We love Deb and only she can give us a Hendrix styled electric harp rendition of “Star Spangled Banner”. You’ve gotta love this for 4th of July!
Recently coming across my radar is this songstress whom absolutely knows how to rock! Carmen Townsend has a set of vocals that lets her flip from sheering screaming down to a vibrato whimper at the flick of a switch, all while grungey guitar riffs powerhouse round your ears. Her latest album is “Waitin’ and Seeing’” and the video below shows exactly what you get when you see her live… electric!
A new talent we’ve stumbled across is the excellent singer/songwriter Sheri Miller. A touch of old Joni Mitchell brought into the new millenium for a rock out session with Sheryl Crow, Sheri’s guitar driven melodies are catchy enough to get your attention but still has enough of an edge and individuality that allows them to stand on their own two feet. Her new record is called “Winning Hand” which further cements her artistry but the clip shown below is taken from her previous EP “Mantra”. We’ll be reviewing Winning Hand soon.
Puzzle games are often simple to understand, hard to master. Rarely has this been phrase been truer than with the new PC game Critical Mass which is maddening simple yet addictive and complex and frantic.
The object of the game is to match four blocks of the same colour together to make them vanish. This time however its in 3D so you’re not just looking at what’s in front of you, you’ve got to think what’s behind, above, below, in front and round the corner. This one simple step into a space Rubik’s Cube-esque landscape turns the whole match 4 genre on its head because there’s so many possibilities. Just by looking at the picture above – in two cubes you could link any of the pinky purple cubes, the greens can go round the corner and the oranges could be finished easily too. However, it’s not quite that simple under time pressure.
The crux in Critical Mass is that everything is under very strict time rules. The camera starts far out from the mass and slowly zooms in. The closer the camera gets, the more obscured things become and you have to frantically swivel the mass around so you can see what’s going on. The camera acts as a counter so when you’re too close the blocks begin to shake and you have about five seconds to get a chain together or its goodnight Vienna!
Where Critical Mass’ frustration occurs is that the difficulty curve at the beginning is very steep. My first few goes, I could not get passed the first level as it all goes so quickly. That’s partly because it’s a difficult time limit but also because I hadn’t taken on the whole 3D chain concept. Once you think that way, I was bombing through the opening levels reeling off combos.
Aside from the normal mode there’s survival which throws more block on when you score a strike and meditation mode lets you play with no time limits as you hunt the highest score, not the quickest time. The final mode is one where the score drops and you have to keep scoring combos to keep the score frozen. There’s plenty of achievements to aim for and also a few power ups that slow down time or increase your combo.
~Simple to pick up, hard to master
~Simple controls and predictable physics
~You will need patience to get to grips with the initial time limits
~Single player only
Addictive, simple and hard to conquer, Critical Mass is a dark horse game that will quickly turn from a five minute filler to a two hour hi score muncher as this time you WILL pass level 20. Essentially the longevity of the game is down to your own world ranking and hi score chasing but if it hooks you in, think Tetris but expanded.
While I await for her second album to arrive on my doorstep, I’ll settle for this awesome video from Pitchfork!
The awesomeness that is Imogen Heap has compiled a great video about the process of her new album Heapsongs (working title) and documented the whole public process of writing and recording from snippets of stuff send in by her fans. It’s such a fantastic concept – here’s “Lifeline”
Patrick Wolf returns with his fifth album “Lupercalia” and this time the boy’s joyous and shout it out happy. The walk walks the fine line of deliriously happy alternative pop and makes The Magic Position feel like a warm up emotionally.
“The City” is unabashedly happy with smashing tom drums, trumpet fanfare, a saxophone (argh) riff and warped vocal adlibs. You can help but feel like you want to join the street party as the catchy chorus soars and peaks emotionally. It reminds me very much of The Magic Position in terms of style and emotion. “House” in a style contrast sounds like he stole Vanessa Carlton’s next big hit and remixed it with Abba. The happy bright piano chords underscored with bold orchestration as the disco rock drums pound away, this has massive hit written all over it. “Bermondsey Street” is another gush of pride and love with a chirpy riff of piano/harp samples backed with a stomping drum beat and this time it feels like we’re channelling Madness at times. Catchy, fun and deliriously happy like a carnival, the opening trio will set the tone for the rest of the album.
