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The Millennial Years – 7 Video Games

February 13th, 2010 No comments
Video Games

7 Video Games

We apologize for the unexpected delay and present without any further ado – the newest article in our Millennial Years retrospective.

No other media has undergone as much change and innovation in the last ten years as video games. Besides the countless revolutions caused by the rapid technological progress – most prominently the rapid progress of real-time 3d graphics – there has also been a fundamental shift in target audiences. With the rise of Casual Games and the establishing of technical gadgets as lifestyle accessories, games finally went into cultural mainstream. Today, games are considered to be on a par with traditional entertainment media like music or cinema for the first time.

Along with the broadened acceptance in the mainstream a fundamentally new type of games rose. Born in the same dark corners of the Internet as Casual Games, these Arthouse Games move along the brink of known gaming experiences. Pushing the very notion of what is considered interactive storytelling and art, it is those games that seem most promising when it comes to evolving the media today.

However, since this movement emerged only about five years ago, and a comprehensive coverage of Arthouse Gaming will easily blow the context of this series, it will be completely ignored for this list. Don’t be surprised if you find the topic covered in a separate series of articles in the near future though. For now, we will restrain ourselves to the mainstream – that is, titles that were published in a traditional way for the store shelves. We hope you’ll excuse this severe limitation.

The seven games presented are nonetheless among the finest representatives of the media, each offering its own unique and inspiring influences. However, as with all articles in this series, they are of course just a few among countless other games, many of which are more influential or ‘better’ than the ones presented here.

Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, 2005)

Shadow of The Colossus

After their highly acclaimed 2001 debut Ico, Sony’s design studio Team Ico released this quasi-sequel, which, although following a completely different approach gameplay-wise than its predecessor, is undoubtedly recognizable as its spiritual offspring. While the main challenge in Ico was overcoming the environment, represented by a huge castle, Shadow of the Colossus sends you into battle against sixteen gargantuan creatures inhabiting an otherwise distressingly non-hostile world.

In order to save the life of his loved one, the hero pacts with a god-like entity that commands him to slay the graceful, gentle giants wandering the lands. Although the player is made aware of the unspeakable evils unleashed by his doing, he is left with little choice, as killing the colossi remains the only way of proceeding in the game. Masterfully building on this moral dilemma, Shadow of the Colossus unfolds an emotional arrangement that is as complex as it is intense. Due to the flawless presentation, founded on the fabulous visuals and a stunning soundtrack, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the very few games that try to exploit the full emotional capacities available in gaming.  It furthermore features a unique understanding of space in a virtual world, a very innovative view on game pace and arguably the single best usage of force-feedback vibrations ever experienced in a game. From a theoretical view, it remains among the most interesting releases in interactive media of all time. This easily makes up for some minor design flaws, such as the seeking-sword mechanism that will leave you lost a few times when searching for the next colossus. Still, if you’re a games enthusiast, this one alone will make it worth purchasing a PS2.

God of War (PS2, 2005)

In many aspects, God of War is the perfect counterpart for Shadow of the Colossus. Both games were released for the same console at about the same time, both are glaring examples of what the marketing referred to as Next-Gen Gaming at the time and ironically, both were only available on last-gen hardware. And of course, both were landmark examples for the future development of games in their respective fields. While Shadow of the Colossus became an instant classic among the Games-Are-Art people, God of War established the blueprint for next-generation AAA Action Games. Unfortunately though, it seems that most of the titles imitating its concepts are only succesful in mimicking the worst habits of the original: We have a suprisingly shallow gameplay hidden under previously unmatched quantities of gore, regularly interrupted by the abomination which is quick-time events. From a cynical point of view, God of War could be called the initial seed of all bad desing decisions haunting mainstream games today – if it weren’t for one tiny but nonetheless most impressive fact: God of War is actually a hell of a lot more fun to play.

The frustrating gameplay mechanics are well-hidden underneath a spectacular presentation, that leaves you too busy admiring its grandeur as to ponder about its weaknesses. Gore is actually used as a fundamental stylistic element of design, rather than a fashionable but disposable feature to impress the adolescent audience. And the cliché-driven story is presented with such a naive over-the-top attitude, that it really leaves no room for intense criticism. God of War is the living proof that games of Next-Gen-mainstream proportions are not necessarily doomed to be bad. If nothing else, it is for that insight, that there is no excuse for any gamer not to have played it.

