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Thursday, November 19, 2009

What is up, women of Top Chef

When I was in high school, one of the local access stations aired dubbed broadcasts of the Japanese Iron Chef. It was fascinating. Prior to this, the only food preparation I'd ever witnessed on television were on the morning news or Martha Stewart. Then came the suburban pornography that is Food Network. Food-based programming was the next big thing before vampires were the next big thing (again). Even the Travel Channel seems to be more about exotic foods these days than actual travel. Years of food-focused television have shown me that the majority of chefs on TV claim the greatest food they've ever had has been family dinners prepared by mothers and grandmothers. Maternal figures around the world seem to thrive off of the satisfaction of their clan's collective mastication. So why do women seem to have such a hard time on the most popular food competition in the US, Top Chef? It seems like every time a decent female chef makes it anywhere in that competition, they always shoot themselves right in the foot.

Season One's cutthroat fireball Tiffani Faison made it all the way to the finale and tried to impress by making twice the required number of dishes. Quantity does not equate to quality, however, and she was unanimously shut down in favor of Harold's smaller but more satisfying menu.

There was absolutely no arguing against Elia Aboumrad being one of the most talented chefs in Season Two, and while her snapper and poke were not mind-blowingly fantastic, the judges were clearly upset to see Elia pressured by her peers to accuse Marcel of cheating. Disappointment was compounded by her inability to produce any evidence, and so Elia had to go, proving once again that in reality television, as in life, no one likes a tattletale.

Casey Thompson impressed, racking up the most elimination challenge wins of any of Season Three's finalists. She was focused, determined, and one hell of a kickass chef. It seemed like we might have finally had our first female Top Chef. Her four final courses, however, were middling, leaving the judges to choose between the other two hit-or-miss male chefs. Casey did get some form of redemption, though, in being awarded the season's "fan-favorite."

And then there was Season Four, Top Chef Chicago, and Stephanie Izard, one of the most consistently excellent contestants in the history of the show. It was no surprise to most when she won the Top Chef title over the talented but cocky Richard Blaise. Even less of a surprise is what a shill she's been since, happy to smile for the camera and endorse whatever product the producers ask. I'm sure it's in her contract, but curious we've never seen any of the male Top Chef winners whored out this much.

Carla Hall was a dark horse favorite entering the Season Five finale, having wowed the judges during the last round in New York with – believe it or not – fresh peas. She was often praised for bringing her personality and love into her food, and things were looking up for Carla as the finale was set in national soul food capitol, New Orleans. Alas, triumph was not meant to be as the motherly oddball Carla was partnered with the aforementioned runner-up and super-precise Casey. Their cooking styles did not mesh and neither did their personalities – the passive Carla let non-contestant Casey change the menu and direction. Without her signature love, Carla did not stand a chance.

The final episodes before Season Six's finale were not looking too bright for the double-X chromosome either. Jennifer Carroll, the only female chef worth a damn of the bunch, had been a top competitor for the first eight weeks, then suddenly experienced a dearth of confidence, motivation, and enthusiasm. Head judge Tom Collichio noticed this and suggested she might have hit a wall in the competition's marathon pace. Restitution came with the final quickfire in Las Vegas, however, as host Padma Lakshmi tasted Jennifer's ballotine, looked up at her and plainly said "welcome back."

And so we enter the season six finale in Napa, California. Jennifer remains among the finalists, against fierce competitors Kevin Gillespie and the brothers Voltaggio, Bryan and Michael. She could just as easily be outclassed or blow the competition away. Top Chef is undoubtedly a pop culture phenomenon, with cookbooks, party games, and of course kitchen utensils on store shelves this holiday season. A seventh proper season, a second run at Top Chef Masters (the celebrity chef charity spin-off), and two new branches to the franchise (Top Chef Junior and Just Desserts) are all in the early stages of production, and with them many more potentially fantastic female flavor forerunners. And so I humbly beseech you, sisters, mothers, daughters and wives, learn from the mistakes of the women who fell before you. Do not second guess your talent, do not bow to the whims of those more confident than you, remember that you made it this far for being yourself because you are wonderful. There is no reason for men to be so routinely winning at this game. It is your biological imperative to feed the future generations. Do so with your legacy.

9:00 PM
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And They Called It Rocktober – Thoughts on Brütal Legend

One week ago today, a video game called Brütal Legend was released in video game and electronic stores around the country. Six days ago, one week minus one day, for the first time in my life I sat down and played one video game for seven hours straight, from popping in the disc and enjoying the opening cinema straight on through the end credits. With the exception of short independent computer games, I don't think I'd ever "completed" a game in one sitting before. It speaks a great deal about the compelling story and presentation of Brütal Legend, though, that I did not want to put the controller down or stray away from the main story for seven straight hours. The script is superbly written, some of the most human and pleasant material I've ever experienced since the first time I watched Casablanca when I was thirteen years old. I also played the game on the "Gentle" difficulty setting because I quickly realized I was having more fun enjoying the story than struggling as demons killed me, so that probably shortened the play length as well.

