Gear Review: iPod FM Transmitter

Your buddy has been bugging you for his Best of Warrant CD he let you borrow last month. It's been great listening to it in that 1996 boom box sitting in the passenger seat, but wouldn't it be even better if you could play it on that iPod you scored for [insert holiday]? You can see it now: cruising down the highway, windows down, in your pimped out Geo Metro, tunes blasting.

But wait, you don't even have one of those fancy new radios with a cassette player, much less some kind of auxiliary thingamabob to plug the iPod into. Enter the HandHeldItems iPod FM Transmitter.

Just set your dial to an empty station, match up the frequency on the transmitter's LCD screen, and you are rocking out to Cherry Pie anytime you feel like it. Unless that is you get too close to a real radio station's frequency, then it's time to search for another blank spot in the airwaves. Don't worry, it's not difficult, and thanks to the weak transmitter built into this unit, you'll get lots of practice seeking out a new station to usurp.

That is, you'll get lots of practice when you can actually get the transmitter to broadcast to your FM radio at all. Luckily it can be powered from the iPod itself, so assuming you have adequate battery power left, you can move the iPod to any position in your vehicle to achieve maximum sound quality. And if your iPod is threatening to die on you before you can make it through another replay of the album, just plug in the included power adapter to your lighter socket and you are back in business.

Don't get too excited with your air drums though; the transmitter doesn't have any clips to keep it firmly affixed to your iPod. One wrong jostle and your jam session comes to an abrupt end. The iPod is intelligent enough to pause the track for you, so you miss none of Joey Allen's killer guitar solo, complete with just the right amount of static you can never seem to get rid of, no matter how close the HHI iPod FM Transmitter is to your radio. That's ok though, Warrant was a gritty band, and the static reminds you of just that.

Final Grade: C+

So it goes,

photo from here

Maddox's Indie Game Addictions of the Week (MIGAW) #2

Procrastination. That's why this is a day late. I apologize for any inconvenience if any of our 2 or 3 devotees are agitated in any way. 

Tig Source hosted a cockpit game competition a few weeks ago and this hilariously fun little game by Cracker
blocks came out the winner. In it, you assume control of a car-driving bear who is vehicully hunting for fish and berries so he can fattern up before hibernation. The game is controlled by using the mouse pointer to control the bear's every move, be it pressing the gas/brake pedal, spinning the steering wheel, or throwing an angry badger out the window to give a few examples. Controlling the car is very difficult but that's what makes the game so fun: feeling as terrible and clueless at                                                                             driving as a real bear. Pick this one up here.

Final Grade: B

This digital toy is a little more on the artsy side but I found myself enjoying it. I can't say too much about this game because the point of playing it is finding your own interpretation and figuring out how the different game elements interact with each other. Play it here. This game is by Ludomancy which has some other wonderful experimental games.

Final Grade: B

Image from here

The latest major release from Edmund Mcmillan (of Meat Boy fame), Spewer is a liquid-physics puzzler where you can control a cute, little, pink, ball creature whose MO is eating, spewing and swimming through his own vomit to get to the respective exits of many examination rooms. It's a lot less gross than it sounds. To mix things up, there are different types of vomit at your disposal: the white bile, for example, floats like a cloud which you can then use a liquid platform. There's a lot of challenge and content here but your patience and commitment will be rewarded. Play it here but be warned: as this game is heavily physics based, you will need a fairly decent computer to run it. Expect my full review of Spewer and last week's MIGAW winner, Glumbuster, in the near future.

Final Grade: A-

Image from here

So it goes,

Music Review: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - "Outer South"

For better or worse, Conor Oberst has always taken varying approaches to writing music. His career encompasses a slew of genres, from gunge/emo (Decaprecidos) to electronic (Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) and his current folk stint. But one thing has always been for sure: a Conor Oberst album is a one-man show. Most of his past projects (including his first album with the Mystic Valley Band) have featured Oberst as the sole lead vocalist, singing familiar lyrics in the first person – and in general, it’s worked well. But Outer South, released on May 5 by Merge Records, is a different story. Oberst has given up much of his creative control, with seven of the album’s sixteen tracks having been written or sung by his bandmates.

Stylistically, the album drifts further down the bluesy Americana path that its predecessor marked out. But while Oberst’s first outing with the Mystic Valley Band still possessed much of Bright Eyes’ charm (“Get-Well-Cards,” “Moab,” “Souled Out!!!”), this one comes off with a sparse dryness. Outer South offers a few bright spots, but it’s weighted down with an equal number of tracks that you could skip without missing a thing. Also, none of the Mystic Valley Band members seem to be capable of sharing frontman duties with their leader. Other than Jason Boesel’s deep croon on “Difference is Time,” the non-Oberst vocals on the record are timid and inconsequential.

