What do you get when you add 22 Billboard Top 20 singles, six number ones, six platinum albums, plus another six gold LPs? You get the pop music duo, Daryl Hall and John Oates, of course. Their sweet rock ‘n’ roll / rhythm ‘n’ blues, ‘chicken soup for the soul’ sound is captured here in 74 songs on four disks (including 16 previously unreleased cuts). Hall and Oates provide commentary from their interviews with Ken Sharp. Between the Mileys and Lil’ Waynes, the music of Daryl Hall and John Oates has made a come-back of sorts as new fans discover their tunes, but this is for the ‘mid-lifer on your list who really knows what good music is.
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The Very Best could have been just another dance-pop collaboration, springing off the back of the recent uptick in Google alerts for “African traditional music”. With a Fader cover and that pat back-story about the Frenchmen buying a bicycle from the Malawian store owner, things seemed perfectly set up for a familiar internet hype/quick disappointment cycle. But The Very Best Mixtape, an astounding collection of exuberance and, yes, warm heart, bested even M.I.A. at her own game. Remarkably, the group returned with even stronger material on the group’s proper debut. From its opening fanfare, the spreading cymbals and toms herald bright sunshine, which doesn’t let up for almost an hour. Singing in a mixture of Chichewa and English, Mwamwaya’s smooth, gospel inflections and Radioclit’s treble-heavy synths buoy up songs that seem to pull melody after addictive melody out of the air. It’s some heady electro dream, but a dream in which only good things happen, all the time.
The sophomore record from Germany’s Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble did not receive much press stateside on its release, but its ominously toned, slow-burning post-jazz indelibly burrowed itself into the psyche of the few brave North Americans willing to venture its uncertain shores. The title of Here Be Dragons literally means dangerous or unexplored territories, in reference to the placing of mythological creatures in blank areas of medieval maps. Certainly, the record captures that sense of taking bold chances in the name of progress and discovery, albeit in the realm of music. From its roots as the duo of electronic manipulator Jason “Bong-Ra” Köhnen and drummer Gideon Kiers, TKDE has since expanded to a seven-piece collective. Naturally, their recordings have come to reflect this, as the comparatively obvious sound of their 2005 debut has developed into a supremely textured, vividly cinematic tour de force. Here Be Dragons is an intelligent and nuanced record, full of swells and sighs, utterly epic yet incalculably subtle, existing somewhere between keen, intuitive live improvisation and the best-laid plans of mad scientists. Experimental music is rarely this consistently captivating.
Jack the Ripper’s story hasn’t been solved, which makes it prime fodder for such fictionalization. It’s the rare “based on a true story” tale that doesn’t have a predetermined ending. It is all of this backstory that makes Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper such an interesting play experience. For an adventure game to work as an immersive experience, it has to draw the player into its world; for such an experience to be effective when so much of it is drawn from either real-life experience or a well-known body of fiction, attention to detail is paramount. Happily for adventure game fans, it seems Frogwares has done its homework. Given Holmes’ opposition, it should be well understood that the game’s not a laugh riot, but this is one of that rare breed of adventure games that simply doesn’t need humor to succeed—it simply begs to be played, and while as an adventure game its appeal ceases once it ends, it’s the type of game that will have you thinking about it long after you’ve finished it. Meaning this is the gift for the gamer on your list; just don’t plan on seeing them until New Year’s.
As part of his Ghost House label, Sam Raimi, the horror maestro behind the Evil Dead series and Drag Me To Hell – as well as a few Spider-Man flicks – has brought films such as The Grudge and 30 Days of Night to the big screen. But the “Underground” part of his company is dedicated to releasing horror at home on DVDs and Blu-ray. This year’s batch includes The Thaw, The Children, Offspring and Seventh Moon and guarantees scares with monsters, cannibals, ghosts and evil Christmas tots. The films all look great, and for a collection of fright flicks based on original ideas, the $20 price tag at Amazon.com isn’t scary at all.