Most importantly, though, I inadvertently skipped HUNDREDS of side-quests and collectibles. Sure, the game did tell you that black dots on the map represented secondary missions and that you could find MotorForges to purchase upgrades, and you did quickly notice that there were glowing slabs hidden around the map to learn new super-powered guitar solos, but nowhere does the game expressly inform you of the presence of thirteen Legends, thirty-two Landmarks, and one-hundred-twenty Bound Serpents to find that couple with the more obvious nine Solos, twenty-four Jumps, twenty-three Buried Metal and eleven MotorForges that add up to a 100% completed game. That's two-hundred twenty-two collectibles, plus all the missions and side missions. I guess Double Fine realized they couldn't fit 666 collectibles and decided to do one-third of that.

Shortly after finishing the main quest of the game I began to complain that the story seemed to be missing something. Observe, the story of the game goes like this: [SPOILERS FOLLOW THIS POINT]
Intro • Recruit Army • Battle Glams • Battle Goths • Sudden Final Boss • Outro

Playing the game, the relationship of the Metalheads to the rival factions of Glams and Goths was both incredibly thoughtful and impressively laughable (in a good way, the game is a comedy, after all), but the fact that you fought two tribes with a telegrammed intermission between made it feel as though the game was possibly missing a third act. The action was set up, then it escalated, and then it ended. The emotional/moral/whatever climax occurred pretty much one minute before the final boss fight, which only serves to support the claim that, unlike other forms of media, games typically lack a denouement, which is a shame in a game with such splendid care in its storytelling.

11:16 PM
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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Trailer Review: Fig. 8

I love Intuition Games. They're one of the more interesting, envelope-pushing indie browser game developers out there right now. Check out this quick write-up I did of their game Effing Hail back in April. Shortly after that, they released Gray, a simple little riot simulator that won my heart.

Over the past week I've watched the trailer for their upcoming project Fig. 8 easily a dozen times. I'm transfixed. It's beautiful in its simplicity. Control a bicycle as it glides top-down through black-and-white technical graphics and their accompanying calligraphy. It's so much exactly my aesthetic, I'd almost swear it were part of skip's BitGenerations/Art Style series for Nintendo.

Check out the trailer and see for yourself:

Seems as though the bicycle's front tire leaves a trail of red ink while the rear tire leaves blue. When the two lines match up to form violet, your points are multiplied, and the multiplier increases the longer and farther you travel with that violet line. I'm guessing points are scored for how long your line is, so making lots of loops in open areas nets more points than just drawing a straight line through it.

This is sure to be a game that speaks directly to the engineers and graphic designers of the world, but I hope everyone else finds it rad too. I'll be keeping an eye out for its release, which is sure to be any day now.

3:00 PM
1 comments sanskrit

Friday, July 31, 2009

Super Mario Summer

I was recently sent this absolutely charming one-man tribute to the Super Mario World soundtrack. Aside from being a rather stunning piece of music arrangement by a fan, it's also pretty much perfect music for a balmy summer day like the one hitting NYC right now:

Feel free to download the whole thing for free right here.

xoc, the artist behind this (real name: Jason Cox), also did a similar project for Kirby's Adventure available here. Check out xoc's website for more.

11:30 AM
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't Forget to Breathe

Dan sent this video my way earlier today and I couldn't contain the awkward smile:

Sure, there's some hilarious editing going on here, but WOW, I kind of can't believe that source material exists.
Is it written somewhere that all children's show hosts must be creepy beyond rational belief?

2:00 PM
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Fun" With Photoshop

I was asked earlier today to make a quick li'l photoshop for Nerve's front page. Here's what I came up with:

There was a great deal of chuckling.

About an hour later it was deemed "too disturbing" by one of the editors and I had to switch it out for this:

Decidedly less fun, but everyone who visted the site between 12:30 and 2:00 today got to enjoy that first one, so they are the winners in all of this, right?

2:45 PM
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Record Review - Discovery's LP

Hit "play" on the debut from Ra Ra Riot/Vampire Weekend sideproject Discovery and be prepared to be instantly smitten with the tongue-in-cheek goofiness of opener "Orange Shirt"'s pulse synth stabs, 80's summer jam beat, and overall vibe of madras shorts at dusk. Keep listening past that first song, though, and you're likely to get nauseous. The following nine tracks follow the same formula as the first, like a bad joke that just doesn't get any funnier with each retelling, and suffer from the abdomen-stabbing addition of auto-tune. Discovery's LP is a bad idea, do not give it the opportunity to spread.

