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And now, a legally ambiguous music dump

22 Aug

Part 1: Clutch Play, or It’s All In My Clutch

I have a strange relationship with Clutch; I bought Blast Tyrant in Spring this year and has listened to it fairly solidly since, but have never felt compelled to hunt down any of their other stuff. I can absolutely imagine this approach confusing and perhaps angering certain sections of the Clutch fandom, so I’m not as vocal about my enjoyment of that particular album as my enduring infatuation with the overcharged final chorus of The Mob Goes Wild or Subtle Hustle’s juggernaut of a bridge might justify.

But! Only a few months late, I have found Earth Rocker, and am content. I mean, listen to this shit:

 

And that’s the most basic song on the album. D.C. Sound Attack opens with the only instance where a harmonica riff could ever be described as “pleasantly violent”, and Gone Cold – resembling what whiskey would sound like if it could emit noise – is a warm and welcoming ballad. Also, The Face deserves the highest compliment I can pay a piece of music: I can totally imagine it being bellowed from the top of a thunderstruck mountain. Superb.

Part 2: Great Scot!, or How and Why Biffy’s B-Sides Are Better Than All the A-Sides of that One Band You Like

The difference in quality between Biffy Clyro’s choicest album tracks and their discarded B-sides has long been imperceptible, and those produced by the current Opposites era are  no exception.

 

 

I can kind of see why neither of these made the cut, even on a 20-song double album: they’re not hugely different to the similarly swelling pop-rock anthems that did. But Jesus, they’re good; dynamic, deceptively heavy and finished with infectiously gorgeous vocal lines. Milky also gets a special mention for its wonderfully twisted take on the style of bands like, um, Clutch.

Part 3: Kubbi, or This Section Is About Kubbi

One of the best things about watching cartoons in the Internet age is that talented folk will, inevitably, write awesome music inspired by them. Kubbi’s Gas Powered EP, a four-track tribute to the excellent Bravest Warriors, is a deft combination of bright synths and impressively professional guitar work – and it’s all on SoundCloud (you may have to scroll a bit).

Sadly, the EP version of The See-Through Zone, my personal favourite, removes the Paralyzed Horse‘s hilariously sober monologue that adorned a previous rendition. Still, it’s all about as good as indie music (in the most literal sense) based on YouTube videos can get, and is pay-what-you-want on BandCamp. Everybody wins – except, perhaps, the horse.

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What the fudge I’ve been doing recently

11 Dec
  • Cutting down on profanity!
  • Writing for PC Gamer! I’ve been on a steady drip-feed of review commissions for the UK print edition, in what I’m fairly sure is some kind of test to prove my worth, loyalty and fertility. Right now it’s only going to be a source of some extra pocket change, but it’s both immensely satisfying and ever-so-slightly terrifying to be doing paid work at a professional level. Christ, is this what becoming a man feels like?
  • Stopped writing for BeefJack! Well, news posts anyway – I wouldn’t object if they kicked in my email inbox with long-form stuff, but a combination of time pressures, PCG work and the fact that pumping out news for four hours straight just isn’t that fun led to me deciding it was time to move on. I’m still grateful, perhaps even grateful as balls, for all the writing opportunities Lewis & co. gave me, and you should all go over there and give them hits.
  • University! Third year’s peculiar but passionate love affair with choose-your-own research projects has allowed me to wrangle Cardiff’s Journalism BA into a course that actually has something to do with journalism, which most previous modules…well, one of them was basically about Bruce Lee. Sometimes I wonder whether going here was a good choice, considering I’m a writer rather than a researcher, but then I remember that most other places would probably have me trying to operate a boom mic or something. The hell with boom mics.
  • Seeing Muse at the O2 Arena! Excellent stuff. The 2nd Law is probably the first Muse album I didn’t love during its first month or so after release, but something about their live performances has changed for the better – more energetic, less rigid, far, far sillier. If you’d asked me during the Black Holes era whether Matt Bellamy would ever dive into the gap between crowd and stage and start thrusting the microphone into the vocal range of two dozen sweating fangirls, I probably wouldn’t have answered “Yes, and it’ll actually work.”
  • Playing Videogames! Of course I fudging did.

Quick thoughts on Musestep

6 Jun

Ahahahaha. Muse, what are you doing.

