Tag Archives: American Gods

The Good Bits: May 2017

I didn’t get to see all the movies I wanted to in May, but what I did see was pretty great.

 

Music:

Artificial Language, The Observer (Self-Released)

artificial language

Artificial Language’s The Observer is, simply put, one of the best debut albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. I’m always on the hunt for newer bands pushing out new material on platforms like Bandcamp and self-releasing their own material, and Artificial Language is another delightful discovery in the field of unsigned prog rock/metal. The band’s sound can be compared to that of Between the Buried and Me or Leprous, but it certainly isn’t playing copycat. The piano/keyboard work of Jonathon Simpson forms the backbone for the band’s sound, either propelling the music forward or lulling around in beautiful interludes on each song. That’s not to say the rest of the band are slouches; the technical ability of the band is evident but not overstated with guitar and drum flourishes that flow together all the way through the album from the more straightforward tracks like “These Aren’t Mirages” to the eight minute finale “Turn Off the Pictures”. Vocalist Shay Lewis’ performance stands out in particular with a powerful and captivating voice that ties the whole package together. Cohesive and clean are the two words I would use to primarily describe this album overall. If you’re at all a prog fan, get on these guys. And even if you’re not, give them a try anyway.

 

Film:

Alien: Covenant

AlienCovenant

I’m a relative latecomer to the Alien franchise. I saw Aliens so long ago that I don’t remember much other than I liked it. But last year I watched the very first entry Alien, which made me slap my hand to my forehead and wonder why the hell I’d put these movies off for so long. I even enjoyed the polarizing Prometheus which, while not a perfect movie by any means, offered an enjoyable sci-fi aesthetic and allusions to mythology. So far, Alien: Covenant appears to be as divisive as its predecessor, and a lot of that has to do with the film’s goal of explaining the origins of the Xenomorph, the titular Alien. Fans and reviewers have deemed this part of the story unnecessary or that it takes away from the Alien being terrifying (though I think Alien Vs. Predator had already done that). While I understand this sentiment and why it would impact someone’s enjoyment of Covenant, I had a great time watching this film.

I’ll say right off the bat that Covenant isn’t really full of surprises. If you’ve seen any other Alien film (or any horror film for that matter) you’ll be waiting for the film to hit certain notes and beats as it moves along. That doesn’t make the film bad, mind you. In fact, I feel like the film’s familiarity plays into its favor as it is essentially marrying the horror and action of the earlier films to the story and themes of Prometheus. You get Michael Fassbender waxing philosophic and being generally creepy like in the previous film, and then you watch Xenomorphs bursting out of people and ripping them apart, just like old times. It all cumulates with a two-part showdown against the Xenomorph, including a thrilling action sequence as the crew attempts to escape the planet.

Speaking of Fassbender, he’s as captivating as ever while playing two different androids: David (from Prometheus) and Walter (a crew member of the Covenant). Scenes with these characters together are certainly the acting highlight of the film. Katherine Waterson does a solid job continuing the series’ tradition of a strong female lead, especially during the action-packed climax. The pleasant surprise here is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant with a comedian-doing-dramatic acting turn that feels so natural that I’ll be hoping to see him in the next installment. And I am looking forward to another installment, which looks to be getting started soon. I got the sci-fi horror/action that I wanted from Alien: Covenant, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

King Arthur

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has more in common with A Knight’s Tale than it does with the Arthurian legend. Whether or not this is a bad thing is going to depend on how much you care about the source material being messed with. For my part, I enjoyed the film for what it is: a stylish romp spearheaded (swordheaded?) by the ever charismatic Charlie Hunnum that might not get the sequel it was clearly planning for, but at least makes for a fun fantasy action film.

As I said, the film plays it fast and loose with its source material, but at this point there’s been so many different iterations of the legends that I’m not sure how valid of a complaint it is anymore. Sure, some things left me scratching my head a bit (why am I hearing about a character named Mordred already?) but when you realize that director Guy Ritchie is essentially taking his approach to Sherlock Holmes and applying it to King Arthur things fall into place. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Arthur himself, a street-smart incredibly ripped man who unwittingly reveals his birthright when he happens upon Excalibur (which doubles as the Sword in the Stone in this version). He feels like a modern man who is flawed, reluctant to take the throne, and full of grit rather than a kingly resplendence. So, a bit like Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. There isn’t even a Guinevere for him to mack on (yet) or a Merlin to teach him wisdom, and it makes for an interesting change rather than see the same old progression. Jude Law also has a good turn as Vortigern, a villain who does shitty things to win and get his people to love him, never stopping to think that he should just try to not do shitty things. The rest of the cast features familiar faces and makes for a fun collective. The female lead only known as the Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) adds an intriguing level of magic to the world and it’s fun to watch her interact with Arthur and not take any of his shit.

The action is pretty solid throughout, fast in pace, and full of stylish visuals, especially when Arthur wields Excalibur, which almost turns into a video game Matrix-like sequence. The only real misfire is the final battle, which is lacking in contrast and suffers from some muddy visuals that make it difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. So yeah, you’re not going to get your shiny, dramatically told retelling of Arthur in this film and that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. But if you accept that early on, you can expect a fun time.

