Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: 新しいデラックスライフ (New Life DeLuxe)

Here is a truly bizarre album, especially taken out of the context of its genre. I had trouble finding this album for obvious reasons – for one thing I can’t type in Japanese, and my only exposure to this album at the time was though a “vaporwave essentials” image, which of course I can’t copy and paste into google. All I had to go by was the album artwork, brandishing some anime guy in a helmet that I should recognize but don’t. Vaporwave is already a genre fascinated with the anonymous, and this added stifling only made this album all the more elusive. Only by a sheer stroke of luck did I find it.

Now vaporwave artists are no strangers to making unusually compact “albums”, but this is a truly bite-sized and fleeting listen. The average song length is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, with just a couple tracks exceeding the 3-minute mark. Two of these tracks are virtually the same song as well. It’s pretty much over and done with before you even score a chance to truly grasp what is even going on here.

Once you’ve heard it about ten times, this dazzlingly weird album starts to make a little more sense. But even then, it still barely makes any sense. This album follows in the footsteps of Replica-era Daniel Lopatin, being built entirely from dated, obscure samples, though it is notably more low-fi. Unlike Replica, however, this album’s plunderphonics never really amount to actual “songs”, and rather just feel like broken, repeated samples without purpose or structure. This leads to a drastically more hazy and incoherent listen, though this “broken” aesthetic is arguably what makes vaporwave appealing in the first place.

If anything, one could enjoy this as an extremely brief trip through the obsolete television paraphernalia this album is built from. However, not only does it sit in the shadow of an album such as Replica, it’s attempts at creating a claustrophobic and twisted atmosphere rarely stick around long enough to truly create any tension. The unsettling appeal that some of the best vaporwave has is certainly here, being such a grotesquely-shaped album, one whose only moments of sounding anything like a “song” are when a fraction of some obscure Japanese jingle makes an appearance. However, it feels much too undercooked, and like I said has a tendency to slip right through your fingers, though both the concept and the heart are certainly there.

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: PS1 Soundtrack – Revelations: Persona

In an era where JRPGs were still a genre of D&D motifs and high-fantasy as far as western gamers were concerned, the elusive Shin Megami Tensei franchise was decidedly a departure from what was considered normal. Even more so, when Final Fantasy VII had yet to popularize the genre, one of the few games in the series at the time to leave its native walls was undeniable set up from the get-go to be an overlooked oddity of near-Earthbound proportions. That game is Relevations: Persona, which most of you may recognize as the original episode of the Persona subseries (you know, those colorful teenagers summoning spirits from their inner psyches to fight demons, with that cute bear and the evil TV or whatever). Although nothing new in Japan, the original Persona game was absolutely in a league of its own for unfamiliar North Americans, breaking the usual fantasy tropes in favor of a modern, surreal setting and story. No one really cared to realize at the time, but the series rise in global popularity at the end of the noughties put the spotlight on this forgotten gem brighter than ever, and looking back there’s still really nothing like it.

But even more overlooked than the game itself, as you probably have guessed, is its very own soundtrack. However, don’t expect it to be a triumph in the same way that Final Fantasy VI was a few years prior – emotionally vast, grandiose and legendary this soundtrack is not. In fact, what makes the original Persona title such a feast for the ears is its sheer deviance from such a formula. This is a soundtrack more concerned with making a moody, eccentric atmosphere, to appropriately suit the accompanying adventure’s twisted, surreal world. One part insidiously dark and one part awkwardly stylish, Persona’s music is an exercise in bizarreness – much like the game and series it is employed under – and truly a one-of-a-kind piece of music that the era so rarely brings to the table.

Abandoning almost all traces of JRPG tradition at the time, Persona opts for a modernized sound. Everything from the guitar-driven boss music, to the largely electronic dungeon themes, to the mystifying ambient tracks all gamble with the genre’s blueprint and cash in on it immensely. The overall mood may not be as expansive as a game such as Final Fantasy, but the depth is certainly there, and the actual genres of music utilized here are of a respectable level of variety – more on that in a bit. Best of all – though this trait might be an acquired taste for some – is how the game’s repetitive nature has a tendency to draw the player into a hypnotic state, even in the heat of a strategic battle, and if only the actual amount of listening time wasn’t so dominated by the main battle theme, the soundtrack could easily have the same effect on the player.

With the Playstation being the premier audio experience in the fifth console generation, Persona as a somewhat early title for the platform proves to be of good quality sound-wise, even better than the juggernaut soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII a year later (though not from a compositional standpoint), and it explores this rich sound quality quite thoroughly. Perhaps the most impressive tracks in this regard are the game’s various dungeon themes – typically electronic in nature, you can find at play several styles you wouldn’t expect to hear axing demons on your way to a level-up, most notably IDM and electronic hip-hop.Climbing the corporate Sebec building on your way to thwart the game’s antagonist is made a high-energy affair with a layered song that builds up in tension and lets loose in a dare-I-say Machinedrum fashion, loaded with repeated piano loops and misty undercurrents – but unfortunately, this climax is not very often reached by the player, due to the song starting over from the beginning ever time the player enters battle. This problem plagues all the excellent dungeon themes in the game, relegating the player to little further than the first few seconds of the track, unless they stay out of battles for a few minutes.

