Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Next Level: A Track-by-Track Review

I have always had a hard time trying out new things. Especially when it cost money.Part of the side effects of being a college student is the fact that I just don't have a lot of money to spend on entertainment, but as a nerd my entertainment "needs" are wildly divergent. Comics, novels, movies, video games, TV shows, and music all cost money. Sure I can steal stuff off the 'net and, but I really don't like doing that. I like to support those who make the awesome stuff that I enjoy. So I often spend time waiting to hear about how good things are before I plop down my hard cash for something.

Since last year I'd been hearing about this new nerdcore rap group called Dual Core. First I hear about them from Z. Then Beefy is talking about them. Then it seems like the whole nerdcore underground is talking about them. And it seems to be all good. But still I stood on the fence. I wanted to give them a listen and see if they lived up to the hype, but at the time Beefy and MC Frontalot had just dropped new albums plus I had picked up the Child's Play 2008 CD to expand my horizons and help a good cause. Plus I had just "discovered" S.T.D. was actually worth my time and money (thanks to this video). My music funds were tapped and I didn't want to divert funds away from comics that I knew I would love for a wild card.

But I couldn't get away from the idea that I was missing out on something big. And so when Dual Core dropped "Next Level" earlier this year I knew that it would be mine. And when I bought my Networking text over at Amazon and they gave me a $5 coupon for an mp3 download, I knew that it was time. I picked it up later that week and it has had a home in my Blackberry ever since.

So in my never ending quest to expand the geeky topics discussed on this site, I present my track by track review of Dual Core's "Next Level". I know that this had been reviewed a couple of times already by those far better then I, but what can I say? This is where my head is at today.

Next Level

1. For You

The first track is a call out to all of there fans and a catch up on what they have been up to since the last album. I felt a little out of the loop the first time I heard it, but I was struck by two things right away. First int80 has a vocal style that is easy to groove on and storytelling skills to boot. Second is the fact that the beat is pure hip hop and blends perfectly with the lyrics of this song. Sometimes when I listen to a rap album, I feel like the beats are trying to compete with the lyrics for my attention and it makes the whole song hard to listen to. Here though, everything builds and supports each other, make the whole that much better. I was already grooving on this album and ready to see where it was going!

2. Kick Back

Both C64's rhythms and and int80's flow improve on the next track, which is perhaps one of the most eloquent arguments to the fact that nerdcore is a real musical genre. The track never comes off as "Look how nerdy I am" and as such adds a quiet credence to itself. The song seems to play as a rallying cry to the nerd generation, declaring the age of the nerd has arrived. This is hardly a new topic in the genre, but unlike some song that are trying to prove this fact, "Kick Back" takes this as a fact and moves from there.

3. Natural 20s

While I did enjoy the first couple of tracks, this is the the one that cemented a permanent spot on my hard drive. Thick with reference to the nerdcore scene (and even a verse about Jim Darkmagic) and a triumphant track about the joys of old-fashioned table top RPGs. Anyone who has spent time rolling polyhedral dice on a vinyl mat can enjoy this one and the chorus is perhaps the best battle cry a group of players can have against the sadistic machinations of their evil GM.

4. The Hollow

This is perhaps the best nerdcore song that I have ever heard. The music and lyrics meld perfectly to the point that the mechanics of the music are forgotten and all that is left is a steady strong march of the COGs. Detailing the plot of the Gears of War game, this track has a powerful storytelling element that pulls you in. To be honest, I didn't really care for Gears the first time I played it. The cover based game play was a bit more then I wanted learn, especially when there are so many good FPS games to play, but this song got me stuck on this titanic struggle until I bought both games, learned to play them and smashed the Locust horde myself.

5. I Remember (ft. ytcracker)

Nostalgic songs about the start of the Internet age are few and far between but most of them focus more on things from a more legit angle. While I was never good enough to claim the title of "Elite", I spent most of my early days on the net crawling across BBS looking for any information i could glean on programming, cracking copyrights, busting a password, and how to phreak on a payphone. With a guess shot by "old man" yt, this is a song that brings me back to a time when the net was still a place of mystery and the unknown. Simply a great track for anyone that has spent any time learning how to hack a system.

6. The Game

Perhaps the most confusing track for me, because I'm not quite sure if its story about a Russian hacker trying to escape the tendrils of law enforcement slowly closing in on him is a story being retold like "The Hollow" or if this is just something that c64 and int80 came up with, but that really doesn't matter. The track is good, with a catching riff and good beat. And the story is like that told hacker to hacker, in hushed tones, at those rare moments when they meet face to face.

7. Magnificent 7 (ft. Frontalot, MC Lars, STD, Beefy, Random, ytcracker)

This track features pretty much everyone that you need to know about in the world of nerdcore. Not only that, but the song is presented as a conversation over Twitter and is very interesting to listen to as each of the major players warps their unique flow into a masterfully crafted track. This is the type of song that I am really enjoying from the nerdcore lately. Now that the scene is established and has an audience, we are getting more and more songs that are about the scene itself. This is the best done so far.

8. Forever

Much like "The Game" I'm not really sure where this tale comes from, but it really doesn't matter. Stranded in a crash on our backwater little planet, our hero in this song is an alien trying desperately to fit in with the dominant culture here. This song transcends this little story though, as it resonates with every nerd on this earth. Our hero's feelings of being alone, his confusion and the simple math that his peers do not grasp, and his quest for similar life is something I think resonates with the entire nerd community. The last verse is perhaps my fave as is gives our hero a happy ending when he encounters a woman who actually get him. My kind of track, no question.

