as a satire. I remember reading this review and being impressed by how much I missed, but in reality the director only acknowledges the themes and never really runs off with them, preferring to stick to the solid narrative.
Finally the plot twists and turns, some things turn out to not be as they seem and revelations come in. As a thriller the film stands up fine and congratulations to the script writer on creating a satisfying ending which could have otherwise been impossible.
I think you’d be surprised how much you like this film. All things considered the violence is pretty tame, it doesn’t come anywhere near to the Rambo orgy of gore and is restrained. The film is also in a foreign language, but dialogue is kept to a minimum and it really doesn’t detract from the experience. The pace never drops on this rollercoaster ride and don’t be put off by how violent or absurd it seems, it is infact simply a very good action film that is worth checking up.
Friday, 22 July 2011
Y’know how Bungie makes Halo and Rare makes family games? Double Fine are either a game company who make unique games or a game company nobody purchases off. They made Psychonauts, one of my all-time favourite adventure games about a school for psychics. They also made Brutal Legend, which was a terrible, terrible RTS with an amazing story, art style, soundtrack, performances and collectibles. The game featured Lemmy, Ozzy and Rob Halford for peats sake. I am to this day undecided whether it’s one of the best games ever made or a disaster.
It would appear the video game buying public has some kind of aversion to awesome though and nobody bought them. For this reason Double Fine has scaled down to make eccentric arcade titles. The first; Costume Quest, was a very funny turn based RPG but was far too easy. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but I know full well that money could have stretched a lot further.
Stacking, however, is well worth the £10 I paid for it. It follows a child Russian doll during the industrial revolution who possess’ bigger dolls with unique powers to solve puzzles. Again, the art style and tone are spot on, the only disappointment was the cut scenes are really laboured and not at all funny. The game is dotted with funny little sight gags though and I still had a good dozen chuckles with my time playing it. The game has a playful silliness, even if I rarely audibly laughed I spent nearly every second amused and interested
The twist is there are only 30 or so puzzles, but each has 5 solutions. The game clearly directs you to find all of the solutions, ranging from straightforward to the downright bizarre and inventive. If you ever get stuck there is a “hint” system which means you’ll never need to consult a browser when playing, but there is a cool down time in between.
Stacking is a game brimful of heart, humour and wit; which in its own right makes it unique on today’s market. The difficulty will amuse the bright and won’t bludgeon the dim and the playtime is definite value for money. Be unlike the videogame sheep today and checkout this unique little adventure.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
When I think about misunderstood albums, this is the one I always think of. Perhaps that’s because of what QOTSA where when the recorded this album; Songs for the Deaf is one of the all-time best straight rock albums, I’d recommend it but chances are you already have it.
Era Vulgaris is not a straight rock album at all. Era Vulgaris is offbeat, ugly and clunky. Era Vulgaris is also a record that I adore to pieces. This album however needs a fair bit of explaining. The title means “common age” and refers to the decadent, self-absorbed culture of today. Josh Homme is rarely his charming rocker self, instead taking the role of a spoilt, modern brat and sarcastically ripping them with their own tongue. If you will, this album is a satire of the YouTube generation. The lyrics have a very Tom Sawyer-ish feel about them. “I’m Designer” is a blast if you get this concept. The drums are clunky on this track, the guitar screeches repeatedly while the lyrics efferminately declare “We all have our own style and bag-age, why hump it yourself?”. In the chorus Homme’s true voice comes out, calling the verses “lies” and bemoaning his plastic existence.
The sound is appropriately off-beat; the chords sound like they were devised with random rolls of dice. This isn’t a metal album at all, but the sound is robotic and mechanical melody certainly wasn’t one of the priorities, focusing on repeating weird noises until they have dug so far into your brain they work. QOTSA have always been a hypnotic band too, I mean c’mon, they named an album “Lullabies to Paralyze”. Era sees a lot of this, the opening track “Turning on the Screw” has on odd solo (?) where Homme declares “you sound like this” before all the instruments repeat the same sustained sound over and over. It’s witty and odd stuff, the kind of thing I can see people really hating if they aren’t into some good old fashioned sound lashing. On “Battery Acid” the drums just pound the same beat over and over, the only difference is they get louder and louder as the band ramp up the intensity. Also “Robots! Robots! Brain Washed Babies!” Is the greatest hook ever.
