Sunday, 3 May 2015
The Ephemeric is having a highly political week as it turns out. Fresh from our very early preview of the 2016 US Presidential elections, now we turn our attentions to a eleventh hour final preview of next week's UK General election. In one week we will have a new Government. 650 seats, 326 to hold a majority, who will it be?
The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition swept into power 5 years ago on the back of a hugely anti-incumbent political climate in post-recession Britain. Far from a common occurrence, this was the first coalition Government since the second World War, and yet here are, going into another election where a coalition seems certainty. What is going on?
The PartiesOnce upon a time, the UK had a political system that looked a lot like America's. Basically a two-party system, the left-wing Labour and right wing Conservative parties dominating the vote between them, as much as 90% shared between the two. As we have seen in America, this is not always a good thing.
Massive political parties voting in unison, the opposition often with no recourse but to simply obstruct everything. Politics like this becomes less about personal representation and almost entirely about competition. Pick the party you're closest to and then hope they come up with some laws you like. When one party tries to appeal to everyone, it often ends up appealing to no one.
Thus the UK gradually became a multi-party system. Parties to cater all along the left-right spectrum, parties to cater to specific policy focuses, or specific regions. It's a system that has its good side and its bad side, allowing more personal representation and forcing parties to work together, but arguably undermining the stability of a good strong majority.
However you feel about it, the multi-party system also makes the results of an election far less certain in the days and weeks leading up to it. The make up of the next Government, and even the Prime Minister, is much harder to predict than in an American election.
Here are the main contenders:
Conservative PartyLeader: David CameronThe Conservatives are, surprisingly enough, the main conservative ideology party in the UK. But don't make the mistake of equating UK conservatives to those in America, these Conservatives have a lot more in common with Barack Obama's left-wing Democrats than with the Republican party. You'll see nary a mention of evolution or religion in the party manifesto, and green energy/global warming has become one of the party's main campaign pillars. The focus is strongly on economic issues; spending cuts, tax policy, and libertarian policy. Think Mitt Romney, not Rick Santorum.
For the past 5 years the Conservatives have been the major party of the current coalition Government, having been in the wilderness before that since the early 1990s. During that time the economy has recovered, with unemployment low. The Prime Minister also gets high marks for his leadership on foreign issues, and in pushing climate change negotiations. On the whole there is much for the current Government to be proud of, so an easy re-election surely? Absolutely not. While many of the causes of 2010's political angst have been remedied, there still remains a strong anti-incumbent sentiment.
The Conservatives have something of an image problem. They are painted as the cold, unfeeling, wealthy elites, who are more concerned with bolstering their balance sheets than getting children off the streets. This is (somewhat unfairly) made worse by the presence of many public school "old boys" within the ranks of party leadership. Opponents like to use this to paint a picture of de facto hereditary rule of the elites, when really it is only logical that those with the best education are more likely to rise to positions of power. Never mind the fact that left-wing parties are also stocked full of wealthy public school boys.
The main problem is that while the economy is strong, real wages are only just starting to pick up. This has been exacerbated by the Government's deep cuts, which have really hit some of the most vulnerable people in the country. So the recession may be over, but an awful lot of people have yet to feel it. The problem with too much trickle-down policy is that there is a lot more down than up, and while those at the top have been drenched in recent years the masses haven't felt so much as a drop.
So what is the prognosis? The Conservatives will feel the brunt of voters' frustrations, and lose a lot of seats. It seems almost certain that they will win more seats than any other party, but not enough to form a majority Government. At the same time, the Liberal Democrats show no interesting in continuing their partnership, leaving the question open: who could the Conservatives partner with to form a Government?
The bad news for Conservatives is that it is hard to think of anyone; the biggest parties this year look to be left-leaning. The other right-wing parties UKIP and DUP won't have anywhere near enough seats to form a coalition. This could be the end of the line for Cameron.
Labour PartyLeader: Ed MilibandThe UK's left-wing party. But again, don't try to compare them to their American counterparts the Democrats, who arguably have more in common with the Conservatives than Labour. Shut your ears American conservatives, because the Labour party is an actual socialist party.
The word "socialist" is tricky because it has practically no meaning in common use anymore. Fox News and the like have managed to turn it into such a dirty word that it really signifies nothing other than a pejorative. Meanwhile in the real world it's a fairly common political ideology, which in very basic terms stands for the spreading of ownership from the wealthy to the community as a whole. In practical terms this means a reassignment of assets from those who have much to those who have little. As you can imagine, their power base lies with the working class, and the unions.
As gentrification of the UK continues apace, personal wealth on average increases, and public opinion turns increasingly negative against the unions. This has led to the Labour party moving increasingly to the centre over the past 15 years, but still this image has stuck. Given the main themes of this election that we have discussed, it is hardly surprising to see voters flocking back to such a party.
But this image is a burden as much as anything, with plenty of otherwise left-wing voters put off by the socialist aspects of the party. In 2010 a large reason behind the Labour defeat was voters jumping to the more moderate Liberal Democrats.
Another big issue for Labour is leader Ed Miliband, who is generally unpopular and seen as a very poor leader. A lot of this is due to his demeanour and lack of charisma, but honestly he brings it on himself when he does things like this. He's a bit of an idiot. Many will tell you that the scariest part of a Labour Government is Ed as Prime Minister.
Ultimately the question is, can they bring back the liberal voters into the fold? Certainly not enough for a majority, probably not enough for a plurality, but possibly enough to form a coalition. The Liberal Democrats probably wouldn't mind staying in power, while the Scottish National Party seem like obvious partners.
Liberal DemocratsLeader: Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are like a Hollywood cautionary tale, they had it all and then they lost it all. 2010 was the perfect storm of anti-incumbent fervor, particularly among left-wing voters, and emergence of charismatic leader Nick Clegg. Their ideological centrism played well, surging to an impressive 20% of the vote, which promptly earned them a place in the Government, and Clegg a spot as Deputy Prime Minister.
Forming a Government with the Conservatives has turned out to be a very very bad move for the party. The Liberal Democrats may have found themselves in power temporarily, but with a relatively small number of seats were unable to press much of their own will on policy, whilst remaining saddled with the burden of negative opinion held against the Government. In particular, partnering with the Conservative party will have driven many left-wing voters away.
Now from these highs, the Lib Dems are looking at a big wipe out, and could lose as many as half of their seats. Leader Nick Clegg, once the darling of British politics and now one of the most disliked politicians in the country, may even lose his seat.
The one silver lining for the Lib Dems is that they may still play a big role in who forms the eventual Government. Down, but not out.
UK Independence PartyLeader: Nigel Farage
Meanwhile on the other side of the Conservative party we have UKIP, and their leader Nigel Farage. This is the far right party. To call them Euro-skeptic doesn't begin to cover it, they want out of the EU, and they want a total end to immigration. More pertinent is the party's association with racism, homophobia and other highly socially conservative stances. UKIP are one of the most hated of the mainstream parties.
And yet, UKIP won the 2014 EU Parliament elections. It seems incredible to think that this party who look set to win no more than a couple of seats could have actually won an election just a year ago. The first nationwide election in 100 years not to be won by other Labour or Conservative parties.