9. Life's Work

Hackers are perhaps the most misunderstood type of criminal ever. Most people think that they have no morals, are evil little parasites that work some kind of arcane magic to bend computers and mainframes to their malicious wills. This track tells the story of a small team of computer programmers that are laid off and cast out into the economic downturn without much need for more programmers. AS cash grew tighter, they stumbled upon the idea of taking cash out of their former employers. I'm not saying that it was the right thing to do, but I love about this song is how it builds the tension of the decision to turn the skills to crime. Hackers, just like almost any other criminal, are not born, but created by circumstances. This song presents that far better then most that have tried.

10. Letter to C64

This is the hardest song for me to comment on, as it seems kinda personal to me. The track seems to be a great letter of respect from one friend to another. The lyrics are tight and the beats are decent, but this song really has nothing to say to me. I do like the fact they they would put a track like this on the album, if only to draw attention to the fact that c64 is just as much a part of Dual Core as int80, which I can see being hard to do in a genre that is so dominated by solo acts.

11. Here to Help (ft. Remington Forbes)

Having spent a lot of time on the other end of a phone, trying to walk someone through installing this program or that piece of hardware, this has got to be my favorite song on the album. While I'm not familiar with Remington Forbes (a fact that I will be rectifying soon) his smooth voice adds an interesting contrast to int80 as the retell some of my favorite tech support tales with crisp music supporting it. This is just a great track for anyone that has ever tried to help someone who has no idea about technology with anything. Perhaps that why is has become so popular with my fellow Computer Science majors.

12. Painting Pictures

This song with tug at your heartstrings, not matter who you are. int80's storytelling skills are at there peak as he relates the tale of a young deaf nerd girl that discovered the beauty of cochlear implants and her journey from a world without sound to a music filled world. The first time that I heard it, I'll be honest, I teared up a bit. You will too, unless your made of stone.

13. Alright

When one of my friends ask me "What is nerdcore, anyways" this has become one of the tracks that I pull out (along with Front's "It Is Pitch Black" and "Nerdcore Rising"). Why? int says it all with the intro line "So I like hacking, but I also like rapping". This is a great song that shows that you can be a total nerd and still be into rap. A song that mixes lyrics about gaming and science fiction with some of the best flow and beats in ALL of rap. This is the kind of track that proves that nerdcore deserves respect as a sub-genre of rap.


So, there you have it. Next Level is just that, the next level of nerdcore. I know that I tend towards the superlative in this review, but I think it was justified. If you are a nerd, you should like this album. If you like rap, you should like this album. But, if you are the rare breed of nerd that actually like rap too (like me), you will LOVE this album!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evolving the Zombie Apocolypse

So, yesterday saw the release of the latest in a long line of zombie video games as Left 4 Dead 2 hit store shelves and unlocked on computer HDD all across the country.  While adding some nice touches to the endless battle against the undead flesh eaters, I still find something missing.  Here I present my list of the top 5 things that need to added to the zombie apocalypse genre.

5. Non-linear Gameplay

This is perhaps the most obvious need in the current generation of zombie games. Prototype kinda did this, but the fact that you had superpowers kinda negated the whole fear for your life thing that I want in my zombie game.  Ideally, I want to play a game where the goal is just to get out of a city alive in the middle of the zombie outbreak.  Imagine trying to get through the streets of New York (or Raccoon City!!) with several million undead horrors between you and sweet, sweet freedom.  You could even mix it up with military troops that are trying to evacuate the city and end up just trying to contain  the damn outbreak. 

4. Animal Zombies

I have always loved the idea that the zombie virus could jump into animals, because let's face animals are bad asses.  From pit bulls to tigers, our world is filled with numerous animals that are built to kill and the only thing that keeps them at bay is the fact that they have learned to fear man.  But replace their instincst with the zombie blood lust and shit will seriously hit the fan.  Imagine trying to take out a zombiefied bear with a small pistol.  Good luck!

3. Bruce Campbell

I can't believe that this hasn't happened yet.  I mean, Bruce Campbell and zombies go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  I don't care if its a new Evil Dead game or if just shows up somewhere to help chop up the undead. All I know is that Campbell needs to show up in a zombie game, and soon

2. Vehicles

One of my favorite moments in all of zombie cinema is the end of the "Dawn of the Dead" when our band of plucky survivors roll out in a couple of armored battle wagons.  Sure everything goes to shit, but those moments are really cool as they blast and chop zombies while rolling across the the ruined city.  Or how about "Army of Darkness" when Ash comes out in that supped-up boat of a car with the huge spinning blade right there on the hood.  How cool would it be to pilot a jeep through streets of blood thirsty hordes intent of eating your face!

1. More story!!!

At first the simplicity of the zombie games was one of it's charms.  Left 4 Dead's "make it to the escape point" or Zombie Apocalypse's "don't get killed" were enough to keep our controllers gripped tight and our interest.  But now that the initial joy of being able to be a participant of the zombie outbreak, you can't help but wonder where did all these zombies come from?  And where is the military anyways?  And why is it so easy to get my hands on assault rifles.  While not answering these question is okay for a time, I think that we have passed that time now.  Let start exploring the causes of these events and flexing a bit more narrative muscle, shall we?

Now I just want to make it clear, that I do enjoy these games.  But as you grow and mature as a person, you want the stories you immerse yourself into to grow and mature as well.  These ideas are just things that I think will help the emerging zombie genre.  Either way, these are fun games that will sell and will continue to keep us ready for the inevitable rise of the zombies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hard Times

Well, this is embarrassing.

I really did mean to get a decent posting schedule going on this page this semester, but I am having a hard time getting myself pumped for writing a blog that has no readers. Of course, if this page was more then just me waxing about the last game that I played, I may have a following. Well I hope to change both of these soon. I am also toying with the idea of maybe creating a monthly podcast, so we will see how that goes. Anyways, if you do read this site, please post a comment so that I know that you are there.

That's all for now.