Why I love: My Bloody Valentine

No not the movie.  Rather the greatest of the late 80’s noise bands and the early 90’s shoegazers.  As a bit of background I bought Loveless, their last album, in the summer of 1993…and since then it has been my all time favorite album.  Nothing really comes close for me and it’s the only music, outside of Blue Monday by New Order, which I can point out significantly impacting all my taste in music since.  I was coming just off the great summer of grunge and I remember buying this album with my hard-earned summer cash along with “Sweet Oblivion” by Screaming Trees and “It’s a shame about Ray” by The Lemonheads.  These 3 albums had been carefully picked through a long and painstaking elimination process because I only had money for 3…which means they had to last.  Which they did!  In varying amounts of course.  “Ray” is an old friendly curiosity today for me, “Sweet Oblivion” still stands as the crowning glory of grunge and Loveless….oh Loveless.  It was and still is like nothing else.  It had that soft melodic touch and the angelic voices…but it also had glorious noise that outclassed all the metal or grunge I was coming from by a very high margin.  I think the killer though is the third dimension it brings to the table…it all rocked out of off-key sweeps that made it feel otherworldly.  There’s still nothing like this album.  I was lucky enough to see an amazing comeback live performance at Roskilde 2008 which exceeded all expectations and now there are news that Kevin Shields has finally finished the follow up…22 years later.  There is no music I have looked forward to so much…ever.  This is why I wanted to write this post.  I really love My Bloody Valentine with all of my nerdy music loving heart.

I’m not the only one who loves this album.  Just looking at Amazon reviews shows me I was not the only one to be completely swept away by it.  Pitchfork, the lovable snobs they are, also voted it as the nr. 1 album of the 90’s (although they did revise that list later switching it with OK Computer by Radiohead in the two top posts for some reason).  For someone new to My Bloody Valentine the following 3 are the songs that I want to point out as essential starters from Loveless :)

Sometimes (Loveless 1991)
Only Shallow (Loveless 1991)

Soon (Loveless 1991)
Although I’m ranting about Loveless I do love all of the other music MBV released as well.  Isn’t Anything (1988) is a different kind of masterpiece, more in the realm of melodic noise punk.   It’s however their singles that really stand out as poppy noise masterpieces and their most accessible music by far, many on par with Loveless, but a totally different style.  In a great move these were all released again last year in an awesome 2-CD compilation, which is as essential a purchase as Loveless in my opinion.
Here are 5 other amazing MBV tracks from their EP singles as well as Isn’t Anything, each of them an absolute classic on their own:
Don’t Ask Why (Glider EP 1990) 
Slow (You made me Realize EP 1988)
I Believe (Feed Me With Your Kiss EP – 1988)
Nothing Much To Lose (Isn’t Anything 1988)
You Made Me Realise (You Made Me Realise EP – 1988)

My top 10 favorite games of 2012

So, I play a lot of games.  I wanted to make a list of the best games I played this year, mainly because this year was one of the best gaming years I remember.  One note before I start is that I work in the industry, namely at DICE in Stockholm, which is a part of EA and that I was credited on games this year (Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield Premium).  I’ll leave EA games out of this mix because of that.  However this was not the year of the big name publisher.  This was the year of indie games and smaller studios doing excellent stuff.  We’ll take this wave back next year for sure!  Also of note is that I haven’t played some games or played enough of them to evaluate….namely Mark of the Ninja, Far Cry 3, Endless Swan, Halo 4 and Black Ops II.

10. Super Hexagon

Terry Cavanagh made the perfect mobile game.  Extremely difficult but you can still get 50 or so satisfying games in on a short bus ride.  Awesome music.

9. Botanicula

I loved Machinarium but I loved Botanicula more!  I don’t know why it works, it’s so childish in its humour but it’s so well crafted that it comes together in a feelgood explosion.  Great art style and great music.

8. Dear Esther

An interactive poem?  I was ready to put Dear Esther in its place when I started playing.  I thought before hand I had figured out exactly what it was, but I was wrong.  What I got was 2 hours of some of the smartest narrative I’ve ever seen in gaming.  Dear Esther really evolved gaming to another place by introducing something new.

