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Tag: Music

Random Game Purchase: Donkey Konga

It doesn’t take much more than a good coupon to drive me into game-buying-mode. When I came across Gamestop’s 20%-off coupon for used Gamecube games over at Cheap Ass Gamer, I was all over that. What would I get? Luigi’s Mansion? Maybe another Resident Evil? I kept thinking to myself what some cheap games would be to fill in some embarrassing-gaming-holes on the Cube, but decided I would just go and peruse to see what was there without much in the way of specific targets.

I had totally forgotten that a couple years ago I picked up a boxed copy of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and its included “DK Bongos”. Gamestop had a floor full of them for ~$20 (and extra bongos for about the same price), some time ahead of the deluge of upcoming, additional, crazy amounts of fake plastic instruments.

I pretty much picked up Jungle Beat and its “perphs” with the intention of eventually grabbing the Konga games. Up until this weekend I had not seen them sitting around on the used game shelves… either that, or since I had forgotten I was looking for them, I didn’t see them even if they happened to be in hidden in plain view. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw copies of both domestic Donkey Konga games on the “Used” shelves this weekend! It was $9.99, so with the 20%-off coupon, we’re talking about $8 for the game.

After a quick scroll-through of the song lists in the games on the iPhone (thank you, mobile ‘net access!) I decided that the first game was the clear winner of the song-list-battle. The Mario and Zelda themes? The dub Pokemon theme? Oh, c’mon. Sold.

donkey_konga_cover

I’ve played a little bit of Taiko Drum Master (import and domestic) on the PS2 courtesy of Andrew, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into in terms of gameplay. While I was not smashing fake plastic drums with fake wooden drum sticks, I was at least hitting fake plastic drums with my hands. Hit the left drum, hit the right drum, hit them both at the same time… easy enough. The one gameplay aspect I had to look up online was the blue/white sparkly icon on the timeline. While my copy of the game came with its cover and generic insert, it did not come with the actual instruction book. Turns out I have to clap my hands on those icons (having totally missed the little microphone/clap sensor on top in between the drum heads). Once I figured out what I was doing, it was clear sailing.

I decided to play on the Gamecube itself (as opposed to via the Wii) hooked up to an old tube TV due to the fact that it was a rhythm-based game, and I’ve had it up to here with lag (also correctly assuming that Nintendo would have nothing built into the game to compensate for said lag on newer A/V setups). I had a pretty good time in the 30-45 minutes I spent with the game last night (having already played R.B.I. 3 on the NES in the basement, and FFIV: The After Years on the Wii in the living room, now playing on the Gamecube up in the loft). My hands had enough of the smashing and clapping after about that much time, though I expect I could have easily played for an hour had I not already spent an entire day doing various activities around the house.

The “licensed” songs that I did play were probably the best of the bunch (“All the Small Things“, “The Impression That I Get“, “Right Here, Right Now“), and I can’t see myself visiting some of the more juvenile ones all that often (“The Loco-Motion“, “Campfire Medley“). The Nintendo-specific songs were all a blast to play, especially the bongo-ified version of the main Zelda theme.

As you complete songs (on either its equivalent of the “easy” and “medium” single-player difficulties available by default), you accumulate coins to spend in its in-game store. Yes, it’s another coin-collect-athon in the traditional Nintendo sense, and it fits right in with the rhythm game unlock system of the day; think of spending money to unlock songs in Guitar Hero II or playing a certain number of songs in DDR to unlock new courses.

While you can spend the coins on “expert” levels of songs (as I did for the dub Pokemon theme song, which playing will accumulate a higher number of coins), you can also spend coins on new sound effects for the bongos. You have standard bongo sounds and NES-style beeps available at the start, and I decided that I would spend some cash on Zelda-inspired sound effects to complement the default ones. After selecting a song, banging the bongos to the left and right allows you to select these custom sound effects, so now I am banging out heart-collecting sounds and Link yelps. These custom sound effects cost significantly more than “expert” versions of songs, so you’ll have to decide on your own which kinds of unlockables you want to shoot for first.