Fortunately, not all of the game’s best songs are affected by this. In fact, though the dungeon themes are the most “full” and dynamic songs in the game, there are an assortment of non-dungeon songs that prove to be quite formidable themselves. These tracks appear during the game’s story sequences and appear in some of the game’s less-interrupted areas, such as shops and in town. The shop tracks in particular are especially strange: a weirdly upbeat steel drum track accompanies the gun shop, while the clothing store – ran by a fashionable man in a gas mask – dons an amusingly generic background shopping muzak tune that present-day vaprowave aficionados would go gaga over. Best of all is the pharmacy, which has a quirky Japanese man singing what’s allegedly the names of the items you can buy in the store over a pathetic-sounding recorder to create a bizarre, yet somewhat catchy shopping jingle. Though these tracks are appealing – both because they’re so weird and because they’re quite good in their weirdness – the Velvet Room theme is the tour-de-force of them all. Replete with opera vocals and melodramatic piano, as fans of Persona 3 and 4 can already tell you, it’s a standout in the series, befitting the Velvet Room’s mysterious, dream-like nature.

Individually these tracks are competent, but it’s the overall package that makes Persona’s soundtrack one deserving of the hidden gem status attributed to it – because between the lines of all these goofy jingles and psychedelic mystique is a feeling that goes so much deeper than the gimmicks and the “cutting edge” ideas present here. Above all, Persona, both as a game and as a piece of music, is awkward and almost confusing to analyze, because it’s so blemished by its growing pains and lack of having a true niche beyond the decade from which it was released. It’s crooked, but it’s different. It doesn’t just try to be different either – there’s a lot of obvious, but unsuccessful pandering to western culture in the North American translation of Persona, and even when it seems to be generic, its inability to achieve true normalcy keeps even the mundane shit really really off, in the best way possible.

 

“Trish’s Fountain”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M_XXF3Kmr4&index=25&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

“Electric Brain Travel”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBVD9CwKyNc&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=96

“Conversation 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyARgQ9BAco&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=60

“City 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GO8qjqoVWc&index=52&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

 

 

