Top 10 Albums of 2013

Last year was full of unexpected comebacks in the music scene — Daft Punk, Boards of Canada and My Bloody Valentine all put out new material for the first time in years — and it resulted in one of the best years in some time. Here are my personal favorites:

Honorable Mentions: Bonobo – The North Borders, Gold Panda – Half of Where You Live, Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go

10) !!! – Thr!!!er
!!! - Thr!!!er
9) Moderat – II
Moderat - II
8) Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye West - Yeezus
7) Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
6) Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
5) The Field – Cupid’s Head
The Field - Cupid's Head
4) Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
3) Disclosure – Settle
Disclosure - Settle
2) The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
1) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Individual tracks from each album:
!!! – “Slyd
Moderat – “Versions
Kanye West – “Blood on the Leaves
Boards of Canada – “Jacquard Causeway
Fuck Buttons – “Brainfreeze
The Field – “Cupid’s Head
Arcade Fire – “Here Comes the Night Time
Disclosure – “White Noise
The National – “Don’t Swallow the Cap
Daft Punk – “Lose Yourself to Dance

For once, I actually agree with the Grammys. How about you? What are your favorite albums from last year?

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Movie Project #33: Amadeus [1984]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Amadeus [1984]

Amadeus [1984]
Director: Miloš Forman
Writers: Peter Shaffer (original stage play)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Music
Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones
Running Time: 160 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the all-time great music films, and it has appeared on countless lists (and won numerous awards).

Accolades: 53 award nominations with 40 wins, most notably 8 Oscars (including Best Picture), four Golden Globes and four BAFTA Awards, #95 on IMDB Top 250, #53 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies

For a film named Amadeus, it’s a bit surprising that legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart isn’t entirely the focal point of the story. In fact, the film is less of a biopic than it is a tale of jealousy combined with an overwhelming love of music.

The envious party is Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a fellow composer who has earned respect as the court composer for Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). In the film’s opening scene, we see an elderly Salieri attempting to commit suicide by slitting his throat, all while screaming about how he killed Mozart. His attempt is unsuccessful, and he ends up in an insane asylum. When a Father (Richard Frank) visits him to take his confession, Salieri begins a long-winded spiel recounting his days as a rival of Mozart (Tom Hulce), all of which we see through flashbacks.

Salieri’s recollection mainly covers Mozart’s time in Vienna, essentially the last ten years of the young composer’s life. Salieri’s first glimpse of Mozart is rather amusing, and immediately it shreds any pre-conceived notions about classical artists we might have. Wolfgang (or “Wolfie” as he is later affectionately called) is childish, chasing a busty blonde throughout the palace, eventually even getting down on all fours to pull her out from underneath a table. A unique first impression, that’s for sure.

And then he laughs. Oh, what a laugh. Mozart’s obnoxious, high-pitched giggles catch many of the patrons off-guard. While shrill, his distinct laugh perfectly fits his offbeat demeanor.

Amadeus [1984]

In many ways, Mozart’s life is parallel to that of a modern day rock star. He rises to fame, gets married (to the aforementioned blonde, played by Elizabeth Berridge), keeps an unkempt home and then falls into a life of booze and erratic behavior in order to keep up with the pressures of his work. It’s interesting to see that even though the music has changed drastically over the years, the performers really aren’t that different.

The jealousy kicks in when Salieri realizes that he will simply never be as talented as his rival. Mozart is able to come up with bombastic pieces seemingly at whim, not even needing to make adjustments to what he writes down. It doesn’t help that upon hearing one of Salieri’s pieces for the first time, Mozart quickly tweaks it into something far superior, giving it little to no noticeable thought. Also, Salieri is deeply concerned that he will be forgotten throughout history, whereas Mozart will be fondly remembered (he was right — at least until this film came out).

F. Murray Abraham is tremendous as Salieri, and his performance demonstrates the burden of a man so stricken with jealousy that he will do anything to gain satisfaction. His smile as the Emperor yawns during one of Mozart’s extended plays is masterful, and you can’t help but empathize with his pleasure, however misguided it may be. Tom Hulce’s take on Mozart is the perfect complement, as the two men could not be any more different.

