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Monday, February 12, 2018

Happy Mardi Gras Week From the Nicsperiment!

Pouparts Cream Cheese Kingcake, the greatest thing a man can eat.

Well, it is that special South Louisiana time of year where it is inexplicably 70 degrees, we have a bunch of strange parades where people throw beads and novelty items at you, and you eat your weight in cream, fruit, or cinnamon-filled pastries. Everybody has their favorite kingcake, but mine is Pouparts French Bakery's cream cheese-filled wonder. It hits that same sweet-spot that the now-defunct Kleinpeter's bakery of my childhood did in New Roads. Nice crunchy texture on top with the sugar, soft, bready dough, and solid (not cheap liquified) cream cheese in the middle. It makes me wish I lived in Lafayette!
With all that said, The Nicsperiment will be light on the posts this week, but hopefully back in full force next week. I've been excited about the content published so far this year, and hopefully the next 46 weeks will be able to keep that ball rolling.
Until then, laissez les bon temps rouler, I'm gonna go catch a bunch of beads and eat myself into a stupor, as only a blog can.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Super Mario Odyssey!

I've reviewed Super Mario Odyssey in my typical rambling fashion, though this review feels a bit more of a ramble than usual. I think this is because I found myself surprisingly opinionated when it came to the Super Mario series. Surprising myself almost accounted for the large amount of rambling more than being opinionated.
Fair warning: it's a curmudgeonly ramble.

Read it here!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Game of Thrones Marathonaganza! The Nicsperiment Reviews Seven Seasons of the Most Watched Show on Earth

I put off watching HBO's critically acclaimed and massively watched landmark adaptation of George R. Martin's Game of Thrones for six whole years. This act of pop-culture neglect began as a joke between my wife and I after an SNL skit gave the impression that the show was just a parade of boobs. She jokingly forbade me to watch it, and I jokingly forbade her to watch Channing Tatum's male stripper opus, Magic Mike. Then I heard the seventh season of Game of Thrones featured a zombie dragon who breathed blue fire, and like a drunk priest in Vegas who just killed it at the slots, then mistakenly read a decree by the Pope "to go boldly" as "to go bone," decided my time of abstinence had finally come to an end.
Marathon, however, is a bit of a misnomer. I have been watching the previous seven seasons of Game of Thrones in preparation for its upcoming final season, over the last several months. I don't have the kind of life that affords me time to watch multiple hours of television in a day, though I'm not judging those who do, as they are living my dream. My circumstance is a bit of a blessing when it comes to processing the show, though. According to recent studies, binging a television show not only makes it less enjoyable, but harder to remember in the long term. Plus, I am not only watching Game of Thrones out of the zeitgeist, which could have perhaps altered my perception of the show, but I am watching it at a pace conducive to breaking it down without it all blurring together. I also haven't read a single sentence of the books the first five seasons are based upon--no expectations to live up to there--so the show can stand on its own objectively in my mind. With that said, here's a season by season mini-review of the show, written as I watch it, and posted as soon as I finish all seven.
-The Nicsperiment

1. Season One: You know what you are in for right away. This is fantasy for adults...or judging only by certain aspects of the season, middle school boys. Boobs and blood. There's a lot of both. As I said, SNL made a deliriously funny skit about the show's overabundance of sexual imagery back in 2012. The thing is, the show isn't just a mammary parade--but, you also get the feeling that HBO executives demanded the showrunners get at least one pair of breasts into each episode--the trade-off on them spending money on something that is essentially niche (medieval fantasy). This isn't quite lowbrow TV, but it isn't great TV either. There is some solid character work--you get a great sense of who many of these people are, particularly Sean Bean's honorable Ned Stark, and Peter Dinklage's evolving Tyrion Lannister. The ongoing political machinations--the show is called Game of Thrones--are the engine keeping it going throughout the season. Due to the abundance of scenes of old white dudes talking, I didn't bother to rope my wife in to watch, as she generally falls asleep during scenes of old white dudes talking, but the show flows nicely, and does a good job of ending each episode on a cliffhanger so that you want more. There's also a certain cynicism of human nature here that is strangely both refreshing and distressing. A solid season of television on what seems to be a modest budget.

