Artist: Dead Man’s Bones Album: self-titled Label: Anti- Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Ryan Gosling, the actor known for his lead in last year’s “Drive” and the popular movie “The Notebook” (that was responsible for establishing 99.9% of his largely female fanbase of fourteen year olds and middle aged ladies), has hit the music scene with Dead Man’s Bones, formed with friend Zach Shields. Meeting each other through Gosling’s girlfriend at the time, Rachael McAdams, Gosling and Shields eventually discovered they had a shared fear of ghosts and paranormal activity. Rather than shirking away from their supernatural fears, though, the duo decided to use their fixation on the dead to start a band and craft a modern monster musical (aliteration!).
Like Russel Crowe, the vanity projects of Scarlett Johansson, and whatever crappy band Billy Bob Thornton is in – the music releases of notable Hollywood Actors are generally marked with an air of delusion, ingenuity, pretension, and a noticeable lack in quality. This doesn’t seem to be the case here, though, as the band (maintaining a largely low profile) has decided to forfeit slick production sounds in favor of a lo-fi quality that gives the record a homely, intimate feel. Releasing a record focused on zombies and ghosts right before Halloween is a clearly calculated move, but the holiday never bleeds into the music beyond general thematic ideas of what Halloween is about on a surface level (spooky stuff). And so, what could have been a gimmick of Monster Mash style music never comes close as a reality. In fact, darker tracks like “Buried and Water” and “Lose Your Soul” would probably scare the crap out of Count Chocula.
The children’s choir, really used in full, works to great benefit for the group. Having a bunch of kids sing “my body’s a zombie for you” and other dark, suggestive lyrics might seem a little weird at first, but in a post-MacKenzie Phillips world-it’s not really that shocking. The only weak track, “Pa Pa Power,” is a fine song but it doesn’t really fit in lyrically or musically with the rest of the album. In all, Dead Man’s Bones is a great album that demonstrates a real knack for song writing and performance that is sure to rock out the vans of middle aged ladies (fully decked out with the “coexist” sticker) and the iPods of their trendy fourteen year old daughters long after Halloween has passed.
Summer music is some of my favorite kind of music. It’s fun, relaxed, warm, and reflective. DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mick Boogie put out the first of their Summertime Mixtape series a few years ago full of old school hip hop and summertime classics, and they’ve been putting out a new one each year since. While I can’t vouch for Volume 2 & 3 (I haven’t listened to them that much), Volume 1 is a mix that still gets played in my household regularly. You can stream/download them all for free below. DO IT.
Yep, someone made a Great Gatsby NES game and it’s awesome. So yeah, maybe it doesn’t have Leonardo Dicaprio and cheap 3D effects or the subtle racism of the literary classic, but I mean it has retro graphics and sounds. That’s pretty cool, right? I imagine an ideal future where kids can play the video game of a classic book instead of reading the cliff notes or watching the movie. I mean, more people finding less reasons to read will probably make a dumber world for our future generations, but still.
Anyway, you can play/download this for free off the game’s website here.
Now if someone just made a “Lord of the Flies” game, I could finally seek vengeance against those who wronged Piggy…
KeyboardDrumsetFuckingWerewolf (*gaaaaasp, inhale*) is a short flash game made by the two-man development crew, CATUSQUID. While it’s more of an interactive music video for the band GBSR – it’s a fast paced, colorfully stylized mini-game assault that’s a lot of fun to experience. You can probably beat the game in 20 minutes, but it shows the kind of fun and spastic creativity that is sorely lacking from most mainstream developers today.
Over four years in the making on a development cycle that almost saw the game scrapped completely on more than one occasion, Fez is finally out and it has every potential to become a classic. Putting a clever twist on the classic 2D platformer formula, Fez shifts its world into entirely new perspectives by giving you the ability to rotate the screen left or right 90 degrees allowing you to jump, climb, and reach areas that otherwise might not be available from any other point of view. It’s a mind trip that plays itself out in consistently clever and new ways.
Fez’s goal is to collect 30 gold cubes and 30 anti-matter cubes. While the gold cubes in the game are usually found in pretty standard places, the anti-matter cubes require solving a convoluted series of puzzles whose solutions are not readily apparent. Obtaining the anti-matter cubes requires more thought and intuition than most current games will ever ask of a player, and it’s this old school frame of design that will most likely turn a lot of people off from ever playing it. As much as I loved this, getting 100% required me to look at a guide religiously on more than one occasion. There were times when the puzzles were too difficult and convoluted (I’ve seen multiple accounts of people filling entire notebooks with clues to figure them out), but it’s still nice to see a challenge of this level in games again.
There are only a couple ways to die in Fez, and there are no “real” enemies to fight. Some of the platforming is tricky, but I never ran into anything that was too difficult. The soundtrack is never distracting and its calming ambiance is the perfect stimulant to spend hours pouring over the same areas over again and again looking for that last secret. This is a game that’s completely committed to exploration and discovery.
Fez has a lot of elements that shouldn’t work, but do. It will only appeal to a very select group of people, but a game like this isn’t looking for wide appeal. It’s a game with a retro aesthetic that simultaneously manages to redefine what games can be. You should definitely play it.
Let me first preface this by saying that my argument here is a seemingly ridiculous one for video games. After all, so many video games are knocked down for being over way too soon or having very little content that it’s ludicrous to even entertain the idea that a game should suffer because it has too much to do. But well, Skyrim has too much to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Skyrim is not meant to be a game with a straight, linear path. Sure, there are plenty of storylines that hold the world together and plenty of paths you can choose, but it’s only the ones that you do choose that matter (you can completely ignore the main quest if you want). It’s a massive world that’s designed to suck you in completely. It wants to take you from a prisoner with nothing to a master of the land. It gives you a blank slate to work with and lets you turn your character into whatever you desire it to be. So when you have a game like this that allows you to express your ambitious desires this much, what’s the problem?
