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Music of 2012 [F]
Jan 9th, 2013 by Dan

Colorful Dream

They’re not a real band, but I think you get the idea.

The biggest change in 2012 for me was the rise of Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Sure, I still bought plenty of music from Amazon or Google, but an increasing amount of the stuff I picked up came from the individual himself. I mean, why would I expect the Fez soundtrack to occupy a spot in Amazon’s mp3 store? Thanks to Bandcamp, I can just pick it up almost directly from the artist.

2012 also marked the year that genre walls were officially smashed for me. I think the only stuff I can’t really tolerate is noise metal. Just about everything else can penetrate my cold, black heart and move me to sing and dance.

I certainly never would have guessed that I’d be listening to so much hip hop and R&B back when I started this blog in 2008. It was all punk, rock, and ska, but now I cast a much wider net.

Top Artists of 2012

1. The Beatles (409)

This has been a mainstay of every list since the catalog re-release back in 2009. There’s not really much more to say about how incredible this band is so I’ll instead comment on the fact that I listened to them ~1,100 fewer times this year than last. I really spread out my music time this year…

2. The Weeknd (333)

I can’t remember what month it was when I discovered the trio of mixtapes just waiting for me online, but I will say that The Weeknd opened my eyes to R&B in a way I would have thought impossible. Without him I guarantee you that Frank Ocean would not be on this list. Everything about his music is simultaneously sleazy and sexy and so wrong it almost feels right. “High For This”, “Wicked Games”, and “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” are all stunners.

3. Sambomaster (サンボマスター) (326)

Another mainstay ever since my Japan trip. My understanding of the lyrics approaches zero, but I feel like I understand everything Takeshi Yamaguchi is trying to say with that heartfelt, almost mournful, sandpapery voice. As cheesy as it sounds, it speaks to my soul, man.

4. Frank Ocean (270)

Think about this: I didn’t get channel ORANGE until November. Everybody’s talking about this record, I know, but allow me to say that Ocean penned and crooned the best album of the year. Nothing tops this in 2012, guys. Nothing.

5. Jonathan Coulton (269)

Some people would have you believe that Coulton is a novelty singer best enjoyed in small doses. Some people are wrong. Coulton’s earlier work may lean on a geeky, nerdy motif, but, like I said last year, Artificial Heart really takes him to a new level.

6. Disasterpiece (240)

I listened to a lot of game sountracks this year thanks to the ubiquity and ease of Bandcamp. Disasterpiece’s moody, quasi-ambient work on Fez proved spooky, lonely, and mournful while also igniting that spark for adventure. It’s all synth-y, but the notes never feel quite right, which is pretty much what Fez is all about.

7. Yoko Kanno (202)

I bet you’re thinking that this is all Cowboy Bebop music. You’d be wrong. Kanno’s work on the jazz tunes in Kids on the Slope opened my eyes to a genre I’d ignored for most of my life. That medley in the culture festival? Pure. Magic.

8. George & Jonathan (184)

One of their tunes was the theme to Polygon’s podcast, The Besties, and the album, Beautiful Lifestyle, struck just the right balance of playful and fun without getting obnoxious.

9. Regina Spektor (152)

I fell for What We Saw from the Cheap Seats as hard as a person could for an album. “All the Rowboats”, “Firewood”, and “How” are all so stunningly beautiful that I want to be listening to them right now…In fact, I think I’ll go put them on.

10. Rodrigo y Gabriela (151)

The first entry that confuses me about being on this list. I still dig their stuff, but I don’t really remember listening to it that much this year.

11. The Civil Wars (136)

I’m really worried about the state of this band now that they’ve canceled their tours. What will I do without Joy Williams’ beautiful voice? I hope they figure it out.

12. Kanye West (129)

The current king of hip hop, as far as I’m concerned. Yeezy goes big. Even though I haven’t loved his collab stuff as much as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I can’t help but come back to this guy time and time again.

13. Fall Out Boy (126)

So few bands know how to craft a tune as instantly catchy as these guys. Too bad they broke up.

14. Eirik Suhrke (119)

You may be wondering who this guy is. He did the music for Spelunky, a genius take on the Mega Drive soundchip that gives me that extra push to hit retry on the off chance that I get that sweet sax tune in the Ice Caves.

15. Tsunku (つんく♂) (114)

If I had properly tagged my Rhythm Heaven Fever music earlier in the year this number would be much higher. Academically I understand why other people might not love all the music in Rhythm Heaven, but in my heart I can’t understand why any awesome person would hate it.

16. Childish Gambino (113)

Part of that hip hop kick this year. Donald Glover is pretty awesome.

17. Nintendo (98)

You know what? I think that this 98 is supposed to be added to the Tsunku tally above. Hear that, Tsunku? You should be 7th.

17. Jim Guthrie (98)

The composer to the Superbrothers soundtrack knows how to make a sweet groove. Seriously, go check it out.

19. OK Go (97)

“Needing/Getting” will always be a favorite of mine because I’m a hopeless romantic (emphasis on hopeless).

20. Jasper Byrne (95)

The Lone Survivor soundtrack is responsible for this play count. It was equal parts creepy and beautiful and I couldn’t stay away last winter/spring.

21. Alex Cuba (91)

Man, that afro is cool, isn’t it? There’s a clarity and richness to his voice that soothes me and makes me feel funky.

22. Hannibal Buress (88)

Is your name really Hannibal? These plays are thanks to two of my favorite stand-up albums that I got this year. That Buress dude is pretty funny, y’all.

22. Ana Tijoux (88)

Saw her live this year. That was awesome. Her ability to spit rhymes in Spanish is mind boggling to me.