2. Season Two: I knew I was in for a little something different this season when an entire episode passed without a peek of nudity. This is more reminiscent of the HBO classic, The Sopranos, which featured nudity when it was apt--after all, Tony and company's headquarters were, quite fittingly, in a strip club, but it didn't feel like a tactic to grab viewers. I mean, my sister's sociopathic ex-husband, who once admitted to her that he only laughed when he knew other people could hear him doing it, watched the first season of Game of Thrones--they were obviously putting a lot of those boobs in there to attract viewers who otherwise wouldn't watch an hour long program about dudes in musty rooms talking about usurping other dudes in musty rooms. Same goes for Game of Thrones often gratuitous bloodshed. You can tell with Season Two that HBO has grown more confident in the show--the nudity and violence, while still abundant, don't feel as superfluous, and the budget seems much increased, as evidenced by the massive LOTR-with-an-R-rating battle in the season's penultimate episode. In certain ways, this season feels bleaker than the last, but the character growth is consistent and organic, and that penultimate episode is an all-time great in television history, astounding in its scope and power. There's also a cool underthread of how the two fathers who met their ends in the first season passed on either negative or positive attributes or lessons to their children. Gotta love the goodness and wisdom Ned passed on to those Stark kids. Also, Peter Dinklage made me cry harder in this finale then he did at the end of The Station Agent. A great actor.

3. Season Three: Continues the second season's winning ways. While the famous nudity and violence isn't always necessary, it's again, not nearly as gratuitous as what's found in the first season. These guys have a real problem with conflating sex and seems like every sex scene ends with someone getting shot with a crossbow. If not, it involves a prostitute,'s not consensual. Shocker of shockers: Season Three actually contains a sex scene between two consenting adults who love each other. However, this season contains an even bigger shocker: the show is able to create empathy for several characters who before now seemed despicable. Better yet, they don't cheat dramatically to get there. For instance, Jaime Lannister's journey to viewer sympathy is arduous and well-earned. You hate to love him, but they get you there, fair and square. Even better: they finally start shedding some dead weight. Someone once told me, "When you watch Game of Thrones, get ready for The Red Wedding. They will kill everyone you care about." Well, Tyrion, Daenerys, and Arya are still quite well by the end of this episode, so I'm not sure what they were talking about. This bloody event takes place in the third season's penultimate episode, and the characters killed hadn't been interesting since halfway through the second season. They needed to go for the story to move forward. Brilliant move. Absolutely solid season of television.

4. Season Four: After an absolutely stunning opening scene, which deals with the events of the end of the previous season with deft poetics, it appears for a brief stretch that the show has regressed. The nudity and violence seem gratuitous once again, and a lazy way for the show-runners to introduce and define characters. Then the show settles back into the groove of the second and third seasons before blowing past all of that and offering some of the best writing, acting, and production values the show has featured, and embracing nuance over spectacle. Then, when the blood comes (along with a mouthful of teeth and a bucket of brains), it actually means something.

5. Season Five: I give all that praise, and yet, with a sinking feeling about halfway through this season, wonder if actor, Ian McShane, wasn't wrong...maybe Game of Thrones is just, as he said rather profanely after fans were upset that he gave away a mild spoiler, "only tits and dragons." Anytime I think the show is about to become profound, about to transcend its schlocky roots, it clumsily embraces them. Even when it tries to do something deeper, like the Faith Militant storyline, it doesn't quite make it believable that such a thing could exist in the world it has already created. But then, it goes nuts with awesomeness in episode eight, "Hardhome," completely blowing my mind and all my expectations, and making me wish the entire show had been handled with more care, in a more concise manner (three seasons could have handled the actual story by this point). When you show that you are capable of the greatness of an episode like "Hardhome," it unfortunately highlights all the weaknesses of your lesser episodes. I feel like more subtle, nuanced showrunners, using some of the same directors, could have made this a much greater show. Then again, maybe I am not being fair--in a way, the showrunners have been beholden to not knowing when series author George R. R. Martin will finish his next book and give them more material. They had to stretch out what they had until then, with then continually being on unknown mark on the map. Regardless, the thrills of the last three episodes of this season aren't something you can get anywhere else on TV...maybe the first siege of Paris on Season Three of Vikings is comparable to the defense of Hardhome on GOT, but thats about it, and that Vikings episode doesn't have the absolutely insane poetics of Hardhome's final shot...or its supernatural bent. Also, did I mention Game of Thrones now has an ice king who commands an undead hoard he himself resurrected? Interested to see what the showrunners do with all of the remaining main characters, who by the end of this season, have all of their respective worlds completely upended.

