T3 49: Top 10 Albums of 2008

We’re so 2000-and late. For me, 2008 was the first year I really started looking for new music on my own. We had just started this blog and I was working at my college radio station and listening to a lot of stuff I didn’t like, and some that I did. I started reading music review websites and got into bands I would have never given a shot before, like Murder by Death, the Gaslight Anthem, Drive by Truckers, and the Dodos. So I think I may have inflated that period of experimentation in my mind to something greater than it actually was, but I’ll be damned if 2008 doesn’t seem like the greatest year of music in recent memory. Why don’t we find out together as we look back at our top 10 albums of 2008? Happy birthday Colin!

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The Vault: Blax History Month

Dolemite (1975)

I wanted to end on something light for “Blax History Month”, though I’m not sure if “light” was Dolemite’s intention. I selected the film because of its eccentric star Rudy Ray Moore, one of the strangest yet oddly compelling blaxploitation figures. Moore has this bizarre way of acting where he yells all his lines like a robot practicing to be a human. It’s difficult to tell at times if the former comedian is serious or playing an Andy Kaufman-esque joke on everyone.

It’s difficult to tell at times if the former comedian is serious or playing an Andy Kaufman-esque joke on everyone. Dolemite is bad but due to the fact that it was made by a former comedian, you have to wonder if that’s part of the joke. On the other hand this could be a comedian trying to make a transition into action and then failing miserably. Either way, Dolemite is worth a laugh and has classic strings of nonsensical dialogue.

Rudy Ray Moore plays Dolemite, an imprisoned pimp who can’t go two minutes without saying “Muthafucka'”. Dolemite catches a break when the warden and a whorehouse manager Queen Bee (Lady Reed) setup a deal. Framed for drugs, Dolemite is given the opportunity to secure his freedom by busting drug dealer Willie Green (D’Urville Martin, also the film’s director). The plot makes no sense, it’s like something a kid would come up with at recess if he wanted to play blaxploitation. If Dolemite had any information the police would probably work off of that, not free Dolemite and let him run amok. Once he is released, Dolemite teams up with an army of his

The plot makes no sense, it’s like something a kid would come up with at recess if he wanted to play blaxploitation. If Dolemite had any information the police would probably work off of that, not free Dolemite and let him run amok. Once he is released, Dolemite teams up with an army of his ho’s and goes around beating the shit out of people. He even makes a guy dance by firing a machine gun at his feet, yeah he definitely shouldn’t be in prison.

I can accept the ridiculousness of the plot considering the film’s low budget. The acting is atrocious with Rudy Ray Moore being the worst offender. The film quality is so-so but if you like boom mics you’ll be happy. Let’s not forget the action.

Every fight between Dolemite and gang members is so obviously choreographed. They all move so slowly as if they’re trying as hard as they can to not forget their moves but not actually getting hurt. It’s hilarious, I can’t believe they kept it all in.

A few years back, Michael Jai White made Black Dynamite, a hilarious homage/parody to blaxploitation. Dolemite is the closest I’ve seen to a blaxploitation movie that feels like Black Dynamite. You get the hokey acting, confusing plot, technical errors, I wasn’t aware how on-the-nose Black Dynamite was. Though all in all, I did enjoy Dolemite, not because it was good but because it was fun. I ain’t no cynical muthafucka’.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Johnny Marr – The Messenger

Finally, one of the greatest sidemen in rock ‘n roll takes center stage. He’s been in The Smiths, The Cribs and Modest Mouse (to name a few) but it wasn’t until now that Johnny Marr has a solo album to his name. As the Richards to Morrisey’s Jagger, you’d imagine a Johnny Marr album would sound more or less like a Smiths’ album. Yet I found Johnny Marr’s solo stylings have a more uptempo Britpop feel. The Messenger is more Oasis than it is The Smiths. I only wish it sounded like Oasis circa 1995, not Oasis circa 2008.

Aside from Marr’s time with The Smith’s, the only real Marr heavy side-project I was familiar with was the theme he recorded for the IFC series The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. The theme was “Life is Sweet” and it immediately swept me off my feet. I went into The Messenger with hopes that i’d be getting more “Life is Sweet”. Unfortunately, nothing on The Messenger lives up to the poppy fun of that theme song. Marr instead focuses most of his energy on chugging guitar parts, sprinkled with melodic riffing on top. His vocal melodies leave something to be desired but it’s clear he still has something to offer as a songwriter.

If The Messenger delivers on anything, it’s the guitar work. Every riff and progression excellently showcases Marr’s flair and diversity on the ‘ol git-fiddle. Tracks like “Word Starts Attack” display Marr’s funkiness, while others like “New Town Velocity” and “European Me” call back to the sweeping quality of The Smiths. Marr may not have the vocal presence that Morrissey has but he’s by no means a bad singer. Marr is competent and consistent but he’s missing some kind of spark. There are some memorable moments though. The title track is easily my favorite cut with it’s swagger and style.

Johnny Marr has left such an impressive body of work that he didn’t need to record a solo album. That being said I like to think of The Messenger as a fun bonus to an already fantastic career. I can only wonder what he’ll do next? Team up with fellow Mancunian Noel Gallagher? That could either be totally lame or be awesome. A Man can dream.

