Friday, January 18, 2013

Stuff That Never Happened (Virtual Edition)

          In March of 1998, a little company known as Blizzard Entertainment (best known for masterminding the most commercially successful MMORPG of all time, World of Warcraft) bestowed upon our tiny blue speck of a planet my all-time favorite real-time strategy game, Starcraft (edging out the Warcraft series, and blowing Age of Empires back to the DOS age). The game was wildly successful and is considered by some to be one of the best and most important games of all time.

          The game, following the exploits of three species waging war against one another for dominance in a remote part of the milky way galaxy, was and is a tour de force of story, style, and execution. The problem? It left me wanting more. I loved the story, the environments, the character design, really the whole Starcraft universe. The Brood War expansion that followed alleviated some of my wanton blood-lust, but it still didn't quiet my hunger. 

          Then something wonderful happened; Starcraft: Ghost was announced. Now, my video gaming experience up until this point has been largely split between two camps: flight simulators and third person adventure platformers. Starcraft was, for the most part, the only strategy game I played with any real investment, which I largely credit to the quality of the universe in which it takes place. With age, I've incorporated first-person shooters into my tastes, but still, to this day I tend to avoid anything top-down or involving a lot of resource management, so Starcraft remains an anomaly.
          Ghost, however, was like Blizzard had reached deep into my chest, removed my heart, and developed it into a video game, or so it seemed. It was intended as a third person shooter, the story following the exploits of Nova, a Terran Ghost (a stealth-based psychic espionage sniper class of warrior), with potential for a multiplayer mode that would allow users access to several other classic warrior classes of Starcraft, including the Marine, Firebat, and, from the looks of it, perhaps even Zerg or Protoss characters as well.

          For a time it seemed as though my long-time dream of getting up close and personal with a Hydralisk before blasting it in the face with a flamethrower was going to come true. But then, it didn't. Ghost, it seems, was cursed. The damn project faced setback after delay until one day when I walked down the block to my local Game Crazy (yes, the defunct Hollywood Video gaming subsidiary), the clerk told me that the game had been put on indefinite hold by Blizzard, though everyone else counted it out as canceled. Then, like rubbing salt in the wound, the bastard told me that the $5 I put down as a reservation was non-refundable but could be applied to another gaming purchase. That day a part of me died. That was the day I lost my innocence. That day was my childhood's end. That day was [insert tired cliche regarding purity, incorruptibility, and/or virtue and their inevitable dissolution]. There is one upside, however, to this sad tale: I'll never know if the game sucked.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Stuff of Euphonious Fortitude (Low Gravity Edition)

Some choices in life can be rather difficult, like Mexican or Italian, window or aisle, flats or heels, medium or large, heads or tails, wheat or white, etc. Others are decidedly easier, like whom you would save between your best friend, your significant other, and your mother if all were in a near-fatal accident together but only one could survive. My point being that listening to heavy metal shreddage paired with growling akin to that of bears or the demon-possessed is a fine way to spend your Sunday, but a softer touch, too, has its merits. As such I give you my list of the gentler side of my favorite tunes. So, head on into your office/library, swath yourself in your finest smoking jacket, plop down in your most velvety oak armchair, plunk two whiskey stones into a low-ball glass, fill 'er up with something smooth, and enjoy.

1. Why? - Alopecia

Hyper-sexed pull-no-punches indie white-boy pseudo-hip-hop with a flair for the melodramatic and a monotone drawl, and the lyrical prowess to match. Check these kids out.

2. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (Alternatively: Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise)

Once the poster-boy for indie rock, this record is Sufjan Stevens' crowning achievement (as far as I'm concerned). Between managing to craft one of the most hauntingly beautiful while simultaneously creepy songs that I have ever heard (that being "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." ... yes, a song about the killer clown himself) and composing what is, arguably, one of the greatest indie rock anthems of all time (the highly lauded "Chicago" ... a song so unassuming yet pervasive enough to rock culture for Snow Patrol to mention it in one of their biggest hits), this record is, in a word, superb.

3. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire

If taking this album at face value, it would seem that the folks in Stars do not have the most stable love lives. Luckily, that means they've had the kind of sourpuss life experience that writes a pretty killer record about love, loss, and all the shit and sunshine between.

4. The Kings of Convenience - Riot on an Empty Street

My first introduction to this Norwegian folk-pop duo was this: their video for "I'd Rather Dance Than Talk With You," which, in all respects, is as charming and fun as the song is catchy and clever. While this song is the highlight of the record, the rest of Riot on an Empty Street is still fantastic in its own right.

5. Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Growing up, I knew Scotland to be good for a select few things: Golf, Scotch, Braveheart, and Sean Connery. As stereotypical and hyperbolic as that list may be, if I hadn't just looked up where they were from, Scotland wouldn't have even been on my list of places that Belle & Sebastian might hail from. Regardless, they drop a mean jam (read: pleasant song) and this record was my first of theirs, and still my favorite of the lot (especially: "Dear Catastrophe Waitress," "I'm A Cuckoo," and "Step Into My Office, Baby").

6. Paul Baribeau - Paul Baribeau

I love folk punk. It is a vastly under-appreciated genre of music with a lot of deep-rooted passion, energy, and creativity. By the same token, it is inherently flawed for the same raw unadulterated attitude that gives in weight. Simply put, it will never be widely recognized as a truly legitimate musical style because it simply does not care to be. Paul Baribeau is one of the best examples of this dichotomy. He doesn't make music for anyone but himself, but he does so in an extremely endearing way.

7. The Devil Makes Three - The Devil Makes Three

"Santa Cruz, California" may not be even remotely synonymous with "kick-ass bluegrass", but a 5th of bourbon and this record might make you second guess that... hell, you can probably skip the bourbon (though I wouldn't). These guys are deep-southern musicianship on top of northern pacific poesy on top of just a hell-of-a-lot of fun.

8. Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

Hailing from Hampshire, this English siren's backing band contains, among others, a couple of the boys from Mumford & Sons. You can either do as I do and revel in that fact, or you can keep your comments to yourself and get out of my house. Less pluckily adolescent than her first record, I Speak Because I Can illustrates how Marling has matured into a musician of both instrumental and lyrical depth, if not having completely grown out of her girlish yearnings and cynicism.

9. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

This album is the kind of thing I could picture myself listening to in a cabin somewhere in the Pacific Northwest while I felled trees and grew a lumberjack beard fueled by pancakes and moonshine. I don't think it needs further explanation.

10. Beirut - The Lon Gisland EP

Beirut's shortest production also happens to be their best. Occupying the orchestral corner of indie music, this record boasts some very curious instrumentation, boasting obscure instruments such as flugelhorn, euphonium, and glockenspiel to name a few. The opening track, "Elephant Gun," is my favorite of the bunch.

11. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine

For me, Fiona Apple is one of the most consistently strong and talented female musicians in rock throughout the last ten years. This album is just another example of her brilliance, tenacity, and vision. Oh, also, she's good friends with Zach Galifianakis, and that is just the bee's knees.

12. The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading

When chatting with friends and acquaintances about this band, the overwhelming majority of people say things like "Oh, yeah, I love Deerhunter," or "You mean like that movie?" This usually leads me to respond with things like "No, I don't like shoegaze" or "Yes, exactly like that movie." In truth this band has not nor will they ever get the recognition that I think they deserve. These conversations are proof of that. This album is a tremendous accomplishment, following a single story arc of an unnamed protagonist narrator falling in love with a prostitute and boasting one of the most fluid progressions since the symphonies and operas of time long past. Seriously, check out this band.

So, the next time you're looking to illustrate your musical prowess and snobbishness, pull up this list and drop some knowledge on any fool ballsy enough to challenge you (just keep in mind that people don't generally appreciate hipster douche-bags).