The Never-Ending Mixtape: Blur, Part 1

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Blur released more than two dozen singles throughout their career. I would argue that the band is best enjoyed by listening to their albums as a whole, but it was their (mostly) radio-friendly singles that brought them fame. The “Battle of Britpop” was both waged in the media and on the charts, and Blur succeeded over Oasis in the latter with a number of hits.

There’s really no proper starting point with the band, other than listening to their albums in chronological order. However, if you just want a taster, I went ahead and compiled the 10 album and non-album singles from their storied career. When I compiled this list, I was surprised by how many supposedly deep album cuts were actually released to the radio. It’s also worth noting that these singles were mostly released in the U.K.; Blur’s traction in the States pales in comparison to how they were received in their homeland.

97) “Song 2″
You’ve heard this before. Let’s get it out of the way, then, shall we?

98) “Popscene”
I found an imported 7″ of this in a record store in Florida. I still regret not buying it, as it’s probably worth quite a bit in a collection.

99) “There’s No Other Way”
I have a feeling this popped up in a recent Edgar Wright film. If it didn’t, it sounds like it would be quite at home in a British comedy, soundtracking a scene of rowdy friends enjoying the open road and a couple of smokes.

100) “Country House”
Like the last two songs, this single never really made it past college radio in the United States. However, it’s one of the band’s best and brightest arrangements. They retooled it during their reunion, and live versions exist on Spotify and elsewhere of this new “version.”

101) “M.O.R.”
For legal reasons, Brian Eno and David Bowie are both given co-writing credits here. This is due to the similarity of “M.O.R.” and a couple of songs on Bowie’s Lodger.

102) “Girls and Boys”
It’s impossible to visit a bar in Brooklyn for more than three hours and not hear this song played. I’ve probably heard it when I was out and about more times than I’ve listened to Parklife, and I’ve heard that album quite a bit.

103) “Parklife”
The call-and-response nature of the verses is what makes the song so playful. The super-catchy chorus just seals the deal. Phil Daniels, the speaking voice, later made an appearance on Think Tank in the hidden track, “Me, White Noise.”

104) “Coffee and TV”
Graham sang this one, which was appropriate since it was solely about him. The music video for the song  arguably gained more popularity than the song itself, as it featured an animated milk carton (“Milky”) and its quest to find a missing Coxon.

105) “Out of Time”
Think Tank was an album full of sweet songs, and “Out of Time” set the mood after the slightly frenetic album starter, “Ambulance.” Though rhythm is an important mechanic in all of Blur’s music, it’s especially apparent on the album and in this song, with interlocking drum and bass lines working hand-in-hand with a steel guitar.

106) “No Distance Left To Run”
Damon Albarn is one of my favorite vocalists of all time, but his strength as a singer isn’t always on display. However, his vocal and emotional range is as clear as day in this track, which is about the singer’s breakup with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann.

Thoughts on Tyler, The Creator’s Cherry Bomb

Tyler-The-Creator-Cherry-BombMy cousin came to town last week and gave me a call. He lives in LA with his wife and two kids, a 15-year-old and a ten-year-old. His children love to skateboard and are particularly fond of Odd Future.

We both discussed plans for the day, as well as what to do in the city. Per my suggestion, his kids were spending quite a bit of time at the Supreme store in Soho, which marginally relates to Tyler et. al. I then proceeded to get into a small discussion on Tyler, The Creator, “Golf Wang,” and how they’re so amped about the subject.

In the lead-up to the “surprise” release of Cherry Bomb, Tyler, The Creator made mention of this album being the realization of his hard work and maturity as an artist. It’s supposedly the most focused, while (also supposedly) showing a diverse range of interests. Simply put, Tyler, The Creator believes Cherry Bomb is an amazing album. I know this because it’s consistently stated throughout the actual album.

