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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

Hopefully, fans of the Guitar Hero franchise who are also inclined to visit this here site have already seen Ryan Smith’s review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which as far as my experience with the game goes is right on the money.  Still, as an admitted Guitar Hero junkie myself (which sounds extreme, but there’s really no other way to put it), I’m compelled to offer two more observations about the game.


Did I mention that the battle with Joe Perry is easierthan any battle in Guitar Hero III?

The battle with Joe Perry is easier than any battle
in Guitar Hero III!


The first of these observations is exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of the game: the achievements.  Just in case anyone was concerned that Neversoft wasn’t keeping up with the forum buzz, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith directly addresses one of the chief complaints of critics of Guitar Hero III: namely, that the game as a whole (and the set of goals laid out by the achievements in particular) is just too damn hard.  I’m pretty good at Guitar Hero games, but I’m not so good that I expect to blow through the expert career in the second night that I own the game.  As if to say “sorry for expecting you to score 750,000 on anything, and oh, also sorry for thinking you could snag a perfect score on 20 different expert-level tracks”, the achievements are quite obviously designed for the novice.  The most difficult of the achievements are only so for their unpredictability (like the one that forces you to win in sudden death in a battle mode match), and the skill-based achievements don’t even require a score of 500,000 (325,000 on “Train Kept a Rollin’” never really feels out of reach).  Experienced players with a little bit of time on their hands will have a cool 1,000/1,000 points in under a week.  This could be a boon for some players, but in a $60 game, exhausting the achievement list that quick feels a bit like a gyp.


All I’m saying is that it seems a bit strange that Guitar Hero II still seems to have the best idea of a balance of easy, tough-but-doable, and nigh-impossible achievements when two iterations of the franchise have been released since.


Seriously -- this is as hard as \

Seriously—this is as hard as “Dream On” gets.


The other thing that strikes one as odd about Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is the difficulty spread of the songs.  Of particular note is “Dream On”, which actually occupies a spot in the second-to-last tier of songs, which should suggest that it’s a difficult but far from impossible song.  Still, it’s a placement that caused some concern in the community given that “Dream On” was released as downloadable content for Guitar Hero III to promote the upcoming Aerosmith version, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the easiest songs Guitar Hero has ever offered.  It hasn’t changed a bit from that downloadable version in Guitar Hero III, and it feels even easier as part of the penultimate grouping of songs.  Again, some players might be pleased that they get a bit of a break in the form of one of Aerosmith’s most famous and celebrated songs, but those looking for any semblance of a challenge are, again, bound to be disappointed.


Totaled up, the challenge of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith simply isn’t enough in a number of ways, particularly for the person most likely to pick this up; that is, the Guitar Hero veteran who’s looking for 40 or so new songs to play.  For someone who’s never played Guitar Hero, however, someone who happens to be drawn to the franchise for the first time by the featured band, it will be perfect.


Unfortunately, that preferred target of the Guitar Hero: Aerosmith buying constituency will very likely be a rather pronounced minority.


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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

On my way to Scandinavia, in transit in South Wing, Terminal One in Japan; stuck in a line that is advancing as slow as it took Seurat to connect all the dots.


I look up to spy a portrait that is even fuzzier; one that takes longer to come into complete focus.

It started out looking like this . . .


And as I tried to make sense of it, drew back, which made it look like this:


 


But what did these images add up to?


 




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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008
Sincerely, Jane - Janelle Monae

One of the most offensively sexist critical crutches is the diminishing addendum of “protege”  applied primarily to female artists subtly hinted to be be ventriloquist dummies for more talented Father-Miyagi male musicians. (see also M.I.A. as Diplo’s protege)  Though Janelle Monae has built a resume as producer, vocalist, writer and arranger, her work with Andrew 3000 and Big Boi apparently makes her their understudies.


I wish the sound quality of this clip could convey “Sincerely, Jane’s” orchestral bombast. Unlike other uses of classical music in songs steeped in the hip hop tradition (where piano loops or violin shards suffice), the song is actually structured in grand movements with Monae displaying an acrobatic range in what amounts to a scalding litany of misery, blistering accusation and disdain for humankind.  In short, it’s fantastic.  Think Shirley Bassey having Marianne Faithful put a cigarette out in her eye.  I also love the crazy clash in her onstage image:  equal parts Grace Jones aggression and small-framed Anita Baker swaying. 


I’m cautiously optimistic about her debut.  Monae reminds me of Macy Gray and Imani Coppola (whose new project Little Jackie is my othersummer obsession) in that she borrows from several genres and the chemistry is either pop perfection or simply dull dilution.  Macy Gray in particular embodies the pitfalls of having a voice with no vision, resulting in songs that generically clip the tips of various fads and frenzies.  I think Janelle has more talent, style and depth, but for every successful genre alchemist there are dozens of Cree Summer’s, Rosey’s, and Nikka Costa’s.


Tagged as: janelle monae
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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

If you go to Pitchfork for their review of the new record by Black Kids, you’ll see a SORRY message with two long-faced doggies. Cute but you have to wonder if they’re not tooting their own horn a bit here. True, they named Black Kids a phenom not long ago (hence the apology) but do they really think that they alone were responsible for the band’s ascendancy and now have to apologize about this because the group put out a crappy record? 


