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27Jan2010 1815: For the Love of Science Fiction

Well, the iPad is officially here. It's got an LA face and an Oakland bezel. Is your life changed yet? No? Mine either, but then again my standards were impossibly high. It's nice to know that other people out there are desperately desiring LCARS. So much.

You know what else just came out? Mass Effect 2, sequel to the most interactive scifi movie ever made. I was completely enamored with the first volume, from its humble shoot-robots opening to the assault on Babylon 5 the Citadel. The game had lots of "extraneous" features like alien races that never gave you more than a couple of quests, yet had thirty minutes of dialogue explaining their origin (a shitty rock planet) and how their race procreates (with your mom). From the early spoiler-free reviews it seems like this may have been "streamlined"...I don't want to read too much right now, but if the missions have really been simplified as much as Ars says, when will I have free time to walk around and talk to Elcor?

On the down side of scifi, Netflix streaming has brought me Megafault, starring a greatly emaciated Brittany Murphy being chased by earthquakes. You must be this drunk to ride the earthquake movie.

[Nneka - The Uncomfortable Truth] brings us some chipmunk funk. It's not a bad song, exactly, but it makes a bad first impression with her high thin voice. In time I'm sure I will come to quite like it.

[Carlos Whittaker - Rain It Down] is like Coldplay but not famous. Oh, and I'm finally listening to the lyrics and it's Christian rock as well. Do these bands ever sing about anything except Jehovah? Probably not in their singles. I've never heard a Christian band singing about an awesome car, for example.

[Raphael Saadiq - Staying In Love] bookends Jesus with funk. You know what's wrong with the mid-century Motown sound? There's not enough of it being made these days. Mr. Saadiq agrees, as he and his band embark on a journey through 1950s design sensibilities while stealing a tattooed chick from some old guy. Every little bit of this is awesome and you should download it.

20Jan2009 1800: For the Sake of Science

Bayonetta update: it was not the game causing my headaches. I now believe it to be a side-effect of eating some not-so-fresh shrimp two or three meals a day. Shrimp soup, shrimp kebab, shrimp pasta...I was eating lots of it because there was lots of it left, but I couldn't outpace the expiration date. So the good news is that I can now unreservedly recommend the Bayonetta experience.

The worst you might suffer is what I'm calling "awesome fatigue". I contracted awesome fatigue by the second half of the game, diminishing somewhat the impact of each cutscene. In the opening moments of the game, when Bayonetta is twirling and posing and piledriving 15 angels at once, I couldn't stop giggling and pumping my fist in the air. The problem (if it's a problem) is that the entire game is like that. So by the 70% mark, in a cutscene where my Good Witch transformed into a sleek panther using the magic of her hair and ran down the mast of a big-ass prop plane chasing after the Wicked Witch of the 1920s who is firing her foot pistols at me, the only part that weirded me out was that it no longer weirded me out. The cutscene ended and I was like, "Yeah, that's how it would happen," and then I paused and took stock of my life choices.

But this week isn't about Bayonetta, really. It's about the future, and how the future is here! It's 2010, bitches, and it's already been a banner year for awesome science reporting. Check out self-assembling solar cells using oil and water! Thrill to inanimate objects finding the optimal path through a maze! Gaze in awe upon 3D-printed math sculptures, the key concept in that link being "liquid bronze capillary action"! JETPACKS!!

Oh man I have high hopes for this week in iTunes. I already know Laura Veirs from my Pandora station, and [Laura Veirs - July Flame] is just what I expected. I think she got onto my Pandora list through Hello Saferide and Mirah, so you can lump this in with "lady-fronted indie pop, heavy on acoustic guitar and light on electronica". I don't care much for the repetition in the outro, but otherwise a nice slightly-rock tune.

[The Good Listeners - Eighty Steps Away] brings in far more synth, and a dude, but my brain is filing both songs in the same general area. I'm not even sure why, they don't share that much in common but their proximity on the playlist has biased me. The only marks against it are the overall bland nature of the piece and its 5:25 runtime, working hand in hand to get you sick of the song long before its instrumental bridge is over.

[The Mills - Abran Fuego] starts with a guitar riff I swear I've heard before, some half-remembered mid-80s radio rock tune that might have involved Van Halen. Anyway, the Mills go whole-hog on their 80s vibe, with a group- shouty chorus straight out of Ratt or Bon Jovi (just using some Rock Band examples, here) and a wavery guitar sound backed by a drummer doing his best to sound like a drum machine.

[Vampire Weekend - Cousins] is a band I've been hearing about a lot on a bunch of blogs and forums that I've never bothered to investigate. Now that iTunes brings them to my doorstep I find that they are in fact NOT going for some stupid goth-emo genre. The name always had me worried. No, this is some kind of quirky weirdo rock. That's my rock. Anyway these guys rock out in an alley while getting pulled/pushed on the camera dolly and hamming it up for the camera and playing meth-fueled island-getaway music. Closest I can come is they took a song from a 60s surf-scene movie and sped it up to about 3x.

