Wednesday, 7 October 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 07/10/2015

So I've got a bit of an ambitious undertaking that I have been formulating over the course of the last couple weeks. I beat the main story in Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain just in time for the release of Metal Gear Online, and have been sketching out the beginnings of a review. However, I don't just want to review The Phantom Pain: I want to do the retrospective to top all retrospectives and write up a comprehensive series review. Obviously this could take months to do (and that's assuming that I do manage to make it through), so I'll have to make up my mind on whether to write it all and then release or to put it out in chunks as I finish them. I'll have more details soon as I get the project underway, so stay tuned!

Anyway, kicking off the playlist this week, we have "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. I chose this song for little reason other than because I really like it. It's extremely catchy and goes to show that people will listen to gospel music if you make it sound awesome (ahem, take a hint from that Casting Crowns). I also find it really interesting that it is seen as a really big gospel hit, and I can imagine that there are some people would say that it's a "sign of the times" that songs like this don't become radio hits anymore. However, this song is not really all that it appears to be - theologically, it's kind of heretical at times when Greenbaum declares that he's "Never been a sinner I never sinned". This is in part due to the fact that Greenbaum was essentially making fun of how shitty gospel music is (and also explains why the lyrics are so simple).

Next up, we have "Get Back" by David Unger. Of all DUM's "parody" songs, "Get Back" is definitely my favourite. For one thing, it has an amazing music video (of the kid torturing the bad guys in Home Alone). As soon as it begins you're hooked, as the music is very catchy (is that a keyboard in guitar mode...?) and David Unger has a really great voice.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 30/09/2015

It's apocalypse-mania this week on the playlist. While last week's selections were loosely/unintentionally-themed, this week it's entirely intentional. We're checking out a couple songs about the end of the world, because... well, I love depressing music and it doesn't get much more depressing than this! Cheekiness aside, while I have written in the past many times about my distaste for the so-called "Biblical prophecies" concerning the end of the world, it is nevertheless a fascinating subject and steeped in some great imagery... perfect ingredients for a moody song.

First up this week we have "The Great Fear" by Impending Doom from their album There Will Be Violence (note that someone on Spotify screwed up and labelled it as "Walking Through Fire" - this is incorrect; each song has been shifted down 1 position, with the opening song being replaced by the closer). I know that there are some Impending Doom fans who think that the band's first 2 albums were their best, but I couldn't disagree more - they were basically unlistenable in my opinion. There Will Be Violence really marked the point where they evolved their sound and (let's be honest) watered it down just enough to make it sound really appealing to more people. And I don't mean that in a Dead Space 3-style "mass appeal" way - I mean that there is a handful of people who are interested in listening to loud, chaotic noise while what sounds like pig grunts are overlaid over it. However, more people will be interested if you reign in the music somewhat and replace the pig grunts with death growls and screams. Sure, a few people are going to be disappointed, but it's hard to argue when the results are so strong and accessible to more people.

Anyway, while "The Great Fear" is yet another Christian metal song about the Rapture/Tribulation, it is a pretty great one. Impending Doom has a really great talent for creating catchy hooks in their songs which make you want to scream along. "The Great Fear" has many of these moments, particularly in the chorus and basically the entire latter-half of the song.

Secondly, I don't think I'm overstating things by calling Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" from American IV: The Man Comes Around a modern classic. I imagine a lot of people first experienced it in the fantastic opening credits of Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, but my aunt was actually the one who introduced me to it. I have a hard time saying that I'm a big fan of Johnny Cash because, honestly, a lot of his music really sucks. However, I'm as big a fan as anyone of a really good Johnny Cash song, and "The Man Comes Around" is definitely one of them.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 23/09/2015

(Whoops, published this a day early!)