I certainly enjoyed what I have played so far, and see myself having another couple rounds with the game in the near future. More so than either of the North American Donkey Konga releases, though, I have found myself incredibly enthralled by the prospect of importing Donkey Konga 3. Its track list is impressive from both a gamer perspective (a song from Katamary Damacy, plenty of Famicom remixes) and an anime perspective (“CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA” from DragonBall Z, “Mezase Pokemon Master” from Pokemon, “Re-write” from Fullmetal Alchemist). The going price on eBay seems to be $25-40, which is pretty fair considering it’s no longer available new on sites like Play-Asia.

Of course, here’s my biggest problem:

donkey_konga_floor

Since unpacking the DK Bongos, I have even more fake plastic instruments sitting around on my floor with no real place to appropriately store them.

(I also picked up XIII on the Gamecube for about $3. I know nothing about it other than that it’s rated “M” and was $3 + 20% off).

Quick Plug: lo-fidelity episode 20

We typically don’t plug things on our other websites unless they warrant it, and this is one of those cases.

Jeff and I do a bi-weekly podcast called lo-fidelity where we review music, discuss music, give a top five every week, etc. It’s a really good show, and I encourage all of you to check it out. It’s understandable if that’s not your thing, though… but you still might want to check out episode 20. We reviewed the new album, Dawn Metropolis, by Anamanaguchi. They are what would be considered a “chip-tune” band; that is, they use hacked NES hardware (and a Game Boy in one track) to create new music. We also interviewed Peter Berkman from the band. We wrapped up the episode with our top five video game songs.

So go on, video game music lovers. Until we get our shiz back in order and all three get together in the same room with microphones again, check out episode 20 of lo-fidelity and indulge in a little gaming love in podcast form.

Five Re-Recorded Songs

It is always interesting when a band re-records a song. Whether it is for some type of anniversary release, stepping up to a major record label, or some other situation where it is necessary or warranted, fans of the original recording will inevitably have some type of feeling about the new version of the song.

Prompted by discussions I have had with friends over Anberlin‘s new version of “The Feel Good Drag“, I decided to take a look at it and four other notable re-recordings from my library. What made the original version good or bad? How about the new one? Was it worth re-recording in the first place?

I do not really have much of an idea what imeem is, but it appears that there are just a whole bunch of songs up for free streaming, and they tend to have links to purchase the song if you are interested. I guess you have to sign-up/login if you want to listen more than once…? Whatever. With that in mind, I suppose I will just link over to there (where available) so you all can listen along with the music (rather than me putting up ten MP3s in a single blog post).

For the purposes of this list and discussion, I will not be including demo versions of songs as the “original” version. If I were going to do that, I would have at least five versions of Saosin‘s “I Wanna Hear Another Fast Song” / “Sleepers” that I would have to compare…! Also, versions from an EP that appeared right on the next full length essentially as-is from version to version (such as The Get Up Kids’Red Letter Day” and Finch‘s “Letters To Youi”) also will not count for this list and discussion.

(1) Anberlin – “The Feel Good Drag
Original Version: Never Take Friendship Personal (2005)
New Version: New Surrender (2008)

This was absolutely one of the best songs off of Never Take Friendship Personal, which itself was a near-perfect album beginning to end. Anberlin has stated that they wanted to bring this song back because it never got the “chance” it deserved previously (and ended up making it their first single and music video off of New Surrender). I personally believe it was already a wonderfully-produced song, and had a pretty sick amount of emotion coming from Christian’s vocals. So what happened in the new version? It is far too “safe”. The screaming is removed from the breakdown (which itself was so far-removed from anything else Anberlin had done), and the production is far too overdone. In general, it just feels like the soul of the song was missing. It was still the same song, but that piece that made it special was no longer there. Unfortunately, that is how I feel about the album New Surrender in general; it is defintiely Anberlin, and there are definitely some good songs, but there is no spark.

