It’s time for another video game reflection! I’ve been enjoying my 3DS lately, and I’m making my way through a number of games. Zelda is always on recommendation lists, and usually for good reason. This one’s no different… well… except that it’s very different. In great ways. You’ll see. The Zelda franchise has enough praise already, and I can hardly make a contribution to the conversation. Let it be known anyway: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a good reason to buy a 3DS. The basic idea hasn’t changed: you take the role of a green-clad hero (usually named Link). Some kind of crap happens in a kingdom (usually called Hyrule). You’re tasked to find a sword, get other magical or mythical tools, destroy a bunch of low-level baddies, then work your way up to vanquish the head evil. The appeal in most modern Zeldas isn’t the combat or the story, but the journey and the puzzle-solving in dungeons along the way. You’ll need to figure out how to open doors (by switches, or through finding keys), and you’ll have to discover the best ways to defeat enemy characters. What makes Link Between Worlds so special? The game knows that you already know the formula. In that way, it’s rewarding to the Zelda veteran (which is almost anyone owning a Nintendo system, after all). And accordingly, Nintendo decides to turn things a bit sideways. Continue reading
Look, it’s a second game review/reflection! Yes, I know this game came out in 2011. No, I don’t care. I only just played it and I loved the heck out of it. Here’s what I thought about this platformer.
2D Mario games, at their best, are tight platformers. These games are built on careful level design, striking a balance between fun and frustration. Control and mechanics are essential: the response and weight of Mario’s leaps must be precise to keep the immersion (unnatural though it may be). 3D Mario games translate these concepts by adding freedom and exploration to the mix. Though 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy may have central hubs, individual levels leave room to wander and reach goals by a player-selected path. Both styles are among my favorite in all of videogames. In Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo decided to blend two directions into one delightful whole.
This seems an odd task, as we’ve just defined 3D Mario as an evolution of the 2D. By playing 3D Land we see just how far apart things have been, and how pleasantly everything meshes together.
If you’re already versed in 3D Mario, consider the “secret” levels in Sunshine, the pure platform challenges without the waterpack. That’s the central idea here: you’re in a 3D space, you have freedom of depth. You are restricted to move “forward” in the way the game wants, albeit with all three dimensions available for your problem-solving pleasure.
Last week, I posted part one of my Best Albums of the Half Decade list. Today: it’s the more important half!
Don’t forget: this only considers 2010-2014, so Sufjan and S-K will have to wait until December to get their listed praises (this aside excepted). Also: if you would rather read this as “Matt’s Favorite Albums,” you wouldn’t be wrong. I don’t have an averaged poll from a staff of people.
Related to that: what did I leave out? I’m sure I missed something (like that Girls record in 2011). What incredible music should I put on my Decade list in 2019? Is there a good reason to discredit a pick on my list?
Go yell in the comments, or find me on Twitter! I love to see other people excited about music, I want to find more great sounds!
Thanks for reading, and here’s the list!
10. The Unfazed by Dolorean (2011)
“Quiet confidence” is probably an overused trope in music reviews. It feels apt with Dolorean anyway. The songs on The Unfazed never yell, operating in a mid-volume area. Guitars are acoustic, clean, or slightly twangy, pianos are plentiful, and drum fills skitter along without distracting. It’s hard to pin genre exactly here; you could do worse than saying “classic-, folk-, country-rock” and then triangulating. The album takes the best notes of each to form a beautiful whole.
Everything is bound nicely by the earnest tone of bandleader Al James. His smooth voice cuts even the most cynical of ears, and brings you into his storytelling style. There’s enough specificity in his tales to make them come alive, to let them dig under your skin. It’s a shame the band ended after this album. Hopefully we’ll get to hear more from James in the future.
09. The King is Dead by The Decemberists (2011)
Do you like Colin Meloy? Do you like REM-style ringing guitars? If you answered yes to both questions, you already own The King is Dead and love it. It is that combination suggested that makes the album so enjoyable. The Decemberists continue to ply their charming, bookish trade and augment things with a dose of universal guitar delight. Heck, three of the songs even have Peter Buck around to bring his authentic tone.
Douglas Wolk of Rolling Stone called the sound here “rustic,” and I think that’s a perfect descriptor. King feels as close to pure folk as the band had been, pushing away from the prog indulgence of The Hazards of Love. The style is simplified, but not simple and fits the band well.
08. Let England Shake by PJ Harvey (2011)
Anger and nervous disappointment in equal doses form the core of Let England Shake. It’s an anti-war album throughout. It also avoids any sense of pretentious self-interest by being devoutly earnest and musically ambitious.
Haunting moments make England stay long after its 40 minute playtime. “The Glorious Land” opens with the bugle call “Assembly” and then examines the horrors of war atop the militaristic tone. “The Words That Maketh Murder” ends with a twisted reference to “Summertime Blues.” Harvey asks, “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?” It’s done pitifully, as if all options are exhausted and problems never solved. “Bitter Branches” ends with faux-anthemic repetition. “Wave goodbye” is shouted over and over. With closer listening, you realize the waving bitter branches belong to wives of soldiers, spouses of the men sent to die. It’s stark and effective messaging.
It’s time to copy the same idea everybody had in the middle of last year! Why bother chatting about the past 5 years? I like lists. I know: they’re everywhere already. I don’t care. Most of my music-observation happens on Twitter lately, and this is a better way to share things in a considered manner (more than “just #watch this YouTube video”). Plus it’s a fun time capsule of my opinions right now. Who knows what music I’ll enjoy down the road!
We’ll start out with Albums #20-11 because that seems fun. Think these picks are crap? Go yell at me on Twitter, or drop a comment!
Thanks for reading!
20. RTJ2 by Run the Jewels (2014)
It’s impossible to separate the social and societal messaging behind RTJ2 from the music. Luckily, the commentary doesn’t come across as preachy because the sound, the rhythm, and the lyricism are so strong. The incredible chemistry between El-P and Killer Mike makes this better than what either could offer alone. They bounce off each other, building the kind of rapidfire storytelling and anger that makes RTJ2 exhilarating.
19. Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors (2012)
This is the streamlined version of Dirty Projectors. That doesn’t mean they’ve lost the quirky charm that made previous releases so special. Instead, it means first-time listeners will have an easier time latching onto melodies, remembering songs. And when you give it a chance, you’ll find the real reason to listen to Swing Lo: swelling, beating emotion. “Dance for You” is an absolute classic.
18. Epic by Sharon Van Etten (2010)
Van Etten’s well-travelled voice gives gravity to the songs presented here. They’re songs about decaying love, distrust, personal discovery, and suicide, all heavy topics to be sure. The singing makes everything hit with the weight deserved. At the same time, the instrumentation pulls you in closer. Sometimes that’s a trance, sometimes your head bops along to the tempo. Oh, there’s also the best song of the half-decade. That’s a good trait, I’d say.