6. Season Six: Now we're talking. This show's worst problem, in my opinion, has been lack of momentum. A character's entire season arc will be: walked from this village to that village. Daenerys farted around in Meereen for about five billion years. Jon Snow farted around the North to little effect. Season Six does away with that trying sensibility, taking the characters from the place of their devastating personal defeats at the end of season five, and finally taking them to where they've been headed since the first season. Storyline after storyline is finally paid off, and almost all of them in a satisfying fashion. Sure, it's a little rushed, but small price to pay. Extremely satisfying, and a great prize for anyone who sat through the last few seasons thinking, Is this ever going to go anywhere? Well, it finally did! Maybe it's because the show has move past the books it has always been beholden to. With the future open, the show has room for all kinds of funky improvisation that never would have been an option before. It felt a little too tight before, like a kid trying to play a recital note-for-note under the eyes of its overbearing parents. Now it's a grown-up, and its free!

7. Season Seven: Wow, what a reversal! For a large part of its run, GOT has (rightly) been derided for the way it's treated its female characters, often making them either sex objects or rape objects. Now, every remaining female character is in a place of power. In fact, the two primary humans jockeying for power are both women. Pretty incredible how far the show has come. This season picks up that funky improv thing I mentioned above and just runs with it. The showrunners are on their own, and know they've only got seven episodes this season, and six the next to finish the story. This adds an even greater sense of urgency to the season, as things start to move quickly. Things that would have taken half-a-season take an episode here. I hear some people complained about this, but I'd rather a show move along than kill time. Everything here is just about pitch perfect, from the surprise reversals and plot twists to characters that have never met, or haven't seen each other since the first couple of seasons coming together. These last two seasons are the reward for the sins of the show's past.

8. Overall Impression: This show was very clearly sold to HBO as "swords and sex." That's far easier to sell than "morally complex character study featuring 10+ main characters in a medieval fantasy world." Few channels if any would have shelled out the dough to make something like the latter. So not only did the show have to play more to the lowest common denominator in order to just be on television, but it was beholden to George R.R. Martin's source material, as well. That's not a knock on Martin, whose work is beloved, but adapting something that is unfinished is a tough balancing act. Martin is now only five books into what is supposed to be a seven book series. The show has had to spin its wheels a bit, while waiting in expectation for Martin to finish his books. In a perfect world, the show and Martin could have achieved perfect synergy, with Martin writing the last two books during the show's run, and the showrunners' able to follow his lead. That didn't happen. In fact, the last two books are nowhere in sight. Martin may never publish them. It's not like the show could have gone on hiatus until they are released. The actors would age out of the roles. The show had to move forward. The confidence TV Game of Thrones found when the decision was finally made to move ahead of Martin's source material is palpable. This, along with the increased budget, has made for a better looking, more satisfying show, with more and more epic battles on display. Best of all, it isn't relying on the lowbrow at all anymore. Season seven has two sex scenes, and the show had been building to both of them for quite a well. There's no extraneous nudity, otherwise. The violence that occurs throughout the necessary to the plot, and not extraneous, either...making it all the more effective. The show is the most watched on the planet. It doesn't have to pander anymore.
While I've enjoyed Game of Thrones on a surface level, there's a deeper theme I'd like to mention before I close: that of nations and factions bickering amongst themselves when a much greater environmental threat looks ahead.  This theme has grown more apparent with each season. "There's no such thing as White Walkers" sounds the same to me as "there's no such thing as climate change." Not to get political...which is ridiculous and sort of the point. Scientific fact isn't a political issue. Even if you are a denier, it's clear that nations, or heck, political parties squabble for power now, when much greater threats loom ahead--threats that can only be faced by a unified front. At the end of the day, through all of the battles and machinations, that's what Game of Thrones is really about.
Can't wait for Season Eight.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Rosetta -- Quintessential Ephemera


