The 'Shroom:Issue 108/Palette Swap

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Director's Notes

Written by: FunkyK38 (talk)

Issue100 funkyk38.png

Happy March, everyone! I hope that it finds you safe and happy wherever you may be!

This month is a rather quiet one after our last special issue, no surprise. We have a fantastic selection of sections for you all to read, so please don’t let me keep you from scrolling down!

Additionally, there are a couple things I need to clarify about applying for sections for Palette Swap, especially for Featured Sprite and What's on the Box? These two sections are now being reworked to solely focus on fan-made sprites and box art. So, if you're a sprite-maker or would like to analyze fan-made mods and box art, please consider applying for either spot! The decision last year for Yoshi876 (talk) and I to step down from the sections was made for this reason, to bring more fan-made art into Palette Swap. So again, if you love making fan art, please give it a thought and maybe send us an application with a sample?

I also have updates for you about our two contests from last month’s issue, so do check those out as well! As always, if you’d like to apply to write for us, please PM me with any questions, or PM Henry Tucayo Clay (talk) with your completed application, and we’ll get you started!

~FunkyK38


Legend of Zelda Music Contest

Due to some concerns and comments from contestants, the music contest deadline has been extended 1 month! All entries must be posted to the official board in the forums no later than April 16th to be eligible for voting! No exceptions!

Pokémon Art Contest

Our art contest has been wrapped up! Please check the Fan Creations thread on the forums for the official voting board later today to vote for your favorite entry! Remember to read the rules before you vote!

Section of the Month

Well, that didn’t take long. Congratulations to Walkazo (talk) for taking the top spot with The Adventures of Little Mario! Thank you everyone for voting, and please remember to throw a vote our way again this month as well!

Palette Swap SECTION OF THE MONTH
Place Section Votes % Writer
1st The Adventures of Little Mario 10 40% Walkazo
2nd This Month in Albums 4 16% Crocodile Dippy
3rd Game Mods 3 12% Baby Luigi
3rd 8-Bit Amphitheater 3 12% Stooben Rooben
3rd Composer Spotlight 3 12% Crocodile Dippy
Art Sections

Learn how to put some Paper Mario in your mods!
[read more]

Yoshi876 updates his list of fan projects!
[read more]
Music Sections

Walkazo tells you about...
[read more]



The Adventures of Little Mario

Drawn by: Walkazo (talk)

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Game Mods

Written by: Baby Luigi (talk)

I had been busy with modding with the past couple of weeks. New exciting developments are coming to the Wii U modding scene, such as a full-blown emulator for the Wii U, called cemu. Check out the thread if you want to learn more about it and its developments. Currently, it's in an extremely early stage, so don't expect full-playability of any game, and don't expect it to look nice either. Here's a beautiful example of Mario Kart 8 on it. "Beautiful" meaning that...uh, well at least it can run the game! Can't wait to help upload images for the wiki with this beauty once it's finished with development.

For now, I'll talk about a far smaller scale mod from a last gen game. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is one of the first games that I knew about that can be altered. Many tools were developed for it, but the most versatile tool that had the most extensive developments is, by far, Brawl Box. Fortunately, the Wii has a bunch of similar file formats across it, so it works across many familiar games such as Mario Kart Wii and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

This month, I'll talk about a small model import. Paper Mario over Mr. Game & Watch, made by Starwaffle of the Legendary Smash Team. It coincides well with a recent announcement of the new game of the Paper Mario series, regardless if the game was initially well-received or not. Even so, Paper Mario is a highly popular character, and he's requested often for a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros. games.

ShroomImage GW PaperMario1.png

What makes this particular hack so special? Well, Mr. Game & Watch is an incredibly difficult character to replace. Not much hacks of him exist, and most of them are composed of simply recolors. And his model is flattened. Wait, he's not a sprite? Yep, he's a flattened 3D model with key-framed animations like any other character, just a bit more...sprity. Here's what he looks like if you preview him in BrawlBox:

He's T-posed and facing directly at you.

See, 3D model right there. He faces to the left just for the three-quarters front effect that you see in the Paper Mario games. Animation bones control the width of this character. I can't really demonstrate it with BrawlBox, as the animations appear a bit wonked up from loading FitGameWatchMotionEtc and may require more editing just to display correctly in BrawlBox.

Paper Mario uses a Save Block as his forward aerial. It beats me why he uses a Save Block to bonk his opponents, I guess he's so confident about himself that saving is for squares, literally, and he'll gladly wall of pain you just to prove a point. He uses his Hammers for various attacks, either a Super Hammer or a regular Wooden Hammer; too bad he doesn't use Ultra Hammer at all, because that would be his most effective hammer. It isn't known exactly what boots he uses, but that's irrelevant, since none of his moveset involves his feet. Stars fly out when Paper Mario does a fully charged Oil Panic, probably something that Kirby dreams of having an attack that strong.

