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Song of the Day #176: Under Neon Lights

The Chemical Brothers – Under Neon Lights

The Chemical Brothers released this single from their upcoming album entitled Born in the Echoes just two days ago. I haven’t listened to The Chemical Brothers in a very long time, in fact their last album (Further) was released five years ago, which is the longest hiatus that they’ve taken since their first album release in 1995.

In 1999 The Chemical Brothers released an album titled Surrender, which included a song on it called Hey Boy, Hey Girl which had a profound affect on me. I saw them perform at the HFStival in 1999 at RFK Stadium in Anacostia among a mind-blowing lineup which included:

  • 311
  • Blink 182
  • Dieselboy
  • Everclear
  • Limp Bizkit
  • Live
  • Moby
  • The Offspring
  • Powerman 5000
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Run D.M.C.
  • Silverchair
  • Sugar Ray
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Josh Wink

HFStival was the best. Chemical Brothers are great, too.

Published on June 24, 2015
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Song of the Day #175: Like a River

My Morning Jacket – Like a River

The WaterfallMy Morning Jacket is a Louisville-based psychedelic rock band which recently released their seventh studio album, The Waterfall.

Recently I’ve come upon a great new way to discover music: watch the musical guests on Conan every night. This has recently become a thing for me because each new episode of Conan is automatically downloaded to a server in my house, making it easy to watch new episodes daily. Recently I’ve been skipping through much of the actual show just to see the musical guests at the end of each day’s episode. Here’s what I’ve found with checking out musical artists on Conan:

Guest performers are top-notch. Each band or singer brings their A-game and plays their best song. In this kind of one-off performance, the stakes are enormously high. This makes it easy to check out the best of a wide range of artists in just a single song, without listening to entire albums, which can be time consuming.

Everything is new. Artists only perform on Conan when they have new releases to promote. It’s a good way to stay current on what’s trending in music and to discover new artist that you might not otherwise check out. My Morning Jacket is certainly one of those, for me.

The production values are remarkably high. Episodes are filmed the historic Warner Brothers Lot 15 in Burbank, California. In a lot of cases, performances filmed on Conan are better than artists’ actual music videos.

Published on June 15, 2015

Game Review #10: Towerfall

Towerfall logoOriginally an exclusive game for the ill-fated Ouya console, Towerfall is a multiplayer archery game available for PC and Playstation 4. It looks like a Super Nintendo game and plays like a much simpler version of Super Smash Brothers: navigate a 2D arena and shoot arrows at enemies to eliminate them.

The mechanics are as simple and straight-forward as the game’s presentation: you run around, jump, dash, and shoot arrows. It’s this simplicity which lends this game such a shallow learning curve, meaning it’s an ideal game to pick up and play with new people. Since a single hit kills, rounds are fast and furious, and although I’ve recently discovered Towerfall, it is already an instant classic with our Gaming Federation.

Insanely Engaging Multiplayer

Towerfall is all about one thing: playing with other people. It’s not a game that will satisfy a single player, and I’m not only fine with that, I’m relatively disinterested in games that do not revolve around some kind of multiplayer dynamic. This game will have you and a group of friends yelling, and will turn people who don’t even play games into rabid Towerfall fanatics (I’ve seen it happen with more than a few casual visitors who gave it a shot).

A major part of the appeal is the satisfying simplicity of the game, but it is also highly customizable. There are dozens of options to control which weapons appear, how players target others, and more granular control than you will likely want or need. Experimenting with these gives the feeling that when you find friends who enjoy Towerfall, you could spend hundreds of hours playing the game and tinkering with the rules.

Towerfall

One unique aspect of Towerfall is that while there are different characters to select, they don’t have different weapons or abilities. The combination of accessibility, satisfying gameplay, and charming retro presentation that this game offers is remarkable. The closest game that I know of which has these qualities is Nidhogg, another independent game that’s easy to recommend, although it is limited to two players.

Independent Excellence

Amazingly, Towerfall was developed by a single person: Matt Thornson. While still exclusive to Ouya in 2013, it was selected by Polygon as one of its multiplayer games of the year, when the reviewer said this:

I’ve dropped around 400 hours on Call of Duty and Battlefield multiplayer matches. And yet, those series, with their monumental budgets and development teams, were trumped in 2013 by a dude named Matt, who made a game called TowerFall.

It’s marginally changed since then – the new version available on Windows and Playstation 4 is called Towerfall: Ascension and there is a recently released expansion pack called Dark World, but the original point remains: this is an example of truly exceptional multiplayer game design.