Cherry Bomb is a nice attempt, especially for a 24-year-old kid who was assumedly given complete creative control and deep pockets to do whatever he pleased. Sure, there’s commentary on gang violence, a “softer “side of Tyler, and a bunch of metaphors related to finding oneself (and possibly love). Still, everything falls flat and comes off as confused. Even the music switches between poorly mixed, distorted rock-influenced hip hop and N*E*R*D B-sides. It’s a big mess, especially when compared to the well-produced Wolf or even a couple of the standout singles on Goblin.

What Tyler needs to realize is that instead of trying to feign maturity and prove that his work is now high art, he should cater to his fanbase. After all, how does continuing to use the word “faggot” and a number of immature songs (with “Blow My Load” being the worst offender) demonstrate personal and professional growth? For those unaware of the whole Odd Future group (which, if you are, you missed the peak), the bulk of the demographic now consists of people like my cousins. These listeners are at the age when the gravity of certain words doesn’t mean a whole lot, and the concept of being deep is, itself, pretty deep. As an adult who feels that the “finding your wings” metaphor is tired and cliche, all while enjoying a good Migos track or two over the past month, I find it impossible to buy into this schtick.

Unfair Game Review: Mortal Kombat X

Note: All game images in this article have since been replaced by a DMCA takedown email I received from Twitch and Warner Bros. Entertainment related to a broadcast on the Twitch service.

Let’s try to rationalize the Mortal Kombat series for a second. It is a video game where you — playing as the avatar of a human, ninja, or alien — fight computer- or human-controlled characters — who also happen to be humans, ninjas, and aliens — to the death. When I say “death,” I don’t mean “you kicked them so hard that they lapsed into a coma and never recovered until their untimely demise.” Mortal Kombat has you ripping heads off, playing with spines, and bathing in blood while a disembodied announcer voice laughs. It’s pretty gruesome, but it depicts gratuitous violence in an almost comical manner.

For over 20 years, I couldn’t get enough of this. I remember playing the original Mortal Kombat for days in the Westchester Marriott. My sister and I would pummel the crap out of each other in Mortal Kombat II every time we went to our local video store. My dad somehow got a bootleg PC copy of Mortal Kombat 3 in Chinatown for MS-DOS. Actually, the first console game I ever bought with my own money was Mortal Kombat Trilogy for the first PlayStation. I’ve counted myself a fan of the series since its initial release in American arcades, and I’ve played every iteration of the game, save for a few mobile adaptations.

Scorpion taking on Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat X
Scorpion fighting Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat X.

But times change. I’ve matured as a person, no longer taking immense interest in video games and instead budgeting my time to play when permitted. Video game consoles are no longer just game consoles, but streaming media devices, broadcast tools, and communication hubs. As it was hypothesized in The Cable Guy, you can now “play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam.” Yet when you do so, you’re expected to livestream it on Twitch, share your progress on Facebook, and periodically keep in touch with said friend over a gaming network. As a 28-year-old male with a full-time job, a significant other, and a lot going on in my life, how am I supposed to get excited about this “all-in” approach to gaming and social media while retaining a similar experience to the old arcade days?

I decided to pick up a copy of Mortal Kombat X, the latest iteration of the series, with the goal of holding on to some part of my youth and reliving the golden days spent in a cool arcade on a hot summer day. I own a PlayStation 4, which I bought on the eve of its release on instinct. After all, I’ve owned the first three of its kid, so why not keep going? So far, in the 17 months I’ve owned the console, I’ve almost exclusively used it for streaming Netflix and maybe the occasional game. I hoped Mortal Kombat X would pull me out of a gaming slump and make me reconsider picking up the controller a bit more.

Scorpion taking on Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat X

Just a sample of the game modes offered in Mortal Kombat X.

Mortal Kombat has always been the game where you take a character, beat the crap out of ten or so other characters, and start again. This process, when done well, could take anywhere from 12 to 30 minutes. But since Mortal Kombat is no longer an arcade game and a console game, consumers expect more than just beating the holy hell out of other characters and maybe an explanation of their chosen character’s motivation. Since Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, the first title in the series to eschew an arcade version, the games have included a story mode, where all the game’s characters interact with each other through the most hackneyed, cliche plot imaginable. Essentially, story mode gives you an excuse to try out the characters, look at all the stages, and give you a small reason to root for/against characters. This is a noble effort on developer Netherrealm Studios’ part (formerly Midway Games), but if you think about the fact that you can fight as a robot against a goddamn centaur, it seems just downright goofy to invest yourself in the series’ lore.

