That Bowie Game

I mentioned Omikron: The Nomad Soul (the 1999 game by Quantic Dream and the infamous David Cage that features David Bowie in a prominent role) in my Ode to a Starman earlier this week and apparently it’s being offered for free on PC until he 22nd. I can’t say it’s a must play, because it isn’t. I can say that don’t remember hating it though and I did play it through to the end. Keep in mind that this was a year prior to Deus Ex coming along and blowing my mind, so my expectations were a bit different then.

You get a hit of Bowie pretty close to the beginning if I recall so if that’s something you’re interested in, check it out.

Advertisements

Best Intentions

I resolved to buy fewer games in the new year in order that I could spend less of my free time feeling obligated to play games in general and what did I do? I decided that I should finally beat Dark Souls and then Dark Souls II in preparation for Dark Souls III.

What the actual fuck?

I am however enjoying it and after 30 or so hours on this playthrough I think I finally get most of it. I spent most of last night grinding souls in order to buy materials to upgrade a new armor set so I think that qualifies.

Also, I beat Ornstein and Smough. Praise the sun!

211420_screenshots_2016-01-14_00002

Ode to a Starman

I first really got into David Bowie during college. At the time he was doing some of his more industrial sounding work (see: Outside and Earthling) and that was the kind of thing I was into at that time so it gelled. In that period he also appeared in the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul, the first game by David Cage’s Quantic Dream studio. Bowie was part of the zeitgeist of my world and I became a fan not only of his current work, but over time his early work as well.

The amazing thing about David Bowie is that he was always part of the zeitgeist and one of a small handful that I believe defined pop stardom for the 20th and 21st century. Bowie almost seemed to exist as a non-linear entity, an ever changing, many faced god of pop and while his work had its ups and downs he kept moving forward, growing, changing.

Whenever I’d hear that Bowie was putting out a new album I’d always think “what’s he going to do this time?”, because even though his recent output had seemed to stabilize somewhat, there was always something surprising or unique about it. It’s strange to think that I won’t get to ask that question anymore and yet I think that he’ll remain (for a time) ubiquitous to pop stardom and very much in the zeitgeist.

Bowie long ago became more than a person to the world at large and yet, was capable of showing such fragility through his songs; a celestial pop star who was reassuringly human as well. While the children of today and tomorrow will grow up in a world where Bowie is history, there is no doubt that he will forever remain a presence: an interesting, confusing, and inspiring figure for all manner of creatives, the man of many faces, the embodiment of pop, the god of ch-ch-change.

Obligatory Resolutions

What would a new year be without resolutions? Probably just another calendar day, that’s what. As arbitrary as all this “New Year” stuff really is, there is something in the human psyche that responds to milestones and ritual, therefore: New Year’s resolutions.

As I mentioned in my post about my year end mix, 2015 was for me what one might call a rebuilding year although in that rebuilding I can’t help but feel that I picked up some lazy habits and behaviors that I would otherwise like to alter. Maybe I’m just getting old or as my friend Toby once put it when he also hit the ripe old age of 37, maybe I’m starting to “feel it”. Either way there are some things I want to do differently in 2016 or perhaps be more mindful of as someone who finds it all too easy to fall into repetitive routines. To that end I’ve put together a little list of what one might call resolutions for the new year. As always: take it or leave it … do both if you choose

1. Buy Fewer Video Games

As a professional video game developer this one might seem somewhat counter intuitive, after all my number one piece of advice to people who want to design games has always been “play lots of games and play them with a critical eye”. Somehow in 2015 I got locked into an endless cycle of acquiring and playing games and like many of my easily settled into routines it became more of an obligation than a pleasure. I suppose it started at the end of 2014 when I decided to plow through a dozen or so adventure-style games that had lingered in my Steam library for too long. It ultimately put me in a mindset of keeping my Steam library mostly clear of unplayed games, which was a good way to ensure that I was actually getting some worth out of what I was purchasing. The problem became that I didn’t curb my purchases and ultimately locked myself into an endless cycle of obligatory gaming.