 

Books:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

The second book in The Old Kingdom series was described to me as mainly consisting of exposition and build-up with all the action being saved for the third book, Abhorsen. So basically I was being warned that it might be boring. And yet, I didn’t find that to be the case. While Lirael isn’t a complete tale full of forward action like its predecessor Sabriel, the enjoyment comes from spending time with fleshed out characters walking about in the expanded world of the Old Kingdom.

The story takes place fifteen to twenty years after the first book and focuses on two new protagonists: Lirael, a shy young girl, and Sameth, son of Sabirel, hero of the first book. Nix takes his time in helping the reader get to know these two characters, a different pace from Sabirel. Whereas Sabriel was a fairly competent protagonist with only a little background at the start of her book, Lirael and Sameth take a bit more time to grow and learn. While this means that things are slow to start, it all becomes worth it when you watch plots begin to unfold and find out that you correctly predicted a twist just pages before its reveal. And because most of this book was build-up, that means the next book is going to deliver some satisfying downward action.

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I had originally planned to read something short in between Lirael and Abhorsen, but considering the book takes place like five minutes after its predecessor, it seemed better to keep the train rolling.

 

Currently Watching:

Daredevil Season 2

Well, technically I’ve finished watching this but it was mine and my fiancée’s show of choice on our mornings off. First season had a little more polish to it, but the addition of the Punisher and Elektra were more than enough to deliver a satisfying second season.

 

American Gods

The only bad thing about this show is that all the people I’ve told to go watch it can’t because they don’t have Starz. If you have Starz and you need a new show, watch it.

 

Currently Gaming:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

I have too many games to play, so this one is near the top of my list for trying to complete first. Luckily, it’s an amazing game.

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

It’s impressive how I can sink three hours into this game just on one planet alone. The only thing that soured my experience was a glitch or two.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

This is one game I am in no rush to beat. Getting lost in this world is such a joy.

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The Good Bits: April 2017

Woo, boy. April was packed, particularly on the musical front.

Music:

Ghost Bath, Starmourner(Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath

You may recall that on my Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux post I reiterated how much I loved Ghost Bath’s sophomore full length Moonlover. It’s not only my favorite album from that year, but it’s become one of my favorite albums of all time. Since then the band has had a growth spurt in popularity that includes touring the world and re-releasing Moonlover on a major label. Now the band’s follow-up Starmourner has to contend with the success of its much loved predecessor. Does it stack up? Short answer: Yes.

Ghost Bath’s music typically revolves around depressive melancholic themes, and while Starmourner still retains some of those themes, the over concept and sound of the album feels a bit…lighter? It’s focused more on astral themes rather than straight up misery and lots of the songs are in major key. That’s not to say that the album isn’t heavy; “Ambrosial” and “Thrones” are probably the two heaviest songs on the album featuring the familiar blackgaze riffage and soundscapes the band is known for. In fact, this is probably the most riff focused the band has sounded yet, which I’m a bit mixed on. Some riffs on songs like “Thrones” are driving and vicious before diving into broad melodic passages, but others “Luminescence” didn’t keep me quite as captivated.

This doesn’t prevent the album from still being great, however. In fact, I applaud the band for writing an album that sounds different from their first two while still retaining their signature sound. Starmourner may also be a good place to start for newcomers or for people who’ve tried to listen to Ghost Bath but couldn’t get past the shrieking vocals (which I felt took more of a backseat on this album). As far as follow-ups to masterpieces go, Ghost Bath have done an admirable job of both continuing and evolving their sound on their third album, seamlessly weaving heavy riffs and emotional textures together for another stellar record.

 

He Is Legend, few (Spinefarm)

he is legend

I’m a latecomer to He Is Legend. I haven’t really listened to their earlier material and came on board sometime after the band reunited and produced 2014’s Heavy Fruit, an album I enjoyed for a few spins and then didn’t really think about it again until I saw that the band had put out a new album. So I shrugged and threw on few for a listen and came away having a pretty good time. The album sounds like a deceptively straightforward hard rock album, which it is in some ways, but the well-crafted songs add a layer of depth your average active rock radio single doesn’t have. Meaty riffs paired with standout vocals from Schuylar Croom create catchy numbers like “Air Raid”, but the band takes a detour here and there like on the goofy, blusey fun of “Fritz the Dog”. This is probably the most accessible album I’ve listened to in a while that isn’t instrumental.

 

Persefone, Aathma (ViciSolum)

persefone

I slept on this one for a bit. It popped up on my radar right before its initial release (February) and I didn’t get around to it until earlier in April. But woo boy am I glad I finally checked it out. I’ve said before that some newer prog metal albums get a bit too technical and end up boring me as a result. That’s not the case with Persefone and their fifth album Aathma, which is the finest prog metal album I’ve heard so far this year. From the get-go you know that Persefone are virtuosic players, but they thankfully put composition before everything else, choosing to use their chops as a garnish rather than the main course. The album moves seamlessly from one track to the next with graceful piano interludes before spiraling into death metal madness.