1:00 PM
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Tron Legacy Hype Train Now Leaving The Station

People (nerds) have been clamoring for a sequel to Disney's proto-techno-cult hit Tron ever since, well, it became a cult hit. Now that the geeks have inherited the Earth (or at least a fair share of mainstream pop culture), it's finally happening.

It was confirmed back in March that electronic pioneers Daft Punk had signed on to score the film, which meant that at the very least the film's soundtrack would be worth the consumers' dollars. At this past weekend's San Diego Comic-Con, Disney unveiled the first trailer for the film, along with its title:

While there is a noticeable lack of Daft Punk in the trailer for Tron Legacy, there is just about enough fan service to get dorky hearts a-thumping. Hell, the thing already looks like a Daft Punk music video without the music.

I may not be fully aware of what movies are coming out in 2010 (I think I know maybe seven?) but Tron Legacy is totally my number 2 most anticipated film of the year right now, just behind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and just ahead of Iron Man 2. Man, I'm such a dweeb...

11:30 AM
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Indie Rock Karaoke Is Getting Better All The Time

So a little over a month ago I finally got with the times and bought a set-up for Rock Band, the up-to-four-player rock and roll karaoke video game with plastic guitars and drums. Among the first things I did was browse the lineup of the weekly-updated Rock Band Store. Rock Band's song selection tends to skew a bit more towards the indie rock while Guitar Hero's aims for the head-banging arena rock crowd, and Rock Band also tends to add at least twice as many tracks a week as Guitar Hero, so I was looking forward to a lot of good stuff. Sadly, I didn't spend more than a few bucks, downloading only a few tracks from TV On The Radio, Elvis Costello, the Von Bondies, the Zombies and Blondie. It makes sense, they want to make money so they focus more on mainstream crowd-pleasers like Pearl Jam and Green Day, but I really don't care about those at all.

Earlier this week, Harmonix, the studio behind Rock Band and the first two Guitar Heros, among others, unveiled their user-generated music platform, Rock Band Network:

Basically, any musician with access to the program (entering beta soon) can take their own master recordings, program the beat layouts for the guitar, bass and drum tracks, even the vocals, and then upload them to the Rock Band Network where they can then be sold to players around the world with the profit going right back to the musician. Awesomesauce, but that's a whole extra level of complicated work, making the playable patterns for the game. Surely only dedicated bedroom musicians will do this, no bands you've actually heard of, right?

Wrong, because IGN just reported that Sub Pop records plans to release its entire catalog of music on Rock Band Network after they've learned the technology. Its entire catalog! The big'uns in there include Nirvana's Bleach and the Postal Service's Give Up, but that also means we could soon see an influx of tracks and albums from the Thermals, Sunny Day Real Estate, CSS, the Go! Team, Wolf Parade, Flight of the Conchords, Fleet Foxes, Low, Hot Hot Heat, No Age, Foals, the Jesus and Mary Chain and a ton of others. I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally hope somebody at Sub Pop learns how to program those tracks with great quality and frequency, because this is going to be awesome.

11:00 AM
1 comments sanskrit

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chiptune Tribute Albums: Daft Punk vs. Weezer vs. nerds

Two fairly prominent chiptune tribute albums have been released in the past month: Da Chip and Weezer - The 8-bit Album, based on the music of Daft Punk and Weezer respectively. On the one hand, this perfectly shows exactly what kinds of nerds were into both bands and what kind of nerds chiptune musicians are, namely exactly the kinds of nerds I am. It was hard to find bands more prominently dorky in the 1990s than robo-electronic pioneers Daft Punk and thick-glasses garage dweebs Weezer, and it was just as hard at the time to not be romantically whisked away by the wonderlands of 8- and 16-bit videogames, so naturally the two worlds should meet in euphonic bliss, no? Well, not quite.

The most glaring issue with Da Chip is that it immediately seems all too easy. Daft Punk were already making electronic music. Covering those songs in a more primitive electronic format comes across as little more than gimmick, not quite tribute. Only EvilWezil's take on Discovery's "Veridis Quo" breaks the structure of the source material enough to be interesting on its own. This brings to mind the other instantly recognizable issue with Da Chip, the complete absence of Human After All. I accept that Daft Punk's third LP is their least popular, but seriously, an entire tribute based around two albums seems a little off. "Technologic" practically lends itself to chip-love, and any of the other tracks would have been sweet too, especially "Make Love."

