Monday, August 2, 2010

Music review for LEO: Blue Giant

Blue Giant's new album recently hit record stores and I wrote a review that appears on page 27 of this week's LEO. You can also read it on their website, or here.

Blue Giant

Blue Giant
(Vanguard Records)
{ sunshine }

This is what can happen when veteran musicians have fun while ignoring genre distinctions. Blue Giant's debut full-length (and follow-up to their acclaimed Target Heart EP) will meander, strut, whistle, and wail its way out of your speakers (or ear buds) and into permanent residence in your cortex (or soul). Brings: bluesy country licks and mournful piano melodies, paired with buzzy wandering solos and stomp-your-foot rhythms. Sunny with a chance of some dark clouds, the resultant soundscape is an unexpectedly pleasant dose of Dixie-fried rock that flirts perfectly with both freewheeling twang and 60's psychedelia. Kevin Robinson's voice is at once friendly and brash, which suits his vivid and frequently story-driven lyrics, coupling perfectly with co-writer Anita and even a guest appearance by Corin Tucker. Each cut stands on its own, and taken altogether the record adds up to just over 40 minutes of excellent reasons to spin it again.

You can check out their music at their website, they also have a Myspace, and you can stream the entire album here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

LEO review: KaiserCartel

Last week, KaiserCartel released their completely fan-funded follow-up to March Forth. If you pick up LEO this week and flip to page 40, you'll find my review. You can also check it out on their website, or read it here.

Secret Transit
(Daniel Records)
{ super sequel }

Crafting a sophomore full-length, from genesis to final note, is a dicey proposition. Stick with what works but avoid stagnation, cover new ground while maintaining identity – not an easy balancing process. Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel have evidently achieved this equilibrium, and the result is Secret Transit.

The alterna-folk acoustic warmth and bouncy playfulness of their debut is here in full supply, as are sundry percussive elements (ranging from hand-claps to alarm clock bells). Further, the record shines bright with expanded horizons: the first and last tracks are perfectly spooky, and a few pick-it-up tunes add a just-right pinch of needed electricity. A great example comes in a cover of "Worn Out Nervous Condition," repurposed as a delightfully addicting folk-pop meditation on love in limbo. This is a band known for diverse instrumentation and textured, intimate live performances, all of which is expertly captured here. To listen to this fan-funded project is to be unable to keep it a secret.

You can listen to the entire album on their website, and they also have a Myspace.

Friday, March 12, 2010

LEO music review: High on Fire

Mat Herron (LEO's music editor) recently asked me to write another music review, to run in the March 10th edition. Hopefully you saw it in print (on page 29) if you picked up a copy around town; you can also see it on their website; or you can read it here.

Snakes for the Divine
High on Fire
Koch Records
{ stoned conflict }

Expectations can erect hurdles only overcome by a willingness to engage in repeat listens. The sum of this album's noticeable dependence on recurrent musical themes and absurdly inaccessible vocals will likely be repellent to the uninitiated – however, after a few more spins, it generously rewards a patient preference for deliberative, psychedelic heavy metal. On their fifth studio recording, this band is again brandishing an impenetrable front line of heavy rhythmic chops punctuated by artillery blasts of precise solo strikes, unleashing a full-fledged assault of stoner guitar war. Yes, it's predictable, but in the era of the MP3-flavor-of-the-minute, consistency and tenacity are admirable. High on Fire are again confidently straddling the escarpment between sludge and speed, making Snakes for the Divine a stoic frigate of safe harbor for shred-heads.

High on Fire has a website, and you can listen to a few songs on their Myspace.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

GI's "Top 200 Games Of All Time"

In December, Game Informer put out their 200th issue. In it, they published a massive 35-page spread compiling their Top 200 Games Of All Time. If/when they finally put the entire article online, I'll edit this to include a link. For now, here's a bare-bones listing of all 200 entries.

Starting at #200 and working my way to #1, here are my thoughts and comments on several games that made (and a couple that didn't make) the list.

#200... Beyond Good and Evil (PS2/Xbox/GameCube, 2003)

This was one of those games that almost nobody purchased (I'm guilty) but that garnered consistent 5-star reviews from critics, magazines, and players. It's on my short list of GC games I still need to pick up.

#194... Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Dreamcast, 2002)

I might've thought it more appropriate to include the progenitor of the series, X-men vs. Street Fighter. I've not personally played every entry in the series, and the time I have logged has always been in the arcade. Versus games are an insane mix of fun, blending old-style Street Fighter action with the amped-up exaggerated spectacle from X:Men - COTA.

Anyhow, if I were placing a Dreamcast fighter on the list, I'd go with Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Project Justice. Two superb games — if only I had a good fighting-game controller for my Dreamcast, and a willing opponent.

#192... Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube, 2002)

This GC game routinely lands on "best survival horror" lists, yet I've never played it. Anybody have any experience with the title? It's supposed to be quite chilling, and includes a sort of "sanity meter" that, when depleted, results in gameplay effects that include both audible and visual hallucinations, among other things.