It’s hard not to think of prog metal legends like Dream Theater and Cynic when listening to this album, but I’m not saying that Persefone are derivative by any means. Rather, they evoke the same feelings I have for those aforementioned bands and their great musical works. They stack up to those bands and stand a head above other bands that are just trying too hard to sound deep and complex. I’ll definitely have to check out more of Persefone’s earlier material once I’m done wearing out Aathma.

 

Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

Last summer I discovered Astralia and gave them a write up, heralding them as my musical savior when it comes to instrumental post rock that helps me focus when writing. That album, Atlas, was two years old at the time, and I wondered if they’d put out anything new in the near future. And they did. Solstice is the band’s third release and it’s just as good as its predecessors. The songs are a bit longer this time around typically ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 minutes, but you’ll be so enraptured by the band’s soothing and emotional soundscapes that the album will be over before you know it. The opener “Exhale” is an excellent summation of all that you would expect from Astralia, so if you didn’t check them out the last time I wrote about them, now is as good a time as any.

 

Film:

Split

split

If you’ve been following me for the past few months, you’ll know I haven’t watched many M. Night Shyamalan films and that I only just watched The Sixth Sense last October. Admittedly, part of this has to do with Shyamalan’s preceding reputation for dumb plots built around hokey twists. And yet, Split makes for an effective thriller with one hell of a performance by James McAvoy and an equally impressive lead with Anya Taylor-Joy (who also starred in The Witch).

While the hook of having a villain with Dissociative Identity Disorder might be considered dumb or even offensive to some, I thought the film handled it more intelligently than expected. Kevin’s (McAvoy) psychologist stresses that he’s far beyond a textbook case of DID, viewing him as the key to unlocking the potential in all humans. If anything, despite doing some pretty terrible and creepy things, Kevin is almost made out to be more of a supervillain or antihero or at least a mutant (wink wink, nudge nudge). I don’t claim to be an expert on metal disability, let alone DID, but as far as stigmatization goes, Split isn’t the worst I’ve seen. If you go in understanding that this depiction of metal illness is more or less science fiction, then you’re fine. I won’t say much more, though the Internet has probably spoiled things for you by now, but if you’ve been on the fence about this one, I’d say go for it.

 

Books:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel_Book_Cover

When I last wrote about Sabriel in my “Currently Reading” blurb, I mentioned that, at halfway through the book, I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the world of The Old Kingdom. After finishing the book, I still feel that way, but not in a negative sense. In fact, one of my favorite things about Sabriel is that I felt like there’s a whole world to explore with many things happening in it, but my experience was contained to one story that wasn’t interested in big info dumps or tedious world building. Nix simply introduces Sabriel and you follow her on a journey both mysterious and magical, and yet it sometimes reads like magical realism rather than straight-up fantasy. It’s refreshing and, although it’s the first in a trilogy, it tells a satisfying and complete story.

I went into the book without any real introduction (there’s no summational blurb inside or outside the book), but I think that was the right way to go, so I’m hesitant to say too much about the book lest any of you decide to read it. Basically, Sabriel is a teenaged girl who must venture into The Old Kingdom where magic is prevalent, but none more so than necromancy. But this isn’t simply a “raise a corpse and make some zombies” kind of necromancy. Death is very, very different in The Old Kingdom and reading about it is melancholic, chilling, but beautiful too.

There’s a few oddities in word choice and sometimes the focus on description gets a bit Tolkien-esque, but if you’re hankering for a fantasy book that doesn’t feel like a giant undertaking, I’d highly recommend Sabriel. You can potentially enjoy it as a standalone, but you’ll want dive back in after experiencing Nix’s fascinating world.

 

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

cosmicomics

A co-worker lent me this funny little book after I let her borrow Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s a collection of short stories based on scientific theory with characters that are anthropomophisized mathematical formulae. If that sounds like it’s too over your head, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. For example, the first story, narrated by a being known as Qfwfq, talks about how “people” used to climb up to the moon and hang out on it before it started moving farther away from Earth. It’s all very whimsical and told in a stream of consciousness style that is sometimes hard to read, but many of the stories are genuinely funny. In my favorite, titled The Light-Years, a “person” spots a galaxy with a sign that reads “I SAW YOU”, and so he makes his own sign in reply knowing it’ll take 100 million years until the other “person” sees it. I laughed out loud during this and a few other stories, and any book that can get me to do that deserves recognition.

 

Currently Reading:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

After a brief detour with Cosmicomics, I went right to the next book in the Abhorsen trilogy. The story takes place fourteen years after Sabriel and is centered on a new protagonist. It’s about 200 pages longer than its predecessor, but when I actually found a stretch of time to read I breezed through the first 100 pages. We’ll see if I have this done by next month.

 

Currently Watching:

American Gods

If you haven’t read it, read it. If you don’t want to, watch the show anyway. It’s only one episode in, but damn good so far. Pining for Game of Thrones? This is your new replacement.

 

Currently Gaming:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

So much do. So little time.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

My fiancée and I keep inching ahead of each other bit by bit.

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