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J Capeling

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Blue Dragon Plus DS [Nintendo DS]
Blue Dragon Plus DS [Nintendo DS]

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Final Fantasy meets Vandal Hearts in this Japanese RPG, 25 May 2009
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
I was pleasantly surprised when greeted with the game's opening and in-game cinematics and orchestrata, which were as grand in scope as anything the DS could muster.

Blue Dragon Plus is essentially as sequel to the Xbox 360 game Blue Dragon, in which our protagonist, a small boy named Shu who possesses the ability to control phantom shadows that yield to the boy's commands, defeated the tyrannical remnant of the ancients, Nene.

The world was then apparently split into two halves and has now begun to spew bizarre `cubes' from its core. The events of Blue Dragon Plus unfold a year after its 360 predecessor's and revolve around the foreboding harbinger of a three-headed dragon shadow emerging from one of these distant `cubes'. In this outing, however - in contrast to the Xbox version it seems - there are many more characters that have the ability to summon the blue shadows of which Shu is also an adept. Let (weird shadow) battle commence!

If you're the kind of person who is on the lookout for a new handheld RPG that will take up 30 hours of your time (or if you grew up watching Pokemon or perhaps the anime upon which this game is based), you will, I assume, be more than familiar with the Japanese knack for outlandish story-telling and immersive gaming experiences. BD+ is a standard issue RPG, with all of the genres inherent flaws and advantages, but with real-time strategy elements not dissimilar to Playstation classic Vandal Hearts, and more recently seen on the DS in such games as Final Fantasy XII, thrown in for good measure. For those unfamiliar with either of these titles, movements and actions are limited by the invisible grid formation mapped onto the levels, and rather than navigating environments freely, one mobilises their different factions or characters to different squares on the map. Obviously squad positioning commands are chiefly carried out by selecting your chosen party member with the stylus and then issuing tactical commands, which is all pretty good fun as you strategically exploit boss weaknesses and play role of field marshal.

Blue Dragon is a pleasant and instantly familiar RPG, boasting above-average presentation and style. It doesn't do enough to set itself apart from the pack though, and while undoubtedly a must for Blue Dragon fans and voracious RPG devourers alike, it may not appeal to the casual gamer audience.

J Capeling


Watchmen - Tales Of The Black Freighter [DVD]
Watchmen - Tales Of The Black Freighter [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mike Smith
Price: 3.40

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great - but should you pay for it as a stand-alone item..?, 5 May 2009
Much as I respect him, Alan Moore can say what he likes this time: Watchmen was a great movie, and a great comic-book adaptation (dodgy incidental music aside). Moore is well known for distancing himself from the films created from his graphic novels after the event, sometimes with cause, other times, not so much. Watchmen however succeeded on practically every level, the film being a near panel-for-panel remake of the book version. Even where the plot diverts from the original story and uses Dr. Manhattan as a scapegoat rather than the comic's Outer Limits derived plot device (subtly referenced in the film's conclusion) of `humans unite in the face of extraterrestrial threat', it is - I maintain - an improvement. They did themselves proud with this one. The only thing left for fanboys to bemoan was the obviously necessary exclusion of Black Freighter comic-within-a-comic segment. After all, the film is already pushing three hours long.

It's true that the metafictitious Tales Of The Black Freighter comic story was a marvellous little additional plot device which nicely mirrored The Watchmen's main story and was allegorical of many of the main characters' - specifically Ozymandias' - bloody paths to becoming what they most hated, all paved with good intentions. It fitted nicely within the pages of the comic books and all was well-and-good. Tales Of The black Freighter was never likely to make it into the movie-proper though and - as much as those purist geeks may disagree - it is far from an essential part of the story, however much I may personally have liked to see it on celluloid. I was delighted, therefore, when I heard that, so dedicated were Zack Snyder and Co. to providing the closest possible rendering to the source text/art, that they would be releasing a near-coinciding straight-to-DVD animation of Black Freighter.

