Friday, 18 February 2011

Live Blogging on The King of Limbs

Thought I'd be unoriginal and live blog on the album in a fairly stream of consciousness style that'll be uninteresting to read.

Ohh Bloom gets off to a nice start, little bit like backdrafts, quite a wintery feel to the song.

Builds to a nice epic crescendo in the middle of the song,

Nice rattling drums

Morning Mr Magpie 

Ahh think this is one that must have been knocking around for ages, a slightly funkier amnesiac track so far.

Nice kicking feel to the vocals

Again this has quite a building feel to it, like the nice kick to the lyrics.

Already I'm enjoying the more dynamic range to the songs, building and dipping down.

More guitary feel too Little by Little

Again though there's a real feeling of building to climaxes in this album so far.

Very up and down guitar rhythm to it, nice drums but maybe the blandest so far

The title to Feral seems appropriate to the feel so far, a little bit reminiscent of pulk/pull so far, in a good way.

Certainly feel the more electronic direction is a good way for them to go at this point.

Well already halfway through the album.

Things starting to feel a little samey now with Lotus Flower 

Not really sure what to make of this one so far, can see it growing on me

Ahh nice to have Thom showing more of a vocal range again.

Just feels like this one is missing something, but I can see it growing on me.

It strikes me that having more compact albums means you get less wildcards on the album which I think I prefer.

Odd start to Codex but now seems to be revealing itself to be the ethereal piano track of the album

Yeah this is nice, real warmth to the vocals.

There have been some very nice strings on the album, are they strings, and I’m not even sure? (This is why I don't write so much about music)

Very chilled sort of wish it had been longer and went to other places. Odd fade out.

But it fades in to give up the Ghost

Ooh acoustic guitars and a choir feel, just what it needed to do at this point. Very nice

Certainly been a consistent feel throughout this album, there's been a very dreamlike feel to the album, even for Radiohead. Just right for listening to around midnight.

And onto Separator the final track already.

Drums have somehow felt more live and more electronic than on in rainbows for a while.

Feels quite a lot like lotus flower so far

Nice use of vocal harmonies

Oh a nice rhythm coming in to contrast with the bass, it's needed more things like this throughout the album, more contrasts.

Back to a nice building feel again, it's built to a more upbeat feel, getting more complex and hypnotic as it goes along.

In Summary then

I like it a lot more than In Rainbows, it does all feel more like a strong e.p than an album, it’s consistent though with a few weaker spots, but maybe they'll be growers. It still feels like we're never going to get anything truly adventurous from them again, like they're past doing anything truly surprising, since Amnesiac they just seem to have taken their influences and blended them together.

I completely understand why they'd want to go in the direction of shorter albums, with more consistent themes, after HTTT was a bit of a mess, but I think that still remains my favourite post-amnesiac album on first impressions, I like a bit of variety to albums, for them to take you to different places throughout, as it is all the songs on this album tend to feel a little too samey, you don't get any real jolts as a song takes you out of the trance you were in. But maybe it's good for them to do a few albums like this.

 It certainly does have a dreamlike feel throughout, and it still takes you through different emotions throughout, through excitement, tension, reflective, sad but it surprised by ending on quite a happy, upbeat note. At least it felt that way to me, so I'll certainly be looking forward to any B-sides that come out and be interested to see what they do next. This is good because I had got to a point where I’d thought they weren’t really for me anymore.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

True Grit

I recently went to see the latest Coen Brothers film True Grit, the 2nd time a film based on the novel of the same name has been made. Western Films are a genre that had never really taken my interest, yet some of their themes and ideas are so etched in western pop culture and so often parodied in shows like The Simpsons that it almost feels like one could claim to have already seen in essence all the classic western films.

 In viewing the film It does still clearly follow the conventional structure, but one of the things that makes the genre more interesting in this case is the lead character, the person that’s out for revenge is a 14 year old girl, eventually setting on his trail with the hire of Rooster Cogburn believed to be the toughest of the U.S Marshalls and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, despite their attempts to dissuade her from joining them.

It’s a beautifully shot film well worth seeing on the big screen, something that seems to be true of many of the Coen’s films, the landscapes in the film really are beautiful and it’s a film with many subtleties of facial expressions that wouldn’t translate so well to a television screen.

The scores and songs used are also very effectively, The Coens have a long running collaboration with Carter Burwell who has almost always produced great work for them.

The performances are one of the strongest aspects of the film, Hailee Steinfeld, gives a fantastic debut performance in the role of Mattie Ross and Jeff Bridges really manages to nail the grizzled dialect for Cogburn, it’s a bit of a challenge to understand him at times but it’s done very well.

But even though the story is consistently engaging, it never quite takes light; there are some fairly superfluous elements to the story along the way, scenes and characters that probably could have been edited out without really affecting anything. The journey to finding Chaney just seems to be missing something, it feels as if something else may have been cut out, but it just doesn’t quite seem to get going.

