Retrospecticus: David Bowie, Part 2 – Ich Bin Ein Bowier

David Bowie was a thing now. With Ziggy Stardust he had created a new kind of theatrical, character-based music that would pave the way for Chris Gaines, Sasha Fierce and Hannah Montana. But by the mid-1970s, the Spiders from Mars had started to go away, and Bowie himself retired Ziggy and moved to the United States. The times, they were a-changing, but, of course, David Bowie wrote the song on changes.

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Retrospecticus: David Bowie, Part 1 – Dude Looks Like a Lady

Starting today and continuing for the next few weeks, I’ll be looking back at the entire recorded catalog of one of my favorite recording artists, David Bowie. Why? Well, because his new album comes out tomorrow and I hear it’s quite good. This project is going to take a while, so let’s get started. First up, the early years: from pop to psychedelic folk to glam rock.

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Retrospecticus: The Hives

The Hives are bonafide rockers. You just don’t see that many bands today that carry the same kind of swagger and showmanship that The Hives do. The Hives are a fun band because they have fun. While other bands brood over making work that’s artistically the meaningful, The Hives live to entertain and appear to enjoy every minute of it. So in honor of the band’s fifth album let’s revisit the music of; Nicholaus Arson, Vigilante Carlstroem, Dr. Matt Destruction, Chris Dangerous, and Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist.

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Retrospecticus: The Walkmen

You may not have noticed, but The Walkmen have very quietly become one of the more consistently great bands of the last decade or so.  And it’s because of this consistency that I’ve been pretty excited about the release of their latest album, Heaven.  So now let’s take a look back at the career so far of these downtrodden indie rockers.  Also, I’ll just preface this by saying that pretty much every Walkmen album took at least a little while to grow on me.  I guess they’re just that kind of band. Continue reading

Retrospecticus: The Black Keys

It’s an exciting time to be a Black Keys fan as this Akron, Ohio duo is as hot as ever. Coming off their most successful and arguably best album The Black Keys have hit the mainstream, but it didn’t happen overnight. Dan Auerbach (guitar/vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) have together made seven albums under the Keys moniker and it has been a long way to the top. The group’s new album El Camino produced by Danger Mouse looks to be another album much in the vein of the catchy blues-rock explosion Brothers but we’ll just have to wait and see. Until then I figured I’d revisit all the Key’s past albums. Now I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little boring listening to so much bare bones blues/rock but it was an experience nonetheless.

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Retrospecticus: Resident Evil

This doesn’t really have much to with anything, but it’s horror related so I’m calling it a very special Shocktober retrospective. I know there’s a lot spinoff games and Resident Evil on-rails shooters, but I’m going to try to stick to the main series. Hopefully I can recall most of my life and experiences correctly, so enjoy!

My progression from 16 bit games to 64 or whatever Playstation may of been was a slow progression. It wasn’t until 1998 when I even saw an actual playstation. One of my sister’s friends had let us borrow it for who knows what reason and left two games, Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 2. I had a blast playing FFVII but the other one I just couldn’t. Going from years of playing Sega Genesis to playing RE2? Not only was it a leap in virtually every aspect of gaming I could think of, but it was also the most terrifying game I’d ever seen. A few years later my family actually bought a Playstation, so I got to revisit RE2 but could never play it for more than about fifteen minutes. The game was such an attack on the senses with it’s grisly images and atmospheric soundtrack, those games didn’t lie when that opening text would come up, “This game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore.” Yes those are the things that nightmares are made of and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Resident Evil (1996)

I suppose I did play the second game first but as I previously stated I never could build up the nerves to get very far in my younger years. So I may of got this game later but probably beat it before RE2. So this is where it all started, but instead of simply telling you what it’s all about how about I show you with this “awesome” uncut video that opened the original game?

I swear that video just gets more and more awesome as time goes by. So once the STARS team enters the mansion you take control of either Jill or Chris investigating a mystery that continually gets more and more ridiculous. If you choose Jill you’ll get a gun, ammo and occasional help from Barry Burton who kind of looks like Cliff from Cheers, but if you play as Chris all you’ll start with is a knife because men are tough! Throughout the game you encounter both injured and brutally murdered members of the previous stars team, solve puzzles, and fight everything from zombies to giant sharks, spiders, mutants, and of course dogs. It’s chilling, it’s atmospheric, and a pitch perfect start to one of the gaming industries most enduring horror franchises.