24. Juan Luis Guerra (85)

I wonder what percentage of these come from “Niagara en bicicleta”? (Answer: ~26%)

25. Kendrick Lamar (84)

I picked up good kid, m.A.A.d city at the same time (or close to it) as channel ORANGE and figured that it would definitely win, play-wise. Didn’t quite go like that, but trust that Kendrick Lamar’s rhymes are equally awesome. Definitely check out that disc.

Top 10 Tracks of 2012

1. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” (23)

It all sounds so drug-addled and sexy, but in a dirty way. This was the first track I heard by The Weeknd and the rest is history.

2. Juan Luis Guerra – “El Niagara en bicicleta” (22)

Quite possibly my favorite song ever? I honestly have no idea how it didn’t make the list last year.

3. George & Jonathan – “Little Marcus” (21)

The aforementioned former theme to The Besties. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it’s super pleasant. A great little tune.

4. Carla Morrison – “Compartir” (20)

I would have expected “Una salida” to have this spot, but this is also a fantastic love song by a beautiful vocalist. Carla Morrison has this sweet, delicate voice that just breaks your heart while you listen to her. I absolutely love her and this song.

4. Neon Indian – “Polish Girl” (20)

I think I own two Neon Indian songs, but this chillwave track puts me in a spaced out place where I can’t not love it. Put a gun to my head and I wouldn’t be able to describe what makes this song so special, but I think it really does speak for itself.

6. Regina Spektor – “Small Town Moon” (19)

It probably ended up with the most plays by virtue of being the first track on her new album, but “Small Town Moon” is no slouch. It perfectly sets the mood for a thoughtful, beautiful album.

6. George & Jonathan – “Street Monsters” (19)

There’s really no good explanation for how this track got up here. It’s funky and it’s quick and I guess it got lucky compared to the rest of the album.

6. Frank Ocean – “Bad Religion”, “Pilot Jones”, & “Pyramids” (19)

And the list closes out with my three favorite tracks from channel ORANGE. All three of these are perfect in their own way. Be it the soulful poetry of “Bad Religion”, the simple hook of “Pilot Jones”, or that sexy electrofunk of the first half of the epic “Pyramids”, they all land so unbelievably perfectly on my ears that I’m shocked they’re not higher up on the list.

Mad Men S5E7 “Lady Lazarus” [IB]
May 8th, 2012 by Dan

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is not my favorite song by The Beatles. Not by a long shot. In general I’m not a fan of their drug-inspired work, but I recognize how Revolver, and, specifically, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, is the turning point for the band (for the record, Rubber Soul is better than Revolver).

It’s also the obvious choice for a song by The Beatles that would completely alienate Don.

All season long we’ve been seeing old Don. Prior to this Don was actually pretty cool. He had a lot more success with women and the 60s didn’t actively hate him. Now the youth of the country is aggressively turning against him. Megan and Ginsberg seem to regard his distaste for youth with incredulity and horror. I mean, Ginsberg drops an F-bomb, he’s so mad (really, censors…did we really need to cut the audio there?). In the direct aftermath of last week’s episode, Megan decides that she truly does hate copywriting and advertising in general and she wants to act. It’s just so…I dunno. Everything that Don wanted, Megan had. She had the beauty and grace of Betty and the desire to write copy and intelligence (and skill) of Peggy, but now the life that Don has so enjoyed is abandoning him. Hence the open elevator shaft…

I loved the way that Peggy dressed down Megan for rejecting the thing that she and Don value so much. Both of them cannot understand a world where advertising doesn’t take precedence, but at least Don was supportive and didn’t squash her dream like he did with Betty. Peggy and Joan also had that lovely interaction where they discussed the modern woman and Megan’s squandered talents. Joan’s view of her is far more pessimistic, perhaps given her older age and the fact that she’s seen so many of these marriages go the same way, but Peggy sees a woman who has everything, but cannot be satisfied with what she has.

Meanwhile, Pete and Rory Gilmore (not really, it’s Alexis Bledel playing the role of Beth) are engaged in extra-marital activities. When Pete’s train buddy decides to spend the night with his mistress, she gets revenge by sleeping with Pete, but he’s not able to let go quite so easily. He is constantly overaggressive with women, isn’t he? After a season of just tearing him down, at least Harry gets a chance to drop some wisdom about women with Pete. It’s a pretty good scene that Pete doesn’t take to heart. No, he’s not satisfied with women being in control and deciding the way things go. It reminds me of his scene with the prostitutes earlier in the season. He wants to be in charge. So when Beth draws the little heart to Pete and then erases it with the power windows…what Pete sees as hope is instead further demonstration of his lack of power.

“From Me to You” Cover by Walk off the Earth [F/ER]
Feb 15th, 2012 by Dan

An adorable cover by Walk off the Earth of “From Me to You” by The Beatles. Great fun to listen to.

2011 in Music [F]
Jan 3rd, 2012 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2011 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2011

1. The Beatles (1,156)

I’d say the number of tracks in my collection that are by The Beatles or by the Rx Bandits far outweighs the number of other tracks. It’s not a coincidence, since I love both bands, but I don’t think you’ll see these positions change much in the future.

2. RX Bandits (571)

The Bandits split up this year. It’s tragic, but that concert was amazing and I’ll always love their music.

3. Jonathan Coulton (343)

Coulton’s new release sparked way more interest in his work than I’d had last year. Adding in the band allowed his music to grow in a great way.

