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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sucking in the Masses: The Nicsperiment Has Reviewed a Homebrew Sega Dreamcast Game

I really have my finger on the pulse of the masses. I know how fast it's beating, but even better, I know what its owner, that being the masses, wants. It wants to read a text-based review of an independently made Dreamcast game from 2013.
Well, ask, and you shall receive!


It's going to be so popular, I had to post it to two separate websites!

Next up, I'll be reviewing the famous Wheat Thins box design change of 1986.
Get ready!!!

Monday, January 08, 2018

One Last Note on 2017

Before I start posting new content, and it falls off the bottom of the page, I'd like to draw attention to the travelogue I published last December. I took a trip to a fairly desolate place while in a fairly desolate state of mind, and wrote by far the strangest travelogue this blog has featured. I wrote a Last Jedi hot take afterward that greatly overshadowed it (btw, thanks for the link, Neal!), but I think for those who missed it, it's worth a look. I recently cleaned up some errors, and added a rather fitting song to the end, as well.
Even if you hate the writing and attempts at humor, and the fact that it includes a joke about suicide, it does include some decent pictures and information about a remote place few will ever visit...
no, not Arby's, it's a travelogue about Poverty Point, Louisiana.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Comes Around

Welcome to the sweet nu metal sounds of 2002!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2017

Hey, it's my list! This year's list might seem conventional at first, but it gets weirder as it goes along. 2017 is definitely an emotion-based one, but I've found that those are generally the ones I've still agreed with later...I've done them that way for every year after 2010...after I realized I was trying to fit in with the rest of the critics. I don't listen to hardly anything from that list anymore, but everything 2011 on is still in my rotation. Better to just be honest with yourself and listen to what you like, then force yourself to like something somebody else says is good.
The usual caveat: 1.3 trillion albums were released this year. I and every other music critic (no matter how definitive and authoritive they attempt to sound) did not even hear a minuscule amount of those. These are my nine favorites from that less than minuscule amount.

9. Hammock -- Mysterium

I struggled with whether or not I'd add this album to the list for quite a while. I generally hate when bands I like go fully minimalist, particularly when getting quiet and boring has been such a huge trend this decade. However, the emotional weight of Mysterium, inspired by the death of one of the Hammock duo's nephews, is so much to bear, more instrumentation may have broken it. As it is, these melancholy, yet ethereal guitar textures, piano, strings, and choral layers are enough to not only convey Mysterium's crushing sadness, but also its hopeful expectation.

8. '68 -- Two Parts Viper

Josh Scogin has realized his dream of re-imagining late 80's Nirvana as a bar band who plays in the middle of the American desert in midday to one patron seemingly asleep at the counter, who raises his glass in the air in tribute after each song. It's like punk-leaning grunge met the blues in a back alley and decided to face off in a poetry slam. It's Josh Scogin on guitar and throat-scraping vocals and Michael McClellan on drums, and it is awesome.

7. Demon Hunter -- Outlive

Demon Hunter have finally, after ten years of indecisiveness, transformed from a nu-metal band to a tech-metal one. I love the first three Demon Hunter albums, which gladly exist in the Slipknot screamy, but hook-filled percussive radio rock realm, but since then, Demon Hunter have struggled to put together a cohesive album. In that interim, they've tried to put the sound they really seem passionate for, the aforementioned European tech-metal one, into a blender with their early nu-metal sound and a never-fully-realized Pantera influence, but this has led to top-heavy albums with second halves that are generally boring and inconsistent. Thankfully, Demon Hunter have finally said, "Screw It! The album is going to sound like this." The result is Outlive, whose tech-metal sound not only seems to suit each band member's musical skill-set, but allows vocalist, Ryan Clark, the opportunity to let his voice breathe. This means Clark sings far more than he screams, and in the past, I would have thought this a flaw--the band made their original hay mostly having Clark scream his head off. It's clear now, though, those early albums work because the band picked one sound and stuck with it. That intense focus pays off here with some of the best songwriting of Demon Hunter's career, and the first time in eight albums that they've made this list (though if I could redo that 2004 list, Summer of Darkness would have a spot!). What a ramble that was, though it mirrors me coming to terms with, and subsequently loving this album! I miss still listening to a Demon Hunter album a month after it's been released!