The Longest Journey (PC, 2000)

Released at a time when Point-And-Click adventure games were practically dead, Funcom’s The Longest Journey is one of the shiniest examples of interactive storytelling, clearing the way for the second large wave of adventure games emerging in the late 00s. At the time of its release, critics savaged it for its confusing puzzles and near boundless talkativeness. What they missed was the fact, that the endless dialogues were precisely crafted to immerse the player in a breathing world, adding layers upon layers of plot elements, resulting in a level of authenticity otherwise only known from the most well-written role-playing-games. Obviously inspired by Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus graphic novel The Sandman, the game weaves a story about storytelling itself.

At the side of young April Ryan we delve into a cosmos of symbols and metaphors, filled with memorable characters and the mysteries that surround them. In the end, it is not the monumental main plot surrounding April’s quest that will impress you the most, but the many small stories encountered along the way. From the ancient legends of the Alatian people of Arcadia to the twisted fate of that faithful sidekick only known as Crow – it is the countless little tales that make the greater picture truly come to life. It is remarkable how well the quality of those stories will make you forget about the weaker parts of the game: The character artwork ranges from decent to downright horrible (like in some cutscenes) and the puzzles are sometimes so confusing, you shouldn’t even attempt playing without considering a walkthrough. And yet, when you finally finish the game, it will fill you with a sense of contentment and closure that has become so rare in modern games.

Which is of course no excuse for missing the excellent sequel Dreamfall and the upcoming conclusive games of the series. Both The Longest Journey and Dreamfall are available for purchase via Valve’s Steam platform. Production of the third episode is currently on hiatus, but hopefully won’t remain in that state for too long.

Rez (Dreamcast/PS2, 2001) & Rez HD (XBox 360, 2008)

An abstract musical rail-shooter featuring minimalistic graphics, a trance-inducing soundtrack and massive use of vibration features? Seriously, why would anyone want to play that… And yet Rez works, it works remarkably well – although you will need a few hours of playtime to get used to it.

The experience is still hard to explain though – Using logical and emotional stimuli alike, Rez‘s ultimate goal is to make you forget that you are playing a shooter, forget that you are playing a video game, forget that you are. Utilizing the unique immersive possibilities of the medium, the experience induced by Rez is a psychedelic one. Contrary to the first careless attempts in psychedelic gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, Rez fortunately manages to induce more than serious headaches and nausea. At its very core, it manages to develop a fascination that, despite the ridiculously short length of the game, will keep you playing for weeks, if not years. Although it is no game that will get you addicted in the sense of hour-long marathon play sessions (or is it?), Rez works more like a really good casual game that you can pick up every once in a while and have a great time. Only the experience feels much deeper than mere amusement.

The HD remake for the XBox 360 comes with the benefits of higher graphics resolution, while the PS2 version comes with support for the Trance Vibrator, a strong vibration extension for the console that offers its very own ‘special’ possibilities.

Silent Hill 2 (PS2/XBox/PC, 2001)

“In my restless dreams, I see that town… Silent Hill.”

What started out as an ordinary survival shooter preying on the success of the Resident Evil-series (which itself was preying on the success of the Alone in the Dark-series), ultimately caused one of the most terrifying and psychologically intense experiences in gaming. With the second installment of the series, Konami delivered an unmatched masterpiece of interactive storytelling that has lost none of its intensity over the years. Remembering the very roots of the horror genre, Silent Hill 2 describes the horrors encountered during the game as mere reflections of the inner horrors haunting the human psyche. Even more so, these horrors turn out to be ‘Born From a Wish’, as manifestations of the guilt-induced self-hatred of protagonist James Sunderland.

It is remarkable how well Silent Hill 2 manages to utilize gameplay mechanics to sell this message. Starting with the incredible tense opening sequence where the player is forced to run along a single, fog-clouded path for minutes without anything actually happening, to the claustrophobical labyrinths encountered later in the game, few works of art managed to describe what it must feel like to become insane as well as this game does. Apart from a few glitches here and there, most notably the disappointingly conventional final boss battle, the game mechanics are just dead-on effective. Paired with the, for japanese standards, atypically streamlined writing, in which every character and most of the events serve the single purpose of reflecting the protagonist’s guilt, Silent Hill 2 is probably one the most scary, yet also most intelligent representatives of the entire horror genre.

Unfortunately, the franchise never managed to reach the quality standards established by this game. Both the other game installments, as well as the (still very viewable) movie adaption of the series focussed on the canonical mythology of the town established in the first Silent Hill game, losing much of the mystery and fascination that make up for much of the second game’s unique experience. Still, if you’re only going to play a single horror-game in your life, be sure to make that one Silent Hill 2.