Resident Evil 2 (1998)

Here we go, this is the shit. I have so many memories of trying to build up the courage to play through this and then eventually beating the shit out of it (by which I mean completing the game.) This game basically does what any good sequel does, it improves on previous downfalls and kicks up the excitement, suspense, and overall gameplay. The game is no longer set in a creepy mansion but the dark underbelly of Raccoon City. This time around you control Leon S. Kennedy (clearly modeled after the then very popular Leonardo DiCaprio) and Claire Redfield, looking for her brother Chris (from the first game) for some reason.

Most of the game is set inside the Raccoon City Police department where you then head into the sewers to some underground research facility, trying to escape from all the darn zombie madness. The main antagonist of the game is William Birkin a scientist for the Umbrella company (the guys that created the zombie virus) who has now created the G-virus which he has injected into himself in an attempt to protect his life’s work from special agents. This means Birkin is the majority of your boss battles as you fight him in all of his grotesque and increasingly complex stages throughout the game.

This may be one of the only games where I almost enjoy the cutscenes more than the actual game. Sure it’s cheesy as hell but the gore is great and the scares are inventive and effective. This may not be the best in the franchise in terms of fluid gameplay but many RE fans consider it the best just for it’s atmosphere. This is easily one of the best playstation games ever made and of course one of the best zombie games.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999)

Just when I thought the series couldn’t get any creepier Capcom hit back hard with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. For the most part it’s fairly similar to RE2 with one big, nasty, exception and his name is Nemesis. Who is Nemesis? In my opinion he’s the most terrifying boss in any game ever. What makes him so scary? Well not only is he huge, hideous, and practically invincible but you’re practically running from him for the entire game. He can easily kill you in one hit at almost any given time and yet he also gets a rocket launcher, why not?

The game takes place simultaneously during the events of RE2 but this time you play as fan favorite Jill Valentine. Where the second games takes place under Raccoon City this one pits you right in the shit and I gotta tell ya, there’s nothing more satisfying then killing zombies in the big city. So why is RE2 better? Because as much I like the idea of Nemesis you just can’t play this game comfortably. There’s something a little disappointing about constantly running from such a difficult enemy and it kind of gives the game a disjointed rhythm.

Another new feature of RE3 is “Live Selection Mode” where the player must select between two possible actions that flash on the screen. Whatever you choose will affect what happens in the game and how it will all end, and of course it usually appears in high pressure moments, I like this feature. So it’s a little harder and Nemesis may annoy me a little but it’s still a great zombie game and a must play for survival horror fans.

Just to give you an idea of what Nemesis is like here’s a clip of a guy playing and actually beating Nemesis in his first encounter. Whatever, that’s not how you really play the game, it’s all about the chase!

Resident Evil Code: Veronica (2000)

Ah, one of the first games I owned for the Dreamcast, so many memories. The graphics were stylin’, the gameplay a little smoother, and the scares as good as ever. Though with the exception of 3D backgrounds apposed to pre-rendered ones this was essentially the same game we’d seen in the last two installments. I feel like it had more weapons (including dual wield pistols) but really it was just typical Resident Evil. For whatever reason I’ve never beat this one, probably do to the amount of new and stronger enemies (not mention it’s hella long) but I’ve gotten a lot farther in recent years so it’s only a matter of time.

In REC:V you take control of Claire Redfield (from RE2) who is looking for her brother Chris AGAIN (Why is he always missing?) and is arrested in her search at an Umbrella research facility. So she’s taken to and imprisoned on Rockfort Island a contaminated island controlled by an arrogant commander named Alfred Ashford. I’d go on but I feel like since I’ve never gotten far enough to know what it’s all about then what’s the point?

So I can take the difficulty, I mean the last one was kind of hard but I do have one big beef with Code: Veronica it ruined the story! Not that the story to Resident Evil was ever that good but the cutscenes to this game are just over the top. The characters are more cartoonish then ever and the fact that they brought back the seemingly normal Wesker (a S.T.A.R.S member who double crossed you in the first game) and made him some kind of inhuman karate master? What the hell is going on here? This is basically the game that marked the series’ departure from just cops killing zombies to stupid conspiracies and ridiculous characters obsessed with world domination. But hey, even with all that it’s enjoyable and really showed off the capabilities of the Dreamcast.