Derp.

There's not really much else I can say, because, even the hack is probably the most impressive Mr. Game & Watch hack that's not a port for another character (*cough cough Shadow ports*), he still plays exactly like Mr. Game & Watch, just in a different appearance. You have to give credit to the authors of this particular hack, moveset changing is a slow and tedious process, and it takes a ton of effort to even make tweaks. This is not even taking time bug-testing, balancing and creating new animations in mind. You have to work with what you got, and not many people have the time and energy to create new movesets for completely new characters.

If you read my section, well thank you! If you want to offer any suggestions on what I should cover, drop a message to me on my talk page, PM me on the forums, or drop me a message any where I can read, such as my Steam profile or my deviantart profile. There's still a bunch of untapped mods out there I'd love to discuss about, even if I never got the chance to play their source game, namely Skyrim or other games I may never heard about. If I haven't, I'll research the mods on YouTube and other websites. If not, look forward to my next section in April!



Ongoing Fan Projects

Written by: Yoshi876 (talk)

User Thread Description
Umi Sonoda Smg2daisy's Gallery A thread where Umi Sonoda shows off some drawings that she has done. The recent update includes a mini comic.
SiFi Mario Boards Dinosaur Comics A thread where SiFi shows off some Dinosaur Comics that he has done. The recent update was made to Edo's new forum theme: Photography Raptor.
Solemn I'm building the complete Peach's Castle, inside and out, in Minecraft A thread where Solemn shows off some screenshots of the Peach's Castle recreation that they have created in Minecraft. I really recommend checking this out.
Photography Raptor "Excuse me, I may have just arted" A thread where Photography Raptor shows off some art that he has done. The recent updates include a drawing of the Terraria merchant and nurse.
Magikrazy Magikrazy does Paint things A thread where Magikrazy shows off some drawings that he has done on Paint. The recent update includes drawings to do with anime that he has watched.
Crocodile Dippy Crocodile Dippy's Album Collection A thread where Crocodile Dippy shows off her very impressive album collection.
Chara The Mariofan Draws Things Thread A thread where Chara shows off some drawings that they have done. The recent updates includes drawings of Undertale characters and locations, as well as user requests.
SuperDoom Game Adventures - My 'New' Webcomic A webcomic series designed by SuperDoom, documenting Mario and Luigi's travels through time to save the universe alongside other Nintendo characters and Sonic.
Stargatedalek Stars custom figures and repaints A thread where Stargatedalek shows off some plush pigeons that they have created.
Rayquaza Meta Knight's art thread A thread where Rayquaza shows off some art that they have done. The recent updates includes drawings of Pokémon, as well as users as Pokémon.
BEEEEEAAARRRS Stuff I make - ill fix all the broken links soon A thread where BEEEEEAAARRRS shows off some art that he has done. The recent updates include a comic storytelling of the a playthrough of the game The Oregon Trail.
The Pyro Guy The Pyro Guy's 3D art thread (with some 2D thrown in) A thread where The Pyro Guy shows off some 3D and 2D art. The current updates include him doing user requests.
The Pyro Guy MarioWiki: Saga and MarioWiki: Stories A thread where The Pyro Guy shows off his comic series about the wiki.
Niiue Niiue's Sprites A thread where Niiue shows off some sprites that they have created. The recent update includes a sprite of a Wallop.
Stargatedalek Stars fan art A thread where Stargatedalek shows off some drawings that they have done, the recent update includes a dinosaur, Touhou and a bug.
FunkyK38 The 'Shroom's Zeldamon Art Contest! A thread where users show off drawings related to either The Legend of Zelda or Pokémon.

Mario's Boombox

Written by: Walkazo (talk)

“Let me tell you about Homestuck.”
meme

In honour of its (hopefully) imminent finale, I'm dedicating this month's Boombox to the long-running webcomic Homestuck, by Andrew Hussie. Now I'm sure many of you are thinking "what does a webcomic have to do with VG music?" and the answer is "a lot". If you're unfamiliar with it, in a nutshell, Homestuck is a story about a bunch of human and alien teens getting caught up in the business of destroying and creating new universes, with the means of said universal reproduction being a construction-simulation/action-adventure computer game. The characters' existence is game-like from the start, so when installing the game allows them to physically alter each others' houses over the Internet and fight evil monsters to level up and collect building grist, it's no big D - they've already had plenty of experience fiddling with hold item storage modes, having turn-based battles with their caregivers, and other such 21st century magic realism shenanigans. And not only is Homestuck like a video game in-story, but it's also presented like an oldschool text-based game at times, with the links to the next panel being presented as action commands. As the comic went on, it became less focused on the video game constructs within its storytelling, but in exchange it became increasingly elaborate in its use of media, fully-animated videos, interactive Flash panels, and even sequences of actual playable games. Not to mention the upcoming video game spinoff, Hiveswap, and also the fact that a few Homestuck characters were surprisingly featured in the now-unavailable Namco High dating sim game.