World of Warcraft (PC, 2005)

Although it may feel a little misplaced on this list, World of Warcraft has earned its place, by becoming the very synonym for Online Gaming these days. Online Games and especially MMORPGs were a small market in the Western world, drawing very little attention and even less paying players. While there was definitely a boom of Massive Multiplayer towards the midst of the decade, no one would have dared to anticipate the huge impact that World of Warcraft had. Suddenly people who were in no way considered as target audience for Serious Gaming were willing to grind online for hours, just to give their characters that long awaited level-up. With simplest design decisions and an almost ridiculously basic reward-system, the game had an impact widely beyond its own field of activity.

Not unlike God of War, its legacy in gaming remains ambiguous. Especially RPGs suffer increasingly from the developer’s urges to make their games seem more MMO-like, often resulting in dull and unnecessarily time-consuming game mechanics. How badly some developers understand the inner workings of their own games was demonstrated by the glorious failure of Hellgate: London in late 2007, which was technically just a fusion of the two most succesful concepts of Online-Roleplaying games, namely Diablo and World of Warcraft. It remains to be seen, whether the heritage established by World of Warcraft will actually be a curse or a blessing for future games.

Portal (PC, 2007)

What a triumph. When Valve first announced Portal it was nothing more than ‘That little puzzler that comes with the Orange Box‘, vastly overshadowed by the big names of Team Fortress and Half Life. That of course changed within hours after its release.

In the tradition of the best representatives of Casual Gaming, Portal starts out with a single, easy-to-grasp concept and explores the possibilities of this concept to the fullest during the course of the five-ish hours needed for a playthrough. Paired with some fantastic writing, featuring characters both memorable and obscure, being it the omnipresent evil computer GlaDOS, or the fragile but beautiful Weighted Companion Cube, Portal left a more formative impression than any of the so called epic AAA-titles of the last years with their 15+ hours of playtime. Due to its charming mood and the well-tested level design, the game is incredibly accessible and due to its condensed structure, provides an entertaining experience for every single minute of play time.

Whether you like the hype around the game or not, if there was a single instant cult-classic in gaming over the last ten years, it must have been Portal.

Waiting around the corner…

..are our movies of the decade. Join us as we delve into the unfathomable depths of cinematic glory, soon on these very pages.

Categories: Games, The Bizarre

The Millennial Years – 5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

November 25th, 2009 No comments
5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

5 Songs You (May) Have Missed

And so we conclude the musical journey through the 00s with five songs that stood out in one way or the other. These are pretty much a post scriptum to the albums from the last weeks: Five songs of very different styles, certainly not the most seminal pieces around, but still very well worth a listen. As the title suggest, the selection focusses on songs that are rather unknown, but still too enjoyable to be left unmentioned.

Binder & Krieglstein – Piraten (2006)

Arguably the most unexpected comeback of the 00s were pirates. Starting with that Gore Verbinski movie about a theme park attraction, to the long-anticipated sequel of everyone’s favourite adventure game series this year – Pirates are back. Big time.

And as with all inexplicable and bizarre phenomena of popular culture, there is a soundtrack to it. Even outranking Cartman’s pirate song from this season’s South Park episode Fatbeard, we have this little gem by austrian musician Binder Krieglstein. With guest vocals by Eva Jantschitsch, who you should remember as Gustav from the album list, this song comprehends the very essence of the pirate-boom: Utter and complete nonsense.

[youtube t-WukWa8alM]

Boards of Canada – Music Is Math (2002)

Won’t get away without an ambience track on this list either. Music Is Math is probably the best song Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada ever did. When  the dreamy, fragile beauty  of the track slowly unfolds into psychedelic disharmonies of noise, one just cannot help but be amazed. If there are still people out there flaming about electronic music, it’s probably because they did not hear this song yet.

There is quite a bunch of nice unofficial videos around for the song, this being one of my favourites.

[youtube n0P1JsMTWc0]

Sophie Barker – Secret (2005)

Let’s stay dreamy for a while. You may remember Sophie Barker’s voice from In The Waiting Line from Zero 7’s debut album Simple Things. She has been involved with several projects since then, including a record with children’s songs and her first solo album, Earthbound. From the latter comes this piece, which is the perfect song for cloudy, dusky winter afternoons. Listen and be enchanted.

