Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Battlefield vs COD and the problems it brings.

As we come towards the end of summer, we start to reach the fever pitch time for videogames. Autumn brings the blockbusters and this year is no different: Deus Ex, Assassin’s Creed, and Batman all have new games alongside some new IP in the form of Dead Island and Rage. However, the killer IPs this year are undoubtedly the new FPS’: EA’s Battlefield 3 and Activision’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, and they are not presenting the industry as a whole in the best light.

Firstly, the sheer presence of the two games is crushing. Even given the list given above, this season is seriously thin on the ground compared to previous years. Two multi-million pound backed behemoth’s which will dominate the market beyond any shadow of a doubt, one of them (COD) already expected to the best selling media property ever on its release, outstripping it’s predecessor Black Ops. Who in their right mind would want to compete with that. The only people publishing in similar windows are either really established brands like Batman or Assassin’s Creed or games coming from publishing houses with a truly formidable reputation, like Rage from id Software. The focus on these is crushing competition and independent development in a way not seen in other media. The sheer cost of producing games compared to films ensures this, as does the outrageous marketing budget soon to propel both games into mainstream consciousness.

This is a sad situation, but it’s one which we can’t really blame the developers for too much. As consumers we decide what to buy, and the whatever things we buy get reproduced ad nauseam. What we can blame on the developers though, or at least the publishers, is the childish bickering and oneupsmanship that has dogged the two companies marketing campaigns and promotional interviews. I won’t go into specifics here because 5 minutes on google can bring you all the sorry details you could ever want but the damage that this is doing in indescribable. We must remember that as artform games are still in their infancy, striving for validity and acceptance, while the world at large still sees them as teenage boys plaything. How can we possibly portray these games as being adult when the two biggest publishing houses act like children themselves? Its shameful and in the end everybody loses. We must expect better of those two titans of the industry.

And finally, in relation to that, these two big games are essentially built around the same principle: isn’t it cool to shoot people. The supposed link between games and violence in teens and young adults is thankfully finding its rightful place in the rubbish bin as did previous links with heavy metal and films but there is a stubborn refusal in some elements of society to let go of games as being predominantly violent. These two releases don’t help, and neither does a schedule which includes Assassin’s Creed, Rage and Dead Island. Heck even Batman beats people to a bloody pulp. With the exception of annual mainstay FIFA 11, every single game has you killing the bad guy as the endgame. There needs to be a greater depth. Even if you insist on sticking with shooters there are beautiful possibilities in games like Child of Eden whose auditory and visual experience is unmatched in almost any medium. And you’re not shooting anyone, you’re cleansing a virus from a computer system, where success isn’t shown by explosions and blood but by bursts of colour and musical notes. This is where the future should lie, otherwise all we’ll be doing is propagating the same negative stereotypes that we so want to avoid.

Review: Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught on Tape

Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught on Tape
Record Label: SideOneDummy
Release Date: September 21st, 2010

Support slots are interesting dilemmas. On the one hand they take up valued time and space from your favourite band and more often than not do not have the talent to hold your interest for the course of their diminished setlist. On the other hand, every now and then you stumble across a real treasure trove of a find; one that makes sitting through all the rest of the dross worthwhile. One such band is Fake Problems who I first discovered because of the support slot under the Gaslight Anthem, arguably the finest band in modern music (seriously don’t get me started, it’s my favourite soapbox…). They are that fantastic kind of band that sound like everything at once and so sound like nothing whatsoever. Confused? Allow me to explain…

Over the course of this 40 minute album the genre ranges from indie to pop to folk to punk to rockabilly to funk and back again, often within the space of about a minute. That’s the kind of style that’s incredibly difficult to pull off at all, and even harder to do it within any sense cohesion. Fake Problems however, manage to do it with consummate ease. Everything fits together as well as that old Lego set from your childhood but is infinitely more fresh than that musty collection probably is now… Any fan of their back catalogue could tell you to expect this, but for a newcomer to the band the variety is truly refreshing and liberating. Even if you think it might be confused and incoherent, there’s something in here to sell it to most people.

It’s catchy enough for disposable listens but there’s a much deeper layer to anyone who wants to find it, and the same can be said for the lyrics. While lines like “I was hollow as a ghost, but you have brought me back to life and revived the hope” aren’t exactly heart-wrenching poetry there’s a subtle eccentricity to the lines that are the kind you just don’t find in everyday pop music. Thankfully the avoidance of mingling with any particular “scenes” means there is not an overwhelming emphasis on making the lyrics fit a certain mood or style which just makes them even more refreshing. Lead singer Chris Fallan’s voice has a similar vein running through. Just high-pitched and quirky enough to be comfortable next to label-mates on primarily pop-punk label SideOneDummy but just with that little individual twist to make him stand out.

