A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones

Well as you may have seen on facebook if you (the reader) and I are facefellows, is that in the run up to New Years 2013/14 I had only read approximately 4 books + 500 pages of the first Song of Ice and Fire series, more popularly known to TV viewers as Game of Thrones. This was far below my (optimistic) target of 52 books for the year, and in fact I wouldn’t end up completing it until the first few days of 2014, however good news reader, I have now finished the book and I am now generously deciding to share my thoughts on the book.

If you’re not really an avid reader than I’ll save you the pain of reading all 800 pages by informing you that the first book and first season of the TV show are pretty much one in the same, I think the writers & producers of the show did a fantastic job of bringing to life the world of Westeros. However, what I will say is that by watching the show and then reading the series you do get a strong appreciation of the imagery that is fleshed out in the TV show, George RR Martin’s writing is evocative to say the least.

One aspect of the book which I really enjoyed was the way the story is told to the reader, Martin opts to use character point of views divided into chapters which I believe was a first time experience for me, not that I consider myself  well-read, so perhaps this is quite common in literature, all the same it really provided strong insights into the lives of the characters, something which isn’t easily done through a standard chapter by chapter progression, nor one in which there is a focal character. I think this may be one of the reasons that the series is so loved is that the characterisation is incredibly powerful, you really get a sense of how all the individual characters thought patterns work, I definitely hope that Littlefinger and Varys become point of view characters in later books as seeing there layers of deception explored is an exciting prospect to me. it

If there’s one criticism I would give of A Game of Thrones (and it is a weak one) it’s that A Game of Thrones is the book that I’ve enjoyed the most that I’ve found the easiest to put down. I haven’t really found myself hugely compelled to read it in huge sessions like I have with other books, but perhaps that’s because I already know what is happening thanks to the TV show o that I find the level of depth in every sentence too taxing at times, nonetheless I hope that I find myself a bit more enthralled in A Clash Of Kings.

In summary, if you’re a fan of the show then you should definitely read the books as it’s got everything that the TV show has and more, however I wouldn’t say it’s a must read, in fact I’m sure you could probably start at the third or fourth book if you wanted to try get ahead of the TV series.

The games which will make me remember 2013 fondly

2012 to me was most certainly a year overwhelmingly defined by great multiplayer titles: Borderlands 2, CS:GO, Day-Z, Diablo 3. Ok, maybe Diablo 3 wasn’t that great but the point is it was primarily a game for running and gunning fanatics. It is with great pleasure that I came across primarily brilliant single-player titles in 2013, therefore I’ll start as far back as I can remember in the year

Super Hexagon

I talked earlier in 2013 about my love of Super Hexagon therefore I won’t go on too long, but suffice to say this manic fusion of fast beats, faster walls, and slow personal reactions has led to hours of enjoyment for myself, it’s simply just fun. In spite of finding myself constantly frustrated by the game, I never find myself angry, any time I fail a level it’s purely because of my own reaction, and the excellent UX design means you’re right back into the action in a heartbeat. An indie game which has truly stolen my heart, almost 10 months on from my previous review I still give this a double thumbs up. Go support the developer!

The Walking Dead

Okay, I’m cheating here a bit when I include The Walking Dead as it was actually released in 2012 (there goes my introduction) but the point is this is my website so you’ll have games credited to the years I very well like to credit them to! Regardless of when it was released The Walking Dead is an absolutely fantastic single player title, the game is split up into 5 episodes in which your character interactions & decisions are carried over into the following episodes, I absolutely loved this form of story-telling and as decisions which are made are final I was constantly at pains with so many of the decisions I had to make (they’re timed, so fairly quick decisions are a must). A truly innovative title which blew fresh-air into the adventure genre, and actually had me caring about the characters, double thumbs up.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is a title that has historically been divisive, the titles have often been overly-sexualised, poorly written, or just plain shit (see almost every title after the second one, up until Tomb Raider 2013). So I was admittedly apprehensive about picking up the most recent game when I saw it for sale on Steam, however for $4 I thought “why not?” this decision ladies and gentleman was an excellent one, in fact the only reason I played it was because I accidentally downloaded it instead of Far Cry 3 which I bought at the same time, but my word the writing is solid (a lead female writer too), the character is intelligent, courageous, cunning and what I think is most important: sexy in a way that doesn’t matter, Lara Croft is a good looking character in the game, but it’s never fixated upon overtly, and nor is she routinely at the behest of her male protagonist counterparts. They’ve managed to turn Lara into an archaeologist who is also a bad ass, not just some hot chick with guns.

I know thus far I’ve largely just been talking about gender representation in the title and not the game itself, but I think it’s important that we do see a trend of human protagonists that aren’t white males in military outfits, I’m so unbelievably bored of this it’s staggering, the thought of playing another space marine-zombie-modern-battlefield-warfare title makes me somewhat nauseous, anyway, back to the game. Tomb Raider also has some of the best puzzles I’ve seen in a game in a long time (not that I play many platformers / puzzle games) not to mention the combat felt largely solid apart from some awkward cover system issues of popping out the wrong side (which seems largely endemic to the dynamic wall cover system in any game in general). It also made me for the first time in my gaming life feel like collecting lore, usually anything that has an achievement for “100% completionist” makes me cry a little bit because I know I’ll never bother as I lose interest too easily, however Tomb Raider actually made me feel somewhat compelled to go out of my way to collect the various items (something I did multiple times) I think this was largely thanks to the fact you could come across a significant amount of the in-game collectibles through natural gameplay unlike a lot of sandbox games like GTA. A real double thumbs-up not only for the game, but gender representation both in video games, and in the industry itself.

