Archive for the ‘Published’ Category

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Deleted Scenes: Let it Be

March 27, 2013

Deleted Scenes is going to be a collecion of pieces I wrote for other outlets, things that for one reason or another didn’t get published. They could be full 2,000-word articles, they could be 50-word blurbs. If I write it, it doesn’t get posted, and I think it’s good enough to publish, this is where it’ll end up.

Let it Be, 7" SingleOver the last two weeks, the good people over at popblerd.com have been posting their list of the best albums of the ’70s. It’s an interesting and fairly eclectic list, with most of the albums you’d expect and a few you might not; it’s worth checking out, even if music from the time before you were born isn’t your thing.

I wrote a few blurbs for the list, including one for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and one for Zeppelin’s III. I also wrote one for an album that ended up in the top 10: The Beatles’ Let it Be, one of my favorite Beatles albums, not to mention the only chance for a proper Beatles album to be listed in a list of “albums of the ’70s”. My blurb wasn’t the one to get published, so here they are: a couple of thoughts on The Beatles’ final album:

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The Beatles – Let it Be (1970)

It’s no surprise, I’m sure, to see The Beatles show up on any list that they happen to be eligible for, and Let it Be was late for the ’60s by about five months, so here it is. Rarely does Let it Be make any noise as one of the best Beatles albums, because as Beatles albums go, it is uneven and unambitious. It was recorded before Abbey Road, but disagreements in its production style and the songs that were to be included kept it off of shelves until two years after it was recorded. Even as recently as ten years ago, a new version of the album was released — Let it Be…Naked — that purported to be closer to the “original version” of Let it Be.

Nobody ever follows the advice of the album’s title. Everyone seems to wish that it could be more, that it could be better than it is, largely thanks to the pedestal that everyone puts The Beatles on. Every album must be perfect, it must define its era, and if it doesn’t, the problem must be circumstance rather than the music itself.

The constant tinkering is unfortunate, because taken as it is, Let it Be is still a great album. “Across the Universe” and “Let it Be” are two of the band’s most identifiable musical statements, and for good reason; they are immediately catchy and beautifully layered pieces of music. “Get Back” is one of the best “rock ‘n roll Paul” songs The Beatles ever did, and George Harrison’s aggressively cynical “I Me Mine” is a display of his simplistic songwriting style at its best.

Sure, there are a couple of bombs on Let it Be; “Two of Us” is a pleasant throwback at best — a lousy way to open the album — and “The Long and Winding Road” is a dense, saccharine mess no matter which version you’re listening to. Still, the bright lights outshine the missteps, and while Let it Be may never be more than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are sufficiently brilliant to stand on their own.

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Published: The Sourpuss Chronicles

May 18, 2010

Am I kind of a jerk, or just hard to please? Is there a difference?

Friday and Monday saw no less than three of my music reviews show up over at PopMatters, and I wasn’t a huge fan of any of them. On Friday, my review of UNKLE’s latest actually managed the suddenly difficult to obtain front page treatment, and I have to say, I kind of hate it. It’s split pea soup. It’s cake lying dead in spilt milk. The music is bland, and you know, it’s so hard to push a visual art style that features lots of nudity without coming off as juvenile, and I just don’t think they pull it off. The whole thing is just ridiculous. I had high hopes for Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip based entirely on potential, but their disc didn’t turn out to be all that exciting, either.

Then on Monday my review of dancehall denizen Poirier showed up, and I didn’t like that stuff either. He has one mode — loud and in-your-face — and while there’s a place for that, it starts to feel like a sledgehammer to the skull after half an hour or so.

If it weren’t for the new Yeasayer disc, I’d start wondering if I even liked music anymore. Of course, the Yeasayer disc sounds like it could have come from the ’80s, but we won’t talk about that.

Things are much more normal on the gaming front — of course I loved 3D Dot Game Heroes — it’s Atlus, it’s retro, it’s almost exactly like an old Zelda game. I eat that stuff up. Of course, despite the fact that it’s the thirteenth entry in a major franchise, there’s very little that’s retro about Final Fantasy XIII, and I dug that too. I did writeups of How to Train Your Dragon and the first episode of the new Sam & Max series for the paper, and you know, they’re OK.