Resident Evil (2002)

It had only been about six years since the firs game when Capcom decided to join the remake bandwagon in a move that no one really cared about. I don’t mind when games get remade so whatever, of course I’d give it a whirl and there are some nice features in the remake but also some annoying new details. So the story is the same, characters, enemies the same (mostly), blah, blah, probably the first big difference is the look of the game. These graphics blow my mind even to this day, I even remember thinking back then that graphics couldn’t possibly ever get better than this. It had a very creepy photorealistic feel to it and is probably still one of the best looking games that was ever made for the Gamecube.

I also enjoy that the remake toned down some of the cheese factor in the cutscenes, it’s just too bad that corniness would return in later games. So it’s basically the look of the newer RE games with most of the feel of the old ones. One problem I have it that the zombies in this game are too hard too kill! Think about the recent RE games and how you just mow down enemies and then imagine if each and every zombie in itself was a big struggle. All the zombies in this game not only take way too many shots to take down but then you have to find gas and fire to burn the body so that they won’t come back as a super zombies. Sometimes I’d just try and avoid the zombies altogether seeing as how little ammo you get. I suppose in a way this is the epitome of survival horror, but it was a little too hard for my comfort zone back then and I haven’t played it since.
My brother tells me that you get used to it after awhile and that in the end it’s a respectable re-imagining. I suppose it needed to be different in some ways I just wish they weren’t aspects that drew attention to the fact that I suck.

Resident Evil Zero (2002)

Though released in the same year as the RE remake RE0 is completely different game. It wasn’t just a quick cash out game either, it was in development for a longtime. Why I remember reading about in 2000 when it was being developed for the N64, there were screenshots and everything. Though you know how complicated things can get in the gaming world so it was saved for the Gamecube which was a smart move. Go and look up some pictures of this game for the N64 and then some compare it to the Gamecube and I think you’ll find there’s really no contest. REO looked amazing on Gamecube and in addition it was a lot of fun.

If you don’t already know or haven’t already guessed, RE0 is a prequel to the first game. Remember how in the first game your team was only sent in to the zombie mansion because the first team disappeared? Now you get to play as Rebecca Chambers, one of the members of the first team. You encounter Rebecca a handful of times in RE1 but this game is set a few hours before until it eventually intertwines. Along with Rebecca you’re partnered with Billy a hot tempered escaped convict that you get to switch off with. This leads to one of the new features of RE0 “Partner Zapping” where you can switch off between the two characters even if they are not together, it’s a unique feature but naturally I longed for it to just be two player. So that has it’s ups and downs but what really annoys me is the fact that they got rid of item boxes in this game. I guess they figured two characters worth of inventory space was enough but constantly I find myself dropping things only to go back and pick them up later.

Eventually this partner zapping stuff just got to me and I couldn’t keep playing it. It was just too annoying to go back and forth, back and forth and I never finished the game. It’s definitely more accessible than the remake but it’s still a little too unusual to be considered anything more than just average.

Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Though the series continued to keep fans mildly content with a new game every few years the franchise hadn’t been doing much to attract any new fans and was even in danger of growing stale with it’s predictable gameplay. So RE4 was the game that wasn’t just a breath of fresh air for RE fans but for all fans of horror themed games. It had good controls, great graphics, solid gameplay, and great scares with the series new threat “Las Plagas”.

Leon from RE2 returns as a special agent for the U.S. government on a mission to rescue the president’s daughter. Leon’s search eventually leads him a European village that appears to be somewhere in Spain and is infected with a some kind of virus called “Plagas”. This makes the enemies faster, smarter, and sometimes when you shoot them in the head big squiggly wigglies pop out. It turns out this all some scheme concocted by Osmund Saddler leader of the cult Los Illuminados. I guess they’re going to infect the president’s daughter and like send her back and infect people? Actually it’s probably one of the more basic RE storylines, but that doesn’t stop it from being cheesy. I’ve learned to deal with the fact that this series has now moved on from zombies and gotten pretty silly with ridiculous characters and plot-lines, this is probably because the gameplay is just so good it’s like who cares?

RE4 only vaguely resembles the same kind of gameplay featured in the original games opting for more action but it still has the same eerie atmosphere and for that it’s may be the most entertaining game in the franchise yet.