The Winner: Dreadhalls (Through the Oculus Rift VR)

So shortly before I left the town some of us know as London I had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift (thanks Joe!), in short the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset which is making waves in the video game industry as the first actually practical headset. With this device I had the extreme pleasure of playing two games Dreadhalls, and Minecraft. I was tasked with trying out Dreadhalls first to get the true sense of immersion you can receive from the Oculus Rift, and holy crap I was terrified, it should be known for the benefit of this mini-review that I’m not one for volunteering myself to be in situations of fright, I don’t mind horror films with friends, or the occasional one in the background, but games themselves in which I am the active participant trying to preserve my life activate those pores you rarely feel on your neck and shoulders and cause them to perspire with great furor, with this disclaimer in mind, I can only use vast amounts of hyperbole to describe the terror I experienced actually living the game. When you use the Oculus Rift you are actually in the game, your entire vision is taken up by the game, an action which kind of subconsciously tricks you into thinking you’re actually within the game (even though you consciously know you are not) so when you find yourself struggling to find matches to keep your ACTUAL vision illuminated, and in the distance you see some great four legged beast patrolling, while a gargoyle pursues you the manner of Doctor Who Angels, then it shouldn’t be hard to imagine me sweating absolute buckets, I’m getting slight tingles in my spine now remembering the game it had that much of an affect on me. Until you use the device yourself it’s so hard to describe what it is to physically look over your shoulder and either see pure terror or a brief respite from your terror. A device I can only describe as a must buy for any serious gamer when it becomes commercially released (currently just the dev-kits for sale) it easily wins as my favourite gaming experience of 2013 as it was a truly new way of playing games, something which unfortunately happens very rarely.

Honourable Mention: Stanley Parable

Stanley Parable is a fantastic game that satirizes fundamental game design patterns we see repeated over and over, it challenges the notion of why we accept without question the game’s narrative, this very concept of this game excited me and it’s execution from what I’ve seen thus far is excellent, however I only had the chance to play it through once before I started my New Zealand holiday, therefore a full review will remain on the horizon for the time being.

2013; What I was doing

I don’t return to writing upon some sort of new years resolution fulfillment, but rather the fact I’ve missed writing this and the only reason I wouldn’t update the blog was because I felt it had been too long since my previous update that it would be awkward! The closest I got to actually updating this blog was in the middle of November but in the process of updating the back-end I broke it and ended up spending approximately 3 hours just getting it to the state it had been previously, but enough of that on with the other sentences!

2013 was pretty good for me, it started off with me in Vancouver preparing to head off on a train journey across Canada and ended with me chilling out with friends in Auckland. The majority of the time in between was filled with me living in London, England; there’s a lot I love about London, I feel like even if I spent another 5 years there I would never truly get to know it, there’s just such a vast array of entertainment in London. During my time there I furthered my interest in art primarily through the Tate Modern (one of my favourite places in the world), learned how to cook fairly well for cheap and in fact in conjunction with a Lithuanian friend, we may have created the world’s first dry stew.

 

When I arrived in London I spent a few months job searching and that sucked, I wouldn’t say London is a great place to be unemployed, it’s an incredibly expensive city and the weather can be fairly miserable during Winter & Autumn, but I was fortunate enough to live in a very lovely area of South London called Brockley which I shall forever carry in my heart with fond memories, primarily because it was quiet, with lovely parks nearby and was a nifty 12 minute overground ride to London Bridge! However, once I did have work in London my enjoyment of life increased dramatically, I could afford to go out to different events and nights out in lots of areas of London was fantastic, I became particularly smitten with Camden & Shoreditch as the night life in those two suburbs was excellent and I felt like I fit in quite well.

What I look forward to in this upcoming year is the chance to do some more exploration, whether that’ll be here in New Zealand or back in the UK I can’t say but 2013 was one of my best years thus far and I think with a bit of luck 2014 will be even better.

 

This Week In Music #20 – Daptone Records

After I finished last week’s music post, I vowed to be more prepared in the future, and not to leave three albums until the last day. I sat and pondered which direction this weeks music should go in. I thought well, I’ve now done some classic soul, followed by some hip-hop, how about I go to the middle and do some funk? I put on Bobby Womack’s brilliant Across 110th Street and thought yeah, this could be good! But was struck with an idea, how about a record label week! Therefore, I present to you this week, my favorite record label: Daptone Records

If you’ve ever watched the television show Suits, or been around to my place within the last two years, you will have invariably heard some of these artists. Home to two of my favourite bands: Antibalas & The Budos Band, I have never gotten sick of the energetic passion of Antibalas, and the slick grooves laid down by Budos. There were a few artists on the label I hadn’t explored as much as I should have like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and I thought this week I could change that.