So what's happening this year? Well it's mostly the whole racism thing. UKIP opinion has eroded massively in 12 months thanks to a stream of very bad publicity. Probably an irrelevance in this election.
Green PartyLeader: Natalie Bennett
The Green party is always interesting to watch. Surprisingly popular among young people, the Greens often look set to break out, but then never do. It's true, young people don't vote, but more than that is that the Green policy is really quite extreme.
People think Green and they inevitably think about environment, which is fairly popular. What people don't think about is a party that is obsessively anti-business, that wants to ban animal testing and bring medical research to a halt, that takes anti-sexism into bizarre, reverse-sexism places.
Their manifesto is ill thought-out, un-nuanced rhetoric intended simply to appeal to naive left-wing kids.
Scottish National PartyLeader: Nicola Sturgeon
It is fast becoming clear that no matter who wins or loses in this election, SNP will win. Following last year's independence referendum, Scottish Nationalism is at an all time high (or since the days of William Wallace anyway), and SNP look set to capitalise on that big time.
Some strong performances in the debates, a electorate pleasing liberal platform, and of course Scottish nationalism. SNP look set to sweep the entirety of Scotland and replace the Lib Dems as the third biggest party in the UK.
So what does this mean in practice? Clearly SNP will never win a majority. For one thing they don't run for elections outside of Scotland. What they can do is grab the third largest number of seats, which makes them the key bargaining chip in the formation of a new Government. Whatever coalition forms, there's a good chance that SNP will be in it.
Plaid CymruLeader: Leanne Wood
A bit like SNP, except where it says "Scotland", read "Wales". And when it says "will win", read "won't win".
Plaid Cymru are the Welsh party, they're popular in Wales. They do Welsh stuff. They'll win seats there, but nowhere else. Probably end up with 3 or 4 seats.
Sinn FeinLeader: Gerry Adams
One side of the Irish political coin. Sinn Fein are a Republican party, that is they support Irish independence. Famously associated with the IRA terrorist organisation, they are nevertheless fairly popular in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Yet they never hold many seats, and fewer than their unionist Irish opposition.
Democratic Unionist PartyLeader: Peter Robinson
The other side. DUP are Unionist, and they don't much like Sinn Fein. They're less popular than Sinn Fein, although they do hold more seats than them.
Interesting with the DUP is that they look set to become the fifth biggest party in the UK by seats, which makes them a potential participant in a coalition party, and one of the few potential partners for the Conservative party. This would be a somewhat controversial move with DUP known for being an intensely conservative party, thought of as a homophobic, anti-minority, anti-women party, but a desperate enough Conservative party may have little choice.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Genre Indie Pop
Label Columbia Records
Producers Chris Zane, Michael Angelakos, Benny Blanco, Alex Aldi
With Passion Pit it has always been the case that the story behind the band is as interesting as the music. The romantic origin story goes that sole band member Michael Angelakos wrote his first EP, Chunk of Change, on his laptop in a college dorm room. Originally intended as a gift for his then girlfriend, it quickly went viral all over the world, in particular his first smash hit Sleepyhead. A record deal soon followed, and Angelakos assembled a back up band with whom to go touring. But then there's the dark side to Passion Pit; the psychological issues that have plagued Angelakos, extreme bi-polar disorder which culminated in his attempted suicide.
It's these extremes that most characterise Passion Pit's unique sound; over-the-top, manic joy contrasted with darkness and introspection. Songs like Sleepyhead and The Reeling which can't decide if they want to throw their hands in the air and dance or tear their hair out in angst. Bittersweet longing in Seaweed Song, tracks like Make Light which sound deliriously happy but peppered with insecurity and deep-rooted sadness. There's nothing else in the world that sounds quite like it.
Angelakos describes Passion Pit's debut album Manners as the expression of his confusion, and it shows in its cryptic, evocative lyrics and its surreal, bi-polar music. Sophomore album Gossamer is more intensely focused, with songs that very clearly discuss everything from political concerns to bi-polar disorder and even Angelakos' attempted suicide.
This new album, Kindred, is something a bit different. Angelakos is in the best shape he has ever been, happy, well adjusted, well groomed, in a happy, stable marriage. Kindred is an album of happiness, relief.
This is best reflected in the breathtaking lead single Lifted Up (1985), an ode to Angelakos' wife (born in 1985) whom Angelakos credits as playing a big part in his recovery. It's a fitting subject for the most powerful song on the album. The video, meanwhile, depicts a rosy, practically glowing scene of a young child at what appears to be a family holiday dinner. The saccharine follow up single Where the Sky Hangs is a simple, laid back love story, with a video showing two young companions lying on the grass watching the sky, smiling and laughing.
The new direction is clear. These songs are celebrations, packed full of nostalgia, joy, intended to elicit all the good things in the World. Stark contrast to Passion Pit's earlier work.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The Ephemeric is a fairly happy individual, who likes artistic works that celebrate life's warm spots. If Angelakos wants this new album to be a roof raising party then fantastic. Indeed Lifted Up is a phenomenal song, a perfect embodiment of the new Passion Pit that sounds just as out of this world as anything the band has done previously. Unfortunately the rest of the album does not follow suit.
That's not to say that Kindred is a bad album, it's not. But compared to Passion Pit's earlier work it sounds surprisingly languid, pedestrian, dare we say it, uninspired?
For the most part Kindred strikes a decidedly slower pace than past albums. But there are plenty of solid songs here, like Where the Sky Hangs, Until We Can't (Let's Go), and All I Want. Fine songs, yet strangely all sound so predictable, lacking in the Passion Pit edge, like a de-clawed cat.
Until We Can't (Let's Go) is catchy as hell, but it sounds like someone imitating Passion Pit. It's the mania of Passion Pit but without the deliciously seedy undertones. All I Want is pleasant enough, but it sounds like it could have been written by any other band in the world. Then there are songs like My Brother Taught Me How to Swim, again a good pop song, but one which sounds like it could have been constructed out of clips taken from other, better Passion Pit songs.
There are still moments of the trademark brilliance we've come to expect in tracks like Five Foot Ten and its counterpoint which closes the album, a duo which serve as a showcase for Passion Pit's general transition. Meanwhile Whole Life Story is a wonderful little pop song and a moment of genuinely distinctive songwriting. Sadly in so short an album these infrequent sparks ultimately provide little to satiate listeners.
Ultimately what we have is a far too short album which is just a little too insistently sugary, and yet lacking in the fire that made previous albums so unforgettable. A solid collection of pop songs, but one which stacks up poorly against the impossibly high standard of the work by which it is preceded.
Must Listen :
Lifted Up (1985)
Five Foot Ten
Whole Life Story
Where the Sky Hangs
Monday, 27 April 2015
It's been a busy month in US politics as things finally start to get underway for the 2016 Presidential election. The big announcement, of course, was the widely anticipated launch of Hillary Clinton's campaign, but recent weeks have also seen the official confirmation of both the Rand Paul and Marco Rubio campaigns, both of whom are expected to be major contenders in the Republican nomination. The race for the White House is well and truly on.
So at this early stage we decided to take an overview: what are the dynamics taking shape at the root of this contest and who are the big players going to be? Lets start with the voters.