The story mode in Mortal Kombat X takes roughly four hours to beat. After that, you have the option to do the original arcade-style “towers” of fighting a number of computer-controlled opponents, play a few button-mashing mini-games, or kick the crap out of other people online. Playing and winning matches nets you “koins” (with a stylistic “k”), which you can spend in “the Krypt” to unlock costumes, production art, finishing moves, and a few bits of behind-the-scenes content.

Here’s Why I Hate It

Video games cost $60, but they don’t just cost $60. In addition to a game, you have the option of buying extra characters, levels, moves, etc. This doesn’t just go for Mortal Kombat X, but for pretty much any tentpole game released today. Publishers and developers adopted these monetization techniques from their wealthier smartphone cousins to squeeze out as much money as possible from the consumer. Over the year or two after a game’s release, that initial $60 turns into $100 or more.

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The downloadable Predator character in Mortal Kombat X.

 

Mortal Kombat X gives you the option to play as the four-armed character, Goro, but only if you pre-ordered the game and got it on its release day. If you don’t do that but still want Goro, you have to pay real money for him, despite the fact that he’s pretty much already in the game. Netherrelam Studios also announced four additional characters for the price of $30 together (or $10 each when purchased separately). These characters were ready to be included in the final game and were announced well before the release date, but Netherrealm and parent company Warner Bros. opted to hold them out of the $60 product to sell them at an additional cost. In older Mortal Kombat titles, one used to be able to unlock the characters. Starting with the last Mortal Kombat title, you now have to buy them in an additional purchase.

Fatalities are gruesome finishing moves players can pull off if they press the correct sequence of buttons when prompted. In a new money-generating scheme, Netherrealm now allows players to press a simple button and perform these fatalities — if they cough up anywhere between $.99 and $4.99 for a pack of 5-30 “easy fatality” tokens. You can earn a few of these tokens by purchasing them in the Krypt with in-game koins. However, thanks to an update to the game on its release day, you need to invest in dozens, if not close to 100 hours to earn enough koins to unlock everything in the Krypt and find all the easy fatality tokens.

Or, you could just buy the entire Krypt for $19.99. Yes, instead of playing the video game you bought (at a grind, mind you), you can just open your wallet and earn everything in a simple transaction. What used to be fun, hidden secrets that players would trade in an arcade are now monetized shortcuts. Is this due to the normalization of such a practice in major video games? Is this because of the influence of relatively new IP owner Warner Bros.? I don’t know, but I do know that it sucks a large part of what made the series fun and instead makes it an accessory.

It needs to be said that once you have all of these unlockables, secret moves, and so on, it’s still just a fighting game. You can pay the $30 for more characters and $20 to unlock everything else, and you still just have two make-believe people, ninjas, or aliens beating the crap out of each other. Maybe I’ve done this enough to last a lifetime, because after playing the game for a total of eight hours, I find myself bored with Mortal Kombat X. What’s my motivation to continue on after beating the story? Getting beaten by a random online opponent to earn a small amount of coins to unlock a picture of Liu Kang? Why would I keep playing a game that’s pretty repetitive in nature with such meager and insignificant outcomes?

Faction Wars in Mortal Kombat X.

Faction Wars in Mortal Kombat X.

Why I Won’t Continue To Play Mortal Kombat X

I didn’t even touch on the “leveling” and “Faction Wars” parts of the game. Like many role playing games (and modern games, because why not?), Mortal Kombat X has a progress system where you increase your player level, special moves level, fatality level, and Faction level to achieve…what, exactly? Do you see some semblance of progress from increasing your various “levels”? Do you play to earn more koins to buy more unnecessary items that you could also buy with real money? Perhaps you would continue to play for bragging rights to show off to your friends, who for some reason would be impressed by how good of a fake fighter you are in the digital world. Levels and related measures of progress simply create an illusion for the player, duping them into believing that they’re accomplishing something by playing within the game’s rigged, time-sucking rules. This could be said for many modern video games, but the fact that the Mortal Kombat series now uses these boring tricks makes it pretty heartbreaking for a fan who just liked to play the game and discover secrets.