The climax to which the film has been building to just eventually happens by chance, which though a deliberate choice just feels underwhelming, we’re also suddenly introduced to a new gang of characters late in the film, and it’s hard to have any emotional investment in characters that have been introduced so late.

One does have to be careful, of applying ideas you have about screenwriting structure, doing classes on the topic, can make you look at things in a way that could almost be too systematic and rigid but nonetheless, it does make you look for things you imagine a lecturer a would be saying to you, if it was your work.

Still in spite of some of these flaws it was a consistently enjoyable film and without wanting to spoil the film, it had an ending I found more satisfying than some of the more recent Coen films.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Parks and Recreation

 Parks and Recreation is a sitcom from some of the team behind the U.S version of The Office, a sort of spiritual spin-off it takes the format of the naturalistic mockumentary sitcom and places it into a new setting, in this case the Parks and Recreation branch of the local government for Pawnee – a fictional small town in the state of Indiana.

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Leslie Knope played by Amy Poehler is in the sort of role played by Steve Carell and Ricky Gervais , but she’s really developed into her own character over the course of the 2nd season Poehler’s character is far more likeable than Carell or Gervais . She's certainly capable of some very selfish, careerist moves but it'll usually be motivated by good intentions, and if she does the episode will usually end with her humiliated and having to apologise for what she's done. She actually loves what she does, she has higher political aspirations and has delusions she could be President someday but she'll never make it, because she's far too moral to step on people's toes and lie and cheat her way to the top and so is destined to spend her entire life working in local Pawnee government. It's a perfect sitcom trope of a character being stuck in their situation but done through a modern naturalistic aesthetic.

It has some similar character arcs and love triangle relationships going on, but with enough different twists on it to distinguish it, and the characters really bring it to life, Most notably the relationship between Andy (Chris Pratt) who has to be one of the funniest and most endearingly childish and stupid characters in a sitcom I’ve seen in years. And April (Aubrey Plaza) the cynical college intern, comes out with the one liners, and ironic looks to the camera, but she’s slowly developed a more human and vulnerable side over time. The way their relationship has developed has been incredibly well written and likeable.

The thing that’s been surprising to me over the series is how broad some of the humour is, fairly slapstick moments, almost cartoonish levels of stupidity in characters, and I mean all this in a good way. One of the downsides I’d found in recent years with The naturalistic/mockumentary format was that they weren’t ever quite as laugh out loud funny as the best traditional sitcoms that had more heightened dialogue. Parks and Rec gets more of a balance between the two, delivering huge laughs, and having big broad moments, but still getting to do some of more subtle understated jokes of the mockumentary format. It’s also able to take a few liberties with it, as whoever the documentary crew are, they seem to be able to follow multiple characters around at once and through more personal moments.

Thoughts so far on Dead Space 2

I've recently been playing through Dead Space 2, which oddly enough is the sequel to Dead Space, it’s essentially a horror game set in space involving shooting lots of weird alien-like creatures on board huge spaceships. Though the actual story behind what's happening is a little more complex than that.

It's world has certainly had quite a bit of thought put into it, but it just isn't all that interesting, there’s an interesting device in the 2nd game in which the lead protagonist is going insane possibly due to having all sorts of experiments performed on him causing him to have weird hallucinations, and it leaves you questioning how much of what you’re seeing is real. It’s the unreliable narrator idea but unfolding before you in real time.

The game certainly brings some interesting ideas to the genre, most notably the convention of the zombie horror genre, and indeed any game where you have a gun, that says you shoot enemies in the head is done anyway with for the idea that for these creatures, you have to shoot of their limbs until they stop moving. And even they may get up again until all of their limbs have been removed. You can do this oddly enough by stomping their limbs, quite how you can crush people limbs off quite so easily, is something we'll just chalk off to a bit of artistic license.

There's certainly an intriguing atmosphere to the game, creepy use of music and distant sounds of screaming and squealing of aliens, but it fails to truly be scary by hitting you with too much too soon. There's no building of suspense, there's no silence, right from the start you’re running away from the creatures.

To compare with Silent Hill 2 - the often cited master of the video game horror genre has you wondering empty streets and alleys for 10 minutes before you encounter a single creature.

Now it's fair enough that DS2 is more of an action game, it's not aiming for the more abstract psychological scares of SH2, but there's still something to be said of the ideal that less is more. It just needs to let things build a little more to allow suspense to build. Even in the quieter moments of the game, there's still too much noise constantly going in your ear as the game throws a series of Clich├ęs at you, the “hearing a noise and it turns out to be the cat type things, these have a place, but when it's doing it all the time it loses its impact.

The use of silence is something that would really benefit this game, there's nothing creepier than a sudden prolonged section of silence when you've been conditioned to expect noise.

In spite of all this the game manages to be a great deal of fun because all the game mechanics are well-designed and well-paced, but it's a shame the horror elements just don't manage to really get under your skin though.