[youtube yQ11Uy7i17w]

Pornophonique – Sad Robot (2007)

Unless you occasionally hang around at comic conventions in Germany, you probably have never heard of Pornophonique. The two young men from Darmstadt exercise in a unique crossover style mixing acoustic guitars with 8-bit chiptunes. Their debut 8-bit Lagerfeuer is available for free download from their homepage, along with eight wonderful cover artworks by some of Germany’s most talented comic artists. The opener Sad Robot even got its own comic book by artist Holger Hofmann, which can be purchased as well.

I will stop sounding like an advertising machine now and leave you with the song…

[youtube u7Dg3LrhmIY]

Asobi Seksu – Strawberries (2006)

Let’s finish off with a personal favourite of mine. From their second album Citrus comes this piece of shoegaze-galore by New-York-based, asian-influenced band Asobi Seksu. Masterfully blending elements of J-Pop with good honest alternative rock, it’s one of those tiny, shiny songs that you will listen to every once in a while and whenever you do, it will light up your day. Enjoy and keep it dear.

[youtube yJNsKqm1Xqc]

Coming Up Next:

Video Games! *cheer*

Categories: The Bizarre

The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 3

November 14th, 2009 1 comment
15 Pop Albums - Part 3

15 Pop Albums - Part 3

Welcome again to a new episode of the Millennial Years Retrospective series. This week with the remaining five from our selection of 15 Pop Albums of the 00s. Have fun!

5. Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie – Warten auf den Bumerang (2006)

Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie - Warten auf den Bumerang

In the early 00s a movement of young independent musicians gathered in Hamburg under the record label Grand Hotel van Cleef. Bands like Kettcar, Tomte and Death Cab for Cutie established a new sound in the tradition of the famous Hamburger Schule, a counter movement of bands emerging in reaction to the Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1980s. One of those ‘van Cleef’-bands was Olli Schulz & Der Hund Marie (literally: Olli Schulz and the dog Mary), founded by Olli Schulz and Max Schröder. With classic guitar-based pop-rock and clever German lyrics they represent a style of music that, despite its increasing popularity, is known for being very down-to-earth and honest. After two studio albums, band leader Olli Schulz moved from Hamburg to Berlin and wrote the third album for Labels Music, a member of the EMI group. The increase in budget and the change of artistic environment resulted in not only the band’s best album so far, but also one of the finest examples of German indie pop as a whole.

From the powerful up-beat opener In jede Richtung and the quietly musing Schritt für Schritt, to the nonsensical Kleine Meise, Großes Herz — the album offers a taste of almost any likeable facet of German indie music. Furthermore, the band was able to demonstrate their skills with more complex arrangements for the first time, as can be heard on Wenn das Leben dich beißt, which they handled masterfully. Held together by the distinctive vocals of Olli Schulz, the songs will will carve their way into your head, where they will rest warm and comfortably, only to pop up again every once in a while. And it will be a welcomed pleasure whenever they do.

Track Picks:

In Jede Richtung

[youtube OshlFqYG_qk]

Was Macht Man Bloß Mit Diesem Jungen

[youtube mHWuP07Ssls]

Wenn Das Leben Dich Beißt

[youtube X8r323JWcdc]

4. Zero 7 – When It Falls (2004)

Zero7 - When It Falls

One problem with Downtempo is its lack of distinctive melodies. Apart from an expedition to earth’s satellite by two fellas from France in the late 90s, how many downbeat records do you actually know? Well, you should at least know this one (and you probably already do, be it with or without your knowing). After their 2001 debut Simple Things, British electronic duo Zero 7 brought us this fantastic piece of ear-caressing chill, a landmark in ambient music called When It Falls. The cover art describes the listening experience better than any words: A colourful explosion of bliss filling up your head, as your mind drifts away under the Warm Sounds engulfing your thoughts.

Featuring an impressive roundup of guest vocalists, including the ethereal voices of Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, backed up by a wide collection of unobtrusive electronica, When It Falls manages to be relaxative without being boring. Although its melodies may seem shallow at first, you will soon recognize its melodic versatility. A visionary record with the wonderful quality of being fit for almost any mood the listener may be in. Just close your eyes and become adrift in the dandling sweeps of this masterpiece.

Track Picks:

Home

[youtube ljEgVfC8zEw]

When It Falls

[youtube FOBVLTHacCU]

Morning Song

[youtube 3yW6hDj1E-A]

3. Feist – Let It Die (2004)

Feist - Let It Die

It was a slow start for Canadian musician Leslie Feist. After her debut Monarch went by more or less unnoticed, her second album took its time before truely finding its fans. No wonder, as this piece certainly won’t open up on a hasty first listen. It takes some effort to cherish the tilted harmonies and sparing arrangements so typical for Feist’s early works. Nonetheless, they contain a twisted charm, that can be very addictive once you have fallen for it.