Amadeus [1984]

Although I enjoyed the focus on the rivalry, I can’t help but wish that we got to learn more about Mozart the man. Early on, shortly after getting married, his wife is shown as being pregnant. Not soon after that, a toddler appears, meant to be their son. No recognition is really given to his son — in fact, we never learn his name. It turns out that Mozart actually had six children, of which two only survived infancy (only the one is ever shown in the film). Perhaps a little more background on Mozart could have been given rather than including a lengthy vaudeville performance near the film’s final act.

Still, minor quibbles aside, Amadeus truly is an impressive piece of filmmaking. The attention to detail is astounding and true to the period, and the performances, especially Abraham’s, are phenomenal. As someone who knows little about classical music, I still found the film to be very engaging. If you enjoy classical music and/or operas, well, you’re bound to *love* this film.

8/10

The Best of 2013 in Movies, Video Games and Music — So Far

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is already halfway over. It has been a bit of a slow year for movies so far (as expected), but there have been huge breakthroughs in the gaming and music scenes. Here are my favorites so far:

MOVIES

This is the End [2013]
5) This Is the End
The funniest movie (and biggest surprise) of the year, hands down.

Stoker [2013]
4) Stoker
Business as usual for Chan-wook Park’s first English language film.

Mud [2013]
3) Mud
Jeff Nichols is 3-for-3 in my book. This is his most likable film yet.

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]
2) The Place Beyond the Pines
This ambitious, sprawling epic is one film I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Before Midnight [2013]
1) Before Midnight
Could it be anything else? It’s so great to see Celine and Jesse once again, warts and all.

VIDEO GAMES

Hotline Miami [PS Vita, 2013]
5) Hotline Miami [PS Vita/PS3]
Only listing this at #5 since it is a port of a 2012 title, but this ultra-violent game is even more addictive on the Vita.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]
4) Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]
A Metroidvania Lucha Libre-themed adventure from the makers of Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack — it’s as good as it sounds.

Tomb Raider [Xbox 360]
3) Tomb Raider [Xbox 360/PS3]
I was never excited about the Tomb Raider series before, but this reboot hit all the right notes.

Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360, 2013]
2) Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
I got goosebumps the first time I stepped foot on the city in the clouds, Columbia, and the experience never let up from there.

The Last of Us [PS3]
1) The Last of Us [PS3]
Has there been a more immersive atmosphere in a video game? This will serve as a gaming benchmark for years to come.

MUSIC

5) Mikal Cronin “MCII”

4) Kanye West “Yeezus”

3) Boards of Canada “Tomorrow’s Harvest”

2) Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”

1) The National “Trouble Will Find Me”

What are your favorites so far this year?

Top 10 Songs by The National

Hey folks!

banner moviesandsongs365 logo

Chris from the wonderfully diverse blog, moviesandsongs365, invited me to write a guest post about my favorite band, The National. While I rarely write about music here at The Warning Sign, it is one of my greatest passions, and I was eager to accept his proposal. I composed a list of my top 10 favorite songs by The National; it was hard to whittle down their catalog to just ten songs, but I’m happy with how it turned out.

the-national

Read the full article here: Eric’s Top 10 Songs by The National.

Movie Project #4: The Last Waltz [1978]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Last Waltz [1978]

The Last Waltz [1978]
Director: Martin Scorcese
Genre: Documentary/Music
Starring: The Band + friends
Running Time: 117 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is widely considered one of the greatest rock films of all time, if not the greatest.

Accolades: KCFCC Award for Best Documentary, 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes

“THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!”

So says the opening screen of The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese’s documentation of The Band’s final performance on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. Set in the majestic Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco (also the site of the group’s very first concert), the film shows a good chunk of the actual concert, interspersed with brief interludes and interviews with band members.

The Last Waltz [1978]

Going into The Last Waltz, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Band is one of those groups that were wildly important in the 60s and 70s, but they somehow managed to ride the line of anonymity (not unlike their generic band name). Ask the average person about The Band and they may remember or recognize “The Weight“, but that’s probably the extent of their knowledge. I know that for many years, that was all I knew from them.

