Good Lord, September was Great for Music!

A bunch of fantastic artists dropped new albums this past month of September. P!nk, The Killers, Green Day, Mumford & Sons, Imagine Dragons, etc… There was a plethora of brilliance that hit the music industry. Here are some albums that you should pick up:

I had bought the Imagine Dragons “Continued Silence EP” earlier in the year and this full album, their first, is an awesome blend of heavy beats with alternative rock. Sometimes that’s a weird blend. “Radioactive,” the album’s opening track, uses those heavy beats (an almost dubstep sound) throughout. Meanwhile, tracks like “It’s Time” end up summoning a more “Mumford & Sons” sound (this is definitely a good thing).

This album gets a 4/5 for me. I’m excited to hear more from them.

I am a devout Matthew West fan. I think he’s one of the most talented songwriters in our day and age. Each consecutive album he’s released has just been better and better. After “Story of Your Life,” an album completely inspired by stories that people sent in, I was eager to listen to “Into the Light,” for the same reasons. “Forgiveness,” “Do Something,” and “We Are The Broken” are some of my favorite tracks throughout. He just knows how to write songs that speak to people whilst still having them “sing-along-able.” :] He’s 4 for 4 on albums in my book.

This one gets a 5/5 from me. One of my favorite albums of all time.

¡Uno! is a return to the sound of old for Green Day. This is a heavier album than both American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. There are no ballad tracks to be heard on this outing. ¡Dos! and ¡Tres! will be out in the months to come, and maybe those may have some of the sound of the two concept albums, but this is still a great set of tracks for the band. “Nuclear Family” has the sarcastic/anti-authority bite we’ve come to expect from the band. “Kill the DJ” is one of those tracks that places Green Day firmly into the pop-punk genre that they’ve played around with in the past.

3/5 here. Waiting for the next two companion albums to thrill me.

After the release of the single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” and the leak of “The King is Dead (But the Queen is Alive)” I was incredibly excited for a new outing from P!nk. Funhouse was a phenomenal album and I wanted more of it. The Truth About Love is of course, a more “love” oriented album. My favorite track for now is “True Love.” It’s a poppy piano blend about the trials of loving/hating someone at the same time; the struggles of any relationship. “Slut Like You” brings the heavy rock sound of yore to the album whilst “Beam Me Up” brings the ballad. This album is a fantastic outing by P!nk, but in my opinion, Funhouse is still her best album to date.

4/5 here.

The Killers always aim to please and this album is no different. This is the album that has been making the most rounds through my media players and headphones. It’s fairly difficult to find a track on the album that’s merely decent, because they’re all so GREAT. “Flesh and Bone,” “Be Still,” “Here With Me,” “Battleborn;” the hits keep coming throughout the album. I also got the deluxe edition, and those three tracks offer some great additions to the album as well, with “Prize Fighter” being my favorite track of the whole album. “Battleborn,” the title track, has a weird effect, in which the sound becomes louder (like, volume-wise) midway through the track, seemingly for no reason. I downloaded it multiple times just to see if it was me and it wasn’t. This only detracts a little bit though. The Killers once again released a stroke of brilliance into the music arena.

This one earns a 5/5 from me. Albums don’t get much better than this.

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I haven’t had a chance to listen to Mumford & Sons’ “Babel” or No Doubt’s new album, among other ones that were released. If you have, let me know what tracks I need to listen to first, or whether or not I need to pass them up altogether! Sound off in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Company, Meet Consumer: Creating a Community

To most corporations and companies in this day and age, you, the consumer, are not a person. You are a dollar sign. The point of businesses are to make money right? You have to be in the green for your company to continue. Some companies decide to take a detached route for community, while other are embracing it. I believe that community will make and break companies in the coming years, and this is why.

What’s the strongest emotion in the human encyclopedia? Love. Songs, movies, and monuments are built in the name of love. People are willing to do ridiculous things in the name of love. People will kill you for it. They’ll also save you for it. People love to love, and they love to BE loved.

Companies are not used to loving their consumers. Most companies still don’t, but the outlook is getting better.  There are some companies out there that totally get this, and they aren’t super successful. Then there are other companies out there that are super successful, and they don’t get it at all. My best example of the latter is Apple Inc.

