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by Mike Schiller

16 Mar 2009

Oooo, tough week for the consoles.  Maybe the big console publishers are assuming that most of us are going to be out partying it up and pounding Guinness for St. Patricks day instead of sitting in our houses playing video games.

Or, maybe it’s March, and the publishers just don’t care that much.

Nintendo really has the reins this week, as the most interesting releases we’re going to be seeing are all coming out for the DS and the Wii.  Of course, right off the bat we see Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which has been drawing press for the Drug Wars-esque side game that it seems to contain.  This has been a huge year for Grand Theft Auto (can you believe GTA IV came out less than a year ago?), and Chinatown Wars has the potential to be one of the biggest-selling iterations of the series yet.  Initial impressions have been positive, the graphics are solid considering the system it’s playing on, and who hasn’t wanted to bring GTA with them when they’ve been locked into a particularly long session?  The only question, really, is whether Chinatown Wars can break through to the DS’s highly casual-leaning audience.  Even if it doesn’t, though, there are probably plenty of hardcore DS owners to make the game a surefire success.

Of course, the DS is competing with itself, as this week also sees the release of Pokémon Platinum—perhaps not as big a deal as a new Pokémon game typically is simply because, well, it’s not strictly “new”.  Pokémon Platinum is an update of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, with some new junk thrown in for the sake of convincing people to buy the same thing twice.  Of course, if you haven’t bought Diamond or Pearl, Platinum might just be the version you want.

A little game for the big console is also drawing a lot of attention: BIT.TRIP BEAT, which looks a lot like one-player pong crossed with Frequency.  The player has to knock back a nearly endless parade of dots, which hit the “paddle” at a speedy, highly rhythmic rate.  This means that if you play well, you’ll create a song as you go.  It doesn’t sound like much, but the few gameplay videos that have been released before today look like a ton of fun—and the tunes aren’t bad, either.  At a mere six bucks, what do you have to lose?

But mostly, it’s the DS’s week—I haven’t even mentioned Henry Hatsworth (who I’d love to see brawl with Professor Layton) or the excellent DS port of Trackmania, both also on the way this week.  What do you think?  Are you playing anything other than DS this week?  Let us know!

The full release list and a trailer for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are after…the jump.

by Alan Ranta

16 Mar 2009

Hot dog.  Four brand spanking new videos from one of the most exciting electronic jam band hybrids in the world today. Jason “Bong-Ra” Köhnen and his pals are in the process of creating something truly special.  Here’s what I said about their latest EP: “As great as the debut record was, everything about this EP teaser for the upcoming sophomore full-length on Ad Noiseam indicates it will be a superior product. The production is that much more spooky, rich, and atmospheric, and the song structure that much more purposeful and realized. It seems they have struck a perfect symmetry in the studio as a group, feeding off one another and performing cohesively. There is not a wasted moment to be heard. Mutations will slide its greasy fingers up your spine and linger there until you like it.”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Avian Lungs”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Shadows”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “Goya (Live in Budapest 2008)”

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - “The Nothing Changes (Live in Budapest 2008)”

Just for contrast, here’s what Jason Köhnen does when he’s not jamming with the Ensemble…

Bong-Ra - “Jo Bench”

by Rob Horning

16 Mar 2009

Am I the only one who can’t wait for Battlestar Galactica to be over already? The only one who feels compelled to watch it through to the end even though it ceased to be consistently compelling right around the time people started hearing Bob Dylan songs in their heads? If you haven’t watched the show and you intend to (and I would recommend the first two seasons wholeheartedly, though you will inevitably be sucked into the unrewarding final seasons) you probably shouldn’t read on here, because it may spoil the plot line. And the fact that the show can be “spoiled” by undermining the suspense suggests something worth remembering about the show—that in the end it turns away from providing a subtle and provocative commentary on contemporary politics and becomes just another show where you try to guess how the writers will twist the plot next. It devolves into a hermetic, self-referential show like Lost, the television-watching equivalent of doing a tricky word find.

At 3 Quarks Daily, David Schneider argues that the show ambitiously attempts and succeeds in creating “a vital, dynamic myth for contemporary Western civilization.” His case is well-supported, but I’m not persuaded—the presentation of the mythic dimensions on the show, particularly in the final 10 episodes being aired currently—is too truncated and incoherent, too compromised and rushed. We get scenes of incoherent exposition that are dead dull as well as confusing. As with teh Star Wars series, these latter developments feel as though they were invented ad hoc, to extend the show’s life, rather than something that animated the writing from the beginning. As a consequence, viewers can’t possibly know what is even at stake anymore, particularly when the obvious arc—finding Earth—proved to be a subterfuge. I find myself uncertain of whether the writers are working in moral ambiguity intentionally or whether I am in open revolt against the show when I eagerly await the death of Adama and Roslyn and Lee and the whole sanctimonious crew. That is to say that the writers lost me; I don’t trust that they are in control of what they are doing anymore; their emotional manipulations aren’t working, the sentiment suddenly seems rote and unearned, the characters no longer compel me to keep watching. All that is left is seeing what happens next, the same motivation that drives me to finish jigsaw puzzles.