First up this week, we have "Alive" by XXI, from their debut album Inside Out. If you're a regular reader of the blog*, then you'll know that I've been following the rather tragic transition of A Feast for Kings to their current status as XXI. The Hell on Earth EP was fantastic, and their tribute to fallen singer Eric Gentry was fantastic, so I was hoping for great things with Inside Out. Unfortunately, the final product has left me a little underwhelmed. Now, to be fair, I have only listened to it twice now, and normally it takes me a few listen-throughs to really form a solid opinion on an album, but I do feel that I'm already getting a good grip on it. Overall, Inside Out is a technically proficient album, but it fails to live up to the promise that the band members set with their debut EP. Part of the reason for this is that very few of the songs really stand out ("Alive" and "Say It Again" being the two best imho) - most sound like typical teen angst/Christian hard rock and don't seem to go beyond the basics of this sound. It also kind of stings that they toned down their sound slightly, but this isn't a major complaint - they could have swapped to rhythmic bongo dance music for all I care as long as the music was good. This feeling was made even worse when I went right back to Hell on Earth immediately after finishing the album, and the difference in quality between the two products was night and day. I don't regret purchasing Inside Out by any means (it is a decent album after all), but I can't help but be disappointed that XXI seems to have taken a musical step down following the "Memories" single. Hopefully they learn from this and step back up for their sophomore effort.

Secondly, we have "American Dream" by Casting Crowns from their self-titled debut album. I would argue that, for their first 3 albums at least, Casting Crowns was one of the best bands to ever out of the contemporary Christian music (CCM) market. While they did their standard CCM duties and put out some really heartfelt, quality worship music, they also had a strong desire to call out the church and society where they saw things were problematic (hell, their first two songs on their very first album call out the church for not doing its duties, and they have a whole album dedicated to the inaction and judgmentalism of Christians). "American Dream" is a good examplar of this, and is actually subtle enough that a non-Christian could actually conceivably enjoy it.

However, by the time they released their fourth album, Until the Whole World Hears, something had gone amiss. Did they get too much power and influence within the evangelical church? Did they feel like they couldn't bite the hands which fed them anymore? Did they end up in bed with American right-wing social politics? Did they believe that they had to neuter themselves to sell more records? Whatever the case, their music began to sound more generic and toned down, while also being far less critical (not that they were breaking ground anyway, but they were proficient and clearly sincere before). Until the Whole World Hears is basically just a generic CCM/worship album with only a couple good songs and no critical asides to show that they actually care about the health of the church. Their fifth album, Come to the Well is a little better, but it actually does do some milder social critiquing at least. However, it also has a distinctly, uncomfortably American-political vibe to it at times which makes me wonder what the nature of their criticism is coming from - issues within the church itself, or perceived political issues that require a religious voting bloc? Their most recent album, Thrive, is arguably their weakest effort yet, with generic, toothless worship music and a lack of conviction.**

Anyway, I guess that's the theme for this week: disappointment, squandering of talent, failing to grasp your potential, etc. I hadn't really intended for this to be the case, but it's what we've gotten. So... uh... enjoy the music.

*And if you are then, holy shit, make a comment below because I'm under the impression that no one reads this thing...

**I actually had a bit of an increasingly depressing day because of this. I decided to listen to Casting Crowns' discography from start to finish to ensure that my recollection of their music was accurate. If anything, post-The Altar and the Door Casting Crowns was actually worse than I remember. Their music just gets so much worse as you go on and shows a really pronounced difference between their good-bad split... especially with the incredibly dull Thrive thrown into the mix (I had not listened to it before this), which makes the weakest bits of The Altar and the Door sound absolutely inspired.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Shirking Responsibility

The spark for this post came to me a while ago, back when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the news with its recommendations to ensure that Canadians were aware of the awful legacies of the residential school system. However, as soon as they mentioned that the church was involved with the cultural genocide and abuse which occurred at these schools, my parents' gut reaction was to blurt out that it was only the Catholic church which was responsible for this.

Setting aside the popular perception that it was only the Catholic church involved*, this reaction bothers me for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't think it's being honest - do they really give a shit about the supposed (and in this case incorrect) "facts" of the matter? If I told them that their comprehension of the facts was incorrect, would it cause them to feel real shame for the church's involvement in the residential schooling system? Somehow I don't think so, I think that the blame will get shifted in another direction ("oh, well our church and our family aren't even close to a residential school!").

