Sunday, January 27, 2013


I went to Sundance this year and saw a few of the films.  Overall they weren't super awesome, but it was still kind of a fun experience.

Sightseers (4/5) was my favorite by a longshot.  It's a dark comedy about a British couple who go on vacation, and after dealing with too many obnoxious people, the guy spontaneously decides to become a serial killer.  I don't think it needs much more explanation than that.  I'd recommend it to anyone who can enjoy a good dark comedy.

Virtually Heroes (2.5/5) was decent but I felt it was too long for what it is.  I imagine that you'd like it more if you’re the sort of person who likes cheesy or "so bad it's good" movies.  The plot is that the main player character in a video game has an existential crisis.  That's about all there is to it.  There are some good jokes that will only make sense to a gamer: the heroes avoid walking near barrels at all costs, after objectives are completed the movie gets letterboxed and prettier for a scripted cutscene, and characters keep forgetting to reload.  It spends too much time being painfully self-aware and making sure it can get every joke the writer thought of into the movie, even if it doesn't fit.

We Are What We Are (2.5/5) was a horror movie about a family of cannibals.  The atmosphere was great and the acting was good overall (especially considering that three of the stars were children or teenagers), but it lacked a plot.  With more stuff happening and less time spent setting up a creepy, disturbing atmosphere, it could have been great.

Big Sur (1/5) was filmed beautifully and it convincingly portrayed a portrait of a depressed alcoholic sinking into madness.  Too bad it was more dull than most documentaries.

Catnip: Egress to Oblivion was a short that played before Virtually Heroes, warning about the dangers of catnip abuse, in the style of half-documentary, half-propaganda.  It was pretty cute.  You can now watch the whole thing on YouTube; it's just a few minutes.  Recommended for those with cats.

Probably not something I'd be terribly interested in doing again anytime soon, but the idea of a film festival is compelling in theory at least.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Birds

The short version:
Delerium—Music Box Opera: 8/10
Jeremy Soule—Skyrim: 9/10
Gramatik—Beatz and Pieces Volume 1: 4/10
AWOLNATION—I've Been Dreaming EP: 3/10
Xploding Plastix—Treated Timber Resists Rot: 7/10
Yury—Self Improvement: 5/10
The London Symphony Orchestra—Tommy: 2/10
Natalia Kills—Perfectionist: 7/10
Gotye—Like Drawing Blood: 7/10
The Glitch Mob—Drink the Sea: 9/10
Bruno Mars—Unorthodox Jukebox: 5/10
The Weeknd—Trilogy: 5/10

Delerium's latest album Music Box Opera is a little tough to rate; the extended edition has four fantastic tracks, but some of the best stuff isn't in the normal version of the album at all, and there are some fairly weak but not terrible tracks in there too.  So I guess overall it's "good."  The best track is Stargazing and it's not available on any US version of the album, and Still Kill, Consciousness of Love, and Frostbite are all almost as good.  There's good variety on the album too; it feels cohesive without being repetitive.

Jeremy Soule's soundtrack Skyrim comes on a whopping four CDs, and there's a wonderful breadth of music in the game that translates well to listening outside the game.  There are enough excellent 4- and 5-star pieces to fill a whole CD, and enough still-lovely 3-star pieces to fill another one.  The last CD is a single 42-minute track of atmospheric background that, while pretty, can barely be considered music, and there are enough fairly weak tracks to fill another disc, but there's still enough awesomeness here to put these tracks up with the Lord of the Rings soundtracks by Howard Shore as my favorite soundtracks for anything.  (Given that this soundtrack is synthesized and the Lord of the Rings soundtracks had a full orchestra, that seems pretty impressive.)  The title theme Dragonborn is the best from all four discs, reprised near the end of the game as Sovngarde.  I'm also partial to Frostfall, Far Horizons, The Streets of Whiterun, and many others.

