Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Music: Manchester Orchestra - COPE

It would be hard to put an exact date on when I started listening to Manchester Orchestra, but it's been a while. I almost left the band's first album in HMV when I bought it, but ever since then my adoration has gone without a hitch. Although the time I confronted them about their use of 'Math' over 'Maths' has to be taken note of. Indeed, there's also the host of poorly written reviews that I've managed to collate over the years, but I'm hoping to put that behind me.

The band's new effort suffers from no such grammatical error. COPE is a beast that could end The Undertaker. Where Simple Math was refined and calculated, COPE is furious and powerful. From the moment that frontman Andy Hull starts telling the twisted story of 'Top Notch' there's an urgency that spans the album. It's interesting to note the difference from the beautiful, yet meandering 'Deer' which introduced the last LP.

The three tracks released prior to the album - 'Top Notch', 'Every Stone', and 'Cope' - are all stand outs. 'Every Stone' is slightly lighter, and provides a gorgeous contrast to the tracks at either end. The closer, along with 'Trees', shows Manchester Orchestra at their distorted, grunge-fuelled best. That's not to say that they've completely departed from the band's trademark style, the body of the album is bound to please those already fans - showcased nowhere better than 'The Ocean'.

In the interview I did - almost three years ago now - they said that they had written almost one hundred songs for Simple Math, but alongside the record they produced there was something which strongly resembles COPE

"There were these two sides, there was kind of soft, intimate, folky, Bonnie Prince Billy, Neil Young kind of vibe... There was also this kind of disgusting rock record; More straightforward, kind of like Virgin"

And that's what I think we have here. We have a disgusting, yet straightforward rock record, but with the same old Manchester Orchestra at its heart. It doesn't have the frills of the earlier albums, almost no track breaks four minutes, but it's so well executed that there's almost nothing to fault. Sure, I find myself gravitating towards the heavier tracks, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would call a single track 'filler'.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Gaming: EGX Rezzed

EGX Rezzed is an exhibition hall filled with games from absolutely everywhere. From the universally popular FIFA, to indie games on their first outing. It's basically the perfect destination for any gamer, or somebody like me who dearly wishes they were able to sit down for hours and play through the latest fad.

There was a lot even for somebody like me, the 'casual' gamer who tends to only play Counter Strike or League of Legends. The sequel to one of my favourite titles, Hotline Miami - which is the Humble Weekly Sale at the moment - was on show. A terrifically gory, completely insane, surreal top-down action game. You have to clear levels with whatever weapon you happen to have, and masks which give you some sort of boost. It was very clearly stationed within the '18+ area'.

Obviously part of events like this is to find a new favourite game, and Roll7's Not a Hero could well be that. Not such a different concept from Hotline, but this time having to - for example - clear a building of special agents before planting your bomb. Obviously, not your typical hero storyline. The little things in this game are great; I found the reload animation particularly fascinating - which was apparently transposed from a friend actually reloading an air rifle. The gameplay may be infinitely frustrating but also always leaves you wanting more. I was told that they were aware the game was pretty difficult, so added in an easier beginning - only for people to get stuck afterward.

Going away from the perfectly over-the-top pixel shoot-em-ups I wandered over to Enola, which is an emotionally-driven horror that doesn't need monsters to unsettle you. I played through the opening, which seemed incredibly dark, and was reassured that as it progressed the content became even more bleak. I actually put my money where my mouth was and ordered the game and, although it's only on version 0.11, I'm excited for how it progresses.

One of the most interesting games from EGX would, in my opinion, be Vagabond Dog's Always Sometimes Monsters - where your decisions affect the game. The demo could be slightly slow but this game isn't about fast paced gameplay, it's about what you would do if the woman you loved was marrying another man and you have thirty days to get from one side of the United States to the other. It's an incredibly interesting notion that brings something different to gaming, and is obviously reminiscent to PS3's Heavy Rain.