“The Future” turns to a more rockier edge with lots of country twang in the verses before big orchestral toms smash in for the chorus which again uplift the listener into a glorious middle section and euphoric ending – easily the best uprising on the album to date. “Armistice” is first quiet spot on the album while distorted guitars echo and vocals are shouting. It’s a beautiful track that slowly builds and evolves without ever breaking out into a frenzy and it stands out because of it. “William” is a strange and quirky inclusion, a fifty second track that’s experimental with lots of electronic noises and an Indian vocal flick of an ending. Very curious!
“Time of My Life” opens with a grand string section before the song starts properly as it builds and builds into a great cross genre track of rocky elements, electronica bass lines and beautiful string arrangements running throughout. This is where Patrick comes into his own. It’s happy, its catchy, but it’s not cheap pop either. The beginning tracks aren’t cheap pop either, but they go straight for the hook. This is more about creating a soundscape and it works better. One of his best tracks to date. “The Days” is the dreamy waltz on the album. Rich and sumptuous, the string arrangements are beautiful and the deep but sparse percussion compliments the strings perfectly. Wolf’s vocals are on top-notch throughout but seem extra emotional here.
“Slow Motion” is the second dreamy ballad of the album, at least for the first half of the track. There’s some great random sound effects thrown into the track such as sliding electronic buzzings and Indian inflected vocal snippets again and they strangely all work. There’s a really speedy keyboard underscore that when everything else falls away makes the track feel like it’s jumping around like a cassette tape. It’s inventive and effecting. “Together” takes a twist to 80′s pop with electronic arpeggios and heavily bled vocals seeping through the speakers. Not sounding too far from The Petshop Boys in some ways, its catchy and simple but with all the inventive little trinkets you can find in the production of a usual Patrick Wolf track. The closing track “The Falcons” is an epic finale with a real stadium pleasing chorus and ends the album with an energy filled happy number.
It’s funny “Lupercalia” is in many ways Patrick’s most straight forward work. The opening trio almost feel like a separate entity to the rest of the album in style, if not tone. After that Patrick settles into more familiar audio territory and while it feels like an old friend, this time they have a massive grin on their face. By far the happiest works of Mr Wolf – that will determine where it falls in your order of album favourites. Patrick however, is massively accomplished as a musician and a songwriter and deserves huge credit regardless.
Who remembers an old 80′s game called “Pang”? Well its back with “Run Ghost Run” a new PSP Mini also for PS3.
The premise is a guy stays over night in a haunted castle and must survive the night by getting rid of the ghosts in each level. The gameplay works identical to Pang from the 80′s. You are a man on the bottom of the screen and you can move left and right (on later levels you can also jump on springs to reach higher platforms) and you’re armed with a gun that fires a ghostbuster like ray straight upwards to the top of the screen. Ghosts bounce across the screen and when they hit the ray they shrink down in size but divide into two ghosts. The gameplay comes by tactically shooting and moving around the screen to avoid the bouncing ghosts but also to make sure you’re not overwhelmed by the sheer number of critters bouncing around the screen. It’s all to easy to be trigger happy and cause a mess for yourself. To balance things nicely however there is a time-limit on each level. Getting the balance right between shooting and avoidance is key to success.
Run Ghost Run! has cute, bold graphics and the controls are responsive making the mini a joy to play on the PS3 full screen. There are 36 levels to get through, each with multiple sections to them, and a few power ups to help you out when the going gets tough. It really does evoke the gameplay of Pang perfectly.
~Old Skool gameplay down to a Tee
~ Occasionally unfair deaths
Great for a drop in and out play and great for on the move, Run Ghost Run is one of the best mini’s released in 2011 to date.
