Recommendation Dump, December 2015

A much broader range of recommendations this time around, with no recurring theme. That’s why it’s called a dump though, not a cogently curated collection.

The Color Before the Sun Coheed and Cambria is easily my favorite band. They straddle a lot of genres in the rock/punk/metal area, and until this album all of their work has been concept albums, following the story of the lead singer’s comic book series The Amory Wars. The combination of strange song concepts and fantastic music is why I love the band so much. I’ve burned out on a few artists whose music I enjoy, but who keep writing the same songs (conceptually) over and over again. Coheed and Cambria always mixes it up, and in this album they mixed things up by not doing a concept album. At least, the concept isn’t sci-fi, though a lot of the songs focus on the lead singer’s identity crisis. The songs are more rock than metal, with the exception of “The Audience,” but Coheed and Cambria has always danced in and out of genres. Of course, music is incredibly subjective, and this may not be your thing, but for me, this album is my soundtrack right now.

High and Mighty – I started listening to this podcast when it launched along with all the other Headgum podcasts, and it’s slowly become my favorite of the bunch. Each episode, comedian/actor Jon Gabrus has on a guest or two, and they go hard on whatever topic the guest is best suited to. I absolutely love this kind of stuff—not just the basic, wikipedia-level information, but the deep shit. The inside jokes. The behind the behind the scenes. The concepts that don’t come out in theory, but everyone does in practice.

As they discuss in the first episode, Gabrus has his feet in many camps—nerd, meathead, Taco-Bell-fanatic—and these interests all come out in the podcast. That’s another thing I like about it. Neither Gabrus nor the podcast fit into a strict agenda of just geeky or just comedy or just anything, which most podcasts and internet personalities do, and which can be boring (this is part of the reason I do random posts like this and not just writing stuff.)

To get a sense of what I’m talking about, I’d recommend listening to the Long Island episode. It’s the best representation of what I love so much about the podcast.

In the Loop – I first watched this movie when it came out, which was six years ago, when I was twelve or something. Needless to say, I was lukewarm on it then, and chalked my disinterest up to the movie’s parchingly dry Britishness. Six years later, I was actually able to follow the story this time, and understand the distinctions between characters (you know, the basic elements of a movie.) The movie certainly has its dry Britishness, but it has equal parts bombastic Scottishness. The story is a tangling political yarn driven by bureaucrats who are misinformed, incompetent, militaristic, or just constantly dropping F-bombs. It’s an excellent satire, with a great balance of intellect and humor. Fuckity-bye. ‘Nuff said.

Swords and Souls – I normally don’t like Final-Fantasy-style games where you attack by selecting an option. They just feel too grindy, like they’re just about getting stats up and there’s not enough skill or player control involved (Note: I’ve never played Final Fantasy, just some flash games that use that form.) But I loved this game. It was made by SoulGame, who made the Rogue Soul games, and just like those games, it is slick. Instead of being turn-based, attacks are automatic, and special attacks are controlled with hotkeys. The game is constantly moving, and the feeling of control is nice. Each stage is a few enemies and a boss, and after the first time beating a stage there’s a big money and XP reward. And of course, each stage gets a little harder.

This would get boring pretty quickly, but there’s lots of progression milestones to keep reaching for, and to keep the player interested. To level up skills, instead of just grinding through previously beaten stages (although you can also do that), there are mini-games that increase skill in specific traits. They’re mostly based on quick reaction time and precision. Getting good at the mini-games, and being able to fly through them as they speed up (as more apples are flung that must be blocked, or more targets appear that you have to shoot) is really fun. There’s also the little bit of satisfaction from buying new, cool-looking armor, from adding trophies to the museum, or from adding onto your house. The house increases the amount of money you earn, though I didn’t realize this until late on, and had just been buying additions as a show of my awesome status. Swords and Souls is an addictive experience that plays fast, and is incredibly fun.

So, those are four things I really enjoy. Hopefully you do too.

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