Forget Fi - in Homestuck, one character's spirit guide is himself fused with a dead red bird and run through with a sword.

Now that Homestuck's video game cred is established, the next matter is the music. Thanks to the comic's fanbase, there are over two dozen official albums of music, much of which appears in the animated cutscenes. On top of that, there's countless hours of unofficial fan-made stuff, from original works, to parody songs, to all manner of AMVs and PMVs setting both canon and fanon pics and clips to music, and even some live-action cosplay music videos (CMVs) too. This time, I'm just going to focus on the most video gamey content: the background music of the aforementioned playable portions of Homestuck, starting with "Doctor". This lovely tune ushered in Act 4 of the comic with a fully interactive walkaround Flash, where you control the main protagonist, John, as he explores the land, talks to salamanders and hits enemy imps with his giant hammers. It's not a hard game (if you somehow run out of HP you respawn immediately), but still pretty fun, and the track accompanying it remains one of my favourite pieces of Homestuck music, and is popular with the fandom as a whole. One of the numerous remixes of it, "Planet Healer", was even used for John's second platformer adventure later on.

The first walkaround, however, happened much earlier, and while it didn't have background music by default, clicking on the piano plays a haunting refrain, and an Easter Egg lets you switch into "Trickster Mode", which results in "Harlequin" playing as the background music while you float around the screen. Even before that initial platformer segment, the first minigame was a turn-based "battle" between John (playable) and his Dad, with "Showtime" as the background music. A 16-Bit remix is later used when John tries (and fails) to battle an imp in his house, and the aforementioned piano tune was yet another version of "Showtime", while "Harlequin" gets a few remixes as well, including a rock version that plays during a silly pogo ride minigame. All the other main kids have their own "strife" battles too, featuring the songs "Aggrieve", "Beatdown (Strider Style)", "Dissension (Original)" and "Sunslammer". While the second group of human kids introduced later in the comic don't have this sort of minigames as the first group, there is one point-and-click puzzle adventure, featuring "Rain", "Ruins (With Strings)" and the recurring "Elevatorstuck" (so-named because it sounds like mellow elevator music).

Aside from the humans, Homestuck also features a cast of aliens from a species called Trolls, and they have a few walkaround adventures too. The first is called "Alterniabound" (as is its corresponding album), named after the actual game EarthBound, to which it bears some similarities and shoutouts. Three trolls are playable, with corresponding leitmotifs for each one: "Karkat's Theme", "Terezi's Theme" and "Vriska's Theme", and by hitting "Ctrl T" (or "Ctl Alt T" if that doesn't work, and "? (Alt) T" on Macs), you can go to a sound test room with these and lots of other tracks, as well as sprites of the four Earthbound kids. This Flash was followed by two more, "Kanaya: Return to the core" and "Equius: Seek the Highbl00d". The former includes two more Trolls' themes, "Darling Kanaya" and "Eridan's Theme", as well as a new strife theme, "Nautical Nightmare", and a single bonus track in the secret room (to Ness and friends' chagrin), "Heir Conditioning", which is especially gamey as it's a remix of two Touhou songs ("Beloved Tomboyish Daughter" and "Solar Sect of Mystic Wisdom ~ Nuclear Fusion"). Meanwhile, all the other songs in these two walkarounds get their own gaming cred due to the mere fact that they were made by Toby Fox of Undertale fame - in fact, one of the bonus tracks in Alterniabound is "MeGaLoVania", first heard in an Earthbound hack Fox did, then here, then in a proper Homestuck animated sequence, and finally in Undertale. Anyway, the final of these three platforming adventures has "Horschestra (STRONG version)" and "Nepeta's Theme" as the playable trolls' walkaround leitmotifs, before it takes a turn for the unsettling with "Blackest Heart (With Honks)" and goes downhill from there once the cutscene kicks in.

And just when you think you've escaped, there's another trilogy of playable Troll stuff, collectively known as "Openbound" and coded in HTML5 instead of Flash for a change. It's got a hella lot of songs, but unlike all the other playable bits, the Homestuck Wikia actually documents them properly for a change, so I'll just let them do the full track list for ya. However, special shout-outs do go to "Fuchsia Ruler", "Violet Prince" and "Indigo Heir" as my faves of each part. But as good as a lot of the tracks are, and as interesting as the dialogue in the walkarounds can be, the most fun I had "playing" Homestuck was this page, which lets you remix your own sick beats. A later Flash also lets you play the flute pitifully, but it's more funny than musical - still worth mentioning, tho. A few other pages let you play excerpts from songs one at a time, but as liberal as I've been with my use of "game" for the things I've talked about so far, I feel like it'd be stretching credibility to the breaking point to include these ones too. Plus, I've talked long enough already, so maybe next time. Until then, adios toreadors.


