Thursday, 30 April 2009

Gears Of War Online, buying CDs you already have, realising you'r

I decided to try some Gears of War online last night. Was pretty fun. Ok, I sucked pretty badly, but it was still fun. The group I was playing with were pretty friendly and cool about my suckage and the team did pretty well, I even took a couple of rounds for us and assisted on more than a few kills. Only issue I had was that the Games For Windows Live client wasn't too keen on the mic for my headset, I had to turn the sensitivity up full and talk really loudly in order for it to pick up and transmit, even though I could hear myself clearly through the headphones. Annoying, particularly as online gaming was the main purpose for buying a headset. Buggeration basically. I have found myself in possession of a doubler CD for the first time in my life so far. I bought My Vitriols Finelines single disc edition waaaaaaaay back in 2000, they later released a double disc edition, the 2nd disc of which I bought on mp3 via the HMV digital store in 2006, and if you read my blog on digital music the other day you'll know why that's not acceptable for me. So I decided to buy the double disc edition off eBay. Arrived today, immaculate condition for used CDs, which is awesome, so I'm pretty happy with that. Turns out the first disc was remastered for the double disc edition, so I'm pretty excited to find out how the whole thing sounds. I'm using this somewhat short and pointless blog as a test subject for the google docs "Publish to blog" feature. I tried using it before and it totally fucked up the formatting with extra spaces shoved in everywhere, I fucked about with some of the settings in the blogger dashboard and hopefully that has sorted it out. This experience has resulted in inspiration for a future blog about my life as a google whore. Look for that one next week, ought to be informative at the very least:p freedoms_stain, out. edit: ok, so publishing via docs worked with all the correct formatting this time, but when I edited it inside blogger all the formatting disappeared, very strange. This time I'm just going to edit to put tags in, see what happens... edit2: I unfucked some of the settings I fucked with first time and everything seems to be cool now... I hope.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Digital Music, Worth It?

I don't think so, lets find out why >>>>>>>

The age of digital music is very much upon us and, for the moment, co-existing with the world of physical media. Digital delivery of music (and indeed most forms of media) has enjoyed a massive boom over the last few years, most of the success owing to Apples tying of their Ipod to Itunes and its associated store. Portable digital players are now widely available and in price brackets to suit all pockets and the allure of carrying hundreds and thousands of tracks in a device smaller than the volume of a single CD case is rather formidable. So with most people inevitably transferring their music from their physical CDs to their computer hard-drives for transfer to their portable devices many are attracted to the simplification of cutting out the need to buy and rip CDs in favour of a quick download Factor in the fact that increasing numbers of people now even forgo a traditional stereo system in exchange for a speaker dock for their portable device and the (apparent) logistics of owning a physical CD are further reduced.

Digital delivery has does have its advantages over CD

  1. It's almost instantaneous; you can sit at home, decide you want a particular album and have it purchased and available to you within minutes (even seconds!) of that initial decision. Consider the alternatives: You travel to a store, which depending on your location and situation could take minutes, hours or even days (if you work during the day for example). Or, you purchase from an online store which is going to take a minimum of a day (assuming you get next day delivery) So it's clear digital delivery wins this round

  2. Cost. Now this is a point of contention, a new release RRP CD is pretty much guaranteed to be more expensive than an equivalent digital download, however many (probably a majority in actual fact) CDs are sold well below RRP value and can in a significant number of cases be cheaper than the cost of the digital download. I'll say that for brand new releases digital delivery wins, but it isn't a win in all situations.

  3. Physical space. My CD collection, the entirety of which I have stored on my computer (In duplicate I might add, mp3 and Ogg Vorbis formats) takes up more volume (including cases) than my computer itself (which is a mid tower and not a small one at that), and about two CD boxes would engulf the volume of my 60 GB mp3 player (which also holds my entire CD collection) So it's clear that digital music wins the space round.

  4. Backup. Most digital delivery services will allow you to re-download your purchases multiple times (some an infinite number of times) should you ever lose the files for whatever reason. Break a CD and it's gone, you need to buy it again. So in this case, which I suppose comes under durability or archiving, digital once again wins.

Now we come to the disadvantages and issues with digital delivery, and these are the crux of the matter.

Lossy Formats

All the major digital download platforms sell their music almost exclusively in "lossy" compression formats usually encoded at 192 kbs VBR 320 kbs. For most lossy formats music at this bitrate exceeds the bitrate considered "transparent” (Transparency being the audio quality where the compressed file is indistinguishable from the source material on the same listening equipment). Transparency is very subjective and many individuals will experience transparency at lower bitrates and others at higher. So the 320 kbs files are "CD Quality" in terms of actual listening quality, but some (probably most) people won’t be able to tell the difference between a 192 kbs mp3 and a 320 kbs mp3, so the question of the value of the actual file size must be brought up. A 320kbs mp3 library takes up over a third more space than a 192 kbs library while offering no better quality (to most), a happier medium would probably be 256 kbs which even the most golden eared of listener would probably have trouble telling apart from the source. 320 kbs seems a bit wasteful, especially in light of the fact that most audiophiles, those who care most about quality, will want to own the CD and choose their own rippers and encoders for “optimum” quality.