First up is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the album I listened to was entitled, Naturally, the track I decided to go with was the first one off the album How Do I Let A Good Man Down which is a very cool, uptempo track which sets the pace well for the rest of the album

 
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings – How Do I Let A Good Man Down

  • Album: Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings – Naturally
  • Rating: Thumbs up!
  • Thoughts: I think of all the albums that have been featured so far in this revised feature, this may appeal to the largest audience, in saying that, I think I’ll be saying that about at least one other album today

Next up is Charles Bradley. Charles Bradley started off as  a James Brown impersonator before he was signed to Daptone Records, his first single The World (Is Going Up In Flames) was extremely successful and went on to feature in the TV show Suits, amongst several other songs from the label. It’s a greats song which I’d really recommend checking out, however, I’m going to link my favourite track off the album, Stay Away.


Charles BradleyStay Away

  • Album: Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
  • Rating: Thumbs up!
  • Thoughts: A very cool album, from an extremely talented artist, with a great rhythm section, not sure what else I want in an album.

This next group, the Menahan Street Band, are the absolute kings of cool beats, their music should be playing in every coffee house, it’s perfect backing music. I’ve listened to it half a dozen times already whilst I’ve been coding, or reading. Just so groovy, so chilled out, perfect. One of the MANY great tracks on the album Make The Road By Walking is this one, Karina.


Menahan Street Band – Karina

  • Album: Menahan Street Band – Make The Road By Walking
  • Rating: Double thumbs up!!
  • Thoughts: It’s all instrumental, which basically means you have no excuse not to listen to this album, just chuck it on in the background while you have something to do, or you’re eating a meal and browsing the web, you won’t regret it. Really classy jazz/funk, fantastic album.

The Sugarman 3 is a retro-funk trio, whose music really channels that Southern Soul feel, several of the tracks really feel like they could’ve come straight off a Booker T & The MGs vinyl, I enjoyed this album, and their music, but I don’t think I’ll be repeatedly listening to it down the line. Here’s one of those cool retro vibes, Witches Boogaloo.


The Sugarman 3 – Witches Boogaloo

  • Album: The Sugarman 3 – What The World Needs Now
  • Rating: Meh
  • Thoughts: Nothing to complain about, a lot of good tracks, a few average ones. I just wasn’t moved in either direction by this album which I think is probably my biggest concern, it didn’t really elicit a response from me.

Next up is one of my favourite groups of recent years Antibalas with their latest self-titled album. It’s groovy as usual, high tempo, and powerful as ever, I just didn’t particular click with this album as much as Who Is This America or Security, that’s not to say it isn’t a good album, it most definitely it. Although, no tracks really shone out in front of the others, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but that generally does make me invest more time in an album. I’ll listen to it a lot more I’m sure, I love Afrobeat as a genre, and this album hasn’t made me think any less of Antibalas, they can’t all be winners.


Antibalas – Dirty Money

  • Album: Antibalas – Antibalas
  • Rating: Thumbs up
  • Thoughts: If you like Afrobeat it’s worth a listen, otherwise I’d recommend checking out one of their other albums first.

Home stretch now! The final band this week is The Budos Band, I rarely feel at ease trying to label artist genres in the first place, and with The Budos Band I feel even worse, they’re kind of funky jazz, and if you were to hear them in a movie, it would almost certainly be some sort of Mexican themed action film. Regardless, this instrumental artist is great to have in the background just like Menahan Street Band, their sound is a bit grimier than that of the Menahan Street Band, but it’s most definitely just as slick.


The Budos Band - Hidden Hand

  • Album: The Budos Band – The Budos Band EP
  • Rating: Thumbs up!
  • Thoughts: Very cool, very cool indeed. Pour yourself a coffee, fingers at the keyboard, and do whatever you need to do. Well worth a listen.

*Phew* There we have it, and 500 words shorter than last time, if you have any thoughts on this drastically reduced format let me know, if you preferred the semi in-depth album analysis I could be persuaded to go back, but I have to say I feel a lot less tired having written 33% less, anyway as usual my playlists containing all these albums can be found on Spotify. So until next time, see ya later!

Super Hexagon

As of two days ago since I purchased the 5th Humble Bundle I have refused to play anything else but Super Hexagon. On the face of it, Super Hexagon’s gameplay is rather simplistic: Avoid oncoming walls by scrolling left or right around the central point of the screen. However, considering the initial difficulties provided are: Hard, Harder, Hardest, with three levels of difficulty further, this is no easy task. This game really feels like a throwback to the unbeatable difficulty of older generation games, where you genuinely had to improve your skill level to progress.

Some AAA titles such as Call of Duty seemingly just ramp up the AI accuracy to “Youza gonna dieee” level, however, constant checkpoints mean you can generally brute force your way through the game on Veteran (Source: CoD: MWII, The Favela mission, ughhhh!). Super Hexagon really does force you to improve if you want to stand any hopes of completing it, and boy does it not care about how your feelings. I spent my first 10 minutes of Super Hexagon restraining my fist from going through the wall after consistently failing before the 10 second mark. It really feels like your first time playing Guitar Hero except some one just said “Oh, and you’re going to have to start on expert by the way”

After I had clawed my way from a best of 26 to 36 seconds, dodging several special obstruction waves in a row, I hit a basic oncoming wall and was forced to put the game down for a few hours, nothing could raise my spirits after such a newbie error, all my tears did nothing to sway the computer to let me start from where I died. And that’s part of the magic of Super Hexagon, sure you lose however many seconds when you die, but the excellent  interface design means you’re back playing within half a second.