We have the dreamy melancholy of Gatekeeper and Let It Die, the swingy serenity of One Evening and Leisure Suite, and don’t forget the lighthearted friskiness of Gatekeeper and Inside and Out. While it is a versatile album, it is still heavily coined by Ms. Feist’s beautiful voice, merging a widespread range of emotions into a single piece of art. So forget every prejudice you might have against Canadian music: This album will make it worth your while.

Track Picks:

Gatekeeper

[youtube dCrr1zu2wcA]

When I Was A Young Girl

For once, not the album version but a live performance.

[youtube hysbjX2r7GE]

Inside And Out

[youtube NmG0sPyZJBg]

2. Lemon Jelly – ’64 – ’95 (2005)

Lemon Jelly - '64-'95

In a list celebrating pop-culture under the influence of the internet, there had to be an album like this, featuring songs based on samples gathered from a period of almost 30 years. While British duo Lemon Jelly’s earlier works were more reminiscent of the Zero 7-school of ambient sound collages, this one is much more upbeat. Nine tracks celebrating the glories of remix-culture in all its grandeur. The album was initially released as both CD and DVD-versions, the latter featuring unique visual interpretations of the songs.

From the fireworks of the opening Come Down On Me, the album takes us on a musical journey, which not only includes typical Lemon Jelly tracks like Make Things Right, but covers all kinds of styles, from the noisy punk of The Shouty Track, to the repetitive minimalism of Slow Train. Nonetheless, the album manages to blend all those styles together smoothly, creating a remarkably deep experience in the progress. A profound meditation over musical genres and influences, culminating in what is probably one of the nerdiest songs of all time: Go, a piece loosely based on Lorne Greene’s Ringo, vocalized by William Shatner. And believe it or not: It’s actually good! If that alone didn’t earn Lemon Jelly their place on this list, I don’t know what else.

Track Picks:

Consider watching these fullscreen HD, they will be worth it.

’88 aka Come Down On Me

[youtube _Ipcwyf-QJo]

’93 aka Don’t Stop Now

[youtube ABJHFpmmhQA]

’64 aka Go

[youtube MGr2zf_x8IU]

1. The Long Blondes – Someone To Drive You Home (2006)

The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home

If you are honest, there has probably been one or several occasions over the last years, where you just grew sick of all those damn indie bands — especially the ones starting with a ‘The’. In those moments, it becomes quite hard to remember, that all of this riot wasn’t started for nothing, and that in between that uniform swamp of musical fashions, there are a few bands actually worth all the fuss surrounding them. You can only hope to recognize them before it is too late.

In 2006 the British quintet known as The Long Blondes released this remarkable gem of music. Someone To Drive You Home manages to brilliantly unite the qualities that keep us urged on listening to music. It tells stories we are all familiar with: Stories of insecurities and the struggles of finding ones way. But they seem to be set in a world different from our own — a world far more exciting and romantic. A world where, somewhere between the sexy aesthetics of 60s cinema and outbursts of teenage angst at the kitchen sink, there lies a place where only lovers are left alive, a place where it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or dark, where there’s always someone waiting to drive you home. And all of a sudden you realize – What if you were living in such a world? What if there was excitement and romance in our lives as well? How we’d love to be alive in this world… once and never again.

Very, very unfortunately The Long Blondes broke up in 2008 shortly after releasing their second album Couples. Due to a tragic medical condition, lead guitarist/songwriter Donnie Cox was unable to continue his participation in the band. Among their legacy is this record that has long outgrown the initial euphoria surrounding its release and is today a more magnificent piece of music than ever.

Track Picks:

Once And Never Again

[youtube zXY4_oggu08]

You Could Have Both

[youtube ubj06m4n7lw]

Weekend Without Makeup

[youtube lKbkg9eblsA]

Join us next week

As we conclude the musical segment of our retrospective with The 5 Songs You (May) Have Missed. See you then!

Categories: The Bizarre

The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 2

November 7th, 2009 No comments
15 Pop Albums - Part 2

15 Pop Albums - Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of our musical retrospective of the 00s. We continue this week with five more remarkable pop albums. Enjoy!

