My Bloody Valentine – MBV

I, like a lot music geeks, felt an undeniable rush upon the surprise news last Saturday that My Bloody Valentine had released their long-awaited follow-up to 1991’s Loveless.  However, I didn’t expect to get as excited as I did considering it’s not like Loveless is one of my favorite albums or anything, though I certainly understand all the acclaim that’s been piled on to it over the years because yeah, it’s a classic, no doubt about it.  But I suppose my excitement came from the fact that these kinds of mythic, tortured-over albums are not commonplace, as Chinese Democracy is the only other album that even comes close to having such an unbelievable amount anticipation thrown in it’s direction, though that album was not even remotely worth the wait.  I don’t know if I can say that MBV was worth taking 22 years to complete, but I can say that it doesn’t disappoint as a worthy follow-up to a great album.

Now that I think of it, I’m kind of glad that My Bloody Valentine isn’t a band that’s been around in the time that I’ve been reviewing new music, because dissecting this band’s sonic approach isn’t the easiest thing to do.  The sound of My Bloody Valentine at its best is really a force of fuzzy nature, as it has this ability to wash over you in unrelenting bursts of day-glo guitars and some of the most ethereal vocals you’ll ever hear.  And on MBV, it’s kind of disarming to hear how despite the 22 year gap, My Bloody Valentine manages to not miss a beat in terms of recreating that beautifully hazy sound that they perfected two decades earlier.

Though this is an album that I think will satisfy fans, it still shows MVB mastermind Kevin Shield’s ability to bridge the seemingly discordant gap between abrasive noise and luscious pop songs in new ways. The back half of the album in particular feels a bit more experimental than the first, especially the last two songs, “Nothing Is” and “Wonder 2”, which build to these ear-shattering climaxes in which it’s hard to even pinpoint exactly what noises you’re listening to.  I don’t know if these are the noises that Kevin Shields was hearing in his head when he started this album so many years ago, but I’m just glad he was able to come to terms with them and release them on the world.  Because despite all the bands that have tried to copy that My Bloody Valentine sound over the years, it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it in such a simultaneously satisfying and effortless fashion.

Favorite Tracks: “Only Tomorrow”, “New You”, “In Another Way”

Land O’Links

Nintendo Land

I had this really great plan. After receiving a nice chunk of (Amazon credit) change for mine and Jesus’ birthdays, I was going to save it all. I would use it responsibly over the course of 2013, splurging on choice Blu Rays and video games when I really wanted them, acting like an adult. Then around the end of January I thought to myself, “You know what I miss? Christmas.” So I decided, since the money was in place of gifts anyway, I would just waste it all on one big, dumb purchase. There were a few candidates, but ultimately I went with perhaps the most foolish of all, a Nintendo Wii U.

The Wii U has not had the best launch. Since it came out a couple months ago, there has been little actual buzz about the system. Part of this must have to do with the public’s confusion around the device – many do not even realize it is a new console and not just another Wii add-on. Part of it probably has to do with the lack of new games for the system – so far it’s been a lot of ports, a New Super Mario Bros. game, and ZombiU, a zombie game that’s supposedly all right but it’s zombies who cares anymore. And then there’s Nintendo Land, the game that’s thrown in for free with the deluxe version of the Wii U. Would be worth buying on its own? Can it possibly stand up against the juggernaut that was Wii Sports?

Like Wii Sports, Nintendo Land is a minigame collection designed to show off why this new system is cool. Unlike with the Wii, however, the Wii U experience is not nearly as inherently exciting. The newness just isn’t quite there, since it’s hard to shake the impression that the Wii U is really just Nintendo taking its two previous successes, the DS and the Wii, and putting them in one box. I’ve been drawing on one screen and pointing at stuff with a silly peripheral for a while now. That said, it’s still fun to finally see Nintendo stuff in HD, and there’s enough to Nintendo Land that I can at least be excited to see what Nintendo does with the console in the future.

So you show up as your Mii to the big circular amusement park. You’re greeted by this living television called Monita (Japanese for monitor) who tells you to go play in the 12 attractions the park has, because it’s fun and you can get coins to waist in pachinko. The attractions are Nintendo Land‘s minigames, which are all based on Nintendo franchises, a hook I really appreciated. Sure, archery would probably be fun on its own, but it’s a lot more fun when you’re going through Hyrule dressed as Link shooting moblins.

