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by G. Christopher Williams

18 Dec 2009

Despite its slow beginning hours, Ubisoft’s follow up to Assassin’s Creed makes up for its poor early pacing with its commitment to adding more variety and depth to the franchise. Combining the visceral pleasures of free running and precision stealth kills with thought provoking plotting that considers the dichotomy of faith and reason in the Italian Renaissance, Assassin’s Creed is audacious in its willingness to tackle topics that few mainstream video games have done more than graze: religion and philosophy. Not many games would charge the protagonist with assassinating the Pope in the heart of the Vatican. Oh, and then follow up that sequence with musings on the mysteries of cosmology.

Ubisoft has taken full advantage of the medium’s ability to create worlds from the ground up and taken to recreating historical periods that are often not those focused on in contemporary gaming environments. Does the world need another game set during World War II? Instead, the first game allowed the player a view of Damascus during the time of the Crusades. Now players explore the streets and canals of Venice at the height of the Renaissance. Visually astonishing, both thoughtful in its narrative and brutal in its gameplay, Assassin’s Creed II is one of the best games of the year.

by Karen Zarker

18 Dec 2009

Who hasn’t pored over a map, totally absorbed, oblivious to the passage of time? You are Here, for the time being, and ‘Here’ is you, in all the cultural, political, and geographical interpretations of that phrase you care to consider. If you’re inclined to such daydreaming, The Map as Art will intrigue, delight and perplex you, as you browse through 160 contemporary artists’ interpretations of mapping the world.

Your understanding of what comprises a map will get a luxurious stretch, as you slowly page through this delightful book (a sequel to the best selling You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, also by Katharine Harmon), and thus your comprehension of the world will expand. Many of the maps, like us, are designed to fade quickly on this geographical timeline (the wind will take them away); others, no matter how well preserved, will disintegrate more slowly as all objects of art do. Nothing remains fixed, not ourselves, and certainly not our world. You’ll want to find some of these in poster format, if possible, as many of these maps are quite beautiful.

An excellent companion piece to The Map as Art is found in Viking Studio’s Strange Maps. Here the map as concept is turned on its head, or inverted, as the cover art implies.  For example in section III. Artography, artist Frank Chimero depicts the state of California as a stubbed-out cigarette—and that’s one of the more readily comprehensible maps. “In cartography, precision is essential.  But imagination can be an entertaining substitute,” says the introduction to part I. Cartographic Misconceptions, which playfully depicts maps of, well, creative assumption, which were typical resources prior to the age of satellite imagery.

Author Frank Jacobs calls this collection, derived from his popular blog, Strange Maps, an anti-atlas in its scope of curious cartography that—consider yourself warned—is not meant for navigation. Well, not physical navigation, anyway. Your imagination will wander freely throughout these interpretations. This is a collection of odd maps that are, well, kinda hard to pin down. Readers of this book will wear a bemused smile throughout—and they’ll never look at the state of California the same.

by Jordan Sargent

18 Dec 2009

cover art

The-Dream

Love vs. Money

(Def Jam)

Review [25.Mar.2009]

For all the praise that Terius Nash received for penning decade-defining hits like “Umbrella” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, the dirty little secret amongst R&B fans was that Nash’s most adventurous and rewarding songs were on his first solo album, Love/Hate. But with Love vs. Money, Nash—better known as The-Dream— finally got his due both critically and commercially. In tandem with frequent collaborators Tricky Stewart and L.O.S. Da Maestro, he doubled down on his signature formula of classicist R&B song structures and themes fused with production influenced as much by Southern rap as Prince. And with the album’s four-song centerpiece, Nash fleshes out the album’s central conceit (the push/pull between love and money) with a jaw-droppingly operatic suite that blazes a trail from industrial beats to jazz pianos to beatboxing. It’s sandwiched in between sex jams that are both goofy and futuristic, adding up to an album equally suited for the bedroom, the car, and the stage.

by Katharine Wray

18 Dec 2009

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.

by Dan Raper

18 Dec 2009

cover art

The Very Best

Warm Heart of Africa

(Green Owl)

Review [7.Oct.2009]

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.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

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