This brings me to the second reason why their statement irritated me. If they aren't really interested in the facts of the situation, then I believe that this attitude is merely a knee-jerk reaction to shift blame. After all, if we believe that the Catholics bear all of the responsibility for residential schools, then it is easy for us to say that they're the ones who should do something about it. Consequently, this means that we end up not having to do anything - we don't have to change our worldview, we don't have to change our attitudes towards people, and hell, we don't have to make any restitutions to help out people who have been getting screwed over for generations.

Let's get theoretical though for a moment - let's pretend for a moment that it was just the Catholics who were involved with residential schools. If this were the case, then our response still shouldn't change. In spite of what some more fundamentalist Christians might think, Catholics are just as legitimate ambassadors of Jesus as the rest of us. As far as most people outside of the church are concerned, the differences between Catholics and Protestants are minuscule. How do you think it looks for them if we, as Christians, say "residential schools were bad and all, but we weren't responsible, it was those other Christians who you should be mad at"?

If nothing else, we should accept the responsibility rather than trying to squirm out of it by shifting the blame. Ideally, we should seek to repair the situation as well, even if we do not necessarily believe that we bear any real responsibility to do so - especially since we are always so quick to declare ourselves the "moral" center of the country which is keeping it from slipping into evil. If we become people known for helping others and being a positive force in society, then we won't need to try to point out that it was "someone else" who was responsible for committing evil - people will realize that they are not representative of the Christians that they know.

I can remember myself saying less than 10 years ago that I didn't feel bad for aboriginal peoples who complained about losing their land, because it happened hundreds of years ago and they should all be over it by now. I am ashamed of the ignorance my past-self. However, I was completely ignorant of the repercussions that the actions of our ancestors had. I was unlearned enough to understand that aboriginal people aren't concerned about the evils of the past, they are concerned about inequalities which affect them today as a result of the echoes from the past. Similarly, people don't understand why people still complain about slavery, racism or the Confederate flag, but this is because they don't understand how their effects continue to echo into the present and have resulted in massive levels of inequality for African-Americans (not to mention that basically every problem in Africa can be traced back to the evils of colonialism).

If you don't take anything else from this post, then at least take this message to heart: next time you hear someone railing about some form of injustice, listen to what they have to say. You don't necessarily have to agree with them, but give them some respect. Then, instead of passing off the responsibility to someone else, ask how you can help and come to common ground.

*And it's not like the Protestant Churches are all that united anyway. If they wanted to continue shifting blame they could say "Oh, well it was just the Catholics, Anglicans, United Church, Congressionalists, Presbyterians and Methodists. It wasn't the Pentacostals though so why should we take the blame?", or "Those were Methodists, were are Free Methodists so it doesn't count!"

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 16/09/2015

First up this week is the title track "American Capitalist" by Five Finger Death Punch. I chose this song for a couple reasons. First, because FFDP just released a new album recently. Secondly, I quite like the song (although I would have picked "The Bleeding" if that had been available on Spotify). Thirdly, and more importantly, because FFDP are such a disappointingly awful band. I didn't realize just how prevalent this assessment was until very recently, but I have been so disappointed by their music for a while now. On paper, they seem to be my sort of band - really heavy, angry, pump-up and anthemic metal. However, in practice, they tend to be absolutely awful. This comes down almost entirely to their lyrics, which typically consist of stringing together profanities and threatening to commit violence, all in an attempt to sound "tough". I mean, this can work at times (I do like Disturbed quite a bit after all). Unfortunately, FFDP go so far overboard with their lyrics that they read like some kind of self-parody. They come across as less "tough guy you don't want to mess with" and more like "whiney little bitch".

That said, when they grow the hell up, they can be pretty enjoyable. Their best songs tend to be their ballads or their radio-friendly tunes... but basically everything else is unlistenable. American Capitalist is about the only album of theirs that I can listen to from start to finish, but even it has some moments that I have to grit my teeth through.

FFDP: you have a lot of talent. You have some pretty good songs in your catalogue. You're a band that I want to like, but please attempt some maturity. Stop telling us how much you hate everything, how you're going to kill people, or how you're going to abuse your girlfriend - you think this makes you tough, but it makes you sound like thou dost protesteth too much.

