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18Dec2013 0915: Holiday Exile

Last post of the year, duders! Everybody go do Christmas stuff.

I still haven't bitten the bullet on Starbound -- fingers crossed for the holiday Steam sale -- but last night I fell into Path of Exile. It had flitted past my consciousness when it was released a couple months ago, but the utterly insipid marketing text turned me off. "By hardcore gamers, for hardcore gamers!" "The art style we chose for Path of Exile is dark, gritty and realistic." Ugh. But in the past week I heard tell of the completely absurd skill tree and somebody said the magic words "Diablo 2" and I was in. Well, no. That was enough to make me install it, but I wasn't in until I saw that your health potions could have magic suffixes. There's no gold; the NPC economy is based on bartering identify scrolls. Characters don't have attack skills; it all comes from gems you socket into your items. This is the future. Space can wait for another few weeks.

I'm still waiting for pop to eat itself, but the hot story in videogames this week is that YouTube may have begun gorging on its own tail. The unblinking eye of the robots enforcing maximalist US copyright have turned to people recording themselves gaming, and there's no shitstorm like a brief Internet shitstorm. Then, this morning, a corporation attempted to convince a game musician that money is more important than people enjoying things. Sigh. And I gotta say, this is also the worst YouTube week for the free singles that I've ever seen. The songs are scattered all over different services. The good news is that you probably don't need any of them. Happy Holidays and Ambivalent Music, everybody!

On the one hand, [Promised Land Sound - Fadin' Fast] is unapologetically country. On the other, it's not smirking about pickup trucks or terrible beer. Once in a great while the steel guitar and twang sound doesn't cause me to break out in hives, and now is that time. Touch of Grey would be another.

[Deaf Havana - Boston Square] is arena rock. Springsteen, U2, by-the-numbers arena rock. If the music industry ever finally gets around to collapsing, this might be the genre I miss the least. Death metal and reggae and country are at least occasionally interesting, and halftime show rock aggressively avoids being interesting.

[Dead Gaze - Rowdy Jungle] is clawing at my high school nostalgia. It hearkens back to a time when they'd put damn near anything on the Top 40 radio, and 80% of it was downtempo moping music. The era of Beck and Flaming Lips and Soul Coughing having a flirtation with the limelight. Listen to this song with shoulder-length hair and a flannel shirt. You don't have to wear the shirt. Just have it nearby.

Speaking of 90s radio, [Crooks on Tape - Duper] is one of those one-off excessively weirdo songs that bubbles up to the airwaves about once a year. I really don't know what I'm hearing here. Lord knows that in a year where the biggest breakout hit is a Norweigian comedy duo's vulpine pop parody no song can be too weird, but this wavery not-quite-falsetto vocals and fuzzy synth are the right kind of weird for me.

[Heidecker & Wood - Next Ten Years] is probably a comedy duo as well. Right? I can't imagine anybody purposefully setting out to distill Dave Mason's entire career into a single trifle of treacle. I choose to listen to this as parody.

OH NO a "feat". [Beautiful Eulogy (feat. MARZ) - You Can Save Me] is a rap song with an interesting snare beat in a genre I've studiously avoided: Christian rap. Mr. Eulogy wants to sermonize at you for a few minutes. Hey, where are you going? Are you sure? He brought his own drum!

11Dec2013 1225: The Age of the Universe

Videogames, back in the abstract pixel-bound forgotten age of the 1980s, regularly took us to outer space and fantastical alien realms simply because it was just as easy to render purple mushroom planets as it was to render New York City. It's easy to forget after the blockbusters of the past decade that people used to get excited for more than manshoots (past manshoots space manshoots) and crimeboys (China crimeboys parody crimeboys). I'm being a little disingenuous here. Let's both accept that and move on to my thesis, which is: Minecraft.

Minecraft didn't invent the everything-is-malleable block motif, but it did refine it to the tune of 13 million sales. More importantly, for much of its lifetime it had no plot whatsoever. Your Minecraft planet was empty of purpose beyond what you brought to it. The world was Legos and Legos are their own reward. Development cycles being what they are, the full ramifications of Minecraft and Terraria are just now being felt. Luckily for us, people have been inspired by both the aesthetic and the emptiness.

Since I first saw this video last week, I can't stop thinking about Starbound. Terraria's big failing in my eyes was being limited to a single generated world at a time. They just weren't as big as a Minecraft planet, and interesting things didn't happen at the edges. But a Terraria universe, with quadrillions of individual Terraria levels? Starbound is probably where I'll spend the next two years of my gamelife. I want to pick a direction and just go, just find all the stupid random planets that I can build a hovel on. I want to see the confluence of random variables combine into something special hundreds and hundreds of times over.

Game sites are also getting hyped over No Man's Sky, which is also a procedurally-generated universe with procedurally-generated resources and wildlife. And there's Star Citizen, which I know little but dollar amounts about. Dare I say it? Space is back, baby. Let's all put down our red-dot sights and stolen El Caminos and go to SPACE for the next ten years. Second star to the right and straight on until we can't breathe the atmosphere.