Full Playlist
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

RIMWORLD

Atomp (P)Reviews: RimWorld [Ludeon Studios]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp
My seeming inability to fully envelop myself in Dwarf Fortress has again taken me to new and interesting alternatives which in this particular case is the sci-fi colony sim RimWorld. There’s a great deal of Dwarf Fortress here however it’s married with some Prison Architect for the sake of keeping a complex and deep simulation accessible and all of this with a Firefly-esque sci-fi western feel. The idea is that a group of three survivors have crash landed on a distant planet at the edge of populated space and as such development is limited as it so often is at the frontier. This is a pretty classic science fiction trope and I for one don’t mind as it is a really cool setting for a colony/city/town building game. This is, much like many of my games of interest, a Kickstarter success story. The campaign ran during October last year (2013) and generated $268,000 CAD of the $20,000 CAD goal which is an impressive feat and showed how much interest there is in combining a sci-fi setting like that of FTL with a Prison Architect style management sim. It does help that the Kickstarter was a strong presentation and the primary developer has some damn good credentials (he has a published book on game design). In short when I eventually get around to writing an article on the Kickstarter/crowd-funding development model RimWorld will very likely be sitting pretty in the ‘Success’ column.
The gameplay in RimWorld is somewhat like Dwarf Fortress however there is a much higher consideration for the life of your colonists as you have only a few of the to begin with. No-one is disposable here and each individual is important and vital. Tied into this is the simulation of the colonists themselves, all of whom have moods and personalities. In this sense they are somewhat like Sims, they will like or dislike certain environmental concerns such as dirty floors, corpses or room decoration and can under certain circumstances have a mental breakdown. The latest patch actually introduced a rather overpowered mind altering event which has a significant negative modifier on mood. This is being patched to balance it a bit and can be patched manually with a simple one line config edit however it was somewhat influential in the loss of my first colony which despite having a fairly good base modifier on mood thanks to a nice interior was attacked by pirates which involved a lot of negative modifiers around seeing friendly and stranger deaths, corpses and other such grim realities of violence. This is really where the danger in RimWorld lies; not in starvation as in some management games but in defensive combat and keeping your colonists happy. The game does a good job of displaying the relevant information and keeping you informed on what is doing what in regards to the colonists’ mood and happiness.
My first colony for example was actually fairly successful for a first attempt. It must be said that the game design is such that the entire experience was astoundingly intuitive and it was very easy and quick to get going with an absolute minimum of fuss. There are no long winded tutorial sections or walls of text, instead the game allows you to just play the game whilst occasionally prodding you in the right direction. Either way my first colony wound up being an above-ground colony consisting of a single large wood-based compound. This was my first mistake as this turned out to be very difficult to defend and not very strong at withstanding attack from mortar shells. On the other hand it was also relatively cheap and easy to expand the building to accommodate more people in their preferred room size; bloody enormous. Seriously these people must be a tad claustrophobic because avoiding the ‘Cramped Environment’ negative mood modifier is difficult, they’ve evidently never lived out of a single small student room for a year. Everything was going well as I had food production sorted and even had some squirrel meat on the menu. My power requirements were being met by a geothermal generator and a handful of solar panels and research was progressing nicely, providing the colonists with luxuries like carpets. Then the attacks came, which for a relatively indefensible position were actually beaten back on a surprising number of occasions. Eventually the strain began to really beat down people’s mood and a besieging by a group of pirates proved too much as the required counter-offensive took the lives of three colonists, incapacitated one and drove one into a mental breakdown. It was therefore necessary for the one remaining sane colonist to save the incapacitated and subdue the breakdown victim… which was too much for the poor scientist and they too had a mental breakdown. That was really a kick in the teeth as having successfully beaten off the pirates with relatively little damage done to the base the survivors either bled out or broke down.
The beauty of games like RimWorld (and RimWorld excels at it) is the ability to generate stories. There are stories with characters, plots, events and whilst much of it is procedurally generated the overall effect is the creation of plots and tales so vivid and interesting that they could easily be expanded into something of their own right. I love this kind of game, as it has the same appeal as the likes of Crusader Kings 2, FTL or even Kerbal Space Program (everyone has a story of a brave rescue mission to save a crippled lander) in the regard to the potential for dynamic narrative generation, making stories that you want to share. Whilst much of RimWorld’s content is not complete, there is enough for the purposes of generating stories and as development progresses, the content will expand and the pool of potential story elements and events will grow. This is exactly the kind of game that excels in Early Access as once the primary systems are in place it only gets better as content is added rather than running the risk of spoiling half of a prebaked story over and over in testing. Currently with the development patches and additions certain things can be unbalanced on occasion but these don’t seem common and fixes or fix information is often swiftly provided. The developer has interestingly integrated a strictly opt-in gameplay data upload to allow him to collect actual play data to debug and provide design feedback so perhaps the likelihood of major problems occurring will decrease with this addition. There’s a very good reason that this review is longer than usual and why I’ve had 3am bedtimes for the past few days (afternoon/evening shifts allow stupid stunts like that).
The aesthetic is very similar to Prison Architect however I would venture to say that it is actually prettier. The lighting and shadow effects are accurate to the time of day and the weather and wind effects create an attractive and surprisingly immersive feel to the game. Thunderstorms feel appropriately wet, windy and loud and when over your base give that warm and fuzzy ‘indoors’ feel that being in a building in Minecraft during a storm does. I found this quite profound for a top down management game but it certainly gives the base/colony you construct that ‘home in the wild’ feel. The sprites and icons are clear, providing the player with an uncluttered view and a clear idea of what’s going on. The interface design is similarly so, generally staying out of the way and providing an intuitive route to information when needed.
Availability is very good for RimWorld with simultaneous Windows, Mac and Linux updates. The system requirements are equally accessible with the CPU recommendation being a fast Core 2 Duo or a Core i3 with a GPU requirement of Intel HD3000 minimum. This means that I can appreciate it on my beloved Lenovo Thinkpad X220 as its moderately aged Sandy Bridge i5-2520  is able to do the game justice, especially on Debian with Gnome3 (As a side note, older Thinkpads and Debian make perfect bedfellows). I have to say that I appreciate these factors greatly from a personal perspective as it gives the game some real portability potential; an ideal train journey game if ever there was one. Pricing is interesting as it might seem a little steep: The base game package including Early Access is $30.00 (approx £17.50) available from the RimWorld website. There is no Steam release yet however this base cost does include any potential Steam keys when it eventually does hit Steam. I’d say that the game is absolutely worth the cost at this stage of development as enough has been implemented to provide a satisfying play experience right now. I’m also happy to pay that because of the message that it sends, Ludeon Studios and Tynan Sylvester are proving almost perfect Early Access developers with regular communication, updates, a keen sense for community feedback and platform agnosticism. This is the type of development that a crowd funding optimist like me might envision; a game funded by the community and painstakingly developed with active feedback from that community by a responsive developer/development team. No publisher bullshit and no shareholders spoiling perfectly functional ideas with their money grubbing ways *cough*EA*cough*.
RimWorld Website:
RimWorld Wiki:
Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Uio Loi – Uio Loi

Sitting shyly in the painfully overlooked crevices of ambient electronic hip-hop sits a sharp producer by the name of Kyle Yerhot. He is an enigma with a mind thick and loaded with the arcane craft of dope vibes and an expert in the craft of illusory sound techniques that make foggy contours feel like the most vivid and illustrious thing in the world, when under his spell. On the surface you might mistake him for just another contender in the mellowed-out underground, but you can easily overlook the fact that his music has a soul as fully-realized as any of the bigger names in the scene.

Yerhot’s work spans several aliases, including Smoke Room and Young Henry. The former sums up its business perfectly with its name: smoke rooms, rooms full of smoke, sitting in your room smoking – the vibes are relaxed and translucent, dense and rich hip-hop ambient bliss meant to be played in the frays of light hours, an ode to chilling out as the day ends and either partying your ass off or going deep. Young Henry is a more extroverted affair, favoring melody over atmosphere yet still succeeding a little bit with both. Yerhot’s love of Korean samples is more of a driving force than with other monikers, creating a more upbeat but still appropriately ghostly feel, and doing so with a bit more energy, sunshine and a taste for low-fi pop sensibilities.