Apple makes a ton of things that tons of people use. They just announce the iPhone 5 and a plethora of new iterations of their products. However, Apple doesn’t seem to care about you past your purchase and the occasional tech support. Apple makes no effort to put themselves out in the public for reasons of “brand security.” If they don’t put themselves out there, then there’s no chance of getting hurt. Apple chooses to remain a recluse to the community, and sit in their tower making products they know you’ll buy.

Because of this, they’ve made some pretty amazing things, but they haven’t made people like them. They’ve had scandals with how they treat their workers outside of the U.S. They’ve shown their hypocrisy by stealing from other designers, patenting trivial things like rounded edges, and then suing the pants off of anyone who dares to use the simplest of patent without permission. They’ve made no secret of their distaste for other companies. They also haven’t engaged the community outside of advertising.

Apple doesn’t have an official Facebook page. Apple doesn’t have an official Twitter page. Name a social network and chances are they don’t have an account for it. They’ve stated that they don’t want anyone else to hold power over their brand. They want to protect the image of Apple from all other outside influences. They want to sit inside instead of playing with the kids at recess, because they might fall and skin their knee. This is going to cost them in the long run, because other companies understand community, and embrace it.

These are companies like AT&T, Microsoft, Harmonix, Visceral Games, EA, Paramount, Warner Bros, etc… There are a ton of companies that are paving the way for future businesses. These companies understand that consumers are potential profit, but that they’re also people. They understand that it’s OK to be imperfect and to figure things out. They also understand that their consumers may have problems, and those problems will need answers as quickly as possible. Most important, these companies understand that people have value that goes far further than a monetary gain.

Let’s look at AT&T. Yesterday, after the iPhone 5 announcement one of my friends was discussing carriers and asked who they thought they should go with for the new phone. I, being an AT&T customer, mentioned AT&T as the best network out there. It was a tweet in a sea of tweets, but somebody noticed…

AT&T made an effort to let me know that I had value to them. That’s incredible. That’s connection.

Other companies have done the same thing. @deadspace constantly responds to tweets from their fans about their games. @RockBand and @HMXHenry read a blog post from May where I explained my love for Rock Band (the best music game ever) and mentioned that, because of said love, my drums had broken a long while back. They re-tweeted my link, favorited it, and then asked me to DM them my address so they could send me a new set of drums. (You can read that post and the update here) @CinemarkUSA responds to moviegoers in lines at midnight showings. @Oatmeal responds to love and hate all on the same feed.

These people all understand their communities. When I was already a lifetime customer, they made me an eternal one.

I think, going forward, companies will NEED to be connected to their consumer bases. Tons of companies already have community managers and social network experts working for them. THEY GET IT. I can only hope that it will eventually be something that is thought about as essential and necessary without any complaint or wariness. Social interaction with your consumer is an opportunity to go from a faceless entity, to someone who directly cares about the people they make products for, and that’s huge.

Follow these people. Talk with them. Get to know the people who sell you things. Most of them are willing to make that connection with you, and that’s a priceless opportunity.

Dead Space 2: Leave Hope at the Door (potential spoilers)

Full disclosure: I was told that I didn’t need to play the original Dead Space if I wanted to play Dead Space 2. I read all of the plot online and watched the “Previously on Dead Space” video that came with the game. Having said that, this game was brilliant.

I’m a fan of horror movies. I have a high standard for them, but if a movie can find its way under my skin then I call it a success. I border on the fear/disgust/trauma line though. If horror movies go too far to the gross side/torture porn side (Drag Me To Hell/Hostel) then they lose me and I stop enjoying the experience. Dead Space 2 managed to make me cross those lines and keep going. This is a testament to how brilliant the writing and gameplay are.

The soundtrack and the audio also have some notably brilliant moments as there’s constantly faint scratching and walking throughout the rafter and such around you. I played with surround sound, so this effect is multiplied. The score had some moments where you get really high-pitched shrill strings and that ramps up the intensity for whatever moment you find yourself in.