7. Endless Space

I like 4X games but there hasn’t been a space one that really rivals Civilization.  Sure GalCiv does it well, but Endless Space does it in a way that makes the genre very accessible.  It’s basically the Master of Orion III we all wanted.

6. FTL

A perfect example of designing a small scope for a game and sticking to that vision.  FTL works because the scope is small in a way that makes it take 1 minute to learn but hours to master.  I’ve always wanted a game where I can manage my own spaceship on a great trek through the universe.  FTL didn’t do the long term persistence but rather did 10-30 minute short games where you ended up with some epic stories of survival after each playthrough.  Awesome music and art style!

5. Xcom: Enemy Unknown

Finally the best PC game of all time got its proper sequel.  Xcom got everything right and was accessible while doing it.  Best part was how attached you would get to your squad.  I still can’t imagine playing through that game without “Nightmare”, my pretty blonde alien killing sniper heroine.

4. Dishonored

Thief 2 was until this year my high watermark for stealth games.  Dishonored was basically the evolution of Thief 2…with magic!  I loved the dark steampunk setting and I loved that you could go through the whole game without any killing.  The special abilities were so fun to play with.  I hope the Thief 4 team is taking notes….and really the Assassins Creed team should to.

3. Journey

The most perfect 2-3 hours of gaming you will ever find.  Everything about it was gorgeous and everyone with even just a passing interest in gaming should play it.  It’s kinda amazing that there were games this year I felt were better..

2. Fez

Fez is a gorgeous 2D game. The most interesting thing about it are its exploration (there are no enemies) and the fact that its optional puzzles are really quite different, breaking the 4th wall between the game world and the actual world on occasions.  This game was an obsession for cryptography fans and the internet had to attack it with all its brainpower in the end to complete the last puzzles, but it still took time.  Also it was just a soothing and fun experience.  I still haven’t gone beyond the 32 cubes into total craziness but I absolutely plan to.  The soundtrack sounded like 8-Bit Boards of Canada and was just as good as that description implies.

1. Hotline Miami

Nothing about Hotline Miami seen from the outside seemed like it was for me.  It looked a hyper violent and vile mess of a game.  Yet there was no game this year I obsessed over as much as this one and the adrenalin rush it gave was something that is very rare in gaming.  Almost a puzzle game by nature and a very difficult game…but never unfair because it all felt like it was by design.  The gameplay was great but it wouldn’t work as well without the amazing music and great story.  It was more than a little inspired by the movie Drive in theme and tone and it had a dark and disturbed vision it carried out flawlessly. No game this year made me get so lost in it as Hotline Miami and for the 10 hours it took me to finish it I was absolutely obsessed with it.  Also in a year of amazing gaming soundtracks (Fez, FTL, Super Hexagon, Dear Esther) the Hotline Miami soundtrack was the best one.  Play it!

My top 10 favorite songs of 2012

In no particular order.  I’m excluding Icelandic music for a separate post.

Just a list of my top 10 favorite songs of 2012 for your enjoyment or criticism :)

The XX – Angels
For some reason I didn’t expect the XX to follow up their gorgeous debut with anything of similar quality.  Gladly I was very wrong…their second album far outclasses the debut and this song is just one big goosebump moment.

Gonjasufi – Nickels and Dimes
Gonjasufi is so different from anything else.  His music is just so compelling and I love how I can’t put a finger on why.  This album wasn’t as good as Sufi and a Killer but this is in my opinion the best song he has released so far.

Mark Lanegan – Gravedigger’s Song
It’s an undisbutable fact that Lanegan is the best living rock singer.  That’s just the way it is.  That voice!!  This song is his best since Screaming Trees.  No contest.  Great to see him in top form.

Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
This is how you secure your place as indie legends.  After 2 great albums came the masterpiece.

Perfume Genius – Hood
For 2-3 months this year I didn’t really listen to anything else.  It’s a gorgeous album and seeing him live at a small club here in Stockholm in the middle of summer was just beautiful.  My song of the year.

Metz – Rats
My album of the year.  Came out of nowhere and pretty much the best punk/noise rock I have heard.  The key is the amazing production here, similar to Steve Albini’s In Utero production.  Drums and guitars up front and vocals in the back.  Hits hard and just simply cool!