No matter. This is a film that can be appreciated by music lovers of all kinds, whether fans of The Band or not. Their music stands the test of the time, and they are joined in their final concert by a number of familiar friends and well-known musicians. Just take a look at their list of special guests: Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Star, Ronnie Wood, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers.

Yeah. Holy shit.

The Last Waltz [1978]

With such a wide variety of guests, naturally the music weaves in and out of different genres. Whether it’s blues, folk or just plain rock and roll, there’s something for everyone. Best of all, everyone on stage seems to be having the time of their life. There’s a sense of melancholy, to be sure, but most of the musicians are playing with a smile on their face.

Now, this being a Scorcese picture, this isn’t a typical concert film. Scorcese went all out and turned this into a full-scale studio production with seven 35mm cameras, even employing some pretty great cinematographers to operate them. Michael Chapman (Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and László Kovács (Easy Rider) are just a few of those attached to the project. The final product turned out to be a visually stunning concert, with frequent transitions between closeups of the different musicians. Some have complained that Scorcese focused too heavily on band member Robbie Robertson, but there are some great shots of all involved.

The Last Waltz [1978]

At its most basic, The Last Waltz is an amazing snapshot of its time. Is there a better congregation of 70s rock figures than in this film? There are many fun moments and performances, but seeing everyone involved come back on stage to play together one more time may be the best of all. The DVD includes a bonus cut of an improvised jam session as well, which is just as fun.

If I were to have one complaint with the film, it would be that two of the song performances — “The Weight” with the Staple Singers and “Evangeline” with Emmylou Harris — were filmed on a sound stage, not at the actual concert. While these renditions are fantastic, it was odd to bounce between the two.

Regardless, this is a great film, and Scorcese is absolutely right that it must be played LOUD. This is a fun, breezy two hours, and by the end of it I felt like I had just witnessed one hell of a show.

9/10

Movie Project #1: Nashville [1975]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I see those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Nashville [1975]

Nashville [1975]
Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury
Genre: Drama/Music
Starring: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Shelley Duvall, Ned Beatty, and many, many more
Running Time: 159 minutes

Reason for inclusion: Robert Altman is considered one of the greatest American directors, and I have never seen any of his work.

Accolades: Five Oscar nominations (one win for Best Original Song), nine Golden Globe nominations (one win for Best Original Song), inclusion on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies list and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

I had a chance to go to Nashville once during college. An annual music industry event was held there, and a small group of students from my program took the trip. I couldn’t afford it at the time — go figure, a broke college student — but in hindsight I wish I had found a way to go. After watching Robert Altman’s Nashville, I am even more curious about the Tennessee capital, the country & western music headquarters of the world.

Nashville, the film, is a massive ensemble piece that follows the lives of 24 characters during a five day period. It is in the heat of the Presidential race, and a new upstart party candidate, Hal Phillip Walker (who we never see on screen), is in town for an early political rally. We are there to witness the five days leading up to this event.

Nashville [1975]

There isn’t really a central story arc to Nashville; instead we are introduced to a variety of characters who are just living their own lives. They are a diverse group: there are musicians (both professional and wannabes), eccentrics (including a 3-wheel biker played by Jeff Goldblum), loners, businessmen, politicians. At first, since so many are introduced at once, it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who. However, many of them grow to be unforgettable.

There’s Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin), a gospel singer and wife of two deaf children. She also happens to be a target of lust by singer Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), he of folk group “Bill, Mary & Tom” fame. Bill (Allan Nicholls) is having marital problems with his wife, Mary (Cristina Raines), who herself is deeply in unreciprocated love with Tom.

Nashville [1975] -- Keith Carradine

Also on the music front, there is Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), a wildly popular country singer who is recovering from a burn accident. Despite the best wishes of her husband, Barnett (Allen Garfield), she wants to return to performing immediately, perhaps exerting herself too hard in the process. Her top rival, Connie White (Karen Black), is also making the rounds in Nashville. On the other side of the spectrum, the bottom rungs of the town’s music scene, there is Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles) a buxom red-haired woman who is sharp as a box of rocks and can’t sing worth a lick — but that doesn’t stop her from trying.