Surely this will appease the rabid purists, no? Well, perhaps: Tales Of The Black Freighter is, like Watchmen, a painstakingly accurate re-telling of the meta-comic on which it is based, but I'm sure that this time the complaint will be that, when no longer juxtaposed in context to the principal narrative, the once well-timed symbolism somewhat loses it's impact. They may well be right, of course, and maybe releasing this separately sold DVD - which also includes a well-conceived 1985 period-themed Under The Hood author's spotlight feature - could be construed as a little cynical when the Black Freighter itself is a mere 20 minutes long, but then if it weren't made available until bundled with the Watchmen's DVD release then it couldn't be viewed as a companion piece until long after the film had left the cinemas.

As an addendum to The Watchmen movie, Tales Of The Black Freighter entirely succeeds, I just hope to see these features included in the Watchmen's extras when the film does come to DVD, as it shouldn't really warrant separate purchase. Perhaps it could be re-inserted into the movie itself should there be a special edition or director's cut release. Please.

J Capeling


A Woman A Man Walked By
A Woman A Man Walked By
Price: 7.93

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You gotta love her, haven't you? Polly delivers the goods again., 5 May 2009
This review is from: A Woman A Man Walked By (Audio CD)
Polly inexplicably oozes cool. Everything about her is enigmatic; her French seductress cover-art, her effortless New York coolness, her erudite English charm, her ever-shifting chameleonic nature. She is a phantom, a ghost, a mystery; a global citizen, an international star, a guiding lone luminary.
But, hang on a minute: who the hell is John Parish? He doesn't sound all that rock'n'roll, does he? How has he shared the spotlight with everyone's fantasy bandmate? Sure, we accepted Thom Yorke getting to duet with her, and even understood how Josh Homme could get in on the action as a bit of rough appealing to her darker, more punk side, but John Parish? Who is he?

Well, aside from his own band, and production and collaboration with Goldfrapp, Eels, Tracy Chapman, Sparklehorse and Portishead's Adrian Utley, those with longer memories may remember PJ and his' 1996 collaboration, Dance Hall At Louse Point. Those who read liner notes and take a great interest in the world of Ms Harvey will find his dabs all over the mixing desks, guitars, drumsticks and keys of PJ's To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire?, and White Chalk.

You see John has been behind the scenes at Camp Harvey for a long time, producing, providing accompaniment, writing, or simply lending a critical ear. It's for exactly this reason that PJ Harvey & John Parish's second full collaboration isn't the sudden departure some feared - though it still bears the ironically familiar skin-shedding transformation from each record to the next - it sounds just like a PJ Harvey record: unadulterated, unalloyed, unchanged.

It is, however, one of the most raw, bilious explorations of PJ's riot grrl side, her spitting, "That woman man / I want his f*%kin' a*s!" with the same venomous, guttural drawl of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, on title track `A Woman A Man Walks By'. Indeed, there is a little of the acoustic based, quiet reflection of last year's White Chalk here, but this time it's all punk-abandon, and anarchic black-humour, recalling PJ's very earliest days.
This is some of Polly's most challenging and exploratory work, shifting as it does in pace, tone and style throughout the album: in `Pig Will Not', they seemingly turn the omnipresent rock chaos down to the mere background murmur of a record-player on mute and play an old upright school piano over the song's outro, cutting it dead long before its eventual end - like a sneering, post-rock tribute to Layla. This is a recurrent theme: the restless ADHD of genius unable to focus on one thing, bored too quickly. Far from marring this record though, it makes it one of PJ's most beguiling in years: a collection of dark, witty, and unfettered creativity, anchored by `Black Hearted Love', the record's most straightforward, classic rock track, which acts as a frame-of-reference and a `52-bunker' safe-place for them both as they run-riot in the Hall Of Fame's gardens, not caring to play nice and step inside. John Parish's influence over these recordings is a far cry from a diluted side-project, more a snapshot of PJ playful, and guided by a friend who brings out the very best of her.

J Capeling


Intentions
Intentions
Price: 18.03

5.0 out of 5 stars RiR conquer the fine thread and rock the high wire, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Intentions (Audio CD)
Despite the truly horrific cover art, label title and Norwegian rock lineage, Rumble In Rhodos are not a rubbish death/sludge metal band. Neither are they the no-wave influenced post-punk band that they were hyped as. Mercifully, they're not even a bunch of media posturing emo wannabes. No, they rock.