The VotersThe voters simply can not make up their mind. A Democratic wave election in 2008 was followed by a Republican wave in 2010, which was followed by a Democratic wave in 2012, and another Republican wave in 2014. The United States electorate has seemingly been swinging wildly from left to right from one election to the next. The ostensible reason for this is the changing demographic make up of the voters between Presidential and midterm elections, and it's arguably the number one factor to who will prevail next time around.
So who will be voting in 2016? America has a notoriously low voter turnout for a developed democracy, exacerbated by a number of factors such as holding election day during the week, the fact that a number of cynical politicians see an advantage in disenfranchising certain demographics, and of course good old fashioned voter apathy.
Effectively this means that elections typically disproportionately represent the kind of demographics who have free time on a week day, who are more prone to fanaticism, and who can't be disenfranchised. In other words, the elderly, the religious, and white males respectively.
As you may have realized, the above demographics tend to vote heavily in favour of the conservative Republican Party, which sheds some light as to why elections are usually so close despite the fact that Americans as a whole somewhat consistently seem to favour the left-leaning Democratic Party. The numbers imply that if everyone in America voted, the Democrats would win most elections, even in states typically considered "red".
This goes a long way towards explaining the violent swings between recent elections. Those demographics turn out consistently for all elections, the total vote numbers for Republicans in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 are notably consistent. Meanwhile the opposite groups, young people, academics, and minorities/women, voted in record numbers in 2008 and 2012, but were almost totally absent in 2010 and 2014.
The generally accepted wisdom holds that Americans by and large care very little about Congress, and thus these groups only turn up in Presidential election years. But then again it may simply be the effect of Obama only being on the ballot in those years, with his famously efficient get out the vote operation.
Either way the turnout among these heavily left-leaning voter blocs has been swinging wildly between midterm and Presidential election years. In 2012 60% of those aged under thirty voted Democrat, 80% of minorities voted Democrat. A whopping 70% of academics and scientists vote Democrat. These voting blocs didn't turn up in 2014, but it would seem that who wins in 2016 will depend on whether they do this time. Ultimately the big question that needs to be asked is will these groups turn up just because it is a Presidential election year, or was it specifically Obama and his impressive operation that got these voters to the polls?
The PartiesIn the marvelous mess that is American politics, there are only two parties that matter. The other minority parties are so completely invisible that they can only dream of having the electoral influence of those in a multi-party system like in the UK, and most Americans probably don't even notice they exist.
Democratic PartyThe minority party in both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade, but they still have the all important Presidency thanks to two-term winner Barack Obama who despite whatever else anyone might think of him, has shown himself to be a vote-winning machine.
A Presidential election year will offer better demographics and, in contrast to 2014, most of the Senate races are being held in blue leaning states. The Democrats will therefore realistically be aiming to win the White House and the Senate. The House of representatives, however, is another matter. The lower chamber of Congress has been gerrymandered so insanely beyond recognition that even in a year like 2012 where the Democrats won a strong majority of the vote, they still ended up with a tiny minority of the seats. The House elections have been rigged such that there is no even slim chance of flipping it until the next time districts are redrawn, even if the Democrats won an historically huge majority of the vote. Democracy at work ladies and gentlemen.
Republican PartyFor a party that controls both chambers of Congress, the Republicans have made surprisingly little attempt to do any governing. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it's difficult to deny that the current GOP strategy for the moment appears to be simply to block anything from passing, aside from the odd symbolic vote of dissent against Obama that they have no intention of actually making law.
It's easy to see why. No one pays attention to Congress. If nothing gets done and things go bad, the President will take the blame, and likewise if the Republican Congress passes anything good, the President will get the credit, as Clinton did for balancing the budget through the Republican Congress in the 1990s. It's a very sad state of affairs that politics in America has sunk this low, but that is the nature of the game nowadays. Indeed the Democratic Congress under Bush abused their position in a similar (albeit far less extreme) manner.
When it comes to the Democrats' prospects, there has only ever been one likely candidate, and that is former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
On the surface then it would seem all the stars are aligning, qualified, vetted, ideologically mainstream, and representing a landmark in American politics to boot. It's easy to see why she is the heavy front runner in her party. But she has her share of issues too. She is the ultimate Washington insider, and will be inextricably linked with this Obama administration, so much will depend on how he is perceived in a year's time, and she will be hard pressed to present herself as any different to politics as usual.
At the moment there really isn't anyone else in the party who looks even capable of winning the primary, let alone the general election, and the majority of Americans would probably have difficulty naming more than one or two other potential candidates, if that. But then the same was also true in 2008, and yet she ended up losing to a previous unknown in Barack Obama. Right now she is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but a lot can change in the next year as the other contenders become more well known among the public.
Vice President Biden lost his 2008 Presidential campaign hopelessly. In fact until he was picked as Obama's VP, something of a surprise choice, few people were probably even aware of who he was. Now after eight years as Vice President he will be in a much stronger position should he run, but that still doesn't make him a great candidate.
The progressive darling of the moment, Warren has long been a champion for consumer rights and "the 99%". Serving previously as Chairperson of the Congressional Oversight Committee and as special advisor for Obama's new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was elected to the Senate in 2012. Also considered to be a foremost legal scholar, Warren brings with her a long list of credentials and experience.
O'Malley is one of those candidates that has been talked about for years as a Presidential candidate, and yet no one is still really sure who he is or why he demands such hype.
On the surface there's certainly no reason he couldn't run. Good looking guy, charismatic enough, former Governor (Presidential elections love Governors), and yet O'Malley at the moment doesn't look anything like a potential spoiler in the Hillary parade.
The speculation is that O'Malley might try to out-liberal Hillary in a play for the party's disillusioned progressives, but will that be enough to win over the super-delegates? O'Malley looks certain to run, but he's surely a no-hoper.
Bernie is a good man, well liked both in his home state of Vermont and nationally (among liberals anyway). As an Independent who merely caucuses with the Democrats, he is one of the few politicians of whom no one can question his commitment to his principles. Even where he lies far from the mainstream he stands up for what he truly believes and it has earned him the respect and support of many.
Bernie's problem is that he makes Warren look moderate. He is a self-described Socialist, and we all know how well that plays in America. Sanders also looks likely to run, but there is simply no way he can win, all he will do is serve to drive the conversation to the left.
Of course it is far too early to seriously speculate who Hillary, or whoever else wins, is going to tap as their running mate, but perhaps we can form some educated guesses based on the notable absentees from the running.
Many expected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to run this year, but following Hillary's announcement that now appears very unlikely, and was quick to throw his support behind her. Cuomo is hugely popular and seen as one of the brightest politicians in the party, and a VP stint will help his own national ambitions. But there's no way the Democrats will throw up an all New York ticket, that would be suicide. The same argument can dismiss fellow New Yorker Kristen Gillibrand, who had also been heavily tipped for a 2016 run.
The ideal pick for a Clinton running mate would be a man, someone younger than her and full of energy who can really blaze the campaign trail. Preferably someone from a red or purple state. The obvious choice is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.