The question of file size though is aside from the main problem I see with purchasing lossy format music: you're stuck with that format. Transcoding Lossy formats to other lossy formats or bitrates is possible but comes at the expense of quality, so although you can do it, you can't at the same time, which is kind of a shitty situation to be in.

But why should you care if you're stuck in one format or another, you'll just use that forever, it'll be around forever, right?

Maybe, but then again maybe not. Basically by subscribing to a particular lossy format you're gambling on that format surviving the test of time, that it'll continue to be supported by software and hardware in the future and that no better format will come along that will allow for better compression (smaller file size with equal or greater quality). Most of today's common formats will probably survive for a good long while, but are we confident they will never be superseded? Given the relentless march of technology, it is almost certain that they will be, or (and possibly more likely) as mass storage gets smaller and more affordable, it may become more practical to store ones music collection in a lossless format.

Digital music is most widely available in mp3 format because mp3 is the most widely supported format for portable players, but is it the best format? The answer is… no.

Mp3 exhibits inferior performance to or lacks features of several of the other lossy formats available, since I’m not an audio tech I’ll just link in the wiki for the really technical shit. Aside from that there’s the issue of quality versus size, most other lossy formats can produce the same quality as mp3 at a lower bitrate (or better quality for the same size), and mp3 performs poorly at lower bitrates (below 96 kbs) than other formats.

The initial design on mp3 didn’t make provisions for parameters such as gapless playback or volume normalization (replaygain) which have since been shoe-horned in through ID3 tag specifications. The ID3 tag itself is a weakness of the mp3 format since the tag must support a given field in order for information to be held whereas other tagging systems such as vorbis comments allows the addition of any field to the metadata.

Mp3 is also encumbered by patents which means anyone who sells music in mp3 format has to pay up for every x number of units sold, most other audio formats are bound in a similar manner although the Ogg Vorbis codec which was developed open source is not while performing better or comparibly to most other formats (in particular better than mp3)

Lossless Formats

So what's a lossless format? Lossless formats compress the audio data without losing any while lossy formats compress the audio data by cutting out data that is (supposed to be) outside the range of human hearing. The major advantage of lossless formats in todays landscape is that they can be transcoded to any lossy format you please. Therefore by archiving your music collection in a lossless format you can take advantage of the best lossy formats available at any given time for your portable player or mobile phone. Unfortunately in order to be lossless these formats must be of significantly larger size than lossy (as much as 10x), so lossless comes with the benefit of flexibility, but at the cost of size. Given that you can buy a brand new good quality 1TB hard-drive for less than £100 these days the size cost is considered less of a problem to the audiophiles of today.

One of the best lossless formats is flac (free lossless audio codec) developed by the XIPH foundation, the same folks behind Ogg Vorbis. Flac has garnered a lot of support because it outperforms most of its peers on most scores including compression, encoding, decoding and quality while being completely patent free.

Value For Money?

We must also consider here value for money, we already discussed how digital delivery is often and usually cheaper than CD, but is it good value for money? I think not.

In order to illustrate my point I decided to do some research. I chose an arbitrary album high in the Amazon.co.uk best selling chart and compared the price of the physical CD and the digital download on a variety of online stores (that was available and not pre-order) this happened to be Lady Gaga - The Fame. What I found was this:

Store

CD

Download

Bitrate

Format

Amazon.co.uk

£8.98

£6.49

256 kbs VBR

MP3

HMV.com

£8.99

£6.99

320 kbs*

MP3

7digital

/

£7.99

320 kbs**

MP3

play.com

£7.99

£6.99

320 kbs**

MP3

* HMV don't tell you what bitrate the file is in on the item description, in their help section it claims "depending on the supplier most are provided at 320kbps" which means you could be getting anything, and there is no mention of CBR or VBR

** play and 7digital both tell you the files are 320kbs in the description, but neither indicate whether this is CBR or VBR, even in their help sections.

Amazon offered the album at the cheapest download price and with the most information available, play offer the album at the best CD price while offering the best quality mp3 at an equal price to HMV. 7digital proved to be the poorest value offering downloads for the same price as play will sell you the CD (shipped) at £1 more than the same quality file elsewhere.