We’ve come to a point in the history of gaming that I’ve been waiting for for quite some time. We finally have a vibrant indie scene, one that is cranking out smaller, lower fidelity releases at a rate much higher than the triple-A developers. This has meant that for every triple-A release I’m interested in, there are 2 or 3 indie releases I’m interested in as well. Simply put: I can’t keep up and in a bittersweet move I’ve decided that I just need to be more mercenary when it comes to my game purchases. As with movies, music, television, and comics, I simply don’t have the time for everything I think I might be interested in and unless I want to spend all my free time gaming, I need to buy fewer games.

2. Twitter Adjustments

This one I actually began to work on earlier in 2015. Originally I got on Twitter because of what i saw as the best way of keeping in touch with what various content producers (bands, writers, etc.) I was interested in were working on or recommending. Also it gave me something to check on my phone while waiting in lines or for the next band to go on. Over time Twitter became for me what it has for so many others: a 140 character micro blog, but the signal to noise ratio has gotten worse and worse for me (and others) – partly as a result of who and how many people I follow – but also because we seem to have fooled ourselves into believing that we can have meaningful conversations or even debates in such a restrictive format. I’ve decided to pull back from Twitter a bit and use it less as a conversational medium and more as an informational one instead.

In addition to focusing more on posting or retweeting things that I find informational or amusing instead of attempting to prove points or getting involved in debates, I’ve been trying only to post positive or at least constructive things. If the only thing I can think to post is a one-sided opinion or a negative reply then it serves no one. The only caveat to this would be things that I think are amusing or funny (see: anything I retweet from @danozzi). Twitter simply isn’t conducive to conversation or debate and attempting to use it in such a manner only leads to reductive arguments and echo chambers. As an informational service I still think it’s a great way for people to talk about things they are making or liking, but let’s take the conversations elsewhere because there are important ones that are getting lost in the noise and the constant outrage of Twitter.

3. Go to More Shows

I used to love going to see bands play live here in Austin and over the last year and a half I’ve really cut back on that. Part of that has to do with the impetus behind resolution 1 above, but part of it has just been laziness. My default is always the path of least resistance and going out for the night instead of staying home and doing anything/nothing is a point of resistance. 99% of the time when I do go out to see a show however, I really enjoy myself. I love live music and there are so many great local bands here in Austin that I love to see play. I think I just need to make an effort to get myself out the door and into the music clubs more often than every couple months.

4. See More Movies

This one goes along with resolution 3. It’s that whole path of least resistance thing again, but I really should make the effort because I love film and there’s so many great ones both old and new that find their way to screens here in Austin. I really just need to make the effort to break my m-f “staying in” routine and go see them.

5. Write More

Part of the reason I started this new blog is as an outlet for writing more. I’ve got an Evernote notebook full of half-formed blog posts, stories, and reviews, but I never sit down to finish them. Even the reviews and articles I used to regularly do for the Austin music blog OVRLD have dwindled in the last year and a half. Part of it is because I’ve been less involved in the outside world, but part of it is also because I haven’t been writing regularly and when I do that I lose strength in those writing muscles.

It’s been said by many others before that one of the hardest things to do is write badly, especially when you know that you can write well. When I haven’t exercised those writing muscles I just produce crap. The trick is to not let the crap stop you from moving forward. I believe that writing a little bit every day may be a possible treatment for that affliction.

6. Exercise

Yeah, I know … how droll, but if I don’t say it, I won’t do it. I go through cycles of exercise activity several times a year, but once I fall out of the routine I fall hard. I’m not saying it won’t happen again, but I at least need to give myself that push to start up the first cycle of the year and hopefully not fall out of it around SXSW, which is usually what happens.

7. Make a Game

“Wait a minute! Aren’t you a ‘professional’ game developer?” Well, yes I am and I spend 40+ hours a week “making games”, but I really want to make my own small homebrew game. It may never see the light of day (due to contractual concerns) but I’ve got game design itches that the realities of being a professional game designer on a team of dozens can’t scratch and I’d like to flex those muscles a bit.

8. Enjoy New Things

I have observed that the older I get and and the older my friends get, the more things we find to dislike. Often the things we dislike are new things. For example, there’s been a running dialog involving Twitch among myself and a few friends where they deride it – questioning its value as entertainment and those who broadcast it as entertainers – and I retort, telling them they sound like parents in the 50’s talking about “the rock music.” Some of it comes down to preference, but some of it comes down to age. I’ve observed that the older we get, the harder it is to adapt to new ideas. We slow down as we get older, it’s inevitable and as we’re able to do less and adapt less frequently we may come to resent those things that we are not adapted or adapting to.