Castro is generally considered to be one of the brightest lights in the Democratic Party, showing Obama-esque oratory brilliance at the 2012 convention keynote speech, to go with his minority and red state appeal. Such is Castro's potential that Obama pulled him out of Texas, a state where he is unlikely to win higher office, to come work in his cabinet, giving him the national level experience that he will need for a future VP, and beyond that a Presidential run. It certainly looks like Castro is being groomed for higher office, could Hillary's ticket be the next step?
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is currently considered the front-runner of the Republican pool, although if 2008 and 2012 have shown us anything that is unlikely to remain the case through the entire nomination process.
Jeb is also, of course, a member of the Bush political dynasty, with both his father and older brother having served as President previously. This has both positives and negatives. For all the talk of democracy, America loves its dynasties, and Jeb's status arguably gives him the widest appeal of all the Republican potential nominees; the party establishment like him, and so do the hardliner conservatives. Crucially he has the infrastructure and experience to rely on, and his time in Florida with a hispanic wife gives him much sought after minority appeal. He is very well set up for a serious Presidential run.
But at the same time, his brother is still very unpopular, and a plurality of Americans still blame him more for all the bad things in the world than Obama, the guy who has actually been President for the past 8 years. W is widely regarded among the worst Presidents in history, and while Jeb has long been considered the smarter Bush, W's failings are still fresh in the memory, and will seriously drag on Jeb, if not in the primary then in the general election.
The warning signs are there. Despite having great name recognition, Jeb is still fairly unpopular. That's a hard position to come back from when you're already a known quantity. Instead what will serve to Jeb's advantage is his status as the "safe candidate", the one who scares Independents the least. In 2008 and 2012 the Republicans flirted with hardcore right wing conservatives before settling on the "safe candidate" that they thought could win the general election. If they do the same this year then Jeb is probably the safe candidate.
Scott Walker is one of the party's biggest up-and-comers, and possibly Jeb Bush's biggest threat. Walker has shown himself to be both a champion for conservative ideals, and a lightning rod for criticism from the left wing.
Best known for his crackdown on union rights, Walker's stance earned him the ignominy of being the only US Governor to be recalled, a recall election which he nevertheless subsequently won. He tends similarly far to the right on most issues, from abortion to same-sex marriage, immigration and voter ID laws. In spite of this he is still seen among his party as a fairly mainstream candidate, largely because of his success in a generally blue state like Wisconsin.
Unfortunately for Walker, the rest of America doesn't see him that way, and he has among the most polarized favourability numbers of any candidate. His name recognition is still relatively low so that could change, but at the moment even if he wins the Republican nomination he could have a real problem with Independents.
Walker has been polling very well among Republicans in these early days, and right now is the leader in the all important Iowa poll. A few strong results in the early primaries and he could fast find himself becoming the front runner. It would certainly make things interesting.
This year's most prominent representative of the hard right, Rubio has been tipped for a while as the future of the Republican Party, and it's easy to see why. Young, charismatic, wins elections in arguably the most important Swing-State, appeals to Hispanic voters, and crucially identifies with conservative values.
It's no surprise then to see Rubio surging in the polls of late. The base already loves him and the Republican establishment is starting to warm to him as a legitimate candidate. But is he electable in a general election?
For sure, Rubio's Tea Party connections will hurt him in a Presidential election year, but despite this affiliation he was still able to hugely outperform his fellow Republican Senate candidates in 2010, a year where the Tea Party fared poorly in the Senate. This suggests he has broader appeal than your typical conservative Republican, without sacrificing any of the base support. Rubio is well liked, with broad appeal, and that makes him a tantalizing option for a Republican party that seems to be struggling in recent years to find a candidate who is both electable and conservative enough.
Still, as he becomes more well known by the Independent voters he will face scrutiny for his record, which is among the most conservative in Congress. Rubio has a history of taking stances that may endear him to his base, but will not play well with the rest of America. One of his first campaign promises this year has been to reopen Guantanamo Bay if Obama succeeds in closing it, a mystifying early focal point for his campaign that can only really appeal to the most hardcore of W Bush apologists. His continued intransigence on gay rights and immigration, at a time when even the Republicans are generally starting to accept the need to adapt, provides further fuel for his critics.
The implication appears to be either that Rubio hasn't fully comprehended the reality of running in a general election, or he cynically thinks voters are inattentive enough that they'll forget the extreme things he says during primary season. To us this screams of his inexperience on the national stage. Rubio may be a frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but suggests gaping vulnerabilities if he goes into the final round.
One of the first to declare his candidacy for 2016. Rand Paul is, of course, the son of the iconic perennial Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Ever the libertarian ideologue, Ron Paul had never been able to turn his fervent online fanbase and appeal to young voters into a significant electoral advantage, and typically was seen as a party outsider.
Rand Paul has taken a different tactic, embedding himself much more closely into the mainstream of the Republican Party. This has the benefit of potentially making him the real primary contender that his father never was, but at the cost of the hardcore following that Ron Paul had assembled. Even then, can he shake the outsider label?
So it's a case of two steps forward, two steps back for the Paul family as Rand tries to have his cake and eat it too. Rand Paul want's the libertarian fanaticism his father had, plus the mainstream credibility needed to win a national election, he could well end up with neither.
Every election needs one; a Sarah Palin, a Rick Santorum. This year's award for least electable candidate has to go to Ted Cruz, who has a long track record of making dangerously loopy, extremist statements. He is also very unpopular, even among his own party. There are people up and down the country who wrongly state that Ted Cruz is a major contender. He's not, he will lose.
Once upon a time Chris Christie was considered one of the big favourites for the Republican nomination. He was seen as incredibly likable, charismatic, effortlessly able to outwit opponents and make himself look like a leader no matter what the situation. It also helped that he was extremely popular even in a deep blue state, and in particular with independents.
There had always been concerns among the far right that Christie was not conservative enough, exacerbated by the 2012 election where he was accused by his own party of cosying up to Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But still, there it seemed was a politician who could really challenge in a general election, taking the lions share of independents as well as a fair number of Democrats. This is no longer considered to be the case.
Christie has taken on a huge amount of (completely deserved) bad press, from accusations of bullying and misconduct to one of the most astonishingly awful scandals in political history. Christie has so far managed to shield himself personally from the above actions which were so flagrantly illegal, irresponsible (and by the way caused deaths) that they make Watergate look like a good idea. Had a direct connection to Christie been proven he almost certainly would have been ousted from office, but even as it stands he has taken a huge hit in his poll numbers, to the point where he can no longer be considered even vaguely viable for either the nomination or general election.
It's much harder to predict who might be the VP pick when we have no idea who will be top of the ticket, but there are certain logical assumptions we can make which might help narrow things down.
In each of the last two elections, Republicans have opted for moderate, safe candidates, who have then gone on to pick a more conservative candidate to appeal to the base. Assuming a similar tactic in 2016, that would mean we are likely to see someone who is perceived to be somewhat centrist, like Bush, choosing a VP with more conservative credentials. Could we see an all Florida ticket of Bush/Rubio? Could well do, it would play well in that crucial Swing-State.