This Month in Albums

Written by: Crocodile Dippy (talk)

Here we are again, covering all the best and worst albums released since last month's issue! Again, this is all just my opinion, so if you feel you may enjoy an artist that I disliked, or aren't into the artists I do enjoy, then by all means, continue as you are. You are entitled to your wrong opinion just as I am, so listen (or don't) away! Anyway, I figured I'd give a bit of a clarification on how my weirdo scoring system works, so I'll offer a rough equivalent of how each of them would compare to a numerical scoring system, which I tend to avoid even in my video game reviews:

  • Horrible: 0, 1, 2
  • Bad: 3, 4
  • Meh: 5, 6
  • Decent: 7, 8
  • Great!: 9, 10

THERE YOU GO! Problem solved! Now get to reading, you silly buggers.

THIS MONTH IN ALBUMS: February 15th – March 1st
KnowWheretoRun.png Barry Adamson Barry Adamson may be best known for his work with Magazine and The Bad Seeds, but his solo career has always been a point of interest to me for his very varied, often conceptual approach to songwriting. One of Adamson's greatest strengths has been structuring his albums to feel like a soundtrack, which I thought his last record, Dreams of a Life, and of course his magnum opus, the 1988 Moss Side Story, both did beautifully, but this one focuses on more conventional song structure and pop appeal. Not necessarily bad, we get some really nice tracks out of this approach, including the wonderfully jazzy "Death Takes a Holiday", the beautifully romantic "Claw and Wing", and the harsh punk rhythms of "Up in the Air". The haunting, Film noir-esque lyrical themes are still in place, and the album has a really nice flow to it that still carries some elements of his previous conceptual work, but I can't help but feel that Know Where to Run is missing the same sort of deviousness and unconventional attitude that I love from his previous work. Still, it's a fine enough album on its own merits, so if you don't know much about Adamson, this is probably a good entry point.
Know Where to Run
Britain.png United Kingdom
Post-punk, experimental rock, jazz fusion
Central Control
Decent Favourite Track(s): "Death Takes a Holiday", "Claw and Wing", "Up in the Air"
PaintingWith.png Animal Collective Animal Collective's previous Centipede Hz was considered a bit of a letdown to many fans, which I agree with insofar that it wasn't terrible, it was just... not up to the same scratch as the experimental work they've featured on previous records, especially Strawberry Jam. Painting With sees Animal Collective attempt to return to the psychedelic pop stylings of Merriweather Post Pavilion instead... without the same sort of finesse, cohesiveness, or intrigue. This album really does feel like a midlife crisis sort of record, since the songs on this album are just so unenthusiastic compared to previous outings, with the quirky song structures feeling so much less bizarrely catchy and the singing being very uninvested in comparison... in fact, some songs like "Natural Selection" and "Hocus Pocus" have this really irritating syncopated vocal melody that is just infuriating to listen to. The album's worst crime is that so much of the album is just so boring despite sharing the same space as some genuinely brilliant pop songs like "FloriDada", "Golden Gal", and "Bagels in Kiev". Yea, that is somewhat of a silver lining, but honestly, it just makes the album all the more depressing to me since it makes me wish those songs were on a more consistently good album instead.
Painting With
UnitedStates.png United States
Psychedelic pop, art pop
Domino
Meh Favourite Track(s): "FloriDada", "Golden Gal"
ForAllKings.png Anthrax It's been a while since Anthrax have released anything that's really exploded in my face the same way their 1980s output used to, but this album is probably as close as I'm going to get. It's not quite up to the same scratch as Spreading the Disease or Among the Living, but it's a passable metal record all the same, having the blisteringly rapid guitar melodies, blasting drum beats, and soaring vocals I love Anthrax for. Lyrically, the album is focused primarily on religious fundamentalism and global political corruption, handled with far more tact than fellow thrash metal giants Slayer and Megadeth, but it does lead to some fairly cringeworthy, melodramatic lines especially on the tracks "Blood Eagle Wings" and "Zero Tolerance". But Anthrax's musicality is still in tact for the most part, even seeing them dig into a bit of prog on the track "Breathing Lightning", and groove metal on "All of Them Thieves", although the album loses a bit of steal towards the latter half when the songs lose their finesse in favour of being blindly aggressive. As I said, it's passable, but you're probably better sticking to their earlier records.
For All Kings
UnitedStates.png United States
Thrash metal
Megaforce, Nuclear Blast
Meh Favourite Track(s): "You Gotta Believe", "Breathing Lightning"
InMyMind.png BJ the Chicago Kid I don't know, this kid has potential, but as it stands he's really not doing much to stand out in the game. The album does offer some degree of diversity in style, alternating between R&B ballads, soul-infused anthems, and hip hop bangers, but... what R&B artist isn't doing that these days? I'm sorry, that's a really petty criticism... there's nothing inherently wrong with the instrumentation by any stretch, he has a decent enough ear for musicality and song structure to keep most of the songs interesting and distinct from each other, even the piano ballads which are most often the weakest links on neo-soul albums. But where the album really falls off for me are the lyrics, which are just so cringe-worthy, particularly on the tracks "Church", "Love Inside", "The Resume", and "Crazy". He also features this downtuned distorted voice in the songs "Love Inside" and "Heart Crush" which just sound completely ridiculous, and take away from the romantic and sometimes religious nature of the songs. I feel like BJ needs to work on his lyricism a bit more to really stand out.