4. Arctic Monkeys (328)

The Monkeys are a pretty solid band and I got to see them live for the first time in 2011. Their new tracks are pretty solid, especially “Black Treacle”

5. Sambo Master (277)

I’ve written thousands of words about why I love this J-Rock band. They’ve got so much energy and emotion in their lyrics (that I can’t even understand!) and their place on this list is well-earned.

6. Kanye West (185)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an incredible album. It got lots of playtime throughout the year, but the final push that put it above OK Go happened as a result of the Giant Bombcast and their obsession with “Power”. I literally listened gave Kanye the listens he needed to get #6 in the last two days of the year.

7. OK Go (184)

OK Go is just a solid rock band. They’ve got great lyrics, great hooks, and they’re always great fun to listen to.

8. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios (172)

I ran into this fantastic merengue band thanks to Alt Latino. Rita makes merengue even more frantic and fun than you remember it being and I love her for it.

9. Sondre Lerche (163)

Everyone’s favorite Norwegian crooner. I like this guy because he’s got a clean

10. Janelle Monáe (161)

Janelle gets funkier than any human has any right to. Her latest, The ArchAndroid, was so well put together that I’m on the edge of my seat to see what she does next. A definite can’t miss.

11. Vampire Weekend (154)

I think these listens were front-ended on 2011. Not that I dislike VW now, but I can’t remember listening to their stuff all that much in recent months. I like busting out Contra in the cold winter to warm me up, but it’s been a mild one so far.

12. The Civil Wars (133)

Joy Williams and John Paul White have one of the most incredible duos I’ve ever been lucky enough to listen to. Their voices just go so well together and have this longing quality that is surprising considering they’re both happily married…to other people.

13. Alex Cuba (132)

This Cuban-Canadian crooner makes pretty chill, easy listening Spanish music that I can’t get enough of.

14. Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka, Hiroshi Kanazu, Toshiyuki Ueno (127)

This would be the staff behind the music of Mother games. I picked up the soundtracks to the second and third game, but they’re so massive that this team rose quickly.

15. Wild Flag (123)

One of my favorite new bands of the past year, I still remember queuing for two hours (to no avail) on Record Store Day for a chance at their single. Their album turned out fantastically (easily one of the best of 2011) and seeing them live was awesome.

Top Tracks of 2011

1. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios – “El juidero” (27)

My go-to track for merengue that makes my legs want to move. “El juidero” was just fantastic and I remember putting it on all the time just to get my heartbeat up.

2. RX Bandits – “…And The Battle Begun” (25)

I have so many versions of the tracks on …And the Battle Begun that I listen to with such regularity that this song not appearing on this list would be weird.

3. RX Bandits – “Only For The Night” (24)

My favorite song makes the list? Shocker!

4. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Colors”, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger – “Jardin du Luxembourg”, & The Book of Mormon Cast – “All-American Prophet” (22)

April Smith is awesome, we already know that, but I also fell in love with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s little duo thanks to NPR. We also can’t forget how awesome The Book of Mormon‘s soundtrack is. Great stuff.

7. Wild Flag – “Glass Tambourine” & Jonathan Coulton – “Nemeses (Featuring John Roderick)” (21)

The first single of both band’s discs from this year got lots of listens from me in anticipation of the full tracks.

9. RX Bandits – “Decrescendo”, The Beatles – “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”, Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich+Fussible – “I Count the Ways”, & Wild Flag – “Future Crimes” (19)

“Decrescendo” closes off a bunch of Rx Bandits recordings I own. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” is my favorite part of the Abbey Road medley. “I Count the Ways” is my second favorite Nortec song on that album. “Future Crimes” is the other single from Wild Flag released before their debut album.

13. The Beatles – “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Barenaked Ladies – “Enid”, & OK Go – “WTF?” (17)

I listen to “Enid” a lot. Mostly when I’m mad at a girl, but sometimes just to get the heartbeat up. “WTF?” is not my favorite songs on OK Go’s new album, but it was their first single and it was free. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is one of The Beatles’ late, weirder songs, but man do I love it. So creepy and weird and awesome.

Perfect Blue [FB]
Aug 26th, 2011 by Dan

Perfect Blue

It's as weird and creepy as it looks.

Idol culture is weird. I mean, bizarre. It only just hit me while I was watching the opening of Perfect Blue that the main fans of these idol groups are men! The shitty, poppy, stupid J-Pop that is peddled throughout Japan by gaggles of over-cute women doing choreographed dances have male audiences. It’s so weird. I mean, in the states we have guys who perv over girl groups and female artists, but none of them would admit to being “fans”.

Several Kotaku articles I’ve read reference the immense amount of pressure that pop idol fans have to remain “pure.” Rather like hiding John Lennon’s marriage back in the early days of The Beatles, these women aren’t allowed to express any emotional or sexual involvement with men in public and they’re quite serious about it. Fans will turn against impure idols very quickly.

Satoshi Kon, whose favorite topics seem to be obsession and dreams vs. reality, tackles this otaku culture right off the bat with Perfect Blue. It’s funny how much disdain he seems to have for the hardcore fan that seems to comprise anime fandom in Japan (at least from a western perspective). I’m not saying it’s without merit, since obsession of any kind is a little dangerous, but it’s always seemed risky to me. It also lends legitimacy to his message since he’s using their medium against them. Well, that’s not completely accurate, I mean, obsessive groups exist for every type of fandom, but the anime otaku is not exactly high on the obsessive social totem pole.

If I had to complain about one artistic decision in this movie, it’s choosing to make Me-Mania, the scary stalker-level fan of our main character, Mima, look like an absolute troll. His eyes are misshapen, his teeth are disgusting, and his hair greasily covers up half his face. It’s a cheat to make him seem so abnormal, in my eyes.