Alternatively we might see the party push for one of it's more exciting young outsiders to give them national exposure ahead of future elections, someone like a Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner or Mia Love.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
Genre Indie Rock
Label Sub Pop
Producers Jonathan Wilson, Josh Tillman
Despite narrowly missing out on The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List, I Love You, Honeybear is an album on which we have been keeping close tabs. After all, this is the sophomore album for Father John Misty, the alter-ego of Josh Tillman, formerly band member of the great Fleet Foxes.
From David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust to Lizzy Grant's Lana Del Rey, the concept of using a persona to separate the person from the performer is nothing new in music, but with Father John Misty it often becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. It's particularly the case with this self-described "concept" album, which strays into some intensely personal areas for Tillman.
The recurring subject and indeed the title of the album appears focused on Tillman's recent marriage, but delves deep into "all manner of regrettable behaviour". Tillman simultaneously launches into scathing critiques of insufferable people he's met, notably in The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment, and its story of a one night stand with an insufferably vapid person, while Tillman presents himself as the amoral, misguided sinner who needs to be saved by the companionship of a good woman.
But Tillman also finds time in the album's 11 tracks to dig into his most personally held beliefs. Holy Shit is an excoriating attack on the psychological manipulation behind religious institutions, while Bored in the USA casts no uncertain verdict on many of the social issues facing American today. It's here where Tillman most lands his hits wide of the mark. You never like to see musicians getting too political, it's a very fine line to walk between poignant and cliché.
Tillman steps on the wrong side of this line in the latter track, which includes lines such as "Save me President Jesus!" and a climax featuring phrases like "sub-prime loans" and "useless education" followed by a studio laugh-track. It borders on what one might hear described on the internet as a "circlejerk", eliciting complex hot button left-wing issues in the most simplistic of lights. He probably thinks he sounds really deep and meaningful, but he comes off sounding like a beatnik on open mic night.
Nevertheless, the album as a whole is frequently funny, often nasty and ultimately never boring. The songwriting is refreshingly raw, holding nothing back, laced with satire and irony. Still the most ironic thing is probably that for all the attention one might pay the lyrics and message behind the songs, they are largely incidental when the music is as excellent as this.
It's hardly surprising to see a lot of similarities between these songs and Tillman's work with Fleet Foxes. The excellent Chateau Lobby #4 in particular sounds like it could easily have been a Fleet Foxes song, it has that same acoustic brand of gorgeous, layered composition and warm vocals.
What's more intriguing is to see the extent that Tillman expands into other genres and musical styles. True Affection is one of the best tracks on the album, delving into a more electronic-folk style that sounds very reminiscent of Bon Iver mixed with the Temper Trap. Then there are songs like The Ideal Husband which is just straight up rock and roll.
If Father John Misty does share some DNA with Fleet Foxes then the comparisons are only skin deep. I Love You, Honeybear is a much bolder and edgier album, and that fire comes across in the music. These tracks range from the wild and delirious to the soulful and sweet, each are effortlessly excellent in their own way. This music would sound fantastic in its own right, but it's the combination with Tillman's caustic lyrics, the juxtaposition of venomous and tender, that really takes this album to another level.
I Love You, Honeybear is the first great album of 2015.
Must Listen :
Chateau Lobby #4
I Love You, Honeybear
The Ideal Husband
Thursday, 26 February 2015
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2015 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.
2014 saw a return to form for the Donmar Warehouse, with Tom Hiddleston's Coriolanus taking our Debbie for best production. Elsewhere the astonishing success of the Punchdrunk theatre company's The Drowned Man continued before finally coming to an end over the summer.
The year ahead has a number of very exciting stage events coming up. For obvious reasons, this list will be primarily focused on the London stage, but we do have a few productions elsewhere that are so noteworthy as to warrant inclusion. So here's our list of the top 5 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2015, starting with number 5:
5. "Constellations" by Nick Payne, at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre
Originally debuted three years ago at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Nick Payne's Constellations is one of the very best productions in recent years. It's incredible success now sees it moving to Broadway, the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in New York.
Constellations is effectively a play about relationships, mixed in with a little string-theory and quantum physics. Sound like too much? It's more accessible than it sounds. Constellations takes the base premise, boy-meets-girl, and from that point branches out into a seemingly infinite array of possible outcomes, alternate stories and what-if scenarios. Sometimes the change can be as simple as slightly different wording, but the changes promulgate from there, highlighting the fragility of relationships and the frightening spectre of how much can hinge on such small details.
The Broadway version stars a genuine Hollywood star in Jake Gyllenhaal, who co-stars with Ruth Wilson. This is an absolute must see production if you're in New York.
4. "Oppenheimer" by Tom Morton-Smith, at The Swan
The RSC's latest production hits The Swan theatre in Stratford-upon-avon this month. Oppenheimer, as you may have guessed, is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and how the Atomic Bomb was built, starting in 1939 and taking us right through World War II.
Director Angus Jackson and star John Heffernan have been getting a lot of buzz for this production, but the real star is playwright Tom Morton-Smith, who's script is not afraid to explore the conflicted nature of the man who brought the world it's most terrifying invention.
Light on the science and terminology, Oppenheimer is nevertheless ambitious insight into a pivotal moment of 20th Century history. So far the production has been getting rave reviews. Very recommended.
3. "City of Angels" by Larry Gelbart, Cy Coleman and David Zippel, at the Donmar Warehouse
If there's one thing that always makes for compelling theatre, it's stories about stories. The musical City of Angels is not new, having initially hit the West End a good 20 years ago, but it's witty lyrics and vibrant insight into the world of Hollywood is still massively good fun. Glamorous, retro flash, red hair, lavish parties, City of Angels is a production that never fails to entertain.
Notable among the cast is Samantha Barks of Les Miserables fame, both on the stage and in Tom Hooper's film adaption. As always her voice is remarkable and stands out even among a strong cast.
This marks a strong start to the year for the Donmar. Everyone loves a musical, and we've seen few better than this in many years. Here's an opportunity to catch one that isn't just tourist-bait, a top notch production, so do your best to catch it while it's still open.
2. "Man and Superman" by George Bernard Shaw, at the National Theatre
Man and Superman sees the seminal, provocative classic of legendary thinker George Bernard Shaw reinvented for the stage in stunning fashion.
One of the few genuine rom-com epics, if such a genre exists, Man and Superman deals with political radicalism, heaven and hell, and takes you to the furthest extremes of a man's psyche.
The National Theatre's new adaptation stars the always versatile Ralph Fiennes, known for a variety of theatre and film roles, most recently in Wes Anderson's acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great actor, some of the best source material around, being done by one of the best production companies in the theatre business; this is going to be huge.
Man and Superman opens on February 25th in the Lyttleton theatre, and it will sell out, so grab a ticket while you can.
1. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, at the Barbican
In 2015 there is simply no comparison. William Shakespeare's most famous tragedy Hamlet is coming back to the stage, courtesy of the Barbican theatre.
The headline grabbing news is that former theatre stalwart, now Hollywood megastar Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the lead role. Two days ago he was in the Dolby theatre for the Oscars, now he's back in London preparing for the theatrical event of the year.
Hamlet doesn't start until the fall, but these sold out on day 1, so you'll have a devil of a time trying to grab a ticket, but if you do you will surely be the envy of the entire London theatre crowd.