Enter Uio Loi, the name he seems to be the most occupied with these days, currently stationed on the Zoom Lens label. On his self-titled release, we see Yerhot unleash his more minimal, abstract side. A few core elements remain intact from his other works, such as chopped vocal samples, hazy undertones, and Shlohmo-esque beats and glitch, but the overall feel of Uio Loi is a distinguished one. For one thing, there are a few tracks that dabble in radio static noise antics and lo-fi sampling. On “Love Without Words” this is handled more purely lo-fi, with a good 40 seconds of hushed ambience cueing in a jazzy drum solo over a tornado siren, and elsewhere “Seophear” follows up this idea with a pinch of Actress flair to it with deep, muted beats and a little screech-and-scratch.

A majority of what’s on display on Uio Loi resembles a more laid-back electronic redefinition of his work as Smoke Room. There’s a greater affinity for glitch and less of one for dance, and where Smoke Room still felt a little bit sober amidst the out-of-phase shenanigans, Uio Loi takes the full plunge into surreal, cracked, and waterlogged beats for the adventurous mind to explore. Though hardly a formless album, still having clearly defined patterns, there’s still a characteristic imperfection to the piece that puts it in the ranks of abstract hip-hop dimensions such as Shigeto or Actress. The resulting mix may or may not be a step up from his excellent work under Smoke Room, but without a doubt it’s a new sound and feel that fans of virtually anything I mentioned in the review would be intelligent to engage themselves with.

 

Name your price at Bandcamp

 

Wolfenstein New World order

Atomp Reviews: Wolfenstein: The New Order [Machine Games]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

Wolfenstein has a strong pedigree in first person shooters with Wolfenstein 3D being up there with Doom in terms of genre significance. (Fun fact: Wolfenstein 3D can be played in-browser on the Wolfenstein website). Wolfenstein: The New Order is a modern take on the classic formula and whilst this is an exciting prospect people were understandably sceptical. There’s a great potential in modern reboots of classic games for certain less-than-stellar modern FPS tropes to degrade the whole experience. This scepticism may well have been misplaced as Machine Games have gone and given Wolfenstein the same treatment as Flying Wild Hog managed to give to Shadow Warrior. The fundamental premise of Wolfenstein: TNO is that through the use of advanced technology the Nazi regime won the Second World War and proceeded to construct the global Reich. The game initially places the player in an assault on a Nazi compound nearing the end of the war and then jumps to the alternate future 1960 whereupon the Nazis have complete control.

 

The gameplay is probably most comparable to the likes of Half Life I suppose. The game is a fairly linear move from one fight to another occasionally broken up by cut scenes and level changes. This is in no way a bad thing and it has been done exceptionally well in this particular case, the story-continuation and plot make up for the relative linearity of the experience through giving meaning to it. The plot itself is well written as it fits nicely into what is a nicely crafted alternate history. For those looking for lore there is a whole ton of it scattered around the levels in the form of newspaper clippings, posters, music, slideshows, personal character histories and overheard conversations. There is enough world building that it is easy to become engrossed in the game and have the game plot and your acts given meaning in the wider context. I’d say that the world building is on par with another lore-heavy game of recent release; Dishonored, which really is the bar to be aimed for. One minor complaint about the world construction would be how completely dead and lifeless much of the world seems. I understand that this is the Nazi dominated post-war future, however there is little to no civilian presence whatsoever as entire cities seem completely abandoned apart from hordes of Nazi soldiers.

 

The first person combat must be mentioned as it makes up a significant portion of the game and is thoroughly enjoyable. There is no weapon limit, in classic shooter style you can carry all weapon types simultaneously. These weapons include the regular standards of first person shooter goodness; knife, pistol, assault rifle, automatic shotgun, scoped rifle and grenades. In addition to these are the likes of a laser weapon that must be recharged from wall sockets and secondary fire modes on all of the standard weapons as well as dual-wielding on most; knife throwing, silenced pistol, underslung rocket launcher, ricochet shotgun rounds and tesla grenades. This gives you a lot of freedom to shoot and explode things in whatever manner you feel would be suit your mood, or at higher difficulties in the manner that the situation may require. The enemy variety is equally impressive as even the regular grunts will vary from level. On top of the varied grunts are the armoured soldiers, the even more armoured soldiers, the even more even more armoured semi-mechs, the regular robotic mechs and the massive robotic mechs… oh and enormous bosses, armoured hounds, big robotic hounds and small robotic flyers. That’s a lot of enemy types and the levels are varied too, everything from escaping an asylum to a wrecked bridge to shooting Nazis on the freakin’ Moon! (Loved that level!) These different enemies require different weapons and different strategies, and the game will often mix up them up into deadly combinations. The overall balance of the game is good although I’d say it could be a tad easy, I’m playing through my first run on the hardest difficulty available and whilst there are points of multiple checkpoint attempts, there’s nothing that seems utterly impossible (apart from one section, but that was probably down to the non-stop post-8-hour-shift 10 hour play session than the difficulty of the game). Overall the shooting is fun, run-and-gun in lower difficulties and a little more tactical at the higher difficulties. The game will often provide a stealth option too, allowing the use of the silenced pistol and uber-OP throwing knives. This stealth approach becomes less feasible later on when most of the enemies are too armoured to allow easy one shot kills but it can come in handy in certain scenarios.