Era is an eclectic mix too. Track 7 drastically changes gear to a straight blues song, in text slang of course, “Make It Wit Chu”. Josh is back on his charming sexy self and is a welcome return. Overall though QOTSA tongue is firmly in their cheek, I fear I have made this sound too arty when infact it is big, dumb noisy fun with a brainy twist.
This album is a divisive choice; I know people who despise it and people who love it. You won’t know which one you are until you try it yourself. Worse comes to the worse, it’s a cool bit of album art to have on you iPod.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
There’s a wonderfully nerdy type of comedy on the internet you won’t find anywhere else. There are dozens of comics that are far better than anything that crops up in the newspapers and nowhere else can you find humour as immediate and quirky as memes. But my personal favourite are what I like to call anti-essays; long and detailed deconstructions of things that aren’t very good. Check out this epic and hilarious stab at the Phantom Menace, it’s worth the long time it takes to watch.
The Spoony Experiment does this kind of thing exceedingly well. Whether it be because of access to some great material (Zombie Samurai Nation is funny without narration) some tight writing or Noah, aka The Spoony One, who is an immediately likable, floppy haired nerd. The tone is spot on, it doesn’t get venomous like the Angry Video Game Nerd but stays energetic and mad. I recommend starting out with his reviews The Thing and Samurai Zombie Nation, I say this because these are half an hour a piece and are short for this website, before moving onto the epic 3 hour Final Fantasy VIII routine, which is one of my picks for best thing on the internet ever.
On top of this the site has some great Let's Plays!, which may not be as fun now they're all available in one hit, but as a weekly series it was something I sincerely enjoyed. Noah also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject and is no fool, I've learnt more about journalism and cinema from him than anywhere else.
The one problem is Noah can be a little poor with time management; quality stuff can be months apart. In his defence the writing and production on his stuff utterly puts the rest to shame, this isn’t shaky YouTube cam and borders on professional, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. On the other hand The Spoony One spreads himself very thin, he does commentaries, amateur journalism and so many collaborations. I appreciate these must be more fun than toiling away in a hot Arizona bedroom, but I cannot stress how much higher Noah is above his peers. He is the star of this show, and while I’m grateful for anything I get, this is all free after all, seeing him fly out to some hotel to let an unfunny brat whine in his spotlight seems like a tragic waste of time.
I say this all though because the site is more than just content. Noah is charismatic and the personal, DIY aesthetic of the site gives it a really homey feel. As much as I want to be entertained I want to see the man do well, I’d buy him a beer sometime if I could. The community is strong here too; the forums are exceptionally good and broad if you’re bored of your personal message board.
The Spoony Experiment offers hours of grade A comedy and might just introduce you to your new favourite comic, I strongly recommend it.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Oh Scott Pilgrim what went wrong? This film deserved big bucks but didn’t even make it’s production cost, let alone advertising or a profit. I guess some people didn’t get it. The adverts made it look weird, less like a straight forward comedy and more madness. Which is correct I suppose? Then again Michael Cera is indie crack, he should have drew in people by the flocks. You could argue the target audience just got it from Pirate Bay, but surely this is something you’d want to watch on the big screen. I mean this film did half as well as Bridesmaids and is atleast twice as good.
Essentially Scott Pilgrim is a glossy coming of age nerd rom com with awesome CGI battles every now and then with a bad ass soundtrack. This film is dense though; the plot cheekily starts slowly and innocently before losing its shit on the opening credits and rocketing through joke after joke. The comedy is good too, there is plenty of slapstick and absurd humour but the film is no stranger to wit. There’s this one seen when Scott tells Ramona (love interest B) “I dreamt about you, is that odd” to which replies “No, there’s an interdimensional rift through your head I often use to speed up delivery (to Amazon.ca no less)” that reminds me distinctly of Douglas Adams, I’m surprised no one has coined this as a “Hitchikers Guide” for the YouTube generation. Pop up boxes and HUD crop up with fantastic one liners and visually this is one of the absolute best films ever, for a comedy it’s totally unique to have twin headed techno dragons fight punk rock monsters (this happens by the way) The number of memorable seems is silly high too, this is a film I’ve watched 3 times already and could easily watch again.