Uhh... anyway, after that little rant, we have a palate cleanser in the form of "Washed By Blood" by Brian "Head" Welch from his album Save Me From Myself. I think I have said in the past that I really like Brian "Head" Welch and am fascinated by his life story. I also think that Save Me From Myself is the best album ever made by a member of Korn. The album loosely chronicles Welch's rough upbringing, his drug-fueled life, his salvation and then some struggles he encountered within the church. "Washed By Blood" is the culmination of all of these struggles and marks the promise of salvation.

That said, I think that the album, and "Washed By Blood" in particular, does have one Achilles heel: the lyrics. Yeah, I guess I'm touching on a theme this week. Welch was never really a song writer in Korn, but following his conversion he felt like God was speaking to him to write music. Well, if God did write the lyrics to these songs, then he can be pretty corny at times to say the last. That said, I think that the heartfelt nature of Welch's lyrics and singing offsets this negative, so the album comes out on top in the end. I'd definitely recommend giving it a listen-through if you find this song interesting.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Prime Ministorial Deathmatch: Part Two

Again, because I can see some people taking this piece about politicians battling each other to the death way too seriously, I'm going to reiterate that this is intended to be a cheeky satirical piece.

So, in order to run the actual battle-to-the-death part of this article, I unfortunately couldn't get ahold of the real life contenders so I had to turn to the deathmatch simulator, Super Smash Bros, using the game's Mii Fighter feature to create the combatants and letting them duke it out as 3 CPU fighters. I'll be using the Punch Out!! stage for the match to minimize the environmental effects and to represent them duking it out in the political arena. For match rules, I'm going with a 3 stock limit to scale back the randomness a little bit. I had intended to put in Items, but I think I accidentally turned them off during the fight.

Smash Bros has three archetypes to choose your fighter from. Stephen Harper is a gunner for a couple obvious reasons. First of all, as a Conservative he has helped repeal some national gun control laws, so it seems like a natural fit. Secondly, if he is truly a robot, then having weapons built into his limbs is a reasonable extrapolation. I also gave him some high-power weaponry, such as a grenade launcher and rockets since he's more willing to exercise military might on an international scale than his rivals. As for his outfit, I outfitted him in the cowboy gear, of course. He's a good all-round fighter, but I emphasized his defence over attack slightly. Since he's clearly the most dangerous fighter of the lot, I gave him a CPU level of 8.

For Mulcair, I chose the brawler archetype of course. His attacks are basically all short-ranged, head-on attacks, meaning he has to get in your face and tear you apart with his bare hands. I emphasized his attack power at the expense of his defence and made his attacks slow in general. This represents his duality - he's patient, but a pit bull. If he can land an attack, then he'll do severe damage to whoever ends up on the other end of it. If he closes the gap and times his attacks right then Muclair can be a force to be reckoned with. Mulcair has potential but isn't quite at the level of Harper himself yet, so I'm setting his CPU level to 7.

Since Trudeau is A New Hope for the Liberals, I made him a sword fighter. Fitting with this theme, I gave him Jedi-like attacks, such as an attack called "hero's strike" and a reversal slash which launches projectiles back at his opponents (like Trudeau turning his opponents' attacks into platform features). Due to his youthful vitality and swift rise to prominence, I made him a very fast attacker, although his lack of experience and less-than-imposing posture make his attack power pretty low. I think he's definitely the dark horse of this battle, and so I have set his CPU level to 5 accordingly - he can still pull off a win, but it's going to be tough and he's going to have to make use of his speed and be opportunistic to emerge victorious.