Intentions is an album layered with tech-rock post-hardcore of the ilk of At The Drive-In and even a little Muse in places forming the backdrop for very Blood Brothers-esque screamo, art-punk vocals. The whole package is then burnished to a frictionless sheen, baby-proofing those sharp corners of their influences, making an accessible rock record for the masses. If this were on a major label, with better cover art, and four more hook-laden tunes to complement the existing eight tracks, it would go gold. It would perform that tightrope walk and go gold while still retaining underground credibility.

It's a very good record: I'm just uploading it to my iPod now.

J Capeling


The Weather Clock
The Weather Clock

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As English as Wimbledon and Victoria sponge, 3 April 2009
This review is from: The Weather Clock (Audio CD)
Utilitarian beauty; long car rides through prefabricated estate wildernesses; a Milton Keynes bus ride on mute. The internal monologue of a train journey to a new start; the restrained, British upper-lipped sad soundtrack to a lonely heart; an eight year old's errand to the local Happy Shopper mini-mart' to buy something they wouldn't want. Watching the cat sleep in a beam of sunlight projected from a high window.

The Weather Clock is apparently influenced by British post-war architecture, and you know exactly what Antony Harding, AKA, July Skies, means by that. It's so much more though: its subtle loneliness, kerplunk childhoods. It's fragile and beautiful and bleak, yet comforting. Yes.

J Capeling


Fire in the Attic
Fire in the Attic
Price: 12.57

3.0 out of 5 stars Post-hardcore shenanigans, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Fire in the Attic (Audio CD)
There is a fine line between being 'what the current rock-scene is currently missing' and being 'anachronistic hangovers from the Nineties'.
On this gossamer high-wire teeters Fire In The Attic, the German emocore band newly fronted by a British singer and erstwhile Kenai keyboardist.

This eponymous album is, in short, musically literate, lyrically atonal, post-hardcore with an edge.

Many of you will gladly pass this up as yet more continental European, coat-tails skitchin', passé, heavy rock. But for those of you who still playlist Finch, who find time to listen to Alexisonfire, and/or Boysetsfire, for those that still make the 'sign of the devil' hand-gestures at the kind of gigs you attend, then you may find that ' while certainly not trailblazing ' Fire In The Attic (or Fireintheattic, as they should clearly be called) are creating pedestrian but competent, and occasionally 'actually quite interesting', straightforward post-hardcore. 'Nuff said.

J Capeling


Heartless
Heartless
Price: 9.52

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One Motley Crue was more than enough, thank you very much, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Heartless (Audio CD)
One moment Dear Superstar sound as dated as Guns & Roses filler tracks (albeit with a stronger vocalist) but with Metallica-esque chugging guitar riffs; the next they play Spineshank quality sub-nu-metal that, despite their flirtations with varying degrees of rock, is always predictable with rhyming-by-numbers lyrics.

There's something about this band that feels as disappointing as a supergroup. You know how musicians egotistically put together those all-star vehicles of technically superior narcissists and end up with Brides Of Destruction, Velvet Revolver, even Audioslave, because the band has no heart or, as is often the case, the songwriters that made them individually noteworthy? Well, that's what this sounds a bit like. A technically proficient band playing mainstream rock b-sides

If I put personal taste aside I could say that they have put together a relatively inoffensive, commercially produced collection of mainstream foot-tappers' I'd be ashamed of myself though. Still, this is a hit-void by anyone's yardstick.