6. Bad Sign -- Live and Learn

Making an extreme statement just to provoke a reaction is lame. Because of that, I won't say that rock music is dead, but it isn't even gasping at relevancy in the world of 21st century music. Remember the last time a rock song topped the charts? It'll probably never happen again. Who cares. South London's Bad Sign are making great rock music, and their Basick Records debut, Live and Learn, is a driving, atmospheric blast, featuring incredible musicianship and soaring vocals, all created by a classic three-piece rock band configuration.

5. Paramore -- After Laughter

Throughout all of Paramore's career. I've only felt young enough to listen to the music on 2013's self-titled album. I particularly enjoyed that album's newly diverse musical palette, and its incredible rhythm section. Four years later, Hayley Williams and Zac Farro have returned with a totally new creative vision, sans that rhythm section, with Taylor York, who played with the band back when I felt to old to listen to their music, on drums. This would be a bummer had these three not just made the best album of Paramore's career. After Laughter is a musical ode to 80's pop-rock, with keyboard and guitar textures of that era mixing with some indie sounds of today, along with Williams most melancholy vocals and lyrics. This is an incredible change of pace, muted pastels after the glowing neon of Paramore, but After Laughter is somehow even more consistent and cohesive than its predecessor.

4. P.O.S. -- Chill, dummy

P.O.S. nearly died, but now that he's back from the brink, he sounds more pissed off at current events than thankful that he's still breathing. The Minneapolis rapper lasers in on racial inequality like he never has before, and Chill, dummy features more African American guests than any of P.O.S.' past albums. There's an immediacy here that also feels new, further sharpening the edge he's always had, yet his music is diverse in sound as ever, ranging from the laid-back desert apocalyptic landscape of "Pieces/Ruins," to the electric banging intensity of the eight-minute closer "Sleepdrone/Superposition."

3. Irrelevant -- Vague Memories

While electronic music is, by its very nature, experimental, its artists rarely seem to push the genre. Four-on-the-floor, throw on some keyboard, call it a day. Not Irrelevant. His Vague Memories, a 30-minute, two track odyssey, is a unique emotional juggernaut, conjuring imagery of someone's mental degeneration, as their mind searches for familiar thoughts, cogent memory. Irrelevant mixes sampling, found sounds, original beats, and ambient keyboard textures, as he searches through chaos, finds ghosts of an early 90's dance hall, then lets the whole thing fall away into disconcertingly unfamiliar territory once again.

2. Spaceslug -- Time Travel Dilemma

This is the sound I've been looking for. It's like Saturday Morning Sci-Fi Serial, The Metal Album. Featuring a huge, expansive sound, set by lumbering, laid-back rhythms, a fuzzy guitar tone that could could kick-start the sun, shamanistic vocals that seem older than time, and stretched out songs that fully explore some brilliant sonic ideas, Spaceslug's Time Travel Dilemma is my jam.

1. Julie Byrne -- Not Even Happiness

I generally can't abide folk music, or overly quiet music in general (yeah, I think I said that already). However, Julie Byrne's Not Even Happiness won me over in a matter of seconds. Byrne's soothing voice and unique picking style (Not Even Happiness is almost entirely vocals and acoustic guitar) sound so close to water gently rushing over stones, wind lightly brushing through tall grass, sun slowly melting snow, pine-needles softly crunching under foot, I can't resist this album. Not Even Happiness is miraculously calming, like the Earth calling me home. I've never been so moved by something so small.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs (From Albums Not On My Top Nine Albums List)

My new Jeep Renegade doesn't have a CD player. 2017 is the year I finally went fully digital. This is liberating in some ways. I've waffled between digital and physical media the last few years, and probably bought less music as a result. Now that I've decisively gone with one form of media...
Wait, I'm lying, I still bought a decent amount of vinyl...crud, let me look through that and make sure I'm not missing anything.
Okay, I'm back. Wow, now making these selections is going to be really difficult.
Here are my nine favorite 2017 songs not found on my nine favorite 2017, albums. I'll reveal the albums on 12/31.
The songs are listed in no particular order.
Holy cow, this was hard to narrow down.