So there you have it folks: The 2015 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2016!
Sunday, 22 February 2015
Today we take a quick break from our Hot List of 2015 series to bring you a last minute preview regarding the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend.
This Sunday, Hollywood's famous Dolby Theatre will once again play host to the biggest day on the cinema calendar, the Oscars. People all over the world will tune in for that most tragically popular of pastimes, celebrity watching, followed by four hours of forced laughs and real tears.
The host for this year will be the frighteningly charismatic Neil Patrick Harris, a marked improvement on the uninspired safe option of Ellen Degeneres last year. Fully expect to see a few musical numbers in the opening monologue.
As always, we give you our loyal readers some predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through tinseltown; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.
- American Sniper
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
And the winner: Birdman
A rare situation here where we have a virtual toss up between Birdman and Boyhood. Boyhood had been considered the runaway favourite to land the Oscar pretty much all year (undeservedly so), but awards season so far has not been kind, in particular with the Producer's Guild and Director's Guild both plumping for Birdman. With a close contest here we're going to rely on the precedent of awards won so far, in which case Birdman (deservedly) will win the best picture prize.
- Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
- Richard Linklater - Boyhood
- Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
- Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game
And the winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
Winning the Director's Guild award makes Inarritu a virtual lock for the best director's gong, and it's hard to imagine a more deserving winner. Birdman stands out for it's production flair and it's single-camera shot style. Truly remarkable filmmaking from a technical standpoint.
- Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
- Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
- Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
- Michael Keaton - Birdman
- Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
And the winner: Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Another total toss up, this time between Keaton and Redmayne. Keaton has been the favourite for most of the year, and without doubt he would deserve it for his fantastic turn in Birdman, but we think this year has Redmayne written all over it. Redmayne's portrayal of Stephen Hawking is nothing short of stunning, an incredibly challenging role pulled off better than we could ever have imagined. The Ephemeric is pleased to give this one to our fellow old Etonian Eddie Redmayne.
- Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
- Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
- Julianne Moore - Still Alice
- Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
- Reese Witherspoon - Wild
And the winner: Julianne Moore - Still Alice
No contest here, Julianne Moore is widely expected to win for this turn as a mother of three suffering from early onset alzheimer's disease. Pretty much the definition of Academy Award trope, but good for her she's a fine actress.
Best Supporting Actor
- Robert Duvall - The Judge
- Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
- Edward Norton - Birdman
- Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
- J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
And the winner: J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
A contest brimming with great performances. Ethan Hawke and Ed Norton are both fantastic and would full deserve an award, but this year it's a no contest. J.K. Simmons will win and it's hard to see anyone disagreeing, his is arguably the most impressive performance out of any of the four categories, and he will rightly get his due.
Best Supporting Actress
- Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
- Laura Dern - Wild
- Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
- Emma Stone - Birdman
- Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
And the winner: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Finally an Oscar for Boyhood. All the buzz about Boyhood has been on the 12 year filming schedule and the strong child performances, but really the most remarkable thing about it is the performance of Patricia Arquette, whose character over 12 years bears the full consequences of youthful impulse and regret in a way that few on-screen characters have.
Best Original Screenplay
- Birdman - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
- Boyhood - Richard Linklater
- Foxcatcher - E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
- The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
- Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy
And the winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson
For our money this is one of the few awards which Boyhood truly deserves to win. Forming a screenplay intended to be filmed out over the decades is an incredibly audacious and daunting task, and one which by its nature must have required constant revision and on-the-fly adjustments, and yet still comes out as a cohesive work. However we think the Academy will go for Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. The Academy clearly loves the movie, bestowing it with the joint highest number of nominations along with Birdman, and yet there aren't many awards it looks likely to win. Budapest will pick this one up as a consolation.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- American Sniper - Jason Hall
- The Imitation Game - Graham Moore
- Inherent Vice - Paul Thomas Anderson
- The Theory of Everything - Anthony McCarten
- Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
And the winner: Whiplash - Damien Chazelle
Using the same logic as above, one would come to the conclusion that The Imitation Game will win this Oscar, and that may very well be the result. However we're going to swing with our gut instinct on this one and say that Damien Chazelle's Whiplash script is the deserving winner here.
So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go exactly as we have predicted, remember that you heard it here first!
Friday, 20 February 2015
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, the essential new television, and the essential new movies in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2015.
2014 was undeniably a weak year for gaming. The major titles were disappointing, most notably Destiny, while the most promising of the new wave of crowdfunded indie developed games ended up slipping past new year. Indeed "early access" is starting to become something of a dirty word in the eyes of many gamers, as indie developers increasingly turn to early access in search of funding, only to become permanently mired in a state of "well let's just add one more feature" without the pressure to ever actually push a full release. There's a real danger here, and evidently something of a learning curve for developers in this new mode of distribution.
Elsewhere 2014 was also the first full year of the new console generation, with the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U all now available for sale in most regions. It is understandable then that these new systems would exhibit some teething problems, and the typical drought of high quality software that accompanies new console launches. Certainly this played a big part of 2014's videogame mediocrity. 2015 Will be a big year then for all the main players to push on and consolidate their market position. The big exception here is Nintendo, who in 2014 had probably the company's strongest year in a long time, with major titles like Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros releasing to critical and commercial success. Again, this is hardly surprising given that the Wii U has been around longer than its competitors.
2015 then has the potential to be very exciting indeed as the new console generation settles down further, and we finally start to enjoy the fruits of the new kickstarter wave of gaming. So behold, the top 15 key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:
15. Doom 4 (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
We start with the news just in this week that Bethesda have announced their first ever press conference at the annual E3 games show in Los Angeles. This means they have something major to reveal.
The most likely subject of this conference is the latest sequel in the venerated Doom series, with Bethesda having bought the ownership of this IP in 2009, and teased at it's existence during last year's show behind closed doors.
Doom is of course one of the most famous videogames series of all time, known as the grandfather of the entire first person shooter genre, and in many ways, 3D perspective gaming as a whole.
Little is known about this game except that it will run on the new idTech6 engine, and feature many of the somewhat old fashioned gameplay features that were characteristic of the original games. This has been in development for quite a while, so if it is revealed at E3 then expect a release sometime towards the end of the year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
14. RollerCoaster Tycoon World (PC)
The return of another much celebrated franchise. RollerCoaster Tycoon World is the latest entry of one of the biggest cult hit series in the entire industry.
As with the other games in the series, players design and manage a theme park, with the ability to place shops, rides, scenery and most notably design roller coasters down to the very small details. The game will be from a 3D perspective much like RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, as opposed to the 2D isometric view of the first two games, while new features include the ability to ride your rides from a first person perspective.
Atari have somewhat dug a hole for themselves on this one, with the now infamous mobile-only version of the game, titled as RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 being announced before the full PC version. This much maligned turd of a game was rammed full of absurd microtransactions, becoming pretty much a parody of the worst examples of the cliche of manipulative mobile games that are such a blight on the platform. Such was the outcry and critical panning of this title that Atari had to announce the full PC version ahead of schedule and rebrand it as RollerCoaster Tycoon World in order to avoid association with the previous debacle.