#185... SMW2: Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995)

When I hear people complain that a platformer like Mario 3 or Mario World or Donkey Kong Country is difficult, I think of this game. You've not played a truly difficult platformer until you try Yoshi's Island. This game is so hard it's frightening. In certain levels, we're talking Battletoads tough, folks. However, the genius of the game design can't be emphasized enough: you can play through almost the entire game without encountering more than mild challenge, but if you attempt perfect scores for each level, that's when you will begin to suffer. Balancing difficulty in video games is no small task, and games like this that can be played by the novice and the hardcore veteran alike (without some sort of easy-normal-hard difficulty option) are extremely rare.

#175... Dig Dug (Coin-op, 1982)

Seriously, Game Informer? Dig Dug? This game sucks.

#167... DOOM II (PC, 1994)
#139... Wolfenstein 3D (PC, 1992)
#6... DOOM (PC, 1993)

Admittedly, when it comes to the roots of the FPS genre, I've always been partial to Wolfenstein3D. I've played it more, and I'm still working on finishing a custom set of levels that I started about ten years ago. But even I have to admit that DOOM and DOOM II is where FPS became a viable long-term genre. A genre that today dominates the entire industry (that's not an entirely good thing, but still). Playing DOOM, especially on a modern source port, is still an exhilarating and frightful experience, and most importantly, it's really fun.

Had I written the Top 200, I would've just placed DOOM II in slot #6 and left slot #167 for another game. The sequel added the Super Shotgun and doubled the amount of demonic Deimos monsters you face, basically perfecting the gameplay.

#166... King's Quest VI (PC, 1992)

I can't believe they included a Sierra game in this list.

#156... Gauntlet (Coin-op, 1985)

I only ever played these games at home — usually Gauntlet 2 on the NES with a Four Score. The original games (and for that matter, their modern incarnation) are tedious and boring slogs through endless, pointless mazes and thousands of redundant enemies. They should be on a list of 200 games that were mysteriously played despite their stupidity.

Red Wizard is about to be murdered by his friends for getting stuck in the corner, again.

#148... Super Mario RPG (SNES, 1996)

Spectacular fun, with hilarious dialog and characters. Better than anybody ever could've expected, it spawned the Paper Mario series, which I've yet to play.

#136... Star Fox (SNES, 1993)

As one of the first 3D polygonal games ever made, this game was truly groundbreaking (it was in stores nearly two years before the PlayStation hit the shelves). As the first game in the series, it's also the last time a Star Fox game was released that wasn't hugely disappointing in some obvious way (for instance, the innovatively titled Star Fox 64 had great gameplay but fantastically obnoxious voice work and music). At 17 years old the game is still great fun to play, and other than its complete lack of textures, it has stood the test of time. It's an absolute shame that the completed Star Fox 2 was never released.

#133... Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (PC, 1997)

Excuse me? This entry should have been Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. And yes, the naming in that series got pretty screwy — that's what happens when you have spin-off sequels to spin-off sequels. Anyway, Jedi Outcast is one of the most kick-ass Star Wars games ever made.

#128... Metroid Fusion (GBA, 2002)
#85... Metroid Prime (GameCube, 2002)
#21... Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)
#7... Metroid (NES, 1986)

If you're like me, you may see these four entries and wonder why in hell they included Fusion. It's a solid game, sure, but Zero Mission is also portable while being better in every way I can think of. My other quibble is this: I would've put Super Metroid in slot #7 and left out the original game. They obviously included it because of its innovation and influence, but in this case I think the sequel is more deserving of the ranking. Yes, Metroid opened the door to non-linear platforming, but Super Metroid — from the atmospheric music to the rewarding exploration to the spot-on controls and combat — is quite literally a perfect video game.

#121... Lemmings (PC, 1991)

Definitely one of my past puzzle-gaming addictions. This game is a shining example of how creative design and composition (both in levels, puzzles, and music) can easily overcome hardware limitations.

#110... Halo 2 (Xbox, 2004)
#39... Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)

Judging by some of the reader responses that GI received, I'm not alone in disagreeing with these placements, though perhaps for differing reasons. I could see including Halo 3 (many fans griped about its exclusion), but the first game at #39? I've played Halo, and it was one of the worst console FPS experiences I ever had. Deathmatch was sluggish and, other than the vehicles, excessively plain, while the solo/co-op campaign struck me as relentless tedium. Yes, I realize that Bungie has vastly improved the series, and yes I understand that the original game was the killer app launch title for the Xbox. Thing is, considering the Xbox's launch lineup, that isn't saying much. From where I'm sitting, the list that Halo: Combat Evolved belongs on is the "Top 200 Overrated Games of all Time."

#106... Resident Evil (PS, 1996)
#41... Resident Evil 2 (PS, Dreamcast, PC, 1998)
#18... Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, 2005)

If you've played the series, you will probably agree with me: RE2 deserves every bit of its #41 placement, but the original game almost certainly should've been left off the list (with the caveat that REmake on GameCube was an absolutely spectacular game).

