Track Review: Purity Ring featuring Danny Brown – Belispeak II

Electronic hit makers Purity Ring are back with a revised version of Belispeak, a single from 2012 album Shrines. Danny Brown has breathed new life into the track with a new hip-hop flavour and a faster tempo allows it to sit more comfortably next to Hip-Hop bangers from the likes of Kanye West and Chance The Rapper. Brown’s lyrics are some of the best in the game right now and are malleable enough to fit within the framework of Purity Ring’s ethereal style. Brown’s grimy, street lyrics could jar with Purity Ring’s dark and dreamy instrumentation but he manages to tie the two very different vocal styles together fairly well, relating the lyrics about “when my belly speaks” to Brown’s hunger growing up poor and then to his hunger in the rap game.

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Purity Ring bring new meaning to ‘Old School’

The autotune in the track feels a little unnecessary, seemingly thrown in for a little more 808’s flavour but ends up coming across just a little tacky. Neither artists need to use autotune as a crutch or a gimmick, and it only serves to actually make Megan James’ otherworldly vocals sound less impressive.

My swag is this big

The track doesn’t break new ground for either artist but what we have here is a perfectly serviceable fusion of indie electronica and southern slightly-trap influenced hip-hop. The biggest complaint I have is that the track is simply inoffensive and challenges neither fan base or artist. With that being said, these artists both show incredible potential and my fingers are crossed for potential future collaborations making good on the promise of this track and 25 Bucks, the two artist’s second collaboration on Danny Brown’s Old.

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Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea, Episode One (DLC) – Review

Bioshock Infinite was one of the best games of the year and undeniably, one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game. It immersed you within a bizarre new world that was at once disturbing and beautiful. It was equal parts intense first person shooter and thrilling tale of prejudice, identity and redemption.  Infinite was an ambitious attempt at mixing many big ideas and science fiction concepts with exciting game play and it did so with mastery.

The city of Rapture is more visually stunning than ever

With the bar set so catastrophically high by Infinite and the original Bioshock it would be difficult for the first part of the planned two part DLC Expansion Burial At Sea to not disappoint. The game returns to Rapture, the underwater metropolis from the first game, except this time we get to see the city in full swing. In the opening half hour we join Booker and Elizabeth, albeit alternate versions of them, re-imagined as noir movie archetypes as they explore Rapture in search of a little girl who has gone missing. Fans who have played both games should already be putting together the pieces of what is really going on, but in classic Bioshock fashion the game keeps it’s story cards close to the chest, only giving you small snippets of clues before an ending reveal that even seasoned Bioshock fans will not see coming.

Many fans will be excited to see the fall of Rapture, witnessing the transformation from high flying technological marvel to an undersea mausoleum of the weird and grotesque, just as they did the city of Columbia in Infinite. Unfortunately we don’t really get to see that in Episode One, instead we get a snapshot of Rapture at it’s peak before being dropped into an already  destroyed portion of the city in the form of Fontaine’s sunken mall, that has now been turned into a prison for splicers. Hopefully we will get to see the eventual collapse of Rapture’s ecosystem but that spectacle is clearly being held back for Episode Two.

It’s still fascinating to see Rapture’s bizarre society in full swing

The gameplay is a half way house between the slower, more RPG inspired combat of the first game with the faster, pulse pounding whiz-bang action of Infinite. The result is… it doesn’t really work. The game faces you with tougher enemies than Infinite, forcing you to utilize both your Vigour powers and the regular weapons, however ammo and EVE (mana) is very scarce forcing you to scavenge every nook and cranny for scraps of ammo, health and mana. The combat is always manic but rarely that satisfying, and sometimes frustrating. On the plus side, I appreciated the return of the skyhook which is always a joy to use and the handful of new vigours and weapons are great fun to experiment with, especially the Range Wave Gun that pumps an enemy full of heat before having them explode and damage enemies around them in a satisfying deluge of fried guts.

The game also tries to incorporate some underdeveloped stealth elements. Once you have entered a new area, Elizabeth will alert you to the presence of enemies and suggests that you try to take them out quietly. You can crouch and sneak up behind an enemy and one-shot kill them with an execution but doing so will usually result in being spotted by other guards and as such amounts to little more than a throw-away mechanic. Game designers need to learn that stealth gameplay only really works when the entire game is designed around it, for example Far Cry 3 integrated stealth from the very beginning giving you multiple options for approaching and dispatching enemies as well as excellently communicating the locations of enemies with the ‘marking’ mechanic. Burial At Sea does a poor job at communicating to the player where the enemies are positioned leading to the stealth feeling frustrating and tacked on.