Still, there’s plenty here to enjoy. Oberst commands his ensemble of jangling guitars and wailing organs with prowess on “Slowly/Oh So Slowly,” “Cabbage Town,” and the album’s best song, “I Got the Reason #2.” When things go right on Outer South, they really go right. The triumphant chord of vocals at the six-minute mark on “Reason #2,” the lyrics on the fourth verse of “Roosevelt Room,” and the climactic last two minutes of “Cabbage Town” are all musical moments that rival anything else in Oberst’s discography.

But for each inspiring moment, there are two moments that wouldn’t inspire much more than a yawn. There are about five solid tracks on the album, and in between these infrequent bright spots, the band drags through handfuls of dreary, stale fillers. There’s some fodder for playlists here, but don’t expect to listen to this record in its entirety (a whopping seventy minutes) more than a couple of times. That’s the danger of releasing two full-length LPs in a nine-month period. More often than not, the second effort ends up as a mediocre work that could have benefitted greatly from more time in the cooker. Outer South is no exception.

Score: 5.5/10

So it goes,

New Fast-Food Review Montage

It seems every other week there's some sort of new food item at every fast food chain. I think most people are too scared to break their routines to try these new, often terrifying food-stuffs but luckily, I am not too scared and am more than happy to share my experiences with you here:

Sonic: Mango Limeade

Oh Sonic and your limeades, what flavor combos will you not blindly pursue? Soon enough, you'll be throwing black currant and dragonfruit limeades at your unsuspecting victims. That's not to say that I wouldn't try or enjoy these potential treats nor that did not enjoy the treat in question. The quality of the Mango Limeade is actually quite difficult to describe so I'll break it down into an inexact sip-timeline - a sipline, if you will:

1st-5th sips: mmmmmm, refreshing and quite tasty
2nd-10th sips: kinda sticky and - is that sweet n' low I taste?
11th-end: DO NOT WANT

So the enjoyment of this drink is synonomous to that of Fruit Stripe Gum: great for the first 15%, crap for the rest.

Final Grade: C
Image from here

Jack in the Box: Mini-Sirloin Burgers

Riding on the antiquated coattails of White Castle and with a catchy tune in their favor, Jack in the Box has added tinier, crappier, expensivier versions of their already offensively terrible burgers to their surprisingly broad menu (where else can you get a pita, egg rolls, and jalapeño poppers at a drive-thru?). They give you 3 of these hambortions for ~$4 (after tax) with no fries and no drink, though you can opt for a combo if so choose for an additional 2 bucks. The price is a little baffling because a full-size Jumbo Jack only costs 99 cents, making them cheaper than their mini-sirloin counterparts. 

I could barely choke my through two of these. AVOID unless you're crazy/food-ignorant and already voluntarily enjoy Jack.

Final Grade: D
Image from here

So it goes,

Maddox's Indie Game Addictions of the Week (MIGAW) #1

I figured a little weekly, listed feature (everyone loves lists!) would spice things up, so every Sunday I will post my favorite 2 or (hopefully) 3  free indie games of the week. 
OK, enough talkin - It's business time.

Pandaland is very simplistic retro-platformer that puts you in the knee-high socks and headband of some hipster girl as she travels through 4 subrban locales, throwing cherries at enemy-hipsters and collecting iPods, pizzas, ice cream cones, and other random crap to increase your score and "pepp." As their site is in German (i think) I have know idea why the developers named it "Pandaland". If you know why, help a brother out and share this incredibly valuable info with me. The game is fun and has a great nostalgic, NES feel to it. The chiptune soundtrack is killer too. Download it here.

Great game! 
If you want to know (probably too much) more about it, read my review.

Check this one out at Blurst.

I don't wanna say too much about Glumbuster other than that it epitomizes what makes indie adventure gaming wonderful: unique gameplay, heavy emphasis on exploration, non-traditional storytelling, beautifully rendered, hand-drawn environments and so much more. You need to play this game, period. 

Even better than making the game completely free, game creator, Cosmind, has made this game charity-ware. That is, all voluntary payment for this game goes directly to charity.                                                                             Bravo, sir.

Download it here and stay tuned because I will be posting a full review of this superb gaming experience sometime this week. Thanks for reading.

