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The diary entries of a little girl in her 30s! ~ Part 2 - Page 1155  

post #17311 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by Idsynchrono_24 View Post

If things fall into place here, I should be inheriting Driver 8's K3003 biggrin.gif

 

Got a hitman lined up eh?

post #17312 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by a_recording View Post

 

Got a hitman lined up eh?


Either that or Idsy knows a great cat burglar who owes him a big favor.

post #17313 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by a_recording View Post

Got a hitman lined up eh?
A terrible one as a matter of fact. Missed the intended target and killed my wallet instead :l
post #17314 of 21760

I paid him off.

post #17315 of 21760

Hitmen are expensive. Use that money on more substantial investments. Like resin-filled noise-making plastic clumps attached to aluminum foil braids. Or a nice shag carpet.

post #17316 of 21760

That reminds me, I gotta get caught up on Jean Reno's work.

post #17317 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by DigitalFreak View Post

 

 

Forgot to mention, those turned out stupendously. You're one lucky Digiaintgottimetobeshottoogoshdarnghetto.

post #17318 of 21760
Thread Starter 

Wow, gorgeous looking Paradox DF. Congrats (I know you waited a long time for 'em).

 

Talking to some friends who've seen the Alpha Dogs up close in person, the finish on the 3D printed cups and paint job is apparently... not so good. At least at this point. I'm sure they'll be refined before full scale launch tho.


Edited by MuppetFace - 8/20/13 at 12:28am
post #17319 of 21760
Thanks MF, Dan has said the finish will look better on the AD's once their shipped and the finish on the demos were just one of the first attempts. We'll see, only time will tell. I'm really loving the Paradox right now and looking really forward to hearing the AD's. I have to admit, LFF really knows how to put together a really nice package. The workmanship on the form factor is excellent, sound is one of the best I've ever heard and the cable is also top notch. It was worth the wait.
post #17320 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by TwinQY View Post

Forgot to mention, those turned out stupendously. You're one lucky Digiaintgottimetobeshottoogoshdarnghetto.

I wish the artwork had turned out a little cleaner and crisp but besides that the fit and sound is better then I had hoped. The UERM fits me better then my 4A. The 4A fits and seals alright but I know they're there while with the UERM's I pop them in and within a couple of minutes they seem to disappear and it's just me and the music.
post #17321 of 21760

That's excellent to hear. Hoping I'll get that type of fit this time around. I've yet to experience such a fit and it's made me skeptical regarding CIEMs and the benefits of a custom fit.
 

post #17322 of 21760

Congrats DF, both your new additions look stunning! I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on both once you get to spend more time with them.

post #17323 of 21760
Quote:
Originally Posted by DigitalFreak View Post

I wish the artwork had turned out a little cleaner and crisp 

I've zoomed in a bit but can't see anything too bad. Guess we need more amazing pictures very_evil_smiley.gif

post #17324 of 21760
Thread Starter 

8 / 20 / 13

Dear Diary,

 

I like physical media. I like having a physical artifact I can hold, and with it all the artwork and liner notes and inserts. It's a complete package. In the case of vinyl, there's also a certain satisfaction that comes with holding a thick slab of rainbow colored, splatter patterned wax. Cassette tapes and CDs distributed in small quantities can likewise come in ornate packages with exquisitely meticulous attention to presentation, handcrafted boxes and painted card stock secured with twine, adorned with sundries from some excursion to a remote cabin in the woods like dried leaves or incense. Take Sonmi451's Star Atlas, something that has been on my mind a lot lately which I should elaborate on in a future entry, as a prime example: it comes wrapped up in antique star charts and includes a stargazer's guide, constellation wheel, and a glow-in-the-dark plastic star from some child's bedroom set. Then there's Mount Eerie from a few entries back whose Mount Eerie Pts. 6 & 7 release entails a massive book filled with photographs taken over the course of Elverum's soul-searching nature walks. Coming from the opposite end of the spectrum are the UK's purveyors of doom with multiple Os, Moss. They're fond of releasing cassette tapes in absurdly small quantities, and one such release came housed inside a nearly impenetrable scrap metal cage sculpture, all tangled up in rusty nails and chunks of aluminum siding.

 

 

Intel(R) JPEG Library, version [1.51.12.44]

 

Intel(R) JPEG Library, version [1.51.12.44]

 

 

At the end of the day it's hard to top the Flaming Lips in this department however. They stuck some music on a thumb drive and lodged said thumb drive in a human skull replica made of candy.

 

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 70

 

 

Packaging is art you can consume.

 

Really, I'm drawn to the whole design facet of music scenes. I always have been. When I was a little girl I'd make collages of magazine clippings and polaroid photos I'd taken, and many of these ended up functioning as the album covers for cassette tapes I had produced using a cheap-o tape recorder. As an aside, my tool of choice at one point was a shoddy replica of that device the Macaulay Culkin character uses in Home Alone 2 to trick people, the one that lets you manipulate the speed of playback. A quick Google search reminds me that it was called a Talkboy.

 

 

 

Of course, they had to make a pink and purple version called the Talkgirl:

 

 

Mine was the silver one, but either way I don't recall ever being bothered by the gender of my recording device. At the time it was used to capture what can only be described as noise experiments: I'd utilize various household objects for percussion, play simple loops on a mini Casio, make all sorts of bizarre vocalizations in between singing attempts; it all had a rather Nurse With Wound meets Animal Collective feel to it looking back. When it was all said and done however much of the real fun came from making album covers for these expressive objects using collages made out of magazine clippings and Polaroid photos I had taken, and part of this entailed thinking of names for the various "tracks" and cobbling together liner notes. It was all in how it came together as a whole. The same sort of perverse glee is at work when teens and adults craft mixtapes, I think.

 

 


 

 

When it comes to how they package themselves for consumption, Boris pretty much nail it. They also pretty much nail their fans. More on that later though. For now I'll say that few bands solicit more of that rabid fan enthusiasm in me. Admittedly, a lot of that stems from the fact that they just have this propensity for total unmitigated awesomeness. Put another way: they're talented at being awesome. For bands that specialize in heavy music, prowess is crucially expressed in just how heavy they can get, and in the case of Boris that's pretty damn heavy. They take it a step further however. Really everything they do---especially their being heavy---is informed by this pervasive set of stylistic sensibilities. To that end I can think of bands that are heavier than Boris but few who go about it so stylishly.

 

Start with the basics of self identity. The name Boris was adopted from a Melvins song title, a fitting move for a band that started out playing a particularly Melvins-y brand of sludge. Just what does that entail? Well it's heavy, sure. It's also weird. Glue addled. Even a little annoying. It's not the meditative, calm drone-a-thons of, say, an Earth. Instead it's disorganized. Stripped down in their punk sensibilities and but also overwrought and grandiose at the same time somehow. However you want to describe it all, ultimately you don't do them justice when you separate The Melvins' music from The Melvins themselves. It's not just about downtuned guitars and sustained riffs, but about a whole sensibility built up around it. The perfect foundation on which to build an image. And what an image: a trio from Japan with uber-chic hairstyles consisting of a lead guitarist who is essentially a diminutive female Jimi Hendrix, a bass player slash lead vocalist who plays a double-necked guitar, and a drummer who sings backup vocals into a ridiculous headset and strikes a massive gong. That's only half of their stage presence however; the rest comes from their iconic Orange stacks which signify their answer to Earth's Sunn amps. These towers of power are weapons more than anything else, and they're used to liquify the skeletons of anyone in front of them. The name Boris is also appropriate because it was taken from another band, and in a way Boris' existence functions as a commentary on metal and rock bands in general. They're a band very much in love artistically with the idea of their being a band. Often times their album covers will parody well-known preexisting ones, and they'll also render their name in the style of others' logos and emblems. By co-opting these they pay homage to their influences and admirations with more than a hint of rockstar snark, but they also show a particular awareness of and fondness for the design work that goes into being a band, particularly one in an underground music scene. It makes more sense I think when you realize all three members of Boris went to art school.

 

 

 

 

 

I know a few individuals who illustrate album covers, inserts, and tour posters both for their own bands and as a part-time occupation. It's quite the thriving field of art, one with which I'm hopelessly enamored. If we here ask ourselves where one mode of expression ends and another begins, I think we arrive at something akin to synesthesia where the aural dimension becomes visual, in a sense the reverse of songwriting inspired by sight. Along those lines, the illustrators I know will spend a fair amount of time listening to and absorbing the music before extending it into an illustrative framework. It brings to mind in a way some therapy session wherein the analysand is encouraged to freely associate. Music moves us after all, but do we not project onto it? Perhaps it's a case of moving us for us, acting as the stand in to affect change when it really comes from within us? Either way, I don't think music is quite so passive. If music is a therapist, it's a bad one that sleeps with its vulnerable clientele.

 

Whatever the exchange may be, there's this beautiful recursive cascade of art based on art based on art when it comes to making posters for performances of musical sets. It's all part of a scene's scaffolding. When it comes to LP jackets and inserts, it all forms a whole and coalesces into a multi-sensory experience for the listener sitting at home or wherever. All of this stuff---media and merchandise---becomes part of a band's identity. One of the most immediate examples of this are band logos, particularly those in the world of underground metal. Often times these things aren't even legible, a frenzied amalgamation of squiggly lines and symbology that come to stand in for the band itself like some kind of demented wax seal. Given the lack of genuine alphanumerics such logos need to be distinctive and immediately recognizable to impart their unique form of arcane brand recognition. I mean, these logos usually end up plastered all over tour posters and split EPs and the leather jackets of ne'er-do-wells, so they need to stand out to a degree. Boris have never adopted a single logo. Really their whole identity has never been fixed for very long, and like their eclectic and ever-expanding pallet of music styles, their image is constantly changing as well. As mentioned above they like to parody the album covers of other artists; they're also into covering other artists, but I'll get back to that in a bit. Suffice it to say for now that despite their inconsistency they're still consistently Boris: their artistic direction just has a certain something both aurally and visually across the board, that same sense of 90s lethargy filtered through Tokyo fashion and large monsters drawn with beautifully ornate floral designs. Not so much Beauty and The Beast but rather Beauty as The Beast. An insistence on stylishness at all times, even when bludgeoning someone's cranium. Whereas a lot of underground metal has this anti-consumerist don't-really-care-what-I-wear sort of attitude, Boris pretty much embrace and encourage consumerism to the nth degree and have a meticulous sense of detail when it comes to merchandising and their image (whatever their current guise may be). Fitting then that the frontman should have his own design house, Fangsanalsatan, which is responsible for a lot of the band's artwork and designing merchandise. Boris have put out a lot of different t-shirts over the years. It's all quite conducive to that rabid fan enthusiasm I mentioned before.