Set in a popular music city, it’s no surprise that the film relies heavily on music. Nearly an hour of the running time is devoted to musical performances, and most of the songs were written and performed by the actors themselves. Some songs are better than others (Keith Carradine’s Oscar-winning “I’m Easy” is a true standout), but all are true to the country & western vibe. I generally loathe country music, but I rather enjoyed many of these on-screen performances, especially from the veteran singer Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson).

Nashville [1975] -- Haven Hamilton

Now considered by many to be one of the great American films, the influence of Nashville is still felt today. I imagine that director Paul Thomas Anderson is a big Altman fan — without Nashville, we likely would have never received Boogie Nights or Magnolia. By all accounts, this is a film that likely warrants at least a second viewing, simply because there are so many characters that it’s impossible to catch every little reference the first time around. As it stands, I quite enjoyed this film, and I am excited to see more of Altman’s work.

8.5/10

Poll Results: Best Long-Running Horror Movie Franchise

Low turnout this time, but we still had a winner:

Nightmare on Elm Street

THE RESULTS:
– Nightmare on Elm Street: 3 votes
– Friday the 13th: 2 votes
– Halloween: 2 votes
– Night of the Living Dead: 2 votes
– Saw: 2 votes
– The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 1 vote
– The Amityville Horror, Children of the Corn, Hellraiser, Puppet Master: 0 votes

Nearly thirty years and nine films later, Freddy Krueger still proves to be one of the kings of horror. Nice to see a smattering of votes for other series, all of which have had their shares of ups and downs.

This Week’s Poll: Sticking with the horror theme, I am asking a question that is not just limited to film. I want you to think of everything when answering this: films, books, video games, television, whatever. What is your favorite type of horror villain? I tried to include a wide variety of popular subjects, but if I overlooked something then please let me know! Will be interesting to see how this pans out. I feel as if some horror staples have lost their luster over the years (i.e. vampires thanks to Twilight, zombies thanks to over saturation, etc.), but perhaps their fans will remember the good days.

Special Music Announcement: I don’t write about music on here as often as I should, but I would like to share some big news regarding a talented, up-and-coming band from West Michigan. After over a year in the making, The Red Handed have released their long-awaited second EP, A Sudden Change of Scenery! The band has released the album for free online, and it can be streamed in its entirety at Bandcamp. Downloads are also allowed for a pay-what-you-want type deal. The Red Handed are often labeled as “post-hardcore” but they are hard to classify. Fans of Brand New, Circa Survive, Thrice and Coheed and Cambria really need to check this out!

That’s all from me today. Hope everyone had a great weekend, and if you do check out the EP, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Movie Project #32: The Blues Brothers [1980]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The Blues Brothers [1980]
Director: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Music
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 133 minutes (extended: 147 minutes)

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

As a Chicago resident, it’s almost blasphemous that I just now saw The Blues Brothers for the first time. This much-loved 1980 musical/comedy/action/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it is pretty much the quintessential Chicago movie, and it has a bit of a legendary status around here. Hell, last month Wrigley Field held a screening of the film (though the $20 bleacher and $40 lawn seats were too pricey for me). To say it was due time for me to familiarize myself with this is an understatement.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

The eponymous brothers are, of course, “Joliet” Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd). The film begins with Jake being released from Joliet Prison, making sure to grab his retained items on the way out (including “one unused prophylactic” and “one soiled”). Elwood picks him up in what they call the Bluesmobile — a beat-up 1974 Dodge Monaco patrol car. Before being incarcarated, Jake had promised the nun at their childhood orphanage that she would be the first person he would visit after being released. Upon arriving, the brothers are hit with the news that the orphanage will be forced to close unless $5,000 in property taxes are collected. Some financial brainstorming, aided by a trip to a wildly entertaining gospel church service, leads Jake and Elwood to discover a way to help come up with the money. Their plan? Re-form the Blues Brothers rhythm & blues band.

