Review: Animal Crossing New Leaf (3DS)

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I’ve never really done video game reviews before. Recently I got a 3DS and now I have a huge back-catalog of (supposedly) fantastic games to catch up on. I figured I might drop a review or reflection from time to time, switch it up from the music and hockey things for fun. Here’s my first one on the latest Animal Crossing, originally released in the US in 2013.

If you’re familiar with Animal Crossing, here’s the big takeaway: New Leaf is the same premise, only you’ve been given more control over the town’s direction and the pacing is perfect for a handheld system. If you’re new to the series, that sentence made no sense at all. Let’s try to explain what’s going on.

In essence, Nintendo was right to call the first Animal Crossing a “communication game,” and it’s a label that sticks in the latest version. You’re an adorable human character placed in a vibrant village inhabited by friendly anthropomorphic animals. You’ll wander past a river, around a beach, and between plenty of trees.

The goals of this game are similar to those in The Sims. That is to say, there really aren’t set benchmarks. You can earn in-game currency by participating in various subgames (using a simple fishing and bug-catching mechanic and then selling those at the in-game store). You can use that money to buy decorations for your house, to upgrade said house, or to improve the town in some way.

But all that “earning” isn’t the soul of Animal Crossing. Instead, it’s the interactions with the inhabitants where you’ll find the core of it all. You get a chance to “befriend” the residents by chatting with them, sending them gifts, helping them with errands, playing games. That’s the communication aspect. The rewards? Witty text in conversations, return gifts, even the knowledge that you’ve convinced someone to stay in (or move to) your town. Continue reading

Best Songs of the Half Decade: 10-1

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Best Songs Decade2

Here’s the conclusion to the Best Songs of the Half Decade list I started 2 weeks ago. You can find the first part of the list here, and you can find a Spotify playlist with all the tracks here. You don’t even have to read this stuff if you’d rather just listen!

Anyway, here’s the list. Thanks for reading!

10. Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers (2014)
Do you enjoy explosions of jubilance? Oh good, then this song’s for you. “Bruisers” bursts into being and never lets up. Everything about it distills the delightful essence the New Pornographers. Vocal harmonies, sing-along sections, and booming drums combine to a wonderful pop concoction. At the center of it all is Carl (AC) Newman’s wonderful singing and ear for melody, something underrated in a band with Neko Case and Dan Bejar.

09. Is this How You Feel by The Preatures (2013)
For the thousandth time since I first heard the song: it’s the chorus. There hasn’t been a refrain this explosive since Kelly Clarkson turned Interpol guitars into a pop volcano. The difference? The Preatures’ track takes a different emotional direction from “Since U Been Gone.” Instead of relief and freedom, Isabella Manfredi’s story explores the tense anticipation of future love. In that way, the release in “How You Feel” is a more distilled form of pure bliss. This isn’t a weight being lifted, it’s new joy being formed.

08. Heavy Feet by Local Natives (2013)
I like to imagine that Local Natives are indie engineers. They’ve managed to design a song that features many indie rock hallmarks, assemble them in a sensible order, and pull it off without any feeling of false manufacturing. Consider the checklist: chiming guitars, soaring (and harmonizing) vocals, general emotional resonance, handclaps, a memorable chorus. You’re almost tempted to dislike “Heavy Feet” for shooting so directly at the audience. And then you hear it again and remember how much you like it.

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Best Songs of the Half Decade: 20-11

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Best Songs Decade

It’s time to copy the same concept everybody had in the middle of last year! Why bother chatting about the past 5 years? Because lists are so much fun (shut up), and because most of my music-sharing is done in 140 character bursts these days. This is a space without such constraints and becomes fun (also, easier access) preservation for 5 years down the road. Maybe my tastes won’t be the same and I’ll think Japandroids are garbage! (Unlikely.) Maybe I’ll reconsider placement and give songs different levels of love! (Pretty likely.)

Anyway here are 10 of my favorite songs from 2010-2014. The other half will come in a few days. If you’re clever, you already know exactly where to find the full 20-song list and you needn’t even read this junk. Or maybe you will anyway. It’s up to you.