Now RE4 is another matter. First, my sole complaint: including the GC version rather than the Wii edition is insanity. The Wii version of the game has all of the bonus content from the PC and PS2 ports, plus vastly improved controls and a slick 16x9 presentation — it is far and away the best version of the game available. That said, RE4 is an excellent pick for the top 20. Easily one of the very best action games there is, it ushered in a new era of third-person gaming and mightily revitalized the Resident Evil franchise.

#84... Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, 2005)
#55... Ico (PS2, 2001)

Two of the only games that ever made me wish I had a PS2.

#81... Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES, 1988)
#51... Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)
#47... Super Mario World (SNES, 1991)
#13... Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)
#9... Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)
#2... Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

Only one series has more spots in the Top 200 (see below). The only entry among these six games to bitch about is #81 — a port of Doki Doki Panic is simply not one of the best games ever. Otherwise, we've got five great selections for the list. The original game, of course, which single-handedly resurrected an industry that Atari had all but killed. Or Galaxy, a spectacular game and the first console Mario title since the NES days to get a direct sequel. Mario 64 ushered us into a new era of gaming 14 years ago, and still sets a 3D-platforming standard that a scant few games can measure up to. World was a similarly potent launch title for Nintendo's fondly remembered second-gen console, only ever over-shadowed (as in this list) by the global domination of its immediate predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3 (we're talking 20 million copies sold at this point). The third Mario title is one of those games that's so good, it makes you wonder what it was like to be involved in the development process. Did they know they were about to produce and release a game so legendary that people would still be playing it 22+ years later?

#80... Final Fantasy II (SNES, 1991)

I'm only just now playing through this epic, and in the final revision of its original form (Final Fantasy IV is the correct numerical title). As I play through it, I'm starting to understand why it's had such staying-power in the minds of fans. What other video game can you think of that got a direct sequel 17 years after being released?

#74... Tomb Raider (PS, 1996)

My dad played the hell out of this game. No, I'm serious, he wore out two computers.

#68... Double Dragon (Coin-op, 1987)

Yes, the shitty game that introduced a generation of gamers to the ill-fated series, wherein you are forced to double your dragon (when your dragon is in dire need of being doubled) by repeatedly battling a muscle-headed hand-clapping freak of a mini-boss named Abobo. His pants are too small, he probably has a degenerative skin condition, and his legendary signature finishing move is fearfully referred to as "the working man's overthrow." They should've included River City Ransom instead.

#62... Star Wars: X-Wing (PC, 1993)

Polygonal 3D 1993. Yes, XvT and XWA are vastly superior engines, but it was the original game that first let us hop into the cockpit of an X-wing as an actual pilot. It wasn't some turret-gunner or top-down shooter, it was a realistic simulation that let us experience the fear of being vaporized by a Star Destroyer.

#38... Mega Man 2 (NES, 1988)

Yes, by all means yes. All the proof you will ever need that 8-bit isn't antonymous with tight controls and brilliant music. And by "brilliant," I mean that the music in MM2 is a timelessly epic triumph, and that the composers (Manami Matsumae and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi and Takashi Tateishi) are gods among men.

#32... GoldenEye 007 (N64, 1997)

Perhaps the first game to prove that a quality FPS could be done on a console. Excellent solo and deathmatch play, this title was so great that it paved the way for its spiritual successors in the TimeSplitters series, and was re-built from the ground up as a HL2 mod called GoldenEye: Source.

#31... Tecmo Super Bowl (NES, 1991)

There's football video games, and then there's Tecmo Super Bowl. Something like 90% of my knowledge about football comes exclusively from this game. Because of TSB, I firmly believe that you can routinely kick 55 yard field goals, extra point attempts are always successful, that Jerry Rice could catch an overthrown pass while diving headlong into triple coverage, and that being a lineman involves some sort of sumo arm grappling dance normally resulting in the loser being flung ten yards onto his head.

This game is legendary. People still play it in leagues today, including completely expanded and updated league and team rosters.

#25... Street Fighter II (Coin-op, 1991)


#22... Contra (NES, 1988)

Perhaps the quintessential run-and-gun. Many still know the code, few are tough enough to play and conquer without it.

#17... Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)

It should probably be considered a sin that I've not played this.

#16... Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES, 1987)

Notable for many reasons, not the least of which is its inclusion of one of the first known gay characters in a video game, Don Flamenco.

#3... Tetris (PC, 1984)

Alexey Pajitnov's creation, and one of the most-played video games ever made. Interestingly, Alexey didn't make a dime off the blockbuster success of his game until nearly 13 years after he created it. Truly fascinating is the study of a spectrum of behaviors and mental phenomenon (OCD-like habitual thinking about objects in the real world fitting together like tetrominos; hallucinations and hypnagogic imagery) associated with and named after the game: the Tetris effect.

#94... The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (GameCube, 2003)
#90... The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2006)
#63... The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64, 2000)
#61... The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GB, 1993)
#20... The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998)
#12... The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1992)
#1... The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1987)

Being the most-mentioned series, and taking the number one spot, Zelda is clearly the dominant franchise in GI's list (also, note that all seven games landed in the top 100).

