Friday, June 18, 2010

Taking it to Another Level

My final holdover review of 2009 is from none other than my old friends Dual Core. (A fact that, I assure you, int eighty has taken great pains to remind me of over the past several months.)

I can't imagine that you haven't already purchased their excellent Next Level LP in the year since its initial release, nor can I imagine you are overly concerned with my impression of the project at this late date. And yet I am going to share it nonetheless. Because, to quote that very famous, very dead scorpion of myth, "it's my nature."

Next Level kicks off with a guitar-fueled tribute to Dual Core's fanbase. From the online fans to face-to-face friends and legitimate financial supporters to pirates spreading the music for free, "For You" is a musical thank you note from c64 and int eighty. It boasts the solid lyricism you'd expect from the latter and an even harder edge on the production by the former. In short, it's the perfect way to kick off a new album.

"Kick Back" was the first sneak-peak track I ever heard from Next Level, and it holds up well even after a year in constant rotation. Pushing forward with 64's more aggressive beats and a cleverly copped vocal hook from Beefy, it's another lyrical mission statement from eighty that makes it an early highlight. This leads us to "Natural 20s," a song that holds a very special place in my heart. Originally created for my long-delayed 20-Sided Rhymes compilation, it's a light-hearted gamer anthem for the tabletop set complete with a shout-out to Jim Darkmagic.

"The Hollow" kicks things back to the console with an atmospheric story-song centered in the world of Marcus Feenix. In truth, it actually relates the narrative in a more concise and properly balanced manner than the game itself, and c64's musical backing is understated perfection. It also blends perfectly into follow-up "I Remember," a joint that sees int eighty and YTCracker reminiscing about the early days of the internet. The background loop is a bit repetitive and the lyrics a tad tech-heavy at times, but it suits the former hackers to a tee. "The Game" ably contrasts the serenity of "I Remember" with a more abrasive instrumental and an expertly rhymed storyline concerning the darker side of modern hacking. Through the tale of Victor, a coder from the former Soviet Bloc who now relies on his skills at identity theft to survive, eighty paints a sympathetic picture of an unlikely protagonist.

The half-way point of Next Level is marked by epic posse cut "Magnificent Seven." Featuring guest artists MC Frontalot, MC Lars, Schaffer the Darklord, Beefy, Random and YTCracker, it boasts "twee-style rhymes" composed via an extended Twitter conversation. Though it doesn't exactly occupy the same hallowed real estate as its forbear (Lost Reality's flawless "Fantastic Four"), it's a definite crowd-pleaser that assures #followfriday will never be the same again.

"Forever" is another amazing piece of high-energy sci-fi storytelling that again contrasts excellently with the starkly realistic "Life's Work," which sees eighty returning to the concept of the unstable and unfair modern workplace, and heavily the introspective "Letter to C64,"wherein eighty reps the DJ like no other.

Next Level begins its final decent with what is, even in the absence of my trademark hyperbole, one of my favorite tracks of all time. "Here to Help" brings back a cat that I've long considered the unofficial third member of Dual Core, Remington Forbes. Atop a silky smooth hook, Remy and eighty relate the woes of end-user support. Suffice it to say that this one hits close to home.

From there Dual Core treat us to the soulful and touching "Painting Pictures," a track that pours all of int eighty and c64's combined musical might into preaching the true power of technological progress. Though the story related didn't exactly happen, it is based on a very real cochlear implant, a true miracle of science and technology.

Rather than straight-up pull together the various musical and thematic elements demonstrated throughout the breadth of the album, closer "Alright" instead kinda goes the other way. Sure, eighty raps directly to the audience about who he is and what he does and c64 brings in a brassy and frenetic beat, but the overall tone of the piece expresses a certain differentness. From the instrumentation to the flow, it stands out among many of the darker-tinged and more cleanly calculated tracks that precede it. Some might see this as a failing in the overall musical cohesion of the project, but, knowing the band like I do, I instead understand it to be a sign.

