Saturday, February 25, 2012
I don't really do reviews, and I really don't do Video Game reviews, but I just "finished" Fallout New Vegas, and well, It's good, but not the all-time classic champeen that Fallout 3 was. So, I'm going to talk about it, so as to talk about what I like about Video games as an Art.
See, my primary enjoyment is derived from how immersive the world is, that the game designers have provided. I was a fan of Lode Runner back in the day because you could make your own levels, and thus, interact, and make the game into a world, albeit a very limited world. Then, I really loved Doom because you could explore, and hunt around, as if exploring a new world. Then, along came Bethesda, and things like the Elder Scrolls series, and Black Isle's "Fallout" series, and Grand Theft Auto, and the Rockstar games- and it was like a role playing game, but one that interested me, unlike Dungeons and Dragons. Still, I didn't get the feeling I was living in some kind of alternate world until Morrowind, which still amuses me as much as the later successors, like Oblivion. But then, Fallout 3. People called it "Oblivion with Guns" and there's some truth to that, but between the enhanced graphics, the "roman a clef" styled modelling on the actual Washington DC, the more complex stories, and the voice acting, and it really hit the sweet spot for me. I've spent hundreds of hours playing it, and it always feels like a little "adventure/fantasy Vacation in some bizarre alternate world. Part of that was that if you got all the add-on packs, the game was truly open-ended, even after you had beaten all the bosses. It was a place to interact with, and in. Unlike MMORPG there wasn't the feeling that the game was a veil between you and other real people, which was my problem with role playing games going all the way back to Dungeons and Dragons- it's just you and this strange alternate world.
So, what makes New Vegas a little bit less? Because you're ultimately a pawn of the the story. It's like a 'choose your own" adventure fantasy- You have free choice, but there is a "god" in the machine who directs you, and you end up being made into part of a story they want to tell you. On top of that the graphics are a bit of a step back. A bit more cartoony, a bit less photo-realistic. The characters are a bit more free, but the glitches that all of Bethesda is prone to having reduces that freedom greatly. Also, while the gameplay is more challenging, that, too, takes away from the feeling of immersion because you have to actually play the "game' aspects, like spinning a wheel of choices in order to have a conversation with what is supposedly your 'companion".
See, ultimately, what I'm looking for in a Video game is something akin to a painting you can have a conversation with. This is more like a book that you can re-arrange. But, it's also not that other metaphor I hear bandied about for Video games- a Movie you can experience. I'm not a fan of that, and I think that Video games actually make poor movie substitutes.
Yes, those are some pretty jumbled thoughts, and that's why I don't do video game reviews: because my thoughts aren't clear on the subject. Still, I do enjoy Fallout 3.....
So, will every week bring another example of why our Mass culture is a diseased malignant tumour on what would otherwise be healthier lives? It looks that way.
This week brought us Adele flipping off the British public, and Rhianna and Chris Brown announcing that they are still an (un)limited liability partnership. I'd like to talk about both, because I've got a bit of an angle on them.
First, Adele. I've never cared for her music. She's a prepackaged nostalgia act singing outside of her range so that bored hausfraus' can feel relevant. But what particularly irks me is that people use her supposed talent to justify floating along to her dead mainstream success. People who wouldn't even go to the jazz section of the record store, much less recognize what Billie Holliday sounds like will tell me that she's sold 30 billion records because she "really is talented". Then, they get all defensive before I even reply and usually say some variation on " I don't normally listen to top 20 drek, but she's just so talented, and you really should listen to her before you pass judgement" I have listened to her- I've had no choice in the matter- and I think she's a tier or two below Alison Moyet, with an incredible hype machine fellating people who should know better into thinking that her army of miserablist break up self pity songs are some kind of artistic statement. I almost prefer Lana Del ray because the seams show on her a bit more prominently. To put it plain- she's half talented crap. But, she's still a human being, and obviously suckling on the devil's johnson for her 15 minutes of over-exposure. Don't believe me? She's not yet 25 and she's already blown out her voice. Tell me that isn't the definition of fame-whoring. She's been made up to look like an understudy on an off-broadway production of Hairspray, and you want to tell me she's not trafficking in fat-girl sensitivity tropes?