Adding to this design is the great chiptune music & visual style, it really captures that arcade feel and I constantly have my head bobbing in time to the music, if I stop doing that maybe I’ll play better, in spite of all the frustration (See: Failing in less than 10 seconds, more than ten times in a row) it is still extremely enjoyable, and SOOOOOOOOOOOOO satisfying when you complete a level. I’ve only completed the first difficulty (hard) so far, but if I don’t finish any more I’ll still be happy in this victory. If you can beat 76 seconds, or the second difficulty (hardest) then let me know, and I’ll make sure to revise my targets.

Super Hexagon is a double thumbs up for me, easy to pick up, and not tremendously hard to put down, it really feels like a sort of brain training, and definitely helps your critical-time decision skills. Right now it’s on sale as part of the 5th Humble Bundle in which you have to pay above the average to get it, but I believe it can also be found on the Apple store, and the Android store for less than a couple dollar, I highly recommend this game, probably amongst the top 5 mobile games I’ve played.

This Week In Music #19 – I’ll have some phat beats, please.

Hello reader, as you may or may not have seen I narrowly missed the weekly deadline, but one day late never hurt anyone, plus if I hadn’t have mentioned it, you probably wouldn’t have realized with the awkward 28 month day that is February.

This week I’ve been in a hip-hop groove, I had my first face  to face interview on Friday which I think went pretty well, and so I kept the hype going by filling my weekend with plenty of tasty beats Nas, Common, Black Star to name three. I had an insanely productive Sunday and I’m hoping to keep this going through the rest of this week, so keep your mouse on that refresh button as I expect there’ll be two or more posts this week. Anyway, enough with this preamble, on with the show!

Last Monday I was certain this week would be hip-hop, and I was quite surprised when I searched for Beastie Boys on my website and found nothing. I’d be surprised if there were many people over the age of 20 who hadn’t heard of the Beastie Boys, the trio kicked ass for nearly 30 years with tracks like Intergalactic, Fight For Your Right, and, Sabotage, this unfortunately came to an end with the death of Adam “MCA” Yaunch early last year. The album featured today was their last release Hot Sauce Committee Part Two which was released in 2011, and I have to say it’s pretty tight, as usual they push fresh funk beats as far as they can into their music and it pays off on several tracks while I don’t think it’s up there with Ill Communication, or, Hello Nasty, it still has some great tracks like Say It, and, Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win, it doesn’t have quite the same depth. Enjoyable to listen to every once in a while, but not something I’d chuck on any day of the week. I’ll leave you with the single off the album Make Some Noise which probably has one of the most star-studded casts of any music video I’ve seen.


Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise

  • Album: Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should you listen to this: Probably could give it a miss

This next album I came across purely by chance, the song I’m going to link Follow The Light was featured on a compilation mix made by British rapper Roots Manuva. In fact when I decided hip hop would be the main theme of this week, it was primarily because I had been playing this song over and over since I had been in Toronto. The album itself is called Even In Darkness which was the one off album made by the music collective Dungeon Family in 2001. This group from Atlanta, Georgia features some truly massive names,  Outkast, and Cee Lo Green, along with many others are part of the group most of whom didn’t reach international fame until well after this albums release. This album is my second favourite of the week, it’s really great from start to finish, chopping up style, beats, and rappers faster than a chef does carrots. 6 Minutes, Rollin’ Featuring Society of Soul, even the instrumental interlude Forever Pimpin’ (Never Slippin’) are absolutely fantastic, a worthwhile listen for any appreciator of Hip-Hop. In spite of all these great options I’m going to stick to my guns and use the track that introduced me to the album.


Dungeon Family - Follow The Light

  • Album: Dungeon Family - Even In Darkness
  • Rating: Double Thumbs Up!!
  • Should you listen to this: This is definitely worth a listen, if you’re a fan of Outkast, Hip-Hop to any degree then you’ll more than likely enjoy this album.

I won’t say much for this next album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, it’s like a wave crashing upon your ears, ebbing and flowing with real beauty, it’s a really lovely album high powered beats like Definition, Definition: RE, through to the most calm and beautiful tracks like K.O.S, and, Brown Skin Lady take you on a real spiritual journey. This is one of my favourite hip-hop albums out there and I think even those who aren’t fans of hip-hop can appreciate some of the latter tracks mentioned. One of the few albums in my mind that deserves a numerical rating, 10/10. Go listen. I’ll leave you with one of those soulful tracks, K.O.S, enjoy.


Black Star - K.O.S (Determination)

  • Album: Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
  • Rating: Double Thumbs Up!!
  • Should you listen to this: 100% worth a listen regardless of your musical persuasion, this is a piece of art that I think can be appreciated irrespective of genre preference.

