Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wet Brain, Checkmate, Torgo

December 17, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

Just popped out to see a small show last night, some obscure punk bands I'd never heard of.


Terrible. Some sort of noise-rock-meets-punk-aesthetics, but in a bad way. Most of their stuff sounded like they were just messing around. Occasionally they'd set up a decent industrial/Swans-ish groove but it would always be ruined by the guitar goofing off with this random atonal improv. I get the feeling they were just playing for their drunk friends; the inside jokes and general stupidity was kind of embarrassing to watch.
3Most Ineffective Concrete Block for the Kick Drum Award


Local hardcore punk. A rehash of the old-school three-chord style, there's nothing particularly original about them, but they do what they do quite well. Very energetic and fun to watch, but a bit amateurish (they had to restart a few songs)—though I think they're a very new band, so I'll cut them some slack. Would see again.
6Just Tilt the Mic Down Instead of Standing On Your Toes Award

Wet Brain

(Baltimore. Not to be confused with the one from LA or the one from Massachusetts or the one from Cleveland, whom they're playing with the day after, which is interesting.) I haven't listened to much riot grrrl (maybe two bands total) but I liked what I heard, and these guys continued the trend. Their sound was pretty standard but with a tiny bit of a blues/surf influence in some songs. They also roll with one guitar and two basses (one high, one low, Ned's Atomic Dustbin style) which was pretty cool and is still fairly unique, especially for punk. They had the tendency to kind of meander and let the songs go a bit too long, but it was still a fine show. Worth checking out.
6Best Nose Rings Award

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gorguts, Origin, Nero di Marte, Dismemberment, Unkured

December 14, 2013 • Alrosa Villa, Columbus, Ohio

Back when I saw Locusta play in September, I thought that even though I don't really listen to much death metal at home, it's definitely a genre that I can get into when performed live. Tonight I tested my theory, and as it turns out I was totally right. Even though I was lukewarm to Gorguts' last album and I hadn't even heard of any of the other bands who played, I knew that it would still be worth it to give them a shot in concert. And it turned out to be one of the best shows I've been to yet.


Gorguts couldn't have asked for a better opener. Although they fall at least somewhat into the "tech death" camp, these guys still managed to rock really hard. It was probably some of the old-school influences, so it was a familiar sound to a lot of people, and there is a lot of groovy rhythmic bits that really got us pumped up. Their songs were a bit disorganized and tough to follow, but it didn't really matter in that environment, I suppose. They still were very technically talented, with some really nice tapping. I knew it was going to be a good show just from watching these guys.
7Best Fascist Combat Boots Outfit Award


Essentially, take the above band and make it old-school thrash and melodeath instead of old-school tech death. Fast, rocking stuff, really fun to listen to even though it normally wouldn't have been my thing. Really nice riffage, lots of headbangers, straightforward and metal as hell.
7Most Luscious Manes Award

Nero di Marte

The token "weird band" of the night. Rather than straight-up rocking stuff, these guys were slower-paced atmospheric proggy death/deathcore. Kind of like Ulcerate meets The Contortionist with loads of heavy atmosphere and very dense production. While it didn't work as well live as it probably would have in the studio, they were still pretty decent. Not as interesting to watch, of course, but they had some good songs and some good breakdowns and such to make up for it.
6Silliest Smoke Machine Award


The brutalest of brutal death metal. These guys were mesmerizing to watch with a really awesome stage presence and audience interaction (stories, diving). The music was a little forgettable, but the performance aspects made up for that (aside from when they'd get off time from each other, tsk tsk). Special mention to the bass guitar player who must be some sort of wizard; I've never seen anyone play the way he does, precision-attacking the frets and strings like he was trying to break it.
7Worst Stagediving Award. Also, Best Stagediving Award


They sounded basically like what I thought they would, but (as I mentioned) it was definitely much better live. They played Colored Sands in its entirety (I think) plus some older stuff as an encore. So it was a great set, and it was really cool to hear both eras of the band. I was kind of impressed how much the crowd really got into it. Also, how did I not even realize that Colin Marston was in the band? That was half of my excitement right there. Anyway, really great stuff, totally worth seeing.
8Best Drummer Faces Award

Friday, December 13, 2013

Disasterpeace – Fez

April 20, 2012 • II

I guess it's fitting that I chose Fez to round out the week; like Thomas Was Alone and Journey, Fez's soundtrack is one that instills a sense of wonder and purpose into its game to an incredible degree. Even though I highly recommend the game, if the soundtrack is the best you can do for now it's definitely worth listening to.