So then, She does her big return at the American Grammy awards, and is appropriately tearful and grateful-" O, thank you, you great and mighty RIAA, I shall wear your load on my face for all eternity as a token for how much I value your approval". Everything goes picture perfect.
Now comes the homely little Brits ( I actually prefer them, but bear with me- it's part of my point) and she isn't quite as well presented. The make up job is a bit more smeared, the performance a bit more flawed, and then when they cut her acceptance of the big award really, really short, so that Blur can do their punk rock denial of both themselves and the show they're on, she flips the bird at the British audience she's so effing proud to have pleased? Please note, she didn't do two fingers, she did the American "bird", and she didn't do it at the presenter who rushed her off the stage- she did it at the Audience. Of course, she tried the usual spin, afterwards, saying that she meant to show her displeasure at the show, and she's terribly, terribly sorry, now please go buy her record. I say bullshit. She's been sucking on the hype machine's testicles until her throat was raw, and then this pissant little 'homeland" of hers showed they had more love for has-beens than they did for her, and her reaction was 'Piss on you, I sing in an American accent for a bloody reason". Dollars to Do-nuts ( phrased that way on purpose) she'll be a tax-exile before the year is out, working in Los Angeles with Timbaland on her follow up club-banger, entitled "Slap my Ass".... See, believe it or not, I actually like the little Tottenham Adkins girl underneath the mass-culture product called "Adele". If she really did shout 'Up Yours" with two fingers in the air, and went back to north London, to record some jazz records in her actual voice, I'd probably buy, and like those records. I'm probably one of only a handful that would, which is why she won't, and so I hate this Adele creature because it's probably forever killed not only the real ms Adkins, but also the chance of hearing some other little girl from North London sing something meaningful from an organic perspective. Instead, because she's a fame-whore, they'll want to sing as if they were born in Tennessee, listening to chess records from the time they were able to have a bowel movement, and that makes the world a poorer place.
Now then, As for Rhianna and Chris Brown- Rhianna went back to her abusers 3 years ago. That's completely obvious. She's got an army of them- handlers, managers and coaches. All of whom could give a shit less for ms Robyn F. They just are angling for the next hit single. So, they'll have her do songs that make her rather savage beating mere fodder for gossipers, and make her wink and smile at the camera, as if to coo " Kill me, next time, and I'll go down orgasming" . Disgusting, no? Well, that's how I see it. In pursuit of mass markets, they've done everything except flat out state "a little beating here and there is what every girl wants, if it's coming from a sexy superstar". I know more than a little about dysfunctional relationships, and it really strikes me that the relationship between this deformity we call "Rhianna" and her public is about as dysfunctional as it gets. Meanwhile, much like Michael Vick or even OJ, so long as Chris Brown acts a bit chastened, it's all good. Hell, the whole incident can even be used as a pick up line with some drunk about-to-be-date-raped fan of his.
I can't say this any more clearly- every week I see another example of how this media complex I call "Mass culture' is a machine with only the goal of the destruction of our humanity available for purchase. Steer clear if you know what's good for you....
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Yes, I'm watching a few things- the continually ongoing brilliance that is Portlandia. (Seriously, if you're not even going and watching clips from Youtube, or something, do I know you? Who are you? Why are you reading this? You clearly must be making fun of me. Is there a drinking game involved? Can I play? Because I can pickle that.)
And, now, the return of The Walking Dead, or, as the last episode showed- The walking Dad.