 

Fans. How should a band treat their fans? It's a thorny questions, especially when record labels are involved (though in the case of Boris their label is small and principally run by themselves). Boris are certainly aware of their fanbase's rabid devotion, and they certainly milk that rabid devotion. Granted there's that rockstar snark "I'm going to abuse you and you'll sit here and take it and even like it" attitude at work. I also understand no one is holding a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to buy this stuff. At least, I hope not. Personally though I think it's a little asinine to put so much music out in such limited quantities, basically forcing scarcity by limiting releases to obscenely small one-time pressings. Or to at least claim this is the case. Insult to injury when they come back several years later and re-release this stuff as an anthology, even adding in bonus material people who scrounged for the originals didn't get. Sure that might solve the first problem, but it's using a hammer to do it, effectively smashing the resale market you helped foster, encouraging fans to go crazy one minute and then punishing them for it the next. Just look at how the whole Vein debacle was handled. Not only do they announce a super-limited release, but it ends up being even more limited than originally stated because of a supposed factory error. I mean it's not like they could have printed more, right? On top of that there are not one but two entirely different versions of the album floating around out there with two entirely different sets of music. What ends up happening then is a sort of frenzied buy-out wherein few genuine fans actually get ahold of the albums initially and instead have to go to eBay where the prices are double---even triple---what they originally were. Cut to five years later, and now both versions of Vein get released as a 2x CD compilation.

 

 

 

 

 

Really the different versions thing annoys me more than the limited pressings. Boris got into this truly obnoxious habit of releasing different versions of even their mainstream albums, one for Japan and one for export, often with different mixes and track listings. Die hard fans will, of course, have to own all the versions. I think their low point in this respect came with the sadistically titled Smile album. It was a new apex in multi release absurdity, and I lost count after  ten releases that milked the same goat: the Japanese CD version, the export CD version, the export vinyl version, a live version of the album, another live version of the album, three singles, a re-mix EP, and the Variations compilation which culled half of its material from Smile. The thing is, Smile wasn't even that great of an album. Personally I'd rank it among their worst full scale efforts. It was sloppy, inconsistent. There was certainly nothing compelling enough to stretch across that many releases. Because of this business, I sort of lost interest in and consequently lost track of Boris for a few years. 

 

They sort of garnered my attention again when they dropped three entirely different albums around the same time in 2011. It's a stunt truly befitting of Boris. Some overlap does exist between the song selections on these albums, but on the whole they're done in completely different styles, so even in the case of duplicates it ends up being diverse enough to be justifiable in my estimation. The one that stands out the most to me in this trifecta is their love letter to J-pop and J-rock, the [maybe not so] cleverly titled New Album. I also really liked their oft criticized BXI collaboration that came out around the same time. It's a joint effort between Boris and The Cult's Ian Astbury of all people, and it just has this really endearing high fantasy vibe due to Ian's refusal to sing about anything other than witches, orcs, castles, magic, etc. It's undeniably weird. In a good way. Some folks whose taste I have quite a bit of respect for really panned this though which kind of surprised me to be honest. I imagine New Album turned off more than a few fans as well given that it was the closest Boris has come to a straight up pop album so far. Either way, while the two projects differ considerably in style and mood, I feel they're both some of Boris' best efforts in recent years as they have a strong voice and are consistent in quality from start to finish. Unlike Smile which basically puts them through a meat grinder, New Album and BXI carry the band forward into new territory successfully.

 

On to 2013. While their last few releases pushed things forward, I think this year has seen them returning to their roots. For starters there've been several reissues this year. As previously mentioned, Vein gets a double disc treatment with the first featuring shorter thrash and punk inspired tracks and the second contrasting this with a longer wall of feedback. Everything is left untitled. The set duplicates in miniature the packaging of the originals, which is a good thing because it's absolutely gorgeous and really elevates the release to a higher level as a whole. Unfortunately I think Vein has more appeal as an art object than it does sonically, and the idea behind the sounds therein is more interesting than the execution. A bit more compelling for me is the episodic The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked Chronicles that collects all three volumes of one of Boris' more esoteric releases. It sort of feels like a diverse collection of odds and ends, pieces that have no home elsewhere and end up together solely by virtue of their being a remainder. More than just a receptacle for b-sides however, there's a cohesiveness to it all that reminds me of The Residents' idea of 'an album that never was,' a collection of what-ifs and potentialities. The packaging is once again exquisite, each mini gatefold sleeve designed to look like a curtain being pulled back. It's an image with a strong metaphysical connotation, indicative of pulling back the veil and revealing hidden depths.

 

Of all the recent reissue, my favorite has been the Vol. 3 demo from 1994. It harkens back to a time when Boris were rather different, a time when they had four members instead of three and played more straight forward, straight up sludge. Their image at that point was decidedly more punkish and less glam, and there's a certain lack of pretension that coincides with their flying under the radar. The packaging here is the antithesis of the other titles mentioned above, a simple black sleeve to house the record and a sticker with the four song track listing. In typical Boris fashion however their logo here rips off the design from legendary down-tempo rockers Flipper. 

 

 

 

Processed By eBay with ImageMagick, z1.1.0. ||B2

 

 

 

 

As far as the music itself goes, it's raw and feedback laden. Pretty much par for the course. What sets this earliest stuff apart to my mind however is its simplicity. Boris play with a ferocity that practically boils over, a zealous intensity that shows up from time to time later on but never quite as sustained and consistently upfront as it is on these early recordings. There's always been a dichotomy of sorts between the band's longer, drone-ier pieces and their shorter barn burners. Unlike the shorter tracks on Heavy Rocks however, these have less of a hard rock flair and more of a punk edge to them. They're more stripped down and more direct. Even angrier. The vocals on "Scar Box" for instance are particularly guttural and sung in a lower pitch than one finds on later works. Certain familiar cues like the choked guitar give them away as Boris though. Both "Scar Box" and "Mosquito," my personal favorite on the demo, start off with faster passages that really rip and tear (cue the Doom comic) but eventually slow down and become these chugging, abbreviated doom monsters. There's definitely less differentiation between these shorter cuts and longer material like Amplifier Worship's iconic "Huge" that would appear a few years down the road. At this stage Boris seem to operate with a singular vision. In fact Boris were known early on for putting on shows entirely without a drummer, and there's a version of "Mosquito" on the aRCHIVE compilation that goes on for something like 17 minutes. For me, the drumless performances of "Mosquito" and "Huge" really epitomize early Boris.

 

 

 

 

Returning to their roots doesn't end with reissues. Nor does it end with a recent US tour that saw them playing a 'through the years' type set featuring a lot of older, fan favorite material. This mentality of looking backward carries over into their newer releases as well. Take last year's three part single "Cosmos" that ended up being repurposed for a split album with Joe Volk. It's a really awesome piece that recalls certain aspects of Pink and even a bit of Flood for good measure, both of which represent a creative peak for the band in my humble opinion. Like a mini Flood of sorts the first and last track are moody ambient bookends to a raucous and soaring middle. Like Pink there's a lot of shoegaze mist and glimmer. Inclinations toward toying with electronically processed sound is there to a degree---there's just a hint of Smile-era chaos---but thankfully it gets reigned in and focused into something coherent and powerful. I also have to tip my hat to the cover art for this thing. Subtly creepy, the composition calls to mind the yakuza-tattoo-meets-psychedelic-bloom of New Album's art, dialing it back a bit while retaining a dreamlike quality. It's kinetic but off kilter. It presents a subject that seems to occupy some shadowy pocket dimension like those 'gloom' spaces from Nightwatch.

 

When it's all said and done though, this year is really all about Praparat. Ostensibly this is the record fans of Boris' earlier output have been waiting for, the record fans have been wanting the band to release for some time now. It's an album that doesn't throw too many stylistic curveballs, one that feels just as regressive as progressive, and one that doesn't feel overly indulgent. It's an album of propulsive sludge-rock tinged with drone and shoegaze elements, but rather than stitching everything together like a Frankenstein's monster (not that Boris...) of a pastiche, it instead works its stylistic tendencies into the equation in a way that feels balanced. It leads to a focused, consistent effort that channels aspects of Flood, Heavy Rocks, and the more blissful moments of Pink while simultaneously sounding fresh and unique amidst Boris' discography. I can't help but feel like it's their most satisfying effort in years because of this. Take a moment on the album like "Elegy" that clocks in at just over four minutes. It lumbers along at a pace that would be right at home on Amplifier Worship, its huge crashing cymbals and massive riffs offset with some absolutely gorgeous shimmering vocals and Wata's soaring guitar. Its fusion of skull crushing heaviness and pillowy dreaminess is sublime. The track then takes off like a shoegaze rocket, a blitz that calls to mind the fast / slow dynamic of their earliest compositions.