Neil Young – Ramada Inn
Neil is one of my top 5 favorite musicians of all time (The others are My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Boards of Canada and Tom Waits btw for those that are interested :)) and this was his best form in a long time.  16 minute epic full of feedback and minor chords!  Not that he’s been bad last decade… this is just his best possible form.  I really, really want to see him live again this tour!

Beach House – Myth
I don’t really know what to say about this one.  It just grabs you.  Such a gorgeous song!

Niki and the Dove – DJ, Ease my mind
Swedish hipster pop.  My weakness!  Taking the best elements from Robyn and The Knife.  Great album and they are really good live with plenty of improvisation, which was fun to see.

The Shins – Simple Song
I just love The Shins.  Mercer is one of the greatest classic songwriters this generation without a doubt.  It’s just the best kind of happy feelgood music.  I also think this new Shins lineup is better live than the old one.  A really solid concert in Stockholm last winter.

Other notables (I will update this list as I remember more and more that I’ve forgotten):

Orbital – One Big Moment
Dead Can Dance – Kiko
Meshuggah – The Demon’s name is surveilance
Snoop Lion – La La La
Mumford & Sons – Babel

Old music that is amazing – Part 1

Just simple. Some old music that is amazing. I actually hope you haven’t heard any of these before because then you’re in luck! I wish I was hearing them for the first time because it’s mindblowing stuff.

Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground

85 year old music that sounds like nothing else. Nobody plays guitar like this anymore..and the vocals feel otherworldlyand beyond time almost. Incredible song.

Son House – Don’t you Mind People Grinning in Your Face

Another incredible song. Simple and doesn’t even need instruments. Just one man clapping and singing about the difference between true and fake people. This is Jack White’s favorite song of all time and he covered another Son House, Death Letter, with his band The White Stripes….arguably their best live song.

Mississippi John Hurt – Spike Driver Hurt

One for guitar players. Incredible guitar player but there’s also just something really smooth about all his songs overall. His style is just really calm and flows really well. One of a million songs about the rebel railroad worker hero John Henry, but this one may be my favorite of them all.

Leadbelly – Where Did You Sleep Last Night

Well this one it is very likely you have heard… covered by Nirvana. It’s a great song and Leadbelly was a great musician. He was a real tough guy though and a criminal, but you can’t take anything from the quality of his music.

Woody Guthrie – Tear the Fascist Down

Woody is a personal favorite. I went through a long period of listening to all his stuff and I love all of it. Woody was a poor worker born out of the great depression and the over farmed wastes of the Midwest of the US that lead to terrible dust storms and massive movement of people to the west coast of America. It’s a fascinating period and I highly recommend people read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to learn more about it. It’s also a period that sounds like we imagine apocalyptic fiction to be today…but it’s also a period that is frighteningly close to us…only 70-80 years back. Woody was a worker hero and his songs mostly revolve around the duststorm migrations. worker rights and the fight against fascists. There would be no Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie. Dylan himself has said that many times and when Dylan was young and starting out he visited Woody often, then in his later years. Great musician and a fitting end to this post :)

The problem with a lot of fantasy fiction, especially Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin

One thing most of my geeky friends have in common is that most of them read heroic or epic fantasy books. I love a good fantasy as well, but I also have a bit of a pedantic problem where I also want them well written, which in my opinion is rare to find in the genre… although in recent years standards have been elevated with really great new authors like Patrick Rothfuss (Name of the Wind) and Susannah Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) coming onto the scene. Fantasy books are all very much descendent from Tolkien or Conan the Barbarian and there is a trend with these books that annoys me to no end which I really want to comment on: They are too long and long winded! This is even true for the grand master of fantasy himself..Have you read Lord of the Rings recently? It’s a wonderful and amazing book of course but one that is badly in need of an editor. It’s so obvious that Tolkien didn’t know where it was heading while writing it. First book is a slow prod through the countryside with the same adventurous lightweight feeling of The Hobbit, while Return of the King is a condensed tale of cold epic battles and a [spoiler] quite ridiculous second to last chapter where Saruman is a weak idiot attacking the Shire. The Lord of the Rings book ends with a whimper and on a silly chapter that any editor would’ve cut [end spoiler]. Tolkien tends to ramble as well. Granted he rambles on better than most but some of his characters are terribly developed, especially his female characters who mostly have roles in the appendix. Aragorn is really a shadow of his movie counterpart as well. In short, The Lord of the Rings sorely needed an editor and one can argue that that’s what Peter Jackson actually did with his movie trilogy.
This brings me to a personal favorite beef of mine. When I was growing up the main successor to Tolkien was touted as Robert Jordan. His books were however so laughably slow and badly written I almost wrote the whole epic fantasy genre off then and there after picking them up. In a sad, but predictable turn of events Jordan never came close to finishing his epic, even though he probably wrote 10.000 pages of that story. Cut to 10 years later and on a whim I picked up George R.R. Martins a Game of Thrones. Today this has become the biggest fantasy epic since Tolkien and the main reason is in my opinion that Martin is a great character and world creator, unlike for instance Jordan, who doesn’t really have any redeemable literary qualities like Martin. That first book (A Game of Thrones) is nothing short of amazing. It’s frighteningly real and the plot moves fast. The characters are well developed and the style of jumping between them really works. It’s a great book and one of the best the genre has to offer. Sadly it was just the beginning of one of the most spectacular downfalls seen in fiction writing. 2000 pages into his epic, around the middle of the 3rd book, it had become quite apparent to me that Martin has no intention to even move his plot along. What he seems to love is to create new characters and then proceed to drag them through hell, while not resolve any of the plots that he created for his old characters. This is the same issue the TV show Lost had as well. By the end of book 3 in this series I just gave up and I’ve heard from everyone I know who ventured further that things just get slower and worse in the next books. I am quite sure Martin will never finish his series. It will sadly never happen based on his current release schedule. It’s a cold hard fact just looking at the numbers.
Since I like proving my arguments with data (it’s my job) here’s a handy list of how many POV (Point of view) characters are in the series by book:
Book 1 – A Game of Thrones: 8 POV Characters ( 694 pages)
Book 2 – A Clash of Kings: 10 POV Characters, 3 new (768 pages)
Book 3 – A Storm of Swords: 12 POV Characters, 3 new(973 pages)
Book 4 – A Feast For Crows: 12 POV Characters, 8 new ?!? (784 pages)
Book 5 – A Dance with Dragons: 18 POV Characters, 7 new ?!? (1040 pages)
And 4500 pages or so into this epic *spoiler* Daenerys hasn’t even crossed the sea?!? *spoiler*. I really feel sorry for the people adapting this for HBO. By the end of the third season I expect crysis meetings in the writers room. This plot simply doesn’t move and it doesn’t really feel that the middle chapter of the story has even started. It’s still in the build up phase.
It may seem like I’m being overly cynical here, but ultimately when I sit down to read an epic that’s 800 pages or more I really just want it to be epic and awesome and I always start out with the greatest of hopes and intentions for it After giving up on Song of Ice and Fire I was lucky enough to find the perfect antithesis. I read a book called Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s one of the more famous fantasy epics and it’s actually very similar to Game of Thrones in many ways, which is why I bring it up in this post. It’s a very epic story in a very real world that has dark magic undertones and it’s told from the point of view of several main characters, just like Martin’s epic. Guy Gavriel Kay also has an obvious talent for creating worlds and characters like Martin. There are a few difference though that make Tigana stand out over Song of Ice and Fire. Firstly the point of view characters are about the same as Game of Thrones (book 1) but Kay sticks to the major characters longer each time than Martin with a clear arc starting and ending most times. He digs about as deep into their minds, but focuses on major events that drive the plot. There are very few filler musings about hillsides or boats like Martin loves to write about. These kind of musings exist in Tigana as well, but only to colour the world and not to delay the plot. Also Tigana has a very clear beginning, middle and end for all the characters as well the story as a whole. Nothing is left hanging and in the end I even felt I knew these characters better than most of Martin’s characters. In short…annoyed by Martin? …go read Tigana! I word of warning…it has one flaw and that is that it takes it about 100-150 pages to really get going. This is the only point where Martin is the clear winner. Any other good suggestions? :)
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