In order to do so, the siblings drive around the Chicagoland suburbs, making stops to attempt to lure their old bandmates back for their fundraiser gig. This hilariously leads to random musical encounters in which they run into legit musicians, all playing minor characters. The aforementioned church service is led by James Brown, who may be the coolest reverend I have ever seen. Other noteworthy appearances include Aretha Franklin running a soul food restaurant, Ray Charles owning a music shop, and John Lee Hooker jamming on a South Side street. Not knowing much about the film, these musical interludes were a pleasant surprise, and many of them were absolute highlights.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

There are two extended scenes in the film that I loved the hell out of. One is when the band, in their first gig in years, masquerades as “The Good Ol’ Boys”, a country group in a divey hick bar way outside of the city. The bartender reassures the guys that they have “both kinds of music here, Country AND Western“. With little choice, the band hops on stage. Their opening blues jam doesn’t go over well with the local folk, so they improvise by playing — what else? — the “Rawhide” theme song. Throw in a cover of “Stand By Your Man” and slowly they start to win over the increasingly drunker patrons. And with this scene, I fell in love with the movie.

Later, the big Chicago moments arrive. Watching the brothers drive their Bluesmobile through all sorts of familiar locations — lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street and the Daley Center, to name a few — was a lot of fun. Even more entertaining was watching them destroy damn near everything in their path, Daley Center included. As the cop cars continued to pile up, I just couldn’t believe how much damage was being done. This would have been crazy as hell to see being filmed, that’s for sure.

The Blues Brothers [1980]

While the stars of the film are undoubtedly Aykroyd and Belushi, it was Aykroyd who nailed it with his famous remark, “Chicago is one of the stars of the movie. We wrote it as a tribute.

I’m not sure what the differences are between the theatrical cut and extended version, but I watched the latter. I feel there were probably two or three unnecessary scenes included, as the nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime was a little exhausting. Regardless, I can’t say I have seen another film like The Blues Brothers, a rambunctious ode to my favorite city.

8/10

Video Game Review: Dyad [PS3]

Dyad [PS3]

Dyad
System: Playstation 3 [PSN]
Genre: Racing, Puzzle, Shooter, Music
Publisher: ][
Developer: ][
Price: $14.99
Release Date: July 17, 2012

Every now and then a game comes around that defies classification. Such is the case with Dyad, an exciting new PSN downloadable title that blends together puzzle, racing, shooter and music elements while sprinkling a few drops of acid to the mix. For those infatuated with wild visuals and vibrant colors, this is pure psychedelic bliss.

It’s a bit difficult to actually describe Dyad, as it is one of those games that just needs to be played to understand. While perusing trailers and gameplay videos, I was more confused than anything. The flashing lights, frenetic racing and kaleidoscopic colors looked overwhelming, and I had no clue what was going on. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect this is a common occurrence. However, as soon as I picked up the controller, everything just clicked.

Dyad has 27 levels, and the core gameplay has a similar theme throughout. Each stage takes place in a tunnel, and you control a squid-like character that can maneuver in the form of a circle. Various enemies and obstacles are presented off in the distance, and it is your job to manipulate these for your benefit as you frantically push forward. Each level has its own goal, and these help spice up the overall gameplay. Some early levels require “hooking” enemies together in order to boost speed, whereas others require the use of “lancing” in which foes are essentially consumed.

While the gameplay may sound confusing in text, the actual learning curve is quite simple. This is a textbook example of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” It’s possible to whip through the 27 levels in a matter of a couple hours, as all it takes to move onto the next is finishing a stage with a one star rating (out of a possible three). By getting the full three stars in a stage, a brand new challenge is unlocked in the form of trophy levels. In these, you are given a much more difficult goal to complete before time is up, with the reward being a trophy. In some of the later levels, it’s hard enough to get three stars, so completing many of these trophy levels can be an astonishing achievement in itself.

Since Dyad is a single player affair, any and all replay value comes in the form of beating these challenges while also trying to move up on the online leaderboards. Normally I don’t care about my online rankings, but I felt a tremendous sense of pride when I was able to finish a trophy level fast enough to be ranked sixth on the worldwide leaderboard. In that sense, it could easily get addictive to continually try to push your way to the top.

While the gameplay is impressively well-tuned, most people will be interested in Dyad because of its hallucinogenic properties. This is very much an audio/visual experience. While vivacious colors flash on screen, the game’s electronic music is perfectly synchronized with the action, creating something of a sensory overload. While screenshots give an idea of what the game looks like, the overall immersion from this is something that must be experienced. Many of the later levels move at breakneck speeds, creating a chaotic feel that certainly warrants the game’s preemptive epilepsy warning.