I’ve heard people complain the characters are poorly fleshed out and hard to relate with, but I just can’t buy that. Scott himself is cleverly not the 80’s fat weezing nerd but instead good looking but immature nerd. Cera carries off the charm to make him an affable man baby and you never doubt he loves Knives (love interest A) and Ramona; it’s just that his situation is born out of awkwardness not malice. Ramona isn’t shallow either, she plays mystique but some scenes clearly show her to be just as fragile and immature as Scott. Everyone argues Scott should have gone with Knives but ironically for the youngest she’s the most mature one, wanting Scott to meet her parents and talking about relationship; she sums it up at the end “Go to [Ramona], anyways, I’m too cool for you”. Furthermore everyone has an arc in this, the drummer gets over Scott, the coffee waitress gets back with the lead singer, the nerd gets to be in the band he adored, I could go on and on. The supporting cast play blinders, with most characters stealing scenes. Special kudos to Kieran Culkin, who is hilarious in every second of screen time. It also doesn’t hurt that the females are gorgeous either, too often it's hard to see why the couple must fight for each other but I’d risk my life 7 times for a punk Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
I recommend those who haven’t seen it definitely check this out. I also recommend those who saw it and don’t put it in their top 5 comedies watch it again, I have no idea how you managed that.
I’d also like to recommend the sound track, which is a really good Beck album with fantastic contributions, including a James Brown esque gospel ode to adolescence, a sleazy bed track, a grand Evanesence-ish pop song and the best 8-bit song you’ll here anywhere. If you don’t know who Beck is you must absolutely check it out, the man is a genius. It isn’t a soundtrack really either, much more a collection of really good songs with a similar theme from different artists, which makes for a terrific album.
I have a beef with “nu-metal”. For me metal was always big, scary and complex. Songs shouldn’t be less than 5 minutes, the bass and drums ought to evoke Satan hammering on your door and the lyrics should soar effortlessly above the rest, only met on occasion by screeching solos every 3 minutes. And under no circumstance must anyone even attempt to be “gangsta”. In short I’m a devout follower of the Sabbath and Metallica models.
The problem with this is it can get boring, you cover the same ground. For this reason I forgive the music industry for its two decades of catchy chorus and grown men in dress up. Mastodon blew this situation away however on Crack the Skye. Variety is on full show here; “Oblivion” starts with a haunting, spacey synth intro. “Divinations” kicks off with rumbling banjo. Single tracks morph and change direction frequently.
The real impressive feat though is how good everyone is. The vocals are spot on, constant melodies; I still don’t know who exactly was on lead for this album. The two guitars fuzz and dance, the bass skips here and there, on the aforementioned “Divinations” all instruments gun it for a mad crescendo, which impossible holds together. Prog comes to mind very much, I’d compare their sound to recent Metallica with Sabbath. This isn’t thrash, Crack the Skye is much more focused on atmosphere and depth than moshing.
The themes have been updated too. Fantasy and the occult has been a metal staple since Zeppelin, todays it’s space and time travel. There is some kind of concept of a time travelling astronaut warning an occult of the Russian revolution or something, but all you really need to know is this is a trip album.
I’d recommend this to even non-metal fans, it’s an excellent example of the genre very much misunderstood by the mainstream. This and the Black Album should atleast be able to convert non-believers to appreciators.
Do you like The Pixies? Silly question really. Pavement are a slacker alternative band from the 90’s who do the short, catchy, timeless and bloody odd in much the same way as Doolittle. The one difference is this album is honestly better in my opinion, which is no mean feat considering how often Doolittle crops up on best ever lists.
It’s warm and fuzzy throughout, “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” is slow and mellow with a dizzy, spastic solo at the end, breaking out into fun, nonsense melodies. Melodies and nonsense are recurring themes; “Trigger Cut” sees the band sing “sha-na-na” and don’t get me started on “Conduit For Sale!”, which is some kind of history rap with panicked chorus.
On other tracks the album absolutely wears it’s heart on its sleeve, “Here” and “Zurich is Stained” are spacious laments, very much for the slacker.