So there you go. Here’s hoping I manage to pick up a few CDs that don’t bore the hell out of me the next time I have to write about them.

This post needs some life. Play me off, Ben:

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Published: Accidental Popularity

March 11, 2010

Some days, the internet fascinates me.

Example: My review of Shiren the Wanderer was posted on Monday.  Within a day, it had become the most-read article on PopMatters in the last week, and remains so today (and may retain the title right up until next Monday).  While this was a pleasing development, it was also a strange one — despite the large amounts of ink I’ve spilled on it, it’s a niche game, and there was nothing particularly special about this review of it.  Not only that, but despite all the readers, not a single person has seen fit to comment.  What happened?  Where did all of these people come from?

Turns out, they came from Reddit, a link focusing on the first sentence of my review, which doesn’t say much of anything about Shiren at all.  On one hand, it’s a bit frustrating to realize that the review’s popularity really had nothing to do with my thoughts on Shiren; still, if Atlus picks up one more fan as a result, well then it wasn’t for naught.

There was also a review of Eluvium’s Similes that posted last week, which might be my favorite album of the year so far.  It’s a lovely little thing, an ambient album that feels like it ends almost as soon as it begins, whose brevity might be one of its most redeeming features.  Alas, Carrie Newcomer’s Before & After has no such redeeming characteristic, save perhaps a good-natured worldview.  I probably should never have reviewed it, as I got Carrie Newcomer’s name confused with someone else’s when requesting the album, but I did, and I can’t imagine that people think it’s all that good.  I mean, some people probably do, but it’s not.

Over at the paper, I got to tinker with Aliens vs. Predator for a week, and it was decent, mindless fun — not a perfect gaming experience, but my relationships with Giger’s Aliens and, uh, McTiernan, Thomans, and Thomas’s Predator go way back.  It was fun to fight them and to see through their eyes, even if it was in a cheesy little video game.  I also did a quick 500 on the increasing prevalence of the narrative in games, quite obviously before Heavy Rain‘s narrative got stomped on so thoroughly by much of the gaming press.

In any case – here’s hoping that next time I manage the #1 spot on PopMatters’ little popularity contest, I’ll feel as if I’ve earned it.

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Published: Two’s Company

February 10, 2010

It’s been a busy few weeks at casa de Schiller, but that hasn’t stopped me from writing about a nice little pile o’ stuff. Two of everything this week, which means it’s probably been…wow, really? It’s been three weeks since I did a “Published” roundup? Maybe I’m getting lazier than I thought.

Here they are:

PopMatters Multimedia: Two reviews, bookending the weekend. On Friday, my review of Guitar Hero: Van Halen was posted, and I’m pretty sure it got the lowest score I’ve ever given a game over there (we’ll see if it’s the last piece of review copy I receive from Activision). Despite the low score, it’s not an awful game — in fact, it holds its own with Guitar Hero: Metallica. The problem is that Guitar Hero is a better game now — the strength of Guitar Hero 5 points out all the flaws of World Tour and its engine, so to have a new game come out using the World Tour engine after the release of Guitar Hero 5 is simply folly. I also reviewed Torchlight, ostensibly because it got a box release a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I said anything new about it, but that may well be because there’s simply not much to say. Dungeons, hacks, slashes, quests, loot, hooray. And yet, I’m still playing it.

PopMatters Music: Perhaps my favorite bit of my own writing over the last three weeks is this writeup of The Album Leaf’s new album. Most of it was very much a “where have you been all my life” experience, but a couple of stray bombs at the end tripped it up. It’s still a lovely little bit of halfway-to-ambient relaxy stuff. I also did a short piece on something called Stories by someone called “InLove”. I’m usually a sucker for wispy voices and trip-hop sounds, but Stories just isn’t good. At all.

