Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Synesthetic Response 2

This is not review. This is response. The best night of the year has been made better by two things.

ISIS: In the Absence of Truth
(2006, Ipecac Recordings)
Score: 9

"Nothing is true, everything is permitted" is the subtitle to the new document from ISIS. After watching them battle Tool to a draw at Cricket back in September, we knew Great Sonic Things were looming, and now In the Absence of Truth is here... and it is deep. In fact, I'd wager it's one of the deepest albums ever recorded. It is the Great Wall of Sound. It is the Seventh Layer of Complexity. It is one million miles from Earth, neuro-modded and floating at L2. Be ready. This preternatural album will consume you. You will see in infrared.

Meshuggah: Nothing
(2006, Nuclear Blast)
Score: 9

What better album to listen to on Halloween? This is a "reissue" or perhaps a "remaster" or... possibly an artifact from some parallel time stream. With entirely new guitar tracks and adjusted tempos, Meshuggah has gone back in time to correct an error only a perfectionist could perceive. Nothing is the album they wanted to release, back in 2002. Causality violations aside, this is a staggering snapshot of the future of Mind. This is mathematics melding with the boiling metallic core of Jupiter. I'm at a loss, in fact, to truly describe the mechanized grandeur and power of this work. If you need a familiar reference, think of this as the prequel to 2005's Catch Thirtythr33. Singular and astonishing, Meshuggah is like no other band on the planet.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You see... this means everything to me.

Just got back from seeing Gary Numan at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale, AZ... an astonishing performance! The material from Jagged was rendered with supreme ease, and the power of the music was on display in ways I've not previously experienced. Analog veils of piercing sound washed over the crowd - controlled and powerful. Are 'Friends' Electric? was the most extraordinary version I've yet seen Numan perform. It seemed to be a summary, of sorts. As he spoke during the interlude, the sweeping gesture he made, to his band and to us, was a summation of 25 years of mind-blowing sonic vistas. "You see," he said, "this means everything to me."

The set:

1. Intro
2. Pressure
3. RIP
4. Metal
5. Halo
6. Films
7. Slave
8. Down in the Park
9. Jagged
10. Are 'Friends' Electric?
11. In a Dark Place
12. Pure
13. Haunted
14. Prayer for the Unborn
15. Cars
16. Dark
17. Blind

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

DS = Dual Sexy

On Sunday, June 11th, I picked up my Nintendo DS Lite. I think the 'S' in 'DS' might now stand for sexy. I don't often apply that term to hardware, but it certainly applies here. The default brightness level of the DS Lite is actually twice the brightness of the original unit's highest setting, and thus, warrants immediate purchase. It is curious to note that I now regret trading in various DS titles over the last few years, because no matter what you slot into the DS Lite, it seems like an entirely new gaming experience. Even venerable favorites like Advance Wars: Dual Strike seem tantalizingly refreshed. Then there are titles like Electroplankton. If you haven't already special-ordered this directly from Nintendo yet, please do so. The DS Lite's new brightness levels transform the title into a stunningly psychedelic experience. If you've ever sat in a dark room with Electroplankton fed into a hi-fi, you'll understand what I'm getting at. Those you're performing for will thank you too. Trust me.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Synesthetic Response 1

This is not review. This is response. Some of the bits below (impressions for albums from 2004) were rescued from an online forum where they were originally posted.

Tool :: 10,000 Days
(2006, Volcano)
Score: 10

We have all waited - and at last, the long emptiness is over. Tool's 10,000 Days is beyond comprehension. Having listened now over 20 times, I am still coming to grips with what Tool have bestowed upon us. The listener could get lost in the packaging itself (stereoscopic goggles are built-in) before the disc even starts. But once those first notes manifest... the story that Tool tells us is powerful, complete, unending and inscrutable. 10,000 Days is an album of unspeakable aural complexity. Astonishing vocals, hypnotic drumming, and guitar and bass work of the rarest quality. You will perceive things via headphones that can't be perceived in any other way. The album overflows with recursive details. The last third is a miracle of mood, a spiraling maelstrom of ideas and places. Right in Two is (possibly) the finest track Tool has ever recorded. Evidence of evolution. Onion peelings. The Great Beast returns. Recommendation: invest in some real headphones. This album is worth it.

Killing Joke :: Hosannas from the Basements of Hell
(2006, Cooking Vinyl)
Score: 8

Killing Joke has always had the injustices of the world in its cross-hairs, setting fire to society's greed-infused surfaces through Jaz Coleman's flame-thrower-like lyrics and vocals. On Hosannas from the Basements of Hell, Coleman is as powerful as at any moment in the band's history, but the difference this time is one of elevation. Killing Joke have gone underground - and they are tunneling at a frenetic pace. Much has been made of the ancient labyrinth of cellars in Prague where the band recorded, and the music seems to emerge from below; it echoes of the pit and instead of fire, Killing Joke is eroding the very foundations of its targets with a sonic assault. These tracks are laced with power and repetition, akin to some of Killing Joke's finest musical moments. Geordie's guitars are vital, alive, and Paul Raven's bass lines stab from the darkness. Coleman's masterful contributions on keyboard give some of the tracks a truly cinematic feel (the orchestral aspects of Invocation are mind-blowing).