So it goes,

Music Review: Manchester Orchestra - "Mean Everything to Nothing"

A couple of years ago, I saw emo veterans, Brand New, at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth. Opening the show was a upstart band called Manchester Orchestra. By the end of their set, I was impressed – these guys were good. Whereas the emo genre has, over the past five years, digressed into a cesspool of heartless powerpop garbage, Manchester Orchestra’s debut album, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, showed the promise of a young band that would, with some fine-tuning, blossom into something great.

Now, two years later, it seems that they’ve undergone that fine-tuning. In the hands of producer, Joe Chiccarelli (The Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket, The Shins), Manchester Orchestra has returned with Mean Everything to Nothing, a passionate rock album that showcases a new maturity for the band.

From the start of the record, it is clear that Manchester Orchestra has made many steps forward. Their sound has filled out – encompassing everything from 90s lo-fi indie vibes on “In My Teeth” to explosive, angst-driven sing-alongs on “Shake it Out” – and the songwriting is much more cohesive than in the past. But it's not entirely perfect. The second half of the album is not nearly as strong as the first. Also, while the first three tracks are all great songs, there is little to no transition between them, making for an awkward first listen. All in all, though, these flaws are slight in scope and don't plague the album too seriously.

Manchester Orchestra is at their best on dynamic, high-strung thrillers like “Shake it Out,” “The Only One,” and “I’ve Got Friends” (current single and best track on the album), but their soft side is also well worth noting. On “I Can Feel a Hot One,” singer Andy Hull croons atop a layer of poignant guitar picking and sparse percussion for a satisfying four minutes.

Mean Everything to Nothing is a stellar example of what a band’s sophomore album should be: a passionate product that displays a growing maturity while sticking close enough to the band’s roots to keep its following. If this record is any indication, expect to hear lots from Manchester Orchestra in the coming years.

Score: 7.5/10

So it goes,

Manchester Orchestra is touring the U.S. this summer. Listen to tracks from the album and check out their tour dates on Myspace.

This is the extended version of a review originally published in The Gadfly, a magazine of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the King's College in New York.

Music Review: Japandroids - "Post-Nothing"

A couple of weeks ago, I got an update on Google Reader (to which I am hopelessly addicted) about a band called Japandroids, a two-piece outfit from Vancouver. I thought, “Japandroids? That has to be one of the most ridiculous band names I have ever heard!” and promptly skipped the post. But over the next week, the updates on this band kept pouring in: glowing reviews, news of their upcoming tour, and a “Best New Music” award. Eventually, I got over my stubbornness, admitted my initial mistake of dismissal, and picked up the band’s recent debut album, Post-Nothing.

On paper, I should not enjoy Japandroids. I’m a guy who likes his music to be polished, theatrical, and complex. Japandroids are none of these. They are the epitome garage rock – broad, heavily distorted guitar chords, fast-paced drum parts and sparse lyrics. On average, there are about five different vocal lines per song, which both band members chant repetitively. And again, there’s their ridiculous-as-hell name. But, there’s something about Japandroids that keeps me listening. It’s because, for all of their simplicity, their sound – a bare bones, punk driven mix of Broken Social Scene and At the Drive-In – has an irresistible charm. As the duo chugs through song after heartwarming song, you can’t help but smile and tap your foot to the beat.

Post-Nothing keeps things short and sweet (clocking in at eight songs and a total of 35 minutes) but never feels incomplete. It begins with “The Boys are Leaving Town” (possibly a play on the classic Thin Lizzy song?), which sets the tone of displacement that develops throughout the album. The album’s best tracks are “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “Wet Hair,” two upbeat, anthemic songs about being young, chasing girls, and not wanting to grow up. Remember when you and your high school buddies used to jam in your parents’ garage? That’s what this is, except it’s done well.

The album revolves around feelings of rootlessness, nostalgia, and anxiety for the future – feelings which it evokes with an irresistible passion. And this is because of, not in spite of, Japandroids’ makeup. They’re not showy or complex – just two guys playing their hearts out. As a result, Post-Nothing is one of the most stirring albums to have emerged from the noise-pop scene in quite some time.

Score: 8/10

So it goes,

Japandroids are touring the U.S. this summer. Listen and check out their tour dates on Myspace.

Game Review: Paper Moon

Released on May 1st, Paper Moon is a new, free-to-play indie platformer from Infinite Ammo, Adam Saltsman & Flashbang Studios and can be played exlusively on the relatively new (and might I add awesome!) gaming site, Blurst

The game puts you in control of a nameless protagonist as he journeys through a unique and beautifully rendered, pop-up-book-esque world to reunite with his lost (dead?) lover...i think. Well, the story is pretty much irrevelant as the meat of the enjoyment in this game comes from its gameplay and presentation. That's not to say that there is no attempt to bring a little lore into the game: between each level there are bite-sized poems that express the hero's sorrow of being without his lover. These are nice but they don't really add to or detract from the overall experience.