 

The aesthetic and the music relate very closely to my earlier comments on world building. The design is exceptional, taking the advanced technology and combining it with the modernist Reich style. There is little about the visual look of the game that I would improve upon and the design, models and animations followed the plot and history building devices in creating a believable and engaging world for the player to become absorbed in. As I said earlier, the worlds could do with a few more people so as to feel a little less desolate, even just some Aryan civilians milling around in the distance would do. The music is awesome and for once I didn’t turn it off just for the action-movie atmosphere that it gave the experience. There are also a handful of New Order covers of 60s songs including a brilliant House of the Rising Sun cover in German.

 

Wolfenstein: TNO is available on Windows with system requirements that are relatively high by the standards of my game reviews: 64-Bit Win 7 or 8, Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 460 and 50GB HDD space. That’s a fairly beefy system requirement and I’m tempted to say that the processor requirement at least is a little over the top, I’d say a core i5 would probably work but don’t take my word on that. It’s also available on those living room boxes that people that can’t use computers like to play with.

 

In short then Wolfenstein: TNO is a surprisingly competent title that delivers a brilliant single player experience by combining great aesthetics with enjoyable gameplay and an engaging plot and lore. If this and Shadow Warrior are to set a trend for new imaginings of classic titles then I’m all for the idea as there is certainly space in the gaming market for exactly this kind of game.

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order on Steam:

 

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order website:

 

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast Soundtrack)

Going down the list of its unfortunately small library of games, Sega’s Dreamcast has no shortage of standout soundtracks to brag about. The obvious rhythm games Space Channel 5 and Samba De Amigo are the first that come to mind, but lest we forget Shenmue’s tense traditional Japanese ambiance, Skies of Arcadia boasting some of the most epic and uplifting battle songs in JRPG history, Phantasy Star Online’s stylized and smooth electronic scores, and the unironically badass cheesiness of titles such as Daytona USA 2001 and the Sonic Adventure series. Though rarely considered a juggernaut, the Dreamcast remains up there with the most tragically interesting consoles ever released, but no games created for it testify to its unique character quite as profoundly as Jet Grind Radio does.

Somewhere in Asia, there is a city that cannot be found on any map called “Tokyo-to”, and the tunes are out like freaks on a full moon. Even with Jet Grind Radio (more widely known as Jet Set Radio) being arguably the most stylish and artistically appealing game the Dreamcast has ever seen its visual presentation is only half the experience. Varied, frenetic and brimming with life, the console’s most famous extreme sports title (not including Tony Hawk ports) also boasts what’s perhaps its most famous soundtrack, and you can see why almost instantly – just after pressing start to begin the game, the main theme collapses into radio static and begins to tune into smooth bass and mellow drum beats, topped off with schoolgirl hums and “Come on/Get down” samples – quite a departure from the archetypal loading screen jingle. When the action begins, you find yourself greeted by the slow J-rock stylings of Guitar Vader as you learn the rules of the game, and when that’s over the game’s eponymous radio station’s host Professor K speaks his good word over the sunset soul of “Funky Radio” (the best track in my opinion).

Jet Grind Radio’s mainstay practice of getting down on the streets and spraypainting the city with your signature logo while eluding the cops on your rollerblades is a chaotic affair, and it takes a competent soundtrack to simultaneously fill the player with energy and deck the game’s vivacious style with an appropriate feel. The genres Jet Grind Radio plays with are vast, and the songs are generally some combination of hip-hop, J-pop, funk, dance, punk, shibuya-kei, and hard rock, acutely used without feeling varied for the sake of being varied. The game has a vision that it remains consistently focused on, even at its most bizarre (relatively speaking) and remains locked on to the punk soul that courses through Jet Grind Radio’s veins – though the hard rock pieces tossed into the North American release feel mostly odd and out-of-place.

Primary composer Hideki Naganuma bears most of the game’s “core” tracks – the original scores for the soundtrack – and he is followed by equally funky Deavid Soul as most prolific on the soundtrack. The two of them bring an eclectic mix of dance funk and sample-fueled shenanigans, and on the large Jet Grind Radio’s audio is a beat-driven affair. Naganuma infuses electronics into his tunes quite well, as seen on slower hip-hop number “That’s Enough” and the somewhat indescribable “Rock it On”, though Soul’s contributions are more largely electronic in essence. Aside from them, you’ll find obscure and known artists alike making appearance on the soundtrack. Long-time Sega affiliate Richard Jacques manifests in the form of “Everybody Jump Around”, quite effectively getting the listener to do what the title suggests. Other well-known artists aren’t very common (especially if you aren’t playing the US version, where most of the guests appear), but they include Jurassic 5 and Rob Zombie, for those who care. The rest of the “guests” are a cast of obscurities whose bodies of work seems to only consist of their respective songs for the game, however their contributions are certainly noteworthy and you do wonder who these rather skilled artists actually are. Whatever the case, almost every track on this soundtrack fleshes out this excellent gaming experience and works quite well as a standalone from the associated game as well – though by no means do I discourage you from playing the game if you haven’t already. Because, well, it still rules.