(2) New Found Glory – “Hit or Miss
Original Version: Nothing Gold Can Stay (1999)
New Version: New Found Glory (2000)

As the song that put New Found Glory on the pop-punk map, “Hit or Miss” was a pretty huge deal. The original version of the song off of Nothing Gold Can Stay was already a “single” in that a music video was already made (starring Corey Feldman, no less). The acoustic guitar opening really defined it, and while the production is not up to the level that their later material would be, it is still very clear sounding and well done. I was very apprehensive when I heard they were going to be re-recording the song for their “major label” debut (as well as their single and a re-done music video), and I remember not liking it all that much upon first hearing it. As time went on, it became apparent that the new version was indeed a solid improvement on the original, and quite possibly what they originally wanted it to sound like (and was indeed what it sounded like during live performances). Jordan’s vocals were much cleaner and at appropriate levels when compared to the music. The “I’ve had so many chances…” dual-vocals near the end are finally audible. All in all, it is a solid re-recording of the original version, and is typically my go-to version for playing (despite my love for Nothing Gold Can Stay).

(3) Reel Big Fish – “Beer
Original Version: Everything Sucks (1995) / Turn The Radio Off (1996)
New Version: We’re Not Happy ‘Til You’re Not Happy (2005)

I will consider the version off of Turn The Radio Off the “original” version, considering that most of the songs off of Everything Sucks ended up being re-recorded for more “proper” album releases later on down the road. With that in mind, it was a total shock to see a ten-year-anniversary version of “Beer” re-recorded as a b-side for We’re Not Happy ‘Til You’re Not Happy. What was the real purpose of this, though? It sounds much more “full” and is performed slightly slower, but other than that, it does not contribute a whole lot. I simply do not have a whole lot to say comparing these two versions. The new version is just a b-side, so it is not like it was re-done as a “new single” for the band presenting them to a new audience. It is… well, it is just there for the sake of being there, almost.

(4) Saosin – “Bury Your Head
Original Version: Saosin EP (2005)
New Version: Saosin full-length (2006)

The original version of “Bury Your Head” was presented as the first highly-public debut of replacement vocalist Cove Reber (though he had done a couple recordings prior to this, including the studio version of “I Can Tell There Was An Accident Here Earlier“). This version of “Bury Your Head” received an actual music video, done in the style of a live performance. The new version seemed like a forced-inclusion by Capitol for the band’s full-length (and while I do not have a source to quote, I believe that is the actual truth; the band did not want to re-record and include it, while the label highly suggested they do such). The new version features more drum-fills, though they do not necessarily feel like they belong here as much as they do on other new song arrangements on the album. Reber’s dual-vocals in places feel like they are there just to add to the breadth of sounds in the song, rather than enhancing what is already there in his performance. Maybe it is because the song’s inclusion was forced, but there is a distinct lack of emotion in the performance of this song compared to the rest of the album.

(5) The Starting Line – “Leaving
Original Version: The Starting Line (2001) / With Hopes of Starting Over EP (2002)
New Version: Say It Like You Mean It (2002)

While The Starting Line technically first recorded the song during their We The People recording sessions, the entire album was more or less scrapped when Drive-Thru came along. It was then re-recorded nearly identically for their Drive-Thru debut EP, With Hopes of Starting Over. It was then recorded for a third time for their proper first full-length, Say It Like You Mean It, where it was used as their second single and music video (after “The Best Of Me“). The original version of the song has a rough feel to it, but is incredibly genuine. Kenny’s voice is still young and squeaky in the past, which would start to change for the full-length, and continue onward through all of their subsequent releases. The radio-muffled extra “Without saying goodbye…” would evolve over the versions of the song, which is probably for the better. The original version uses these cheap production tricks to try to put some extra “oomphf” in there, but I personally believe that it hurts the otherwise genuine qualities of the recording. The new version of the song does more than just change the production values, and actually changes a bit of lyrics, shortening the “As weekdays and weekdays unwind / I’ll be found staring back in time” to simply “Let’s travel back in time!” The new version also opens more akin to the band’s live performances of the song, with Kenny singing the beginning of the song’s chorus before the full band breaks in. While it could be argued that Mark Trombino over-produced Say It Like You Mean It, I feel that this song, at least, particularly benefitted from this outside viewpoint (I also agree with Howard Benson’s production of “The World” off of Based On A True Story, rather than the band’s preference of the Tim O’Heir version). The removal of the “cheap” effects really helps the song, and everything is brought into balance with each other. The new version also ramps up the chorus speed to a more noticeable level. Like New Found Glory’s re-recorded version of “Hit or Miss“, I find myself revisiting the re-recorded version of “Leaving” more than the original(s), though also like the New Found Glory song, I have a huge place in my heart for the original(s) that I do occasionally revisit.