I’m going to pick up the tempo with the next track but keep it relatively peaceful again, the next artist is from what I’ve heard an excellent rapper, Common. I’ve heard so much reverence for Common that I knew it was about time I listened  to his music, I decided to go for the most recent album The Dreamer, The Believer and I think I’m going to need a little bit more time with it before I give it any definitive rating, I enjoyed it generally, but not to the same levels of the other albums I listened to. I put this down to the fact I was doing so many different things while I was listening to the album, and  thus didn’t really give it a fair go, my normal methodology for really getting into music is to either go out walking whilst I listen to it, or just sit down and enjoy it, I didn’t really give Common’s album a fair go, and so I’ll listen to it a few more times in the future. Also, I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to bring the beats up, this track just came on while I was writing it and I’m loving it.


Common - Lovin’ I Lost

  • Album: Common - The Dreamer, The Believer
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should you listen to this: As I listen back to it again as we speak, I think it probably is worth a go.

Up next is Nas, again from my experiences listening to WeFunk radio station, I’d enjoyed a lot of Nas’ tracks that had come up, just like I had Common’s, so it was an easy decision. Now I hear his album Illmatic is absolutely brilliant, I actually went for his 2001 album Stillmatic, and it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I hear it’s not one of his best, and having heard a few of his songs before I can believe it. I didn’t really gel with much of the backing music, that’s not to say there aren’t some good songs on the album, there definitely are Got Yourself A… is solid, and 2nd Childhood is SUPER FUNKY, hands down, brilliant track, however, most of the album I was just waiting for the next song to come on. For now, I’ll link you to what I think is the best track off the album.


Nas - 2nd Childhood

  • Album: Nas - Stillmatic
  • Rating: Thumbs Down
  • Should you listen to this: There’s some gold in there, but I assume it’s not his best work.

Here we are at the last album now, I really think this was my favourite of the week, with Black Star I was cheating a little bit as I had already heard it SO many times, however, this next album I’d only listened to once and at the time I wasn’t concentrating at all, similar to my experience with Common this week. The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde is a pheonomenal album, the beats are endlessly solid and the lyrics are can be brilliant, sweet, and funny. I’ve already linked one of my favourites off the album way back in This Week In Music’s history, Return Of The B-Boy, however, this week I’ve got a new track lined up. I don’t feel there’s much to be said about this album as it’s again an absolutely fantastic album, one which probably deserves a 10/10 or at least a 9, however, I don’t want my reviews to turn into an endless amount of numbers, so I won’t attribute it with one. For now I’ll leave you with one of the funnier tracks Oh Shit!, go listen!!


The Pharcyde - Oh Shit!

  • Album: The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde
  • Rating: Double Thumbs Up!!
  • Should you listen to this: Fantastic from start to finish, funny, groovy, head-bobbing, a truly brilliant hip-hop album.

Phew, so there we have it for another week, I think next week I’ll just give my opinion of the song that’ll be featured and then rate the album in the “Should You Listen To This” bit, I’m sick of writing essay’s after a fortnight.

See you soon!

 

This Week In Music #18 – A Soulful Revision

Welcome to the new This Week in Music format debut, I hope you all enjoy it. Also the link is at the bottom too, but here is this week’s music on Spotify

When I started this new format I was thinking, man, I really need to gain some more musical integrity, really fill those musical vaults with some key artists, and I thought where better to start than somewhere I love, but would love to appreciate more, and so I decided on Soul, specifically female soul artists.

The first artist I came across was Carla Thomas, I’d found her through my Stax Records playlist, an influential record label part of the Southern soul movement in the 1960s, now I love a lot of Southern soul / Memphis soul scene, especially Stax/Volt records and so I was pretty excited to really get into some of Carla Thomas’ music. The album I listened to was Gee Whizher debut album, it’s definitely got some great tracks on it, The Masquerade Is Over and the titular single Gee Whiz to name a few, however, whilst I know my taste in soul is still uncultured, I couldn’t help but feel some of the other albums I listened to had a bit more diversity in sound within the album. That’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable album, it is, but I personally don’t feel it has quite the same depth as some of the others. All in all, I give Carla Thomas’ Gee Whiz a thumbs up, it’s nice, easy listening to, with some genuinely great tracks on there, her vocals absolutely rock and I’ve listened to it in the morning, day time, and evening, and enjoyed it to the same degree, a solid effort. I’ll leave you with a great track off the album A Love Of My Own.

Carla Thomas – A Love Of My Own

  • Album: Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should you listen to this: Probably could give it a miss

The next suggestion actually came right from Spotify itself, I hopped on the computer Tuesday morning, and first thing that popped up on Spotify was a promotion for The Ronettes album Silhouettes, I don’t know why they’re being promoted in particular, or if this is some kind of recommendation system (which I doubt as I’ve had a Bollywood album recommended to me) but I thought why not, the album picture told me everything, a black and white image of three singers with ridiculous hair dos, it had to be soul! Well sometimes what you see is what you get, and this album is pretty much that, probably the least soulful album amongst the six, it’s actually more of a pop album, and it really is influenced heavily by that kind of surf-pop, ENJOY YOURSELF A COCA COLA FOR 5c, kind of vibe to it, while that may sound off-putting I actually found the album quite pleasant, sure, you could imagine your Grandma laying this vinyl down and telling you the story of how “this was the first album Grandad and I danced to” but I dont have an issue with that fact, it’s just so pleasant & innocent that you can’t really judge it. Sweet Sixteen and The Recipe For Love are so hand strolling down the beach lovely that you can’t help but just appreciate this album. One thing I must say, is that this exuberant innocence is that it kind of becomes quite monotonous to listen to by the time you’re half way through. If you’re going to do some laundry or some other mind-wandering task, why not pop this on, it’s nice enough!