 

That was, of course, a teaser trailer for Muse’s sixth LP, The 2nd Law. Since the band’s members don’t seem like the types to poke fun at videogame advertising conventions in their own promo material, it’s safe to assume that the hilarious dubstep bit at the end is actually on the album somewhere.

I for one think this is brilliant, and not just because I spent twenty minutes laughing at the “UNSUSTAINA-UNSUSTAINA” robot. Slapping some wub-wub (which sounds like it’s coming from one of Matt Bellamy’s tricked-out guitars – I can’t wait to see him trying to play it live, hands sliding up and down the neck like he’s trying to sand down the fret markers) alongside a gigantic orchestral intro is exactly the kind of batshit tomfoolery that makes their move away from big rock riffs no real tragedy.

For the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to an album where I don’t have the faintest idea what 95% of it is even likely to sound like. And while it would certainly be nice to have another Stockholm Syndrome or Hyper Music, stuff like this trailer – which suddenly lurches in such bizarre directions that shocked, genuine laughter is the immediate response – is a riskier but far more exciting prospect.

Hope they cut out the rubbish dialogue part, mind.

Maybe I should write something about 2011?

25 Dec

I’ve never bossed around a Third World country while wearing a hat, so I haven’t had the worst of years. I’ll try to break up the incoming thought deluge into categories, and without too many distracting links, so that you may spend Christmas Eve having the most enjoyable time reading half-assed blogs instead of talking to visiting family members possible.

Personal

So the relationship I was in for five years blew up in my face. I’ve stopped blaming myself, which annoyingly precludes the whole thing as a learning experience, but with a handful of essays, a new writing opportunity and the annual November games glut, I’ve been lucky enough to take my mind off it. For the most part. It’s difficult to imagine going that far with something without thinking about the future, even if the current situation makes that future seem unlikely or unclear, and though I’d never want to be with someone who wasn’t happy as such, it’s hard to watch as that future gets taken away barely a week after everything seems to be fine.

Other than losing my best friend, things haven’t been so bad. Communal deathmatch sessions are a semi-regular feature in the house I joined in September, and our pub quiz team has been performing far better than we have any right to, even with the Diet Coke-marinated brain of a hairy Journalism student on side.

Games

See Gaming Daily for my Games o’ t’Year – in hindsight I possibly could have added ‘current judgement-clouding infatuation’ to the reasons Skyrim isn’t there. I didn’t get it until the third week of November, and I’ve played over 90 hours – to give an admittedly flawed comparison, that’s only 10 less than my time spent in Killing Floor, and that’s two years old.

In terms of not-PC, I ended up selling both my PSP and my DSi. A phone upgrade made the multimedia benefits of the PSP chunkily obsolete, and there’s no denying I only ever wanted to play Pokemon Heart Gold on that little dual-screened thing – evidently I don’t mind paying over £100 for nostalgia. The proceeds went towards a PS3, primarily with a view for Guitar Hero parties but ultimately becoming a mere conduit for Uncharted 3. Loved it regardless, but how the hell am I not broke?

‘Work’

Ha. If I said I’d try for paid work this time last year, it was never recorded so at least I have plausible deniability when someone accuses me of failing. That said, there are two notable things that happened this year with regards to my pathetic non-career: firstly, I joined BeefJack – capitalise the J, that shit’s important – as a news writer. I only cover Tuesdays at the moment, but I’m glad to be doing something a little outside my comfort zone. Doing news badly is one of the worst things you can do, but there’s no way of learning like doing, so it’s worth the constant sense of ‘Christ, what if I fuck this up?’ that only sometimes plagues my reviews/feature-writing process. Thanks to editor/big boss man Lewis for showing me the ropes.

Secondly, I got Sunday Paper’d! The appearance of Gaming Daily in Rock, Paper Shotgun’s weekly links roundup is a semi-regular occurrence, and it’s always nice to see the sudden spike in traffic, but this is the first time thousands of people have been simultaneously pointed at something of mine. I don’t want to imbue RPS with some kind of godlike quality, capable of controlling the entire flow of PC gaming enthusiasts on the internet, but getting a ‘Yeah, this is worth reading I suppose’ from the pros makes me a wee bit proud. And scared of reading the comments.