Here I am talking specifics when I haven’t even explained the plot! The aforementioned Mima was part of an idol trio, CHAM, and she’s “decided” to leave the group to go into acting. I put that in quotes because Mima seems to just do what she’s told. Her fans don’t seem to take this very well and a threatening fax and a letterbomb make their way to her.

The problem is that her new gig as an actress is in a seedy crime drama where she is immediately thrust out of the “good girl idol” light and into the “this girl is not pure” light by way of a rape scene in the drama. It’s disturbing and kind of gross to watch and Mima’s already fragile consciousness seems to snap right here. She wasn’t really raped, but the acting and scene are horrifically tough to deal with and she can’t quite cope, but her manager continues to push this darker bent.

All the while Mima has stumbled onto a webpage seemingly written by her describing her daily movements and actions to a scarily accurate degree. She knows she’s not writing it, but the psychological trauma of reinventing herself and her already fragile psyche starts to make reality and fiction start to blend. Scenes in her life seem to happen, but then are actually scenes from her drama. I won’t spoil much more past here, but this is where the movie starts to get that Satoshi Kon feel.

As a viewer, this movie was tremendously disturbing. The fake rape scene begins blending reality and the drama in scary ways and Mima’s stalker seems scarily determined to get her to return to her singing career. What I especially enjoyed was watching Satoshi Kon’s trademark shots and symbolism start to take shape here. Certain scenes and ideas are definitely explored and expanded upon in his later work and that was really cool. I also loved that this movie took things to a much scarier and weirder place than Paprika.

If you can’t handle psychological thrillers, stay away from Perfect Blue, but everyone else should check this flick out. Considering his later work, it’s an unsurprisingly solid freshman effort from Satoshi Kon, even if it’s rougher around the edges than his later work. Definitely worth watching.

AUSA Perfect Blue-13

Is cosplaying Perfect Blue missing the point? Doesn't matter, it's still pretty cool

What I’m Watching [IB]
Mar 18th, 2011 by Dan

7/365 - laziness

Been watching lots of TV lately. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been on the box this week:

30 Clubs in 30 Days:

MLB Network continues its annual preview of all 30 MLB teams this year like it has for the past two. This time we’ve got slightly fancier tech for showing off prospects in studio and a neat little postcard thing at the end to summarize their feelings about the team, but not much has changed (and I’m ok with that). Coverage of the Florida Marlins airs on Saturday, but I’ll be down in DC watching Maz Jobrani do his thing. Thank god for DVRs.

Glee:

The much anticipated(?) debut of Glee‘s original music happened this week at Regionals. I’ve been on record as saying that there’s nothing worse than Glee doing original songs. Realistically, all I mean is that the songs will not be anywhere near as good as (many) of the songs they already do on the show. Turns out that I was right. See, the problem with the songs that they seriously wrote to perform (as opposed to the funny reject songs) is that they are machine-built (so to speak) to appeal to the mass market (read: tweens). They are unoffensive, but unimpressive and kind of trite. Kind of reminds me of High School Musical, but a little better.

On the licensed music front, I did love Kurt singing “Blackbird”. Aside from the terribly ham-fisted implementation of “Imagine”, Kurt has received the honor of singing Beatles songs in Glee (the only other one would be “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, but still) and I liked the implication that “ITtHYH” was a connection that Kurt shared with his dad that might have also led to a love of The Beatles. This could just be idle speculation, but we’ll see if my Kurt-sings-songs-by-The-Beatles-because-of-his-dad hypothesis rings true the next time a classic Beatles tune makes it into the show.

Justified:

When I saw the first episode of this show I remember being somewhat unimpressed with the love interest characters they’d introduced for Raylen. Since then Ava and Winona have so charmed me with their characterization, acting, and Southern accents that I can’t remember ever thinking that they weren’t right for the part.

It’s easy to dismiss Justified as a “hillbilly redneck show” that would hold no interest over viewers not from the South, but I’m hooked. FX has certainly started some sort of cable network TV renaissance and I’m definitely grateful

My 2010 in Music [Feedback]
Dec 31st, 2010 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2010 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2010

1. The Beatles (989 listens)

The re-release of the entire catalog reinvigorated my love for The Beatles as I more thoroughly explored their catalog and loved songs I’d never realized were by the Fab Four. Heaping praise on The Beatles is almost ridiculous, so I’ll leave it at that.

2. April Smith and The Great Picture Show (385)

This one doesn’t make as much sense to me. I think there might be some miscounting by one of my tagging services, but, regardless, I’ve loved April Smith since the first time I heard her singing “Terrible Things” on All Songs Considered. She was absolutely my breakout sensation of this year. There will be more on her in the New Year…

3. Rx Bandits (370)

“We get it, Dan. You love the Bandits, even though almost no one on earth has heard of them…”

4. Arctic Monkeys (295)

Kees van Dijkhuizen’s fantastic Youtube video Cinema 2009 featured “Crying Lightning” and I was hooked. Then I gave Favourite Worst Nightmare and I knew that these kids from Sheffield really knew what they were doing. We’ll see if 2011 will bring a new album.

5. Sambomaster (268)

“Shut up about Sambomaster already, Dan.”

6. The Zutons (179)

A fine band whose plays came mostly because I made “Put A Little Aside” the anthem for visiting a girl I was quite taken with. It’s a song about a guy having an affair, so I’m proving that we really only hear what we want to out of our favorite songs.

7. Jonathan Coulton (177)

Everyone’s favorite nerdy singer of songs about robots, monkeys, zombies, and evil geniuses continues to get tons of plays from me. Great stuff.

8 Glee Cast (165)

No comment.