I Pirated. Then I Bought. Huh.

A couple weeks back, I was feeling the urge to listen to some new music. I have a tactic that I’ve used every so often, and since it results in awesomeness more times than not (like originally finding Anberlin many years back), I decided to give it a go once more.

I took a look at the upcoming release schedule for October over on Absolute Punk, picked a random band, looked them up on Wikipedia to see what type of music they played, and illegally downloaded the advance copy of the album (either on IRC or a torrent site; can’t remember which).

The band I picked was Pompeii. An indie rock band with influences of Explosions in the Sky and Phil Collins, with comparisons to Sigur Ros? How could I not like this band?!

I ended up downloading their new album (which just came out yesterday), Nothing Happens For A Reason. I knew things were going to be wonderful when the first track was titled, “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads” (that’s a line from the end of the first Back to the Future movie, if you happen to be uncultured). Combine all that with the realization that I’m actually going to Pompeii on my honeymoon, the fact that “Pompeii” is a great song by Gatsbys American Dream

Well, I have a new favorite album of the year thus far.

But here’s where it gets interesting. I saw that the band had been around for a couple years, and had a previous album released called Assembly. I quickly looked around, and saw that there weren’t any active torrents. Next I went to Amazon to see if they offerred it (both as download and as physical CD). I saw that they only had a couple left in stock.

I figured that since I already loved their new album so much, I may as well just order them both right there on the spot. Threw them both into my cart, chose the Super Savings Shipping, and had them the day after they shipped (which means I got the new album right on its release date).

I’m absolutely in love with this band and their music. I am so glad I went through the motions of my random downloading, because I otherwise probably would never have heard of them, nevermind bought two of the albums. If you’re interested, Assembly is $11.98 on Amazon, and Nothing Happens For A Reason is $13.98 on Amazon; neither of those are referral links, so don’t think I’m trying to make a quick buck, here!

For single songs, I tend to just download the most convenient DRM-free version, but for full albums, I’m all about owning the physical product. I still love opening a new CD, checking out the artwork (I mean, c’mon… look at those!), and knowing that I can rip it to any format and quality that I want as the years go on.

I am in absolutely no way trying to justify anything, or suggest that this is the typical situation or even the exception. Quite frankly, I don’t even give a rat’s ass what you think of what I did. All I’m doing is describing one experience I had. Was it beneficial to me? Was it beneficial to the band? Was it beneficial to anyone else?

Who cares? I just found two new albums that I love to death.

Video Game References At A Wedding

So I’m back and married, now. Woo-hoo! Leaving again for Barcelona in a couple days to go on a cruise! Woo-hoo!

I’m not here to just go on and on about the wedding. You don’t care about that (most likely). You care about video games; that’s why you’re reading this (most likely). What I’m trying to say is that I’m here to talk about both the wedding, and the video game references there-in.

The wedding was pretty “traditional” overall, with no obvious, strange things pointing to the contrary. Being who we are, though, we weren’t about to pass up the chance to slip little things into the ceremony and reception that key friends (and maybe family) would understand and see the meaning in.

The first video game reference we had was actually our recessional music (the song played as we walked out of the actual marriage ceremony after being pronounced husband and wife). The song choice? The Final FantasyPrologue“, and specifically the version from Celtic Moon. I actually cut the very beginning (our wedding version begins right where the main tune normally starts), and sped it up about five percent. It was absolutely wonderful.