 

 

 

 

Really there are cues from all over Boris' sonic timeline. "Bataille Sucre," in addition to having a fantastic name, sounds uncannily like "Riot Sugar" from 2011's sequel to Heavy Rocks, its rhythm connoting the image of a giant robot melodramatically stomping around Tokyo. Compared to "Riot Sugar" however "Bataille Sucre" is simultaneously more raw and more beautiful; Wata's psych guitar leads are laced throughout its latter half. Opening track "December" seems to draw inspiration from the same wellspring that spawned Akuma no Uta's more subdued moments along with a bit of their Michio Kurihara collaboration, Rainbow. The meandering psych rock exploration of "Monologue" also carries a Michio Kurihara-esque flavor, loosely bringing to mind the track "Fuzzy Reactor." In fact the whole album seems just as informed by the Tokyo Flashback scene as it is early 90s shoegaze, and the subtle vibe that lingers in the background occasionally bubbles up to the surface in Wata's sorrowful, howling guitar virtuosity. Her playing seems to swim more in Bardo Pond now than it did on Feedbacker. It's less obvious. Dare I say more mature? Of all the currents running throughout this thing though, the strongest for me personally are the echoes of Mabuta no Ura, Boris' conceptual film soundtrack. They're found throughout the quieter more experimental passages: moments of unusual instrumentation and delicate melodies, of distinctively moody and contemplative ambience. Calling shorter tracks like the atmospheric synth laden "Perforated Line" filler would be a mistake to my mind, as that ambience really helps to shape Praparat into a unique entity all its own and define a world that serves as the backdrop for longer, more anthemic tracks. My favorite of these abstract pieces has to be "Castel In the Air" though with its distinctive warbling folk organ sounds and percolating chimes, something that could have come straight from a Bela Tarr bar scene.

 

Praparat manages to balance these quieter and more subdued elements adeptly while keeping up the album's momentum for the most part. Everything feels meaningful in relation to the whole without much in the way of experimentation for its own sake. The album flows from one track to the next with more low key passages giving way to the crushing weight of sludge chugs like "Method of Error." The choked, down-tuned strumming here goes back to Boris' very beginning but also reminds me of Harvey Milk's early stuff. The church bells that toll as the track progresses are also a rather Joe Prestony / Thrones-ish touch. Tracks like "Mirano" on the other hand find a halfway point between the grime and the glow, offering up really pretty visions of an indie pop apocalypse bathed in soulful vocals and guitar leads. With its King of the Monsters opening fanfare (old SNK reference anyone?) it conjures up these abandoned amusement park landscapes with frozen-in-time ferris wheels and empty, run down boardwalks. When it gets into the full swing of its groove, a whole squadron of sobbing witches flies by overhead making magic vapor trails in the skyline amidst the setting sun. They wanted to ride the ferris wheel I guess.

 

"Canvas" thunders like a stormfront with its cascading swells of feedback and ginormous riffs---metallic shoegaze mist as heard on the opener of Pink---like some big guitar mountain rising up out of the ocean and into the clouds. I imagine this would be enough to render the audience into quivering pools of jelly during one of Boris' live performances. All too soon we're lead to the atmospheric closer "Maeve" that brings the album to an end like quietly shutting the back cover of a massive tome. There are a lot of ways in which Praparat, one of Boris' most significant statements in years, could have screamed but instead chose to whisper. I can't help but feel as though this carries over to the physical release of the album as well; for whatever reason, the band decided to keep this one strictly limited and only on vinyl. Perhaps it has something to do with the album's backward facing tendencies. As a whole, it has a certain analog type of sound and sensibility. I also feel this is another way of looking to Boris' own past, back to a time when the band was still relatively unknown and it was less about glam image and more about putting music out there. Even the album's cover reflects a certain minimalist, low key tendency with the fog of its monotone, abstract print look.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of covers, Boris also contributed a stirring rendition of My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes" to the Yellow Loveless compilation. They're been fixated on their shoes this year I guess. The track itself is just gorgeous, a somewhat faithful take that remains distinctly Boris all the same. The vocals and walls of guitar would be right at home on Praparat, actually.

 

 

 


 

 

 

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I really hate the person who decided the delete key should be used as a shortcut to go back in browsers 

 

 

 

 


 

 

On a hypothetical list of things for which I reserve a special place in my heart, heavy rock and metal with a strong shoegazer influence is pretty high up there. Blissful, blown-out, spaced-out droning goodness? Can't get enough of the stuff. I think a large part of its appeal centers around the mixture of elements seemingly at odds like beauty and ugliness, etherial heights and crushing depths. These extremes end up complimenting one another, blended together into a gradient through all that fuzz and thick blankets of aural fog. The shoegaze style readily lends itself to that sort of integration I think because many of the genre's staples already tend in that direction; adding a more overtly metal flair just pushes it further along the continuum.

 

More and more bands these days operate under this paradigm, so it takes a lot to really stand out from the crowd. I've already devoted several posts to expressing my fondness for some of the more ubiquitous examples nowadays (Nadja certainly went from utter CD-R obscurity to being rather popular). Lesser know are The Goslings. Compared to a lot of other acts their approach is much more stripped down and minimal yet no less atmospheric, less buzzing cinemascape and more murky vignette; specifically a tattered, stained wedding dress floating on the surface of a swamp. The most widely available release from them is a compilation of early CD-Rs, Spaceheater / Perfect Interior on the Crucial Blast label. These earlier works have a really mysterious, dreamlike quality to them. The sound across all their releases is decidedly lo-fi, but there's quite a bit going on amidst an ambience thick enough to make you choke. There's just so much depth to sonic residue this mysterious husband and wife duo from Florida manage to capture on recordings. The Grandeur of Hair is their overblown magnum opus. It's more intense, more direct, and more sludge-filled. The grime and the muck get brought to the forefront in thick swarths of distortion and skronk, everything so far into the red it becomes a garbled nigh unintelligible mess. It's almost like Dead Raven Choir decided to form a garage pop-rock band. Occasionally the clouds break however, and the full moon illuminates the mausoleums, gnarled trees, and crack houses that dot the album's witchy landscape below. There's a gloomy interiority to the album lurking beneath the gauzy surface guitars and feedback. It's not really conducive to headphone listening however; in fact I'd strongly recommend against listening to most of The Goslings' output via headphones. Crank it up on some old crappy speakers instead. That way you get a wall of sound more readily without damaging your hearing.

 

 

 

 

 

It's the experience of listening that carries just as much weight as the specific contents of what you're listening to in some sense. To that end, it's kind of difficult for me to convey the subtle magic that occurs when listening to something in such an unsubtle way. Extremely harsh music can sometimes be likened to BDSM, a sort of Merzbowian "music for a bondage performance" thing wherein the struggle itself is savored along with the juxtaposition of sweet release (and with headphones the binds may be a little too tight when it comes to this sort of thing). In some sense this harkens back to that rock 'n' roll spirit which tries to maintain a sense of tension. The Goslings' music is porous however with little crevices you can hook into while listening; there are undertones and currents of almost-beautiful mesmerism that, once honed in on, light your way down an otherwise pitch black path like little sonic lanterns carried by the undead. There's a similar call to hyper-fixation at work in a lot of 'extreme' music, music that otherwise seems monotonous in its repetition and minimalist approach. Within sustained drones for instance there are 'hidden' reverberations and pulsations, and subtly shifting textures and patterns are often found in drawn out compositions. In the case of Grandeur of Hair, it's often the lethargic but ethereal vocals that piece through the thick swarths of murk and, together with plenty of reverb, weave threads of shoegazey dreaminess through the various tracks. The buzzing, overdriven guitars have a lot of intoxicating texture to them as well, especially when then get really down 'n' rumbly and wrap you up in a numbing blanket like on "Overnight," one of the highlights of the album for me.

 

 

 

 

Percussion also plays a fairly prominent role in a lot of these tracks, not so much providing a background as it is right up there front and center in the mix with the guitars. It's just as blown out, just as massive and distorted. It sounds more like someone pulverizing a bunch of garbage cans or kitchen sinks with a hammer than it does someone playing an actual kit. At times the cymbal crashes are just horrific and borderline unlistenable, as on the very first few moments of the album's opener, "Own A Car," or the next track "Croatan." These are the album's most cacophonous moments. Other times the drum hits are really spaced out, plodding along torpidly and giving the tracks like "Overnight" some forward---albeit minimal---momentum. They're not particularly weighty or robust sounding, but their delivery carries a lot of force behind it, something conveyed through how loud they are in the mix and the sense of space surrounding each hit as if the drummer were playing with baseball bats instead of sticks and putting everything into each swing. It's hypnotic. 

 

On "Overnight" especially the track takes on this foot dragging, half-lidded sense of aimless propulsion akin to a shoegaze fugue state. The vocals are lethargic but still manage to just barely hover by in the mix like a slumped over marionette being carried by its strings, its tiptoes scraping along the floor as it goes. Grandeur of Hair has a ghostly vibe to it as a whole, but on this track in particular the restless spirits seem to be haunting a gaggle of junkies, messing with their heads and feeding on inhibitions. Nowhere is this more clear to me than on barely intelligible lines about jumping out of windows with the intent of flying away, and I can just imagine this strung out female figure inside an old decaying window frame getting ready to fall to her death. Eventually the details all get lost in the plod however like so many shadows inside a condemned building. These more metered tracks coalesce into a throbbing whole, especially when they're blaring at you through speakers. It's during these extended moments that one submits to the impasse and slips out of an aural Chinese finger trap, giving up the struggle and letting the sonic excess wash over oneself, entering a transcendental state where the sum total experiences becomes more than the individuated parts. You lock into whatever they're doing and zone out, going along for the ride. It never lasts for too long though as the album calls you back to ground-level again and again, puts you back in that meatsack of a body, renewing that tension through its stumbling structural breakdowns and wailing sonic nervous breakdowns.