In My Mind
UnitedStates.png United States
Contemporary R&B, hip hop, neo-soul
Motown
Meh Favourite Track(s): "Wait 'Til the Morning", "Home"
VroomVroom.png Charli XCX I was really getting into the electroclash direction Charli was moving towards on her previous release, Sucker, but she seems to have completely tossed away any semblance of raw punk aggression in favour of a more hip hop-flavoured direction. Can Charli, as a white British woman, rap? ......I guess that's a question for the fans to answer, but keep in mind what happened the last time a white woman from the Commonwealth decided she could rap. But anyway, in my honest opinion, Charli is not making a good case for her rapping abilities on this EP, coming across as an insufferable Nicki Minaj-lite with a thick London accent, but what of the music? This EP was produced by Sophie, and his watermark is everywhere on the record, especially on the track "Paradise" which sounds exactly like something Sophie would do in his solo career, which therefore begs the question; is this even Charli's EP at this point? It feels like she's sacrificed a fair bit of her identity as a musician on this album, which is a shame, since I was starting to get into her work. Maybe her next full-length will be better.
Vroom Vroom (EP)
Britain.png United Kingdom
Electropop
Vroom Vroom
Bad Favourite Track(s): "Secret (Ssh)"
ThisUnrulyMessIveMade.png Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Rapper/Producer duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have had to deal with a fair bit of controversy over the years due to suggestions that they're attempts at preaching civil rights has felt hollow and appropriative, more like he's trying to get social justice cred rather than actually attempt to change anything. I can see where they're coming from, but I do think they're well-meaning, just... kind of inept. This album is no different, delivering in-your-face preachiness that I expect to see out of a Hopsin record... without the same sort of mean-spirited bullshit that comes with Hopsin, thankfully. "Kevin" and "Need To Know" (aside from Chance the Rapper's amazing verse) are particularly grating for this purpose, and the finale track, the 8-minute "White Privilege II", is just so overblown and clumsily written that it takes away from the detailed message he's trying to get through. The duo have always been far better at delivering pop anthems, hence the longevity of "Thrift Shop", and this album certainly has those, especially "Downtown", a wonderfully catchy funk-rap tune about mopeds with honest-to-God features from old school hip hop icons Grandmaster Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee. But the majority of the album lacks subtlety and the duo are still not brilliant at presenting serious issues in their lyrics without feeling condescending.
This Unruly Mess I've Made
UnitedStates.png United States
Pop rap
Macklemore LCC
Meh Favourite Track(s): "Downtown", "Let's Eat"
UltimateCareII.png Matmos Experimental duo Matmos have been one of the most inventive sample-based artists in music at the moment, even being involved in two of my favourite Björk albums, Vespertine and Medúlla. building their music around very unconventional sources such as surgical noises, a crayfish's neural activity, and on this album, a washing machine. The sole title track on the album, running at 38 minutes, is a montage of sequenced sounds of a washing machine's spin cycle, with a few synthesiser noises thrown in here and there, and I am absolutely loving it. While the project sounds like some arty farty bullshit that only uppity hipsters convinced of their own superior intellect would enjoy - and it certainly is partially that - the samples are arranged in a wonderful way to be as rhythmic and catchy as possible. I'd almost call the progression of the track jazz-like, alternating between distinctive melodies and long-winded free-flowing passages, and the result is a lovely, if not unconventional, adventure. Fantastic experimental record.
Ultimate Care II
UnitedStates.png United States
Electronic, experimental
Thrill Jockey
Great! Favourite Track(s): "Ultimate Care II"
ILikeItWhenYouSleep.png The 1975 The 1975? More like The 1985, with how eager this band is to copy synth-soul and new wave music of the 1980s, for better or for worse. The title of the album made me initially think the band were trying to be romantic but instead came off as obliviously creepy, but no, emotional abuse and lust is a recurring theme on this bloated record, running at over an hour long... with enough ideas to maybe last 30 minutes. I appreciate upbeat pop music with really depressing or sinister lyrics, it's a great juxtaposition for those who can do it well - Elvis Costello was famous for this, and Everything Everything's Get to Heaven last year was a phenomenal exercise in discussing world issues behind a veil of joyful pop tunes - but The 1975 lack the same sort of finesse and originality that these bands employ. So many songs are so soaked in reverb and effects that they bleed into each other, often with the instrumental uniqueness of a Phil Collins B-side, and whatever cleverness there is in a few of the tracks' lyrics - especially "She's American" - are lost when songs begin to repeat lines and topical themes. At over an hour, this album just drags on and on with very little to maintain interest, both in terms of catchiness and on artistic merit. Just go listen to that Everything Everything album, it's far better.
