Saturday, 23 July 2011
song of the week: "Battery Kinzie" by "Fleet Foxes"
thing that makes me smile today: Finally getting around to seeing the summer movies.
pic of the day
X-Men: First Class
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Friday, 22 July 2011
Well it’s been a long time since I made a personal entry on this blog, so I thought I’d just chip in my own inimitable word about the summer, what’s going on with me, and life in general:
I am glad to be back in London after my months of world adventuring, even if I have been working pretty much solid since then, first at the House of Commons and now at Deloitte. Most of you I’ve caught up with recently, but if I haven’t then don’t take offense; I am working 10 hour days at my current job!
Indeed my time in DC was a great experience for a political junkie such as yours truly, and that was just the work part of it. The rest of this trip had everything, from the excitement that comes with exploring a totally new town with new restaurants and attractions, and of course the time honored holiday infatuation (as one does). I could write a whole article about the sights and nightlife of DC, but suffice to say it is a really lovely city, and very reminiscent of a cosmopolitan place like London, albeit on a much smaller scale.
In the meantime, although it may not seem like it lately, it is in fact summer here in big London, and it’s proving to be a good time to renew old acquaintances and make new friends. At first I was disappointed not to have a holiday to go travel abroad as I usually do, but then I realised just how much there is to do in London during the summer. I would have liked to write a bit about the Taste of London festival if I had some time to do so (hint: le Caprice was there, and I could eat there every single day if it weren’t so expensive), the Shoreditch festival is now on if we ever get a sunny enough day to make it worthwhile, and later this month begins the Film4 Festival in London, with cheap tickets for under 25s, on which you’d be a fool to miss out.
As for me, I've started writing again whenever I have a little time, and hopefully will find a little bit of holiday before I begin at law school in September. There’s quite a lot going on right now so expect a few more lengthy blog articles in addition to the regular reviews. I expect I will have a lot to say regarding the News Corp scandal, the 2012 primaries and the upcoming football season in the near future, so stay tuned!
I know a lot of you guys like it when these posts are laced with a bit of drama, but what can I say, it's a very chill time. If you want drama go watch the phone hacking stuff on tv, heck it's more action packed than any of the so called "summer blockbusters" I've seen in the cinema this year.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Genre Folk, Baroque Pop
Producers Justin Vernon
When Bon Iver architect Justin Vernon cut himself off in a forest cabin for three months in order to record debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, he ensured that it would go down as a record as notorious for its mythology as its music. It was a tale that complemented the style of music well; sparse, falsetto laden folk musings, with surprisingly evocative lyrics from someone whose band and album names both stem from some really fairly droll wordplay.
The album was critically acclaimed, and Bon Iver became the biggest folk darling since Fleet Foxes, albeit without quite the same level of commercial success. His star has risen considerably since then by positive word of mouth and a bizarre collaboration with Kanye West, and he moves on to his eponymous sophomore effort with the burden of expectation upon him.
Some say that the second album is the most difficult one. From one angle there is the need to maintain the signature style that won over those key fans, and from the other there is the pressure to evolve and avoid accusations of staleness; few bands manage to break these rules and get away with it. Here Veron has managed to find the sweet spot in between these two contrasts.
Those who may have found his early work a little too low key and raw will appreciate Bon Iver’s new sound. Fuller instrumentalisation and lush soundscapes lend an extra panache to Vernon's rustic introspections. The result is something which sounds more sophisticated, yet still as subtly effecting as ever.
Lead single Calgary is the best example of how things have changed; a supremely polished throwback to late 80s new wave, shifting deftly between delicate acoustic lulling and some of the rockier guitar bits on the album. Similarly, opening track Perth takes a more fiery tone with clarion call and civil war style drums, contrasted against Vernon's lush vocals and reverb guitar harmonies.
Meanwhile, Towers stands as one of the traditionally folky songs, with clean picked guitar strums and classic progression before breaking away into a more fluid mid-section, backed by warm string overtures.