The soundtrack's style is mostly based around very simple chiptunes, but the quality of the various melodies and production values take it to a completely different level. Like how the film-score stylings of Journey's soundtrack created such vivid soundscapes, a similar thing applies here; Fez is a bit like a film score with electronic music instead of classical (you could almost think '70s soundtracks, but in a good way). Each piece effectively sounds like the location in the game it's associated with, and at the same time the whole soundtrack is still very cohesive and flows well.

But to try to pin it down in so many words would be doing the music a disservice. There is so much to be explored and discovered here (it is pretty long, after all) and there is so much thrown at the listener throughout. Sometimes it's the sunniest, most cheerfully bouncing music ever; other times it's dark and mysterious, droning away low guttural sawtooths. But in most cases, the music has this wonderful ability to just hang around and be incredibly comforting. It's tough to explain exactly why or how, but whenever I listen to it I just want to sit and be in that experience.

Special mention goes to the suite of "Snyc" and "Glitch" for wrapping up Fez in the best possible way; one of the most feel-good pieces of music I've ever heard (with a fantastic, catchy beat to boot). I don't like to rank music much anymore, but if I had to, Fez would be no lower than the second-greatest video game soundtrack I've ever heard. A masterpiece in every way.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hotline Miami

August 21, 2012 • Devolver Digital

Imagine it's the year 1989, and you're sitting outside on the south Florida beach, a half-gone pile of cocaine spread out in front of you. That's what Hotline Miami is like, some kind of blitzed-out psychedelic insanity that evokes that hot and hazy atmosphere while also being dissonant and alienating. It's a weird experience, but a good one.

"Synthwave" is the new buzzword for this kind of music—retro-inspired synth pop and house music—though I find the name a bit misleading, at least when it comes to this soundtrack. As a various-artists collection there's actually quite a number of different things going on, going from thick psych-rock to deep thumping house and techno. It's a good sampling of how wildly different genres can still provide a similar mood and aesthetic to a soundtrack (then again, maybe it's just that I already associate all these songs with the game). And it's just plain weird, too; flipping around the songs might seem kind of normal at first, but there's always something just a little off that makes them feel a bit uneasy.

Hotline Miami itself isn't really a game I'd recommend for everyone, and I don't think I actually like it all that much myself. But I do know that it did bring us a pretty good collection of tracks to go along with it. There are a few forgettable tracks here and overall it doesn't inflict me with the same sense of awe as a lot of other recent soundtracks have, but it's still worth a listen just for the weirdness.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Austin Wintory – Journey

July 19, 2013 • Sony Music / Sumthing Else Music Works

I don't own a PS3 so I never played Journey, so you'll have to take this opinion from someone who just watched a video of it; but even in that experience it's still a great game. No small part of its success should be attributed to its score, easily another one of my top favorite pieces of game music ever.

One thing you'll notice right away about Journey's soundtrack is that it's not very typical for a game; it feels a lot more like that of a dramatic, artsy film (and I mean that in a good way). Many modern classical film score tropes are in full swing here: a large-scale orchestra with occasional tight string and wind ensembles; soft, meandering melodies; tense, amelodic, droning buildups.

But it's not a generic score by any means; it definitely takes on the role of "soundscape" more than "soundtrack" as it works so well to establish mood and context without even really needing a visual to go along with it. Journey is, at least in part, a game about exploration (big surprise) and discovery; this score evokes those emotions exceedingly well. It has that sense of childlike wonder to it, as the music paints these mysterious and foreign yet beautiful scenes.

It does suffer a bit from your typical score's inherent problem with getting a bit too long and as Journey is especially heady and dense, it can be a bit of a difficult attentive listen. Still, I think it's absolutely worth it; it's simply one of the most gorgeous experiences I've had with gaming in general in a long time and deserves all the attention it can get. At the very least, give these pieces a try.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

David Housden – Thomas Was Alone

April 24, 2013 • self-released

If I had to give an award to the single most emotional and affecting video game soundtrack, Thomas Was Alone would win it by far. There's something about it that hits me with just the right mood every time, and it's a fantastic experience.

The songs' arrangements vary a bit in their complexity, but they mostly boil down to a beautiful mix of piano, strings, and some guitar with soft chiptune and glitch music. Even with the electronic elements, the music still feels organic and earthy. The digital sounds fit well with the acoustic instruments; they stick out somewhat if you're listening for them, but they still manage to fit the aesthetic very well. Perhaps it's that they aren't as harsh and sawtooth-y as most chiptune, and the way they are mixed in with the same delay and reverb helps.