9. Lucky Boys Confusion (163)

An old staple that will never get old. Too bad they broke up.

10. Girl Talk (147)

Talk about making a fast impression. With only two months of the year to make an impact, Girl Talk still finds itself in my top ten. Props.

Top Tracks of 2010

1. Felicia Day – “Penny’s Song” (88 listens)

Whoa, really? Wow. Didn’t realize I loved this song that much. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is one of my favorite musicals, but “Penny’s Song” isn’t really my favorite track from the movie. Oh well, I’m still happy to see this top the list.

2. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “Fire” (79)

I love this song. I’m just barely not embarrassed to admit it.

3. Sambomaster – “Ohベイビー” (70)

More Sambomaster love.

4. Stars – “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” (68)

Another song I wouldn’t have heard if I never listened to All Songs Considered. Their episode on break-up songs featured this track by Stars and it blew me away. Always makes me think of Ashley. Nearly makes me cry plenty of times. This song is brutal and awesome at the same time.

5. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not a Home” (65)

Kristin Chenowith’s voice is amazing.

6. Rx Bandits – “Mientras La Veo Soñar” (60)

A great song on a great 2009 album.

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – “Not About Debra” and April Smith and the Great Picture Show “Wow and Flutter” (58)

Probably my favorite song by LBC and one of April Smith’s best. Smith currently uses “Wow and Flutter” as the last song in her set and the band all plays fantastic solos. Love both of these songs.

9. The Zutons – “Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done!)” (55)

It’s weird to have this so high when I love at least four or five Zutons songs more than this one. Guess that’s how it goes when you do a lot of random shuffling.

10. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (54)

Brilliant song, because, really, “If you’re just drop dead gorgeous, you should just drop dead”

Tetris [GO]
Oct 7th, 2009 by Dan

Eric came up with an idea to write parallel reviews of the same video game to see how similar our reviews came out. You can see his at Eric’s Binary World 2.0

Tetris is…”video gaming distilled to its core

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

The most fun a person can have playing Tetris is completing this drop

A Tetris Review (In Four Lines)

Tetris is a game where you try to clear lines from the screen using six different shapes.
The highest number of lines you can clear with one shape is four (called a Tetris).
There is no narrative reason for you to clear lines.
The reason for you to clear lines is because it is fun.

There’s absolutely no reason to review Tetris. The game has existed longer than I’ve even been alive. Most everyone who’s played video games has played it at least once. Everyone I know who has played it loves it. What is there to say about a game like that? I could write about tetrominoes, but I’m pretty sure most anyone who reads that word will say, “What the hell is a tetronimo?” (protip: it’s what the individual Tetris shapes are called) or I could talk about Tetris syndrome, a repetitive stress symptom resulting from endlessly watching these blocks fall into place to clear lines.

None of these actually express the point of Tetris.

The Game Boy launched in 1989, only three years after my birth and too soon for me to experience it until far later. The system sold on the market until 2001 and the original iteration came bundled with Tetris. I don’t remember the year that my older brother, Eric, got his hands on a Game Boy nor do I remember the year that I got one, but I know that we had one in 1992 and I know that I played the hell out of that game, both alone and with Eric and David. I have distinct memories of straining my eyes in the car, playing a few seconds at a time between the streetlights in Miami, probably causing the severe vision problems I’m beset with today.

Before we get any further, I think it’s time for a digression.

For the first time since 1978, the entire oeuvre of The Beatles became available again for people to buy. Just about everyone who was alive during the brief seven years that the band released albums went out and paid what former 1UP editor Jeff Green affectionately called the “60s tax” to relive the blessed music of their youth. While I’m definitely not a flower child in any sense of the word, I happen to be a pretty big fan of The Beatles. I went out and paid my dues to nostalgia to bring home the works of The Greatest Rock Band of All Time. With deliberate caution I opened up the packaging and began systematically ripping and listening to the catalog in strict chronological order. I discovered something that I already knew, but had neither the equipment nor the resources to effectively conclude: The Beatles are fucking amazing. Note that I didn’t use the past tense there, there is something undeniably timeless about their beats, their beautiful bass lines, those perfect harmonies, and the sublime percussive talents of one Mr. Starr.

I’m no audiophile, I’m no serious student of music, I’m no musician, but I fancy myself a true lover of music. It’s rare for me to entirely dismiss a genre of music, I’ll listen to it all and I do my best to collect music from as many different sources as I can. Music is something that resonates with the basic, primal, inherently human parts of me. Before there was society, before there were cities, before there was an Internet (mind-boggling, I know!), there was music. Before we knew how to rock, there were The Beatles.

The first track on Please Please Me is “I Saw Her Standing There.” Within that short, 2:54 song, a pure, simple, but complex sound bursts from speakers. From Paul’s frenetic bass line, to the clean, non-threatening vocals, the harmonies from John and George, and the pure perfection of the backbeat, it’s clear, at least from my vantage point in 2009, that I’m listening to a group that had so mastered their medium that the only logical progression was for them to take music and irreversibly change it. The Beatles may have started with a medium that was established, but they would go on to create early forays into almost every modern genre. Just glancing at the bits of trivia contained within The Beatles: Rock Band shows a group unafraid to experiment with technology and push the medium to its furthest reaches. They found ways to implement the new until they ended with Let It Be sounding almost nothing like when they started.

It’s the astute reader who already sees where I’m going with this.