Raleigh News & Observer: Pretty excited about these two pieces, because I got to play with the format a bit. First up was a review of the new Army of Two game, where I spent 200 of my 300 words talking about the “moral choices” that the game offers, which, all told, are a fairly minor part of the overall experience. Still, they’re what I remembered most about the game, and not necessarily for a good reason. This past Friday was a rare 400-word piece, this time on a game I’ve spilled far more ink discussing than I ever thought I would: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. It’s the closest thing out there to a pure description of what I thought of the game, although a far more lengthy PopMatters review is on the way. Brief synopsis: It’s not as bad as advertised, even if it does insist on using the word “Crystal” twice in its full-length title.

Finally, as I was doing some Autechre-flavored research in advance of writing my review of their new album, I stumbled across this piece on Gescom’s Minidisc that I wrote a few years ago. I think it’s one of the best pieces of music writing I’ve ever done, despite its short length, so I just had to share. It’s gimmicky, sure, but the gimmick was appropriate for that particular release.

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Published: Emptying the Coffers

January 20, 2010

PopMatters spent the weekend turnaround ridding their queue of anything I gave them in December, so between Friday and Monday, three game reviews were published. Look out, people, I’m takin’ over.

Friday was my review of Band Hero, which I’m a little ashamed of right now because I left out the word “engine” in a crucial spot in the last paragraph, but I’m too doubtful of the number of people who are going to notice or care to have it changed. Other than that, there’s a lot going for Band Hero, most notably an inclusive attitude that makes for a varied-to-a-fault tracklist and a kid-friendly aesthetic. At this point, I think I’ll be happy with anything that runs on the Guitar Hero 5 engine, the lack of which is the main reason Guitar Hero: Van Halen felt like such a mess (we’ll get to that in more detail later).

Two reviews went up on Monday, which was surprising but not entirely out of left field given the quality of the two games involved. First up was a writeup of Tony Hawk: Ride, in which I struggle to say anything that hasn’t been said before. I hate joining a chorus of people declaring “TOO HARD”, because it feels like a cop-out. Still, I think there’s a difference between difficulty that is programmed into a game and difficulty that arises when you know exactly the moves you’re supposed to make but simply can’t muster the physical coordination to do them…and when you think you do, it only works half the time.

The undercard on Monday was a review of The Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun, a title so silly it should at least end with an exclamation point or two. It’s a licensed product, based on a TV show on the Cartoon Network that I’d never heard of until I played this game. It’s a decent mostly-2D experience, but it had the unfortunate timing of sitting in my review stack at the exact time New Super Mario Bros. Wii was beginning to eat my life. I tried to be as objective as possible anyway.

Speaking of which, my review of New Super Mario Bros. Wii showed up in the paper this week. I think I spent too many words talking about old games, but you almost have to with this one. It’s Mario. It has multiplayer. It’s incredible. It’s replayable. What else is there?

Truth is, there doesn’t need to be anything else. Would that more games could get it right like that one does.

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Published: Week of 2009-12-14

December 18, 2009

‘Twas a quiet week on the publishing front, as many are likely to be for a while; my music queue at PopMatters is empty (and I’m still trying to decide whether replenishing said queue is worth the hassle), and game reviews aren’t generally terribly plentiful anyway. A couple of things did go up this week, though, and I’m fairly proud of both, so here goes:

On the game review front is this week’s News & Observer writeup, a glowing breakdown of the first Sims 3 expansion pack. It’s called World Adventures, and it actually manages to turn The Sims into an adventure game for days (in game time) at a time. Plus, you can buy a tent and camp outside your office as you hunger-strike your way to a promotion (or, more likely, martyrdom).

The other piece this week is the one that cleared my music queue for PopMatters, a writeup of the reissue of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. I wanted to make the entire article about how hilarious it was that the album was still called Space Oddity even though that was only a name given to it years after the fact when Bowie was still basically a one-hit wonder, and it doesn’t even appear on the album art for the reissue, but that didn’t translate to 600 words. So there’s a little bit in there about the music, too.

If I’d have had my druthers, it would have ended up on PopMatters’ excellent list of the 20 best reissues of 2009, but 1) I can’t complain because I didn’t vote and 2) It would have knocked off the reissue of The Who Sell Out, which would have been a shame (and made Justin Cober-Lake very sad).

Next Week: Tony Hawk: Ride, take 1. Hoo boy.