J Capeling


More Sad Hits
More Sad Hits
Price: 13.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars low-key classic, 3 April 2009
This review is from: More Sad Hits (Audio CD)
From the ashes of much lauded, shoe-gaze-meets-Slint, late Eighties alt-rockers, Galaxie 500, begrudgingly rose unwilling folk-pop duo, Damon and Naomi. Despite insisting upon a departure from the music scene from which they'd become disillusioned, ever-faithful Galaxie 500 producer Kramer, bullied them out of hiding to record the songs he always knew they were secretly writing for themselves. When they finally agreed, it was to make a farewell album and the erstwhile rhythm section of `500 took to Kramer's home studio, laid out the bones for him and let him do the rest. The result is one of the most influential psychedelic pop records of the past two decades, garnering praise and imitation from the likes of Robert Wyatt and Neutral Milk Hotel. More Sad Hits is an album of playful yet melancholic pop tunes with a fervent focus upon pure song-writing and a dismissive attitude to the rock-posturing that so often accompanies it. Simultaneously sparse, yet densely populated with Kramer's best production work to date, it alternately plumbs the depths of human sorrow before soaring to the occasional vertiginous high. Since its first release on Kramer's own label, Shimmy Disc, it has ensured Damon and Naomi have been kept busy with six follow-up records and has been re-released by Sub Pop and now Damon and Naomi's own label 20|20|20. This is your third chance to bag this 16-year-old album and certainly the best 16-year-wait of the year.

J Capeling


Bring Me Your Love
Bring Me Your Love
Price: 15.28

0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More staid than Staind, 3 April 2009
This review is from: Bring Me Your Love (Audio CD)
Post-hardcore outfit, Alexisonfire's guitarist and dulcet vocalist, Dallas Green, goes all folksy and acoustic for a second time. Yes, a little bit akin to a less cheerfully banal version of Jack Johnson.
The melancholic, hauntingly beautiful song-smithery and diversity of his range (coming from a `metal' background) are inevitable subject matter for most reviewers, but if you found Alexisonfire surprisingly generic and unwilling to take risks then the very same can be said of Green's solo recording. This is straight up, classically performed, gleamingly produced pop folk.
At times he sounds not dissimilar to Gary Barlow and the subject matter herein isn't unbecoming of Take That's front man either. This may intend to be Green's personal, reflective side-project that shows him in the light of a multi-faceted musical genius - but to me it is almost the kind of thing that saw Belinda Carlisle going mainstream after starting out in The Germs.
It kind of feels like the sort of solo album that someone out of Nickleback or Staind might have composed.
It's a good example of its genre, I add begrudgingly, and Green is unquestionably talented, having picked up the Juno award for Alternative Album Of The Year for his debut record. But alternative?! It just feels a bit too much like pop music to me, thanks.

J Capeling
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In Between Words
In Between Words
Price: 10.90

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One man's exploration of orchestral sub-space, non-sound and daily acoustics - Zzz, 3 April 2009
This review is from: In Between Words (Audio CD)
A number of my friends have suggested that I have ADHD. I've laughed about it with them and they have looked back at me, ashen-faced, silently insisting upon the gravity of their words. Well I don't believe in ADHD and I challenge anyone with even a slightly active mind to attempt to listen to this record throughout - free from pharmaceutical aids or the effects of a particularly peaceful orgasmic aftermath - without skipping at least one track.

I challenge you not to feel a little ripped off when you realise you've just spent your hard-earned cash on a CD of `found sounds', background noise and spatial acoustics. The first three tracks are practically one long synthesised, soothing drone. Tracks five and six threaten to turn into actual compositions, but never do.

I'm starting to think that Christopher's second outing is perhaps a trick being played on music journalists who are desperate to hold on to their credibility and terrified of missing the point; of not `getting' the artistic importance of this fenn-like soundscape. It's beyond mere pretentiousness to the extent that I'm inclined to say that `I see what he's doing', but I'm not sure that I could actually qualify that statement with anything. Suffice to say that I know what he thinks he's saying, but I'm not sure that he is.

To be fair, though not particularly reassuring, it's not in any way offensive: it's a peaceful, calming, womb-audiosphere in which I could happily embrace a sky-blue tinted, Benzedrine hangover. It's reminiscent of the soundtrack to Myst or Riven: those early Nineties, alternate reality wilderness games on Mac and PC. I can't remember their actual soundtracks, but this seems a good fit. I just can't actually see anyone actually listening to it. But then, that is entirely the point: it's about what you hear, not what you listen to.
I guess he made his point, after all.

J Capeling


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