Songwise they barely miss a step. It’s the kind of album you like when you first listen because of the immediacy but reveals deeper levels the more time you give it. Tracks like ADT, 5678 and Soulless are joyful dance numbers but ones that feature complex musical structures beneath it which creep into your head quicker than you’d think. Even slower numbers like White Lies still have a memorable quirkiness which eventually gets superseded by its emotional resonance. Truly this is a remarkable album by a remarkable band, and one surely destined for headline slots of their own.

8.5/10

Review: Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones
Record Label: Xtra Mile/Epitaph
Release Date: June 6, 2011

Frank Turner seems to have exploded recently. Support slots on Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour in the US and increasingly large headlining shows back in the UK with bands as big as Against Me! supporting, combined with the ever growing popularity of singer-songwriters have made him bigger than ever and dabbling with mainstream charts and interests. While this success is totally deserved, it was the mainstream “rock” sound, complete with full electric band in tow, that led to some fans being disappointed with Turner’s last effort Poetry of the Deed. The bad news is that if you were one of those people then England Keep My Bones will do little to change your mind. The good news, however, is that the rest of us shouldn’t care if it’s the stripped back acoustic or the fuller band sound, because yet again Frank Turner has crafted one of the best albums you’re likely to hear this year.

Opener “Eulogy” is an opener both in style and in placement, and is this kind of slow building anthemic rhyme that really gets a crowd going. With tempting lines ‘on the day I died, I’ll say at least I fucking tried and that’s the only Eulogy I need’ you just know every fan in the crowd will be with him, echoing not just the words but also the sentiment back. The album in general keeps this feel of camaraderie strong throughout, echoing loyalty and love between not just friends, as has always been a strong theme in Turner’s recordings, but also family on “Peggy Sang the Blues,” fans on “I Still Believe” through the ridiculous but also genius idea of recording the crowds from the festivals at Reading and Leeds 2010, and most importantly location.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, Turner is vehemently proud of his English home on this album, with patriotism flowing through several of the songs. The impressive thing is that it never feels exclusive. It’s incredibly easy to turn patriotism into nationalism and leave the impression that England and the English are the pinnacle and everyone else falls short, a problem sadly all too occurrent in popular English culture and society at the minute. Turner impressively manages to completely avoid any of this by personalising his ideas and sharing some of his most personal emotions with the listener, making the whole experience one of inclusion not exclusion. As an Englishman there is definitely a strong sense of pride you can feel listening to songs like “Rivers” and “If Ever I Stray,” but the way the songs are sung means those of other nations can feel nothing but the love in the song and embrace it themselves, maybe thinking of their own loyalties in Turner’s words.

Lyrically Turner is as brilliant as ever. His words seem to channel exactly what his fans believe and say. Lines like ‘I still believe that every one can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won’ and ‘love is free and live is cheap and as long as I got me a place to sleep, some clothes on my back and some food to eat then I can’t ask for anything more’ have the inimitable trick of being both broadly relatable to, but also deeply personal. It’s a cliche to say, but it’s like the songs are being sung directly about you, even though you know they’re not, and that’s a skill Turner seems to have perfected. Even on more difficult themes like mortality and religion, areas where not everyone will show the same atheistic conviction he sings of on “Glory Hallelujah”, the expression carries them through. A devout religious figure will probably have some discomfort singing the lyrics ‘there never was no God’ but again the song doesn’t feel like it’s an attack on religion. It’s put forward with such poetry and passion that it’s more a celebration of where Turner is in life and the road he took to get there.

As I mentioned before, this is no longer pure folk music. The number of electric songs significantly outweigh the stripped back acoustic numbers (although the ratio diminishes somewhat if you buy the beautifully packaged special edition with extra tracks) and this is a problem for some people that there is just no way to get around. Similarly the rougher production of Sleep is for the Week has been sacrificed more a much cleaner sound throughout, and although it suits the songs, it will still disappoint some. Songs like “Nights Become Days” and “English Curse” still have the sparse feeling that was laced through Turner’s earlier albums but if you yearn for that sound throughout then you’ll be left wanting. The full sound dominates the other tracks, but they’re so joyous and passionate that it’s impossible not to fall for them, even if it takes a couple of listens. “Peggy Sang the Blues”, “If Ever I Stray” and “Wessex Boy” are perfect examples of how uptempo and upbeat songs don’t have to be disposal pop tracks that you forget seconds after they’ve finished.