10. Portishead – Third (2008)

Portishead - Third

When Portishead announced their first studio album after almost ten years of absence, it gave rise to both enthusiasthic anticipation and reserved scepticism. With the great days of Trip-hop long gone, people inevitably wondered what the trio from Bristol would have to offer. Fortunately, any doubts preceding their comeback were in vain. Their third studio album was an instant hit, uniting old and new fans in admiration. However, the most remarkable aspect of Third is the fact, that they accomplished this not by just imitating their established 90s sounds. With Third, Portishead managed to reinvent themselves for the 21st century and they did it with such radicalness and consequence, it would have easily crushed any lesser band.

After an impelled opener, ending literally in the middle between two beats, the album blossoms into a garden of sounds, both strange and beautiful. Be it the trippy The Rip; the  the frighteningly calm Deep Water; the drugged oscillating between jazz  and oriental in Magic Doors; succumbing to the driven beat of We Carry On; losing yourself in the cacophony of noise climaxing Threads; or the merciless monster that is Machine Gun — the mere abundance of ideas and styles present on Third could have lasted for a dozen albums. Condensed into eleven pure tracks, melting together under the ever so fabulous voice of Beth Gibbons, it provides an experience that can be overwhelming to the point of overstraining, but once you wrapped your mind around the twisted genius of this album, you will love it forever.

Track Picks:

The Rip

[youtube e1brxvvJe10]

We Carry On

(Not an official video, but it fits quite well)

[youtube dNg9SQxip5A]

Machine Gun

(Not exactly the album-version, but differences are negligible)

[youtube 1iWj0tO7qjg]

9. KT Tunstall – Acoustic Extravaganza (2006)

KT Tunstall - Acoustic Extravaganza

Time to catch your breath. With some wonderfully light hearted pop by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. You may remember her lovely Suddenly I See as the opening soundtrack of Devil Wears Prada. Her finest record in contrast, is also her least known. Acoustic Extravaganza was initially released for exclusive mail order through her website in 2006 and remained largely unattended. Recorded in the intimacy of a small studio in Scotland with only a minimal band setup, this record feels like a warm, personal ‘Thank You’ to her fans from the debut album Eye To The Telescope. It is a very straight record with few surprises, but what it lacks in musical excellence it makes up with charm and honesty. It’s the kind of music you would play when sitting with your friends around a bonfire on a lovely summer night. The kind of music that may not change your life, but you will nonetheless keep whistling under the shower when no one is listening.

And what’s not to like about this album? The winkingly bitchy Ashes, with its hilariously funny lyrics and catchy country tune? The bluesy Boo Hoo, this moanful hymn on absent friends? The tenderly melancholy Change, that drives tears into your eyes whenever you listen to it? Face it, you don’t really have a choice. Plus, the album comes with a DVD. What are you still pondering about? Go get it now!

Track Picks:

Ashes

[youtube WwEq017UmEc]

Change

[youtube z0KKSBaREdo]

Miniature Disasters

[youtube sD7FmaEHBUM]

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz (2009)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released Zero as the first single from their new album earlier this year, it caused quite some surprise. Instead of your usual indie-meets-garage-rock-101, this was a dancefloor track. With dominating synth-sounds, lightly backed up by guitars and skillfully glued together with Karen O’s punky vocals, this song was a wild mixture of styles and influences. Yet, it is but one facet of the remarkably versatile third studio album of the band, demonstrating the endless possibilities alternative pop music offers these days.

From the heavy-dance openers Zero and Heads Will Roll, the album soon changes directions, favoring much more quiet, but nonetheless powerful pieces, be it the high-pitched Skeletons or the dreamy Hysteric. Intermitted by two old-school indie rock tracks Dull Life and Shame and Fortune, which are the only songs on this record truely reminiscent of the Yeahs’ earlier works, the album is above all an incredibly cool showcase of  a band that has well exceeded the borders of mere genre music. With It’s Blitz the Yeah Yeah Yeahs unmistakably proved that they are one of the most interesting and versatile bands to date.

If you plan on getting this album, be sure you get the Deluxe version, as it contains additional acoustic versions of four songs from the album. In spite of popular beliefs, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are actually best when played acoustically.

Track Picks:

Zero

[youtube DxZGYGojPeE]

Heads will roll

[youtube Dt0IlrQYOxM]

Hysteric (Acoustic)

[youtube ssewwKzI2Rk]

7. Gustav – Verlass die Stadt (2008)

Gustav - Verlass die Stadt

The band project under the lead of Austrian musician/artist Eva Jantschitsch is probably one of the most curious out there. With the majority of songs arranged  on an ordinary notebook computer, featuring impressively sophisticated lyrics in both German and English, and a sound oscillating between arty minimalism and overwhelming grandeur, Ms. Jantschitsch managed to create her little niche in the endless refuge of alternative music. Supported by some incredibly catchy tunes, Gustav manages to be political without being obtrusive, demanding but not tiresome. When her first album Rettet die Wale was released in 2004 many claimed this was a futureless concept. Those critics were proven wrong in 2008 by the release of the formidable Verlass die Stadt, which managed to consequently extend the concepts of the debut. Introduced in the course of a magnificent concert seamlessly merging the homemade electronic sounds typical for Gustav with traditional Austrian folk music, the performed songs easily surpassed any expectations.