So consider the value of the mp3 here. For a saving of £1 you get your music faster but in a less flexible form. And it may not even prove to be a saving if you have to buy the exact same music in another format in a few years time, while your CD can be ripped over and over in any format you choose.

When you consider that lossy digital music isn't as "valuable" as a CD why is the cost not much lower? Is it overheads? Does hosting the content cost almost as much as running a warehouse?

Lets look at another digital distribution system: Steam. Steam sell PC games via digital delivery. A brand new major developer title costs on average about £29.99 on Steam (this is comparable to retail price in the UK, bear in mind that in the US Steam downloads are usually cheaper than retail, thus we are effectively getting shafted by Steam in the UK, BEAR THAT IN MIND) and in terms of size weighs in anywhere between 4 and 15GB (depending). If we take the last game I bought, The Last Remnant, £29.99 on Steam, around a 12GB download I believe, that's about £1 for 400MB of data. Compare this to a digital music download that costs you £7 for less than 100MB of data! So Steam, who are shafting their UK market are managing to host and deliver digital content, cover the costs of overheads, make profit for themselves and make profit for the games publishers and developers for 28 times LESS cost to the consumer than the digital music providers.

Something is seriously fucked up here, and I'm pretty sure it can be summed up in one word: Greed. Someone on the music side is being unreasonable and greedy bastards. They're charging an inflated price for an inferior product because someone is lumping additional costs onto the cost of that product and it's pretty to work out who it is: LICENSE HOLDERS.

There are two license holders who're lumping additional charges onto the cost of your music

  1. The licensee of the music: the record companies

  2. The owners of the intellectual property governing your digital technology format: MP3!

The record companies you probably could have predicted, but I bet most of you were not aware prior that MP3 is licensed technology, and if you want to sell music in that format you have to pay, and that adds cost to the consumer, you and me bub. But that alone can't account for why music is 28 times more expensive than games, the MP3 license charge simply isn't big enough, the remainder has to come from either the digital distributor or the record companies, and given all the knickers getting in knots over royalties from services including Pandora, YouTube, MYspace and even Itunes I'm going to have to slap my wager on the record companies being the problem.

>Rant

What really grabs my goat about this is that all these services can be run at a profit for all parties in the States but the license holders in the UK (and Europe) are demanding such high royalties as to make the running of these services unfeasible. Pandora no longer service anywhere outside of North America and YouTube have been forced to whore out the site to commercialism in order to turn a profit, yet satisfactory arrangements can be made in the US. Who the fuck is being unreasonable here? Someone, and maybe even several people need to wake up and smell the shit, because the state of the commercial world smells like shit, and it is going to drive more and more people towards piracy (which smells good in this analagy). People WANT to support the bands they love, but we all know now that it's the record companies who are not only taking the biggest slice of the pie, they're taking the whole thing and trying to steal other peoples, then they cry when anybody fights back, and it's really hard to care.

/rant.

Of course one way digital distribution platforms could enhance their value is by promising to replace all music purchased from them with files in newer better formats for free as they become available, but I think that’s somewhat unlikely unless the cost of bandwidth falls to zero between now and then.

So that’s about it really. I don’t think digital music is worth the cost, in fact I think we’re probably being ripped off to a not inconsiderable degree.

Next blog (in this vein) will carry some recommendations on good software to get the best out of your digital collection. Watch this space.

freedoms_stain, out.

Gaming: The first person perspective...

I rather seem to be losing interest in FPS games of late. And by "of late" I really mean "since HL2 ep2". I did quite enjoy the short amount of Bioshock I've got through, but whenever the opportunity to play something in 3rd person, particularly if it features some kind of swordplay or other melee combat I jump on that and leave FPS games I've had much longer gathering dust. It must have something to do with the general gameplay mechanics of FPS games, I enjoyed Gears of War (which is practically an FPS in many ways) enormously, but the gameplay mechanics offer something different, something perhaps a bit more challenging and exciting and new, whereas most FPS games play almost identically, the only major variations being setting, enemies and weaponry. You can almost have identical control schemes mapped on your keyboard for every game. I guess I have just fallen out of love with the FPS genre. At least for now. You can bet your sweet ass I'll have HL2 Ep3 preloaded as soon as Steam have it up, but tonight when I go home and I have the choice of continuing Bioshock or FEAR (another game I've had for ages and barely touched) or playing The Last Remnant or Lost Planet, I know the latter have more chance of winning out that the former.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Assassins Creed and Gears of War - Completed!