But it's the way the music feels that sets it apart, naturally. Compared to most soundtracks, it's a bit of a downer. (Of course that means I'll love it.) While it's so sad it also has a very hopeful mood to it (see "Escape" and "Clear Skies"), sort of like the Sigur Rós equivalent of a game soundtrack. It's not without its darker moments as well, like "Divided We Fall", giving the album a surprising amount of depth.

Put simply, this is a masterpiece of gaming soundtracks (probably in my top ten, anyway). Every element is done exactly right, it isn't missing a thing, and there is nothing in it that shouldn't be there. This is one of the rare game soundtracks that stands well on its own without the context of the game itself, although of course I recommend the game to absolutely anyone.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rom Di Prisco & Peter Chapman – Guacamelee!

I'm back in full force, and today I'm ramping up the second Video Game Soundtrack Week! About freakin' time!

September 4, 2013 • Drinkbox Studios

I almost always love it when game soundtracks manage to go well above and beyond a simple electronic style, and I enjoy it even more when games like Guacamelee! take that to a new level. With the game's luchador theme it's obvious that its soundtrack would include a heavy helping of Mexican music, but I never expected it to be so well-done and fit so well into the game. Not only did it add immensely to my enjoyment of the game, but it provides a great listening experience on its own.

The soundtrack presents two distinct styles, similar in style but different in functionality. One is Peter Chapman's more traditional scoring: it's based around a large ensembles with a big cinematic sound. It's used mostly for cutscenes and menus, and there it does an excellent job of establishing the mood and feel of the game. Rom Di Prisco's tracks are a bit more diverse. They're based around a smaller mariachi arrangement and have varying amounts of electronic fusion going on. Most of these tracks also have a "dark world" equivalent, which adds a thick layer of dark, despairing reverb to the otherwise jaunty tunes.

It's difficult to describe exactly what makes this soundtrack so attractive, but it does do two things very well for me. Firstly, it draws you into the game's world so incredibly well. Maybe it helps that I never really listen to Mexican music (though I should), but those folky elements—guitars, brass, upright bass (which sounds amazing, by the way)—can be really captivating and evoke the game's world so effectively. Secondly, the whole thing just jams so hard. I could listen to that boss theme or the Temple or Rain theme all day. Even the softer tracks groove along nicely when they want to.

It's a soundtrack that has (or ought to have) universal appeal, even though it seems like it combines a couple of semi-niche genres it manages to transcend each. Oh, and the game is pretty great too, I suppose.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2

November 5, 2013 • Shady Records

Yep, an Eminem review. I've always liked him just a little bit, ever since I heard "My Name Is" on the radio when I had no idea what hip hop was. The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP were both interesting and had good cuts on each, though I've always been partial to the former. After that I didn't really bother to listen to anything else he's done, simply because I heard none of it was any good. A month after this album is out, the consensus seems to be that it isn't very good either, but while it's not great I'm enjoying it a bit more than I had thought I would.

Maybe it helps that I usually focus on the production more with hip hop, and this album has some decent stuff on it. Like most pop rap made by older artists, it has some very modern-sounding beats. As I've made obvious in the past, there's plenty of modern hip hop I enjoy and a lot of the beats and production on this album are right up my alley, especially when things take a more hard and heavy turn. It's not anywhere as dissonant and industrial as, say, the new Kanye, but there's elements of that. On the other hand, there are definitely a lot of hokey moments (too many to list) where things get obnoxious or too silly to enjoy. It doesn't make a lot of sense when you realize that the people making tracks like "So Much Better" are 40+ years old.

Vocals-wise, the guest melodic hooks on many tracks contrast well with Eminem's standard choppy rapping style, though I could definitely do without his own singing most of the time. As usual, I ignore the lyrics, which is probably the best for Eminem—although I've always enjoyed his talent for rapid-fire internal rhymes, most of what he actually says is not particularly appealing (still rocking slurs in 2013? come on).

There's good and bad bits, so it's probably the kind of album that's best enjoyed with liberal use of the "skip" button. On average, maybe it's not really worth listening to, but when it's good, it's still pretty decent, I suppose. Whether or not it lives up to its predecessor is a matter of personal opinion (and I'll never understand how anyone thinks they can get away with making sequel albums that are anywhere near as good as the originals).