Music

I bought just two albums this year – one was comedy rap, the other was Foo Fighter’s excellent Wasting Light. Recorded, on tape, in Dave Grohl’s garage, this is such a perfect blend of the personal and the ferociously rocky that (unlike every other album they’ve made) I actually like more than three songs on it. Well done, Foos, now tour the UK again.

So, most of my new music this year has come in sub-five-minute chunks. BEHOLD the excitable poppy brilliance of this song about Mass Effect’s lead character! GAZE upon Corridor Digital’s gorgeously shot Dubstep Guns short, which is not just The Best Video On YouTube (No Complaining), but actually made me enjoy a couple of dubstep songs! GET KIND OF PLEASANTLY CONFUSED by how enjoyable this Zebrahead cover of a Spice Girls hit can be!

Overall

A year of dizzying highs and thoroughly sucky lows, 2011 would be lucky to get a 6/10. I’m going into 2012 a lot more uncertain of particular things, and time is absolutely running out for me to turn words into even a little bit of cash. Still, I have my health, a bond less than three weeks from maturing, and a fair collection of folks who’ve been nothing but nice to me since January. I don’t have a calculator to hand, but that seems like a net positive.

Everything, recently

17 Jul

Games – Splinter Cell: Conviction

Not having touched a Splinter Cell since the PS2 demo of Pandora Tomorrow, I had swiftly avoided any sense of disappointment with the new emphasis on shooty, neck-snapping stealth, rather than old-tyme shadow-lurkery. Discovery is still a fatal enough prospect that taking the quiet route is preferable 100% of the time, but Sam Fisher is no thumb-handed chump in a fight – his takedowns are beautifully swift, and instead of feeling like it’s taking control away from me, the Mark and Execute feature is almost addictive. I’ve no problem with jumping from a pipe onto a baddie, then near-instantly slotting Enemies 2 through 4 even if I’m not doing the aiming, because it doesn’t allow my own lack of marksmanship to ruin the spy-fi fantasy.

Even so, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing story-wise until about halfway through. The plot speeds by at breakneck pace, and is mostly delivered by the strained voices of terrified interrogation victims, so I wasn’t entirely sure why I was investigating weaponised EMPs even whilst I was breaking into the factory making them. As a whole it wasn’t badly written (there are some properly alarming moments near the end, mostly involving civilians) and the evil satisfaction that the highly predatory stealth (it’s surprisingly reminiscent of Crysis’ non-alien sections, with much mouthier guards) so often delivers was enough to see me through to the end. It just wouldn’t have hurt to take a breather now and then.

"It won't be like that time you pulled five guys out the window in quick succession, Fisher! I'm stood at least half a foot away from it!"

Music – Revolutions/Live At Wembley (Biffy Clyro)

One of the two bands whose material I was born without the ability to dislike returns, with their first live CD/DVD. I was actually in attendance at the recorded gig, so I happily parted with the cash knowing it was an organ-vibrating beast of a performance. The already-collossal outro of That Golden Rule growls with a dirtier, rawer punchiness than the studio effort, and Folding Stars becomes a dreamily gorgeous acoustic number. There’s No blah blah Jaggy Snake etc. is just as ferocious in the flesh, while even the comparatively poppy Many of Horror (“It’s the only version of this song”  mumbles an indignant Simon Neil on the unexpectedly hilarious DVD commentary) becomes house-sized after being augmented with thousand of backing vocalists.

Admittedly I coughed up £42 for the special edition version; a pleasingly tactile tinbox filled with confetti (possibly swept off an arena floor), plenty of nice-smelling paperwork, and a thumb-sized chunk of bright red guitar. This stuff is undoubtedly sweetener, rather than the ridiculous, overshadowing tat we sometimes see in the more expensive editions of videogames, but the fact that this little shard of instrument is both unique and spawned from a a pretty scarce resource makes it special to me. I’ll keep it near my piece of the blue flag from Only Revolution’s cover art.