13Jan2010 1830: In Media Res

It's just as well that the post office has been pants at getting to my building ever since the Festivus blizzard. If my Netflix queue was moving at full speed, it could overflow the boundaries of my free time into precious sleeping hours. Firstly, fear not, I have located a copy of Bayonetta. Best Buy's web site lied when it said there were none in stock. Preliminary results are that it is so awesome that it gives me a headache. I have to stop every two hours and catch my breath, as my mind is ill-equipped to handle... whatever it is that Bayonetta does. It's hard to describe; it's most like the emotional gut-punch of Ico's end sequence, except happy and all the time. Bayonetta doesn't pull levers; she pole-dances them.

Zelda: Spirit Tracks fills in the gaps when I'm resting from Bayonetta. From the state of my inventory screen I think I'm getting close to beating it, but it seems a little too short. Odds are there's a Dark Realm or something. Link still doesn't talk because Nintendo fears change, but the interactions with Zelda are always entertaining and it has had some surprisingly clever puzzles with the limited set of items.

And then! Just today, my shipment of Scott Pilgrim books came in, so now I have several hundred pages of slacker manga to get through. Soon to be an amazing motion picture. Get hyped, this is going to make Michael Cera the foremost action hero of this, or any other, generation.

iTunes has gone apeshit with the free singles this week. There are three songs and two videos up for grabs, and none of the album covers immediately repulsed me. [Beach House - Norway] gets us (me) off to a great start with some quiet pop that sounds like Peter Bjorn and John slowed down to half speed. Unfortunately the prelude and chorus sandwich some terrible verses; for once, it's not the lyrics. No, Beach House has chosen to bend their sustained chords into deliberately dissonant areas, over and over again. It is exactly the effect they intended to acheive, but it makes the song unlistenable for me. I can't mellow out and enjoy them when my face reflexively puckers at their sound.

[Ian Axel - This Is the New Year] is some more quiet pop, skewing more towards piano than synth. Maybe Apple is still trying to sleep off their New Year's hangover? Everybody be sure to play quiet songs until they give us the okay. Ian picks up the tempo a bit from Beach House but doesn't venture much beyond radio-bland lyrics. As long as I don't pay too much attention I could keep this around at three stars, but there's really no compelling reason for you to go download this.

[Cristina - Mucha Mujer para Ti] is pandering to me with her tuba (not a euphemism). This peppy little Latin polka is...a peppy little Latin polka. It boggles my mind that such a thing exists, but that is far from calling it good.

[Baroness - A Horse Called Golgotha] is one of the videos, and attempts to meld death metal with a community theater production of a self- published play about Prometheus and the slave trade and Horus...I think. There's a bald guy pretending to be tormented by people pretending to be demons, and then some extreme closeups of where he cut himself with his own fingernails. Basically if you like to laugh at death metal this has it all. Then again, if you like to laugh at death metal you could just go here.

[Anya Marina - All the Same to Me] deliberately evokes the tone and visuals of burlesque, which is awesome, and then squeezes out a giant word-shit all over everything. The song is not witty, and with this music it deserves to be witty. This song copies the first verse as the third, which I hate above just about any other technique. This song has a chorus you have to hear to believe, because you will not believe me when I say that she starts it with "Eeney Meeney Miney Moe" and manages to ruin even that. Basically this song could have been the big winner for weeks to come, if only she utilized some sort of narrative structure about how a man has or has not done her wrong.

Jeez, five songs and not a single one to recommend. It pains me that there were such near misses.

06Jan2010 1840: Stick It In Your New Year

Oh good just what we needed MORE SNOW. Frowny face emoticon. I like it to be cold, but not snowy. That's a pair of climate requests that intersect pretty much here and Montana. Normally North Dakota is just what I ordered; too cold to snow for winter, dry in the summer. But man we got hammered Christmas Day just like the rest of the Midwest, and now we're getting another round of poofy snow. It's not as bad as the wet crappy snow we'll have to deal with come March, but it's also the blowingest snow you can get. HATE SNOW.

I'm trying to think happy thoughts, but my desired happy-thought generator Bayonetta is nowhere to be found in Fargo. More accurately, I'm refusing to support the Electronic Software GameCrazyStop Boutique Etc hegemony, and all other stores are out of stock. I could be rushing through this post in order to form giant hair dragons right now, but instead I am lingering, savoring the sound of my laptop's keyboard. And man there's some tasty soup simmering on my stove. Ed's taking a post-dinner nap. Just...lingering.

Morgion came through with a happy generator early this morning. Maybe I'll just loop that.

[Mary J. Blige - I Am] welcomes us to the new year with a midtempo R&B admonishment that you shouldn't ever leave her because she's awesome. There's the usual R&B diva imagery: singing on a beach, singing at a fancy house, singing inside the same fancy house. All with different designer dresses. The format for this kind of song was laid down long ago by the Houstons and TLCs of this world, and Blige follows the script.

[White Denim - I Start to Run] started off with a slightly sloppy bass and drum jam, which made me hopeful, but then the shouter came in with verse one and ruined the mood. This is a pretty great lofi rock song held back by some not-great shouting, but it doesn't stick around too long.

[Vedera - Satisfy] is manipulating my love for 90s folkpop ladies to infiltrate my heart. It's definitely pop music, but has none of the modern sensibilities that I hate so much: no autotune, no overdubbed chorale chorus, no place to slip in a dance remix. The band plays a simple tune and her voice cracks in all the right places. Plus you need to see this album cover; I'm pretty sure that at least the guy in the blue shirt was Photoshopped in. Could be everybody but the girl, but the blue guy is the worst offender.