The real concern here is that Atari have lost a lot of goodwill by abusing the franchise in this way, and that will put a lot of people off buying this game. It will be interesting to see if they can recover by the time the game launches early this year.
Release Date: Early 2015
13. No Man's Sky (PS4, PC, Mac)
No Man's Sky is one of the most astonishingly technically ambitious games ever made. It is a space exploration game which features a procedurally generated universe built around a 64bit number processor. This means 18 quintillion possible planets to explore. Each planet features animal and plant life which is also procedurally generated. Players can seamlessly fly from planet to planet, get out of their ship and walk around.
Beyond that, little is known about the actual purpose or gameplay, and frankly it doesn't matter. This is a game that will offer a fully explorable universe with far more variation than any one person could ever hope to see in their lifetime. But the really astonishing thing is that this is all being programmed by just four people.
How can such a small development team possibly realize such a staggeringly ambitious concept that far bigger and more experienced teams have never been able to achieve before? Well we will soon find out, with the game set for release sometime in 2015. For the time being all we can say is that the game looks great, definitely one to keep an eye on.
Release Date: TBA 2015
12. Cuphead (Xbox One, PC, Mac)
One of the most unique indie games to be announced in recent years. Cuphead is an old-school 2D platform game on first glance, but the selling point is it's wonderful art style.
Inspired by early cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s, particularly the likes of Steamboat Willie and the earliest Walt Disney cartoons, Cuphead stands out immediately when you see it. The game looks and feels just like you're watching something that's been animated and drawn by hand. It's quite stunning to see in motion, using the best in modern graphics techniques to create something that looks authentically retro.
The gameplay itself is just classic run and gun platforming. The question is will it play as good as it looks? We will have to wait and see, but it should be releasing by this summer on digital download platforms.
Release Date: TBA 2015
11. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D (3DS)
The Ephemeric has a policy, that we just made up, not to put re-releases and ports of old games on this list. However, when that game is one of the greatest of all time, certain exceptions can be made. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D falls into that category.
Originally released in the shadow of its landmark genre-defining cousin Ocarina of Time, many now consider Majora's Mask to be the greater of the two. Majora's Mask realized its game world in a way that few other games ever had by that point, full of living, breathing characters, every single one of whom had a purpose and a place to be depending on the passage of time. Arguably the main quest even takes backseat to the extensive and complex sidequests based around exploring and observing the world itself and its bizarre, mysterious denizens.
Majora's Mask 3D is a faithful remake of the original, with moderately updated graphics and a few gameplay tweaks to streamline some of the rougher design elements of the original. For anyone who never played the original, this presents a good opportunity to give it a go, for longtime fans a nice walk down memory lane.
Release Date: February 14th 2015
10. Hearts of Iron IV (PC, Mac)
Paradox are on a roll right now. For years they have labored away on their absurdly complex historical strategy games like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, and for years they've been largely ignored. With Crusader Kings 2 Paradox finally struck the commercial big time with a golden blend of rewarding depth and accessible gameplay, and Europa Universalis IV followed suit. Their next release aims to conjure up the same magic for another one of their franchises, with Hearts of Iron IV.
For newcomers, Paradox specialise in sandbox style grand strategy games. What makes a Paradox title stand out from say Total War is the dedication to meaningful complexity. These simulations are about more than just armies fighting one another, and fully model diplomacy, personal politics, culture, economy, and countless other variables which ensure that each game world is utterly unique to the player, and completely engrossing, while allowing a staggering array of gameplay options to pursue. The Hearts of Iron series specifically applies this ethos to a 20th Century, World War I and II setting.
If Paradox can make Hearts of Iron as accessible as they have their other series, then this will be another golden strategy title for players to sink their teeth and time into. Release date has not been confirmed but is believed to be late in the second quarter of this year.
Release Date: Summer 2015
9. Cities: Skylines (PC, Mac)
Another Paradox game, this time the developer has its sights set on the city building genre. Anyone who has ever played such a game before will be familair with Cities: Skylines. Players zone for construction, add utilities and services, set budgets, and if you do your job, the city flourishes.
But there's another aspect that makes this game worth watching. Cities: Skylines appears to be very deliberately positioning itself as the antidote to EA's now infamous Sim City 5 debacle, who's recent watered down iteration of the beloved franchise drew universal scorn and derision.
Paradox have made a point of marketing the different approaches in game design. Vast maps available for city design replace the laughably tiny hamlet-sized plots in Sim City 5, gone are the forced social features, and crucially the game will not require a pointless and frustrating always-online internet connection. In short, whereas Sim City 5 appeared to be a soulless Facebook-style version of the genre, Cities: Skylines is intended to be a serious city simulation game, just like the golden age of Sim City's gone by.
The question remains, is spite for Sim City 5 enough of a reason to buy a game? It might very well be that when all is said and done, 2003's Sim City 4 (from before EA went full moron) is still the best in genre and no upgrade is necessary. We will see in March when the game launches.
Release Date: March 10th 2015
8. Starbound (PC, Mac)
A remnant from last year's list, Chucklefish Games' hugely ambitious crowdfunded indie title Starbound ultimately never saw release in 2014, but recent updates seem to confirm that a 2015 release is (hopefully) on the cards.
Starbound is essentially a block-building game in the mold of Minecraft or Terraria, featuring a procedurally generated universe with a near infinite number of planets, each of which is the size of Terraria's entire world. Each planet has its own environment and it's own procedurally generated plant and animal life, making each one completely unique. Players explore these planets, mine for materials, and can build whatever they can imagine. Starbound additionally adds a lot of structure and narrative that we typically haven't seen from other games in the genre. There's a quest system, and a fully crafted backstory, and every planet is full of secrets to discover and NPC characters to meet.
The scale of universe that this design creates is unparalleled in gaming, and allows players to play in pretty much any manner they choose. A player can assemble a team (either singleplayer with NPCs or multiplayer) and explore the universe hopping from planet to planet, or build huge houses, military bases, farms, shops, cities, theme parks, anything they can imagine (and the creativity seen in the work the community has produced so far during the alpha testing is remarkable), the possibilities are limited only by the player's imagination. This is something no game has ever fully achieved, and if Starbound manages to pull it of, the result will be something very memorable indeed.
Starbound is available in it's very basic alpha state on PC and Mac, but the full version is expected by the end of this year.
Release Date: TBA 2015
7. Hover: Revolt of Gamers (Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, PC, Mac)
The game in question this time is Hover: Revolt of Gamers, a title which speaks for itself in light of the previous blurb. Hover is best described as a spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio, a game series which was hailed as one of the best of its generation with its unique style and innovative gameplay, but has since been completely forgotten by studios who would rather publish a dozen Call of Duty clones.
Hover takes the eye-popping cell-shaded art style and physics of the series and puts it into a game which sees players free-running through vast futuristic cityscapes as part of an underground resistance completing tasks to help various people out. If that doesn't sound enough like Jet Set Radio already then the cherry on top is the hiring of composer/DJ Hideki Naganuma, who's unforgettable soundtracks were probably the best part of the Jet Set Radio games.