“I Must Run!” is a very simple reflex game for the PSP Mini. Following the story (neatly shown in comic book cutscenes) of a man whose on a prison break out to right a wrongdoing (but another wrongdoing!) you control a man who will not stop running. Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to make sure you can jump, double jump, slide and punch your way through increasingly tough levels of obstacles. Miss a jump? Game Over. Hit a wall? Game Over. If you fail to punch objects out your way it slows down your momentum which then means on the bigger jumps you might not make it across. The crux? It’s very hard! I’ve never seen the end so I’m assuming there is one and it isn’t just a high score fest. Every few in-game hours (about 90 seconds) the scenery changes. The graphics themselves are crisp and neat with lovely parallax backgrounds and plenty of on screen action which adds to the games difficulty itself as your eyes focus in so intently on what’s going on around you, its sometimes easy to get distracted.
Ultimately, this games not for everyone. Reflex or music game lovers will enjoy it, others will scoff at such a simple premise but it has that pull to see if you can get further to the next stage and that addiction is what makes this game equally infuriating and enjoyable. Just don’t get overly frustrated when you die after 2 minutes!
~Simple premise and controls
~If you’re not a high score chaser this will have limited appeal.
Possibly the gaming definition of a medal chaser. You will try, try and try again but possibly never see the final hurdle. Tough, uncompromising but fiendishly addictive. Prepare to be sucked in.
Second on out Introducing… list today is a rocking girl duo that falls firmly in the power pop genre, not normally one I go for, but the hook for this track is insane! Welcome one and all to Pixikill:
The Ladies of Sport are a fun band that specialise in Alt-Pop/Rock style of music. Think Beck, Cake and Gorillaz plus a bundle of fun. I’ll be looking out for them but as there’s not a lot of promo stuff about to showcase them – click here to take a listen to the song “The Product”.
Patrick Wolf’s new album Lupercalia is out monday and “House” is the latest single from it. You can firstly view the music video below where his new hair style is in full motion! Definately a more mainstream pop-rock sound this time round it seems.
You can also stream the entire album for free from the Guardian website. I’m holding off until I get the album on monday but a full review will be coming, rest assured!
Opening with the panoramic “Another Language” which effortlessly swings between tight keyboard bell montages to sweeping padded vistas with smashing drums. It’s a catchy warm, loving hug topped off with Lou’s magical vocals. “Butterfly Effect” swaps warm sunsets to eerie underworld clicks and twists with Andy’s pitch shifting bass line that forms the crux of the track manipulating around your ears like a stalker closing in fast. What is most apparent here is that the song melodies are stripped down to a real core sound for each track, with this one in particular going for the dark grizzly arena. “Build A Fire” moves the duo into rock territory with simple verses led by chiming bell sounds before breaking out into a euphoric electric guitar frenzy for the choruses. It’s really uplifting and sounds like a completely new side to Lamb we’ve yet to experience and is one of the standouts because of it.
“Wise Enough” reminds me of Mandalay. It slowly meanders itself through with a string background being gradually smothered with more reverberant percussion. The song builds and builds into something quite grand as the strings swell and we’re treated to a keyboard synth solo over the top. “Existential Itch” is a short track which brings back the double bass and percussion sound with lots of vocal layers. It’s fun without being over zealous and has a catchy chorus vocal riff. “Strong the Root” continues the percussive edge to the album by mixing electronic and real world beats with a pulsating bass and pushes the minimalistic track forward until it almost verges on industrial.
“Rounds” is an ethereal track which works in perfect balance as sumptuous electric guitar piques the chords over Lou’s reverb drenched vocals. It’s calming, soothing and comforting, even in its climactic build up when drums join in for the final chorus. Beautiful. “She Walks” showcases Lamb’s affinity for unusual time signatures that keep you on your toes. Throughout the album the tracks are mostly underpinned by a pulsating bass that takes the main melody and here is where it works at its best. In contrast “Last Night The Sky” showcases the new edge to Lamb which has become more guitar/rock influenced. Here its massive drums, strings and vocals. It’s an epic track that is easily on par with their very best known efforts.
“The Spectacle” is a ballad that feels a lot bigger than it actually is as the song too’s and fro’s between two sets of two chords for the majority of the track. The piano is beautifully scored by underplayed strings and Lou’s vocals remain very still throughout. It’s reflective but also worldly. The closing track features Damien Rice whose vocals blend beautiful as the album rounds off with an electro-rock ballad. Obviously going into the folk territory in her solo works has influenced Lamb’s overall sound. The choruses here are heartbreaking.