With influences ranging from Austrian folk punk like Attwenger, to artistic post-modernism in the tradition of Chicks on Speed (under whose label the record was also published), Verlass die Stadt offers a bitter sweet cocktail of sounds, messages and impressions. With no song quite like the other, you can enjoy the album a hundred times and still find something unexpected on the hundred-and-oneth listen. Stimulating and challenging (in the best sense of the word), an album that will reward the considerate listener to the fullest.

Track Picks:

Abgesang

[youtube W1Vte9m2OnM]

Total Quality Woman

(Again: not an official video, but it fits.)

[youtube _AAA5PMqQdk]

Ifall

[youtube xstbjzjvh4s]

6. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (2008)

Elbow - The Seldom Seen kid

Elbow was one of those bands you probably wanted to like for a long time, but never quite managed to. With a few remarkable songs here and there, they were always barely missing the border of being a great band. That was in any case true until this album skyrocketed. The Seldom Seen Kid, which was announced as their last studio album, is a glorious swan song from the ever so underestimated band from Manchester.

There’s the vibrantly simmering opener Starlings, followed by the beautifully nostalgic The Bones of You and the inconspiciously touching Mirrorball, before climaxing in the irresistibly catchy Grounds for Divorce. The later parts of the album are dominated by quiet, sometimes grievously personal songs like The Loneliness of the Tower Crane Driver or Friend of Ours, intermitted with rhythmic treasures such as An Audience with the Pope or the criminally cool The Fix. Overall, a perfect mixture of highly listenable songs, that you just cannot help but enjoy.

And we lower our heads in awe, as a great band leaves the stage.

Track Picks:

The Bones of You

[youtube -DwFjqt-Wk4]

Grounds for Divorce

[youtube 6g-imjcBQ9Y]

The Fix

[youtube 0s-L3dahX98]

Be prepared…

As the final five of Millennial Year’s albums will be revealed — next week, exclusively on these very pages.

Categories: The Bizarre

The Millennial Years – 15 Pop Albums Part 1

October 31st, 2009 No comments
Millennial Years - Music

15 Pop Albums - Part 1

Music is arguably the most subjectively perceived pop-cultural medium. In no other media is the range of styles as versatile and the preference of tones as controversially discussed. We present you a selection of fifteen remarkable pop albums, which you may or may not like, naturally biased by this author’s personal taste, but nonetheless a hopefully sufficient representation of the decade.

This list is composed of three parts à 5 albums, the latter of which will be released in the next two weeks. As with all articles in this series, they are presented in the fashion of a list that could inadvertently be mistaken for a ranking.

15. Daft Punk – Discovery (2001)

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)

It just had to happen. If for nothing else, releasing an album called Discovery in the year of 2001 made Daft Punk deserve a place on this list. Fortunately, its name is by far not the only positive aspect of this album.

Could there be a greater redemption from the abomination of Eurotrash electronics haunting dance floors throughout the 90s than this euphony of synthpop loop samples and auto-tuned vocals? Considering its ingredients, Discovery shouldn’t work. It should be yet another pointless dancefloor album, that only a mother could love. But strangely enough, it ain’t. Instead of repeating worn-out genre conventions yet one more time, Discovery manages to create something harder, better, faster, stronger. Its heritage is omnipresent these days. The excessive and excessively creative use of electronic elements in pop music in recent years clearly shows the influence of those few good electronic albums placed in the dark period where synthie sounds were the opposite of en vogue. Discovery stands out in particular because despite its pioneer status it does not succumb to the avant-garde. At the end of the day, Daft Punk still remain first and foremost a highly listenable band, which is proven by their unbroken popularity to date.

Special credit must be given to the visual reinterpretation of the album that was created in collaboration with anime artist Leiji Matsumoto. Interstella 5555 expands the animated music videos from the album’s singles into a feature-length musical picture.