I don’t believe that resentment of things that are “new” or “different” is inevitable though. Sure, we slow down as we get older, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. It’s not advisable to stop exercising as one ages for instance. It’s harder, but if anything that makes it more important. I believe the same goes for liking things. I enjoy life more when I like the world around me and while I’m most definitely a grump and a cynic, I want to like things.

This resolution is nothing new for me, I think it’s something I’ve tried to do for several years now, but it’s good to keep reminding myself. It may be something that other people don’t need to do, but I find that if I’m constantly finding things to dislike and exposing myself to things I know will make me angry, then I enjoy life less. I don’t want to blind myself to opposing views, commentary, or things that are perhaps objectively bad, but I don’t need to force feed it to myself either or seek out reasons to dislike things. When I find something new, I’d rather try to find a way to like it or be at peace with it than not. It’s a different kind of exercise. For lack of a better term: exercise for the soul.

Rejoice, Rebuild, The Storm Has Passed – The Best Songs of 2015

Every year since I was in high school I’ve had a tradition of compiling my favorite songs of the year and putting them together as a single mix. At first they were on cassette, then CD, and now digital. I only have a couple of rules:

  1. I have to have acquired the songs some time within the preceding year or else have been re-listening to them a lot during that time.
  2. Everything has to end up sounding good together, because a mix isn’t random, a mix is a carefully constructed montage of sound.

This year’s mix clocks in at around 1 hour and 53 minutes and features 25 of my favorite songs from 2015. I call it:

Rejoice, Rebuild, The Storm Has Passed

1. Frank Turner
“The Next Storm”
Positive Songs for Negative People

I decided to start of this year’s mix with a song that pretty much said everything I wanted to say about ending 2015 and going into 2016. After an all too negatively eventful two years I felt like I took 2015 to hibernate and rebuild, but as a new year dawns I’m tired of taking it easy and as Frank says “I’m gonna step out and face the next storm”. Incidentally Frank’s music has been a steady source of joy these past three years. Rejoice!

2 .Cracker
“Almond Grove”
Berkley to Bakersfield

Ever since David Lowery got Camper van Beethoven back together just over a decade ago there has been a steady stream of CvB and Cracker releases every year or two. These days the only difference tends to be who’s playing on the albums. Last year’s Cracker release was a two disc affair and while the first disc “Berkley” didn’t thrill me, disc 2 “Bakersfield” was the kind of alt country I’ve been coming to Cracker for since the early 90’s. While I feel like Lowery’s spread his songwriting a little thin between both bands, he does manage to record some great tracks now and then, this being one.

3. Death Cab for Cutie
“Black Sun”
Kintsugi

At this point I’m not certain why I keep buying whole Death Cab albums. It’s not that I don’t like them anymore, but beyond one stand out track (usually the lead off single) I rarely find much else I like on them. That one track though is always a killer. “Black Sun” off of Kintsugi is easily one of those tracks, a perfect example of what Death Cab do well.

4. Happyness
“Montreal Rock Band Somewhere”
Weird Little Birthday

This is the first of several new-to-me bands this year that I discovered at or while researching acts for SXSW this past March. Happyness was actually the one of two of those bands that I didn’t end up seeing live, but I loved this song so much that I picked up their most recent album on which it appears as a bonus track. To me this band has a sound that hearkens back to that 90’s or early 2000’s post-grunge, psuedo shoegaze, hazy rock that I love so much.

5. Mother Falcon
“Kid”
Good Luck Have Fun

It’s been a little while since a proper release from Mother Falcon, but this latest LP at least partially counts. Their first on a major label (after a last minute signing) it features an EP’s worth of new songs followed by an instrumental suite that was originally made for a documentary about professional StarCraft players. Good Luck, Have Fun is nothing to look one’s nose down at however. With several quality tracks it reveals a band that is growing but stabilizing at the same time, if anything it just whets my appetite for a proper LP in the near future.

6. Mumford & Sons
“Tompkins Square Park”
Wilder Mind

I never jumped on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon. I listened to and liked Sigh no More, but coming on the heels of The Avett Brothers’ I and Love and You I really didn’t need another banjo folk band. This latest album is nothing like their earlier work though and that’s probably why it caught my attention. Electric and poppy in that way that Brits do so well this really works for me and there are a number of excellent tracks to be found within. Ultimately “Tompkins Square Park” just fit the best in the mix, but was also the song that had most recently clicked with me as I was thinking about putting it together.