When I first started playing Skyrim, I had no idea what to do. I don’t mean that in a sense like I had no idea where to go or how to actually play the game, but I had no idea what I wanted my character to be. I play video games with an unhealthy obsession to escape reality, but the massive amount of choice Skyrim gave me when I first started the game made me feel like I was back in high school again with people constantly barraging me with questions about what major I wanted to choose, what my unchangeable life goals were, and what kind of soul-crushing jobs I wanted to apply for a couple months after high school graduation to setup a retirement plan. I felt like Skyrim needed a video game within a video game to escape the pressures of Skyrim-reality. I mean, I don’t need some depressed secretary with lame life-affirming posters of animals next to inspirational quotes berating me for my lack of focus on being undecided between either wanting to go battle-mage or rogue warrior! Shut up, Ms. Kimmy. I hate you, I HATE YOU. Ok, ok. These sound more like personal issues. Yeah dude, I know.
Presented: One example of an inspirational animal poster (featured animal: dog).
Regardless, the multiple career paths you have to choose from in Skyrim is, at first, stifling. With very little to guide you, it’s very easy to make a character that’s initially too unfocused and spread out. And with a character like that, you’re setup to fail over and over. When this happens, it feels like the game is punishing you for wanting to explore different class and character types when it should be doing the opposite. Since things don’t come quickly in Skyrim, as well, it can take you hours and hours of playing before you realize that you’ve built a weak character and all you can do is start over. In this regard, Skyrim is a lot like reality in that you can’t spend your life jumping by whim from random career path to career path.
The main problem with that assessment, though, is that no matter how much a video game can mimic “reality,” it can never fully recreate it. The satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in game can never meet the level of satisfaction you get from accomplishing something in real life. I don’t mean that video games are designed to be a replacement for reality or that they should be. In fact, it’s a dangerous thing to even suggest that. Like any other artistic medium, though, they’re designed mainly to entertain and inspire. When a game requires so much of you to invest towards one specific path and when the accomplishments of that are something that you can never list on a resume, it can sometimes feel meaningless when you succeed in-game.
Life is defined by fleeting grand moments and a whole lot of boring minutiae that fills up the rest. My problem with Skyrim is that a game that has as many quests and as many things to do like Skyrim does can never maintain the steady stream of grand moments like a shorter and smaller game can, especially when the game requires you to grind on end to succeed. The majority of the people I’ve talked to who have stopped playing Skyrim at some point didn’t stop because they reached a certain end-game moment in a quest and felt satisfied ending their experience or because they had accomplished everything – they stopped because they got bored.
By design, there is just too much manpower and money required to create a game on the scope of Skyrim that is a constant stream of ever-changing moments and new, exciting things. And so, much of the time spent in the world of Skyrim is spent engaging in repetitive tasks and quests. Not everything can be that thought out because well, a game like that would take years and years to make. From a business standpoint, that just cannot happen.
Don’t get me wrong, Skyrim is still an amazing game that has and will continue to suck out many more hours of my life. Playing it just feels more like work than fun sometimes, and don’t we play video games to escape that?
A kind of unrelated video showing all the random ways you can die in Skyrim follows below.
Fuxa (pronounced “fuchsia”) is a space-rock group mainly helmed by Randall Niemann. First formed in 1994, Fuxa trickled out a steady stream of releases until the early 2000’s when the group dropped off the radar completely. Back now after a lengthy hiatus with an album that features contributions from members of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3, Electric Sound of Summer is a psychedelic mindtrip. You can order the album from their label’s website or hey, you can stream the album on Spotify here. Check out their trippy cover of the classic Go-Go’s track “Our Lips Are Sealed” below.
Oh! Also, the cover art to their album was done by one of my favorite artists, Anthony Ausgang, who I really love (he did the cover art for MGMT’s Congratulations) because he just paints these pictures of cartoon cats on acid over and over and…oh, you stopped reading. Not cool, man.
Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary that follows a superstar (ok, this term is pretty subjective) lineup of indie game developers of such games like Super Meat Boy (one of my top 3 favorite games of all time), Fez, and Braid. Actually all of the games covered in this documentary are huge personal favorites, but I’ll write up way more on each of these later on. Regardless, the documentary itself is an insightful look into the video game development process from a much smaller and more personal standpoint than the big budget releases of today. The movie itself is screening in various cities now, but will be available on DVD and BluRay June 12. Check out a clip from the movie below that shows Fez developer, Phil Fish, stressing out over the game’s first reveal to the public.
Preteen Zenith, the new band by Tim Delaughter (leader of The Polyphonic Spree), just put out a record on Good Records, Rubble Guts & BB Eye, and it’s a psychedelic epic. Check out the video they made for the song “Relief,” recorded right before they premiered at last year’s Gorilla vs. Bear fest, or listen to the track they recorded with Erykah Badu, “Damage Control,” below.
Tim Delaughter just wrapped up a tour with The Polyphonic Spree who have been touring all around the country this past year. Here’s hoping he makes a few dates with this outfit soon.
While it came out over a year ago, Explosion in the Sky’s video for their track “Last Known Surroundings” off their 2011 album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, is one of the few music videos that can match up to the sonic grandiosity of the track its promoting. Made by the folks at the Austin-based design company, Ptarmak, it’s definitely worth checking out if you missed it before.