This has been around the Internet a few times, so you've probably seen it, but this review of R. Kelly's new album made me salute my computer screen. That review is what happens when you turn a master wordsmith loose on the silliest corners of pop culture. As a people, we should applaud this craftmanship whenever it happens. Craftmanship of the review, I mean; I have no idea what the album sounds like. But I want to read articles that are this beautiful all the time. I want Neil Gaiman to tell me all about the new Avengers movie. I want Patrick Rothfuss to write 3000 words with integrated song lyrics about Xtreem Krunch Doritos: Cool Ranch Flavored Chip Product.

[Pure Bathing Culture - Pendulum] is off the album Moon Tides, so hell let's continue the space theme! Pendulum is mostly acoustic, girl-fronted mellow times, so it seems like I should like it. But I don't! Maybe the guitar sounds too much like a piano. Maybe the piano sounds too much like a harpsichord. Maybe the drums sound too much like a machine. Something in this song set my teeth on edge where other ethereal or electronic pops don't.

Maybe -- is this the word for it? -- maybe Pure Bathing Culture is too "thick"? The music had too many layers of instrumentation going on at once? In pure numbers I don't even know that's true; [Minor Alps - I Don't Know What to Do With My Hands] sounds like it has just as many people in the band, but it's much more palatable. The only immediate difference I can discern is that every sound here is slightly cleaner and more separated from the whole. It's also tinged with 60s, while Pendulum was more 80s. And I don't know if this is some bonus-bonus deal or if Google messed up, but when I downloaded I Don't Know... I found [Minor Alps - Buried Plans] in my library as well. Another folksy tune rooted way back in the chords of the 60s-70s rather than the singer-songers of the 90s or 00s. This one kind of limps to death, too much outro kills the mood. We need foreplay, not afterplay.

Aww yiss, here we go. I'm always up for unsubtle slapfights over punk sceneority, sincere or not. [Weekend Nachos - You're Not Punk] is 58 seconds of flesh-shredding intensity aimed at somebody who is insufficiently flesh-shredding. If I could understand the lyrics I might enjoy the excoriation, but angry punk has never been concerned with the opinions of calm people.

04Dec2013 1045: Master B

Today on Monty's Behind the Curve: has anybody ever actually read the Mahabharata? I got a bug in my bum a few years back to read some non-Western classics. I managed the dry-as-dust Tale of Genji and all 1001 Arabian Nights, but I have tried three times to push through the Big Bharata and I just can't stick with it. I will always love it for the phrase "blow into this horse" but it takes forever to do anything of note. I especially dislike the way a narrator tells a story, then the audience says "Hey we liked that story" and then the narrator tells it again four times as long. I can manage a lot, but any time an ancient text gets into century-spanning genealogy (attention ancient Jews: nobody cares) my eyes glaze over and pull the ripcord.

Mental alarms went off when I saw "Hannah Montana" on this month's Free Music list, but I calmed when I saw it was the title and not the artist. The alarms went off again when I saw the album title was "Rich Young Niggas". The only way [Migos - Hannah Montana] could go well is if it was a firmly-tongue-in-cheek critique of pop's current obsession. It gets pretty close, but their sense of humor involves repeating "Hannah Montana" as the beat on the chorus. That oscillates from amusing to annoying several times over the song. Also Google censors only the "i" in "Niggas", which: c'mon. C'mon. You want to censor something, don't piss about.

Oh criminy, I just zoomed in on the album art and Migos spelled it "NI$$A$". You can't replace both G and S with a dollar sign in the same damn word jesus oh god

Continuing the 2010s' fascination with the 1980s, [Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough] could easily have been a Lionel Richie or Prince groove from smack in the middle of that decade. A guy/girl harmony coos their way through a slightly funky, slightly synth not-love song. Unfortunately it spends its last minute on ambient club noise, the kind of thing that might have introduced a hidden track back when people bought physical albums. Again, not the sort of thing you want in a single.

There was a real danger of [Teengirl Fantasy - Nun] being a supremely self-aware boy band. Well, in an ideal world there would be a supremely self-aware boy band with hit songs like "Calm Down It's Only Prom" and "Hormones Aren't True Love (Girl, but Go Ahead and Get Laid)". Teengirl Fantasy is not that. It's undanceable instrumental synth booping. The previous sentence is one of the least pleasant sentences I've ever looked at.

In the course of finding a YouTube link for [Shy Girls - Second Heartbeat] I saw a bunch of secondary videos marked (Kite String Tangle Remix) and (Karl Kling Remix) and even one labelled "house", so I knew I had a winner here. Ugh. Listen. There has only been one...okay, two remixes that ever improved the original. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this original. December must be 80s Weenie Love Song Month. Maybe somebody at Google watched an Eddie Murphy movie marathon. But for a person that can go several consecutive months without thinking about Lionel Richie, today's selection is uncomfortably packed with soulful whispers and tinkly piano machines.