I got Assassins Creed in the Ubisoft Steam sale last month (or whenever it was) and finally finished it this week. Pretty disappointing game all in all. It looks stunning and it has a lot of great ideas, it's just unfortunate that all those ideas were executed in the worst ways possible. The problem is that it's boring, starts out fairly easy, and the upgrades to your weapons and abilities vastly outstrip the increase of difficulty, so the net effect is that the game gets easier as you go along. By the end you can (and are indeed forced to) reasonably easily take out groups of 8 or more soldiers without much danger of losing. The free running aspect was a good idea, unfortunately it amounts to holding down a couple of buttons and pointing Altair in the right direction, you don't need to time jumps or anything, it's all done automatically, you just run and point. Not my idea of fun really. The idea of investigating your target before you go off to assassinate him was good too, however every single one of the 9 investigations is near identical and far too easy. The ending also stank of sequel, which of course is in the works. Hopefully they'll iron out all the things that made the original stale and produce a nice well rounded piece. They've no excuse not to really, all the problems have been pointed out for them by the press, they shouldn't be making the same mistake twice (like insta-death for touching water, I mean seriously what the fuck? Highly trained assassin can't swim?) I completed Gears of War (Windows version) today too. Picked this up for £15 from HMV a month or so ago. I first played this on my mates 360, and although I sucked enormously at the time I found the gameplay mechanics interesting. It's basically a shooter that revolves around a duck'n'cover style of play. You spend most of your time hunkered down behind random bits of (oddly convenient) debris and walls and such, popping out to fire at exposed enemies and attempting to out flank them. It's insanely fun in my humble opinion. The game is co-op based, you always have at least one computer controlled friendly tagging along, although sometimes I wonder if the friendly A.I. was purposefully made a bit retarded, some enemies in the game require specific strategies to take out, yet the A.I. is pretty happy to go for an all-out frontal assault, and once they're down said enemies will then devote all their killing attention on you. I think this is a game best played with a human co-op partner. The game has on-line play via Windows Live (both co-op and various versus modes), I've yet to check that out, I might do soon though to gain some of the online achievements. Online play is often quite frustrating for me as my ping is usually quite high which results in lots of annoying lag. I slightly suspect this to be down to the enormous phone extension lead used to connect our router to the phone line. Unfortunately no one will listen to me when I say if you're going to use a big fuck off cable like that then you should use network cable that was designed to carry broadband signals over a distance rather than a shitty phone extension that was not (particularly when said extension is literally meters longer than it has to be) Gears on Windows received a lot of bad press for bugs like unloadable checkpoints, but I never had any problems like that, the only problems I had were two occasions of computer-controlled Dom not following me and one occasion on the train at the end where I managed to get Fenix stuck on a door and had accidentally grenaded myself to death attempting to blast free. The Windows version has something like 20% more content than the 360 version and the latest patch seems to remove all the issues it had before, so I'd defo be happy to recommend this to others, particularly if you like a bit of online play. Also, I found out that if you launch a non-Steam game (such as GoW) via the shortcut launcher of Steam it'll apply the Steam overlay, so you can access you Steam web browser and your Steam friends list from within any game. Pretty useful. One last thing, I fucking hated that Brumak. freedoms_stain, out.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sleep...

I often wish I had more ours in the day, or that I didn't get tired or that I didn't have to go to bed by 'x' o'clock in order to be refreshed enough to work the next day. The average person spends about a third of their life asleep, a third! Think about all the other stuff you could've done in that time! The skills you could have learned! The books you could have read! The movies you could have watched! The games you could have played! Look at all the exclamation marks!!! But we need sleep. We need to spend 6-8 hours a day for our brains to rest and our cognitive abilities be restored. If only there were a better way to obtain that rest. I used to think it would be cool if sleep could be taken as a pill or an injection, instant rejuvenation, the effects of a full nights sleep and no side effects. That's a pretty massive fucking pipe dream right there, but it still sounds awesome to me. Some people have experimented with so-called 'polyphasic sleep', the idea that you take shorter more frequent bursts of sleep periodically. Some people split their normal 6-8 hour sleep up, others try and bring it down to 2-6 hours total. It'd be a good idea if it worked, but all evidence suggests that people who try the polyphasic approach perform less well than they do while taking normal monophasic sleep. It also has a bunch of other problems, hard to integrate into a normal lifestyle if you have to take a nap regularly, where do you get this sleep during an 8 hour work day? It's really impractical on so many levels. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy sleep, my girlfriend will testify to that, I'd rather just have more control over when I did it and how often. Right now I really want to play some games or something, but alas, I am tired :s freedoms_stain, out.