The games showcase all the different ways the Wii U gamepad can be used. For example, that Zelda minigame has you aiming and shooting entirely on the gamepad’s screen, the Pikmin one has you ordering troops with the stylus, and the Nazo no Murasame Jo one lets you flick shuriken off the gamepad onto the TV screen. I found novelty and some level of enjoyment in all of the attractions, even though the idea of sitting in front of my TV and then holding the gamepad in front of my face took a while to settle in.

Multiplayer reveals the eery vision of the future Nintendo has for the console. That’s maybe a little harsh, most of the cooperative stuff is fun, as the gamepad player performs one set of tasks while the (up to four) players with Wii remotes use the TV. But the competitive stuff all felt pretty weak. It all came down to the remote players chasing the gamepad player around, or vice versa, with the twist being the gamepad player usually having more information. It’s not terrible, but it’s not very exciting either, and I expect Nintendo consoles to be the best for offline multiplayer fun.

Nintendo Land is not going to move consoles like Wii Sports did, but it is a nice showcase for the brave, foolish people who actually bought the system. The Wii U is reportedly not much more powerful than a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and Sony and Microsoft are probably going to release new consoles by the end of this year. Nintendo has a very short amount of time to turn this thing into a hit and get some third party developers making interesting games for it. If they don’t, expect it to quickly turn into what the Wii turned out to be, a Nintendo-game-playing dust collector.

License To Pill

Side Effects

Looking back at past years, it seems that I’m usually not compelled to get back in the theater after the dust from the year-end Oscar season has settled until about March, when films actually start to rise to the level of passable.  But much like last February with Haywire, Steven Soderbergh has given us another air-tight genre picture with Side Effects, the film that will supposedly will be his last theatrical feature before his alleged retirement from directing.  Now I don’t know if I really believe all this retirement stuff, but either way Side Effects reaffirms Soderbergh’s strengths as one of the most consistent and sure-handed directors around.

At first, Side Effects appears to be a film that tackles the effects of the pharmaceutical industry and how it affects people suffering from depression.  It stars an excellent Rooney Mara as one such depressive, who after a suicide attempt is given medical guidance by her therapist (Jude Law), who prescribes a new drug known as Ablixa to her in the hopes of calming her unstable state of mind.  She starts having unwieldy mood swings after a while, and then let’s just say the film takes a bit of a one-eighty in terms of tone, going from what seems like a social-commentary film about addiction to more of a pulpy thriller.

However, thanks to an intricately plotted script by frequent Sodherberg screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, this change in tone and it’s evolving consequences are always engaging and seemingly justified.  Maybe in the hands of another director this type of film might seem a little too trashy and manipulative for its own good.  But there’s something about Soderbergh’s very particular and calculated approach to directing that makes a film that’s undeniably entertaining also feel far more intelligent and thought-provoking than it has any right to be.

And on top of that, the performances are consistently strong, with Rooney Mara giving an eerily assured performance in opposition of Jude Law playing a guy who’s got a few demons of his own.  Law’s never been an actor I’ve ever been that big a fan of, but I went for him in Side Effects, maybe because it’s hard not to root for a guy who gets fucked over so hard during the course of the film.  And in addition, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones are fine as well, even if they’re ultimately just pawns in the film’s sneaky plotting.  So really just a well-made film on all accounts, even though I’m not sure if it does quite enough to disprove Steven Soderbergh’s knack for making movies that are just a few cuts above mildly pleasing.

Devil May Care

DmC: Devil May Cry

I have played most of the Devil May Cry franchise. I skipped the second one, because all the people who played it said it was bad, but otherwise I’ve loyally followed the series. I also like developer Ninja Theory, based solely off the terrific Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. So to me, them bringing the franchise back always sounded like a great idea. But for a lot of people, specifically hardcore fans of the franchise, this couldn’t seem worse.

Let us begin with that title. Capcom and Ninja Theory could have called this game simply DmC, to show that while this is still the same franchise, things are going to be different. Although that still doesn’t explain the lowercase M. Or they could have called it Devil May Cry, because it is the norm to call reboots by the name of the franchise. But they went with both, which I cannot explain, and is dumb. Especially because the association with previous Devil May Cry games seems to be the thing most hurting this game.

What we have here is a new Dante. He’s young, has black hair (for now), and kind of acts like a dick. He is still the son of Sparda, a demon, and Eva, who is now an angel instead of a human. He still has a brother named Vergil. He still has a sword called Rebellion and a pair of handguns called Ebony and Ivory. But this is not the Dante of old, who was perpetually spouting one-liners and getting impaled all the time. This is most certainly a new character, and if you can’t get passed that, well, you’re screwed. At least the story still begins when a new, human woman comes into Dante’s life.