Sleep Token -- "Calcutta"
Djent hasn't had many new ideas since Uneven Structure's Februus took it to unforeseen ethereal heights. Sleep Token seems intent on changing that, introducing acrobatic singing and more highly contrasting dynamics to the embattled genre.

Unwill -- "Drifting"
I was too old for this type of screamo when Underoath did it, but something about the contrast between ferocity and vulnerability makes this deep cut on newcomer Unwill's relatively unknown debut, Past Life, relevant.

Wall of Ears -- "Floating Off the Line"
Chris Lott brought some much needed space and a love of Neil Young's dirty solos to As Cities Burn, and now that he's venturing out on his own, he's bringing these same sensibilities to this brilliantly off-kilter psych-rock project.

iiah -- "Samsara"
The amount of instrumental "post rock" albums released in the last decade which sound exactly the same is reaching critical mass--the simple idea of adding vocals to the music feels like a revelation on iiah's wintry Distances, particularly singing that sounds this pure and boisterous. The soaring "Samsara" is the album's peak. Next time, maybe they'll include singing on ALL the tracks.

Pvris -- "Half"
Pvris is another band I would have said I was too old to listen to in the past, but they take that famous pop sheen of theirs and sully it up on this year's All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. The punk urgency and grit in Lynn Gunn's voice, along with a dark 80's musical bent, makes "Half" a particular standout.

Uneven Structure -- "Your Scent"
After fusing art-metal with djent perfectly on their debut, Uneven Structure's sophomore attempt, La Partition, brings the band back down to Earth a bit. Thankfully, the album's climax, the chaotic riff avalanche, "Your Scent," nearly elevates the whole LP back to classic album status.

John Reuben -- "Age of Our Fathers"
If you are on the opposite extremes of the "I hope John Reuben sounds like this for his first album in eight years" spectrum, you will either be disappointed that he hasn't abandoned his faith, or angry that he is no longer "dippity doin'" it. Reubonic is instead full of nuanced looks at both Reuben's faith and his quickly approaching middle-age, best explemplified by career standout, "Age of Our Fathers." I don't have a link to the song (and out of respect to the man, I won't post it to Youtube, myself), so instead, here's a link to the lyrics (you can buy or sample the album here).

Trevor Something -- "Isolated"
I think this song is supposed to bring up some 80's Robocop-score-as-a-pop-song vibes, but more than anything, it reminds me of that exact moment sophomore year of college when I sighed at the realization that I might be free to do whatever I wanted...but I was also distinctly alone (it was certainly not a complete view of life). Sweet. Sorry for the esoteric nature of this description.

Vacant -- "Escape"
This song combines my old 90's love, techno, with this new moody future garage genre I've been digging on the last couple of years. The result is an incredible emotional journey taken over the course of five minutes, the exact aural equivalent of its title, with a cathartic climax to boot.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The World Doesn't Need Another The Last Jedi Thinkpiece, but Please Read Mine