From a gameplay standpoint, Paper Moon is almost a cookie-cutter platformer: You use the arrow keys or WASD to make your character move and/or jump with the general goal of making it from the left side of the level to the right before time runs out. I say "almost" because there is one thing that sets this game apart: the ability to for you, the player, to manipulate the game world itself to aid our hero in his quest. It's very difficult for me to explain in writing but here's how it works: there are several layers of parallax used in the rendering of each level and each layer is only two-dimensional (Up-down and Left-right); there's the main layer in which your character and enemies exist; there are completely cosmetic background layers which serve no purpose other than aesthetics; and, most importantly, there are two layers directly behind and directly in front of the main layer which you, the player, manipulate. A simple press of the spacebar moves or "pops", as the game puts it, certain objects from the immediate background and/or foreground  into the main layer, killing enemies, making new platforms, and opening up new paths. This playful toying with 3-dimensions in what seems like a strictly 2-dimensional game works wonderfully and makes for a very compelling experience.

Like every game hosted on Blurst, Paper Moon is score-based and has limited play-time sessions. You earn points primarily by grabbing coi- I mean fruit and killing enemies. There is a combo system in place so grab those bananas and apples as quickly as you can! Also, you only have five minutes to complete all 3 levels of the journey but there are clocks hidden throughout the game that will turn back the hands of the inexplicable, ominous doomclock if you are so lucky as to find them. And that reminds me of my only minor tift with the game: all this collection combo and time limit stuff makes the game more frantic than it should be. This is a game that should be savored and not scarfed down for the sake of earning trivial digital numbers. It's like trying to blend and market filet mignon as a soft drink.

It is also worth mentioning that there are multiple paths to be taken...sort of; the first level and last level are always the same but, depending on where you finish the first level, there are 3 possible middle levels to find and play. Although I don't dislike this approach, I would have like to have seen a bonus mode where you can play all 5 levels back-to-back with a longer or no time limit (savory mode).

Graphics and Audio:
The audio-visual department is where the game truly excels. The black and white paper-cutout style is spot-on and a joy to witness. The background music is a minamalist almost-piano-only composition that reminds me of silent films, matching the style of the game perfectly. This is one of those cases where the game feels more complete and just makes more sense if you have its music going whilst playing.

Final Thoughts:
Paper Moon is a very fun, beautifully aesthetic and original game that gets bogged down slightly too often by making the player feel too rushed to truly enjoy it. In the future (a sequal perhaps), I would love to see a more fully fleshed-out adventure with more levels and features, using the same wonderful mechanics but without the franticism of the doomclock or the score non-sense. 

Play it, enjoy it, and tell us what YOU think about it.

Final Grade: A-

So it goes,

Picture from here

Game Review: Toxic Sonic Zombie Massacre

News to me and to probably most of you, Toxic Sonic is punk rock band from France.  And guess what: the trio now star in their very own zombie game! Exciting, right?!?! killed me a little inside to appear that excited over this. Alright, let's get this party started.

Toxic Sonic Zombie Massacre is a short, 2D, browser-based, action platformer by internet jack of all trades, Manning Leonard Krull. In it, you take control of the self-proclaimed badass trio, Incinerator, Putrida & Necros, as they travel across an 8-bit, post-apocalyptic Paris which is stylishly rendered tri-chromatically in black, white, and of course, red. Using their guitar, drumsticks, and what appears to be perfume, you'll smash, bludgeon and...spray any and every zombie that stands between them and the right side of the screen. The nominal "depth" comes into play when you realize that each chracter has a special ability and that only one of them can be actively controlled at a time. I won't get into the details of said abilities because a chunk of the fun comes from figuring out which character to use and when. The game is score-based and high-scorers get a free mp3 download of one of the band's tracks. SCORE! not

I have only one complaint about the entire experience: The absolutely abysmal background noise that some people call "music." The game only consists of one level and through out this entire level is the same, repetitive, obnoxious, palm-muted-power-chord-ridden punk rock track. I'd honestly rather scrape my teeth across a chalkboard before hearing that song again. 

I would say that, overall, this game provides an enojoyable, albeit short-lived experience that'll keep you distracted for a good 10-15 minutes. Check it out here and feel free to let us know what you think of it in our comments. We would love to hear your opinion!

Final Grade: B -

So it goes,

Picture from here


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