You see, amid individual album themes and numerous minor recurring elements, Dual Core releases always hearken back to a single unifying concept; the artistic journey of two friends through the infinite possibilities of modern music. From the introductory vibe of Zero One to the feeling of good-natured camaraderie that permeated Super Powers, the statement of purpose that was Lost Reality to the triumphant celebration of success that is Next Level, Dual Core always tell their story. They always encapsulate the moment in time that is the album's creation, its production, its release. From eighty's perfectly-metered delivery to 64's delightful penchant for false stops, Dual Core have spent years refining their sound without watering down the listener experience.

And if "Alright" shifts unceremoniously from the brashness of the primary track to the experimental eclecticism of its hidden follow-up, it's only because the duo is attempting to give us a hint of sounds yet to come. And I, for one, can't wait to hear what awaits us on the following level.

"I'm just giving credit where that credit is due / Everything we've done, I'm giving credit to you."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Radio Free Hipster Ep. 89: The Homecoming Mixtape

My first mixtape-style podcast was inspired by Wil Wheaton's 2007 PAX keynote. He managed to put into words everything I felt about gamers and geek culture, and I couldn't help but fold that into my own project.

When I heard that he was delivering the keynote for the inaugural edition of PAX East, I knew it was the perfect setup for a repeat performance on my end as well.

This time around Wil took a two-pronged approach to nerd evangelism. First, he focused on not just the joys of gaming, but on the truly inspirational force that our hobby has become. Second, he paid homage to the con itself, to the convention spirit that is at the very heart of nerd unity.

This, in turn, inspired a marathon episode that paired Wil's words with the music that we know and love, and I pray to the Geek Gods that I managed to do both elements the very vaguest of justice. At 25 songs, it's twice the size of a normal episode, but I hope that it manages to capture your attention for the duration.

It is a labor of love, and, moreover, a personal tribute to Wheaton, Penny Arcade and all the members of our global family.

Download Radio Free Hipster Ep. 89: The Homecoming Mixtape [hosting provided by Antisoc] Size: 89.5 MB Running Time: 1:37:5
Show Notes:

Intro: Baddd Spellah – "Radio Free Hipster Theme (feat. Beefy)"
As is tradition, I fucked with the theme song to let longtime listeners know straight-out-the-box that this wasn't an ordinary episode. 

Track 1: MC Frontalot – "Your Friend Wil"
There was really on one track that could kick this one off. 

Track 2: Shael Riley vs. R.h.oZ. – "Music Ruined Video Games"
Whenever I hear the name Jack Thompson, I inevitably think of Shael's "Music Ruined Video Games." This particular version is an obscure twist from an old Remix Fight. 

Track 3: YTCracker – "Wind Song"
And on the subject of mostly harmless geeks, we arrive at YTC. From his Chrono Nurga Vol. 1. A fine example of video game inspired music. 

Track 4: Uncle Monsterface – "I'm sorry (but your princess is in another castle)"
Another natural inclusion given Wil's choice of gamer sound bites. Plus it's hard to make a mixtape episode without the Monsterface. 

Track 5: Mega Ran and K-Murdock – "For the Gamers"
Arguably the most appropriate of all these songs. Wil's keynote was also for the gamers. 

Track 6: PK Mao – "Can't Knock the Hustle (Jay-Z vs. Animal Forest)"
PK Mao's Raptendo 64 is one of those mash-up collections that cross easily into the realm of game music. This one is a highlight, but the whole thing is well worth a listen. 

Track 7: posu yan – "purdieoldays"
And since Wil was talking about world-building, I figured I'd toss in a second Animal Crossing joint. That's a game where I spent an exorbitant amount of time crafting my own little microcosm. 

Track 8: Glenn Case – "D&D at the Public Library"
This one's from my forthcoming 20-Sided Rhymes compilation. It's become my go-to Dungeons & Dragons track, and I consider it one of Glenn's finest. 