The Guardian, Vice and NME had written about them before that and Rolling Stone, the New York Times and the Village Voice wrote about them afterwards so how do you quantify that it was Pitchfork alone that put them over the top? Even if that were somehow the case, why does Pitchfork itself think they have to apologize? It’s not their fault that the band can’t follow-up a good EP. That’s like saying ‘we built them up and now they suck and so don’t get mad at us about it, OK?’ That’s a lot of assuming and even more chutzpah.


What’s worse is that the review they have up now might not even be their first crack at the latest record. According to one source, the original review earlier in the day was a 0.0 (which they promised to do away with after their Travis Morrison fiasco) with the text saying ‘Everyone makes mistakes’ (if anyone else saw this, please respond!). They sure do make mistakes but if that’s the case here, Pitchfork has a lot more to apologize for and not just to the band.


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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

David Brooks has been on a kick lately of denouncing consumers for their addiction to shopping and how they have lost touch with the “great bourgeois virtues.” In his most recent effort in this vein, he is responding to a Gretchen Morgenson piece about personal debt, and in particular one woman, Diane McLeod, who’s in way over her head. Who is to blame? Borrowers or lenders? Brooks says neither, and instead posits a “third way” of explaining how people get in over their head:


people are driven by the desire to earn the respect of their fellows. Individuals don’t build their lives from scratch. They absorb the patterns and norms of the world around them.
Decision-making—whether it’s taking out a loan or deciding whom to marry—isn’t a coldly rational, self-conscious act. Instead, decision-making is a long chain of processes, most of which happen beneath the level of awareness. We absorb a way of perceiving the world from parents and neighbors. We mimic the behavior around us. Only at the end of the process is there self-conscious oversight.
According to this view, what happened to McLeod, and the nation’s financial system, is part of a larger social story. America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded.



That sounds reasonable enough, but as Tanta at Calculated Risk points out, it’s always a little bogus to preach a return to a nonexistent golden age.


This nostalgia for the lost “culture of thrift” always gets on my nerves. America has always had both a “culture of thrift” and a “culture of conspicuous consumption.” We have had our Gilded Ages before the year 1992. The “BankAmericard” (which became the Visa) was invented back in the “thrify fifties,” about ten years after economist James Duesenberry first popularized the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses.” Collapsing the history of America into a lost golden age of thrift contrasted to a degenerate present of consumption excess is a reliable sign you’re in the presence of ideology.


Of course, that’s a given with Brooks that you are in the presence of ideology, though to be fair, it’s safe to say ideology is present in any sort of opinion piece. Brooks wants to pin our fall from thrifty grace on housing wealth and changing norms.


Some of the toxins were economic. Rising house prices gave people the impression that they could take on more risk. Some were cultural. We entered a period of mass luxury, in which people down the income scale expect to own designer goods. Some were moral. Schools and other institutions used to talk the language of sin and temptation to alert people to the seductions that could ruin their lives. They no longer do.
Norms changed and people began making jokes to make illicit things seem normal. Instead of condemning hyper-consumerism, they made quips about “retail therapy,” or repeated the line that Morgenson noted in her article: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.


Brooks probably wants to temper Morgenson’s thesis that lenders have deployed sophisticated marketing techniques to encourage more people to take on more debt and pin the blame those who some reactionaries have called “predatory borrowers”. But oddly enough, Brooks’s account roughly fits the leftist theory that Western countries entered into a late-capitalism phase after World War II, in which the economic emphasis shifted from producing to consuming. Since then, the theory goes, the populace of mass consuming sheep have perpetually had new needs induced in them to keep GDP growing for its own sake, regardless of whether or not that actually improves society’s living conditions. (Which is not far off from what I think—that consumerism in our society is the way to secure social approval and communicate our sense of self to others. Other routes to recognition have been systematically sealed off, so it’s harder to summon the wherewithal to derive esteem or even self-knowledge from any actions other than shopping. Hence, the ownership society—we are what we own. And this happens to nicely fit the lenders’ incentives. They profit through the myriad transactions required to keep the money needed for all these self-fashioning ownership projects circulating.) You’d think Brooks would adopt the conservative tack that consumer goods have democratized luxury, making income inequality irrelevant, but here he is, like a latter-day Carlyle, faulting “mass luxury” as a kind of moral failing.


So what’s his game? Retro-conservatism? He implies (somewhat risibly) that he’s a Burkean conservative in his op-ed. But I think Tanta has him pegged when she argues that he is trying to divert blame for our decadent social mores away from the media establishment he is a part of:


Brooks, writing in that influential arbiter of taste the New York Times, somehow fails to notice the role of the media in constructing popular standards for “risk” and “normal” consumption patterns. In Brooks’ weird little world, Americans responded to “rising home prices” that they apparently directly perceived, without media intervention. It was those house prices that “gave people the impression that they could take on more risk,” not the reporting on house prices or the columnists who solemnly opined that these prices meant that people weren’t taking on more risk by buying or refinancing. How incredibly convenient that line is.


Indeed. So when Brooks writes, “In a community, behavior sets off ripples. Every decision is a public contribution or a destructive act,” he ought to look in the mirror and think about what sort of contribution his own books celebrating bourgeois bohemia and living on “Paradise Drive” in suburbia have made.


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