The Last Remnant

Took the plunge and ordered The Last Remnant today. I've been playing the demo on Steam, and although I'm not entirely sure what was going on most of the time I found it pretty enjoyable. For those not in the know The Last Remnant is an RPG by Square-Enix (of Final Fantasy fame) that was released on Xbox360 last year and ported to PC (with lots of bug fixes, enhancements and extras) earlier this month. It's kinda strange, rather than the traditional J-RPG model of build team of guys> go on adventure where you then give each unit in your team orders each "turn" in battle you rather build up several teams called Unions which you give general orders to, usually limited to which enemy union to attack and "how" i.e. you don't tell each character exactly what action to take, but might order 'attack with combat arts' or 'attack with mystic arts' there's a wide array of commands available depending on the situation, for example you may 'Finish this' or 'save them at all costs', sometimes you can even let the units make their own decisions. Unfortunately the demo contains no form of tutorial so you're pretty much dropped in the deep end and really have to play things by ear - not the best approach to demoing when you've invented an unorthodox approach to RPGing. Still, for all that I think the game will be worth a look, primarily because the game itself should be enjoyable, but also because interest in The Last Remnant might convince Square that the PC is a format worth developing for. Basically I have a small vain hope that FF XIII will make it over to PC. I really doubt it, but one can but hope. If not FF XIII then maybe other Square projects. I don't have a current gen console right now and I'm missing a lot of good RPGs as a result. The upside of that I suppose is that all the good games I'm missing will be nice and cheap by the time I step into the current console market. Should mention, the place I've ordered from is www.gameplay.co.uk for a mere £15.99 (free 2nd class postage, 99p for 1st class). The overall prices on there are excellent, recommend anyone check it out if they're looking for games on any platform. Final note, a major selling point for me of this game was actually the title music, check it out, it's epic:
freedoms_stain, out.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Music: Idlewild