Gramatik's Beatz and Pieces Volume 1 feels like a collection of song drafts rather than a complete work.  Most of the beats and sounds need more of a progression over the length of the track, or at least some vocals, and as a result end up sounding rather repetitive.  It's great if judged against the standards of background music, but not that great if compared against an album.  That said, Good Evening Mr. Hitchcock is quite good, and so is The Drink Is Called RakijaBreak Loose is an example of a track with a lot of potential that ends up sounding like a 40-second song looped five times.  (You can now get this album for free from the record label.)

AWOLNATION put out a free EP, I've Been Dreaming, containing a few B-sides and live versions of some songs from their album.  It was priced correctly.

Xploding Plastix' Treated Timber Resists Rot is another CD of really excellent abstract music.  I don't really know how to classify a song like A Rogue Friend Is a Wild Beast, but it is gorgeous.  Errata is delightfully weird.  And Band of Miscreants is a wonderful descent into utter madness that sounds like it would have been a perfect end to the album, but instead it's followed by the two weakest tracks on there.

Like his first album, Yury's second album Self Improvement is free, but it is not an improvement over the first.  Nothing stands out all that well, but Odessa and Salto are probably the best.

I picked up the soundtrack for the musical Tommy played by the London Symphony Orchestra from Amazon MP3 with a few cents' worth of free credits.  The track Eyesight to the Blind is rather good, and the Overture and Sparks are decent.  The rest... well, I'm not much of a fan of musicals, but the rest makes me want to Van Gogh myself just to make sure I never have to hear it again.  Most of the singing is absolutely unlistenable, which seems pretty much counter to the entire point of a musical.

I checked out and subsequently bought Perfectionist by Natalia Kills after seeing the video for her new single, and it's pretty consistently decent.  The opening track Wonderland is very catchy, and Zombie and Love Is a Suicide are good too.  The album has a pop-but-slightly-darker feeling, and grew on me as I listened a few times.

I finally got around to picking up Gotye's Like Drawing Blood.  Nothing is quite as awesome as Somebody That I Used to Know, but Thanks for Your Time is close and has an epic video, and A Distinctive Sound and Coming Back are nice too.  If you liked his stuff "after America discovered him," you'll probably like this album too, a bit less.

The Glitch Mob's album Drink the Sea is very good.  I initially picked it up for Fortune Days, which is a tasty little synth adventure, but there's lots of good stuff in the album, like Animus Vox and How to Be Eaten by a Woman.  Definitely worth getting if you liked those tracks.  I also got the We Can Make the World Stop single, which is of the same musical style and an excellent accompaniment to the album.

Bruno Mars' latest, Unorthodox Jukebox, has a nice range of styles and a few great tracks, and overall it's fairly impressive, but a lot of it isn't a style I particularly care for all that much, so I left with mixed opinions.  Locked Out of Heaven is super, Young Girls is beautiful, and Moonshine has a neat retro flair to it.

The Weeknd's Trilogy (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) is an intriguing hybrid between R&B, which is outside of my usual interests, and harsher electronica, which definitely fits.  (And also very explicit lyrics.)  Sometimes the results are spectacularly awesome, like The Birds (probably my favorite song from this whole post) as well as Wicked Games and Loft Music.  Much of the rest is kind of hard for me to like—either the vocals are obnoxious and distracting, or the background needs a little more love, or some variation of the two.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A new year

I guess this is my new year's post.  Happy new year!

I always start a December vacation with a list of stuff that I want to get done, and then by the end of my vacation I've gotten basically nothing done, finished something else, and my to-do list is longer than it was at the beginning of the vacation.  This year was no exception.

Well okay, maybe it's not fair to say that I got basically nothing done.  I actually got quite a lot done—finished up an emergency personal project that isn't interesting enough to describe here (that was the bulk of my time by far), nearly finished Borderlands 2, broke my keyboard, had my keyboard fixed... just not a lot of what I intended to.  I'd ask for another week or two off to finish all of the remaining stuff, but if this trend continued, I'd just end that week or two with even more to do.