Andy and Lou are fantastic as Lamb and its a welcome return. They’ve lost none of their nature prowess for utilising the best of each other and with their new guitar edge thrown in for good measure, they’ve evolved their sound to make it all worth while. An absolute triumph.
Despite having a name that feels like it’s been translated directly from some weird internet tool word for words, Rotating Octopus Character is actually a fun little mini adventure and best of all, it uses only two buttons. X to jump. O to change direction.
See our little Octopus is constantly in forward motion and he clings to any walled surface going, be this a levels outer wall or a tree in the middle. Baby Octopuses descend from the sky and land across the level and its your job to collect them all. What starts out as a simple navigational puzzle quickly turns into a precision test as you need to reverse and traverse out of traps as the levels get more and more challenging.
The graphics are simplistic but very bold. You can always tell what’s going on and where you’re going. The sound itself does a good job to not irritate and keep the chirpy theme going.
There’s around 70 levels in all and then a timed challenge afterwards and so for 24mb you’ve got a good challenge for a couple of hours.
~Simple game mechanics
~Fluid game physics means that when you die you know its your fault, not bad game design
~Appears to only save your progress per section of levels rather than per level.
Fun, relatively addictive and with a challenging but fair difficulty curve, our Octopus friend is most welcome on our TV screens. Let’s hope next time he gets a name!
Gregory Douglass returns with his brand new album “Lucid” and this time we’ve gone concept – and electro. The most apparent shift in sound for Douglass is a move towards digital and electronic sounds. This comes from percussive beats to lots of synthesised extras, however there’s almost always piano or guitar at the core of each song, and of course Gregory’s amazingly versatile vocals.
Opener “The Night” begins the concept of dreams with a serenading lullaby that’s equally as eerie as it is beautifully warming. The song’s underpinned by a sumptuous music box melody but you can sense that all is not well as the drums and vocals swell and build. It’s a mystical opening track to lull you into the dream world. “Lucid” follows with an elastic band rock anthem that flicks itself effortlessly between pulsating lowfi-electro pop to distorted vocals and crunching drum beats. Something that is used throughout to great effect is reverb distortion and the title track uses it superbly.
“White Out” is a more traditional laid back track with lazy guitar riffs rolling across the speakers and some excellent string work, particularly in the choruses which elevates the track to something you could easily arm sway to with the top down in a car on a summer’s day. The juxtaposition between this track and most electronic track on the album “Naysayer” makes both stand out. The latter track is all about using synthesised bass lines and enough of a pop beat to make this an alternative dance track with lots of ambient clangs and whirls filling up the space where there’s a lack of chords or song progression. It’s unlike anything else Gregory has produced to date and he takes to this new genre with ease.
“Wild” is possibly the culmination of all the above tinkering into a perfect blend of sublime pop rock and indie rock with lots of a technical wizardry. It’s an absolute crowd pleaser with its euphoric chorus and catchy riffs. Easily the most commercially accessible song on the album, it deserves a place on everyone’s playlist. “Shot Down” is a curious track that holds its self back purposely by placing the vocals right to the foreground of the mix which then lets the guitar to burst through in the short blasts its given. It actually ends up being quite rock orientated with its flanging guitar riffs taking over in the second half for fun track.
“Dream Come True” is quiet track with acoustic and electric guitars working in symbiosis, underpinned by bleeding keyboard pads. Even Gregory’s vocals are quite subdued for this track for the most part and it becomes a track of solitude and reflection. “Animal” is the only piano led track on the album which is embellished with electric piano twinkles and some beautiful cello work from Monique Citro whose presence is felt throughout the album. In its complete simplicity, this track is part of my joint trio favourites from the album. Simple, powerful, beautiful and epic.
“Raven” takes the whole frequency tampering and flanging to a new level with the entire song besides the vocals and drums being twisted around in your ears so there is always something going. This is one of the most angst tracks on the album with a great rising chorus that builds tension that’s already prickling and popping in your ears due to the excellent production of the track in general. “One True Thing” harks back to albums gone by with a beautiful love song that’s been a staple on Greg’s albums for a while and is a real spirit raiser. That then paves way the absolutely blinding closer “From Now On” which effortlessly spins around from piano ballad to showcasing plenty of technical wizardry and then ends with a devastatingly heart wrenching cello outro to Greg’s echoing vocals fading away. It’s time to wake up.