 

For all the overwhelming swells of guitar and cymbals and vocal laments however, the album also employs silence at key moments like in the beginning of "Golden Stair" when the album violently breaks from the previous track with a snap and rattle, as if an out-of-control machine finally has its power cut and its belts come undone as the wheels spin to a stop. Even then however the album isn't really silent: the room's ambience is picked up on the mic as a very loud hiss. This maintains the creepy ambience while allowing some relative space for those trap house shaking drums. The 'silence' is employed to an even greater extent on the track "Windowpane" which is more or less a ghetto field recording. It serves as a reprieve from all the intensity, but at the same time it helps to maintain the muddy ambience, a reminder of where we are in relation to transcendence. Those are the cries of alley cats, not angels. The Goslings use this to segue into the longest track on the album, "Haruspex," which is named after a class of ancient Roman priest known for divining the future using the guts of dead animals. Barely able to hold itself together, this miasma of crumbling blown out guitars and early indistinguishable percussion is further shot through with Leslie Soren's vocals, at once terrifying and enchanting. Like some kind of wailing banshee from the misty shallows of a bog. The whole thing, a shambling mess, eventually locks into a groove with sustained drum crashes and some really weird warbling synths straight out of a 70s Italian horror show. Really this is the climax of the album, and in that sense the final track "Dinah" is something of a comedown; it's one of the most straightforward rockers on the album, fairly easy to digest (relatively speaking), complete with rather pretty echoey vocals and playfully spooked electronic effects.

 

Given how rough and bloodied---even downright sleazy---Grandeur of Hair is at times, it's really surprising how pretty the album ends up being when you've had some time to digest it. From the organ on "Golden Stair" to the spacey synth atmospherics of "Sanibel," there are fragile barely-there moments of incandescent dreamlike beauty that bubble up from the grime from time to time. I personally think there's a strong appeal to certain lo-fi stuff, something that may be at work here as well; it's this fascination with and attraction to the idea that something so obviously 'bad' could in its own way sound 'good.' There's also an appealing primitivism to DIY recordings and bedroom projects, the idea that this is all homegrown and exists outside major-label restrictions. We're catching a glimpse at someone's private life in all its strangeness and peculiar beauty. Most of The Goslings' output has been released on CD-R and cassette over the years, so there's a definite obscurity factory, and happening upon one of their releases is like finding some kind of nearly incomprehensible artifact in the mud without any context. Even Grandeur of Hair which sees a proper label release is curated by the rather enigmatic aRCHIVE and limited to a few hundred copies at most. I think at its core shoegaze and its uglier offshoots carry this type of sentiment, this notion of inner obscurity and private worlds with varying degrees of damage to them.

 

 


 

 

Combining shoegaze elements with metal: few bands have been as successful at making it their own as Jesu. No doubt the project's debut was surprising for a lot of folks who were familiar with Justin Broadrick's earlier work under the banner of Godflesh. After releasing some of the heaviest and most brutal industrial metal albums like Streetcleaner in the early 90s, Godflesh continued on through the decade and got worse with each successive release. Broadrick's work became something of a parody of itself, sounding increasingly over-the-top and less and less inspired at the same time until it ended up being two dimensional aggression with nothing behind it. Jesu then was a much needed departure from this stale business. Certainly, one can still hear elements of Godflesh in the drum machines and chugging riffs, but overall Jesu's Heartache and self-titled album signaled a definite change in direction for Broadrick.

 

What makes Jesu so appealing to me on the whole is a double whammy of shoegazing goodness and lysergic pop sensibility. It takes heavy, sludgy music and infuses plenty of ethereal drone and reverb, but instead of burying all that beneath layers of muck it wears its Tremolo tendencies on its sleeve. The resulting sound is still powerful, but it's also vast and effortless instead of constrained and forced. If Godflesh sounds more and more like a clenched arse as time goes on, Jesu finally relaxes. Which is good because I think Broadrick is at his compositional best when he has room to breathe. It also gives him a venue for expressing his talents at writing honest to goodness pop hooks. Jesu is unabashedly poppy, and that particular quality sets the project apart from a lot of other bands doing the dreamy drone metal thing. Actually by the time you get to Conqueror, my personal favorite Jesu release, I think you'd be hard pressed to really call a lot of his output 'metal' in the strict sense. Post-metal maybe? I dunno. Whatever you want to call it, the end result is an appealing mixture of crushingly heavy guitar riffs and much more subdued---even downright pretty---elements like shimmering drones, programmed flourishes, and Broadrick's echoey vocals which are mostly sung rather than growled or screamed. As far as that last bit goes I wouldn't call his voice stellar by any means, but his singing is serviceable and actually pleasant enough most of the time. In the end all of these elements come together to form something both epic and accessible, something with both depth and immediacy.

 

To my mind Jesu's first few releases follow a particular trajectory from the overt industrial sound on Heartache to more outright shoegaze on the Silver EP and Conqueror. In between these both literally and figuratively is the self-titled full length, Jesu. While Conqueror is the band's most well developed and well executed release in my opinion, I find its predecessor Jesu remains the more sonically intriguing of the two as it straddles different phases of the band's development. I've been revisiting quite a bit of Jesu's output lately, but it's the self-titled album I find myself returning to again and again. First off there's a really positive association with the album for me, one of sitting around the campus lawn outside the library on cold sunny days, one of optimism. As a whole Jesu strikes me as anthropocentric despite the expansiveness of its sound. It connotes huge landscapes, but these are always laid out in relation to humanity; you walk through wide open fields, but in the distance you see a sprawling urban backdrop. The whole project seems to tread the borderline between involvement in and estrangement from nature, between futility and progress, between nostalgia and looking to the future, between humankind's being a blip on the radar and its importance. I think the name Jesu is rather fitting in that regard: a reference to a figure both human and transcendental simultaneously. The self-titled album art is also really intriguing to me, as it shows a larger exterior scene framed in a window, hemmed in in such a way as to reference the limited observer. The muted, monochromatic print-like quality it employs is both warm and also somewhat melancholic in the same way a sentimental yearner is. It's washed out and lacking in fine detail---it's hazy---despite conveying a strong mood. In that sense it's perfect shoegaze cover art.

 

 

 

 

 

I love the sonic textures on this album. The guitars are crunchy, the bass rattles, the cymbals sizzle. There are keys being played at times that sound like they're sampling wheezy calliopes and church organs, only overdriven and raw-sounding. Synths chime and have a distinct Downward Spiral-esque kid's piano    plonk to them. The entire album just feels light, but 'light' in the sense of brightness and not weight. It has a definite sense of gravity; you're looking at the skies, but it's from the ground. The heaviness is felt in the slow riffing more than anything else, a lethargic plod that definitely evokes shades of doom metal but goes for melody while eschewing any sort of stoner groove. The drums themselves don't really add much in the way of impact to my ears, rather they just serve to convey tempo. Apparently Broadrick called in an actual drummer this time around, though to be honest it still comes off sounding like a drum machine much of the time. If anything though this ends up enhancing the industrial feel of the album. A lot of the instrumentation feels compartmentalized---simple and repetitious---like a sample being triggered repeatedly. This isn't to the album's detriment mind you. Somehow in the end everything comes together and feels naturally whole. The instrumentation can sound automated, yet there's still a distinctly human quality present throughout (going back to my previous comments about juxtapositions). They sound like angry rumbling machines, but there's a human operator behind them. These inorganic materials weave patterns and form organic tapestries. I think it's a testament to the project and Jesu in particular that these different elements can integrate together without feeling like too much of a patchwork.

 

 

 

 

Really though I have a thing for metal and hard rock with strong poppy hooks. Metal that's catchy as, well, hell. Stuff that makes troo grim warriors and kvlt kids outwardly balk while squirming uncomfortably as they inwardly question their urge to enjoy it. Me, I gladly squint when the boundary lines between genres get blurry. It's the injection of fresh influences that keeps musical stylings from becoming monotonous. When it comes to certain niches in metal however, die hard fans are quite vocal in their abhorrence of 'dilution.' There's this fixation of lineage and tradition---a very religiously orthodox type of mindset, ironically---and a strong desire for authenticity. Any outside intrusion is seen as posing. While I see a certain legitimacy to this in and of itself, ultimately it ends up being misguided to me, as tracing the lineage of metal in general back to its point of origin, one enters into a rather amorphous realm of overlapping styles that includes a lot of 60s pop sensibility. More on this later though.

 

At this point I should mention that Godflesh has been touring again these past few years. The hiatus has done the project a lot of good. Or maybe it's a nostalgia thing. Either way, the prospect of witnessing their earlier material in a live setting is pretty damn awesome. Speaking of which a live performance of Streetcleaner from Roadburn 2011 was pressed on vinyl, limited to 500 copies. I couldn't help myself.

 

 

 

 

Sex noises.

 

 


 

 

 

 

...

 

 

AFI gave a lifetime achievement award to Mel Brooks at some point, and I was watching the ceremony on TV. David Lynch (who directed his Elephant Man film) comes out and talks about the blue coat he wore during the entire filming. I wonder if the surreality of this dawned on most of the people in the audience at the time. David Lynch is basically honoring an article of his own clothing during this other guy's lifetime achievement ceremony. That's brilliant.

 

 

 

 


 

 

In the early 70s there was some kind of favorable alignment of planets or something, because a truly ridiculous amount of ridiculously good music coalesced into being around that time. In 1971 especially it seems like everyone and their sister were granted a peek at creativity's gaping anus. How many times have I heard some belting heavy rock 'n' roll riffscape or ingeniously proggy, impeccable beauty only to check the date and see that golden year? Uh, a lot. Really though the vortex expands outward to the surrounding years like a stone dropped onto a lake's glassy surface, and that particular date is more of an epicenter of virtuosic activity. In the early 70s psychedelic rock started mutating, growing longer, getting heavier. Getting weirder. These were the conditions under which so-called 'proto-metal' started to rear its ugly head. So some bands started creeping around graveyards at midnight. Others took to the skies, abducted by prog aliens (most likely from the planet Gong) and experimented on using mellotrons.

 

Good grief, I think you could spend the rest of your life exploring music from this five year stretch of time and never exhaust the fonts. More likely you'd exhaust yourself long before then. There were these two small record stores down the road, literally across the street from one another, and I would often make the pilgrimage in the dead heat of summer. Walking hither and thither in the 100+ degree weather I'm pretty sure my spirit came close to leaving my body behind a few times; of course it didn't help matters that I was into smoking at that point more than any other in my life, and taking a drag was like walking toward the light Carolaaaaan, so much so that on more than a few occasions I swear I saw some ectoplasm mix with the smoke as it exited. The solution was just as stupid as the problem but just as decidedly rock 'n' roll: grab a beer at this little hole in the ground, fully aware that I should have been going for water to rehydrate myself instead. It's cringe inducing, sure. Schmoozing it up with the store owners was worth the risk though, and overall it was a fruitful period for truth and beauty even if I did my utmost to muck it up at times.