Lyrically and musically, Frank Turner has completed a fantastic album, and one that will probably be on many critics Best Of 2011 lists at the end of the year. It might not be folk in its style and execution, but it’s ideas, passion and camaraderie are themes that have coursed through the folk scene in practically every one of its iterations throughout the years. There is little here not to like if you’re willing to let yourself, so ignore your folk pretensions and celebrate one of the most joyous, sincere and well-written albums you’re likely to hear all year.

9/10

Review: Frank Turner – Love, Ire & Song

Frank Turner – Love Ire & Song
Record Label: Xtra Mile Recordings/Epitaph
Release Date: March 31, 2008

There’s always been a link between punk and folk. It all started from a common ideal: punk originated principally as an anti-establishment movement, concerned with youthful rebellion and idealistic attempts to change the world for the better; folk had Bob Dylan (and others like him). This sums it all up pretty well, and while this thematic link may have been diluted over the years by the explosion of pop-punk bands and the commercialisation of folk music, it has still been a common stylistic shift for punk singers looking to broaden their horizons. Mike Ness, Chuck Ragan and Dustin Kensrue have all proved it is possible, but undoubtedly one of the finest examples that can be found is Love Ire & Song, the second solo album by ex Million Dead vocalist Frank Turner.

Lyrically the album is practically flawless. Turner seems to have the ability to make almost any sentence both poetic and accessible. “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot” is an excellent example: “He’s not as clever as he likes to think. He’s just ambitious with his arguing. He’s crap at dancing and he can’t hold his drink. Deep down he’s just like everybody.” Many people can write a beautiful poetic line, although sometimes they are seen as guilty pleasures, too pretentious and soft to be talked about over a pint when you’re chatting about music. What makes Turner’s lyrics so incredible is that you can imagine absolutely anyone having no problem reciting them: they are fundamentally relatable. This is something you would say, if only you had the ability to express it in such an artistic way. Examples of this flow fast and thick throughout the album: the closing to “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” is exactly the way I want to live my life, “Substitute” is the most sincere yet least sappy love song I’ve ever heard, “Long Live The Queen” is a poignant tribute to life lost and the final few stanzas of “Love Ire & Song” are simply sublime.

What helps is Turner’s impeccable vocal delivery. It’s a fundamentally British voice; the accent makes that clear as well as the geography of “To Take You Home,” but the passion and delivery behind it transcends any idea of it being a localised taste. While it may not be as obviously captivating as Dallas Green or as rough-n-ready as Mike Ness, it instead sits somewhere in the middle. Backed up by an impressive array of instrumentation that all seems to fit together exceptionally well, it creates a sound that practically anyone can enjoy on a variety of levels, as can be seen by the huge variety you can see in the audience at any Frank Turner gig.

If I had to be critical, and I suppose for the sake of balance I probably should, I could point out that there’s not a great deal of originality here. While the musicianship, vocals and lyrics are all exceptional, the style they represent is as old as the guitar itself, and the content is little more than a modern twist on the personal and political revolutions folk singers have been espousing for decades. But then there’s a reason why Turner is still leaning on a style older than he himself is: it’s timeless, and those folk singers who manage to capture the true spirit and feel of it become timeless themselves.

And anyway, to focus on such criticisms would be to fundamentally miss the point of Love Ire & Song. It is a celebration of life, and all the positive and negative things which constitute it; best friends, drunken nights in the local pub, lost loves, the passage of time and burning ideologies which all motivate the paths we take and the choices we make. Rarely has there been a celebration as joyous, poetic and meaningful as Turner has managed to create here. It’s a classic folk album performed by one of the finest singer-songwriters recording right now; the perfect marriage of the passion of punk and the poignancy of folk into a perfectly distilled union. Plus if you buy the most recent release you get the 23 song B-Side album The First Three Years for free, and who can say no to that?

9/10

New updates coming

OK so I’ve been pretty busy recently what with working ’til 8 most nights, spending half my days off applying for new jobs and scrimping enough money together to manage a few weeks abroad here and there, and sadly this blog has suffered for it. The length since my last post is quite worrying but thankfully this does not indicate a lack of writing my friends. No there has been plenty published on various places by yours truly recently and it’s just been a poor show on my part in terms of collating them all together on this here website so prepare for a couple more reviews to pop up, mostly of my new favourite Frank Turner, and the odd soap-box rant to show its face in the next hour or so…

Just press play!

Welcome to everyone who comes to see this.

This will (fingers crossed) become a nice base for me to combine all the stuff I’ve written for a variety of different websites, and also some original stuff when the demands of bookselling don’t take up my every waking second.

Hope you enjoy!