Consider ALttP. If you wanted to quibble with the order of these seven placements, your best shot is to argue that the third game should've been further considered for the top spot. This game blew the doors off the adventure genre, and just when players thought they had explored most of Hyrule and were closing in on completing their mission, the world doubled in size and the game tripled in length. Or consider LA: a portable game, ginormous for its time, that proved the series was here to stay. Or, remember when you first played OoT. Recall that sheer sense of scope, and the perfect way the game incorporated the traditional Zelda aesthetic, compelling narrative, rich mythology, and rewarding freedom and exploration. Or think about WW and shun the non-believers: the 10th game in the series is a monumental achievement. Perhaps you're like me and Majora's Mask is your favorite — the world of Termina and their the-sky-is-literally-falling predicament coupled with the three-day cyclic timeline makes the 6th Zelda game emotionally rewarding to a surprising degree.

And last but obviously not least, winning the number one spot in GI's "Top 200 Games Of All Time" list, the original The Legend of Zelda. What can be said about this game that's not already been said repeatedly? It dropped players abruptly into an expansive world open for non-linear exploration and discovery, and challenged them not just to find secrets and dungeons and weapons but also to persevere against an array of enemies. The thought of walking into a room full of blue Darknuts can still cause an adult to break out in a cold sweat. If you've played this game, then you know exactly what I refer to when I mention the full-heart slash-zap "shhhh Bzzz-ink!" sound that meant Link was kicking ass with the Magical Sword. Shigeru Miyamoto left his first indelible mark on video games with this title.

Games Stupidly Left Out

GI received quite a bit of feedback after publishing their Top 200, and of the many games left out, there are at least two that frequently get mentioned that I agree should have been included.

Earthworm Jim (Genesis and SNES, 1994)

An incredibly challenging off-beat amalgam of run-and-gun and platforming, Earthworm Jim definitely should have been included in the Top 200.

Myst (Mac in 1993, PC in 1994)

How they managed to miss including this game is beyond me. Myst was a triumphant achievement both technically and in a gameplay sense. It completely recreated a genre and nearly single-handedly pushed the computer world into the CD-ROM age. It excited both gamers and rookies alike. It captivated players with a subtle soundtrack, simple and intuitive controls, and an interesting and slowly developing storyline, all while leaving players alone to explore a cohesive world that didn't punish them with dead-ends or game over screens. Lastly, it paved the way for an awesome, vast, beautiful and epic sequel called Riven (Mac/PC, 1997).


As the breadth and depth of GI's Top 200 suggests, video games are here to stay. They've outlived the "it's just a fad" response, and they'll outlive their absurd scapegoating detractors. As an industry, growth in gaming has exceeded growth in both the movie and music industries for years, and may have exceeded both (individually, not combined) in gross sales as early as 2008. As an art form, games have been developing, improving, and pushing boundaries for three decades, with no sign of stopping.

Game Informer's list of the "Top 200 Games Of All Time" may be imperfect, but it's a great look back at many of the brightest achievements and experiences in games over the past 30 years.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tecmo Super Bowl: Colts versus Saints

Tecmo Super Bowl, released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System, is perhaps the greatest football game ever made. On this day when many will watch the biggest NFL game of the year (due in no small part to commercialism and consumerism), I thought it appropriate to ask for some predictions from the only football authority that matters to me: Tecmo Super Bowl.

I ran three games, Saints versus Colts. In the first, I let the computer play against itself. Second, I played as the Colts against the computer Saints. Last, I played as the Saints against the computer-controlled Colts. All three games were played with the default rosters and each team's default playbook.

Game 1: Com vs. Com

1st quarter

The Saints win the toss, but are quickly forced to punt. The Colts wind the quarter down with a strong rushing game, scoring a TD with a QB-sneak.

Colts: 7
Saints: 0

2nd quarter

The Saints are again forced to punt, but the Colts later fumble. The Saints take advantage by immediately throwing a 45-yard TD pass. The Colts again screw up by throwing an interception, followed by a big 40-yard pass by the Saints, who then knock in a FG as the half expires.

Colts: 7
Saints: 10

3rd quarter

The Colts come out gunning, throwing a 60-yard pass, followed immediately by a 20-yard TD pass. The Saints answer with their own 60-yard TD pass. The Colts return to their turnovers with a fumble, and the Saints take advantage with a 25-yard flea-flicker TD pass.

Colts: 14
Saints: 24

4th quarter

Colts throw another interception, but then the Saints fumble. A 30-yard TD pass gets the Colts back in the game. With 1 minute left, they try an onside kick but fail, and the Saints then punish them with a 55-yard TD run, sealing the deal.

Final Score:

Colts: 21
Saints: 31

(note that both rushing totals are quite close to reality)

Game 2: Man vs. Com

1st quarter

I win the toss and as always, I elect to kickoff. The Saints are held and punt. I then fumble on the their 20 yard line. The Saints sting me on this by throwing a 60-yard pass, then score on a 30-yard run. I take possession and run down the quarter with a long drive, scoring with an 11-yard run.