 

“Funky Radio”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30ffQ3iytZ8

“Sweet Soul Brother”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOYA_EDukck

“Mischievous Boy”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9tid7n-uQA

“Yappie Feet”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XznePMj7IgM

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Eternal Sonata (XBOX360/PS3 Soundtrack)

Even in the exhausted JRPG genre, there wasn’t a game quite like Eternal Sonata. Originally released in 2007 by Tri-Crescendo for the Xbox 360, Eternal Sonata more closely resembles a work of poetry in motion (albeit a cheesy one) than an epic endeavor to save the world. Delving into the subconscious and musings of a terminally ill Frédéric Chopin, the game explores themes of political corruption, death, the fabric of reality, and Chopin’s own imminent demise, appropriately taking place in an imagined, lush dream where music seemingly makes up the world itself. What makes Eternal Sonata a standout experience in its genre is how it takes lessons from Final Fantasy X, moving the player forward -helplessly but never hopelessly – gradually toward the unknown, leaving home further behind with every step, succeeding on a similarly emotional level with a subtle feeling of homesickness and restlessness that keeps an otherwise very linear game in perpetual motion.

As the game’s eminent star is the famed pianist Chopin, the overall motif is decidedly associated with him and his music. Interluding the game’s chapters are passages of some of his famous works – including Nocturne No. 2, “Raindrops”, and “Grande Valse Brilliante” – accompanied by slideshows educating the player of major events and people throughout his life and photographs of key places such as Warsaw, where Chopin grew up. These passages, performed by Stanislav Bunin, are not all that makes Eternal Sonata an aural standout, however. The rest of the game’s soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba (a quite prolific video game composer, who you might know for the soundtracks to Dark Souls and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) is handled with all the thematic accuracy and emotion necessary to fit alongside Chopin’s work – at least in essence: he doesn’t quite achieve the compositional skill and grace of someone like Nobuo Uematsu, though occasionally he gets pretty close. The game’s various dungeon songs, as well as the main combat theme and some boss tracks, are all fully orchestrated, replete with soaring strings and triumphant pianos, to bring the combat and exploration to climactic heights. On the opposite end of the spectrum are softer piano pieces that embellish some of the cutscenes and dungeons, and though they don’t outshine the pedigree of Chopin’s included works, they are nonetheless composed very well and wax romanticism in a way that fits alongside his music seamlessly. The strings found here, while done well, don’t particularly offer anything new from other JRPGs that employ a similar aesthetic for their assorted battles and dungeons –however, the classical approach that adorns this game as a whole is something quite respectable for a game that, much like the obvious allusions littered throughout it suggest, flows like and resembles a piece of music.

“Raindops”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODWVfYMzI0A&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=33

“Grande Valse Brilliante”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMn38bQ9zy4&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=56

“Nocturne”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WnQ8WELcFI&index=55&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

-

“Journey of the Mind”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=372iMybMQPs&index=3&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

“Believe”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCBbroO83Tk&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=11

“Reflect the Sky, Blossom of Life”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgGh5-urROY&index=15&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

“Someone Special”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFP697C6pLI&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=24

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children

Music Has the Right to Children…the faceless, brooding IDM titan indeed proves this notion truer than most, begetting countless electronic artists over the years, inspiring legions of nostalgic, watercolor-tinged dark horses, who all walk under the same turquoise hexagon sun. Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have always been an elusive pair, both in their methods and in their sonic landscapes, which need to be seen (heard) to be believed: lush enough to create their own world, mysterious enough to inspire you to explore it, and dense enough to leave you lost and wandering, though you won’t want to leave once you get that far. Truly, if anyone deserves the right to children, it is indeed the music of Boards of Canada.

On the surface, things are admittedly barren. Boards’ core is a mix between mechanical Autechre-esque IDM, replete with complex beats and an almost inhuman factor present, and blissful, nostalgic ambient wonderment – the resulting sound is truly dreamy. More so, it carries a child-like innocence, a curiosity for one’s surroundings planted in the album’s ambient nature and whimsical sound – walking home from school on a sunny afternoon, Converse strapped to your feet; going out in the forest with your friends on a cloudy morning in the 70s to make a movie with your dad’s Super 8. Though beats are a prominent feature, it’s the subtleties laced throughout this album that make it misleadingly rich, and though it’s not as dense as their 2002 follow-up Geogaddi, it’s this subtler approach that grants Music the edge as the duo’s most ambiguous effort – some listeners might walk away having heard something very warm and peaceful, while others will walk away deeply disturbed (look no further than “The Color of the Fire”). Another fascination of the duo and part of the overall sound of Boards’ is subliminal messaging, and music’s potency to influence people, which lends to the elusive, almost secretive nature of the album as well. It’s misty and vague, and though it might not immediately gratify, most of Music’s treasures are buried beneath the surface and you will discover them on repeated listens.

boc_musicrighttochildren1

Music is often considered their magnum opus, commanding great respect from advocates of 90s IDM up with the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre, and having an influence on future electronic artists such as Lone and Tycho. However, it is frequently debated between this album and Geogaddi as to which is superior, almost to the point of being some kind of internal rivalry. Though at one point I would have dismissed this as impossible to decide, with both albums proving to be extremely well-crafted in their own separate ways, lately it’s not even a choice, and I don’t even dispute Geo being the better album anymore. Music still remains a cornerstone in my musical endeavors and a standard to which future albums are held, and so it pains me to feel so lukewarm about something I was once so passionate about. Why then, is this?