Idlewild shall be the first subject in my series of music blogs, welcome to the show :) Before you continue below you'll find a link for Spotify users to an accompanying Spotify playlist, and for users who don't use Spotify there's a flash playlist from playlist.com (note the track Make a New World has been mislabelled and Is actually called Everything (As It Moves))
Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones
Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/user/freedoms_stain/playlist/1RF6SEI12IhiE3bHTO1I35 Some time in early 2000 (January probably, putting me at 14) my friend Mick came round to have a go on the brand new PS2 I'd got for Christmas, bringing with him two CDs he'd nicked from his brothers collection, one the self titled d├ębut of American soft rockers Third Eye Blind, the other an album entitled 100 Broken Windows by a band called Idlewild. The music was an interesting mix of mid-paced soft rock and energetic grungy pop-punk, the cumulative effect nothing short of outstanding. I needed little persuasion to copy the album on the spot (using the now defunct mini-disc format which I used right up until I got my first mp3 player in '03 or '04). I have since purchased the CD and every listen reminds me how damned worth it every penny was :D (ok, it only cost me £5, that's mega-extreme value for this album). 100 Broken Windows opens with a strong riff-based number called Little Discourage, a song which also made it as the albums first single release. This song really exemplifies the bands style at the time, opening with a catchy main riff at a nice easy pace which then builds up pace by switching to a chord progression in the pre-chorus and hitting that energetic grungy pop-punk with a sing-along chorus that brings the listener the sort of elation that a good chorus is supposed to bring, the sort of chorus you can be listening to in public with the headphones on and be severely tempted just to scream out "All I Need Is A Little DISCOURAGE!" along with the song. Having your first single, the reason many people will have bought the album in the first place as your opening track is a bold move, but one that Idlewild can afford to take as the rest of the album is just as strong. I'd love to take each track in turn and explain why I love it, but alas I fear that would somewhat damage the blogs readability, instead from this point I suggest you check out the songs themselves via the Spotify playlist link. My personal favourites from the album include These Wooden Ideas, Roseability (this one fucking rules actually), Idea Track, Actually It's Darkness and Quiet Crown. I feel these deserve special mention, but I honestly believe this is one of those rare albums that is devoid of a bad track (ok, I didn't like Rusty or The Bronze Medal that much initially, but they grow on ya :p)
In 2002 the band released The Remote Part to decent commercial success in the UK. The album marked a change in direction for the band, in addition to their rock aspect the band added an acoustic approach with general leanings towards folk and an all round gentler approach to vocals by the bands singer Roddy Woomble. Despite the introduction of the softer elements the album still sounds distinctly Idlewild and it all sits together as one impressively cohesive unit.
The album once again opens with the first single released from the album You Held the World In Your Arms. Right from the opener you can hear the difference between this Idlewild and Idlewild previous, there's definitely a maturity here, the song writing has grown, the guitar is providing more melody than before and there's the addition of symphonic elements in the main theme of the song. The grunge aspect is still there, but now it feels like the more refined grunge of Pearl Jam rather than the rawness of Nirvana. The album is full of pace changes, but they transitions feel smooth and welcome rather than awkward and jarring, the first two tracks of the album power through at breakneck speed to be tempered by the ballad American English which begins softly and gently and builds to a crescendo at the chorus, it's a well worn tried and tested approach, and this track proves better than most that it works. The first song that starts to show leanings of the new acoustic leanings of the band is Live In A Hiding Place which opens with a simple picked acoustic progression and is later joined by the whole ensemble avec electric guitars. This truly is one of the albums stand out tracks and demonstrates the bands willingness to experiment with new things, such as acoustic and piano. The last track I want to go into more detail with here is the albums final (and title) track In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction. I want to, but I won't. I think this is a track you have to hear in order to get the full effect. All I'll say is make sure you've got your volume up good n loud. Gives me the chills. Unlike 100 Broken Windows I can't give you a handful of personal favourites, this album is a personal favourite. Buy it. Buy it now. And for me that's where Idlewild ended for a while. I have regularly listened to these two albums ever since, but I didn't keep up with the bands career following In Remote Part. I remember seeing them do a free public performance in Fopp in Glasgow (centre not West End) in support of their next album (Warnings/Promises in 2005) which struck me as the worst possible shop to do a performance in one could conceive of. The shop has middle floor that is little more than an extended landing that looks over the ground floor, the crowd stood on the ground floor and the band played on the middle floor. Unfortunately due to the design of the ceiling you couldn't see anyone standing up in the middle floor from the ground floor except from certain vantage points, so Roddy (being the only one without a seat) spent most of the show on his knees so we could see him. I didn't buy the album, even though I enjoyed their performance, and I didn't really think much about it again until 2008. I think the reason for staying away was largely due to a change in my general taste in music at the time, I was more in to harder rock and metal and the idea of listening to stuff that leaned more on the soft side wasn't too attractive at the time. I don't know why, time, changing tastes, curiosity, whatever, I decided to hook back into Idlewild, so I got my hands on Warnings/Promises, its follow up Make Another World and the two releases they'd made before I got into the the first time, Captain and Hope Is Important. All these I'm less familiar with, I'm really crap with song names and it literally takes years before I can look at a list of songs by a band and know what they sound like from their titles alone. Warnings/Promises is a much slower paced affair, none of the tracks build up much past a mid pace. The bands folk influences are clearly apparent throughout the album, even touching upon an almost country like feel with jangly lightly overdriven guitars fairly prevalent throughout. The album on the whole feels very "Scottish", most of the songs here wouldn't sound out of place at a Scottish modern folk festival. Fans of their earlier sound may not be particularly keen on this record, although those who include the softer genres of rock/pop music among their favourites will probably appreciate this. I'm not incredibly familiar with the track names on the album but I managed to comb through it and whack some personal highlights onto the Spotify playlist, if you check out one song from this album make it El Capitan, there's something about the driving pop beat of this song that makes it divine. Make Another World, released in 2007 made a return to the faster pace of earlier Idlewild, but balanced nicely against their later approach. The grungy tone largely absent from Warnings/Promises is instantly apparent in the opener to Make Another World, In Competition For The Worst Time. Unfortunately Spotify is almost entirely devoid of tracks from Make Another World and only one of the albums more prominent singles No Emotion is available, although I got a couple more on the flash playlist (including In Competition For The Worst Time, so check em out. Make Another World continues as it begins with a further couple of tracks reminiscent of the bands earlier sound, albeit with a nice dose of modern Idlewild to give the tracks a fresher sound. The net pace of this album is definitely up beat, most of the songs are pretty driven at least in parts and the album generally strikes a good balance between the grungy tones of their youth and the more tempered tones of their maturity. Unfortunately I'm not able to provide you with many examples from this album, but check out No emotion and In Competition For The Worst Time from the playlists for a brief taster. If you're hungry for more stand out tracks for me on the album aside from those two include most of the album :p seriously, this is a supreme return to form for a band that has experimented with different directions and has really hit the right formula on this one. I saw the album going for £3 in Fopp recently, which is practically criminal. Actually just listening to the last song Finished It Remains there and wish I could share it, it's an awesome closing song, closing moments are something the band does extremely well. I think too many bands finish albums in a rather lack lustre manner and Idlewild always seem to make the last track really count. Give you something to inspire you to come back to the album again and again knowing that it's one hell of a journey and the end is just as satisfying as the beginning. That's about it from me on Idlewild peeps. You might notice that I haven't said much about their early days, and that's cus I don't have much to say on their early days, however I did throw on one of their early songs at the end of the playlists. Hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing. freedoms_stain, out.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Need new Authors to read

I've been trying to read the Shannara books by Terry Brooks, and although I managed to get all the way through Sword of Shannara, Elfstones of Shannara is really unexciting and pretty crappy over all. I stuck with Sword of Shannara because I wanted to see what this magic sword did (which turned out to be pretty boring in my humble opinion) and Elfstones doesn't even have that to hold me. I borrowed a David Gemmel book from the library, I forget what it's called now, I'll give that a go, or maybe try some more Stephen King. Unfortunately the Gemmel book is a hard back which is a bit of a pain in the tits for carrying around (I rarely read in the house, usually on public transport and at work). I need to try some new authors, I like the idea of this Christian Jacq fella, sets all his books during the reign of the Pharoahs in ancient Egypt, could be interesting. Maybe I should try reading outside my usual scope, maybe try some crime writers or something. Perhaps I should wait til I actually have a reader or two before posting stuff like this, you can't get reccommendations from nobody :D freedoms_stain, out.