The Ronettes – Silhouettes

  • Album: The Ronettes - Silhouettes
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should I listen to this: Probably could give it a miss.

I’m going to try keep it short for this next artist, because I could probably write an entire review on this album alone, amongst the most famous singers ever, and justifiably so, I came across the compilation album entitled You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman, a compilation of a musical phenomenon, Aretha Franklin. Undoubtably a massive influence on contemporary R&B, and soul, Aretha Franklin’s been kicking ass for 5 decades, she found the best of her fame in the 60s and early 70s, for which most of this album’s content is compiled. There’s really not a weak track on this album, her work is so brilliant, that I’ll definitely be looking into more of it, I’ll have to make sure I listen to the actual albums, but I was looking for something easy when I chose her. To save me from arthritis I’ll end this review here, all I can say is that all my thumbs are up right now, genius.

Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer For You

  • Album: Aretha Franklin - You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman. (Compilation).
  • Rating: Two MASSIVE Thumbs Up
  • Should I listen to this: I’m sorry, you’re still reading this?? YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING RIGHT NOW

It was always going to take a bit of magic to follow Aretha Franklin, Barbara Lynn is definitely cool enough to do so, singer AND guitarist, Barbara Lynn is a bad ass blues guitarist who mainly specializes in blues & RnB, however, I think she deserves special mention. Her sound is extremely different to the rest of the artists in this piece, and what Ms. Lynn does, she does very well, the entire album is very groovy, and made all the sweeter knowing it’s led by a black female guitarist/vocalist in the 1960s, Barbara Lynn wanted to knock down all those societal walls, and if her album I’m A Good Woman is anything to go by, then she sure left her opposition crumbling too. A really solid album start to end, well, actually the last track is the only track I’m not a fan of, but hey it’s 90% good. I was going to leave you with my favourite song by a mile, You Don’t Have To Go, unfortunately, the track isn’t on YouTube, so I’ll leave you with another good track of hers. However, if you’re really enjoying this particular theme, I must emphasize listening to You Don’t Have To Go, I think it’s the strongest track by far.

Barbara Lynn – I Warned You Baby

  • Album: Barbara Lynn - I’m A Good Woman
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should I listen to this: Probably could give it a miss

I’ll admit, this next album  I didn’t really give enough time to, or at least not so much that it would really sink in. I’m not losing all my music reviewer integrity though, as I have listened to it three times today, it’s just each of those times I was doing something else, I haven’t just sat down and listened to it like the other albums. In spite of all this, I’ve some how found the courage to make objective, empirical decisions about this album. Irma Thomas’ Take A Look, really feels like the definition of soul to me, it’s eloquently sung, the music has you swaying along, the passion has you pumping your fist in mock karaoke. From start to finish it’s a really enjoyable listen, so soulful, she’s probably my favourite new discovery from this week. I already knew the next artist, and Aretha Franklin, but Irma Thomas is very good, and from listening to a couple of songs from another album she’s consistent too.

Irma Thomas - Times Have Changed

  • Album: Irma Thomas – Take A Look
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should I listen to this: Listen to this album! It’s really enjoyable the whole way through, a great combination of passion, tenderness, and ferocity the whole way through

And so we arrive at the final album, perhaps my favourite artist of the lot Ann Peebles is fantastic, she brings us to the most recent of the music, she hit her stride in the late 60s and then through the 70s, you can tell that she really has much more of a modern feel, it’s soulful, yet very funky, very very cool is the only way I can appropriately describe it. A Love Vibration, is the album, and I must say that a seemingly common theme throughout the albums I listened to this week is that they’re all enjoyable from start to end. This album is really great, and I can’t recommend Ann Peebles’ enough, she’s an amazing artist and I find A Love Vibration to be both a highly brilliant album in both content, and the fact it is so easy to listen to, this is an album I’ll definitely be recommending through the future as an entrance to soul, it’s beautiful blues vibes, sultry vocals, and powerful rhythm sections make for an immaculate album. An album that makes you think not only of music as something you listen to, but in its true regard, an art. I Can’t Stand The Rain, is my favourite off the album but considering I think I’ve posted that once or twice on Twitter over the years, I’ll give you another track to listen to.

Ann Peebles - Give Me Some Credit

  • Album: Ann Peebles - A Love Vibration (Compilation).
  • Rating: Thumbs Up
  • Should I listen to this: Listen to this album! It’s really enjoyable the whole way through, a great combination of passion, tenderness, and ferocity the whole way through

Well, I didn’t really expect this to turn into such an essay, this is over 1500 words and yet I feel I could fill each description with another 300 a piece. This week I really did find both educational and inspirational, it was great to listen to such an amazing array of albums. I can only imagine the social context surrounded by these albums, amazing talented black women making such powerful albums when both their race & gender were obstructions to success & creativity, and yet we’re left here with 6 amazing albums to listen to.