Me: 7
Saints: 7

2nd quarter

The Saints bust me with a 50-yard TD run, but I answer with an 80-yard TD pass. I then make a big sack, forcing the Saints to punt. The half ends as I throw a huge 80-yard TD.

Me: 21
Saints: 14

3rd quarter

I have a disastrous fumble, which the Saints grab and run 35-yards for a TD. I respond by running a few and score a rushing TD. They drive, but I interrupt their flea-flicker to force a fumble, but they pick it up and punt.

Me: 28
Saints: 21

4th quarter

I open the quarter with a TD on a QB-sneak. The Saints are pissed and go all shotgun, scoring a quick TD. They try an onside kick but fail, and as time expires I attempt a FG, but it falls short.

Me: 35
Saints: 28

(note the Colts accurate rushing total and completion %)

Game 3: Com vs. Man

1st quarter

My Saints win the toss, I elect to kickoff. The Colts run consecutive 40+ rushes, scoring a quick TD. I respond with a few runs and a 50-yard TD pass. The Colts are then forced to punt.

Me: 7
Colts: 7

2nd quarter

I put in a 30-yard TD rush, and then hold the Colts to another punt. I throw a big interception, but the Colts then fail to capitalize and miss their FG attempt. I take advantage with a big 60-yard TD pass as the half expires.

Me: 21
Colts: 7

3rd quarter

I open up with a fumble, but pick it up and run 80 more yards for a TD. The Colts respond angrily by walking all over me and toss in a TD.

Me: 28
Colts: 14

4th quarter

This is where it gets ugly. I open the quarter with a 50-yard TD pass, and then stop the Colts on 4th down and gain possession on their 20, subsequently stuffing it in for my second TD in as many minutes. I again stop the Colts on 4th down and gain possession on their 12, then rush in another TD. Yet again, I stop the Colts on 4th down and gain possession on the 50. I try a flea-flicker and miss as the game ends.

Me: 49
Colts: 14


Tecmo Super Bowl seems to think it doesn't look too good for the Colts. Of course, in TSB the Colts are one of the two worst teams in the entire game, but the Saints aren't much better, only three or four slots above the bottom of the list. If I combine the scores from all three of my simulation games, I get the Colts with 70, and the Saints with 108. That's a rough analog to a 9-point spread (in a game where the winning team scores less than 30 points), in favor of the Saints.

Scoring the Predictions

Watching the game tonight, I'll keep track of a few things to see which simulation game scores best as a comparison to the real deal.
  • Toss-win coupled with a matching decision is worth five points.
  • Correct quarter predicted punts are worth five points.
  • A single quarter team score that matches is also worth five points.
  • Predicted TDs or FGs in the appropriate quarter will count for ten points.
  • If a predicted TD is scored in the manner predicted (either rush or pass), it will get twenty points.
  • If a predicted 50-yard+ TD is matched by an equally big play, it will count for thirty points.
  • Predicted turnovers in the correct quarter will count for twenty points.
  • A correct total score for a team at the end of a quarter will count for twenty points.
  • If both teams have the predicted total score at the end of a quarter, it will count for thirty points.
  • Special or unusual matches, such as fumbles returned for a TD or flea-flicker TDs, will count for thirty points, unless they take place in the correct quarter, in which case they count for forty points.
  • A game that correctly predicts the winner is worth ten points, twenty points if the score is right, and forty points if both scores match.
Everything below this point will be edited in and added later, after the real Super Bowl is over. I'll compare reality with my three simulations and tabulate the results.

Prediction Matching Tabulation

First, I'd like to note that part of my inspiration for this was the Super Bowl 44 prediction that's Tecmo Repository came up with in their simulation(s), using the original Tecmo Super Bowl but with updated rosters and stats. They too correctly predicted the winner, but one of my games is a much closer match (see below).

Game 3 totals: my game as the Saints matched up with a Colts TD in the first quarter, a Colts punt in the second quarter, a Saints TD in the third quarter, a Colts TD in the third quarter, a Saints passing TD in the fourth quarter, and a Saints victory. That totals up as 65 points.

Game 2 totals: my game as the Colts matched up with a Saints punt in the first quarter, a Colts TD in the first quarter, a Colts rushing TD in the third, a 7-point third quarter total for the Colts, and a Saints passing TD in the final quarter. That adds up to an ever-so-slightly more accurate 70 points.

Game 1 totals: the Com vs. Com game turned out to be the most accurate prediction. I matched with the Saints toss win, their first quarter punt, a Colts TD in the first, a Saints FG in the second quarter, a Saints passing TD in the third, a Colts TD in the third, a 7-point third quarter total for the Saints, the Colts threw an interception in the fourth quarter, a Colts 0-point fourth quarter match, a Saints TD in the fourth, a Saints victory, and lastly an impressive match on the Saints final 31-point total score. This all adds up to 120 points on my rubric.


