Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Review

Full disclosure: I hate disco. I get along with almost all genres. I am pretty music-agnostic, but there is some stuff that I just don’t understand. If I have to, I can tolerate being in the same room as music with Latin influences; flamenco, meringue, mariachi, salsa, tango, Santana, etc. I am a sucker for anything with a heavy Calypso beat, so Mexican rap and Pitbull get a pass. What I can’t stand in any capacity is disco. This may slightly color my opinion of Daft Punk’s latest album.

If you would describe your hair as “feathered”, or if you have a non-ironic moustache and you have no idea who Nick Offerman is, or if your gym shorts have slits all the way up the sides, or if you roller skate but you don’t work at Sonic, then you will probably love Random Access Memories. Personally, I had to turn it off after two and half songs, or I would have tried to light my speakers on fire to make the disco stop.

Trust me, as someone who dabbles in both electronic and audio engineering, I love the concept of vocoders. I think that the low barrier of entry into electronic music production is ushering in a golden age of digital content creation. I also think that it is important that we use the tools that we are given to move this relatively new artform forward. Layering vocoded vocals on top of disco doesn’t make it new. Synthesizing disco in 2013 does nothing to honor Bob Moog’s memory.

Random Access Memories gets a one out of five. Because I could only listen to 1/5th of it before trying to take my own life. Also, because there is a one out of five chance that Kanye West will remix one of the tracks and make a listenable hit song out of it.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn – Review

Welcome to the very first Loudifier Saturday Morning Movie Review. Last weekend I finally hooked up my Xbox 360 to the intertron. Holy cow! There’s a lot of stuff out there in Xbox Live land. I stumbled across a live-action Halo movie, Forward Unto Dawn, and, like a UNSC cruiser sucked in by a Promethean gravity well, I didn’t have any choice but to watch it, and I decided I had to do a review.

 

Forward Unto Dawn was a web series made as a promotion for Halo 4, designed to introduce the Halo universe to the uninitiated. After Halo 4’s release they took the five fifteen-minute episodes and squished them together to create a seamless feature-length (or at least almost feature-length) film. The funny thing is, if they had given the final movie a theatrical release it would have gone gangbusters at the box office. This is easily the best movie-based-on-a-video-game out there. However, you should take that statement with a large grain of salt; I actually kind of liked the Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat movies.

The canon for the Halo universe falls into two major categories: games and books. The games give you the futuristic, fast-paced action, floaty physics and detailed, immersive settings that redefined the FPS genre when the original title was released. The books give you a window into the be-helmetted head of the Master Chief, and show you that underneath the half-ton of fusion-powered armor, John 117 is just a guy, trying to do his part to save humanity. Forward Unto Dawn falls very much on the book side of this division, although the action sequences manage to capture the feeling of the games.

If you have read The Fall of Reach, or Ghosts of Onyx, you will have seen this basic story already. Kid gets conscripted into the military, is subjected to training that pushes the limits of human endurance, brainwashed into zealotry against a merciless, mostly conceptual enemy, and then all hell breaks loose when something else attacks. The kid in this case is Cadet Thomas Lasky, son of the Grand Poobah of Something-or-Other in the UNSC. Tom is training at the Corbulo Academy of Military Science, which is like a ROTC on crack for the children of high-ranking UNSC officers. This is before the outbreak of the Human-Covenant war, so they play war games with other trainees, complete with cryogenic freezing, to train for battles with insurrectionists.

Tom doesn’t really buy into the whole “insurrectionists are evil and want to eat your brain” convictions that everyone around him has. Unfortunately, his almost-girlfriend is the person near him who is the most fervent in her hatred of the “innies”. Just as the Spartans did at the Reach training facility, he is struggling to keep his head above water with the brutal pace of his training, and is figuring out how work in a team and what it means to be devoted to a cause and to follow orders. And then the Covenant attack.

Cadet Lansky and some of his friends manage to survive, running and hiding from one of the Covenant’s iconic active-camouflaged lightsaber energy-sword-wielding elites, until none other than the Master Chief himself shows up to save the day. The conversation that ensues is very reminiscent of the Chief saving a group of marines just before Reach is overwhelmed.

"Why did you come for us?"
"You are the only survivors remaining."
"At the school?"
"On the planet."

The special effects are pretty good, with excellent CGI. The loping movement of the elites, the badass energy swords, and the projectiles from Covenant needlers are particularly frightening.

oh shit

The props, sets, and costuming are a cosplayer’s wet dream. The MA5B assault rifles are perfect, most of the sound effects are the same ones used in the games, and they built a warthog. An honest-to-god — sliding around corners, with wheels in the back that turn, and a chaingun on top of it — warthog.

 

The Chief’s armor is great, but I feel like the actor moved around a bit too much in it. He didn’t have the mechanical precision I would have expected from a cyborg of his pedigree, but that is really a small complaint, and is the only thing that doesn’t quite match the motion of the characters and enemies in the games.

Without getting too spoileriffic, I will say that we don’t get to see the Master Chief’s face (of course), but we do get to see both Kelly and Fred. It turns out that Kelly’s face is… intense.

just... please don't kill me, Kelly

She’s kind of a bug-eyed freak with scars on her face and a million-mile stare. I have to give them credit for not just sticking some hot blonde in a space suit. It would have worked well with the target market for a movie like this, but it wouldn’t have really fit in context of the antisocial, asexual Spartans. Oh well, maybe Linda’s cute. 