 

One of my favorite hard rock entities from this period was the rather short-lived band Cactus. During its existence of three years or thereabouts, it featured an ever-changing cast of characters including Jeff Beck who played guitar in the Yardbirds as well as Rod Steward.before he left to join Small Faces. The more consistent backbone of the group however was formed by the very cool Carmine Appice and a bassist whose name I can never remember, both of whom also played in another band I really like, the deliciously named Vanilla Fudge. Despite being a brief and seemingly tumultuous blip on the radar Cactus managed to put out several good albums and one particularly great album, One Way... Or Another. Released in 1971.

 

 

 

 

It's the title track for which they're most known, and rightfully so: it's an inspired piece of fuzzed out proto-metal genius, a lumbering beast of a song. Those questioning riffs get me every time, like some horrible five hundred foot tall monster playing hide-n-seek in the desert, calling out "where arrrrre yoooouu?" just to freak you out even though it sees you clear as day. You get a little bluesy motorcade action as the track progresses and works itself up into a frenzied, soaring guitar workout. Then there are the lyrics. For whatever reason, songwriters during this time were obsessed with choosing things and choices. Pentagram for instance wanted you to review them, while Cactus here reminds you that they're ultimately up to you. One way or another.

 

Heck, maybe we can think up a story to go along with the music here too. Something involving a grizzled trucker named Tex who keeps a double barrel shotgun in the passenger seat (he'd seatbelt it if seatbelts existed). He's just taken a fistful of speed. Hell, his entire truck is filled to the brim with speed. Just one enormous shipment of speed. And naked lady presto-changeo pens. He ends up making a pitstop in a valley occupied by some Mexican vampire cult, and somehow enters a race along a cursed stretch of road, against undead truckers, to save the life of a human sacrifice who reminds him of his deceased wife whom he still loves dearly. Then at some point he and the woman he saved are fighting giant irradiated spiders in the desert. One way or another Tex has some choices to make.

 

Cactus was just one of a number of magical 70s groups I discovered in those air conditioned sanctuaries, away from the sweltering world outside and its mundane concerns. The above track is definitely an important piece of hard rock canon for me, one of those uber-singles like The Groundhogs' "Cherry Red," something that just pops up in my mental rotations and lends itself to being covered. Church of Misery did a pretty badass rendition of it on their Second Coming album, for instance. Really though that time yielded quite a bit of canonical fodder. There was Jericho, Leaf Hound, T2, Bachdenkel, Flower Travellin Band, Comus, Flied Egg, Van Der Graaf Generator, Hawkwind, Jerusalem, and on and on she goes. Really the momentousness of that time of musical discovery for me remains unsurpassed, but I suspect I'll be uncovering gems for a long time to come. Even now I can give examples of stuff I've only recently happened across, stuff like Pluto's self titled debut.

 

 

 

 

 

Pluto. Ruler of the underworld and keeper of hidden things (like gems appropriately enough). Also Mickey's disturbingly non-anthropomorphic yellow dog. By this point you should be able to handily guess the date of their album's release. It would go on to be their only full-length release. The band was formed in London around guitarist Paul Gardner, a rather obscure fellow who was in Hawkwind very briefly as well as the really great but oft overlooked band Trees; while they never saw success in any commercial capacity, they nevertheless garnered some modicum of cult status with their live set, the likes of which contained material that went unrecorded as they could never figure out how to translate it in a studio setting. The tracks that were recorded however are pretty fan-frickin-tastic, and in their wake the band left the world of underground rock a better place than they found it thanks to their album and a handful of singles.

 

The album itself consists of straight forward hard rock that unfolds at a generally moderate pace, infused with a bit of a bluesy Cream filling at times, the production sparse and the overall sound paired down, lean. This is definitely not a body of work with progressive sensibilities insofar as there's not a lot of overt experimentation or unusual instrumentation or arching, grandiose concepts tying everything together. The tracks are all self contained, bite sized for easy consumption. It goes down deceptively smooth, and there are more than enough 60s-grade pop hooks to ensure it sticks around long after digestion. I find myself recalling bits and pieces at strange hours of the night---witchy hours---with refrains traipsing through my freshly awakened mind during those first few shaky minutes of lucidity. There's a certain subtle something to the album however that becomes more apparent once it's worked its way through you, a certain strangeness made manifest in its various details. Take the opener "Crossfire" with its lurching pace, the high-pitched mewling guitars at the beginning of "Stealing My Thunder," the almost Kinks-ish "Beauty Queen," and the skittering piano on "Bare Lady" that brings the album to a close. I don't think it's intentionally off-kilter so much as the honest distortion around an artistic singularity or a natural reflection of how things must have seemed set to lyricism, and for that reason it's effective rather than overly contrived.

 

With the first standout track of the album, "And My Old Rocking Horse," the funky qualities are at their manifest peak in the ambling vocals and super fuzzed-out guitars. There's some wailing banshee guitar work throughout Pluto, but even a cursory gander reveals that the power dwelling within is always wielded calmly and with a hand of restraint at the helm. The subject of the track itself is vaguely surreal in its own way when delivered in soulful resignation as if it were some blues singer's curio albatross. It's that subtle bass line that really charms me though, that irresistibly groovy and incredibly catchy patron of the background depths. The whole sense of rhythm is one of the standout elements of the album: it's eschews more unusual time signatures for a steady, rolling and chugging groove. On the next track "Down and Out," another standout, this sensibility almost turns into a motorik workout thanks to minimalistic but diverse percussion and stripped down repetition. It's the band at its most propulsive. 

 

 

 

 

"She's Innocent" is really the centerpiece here, though. With beautiful melodies it builds upon itself and turns into something quite powerful; its like an aural account of a minor revolution fought with flowers and fraught with underlying sentiment. The lyrics are somewhat enigmatic but also suggestive at first blush---seemingly common among the band's best efforts---and sung with a delivery that carries a fair amount of power behind it. Fostering a sense of under-the-surface force waiting to erupt like rolling waves on the shore, the guitar work comes in swells and mounts to a triumphant exclamation before receding again. The overall effect is quite moving without any trace of maudlin froth. This carries over several songs later into my second favorite track, the epic "Mister Westwood." It presents the band at their most layered and complex, with inventive guitar arrangements and a pondering bass line; everything meanders and trails off on several occasions before reigniting again, this time with lovely vocal harmonies and a cascade of piano. The band is indulging their residual 'wandering 60s' tendencies more than ever at this point.

 

 

 

 

In addition to their self-titled album, Pluto released a few singles as well. One of these was a single version of "Rag A Bone Joe" which also appeared on the full-length. This is the band sounding their most commercial, and in the end it's not a particularly memorable track in my opinion. It sort of smacks of recording studio and executive interference; apparently this was the actual etiology of the track more or less. Far and away the more interesting single is "I Really Want It," released a year later in 1972. In fact it may very well be their most memorable transmission. There's a definite proto-metal vibe between the torpid, plodding pace and ghostly vocal harmonies. Really the lyrics say it all: We can play some rock 'n' roll, but I would rather play something slower. The chattering guitars cut across a strolling, steppin' groove and make for a truly irresistible statement piece.

 

 

 

 

Another almost imperceptible contributor to Pluto's agreeable presence is their sense of humor. Really, hard rock and certain strains of heavy metal are at their best when they acknowledge the camp and kitsch that occupy the world they've created for themselves, all the while without going too overboard into outright parody. It also comes from a band's members when they're just weird and can't help but be who they really are. In the case of Pluto, the story goes they were going to originally feature the yellow dog---their true namesake---on the cover of their album. Obviously Disney threatened legal action (no surprise there), so they reluctantly adopted the more serious Greco Roman pantheon's imagery.

 

Overall, Pluto's output has some really memorable moments and a fair amount of solid if ultimately forgettable filler in between. Their music is fairly straightforward and doesn't venture too far out there into progressive territories, retaining more of a 60s flavor at times than some of their compatriots. Some of their compositional choices are curious, and there's enough unique detail to really lend them their own distinct flavor most importantly.

 


 

When it comes to pantheons the band Pentagram is undoubtedly at the top of metal's ancestral burial ground, below only the likes of Sabbath. They were always one of my favorite 70s heavy rockers despite only releasing a few demos and never an album proper during that period. Actually, I think that kind of added to their mystique more than anything else; it insured they remained firmly rooted underground. In one sense it left them developmentally stunted, so when they finally started recording their first full-lengths in the 80s and 90s they had a certain raw genuineness. It also ensured they had more time to hone their songcraft, and apparently they had something like eighty songs in their repertoire by the time they entered a studio proper. Either way, it's nice to see the group getting increasingly more recognition these past few decades. In a way it's surprising just how fresh those demos from the 70s still sound today.

 

Their later material however is something I had actively avoided for a while; this was based on my own assumptions and some words from others. Basically I stuck to my guns with their demos from the 70s and first two albums: Relentless and Day of Reckoning. I mean, a band from yesteryear recording stuff today while missing half of its members doesn't always bode well right? Such was my thinking. Ever curious however I decided to sample one of the tracks from their entry into the 21st century, 2001's Sub-Basement, and as I listened I realized I was pretty enamored with what I was hearing. After reading some commentary on the album by Julian Cope---he liked it---I then found myself staring down the album proper.

 

 

 

 

 

Retarded album cover aside, Sub-Basement is a great album. Just not in an overt way.