Rosetta take a step forward in the right direction with 2015's Quintessential Ephemera (I initially said step have to go back to go forward?). They seem to have realized that their bread and butter isn't darkness, even though they are quite adept at broadcasting pain. Instead, they reorient their gentle, jangle-to-crushing space metal sounds back toward triumph. While there is still a sense of déjà vu here, it's because Rosetta have such a distinct sound, it is difficult to make any one of their albums musically distinct from another. In an attempt to remedy this, in a much better fashion than their last album, which tried to be different by being unsatisfying, Eric Jernigan has been brought in on second guitar to add a bit more complexity. However, it's in Jernigan's singing vocals, contrasting with Mike Armine's screams, that the band make their greatest departure. Unfortunately, Jernigan sings in that high, Underoath-esque voice, but there's at least a little grit and pop to his vocals to keep them out of the cheese. These additions aren't a revelation, but they are different. Overall, while not feeling essential, Quintessential Ephemera does enough to keep itself interesting and enjoyable for its runtime, including employing a recurring musical motif. Cool. Before a sample of what this album offers, please enjoy this video of a girl crying because she can't stop thinking about waffles.

2015 Self-Released
1. After the Funeral 3:34
2. (Untitled I) 7:06
3. (Untitled II) 4:54
4. (Untitled III) 6:35
5. (Untitled IV)" 3:03
6. (Untitled V)" 7:04
7. (Untitled VI)" 6:03
8. (Untitled VII)" 6:30
9. Nothing in the Guise of Something" 6:25

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The WinBack Review You Never Knew You Wanted

I just wrote the awesomest awesome review of the underrated Nintendo 64 classic WinBack. It's one of the most stream-of-consciousness reviews I've written for a video game, it talks a lot about Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and I like it.

Here it is!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Rosetta -- The Anaesthete


Rosetta's The Anaesthete sounds like their previous album, the great The Determinism of Morality, if someone poisoned that album to death. All the shimmery guitar to violent, buzzing guitar dynamics are there, but instead of feeling triumphant or striving in the face of the immensity of the universe, there's a sense of darkness and defeat. The beauty is missing. Their vocalist still bellows like an angry bear, and the drummer still goes from skippy, roll heavy beats, to bludgeoning sounds of doom, but even in The Anaesthete's better moments, theres a disturbing lack of freshness. It's kind of like, if the Empire Strikes back was the same exact movie as Star Wars, except in the last five minutes, Luke fails to blowup the Death Star and everyone dies. Well, the "lack of freshness" comment is not entirely true: track five, "Hoku/Compassion" is a soft, chiming ballad, still a downer, but quite emotional in a different way from anything in the band's previous work. The closer, "Shugyo/Austerity" is also something new, but the inverse of "Hodoku/Compassion." I mean inverse in that it isn't good, just six minutes of two alternating, darkly bent notes. That final track is almost like a middle finger to the listener after how incredible The Determinism of Morality was.
Still, while The Anaesthete is a disappointment, Rosetta's core sound is so strong, the album is at least worth a listen, even if they've already done the good bits before. Maybe one day my opinion will flip, and I'll think it's brilliant. At least the album cover is cool.

2013 Self-released
1. Ryu / Tradition 10:22
2. Fudo / The Immovable Deity 4:39
3. In & Yo / Dualities of the Way 7:01
4. Oku / The Secrets 6:30
5. Hodoku / Compassion 5:47
6. Myo / The Miraculous 3:02
7. Hara / The Center 7:03
8. Ku / Emptiness 8:05
9. Shugyo / Austerity 6:13

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Nicsperiment's Musical Hot Takes -- Episode I: "'Re-Arranged' by Limp Bizkit is a legitimately great song"

Now that I am nearly 3/4 of the way through reviewing my entire music collection, I find myself wanting to comment on bands whose albums I don't own. And since I don't own their albums, those comments are not springing from a place of great depth, or well-informed. They are "hot takes." Here is hot take number one:

"Re-Arranged" by Limp Bizkit is a legitimately great song. I don't care that all the rest of their songs suck, that the band's name is stupid, and that the frontman is responsible for the word "douche" being more commonly used to describe the frontman of Limp Bizkit than as the name for a feminine hygiene product. "Re-Arranged" features an undeniably groovy bassline, one of Wes Borland's best understated guitar lines, record-scratching DJ work that actually gives the song atmosphere, drums that serve the track, and a shockingly non-embarassing performance from frontman, Fred Durst, who never once breaks into that ridiculous, high-pitched "hey, bruh!" voice he was famous for. 
It's a great song!
Come at me, bruh!