A Tetris Review (In Haiku)

Four lines disappear
A never-ending supply
The fun never ends

Pong is a simple game. Its spartan simplicity was necessity. When it comes down to it, it’s really just two lines at the edge of a screen bouncing a pixel back and forth. You couldn’t really do more than that, but it was the 1972. Comparatively, Donkey Kong is a ridiculously complicated game released in 1981. As Jumpman, you’re required to scale ladders, hop over barrels and fireballs, possibly smashing them with a hammer, and go toe to toe with a gigantic ape to save a damsel in distress. In 2009, I’m a huge fan of Left 4 Dead, a game that requires me to keep track of my health, the health of my allies, maintain situational awareness, know how to deal with six different types of zombies, each with unique attack/AI behavior patterns, navigate huge, 3D environments, and be able to aim and fire eight or so different weapon types. Tetris requires me to manage six shapes (two pairs of which are mirror variations on the same theme) and arrange them into lines. It’s not Pong, but it’s not even Donkey Kong complex. One joystick and two buttons that ostensibly serve one purpose.

There’s a reason almost everyone alive today has played Tetris and that people who don’t play video games still love Tetris. The barrier of entry is so low that anyone can play, but, thanks to the complexity created by the interplay of these six shapes, (WARNING: cliché approaching) very few can truly master it. When you combine that with the pure joy of taking that line piece you’ve been waiting almost twenty blocks for, while your tower sits mere millimeters from the top of the screen, and slamming it as hard as you can into place, generating that happy little sound effect while instantly eradicating four lines, well you’ve got yourself some magic there, don’t you?

Eric has a house, a wife, cameras that probably cost more than an unfortunately large proportion of the population makes in one month, multiple, powerful computers, a High Definition (TM!) television, a Nintendo Wii, and countless other distractions, but, inevitably, when I ask him if he’s watched this box set I lent him or had a chance to check this or that out, he’ll tell me, often enough that this isn’t that big of an exaggeration, that he didn’t get much done on a given night because he was busy playing Tetris online against his sister-in-law. It’s just something that calls to people, gamer or not, to play and try to master. It is timeless. It is a force of nature. It is rock. It is video gaming distilled to its core.

A Tetris Review (In One Word)

Perfection

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VI: Baseball Off-Day [II]
Sep 13th, 2009 by Dan

Domo-kun just before sneaking across the Kintai-kyo without paying admission or being a part of the samurai caste.

Domo-kun just before sneaking across the Kintai-kyo without paying admission or being a part of the samurai caste.

Our first baseball off-day and we spent it traveling throughout the area. From Hiroshima we headed out to Iwakuni, Miyajima, and then back to Hiroshima to see the Peace Memorial.

The morning started off with the usual optional day tour to see the sights in the area. Dave and I were eager to head to Iwakuni and see the famous samurai bridge Kintai-kyo. Historical accounts state that the bridge was only usable by the samurai caste back in the day and the whole thing was constructed completely without nails.

Dave did not sneak across the bridge, but hes part of the samurai caste, so he crossed for free.

Dave did not sneak across the bridge, but he's part of the samurai caste, so he crossed for free.

Like most monuments or historical buildings in Japan, the original bridge was destroyed by a typhoon, but was faithfully recreated in precisely the same way (although I think they used nails in certain key places to prevent future typhoon damage).

Don, a fellow tourgoer, crossing the bridge.

Don, a fellow tourgoer, crossing the bridge.

Across the bridge, up on the hillside, sits the also-famous Iwakuni Castle, so we paid our combined admission fee to cross the bridge, take the gondola up the hill, and see the castle.

There it is in the distance. Squint if you have to.

There it is in the distance. Squint if you have to.

The bridge itself was pretty cool and it allowed for some great views of the Nishiki River below us. Across the bridge is a town sort of devoted to tourism and the maintenance of the grounds. There are a bunch of shops, some cool photo opportunities, and a shrine near the gondola to pray and make offerings at.

Best photo of the day.

Best photo of the day.

Of course, you can’t get up a giant slope (easily) without a gondola, so we queued up and learned that the tiny cars we’d be taking to the summit were supposed to fit 30 people. That would be 30 Japanese people, mind you, so beyond the usual size increase that you can expect from Americans, our tour did include some of the larger, stereotypical type. It made for a crammed space that would be hell for the claustrophobic and was also uncomfortably hot thanks to the sun shining through the windows. Insult was added to injury as one of the Japanese operators made a gesture by puffing out his cheeks and holding his arms out to the effect that we were fat Americans and laughed at us. As a non-fat American, I wasn’t too bugged by this, but it was a remarkably rude action considering that the Japanese make an effort to be polite 99% of the time.

It was crowded and hot.

It was crowded and hot...

One remarkable view later, we were at the top of the mountain/hill thing looking out over the beauty of the Iwakuni landscape. A short walk up the tourist path took us to Iwakuni Castle.

...but worth it in the end.

...but worth it in the end.

I think the thing I love most about going to culturally distinct (read: non-Western) parts of the world is seeing the way that they developed along parallel, but wildly different paths. One of the most obvious examples of this is the way that the East and West designed castles. We’ve all seen plenty of Western castles. They’ve got ramparts and they’re surrounded by walls, etc. Eastern castles all have verticality and tend to look a bit like pagodas. For all their differences, one thing they both (can) have in common would be the inclusion of moats.

However, Iwakuni Castle does not have a moat. Elevation protects this place.

However, Iwakuni Castle does not have a moat. Elevation protects this place.

Iwakuni Castle was nothing too special, its floors were filled with museum pieces that you might expect, samurai armour, old pictures of the areas, a model of the bridge, swords, firearms, and decorative pieces, while its top floor housed an observatory deck. We headed back down the gondola and caught a train to Hatsukaichi to see the famous Miyajima (shrine island).

