Going Underground

My life continues to get more and more hectic lately, so of course, I haven’t been able to update. I’m not happy about it, but work and other obligations have crept up, and this sort of writing just hasn’t been working out for me. It sucks, but what can you do?

So, I have a very big project that starts tomorrow and this blog is going to go dark(er) for a month. I’m starting up my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) entry tomorrow. I wanted to enter last year, but just didn’t have the energy or creative idea for it. This year I’ve got a great idea, and I’m really excited to get to it. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50000 word novel by the end of the day, November 31. It’s more about quantity than quality, but as someone who desperately wants to make a career out of writing, I’m putting my best effort into this.

I doubt I’ll be updating over the month of November, which sucks because I really wanted to implement all the new things, but I might post a few updates here and there about how the novel project is going. If I’m happy with the initial results at the end of the month, I’m going to spend the next couple months editing and doing at least one rewrite. After that, I’m going to consider self-publishing my work to Amazon, if only to put it out there. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, so I’m hoping I can make it work.

I guess I’ll at least talk a little about what I’ve been playing lately. I finished Code of Princess on 3DS, and it was a lot of fun. I wish there was a little more to it, but I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth out of it. Since then my free time has been divided between Dark Souls, which I just bought on PC, and Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light. I’m greatly enjoying both of them, and I just picked up the PC version of Sleeping Dogs yesterday, so I’m going to try and start that up in the next day or two. I’ve yet to play a lot of the big titles from this year, and some of them I won’t even get to until early next year, if at all. I tell myself that someday I’ll get to the Mass Effect series, and someday I might play the rest of the Assassin’s Creed games, but with the amount of substantial free time I have, my gaming is usually best confined to portable systems. My 3DS has become my best friend lately, offering me something small and enjoyable I can play in bed each night before falling asleep. At the rate I’m going, I might finish Final Fantasy in a couple weeks or so, but those sort of games really lend themselves to be played in short bursts.

The rest of my year basically consists of getting through all these games I’ve amassed lately, the Wii U launch, and Persona 4 Golden. I’m doing a review for Persona 4 at Substance TV, so that’s going to be my priority during Thanksgiving break. I’m taking that whole weekend off of work, so there will be a lot of Persona in my future. Can I finish it in a week for review? I guess we’ll have to find out. It’s been a long time since I really heavily mainlined a JRPG. Persona 3 actually took me a little over a month to play, as I’d just chip away at it an hour or so at a time. It wasn’t until I got near the end that I started putting a lot more time into it.

I don’t want it to go completely dark here during the next month, so I’m really going to try and at least put something up once a week, if only to prove that I’m still alive and that things are happening. Like I said, I was really hoping to get a new layout and everything implemented, but it’s just not working the way I want it to yet. I don’t really like doing these sort of “yep, still alive” posts, since I know I don’t exactly have a regular readership, so I’m mainly doing them for my own sake. I don’t want to feel like I’m completely ignoring this blog, because I’m really not trying to. Life has just been getting in the way lately.

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Album Review: Less Than Jake “Greetings and Salutations”

Hailing from Gainesville, Fla., Less Than Jake have been at it for two decades, and despite a few minor changes to the horn section, they have always had the same core lineup. The result is that they are clearly very comfortable in their own skin. They know where their strengths lie, and they have never been accused of being over ambitious. Pop punk with brass and ska rhythms aren’t the most complicated of punk rock conventions, so with “Greetings and Salutations,” the band sticks closely to their guns.

The album opens with “The New Auld Lang Syne,” throwing everything fans expect into the mix. It is rounded out by a singalong chorus that declares “do your worst/I’ll survive another year,” acting as a mission statement for the rest of the record. Less Than Jake have always been about anthems of small town life, and escaping to bigger, better things. Their previous album, “GNV FLA,” was seen as a return to form, and this new release uses it as a foundation for a solid progression forward. The songs are catchier, and at times, the brass resembles the more relaxed tones it took on during 2000’s “Borders and Boundaries.” Everyone gets a chance to shine on this album in some way or another.

The biggest problem with the record is that while the tracks are great individually, they don’t work as well in the concept of a full length record. Despite the attempts to assemble it as a single studio LP, the songs still feel like a pair of EPs mixed up and arranged into an album sequence.  Fans of the band will recognize the majority of the tracks from the two EPs released late last year, and earlier this spring, along with a pair of leftover tracks from the recording sessions. That’s not to say this is a bad release, because it isn’t. Both EPs of material are excellent, standing up with some of the best material the band has ever released, though it’s obvious to see why the other two tracks were initially left out. While not immediately up to par to the rest of the release, both “Flag Holders Union” and “View From the Middle” stand as nice, uptempo pop punk numbers that get better from repeated listens.

“Can’t Yell Any Louder,” formerly the opening track from the earlier EP, stands defiantly with it’s chorus of “I tell myself tonight is mine/so I’ll hold my head up high/I’m never moving backwards/I don’t think I can yell any louder,” and Less Than Jake forges onward, hopefully for another twenty years. It’s been a busy anniversary for the band so far, and they seem determined to do it all again.

