Games

Indie Horror Month 2014: 'The Last Door'

The Last Door is Lovecraftian in every way that a story can be. It captures the mood, the intellectual curiosity, and the slow burn escalation of dread that typifies the best of Lovecraft.

Usually, when someone uses the term "Lovecraftian" to describe a work of horror, it's meant to describe the antagonistic presence that drives the story. It's shorthand for "ancient unknown evil." But there’s more to Lovecraft than Cthullu, and The Last Door, a point-and-click adventure game by Spanish developer The Game Kitchen, is Lovecraftian in every way that a story can be. It captures the mood, the intellectual curiosity, and the slow burn escalation of dread that typifies the best of Lovecraft.

Yes there's an ancient thing whose presence is felt throughout the story, but it remains hidden in the plot as well as from our sight for much of the game. For the most part, the horror of The Last Door comes from small moments: Hallucinations, the aftermath of violence, weird strangers, and old notes that hint at a larger danger, building a sense of dread that only grows stronger as the story progresses. This is where The Last Door shines, in its supreme confidence in its own pacing and storytelling.

(Unfortunately, it should be noted that the story is not complete. The version of the game that can be bought on steam is simply Season 1, which is four episodes long. Season 2 has just started its community funding. It’s a little irksome that it is incomplete. However, it's always a good thing when the worst that you can say about a game is that there's not enough of it.)

Graphically, The Last Door is extremely basic. It's pixel art, but blown up on the screen. It’s not as detailed an art style as Claire, but it’s just as evocative. This is a game that reminds you why pixel art is still so popular: A few squares of color can represent almost anything.

The point-and-click gameplay is built around this graphical limitation. Some months ago, I complained about the game Quest for Infamy because it offered no way of highlighting hotspots on a screen, forcing you to pixel hunt for every interactive object. This same criticism could be applied to The Last Door, except that the lack of highlights is never a problem because the graphics ensure there can never be very many things on screen at one time. Important objects are immediately noticeable because that's all there is in the room. The graphics demand a streamlined and simplified design, making it intuitive even when it mimics frustrating and confusing point-and-click tropes.

You play as a Jeremiah Devitt, who falls into a cultish conspiracy as he investigates the suicide of his childhood friend, Anthony Beechworth.

The Last Door uses several tropes of television to tell its story. For example, there's actually an opening credits song. Opening credits don't get the credit (no pun intended) they deserve. A good credit sequence can set the mood for a show better than any single scene, and The Last Door uses this to its advantage. This is a game that's all about efficiency of design. It opens with a creepy vignette and then smash cuts to the credits, establishing the overall tone and the danger to our protagonist. This knowledge then makes the slow burn pacing of the game itself tense instead of boring. Many horror stories forget that danger has to be established before we'll be scared of anything, and this is especially true when your horrors are slow in coming.

These vignettes are the perfect example of how the game handles horror, interactivity, and storytelling. They all follow a similar structure. We open on one person in a room, and there’s only one interactive object. We’re forced to click it to continue. Then the game cuts to a black screen with text, offering us just a single sentence of the person’s inner monologue. Then we’re back to the room to click on another object.

The scenes begin innocently enough, though all weird in some way. The first episode shows us a man alone in an attic, which is slightly unusual but not frightening. Then he picks up a chair. Then he picks up a rope. Then he slings the rope over a rafter. Then he stands on the chair. And you can see where this is going. You know he's going to hang himself well before he actually does, but the game makes you watch and even participate in his methodical preparation, so when the final moment comes, it feels particularly disturbing because you understand the forethought that went into this suicide. The Last Door isn’t interested in making you feel like a character in the story. Instead, it wants to make you complicit in the story and its inevitable tragedy.

The game embraces another wonderfully Lovecraftian touch that’s often forgotten: The intelligence of the protagonists. In our short scene with Beechworth, his narration suggests that he’s a smart man, and that suicide is the smartest decision he could make. Jeremiah Devitt is a smart, educated man and our sense of his intelligence is only bolstered by all the puzzles that we have to solve to progress. But it’s precisely that intelligence that gets him into trouble. It pushes him along, it encourages him, and then it fails him when he’s faced with the truth.

The soundtrack deserves a special mention, as the music stands out as the best thing in this already great game. Unlike the graphics, the music doesn’t limit itself -- unless it wants to. It can range from a flamboyant gothic orchestra to a quiet haunting score, but it always adds an extra layer of dread and suspense to every screen.

The Last Door knows exactly what it's doing at all times. Every scene and line is important, whether to the plot or to the tone or to the theme. It's a game that never flounders and never wastes your time.

The Last Door: Collector’s Edition is available on Steam, and the second season can be funded through its web site.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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