Jesu :: Silver
(2006, Hydra Head)
Score: 9

It's been a while - too long, in fact, since Jesu released Jesu (or S/T, for self-titled?) in 2004 (for more on this album, scroll down a bit). Now Justin K. Broadrick has returned with Silver, and this four track EP is one of the finest pieces of modern meta-metal that I've ever heard. While Broadrick has described it as "perfect for drifting off and smoking too much dope" (he's got that right), Silver finds the overt menace and distortion of Jesu's last release toned down a bit; if the first album kept one rooted to the ground, wrapped in an ethereal battle between light and dark, Silver lets us fly into the neuro-sphere that lies between. There is a new brightness here, but the epic structure that Jesu is so fond of persists. Broadrick's vocals are filled with a distant yearning, yet they never take precedence over the music itself, which is consistent, driven, mysterious and satisfying.

Gary Numan :: Jagged
(2006, Metropolis Records)
Score: 10

Numan's new disc Jagged is an astonishing return, steeped in a well of electronic sounds that we haven't meaningfully heard since 1981's The Pleasure Principle. Numan has always had a knack for the epic - generating great analog veils of synth that send the mind into deep space. Numan is not repeating himself, however. His new tracks are given power by the past, fueled by the journey that Numan fans have been on for over 20+ years. Numan's lyrics are as thought-provoking as ever. Jagged is easily his best album of the new millennium.

ISIS :: Panopticon
(2004, Ipecac Recordings)
Score: 9

This is mesmerizing, down-tempo metal with a real wall-of-sound approach. Songs typically start slow, with some great melodic structure, and suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed with heavy, powerful guitars... like the sudden crash of a wave on the shore. I'm not surprised that ISIS toured with Jesu (Justin K. Broadrick's post-Godflesh experiment), but while Jesu is clearly the more distorted of the two bands (and the far deeper experience), ISIS are doing something wholly original. The vocals take a back seat here, but the power of the guitars, and the supremely listenable wall-of-sound methodology has kept this album in weekly rotation on my iPod.

And speaking of Jesu...

Jesu :: Jesu
(or S/T)
(2004, Hydra Head)
Score: 10

This is what happens when metal meets the metaphysical. Meta-metal, perhaps. If I had to choose one word to describe Justin K. Broadrick's new project, that word would be... beautiful. The music is heavy, driving, and yet pleasingly listenable - soaring, at times, into a dark, down-tempo stratosphere of melodic, flickering intrigue. This is music for standing on a dark cliff, with a cool wind on your face. The vocals are haunting, and filled with a sense of anticipation, though Broadrick does sound a bit like Nyarlathotep (the Creeping Chaos from Lovecraft's canon, and thus, Godflesh of old) on track 7 - men/women - rendering a savagely heavy portrait, in a mere 9:29, of what Godflesh might have sounded like had they progressed further into the 21st century (at the 5:53 mark, it sounds as if Godflesh itself suddenly manifests, with their classic, loping, bass-grinding gait). With no track less than 9 minutes, Jesu is a triumph for Godflesh fans, and perhaps a scintillating new experience for those willing to listen. What it does differently than Godflesh is embrace an exploration of space, both real and imagined. Perhaps the influence of Loop can still be heard here (for Robert Hampson was once a member of Godflesh). Repetition leads to breakthrough.

Skinny Puppy :: The Greater Wrong of the Right
(2004, Hunter)
Score: 10

Deep, thought-provoking electronic/industrial soundscapes, rich in texture, overflowing with complex imagery. Listen with headphones. Admission: I have no "favorite" Skinny Puppy album. I really love them all. They are each unique documents, and comparing them, especially to one another, somehow seems disrespectful. These guys have always been on another plane of existence. We're just lucky they've returned; and fortunate that they've brought something back with them... something darkly terrible, wonderful, and purely evolutionary.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Night of the Hunters

I've just been playing Metroid Prime: Hunters on the Nintendo DS. Some of you may be in possession of the (collectible?) MP:H demo game-card (First Hunt) that was included with all Nintendo DS launch systems. If so, you'll appreciate just how far MP:H has come. If not, you're in for an extraordinary experience.

What can you expect? On a presentational level, this game sets a standard. The sound is futuristic, highly evolved. The music flows directly from the Gamecube editions of this series; it's dark, brooding and mysterious. The visuals are extraordinary. You won't quite believe what you're seeing on the DS screens. The framerate is glorious. The environments are breathtaking.

As I often do with Wi-Fi DS games, the first thing I did after booting was log in for some multi-player action. Within a minute or so I found myself in combat. Flawless. I got my ass handed to me 7 to 2, but that had more to do with the fact that I hadn't configured the controls to my liking (should have set it up prior to logging in - let that be a lesson to you all).