My Undying Love for Less Than Jake

In the last ten years, my tastes in music have rapidly changed. I’ve expanded and gone off on weird genre tangents, ranging from Japanese post-rock to the greatest offerings east coast hip-hop had to give me. Every day I’m finding new bands to dig into. I’m always looking for something new to keep me going, and most of all, keep me interested. In high school, this really wasn’t the case.

Around 2000, I finally started developing what I considered a taste in music, or at least something that I could associate myself with. I fell into punk rock, and it really defined a lot of my high school experience. I found myself interested in all of these bands that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 introduced me to, and as I’ve said before, that game really lit a fire under my ass. Music finally meant something to me. I digested all I could find, and to be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of those bands all that much anymore. Less Than Jake has never been one of those bands. I love them more today than I ever did when I was a teenager. I think this is due to a lot of the songs making a lot more sense to me now than they did back then.

The first time I even heard this band, I didn’t know what to expect. Ska-punk was a new genre to me, something I didn’t yet understand. Their most recent album at the time was 2000’s Borders and Boundaries, an album somewhat removed from the sound they are typically associated with. I was wasting time on the internet, looking up bands, and I knew people on IRC who were into this “ska band,” so I decided to give them a look. The first song I heard was a track from Borders and Boundaries called “Kehoe,” and I think I fell in love in an instant.

I was initially thrown off by the horn section, but I quickly got over it. It was that first verse that said everything I really need to know about life at the time.

Ideals are like opinions, beliefs just like tradition 
Sometimes both are not enough.
Faded stickers and crumpled flyers, 
They’ve become the reminder that there’s an anthem in us
That fits the flag we’ve flown for years.

Now, over years I’ve learned that Less Than Jake really don’t sing about a lot of different topics. The majority of their songs are about living in a shitty situation and making the claim to better yourself and get out of that terrible hole you’ve sunk into. It never mattered to me. I’m 26 years old, and I still feel this way every day of my life. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I’m doing all I can to survive from day to day. Their songs still mean the world to me, and instilled the belief within me to just be myself. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.

I can still recall going to the mall one evening and picking up their Losing Streak and Hello Rockview albums. I would pick up Borders and Boundaries a few weeks later, and would eventually pick up the rest of their primary discography. I was hooked, and I needed to hear everything I could. I finally got to see them live in 2003, and since then I’ve seen them about ten times. This is a band that helped me become who I am, and helped give me hope during the worst days of my life. I wrote their lyrics in my school notebooks and quoted them frequently in my old Livejournal.

I found out fairly early on that the lyrics were all written by drummer, Vinnie Fiorello. He never struck me as a very impressive drummer, but I found solace in his words. Even as their songs treaded over similar themes, they always seemed to find a way to keep it sounding fresh. I read interviews with him where he was asked about how he wrote his lyrics, and he mentioned that he would write individual lines on everything from napkins to post-it notes, and he kept them in a shoebox. He would assemble similar lines together into stanzas, and hand them off to guitarist Chris Demakes and bassist Roger Manganelli. This method always seemed to work for them, but as they’ve grown as a band I can see Vinnie’s lyrics take a slightly more straightforward, less fractured structure to them.

They are set to release their next album tomorrow (or January for a physical copy), which is comprised of a pair of EPs released earlier this year and late 2011, along with a pair of unreleased tracks to top it off. The songs have been arranged into an album, and having heard ten of the twelve tracks, I really feel like this is some of the strongest material they’ve released in years. For a band that’s been around for twenty years, they keep on doing what they do, and they are still very good at it. Not only are they releasing this album, but they are also planning on releasing a full length album of new material next year! I’m really excited about this, and despite missing their show nearly a month ago, I’m making it a point not to miss them the next time they come around.

I may have gotten into a lot of odd music over the last few years, dabbling in noise rock and bizarre ambient experiments, but I will always love this band.

The Plan

Okay, so I”m working on setting the plan in motion, and I pretty well have it figured out (for now, at least) what I’m going to do with this blog.

Here’s the deal: first of all, there’s going to be a name change. I have one in mind, but I haven’t finished setting it all up yet, so I’m not going to reveal that yet. I like the name “minusworlds,” but I feel like it limits my discussion to video games. I said previously that I wanted to move beyond writing about just video games. The truth of the matter is that my brain is a radioactive wasteland of useless information. I might not be able to tell you all that much about math, but if you want to know why Jetsons: The Movie is a terrible film, I can go on for a while. I’ve been tossing around ideas to do a re-watch of a television series or something and write up each episode, just to do something different. I know the updates here have been sparse, but I assure you, it isn’t for lack of content ideas. I’ve still got plenty of those.

Next up, I’m realizing that with the resources I have at my disposal, I could likely do some interesting content that isn’t just writing based. I’m tossing around the idea of doing video or audio of some sort. I haven’t really locked down a solid concept for these things, but the idea is intriguing. I think it’d be a lot of fun, so it’s definitely something to explore. With that in mind, I have considered morphing this blog into a portfolio of sorts, acting as my own personal web portal that links to all of my Internet diatribes. That is still very likely to happen, though I’ve been really thinking about something else entirely, which would make turning this blog into a personal portfolio unfeasible. I’m actually considering hassling a couple of friends into contributing some pieces, making this into my own miniature community.