I love what Towerfall has to say about the larger gaming industry: that the best games anywhere can came from anywhere. It is a huge credit to the vibrant spirit of independent game development.

Towerfall Trailer

Conclusion

Towerfall characterI first purchased Towerfall on Steam and ran it on my 2013 Retina Macbook Pro. I experienced intermittent slowdown issues (described here on Reddit) and eventually jumped to the Playstation 4 version. For what it’s worth, Towerfall has not performed great for me on Mac but works flawlessly on Playstation 4, so that’s the platform that I would recommend. I also purchased the Dark Worlds expansion pack for $9.99, which along with the original $14.99 game price, puts the total at $24.99. It has been worth twice that as I’ve played multiple unintentionally-long Towerfall sessions with friends.

For me, Towerfall goes into the all-time local multiplayer best-of category, along with Mario Kart.

Rating:

5 Stars

Towerfall available on Windows and Playstation 4

Published on June 12, 2015
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Song of the Day #174: Pop Music

E.A.S.Y. – Pop Music

E.A.S.Y. is the musical group of two American music producers and turntablists: DJ Enferno and DJ Shiftee. What’s interesting about their production style is the live performance aspect of their music. They produce songs in the studio and then perform them live on turntables, midi controllers, and keyboards. It’s a very impressive song, both musically and in terms of the obvious difficulty of performing this live. The sequence starting at 2:12 is my favorite part.

Check out E.A.S.Y. on Youtube

Published on June 9, 2015

May 2015 Snapshots in Chengdu

I am really enjoying the summertime over here. Here are a few snapshots from the last month. Highlights include:

  • DJ’ing at the wave pool within an amusement park last weekend
  • The Arena dance battle, hosted by my good friends who run Sinostage, which was amazing
  • The Arena dance battle block party which was in Chengdu’s Chunxi Road shopping district, that I played music at
  • UK music producer Troiboi, who performed at NASA in Chengdu
  • A painting by Yue Minjun, one of my favorite Chinese artists

Chengdu May-4

Chengdu May-10

Chengdu May-20

Happy Valley-1

Happy Valley-2

Chengdu May-23

Chengdu May-3

Published on June 3, 2015
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Song of the Day #173: Sleep Sound

Jamie xx – Sleep Sound

This song was released over a year ago, but is also included on the new Jamie xx album titled In Colour. I’ve been listening to this album at least a few times a day since it was released earlier this week, but this song in particular is one that I’ve heard hundreds of times by now. This is one of those songs that I can listen to over and over. Don’t miss this album.

Check out Jamie xx – In Colour on Spotify.

Published on June 3, 2015

10 Tips on Learning Mandarin After 10 Years

A few months ago a website called Learn Mandarin Now interviewed dozens of bloggers writing about China and compiled their tips on learning Chinese into a “How to Learn Chinese” infographic.

More recently the same website contacted me with some questions about my personal experience learning Chinese, which I answered and they published here: 10 Tips to Learn Chinese. Although I wouldn’t change too much if I went back and started all over again, this is the kind of advice that I would have been able to benefit greatly from.

If I could distill everything down to a few even more basic suggestions:

  1. Learn Mandarin first
  2. Write everything down
  3. Use everything that you write down
10 Tips to Learn Mandarin
Published on June 2, 2015
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Song of the Day #172: L$D

A$AP Rocky – L$D

This is a single from Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky’s second full-length album release, and one of my favorite songs that he has recorded. It’s unusually striking for a rap music video, being a psychedelic interpretation of Tokyo set atop a lackadaisical rhythm that is devoid of actual rapping. For the first time that I’ve heard, A$AP Rocky sings on the entire song. There are no hooks, and no guest features on this song, which is refreshing.

The album that this song comes from goes back to A$AP Rocky’s original roots of making music that is not radio friendly. There’s a noticeable lack of catchy, simple and upbeat songs which the mainstream loves. It’s good to see someone be at the top of their game and reject artistic compromises to increase the commercial potential of album sales (Kendrick Lamar has smartly done the same thing with his last album, To Pimp a Butterfly). The production on this album is tremendous, and the best I’ve heard from an A$AP release: it’s as heavy and hazy as his original 2011 mixtape, with glittery synths, slow rhythms, and and glitchy samples. Overall a very good album that I will enjoy continuing to listen to. It joins the other amazing albums within the hip hop universe that have been released in 2015.

As a side note, this music video was co-directed by A$AP Rocky.

Check out A$AP Rocky – AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP on Spotify

Published on May 27, 2015