20. I Want the World to Stop by Belle & Sebastian (2010)
It’s all about that locked-in beat. The groove is the beginning, the end, the core of this song, one of the best standalone tracks in the impressive Belle & Sebastian catalog. The hallmarks of the band do make the journey here (charming guitar, careful orchestration, beautiful singing). The earworm this time is that bass, shifting and dancing atop that fabulous drum. You’re rewarded most when the strings and horns cut out around the 2:30 mark and the band rebuilds from nothing. The payoff is pure bliss.

19. It’s Real by Real Estate (2011)
Would that we could all have a love so simple and wonderful as this. “It’s Real” is sweet and tidy, ringing guitars echoing the singer’s straightforward bliss. While Real Estate would move on to an even better record, the complex sadness felt in Atlas never holds the same sunny nostalgia of the band’s best song.

18. Ain’t That The Way by Divine Fits (2013)
Britt Daniel is the greatest singer in rock today, and his throat gives “Ain’t That the Way” the soul needed to reach its heights. In a way this could be an excuse to toss another Spoon song on the list. In actuality, the influence of Dan Boeckner makes this a very different animal than Daniel’s other band. It’s here (and in partner song “Chained to Love”) that Divine Fits find confidence in their own sound, a promise for future work that’s grounded in rewarding rock right now.

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Best Live Show Moments of 2014

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Best of 2014 Live

To close out my Best of 2014 series (feel free to read the Songs Part 1, Songs Part 2 and Albums lists), here’s a reflection on my favorite moments from live shows. 2014 was my biggest concert year ever at 12 shows. That’s hardly a world-shaking number, but it does represent the huge ramp-up from just 3 or 4 years ago.

3 of the 5 events here are at (fairly) big venues. One of my new year’s resolutions? Make it to smaller places and see smaller artists. Columbus secretly has a tremendous music scene beyond the Promowest venues, and I hope to check that pulse in 2015. Now for the list!

05. “Is This How You Feel” by The Preatures, 6/17 at The Basement, Columbus – The incredible confidence of The Preatures’ recorded work made a powerful translation to stage. The small-yet-enthusiastic crowd bought in immediately as Isabella Manfredi augmented her excellent live singing with true frontwoman intensity. She strutted, danced, and stared down the audience, turning the massive refrain of “Is This How You Feel” into a cathartic moment for everyone in the venue.

04. “Hornets Hornets” by The Hold Steady, 2/3 at A&R Music Bar, Columbus – “Hornets” wasn’t specifically the best song of the night (the Boys and Girls in America stuff was incredible). It does steal the show as the most important, the opener of The Hold Steady set. In particular, the very start of the song established the tone of the 22 picks to follow. The delayed intro (stretching the pauses as far as possible), the playful (drunken) attitude of Craig Finn, and then the explosion of guitar sound. The Hold Steady knows exactly what they’re doing.

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Best Albums of 2014: 10-1

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Best of 2014 Albums

It’s Best Albums time! Honorable mention to The Bug, St. Vincent, The Hold Steady, Nothing, and The Men (which may be something like 15-11, or maybe not). Here we go…

10. We Come from the Same Place by Allo Darlin’ – Lately I find it so easy to fall for quiet, charming pop. My working rationale: it serves as counterbalance to the (often) high-energy and aggressive sounds of my usual favorite groups. British group Allo Darlin’ hooks and adores right into your heart with beautiful guitars, cheerful singing, and an airy sense of forward motion.

It’s their light percussion that I’m most fascinated by in retrospect, almost completely opposite of recent love The National (a drums-first kind of band). Here, the rhythm operates behind the scenes, brushed and skittering along. It’s an essential choice, giving the ringing guitars room to move and the cooing vocals places to fill.

09. LOSE by Cymbals Eat Guitars – For me, the inroad to LOSE was the wonderful guitar aggression. The one-two opening punch of “Jackson” and album highlight “Warning” are as powerful a pure rock performance as you’ll find in 2014. After you’ve been hooked, you’re in line to enjoy the rest of the album-long ride.