The story of DmC is a bit of a liberal fantasy as Dante fights to free humanity from the forces of demonkind who keep mankind oppressed. How do they do that? With energy drinks, cable news and big business, of course. Dante spends most of the game in Limbo, where he can see the true nature of the world, such as the energy drink factory being basically like how Slurm was made in that episode of Futurama, except with a giant, gross demon. There are They Live-esque messages hidden everywhere, which are used somewhat humorously, like when they say “Fuck You Dante.” One memorable boss fight is with a character I believe named Shmill O’Shmeilly.

Fighting feels pretty good. Gone are the variable fighting styles of old, but in is the ability to use a lot of weapons at the same time. By pressing the shoulder buttons, you can change Dante’s sword and guns into angel or demon weapons, meaning you always have four weapons equipped at a time. That alone gives you pretty huge combo potential, which grows even bigger when you factor in the ability to change your equipped weapons on-the-fly using the D-Pad. On normal difficulty this is a pretty easy game, but I still thought it did a great job living up to the stylish action combat spirit of its predecessors.

But some people don’t feel that way. They have a particular vision for the franchise and hate that it’s changed. And that’s fair, I get it. Ninja Theory does not make the best case for their version of these characters, as a lot of the writing is borderline cringe-worthy. But the performances are strong, the combat is fun, and the platforming, a usual weak point of the series, is actually pretty good. I had fun with this game, which was more than I expected, and the reality is, there probably wouldn’t be a Devil May Cry series anymore without it.

T3 47: Top 10 Candies

Here’s a treat for you! What, you think I could resist writing that? You think I’m so strong that I can simply not write the easy lead? No, I’m not. I found it so damned delectable I couldn’t help myself. It was just so sweet. You know, I try. I try to be better than I am; stronger. But I have my moments of weakness. Isn’t that OK? Sometimes, I just want to feel good, even if I have to take the cheapest and easiest way to get there. Let me feel good. Top 10 candies.

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A Mission from God

Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God

One of my favorite qualities about Jim James is that he’s unpredictable. One of my least favorite qualities about Jim James is that he’s… unpredictable. You’d never know if Jim was ready to drop the next Z or some outlandish display of spaced out ballads. The latter would better describe the appropriately titled “Regions of Light and Sound of God”, that’s not to say that “outlandish” and “weird” are necessarily bad things. Jim James or Yim Yames as he’s sometimes hilariously called is a versatile artist. His willingness to experiment with different sounds and styles in order to make them his own is one of his most appealing qualities. Not to mention his powerful Muppet Show-inspired voice can immediately make any project that much better.

At first listen Regions of Light and Sound of God is difficult to pinpoint. All the swirling sounds and tape effects, as if nothing can ever be recorded in a conventional way. Though you do get a sense that James is borrowing some inspiration from 70s R&B, most notably Bill Withers. James is a big fan of Withers and that couldn’t be more apparent then on a song like “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”. Additional tracks like “Know Til Know” and “Actress” also lay on the soulier-side of the spectrum. “Actress” is perhaps the closest James comes to replicating the sound of My Morning Jacket, though even that sound is getting harder to define as the years go by. Even with a throwback style of songwriting, there is nothing familiar about the ways the songs are recorded. James sounds like he recorded everything in a spaceship piloted by Jesus, at least that’s the impression I got. There’s a very meditative mood to Regions that is easy to get lost in.

“A New Life” is the most accessible track on the album and probably the best. It’s a song at James’ most intimate that builds and builds to a joyous outro, I love it. I didn’t love the album as much as I wanted to, but I appreciate that James challenges his listeners. He keeps us on our toes so that he can continue to open new musical doors. Regions of a Light and Sound and God can be a difficult journey, but it can be very rewarding with the right mindset.

Favorite Tracks: “Actress,” “A New Life,” “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”

The Vault: Blax History Month

Shaft (1971)

Shaft may not have been the first Blaxploitation film, but it was the first blaxploitation film to become a cultural phenomenon. Black audiences finally had their own action hero and he didn’t take any shit. He was the black private dick that was a sex machine to all the chicks. But if it wasn’t the first blaxploitation film why did it resonate? Was it just a happy accident? Interest in blaxploitation projects had been building after MGM found success with Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970). So MGM followed with the pursuit of the next badass brother… And they found him.

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