 

It was recorded when the band was functionally a duo, with Bobby Liebling handling vocals and Joe Hasselvander doing everything else. It was also panned by critics pretty much. Most of the negative reviews seemed to toss around pronouncements that the band was well passed its prime, a wheezing and sputtering corpse that was running on fumes. Some even extended this to Liebling himself, noting how worn and weary his voice sounds on the album; on Allmusic for instance, one critic remarked that Liebling was looking more and more like some decadent old vampire, and he (kind of erroneously) postulated years of drug abuse as the culprit. Perhaps the most ridiculous comments of all where those citing the band's reduction to a duo as a sign that they should call it quits, comments that seemingly ignored the fact that bands like Darkthrone existed their whole careers as duos. Really the entire history of Pentagram has been marked by a procession of different musicians and configurations, and the arrangement as a duo was temporary anyway.

 

Liebling is weary on the album. He's had a long career filled with setbacks and frustrations, and Sub-Basement seems to center around weathering the curse. It's not only thematic fodder, but also a source from which the artist actually draws energy here. In some respects metal is all about decedent vampires who can't find their way out of the past, worn out spirits of the night who remain restless and can't find solace. Under that criterion then Sub-Basement is one hell of a metal album. Its apex in that sense is the one-two punch of tracks "Sub-Basement" followed by "Go In Circles (Reachin' For An End)," two megaliths of traditional doom that'll somberly crush yer skull. The block starts off with "Sub-Intro" which sets the mood through its down-tuned riffing guitars and feedback, an ominous wall of blackened buzz that almost sounds like Pentagram channeling the spirit of Sunn O))), complete with macabre sound effects that evoke scurrying denizens of dark corners and experiments gone awry (presumably from the same lab as Skepticism's "Process of Farmakon"). For metal prone to glancing over its shoulder at its own sordid past, crafting the right atmosphere is crucial. The whole notion of a sub-basement speaks to this. Not only is it a dark and dreary place hidden away from the rest of the world, a place for outcasts and their nefarious deeds, but it's also a tomb for the lost and a place to store relics from a bygone era.

 

Once you've entered, the title track emerges from the depths with its gnarled guitar and lumbering drums like a shambling mummy. That tactile mounting-the-strings sound at the beginning is just incredibly satisfying. It's pretty much a straight shot 'till the end from there, and the riffs are almost percussive in and of themselves as they pound away relentlessly through the entire trek. On the vocal front Liebling's presence is distinctive as always, possessing here something of a heavy metal Bob Dylan inflection. This is doom in the traditional sense, so don't expect any deranged soul-devouring Cookie Monster growls; one can actually fully decipher the lyrics, and on that note the subject matter is very reminiscent of Saint Vitus' "Born Too Late" in that it relays the difficulties of someone who feels out of place in today's society. More than a teenager's angst-ridden lament that no one understands him however, these reflections are from an old soul whose proper time is of a distant past now gone. There's a dearth of meaning to Liebling's sub-basement: it's not only a dumping ground for the antiquated, but also a reference to where he spent his youth in another musical era, and along with those memories it's now his tomb. In a sense he never matured or got with the times, and it's ironically because of this that he's old and outdated.

 

 

 

 

The track I enjoy most on the album however is "Go In Circles (Reachin' For An End)." In fact I think it stands alongside Pentagram's finest efforts from yesteryear. In some sense it picks up where "Sub-Basement" leaves off, thematically describing an inability to advance: Liebling always ends up at the point of origin, always returns to familiar sounds and sentiments. It also speaks to the band itself ending up right back where they started often times, and the track encapsulates much of their early trajectory and inability to really find direction with one missed opportunity after another. In terms of success Pentagram never really went anywhere; dedicating so much of his life to Pentagram, in turn, Liebling never really went anywhere. Aimless circularity is something I can't resist tying back to the previous journal entry too, specifically as it relates to the notion of hell presented in the works of Bela Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai: banal and pointless repetition without transcendence, like an obnoxious dance that wont end. It's not too much of a stretch to say "Go In Circles" is about Liebling's personal hell over the years. The track itself starts off with some mid-tempo guitar work that sounds straight out of the early 80s before the bottom eventually drops out, and it makes way for some massive riffs. It's an immense, downtuned chug that out-dooms anything else on the album. It's scummy and belligerent and promotes mental images of wooly mammoth attacks. A higher-pitched pulsating guitar is used for punctuation as if someone were trying to fend off said wooly mammoth attacks with a laser. After a few cycles of this---the track essentially going in circles---the tone shifts, and it becomes this really mournful ballad-y thing with Liebling's vocals sounding oddly heartfelt and sincere though no less demented. It's touching in a way, though maybe the bad kind of touch. The guitars go into twin blitz attack mode and do some nice squealing solo stuff, and then the doom riffs return with a vengeance to bring the track to a close, tightening the circle more and more like a noose around a neck.

.

Elsewhere on the album, Pentagram dusts off some of their older demo tracks and re-records them to mix together with newer material. It makes sense: their catalog of early material is quite extensive, and now these tracks are finally given a home on albums proper. It's also a means of expressing continuity between the old and new; that the band can integrate these older tracks so readily into their latest material is evidence of their faithfulness to an original sound. "Buzzsaw" for instance is immediately familiar, and it's nice to see it showing up here as an old standby but also integrated into the album's overall flow quite well. The track itself juxtaposes differences---some rifftastic heavy metal and a quieter but even more menacing creep-along---yet it fits together as a whole and just works. Sub-Basement as a whole has many rather offbeat elements, yet they somehow fit together. The album just works.

 

No, it's not the band's career defining moment. I don't think such a notion is even relevant for Pentagram at this point; their career has been defined for decades already. I do feel it's an underrated chapter of their output, certainly. It's undeniably uneven and falls flat in places, but I think as a whole it's more than the sum of its decaying parts. Like the shambling undead? Seems appropriate. It's not the sort of album one can cite as an example of the band sounding rejuvenated. Like Liebling's vocals, it's very much a worn and weary, but I think that's part of the point.

 


 

 

Plenty of bands nowadays go for the fish out of water vintage throwback angle. I mean, the influence of the heavy 70s is pretty widely felt in hard rock and metal anyway, but these outfits wear that influence on their sleeves. Some more successfully than others. Emulating that period convincingly requires more than just borrowing some chords and singing with the best Ozzy impersonation one can muster; there's a whole aesthetic, an art direction and pop culture repertoire. In total it's a sort of geist. That meticulous attention to detail when it comes to self image brings us right back to where we started: how a band presents itself, hard rock holism. Blood Ceremony, Witchcraft, Graveyard, post-We Live era Electric Wizard... all this stuff reeks of the 70s like the unmistakable stench of bongwater. Then there's Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. Geez, I dunno just what it is about these guys---they're a power trio I think?---but whatever it is, it's some special black magic. Their debut album, Blood Lust, has already been elevated to cult status in some circles. Part of this is undeniably due to how nearly impossible to come by it was at first, with only a few hundred copies pressed by Rise Above, the European doom label whose proprietors bathe in, bottle, and sell aural bongwater like it was from Lourdes. Then there's their name: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. I mean come on how great is that. Couple it with some decidedly Hammer films cover art and the graveyard haunting persona of one Uncle Acid, and the result is an album vintage horror weirdos have to compulsively obsess about.

 

 

 

 

 

When I actually got around to hearing Blood Lust---even after all that initial hype---I was pretty much floored. It ended up near the top of my year end "best of" list for 2012 in fact. Ol' Uncle Acid manages to tap into the heart and soul of metal's eerie dawn, but at the same time he and his merry band of deadbeats set themselves apart from much of the backward facing hordes with a sound that's uniquely fresh. It's a sound that embraces fairly overt pop elements with easily digestible song writing and insanely catchy hooks. There's also a strong 60s undercurrent that puts them just as much in the company of early 70s outfits like Fraction as, say, Pentagram. It's almost like Kaleidoscope covering Sabbath or Peter Sellers going to The Party hosted by a coven of black mass practicing witches, still lumbering and doom-y but also kinda upbeat. At least as upbeat as a song about drinking a whore's blood can be, anyway. With its melodiousness comes a certain carefree abandon, decadence, and egocentric fixation; these guys visit graveyards, but they do so wearing mod clothes.

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Acid's vocal delivery is especially distinctive: high pitched and nasally, even somewhat sniveling at times. It's decidedly un-metal in sound but still speaks to the theatrical side of the genre with its overwrought showmanship. It's condescending and carries plenty of weight in the form of rockstar snark. When coupled with Uncle Acid's macabre lyrics, these vocals lend a certain perverse quality to the proceedings. Like snickering at a tragedy. It's not just committing all sorts of vile acts but rather the pleasure one derives from it that adds that creep factor. It's one thing to sing about the macabre while trying to sound like a dungeon-dwelling monster; it's another thing entirely to sing about it in the same manner one would sing about going to the beach or sharing a float with your sweetheart. Is the latter not the real monster? All this is readily apparent right from the get-go, and the very first track of Blood Lust, "I'll Cut You Down," is a rather brilliant showcase of Uncle Acid's particular approach to musical time travel.

 

 

 

 

The recording quality isn't that great. Not sure how the vinyl master compares to the CD, but I have a feeling it's not that great either. Like The Goslings---but for somewhat different reasons---this stuff sounds better when it's blasting from run of the mill speakers; headphones in this case tend to accentuate the anemic production. Now don't go telling any audiophiles this or anything, but I think the less than stellar sound contributes somewhat to the vibe and underground vintage feel of the album. I'm not making excuses for shoddy production or anything mind you. It is what it is. As far as what it is, those recklessly nonmetal poppy hooks and playfully snide vibes are what set it apart from much of the rest of the crowded vintage spelunkers' arena. At the same time it still carries a lot of the sentiments and aesthetics and packs in much of the personality of early metal. It's like 60s garage band lysergic bliss channeled through the undead cast of some lost horror flick. The tracks "Death's Door" and "Over and Over Again" are straight-up doom rockers with a jaunty swagger and squealing guitars freaking out all over their tail end. "I'm Here To Kill You" meanwhile dials up the 60s garage psych factor with its propulsive drumming and hi-hat riding that serves as a backdrop for a total shredding guitar meltdown. In typical fashion the vocals basically get out of way and let the other instruments do their thing, come what may. On "13 Candles" the band opts for a bluesier sound, especially during the last two minutes or so of the song which happens to be one of my favorite moments on the album. The guitar work here just sounds so plaintiff and soulful.