One could make the argument that the show is testing the boundaries of the form or something like that, but the experiment seems to have yielded—perhaps fittingly, given its preoccupations with healing feuds through cross-breeding—an unsuccessful hybrid. The show’s mythos is intricate enough to be irresolvable yet general enough to be open to endless exegesis by zealous fans. Perhaps that means the show went from transcending its roots in the science-fiction genre to returning to them, to providing the SF-specific pleasure of articulating an invented world, with the consumers fleshing out and resolving the hints and contradictions supplied by the writers. Schneider regards this as unfettering viewers’ imaginations, and I’m not saying he’s wrong. The show’s incoherence is fertile ground for exegetical exercise. But I find myself too annoyed by the pieces that don’t fit, by the inconsistencies. And I’m annoyed that it ceased to be a show about life during wartime, about exigency and hard choices and scarcity and fear, and instead became a show about metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, about the writers’ fantasy of being cosmogonists.

In the show’s marketing, a constant refrain is “You will know the truth.” At one point, the show threatened to reveal some truth about actual human life, as it is lived on Earth, but now it seems content to reveal the “truth” about its own fictitious world.

by Sarah Zupko

16 Mar 2009

Austin’s Seth Walker is a restless musical spirit. He began his career as a classically trained cellist and morphed into a bluesman. But even that doesn’t fully describe the musical stew that Walker serves up as he roams across African American musical forms, including blues, soul, gospel and jazz. His latest album “Leap of Faith” released two weeks ago and “Rewind” is dose of sweet Sam Cooke styled poppy soul from this latest release.

Seth Walker
“Rewind” [MP3]
     

by Matt White

16 Mar 2009

The Old Grey Whistle Test was a live music show that ran on the BBC from 1971 to 1987. The three DVD collections that have been released of Whistle Test are some of my favorite music DVDs, not just for showcasing amazing live (and the occasional mimed) performances by bands I love, but for introducing me to band’s I had yet to hear or had heard only a song or two from (usually the hits). The discs, for me, have been a treasure trove of musical discovery. Thanks to YouTube more performances from this seminal show have been made available and I’ve decided to start showcasing some of my favorites in a possible ongoing series of blog entries. Keep in mind these are just my own personal favorites and not necessarily the “best” or most important.

For five unfortunate years I worked in a factory making parts for airbags. After one particularly slow, grueling day I was driving home listening to the radio when a song came on that I didn’t know but was exactly what I wanted to hear at that moment. It was so mellow and relaxed, yet had a definite groove. I took note of the title and found out it was by someone named Al Stewart. The song was “Year of the Cat” and this performance on Whistle Test from 1978 is a great version of the song. From the wonderful piano intro on, the song takes it’s time as every instrument and every note gets room to breathe. I still know very little about Stewart, but I do know that “Year of the Cat” still has that calming effect on me every time I hear it.

The Only Ones are best known for the punk classic “Another Girl, Another Planet”, but that wasn’t their only great song. “No Peace for the Wicked” is a wonderful, shambling ode to pain and heartache with Peter Perrett’s distinctive voice asking “Why do I go through these deep emotional traumas?” before answering his own question… “I’m in love with extreme mental torture…”. Perfect.

Obviously with someone like Thomas Dolby, I knew “She Blinded Me With Science”, but it was through his performance of “Hyperactive”, included on volume two of the Whistle Test DVDs, that I realized he was more than a one-hit wonder. There could not be a more fitting song title for this frenzied funk jam. Shakers, trombone, synths, and a vocoder are all employed throughout along with the vocals of Adele Bertei who provides the track with an almost childlike innocence amidst all the frantic instrumentation. A joy to watch.

The third volume of the Whistle Test DVDs was my introduction to the underappreciated and often overlooked Prefab Sprout. Intricate guitar lines weave over top warm synths and tight, occasionally jazzy drumming with the male lead vocals/female backing vocals dynamic that may draw comparisons to the Dream Academy. Prefab Sprout are much more than that though and you only have to watch this magnificent performance of “When Loves Break Down” to see that. There’s a real gentleness here, like they’re trying to play as soft as they can without losing the sound completely, until, at the end, they do; fading out like someone is slowly turning the volume dial.

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