I Like It When You Sleep
Britain.png United Kingdom
Pop rock
Interscope, Dirty Hit
Bad Favourite Track(s): "She's American"
NeedYourLight.png Ra Ra Riot This is such a bloody sugary album, it's absurd. Part 80s synthpop revivalism, part 60s baroque pop revivalism, all frustratingly vapid and safe. I won't say there's anything particularly offensive about this album outside the over-the-top juvenile nature of its lyrics and production, but this certainly isn't going to be making any waves in the indie-pop scene. Everything on this album is just so... clean and tidy, it feels so clinical and sterile, to the point where so many songs - despite their fairly layered instrumentation - start to lose any distinct identity. I listened to this about four times to see if I was missing anything, but I've barely taking anything from these tracks at all. This actually is a good representation of the "twee" aesthetic so many indie bands flock to that puts me off otherwise well-performed music, because after a certain point it all begins to feel like a bunch of 12-year olds forcefully trying to make you smile when you're just not into it. If you're eager to hear musically dense, joyful psych-pop about bouncy castles, getting hugs, coming of age, etc., then you can do worse than this, but I'm just really not feeling it.
Need Your Light
UnitedStates.png United States
Baroque pop, psychedelic pop
Barsuk
Meh Favourite Track(s): "Water", "Bouncy Castles"
DiginDeep.png Bonnie Raitt I'm always iffy on aged artists like Bonnie Raitt that don't budge an inch with their style throughout their long, expansive careers. I understand her foundation is and always will be blues-rock, but it feels like she could be doing more to expand on that to keep her newer work interesting, since there's only so much nice guitar and electric organ solos can get you before your output just starts to bleed together. Dig in Deep is the latest from Raitt's long-standing career, and while I can see this being enjoyable to long-term Raitt fans, I just can't see people who aren't invested in her career finding much of interest on this album. Raitt continues to do the same bare bones blues-rock about love and heartbreak with little to stand out on its own merits, being enjoyable enough in the moment but lacking anything that just sticks with you after the moment has passed. I do like her interpretation of INXS' "Need You Tonight", if not just because that song has a wicked guitar lick, but the rest of the album's melodies are just so bog-standard.
Dig in Deep
UnitedStates.png United States
Blues-rock
Redwing
Meh Favourite Track(s): "Need You Tonight", Shakin' Shakin' Shakes"
99Cents.png Santigold Santigold has been one of pop music's most prolific anti-heroes for quite a few years now, injecting electronic, Reggae, Post-punk, soul, hip hop, and new wave influences into her very eclectic, diverse interpretation of pop. Her broad influences and attitude-driven music has often been compared to M.I.A., although while M.I.A. is far more politically charged, Santigold has a far more fun-loving, party focus to her work, which has always been one of the big appeals of her style, no less so on 99¢. 99¢ alternates between restrained ballads and in-your-face bangers, majority of which boasting distinct style to establish a very unpredictable experience that almost feels like we're being taken on a trip through Santigold's rapidly changing emotions. "Banshee" has one of the most incredible bouncy melodies I've heard in a pop song, it's amazing. However, the middle part of the album is a bit of a low point, the most glaring disaster being "Who Be Lovin' Me", which features a blisteringly bad vocal performance from iLoveMakonnen. Luckily, the album ends on a high note with the very spiteful punk-laden piece, "Who I Thought You Were". 99¢ is a good album, but several disappointing moments on the album keeps it from being the pop album of the month.
99¢
UnitedStates.png United States
Electropop
Atlantic
Decent Favourite Track(s): "Banshee", "Rendezvous Girl", "Who I Thought You Were"
TakingOnefortheTeam.png Simple Plan No longer generic emo rock, now fully entrenched in generic frat rock, if that wasn't so blatantly obvious from the cover art. Great. You guys still have no talent, no tact, and collaborating with Nelly and Rock City to do half-assed ska-punk and funk-punk tracks isn't going to improve your crossover appeal at all. Throw this into the pop-punk bin alongside Good Charlotte and Fallout Boy, we're well past the point where this bland, uninspired garbage is acceptable.
Taking One for the Team
Canada.png Canada
Power pop, pop-punk
Atlantic
Horrible Favourite Track(s): N/A