 

My favorite tracks overall though are probably "Curse In The Trees" and "Ritual Knife," both of which feature the best vocal work on the album in my humble opinion. "Curse In The Trees" is an especially creepy ditty with its a woozy and very sinister Sabbath-y opening. Uncle Acid's croon is drawn out over some classic---hell, archetypal---doom before the track is left hanging on a lingering, buzzing note. It picks up from there and starts rocking 'n' rolling with arpeggiated guitar and distorted tremolo twang. "Ritual Knife" in turn is more pounding, more driving. The percussion is almost tribal. There are some really pretty, poppy hooks mixed in throughout this song, and the vocal work is fairly multifaceted. The start-stop moments toward the end are a nice touch as well. On the album's last track "Withered Hand of Evil," I particularly love the gnarly texture of the guitars. At various points it segues into this warped, warbling organ sample that really captures that low-budget horror atmosphere. I can just see some cult going about their unwholesome rituals in a burned out temple as the sun sets. Definitely worth mentioning is a bonus track on some editions entitled "Down To the Fire," a rather mystical sounding acoustic ballad that is rather out of place amidst the rest of the fuzzed out haunted house honeymoon soundtrack. Somehow it fits all the same. Uncle Acid's distinctive emissions almost take on the characteristic of a guru's mantric recitation, and really it drives home the point that he's singing with sensibilities predating a lot of the more metallic tendencies similar bands adopt these days.

 

I suppose if an overarching theme had to be assigned to this diary entry, it would be metal that thwarts its own metal cred in a contemporary sense. Like Boris or Jesu at their shoegazey best, there's a certain underlying beauty to The Deadbeats. Yet I'd argue this is distinctly metal, at least insofar as history is concerned, since it really evolved out of the psychedelic exploration of the 60s that influenced a lot of hard rock in the 70s. When you go from stuff like T2 and Fraction to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath to Pagan Alter to Manilla Road, the lines of demarcation start to get blurry. Bands like Uncle Acid's don't even want to be called metal really, preferring instead to adopt the designation of 'hard rock.' I guess a more appropriate theme for this collection of impressions then would be the smudged boundaries between different brands of rock and metal, whether it's a band like Boris that eclectically dabbles in everything or one like Pentagram that obsessively embraces a time when hard rock and proto-metal were still connected during their 70s mitosis. This is as good a place as any I suppose to mention Uncle Acid's new album, Mind Control, which was released this year. It's definitely made my list of 2013 favorites so far. Compared to its predecessor, Mind Control seems to play on the notion of contrasts even more strongly; it's at once darker and more sinister but also even more melodic and prettier at times. The band flies their doom barbarian flag most proudly on tracks like "Mind Crawler" (especially toward the end), "Desert Ceremony," and the truly epic "Valley of the Dolls" which also happens to have a really ballin' film reference for a name. Then there's "Devil's Work" which is one of the most stripped down, beastly sounding chug-chug-chug-chugs they've put on so far. On the other hand "Death Valley Blues" and "Follow the Leader" are the grooviest and most pastoral the band has ever sounded, with the former especially getting under my skin to where it's now one of my favorite Uncle Acid joints yet. It's one of the few occasions---along with the last album's bonus track---where they've sounded overtly pretty. "Follow the Leader" meanwhile drones on like some kind of doom raga, its folksy noodling set to huge swarths of buzzing guitar riffage as if a troop of classically trained Indian musicians and Appalachian mountain men were covering Sunn O))).

 

If that doesn't put Mind Control in one of this year's top slots, I don't know what would.

 

 

 


 

Black Sabbath's 13

 

To be honest, I've been pretty ambivalent toward this thing. Not that I necessarily expected it to suck outright---though that was always a very real possibility---but rather I just couldn't work up any excitement over Ozzy's returning to the lead vocal spotlight. Maybe it would have been different had Ozzy just stopped altogether, but despite his very public recreational vehicle accident and psychotropic-fueled downward spiral into being an old senile fart, he hasn't really ever stepped out of the spotlight. He's been performing ever since more or less. So yeah, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Ozzy 'making a comeback' here. Maybe eight years ago when I was super into the Sabbs I would have been more anxious to see a return to form of sorts, but over time I've just come to accept that magic of the early Ozzy years has long since dried up despite the band's continuing to make some pretty good records with Dio and even Tony Martin. I mean were people really expecting anything close to a new Paranoid or Master of Reality? Or even one fourth of that? I imagine most people had middling expectations: so long as Ozzy doesn't, y'know, have a stroke while performing then chalk it up to a success. And frankly that's pretty sad. There isn't even that rubbernecker's morbid curiosity that comes with watching a train wreck. As I said, Ozzy's solo projects already reveal the punchline.

 

Now that I'm actually listening to the album however, I have to admit it's not bad. First and foremost: Ozzy's vocal work is more than serviceable. In fact he even manages to capture some of those sinister vibes from earlier in his career. He does sound a bit diminished at times, maybe a little two-dimensional, but I get the sense that he's really putting a lot into his performance and genuinely feeling it. Iommi's guitar work is pretty impassioned as well, and some of these riffs are really quite heavy, turning back the clock to earlier days of the band which is bound to satisfy longtime fans. There's definitely an air of familiarity here with much of Ozzy-era character is intact. The only parts of the lineup not preserved from that time are the drums which come courtesy of Brad Wilk who played in Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave; they get the job done, though the production makes them sound a little hollow and thin at times. The biggest issue for me though is the songwriting which unfortunates comes off as a bit bland more times than not. Really, much of the album fails to stand out as particularly memorable if I'm being brutally honest. The single on this thing---"God Is Dead?"---is particularly disposable. Toward the second half of the initial tracklist however "Age of Reason," "Damaged Soul," and "Dear Father" start to turn things around. The bluesy feel of "Damaged Soul" in particular just hits a sweet spot, and the band sounds more 'authentic' than they have in ages. Mission accomplished I guess? "Dear Father" is probably my favorite though personally. The band sounds genuinely badass. I suspect it's because I'm hearing a lot of familiarity in the riffs. If anything, this is early Sabbath by the numbers. Nothing wrong with that though. I don't think anyone was expecting a ground breaking reinvention.

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, I've been mentioning expectations a lot here. It's kind of unavoidable when it comes to an album like this. Music doesn't exist in a vacuum, and considering the massive amount of influence Sabbath has wielded---inventing entire genres---one is faced with the reality that there's just so much of this type of music floating around out there as it is. The question then is whether the masters are doing anything more effecting than the legion of students following in their wake, and I have to say, If we try to divorce ourselves from it and just let the music stand on its own, we're left with an album that is neither here nor there for the most part. It's worth noting the various editions of the album which are available; the deluxe version has a second CD with three extra tracks, and if you procure it from Best Buy specifically you get a fourth track. I'd say it's worth having these extra tracks. "Peace of Mind"  and "Pariah" are actually some of the more memorable cuts for me with a vibe that feels genuine and well articulated.

 

Overall? It certainly has its moments, but in the end 13 just feels a bit boring to me. As a cultural artifact it carries a certain significance, but as a musical endeavor there's nothing that really captivates me and makes me want to return to it. If you treat it like a Sabbath album, it just feels sterile in comparison to the earlier stuff. If you don't treat it like a Sabbath album, it disappears into the morass of post-Sabbath influenced doom metal that floods the scene these days.

 


 

 

Moving along, I've been meaning to talk about this for a while now, but The Last of Us is one of the most significant games I've played in a long, long time. I've fallen madly in love with this world Naughty Dog has crafted, and like so many cordyceps it's gotten into my head and taken root. 

 

I suppose I should preface this by saying I've always been something of a Naughty Dog fan. They have a knack for game feel, the way things play out in motion and the kinetic satisfaction of advancement, whether it's moving your character from point A to B or the overall flow and pacing of the story. At their best they capture the joy of exploration and discovery while maintaining an almost hypnotic gameplay rhythm and forward momentum. Unfortunately this typically goes hand-in-hand with unwavering linearity, and Naughty Dog's games tend to take on a thrill ride quality that seldom wavers from the tracks on a macro level despite occasional detours and more strategically demanding combat arenas. Still, in leu of being able to develop characters based on in-game decisions, Naughty Dog typically presents stellar scripting and well thought out, genuinely likable characters to coincide with their cinematic staging. Less widely recognized I think---at least, prior to The Last of Us---is their ability to birth the compelling worlds in which these events transpire and these characters with their various entanglements reside. These worlds harbor their own weird videogame logic like electrical boxes that are never more than 10 feet away from the alarm they supply or a curious abundance of ancient artifacts littering rooftops around the world, but it's a self-consistent logic. These worlds make sense once you accept their terms, and despite their being rather bleak dog-eat-dog microcosms of con artists and thugs, they're not without their own sense of beauty and wonder. There's a sense that something more lies just beyond the level's boundaries, that the world is larger than what is currently being presented both in terms of space and time, that you're merely one small facet of it and that there's a genuine history that precedes you. Another developer particularly adept at conjuring this sensation is BioWare, and some of the most profound moments for me in the last generation of gaming involved looking out at the expanse of stars in Mass Effect or hearing about the intricate politics at work within the mage towers of Dragon Age and feeling minuscule in comparison to everything around me. Another obvious reference point is Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series. In the case of Naughty Dog however, I feel they're one of the few developers making straight up action adventure games these days who can tap into these same sentiments so readily.