I spelled it all British-style in my post.

I spelled it all British-style in my post.

Why is the island so famous? It’s got an ever popular and often photographed Shinto-style torii (gate). Chances are, you’ve seen a picture of this at some point in your life. To get to the island, we boarded a ferry and Susan told Dave and I about the robust deer population. While it’s not as intense as the deer population on Nara, Miyajima is full of seriously domesticated/adjusted deer who don’t even react to human proximity. No lie, I accidentally stepped on one while taking a picture and the little guy didn’t even react to me nudging it with my feet.

Grazing (posing?) with the torii in the background.

Grazing (posing?) with the torii in the background.

My favorite moment on the island had to be when we came upon a group of Japanese guys taking a picture holding up Bullwinkle-style antlers to his head while next to a buck. When we asked them to take a photo, he instead opted to throw up a different set of horns, which was also pretty awesome, so I forgive him.

That dude is totally metal.

That dude is totally metal.

We got some fantastic shots near the gate and started to head back to the ferry when we were lured into an oyster shop by an enterprising saleswoman. At great risk for missing the ferry and being separated from the tour group, we waited for her to cook the oysters and then made a mad dash, oysters in hand, to the ferry to the mainland.

So good...

So good...

The oysters were fantastic. So fantastic, they deserved their own paragraph.

No, seriously, they were awesome.

No, seriously, they were awesome.

With that, our morning was over and we had seen two great sights. There was still plenty of day to go, so we hopped aboard a train headed back to Hiroshima. Our destination would be just outside the A-Bomb Dome.

Its amazing that its still standing to this day.

It's amazing that it's still standing to this day.

There is something powerful and deeply affecting about standing 150 meters away from where the first atomic bomb attack occurred. Plain and simple, I stood in complete awe as I took in the Genbaku Dome (AKA A-Bomb Dome, AKA Hiroshima Peace Memorial), saw its bare walls barely standing, its dome a stripped husk of steel, and then looked around at the Hiroshima that surrounded it, fully rebuilt, fully alive, and fully defiant of the atrocity that took place in that very spot 64 years ago. I say atrocity, not because I find the reasons behind the atomic bomb to be faulty, but because I find war atrocious. 70,000-80,000 people died as a result of that bomb. The Aloi Bridge, intended target, stood behind me, but the actual hypocenter was 240 meters from that, above the former Shima Surgical Clinic. I’m not going to get too much deeper into this, but if there’s one thing I took from standing outside that dome, it’s that atomic bombs should never be used again.

If you look closely, theres a bird living up there.

If you look closely, there's a bird living up there.

From the dome, Dave and I wandered around Hiroshima, noticing statues that bore evidence of the blast and were used to determine the hypocenter. Eventually we came across the Children’s Peace Monument, dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki, a hibakusha (literally “explosion-affected people”) who did not develop leukemia until ten years after the bomb. Desperate to live, she began folding paper cranes with the idea that by folding 1000 paper cranes, she would be granted a wish, according to a Japanese saying. While she did fold over 1000 paper cranes, she still died at age 12 from radiation she was exposed to ten years prior.

The Hiroshima Childrens Peace Monument

The Hiroshima Children's Peace Monument

The monument itself is nice and it’s surrounded by transparent rooms containing thousands of paper cranes sent in by children around the world.

If you look closely, you can see the Peace Flame

If you look closely, you can see the Peace Flame

From the monument, we wandered toward the Memorial Peace Park and the museum, stopping to take note of the Memorial Cenotaph, which contains the names of all hibakusha who have died and the Peace Flame, which is not an eternal flame, per se. Its fires will be extinguished only when there are no longer any nuclear bombs on the planet and we are “free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The cenotaph was designed so that you can see the Peace Flame and the Peace Memorial through its arch.

The cenotaph was designed so that you can see the Peace Flame and the Peace Memorial through its arch.

Anyone who remembers the huge controversy a few years ago between Japan and China over Japanese textbooks omitting atrocities they committed in World War II knows that Japan, unlike Germany where it is illegal to deny the holocaust or display Nazi iconography, has sometimes tended to forget about their role in WWII. With that in mind, I entered the museum and found that, contrary to expectations, the museum was almost completely even-handed in its treatment of the subject. The message was clear: nuclear weapons are evil and should be eliminated, but there was almost no Japanese bias. In fact, the only Japanese “spin” was that World War II was called the Pacific War, the name it’s given within the country. I came out of the museum deeply affected by the accounts of the victims, some small children, who were incinerated, had the flesh burned off their bodies, or just suffered complications further in life as a result of a blast that couldn’t have lasted longer than half a minute. Stories of victims flinging their still burning bodies into the river for relief took shape within my mind and, despite my already pacifist leanings, I think I left there with a changed point of view about how completely unnecessary wars of aggression are and just how dire the consequences can be.

A shot from inside the museum

A shot from inside the museum

Our long day was finally over, so we went back to the hotel to relax and rest up for dinner that night. On the menu, yakiniku. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home by accident, so I don’t have any pictures of the fun.

For those unfamiliar with the term, yakiniku is a Korean style barbeque where grills are set in the table in front of the customers and raw meat is brought out (typically in an all-you-can-eat in a certain amount of time style) for the patrons to cook and eat. It’s fantastic and I have yet to find a good, authentic (to the degree that the Japanized version of a Korean style of cooking can be) Korean BBQ place in the States.