Games – Frozen Synapse

A good friend of mine claims he can’t think of anything good to say about his favourite farming simulator, but is compelled to play it exhaustively regardless. This is my attitude to Frozen Synapse, a turn-based squad shooter where you can both plan and simulate turns before committing them, but in reverse. I know it’s great – watching a gambit pay off, springing a trap, or blowing up a wall with two guys behind it is joyous to behold. It’s also, with the notable exception of some asymmetrical map design, unrelentingly fair; you can simulate possible enemy manuevers as well as your own, and so failure is seldom caused by anything other than your own misjudgments. And yet I can’t bring myself to play it other than when I’ve got a multiplayer match planned. I notice my opponents tend to take multiples of the time it takes me to finalise a move, so I suppose I simply don’t have the patience for the hundreds of move/aim/shot/hide combinations I could attempt with the simulation feature. The closing minutes of every one of my multiplayer games have still been electrically tense, even with my rushed hope-for-best strategies, and I find it extremely commendable that it never forces you to make more complex plans that you’re comfortable with.

In addition, thanks to the apparently permanent B.O.G.O.F. offer on Steam, I have a spare copy if anyone wants it. Just give me a shout in the comments.

Films – Die Hard 1 and 2

A combination of a free LoveFilm trial and a recommendation from my action-hating better half was sufficient encouragement to try out this old series. I’ve only seen the first two, and they’re surprisingly different: I can’t check for sure now I’ve sent them back, but it seemed like Bruce Willis had crushed his first grunt to death on a conveyor belt in number 2 faster than it took the bad guys to even show up in the first. I’m kind of glad they sanded down McClane’s rougher edges for the second though; when he was wrestling that vaguely glam-metal chap, wailing how he’d “kill you like I killed your brother” (he was really only clinging onto him when the latter fell down some stairs) he seemed less ‘no-nonsense cop’ and more ‘fucking psychopath’. Die Hard definately had the better villain, though. I can’t even remember the name of the Quite Nasty White Guy in 2, and other than briefly resenting him for blowing up the plane of PlummyAccentCon 1990 attendees he didn’t seem nearly as wonderfully villainous as Alan Rickman’s smug master thief. To conclude: both are good, explosions are neat.

Games – Team Fortress 2

I clocked my 600th hour of TF2 this week after much pratting about on trading servers, hoping to pick up both the Uber update weapons and some of the rarer summer-themed items from a later update. Valve inconsiderately proved many of my predictions about the Uber gear to be utterly wrong: the Tomislav is so quick to deploy it tears through rival Heavies even with the slower firing speed, and the Quick-Fix is so utterly useless in the vast majority of situations I’ve come to consider switching teams if our Medic is using it. Ubercharges and Kritzes are game-changers – a crowning moment of awesome that can annihilate defenses or strike down multiple attackers. If your team lost, it was probably because you didn’t have a decent Medic. Yet the QF’s charge (which just increases its own healing rate) can’t come anywhere near the protective or offensive capabilities of either, and considering it already can’t overheal (that’s a potential 50% loss in overall team health right there) I certainly question the sense of anyone using it.

Some believe the sheer volume of new unlockables that have been stuffed into this game are effectively ruining it. As I chug a can of invulnerability cola and dart around a sentry overlooking Granary’s final capture point, catching its Engineer between the raging gunbarrels and my invincible self long enough to cut down his health to critical levels and allowing a Demoman to lob a fatal pipe bomb into the back of his head, I see that the characterful and dynamic inter-class play at the heart of TF2 is still alive and well. 600 more hours!*

Operation Infinite Bullet Points

24 Mar

Here’s what’s been going on recently, set to a montage of Mass Effect 2 shots:

– Mass Effect 2! It was a game that was played. Articulating everything that’s great about it would be both useless so long after release, and outright impossible given this self-inflicted one-paragraph format. Short version: it’s gorgeous, exciting, funny and charming, and my only regret after finishing it was I hadn’t played the original Mass Effect first. For the unfamiliar, any major decisions your character made during the course of ME1 have an effect in the sequel – characters you killed don’t show up, for example, but will if you spared their lives. The problem is, if you don’t import a ME1 save, the game picks the decisions for you. Evidently, the game is a dick. Checking the wiki horrified me at some of the things my own Shepard had supposedly done: murdering a problematic teammate, leaving the multi-racial, galaxy-ruling Council to be slaughtered, then replacing them with a humans-only Council led by an utter asshole. I clearly didn’t care about spoilers for the original if I was playing the sequel, so why couldn’t they have given me a quick overview of each choice’s context at the start and then let me pick what I’d have done?