Track Picks:

One More Time

Aerodynamic

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

14. White Stripes – De Stijl (2000)

The White Stripes - De Stijl

Garage Rock. If there is a single genre that rigorously dominated the early 00s it’s probably the rough and dingy sound of unpolished garage rock. One of their pioneers was this peculiar duo from Detroit, known as The White Stripes. Before that one single from Elephant became popular in football stadiums around the world, before their breakthrough album White Blood Cells shattered the foundations of what was known as rock music at the time, they released this piece that is considered by many as their purest: De Stijl holds the very essence of garage rock. As minimalistic as it gets, yet still unsuspectedly rich and highly musical. Self-recorded for a ridiculous 500$, this album has been an inspiration for countless aspiring rock bands following their lead. And despite its lacks in finesse compared to later works of the Stripes, it is also a fantastic piece of music.

All the key elements making up the stijl of the Stripes are already there. The instrumentation is dominated by guitars (in all variations), drums and the ever so melancholic voice of Jack White. Supported by the occassional piano, blues harp and a violin in I’m Bound to Pack It Up, this minimalistic setup is all the Whites need to offer a colourful buffet of acoustic treats. Be it Blues, Punk or Classic Rock, the mere variety of musical influences will make you keep listening over and over again. Even this many years after its initial release, after Jack White has long been ascended to the rock olympus, this album has not lost the slightest of its quality or power. If there is any album on this list that deservers to be considered a true classic, it is probably De Stijl.

Track Picks:

Hello Operator

I’m Bound To Pack It Up

Let’s Build A Home

13. Wir sind Helden – Die Reklamation (2003)

Wir sind Helden - Die Reklamation

Who would’ve thought that all it took to revive German-speaking pop music after over a decade of almost complete apathy, was but two words: Guten Tag. When the Helden released their first EP in 2002, it hit the nation like a furious storm after a long, torrid period of drought. By breaking with countless conventions restricting musicians at the time and establishing a previously unheard creativity, paired with the pure joy of creating new sounds, they paved the way for a whole new generation of German musicians. Although international acclaims were not as euphoric as the record would have deserved, Die Reklamation without a doubt ranks among the best German pop albums ever.

Be it the wild, untamed energy of their debut single, or the wonderfully sad songs residing at the end of the album, there is next to nothing which is not to love on this seminal record. Paired with some of the shrewdest lyrics you will ever encounter, the Helden found the perfect formula for enjoyable, non-shallow pop. Almost immediately following the success of Die Reklamation, countless follow-ups emerged in the charts, causing a popular interest in German-speaking pop music unseen since the days of the Neue Deutsche Welle in the 1980s. In the end though, none of those ever managed to reach the standards set by this initial spark.

Track Picks:

Guten Tag

Müssen nur wollen

Außer Dir

12. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2005)

Arcade Fire - Funeral

Every once in a while, there is a record that manages to transcend the bounds of mere music, creating something so touching and ethereal, it comes close to the brink of magic. If there was a single record in the last ten years that managed to approach this border, it must have been Funeral by Canadian band Arcade Fire.

It is hard to describe the uniquely enchanting melange of unexpected instrumentation, prominent vocals and weird stylistic cross breedings stuffed into the 50 minutes of their debut, that so vigorously rejects classification into any musical genre. If nothing else, it remains a piece of such intense and pure beauty, you will never get tired listening to it. A record that leaves you dreaming and wondering until, eventually, it makes you want to cry fervent tears of joy.

Track Picks:

Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

Neighborhood #2 (Laika)

Rebellion (Lies)

11. Chicks on Speed – 99 Cents (2003)

Chicks on Speed - 99cents

Three years after their surprise success Kaltes Klares Wasser established their fame on the better dance floors around the world, Munich-based electroclash grrl group Chicks on Speed released 99 Cents, an arty, subversive musical commentary on modern life. Featuring an impressive roundup of collaborating artists, ranging from German singer Inga Humpe (2raumwohnung) and french DJ/musician Miss Kittin to Canadian enfant-terrible Peaches, 99 Cents offers a wild ride through musical landscapes, deliberately disrespecting any conventions or expectations encountered along the way.

The result is an incredebly dense album, offering a lot more than you might have ever asked for. While it could seem cumbersome at times to unsuspecting ears, the album will make it worth your while, should you decide to grapple with it. Unless you’re scared by intellectually challenging, meta-critical experimental music, paired with subversive cynicism, there is really nothing that can stop you from liking this record, once you invested the time it requires to sink in.

Track Picks:

We Don’t Play Guitars

Culture Vulture

Fashion Rules!

Stay tuned…

As we continue the Millennial Years Retrospective next week with the second part of our pop music series.

Categories: The Bizarre