The second (and probably final) video game reference was our cake-cutting music. The traditional songs are usually dumb ones like “Pour Some Sugar On Me“, or otherwise totally inappropriate songs that vaguely reference sugar or something sweet. Our choice? C’mon. Video game. Cake. Sense of humor. Do the math.

That’s right, “Still Alive” (from Portal) was our cake-cutting music. We didn’t use either the GLaDOS or Jonathan Coulton versions, though. We actually used a piano version by Jarrett Heathe (you can download the MP3 we used on their YouTube entry for the song). What made it all the more amazing was about halfway through when all of our friends in the back starting singing the lyrics along with the song, much to the confusion of the rest of our attendees. Apparently our DJ came up to them afterwards and was all, “Wait, there are lyrics to this song? What is it? Huh?”

At the end of the day, what I am actually trying to stress and say with this entry is that you can do these types of things on your special day, and pull them off respectfully. Unless anyone knew any better, both of those songs were just that… songs. They were beautiful pieces that fit the mood perfectly, and are easily forgettable at the same time as just regular ol’ classical-style songs that were played at a wedding.

But to us they held deeper meanings, let us express ourselves, and we were able to share those connections with those who understood us. It’s something I’ve talked about elsewhere, but the concept of simply passing for normal productive members of society is incredibly important… that doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t slip in those little pieces of your nerd life!

Top 10 Couch Songs In “Rock Band”

While this is a Top 10 list, it’s not part of a regular episode, so I won’t toss it over with the rest of the more formal Top 10 lists. This is instead intended to just be a fun little thing to put out there, and to coax Jeff and Andrew into making their own lists, as well.

In case you haven’t heard, we play the crap out of Rock Band. Constantly. It was like a part of me was dead on the inside when I had to send my 360 back for repairs and thus could not play Rock Band. One of the things we love about the game (series) is how amazing Harmonix has arranged the playable songs. There’s literally something for everyone. No matter what type of music you like (or think you like), there are a couple songs that you are dying to play on every single instrument.

I figured the three of us could take a couple minutes to jot down a Top 10 list, but in a different way from what we’ve done before. My list is going to be the Top 10 Emo Couch Songs In Rock Band. Admittedly, some of these are going to cross genres a little bit, but they’re all relatively part of the same scene (or evolutions over time). Both games are fair for this list, as well as all downloadable content.

10: AFI – “Girl’s Not Grey” (music video on YouTube)
What I like about the inclusion of this song is the style. It’s more aggressive than the majority of others in the same genre, but the vocals are of a different range, as well. It’s far from my favorite AFI album (that would probably be The Art Of Drowning), but it’s a logical and fun inclusion.

09: Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (music video on YouTube)
It was a pretty huge song, so it makes sense that it would eventually be whored out to all of the current-generation music games (it’ll also be popping up in Guitar Hero: World Tour and On Tour Decades). Every little bit of the song is fun to play; that brief pause after “It just…” totally makes you feel like a rock star.

08: Against Me! – “Stop!” (music video on YouTube)
It was literally just released as DLC this week, but it’s an awesome inclusion. It’s got a slightly funky drum beat to it, all of the parts are fun to play, and it’s a great song. I’m not even really sure what else to say about it. Don’t stop and take some time to think… just download it! Ugh, that was terrible.

07: 30 Seconds To Mars – “Attack” (music video on YouTube)
I don’t even particularly like this band, which is what really impressed me about the song. I threw it on a mix CD of songs from the game, and happened to really like what I heard. I absolutely loathed “The Kill”, and was shocked to find myself enjoying this one. I keep trying and trying to be able to do all of the singing and screaming parts of this song, but it’s just totally out of my range. I can’t do it. Grrrrr. Thankfully, it’s ridiculously fun on guitar and such, so it works out in the end.

06: All-American Rejects – “Move Along” (music video on YouTube)
The fact that I got Jeff to even remotely listen to a couple of this band’s songs is a testament to their catchiness. Their first album is probably the superior one in terms of hooks, but this particular song is a perfect inclusion. The opening drums are super fun once you get the hang of the pattern, and the vocals are at a perfect range for nearly anyone to sing.