Mortal Kombat is no longer a unique series where you’re in on a few jokes (Toasty!) and enjoying a bunch of callbacks while having fun. Now it’s just a dumb video game employing dark, anti-consumer industry tricks. Then again, Mortal Kombat originated as a machine that stole every quarter in your possession, so this shouldn’t be so surprising. Still, it’s a bit sad when its creators nonchalantly charge me extra to have the fun I used to have at the base cost.

Note 2: The DMCA takedowns were issued after I streamed the game on Twitch (a first for me) a few days before release. I legally procured the game at retail price a week before it came out. Though I bought the game with my own money and decided to broadcast my own gameplay on my own console through my own Internet connection, Warner Bros. Entertainment et. al. still thought that I, the consumer, was not operating at best business practices. Fun times were had.

Album of the Week: Surfing Strange

To anyone who heard me trash this album in the last 18 months:

I’m sorry.

I got caught up in the pop-punk perfection that is Swearin’s self-titled debut, to the point where I expected their next album to follow a similar formula. When I discovered that it almost entirely eschewed the first album’s sound in favor of a more ’90s indie rock, I abruptly stopped listening to Surfing Strange.

Cut to over a year later, when I have a nice, long sit-down with the album on repeat. I only needed an extended absence (and maybe ten or so more listens) to finally realize that this album is pretty much on par with the debut. Sure, the whole ’90s vibe helped, but regardless of which band influenced a specific song and which songs reference various nearby parts of Brooklyn (or perhaps just one song?), Surfing Strange is a wholly unique listening experience that sounds like nothing else but Swearin’.

In all fairness, “Mermaid” does give off a little bit of a Pavement vibe, and there are quite a few tracks that sound slightly like Kim Deal-led bands that never existed. “Watered Down” would have also been a welcome addition to the rotation of MTV2 and 120 Minutes. But Swearin’ is not a Pavement sound-alike band, a Kim Deal wannabe band, or even a pop-punk band. They’re a rock band, yes, but one that uses a bevy of influences, group songwriting efforts, and a unique take on genres (plural) to form a sound that seems somewhat familiar and totally new at the same time. If you go into Surfing Strange expecting a pop-punk album or a ’90s revivalist album, you will likely have a bad time. If you listen to the album with the idea that there is a recording group enjoying the same music as you and creating something pretty left-field, then you’ll easily bask in the hooks and oddities littering the album’s song-packed 33 minutes.

New Music: The Mountain Goats and Waxahatchee

Beat the Champ centers around the theme of professional wrestling, but not in the way you might think. For the most part, Danielle doesn’t sing about the Vince McMahon-run programs I grew up on, where the top main eventers have now moved on to become main Hollywood draws. Instead, the album specifically focuses on the days of territories, where southern professional wrestling federations had different styles and characters from their midwestern counterparts, and the wrestling world was more akin to the Wild West. Though the songs all touch on wrestlers and the squared circle, their narratives are more in-depth and autobiographical in nature. For example, lead single “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” is told from the point of view of a younger Darnielle looking up to the titular character as an idol, especially in dark times. “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” deals with the tragic end of Bruiser Brody and the late wrestler’s thought process just before his imminent demise. The album is the least likely album to ever appeal to both wrestling marks (fans) and longtime, wrestling-hating Mountain Goats fans, but the specific focus on the subject simply works here, and Darnielle’s songwriting is as strong as ever.

Katie Crutchfield’s third album and first on new label Merge Records sees an expansion of sound and a bevy of new studio tricks across 13 short tracks. Album standouts “Air” and “Under A Rock” sound like they would fit perfectly with the best of VH1 circa 1995/1996 and one of those officially curated indie rock Spotify playlists, but that’s not a bad thing. The album sound more polished and developed compared to previous releases on Don Giovanni, while still remaining faithful to the sound and style that made Crutchfield a notable act.