As for Weezer, well, the covers are varying degrees of successful. It's often distracting to hear vocals in chiptune, especially when the musicians are very much not singers, as in the case of Anamanaguchi's take on "Holiday." With the exception of videogame orchestra's Castlevania-inspired take on "Island in the Sun" and Bit Shifter's glow-stick-raver "The World Has Turned And Left Me Here," the songs are all pretty straightforward covers. Tugboat's "El Scorcho" winds up a sconce adorable and would fit in perfectly on the Little Nemo: The Dream Master soundtrack. While neither is particularly impressive, both seal of quality's "Hash Pipe" and Unicorn Dream Attack's "Jamie" are entirely likable fun. The biggest disappointment of the bunch, without question, is nordloef's "Buddy Holly" which forgoes any sense of experimentation or playfulness in favor of a straight midi cover with a fist-pumping club beat.

There's also a three-disc chiptune Prodigy tribute in the works, which I believe makes this a full-on fad. Thankfully, most of these chip-artists are still producing original works that are far better than these tributes. Sadly, only those of us who were already dweebs even know that. The lack of real excitement in these tributes shows and newcomers will ultimately see these as gimmicks and walk away with a laugh.

5:00 PM
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Space Invaders: Infinity Gene will rock my iPod so hard

TAITO just released this trailer for the iPhone/iTouch port of their mobile phone hit Space Invaders Infinite Gene. It's the most exciting thing I've seen on the internet in weeks on a purely speculative level.

Space Invaders was the first videogame I truly loved as a child, the somewhat genius reimagining Space Invaders Extreme was my ninth favorite video game on 2008 and I'm very much interested in the upcoming SIE2, but wow, Infinite Gene is exactly what I want right now:

Sure, it's cool that you can finally break away from the x-axis and that there are bosses and cool visual effects, but that makes it like pretty much every top-down shooter on the market these days. What really excites me is that part about generating custom levels based on the music on your iPod. Procedurally-generated stages reading from the music you choose to listen to? Radtastic! And hopefully there will still be tons of the old-school Space Invaders charm to make the game feel unique, yet familiar.

TAITO says it should be hitting the App Store soon. I am officially on the lookout.

6:00 PM
2 comments sanskrit

Akai's Tiny New USB Keyboard & Drumpad Look Sweet!!!

The second purchase I made in the pursuit of really making music in college was an M-Audio Oxygen 8 MIDI controller (pictured at right, the first purchase was a cheap microphone). Despite its compact size and rampant affordability, it was totally a professional keyboard. I bought it at a big fancy music store and have since seen the same model on many a concert stage played by big professional bands. Sure, its many knobs didn't do anything in my decidedly lo-fi recording environment, but it still did just about everything I asked it to with ease. Lately, though, it's keys have been sticking on notes, and that's kind of a major drag when recording. I hate to think about buying a replacement for the girl who has been so good to me for nearly six years, but then I saw these two beauties coming soon from Akai:

USB-powered and 13 inches long, these babies are designed to fit in laptop bags for the musician on the go. I've actually been wanting a usb drum pad for a while, and since M-Audio discontinued the Trigger Finger my options have been bleak. Even though I do the vast majority of my recording at home, I've enjoyed bringing equipment with me to friends houses and parties, so the added portability is a definite plus. Also, these beasts are gorgeous.

12:52 PM
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Office 2010: The Movie

I'm an Apple nerd. That should come as no surprise. I avoid using Microsoft products whenever possible. As such, I'm pretty sure I will never use Microsoft Office 2010, but I can still love this promotional film:

Fun fact, the shot of the guy getting on the motorcycle at 1:23 is right up the block from my office. I'd know that corner of the Puck Building anywhere.

5:30 PM
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Record Review - Think About Life's Family

Were it not for my unhealthy craving to rank any and all things in relation to each other, I might not have remembered that Think About Life's self-titled debut was my #1 favorite album on 2006. Were that the case, I likely wouldn't have even known they had a new album, especially considering there is no release date scheduled outside of Canada. Thankfully, I do have that number fetish, and I do remember, and I have the Canadian release of Family, and even better, it's fantastic.

Whereas Think About Life was a series of experimental demos disguised as an experimental album, Family is pure pop bliss. The boys of TAL have learned to use their wild, multitasking energy and focus it into ten tracks so deliriously danceable that you'd hardly believe they were the same band. The sound is fuller, yet still somehow dissonant and just amateur enough to feel genuine. "Sweet Sixteen" and "Set You on Fire" could be instant number-one-summer-jams, but the absolute winner is album closer "Life of Crime", with its gently building rhythmic loops, foot-stomping beat, and compelling lyrics:
It could be the raging bull in all of us, or the lion's paw at the back of my throat... And even if it takes the life of another man, it's the only crime I know by now, the only crime I know by heart. It's the only crime I must confess. The only crime I'm guilty of... is falling in love.

4:00 PM
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Phrazes For The Young

If the teaser video is any indication of what the album will sound like, I think this Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) solo project is heavily inspired by Ratatat:

2:15 PM
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