Thursday, January 27, 2011

First Impressions: The Decemberists, Iron & Wine, and Dead Space 2

The King is Dead
 The Decemberists have been one of my favorite bands since I discovered them a year or two ago.  I love practically every song in their catalog.  The King is Dead was getting mad reviews before the album came out a week ago, and now after listening to the thing several times, I know why.  The opening song "Don't Carry it All" sets the pace & tone for the rest of the album.  Fun, light-hearted, and very Americana in sound, the entire King is Dead is a showcase of American roots prog-folky songs.

This album features Gillian Welch singing alongside Colin Meloy's lead vocals, and their combination is nothing but wonderful.  Evidenced by the first single, "Down by the Water," this album is different from the typical Decemberists sound.  The band returned to a mostly stripped-down set of songs, forsaking their typical lengthy ballads for something tight and solid.  This album is a great mix of musical genres, sounding like a cross between sea shanties, highlands folk, Celtic diddies, classic country music, and REM.  While this isn't my favorite album in the Decemberists catalog, it's excellent, and I think any fans of the band would like the songs here.

Kiss Each Other Clean

 It's no secret that I love Iron & Wine.  When I saw them in concert back in November, they sampled a few of their new songs that would be appearing on their new album Kiss Each Other Clean.  This album was released this week, and I've listened to it a few times since Tuesday.  It's starkly different from any previous album I&W has released, but this time, different makes for a very fun and funky departure.  The first single, "Walking Far From Home," is a beautiful song reminiscent of "Trapeze Swinger," but more upbeat and catchy.  In fact, most of this album is catchy, mixing pop sounds with the familiar acoustic-folky songs I&W is known for.  Sam Beam's lyrics are still as strong as ever.  Another song that I really like on this is "Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me," a seven minute diptych that starts off slow but explodes into something that sounds straight from a 1970s anthem. 

Part of the fun for this album is that it is so different from anything Iron & Wine has released.  Traditionally I think of soft acoustic stuff, occasional banjos and electrics, and quiet lyrics.  With Kiss Each Other Clean, Beam has dove into heavy synth sounds, weird funky noises, and a much more upbeat experience.  If you're an Iron & Wine fan, definitely check this out.

Dead Space 2
Uh, I died within ten seconds of starting my game.  My post yesterday about wearing a straightjacket and hallucinating practically mirror how this game begins.  Isaac Clarke wakes up three years after the events of Dead Space to practically be thrown into the same types of situations.  Gameplay doesn't change much at all from the first, but dang it if it's not ten times as terrifying and twenty times more beautiful.

Dark corridors.  Lurking necromorphs.  Breaking glass and muffled screams.  And a protagonist that's suffering from dementia.  It's crazy how a game about survival and terror can make the heart pump and make you feel alive.  So far I've only put an hour or so into the game but it's been intense and I've jumped once or twice.  In short, any fan of Dead Space will probably like this, in addition to anyone that enjoys survival horror games (which I don't).  For me, it's the perfect mixture of sci-fi and zombie-alien-religious story arcs that make Dead Space such a success.


David Wagner said...

I'm not sure what it is... but I've tried to play Dead Space three times thus far. Got past the opening cinematic and about 30 minutes in each time before shrugging my shoulders, saying "yeah, pretty cool, I'll play again soon" and then not playing it further. I've done the same with Batman Arkham Asylum (and Dragon Age, for that matter). The games are solid, I pretty much enjoy them, but once the first session is over, it disappears from my brain pan.

On the contrary, there is a cheap Indy game called Defense Grid, which cost me 5 bucks (plus another 5 or so for some DLC), and I have currently played 96 hours worth (according to Steam stats).

I have NO IDEA why.

All that to say, in theory Dead Space 2 sounds great - the type of game that I should really dig. But sadly, the odds are slim I'll ever play it.

The music sounds worth investigating. I'll add them both to my growing List of Cool Shtuff Logan Recommends (and He's Never Wrong).

Have a good day, bro.

Jay Belt said...

@David: I love me some Defense Grid. I downloaded that from XBox Live and played many, many hours on it.

I couldn't get into Dead Space. It still sits on my shelf, making me feel shame for purchasing it and only playing 15 minutes of it.

@Logan: I picked up The King is Dead last week. Love that album.

Carl V. said...

I saw this album in Borders yesterday and meant to go home and see about finding samples of it online, so thanks! I vaguely remember checking out their music a few years ago, largely because I was impressed with the cover art. I suspect this is a band I would really enjoy based on what little I know of their sound, so I'll be checking it out in more detail soon.

Anonymous said...

have nothing but good (everywhere) about this new Decemberists album. We have most of their earlier albums, but for some reason I have yet to really listen to them. I asked the husband why he thought it was that their sound didn't catch me and his reply was "maybe you don't like sea chanties?" hmmm. apparently he gets a picture of them in pirate garb aboard a ship excusing the electric sound from their music. I don't know but I will listen through their work this weekend and try my best to block out that image...

I really wanted to like them when living in Portland. They invest a lot in the local art/music scene, and in the local homeless youth. Perhaps I shall like them still. What is your favorite album?

Oh, very excited to hear the new Iron & Wine!


logankstewart said...

@Dave: I didn't beat Dragon Age, but Arkham Asylum was pretty sweet. So far, DS2 has been awesome. Oh, and I hope you check out the tunes, though I'm not sure if it's your kind of stuff.

@Jay: Yeah, The King is Dead is great. I may do a piano cover of "Down by the Water" someday soon.

@Carl: Not sure which album you're talking about, but based on the art, I'm gonna have to guess Kiss Each Other Clean. Either way, hope you listen and like.

@L: Ha, a lot of their stuff does have a shanty-type sound, especially one of my favorite songs they do, "The Mariner's Revenge Song," but not all. That's cool about how involved they are in Portland. I didn't know that.

As for my favorite album from them? That's tough. Probably The Crane Wife, but maybe Picaresque. Not sure. Good luck. Hope you like what you hear.

Carl V. said...

Actually I did a little digging and it was Tara McPherson art posters for The Decemberists that had originally brought them to my attention. LOVE Tara McPherson's work.

Dragon Age was actually pretty fun. It had some issues as far as limited exploration of the world, but the storyline was enjoyable and it had a nice emotionally charged ending, I thought. I've pre-ordered DA 2 already as I figure I'll enjoy it since I enjoyed the first one.

Mattson Tomlin said...

Just starting Dead Space 1 now...

logankstewart said...

@Mattson: What platform are you playing it on? If it's computer, I've read some crappy reviews for that version, claiming the controls and stuff were somewhat clunky. Either way, I hope you enjoy the game as much as I did.