Music and Geo have their similarities, but they each travel down different roads. Geo is Boards’ darkest full-length album, complete with subliminal messages, backmasking, subconscious-rattling percussion, and hellish synths straight from the musings of a dying world. Infamously clocking in a 66 minutes and 6 seconds, the album fills this time to the brim with layered songs, every one of which bringing a new idea to the template, from the album’s petite 30-second vignettes to its full-blown “core” songs. Geo is effective because it’s constantly morphing, yet also droning at the right times to pull the listener through some truly intense sounds. So, if Geo is the more aggressive mindfucker, laden with its own trypophobic niches for the listener to fill in, then Music is the coloring book, clearly representing its boundaries and contours, yet requiring the listener’s own experiences and perspective to bring it to life. Nostalgia is a driving factor, and while both albums possess this trait, Music associates it more with discovery, innocence, and joy, whereas it’s younger sibling evokes feelings of remorse, danger, and melancholy. Music’s tracks are also noticeably more beat-driven where Geo frequently drifts into formless ambient, and also wields more varied percussion. On the whole, Geogaddi can be seen as the more dynamic, twisted album, and Music the more hypnotic, subtle one. Of course, the best part of Boards’ sound is the ambiguity, so some people might feel it’s the other way around.

So why has Music lost the edge for this reviewer? I was certainly confused after revisiting it after a pretty long break, this being such an important album to me at one point and still holding up remarkably well with it being my second most-played album ever. Music is much more situational, requiring a deal of focus – like other Boards of Canada albums, should be listened to from front to back to truly sink into the atmosphere – but also needing a much more specific mindset, with its treasures literally brushing by like a tiny breeze. If that’s the case, then Geogaddi is more like a chilling wind that can seize your attention, as opposed to a lukewarm one. This isn’t to say Music is too subtle for its own good, bordering on unnoticeable, because it’s quite dark and foreboding in its own ways, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Geogaddi is the better album – more detailed, equivocally gripping and subtle, and impactful, as an album from front to back or in bite-sized listens. Music almost feels distant, not seeming to care whether or not it’s liked, and as warm as it feels exploring Boards’ landmark record, I also feel unwelcome, like a trespasser in a seemingly empty place, and it’s a little scary. But I’ll be damned if even after all these years I’ve found anything quite like it.

 

 

 

 

cataclysm: DDA - zzzzombies

Atomp Updated Review – Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

 

By Tom Hooper aka Atomp, (05-06-14)

 

It’s been just under a year since I last looked at Cataclysm and we left it at the very beginning of a crowd funding campaign to hire a full time developer. That crowd funding campaign succeeded raising $9,500 of the $7,000 goal and ultimately providing the project with the funds they needed to bring in a full time developer for a short time. I’ve commented on my support for crowd funding many times prior however the Cataclysm model is slightly different as the game is already free and open source. What we have with this campaign then is perhaps an insight into the potential for such a funding model for FOSS games and projects. The changes that were teased in the Kickstarter are beginning to really take form and progress, whilst not lightning fast has been reliably constant with major changes certainly showing fruition.

 

The gameplay and combat has not seen a major overhaul however there has been a significant slew of new content and tools. World generation has been tweaked to allow… well, tweaking. This means that when creating a new world the player can have it to their liking, whether that been huge cities of mutants or a savagely wild countryside filled with animals, mutants and worse. Character creation has seen a great deal of work with a massive increase in the amount of professions, skills and traits available when spending the character points. The different professions bring their own specific item sets and skills. For example the security guard will start with a firearm and reasonable gear but no special skills whereas a computer hacker will start with limited gear but a huge advantage in the computer skill. With the character skills and traits system already burgeoning these additional professions give more choice yet also allow the player to create a focussed and believable character build. In addition to the increased content and world generation tweaking there is now a mod manager that allows the player to select which mods they want at any particular time.

 

The game is still hard as nails, it really is rather brutal. Coming back into it to check it out recently my attempts often ended far short of the first night, eventually improving to spending the first night in an infection-fuelled fever state which eventually killed the character the next day. That particular character build was a martial arts expert and whilst that worked well for dispatching of zombies it was also a build prone to getting bitten and therefore infected. I fear that I may need to take a less aggressive approach as it really is a purebreed roguelike. I have had a chance to explore the realm of ranged combat though. In one case I managed to find a lightweight single-use rocket launcher (LAW) and decided to experiment with it to see if I could bust into the back of a walled science compound with it in order to avoid the turret and door lock. I was hugely surprised when it actually worked, the rocket blew apart the wall into rubble and I could just climb through the hole.

 

One of the most significant changes aesthetically is the implementation of tilesets. This means that no longer is it necessary to play the game in ASCII, but instead through SDL it is now possible to have a graphical tileset. Currently the download comes with four tileset options each with their own style and character, in addition there is still the option of having plain ASCII if you want it. This is a big change and I’d imagine that it improves the game’s appeal for many as it’s quite possible to bounce off ASCII quite hard. Personally I’m very happy to play with ASCII however the option of playing with not only one, but a few different graphical tilesets is very nice to have. The wiki also includes information for those looking to modify or create a tileset of their own, allowing them to create the Cataclysm that they want to play.