I spent last Friday, like most Americans, in a dark room watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I enjoyed the movie very much, and like most of my fellow theater-goers, clapped at the end. My son enjoyed it, though he thought it was a little too long, my wife actually stayed awake through all of it, but something unexpected happened outside of the theater. The guy I usually go on adventures with (if I am not solo in a travelogue, he is the person I'm with) said, "Just what I was worried about. Now I know why the Rotten Tomatoes user reviews were so low." He didn't like it.
When I got home, I immediately ended my "no spoilers" Internet avoidance routine, and was shocked to see that a movie I enjoyed unequivocally was, despite receiving some of the best critical reviews in Star Wars history, facing some vitriolic backlash.
Did I miss something? I wondered, as I read how certain contingents felt The Last Jedi had ruined Star Wars altogether. So, I did the only thing I could.
I went to see the movie again.
The second time through, I loved The Last Jedi even more. I've heard lots of valid and invalid arguments for why I shouldn't. The invalids are the "the whole thing is feminist garbage" alt-right psychos who hate that the movie has strong female protagonists, and are apparently spending vast amounts of time and energy trying to tank the movie through nefarious means because they also apparently don't have jobs. The other contingent is reasonable, and thus doesn't have a story that features their opinions for me to link to. From that side, I've generally heard, "The humor took me out of it," or "It just didn't feel like the Star Wars I grew up with." I think the humor is subjective. I could have done without that "I think he's tooling you, sir" line, but it didn't ruin the entire movie for me. However, "It just didn't feel like the Star Wars I grew up with" is quite a statement.
Why didn't it? The filmmaking techniques used by the director and crew were similar. There are similar beats as the other seven films. The pacing and editing are similar. The same guy composed the music in the same style. Is it the characters?
At the end of the original Star Wars trilogy, the main characters were victorious and presumably rode off into the sunset.
Rode off into the sunset. Just like real life.
At some point, you ride off into the sunset and you never face conflict again, never change, never fail, never have to endure any type of challenge or have ridden off into the sunset.
Late in college, the first of three senior "year" semesters, when I passed my last Spanish class, and my life didn't miraculously become free of trials and difficulty, I came to the harsh realization that my entire life would be that way (and Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me cope with it). You finish something, complete some task that you have dedicated a vast amount of time and energy to...and then life goes on and there are an infinite amount of more somethings. You don't ride off into the sunset and live in a place in life where everything is happy and nothing hurts. More stuff happens, and a lot of it hurts!
As a kid watching the original Star Wars trilogy on new-fangled VHS, I saw a perfect fantasy in which to insert myself. I grew up on a rural farm in the middle of nowhere just like Luke. I worked there, wishing I could get away. My dad was emotionally distant, seemingly unknowable, and in need of redemption. My family seemed like a big deal to me, like it was the center of the universe. People around me, and to a much higher degree, my own imagination, propped up this idea. Surely I would rise up, like Luke, and then ride off into the sunset, like Luke.
Things looked promising. I achieved the highest ACT score in my high school graduating class and received the class award for "most likely to succeed." Luke saved the galaxy, redeemed his father, and seemingly rode off into the sunset.
Almost 20 years later, I live in a trailer at Pointe Coupee Parish's lowest elevation. I have failed at so many things, I've lost count. Luke Skywalker, also a failure, lives in exile on the most remote planet in the galaxy.
This Thinkpiece is going to be biased.
And the SPOILERS will begin here.
Here is how every major character in The Last Jedi fails:

Rey: Fails to persuade Luke Skywalker to physically leave his exile to fight against the First Order.  Finds that her parents are not important or noteworthy, but simply poor junkers, buried in a pauper's grave. Fails to turn Kylo Ren from the dark side.
Kylo Ren: Fails to accept yet another opportunity for redemption, this one the least deserved of all.
Finn: Goes rogue to attempt to save Rey. The only result of his rogue mission is that he lets the Resistance's actual plan of escape, which would have succeeded had he just stayed put, fall into untrustworthy hands. His error leads to the deaths of the vast majority of the Resistance's members.
Rose: In joining Finn instead of arresting him for desertion, she helps bring about the aforementioned deaths of all but a handful of the Resistance fighters.
Poe: Ignores Princess Leia's orders to stand down, leading to the destruction of all of the Resistance's bombers, then supports and assists Finn in his own failed mission, then leads a failed coup against a comatose Leia's replacement.
Princess Leia: All of the above happens under her watch (outside of the time she's in a coma).
Luke Skywalker: Never is able to shake Yoda's original assessment of him (and is reminded of this by the spectre of Yoda, himself), looking to the future and hyper-focusing on the possibility of the evil Kylo Ren could become, instead of the present, inadvertently speeding Ren to the darkness as a result, and accepting exile because of it. Can't bring himself to leave exile with Rey, to fight The First Order.

