It’s summer. Straight from my vegetable garden (semi-destroyed by the recent floods) I got my own tomatoes… taste like the sun. Some fresh gnocchi to go and we are in business. The only problem is I ate all of them… in one sitting.
You need some good olive oil, a little garlic, baby onions. Brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until they start turning mushy and the juice blends with the oil (1). Turn off the heat and add some fresh basil (chopped). Add the cooked gnocchi and sauté (2). Serve (3). If you like cheese on your pasta I suggest grated goat cheese.
The other day I spent a couple of hours playing this little game called Stories Untold. It wasn’t half bad.
S.U. is one of those games that leans heavily on the nostalgia factor. Look at the poster (designed by Stranger things artist Kyle Lambert… no one would have EVER guessed that!), it’s pure 1980s modern antiques. And I don’t mean this in a negative way. Obviously it’s a dish best served to those who have actually tasted the original thing. I actually had a tv like that and a computer like that and played textual adventures like the one at the core of the tale. It’s the 30-year cycle (some say it’s 20 or 40 but hey, let’s not argue sociology here)… I’ve always liked that period of my life but now you get the feeling that, finally, everyone is getting it; now we are all big on the 1980s, shoulder pads and all!
The game consists of four chapters, the first three apparently isolated but ending up connected through the fourth. The story isn’t actually as clever as it wants to be, albeit clever enough for younger people who probably haven’t played/read/watched as many stories as someone my age has. Nevertheless the execution does have exceptional charms. The aesthetics, the sounds, the music are a labour of love. And most importantly the gaming itself. The four chapters are four distinct gameplay experiences, you get to do different things in each of them. It’s a mix of text-based adventure, practical simulation (the second chapter reminded me of oldies like Life or Death), walking simulator, and more.
It’s cheap, short and sweetly creepy, definitely time well spent.
And finally we get back to more familiar grounds, England, to delve into the elegantly ethereal and intimately sensual world of miss Rosie Lowe. Just look at the cover…
She is SO British. The damp dress, the look that you don’t get to see but you know is staring right back at you, poised, fierce. And her music is just like that, tough, personal yet capable of creating a great emphatic bond, to communicate feelings, emotions.
Take Lifeline, the very first song from her second album YU. It has got these swooping yet chopped synth stabs (very “Hypna”, if it was ever a thing), her voice unflinching yet with a vulnerability you can hear at the end of each line. And the delay and the vocoder come and go as if they wanted to mimic the faltering conviction of each statement… “it could all be so simple…. but.”. She is scary, she is asking herself, as well as us, “why… you?!” (…YU). And the whole album is about YU. The songwriting is gorgeous and the production is stellar. She goes from the funk/pop of The way (great rhythm parts all over, just like in the previous Control, kick drums you just can’t listen to with earphones) to the dirty R&B of Birdsong (which to me sounds like 90’s Prince, with the sultry male choirs of songs like Emale… but she was probably more inspired by D’Angelo’s Voodoo!). And in between you have all these moody yet chirpy pop songs that make you feel all serious only to make fun of you for feeling that way (“You’re so lovely, but you’re dehydrated. May be a genius, but you’re not hydrated”).
I may not be a genius, but she is. Best served in a dark room (or a garden on a summer night) with a side of, very, large speakers.
After Austria we go to Japan and my second favourite j-pop (?!?) band right now: ポルカドットスティングレイ (Polkadot Stingray)!
What would you get if you crossed LADYBABY with Red Hot Chili Peppers?! To me, Polkadot Stingray is kawaii funk/rock, noisy but catchy, rowdy but elegant. They are young but technically very proficient, great rhythm section, great guitar playing (just like my 一番好きなバンド, ゲスの極み乙女 [Gesu No Kiwami Otome]).
Their second album is called 有頂天 (uchoten), “ecstasy”, and it’s a very urban affair. Songs about love given/taken/broken/fought over, like in funky highlight パンドラボックス (Pandora’s Box), or modern city life, like the aptly titled 化けものだらけの街 (“a city full of monsters“) (stylised as “City Life” for the western markets). The songwriting is good (the previous 全知全能 had much greater consistency but sophomores are always harder) and the playing has… lots of traction. A great listen-while-you’re-driving kind of album!