Album of the Week: The Days Of Wine And Roses

I came across The Dream Syndicate when I was younger, and never bothered to listen to until several years ago. I had a dubbed cassette of The Days Of Wine And Roses as a kid, but never bothered to pop it in and press play. At the same time, I somehow managed to wear out my copy of Different Light from The Bangles, another Paisley Underground group from the same LA scene. Yet Wynn and co. eluded me for decades, well after The Dream Syndicate broke up and Wynn formed The Baseball Project (which is honestly a bit too inside baseball for me, no pun intended).

Wine And Roses is kind of a weird album in the sense that it somewhat foreshadows Psychocandywith strategically-placed, ear-piercing feedback and carefully distorted guitars crafting pleasant pop melodies. Like other contemporary LA bands (Opal comes to mind here), the album also occasionally glances back at the early(ish) work of Lou Reed with its own unique (weird?) spin. “Too Little, Too Late” especially sounds like a twanged-up B-side from the Reed-assisted Nico album, Chelsea GirlWynn’s vocal delivery is also not too far off from that of the former Velvet Underground frontman. The influence stops there, as the album contains sounds more like the bombastic rock associated with its  “college rock” compatriots than the experimental leanings of Reed and co.

The Days Of Wine And Roses is a rock album, but a pretty one. It is aggressive and sweet at the same time, featuring songs with somewhat somber tones and a hook that would seem out of place anywhere else but here. Though the albums that followed are decent but not as captivating, this particular LP and a sampling of tracks from other Dream Syndicate releases are well worth your time.

10 Things That Happened With The Never-Ending Mixtape

  1. I secretly made 53 unique playlists to be used throughout the year and featured in the Never-Ending Mixtape series.
  2. The 53 unique playlists I made somehow disappeared from Spotify.
  3. Spotify has a “restore playlists” feature, so I decided to use it and restore them. It didn’t work.
  4. I pondered the futility of painstakingly creating 53 10-song playlists for an entire year, only to see them disappear and never return again like a [insert animal-based cliche].
  5. I thought about moving to a different service, but nobody else uses Rdio or Beats Music.
  6. Related: This video is incredibly uncomfortable to watch.
  7. I then thought about actually creating mixtapes on the internet, but the legal shenanigans involved in that is more than a chore (like so).
  8. For a second, I considered giving up the entire idea of a never-ending mixtape, as I might have put myself in some sort of box that I could not escape from, like a certain indie folk musician.
  9. Someone actually came up to me and told me that they wondered what happened to my mixtape series and asked if I was going to continue it. (This is a complete lie.)
  10. I’m currently working on a bunch of new segments for the playlist, and will debut the first new one this week.

The State of Scott: March

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IMAGE: WWE 

March seems pretty uneventful. I know such a sentence makes for a captivating blog post, but I like the quiet times of March and (hopefully) April before the raucous days of pre-summer in the city. I can honestly say that I currently have the least amount of stress in my life than ever before, which is a) pretty cool and b) asking for more stress through the grand power of the jinx. (No, not that one.)

Still, there’s never a shortage of things in the world to keep me occupied. Continue reading

The State of Scott: February

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Image: WWE

Or: The Post Where I Out Myself As A Wrestling Fan

I’d like to introduce a new monthly feature while I continue to work on the Never-Ending Mixtape. Since this isn’t just a music blog, but also a personal collection of interests, I find it only fitting to share my current interests and the like. This almost always includes (in order):

  • Music
  • News
  • Movies
  • (Pro) Wrestling

With this in mind, I’m proud to introduce The State of Scott, a recurring feature where I give a short summary of what I’m currently fascinated with in each of the aforementioned categories. This will serve as both a log of what I’ve been up to, as well as what I feel is necessary to share with my 100,000,000+ readers each month. If you find something in it that intrigues you, I’ll also provide a way for you to learn more about the subject firsthand (i.e. links directly to the source, duh). Continue reading