Favorite Tracks: “The Messenger,” “Upstarts,” “Word Starts Attack”

The Path Less Traveled

Path of Exile

Since I’ve been on an action RPG kick since Diablo III came out last year, I decided to check out Path of Exile, which is currently in open beta. It is a free-to-play game, which plans to sustain itself through cosmetic microtransactions and, as I quickly found out, through the goodwill of the extremely hardcore ARPG playerbase. This is the game the die hard Diablo II folks probably had in mind. Seriously, if you ever wanted to play a game while simultaneously talking about how much you hated Diablo III, Path of Exile is for you.

So what does this game have to offer? The combat feels pretty good, although it definitely is catered toward ranged characters, at least that was my experience with the few heroes I created. Your class choice doesn’t really matter too much, since all characters share the same, massive skill tree. Seriously, look at this stupid thing. The only difference between character classes is where you start on the tree, so, for example, the ranger starts near a cluster of dexterity and ranged DPS nodes. It’s a hell of a thing, although it comes with a major caveat: it is extremely difficult to respec your character. Currently, the only in-game way to change your build is to remove on node at a time, and you only get a few of points that let you do this through gameplay. Basically, you can tweak, but not totally redo, your character. So plan ahead, and hope that by the time you get to higher levels your build works. If it doesn’t, make a new character. You have a lot of character slots in Path of Exile, they want you to use them (and spend money to buy more).

You might have noticed that the skill tree is entirely passive bonuses. That’s because all skills in Path of Exile come in the form of socketable gems. It’s a pretty neat idea, made even cooler by the ability to link gems together using modifiers called support gems. For example, if I have a fireball skill gem and a multiple projectiles support gem, I can link them together on a piece of my equipment so when I cast the spell, I shoot multiple fireballs. Later in the game, you can chain up to five support gems on on skill gem, making whatever spell that is totally ridiculous. It’s a pretty awesome system that makes hunting for loot that much more exciting, although without any form of trading system currently implemented in-game, it can be pretty frustrating if you’re looking for a particular gem.

Speaking of the economy, Path of Exile doesn’t actually have money in it. Instead, the game works on a barter system. Merchants will sell you gear, but only if you are will to trade consumables, the rarer the purchase, the rarer the consumable. Of course, the reverse is true as well, and bartering actually serves as the game’s version of crafting too, as you can change what you’ll get by combing certain items in a single sale. These consumables are quite useful, from items that let you identify and portal, to ones that let you change the number of sockets on an item or even upgrade its quality. ARPGs are all about the loot, and the feels as true as ever in Path of Exile.

Like I said, Path of Exile is for the hardcore. It’s hardcore mode is actually somewhat forgiving, in that when you die, instead of your character being deleted, it is just demoted to the normal mode. But hardcore is where the action is at, unless a race is going on. Races are special leagues in which players rush toward certain goals for sweet, sweet rewards. It’s just another neat idea in a game full of them.

I still think Torchlight II is the best ARPG on the market, and that Diablo III is way better than people give it credit for. But those cost money. Path of Exile doesn’t, and it certainly hangs up there with those other two. And it’s not even done yet, it’s still just in open beta. What a cool time it is, that so many exciting games are out now in a genre that was basically dead not too long ago.

The Vault: Blax History Month

Blacula (1972)

Finally, something I can sink my teeth into. As a horror fan, I was intrigued to see Dracula re-imagined as a seventies soul Brutha. Did Blacula deliver? Actually, it did. Blacula doesn’t aspire to be anything more than funky b-movie fun, and it works. Of course, it launched a whole sub-genre of Horror/Blaxploitation films that includes; Scream Blacula Scream, Blackenstein, and Homer Simpson’s favorite, The Blunchblack of Blotre Blame.

The film stars William H. Marshal, known by later generations for his portrayal of the King of Cartoons on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Here Marshall plays Prince Mamuwalde, the ruler of the Abani African nation in the year 1780. During this time Mamuwalde and his wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) seek help from who else but Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to suppress the slave trade. It’s a history lesson come to life! But because Dracula is a dick, he kills Luva and turns Mamuwalde into a vampire, imprisoning him in a coffin for 192 years.

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T3 48: Top 10 Power Ballads

Here at Mildly Pleased, Valentine’s is more than a day. It’s a whole weekend. Love weekend. That’s why we get Monday off, right? Anyway, we’re sorry we couldn’t be the third wheel on your lovefest all weekend, but as we say more often than we should, better late than never. Our love theme this year is power ballads, arguably the most romantic kind of music. This sex is on fire.

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The Vault: Blax History Month

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

“Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”, that’s possibly the best title for a movie ever conceived. Melvin Van Peebles’ bizarrely titled Urban art-film is not your typical blaxploitation film. Whereas I criticized Shaft for still feeling like a reflection of white Hollywood, Sweetback is anything but. The film’s opening text sums it up perfectly: “This film is dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who had enough of the man.” I admire Sweetback’s balls. As for the actual craft behind the film, Sweetback leaves a lot to be desired.

The film begins in a dream-like past where a starving young boy (Mario Van Peebles) is taken in by a group of prostitutes. While working at the brothel the boy loses his virginity and is named “Sweetback” for his superior boning abilities. As an adult (Melvin Van Peebles), Sweetback performs sex shows at the brothel in front of a rowdy audience. Though the show is just him taking off all of his clothes and then boning a woman.

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