My friend Doug told me that most of the betting sites had the game at between 4 and 6 points in the Colts favor, while my averaged prediction favored the Saints by 9, so Tecmo Super Bowl definitely did a better job with pre-game projection. Specifically, the computer vs. computer game was surprisingly accurate, with multiple hits in every quarter but the second, including the Saints victory score of 31 points.

This was a really fun way for me to enjoy the game this year, and the folks at the watching party I attended actually got a kick out of it, as well. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Top Five for 2009

On December 30th, LEO's year-ending issue was circulated. It contains the 6th annual "Not Good For Nothing Quiz," and also two big Top Fives of 2009 spreads — one for Music, one for Film. I had the fortunate opportunity to contribute my own list of five to the Music feature.

Check page 16 of the print copy for the feature (page 18 for my list), or click here to see the online version.

Below, you will find my un-edited Top Five (listed alphabetically by band name), plus a bit of a bonus: two Dishonorable Mentions and two Honorable Mentions.

My Top Five

Target Heart EP

Blue Giant


A Viva Voce side-project and Portland's own supergroup (including Chris Funk, Evan Railton, and Seth Lorinczi). Amalgamations like this often amount to less than the sum of their parts, but that's absolutely not the case here — the record is more exciting than this year's Viva Voce release. A southern, dare-I-say-it country vibe is added in just the right amount to a sun-drenched psych-rock aesthetic that this collaboration pulls off perfectly. Lyrically clever, musically brilliant and fun, get it on vinyl (the 12" has two bonus tracks, pushing it into LP territory) with a free MP3 download.

To have a listen, click through to their website.


Kevin Moore and Jim Matheos may be an unlikely pairing, but the music born of their union is astonishing. Their third outing finds them trending a touch heavier than before, while maintaining the characteristically nuanced layering and completely relaxed vocal approach the band is known for. Available in a two-disc special edition; the savant electronic touch intertwined with metal riffs makes for unexpected, intricate compositions that demand a generous twist of the volume knob.

They have samples on their website and full songs on their Myspace.

The Incident

Porcupine Tree
(Roadrunner Records)

Five songs over two discs (the title cut is 55 minutes long), Porcupine Tree has made a definitive statement of progressive rock genius. Impressive in both breadth and depth, the album covers more sonic territory than many bands will cover over an entire career. Steve Wilson and company are undeniably fantastic musicians, at their best when they channel their abilities in service of compelling song-writing. This is exactly what they've accomplished on The Incident: intelligent music where grandiose aspirations do not preclude chop-heavy rocking, but rather incorporates both with deft mastery. Must be heard in its entirety to be believed.

For some audio taste-testing, check out the awesome player on their homepage.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Wielding just two acoustic guitars (sans vocals and drums), this Mexican duo has laid down 11 tracks of blistering magnificence. Perhaps you're wondering if it's possible to absolutely slay with nylon strings — Rodrigo proves it can be done. Perhaps you're wondering if fingertips like polished granite and a rhythm guitar could result in a percussive juggernaut — Gabriela proves it can be done. This album finds the couple paying tribute to one favorite influence per song (from Hendrix to Dimebag Darrell to Pink Floyd) and the results are beautiful and phenomenal.

Take a listen by checking out their website.

Cosmic Egg

Periodically, rock and roll finds itself in need of a savior incarnate. Depending on your perspective, now could be one of those times, and Andrew Stockdale might have the goods. New band members backing him up, he's taken the strut and wail of Wolfmother and cranked it up a notch. This album gets a nice helping of inspiration from the 70's but doesn't sound dated, and is absolutely packed with rattling riffs and rock-til-you-drop energy. Available in multiple formats, including a double-album vinyl LP with an included free download of the entire 16-track triumph on MP3. Do not miss this.

For their website go here and for their Myspace go there.

Dishonorable Mentions


The Dead Weather

I had initially thought Horehound a candidate for my list. I heard a single on the radio, and watched them perform a song live on late night television, and was enthralled. Where had this kind of rock been hiding? But then I purchased the CD and gave it several listens. I was repeatedly surprised by the spacious production and buzzy rock and roll, only to be dismayed that something like 75% of the disc is literally drowning in some of the most obnoxiously annoying vocal tracks to dishonor a rock record since the glory days of grunge. I'm not kidding — it ruins the album.

You might be able to listen if you can get their shitty media player to work.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Dream Theater

It's no secret that DT has been doing a spectacular job of disappointing their long-time fans over the last couple releases. I used to buy their albums day-of-release without audition, but BC&SL was on shelves for months before I talked myself into giving it a try. For the first 11 minutes and 15-odd seconds, I was sorry I'd waited and began to believe the band had snapped out of their slump. Then, Mike Portnoy delivers his first chest-thumping vocal contribution to the album, and you begin to realize that all hope may indeed be lost. Yes, in a band with James LaBrie on lead vocals, I'm complaining about when somebody else is doing the singing. Portnoy is so damned obnoxious that he almost single-handedly ruins each track. Imagine the following ridiculous lyrics delivered seriously and in a middle-aged frat-boy shout: "A bearded gentleman! Historian! Sucking on his pipe! Distinguished accent! Making me uptight, no accident!" You can't make this stuff up. It's fucking embarrassing.