There are scenes where Cortana is rambling and yelling at herself, and threatening to kill the Chief, while he is frozen in a cryo tube and they are floating dead in space. For those who don’t know about Cortana being a “smart” AI, susceptible to rampancy, this won’t make any sense. This is important to the plot of Halo 4, so it is important when Forward Unto Dawn is used to promote Halo 4, but it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the events at the Corbulo Academy. It comes off as confusing and unnecessary, especially now that Halo 4 is out.

Overall, I am really surprised at the effort and attention to detail that was taken to make a silly web series as a promotion for a video game. The sets and action aren’t as grandiose as something like Transformers, but with less than a tenth of the budget, Forward Unto Dawn definitely comes close in production value. Considering how well this venture turned out, I would be shocked if Microsoft didn’t decide to bankroll an actual full-length film with a theatrical release to coincide with Halo 5.

Overall, I give Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn four terrifying invisible elites with energy-swords hunting you down out of five. Yes, fan service abounds, but it is remarkable how well the creators of Forward Unto Dawn were able to craft a story that stands on its own, but still fits perfectly in the Halo universe.

With youngsters being trained in simulated battle to fight for the future of humanity, and a protagonist that is conflicted about his position and his responsibilities in the military, parallels must be drawn between this movie and the upcoming Ender’s Game. As a die-hard fan of both the Halo series and the Ender’s Game series, if Ender’s Game is half as good as Forward Unto Dawn, I will be thrilled.

Some of the images for this review came from halofanforlife.com. If you’re the graphic novel type, screenshots from the blu-ray have been adapted into a graphic novel for all five episodes, so head over and check it out.

Macklemore x Ryan Lewis – The Heist – Review

Holy white hipster rapper, Batman!

The Heist

I have two warnings about The Heist. One: This album will blow you away. Be prepared to  sit down and listen to it from start to finish, because stopping halfway through is not an option. Two: This album is political. Not everywhere, but strongly in places. I have said before that I hate being preached at when I am just trying to enjoy some music, but this album is so good, that I don’t even care.

Six months ago my fiance said “Hey, have you heard this Macklemore guy? He’s some local rapper with this huge indie following.” She was right, but I didn’t get around to listening to him until now, when “Thrift Shop” is suddenly everywhere. You know, that goofy rap song you keep hearing on the radio with the funky saxophone hook. Actually listening to the lyrics, talking about shopping at thrift stores, and criticizing people who overpay for fashion, with lines like “Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch. I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business” I am wondering who this hipster rapper is, and then I find out he’s from Capitol Hill. Ooooooohhhh. Got it.

For people who aren’t from Seattle, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s gay neighborhood. It’s a lot of other things, but it is generally a region of the city where indie theater, angry music, and the LGBT community thrive. So when I hear something like “The Tea Party is marching on Capitol Hill” I picture Sarah Palin in the middle of a Pride rally. Capitol Hill is a haven for hipsters. Really, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Seattle to produce an artist like this.

So what do you get when you take an urban hipster, educated at Evergreen State College, and mix him with a vibrant indie music scene, powered by macbook pros and leftwing convictions? Macklemore x Ryan Lewis.

From the start, Macklemore’s rapping has a relaxed tone, with clever rhymes, and a crisp, frantic pace that sometimes matches that of Twista. It must be pointed out that Macklemore doesn’t suffer from Asher Roth syndrome; this white rapper sounds nothing like Eminem.

Macklemore’s lyrics throughout The Heist talk about some heavy stuff. Struggles maintaining faith with a religion that is out of sync with the community and the world he lives in, trying to maintain a sense of self in a homogeneous sea of consumerism (“apps this good, who has time to make friends?”), not selling out to The Man at the record label, relapsing while serving as a role model for other addicts.

Which isn’t to say Macklemore can’t party. “Castle” is all fun, with 80’s synths backing up random lyrics of wizards, pirate ships, and eating coyotes, asking “will you come party in my castle?”. “Thrift shop” is as fun a fun gets. I always find out how loud my stereo goes when it comes on.

I blame the whole speaker-blasting thing on Ryan Lewis, though. The Heist is full of real acoustic instruments, horns and strings and drums, perfectly layered with backing vocals, mixing with thick hip hop beats and sparing use of electronic sounds and effects. They say that the mark of great production is that you don’t notice it. The Heist doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now, but it also doesn’t sound out of place. They call that “classic”. Listen to “Harder than you think” by Public Enemy. It didn’t sound like anything else out at that time, but it didn’t sound out of place. It still doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, but it doesn’t sound dated. Ryan Lewis has figured out that formula. The Heist stands out from the mass-produced, electronic dance chip-hop of today, without being radical.

If political music bothers you, or if you lean to the right, you should just probably skip “Same love”. Macklemore is really genuine on this track, and the backing vocals of Mary Lambert are really great. Let’s just say that Macklemore is probably ecstatic that Washington state voted for the gays in the past election cycle.

The closest artist I can liken Macklemore to is The Flobots, considering the horns, the rapping, the convictions laid out in the lyrics. The Flobots have a more jazzy, soulful sound, while Macklemore is climbing the hip-hop charts.

When you look at The Heist on Amazon, you are informed that customers who bought The Heist also bought The Lumineers. When I reviewed The Lumineers, I said that The Lumineers were for people who were fans of music, and that holds true for Macklemore. If you like music, you will like Macklemore.

I give The Heist five pounds of fur out of five. You’re right, Wanz, this is fucking awesome.