Throughout the bass is fuzzy and you can hear the drummer have a great time as the melodies grow bigger; on “Lorretta’s Scars” the beat is certain to move anyone. This is a through and through a lo-fi marvel, but the album quality is very good unlike, say; Dinosaur Jnr.
Like Doolittle every song is a hit, you wish there was more of it and whoever you are there is no way you cannot love this beauty.
Monday, 18 July 2011
Finding good music advice is impossible on the web. Spotify and Last.fm will point out music based on your tastes and critical sites like Kerrang and NME do a good job of telling you about what’s new. Delving into the vast back catalogue of music is a daunting prospect however. This is where some cold, hard math comes into help.
BestEverAlbums.com averages 2,600 charts from critics and joe public to rank albums. I agree solidly with the chart, even if NIN are a bit too low and Bowie is on it a bit much. The website has other lists though for year and bands, if you’re after a good recommendation it’s worth checking out. Neither does it fall into genre bias either *ahem*RollingStonesMagazine*ahem*
You can easily make your own list and share it, which is always fun for listophiles like myself, and the forums seem friendly enough. Within days of making my list a little discussion had popped up underneath it.
The search doesn't work quite as well you'd like it too and no actual reviews for albums are posted, which is a shame. I can't help but think some dedicated editorials would be nice but that might just be me asking too much.
The search doesn't work quite as well you'd like it too and no actual reviews for albums are posted, which is a shame. I can't help but think some dedicated editorials would be nice but that might just be me asking too much.
If anything this site is good for settling music arguments and firmly establishing Radiohead as “not just a band I like”
I feel sorry for people who only know Guns ‘n’ Roses from Appetite for Destruction. Sure it had the biggest hits and is a fantastic album, but the band moved on to so much more. While Appetite was a blast of hard rock with a mean attitude Use Your Illusion is a sprawling epic covering blues, country, quasi-rap and industrial, while rocking hard all the time. Yes it’s bloated, clocking in at 2½ hours it’s not what you’d call short, but it changes tempo and theme so often it never really drags. Technically it is two albums but they were recorded in the same session and have identical yet palette swapped artwork, so I count them as one.
This album could be seen as a semi-autobiographical; thematically it is certainly a trip through Axl’s twisted mind. Every influence or musical passion is crammed in; covering Dylan and McCartney. Samples are used to great effect on “Civil War” and “Coma”. It spits out insults, literally, on “Get In The Ring”. Drugs are sung about, booze is sung about and you better believe women are sung about too. The final song hastily tries to justify itself; “You want to step into my world? It's a sociopsychotic state of bliss!”
Proficiently every member is on form, Slash does his thing and the drummer puts in a damn good show. This is through and through Axl’s album though. I maintain he is easily one of the best front men, “My World” is some first class crazy yelping and on “Coma” his voice reaches breaking point but somehow he keeps on one upping himself in the dizziest crescendo I know of.
No matter what genre you like, you’ll find something new on these albums and if you’re sick of “Paradise City” there is plenty more out there. May I also recommend “The Spaghetti Incident”. Granted it has the worst album artwork ever and was recorded just as the wheels fell off on GNR, but this collection of covers is very fun and kinda continues from where Illusion left off.
This was a pretty big deal in the U.K, but if you’re across the pond or somehow missed it then check up on this mini-series; it is well worth it. Steven Moffat, the guy doing a fantastic job with Dr. Who at the minute, took it upon himself to update the classic detective novels. In this age of lazy forensic evidence thrillers *ahem*CSI*ahem* the logical approach is refreshing. More than that it means you can partake with more ease, but good luck second guessing these plots.
The casting is very good too. Benedict Cumberbatch takes the title role and is very good, he looks like he could easily be a genius and the social awkwardness does a neat balance between rude and involuntary. Martin Freeman is good too, he fits more to the narrator than bumbling sidekick and does a good job eeking explanations out of Holmes without seeming dumb. To the contrary he is pretty smart and gets good time to shine. The real winner is the chemistry between the two, both actors are clearly having great fun doing such a good script. Humour is present and strong.