Monte Carlo final, J.G. Ballard dies.

So the final of the Monte Carlo was today, Rafael Nadal came out top against Novak Djokovic. Not particularly surprising, and in context of Andy Murray's pursuit of the No.3 spot, the preferential result in my eyes :p Djokovic actually gave Nadal a better run for his money in the final than Murray did in the semis considering Djokovic managed to take a set from Nadal and Murray didn't (although he came close). Roll on the next competition. Read on the BBC that author J.G. Ballard died yesterday. I've read quite a few of his books over the years. If you don't recognise the name he was the author of the book "Empire of the Sun", a semi-autobiographical account of a young boys experiences in Shanghai during WWII and his interment in a Japanese POW camp which was later made into a film (starring a very young Christian Bale). I actually did my SSL for Higher English on Empire of the Sun, decent read, the fact that much of it is true makes it quite compelling. Ballards books vary between very good and total mind-fuck in my opinion. His science fiction works are the most mind fuckery in my opinion, they're mostly short stories, so he's just showing you a snapshot of a world he's made up in his head, it's often not what you expect science fiction to be either, it's not space battles or robots or any of that stuff, it's more psychological than that, which is where the mind-fuck comes in. I much preferred his books set in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his books are generally better than the films made of them (I'm thinking Empire of the Sun and Crash here). His books are often overtly sexual and/or violent, so if you really don't want to read fairly graphic descriptions of sex or sexual feelings, I'd probably give Ballard a wide berth, particularly Crash, that's pretty wall-to-wall sex. It's strange, although I enjoyed it Super Cannes took me well over a year to read, something to do with starting The Dark Tower in the middle no doubt :D Super Cannes, although fiction, makes me never ever ever want to be in the sort of lifestyle depicted in the book of the people of Edin Olympia, I think I'd rather be dirt poor than lead the sort of existence where I need to inflict pain on others or play cruel games in order to feel alive (being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers) So, James Ballard, rest in peace, now I'll be compelled to read your other works, even though they're not going to disappear overnight just because you're dead. (I'll stop talking to the dead man now...) On the promised music blog (yeah, I know there's no one reading right now, but it keeps me right) it's nearly finished, I have a draft saved and I'll probably get it published tomorrow. I might have to learn a bit of HTML now, the picture I posted in my first blog isn't positioned properly and I'm wondering if fiddling with the HTML would fix it. We shall see, freedoms_stain, out.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Murray out to Nadal at Monte Carlo

So Murray reaches his first ever semi-final on clay only to be put out by Raphael Nadal. Well, if you're going to go out of a competition might as well go out to the world No.1. Murray took a bit of a spanking in the 1st set losing it 6-2, the 2nd set was a bit more hard fought with Nadal eventually taking the set in a tie break 7-6 (7-4). It would've been nice to see it come down to a 3rd set but it wasn't to be unfortunately. It does show that Murray can give Nadal a match on one of his favourite surfaces, which bodes well for his growth as a player. Novak Djokovic came through his semi-final match against Stanislas Wawrinka and will face Nadal in the final. Making it a stage further than Murray helps Djokovic stretch his short lead on Murray for the No.3 ranking and a win tomorrow would stretch it further. I hope the final will be a close match, and so it should be as both men are at the top of their sport right now. May the best man win. freedoms_stain, out.

Music blogs, (Spotify)