It is Luke's portrayal that seems to be giving the unhappy fans and even Mark Hamill himself the most difficulty. Some say Luke would have never even thought of killing the young Kylo Ren to stop him from being evil in the future. Yoda's words and Luke's actions in The Empire Strikes Back say otherwise. Others say Luke would not have given up, including, in early interviews, Hamill himself, because Luke never gave up before.
Well, Luke also never nearly murdered his own nephew before. How was he supposed to not give up in that situation? He viewed himself as a failure, just as he viewed the original Jedi who came before him. The prequels, for whatever one's view of them, show that the Jedi not only failed to stop the Emperor and Darth Vader from rising to power, but inadvertently facilitated it by their own incompetence. What did the two surviving Jedi from that era do? Immediately fight to right their failures? No. They went into hiding.  At least they had the hope that one day Darth Vader's twin children might rise up to fight. Luke has nothing. He was the last Jedi, he failed his nephew, shamed his family, and failed the galaxy--he has nothing left to fight for. Given all of this, the events preceding The Last Jedi don't seem out of character.
Is this ideal? If you want your heroes to be preserved in shrink-wrap like action figures, then no. But if you want a real hero, that hero is eventually going to fail, and fail hard. The Last Jedi deals with this on even a small scale. Just look at Rose's introduction to Finn, who she has made a legend in her mind due to the reputations of his previous acts. As soon as she looks past what she thought of him, she sees a guy with his bags packed, heading for an escape pod.
How many times this year has some random Internet person been hailed as a hero, only for someone to dig into their past to find something disreputable? But the heroes in Star Wars have to be flawless?
No. The Last Jedi diverges quite far from The Empire Strikes Back in form, but Empire's characters experience just as many failures.

Han Solo: Captured and frozen in carbonite.
Princess Leia: Loses Han, fails in rescuing him before he is taken to Jabba the Hutt.
Yoda: Fails in keeping Luke from rushing off to fight Darth Vader before Luke's training is complete.
Darth Vader: Fails in his attempt to capture Luke and turn him to the dark side.
Luke: Loses his hand in a duel against Darth Vader, then learns that his own father was not a shrink-wrapped hero, but Darth Vader himself. Rushed off to fight Darth Vader without completing his training, favoring a vision of the future where his friends need his rescuing to the actual facts of the present, just like Yoda said he would. Also, like Finn, his actions have no bearing in rescuing the person he is trying to save (both Rey and Leia do just fine on their own), and actually causes further complications.

These character flaws and mistakes make these films far more interesting and relatable. A sealed in plastic Luke is boring, and a film featuring him as a flawless human being would be just as enjoyable as playing with that kid who never wants to take his toys out of the box.
To close, there are two other camps I'd like to address. The first is one I fall into.
"Why did they have to get rid of the Expanded Universe! That's the real Star Wars story!"
The expanded universe is composed of more than a hundred novels and supplemental materials that cover what happened after Return of the Jedi. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, and announced this new trilogy, they declared the Expanded Universe to be non-canon. I am a big fan of the Expanded Universe, particularly the Thrawn books, and the nineteen-book New Jedi Order series, the latter of which is closer to me than any long-form fiction series I've read. And who cares.
Those books posit that even 40-years after Return of the Jedi, the only three people who can save the galaxy's last names are Skywalker and Solo. The books actually had to go out of their way near the end to explain that though Luke, Han, and Leia are in their 70's, the 70's are really just like being in your 40's in Star Wars' galaxy. This is ridiculously silly. Some people might think this new film trilogy is a cash grab, but what is 100 books of your main characters never really changing, never dying, and always being the solution to every galactic problem? That's the epitome of "just crank out another one, and they'll pay to see/read it!" And anyway, do we really want all those stories rehashed? I'd much rather this far more believable take that pushes those old characters, forces them to change (just like life forces us real-life people to), and lets them take a bow when there time has come and newer heroes are more capable.
After all those dynastic Expanded Universe years, where only one family is important in the entire galaxy, the The Last Jedi's revelation that Rey has no familial connection to them altogether is a huge breath of fresh air...and thankfully, it's the same with Finn, Poe, and Rose. New heroes! Someone else finally gets a chance to make a difference! I love it!
And finally, I'd like to address all those guys who hated The Force Awakens (spoiler alert, I also vastly enjoyed The Force Awakens) because it was "Nothing but a ripoff of A New Hope!" These folks said "Why can't they do something different?" but are now saying of The Last Jedi, "I hate it! It is nothing like the other movies!" I hope one day y'all can learn to like things. It's way more fun than hating everything.