That may be the biggest problem though. It’s been forever since I read a Sherlock Holmes book but they were always scary, dark things. This has a little too much charm, a little bit too much humour. The geek chic makes for great fun, but I couldn’t help feel the Doctor was creeping into the role a little too much. Anyway if you’re under 20 and female this is a certain bonus and despite this the series is worth tracking down.
NIN are a hell of a band (it’s a bit more complex than that) but they can be pretty hard to get into. Trent Reznor’s style of dark, swirling thumping music is fantastic and doesn’t really have a good comparison (perhaps later Radiohead and Marilyn Manson) but it’s easy to get lost or disinterested before you get into it. The Downward Spiral is certainly the best of his albums, but the intros are almost Pink Floydian in how long and ridiculous they are. Pretty Hate Machine is much more accessible but has a dated quality; some of the effects sound a bit token and cliché and don’t really fit with what the band moved onto later.
With Teeth however is a straight forward, rocking, down and dirty album of squeaks, screams and awesome, awesome drumming. NIN perfected big echoy drums years ago, but Dave Grohl shows up to contribute his talents and the results are fantastic. “The Collector” has a powerful drum intro while “Y’know What You Are?” has some pounding thrash beats powering it forward.
“Only” is as close as NIN ever got to a pop song, with a catchy beat and a beast of a hook; “There is no you there is only me!”. “The Hand That Feeds” is a good place to start too. “Right Where It Belongs” is a hauntingly slow paced moment of quite in the barrage of all mighty noise.
Overall the album is a quite clear about recovering from an addiction but this being NIN this is twisted into a “is everything what it appears to be?” Matrix-esque muddle. It’s not going to shatter your brain cells or anything but it will stay in the back of your mind for quite some time.
With Teeth is a hell of an album and if you like it I strongly recommend digging up his/their other stuff as the quality is pretty consistent. Today Trent is winning Oscars for some stellar soundtracks, check out this collab with Karen O for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, it’s pretty damn awesome.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
In this age of fast paced, danger laden CGI fests Winnie the Pooh is a delightful and fun hour of wholesome goodness. The plot is laughably simple, essentially the troupe (if you don’t know Winnie and pals already have a serious talk with your parents) frolic about the Hundred Acre Wood looking for the terrifying “Backsoon”, after a “hilarious misunderstanding”. OK, so the plot isn’t amazing. The execution however is superb. Allegedly every frame was hand drawn and it shows, this is a perfect example of why 3D shouldn’t have a monopoly.
The narration by John Cleese is wonderful, every now and then he joins in with the story and text (the story is told as a childrens book) is interacted with by the characters.
But this film isn’t just cute and pretty, it’s genuinely funny. I got two belch laughs out of this and I’m a man with dead baby jokes in his favourite.
The film is short, but is propped up by a pair of short stories. The first is some crap about Peter Pan or something, it was hard to care, but the other is a short about the Loch Ness Monster, or “Nessie” as she prefers, that’s heartwarming, entertaining and voiced by Billy Connoly.
The £7 per ticket may be a bit steep for a fluffy hour but if you’ve got little kids then I highly recommend this over whatever dreamworks has put out.
Gaming is a bloody expensive hobby. The initial lay down for hardware and subscriptions eats away at most of my income and even trawling ebay for deals months after blockbusters come out can be expensive. But if you live in the U.K for £17 a month you can get your software fix. The site works well enough and the posting is a quick fix. You already know what your getting, the service is advertised enough, but I don’t see how you can play games without this service. Also Robot Chicken is free to stream, and that show is fucking awesome.
If you want to do me a huge favour follow this link or use this code a6qgherwb. They do a mean 30 day trial if you want to check it out for the hell of it, but it does cheekily ask for credit card info and will bill you as soon as the trials over, just a heads up.
Lower your expectations. Now. Because this isn’t really a very good game at all. It’s repetitive, the fatalities repeat forever, you need multiple playthroughs to 1k the game, the side scrolling sections are broken and will send you into a blind rage and the ending is shite. But it also has Winnie the Pooh ordering you to “Fuck that thing!”, plays Mastodon on a loop and lets you pull a zombie-dog things brain out of its arsehole.