Thanks, in small part, to the insistence of Dave, Susan, and myself, we also convinced Bob and Mayumi that we absolutely had to go to a karaoke box that night to truly get a feel for Japan. Demand to sing was so high that we had to rent out two rooms for our party and we sang well into the night to the likes of Queen, Neil Diamond, Garbage, Gackt, Madonna, and The Beatles. It works something like this:

1. You enter the room with an agreed-upon rate per hour (or per person per hour in some cases).
2. Drinks are ordered via a telephone in the room.
3. There is a television in the room and a small computer in which participants can enter the numeric codes (found in the songbooks) of the song they’d like to sing
4. Song starts.
5. People sing.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you are hoarse, tired, or both.

It was a total blast and I’m glad that I’ve spent so much time destroying people’s eardrums in Rock Band that I was barely nervous at all about singing. Our room was full of energy and nearly everyone sang until midnight.

It was time to go back to the room and sleep, tomorrow we would return to baseball (and Tokyo!).

Buy One Game, Get One You Don’t Want Free, Beatles: Rock Band Track List [Game Overview]
Aug 14th, 2009 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Microsoft made a very intelligent move last Friday by introducing PayPal to Xbox Live for US users. From Friday onward users could use the online service to add points to their Xbox Live accounts. Those of you who don’t have credit cards rejoice. Things just got easier for you.

The Numbers Keep Climbing

As of last Friday, sales of Wii Sports Resort hit 600,000 copies. It’s also racked up at least 500,000 in the US and 350,000 in Japan, again, as of last Friday. We’ve got a big seller on our hands here.

I Really Wish They’d Stop Doing This…

Square Enix announced last week that they would be announcing the release date for Final Fantasy XIII in the coming weeks. Instead of rejoicing, most people said “Yeah, ok…How about you just tell us the release date when you know it?” Popular opinion is that the date will be revealed during Tokyo Game Show 2009.

Your Mother Lied, There’s Only So Much Love to Go Around

Ever wonder why you’re limited to a scant 100 friend on your Xbox Live buddy list? The answer lies where it always lies with Microsoft: legacy support. Keeping Halo 2 on the roster of games played over Xbox Live requires that the 100 person cap be met. Since tons of people still play Halo 2, the artificial limit continues.

Really?!

Nintendo has announced that the DSi outsold the DS, DS Lite, and Wii in its first three months of sales. Since the buzz seemed to be so muted, I was personally way shocked by this news. Who knew the new iteration was so popular?

Exclusivity

Xbox continues to lock down Netflix by getting exclusive movie streaming right to the service. PS3 users are out of luck as are Wii users in the USA, despite similar streaming services being available in Japan.

Pre-Buy One, Get One Free

In a move that screams lack of confidence, Activision has announced that anyone who pre-orders the upcoming Guitar Hero 5 will get…a free copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen.

It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a company outright give away a brand new game should the consumer commit to buying another game. It’s a move that’s got me scratching my head and wondering just how bad the projected Van Halen sales are supposed to be, but it could easily be a response to the nosediving sales numbers of rhythm music games.

Open SD

Nintendo has finally opened up the SD card slot in their system for booting DLC, allowing Guitar Hero and Rock Band fans to cry out in joy. No longer will players have to leave space open on their hard drives to swap data, they can now launch and play DLC directly from the SD slot. The new feature will debut on 1 September concurrent with the launch of Guitar Hero 5

A Good Old Fashioned Competition

The latest iteration of the classic Wolfenstein series will launch next week, a mere four days after August behemoth Madden NFL 10, which launched at 0000 today. Manveer Heir, a designer at Raven Software, would like to make a deal with you involving these seemingly disparate events.

If Wolfenstein outsells Madden in August, he will personally pay for any and all copies of Wolfenstein sold that month.

Good thing for his wallet that it will never happen. Like Kotaku said when they reported the story, he may as well just use that cash to buy copies of the game for himself to drum up sales.

Sgt. Soul

Harmonix has announced/confirmed that The Beatles albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul will be among the first albums released as DLC for the upcoming The Beatles: Rock Band (09/09/09)

While we’re on the subject, Game Informer Magazine has announced 44/45 of the track list for the upcoming game.

Singles
I Want To Hold Your Hand
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Paperback Writer
Revolution
Don’t Let Me Down

Please Please Me (1963)
I Saw Her Standing There
Boys
Do You Want To Know A Secret
Twist and Shout

With the Beatles (1963)
I Wanna Be Your Man

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love

Beatles For Sale (1964)
Eight Days a Week

Help! (1965)
Ticket To Ride

Rubber Soul (1965)
Drive My Car
I’m Looking Through You
If I Needed Someone

Revolver (1966)
Taxman
Yellow Submarine
And Your Bird Can Sing

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Good Morning Good Morning

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
I Am The Walrus
Hello Goodbye

The Beatles (White Album) (1968)
Dear Prudence
Back In the U.S.S.R.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Birthday
Helter Skelter

Yellow Submarine (1969)
Hey Bulldog

Abbey Road (1969)
Come Together
Something
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun

Let It Be (1970)
Dig a Pony
I Me Mine
I Got a Feeling
Get Back

Love (2006)
Within You Without You/ Tomorrow Never Knows

Most surprising to me is that last entry, Love. This album is from the remixed Cirque du Soleil show Love and it’s interesting to see that such modern additions are being made to the game.

Almost Nothing Creepier Than a Carnival

You really didn’t think you’d get through an edition of Game Overview without mention of Left 4 Dead 2, did you?

Gabe Newell announced on Gametrailers last night that one of the new campaigns for L4D2 will be The Fairgrounds, an amusement park-style level. All I can say here is that I’m already decently terrified by clowns. Please don’t make me cry in the corner Valve. Please don’t make clown zombies.

I’m going to go not think about zombie clowns for a bit. Have a week.

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