Seriously, one of the things that moves this show forward is the subtext of an exploration of masculinity. If you watch the show, you're probably starting to nod your head. This is a show about what it means to be human, first, Zombie panic armageddon second, but then, in a very strong third- what it means to be a man. Not just because there are so many Male characters, but because so much of the plot revolves around questions like how to be brave, how to be a father, how to balance courage with caution, how to accept both the comfort and the carelessness of women, and mostly, how to make the hard decisions. I know that I come from a pretty backwards place, sexism-wise. I was raised in a super-traditional family for gender roles. I gravitated towards hyper-masculine things by nature, as well- Boxing, motorcycles, fixing things, physics, misunderstanding girls, yup, I'm pretty much a guy. Many of my friends are guys, too-Mechanics, Engineers, Firemen and so on. I was raised in an enlightened age, though, so, I am aware that there are other ways of being, and I can even see the short-comings in my own way. But, my default position is pretty caveman. So, a show like this really does speak to me. Sure, there are no zombies, but there is crime, and piss-poor choices, and environmental woes, and a lot of jerk offs out there totally lacking in character. So, I can relate to the struggle of how do you raise your son so that he can protect himself, but also have hope and joy. I can understand how you have to have the courage of your convictions, but be prepared to have those convictions challenged, and then, sometimes collapsed. So, you tell me, what kind of a zombie show has a guy like me considering stuff like this? Yes, that's right, a damn good one.
On the other hand, I don't always watch the good stuff. I was excited for HBO's Luck, and the people involved ( Hoffman, Nolte, Farina, Michael Mann, Jill Hennesy, etc) really are great, but it just fails to move me. I know it's good stuff, but I'm just not that into it.
So, with my taste fully in question, of course, you shouldn't just take my word for it, but decide for yourself- Is The Walking Dead a feast, while Luck is a salad wrap? I don't know, but I can tell you what I like...
Again, I don't have much to say about Buildings "Melt Cry Sleep". I like it. Produced by Bob Weston, and if you know who that is, you know which ballpark it's in. This is the skronky free range Pig-F&%# stuff that would've been on Amphetamine Reptile or Touch and Go circa about 1988. Some Jesus Lizard, a little Shellac, some Cherubs,a whole bunch of Cows. If you dig that sound, I don't know how this will offend your ear, but it certainly won't expand your horizons any, either. Yes, I'm a bit late on this party, but my aim is to truthfully just talk about what I'm really listening to, and I just got this last week, and just heard it today, so, there you go, mystery solved- I'll bet you don't always listen to "hot off the presses' stuff before it gets reviewed by Pitchfork, either!
I don't mean to slam them, because I enjoy this. But this could be a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. I mean not quite PsychoCandy, nor exactly Automatic, but somewhere inbetween. Maybe Darklands? I don't know. They're more propulsive than the JAMC, but really not so much as to say it's a different thing. I enjoy this sort of thing, a very lot, and it's a lot of fun. But, really, I can't say much more than that.
I've never posted about Shearwater before, have I? The reason is simple- I haven't liked them. Oh, I've heard 'em before, but it's always sounded like overly arranged pretentious drivel to me. So, what's different now?
They've finally made a "rock" record, that's what. The thing is, I might enjoy all kinds of music, from Dvorak to the Dead Kennedys, but my "filter"- my baseline aesthetic is pretty solidly in the "rock" category. Not metal, not punk, not rockabilly, and so on, I'm pretty much a "rock" guy. I really can appreciate the intents and desires that go into, say, Bop jazz, and I can enjoy that, but I'll always go back to 4/4 driven by the backbeat rock music. Rock is really elastic, and can encompass a lot, so I don't think of it as anything truly limiting, but the overly ornamented, 50 page booklet-y thing that Shearwater did before just wasn't really "rock"- it was more or less folk-jazz with some progressive "rock" (a la Genesis) flavouring. No thanks, for me.
But Animal Joy? The aesthetics have changed a bit. Still odd instrumentation, still some pretty dirge-like tempos, but the fluttery little bits, and a lot of the excess is gone- leaving behind something akin to Richard Thompson. "Shoot Out the Lights" this isn't, but I wouldn't put it past them to cover "Wall of Death" at some future date. That catapults them, in my estimation. I mean I even copied a song or two onto my Sansa clip ( "Breaking the Yearlings" and "Immaculate"- try them next time you're on the treadmill- it's nice) So, it seems like they might have finally understood what a band like dEUS ( or Thompson, for that matter) has in spades- you can experiment all you want, but tie that stuff to a flagpole of rock, and it comes together is a far more physical way, as opposed to remaining an abstract experiment in your head. You can be sophisticated, or crude, but ultimately that kickdrum and snare centers the music on the body, and Cartesian dualism aside, all we really know is our bodies. Hence- Animal Joy, geddit?