 

Compatibility-wise; the game will run on almost anything. With the implementation of SDL I have found the game as playable on Windows as it is on Linux, meaning that your experience is going to be much the same whatever platform you play on. This game was included in the Single-slot Travel Toaster section of my recent Toaster Tally articles and it is well worthy of that spot. The game is not particularly taxing yet it includes depth of simulation and gameplay that is difficult to match in the realm of post-apocalyptic games, whilst also being on par with the great roguelikes. Cataclysm is quickly becoming a go to game for me and it also represents a great deal that I like: It has proven that open source game development can produce some really impressive and fun results, it has proven that crowd funding and open source development can be a good combination and it’s proven that ASCII roguelikes should never be under-estimated. Grab Cataclysm from the website and have a go yourself, go on it’s free. If you need some help surviving in this admittedly touch game then I’d recommend checking out the wiki, especially the “How to survive the first night” page. If you really like what you’re seeing then maybe consider throwing a few bucks towards continued development.

Game Website:

http://en.cataclysmdda.com/

 

Wiki:

http://www.wiki.cataclysmdda.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

 

How to Survive Your First Day:

http://www.wiki.cataclysmdda.com/index.php?title=How_to_survive_your_first_day:_Static_Spawn_Mode

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: First Impressions and Such – Library Pickups

Yes, we all know that bandcamp kicks ass. But can you get Kate Bush’s discography from bandcamp? No, you cannot. But you can get it at the library, among any number of bandcamp expatriates, 20th century juggernauts of yore, or otherwise anything you can get your grubby little hands on. And best of all, it’s free to borrow CDs – of which you can typically find a solid variety.

After over a year of neglect, last week I made my first voyage in a while to my library’s CD section and got busy digging. It had been so long, I had to find the shelves containing the music all over again because they were relocated. However, it had also been so long that there were plenty of new CDs on display, and though there’s certainly better ways out there to get music, I’m reminded why it’s still worth it to give the library a look.

Basically what I’m doing this week is sharing my first impressions from what I checked out. My finds were pretty hit-or-miss, as is usually the case, but there’s a certain fun in not knowing what you’ll find or take home, grabbing music you’ve never heard or heard of with no expectations, and occasionally bumping into that album you were planning on getting elsewhere but decided to check out since it was there anyway. Here are the (partial) results:

 

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 – Norrington

I came in with a thirst for classical music, but unfortunately Symphonies 4 & 5 aren’t attending the quench – a few seemingly harmless scratches turned out to render the CD a skipping, stuttering fiasco that can’t be listened to.

Bela Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra/Dance Suit

I wound up preferring Leonard Bernstein’s take on Concerto for Orchestra/Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – the latter’s 3rd part, “Adagio”, moves along too quickly to achieve the hypnotic feel of Bernstein’s version, (featured in The Shining), for one thing –but what I haven’t heard, “Dance Suit” and “Divertimento”, are certainly nice to be able to hear, even if I’m sure Bernstein could do them more justice.

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser…

In spite of being a bit burnt out on this particular brand of singer-songwriter (and most likely not realizing at the time), I grabbed a few albums of it anyway. Of the three, this one was the most relevant to my current music diet. The songwriting is excellent, rarely travelling to where I could predict it would, and Apple’s minimal take on the piano is odd and weirdly unsettling in all the right ways.

Henryk Gorecki – Misere

This a capella choir is gorgeous and grand. Huge walls of vocals put you right in the cathedral and surround you with a deeply soothing spiritual embrace of “Lord Our God – Lord Have Mercy on Us”.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

My experience in southern rap is borderline virginal, but being a fan of El-P and knowing he produced this particularly talked-about record, I figured it would serve as good an entryway as any. Though I prefer more mellow, jazzed-out rap, this album is refreshingly high-energy and all at once new. Will take some time to grow on me, however.

Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep

The first of two albums by Natalie Merchant I snagged. Tigerlily was already not my cup of tea, but this double album, nestled in a hardcover book that makes up the album case, turned out to be the most boring of the pair. Sometimes you gamble and lose.

Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily

Opener “San Andreas Fault” was a great song, but Tigerlily wound up being a one-trick pony for me – basically, “San Andreas Fault” was enough: I wasn’t interested or invested in her sound enough to care to finish the album. As far as contemporary folk goes though, you can certainly do worse.

Sophie Milman – Take Love Easy

On the other hand, I’m a sucker for this stuff – sultry vocal jazz. Maybe I’m just a sucker for music that sounds great at night, or that cocktail cabaret shit. I’ve certainly waded through my share of ungratifying dregs in pursuit of this, but I’m happy to say that Take Love Easy is not one of them.

The Weeknd – Kiss Land

I knew before I checked this out that it was probably going to disappoint me, what with House of Balloons being one of my favorite R&B albums and reviews generally being less favorable anyway, so I can’t say I’m particularly devastated that Kiss Land is simply a good album, and nothing more. A greater focus on vocals doesn’t do much for me, and the surreal feel of his 2011 mixtapes is noticeably absent.