The menu systems are excellent, and though wholly focussed on the stylus user or thumb navigator, you can still get around with the control pad and buttons - quickly and without error.

I've only just dug into the single-player experience (and having glanced at the guide, there were 60+ pages of walkthrough). It seems deep, with hundreds of Logbook Entries (creatures, events, places, objects). In multi-player, there are 26 arenas. This game has some longevity built-in.

There is a welcome feature in multi-player that has been missing from prior Wi-Fi DS games - the ability to instantly log an opposing player as a "rival" so you can search for them online at a later time. The system still uses Friend Codes, and features a Hunter's License to track your rank and progress. It logs wins in all game variations, connection history, win ratio, win streak, "lucky" arena, favorite weapon, headshot kills, favorite mode, biped kills, alt-form kills, kill streak, Wi-Fi and wireless play time and total game time. I suspect there may be more. The game features a large list of unlockables. There is also an interesting mode called Rival Radar - which puts your DS into a sort of waking-dream mode. As you make your way in the real world, your DS is scanning your surroundings for other DS owners who happen to have their own DS in Rival Radar mode; if two or more DS units locate each other, "rival" data and Hunter Licenses are exchanged. Next time you look at your rivals roster, it will have grown.

For now that's all I can relate. I need to dig deeper. It is time for battle.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Age of Microsoft

I don't normally partake of anything Microsoft in my personal life, but Age of Empires DS: Age of Kings seemed like a winner. The maddening nature of RTS games had been jettisoned in favor of the elegance of turn-based combat. Being a huge fan of Advance Wars: Dual Strike (still the superior title), I used some trade at EB Games to pick up AOE:DS.

During the Battle of the River Crossings in Japan (1159-1160), I faced a fearsome opponent: Yoshinaka, a distant cousin who'd led a surprising revolt against the ruling Taira. Little did I know, he was in league with the dark forces of Microsoft. As I took the main bridges, cornering him, he used his special power: CRASH THE NINTENDO DS SYSTEM.

Now, admittedly, all the commanding officers in the game have special powers - but this is just ridiculous, wouldn't you say? I suppose the Mark of the Beast (Microsoft logo) on the packaging should have been a warning.

To be honest, I don't even want to play the game anymore. I have never had a hand-held game crash on me. Ever. In my whole life. From the thumb-battering Mattel blip-fests of the 70s to the Lynx and a whole slew of Gameboys, not once have I seen a game freeze. Reports on the web have revealed that this crash can cause a fatal error in the gamecard. It can never be used again. My own gamecard seems to function after a hard reset. Others haven't been so lucky.

So where do I want to go today? How about to a planet that isn't infested by Microsoft? Or perhaps back to EB Games, before my copy of Age of Empires DS is... history.

New Word: copstipation

Main Entry: cop-sti-pa-tion
Function: noun
Date: 21st century (2/23/2006)

1: abnormally delayed or infrequent lane changes usually caused by the presence of a police car on the freeway.

This has got to be the single most irritating phenomenon on the freeways. In my experience, it seems that highway patrol cars tend to exceed the speed limit (obviously in pursuit of evil). Yet, a large number of police cruisers (attempting to avoid their crime-fighting duties on surface streets) drive approximately 1 or more miles under the posted speed limit on the freeway. The clog of moronic drivers (terrified to "pass") that collect behind this police cruiser is completely maddening. One is forced to contemplate this passive-agressive stance on the part of the city police. What message, exactly, are they trying to send us through this behavior?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Intelligent Warming?

Is anyone else amused when evangelical Christians suddenly embrace science? Why this sudden fear of global temperature increase? It was in the news this week - a consortium of evangelicals have united against this human-generated apocalypse. But why now? I'm tempted to say its because of all the SUVs they've purchased to haul around their personal Armies for Jesus (e.g., their brainwashed children). Are they feeling the pang of personal responsibility instead of hiding behind their faith?

This reminds me of the bumper-based war of pursuasion that rages on our roads and highways. First came the Christian fish symbol - an identity badge. I am not sure why it became important to announce one's faith to other motorists, but I suspect it may act as a warning for the rest of us. The response of the rationals was to give the Christian fish legs and place the word Darwin inside the body. The Christians, without much thought, responded by forcing their fish to consume the legged fish of Darwin, while also placing the word Truth inside the body of their icon. Clearly, the debate, if it could be called that at all, died at this moment, since the Christians stole a concept from biology ("the big fish eat the little fish") and thus, seem to have inadvertantly defended Darwin's ideas about natrual selection. It seems logical that if you reject the life sciences, you can't in turn leverage the life sciences to make some sort of point about an irrational worldview. As the evangelicals continue their bid to repurpose our language (e.g., turning theory into a naughty word), they also seem quite willing to repurpose science to do their own, inscrutable bidding.