Cinematic centerpiece “Laramie” ebbs and flows with changes in instrumentation and tempo. “Place Names” builds slowly before crackling to life in a blaze of energy. Closer “2 Hip Soul” lets Sonic Youth noise give way to a solitary piano. While I come back to the guitar pieces most often, the rest of LOSE is a fantastic car ride.

08. Manipulator by Ty Segall – Do you like rock music? Do you like raw, aggressive, potent, fuzzed out, psychedelic guitar rock music? Are you willing to overlook a bit of excess to get that in one album? Oh good, then this is exactly the thing for you! No doubt fans of the genre will find a ton to love here, and fans of Segall himself are probably over the moon and back a few times. Segall’s spacy voice and guitar heroics are in fine form yet again. Also nice? The sonic palette covers some decent territory while staying self-consistent over the album (the bassy tracks, occasional strings, and slower songs help keep up variety).

The main drawback? The length of the collection. At just under an hour, Manipulator drags. It’s hard to pinpoint any exact weak point. Instead, the issue is fatigue factor. You could probably take any 10-12 of the 17 tracks and make a superb record. Of course, if you’re into this sound, the massive boost to your collection is more than reason enough to jump at Manipulator.

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Best Songs of 2014: 10-1

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Best of 2014 Template 2

Here we go with Part 2 of the Best Songs list! You can find everything here in one convenient Spotify Playlist if you’d like. Thanks for listening and reading along. The Albums list comes next!

10. “I Miss Your Bones” by Hospitality – The main hook here must be the most complicated expression of 4/4 time to come from a power pop track. That intro is mesmerizing with its onetwothreefourfive snare eruption (guitar and bass right along in time, too) out of nothingness and driving right into the heard of the song.

Once you’re aboard with that sleight of hand, Hospitality are left to breathe. The meandering, quiet final half is maybe just as intoxicating as the opening. Less flashy, sure. In its place is a Spoon-like guitar and a hypnotic repetition of the title. “I miss your bones, I miss your bones, I miss your bones,” she sings over and over until you believe.

09. “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso – It’s all about the strange electronic pulsing and sparse bells. That’s the core of the song’s music, and such limitation is remarkable. “Coffee” seems just a note or two away from collapsing entirely, and the minimal construction pairs nicely with the unexpected instruments. Amelia Meath’s singing flows smooth atop the light sounds.

The song’s best moment comes in the final chorus, a victory lap with accordion-like hums changing the chord and giving a real sense of triumph. Meath coos, “Get up, get down,” and even I can’t help but dance along.

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Best Songs of 2014: 25-11

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Songs 2014

It’s time for all that Year End Music stuff! 2014 was one of my favorite music years in recent memory, so I’m very excited to read about all the stuff I missed (and maybe there’s a chance you might see something good from me).

Here’s the start of my favorite songs list. Stick around sometime in the next month or so for Best Songs Part 2, the Best Albums List, and Best Live Show Moments.

The self-imposed rules for my Best Songs thing: tracks must be from 2014, only one song per group (artists may repeat if in different groups), and I’m electing to keep advance singles from early January full releases off the list (which leaves Sleater-Kinney and The Decemerists off if only so I’ll stop listening to them for five minutes. Not that you should stop).

(Also if you want to see my hockey writing, be sure to visit BS Hockey. I’m over there now!)

Here we go!

25. “Trainwreck 1979″ by Death From Above 1979 – I missed the first go-around with DFA. I’m delighted to have this playing now. Angry guitars and singing with a touch of melodic sense? “Trainwreck” is stuck in my head all time time.

24. “Word Crimes” by Weird Al Yankovic – This could arguably be a cheater pick (the original song being that ubiquitous 2013 hit). I’m willing to bend the rules ever-so-slightly for this, the definitive version. The killer music video is also worth a look.

23. “Better Than It Ever Could Be” by The Preatures – Not the highest point for these Aussies. Still a wonderful piece of power pop with an explosive chorus. The lead female singer digging in at the title phrase and the U2-lite guitars are great fun.