“Lucid” is a superb album. With not a dull track in sight, each song has its own purpose, poise and motive. Each is filled with more hooks than a DIY store and top be topped off with Greg’s vocal gymnastics that deserve more praise than I could possible heap on, if you pick up one “lets give it a go” album this year – pick “Lucid”. You will not be disappointed.
There seems to be a real trend currently with HD remakes. Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, Beyond Good and Evil – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ico, Spinter Cell, Zoe… the list goes on. I still own a PS2 and the original games so I’ve sat not buying them up but I’m slowly swaying my way over – especially with Prince of Persia going so cheaply. However I begrudge paying for the game again! I also begrude losing new games to safe remakes. I’d be interested in the poll below as to where everyone weighs in on the debate.
Gregory Douglass is back with new album Lucid, which we will be reviewing tomorrow. Be sure to catch his webcast of his album release party show at 1am UK time – or if you’re in the local area pop along! Do catch it online click the link here!
Amy and Joe, the husband and wife team that form Clatter are busy in the studio recording their new album. Take a peek at the video below for their news update!
Ah, we at HPM do like a puzzle game. Babel The King of Blocks has three distinct modes in this fun, fresh PSP Mini. The 24mb game is all about building tower blocks. You stand on a bridge above a platform and drop blocks of various shapes and sizes down to the platform below. Each level has a set height goal to achieve. Your goal is to get there without the tower crashing down.
The first of three modes is Temple where you are given a straightforward platform to build on. I say straightforward… the difficulty curve ramps up a notch with each level. By level 5 you’re balancing triangles on circles and really having to plan your moves way in advance. This mode however is the easiest. Next up is Pyramid which takes the platform turns it into a weight scale. The beefier the block, the more it will tilt the platform and soon your tower will be doing more than leaning like Piza! This causes for some real kneejerk “argh” moments when you realise you’ve tilted too far and desperately try to salvage your building – normally to no avail. The third challenge is Tower. Here the blocks are constantly coming down from the top of the screen ala Tetris. I found this mode tricky because its just as much about reflexes as it is forward planning.
~Essentially three games in one
~Very crisp graphics for a Mini
~If you can’t fathom block based games, this will do little to sway you (but then you’ll never be swayed to be honest!)
A great PSP Mini, each stage has almost 30 levels in each. Puzzle lovers will enjoy the satisfaction of watching Babel to a little Egyptian dance when you clear a level. If that is an incentive for the just-one-more-go syndrome, then I’ve no idea what is!
Drums Challenge is a new rhythm action game released as a PSP Mini which of course also work on the PS3. The game comprises of a single game screen filled with up to potentially 10 drum and cymbals, each mapped to a controller button. It’s then a case of Simon says as first a pattern is drummed out and then you follow trying to memorize the pattern as well as playing it in time to the beat. A scroll rolls across the top to let you know when the AI ends and you begin. More drum kits and styles are unlocked as you progress through the game. What is most impressive is how the buttons are laid out over the controller to great effect and everything feels very natural to play.
The game has a variety of styles from Latin to rock to jazz and back again but you have just three songs per genre, one easy, medium and one hard. The easy ones are so easy you’ll be perfect scoring them second time round as they usually only utilise two or three drums. The medium ones start to mix in a few hi-hats and cymbals which makes things more rhythmic and complex and the hard ones throw you in as a full drummer. The challenge is purely to get a perfect score which is achievable to anyone seasoned with the likes of Rock Band, Rhythm Zone or Amplitude. Infact, in many ways its too easy until the very end of the game and as the songs are short you can clear the mini quite quickly. What you can do though is then create your own beats in freestyle as a passing muse.
~Button lay out and rhythms do make it a good drumming experience
~A whole mini for the price of less than 2 Rock Band tracks
~Seasoned rhythm action gamers will clear the game with ease
For £1.74 you get a decent mini that’s fun, intuitive and provides amusement for a good 90 minutes before you’ve probably unlocked every track and then its down to your own medal chasing as to whether or not you continue. Fun while it lasts.