The 15 chapters that you play through are fairly evenly balanced in length and difficulty, save for an odd bird here and there that will leave you yelling at your T.V. (regenerating necromorphs and no ammo? UGH.) These are minor complaints though, as you’ll usually be able to get out of any sticky situation with a few tries.

I was all cool with the story and the necromorphs until you find yourself in a sort of “space shopping mall” and inside the children’s area. That’s right. Child necromorphs. I was kind of disturbed and felt bad at this point. I was like, “Oh god. I have to kill kids?!” This is one of the strongest moments I’ve ever felt in a video game. I mean, in Call of Duty: MW2, I had no problem unloading rounds into an airport full of digital people, but you point me at an alien kid and all the sudden I feel terrible.

I overcame that though and pushed through. I legitimately wanted to know what happened to Issac and what the point of this whole thing was.

A few levels later the disturbing levels go WAY up. BABY necromorphs. That explode. Yeah…

In fact, the first time you see one, a lady worker in the nursery (who at this point is TOTALLY off her rocker) wants to hug one of the baby necromorphs, only for that baby to hug her back and then explode them both to bits. Still, I continued, I had to. At this point I was way to invested in Issac, Stross, Ellie, and creepy girlfriend ghost Nicole.

The reason I titled this post “Leave Hope at the Door” is because this game constantly strings you along with that little inkling of hope. That voice in your head that keeps on saying, “Maybe this is the last one and things will go better” gnaws at your feelings throughout the whole experience. Each time something starts to go well for Issac, things change at the last second and he has to alter his plan to fit the new situation.

Finally find that lady that’s helping you? She wants to kidnap you and then she gets killed. Find your friend Stross? He’s crazy and tries to kill you and your pal Ellie (he totally takes her eyeball out at one point). Ready to make peace with Nicole and let her go? She’s some crazy ghost that wants to kill you so that “they” can finally be reborn. Yeah… Hope doesn’t come in large quantities in this game.

The thing is, there’s just enough to keep you going. You like Issac. You want him to succeed! Each major failure is overwritten by that small glimmer of hope that keeps your progressing through the 15 chapters.

When the game is finally over, you’re greeted with quite possibly the best credits experience I’ve ever played. (The moment begins at about 3:15)

They bring back the theme of hopelessness for the credits. Everything is finished and all that’s left is for you to die in the place you created (on accident/against your will). But wait! Those credits aren’t real! You have a final push of anti-gravity flying to get to a ship and escape with Ellie! In the heat of the moment, this is exactly the dose of jovial hope that you (and Issac) needed. The anti-gravity sections of the game are some of the most fun parts (one mission has you flying through trash and debris as it explodes around you). This is such a brilliant way to end the game on a high note and prepare people for Dead Space 3.

All in all, this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing a game. This automatically goes into my top 10 list of games. Now I’m all kinds of excited for Dead Space 3 and it appears I have some time (February 8th 2013) to scrounge up some dough and get that game pre-ordered.

Visceral, your game scared the crap out of me. I had to turn on a lamp when I was playing the dark. Keep up the good work. :]

(For more information on the Dead Space series and purchasing/pre-ordering their games, head here.)

Rock Band Blitz and the Journey of Discovery

ImageOne of the things that I love about Rock Band games is that they lead me on a journey of discovery through tracks that I probably would’ve never really listened to in my regular daily life. I’m not a big fan of the radio and I usually randomly look at the billboard top 100 to see if I like any of the stuff there before getting it.

When I started getting into Rock Band and Guitar Hero games when I was in high school, this all changed. I had to listen to a lot of different styles of music on a regular basis and, as most people do, when I found songs that I enjoyed I played them more, and eventually downloaded copies of them for my personal music collection. 

Rock Band: Blitz continues this course of discovery. I’m currently listening to “Shine by, Collective Soul.” (Buy it here if you want) Songs like these are amazing little gems that I wouldn’t have found if it weren’t for Rock Band. Being able to play these in blitz as well as Rock Band 3 for free is just icing on an already awesome cake. 

Keep it up Harmonix. Your team is full of brilliance.

What are some songs/bands that you’ve discovered from playing Rock Band? 

(For more info on Rock Band: Blitz and links to download the game, head here)