Here is the link to this week’s music on Spotify

If you stuck with me through this entire essay, thank you, or even if you just listened to the songs, then I hope you have a lovely day, and I’ll see you next week!

London: The First Month

I arrived at Reykjavik airport at 6am to catch my 8am flight to London, I hadn’t been able to sleep the previous night due to a mixture of illness and anticipation, I had read reports that for the previous two days flights had been cancelled or delayed at various points of the day due to snow on the runway. Fortunately, all things went smoothly and after a lovely flight on IcelandAir (who get a thumbs up!) I arrived in the very cold London.

My first thoughts of the city were that I couldn’t believe how busy it is, everywhere, every tube, every street, every building is constantly packed by a mixture of commuters, travelers, and business people. This isn’t just related to the central city either, this is across the entire city, it really is an incredibly active & busy city, which is very interesting to me, I thought Queen Street on a Saturday night in Auckland was hard to navigate, but that’s nothing compared to walking Bond or Regent street any time between 12 & 7pm the amount of foot traffic is just insane. 

After my first week in which I must admit I was rather culture shocked, missing home, and feeling a bit poorly, I bounced back and was ready to explore and get active in the job hunt. After buying some new clothes, in which I think I looked quite dashing, I proceeded to hunker down into the world of online job applications. Well, 3 weeks later, and I am still none the more employed, it is HARD right now to get a job in the UK, unless you have 2:1 honours (a prerequisite for about 75% of jobs) you are out of luck, this is complicated by the fact that in the UK the degrees are three years long and include honours, unlike in New Zealand where it’s three years long and the honours year is an additional one. Now I’m not saying I’d have 2:1 honours if I had done my degree here, but it makes my degree which reads “pass” look a bit underwhelming, regardless I’m soldering on. The only thing I find frustrating are some of the businesses have forms which may take an hour or longer to complete, they want me to write every single subject I took at high school, and why I want the job, and how I like my coffee, and then I get the cookie cutter “we’re sorry to inform you that your application has been declined” Until trying to get you a job starts becoming a paid profession I’m not going to be in lattes and croissants for a while!

One further thing I’ve noticed over here, is how bitingly cold it is at night time, I’ve heard various mutterings that it’s the wind or humidity, and frankly I have no clue myself, but my word, I walked around Edmonton in temperatures less than -10 degrees with just a jumper on, over here at night it might be 4 degrees but I’m wearing my thermals, t-shirt, hoodie, and jacket. Maybe it’s a combination of culture shock & my subconscious settling into a new location because over the past couple of weeks I’ve felt it getting warmer, but by the looks of others I’m not imagining it. Luckily, Spring seems to be fast approaching with the week of mostly sunshine we’ve been having, as someone who didn’t get to have Summer, and instead had Winter, Spring, Winter, I look forward to having a REALLY hot summer, come on England I know you can do it!

I haven’t done too many tourist things since I’ve been in the UK, I’ve been to the British Museum, which was mind blowing, I mean I was there for 3 hours and I feel like I only comprehensively covered about 15% of it, you really have to spend a few days visiting to really take everything in. One great thing about the UK is a lot of the significant areas of culture are free, which I think is fantastic, I assume the Government or London council subsidizes it, but it’s a great idea, I believe the Auckland museum does the same for local residents. Another thing I did which was pretty sweet was an event called Geekpub a couple of Saturdays ago, it was an event for a bunch of, well, a bunch of geeks, to meet up, hang out, and have a few beers it was great fun and this particular meeting was at a place called Namco Arcade. You know those arcade machines in the corners of bowling alleys? Well there’s a strong chance they’re a Namco machine. It was GREAT fun, I think I spent about £20 for a several hours of entertainment there, if you go, YOU HAVE TO GO ON THE BUMPER CARTS, these bumper carts are real bumper carts, you can really shove someone a couple of metres across on them, a couple of geeks and myself frequently teamed up to demolish the general public, and it was great fun. In general I’d really recommend the site MeetUp.com it’s a great site where you can find people to hang out with who have similar interests.

Anyway, I think that’s quite enough for now, I need to go look for a job!

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland, somewhere I hadn’t really considered in my travels, I’d heard of it sure, all I knew however was the hilarious irony in which Iceland is greenish, whereas Greenland is mostly ice. So when it was suggested I visit as it was the halfway point between North America and the UK I thought sure, why not? and my word Reykjavik was awesome!

Reykjavik is a truly unique city, host to two thirds of the Icelandic population, roughly 200,000 people, it’s a city where in any other country you’d expect the main area of the city to be littered with high rise business buildings, this is quite the opposite in Reykjavik, I’m not sure where you’d call the CBD, but it is definitely not downtown Reykjavik. Instead in downtown Reykjavik you find a wonderful array of shops, homes, and civic buildings. It feels like a small town that has simply expanded in population, and yet retained it’s personality.