22. “Happy Idiot” by TV on the Radio – The drum beat is propulsive and paranoid and shows TVotR taking a successful step in an electronic direction. The guitar line just below the surface is the best detail in a dense song.

21. “Little Killer” by Merchandise – It’s hard to picture an anthem with low-mix (near-mumble) singing, but here we are anyway. That big opening guitar lick repeats over and over, and the eventual “little killer” line hits almost like a proper refrain would. Pump your fist anyway!

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Five Days in April: A Blue Jackets Journal, Part 2

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This is Part 2 of my retrospective on the Blue Jackets’ 2014 playoff appearance. I managed to get to 3 games, and Part 1 covered the first two days of my attendance. Today, my view from game 3. It’s a return to Columbus, the first taste of postseason at Nationwide in years. It’s also my second ever Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Day 3: April 21

I can’t focus. I have emails and meetings and experiments to tend to, but I just can’t stay on track. I keep looking at this thing on my desk, a simple piece of paper that’s in my way physically and mentally. It’s a game 3 ticket, a standing room spot. As a rule, I don’t wear hockey jerseys during the day of a game. Today I’ve made an exception, and it’s a constant reminder even when I don’t see that Ticketmaster barcode.

20140421_174627With the day a blur and done, it’s time to escape. I can’t help but grin like a fool the whole bus ride down, and the exit is onto an amazing scene: the plaza is packed. The party atmosphere is infectious. Everyone here has the same ideas: celebrate and prepare for the best hockey of the year. This is the perfect way to build on the excitement from Saturday, to share in the jubilation, and I’m glad there are so many to share this with.

20140421_174640Nationwide itself looks great. The glorious glass of the main entrance now has playoff art adorning the center windows, welcoming all arrivals to the special event. As I slide indoors, the decoration is noteworthy here too. American flag buntings are covering all the rails in the lower bowl, offering more patriotism and thematic coloring to the already welcoming view. My first visit to Columbus three years ago was memorable but surrounded by Red Wings fans. Today, the color blue brings balance and (hopefully) a home-ice advantage.

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Draft 2014: Look at the Shadow!

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It’s the first round of the NHL Entry Draft! And for the first time in years I don’t really care! It’s easy to understand for Columbus fans: for once, I’m not looking to the future for hope. The afterglow of a playoff season will do that, but the Jackets all seem poised to not suck again next season. A great goalie and a brilliant young d-man are wonderful starting points, and shedding an ineffective player for a potentially great one continues to excite. But for me, there’s another looming reason why I don’t care: the shadow cast by 2015 Draft.

Look, I’m sure there are some good players to come from tonight’s selections. Bob McKenzie’s list looks as impressive as ever. I just can’t help but keep clicking on someone else’s HockeyDB page: Connor McDavid. I’ll just leave this here for a moment and we’ll come back to proper thoughts.

He’s so much fun to watch. More importantly, McDavid is also in some pretty great company.

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2014 CBJ Offseason: The Trade That Actually Happened

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2014 Offseason Title

Three days ago I dreamed a dream of Paul Stastny. I maintain this probably won’t happen for Columbus, but Stastny’s worth discussing as a player just because he’s so good and he’s going to boost some team (for a price that won’t be too painful). Inserted in that commentary was this part of the cap hit setup: “Second, let’s say the Jackets miraculously move Umberger.”

Yesterday the miracle happened, and the outcome is simply mind-blowing. Not only did the Blue Jackets trade Umberger, they got a seriously good player in return. Without retaining any cap hit. And they only had to sweeten the deal with a 4th round pick. And Hartnell is the same age as Umberger. Really. I’m not lying.

whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat

Okay, Calm Down. Was This a Good Idea?

Yes, headline font. Let’s take a breath here. Did the Jackets actually gain anything making this trade? Let’s do a first level comparison between the two players. For the three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14, let’s look at CF%, relative CF%, and ZS% for each player, individual possession stats with some very basic context on usage. (Stats again from the ever-essential Extra Skater).

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