Resident Evil 5 (2009)

I’ve been kind of in and out of video games these days, though a sure fire way to draw me in will always be nostalgia. This game had that nostalgic effect on me in two ways; 1. It seemed like it had been an eternity since I’d played a new RE and 2. It had been awhile since I’d played a good multiplayer game. Growing up with a younger brother I very rarely played one player games “back in the day”, we were always looking for solid two player games cause ya know, sharing is caring. So it was a rare treat for me and Paul to join forces once again and play through a whole game together, a Resident Evil game at that. In an age where online gameplay reigns supreme it’s a nice change of pace to actually play with someone who is in the same room as you.

I reviewed this awhile back on the blog so I’ll be brief. So you play as Chris Redfield and his partner Sheva Alomar and they gotta go to Africa cause everyone is infected with a virus yadda, yadda Wesker shows up and is stupider than ever with his plot to destroy mankind and show off his Matrix powers. Aside from that this game has some exhilarating two player gameplay (the only way to play it as far as I’m concerned), slick graphics, good blah, blah, it’s awesome!

Seeing as I’m crapping out at the end here as I usually do on long posts, let me just say this has been one of my favorite game franchises and even though I am a very casual gamer these days I’ll probably always keep on eye on this scary little series.

Retrospecticus: Wilco

I wasn’t really sure whether it’d be worth it to do this retrospecticus or not, but the fact of the matter is I’ve heard all of Wilco’s albums, so I figured I’d give it shot.  Much like the new Beastie Boys album, I’m not really that excited about Wilco’s new album since, let’s be honest, these guys hit their peak a while ago.  Still, they managed to record one of my favorite albums of the last twenty years, so I figure they deserve it.

A.M. (1995)

I guess Wilco basically evolved out of the band Uncle Tupelo, whom I really know nothing about.  Anyway, most of the members of Wilco had been a part of Uncle Tupelo, and A.M. was kind of seen as sort of a continuation of the alt-country sound of this former band.

A.M. kind of tends to get a bad wrap, since it really doesn’t show much of the potential for artistic growth that you see on all of the subsequent Wilco releases.  Still, I think you see plenty of promise in Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting, which has always been at the backbone of Wilco, despite all the different band members that have come and gone throughout the years.  A.M. is pleasant enough, but none of the songs really stand out as being anything more than decent country-infused Stones-esque rock.

Favorite Tracks: “I Must Be High”, “Box Full Of Letters”, “I Thought I Held You”

Being There (1996)

Now here’s where this band really started to get interesting.  Like any double album, it’s certainly not perfect, but the sprawling quality of Being There shows the band really starting to hit their stride.  Much of it I think had to do with Tweedy’s growing confidence as a songwriter, but another part of the equation would have to do with multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, who joined the band on this album.

There really is a disparate nature of the songwriting here, as the upbeat numbers on the album are pretty damn upbeat, as songs like “I Got You (At the End of The Century)” and “Outta Sight (Outta Mind)” have an almost sing-a-long quality to them.  But on the other hand, the slower songs are increasingly dark and introspective.  All the while, you also see the band looking towards new kinds of sonic textures to go along with their signature Americana-infused aesthetic.

Favorite Tracks: “Outta Sight (Outta Mind)”, “Red-Eyed And Blue”, “Was I In Your Dreams”

Summerteeth (1999)

Pretty much from that first riff you can tell that Wilco aren’t really doing that same old alt-country stuff that they were doing on their first two album.  This is an album that uses that classic rock mentality, but infuses it with an interest in sonic noodling as well as a pallette for bigger and bolder sounds.  On top of that, you’ve got the tuneful Tweedy and the more experimental Bennett really coming together as a true songwriting team to be reckoned with.

It’s a shame that Summerteeth kind of has to live in the shadow of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, since it really shares some of the best qualities of that album, all while featuring some of Wilco’s most affecting songs.  Though it’s not a terribly long album, it still has that sprawling quality that was seen on Being There, as the songs vary from sweepingly orchestral (“A Shot In The Arm”) to infectiously rockin’ (“I’m Always In Love”).  Also, you get some of Tweedy’s darkest lyrical moments, such as “Via Chicago”, which begins with the memorable line “I dreamed of killing you again last night/And it felt alright to me”.  But most of all you see a small-time band knocking on ambition’s door, with no intent of holding back.