‘Old Man Winter’ is a new Vigour/Plasmid that allows enemies to be frozen in ice

The other major sticking point with this DLC is it’s length. I beat the first part in little over 2 hours, which isn’t great for a game that costs £11.99, and in fact may leave players who skipped the season pass to feel slightly ripped off. The short length isn’t helped by the pacing. I only really felt like I was getting to grips with the game’s feel as I came to the end and an out of left-field story sequence placed after the game’s first truly exhilarating encounter had me feeling like the game had abruptly ended before it had really begun. Which brings me to the game’s problematic ending, I won’t go in to too much details as one of the great joys of the Bioshock series is it’s unique storytelling, but needless to say the ending of Burial At Sea Episode One left me less than satisfied. The deluge of plot information is told in such a rapid flurry of exposition that I could barely get my head around it and am still confused at how the twist ties in with the ending of Infinite. I just hope that with Episode Two all will become clear.

A chilling cameo from Bioshock’s Sander Cohen is one of the game’s highlights

Right now, it looks like Part Two is going to have a lot to answer for if Burial At Sea is to be considered a worthwhile entry to the Bioshock franchise. When all is said and done Episode One simply feels rushed. The gameplay and story both have incredible potential but, partially due to the length, they both end up feeling underdeveloped. For some, it will be worth the price of admission simply to revisit the enigmatic world of Rapture once more with upgraded visuals, but for those still on the fence, perhaps it would be best to wait for Episode Two to decide if Burial At Sea is worth your time because right now, Episode One is only making a great case for the ‘Season Pass’ model being a very flawed system.

Fall Out Boy – PAX AM Days (EP) – Review

One of the front runners of the early 2000s Emo/Pop-Punk boom, California Quartet Fall Out Boy have always had a certain disregard for their reputation, often maligned for their penchant for sugary sweet choruses and melodramatic self-hating emo lyrics. FOB know their loyal and vocal fan base and have had no qualms with catering directly to them and no one else, slowly progressing over the course of their five full length releases to the theatrical, arena-conquering sound of Save Rock & Roll, an album that embraced the band’s cheesy side in an attempt to recall the classic Rock & Roll records of old.

Fall Out Boy sure can make a racket! ….I’m sorry

Needless to say the record was not exactly to my tastes, but it was not without it’s enjoyable moments, the titular soaring ballad featuring a guest appearance from none other than Elton John kicks off with chopped and screwed vocal samples of FOB’s first record before launching into a defiant boom-boom-clap chorus and some actually pretty inspirational lyrics (“You are what you love, not who loves you”), while you can’t truly appreciate the fist-pumping anthem The Phoenix until you’ve witnessed it destroying a festival crowd of several thousand.

With this unapologetic surge towards mainstream rock legend status, it seems odd then that at this juncture FOB would make such a pointed move to win back fans who dismiss the band as overproduced garbage with the stripped down, hardcore influenced EP PAX AM Days.

While this out of left field release is an admirable concept, it has mixed results. The 8 track EP is a brief affair, with all but one of the tracks coming in at under 2 minutes. Fall Out Boy are attempting to capture that hardcore sound albeit with their own melodic stamp with varying degrees of success. The guitar work is fast and aggressive with similarly abrasive drumming, recalling the instrumentation of NOFX and Gorilla Biscuits. After the layered, lavish production of Save Rock & Roll, this almost entirely live-recorded sound is an almost jarring change of pace. The instrumentation here is more Black Flag than Jimmy Eat World with power chords and brief, improvised sounding solos abound.

“Hold up bro, we can do hardcore.”

Both drummer Andy Hartup and lead guitarist Joe Trohman have previously played in hardcore bands and this experience shows in the 8 track’s driving rhythms and grooves. This project was tipped as a collaboration between the band and producer Ryan Adams (Weezer, Counting Crows) and his influence does shine through, although when it comes to production, the recordings are so bare bones one has to wonder what Adams actually did besides setting up the instruments and hitting ‘record’.

Most out of place here are Patrick Stump’s vocals. Stump has killer vocal range, which is probably a major contributing factor to FOB rising above the sea of similar bands, however here his theatrical vocal style often jars with the rough-around-the-edges instrumentation. The “Yeah I said the king is dead!” refrain of opener We Were Doomed From The Start is one moment where Stump’s vocals work, laying a bouncy hook over the dirty guitars, but on the very next track Art of Keeping Up Appearances his R&B influenced delivery seems entirely too clean to do the track justice, neutering a track that could have been a punk gut punch. On Eternal Summer Stump seems to channel Ire Works era Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) with a half sung, half yelled defiance and slightly nonsensical lyrics. Stump’s inconsistent delivery is my biggest sticking point with this release and is ultimately what stops PAX AM Days from sitting comfortably next to contemporaries like Rotting Out; in the end the record feels less like a hardcore band and more like Fall Out Boy trying to sound like a hardcore band.

While it is impossible to separate Fall Out Boy’s previous works from this release it is an enjoyable yet inconsistent listen. It is at the least interesting to hear one of the world’s most prominent Pop-Punk groups attempt to capture a hardcore sound and a fitting tribute to said band’s punk roots. While it doesn’t always work PAX AM Days is an admirable attempt to win over disillusioned fans and who knows, maybe this will get people who say “I remember when Pete used to scream” to quit whining.

5/10

Best tracks: We Were Doomed From The Start (The King Is Dead), Love Sex Death

 For Fans of: Descendants, Gorilla Biscuits