“Ein Leben ohne Grenzen Eine Freedom zu verschenken Eine Freiheit, nicht zu denken I better open my eyes Ich mach’ die Augen auf”
I’ve been listening to lots of very good stuff lately (right now I have Erika de Casier’s Essentials on deck) but so far my favourites from 2019 aren’t new personal discoveries but rather three new offerings from acts that I already knew and loved.
First we got the new album from Austrian genius kids Bilderbuch, Vernissage my heart. An ideal continuation of 2018 Mea Culpa, it’s so obnoxiously inventive… can’t they just make two songs alike?! For once!
Although the record doesn’t have disarmingly perfect songs such as Gibraltar or Checkpoint, it’s a very charming thing. You get the opening triptych of Kids Im Park / Frisbeee /Led Go that take you somewhere weird: heavy guitars, shouted choruses, low-fi vocal samples, oblique structures. They are not going for catchy here but rather multifaceted. Then you get the catchier stuff: Ich hab Gefühle, Vernissage and Europa 22. And here is what I like about Maurice Ernst & Co., the rhythms, the (keyboard) riffs, the bass… the bass!!! Funksters from Kremsmünster… yeah right!
No, it’s real. You listen to the verse of Vernissage my heart and it’s driven by just drums and bass, groovy and melodic, it feels like you don’t need anything else. And you don’t. But they give it to you anyway, like guitarist Michael Krammer does. What he plays is so subtle, smart, so bent on servicing the song that it would almost be self-effacing if not for the fact that you can’t help but notice every single note he churns out of his guitar.
Lyrics can be silly, like Frisbee, but some of them, like Europa 22, can really resonate.
Bilderbuch is beautiful soundscapes that you can make your own. I was listening to this record in the snows of the Dolomites and I’ll listen to it again lying on a beach somewhere this summer. Equally appropriate, equally enticing.
Yesterday night we played the scenario Astral Alchemy from the Streets of Arkhamexpansion for the first time and nailed it right away. We did play with a good (average?!) team (Finn Edwards, Ashcan Pete, Tommy Muldoon and Agnes Baker) and we did have good rolls but I didn’t expect it to go so smoothly. That made me wonder about the MoM difficulty rating system a bit… I don’t know, there have been 3-stars that we failed, more or less, spectacularly (like Behind Closed Doors or Murder on the Stargazer Majestic) and 5-stars that were relatively painless. I know that it might all just boil down to luck but I think that sometimes it’s the internal logic, the writers’ assumptions about what you should take away from each clue or encounter, that makes things difficult.
*** Spoiler alert ***
I remember that in MotSM we couldn’t really grab the meaning of the clues. Some were vague, some were ambiguous, some even conflicting. That might be the whole point of the story but I think you do need some thread that, after exploring everything, helps you paint a clear picture. Instead we failed, or rather I remember I failed, the “final question” quite hard.
On the other hand, AA was quite straightforward: list of things to grab. Once you got them you’d know. Deliver. The end. Lots of monsters since the very beginning (that’s where the luck factor kicks in) but you felt like you knew what you were doing. Probably too straightforward?!
I guess my point is either some scenarios are rated too harshly (like AA) or some are rated too lightly (like MotSM). So, don’t trust those 5-point stars!
I’ve finally completed my gaming table! Almost three months of hard work but… here it is in all its home-made glory.
I had the idea when some friends from my gaming group, “The Starjammers”, told me I should have a proper table. So, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our merry band, I decided to buy one… or not. I couldn’t afford it. So I built one.
I took inspiration from observing real gaming tables, from GeekChic, Rathskellers, Ultimate gaming and many more. I wanted it to be as geeky as possible so cup holders, dice holders, lights, sounds, the works. Obviously, as I am no carpenter, I thought I’d use common wood, not the expensive polished ones, and then line it with (fake) leather.
At first, I hadn’t planned to add the built-in monitor (more expensive, big hassle to cut, line, set up, etc.) but then, while I was working in secret, one of the guys sent me a picture, innocently stating – “look at this table with the built-in monitor! It would be great to have that!”… Obviously I had to back go and… cut some more!
What I decided to do differently from other tables was adding that vertical structure on one side. We mainly play RPGs so I want a natural DM’s screen. Furthermore the screen could house the speakers and function as a bottle holder and bookcase.
Everyone was excited by the table… As well they should be! It’s either that or lose a ton of levels!