7. Bright Light Social Hour
“Dreamlove”
Space is Still the Place

I didn’t really get into Bright Light Social Hour’s initial release, it was too much Stones’ style blues rock for me and I’m more a Beatles guy. Their sophomore release is something entirely different though. Progressive and spacey, Space is Still the Place takes the solid base of their previous work and builds it out in strange and wonderful ways, resulting in almost Pink Floyd like moments and bizarre twists like this disco/prog/80’s-synth/not quite My Morning Jacket but almost anomaly “Dreamlove”.

8. Failure
“Counterfeit Sky”
The Heart is a Monster

Failure have ruined band reunions at least for a generation by finally doing it right. Having split up nearly 20 years ago, Failure not only reunited recently, but released a new album that was not disappointing in the least. I’m sure there are many factors that went into this being true, not the least of which being Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards never having moved too far from the kind of music they made as Failure after they split, but regardless I’m glad that it all turned out so well. While no Failure album will ever resonate with me the way that Fantastic Planet does, The Heart is a Monster has been worth more than just a few spins and will likely join my regular Failure rotation whenever the urge strikes me.

9/10. East Cameron Folkcore
“The Joke/969”
Kingdom of Fools

I got turned on to East Cameron Folkcore at the absolute perfect time, just before they released their third LP, the ambitious concept album Kingdom of Fear. I became acquainted with the band after seeing them open for Quiet Company in early March and when Kingdom of Fear came out it quite simply blew me away. Touting folk rock played with a punk ethos and intensity, East Cameron Folkcore don’t pull any punches musically or lyrically. This is an important album for the times and hopefully for East Cameron Folkcore’s career as well.

11. Envy
“Footsteps in the the Distance”
Atheist’s Cornea

Envy is a band that just doesn’t quit. Having surpassed 15 years of activity this Japanese hardcore band has manged to remain relevant through several evolutions. Having started off as just another early 00’s sounding hardcore band, Envy developed their own epic spin on the sound, eventually meandering off to more serene (but still heavy) post-rockish soundscapes on recent releases. This latest album sees them pulling together all their separate selves in one epic push and it’s amazing. I only wish they had swung by Austin during their recent US tour. It’s a rare sighting that happens only once every 5 years or so.

12. UNTD SNKS
“Couple’s Skate”
You Know the Snakes Don’t Love EP

These guys are either from Dallas or Austin or both. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I should have heard of them before now. This is my kind of hardcore … the kind that some people don’t think of as hardcore because it’s has hooks and melody and they can stand listening to it. Boiling over with intensity backed by an obvious understanding of how to rock, these guys get it done. It’s too bad their last release was in 2013, though they did do a local radio recording late last year, so maybe there’s something on the horizon.

13. Feral Future
“XOKO”
Haematic

I’m so proud of Austin punk music these past couple of years. The scene is finally wriggling out from beneath the bloated corpse of the mainstream’s fascination with “garage” “punk” and we’re seeing all kinds of great and diverse acts coming to the surface. Feral Future would seem to be one of the bands at the forefront of this new non-movement. I think it was great to see so may people excited about Sleater Kinney’s reunion and new album earlier in the year, but I’d like to challenge them to be more than scenester posers and pick up this album. SK are great, but Feral Future are the real deal when it comes to ground floor Riot Grrl today.

14. US Weekly
“Good”
Void of Devices

Another recent addition to the Austin punk stable, I can’t easily pin down US Weekly. It’s “punk” sure, but at times reminiscent of Black Flag-brand hardcore and at others it wanders off on more experimental bents. Regardless, they manage to get it right while still sounding like they just threw it all together at the last minute. Who knows, maybe they did. That’s the beauty of punk, it doesn’t have to be polished to be quality.

15. Purple
“DMT”
(409)

This was a local punk-tinged release from last year that grabbed my attention early this year and while at times generic, has enough hooks in songs like this one that kept me coming back. The second half of this song just floors me every time, especially knowing that the singer is also the drummer. I need to see her play this live at some point. There’s no way it cannot be impressive.