Victorious.png Wolfmother We live in a wonderful age where if you want to listen to the musical greats of the past, you can literally just go on Youtube or download Spotify and just, y'know... listen to them. You don't need to time travel to listen to music made before you were born, but clearly Wolfmother's fans haven't gotten the memo yet. I'll admit their throwback to 1970s hard rock and psych-rock was kind of cute on their first album back in 2005, but they're on their fourth bloody album now, this has just gotten beyond the joke. There is not a single shred of originality or stylistic evolution on this album, continuing the band's trend of just copying everything that Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Black Sabbath did but worse without the same sort of atmosphere or complexity that made these artists so grandiose and impressive. There's even a goddamn acoustic ballad to completely rip off Led Zeppelin down to the slightest detail, which is almost admirable if it wasn't so diabolical. One of these days, Wolfmother are going to have to start doing something original with their music, but this is surely not the day.
Victorious
Australia.png Australia
Hard rock
Universal
Horrible Favourite Track(s): N/A
Warlord.png Yung Lean Wooooow. OK I'll admit that when I first learned that Swedish hip hop was a thing that existed, and that it was primarily dominated by sub-urban white folk, I was excited because I knew that was a recipe for hilarity. I was sure this would be bad to begin with, but bad in a way that could at least give me a chuckle. Oh, how naive I was. This album is one of the worst hip hop records I've heard in quite some time, being 41 minutes of some of the most heartless, flat rapping I have ever heard, layered over trap and cloud rap beats so generic that any sleep-deprived sound design student could cook them up for a last-minute assignment. Literally every single song is about how much drugs Yung Lean and his posse do, with horrible lines like "Mail box clean, Donald Duck lungs / I need a million dollars, not some bucks, son / Duck 1, duck 2, paint a truck, son / When we roll up, Gucci mags on my truck, son." You can at least try to deliver these resentful lyrics with a little oomph, but Lean just can't seem to bring himself to actually rap with any enthusiasm at all, somehow continuing to sound lifeless and tone-deaf even while using autotune. God, what a dreadful listen from start to finish.
Warlord
Sweden.png Sweden
Hip hop, trap, swag rap
Year0001
Horrible Favourite Track(s): N/A
THIS MONTH IN ALBUMS: March 2nd – March 13th
AllMyDemons.png AURORA Artpop tends to get a good rep in music these days, since people will gravitate to anything that deviates from the glossy party pop that's oft the standard for the style, but I don't think simply being artsy is enough to make you an outstanding pop musician. AURORA definitely has a fair bit of mood put into her music, with very bombastic, emotive instrumentation backing her very nice singing voice, with the most immediate comparison being Florence and the Machine. There are even moments on this album that almost sound Enya-esque, especially on "Runaway" and "Running With the Wolves", which is a very welcome stylistic choice for pop, and "Warlord" even features a koto. A lot of the songs on this album have really pristine, dense production, which makes it all the sadder that so much of this album just sort of passes by like a light breeze without leaving much of an imprint... although at least it's really nice in the moment. While I'm sure many people will appreciate the dark lyrics concerning depression and isolation, but I found them a little too over-the-top and forced. But don't get me wrong, I think it's a valiant effort and a good debut album for a young artist, I just feel like she has so much more she could be doing to make her music a little more consistently engaging.
All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend
Norway.png Norway
Artpop, alternative pop
Decca, Glassnote
Decent Favourite Track(s): "Runaway", "Running With the Wolves", "Warlord"
BeforeaMillionUniverses.png Big Ups Well well well, this sure is a sound I haven't heard in a long time. If you know me well at all, you'll know that Slint's 1991 masterpiece Spiderland is easily one of my favourite records of all time, with its technical, understated, and downright haunting instrumental progression solidifying it as an experimental rock staple, but the unique sound Slint presented on that record has been largely ignored by other artists... until now. Big Ups have done on this record what can best be described as a half-way point between the brooding, plucked note progressions of Slint with the feedback-laden, shouted instrumentation of Fugazi, and I love it to pieces! There are several songs on this album that are all slow, all fast, and others that are a neat half-way between the two, creating a constant alternating dynamic that keeps the album feeling fresh and explosive from start to finish. Before a Million Universes feels every bit as methodical and calculated as it does spontaneous and aggressive, and that's a baffling balance befitting of the baffling tone the album seeks to put forth. Fantastic, I say!
Before a Million Universes
UnitedStates.png United States
Math rock, post-hardcore
Tough Love
Great! Favourite Track(s): "Meet Where We Are", "Negative", "National Parks"