I only spent three days here, after those three days I know I’ll return one summer, most of the activities take place in the summer, although it is a prime time in winter to try catch the Aurora Borealis, unfortunately I didn’t get to experience it, instead I spent my time mostly chilling around the downtown area, eating fish & chips, drinking local beer, and hanging out in the pubs. The one touristy thing I did was the Blue Lagoon, which is a thermal hot pools about an hours drive outside of Reykjavik, it closes at 9:30, I arrived at about 7pm, and it was lovely, seeing the red glow of the volcano in the distance while you chill out in the pitch black, a beer in one hand, magnum ice cream in the other, is an extremely relaxing experience. The payment system for the in house bar is really cool too, you have these wristbands which digitally store your purchase which you pay for on the way out, so no losing any change in the pool.

The people here are very nice, and helpful in general, their only point of bitterness seems to resolve around their public transport system, which really is abysmal, it’s incredibly slow, infrequent, and not very handy, also no change, so make sure you have the exact amount!

Unfortunately I don’t have a huge amount to say about Reykjavik, all I can tell you is that it is brilliant, and if you ever want to go on holiday there, give yourself ideally at least 5 days to take in all the beauty, and make sure you go in summer!

Also try spend a day in Reykjavik downtown, it is really cool, especially check out the random street art area.

New York, New York!

After having spent a lovely three days in Toronto I was pretty excited for New York. I had never really had it as a top priority to check out, but over the years my interest has steadily grown, not least of all thanks to seeing several Facebook friends post photos about it. So as I caught the 11 hour greyhound bus from Toronto to New York, it was with a shaky anticipation that I headed to New York state.

After arriving at about 7pm, amidst a torrential downpour, the first rain I’d seen since leaving Vancouver a fortnight earlier, I started walking from 38th to 104th street, after reaching 48th street in about 8 minutes, I’d had enough of the rain and enough of the walk, opting instead for a cab, and when I arrived 5 minutes later thanks to some crazy driving, I was happy to have spent the $10.

It was a Friday night, and having briefly admired the bright lights of downtown New York, and checking into my hostel uptown, I decided to run across to the pizza place opposite the hostel. Having my first slice of real New York pizza, and I have to say I was not disappointed. It was delicious, and the subsequent slices I would have around the city have really served to protect the legitimacy of New York pizza in my mind, and I think Sal’s in New Zealand is a fairly decent approximation of New York style pizza, the New York places had a lot more variety than Sal’s, but in essence the flavour was much the same.

Anyway, enough about the food! On Saturday my friend Matt Jones came down from his workplace in Boston to come visit me which was pretty sweet, after walking the length of 104th to 7th street I was absolutely shattered, and could only manage brief stops in cafes & stores to regain my strength, it was then Matt showed me the wonders that is the New York subway system, it’s actually fantastic and I would DEFINITELY recommend it. It’s incredibly cheap, I can’t remember the details but it would be around $1.50 USD for a ride, during which you can transfer infinitely between stations without incurring any further charges (assuming you don’t leave the station) none of this zone rubbish they have here in London. It’s extremely efficient, and runs 24/7 I’d highly recommend it, and it’s 100% safe, although I never rode any later than 11pm on a Saturday, so ride later at your own risk.

An attraction I’d really recommend, which is pictured above, is the New York high line, New York’s overground railway no longer runs, at least in the CBD to my knowledge, and they’ve turned it into a really cool walk, with parks in areas, and brilliant views of the city, this is a really cool way to explore the city and is much more fun than a bus tour in my opinion, it takes about 30 minutes-1 hour to walk along, although I’m not sure if it would be longer or shorter depending on where you get on/off.

Sunday and Monday I spent at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) I really can’t explain how brilliant this place is, I’m not an art historian, but I’m not sure if there’s such an amazing level of modern art, centralized like it is in MOMA. Full of Picasso’s, Mondrian’s, Van Gogh’s, and my personal favourite Monet, this really is an experience that CAN NOT be ignored for any one, especially art appreciators. Viewing Van Gogh’s Starry Night up close is truly mind blowing, pictures do not do it justice, seeing the texture of the brush strokes in person just adds such indescribable depth to the painting, that a chance to see it should be sorely missed. For $25 USD it’s well worth the money if you’re looking for something to do, $14 for people with their student cards!

Tuesday, I spent sick in bed, 2 weeks of walking 10+ hours a day caught up with me and I spent it relatively bed-bound, it sucked, but by Wednesday, my departure date, I was out and about taking in some of the last sights of the city I would had, I went by Times Square again, which I had done a couple of times, but it really is something to behold, you really feel like you’re on a movie set when you twirl around Times Square, it’s a really cool feeling, I only wish I had been interested in seeing any of the musicals on offer.

I spent my final day checking out the 9/11 memorial which was fairly interesting, it was free and worth that price, the location doesn’t have a strong significance with me personally, but I do remember 9/11 as the event that turned me on to world events.

It was a very nice memorial with the fountains, very tastefully done, after that I made my way to JFK via the subway to catch my plane to Iceland.

New York, New York was a fantastic place, somewhere you really should try see once in your life, if you have the opportunity to visit, definitely take it. It wasn’t my favourite destination on my travels, but I had a great time, and from what I’ve experienced it has the best public transport of any major city (at least Manhattan Island).