16. The Hollowpoints
“Ever Have Your Asshole Licked by a Fat Guy in a Jawbreaker T-Shirt?”
Rocket to Ranier

I cannot express how glad I am that this band is still around. Their last LP was one of my favorite albums of 2010. After not hearing anything from them since then, out of the blue I got wind of this release about two weeks before it dropped. They basically picked up right where they left off, cracking out another album of hardcore-edged pop punk tracks and once again landing on my list of favorites for the year.

17. The Effects
“Closer”
Closer b/w Eyes to the Light

https://theeffects.bandcamp.com/track/closer

If Devin Ocampo is making music, I’m going to be there. Having finally put Medications to bed it seems, Devin’s new band The Effects have been releasing two-song EP’s since late last year and they’ve all been great. Whether meant to stand alone or precursor to a larger release, I’ve been along for the ride and I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.

18. Grand Analog
“I Play my Kazoo”
Metropolis is Burning

Another of my SXSW finds, these guys fit right into my hip-hop niche or at least this song and a couple others on this album did. Backed by live instruments and avoiding the consumerism and braggadocio of so much mainstream hip-hop, Grand Analog make the kind of rap I dig, though their catalog as a whole does have a little bit more of a reggae leaning than is to my liking. Live at SXSW they owned the stage however, drawing a growing crowd as their set went on and inspiring everyone to move and shake.

19. Fight Like Apes
“Jenny Kelly”
The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner

Yes, it’s another SXSW band, this time from Ireland. While their album ultimately didn’t thrill me too much, this song really clicked. There’s something about their dual synth + bass and drums setup that’s fun and works really well here. It’s a fun pop song. Sometimes that’s all you need.

20. Wild Party
“OutRight”
Phantom Pop

Speaking of pop songs, this was another SXSW pick, but one that I didn’t get to check out live. I bought the album anyway though after deciding I liked several of the tracks and this one in particular kept getting stuck in my head. There’s just something undeniably twee about Wild Party’s music that I feel like I haven’t heard in a while. Somewhere between Emperor X and The Field Mice, it’s that kind of indie pop that manages to tickle my fancy every now and then.

21. Quiet Company
“Mother of a Deal”
Transgressor

Trangressor is the first 100% new LP from Quiet Company in a few years and while my initial reception of the album was good, I feel like I went back and forth on it for a while. As time went on and I understood the context of the album more (written during the break up of front man Tyler Muse’s marriage) I began to pick up some of the album’s more subtle complexity. “Mother of a Deal” was always one of my favorite tracks on Transgressor, but understanding where it came from gave it a new life just in time to be included in this mix.

22. Hikes
“Spring Forward”
Hikes

The last of my SXSW finds turned out to be a local band that I hadn’t previously been aware of. “Spring Forward”‘s artfully arranged arpeggios caught my notice right away, setting off my math rock alarm rather loudly. The composition and layering of instruments is truly captivating and as a bonus Hikes were an excellent live band too, easily one of the highlights of my final night of SXSW this year.

23. Wild Child
“Break Bones”
Fools

Fools was the album that would not die. Coming late in the year I initially wrote it off as too much of a departure from what I thought I previously liked about Wild Child. There was only one problem though: I couldn’t stop listening to it. I eventually came to peace with what Fools was – despite never gaining a fondness for the eponymous lead off track/single – and “Break Bones” was a big reason behind that. A piano ballad that rivals the most stirring output of songstresses like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, “Break Bones” owes much of its power to Kelsey Wilson’s mesmerizing vocals.

24. Muse
“The Globalist”
Drones

The last few Muse albums haven’t really stuck with me very well, but Drones seems to have broken the trend, supplying what may be my favorite album of theirs since Black Holes and Revelations. There’s definitely more of a progressive leaning on this release and that’s one of the things that I come to Muse for, that fusion of Brit pop and prog rock. “The Globalist” is one of a couple excellent examples off of Drones, but possibly my favorite.

25. And So I Watch You From Afar
“Heirs”
Heirs

I’m always luke warm on new And So I Watch You From Afar releases for a while and Heirs was no exception. Ultimately I feel as if the first half of the album is fairly forgettable, featuring songs that don’t move far beyond a single central sonic theme, but side two is almost an album in and of itself. Practically a connected suite of songs, the final four tracks of Heirs are epic in a way that I don’t think I’ve heard ASIWYFA be since their initial release.