Favorite Tracks: “I Can’t Stand It”, “A Shot In The Arm”, “ELT”

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

There aren’t many albums from the last decade that I would give five stars to, but I really have no problem admitting that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty much a masterpiece.  From start to finish there really isn’t a bad track, and some of this stems from Tweedy and Bennett’s masterful songwriting, while some of it also stems from their ability to infuse the songs with a playful unconventionality.  Either way, I think the clashing of Tweedy and Bennett’s talent as well as personalities is what drives the album, and you can see that by this time the two weren’t very fond of each other in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.

At the time of the album’s release, much was made of the fact that Wilco’s record label refused to release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and the band was forced to release it independently on the internet.  But as time has gone by, the album’s quality really speaks for itself despite how much of an impact it had on the way albums would be released in the coming years.  Yet the weird thing about YHF for me is how muted of a musical impact it’s had since being released.  I like to think that most “five star” albums were ones that really changed the direction of music and influenced a lot of other artists, but Yankee Hotel Foxtrot isn’t really like that.  It really just stands as the work of a band reaching for something bold and ambitious, and pulling it off brilliantly.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Favorite Tracks: “Jesus, Etc.”, “Heavy Metal Drummer”, “Pot Kettle Black”

A Ghost Is Born (2005)

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of what Jay Bennett brought to Wilco, so I’m not nearly as huge of a fan of the albums Wilco released without the late Mr. Bennett.  A Ghost Is Born was the first album without Bennett, and I think it’s pretty uneven in comparison to an album as bizarely cohesive as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

In place of Jay Bennett’s lush atmospheric noodling, you had the addition of guitarist Nels Cline, whose guitar work often leads the band towards more jam-like territory.  It’s a little surprising how well this works on a song like the ten-minute “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, but at other times the guitar interludes seem just kind of tiring.  There are also still some nice piano ballads featured throughout the album, like “Hell Is Chrome” or “Hummingbird” while there are certainly some experimental moments like “Less Than You Think” that are just frustrating, as the song last 15 minutes, 12 of which are basically just white noise.  So you get the idea that Wilco wasn’t really sure where exactly to take the sound they had laid down in their last few albums, and making a slightly difficult album was the path they chose.

Favorite Tracks: “Spiders (Kidsmake)”, “Hummingbird”, “Handshake Drugs”

Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Here’s where Wilco started to get a bit more mellow, not that they haven’t always maintained a pretty unassuming quality to their music.  But on Sky Blue Sky, you really don’t get the sense that the band is trying to use the studio in a really innovative way anymore.  And that’s OK, since Sky Blue Sky relies more on a “live band” mentality, with the songs focusing more on the dynamic that exists between the band as they bash out these songs.

Again, you’ve got Tweedy’s strong songwriting at the backbone of the band, while Nels Cline seems to find a way of making his guitar a little more suited to the band’s softer side, as he displays on the sprawling guitar solo of “Impossible Germany”.  I’m sure there are some people that detest the acrobatic nature of Cline’s guitar playing since it is more showy than your average indie rock guitar playing.  But I think for the most part it adds a nice texture when some of these songs could come off as “just another laid back Wilco song”.

Favorite Tracks: “Either Way”, “Impossible Germany”, “Shake It Off”

Wilco (The Album) (2009)

Though I have no problem admitting that there isn’t really anything groundbreaking about Wilco (The Album), I still have kind of a soft spot for it.  Maybe it’s because it was the first Wilco album I got into after hearing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but at the same time I think it is in a way “a return to form”, as much as I detest that phrase.

I guess the aspect I like about this album is that for the first time in a while it sounds like these guys are genuinely having fun.  Songs like the album’s title(ish) track or “You Never Know” return the band to the Being There or Summerteeth days, when the band would rip into some country-infused rock boogie.  Then of course you’ve got some nice ballads that show Jeff Tweedy’s always reliable introspective side, including the Feist duet “You And I”.  Most of all, Wilco (The Album) sounds like a veteran band getting comfortable with themselves and their place in the world of rock music.  I guess we’ll see if they keep doing this same kind of thing on The Whole Love.

Favorite Tracks: “Wilco (The Song)”, “You And I”, “I’ll Fight”