Minnesota, WI marks a change with its more groove-laden melodies meshed with dulcet banjo picks and soulful vocals. The name (as with one or two other songs) may spark some curiosity with an album full of tracks mostly named after real world locations, and here we have a strange mishmash of two states. It's actually strangely fitting for an album which fashions a rather dream-like state through its nearly indecipherable lyrics and distorted sound.
The one thing that all of these songs have in common is an almost infallible sense of good taste; there is rarely a bum note or a hackneyed refrain. Vernon shows marked restraint in the way he's crafted these songs, even the more adventurous ones. Often he resists the temptation to indulge in an extra flourish, or he'll build and build, only to play out the track in a sweet and satisfying manner. Indeed the album as a whole is a macrocosm of each carefully thought out bar that at just 10 tracks long, he ensures that it strikes a chord, but doesn't overstay its welcome.
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Developed by 3D Realms, Gearbox Software
Published by 2K Games
Genre First Person Shooter
Platform PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac OSX
Well here’s a headline I never thought I’d see. After 14 long years the highly anticipated and much ridiculed continuation of the Duke Nukem series has arrived.
Not to dwell too much on the absurdity of the protracted production cycle that has become the stuff of comedians and journalistic scorn, but this really is one of those stories that falls into the category of “too ridiculous to be true”.
Originally due out before the turn of the millennium, 3D Realm’s obsession with the cutting edge led to repeated delays as the developer sought to shoehorn into the game the latest in first person shooter vogue. When Halo came out, they decided they needed regenerative health (which has since become the norm), when Half Life 2 came out, they decided to include physics puzzles and driving sections. Time and time again this game was torn up and reshaped the name of some misguided pursuit of perfection.
3D Realms were digging themselves into a hole. With an approach and time scale like this, not only would it have been impossible to ever live up to expectations, but with so many complete overhauls and updates, the chances of the end product being even vaguely cohesive or polished was pretty low. It had become pretty much assumed that this game would never see the light of day, and when Gearbox Software bought the IP and pledged to finally release the game this year, there were many who felt that it should have stayed that way.
To an extent these fears may have been well founded, but as it turns out, not as much as some would have you think.
Duke Nukem begins in a suitably bombastic style, with plenty of crude humour and pop culture references to go around, and it sets the tone straight away. Urination, fellatio, pot shots at various celebrities all mark the opening segment of the game, and for fans of the series, it’s pretty fun. However, once the shooting begins it becomes apparent at just how dated a product this really is. This game is really 14 years old and it’s noticeable. The graphics may have been brushed up a bit, but it’s all so rough around the edges, and the shooting mechanics themselves feel unrefined. Add to this a rather inelegant and undeveloped series of features from regenerative health to a clumsy interface and unnecessary driving sections which lead one to wonder if there’s much else here aside from the jokes. The only positive innovation to be found is Duke’s “ego” meter, which fills as the player engages in various Duke-like activities, and I’ll leave you to guess what they might be.
The crux of this criticism lies on the uneasy marriage between old school game play and the staples of modern shooters, and what makes it particularly strange is just how unnecessary a debate it is. Love him or hate him, the defining feature of Duke is that he is an anachronism, a remnant of 80s action genre films, complete with outdated sensibilities, arrogant swagger and witty, but often crude one-liners. This being the case, it is somewhat bizarre that the game would be so desperate to integrate modern features of video games which simply don’t fit, rather than embracing the archaic simplicity of its video game forebears as it does the cinematic.
Ultimately there’s too much time here spent trying to imitate more serious first person shooting games, entirely missing the point of what made Duke Nukem so great to begin with. The true character of Duke Nukem came from the ability to do humorous and fun things, unusual and often pointless though they may be. In Duke Nukem 3D one could use sinks and toilets to regain health, give dollar bills to strippers, use candy machines, ride roller coasters and generally interact with your environment in ways that were quite unique at the time. The environment was really a bigger attraction than the shooting game itself. Such an element is clearly not as special in this day and age as it was 20 years ago, but without it all you really have is a mediocre shooting game with some off colour jokes.
Classic Duke silliness
Pop culture references
Misses the point of Duke