05: Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen In Love” (music video on YouTube)
I’ll admit that I actually didn’t know of this particular song until I heard Thursday’s cover of it. Their version is delivered quite differently in the vocals, but it’s amazing that you can sing it either way and it still works out perfectly in terms of scoring. The drums are really fun to play on this song, but my favorite part is easily the final “… ever fallen in love wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiith” at the end.

04: Paramore – “Crushcrushcrush” (music video on YouTube)
While “Misery Business” would have been our first choice of a Paramore song (which Guitar Hero: World Tour is getting), having this show up as DLC one day certainly wasn’t a bad thing. The drum part of this song is one of the easiest expert-level songs, which can really make you feel like you’re making progress with learning how to play. The vocals are deceptively difficult to get a good score on, mostly because you simply don’t have a lot of time to breathe in between lines!

03: Fall Out Boy – “Dead On Arrival” (music video on YouTube)
Those that were present the first evening that we had Rock Band will painfully remember my squawking along with Pete’s vocals on this one. Sorry. Take This To Your Grave is somewhat of a scene classic with its clever lyrics, and while this song is much more straight-forward than the rest, it was a great pick from the album. Bring in the (and I hate to use the phrase again) deceptively difficult instrument patterns (especially on drums) and you’ve got a winner.

02: Weezer – “El Scorcho” (music video on YouTube)
I’m a sucker for gang vocals. Add to that the fact that it’s in a party game which essentially obligates people to shout along? Sold. From the oft-forgotten album Pinkerton, this one’s another “easy” song in all areas, but its lyrics are so ridiculous and fun that it doesn’t matter. Definitely one of my staple performances, and one that I can actually 100% on hard-level vocals.

01: Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down” (music video on YouTube)
When I heard that the game-titled tour was going to have a DLC pack in the future (and that Dashboard was a part of it), I was both excited and terrified. I was excited just to have some Dashboard music coming my way, but was terrified that it might be something much newer that I had no real attachment to. Reading that song title put a huge smile on my face, as does singing it every time. Chris always introduces the song as being about “the best day” he ever had, and I have absolutely no problem sharing in that with him every time we play the song.

How about you guys ‘n gals? What are you favorite couch songs? Jeff and Andrew… what are your lists going to be? 😀

DRM-Free Is The Way To Be

This has nothing to do with Spore. Sorry.

One of the funnest (see what I did there? It’s topical!) things that Meri and I do after AWA is create some kind of “mix-tape” (well, an MP3 playlist that may or may not be burned to CD for my line-in-less car audio system) of our favorite songs-from-AMVs over the last year.

I’m not going to lie and say I don’t just grab a song or two from friends when they’re the ones that have done the videos (Hell, half the time they’ve sent me the song long ago, anyway). This isn’t going to be any kind of general defense or offense one way or the other on file sharing, though.

However, at the same time, I’m not going to not try and legally pick up some music every so often. I think it’s pretty important. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. I guess it’s as much for me as it is for the artists. Regardless, my point is that the Amazon MP3 service is awesome and you should use it. Right now. Here are the couple songs I grabbed last night:

Asobi Seksu – “Walk On The Moon” (from Koop’s/Jay’s video “Twilight“) – 99 cents
DJ Spoke – “Watch Them Fall Down” (from Xavier’s/Nostromo’s video “Auriga“) – 88 cents

What was really interesting to me was that the first place I looked was still the iTunes Store. For whatever reason, that’s still where I go first. However, I absolutely will not purchase any music from there, these days, unless it’s iTunes Plus (DRM-free and higher bitrate… I think it’s 192 kbps AAC, as opposed to the standard 128 kbps AAC). The compression is better and more efficient with the AAC, so if I can get that version DRM-free, it still makes sense to me to get that above the MP3.

Sounds like the new Android phones are going to have the Amazon service built-in. Oooooh… it’s on, now.

What about you guys? Best source for music? Preferred format? I know you’ve got some thoughts, Mr. Campbell :P.

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