TooHightoRiot.png Bas Bas isn't a huge name in hip hop despite sharing the same label with one of the bigger artists in the genre at the moment, J Cole, who also happens to feature on this album (albeit on one of the less interesting tracks). I found his previous record, Last Winter, to be largely forgettable and a bit of an unfocused mess, and this album... meh, it's an improvement, and there's a fair bit to like if you're invested in Bas as a rapper. The production is structured heavily around trap and cloud rap instrumentals with largely introspective, observational lyrics in what's almost a concept album concerning self-image ("Clouds Never Get Old"), the complexities of civil rights in today's American landscape ("Too High to Riot"), and personal loss ("Live For"), the last of which is particularly good as it covers Bas' reaction to his caring aunt dying while he was on tour. It's nice to hear a rapper with club-ready instrumentals sing about real shit, but a large portion of the tracks are a bit underweight, feeling like they could've been expanded a bit ("Methylone") or outright beefed up in basically every way ("Miles and Miles"). I think, however, that the biggest crime this album commits is just largely being boring, since its instrumentals feel so understated and airy that that do very little to keep the listener invested in the lyrics. While this album isn't going to set a new bar for modern hip hop like Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly or Run the Jewels' second record, I think it does its job alright all the same.
Too High to Riot
UnitedStates.png United States
Hip hop, trap, cloud rap
Dreamville, Interscope
Meh Favourite Track(s): "Live For", "Matches"
OutsidetheBox.png Hacktivist Rap metal is a genre that I had honest to God hoped had died when Limp Bizkit went out of fashion and Linkin Park took steps to move away from generic bro-metal to generic bro-rock. Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More, and Mr. Bungle have really been the only bands that were capable of consistently marrying the political, beat-driven styles of rap with the pounding aggression of heavy metal, but obviously this group of British kids didn't get the message, and no, having a black person doing the rapping doesn't automatically make it all alright. Hacktivist bring the bland, breakdown-laden progressions and scenester screeching of metalcore with a very in-your-face political message, although some of their lyrics reach Hopsin levels of smug, especially on the intro track that insists that simply listening to Hacktivist means you're no longer one of the sheeple. There are some moments on this album that make me think they have genuine insight, such as on "False Idols" (which concerns media using entertainment as scapegoats for criminal activity), or that they have some genuine musical chops, such as on "Elevate", which really sounds a fair bit like Rage Against the Machine... but almost everything on this album comes across as a second-rate nu-metal throwaway with some occasional moments of ingenuity shining through the gurgling screams and down-tuned, chugging guitars.
Outside the Box
Britain.png UnitedKingdom
Rap metal, metalcore, nu-metal
UNFD, Rise
Bad Favourite Track(s): "Elevate"
UntitledUnmastered.png Kendrick Lamar PIMP PIMP! HOORAY! Kendrick Lamar is back a year after the release of his near-perfect masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, with a considerably long EP consisting of demo tracks from the To Pimp recording sessions that didn't make it to the final project, hence the album title "untitled, unmastered". What's surprising for a collection of raw unused tracks is that this still sounds very cohesive and structured, much like the album they were intended for to begin with, with the same jazz, funk, and experimental instrumentation backing Lamar's incredible conceptual lyrics concerning religion, self-image, and racial struggles. Many of these songs are detailed enough that it feels like you could slip them into To Pimp and they'd still fit, but that's not to say the EP is without its flaws, particularly the overly long "untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016" that has an extended section of Kendrick's raw demo recording of "untitled 04 | 08.14.2014." complete with studio banter, which goes on too long and stifles the album's otherwise great flow. I probably shouldn't ask too much off of demo tracks, and the vast majority of what's on display here is up to Lamar's incredible standard, so definitely give it a listen; it's more than just a treat for hardcore fans.
Untitled Unmastered {EP)
UnitedStates.png United States
Funk-rap, jazz-rap, alternative hip hop
Top Dawg, Aftermath, Interscope
Decent Favourite Track(s): "untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.", "untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.", "untitled 05 | 09.21.2014."
III.png Miike Snow Listen, I know I'm biased against autotune. I acknowledge that, and I know that I'm always going to look down on pop music that uses it, even if it's intended for... uggghhh... "artistic" effect. But even keeping that in mind, Miike Snow's usage of autotune for aesthetic is so damn bland and bog standard that it might as well just not even be there, although the singer's singing voice isn't anything particularly outstanding behind the glossy production, so maybe that's why. iii has a lot of really quirky instrumentation going on, particularly on "For U" (featuring Charli XCX which has a very glitchy core melody that sounds like if a squirrel made a pop song... in a good way! "The Heart of Me" is a genuinely amazing song, too, which I can imagine blaring out of a pop station without getting old. What's unfortunate is that the album lacks any other distinctive songs, since the glossy production and overemphasis on vocal effects causes a lot of the tracks to just bleed into each other, which is never good for a pop record; "I Feel the Weight" is one of the worst offenders for this. Just listen to the cuts, honestly, the album overall has very little staying power, in my opinion.
iii
Sweden.png Sweden
Synthpop, alternative pop
self-released
Meh Favourite Track(s): "The Heart of Me", "For U"


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