Track 9: Sinister Six – "Master of Dice (MasDaMind's Metallica Mashup)"
A second mash-up. Another D&D track featuring the Sin Six. And Metallica. Which leads handily into… 

Track 10: The Four Eyes – "I Come Prepared"
A gamer anthem for those who understand the inherent strength in a set of polyhedral dice. 

Track 11: Marian Call – "I'll Still Be a Geek After Nobody Thinks it's Chic"
Sometimes you need to slow shit down. Thankfully, Marian Call is there for just such an occasion. With a fantastic little ditty about "the geek tribe." 

Track 12: Skull Kid – "Gauntlet Intro"
An arcade throwback to wet your nostalgic whistle. 

Track 13: Israfel – "Pac-Man Glass Cage"
Another OverClocked ReMix. It's impossible to do a gamer-centric show without OCR. 

Track 14: Futuristic Sex Robotz – "Back in the Day"
Closing out this wistful mini-set is an iconic track from the late, great FSR. Apparently they always knew Sulu was gay. 

Track 15: XMark – "Still Alive"
I'm surprised there aren't more covers of this Jonathan Coulton classic. Still, XMark's interpretation is such a solid offering that I find it hard to bitch. 

Track 16: The Smash Brothers – "ff1town.wav/Final Fantasy I"
The Smash Brothers is sort of a who's who of the VGM community. It's an all-star outfit that includes ailsean and virt. This is from their free Bacon EP. 

Track 17: POWERLIFTER – "03.0 - Level 3 (Buffalo)"
Honestly, I've been looking for a reason to include something from electro-chip outfit POWERLIFTER for a while now. This seemed like as good a chance as any, and it actually worked well both within this movement and the show itself. Plus, there's an in-song reference to one of the standout tracks from the original Wil Wheaton mixtape.

Track 18: Dual Core – "The Hollow"
It's got to be difficult to capture the intensity of Gears of War, but int 80 and c64 pull it off. 

Track 19: MC Lars – "Guitar Hero Hero (Beating Guitar Hero Does Not Make You Slash)"
Because no one could possibly draw genuine artistic inspiration from Guitar Hero. No… wait… 

Track 20: Mutherpluckin' B – "Air Guitar"
And on the subjects of video games and guitars, it's the Mutherpluckin' B! 

Track 21: Death*Star – "Looking for Group"
Much like the preceding Lars track, this one is obviously farcical. Still, it's an amazingly solid offering. Easily one of the best from their latest album The Fandom Menace. 

Track 22: The Advantage – "Blastermaster-Stage 2"
More epic game rock guitar! 

Track 23: Beefy – "Give Me My Gun [feat. Dr. Awkward]"
And we begin our final decent with Beefy and Doc Awkward. It's a gamer anthem that just don't stop. 

Track 24: Ultraklystron – "Five to Nine"
We change gears from game culture to con culture with an old school Ultraklystron joint. It remains one of my favorites from his entire back catalog. 

Track 25: Kirby Krackle – "Going Home"
As soon as I heard Wil's opening words, I knew there was only one way to wrap this edition up. Kirby Krackle's "Going Home" expresses in music everything Wheaton says about conventions and geek community. It's also a truly rousing way to sign off.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flip Your Wig

Consider this a friendly reminder to all my homies in and around Cali that Game Music 4 All's West Coast Wig Out 2 kicks off tomorrow at 5:00 PM at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA. Whether you're a native or just someone in town for this year's E3, this is an event not to be missed.

Celebrating nerd music and culture with a heavy emphasis on video games, the show features The Megas, A_Rival, Random with special guest collaborator K-Murdock, WizWars, EvilWezil, Tanuki Suit Riot and Quarter Circle Jab. The event also features giveaway from Capcom and, of course, ample opportunities for geeky fellowship.

So come on down. And give Genoboost a big sloppy kiss.