I'm going to be writing several music blogs here on specific bands and I want the reader to be able to listen to the band while they read, so I've been looking at various ways to deliver audio content. I've had a look at some possibilities and it looks like there isn't a single method that'll work for all the bands I want to discuss so it looks like I'll be using one of the following three depending on which has the best selection of tracks for a particular artist. 1) Spotify This is really the reason for this particular blog, the other methods don't require anything other than an internet browser, but spotify requires you to install separate software. http://www.spotify.com/en/ I wouldn't ask anyone to download anything if I didn't think it was worth the hard drive space. Spotify is a streaming music service, you download their client (see above) and from there can search their database for music to listen to, and build playlists. The playlists functionality is what I'm interested in, you can generate an HTTP link of your playlist which other Spotify users can click to launch within their own Spotify client. Spotify comes free (supported by advertising) and via fee based subscription, personally I use the free version and don't find the ads too intrusive, so I'm pretty happy to recommend it. The Spotify database is pretty vast and bears entire albums of many artists, and the roster grows all the time. Try it out. 2) playlist.com This service allows me to embed a playlist directly into the blog with no additional requirements placed on the reader, you just have to press play. I'll probably add a short playlist.com playlist for all the artists that have songs available on the service for the short term convenience of those who don't want to download Spotify or are using a computer that doesn't have Spotify. 3) Youtube I'm not so keen on using Youtube playlists, particularly as these are more at risk of having videos removed by uploaders, videos removed for copyright infringement and videos not being available in certain regions. However, I may use these from time to time, particularly if there is scant selection on the other two services for a particular artist. That's all on this stuff for now, I'll hopefully get my first music blog up tomorrow freedoms_stain, out

Friday, 17 April 2009

It should be a crime

I think I've just seen the most overweight child I have ever seen in my life. If you measured her BMI I'm pretty sure she's be in the morbidly obese category. Her father was a big guy too, but in that "yeah he's fat, but clearly built and not too unhealthy" kind of way, whereas his daughter was just pure blubber crammed into her clothes, belly hanging over a pair of ridiculously small jeans, her breathing distressingly laboured for someone no older than 12. And in all seriousness I think this should be considered a crime, it has to count as some kind of either neglect or abuse. The father seemed like a nice guy and everything, but he (or the childs mother) are literally feeding this girl to death. It really depresses me when I see this sort of thing, here in the West of Scotland we're "heart disease capital of Europe" and some people seem to be determined for us to keep the crown. If I had more time I'd rant some more about the state of Scotlands health but I don't. I promise myself right now if I ever have kids I will feed them healthily and make sure they get their arses out the door and exercise. freedoms_stain, out.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Introductions, Andy Murray and Mini Eggs...

Good day one and all, welcome to my brand spanking new blog, One Scots Thoughts. I am indeed from Scotland and on the web I'm known (or unknown as the case may be) as freedoms_stain (and variants thereof) so chances are if you've seen the handle elsewhere, same person here. I'm new to blogger but not to blogging, my previous blogging outlet was on ultimate-guitar.com, started out as a forum regular in "The Pit" moved on to being a fairly involved contributor to their profiles/community blogging endeavour, but with the increasingly "MySpaceness" of the profiles and general loss of interest in their overly spammy and ineptly moderated Pit forum (where I spent most of my time there) I decided to call it quits. However after a mere week I found myself missing the simple pleasures of firing my thoughts down and hurling them into the e-void for the scrutiny of faceless peers, so I sought another outlet, and that lead me here, Ta Da! So, to add some actual meat to this post, Tennis, or more specifically British No.1 (World No.4) Andy Murray (a fellow Scot no less). Recently beat World No.3 Novac Djokovic for the Indian Wells Masters and has made his way to the 3rd round of the Monte Carlo Masters (although I think he got a by through the 1st round). His third rpund match is suspended until tomorrow due to rain where he's ahead a set. And MAN what a 1st set, Murray loses the 1st 5 games, then pulls back the next 5 and takes it in the tie break. I swear British tennis players have some sort of genetically coded imperative to add drama to every competition they enter, one moment they'll be shitting form and the next they'll be shitting bricks (or vice versa as was the case today) The same thing happened with Djokovic, Shitting form on the 1st set, then bricks it in the middle of the 2nd set before pulling it out the bag again. Tim Henman put us through the same crap, except he spent more time bricking it, and usually towards the end of the match thus getting beaten all the time, whereas Murray tends to have his slips in the middle or at the beginning, regaining his form later on to clinch the victory. Still, it'd be nice to see a few more Federer (although not recently) or Nadal style cakewalks to victory here or there. A few pundits think this'll be Murrays year for a Grand Slam (ending the best part of a century of British Male singles Grand Slam shame), fingers crossed, the guy has shown he's got the chops to beat the best and the fitness issues that plagued his teenage years appears to have been exercised (lol pun) away. Last brain Fart for this entry: Oh yes, Cadburys mini eggs, the ultimate in egg shaped goodness. In Easters future I shall insist that my loved ones furnish me with mini eggs only, forgoing the traditional large hollow egg format. Why? Because mini eggs rule, you can't get em all year round, and that little crispy sugar coating adds a crunchy texture that makes the overall effect simply orgasmic. Mini eggs for everyone! I've been freedoms_stain, this has been my first blog on blogger (hopefully someone will read it :p) Look forward to firing out more thoughts and observations on here. Adieu