Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bulletproof

The short version:
Deadly Avenger—Deep Red: 7/10
Sixpence None the Richer—Divine Discontent: 6/10
The Roots—How I Got Over: 7/10
Hyperstory—Hyperstory: 6/10
Arcade Fire—The Suburbs: 5/10
Ratatat—Ratatat: 4/10
La Roux—La Roux: 7/10
Holy Fuck—Latin: 6/10

I finally managed to find Deep Red by Deadly Avenger at a reasonable price, and it's pretty good electronic instrumental music.  A few of the tracks have a sort of faux-orchestra vibe going, and they work well enough, but it sounds more obviously fake than some people who are better at that sort of thing.  There's a some variety between the chill tracks and the hyper tracks, with a bit more of the former, and overall I think it works pretty well.  My favorites are We Took Pelham, The Quest Part 2, and the Outro.

Remember Sixpence None the Richer?  No?  I had mostly forgotten about them but they were all over the radio back when I was working at Burger King.  I decided to pick up one of their albums, Divine Discontent, and it's pretty.  I like Leigh Nash's vocals in small doses, but I can't really make out much of what she says and after a while it makes it kind of hard for me to focus on anything else in the music.  I've listened to this album several times and I feel like several of the songs are good, but I can't really remember which ones are which.  It's like I just sort of subconsciously enjoy them.  I dunno; it's weird.  Check out Breathe Your Name, Still Burning, and Down and Out of Time.

The latest studio album from The Roots, How I Got Over, flows better from start to finish than any other rap album that I can think of, and it's actually pretty nice to listen to all in one stretch.  Most of the individual tracks don't stand as well by themselves.  Walk Alone is a great exception to that, and the heartfelt track Dear God 2.0 is a good song with a good video.  Right On's not bad either.

Hyperstory's debut self-titled album is kind of like proto-Zero 7.  The musical style is very similar, but it's not quite as refined—still, if you like the latter I think you'll like the former.  At just half an hour it seems awfully short for an album, though.  Check out A Happening, Something Good, and A Reckoning and see if it's your thing.

Arcade Fire's highly acclaimed The Suburbs is surely the right CD for someone but it's not the right one for me.  I feel like a dozen scrawny guys with black plastic glasses are holding me down on a Seattle sidewalk repeatedly screaming "I'M INDIE!  LOVE ME!" when I listen to this album.  It revels in its completely standard nonstandardness, and I really can't stand the lead singer.  The production quality of the CD is sort of weird; parts sound really rough, and others sound like they were definitely put together by someone who knows what they're doing.  It's all very intentional, I'm sure, meant to further remind the listener of just how indie they are.  All that said, I've certainly heard worse music, and Rococo, We Used to Wait, and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) are all good stuff.  Most of the rest is more like City with No Children, though, and makes me want to look for that skip track button.

Ratatat's self-titled debut really, really needs some guest artists, or they need to stick to being guest artists.  They've got a dude with some mad synth guitar skillz and a dude who makes some phat beats, but they need some vocals or some other instruments.  It just doesn't do it for me.  Almost the entire album seems incomplete—creative, with interesting melodies and song structure, but more like experimental musical playgrounds than actual complete tracks.  Sort of like those "string quartet tribute to..." albums, you get the sense that you're only getting part of the whole picture.  Even the best tracks on there—Seventeen Years, Desert Eagle, and El Pico—suffer from this, but then there are half a dozen songs that all remind me of Cherry.  From what I can tell, their more recent albums are notably better, so I'll look into those.

Yet another self-titled debut, La Roux is great 80s-ish dance music, but most of the CD sounds like a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl (...to which a friend of mine responded, "have you seen the album cover?").  The majority of the CD is in a bizarre female falsetto voice that really starts to grate on my nerves even as the beat gets me groovin'.  My favorite track, Bulletproof, doesn't really show it, but in my second-favorite song In for the Kill it's very, very noticeable.  In Reflections Are Protection it's sort of in-between.  The beats are pretty well-done, but like in a lot of dance albums, they start to get repetitive by the end.

Looking for a great Mother's Day gift?  Look no further than Latin by the delightfully-titled band Holy Fuck.  If your mom loves alt-rock instrumental music as much as she loves the F-bomb she'll probably enjoy it.  (I'm not really going anywhere with the mom thing; I'm just commenting on the band name.)  I found out about the band from the video for Red Lights, which must have had a filming budget of tens and tens of dollars.  It's repetitive but catchy.  Latin America is probably the best track on the disc, and Stay Lit's worth checking out too.  Ultimately it's similar in concept to Ratatat's album, and while I might argue that Ratatat might have the edge on melodic structure or other things that music professors are looking for, Latin has a lot more interesting variation in the sound and is definitely more pleasant to listen to.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

News flash

News flash: Portal 2 is astounding, just like everyone knew it would be.

The writing and voice acting are just perfect, which is especially impressive considering that at no point in the game do you ever actually meet another human being.  Even in the best games there are usually times when you can tell that there are actors somewhere reading lines, but not so here.  Toward the beginning of the game when the puzzles are easy enough that you solve them rather quickly, I'd hardly have enough time between lines of dialogue to stop grinning.  My face was getting sore.

There were a couple parts in one particular section of the game where I spent more time than I'd have liked searching every pixel of the level for white patches to shoot, but besides a couple small missteps, it's about as close to perfect as a game gets, and in a class of its own.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gaming

In case you're curious where I've been, I've been playing video games pretty prolifically recently.  It's just that a lot of top stuff that I'd been waiting on is all converging at the beginning of this year for some reason or another, and, well, I have my priorities straight.

In one sentence...
  • Bulletstorm is awesome fun for anyone who thinks that their first-person shooters are getting a little too serious.
  • Crysis 2 is not as good as the first Crysis but it looks spectacular, the combat is still interesting, and it's very cinematic.
  • Dragon Age 2 starts off pretty terrible and then becomes rather good with an unconventional story for a fantasy RPG—but it's still obsessed with BLOOODDDD MAAAGGGIC.
  • Hoard is a fun, light co-op game.
  • I don't know what everyone's complaining about with Civilization V; I thought it was perfectly amusing.
  • Might and Magic Clash of Heroes is really fantastic, and anyone who enjoyed Puzzle Quest is going to love it.
  • You Don't Know Jack is back, and it's even better than it was in the past.
  • Red Alert 3 Uprising is mediocre: it has similar high production quality to the original game, but many of the missions don't seem to be particularly clever.
  • I can't believe I put seven hours into The Witcher before I fully realized just how terrible it is.
Oh yeah, and Portal 2 is coming out in like twenty-four hours.