It is therein where Dyad’s biggest weakness can be found. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the action on screen, especially as momentum builds faster and faster. There were a few instances where I resorted to button mashing until things slowed down a bit, and occasionally my character was moving so fast it was near impossible to play strategically. While a bit problematic for attempting to achieve high scores, these reckless segments are still thrilling, albeit not in the same manner as others.

Quite simply, I haven’t played anything like Dyad before. While it has throwbacks to other games such as Rez and Tempest, it is very much a fresh and unique experience. The frantic gameplay and polychromatic visuals aren’t for everyone, but for those willing to give it a chance, it won’t take much to get hooked. Dyad is one of the more intriguing titles to be released this year, and I am looking forward to seeing what designer Shawn McGrath comes up with next.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Top Five Music Streaming Services

It is an amazing time to be a music lover. We live in an era where we have access to any and all music we could ever dream of, most of which can be found for free legally. It seems like every month a new music streaming service is created, and with so many options it can feel overwhelming to just pick one to listen to. I listen to a variety of services, and I wanted to share my personal top five choices.

Honorable Mentions:
Grooveshark – I am not a huge fan of its interface, but it has a huge music library and cool playlists.
Last.fm – I love the hell out of this site, but I use it more for statistical purposes than online streaming.
Rdio – Slick design with a massive library.
Slacker Radio – Good variety of radio stations created by actual DJs.
Soma.fm – Commercial free internet radio. Love their Groove Salad station.


5) 8tracks

8tracks labels itself as “handcrafted internet radio” which is a nice way of saying it has user-curated playlists. This is one for the inner DJ in you, as you can jump right in and create new mixes any way you want. If you would rather listen, there are countless playlists available, many of which contain inspired selections. The only downside is that you aren’t able to see what songs are on each mix beforehand due to copyright issues (and you can only skip a certain amount of songs). Still, these playlists are an excellent way to discover new music, and not knowing what’s coming next can be a lot of fun.

4) Pandora

Arguably the most popular service on the list, Pandora is an oldie but a goodie. Thanks to its “Music Genome Project“, Pandora is intelligently able to play similar music for any artist or genre. While there are occasional hiccups with its guesses, for the most part the service does a bang-up job. The website also gets bonus points for being incredibly well-designed and easy to use, plus it has apps on pretty much every modern electronic device you can think of.

3) Songza

A recent discovery for me, Songza is a web radio service with unique user-created playlists. What differentiates this service from others is that it will help you find a radio station based on the time of day and your current mood. For example, a weekday evening can present you with options for cooking, working out or winding down after a long day. From there, it will ask for a genre and then present you with a handful of suggestions. More often than not, these recommendations are dead-on and I end up falling in love with the stations. Of course, if you just want to find a certain genre or mood, you can easily do this manually as well. It’s like 8tracks but in radio form rather than a strict playlist. Also available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.

2) Turntable.fm

Turntable.fm is easily the most fun of all of these services. It is also the most social of the bunch, as it is basically a hybrid of a chat room and DJ party. The premise is simple: select an avatar, find a room then hop on the decks and start DJing. Users can “awesome” or “lame” the songs being played, and points are accrued based on how positive of a reaction your track gets. Points, in turn, are used to get new avatars, some of which are really cool. I have found certain rooms are excellent ways to discover new music, plus you get to meet some cool people along the way. Also available on iOS and Android.

1) Spotify

This is the future of music, folks. Spotify is a stand-alone program with an iTunes-like structure, and it seamlessly integrates both your personal MP3 library with its massive streaming collection. Their playlist system is incredibly easy to use, and there are now dozen of apps that are quite useful for discovering new music. My personal favorite is Share My Playlists, which compiles countless user-curated lists of all genres and themes. The service is also integrated with Facebook, meaning you can quickly share/discover music with your friends. For its diversity and sheer amount of options available, Spotify can’t be beat. I gladly pay $5/month to remove the advertisements.

What do you guys think? What is your favorite music streaming service? Anything I missed?