Only a limited amount of gameplay footage has been released on top of a selection of concept art, but development appears to be on track for a release in late 2015. Hover certainly has the look, sound and feel of Jet Set Radio, if it turns out to be even half as good then we're in for a special game.
Release Date: TBA 2015
6. Kingdom Come: Deliverance (Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac)
One of the more notable Kickstarter success stories. Kingdom Come: Deliverance started with a simple premise. Publishers refuse to release games set in medieval times unless it features magic, dragons and silly things like this, why not make a game in a realistic medieval setting?
That's the idea behind Kingdom Come: Deliverance. A roleplaying game set in 15th Century Bohemia, with period-accurate clothing, technology, culture, and even going so far as to bring in medieval experts and historians to program realistic tactics and fighting styles. But this is not just a period combat simulator, it is a truly sandbox world in which players can pursue their goals as a warrior, a trader, or take a more diplomatic approach.
Depending on how these different gameplay elements come together this could be a very unique experience. There aren't enough games that display an interest in real history and show the kind of attention to truly bring alive such a setting. All the signs so far are that Warhorse Studios are very committed to this vision, and judging by the millions of dollars raised there are a lot of gamers who are too. The title is set for release by this winter.
Release Date: Winter 2015
5. Fire Emblem If (3DS)
Amid all the talk of Nintendo consoles and the big money franchises of Mario and Zelda, it may come as a surprise to hear that arguably the greatest game on the Nintendo 3DS system comes from the little known Fire Emblem franchise.
Indeed the franchise, while always moderately successful in Japan, had fared so badly with western audiences that Nintendo were on the verge of telling the development team to give up and put the franchise on the scrap heap. With one chance remaining, Fire Emblem Awakening blew away every expectation that Nintendo had, earning critical and commercial success in every territory, with sales outstripping those of any earlier iteration by many orders of magnitude. Awakening not only saved the franchise, but propelled it to the status of one of Nintendo's biggest properties.
Now comes the difficult follow up, Fire Emblem If. For the first time the series carries a weight of expectation. Was Awakening just lightning in a bottle, or will those new fans stick around? The game is due for release on the 3DS this fall, so we shall soon find out.
Release Date: Fall 2015
4. Star Fox Wii U (Wii U)
Now here's a big event in gaming. The highly anticipated and mystifyingly delayed return of the Star Fox franchise. Even though Nintendo consider Star Fox to be one of their most prominent homegrown IPs, it has been bizarrely underutilised. Indeed aside from a few handheld games, there hasn't been a proper Star Fox game since 2005, and even then it wasn't a fully fledged, in-house version. Incredibly, Nintendo themselves haven't made a real flagship Star Fox game since the days of the Nintendo 64.
According to franchise (and indeed most other Nintendo franchise) creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the reason has been difficulty to nail down the best way to take advantage of the unique Wii hardware in the context of a Star Fox game. But now, with the Wii U's unique gamepad, inspiration has finally struck, and a new Star Fox game is on the way sometime this year.
As with the classic entries in the series the game will be focused on aerial combat, using the new gamepad's gyroscopic controls and second-screen functionality to shake up the way players target enemies. Word on the street is the basic structure of the game will be radically different from the archetype, featuring an episodic structure likened to a TV show, and side quests which are in some way linked to as yet mysterious projects known as Project Giant Robot and Project Guard.
It will be interesting to see how this all comes together when the game releases, rumoured to be sometime this fall.
Release Date: Fall 2015
3. The Legend of Zelda Wii U (Wii U)
Nintendo are really cleaning up this year, but by far the most hyped of their many mega-franchises has got to be The Legend of Zelda, and a new one, the first original entry to the series on the Wii U, is set for release in 2015.
Little is known about the game so far, except that it will be the first original Zelda to be designed in HD, and that it will take heavy inspiration from The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, specifically with regards to adopting a grand, open, freely explorable sandbox overworld.
The new Zelda is being designed with the idea to allow players real freedom in how they explore and complete quests. Just how that translates into the Zelda format is anyone's guess at the moment, but Nintendo's demo footage makes a point of showing us a vast, rolling mountainscape and telling us that any point we can see, we can visit. Zelda is truly one of the grandest of classic games franchises, and if they can combine the magic of older games with the technical marvels of open-world games like Skyrim, then the result could be something special.
No release date set in stone, except that it will be in 2015, and will be after Star Fox, so probably a winter/Xmas release.
Release Date: Winter 2015
2. Kerbal Space Program (PC, Mac)
Another on the list of recent indie hits from a game that studios wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Kerbal Space Program is not only one of the most unique games in years, but one of the most addictive.
It started out more as a tech demo than an actual game from developers Squad; players design spaceships modeled on quasi-realistic NASA style components, roughly comparable in technology and aesthetic to what we have today, and take them on missions. Layered over this is a remarkably accurate model of interplanetary physics; you won't just point your rocket and fire engines, you have to take into account gravity, orbit, exit and entry, proapsis and apoapsis. The final version adds a full campaign mode, a scientific technology tree, and much more.
For non rocket scientist gamers it may seem a bit daunting at first, but the open-ended, experimental nature of the game, married with the cartoony and lovable artistic style and adventurous sense of scale make for one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming today. You'll marvel and feel a real sense of accomplishment as you achieve stable orbit for the first time, as you complete your first moon landing, and as you experiment with space stations, land rovers and many other possibilities.
That we have sunk so many hours into a game that's not even really a game yet, but rather a giant sandbox illustrates just how remarkable this project is. Currently at version 0.9 of beta, the final game should be ready to play on PC and Mac OS X by Spring 2015.
Release Date: Spring 2015
1. Fallout 4 (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
We started with Bethesda, and we're finishing with Bethesda. No one really believes that they would announce their first ever E3 conference just to announce a single game, one that had already been announced and talked about at length previously. No, Bethesda are going to announce something new, something big that will make headlines. With an Elder Scrolls game still fresh in people's memories there's only one big franchise on their roster that's about due for a sequel. Fallout 4.
The Fallout series started life as a top-down RPG in the 90s, a darkly comedic twist on post-war American 1950s pop-culture/propaganda and its optimistic view of the "wonders of the atomic age". Fallout ironically imagines a world where all the atomic powered flying cars, robot butlers, and other promises came true, but so did the less tantalizing aspects of atomic power, nuclear war. The Fallout series invariably then sees players exploring a crumbling nuclear wasteland, full of camp sci-fi/retro aesthetic and dark humour. It makes for one of the most unique and brilliantly fun gameworlds ever designed.
When Bethesda took over they transitioned to a first person RPG in the same style as their Elder Scrolls games, but it has now been a good five years since the most recent entry in the series, Fallout: New Vegas. Something has been cooking all this time. Exactly what that is is a complete guess at this point, although rumours suggest the setting this time to be the Boston/Massachusetts area.
Quite when we'll see Fallout 4, if it's even released in 2015, is a mystery, but following the precedent from previous Bethesda releases, as well as the relatively long incubation period the game as thus far seen, we could be seeing this one in time for Xmas.
Release Date: TBA 2015
So there you have it folks: 2015 in videogames. Tune in next week for the final edition of the 2015 Hot List, covering the essential theatrical productions set for release this year!