This was positioned right next Gods Will Be Watching, a game by Deconstucteam which is playable online. A game all about minimalism, all you do is give orders to characters and keep them alive for 40 days until you're rescued. I'm pretty sure I'm not motivating enough because all of my colleagues kept running into the forest, never to be seen again. Definitely worth a look on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Just a few more games that looked pretty cool from the exhibition that I haven't the space to mention in full: Obviously Prison Architect isn't a new phenomenon now, but it's always worth a shout-out. A similar concept was taken up by War for the Overworld - one of the team conceded they were influenced by the same game as the Architect guys. It's a different take on dungeons, where instead of having to clear them to complete quests you actually build the dungeon. In my brief play I actually really enjoyed it. Another of the free online games, War Thunder was great fun as I tried to take out as many planes as I could. I'm pretty sure my flying skills were far superior to some of my team, so a few more hours will see me become completely pro. Sidenote: EGX was my first look at a PS4, and I'm incredibly taken. Finally, although I never got to play either so have no real insight both Murdered: Soul Suspect, and The Swapper both employed really cool concepts that I'd really like to delve further into.

Overall it was a really good day out, and away from the games there was a whole load of developer talks as well which can be watched back. I haven't even touched on some of the best attended games of the weekend: Titanfall, Hearthstone, and Dream. Plus I finally got my hands on Fez. Video games are looking more and more enticing as a potential career path. Although maybe I'll just destroy my revision by playing some of them first.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Politics: Why Referenda Don't Work In The UK

In less than six months the people of  Scotland vote on whether they want to go it alone in the world, and break away from the rest of the United Kingdom, plus there's a lot of talk about a potential referendum on whether the United Kingdom as a whole should remain part of the European Union. As Nick Clegg kept harping on about, there's also the chance of a British referendum whenever there's a treaty change in the EU.

Before we even get to the problem of referenda there's a long history of broken promises. It's something that leaders seem to be able to promise at election time, but then mysteriously vanishes midway through the term - something Farage picked up on in the first debate. Blair was a master at not giving the people the option.

Then, when we do get down to having a vote the arguments for and against are so twisted that it doesn't work. In the AV referendum the No Campaign flat-out lied about figures in order to form both an emotive argument - why should we take this funding away from maternity wards/our soliders - and of course the economic one that it could be better spent.

The EU may not be the easiest institution to understand, but both leaders in the current debate cherry-pick their fact. The Guardian ran a great blog on fact checking their arguments after the first debate. The problem is that this shouldn't be nearly as necessary as it is. Almost every 'fact' seems to be either made up or contorted to fit what is being said.

This doesn't even touch on the huge influence that media - especially print media - tends to have over this kind of political area. With the Express printing stories like 'EU wants to merge UK with France' with absolutely no evidence at all - I actually had to go back and make sure that wasn't printdeed on April 1st - it's little wonder that people are so sceptical of the European Union. An Ipsos-Mori report clearly showed a link between exposure and awareness, and the British media is called out for being overwhelmingly negative a lot. It's mentioned in Colin Pilkington's book, 'Britain In The European Union Today', and a rather extensive piece by Nicholas Jones is dedicated to it. So therefore if the media pushes an anti-EU agenda then the public reacts in a similar way.

Basically it boils down to there being no way to get across a fair argument in situations like this - and when there is, such with the Clegg/Farage debates, it's wasted with mis-truths and flat out lies. It's unfortunate but with such a misled electorate I don't agree with having referendums - and it's why I believe they don't work.

Postscript - The Debate

Unfortunately like most people I think that Nigel Farage probably edged both the television debates on the European Union as he had more to bash Clegg with, and I think Clegg was scared about confronting Farage on his figures when Nick had obviously enhanced his own as well.

In the first debate Farage's use of 'declining' worked pretty well, anything good was admittedly happening - but it was declining. Plus his arguments about trade agreements seemed to be well thought out, even if they were again embellished. That said in the second debate he failed to answer the question of Britain's clout within the EU as well as Clegg.

The Liberal Democrat leader kept using people's names - I assume in an attempt to connect - which felt forced and corny. Plus his use of anecdotes against Farage's studies - the only thing quoted correctly - backfired. This time he wasn't up against Gordon Brown and Cameron, but somebody who equalled his charisma, making it harder to win through personality. Plus looking into the wrong camera for his opening statement, and half his closing argument in the second debate didn't help his cause.

I really don't think that the audience in debates should be allowed to react to the points of the men on the stage, as it biases the television audience - hence why they weren't allowed to clap during the 2010 leader's debates. Plus David Dimbleby is infinitely better than Nick Ferrari as a host. Anybody that appears regularly on This Morning shouldn't get to host an important debate.