 

The Last of Us (from here on out 'TLoU') has all of its developers' usual hallmarks. In terms of straight-up gameplay however, the experience for me was on another level entirely compared to the Uncharted series. The environments seem larger and more open ended, more conducive to approaching enemies in a wider variety of ways. Naughty Dog has delivered some impressively intricate level designs in the past, but in those instances they seemed geared more toward a certain novelty factor, more toward showing off. Here they encourage strategy. Granted it's not Deux Ex level open endedness by any means, but I actually feel it's just the right amount for what TLoU is going for, and that's forcing the player to weigh and consider approaches while maintaining its masterful pacing and ever present sense of danger. One can choose to avoid enemies or try to get the drop on them, but planning ahead never becomes too much of a distraction in its own right, and there's a sense of intuitiveness when approaching different situations. I feel the game is especially satisfying when things don't go according to plan, requiring you to improvise on the spot in a struggle for survival. Those moments when Joel blocks a melee weapon with one of his own like in a sword fight, when he grabs a guard by the head and smashes his face against a desk, or when Ellie cusses out a hunter and throws a bottle at him allowing you to rush in to finish him off... these scripted events can often feel unscripted, and that's when the gameplay shines the most.

 

The 'survival horror' tag gets bandied about a lot when it comes to games with zombies in them, but TLoU really does feel as though it emphasizes survival, especially on the higher difficulty settings. Shooting at things indiscriminately will get you killed. Tougher enemies wont go down so easily, and even relatively weak enemies can overwhelm you if you're not careful. Supplies can get scarce, and most of the time you're forced to rely on the crafting system to make use of raw materials you scrounge up: sharp objects, bandages, alcohol, etc. There's a duality to most of these objects, which adds another level of complexity into the equation. Do you use your newly crafted shiv to open a jammed door, or do you conserve it to attack an enemy from behind or even attach it to the end of a baseball bat to make a more effective super-bat in case you get surrounded? Should you use that alcohol as first aid, or maybe make a molotov cocktail that will surely draw attention of every other enemy in the vicinity if you resort to using it? The game also dishes out 'EXP' in the form of vitamins you scavenge. Yes, it's that whacky videogame logic again, but when you have enough vitamins you can 'upgrade' certain skills like how fast you're able to craft items or how much damage you can take. My main complaint when it comes to facing the game's numerous challenges to survival however is the predictability of its overarching pattern; eventually you discern that survivor-type enemies (guards, hunters, etc.) are just about always followed by the infected and visa versa. Even still, the diverse array of things trying to kill you demands adaptability and the development of a repertoire of tactics, and while one strategy may work for one type of enemy, it may have the exact opposite effect on another. Take the Clickers that rely on echo location to track you for instance. You want to be as quiet as possible around them, but you needn't worry about their visually spotting you. The game likes to pair these guys (and gals) with Runners however, and they in turn can see you. If you're busy worrying about the much more powerful Clickers, you might overlook the single relatively insignificant Runner over in the corner feasting on some freshly downed corpse. As soon as the Runner spots you though, it shrieks and suddenly all the Clickers are alerted to your presence. On the other hand taking out the Runner might alert the Clickers anyway if you're too noisy. Overall the game makes great use of different bodily senses, both as attributes of different enemies and as tools for the player. Often times you'll hear enemies long before you visually confirm them. 

 

Speaking of auditory cues, the soundtrack to TLoU is truly exceptional. I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best game soundtracks of this generation. Gustavo Santaolalla worked closely with Naughty Dog throughout the development process, and both his compositions and the game world mirror one another perfectly, actively shaping what each was to become in a concurrent process of creative evolution. His score is often one of understatement, of hushed passages and quiet desperation, of dark interior movements. It utilizes elements of folk, country, drone, ambience. Like spores drifting through the air, the notes of a lonesome guitar set to delicate and haunting drones are both unsettling and soothing in equal measure, a duality of horror and beauty at the very core of TLoU's artistic expression. There are also moments of triumph, small victories that nevertheless quicken the heart (the car starting scene for instance), moments brilliantly expressed in a way that never feels overbearing. Other times a folksy ballad clamors into the foreground, the accompaniment to worn travelers trying to get on in the harsh landscape around them, carrying the weight of it all as they push onward one foot in front of another. The sounds of a world gone mad: the mating calls of animals in hollowed-out buildings, the blood curdling shrieks of the infected as they wander in circles waiting to die, the weary and weatherbeaten intonations of Joel as he tells Ellie to drop certain painful subjects.

 

The world Naughty Dog have created here is nothing short of breathtaking in its attention to detail and its overall scope. Entering into a house or apartment for instance, you see a multitude of lives interrupted in the personal belongings left behind, fragments of stories reflected in boxes of cereal and posters of boy bands, in nightstands with picture frames and crudely scrawled messages on walls instructing loved ones where to go. You come across journal entries leading up to evacuation day and notes that were never delivered. "What do you think happened to them?" Ellie asks. In another scene she comments on how sad it is that all the records festooned on the walls and scattered throughout an abandoned music store will go unheard. At various points throughout your journey you happen upon others who are trying to hold out for as long as they can. Sometimes you meet them face-to-face, while other times you find their breeched strongholds, now tombs, and you learn of their fates through letters, piecing their stories together bit by bit. It's that feeling that so much more has and is going on, the feeling of being just a small part of a much bigger multitude. When playing through Boston I'm compelled to pause and take in the expansive cityscapes around me, to study the crooked skyscrapers that go on for floor after floor. I wonder what's on floor 24 specifically, or how many Clickers are aimlessly traversing the entire building from top to bottom. This is a world with so much potential, one that begs to be explored. The Cordyceps Brain Infection is a truly horrific concept, and it too becomes a multifaceted affair with fungal growths sprouting from peoples' heads in intricate patterns, flora and fauna becoming one as victims are literally grafted to the surrounding environment, deadly forests sprouting up in cramped dark places. I feel like this is one of the most inventive and conceptually elegant takes on the 'zombie outbreak' notion ever devised, really. It presents a logical gestational cycle that in turns allows the afflicted to evolve into deadlier more hideous forms. Hideous, yet not without a certain artistic appeal. When you look at concept art for those infected with CBI, there's a perverse beauty to the 'flowering' display that erupts from their bodies. 

 

 

 

^ The haunting main menu theme, which incidentally isn't on The Last of Us OST for some bewildering reason.

People don't even seem to know the official name of this piece. It seems like a variation (perhaps movement) of the main / self-titled suite however.

 

Despite the ugliness that pervades Joel and Ellie's world, there's a certain beauty that underlies much of it as well. There's a sense of serenity in the wake of civilization, and nature's reclamation of humanity's constructs is almost always visible, carrying with it all the usual poetic trappings. Some of the more profound moments in the game for me have come after particularly hectic passages, emerging from dismal surroundings into the early dawn air and looking out over the city's ruined skyline, walking along a beach, or watching animals grazing. These moments of quietude are truly breathtaking. At the heart of it all though are Joel and Ellie, and it's their interaction with one another that elevates the game to such great heights. I was hoping to avoid comparisons to that other mammoth title from earlier this year, but I'll indulge in just one: Booker and Elizabeth's relationship, while oddly similar in some respects (transporting her for a client, serving as her protector, showing her the world for the first time, putting up with her eccentricities, getting his ass saved on numerous occasions, making up for a dark past, etc.) just seems flat to me by comparison. In both cases however some of the best moments come during 'down time,' the off the cuff remarks and seemingly minor asides. All in all it's been some time since I've cared as much about a game's protagonists as with Joel and Ellie. All in all it's been some time since a game has spoken to me quite so strongly. 

 

The Last of Us

 

It's on my mind. It's on the tip of my tongue. It's under my skin.

 

NON-SPOILER ABOUT THE ENDING: I knew it was "wrong," but it was exactly the ending I was hoping for for a number of reasons despite myself. I think this is a testament to how powerful the game is at characterization and putting you into the roles of those characters, compelling you to feel what they feel.

 


 

A few tacked on notes about vidyagames here. DLC for TLoU has been confirmed as two multiplayer add-ons and one new chapter for the single-player campaign. When pressed for details on Reddit about what the DLC would entail, the developers said they were still trying to figure it out themselves. LOL. I love Naughty Dog. Supposedly more details will be released by the end of this August.

 

As for that other big game that came out this year, well, I've honestly been feeling a little hostility toward it, and I'm not entirely sure why. The more I reflect on the experience---the overall experience---of playing it, the more I feel it was a major letdown. Maybe things'll change if I go back and play through it again in a year or so, but as of this point I just feel as though it could have been a lot better. It's not even about the gameplay so much anymore. I just find the characters and story so... half-baked. I look back at elements like the Vox and the slums of Finkton, and I think "what the hell was that all about?" Things that should have felt like a suckerpunch to the gut ended up coming across like a slap to the wrist.

 

 

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

Take for instance the scene where Elizabeth kills the Vox leader whose name I can't even remember at the moment. Right after the Vox leader kills Fink. Hell, take the entire Vox rebellion. All of it is delivered in a way that just feels detached and half-hearted. I felt more intensity from my confrontation with Peaches the smuggler in the first BioShock, honestly. The Vox leader has no personality beyond her being angry. Fink has no personality beyond his being greedy. The scene plays out as though it were between two bare sets of ideals in a debate between two potheads. 

 

Columbia as a concept is still incredibly cool, but looking at screenshots and thinking back to the totality of my experience, it all just kind of runs together for me now. The same quaint honky tonk aesthetic smeared across everything, blurring everything into one giant mosaic of an era. Honestly, I would have loved to explore more of those islands by riding the skylanes, but instead it all amounts to battle arenas encircled by rollercoasters basically. The first DLC, "Cash In the Clouds," is just the final nail in the coffin being carried by those raven guys. I've had my fill.

 

But then they go and do this...

 

 

 

This is the best thing they could have done at this point, at least as far as I'm concerned.

If you're going to go for a multiverse, then capitalize on it.

 


 

I've honestly had enough of hard rock and metal. Gonna put all that aside and just listen to hip hop and soul for a while. Expect the next journal entry to focus mainly on that stuff. Speaking of which, Earl's Doris drops today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later...


Edited by MuppetFace - 8/21/13 at 1:51am
post #17325 of 21760

Waaaaa! Epic post once again!

 

But I'm too le tired to read... just got off a 12 hour flight...

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