Essentially just a hyper-violent hack and slash, the games saving grace is a comprehensive and meaningful upgrade system, grinding becomes much more enjoyable when your never more than 20 minutes away from a cool power-up and there is joy to be had going from utter dweeb to unstoppable, neck snapping monster. The difficulty was spot on too; it never got frustrating but I never felt any room was a dead certain to get through. The achievements were varied and fun and for once the collectables were enjoyable; lightly sprinkled shreds of sexy pictures.
Splatterhouse was a bit pooh, but the way it threw itself into over the top gore and all things boys love paid off well. The game is short, which is in many ways a virtue, so I certainly wouldn’t buy it at anywhere near full price. But if you can rent, borrow or pick it up in a bargain bin you ought to be entertained for a day or two atleast.
Screened.com is a website about all things film. It has a fantastic community with a thriving forum and community challenges; bounties for wikis and treasure hunts etc. that is miles ahead of it’s competitors. It also serves as a pretty damn good database, but realistically will never be able to compete with IMDB. But no, Screened’s strength comes from strong editorials and great critics. Self-confessed “lifelong dorks” the reviews are thoughtful and I tend to agree with everything they say. And when I disagree, the staff make well informed, explained reasons why, these guys know their stuff. Furthermore they neither fall into horror schlock, Hollywood loving or indie praising bias’. Much can be commended for a film that holds “Hobo with a Shotgun”, “The Trip” and “X-Men” with same esteem. At the same time the site is good humoured, never taking it’s self to seriously and doling out the news with flair and a smile.
On top of this the writers every now and then make well produced video features, “The Besties” are an entertaining set of recommendations for films you probably haven’t watched and “Half-Goods” are always fun.
The whole of Whiskey Media is infact really, really good and you should check them out because they will save you from time wasters, put good stuff your way and make you smile on a regular basis.
Poor Mark Lanegan. Did you know he originally covered Lead Belly before Cobain made it his own? Did you know he was part of the supergroup QOTSA line-up on Songs for the Deaf, but was overshadowed by the giants Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl? Did you know he was making grunge before Eddie Vedder even moved to the Seattle? He is an artist of immense talent who never managed to properly break it. Screaming Trees was the band he fronted, and in another poor shot of fate the only single that anyone seems to know; “Nearly Lost You”, was a fast paced, catchy pop-grunge song that is completely unrepresentative of the work that band made.
Sweet Oblivion, the album “Nearly Lost You” came from, is a slow, hypnotic, rhythmic example of how to make a great grunge record. Lanegan has one of the all time great croons, in another age he would be much sought after in blues clubs. Just check out “This Lullaby” by QOTSA, which to my knowledge is the best crooning on record anywhere. Sweet Oblivion ticks all the grunge boxes, but perhaps with a bit more maturity than his more famous peers. Comparable to only the later Alice in Chains stuff the album occupies a blue, downtrodden soundscape. “Julie Paradise” bitterly rips into a spoilt young rat, akin to “Like A Rolling Stone”, elsewhere Lanegan moans “torn like an old dollar bill”, worthless but still in the music industries wallet.
Sweet Oblivion is Seattle plaid blues at it’s best and is well worth checking out. “Dust” is arguably a better more blue album if you want to get deeper, but for my money there are less songs to properly sink into on that record and it’s a little bit of a tough listen.
I think the first two tracks on this album perfectly sum the rest up; “Serious” and “Funny”. The best comparison for Scars on Broadway is System of a Down, which figures seeing as 2/5ths of the bands make up come straight from System. That’s not to say they are identical, the liberal politics and good humour have come across intact, but the tone is bouncier and poppier. There is also a greater range of instrumentation, the sounds jumps from thrash to ballad to electro. Daron Malakian (The guy who screams “WAKE UP IT’S PARTY TIME!” on B.Y.O.B, y’know the one i mean) does a fantastic job fronting the band with impressive soaring vocals and is an ample fit for Serj Tankians position.
In party mode Scars rock seriously hard, “They Say” is infectious and catchy while “Chemicals” is a foul mouthed techno marvel that trumps anything SOAD have so far done. On the other hand of the spectrum “3005” is a thoughtful ballad revelling in how the right will finally die out, but still manages to be humouress and happy.
If you like SOAD you’ll find a lot to love with Scars, if you don’t know either than Scars is a brilliant entry to the mad pair and is well worth checking out.