There are a few tracks for you to check out on their Myspace.

Honorable Mentions

Towards the Sun
Alexi Murdoch

Mr. Murdoch's acoustic singer/songwriter approach is often quite beautiful. This album isn't technically "out" yet — you can order from his limited indie pressing, but it won't be published and distributed until next year. The collection herein might not be as strong as his material gathered on the Away We Go soundtrack, but it's still lovely, heartfelt, and compelling.

You'll see what I mean if you check out his website.

Varia Suite
Metroid Metal

Whether you've loved one or all of the Metroid games, if you've not heard the Metroid Metal take on their soundtracks, you simply must. Stemage and company have the chops to pull of a metal tribute, but they also have the finesse to unfailingly come up with arrangements that are imaginative while still translating the original tunes with honorable fidelity. There isn't an accurate measurement for how much ass this music kicks, and considering that the entire back catalog of songs is available for free/donation, you have nothing to lose. Varia Suite is a granite slab of instrumental metal, executed with precision and passion.

Go here, and go now.


My list of five this year is interesting to me because of its obvious lack of brutality. "No heavy metal?" you might ask. Well, here's hoping that 2010 sees a new Opeth release. Furthermore, the long-anticipated third album from Necrophagist is due soon, and should melt faces with more ferocity than the climax of an Indiana Jones movie. I should also add that, much to my dismay, I missed the release date for the newest masterpiece from Nile, Those Whom the Gods Detest. Had I obtained a copy before LEO's submission deadline for their Top Fives feature, you can be sure I would've included it. If the sample tracks I've heard are any indication, the record is a hulking Star Destroyer of death metal.

Thanks for reading, and happy listening in the New Year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Boris review printed in LEO

Doing this review was a bit different than my previous ones. Since the release is actually a series of three singles on vinyl, the promotional company has a secret streaming website for reviewers to listen to the six songs. I nabbed the MP3 files, of course, so I wouldn't have to be tethered to a computer while listening through the tracks a few times before formulating my review.

You can see my review in print on page 28 of the December 2nd issue of LEO. A reproduction of the print copy is also available on their website. Below you will find my original text (I don't quite get the edits they applied to this one) and a few links for the band.

Japanese Heavy Rock Hits
(Southern Lord Records)
{ power trio }

This constantly experimenting Japanese heavy rock outfit has logged over 20 releases since 1996, gaining attention after 2001 due to a series of reissues by Southern Lord. Presently, their kick-ass image (an Asian take on goth-meets-metal, the threesome triumphantly posing with huge double-necked guitars) is actually heavier than the music. That's not a complaint: their sound is alien yet familiar and covers diverse territory, from danceable metal hooks to chill meandering to intense, angsty shredding. This release consists of a series of three 7" vinyls with two songs per. The six sides spun are nothing if not constantly interesting; the first track will startle you out of your seat at about 1:35, and you'll not often hear a song like "Heavy Metal Addict," complete with industrial processing, wailing guitar solos, and a good dose of hand-clapping. Not to be missed, especially if you're into collecting eccentric music on 45rpm wax.

Click here to check out the official Boris website, or listen to some music on their Myspace. LEO will be printing "Top 5 of 2009" lists soon, and I'll be posting mine here as well, along with honorable (and dishonorable) mentions.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Cobra "Chronomega" review in LEO

I was asked to write another review several weeks ago, and they published it last week. You can see it in print on page 43 of the November 18th issue of LEO, you can read it on their website by clicking here, and the full text of my review is reproduced below, followed by a link to some of the band's music.

Black Cobra
Southern Lord Records
{ hoarse chords }

If the rusty patina of bulky abandoned industrial-era equipment had a sound, it would be something like the heavily distorted guitars of Black Cobra. The tone is so thoroughly textured that you may wonder if your speakers have suddenly developed a distortion problem, but the clear drums and shouty (at times shrill) vocals will reassure you. Lyrically bleak, Chronomega is pregnant with rhythmic reiteration; even the shorter tracks repeat their oxidized riff-centric themes with conviction and patience.

It's arguably better not to know what the genre tags (doom and sludge metal) are supposed to signify about Black Cobra. This, their first album on an established label, is best approached on its own terms: absorb the plodding crunch of the nigh-epic tracks, dig the sinewy dread of the chord progressions, wince at the thrash-like vocals, discern some heavily cloaked incognito punk riffs. Imagine that your ears could understand the sensation of touching the gnarled bark of a 200 year old tree. Now hope with me that the band can accomplish this coarseness on stage – it would be a brutally intoxicating live show.

You can check out the band's homepage, and listen to a few tracks on their Myspace. I'm hoping to have another review (ever heard of Boris?) printed soon, and LEO is also planning a collection of "Top 5 of 2009" lists that should hit the newsstand in December.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A few people died yesterday

As you probably could not avoid learning, two widely known people died yesterday. One from cardiac arrest, the other after a long fight with cancer. To my mind, an appropriate response includes concern for their families and loved ones, who are certainly hurting during such a time.