If you want to watch the fight in its entirely, you can do so here (sorry for the low quality, I wish you could save replays to Youtube on 3DS). If not, here's a quick highlights reel:

Harper and Muclair go at it with each other almost exclusively in the first couple minutes. Trudeau, true to life, basically refuses to join with Muclair, and as a result he and Harper damage each other quite severely while taking a few pot shots at Trudeau every once in a while. In fact, Trudeau barely gets any hits in in the first couple minutes, and spends most of this time dancing around the others while getting nailed every once in a while. Without any support and with his emphasis on attack over defence, Mulcair takes heavy damage early on, losing his first life long before his rivals to a well-placed shot from Harper. With the first blood drawn, Mulcair and Trudeau both go after Harper, but the embattled champion fights them both off effortlessly as they come at him one at a time. Mulcair then gets a cheeky upper cut in on Trudeau, sending him flying into the air and taking Trudeau's first life in the process. Soon after, all three candidates get into a chaotic tussle, which sees Harper finding an opening on Muclair and sending him off the map for Muclair's second lost life. Muclair then misses a huge opportunity to take out Harper, who just stands in front of him for a split second. Harper takes advantage of this opening and punishes Mulcair for his laxity. The three then scrap with each other for a good thirty seconds before a heavily-damaged Harper knocks out Trudeau for a second time. Muclair and Trudeau, realizing their mortal peril, both gang up on Harper, but he gets some really good hits in on Muclair before the NDP leader finally lands a heavy smash attack, taking Harper's first life. Unfortunately, at this point Muclair is too badly damaged and doesn't stand a chance against the comparatively fresh Harper. Muclair goes down first, and Trudeau quickly finds himself completely outmatched, going down to Harper very quickly.

The winner: reigning champion Steven Harper!

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you're following the real election and discerning who deserves your vote come this October. And if not... then for the love of God don't vote!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 09/09/2015

So it's been a week since Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain dropped, and holy shit is it ever amazing. I have been savouring it thus far - I'm only about 1/5 of the way through (just captured Emmerich... not a spoiler, it was in the trailers), but it has been an incredible experience. The freedom to approach situations and the ways that every system interconnects is just jaw dropping. Becoming skilled enough to sneak into a base and achieve your objectives undetected is very gratifying. My only real complaint thus far is a pretty obvious one - Quiet looks absolutely ridiculous. Like... embarrassingly so. It's obviously not a major issue, but I can't wait until I can actually unlock the XOF uniform for her so that I can actually play the damn game when there are other people present without having to explain what the hell I am playing.

First up this week is "Prom Song" by Countless Thousands from their album We're Just Really Excited To Be Here. I have been listening to this song a lot lately and I'd argue that it might be the most realistic song that I have ever heard about prom. The song starts out really sentimental, like it might be the sort of thing that a hired band might actually sing during a prom dance. However, as it goes on, it becomes increasingly bitter and angry... which, in my experience, sums up prom perfectly. Maybe I just don't know enough people, but basically everyone in my social circles had a shitty prom. My best friend got dumped 3 days before prom, but had to take her there anyway. One of my younger brothers got ditched halfway through the prom by his date. One of my other friends almost got arrested when people thought he was going to stab somebody (an event which also irrevocably split my group of friends from that point forth - hooray for prom...). As for myself, I couldn't get the person I liked at the time to go with me so I just said to hell with it and skipped it. So yeah, it has always been a pretty shitty time of year all round. Beyond all that, I think when we look back at prom, most of us realize that it was a waste of time and money, and that we don't really care for or miss a lot of the people we left behind, or that those people that we thought we were close with turned on us. "Prom Song" covers that range of truth very succinctly.

Secondly, we have something a little different: "Runaway" by Kanye West (featuring Pusha T) from his album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I had never really listened to Kanye West before I heard this song - I was, of course, well aware of his douche bag reputation in the media, but I had also heard that he was a musical genius in spite of all that. After hearing this song on the Cracked podcast a couple weeks ago, I can say that I am a believer now. "Runaway" is clearly a meticulously crafted song which bucks popular music trends and actually tries to tackle serious topics, while remaining eminently listen-able. I looked up the reception of the song out of curiosity, and saw that most people were tying it to Kanye's (at the time) new-found fall from the public grace as an apology. While that may be a valid interpretation, I think that the song is arguably more important as a message against men who blame all of their own faults on women, who they view as little more than objects of self-gratification. It's a pretty perfect fit for this blog and playlist as a result, and I just can't stop listening to it.