– I’m clawing my way through Flat Earth News. This is a big deal for me – I’m awful with books, especially books that are more than an inch thick. In my Diet Coke-marinated brain reading a book feels like the sort of events that’s sufficiently undeserving of note to be doable in under a couple of hours, like baking a cake or sweeping. The crushing sense of failure that envelopes my self like a brick cardigan when an hour has passed and I’m barely down forty pages is, at best, offputting. Regardless I’m enjoying FEN. It’s easily the wittiest, deftly written criticism of certain journalistic practices I’ve seen* – scathing but constructive and bile-free. I’m only one chapter in so I don’t know if it’ll teach me how to suck less as a journalist, but if I can basically avoid being a lazy idiot I’ll have nailed the lesson of this first part down.

Seeing something like this is actually one of the most satisfying moments in the game.

* Although, to be fair, what I’ve seen is mostly incensed Facebook statuses.

– More Foo Fighters goodness in the form of Rope. It’s as straightforward as rock music can really get, but it’s that colossal riff, holding a wailing guitar solo on its mighty shoulders, is what elevates it to greatness. Sadly, most Foos albums tend to bunch all their best songs at the beginning of each album then let it gradually run out of steam. Echoes, Silence, blah blah etc. seemed to move away from this – I’m extremely anxious for the follow-up, due next month, to see if it does away completely.

I don't know what Miranda's aiming at either.

Cold Stream first impressions: it’s got a lot of trees.

So many, in fact, that it never really feels like each stage is visually distinct from the last one – it’s all just rivers and abandoned cars, and so the direction you’re meant to be heading in isn’t always immediately apparent. With forty sprinting zombies in the mix, the implications are unpleasant. In its quieter moments it’s very pretty, especially for a beta, though it seems I miraculously avoided some technical issues currently relieving themselves on the bonfires of some chums – massive frame rate fluctuations on usually powerful PCs apparently causing the most headaches. Besides the peckish Infected. Here’s hoping they can deliver a more robust campaign experience with the final release.

– Supposedly, this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals will be the last time Muse will play certain material from 2001’s Origin of Symmetry and prior. As little as I mind…really? Plug In Baby scores the most intense singing/jumping/arm waving reactions short of Time is Running Out, and is still one of only two songs I can think of where the audience will literally sing the guitar lines. Bliss, meanwhile, is nothing short of incredible live, and Feeling Good has been played at every gig since 1767 BC. So, I’m sceptical. It could be that the ‘rarities’ from this era – Citizen Erased, Sunburn, Space Dementia – will be permanently shelved while they keep the big ones in commission. Either way, OoS and Showbiz (1999) tend to contribute 4-5 songs of each setlist – an insignificant percentage that can be easily filled by new material, or even rarities from the newer stuff. Where the fuck is MK Ultra, Bellamy? City of Delusion, Howard? You ‘eard. My mourning period for Muse’s breakthrough album might be brief, though mostly because I can visit its friendly spirit in Windows Media Player whenever I choose, without the ticket, travel or booking fees.

It's Jayne! In lycra!

The most hated of all possible fucks

27 Feb

The Bravery never call any more. There have been a couple of times – one in the latter days of school, the other during the Greggs sausage roll-filled haze of what’s left of my A-level memories – where I’d listen to little else, despite the fact that news of UK tours are kept to a whisper and their albums come out here literally months after the US release. Jesus that sentence was long.

Regardless, with regards to my listening habits it’s been all quiet on the Noo Yoik synth-rock front for a couple of years now. Only a recent and faintly curious check of their Wikipedia page revealed they’ve not only got a new LP out, and it’s been public since 2009. I’m a horrible music fan. Strangely, it’s nowhere to be seen on Play, and it’s a laughable £22 (to pre-order! In 2011!) on Amazon, but they’ve very kindly put a few singles on Youtube. The clear best is this one (not safe for work, though why you’d be inclined to read this at work is beyond me):

2005’s self-titled album was dark with occasional flashes of brilliance, and The Sun and The Moon was more consistently pleasurable but lacked a certain edge. If the rest of the third album is like Hatefuck, it’ll be better than both. Jarring synths carried by a simple, swaggering bassline, dropping into big breakneck choruses? I love that shit! It’s also complete filth, basically, and while I can give or take that particular quality in music, here it’s coupled with a clarity that should really work against it. Conversely, it works magnificently. We’re back on.