However, as the corporate media has surely not mentioned, more than just two people died on June 25, 2009.

At an average of 105 deaths per month in 2009 alone, between three and four Darfuries died yesterday. This, after most of the rest of the world has watched for more than five years and done almost nothing.

Almost 200 women died yesterday because they did not have access to legal and safe abortion.

Around 1,500 people died in the Congo, even though the war "ended" five years ago.

More than 4,000 died in Africa because of AIDS, in large part due to Vatican and Republican Party opposition to the distribution of, and education regarding, condoms.

Across the globe, more than 5,000 people died yesterday simply because they do not have access to clean water, while an estimated 16,000 children died because they do not have enough food. When was the last time you heard anybody in the corporate media talk about food or water shortages, in the context of global over-population?

When was the last time you heard a politician that you support speak to this issue, or any of the above issues?

It goes without saying that we could expand this list almost indefinitely. The point is that people are dying completely preventable deaths, every hour of every day, while most news outlets in the United States seem content to tell us all about the latest starlet fashion faux pas, who is getting paid too much to play sports, which American car company has a shitty plan to improve their sales figures, the summer fashion choices of a host of celebrities, and the latest manufactured reality-TV scandal. Oh, and if somebody died and they were famous, they will probably tell us all about that, too. But preventable (or U.S. foreign policy caused) deaths around the globe? There is little time to cover that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A few not-so-hypothetical questions


The following consists of three described scenarios, each with one or more related questions. I pose the questions out of serious curiosity as to how certain mindsets think about certain situations. If you do not find yourself in the named audience for a particular question, feel free to skip it or answer in some other way (for example, if I were to pose a question to a Libertarian and you aren't one, you might say "well, my friend is a Libertarian and I think he would say...").

Scenario 1

A man named Scott is accused of assassinating a civilian, for both political and religious reasons. While in custody, he claims that many similar acts are imminent around the country.

This question is most specifically for those who believe that the U.S. is justified and morally faultless when it subjects unrepresented and never-proven-guilty prisoners to "harsh interrogation techniques" (in seeming agreement with the likes of Dick Cheney and Jack Bauer).
  • If Scott is unwilling to give the police any and all information he has regarding other assassination plots, should he be tortured?

Scenario 2

Two men (both U.S.-born citizens), who do not know each other and are unrelated in any way, are each accused of committing a murder, coincidentally within 48 hours of each other. Both men have different (but equally fervent and extremist) religious and political beliefs. Both seem to have committed the alleged acts of murder for revenge against perceived wrongs and to frighten their perceived enemies into changing their behavior.

First question:
  • Based on just the above information, would you call either man a terrorist?
Additional information:

The first man, named Scott, is known to have been a member of anti-government and anti-taxation groups, one which has been involved in an armed confrontation with the FBI, and another group which denies the authority of the federal government. He has furthermore been convicted of possessing explosives (which his ex-wife says were intended to be used for similar goals as the murder he is now accused of). The site of his alleged act of murder was a church.

The second man, formerly named Carlos, has no criminal record and has not yet been proven to be associated with any extremist groups (religious, political, or otherwise). When apprehended, he was found to be in possession of three guns and approximately 175 rounds of ammunition. Some evidence suggests that he may have considered attacking religious institutions.
  • Now would you call either man a terrorist?
Here's even more information:

Scott has been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault.

Carlos has been charged with capital murder and fifteen counts of terrorist acts.

Oh, and Scott is a white Christian, while Carlos is a black Muslim.
  • Now would you call either a terrorist? And, given the above information, do the charges seem fair to you?

Scenario 3

Consider a man named William who lives in Indiana, where the age of consent is 16. Suppose that he somehow knows with some certainty that Mr. Taper, a 25 year old man living in his neighborhood, has been having completely consensual sex with different girlfriends, all of whom are 17 or 18 years old. Never mind that it's none of William's business, nor that it is none of the business of the rest of his neighborhood. Now, imagine that William is morally outraged. He gossips to his friends and neighbors, and posts fliers around town, accusing Mr. Taper of raping children, calling him "Taper the child raper!" Now, suppose some particularly emotional and volatile person(s) in the neighborhood assault Mr. Taper in a parking lot, landing him in critical condition at the hospital.

Thus, the following questions are for all, but are especially directed at viewers/readers/fans of such media personalities as O'Reilly, Hannity, Goldberg, Coulter, Limbaugh, et cetera.
  • Relative to the above situation, is William a liar?
  • Is he guilty of slander and libel?
  • Should he be considered, at the very least, somewhat responsible for his rhetoric?
  • Is it reasonable to expect William to at least consider the possibility that his dishonest claims might have had something to do with landing Mr. Taper in the hospital?

Obviously, my proposed scenarios and questions bare quite a bit of relation to the facts surrounding the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. I've purposefully tried to avoid the potentially incendiary topic of abortion. Perhaps a topic for another day.