I’m still mulling it over. I haven’t decided which way I’m going to take this. Truthfully, I do want to take the writing element in a more critical, serious direction. That’s not to say that my horrible sense of humor would be going anywhere, but I do feel like there’s more I can do instead of just rambling about these bizarre, existential crises that video games cause me.

The hard part about all of this is something I briefly explained in the last update. I’m stressed out a lot, and sometimes I just can’t write. It gets hard to focus, and I don’t want to force these pieces to come out. Since I’m not posting regular news updates from publishers or something, I’m far more free to just write about what I want. I’m not exactly held to any sort of deadline, but sometimes, nothing comes out. My real life stress has a huge impact on this, and when I have bad days, I have really bad days. It’s something I’ve learned to live with for the time being. Writing makes me happy. It’s a challenge, and over the latter part of the summer I was able to watch my own style develop quickly. That was a really good feeling, and I’d prefer to keep that trend going. I know I can do much better, and I want to push those boundaries.

I’m going to think some of this over through the weekend. New changes should start going into effect on Monday or so.

 

Resident Evil 6 Hate, Absence, Looking Forward.

Between being busy lately and having some major writer’s block, I haven’t been writing. Things have been a little bit hectic and I haven’t really been able to concentrate. I am trying to work on some bigger, more interesting pieces, but I will say I’m having trouble putting them together. I could easily keep writing about the same things over and over, but that will lead to my writing becoming stagnant very quickly, something I really want to avoid. I haven’t been able to adhere to this schedule of updating three times a week. Sorry about that.

That being said, I really want to address something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately. The enthusiast press is getting called out for giving high profile games lower scores. Resident Evil 6 came out this week, and the ratings it has received have been all over the board. This is clearly looking to be a divisive title for a lot of people. While I was initially interested in it, looking at how it has progressed through development has stunted any real attachment I had. I’m not a huge fan of the Resident Evil series to begin with, so it isn’t that big of a deal.

The part that really upsets me is the fan response to these lower scores. Phillip Kollar from Polygon gave Resident Evil 6 a 4/10, while Jim Sterling of Destructoid gave it a 3.0. Kevin Van Ord from Gamespot gave it a 4.5. Not all of the review scores have been completely negative, but of course the lower scores are the ones that have received the most attention. By attention, I mean that personal attacks have been made against these people on Twitter. Over a fucking video game.

This is unacceptable.

A while back I wrote a little bit about how the fan response to Bayonetta 2 has also been divisive, at worst resulting in a social media death threat at Hideki Kamiya. This is beyond madness. I realize they are a vocal minority in the landscape of the gaming community, but that isn’t an excuse to be a total asshole. If someone gives a game you like a bad score, that’s fine. It’s not a big deal. Are you really going to let it stop your enjoyment of the game? Do you have that little of an actual opinion that someone badmouthing your precious video game is going to negatively affect your day? This seriously baffles me. I really don’t know what to think about it.

I’m growing to really hate the word “gamer,” especially lately. To me, the picture painted when I hear it has become every stereotype that I used to believe was untrue. I never wanted to believe that gamers were this awful. Having been to Penny Arcade Expo, the experiences I’ve had with people there have been almost nothing but pleasant. Yeah, there’s a couple bad apples in there once and a while, but I’ve met so many awesome people that just love gaming and don’t seem to get so upset over something so trivial. Those are the people I want to associate with the hobby. Unfortunately, the vocal minority of gaming’s hardcore elite have tainted that for me, and now that’s all I can think about.

I have friends that take video games a lot more seriously for me. Yeah, I enjoy them a lot, hence why I run this blog and write about them, but they aren’t something I use as much of an identification of who I am. In truth, I have a lot of other expensive hobbies, some of which take precedence over gaming. Gaming is just something I enjoy doing, but anymore, I don’t really consider myself much of a “gamer.” I’m not up on all the latest releases, I’m still working on playing through games that came out a few years ago. I have allegiances to certain studios, but it isn’t a huge part of how I perceive myself. Video games are a big part of my life, but I don’t let them define my life. The people who define their lives by it are typically the ones who are that angry, vocal minority that is ready to burn any naysayer at the stake. I never want to become that. It’s thankfully unlikely that I ever will.

As I said earlier, I’ve been busy lately, and this blog has taken kind of a secondary role in my priorities. I’ve been stressed out and I’m trying to get a lot of my own issues sorted out. Of course, the writer’s block certainly isn’t helping. It’s likely that I’m going to be changing the focus of this blog to something a little more all encompassing. This sort of writing is therapeutic, and I guess I don’t like that the focus of this blog has me limited to writing about video games. I really want to write about music, movies and other things. I also really want to try and write a little more about my boring-ass everyday life and see if I can’t turn this into more of a fully featured blog. I have ideas for things. That all being said, I’m gonna make some huge changes here over the next couple weeks as I decide where I want to take this.

If anyone out there reads this, I’ll see you soon.